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Posts Tagged ‘geek stuff’

It Seems That Hallmark Wants ALL Of My Money

May 6th, 2009 No comments

This year’s Hallmark ornaments are online, and I can already see several that I hope to find decorating my tree this December. They’ve got the geek nostalgia thing down to a science.

I’m surprised that they’ve done nothing with the new Trek film, but this year’s starship is one I’ve been jonesin’ for since they first began churning these out back in ’91: the Klingon Battle Cruiser! Nothing says “Season’s Greetings” like a ship full of pissed-off Klingons!

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And if that wasn’t geektastic enough, then there’s Robby the Robot! Forbidden freakin’ Planet for Christmas!

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I could do without the Ghostbusters theme song sound clip, but this ECTO-1 is otherwise a sweet ride.

hallmark03And honestly, this Wicked Witch of the West is pretty damned awesome.

hallmark04Okay, here’s one I most definitely do not want, which means there’s a fair chance that Vic will buy it for me anyway. It’s Musketeer Barbie. Musketeer. Barbie.

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Musketeer Barbie.

Shaking His Fury Fist

April 16th, 2009 No comments

I think it’s worth mentioning again just how great Lost has been this season. Even though new questions are being posed, others are being answered at a rapid clip.

One thing that’s made me happy about Season Five is the reintroduction of the DHARMA Initiative. That was an intriguing piece of backstory that was tabled once we were introduced to the Others and the Freighter Folk. However, thanks to this year’s unstuck-in-time storyline, we’ve had lots of time among the DHARMA-ites in their prime. Turns out that they’re not entirely as benign a batch of hippie researchers as it first seemed.

Anyhow, I bring this up because last night’s episode paid off something I’d been hoping for ever since we learned that most of the cast had been transported to 1977. “Hmm,” I thought, “That means that Star Wars should be coming out any day now.” And, sure enough, last night we found out that in his spare time, Hurley has been writing the script to The Empire Strikes Back (with a few improvements) with the intention of saving George Lucas a little work. Cute!

Categories: TV Tags: , , ,

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell Just Like Geeks

March 16th, 2009 No comments

The Sci-Fi Channel, in a desperate attempt not to be labeled a geek destination, is changing its name. To SyFy.

Oh, well played, General Electric, well played.

Categories: Sci-Fi Tags: , ,

Geek Round-Up

February 4th, 2009 No comments

Once again, I have to give props to the producers of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory. Not only did Monday’s episode feature Sheldon sporting a nifty t-shirt festooned with silhouettes of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah, but a later scene had the whole gang sitting down over a game of Talisman. I don’t think that they ever mentioned it by name, but the board was recognizable and the dialogue even made reference to specific elements of the game. It would’ve been easy to have them playing D&D (or a generic D&D knock-off), but it’s clear that someone there really knows their geeks.

I’m totally loving the version of Aquaman that appears on The Brave and the Bold. In recent years, Aquaman’s often been portrayed as a pissed-off, surface-dweller-hating Sub-Mariner clone, but the new cartoon series casts him as a hilarious braggart who loves to give exciting names to his many daring adventures. Last Friday’s episode involved him and the Atom shrinking down to enter Batman’s bloodstream and combat a virus. Never mind that they simply swam around without so much as a rebreather. (As my friend Dave Lartigue points out, blood cells carry OXYGEN, duh.) At one point, Aquaman decided to use his telepathic fish-summoning power, and sure enough, a cell answered the call. It was vaguely horse-shaped. It even whinnied. And Aquaman promptly dubbed his new steed “Platelet,” much to the Atom’s chagrin, as it was clearly a lymphocyte. It’s funny stuff, and it’s still online.

Another news item: this morning a guy in Colorado Spring held up two convenience stores. With a Klingon bat’leth.

Force Majeure

October 12th, 2008 No comments

Star Wars are breaking out all over with a pair of recent projects further expanding the scope of George Lucas’ private universe.

The weekly, computer animated Clone Wars series has begun airing on Cartoon Network. It’s much like the recent theatrical film: it’s impossible for me to become invested in the characters, but at least there are lots of pretty things blowing up.

The most recent episode was rather neat in a way that only old-school fans would likely appreciate, at last paying off a design concept from more than thirty years ago.

In the original Star Wars, one of the Rebel ships was the “Y-Wing fighter” (below, left) which got its name because the top view resembles a capital letter Y. The craft was given a “stripped-down” look, in part to appeal to Lucas’ love of hot rods. The idea, as related in books of the day, was that the Y-Wings were originally sleek spaceships that were such a pain to maintain that the Rebel techs removed their outer plating.

I had thought that we might eventually see these sleeker Y-Wings in the prequels, which very deliberately started out with a design aesthetic emphasizing smooth lines and unbroken surfaces. The idea there was that with each subsequent film, the ships would come ever closer to the angular, utilitarian look of the original trilogy. I was sure that Y-Wings would make an appearance in Episode III, and disappointed when they didn’t.

As you can probably gather from a couple paragraphs above, Clone Wars stepped in to complete the circle, with Anakin Skywalker leading a Y-Wing squadron (below, right) in a bombing run on General Grievous’ battle cruiser. It was a nice Easter Egg for us old-timers.

The other recent attempt by Lucasfilm to milk the cash Bantha is the long-gestating The Force Unleashed video game/comic book/novel/toy line. The game was delayed several times, coming out nearly a year after its initially announced due date. (The toy tie-ins arrived on the shelves eight or nine months ago.)

The Force Unleashed is a more ambitious effort than Lucas’ first attempt at building a multi-media event around a non-movie storyline: the ill-fated Shadows of the Empire. This time, the setting is between the two film trilogies, a couple of years before Luke Skywalker’s battle against the Death Star. Luke’s nowhere to be found, though; instead the main character is “Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice.” In another fan-friendly nod to us old-school fanboys, his nickname is Starkiller, Luke’s original surname in the early script drafts.

Starkiller isn’t just some punk farmer whining about his moisture vaporators. Don’t get me wrong, he is a whiny punk, but he’s also the baddest-assed bad-ass that ever swung a lightsaber. The game amps his Force powers up to absurd levels; Episode III Yoda’s got nothing on this emo kid.

The storyline (which is presumably fleshed out in the novelization) has an interesting core, with Vader sending Starkiller out in search of the remaining hidden Jedi Masters, all the while plotting to use his apprentice to overthrow the Emperor. (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD: skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know.) The twist is that the entire thing is an elaborate plot orchestrated by Vader (with the Emperor’s blessing) to lure the Empire’s enemies into open rebellion. Starkiller is tasked to found the Rebel Alliance so that Vader can capture the lot for public execution. Naturally, the apprentice turns on his masters and frees the prisoners at the cost of his own life. I don’t know that I find it necessary for the Rebel Alliance to have a secret origin story, but I can appreciate the irony of the Emperor setting into motion the army that eventually brings down the Sith. (END SPOILER.)

In Entertainment Weekly’s review of the game, they compare it to the Grand Theft Auto series, something I hadn’t considered. However, it makes a lot of sense; in both games, you play a morally-challenged character who kills hundreds, possibly thousands of sentient beings. And like GTA, I’ve found it quite impossible to NOT accidentally kill innocent bystanders. When our emo boy starts whipping out his Force, he wrecks pretty much everything in sight.

One difference here, though, is that in The Force Unleashed, you’re supposed to be the good guy. Sort of. When you start out you’re very much in full-on Sith-wannabe mode, not letting anything stand between you and the Jedi you’re hunting. But as the story progresses Starkiller goes on a familiar redemptive path…except that the murder rate never decreases. Sure, most of the time you’re Force-choking stormtroopers or (my favorite) tossing them into the Death Star’s planet-destroying laser, but there’s almost no one, friend or foe, that you don’t wind up either trying to kill or claiming as collateral damage.

Not saying that I’m not enjoying it. I especially like the visceral feel of the Wii version, in which you literally punch the air to create your Force blasts. And throwing stormtroopers into bottomless chasms never gets old. But, as was the case when Darth Vader’s one redemptive act in Return of the Jedi somehow washed away twenty years of sins, it’s a little hard to swallow that I’m getting away with being the hero after my epic mass murder spree.

The Horns Of A Familiar Dilemma

October 12th, 2008 No comments

Two things about today’s Foxtrot:

1) This is pretty much the feeling I had when I was digging through my miniatures for Friday night’s D&D session and realized that I only had one vampire.

2) I would bet cash money that this is the first time the Sunday funnies have namechecked a Warhammer Khorne Bloodletter.

Try It With "Vampire"

August 23rd, 2008 No comments

Last night our board game group played Agricola, currently the hottest thing going on BoardGameGeek.com. I don’t know that it’s worth all that fuss, but I ultimately enjoyed it. I’d started off the night in a really foul mood, but by the end I was getting into the contest, raising my brood and running the smallest farm in the history of agriculture. (I had one plowed field and never grew a damned thing.)

And yet, at the end of the night, I thought “I’ve just spent the last four hours building a farm.” It’s pretty common that in playing one of those fancy-schmancy, beloved-by-fanboys, European board games, one will find oneself creating a farmstead, a plantation, a grist mill or perhaps a city district in some quasi-Renaissance setting. My friend Dave Lartigue bitches from time to time about all the cathedrals he’s constructed.

As I mulled over last night’s activity, I thought, “You know, if it had been a SPACE farm, I would’ve been all over it.” Instead of raising cattle, I would’ve had space cattle. (Space cattle differ from their terrestrial brethren by their third horn and triple-jointed back legs.) I could’ve grown space grain, gathered space vegetables, and even started a space basket-weaving business on my own private asteroid. It already sounds like more fun!

I soon realized that any number of familiar geek-friendly words could be used to turn just another damned church-building game into something to fuel the imagination and tickle the space funny-bone.

How about a pirate farm? (“Arr, these be pirate tomatoes ye be eyeing.”) A zombie plantation? (“The zombie slaves are revolting!” “You’re not looking so great yourself!”) A robot grist mill? (Erm, it’s a grist mill…THAT SEEKS TO CONQUER AND DESTROY!)

Man, I can’t wait to erect my first gorilla cathedral.

If Only I’d Brought My Bag Of Holding

August 17th, 2008 No comments

Friday, my peeps and I made the annual pilgrimage to the Mecca that is Gen Con Indianapolis, one of the biggest gaming conventions in the U.S. This time out I was flush with eBay cash and loaded for werebear.

Arriving about forty minutes before the dealers’ hall opened, we were dismayed to find that all of the lockers were either long since taken or jammed so full of quarters that they no longer operated. I would eventually come to regret that situation.

When the doors opened, I made an immediate beeline toward the Wizards of the Coast booth with the intention of getting one of the Heroscape promotional figures. I’ve been collecting that particular game since its inception and have all of the previous Gen Con promos, one of which now goes for three figures on eBay.

However, I soon learned that Hasbro/WOTC had decided that they would only issue 250 Heroscape figures per day at their booth. This for a convention which attracts upwards of 25,000 souls. Within five minutes of the hall’s opening, they had completely run out.

I was furious. I despise arbitrary limits that result in “haves” and “have-nots,” especially when such limits are conspicuously short of the likely demand. (Also, when I’m one of the “have-nots.”) As I mentioned, Hasbro’s been giving away similar promos for several years, and as long as one made the effort to arrive in the first hour or two there was no trouble getting one. This year, someone clearly decided that the best way to generate interest in what is admittedly a waning game franchise was to ensure that 99% of attendees went away unhappy. Never mind that this is probably WOTC’s biggest trade event, or that the cheap, plastic figures likely cost pennies apiece to produce.

Seriously, if this cost even a dime, I’d be amazed.

Backed up by a couple of fellow Heroscape fans who clearly believed I was going to get results, I began working through the WOTC employees unlucky enough to get in my way until I reached Toby. He was a genuinely nice guy who pointed out that they also had 250 figures per day at the Heroscape tourney in Exhibit Hall F. If they couldn’t help us, he probably could if I stopped back after lunch. It took a while to find Hall F, and still longer to find someone who knew what we were talking about, but we eventually prevailed. And Toby later delivered on his promise by getting an extra figure for my friend Brian.

In the end, I was still kinda pissed at WOTC, and didn’t come back to their booth until much later in the day. Ironically, one of the main things I’d been looking forward to at this year’s convention was the chance to get fired up about their new 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons releases. But honestly, the WOTC booth seemed rather low-key in comparison to previous years: there were fewer games being demo’ed, and they’d stopped their traditional giveaway in which attendees rolled a giant 20-sided die in hopes of winning one of a huge stack of prizes. Now, I can understand why the booth for Wizkids Games (a competitor which makes Heroclix, etc.) was similarly low-key; they had no new product to show and rumor has it that they just laid off a whole bunch of staff. But WOTC is fat, sassy and just coming off a hugely successful relaunch of D&D, so where was the hype?

My second stop was the Privateer Press booth, which had a sneak preview of their upcoming Monsterpocalypse game. It’s a collectible miniatures game about giant monsters thrashing a city, so it might as well have had “Designed Expressly for David Thiel” on the packaging. I wound up buying a bunch of packs, and I really hope that I can encourage one of the local game stores in Champaign/Urbana to support it when it officially arrives this October. Good fucking luck on that, I know.

Another early release was Fantasy Flight’s Battlestar Galactica boardgame, a semi-cooperative challenge in which the players are in charge of the human fleet fleeing toward the planet Earth. However, one or more of them is secretly a Cylon working against them. In light of the locker situation, I’d resolved not to buy much heavy stuff early in the day, but it was clear this one was going to sell out fast. Into the bag it went!

One that I did wait to buy until near the end of the day was E.T.I.: Estimated Time to Invasion, a surprisingly well-produced small press boardgame in which the players run companies researching high-tech projects in anticipation of staving off an alien attack. Like the aforementioned Galactica game, one of them is secretly an alien prepping for the invasion. It looks like a lot of fun!

Like many geek conventions, Gen Con has expanded well beyond its original mandate, and so I found that while there were a few folks dressed as wizards or the inevitable Imperial Stormtroopers, there were dozens, possibly hundreds, of anime-inspired costumes. At least, I think that’s what they were. I recognized a guy dressed as the main character from Trigun, but I’m not sure who all the women in punky schoolgirl outfits were supposed to be. What I do know is that when you’re tottering around on 10-inch heels while falling out of a tight, red dress, you’ve pretty much passed out of the land of animation and into whoredom.

As the gaming industry has matured, so have the services that have sprung up around it. Case in point: Geek Chic, a company displaying a colossal, wooden gaming table (called, without any hint of irony, the “Sultan”) featuring dozens of built-in storage compartments.

That’s right: $9,650. The booth guy promised me that this is an heirloom-quality piece of furniture that would not live in my basement. (In fact, their slogan is “Emerge ex Hypogaeo,” which allegedly translates to “Come Out of the Basement.”) I assured him that if I did buy one, it would still very much wind up in the basement. (After Vic bashed me in the head with one of its hard rock sugar maple and black walnut drawers, that is.)

I usually don’t buy many games on first sight at Gen Con (or many games at all, to be honest) but I picked up a few on spec this year. One was Yetisburg, a card game which won me over with its theme of the American Civil War being fought with the aid of yetis and mastodons. Love the rulebook, which includes new yeti-centric lyrics for “Dixie,” plus a pitch-perfect parody of the infamous Sullivan Ballou letter featured in Ken Burns’ TV documentary. (“I write with trembling lips that Johnny Reb has ‘skunk apes’ of his own…”)

I also bought Humans!!!, which appears to be a clever inversion of Twilight Creations’ popular Zombies!!! games, and Vineta, in which the players are angry gods out to sink an island civilization. I would’ve felt a whole lot better about that last one if it hadn’t turned out that Brian had also bought it, rendering my copy about as useful as a third nipple on a dude. (Or a second one, come to think of it.) Not his fault; just after I purchased it I’d thought “This seems like the sort of thing Brian would buy.” Ah well, it’s a handsome-looking game anyway.

By the end of the day my bag became ridiculously heavy and awkward to maneuver through the crowded hall, and I was thoroughly fried by the time we trooped back to the car. Still, I had a good time on Friday, and spent most of Saturday reading the rulebooks of my new acquisitions. Can’t wait to play!

Some Get It

April 29th, 2008 No comments

As nerd culture seeps ever more into the mainstream, it’s not surprising to see it cropping up in prime-time network TV. But it’s easy to see which shows really have geek cred and which are just posers. Last night, I saw an example of each.

First up was The Big Bang Theory. I’ve only recently begun to watch this series, mostly while I’m waiting for How I Met Your Mother to start. It’s fairly standard issue sitcom stuff: four genius nerd friends and the hot blonde who lives across the hall. But what sets it apart is the obvious care taken in getting things right. While I’m not knowledgeable enough to confirm the science/math references (the credits list a science consultant), I do know that the geek stuff is bang on the money.

Last night’s episode was about the gang purchasing the original prop of “the Time Machine” from the classic ’60s movie of the same name. I missed the first part, but I gather that the aforementioned blonde derided one of them for his “toys,” causing a crisis of faith which nearly had him selling off his collectibles to the local comics dealer. (I took comfort in the fact that he ultimately changed his mind. And also when one of the nerds called her out on her Beanie Babies and Hello Kitty shorts.)

But what really pleased me was that not only did we get a dream sequence featuring movie-accurate Morlocks (as in the photo, right), but even a dream-within-a-dream which recast them as movers wearing embroidered uniforms reading “Starving Morlocks.” (Which, if you know what Morlocks eat, is pretty funny.) Furthermore, we got references to the Golden Age Flash, the Justice Society of America, and a rare Geordi LaForge action figure mistakenly packaged without his VISOR. And, unlike the film The 40 Year Old Virgin, which decorated the apartment of an alleged uber-collector with whatever random toys they picked up from the clearance aisle at Toys ‘R Us, the props people here made sure to have an actual Golden Age Flash figure on hand.

I’m not a big fan of The Big Bang Theory, but I do enjoy that the geeks aren’t just objects of scorn. Cringe-worthy moments are rare.

On the other end of the Cringe-o-meter was last night’s Star Wars-themed episode of Deal or No Deal. I’m not a regular Deal watcher, but I do believe that the “march of the models” which begins every game is one of the things for which television was invented. And I’ll be the first to admit that my entire reason for tuning in last night was the promise of 26 Slave Leias in formation.

But, despite (because of?) the obvious cooperation of Lucasfilm, it was painful to watch. First off were all of the lame “use the Force” references, which went as far as having Darth Vader telekinetically open the cover of the “Deal” button. (Cue the “oohs” and “aahs.”) And having the Dark Lord fill in as “the Banker” was funnier in theory than in practice. He sat up in the booth, quoting random Vader lines from the films as if he was his very own fanboy. (At least the James Earl Jones soundalike was good.)

Stormtroopers entering the corporate world. Oh, Annie, how low have you sunk?

They had two Star Wars fans competing to see which one would end the game with the larger cash amount (with the winner taking all), but the confluence of real-life geekery and typical game show contestant enthusiasm led to many embarrassing moments, including the worst. Yoda. impression. ever.

Then there were the special guest stars cheering them on. Carrie Freakin’ Fisher showed up to debase herself on behalf of a woman who, as we were repeatedly told, escaped from Vietnam as a child and found a role model in Princess Leia. (The real Carrie Fisher: not quite so much a role model.) Backed up by the leader of the Rebellion and the will of the Force, the contestant achieved a stunningly low total of $13,000.

“You there! The one in the white helmet!”

Ms. Fisher was shuffled offstage before the army of Slave Leias arrived, ostensibly to avoid giving the second contestant any clue as to how much he’d need to win, but probably so that there’d be no attempt at comparing drug-and-age-ravaged Carrie to 26 hot, young Carrie wanna-bes. Instead, geek #2 had R2-D2 and Chewbacca in his cheering section. Or rather, some tall dude in a Chewbacca suit. Giving high fives. Honestly, I would’ve thought that any schmoe in a fur coat could make a decent Chewie, but this guy’s performance had me appreciating Peter Mayhew all the more.

In the end, the Lucasfilm-sanctioned event featuring real nerds seemed less authentic than the sitcom in which four actors pretended to be nerds.

Plus, those Slave Leia outfits? Not movie-accurate.

Let The Bitching Begin

March 6th, 2008 No comments

Costume photos from the upcoming film adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel Watchmen have just surfaced. Some folks are already pissed off because Nite Owl doesn’t look enough like a pudgy Adam West in tights.

Look, I get it: the Nite Owl of the original story is a somewhat pathetic fortysomething who recognizes the absurdity of dressing up in a Halloween costume to fight crime. But if you put a live actor in this outfit:

You get this:

Which is fine if you’re going for comedy. If you put Arthur from The Tick in a trailer for a general audience unfamiliar with Watchmen, they’re going to assume it’s a spoof. Which it’s not. At all.

Besides, the “tubby guy in tights” deconstruction has been done–repeatedly–since Watchmen was published in 1986. It’s not just The Tick, which at least played largely to the fanboy base, but one that pretty much everyone has actually seen: The Incredibles. Hell, even DC Comics’ Blue Beetle–the character that provided the basis for Nite Owl–went through his own portly phase.

There are other ways to express Nite Owl’s character without making him look like a schlub in a leotard.

Me, I like the costumes. But what do I know? I thoroughly enjoyed the film version of V for Vendetta, and even got a kick out of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. So my perspective about Alan Moore adaptations is suspect. (Alan Moore would certainly agree.)

The photos give me hope that the filmmakers are at least trying to do justice to the source material, as does the news that they intend to produce “Tales of the Black Freighter,” the story-within-a-story that parallels the main plot, as a DVD extra. It’s the sort of thing you could never do within the movie proper, but it’s perfect for DVD. Maybe they’ll produce some of the other sidebar material from the original novel as well.