Monday, July 23, 2012

The Shit is Dead Podcast Episode 1

This is something we've been working on for a little bit, but here it is.  The first episode of The Shit is Dead Podcast.  We discuss the bands that should be out of bounds when talking about your favorite bands.  These bands are just too great to be picked as your favorite.  So, get creative and choose someone else!  Think someone else needs to be on this list?  Let us know by leaving a comment.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man: The title says it all

We are living in a rare time. The age of the superhero movie is in full force, and The Amazing Spider-Man does nothing but hold up my opinion.

We finally have a proper portrayal of what the Spider-Man character is supposed to be. And anyone who didn't enjoy this movie is either just not a fan of the source material, or is unjustly comparing it to the previous movies.

From the moment the film starts it feels like a fresh take on a story that felt brutally dated. Andrew Garfield feels and looks like a believable high school student, which is surprising considering he's almost thirty. As soon as he cracks that grin for the first time on screen a fan can instantly tell he's the smart ass that that Peter Parker needs to be.

One of the gripes people have with these movies is the constant need to have origin stories. We all know how Spider-Man got his powers, and if by some miracle you don't, you can ask the person next to you. It's probably the mix of a great cast and good storytelling, tied in with some whit and humor, but this origin story was more than bearable. Martin Sheen takes full advantage of his time on screen, becoming a lovable character in his role of Uncle Ben. It's been difficult in different versions Spider-Man's origin for the viewer to feel remorse for this character's death due to how little time he's around. For a death that is supposed to cause such an impact I don't think I've ever seen it handled better, and I really do attribute it to Martin's ability to connect with an audience.

Then you've got Sally Field as Aunt May in another memorable performance. She's probably the best example of something I praise in this movie, we get just enough of each character. There's no "oh, this bitch again" moment. Also, I'm glad to see a portrayal of Aunt May where she's not 200 years old, she's his aunt, not his damn great grandmother.

With every comic book movie the big question is what villain they'll go with, and in this case I think they made the right choice by using The Lizard to reintroduce Spidey. In the last trilogy we were constantly teased by the presence of Dr. Curt Connors, one of Peter Parker's college professors. But here, he's an Oscorp scientist looking to cure a number of diseases, and most of all, find a way to regrow his lost left arm. While it's true that it's one of the franchises safest villains, he is written in a way that gives him a certain edge. Rhys Ifans does the best with what he's given, and delivers adequately.

Finally, Gwen. Yes, Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy. This is the way this story is told. This is what on screen chemistry looks like. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are spot on in every scene. If I didn't know any better I'd say they were filming these two flirt in real life.

Yes, I much prefer Gwen to Mary Jane.

Yes, I left an important character out. My favorite asshole (leo-leo leo-leo leo-leo) Dennis Leary pops up as Captain Stacy, Gwen's father and he's nothing short of hilarious. One liners galore. His banter with Peter Parker can be as uncomfortable as it can be utterly hysterical. A great addition to an already great cast.

The story itself is pretty straightforward, but it's the little things that make it special. The little mentions and nods that comic book fans can smile at, because we know. But it's the way that director Marc Webb handled the characters that made me love this movie.

A fine example would be how the character of Flash Thompson is used. Flash is a staple of this origin story. He's the bully. The tormentor. But where other versions have made him cruel and unlikable, here he's actually human, and while he's still a bully and a dick to most, he shows his human side when Peter is dealing with the loss of Uncle Ben. He is a teenager, and teenagers are cruel, but they're not evil. A fact that seems ignored by most teen stories these days, that fact really stuck out to me.

People are griping about how we're back to having web shooters instead of it being part of Peter's powers. I couldn't disagree more, Peter needs to have some invention implemented into his abilities. He's a scientist, it's important to have that character trait implemented into his alter ego, and web shooters are the way to go; that is, as long as they don't overplay the whole "I'm out of webbing" angle like the cartoons did in just about every episode.

I was originally skeptical about this movie, but over the last couple of months my anticipation rose, mostly because of the cast. Being a fan of Andrew Garfield since his appearance on Doctor Who, loving Dennis Leary since No Cure For Cancer, and simply just being in love with Emma Stone; I can say we finally have the Spidey movie we've always wanted. I look forward to the sequel(s), the spin-off(s), and the eventual joining of it all. If Marvel knows what they're doing, they'll find a way to bring it all together, if you know what I mean.


E3 2012 and the aftermath of news that overshadowed it

Every year I eagerly wait for E3, the hype machine that starts up on the internet weeks prior just can't be ignored. This year the hype was overwhelming. With Nintendo's next big thing finally being discussed in depth, and who knows what surprises to expect from Sony and Microsoft, it looked to be a landmark year for the gaming community. It wasn't.

Lets start with the big N. It was the one thing nobody could miss at E3 this year. The second unveiling of the Wii-U was finally happening. No more rumors and speculation, we would finally get to see what we were told would be Nintendo's return to relevance in the hardcore gaming community; unfortunately, that's not what we got.

Nintendo decided instead to ignore just about every franchise that has made them the face of gaming and stick mostly to generic casual gamer crap that no one really cared about. Someone needs to tell Nintendo that a karaoke game will not get me to buy a console.

They did announce two new Mario games. That's right, two. One for the Wii-U and one for the 3DS. They look like exactly the same game. A couple of years ago, in the Mario 64/Mario Sunshine/Mario Galaxy era we begged for an old-school side scrolling Mario game; and now we're drowning in them, seriously. We've gotten almost as many side scrolling Mario games as we have Call of Duty games... And that's never a good thing.

I'm not saying that these Mario games are going to be bad, who knows, I might just play one. The fact of the matter is that there is no diversity in presenting the same game over and over, much less twice in the same press conference.

The other bright spot in Nintendo's press conference was Pikmin 3, a game everyone knew was coming. I've never really played a Pikmin game, but I guess it doesn't look bad, just not my mug of beer.

Nintendo didn't show me a single game that makes me think I need to buy a Wii-U. They're pandering to the casual gamer by lowering their standards.

I'm going to totally ignore the minigame extravaganza shitfest that is going to be Nintendo Land. Yeah, I said it, it's going to suck. This should be this console's Wii Sports. The fact that they plan on charging full retail price for something that looks like a tech demo baffles me. The fact that it was the centerpiece and the closer at their press conference feels like a slap in the face to their fans.

But this was only the beginning, Nintendo then announces that they're discarding the 3DS altogether and delegating it to a second informational live feed that would be held a day after their initial press conference. And they had a info package the day before as well that actually had more info on the Wii-U than the actual press conference. We had around five hours of Nintendo content that really didn't answer any of our huge questions.

I will say that I am very excited for Castelvania's return to the 2D-ish realm on the 3DS. It's the one thing they did right.

On to Microsoft.

Why do I even watch the Microsoft conference anymore? They never do anything different. They show off two "big games", one of which is always either the new Halo or the new Gears Of War, and they they show off Call Of Duty or the new shooter from EA. Every year, and this one was no different.

Sure, the new Halo looks almost decent, but it's still the same old shit. When was the last time the Xbox had a new IP that was actually relevant to the gaming world. All they do is Halo, Gears, Kinnect and third party games.

Then they started with the Kinnect. An accessory that hasn't produced a single memorable gameplay experience outside of dancing like an idiot in your living room. I know, I know, I'm a Sony fanboy, and I'll say the exact same thing (or worse) about the Move in a minute, I promise.

With the announcement that Dragon Ball Z would have a Kinnect game, you can add on another beloved franchise of mine that gets shit all over because of a half assed game, with half assed controls that could never deliver any depth.

The moment that Microsoft realizes that the Kinnect is a supplemental device and should never be your main means of control the gaming world will be a much better place.

And of course, just like every year, the brunt of Microsoft's focus went on expanding the media parameters and attempting to make the Xbox the center of your living room. I have no problem with this. I actually wish Sony would do more of this (UFC on my PS3 please!). The problem is that at in your time to shine and show off the games you have coming up these companies have decided that gamers don't need games. And it's ridiculous.

This is actually where the coolest part of Microsoft's thing came about; they brought out something they called Smart Glass. Without a doubt the biggest 'fuck you' to the Wii-U you'll ever see. The Xbox is integrating a tablet concept to your viewing experience, and the way they showed it off was actually both innovative and interesting. Expect Sony to do something similar, and Nintendo to implement some of these ideas.

Once again, the biggest announcement came almost two weeks after E3, when Microsoft announced their line of tablets that might as well be the iPad killer... Or at least the Kindle killer. Of course, this will be compatible with the Smart Glass concept.

To sum it all up, it's quite obvious that this press conference was their way of saying "we're revealing a new console next year, so this year is going to be duller than usual", and I think for what it's worth, they handled it as best as they could.

And finally, Sony.

Last year at E3, Sony spent most of their time apologizing for the hacking and subsequent downtime of the Playstation Network, a debacle that still haunts their reputation. In a way, they're still apologizing for the PSN outage.

But they really tried to put their best foot forward. And fanboy-ism aside, they honestly had the best games of E3 at their show.

If you haven't seen it yet, stop reading this article and go watch every bit of footage from Naughty Dog's new game The Last Of Us. This is a game that I firmly believe will redefine what the way we look at violence in video games.

In one trailer, we got a spectrum of emotion and morality rarely seen in Oscar winning movies. Think about what I just said there.

Then we had Ubisoft's surprise game, WatchDogs. We were expecting The Last Of Us, but WatchDogs caught us way off guard. With impressive visuals, groundbreaking gameplay, a little bit of decent looking third person shooting, and the subtle yet rumored hint that all this was happening in a multiplayer world, WatchDogs has the world buzzing and clamoring for more info.

The third big game that sticks out in my mind has to be Beyond: Two Souls. Developer Quantic Dream turned a lot of heads with Heavy Rain, and now they seemed to have taken a giant step forward. Unfortunately we have more questions than answers about this one. Will it be as linear a story? Is this their approach to a more gameplay oriented experience, or are they still working under the 'interactive movie' umbrella? Whichever it is, the fact that Ellen Page is this involved in a video game is definitely a game changer.

The Sony press conference also had a strong showing from Assassin's Creed 3. The most anticipated entry thus far in the franchise added maritime battles to their ever growing repertoire of gameplay modes. Lets just hope it doesn't get old too fast. My critique for every AC game is always the same: interesting ideas that get way too old and overused by the end of the game. That said, this looks amazing and I can't wait to play it.

They also announced the Instant Game Collection for all PSPlus subscribers (which made me very, very happy). They gave away a good handful of full retail games for free to anyone who was a part of their premium gaming service, probably converting a shitload of people to the service and finally really making it worth it. And they've kept it up in the latest weeks with other games. While some are still unclear, Sony promised 12 full games before the end of the year.

Much like Nintendo ignoring the 3DS, the PSVita seems to have fallen by the wayside. While the announcement of Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation is a step in the right direction, it's barely what the Vita needs. It needs games, lots of them. Good games. It's an impressive piece of hardware, but no one wants a web browser that expensive.

While the Sony show wasn't without it's misses (JK Rowling's Spell Book, anyone?), it was definitely the least groan inducing. And I'm going to catch a lot of flack for saying it, but they did the best job out of the three big companies this year at E3.

I'm not saying that they won. I think all three failed miserably at what they needed to improve.

So, who won E3 this year then?

That's easy, Ubisoft.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but Ubisoft did a spectacular job this year. Every game they showed off was a huge success.

While The Last Of Us is by far my Game Of Show, all my other top spots are mostly taken up by Ubisoft titles.

They had the only two Wii-U games that actually looked decent; Rayman Legends actually looks like a lot of fun and Zombi U (Is that really the title? *facepalm*) looks to be the best example so far on how to use that gamepad adequately. Add that to WatchDogs and Parkour-A-Hontas and you have the winning-est lineup we've seen at an E3 in a long time.

What was I disappointed by? I was sad we didn't get to see any more of Bioshock Infinite. Last year's game of show was inconspicuous in it's absence as was Grand Theft Auto V. Also, the Resident Evil 6 trailer was slightly underwhelming, considering that I've heard the game is good from people who have played it behind closed doors.

The most pleasant surprise has to be Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (now that's a title). I had little to no expectations, but what's in that gameplay footage is so over the top and ridiculous that I need to play it to believe it.

And of course, my beloved Borderlands 2 just keeps getting better and better every time I see something new. I really can't wait to get my hands on that game. I'll probably play it straight into 2014.

In summary, Nintendo has a lot to make up for. At this point I can't think of one person who is interested in purchasing a Wii-U, and I can't blame them. Microsoft is setting us up for big things next year, and I predict they kick all sorts of ass next year at E3. Meanwhile Sony continues to prove that they've had a bigger picture in mind all along, with a couple of missteps along the way nonetheless.

I was let down by the major companies this year, but E3 has reaffirmed my faith in games, because that's what it was all about this year. We should focus on the games, not the companies, no matter how aligned we feel. Picking a console has become almost as bad as picking a political party, and that needs to change (went kinda deep on that one, sorry)... But as far as I can see, it should still be a great year for games, and for gamers.