Friday, December 31, 2010

Twilight Chapter 17: The Game

1. As you may remember the Cullens offered to let Bella watch as they played baseball, but it’ll be a while before they actually get to that so Edward takes her home in the interim. Wouldn’t you know it, the Blacks are already there, which infuriates Edward because they’re there to warn Charlie that his daughter’s going out with a vampire. What could the Blacks possibly have wrong with Bella hooking up with a telepathic stalker who treats her like some kind of toy and has admitted he finds her blood so much more appealing than anyone else’s?

Okay, this is sort of going beyond the tribe’s agreement with the Cullens, but Jacob’s dad is Charlie’s friend. As a friend, maybe he feels he has an obligation to warn Charlie that his daughter’s going out with a complete slimeball. Maybe if Edward ever had a friend, he’d understand that.

Besides, maybe the warning’s not even motivated by the vampire stuff, just the possessive stalker stuff.

2. Thinking a confrontation between the Blacks and the guy they’re there to warn her dad about might create some minor problems for their young love, Edward agrees to let Bella handle this, but tells her to watch herself because “the child” doesn’t know the truth.

Now, I usually don’t get too involved in the grammar and word choices in these chapters because frankly, there’s too much to talk about (but if that's your thing, feel free to skip over to Reasoning With Vampires). Here, I couldn’t help but react to how Bella “bridled,” as in got mad, at the word “child.” It’s a correct usage but sheesh, I don’t even know pretentious English majors who’d talk like that.

But back to our unlikable leads. Bella reminds the man that Jacob isn’t much younger than her, which makes it sound like she “bridled” more at the insinuation that she’s just a kid than the fact that Edward took a jab at the only person she’s met since moving to Forks she thinks she could honestly be friends with (no, Edward doesn't count. Because he's a jerk). Given how this is Edward and he's filled with amusement the moment she points this out, he probably did mean she's a kid. So in case you forgot he’s not just a stalker, he’s a jerk who thinks it’s funny to taunt his true love.

Yeah, she acts like a kid, but that doesn't make the supposed best boyfriend who ever lived seem like less of a prick.

3. Anyway, Charlie isn’t back yet and Mr. Black’s cover story is that he came to drop off some of Charlie’s favorite fish fry. Proving she really is the dumbest heroine I’ve ever read about, Bella acts like that’s all Mr. Black wanted and hints he should go. After he sends Jacob to the car to look for something that’s not there so he can obviously have a private chat with her.

Mr. Black tries to warn Bella that maybe the Cullen boy’s no good for her, she retorts that maybe she’s better informed than he is (and is ignoring that information), and by pulling out some moronic troll logic meant to make her look clever convinces Mr. Black he shouldn’t warn his friend. Her father. Maybe if Bella ever had a friend she’d understand. There isn't even any sympathy for Charlie, like Bella saying to herself she felt bad about keeping the truth from him, but telling him would create more problems than it would solve.

Love how she stays and listens until they drive way, “waiting for the irritation and anxiety to subside.” How dare they try to warn her dad that she’s taking her life in her hands for the sake of getting to hang out with a pretty boy?

4. Jessica, who if you can remember far enough back is a chatty girl that wants to be friends with Bella for some reason, calls to talk about the school dance and boys. While Bella pretends to listen, “My eyes kept flashing to the window, trying to judge the degree of light behind the heavy clouds.” Glass houses, Miss Swan.

Bella snaps back to the “conversation” when Jessica mentions the E-word and asks what the status of things is between them. Bella’s caught flatfooted by the question, not knowing what their story is anymore. If she could think of anything past his face and his rippling ivory muscles maybe she could’ve thought to discuss this with him.

5. Charlie comes home and sits down to dinner with the emo kid he’s renting out the guest room to. Bella finally drops the bomb that she’s seeing Edward, and because Meyer’s about as funny as the clap, she pulls that reprehensible cliché where the square parent gets their child’s love interest’s name wrong. What romances was Meyer influenced by again? And did she really have the nerve to say Twilight fixes the problems with the old ones?

6. She groans as he starts hitting her with all the protective parent questions, and says to his face she hopes he’s getting all this out of his system now. Is this why Bella’s so eager to cut her ties to her old life and become a vampire later? I mean, I hate it when my parents ask lots of little probing questions, but I don’t hate it enough to want them out of my life completely. On the other hand I don’t think pretty face = eternity of bliss, either.

7. That’s when Edward shows up, “looking like a male model in an advertisement for raincoats.” Because Bella’s never once told us how good-looking he is.

By the way, how exactly does one make a raincoat look sexy?

Edward sits in the only chair, forcing Bella to sit next to “Chief Swan” (that’s what she calls him. 358). She gives Edward a dirty look and he’s amused by it.  But he’s totally worth this.

8. Charlie and Edward discuss the young’uns making a date of going out to play baseball. Our heroine opines, “Only in Washington would the fact that it was raining buckets have no bearing at all on the playing of outdoor sports.” And what makes you the expert, missy? She pays no attention to sports or even other people if she can help it.

9. More stuff you’re getting tired of hearing me talk about. Bella’s treated like a piece of furniture or something by the men in the room, and Edward charms Charlie because he gosh darn it he’s special.

And not only are the Cullens super-awesome vampires, they own any material object it would be awesome for them to have. Like the brand new, super cool Jeep Edward came in that has tires taller than Bella’s waist. Give it a rest, Meyer.

Give it a rest with this, too. When Bella isn’t sure how to get into a monster truck, Edward “sighed, and then lifted me in with one hand.” How dare a timid girl from Arizona not know how to ride in an offroad vehicle that could eat the truck she usually drives, am I right?

She doesn’t know how to put on the elaborate harness the Jeep has instead of a seatbelt, which also annoys Edward. I admit I don’t drive a lot of offroad vehicles but is that a normal thing? And how does he know how to do that, if he’s not only a perfect driver with superhuman awareness but practically invincible? When everyone in his family is? Did Edward and Alice spend the couple hours between dropping Bella off and coming back practicing this? Edward doesn't even wear a seatbelt when he drives his regular car; he scans for cops so he can avoid them, remember?

Edward’s even amused by how clueless Bella is when she asks why he isn’t buckling up. Not to mention amused by how she reacts when she hears she’s going to have ride on his back part of the way. In what way is this supposed to be compelling again?

10. Edward parks the Jeep and does indeed carry Bella on his back into the woods, and this leads to more amusement at her expense, her being mad at the inequality of their relationship, and Edward calming her down by lying to her. What does he say? “I’m never angry with you -- how could I be? Brave, trusting…warm as you are.”

I’m going to pretend he means physically warm, because she’s one of the most selfish characters I’ve ever seen. Of the ones where it’s not treated like a bad thing, at least. And I acknowledge that personal perceptions are different for everyone, but Bella’s not the least bit “brave” or “trusting” in my estimation either.

Brave? She’s made it clear she dislikes everything and everyone around her except Edward. If she’s willing to continue pursuing him despite his repeated warnings about being a threat to her life, that feels like it’s because she’s finally found something that excites her and she’s got nothing to lose by keeping after it.

Trusting? Please. The only reason she could possibly have for thinking Edward would never hurt her is she’s read way too many stupid books with beautiful, morally upright protagonists. Yeah, she’s in a dumb romance novel herself, but she doesn’t know that. Does she? Even with being, basically, the author?

There’s more blather from Edward about how by existing, he puts Bella at risk.

Has this chapter really been going on for seventeen pages with nine still to go?

11. Truly scaring me, Bella looks at the Cullens setting up the field and can’t believe they’re really putting the bases that far apart. Scaring me because despite all the evidence to the contrary, she’s supposed to be smart.

Oh, and again it's mentioned Alice doesn’t move so much as she dances. Because Meyer doesn’t trust her readers to remember anything about her characters. Which is kind of messed up with how tragically little there is to remember about the spotlight couple.

12. Bella starts talking to Esme, Edward’s foster mom, who usually referees because the vampire kids argue so much “you would think they were raised by a pack of wolves.” Ha ha, it’s funny because they actually are predators, and there actually are werewolves in these books. Or something.

She also starts talking about being a foster mom.

“Well, I do think of them as my children in most ways. I never could get over my mothering instincts -- did Edward ever tell you I lost a child?”

…excuse me? This is supposed to be a fun family outing with Edward’s new girlfriend and you just suddenly bring up your dead baby? Oh, that’s not even the best part. Esme tells Bella that’s why she jumped off a cliff like she’s saying what kind of fruit she likes on her cereal. What the hell’s wrong with you?!!

13. Okay, better. The game begins and Meyer shows she knows even less about physics than Bella does about human interaction because the vampire kids, of course, use all their strength and speed when they play. Even though the pitches are super-fast the bats aren’t damaged by hitting them, and even though the swings are super-strong the balls don’t just explode from being hit.

It’s funny or something when Bella says “One thing’s for sure, I’ll never be able to sit through dull old Major League Baseball again.”

14. After about 375 pages we get confirmation that, ZOMG, there’s going to be something resembling actual conflict in this book when Alice realizes she misread one of her visions before. One regarding the other group of vampires in the area mentioned lightly last chapter. The other vampires heard the kids playing baseball and decided to check it out. Why do they rely on the word of a stupid fallible GIRL anyway?

Before you say anything, complain to Meyer, not me (oh wait, you can’t!). I don't think like that. That’s just how it works in the Twilight-verse.

15. They pretend to keep playing because they don’t want to set off the other vampires, but because Edward has no restraint, he “paid no attention to the game at all, eyes and mind ranging the forest.” Ranging?

“I’m sorry, Bella. It was stupid, irresponsible, to expose you like this. I’m so sorry.” Why? Dude, you just described every interaction between you and her since you first invited her to hang out at lunch. Little late to change horses.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

In 1982 a book was released that took the experience of a fantasy role-playing game but removed the necessity of a large group of players and intimate knowledge of several thick (not to mention expensive) sourcebooks. The reader would decide where to go and how to react to each situation, and roll dice to deal with some dangers while keeping track of special items that would allow them to deal with others.

It was The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first in the venerated Fighting Fantasy series. In my opinion a lot of the best interactive books of all time carry the Fighting Fantasy label, and the fact that the series is being republished now complete with never-before-seen books says I’m not the only one.

This is where it all began, with you playing a daring adventurer on a quest to penetrate the treacherous caverns of Firetop Mountain, defeat the evil warlock who reigns supreme over its many dangers and lay claim to his treasure trove. It wasn’t a very sophisticated premise, and neither was the adventure built on it. You wander around a series of tunnels and rooms, some which seem a bit out of place in a den of evil. Like the room where skeletons build boats.

It’s pretty plain the bugs were still being worked out of the system when this was written. The book warns about overusing your Luck stat (as the more times you’re called upon to test it, the less reliable it is), but lets you refill this stat far more often than succeeding books. I’d almost say it gives out Luck points like candy. Also, during one fight with a pair of monsters, their being totally blasted gives you a bonus to your attack rolls, while it seems like something should have been a figured-in penalty to theirs. Even if the end result is basically the same.

Also, the book contains something I hate more than just about anything in books like these: a maze. This one is particularly insidious, and took me a long, long time to map properly. I found it deliciously appropriate in a later book, Phantoms of Fear, when you ran into a former adventurer who was driven insane trying to get through this very maze.

Yet, the book manages to succeed in spite of these drawbacks. Aside from the maze, it isn’t overly difficult. At least until you finally get to the end and have to face a guardian dragon before squaring off against the Warlock himself, but that’s what gamers expect. Besides, there are ways to greatly reduce the threat both of those baddies pose. The thing with needing numbered keys found through the dungeon to open the treasure chest might seem kind of cheap, but it makes sense in a way. Imagine being the Warlock, and having the last laugh when the guy can’t get to your treasure after all he went through.

The artwork by Russ Nicholson is quite good. I wouldn’t call it his best work, but it’s up there. As for the writing, the imagery’s pretty good, and the story elements are just strong enough to keep you interested while not making you think too hard about what goes on. In these days of epic quests, it can be kind of nice to go on a nice, simple fantasy adventure. One free of silliness with snakes and bridles.

King's Quest III: To Heir is Human

Apparently this game caused a bit of a stink when it first came out. For one thing, it has nothing to do with Daventry, but rather a distant kingdom called Llewdor. And your character isn’t King Graham, or any other king, but Gwydion, a teenage boy who’s a slave to the evil wizard Manannan. Manannan is in the habit of killing his slaves when they turn eighteen, which is going to happen rather soon.

Lucky for Gwydion, he finds the secret entrance to Manannan’s laboratory (why is there an entrance at all when he teleports everywhere?) and gets the idea to whip up some magic of his own to deal with the wizard and escape.

One of the game’s biggest problems becomes evident very early in, and it’s the long stretches where you’re forced to basically sit tight and wait. If you try to do anything more than get a few basic items together before the wizard leaves the house, he’ll notice you’re up to something and blow you to smithereens. Equip yourself with a good book before you go on this quest.

Once you’re alone, however, you can start poking around the house’s forbidden places and venturing off the mountain where you live to look for spell components. If you can survive the snaking path to the bottom, that is. At least in this game you’re a slave who’s never been off the mountaintop under pain of death. As opposed to the finest knight in the kingdom with a few daring adventures under his belt, who’s the kind of person you reasonably expect to have a tad more poise than Bella Swan.

Once that’s done you can climb all the way back up (that magic map you find only drops you off at the bottom of the trail) and make your way down the trapdoor to Manannan’s magic laboratory to mix up some spells. But be careful because the forces of magic are grammar Nazis, and if you try to so much as heat a potion “with” a brazier instead of “on” one, the results won’t be pretty.

Maybe because HE'S EVIL and YOU'RE HIS SLAVE.

It sounds like I’m bashing the game, and those are definitely some annoying flaws, but a lot of things that held the previous games back were fixed this time around. You’re not running around collecting random stuff hoping it’ll come in handy, you’re running around collecting weird stuff you need to cast spells. There’s sometimes a bit of challenge in recognizing the best time to use each, but there’s nothing approaching the ridiculousness of the snake from Romancing the Throne. And as noted, you’re a slave who hasn’t made a career out of saving imperiled maidens and slaying monsters, so it’s not so weird you have nothing to your name and no way to defend yourself.

Not playing as Graham was also a welcome change as it moved the game away from another generic save the kingdom/save the princess quest (granted, it does get back to that toward the end). Your goal is to get rid of Manannan, that’s it. Technically this will free Llewdor from his terrifying presence, but the game never really gets into that. You’re trying to save yourself from an evil wizard, then figure out what to do with your new freedom. Most games of the era weren’t that sophisticated in the plot department.

The parser seems a little more finicky in this game than the previous ones, especially during the spell construction part. So while the puzzles make more sense, solving them can also seem a bit more frustrating during the ones where one typo not only denies you success, but kills you.

In the end though, with the addition of the magic system and a big step forward in plot and puzzle logic, this is the first King’s Quest game I don’t mind recommending. Mind you, I’m recommending the updated version from Infamous Adventures, which thoughtfully takes the hassle out of casting spells and getting back up to Manannan’s house. It’s amazing, really, how much faster that makes the game go.

King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne

Since winning the throne of Daventry in his first quest, King Graham’s been thinking it’s about time to start his own dynasty but none of the local ladies tickle his fancy. A solution to his dating problems is only a handy plot device away, as the magic mirror reveals a beautiful maiden locked in a quartz tower by Hagatha, a spiteful old witch. Once again arming himself with nothing but his jaunty adventuring cap, Graham sets out to save the woman of his dreams.

Unlike the previous game, the player’s given a little guidance toward their main objectives this time around. A little. There’s a series of doors leading to the final area, and each one gives you a clue to where to find the key that opens it. Although only the first clue actually gives you much of a clue.

In addition to the problems mentioned in the first game, Romancing The Throne feels like it’s trying to do a better job to guide you along but failing to do so even more than its predecessor. The first clue tells you the seeker of the first key will “make a splash,” which probably has you thinking to look for it nearby water. You might also think that means to search the ocean screens, or you might think you need to look around the three inland bodies of water for the key.

It's the ocean.

I don’t mean to imply I want these games to just give me all the answers, but in a well put-together adventure game, the solutions will make sense once you overcome the puzzle and look back on them. As with most adventure games of the 80's, that’s not often the case in this game. On the contrary, it contains one of the most notorious examples of “how was I supposed to think of that?!” in adventure gaming history.

Most gamers picking on this focus on one obstacle in particular, but in truth it starts even earlier than that. I can’t talk about this without revealing the answers to a good chunk of the game, so if you’re planning to play it yourself, skip down to after the italicized paragraph. Or if you like your sanity and want to keep it, feel free to keep reading.

In the process of getting the first key, Graham gets a bottle containing a sheet of cloth. What he’s supposed to do with this is enter the lair of Hagatha herself and use it to cover a nightingale’s cage so he can take the cage without the witch noticing and putting him in the stew pot instead.

What he’s supposed to do is then take the bird to the owner of an antique store on the far east end of the map (who does she sell antiques to? Red Riding Hood’s grandma and the monk, singular, who lives in the temple up north?) and trade it for a magic lamp. Why would you give the bird to this old lady? Again referring to the novelized version, Graham took it there because the cage was big and bulky, and she was the only person around he could really give it to. In the game it’s just another item, no more encumbering than any other. Players probably thought there was something useful in the antique store. Most probably didn’t think of pawning a bird for it.

The genie of the lamp gives Graham three gifts: a flying carpet, a sword and a leather bridle. When Graham steps on the carpet, it takes him to a cliff where he runs into a poison snake right in his way, which leads to the biggest complaint players tend to have about this game.

Now, if you look at the sword you may notice it says there’s a picture of a snake engraved in the hilt, and a lot of players complain this is a bum steer because it indicates you’re supposed to use it on the snake. While you can kill the snake with the sword and still win the game, you won’t get the high score and you won’t get an item that’ll remove the risk of dying from an upcoming obstacle.

No, what you’re supposed to do is throw the bridle at the snake. This turns it into a winged horse. That’s not the end, though. You’re then supposed to figure out that you’re meant to talk to the horse to get its help.

And no, there’s nothing about the bridle indicating you should use it on a snake.

In the novella, the author’s explanation for Graham tossing the bridle at the snake is that it was a complete accident. He’d meant to use the sword, but he can be kind of a daydreamer and had put the bridle over it while sticking the sword through his belt. Thus he threw it over the snake to his own surprise as much as its. I’ve never designed a game with lots of elaborate puzzles, but if it’s turned into passive entertainment and the only reason the author can come up with for the character arriving at the correct answer is he achieved success totally by accident, it occurs to me something’s wrong with the train of thought leading up to that puzzle.

From the mouth of Peter Spear himself: Of course, he had forgotten about the bridle he stupidly had draped over the sword’s hilt. It is through mistakes such as these that dynasties change. But not this time.

At times it also feels like the designers were purposefully trying to punish you, or at least inconvenience you. During the quest for the third key you visit a castle and you’re expected to climb three different staircases, one of which is optional, two of which are not and must be traversed twice. And there isn’t a handrail to be found in the entire place. If it’s so easy to fall off (and it is. Oh, it is), why the heck not?

Game designers hate you. Deal with it.

Once you reach the final area of the game, a text box pops up when you reach a screen with a crucial item to point it out to you. Given all the psychedelic colors on display, thinking the player might need this mentioned wasn’t a bad idea, but it doesn’t redeem the crazy logic you’re expected to have come up with to have made it that far.

At least the fact that nobody’s supposed to get up the tower and save the maiden explains why it’s so easy to fall off the stairs that time…

About the only thing that makes Romancing the Throne slightly memorable in a positive light is traces of the humor that defined most other well-known adventure games manifest in a few ways besides bad puns.

In a way that’s a strike against the game, since the story elements feel half done. Yeah, who cared about videogame plots in the 80’s, but this isn’t a game where you’re just shooting or beating up anything in sight. You interact with every aspect of a colorful world and are expected to get through problems with your brain instead of your trigger finger. For example, if you play this you’ll probably think it’s weird you never do anything about Hagatha, who’s presented like she’s the prime evildoer, and the only original baddie to be given an identity. If they were willing to put in humorous little touches that ultimately serve no purpose, why not little touches that could’ve improved the plot or atmosphere?

Maybe there’s a reason why AGD rebuilt the whole game from the ground up in 2002, rather than just re-releasing it with a mouse-driven interface like they did with Quest for the Crown.

King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown

Back in the 80’s if you wanted to play a fast-paced action game, you went to an arcade or hauled out one of a dozen different consoles. The PC had some action games, but it was also the domain of gamers looking for something a little more cerebral, like RPGs or that most loathed of genres, adventure games.

Most of them had you as some brave but physically incompetent person on a quest to journey to a far off land and put an end to the tyrannical wizard or dragon. The earliest ones were all in text and required you to interact with the world with the right minimally-worded command. GO NORTH, GET SWORD, SMASH CRATE WITH SNAKEBOXER, etc. Games of this sort are primarily accused of requiring the player to be telepathic in order to figure out that the designer meant for them to read the 18th tombstone before the 7th one, or that it’s the green crystal that has the power to kill the ice dragon, not the white one. Or for that matter what specific word is needed to tell the game you want to use your handful of birdseed on the giant vulture blocking entrance to the castle.

Eventually someone came up with the idea of including pictures in these games to enhance the experience, and then someone came up with the idea of having the player’s avatar appear onscreen. They couldn’t pick up a diamond unless they were next to it, they couldn’t open a door unless they were in front of it. And if a troll got too close before they made it to the next screen, well, that’s what saved games are for. One of the oldest examples, and certainly one of the most well-remembered, is Sierra’s King’s Quest.

Sir Graham, the finest knight of the beleaguered kingdom of Daventry, is called before his ailing king. If he can find Daventry’s missing treasures (the magic mirror, the shield of invincibility, and a bottomless chest of gold), he’ll become the next king. That’s about all you need to know on the story front. Next thing you know you’ll be outside the castle, where you can experience the first of many, many possible deaths by walking into the moat. At least it’s because of the monsters in the water and not because Graham’s like every non-Mario game character of the 80’s and can’t swim.

One does wonder why a knight being sent on a daring quest into a kingdom overrun by monsters and evildoers is equipped with nothing more than the clothes on his back. Thing is there’s no real answer other than this was made before it had occurred to anyone to question why the kingdom’s finest knight hadn’t learned anything about preparedness over his career. Fortunately the series did get better about this. Not about giving your character the possessions you’d expect them to have, but at least about explaining why their pockets were empty at the start of the game.

Bet a perfectly stable and friendly person lives here.

Sierra released two versions of the game, but both came along before they’d gotten rid of the text command interface. It seems to be mostly free of “guess the word” issues, but the kind of nonsense of starting with no equipment prevails throughout the rest of the game. Most of the items and treasures are just sitting in holes or in the middle of fields with no rhyme or reason. Why are there walnuts full of gold? Why is there a dagger under the rock next to the castle? This randomness can also trap you later in the game, as the game makes no effort to guide you at all, leaving you to just bumble along hoping your experiments bear fruit. It’s not only plausible but likely you’ll conquer several major obstacles only to find yourself without one critical item or clue, and there are a lot of dead ends you can’t back out of. Unless you’ve been systematically saving your game that means starting from scratch. And you might end up starting over a few times just because it seems like you’re stuck and can’t quite figger out what the designers wanted you to do with a particular item or geographical feature.

While assembling your inventory generally makes no sense, some of the puzzles aren’t too bad if you’re up on your fairytales. For instance, goat + troll = unoccupied bridge. It may even occur to you to bring a four-leafed clover when you’re visiting a cave full of leprechauns (the hard part is noticing there are even clovers in this game). How you’re supposed to deal with the dragon is something you might eventually arrive at yourself, but it makes more sense in hindsight when you know about the series’s attitude toward non-violent solutions. However, the puzzle with guessing the gnome’s name reportedly got the highest volume of help requests of anything in any Sierra game for years, and deservedly so. At least until the designers took mercy when they updated the game.

In 1984 King’s Quest I was revolutionary for having animated characters in a game of this kind. As a game though, it’s the vanilla of adventure titles, bland from stem to stern. The setting is exceedingly generic so it’s not that much fun to explore or unravel its puzzles, which is the heart and soul of a good adventure game. Still, there are worse games to bear the King’s Quest name. A lot worse.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Twilight Chapter 16: Carlisle

1. The chapter’s named after a satellite character, so are we going to keep hearing about him? I know Carlisle’s story is the one that begot Edward’s, but I’m mystified by how much more detail a supporting character's gotten than our leads. Yes Edward’s explained a lot of things, but how much has been about him specifically and not his family or Meyerpires in general?

I’m the first to admit some space had to be dedicated to explaining Meyer’s unique idea of what constitutes a vampire, but by page 334, what have we really learned about Edward? He’s a vampire, he’s really pretty, he drinks animal blood instead of human blood for reasons of morality, he’s about a hundred years old, he’s from Chicago, he can read minds and he enjoys his powers too much for the good of his likability.

What about Carlisle? He’s a vampire, he’s really pretty, he thought of drinking animal blood to calm his conscience, he’s a really nice guy, he’s a doctor and a valuable member of the community, he sometimes turns dying people into vampires so he’ll have someone to relate to, but not anyone with anything to lose. He’s 362 years old, grew up in London, had an intolerant Anglican pastor for a father who made him find unholy deviants and it was one of them who turned him into a vampire. In this chapter we find out he spent close to two hundred years conditioning himself not to feed on human blood, he traveled a while and met some refined vampires who I believe turn out to be the Volturi, or basically the vampire police (there’s a ton of unnecessary BS in these books, you might have noticed. Forgive me for not retaining everything), and he’s seriously married to a woman named Esme.

That’s a hell of a discrepancy in how much they're filled out. Edward mentioned that memories fade after a while, which is why he doesn't talk about his beginnings, but I’m smelling inconsistency. Like Meyer thought if she put too much thought into any aspect of Edward besides how he looks like a descended angel, he’d stop being perfect.

2. Edward says yet again he hopes what she’s learning will make Bella walk out of there and never come back, since the deeper he invites her in the more likely she’ll want out, right? If she’d behaved like a rational person more than none times, she might. Let’s just have us a good laugh at Steph’s expense and move on.

3. In the course of relating Carlisle’s secret origin, Edward mentions he stayed with the cultured vampires “only a short time, just a few decades.” Okay, when you’re functionally immortal, you probably would learn patience. Since his family has to move when they’ve been in one place too long for people to notice they’re not getting any older, though, I find it strange for Edward to have that frame of reference.

Then again, when does anyone notice anything weird about the Cullens?

4. Another thing to mention that we find out around here: even though vampires thirst for blood, they won’t actually die if they go too long without it. Just lose their restraint until they’ve fed again. So what ARE the downsides to being a vampire in this book, exactly?

5. Edward had the vampire equivalent of an adolescence, he claims, and struck out on his own because he didn’t like being told who he could and couldn’t eat alive. Yet for some reason Edward used his telepathy to find evil people and only chowed down on them. Eventually the strain of taking so many lives, even those of human filth, got to him and came crawling back to Carlisle. “They welcomed me back like the prodigal. It was more than I deserved.”

Yes it was, since one of the only real drawbacks to being a Meyerpire is you’re stuck forever at the level of maturity you had when you were converted. Wonder if Meyer knows what “the prodigal” actually means. When you hear someone described as “the prodigal son,” it means someone who thinks they’ve got it all figured out and doesn’t need anyone, but who comes crawling back for support after having their worldview crushed like a peanut shell under the boot of reality. With how Carlisle’s basically sparkly vampire Jesus, you really don’t see him telling Edward, “See, dummy? Told you you’d be back.” Which would be welcoming him back like the prodigal, as opposed to the beloved foster son who’s always welcome in their house.

6. Back to Edward trying to scare her away. It’s still not working. Or is it?

“ ‘I hate to burst your bubble, but you’re really not as scary as you think you are. I don’t find you scary at all, actually,’ I lied casually.” Damn it Meyer, which is it?

Edward responds by tackling her onto his couch (his only furniture besides the shelves where he keeps his CD collection since Meyerpires don’t have to sleep) like it’s an attack, which is admittedly a little less obnoxious than continuing to pretend it might actually happen.

7. Some of the others knock and ask to come in, and Edward continues to treat his true love like a doll by rearranging them on the couch so she’s sitting up normally.

It’s Alice, the precognitive sister and her boyfriend/brother Jasper. Alice “almost danced” into the room. She’s probably supposed to be even more graceful than the other vampires, but does Meyer think we haven’t come to think of all of them moving with an inhuman grace?

8. Alice came to tell them a storm’s coming which for some reason is conducive to vampires playing outdoor sports, and asks if Edward and Bella want to join them. Yes, it’s almost time for THAT part.

Bella: “What will be playing?”
Edward: “You will be watching. We will be playing baseball.”

Yeah, Bella would die if she tried to play regular baseball, let alone with a bunch of superhumans, but the way he says it…thanks, Meyer, for setting the women’s movement back to when Romeo and Juliet was brand new.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Engine Sentai Go-onger - Protect the Holy Night

Note: This episode jumps around a lot and I haven’t written everything that happens in the order it’s actually shown in an attempt to make things a little more streamlined.

Last time on Engine Sentai Go-onger, the evil Cleaning Minister Kireizki appeared and gave the Go-ongers a hard time right before Christmas. They thought they defeated him with an ingenious scheme, until it turned out he had a magic garbage can he could hide inside. I’m only bringing this up because the actual recap was narrated by one of the Engines, Birca, who peppers his sentences with words from various European languages for some reason, and was my favorite secondary character.

Having survived their best efforts, Kireizki sucks Santa and the Go-ongers into the garbage can, flinging them to the four winds.

Sousuke, Ren and Gunpei (the black guy) land in a kindergarten where a couple armed bank robbers have gone to ground. Hiroto and Saki (the gold and yellow guys) find themselves in a swamp surrounded by ghosts, and Marty Stu Hiroto takes one look at them and runs out of there like a dog with its tail on fire.

Hanto, Miu (green and silver) and Santa land on a pier, but one that’s not being attacked by anything. Doesn’t mean they don’t have problems of their own; Santa dropped the present bag somewhere, and right as they spot it some garbagemen toss it in their truck and drive away.

Gaiark is of course taking advantage of not having superheroes around to thwart their plans by coming up with a big one. In the spirit of the new years cleaning ritual (which is a major tradition in Japan I hear, but I’m really not the one to ask about day-to-day life there), Kireizki’s having them lay out strings of what appear to be innocuous giant Christmas ornaments, but are really bombs. Hurry on back, Go-ongers.

Saki finally finds Hiroto, who tells her to stop yelling or the ghosts will find them. Despite being an invincible add-on Ranger with literally every skill in the book, he’s afraid of ghosts because his grandpa was a little too good at telling scary stories when he was a kid. Saki convinces Hiroto to man up. He doesn’t want to go down in history as the guy who mastered every martial art but pussied out when he had to deal with a couple ghosts, does he? Watching Saki insult his manhood for being afraid of something stupid like ghosts comes really close to making up for episode upon boring episode of him and Miu being pretty much invincible.

Didn't you pick up anything from hanging around Kabuto?

They attack the ghosts only for it to turn out they were in an amusement park the whole time. D’oh!

At the kindergarten the robbers aren’t content with holding a bunch of kids hostage and decide to get mean, trampling the class’s Christmas tree. Sousuke’s seen enough and basically gives the robbers a “if you’re so tough, let’s see you actually use that gun” line. The robber bites, only to find out bullets don’t work on Sentai members and Sentai members don’t like cowardly punks who terrorize little kids. After dropping off the robbers, it’s back to dealing with Gaiark.

The three of them find the lesser ministers and demand to know what’s going on, and Kitaneidas defiantly refuses to tell the Go-ongers they’re planting bombs.

Because the other Gaiark are pretty much useless Kireizki rolls out his garbage can again, only for the Go-ongers to knock it out of his hands. Since his special weapons aren’t getting him anywhere he uses that time-honored fallback plan of Sentai bad guys: he grows into a giant. The three Go-ongers call the couple talking cars they have handy to hold him off.

Santa and his hangers-on make it to where all the garbage get dumped, but despair of finding the right one in the huge pile of garbage. They’re about to give up and admit Christmas is ruined when Hanto persuades Miu to use her sooper speshual poorly-defined Mary Sue psychic powers to find the present bag. Which works after Santa and Hanto pitch in by touching her hands. Gee, maybe they can still save this.

One by one the other groups show up to help the ones fighting Kireizki, bringing out more and more of their giant robot brigade. They blow up the detonator for his bombs, so it’s just him against them. They even do an over-the-top introduction for every single one of their five robots before not even using them, really. After a little bit of fighting the Go-ongers combine all their Engines into G-12, the ugliest mecha I’ve ever seen in all my days of seeing mecha. And I have a lot of days of that.

They set G-12 on fire and crash into Kireizki, which is finally more than he can stand and he blows up after a short but silly death speech. Like most of the villains in this show, actually.

Santa leaves to make his rounds without a bunch of surly Georgians this time, and right on cue it starts to snow, capping off a perfect Christmas Eve. And all those people waiting for Santa to come will never know the Go-ongers decided to leave all the bombs up because they make perfect decorations.

From Spectrum of Madness to you, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a gnarly chalkboard.

Screencaps taken from the fansubs released by TV-Nihon.