Metal for Old Farts (Rob Zombie at the Nokia Theatre)

The tagline for the show was “VH1 Classic presents Rob Zombie”. VH1? Classic? How old is Rob Zombie? How old am I?!

This was my first time at the Nokia Theatre and I was really impressed. It’s a good medium-sized venue (holds about 2500 I think), with the front general admission standing and the back general admission seating. With cupholders! I would say the seats are a bit narrow so if you’re a bigger person you might not be comfortable in them. There’s plenty of bars, the bathrooms are huge and non-disgusting and the acoustics were very good. I would definitely see another show there.

The first opener was Bullet for My Valentine, from Wales. I had never heard them before but I liked them. They put a lot of energy into their short set even though the reaction they got from the crowd was mediocre. Both the instruments and the vocals were good. They had some nice “classic” metal touches like chorused guitars.

After that came Lacuna Coil, from Italy. It looked like they had a decent following in the crowd, but I thought they were awful. They seemed really phoney and staged. They did this “synchronized headbanging” thing where the entire band would stand at the front of the stage and bang their heads in perfect unison, and everything they did struck me that way. I felt like I could see the lead singer saying in his head “annnd fist in the air, and pound my chest, and christ pose, and bang.” Oh, and they covered “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. I am not kidding. I don’t know what they were doing at this show. I feel like all the devil horns thrown their way were sadly misdirected.

Rob Zombie was up last. I have been waiting for him to tour solo again for years, since The Horrible Incident Wherein We Missed the Entire Show. His stage show was great, with tons of carnival-type props (fiberglass devil girls, clown heads, skulls that looked like they came from a cheap funhouse, a light-up 666) for background. While he played, a screen in the back flashed images of anime, porn, anime porn, Charles Manson, Russ Meyer movies, and so on. They played both stuff from the new album and some greatest hits.

The band was tight and entertaining. I think maybe Rob Zombie surrounds himself with doubles to prevent assassination attempts – his bassist and drummer were sporting very similar looks. The guitarist, J5, was really good and played a loooong solo during Thunderkiss 65 that quoted lots of famous solos including Eddie’s “Eruption” and Jimi’s “Star Spangled Banner” complete with teeth-picking. He teased the crowd with the opening riff to “Crazy Train” at one point but it didn’t materialize.

All in all (well except for Lacuna Coil) it was a great show. I heard all the songs I wanted to hear and I can finally cross “see a Rob Zombie show” off my list.

Stanislaw Lem Dead

It’s a sad day for sci-fi fans – Polish author Stanislaw Lem has died.

He’s probably best known for Solaris, a great book that spawned not one but two unwatchable movies. (Lem himself called the Tarkovsky version “Crime and Punishment in space”.)

I first came across his works in one of my favorite books: the Mind’s I collection edited by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennet. This led me to Lem’s The Cyberiad, which I really enjoyed.

Even though he tried to distance himself from the genre, his influence on science fiction can’t be denied.

March 27, 2006 | Posted in: Books | Comments Closed

Little Fixes

I finally tracked down the CSS problem that was making the site look weird in IE. Also added a captcha to the comment form so I can stop moderating comments that are really robots advertising “V1aGkr4″ and online poker.

March 24, 2006 | Posted in: Site News | Comments Closed

Elder Scrolls Construction Set Released

If you’re the mod-making type and you own the PC version of Oblivion, you’re in for a treat. Bethesda has released the Elder Scrolls Construction Kit, which allows you to create new dungeons, NPCs, spells, quests, etc etc etc. You know, just in case 80 bajillion hours of gameplay isn’t enough.

March 23, 2006 | Posted in: Video Games | Comments Closed

Oblivion Arrives

The latest Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, came out yesterday. It was originally intended to be a launch title for the 360 but was delayed several months. It looks (so far) like the delay really paid off.

For those unfamiliar, Oblivion is the fourth game in the Elder Scrolls RPG series.
I am sooo digging this game already. I played Elder Scrolls III and they have not given up any of the depth and wide-open-ness they developed in that one. I love how you can pursue the main quest or just wander around the world as you choose.

The fact that you can decide whether you want to walk from city to city or just “jump” there is GREAT. If you’re the type that wants to do every side-quest (and from what I hear there are hundreds in this game), you’ll want to walk. On the other hand, if you’re trying to finish something quickly before heading out to work in the morning, jumping to the next city in your quest line is very helpful.

The character creation is great. In Elder Scrolls III you filled out a questionnaire and the game suggested a character class to you. In this game, it is more transparent. They analyze how you play through the first section of the game and suggest a class to you. I went with a custom class. What I wanted was a thief-type who uses magic to give him a little extra edge. So I marked Agility and Personality as my favored attributes. For skills I picked Alteration, Blade, Illusion, Light Armor, Marksman, Sneak, and Security.

I’ve joined the Mage’s Guild but have not found the Thieves’ Guild yet. I did find a shifty-looking Orc who seems like he might have an in though…

The graphics are fantastic. Grass blows in the breeze, illumination changes as the day/night cycle continues, the number of little touches is endless. If you’re ever outside at night, make sure you look up and check out the starry sky!

I’m not very far into the game yet, but if you’re a fan of the Elder Scrolls series, picking this one up is a no-brainer.

March 22, 2006 | Posted in: Video Games | Comments Closed

Age of Conan Info

It seems like a long time ago that I signed up but the first Age of Conan newsletter has come out from FunCom.

Experience the World of Conan!
Age of Conan – Hyborian Adventures is an Online Action RPG scheduled for Windows in 2006. A mix of a deep, story-driven single-player experience and a massive and brutal multiplayer end-game brings forth the ultimate representation of the Age of Conan. Now you can enter the brutal domain of the world’s greatest fantasy hero.

I’m a big fan of the character and the novels, so I’m really looking forward to this one. I love the simple pulp feel and hopefully it will carry over into the game somehow. The trailer is up here. Looks cool, but as with any trailer who knows what the final product will look like. I wonder if they are still on target for a 2006 release.

The class tree is here. It surprises that they’re making a Mage archetype because in the Conan books it seemed like magic was both extremely rare and extremely powerful and dangerous. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

March 18, 2006 | Posted in: Video Games | Comments Closed

(Don’t) Attend the Tale of Sweeney Todd

Kathy and I went to see the new production of Sweeney Todd. Bleh. Awful.

It was staged in a style I can only describe as Avant Tard.

There was no orchestra – the actors were also the musicians. Clever, right? I guess. But what that means is that every scene has a bunch of people milling around who aren’t really there. People who are having a conversation stand at opposite ends of the stage, both facing out into the audience, but we are to imagine that they are actually standing together facing each other. So if one of them hands something to the other, a third actor (whose character is not “really” there in the scene) takes it from one, walks across the stage, and hands it to the other.

The whole show takes place on a very minimalist set, so props are used over and over. Now this is a coffin, now it’s a table in a bar, now it’s the judge’s bench. Sweeney Todd’s shop is above Mrs. Lovett’s, but the stage is only one level. So there was a ladder that people would go up, to indicate that “now they are upstairs”. Sometimes. Sometimes they just go stand in a different spot on the stage.

The murder scene in the first act was incredibly lame – he holds his razor up, the lights all turn red, and Pirelli gets up out of the chair, walks across the stage and puts on a white coat with blood on it. I’m not kidding. Oh, and for some reason Pirelli is played by a woman (who plays the part as broadly as a birthday party clown).

We both hated it, and we left at intermission.

2 Thumbs Down.

Disclaimer: I can count the number of Broadway shows I’ve seen on one hand (and have a finger or two left over), so maybe I’m just not enough of a “theater person” to appreciate how “clever” it all was. I did like the old production of Sweeney Todd w/Angela Lansbury (saw it on VHS many years ago), and having seen how kick-ass the sets were in that version made this one so much worse.

Dwarf Paladin Slain by Welterweight (Fight Night Round 3 Review)

I’m a sucker for MMORPGs. I play almost every one that comes out, at least for a couple months. So when EB Games announced that if you preorder DnD Online, you get entry into the beta I jumped at the chance, figuring I’d be buying the game anyhow. There was a flaw in my plan though – the game sucked. That is a tale for another day, but I will just say that I didn’t think it was fun.

Unfortunately, I could not cancel my preorder, but when the game arrived I took it with the receipt to the local EB to return it. Due to whatever technicalities in their policies, I could only exchange it for something, not return it. I went with what was the only new 360 game at the time, Fight Night Round 3.

It’s great! I’m not a (real life) boxing fan but it’s very addictive. This may be the most realistic-looking game I’ve ever played. Great job, EA Sports!

In the career mode, you decide what you want your boxer to look like and you have a certain number of points to allocate to stats like power, speed, stamina, etc etc.

You are then presented with a certain number of contracts to choose from, and you can scout the opponents (check out their record and stats). Once you pick one, you can select from different ways to train before the fight – heavy bag, training dummy, weight lifting. Each one effects your stats differently, for example the heavy bag increases your power but decreases your speed and so on. (The decreases are much less than the increases.) There is a minigame to play for each type of training. Then you see the results (both in the appearance of your boxer and in his stats) and you fight.

The controls for this game are outstanding. All the punches are on the right stick. Push diagonally up to the side and it’s a jab on that side. Loop it around and it’s a hook. Loop it from the bottom and it’s an uppercut. Left trigger controls your lean, to get away from a punch or lean in to work the other guy’s body. Right trigger covers up. Left stick moves you around. You also have a “signature” punch on the A button.

In between rounds, you heal your boxer – try to close up cuts and get swelling to go down. After that you get advice from your trainer – and it’s not the same over and over, it’s contextual depending on who you’re fighting and how the fight is going. You also get to hear the advice the other trainer gives your opponent so it shows you what you need to work on and defend against.

After a fight, you get some cash to spend on equipment to improve your stats, new moves, better trainers, etc. If you win, your popularity goes up and at certain levels you have title fights and so on.

There is also an “ESPN Classic” mode where you can do Ali/Frasier and other classic matchups I assume I would know about if I knew anything about boxing in real life.

This game keeps you coming back for more and really shows you the strategy behind boxing. The longer fights can be tiring but it does not get boring. Two gloves up.

Trek is Dead, Long Live Trek

A lot of Trekky things have happened in the past year… Enterprise was cancelled (woot!), Braga left Trek (WOOT!), and Beer Trek celebrated it’s 10th anniversary on the web (whoa).

Last year Jack and I had planned to turn over management of Beer Trek to a team of like-minded Scots. We knew that it had gotten pretty lame since we had not added new rules since about the second season of Voyager, and hoped some younger blood would give it a much-needed kick in the ass. Unfortunately it seems like this is not going to work out (although I do hope to post their most excellent Beer Trek boardgame at some point).

We call Beer Trek the Greatest Star Trek Drinking Game in the Universe, and once it was true. Hopefully it will be so again. Beer Trek cannot die. My new plan is to put the power in the hands of The People. I am going to make Beer Trek a dynamic, data-driven site, so the submission and approval of rules just involves filling in some forms and checking boxes instead of sifting through tons of emails and editing HTML I wrote 10 years ago. Hopefully this will keep the site fresh with minimal effort. This will also allow for searching and querying the rules, so you can see all the TNG rules, or all the Spock rules, etc.

I’m off to a good start – I’ve completed the table structure and loaded all the existing rules into a MySQL database. Next steps are to create the forms for submission and approval and hook them up to the database. Last is a redesign of the Beer Trek itself (done back when I thought yellow text on a black background looked really cool).

I had toyed with the idea of releasing the engine as sort of an open-source “run your own data-driven drinking game site” package but I don’t think I’m doing anything someone else couldn’t do better or faster.

Neither Art School Nor Confidential

Here’s what I’ve been drawing over the past week or so.

I started with a pencil sketch of a corner of my living room.

Then I tried to recreate the sketch in several different media. Note that I am not talking about just running it through the “watercolor” filter or whatever, which I hate. If you want to see some truly amazing(ly bad) examples of that, check out the customer images for this book.

After that I decided to face the fact that if you’re going to to learn to draw you’re going to have to draw some fruit. I did an apple by itself in charcoal and then two apples and a lemon in colored pencil.

I don’t have a definite goal in mind (as usual), but I’ve always felt like drawing is a foundation skill that I’ve been missing. I basically still draw like I’m 10 years old. I’m pretty pleased with the results so far. Now I just have to practice practice practice. I stumbled across a really good book that’s geared toward someone learning to draw using Photoshop and Painter, so my hopes are high.