Thursday, November 16, 2006

Portrait of a Badass: The Sphinxes

Character: The Sphinxes
Actor: N/A
Film: The Neverending Story (1984)
Badass Moment: The Sphinxes deny a "fancy" knight passage to the Southern Oracle by cooking him alive with their eye lasers. EYE LASERS.

My brother suggested that I honor "those statues that kill you if you're scared" from The Neverending Story with a spot in my hall of badass fame. Not a bad idea, I thought. But do I classify the Sphinxes, AKA the First of the Two Gates You Must Pass Through Before You Reach the Southern Oracle, as male or female? It was indeed a conundrum, for what are these Sphinxes but sentient statues with EYE LASERS. But, recalling that each Sphinx is also equipped with breasts that would coax jealousy from most of the statues in a Thai restaurant, I decided to go with female.

The Neverending Story, which clocks in at a neverending 94 minutes in length, is the story of Atreyu (Bastien), a warrior (wimp) who hunts the purple buffalo (draws unicorns) and struggles to defeat the ultimate destructive power of The Nothing (skips an entire day of school and hides in the attic overnight). While on his quest he travels across the Swamp of Sadness (gets thrown in a Dumpster), talks to a diminutive scientist (talks to his sandwich) and is stalked by a scary wolf thing (is scared of his humorless, mustachioed father).

In the scene featuring our badasses, Atreyu is challenged to walk between the two giant Sphinxes on his way to the Southern Oracle. The Sphinxes are meant to destroy him if he doubts his worth, which Atreyu obviously does (as evidenced by several shots of him looking doubtful). The lesson to be gained from this scene is unclear, as it clearly demonstrates that, even without the level of self-confidence required to pass through the gate, Atreyu manages to squeak by with some fancy footwork. So remember, kids: Even if your self-esteem is a ghastly wreck, sometimes you get lucky!

The hero Atreyu is arguably the badder badass of this story, and a more obvious candidate for my badass hall of fame. This youngster gets dragged through mud, dropped into the ocean, sneezed on by a giant reptile and hit with debris of all types. As badass as Atreyu himself is, however, he didn't have EYE LASERS. Tough luck, kid.

Sphinxes, you are statuesque badasses. We salute you.

FUN FACT! My sister and I used to have a hard time remembering the name of Atreyu's horse Artax. Without seeing the name in print, it could easily be misheard as Ortex, Ortez, Cortez, Cortex, Vortex or Hortense.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Go, Cheap Racer, Go

Now that it's being rendered "obsolete" by the release of Ridge Racer 7 for the PS3, Namco's Ridge Racer 6 for the Xbox 360 is selling at Bic Camera for ¥980 (about US $8.30).

This is not a "Best Hits" re-release. And Ridge Racer 6 is a completely decent arcade-style racing title (even with questionable physics, endless Namco self-glorification and over-enthusiastic announcer who babbles a bit too much about "crazy nitrous"). Yet, for some reason, it's now cheaper than lunch at Excelsior Cafe.

I picked up a copy and felt good about my shopping prowess all weekend.

Technorati: Ridge Racer, crazy nitrous

Friday, November 10, 2006

Nobody Cares About the PS3

The PlayStation 3 will be released tomorrow in Japan and, incredibly, nobody seems to give a flying Egyptian rat shit.

Even in Japan, the "Land of Video Games," there is a distinct lack of hype, advertising and general awareness of the new console's existence. There are only five launch titles and I can only name four of them. The two I've seen in playable form (Ridge Racer and Gundam) are not exemplary of the kind of excitement I would normally associate with the launch of a major game console. They are exemplary of two games I don't need so badly that I would dump more than $500 on Sony's new machine.

Maybe everyone in Japan has already resigned to the notion that Sony is deliberately limiting supply and there will never be enough PS3s to go around. That, or Japan is holding its breath until Nintendo launches its goofy, quirky Wii console next month. My lungs must not be what they used to be, because I started to turn blue last month and bought an Xbox 360 to prevent my own asphixiation.

ADDENDUM, November 12, 2006:

Apparently some people care about the PS3. It completely sold out of most dealers on the first day it was available. Furthermore, Sony finally started running some commercials showing in-game footage after the launch. I don't know why they didn't go the usual route of pre-launch hype that has become the status quo in the game industry.

Upon being interveiwed, many of yesterday's buyers said they planned to sell their new PS3 online for double the price they paid for it.

Technorati: PlayStation 3, nobody cares

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How Dead Rising Could Have Been 100% Better

I'm beginning to feel like a curmudgeony gamer. Almost every time I play a video game, I find myself thinking, Why didn't they just make it THIS way? It would have been so much better!

Dead Rising, Capcom's shopping mall zombie survival game for the Xbox 360, is a good game. It's really good. It's as good as a game can be without being full-on wicked awesome. While it's admitedly hard to find fault with a game that lets you run zombies over with shopping carts, throw pies in their faces and smash guitars over their heads, the developers dropped the ball when they designed the game's survival mode.

"Infinity Mode," as it's called, challenges the player to survive as long as possible with a draining health meter and limited food supply. This mode, which gives the player a level of freedom very much missing from the main story mode that must be completed to unlock it, should have been so much more fun. After all, it lets the player do whatever he wants for as long as he can, so long as he can find enough food to keep from collapsing. No responsibilities toward the stupid AI characters who need to be rescued in the story mode. No need to be at the Security Room at 3:00 PM on the dot to start the next case. It should have been the best mode ever.

The unfortunate thing is that, in Infinity Mode, the developers failed to create any incentive to do the thing players most want to do, which is kill zombies. How difficult would it have been to give the player a useful bonus item for every hundredth zombie killed? How about the game automatically snapping a still of every fiftieth kill from a random angle (the camera is disabled in Inifinity Mode, for some reason) and offering you the chance to keep it in your photo album if it turns out nicely? How about ANYTHING besides challenging the player not to starve to death?

I don't mean to complain. Dead Rising is an important step forward in the evolution of the zombie game genre. But man. If I had been on the creative team, there would never be a need for another zombie game ever again.

Capcom, you can contact me directly for my resume.

Ladies & Gentlemen, We Got Him

It's about goddamn time.

Donald Rumsfeld resigns as defense secretary

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Piss Me Off: Abbreviated Service Japanese

Traditional Japanese courtesy and western capitalism: Two great tastes that don't go together. If you don't believe me, just visit any of Tokyo's thousands of bustling commercial establishments, where a new incarnation of the Japanese language has emerged. It's faster, louder, cheaper, better, MORE. I call it "abbreviated service Japanese" (ASJ). And it sucks.

I first noticed one of the most common examples of ASJ nearly three years ago at a second-hand books and music store in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture. It is common for Japanese store clerks to say, irasshaimase konnichiwa, meaning "welcome and hello," each time a customer enters the premises. The final syallable -wa is often lengthened and uttered with a slight gradual rise in pitch. In Japanese, it looks like this (provided you have a Japanese font installed on your computer):


In the Japanese "alphabet" this phrase is eleven or twelve syllables long, depending on whether you count the "stop" in irasshaimase, which is often not pronounced. Either way, it's a mouthful...especially when you consider that the corporate office has mandated that it must be said every time a customer crosses the shop's threshhold. It should be no surprise, then, that customer service employees, faced with pressure to operate with speed and efficiency uncharacteristic of a once slow and graceful Japan, have started to cut corners. What I heard at the Matsudo bookstore (at almost robotic five-second intervals) was not the above irasshaimase konnichiwa, but this:


No irasshaimase. No konnichi. Just that elongated, rising wa! The store clerk doing the greeting, recognizing that the final wa was the most audible component of the phrase, decided to omit all the mumbo-jumbo preceding it.

More recently, at a convenience store in Tokyo's Minato Ward, I saw a cashier who looked like an invisible man was pointing an invisible gun at him and telling him to work faster. What you usually hear from a cashier after making a purchase is arigatou gozaimashita, which is like a past-tense "thank you." In Japanese, that looks like this:


Eleven syllables, or ten if you shorten the o at the end of arigatou, which most people do. But once again, whether it was impatience, the threat of losing his job or just the irresistable allure of netting the Employee of the Month award, this cashier was out of control. What he was saying sounded more like this:


That spells ariyarosshita. Much shorter, yes...but sadly, gibberish. I heard the cashier say it three or four times before I left the store.

This kind of thing is going on in stores all over Japan all the time. It's not something that gets to me all the time, but when I do notice it, whoa baby. Recipe for exasperation.

Lest I sound insensitive to the plight of the lowly customer service employee, let me assure you that I know how hard it is to say the same thing over and over again for an entire work shift. When I was in college I worked at the campus textbook store, which experienced a two-week rush period at the start of every semester. Endless streams of confused freshmen and their equally inept parents would come through my checkout line and, to every single one of them, I had to ask the question:

Are you familiar with our return policy?

For the most part I managed to get that question out in an intelligible form 99% of the time. I do remember one time, however, when I finished scanning the barcodes of a student's textbooks, printed out his receipt and then had a terrifying moment of complete mental nothingness. I stood there holding the receipt, my mouth open, for a few seconds...and then, inexplicably, all I managed to say was the word, "UNIVERSE." The funniest part of the story is that the customer, without even noticing my little moment of zen, grabbed his receipt and said, "Yeah, I know the return policy."

Would it kill us all to slow down a bit? At least enough so that we have the time to utter the words we need to say? Efficiency is cool and everything but if Tokyo doesn't put the brakes on there will be a day of reckoning when thousands of employees of Lotteria, AM/PM, Lawson, McDonald's and Book-Off all over the city suddenly overload, freeze up and say "UNIVERSE." And then their heads will explode. And with my luck, I'll be standing right in front of one of them in my nicest shirt and tie when they do.