Video Games

Bullet Points: Far Cry 3 (Dislikes Edition)

UPDATE! I was wrong about a few things here. This is because I am dumb. Corrections have been added.

Observation: If I play a game for a few hours, and then quit, there’s often a residual bit of the game knocking around in my brain for a while. It’s usually a bit of audio that gets repeated in the game a lot. For instance, if I’ve been playing Plants vs. Zombies, it’s the crunching noise the zombies make when they eat my plants. If it’s Bioshock, maybe it’s the pleasing sound that plays when you loot a container. It can be the sound of an oft-used gun reloading, some sort of common ambient noise, or music from the game’s soundtrack.

When I finish up a session of Far Cry 3, what sound is left rattling around in my brain for a couple hours? The music from the game’s menu screen. The sort of low-key five-tone ominous music sting that you hear when you hit the Escape key to open the menu any one of a hundred times in the space of a few hours. Doooooo-deee-DOOOOOOO-deeee-DOOOOO. That. That is what I’m left with.

I propose that if your massive open-world game filled with driving, running, shooting, looting, and swimming leaves me with the music from the MENU SCREEN echoing in my head, you’ve probably done something wrong.

The reasons I’m in the menu so much?

  • There is no quicksave. There is, actually! F9. I looked through the game’s handbook under the heading “Saving Your Game” and it’s not mentioned there, but Roberto on Twitter sorted me out. Apparently, it’s not documented in the game (I certainly didn’t see it anywhere, and I tried F5, which is where it was in Far Cry 2.)

More on that in a sec, but since we’re talking about saving your game, there are also these:

  • There is a single save slot for your current game.
  • Loading an old save starts you off not where you saved the game last, but the nearest safe location.
  • There are no manual saves during an official mission.

Let’s go over all this.

It’s an open-world game in a simply massive game world that you are constantly doing unofficial (not main-quest related) things in: fighting, hunting, looting, crafting, running around doing dangerous shit all the time all over the place. And you can’t quicksave. That’s baffling. Does Ubisoft not know that PC games crash sometimes? Do they not know that some people (me) suck at games and die suddenly and unexpectedly for being sucky? Did they forget that they packed the world full of dangerous animals and things that explode and guys that kill you and cliffs you drive off and a bunch of other things that end your life before you’re ready? Do they know that might not be such a big problem if the player could tap a key every now again and save his or her progress?

Nope. Instead of tapping a key, you have to go to the damn main menu, where that damn music is playing, and click save. And I do that a lot, for the reasons above: PC games crash, I suck, and it’s a dangerous world full of death. That’s why that damn music is stuck in my head after a few hours.

I was wrong. Sorry, Ubisoft, you were nice enough to provide a quicksave option, and I retract that portion of my whining. Though you might have pointed that out somewhere, like in your in-game instruction manual on how to save a game. (Click for larger image.)

AND, you have but a single slot to save your game, meaning you are constantly saving over your progress. So, say you finish the game, and want to go back to almost the beginning but not quite the beginning? No, you can’t. You can’t revisit any prior points of your game-life, because you’ve saved over all of them. Not to mention, when you save your game through the menu, you get a prompt: “There is a game saved in this slot. Are you sure you want to save over it?” every time. Uh? I don’t have a fucking choice, why are you even asking me?

PLUS, if you load a saved game (rather, the saved game, as you only have one), you don’t even start off where you saved it, you start off in a nearby safe location. So, if you’re out in the wild and you spot, say, a graveyard, but don’t have time to explore it, you might save your game there and expect to pick it up right there, later. But no, you get teleported to wherever and have to try to find that spot again later.

ANDPLUS, if you’re on a mission (as opposed to just exploring or goofing around) you can’t save manually at all, you have to use the checkpoint save system. And the checkpoint system, as all checkpoint systems are, is pretty iffy. There was an official mission early in the game that was essentially teaching you how to stealth-kill dudes, and you had to stealth-kill three dudes, one by one, to collect items on their bodies, and then go to another location with what you collected. I killed them, I took their stuff, and I reached the distant location. Then the game crashed. When I reloaded, it took me back to the start, before I’d stealthed the dudes to death. Why not checkpoint after the third dead guy? I’d learned stealth, obviously, there was no need for me to learn it again.

Anyway. That’s the save problem. The game does autosave nicely for you in certain situations. If you reach a radio tower (they take some effort to climb, and falling is a real possibility), they save when you reach the tower so you respawn right at the base. That’s nice. Also, if you’re approaching an enemy outpost, it saves for you and respawns you where you were approaching from. These are handy. The rest is just irritating.

  • The game menu itself is not well designed

Crafting is a pretty common activity: you can craft various syringes for giving you temporary abilities, and you have to craft a ton of pouches to carry your gear around in. Most often, you’ll be crafting your own health syringes, so you’d think maybe there’d be a hotkey to enter the crafting menu, but no. Just go the the main menu (DOOOO DEE DOOOO etc) and click on Crafting. There is a hotkey! I am a dumb. It is F1, which I somehow never managed to press during the entire game. Even by accident. I didn’t see this anywhere in the documentation either, but I probably still should have tried it.

Here’s the crafting menu screen. You can click to enlarge.

Okay, there’s the word SYRINGES, which is helpful, and a little description of whatever you’re planning to make, also helpful, and the list of basic types of syringes that you can double-click to expand and see what they are and then make them, one by one. So, if you need some meds, and some hunting tonics, and maybe a couple other things, you have to do a bunch of clicking and double-clicking. Which is probably unnecessary because there are roughly forty-five acres of completely empty space they could have used to avoid a bunch of pointless sub-menus. Here, I boxed the useful info in red and pointed out the extra real estate:

Look, I know these giant empty useless menus are there for console gamers, because they’re sitting way back from their screens, and a ton of small text would be hard to read. And I’m not saying cram every single crafting option onto the same page, but at least use SOME of the pointlessly empty space to help us spend less time fucking around in Menuland (DOOOO DEEE). There’s no reason for the syringes to have submenus. Also, again, hotkey the crafting menu. How hard would that be?

  • Notifications are all up in your face all of the time.

This is a really irritating issue early in the game, that sort of fizzles to a minor one later. When you start playing, you quickly acquire a lot of information. The people you meet, the weapons you unlock, new skills, new locations, new animals, new everything, and each and every time this happens, you’ll get a little box on your screen inviting to to learn more about them via (sigh) the menu (DEE DOOO DEEEEEE). And hey, great, I like learning about things, but some of these boxes won’t go away until you tap Escape and then tap it again, at which point another one will pop up. Obviously, the further you progress, the less of an issue it is, because you’re encountering fewer unfamiliar things, but the first couple hours of the game is a party and notifications were invited and they brought all of their goddamn relatives.

Even worse: your main objective? The one you’re planning to ignore for eighteen hours because you want to go fuck around in the jungle and hunt for relics or shoot at sharks or chase deer with a flamethrower or do some hang gliding or whatever else? About once a minute, your main objective will pop up on your screen. Then it’ll fade. Then it’ll pop up again. This never stops.

You know how Far Cry 2 showed your main objective? Red circle on your map. You know how it informed you what the objective was? It didn’t. If you wanted to know, you’d  — GASP — hit escape and visit the menu! You know, the thing the menu is actually FOR.

Other notifications, helpful ones, still find ways to be annoying. There are times when you’re approaching a location, and for reasons I won’t say, you may be unsure whether or not you’ll be fired upon. A box pops up saying, “Hey, this is a restricted area, they will shoot you,” which is helpful. Only it keeps popping up, even if you’re having a giant gunfight with the people it’s trying to warn you about. I may not know if someone is planning to shoot me, but if they start shooting me, I can probably figure it out from there.

Apparently, a patch is due shortly for the notification problem — we’ll see what it addresses.

  • BREAKING NEWS! Uplay is a garbage thing

Oh, Uplay! You almost didn’t make this list! I was not thrilled to buy FC3 through Steam and then realize I had to sign up for Uplay as well, but I begrudgingly did. And for a while, Uplay seemed perfectly benign. It auto-logged me in, it didn’t really pester me with a bunch of crap, and while it took some extra time to connect and synchronize or whatever the hell it does, it didn’t really bother me the way Origin does (by being a garbage thing).

UNTIL, when I went to boot up the game today to take some screenshots of the menu for the bit above, and suddenly Uplay couldn’t connect, and couldn’t synchronize whatever, and it told me to contact tech support, and gave me some error messages, and told me my account had been accessed from another location, and took several minutes to even let me start the game, and when it finally did, I found that my saved game (my only saved game dooo dee doooo) was trapped in the “cloud” or whatever the fuck and I couldn’t access it because Uplay was farting up it’s own butt and couldn’t connect and apparently didn’t save my only saved game on my actual computer.

So, Uplay is a garbage thing. Super. Doo dee doo.

Video Games

Bullet Points: Far Cry 3 (Outposts Edition)

Apart from the animals, the enemy outposts are the best part of Far Cry 3. Handily, the animals sometimes play a part at the outposts as well.

Unlike the security checkpoints in Far Cry 2, the outposts in FC3 are generally big, well staffed, and once captured, don’t repopulate with jerks. (On the other hand, I just cleared the final outpost the other night, and I’m a little sad — I sorta wish there was an option to auto-repopulate them). FC3′s outposts are also way more fun to assault than FC2′s — there are a lot of options for causing havoc.

What follows is my bullet points list of what makes the outposts so much fun. I don’t think it contains spoilers, per se, but I did enjoy discovering the various aspects of the outposts myself as I played, so if you haven’t played FC3 yet, and want to go in completely cold, you might want to skip this.

  • Outposts can be seen from miles away.

They’re marked on the map with red flags, but you can also spot them from a great distance: just look for a telltale column of black smoke. The smoke is a pretty awesome touch: the map in FC3 is massive and cumbersome and can’t be used without pausing the game (unlike Far Cry 2′s fantastic in-game handheld map) so being able to spot an outpost from a mile away without having to consult the map every few seconds is a time-saver. Thanks, video game!

That’s a long walk, but worth the fun that results.

  • You can scout them with your camera.

Looking at enemies through your camera tags them with an icon, depending on what kind of enemy they are (see the screenshot at the top of this post). General goons get a little skull and crossbones, snipers/rocketeers get crosshairs, dudes who will run right at you get a lightning bolt.

(I think it might be more fun if the game let you tag them yourself: “That guy is on a perch and he might he holding a rifle; I’ll tag him as a sniper.”)

Once an enemy is tagged, you can see their icon no matter where they are. Maybe this is a bit too easy, but I like it.

This bear is probably the first and final step to capturing this outpost.

  • Some outposts have penned animals. Penned animals can be freed. Freed animals are awesome.

Sometimes the goons will have a captured animal inside a wooden cage, and you can shoot the cage open from cover. The escaping animal will cause a distraction, or maybe a death or two, if it’s a dog or a giant bird. If it’s something like a bear, your work is pretty much done: the bear will kill the shit out of everybody and capture the camp while you sit somewhere safe and watch. Thanks, bear! You’re the best. Also, I have to kill you now, because I want to loot the place.

Tigers are also grrrrreat for completely wiping out enemies.

  • The guards can call for reinforcements by triggering alarms. If you let them. Don’t let them.

Alarms look like a telephone pole with an electronic horn on top. They’re important: alarms will be used by goons to call in reinforcements unless you disable them, and the goons will try to sound the alarm the instant they know they’re under attack. Reinforcements aren’t a joke, either. It’s not like a couple guys show up in a jeep. There’s a big swarm of goons who show up: in vehicles, in boats, on foot. I’m not saying it’s not fun, but the fight can quickly get out of hand when multiple squads arrive.

Alarms have a control panel near the base of the pole, which can be disabled in a few ways. If you sneak into the outpost, you can disable them– all of them– just by manually turning off a single panel. If you’re not confident you can stealth in, it can get tricky: there’s usually more than one alarm pole, and there’s often not a clear shot on all of the panels from the same location, so circling around the camp for a bit is essential to find a good sniping spot where you can hit both panels. If there’s anyone standing nearby, though, they’ll notice the shot, even if you have a silenced rifle.

  • You can completely stealth-kill the whole outpost, but I tend not to.

You can stealth-stab dudes pretty effectively, especially since you can throw rocks to distract them and get them to turn their backs. Working your way through an entire outpost, offing dudes quietly, isn’t without its charms. Thing is, I’m coming to FC3 straight off of Dishonored, and, I dunno, I kinda had my fill of lurking around stabbing dudes in the neck, I guess. I did one or two outposts by skulking around and stabbing, and it was satisfying, but with all the guns and toys in the game, I’d rather have some big loud messy fights.

  • Proximity mines are great, unless no one steps on them.

If I do decide to sneak into camp to disable the alarm, rather than shoot the panels from a distance, I also make sure to drop a proximity mine next to the alarm panel. Even if the alarm is disabled, someone will probably try to ring it once your attack begins. Now they have a little present waiting for them. While you’re scurrying around during the firefight, there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing the boom of someone stepping on the mine you planted, and knowing there’s one less guy to face.

If I can get away with it, I sometimes plant additional mines in likely spots for foot traffic. Next to a vehicle is a good spot: if you’re sniping from a distance (I often am), someone may decide to jump into a Jeep and come after you: the mine will blow when they get close to the vehicle. A gap in the fencing is also a good spot to lay a trap for anyone who decides to rush out after you.

The only problem is, sometimes no one steps on your mines. This isn’t a problem for you specifically: they won’t go off if you step on them. But once you’ve captured the outpost, your allies will immediately show up, often in a speeding vehicle, and start walking around talking to themselves. If you have a mine or two on the road, it will blow up their car. If you have some scattered around the camp, they might walk over them. If one of your allies gets blown up, any others will blame you, and you’ll have to retake the camp all over again, this time from your friends. Which, admittedly, can be kind of fun. Still, I generally try to avoid harming my comrades, so after I win the outpost I have to rush around collecting all my mines before they get stepped on by my homies.

  • Outposts are often filled with explodey things already.

Some outposts are essentially explosions waiting to happen, littered with gas canisters, propane tanks, or standard-issue exploding barrels. At the very least, they’re a great distraction, and will draw out enemies who are inside of buildings. At best, they’ll take some bad guys with them when they explode. It can also be fun to drop some C4 near them while you’re skulking around, and detonate them remotely from a safe distance.

He is neither stopping, nor dropping, nor rolling.

  • Molotov dudes are fun/scary

There are these dudes who walk around with a bunch of Molotov cocktails strapped to their bodies. Shooting them will, as you might expect, cause them to burst into flame, which causes things around them to burst into flame, which can be quite useful. What you might not expect is that, while they are on fire, they are not quite done with you yet. They will run right at you, setting everything on fire in their path, which can be a rude awakening if you have a nice little sniping spot you’re fond of.

  • Unpredictable things happen.

It’s completely satisfying when things go according to plan. I handle the alarms, my mines get stepped on, I drop the snipers before they spot me, an animal thins the enemy herd, a fire I’ve started forces goons out of cover, or I take down everyone silently. But it’s also fun everything goes wrong.

Once I was moving into position when a boar attacked me and I freaked out, firing a million noisy bullets that alerted the outpost to my presence. A few times, an enemy patrol drove up just when I was getting started, giving me extra enemies from I hadn’t prepared for on a flank I hadn’t mined. Once, I was driving toward an outpost and didn’t realize it was located at the bottom of a cliff: I couldn’t brake in time so I had to jump from my vehicle, which plunged down into the outpost, more or less announcing my arrival (killed a couple dudes, but they were replaced with reinforcements). And, once I was sneaking around planting C4, got spotted, and ran out, frantically detonating the C4 to cover my escape, only I’d laid the C4 along the route I was escaping with and blew up my own stupid self.

  • This dog killed a dude and then teabagged him.

Good boy.

Not a standard feature during an outpost fight, but it happened.

 

Video Games

Bullet Points: Far Cry 3 (Animal Edition)

I’m gonna have a lot to say about Far Cry 3 in the next few weeks, as it’s a game with a lot of fantastic features and some seriously baffling shortcomings. So, I’m gonna go piece by piece, and I want to start off with one of the high points: the animals.

There are a lot of animals in Far Cry 3. From farm animals like chickens and pigs, to sea creatures like sharks, rays, and turtles, to birds like vultures and these horrible vicious walking birds that I can’t remember what they’re called but they’re very mean. There are bears, panthers, tigers, leopards, boars, buffalo, komodo dragons, crocodiles, and even crabs (though they’re not mudcrabs, as everyone is not constantly discussing them).

The animals have a couple purposes: you can hunt most of them for their skins, which allows you to craft things, like extra holsters for more weapons, bigger ammo bags for more bullets and explosives, and bigger satchels for more health syringes. They also have second purpose, a more important purpose, and that is to make the game incredibly and hilariously unpredictable. The animals roam where they want, and often in the midst of exploring or combat, they’ll just sort of pop up and make a big hilarious mess of things.

Here’s my bullet points of the most enjoyable, funny, and deadly animal encounters I’ve had:

  • While exploring, I came across a group of pigs crossing a bridge. I just think that’s about the best thing I’ve ever seen.

ERMEHGERD: BERGE PERGS

  • Climbing a radio tower, I heard shouting and gunshots below, and figured I’d been made. Nope. Just a komodo dragon attacking and killing two enemy soldiers, and then proceeding to chase down and kill some nearby goats. Somebody was hungwee!
  • I was trying to flush an enemy thug from behind a tree, so I chucked a grenade. He saw it, took two panicked steps out from cover, and was promptly savaged to death by a leaping tiger neither of us knew was there.
  • After taking over an enemy stronghold, I found a cage with a giant walking bird in it. I said “Aw, don’t lock up a giant bird, you jerks!” and let it out. It promptly kicked the shit out of me.
  • While creeping through tall grass toward an enemy stronghold, I heard a grunt. I looked to my left and saw a pig just as he looked to his right and saw me. We both went on our way, me to conduct my violence and him to conduct his pig business.
  • Deer on a beach? Why not. Deer on a beach.

I hunted them with my most reliable weapon: the Jeep I was driving.

  • I successfully fended off an attacking leopard, only to turn around and get the shit kicked out of me by one of those giant walking birds. Again.
  • While perched on a cliffside, trying to snipe an enemy on the road below, a boar charged me from behind and knocked me off the cliff, to my death.
  • While taking an extended hang glider tour, a vulture swooped in and flew along side me for a bit. Good idea. Stick with me, and you’ll have plenty of corpses to dine on. Possibly including mine.
  • While cornered in a shack by two enemy soldiers, I heard a roar. Then nothing. When I peeped outside, I saw a leopard had dispatched them both.

Who’s a good leopard? You is! Yes you is!

  • While trying to run over a komodo dragon with an ATV (I HAD MY REASONS) he slithered out of the way and I drove off a cliff and died.
  • After taking over a stronghold, a group of those big walking birds wandered in and basically kicked the shit out of my allies. I just sort of watched, thinking there was no way three guys with automatic weapons could lose a fight to four birds. But lose they did. Those birds are jerks!

My money is on the bird.

  • Finally, there are sea turtles. They don’t try to kill me or nothin’.

KNIGHT RIDER

Slammin’ Sammy’s Stunt Show Spectacular

Knight Rider: Season 1, Episode 5: Slammin’ Sammy’s Stunt Show Spectacular

I imagine the biggest challenge for the writers of Knight Rider was to come up with weekly crimes that could be solved by driving around in a car for forty minutes. I like to think that in their office, there was a whiteboard with the word CAR written on it. Underlined. Maybe with an exclamation point after it. And they would stare at the word CAR!, sometimes for hours, trying to draw fresh inspiration.

Here in Episode 5, they seem to already be scraping the bottom of the CAR! barrel. The plot revolves around a stunt car show, which takes place in a parking lot and features a couple of AMC Gremlins driving on two wheels and jumping small ramps. The stunt show has been partially bought by a shady businessman who plans to close the show and develop the parking lot into something more profitable, which, judging by the stunt show, would be just about anything. Naturally, no one is more concerned about the fate of a small-town stunt show than the multi-billion dollar Knight Foundation. After Bonnie fits KITT with improved boosters and the ability to oxygenate his interior — two things I can’t imagine him ever needing — Michael decides to join the stunt show to make sure the shady businessman doesn’t do anything shady.

Those aren’t models: they really went and crashed a Gremlin.

The businessman does something shady that results in Slammin’ Sammy getting injured while doing his show-stopping car jump through a ring of fire four feet off the ground. Michael auditions his driving skills for Sammy’s daughter, who is naturally hot (at least 80′s hot), and he becomes Sammy’s replacement. The shady businessman worries that Michael’s awesome two-wheeled driving could save the show and decides he needs to meet with an accident as well. His goon tries to sabotage KITT’s undercarriage, but KITT deflates his tires, threatening to crush the goon, who runs away.

This leads to the weird moment of the week. After the goon has fled, KITT makes a remark out loud to himself. I know people talk to themselves (I certainly do) but it seems strange for a computer to do so. Can’t KITT internalize? Is there a logical reason for him to make a snarky remark when he’s the only one around to hear it? At least we get a whimsical, lighthearted version of the Knight Rider theme to listen to as we ponder the nature of KITT and his growing electronic schizophrenia.

Michael does a new stunt for the show, jumping over a moving truck and car, which is so impressive Sammy’s daughter immediately starts making out with him. Meanwhile, the shady businessman decides Michael Knight needs to be straight-up murdered. (Reminder: this is all over the use of a parking lot.) The goon drugs Michael right before his big stunt, and Michael passes out while driving. KITT makes the jump, using his improved boosters, and resuscitates Michael using his new oxygen vent. Wow, I was wrong, those two new features came in handy almost instantly. Michael chases down one goon and interrogates him.

The script originally called for Michael to get out of KITT to interrogate the goon, but then someone looked at the whiteboard and underlined CAR again.

Michael chases down another goon, then parks KITT over a bomb the goons were planning to use to blow up the stunt show, which explodes safely under KITT’s car-butt. Sabotage, murder, terrorism… seriously, there are probably other parking lots you could buy, shady businessman.

Michael confronts the businessman, who sneeringly details all of his crimes, because why not? It’s not like this big-haired stunt driver has a wristwatch communicator and his sentient car is listening in and recording everything, right? Wrong, shady businessman. Wrong.

MICHAEL’S INCOMPETENCE: LOW
He gets drugged by a goon, but KITT witnessed this same goon trying to sabotage him and didn’t bother to tell Michael to beware of him, so really, this is kind of KITT’s fault.

MICHAEL’S ROMANCE: MEDIUM
A full-on make-out sesh with Sammy’s daughter should count as HIGH, but Sammy was not just watching but leering as they went at it, so it’s kinda gross.

Seriously, I don’t think a dad should be outraged when his daughter kisses a dude, but he shouldn’t be totally into it, either.

KITT’S POWERS:
Two-wheeled driving, turbo boost (enhanced) (x2), tire auto deflate/inflate, suspiciously fortuitous oxygen vent

CASTING NOTES:
Last week’s episode featured a biker who was played by Michael Champion, who also played Richter’s right-hand goon Helm in Total Recall. Also, the woman who played the waitress Sherry last week, Anne Lockhart, did voice work for Total Recall. This week, one of the goons was played by Marc Alaimo, who played Martian Security Officer Everett in Total Recall! Plus, Total Recall also had a talking car: Johnny Cab! Stay tuned in case there are more crazy connections between Knight Rider and Total Recall! Except I just went and checked and there are no other connections, except for random industry stuntmen. So, forget I even brought it up.

I Read A Book

Roadside Picnic

See, I’m not only about movies and video games. I read books too, you guys! Books like Roadside Picnic, the 1971 science-fiction novel written by Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Granted, I only read this book because I played a video game (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) based on a movie (Stalker) based on this book. But still.

There’s a long history in fiction of aliens visiting earth and either a) trying to destroy us or b) trying to help us. But what if they didn’t even seem to notice us?

That’s one of the ideas explored in Roadside Picnic, in which a brief — a few hours? a day? — extraterrestrial visitation occurs. The aliens leave behind otherworldly contamination and mysterious, often dangerous artifacts. Human scavengers, known as stalkers, enter these contaminated areas, called Zones, to collect and sell on the black market whatever alien trinkets they can salvage.

The title of the novel comes from the idea that the aliens were either completely oblivious to our presence or at least indifferent, much as we humans are to lesser animal life when stopping in a meadow for a picnic. We drive in, our tires bringing along mud or flora from other places we’ve been. We spread out our blankets, crushing blades of grass and disrupting the soil. We leave behind items the insects and birds may find useful (crumbs and bits of food), and others that may harm them (wrappers, trash, oil drippings from our cars, cigarette butts, etc). Then we leave, indifferent to the effect, good or ill, we’ve had on the tiny ecosystem we’ve just visited and barely noticed.

Just as an ant is unable to comprehend a candy wrapper, the humans in Roadside Picnic are largely unable to understand the artifacts the aliens scattered into the Zones. Some appear to be batteries, others may be containers, many serve no easily definable purpose. And, just as an ant might blunder into a puddle of oil, stalkers blunder into deadly otherworldly hazards: gravity vortexes that crush, slime that destroys bone, small electrical storms, bursts of flame, and an anomaly called a grinder that violently twists people into hamburger.

Most of the story revolves around a single stalker, named Red, who makes several successful trips into the zone yet still pays a price, losing companions and even altering his DNA. His ultimate goal is to reach a fabled artifact that can supposedly grant wishes. Other than two chapters, one in which a scientist is interviewed about the visitation, and one in which two scientists discuss possible explanations for the visit, the book focuses on Red over a period of ten years.

It’s a short, great book full of interesting ideas, and I really love the concept of aliens arriving on earth and either not caring about earthlings or not noticing us at all. Generally, whether hostile of friendly, alien visitations completely revolve around humans, either to destroy them, capture them, learn about them, help them, or inspire them. Here, there’s nothing like that. In Roadside Picnic, they don’t find us threatening, interesting, or worth knowing. They don’t find us at all.

Also note: there is the full text of this book online somewhere, but don’t look for it and don’t read it. Try to find this translation (it’s on Kindle now, and I found it in trade paperback at the library). It’s a million times better than the translation floating around on the internet.

KNIGHT RIDER

Good Day At White Rock

Knight Rider: Season 1, Episode 4: Good Day at White Rock

This episode begins with Michael Knight and KITT surprising some drug dealers by crashing into their warehouse and knocking over a table covered in drugs. Which raises a question: what sort of legal authority does Michael really have? I mean, he works for a private foundation. Wouldn’t he need a warrant to enter the drug shed? Is he authorized to make actual arrests? Wouldn’t he have to appear in court to testify, thus being forced to admit he’s operating under an assumed named with false identification, and that he spends most of his time bickering with his car?

Having solved the case of Find A Table Covered In Drugs, Michael takes a rock-climbing vacation. He stops in a small town, flirts with a shopkeeper named Sherry, and takes her little brother Davey for a ride in KITT. Again, it’s the 80′s, a time when a pre-teen boy could jump into a car with a charming stranger and not immediately become the subject of a month’s worth of programming for Nancy Grace. Michael makes an illegal u-turn and is pulled over by the Sheriff, who tells him to get out of town, because he seems to be a trouble-maker. As Michael sheepishly leaves, a gang of bikers arrives and start busting up the town. The Sheriff lets them, because he is a poor Sheriff indeed.

I detect a pattern.

Michael starts rock climbing and promptly fucks that up, almost falling to his death, and KITT, about to get peed on by a dog, plays an animal sound to scare the dog away. (I can’t quite tell what the animal sound is; I think it’s supposed to be a dog but it sounds more like a lion being violently drowned.) Michael finally reaches the top of the cliff he’s climbing and finds Davey up there, somehow. After driving Davey back to town, Michael invites the biker gang leader, Scorpion, to open KITT’s door, but KITT’s door only opens when someone with Michael’s fingerprints (for example, Michael) touches the handle. Scorpion, humiliated, gets into a knife fight with Michael’s shorter, scrawnier stunt double. The Sheriff shows up and arrests Michael for stirring up things with the bikers, and impounds KITT.

KITT breaks out of car jail and Michael uses a loose thread from his jail blanket to brutally strangle the Sheriff to death. Ha ha, no! He uses the thread to snag the conveniently placed prison keys and drag them into his cell. Michael then drives to the biker camp and disguises himself as a biker, so that he may walk among them and learn their secrets.

To date, Michael’s disguises have not worked for even one second, and here he is trying to blend in with a gang of about ten bikers, a close knit group of men who spend all of their time together. Will anyone notice the recent addition of an eight foot tall biker that they’ve never seen before?

What can I say? The man loves dressing up.

Astoundingly (disappointingly?) the disguise works, and Michael discovers the bikers are planning a war with a second biker gang. One biker mentions Sherry and says “I still want to party her,” which I guess is how you said “rape” on 80′s TV. Davey, the child who constantly needs a ride and yet can apparently teleport himself anywhere he wishes, appears in the middle of the biker camp and gets captured. Michael and Sherry drive to the camp the next morning and rescue Davey, and KITT leads the bikers on a merry chase. He knocks several bikers over, and jumps over a lake.

We’re meant to believe this was a smooth landing.

Easily the most baffling and enjoyable moment of the show is when one of the bikers, who is wearing a priest’s collar, is so damn excited to be chasing KITT that he yells out “HYPERSPAAAAACE!”

Was yelling “HYPERSPACE!” in excitement ever a real thing? If so, we need to bring it back. If not, we need to simply bring it. I am going to make an effort to yell HYPERSPACE when excited about things from now on, and I would ask that you do as well. Let’s change the world, together.

KITT leads the bikers back to town, and the Sheriff finally steps into his role as a law enforcement authority by calling in reinforcements from neighboring towns and arresting the bikers for numerous violations of state and local codes. Ha ha, no! The Sheriff just ties a big rope across the road, clothes-lining all of the bikers off their bikes and causing them serious, perhaps even fatal injuries. Michael makes out with Sherry and takes her on vacation, leaving Davey alone to (presumably) die a few days later when the surviving bikers violently retaliate.

MICHAEL’S INCOMPETENCE: MEDIUM
Gets run out of town by a podunk Sheriff, falls while rock climbing, gets arrested.

MICHAEL’S ROMANCE: HIGH
Totally makes out with Sherry! And goes on vacation with her, so he probably scored.

KITT’S POWERS:
Broadcasts animal sounds, possible use of turbo boost, fingerprint-activated door locks

Movies

Skyfall: Spoiler Edition!

Okay, I hate the Skyfall post I did last night because I hate talking vaguely about movies. I hate it. I hate saying shit like so-and-so gave a “great performance.” It says nothing, informs no one. I might as well be saying boring shit like “beautiful cinematography” and “sweeping score.” What am I, a film critic?

So, let’s get into some Skyfall spoilers, below. Note: Skyfall spoilers will contain a great many spoilers for Skyfall.

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Movies

Skyfall

Kris and I saw Skyfall last night, in IMAX!

First, a word about IMAX! Hey, IMAX! That is quite a big screen you have there. And the sound is incredible. Well done. Not so well done: charging us $35 for two tickets and still making us watch advertisements, including an advertisement for IMAX! which we are obviously already sold on because we’ve already bought $35 tickets and are sitting there waiting for the IMAX! advertisement to end so we can watch the movie we bought $35 tickets for. In IMAX!

That said, IMAX! is completely glorious and I want to see all of the rest of the movies ever made in/at it forever. IMAX!

Anyway. Skyfall! It was really good, I think. I won’t do spoilers, I’ll just say Daniel Craig continues to be a great James Bond, Judi Dench was once again great as M, and some additional characters were added to MI6, all well-cast and enjoyable. Plus, Adele’s theme and the opening credits were a return to real Bond form. Though Adele tried to rhyme “Skyfall” with “crumble.” Doesn’t quite work. Still, a million times better than Jack White’s song for the last movie.

And hurray! Finally, FUCKING FINALLY, a great Bond villain for the new Bond franchise. Javier Bardem’s character is great: unsettling, menacing, vicious, and yet at times sympathetic and funny. They created a great villain, and Bardem gave a great performance.

It’s about time. Nothing against Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale as Le Chiffre (French for “The Chiffre”). I think Mikkelsen is great and he did fine with the role, it just wasn’t much of a role. You can’t just give a dude a gooey eye and plop him at a card table and make him a classic Bond villain. As for Quantum of Solace, some actor whose name I don’t know played a villain whose name I don’t know and his big plan was to make Bolivian citizens mutter curse words when they got their monthly water bill. Lame.

I think they did a good job of making Skyfall a personal story for Bond and a broad story of global terrorism at the same time. It’s a bit long, it suffers from a case of Computers Can Do Everything Because of Hacking, and there’s a couple other problems with it, but I can’t discuss them without spoiling stuff. I really dug it, though.

Sim-plicity

Sim-plicity: I am a tow truck driver?

My new Sim-plicity column is up on PC Gamer: in it, I play a game called Tow Truck Simulator, and busy myself with the important work of towing illegally parked cars!  Though honestly it takes me most of the column just to successfully tow a single car. I also wonder if I’m playing the part of a tow truck driver, or a sentient tow truck, hence the question mark.

You can read it right here.

Speaking of which, my last column for PC Gamer, I am a human being, was a bit of a hit, getting some nice attention on the site and on Twitter. I was also surprised and thrilled to hear it being discussed on the Idle Thumbs podcast. I’ve listened to Idle Thumbs for ages, so I’m pretty stoked to have been a topic of conversation on their show (Episode 82). The discussion of my column and the sim I played (Real Lives 2010) begins at about 1 hour and 12 minutes in. One detail they got wrong: I’ve never written for Rock, Paper, Shotgun (though I hope to someday).

In more News About Me, I wrote a little piece on Thursday about the movies I always watch when they’re on TV. It was later posted to Metafilter, which resulted in a bunch of other people listing their Always Watch movies. Good to know I’m not the only immobilized when a particular movie pops up on TV.

Movies | Television

Movies I’ll Always Watch If They’re On

I was flipping around the TV channels tonight, and saw they were showing Predator on AMC. Well, that’s my evening, right there. I’ll always watch Predator. Always. If it’s half-over, if it’s just starting, if it’s the final few minutes… if it’s on, I’m watching it. If it’s on again tomorrow night, I’ll probably try to catch the parts I missed tonight, and depending on my laziness, I might just watch the parts I didn’t miss tonight, again. I think everyone probably has a few movies that, if they come across them on TV, they’ll always watch, no matter what.

These movies are generally not even what I necessarily consider my favorite movies. I tend not to own these movies on DVD (I don’t own Predator). A few of my favorite movies that I own –Blade Runner, Brazil, Seven, Das Boot, L.A. Confidential, No Country for Old Men — I rarely watch, maybe once every couple years. And I don’t watch them on if they’re on TV.

While I was watching Predator, I started trying to picture a movie channel line-up filled with my Always Watch movies that would keep me on the couch a full 24 hours because I can never pass up watching any of them. Here’s what I came up with.

What’s on your Always Watch line-up?