Monday, June 29, 2009

Pushing Up Daisies

The end of another week, time for another blog post. (I have another science-related one planned for the next of the month next week.) This time, I talk pop culture - in particular, yet another great show that was recently canceled. After a long delay in airing the final three episodes, Pushing Daisies finally came to an end this past weekend. ABC's bright, colorful and conversely dark detective/pie-making romantic comedy show had a lot of things going against it from the get-go - the biggest being the ABC network itself.

The show debuted back in fall of '07, to much initial hype - plus, actual advertising! - and critical acclaim that followed the show for the rest of its run. After the first episode saw solid ratings, ABC began drastic advertising cutbacks. Between a sudden lack of advertising and the loss of the portion of the premiere's viewership that tuned in for the novelty and opted not to continue watching due to the perceived 'too weird'-ness of the show, ratings began to drop soon after. Then the WGA strike happened, cutting the show - like many - off mid-season with only nine episodes for its first season. Planned story arcs and development had be dropped. And by the time the show returned for its season season last fall, it was clear that ABC wasn't interested in keeping it afloat. (The show was expensive, and this follows an in no way uncommon trend of networks barely backing fresh and original shows, and then dropping them when they can't compete with much more popular mainstream reality shows on other networks. Like what CW did to Veronica Mars after UPN had openly supported the show in its first two years - prior to the merger with WB that created the CW network - due to its critical acclaim and a desire to have a great niche show, rather than fixating on ratings.)

ABC made virtually no effort to make the public aware when Pushing Daisies returned to television last October, the first season's fans mostly only aware of the show's return due to its being in the online schedule. The only commercials ABC aired for the show over the remainder of its run were the brief previews for the next episode at the conclusion of the most recent episode's airing. The ratings fluctuated little as the network acted as a key architect of the show's demise. (When even Fox managed to keep Arrested Development around longer in harping on its acclaim left and right.) Thirteen episodes were shot for the second season, and creator Bryan Fuller, the cast, and crew were expecting the show to be picked up for another half-season in the spring so the show could finally get a solid whole-season run. This did not happen. ABC instead canceled the show after only airing ten episodes last fall, and then removed all evidence of the show's existence from their site and pussyfooted around questions of when the last episodes would air. The show ended up finishing its run in Europe and hitting DVD in the UK before the US run was finally completed over the last Saturday night in May and the first two in June, in completely unadvertised time slots that reminded that the only reason ABC was airing the last episodes at all was due to contractual obligation.

The ending was unplanned, and had to effectively be rushed and tacked on in the form of a final two minute epilogue of sorts added to the last episode, "Kerplunk," which, while a strong episode to conclude with, still wasn't written with any intention of ending the show there or providing any real closure - numerous major plot threads were left dangling. Thanks, ABC!

This kind of luck is not exactly something unfamiliar to fans of Bryan Fuller's shows. Showtime's Dead Like Me - which Fuller himself left several episodes into the first season, but the show continued to be stellar even without him - was canceled despite being the premium cable network's second most popular show. One of many poor decisions made by then new - and now no longer - head of programming Bob Greenblatt (Who seemed to have something personal against the show's existence, stemming from his own involvement in HBO's death show, Six Feet Under, though the respective premium networks' death-themed shows were very distinct from one another - HBO's focusing on a family and funeral home, versus Showtime's being a laugh out loud funny dramedy about grim reapers.) whose only noteworthy pick-up for the network was Weeds. (Which I just finished the 4th season of on DVD, and it continues to be fantastic.)

Fuller's second show, Wonderfalls, aired briefly on Fox in spring of 2004. And by briefly, I mean that they aired four episodes of the thirteen - out of order - and then pulled the show from the air, having made no real effort to push it to begin with despite early critical notice. And naturally, it aired in the same Friday night at 9 PM time slot that killed Joss Whedon's Firefly back in 2002, and which Whedon's Dollhouse has astonishingly managed to weather enough to get a second season for this fall. (And while Firefly was excellent from the get-go, Dollhouse took about half a season to get away from corporate meddling and into fantastic territory.) Where Pushing Daisies was "too weird" for the average TV viewer, Wonderfalls was probably a mix of that and "too cute" for Fox's audience, as it worked as one of the better TV romantic comedies in some time. (Though thankfully, its thirteen episode run provided enough closure with its conclusion that for what it is as a short, self-contained magic realistic series, it's wonderful as the name implies.) Dead Like Me was pitch perfect for its network and audience - so of course it'd take an unprofessional executive to mess that up.

ABC hasn't exactly been known for their good decisions in regards to programming in recent times either. Pushing Daisies was pretty much in their crosshairs after the pilot, as they've made it clear that they're more concerned with ratings and advertising dollars than they are with producing quality original content. (A notable ongoing trend on network television in general, since it's cheaper and easier to make zero-IQ reality shows based around competitions - whether singing, dancing, or something as insipid as the Wipeout obstacle course show ABC's shoving down America's throat at the moment.) Ugly Betty was surprisingly renewed after enduring talk of that show's heading toward cancellation with its lower viewership numbers. They premiered Rob Thomas' (Veronica Mars) reimagining of his short-lived '90s series Cupid (Which originally starred Jeremy Piven) with Bobby Cannavale at the helm and canceled that as soon as they could after airing its episodes, without any advertising or any hint of interest in considering keeping the show. (I only caught the last episode, and it wasn't bad. I haven't seen the originals how to compare, though.) Following the effective ending of Mike Judge's long running animated series King of the Hill, they premiered his next show - with a couple of other creators - The Goode Family, only to chuck it into a Friday night 8:30 PM ratings death slot, rather than giving the show a chance to find an audience. (Again, an observable trend.)

And of course, after Scrubs got the ending it had been building up to for years after issues at NBC kept them from getting a proper ending done there (And ABC picked the show up after NBC decided not to after the WGA strike delayed the ending another season - though in the least, the official 'final season' was consistently good, returning to many of the themes that made the show's earlier seasons memorable.), ABC's executives decided to renew the show after its ending. Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence saw ABC renew his previous show on their network - Spin City - after his departure and run it into the ground for a couple of seasons before canceling it, with some major notable casting changes. Lawrence almost escaped the same thing in Scrubs' run on NBC, but ABC was having none of that - they wanted to 'capitalize' on their investment when the show was only trying to wrap things up when they picked it up. So while we got a strong final season, now we have a season or two ahead - which I plan on not watching - without Bill Lawrence and several key members of the main cast. I imagine they'll be making the new interns introduced in the final season into regulars, and considering how past its prime the show has been, there's really nothing good about what ABC's doing with it. Let it die with dignity, ABC.

In the least, Pushing Daisies fans have some things to look forward to. Starting this fall, DC comics will be publishing a 12-issue Pushing Daisies comic book miniseries - which Fuller himself is involved with - as the official "third season." (Much like what Joss Whedon has done with Buffy the Vampire Slayer in more recent years.) The only plotline revealed for the comics so far involves an offbeat take on dealings with zombies - which should be interesting to see, given the undoubtedly inevitable connection with the leading Pie Maker character's supernatural ability to bring back the dead with a single touch and return them to death forever with a second. This also makes sense in that Pushing Daisies made its initial debut in the form of a promotional comic book at San Diego Comic-Con 2007 before its television premiere that fall. Both ABC and Fuller have stated that we may see a movie sequel to the series yet as well, not unlike that which Dead Like Me received years after cancellation earlier this year. (In part thanks to DVD sales, which also revived Family Guy a few years ago, and just recently led to Comedy Central picking up a new season of Futurama thanks to the strong sales of its DVD movies.)

Since Pushing Daisies' cancellation, Fuller returned to work on Heroes after having been involved in its first season, and effectively helped the latter half of season 3 avoid being terrible. (Unlike the first half and the entirety of the second season.) He's announced since that he's moving on to new projects, and currently working on two pilots - the details of which are currently unknown. As such, when Heroes returns for season 4 this fall, odds are that it's going to go right back to terrible. (And yet this is what gets the ratings and picked up by NBC - Chuck was lucky to get picked up for a third and final half-season for next spring, and they're facing major budget cuts, including one of the main cast members. At least they'll get a final half-season to wrap things up, but one has to wonder how much of that half-season will be advertising for Subway, considering that they had to work that directly into the show a few times in season 2.)

Fuller has confirmed that he's been interested in developing a new Star Trek series - something set back in the same timeline as the original series, pending the success of the recent revival movie. (Which was a huge hit, of course. Only movie I've seen in theaters this year so far - only other one that I know for certain that I will being Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - and while my mind wasn't blown, I still enjoyed it and wouldn't mind seeing more in that vein. I'm looking forward to the sequel.) This prosposed new Star Trek series wouldn't be set around the Enterprise, but a different ship and crew in the era. There's no confirmation of whether this proposed series is one of the pilots he's presently working on, though. And questions remain of how stylistically in line it'd be with his original shows, and whether being tied in with such a big brand and established universe might somewhat stifle the creativity involved - he did start out as a writer on Voyager as is, before going on to much bigger and better things - and whether or not having this particular big brand attached would be enough to create something lasting. (Considering how much public interest had waned in Star Trek by the end of The Next Generation, with Deep Space Nine and Voyager not having the hugest viewer bases, and Enterprise getting canceled for - among other reasons - low viewership numbers.) Was the Star Trek movie this summer a fluke, or a sign of new interest in the franchise? It's needed a reboot for some time, and the movies and a new Fuller show could potentially accomplish everything a Star Trek reboot's needed - to become fresh again. But now that we know the public's willing to rush out to see a new action-oriented Star Trek summer blockbuster with Sylar as Spock, the question is, will they watch a new TV series? Network involvement can be worrying as well, considering how much Fox's meddling held back Dollhouse in its earlier episodes. And Fuller himself obviously doesn't have a great history with networks, as amazing as his shows have been. Outside of Dead Like Me on Showtime, his work is not known for pulling big ratings numbers - though it gets the critics talking - or being easily marketable to the masses. And that's Fuller at his best - even while his work on Heroes is easily the best part of that show, it's still nowhere near his completely original projects.

One also has to question whether or not he might be at his most creatively uninhibited and at least risk in terms of audience in perhaps returning to premium cable at some point, considering the audience Dead Like Me found on Showtime.

Suffice to say, ABC's showing itself to be one of the more rotten and unadventurous networks these days, and in being uninclined to watch the forced continuation of Scrubs, once The Goode Family's gone, I don't anticipate watching anything on ABC anytime soon.

Network television is turning into a cesspit, as the networks continue to flood themselves with reality garbage and refuse to commit to - or even properly promote - quality original programming,. We're lucky Chuck got picked up for a third half-season and it's outright surprising that that Fox decided to give Dollhouse a second season. But at this point, it's becoming more apparent that if you want to find the best shows on television, you have to turn increasingly to cable and subscription channels, with FX having continued to support It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Despite ratings that would've gotten it canceled in no time on a network. Now they're shooting their 5th season and planning an hour-long Christmas special to air later this year.) in its twisted hilarity, and channels like Showtime bringing Weeds, HBO bringing Flight of the Conchords, True Blood (Which I just finished the first season of.), and so forth.

If I ever end up getting any opportunities in the television business - depending on where and how far my writing career takes me, seeing as it's far from even having really begun at this point - I'm doubtful anything I'd write or work on would have any kind of shot on a network. (Unless it was work I was pretty much taking to pay the bills, as opposed to something I'd have any creative control over.) Even CW rushed to cancel Veronica Mars after forcibly changing many aspects of the show and drastically dropping the quality of the writing. But of course, CW wants to be Lifetime Lite, in now fixating solely on an audience of teenage girls, axing Reaper despite its better ratings (And better writing) than the atrocious 90210 revival that's followed it. But then, the CW execs also seem to be deadset on creating "controversial" shows, when all they're doing is making bottom of the barrel crap for that audience. Yes, we get it, teenagers like to have sex. This is not shocking, controversial, or new. I don't have the greatest amount of confidence, but I'd still love to see the Reaper team's syndication revival efforts actually go somewhere, since that show's final episode only left me wanting more.

At any rate, things to the effect of "argle bargle bargle." Network TV is run by idiots and they're fixated on the idiot audience. It's a sad time, looking for intelligent, sharp, well-written and funny programming these days. Anything that's remotely daringly original gets no backing and dropped as soon as it can't compete with something like American Idol in the ratings. There's my pop culture/TV nerd rant for you (Until my usual new TV season lineup post this fall), full of the necessary agitation and vitriol. It says a lot that both networks focus so heavily on terrible reality programming, and that it's so popular to begin with. Even these past few weeks, everyone's been fixated on that disgusting "Jon and Kate" show about a couple basically exploiting their mob of fertility drug kids and the entirely unsurprising inevitable dissolution of their marriage. You took fertility drugs, had way too many kids, and spent years exploiting them on national television. How is this the basis for a healthy marriage or a good environment to raise kids in? NONE OF THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA.

What is wrong with us that we watch these things? Is it like this obsessive cycle we have with celebrities, where we love to see them rise just so that we can watch and cheer on everything that tears them down? Do we want to see people make stupid decisions, just so that we can sit back smugly in our den and think to ourselves, "I'm smarter than them?" Is this what entertainment's come to? It's not exacty healthy, is it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Five Years Past

I've been trying to get through another blog entry for a bit over a week now - I'll finish and post that one soon - but I've been a bit under the weather and focused even more on my novel revision work, so I haven't been able to get myself to just sit down and finish that post. There are plenty of important things going on at the moment, summer just began, and Iran's facing citizen uprising over the recent election fraud there. No idea if I'm going to do a full post commenting on the situation there yet, but at least, I'd like to naturally state my full support for the protesters and Mousavi, as well as denounce the corrupt Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah, who clearly isn't concerned with the interests of the Iranian people, who've made it clear as day that they want a new direction.

At any rate, I'm typing this short little blurb up now just to share some thoughts. As of today, June 23rd, it's been five years since I went through major jaw surgery to correct a pretty huge underbite that would have eventually led to some serious movement problems later in life.

As you would imagine, jaw surgery's not the most pleasant of experiences. Getting my wisdom teeth out between 11th and 12th grades back in summer '01 wasn't so bad - they just knocked me out and I woke up a couple of hours later sans wisdom teeth and a couple of others they'd removed to reduce crowding. (The gaps from which were closed soon after by braces I had in my last year of high school. The wonders of having a small mouth and a fairly cursed dental history.)

The whole jaw surgery experience was preceded by copious amounts of dread, the feeling that the world was closing in on me as it was time to go to the orthodontic surgeon's office, and a general state of suppressed panic as I waited to be called in to go through with the surgery itself. I couldn't eat or drink for either six or eight hours prior to the surgery - as was the case with my wisdom teeth removal - since I was under general anesthesia in both cases. Once I got into the chair, they stuck the IV in my arm and had me count backward until I was out. Then the real fun began.

The procedure itself basically amounted to having my lower jaw broken, moved back, so that its row of teeth would naturally go behind the upper set when I closed my mouth, and screws were drilled into my jaw to secure it in place. (Yes, I am in fact screwed in the head. Literally.) I regained enough consciousness - to the point at which I was slightly aware of outside physical sensation though I couldn't feel any pain - after the worst of it was over in time to actually feel them vacuum out my stomach with one of the two tubes they'd placed in my nose (The other had gone in my wind pipe or something like that to aid with breathing, as I recall.), which is every bit as nightmare-come-true unpleasant as you would imagine.

After gradually recovering consciousness and regaining some of my mobility, I returned home and spent the majority of the next few days in bed, on all the painkillers they'd pumped into me. I couldn't sleep, though - for the first week or so, I couldn't so much as lie down because my jaw had to set in its new position in beginning the healing process, and lying down would have caused it to permanently shift. So I got to spend the first week feeling especially sick and exhausted with severe sleep deprivation on top of all the trauma, and when I did nod off for even a few minutes sitting up, I had some pretty horrific night terrors and sleep paralysis. The psychological norm as the mind registers and deals with the rather deep shock of going through major surgery.

It took me a couple of months to recover fully, only getting to finally eat solid food again by later mid-August '04 - even then, it was mostly soft things like pasta, sushi, mashed potatoes, and so forth, and I had to eat slowly and carefully - after months of nothing but really fluffy light yogurt, drinks designed to replace full meals (Which taste pretty nasty), and a handful of soups blended up to eliminate the need for even the slightest chewing. Nothing teaches you to appreciate solid food like months of inability to eat it or even consciously move your jaw much while it heals.

Time flies far too quickly. It's been over two years since I left college now (And almost two years since I started writing in this blog regularly.), and I'd still like to go back to school if I can, but I'm not exactly confident that another creative writing MFA grad school application rush would yield anything but further rejection. Thus, my primary focus is now on finishing and polishing this novel so I can get to working on finding an agent and publisher by the end of summer. NPR's got a writing contest going on now that I plan on participating in, though competition will be incredibly stiff and I expect to fail. The subject matter itself amounts to trying to write something emotionally evocative that can be read aloud on the radio within 3 minutes, at 500-600 words at most. A fairly vague, wide subject with a lot of room for interpretation, but so far everything I've been able to think of feels rather inauthentic in a contrived search for authenticity. I can make people laugh within those sorts of constraints, but evoking emotion is a different ballgame. I feel like most of the thoughts that come to mind just end up being cheap melodramatic ploys for an emotional reaction, rather than something pure and genuine.

And while time has flown far too quickly in regards to all these things, now it's been exactly half a decade since my jaw surgery. On the upside of all of it, while my jaw still tires easily and I can't chew things like gum anymore - nor am I any more keen on particularly crunchy foods than I have been in the past - most dental procedures don't seem nearly as bad anymore. I had to get a root canal back in early 2007 - and with my dental fortunes changing for the better in more recent times, I should hopefully never have to deal with another - and I ended up dreading it quite a bit, having always heard about how terrible the experience was. It was an exhausting experience, to be sure, but I came away from it thinking that it had been nowhere near as bad as I'd expected. I pretty much wisecracked my way through the whole thing. (I could still speak clearly enough in the breaks between each of the steps of the procedure to actually coherently joke about it.)

For the first few years after my surgery, I'd fall ill around this time of the summer and start dealing with surgery flashbacks in dreams that caused a good several nights of insomnia. Fortunately, that's stopped in more recent years, and all I'm dealing with now is a minor stomach bug - which I'm mostly over, the good homemade Indian food I had for dinner earlier's sitting just fine - that I've had since roughly last Wednesday.

So yeah, on this anniversary of the intensely unpleasant events of that day, I thought it'd be worth it to take a little time to look back and reflect. Invasive orthodontic surgeries? Not recommended if you can avoid them. But of all things, at least I gained a little more perspective from the experience. Generally what one should strive to get out of any painful experience.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Right to Choice: A More Complex World

I spent last week talking about video games at E3 (And I'm planning one more post at some point soon for third party game coverage. A lot of it confirms stuff that had yet to be officially announced back in the Third Parties Sane Gaming series post. I'm not too keen on being overly redundant.), but this time, I'll be looking at something more important and relevant.

Now for a new political commentary entry, addressing - at least here in America - a rather controversial topic.

Abortion. The issue of a woman's right to reproductive choice, family planning, the reality that there's no such thing as a 100% effective contraceptive and abstinence is no convenient cure-all to creatures to whom physical intimacy is of great importance - naturally so - all the complexities in reality and life that extremists like to dumb down to "baby-killing," without a hint of sympathy or understanding for the difficulties others face, seeking instead to saddle them with unwanted children as punishment. Whether for rape, lack of forethought, or simply bad luck.

It's a touchy subject. Understandably so. One which many would rather not understand the grays of, instead focusing on trying to dumb it down to a black and white issue, while ignoring the aspects that could be seen as more black and white. (Such as the tragedy itself of bringing any unwanted child into the world.) Across history, women have died in no insignificant numbers as a result of complications from unsafe abortion - thousands still happen across the globe each year even now. The majority of these more recent deaths have occurred in nations where women's rights are limited, and the government fails to recognize their reproductive rights - an issue important in the ongoing advancement and development of globally recognized human rights. The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as:

"Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence."

Here in America, conservatives continue to push for abstinence-only sex education for the youth, which has been found repeatedly in studies to be deceptive and ineffective in preparing the nation's young people for anything resembling an adult sexual relationship with all of its potential repercussions. Even from my own experience with public education on that subject here, I don't recall sex ed being touched on too much in general. Though after years of efforts to bring honesty back to education, Obama recently eliminated abstinence-only education funding from the 2010 national budget. Naturally, conservatives were displeased, but in addition to trying to push sex as something intended for reproduction only - something they undoubtedly do not practice as they preach (And if they do, it's hard to imagine them having anything resembling healthy relationships or happy marriages.) - as you get over to the more extreme right, you see more open opposition to contraception, family planning, and reproductive health services in general. Everything dumbs down to the argument that as soon as an embryo forms (Or, looking at the extremists opposing the Plan B morning-after pill, as soon as an egg is fertilized), it's a fully functioning living human being and its termination is tantamount to "baby-killing." Anybody familiar with the stages of human development - as interesting as it is - can tell you that it takes quite a while before we're anything more than unthinking, unfeeling lumps of arguably parasitic flesh. Many people seem to have a very difficult time grasping this, but while there's nothing horrible about how we start out, there's nothing distinctly human, either. We're a zygote and then an embryo. Then a pulsating, growing lump over the months as our stem cells differentiate and we develop into something baby-esque in appearance. And if we're wanted - if we're lucky - we'll end up popping out a healthy baby with that small amount of consciousness we start out with. If the pregnancy goes well, we'll be a little human in the end. But we are not human beings at or anywhere near conception.


To provide a personal anecdote from my last year of college - this took place in either the autumn '06 or spring '07 semester - after having heard and read about anti-choice activists and their demonstrations, I had my own encounter with them on campus that semester. A group had scattered across the sidewalks on central campus, and was thrusting propaganda booklets on all the passer-bys they could. Unfortunately, I didn't notice them in time to avoid receiving one myself as I passed one of them by on my way to class that morning. I stopped, took one look at its interior - which contained a lot of gruesome aborted fetus photos - and tore it in half in front of them, tossing it in the nearest trashcan.

Shock tactics like that, obviously, are what people resort to when they can't make a good argument with words and rationality alone. In this case, that's because the anti-choice movement is not a movement of rationality or human sympathy, but rather one of anger and occasionally violent passion. Hatred toward a world and individuals who violate a very narrow code of irrational ethics they've chosen to adopt and seek to force upon the world.

Late Term Abortion

Many call for the end of late term abortion as well. That's no simple issue, either. Late term abortions generally never happen because the child is unwanted - if someone doesn't want a kid, they're going to go through the procedure as early as possible. Late term abortion is necessary and sought for two particular reasons: birth defects, as many wouldn't want their child to suffer in the world as severely disabled or disfigured, and health threats to the mother by the act of childbirth itself. It may be a great literary and cinematic cliche for a woman to give up her life in childbirth, but in the real world, most women are hesitant to leave their children motherless, with only a grieving father. In books and film, this is often portrayed as a selfless, heroic act of self-sacrifice by the mother. In reality, this is manipulative and dishonest in facing what else the choice can mean. It's always tragedy and hard-hitting for the family to face when a late term abortion is necessary - but those who seek to ban abortion have no sympathy for these people either. They'd force mothers whose bodies couldn't take childbirth to die, and force the birth of children suffering from severe defects, who are less likely to ever lead anything resembling a full life, let alone a happy one. And in many cases, like the example below, they may not even be capable.

In April, 23-year-old christian Canadian single mother Myah Walker made an internet spectacle of herself through a blog about her anencephalitic baby, Faith Hope. Her tragic farce of a story reflects the need for late term abortion, being an individual who - in rationality - should have had one. As tragic as her story is, she brought it on herself in deep delusion. The Canadian right - which can be as despicable as here in America - sought to exploit her as an anti-choice icon for what little time they could, praising her for her "miracle baby," and deriding the medical community for not expecting the infant to survive long after birth, accusing them of not understanding anencephaly. (In which a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp is missing.) In the end, the brainless baby died after a few weeks instead of getting a magically grown brain from god as she thought, supported by a very sick and exploitative conservative circle of support online. (You had to tape your baby's eyes in to make sure they didn't fall out because her body was basically rotting? Clearly nothing is wrong and this is a miracle from god! She's a normal, healthy baby and nothing else! The doctors are liars!)

The internet mocked her and the child's scummy father (Who turned up on the forums briefly and only made himself out to be an even bigger creep there.), and in part this is understandable, cruel though it was - she broadcast all of this openly, and on the internet, that's basically asking for the kind of reception she received. However, that doesn't make her story any less sad, and only makes it all the clearer that Walker needs some real professional help. You have to detach yourself from reality considerably to get into the kind of mindset she was in around her baby-lump. (If it could feel pain, its entire existence was likely nothing but excruciating suffering - however, the anencephalitic infant had no consciousness whatsoever with which to feel said pain. Only enough of a brain stem to do things like digest food, while its body gradually decayed and tried to die, surviving as long as it did only because of external mechanical support.)

Religion's Assault on Reproductive Rights

Much of that story, like many bad ideas in human history, was largely derived from religious belief. Religion itself can ultimately act as either something to instill love and respect, or something horribly destructive and repressive. Unfortunately, here in America, we tend to see the latter far more openly through fundamentalist extremist Christians and Catholics.

Even in recent months, the Catholic church has handed down some terrible decisions through the Pope. On one hand, they eventually stopped attacking science as much and now no longer denounce evolution or many scientific findings. On the other, they recently denounced the condom-based AIDS relief teachings in Africa - pushing their anti-contraceptive beliefs on the one continent that needs them most in an act tantamount to encouraging further AIDS death. (All while blaming the crisis on a lack of morals and ethics.) This after the positive effects of condom use there in stymieing the spread of the disease became apparent.

Conservative Hypocrisy

Politically, those fighting against abortion rights tend to align themselves with the same party now hypocritically screeching about "rule of law" and "the Constitution" after clamming up for eight years while their party leaders showed zero respect for either while in power. What they're calling for isn't so much the actual rule of law or respect for the Constitution, but the maintenance of a conservative wealthy white straight christian male patriarchal dominance of America, which they see as threatened by Obama's recent nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. (Bringing out racist conservative pundits in droves who, in turn, are desperately trying to label her one - many of these same pundits calling for a wall "to keep the Mexicans out" across our southern border, as opposed to anything resembling meaningful immigration reform. After all, that would mean giving illegal immigrants a legitimate shot at citizenship and allowing many more immigrants in each year. Resistance to immigration reform itself is largely openly fueled by xenophobia and the perceived threat to their increasingly niche demographic's political and cultural domination of this country.) This after Bush destabilized the Supreme Court, tipping it dangerously further to the right in pushing justices Roberts and Alito through their confirmation hearings, in which the Democrats failed to put up the kind of fight they should have. Alito himself had a track record that made apparent that he'd be a friend to those seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade and end women's right of choice. (An especially vocal movement in the later Bush years that kept pushing for statewide ban legislation to go into effect should Roe v. Wade go into effect. A movement that fortunately fizzled in their efforts to combat women's rights despite having one of the friendliest presidents to their oppressive movement in quite a while.)

Even in the 2008 election and the debates leading up to it, the conservatives looked down on women's right to choice, many acting as though an abortion was a thoughtless act perpetrated by cruel, heartless women on a lark because they just didn't feel like using protection. John McCain openly sneered at the idea of these rights in one of his debates with Obama. That he did as well in the election as he did is pretty damn terrifying, all things considered. These people have no sympathy for those who need access to these services, and simply build themselves up into these towers of moralistic superiority, glaring down at all who dare disagree with their own insulated, ignorant stances. Of course, these were all rich white men - they couldn't care less about women's rights and needs. Women's health and rights iare not things that should be politicized.

These same hateful politics come from individuals who proudly tell themselves that they live their lives by a hypocritical book written thousands of years ago. That this book somehow empowers them to a level of moral superiority - to the point of the worst of the extremists essentially being moral supremacists - despite how little much of it pertains to the modern world we live in today. Typically espousing religious faith based on hypocritical writings, there's no shortage of hypocrisy within the self-proclaimed "pro-life" movement itself. (Murderous tactics, clinic bombings, mindless support for war and violence on the far right politically, cultural genocide, the death penalty, even willingness to kill in the name of requiring and FORCING the birth of unwanted and horribly disabled children, as well as those whose birth will likely be fatal to their mothers. As human beings, it's impossible not to be hypocritical in some way or another in our existence, but there's a difference between simply being a hypocrite at one point or another, and using said hypocrisy to oppress others and increase their suffering and misery, or even to destroy them.) Many "pro-lifers" don't seem to know exactly what they're fighting for in objective terms. Banning abortion and taking away women's right of choice doesn't magically slap a band-aid on the "baby-killing" boogeyman issue - but that's all many seem to see it as. So much more of it is an argument for taking away people's control over their own lives.

The Murder of Dr. Tiller

A man of faith himself, Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in his own church just over a week and a half ago by a known anti-choice activist, following decades of constant harassment, intimidation, and death threats. His clinic was bombed in 1986. And he was shot in both his arms in 1993. Putting anybody through all that, and killing him as they did - these are not exactly "pro-life" actions to take. Let alone "christian."

As you can imagine, this incident was what spurred me to write this post. Dr. Tiller was a hero who spent his life fighting on the front lines of women's reproductive rights. Hounded, harassed, and eventually killed by extremists for decades, he endured more hell - with a calm resolve, no less - than most of us have or ever will. He understood what so much of humanity still has yet to achieve a basic grasp of, a simple sympathy for. And end the end, he died at the hands of a violent psychopath denounced by his own movement, but who in his actions has only helped to further weaken the argument against women's right of choice. When your side's argument boils down to physical threats, violence, and even murder, it's the extremists who carry the argument and detract from any perceived legitimacy on the part of those who do not sink to this. (Even the anti-choice are as still as human as any of us - whether they're on the most violent end of the spectrum like Roeder, or simply ordinary people who don't like the practice.) Since abortion was legalized in America in the early '70s, the extremists have largely hijacked the ever-irrational anti-choice movement, harassing doctors and nurses at abortion clinics, assaulting them, bombing clinics, harassing and tormenting women who get abortions, and even killing any of these people involved. It's sad when trying to mislead people with shock propaganda full of dead fetus photos is on the lighter side of the spectrum in the movement. But you basically never hear about them sitting down and having rational discussions of the issue, let alone addressing all aspects of it, instead cherry-picking simplistic reasons to fight against it when it's hardly a simple issue.

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Tiller's funeral was protested, but with police and federal marshals providing heavy security, the funeral went smoothly as an appropriate tribute to the man's life. Outside the church, there were even pro-choice supporters proclaiming his heroism. And apparently, he was even a Trekkie. One hopes he got a chance to see the new Star Trek movie before his tragic demise.

This is Not a Black-and-White World

The bottom line of it is, you can't turn reality from gray to black and white. You can't construct a society or civilization of simplistic black and white absolutes. Human history is filled with examples of this, and even today, humans struggle to accept the complicated nature of our own existence and the complex moral dilemmas we face that cannot simply be cast aside with a cheap absolutist maxim.

That's the story of human civilization - an ever-ongoing struggle within and against ourselves in seeking ways to simplify existence. To make it easier to stomach, to eliminate the need for critical thought, to vilify victims of societal injustice and spit on them, to make life itself worry-free, to convince ourselves that our beliefs are absolutely right and that those who do not stand with us are either wrong or inferior. And this kind of nonconstructive - and even deconstructive - thinking does nothing but hold us back as a civilization and as a species, continuing to hold the same arguments over and over for centuries when one side has nothing rational or compatible with the grays of reality to present.

When these sorts of things hit extremes, as history has shown, violence only results. When humanity stubbornly refuses to open their hearts and minds, to think critically and accept that there's more to the world than simple "good" and "evil," we effectively admit we have no good argument left and seek to get rid of that we deem undesirable by literally wiping out dissent. Whether cultural, theological, philosophical, or political. We've seen a great deal of political disenfranchisement and outright witch hunts carried out by the right wing here in America over the nation's history. And over much of the globe, we've seen even worse, all the way down to genocide - the most famous case in the previous century going without saying, as I'd rather not go out of my way to invoke Godwin's Law in cliche here.

Suffice to say, to advocate the abolition of abortion rights - and typically with it, the important focus on women's sexual health care in society - is tantamount to supporting a return to the tragic days when the death of women as a result of botched back alley and manual abortions was horrifically commonplace. You cannot get rid of abortion. You can take away freedom and call for the unnecessary death of scores of women - but abortion itself will never disappear. If one hopes to reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancy, we need to fully support the proper sexual education of the youth - including all contraceptive options - and ensure that contraception is both easily affordable and available all across the globe. Unfortunately, the same groups that oppose women's freedom of choice and family planning also tend to oppose contraception, following this moralistic supremacist ideology wherein human beings are only supposed to have sex with intention to reproduce. But sex has never been that simple for humans - and it isn't for many animals, either - it's something to be had for the expression of deep affection, and even without that, enjoyment. It's a key part of society and culture and has been for all of human history. As long as we exist as creatures who derive tactile physical pleasure, it will continue to be that important. And human sexuality itself is a beautiful thing, so long as it isn't used in the name of abuse. (Which itself tends to be more about power than sexual pleasure, from what I understand.)

It's a shame that so many have such a difficult time grasping something so wonderful in both its simplicity and complexity as a concept. Humans atrophy without one another, love and attraction are amongst the both greatest and saddest things a human being can experience - crucial in fully experiencing life itself. These experiences are accompanied by highs and lows, tragedies and triumph, and opposing abortion rights is an act seeking only to intensify the lows and potentially disrupt the highs in the name of this perceived moral supremacy, attempting to inflict a nonexistant simplicity upon a complex issue. The murder of Dr. Tiller was an absolute tragedy - the sort of thing that we, as human beings, all need to work toward ensuring will not be repeated.

Tragedy is murder committed in the name of oppression. Tragedy is death by botched abortion. Tragedy is the birth of unwanted children. Real life isn't an uplifting movie where unwanted children are always transformed into blessings that make their parents happy - even wanted children can potentially destroy relationships and marriages. Not all children put up for adoption end up getting adopted and leading happy, healthy lives, either - in fact, most don't. But many are happy to focus on that because it's usually the white children who get priority in adoption. While research has shown that unwanted children - including those put up for adoption - often grow up to be miserable people, never having had a family who wanted them, and in plenty of cases, criminals.

These days, we have more to be concerned about than the Department of Homeland Security would even release during the Bush years, right-wing extremist violence now being noted by the government as a potentially real threat to domestic security. (Not exactly a complete shock now, considering how much widespread talk there was of concern over the possibility of Obama being assassinated after his election, especially around Inauguration Day back in January. Unfortunately, since and as a result of this past election, racists and white supremacists have come out in droves in this nation, showing openly once again that there's no lack of racial hatred in this country, even now in the 21st century.) This finding has, of course, outraged the right-wing's extremists in this country even more, Bush largely having founded the Department of Homeland Security to focus on Islamic terrorist threats, in a mentality the conservatives themselves praised, while those of us on the left were rather wary, considering how much of the Bush years were spent trying to scare the American people into voting Republican as they tore this nation apart. And now in these past 24 hours, a security guard at the Holocaust Museum was killed by a white supremacist. In these past two weeks alone, two acts of domestic, ideology-driven terrorism committed by far-right extremists.

If it's something humanity still often lacks these days - notably so on the right-leaning side of our oversimplified political spectrum - it's sympathy for one another. Rather than taking the time out to understand and sympathize with others' complicated suffering, we'd rather cast them aside and call their suffering justified - whether you look at it as divine punishment or something else. Too many people crusade for things they lack a full understanding of - as much of the anti-choice movement does. Too many people are too busy being angry and blowing off hot air to take time to understand exactly what they're fuming about. You can't live an extremist, hard-line life in a complicated world.

To Conclude

You did women a great service while you were still with us, Dr. Tiller. You'll be remembered well, and always have the gratitude of those of us supporting and fighting for women's rights. We'll keep fighting for a world where doctors like you won't have to risk life and limb in helping women to act on their right of choice - as difficult a decision as it is to begin with - and receive the safest and best of legal health care when undergoing pregnancy termination. You boldly went where few men dared and carried out heroic deeds. You lived long and prospered. All of us who stand with the world's women thank you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

E3 2009 Day Two

Here we go. A look at day two of the Electronics Entertainment Expo 2009. I stayed up too late keeping up with Nintendo's conference earlier, so I'm just going to keep this succinct and focus on third parties over the remaining days - the worst of the expo's over now, anyway.


Nintendo's conference was pretty nerve-wracking this year. Mostly due to a fact that they didn't seem to have learned much from what upset people about their conference last year. Too much focus on things like the Wii Fit Plus expansion to Wii Fit, a beautician sim, and rehashing coverage of MotionPlus from last year. (Way too much rehashing from last year, in fact - no offense to her personally, but the fans wanted less Cammie Dunaway, more Reggie Fils-Aime, more Satoru Iwata, and some Shigeru Miyamoto (The creator of Mario, Donkey Kong, and more - the father of modern video gaming.), who didn't even attend this year, likely due to Swine Flu concerns.

Eventually, though, they brought out more than enough big titles to safely say that Nintendo won E3 again this year. None of the big three had a stellar performance - probably enough to please their respective fanatics each, at least - but Nintendo edged out the other two with ease in terms of appealing software, as far as I'm concerned.

Following the original DS reintroduction of classically styled Mario, Nintendo unveiled a New Super Mario Bros. title for the Wii - 2D sidescrolling gameplay with 3D graphics, and up to four player cooperative play. They also announced Super Mario Galaxy 2 for 2010 - their first direct sequel to a 3D Mario game. Very much a good thing in this case, though, considering that the original Super Mario Galaxy was easily the best 3D Mario platformer to date, and one of the very best games to come out in this past decade. Platforming bliss. They also revealed Metroid: Other M, a new reenvisioning of 3D Metroid on the Wii from Team Ninja (Tecmo's development team behind the recent Ninja Gaiden games and the Dead or Alive series, now free of leadership by the notoriously misogynistic Tomonobu Itagaki, who lost his job last year.) following Retro's incredible first person Metroid Prime trilogy (Which was released between the Gamecube and Wii).

On the DS, they announced the third Mario & Luigi RPG (Following the original on the Gameboy Advance, Superstar Saga, and its DS follow-up from years ago, Partners in Time.), which looks as hilarious and fun as its predecessors. They showed the upcoming third Legend of Zelda Wind Waker line title, Spirit Tracks, which follows Phantom Hourglass (Also on the DS), bringing the Wind Waker setting to a continent rather than a vast ocean, with its world now navigated by train rather than boat. Something we've already known about for a little while now, but nonetheless an exciting title. And they also unveiled the third Golden Sun game by Camelot - one of their best second party developers, which I really hope to see work with Sega on the Shining series again eventually - bringing the series into full 3D on the DS. More things to be happy about.

They also took some time to highlight some of their bigger third party titles coming to the Wii and DS, from major third party first person shooters - which are finally starting to get the treatment they've deserved with the Wii's phenomenal control scene for first person gameplay - to their excellent lineup of Japanese RPGs on the way. (At this point, just about every Japanese role-playing game on the Wii has been announced for western release - something I'm elated about, as a lifelong fan of the genre.)

And post-press conference, they announced even more games that aren't getting enough attention by many who are predictably more fixated on labeling Nintendo as a failure at E3 because their press conference disappointed. And there's no denying that they disappointed - there was a lack of energy, and in general, they really could have organized their presentation better. In particular, E3's more of a time to focus on their traditional longtime fanbase, not the newer expanded audience with things like beautician sims, some seemingly shovelware titles that really don't deserve much of a nod, and the Wii Fit expansion. (Though MotionPlus deserves its fair shake, as the most important peripheral unveiled at E3 this year.) There's plenty to criticize, but there's even more to be happy about when you look at the summation of their showings.

In their post-conference announcements, they revealed Endless Ocean 2 - due out in fist quarter 2010, roughly two years after the original hit in January last year - as well as Monado: Beginning of the World (A 3D RPG that resembles Monster Hunter), Span Smasher (A pinball-esque action game), Line Attack Heroes (A quirky 3D fighting game). Then on the DS, they unveiled Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box, Fossil Fighters, The Glory of Heracles (the RPG franchise's first official English release), and Picross 3D. Following those, they also confirmed a bunch of DSiWare downloadable titles based on the popular NHK mascot Domo-kun and some new WiiWare franchises. Sin & Punishment 2 was also playable at their booth. Shigeru Miyamoto has also recently confirmed from Japan that the new Wii Zelda game is coming along well, and he wanted to unveil it at E3, but they didn't plan it. THIS is something that should have been in their press conference. In fact, everything in this paragraph should have been.

But all that said, between all of this and their fantastic third party support now, Nintendo easily won E3 this year. Most important peripheral, best game lineup. But their conference was simply lackluster and didn't focus on what the fanbase was waiting to here - they had what the fans wanted them to deliver, and they only talked about a handful of those titles in the press conference. Pay attention, Nintendo - you guys can do better conferences. You've got the goods.


Well, as for Sony... there's not that much to be said, but that they're still desperately grasping at relevance, hoping a day will come when they'll be able to say "See?! We told you we were right to make the same console a third time with ridiculously expensive and hard to program for hardware!"

Of course, they also unveiled a pretty awful knockoff of the Wii remote too - like Microsoft, they're both desperately hoping that releasing motion-based peripherals that don't function as any kind of primary standard control will "crush the Wii" and turn their platforms into massive successes. But that ship's already sailed - not unlike with their late arrival avatar systems following Nintendo's Miis.

I'm still astonished that third parties give the PSP support at all, considering the high amount of piracy on the platform and that the majority of the games sell very poorly.


New peripherals have been a main theme of the expo this year.

Microsoft's hoping to compete with the Wii with Project Natal, which amounts to being little more than an attempt at their own EyeToy/Sega Activator - considering that they've spent years painting motion controls as a "gimmick" and have only shown a few tech demos (Hyped by Peter Molyneux, who's getting to be known as video gaming's patron saint of untrustworthy bullshit), while they've stated in releases that the finished product may not be what they're promising, I have low expectations for it. Bold would have been launching something like this at the beginning of the generation - it's too late to capture the motion control crowd, which has gone to Nintendo. And their userbase has largely made it clear that they didn't want this sort of addition to their system to begin with, just like with the avatar system they created in response to Miis, which hasn't added anything of real value to the system or games.

The PS3's in the same boat - assuming that all they need is an optional motion peripheral to suddenly become competitive, after encouraging their userbase to be antagonistic to everything the Wii stands for before trying to capture it themselves. You can't smoothly go from "Everything they do is a stupid fad!" to "We're gonna do it too but do it better except our features won't have much of anything to do with gaming and will be an optional add-on you don't need!" There's no admission of error, or real understanding of why Nintendo's beating them - just a lot of money being flushed away. But as I've stated before, neither Sony nor Microsoft gets why they're losing, and they're continuing down that same path. At least, to their credit, Sony didn't end up putting a touchscreen on their new PSP Go like the media suspected - it wouldn't have made them any more viable a competitor to begin with. Though the wisdom in continuing to create new PSP systems is questionable, considering its consistently poor software sales (Especially next to the DS) and how extremely mainstream piracy has been on the platform since day one.

Nintendo had three new peripherals for the Wii at E3. Most controversial in its showing in the conference - and frankly probably inappropriate, given that the expanded audience has never been the focus of E3 - is the Wii Vitality Sensor. Simply put, it tracks the user's pulse and other signals from their body as they play, acting as a supplement to the Wii's more physically active games. It's part of their current focus on integrating healthy living and exercise into the video game hobby, as they began with Wii Sports and Wii Fit. They also recently released Personal Trainer: Walking on the DS, a rather innovative and revolutionary title in that it links up with the Wii as the first piece of DS software to integrate Mii avatars from your Wii's Mii Channel, and it comes with a pedometer, which itself links wirelessly to the DS to track various information, stats, and goal achievements in daily walking and exercise. Great ideas and concepts to integrate into game systems with really unique use of these features to promote public health - something that's only applause-worthy, but still not really appropriate for the E3 crowds.

In addition to the Wii Vitality Sensor, Ubisoft also unveiled the Wii Camera that I mentioned the other day, which they apparently worked with Nintendo in developing. As of far, it only works with an upcoming Wii exercise game - a third noteworthy one in addition to Nintendo's Wii Fit and EA's EA Sports ACTIVE - but given its development with Nintendo, I could see it potentially being sold separately and eventually used with additional software. With a concrete release window - unlike Natal and Sony's motion-sensing camera-oriented wands solely being tech demos to be released down the line as pricey peripherals, trying to draw an audience not buying those platforms and alienating the audience that already owns them - funnily enough, between the Wii remote, Wii Speak, and the Wii Camera, the Wii itself will essentially have everything at its disposal that Microsoft and Sony are trying to hype up, and quite a bit in advance, at that. But I'd imagine that developers are no more likely to take advantage of these new hardware elements in combination than they are to jump on board with Project Natal or Sony's motion-sensing Wii remote knockoffs, though odds are that the Wii audience would be far more receptive to those kinds of titles using actual spoken voice and camera elements. (And Nintendo could certainly replicate a number of interesting features from the Natal tech video simply by releasing a firmware update to navigate through menus by hand gestures and so forth, making the Wii Camera compatible with the core system software.) The balance board packaged with Wii Fit's already managed to find its way to success as a peripheral as is, continuing to be integrated into new games, including a new Wii-exclusive Shaun White Snowboarding game as a result of the Wii version of last year's Shaun White game vastly outperforming its high-def console counterparts, despite despite a lack of an open mountain environment to explore. (Something they'll hopefully remedy with the new exclusive release.) Another reminder that controls make the game experience - not higher resolution graphics or any kind of push toward an ugly realism that video game visuals struggle to pull off even now. But original controls and new experiences need to be a part of the standard package, a defining element of the experience - and that's the opposite of what Sony and Microsoft have stood for in the industry, as clumsy conservative forces now stumbling in the face of meaningful advances in terms of gameplay experience. Video gaming couldn't be about staring at a screen and pushing buttons forever, after all - and in time, we're going to get far beyond staring at a screen and waving our arms or shifting around on a balance board, too. These are just baby steps forward toward something much greater.

Lastly, we get to their third and most important peripheral shown, and the soonest to the market: Wii MotionPlus. MotionPlus was unveiled last year to address complaints about the Wii remote's inability to quite pull off perfect 1:1 interpretations of physical motions. (Largely because the technology itself would have made the controllers even more expensive than they already are, as the priciest part of the Wii to begin with.) Releasing next week - Nintendo's unveiled peripherals at E3 being the only ones coming out anytime soon and making an actual industry and market impact - MotionPlus will be packaged with several major Wii titles for release over the rest of the year. It debuts early next week with EA's Tiger Woods Golf '10, introducing the new Wii remote attachment through essentially flawless golf controls, at last allowing people to experience golf in their own living room with a level of control accuracy not even previous Wii control schemes could quite match. They'll be following that up with Wii Sports Resort, the summer resort-themed follow-up to the Wii Sports pack-in, with an assortment of new games with even more incredibly accurate controls, from kendo fencing to dog frisbee to jet ski racing and more. And later this fall, it will also be packed in with Ubisoft's sequel to their hit - though frequently derided - Red Steel first-person shooter launch title, known for its combination of gunplay and swordplay. (One of the biggest attractions in Wii MotionPlus itself being the potential to create incredible, elaborate sword-fighting combat games now where the game can replicate your every motion exactly on screen. Fans have been holding their breath for some time for a lightsaber-based Star Wars game in this vein. And LucasArts at least seems to be aware that fans are waiting for this.) Being packed in with multiple major titles - likely even more in the coming years - and integrated into the gameplay of more future Wii titles (Whether enhancing the controls for some that can be played with the regular Wii Remote otherwise or being a requirement otherwise), of all of the Wii's peripherals so far, MotionPlus is the most important, and will undoubtedly become one of the most mainstream in its use. And it's certainly added by the fact that peripherals actually tend to sell on the Wii, its audience constantly looking for new experiences, where the HD platforms' audience doesn't stray beyond their traditional, stagnant controllers unless they're playing with things like Guitar Hero controllers - which are still essentially just differently shaped controllers that you only interact with through button-presses. The major divide between the adventurous Wii audience - which you could even look at as gaming futurists in a sense - and the ultra-conservative HD crowd, fixated on their unsustainably expensive graphics, derivative game concepts, and gameplay largely rehashed from last generation.

Lastly of note, Facebook got a great deal of attention at E3 this year too. A new DSi app was announced to link with your Facebook account, allowing you to upload DSi photos taking with its camera directly - just as you can upload photos to your Wii Photo Channel from a DSi - in a feature I'm sure I'll make use of whenever I finally get a DSi. (Hopefully sometime this year, seeing as I seem to be unable to get my older DS model to go online anymore on our heavily secured household wireless network, while the DSi is able to connect to much more secure wireless networks, with the same general features and updatable firmware in regards to network and internet connections as the Wii.)

The Xbox 360 also boasts new Facebook connection features as well, social networking itself only becoming more integrated with the gaming experience, said networking becoming a cornerstone of Gen Y and many people's lives these days. I'd love to see some Wii Facebook connectivity in time too, through a channel or something like that, to share either photos that way, or gaming stats, or anything else, really. At any rate, these are neat little features shown off at E3 this year as well.


Ah, E3. Both the most exciting and annoying week of the year to be a video game nerd. With the big three's conferences over - none of them mindblowing, as E3 tends to disappoint in more recent years - the worst of these posts are over now too.

(Don't worry, those of you who couldn't care less about this topic. I'm planning on blogging about other things this week too. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm just going to do one last E3 post on the third party offerings of note, and that'll be it. There's your cue to breathe a sigh of relief!)

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien + E3 Day One

I'm going to update this post a little later tonight with more thoughts, but rather than another liveblog, I've just opted to tweet about it on Twitter while it's airing.

On the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert opened congratulating Conan, and in that, acknowledged that he's about to start losing a lot of viewers at his show's 11:30 initial broadcast time, now that he's up against Conan.

Overall, it was a fantastic premiere. The show opened with Conan checking off a to-do list in New York, running across country - passing through major cities - to Cheap Trick's "Surrender" until he reached his studio in LA, eventually having to bust through the door to get in, having left his keys on New York City. Then he did a monologue - with lots of back and forth with Andy Richter, who's returned to the show after departing from Late Night back in 2000. (I still remember watching the special show on which he left back then, in high school. There's Andy Richters everywhere!) It's great to see them together again, with the top notch comedy chemistry Conan and Andy have always had. I miss Joel Godard already, as he was a hilarious announcer for Conan on Late Night, but I don't blame him for moving on and retiring, considering his age. In his new position out on set, Andy's returned about halfway to being Conan's sidekick again, though we didn't see too much of the Max Weinberg 7 - now "Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band" tonight. But I imagine we'll see them in more comedy bits as the show continues, considering how important they were in the comedy on Late Night. The show's opening theme's basically a new version of the same old opening theme from Conan's Late Night days - it's great to see Conan sticking to his previous show's feel, not abandoning his roots.

The new set's basically a new version of his previous sets, though with the band and desk/couch's locations reversed, and generally larger than those previous sets in the smaller studio. The show has a higher budget feel in general, and a few Late Night writers turned up in sketches on the premiere show. The monologue was kind of a mixed bag, with a little of it feeling a little bit like it was trying to help transition Leno fans over to Conan's style of humor, but for the most part, it was still very much in line with his Late Night years.

After the monologue, Conan showed his first Tonight Show remote - helping out on a local tram tour, which was as funny as you'd expect from Conan, who excels at taped remote segments, improvising his way through everything. Then he did a segment to the song "Get Out of My Dreams and into My Car" in which he drove his 1992 Ford Taurus around LA - "if it's cool enough for New York, it's cool enough for LA!" - and getting everyone's attention, impregnating one woman by simply looking at her from within his car, and even making Fabio shake his head in envy.

The first show's guests were Will Ferrell, who came out in a cart carried by men dressed up as ancient Egyptian servants - upstaging Conan - and then went on to repeatedly bet that the show wouldn't last at all. He was promoting Land of the Lost, which seems potentially worth seeing, since it costars Danny McBride (The Foot-Fist Way, The Pineapple Express) and Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies, which just recently returned to the air on Saturdays on ABC for the final three episodes of season 2.). Pearl Jam performed as an appropriately epic musical guest. And I missed anything after that, since something went wrong at the local NBC affiliate and the screen just went solid pink for the next hour or so. Fortunately, all of the important stuff aired properly here.

Bonus! E3 Day One Thoughts

Yeah, I think I'm just going to discuss E3 a bit each day this year instead of doing my painful mega posts like in the past that nobody really read anyway.

Microsoft had their conference today, and Nintendo and Sony will have theirs on Tuesday. They unveiled this Project Natal motion sensing controller - a sort of more functional variation of Sony's Eyetoy webcam concept, which they're going to try to integrate with all Xbox 360 units now. A gutsy move, for sure, but I'm not getting swept up in the predictable wave of insane "Microsoft will destroy Nintendo now!" hype that the internet's full of. Hype around E3 tends to be ridiculous, anyway - it's a feature that isn't a required standard controller, one strike against it there. Devs don't have to use it, and that's a big part of what helped to kill the PS3's SixAxis controller's push for its tilt controls' use. In order to move game controls forward as a standard, new controls have to be a part of the main controller, not an optional peripheral in addition to a traditional main controller. Strike two comes in that they're launching this mid-gen, and that makes mainstream adoption even more unlikely. And strike three comes in that this is something they're launching for a userbase that has largely rejected this sort of thing - a base they've helped encourage to be very antagonistic toward innovation and different types of gameplay, largely in the face of Sega. This is the same crowd that was angry when they unveiled their new menu system with Mii knock-offs that don't integrate into games in meaningful ways, nor were they designed with the kind of gaming integration functionality in mind that Miis have, missing the point entirely. A bold move on Microsoft's part, but as interesting as it looks, webcam controls still lose something at this point in lacking a physical controller through which to interact with - something the Wii pulls off, and will continue to even better when MotionPlus hits this year - but I don't think it's going to create this tidal wave of 360 innovation and pop cultural appeal that will suddenly smash the Wii like the fanatics insist. The generation and future of the industry are still Nintendo's, and my overall feeling right now is that Project Natal may end up being little more than an effective gimmick with perhaps a few games that use it well and don't end up being big hits. But nonetheless, kudos to Microsoft for doing something new that steps things up - even midway through the gen - and encourages the competition (Especially Nintendo) to step things up even further next generation.

Gaming-wise, Microsoft unveiled a few new things. Nothing that's got me too excited, though apparently Hideo Kojima's making a new Metal Gear Solid after last summer's release of IV on the PS3, for the 360, PS3, and PC - a smarter platform choice than any PS3 exclusive, for sure, but after MGSIV was supposed to be the end of the series, I have to say it: Kojima's career is imploding. It's getting to the point where he's not being allowed to make anything else but Metal Gear now, and that series has been effectively run into the ground in recent years. It's basically Tom Clancy style espionage gaming on drugs with halfway-incoherent plots that gamers - who typically don't read anything good if they read at all, and thus don't know what quality writing is - hail as "genius" in its convolutedness and poor planning. (Not unlike the gamers who think of Final Fantasy VII as "brilliant," when its writing is abysmal and outright incoherent.) Rumors are that Kojima may be heading the new PS3/360 Castlevania game as well, as just one other title beyond more MGS. Nothing Nintendo, predictably - as people seem set on keeping Kojima away from the mass market now - and nothing I'm too concerned about in the grand scheme of things. It's hard to say how a non-Koji Igarashi Castlevania would turn out, but at his point, the fanbase doesn't care about the 3D console Castlevania titles, so putting one of those on the HD systems simply wasn't a good decision on Konami's part.

Ubisoft did their conference, and showed that they're actually using the Wii's graphical hardware for Red Steel 2 - something that's nice to see, as the game looks very good in motion, though being a first-person shooter, it's not really my genre. They also showed that they're releasing a camera peripheral for the Wii (Which, while not getting anywhere near as much buzz, is functionally basically just like the 360's Project Natal and Playstation line's Eyetoys. Of course, only Natal is getting a crazy amount of hype that, at this juncture, is largely undeserved under a critical lens.) for some upcoming software, so now all three consoles will have camera features this generation. (In addition to the DSi being the only one to have camera features as a portable.) Some nice stuff for these platforms, at least, and it'll be interesting to see what other sorts of software Ubisoft's Wii camera might end up being used in. Otherwise, they just hyped Assassin's Creed 2, a sequel to a thoroughly mediocre title I have no interest in, and a return to roots for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series (Which I believe was just shown for the HD consoles), which I'm not interested in either. No Beyond Good & Evil 2 - no official platform confirmations for that yet either, though franchise director Michel Ancel's confirmed he's well aware of the demand for the game on the Wii. And not enough on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Smash Up or Rabbids Go Home on the Wii - if there was any, I missed it - but I'm sure we'll see more on those before the show ends later this week. They also confirmed that they licensed No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle after XSeed had announced it in the past. I'd imagine they probably worked out a financial deal with XSeed. They've also confirmed that Europe will be getting an uncensored, ultraviolent version of the game, after they only got the toned down version of the original, like Japan.

The best thing today, as far as I'm concerned, was TellTale's confirming the return of the classic Monkey Island pirate-based humorous point and click PC games from LucasArts back in the day. They're slated for future episodic WiiWare release as Tales of Monkey Island games. Following their Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People and Sam & Max episodic series, Monkey Island should be great. If any developer can handle a revival like this well, it's Telltale.

Square-Enix also launched their Final Fantasy IV: The After Years sequel - a newly released Super Nintendo style RPG over a decade after all the others - on WiiWare today too. 800 points/$8 for the main game, with 300/$3 for each of the other episodes you can download, and $8 for the final, game-ending episode when it drops in September. Not a bad pricing scheme at all, so I had to pick up the main game tonight, as a huge fan of the original SNES title, IV being the second best game in that series by a large margin.