Flappy Bird Is Bad And You Should Feel Bad

Hey Everyone, it’s been a while (far too long, in my opinion.)

What I’d like to discuss today is what I’m calling the Flappy Bird trend. In late 2013, Dong Nguyen published a small game in Veitnam. The game was called Flappy Bird, and was built using recycled art.  I’m not entirely sure if it wasn’t a project of boredom, something to keep his skills up to date while he focused on other projects.  In early 2014, the game exploded.  Flappy Bird was pulling in $50,000/day from in-app adverts, and everybody wanted a piece of Flappy Bird. A mere month after it was released, Nguyen pulled Flappy Bird from the app store for being too addicting.

This far into the story, everything is fine from my perspective.  A new game hit the market, and had all the elements of a perfect iPhone application: it was simple, easy to learn, difficult to master, and apparently had some excellent replay value.  Sure, the game isn’t the best game ever created. There may have been one or two complaints about poor collision detection, and some goofy stories of people injuring one another when someone beat their high score. The game was addictive, and, for better or for worse, Flappy Bird is a game and is welcome as part of the gaming community.  It’s popular because it’s stupid, sure, but simple games is the foundation of all modern gaming.  Before Call of Duty there was Super Mario 64.  Before that there was Duck Hunt.  Before that there was Zork.  Before that there was Pong.  Before that there was tic-tac-toe on pen and paper.  Games have come a long way, and even just being able to recognize that not every game is visually stunning, challenging to play, or even a lot of fun is valuable for the game industry as a whole.  Remember where we came from.  Games don’t have to be triple-a titles to be good games.

There’s a big negative element to the saga of Flappy Bird, however- the fallout of Flappy Bird put a negative element of the gaming industry in the spotlight in a bad way.  The gaming industry tends to be a little broken. There are veins of cancerous behavior that many developers indulge in, because they think it will make them money. I’m talking about game clones here. We’ve seen it before- whenever a popular game hits the shelf, copies of it are spawned within a week of it hitting the bestseller charts.  It happens to almost every game, but there are two places where game cloning runs rampant and unabashed.  I’m talking about the mobile game market and the social game market.  Any time somebody comes up with an original idea, somebody else steals it and shamelessly tries to ride their own game above the others.

Let’s take a look at some of the worst offenders:

  • Temple Run- after Temple Run’s immediate success, everyone bought the same game engine and threw a new skin on top of it.  Temple Run is a popular promotion style game, as you don’t need a programmer to get the game up and running.  The game’s already been made, you just need to purchase the engine and then supply your own graphic designers.  So, you get a handful of 3d modelers in a room, and tell them that you’ve got a movie coming out in three weeks and you need to have a version of Temple Run skinned up and ready to go out the door at $4.99 a pop to coincide with the movie’s release. I’ve seen dozens of these games pollute the App market, such as Secret Agent temple run, Despicable Me Temple Run, so on and so forth.  It’s pathetic, especially when you consider that the entire game is basically a rip off of Sonic the Hedgehog, which is in turn a rip off of Pitfall.  What’s even worse is that Sega or whomever owns Sonic these days actually did a Temple Run version of Sonic the Hedgehog.  They gave up the few elements that kept them unique and churned out a mindless clone to join the rest of the market.
  • Farmville- Everyone remembers when Farmville destroyed as many lives as games like Everquest or WoW ever did. Farmville’s a simple enough game where you don’t even need to buy a premade engine- anyone can make a Farmville app without really ever needing to try.  All you have to do is create a game where you can build an item on a square, and occasionally swing around to tap and collect resources.  While Farmville games definitely went through a phase where nobody could come up with a better idea than just directly cloning the original, a lot of Farmville games are still being made and have gotten a lot better at creating new content with the clones.  I’m actually playing a Farmville game right now that I picked up a month or so ago called Dungeon Keeper, which is a remake of an older game anyway.
  • Mafia Wars- Which I like to call the “Energy Game” series, or the “Shamelessly attempting to collect in-app purchases” games.  These days, almost any time I see an “Energy” counter in the upper left or right corner detailing how many actions my character can take before I have to wait for 8 hours to play more, I know that I’ve played this game before, it was called Mafia Wars back in the day.  The problem with Mafia Wars is that it isn’t actually fun.  If you were able to perform as many actions as you wanted and never run out of the ability to do things, you’d get bored of the game in half an hour.  The only thing that keeps you coming back is that you have to continuously wait, and those kinds of games are addicting! See Farmville for proof.

I could go on with more examples (100 Floors, Impossible Quiz, Hate My Boss (ragdoll games), Fruit Ninja, etc.) but I could also go on for another ten years before I hit triple-a knockoffs of Call of Duty and Jak and Daxter.  Point is, whenever the video game industry sees a trend, a few dozen developers turn ship and dump a load of useless clones onto the market.  Flappy Bird was different in the sheer scope of the copy disaster. Zedge reported that there were over 800 clones of Flappy Bird by the end of February, and at the peak of the uploads there were almost 80 versions of the game being uploaded every day.  What goes through the mind of a Flappy Bird cloner, “Well, everybody else is making this game, so I COULD BE RICH! LET ME MAKE SEVEN CLONES AND ONE OF THEM WILL PROBABLY MAKE ME LOTS OF MONEY!”  When you release a Flappy Bird clone, odds are you’re not bringing anything new to the market.  You’re not going to change the way that people play Flappy Bird forever.  You’re not going to attract the adoration of the world by spawning more garbage into the app store.  You’re not going to make money.

What I’m trying to say is, if you want to make a game, go make your own game.  It’s hard- being a creative person doesn’t always come naturally even to those of us who make our living by being creative. The best ideas never come when you demand them, and often you’ll be sitting at your design board, looking at an empty landscape and just thinking, “I’m so screwed.  I’ve got nothing.” It’s so tempting to just look at another game that’s been made and borrow it.  “Everyone steals ideas in gaming,” you justify to yourself. “I’m just being honest- I don’t have any unique ideas.” To a certain degree it’s true- ideas in games tend to proliferate into other games, and these days there’s no such thing as the truly unique idea.

That being said, I’m currently involved in 5 side projects- 2 board games and 3 video games. Of these 5 games, I borrowed ideas from Fruit Ninja, Plants vs. Zombies, Left 4 Dead, Angry Birds, a Brandon Sanderson novel, WoW, Age of Empires, Arcadia Quest, Zombicide, Minecraft, Farmville, and many more besides. I don’t think that a single idea I’ve had as any part of these games is a unique idea, except for maybe some character design elements.  And yet each and every one of these games is it’s own island in a world of gaming.  I never looked at an existing game and said, “I want to make that game.” What I’ve done is forge my own path- Let me take my least likely to be completed project, Pizza Sling, and tell you about it.

When I was designing Pizza Sling, I wanted to generate a mobile game that had the appeal of Fruit Ninja where the player swipes the screen a lot. I also had been playing a lot of Plants vs. Zombies recently, so I wanted to design a “defend the castle” style game.  I came up with the idea that you would play a character located in the center of the screen, swiping items out towards incoming enemies. This made me think of L4D, with zombies rushing the character, so I initially wrote the characters as zombies.  However, I decided that there were too many zombies in the modern gaming world, so I focused on the “rushing” part of zombies and focused on coming up with a different idea for the entire game.  I then focused on the swiping element- and realized that I didn’t want the straightforward swiping that Fruit Ninja has, I wanted more of a “slingshot” effect like Angry Birds.  Now, I was throwing items to the “zombies”, and I won’t be ashamed to admit that since I hadn’t pegged what the “Zombies” were yet, my mind went to “brains” and since brains aren’t just a thing you find lying around, my mind went to “babies.”  You were caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in the middle of an overpopulated nursery, and to keep the zombies at bay, you threw the only thing you had to hand at them- the children.  Almost ready to be a game in it of itself, but I wanted to create a game that was a little more kid-friendly.  Throwing the kids at zombies was determinedly not kid friendly. So I looked at the brains- I was effectively throwing zombie food to zombies. And that’s when everything clicked- what’s the best food? Pizza.  Imagine the situation- there’s a town somewhere that has never had pizza before. In fact, they’ve only eaten broccoli and cauliflower for the last twenty years. One day, you open your new store, Pizza Slingers, and the townsfolk discover that they like pizza.  They love pizza.  Actually, they pretty quickly became obsessed with pizza. They began to swarm the pizza store daily, and you quickly saw some property damage.  Your solution was to install a gigantic slingshot on top of your restaurant and shoot the pizzas out to the customers before they reached the building.  Certainly nothing wrong with that logic. Now pizza, unfortunately, isn’t very healthy. As the game progresses, the town of somewhere between 50-100 people gradually become more and more overweight. The move slower, but require more pizzas with toppings and other other modifiers to sate. The game ends when the pizza store is overrun and destroyed.  Thus is Pizza Sling!

In summary, Pizza Sling is based off many games, and yet is unique and different. I’ve borrowed almost every idea that went into the game- from what I’ve just discussed, I’ve borrowed the core gameplay concept from Fruit Ninja, the genre from Plants vs. Zombies, the “feel” of the game from L4D, and literal gameplay mechanics from Angry Birds. While you can see these elements plain in the design of Pizza Sling, it’s abundantly evident that the game is unique.  You would be hard pressed to find a Pizza Sling clone on the app market. So, while it’s true that no idea is unique, I’ve still managed to create something new via a new combination of existing ideas. Recycling doesn’t produce the same quality goods as the original, but can still be better if geared towards a new type of product. So the next time, fellow game developers, when you’re sitting at your drawing board, empty of ideas and turning towards desperate measures, remember: the game world does not need a new Flappy Bird. There’s no money in Flappy Bird. There’s certainly no art in it. There’s no market for more Flappy Bird, no more market for Temple Runs. You won’t make a better Angry Birds than Roxio, or a 100 Floors game that stands out from the original.

Now, I should say that it’s not impossible to bring some inspiration to these games and create new Flappy Birds and Temple Runs that give a new light to the game and make the game more interesting. For a real example, there’s a First Person Flappy Bird game- it’s the same game, but the twist of being done in the first person is enough of a difference to make it a better game than, lets face it, all the other Flappy clones. For a fake example, imagine a Temple Run game that’s combined with something like Dear Esther or The Path or even The Stanley Parable- something like that could be very clever and brilliant.  The mechanics of a simple game combined with the terror of The Path, or the profound nature of Dear Esther… this would be a unique game, a statement of all forms of Game cloning.

I’ve been kind and shared my Pizza Sling idea with you, but ultimately it’s my intellectual property so please don’t steal it and make a bunch of money (because I will be a sad Zip! :'[ ). I’m not attached to the Temple Run clone, however, so go nuts! If you make it I will play it.

That’s it for me- see you all next time.

-Zip! out.

 

PS. If you don’t know what Arcadia Quest is, it just got Kickstarted by the same folks who did Zombicide! It’s a sweet board game and I *may* have poured like $300 into it so uh whoops. HERE’S A LINK https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/coolminiornot/arcadia-quest

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Can January Have a Mulligan?

Hey everyone,

In my last post, I lamented my inability to post regularly due to an increase in the number of hours I worked that week.

In this post, I reveal that the trend continued for the rest of the month.  All things not work got shut down for a bit.  The customer has the product now, however, and they seem mostly happy thus far.  So all’s well that ends well, but now I need a break.

So, confession time, I haven’t even tried keeping up with most of my new year’s resolutions.  I’m not going to even go down the line, it’s all miserable.  I’ve started chewing on my nails again.  I’m eating worse than ever.  I’m afraid to touch the scale.  The only thing I’ve really got going for me is that I seem to be steadily improving with my rock climbing skills- getting stronger every time I go.  My grip is still a little too weak, and I think I need to focus on doing some arm exorcises.  I’m debating increasing the number of times I go to 3/week instead of my current 2/week.  I would have to go on Fridays, but that’s manageable.

I’m working on a short for you guys soon.  I’m not sure how long it’s going to take for me to get myself put back together after this last month, so no promises of regular postings.  Basically: here’s the gameplan: I’ve got a short cooking in the books, and I’m also drafting a review for Lowtown.  You’ll see both of them sooner or later.

-Zip! out

 

 

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The 50 Hour Week: A Parable of Why God Why

Hey everyone,

So far, not so good.  Just after my last post came THE WEEK FROM HELL.  I ended up needing to get some code ready for production on short notice, pulled a 52.5 hour week of unpaid OT (not counting my commute) and virtually died for a while, so long story short waaay behind on my new posting schedule.  I’m taking a light week this week (only putting in 30 hours- I really need some more recovery time.) so hopefully I’ll be able to put in some more hours into the blog.

That being said, I also just bought my first DS and a copy of Pokemon Y.  I *may* be busy. 😉

At any rate, let’s go over my new year’s resolutions.

1. weight loss: Clocked in at 218.  Woof.  Not used to being in the Heavy Weight wrestling class.  Got to lose weight…

Here’s the plan.

First, weigh myself daily.  Be aware of the fact that I’m a fatass and need to stick to it.

Second, going to start giving up some of my less healthy habits. First to get the axe is soda- I’ve already been consuming less and less but now soda is going to be gone.  I’m going to stick with this for a week or two and then add another thing to remove.  I’m also going to buy some seltzer as a soda placebo if necessary- it’ll taste like crap, but if I mix it with some juice, homemade, healthy soda.  Rock on.

Third is going to be to increase my workout schedule by 1 day a week.  As I’ll discuss in part 2, I’ve been going rock climbing, and I’m going to start supplementing my climbing with a little bit of lifting and a light jog.  I’m already paying for gym membership and they have the machinery, so why not?

2. Rock Climbing- so far, so good.  I’m really loving climbing, and even when I’m having off days (such as this last week- exhaustion takes a lot out of my climbing ability) I can still feel myself getting a workout.  I still feel sore the next day, and I  can tell it’s making a difference.  Keep going!

3. Keeping it Clean- Complete and total failure, thus far.  I’m living out of my laundry basket, and since I only have the one, all my dirty clothes are on the floor.  Got to put away the laundry!

4. Nails- I’ve been four days with no bites at all and I’ve only had one bad day where I bit of more than a nibble.  My fingers are already looking healthier and while I keep finding my fingers in my mouth, I’m being able to resist biting down.  I’ll take what I can get, but it’s already a good start.  This isn’t the first time I’ve given up nail biting and cold turkey worked the last time and thus far it’s been working again too.

5. Juicing- Need to look up recepies or something.  Kind of just doing vegetable hodge-podge which I’m sure is healthy as all get out but at the same time I could be drinking so much tastier beverages.  Also; sink’s really dirty and I keep not wanting to juice if I can’t wash things right afterwards.  Not me this time, it’s one of the roomies.

6. Drink More Water- Another complete and total failure.  Averaging less than 1000 mgs per day (not counting juicing liquids.)  I’m probably (definitely) dehydrated.

7. Drums- … I actually forgot about this.  Crap.

8. Blog- I HAD A GOOD EXCUSE THIS TIME I SWEAR GAWD.  This Friday is a review day for the book Lowtown (AKA The Straight Razor Cure for the UK).  Next Monday is going to be my story time, and I’m re-writing my NaNoWriMo first chapter for it.  Can’t wait to show you guys!

That’s all I got for today.  2 successes, 1 doing fine, 1 neutral (Weight Loss), and 4 failures.  Didn’t expect to come out of the gate full gear, and there’s plenty of year left.  Hoping to put some good work in this week, narrow this down to 2 failures 😉

-Zip! out

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It’s A New Year But Not A New Me

Hey Everyone, Zip! here.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Specifically, it’s been 4 months since my last post.  August 28th, 2013, I made a post about a game called Murdered: Soul Suspect, then dropped off the map.  A number of things are behind my Houdini act, including some mild depression, a reinvigorated social life, a full-time career, a full-time girlfriend, etc., but ultimately, I failed to live up to my own expectations by taking my four-month hiatus without a good concrete reason.  I keep thinking back on that first post I wrote and I look at what I said there, who I was trying to be.  I was lonely, unaccomplished, and depressed, and all I could think about was how I wasn’t living up to some hidden potential I was sure I possessed.  Now, I take a step back, and I look at who I am, and I can see it clearly.  I haven’t changed a bit.

Before I start sounding too harsh on myself, let me explain.  Certain parts of my life have taken a turn for the better: my social life is much more fulfilling now, and I’m much less depressed than I was.  When I started this blog, I was new to my job, and I was miserable.  Now, while I’m not terribly excited about the work I do, I’m at least reasonably content to be making money and having a relatively easy life, and I’m stable, which makes it easier to try new things.  That being said, there’s a lot that’s not going in my direction too.  I’m 10 lbs heavier and, being honest, much less healthy than I was last time I started this blog.  I’ve virtually stopped practicing drums (We’ll get back to that in a minute) and my NaNoWriMo book flopped like a Magikarp using splash.  I almost never posted on my blog again.  All of these things don’t add up to a pretty picture, and it really makes me feel like I’m right back where I started.

While I don’t use twitter, I can’t always escape its influence.  A good example is this New Year’s buzzphrase: “New Year, New Me.”  The idea behind it is noble; simply giving a label to the motivations behind New Year’s Resolutions and the like.

“This year is a new year,” they say.  “Last year’s mistakes are in the past, and there’s only room for my reincarnation of myself.  New Year, New Me.”

It’s a pretty sentiment.  It’s also a load of bullshit.

Best way to describe how I feel about New Year New Me comes from a tweet I saw that said: “New Year New Me doesn’t make sense.  If you had herpes in 2013, it’s not like you suddenly won’t have them in 2014!”

I thought to myself, why, that’s true.  Herpes doesn’t magically evaporate at the whim of an astrological event.  If it’s true for herpes, what else is it true about?  And that’s just it: there’s no end to what’s like herpes that you can’t get rid of just because it’s a new year.  New Year New Me isn’t some magical spell that’s going to help you lose weight, encourage you to drink less, or even stop biting your nails.  I’m not a Pokemon where in the light of a New Year’s moon I evolve into a better creation.  That’s the problem with New Year New Me: people aren’t treating the concept with the dignity that it requires.  They’re treating it as if New Year’s cures them of faults and they just BECOME a new person, no strings attached.  That’s not how life works.  If you had herpes in 2013, you will still have herpes in 2014.

That’s why I’m not going to kid myself.  I was lazy and prone to abandoning projects in 2013, and I’m going to be lazy and prone to abandoning projects in 2014.  It’s a fact of life that I have difficulty with these things.  That being said, this is also my chance to work at change.  Change is not impossible.  It’s more difficult than anything else you can do in life, and I know that I am not good with change.  But if I am good at anything, it’s being a stubborn ass.  I’m going to stick with trying to change.  I won’t always succeed.  I will continue to be borne down with an endless supply of frustrations and failures, and I know that some my projects will end up curbed temporarily or permanently.  This blog is my “Fuck you!” to those assholes who say “New Year New Me” and expect change to be thrust upon them.  I will not give up just because I have given up before.  I will not let myself fall into the same patterns that have led me to where I am now.  I am an Adonis of perseverance, and I will not stop trying until I succeed.

So let’s talk about RESOLUTIONS.  Things that I am to swear myself to do.  Here’s the plan: I’m going to set aside $500 towards a personal goal.  I’m thinking it’s going to be losing 30 lbs, but I may settle for 20 (baby steps).  I have told myself that my resolution for the last 3 years will be to lose weight, and I have yet to actually weigh less at the end of a year than I did at the beginning.  I weight appx 215 right now, and I’d ultimately like to weigh less than 180, but for now, I’ll settle for less than 190-200.  Should I succeed, that $500 will turn into some kind of reward for me (A Vitamix blender, maybe?).  Should I fail, that $500 is going towards charity (Research into cures for diabetes is probably a good choice, don’t you think?)  This I swear; I shall weigh less.

So that’s the big one.  Here are my smaller resolutions.  I’m not going to put price tags on these ones, but if this idea does act as an encouragement to lose weight you can bet your ass that I’m going to be putting price tags on them next year.

1. Weight Loss: (For the sake of having an organized list)

2. Rock Climbing: While I was gone, I started rock climbing with a couple of friends.  Since then, my grip has easily gotten ten times more powerful, and it’s nice to be able to feel some of the burn from doing a good days worth of climbs.  Since I’m also attached to a gym membership to use the rock wall, I’m also going to start lifting to be able to climb better.  While my legs are still meaty and muscular from my days as a wrestler, my arms are puny and weak and my core strength is sub-optimal.  I can work on these things!

3. Keeping it Clean: I want to keep my room clean and finally put up the goddamned decorations I possess.  They’re all just sitting against the wall!  For shame.

4. Nails: I bite my nails.  It’s really gross!  STAHP THAT.  I’m also suffering from a nasty infection as a result from an ingrown toenail that I want a) cured and b) prevented from happening again.

5. Juicing: I got a juicer for Christmas!  I’m going to juice the shit out of a million vegetables and then DRINK THEM.  I’m not sure if this is a resolution or just an announcement because I LOVE MY JUICER IT’S THE BEST THING EVER.  I’ll be posting a recipe of something I drink every week.

6. Drink More Water: You would think this would be easy enough to not have to resolve to doing it but I’m basically chronically dehydrated at this point.

7.Drums: I know a drummer who’s teaching me to play percussion on the cheap, but he’ll move away sooner or later.  Keep that shit up!  1/2 hour of practice every single day is totally manageable.  Let’s keep trying.

8. Blog: So, like last year, I resolve to keep writing this blog.  Bit of a structure change though. So far, this blog has been mostly reviews for games, music, and movies.  This is great and all, but at the same time, it’s a little shallow and narrow minded.  So while I’d definitely like to keep reviewing stuff as I find it, as well as focusing on books as well, I also want to limit the number of these kinds of posts that I make.  One of these posts a week on Friday with a tagline of “Friday Fun” or something else a little less dumb.  Next, I’d like to start writing with a little more substance.  One of my biggest faults is that while I consider myself to be a writer, I don’t feel as if my writing is particularly strong.  I tend to be a little wishy-washy and passive with my phrasing, so I want to take this new resolution mode as a chance to start focusing on some writing skills.  I’m going to be writing some (fairly) short stories, ideally coming out at a rate of 1 every other week or so.  These will be my Every Other Monday Shorts.  Lastly, just to fill in the blank spaces for when the leftover Mondays, I’m going to start posting Monday status updates on these resolutions.  I’m going to keep track of a number of different items (from how many times I chewed my nails or went to the gym to a weekly recording of my current weight.)  I want to keep myself honest, and for that, I need your help, random citizens on the internet.  Keep me to my promises, folks.  Never let me forget that I want to change.  I know that I won’t make all of the goals I have listed (maybe I’ll forget to drink any water from March until August and die) but I’ll be damned if I don’t put in the effort at least.

So, in summary, here’s what we have.  Blog’s fixing on two posts/week.  The two week schedule looks thusly: Monday Zipday, Media Friday, Every Other Monday Short, Media Friday.  This post is to count as my Monday 1/6 Zipday post, the first official post in this new series.  My Friday post will be a book review for the book Lowtown (Or, for my UK readers, the Straight Razor Cure), and we’ll continue on from there.

Here we are, this moment at end, my readers.  Have a happy New Year, and remember, fuck you to all those people who expect change without sacrifice.  You are capable of change, but only if you’re willing to work hard for it.

 

-Zip! out.

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Preview- Murdered: Soul Suspect

Hey all,

Anybody here a fan of Hard Rain?  I didn’t get to play much of it (No PS3), but I loved the little of it I did play.  Well, good news abound, here comes another game to fit next to Hard Rain in your collection like peas in a pod.  I give you: Murdered: Soul Suspect.

Warning: If you don’t like gameplay spoilers, I wouldn’t watch much past 2:20; this is a gameplay demo after all.

For some reason news of this game seems to be a little slow- I mean, the teaser was out in February, and even though I don’t hold my ear as close to the ground as I used to, news for this game has been a bit sparse- there’s been no official announcement yet, and none of my friends in the industry have been talking about it.  I only happened on it by chance, a post on the wall of one of my Facebook friends, and whoah- that video is magnificent.

Recently, I’ve been in a good mood for mysteries, so getting a preview of Murdered is like showing a juicy steak to a starving man.  My mouth is watering, my stomach is growling, and all I want to do is game.

Anywho, hats off to Airtight Games for developing and Square Enix for publishing- your teaser looks airTIGHT if you know what I mean, and I can’t wait to grab this game, turn it on at midnight- then turn out the lights.

That’s all for now!

-Zip! out.

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Heist Album / John Newman – Love Me Again

Hey everybody, long time no see.

Sorry for not posting for a while- still need to work on regular posting, but anyone who checks out this blog already knows that!  Whoops.

At any rate, I’ve got a double-whammy this week to make up for my time away.  For a start, let’s talk about Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s album.  When I first heard about Heist, it was through their big hit, “Thrift Shop.”  Now, I’ll be quite frank, I judged Macklemore pretty hard, without giving him any chance.  Thrift Shop, on its own, is not really my genre.  While I like rap, I’ve found that I tend not to like almost anything that plays on the radio, because popular rap is generally pretty shallow and awful.  I turn to a rap station and all I can hear is “Fuck your Bitch” from the movie Get Him to the Greek- a horrendous combination of swearing, drugs, and vulgarity combined with repetitive, autotuned, computerized “music”, designed by people with low IQs for people with low IQs.  That’s not to say that all rap is unintelligent- far from it, I believe that there are rappers who are more clever and witty than some NYT bestselling authors.  However, these people tend to not be the popular rappers, so the radio plays garbage and I back off the genre.  However, a few weeks ago, my boss bought Heist, and, combined with a couple of weeks of enjoyment when I hear him walking around humming Thrift Shop off tune and off beat, I had access to the album.  For a lark, I checked it out, and I found myself surprised- Heist is actually quite a compelling and intelligent album.  In addition to being incredibly witty, Macklemore raps about discrimination, poverty, dealing with alcoholism, a host of modern issues that deserve attention.  Macklemore is actually inspirational- and all I had seen of him is that goofy getup he’s got for the Thrift Shop music video!  If you haven’t checked out Heist yet, I recommend looking at three songs in particular- Jimmy Iovine, Wing$, and my favorite song from the album, Same Love.  I’ve even started to like Thrift Shop– it’s not as dull as I had thought it would be, and is fairly witty and funny, a good addition to the album to lighten up some of the heavier topics.  Check out the music video- it’s brilliant and hilarious.

Next up is John Newman.  John Newman, as of right now, is virtually nobody in the music scene.  He’s been featured in a couple of albums, but doesn’t have an illustrious career- yet.  I’ve only heard one of his songs, his debut single, and I’m not going to lie, I heard it for the first time on Tuesday afternoon and owned the song by noon Wednesday.  Love Me Again is a really catchy and really good song, so check out this video, and try to tell me you don’t love it!  Watch for that surprise twist at the end- every time I’ve shown this video to a friend, their jaw drops.

 

That’s all I got for today- It’s been good to see everybody again.

 

-Zip! out.

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Movie Review: State of Emergency AKA I Slowly Turn My Head, An Analysis on Zombie Entertainment

Hey everybody, how are you guys doing?

So last weekend (Three months ago, then I never finished this article.  Whoops!) I rented a zombie movie from Netflix that had no time in theaters.  Given that *wonderful* leadup, I was expecting a pretty junky zombie apocalypse flick- see a couple of main characters get eaten arbitrarily, a solid chunk of fake gore, everybody hides in a big abandoned something-or-other, the zombies break in, everything goes STRAIGHT to shit, somewhere in between 0-2 characters survive the experience, harrowed by the things they have seen OR ending in an unlikely romance.  If that had been the case, I wouldn’t have even mentioned the movie- I’ve already seen it a dozen or so times (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Shawn of the Dead, every Resident Evil except #2, The Crazies, 20 Days/Weeks Later, The Walking Dead, etc.).  Unfortunately for me, what I had failed to realize was that State of Emergency is not only a zombie movie.  It is a zombie movie on a tight budget.

So, let’s briefly go over what kind of movie makes for a good zombie movie- what separates something like The Crazies (which is a lower budget but excellent zombie movie that is very similar to State of Emergency) from the mind-numbing tedium that is State of Emergency?  BULLET POINT TIME.

  • The Setting

Most zombie movies make it or break it in their setting- which is strange in it of itself, looking at the wide variety of settings that make for an amazing zombie movie!  There are a whole host of good and bad settings, which can dramatically change how the movie turns out because of the common factors.  There have been entertaining zombie movies in cities, suburbia, at sea, in Russia (Dead Snow FTW!), etc.  Most of these movies either follow the characters as nomads (see Zombieland) or watch as the survivors hole up in some kind of “safe house” (Dawn of the Dead style).  The biggest point to a good zombie setting is setting up some kind of normalcy and then tearing it apart.  This is what makes both Dawn of the Deads entertaining, what makes Shawn of the Dead such a spectacular parody, and what makes all of the Resident Evil movies horrible.  One of the big questions for zombie movies is not just how the survivors survive, but how society itself survives.  This is why Shawn of the Dead is phenomenal- Shawn goes for several hours thick into the zombie apocalypse not even noticing that there are zombies everywhere.  For him, society hasn’t changed at all, even though the world is ending around him.

So, why does the Crazies beat SoE in environment?  Looking at both of them, they’re both zombie films that take place in small town environments, have an accident that causes some form of crazy/zombieness, have a high military presence, and are produced on a minimal budget.

First, the environment in The Crazies is still a lot larger than in SoE.  The Crazies lets itself spread out- the characters bounce around from part of town to part of town, and even though many of the scenes take place in “Nondescript Farmhouse A” or B or whatever, they still change with the progression of the story and allow the character to see what “normal” is and then tear normal apart.  We see the inside of a high school, the main street, a truck stop, all dramatically changed from their normal states.  One of the best scenes in the movie takes place in a car wash.  In comparison, SoE, for some odd reason, restricts itself to three environments- a field, briefly, a farmhouse, briefly, and an abandoned warehouse.  None of the environments, in the way that they’re displayed, show me anything of what normal life is, and I can’t connect to the environment because I don’t hang out in abandoned warehouses.

  • The Characters

Obviously, characters are a highlight of any zombie film, or honestly, any other film.  Since this is such an obvious topic, let’s skip straight ahead to the difference between The Crazies and SoE.  The Crazies follow a party of approximately four people, give or take- the sheriff, his wife (a veterinarian), the deputy officer, and the wife’s assistant (a high school girl).  Additionally, a number of other individuals are introduced- the assistant’s boyfriend, the high school principal, a few hunters, a mortician, and over the course of the movie, these people’s humanity and civilized nature are tested and torn apart.  SoE, on the other hand, has severely 2-bit characters.  I already can’t remember a single one of their names- not what they do for a living, not why they survived over others, nothing.  I don’t even remember how main character guy’s wife died!  The character development was weaksauce, the acting horrible, and the script hamfisted.

  • Action

Not every good zombie movie has action in it.  Before the days of CGI and high budget movies, there were a handful of zombie movies that got away without having any action at all.  I think there’s one where you don’t even see any zombies!  Action can always help a zombie movie pass from boring to entertaining, often at the price of quality- even the worst zombie movie can be entertaining in its own right just by having a lot of gore and amazing action (Dead Snow FTW again!).  Both of these movies try their damnedest to be action movies, and, as always, one succeeded, one failed.  Guess which is which?

The Crazies does really well in their action scenes.  Once again, I site that scene in the Car Wash as a really scary, entertaining scene.  The action is chilling at times, you feel that the characters are in constant danger, and when there is action, the characters feel literally a moment away from death.  Even when the characters aren’t in the process of fighting for their lives, they are constantly doing something, constantly trying to improve their odds of survival.  SoE, on the other hand, suffers from overwhelming inaction.  The characters spend a lot of their time sitting in their void setting, doing absolutely nothing interesting, and when there is action, it’s poorly choreographed, highly unnecessary, boring, and unlikeable.  Half of the action scenes start with one of the four characters in the missionary position with a zombie on top.  Just like a couple of virgins, both human and zombie seem quite surprised to find one another in this position, and now that they’ve managed to get here neither one really knows what to do from here.

  • Inaction

Oddly, in a zombie movie, the scenes in which nothing important is happening is significantly more important than the scenes in which something is happening.  A good movie goes through various peaks of excitement and tension- a movie that is go-go-go 100% of the time loses some of the effect of its tension. (Unless it’s Crank, but that’s a different story entirely.) On the other hand, the way that inaction is held can also ruin a movie, as seen in State of Emergency.  90% of the movie is inaction, and, while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, SoE does their inaction horribly.  When comparing SoE to the Crazies, let’s look at the big differences- in the Crazies, when the characters aren’t actively interacting with the “crazies”, they’re still doing something- they don’t show the characters simply resting.  The way that they react and adapt to situations reveals more about their characters, and as the movie progresses, as their situation becomes more and more hopeless, their characters change to adapt to the situation.  We see that effect I keep mentioning, where they’re forced to lose part of their civility to survive.  In SoE, the characters have basically nothing to do in between their action scenes.  Half the shots in the movie are one character or another lying on a cot and discussing their life before the zombie apocalypse.  They’re not doing anything for the majority of the movie- they have secure shelter, they have weapons, they have food, and they’re not really in imminent danger at any point from about 15 minutes into the movie until 5 minutes before the end.  That’s the biggest difference between these two movies- the Crazies doesn’t get boring in between the plot’s progressions.  SoE feels like it was engineered to be excessively boring in between plot progressions.

  • Zombies

The zombies in a zombie movie are, in my opinion, the least important aspect to a zombie movie.  They’re the deus ex machina built into the setting, a driving force for the characters actions, a gift that allows the writers at any time to increase drama and tension.  While the characters’ main priority is zombie management, our main interest lies elsewhere, in the characters themselves.  Thus, I’ve found that a good zombie movie doesn’t pay too much attention to what zombification really is.  28 Days Later has a simple enough story: virus did it!  Dawn of the Dead, Shawn of the Dead, hell, half of every zombie movie ever, nobody knows!  One moment, there were no zombies, the next, buckets of zombies everywhere!  The Crazies does a great job of having “Zombies” with a clean, concise backstory: a chemical gets introduced into the water supply of a small town.  Once in contact with the chemical, the townsfolk become infected.  Infected are psychopaths, killing as many people as they can reach.  They even supply reasonable cause for the main character, the sheriff, to investigate the source of the contamination.  In this way, the user is allowed to draw its own conclusions without forcing the backstory on the characters.  In SOE, the zombies are confusing and poorly created.  I think they were trying to go for something along the lines of “Local chemical plant creates bioweapon for the military that is zombies in a can, but when the plant blew up, the tiny town around it got severely boned.”  Ultimately, they botched the idea by forcing the idea upon the reader at every available moment, and botched the zombies themselves with irregular zombie quality.  Just compare every other zombie in the movie to the old woman about 45 minutes in.  She’s fully cognizant and still bloodthirsty, but the rest are mindless drones.  Frustrating, to say the least.

All in all, the point that I’m trying to make here is that Zombie movies, and many other apocalypse based movies (Book of Eli, anyone?) have the goal of showing us what happens to our humanity when it is overwhelmed.  What do we do when there is no more running water, no more television, no processed food?  Who do we become when our lives are in constant danger, when we live in a world that is kill or be killed?  Is our survival or our humanity more important?

Maybe we’ll never see the era of zombies films that was “alive” when John Russo was a director.  Maybe we’ll never see zombie films evolve past what George Romero gave us.  These days, that idea that we lose our humanity when the world ends is already passe, overdone and an old idea.  To keep us entertained, we resort to all sorts of gimicks to keep zombies fresh- comedy in Shawn of the Dead and Zombieland, romance in Warm Bodies, action and CGI in pretty much every other movie.  If there’s anything I’ve learned from watching zombie flicks, though, the one thing that separates a good zombie movie from a terrible one is what the movie teaches us about ourselves, about our true nature, the human we are beneath the mask of civilization.  Many zombie movies are about showing the darker side of us, how we are unable to or unwilling to put others ahead of ourselves.  Many other zombie movies are about the exact opposite- how, even in mankind’s darkest hours we strive to be the best human beings we can be.  The Crazies ultimately shows us two stories.  Through the deputy, how a man who has lost everything can still be courageous, how a model of a noble human being can be shown through a man whose humanity has almost run out.  Through the sheriff, a strong and magnificent character, honorable and brave, break under the constant stress of loss, pain, and fear.  The main characters are not the same people they were in the beginning of the movie, and they are not the better for it.  SoE shows us what 90 odd minutes of wasted money is.

I leave you with the best zombie tribute I’ve ever heard, straight from the mouth of the band whose song I got this blog’s title from- this is George Romero, by the Sprites.

-Zip!, long overdue, out.

I really need to see WWZ.  Christ.

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