LEGO Harry Potter Collection

So here’s the thing about LEGO video games: they’re all the same. Traveler’s Tales slaps a different licensing coat of paint on, maybe adds one unique gameplay element, and that’s it. I can’t imagine buying every iteration of the games they make. But that all being said, these games can be very relaxing in that they’re not very demanding. They’re very cute (especially the ones before they added voice acting so the characters just make faces and noises), silly, and comforting.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been playing LEGO Harry Potter Collection on Xbox One, and it was exactly what I wanted. There were loads of collectibles to pick up (I’m a 100% addict as long as no skill is involved in getting to 100%; I’ll find your collectibles all damn day if it doesn’t mean I have to complete a time trial or make some show of dexterity), I was going through the Harry Potter story that I enjoy, and it was just a good way to unwind. It’s not a game to make me mad or where I’m competing with other people. There’s no rush to get through it. I simply pick it up, play some levels, find the collectibles, and complete the achievements.

I’ve now got a little over a month before Final Fantasy VII Remake hits, so I can probably squeeze in one more game before then. It’s just a matter of deciding which one because the backlog is out of control.

Monday, February 24th, 2020 videogames No Comments

The Case for Bernie

As I write this, New Hampshire has just been called for Bernie Sanders. As a Warren supporter, I’m obviously a bit dismayed at her distant 3rd and 4th place finishes in the first two states. I think there’s a lot of baked-in misogyny in our country, but there’s also a lot of fear. I can see the casual voter who looks at Elizabeth Warren, sees Hillary Clinton 2.0, and sees Donald Trump getting reelected.

Naysayers will say that Bernie didn’t increase his turnout from 2016. I’d counter that the electorate is far more fractured when you’re running against four people (plus a few people that never really had a chance) than when you’re running against one person. Bernie was never going to repeat his 22-point New Hampshire victory from 2016; there’s not enough vote to go around. Naysayers will say that because Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden split the moderate vote, there are more moderates than Bernie supporters. I’d counter that’s not how elections work, and if that’s the math you want to do, then all it takes is for Kasich, Rubio, Cruz, and Bush to beat Trump in the 2016 Republican primary. The win is the win, so what you need to concern yourself with is whether or not those people who voted for other candidates other than Bernie in the primary will come out for Bernie in a general election.

Looking out at the field, I think Bernie is a strong contender for several reasons:

There’s the theory that each election is a “remedy” to the previous election. Granted, if things are going well, you get a reelection, but Trump makes that difficult because he’s an unpopular President with a popular economy. But I think that people are, by and large, tired by Trump. Even if you don’t follow the news closely, you know there’s this idiot blowhard around who needs to make everything about him. He is, simply put, exhausting.

Sanders looks appealing by virtue of being, frankly, uninterested in anything that deals with his personality. That may seem like an odd trait in someone who is looking to win a popularity contest, but Sanders has his brand–no-nonsense progressive who fights against the wealthy–and that brand is popular. If you’re a swing voter who voted for Trump because you wanted “change” and then Trump just continues on in a general direction of constant corruption while getting into trade wars with China, then you’re still angry and still looking for change. Bernie is your change candidate who gives you what you want (“a new system”) minus the constant need for adoration.

Some are worried that Bernie will turn off suburban women because he’s too “radical.” But this theory reminds me of 2016 when Trump couldn’t win with white women because not only was Clinton too popular with that demographic, but the Access Hollywood tape wiped out any gains Trump may have made with that group. Trump ended up winning with white women 57% to 37%. I’m not disputing the argument that you need women to win; my argument is you have no idea how women are going to vote in 2020.

I also think Bernie has the intangibles to win this race. I think he has a simple message that he never deviates from. I think he’s endearing in a curmudgeonly fashion. I think what people don’t like about him are tired arguments that no longer resonate (“Socialism!”) The worst thing about him are his followers, and if that’s your hang-up, Trump’s followers and some of his employees are white nationalists. I’m not saying Bernie Bros. are great (they can be quite toxic on social media), but I also don’t think Bernie follows their lead or needs to call them “very fine people.”

Will Bernie get hammered with opposition research? Of course. There’s no candidate that will avoid it. If you aren’t expecting Trump and the media establishment to fight back against Sanders tooth-and-nail, you haven’t been paying attention. But it’s not like they’re going to roll out the red carpet for Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar. There is no path of least resistance here.

Honestly, I’m not all that worried about Trump because everyone knows who he is and what he’ll do. The reason his approval hovers at 42% is because he’s a polarizing figure. Your opinion on him doesn’t really change. He’s going to lie and cheat and use all the levers of government to stop the Democratic nominee, but Trump needs the media as a willing handmaiden. His whole Ukraine scam was to open an investigation on Biden because he needed dirt that the media could run with. He knew that once any cloud of controversy surrounded Biden, it would be the new “e-mails” and the media, in their dopey need to be “objective”, would pounce and “raise questions.”

The media is my concern. The media needs this election (and every election) to be a horserace. They need it to be sports. If it’s not a competition and Bernie is a normal candidate who is not corrupt and Donald Trump is clearly corrupt, then that’s not a good conflict and that’s bad for ratings. But if Bernie is corrupt and Donald Trump is corrupt then wHaT wiLL vOTeRs dO? It’s all a game to people like Chuck Todd and Chris Cillizza because politics doesn’t affect them. They cover it, but the outcomes can’t touch rich, white men.

I’m not pollyanna about a Sanders win. If we should have learned anything in 2016 it’s not to take a single election for granted, especially when the GOP has made it clear that they will use every trick in the book to ensure their rule for as long as possible. But I think Sanders is a strong candidate who’s easy to understand, hard to knock off message, and doesn’t mince words. I don’t know how he’ll be as a President (my preference for Warren is that I think she’d be a stronger executive), but I think he gives Democrats a stronger case than any “moderate” who has the approval of the punditry but not the people. The pundits said Biden was the Electability candidate; he got clobbered in the first two states. The pundits said Sanders was too radical; he’s got the best path to the nomination right now.

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020 politics No Comments

2020 Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

Should Win: Parasite

Will Win: Parasite

Best Director

Should Win: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917

Best Actor

Should Win: Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Best Actress

Should Win: Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Will Win: Renee Zellweger, Judy

Best Supporting Actor

Should Win: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress

Should Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Best Adapted Screenplay

Should Win: Little Women

Will Win: Jojo Rabbit

Best Original Screenplay

Should Win: Parasite

Will Win: Parasite

Best Animated Film

Should Win: I Lost My Body

Will Win: Klaus

Best Cinematography

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Little Women

Should Win: Little Women

Best Documentary

Will Win: American Factory

Best Documentary Short

Will Win: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

Best Film Editing

Will Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Best International Feature Film

Will Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Will Win: Bombshell

Should Win: Bombshell

Best Original Score

Will Win: Joker

Should Win: 1917

Best Original Song

Will Win: Rocketman

Should Win: Rocketman

Best Production Design

Will Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Hair Love

Best Live-Action Short

Will Win: The Neighbors’ Window

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: 1917

Should Win: 1917

Friday, February 7th, 2020 Uncategorized No Comments

Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King

It’s fascinating to play these games as an adult and also with the benefit of a rewind button. If I can take you back to the early 90s when these games were released, the way games had longevity was through difficult. When arcade games were difficult, it was a financial transaction. You pump in quarters to keep playing. But when home console games were difficult, it’s so that parents wouldn’t feel ripped off while game developers inflicted sadistic gameplay on kids. If you were a tenacious child, then coming home after school every day to see if you could get past the “Cave of Wonders” or “I Can’t Wait to Be King” was how games worked. You would get destroyed again and again with only a limited numbers of lives and continues and checkpoints. The underlying message for kids (if these games have a message): be perfect or die.

Playing them as an adult, it speaks volumes that even with a rewind button to speed things along, these games are still punishingly difficult. Some if it is because of poor design like weak object detection (like getting hit when you weren’t touched by an enemy) or platforming that doesn’t reach the gold standard set by the Mario games. But ultimately, with Aladdin and The Lion King, you have two pretty typical games of the era: they were tie-ins, they were brutally difficult, and, credit where it’s due, they’re beautifully animated for their era. Carrying that Disney license ensured that the games didn’t look bad even if their gameplay felt designed to upset and anger children.

That’s the weirdest thing about the way these games play. As an adult, I would never want my kid to play a game like this. It’s fine for me with the nostalgia and the rewind button and all that. But there’s really nothing rewarding happening here. Sure, the Mario games have their level of difficulty, but what’s always made the Mario games stand apart is that they feel, on some level, fair. Even as a kid, you know that if you missed the jump or got struck by an enemy, it was kind of on you. And especially once you reach Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, the games offer ways to be more forgiving without completely nerfing the experience.

Aladdin and especially The Lion King really hate the player. They almost feel like a cruel joke played on every child who loved the movies and then gets introduced to some of the most punishing levels the designers were able to concoct. And again, I get the business decision: Parents are the ones paying for these games and a game that can be beaten in a weekend makes for unhappy parents. But look at the puzzling element added to The Lion King and tell me that’s a game for a child. I’m a grown-ass man and I was repeatedly checking YouTube to figure out how to advance (I had less of a problem with that on Aladdin, although the boss fights still gave me trouble).

The Disney Classic Games collection is a funny little nostalgia box that really leans hard into “nostalgia” because any realistic recollection of these games has to acknowledge their unforgiving difficulty. With the rewind button frequently in use (although it can cause the game to glitch something awful by basically losing control of your character), the games are manageable, but they’d probably only be considered “fun” by masochists.

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Talk about starting the gaming year off with a disappointment. I got stuck on an early boss, switched over to Zelda, and then came back to this one and still got whomped. I read strategy guides and I read about difficulty, and this just the kind of game I don’t like playing. I was hoping for a return to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with some better graphics, but it oddly has less charm than the PlayStation classic and feels more cumbersome. It always feels like I’m playing off-brand SOTN even though it’s from the same creator.

I guess I could really grind it out on this boss battle and see if the game eases up, but how much time do I have to invest to beat this one guy? Also, it’s not like I’m getting any closer to beating him. He knocks me out pretty quickly, and part of the appeal of these Metroidvania games is that they unfold with exploration. I’ve now hit a wall and rather than dump more time trying to make the best of Bloodstained, I’m moving on to something else. Bummer.

Friday, January 10th, 2020 videogames No Comments

The Legend of Zelda

I did not have a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) growing up. The first console we ever got in my house was a Super Nintendo, which we loved very much (thanks, Mom!). But that didn’t stop me from playing NES games over at friends’ houses. However, one game I never really got to play was The Legend of Zelda, which makes sense. While the Super Mario Bros. games allow for multiple players or you can switch off lives and levels, Zelda is a big, expansive game of trial-and-error. It’s a game the begs you to get lost in it, to dig out some graph paper, and to record the location of every secret treasure. It’s a game that demands you get together with your friends who are also playing it and figure out the location of the secret rooms and how to get into various dungeons. Before social networking became a thing, the social element of Zelda was essential (it was either that or pick up a strategy guide).

As a kid, I can imagine that playing The Legend of Zelda was a blast, but I am now an adult. The game is part of the NES Classics lineup on Nintendo Switch, so I decided to finally play through it. However, since my free time is more finite and all my friends aren’t playing a game from 1986, I decided to take a couple shortcuts. First up, I happily used an online strategy guide to help direct me in making my way around Hyrule. Second, and what I’m sure others will declare as blasphemous, I made use of the rewind feature when enemies started raining a beatdown on me. I regret nothing. I wanted to play the game, but I also realized that there was no way in 2019 for me to play it as originally intended unless I forsook other responsibilities like “spending time with my wife” and “my job.”

And having beaten the game (or at least the first quest; I don’t really see the point of completing the second quest), it’s no surprise why the game is a classic. I actually felt a little sad that I didn’t get to play this game when it came out because I can easily see getting lost in making maps and talking about how to beat dungeons with friends. That’s the communal aspect of video games that’s kind of lost right now and has kind of wandered over to “solving” TV shows like Lost and Westworld. Now the community of video games is who can you beat and how badly you can beat them rather than a small group of young friends coming together to get to the end of a quest. As an adult, I’m no longer the target audience for a 34-year-old video game, if that game has any large audience at all. But I’m grateful for the experience of having played it, shortcuts and all.

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

Anime was a mistake. So was playing this game until the end.

It’s really my fault, though. I’m not the same person as I was when I started playing these games over a decade ago, and the writing just isn’t as strong. Capcom has tried to add in new gameplay wrinkles while keeping the same charm, but the series has become overloaded on characters and relied too heavily on Apollo Justice, who doesn’t seem to have much of a personality, or at least not a personality that makes him significantly different from Phoenix Wright. Plus the series has never really figured out how to iron out the kinks in its logic leaps, so what you’ve got is kind of an overwrought visual novel that has failed to evolve as a game.

Of course, my silly need to finish games I’ve started reared its ugly head and instead of just quitting, I felt the need to complete the story. Thankfully, I was able to get it in under the wire for 2019, but now I can say I’m done with the Phoenix Wright games. They were fun while they lasted, but this series is out of juice, so unless Capcom does some sort of major revamp where they start telling better stories while bringing the gameplay out of 2005, I think this is the last one I’m gonna play. On to better games in 2020!

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 videogames No Comments

Favorite Articles of 2019

2019 is almost in the books, so here’s a collection of my favorite articles I worked on this past year:

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 movies, personal, television No Comments

The Dan Quinn Show Goes On

Today, the Falcons announced that despite a 1-7 start and bungling the cap space on an offensive line that didn’t work, the Falcons will be keeping coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimtrioff on board. While you can point to the 5-2 record after the bye or the decisive wins over the Saints and the 49ers, the truth of the matter is that Dan Quinn is the best bad option the Falcons have at this point.

As my brother pointed out, you can’t get rid of Dimitroff because a new GM would want a new head coach. As Dave Choate at The Falcoholic points out, you can’t get a new head coach who’s any good because the cap hit created by Dimitroff prevents the flexibility to build a new team. Getting rid of Dan Quinn would likely just get you a Mike McCarthy or some other retread rather than a rising star like Lincoln Riley who could remake the team. Quinn and Dimitroff are chained to each other, which means the Falcons organization is chained to them.

To be fair to Dan Quinn, he’s not all downside. The players love him and will fight like hell for him. He had the humility to recognize he couldn’t continue on in the defensive coordinator position and handed it off to people who have done a much better job. Give me the choice between Dan Quinn and Mike McCarthy, and I’ll happily take Dan Quinn, but the bummer of it all is that I wish we didn’t have to make that choice.

My biggest problem with Dan Quinn is that we’ve been with him for five years now, and what you see is what you get. Barring some magnificent drafting a la Sean Payton or Jason Garrett, I don’t see how the Falcons can dig themselves out of their hole in 2020. Maybe they’ll go 9-7 or something, but I don’t see how they compete with the Saints. Sean Payton may be a deeply odious human being, but he’s a hell of a coach and we saw this season that even without Drew Brees, the Saints will be just fine.

This means that for the Falcons to even have a prayer, everything rests on an offensive coordinator who can not only get the most of these players, but get them on board with their scheme in a single season. It’s easy to remember the 2016 season where Mike Shanahan’s offense was putting up over 40 points per game and Matt Ryan was the MVP. But go back to 2015 and Shanahan looked like a terrible hire and Ryan appeared to be washed up. There’s no room now for an 8-8 get-right season, and Quinn has missed with his last two OC hires.

It’s incredibly frustrating for fans like myself because we can see that the talent is there. A team with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Austin Hooper, Calvin Ridley, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and so on does not have a personnel problem. These guys know how to play and they can play well, but this season you can see how they’ve been failed by scheme. It was defenders out of positions in the first half of the season and an offensive line letting Matt Ryan get killed all season.

There are also problems that I don’t think Quinn will fix about himself. The Falcons struggle like crazy in the third quarter and have to make it up in the fourth. The killer instinct that was present in 2016 was only present in 2016. Quinn’s clock and timeout management is a mess. And the one that gets me is how undisciplined the team can be when it comes to penalties. Can a single OC hire fix all of these issues?

Probably not, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons go 7-9 again in 2020 with a high side of 9-7. I’d love to be wrong and for them to play like they did in 2016 (they got back to the playoffs again in 2017, but that season was brutal to watch with the Falcons constantly scraping by on luck). I wouldn’t say keeping Quinn and Dimitroff is a good decision, but it’s the best one Arthur Blank had.

Update: The Falcons are brining back Koetter so 7-9 season it is!

Friday, December 27th, 2019 sports No Comments

The Wrong Lessons

Elizabeth Warren’s numbers have fallen off a cliff. After being the frontrunner in mid-September, voters have cooled on her considerably in early states where she needed to make a splash. The punditocracy will be quick to note that Warren shouldn’t have become so embroiled in the details of Medicare for All. This article from Ezra Klein is a typical example of chin-stroking bullshit from a guy who by his own admission fell for Paul Ryan’s con game. The article basically boils down to Democrats shouldn’t have talked about the most appealing part of their platform because now it’s being framed negatively (who could have foreseen powerful interests like the insurance lobby and big pharma manufacturing consent?).

The takeaway from Warren’s loss will be that Democrats shouldn’t get too in the weeds on any one thing. It’s the kind of message the helps breed the consulting class that has always left Democrats stranded in the wilderness as they chase polling data while studiously avoiding any messaging whatsoever that may not agree with Beltway wisdom. So in the case of Medicare for All, the polling says that people like their private insurance. Keep in mind that when the ACA was in the works, that also had backlash because people are scared of things that are unfamiliar even if it offers them something better. It’s the job of skilled leaders to lead and change public opinions.

What’s frustrating in the case of Warren is that she was trying to do just that. She staked out strong positions and then re-calibrated when necessary while not abandoning the core of her beliefs (compared to Pete Buttigieg who couldn’t run away from M4A fast enough when he saw there was an opening to steal moderate voters away from Joe Biden). But a Biden or a Buttigeig win in Iowa and/or New Hampshire reinforces the notion that the Democratic Party doesn’t want to move “too far to the left,” (please note that never in the punditocracy can a candidate move “too far too the right”). And look, the primary system is garbage and it’s deeply fucked up that two very white states have such a large say in setting the tone when black voters are the most important part of the Democratic base. So the message that gets carried is to say nothing of substance to a bunch of white people who won’t really even feel the ramifications of their actions unless they actually need healthcare (oddly, people stop loving their private insurance when they lose their jobs; weird how that works out).

Maybe I’m just being prematurely bitter and Warren can rebound, but the Iowa caucus is about six weeks away and she’s painfully behind. Right now it’s shaping up to be Biden or Buttigieg. And as I’ve said before, I’ll support whoever gets the Democratic nomination and I expect a lot of left-wing folks are about to be exposed as privileged dilettantes who will refuse to vote “on principal” while the world burns.

Obviously, the anxiety comes from the fact that there’s no perfect candidate to run. Clinton should have beaten Trump, she lost because the Electoral College is bad and outdated, and it’s possible that no candidate can beat him because he has the right demographics in the right states even though he’ll never win the popular vote. And then the country will spiral further into rage and depression because of a fluke of demography, geography, and the EC.

When I look at all this, I oddly take comfort in the fact that it’s been worse than this before and we somehow came out the other side. I think the problem is the amount of uncertainty when you have a madman in charge of the country and a death cult behind him. That makes for frightening times. But we should not be so arrogant to think that we’re the first to experience such times, and that these times are worse than all others that have come before. Furthermore, we should not view ourselves as powerless. For me, what weighs on me more than anything is just how draining the last three years have been, and yet me and the left-wing people I follow on Twitter have it easy. We’re not migrants at the border who get separated from our families and thrown into cages. We’re not refugees denied sanctuary. We’re not Yeminis being bombed. That’s not to make light of that suffering or to say we shouldn’t show compassion. That suffering is necessary to retain empathy and our humanity.

But I will also say that while Trump and his cronies are a mental and emotional drain on the body politic, we are not powerless. I understand that voters in Iowa and NH are looking for “the person that can beat Trump” and while I think that’s misguided, I get that we’re looking for an end to this nightmare. But we have to prepare ourselves that the nightmare may not end in 2020. Hell, it may not end in 2024 (if Trump chooses not to leave, what’s going to stop him? Norms? How have those fared?)

But past generations had to live through world war and pandemic. We have a shit-for-brains Fox News grandpa who can’t stop tweeting. We can handle this.

Thursday, December 12th, 2019 politics No Comments