Monday, December 23, 2013

The Star Wars Holiday Special teaches us to hate Christmas, life

Christmas is upon us! There's just too much cheer and good will this time of year, which means it's once again time to balance things out with an updated version of my traditional holiday post on The Star Wars Holiday Special. (Cross-posted at Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic, a name which seems especially apt right now.) Please to enjoy, for a certain value of "enjoy."

It's the Christmas season once again. To celebrate, this is the time of year when this blog make a foray beyond the world of video games into the larger world of holiday entertainment. Sadly, there is a dark side to Christmas. I'm not talking about the weather, or the parents rending each other apart like rabid beasts at Toys R Us, or the built-up resentment that can explode at family gatherings, or those horrific modernized versions of Christmas carols that every place of business in the state of Illinois is apparently required by law to defile my eardrums with for the entire month of December. No, I speak of something much worse...

The Star Wars Holiday Special has appeared on American television once, in 1978, and oozed into various foreign markets to make similarly brief appearances over the next few years. It has never been rebroadcast in the US and has never been released on home video in any format. George Lucas, who would probably release a boxed set of the prequel trilogy with an added bonus DVD containing 90 minutes of footage from the parking lot security cameras of Skywalker Ranch and call it the "Star Wars Ultimate Edition" if he thought anyone would buy it, disavows it and has refused to make it available.

Scorned by legitimate society, it exists only in the form of unauthorized copies made from VCR recordings of the original. Like so many other blasphemous tomes of daemonic horror bearing unspeakable eldritch knowledge never meant for the eyes of Man- Friedrich von Junzt's Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Abdul Alhazred's Necronomicon, Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy Trilogy- it circulates covertly in the dark corners of the world (I think that's an entirely fair description of most file-sharing networks) where students of the grotesque and unnatural risk their very sanity to seek it out.

It was in 2006 that I acquired a copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special, complete with the original 1978 commercials. It should have been a fine year: Neal Asher, David Drake, and Stephen Baxter all had multiple new books rolling off the presses. Ace Combat Zero came out for the PlayStation 2, and the release of the PlayStation 3 paved the way for me to actually buy one three years later. Iron Maiden, Evergrey, In Flames, Norther, Strapping Young Lad, Tool, Motorhead, Blind Guardian, and Týr released new albums.

Instead, there would be only the taste of ashes.

Now, one thing I share with several of my friends is the ability to enjoy crap. From 1950's skiffy schlock, to watching a near-comatose Richard Burton mumble his way through the uncut version of The Exorcist II, to Sylvester Stallone's arm wrestling epic Over the Top, to the climactic scene of The Satanic Rites of Dracula where Christopher Lee is killed by running into a small shrubbery, to Oscar-winning actor George Kennedy and a bunch of stupid teenagers trapped on a boat where they are picked off one by one by an evil hybrid cat/rat/godawful puppet in The Uninvited, to a seemingly endless horde of Godfrey Ho "ninja" "movies" created by buying the rights to various Asian films, redubbing them, splicing them together with new footage of white guys in brightly colored and sometimes rhinestone-studded pajamas running around and doing flips in what appears to a small municipal park, and feebly attempting to tie them together and pretend that the resulting Frankensteinian abomination was a coherent story, we've seen it all. We take that sort of thing in stride.

I want you to have that context in mind when I say that my first two attempts to watch this had to be aborted within the first half hour because the guys I was watching it with couldn't stand it any longer.

The plot, such as it is, is that Chewbacca is returning to his home and family on the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk to celebrate "Life Day," one of those vague holidays characters in kids' fantasy shows would celebrate when it was snowing and they wanted to do something festively nonsectarian. But the system is in the grip of an Imperial blockade fleet commanded by recycled movie footage of Darth Vader, and... Well, basically, there's a string of largely unrelated, godawful variety showesque events set in something that resembles the Star Wars universe featuring various C-list celebrities until things finally shudder to a halt what seems like several geological epochs later.

It's got all of the heroes from the movie making their return, plus James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader. The only major actors from Star Wars not present- unless one also counts David Prowse, who appears only in the form of reused movie footage, or Carrie Fisher, whose soul appears to have departed her body and wandered off for most of her screen time- are Alec Guinness as Ben Kenobi and Peter Cushing as Tarkin, whose characters were saved from appearances here by the sweet, merciful embrace of death.(Which makes it suddenly seem very suspicious that Kenobi and Tarkin both met their ends because they conspicuously chose not to protect themselves from imminent danger, and either possessed supernatural powers that included the ability to sense horrible, cataclysmic events or hung out with people who did.) What could possibly have gone wrong?

There are some things the human mind cannot explain, only try to describe. Some of the thrilling spectacles we're treated to include:

Over ten minutes of Chewbacca's family screaming at each in Wookie, sans subtiitles! This is what the show leads off with. Little-known fact: Lucas actually wanted the first 20 minutes of the original Star Wars to focus on R2-D2 making random beep-bloop noises while doing routine maintenance on the Tantive IV's cafeteria vending machines, but was forced to start the movie with an exciting space battle instead when the studio said that his original cut of the film was too long.

Chewbacca's elderly father Itchy groaning in ecstasy while watching virtual reality porn! You have no idea how badly I wish I was making that up. NO idea.
Ever wondered what an elderly Wookie having an orgasm looks like? Of course not, but now you know anyway.

Reused footage from the movie!

Reused footage from the movie tinted bright green, so that a shot of the Millennium Falcon approaching Yavin can double as a shot of a bright green Millennium Falcon approaching Kashyyyk! Alternately, if you're a die-hard Star Wars fan desperately trying to escape from the implications of this monstrosity actually being a canonical part of the Star Wars universe, it could be interpreted to mean that the entire special is actually taking  place inside the Matrix. In which case it's arguably a better Matrix film than Matrix Revolutions.

Several minutes of Chewbacca's repulsive son Lumpy watching miniature holographic acrobats! That's right, Chewbacca's immediate kin consists of two guys named "Itchy" and "Lumpy." Presumably, the name "Chewbacca" is a human-pronounceable approximation of the Wookie word for "Scabby" or "Oozing."
Lumpy! I've already mentioned his role in the Special's events, but the very existence of this... this thing appalls me so much that it warrants its own entry. With the possible exception of that loathsome, soulless homunculus wrought in obscene parody of a human child from Son of the Mask (the CGI baby, not Jamie Kennedy), nothing has ever filled with such instinctive horror.

JEFFERSON STARSHIP!

Harvey Korman in a dress! And in two other separate parts, as an amorous Tatooine cantina patron and a cyborg instructional video announcer (a cyborg who announces in an instructional video, that is, not an announcer in an instructional video about cyborgs) who appears to be suffering from some sort of degenerative motor neuron disorder. Not since Peter Sellers in Dr. Stranglove has there been such a multi-role tour de force.

The musical stylings of Bea Arthur! This is actually the closest we get to a high point.

Harvey Korman trying to get into Bea Arthur's pants! Though anyone hoping for some actual on-screen Hedley-on-Maude action will be disappointed, sadly.

An animated segment featuring the  most repellently butt-ugly animation in human history! It does have the first-ever appearance of Boba Fett, which some people may be interested in. Frankly, I've always considered Fett one of the most overrated characters in fiction. It's a damning indictment of how low our society's standards have fallen when possessing some basic tracking abilities, dressing like the Rocketeer, flying around in a big metal shoe, and being killed by a blind man is enough of a résumé to be declared Biggest Badass Ever.

One odd thing is that the cartoon, like a number of other segments, is actually introduced as something being watched by Lumpy. Which implies that this segment depicts events that are fictional not only to us but to the characters, and that the cartoon itself actually exists within the Star Wars universe.

Which, I just realized, means that Jefferson Starship does, too.

A brief appearance by an incredibly bored-looking Harrison Ford, who doesn't even try to conceal his utter contempt for the proceedings!

Mark Hamill wearing more makeup than Queen Amidala, Bozo the Clown, and Dick Clark combined!
Usually I'd be reluctant to say something nasty about this, since it's probably to conceal the injuries Hamill had suffered in a car crash the previous year. But The Star Wars Holiday Special exists on a plane where human concepts of morality and decency are not merely absent, but meaningless. If you gaze into the bellowing unsubtitled Wookie abyss, the bellowing unsubtitled Wookie abyss gazes also into you.

Carrie Fisher singing a festive Life Day carol set to the tune of the classic Star Wars theme while clearly stoned out of her mind! But you don't have to take my word for it:


She's no Bea Arthur, I'll tell you that much.

Eventually, Chewbacca makes it home for the holidays with his repellent family. No one learns a valuable lesson about The True Meaning of Life Day, if in fact it has one.

I really can't do justice to how teeth-gratingly bad it is. I have no strong personal stake in Star Wars. I liked the original movies and a few of the tie-in books, but I've never had the strong emotional attachment to Star Wars that some people do. I didn't like the prequel trilogy but never had the sort of "I have sworn a Sicilian blood oath of vengeance upon George Lucas' and his entire family line because he murdered my family, burned down my village, and deflowered my house pets" response that is often seen on the Internet. (I reserve that for MechWarrior: Dark Age, MAY ITS NAME AND ITS SEED BE ACCURSED FOREVER.)  The idea of crap with the name Star Wars on it is not some sort of personal affront to me. Given that sitting through this made me want to gouge out my own eyes and just run through the streets of Chicago gibbering like a lunatic until my heart and/or lungs burst, I can only imagine how devoted Star Wars fans must feel about it.

Merry Christmas, everybody!


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Monday, December 16, 2013

Pointless Side Cast Episode 8: Crimes Against My Mouth




It's time for episode 8 of Pointless Side Cast! Join John Markley, Corey Atwood, Logan Kraus, Nick Nguyen, and Jade Kimmel as their discussion of their experiences with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is catastrophically derailed before it even leaves the station by an ill-advised dare from Corey involving the words “if you drank the entire thing.”

Don't miss out on an episode filled with:

Pure evil in concentrated liquid form!

Battlefield 4!

The Nature Boy Ric Flair!

The awesomeness that is Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death!

Interstellar genocide!

Blacklight: Retribution!

John coughing out an entire lung live on the air!

Crusader Kings II!

The latest sanity-shattering horror Nick has unleashed upon the world!

PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, which we actually do get to eventually!

Lines between man and machine that never should have been crossed!

Batman: Arkham Origins!

New definitions of pain and suffering!

Logan reporting on the new Kinect!

Birdemic-based relationship abuse!

Knack!

Fine liquor sellers of Chicagoland!

Persona!

Thirst for the blood of children!

Solar 2!

Ass droids!

Ryse: Son of Rome!

Jade's mysterious secret! 

World of Warcraft!

Crippling addictive behavior!

Dead or Alive Ultimate!

And, of course, much more.

Download this episode (right click and save)



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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pointless Side Cast Episode 7: Nick's Kitchen of Terror


It's time for Episode 7 of Pointless Side Cast! The whole gang is here as John Markley, Nick Nguyen, Corey Atwood, Jade Kimmel, and Logan Kraus gather together to discuss PlayStation 4 launch titles, games they've played lately, the most recent of Nick's seemingly endless procession of bizarre household mishaps, John's petty mind games, Corey's corrupting influence, and beyond. Join them for all this, plus:

Crusader Kings II!

Illinois' baffling non-Euclidean geography!

Grand Theft Auto V!

Starscream!

Beyond: Two Souls!

Hitler's mechazombies!

Shadows of the Damned!

Nick's poison cupcakes!

Divekick!

Blasphemous kitchen necromancy!

Knack!

The wit and wisdom of the YouTube comments section!

A thoughtful discussion about the relative merits of Call of Duty and Battlefield, lead by someone who hasn't played either since the first Modern Warfare!

Spelunky!

Transformers: War for Cybertron!

Confusing, arbitrary selection criteria!

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn!

Human sacrifice!

Race the Sun!

Suda 51's restrained, nuanced approach to human anatomy!

Speedrunners!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent!

Depraved 11th-century Welsh aristocrats!

Killer Instinct!

Lemmy!

Killzone: Shadow Fall!

Corey undergoes mitosis live on the air!

Watch Dogs!

The first reference to Bubsy anyone has made since the Clinton administration!





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Friday, November 8, 2013

Pointless Side Cast Episode 6: Baphomet 5eva



It's time for Episode 6 of Pointless Side Cast! Join John Markley, Nick Nguyen, Corey Atwood, and Logan Krauss as they talk about what they've been playing lately and  valiantly attempt to keep discussion on-topic long enough to discuss launch titles for this month's next-gen consoles. Featuring:

Xbox One!

Grand Theft Auto V!

Japan's confused love affair with 17th-century European mounted infantry!

The plague of River City Ransom-inspired violence destroying the youth of America!

Ryse: Son of Rome!

The orientation-transcending sexual magnetism of Keith David!

Dead Rising 3!

The high-stakes world of turnip trading!

Saint's Row 4!

Tom Clancy and Elmer T. Lee, apropos of nothing!

VR Troopers!

Nick pays tribute to the recent passing of gaming industry titan Hiroshi Yamauchi by completely forgetting his name!

Prototype!

The draconian football sign regime at Washington State University!

Papers, Please!

Terraria!

Ridiculous accents of classical antiquity!

Animal Crossing: New Leaf!

Logan's lust for tiger-assisted violence!

Killer Instinct!

The corpse-choked rivers of the Oregon Trail!

Crimson Dragon!

And much more.

Download this episode (right click and save)

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Nick would like to dedicate this episode to the memory of:

Nintendo Guy
1927-2013
Requiescat in pace 


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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pointless Side Cast Episode 5: Starring Vin Diesel as Fluttershy

It's time for episode 5 of Pointless Side Cast! Join John Markley, Nick Nguyen, and Logan Krauss as their attempts to discuss the Summer Steam Sale are continuously derailed in this digression-riddled trainwreck of an episode! 

Don't miss out on topics like:

Nick's apartment burning down!

Duke Nukem Forever!

Logan reporting live from a metal tool shed!

The Last of Us!

The rich mythoi of The Fast and The Furious and My Little Pony, joined together at last!

Call of Juarez!

Luc Besson movies!

Suda 51!

The horrors of Saints Row 2's PC port!

Brief musical interludes to patch over the part where I edited out a twenty-minute discussion of camera angles in action movies!

Alan Wake!

M. Night Shyamalan!

Hitman!

Nick alienates at least two more vital demographics forever!

Metal Gear!

Why John is a horrible, horrible friend!

Alpha Protocol!

Klezmer!

Lollipop Chainsaw!

The strategic and logistical problems of building prisons in outer space for no reason!

Dust: An Elysian Tail!

Duke Nukem's forbidden love!

The Walking Dead!

The programming wizardry behind Sonic the Hedgehog 2006!

And much, much more.

Download this episode (right click and save)



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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pointless Side Cast, Episode 4: The Loganing

It's time for the fourth episode of Pointless Side Cast! For the first time, this episode gathers all five members of Robot Geek's old Some Assembly Required podcast, with Logan Krauss joining John Markley, Jade Kimmel, Nick Nguyen, and Corey Atwood to talk about the highlights and lowlights of E3 2013 amd other topics from the world of video games. Join the gang for important subjects like:

The future of robe technology!

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain!

Logan joining the conversation via a laptop made in the late 1870s!

Shin Megami Tensei IV!

Crushing despair!

Saint's Row 4!

Appalling Kinect-enabled laziness!

Corey trying to talk Nick into eating candle wax!

Struggling in vain to figure out what the hell the deal with Quantum Break is!

Infamous: Second Son!

Tactical horse espionage!

Titanfall!

Nick accidentally gluing his hands to his own face live on the air!

Mirror's Edge 2!

Stonerville, Pennsylvania!

Dead Rising 3!

Captain Kirk's bloodthirsty misogyny!

Halo!

Me singing part of "I Will Wait for You" badly enough to induce the sudden apoptosis of your entire auditory cortex!

Emilio Estevez!

And much, much more.

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Download this episode (right click and save)



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Friday, June 21, 2013

Pointless Side Cast Episode 3: Nick's Revenge

The third episode of Pointless Side Cast is here! John Markley, Corey Atwood, and Jade Kimmel are joined by another of their old Robot Geek compatriots, Nick Nguyen, for over an hour of edifying discussion on such subjects as:

The Xbox One reveal!

Marvel Heroes!

Corey's epic battle with his audio input settings!

Call of Duty: Ghost!

Nick's mastery of international finance!

Noncanonical F.E.A.R. expansion packs!

Bruce Dickinson!

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap!

The waking nightmare that is the PlayStation Network!

Dead Island: Riptide!

Sony's wanton abuse of the word "beta!"

Misogyny of the 23rd century!

Demon Souls!

Corey enters puberty at last!

League of Legends!

Sinister biometric mind-reading!

And much more!



Or just listen to it right on this site.


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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Because it's been too long since Hitler appeared in a 3DS game: New Releases for the Week of June 9th, 2013

The Last of Us

(PlayStation 3) Third -person action game, set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a plague that turns people into- as is now apparently required by law for games released in the United States- zombies, or some close analogue of them.  The zombies don't really seem to be center stage this time, though, with human antagonists figuring quite prominently

It's from Uncharted developers Naughty Dog, and a lot of the gameplay I've seen- with its combination of cover-based shooting and melee fighting- actually seems reminiscent of that franchise, except that now it's starring the Dead to Rights: Retribution version of Jack Slate in his later years, Sully is a teenage girl, and the plot and characterization don't politely pretend not to notice that the gameplay involves killing large numbers of human beings at ranges short enough to see the terror in their eyes as they die. It looks interesting.



Bugs vs. Tanks! 

(Nintendo 3DS eShop) In the tradition of Plants vs. Zombies, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Konami's critically panned 2011 God of War-inspired beat'em up Roe Vs. Wade, the endless procession of X vs. Y games continues with it's most cruelly unfair match-up yet, Bugs vs. Tanks. The game is most noteworthy for involving Keiji Inafune, who was the character designer and artist for the original Mega Man- the classic character as he appeared in the games, not the obscene, tortured mockery of the human form from the American box art- and one of the driving forces behind the Mega Man series, as well as the producer of the Dead Rising series and some of the Onimusha games.

The story involves a group of World War II-era German panzers that have been shrunk down to a tiny fraction of their normal size , which does even the odds somewhat. How or why this has happened is unclear, though I respect any game that goes with a premise that seems to have been devised by someone who played Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 and said, "This alternate history Second World War just isn't silly enough."


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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pointless Side Cast: Episode 2

At long last, it's time for the second thrilling episode of Pointless Side Cast! This is our special PAX East show, which was a reasonably timely subject at the time we recorded it, with our own Cory Atwood giving fellow hosts John Markley and Jade Kimmel his first-hand account of the event.

Subscribe to Pointless Side Cast

But that's not all. In addition to PAX East, this episode features:

Constant technical problems!

Saint's Row 4!

Saved by the Bell!

The horrors of substance abuse!

Ninja Gaiden!

The wit and wisdom of Cersei Lannister!

DuckTales!

Jade's thrilling day job!

Highly questionable sound quality that stands as a grim testament to the dangers of careless audio normalization!

Corey's constant, not-at-all-gratuitous references to BLASTMAGAZINE.COM!

Aliens: Colonial Marines!

VH1!

The dark necromantic powers of the Xbox!

Tomb Raider!

John singing excerpts from "Holding Out for a Hero" with such conviction you'd swear Bonnie Tyler herself had joined us!

And so much more.



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Friday, March 29, 2013

Tomb Raider: A thorough review by someone who has not actually played it

Tomb Raider was the first game I’ve ever attended a midnight release for, accompanying a friend who was buying the game. It was a disappointingly sedate affair. No one trampled by angry mobs in a mad rush to the counter, no one arriving after they’d sold out and angrily telling the clerks that their refusal to magically conjure more copies of the game into existence has ruined Christmas, no burly die-hard fanboys cosplaying in tiny Lara Croft shorts, no GameStop employees using their hypnotic mind control powers to force people to trade in used games against their will.

(I have it on good authority that the latter does, in fact, happen on a regular basis. Otherwise I’d have to entertain the possibility that the comments section at Kotaku contains a significant number of reactionary hysterics who can’t grasp the idea of people whose preferred trade-offs between money, convenience, and time actually differ from theirs, and that couldn’t be. Perish the thought.)

I’ve not played the game, but I have been present for a playthrough of most of it where I prevented several player deaths with my Molotov cocktail-spotting skills, so I think I can speak with some authority on it. Some thoughts:

He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature...

I liked the more humanized version of Lara Croft. She gets knocked around a lot and actually seems to feel it, she gets scared of things, she looks filthy for much of the game, she gets physically sick the first time she kills a man, and her chest size in combination with her extreme agility doesn’t require me to assume that she’s a cyborg whose original spinal column has been replaced with carbon nanotubes and titanium to preserve my suspension of disbelief. She has a more interesting personality than the original Lara Croft, though that’s admittedly not the highest of bars; the GameStop bag we carried the game out with and the bottle of Pepsi I drank later that night have won similar accolades.

Oh, the pain, William! The pain!

Croft soaks up a truly impressive amount of abuse in this game. She’s perpetually falling or being thrown off of high places, whacking into and/or being whacked by objects at high speeds, or sliding down near-vertical inclines at velocities that would probably leave a mere mortal needing months of intense physical therapy before they were able to sit in a normal chair again.

And I say this as someone whose standards for what constitutes an “impressive” amount of damage to inflict on a main character is pretty high. I spent quite a bit of time playing Spec Ops: The Line not long ago, a game where protagonist Martin Walker takes several very nasty spills involving damaged skyscrapers and a crashing helicopter and suffers burns that have him looking like an alternate-universe version of Two Face who joined the Army instead of going to law school by the final stages of the game, and I was still struck by how the game puts its heroine through the ringer. On the other hand, Lara Croft never had to walk down a barren desert version of the Sorrow’s river of the dead from Metal Gear Solid 3 (so really not at all like the Sorrow’s river, now that I think about it) while being berated by the Eye of Sauron.

There are some moments where it started to seem a little silly, particularly the part early on where one of her punishingly rapid descents is followed by her stepping into a freaking bear trap. At that point I half-expected anvils to start falling on her head. For the most part, though, it does a nice job of conveying how hellishly arduous the main character’s journey is.


Somebody get this man his own prequel series

Conrad Roth, the captain of the ship Lara Croft and company were on, is a badass and all-round awesome character. He’d be a shoe-in to be my favorite older mentor figure in a third-person action game about an adventurer killing lots of people in gunfights during archaeological investigations, if my heart didn’t already belong to Sully from Uncharted.

I can knock a hundred dollars off that Trucoat!

On the other end of the spectrum, the only thing saving Dr. Whitman from being far and away the most repellant character in the game is the fact that the competition includes a small army of murderous cultists. And unlike the latter, he doesn’t have the excuse of being driven insane by years trapped on an isolated island with nothing but other people who’ve also been driven insane by years trapped on an isolated island for a company. He’s whiny. He’s untrustworthy. He’s both cowardly and stupid, never a good combination. He’s smug and dismissive towards others when he thinks he can get get away with it, unctuous and servile when he doesn’t. The man practically leaves an oil slick in the air when he walks. The fact that he sort of looks like William H. Macy’s character in Fargo with a mustache doesn’t help.

Stormguard don’t surf

You eventually gain access not only to regular burning arrows, but to napalm arrows. This pleases me. It has the dual virtues of being both absurdly over-the-top and oddly realistic, since making homemade napalm isn’t terribly hard.

(Link is for educational purposes only. By clicking it, you agree to indemnify Pointless Side Quest against any damages that occur if you roast yourself alive and then come back as some sort of vengeful fiery ghost.)


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Monday, February 25, 2013

Pointless Side Cast: Episode 1

As you may already know if you've been reading this site for a while, there was once, in the mists of prehistory, a British-based videogame website called Robot Geek. In addition to being a writer there, I was part of their occasional podcast, Some Assembly Required. Robot Geek is no more, but I missed the old gang there. And so, I've been working  on bringing that podcast back in some form.

At last, I'm very pleased to announce the first-ever episode of Pointless Side Cast, featuring John Markley, Corey Atwood, and Jade Kimmel.

Now, I should warn you that the sound is not exactly professional quality. And that we'd all been out of the saddle for a while and take some time to start firing on all cylinders again. And that it was recorded a few weeks ago- Superbowl Sunday, in fact- and wasn't exactly on the bleeding edge of the news even then. And that Corey has an utterly filthy mouth. And that some of us were drinking throughout the show. And that the subject of the conversation sometimes wanders a bit. And that I have a weird, annoying voice that sounds sort of like somebody punched the G-Man from Half-Life in the mouth and started giving him amphetamines and barbiturates simultaneously.

Aside from that, though, it's a good show. You can download it here, as well as subscribe to the feed, or scroll to the bottom to play it without soiling your hard drive.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Subscribe to Pointless Side Cast

You can also check out our (very rudimentary as of right now) page at Podbean.

So join us, if you like the sort of writing I do here at Pointless Side Quest and/or listening to three people in various stages of sobriety discussing such topics as:

Exciting new games of 2013!

Crysis 3's multiplayer beta, and how much I suck at it!

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky turning in his grave! (Special thanks to Musopen)

SimCity's new DRM!

The musical stylings of Master Chief!

Devil May Cry and Max Payne 3 fashion Dos and Dont's!

XCOM: Enemy Unknown!

Dolph Lundgren!

The cruel dramatic irony of Corey telling us about how much he's looking forward to the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines!

Chrissy from Growing Pains!

Watchdogs!

Decades of X-Men continuity fully explained in 15 seconds!

Tomb Raider!

Super Bowl XLVII!

Atlelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk!


The episode of Star Trek that revolved around how horny Spock was!

Shin Megami Tensei, cruelly taunting me once again!

Our impending deaths at the hands of NFL assassins!

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance!

Novel uses for your bathroom!

The Walking Dead, DayZ, and some of the ~400 new zombie-themed games coming out this year!

Star Wars 1313!

Yours truly laboring under the misapprehension that the Superbowl occurs under the auspices of something called "Major League Football!"

And much, much more.








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Monday, January 14, 2013

In the year 20XX...

Hey, everybody, and welcome to another year of Pointless Side Quest!

2012 was a bit of a slow year at the blog- in large part because my grandfather and both of my cats died, so if you have ever so much as contemplated being annoyed by the slow pace of new content here you are officially a horrible, horrible person- but I have higher hopes for 2013.

I'm also inaugurating a brand-new regular feature on Pointless Side Quest that, at the risk of seeming hyperbolic, will be a greater and more important development in the history of video games than Pac-Man, the joystick, Shigeru Miyamoto, ROM cartridges, ENIAC, and the nucleosynthesis of the first silicon atoms in the cores of dying primordial stars, combined. It's not far away, so don't miss it.


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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Star Wars Holiday Special teaches us to hate Christmas, life

In accordance with the ancient Pointless Side Quest Christmas tradition passed down by my fathers before me, it's once again time for my annual post on The Star Wars Holiday Special. Please to enjoy, for a certain value of "enjoy."

It's the Christmas season once again. To celebrate, this is the time of year when this blog make a foray beyond the world of video games into the larger world of holiday entertainment. Sadly, there is a dark side to Christmas. I'm not talking about the weather, or the parents rending each other apart like rabid beasts at Toys R Us, or the built-up resentment that can explode at family gatherings, or those horrific modernized versions of Christmas carols that every place of business in the state of Illinois is apparently required by law to defile my eardrums with for the entire month of December. No, I speak of something much worse...

The Star Wars Holiday Special has appeared on American television once, in 1978, and oozed into various foreign markets to make similarly brief appearances over the next few years. It has never been rebroadcast in the US and has never been released on home video in any format. George Lucas, who would probably release a boxed set of the prequel trilogy with an added bonus DVD containing 90 minutes of footage from the parking lot security cameras of Skywalker Ranch and call it the "Star Wars Ultimate Edition" if he thought anyone would buy it, disavows it and has refused to make it available.

Scorned by legitimate society, it exists only in the form of unauthorized copies made from VCR recordings of the original. Like so many other blasphemous tomes of daemonic horror bearing unspeakable eldritch knowledge never meant for the eyes of Man- Friedrich von Junzt's Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Abdul Alhazred's Necronomicon, Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy Trilogy- it circulates covertly in the dark corners of the world (I think that's an entirely fair description of most file-sharing networks) where students of the grotesque and unnatural risk their very sanity to seek it out.

It was in 2006 that I acquired a copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special, complete with the original 1978 commercials. It should have been a fine year: Neal Asher, David Drake, and Stephen Baxter all had multiple new books rolling off the presses. Ace Combat Zero came out for the PlayStation 2, and the release of the PlayStation 3 paved the way for me to actually buy one three years later. Iron Maiden, Evergrey, In Flames, Norther, Strapping Young Lad, Tool, Motorhead, Blind Guardian, and Týr released new albums.

Instead, there would be only the taste of ashes.

Now, one thing I share with several of my friends is the ability to enjoy crap. From 1950's skiffy schlock, to watching a near-comatose Richard Burton mumble his way through the uncut version of The Exorcist II, to Sylvester Stallone's arm wrestling epic Over the Top, to the climactic scene of The Satanic Rites of Dracula where Christopher Lee is killed by running into a small shrubbery, to Oscar-winning actor George Kennedy and a bunch of stupid teenagers trapped on a boat where they are picked off one by one by an evil hybrid cat/rat/godawful puppet in The Uninvited, to a seemingly endless horde of Godfrey Ho "ninja" "movies" created by buying the rights to various Asian films, redubbing them, splicing them together with new footage of white guys in brightly colored and sometimes rhinestone-studded pajamas running around and doing flips in what appears to a small municipal park, and feebly attempting to tie them together and pretend that the resulting Frankensteinian abomination was a coherent story, we've seen it all. We take that sort of thing in stride.

I want you to have that context in mind when I say that my first two attempts to watch this had to be aborted within the first half hour because the guys I was watching it with couldn't stand it any longer.

The plot, such as it is, is that Chewbacca is returning to his home and family on the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk to celebrate "Life Day," one of those vague holidays characters in kids' fantasy shows would celebrate when it was snowing and they wanted to do something festively nonsectarian. But the system is in the grip of an Imperial blockade fleet commanded by recycled movie footage of Darth Vader, and... Well, basically, there's a string of largely unrelated, godawful variety showesque events set in something that resembles the Star Wars universe featuring various C-list celebrities until things finally shudder to a halt what seems like several geological epochs later.

It's got all of the heroes from the movie making their return, plus James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader. The only major actors from Star Wars not present- unless one also counts David Prowse, who appears only in the form of reused movie footage, or Carrie Fisher, whose soul appears to have departed her body and wandered off for much of her screen time- are Alec Guinness as Ben Kenobi and Peter Cushing as Tarkin, whose characters were saved from appearances here by the sweet, merciful embrace of death.(Which makes it suddenly seem very suspicious that Kenobi and Tarkin both met their ends because they conspicuously chose not to protect themselves from imminent danger, and either possessed supernatural powers that included the ability to sense horrible, cataclysmic events or hung out with people who did.) What could possibly have gone wrong?

There are some things the human mind cannot explain, only try to describe. Some of the thrilling spectacles we're treated to include:

Over ten minutes of Chewbacca's family screaming at each in Wookie, sans subtiitles! This is what the show leads off with. Little-known fact: Lucas actually wanted the first 20 minutes of the original Star Wars to focus on R2-D2 making random beep-bloop noises while doing routine maintenance on the Tantive IV's cafeteria vending machines, but was forced to start the movie with an exciting space battle instead when the studio said that his original cut of the film was too long.

Chewbacca's elderly father Itchy groaning in ecstasy while watching virtual reality porn! You have no idea how badly I wish I was making that up. NO idea.
Ever wondered what an elderly Wookie having an orgasm looks like? Of course not, but now you know anyway.

Reused footage from the movie!

Reused footage from the movie tinted bright green, so that a shot of the Millennium Falcon approaching Yavin can double as a shot of a bright green Millennium Falcon approaching Kashyyyk! Alternately, if you're a die-hard Star Wars fan desperately trying to escape from the implications of this monstrosity actually being a canonical part of the Star Wars universe, it could be interpreted to mean that the entire special is actually taking  place inside the Matrix. In which case it's arguably a better Matrix film than Matrix Revolutions.

Several minutes of Chewbacca's repulsive son Lumpy watching miniature holographic acrobats! That's right, Chewbacca's immediate kin consists of two guys named "Itchy" and "Lumpy." Presumably, the name "Chewbacca" is a human-pronounceable approximation of the Wookie word for "Scabby" or "Oozing."
Lumpy! I've already mentioned his role in the Special's events, but the very existence of this... this thing appalls me so much that it warrants its own entry. With the possible exception of that loathsome, soulless homunculus wrought in obscene parody of a human child from Son of the Mask (the CGI baby, not Jamie Kennedy), nothing has ever filled with such instinctive horror.

JEFFERSON STARSHIP!

Harvey Korman in a dress! And in two other separate parts, as an amorous Tatooine cantina patron and a cyborg instructional video announcer (a cyborg who announces in an instructional video, that is, not an announcer in an instructional video about cyborgs) who appears to be suffering from some sort of degenerative motor neuron disorder. Not since Peter Sellers in Dr. Stranglove has there been such a multi-role tour de force.

The musical stylings of Bea Arthur! This is actually the closest we get to a high point.

Harvey Korman trying to get into Bea Arthur's pants! Though anyone hoping for some actual on-screen Hedley-on-Maude action will be disappointed, sadly.

An animated segment featuring the  most repellently butt-ugly animation in human history! It does have the first-ever appearance of Boba Fett, which some people may be interested in. Frankly, I've always considered Fett one of the most overrated characters in fiction. It's a damning indictment of how low our society's standards of masculinity have fallen when possessing some basic tracking abilities, dressing like the Rocketeer, flying around in a big metal shoe, and being killed by a blind man is enough of a résumé to be declared Biggest Badass Ever.

One odd thing is that the cartoon, like a number of other segments, is actually introduced as something being watched by Lumpy. Which implies that this segment depicts events that are fictional not only to us but to the characters, and that the cartoon itself actually exists within the Star Wars universe.

Which, I just realized, means that Jefferson Starship does, too.

A brief appearance by an incredibly bored-looking Harrison Ford, who doesn't even try to conceal his utter contempt for the proceedings!

Mark Hamill wearing more makeup than Queen Amidala, Bozo the Clown, and Dick Clark combined!
Usually I'd be reluctant to say something nasty about this, since it's probably to conceal the injuries Hamill had suffered in a car crash the previous year, but The Star Wars Holiday Special exists on a plane where human concepts of morality and decency are not merely absent, but meaningless. If you gaze into the bellowing unsubtitled Wookie abyss, the bellowing unsubtitled Wookie abyss gazes also into you.

Carrie Fisher singing a festive Life Day carol set to the tune of the classic Star Wars theme while clearly stoned out of her mind! But you don't have to take my word for it:


She's no Bea Arthur, I'll tell you that much.

Eventually, Chewbacca makes it home for the holidays with his repellent family. To the best of my recollection, no one learns a valuable lesson about The True Meaning of Life Day, if in fact it has one.

I really can't do justice to how teeth-gratingly bad it is. I have no strong personal stake in Star Wars. I liked the original movies and a few of the tie-in books, but I've never had the strong emotional attachment to Star Wars that some people do. I didn't like the prequel trilogy but never had the sort of "I have sworn a Sicilian blood oath of vengeance upon George Lucas' and his entire family line because he murdered my family, burned down my village, and deflowered my house pets" response that is often seen on the Internet. The idea of crap with the name Star Wars on it is not some sort of personal affront to me. Given that sitting through this made me want to gouge out my own eyes and just run through the streets of Chicago gibbering like a lunatic until my heart and/or lungs burst, I can only imagine how devoted Star Wars fans feel about it.

Merry Christmas, everybody!


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