Archive for December, 2011

December 27, 2011

Ocean Marketting, the makings of an internet saga, and the birth of a meme…

This morning I woke up and decided to check out reddit for some meme goodness.  What I found instead was a strange email back and forth between a customer and a marketing rep for a video game controller company which had taken place just hours before.  You can see the whole conversation here (which I highly recommend you read), which is both shocking and hilarious.  It is at this point I want to make it clear that, by all accounts, the actual manufacturer of the controller had

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December 22, 2011

The Modern Warfare 3 Map Problem

By now, I’m sure most of you have noticed that Modern Warfare 3 just isn’t as fun as some of the previous Call of Duty titles.  I know I sure have.  Hell, I loved Black Ops to no end, and I played it for nearly a year straight.  So why then, when I bought MW3, did I almost immediately dislike it?  That’s the question I’ve been pondering non-stop for the past month or so, and I think I’ve finally found the answer.

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December 22, 2011

Is it worth going Back to Karkand?

So the new Battlefield 3 DLC has been out for over a week now, and I’ve had a chance to really sink my teeth into it.  I didn’t preorder the game but still somehow managed to get a “Limited Edition” copy, so my Back to Karkand expansion pack was free of charge.  If you’re in the same boat, download it now.  If not, you’ll have to fork out $14.99 for it.  So is it worth it?  My answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why:

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December 16, 2011

Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing

I had just finally unlocked the heat seekers for my jets in Battlefield 3, and so I decided it was time for a break.  I plopped down and read a rather interesting article on Wikipedia about the all-time worst video games out there.  I’d seen gameplay from that dreadful E.T. game, and I’d even seen some from Custard’s Revenge.  But the one that caught my eye the most was Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing.

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December 15, 2011

Jsixgun Presents: Fallout Technology

I’m not a fallout expert; my first experience roaming the wasteland was with Fallout 3. I did, in fact, love every second of it (well almost every second, those long foot trips while encumbered to the closest vender so I could sell my goodies did often make we want to try out for backyard wrestling so as to truly test my self degradation).

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December 14, 2011

Zombies: Done to Death?

At the Spike Video Game Awards, a new upcoming video game was revealed. Created by the legendary developers Naughty Dog, it promised incredible graphics, a genre-blending formula of survival and action, and most of all, the renaissance of video game story telling. Coming from anyone else I would be skeptical, but if anyone knows how to do a good story in a video game, it’s Naughty Dog. The game is called The Last of Us, and the trailer is below:

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December 12, 2011

The Laugh Track, and Other Tiresome Television Trends

When I was a kid in the early 90’s, I never knew what time a show came on.  So every time I caught a show that I liked, it was a rare surprise and I got excited.  One of those shows was a weird surrealist Beatnik-inspired cartoon called the Pink Panther Show.  To this day I still don’t know what any of it was about, but I remembered it fondly and its iconic theme song was in fact my ring tone on my first cell phone (and the ladies loved it).  So last year I figured I’d down a few shots of Mad Monk Vodka, find a few episodes on the internet, and relish in the booze-induced nostalgia.

Yeah, it was a weird show

I knew the show would probably be pretty stupid now that I was an adult, but I was surprised at what turned me off the most.  It wasn’t the weird FDR cigarette-extenders or the LSD inspired animation that killed it; it was the damn laugh track.  It was strange, but I had always though cartoons were exempt from laugh tracks by some sort of FCC regulation or something.  But no, the characters were doing incredibly not-funny things and people were howling about it, like it was magically drawn in front of a studio audience dangerously high on nitrous oxide.  I realized the laugh track was poisonous, and not just to crappy cartoons no one cares to remember.  It really is an archaic relic of a bygone era, and today a genuine sigh of bad television.

I googled canned laughter, and I guess it's not completely inaccurate.

It’s a little known secret that I am a fan of Seinfeld, and word has it that this show may have had a laugh track.  But I like to believe that it was forced to because it was the standard at the time.  In fact, hugely popular shows like M*A*S*H were forced by their studios, against the creator’s wishes, to contain laughter.  It was widely believed by extremely condescending executives that audiences wouldn’t respond to comedies unless they were prompted to laugh.  It was a truism at the time that without canned laughter, a show was doomed to fail, and that audiences otherwise wouldn’t be able to tell if the show was a comedy.  I’m not sure why they thought viewers would think Seinfeld was a dark and gritty drama about urban nihilism and despair unless they included laughter, but it is what it is.

My friends, it is as Nietzsche promised. God is dead...

But all that is in the past.  My question is why we allow this beast of background laughter to continue to live.  It’s like poison ivy, and a small but effective group of misguided environmentalists are striving successfully to stave off the creep of extinction.  Laugh tracks had no place in shows in the 00’s, let alone this decade.  The fact that they still show up is an obscenity that should result in steep fines.  The fact that shows that use it are replacing those that don’t, e.g. Whitney is still on TV, Community is not; is akin to throwing your iPad in the trash because you just got a new Comadore 64.  Even shows that are still palpable, like How I Met Your Mother, are ruined by this outdated feature of television, like an attractive woman with a smallpox vaccine scar.  She’s hot, but damn, what year was she born? 

Hoe's be spending that cheddar on war bonds...

Here’s what I don’t understand.  The most popular sitcom on television right now is Two and a Half Men.  The second?  The Big Bang Theory.  And what do they have in common, other than not being funny?  They both have a laugh tracks.  They’re the boisterous fat kids in middle school that laugh at their own jokes to make sure everyone knows they’re funny.  But even though shows with laugh tracks are still widely watched, the ones without it are widely praised for not having it.  In fact, of all the critically acclaimed comedies of the last ten years, the best are overwhelmingly laugh track free.  It boils down to two different types of filming for sitcoms; Single-Camera Setup and Multi-Camera Setup.  The standard, cliche sitcom will use the multi-camera setup, filmed before a studio audience and such.  The newer format for sitcoms is the single-camera setup, made especially popular by The Office.

What's not to love?

Think about it for a second.  Why the hell are comedies still being performed before a live studio audience anyway?  Isn’t it just a throw back to stage theater?  The days of vaudeville?  Why would any sort of quality media need to be shot where you can hear the audience at all?  It’s like Seinfeld was being performed on stage, like a play, before an audience.  But that’s not the case at all and we know it.  Shows shot before and audience don’t do one live take for the benefit of the audience.  They do take after take, and the audience is mainly there just to see how a show is made and provide the laughter.  In scenes were the audience isn’t present, for continuity’s sake, fake laughter is later added.  But it makes no sense why television should be based on this model anymore.  Quality non-comedy shows haven’t been performed before an audience in decades, and 99% of the viewers won’t be in the studio.  So for the actual viewers’ sake, why break the fourth wall and include the laughter in this day and age when a show can increase in quality tenfold without this archaic inclusion?  The old notion was that only dramas could be high quality productions, but shows like Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Modern Family, and tons of others have shown that comedies can be high quality and still hilarious, and the absence of the laugh track allows these shows to go places sitcoms weren’t allowed to before.  They were tethered to this idea that the studio audience was a necessity, but without it comedies are now being elevated to a form of art.  That’s why shows like Whitney should have never been greenlit, allowed to assault our senses and spit in our collective faces.  It really is just an insult from the studios as they bend down and pat our heads and say “Watch this shit we made, we need to sell more ad space.”

Seriously, fuck this show.

I don’t hate the laugh track.  It was a product of its time.  Old shows had them because that was the way things were back then.  But its time and place is in the past, and it has no business being on television anymore.  Shows that still contain it show they are offensively out of touch with audiences of today.  Just like those old Looney Tunes episodes that were crazy racist, you don’t have to hate all of Looney Tunes because of it, but at the same time, shows today don’t need to keep doing the same things they were doing 60 years ago.

So 30 Rock just...does the opposite?

I realize a few shows still need audience laughter.  Talk shows especially are based around being performed before an audience, and that is totally acceptable.  But for scripted comedies on television these days, the laugh track needs to go.  There is not a single sitcom on television that is made better with a laugh track.  I think it bothers me especially when I go back to watch old Seinfeld episodes.  Because all of the shows I watch these days don’t have added laughter in them, Seinfeld’s is starting to stand out more and more.  Don’t get me wrong, Seinfeld is still an amazing show.  But its laugh track is not what makes it great, and is sufferable only because it was the standard of the time.  New shows can’t excuse themselves based on that theory anymore, and the laugh track needs to die out, quickly.

And if you are one of the few who absolutely adores having people laugh with you during a show, watch this episode of The Office with added laughter and see for yourself how shitty it is:

December 11, 2011

Mortar and Pistol’s Game of the Year

Spike just held their Video Game Awards, and Skyrim walked away with Game of the Year for 2011.  And it is no surprise, it was easily the most anticipated game in years, and it certainly lived up to the hype.  But while Spike is nothing more than a simple blog (or so I’ve heard), we here at Mortar and Pistol realize that our Game of the Year award is far more prestigious and coveted, and comes with far less award money.  In fact, rumor has it that Bethesda and the rest have never heard of us.  Regardless, below I give you my game of the year, but first:

Honorable Mention – Mortal Kombat

With an incredible franchise history spanning nearly two decades, the Mortal Kombat series has developed a very dedicated fan base of all ages.  It was the catalyst for the creation of the ESRB and the cause of countless parents realizing not all video games were OK for their precious snowflakes to be playing.  Uppercuts continued to be great in all walks of life, but never as sweet without a “Toasty!” accompanying it.  This year’s reboot and newest incarnation took us back to our MK roots and built on everything that made the series great, while leaving all the crappy innovations behind.  Coupled with some great DLC, Mortal Kombat ’11 helped make 2011 one of the best years in gaming we’ve ever seen.  Though it was released the day the Playstation Network went down, once it was back up and running the online fighting proved to be some of the most fun and addicting of any fighting game on the market.  I still can’t hit a possum in the street without stopping, rolling down my windows, and shouting “Fatality” before screeching off into the sunset.

Third Place – Batman: Arkham City

Following up on what was already an incredible game, Batman: Arkham City showed us that not only could a Batman video game be good, but that they could be amazing.  With elements from nearly all genres mixed together in perfect harmony, with a simply fantastic story, Batman: Arkham City was impossible to put down from beginning to end.  Where Nolan reinvented the Batman films, Arkham City invents the Batman game.  Detective work that puts L.A. Noire to shame, a fighting system that makes Kratos embarrassed, and a story that makes Dante Alighieri go back to his writing workshop at the community college, this game is a masterpiece.  Even for people that don’t particularly like superheros, this game will have you pausing at every boss fight to search Wikipedia for their back stories.  And when you hear Solomon Grundy recite his nursery rhyme, well, you’ll be growing worse by Friday yourself.

Second Place – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Go ahead and start flaming me in the comments on how this didn’t get first.  Don’t worry, I’m prepared for it.  Regardless, Skyrim is purely an epic game.  One I had been anticipating for years, it lives up to every second of the hype and then some.  When I first saw the world before me, the mountains in the distance capped with fog, the Northern Lights twisting and painting an indescribable landscape, I was stunned.  The game is a worthy addition to the already daunting Elder Scrolls series, and proves that this is a franchise that all others aspire to emulate.  The first night I got it, I played until the sun came up and barely felt like I had done anything in the game.  The first time I stumbled into the Dwemer ruins I was giddy with glee, the nostalgia from Morrowind overwhelming me.  It will be a game I play for so many hours that it should come with a Surgeon General’s warning, and one I’m sure to write more articles about in the future.  I’ve found myself more than once shivering from Mountain Dew excess at 4am, promising myself I’ll go to bed, just one more quest.  It is as engrossing a game as I’ve ever played, and one that you think about playing when you’re not, and even when you’re already playing it.  As far as money’s worth goes, you’ll feel like you owe Bethesda more because $60 wasn’t enough to cover what you’re getting.  I eagerly anticipate upcoming DLC even though my quest menu is still as packed as a hungover prom date’s missed call list.  Skyrim would have taken first easily if it wasn’t for another game this year, one I didn’t really even get excited for, and one I didn’t have too many expectations of.  But once I played it, I realized I had found something special.  And that’s why this year, first goes to:

First Place – Battlefield 3

I knew the big battle this year would be between Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3, but I didn’t realize I’d later be debating between Battlefield 3 and Skyrim for Game of the Year.  I even once posited that MW3 would win out and end up being the better shooter this year.  But Battlefield 3 proved to be something more than just another shooter for the year.  It proved to be more than a game.  It is an experience like none other.  It, in my opinion, is even more engrossing than Skyrim by being just so damn realistic.  The physics of the new Frostbite 2 engine, the incredible sounds of the gunshots and explosions, and the innovations made to the FPS genre all work to make Battlefield 3 not only the best shooter ever made, in my humble opinion, but 2011’s best video game.  Every match is so varied and different and the world is so open to possibilities that each game will leave you with incredible stories to tell.  Need proof?

Play with friends and you will have some awesome experiences to share later on.  DorisfromNoris and I still talk about some epic games we had over a month ago, and we continue to have epic matches today, ones that are so new and different, regardless of if they take place on the same map. Rush is the new breakout mode of gameplay and has risen to become my all time favorite, opening and expanding the maps to sizes I didn’t think I’d ever see in a shooter.  Amazing vehicle physics allow for some incredible gunfights, and the challenging nature of the jets and helicopters make kills with those all the more rewarding.  The fact that this game promotes teamwork so well, allowing one to get tons of points without even getting a kill, all work to make this game more than just a shooter, and create instead a realistic and adrenaline-fueled war experience.  Add to that that DLC has already been released, giving us 4 more maps with tons of new guns and vehicles, this game proves that it isn’t just another installment, but instead a milestone and an achievement.  The realism and detail of the guns makes for an incredibly realistic game that hasn’t even been approached by other games, and the player base of this incredible game only helps to make it such a wonderful experience.  A free Battlelog on the internet that you can use to track stats helps to allow you to obsess about it even when you can’t play, and all this together adds up to what is the best game of this year.  Though Skyrim is captivating and incredible in its own right, the fact that Battlefield can draw me in more than any other media out there makes this game the true champion of 2011.  Grab some caffeine, pull your chair up close to the TV, turn it up louder than your neighbors would like, and jump into a war that will leave you so pumped up that you’ll be scolded by your optometrist for not blinking enough.  ***And I just discovered that if you have BF3, DICE is giving away Battlefield 1943 for free!

Agree?  Disagree?  Leave your comments below and let me know what you think the Game of the Year for 2011 should have been!