Monday, May 6, 2013

In Search of the Interactive Rembrandt: Was Ebert Right?

Author's Note: This is an article I've been trying to write since I started this blog in 2009. With the recent passing of Roger Ebert, it felt appropriate to revisit and finally finish this article.

"Time mag sells its honour for a video game promotion. Sad, sad, sad." So tweeted Roger Ebert on June 13 of 2011.

The event Mr. Ebert referred to was a promotional faux Time Magazine cover created for Modern Warfare 3. It's especially significant in that Time magazine has hitherto denied the right to license their likeness in the promotion of any other product. It was unique in this respect to most or all of it's peers, as I understand it.

Ironically I actually agree with his disappointment on this issue, though for different reasons. The Modern Warfare series is basically the video game equivalent to a Michael Bay or Roland Emerich vehicle; lot's of flash and spectacle but light on social sensitivity. Time is still one of the most respectable magazines of its kind in North America and for it to lend its credibility to what amounts to sensationalist, empty entertainment just feels kind of... well, it didn't actually have any lasting effect one way of the other so it's kind a moot point. That said, I'm still not particularly impressed with Times' publisher at the time Kim Kelleher referring to MW3's demographic as "boys" (the series' largest consumer base peaks at 35, not 20).

But that's not the real issue here. At the heart of Mr. Ebert's statement was an attitude that video games are a lesser medium. Of course, this is hardly the first time he's expressed that sentiment. Since 2005 Roger Ebert maintained that games were not and could never be Art.

In his original article Mr. Ebert articulated that because the experience was shaped by the player it diluted the control of the author on that experience and so by extension diluted the authorial message/intent. Simply put because the experience is changed by player's actions, the author is rendered effectively moot.

The reaction to this has been fierce and varied, but those who's argument has been more thought out than a verbal knee-jerk reaction generally fall into two camps.

Those falling here argue from their personal definition of Art. Though sometimes insightful and often well thought out, this approach is fundamentally flawed because it changes the parameters of the argument. I invariably find myself coming to the same questions: "What are YOU basing your definition ON?" and "What makes your definition more valid than Ebert's?". Remember, Roger Ebert was not an uneducated man in the realm of Art and the criticism thereof. He was the first person to win a Pulitzer for film criticism, after all.

There are several lines of thinking I find interesting, here. One argument has it that if every element of a game taken alone can be considered art than so too must the sum of those parts. This isn't too far fetched, music from Final Fantasy is held in respected concert halls and the artwork has been subject of touring museum exhibits.

Others bring up the visuals of this game or that as being proof enough of artistic merit, arguing that aesthetic appeal is enough to warrant the stamp of Art. This does actually have some legs as in the Art World prior to the modernism movement aesthetic beauty was a primary evaluator of an artwork's worth. I encourage art history buffs to correct me here on specifics and timeline; my knowledge of Art History is cursory at best.

But back to the subject at hand, the second camp is far more interesting as it side-steps the whole debate to ask 'If we assume that games are art, what would that actually mean?'. The best place I've seen this was in the excellent Extra Credits, which explores the medium of games from the perspective of those who make them. I can't find the specific episode I'm looking for, but they address this subject a few times.

Again though, this doesn't really address the core argument because it also changes the parameters of the debate. It is, however, the next logical step of where to take it.

Not here though.

Here we're still talking about the argument set forth by Mr. Ebert. I've not seen any article or video address that argument directly.

See, Ebert's definition of Art didn't come out of thin air. The idea of the artist's voice needing to be present actually has it's roots in Auteur Theory, which was a movement that helped settle decades of heated debate and legitimize cinema (genre particularly) as a legitimate form of Art.

I am well and truly late to this party but let's see if I, as a man who's not actively* played mainstream games since 2004 and sporadically before that, can bring something new to this stale debate.

A few years ago I had a conversation with an art major about the nature of art and video games along these lines. This conversation led to many very interesting lines of thoughts that I'd like to explore here.

Your average video game, by design, places each individual member of its audience into the role of active participant. Because of this control, each player has an experience unique to them and each play-through is equally unique. This much of Ebert's point is true, but it really applies only to the minutiae of any given gaming session because player freedom is not absolute. The player's actions are shaped by immutable parameters set by the game's author.

In God of War you can dispatch the creatures in your path only by means of a set array of attacks and the path he travels is always the same. Likewise, the player has only as many avenues of control as there are buttons on the controller. Kratos will never build a catapult or learn Scottish Country dancing or negotiate a Peace Treaty. There is no diplomacy button mapped to the controls of Master Chief just as there is no attack command in Guitar Hero. Even the most open-ended gameplay models such as World of Warcraft or Everquest shape gameplay through interactivity limitation.

In other words while games offer the illusion of control, for the vast majority of games it is (within the boundaries of standard deviation) the same or comparable experience between it's every audience member. Which means that there can indeed be a clear authorial voice in a game.

It follows then that reducing a player's choices increases that authorial voice.

This is certainly evident in many games self-identified as 'art games' that limit the player's input options. Sometimes to even a single button so as to make the experience more akin to a novel where there is only one path through which to proceed. There are many excellent Flash games which use this limited control palette to more directly explore a facet of the human condition. For example, both Loved and Everyday the Same Dream have controls simple enough to map to an Atari controller.

The idea of a limited canvas better highlighting themes and character can be found in mainstream games as well. Consider the following example: one of the most emotional moments in 90's gaming is Aries' death in Final Fantasy VII. While most people cite the cut scene in which Sephiroth dramatically drops death from above, it's the lead up that I find more interesting. Cloud, possessed by unseen forces, moves towards Aries with his sword drawn. Despite there only being one option available (move towards Aries to kill her), the player controls Cloud's every step. Any other button but forward on the d-pad did nothing except make Cloud briefly struggle. In forcing the player to take Cloud's every step it gave the possession more weight than a cut scene could ever have. In spite of Sephiroth's sword being the death blow, I question whether the moment would have cemented itself in gaming culture with as much bitter-sweet reverence without this lead-up.

Of course everything in the last paragraphs could be rebuffed as essentially saying the same thing as Ebert; that to make an artistic statement as a game's author you have to take away control from the player.

But could it be that game mechanics are exactly what cements the medium as an art form?

This takes a page out of influential film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein who looked at the medium of film and noted that it actually encompassed many existing art forms within it. Writing, acting, and photography all existed separate of film, but one element, editing, was entirely unique. Similarly, game mechanics (and specifically how each player is allowed to interact with the game) are a wholly unique animal to the medium of video games. So, like editing is to film, it's interesting to consider game mechanics as an artistic tool.

I think it's unethical given this whole debate is framed by his words not to bring this back to Mr. Ebert.

Since first touching on the subject in a 2005 review of Doom, Roger Ebert had come back to it countless times. And while he never changed his stance, he engaged in open dialogue with those on the opposite side. In a 2010 article he gave his thoughts on both Braid and Flower. The following year, an article entitled 'Why Videogames are Indeed Art' was posted on by one of his correspondents and actively promoted by Mr. Ebert.

This was two months before the Time Magazine tweet.

It's safe to assume Roger Ebert never changed his opinion. Regardless, Mr. Ebert was never dismissive of games; his criticisms of the medium were always intelligent and very well written. There was little stupid or ill-informed about his opinion. But one opinion doesn't stop the world from turning.

In March of last year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum did an exhibit entitled 'The Art of Video Games', one of the first of its kind to not simply present Art inspired by video games, but instead the games themselves as Art. This doesn't settle the subject, but it shows that the tides of opinion are swinging in the direction of Video Games. More and more games are being made every year to draw upon as examples of the medium's artistic merit, from Heavy Rain to Journey to Braid to Spec Ops: The Line. In fact, whenever there's actually been a debate on the subject more often than not those in opposition to games as art come across as woefully uninformed.

I personally think the debate will always be more interesting than any definitive answer. That said, I can't write an article like this without weighing in.

I joined this console generation expressly for the purpose of writing this article. I started playing games like Bioshock and GTA4; games much lauded for their subtext and social commentary as well as game play. After getting several hours into them, I found myself getting... bored. The more serious undertones of both games I found was undermined by the actual game play. Bioshock felt repetitive (get new weapon, shoot baddies, escort little sister, get hopelessly lost and stumble around until the next story beat activates), and in GTA4 the radio stations actually became more interesting than the missions. The infamous 'No Russian' scene in Modern Warefare 2 just left me feeling numb and unfulfilled. Shadow of the Colossus, I couldn't get past the first fight.

Further, removing cut scenes and text scrawls out of immediate consideration, I actually found the games I was playing were very ineffective at telling stories, something I'd romanticized games would be better at by function of interactivity and the larger canvas.

But there are examples where this is true.

I think of Riven, where the universe felt lived-in and so little was conveyed verbally. I think of Portal. And Journey. And Limbo.

Touching again on the idea of the auteur theory, developers like Hideo Kojima and Tim Schafer have artistic visions so strong that each could be identified by their work alone.

So yes, games can and have aspired to be Art.

Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

*I owned a Nintendo, then a Sega Genesis. I'd still play games at houses of friends periodically in the next two console generations and I emulated a Playstation on the computer, but I'd not buy another console or actively game until 2002 when I got an Xbox. It collected dust from 2004 to 2009 when I was intrigued enough by the games as art debate to pick up a 360 to research for this article; my perspective on the issue wasn't represented but I figured it wouldn't really do to use examples from modern games which I hadn't actually played.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Chasing the Fringe

One of the challenging aspects about writing against general opinion is that it's very easy to be painted with the same brush as your subject. People like their labels; it makes a very complicated world easier to comprehend. And there's some truth in labels certainly, but labels are imperfect by nature. Worse, when you slap one on a movement, a group of people, or even a piece of media you close avenues of debate.

And I like debate.

This article was supposed to be about My Little Pony.

I've considered writing something about the show since I saw the latest incarnation almost two years ago. There's a plethora of subject matter to explore and to write about.

About creator Lauren Faust, her successes and the circumstances surrounding the show's creation. About the surprisingly wide appeal of her creations and the implications of that appeal for the world of girl-centric children's entertainment. About the irony that in the 1990s it was more likely to find well-rounded female characters in shows aimed at boys such as Gargoyles or Batman: The Animated Series than in shows actually aimed at a young female crowd.

That's what I'd love this article to focus on, but this show has a LOT of cultural baggage.

More specifically its adult fan base, mostly male, colloquially called Bronies.

You can't wave a horse around without hitting brony hatred on the internet or some disturbing story of someone taking their fandom too far in the eyes of the general populous.

It got me thinking about a few other sub-cultures that have spent their time on the fringes.




For decades, the accompanying images for the above groups would've been considerably less flattering*. Gradually recent years has allowed these cultural sub-sets to become mainstream, or at least much closer to it. The internet has let people of shared interest to gravitate together in a way that was never before possible. And in coming together, marginalized communities suddenly have a lot more power than they've ever had to shape how they're perceived.

Geek can be sexy.

Rebellion, the height of fashion.

When was the last time you looked at The Star Wars Kid and seriously considered him to be the face of the Star Wars fandom?

In the nineties The Kid would have dominated the cultural image of the Star Wars fanboy. No need to stretch the imagination far, there were many other examples. It's human nature to take what you don't understand and put it in a box. And if that was a Warmonger (no really, that's the term), then Trekkies were anti-social man-children who bath less often than they should, as far as the cultural shorthand went. Of course this is unfair. It ignores the fundamental fact that nobody is their hobby. That underneath the plastic Clingon forehead is often Johnny Normal, who works as an accountant and grew up the third of four children.

It's not difficult to understand how a sub-culture develops; the most public example stands in for the whole. Stepping away from geek culture for a moment to the third of the above examples, Punk developed with a kind of one-up-manship attitude. Compare the music of one of the earliest punk groups The Ramones (who's name is a reference to The Beatles) to Black Flag (who's name is decidedly not) and tell me with a straight face they sound like they're from the same musical genre... Even though Black Flag followed a mere two years after The Ramones formed.

It's interesting to note that the intended purpose of another influential early group The Sex Pistols was, in part, to promote a clothing line by their manager Malcolm McLaren.

The punk rocker look itself evolved over time in tandem with the movement's sound. Newspapers would print photos of only the most extreme examples of punk rock fans. This, as you might imagine, created a skid row version of 'Keeping Up With The Jones'; a fashion arms race with a huge populous pushing to find new ways to piss off the status quo (in the process simply replacing Brand A with Brand X, if you want to be cynical about it).

The movement defined itself unilaterally with what it was against, but not really with any clear cohesion as to what it was for. Many of those who embraced those conflicting ideals did so emphatically, regardless. The extreme modes of appearance, by being featured in widely distributed newspapers, gave new fans a template of what it was to be a punk rock fan; this was what it looked like to live a lifestyle defined by the music you loved. Not going to those extremes seen in print meant that you were a poser. So get another piercing, shave your head, and buy army boots.

Strange as it may seem, the parallels drawn between the punk rock and geekier sub-cultures aren't all that outlandish. After all, the reasons people gravitate together only really vary in the details.

That's what it is to be human after all.


Maybe now I can get around to writing about ponies.

Until then, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

* I am not implying here that less flattering images don't still exist, merely that they are not the ONLY images representing said the more geeky groups of people. So while the ubiquitous Star Wars fanboy image still exists, the fan culture is larger than that. The creations of that culture can be seen and embraced by the larger community (George Lucas In Love, Troopers, et al).

Friday, November 2, 2012

Reviewaverse Saga Episode 7 (Part 3)

I avoided this for a long time. Truth is, my heart just isn't into it. I don't want to put out a half-assed product, no matter what that product is. It means always pushing to go the extra mile. For this final part, I spoke to Matt about doing an audio read. Perhaps even getting Justin and Lewis in for something over Skype. I was toying about approaching an artist to create images to go along with it.

Matt never fully committed, and I didn't push the point.

I can't blame him. This Saga represents so many mixed feelings. The production was likely the most ambitious undertaking that had ever been made in the internet reviewing community at the time, and it never really received due credit or recognition.

It irks me somewhat when people dismiss his accomplishments out of hand because Matt went to film school where so many others in the community didn't. As if knowing basic shot composition somehow makes it easier to make a special effects heavy science fantasy epic. The simple truth is that Matt at times had to drag his creation kicking and screaming into the world. The filming of the Saga was very often a miserable affair. People dropped out. Friendships were stressed. Nobody was paid. Matt pushed six episodes to see the light of day through sheer force of will.

The result was an odd mix of Battlestar Galactica, Tokusastsu and reviewing. Against the odds, the Saga worked more often than it had rights to. While it requires a certain mindset going in, there is a definite charm to the lead character as well as a surprising sense of scale, urgency, and stakes.

Matt's entire team deserves credit, of course. In particular he praised collaborator Will (The Blackalgia Critic), who directed many of the episodes. It was the lack of Will's enthusiasm as much as anything else that killed Episode 7.

This needs closure.

The following, with admitted reordering and flavour text, is the original text of the treatment I pitched for the final episode. It's rough and woefully unpolished, but the story's there.

For anyone who still cares, I hope this satisfies.



It takes Cinera a moment to notice the camera is off. She considers killing the cameraman, then notices ExSied. Cinera congratulates him on his glorious return. The still silent ExSied will have nothing to do with the Triad and takes a shot at her, but Cinera dodges. Realizing she's outmatched, Cinera retreats.

Back to Linkara and the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic, who've become uneasy allies. They are ambushed by Revuer 2. A fight ensues. Trenchie, it's established, is basically tactical support, able to aid very little in actual battle. Linkara uses the device he rescued from the ship to transform into his power ranger costume. During the battle, a figure is spotted observing the battle from a distance. Trenchie's damaged and glitchy registers the presence of another reviewer. Dramatic reveal of J-dub, who joins the fray with his own transformation and briefly it seems as though the good guys may be able to win.

Dramatic reveal of Ares, now transformed into Revuer 3.

Trenchie ends up paying the price of his life, sacrificing himself to give the other two time to escape. Jew Wario and Linkara barely escape with their lives.

Ares will at some point betray Cinera, and absorb her power into himself. Then he will execute the now human Cinera.

Revuer 3 ultimately becomes the main antagonist. This serves as the strongest emotional stake for Apollo. He was the closest ally and his was the ultimate betrayal. This may not be the most satisfying conclusion to Cinera's arc, though. Maybe the ExSied confrontation should come later with him soundly defeating Cinera, all but killing her. It's too late to do that in this as that scene is in Part Two of this thing, but that ordering of events would make the most amount of narrative sense. Would've. So, uh, just imagine things happened in that order. Yeah.

Ultimately J-Dub and Linkara encounter ExSied. They are hopelessly outgunned, but using Trenchie's handheld computer they're able to restore his memory... which nearly destroys Apollo.

And it's at this point that Ares arrives.

Apollo, emotionally crippled by the weight of his actions, welcomes it when Ares shows up as he "deserves to die for what I did.". But watching J-dub and Linkara stand up and fight despite overwhelmingly outmatched Apollo realizes there is still something left worth fighting for. He stands up to Ares and the ultimate battle begins.

The end, Revuer 1 and Revuer 3's ultimate attacks end up rebounding. This has the effect of a massive explosion. When the smoke clears, neither Ares or Apollo are visible.

It's over.

Linkara and J-dub are now faced with what to do now. How to carry on or if it's even worth it.

All the reviewers are dead.

It's at this point Linkara points out that Spoony died once before. "I cloned one bastard-son-of-a-bitch back to life, I can do it again." "It'll take some time." "The world's toast and the baddie's dead, we've got nothing BUT time!".

And as they walk into the sunset, we fade in on Apollo and Ares. Their respective Revuer units lay cracked and smoking in the rocks nearby.

Suitless and worse for the wear, Apollo slaps a roped up Ares awake. "You good yet?" "Eat dirt, Hack!" "Answer's that."

Apollo tases Ares back unconscious, sits down and squints in the setting sunlight.

He looks down and notices a round pair of blue-tinted sunglasses with the left lens empty laying on the ground. He dusts them off and puts them on, the blue lens aligning with his remaining eye.

"Time enough for redemption, my friend. Just not right now.".


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Reviewaverse Saga Episode 7 (Part 2)

And so we come to the second part of the Episode 7 treatment. The reaction to this undertaking has been very positive; I'm just so glad people are reading and enjoying it. If you don't know what's going on, you should probably check out part one first.

No illustrations this time, I'm afraid. If someone were to volunteer, I would gladly add in their sketches, but I just don't have the time right now to do them myself.

We see two scuffed dress shoes stumbling more purposefully, now. Beeping chimes at a regular tempo.

"Thr-r-r-ree hundred meters."

"Please don't let this be another dead end."
* * *

Up on a nearby hill, Linkara is flat on his belly and surveying the landscape. He squints; the approaching man on the horizon has gotten closer; no doubt about it, he's coming towards Linkara's location! Linkara pulls out his gun, grits his teeth. Then he notices a tall shrubbery bush. A smile crosses his face.
* * *

Trenchie is panting when he reaches the top of the hill. "Five me-e-e-e-ters." After catching his breath for a moment, the Anti-Critic spots a coat and hat mounted on a makeshift cross made out of shrubbery branches; they are dusty with more than a few battle marks of their own, but the ensemble is unmistakably Linkara's.

He laughs bitterly and walks up to the marker.

"And so it goes, eh? We go out not like bulls and lions but like blasted lemmings."

"Si-i-i-ix met-t-t-ter-s-s."

Trenchie stops laughing and looks at the device, confused... then with dawning realization his eyes open.

"Two-o-o-o KTCHT-T-CH!" The machine finally gives out in a burst of distortion. Trenchie starts turning around when suddenly the barrel of a gun pokes into his face.

"Drop it, G.E.A.R. bastard!"

"I doubt there's much point in that." The device's screen displays broken code for a second and goes blank. "You can put that down, I'm one of the good guys. And by the way, you're an asshole for making me think you were dead."

Linkara digs the tip of the barrel deeper into Trenchie's cheek. "You're not in a good position to be talking like that."

"In a better position than you, by the looks of it. Where's your ship?"

"It's in orbit with the cannon pointed at your head."

Trenchie studies Linkara's face. "It's gone, isn't it." Linkara's face contorts in anger.

"What's your name?"

"I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic!"

"...Is that some kind of joke?"

"Funny story, actually. See, I'm actually a historian of sorts-"

"Save it. You say you're one of the good guys. Say I believe you. Answer me this; if you're not G.E.A.R., how did you get a G.E.A.R. Box?"

"Who do you think they stole the things from to begin with? Well, the design at least." He indicates the device. "It's overheated; once it's cooled a bit, I'll show you the proof you need." He pats a pocket full of MiniDiscs.

Linkara loosens the pressure on the gun, then takes a step back. Trenchie rubs the his cheek where the barrel was pressed and says: "While we're waiting, what do you know about the Triad?"
* * *

For the first time in a long time Cinera is out of her armor, an expensive red dress in its place. Behind her is a pristine city, left untouched for the purposes of this evening.

She smiles into camera.

Her face is being broadcast live across every network across North America. This is a broadcast she'd be repeating in every language for the rest of the world soon enough, but the epicenter of geek lay here.

"Yesterday you were at war with your neighbors. Yesterday even parties in your own governments were pitted against each other over petty disputes. Today that ends. Today, we speak with one voice to all nations. One world, united through geekdom." She gestures grandly. "Citizens, I welcome you to paradise. Citizens, I welcome you to Neo-Nerdaria!"

When her arm comes down again, X-Seid is standing behind her in the distance.

The camera feed cuts out.


There have been a lot of questions that have been raised and I'd like to take this opportunity to address some of them.

While i don't want to spoil what's going to happen, this needs to be addressed: Lupa did not survive her run-in with X-Seid. At the stage of production my version was written she was no longer attached to the series.

Though Matt has made it known publicly the Reviewaverse Saga takes place in the early days of Channel Awesome, the timeline has never been established in the series itself. In other words, it's fair game. That was the assumption under which I was operating when writing the original outline upon which this is based; in making it more current the story possibilities were stronger.

Likely not. Unlike previous episodes, 7 was not going to be cameo heavy. There was opportunity for brief cameos in the opening montage, but little in the body of the episode.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Reviewaverse Saga Episode 7 (Part 1)

Matt Burkett's Reviewaverse Saga, an ambitious love letter to everything geek created on his own dime, has come to an end after the sixth episode of a planned seven episode run. Though he has made public his original plans for the finale, that version will never see the light of day.

But that doesn't have to be the end of the story. That first vision wasn't the only conclusion to the series that was ever planned. There was also the version I wrote.

Despite appearances, what follows is not self-insertion fan-fiction.

What follows is instead is an adaptation of what I actually pitched to Matt Burkett as the seventh episode of 'Apollo Z. Hack: A Reviewaverse Saga'. For a time it had a good chance of being the official final episode to the series.

Let me back up a bit.

In the summer of 2011, a few months after Matt had made the decision to leave the series unfinished, internet personalities Linkara and Jew Wario (Lewis Lovhaug and Justin Carmical respectively) expressed interest in being involved and seeing the series completed. It was shortly after that Matt asked me to be involved.

He'd been impressed with the cameo I'd done for the sixth episode. The two of us had been talking about a collaboration since. It was at his insistence, not mine, that I be given a larger acting role.

(The genesis of my involvement.)

After the second or third variation of the story Matt had brainstormed, and after many discussions between the two of us on the subject, I got permission to try my hand. The idea was to create something which was strong enough that it would stand alone for those who weren't familiar with the series but also serve as a satisfying conclusion to the series to those who'd been invested in the series for its then 18 month run.

It does need to be said that this is an early version. There are plot holes and it rushes through several key events. I feel though that the people who've been with this series for the last two years deserve some kind of closure; at this point, for better or worse, this is as close to an official seventh episode as there is likely to ever be (Matt's new project, 'How I Spent My Doomsday', is an entirely new undertaking and is not connected in any way to AZH or the Reviewaverse).

I also ask your patience. This isn't a copy-paste job; I'm taking the time to flesh out and polish the story considerably. Given how long so many have waited I refuse to rush it, but I also have heavy commitments in the next few months. This will be released in parts to lessen the waiting time.

I dedicate it to every fan the series has ever had. And to Linkara and J-Dub, whose enthusiasm gave the series a second chance.


A corrupted stream of data flashes across the frame. Fragments of dialogue and flashes of images from past and current events. "...savior or destroyer..." "Nerdaria..." There's a sea of distorted faces. Other reviewers. The word 'DECEASED' appears under most. "...the Reviewaverse will fall." Images of wide-spread devastation. Apollo's face lingers briefly on the screen. 'UNKNOWN'.

Inter-cut with this we see two dusty and scuffed black dress shoes stumbling through a desert. Periodically a mini-disk falls into the sand amidst the rough Arizonian vegetation.

"There's got to be someone left." A male voice, rough from the desert air.

A female computer voice confirms; "No reviewers detected."

"Just give me a name."

"No reviewers detected."

The man stops and another mini-disk falls to the ground.

"Give me a name, damn it!"

Corrupted garbled speech.

The man sighs. He takes off his glasses and wipes dirt and sweat from his eyes. For the first time we see him; the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic. There's more than a little wear-and-tear in his trademark trenchcoat, and Trenchie's pockets are stuffed to overflowing with colorful information disks. The battered computer device in his hand crackles before going silent. He lets the hand drop to his side.

"So that's it then, they're all gone."




High above in the Earth's atmosphere, Linkara's spaceship is crashing.

Warning lights flash in the smoking control panel. There's a loud "whoop" which repeats itself twice a second. Linkara flips a switch on the controls above his head, wincing slightly as it sends out a small shower of sparks down towards his head. A female voice chirps up from the computer system.

"Impact eminent. It's recommended you pull up, Linkara."

"What do you think I'm trying to do!?"

A lighted button above Linkara's head flickers and dies. He pounds it a couple times with his fist; it doesn't come back on.

He swears, then says; "Computer, prepare for evacuation teleportation procedure."

"Acknowledged. Preparing for-"

"Wait. Belay that order."


Linkara frantically searches his person; it's missing!

"Computer, stand by for transport. In the meantime give me a countdown until impact."

"Acknowledged. Time to impact: 27 seconds... 26 seconds..."

Linkara races back to his quarters. He searches with urgency through the room, throwing books and trinkets onto the floor.

"13 seconds... 12 seconds..."

He spots what he's looking for under a bench. He dives for it, knocking his hat off on the seat portion now above him. As Linkara's hand closes on the morphing unit he all but forgets about the hat momentarily.

"5 seconds..."

Linkara jams the fedora on his crown with his free hand and yells. "Fucking energize!"


Linkara is teleported out just in time, landing hard on the ground. He's far enough away for safety, but close enough for the crashing ship to be in full devastating view behind him.

"I wish I could've done better for you, old girl."

* * * *
In the sand is a damaged wearable tech device... Obscurus Lupa's Lupad. A hand gloved in red armor reaches down and picks it up. The hand's owner, Cinera in full Revuer 2 armor, holds it up for a better look.

"You're sure it was him?"

From behind her Ares steps out, alive and very nearly unscathed. A scorch mark on his arm is the only indication of his fight with Apollo.


"So, he survived..."

"Your deductive reasoning astounds me."

Cinera crushes Lupa's communicator. "Still, that he crushed that little loose end says a great deal."

"If he could be turned, he'd make a powerful ally."

"Sarcasm doesn't become you, Ares." She bends down again to look at Lupa's backpack. After finding the zipper jammed, Cinera slices it open with a clawed finger. Electronics and wires spill out like the innards of a fallen beast. From these technological guts she draws out the third Revuer unit.

She holds it tenderly in her hands. "The undeserving have had their day, Ares. Their sun has set. What once fell is risen again."

"Talking like that doesn't make you sound smarter."


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Anti-Critic Manifesto: The Flaw of Rating Systems

In a late night bout on Twitter I laid out over 21 posts the reasoning of why I call myself an Anti-Critic. I'm still looking for how best to cleanly put everything in words. Consider this a work in progress.

I take as self-evident that the viewing experience of any film is subjective.

Anything from mood to filmic knowledge effects how a movie is perceived. Expectation plays perhaps the biggest role. The woman suing the maker's of critically acclaimed 'Drive' is a perfect example.

Any rating system is a representation of a person's experience of a film. A rating effectively represents a person's emotional viewing experience as concrete mathematical data. This is fine if there is an accompanying context supplied, but these numbers are effectively meaningless on their own. What a 7/10 means to one person is entire different to another because in a very real way everyone is judging on a different scale and in the context of their own unique live experience. As such data collected and represented without context is fundamentally untrustworthy. Worse, rather than simply reflecting the mass trends of opinion and experience this can actually shape it. "You actually LIKED 'Transformer 2'?! What kind of idiot are you?" "What do you mean you hated 'Citizen Kane'? That's the greatest movie ever made!"

If objectivity can't be found through the collected opinions of the masses it must be found on the individual level, but in order to do that it must be acknowledged that all opinions are weighted equally. That a trained eye is judging a film on different criteria than that of an untrained eye, but that both are equally validity.

By extension the weighing of opinion is weighted with every person's opinion being exactly '1'; that is that the opinion of one person is valid exclusively to that person. Those opinions may resonate with many others, but they will never be exactly the same.

The furthest extension of the equal weight concept is that the later opinions of someone don't invalidate an earlier opinion.

The downside of this is a limitation of the reach and validity of a rating. That rating effectively only applies to the person giving the rating as it's a representation only of their own emotional viewing experience and will never translate perfectly to someone else's. So to reach a sort of universally valid 'truth', a new kind of approach needs to be employed. An approach that is unaffected by the personal opinion of the person using said approach. And it certainly is possible; to say "This movie sucks!" is very different than to say "I didn't like this movie!"*. Finding that approach was the goal of the TCAC undertaking.

And that, my friends, is why I'm called the Anti-Critic.

*For those curious, "This movie sucks!" ties in opinion into a judgement of quality where "I didn't like this movie!" is an acknowledgement of the person's subjective view point; it still allows for the seeming contradiction that said movie may well be the most finely crafted in history.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Another day, another post. I'm entertained! Are you? I hope so.

Oh, and the very prolific Joshua the Anarchist has a blog you should check out: He's been a big supporter of Trenchcoat projects, and none of the Formspring entries from this last week would be here without his questions.

JOSHUATHEANARCHIST asked: In your opinion, who's the most under-rated actor?

My first instinct would be Bruce Campbell.

Through Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness he became a massive cult icon. Since then, though, he’s been restricted to television, b-movies, and cameos. The problem with Campbell is that he’s neither starred in any truly good movies since Army nor has he, and here’s the big kicker, really stood out in the non-Ash roles he’s had. Voice acting excluded, I’ve never seen past BRUCE CAMPBELL in the role.

It really leads me to believe that I don’t want to see Bruce Campbell in more on-screen roles, I want to see Bruce Campbell as Ash as directed by Sam Raimi in more on-screen roles.

And I might’ve gone for Kristen Stewart for her underplayed role as Bella but despite massive amount of hate she’s received, it’s hard to call Kristen Stewart under-appreciated with the career she’s having.

Eh, screw it; These are the actors I want to see more of:
-Fred Ward because he’s basically Charles Bronson with a sense of humor.
-Paul Sorvino because he’s god-damned Paul Sorvino.
-Ted Raimi because it makes me smile just to look at him.
-Any actor who’s ever played ‘Q’ because whether Trek or Bond I can’t think of any actor in a ‘Q’ role ever being less than awesome.