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Location: Cantonment, Florida, United States

Well, uh, hmm...

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Guitar Hero is a false idol. A false idol, I tell you!

I tried playing the game Guitar Hero 2 the other day. It has a funky controller that looks like a guitar. It features five multi-colored buttons near the headstock that act as the fretted notes. Also, there's a little lever where the pickups would go that moves up and down to simulate picking the strings. Here's a picture.

To play, the game plays the audio of a cool rock song and shows five lines of "strings" that run from the bottom of the screen back into the distance. Then, small bumps start moving along the strings toward the player, and the player must hit the strings (push the white bar on the body) and press the appropriate buttons to play the notes. If the player screws up (which he will, it's inevitable), he is greeted with an unpleasant "twang!"

Now, I was at Best Buy, waiting for my turn to have my hand at this thing, minding my own business. Unbeknownst to me, the game was preparing to embarass this poor man. I got up there, looking forward to doing Black Sabbath's War Pigs, a song I can play well in real life on real guitars. I set it on medium difficulty, thinking that would be just fine, or even a little too easy. It was after about 4 seconds that I realized that this game effectively removes all need for actual guitar playing skill and replaces it with something completely different yet nearly as difficult, though quite useless in the real world. It's just an exercise in pushing buttons at predetermined times. Actually, it's even possible to do it with the volume down because the player can just watch the screen and push the buttons in the right order. Plus, that little guitar controller looks ridiculous. Really ridiculous. It's kind of nice in that it gets kids off their butts and get them headbanging, kind of like the Wii, but it seems to me that after adding up the cost of buying a Playstation 2, the game and controller, and any extra crap like a new faceplate for the guitar, I could get a cheap guitar for the same price (about $220). And then I'd be learning a useful real-world skill. But, I guess it's comparable to learning a race track in Gran Turismo 4. It's nice if I don't feel like purchasing an old Cizeta Moroder and heading down to the Laguna Seca course. Well, actually, no, learning to play the guitar is more realistic a goal. So, instead of spending the cash on that game, go get a real guitar. NOW!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Humor a rare commodity.

I have learned something from the copious amounts of television I have been watching for the past couple of weeks; most people on TV just aren't that funny. I'm not trying to sound like some humor snob, as if I'm a connoisseur of funny. I do believe, however, that if one is going to get a job on television, he must have to go through some sort of humor training. People who buy guns have to get licenses, people who play an instrument have to practice, so perhaps television writers should start practicing humor, much like Sherlock Holmes practiced logic riddles, or like the Kennedys practice covering up the horrid secrets of their family members.

I think it would be wise to study the different forms of humor, and to try to think up of various funny situations withing those forms, and then try combinations and apply them to various storylines.

1. The twist.
I realize that plot twists in and of themselves are not necessarily funny, but a good twist gets us laughing because we expect one outcome based on many years of conditioning, but are then delivered an unexpected surprise. This is usually based upon a familiar joke that most people know, but giving it a new punchline. For example, a joke can start with the classic, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" However, the punchline in this case would not be the familiar, "To get to the other side!" but perhaps "To get away from his OVERBEARING MOTHER." (that last one requires a situation where a grown man is being once again berated by his loving, yet smothering mother in the presence of family and friends. Works even better if they are all animated chickens.) Or it could be answered with, "No really, I have no clue why a chicken would cross a road," which could be responded to with light, sympathetic laughter from the others in the room. He then repeats his assertion that the concept eludes him, only to receive quiet stares until someone breaks the ice. This brings me to the next concept...

2. Fourth wall shattering bad jokes.
Sometimes a cliched bad joke can be used only if it is going to be the springboard for reactions from other characters. Such as if a character tells a bad joke, but not only does no one laugh, but tumbleweeds blow past and people actually start cringing in shame from the joke, causing the teller to begin sweating nervously and apologize profusely. This category of joke also contains my personal favorite; mocking bad plotlines that are obviously just excuses for shoddy writing. This has two sub-categories, which are the person-is-dumber-than-anyone jokes, and the this-was-all-a-big-misunderstanding jokes. The first contains that episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel started working at a candy factory. They can't even wrap candy properly, and so they start eating it, stuffing it in their bras, and just generally act like blasted fools. Now, whenever anyone uses this scene in a comedy, it's obviously to point out just how danged stupid that episode and things like it really are. No one in their right mind would act how Lucy acted, and yet we're supposed to laugh at it on its own terms. Using that scene in a parody, even largely unchanged, still places it under a very self-conscious, "you believe anyone ever thought this was funny?" type of attitude. As for the this-was-a-big-misunderstanding plot device, this is easy to make fun of because it is rampant in its undisguised form. Look at the first Shreck movie. The last half of the movie is dedicated to a misunderstanding that could be cleared up with ten seconds of coherent explanation. Shrek misheard Fiona when she was speaking with Donkey. She said, "How could anyone love an ugly ogre?" She was referring to her transformation into an ogre when the sun went down, and was fearing Shrek wouldn't like her. Shrek heard her and assumed she was talking about him. Then, in a a genius bit of unrealistically contrived dialogue, they danced around the actual issue and were sure to not say anything that might accidentally give away what they actually thought, lest the audience's patience never get tested. It was frustratingly contrived and pathetically indicative of lazy writing. However, when used to deliberately mock this style of plot movement, it turns into something wonderfully witty. Let's say a couple go on a honeymoon to Hawaii, and there is a superspy that goes on the same plane. When they are walking out of the airport, they bump into each other and get their bags mixed up. The husband says to the spy, "Hey, we've got similar bags. In fact, they're identical. It would be an utter shame to get them mixed up," he begins juggling the bags like tennis balls, "Phew, but I gotta be going. And I'm pretty darn sure this is my bag. See ya!" Then, in a good use of joke style one (the twist), they could both have their correct bags, just to defy convention. But, considering the spy has some pretty volatile stuff in his bag, that brings us to style three...

3. Over the top violence.
Banana peels are tres passe. Anvils on the head are old hat. It's the really huge stuff that tickles our funny bone these days. Why have a small explosion that takes out just one building when there can be a huge explosion that takes out the city, only to have the city be rebuilt and shining for the next scene? Guns are also required to be ludicrously huge, and the bigger they are, the funnier they are. Especially if they leave a huge, perfectly round hole in whatever they shoot. Extremely elaborate setups are also quite funny, as the viewer isn't sure when the setup will end, or what the payoff will be, and sometimes the more anticlimactic, the better. A huge cannon that shoots a pea sized projectile, for instance. Or a Rube Goldberg maching that fails on the last step. This can be combined with styles one and two, such as a nuclear bomb that only goes "phhooot" and fizzles out, but explodes as soon as someone says "That was close." Which brings me to my next style...

4. Well timed lines and good ol' fashioned uncomfortable silences.
The line, "that was close," would only work in that situation if the bomb went off right as the person was saying it, or after a long, awkward silence. Otherwise, it seems to conventional and won't tickle the funny bone. Awkward silences after odd or disturbing phrases are quite funny especially in a one on one situation. I realize this seems a lot like style one, but this is not presenting any twists, and it's not like style two because there's no bad joke being made fun of. This is all about interaction and reaction. Let me give you an example of how awkward pauses can add humor to a scene. First, you'll get no pauses, and you must assume that the person who is listening to this fellow speak is a caring, kind, hospitable person.

Burt: Well, I don't know what to say. After the last car accident, I had ruptured my lower intestine, and was in the hospital for two months eating out of a tube. It was impossible to bathe myself, and had to have a nurse do it for me every day. I was so happy to get out of there, I felt so free.

Now, this Burt fellah doesn't sound funny at all, right? Just kind of depressing until you find out that he's out of the hospital and you think, "good for him!" Until you realize that perhaps might mean more exposure to the pains of the world, but you try not to think about it too much. Now, let's hear him bounce off another person.

Steve: Hey, Burt, how the heck are ya?
Burt: Well, I don't know what to say.
Steve: Oh, come now, I'm sure it can't be that bad.
Burt: After the last car accident, I had ruptured my lower instestine, and was in the hospital for two months eating out of a tube.
Steve: (unpleasant, unmoving pause) Uh... well, I don't feel like having sausage any more, ever.
Burt: It was impossible to bathe myself so I had a nurse do it every day.
Steve: If you're looking for help in that area, I would recommend the entire human population before myself.
Burt: My terribly flaky skin made it difficult.
Steve: (head in hands) Oh, no, no, no...
Burt: I was so happy to get out of there, I felt so free.
Steve: Yes, I feel free, too, in escaping an UNPLEASANT PERSON TO TALK TO.

Now, seeing as how I'm tired, I'm going to leave the list at this point for now.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Head On... to a new ad campaign

There are times in a company's life when it must be introspective. Those involved must look at all aspects of the company to try to drop dead weight, improve certain functions, and overall turn it into a well oiled machine. So, when I see commercials for a pain reliever product that feature people randomly popping in to make fun of the very product they are hawking, I begin to wonder if the CEO has not overlooked a brain lesion left for too long. Of course, for him to approve this ad campaign, it must be a lesion the size your average truck tire. The ads I'm talking about, of course, are the Head On commercial series. Now, having seen their commercials before this bit of marketing lunacy, I must say that it seemed like a pleasant, if not wholly worthwhile purchase. Simply open up a stick of Head On and apply it to place on the body that is feeling muscle or arthritis pain. Sounds good to me. I even remembered what the product was, thanks to the catchy name and short video of a guy applying it to his forehead. Then one day I was doing nothing more nefarious than watching Jeopardy when I was mentally punished by Head On's new advert. It was nothing more than one of the Head On commercials brutally halted in the middle only to feature a somewhat repulsive, snide sounding person in no make-up (I've been on sets before and have been on stage, and I can say that without make-up, an actor looks like a member of the Munsters, at best) bellowing in a sarcastic tone, "Head On, apply directly, Head On, apply directly... I hate your commercials and I think they're annoying. But I love your product." Now, I'm no ad wizard, but I think that a company calling its own commercials annoying is poor marketing. AMC tried it, and they only got ingested by Chrysler in 1988, which, in turn got feasted upon like a stunned wildebeest by Mercedes (Oh, sure, call it a merger all you want, there aren't many "mergers" that involve such Borg-like assimilation as DaimlerChrysler). Besides, the new commercials are far more annoying than anything on television. No, wait, that's not entirely accurate. They are the single most annoying ad, in any medium, aver devised. And I'm including the old PetSmart ads as well as those Got Mac? commercials that encourage me to get more PC's, just to spite Mac. I'm even including horrendous ads I have seen in old National Geographics from the teens, back when cigarettes were healthy and snake oil cured tuberculosis. So, maybe they should get introspective, eh?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Video game futures?

I just stopped playing World Rally Championship and Gran Turismo 4 for the Playstation 2. Gran Turismo 4 is an incredibly realistic driving simulator, getting car physics perfectly and making a near true to life racing experience. World Rally Championship is a mayhem simulator. I can take a rally car of my choosing, all of which sound like they have chunks of granite in their transmissions, to one of many mountainside rally tracks. The gearing in these cars is so short that it has to shift to fourth before it hits 20 mph, making the driver in the car look like he is having a caffienne induced spasm as he shifts, puts his hand back on the steering wheel, and then snaps his hand back to the shifter all in a fraction of a second. The real fun comes when one realizes that the car can be taken off any of the many cliffs and jumps that line the sides of the road. Now, unfortunately, the game only allows for excursions of three seconds before it teleports the car back to the track. This does not detract from the fun, as it just resets the game after taking the car into a football-like spiral off a canyon wall. When the car comes back to the track, it has dents, dings, and makes a ludicrous amount of smoke. The best part is that there is insufficient clipping in the car model, so the smoke just pours into the car. It's especially fun to go flying off a hill into a passing sheep or spectator because the simply do not budge. They are apparently made of some sort of titanium alloy and have shafts that stick into the bedrock. When one takes an in car view, it only adds to the hilarity that the driver and navigator are completely calm. Even as the car careens over a several hundred foot high jump, the navigator keeps his head burried in his map, even calling out future turns as the valley floor rapidly approaches, and the driver continues to not blink, ever, just like real rally drivers. So, I guess it is realistic after all. Having watched rally racing, I realize that these are not humans driving these vehicles, but some sort of androids. In the thirty seconds that the camera is pointed at the faces of the "people" in the car, there is no blinking, sneezing, coughing, shifting, scratching, or breathing going on by either the driver or the navigator. I think that they truly would not notice if they just flew off into nothingness. The driver would still be turning the wheel in accordance with the turns that he would encounter, were he not hurdling towards certain doom, the navigator would be completely oblivious to the fact that gravity has now started pulling in the opposite direction as the car is now upside down, and the specatators would still be snapping photos and shouting things in various foreign languages. So, that makes me wonder why tracks such as the Pike's Peak course still exist in our modern age of intense and constant lawsuits. It seems to me that if a driver had a nervous tick, he could go off the track with such speed that he wouldn't hit the bottom of the mountain until everyone there had enough time to pack up, go home, get dinner, feed the pets, take baths, and go to bed. Meanwhile, the driver of said car would have completed the course in his mind only to find that he would be able to construct a crude glider from materials found inside his own car and fly to safety before his car hit the bottom of the stupifyingly tall Pike's Peak. All this, of course, makes for a very fun video game. Except I haven't figured out how to have my driver make a glider when he spins off the top of a tall mountain so he can save his own butt. In all my games, he just looks kind of contented with his fate. Anyway, all that being said, Gran Turismo 4 is still a far superior game. So there.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Things! Look out! Holy Diver, you've been down too long...

Well, if you want to know what's been eating up all my time, here it is.
The Official Sam and Max website has an excellent "make your own comic" section, and I have made somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty or thirty under the name "Johnny Dames Rio." Yes, an obvious reference to Ethel Merman. I mean, Ronnie James Dio, singer for Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio, Black Sabbath again, Dio again, and now Heaven and Hell, which is Black Sabbath by another name, then presumably Dio again. It's ludicrously addicting, and there's some really good ones on there. Unfortunately, there's also a bunch of seriously crappy ones. I wish I could say mine are always awesome, but hey, I'm human and imperfect. I think they're funny, but if I didn't, I wouldn't have posted them. So, go make some!

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Yo, I'm back! How are you? Really? I'm sorry to hear that. Well, it's nice to see you, anyway. I'll update more later!