Friday, December 28, 2012

The Delusion of Choice: Narrative Bending In The Walking Dead [Part 4]

[Note: I'm keeping this one spoiler-free, so enjoy everyone!]


I love stories. I honestly live for them. The more I think about it, the more I think it's hardwired into my brain. I mentally turn my day into a kind of story whenever I wake up ("Today's the day I overcome procrastination! Or...will it be?? [see - it's a mystery!]) If I read an article, or someone starts talking to me, I can't maintain interest for more than a minute unless they've hooked me with an interesting premise. ("Were there any polar bears at your layover in Duluth, Frank? No? The 'Catch Me If You Can' guy, maybe? Work with me here.") I think we all love stories so much because they're windows into another world, another person's - living, dead, real or fictional - life. And with enough tantalizing details, it becomes an open window...that we can climb through...with our minds!

It's taken me a while to write this last piece analyzing one of the best games I played in 2012, but I'm glad I wound up taking this long to do it. It gave me some time to reflect on the end of the series, which ended recently with a powerful finale up there with some of the best fiction I've encountered this year. And the coolest part? I actually got to experience it in an active role. I got to decide how Lee Everett - a man with a dark past and a chance at redemption - would behave during some very difficult moments in a horrific new world.

Before I finished the game I was mentally preparing myself to be up in arms about how many of the decisions you make actually affect the storyline (something I brought up in just about all of my previous posts discussing this game). I even had a list of ideas written down to share here, with fixes that would allow for bigger branching paths next season (or in any forthcoming story-driven game). But it all feels nit-picky now, after experiencing everything the game had to offer. Even though the game's writers intervened at almost every corner to decide what happened to Lee and his companions despite whatever decisions I made, that didn't stop the fact that in the moment I felt like I was there, playing whatever small part I could to protect myself and those around me.

That's really the heart of it right there. Don't you do that all the time, with any story? You naturally wonder what you would do if you were in that hypothetical situation. And you always assume you'd do the right thing, right? Or the smart thing, or the just thing. But how do you know that? You don't, is the answer. You don't actually have a hoard of zombies rushing you, with two friends screaming for help from opposite sides of the room. Sure, it may just be a video game. But that lump that forms in your throat as you realize you don't have enough time to save both of these people - two character that you've spent time getting to know, that have watched your back all game - that's real. And you don't get that from any other passive experience.

I'm going to second what Justin McElroy over at Polygon has said about this game. Everyone should play it. Not just every gamer, or fan of zombie fiction. Everyone should give it a shot, because The Walking Dead is something different, something special, and it shows another side of gaming that I don't think many people are familiar with. A new level of immersion, without any stats, numbers, health bars, buttons (well, ok, technically, you've got to press some buttons) or anything to worry about besides how Lee is interacting with the world around him.

I'll close by saying this: boy, did that ending make me cry. And - while I will acknowledge that it's getting to be less and less of a big deal to say this, seeing as how I've now got two other posts centered around some thing(s) that made me cry - this is actually a first for me from a video game, so I think it's still bears mentioning. And hey, when's the last time I wrote four full posts about any one game? Even my favorite game of 2011, Batman: Arkham City, only got one!

I'm going to be putting out my Top 5 Gaming Moments from the past year up soon. And I've had some truly great experiences in gaming this past year. But I bet you can guess which one tops them all.

-Matt

PS: Ok, the next time I cry while playing a video game, I'll probably have to mention that too - if only to say that that game surpassed the bar set by The Walking Dead. Hmm. But then after that, I suppose I'd have to mention what surpassed that bar, right? Alright, look. You're just gonna have to keep hearing about all of my crying. Don't be a baby about it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Napa For One!



Going to Napa Valley, California without a +1? Nervous about whether or not you'll have any fun on your own? Or how you'll be able to navigate the winding roads while rocking your inevitable wine-tasting buzz? Wondering if you ran off into the middle of a vineyard, slipped on a rock, cracked your head open and died, how long it would be before anybody noticed? Fear not friends, or sorry, friend, singular - I have the answers to all these questions and more in my latest section: NAPA FOR ONE (aka N41)!

N41 TRAVEL TIPS!
1) When travelling alone, it's temping to be more social than usual - talking to strangers about your trip, expressing interest in the lives of others, and being an all-around friendly person. DO NOT DO THIS. Understand that there's an inverse relationship between the willingness a new person has to talk to you and the amount of interesting things he or she has to say.

Also applies to celebrities, the attractive and the generally wealthy
If you insist on rolling the dice, know that most people have a plan for their time that doesn't involve talking to you, and every attempt you make is basically an assault on whatever pleasure they'd otherwise be deriving from their regularly scheduled lives. Just imagine someone talking to you in the middle of reading this blog post right now. Serious party foul, right?

Now, the ones that will talk to you will obviously be more desperate for conversation than even you are, so know that you've just signed a life contract with a guy who's allegedly figured out a way to stop freezer burn or a woman who's been on seven different reality shows.

Look - you've already made whatever friends you're going to make in your life at this point. Just accept that as a fact, and enjoy all the pleasures this trip has to offer you while unshackling yourself from societal norms. If you're feeling any of those annoying urges for human contact, just drink another glass of wine! There's a reason Napa's slogan is: "Top you off, buddy?"

Make sure you choose the Australian accent
2) Be sure to get a GPS with your rental car. This is vital! Take it from the formerly clueless, driving around unfamiliar territory solo is a dangerous prospect. Without the comforting tones of an automated voice directing you around, you'll be forced to keep a map or your smart phone handy at all times. And if you're anything like me (and survey shows all visitors to my site are 90% like me, if not actually me), you won't want to start pulling over every five minutes for a refresher. Instead, you'll risk life and limb keeping the map/phone in your right hand as you drive with the left, wondering how many seconds you can take your eye off the road without crashing.

But really it's the vigilante Corkscrew that's keeping crime down
3) Though you'll want to keep your wine intake in check without a designated driver, you'll notice many locals imbibing with reckless abandon everywhere you go. What's their secret? Well, though DUI's are typically tolerated no more in Napa than they are throughout California, local law enforcement will actually turn a blind eye if you're able to recite the secret phrase of the week, which always involves a specific vineyard, blend, and year. This phrase while I was in town was: "I hear Baldacci's '87 Malbec is best paired with a rosemary and garlic roast leg of lamb." (The irony with the phrase is always that it's actually promoting a terrible blend with the absolute wrong meal!)

A note of caution - take care not to mess up a single word in this phrase or else you'll be beaten as an ordinary drunk/dullard who doesn't know a thing about wine. If you haven't discovered the current phrase etched in the stalls of a vineyard bathroom by the time you've been pulled over, simply pay close attention to the police as they escort you to the local jail, as it is common practice for the police to utter it openly to first time offenders.

N41 WINING!
Wine is a huge part of the Napa Valley experience. Not interested in wine? Well, enjoy...uh, the Napa Valley Film Festival, I guess? Though incidentally, all films in this festival are centered around wine, or in the case of children's movies, wine product.

Now, without a partner to assist or stall for you, you're going to want to ensure you've boned up on your wine knowledge before visiting many of the vineyards and wineries around town. Here are some tips to avoid common mistakes most travelers make:

1) Holding Your Glass - Yes, the way you hold your wine glass immediately reveals your level of wine drinking acumen. Standard wine law calls for you to hold your glass by the stem (that would be the thin, stalk-like piece at the bottom of the glass, if you're really new to all of this), but there is a little bit of wiggle room. For example, no one would ever suggest you hold your wine glass with two hands like some kind of neanderthal, right? And yet, this attractive young woman is totally pulling off:

She takes the most adorable sips from her glass
The key is confidence (or an unquestionable level of attractiveness, if you happen to have that). If you want to hold the glass another way, do it with gusto. For example, I've started practicing holding my wine glass at the rim, like so:

Wait 'til you see how I drink from this
And though it costs me a pretty penny in broken glasses and spilled wine, once I get the hang of it I'm sure it's going to turn heads at parties.

2) Pronunciation
The world of wine is filled some of the fanciest words. And for those of you not in the know, lots of fancy words aren't spelled phonetically. For example, did you know "plaid" is pronounced "PLAD"? Well I didn't, until quite recently*. What was I, just supposed to know there was a useless "i" in the word?

Here are so common wine variations, and their phonetic pronunciation.

Merlot: MER-LOW
Cabernet: CAB-ER-NEIGH
Sauvignon: I actually still don't know how to pronounce this one, but if you're forced to say it, just do what I've been doing, and put on a thick Chinese accent, saying: "ahh SO-VAN-NOOOO??" and laugh at how badly the offensive stereotype you've just created has butchered the pronunciation. Now you've dodged a bullet, and gained a room full of laughter! (Note: if there are Asian people in the room, you'll obviously want to adjust your behavior. After you make your mocking gesture, point to Asians in the room and say "these guys know what I'm talking about.")

We call these fruits on the side here 'non-alcoholic pre-wine pouches'
3) Varieties
Sure, I could list all the different wines for you right now, but that's not really as important if you're new to the game like I was just a short time ago. Some people just assume you know certain things (as I mentioned before with plaid pronounced PLAD), and that certain facts just go without saying. But maybe you don't, and maybe it doesn't, you know? So I'm going to state it right here for the record, without judgement:

Purple grapes make red wine, and green grapes make white wine. There is no "purple wine" or "green wine," so whatever you do, DON'T ask about them.

There, I just saved you the trouble of looking like a real wine dumb dumb. You say you already knew that? Well, enjoy your wonderful, sprawling vineyard, monsieur winemaster! I bet you'll never guess which one of your precious vines I just peed on! Actually, speaking of pee....
Pictured: Inevitability
4) Pitfalls
Anyone who's ever finished a glass of red wine knows the risks associated with it. Splotchy, crimson lips, dark-stained teeth, and the potential for ruined clothes are the unfortunate downside to such a flavorful, intoxicating drink. But did you know that white wine comes with its own set of downsides, too?

It's much less spoken about due to the sheer embarrassment associated with it, but anyone who drinks white white suffers briefly from what are known as "pee squirts." It's like farting, only from from the front, not the back. Actually more like "sharting" because there's definitely more than just air coming out. Now you see why it's such a taboo topic? The point is, you'll have to pick your poison, since as I mentioned, drinking wine is kind of required in Napa. Incidentally, "lip/teeth staining versus pee squirts," the classic wine connoisseur's dilemma, is the actual origin of the phrase "pick your poison."

5) Mingling
Wine tours can be a great place to mingle with singles. Inquiring about market fluctuations, crop rotation, or 'the pest situation,' with the owner of a vineyard can quickly establish you as an educated connoisseur, and of course, the alpha male/warrior princess of the tour group. Referencing a deceased love one - i.e. "I wish Cheryl could have lived long enough to see this" - can also let your status as a single be known, and calm any assertions that you're some kind of unsavory wine-tour creeper (note that anti-creeper behavior should be employed at all times, save for perhaps the seedy motel you're likely staying at). But be sure to do the proper reconnaissance work before fully committing to any given person in the group. That cute brunette that giggles at your joke about "wearing your grape-squishing shoes" could easily be paired with the tall guy way in the back, who's obviously just so tall and confident in his relationship that he doesn't feel the need to stand anywhere near his girlfriend or the front of the group. As a theoretical scenario.

N41 DINING!
There are a great number of amazing restaurants in Napa, including places just outside the Napa area along the Pacific coast. Here you might find what I'd describe as one of the most breathtaking sunsets ever known to man. And like staring the setting sun for too long, fine dining on your vacation comes with own set of dangers.

Beautiful...but at what price??
Studies have shown that there is nothing sadder looking than a person uttering the phrase: "table for one," minus of course: "table for one, and do you have any gluten-free options?" Thankfully, in our current technological age, the pathetic sight of a person enjoying a solitary meal in public can be mitigated by the simple presence of a smart phone. If used properly, it can actually change the world's perception of you. You immediately go from a lonely man with no one to eat with/love him to a man who's too fucking important/busy to be bothered with anyone right now. Even if you're not actually busy at all, and instead, finishing your 300th round of Scramble With Friends, John Q. Public is none the wiser.

So where is the caution, you ask? Well this very restaurant overlooking the Pacific ocean was is in what is commonly known as a "dead zone," free of any wireless or cellular service. The only thing worse than seeing a man sitting staring at the setting sun alone as a metaphor for his own life is the site of him pretending to talk or text with another person on the phone while everyone in the restaurant knows that's impossible. A man on his smartphone with no service isn't feverishly composing emails saving and/or destroying companies with a few keystrokes. A person without internet is most likely looking at the photos of all the people that for one reason or another have disappeared from their lives.

Not eating alone in your car actually puts you in the minority here
You're much safer at a place like In-N-Out, with locations all over the Bay area. Best of all, every delicious burger comes without an ounce of judgment on your solo status or your ever-expanding gut!

N41 BENEFITS!
Enough with the warnings, let's talk about some of the great benefits of travelling alone! Benefits like:

I'm quite the master of disguise you know
1) Playing The Mystery Of You

As an unknown visitor in a new land, it is perfectly within your right to take on a new persona, or personas at your leisure. So go ahead , try on a new personality. Be the bucket list guy with only a few months left to live, be the undercover celebrity who's taking every precaution not to let anyone know who she really is, or be a robot from the future who's come to the past to experience something the now-extinct human race referred to as a "getaway."

2) No Agenda, No Sharing, No Volume Control

Maybe a lot of business travelling types get to do this all the time, but I haven't been in a hotel room alone before, nor have I driven around in a lot of rental cars by myself. And guess what? It's awesome! No sharing the covers, or pillows, or bathroom, and you get to blast your iPod on shuffle and sing along loudly to every song in your eclectic collection. So make the most of this opportunity - it's 100% Me Time, All The Time.

Now, if you plan on interacting with other people, it's a still a good idea practice good grooming and personal hygiene. Alternatively, you can just say SCREW IT and fully commit to being a smelly drifter (or a robot from the future with a poorly programmed understanding of human cleanliness). Point is, you have options.

"Yes, I'm sorry. This seat is taken."
3) You're Never Really Alone

That's right friends. If you play your cards just right, and you'll never have to be alone with your terrible terrible thoughts.

Facebook, Twitter and the like are your friends on these kinds of trips. It's like a road trip with all your friends, followers and spam bots. "Why yes, I suppose the mountain air does remind me of Spring Fresh Tide @charlenon8341!" And when you've got no service or cell phone battery left? Well, you've still got your imagination right? Who says imaginary friends are only for kids, anyway? Why should the little brats with underdeveloped brains get to have all the fun? Think of all the three dimensional, well-read, gifted conversationalists you can generate on the spot and talk to all day long about philosophy, politics, and your favorite episodes of Community. Plus, who says this "friend" can't be a hot chick (or dude) who's totally into you too?

Like a sexy Hobbes?
So talk, laugh, and argue away with the new friend that will never judge you or not know when to shut up. Unless of course that is the kind of person you've decided to invent for some strange reason. See, here I am judging you right now - but hey, I'm real, and real people are flawed, ok? So get over it.

***

Well, that should just about do it. I hope you have as much fun in Napa as I did. Good night everyone, or as they say in Napa: "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!!"

-Matt

*This is actually true.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tim & Eric Meet At The Corner Of Awkward And Cringe-Worthy

Quick post today guys - I just got my second piece published on Splitsider! It's about the offbeat duo Tim & Eric, who are sort of the opposite of Louis CK in terms of their particular comedic sensibilities.


Not a fan of theirs, or have no idea who they are? Fret not, as I actually wasn't very familiar with them either, and probably still wouldn't call myself a big fan of their style of humor. But, as I say in the piece, I believe there's still something pretty fascinating about the two of them that I found myself compelled to explore.

You can find the new piece here if I've enticed you at all. And if you haven't read my first piece on Louis C.K. and Slow Comedy, that one's still up there too.

-Matt

Sunday, September 30, 2012

[Onion Wedges] T-Dog's Commentary

"Wouldn't It Be Hilarious If I Actually Lived All The Way Through The End Of The Walking Dead?"

by IronE Singleton, a.k.a "T-Dog"

Well, Season 3 of The Walking Dead is premiering in just a few weeks, and inexplicably, my character T-Dog is still alive. Believe me when I say I am just as surprised as you. I mean, let's be honest here, a guy named "T-Dog" is probably not meant for narrative greatness, especially not in a show about the zombie apocalypse. I play a one-dimensional character with no real connection to anyone in the cast, nor do I have any particularly interesting quirks or traits. And yet, as much of an afterthought as T-Dog is, you'd really think the writers would have at least found some imaginative way to kill off me by now. But miraculously, I am still a member of the living on the show. At this point, I can't help but imagine how fucking hilarious it would be if T-Dog somehow made it through to the end of the series.

Let's take a minute and look at some T-Dog highlights from Season 2 of the show, shall we? The first episode, all I managed to do was cut myself real bad. This led to my character getting an infection in his arm, then getting sick. Now right here was probably the longest piece of dialogue my character has had the entire series, where I gave a fever-induced incoherent rant about feeling 'disposable' - showing that my character is totally aware of how useless he is in the big picture. Then T-Dog got some gangsta medical attention (that's a joke, though "none of that gangsta shit," was a choice quote of mine in one episode), and for the rest of the season, I pretty much sat in the background, shaking my head or passively involving myself in all the stupid non-zombie problems the entire remaining cast got to experience. Every week I expected to be handed a script that featured T-Dog dying at the hands of a surprise zombie attack. But wouldn't you know it, I just kind of kept on living. That is of course, if you count multiple episodes where I had zero lines, or interactions with the rest of the cast and would often get less screen time than certain zombies as "living."

Now, before I go on explaining my case for my character's continued survival, I recognize the obvious benefits to my character staying alive. Every episode T-Dog appears in the background looking at his gun while Rick and Lori argue about the survival of the group is money in the bank for me, right? But understand that I'm no longer invested in this project for the paycheck. Right now, it is completely about the mind-blowingly ludicrous idea that somehow, the least-developed, least interesting character on AMC's blockbuster show could wind up surviving certain doom despite all odds and common sense on the part of the writers.

Maybe it's some sort of industry affirmative action that's kept me alive this long. Killing off the only black guy on the show is probably too obvious, and could be interpreted as racist I guess, maybe? So they keep me around because it's just easier that way. Great, so let's really fucking heighten this then. People gotta die sometime -start by killing the little kid, Carl. That'll really piss audiences off. 'He was the heart of the show!' they'll yell. Then kill the wife, Lori too. Have her get in the way of a zombie horde right when it seems like I'm finally about to bite the big one. My God will the internet blow up over that - can you imagine the shock of her dying over me? Then maybe at some point down the line the main character Rick dies too (depressed over his dead wife and kid, no doubt), and then every else one until it's just me punching zombies alone in some huge warehouse shouting: "You ain't never gettin' T-Dog!!" Come on, how amazing would that be? It would be like sort of meta-commentary on my character's purposeless existence, like every member of the cast of Dexter besides Dexter. Also, it'd would just be really fucking hysterical.

Oh wait, I just thought of something brilliant. Obviously my bland, purposeless character has been given zero backstory or flashbacks to date, but what if that changed all of a sudden? What if in the middle of everything, T-Dog gets an origin story? Maybe we'll finally get to know his real name! Or the day he chose to bequeath the name "T-Dog" onto himself. What about an episode where T-Dog is despondent, and feels like leaving the group, and the others actually have to convince him to stay by saying why he's a valuable member of the group, or why they like him?!. Haha, oh man, the writers would totally never be able to pull that off! God, I'm having way too much fun with this. They're going to kill me off pretty soon anyway. Or will they?

It's funny, in the first couple of episodes I appeared in, I was instinctively letting the zombies get close to me during each take. I guess I was just assuming that my character - who no audience member is invested in or rooting for - was rightfully going to get torn apart at any minute. But fuck, now that I've made it this far, I feel like I'm calling the writer's bluff. I wanna see this thing through until the end. Maybe if T-Dog is ever supposed to get bitten, I'll storm into the writer's room and give them all my best angry black guy face to try and convince them that T-Dog's obviously he's got some kind of immunity to the zombie disease. These people don't have much of an endgame in mind, and the pressure's on for the series to continue for a while, so I'm willing to bet I can sell them on anything at this point.

Wow. You guys - I just got the script for the next episode we're shooting. Apparently I say: "count me out" on page 34, and then I basically disappear for the rest of the episode. And yes, I'm still alive! Hahahaha! I love it.

Oh man, I seriously can't stop laughing right now.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From Underdog To Schadenfreude


Mike Birbiglia used to be my hero. He was exactly the kind of storyteller I wanted to be. Just a few years ago, he was a relatively unknown comedian delivering his tales of dangerous sleepwalking, shitty car accidents and one pathetic dating life. He told his stories in an emotional, almost apologetic tone, reassuring his audience whenever they cringed at a particularly embarrassing detail by saying: “I know, I’m in the future also.” 

Now he’s got his own movie out in theaters, Sleepwalk With Me, with a lot of the same amusing material. But watching him speak at a Q&A after the movie, I realized there was a certain off-putting confidence about him that I hadn't noticed before. Movie star Mike Birbiglia was successful and assured. A few questions in, I raised my hand and asked him whether he defines himself as more of a storyteller or a comedian, and he seemed to brush it off, saying he doesn't really label himself as anything. He gave me a relaxed smile and turned away to answer his next question, and right then I scoffed and turned my figurative back on him. How could a person I once traveled across three long New York City boroughs to see not have the humility to take a fan’s legitimate question seriously? The fame must have gone to his head. Man, I was so done with him.

Of course, this narrative I’ve created is total bullshit. A few weeks later, Birbiglia was on Reddit doing an “AMA” or “Ask Me Anything,” where fans and other internet denizens could similarly ask him questions directly over a short period of time. Though the move was likely another marketing gesture to support his film, his answers were both gracious and detailed. He thanked his many fans for their support and responded to legitimate questions about his experiences and career along with silly ones about late night pizza and what kind of bear he would be. And to be even more clear about how relative this all is - in the AMA Birbiglia himself readily admits that, to borrow a line from Mitch Hedberg, he is definitely more of an “apartment name,” than a “household name.”

In my quest to reconcile my emotions and the facts, I realized that I have an almost pathological need for the artists I support to be a recognizable underdog. This includes all the many writers, performers, and comedians - including personal friends of mine who have ‘made it.’ I can’t help but lose interest (if not worse) in their journey once they achieve the success I’d been supporting them towards the whole time. I’m honestly no better than the music snob who scoffs at his favorite band for ‘going mainstream,’ something I never thought I’d relate to, since I only ever seem to get into bands well after their alleged prime. Mind you, I’ll still enjoy any artist’s work if it’s good (though their work will be subject to comparison among the upper crust of creative output along with every other master of their field - Louis CK, Stephen Colbert, and the like), but the fan-driven passion I once had - feverishly posting on social networks, gathering support to come see a show, and buying everything I can regardless of quality - is totally gone.

I’ve spent some time wondering if this low level schadenfreude comes from more than just my own sad ego or lack of career success. I’m certainly jealous of any artist who’s become more successful than me, but in analyzing this specific instance, I came to realize that my brain may simply not know what to do with these people past a certain point in their careers, once the obvious struggling stops. Here’s the thing: an overwhelming majority of the character-driven stories I've read or seen throughout my life follow an underdog of some kind right up until the point of success. That success can come in a variety of flavors, and the character’s underdog ‘status’ can be as small as an otherwise awesome guy who is just a little too in love with himself and needs his ass humbled. Barring a few rare exceptions, the protagonist’s life is generally better off at the end of story than it was before. Then the story ends, and we’re content to move on to a different story with another character’s struggle, maybe this time in outer space.

If by chance you or I were given a glimpse of our favorite scrappy, unlikely hero after the credits rolled, it would start with a boring scene about a now-accomplished person likely celebrating his or her success with the love interest they’d just won over. At best, it’d be boring. At worst, you might have the strong urge to yell: “I get it, stop rubbing it in my face!” at the screen in frustration (or maybe that’s just me). The only time the story continues is when once again the character finds himself up against some shitty odds. The second a new obstacle emerges, this one even bigger than before!, we’re back on board until adversity has once again been overcome, hopefully this time in outer space. But that’s not how anyone’s life actually goes. Mike Birbiglia will probably still encounter life challenges, but unless he decides to switch careers and start his own cupcake delivery service, it probably won’t ever be as epic or story-worthy.

The effects of a lifetime of scripted storytelling have a lasting impact. You can’t just watch six years of Dexter, or seven years of How I Met Your Mother and naturally assume life ever stops being a struggle for more than a week or so, whether you’re a serial killer with a conscience or a guy who seemingly just cannot find ‘the one.’ I don’t just project this “narrative resists life” mantra onto others, either - even my own life isn’t immune from this line of thinking. Recently I experienced one of the most affirmative, fulfilling moments of my writing career to date. A piece I wrote got a fair bit of attention on the internet one day and suddenly I felt on top of the world. Walking to the subway with a spring in my step later that same day, I started crossing the street and I stopped short to make doubly sure I wasn't about to get hit by a car. The thought made no sense to me at first, until I realized the fear came about as reaction to the happiness I was feeling. I was actually anticipating some sort of inevitable, narrative retribution. I had experienced too much success, and now had to fall victim to some form of tragic downfall or else, presumably, risk losing interest in myself as the central character in the story of my life.

That night after Sleepwalk With Me, I literally got to watch the no longer underdog Mike Birbiglia emerge from his story post-credits, and converse comfortably in front of an audience in a way the on-screen Mike Birbiglia wasn't able to. Now on-screen Mike, that guy had my sympathy. He needed all the help he could get if he was ever going to get past being an underpaid, amateur performer. The overdog Birbiglia right in front of me on the other hand was just some big shot I couldn't relate to. He probably had to take breaks from counting all the stacks of money in his high rise apartment to come down and pay lip service to us losers, who had nothing better to do on a Saturday night. Jesus, Mike. I get it, stop rubbing it in my face!

I immerse myself in hundreds of hours of fictional stories based around overcoming adversity every year. The repetition of proper story structure and emphasis on drama and relatability trumps the mundane, unfocused narrative of any person’s actual life story. So it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise to me that I’m downright eager to abandon anyone who achieves a certain level of success. Let’s be clear though, I’m not a bad guy with low self esteem who just wants these people to fail. This Shafeekenfreude I’m feeling is simply me wishing them to back to their more relatable underdog status, where I can happily support them. Once they go back to struggling with their smaller audiences and embarrassing paychecks, I vow to vehemently cheer them on from the back of a dive bar in the outskirts of Brooklyn. I know it’ll seem pointless at first, but in time these artists will come to understand that their Sisyphean endeavors make for a much nicer story for devoted fans like me, who like it better when their reality follows a proper script.

-Matt

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Placebo: The Game! (That I Designed!)

Readers of this blog, as well as people who know me personally, people who know me casually, and others who may have taken a casual glance at me all know that I. love. games. I've been playing them obsessively pretty much my entire life, and a while ago I decided that designing from scratch was going to be one of of my bucket list goals. One morning earlier this year I woke and, out of ideas for any stories/blog posts I wanted to write, I decided to try to come up with an idea for game. I knew it wouldn't be a video game, only because I wanted it to be sometime I could make from scratch and have it be playable in a matter of days as opposed to months, or years (also something I could make on my own, and despite my frankly weak efforts, I am no programmer). So I decided on some kind of board or card game. Then, in traditional improv fashion, I sat down, gave myself a random word as suggestion, and began writing. That word?

PLACEBO!

I've always loved this word. I actually give it as a suggestion to others during improv shows all the time. I love the way it sounds, I love the actual definition/amazing mind manipulating science behind the word, and of course, it reminds me of one of my favorite Simpsons moments of all time. So when I gave myself the word "Placebo" as a starting-off point, I found myself plotting the idea for a game almost immediately. A half hour later, I had the outline for a card based game involving a deadly virus, a team of shitty scientists, and of course, lots of delightfully deceptive placebos. Here's a small sampling of what the game looks like:

And you thought I was just wasting my life on stupid things like this blog!
Pretty cool, huh? Now, I can't reveal every detail of the game here today, since in case I actually try to make it I don't want the concept stolen before I get it off the ground. BUT - the reason I'm announcing it today is that, after a few trial runs with close friends, and about three major overhauls, I think the game is in good enough shape that I'd like to start testing it on a larger scale.

So - if you live in the New York City area and love games, give me a shout (comment in this blog, or message me on Twitter) and I'll make a master list and start getting games together. I'm looking for feedback of any kind, and of course, watching every playtesting session carefully to look for exploits and other forms of game-breaking behavior.

For the rest of you who can't play it right now, don't fret. For all you know, this time next year, Placebo: The Game! could be on sale on Amazon or your local nerd shop for all to purchase and play (what a dream!)

Help me make this as awesome as possible and don't worry - unlike this game's namesake, the joyous sensation you're going to feel after playing it will be the result of 100% real gaming goodness!

-Matt

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Delusion of Choice: Narrative Bending In The Walking Dead [Part 3]

[I'm back with more analysis on The Walking Dead video game series. Minor spoilers for the first episode]


Part III: Oh My Darlin' Clementine (Or: Please Don't End Like Mass Effect 3)

Every episode of The Walking Dead video game opens with a message that says: "your choices affect the story." Let's get this out of the way right now: this statement is not entirely true. There are many times that when presented with a choice of what to do or say, the plot will continue on as planned regardless of your alleged "choice," with at most a different line of dialogue spoken by other characters.

This is the reality of crafting a plot-heavy video game. Players want to feel like they have control over the story they're participating in (this is why they're playing The Walking Dead video game and not just watching the television series or reading the comic book), but Telltale Games doesn't have the writers, the budget or the time to craft a game with thousands of sprawling storylines. Understanding this limitation is the key to appreciating the game, which I still contend is one of the best story-driven video games to come out in a very long time.

The "narrative bending" that takes place in the game still allows the player to make some difficult choices, even if the story ultimately snaps back into place and hits the same beats regardless. I was initially disappointed to see that the infected woman I'd mercifully allowed to commit suicide in my game still wound up killing herself in my friend's game when he declined to give her that option (she manages to snatch the gun in a scuffle if you don't simply hand it over). But even if the writer's weren't inclined to created two diverging paths for the storyline - one where this woman was alive and slowly turning into a zombie because you didn't have the heart to do what you know is right, or dead thanks to your heroism and long-term decision making ability - your character did still take a moral stand, so a sort of balance is struck between the player and the writers.

I do have one big concern though, regarding the final narrative bottleneck known as the ending of the game. I'm worried this same gesture will feel like an awful cheat after however many episodes of incredibly painful decisions, big and small. This is what happened earlier in the year with Mass Effect 3, when hundreds of choices made over the course of three sprawling, 40+ hour games were whittled down to ostensibly a few color changes in a two minute cut-scene. After a massive outcry, the creators of the game added a minor update that at least made the game feel like it had three distinct endings, but it still fell short for many, myself included.

In the short term, I'm ok with the story plowing forward regardless of my decisions at the time. But I'm really hoping the series is planning an actual tailored payoff for players at the end. Here's my biggest example: while venturing through the zombie apocalypse, I've been having dozens of small conversations with Clementine, the little girl I've been protecting since I met her at the beginning of the game. She has provided the motivation for me/my character to power through all the depressing, end of the world insanity going on. Every choice I make in a line of dialogue with her reflects my character's pragmatic desire to keep his young companion informed while preserving whatever little bit of innocence is still left in her.

I'd like to think that there are hundreds of different Clementines in the world being created right now, born out of the many different conversations players are having with her. Some of them are toughening up, some of them are cowering in a corner somewhere in fear. I want to believe that the Clementine I'm protecting, the Clementine I'm maintaining a 100% honest, caring relationship with will not be the same one every player sees just before the credits roll (and so help me God, she will make it to the end credits). Because if she winds up the same little girl with the same heart and same view of the world no matter what I said or did, then what the hell was I fighting for all this time?

Still To Come:
-How To Make Death An Actual Threat
-And Probably More!

Also: Check out Part I and II if you haven't yet (or just, you know, scroll down).

-Matt

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Delusion Of Choice: Narrative Bending In The Walking Dead [Part 2]

[I'm continuing my thoughts on this excellent zombie-filled adventure game series. Incredibly vague spoilers ahead for the first two episodes of The Walking Dead]


Part II: "Fuck You Kenny!" - Thoughts On Building Connections Between Players & NPCs

I tried giving him the benefit of the doubt. I really did. He seemed like a decent enough guy at first. Loving husband and father. Adorable southern twang. But after two major back to back disappointments during the debacle at the barn, I think I'm done being reasonable with Kenny. In fact, I'm on the verge of outright leaving him for the zombies, next chance I get.

You should understand, I play my video games like I'm the second coming of Jesus. I don't lie, I don't steal, I turn water into wine if it's ever an option. In every conversation with another non-aggressive person I react with the patience and forgiveness of a saint. That's just how I was raised to be...in video games. Obviously having a good relationship with every possible character you come across is only ever going to benefit you as the player.

But dear god, I am so fucking done with Kenny. He pushed me to the point where, whenever my character had the opportunity to yell at, demoralize or undermine him, I took it. And I love it. I'm off of my usual video game autopilot right now, not just picking the option that gets me the most "friendship points" or "alliance strength" or whatever stat I know the game is tracking after every dialogue option I choose. At this point, I don't give a shit what harm comes of it. I'm done letting Kenny ruin things for my character, and the rest of the group. Especially Clementine, the little girl I'm protecting.

At the end of the second episode of the game, the group comes across an abandoned car full of supplies. Kenny dives right in, while my character stands back, judging him. Several options for dialogue appear on the bottom of the screen. There's a neutral response, a mostly negative response, and one outright sneer.

"You're really on a tear today, aren't you Kenny?" I tell my character to say to him.

The screen flashes a prompt, informing me: "Kenny will remember your words", and I shout at the screen: "GOOD, HE'D FUCKING BETTER!"

I love that on top of the game tracking my decisions with other players and keeping tabs on our relationships, it's gone one step above and beyond and caused me the player to have very personal reactions to the scripted NPCs. Great stuff.

Still To Come (I may wait until after I play Episode 3 for these)

-How To Make Death An Actual Threat
-Oh My Darlin' Clementine (Or: Please Don't End Like Mass Effect 3)
-And probably more!

And if you haven't read it yet, check out Part I.

-Matt

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Delusion Of Choice: Narrative Bending In The Walking Dead [Part 1]

[I have some scattered thoughts on the topic listed above. I'm focusing on one small thread here though, for now. Minor spoilers ahead for the second episode of The Walking Dead video game series]


Part I: The Hunger Mini-Games

There was a moment of pure dread I experienced playing the second episode of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, and it actually had nothing to do with zombies. My character, Lee Everett, was put in charge of deciding who among our party of ten very hungry survivors was to receive the four meager pieces of food being allotted for the day. This decision troubled me more than any other in the game so far (save for the decision between saving the lives of two characters, which I'll talk about later) because I knew I couldn't out-game this particular decision. There was no winning or losing here, and I couldn't just reload a save to try and perfect the scenario. I was just going to have to choose four people to give food to, and the rest were going to go hungry. End of story.

A few minutes later, after starting to hand out the food, I was presented with a decision that, conversely, I was actually easily able to out-game. When I got down to the last package of cheese and crackers, the game asked me decide whether to keep it for myself or to give it someone else. I thought this was a clever move in theory, but unlike my previous decision(s), I knew that obviously my character was going to just go hungry. Why? Because he's the protagonist, and the game wasn't actually going to make him/me suffer. Not enough to affect me as a player in any way, at least. I made a similar decision at the end of the scenario when the group stumbled upon an abandoned car full of supplies and debated whether or not it was considered stealing. "No thanks guys, but enjoy your ill-gotten gains. I'm pretty sure I'll be just fine," is what I said to the group, though I think my character may have been forced to say something a little less blatantly fourth-wall breaking.

It's easy to take the moral high ground when you know you're playing as the story's hero. I believe this kind of self-awareness can be worked around though (and since I haven't played past episode 2, for all I know it will be, so I'm mostly just speculating here that my character won't be adversely affected by his decision to starve himself). What if, after deciding to not give himself any food, any strenuous activity that took place afterward (including struggling with a lumbering zombie) was that much harder to accomplish (via button mashing or inputs)? What if for the rest of the episode/day, my character walked noticeably slower, making the player suffer the same way the character is? Then I'd actually have a legitimately tough decision to make (though for the record, and I know this is "gamey", but I would want to know in advance that starving myself would have these consequences, since I know I'd probably be grumbling to myself if I suddenly found my character walking at half speed).

The difference between the two decisions was that even though the storyline was going to more or else continue either way, I knew that handing out food for the others was about my character affecting his relationships with members of the group, as well as, on a very basic level, providing sustenance for some while denying it from others. It was a difficult decision with actual consequences (though not one that required any new branches in the storyline, which I can imagine is something of a nightmare for the creators of these kinds of games), as opposed to the choice of whether or not to feed myself, which was essentially a non-issue. For the record, if anyone's playing the game as well, I gave food to the two kids, the cheerful cooperative Mark, and as an olive branch to Larry the asshole. Big mistake on that last one.

In case it's not entirely clear, I am definitely loving this game, and I have some more thoughts on the overall topic of choice and narrative in games like these that I'll be talking about more in the near future.

Still To Come:
-"Fuck You Kenny!" - Thoughts On Building Connections Between Players & NPCs,
-Oh My Darlin' Clementine (Or: Please Don't End Like Mass Effect 3) and
-How To Make Death An Actual Threat

-Matt

Sunday, September 2, 2012

[Onion Wedges] Feminists and Perverts Form A Tenuous Alliance Over Topless Law

A local feminist protests topless laws in New York start, while left, a local pervert fervently supports her

NEW YORK - Feminists and perverts rarely have any common ground to stand on, but this past week both groups came together in droves over a cause that was equally important in each of their minds. The topic at hand was the topless law in the New York State that prevents women from being able to openly expose their bare breasts. Taking to the streets, a chorus of vocal feminists threw off their shirts and bras and picked up megaphones and signs instead to protest a law they feel is sexist and discriminatory. Moments later, an equally large group of horny perverts emerged on the scene, ready to back their cause.

"We're happy to get all the help we can get in this fight," said Debby Glauser, a lawyer and a mother of two. "The more people they see out here in the streets, the more they're going to know that...oh come on Stan! Can you stop taking pictures with your phone for thirty seconds and maybe hand out some fliers, please?"

Despite some initial discomfort, both sides seemed willing to put past differences aside to come together for what they both see as antiquated law. Working together, the groups formed two large circles to represent the female breasts, with all the topless feminists in the center, representing the nipples, and the perverted protesters all represented the outer portion of the breast, surrounding the women and facing inward.

"This law is something I've been saying is bullshit for years," said Matt Bowman, a locksmith and total perv. "And I just want to say, I can and will support all these women in whatever way they need," he said, winking several times in the process. "Especially if that smokin' hot redhead from Mad Men is coming to this."

As of a press time, the topic of the new law gaining a 'groping clause' had gone from a casual joke between the two groups to a heated debate.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Very First Splitsider Piece!

[UPDATE] Wow! I got a mention on The Daily Beast and on a Louie recap on Slate! How exciting!


If you're as much a fan of comedy and the various sources of said comedy as I am, you've probably heard of Splitsider, the "Inside Comedy" blog. Yesterday I got my very first post published on the site, and I'm pretty damn proud of/excited about it.

The piece is about the concept of "slow comedy" and I open with a story about me bawling over an episode of Louie. I also talk in depth about T.J. & Dave, two of my favorite improvisers on the planet.

The post is right here for your viewing pleasure. Give it a read and it if you like, spread the word!

Thanks,
Matt

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Fond (Albeit Temporary) Farewell To Phooka

Ultimate Phooka from David Etkin on Vimeo.

I've been performing improv for over ten years now. Ten years! And four of those ten years have been with my more recent, most beloved team, Phooka. The members of the team are more than just my teammates, they are also my family. Four years is a long time after all - longer than any relationship I've ever been in, that's for sure.

This week is our last show at the Magnet Theater. Our run has come to an end.


There are more good times, both on stage and off, that I'm able to remember (it's truly astounding how terrible I am at remembering a show - even a terrific one that I was totally hilarious in! -  from even two weeks ago), but I know for a fact that there's been very few other joys in my life that I could look forward to each and every week as this team.

Phooka was formed in 2008 - the same year as this blog, and though we never did get that website together, we stuck together through thick and thin (by which I'm mostly referring to the number of people in the audience) and formed a unified comedic mind that produced hundreds of strange, silly moments every week.

I feel the need to list at least one example here - this was never seen by an audience other than our couch, but during a practice one week we came up with a world that was essentially Lord of the Rings at a Fat Camp. Every character that came out was immediately given a name like "Blubemir," "Gafatriel," "Bilbo Big-Ends" or "Legolard," (my personal favorite) and the show explored the camp and the danger of the magical, never-ending Gobstopper that made you thin, but also like, totally super vain. We also had a practice set that we obsessed way too long over meatballs, which went about as meatbally as you could possibly meatball (our show literally devolved to that). But even that terrible set became a source of fun for our team, who thoroughly enjoys the high brow as much as the low.

On the verge of breaking with the team, a not at all uncommon occurrence
I don't quite know what I want this post to be - some perfect combination of a memorial, a celebration, and a goodbye. I'd also like this to be the place I thank all the members of my team for a truly wonderful four years of shows and happiness. So, without further ago, in no particular order: thank you Slate, thank you Maddy, thank you Etkin, thank you Emily, thank you Angela, and going back a little ways, thank you Bander for absolutely everything. It has been an honor and a pleasure to participate in so very many inappropriately sexual, vulgar, ridiculous and outright insane scenes and shows.

This is not necessarily the end of everything for the team. We will rise from the ashes like the great Phoenix at another theater (or perhaps the same theater) at some other point in time. But this is an ending of sorts, and a moment in time worthy of reflection.

I'm just going to ramble if I let myself, so I'm going to close this post out here. Thanks to everyone for the support over the years - and please come see our last show tomorrow night 8/30 @ 9:00pm at the Magnet Theater if you're around.

Thanks,
Matt


PS: Here's a classic show from last year that I love and had an absolute blast performing in. We came up with a new form based around scary campfire stories, and this was probably the best show we had from that run:



Saturday, August 11, 2012

Since You're Already Making NYC Your Bathroom...



Anybody here in NYC see these new "Make NYC Your Gym" ads lining the subways and all around town? I think it's a pretty neat idea for a campaign. Here are some of the posters they've put out so far:





Pretty straightforward campaign, right? Well, I just got the scoop on the next batch of ads coming out, and it looks like they're kicking things up a notch. And since I have such a great relationship with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (just roll with it) they've allowed me to debut them here on (Un)Paused! Check them out:


Seems a little controversial, no? Well, far be it from me to judge the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Whatever gets people moving, I suppose.

-Matt

Friday, August 3, 2012

Create / Consume Completed!


In case you were wondering about the lack of posts here over the past month or so, you should all know a lot of my time and effort has gone into my other blog/life project "Create / Consume." I just successfully completed my first month with the project, and it's was a great experience that I highly recommend to any creative person looking to be productive.

But now its time to bring the love back to Paused. I should have lots of fun stuff posted on here soon.

-Matt

Monday, July 30, 2012

Game Night 2012

It's no secret that I loves me some board games. They've slowly overtaken the majority of my game time over the past few years, and with good reason. They're fun, highly competitive, and just an overall great way to justify spending time together when not eating, drinking, or watching something (or what I've dubbed "inferior hangout activities').

For the past few years I've posted about a handful of notable board and/or party games that I think stand out among all the others I've played recently. I also have been deliberately focusing my attention on at least one game that is more of a casual/social game, and at least one game that is for the more advanced, hardcore crowd. This year is no different, and I've also included what is known as the best gateway game to bridge the gap between the two. Have I whet your appetite yet? Then let's get started, shall we?


Dixit
# of Players: 3-6 (or up to 12 with expansions)
Average Length of Game: 45 minutes - 1 hour
Price: $35 (often less on Amazon) plus two expansion sets available for similar prices

I just discovered this game a week ago with my friends. Dixit is a 'storytelling' game where the
players all receive a handful of cards containing whimsical, bizarre images (see below). Each turn one player will be designated the 'storyteller,' and this player will choose one of his six cards to use as the basis for his story - which is really just a short, single phrase that describes the card accurately but not too specifically (you'll see why in a minute).

The storyteller chooses his phrase based one of his cards, places the card in front of him, then all the other players must choose among their six cards to draw out the card they have that is most closely described by the storyteller's phrase and place it face down alongside the storyteller's card. The storyteller then shuffles all the cards and puts them all face up in front of the other players for them to vote on. They're attempting to select the storyteller's card from all the other player's choices.

Some of the wonderful, often trippy story cards in Dixit
I realized describing how the game plays can be confusing, but it's much less complicated than it sounds. Let's take a sample round using the top row of the cards shown above. Pretend the storyteller decided he wanted to use the picture on the far right, with the anchor. If the storyteller's phrase is voted on by everyone at the table, he receives zero points, so choosing "Anchor's Away!" would likely be a bad choice. Conversely, saying something like "Where am I?" would be so vague that there's a good chance no one would pick that card, which also nets the storyteller zero points. The sweet spot would be something along the lines of "Don't Stop Now..." which relates to the card without being too overt. The key is for there to be a debate among all the players, with your card being at least being a reasonable contender. Now, if you had the bottom set of cards and had to choose something for "Don't Stop Now..." what would you pick? The card on the left with kid facing the dragon, or the mad scientist concocting away on the right? Or perhaps the cat in the middle, painting away?

Once everyone has placed their vote on the cards laid out in front of them, the storyteller reveals his card. Every player that had choosen the storyteller's card gets points, as does the storyteller if at least one but not all the players chose his card. The scoring system seems arbitrary, but it's just to ensure the game remains interesting, and doesn't have many rounds of obvious decisions by the players. Finally, any player who tricked other players into selecting his card receives bonus points as well. Once the points have been tallied, players then receive a new card from the deck, and a new round starts with the next player in line playing as storyteller. This goes on until the cards run out, or a player receives 30 points.

Once people get the basic concept, the game is quite simple. It's great in a party setting if people are interested in playing something fairly quick and light - and thanks to some expansion sets the game can actually be played by up to 12 people, which is rare for a board/card game. If you've ever played Apples To Apples, I'm told this game is very similar, and I have since been told that this game is actually even more fun.
 

Settlers of Catan
# of Players: 2-4 (or up to 6 with expansions)
Average Length of Game: 1 hour - 90 minutes
Price: $42 (often less on Amazon) plus many expansion sets available for similar prices

Settlers of Catan is the aforementioned "gateway game" that draws in many people who don't normally see themselves getting excited for an evening of sitting around a table throwing dice around. The game revolves around 'settling' along 18 pieces of land, each of which provide their own resources, which help in the building of settlements, roads, cities and development cards. Every player starts the game placing initial settlements, which will net you various resources every time a certain die roll is rolled.

Where the game gets interesting is that no matter what your initial set up, you will need to do some trading in order to get all the resources necessary to build your settlements. This will require trading - sometimes with the bank, or on ports you own, but often times with other players as well. These negotiations and all out bidding wars remind me of the best parts of Monopoly, which is when you try to do everything in your power to trade that crappy Baltic Ave property you have for that sweet sweet Pacific Avenue, thus finally completing your green set that you know everyone is just about to land on.


There's lots of ways to attempt to earn victory points in the game, ten of which declares a winner. Building lots of roads and block off other players and net you a special reward, as can playing lots of Soldier cards, which moves the robber (a special figure that allows you to steal from other players and prevents them from collecting resources while he is on a plot of land) around. And of course, once a particular player takes the lead, you will naturally want to shun them from all trading while the rest of you catch up.

Once all the players understand the rules, most games of Settlers are pretty close. And because the layout of the land changes every time you play, there's a ton of replay value. The one complaint I've heard from friends is that there is a lot riding on dice rolls in the game (similar once again to Monopoly), so all the strategy in the world could be for nothing if your "9" and "3" land tiles simply never get rolled. Though in my experience, the games usually wind up fairly balanced so long as you're able to weather some occasional painful dry spells with die rolls.

I highly recommend this game to anyone who used to love classic board games as a child and is looking to try something new and see what's changed over the past 15-20 years or so.


Ninjato
# of Players: 2-4 
Average Length of Game: 90 minutes - 2 hours
Price: $50 (often less on Amazon

Ok, now we're getting to the big leagues. Ninjato is what is traditionally known as a "worker management" game, and in case that term sounds at all boring to you, understand that your workers in this game are deadly, badass ninjas with a penchant for stealing awesome shit. Still with me? Good.

Players spend their turns using cards they've drawn to break into various houses in their ninja-neighborhood. The mechanic is actually really fun - every card in your hand will be a number between one and five, and depending on what you've got at the time, you can opt to go in sneaking (where lower numbers win against the guards inside) or attacking (where higher numbers win). Every time you successfully get past a guard, you have the option of shouting "Bonzai!" (this is actually in the instructions) and continuing your assault on the house, bringing out a new, unknown guard, an eventually nasty elite guards. Drain the house of treasure entirely, and you leave with all the treasure, and you totally shame the house you've robbed in the process. And if you aren't familiar at all with Japanese culture, shame is a pretty big deal (people totally killed themselves over it!), and its where the other part of the game mechanic comes into play.



Every house belongs to a certain clan, and those clans have envoys (a word I literally have to look up every time I play this game...or write about it) that can spend time wooing with the treasure you've stolen. Sneaky ninja tactics! Allying yourself with the envoys belonging to least-shamed house of the moment nets you big victory points during specific scoring rounds over the course of the game.

Like any good board game, there are multiple ways to succeed at Ninjato. You can ignore the envoys entirely and use your treasures to instead purchase rumor cards that affect your victory point multiplier(s) at the end of the game. There's also a training area where you can collect special powers that greatly improve your chances at combat, which can make all the difference on an given assault. And of course, you can control the board by securing the first player token and setting yourself up/blocking other players from doing what they want to do. The reality is every player only has so many moves to make over the course of the game, so you've got to be smart about where you place your workers each turn.

Tons of strategy, tons of fun, and it all revolves around ninjas. What more could you ask for?


***

Well that's all for now, though I've got plenty more games to talk about down the line, especially on the more hardcore side. I may have to put a second one of these together before the year is through. Check the above games out, and let me know which ones you like and have added to your game nights and/or parties!

-Matt

Thursday, July 5, 2012

[Onion Wedges] New Crossover Comic Book Series To Finally Explain Hypersexuality of Female Characters

One of the panels from The Slutwraith Crisis
NEW YORK - A new 12-part limited comic book series is set to debut next week featuring an unprecedented collaboration between every major comic book publisher in the country. The storyline involves the unfolding of a nefarious plot that will finally explain the questionable lack of clothing, impossible body types and ridiculous poses constantly on display by female characters in every comic book.

The title of the series is: "The Slutwraith Crisis," and it features a crossover storyline decades in the making. Every publisher that has collaborated on the project - including Marvel, DC, and even smaller publishers like Bongo Comics - has agreed to wove the plotline into every single series currently running. Fans will finally discover the reason why nearly every female comic book character wears what amounts to underwear as her uniform, often into combat, while her male counterparts are fully clothed and armored at all times.

The zipper problem plaguing these characters will finally be explained
"It's something that we've been meaning to address for some time, as we've definitely had the storyline in mind ever since we starting introducing female characters into our comics," says Frank Mullaney, one of the writers of The Slutwraith Crisis. Rest assured, we were simply waiting for the right moment to tell this story, and that time is now. This series will answer every question, and what happens will change everything."

The plot revolves around a new villain, Areoyla, the titular Slutwraith of The Slutwraith Crisis. Areoyla is described as "a narcissistic nymphomaniac who detests prudishness and clothing on the female body." She has a sinister plan to travel back to the beginning of time to set in place a magical energy field that will impose upon every female in the universe - good, evil, human, or human-cat hybrid - an overwhelming desire to both reveal themselves and to contort their body in the most alluring way possible at all times.

Areoyla the Slutwraith, shown wearing her additional battle garment
"There's this great scene where Lex Luthor, Magneto, and the Joker are all meeting Areoyla for the first time in the center of her dome-lair," says Karl Singh, an artist with Marvel who worked on the project. "Normally a lot of these supervillains would bicker and it would be difficult for them to work together, but Areoyla convinces them that her plan is in everyone's breast interest. Oops, wait, did I just say 'breast interest?' Sorry, slip of the tongue. Actually, that reminds me: she also gets Dr. Octopus on board to create this special add-on ray that will increase breast sizes by like, 200% across the board."

Word on the street is comic book fans can't wait to check out the series. One eager fan said: "Sure, it's unnecessary ret-conning, but I hear the fights are awesome. Apparently Power Girl and Areoyla get into this twenty page cat-fight on Druckmar, the mud planet. And in case you think Areoyla was this one dimensional villain, they devote a lot of time to her origin story as a stripper sex slave on Apokolips."

Just a few small examples of the curse of the Slutwraith at work
Dan Xeller, who runs the comic book fansite Ink or GTFO received an advanced copy of the series and discussed the final act at length on the site. [SPOILER ALERT] According to Xeller, the male members of the Justice League and the Avengers (all female heroes are, over the course of the series, kidnapped and forced to serve as the Slutwraith's slaves) team up and travel back in time to stop Areoyla. Unfortunately, they are distracted at the last minute by an impossibly sexy pose where she shows off her breasts, ass and inexplicably, vagina as well. Shortly afterward, the energy field is generated and is established to be totally irreversible, thus leaving the Slutwraith's curse a permanent after-effect in every single universe.  Naturally, this fully explains any hyper-sexualized behavior by a female character in the past, present or future.

"Sure, it's pretty dark," Xeller said, "but the heroes don't always win in real life, you know? I think that's the real lesson they're trying to show here."