Posted by: Ben | February 10, 2018

Stereo Total – Johnny

(Some days you just have to publish your fan-tranlsation of Stereo Total’s Johnny, no matter how weak it is. As far as I know, this is the first fan-translation of Stereo Total’s “Johnny” to appear on this blog.)

Johnny is the man for me
As I’ve always known it must be
And yet he only walked on by
Although I tried to catch his eye
He pretended not to see
I have loved him all along
And thought he was the only one
Johnny is the man for me

Johnny is the man for me
As I’ve always known it must be
Though he does not know my name
Still I will always wait for him
Knowing that he will come for me
Ever since this world began
Every man needs a man
And Johnny is the man for me

Johnny is the man for me
As I’ve always known it must be
One day he will come to me
And take my hand and say to me
“Sweetheart, will you come along with me?”
I will answer straight away
“Yes, my darling,” I will say
Johnny, you are the man for me

Johnny, he is the man for me.

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Posted by: Ben | December 31, 2017

TV: Eight Things Wrong With Marvel’s Inhumans

After numerous outstanding films and a few merely watchable ones, 2017 was the year the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally proved it was capable of producing the occasional piece rubbish.  This is a good thing as it keeps them on their toes and stops them getting arrogant, which should, by an obscure mechanism, marginally reduce the probability of the MCU Fantastic Four being terrible.

Anyway, here are eight tiny problems that stood between Marvel’s Inhumans and a great TV show.  Contains spoilers all the way to the end.

gallery-1499704882-inhumans-black-bolt-lockjaw-marvel-anson-mount-imax-abc

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.”

1. There’s nobody to root for

Ensemble dramas that lack an entirely sympathetic lead character are pretty popular nowadays, but a superhero show without a hero isn’t a gritty drama, it’s a bunch of people milling around in uncomfortable-looking synthetic fabrics for no reason.  I’m not necessarily asking Marvel Television to produce another uncomplicated tale about the endless unwinnable struggle between good and evil, but they could have at least given us a character to get behind, a reason to want the story to turn out in some way or another.  The main characters in Inhumans are just insufficiently likeable to carry their own show.

The Inhuman royal family are essentially slave-owners who think nothing of conscripting people to the lunar mines for failing to develop super-powers or just developing insufficiently impressive ones like having really useless non-specific visions of the future.  (Their mines might be more efficient if they sent people with super mining powers down there instead.)

Medusa is a nasty piece of work who robs a house and later kidnaps a woman.  Black Bolt is similarly not averse to a bit of petty theft, in his case shoplifting.  Gorgon is a violent meathead who dies trying to pull off a man’s head and shit down his neck and we the viewers are apparently supposed to feel sad.  Auran is a sadistic murderer.  Crystal is rude to a vet (who treated her dog for free), destroys her phone and then completely ignores her advice to let her dog rest.  Louise is a moronic doormat who ends the show still trying to make friends with the woman who kidnapped her and forced her to become a fugitive (although she apparently forgets that she’s a fugitive and goes home at the end, so maybe it was all a dream.)

Maximus starts out as quite a sympathetic character who wants to free the slaves and move to Earth, but he quickly reveals himself to be a useless bastard who’s out of his depth, and by Episode 4 you don’t care if he wins or not.  He also loses morality points for murdering the entire Genetic Council, who get so little development that not even Internet communists would consider their killing a regrettable but necessary revolutionary act.

And I didn’t like Karnak either.

2. The Attilan system of criminal justice is very poor

Mordis kills some people by accident and is locked up for life, even though they must have known the risks when they decided to go to his Terrigenesis.  Black Bolt kills his parents in a crime of passion and is made King.  Triton murders eight guards in cold blood (and don’t forget that he’s a member of the royal family and they’re said on screen to be conscripts so that’s eight of his own slaves) and nobody even asks him not to do it again.

3. They could have put some more thought into the names of the characters (This one’s on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)

For one thing, the fact that there are two different characters called Medusa and Gorgon suggests they were running out of names almost as soon as they started.

For another thing, it doesn’t come up on screen, but apparently the reason that that guy rejoices in the unusual name of “Black Bolt” is that his full name is “Blackagar Boltagon”. His brother Maximus’ full name can only be “Ramsay Boltagon”.

For a third thing, Maximus’ friend on the Genetic Council is called Tibor, but the actor that plays him is called Ptolemy Slocum, which anyone can see is a much better name for an Inhuman.

4. Not all the episodes were finished when they aired

About halfway through episode 6, Maximus agrees to meet Tibor for a quiet chat.  The next time we see them, Maximus is bloodily but unconvincingly cutting Tibor’s throat with a big knife while his guards shoot down a roomful of people.  This could have been the “anyone can die” moment, but instead it’s the “I must have fallen asleep and now I have to rewind the episode” moment.  Don’t bother, because the rest of the scene is either on a cutting room floor somewhere or was never filmed.

Episode 7 begins with some hard-to-identify people running through the forest screaming “they’re chasing us, they’re chasing us!”  Then they just sort of stop, as though they all got bored of chasing each other.

Later, Maximus gives an impromtu wake for Gorgon, which consists of his inviting the plebs into his own front room, keeping them behind a row of guards and shouting at them, much as you would if you were filming a scene at the last minute and didn’t have time to CGI an outdoor backdrop on.

5. Some of the characters have insufficiently impressive super-powers, and would be better employed in the mines.

In an early episode, we see Karnak getting shot dead and he sort of rewinds time and does the whole thing again, but this time survives.  So he has the Prince of Persia super power, right?  No, because he does the exact same thing (in the exact same room) in a later episode and it turns out that he can sort of “view” scenarios in his head until he can play out exactly the right one.  Which is clever in a way, except it’s lucky for him that he’s a member of the royal family because otherwise that’s the sort of unimpressive power that they send you down the mines for.  Still, it might explain how he managed to sleep with the cannabis grower lady.  Nobody has scored that far out of their league since Ronnie Radford for Hereford against Newcastle in the third round of the 1972 FA Cup.

radford

“Apart from Ricky George, who actually scored the winning goal.” “Shut up, you pedant.”

Meanwhile, Triton is a half-man half-fish who can breathe underwater, even though (as Maximus helpfully points out half an episode after most viewers have spotted it) there’s no water on the moon.  And Crystal can control lightning, even though there are no clouds on the moon (they’re just CGI’d onto the roof of the dome) so she’s quite lucky not to get fried the first time she tries it.

6. Black Bolt’s sign language is not very convincing

Anson Mount, who played Black Bolt, reportedly developed his own sign language for the show. This is what it says on Wikipedia:

“Premier director Roel Reiné told Mount to just use 15 or 16 signs, but Mount decided to create his own sign system. He explained that since the character is not from Earth, he would not know Earth-based systems such as American Sign Language. Mount borrowed the underlying rules of ASL but then “double-checked my signs against ASL to make sure there is no overlap”, and also studied orchestra conductors. Mount created a document for his language with over 50 pages, and felt that if he could develop the language over several seasons it could become a full conlang equivalent to Klingon or Dothraki. Sometimes the script would not include any specific lines for the character, and Mount would develop what he was signing himself.”

Allow yourself a hollow laugh at the idea of “several seasons”. Then consider that (a) all the other characters in the show speak fluent American, and (b) Mr Boltagon’s sign language is, how may I phrase this sensitively, a bit unconvincing.  Sorry.

7. The “cannabis farmers” subplot makes no sense

Once upon a time there were three cannabis farmers. One was nice, one was nasty and one was sort of inconsequential.  Then one day, the nasty one killed the inconsequential one, burried him in the garden and then tried to kill the nice one and her new boyfriend. Nobody knows why. Possibly some sort of “don’t smoke (or farm) cannabis, kids, it makes you paranoid” moral was intended, but if so it got very lost along the way.

8. Everybody is surprisingly tolerant of Black Bolt and family in the final scene.

Having just seen the lunar colony that he ruled and does not possess the technology to rebuild reduced to rubble, the failed and penniless ex-king Black Bolt addresses the surviving Inhumans in their new home, a baseball stadium in Hawaii, about the importance of working together to survive and about how he’s always done his best for them all, even when he was ordering them to work down the mines for free or be shot dead.  Everyone stands there and listens, nobody heckles him or throws anything at him or leaves to become a taxi driver or a superhero, even though they’re on the blue planet now and don’t have to put up with his bullshit any more.

No doubt he’ll have them all chopping wood to build him a log cabin soon.

Inhumans

“My husband says he might be the worst king ever but there are certain perks to being able to kill a room full of people just by shouting at them. Now get chopping, peasants.”

Edit: I completely forgot the monarchist ex-Army surfer dude, who wants to help Gorgon fight for a king because he doesn’t like mainlanders telling Hawaiians they can’t have a king any more, even though he used to earn a living travelling around the world committing acts of violence on behalf of the President. That was silly.

Posted by: Ben | October 31, 2015

if: Sub Rosa

This is a review of “Sub Rosa: The Seven Deciets of Confessor Destine,” an entry in the 2015 Interactive Fiction competition whose authors are Joey Jones (Master Writer) and Melvin Rangasamy (Master Programmer).  Usual disclaimers apply.  This review is based on a version downloaded on the 8th of October, and not the most recent update.

Image: Chaim Soutine,

Image: Chaim Soutine, “Carcass of Beef”, 1924

The setting for Sub Rosa is a fantasy world that is sufficiently different, from either our own world or the standard sort of fantasy world that one might encounter, to require extensive introduction. This infomation is imparted partially through of environmental features, noticeably a number of paintings to be found in a hallway, but principally from an extensive browsable selection of books in the titular Confessor’s library.  As far as I can tell it doesn’t appear to be necessary to read every single book to give oneself a reasonable chance at understanding what’s going on, but they do add background detail, or to be more accurate, colour.  Initially the player is merely flummoxed with a series of cryptic but highly detailed asides, the hope presumably being that the mystery of it all will be sufficient motivation to hang in there until the conclusion.

This gambit is partially successful, but at no point did it feel as though the adventure was taking place in a universe that consisted of much more than a house and a big desert.  Even after I got past the first location, which took about twenty minutes due to my underdeveloped puzzle solving abilities.  Once I got as far as I reasonably could have done, I turned to the walkthrough, which revealed quite a lot more than I had been able to discover unaided. Not, perhaps, a one for the novice.

[Rechecking the walkthrough for this review, I observe that it has seemingly been updated to better explain one of the puzzles, involving a singing bird and a brick wall.  The explanation merely strengthens my opinion that you would have to be some kind of mind-reading Machiavellian savant to figure it out.  Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing as such.]

The writing is crisp and clear, and the code seems to be well polished and free of obvious bugs and ambiguities, with the exception of a frustrating tendency for the game to think I wanted to do something with a book I was carrying when what I actually wanted was to interact with an object which was, not always uncoincidentally, mentioned in the book’s title.

I admired this game for its conceptual originality and for its extreme difficulty, but paradoxically (and this is such a difficult line to walk) I also found it rather unwelcoming.

Posted by: Ben | October 8, 2015

if: Life on Mars?

This is a review of Life On Mars? by Hugo Labrande, from the 2015 Interactive Fiction competition. The review may contain plot spoilers or other things one subsequently wishes one had not read, or in some cases, written. I am not a proper member of the IF community and am not qualified to judge interactive fiction, but will probably vote anyway.

cemetery gates Read More…

Posted by: Ben | October 25, 2014

if: Creatures Such As We

This is a review of Creatures Such As We, a web-based game by 2013 winner Lynnea Glasser, written in ChoiceScript.

The usual disclaimers apply:

  1. No misanthropy intended.

  2. Not your peer group.

  3. Grim = 1-3. Good = 4-7. Great = 8-10.

  4. Content warning: may contain content.

(My earlier review of the same author’s 2010 entry, Divis Mortis.)

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