Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Surging Tide of "Hipster Metal"

So recently I read a great article on "False Metal", or as the author Dave Burns very verbosely and eloquently took six pages to describe, "The Financial and Farcical Return of Heavy Metal". I've engaged in varying degrees and extremities of 'metal dudeness' for the greater part of my life, so naturally the subject is something that is not only near and dear, but one that I have my own fork-tipped opinions on. Friends can vouch, and probably complain that I will crucify or herald bands that seemingly sound exactly the same, citing minute and admittedly pointless technicalities as their admission to my personal banquet table of glory. I openly admit to being opinionated and picky about music, especially the loud heavy kind. It's hard not to be when you've seen as many bands as I have.

Here's the article: I hope you have 30 minutes. It was originally published in Lamentations of the Flame Priestess which has my vote for the best named metal publication. Ever. I will warn you that it is long, and at times seems very unfocused and meandering. You'll want to give up, to write off Burns as a jaded burnt-up husk of a writer who is just seeking some kind of vent for his personal frustrations at the current music scene. But damn if he doesn't wrap it all up nicely on the last page. He cites his sources and quotes, and basically calls out the elite underground press channels and labels on a huge money making venture bent on turning our beloved "heavy metal" into a flavor of the month cash cow. The last paragraph really grabs the whole thing by the jewels and holds it up for a collective gasp...

"Mascara-wearing bands whose goal is to snort coke off of platinum records, alt-rockers posing as metallers and a venal metal media bending with the trends-these were the causes of the collapse of heavy metal in the early '90s that had a profound effect on the vitality of the underground. As a wise man once observed, history does repeat itself from time to time, but the first time around it is a tragedy and the second time it is a farce. The farcical nature of the current trends reproducing the atmosphere of the early 1990s is that it is all being done in the name of classic, true and honest heavy metal by individuals aping the sounds of the golden age without the passion and intelligence of the influences they are bastardizing for their own disingenuous ends. Yet there will be no significant counterattack: "journalists" in the metal media will either remain silent about these issues or willingly prostitute themselves by supporting bullshit music, the mainstream media will pick and choose whatever is being promoted as "the next thing" in metal and market it as such, bands with the influence and prominence to shape the terrain will take out less well-known versions of Avenged Sevenfold out on tour and champion them as real metal in order to remain "relevant," and many of the people listening to metal will unthinkingly embrace whatever is served up as metal to them. Still, the authentic, honest and true qualities of heavy metal is alive and well in some out-of-the-way corners and vibrant enough of a tradition that bands like The Sword and Avenged Sevenfold have glommed onto metal's folkways in an effort to become the next big thing. The impulses are not dead-they have just been twisted and contorted into shapes that serve trends fashioned to make metal into something meaningless for a marketplace devoid of any allegiances beyond the almighty dollar. However, despite the convergence of factors which precipitated heavy metal's implosion in the past, a collapse is not "inevitable"-these are events shaped by human hands and orchestrated by the metal and mainstream media. Maybe it is a fool's errand to walk in front of the metal and mainstream industry train carrying loads of cash and consumers to market in an attempt stop it, but now is the time for people who care about heavy metal and have any integrity or decency left in their veins to rip up the tracks and make the "underground" act like an underground and demand an independent metal media free from conniving industry machinations. In other words, it is high-time for people to make a stand for a metal that is honest, authentic and true-since others are already doing so in a false fashion with no other goals in sight beyond padding their pockets and increasing their self-important status."
~Dave Burns, June 2006

I want to hug the guy. But there's a "but", a big "but"... Some of these bands he is calling out I genuinely like. A lot. And they're bands that I will gladly take up arms for and wage a fierce and throbbing battle on the field of authenticity. The Sword is one of his flagship bands that he continually refers to as he builds his case against the aspiring commercial rock conglomerate. Knowing the band personally (+15 scene points) I will state that from my perspective they're 4 dudes who played their cards wisely and found a label, booking agent, and publicity agent that have enabled them to comfortably do what they really want: Get high everyday and play some seriously groovin' stoner jams. While it seems they may have dollar signs in their eyes, those dollar signs are actually thousands of little pot leafs that just happened to settle into a shape that kind of resembles a dollar sign, but also resembles a Laney full stack if viewed from the right angle.

However, Mr. Burns (heh) does indeed have a good point, and it's one I can't ignore. The ferocity of which The Sword and bands of their ilk have stormed into the underground is alarming, and clearly has the same kind of marketing blitz behind it that one sees from major labels. Remember when punk got huge? I mean HUGE? It's not as bad now as it was 7 or 8 years ago, but as a fan I remember feeling very offended that my little scene was turning into a huge, gross, candy coated fake version of itself. It's like the kennel scene in The Thing when beard dude watches his beloved dogs morph into a giant space monster that shoots green slime from severed veins. It's your little pet that you discovered and hold dear, and suddenly it becomes this crazy ugly version of your pet that is giant and kind of stumbling around with no clear focus other than engulfing your colleagues. The results of the 90's punk explosion are still bobbing on the bloody brine, washed up carcasses chewed by sea life and rotting on the beach, left overs we can still smell. No Doubt, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Gold Finger, Blink 182, Rancid, Green Day, bands that in their youth had varying shreds of authenticity (Okay, not Gold Finger) but at some point were assimilated by the radio friendly corporate rock cyborgs (yeah, I imagine them like the Borgs in Star Trek the Next Generation) and began churning out forgettable radio rock that was occasionally heard on your Mom's favorite station.

It throws me back to when I was 17, and being a 17 year old male was flipping through my sister's Delia's catalogue looking at the model babes dressed in the latest fashions being pushed onto young girls with expendable (parental) income. I turned the page and to my absolute revolt saw a studded "punk" bracelet in their accessories section, right next to the plastic pink earrings and ankle-wear. I nearly tore the Misfits shirt from my back. I can't look at those catalogues now because it's creepy, and while I'm still at the nubile age of 25, 17 year olds are more "babies" than they are "babes".

Dave Burns and I see the same thing starting to happen to metal. Again. The most flagrant violators are the "guy-liner" bands. Avenged Seven Fold, Atreyu, Himsa, etc... I know make up has it's place in metal, who can forget the first time they saw Dee Snyder with his enormous, lipsticked-to-all-hell mouth agape, between two rosy circles painted on his alabaster face? A true horror to even the most unshakeable warriors. But the difference between the afore mentioned bands and Motley Crue in a hot tub filled with champagne is staggering. It's like the new bands are trying to play it off that somehow they're cool for wearing eye liner and black nail polish, that they're tapped into some elite fashion vein and are leaking their secrets out into the pages of AP and Revolver. I don't know where this started, but there needs to be a huge collective slap in the face. YOU LOOK STUPID. STOP IT NOW. I AM BLUSHING FOR YOU. YOU WILL NOT BE PROUD OF THIS IN 10 YEARS.

Looks are one thing though. If the bands were actually good it wouldn't matter whether they went with Chanel or Loreal. The new wave of heavy bands is largely an uninspired throw back to good music that was played with soul and fire, and is now fizzling. The sounds you hear aped the most are Neurosis, At the Gates, Melvins, and of course the Sabbath/Kyuss/Sleep style blues riff rock. It's getting about as entertaining as a 1-2 drum beat in 1997. And if the tradition holds, it's right about when it starts to get really old in the underground that it explodes into the mainstream and the original fans are forced to shield their eyes from the nuclear blast that was their once beloved independent scene. Remember metal core in the late 90's? Did you ever see Botch live? That shit was it's own little grenade that we got to throw every other weekend, and now look at the bulk of the programming on MTV2. It's all cyclical, and it snowballs from basements and 75 capacity clubs into shopping malls and Ozz-Fest.

I do want to make it clear that this is not an attack on the bands, and more a rage against the hype machine that pushes and markets the bands. For the most part I am a fan of heavy rock and will champion bands like Lords, Big Business, Torche, Saviours, Mastodon, High on Fire and so on. These people are artists and should be treated as such. There's nothing wrong with being a successful musician, it's absolutely what I want, what any musician wants. These bands all deserve success, and in my opinion can make it to whatever plateau they're aiming for strictly on the merit of their ability to kick out the jams. It doesn't need to be inflated with hot air. In the end, I agree and disagree with Dave Burns. You can't completely reject a hyped up heavy band. Half the reason they're getting the hype in the first place is because they're good. But, he is completely and utterly on point with spotting the trend in the aggressive marketing of this music that I love, and a lot of the bands buying into it are utterly false.
My anger and skepticism of "new heavy" is fueled by fear, a fear that something I hold very close will be torn from my arms, given a boob job, and then dropped into some jock's car stereo. When that happens, when you see computer programmers walking out of baseball games in Isis shirts, all of a sudden it isn't very special anymore. I can only hope that the bands maintain their integrity and use their success as a tool to keep making good music, and that we aren't left with a "Date Stephen O' Malley" reality TV show.

Anyways, read Dave's article. It's much more illuminating than you'd think, and while it's depressing to see that kind of mainstream marketing in the "independent" scene I feel equipped to deal with it knowing it's there.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Next gen videogames = Cookie jar on top of the fridge

My enthusiasm for videogames outside of work is like the ebb and flow of a tropical beach. At times it is a raging monsoon, crashing over into all aspects of my free time so that I can't even sleep without seeing some kind of zombie or Tetris piece hovering beneath my eye lids. Sometimes it is just a decorative background as I sit on my cabana (my couch), sipping a mai-tai (Pabst) and watching babes in bikinis (my cat, Max) strut (chasing bugs) along the surf (window sill). But should I choose to hang back and read in the sun, or bust out the boogie board and surf until dusk, it is always there, just skimming the coast of the vacation resort that is my life.

Right now these waters are stirring. It’s not quite the storm it has been in the past, but lets just say the ol' knee is acting up again. You can smell the storm on the wind. I have a fresh can of sex wax and am greasing up the Wave Bird. A new pair of jams with the tags still on lie in anticipation on the beach patio, and I've prepared a sickeningly smooth Boston mix CD. The proverbial “Surf" is indeed, "Up”.

The next generation of consoles is on the way. Xbox 360 is already out, and the new Nintendo (Wii) and PlayStation (PS3) consoles have been announced and are looming like diamond plated gargoyles atop a golden castle made out of my own spent dollars (it’s pretty big). Currently I'm a bit out of the loop on exact details for each console, as well as specifics on which games are the star attraction for each individual dork magnet. I've remedied my ignorance with a check made out for $25. I know that sounds like an impossible galactic feat, and I bet you wish you could do the same. It's easy. Write said check, and mail it to Game Informer, and you will be privy to the new shit once a month for the next two years. For now I am still a relative ignoramus on the "next gen”, but allowing 6-8 weeks for delivery, I will soon be a goddamn pool of wisdom. Here's what I do know, which is pretty much an amalgamation of the gossip I picked up on that came back from E3...

Nintendo Wii:
Let us all cheer in triumph, for Nintendo has leapt from their crystalline pedestal and set up shop down here in the real world. Once the undisputed champion of console games (SNES days), they were savagely toppled in the early-mid 90's when the PlayStation took off and instead of following the new wave of cheaper, more accessible games on discs, decided to stick with cartridges on the Nintendo 64. Games were roughly around $60-$70 each, and while it had a few gems and classics, for the most part the game library was a weak stream of drool dribbling from a sleeping giant's mouth. A stream of giant drool that I, nor my parents, could afford. I was overjoyed in the late 90's when the GameCube was unleashed, and I leapt back into Nintendo's loving arms like a sleepy 5 year old after a night over at Gramma’s. Shit was like Jerry McGuire. You had me at hello. The design was perfect, the games were great, the controller fit my hand like a mitten filled with pudding, and best of all it was cheaper at release than all the other systems. Since then I have meticulously focused my gaming primarily on Nintendo, and while it hasn't shared the mass gaming appeal as Sony's armor clad stallion, or Microsoft's X-Treme hardware powerhouse, it has done nothing but relentlessly satisfy me. Alone. In my living room. Not only because it is a goddamn saint of a system, but it also signaled Nintendo's collective head being removed from it's giant corporate ass so that they may spew and spout quality gaming once again upon the Mario hungry masses.

As the next wave of systems gets closer, I have completely put my faith in the Wii, for a few reasons. First and foremost, it seems as if Nintendo has stuck with beating their competitors on the price tag, a hand-out to the working man like myself. A brand new Wii at around $200 will cost about half the amount of an XBox 360, and one third (one fucking third!) of the PlayStation 3. The dirt that Nintendo rubs in these corporate faces is a list of launch titles that is over 40 games long. We get our reasonably priced cake, and get to eat it on the fucking spot.

The other kicker about the Wii, is the completely overhauled controller. It's a wireless, motion sensitive stick with a few buttons on it. That means you're gonna swing it when you want to hit a baseball, you're gonna aim it when you want to shoot an arrow, you're gonna lift it when you wanna block a punch, and I suppose you're gonna accidentally break it on your coffee table when you're grappling with a tentacled alien. At first I was adverse to this idea. Over the years I have grown fond of the motionless droning that is accompanied with gaming. The sitting on the couch and rotting away, the dry eyes that practically peel when you blink, the aches in the knee when you shift for the first time in an hour. It's a comforting ritual that I have nurtured into a relaxing meditation, and I was initially put off at the notion that my humble "me time” was going to involve jumping around my living room like a pixie in the snow.

However, reports from E3 say nothing but incredible things about the handling, likening setting down the wand and walking away to being an infant torn from the teat mid-suckle. Aside from that, it will function just like a normal controller as well, and will even have attachments (for a little extra $krill of course) to give it button functionality similar to what we're used to in the current state of console gaming. See? Old man Nintendo isn't as senile as we thought. It completely changes the current method of controlling for those who want a fresh breeze (me!), but makes the tried and true an available option for those that want it (me too!). I'm not up to par on the launch titles, but I have seen video of people playing the new Zelda game, swinging the wand like a sword as Link engages his enemies. Talk about geek dreams come true. I just want to know where the blowjob hole is, because that's the only thing it's missing. Well, it is missing Resident Evil 5, but I have a feeling Capcom will come around. They originally announced the Resident Evil series as exclusive to Nintendo, but you can get part 4 on PS2 now, and any exclusivity pretty much went out the window when it got pimped to Hollywood as the latest excuse to see Milla Jovovich naked. I died a little when I saw Nemesis tromping around like some kind of Stay Puff Marshmallow Zombie, but that's a different post for a different day.

And OK, the name of the system is pretty lame. "Wii". As in "Wii I'm having fun!" Or "Can you pull over, I need to Wii on that guy's lawn.” Or "Darby O' Gill had many Wii friends." A catastrophic marketing decision at best. But hey, I'm talking about it...

I have forgiven them on the name, and it's purely because I'm so excited for what it entails. If someone were to serve me a medium rare rib eye smothered in A-1 on a naked Japanese girl, and tell me it's called "Turd-pentine”, the inadequate title of such a dish would be immediately forgiven at first bite, nay, as soon as the salivating began. A name is just a name, and it isn't going to make actually throwing fireballs in the next Mario game any less awesome. Troof!

PlayStation 3:
I like to think of the original PlayStation as being very similar to the queen bitch in John Cameron's Aliens. It kind of just arrived on the scene, and was met with shock and surprise when we saw the first few games. Twisted Metal and Toshinden Battle Arena just kind of lurked out of the ceiling and devoured our space marine faces, caught the attention of the public (which would be Burke, played by Paul Reiser) and pretty much lured us in to the den of a gigantic beast dropping gooey eggs into our living rooms from a seemingly endlessly throbbing thorax. Or is it abdomen... Whatever. But all of a sudden it wasn't just Nintendo anymore being followed around by his annoying little brother, Sega. PlayStation pretty much killed Nintendo as far as consoles go, the only thing that kept the grandfather of games intact was the namesake of the various franchises, and an iron gauntlet grip on the handheld gaming market. I for one supported it at the time. I didn't like the duplo lego feel of the N64 controller, and the price tag on the games seemed inconceivably expensive. The PlayStation looked just as good, had a much more intuitive and comfortable (although slightly intimidating) controller, and had a shit load more games at a better price. It was a giant, game producing monster that took over with the systematic efficiency of an insect colony.

Sony's big trump card was the release of the PS2, where they beat Microsoft and Nintendo to the punch by releasing their next system months ahead of their competitors, a move that Sega attempted as well and ultimately was crushed under Sony's massive thumb. They also managed to secure all the franchises and 3rd party titles that we were all craving. It was an obvious choice to own a PS2. Still is. The machine still holds up as a fantastic, affordable console. I have one, almost never play it because it would be sin to ignore the cute lil' GameCube, but I would still rather let acid spitting ants devour my body from the feet up than let it go.

So the PlayStation name has a certain reliability to it. There will be lots of games. Lots of good games. We will get our Metal Gears, our Resident Evils, our God of War, our Medal of Honor. The graphics look awesome, the games are shaping up nicely. Not a huge list of launch titles, but that's not unusual. I was all about the PlayStation 3, until I heard how much it was going to cost. $600. And it's not a joke. Or maybe it is a joke, on us. Maybe the top floor of the Sony building in Japan is like some kind of fucked up room in Willy Wonka's factory where Japanese game publishers are taking our money and using giant Dr. Seuss machines to turn it into candy versions of us toiling away at our jobs, and then eating us, and then drinking sake' and laughing at the candy versions of us, and then politely throwing us up into their napkins because they've eaten so much money they're sick. This is probably definitely true. It's the only logical explanation for asking that much money. The worst part is that they've been called out numerous times by the press at the outrageous price, and every official statement has been something along the lines of:

"It doesn't matter how much we're asking. You will want to buy this machine. You will want it so bad you will probably break it trying to figure out how to have sex with it."

I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that a price tag that high, combined with the rampant arrogance of Sony's top execs (borderline insanity, actually) puts the PS3 into the category of Ferraris, first class plane tickets, 1000 channel cable packages, and whipped cream cheese. It's an unnecessary luxury that is too expensive in the face of other shit that will work just fine. I officially don't give a fuck about the PS3. No wait, I do. I want it to fail. Hard. I want that thing to fall flat on it's $600 nose and be trampled under the crowd of people in line to buy Nintendo shit. I want Sony to go down as a martyr, spreading the message that this elite pricing is a recipe for disaster. I want Sony to realize the only way to save their position amongst the console war is by dropping the price to undersell Nintendo. I want those Japanese execs in the Sony building to start digging through their own shit to find the scraps of our money that they turned into candy. Yes. I want them to eat their own shit.

XBox 360:
Fuck Microsoft.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

6/6/06 - most boring apocalypse ever.

12 hours and counting... no nuclear attack, no zombie apocalypse, no plague, no locusts, no gaping pits in the earth sending us to a fiery death, so far the verdict on the day of reckoning as of lunch time is "lame".

it's the devil's day, and what i'd really like to be doing is waiting on top of the space needle with an 18 pack, a lawn chair, a handful of corndogs with virgin's blood dippin' sauce, and a boom box with "angel of death" playing on repeat so i have a front row seat to cheer on satan's army clawing their way through the earth (no doubt hitting the seattle underground tour first) and slaying the sinning masses as jesus descends from the heavens to save the righteous.

but no... i'm at work, just like everyone else. and we all know that nothing is gonna happen today. the most evil thing i could think of is i find out i'm scheduled at my night job and have to pull a double instead of going to my friend's evil birthday party in olympia, where (no joke) admission is charged with a bible to throw onto a bon fire and entertainment will be provided by a vampire black metal comedian.

but how lame is that? i am lucky enough to exist on a day that has been biblically predicted to send ignorant sinners like myself to our pennance in the bowels of hellfire. a day that happens once a millenium. i'm supposed to get my holy comeuppance, my ultimate divine spanking. all i'm getting is a sweet caffeine buzz from the pot of coffee i've been nursing all morning, same as every other day.

after scouring online news for anything to enhance my evil awareness for the day, all i could find was a disappointing mess of halloween style marketing ploys aimed at making money off of devil hype. i guess that's kind of evil, but not what i was really looking for. they do the same shit on valentines day. valentines day is named after a saint. saints are not evil, by definition. it's science. BBC news has an article about violent deaths in Baghdad topping 6,000 for this year, also evil, but it's nothing unexpected considering the state of affairs over there. why can't it be "6,000 violent deaths due to unholy sacrifice at the altar of pagan gods"?

one of today's greatest 'sins' might possibly be the remake of the omen hitting theatres. regardless of your opinion on the blitz-krieg suicide bomber style assault of hollywood remaking old movies, and whether or not it is necessary, i think we can all agree that the omen is hardly a likely candidate for the california boob job other than simply making money off the movie on 6/6/06. the original is about as flawless as a horror movie gets, has a creepy little kid that doesn't spoil it by being a little kid (see: Ring 2), solid acting throughout, and contains no real scene or effects that could be considered in need of a CGI make over. way to ruin another one of my favorite movies. hopefully people will realize that the only way to stop this shit from happening is to stop paying for it when it comes out.

and where are all the fanatics? how come there aren't any nuts sealing themselves up in churches, locking their virgin daughters up in their bedrooms, taking the day off to pray and wait for jesus on the beach? i heard about the one lady who wanted to delay her pregnancy because she's due to give birth today, but in all likelihood IF the "anti christ" was born today it would probably happen in some small mexican village instead of suburban white america. a comforting thought is "what if ALL the babies born today were the anti christ?" how would we pick which one to follow? do you think they'd start a club? would there be scuffles and debates over which anti christ was the real anti christ? i wonder what qualifications would be examined to determine who was more "anti" than the other anti christs. i'm guessing the ones born into republican families would have an advantage over the others.

i guess the answer to my throbbing "why does nobody care?" question is simple. nobody cares because... nobody cares. we all know it's a bunch of hooey. religious crazies take note: this is the same kind of hype you're gonna get when jesus comes back. someone will do a remake of the ten commandments starring jared leto as moses, creed will do a reunion tour with scott stapp and sell thong panties with halos on the crotch for $35 each, america will go on killing people in iraq, and stupid assholes will still end up paying $600 for a playstation 3.

so now lunch is over, and i return to my normal job, listening to my normal ipod (slayer, iron maiden, saviours, at the gates) in desperate hope either that something truly evil happens at some point, or else someone does something crazy trying to prepair for damnation.


2:18 pm - maria just notified me that this has been announced. the world may not be ending, but i am definitely going to kill myself.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I play videogames for a living part 1

this conversation happens at least once a week...

random: so what do you do?
me: i test video games.
random: hahaha! really?
me: yes. really.


and then the random will flip out in some marginally embarrasing manner, exclaiming to the heavens about how lucky i am, about how inexplicable it is that my job even exists, that there is even need for such labor, about how fortunate it is to find a job in which one's sole responsibility lies entirely in leisure. i can only imagine the visions that race through their head... me sitting in a room decked out with bean bag chairs, kit-kat wrappers and empty big gulp cups, furiously mashing buttons and staring intently at the latest 'the shit' in video entertainment, my co-workers lounging in hammocks around me cheering me on as they peek over their sweaty gameboys smudged up with corndog grease. or perhaps they envision me in a post-modern euro style office that would make even the wealthiest of ikea shoppers salivate, a sony flatscreen on the wall and a single controller wire extending across the smoke grey diamond plate paneling to my cardboard thin desk, me on the phone urgently speaking to dr. mario himself. "sir! we have a problem. it's serious. fox mccloud's blaster is not up to spec... i already called skippy!!!! he told me this was your department!!! DAMMIT!"

and then the conversation inevitably goes here: "it's actually not as cool as it sounds." yes, i am paid to play videogames, full time. i know it sounds like a dream. it is a dream. it's a dream i have had since i bought my first NES in 1988. a dream i followed as an embittered teen constantly on the cusp of "cool" and "that kid is a dork", balancing my magic cards with flannel shirts and a pony tail [see "GRUNGE" era '90-'93], fantasy novels set in the Dragonlance realm nullified with spiky hair, self drawn minor threat shirts, and home-made studded bracelets, and an unnatural obsession with horror movies covertly hidden by hanging out with people that smoke. so of course, after i escaped the social pressure chamber of high-school, it was time to let the frothy faced nerd back out of his little cage in my heart. in community college i had a friend with similar asperations, and one day we met in the atrium just outside the arcade after i had probably spent a good $3 on either metal slug 3 or house of the dead, and he giddily tells me "i got a job at nintendo testing videogames." my heart leapt like a nubile fawn. the legend was true. there was gold in them hills. it was all over. i set my phazer to "zelda" and fired.

but really. like any job it can be severly taxing on one's patience. some of the most excrutiatingly and horrifically boring moments of my life have been spent planted in a second hand office chair within a cold, fluorescent room, dedicating hours to tasks like manipulating an animated hamster across a beach volley ball court in order to find a zebra suit that DOES NOT FUCKING EXIST.

one of the brutal lessons of game testing one learns in a rapid and often heart-breaking way, is that temporary contract positions as a tester are abundant and permanent positions are almost non-existant. as a contractor, you are 100% expendable, a goombah, a pawn that must bend over backwards and perform flawlessly lest ye be banished from the mushroom kingdom and replaced instantly with a phone call by the next shivering, near-sighted, pudgy, soft-palmed drone in line to take up your righteous controller. my experiences with the variations of how contractors are treated vary from company to company, but it is rare that we are given any regard beyond being a desperate nerd fulfilling his uber geek fantasy of working for a game company, and the exploitation of labor is savage and ruthless. my first contract at nintendo had me testing three games, one after the other. each game, commonly referred to as your "project", went into overtime and had me working long hours and weekends, all the while my productivity under the microscope for any signs of weakness. at it's worst, i was working on a game 7 days a week, 15 hours each day. but hey, it's not all bad... i was making money playing videogames.

one of the best parts of being a game tester is working with other testers. these people are some of the most potent nerds you will ever meet, vomiting trivia at the mere mention of "star wars" and squaking together like a herd of angry ducks wearing glasses... and for the most part i find it absolutely endearing. it's kind of like they're in their favorite chatroom or message board, only it's real, and any shame for their lifestyle (come on, it's a goddamn culture) has been left in the hands of the 4 foot mario statue guarding the door to the testing department. i've been involved in software/videogame testing for 6 years now, and have been fortunate enough to witness some key moments in dork history through the eyes of my co-workers, including but not limited to: the nu star wars movies, the introduction of the xbox to the videogame world, ipods, the seemingly endless barrage of hollywood comic franchise movies, the MMORPG revolution (everquest, world of warcraft, diablo), d&d 3rd edition... it goes on, and while some of these things may seem trivial to you, the norms, these are subjects of endless, ferocious debates in dark places that are punctuated with nasal defiance and lit by the dim glow of a thousand gameboys. and i don't mean to come across like i'm better than them, or am observing the creature in it's natural habitat only to return to my underground lab after collecting data. i am every bit as emotionally invested in crucifying Rare for selling out and moving to xbox, and i will savagely challenge any who say metroid prime was not true to the original format just because it switched from 2D to 3D. there's a certain brotherhood that develops when a mass of grown men (and sometimes women, whom i feel endless sorrow for when they willingly subject themselves to an environment like this), plunge headfirst into the rigors of software slavery, dilligently testing a videogame just for the namesake and working under a shroud of fear at the thought of losing the cross they bear so well. a brotherhood that in no way necessitates clasped arms and trips to jillian's after work for brewskies and pork chops, but is most easily recognized in awkward conversations about metal at the soda machine and the eventual admission that pokemon is a fun game AND the harry potter series is fucking riveting.

over these long years i have noticed varying types of nerds, not all that i am fond of. i've also seen the game industry from different perspectives, as i was lucky enough to hold a permanent management position for a few years when enix had an office in seattle (before their legacy was tarnished by merging with square soft. that's right, i said it.) recently i also started writing down quotes of some of the more ridiculous things i've heard my co-workers say. but all this will have to wait for inspiration and a few free hours, as this will be an ongoing observation of videogames and the people who make them.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

X Men 3 hurt my soul...

ok you bastards. i have a bone to pick. i'm sending this out to the assholes. you know who you are. not the spouse beating, homophobic, racist, murdering, thieving, assholes... the REAL douche bags. yeah, that's right. YOU. you nu-star wars, x-men 3 loving PRICKS that ignore the simple reality that those movies suck so damn hard and sing their praise as if george lucas just double teamed the christ with brett ratner and shot their million dollar load into your face so that all you can see is the "money rapture" where shitty directors descend to earth and all our money is "saved" and taken to director heaven.

i will admit to being conned into the theatre, and paying full admission price hoping to glimpse a CGI visualization of my adolescent action fantasies. it's what i always wanted to see as a pimply, D&D obsessed (fucking obsessed), comic reading, sci-fi worshipping, gore loving, fantasy novel reading 12 year old. but at least i have the grapes to acknowledge that i got robbed. ROBBED of my teenage dreams. that damn Xmen 3 preview was so incredible... i admit to you shamelessly and with the same tinge of arrogant pride that i am able to recite a thief's base level 1 ability percentages from memory, that i was trembling like a goddamn flower at the site of angel, beast AND juggernaut doing their mutant thing in full, schlocky, hollywood action CGI glory.

alas... the film failed at all levels. turns out angel has two scenes and is a feathered metaphor for the gay son vs. homophobic dad struggle (not a bad thing, just laid on a bit thick when he has giant white angel wings). juggernaut's only purpose is to sucker comic fans into the theatre, gets kicked in the nards, and is responsible for the most embarrasingly bad line in recent film history (my face got hot). beast, sadly, is just kelsey grammar painted blue. individual character let downs aside, the plot had zero continuity with itself, the previous two movies, and the comic series, which is a most grevious fault seeing that the comics are brilliantly written and there is a veritable WEALTH of plot points one could extrapolate into any number of bombastic hollywood action movies. the lemon in my eye was the new mutants they invented to fill random character spots. i shoot porcupine quills out of my face! i can run fast, AND i can sense what other mutant powers are so the writers don't have to think too hard when trying to figure out how to have magneto know what he's doing through half the movie. i throw goat horns that grow out of my arms! i have tribal face tattoos! we live in tents in the woods because we're outcasts!

you people who go to these movies and then say that it's good. three thumbs up? top ten action movies ever? you SAW the movie. you KNOW it's bad. you are the same people who insist nu star wars is good... BECAUSE it's star wars. it doesn't matter that the writing is horrendous, that it's a complete departure from what made the series good in the first place, that it is cast by spit-balling at 8x10 glossies of underwear models. it IS therefore you LIKE. what was the last movie you saw? S.W.A.T.? you people infuriate me. you support this trash, which makes it consistent. i want you to know that YOU are killing my inner child. he is being squandered under the fist of the jock who watches american gladiators, scrambling to hide his dark-sun modules back into his back pack as he snivels his bloodied nose.