Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage

Santa's RampageI reviewed Viscera Cleanup Detail several months ago but I’ve been waiting for the holiday season to roll around before diving into the Christmas extra, Santa’s Rampage.

Santa’s Rampage is the jolliest time you’ll ever spend while knee-deep in elf guts and reindeer chunks. This time around you’re an elf tasked with cleaning up the fallout from Santa’s killing spree at his workshop in the North Pole. (Rudolf…doesn’t make it. I’m so sorry). Anybody who’s a fan of Weird Al’s The Night Santa Went Crazy is sure to love this gleefully gory holiday nightmare.  His Christmas At Ground Zero and BNL’s Elf’s Lament are also great songs to listen to while playing.

Santa's Rampage 2

As it’s just extra content for the main game, there’s sadly only one level, but at the same time that keeps the concept from feeling repetitive or stale. For those who enjoy a challenge there is an achievement for clearing the level without damaging or incinerating a single Christmas item. Overall it’s a short and sweet addition for fans of Viscera Cleanup Detail and it’s something I look forward to making into a personal tradition to get in the spirit of Christmas.

And because I just couldn’t resist:

The Middleman

I enjoyed Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s short-lived TV show The Middleman but never got around to reading the graphic novels they were based on. Recently I rectified that oversight and I couldn’t have been more delighted.

The MiddlemanThe Middleman centers around a main character of the same name and his sidekick Wendy. Wendy is an artist picking up odd jobs to supplement her almost nonexistent income from painting. When her temp job is quite literally obliterated by a giant tentacle monster, she gets thrown unceremoniously into the world of The Middleman, a former Navy SEAL turned fighter of fantastical beings who lives by the motto, “Fighting evil so you don’t have to.”

The series is slightly campy and lighthearted, an homage to an older generation of comic books where the good guy is a dashing model citizen.

The art is black and white but highly detailed. There’s a fusion of old and new styles. The Middleman and many bit characters have that Silver Age feel to them while Wendy feels distinctly modern.

The pacing is tight and never drags nor feels rushed, and the characters all have good chemistry and play well off one another.

Tales From A Galaxy Far, Far Away

As another installment of the journey to The Force Awakens, Disney Lucasfilm Press released four stand-alone novellas by Landry Q. Walker. All are subtitled Tales From A Galaxy Far Away, and are part of the same series as The Perfect Weapon.

All four are compact stories that take place far outside the purview of the main Star Wars film characters and storyline. As they’re so short, I decided to review all four here instead of creating individual posts for each story.

All Creatures Great and Small: First up, we have a tale with a unique concept. It centered around an elderly storyteller with an affinity for communicating with small creatures. It had a Jim Henson vibe that I found particularly enjoyable. The hero was a very original choice in a franchise that’s usually dominated by swaggering blaster-wielders and powerful Force users. There were also plenty of fun and funky alien pets for the Star Wars fauna lovers to enjoy. This was definitely my favorite of the four tales.

The Face of Evil: This was by far my least favorite of the series. Everything about it fell flat. The lead was a cardboard cutout with motivations that were hard to believe. All her decisions defied logic. The ending was extremely obvious from early on and it just felt cheesy when the dramatic reveal was made. There was also a really bizarre attempt to cram in a Frankenstein parody, complete with a hunchbacked assistant supposed to be an Igor stand-in aiding the mad scientists who used bolts of lightening to bring life to their monstrous creations. There was no protagonist and nobody for the reader to actually care about.

High Noon of Jakku: This was an enjoyable read that chose a unique take. It opens with a show-down between the constable of a small barren town on Jakku and a rogue droid before pulling back to unfold the tale of how the two came to face off. There was a distinct Western flavor that was a bit reminiscent of Firefly. It was a droid-heavy story, which is always a big hit with me personally.

The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku: Finally we have the story with the closest ties to the Prequel trilogy. There’s many references to the Clone Wars peppered throughout, which makes sense as this story has its roots there. As it was driven by the concept of the mysterious fate of a long-lost treasure, there wasn’t an abundance of characterization. The characters felt pretty flat, owing in part to the fact that there was a bigger cast of main characters than in the other stories; nobody got much time for the audience to connect with them.

Twitter Creeps Steadily Towards Facebookification

Following on the heels of news about Twitter executives trying harder to make the social media platform generate more income, Twitter has begun to move away from the one thing that truly set them apart from the competition.

The raw feed known as the timeline, unlike Facebook, was always available in its entirety. Users were free to adjust that raw feed as they saw fit (if they saw fit) with third-party apps like Tweet Deck, lists, and mute. Where Facebook chose for its users how many and which posts from any given person a user is allowed to see on their feed, Twitter wisely kept their nose out of such matters.

First, the “while you were away” and “moments” features were introduced. They were annoying additions but still easy to ignore for the most part.

Now, however, Twitter has begun limited release of a “feature” which distorts the chronological timeline of the Twitter feed. Vague comments from Twitter about challenging their own beliefs and wishes to promote the “best” content fail to address the heart of the matter: Twitter is getting ready to start to pick and choose which Tweets (and by extension, which users) get to skip to the head of the Timeline and receive the most visibility. Why is that so important? Aside from the intrusiveness, when taken in context of Facebook’s long and sordid history of such maneuvers, it’s not hard to see what might possibly be down the road.

Facebook’s seemingly-innocuous forays into this territory eventually resulted in the pay-to-be-seen policy, where users willing to cough up money were guaranteed to show up in their followers’ feeds much better than users who didn’t wish to pay. People who didn’t buy better “reach” saw up to 90% decrease in engagement from their followers. Such a move could have even more repercussions on Twitter, as there is no distinction between business and personal accounts on the latter.

Even assuming Twitter doesn’t require payment for visibility, complex algorithms often tend to favor people who spend more time learning how to game the system over those who try to bring quality content and genuine conversation.

Most of all, Twitter seems to be ignoring one of the biggest reasons people choose Twitter: Because it’s not like Facebook. Trying to become “other Facebook” is a move that will alienate more of their users than Twitter seems to be anticipating.

I like the people I follow on Twitter. I like hearing about their day-to-day lives. Twitter has no place telling me the “best” Tweets–be they purchased or trending–are more important than whatever hi-jinks my friend’s cats just got up to or the screencap a guildie sent from World of Warcraft. I curated my follow list under the assumption that I was being trusted to search out the “best” content for me, the user.

Krampus Was Nice, But The Director Was Naughty

THIS CRITIQUE CONTAINS MULTIPLE MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE KRAMPUS, INCLUDING THE ENDING.

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Michael Dougherty’s Krampus was an excellent concept that stumbled on execution, due in large part to the ending. It was a film I really wanted to love, and it was for the most part and enjoyable movie. But there were a few things that really dragged down what could have been a holiday horror classic.

Krampus chose to walk a fine line between humor and horror. Think Return of the Living Dead rather than Night of the Living Dead. In and of itself, that wasn’t a poor choice. Humor and horror have usually paired well with each other. But towards the end, the humor in Krampus often dulls the fangs of what should be more climactic and emotion-driven scenes.

The film opens with a long slow-motion montage of Black Friday mayhem in a large store, with people beating each other senseless to the incongruous yet highly effective Christmas music. Though at first it merely seemed like a funny way to encapsulate the already morbid turn Christmas has come to take in our society, it was brilliant setup for the story to come.

The festive carnage enacted by grim-faced consumers segued into the aftermath of a fight between Max–one of the main protagonists–and a classmate who spoiled Christmas for younger kids by telling them Santa wasn’t real. Max tries to explain to his mom his reason for getting into the fight, but his defense of the Christmas spirit by engaging in fisticuffs doesn’t exactly engender her sympathy, especially as she is preparing for the onslaught of a visit from her sister’s difficult family.

The sister, Linda, and her husband Howard are the typical Christmas movie ‘redneck relatives.’ Their entire family was cribbed rather heavily from movies like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (albeit much surlier) but the acting was good enough to save the concept from being too cheesy. Max’s cousins bully him mercilessly, leading him to shred his letter to Santa and toss the pieces out of the window.

The next morning, the family awakens to a blizzard and power outage. Max’s teenage sister Beth, for some unfathomable reason, is allowed to leave the house and go check on her boyfriend several blocks away. She ends up running for her life from Krampus only to be attacked by a “present” he leaves behind just as she thinks he’s abandoned his pursuit.

Beth’s encounter with the jack-in-the-box was an excellent teaser that ultimately failed to deliver. We were set up to believe, “Well, this is serious. Kids can die in this movie.” But Dougherty didn’t commit to that, instead leaving anyone who fell victim to the minions of Krampus in an underwhelming limbo. Beth, as it transpired, wasn’t dead (supposedly?), being heard shrieking off-screen when her father and uncle managed to dredge up enough enthusiasm to go look for her.

This wouldn’t even have been the worst of it, but the adults in the film never seemed to take the disappearance of Beth nearly as seriously as they should have. The audience takes its cues from the characters in situations like this. The parents failed to treat the disappearances of the kids with urgency, and so that lack of urgency was passed on to the audience. When we realized that the kids were likely not dead but merely captive, there was virtually no sense of relief because their captures had been thoroughly downplayed and upstaged by other events at every turn.

This error in judgement comes, I think, from the characters being written as if they had the filmmaker’s knowledge of how events would turn out, rather than as parents whose children had been taken by unspeakable monsters. Despite repeated silly posturing from her uncle Howard to her father Tom about how “a shepherd takes care of his flock,” both men were content to abandon their search for Beth after returning to the safety of the house, despite a) hearing her screaming and b) encountering a mysterious creature in the snow that brutally savaged Howard. Her mother and aunt seemed equally blasé about leaving her to fend for herself in a blizzard stalked by monsters.

While the parents reacted a little more believably to the losses of the other children, the treatment of Beth set up an unfortunate precedent in how the audience should expect to feel after such events. The loss of several of Howard and Linda’s kids was then rather upstaged due to being followed by an admittedly hilarious scene where Howard was chased through the kitchen by psychotic murderous gingerbread men wielding a nail gun. The other adults encountered similarly humorous monster toys including a savage teddy bear, a spooky angelic doll, and a red-eyed robot of some kind.

Eventually we learn about Krampus from Max’s grandmother, Omi. Relayed in an animated segment that couldn’t quite decide between two different visual styles, Omi tells of when she was a little girl and unwittingly set Krampus after her entire town because they had forgotten the spirit of Christmas.

After Krampus eliminates the rest of Max’s family, he confronts the monster, first offering to sacrifice himself. When Krampus merely laughs and has his cousin thrown in a fiery pit, he says the magic words: I’m sorry.

And in the worst move I’ve seen from any movie in recent memory, the reset button was hit and everything that the audience spent and hour and half watching was relegated to being little more than a big dream sequence. The Doughtry tried to offset this by having Max receive a bell with Krampus’s name etched on it, but it was far too little, too late. It’s hard to imagine repeated viewings of this movie will be very enjoyable when the audience knows that there were zero lasting consequences and that all the characters would wake up to a happy Christmas morning of unwrapping presents.

 

Early Look At Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked

Don't Starve Shipwrecked IntroDon’t Starve, the whimsical roguelike sandbox game that has drawn many comparisons to Minecraft, released the Early Access version of its new expansion on Steam.

Though I’ve seen a few people on the forum mention crashes or minor bugs, my experience so far has been completely smooth and stable. It must be pointed out that as yet there is no ability to manipulate the frequency of material or mob spawns. There is a very noticeable scarcity of many basic materials like gold, flint, and saplings. That is a feature, not a bug. Players who relied heavily on the ability to add extra materials via the world settings in the base game should be prepared for a struggle.

Don't Stave New Pig Houses

There are new mobs and materials in keeping with the island theme. The three most obvious mob additions on land are parrots, monkeys, and snakes. Parrots are simply the replacement for regular birds. Monkeys are a big nuisance; they will follow the player and attempt to steal any nearby materials. They can be attacked, but they will fling poop in retaliation. Snakes are the most troublesome. They are fairly persistent, and can poison players. They can be found both roaming freely and attack players who cut down trees, bamboo, and thorny bushes.

Don't Starve Shipwrecked Open Water

Most islands are fairly small and poorly stocked, so players will dedicate a significant amount of time to traveling between islands. Several boats can be made right from the beginning and do not require a science machine or prototypes. The boats themselves have health gauges. They last pretty long in most cases, though they can take damage and anybody playing on Willow should be aware that she can cause the boat to spontaneously light the boat on fire like any other flammable item.

Don't Starve Boats

There are changes and tweaks thrown in to give players more to figure out. Marine-based foods like seaweed seem to severely deplete sanity when eaten raw. There are tons of new recipes, and existing recipes are different, with several costing noticeably fewer resources. Overall, Shipwrecked does an excellent job at providing new content while retaining the spirit and character of the original game.

FanMail Subscription Box

Fanmail November crate: "Wars Among the Stars."
FanMail November crate: “Wars Among the Stars.”

In mid November I saw someone mention a mystery subscription box for lady geeks. As I never got around to trying Loot Crate I decided to give it a try. FanMail bills itself as “A mystery box designed for lady geeks (by lady geeks!)“. The November box was themed “Wars Among the Stars.” My reaction was 50/50. There were two items I really liked, and both arrived with minor defects. The rest was either filler or just stuff that didn’t appeal to me.

First up was the set of stormtrooper helmet lapel pins:

Stormtrooper Lapel PinsI’ll admit I was a bit confused by these and had to Google what to do with lapel pins, but they’re very cute. This was one of the items that arrived defective–both posts were slightly bent despite being packed with foam in a cardboard jewelry box.

Next up was a geeky coloring book:

Coloring BookI like the idea better than the execution. Coloring books are making a comeback with adult versions being very popular, but the designs in this one were extremely simple and they printed each design twice in what feels like an attempt to pad the book. They included a set of four crayons: red, yellow, blue, and green. Astute observers will note that BB-88, like many of the other pictures in the coloring book, cannot be colored in with the selection provided.

My favorite item was the Death Star soap:

Death Star SoapIt arrived somewhat mushed-looking despite the plastic wrapping, but the scent is very nice.

They included two comics, Leia #1 and Marvel’s 100th Anniversary* Guardians of the Galaxy issue:

Fanmail ComicsAs I’ve never ordered a subscription box before, I don’t know if it’s common to include issues of comics that are eight and twelve or so months old, respectively, but it seems like a poor choice; like a large percentage of lady geeks, I already own the Leia comics.

*The “100th anniversary” thing was sort of a joke by Marvel.

The shirt was a Groot design:

We Are Groot ShirtI’ll confess to being one of the few nerds on the planet who hasn’t gotten around to seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, so I won’t hold my apathy for the shirt against the box’s curators. The material was of good quality and the design is nice.

Finally we have some temporary tattoos for The Lunar Chronicles:

Lunar TattoosI can’t really see myself using these. I was intrigued enough to consider buying the book, which I suspect was the point.

I know part of the risk of subscribing to a mystery box is that some of the items just won’t be your cup of tea. I really liked what I saw from their previous boxes on the web site, so I’ll give it one more month before I decide if I want to discontinue my subscription.

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