Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Oilers Woes

Aaron Paquette -- Trickster

New work by Aaron Paquette
Bearclaw Gallery
March 3-15

The Trickster figure is a near-universal element of human mythology. Noble, craven, generous, greedy, wise, ignorant, creator and clown, hero and deceiver, the Trickster is the eternal shapeshifter, the primordial power of chaos and change. In his new exhibition, painter Aaron Paquette deals with this ancient force as a real and present power in his own life -- and in our modern world of constant change and shifting identities.

"Just because we get the concept of the Trickster from our shared mythology of long ago doesn't mean it isn't a current and applicable figure in today's world,” says Paquette. “In fact, I would say that it is even more important to society now than it has ever been. Among the many facets of the Trickster myth is this idea of adapting to changes, of looking at the world with curiosity and humor. Tricksters are, in essence, problem solvers.

Paquette’s own encounter with the Trickster’s invitation to change came, as it so often does, exactly when it needed to. “Early this fall,” he recalls, “I’d made the decision that I was going to be diligent, I was going to be disciplined, I was going to paint every day. I was going to get serious.

I soon realized that I had nothing. I was good for about a week, and I was out. I was like, ‘What’s the purpose of life?’”

Retreating for recharge and re-inspiration to the woods of the river valley near his northeast Edmonton home, Paquette soon afterward found what he was looking for in a series of vivid, demanding dreams of the Trickster in his mythical identity of Raven.

I started really dreaming about the Raven about six months ago, and then I started getting all these images in my head, all these ideas for paintings. Of course, the process takes so long that I've only tapped the surface, but I find it really interesting how this exploration is affecting my typical style… the technique itself is slowly becoming a bit more immediate, a bit more raw. I'm loosening the reins a bit, letting more come out than I have in the past.

Those familiar with the style Paquette has been noted for – a luminous blend of Pop art, Native painting and Christian iconography; dark, fluid lines and bold fields of color – will immediately see this change. The new work is indeed looser and more organic, some of it seeming more conventionally representational/narrative and some more impressionistic -- but all of it showing its dreamscape origins in terror and power.

I’d wanted to help be a part of a new symbology,” says Paquette, who is of mixed Native and European blood, of the orgins of his older style. “Many young people growing up have lost their symbols, their rituals that tell them what it means to be human and a functioning member of the community. I co-opted some of the stronger iconic concepts of European religious culture in a way that I hoped would make sense to the viewer. It was my hope that if I continued to work that I could offer a few new ideas to people, a few concepts that they had never considered. It worked, and that's the path I assumed I would remain walking… until these dreams began intruding.

Now, any ideas I had -- which I admit were rather hefty, but you can't blame youth for idealism -- flew out the window on those charcoal wings of the raucous squawker we call the Raven. Now, I just basically paint what I see in what I would describe as flashes of images burned into the front of my brain for scant seconds, usually right before sleep, or just on waking up in the morning. I have only a few moments to either sketch out the scene or burn into memory before it's gone, or else it really is gone.

Some of my best stuff has evaporated back into the ether because I didn't act on it immediately. But this happens to people all the time. Remember that amazing moment, so profound and full of meaning that you swore you would never forget? No you don't, because unless it's in your top ten, you've probably lost it along the way, not even remembering enough to miss it.That sounds kind of sad, doesn't it?

Though his painting is moving in a less literally iconic direction, Paquettte remains committed to transmitting the power of myth through his painting.

Mythical art reminds us of our origins,” he says. “It reminds us that we are not history's orphans, that we really do come from somewhere and something, and that the wisdom that will help us to live good lives, or at least happier lives, has been painstakingly earned and collected by generations passed, basically for our benefit. “We only have to listen and keep ourselves open to it and it will speak to us.

Wii work hard...

So much about the Wii is a waiting game. Those of us who already have Nintendo’s shiny ivory keystone are, quite literally, a-waiting games. Those of you who don’t, well, at least our collective Golden Dawn will come simultaneously – we’ll dance in the street together, like this one really creepy Mario ad I saw in Japan the same weekend Edmonton was tornado-grated. We’ll revel the point when, for example, a perfectly responsive knockout boxing game or subtle sword simulator make us swear off the opposite sex forever. Until, of course, the wave of interactive Japanese sex games hits us – HARD, the all-confusing “third sex”: robots! In the meantime, there may yet be hope for the human race.

For the retail price of just more than its included controller, the pun in the newly-released WiiPlay is possibly unintentional, but speaks volumes. We’ve seen it all before, though not that that’s such a bad thing. Not quite as athletically heart-squeezing as WiiSports, WiiPlay leads us back to a number of long-forgotten arcades and dens - sans bullies - offering up a replay of Pong in Table Tennis, for starters. There’s also a motion-sensitive cover of the old NES Duck Hunt not quite as good as WarioWare’s Can Shooter, plus that Red’s Rumpus Room classic, Laser Hockey, which nods appropriately to neon vector graphics. Unlike a real air hockey game, it’s pretty tough to physically hurt your opponent by shooting a disc into his teeth, sadly.

Yes, it’s true. Wiis don’t actually hurt smart people, no matter what Sony hopes. So seriously, for the love of God, will you people stop droning on about Wii-motes going through TV screens? Anyone who manages to forget to hang on to their controller when swinging their arms around, strap or no, is – let me just calculate some numbers here – yes, a complete fucking idiot. Would you let go of a golf club? A hammer? The neck of a poopy puppy over your Persian rug? Of course you wouldn’t. So shut it, crap mongers. It’s not a funny joke any more.

Back to our pleasant walkthrough, amid the hundred brilliant mini-games in the spring-leggy Wario Ware, including cleaning a cow ass and zipping up the back of a panda, was a proto pool game. I was going to slag WiiPlay’s pool – a simple game of nine-ball with background music only Jimmy Buffet could love – until I realized I’d been playing it for an hour without blinking, even though I really had to go to the bathroom the whole time. Like WiiSports’ bowling, it’s a brilliant way to spend an afternoon, especially if you just got laid off from a major newspaper freaking out about all the free commuter dailies in a non-commuter town that just showed up, owned by and in direct competition with your own paper. What are these idiots thinking?

Ah, but we keep getting distracted. Besides its pool, and certainly not its Where’s Wii-ldo game, battle tanks is the cherry. The closest ancestor is Intellivision’s Triple Action, of all things, just a bunch of tanks trapped amid four Bezerk walls, trying to kill each other. A metaphor for life, really. Hm. Instead of fighting wars in the Middle East, maybe we should all sit down and play the vs. mode of this, then send the vanquished into the most convenient disintegration booth. Of course, some Cpt. Kirk figure would come and disrupt our utopian society and force us to kill for real again. Effin’ space philosophers.

Anyway, for the extra controller alone, WiiPlay is worth it. Now, without passing anything or touching at all, you and the Mrs. can sit side-by-each and answer such questions as “Is there life on Mars?” on the Everybody Votes Wii channel, or just take turns spinning the NASA weather globe, which currently remains the coolest thing about Wii anyway. SPIN, TINY LITTLE PLANET –WHO’S YOUR DADDY? SAY IT! BWA HA HA HA!

BACKBEEP – Air hockey at Red’s – the ‘90s

Despite barely being able to skate, I’m killer at air hockey. The trick to winning it is staring your human opponent in the eye so he looks back at you, kicking off the psychological battle. While he’s looking at you, slip all four of your fingers down over the side, thus extending the width of your nipple-shaped paddle a variable extra inch or so. Like most things in life, your “serve” is the best time to score, usually a rebound off the side wall. But once he starts guarding for that, shoot straight into the net as much as possible, destroying his ego with backwall cracks. Unfortunately, once the enemy realizes you’re cheating (though even show me a rulebook), you’ll probably end up with blood-bruised fingernails. But after the first couple hits you don’t even feel it any more. You don’t even feel anything.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lo Batt

Man? or Astroman w/ Barbarellas, Cylons, HAL, space danger, awesome rock.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Friday, February 23, 2007

Crackdown, tackdown, shackdown...

“OK, watch this.”

POW! With one swift kick the sedan goes sailing over the overpass railing, crashing down onto crowds and traffic below. The ensuing snarl of honking and screaming is explosively cleared up with a casual toss of a cleansing hand-grenade. Before the local future-cops – of whom I’m supposedly a hyperpowered colleague, the Thick Blue Line – can show up, I’m long gone, literally leaping tall buildings in a single bound courtesy of genetically enhanced mega-muscles. As I bound away, the innocent deaths I’d caused take their toll in an infinitesimal decrease in my superpower levels. That’s instant karma in the cosmos of Crackdown: mass murder nets a little weak-kneed moment.

Normally, the scot-free nature of game justice doesn’t bug me – even when games “punish” players for poor moral choices, that punishment is just as artificial as everything else – but Crackdown’s amorality gives me a twinge. Because once the considerable fun of jumping your futuristic supercop around town, causing mayhem and playing Lui Passaglia with minivans settles down and you get to the actual game part of the game… there’s nothing there. No narrative whatsoever. Your job is to eliminate the Futuropolis gang problem by going to gang hideouts and killing everybody there. Go-kill. Repeat. That’s it.

In a way, this is classic gaming, a throwback to the old days of the arcade when dudes with feathered hair and nylon ski vests yanked the stick and slapped the buttons to earn the honor of putting ASS or DIK or FUK up on the high-score list. Did Defender need a plot where the pilot of the ship got romantically involved with one of his rescued humans, or had nightmares over all the humans he failed to catch and watched plummet to the pixilated mountains, every helpless victim transmogrified into a bloodthirsty space mutant? When did we start demanding more from our videogames than INSERT COIN and an extra man at 100,000 points?

A long time ago, when videogames evolved from hand-eye reflex testers into alternate worlds. In Crackdown’s case, the bar was set by those other go-anywhere, drive-anything games of urban mayhem, the Grand Theft Auto series. Just as loaded with over-the-top violence, the GTA games not only offered more variety, but used the setup and payoff of every mission as opportunities to develop characters, storylines and motivations. More importantly, every corner of GTA, from the dialogue to the set-dressing, was loaded with wit and humor. Not always the deepest wit, but always consciousness. Crackdown has no dialogue other than the brutal yawping of thugs and the disembodied voice of your orders-giver, develops no characters beyond their assassination dossiers… and offers no path but to kill dudes, and no reason to kill them beyond authority’s say-so.

It’s not only that Crackdown “doesn’t offer enough to do,” as the few reviewers who’ve bucked the OMG AWEXXSOME!!!! critical consensus complain. It’s that the expectation of a narrative is so strong that one gets projected upon the game whether its there or not – and given what there is to work with, the projected storyline is fucking brutal. It’s the story of a nameless, mutated (and still mutating) superclone dispensing summary mass executions at the command of an all-powerful technocracy determined to secure its power over regional ethnic paramilitaries by labeling them “gangs” and thus acting under a veneer of law and order. It’s a bloody love letter to the worst kind of reactionary, racist, police-state authoritarianism.

Did I say “racist”? That’s the rancid pickle on this ugly shitburger of a game. When the GTA games deployed what could be considered racial stereotypes – Italian mobsters, etc. – there was the dignity of characterization, the defense of satire, or at very least the excuse of being funny. In Crackdown, the “gangs” – whose turfs, which comprise the entirety of Futuropolis, seem stable, clean and safe until you show up with guns blazing – are faceless race-cartoons: greasy, lascivious Latinos; devious, fanatical Orientals; brutal, fascist Slavs. Because their stereotypical ethnic traits are all we know of them beyond what we’re told by the Voice of Authority, those traits are taken by our motivation-hungry narrative as reasons why they deserve to die – at one point, for example, the gruff voice in your ear presents the sound of salsa music as evidence of a crime den.

It sucks that Crackdown is so witless, so devoid of redeeming content that it becomes morally disturbing to play it past a certain point, because it is mechanically fucking awesome – the high-jumping and car-chucking, and even the thug-shooting, are perfectly executed, and feel great in the hands. But without any kind of narrative, without any moral consciousness or even any gameplay beyond go-kill extermination missions, the artless, joyless Crackdown is simply that thing which anti-game crusaders want the world to fear: a murder simulator.

Ghost Rider: "A trifle idiotic"

FLAME ON! Oh, wait – that’s that other flamer. Well, you could see how a guy could get confused.

Tell the truth, though, there’s no way I don’t know who Ghost Rider is. Born with an unnatural fear of skeletons, I obsessed over Johnny Blaze clawing at his face burning off every time the plot called for it in the ‘70s comic. Though the idea of a satanic bounty hunter transmuting into a burning, chain-whipping skeleton man in a leather jacket on a bike made of Hellfire seems a trifle idiotic at this point, it’s just the kind of thing that ensured Generation X would never really grow up. From Howard the Duck to Pretty in Pink’s Duckie, our fledgling pop culture is simply too insane to let go of.
Now that CGI Hollywood is prepared to mine the Marvel and DC back issues, Ghost Rider seems like a perfect target. And, to cut to it, I loved it. Even though. Sigh. It’s pretty much terrible.

If there’s still a kid in you, you just get over lines like “I feel like my skull is on fire” and probably the second-worst worst sense of what a TV reporter actually might be and say (1998’s Godzilla owns the lowest). Nick Cage handles Johnny Blaze with a certain Garfield disaffectedness, but that seems right for a guy who knows the devil is coming for him one day. Speaking of whom, Peter Fonda does a strange and interesting performance as Mephisto, though I really miss the frilly comic-book outfit only alluded to in shadow. But Fonda manages to fuse trustworthy charm with singer Nick Cave’s “weak and evil” to good effect as he convinces Blaze to sign his soul over to save his dad from terminal cancer. Father and son are in a motorcycle duo which young Blaze would break up to ride off with his girlfriend, Roxanne. But hearing the medical news, Blaze is torn up enough to attract the devil. Mephistopheles keeps his word about the cancer; he just kills pop in a bike accident the next day anyway. Haha. Blaze ditches Roxanne, done with love’s price for now.

The restrained ‘70s/’80s carnival feel is perfectly captured here, especially as we fast forward to now – all tits and tattoos and shitty metal licks. No wonder the Islamists want us buried.
Mephisto’s defiant son Blackheart, played by the weirdo kid from American Beauty, is after a certain 1000-soul contract that’ll bring on hell on earth with a cherry on top – him. So the devil brings Ghost Rider into the picture to take out his own son, sort of the opposite of how Blaze got into this mess. But watching the stuntman transform is a treat especially as, finally, we get an antihero who enjoys himself, cackling like mad – finally freed from worry.

How well a CGI skull can act is up for debate; slightly better than super-hot Roxanne (Eva Mendes), anyway. And for dealing with a bunch of demons and devils, there’s never the same kind of chaotic terror you get, say, reading Master and Margarita. But, unlike Hulk and Spider-Man, the film’s a lot of fun. Especially when, as huge geek bonus, the original, cowboy Ghost Rider hoofs into the plot. Played by none other than The Big Lebowski's cud-chewin’ Sam Elliot.
As a film, extremely dumb - but hot, wild and fantasy-fulfilling. What, you snobs have never wanted to crawl into bed with something like that?

02-12-07 – Snowbound in S. Alberta

It keeps coming down… beautiful fat flakes… layering lockdown white on roads and roadmobiles…

Snowed in! The fear/fantasy of childhood and pioneer-days lore has, in the event, nowhere near the romance you’d like it to have. Dreams of nothin’ but quilt-covered snuggling behind drifted doors belong in imagined days of root-cellars, Clydesdales and fieldstone hearths; modern snowbinding is too data-porous. First order of business: emailing the boss for telecommuted orders, work by wire.

Still, the minute-to-minute supervisory eye isn’t present, and the blank white prairie desolation outside the farmhouse picture window doesn’t do much for psychological motivation; it’s like a hope-deadening glimpse into a special corner of Limbo reserved for unbaptised fenceposts and cowsheds. So not a lot of work gets done; even in the heart of Extreme Cyber Century 2000 a cabined-up couple finds pioneer-style diversions… like reading the Bible!

Except our study of the Good Book consists of gigglingly checking out every Chapter 4, Verse 20. There’s not much secret stoner revelation to be had from this exercise; I doubt some white-Rasta hippie’s going to be using “Adha bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and raise cattle” (Gen 4:20) as his email signature, or his stall-wall tag. Eventually our Bible-reading descends into idle riffling of the pages in search of baby names. Which I guess is pretty pioneer-style, too.

“I’m glad you’re here,” my fiancée purrs while we wait for the kettle to boil. “I’d be freaking out if I had to be by myself. Plus, I can always kill and eat you.” I ought to be nervous, but I know I’ll never become lunch:

1)Having been treated at various times with antibiotics, additives and pesticides (aphid infestation; who knew?), my ribs are incompatible
with her chosen Organic lifestyle.

2)We’ve got plenty of supplies – enough President’s Choice “Blue
Menu” Wasabi & Honey rice crisps to last nearly forever (because they’re
really gross and we’d almost rather starve).

In picturing being detained by weather in a remote location, one likes to think of themselves heroically: given adequate supplies, the forced removal from the day-to-day bustle is imagined as a great chance at catching up, and self-improvement, at spiritual and emotional decompression. What really happens is I go stir-crazy almost immediately, watching roads worsen minute by minute as the snow piling up around my vehicle makes it less and less likely I’ll even get to the highway in the first place. Ali’s trucker landlord says he’ll get a plow out sometime tomorrow to clear the access road. Until then I pace, I swear under your breath and I take futile “relaxation” baths, as inaccessible urban responsibilities quadruple in gravity.

Really, though, the hell is the accessible urban responsibilities, the inescapability of work. My girl’s got a herself a full-on Snow Day (Whee!) – she can’t phone in her clients’ dinner or fax them their personal care – while I’m stuck in this sort of electronic otherspace, physically stuck in a cozy winter cabin with my lover but mentally (and contractually) obligated to be halfway at work. It causes friction in the farmhouse, interference… two lives 180 degrees out of phase. The silence of my grumpy laptop-tapping is boring for her; the sound of her page-turning through a Japanese thriller is enough to crack my teeth.

I resent that tech reality has wrecked and workified the only chance I’ve had to experience old-fashioned snowed-in conditions. The modern information worker has nowhere to run, no scenario that will excuse not being in touch. Sick, distant, weather-stuck, traveling… as long as there’s a phone line, a cell tower and a laptop (or, God help us, a Blackberry) in begging, borrowing or stealing distance, productivity is demanded and expected…

…unless the power goes out!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Coolness Simulator

A burning question: are professional guitarists naturally keen at Guitar Hero II? They should be, right? The controller’s a fake fucking guitar: five colorful fret buttons below the head - a single string of sorts to strum - a Whammy bar for chewing on the long notes. Size of a parlour … uh, axe. Odie-tongue red. Obviously, I already scratched my initials into it. But is there a road and stage advantage for pros?

Only one way to find out = party. My drunken, train-hoppin’, post-BeerFest panelists include Red Ram’s Mark Feduk, the Secretaries’ Tash Fryzuk, singers John Guliak and Corb Lund, Twin Fangs’ Paul Coutts joining on this side of the river. So. What happens first is you invent a band name, usually pornographic. Thus far, the righteously assembled have chosen in an AC/DC font: Emotionz, Shittickets, DNK, Devildyke and Truck, the night’s winner. By now, every available towel is slurping up spilled beer and some kind of leopard-skin liqueur Jenny Jenny from the Sun brought in.

Even this early, the “coolness simulator” has us all laughing and some ooh-ing at the sublime cartoon art of the menus. We pick our weapons, a fine exercise in gender-swapping – Manga-scrawny Judy Nails on the Cherry Blossom Gibson Les Paul, for example. The first four songs show up.

Lund to this day ignores Wolfmother and goes for Shout at the Devil, where everyone else usually picks Cheap Trick’s Surrender. Psychologists would do well to cross-section these choices. After some serious play, the list grows – G’N’R, Spinal Tap … even War Pigs. Solid.
“It’s not really a guitar, it’s a Whac-a-Mole!” Coutts exclaims. He’s right. As notes colour-matching the fret buttons speed down the infinite neck, your job is simple. Hit the fret button at the same time you strum, matching the oncoming target note with precise timing. The easy level (where you don’t make money to buy more songs, outfits and guitars) uses only the top three frets. And no chords. Easy. You basically play a pared-down rhythm guitar initially. Expert level, on the other hand, crushes your hand into a furry albino lobster claw which doesn’t matter much because you’re head’s screwed right off your neck anyway.

The game is a hit. Rock poses are struck. Sitting while playing appropriately mocked. Fryzuk screams and drops the thing laughing while hound-voiced Guliak slags himself, but gets the general hang of it. “I give myself ½ star out of five,” he laughs. With my own band, Hebrella, I quickly notice out loud how effective this game is as a role-playing device. Just like real musicians, you’re deaf to how great you just played, obsessed with and chatty about the notes you missed. Uh, great post-gig conversation, in other words.

Hard-rockin’, grey-wearin’ Coutts, meanwhile, generally refuses to pilot any videogame. But while a dance party forms in the music room, there he is, strumming to Danzig all by himself. A heartwarming crossover.

Side note: Someone clever should mix Guitar Hero with bar karaoke. Add virtual drums and keys. Instead of going out to see music, you’d make it! In the meantime …

Lund, it turns out, starts taking names after the typical pro-to-nerd translation fumble. His pro advantage kicks in. He rises to the top of the musician heap. The metal set list has him especially going. “Someone had good taste there,” he muses. “I could imagine it becoming very involved.

“Then again,” he points out the obvious, “it might be a better investment of time and energy to actually get a real guitar and apply your efforts there. But who wants to do that, right? Not like there’s any money in it.”

Thus: Guitar Hero’s ultimate drawback, this early version, anyway. It’s different enough from the real thing that if you can’t already play a real guitar, you’re totally pissing your time away.
Guliak and Lund happily spending the next hour on Wii Sports golf, well, that’s another story.

BACKBEEP: IBM Machine Language music programming (1985)
How cruel our junior high teachers were, making us program an entire song in machine language! Each note was something like “6348.” To go through and program all of Talking Heads’ Heaven without the ability to read music was the first time I stayed up all night on an assignment. Bah! All for a C+. But, you might say, was not a thing learned? Oh, yes. As stated: my teacher was a dink.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The "DS" stands for "diddling sicko"

More fucking fear-mongering from the craven, cynical dogs who grow fat on unfounded terror.

"Nintendo's DS hand-held gaming system was a hit during the holidays. However, it's also attracting some darker elements. FOX 6's Brad Hicks examines how your son and daughter could get caught up in the range of a child molester."


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Monday, February 05, 2007

Snore Trek: Lame-assy

You know what really stinks about Star Trek: Legacy? This is the pretty Xbox version, the one with all five series-starring captains voice-acting including -- thank God -- Kate Mulgrew. She’s just so great, with that really, really old “put me to sleep” cat inflection: “Ensign Kim … Harry, have a seat -- Neelix tells me your emotions haven’t been conforming to regulations lately.” Anyway, what stinks about Legacy is it’s not quite fun enough. So not exactly all that different from modern TV Trek, now in its, what, 438th year? But you know. Fundamentally flawed. This makes me very sad as a nerd. Plot-wise, it’s the newest Trek we get till the rumoured animated series (set 150 years apocalyptic after Nemesis) plops.

Anyhoo, the point of Bethesda’s generation-hopping, hi-res play-thru of the history of the Federation’s self-made woes is to be the captain on deck. But sadly, never to see the captain on deck. In this sense, the graphically strong answer to, “I wonder if V’ger and the Borg are related?” is largely a radio play … with special effects. But, ironically, it lacks a human touch. Honestly, I would have taken stills from the TV shows and shut up about it. A face does so much, especially Bill Shatner’s in his heyday.

Instead, in special features, with no caution of spoilers, imbedded are the crappy, panned-over drawings of the back story surrounding a long-living Vulcan scientist, including the tale’s denouement. So it’s quite easy to accidentally watch the entire narrative, right up to Jean-Luc Picard dusting himself off and summing up the moral about the needs of the many. Yet. Again.

Well, who cares about all that collectible card game trivia shit, right? You just want a wicked fight! Then too bad for you the spaceship dynamics are such a wet bagpipe. Even the Klingon scout ships careen painfully slow on full impulse -- and I know, “you can’t turn in warp,” I hear Geordi LaForge telling his imaginary Holodeck love doll. But a limitless game can’t even match the physical dynamics of one of the greatest battles of all time. If you remember the classic head-on of Kirk vs. Khan, these Xbox babies move with that weight -- but those ships were damaged from the get-go. Still, even that Enterprise could drop straight down. Nothing like that here. In terms of space-battle simulation, it’s a huge crime. In the later TV space battles like the Borg’s massacre at Wolf 359, properly working destroyers are skidding all over the place, firing blindly as the collective hacks them to slivers. I would seriously like to play that game. Quick and dirty, especially against friends. Something with the physics and ping-pong pace of Sega Genesis’ Star Control (see BACKBEEP below).

There’s more. Beyond moving your admittedly beautiful space turtle around its celestial pond, you’re required in the missions to fleet-command four ships at a time. Which is, frankly, hell in later levels. Is it fun to micromanage a ship’s repairs system by system in the middle of screaming space ambush, babysitting three other dumb-ass AI ships who don’t fight back? Well … take every time you press A as shorthand for Kirk riding Scotty’s fat ass, maybe – but even a game starring James Doohan in the Jeffries tube would, rest his soul, suck shit.

To bitch even more, the cosmos are not 360 degrees. Remember the turtle pool? Your little NCC-1701 or spicy Bird of Prey can only poke its nose to the, er, top of space, but no loop-de-loops over your enemy to launch photon torpedoes into his “dirty.” Did the crew of the USS Yamaguchi die for this?

Casting aside the laborious missions, the one-on-one is enjoyable with lots of practise. Though vs. the computer you can’t hand-pick its ship, with a buddy online it’s possible to recreate any battle you like, with the mandatory molasses drive and fire-only-when-locked weapons systems. Unfortunately, Bethesda didn’t have the decency to program a split-screen two-player combat mode for the living room. This is the final straw, a self-destructive snub at the nipple-raising wave of party gaming going on. But even a bridge-screen view would have gone parsecs. And: sighing.

Honestly, I’ve had more fun sitting around at lunch break trying to throw a bolt into a bucket first from a distance, but it’s better than sex with someone you dislike. If the ships could motor or even hit another object in space (they auto-veer), I’d rise up and testify to the power of a good tractor beam. But in too many ways, this game just adds to the legacy of laziness itself. An adequate, fly-by one-on-one with some nerd-candy voices and pointlessly stunning graphics does not the most engaging game make. Score? Half impulse at best.

Now this, cadets, is what I’m fucking talking about: Dozens of races with their own theme music and fascinating weapons, including the mermaid power of the Syreen to seduce your crew into space and the “LAUNCH FIGHTERS” attacks of the mighty Ur-Quan! Speed, gravity and witty weaponry like the VUX version of gooey Oobleck made this 2-D descendent of Asteroids resonate to this day - though we did cheat and steroid the game up by blasting the theme music to Wrath of Khan and Sneakers. KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sweetest Hot Wheels car chase

Now, this is inspirational.

Friday, February 02, 2007

01-29-2007 – the Edutorium

Man… other than the brief moments of democracy that’ve taken me back into the power-polished wood, multi-sport courtlines and tempera-painted paper banners of various gymnasia, it’s been years since I’ve been in such a schooly place. Edmonton Public Schools’ education centre on Kingsway, Temple of Teaching, high-water mark of pre-Klein institutional investment. Nowadays, this would all be ATCO portables… or a million twenty-dollar cheques… or a Ski-Doo dealership…

Wah! See how quickly the teacher-vibe kicks in? The cast-concrete of the Centre’s atrium plaza has been steeped in a decade-and-a-half of cutback frustration and tooth-and-claw Unionism. I’ve only been in the place for one day, four hours of light classtime teaching Grade 5 & 6 kids the basics of ghost-story writing (three pulp paperbacks hacked out on contract make me the expert, right?), and already I’m burnt out and identity-confused, jittered with caffeine and post-performance adrenaline, wondering how my little honorarium will affect my pension profile…

Teachers, with shaking hands I salute you! I’d always known – well, accepted the received knowledge -- that teaching was “a hard job” but never really had a taste of it until today. How do you do it? What does it take to get through period after period, day after day, year after year of looking out at those terrifying little faces in all their confounding variety: the slackjawed little drones, the razor-sharp keeners, the daydreamers, the superstars, the friendless, the insufferable shits you’d want to strangle if they weren’t so goddamn funny, the lost ones hiding miles behind eyes full of enough trouble to sink a heart?

You do it with coffee and cigarettes, from what I remember and what I’ve seen today – though there seems to be a lot less tobacco use now than when I was rocking the post-boom portables and Mrs. Trout would come back from her prep period with breath like mentholized dogshit. Also, there’s the rapturous golden vision of Retirement Day to keep a teacher going; lunchtime is still animated by pension conversations, brag/bitching on the possibilities and pitfalls of maximizing the material comforts of a well-earned permanent vaction.

And, yeah, I see how the kids are motivators in themselves. Granted, my sessions today have been the Disney Experience of teaching, “Pirates of the Caribbean” to twenty years under Captain Morgan, but I can glimpse the reality. The shit these kids come up with, in just half an hour of longhand burst-writing -- just amazing! Our topic was “Writing Ghost Stories," so I expected some of the mildly macabre schoolyard spookiness – it’s heartnening to know that, after all these years, every single schoolkid knows the legend of Bloody Mary – but the Craven-on-acid outlines these kids were dropping were something else.

“The Chainsaw Manicure”: A guy goes for a haircut, but he’s drunk and goes into a nail parlor by mistake and gets the full treatment. Driven mad by his accidental feminization, he swears chainsaw revenge on all estheticians and ladies with acrylic gels.

“Untiltled”: A necromancer creates a half-zombie, half-vampire, half-werewolf creature (it’s so weird it defies mathematical laws) to guard his money. When he goes to get some of his money (to pay back the fellow necromancer who taught him how to make the zomvamwolf) his own creature kills him and drains his spirit and uses that power to escape into outer space.

“A Night in the School”: M’kaela, Jason, Mercedes, Kayeley, Heather, Jesika, Tyler, Michael D. and Michael R. decide to spend the night in the school. The rest is a mystery; the session ended before the author could get past introducing her characters.

“The FART!!!!”: A guy calls his wife over and (“Beware,” the author interjects, “the next is cotent not sutable for chidren!”) FAAAARRRRTs! on her. So she kills him with a butcher knife and he comes back as a farting ghost. FARRRRT!
And so on. Today was such a blur of dark basements, insane asylums, evil prisons (lots of evil prisons), cursed sombreros, soul-sucking, ritual murder, torture, demonic possession, satan-worshipping, crying little girls in white gowns, knives, swords, power tools, power failures, super powers and characters with all the terrible names with which parents these days are saddling their kids that I can’t keep it all straight. Pretty much every kid there had seen every SAW movie, and one session got derailed for ten minutes in a heated discussion over who would win in a fight between Freddy and Jason.

I hate to say it, but that was a high point for me, getting the chance to moderate a modern revisitation of a discussion my friends and I originated when we were in Grade 5 ourselves. It made me think that if I were to change careers, maybe I’d go back to school and…

…and, what am I thinking? No way! Not for all the job security and summer vacation in the world. I’m a coffee-drenched, trembling wreck, spiritually drained, craving a smoke, a nap and a drink, in whatever order I happen to stumble into them. I’ll leave the work of civilizing this horror-soaked generation of hellraisers to the halitotic hard-cases who can handle it.

From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain

The hot new superehroic adventure novel from Minsiter Faust! Above is the Vue Weekly cover illustration for my interview with the Minister, drawn by the author himself and colored by brand-new Liverquest contrib Fish "Zoz" Griwkowsky. Friend party!

Video Games Live

Ive nvr seen so many ppl pictochatin!!! -- ‘nEfAr10uS’

Mr. nEfAr10uS’s excitement was shared by many, including myself. The air of the Jubilee Auditorium lobby before the Video Games Live! concert was thick with Nintendo DS WiFi signals, PictoChat impulses networking LOLz and WTFs at the speed of thought. Outside of gaming expos and (maybe) sci-fi conventions, where are you going to get this kind of DS dork density?

And, man, was the place dork-dense. Walking into the Jube was a weird combination of homecoming and alienation for me, sort of like I imagine visiting one’s old high school must feel – time was, this (or, an earlier version of this) was my tribe. I rolled with the D&D nerds, the Star Trek fans, the anime geeks; I hit the cons and talked shit in that inimitable braying dork-dialect. I copped furtive feels off costume-contest cleavage-cuties and quoted Monty Python -- but I never wore a cape, fedora or black duster. All that’s all past now – internet-enabled, the neo-nerds are light-years beyond me -- and I’m feeling kind of old… and sort of creepy for even opening my DS; suddenly, I saw myself on the other side of the “Gawd, that loser must be at least 30!” chuckles. Paranoid.

But, shit… this concert, an evening of symphonic arrangements of music from videogames performed by our own Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, is heavily old-school-centric; if a geezer like me – I had one of the first black-and-white PONG knockoff decks, goddamnit! – doesn’t belong here, nobody does. It’s the nerd event to beat all nerd events, and it gives the packed house of gamers a heartful of that most precious of commodities: legitimization. The game arts are culturally valid… would the ESO be doing this if it weren’t so? Video Games Live founder/huckster/host Tommy Tallarico enthuses something to that effect from the stage, and the crowd whoos in triumph.

Honestly, though, the most middlebrow of pops recitals is ultra-refined compared to the sideshow of VGL. From the “I can’t hear you!” pumping of Tallarico through the blazing laserbeam spotlights and big-screen game footage, from the live-scored audience-participation gaming contests through the Metal Gear Solid pantomime to the gimmicky stuntsmanship of the musical performance itself, the show is pure smoke-and-mirrors cheese. That’s not a bad thing -- from the constant applause and appreciation it’s clear everyone’s having a great time; how else could this show be presented to this audience? – but it’s not, you know, the symphony.

Part of the problem is that at lot of this music couldn’t stand up without the flashy show to support it. The “Classic Arcade Medley” that kicks off the evening (after the costume contest, I mean) is a seriously slack kludge – a very un-melded medley – of the catchy ditties that gave the first decade of coin-op their sonic background. Without the nostalgia-prod of the onscreen gameplay videos (“Whoa! I remember Rastan!”) the tunes would be emotionally inert tootling. As the evening moves on though games history and the selections move from symphonic arrangements of pieces originally compsed for monophonic electronic bleep-generators and into modern game scores, works written specifically for orchestral performance, the weakness persists – as the musical factor contributing to overall in-game emotional effect, many of these (Halo, some of the better Final Fantasy music) are masterpieces, but as stand-alone works they seem manipulative, flat, and nakedly derivative. Even the beloved Legend of Zelda theme is shown as empty “heroic” bombast.

But we ate it up. Did I shout “Yeeeah!” when the ESO dropped the off-the-shelf Russian riffs of Tetris on us? I did. Did the whole damn place erupt every time a selection from one of the umpteen Final Fantasy titles made its appearance? It did. Did we all “dum-dum-dum-de-dumdumdum” along with Super Mario Bros. to the point where we almost drowned out the orchestra? Shamefully, yes. We were having a good time, group-bonding over our tribal folk music, our faces bright in the glow of our DSes, invisible conversations crackling beneath the music:

“OMG HALO 3!!!!!”




“J/K Hitler sux 2”

01-14-2006 – The World’s Largest Kubasa (sp?)

"Good fortune is guiding our affairs better than we could have desired, for there you see thirty or more enormous giants with whom I intend to do battle..."
-- Don Quixote
There’s a wrongness about the World’s Largest Kielbasa… Kubassa… Ukrainian sausage, a weird kink in its links that knocks the thing off balance, confounds the human eye’s desire for symmetry and smooth curves. Rather than a sentimental paragon of sausagehood, the town of Mundare has crowned itself with a 42-foot, six-ton, $120,000 monument to the imperfect, to the asymmetrical earthiness of this most ancient and rustic of viands…

…ok, I can’t keep that up. It’s a giant concrete statue of a round of sausage, and it’s ugly and creepy. But it’s here and so are we, adventurers on that most Albertan of last-minute road trips, the Giant Objects pilgrimage. These trips are generally undertaken when one is younger, and in better weather, but a promise is a promise. A few months ago, on another trip in another car to another location, I’d looked my roommate in the eyes and said, “As soon as I get a vehicle, I swear I’ll take you to see the Giant Perogy.”

And so it was that last night, having come over hours of snowblown and iced-up roads, we pulled into the village of Glendon and, in the –33C darkness, embraced that massive dumpling for about five seconds before shivering back into the van. Mission accomplished! We’d paid our respects to the staple dish of our heritage (and our poverty), even though we had to shake our heads a little over how deeply Glendon’s monstrous diner had sunk his great fork into that morsel – too vigorous a stab, buried beyond the tines, splitting the dough, promising only a disappointing spill of potato. Or sauerkraut; it was too dark to tell by colour what the Perogy (Pierogi? Perohe? Etc?) might be filled with.

A side note on roadtripping without a tape deck: it’s a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, if you have (as I have) a competent tuner-jockey in the shotgun seat, a playlist can be patched together switching between K-Rock/Bear/Sonic/Joe that might not make your ears puke, a construction-grade Halen/Leppard/Creedence/Cult Megamixxx that contributes mightily to rockin’ confidence on tractionless two-lane truckways. On the other, even the quickest shotgun hand can’t totally deke around the yammering noise of radio ads and the braying of the moron DJs. How do people listen to this shit all day?

Anyway, my rage at the constant “K-Rock Scalper” spots, which are about four hours too long, faded quickly after we rolled out of range and tuned into “The Goat” somewhere around Bonnyville. By the time we reached our friend’s place just past Ardmore (apparently, that village will soon boast the World’s Largest Rubber Ducky Made Out Of Beer Cans) all was peaceful – at forty below, you sure can see the stars. Two bottles of Royal Reserve, plus the tonic of crisp country air seasoned ever so slightly with just a kiss of gas-plant emissions, rocked us gently to sleep…

…for a couple of hours. A house with three excitable children is non-conducive to lying in on a Sunday. So maybe, being underslept and overhung, we weren’t in the best of moods to appreciate the wonders we saw on the way back; I couldn’t even muster the playfulness to pose for the obligatory “eager stoner takes a big bite” gag photo when we stopped at the World’s Largest Mushrooms in Vilna. And all I could think of the World’s Largest Mallard Duck in the village of Andrew was that it would look great if a top- or even mid-notch airbrush artist gave it an Audubon-accurate detailing. But where would the money for refurbishment come from?

Not from the Provincial government, you can bet. Andrew’s Mallard, like so many of our famous small-town Giant Things, is a product of pre-Klein times, an era when Tourism Grant cash was sprinkled over the province like Hy’s Steak Spice over a big slab of Alberta prime rib. But that’s Getty thinking, just like our whimsical Family day. There’s little chance any of our current surplus dough will find its way into rural whimsy – future road-tripping hosers will have to draw up itineraries of shuttered boom-built Wal-Marts… or of ghost hamlets bled dead by youth exodus, their remnant “tourist attractions” decayed into unrecognizable lumps of fiberglass and rubble.

Having had our communion with the Giant Kuabsa, we’re faced with a decision at the turn onto the highway: turn right toward Edmonton and its familair World’s Largests (Baseball Bat, Cowboy Boot, Mall), or left toward Vegreville and the crown jewel of Alberta’s Giants, the World’s Largest Ukrainian Easter Egg? The truck behind us starts honking.

“Fuck it, let’s go home,” my navigator/radio man says at last; “The Giant Pysanka will always be there, and I really have to take a nap before I go to the Tragically Hip.”

I almost started crying as I cranked the wheel and spun my tires on the black ice; rarely have I felt more Canadian.