Is Starcraft II Good? Plus, Star Wars: Special Edition post-traumatic stress disorder

Posted in Columns, reviews with tags , , , on August 12, 2010 by pbiris

(Note: this post is sort of the second in a series that begins with this one. Read that first to get a full view of where I’m coming from with this, the most anticipated of all computer games to ever feature the heaving embodiment of tentacle rape as its primary villain.)

A friend of mine complained today that Starcraft II is Blizzard’s “first misfire.” He said it is really more like Starcraft 1.5. I agreed, somewhat — enough, at least, to bemoan the game’s $60 price tag. I mean, that is darn close to pants-and-a-half, depending on your retailer.

Still, I think a wider perspective is in order here. Starcraft II has been 12 years coming; it’s sort of the gaming equivalent of The Phantom Menace. The original altered the Korean genome such that one in three babies can Zerg rush from the womb. Basically, the thing is a big enough deal to have been a huge success, sales wise, no matter its quality, very much in the same vein as those rancid Padme flicks George Lucas secreted from the secret anus between folds of his neck beard prequels set in a galaxy far, far away.

But while we’re working with Star Wars franchise metaphors, might we consider: is Starcraft II more like the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition? That is, a significantly altered release of the first version rather than an entirely new experience?

Why yes, I think it might be.

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Notes on “Starcraft II” and the Blizzard Paradigm

Posted in Columns with tags , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2010 by pbiris

Yo, guys. Starcraft.

I bought it. Blizzard, creators of such minor blips as “World of Warcraft” and “Diablo II,” are juggernaut enough to have basically made their game releases a reflexive purchase for those of us keyed into this particular niche of pop culture. For me, and I suspect many others, the process was no more complicated than, “Hey, the new Starcraft came out a couple of days ago. My paycheck just came in. I can buy this online and have it directly download to my computer. I will do that.” Kotaku, Gawker Media’s gaming blog and the most significant practitioner of legitimate video game journalism on the web, just reported that Starcraft II sold over a million and a half copies in its first two days, which is an awful lot, especially considering it costs $60. Blizzard’s most recent core release in the same genre of game, “Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos,” took a month to achieve these same sales figures.

To give you a broader idea of why Blizzard is kind of a big fucking deal, the first Starcraft game (which came out over a decade ago) has sold over 11 million units worldwide. The gigantic “World of Warcraft” had over 11 million subscribers at the end of 2008; these subscribers pay a monthly fee of $14.99 (stateside; Europeans fork over €12.99, or about $17) for the privilege of playing the game. Though Blizzard releases these games slowly – excruciatingly so for some – each one enjoys a practically slavish following. Some still champion the simplicity of “Warcraft II,” over its sequel, for instance. It came out in 1995 for MS-DOS.

So, basically, this explains why I bought “Starcraft II,” because I sure don’t spend much time gaming anymore. Which raises a couple of questions, actually!

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A worthy read: Tao Lin’s “Eeeee Eee Eeee”

Posted in reviews with tags , on July 6, 2010 by pbiris

Perhaps the finest book to ever feature so brazen a back cover description:

Confused yet intelligent animals attempt to interact with confused yet intelligent humans, resulting in the death of Elijah Wood, Salman Rushdie, and Wong Kar-Wai; the destruction of a Domino’s Pizza delivery car in Orlando; and a vegan dinner at a sushi restaurant in Manhattan attended by a dolphin, a bear, a moose, an alien, three humans, and the President of the United States of America, who lectures on the arbitrary nature of consciousness, truth, and the universe before getting drunk and playing poker.

And how!

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Return of Bruce Wayne and a Comics Manifesto

Posted in Columns, Comic Books, reviews with tags , , , , , , , on May 13, 2010 by pbiris

DC’s “Return of Bruce Wayne” was released yesterday. It exceeded my expectations, and expectations were high.

This is a difficult comic to write about. It’s something like the beginning of a new age for Grant Morrison’s Batman epic that began nearly four entire years ago with issue #655. (His run on that title went on for nearly 30 issues, then weaved into the “Final Crisis” mini-series, then onto the now 12-issue long “Batman & Robin.”) “Return of Bruce Wayne” is also kind of a pseudo-sequel to “Final Crisis,” which means it’s sort of a prequel to every story ever written (anywhere). It’s a story that takes place back in time, beginning with prehistory, that has its most immediate repercussions at exactly this point in time (being issues #10-12 of the ongoing “Batman & Robin”). It’s, you know, involved.

Here’s the problem with “involved”: comic books don’t really have a vanguard of critics like films do. Readers may look to niche figures like Douglas Wolk for intellectual input, but for every one of said figures, there are thousands of fanboys that post online and serve as a kind of governing body, excreting loud opinions en masse and muddying the discourse. Sometimes these fanboys find professional work and have their birdbrained critiques elevated on a major platform, but that never serves to develop their writing to anything more than kneejerk yammering.

To put this in a more direct perspective, one of the first things I came upon while Googling “Return of Bruce Wayne” was this review, posted on a blog I’ve never heard of but for all intents and purposes no different than those I know and respect as legitimate, smart institutions. The problem is this: the aforementioned review was genuinely stupid, in the most literal sense of the word. And sure, there’s a conflict of interest here, you might think (I liked the comic, Jay Galette didn’t), but that difference in taste is not what bothers me: it’s the utter inability for many who write about this medium to do much beyond taking a work at face value and panning it. (Or, by that token, taking a work at face value and blindly praising it; these are equally horrible and ubiquitous phenomena.) Though most of my ilk love to do things like write thousand-word blog essays about how “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen” legitimized the comic book to the American mainstream, we seem unable to advance our own thoughts to match the work on display. It’s why comics don’t really get a prominent place in our media, why seeing a story in The New York Times about “Seven Soldiers of Victory” is so wild; even when people do want to do journalistic work about the funny pages, the right people and the right stories are hard to find. Comic book fans cherish a medium that is niche to begin with, and we further bury it with our inanity.

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Blurf: a tale of a new kind of toothpaste

Posted in Journals, Things to Do in College with tags , , , on April 28, 2010 by pbiris

Full disclosure: when I moved into my room at NYU’s Alumni Hall from the Czech Republic this semester, the bathroom was already completely covered in mold. It was filthy – writhing, even. Sometimes I was convinced, lathering myself with blessed Dove, that spores were wafting into my limbic system from the caked shower curtain (and so forth). Anyway, I keep my toothbrush in one of those plastic containers meant for 12-year-old girls going to slumber parties and people who spend 20 hours of every day on a Boeing 787, because, you know, the hair grafted to the sink by bodily fluid.

Yeah, so, last night I was brushing my teeth and I kept thinking, “man, this just doesn’t feel fresh,” and I took my toothbrush out and kind of smelled it and thought, “yep, smells kind of funny.” I spat and replaced the brush in its plastic house, only to return to the bathroom a few minutes later with my girlfriend. “Tell me if this smells funny,” I said, pulling the toothbrush out again. I noticed then that there was totally some pus-colored (and textured) goop on some of the bristles and I was like oh fuck what is that? Then I jammed it under her nose and she didn’t really think it smelled funny but did agree that the, well, buttsauce was kind of weird and pretty disgusting, so I placed it back into the container, skeptically, not really thinking much else of it because I am a few different flavors of sleep-deprived.

When I woke up this morning, I noticed, after pulling my toothbrush out again, that there was even MORE foul jelly on the bristles and totally flipped. This time, with a few hours of sleep in the ol’ noggin, I decided to look inside the plastic container and noticed that each side of it was absolutely covered in this shit and promptly vommed myself (mentally, emotionally). Then I brushed my teeth with it anyway because, well, can’t go to an hour and a half of worthless “Research Methods” lecture with 6 hours’ worth of utter ass on my breath, right (the pus-mint combo was preferable according to my five seconds of cost-benefit analysis). Lesson learned, though. Totally bought a new toothbrush from Walgreens on the way to class, along with a 99 cent ruler, because for some reason we spent the entirety of this class (which my grandfather emigrated from Greece for, decades ago) measuring the length of various items on The New York Times’ front page.

AS IT HAPPENS: keeping your toothbrush in a closed container makes it breed hella bacteria, especially (I imagine) if said plastic container is resting near a toilet that sees constant use by two twenty-something college kids. (Also, my suitemate eats his fair share of instant ramen; with each flush, byproduct dust swirls up and, well.) So, I guess that goop was days and days of bacteria copulating in the soup of my post-brushing moisture? Horrible.

Still, the more you know!

Final Crisis vs. Blackest Night, in better words than mine

Posted in Comic Books with tags , , on April 8, 2010 by pbiris

I just came across an entry on Mindless Ones that basically nutshells the shit out of my Blackest Night post while simultaneously embracing more of an intellectual tone. (Then again, it is my belief that a silly comic deserves a silly post.)

In any case, check this out:

If Final Crisis is a story about DCU stories, which it undeniably is, then of course Earth is the most important place in the universe. Also, whether or not you like Final Crisis, whether or not the series succeeds, Morrison was undoubtedly trying to say interesting stuff with his mythological noodlings: about genre conventions, about art and about life. It’s striving to be bigger than the sum of its parts,  and at the very least provides us with some fun, internally consistent, higher order game playing.

Johns on the other hand, he’s not saying anything that isn’t written on the tin and what’s written on the tin is genuinely weird*. The Green Lantern concept allows Johns to quite literally reify just about anything he likes and so he has: Life? Check. Death? Check. Avarice? Check. Rage? Yup. Everything is reduced to spandex and glowing energy. In that way he’s not entirely unlike Kirby or indeed any number of other writers, but unlike some of those writers Johns has none of Kirby’s wild creative energy, add that to the very particular world view that comes through in his comics (love=the Predator remember) and the overall deficit of broader, non-DCU, non Green Lantern orientated concerns gives Johns’ mythology a parochial and bizarrely concrete feel… Morrison doesn’t need to worry over much about things like physics because he understands and he wants you to understand – as he explicitly demonstrates in Final Crisis – that the history of the DCU is the history of a fiction, and within fiction things are more flexible, ambiguous and open to interpretation. Johns mythology is modelled rather more on the history of real places, it’s an unambiguously physical history of life the universe and everything. The consequence being that the reader – even the reader disinterested in big C Continuity – is tempted if not quite compelled to start asking really awkward questions like: is DCU Earth older than the Sun?

Frankly, it’s pretty obvious that Final Crisis and Blackest Night are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if DC’s Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Dan DiDio approached writer Geoff Johns midway through Final Crisis’ publication and said, “Listen, people aren’t getting this, Blackest Night needs to blow shit up.”And that would be fine if it didn’t also blow ass.

Even fellow die hard Grant Morrison fans probably think I’m a bit loony when I say that Final Crisis is probably one of the most important mainstream comic works of the 21st century and that the entire thing is a manic meta-textual experiment that just works, at least as read in the collected hardcover edition, but most would probably agree that Blackest Night is a big stupid rag that we all ought to be very, very disappointed in DC for releasing as a follow-up. Hell, I’m disappointed in it as a direct sequel to the Sinestro Corps War storyline, also by Johns, which was much more grounded, tense, and – mm – crisp.

I’ve said that I understand why people like Blackest Night. It’s a flashy turn-your-brain-off blockbuster that basically has a direct analogue in things like Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie. But, uh, you know, what’s there to applaud in an intellectually void story when DC had just shown us its biggest events can go above and beyond the artistic merit of even the most revered creator-owned works?

Surely I’m not the only one that wonders about this?

Grand Finale: Blackest Night in Review

Posted in Comic Books with tags , , , on March 31, 2010 by pbiris

Today saw the release of the final entry in the eight-part Blackest Night crossover, DC’s epic tale of emotion and space zombies.

Perhaps not so surprising for a book that gives a fair bit of attention to an army of hideous anger-powered aliens that battle their enemies primarily by VOMITING BLOOD, it was pretty messy.

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