Archive for the ‘In Defiance of Good Taste’ Category

In Defiance of Good Taste: The Hard Gamble

By Eric Stuckart
Creator, Destroyer

Last month saw the reemergence of what some viewed as one of the most infamous mascots of the 90s first person shooter generation, Duke Nukem. Some viewed Duke Nukem Forever as the video game industry’s very own Chinese Democracy. The game took a decade and a half to finally get released, originally starting development in 1996, blowing through four different developers, some of which don’t even exist anymore, reportedly because of the amount of money sunk into the game.

But we’re not here to talk about the game’s history. You can find enough places on the web to find more than enough back history on it, from conspiracy theories to in-depth analysis on how it came into being. I’m here to discuss something altogether different, the actual experience. After reading countless game sites bashing the game, I felt that I needed to play the game, just to see how bad it really was. Hell, at the time of this writing, the 360 version’s score on Metacritic is at 49, which in and of itself isn’t a terrible score, relatively speaking. However, you have to consider the fact that the highest reported rating is only a 78, over at Digital Chumps and sites as noteworthy as 1up.com gave the game a score of 0.

I’m no masochist, but I’ve been known to take on games that are reportedly stinkers from time to time, sometimes just for laughs. My personal opinion is that the occasional bad game helps to broaden your views on the medium, thus making you a more well-rounded critic. Plus, it has the added benefit of helping you to appreciate good games much more when they come around. That doesn’t mean I’ll drop 60 bucks on new copy though, so it’s likely I’ll be renting it. So, as soon as I had some free time, which seemingly has been on short supply as of late, I rented Duke Nukem Forever from one of the Red Boxes that are just about everywhere in my neighborhood.

What I found wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting. While the game isn’t something that I’d likely revisit, I felt that it was something akin to a bucket list item that I needed to check off sometime sooner than later. In some ways, I think that it was my duty as a games critic to experience it just because of the amount of publicity that the game has gotten over the years, not to mention its legendary vaporware status as one of the few games that no one ever thought would actually come out.

The game itself felt like what you’d expect from a title that started development when the original PlayStation was still in its relative infancy, albeit spiked from time to time with swaths of what could only be described more modern gaming elements. In some ways, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation video review of the game hit the nail on the head in the sense that you could see where different evolutionary states of first person shooters was injected into the game, utilizing what was contemporary at the time of the development period.

There’s three distinct sections of the game that reflect differing styles for the FPS genre. The game starts off with an opening that not only copies — note for note, mind you — the ending of Duke Nukem 3D, it also closely echoes the style of the mid 90s. During this section of the game, after a drawn out chapter that forces the player to wander around aimlessly through a hotel and interact with the horribly rendered NPCs, Duke finds that the returning aliens, gone for the last decade and change, are back to their old ways, kidnapping the women of Earth in order to reproduce once again. This plays out in a very outlandish, colorful way, where a good portion of the act involves Duke being shrunken and traveling around by remote-controlled car, trying to avoid being smashed by the now-gigantic aliens. This first third of the game goes into a more claustrophobic, dim midsection, reminiscent of shooters of the turn of the millennium, and the game finishes out with the brown, muddied art style of more recent, wasteland/desert-filled shooters, for the most part at least.

Despite the slightly evolving style, anyone that plays it won’t be able to avoid how dated it feels. One of the most obvious ways DNF hammers this home is by how little it holds the your hand throughout the campaign. There are parts of the game that are a complete pain in the ass to get through, because they require you to attempt to take cover —a more modern element — juxtaposed against Duke’s old-school “two-to-three-hits-and-you’re-dead” resilience. Combined with some of the game’s more questionable changes, such as the fact that Duke can only carry two guns at any given time, and the lacking health power-ups (when you’re in the thick of things, waiting for health to regenerate sucks), it makes for an interesting, but unbalanced and slightly frustrating experience.

At the end of the day though, I couldn’t help but think something in reference to the gaming community: what did you expect? Did you think that the millions of dollars that were sunk into this game were going to somehow magically make it better? Nothing that comes out after that many years in development hell will ever turn out looking good, let alone contemporary, unless all progress was scrapped and started completely from scratch. I know that they did this a few times as game tech improved, but there were more than enough ideas that were recycled into the final product that should have been left out of the game.

People were complaining about its graphics, that the gameplay was dated and that the humor kind of felt like it had passed its expiration date. Really? Should you really be shocked that a game that’s been worked on for fifteen years felt like it was the reanimated corpse of something from the mid 90s? No, you shouldn’t. If you played it and felt cheated or led on to believe that it would be some sort of heralded return of the king, you only have yourself to blame. You bet on Duke and lost.

Also, I’ve been hearing a lot about how much more offensive the game is now than it used to be. Do you honestly believe that? Personally, I think that a lot of it has to do more with the fact that the people that played Duke 3D were much younger, and most likely forgot about how offensive and raunchy that game was in the first place. Let’s be honest here. I’m 28 now. I was 13 when Duke Nukem 3D was released, and I guarantee you that I thought a lot of things were pretty awesome back then that kind of suck in retrospect. I remember hearing about the game when I was in middle school and while I never got around to playing it til much later, the only thing that the kids I knew said about it was that it was awesome because it was just like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, except there were strippers that showed their boobs. Being a typical nerdy 13 year old, that was all it took to be awesome in my book. Looking at it now, not too many of those games have aged particularly well, with the sole exceptions for me being Doom, Doom 2, and Heretic, which is probably only because of the amount of time I spent playing them. Had I not gotten so into them back then, I’d probably think that they look like old, mid-90s games from the dark ages as well.

We’ve all grown up a lot since then, and while some of us embrace the stupid things that we liked as kids, some of us have grown beyond that. And that’s completely normal. Hell, some of us have even managed to grow up and just shrug it off as us liking it because we were young and stupid, not thinking twice about it. Everyone’s different, but with that growth (or lack thereof), there’s bound to be differing opinions on what is going too far and what isn’t. In my opinion, I didn’t see anything in Duke Nukem Forever that was any worse than the older games. He’s still just as much of a pop culture referencing idiot that can only seem to solve things with violence. The game did have a few more suggestive, adult-oriented scenes in it, but this is an M rated game. I hate to fall back on that sort of retort to excuse a game’s content, but there’s a lot of games out there that kids shouldn’t be playing, and this is definitely one of them.

I suppose that it could be argued that the presence of the scripted NPCs makes them seem like they embrace Duke when they should be appalled by him and his behavior, but that would be counterproductive to what the developers — apparently all four of ‘em — were going for, which was to have a world in which the idiot savant who saved them from total annihilation is coasting by on his past exploits, only to have to be called back into action. With the plot being as paper thin as it is — we are talking about what inadvertently became a retro first person shooter here — did you really need more? This is a Duke Nukem game, who the hell needs a story? Morals? Psh! Logic and reasoning? Leave that to the thinking man’s games!

On top of that, you could also see the game’s “offensive” humor and stance as being a byproduct of what has happened in entertainment media as a whole. Just take a look at the way movies are rated now, as opposed to the way that they were 20 to 30 years ago. The things that were considered offensive back then don’t even make people flinch by today’s standards. The same thing could be said in reference to music and every other form of entertainment. That being said, it is a double edged sword, in the sense that as a culture we are becoming much more desensitized, but in order to stay edgy, that envelope has to constantly be pushed. Whether you like it or not, that’s a fact. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that the creative minds behind certain themes and happenings in DNF were very likely to view certain questionable elements of Duke 3D as quaint, thus needing to be more extreme.

In my honest opinion, Duke Nukem Forever failed because it is a mediocre shooter when it could have been much more, but I don’t think anyone could have saved it. If I had to give the single player campaign a score (I didn’t even bother with the multiplayer), it’d probably sit around a 5 or 5.5/10. Compared to other things I’ve played, I can only assume that the reason it got as much hate as it did was because it had the Duke Nukem name attached to it, not to mention years upon years of hype and expectations. I’ve played some truly bad, infuriating, controller smashing shooters in my time — The Conduit and Darkest of Days clearly come to mind — and this one isn’t nearly that bad. Like I said, it won’t be winning any awards praising its mechanics, graphics or level design, nor should it, but was that really Gearbox’s point when they finally rolled up their sleeves and finished what needed to be done? I don’t think so. If anything, they just wanted to see the project through so that people could shut the fuck up about it already. Maybe it shouldn’t have ever come out, but they felt otherwise, and they were probably happy to finally write the final chapter in the long, bloated history books for this game.

All images from thebuzzmedia.com, except book signing image, from newbreview.com.

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In Defiance of Good Taste: Monkey Business

Image from gorillaz.com.

Ey Eric Stuckart
Creator, Destroyer

As some of you may recall, when the Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach came out earlier this year, I was a pretty big fan. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the highest rated album that we’ve reviewed on site, and given the randomness of the musical styles we tend to cover from time to time, that’s pretty high praise.

However, being a great artist and an having great albums doesn’t prevent you from sometimes doing things that could be considered questionable by your fanbase. Just take a look at Marilyn Manson for instance. While some artists, such as him, could argue that they’ve made it a career by pissing everyone off—their fans included—I’m not sure if Gorillaz’ mastermind Damon Albarn (also leader of much-ballyhooed Britpop pioneers Blur) is really in the same sort of position.

Long story short, for Christmas this year, the virtual band has been doing a play on the Christmas advent calendar, each day unearthing something new for fans (desktop backdrops, photos, online minigames similar to the ones from Plastic Beach, etc…) to have and download or look at or whatever they do when they find cool stuff on the internet.

About halfway through the month, band co-creator Jamie Hewlett revealed that the climactic moment of this calendar was going to be the release of The Fall, an album that Albarn had been reportedly working on while on the road during October. The big headline grabbing aspect of it was the fact that he did the thing almost entirely on an iPad, using many of the device’s many music and sound production applications.

“I’ve made it on an iPad – I hope I’ll be making the first record on an iPad,” he said. “I fell in love with my iPad as soon as I got it, so I’ve made a completely different kind of record,” Albarn said. After reading an explanation like that, it almost comes off like a commercial for Apple, but I’ll hold off on calling bullshit just yet.

His reasoning for rushing it out the door even makes sense. Given the volatile nature of the internet community, a lot of artists almost fear that your word is sometimes tested by your ability to stick to your guns, and that’s pretty much what he did. Unfortunately, some may argue that this worked to the detriment of the final product of The Fall, but for all intents and purposes, that wasn’t the point. The point was to make something on the road, with no blueprints, guidelines or producers; just creating music for music’s sake.

“I literally made it on the road in America over a month. I didn’t write it before; I didn’t prepare it. I just did it day by day as a kind of diary of my experience in America,” told Billboard. “If I left it until the New Year to release it, then the cynics out there would say, ‘Oh well, it’s been tampered with.’ But if I put it out now, they’d know that I haven’t done anything because I’ve been on tour ever since.”

This is where the story gets a little murkier though. Because, on Christmas day, I’m sure I wasn’t one of the only people that didn’t notice that you had to be a member of their fanclub, Gorillaz Sub Division, in order to be able to actually download the damn thing. And membership cost $45. Hell, the first place I even read the fact that The Fall was dropping on Christmas was over at Antiquiet, and there wasn’t even a mention of the necessary fanclub membership until after it came out—in the comments section.

Now I understand that that’s one of those little details that obviously wasn’t publicized for very specific reasons, but it’s one of those things that would have probably allowed me to not get my hopes up as much. Fortunately, the album is available streaming on their website if you give them your name and your email, but it was kind of a buzzkill to wake up on Christmas morning—I literally did that—to go to their site and be greeted with the page that says you can either listen to it or join their fanclub, which after clicking tells you of its $45 cost, if you want to have it at your disposal.

Current front page of gorillaz.com.

This isn’t a mere case of me complaining about not getting music for free, either; I would have gladly paid typical price for a retail release if that’s what they were asking. I wouldn’t even have complained if non-members had to pay while members got it for free, as many fanclubs for all sorts of things in this case do special things for their fans. It just seemed like a bit of a bait-and-switch in the way the whole thing was marketed.

And like I said, I might have just not done my research well enough originally, but in a day and age where more and more artists are allowing their music be available for their fans at more reasonable prices—or free, for that matter—this seems like milking them for everything that they’re worth. I like the Gorillaz and really appreciate everything that they’ve releases to some varying degree, but I certainly don’t like them enough to join a fanclub, especially at that entry rate. Does that mean I’m not really a fan? No, but it does mean that I have my boundaries, and those pretty much end when the music stops playing.

With the music industry pretty much becoming a non-entity from the business side of things, artists—especially ones who can manage to sit behind cartoon avatars and still maintain the notoriety of first class pop artists—should be doing more to ensure the survival of their art. But who knows, maybe this is a timed release, and a few months down the line it’ll see it’s own public release of some sort, but for now, I can’t really say that I’m too thrilled to be tied to my desk just to listen to some new music from them, regardless of how great it may be. And from what I’ve heard, it’s pretty good.

Front page image from antiquiet.com.

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In Defiance of Good Taste: Seeing Red

By Eric Stuckart
Creator, Destroyer

About a month or so back, I heard about Red, the upcoming Summit Entertainment film hitting theaters October 15. And seeing the trailer, I saw the DC logo, so that piqued my interest. So, like any good comic book reader, I decided to go out and pick up the trade paperback.

After reading Red, the three-issue story by Warren Ellis and pencilled by Cully Hamner, I was confused, very confused. Now I’m well used to Hollywood using and abusing our favorite comic books and malforming them into whatever story they want to sell. We’ve seen it happen with the biggies like Batman, Spider-Man and X-Men, among others. Hell, I could go on forever.

But now, something more nefarious is happening. The well is starting to run dry, so they’re going for the more ‘fringe’ stories, stories that should probably be left alone. Hell, after what they did to Jonah Hex, I shouldn’t ever have faith in Hollywood’s idea of what a comic book movie should be. But then again, the last twenty years also brought us such cinematic classics like Dick Tracy, The Phantom, and Monkeybone, so it’s obviously been a longtime practice for the guys in their think tanks to come to the conclusion that this is what viewers want.

Back to Red, I’m really confused as to how it’s going to be made into a film that has any sense of reverence to the source material when they’re playing it off like an action-comedy, bordering on a buddy-cop type of film. Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, as I’m only going on the trailers I’ve seen for the movie, but I think it’s safe to say that they’re not going to capture the cold blooded nature of the comic in any way, shape or form.

In Warren Ellis’ book, it tells the story of Paul Moses, a retired CIA Agent living out his golden years in seclusion, punctuated only by the occasional letter from his granddaughter, who lives in England, and a weekly phone conversation with his ‘handler’ back at his former headquarters. Michael Beesley, the newly appointed Director of the CIA is shown a number of files as part of his initiation. Learning of what atrocities Moses had committed—we never find out what exactly he did—Beesley decides that the only way to keep these secrets safe is by assassinating Moses. This plan goes belly-up; Moses turns out to be harder to kill than planned, and he goes out for vengeance. The story only has four characters worth mentioning, and is tidily wrapped up in its three issue run.

How Erich and Jon Hoeber managed to stretch this story out into a screenplay for a feature length film is beyond me. Even more confusing is how they apparently must have sat back and thought that the story wasn’t epic enough with one badass to go out for blood, that they needed three more. So basically, somehow the story was mutated to include not only Bruce Willis as Moses, but Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren as members of some sort of elite team that they all used to be part of. Somewhere in there they wrote in a love interest for him, in the form of Mary-Louise Parker, because all badasses need a girl on their arm while they’re capping motherfuckers. Even moreso if they’re part of the Viagra league. That just goes without saying.

Now I’m going to be honest here, the movie looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m sure it’ll be enjoyable at the very least. The talent that they have going into the film is at least of a higher caliber than that of, say, The Losers, another comic adaptation that kind of came out of the blue. My problem is the fact that something like this shouldn’t be named Red, or based off of the comic at all. Hell, if they really had to flesh out the story to be some kind of ridiculous action flick, they could have still done it with just Bruce Willis. Considering how many people would go see it just based on his presence, they could have attempted to do it somewhat in the spirit of the film. Just look at how many people love the Die Hard movies.

Page 60, Red trade paperback

But if they did that, it wouldn’t be a guaranteed payoff. The comic, while not the most violent out there, is definitely something that would earn a film adaptation a hard R if done in the spirit of the book. And there’s something to be said about Ellis’ version of Moses, who does a lot more shooting than he does talking, but that’s an acceptable risk in my opinion. Red is the type of book that could have been recreated word for word, and unlike Watchmen, which had way too many twists and turns to be easily recreated in the film medium, this would have adapted perfectly. Hell, the book itself could have been used for storyboards.

But, Hollywood had to be the greedy pig that it is, and go for the easy bucks. It’s easier to market an action-comedy with a PG-13 rating than it is an R rated revenge movie, especially if it’s something of this nature. I’m well aware of the difficulty that Summit would have trying to advertise a movie about a man that goes, Lone Ranger style, and takes down an entire building of CIA Agents. Aside from the action movie crowd, that just doesn’t happen unless you’ve got the money behind the project already, or you go full-on and dive into the cheese. As much as I love action movies as a guilty pleasure, I’m well aware of the fact that the only way they get made is for the spectacle, not the substance, unless that substance tastes like Velveeta.

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In Defiance of Good Taste: A Rant on Metal.

By Eric Stuckart
Creator, Destroyer

So I while I was doing my daily scouring of music and gaming news sites, I happened upon the new single from Korn, “Oildale”. You can listen to it here if you like; I’m not embedding it. Their new, ‘heavier’ sound sounds the same as their last few albums. It’s hard to believe that their latest release, the confusingly-titled Korn III: Remember Who You Are, is their ninth album.

Listening to this, it got me thinking about the Ozzfest 2010 announcement that came out at the end of last month. It’s been kicking around in my head for the last week, and it still rings with disappointment. On the surface, the festival sounds like they’re changing their game from “Look how much we can scare mom and dad” attempts with the lineup to “Let’s try and get mom and dad to come to the show, they have the monies.” But that thought ends after the headliners—from there on it’s pretty uninspiring.

Halford, Ozzy, and Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx. Photo taken from ozzfest.com

Headlining the main stage is Ozzy, Mötley Crüe and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford on a solo run, which makes sense. Priest is still pretty big with the older rockers, and despite not successfully releasing an album that would even register as ‘interesting’ since the 90s, Mötley Crüe still draws in a lot of people. For some reason, I will never understand, but bands like the Crüe, Poison, etc. are all a huge hit, even in 2010. I think it’s because people from my generation go because “LOL IRONY IS COOL” and the people from the next couple generations behind me grew up with this type of stuff, back when the only ‘metal’ music that was accepted by the mainstream had to involve spandex and hairspray.

Rounding out the main stage is DevilDriver and Nonpoint, and that’s where I kind of got confused. Now, I can understand DevilDriver to a point, but every time I listen to them, even when I can honestly say that I own one of their four albums on cd, I will never get over the fact that their lead singer, Bradley ‘Dez’ Fafara, used to handle vocal duties for Coal Chamber.

Coal Chamber. Photo from last.fm

We’ll pause for a minute there.

Coal Chamber was one of the bands that I listened to a ton—when I was 16. Now i’ll be the first to admit that I listened to a lot of crap when I was that age. Growing up, I started really listening to ‘metal’ when I was probably in eighth grade. I heard some Metallica and White Zombie and Pantera and thought that was all really cool stuff. However, that somehow that led me to listening to a lot of nü metal.

What’s nü metal, you ask? Oh boy, I’m glad you asked! Nü metal was a movement that started in the mid-90s, when kids that couldn’t pull off playing the thrash metal that they grew up on, and were far too angsty to try playing death metal, started just drop-tuning their guitars and railed against such trials and tribulations as their parents making them cut the grass and complaining because they were all unique snowflakes. Much of it featured rapped vocals, stupid haircuts, oversized clothing and probably the most simplistic guitar riffs ever written, but it was so that the kids could bounce to it.

Also known as ‘bounce metal’ (because of the aforementioned reason), it was a huge hit amongst suburban white teens, usually the ones who nobody liked in school, and bands capitalized on this. The kids already felt unliked, so they merely wrote songs that called out to them, sucking in many elephant-leg pant wearing kids like black hole in Hot Topic.

Rage Against the Machine. Photo from rockandmetal.com

Nü metal had its roots in bands like Faith No More, Helmet and Rage Against the Machine (and I suppose Korn, but they allowed themselves to be assimilated into the mediocrity shitwave), but unlike those three visionary bands, at the end of the day, these bands had nothing to say. Except maybe “Fuck you, dad!” But we were all teenagers, we all said that once. And then we realized we were immature douchebags.

However, this marketability had struck chords with the music business, who saw this, and it looked like a big fucking dollar sign waiting to explode all over them. So they snatched up any band that either a) featured a rapper and a singer, or b) looked ‘gothic industrial’ but sang about their shitty adolescent lives, and waited for the profit. This resulted in a glut of mediocre bands that all pretty much sounded like one of two sounds, and we all know what happens when a trend hits the saturation point—no one likes it anymore because it’s not ‘unique’, and it dies. Bands like Primer 55, Darwin’s Waiting Room, and From Zero flooded the market, and were all ignored like the turds that they were.

So anyways, around the turn of the millennia, nü metal died a slow and painful death, only to be replaced by a new trend that was a lot like the old trend, emo, screamo, and metalcore. I lump them all together, because at the time, these three types of bands could be seen playing shows together without the tough guy posturing that would end up happening by the middle of the decade, causing the major splintering and infighting. But the drawing factor was that all three of these genres also complained about something that really drew in the youngsters: romance.

So it was out with the old, and in with the new. Nü metal was officially dead, but we’re still stuck with Limp Bizkit, who thinks that they still have something relevant to say.

But all ranting aside, my point about DevilDriver was this. Coal Chamber broke up at what appeared to many as the death knell of nü metal, in 2003. Fafara met the DevilDriver guys in 2002, and jumped right into their band as vocalist in late 2003. Coincidence? I certainly don’t think so. And DevilDriver’s sound, you ask? Thrash metal, which because of the metalcore boom, was picking up a lot of momentum itstelf, in America at least. Metal never died in the rest of the world.

DevilDriver. Photo from atlmetal.com

So whenever I think of DevilDriver, it just makes me shake my head in disgust, because I know, I used to be one of those kids with the Powerman 5000 cds and the Coal Chamber shirts and thought I was the shit. And I’ve learned from my mistakes. And it sucks, because DevilDriver isn’t even that bad of a band. They’re not the most original, but they could certainly do much worse in terms of writing interesting songs, and they put on an energetic show, but that’s the one thing that comes to mind.

Back to Ozzfest 2010; I was shocked to hear that Nonpoint was even around still. When I was a senior in high school, they had released their debut album, Statement, and even at the height of my nü metal obsession I found it to be underwhelming. To find that they’re still underwhelming crowds, and playing on the main stage with Ozzy himself is just one in a long line of disappointments with the whole festival. I suppose at this point it’s moot.

As for the second stage, it’s Black Label Society (AKA Zakk Wylde’s Pinch Harmonic Extravaganza), along with Drowning Pool (still waiting for bodies to hit the floor), Kingdom of Sorrow, Goatwhore, Skeletonwitch, Saviours and Kataklysm. This is perhaps the first Ozzfest lineup that doesn’t even seem remotely interesting to me, and perhaps that’s commentary on the big business side of the metal scene.

I had heard a rumor a couple of times that in order to play on Ozzfest there’s an entrance fee in the tens of thousands of dollars range. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know. But if it is, I have a feeling that these bands will be regretting it at the end of this tour. If it is successful, I’d like to hear how many of the attendees skipped the first seven or eight bands and showed up late. Which is a shame, because a few of those opening bands are decent in their own right (Skeletonwitch, Saviors, Goatwhore), but you couldn’t pay me to sit through another one of Black Label wankfests, let alone be anywhere near Drowning Pool.

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