Tyrants, Tin Pots and Timidity

June 2nd, 2011

First off. . . holy hell, has Osama bin Laden really been dead for a whole month? I guess time flies when you’re having fun.

Or maybe I should start calling him Usama bin Laden again? Fox News certainly has, and I found that a bit odd. I mean, for years the government (especially the FBI and the CIA) referred to him as Usama bin Laden, and often truncated that to just “UBL” for short. And then after 9/11, we all just agreed to call him Osama, though it would take another year or two for us to decide how to spell al-Qaeda. But now, immediately after his death, Fox (and only Fox) went back to Usama.

I actually prefer the FBI’s spelling, since in my mind he will always by UBL. But I have to wonder why Fox, the network that practically invented and most definitely mainstreamed the classic Obama/Osama verbal swap, is suddenly going with the alternate spelling. Maybe they were afraid their frothing blowhards and fanatically unserious Serious People wouldn’t be able to get through a whole story without conflating the names a dozen times. Perhaps changing the spelling and pronunciation was a way to make it easier for the Life Support Systems For Hair (Shep Smith excluded) that dominate their broadcast day.

So, mental time capsuling and grammatical conspiracy theories not withstanding, I suppose it’s time to spend a few embarrassing and loathsome minutes talking about the 2012 GOP field. And before you suggest that words like embarrassing or loathsome are poisoning the well, I might direct you to the Pew Poll recently conducted that asked respondents to come up with a single word that best described their impression of the candidates running for the Republican nomination.

First, let me get the personal grievances out of the way. I’d say that the most embarrassing thing on this list is that “not good” is two words, but the fact that some people chose the word “republican” to describe Republican candidates for President should tell you most of what you need to know about our electorate. I am a bit unclear on why “disappointed” is flagged as a neutral comment, other than perhaps as a balancing concession (and it should be noted that “disappointed” is the most popular of all the supposedly neutral responses).

So nit-picking not withstanding, this is where we are, folks. Most of the flakes, fakers and phonies have finally worn out their media welcomes. Donald Trump, who in his own head would never want to run for the office of the President because he is convinced that the office of The Donald is already a step or two above god, has finally gone back to being a hack-ass reality television star. Mitch Daniels, who was the most serious candidate that no one knew about, had the common sense to not run. Chris Christie, who ran for Governor for the specific purpose of building an asinine conservative-friendly executive record and assured us the other month that he could easily beat Obama, is also not going to run.

Newt Gingrich entered the race, promptly set his own hair on fire by telling the truth (which didn’t make sense because that’s clearly not Newt’s strong suit), and then invited the entire D.C. punditocracy to take turns putting that fire out by punching him in the head. He is a victim of the nasty, backstabbing culture he helped create in Washington, and his abject failures couldn’t have happened to a slimier guy. What’s sad is that in this weak field, his complete implosion still doesn’t put him completely out of the running.

Herman Cain is the new Donald Trump. That’s all.

Michele Bachman is the old Michele Bachman. That’s also all.

And of course, there is Sarah Palin. There is always Sarah Palin, isn’t there? Hell, I’ve typed that name so many times that the keystrokes themselves almost feel familiar, and there’s a good chance that if you’re reading my blog right now, it’s because of Sarah Palin in the first place. Apparently she’s on some kind of supporter funded vacation that is in no way a campaign tour, despite having strumpeted her Totally Not A Tour Bus up in so much jingoistic schlock that the exhaust fumes actually spell out Joe McCarthy in cartoon bubble letters when the engine starts up.

I’ve never believed she actually has the drive or the determination to run for President, at least not on a major party ticket. I’m open to the possibility of her running as a Tea Party candidate spoiler, but I think even she realizes that if she Nader’ed a Presidential election she’d lose some of her loyal followers. So no, I don’t thinks he will run for President, and while I’m perfectly happy to be wrong (dear god, let that woman run), I don’t think I am.

I think she’d run for Vice President again, though. Because I think she thinks she could beat Biden this time around. And she’s always more than happy to let someone else do a bunch of work for her while she smiles and takes all the publicity. Just ask the organizers of Rolling Thunder. She also loves having someone else to blame for her failures. And I think that a guy like, say, Mitt Romney, who has a decent chance at winning the primary only because everyone else’s chances also suck, would happily hitch his hopes to the horrific harpy if he thought it would put him in the White House. So don’t be stunned if, a  year from now, we’re all looking at Romney/Palin stickers. It really wouldn’t be much different than the McCain/Palin stickers. Or the McCain/Palin campaign, really.

And Romney is finally positioning himself, playing on the only aspects of his personality that appeal to his base. Basically his campaign boils down to “I’m A Really Rich Guy And I Have Presidenting Hair“. Which, when you think about it, is twice as much as Reagan had to run on. Of course, Romney will never be Reagan, no matter how much he’s going to have to sniff The Gipper’s crap and declare it to be chocolate over the next year or so. And Romney is maneuverable, absurdly flexible, and actually much smarter than the dolt he plays on television. So no, I don’t think RomneyCare or his infinite flip-floppery will keep him from the nomination. It’s much more likely that his religion will. That and he’s a creepy little freak.

And finally Tim Pawlenty. Tim Pawlenty. Maybe if I just type his name over and over I’ll remember anything about him. Other than the fact that he calls himself T-Paw with a straight face (hell, the guy probably has sex with a straight face) and is so bad at attack politics that he practically called himself a doofus without meaning to. Actually, the best thing he has to run on is that no one really remembers anything about him. Maybe that’s his plan, hoping that voters will get into the ballot box and be so disgusted with everyone else that they’ll vote for that Tim Paw-Something guy that they’ve heard mentioned on television.

But in spite of his charisma deficiency, it’s important to note that Tim Pawlenty (jeez, I can’t even spell his name without forgetting what I’m typing) is a short sighted bullet point generating idiot. And to prove my point, here are his brilliant thoughts on how to reform (and by reform I mean eradicate) Medicare. “It will include something called performance pay. We will begin to move providers from getting paid not just for the volume of procedures they crank out, but whether people are actually getting healthier and getting better.”

Now, any of you out there that are actual medical professionals are probably extracting your fists from your computer monitors right now, but I’ll explain the problem for those of you that aren’t already frothing at the mouth. The very reason that Medicare is both so expensive and so necessary is that it universally covers people at an age where no other insurance carrier would want them enrolled. At an age when medical costs skyrocket and when injuries and illnesses become more common, more dangerous, and infinitely more complex.

Any system that “rewards success” by its very nature punishes failure. A “performance pay” Medicare system would force providers to question what impact certain procedures and even certain patients will have on their success rate. That sure does sound a whole freaking lot like “putting government bureaucrats between people and their doctors” to me. Which, of course, is incredibly bad.

Unless a Republican does it.

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Theater Of Victory

May 2nd, 2011

I knew, deep down, that not a whole day would go by before the death of Osama bin Laden became incorporated into the bullshit kabuki theater that is American politics. It crossed my mind less than an hour after I heard the news, because that’s where my brain lives. But I was willing to just let the whole thing skate and wait for the right to politicize the shit out of it. Somehow, they still think they own 9/11 and all of its political proceeds. I expect a cease and desist order from Rudy Giuliani just for mentioning the date in print.

And while there are times that I wish Obama was a more confrontational politician, it’s times like these that I’m glad he relies so heavily on the rope-a-dope. It helps, of course, that his political rivals long since rode the train all the way to Dope City. His speech about the death of bin Laden was so politically neutral, so meticulously groomed. And the reaction from the foaming-mouth right was so immediate and vulgar.

They are already demanding to see the body, or photographs of the body, or some other evidence other than the word of the President and the entire United States military that bin Laden is dead. I imagine in about six months they’ll be asking for his Long Form Death Certificate and then analyzing the resulting PDF with the sort of scrutiny normally reserved for the Zapruder film and all of the technical knowledge of, well. . . a typical teabagger, actually. Sorry fellas, but you are the stereotype now.

Call me cagey, but I now wonder if the release of Obama’s Long Form Birth Certificate wasn’t a carefully timed political maneuver, designed to draw attention to the stark contrast between the GOP’s focus and Obama’s own. And it’d be crass, if the entire birther issue weren’t more than just unscheduled racism and character assassination in the first place.

And what a contrast it is, too. It’s a subconscious gut check about each group’s priorities, and as political theater (if that’s what it really is) it works wonderfully. Plus, Obama gets to be casual and take none of the actual credit for the contrast, which leaves the right’s feverish wailing that he is taking credit for the kill (and not even in a flight suit, for frig’s sake) sounding all the more hollow. Like I said, the guy knows how to work the rope-a-dope.

As for the Republicans who are now howling that he didn’t give George Bush enough credit for helping to hunt down bin Laden? You guys probably want to let that one slide. Just let it go. I know you have the built-in burning fury to piss and moan on everything that your side doesn’t get the credit for, but this one is a losing battle.

Because I will bury your asses with 2002 videos of George W. Bush feeling “not that concerned” about bin Laden’s whereabouts, followed swiftly by reminders of the CIA closing down the unit dedicated to hunting bin Laden in 2006.

I guess rope-a-dope isn’t my style. I prefer the one-two punch.

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A Hell of a Run

May 2nd, 2011

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A Cold Wind

April 28th, 2011

What I find most telling about the Ryan budget isn’t its built-in loathing of the very government it seeks to reform. That’s not exactly news coming from a conservative. More so, it’s the way they are trying to sell it to seniors. On every talk show, in every sound bite, and at ever town hall I see, Republican Congressmen and shills alike are scarcely able to open their mouths before pointing out that none of the changes will affect people over the age of fifty-five (which, itself, is only partly true). They then look on with universally stunned expressions when their older constituents tell them that’s still unacceptable.

Some of them even repeat the point. They assure them that their benefits won’t be changing. Just the ones for their kids and grandkids, as if that suddenly makes it okay. In their tiny little hearts, which must be colder than Ayn Rand’s vagina, they assume that their, “I got mine, fuck all y’all!” outlook on life is truly universal.

And for those of us who actually are under fifty-five, it’s not exactly a selling point. They’re telling us that this plan is so good, they wouldn’t dare try to give it to anyone who already has proper Medicare. And they can twist and spin and sputter and half-truth all they want, but the Ryan plan for Medicare is a bloody voucher plan. It’s inherently similar to the Republican solution for any government-run organization. Instead of spending taxpayer money to get a job done, they’d rather hand our money back to us (mostly) and tell us to go out and individually purchase insurance. That hard-line economic conservatives would be inherently opposed to collective bargaining isn’t a surprise, really. It’s just obnoxious and dangerously misplaced.

But it’s the same song and dance for every program. Education? Social Security? Let every individual fend for themselves in the private market. Oh, and while we’re at it? Completely deregulate those markets just to make sure that consumers can’t get a fair shake. Hell, even the military is slowly being privatized, and at great cost to both the taxpayers that fund it and any innocent civilians that happen to be swarthy looking in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Unquestionably The Future

April 18th, 2011

While conversing with a friend about how addictive and clever cell phones have become over the past few years, I sent her (as I often do) a link to a particular Three Panel Soul that I feel really speaks to the heart of the matter. I’ve loved that particular comic (and the work that Matt and Ian do in general) for years. But looking at it this morning, for maybe the hundredth time, I started to think on the deeper implications of those words.

And not in a bad way, either. Some people would look at that comic and lament for how small and introspective the human race has become as a result of technology. They’d conjure up cliche imagery of throngs of people, standing shoulder to shoulder, eyes locked on tiny little screens as the wonder of blah blah blah. You know the rest. A hundred dark horse critics could paint a thousand pictures of dystopian isolationism and I’d have seen it all before.

They’re full of it, by the way. They’re thoroughly missing the point. But I’ll get to that later.

Behind the clever flying-cars trope is a much more meaningful comparison of what we expected the future to be like versus what the future will actually be like. It touches on some of the same themes that Scott Ramsoomair played with recently over at VGCats (where flying cars were also mentioned). But while Scott laments the future that will never be, Ian and Matt suggest that that future was silly anyway. That it was the product of overly simplistic expectations – humanity’s attempt to imagine the future by looking at the present and assuming that the future would just be more of that, only slightly different.

Would we really ever have imagined flying cars without the invention of flying planes? The flying car, my friends, is Put A Clock On It imagination. Take two things that already exist and mush them together. It’s only the prospect of personal freedom (and probably the Back to the Future movies) that makes the idea appealing. And maybe it’d even be totally sweet. But it’s not a brilliant or really, even a clever idea.

Now, you could argue that smart phones are really just the same thing. Take an idea that already exists (the computer) and apply it to another medium. But the difference is far vaster. Because it’s not just the computer aspect, or just the internet aspect of the device that makes it amazing. It’s the information and the connectivity. It is the ability, from almost anywhere on the planet (insert snarky cell phone coverage joke here) to call up any piece of information known to mankind.

That sort of communicative power most certainly is addictive and is amazing. I’ve had what most people would call a modern phone for less than a month. And in that time, I’ve deposited checks right from my camera, arranged and organized airline tickets and rental cars, found obscure eateries, reconnected with two old friends, purchased birthday presents, researched technical specifications (ironically, for an accessory for said phone), recorded moments of hilarity both impromptu and deliberate. . . the list is staggering. More staggering is that I was able to do this from anywhere I happened to be at the very moment those situations arose.

But most staggering of all is that the technology that is going to change the world (hell, is already changing the world) is tiny, portable and more than anything else, is designed to allow one person to talk to another. It isn’t propulsion or destruction that is changing human culture. It’s communication. I tell you, it almost makes my cynical heart flutter.

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Nobody Goes To Jail

March 29th, 2011

Everything’s fucked up, and nobody goes to jail.

It’s one of those things that we’ve just come to accept in America. That the entire country, hell, the entire world lurched towards complete financial meltdown a few years ago, and apparently it was no one’s fault. No blame was placed (can’t play the blame game), no responsibility was shouldered, no one was prosecuted or even really investigated. It was a collective fraud on a scale too massive and too diffuse for most people to contemplate. But still. Nobody went to jail.

And it’s not like there’s no evidence. Banks were taking junk assets, wrapping them up in a pretty bow and selling them off as good investments. Investments that got passed around like a jacket flask at a senior prom. Everyone traded them and re-traded them, everyone gave them completely bogus ratings, all pretending that they were anything but a steaming bag of bullshit. And no one went to jail for that.

It was recently revealed that Bank of America was intentionally manipulating people’s mortgages to cause them to default. Then they were demanding that their borrowers buy insurance to cover the bank’s liability (from a company either owned by or partnered with BofA). And if their customers couldn’t shoulder the increased burden? Oh well. Free house for the bank. And no one’s going to go to jail for that shit, either. Mark my words.

Now, most of that information came out because of stolen emails. So the government suddenly has a bug up its ass about “cyber security” (someone needs to tell them that no one uses the word “cyber” anymore). But if you’re going to go after the hackers that stole the email, you damn sure better go after the banks that stole people’s homes right out from under them. But they won’t. Someone needs to tell these idiots that there’s no point in making the trains run on time if no one can afford to buy a ticket.

Just about the only guy that went to jail for any of this is Bernie Madoff. And fine, lock the crook up. I don’t disagree. But don’t tell me that was some honest pursuit of justice. Madoff committed the one immutable sin in this world. He stole from the rich. You don’t do that, see. You don’t dick over the folks holding the reigns. Single moms, the elderly, brand new homeowners? Sure, take them to the cleaners. Bleed ’em dry. But you go after other rich folks and the hammer comes down.

Am I the only one that’s sick and tired of this bullshit? Am I the only person who gets a little vomit backed up in my throat when I see a CEO wearing a suit that costs more than most of his employees clear in a month get up in front of a microphone and talk about impending layoffs? That’s usually right after I’m told that those same CEOs should be running the country because they know a lot about creating jobs. No, they don’t. They know about creating profit. And any decent CEO will tell you that unless your company is already highly profitable, the best way to create profit is to cut jobs. Lay off the pleebs, ship their jobs overseas, and watch that stock price climb, baby.

And for that matter, am I the only person who can actually hear the fabric of the universe tearing whenever one of these Ayn Rand fellating jackoffs says that lowering tax rates will spurn job growth? Really? We’ve had the second lowest tax rate this country has ever seen for over a decade now. Where are the fucking jobs? No one ever asks them that. Not the timid, limp-dick quasi-liberals debating them. Not the journalists who have long since abdicated their responsibility to reality and turned into daytime talk show hosts with over-inflated senses of self worth. Somehow it never actually comes up. Funny, that.

These are the same guys that tell us that we all have to give up some of our Social Security benefits because they borrowed from the fund to pay for other things. That’s one of those tidbits that hardly ever gets mentioned. If you spend an entire day listening to all of these Very Serious Cocksuckers, you’d think that Social Security wasn’t able to cover its own costs. Bullshit. In fact, the program has run a surplus for years. It’s so successful that the government routinely raids the fund to pay for other crap they want to spend money on. Usually tax cuts for the upper 1%. Instead, they leave a great big honking IOU where our retirement money should be. And then they make their Very Serious Cocksucker Faces and tell us that we’re just going to have to retire on less because all of the money is gone. And most journalists report that as fact because, well, most journalists are dumber than a box of hair.

Look, kids. I know I’ve been MIA for a while. And the truth is I spent the winter hibernating, stewing in my own juices. I did the very thing I rail against. I let the bastiches burn me out.

It won’t happen again.

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So I Hear

December 29th, 2010

A lot of people ask me what smart phone they should buy, and to be honest, I’m getting tired of answering them individually. Thankfully, I don’t really have to.

Feel free to print that out and hand it to your relatives, neighbors, and cubicle dwellers when they task you with this same inquiry.

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The Pettiness Of John McCain

December 20th, 2010

Today I’m going to talk about something a bit different. The musings on DRM and cheap shots at Sarah Palin will have to wait a day (neither are going anywhere). Today I want to tell you about a man named Coleman Bean. Bean served two tours in Iraq, the first of which was during the actual invasion in 2003. His second tour came several years later, after he’d been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Unfortunately, he’d been shifted out of the Army proper and into the Individual Ready Reserve. Soldiers in the IRR can be “called up” under limited Presidential authority, and that authority was used extensively to meet troop demands during operations in Iraq. But because they are not on active duty (they do not drill, train or receive pay), neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs saw Coleman as their responsibility.

Bean returned to Iraq in the summer of 2007. He came home eight months later with Sergeant’s stripes on his sleeve. But his PTSD resurfaced shortly thereafter, and he encountered continuing difficulty receiving treatment. Appointments he made with the VA were perpetually postponed and delayed. He continued to suffer from severe anxiety and nightmares without any treatment. On September 6th, 2008 Coleman Bean took his own life.

This year a bill was introduced in the House by Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) after he was made aware of Coleman Bean’s heartbreaking story. Titled the Sgt. Coleman S. Bean Individual Ready Reserve Suicide Prevention Act of 2010, the law moved through the House and was introduced in the Senate by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. Everything was on schedule and its passage was seen as all but certain, right up until last week. The provision was stripped from the Defense Appropriations Act by Arizona Senator John McCain. Despite pleas from Congressman Holt, McCain refuses to remove the hold.

In fact, Holt called McCain directly. And in a moment of political arrogance, McCain asserted that he was killing the provision because no one in Arizona needed the bill. It’s not true, of course. There are over a hundred thousand men and women currently in the IRR, and yes, many of them are from Arizona. But even if it were true, it would be a shameful and callous comment to make. Does John McCain think that the life of a New Jersey soldier is some how less important or less valuable than the life of one from his home state?

McCain not only voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, but he has been a vocal proponent of the war both from his seat in the Senate and while on the campaign trail in 2008. As the ranking member on the United States Senate Armed Services Committee and a combat veteran himself, few members of the Senate should be more aware of the responsibility that the government has to its soldiers. He knows damn well that that responsibility doesn’t begin and end at his own state’s borders. The Senator’s response was not only a dodge, it was insulting and cruel.

But more to the point, it showed McCain’s ignorance. Our system simply fails to take responsibility for soldiers who are part of the Individual Ready Reserve. In fact, US General Accounting Office sited this as an issue as far back as 2003. Yet over 25,000 soldiers have been mobilized from this pool of soldiers by the Army alone during the War on Terror, and most of them fill vital leadership and command roles. And the military has repeatedly acknowledged that military suicide rates have increased despite efforts to understand and combat them.

McCain hasn’t even given a reason (a real reason) for placing the hold on Holt’s provision. Is it budget squabbling? I’m sure this is one bill the American taxpayers are proud to pay. Is it partisan pettiness? And if so, exactly how many ruined lives are the proper toll for Holt not having an (R) at the end of his name? His only given rationale was dismissive and smug – unbecoming of any elected representative, but especially of a senior member of the Senate.

John McCain’s Washington Office:
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Main: (202) 224-2235
Fax: (202) 228-2862

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Brotherhood Defines

December 3rd, 2010

Upon hearing about Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, my initial reaction was to roll my eyes. Now let’s be clear, I love me some Assassin’s Creed. I even enjoyed the first one, which was a heavily flawed game whose sheer novelty and scope saved it from being unplayably repetitive. And as I’ve said in this space, the sequel was crafted with every last player complaint in mind, managing to fix virtually everything that was wrong with the first AC aside from some minor annoyances with the combat system.

But a sequel only one year later? And set in the same time period, with the same characters, after that character’s primary revelation is already a matter of game canon? That just smacked of laziness. Or cheapness. The fact that it was originally announced as a multi-player addition to the series certainly made it sound like an add-on that got too big for its britches, and the fact that there were a rash of other add-ons that got turned into whole games (I’m looking at you ODST) didn’t help my opinion much.

Well damn was I wrong. I mean really, truly, stunningly, joyously wrong. I’m prepared to say that ACB is not only the best game in the series so far, but it is miles ahead of even ACII. The last title corrected all of the flaws and unfinished ideas of the first game. Brotherhood allowed Ubisoft to spend their creative talents not on fixing old problems, but on pushing the boundaries and the limits of what was already an accomplished title. The combat is finally where it needs to be thanks to the Killing Streak system. The economic system is also vastly improved and much more engaging. Setting the entire game in one city seemed odd at first, but Rome’s scope and variety are more than sufficient, and it gives everything a more “connected” sandbox feel.

In fact, the game has shades of GTA4 in ways that the previous two titles did not, despite them also being open environments. The optional content is much more robust, and just as addictive. It also doesn’t feel like side content, which I appreciate. Even the simpler assassination or reputation missions are complex, unique and satisfying. There are also an entire series of missions that take you to one-shot locations (which give you a closed “stalker” environment to play in) and another set that send you down below Rome itself for some of the most exciting free running and parkour style environment scaling that I’ve seen in any game to date.

And speaking of locations? While I still think the Crusades time period made for a more interesting setting, placing the action of ACB in Rome proper (and moving the final missions to the Vatican) went a long way for me. The game more tightly ties the Templar conspiracy to actual power than the other two titles. Subject 16’s secret clues are back, and the logic puzzles that you have to solve definitely kick the challenge up a notch as well. They also display a stunning, brazen, and politically aware sense of self.

While the puzzle tie-ins in ACII mostly dealt with older history (especially the stuff about Tesla and Edison), Brotherhood’s puzzles indict everything from capitalism to communism. The segment about the recent Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, how it was disguised as a free speech issue, and the utterly devastating effect it has on the electoral process was especially surprising (and welcome).

I am looking forward to the continuation of this series, and I’ll admit that I am still ravenously curious as to the next chunk of history they’re going to set the game in. I still think both the Revolutionary War and France’s Reign of Terror or Revolution would make excellent settings (both in terms of style as well as their ability to mesh with the Templars / Assassins story). But for right now, I’m glad to say that I was just plain wrong (which is what I get for ever doubting Ubisoft). Brotherhood is absolutely worth the price of admission, and I cannot think of a single sane or logical reason not to play it.

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On Other M

September 14th, 2010

Metroid: Other M is a complicated game. It’s clear that Team Ninja has a lot of respect for the Super Metroid team, a fact made obvious during the opening cutscenes. The player is treated to a beautiful and artistic CGI recreation of the climactic battle with Mother Brain and the fully grown “baby” Metroid. They manage to instill a malice and alien grotesqueness in their rendition of Mother Brain that, even having long since left that cutscene behind, stays with me to this moment.

Everything about the development of Other M (a name that sounds odd at first but actually has about three layers of meaning by the end of the story) tells me that they wanted to redefine, not roll back, the Metroid series. To make the title something more than it already is. And let’s be clear here, I did enjoy the game. I had fun with it and I played it to completion. But it is a tragically problematic game, one loaded with inventive folly and well meant counter-productivity.

One thing that Team Ninja nailed (and had been lacking in the Prime series) was the sense of Samus as an agile character. Unfortunately, the limitations of the first person perspective in Prime often made her feel stiff, like a tank with legs. Other M restores the rapid movement and the physicality of the character. The stated goal of Other M was to elicit a classic SNES feel on a modern system, and of all the Metroid games available, Other M does play most like Super Metroid.

To that end, Team Ninja introduced a radical new control scheme that, and I am being very blunt here, doesn’t really work so well. It’s usable, and generally capable. You hold the Wiimote horizontally (like a NES controller) for normal movement, and you aim it at the screen for targetting sequences. The idea was to recreate the tactile sensation of playing a classic game. In that respect, their control scheme works. But it’s just awkward.

The Wiimote d-pad really isn’t up to the task of controlling a character in a modern third person shooter. It’s a stiff and inarticulate input compared to the nunchuck thumbstick. And the game suffers from an underwhelming button / targetting system as well. Dodging (which is necessary throughout the game) is done by quickly tapping the d-pad when an attack is incoming. That’s the same d-pad used for movement. Many boss fights devolved into me staggering around the screen making miniature See-Threepio steps in order to land the proper dodges. A separate dodge button is needed in this game, but isn’t available.

Then there’s the targetting. In third person mode, the game “auto-targets” for you as long as you’ve pointed Samus in generally the right direction. It does a decent job of this, but not a great one. Most of the time I blasted more or less what I wanted to blast. But when it mattered the most, Samus would often automatically pick either the least important enemy or the enemy I’d dealt the least damage to. First person targetting mode is simply not fun. The second or so it takes to switch does not mesh with the extremely fast paced and agile gameplay of Other M. It’s ironic, in a way, that they made the rest of the game so much more movement oriented and then introduced a system that requires you to remain absolutely stationary.

The end result is that you never use missiles unless the game forces you to. A charged up beam shot is at least as powerful and can be fired off in a fraction of the time, and with a fraction of the danger, as even a quick fired missile. In that respect, missiles ceased to hold any value to me other than as a door key or a mandatory exercise in running far enough away from an enemy to use my annoying target lock. Had Team Ninja not insisted on using the horizontal controller, they could likely have solved all of these problems. They’d have had an extra button or two to dodge with, a better control stick to move with, and they could have provided a manual targeting indicator in third person mode via the Wiimote. They also could have had a much faster transition into first person mode. Sadly, these are just pipe dreams, and as it stands I have to call the control scheme for Other M a failure, because it fought me every step of the way.

There was one way that Team Ninja wanted to differentiate Other M from previous Metroid titles, and that was by providing for a richer story. And they tried, bless their hearts. However, the story they spun for me routinely pissed me off. Let’s start with the obvious problem. That was not Samus Aran. Despite her having, perhaps, one sentence of dialogue per game up to this point, most gamers know Samus Aran very well. She’s a galactic bounty hunter with, well, ovaries of titanium. She touches down on barren, hostile worlds and leaps into danger with precise and feverish determination. She can be subtle, and can be sentimental, but she has always been a badass.

The Samus Aran presented in Other M spends all of her time as either an emotionless stump or as a scared little girl. I don’t place any of the blame on voice actress Jessica Martin, who clearly delivered very specific and intentional performances. But Samus’ narration sounds so distant it’s as if she’s reading it off of a postcard, and Samus’ in-game reactions are written and designed to make her sound like an immature child (despite this game being next to last chronologically). It’s the writing team that I have beef with on this one.

A perfect example of this is Samus’ first encounter with Ridley. At this point in her lifetime, she has fought and defeated Ridley at least five different times, and every time he has been resurrected to fight her again. Yet upon encountering Ridley in Other M, Samus stands frozen in place, paralyzed with fear, for the duration of an entire cutscene. The savior of the galaxy, the only person in all of humanity that can fight and destroy the Metroid scourge, is sent into a catatonic terror shock by an enemy whose ass she routinely whips. Like I said: that’s not Samus Aran.

That leads me to my other problem, the cutscenes themselves. A lot of websites touted Other M as a “new type of video game”. And yet I was routinely shifted out of gameplay into a series of pre-rendered cutscenes in order to advance the story. In fact, just about every piece of plot and advancement took place during those cutscenes, quite possibly because there was no way to make the player act as stupidly as they had Samus act over the course of the game. Games have been progressively discarding cutscenes in an attempt to make the story feel like part of the player’s experience (Valve does a particularly good job of this). To drag me back into a long series of cutscenes, and then force me to either sit through a boring B-movie retelling of the current plot or a flashback to Samus doing something distinctly un-Samus-like was both aggravating and insulting.

Compare that to the storytelling done in Prime. Certainly, there were a few NPCs in Prime (especially in Echoes), but the majority of the backstory and plot were told through exploration and reading. Yet somehow that felt more real and more compelling to me than the fully rendered and voices cutscenes – probably because it all took place from the same point of reference and via the same scanning mechanic that brought me all of my other tactical and exploratory information.

And of course I can’t let scanning slide. Team Ninja tried to retain the “scanning” element from Prime, and did so in perhaps the worst possible way. Throughout the game, you will reach key points in the plot where you get locked into first person mode in a non-combat situation. That means you cannot move and cannot interact with the environment in any way except to scan for a clue or object that will continue to advance the plot. You can aim the camera, but that’s about it. The game leaves you standing there until you happen to scroll your targeting reticle over whatever item the game developers wanted you to find.

The problem is that the object in question can sometimes be very inobvious and very small. The reticle doesn’t immediately indicate that you’ve found the right object, either. You have to leave it hovering for a few seconds. In one case, my “target” was two pixels on the screen in the distance. In another case, it was the branch of a plant. I appreciate that they wanted to add exploratory elements to the game (since otherwise everything is very linear), but this was a terrible and uninteresting way to do it. They reduced Metroid to the sort of game I’d expect to play in a web browser, and I resent them for it.

Much has been made of how they wrote in the upgrades for Samus in Other M. Usually, in each Prime title Samus has to get injured so that she loses all of her gear. That way there’s a reason for her to re-acquire it. It was a tired gaming trope, but it got the job done. Not wanting to fall back on that idea again, Samus comes fully kitted out in Other M, but is under orders not to use most of her gear without “authorization”, which she just so happens to get in such a way that gates the game for players the way that gear collection would.

Except that it makes no sense. I mean, I can understand a few of those items being on lockdown for safety reasons (such as Power Bombs). But is there any reason to need authorization to run fast? Or jump higher? Or to wear heat-proof armor while stuck in lava? And yet Samus has to be given permission to activate each of these suit utilities. It also felt like another instance of the game breaking character because, history of not, I simply can’t imagine Samus putting up with those sorts of restrictions. It was particularly frustrating when I could see an item that I wasn’t allowed to get because my grapple beam “wasn’t turned on”. Essentially, they replaced a lame plot device with an even lamer one.

It ultimately lead to one of the most frustrating moments in recent gaming history. I came across a boss that I simply could not defeat. Every time I would get to the end of the staged encounter, every time an obvious clue was presented to me to use a particular item on the boss, and then about eight seconds later I would die. I must have gotten killed about fifteen times during that fight until I realized that, without giving me any indication or on-screen notice, I now had access to another type of weapon. I only figured this out when I went into my suit loadout menu to try and figure out if there were any abilities I was overlooking. And this was by no means the only combat situation in which I was doing the right thing, but not in the right way. Frustratingly, the game has no mechanic for differentiating between this and abject failure.

And speaking of frustration? Other M is the most gated Metroid game I’ve ever played. Between the authorizing of abilities, the constantly locked doors (which get opened by advancing the plot rather than by acquiring a new ability) and the rigidly skyboxed gaming area, I’ve never felt quite as cramped or constricted in a Metroid game – not even in Fusion. It flew directly in the face of Team Ninja’s obvious desire to pay homage to Super Metroid, because that game offered me an unprecedented level of exploratory freedom. There were many times when I found a way to get to an item or a path, but it wasn’t the way that the developers had intended, so an invisible wall simply bounced me away. I’d analyzed my game environment, created a solution using the tools the game had given me, and then was punished for my creativity. That is not Metroid.

Which brings me to my last in a long line of personal gripes with Other M, and that is the sexualization of Samus Aran. When Team Ninja was first announced as working on a new Metroid game, there were obvious jokes about their previous titles (most notably the Dead or Alive series) and the overt oversexualization of its female characters. The concern was immediate, considering Metroid’s odd history with Samus Aran.

Younger readers might not really appreciate the significance of Samus being cast as a girl, or of that being kept a secret when Metroid first launched for the NES. In fact, the developers working on Metroid didn’t truly understand how important that would be. Rumors about how Samus ended up as a female character range from it just being a neat little surprise to it being a nod to Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien (which served as a major inspiration for the original Metroid game).

But what they did was actually monumental. This was a top tier game. Everyone who liked video games played Metroid. In many other ways (such as the use of items to unlock new areas and the non-linear progression of levels) Metroid was an absolutely groundbreaking title. And its starring character, Samus Aran, was a total bad ass. Up until that point in gaming girls were helpless princesses waiting to be saved – to say nothing of Custer’s Revenge. Here was a lead character that didn’t make decisions based on gender or stereotypes. She played like a hero. In a subculture almost entirely dominated by boys and young men, Samus Aran being female was important specifically because her being female was less important than her kicking ass.

Not that Nintendo is completely free of guilt here – in all of Samus’ 2D outings completing the game fast enough or with enough of a collection rate would cause Samus to peel down to various degrees of quasi-revealing bathing suits and work out clothes. Certainly while Zero Suit Samus doesn’t show a lot of skin, she also doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination. Retro Studios, responsible for the Metroid Prime games, walked that tradition back considerably by never really removing her from her armor at all. But there is a distinct difference between how Nintendo handled Samus and how Team Ninja does.

Up until Other M, there has been a rule about Samus Aran, at least as she is portrayed in game. She’s a bad ass first. Yes, she’s allowed to be hot (though always in an athletic context), and her fabled agility certainly trends towards the Aeon Flux side of the spectrum. And while Team Ninja does seem to find a vast number of reasons for Samus to appear only in the Zero Suit, they aren’t overt about it. There was maybe one suggestive butt shot in the entire game (and again, they kept her very toned and athletic looking as befits her character), so by no means did they hypersexualize Samus. This sure as hell isn’t Bayonetta.

But what they did was more subtle. It was in the way Samus walked, the way she rounded corners, the poses she shifted into as she aimed. Most of this all took place in the cutscenes when the player didn’t have direct control over Samus anyway. Her movements were very soft – almost timid looking. The animations on her model reinforced the audio portrayal of her as an insecure child. While it was never overt, it was a distinct shift in how Samus was characterized. And once again, it just didn’t fit the character. Gone were the heel-dug, weapon out battle stances. Instead we got animations and poses that would have looked more appropriate in an evening gown than in power armor.

And maybe that’s my real issue. Clearly, Team Ninja was trying to address the character in the armor. The Samus Aran that they thought we’d never seen. I contend, however, that we have seen her. That she has been established and developed, even in silence, as being both the armor and the person within it. And as an audience we’ve spent many hours inside that armor already. The Prime series put us behind the visible faceplate as an experience-oriented way to connect us with the character. Team Ninja makes the mistake of thinking that the armor has kept audiences from understanding Samus, without understanding for themselves that Samus is the armor.

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