Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ask a Meathead: Conan Brothers Q&A

As if we needed more proof that Seth Green sucks, turns out he is a brony. Ladies and gentlemen, hide your children's toys. And your children.

MyLittleHorsey asks "Is it okay that I'm a brony? I don't see anything wrong with it."

Dave: He doesn't see anything wrong with obsessing over anthropomorphized animated ponies?

Arnold: The only cartoon person it is okay to masturbate to is Jessica Rabbit, you fucking deviant.

Dave: He didn't say anything about masturbating to My Little Pony.

Arnold: He didn't have to. Read in-between the lines, Dave.

Dave: The fact that "brony" is even a word speaks volumes about the Millennials. Worst. Generation. Ever.

Arnold: We're Millennials, Dave.

Dave: We're the last of a dying breed of American men. We pick up heavy shit, we chase skirts, we say what we want, and we beat the shit out of anyone who wants to rumble.

Arnold: I couldn't have said it better myself, brotha.

ISquatMountains69 asks "Low-bar or high-bar squat?"

Dave: High-bar.

Arnold: It doesn't fucking matter. Like a couple of inches and a more horizontal torso makes the movement that different. The high-bar is a more quad dominant squat, the low-bar more hips. You will grow either way. Most people asking this question probably can't squat double bodyweight.

Dave: That's a good point. The internet makes everyone an expert.

Arnold: But don't be fooled. We are experts.

Dave: 32 inch thighs don't lie.

Arnold: You don't have 32 inch thighs.

Dave: Well, not right now, but that's because I'm cutting.

Arnold: Christ. Next question.
Jabroni183 asks "Is the bench press overrated? I suck at bench. What should I be doing instead?"

Dave: It is overrated in that everybody in the gym bench presses, usually with poor form, while neglecting just about every other muscle group besides arms.

Arnold: I would say it is probably the best upper body exercise. It builds the pecs, the front delts, and the triceps, yet it neglects the rest of the deltoids and puts the internal shoulder musculature in a vulnerable position, since the scapulas are pinned against the bench. Therefore, you need to do some overhead pressing and upper back work to ensure you don't develop muscle imbalances.

Dave: I like the standing press, because I'm old school. A man should be able to military press his bodyweight for reps.

Arnold: There's a symbiotic relationship between the two. Each helps the other.

Dave: Symbiotic? What are we talking about, Venom from Spider-Man?

Arnold: The word works, smart-ass.
 The Terminator built himself some big ol' man boobies with the bench. Be like Arnold.

ReeferMadness asks "Weed or beer? Do either interfere with my gains?"

Dave: Not if you take enough steroids.

Arnold: We do not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs, except for diabol, tren, HGH, amphetamines, cocaine...

Dave: Hey, we don't do coke.

Arnold: Yeah, not regularly.

Dave: A couple beers on the weekend is fine, but if you're passing out drunk every night, and you're not twenty-five or under, it's going to be hard to gain muscle mass.

Arnold: Weed is estrogenic, just like every product you use.

Dave: I can lift drunk. It's fun. I can't lift stoned. You'll fucking kill yourself.

Arnold: You are dumber while stoned.

Dave: You're a caveman, but not in the "I'm gonna club myself a cave-woman and drag her back to my cave," cool way.

Arnold: I like how you just revealed how much of a perv you are.

Dave: We're all perverts, Arnold. Inside our heads.

Arnold: Did Confucius say that?

Dave: No, but he wishes he did.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Hillsdale Paranormal Society's Guide to Hunting Bigfoot

He looks harmless, but don't be fooled. Those pouty lips hide razor-sharp fangs.

Gordy Weaver here, president of the Hillsdale Paranormal Society, world-renowned and getting even more famous. I'm going to share some of my knowledge with you regarding one of America's fastest-growing hobbies: Bigfoot hunting. Like glue-sniffing and playing with fire, Bigfoot hunting should really be left to the experts such as myself. We have training and ways of obtaining info that most people dream about. These tips I'm going to share with you, I didn't just hop on google and copy a bunch of bullshit. I've been out in the field with my homies, camping under trees, smearing myself in bacon grease and cow shit (secret tip: Bigfoot loves bacon grease and cow shit), and doing just about anything to catch a glimpse of this mythological beastie. If you've got the guts, the glory, and the cajones, well then, by all means, read the knowledge bombs below and become informed. Then, just maybe, you'll be ready to tackle the Sasquatch (secret tip: don't tackle a Sasquatch. They are built, and will pile-drive your ass into the ground).
Tip numero uno: Don't be a pussy. So you're out in the field, tasting scat, trying to get a gauge on how fresh that shit is, when all of sudden you turn around and a four-hundred pound 'squatch is behind you, giving you that "I'm going to fuck you up" look. You initial reaction might be to panic and tear ass outta there. DON'T DO THAT. 'Squatches are alpha predators, and an alpha predator's first instinct is to chase the running pussy. STAND YOUR GROUND. If you have mace (and you should), whip that shit out and start growling and hurling obscenities. Bigfoot has sensitive ears, believe it or not, and he'll chicken out if you make him know you are for real. If he takes a step forward, mace the son of a bitch, then high-tail it outta there (but don't forget to snap a photo. For science).
Hardcore tip numero dos: Always bring a solid bro. The worst thing you can do is try to tackle (DON'T TACKLE BIGFOOT) a 'squatch alone. The second worst thing you can do is bring a not-so-solid bro along. A solid bro is the type of dude who will not go chicken shit when things go all Jesse Ventura on your ass. Bigfoot ain't playin' around. He doesn't want to be found, and if you find him, he will not be happy. Don't believe all the hippies shouting about love and Jesus and mother nature; Bigfoot is a killer, and he will kill you if you ain't surrounded by a solid bro. Strength in numbers and all.
 This isn't relevant, but how awesome would Harry Potter been if Rambo had played Harry instead of Daniel "I lay with horses" Radcliffe?

Laying down the knowledge numero tres: Bring a hot chick with you. Bigfoot is like any other dude: he's looking to procreate, and sometimes he likes his ladies a little exotic, in other words, HUMAN. You don't even have to tell the chick you're going 'squatching. Just insinuate that you and your bro would like her to join you on a little camping get-away. Don't be all full on creeper, though. You tell some random girl that you and your buddy want her to come with you to a secluded area, she's probably going to think you're Ted Bundy and your bro's Ted Bundy's perverted bro. Try to keep it platonic, is what I'm saying. DO YOU GET WHAT I AM SAYING?

Last tip, numero four: Make sure to pack some good beer. Bigfoot is a connoisseur. He don't like no shit beer. Leave the Natty Light and Milwaukee's Best at home for your hood rats and second class bros. Spend top dollar on Yuengling or at least Michelob. Bigfoot, being a senseless monster, cannot brew his own beer, though I'm pretty sure me and my boy Art saw him trying to make a still out of cardboard and a truck frame. It didn't turn out so well, as you might have imagined. Open a can of beer and place it on a tree stump and lie in wait. Bigfoot will come. He has to get his drink on like anybody else.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Diary of Mitch R. Singer

A sunny day, cool, in Chicago
I find myself in a joyous mood as I walk down Lake Street, marveling at the passersby. They seem affected by the passage of time in a way I cannot fathom. A hobo asks for change, and as I reach into my pocket I find a sack of glass eyes. Some of the eyes are reptilian. The hobo sees this and starts yelling. I try to pacify him by offering him the sack. He grabs the bag and flees down to the beach. I watch impassively as he wades into the cold waters. People yell and attempt to persuade him to come out, but be refuses, venturing ever deeper into the lake until he disappears. I leave the scene and spend the rest of the day trying to think of a word that rhymes with "orange." I finally think of a word, but I cannot pronounce it without serious consequences.
Nighttime, still in Chicago, somewhere just south of the North side
A group of college ruby players encounters me playing guitar beside the entrance to the L. Something in my music sobers them, causing a cessation of their bawdy song. They carry me upon their shoulders to a dilapidated apartment where we drink whiskey and recite poetry. I wring dark words from their souls, and each confesses terrible deeds. I cackle and howl and devour cigarettes. Consciousness deserts me, leaving a black hole in my memory. I wake up in an alley, covered in bruises, lying in a bath tub which looks to have been drudged from the depths of Lake Michigan.
A blues bar on a Saturday night, the cold creeping in
I wander in, grabbing a table to watch an ancient black man play a resonator with a bottle slide. His voice speaks hardships that I am all too familiar with. A waitress comes by and offers me a drink. I hand her too much money and ask to see Buddy. He comes out of the back after a while, dressed in a navy blue suit, the fat hanging off of his cheeks, jiggling with every step. I show him the contract that he signed on the crossroads. He shakes and pleas, asking for more time. I tell him that I'm just a collector, nothing more. He cries and cries, yet I do not console him.

A comedy club, sometime in November
The fat man tells jokes about his fat, and the audience laps it up. There is a lady in a black dress smoking a cigarette from a holder. I sit at her table without asking. She asks if she knows me, and I say yes. "From where?" she asks. "Memphis," I tell her. "We met at the grave of the King." Her eyes widen, and I smile. She puts out her hand. It is marvelous, white and smooth, lacking lines, only a thin downy covering of black hair ruining its beauty. "I want to stay here," she says. I tell her that's fine. I have a drink and watch out of the corner of my eye as she slips something into it. I drink it anyway. When I come to, it's me in the dress, smoking the cigarette. The fat man is still joking about his fat. I walk up on stage and hit him with my purse. He goes down immediately, blood dripping from his skull. I open up the purse and there's a brick inside. I flee, throwing my high heels in a garbage can, police sirens echoing through the night. My hands have lines, unlike hers. She has fooled me again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New Music: Judgment

 Tried some Sonic Youth stuff on an old guitar. It didn't work out.

A heavy rock song with some cut and paste trickery going on. Improved vocals and reverb courtesy of my new house and its high ceilings and wooden floors. Listen to Judgment on SoundCloud here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Excerpts from the Hillsdale Paranormal Society Log

All entries recorded by Gordon P. Weaver, president and record keeper of the esteemed Hillsdale Paranormal Society, widely respected in the field since 2013.

April 25, 12:00 a.m.
Meet with my bros Trent and Art at the old Goldstein place around midnight. Trent brought the advanced spectrometer he bought off of Ebay. The thing has like two telescopes attached to a stand, and we can't figure out how the hell we're supposed to use it to see ghosts. Art says that we got screwed and that we can't see ghosts with a spectrometer, but then I retort "why would they call it a spectrometer if it can't see specters?" Predictably, the jabroni has no answer.

1:00 a.m.
The Goldstein place has been abandoned for years, but it takes us only about ten seconds to find a window we can jimmy open. Inside it smells like somebody took a sack of cat assholes and lit said sack on fire. We put on our night vision goggles and sure enough, there's like a herd of cats roaming about the place. One of them comes up to Trent and throws up on his shoe. It just stands there afterwards, like it wants a reward or something. I name it Cronus to honor its warrior spirit.

1:35 a.m.
Spend about an hour waiting for ghostly contact, but nothing happens, so we resort to Plan B. I strut about the place, thumping my chest, telling the ghosts that they're bitches if they don't come out and play. I get no immediate reaction, but like thirty cats start following me about, meowing at me. One tries to jump on my head like a facesucker from Aliens, but I dodge at the last second and it lands on Trent's face. We spend twenty minutes trying to pry it off.

2:45 a.m.
Advanced spectrometer is a big disappointment. We finally see some ghostly shadows (though Art claims it was a passing car; he's such a dumb ass) but they vanish before we can get the spectrometer over to them. Trent hears a ghostly wailing upstairs and suggests that we check it out. We record the audio, and its playback is clear. This could be the big one that catapults the Society into national recognition. Into the great unknown we venture.

3:30 a.m.
So we go upstairs and there's about a million more cats up there, and they're all meowing and caterwauling, and it smells like there's a river of cat pee flowing somewhere, but intrepid adventurers that we are, we persevere. Trent starts crying that he's nervous, and I tell him to either man-up or go home and pee his bed there. I decide to further antagonize the ghosts, so I start saying bad things about their mothers and their sense of fashion. Art theorizes that maybe the cats are possessed. I yell at Cronus, strongly implying that his mother was a hoodrat and a floozy. He gives me the stank eye and farts. I didn't know a cat could fart. It smells worse than I can describe.

4:00 a.m.
Turns out we really fucked up this time. After thoroughly investigating the upstairs, we come upon a room with a shut door. Trent says that the bad presence clearly lives there, so I tell him we're going to make the presence show its bitch ass. I bang loudly on the door, and immediately there's a noise, so I karate kick it in, and we all burst in with our cameras flashing, and lo and behold, there's an old lady in her nightgown, screaming and throwing her cats at us. We turn tail and run out, though Trent trips down the stairs and another cat attaches itself to his face. We pull him out while she follows us, still throwing cats. That lady has a hell of an arm, must've been a softball player or something. We hide out in the woods for a while till the cops leave. I ask Art where he heard that the Goldstein place was abandoned, and he shrugs his shoulders. Still not convinced the place isn't haunted. Art rightfully points out that it is impossible that that old lady feeds all of those cats. Ghost cats then? I make a note to investigate further.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hanging with the Goon

Hey ya'll, this is da Goon, and I'm gonna tell you whats up in dis wild crazy ass life of mine. Just yester me and my brotha Slack got off work at the apple orchard and drove down to da crick with a .22 and a sack of mushrooms that Slack stole from Ponderosa. Now, don't be getting me wrong, we ain't the thieving types, cept for Willy and Remy, considerin' both of thems in the jail for petty larceny, but anyways, Slack says them mushrooms should be good for smoking once we dry them out, which we tried to do by putting em in a frying pan and heatin' em up over some crick rocks. While we's waiting for them mushrooms, Slack gets the bright idear to start shootin' at squirrels since we ain't had a good fried squirrel in what must be eons. He hit one of them basterds right between teh eye and it fell in the crick aways down, and Slack being Slack, he start hollerin' at me to go get it 'cuz he thinks I'm his gopher or something. I get on down in the crick up to my briches and there's teh squirrel all floatin' and shit, so I reach out to grab em and the little fucker bats his eyes at me and sinks his teethers into my vulnerable hand. I start hollerin' and Slack is jumping up and down like a prancing pony, he's all chorkling and hee-hawing, and I'm a waving around dis squirrel who's got a death grip on my finger. Finally I killed it by beating its head against a crick rock. Slack den tells me I got rabies. I tell him he got sifaless, and he says he don't inbetween outbreaks. We skin the squirrel and have ourselfs a nice squirrel meat feast. Later we try to smoke the mushrooms but end up nearly dead with gooey mushroom in our noses.

Today I got up out of my sack and went flounderin' in the kitchen lookin' to stir up some grub. I open the frige and find nothing but beer and eggs. My uncle Thom is always comin' in our trailer and loadin' the frige full of eggs 'cuz he gots like eleven-hundred chickens or something and theys always pooping out eggs. I take a handful of eggs and throw them against the wall, 'cuz sometimes your just tired of eating the same damn thing every day, specially if its eggs. I looked at the wall real good and I couldn't tell wheres I threw the eggs cuz theres so much shit on our walls from Slack trying to become a master chief and get on Top Chief. He makes bacon and eggs and flay-me-on and some queer french dish that nobody likes. It involves a goose which you feed a bunch of crap until the goose won't eat anymore and then you force feed the goose 'cuz he don't know any better, and I tell ya, its pretty funny watchin' Slack try to stuff Cheeseits down a goose's throat, and all the while the thing's beatin' the hell outta him with its wings and honking like a sonofabitch. Everybody felt sad for that goose and didn't want to eat it.

For are final story I'd like to tell how my Uncle Thom taught Rebus the coon how to dance. There he is above jumpin' up and down with Rebus trying to teach em the stutter step. Rebus can twerk pretty good, and I guess he's got plenty of practice 'cuz Thom is always trying to proach em from behind and teach em who is the boss. I tell Thom that's exactly how I treat the ladies, that is, when I'm lucky enough to catch one and bring her back to the trailer. Thom gets this queer look in his eye and says "Don't I know, son, don't I know," and I don't know what the hell he means but he always looks down at his arms and there's a hell of a lot of raccoon scratches all over em. Slack says Thom really does have rabies and its making him mad. I hope I don't get rabies or sifaless. That's all I got to say about that.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Black Box Free Promotion

Black Box is currently free on for the next five days! Click here to purchase! Don't miss out on the greatest novel ever written by a southeastern Hoosier apple orchardist! It's funny, it's dark, it has Bigfoot in it!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Q&A with the Conan Brothers

Professional bodybuilders Dave and Arnold Conan answer your questions about weight lifting, dieting, love, and Freudian psychology! Seriously, these guys have all the answers!

SecretInternetFatty asks "Why can't I get to a 315 lbs squat?"

Arnold: Because you're a pussy.

Dave: Low-T. That's the answer for everything nowadays.

Arnold: But really, you're not lifting very hard if you can't squat 315 lbs. Three plates is baby weight. My mom can squat that.

Dave: Quit being a pussy is the answer.

Arnold: A better question might be "Why do I suck at life, and should I kill myself?"

Dave: That's a sad question.

Arnold: They usually are.

HoldenCaulfieldsGhost asks "If you could bang any chick off of any commercial, who would you bang?"

Arnold: An interesting question.

Dave: Easy answer. The Wendy's chick.

Arnold: The fat one?

Dave: No, the red-headed minx they have harping about hamburgers like she's addicted to beef.

Arnold: Oh, she's addicted to beef all right. Yeah, that chick looks like she'd do dirty things. Dark, unspeakable things that would make you question whether there's something legitimately wrong with you.

Dave: Now I have a question. Would you be in on a threesome with the Wendy's chick and Ronald McDonald?

Arnold: Clowns like little kids.

Dave: You didn't answer the question.

Arnold: No, but I'd be in on a threesome with fake Wendy's chick and the real Wendy.

Dave: Next question, please.

CODIsReal69 asks "What protein you dudes on? Where can I get some of that shit?"

Arnold: We are on the special protein. You can't find it in stores.

Dave: We are on MadDog's Super-duper hyper-whey isolate, formulated with pig testicles and virgin's blood.

Arnold: Protein powder is a rip-off. Most of it is spiked with taurine, which throws off the amino acid profile. What you're paying for is not what you're getting.

Dave: We recommend you buy more meat. More meat is always the answer.

Arnold: Eat double your body weight in protein a day, and we'll be asking you what protein you're on.

Shittyshittybangbang asks "Who was the better Freudian psychologist? Dr. Frasier Crane or Niles?"

Arnold: Frasier, 'cuz Kelsey Grammer is my boy.

Dave: Dude was born to play the Beast.

Arnold: Next question.
Jesuswasripped asks "What superhero actor achieved a physique comparable to the character they portrayed?"

Arnold: Awesome question.

Dave: A much debated question between the two of us.

Arnold: I say Henry Cavill, though the new Superman movie kinda sucked.

Dave: Tom Hardy's traps.

Arnold: Not Tom Hardy? Just his traps?

Dave: Yeah, his traps just took over. They became sentient. That stupid voice he did as Bane? That was his traps speaking.

Arnold: He was kind of fat in Batman.

Dave: But his traps!

Arnold: Traps are easy to grow. You just have to lift weights.

ButIalreadyHadDinner asks "If I stop masturbating, will my testosterone count increase?"

Arnold: Wow.

Dave: Dumb question of the week award.

Arnold: But there are no dumb questions, Dave.

Dave: There are dumb questions.

Arnold: Why would you want to stop masturbating? Are your gains so precious that you'd forgo sexual satisfaction to preserve them? Masturbate more, motherfucker.

Dave: You'll become a sexual Tyrannosaurus.

Arnold: You could never become a dinosaur, Dave. It just isn't possible.

Dave: A man can hope.

Arnold: Yes, though it's better to masturbate. I think discussion time is over.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mini Review: Godzilla

Never shall the twain meet.

All I ask of my giant monster movie is to have giant monsters in it the majority of the time. If a movie is entitled "Godzilla," then I expect to see a lot of Godzilla. Sadly, this is not the case with Legendary's reboot. It is far more concerned with following the trials and tribulations of Mr. Boring Bland-face, which is what I'll call the male lead who is not Bryan Cranston, since I can't remember his name. The humans receive an awful lot of the focus in this picture, which is odd. The old Godzilla movies were corny and campy, but at least they delivered on their promise of seeing giant monsters battle awkwardly. The fight scenes between Godzilla and the MUTOs, his insectoid nemeses, are brief and obscured by smoke and darkness. Just when you think you're about to witness some honest to god monster action (oh yeah), the damn movie cuts to Mr. Boring Bland-face's kid watching the fight on television. We see more of Mr. Boring Bland-face's wife than Godzilla. She's pretty, but she's no Godzilla. He's a supporting character in his own movie. There are brief moments of spectacle. The size of the marauding beasties is impressive, and you get a real sense of scale at times. The auditory clicks and rumbles of the MUTOs are strange and alien, and Godzilla looks pretty cool. Unfortunately, this movie shares a lot of similarities with Cloverfield, another giant monster movie that focused too much on its boring human characters while showing too little of its main attraction. In a horror movie, it pays off to hide the monster. It builds fear and lets the imagination go to work. Godzilla's not a horror movie. It's not about fear. It's about giant fucking monsters beating the shit out of each other. I don't know how the film makers didn't understand this.

Verdict: Red Delicious--somehow, someone missed the point, and you just bit into a piece of cardboard.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Diary of Mitch R. Singer

Mitch, circa 1966.

Good friend and loyal Pointless Venture reader Mitch R. Singer, best known for his eccentric folk music and his tenure as the host of reality show People Watching People Watching People, has volunteered to share excerpts from his diary. Mitch has a habit of not writing down exact dates, so we can't be certain when these entries were recorded.

Summer solstice, beneath a reaper moon, probably a Tuesday
Woke up in a field, with the wheat beaten down all around me. Smelled like sulfur and rotten feces. Strange markings cover my arms, some sort of hieroglyphics or possibly just a bad tattoo. Saunter about wheat maze for at least half of the night. Eventually reach the summit of a nearby hill, and upon sunrise, discover that beaten down wheat forms an immense crop circle. Looks kind of like a hot dog. Spent rest of the day wandering about, until reaching a small village. The inhabitants speak an unfamiliar dialect and poke me with sharp sticks. I am forced down into a pit, where children pelt me with rotten vegetables and cast the evil eye. Old gypsy woman urinates in hole and I am drenched. After awhile their gibberish starts to make sense, and I learn that they are preparing a funeral pyre. A grotesque old man with one eye and a peg leg says that only fire will cleanse the evil that stagnates within my being. I tell him that I just need a good bath, a warm meal, and perhaps some female companionship and I will be on my way. He spits at me and heaps dung down into my hole.
Month of May, the red eye of the sun high in the sky
Woke up in a ditch, flies buzzing around my head, the stench of the water soaking into my nice pea coat. Bloody taste in mouth that never goes away, no matter what I eat or drink. Walk along side the road, thumb up, waiting for a car that never comes. The woods seems to be full of crickets and a crashing noise like trees falling. Find a dead possum and contemplate the meaning of life. The possum has maggots crawling from its eye sockets. After several hours a pickup truck stops. It is driven by a gnarled-faced old hillbilly clad in a pair of overalls and a straw hat. He smells of fish and tells me to get into the back. I somehow fall asleep lying on a lumpy burlap sack that feels as though it contains bones. He drives for hours and hours.

Midnight, indeterminable time of year
Come to while with a girl in a car overlooking a river. She smiles at me and asks to see my hands, says she can read palms. I don't recognize her, nor do I have any memory of how I got here. Her eyes glimmer and gleam dark secrets from my soul. I ask her if she has any food. She hands me a bag of beef jerky that I devour in seconds. A deep ache fill my loins as I listen to her talk about milking cattle. Something screams in the night, and I find myself running from the car, a fire burning in my chest. The girl calls and calls my name in a language I cannot speak. The air has a sweet sour smell to it like fresh blood.
No idea of time or date
Bright lights bring consciousness to me. I am bound to a chair in a dilapidated bathhouse, cracked white and black tile all around. A man incessantly pounds his fists against the raw torso of a cow hanging from a hook. A naked obese gentleman approaches me and offers me a cigarette. I take it and thank him, but he says nothing for a long time. Eventually he asks if I am the Gotham Creeper. I tell him that I can't recall what I had for breakfast. The man in the background keeps punching the cow carcass. There is an itch on my neck that I cannot scratch.

Sometime in December, midnight, I guess
I blink my eyes and people are before me, enraptured by the words coming out of my mouth. I am on a stage, dressed in black, a guitar in my hands. Snow falls outside, steady and white as milk poured from a bottle. Someone requests a cover of Freebird and I tell them to go to hell. The rest of my set is composed of Burt Bacharach tunes. I sandwich a song devoted to Cthulhu between Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head and A House Is Not a Home. No one seems to notice.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Retro Review: Thief 2

An arrow to the face is never healthy.

The reboot of the Thief franchise awoke a desire in me to replay the original trilogy, starting with Thief 2: The Metal Age, the only game in the series I'd never finished. I wanted to see if my memory of the high quality of the originals was accurate, or if I was viewing these old games with my nostalgia glasses on. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; too often we feel that because we loved something in the past, especially when we were young, that that thing is truly great and worthy of our fond memories. We become biased. We think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a classic cartoon/comic book, and how dare Hollywood and Micheal Bay touch our precious memories? TMNT is a pretty fucking stupid concept. The original creators even admitted as much. But for some reason, we're obsessed with the preciousness of our childhoods, and that includes all the junk pop-culture we mindlessly consumed as adolescents. I guess it's because youth is something we cannot recapture; therefore, anything that reminds us of our formative years become a fetish, and we paw and mishandle said thing, futilely grasping for that "teenage feeling." Whatever, I don't know. Let's not mistake ravings and quick conclusions for anything concrete.

Thief 2 was the last game Looking Glass Studios ever made. It was released in 2000 and somewhat rushed by Eidos, its publisher, because of the commercial failure of Ion Storm's Daikatana, a truly terrible game that I might replay/review someday out of a masochistic desire to understand the late Nineties video game industry. Nostalgia rears its ugly head once more. Anyway, Thief 2 flew under my radar when it was released, probably because I was fifteen and more interested in playing multiplayer mods for Half-Life and Unreal Tournament than messing with a first person sneaker. Thief invented its own genre, with its only real descendent being Dishonored. The object is to hide from enemies, and either avoid them all together or knock them out with your blackjack and drag their bodies to a nice hiding spot, all while collecting loot. Avoid loud surfaces like tile and gravel; stick to carpet, grass, and stone. The shadows are your friend, though any quick movement, even in total darkness, can render the unwary thief seen. It's a deep, atmospheric game, with complex sound and visual systems that the player can influence with a variety of unique arrows. Moss arrows dampen sound, allowing you to cross noisy surfaces, where water arrows take out torches, giving you more darkness. Noise arrows distract guards, while fire arrows relight torches, and rope arrows provide vertical access to otherwise unreachable locations. The complexity of these systems makes Thief 2 an adult game; I know I didn't possess the patience or understanding as a teenager to appreciate the series. Nostalgia, it seems, is not always wrong.

The aforementioned systems of light and sound manipulation are preserved to some degree in the 2014 reboot. What that game missed, however, is almost everything else. Thief games take place in a dark fantasy universe influenced by the Medieval and Victorian periods, with dashes of Steampunk (anachronistic steam-powered machines and tech--think Jules Verne, or even Brisco County Junior) to finish off the cocktail. This universe features two opposing religious groups: the Pagans, a collection of wild people and monsters who worship the Trickster God, who is a sort of amalgamation of Satan and Pan; and the Hammerites, a strict, industry-obsessed order (think the Medieval church) who pray to the Master Builder. These factions are overseen and secretly manipulated by the Keepers, a magical secret cult who read the future by interpreting glyphs. Everything takes place in the City, a sprawling feudal society built upon various versions of itself. This is a pretty dense stew, yet Thief 2 adds another faction, the Mechanists, who split from the Hammers and are able to build steampunk security cameras and giant combat robots. So there's a lot of mythology created in just the two original games, a mythology that serves to flesh out the experience of playing Thief 2. As a writer, I've always admired world building. I play video games to be transported to another world, and Thief 2 does this better than its newest relation.

 Not quite 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but close.

The early Thief games are exploratory experiences. They are nonlinear; the player proceeds through large, labyrinthian environments with nothing more than a crude map and a compass. Thief 2 features some amazingly large levels. There are sprawling estates, a huge bank, a lighthouse and submarine, a trip across the roof tops of the city to climb up a towering fortress. I am reminded of Tim Burton's Batman while exploring Thief 2; there's an Art Deco look to some of its architecture. The freedom to be set loose, without a thousand hand-holding prompts to look at this or go here, is a feature sadly missing from modern game design. The player is not trusted in Call of Duty; you can't even open a door without a buddy. You're a sad sack along for the ride, just there to mindlessly shoot at foreign caricatures. Thief trusts the player, and such trust was an essential element to Looking Glass Studios' games. Dark Souls is the only game I've played recently to bring to mind the sort of exploratory freedom inherent to the Thief series (though almost completely missing in Thief 2014). 

Angelwatch. Nice Art Deco angel. Looks like something Batman would roost on.

The plot focuses on Garrett, player character, master thief and former Keeper initiate, who becomes entangled in the schemes of Karras, the lispy, genius inventor who commands the Mechanist order. Karras seeks to wipe out all organic life; he thinks that he is a prophet and performing the will of the Master Builder. This sort of religious fanaticism is interesting, for it's uncommon in games, which usually tend to be apolitical or jingoistic (Call of Duty), whatever will sell more. Garrett ends up looking to the Pagans for help, despite them being the antagonists of the first game. Garrett is a likeable antihero. He's a thief, and not above killing (though killing humans results in mission failure on Expert difficulty level), though he grows enough as a character to keep our interest, while still maintaining his roguish self-serving charm.

Missions proceed as a list of objects, most of which can be accomplished in any order the player likes. One cool thing about Thief is that you almost always have to find your way out after completing your goals. Most missions take over an hour to finish. According to the game clock, Thief 2 took me over fourteen hours to complete, but that's not counting deaths and restarts, of which there will be plenty. Thief 2 is difficult, but less so than Thief: The Dark Project. The AI will jump on you if you mess up, either by being too careless in your movements or too obvious, though they are easily thwarted by climbing a ladder or a wall. There's an important balance to keep in mind when making stealth games; you don't want too-smart AI, or otherwise the game wouldn't be fun, yet you don't want AI you can literally dance around. Thief 2 strikes a good balance. The 2014 reboot does well with AI, though it sometimes tows the line between too unforgiving and just smart enough.

A tree beast, a Pagan monster. These things are scary as hell. The sound design of Thief 2 is beyond compare.

New gamers might be put off by the lack of direction. The inventory system is hard to navigate, for you essentially have to cycle through all your items before reaching the one you need. The graphics aren't good, though you can improve them with a readily available fan patch.  The ending leaves a little to be desired, which is why I think I never completed it years ago. You have to repeat the same level, Casing the Joint and Masks, an obvious sign that Looking Glass was rushed, and then you embark on the epic scavenger hunt that is Soulforge, with its harsh architecture and legions of waddling robots. Yet, all together, these are small flaws that do little to distract from the core quality of the game.

Immersive Sim is the term used to describe Thief, System Shock, and Deus Ex. Games like this aren't really being made anymore--the newest Deus Ex is good, but it doesn't have the freedom of the original, and neither does Thief 2014.  Those looking for well-written, atmospheric entertainment who have somehow missed the Thief series should check it out. It's usually available for under ten bucks on Steam or Good Old Games.

Final Rating: Honey Crisp-sweet, crunchy, and filling like any good meal.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: Frankenstein

Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare, the cover art on my copy of Frankenstein

Over the past couple of years, I've been trying to remedy a history of lazy reading by going through the classics. As a writer, it's important to have a constant diet of literature to serve as inspiration for one's own work, not to mention the knowledge and experiences gained through reading in general. Since I've been interested in both the horror and Gothic genres, I decided to tackle Frankenstein, and wow, I don't think I've disliked a book this much since my freshmen high school English teacher made us read Toni Morrison's Beloved.

The story of Frankenstein has been bastardized and rewritten almost beyond recognition ever since cinema started adapting the novel, therefore bringing it to the public consciousness. One of the most common errors made is referring to the monster as 'Frankenstein'; Victor Frankenstein is the creature's creator, and his creation is never given an actual name but instead referred to as the 'daemon' or 'fiend,' as well as countless other negative epithets. The monster has no bolts emerging from his neck, and the particularities of his creation are glossed over, so there's no throwing of the switch, no electrical life-giving, no shouting "it's alive, it's alive, it's alive!" The metaphor of man abusing science is preserved, however, and it's this theme that's probably Frankenstein's greatest legacy. The Island of Dr. Moreau, Jurassic Park, and countless others have played with the same basic story, and it's important to recognize this, despite the work's other failings.

So, during the epistolary introduction, we meet Victor Frankenstein, a haggard, beaten young man, who, after being found marooned on an iceberg, relates his life story to the naive leader of a failing Arctic expedition. Just a few years prior, Victor was a passionate college student, influenced by ancient apocryphal texts as well as new advances in the sciences. He learns chemistry and eventually discovers the secret of life, which is never revealed. Victor uses his knowledge to construct a new being, the creature, an eight-foot tall idealized man. When he brings his creature to life, however, he is immediately stricken by his ghoulish appearance (the creature is described as having taut, translucent skin that reveals all of his inner workings), and subsequently flees, abandoning his nascent creation. Victor, I think, is supposed to be a sympathetic character, but it is at this point in the novel that the reader first experiences disbelief. Victor has been working on this project for months; his health has suffered; he's neglected correspondence with his family, and we're to believe that he'd run away like a little ninny after achieving what would be heralded as the greatest scientific feat of all time? Victor retreats to his friend Henry's care, and is more or less bedridden for half of a year by what amounts to a panic attack. Our protagonist's delicate constitution shall reveal itself throughout the novel, to the point where the reader has grown quite tired of Victor's fragile health. I don't know, maybe it's a Victorian thing; pre-antibiotic times were tough, I'm sure, but I couldn't help coming away with the conclusion that Victor is a pussy, especially considering his later actions.

So after recovering from his women's ailment, Victor returns to his home country of Sweden, essentially forgetting about the eight-foot tall monster he's created. Cue suspension of disbelief. Victor doesn't even really try to look for his monster; he visits his lab, shrugs his shoulders, and off to Sweden he goes. Mary Shelly must have had it in for scientists, because Victor comes off looking like the the world's dumbest, most irresponsible human-being. When he gets home, Vic discovers that his brother has been murdered, with his family's harmless nurse Justine the chief suspect. Upon investigating the scene of the crime, Victor spots his monster, who flees. He puts two and two together and figures that the creature is to blame. YET HE DOES NOTHING when Justine is put to trial and convicted, on the basis that no one would believe him. She dies because of him, he knows she's innocent, and he chooses to remain silent. At this point all of the reader's sympathy for Victor has vanished, since he's revealed himself to be a selfish, self-pitying asshole. Oh God, the whining. Victor whines, complains, and cries woe is me constantly after this point in the novel. Our suspicions that he is a pussy are confirmed, and it is only the allure of the monster that keeps us reading.

After the trial, the creature confronts Victor, and reveals his past. Awakening dumb and innocent, he wanders into a village and is driven away because of his fearful appearance. He lives in the woods, eventually moving into a wood shed, where he can watch a rural family. From their interactions, he learns to speak, and he teaches himself to read after finding a copy of Paradise Lost. There are references to the aforementioned work throughout the novel; Victor is compared to Satan, the creature to Adam. When the creature works up the courage to introduce himself to this family, whom he's fallen in love with, they attack him and drive him away. He subsequently vows revenge on Frankenstein for bringing him into a life of loneliness and misery; hence his murder of Victor's brother and his framing of Justine. The creature tells Victor he'll stop killing his family members if Vic will make him a female counterpart, and Victor reluctantly agrees.

The creature is an interesting character; despite his brutal actions, the reader can't help but feel sorry for him, since he never experiences a positive interaction with humanity. I feel like the novel should've been told from the creature's perspective. Instead, we get asshole Victor.

Victor isolates himself on a remote island somewhere off the coast of England after journeying there with his buddy Henry. He builds a laboratory and commences work on a second creature, only to suddenly renege when he becomes conscientious and fearful of the consequences of his actions. He theorizes that the two creatures would breed and produce a malevolent race that would wipe out mankind. I don't really know what kind of scientist Victor is. A dumb one, I guess. How two creature could produce enough progeny to challenge the human race without inbreeding, I can't imagine. All the presupposed malevolency of his creature is an imagining of Victor's--his creature has known nothing but violence and hatred, so how else should he act? I think the creature's deal was very fair, yet when he shows up at Vic's lab, our wonderful humanitarian tells him the deal's off. The creature, predictably, is pissed, and tells him more or less that he's going to kill everyone Victor loves. Victor, somehow, misinterprets this, especially the line "I'll be with you on your wedding day." Vic takes this to mean the creature will kill him when he marries his sweetheart Elizabeth, despite the fact that the creature has done nothing but strike at Vic's friends and family, while leaving him to suffer. His friend Henry is soon murdered, and still he does not connect the dots. He proceeds with his wedding to Elizabeth, vowing to kill the creature, keeping a pistol on him; yet he allows her to retire by herself immediately after the wedding. The creature murders her. At this points the reader has had enough of our brilliant scientist, and we wonder how the hell Vic was smart enough to bring the creature to life in the first place.

The fact that Shelly glosses over the creature's creation raises many questions. For instance, did he simply reanimate dead tissue like in the movies? If so, why doesn't Victor ever consider using his knowledge to bring his murdered family members back to life? Probably because all Victor can do is think of himself.

So Victor vows to kill the monster (Christ, why'd you wait till he killed everybody?) and that's how he ends up in the Arctic. The conclusion is disappointing; Victor dies of pussiness (he really does; he dies in the ship's cabin from some unnamed ailment, unable to confront his monster) and the creature finally gets his revenge, though we're left uncertain to his fate.

This is the first book of Mary Shelly's I've ever read; she's known mainly for Frankenstein and nothing else. Did she mean to make Victor so unlikeable? Is his arrogant and selfish nature a commentary on scientists of her day? Her main theme, that science is a dangerous tool, is not quite conveyed to the reader, since Victor's problems could have easily been prevented had he but not abandoned his monster. I guess not every classic is truly a classic.
Final rating: Red Delicious. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Black Box on Kindle!

How does your average twentysomething malcontent convince God to spare the world from certain destruction? Does he drink more? Smoke more? Does he stumble into a rambling, impossible quest conjured from a surrealist's nightmares?

Good questions don't always have easy answers.

Louis Arlington is Vice President of the world's most successful video game company, Huerto, which is located in a dilapidated Indiana village. When he is charged by the Divine to stop the apocalypse, he uncovers a government plot to use Huerto's best-selling video game to brainwash much of the populace. Together with a humorous cast of characters, including a talking sasquatch and a love-crazed doomsday prepper, Louie must try to complete his quest while dealing with insomnia, unceasing hallucinations, and his lust for unavailable women. The ensuing tale is a meditation on modern life, the nature of God, and the role of entertainment in our lives

Purchase for the low price of 2.99 here!