Do Yourself a Favor: Don’t Miss “The Last of Us”

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Joel and Ellie make their way through the collapsed infrastructure of the US. Joel and Ellie make their way through the collapsed infrastructure of the US. 

Joel and Ellie make their way through the collapsed infrastructure of the US. 

Before The Last of Us, I would not call myself a fan of video game developer Naughty Dog. Obviously, they are very popular; their games sell in the millions, and they are Sony’s flagship developer. Uncharted is the best-selling Playstation 3-exclusive franchise. I played a demo of the original Uncharted and didn’t care for it. I enjoyed the platforming, but as soon as the game erupted in gunplay I lost interest.

Flash forward four and a half years: after opting to skip their next two Uncharted titles, Naughty Dog’s latest game has made me a fan. I’m actually planning to go back and play the Uncharted series. It is all thanks to their latest release, the exceptionally well-written, fantastically executed The Last of Us.

Set in a post-pandemic United States, The Last of Us tells the story of Joel, a cantankerous smuggler, and Ellie, a young girl with far too much pluck for the gritty world she finds herself in. The tale isn’t incredibly unique, at least at the outset. It was obviously influenced by films such as Children of Men and The Road, as well as the currently-trendy zombie genre.

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Joel fights off a group of people infected by Cordyceps. The one with a growth on his head is a Clicker.Joel fights off a group of people infected by Cordyceps. The one with a growth on his head is a Clicker.

Joel fights off a group of people infected by Cordyceps. The one with a growth on his head is a Clicker.

The Last of Us takes its own spin on all these things, of course. Another big influence on The Last of Us is cordyceps. Cordyceps is a fungus that infects some breeds of insects and arachnids, and alters their behavior. In the game, this fungus has mutated and now infects people. Although the infected enemies are zombie-like, they are quite clearly not zombies. They react to pain, and don’t need to be decapitated to stay dead. In fact, the most common way you’ll take them out involves a knife through their neck, not their brain.

I suppose, after that last sentence, that we can get one of the two bigger disappointments out of the way: The Last of Us, for all its technical excellence, still falls to some disappointing video game tropes. In many situations, you’ll be forced to kill everything between you and the area’s exit. I was frustrated to discover that, after sneaking through a bookstore held by a gang of marauders, I was automatically spotted on the way out. When I instead killed the entire crew, no such scene occurred. The game literally punished me for trying to get through a situation without resorting to mass murder. I had to go out of my way and kill every enemy in the area.

The game doesn’t revel in the violence; in fact, Ellie often appears shocked by Joel’s brutal actions. There are many situations where these killings seem unavoidable, and they do appear to affect the characters. Naughty Dog intended for the game to be savage, and it is, but I do wonder if they could have done a better job of making the constant killing less integral to the game. The Last of Us is about surviving, and I am pretty sure I could have survived Pittsburgh with about one hundred fewer kills.

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Joel and Ellie are both stubborn, and rarely see eye to eye.Joel and Ellie are both stubborn, and rarely see eye to eye.

Joel and Ellie are both stubborn, and rarely see eye to eye.

Where The Last of Us absolutely shines is in its writing. Although the overarching plot shows its influences at almost every turn, the characters are what draw you in. The characters feel fully realized, and don’t spend time shouting out catch phrases and one-liners. Conversations carry weight, and the main characters grow over the course of the story. The voice actors are fantastic — Tory Baker (who also put in a great performance as Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite) and Ashley Johnson (who was most recently in Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, but I remember from freaking Growing Pains!) portray the leads wonderfully. Other characters met along the way are just as well-written and interesting, but the majority of the story is about the way Joel and Ellie work together.

The score, composed by the Academy Award-winning Gustavo Santaolalla, is also marvelous. It is atmospheric, haunting, and entirely appropriate. You can hear the main theme here and sample the entire soundtrack at Soundcloud. The main theme will etch itself into your memory in the best possible way.

In terms of actual gameplay, you’ll find yourself switching between four modes: stealth, combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving. The puzzles are barely that; they typically involve finding a ladder, a plank of wood, or a pallet to get across environmental obstacles. Ellie can’t swim, so expect to go looking for a wooden pallet to float her across every body of water you come across. The exploration aspect of The Last of Us involves some fairly simple platforming and navigating. Not every area is loaded with enemies, and the areas that are can almost always be cleared out. Once you’re safe, it is a good idea to peek into every nook and cranny — the game rewards finding obscure collectibles with PSN trophies.

Exploration is sometimes frustrating; collectibles are easily overlooked, and the game regularly closes off the path behind you, forcing you to move forward whether you are ready to or not. You will get the opportunity to revisit completed areas, but exploring them means replaying the entire chapter, which becomes time-consuming. I understand there may have been technical reasons why the choice was made, but it is maddening to turn around and find the path you walked through inaccessible. That is my second biggest complaint: unless you are mind-numbingly thorough, you will have to either accept missing items or replay huge chunks of the game for a perfect record.

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Joel hides, and Ellie prepares to distract an enemy.Joel hides, and Ellie prepares to distract an enemy.

Joel hides, and Ellie prepares to distract an enemy.

Combat and stealth go hand-in-hand in The Last of Us. Many confrontations can be avoided, to some degree, by staying hidden and stalking your prey. If you are sly enough, you can take down many of your enemies by simply waiting for them to turn their back, then suffocating them. It won’t work in every situation, and some of the infected can’t be taken down that way at all. Clickers — people who have been infected so long they have lost their eyesight, and hunt by echolocation — are an instant death if they catch you early in the game. You can only stealth-kill them with a shiv, which causes the weapon to then break.

This leads me to a side complaint: very few games get breakable weapons right, and The Last of Us isn’t one of them. I can believe that a wooden board falls apart after a few hits, but an axe breaking in five? Nonsense. Some skills earned later in the game extend the life of your items, but even they don’t always make sense. Why a shiv made from a single scissor blade is unusable after two hits instead of one still reeks of gamification. I do understand why The Last of Us makes its melee weapons so breakable; it’s the same reason ammunition for the game’s guns is so rare: it forces the player to use stealth and adds tension to the combat. When you have  three clickers looking for you, and just one shiv and five bullets for your 9mm, you start to worry.

I should clarify, however, that while weapon-breaking is annoying, it does not render the game unplayable. At normal difficulty, you won’t have much trouble managing your inventory. You will have moments where weapons stocks run low, but over most of the game I had enough on-hand to get through any situation. In addition, Ellie, like Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite, isn’t a damsel in distress. She will look after herself in combat, and sometimes, she’ll come to your aid.

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An example of  The Last of Us ' excellent lighting.An example of  The Last of Us ' excellent lighting.

An example of The Last of Us‘ excellent lighting.

Visually, The Last of Us will probably be seen as the Playstation 3’s swan song. Although there are some annoying graphical glitches, for the most part the game looks amazing. Environments look incredibly realistic and detailed. The lighting is the best ever seen on the console. Characters move naturally, and the physics are reasonably realistic. There were two visual glitches, one of which is excusable: first, the clipping was so spot-on that when it failed, it was incredibly noticeable. Seeing Ellie half-through a wall breaks immersion. It is a forgivable glitch, but not an unnoticeable one.

A bigger glitch occurs when you go into listening mode. There is a surprising amount of haloing around the edges of objects when the filters/shaders they use for the effect are active. I am not referring to the black-and-white noise that appears around characters; that is intentional. I am referring to bold white outlines appearing around inconsequential objects and seams in walls. It doesn’t happen constantly, but it it happens often enough and makes insignificant objects or areas seem to be the opposite. In the grand scheme of things, these glitches are relatively minor. However, they do mar an otherwise gorgeous sheen.

At the end of the day, the flaws in The Last of Us are largely minor quibbles. It doesn’t do anything particularly unique on the gameplay front, but it is a competent and fun adventure that is a feast for the eyes and ears. It will easily sit as one of the best games of the year, and possibly the best story. Joel and Ellie are fascinating characters, competing with the cast of Mass Effect as my favorites of this generation. At around twenty hours for a playthrough, The Last of Us never grows overlong, and leaves you completely satisfied. If you own a Playstation 3, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

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EllieInWinter.pngEllieInWinter.png

Ouya Games – First Impressions

I’ve downloaded a number of Ouya titles to test out the hardware. One of the nice things about they system is that you can try any game for free; every title is either free to play or offers a demo mode. One thing you can be confident about with the Ouya is that you won’t buy a game without trying it first.

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A press image of Fist of Awesome.A press image of Fist of Awesome.

A press image of Fist of Awesome.

A Bit of A Fist of Awesome

This is a preview of “Fist of Awesome,” a low-fi brawler with a sense of humor. You play as a lumberjack named Tim Burr, who has been transported to a future world ruled by forest animals, and must fight your way through it. You have a massive fist with a mind of its own. It’s fun, and funny. The demo leaves you wanting more.

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Canabalt in action.Canabalt in action.

Canabalt in action.

Canabalt

This is a port of the Android version of Canabalt. An endless runner, Canabalt is $2.99 on Ouya, just as it is on iOS or the Google Play Store. There isn’t much more to say. There is a flash-based demo at the link presented above. I buy Canabalt for pretty much any platform I own. It’s a nice pick-up-and-play game when you have a few minutes to kill. The Android version has been upgraded with 3D (polygonal, not stereoscopic) visuals, but if you purchase the game you can play with the original 2D pixel-style graphics.

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A promo image of ChronoBlade.A promo image of ChronoBlade.

A promo image of ChronoBlade.

ChronoBlade

This is a hack-and-slash game that crosses Diablo with a brawler. It plays interestingly, though either the controls need work or I was experiencing a bit of controller lag when I played it. The game isn’t complete yet, so I don’t want to judge it too much before the final build. It has promise. There isn’t much of a manual or tutorial, making figuring things out frustrating. The only direction you are given is a controller layout. You aren’t told what the items you pick up do, and things like leveling up and inventory management don’t seem to be implemented. If this was the final product, I wouldn’t buy it, but since it is a beta it has time to improve.

On a very good note: this is one of the few games that doesn’t use a pixelized graphical style, which is a nice change of pace for the Ouya.

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An image from the iPad version of Deep Dungeons of Doom. The Ouya version is the same, but in widescreen format.An image from the iPad version of Deep Dungeons of Doom. The Ouya version is the same, but in widescreen format.

An image from the iPad version of Deep Dungeons of Doom. The Ouya version is the same, but in widescreen format.

Deep Dungeons of Doom

This kind of a rouguelike combined with a very simple fighting game. Each level of a dungeon contains one enemy, and you only get two actions: attack or block. If you time your attacks right, you can chain them. If you attack before your turn, you’ll be penalized. You can pick up items to add stat boosts, but can only equip one at a time. It is a fairly simple game, again with a pixelized graphic style. It has a humorous side, though not to the same degree as Fist of Awesome.

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An image from the mobile version of Flashout 3D.An image from the mobile version of Flashout 3D.

An image from the mobile version of Flashout 3D.

 Flashout 3D

Wipeout, minus the awesome soundtrack, with a slightly different control scheme. It’s not a bad game, and stands out among the glut of pixel-style games by being another game using polygonal 3D graphics. The demo offers a single playable level, giving a good feel for the play style. However, the track offered isn’t particualrly exciting. It has a branching path, and a couple jumps, but it doesn’t have the slick style of Wipeout, and I found myself missing that.

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A hectic scene from Knightmare Tower.A hectic scene from Knightmare Tower.

A hectic scene from Knightmare Tower.

Knightmare Tower

This is probably my favorite game on Ouya so far. It’s a port of a fairly simple flash game, so don’t expect too much. However, Knightmare Tower is whimsical and clever. You control a knight ascending a tower by bounding from enemy to enemy. Use the coins earned from your kills to unlock stat boosts. Buying the game unlocks higher levels of skill improvement.

Either this game has found a way around the Ouya’s controller lag, or its design masks the issue well. I definitely recommend checking it out.

 

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League of EvilLeague of Evil

League of Evil

League of Evil

A port of an iOS game, League of Evil is a platformer with (sigh) pixel-style graphics. It has 160 stages, each scored based on grabbing collectibles and completion time. The game is fun enough, but I had a hell of a time pulling off wall jumps. I believe the culprit for this issue is controller lag, which makes the game nigh-unplayable. This did not improve after the latest Ouya update. I could not get a USB controller to work with League of Evil, in order to test whether the issue was with the Ouya controller or the game’s software.

MUPEN64+

MUPEN64+ is a Nintendo 64 emulator. I tested it with Super Mario 64, which ran flawlessly, or near enough to it. I was able to collect the first start from the first level without a single issue. I didn’t notice much in the way of controller lag in this game, though I did have a bit of trouble pulling off triple-jumps and wall-jumps in the castle courtyard. Back in the N64 days, I was able to scale the castle walls with little effort; I was not able to replicate that feat here.

Snes9x EX+

Although Snes9x EX+ was able to run Super Metroid and Super Mario World at full speed (or, again, near enough to it), controller lag in this game was atrocious. I plugged in a USB controller, and found things worked significantly better. The timing still seems to be slightly off in comparison to the Wii U Virtual Console version, but SNES9x was never known as the most accurate SNES emulator (that would be BSNES, which the Ouya probably could not handle at full speed).

Overall

So far, I would say that the Ouya lineup falls into the realm of disappointing. However, the official launch date is still a week away. When the official launch happens, I will look at some new releases and share my thoughts in a new article.

Hey, I Finally Got My Ouya


The Ouya console and controller. Yes, the console really is that small.The Ouya console and controller. Yes, the console really is that small.

The Ouya console and controller. Yes, the console really is that small.

After months of waiting, I received an email from the folks at Ouya saying my Limited Edition Kickstarter version of their console had shipped. The only major difference between my version and the one shipped to other Kickstarters is the bronze-colored brushed metal finish.

Ouya is an Android-based and powered by a Tegra 3 with 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of onboard storage. Performance-wise, this puts the Ouya in the middle range of Android hardware. Nvidia’s Tegra 4 was announced earlier this year, and is headlining a number of devices. The Tegra 4 promises to be 6 times as powerful as the Tegra 3, although generational performance boosts are rarely as grand as manufacturers promise. The Tegra 3 in the Ouya is the highest-end of its ilk, and would be on par with, or slightly better than, a high-end phone from 2012.

I haven’t had a chance to really put the Ouya through its paces yet, but I downloaded a few demos and sideloaded Plex to test it out as a media device.

First things first: the controller. It is sturdy and solid-feeling, but neither revolutionary nor the best controller I’ve ever held. Although I do not question the build quality of the controller, its engineering seems to leave a lot to be desired. The arms go out at a bit of an awkward angle, and the triggers aren’t quite lined up properly to make them easy to press. The action buttons could do with a bit more bounce to them; they feel like they aren’t resistant enough, or perhaps just don’t spring back into place like you’d expect them to. There is a touchpad in the middle. It works, but it is hard to use. There is no indicator of the useable space, but it appears to be quite small. Most games to not seem to use it. More often than not, it just acts like a mouse.

It isn’t all bad; the analog sticks respond like you’d expect them to, and I was able to pull off fireball and dragon punch motions more reliably than on an Xbox 360 controller. However, if you’ve been following the Ouya then you’re probably wondering if reports of controller lag are true. In my experience, it seems to vary. I had no problems playing Knightmare Tower, but wall-jumping in League of Evil felt downright impossible at times. I was able to play through the first mission of Super Mario 64 (via the MUPEN64+ emulator) without a hitch, but SNES games played via SNES9x EX+ all felt like they lagged just enough to throw off my game. I played Super Mario World and Super Metroid, and both felt like their timing was off. I then fired them up on the Wii U’s virtual console to verify my hypothesis, and found it confirmed. This likely means there are some software issues, but that is at least an addressable issue.

Now, the console itself: it’s tiny. It is about the size of a Rubik’s Cube. Like the controller, it is solidly built. It has a power button on the top, and cannot be turned on from the controller(something that became standard in the last console generation). Five ports adorn the back: power, HDMI, ethernet, and two USB ports(one for connecting the console to a computer, one for connecting usb devices to the console itself (ie, usb drives or controllers). I did not test my Ouya with a USB hub, but I have read that it can work with them. An odd hitch: it appears that the Ouya only looks for USB devices when starting up, so you can’t really hot plug devices with it. This isn’t really a huge issue, but it is annoying when you are trying to figure out why a USB drive isn’t working. Ouya’s manual is two pages, and not very helpful.

Although the Ouya has its own built-in store, you can also “sideload” apps via its web browser. I have not attempted to load the Google Play Store on Ouya yet, though I plan to. For now, I just tested the client for Plex, my media server of choice. It works well enough, but it was a little slow to load and playback controls were sparse. I was able to stream near-Blu-Ray-quality 1080p video with next to no hiccups.

I’m working on another article about the games. Expect it very soon.

Five Shows That Deserve Another Season

Arrested Development is back, and in light of the excitement I’d like to highlight five other awesome shows that ended well before their time.

5. Mission Hill

This comedy originally aired in 1999, and was part of the comedy animation boom of the late 90’s. Mission Hill is about Andy and Kevin French, two brothers with next to nothing in common beyond each utterly disdaining the other. Andy is a twenty-something ne’er-do-well who dreams of being a cartoonist, while Kevin is an over-achieving high school student. Forced to live together by their parents, the two brothers constantly bicker. While Andy must readjust his life to help take care of his brother, Kevin attempts to adjust to life in the city, as well as Andy’s unconventional roommates and neighbors.

Mission Hill was created by two executive producers of The Simpsons, and features a number of famous voice actors and comedians, such as Brian Posehn(A stand-up comedian), Tom Kenny(SpongeBob), and Jane Weidlin(bass guitarist for The Go-Go’s). Sometimes, even with a boatload of talent, shows just aren’t very good. That isn’t the case here, though. Mission Hill is witty, clever, and makes an effort to create funny, interesting characters. It has a unique animation style and interesting color palette. It had everything going for it, but sometimes that isn’t enough.

4. Clone High

The brainchild of Bill Lawrence(Scrubs), Chris Miller, and Phil Lord, Clone High is an animated comedy revolving around a high school populated almost solely by teenage clones of famous historical figures and run by a mad scientist and his robot vice principal, Mr. Butlertron. Abe Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi are nerdy best friends, whose small clique is rounded out with an artsy/goth Joan of Arc. John F. Kennedy is a mean-spirited jock in an on-again-off-again relationship with Cleopatra. A number of other famous clones have recurring roles, including George Washington Carver, Genghis Kahn, and Marie Curie. The show is almost always absurd. Each episode is advertised as “a very special episode.” The show stars the like of Will Forte(SNL) and Nicole Sullivan(MadTV), and nearly every episode features some major starts as guests, including Jack Black, Andy Dick, and Luke Perry. Bill Lawrence used his Scrubs connection to get many members of its cast to appear on the show, as well.

Like Mission Hill, Clone High aired for a single season. It ends on a massive cliffhanger, which is doubly sad.

3. Jericho

Jericho was just a little before its time. While shows and films about various apocalypses have become all the rage, Jericho may have been the first of the new wave. Jericho is a small town in Kansas that was well outside the range of any major city. The show begins with twenty-three cities across the United States are leveled by nuclear weapons. The small town struggles to survive the fallout — both literally and figuratively. Alliances are formed and broken, relationships tested, and the very things that hold society together are strained to the breaking point. The town must deal with raiders, rebuilding trade, and questionable new governments.

It could be argued that Jericho ended properly. After being cancelled at the end of its first season, a fan campaign got the show renewed for a short second round that cleared up most of the questions posted during the first. However, the show could have easily continued past that point, as the final episode ends with the world growing ever larger, and society still has a great deal to rebuild. Although Jericho is about a small town, it could easily expand to show its place in a larger world.

2. Pushing Daisies

Bryan Fuller just doesn’t have much luck. That’s the only thing that can explain him creating so many great shows and having none of them get more than a second season. Before Pushing Daisies, Fuller created Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, both shows that could just as easily have appeared on this list. Dead Like Me got a less-than-stellar direct-to-video final movie, but Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies both end with unfinished business.

Pushing Daisies is the story of Ned the piemaker, a man with a mysterious gift: his touch can raise the dead. The catch? One minute after raising one corpse, a nearby equivalent will die. A second touch to the undead will revert them to their lifeless state, and if done within a minute, will negate the cost of raising them. Ned uses this gift to solve murder cases along with Emerson Cod, a private investigator.

Pushing Daisies is colorful and campy. It stars Lee Pace and Chi McBride as Ned and Emerson, respectively. It also stars Anna Friel, Kristin Chenoweth, Ellen Greene, and Swoosie Kurtz. Every episode also features whimsical narration by Jim Dale.

1. Firefly

Now more than ever, it is incredibly obvious that Joss Whedon, when left to his own devices, creates good entertainment. Between Toy Story and The Avengers, he masterminded Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dollhouse. He also created Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and Cabin in the Woods. Nearly everything he has a hand in is golden. However, his most ardent following likely stems from the short-lived TV series Firefly. I admit, I didn’t watch it when it premiered. It’s probably good that I didn’t. FOX aired the series out of sequence, leaving the series’ exposition-filled first episode for last.

Firefly follows the crew of the firefly-class spaceship Serenity, captained by Malcolm Reynolds. Mal, along with the ship’s second-in-command, Zoe, was a soldier on the losing side of the Unification War — a battle to keep independence from the galaxy-ruling Alliance. In a bid to keep some form of freedom, Mal becomes an independent contractor, taking whatever jobs come his way, legal or not.

Honestly, there are a ton of sites dedicated to this show. There were a whopping fourteen episodes, and it has one of the most ardent followings in the history of television. It’s cowboys in space, and it’s fantastic. When you first watch it, you’ll think the theme song is stupid. By the end of the season, you’ll find it inspiring. That’s how awesome this show is.

Joss Whedon got a chance to continue the story of Firefly in the film Serenity. It was great. It wasn’t enough.

The Xbox One: Nice, But Meh


The Xbox One.The Xbox One.

The Xbox One.

Today, Microsoft announced their upcoming video game console, the Xbox One. Named for its intent to simplify and control your entire media experience, the Xbox One takes the Xbox 360 initiative toward movies, music, and television and ups the ante. There are a number of interesting new features on the Xbox One, and its controller looks like it might best the PS4’s offering. However, there are a number of nagging issues that leave me lukewarm on the device. While the internet goes nuts over Microsoft’s announcements, allow me to point out my grievances.

1. Installation Required

All Xbox One games must be installed to the console’s internal 500 GB hard drive, which is not upgradeable. Additional hard drives can be added via the Xbox One’s USB 3.0 ports, but with games coming on Blu-Rays, you can expect install sized of over 30 GB to be common. That’s a lot of space, so expect to delete older games off the drive from time to time.

This isn’t a dealbreaker. Microsoft has stated that games will be playable during the install, which means player’s won’t have to deal with the epic, half-hour-or-more install times that plagued some PS3 games. A bigger issue stems from this requirement, however:

2. Possible Fees for Playing Used Games


The Xbox One console.The Xbox One console.

The Xbox One console.

This has not been confirmed by Microsoft, but Wired reports that after a game is installed, anyone else who attempts to play a game from the same disc will have to pay an activation fee. How this would technically work remains unreported, and Microsoft has gone on record with a firm “we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail,” which isn’t actually a denial.

The video game industry’s combative relationship with used sales is anti-consumer, reprehensible, and ultimately self-aggrandizing posturing by people who should have a better idea of how economics work in the real world. The fact that Microsoft won’t come out and say “there will be no fees for playing a used game” is completely unacceptable at this point.

3. No Backward Compatibility. At all. Ever.

Although there are reasonable technical reasons not to have backward compatibility — the Xbox 360’s technical architecture is vastly different from the new Xbox One — Microsoft spent a great deal of time touting how easy it was to port games designed in XNA to their various platforms. Although most Xbox 360 games aren’t made using XNA, it would have been nice to hear that those that were would port just as easily to this new platform. Futhermore, it means that any Xbox Live Arcade games purchased are probably going to disappear soon. Fans of retro gaming will be pretty upset by this, I am sure, as game preservation initiatives continue to stumble.

4. They’re Trying to Tie You Down

This is my biggest dislike of the Xbox One: it’s all designed around Microsoft services. This is an issue with every major hardware manufacturer, but Microsoft has historically been the worst with it: even using third-party services like Netflix or Hulu require an additional payment to Microsoft to access them on the Xbox 360. Microsoft has not announced if this practice will continue, but they have not announced that it won’t, either.

5. Kinect Doesn’t Work in my Living Room


The Xbox One's revised Kinect.The Xbox One's revised Kinect.

The Xbox One’s revised Kinect.

This is a pretty specific grievance, but I can’t use the Kinect sensor in my small apartment. I would have to completely rearrange it, and possibly remove some furniture entirely. I have no intention of doing this. Again, not necessarily a dealbreaker, but not something I’m going to look forward to, either. The Xbox One includes a Kinect, and uses it for a number of standard functions. In addition, a number of current Kinect users noted that the device did not react well(or, reacted too well) to the multitude of sample commands thrown out during Microsoft’s press conference, inadvertently recreating a scene from 30 Rock.

6. Advertising Everywhere

One of my biggest complaints about the Xbox 360 is that its interface is plastered with ads. It is annoying. Premium services should not be covered in advertising. Microsoft thinks it is acceptable to charge a monthly fee to access most of the Xbox 360’s online features and then cover your screen in all manner of ads. Not only are they wrong, but they allow their ads to make navigation slower and more difficult. Microsoft has made no announcements regarding the use of advertising on the Xbox One, but they plaster every other service they offer in ads, so I can’t imagine this one will be different.


Possibly the best standard controller ever.Possibly the best standard controller ever.

Possibly the best standard controller ever.

So far, the PlayStation 4 has garnered far more interest from me than the Xbox One. I think the Xbox One has an awesome controller, but Microsoft’s announcements did nothing to address my complaints about their previous console. The Xbox One is the Xbox 360, only more so. If you’re a fan of the 360, this is exciting news. If you aren’t, it’s pretty much a non-starter.

Just in Case Community Gets Cancelled…

Tomorrow may see the airing of the final episode of one of my favorite shows, Community. In light of this, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite episodes, and tell you why I enjoy them so much. Some will be heartfelt, others just hilarious. Let’s go!

Introduction to Film (Season One, Episode Three)

Some of my favorite Community episodes are about getting into Abed’s head and figuring out what makes him tick. This is the first of such episodes. In it, Britta agrees to pay for Abed’s film classes when his father refuses. Her vote of confidence in his future seems to go to his head. Over the course of the episode, the communication challenges faced by both Abed and his father are revealed through the short film he has been secretly creating.

Environmental Science (Season One, Episode Ten)

The main plot of this episode revolves around Señor Chang going overboard in assigning homework and Jeff’s attempts to get him to lighten up. It’s a clever tale that fleshes out Chang’s character a bit, but the real gem is the musical montage toward the end of the episode. Between Chang getting his groove back and Shirley getting the confidence to speak in public, we are treated to a celtic-rock duet cover of Somewhere Out There by Troy and Abed.

It is amazing.

The Science of Illusion (Season One, Episode Twenty)

This episode delves into Pierce’s off-the-wall religion, Laser Lotus Buddhism. It may or may not be a cult. Or a scam. It’s probably both. Troy and Jeff take advantage of Pierce’s fasting-related delusions to hilarious effect.

While Jeff and Troy are messing with Pierce, Shirley and Annie become security guards for a day and try to out-crazy each other.

Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design (Season Two, Episode Nine)

While performing a random spot check (read: stalking Jeff) Dean Pelton discovers he is registered for a nonexistent night school course(Conspiracy Theories in US History) taught by a nonexistent teacher(Professor Professorson). Jeff takes his denial to the extreme, only to discover someone else is in on his deception. 

While Jeff and Annie delve deeper and deeper into this mystery, Troy and Abed build a massive pillow fort.

This very well may be the greatest episode of the entire series. It is loaded with fantastic retorts and absurd situations. My favorite exchange? When Britta mocks Troy and Abed’s pillow fort, claiming she has something more “grown-up to do,” Troy responds with “Enjoy eating fiber and watching The Mentalist.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (Season Two, Episode Fourteen)

Jeff realizes that a classmate, Neil, is rooted in a deep depression. He gathers the study group to break Neil out of the funk by playing his favorite role-playing game. This episode balances the saccharine subject matter with parodies of Lord of the Rings and some fantastic role reversal. Pierce plays a fantastic antagonist in this episode. Show creator Dan Harmon fought hard to get this episode made; NBC fought against it simply because of the concept.

Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking (Season Two, Episode Sixteen)

This episode is just okay. Then LeVar Burton shows up and steals the show.

Paradigms of Human Memory (Season Two, Episode Twenty-One)

I am not a fan of clip shows. The only one I’ve ever liked is The Simpsons’ All Singing, All Dancing. Community flips the clip show concept on its head by revisiting moments in the characters lives that did not occur on the show. It also takes a shot at the idea of YouTube fan videos like this one and includes one of the show’s many digs at Glee.

Studies in Modern Movement (Season Three, Episode Seven)

Annie moves in with Troy and Abed. This episode marks the first appearance of The Dreamatorium. We also learn that the opposite color Kool-Aid does not remove stains, which is very important.

Regional Holiday Music (Season Three, Episode Ten)

Community takes its dislike of Glee to the next level by getting the entire study group obsessed with regionals. I guess there is some requirement that any show with more than two seasons has to do a musical episode?

Also, this.

Origins of Vampire Mythology (Season Three, Episode Fifteen)

Britta has an embarrassing on-again-off-again love affair with a selfish loser named Blade. Jeff wants to understand why and becomes obsessed with figuring out how Blade does it. Annie takes Britta under her wing to keep her from repeating the mistake of sleeping with Blade every time he is in town. Troy gets Britta to lose interest in Blade by sending a fake “nice-guy” text from Blade’s number.

The moment that makes it for me is at the very end, when Britta realizes where the message actually came from.

Virtual Systems Analysis (Season Three, Episode Sixteen)

Another Abed-centric episode. Annie spends time in The Dreamatorium with Abed, discovers his process for relating to people and attempts to adjust it, with disastrous results. Danny Pudi gets a chance to play several characters on the show. Pierce also provides a great mnemonic device for remembering how animals are categorized(Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species): “Kevin, Please Come Over For Gay Sex.”

Digital Estate Planning (Season Three, Episode Twenty)

The study group play a video game designed by Pierce’s father in order to determine who gets his inheritance. The game featured in this episode is so awesome that fans are actually trying to make it.

The Greendale Seven Series (Season Three, Episodes Seventeen through Nineteen, and Twenty-One to Twenty-Two)

These episodes bleed together. The first, Basic Lupine Urology, is mostly a fun Law & Order spoof, but it ends with an event that leads to chaos at Greendale Community College. The next episode, Course Listing Unavailable, leads to the study group being rebranded The Greendale Seven and expelled, while Chang takes over the campus. The episode after that, Curriculum Unavailable, shows us the aftermath of the expulsion, as the Greendale Seven undergo group therapy.

Curriculum Unavailable features John Hodgman, my favorite Minor Television Personality and Judge, and a huge Brett Ratner burn

In episode twenty-one, The First Chang Dynasty, The Greendale Seven plot an elaborate, Ocean’s Eleven-style heist to wrench Greendale away from Chang. Finally, the season finale, Introduction to Finality, flashes forward to find the study group completing summer school.

The final episode in this season was written so that it could be a series finale if it needed to be, and it pushes a great deal of character growth into a small space. It also revisits The Darkest Timeline, an excellent concept from an episode not in this list.

Season Four

If I’m being honest, the fourth season of Community has not been great. The massive change in creative direction the show took after creator Dan Harmon was forced out shows. It was only contracted for thirteen episodes, and NBC pushed back its premiere by several months, making it air out of sync with the time of year the episodes were intended to appear. It’s still funny, and I’m still watching it, but only two episodes really stand out: the first, Conventions of Space, which takes place almost entirely at an Inspector Spacetime convention.

(Inspector Spacetime is Community’s version of Doctor Who, and the parodies are awesome)

The second, Time and Basic Human Anatomy, spoofs body-swapping comedies and gives further insight into the close friendship Abed and Troy share.

Beyond

The future of Community is uncertain. If there is to be a fifth season, I’ll happily watch it, and will appreciate my good fortune. If this is to be the last season, I hope it wraps up nicely. There’s nothing worse than a great story with no ending.

An Ode to the GameCube Controller


Nothing like it before or since.Nothing like it before or since.

Nothing like it before or since.

People naturally break down into factions when they are a part of large groups. Even the most level-headed geek has a subject near and dear to them worth going to verbal war over. Star Wars or Star Trek? Kirk or Picard? Edison or Tesla? The minutiae of nerd hobbies can be debated into eternity and never be resolved.

At some point, anyone who grew up playing video games probably argued over which hardware was best. There is a never-ending war raging between fanboys, and even the platform-neutral tend to still have a favorite. Through the eighties and early nineties, Nintendo and Sega fought an unending battle. When Sony entered the fray in 1994, the battle became no less contentious. As Sega bowed out, Microsoft rushed in to fill the gap.

Sometimes, console wars aren’t about the system itself, but the games it plays. One of the more interesting points to compare between consoles is the controllers used by the player to interface with their games. PC gamers will defend the mouse-and-keyboard combination with their lives. Fans of the original Xbox will often declare its massive controller, affectionately referred to as “The Duke,” to be superior to anything that has come since. Players who experienced the 16-bit era will often look back fondly on the Super Nintendo’s well-loved game pad.

My favorite controller isn’t necessarily the best one. It isn’t the most versatile, and I can see why it rarely makes anyone’s best-of lists. It is, however, one that was thoughtfully designed, if a bit myopically. I’m referring to, as the title has already declared, the GameCube controller.

The GameCube controller’s faults are easily noticed by veteran gamers: it appears to have two fewer buttons than its competitors, its directional pad is tiny, and the massive amount of travel on the left and right triggers makes them slow to respond to quick presses.

The problem is that the GameCube controller was designed to play Nintendo’s games, and no one else’s. It’s a common issue with Nintendo hardware. Though their consoles are open to third parties, it is hardly a secret that people buy Nintendo’s hardware for their flagship titles. A game that sells millions on a competitor’s platform will be handily eclipsed by secondary Mario titles on the Wii. Everything Nintendo does addresses their needs first, and third party needs second.

Outside of being quite comfortable, there are two unique aspects of the GameCube controller that make it stand out to me. Neither has been repeated since, with good reason. Still, they are clever design decisions that allow GameCube games to stand out hand and have original, memorable control schemes.


A close-up of the GameCube button layout.A close-up of the GameCube button layout.

A close-up of the GameCube button layout.

The first, and most obvious, is the abnormal action button layout. Every controller made since the NES has had buttons laid out in a line or simple grid. The most common layout by far is a diamond shape. The GameCube controller completely eschews this standard, and instead lays them out in an irregular triangle. The “A” button is at the center, and significantly larger than the three buttons that surround it. The “X” and “Y” buttons are ovals that wrap around the top and right side of “A”, and the “B” button, smaller than any of the others, is a circle to the lower-left of “A.”

This unnatural scheme makes the buttons seem awkward at first, but this layout also makes each game’s input, when designed properly, feel natural and obvious. The “A” button is always the main button, and “B” is the least-used. “X” and “Y” are often support buttons. The GameCube’s buttons are designed around priority, rather than rote memorization.

More often than not, developers outside of Nintendo did not use this design philosophy to create their control schemes. One of the biggest mistakes, in my opinion, came in the incredibly popular Soul Calibur II. It made “A” one of the attack buttons(Horizontal Attack), and “Y,” which rested above “A,” the second attack button(Vertical Attack). “X,” to the right of “A,” was the kick button, and “B” blocked. Even for an aggressive player that did not block, this is a bad layout.

I changed the layout right away. I made “Y” Vertical Attack, and “X” Horizontal Attack. I made “A” block, and “B” kick. There are two reasons for these changes:

1. The button above A(vertically) initiates a vertical attack. The button to the right of A(horizontally) initiates a horizontal attack. The symmetry of this seems obvious to me.

2. The block button is used in conjunction with the attack buttons to initiate holds and throws. By placing the action buttons around block, pressing two of them simultaneously becomes incredibly simple. Doing the same with the default control scheme would be difficult, as block was tucked away from the other buttons and would require contorting one’s hand into a claw shape to press both “B” and “Y” at once.

When designed around the layout, game controls can take on a form of logic that other controllers can’t match. It doesn’t work for every game, though. Fighting games like Capcom vs. SNK 2, which often use a set of two or three punches and the same number of kicks, suffer with the GameCube’s layout.


The GameCube's left trigger.The GameCube's left trigger.

The GameCube’s left trigger.

The other interesting facet of the controller is its triggers. Designed to be sensitive to pressure, the left and right triggers also hide a secondary button within them. The easiest way to describe it is to compare it to the shutter button on an SLR or higher-end camera. There is a natural stopping point when the trigger is pressed relatively lightly, and a second button clicks when the trigger is pressed a little harder. This is a clever way to hide a secondary action in a button. For example, in a driving game pressing the left trigger to its natural stopping point could function as a brake, while the secondary click could shift the car into reverse.

The obvious problem with these triggers, however, is that secondary button can only be used when the trigger is already pressed, meaning these actions will always require another one to be triggered. This greatly limits the use of this function.

There are a number of games that could benefit from the GameCube’s peculiar controller design. As much as I understand why it has never been repeated, it should not be entirely forgotten.


Hori's classically-styled GameCube controller.Hori's classically-styled GameCube controller.

Hori’s classically-styled GameCube controller.

As an aside: HORI released an interesting version of this controller. It was designed for use with the GameCube’s GameBoy Advance Player, and was also used by fighting game fans who wanted a larger D-Pad. It was also great for controlling Wii Virtual Console games. Although it lacked the standard controller’s analog joysticks, it handily evoked the feel of the classic Super Nintendo controller.

An Obsession With Mobile Computing


It's the B.O.S.S. Kind of.It's the B.O.S.S. Kind of.

It’s the B.O.S.S. Kind of.

I have always had a bit of an obsession with technology. From a young age, I was consumed with the idea of a portable computer. When I was born in 1980, the very concept was just coming into fruition. The common form of laptop we see today was popularized while I was a toddler.

Truth be told, I think this obsession began because of Inspector Gadget. The titular character’s daughter, Penny, carried with her a computerized book that acted as a bit of a deus ex machina. The bookputer was used to overcome a plethora of tech-related challenges. I was enchanted by this concept, and often pretended that my own books were Penny’s computer-book. (I also had a dictionary that I pretended was Tobin’s Spirit Guide, from Ghostbusters. I like magic plot-device books.) Suffice to say, the idea of carrying a computer with me was always something I dreamed of as a child.

At the time, it was a flight of fancy. Laptops were expensive, and reserved for very important people, or at least people with a particularly large amount of disposable income.The typical starting price of a laptop in the 1980’s was around $8,000. As a child not yet even in middle school, this was a little out of my price range. I made do with my regular books, the occasional note pad, and a great deal of imagination.

There is no greater testament to the technology boom than the fact that by the time I was in seventh grade, I could get a handheld computer-like device. Make not mistake; it was decidedly not a laptop computer. It was a chintzy Royal Pocket Organizer similar to this one. It had so little memory that I actually filled all the available space. I used it to pass notes to a girl I had a crush on during science class. Simply watching the LCD refresh at the push of a button was engrossing. The very concept of holding a wallet-sized computer excited me. I played with it constantly, paging through notes and phone numbers for a ridiculous amount of time. That a seemingly inert piece of plastic could suddenly spring to life and recall the multitude of data I had entered into it thrilled me.


So many buttons! All those pixels! And it even has a calculator!So many buttons! All those pixels! And it even has a calculator!

So many buttons! All those pixels! And it even has a calculator!

The fate of that little organizer is unknown to me. I don’t think I broke it, but at some point I definitely replaced it. Sometime in late middle or early high school, the Royal Personal Organizer was superseded by the Casio B.O.S.S. — that’s a Business Organizer Scheduling System to the uninitiated. Boasting a larger, more versatile LCD and 256 KB of storage, the B.O.S.S. actually looked like a tiny laptop. It was powered not by a simple button cell battery, but two AAAs. I actually attempted home row typing on its little keyboard. The B.O.S.S. could also sync with a PC, but even then I was a Mac guy, and I didn’t know of any Mac software for it. I would likely have loved syncing it to my first computer, a Performa 600.

Although a step ahead of its predecessor, the B.O.S.S. was still hardly a replacement for a real computer. It had many of the same functions computers used at the time, save advanced things like spreadsheets and full documents. As a personal organizer it was top notch, but I wasn’t going to do any real writing on it, and the burgeoning maelstrom that was the World Wide Web didn’t exist to it. With a paltry 256 KB of storage, it couldn’t even hold the folder on my hard drive that contains the articles I’ve written for this site. Indeed, the then-iconic 3.5” floppy disk held nearly six times the amount of data as the B.O.S.S. It didn’t matter to me, though. It was a step closer to my dream: a computer to go with me everywhere.

The summer after I graduated high school, I saved enough money to buy a used PowerBook 5300c. Its battery life was paltry, particularly compared to a low-power device like the B.O.S.S., but it was a real computer! It had a full-sized keyboard, trackpad and ran an actual modern operating system. I upgraded its scant 16 MB of RAM to 48, and its 750 MB hard drive was more than enough to hold my various WordPerfect documents.


The Iconic Lombard PowerBook G3.The Iconic Lombard PowerBook G3.

The Iconic Lombard PowerBook G3.

I eventually upgraded from the PowerBook 5300c to a PowerBook 3400c. From there, I moved on to a PowerBook G3 (a Lombard version, to be specific), one of my favorite laptops. It had a fantastic display, a great-feeling keyboard, and, for the time, a great trackpad. It had a very interesting industrial design that Apple has not repeated since.

My obsession with handheld organizers didn’t stop when I got my hands on a laptop, however. The idea of holding a small device in the palm of my hand continued to stick with me. When I worked as a cable tech for the now-defunct AT& Broadband, I picked up a Handspring Visor and a GPS accessory for it. I eventually upgraded to a Palm IIIc.


The Lombard's highly-touted bronze keyboard.The Lombard's highly-touted bronze keyboard.

The Lombard’s highly-touted bronze keyboard.

In a strange way, the personal organizer has been revitalized in the form of smartphones. My earliest smartphone, the Nokia 3650, ran the Symbian OS, synced with my PowerBook G3, and even acted as a bluetooth modem to allow internet access anywhere I went. I eventually upgrading to a Nokia N90, which featured an upgraded version of the Symbian OS and had a high-end-for-the-time 2.1 megapixel camera. The camera pivoted in multiple directions, and though no carrier in the US supported it, it could function as a video phone as well. The Nokia N90 in many ways matched or outperformed the original iPhone, despite being released two years prior. I would go on to own several Android phones: the G1, the Nexus One, and the Nexus S. After standing by T-Mobile for nearly a decade, I switched carriers and got an iPhone 5.

I would have to say that my favorite kind of mobile device is the emerging tablet. Not simply because it is new, but because it is in many ways my childhood imagination coming to life. I use my iPad every day to browse news feeds, watch TV shows, read books and comics, play games, and remote control computers across the network I help maintain. With a bluetooth keyboard paired to it, I can write long articles just as well as I could with my regular laptop. It isn’t quite as flexible as I’d like, but its battery lasts all day and its retina display is sharp and colorful.

Penny wishes her computer book was as cool as one of these.

Is Episodic Content the Future of Gaming?

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead won a number of Best-Of awards last year. In addition to its many accolades, it also sold quite well. A number of things led to its success beyond the fact that it is a great game. The Walking Dead cost less than the average game, was available on damn near every device released in the last decade that supports games, and it held players’ interest by stretching out its release over the course of several months.


Clementine and Lee, main characters in  The Walking Dead .Clementine and Lee, main characters in  The Walking Dead .

Clementine and Lee, main characters in The Walking Dead.

That last point is the one I’d like to focus on. Rather than spend years developing a single large release, Telltale created a framework for several smaller games in a series and released them over a relatively short period of time. Each game(or episode, in Telltale’s parlance) released at $5 per episode. A season pass could be purchased at a discounted rate, and a disc containing all five episodes is now available for around $30.

It might not be fair to compare every other release to The Walking Dead. However, many games would fit into its mold quite well. There are places where higher-budget games greatly surpass it, particularly in the realm of visuals. The Walking Dead also has a relatively simple control scheme and its straightforward design means bug testing was probably fairly manageable compared to a game like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto.

Neither of these factors make The Walking Dead a bad game. In fact, the decision to design the graphics around running on a greater variety of hardware and tell a fairly linear story helps greatly reduce development costs and time. Few, if any, players felt either of these limitations were a problem. The low barriers to entry and quality story made The Walking Dead game a hit in every quantifiable aspect of the term.

Developers and publishers have been looking for ways to make more money off of the hard work they put into their titles, and with the incredibly high cost of development, this is understandable. With budgets well into the tens of millions, a AAA title needs to sell more than a few million to make back the capital put into it. The 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider sold 3.6 million copies in its first month, taking in around $216 million, and it is considered a flop. That’s a horrible sign for the health of the industry.

For reference, last week’s top box office hit, Oblivion, made $38.2 million, and that is considered quite successful. The Avengers had a first weekend of a little under $207.5 million, and is one of the greatest opening weekends in history. Tomb Raider took in more than that during its first month, had a smaller budget than either movie, and is considered a failure.

The solution, in the eyes of most developers and publishers, is to raises game costs, despite their already high average of $60 per title. Other ideas include releasing additional content several months after release to maintain interest and reduce the frequency of new game trade-ins. Neither of these solutions is ideal; raising the cost of entry will shrink the market, and reducing trade-ins will likely reduce the number of new game purchases made by lower- and middle-class gamers, again resulting in fewer sales.


A decision point in  The Walking DeadA decision point in  The Walking Dead

A decision point in The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead’s method wouldn’t work for every game, at least not entirely. However, episodic gaming isn’t just about lowering the barrier to entry; it is also about keeping customers interested in your product and buying add-ons for months to come. Each Walking Dead game episode is around two hours long, providing a total play time of around ten hours. The length of play time games offer varies wildly by genre, but twelve-to-twenty hours is about average for a $60 game. Role-playing games tend to be significantly longer, while fighting games and first-person shooters are often less. Still, at half the price The Walking Dead offered half the length of play time. If developers and publishers could produce shorter games that cost less money, with the promise of a smoother release of extended content, they could greatly reduce the amount of money lost when a game fails.

Imagine having spent $30 on Mass Effect 3, getting about a third of the way through it, then getting three additional chapters of the story for $10 each, over the course of a few months. This could have also allowed the optional content released well after players finished the game, like The Citadel and Omega add-ons, to have come out in a manner that would better suit the story rather than as an afterthought. Had this additional content been released as part of the main game, I might have bought more of it. As it stands, while I do intend to buy it at some point, I’m busy playing other games.

While people might balk at spending $60 on a game, sight unseen, they are more likely to spend $30 on a game, then $30 or even $50 more over time, if they really enjoy the experience. The Walking Dead is proof of this. Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) offer further proof. Episodic content strikes a perfect balance between lowering the cost of entry and avoiding monthly subscriptions. Free-to-Play games, which make money in the form of limiting player progress until they buy various forms of in-game items, are gaining in equal parts popularity and ire. By going episodic, developers maintain player engagement, generate a regular stream of revenue, and avoid the backlash that addiction-based microtransactions produce.

The industry would do well to emulate one of last year’s top performers. They don’t have to follow its model to the letter — there is still room for bigger-budget titles that cost more. However, taking a page from the playbook of someone who turns the common industry model on its ear while maintaining a realistic pricing model would be wise. The free-to-play model depends on a smaller number of players to spend more money, which is a recipe for disaster should a game not garner a paying audience at all. Episodic gaming lowers the barrier to entry why ensuring a quality product maintains a paying audience. The whole thing is so obvious, I’m shocked no one else is following the model already.

Attention Insufferable Pricks: I’m Going to Start Publicly Shaming You and Your Behavior

I have a friend who is hesitant to go to movies with me anymore. A couple years ago, during a screening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I got fed up with the people behind me talking. It wasn’t the first time I’d taken a movie-talker to task, but it was probably the first time I went beyond shushing or requesting (albeit, curtly) they be quiet. In this instance, the person was literally talking through the whole movie. As in, an hour plus into the movie (I refuse to call it a film), this person had described nearly everything that happened on the screen since the flick started. The group they were with was seated just two rows behind us, in a nearly empty theatre.

Fed up, I tossed a balled up napkin in their general direction and visited customer service to see about getting them properly silenced or escorted out. I indicated them to the usher, and he proceeded to do nothing, at which point the “gentleman,” and I use the term sarcastically, began a tirade about how he was going to sue me for assault with a deadly low-velocity wadded-up napkin.

The usher stood by as the man went on to insist that his party had every right to talk during the movie, because there was no law against it. I told him he was still being an asshole, and to go fuck himself, and walked out of the theatre.

Which really brings me to the crux of my issue: there are all sorts of things that aren’t against the law that we as a society still do not do. It is, for example, considered rude to let a noxious fart rip in an enclosed space, particularly among strangers. It is rarely done. There is no law against cutting in line at a store or restaurant, and yet the practice is largely shunned. In fact, there is no law against showing up to work and doing nothing, and yet you will still get fired for it! Coughing without covering your mouth? Completely legal. 

Society is rife with examples of “common courtesies,” and they are general guidelines for behavior that exist to keep our crowded existence from becoming unbearable. This is sometimes referred to as “being polite” or, in some instances, “being responsible.” The idea behind them is an even simpler concept, one that has been floating around for millennia: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The Asshole’s defense is that this is a free country. And they’re right, they are free to be assholes. But there is nothing in the constitution about being free from the consequences of their actions. Indeed, these are often the same jabber-jaws that opine ceaselessly on the subject of “personal responsibility” while in effect playing a game of blame the victim. It is always about getting things their way, no matter what the effect on others.

But here’s where it gets really ridiculous: people feel the need to stand up for assholes, and I have no idea why. They are absolutely willing to make complete fools and spectacles of themselves, and need no help speaking their mind. We have reached a point where intense effort is put into protecting the individual at the cost of the group. This is stupid. Individual freedoms are important, but, to quote a US Supreme Court Justice:

The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

In the case of a public event, someone else’s actions preventing me from enjoying the event — particularly one I paid for — could easily be argued as in infringement upon my freedom. A petty argument, certainly. But no less petty than talking on your phone during a movie.

I say it is time to fight fire with fire. And I’m not referring to a single, quick incident. If a person checks their phone or makes a glib comment during a movie, it is usually annoying to anyone not sitting next to them, but it is not the end of the world. It’s repeat offenders that draw my ire. To that end, I implemented my simple plan today at a screening of Oz The Great And Powerful at Old Orchard. A schmuck several seats down was playing with his phone for several minutes, lighting up the general area and causing an obnoxious amount of glare on my 3D glasses. I turned on my iPhone’s flash and pointed at the person after their first refusal to stop making a ruckus, then asked if it was distracting. The result? He threatened me and flipped me the bird. But he didn’t take his phone out again.

I’m counting it as a win.