Halloween Challenges Galore!

Welcome to another All Hallows Eve season. I hope you’ve been enjoying it!

World of Warcraft has expanded on what is one of my favorite in-game celebrations, and brought us not one but TWO new pets to pursue, in addition to the little pumpka-dude.

This, of course, comes about 3 days after I finally reached 150 in-game pets on my Druid. Those last two pets seem kinda… well, superfluous now. Ah, well. Getting a start on the inevitable 200 pet achieve, right? Bright side, bright side.

The new kitty pet is cute, but the Creepy Crate… just, omigod.

The Creepy Crate… easts critters. It is the critter chomping crate.

Awesome, right?

I mean, I know that this certainly does reinforce the notion that those Blizzard artists, boy, they sure are serious about wanting WoW to have fewer silly things, huh? Sure does put that argument to rest. /sarcasm.

You might think that the new Creepy Crate was all win, no downside at all, but I’m here to tell you the new pet threw the BBB household into a bit of turmoil.

Our son Alex is eight, and he has the attention span of a ferret on hot chocolate. He gets enthusiasms, stays on something for a few days, then wanders off to something else for a while.

Credit where it is due, he has beaten both Mario Galaxy and Mario Galaxy 2 on the Wii (thanks to an incredible reader that sent me a copy of MG2, for which I still remain exceedingly grateful). He plays games, specializing in Mario. He loves Bullet Bills, he knows the names, he has the moves.

He also, yes, has his own World of Warcraft account, but after the first paid month we let it lapse. He simply didn’t use it much. A few days here, a few days there.

With great joy, therefore, we set him up with a free WoW account soon after they were available.

Limited to level 20 on a free account? No problem! All Alex wants to do is log onto a level 5 dwarf shaman, equip a fishing pole and run around fishing. And exploring Ironforge and Stormwind, taking the tram back and forth. We can group with him, and I can take him on Dragon rides around the world. It’s all good.

Oh yeah, there is one other thing.

Alex loves killing critters.

Bunnies. Frogs. Deer. Sheep. Whatever.

I’ve told the tale of Alex the Wabbitslayer before, but he cemented his place in the critter gitter hall of fame when he proudly showed me his secret cow level in Stormwind, where there are usually 5 cows all in a clump out in a farmers field. Cows that are just itching to be whipped to death with a fishing pole, apparently.

This disturbs Cassie, who has this policy of never, ever, ever allowing a critter to come to harm through her actions.

I say, it’s better than having him setting real critters on fire in the backyard… and don’t think I ain’t watching fer the signs.

Alex saw me on my Druid last night, saw me complete the quest chain for the Creepy Crate, and then watched in stunned amazement as I went down into the Ironforge Tram and let the crate feed on rats for a while.

Oh yeah, that did it. He wanted one. Badly. A critter-eating crate pet? Oh, heck yes.

So, the BBB household faced its first true test of the season; can a level 5 free account get a Creepy Crate?

No. No, a level 5 cannot get the first quest of the chain. We tried.

Thus begins our little drama. Sadness. Crushed spirits. Dissappointment, bringing a sudden lack of interest in continuing last night.

You see, he was really excited, he got his hopes up. Once he had those hopes up and went to try and do it on his own character, and found out he could not, that he was denied, he really felt bad.

So, as I talked to him afterwards, Cassie took up the challenge. She began researching what it would take.

A little research revealed that it was possible for a level 10 character to get the quest, and to actually complete it and get a Creepy Crate.

Okay, first goal. Level his character to 10. 

This became a surprise pain. No heirlooms, no problem, right? Of course not. We’re master-class WoW professionals.

But also, no money. No money to train, no money for gear upgrades, not even from vendors. No money by playing the Auction House, you can’t use the AH on a free account. No money for flight paths.

No money from friends or trades, you can’t even USE the mailbox on a free account. And nobody can trade with you. Not money, not items.

So, you quest, you get quest rewards, you loot cash from mobs you kill and from the quest turn-ins.

I got his little Dwarf to level 8 last night, and called it. Wasn’t hard, was just a grind.

Cassie picked it up again this morning and pushed the rest of the way to 10. Go go Cassie levelbot!

After training, and buying a vendor axe for the off-hand, Alex had a level 10 Dwarf Shaman with… 6 silver and some copper.

But he could get the quest! Hurrah!

This evening, after dinner, we revealed to Alex what we had done, and told him that we would work together to do the quest chain, and at the end he would have a Creepy Crate for his very own.

Ah, the excitement! The delight! His little face lit up with pure joy.

It will be one of those moments that I carry with me and hold tight, cherished as a warm, cheerful glow for when I’m old(er), and gray(er), and he has begun legal proceedings to declare me senile and put me in a home so I’m not a bother.

Doing the quest chain together was a lot of fun, we had to run everywhere on foot, because, well he is level 10, and I’d done it on my Druid already, and I don’t have any others that have passenger vans. Err, who can carry a friend around.

As Indy might say, “We’re on foot from here!”

We ran around, we did everything together, when we had to follow the trail of purple spiders I took a step back and let Alex the mighty spider-sniffer lead us along the trail. He likes being the leader, even when he has no bloody idea where we’re going. It’s enough that someone is following him for a change.

Everything went great, right up to the point where we had to get 5 Blood Nettles, 5 Arcane Powder and 5 Crystal Vials.

Guess what? Vials are cheap and Blood Nettles are free, but the Arcane Powder were going to cost him 9 silver 50 copper. EACH. Times 5? Do the math.

Little dude had 4 silver. Screwed, we were.

Ah, shit.

Think, think…. there had to be some way to cheat like a bastard. It’s a video game, there is ALWAYS a way to cheat in a video game. We choose not to cheat in video games, we never said we couldn’t figure out how.

Ah hah!

I’m already grouped with Alex, so we know that works.

What is the goal?

Earn money in sufficient quantity to buy his quest items, minimum 50 silver, in the quickest and easiest fashion possible.

It took 5 levels to get 12 silver, so that is flat out.

But… high level mobs drop higher-value money per kill… plus vendor trash drops. And weapon drops at level 60 are frequently worth a gold all by themselves.

Time to test.

I get on my Druid, we group up, I put it on Group Loot: Free For All, pop Dragonform and fly him out to Burning Steppes, where there are swarms of mobs.

A fast kitty whompas through the crowds, and there are a ton of dead bodies littering the barren wastes.

Can he loot my kills?

Why yes he can!

Five minutes later, he had a few gold in cash plus some sweet vendor trash, and away we went back to Stormwind, and carried on brilliantly, thank you.

Yes, he did complete the quest, and yes, I anticipated the point where the level 84 bad guys pop out when you intercept the meeting. Except I think his bad guy was level-appropriate for him. It went so fast I didn’t get a good check on it, but we both turned in our quests, and I swear two mobs popped out, and mine was 84 and lasted a few good hits, but I think his target was level 10 like him and died in an eyeblink. Something I need to check on an alt.

We went and endured the long chat scenes, waiting patiently to turn our quest in so he could get his Crate AND have the moral high ground by giving it to the Archaeology student… even if I knew the student would be all greedy anyway.

Then I watched as three people ran in, one after the other, and made sure to spam the buttons on their long quest turn-ins so Alex had to wait five minutes, with other people cutting in front of him, and never getting his turn because he just wasn’t fast enough to get that millisecond response time in on the click to turn in.

After three of those, it was time to say “Screw this for a game of soldiers” and go all the way back to Ansom, who may have been greedy, but at least he was short-winded and gave Alex a chance to finish his damn chain.

For the rest of the evening, I enjoyed watching Alex travel around Stormwind, giggling and snorting as the Crate ate… well, everything.

Including, yes, cows. And bunnies. And damn near every other thing he could find.

An evening well spent.

When I think, “I could have been raiding”… it sure does put things into perspective.

In related news, we have two Wii guitars, a drum set, and Band Hero, Lego Rock Band and Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock. Cassie has the Wii version of Metallica and Guitar Hero 5 on the way.

We could play WoW, but it can’t always be Creepy Crates and consumed cows. But it CAN always be “Daddy played bass, momma played fiddle, and little Alex was joining right in there”, whenever we’d like.

Lately, having only an hour or so to do something before an early bedtime, WoW just seems like a lot of time investment with very little family fun and excitement in return. But a good song is only 4 minutes… 5 tops.

That there is good entertainment value for my gamer doller, right there. Git ‘er done!

But for tonight… tonight, there was Creepy Crate.

May you enjoy yours at least half as much as we enjoyed ours.

Chicago – Day 1 – Chilidogs and Competitions

So, our wonderful adventure started off great, with the Amtrak train being 2 hours late to the station to pick us up in Saint Paul, MN. Oh joy.

It was a fairly long day, but we are now gratefully entrenched in our hotel.

We ventured forth afoot into the ‘wilds’ of the city, looking for grub. Thanks to the decision of MoarGoar on Twitter, we dined at Portillos, where Cassie dined on chilidog and I enjoyed the italian beef with mozzarella and sweet peppers. Very good.

Along the walk, Cassie pointed something out to me that just seemed perfect.

Effen Vodka, the drink of Effen Effers the world over. She pointed this out, and I instantly thought of Alas. If ever there was someone that could use an Effen drink after this last year, it’s Alas.

So, a nice end to the night?

Not just yet.

When we got back to our suite, I swiped through the channels while Cassie did some web work. An unfamiliar channel lineup, no Bravo (damn, we’ll miss Top Chef!), no DVR, we didn’t bring Firefly to watch on DVD, shit!

I stumbled across the History Channel, and what should I see but a show JUST starting up called Top Shot.

Umm, WTF?

Top Shot… the Top Chef style competition for marksmanship.

Are you shitting me? Manny, why in the hell did you never tell me about this? OMG!

Damnit, this is a show I could have competed on, and I didn’t even know it’s out there? ARRGGGHHHH!!!!

I watched last nights episode with extreme enjoyment. It was all old style weapons, weapons I have many hours of practice in; tomahawks and blowguns.

As I watched the show, though, I realized that watching this has almost ruined Top Chef for me.

I’ve always loved Top Chef, the judges, the contests, the whole experience.

As I watched the first few minutes of Top Shot, though, my first gut reaction as a trained and experienced marksman was, “What the hell kind of bullshit is it where you can be kicked off the competition because the rest of your team wanted you gone, instead of for not being the best? If you go home, it should be because someone else was better, not because you didn’t kiss enough ass!”

Umm… oh yeah. Like on Top Chef. I never really felt how unjust it was in my gut when it was chefs; I’m not now nor have I ever been a professional chef. Put it in terms I know damn well, shooting competitions, and guess what? Suddenly I’m all outraged and shit.

How funny.

Anyway, turns out that over the course of the episode, you learn that who goes home isn’t just a popularity contest. Two people get nominated by their team to go up for elimination, sure, but then it gets resolved by a shootoff of some kind between the two… with the winner of the elimination challenge getting a $2000 prize on top of staying in the game. So it’s winner take all, just the way it should be.

“Sure, bitches, put my ass up there. I’ll win the elimination and bring home the cash too. Go for it.”

Lol. Hey, I don’t take all that raider stuff seriously, not because I’m not a competitive person, but because raiding in a video game isn’t exactly a challenge I can make myself get real worked up about.

But shooting? Real world marksmanship? Well, now. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish, my friends. NOW we’re talking serious business. Bring it!

I really enjoyed the mix of marksmanship challenges, variation in weapon forms, and the format of elimination in tonight’s show. If this same quality keeps up, I just may have a brand new favorite show to watch.

Funny the things you find when away from home, isn’t it? And yet I could have been watching it all along, if SOMEONE had mentioned it!

Oh yeah… and we’re going to the zoo tomorrow. Cheers!

Welcome to the year 2000, BBB!

So, I’ve got a new phone, and I swear I’m gonna shut up about it. This ain’t about the phone.

BUT… the phone is a gateway to new experiences right now.

It’s got a YouTube App on it, and that led me to do something I normally never do… browse YouTube just to see what’s out there.

It just felt different, seeing those little videos on a phone! Aww, so cute!

So, of all the videos on YouTube, posted from all the available bits in all the world, what do you think random chance brought me to see? What do you think I was finally introduced to, that everyone else in the known universe probably already saw?

If you said “Two girls one cup”, go stand in the corner and wait for the Blair Witch to come get you. Hush.

No, instead I saw a video starring one of my favorite actors of all time, a man I can actually gush about for an hour or more, dancing the night away.

I saw Christopher Walken dancing to Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice“.

I’m trying to think what I was doing the year that came out, 2000, because this one slipped right by me. I think that was the second year I was truck driving, so I was probably in a rig crossing into Idaho.

Edit: Cassie happened to remind me that I suck at math when my head is full of ache, as it is right now with this cold. I got out of the Marines in ’94, I spent ’95 and ’96 truck driving.

Or, as Cassie put it… if we’re about to have our 10th wedding anniversary in March, and I spent the 2 years before that as her fiance, and the two years before that getting settled into the Twin Cities, how, exactly, could I have been truck driving in 2000?

So, actually, I was just clueless in 2000, not truck driving. I now return you to my previous post, still in progress.

Not a lot of TV in the cab of a truck in the old days.

Christopher Walken. That son of a bitch can dance, yo.

Oh right, you knew that. Like, eleven years ago. Because it won awards from MTV out the wazoo and has become such a massive cultural hit it’s been spoofed multiple places… that I also didn’t see. :)

Christopher Walken.

When I saw that Fatboy Slim video, I didn’t just see that one performance.

No, I saw shades of every great performance Christopher Walken has been in, that I’ve ever seen.

It brought back in a rush all of those incredible man-crush movie moments in my life, watching Christopher Walken just act his ass off.

The former POW returning a watch to a young man in Pulp Fiction. The mobster interrogating Dennis Hopper in True Romance. Hickey the old west gangster in Last Man Standing (and again with the Bruce Willis), the badass mofo in Suicide Kings, The Deer Hunter, good lord The Deer Hunter.

And of course the performance that stands above them all, Christopher Walken as the Angel Gabriel in the Prophecy. Hey, you don’t think that was his best, sue me.

The Fatboy Slim video reminded me, all in a rush, that Christopher Walken is, for me, one of the true movie legends of my generation. He is an actor whose work defined the way I thought of movies for decades. When I’d think of what was possible in movies, in storytelling on the screen, in the power and majesty and depth and brilliance that could leap from the screen into my brain, Christopher Walken was one of the few actors that led the way for me.

The defining Christopher Walken movie, for me, will always be Brainstorm. That movie, and the possibilities it posed, the imagination it held dear, the bravery in tackling such an impossible topic and trying like hell to present it visually on screen… that set the tone of all movies for me. It didn’t have to be about dropping some quick film to make a fast buck, it could be about something more. That was the standard to strive for.  Brainstorm, and Walken, showed me that movies could take a chance and really try and explore something massive.

The earlier generations had their own heroes, I know. John Wayne, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, so many great actors that I’m sure would bring back a rush of nostalgia to my elders. Those that ain’t in the ground yet, because I’m already getting pretty eld here.

My generation had all of the action stars with their ripped muscles and machine guns and explosions. It’s so easy to see that, and discard the entire decade as crap. Entertaining crap, but crap nevertheless.

But we also had Christopher Walken, and that means something to me.

I’m getting older now, and it’s getting easier for me to be able to look back and see where the high points were while I was growing up, what the major inspirations were that opened my mind to wider horizons, and helped me learn to appreciate how kick ass movies and fiction could be. The movies, books, and people that helped me learn how to really dream big.

It makes me wonder, who do the folks growing up these days see as their inspirations, their grand lions and tigresses of the imagination? Who sets your brain on fire and drives you to write, or draw, or create stories and images, or, yes, parodies while you drive towards your own future?

Who out there is peeling your brain open like a crazed man with a rusty can opener?

Do you have a Christopher Walken of your own? Do you have a true original, a legend that can be so many things, but never predictable?

I really hope so. I do.

I guess you had to have been there

This isn’t a storytime, but it is rambling about fun old role playing game sessions, so, what’s the difference?

I heard something on the radio this morning that reminded me about a really fun role playing campaign I ran back in the day, and I wanted to share.

One thing I miss is having gaming friends to hang around with and swap stories of “This one game, man, you should have been there, it was awesome, here’s what happened…”

There are basically three layers of flavor to role playing gaming.

There is the fun of creating the characters, settings and stories, and imagining the fun you’re going to have.

Then there are the actual game sessions, where you try and not only survive but thrive despite whatever tricksy scheme your evil bastard of a GM has planned.

And then there is the telling of tales about how awesome those game sessions were. “You remember that one time Ryan’s dwarf was supposed to be Mannys’ wizards’ bodyguard, leading the way into danger to protect his young charge, and when the magic flying dagger whipped across the room at Ryan, he announced “I duck”? Boy, the expression on Manny’s face was just priceless as he took a dagger right to the chest, wasn’t it?”

I don’t gots no group here to BS with… so I guess that means you’re stuck with it. Sorry.

This story doesn’t really have a point, except to prove I’m a mean GM and I’ll go to really stupid lengths for a joke. But then, you knew that already.

Back in the grand old days when I was in the US Marine Corps, no matter what duty station I found myself, I quickly gathered together a group of like-minded gaming deviants.

I put together my first such group when I was stationed in grand old Twenty-Nine Palms, California, for electronics school. 

The groups weekend activities were based around a set schedule, including two of the key desert activities.

You see, in the High Desert, there were basically two key activities; drinking and exercise. We simply added a third; gaming.

Our gaming group on the weekends had a marvelous tradition we followed for the entire year we were in electronics school together. We would work out, running or rock climbing or playing racquetball and lifting weights. Then we’d hit the beer garden, and grill steaks and lobster tails slathered with honey butter, wrapped in foil. When the butter started steaming out of the foil, tails were done. We’d eat the steaks, lobster, and drink beer (Fosters or Keystone Light) and down some Fuzzy Navels over ice until it was time for Doctor Demento to come on the High Desert radio station. Yes, that’s right, the ONE High Desert radio station. Then we’d listen to the Doctor, followed by gaming until daylight. That would be daylight of the second day, of course.

It was a rough life.

For gaming rules, we liked to swap around systems just like everyone back then did, but one that stood out was Palladium. If you put together all the hinky character creation rulebooks, like Heroes Unlimited, Ninjas and Super Spies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and whatever, you could end up with, and I did, a humanoid white begal tiger martial artist with super speed and super strength and natural claws. Just to see what you could whip up. This was before Rifts came out, or at least before much in the Rifts product line came out.

With such wide open wackiness, the campaigns tended towards outrageousness.

Well, the name of the campaign was “Black Ops and Ninja Trollops”. The players all made characters that were to be part of this super high powered secret government-sanctioned agency out to protect the country from things that usually only appeared on the pages of the National Enquirer. The bad guys AND the good guys wanted to operate under the radar, but things tended to escalate rapidly. Usually involving high explosive and rocket launcher duels in downtown Miami. There is a lot GOOD to be said about rocket launcher duels when riding jetskis, or when on skies towed by a speedboat.

Every time the heroes returned to base, located in South Florida, I made sure that it was wildly different, and not a little frightening, especially any time they had to visit the dreaded “R&D”. I ran R&D as some nightmare of frightening mad science, with a lethality-for-humor rating straight out of Paranoia. Every mission, there was some reason they just HAD to visit R&D, for experimental weapons testing, or a new detecting gadget to find the MacGuffin, or, and this was critical, a new vehicle.

You see, I started a running gag where, every mission, no matter what they did or how they tried, their vehicle would get blown up.

These characters are super-secret super spies with super awesome gadgets. AND they’re played by Marines who love electronics. AND Palladium had extensive rules for designing awesome super cars and weapons systems.

You put those things together, and the players spent more time trying to design a vehicle that could blend into the Miami lifestyle AND be imprevious to me blowing them up than they did trying to beat the bad guys.

They tried spending all their money on super armor and weapons, they tried security systems, they tried driving stripped down crap AMC Gremlin hatchbacks (on the assumption that the characters were already suffering enough, so I’d let the cars survive… umm, wrong) they tried taking buses, they tried avoidance of collateral damage (having the agency send NPCs to ferry them to the drop off by helo, on the assumption I wouldn’t kill the vehicle if it was filled with innocents… ummm, wrong), they tried all sorts of things.

This went on for quite some time. It was really fun, having this running theme as a sub note to the campaign. Well, fun for ME, anyway.

Then, they went for psychological warfare.

One of my favorite movies, then and now, is Vanishing Point.

The main theme of the movie is one man having had enough with everything, all the rules and the petty bullshit, and pretty much taking off on a 100% pointless road trip across the country, hell bent for leather and letting nothing stop him, and in the process pissing off every law enforcement agency in the country. He has no destination that means anything except to him. He’s the driver, Kowalski with a K, and he’s gonna make it to his destination on time, and screw the world. He’s screwed up his career, his life, his love, his racing… he’s done. He’s gonna get this one thing right or die trying.

The car he drives in the film is an iconic white 1970 Dodge Challenger, one of the last of the pony cars.

The guys sat down, and out of game designed a rebuilt 1970 Dodge Challenger, white in color, graphing it out and everything. Reinforced kevlar woven body panels, bulletproof glass, concealed rocket and machine gun ports, all carefully and painstakingly drawn out and detailed with exploded diagrams.

They sprung this on me, as something that their characters in the game had spent 6 months designing and building, and their finished paperwork was beautiful. They really poured their hearts into this thing.

They were pretty confident that this time, they had me. They figured there was simply NO WAY that I would have the balls to destroy my favorite iconic muscle car of all time.

I had to applaud their ingenuity, and their keen insight into applied psychological warfare as it pertains to role playing game GMs.

Their very next mission, they took the car.

Accordingly, their very fnext mission with the car, I placed them in the position of having to choose, themselves, whether to use their car to intercept a missile fired at the main highway that links the Florida Keys, or let the missile hit, RIGHT when there was a busload of nuns destined to be at point zero.

That’s right, I pulled out the busload of nuns bit.

They had to think about that one out of game for quite some time, and it wasn’t a unanimous vote by any means.

They drove their car to the point of impact, blasted the afterburners, rocketed the concrete barrier between elevated highway and open water, and blasted off the highway out over open water, bailing out just before the missile struck the airborne car, blowing it into itty, bitty pieces.

I am a bastard.

But, effort of that magnitude has to be rewarded.

I have a reputation, in my games, that the harder I make the players suffer, the greater the eventual reward. If they are really, really miserable and suffering, they actually get happy, trying to imaginewhat wonderful thing I could possibly be planning to reward them with.

This is a truly cruel act of training on my part. The worse my players suffer… the happier they get. This is wrong, but I can’t stop the process.

I also go the other way. My players tend to learn quickly that the better things are going, the easier things are for them in the game, the worse it’s gonna get. Players get to expecting that the cute little bunny rabbit is actually a death bunny with vorpal fangs, and blow it away on spec. Which, considering the effects of Monty Python on your average gaming group, is probably a smart move.

So, I made THEM make the choice to sacrifice their own car. That’s even worse than blowing it up myself.

BUT… when they called back to base to wail that they had no ride, R&D showed up personally at the scene of destruction to take over clean up… AND promised to rebuild their original ride.

That’s right… R&D. Taking over cleanup. And promising to rebuild the ride. Something that had never been done in game before. R&D never came out of their caves at base. Ever.

The horror that crawled over the players’ faces was astounding. I felt such pride at having crushed them to such a thorough extent.

The players fell all over themselves to get assurances that R&D would rebuild the car, but would add nothing new. Nothing! No death rays, no wings and rocket packs, no teleportation, nothing. They were having none of my games. They knew exactly what they wanted, and they forced the head of R&D to promise that they would rebuild the white challenger to the state it was before it blew up. 

I swore, both in game and out, that R&D would not isntall some kind of gimmicky gadget that would destroy the car again. I promised.

Then, slowly, you could see the hope begin to creep in. They’d suffered, hadn’t they? They’d earned a car, right? A car? Something the characters could get some token feeling of Miami Vice-ness out of? Maybe just this one time?

For the next few weeks of game sessions, the players had some really crappy loaners, up to and including the Goodyear Blimp, issued to them for their missions. And every mission, they checked in at R&D to see how reconstruction was coming along.

I never let them see the car being worked on, but they could see the doors to “Lab 3″, and they could see crews rushing parts in through the doors, and sparks blasting out of the doors as they opened fro welders hard at work, and generally always got the impression that some serious shit was going on to rebuild their white challenger.

They got status updates on the percentage of rebuild completion. They got told that, due to the nature of the explosion being over water, finding all of the pieces was very difficult, and the biggest delay was making sure, as new parts were fabricated from scratch, that they matched the originals without deviation to six sigma levels.

They were being very diligent to remain strictly with the original design.

Finally, I could hold off no longer. The players had been very patient, but enough is enough. It was time for the unveiling.

The head of R&D proudly led them to Lab 3, where they were permitted to enter and view their white challenger for the first time…

The reconstructed space shuttle Challenger.

I am proud to say, even after all these years, that I have never crushed a man’s spirit quite as thoroughly as I crushed ‘El Destructo’ on that day.

Some people cried. Some laughed insanely. One lost it and sprayed Fosters all over my damn room.

El Destructo just kept repeating, in stunned shock, over and over to himself, “I told him a white challenger, and he gave me a white challenger. Why didn’t I say Dodge? Why oh why didn’t I say Dodge? I said white challenger, and he gave me a white challenger…”

It took a LOT of beer to get them through that crisis, but in the end, well…

I blew that one up too.

I still, to this day, cannot think of gaming in 29 Palms without remembering that proud moment, the unveiling of the white challenger. It was my Mona Lisa, my prime creation, my grand belief in mindscrewing the gamer brought to full, vibrant, luxurious life.

It was my triumph. 

There shall never be a finer gaming moment for me, and when I am old and grey, rocking on a porch at the nursing home looking back at all of the insanity that has been my life, I know that this, this one shining moment, will be one of the ones I treasure the most.

Buckle Up, Buttercup, It’s Gonna Be a Bumpy Ride

This is the most heartfelt post I’m going to make all year.

This is not just about strong feelings. This is about pain. Agony. An empathetic embarassment that has me squirming in my seat.

And it’s about triumphs. Joys. That sweet taste of success.

I’m gonna talk about one of my great loves; Television Cooking Challenges.

Specifically, WTF is up with Hell’s Kitchen?

Look, I have two favorite cooking challenge shows. Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef.

Both shows have standout hosts. Both shows focus on fine dining. Both shows have a lineup of chefs competing against each other for the final prize. Both shows generally start by teaming up the chefs early on, and then once the lineup is whittled down, focusing more on individual effort. And both shows have minor challenges followed by a major challenge that results in feeding other people and having their final product be judged in terms of success or failure. 

And yet, you put these two shows up against each other, and they feel nothing whatsoever alike to me.

Let’s start with the biggest difference; the lineup of contestants.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. I have to be, because season after season, this drives me batshit.

There is, as far as I’m aware, no equal employment opportunity overseeing the selection of contestants. Right? The show producers have the power to choose whoever the hell they want to compete on their show. They can watch videos, read letters, do background checks, look at photos, read resumes, and then throw all that shit out the window and pick someone walking by on the street pushing a mop because they fill some special niche that they think will test well or whatever the bloody heck is going through their heads.

The contestants on these shows are not there because the show was forced to take them. These people are who the producers WANTED to take, their favorite choices out of all the options presented to them.

So, what the F&*( is up with the producers of Hell’s Kitchen?

Is this really working for them? Is this what Gordon Ramsey wants? Redneck and ghetto fine cuisine?

Look, I’m fine with the concept of taking skilled ‘real’ people and giving them a shot at their dream job. And I’ll tell you, it is apparent that when the contestants on Hell’s Kitchen are on that show, they are working, and cooking, their asses off. They are busting their asses to make it happen, and they are pushing that food out as best they can, to the best standards they can.

they’re just not at that skill set. They’re working their asses off desperately because they are so far out of their depth, and sinking fast. They’re fighting like hell to make it to that promised brass ring at the end.

But are you telling me that these people are the best qualified skilled chefs they have available to compete? REALLY?

Because I’ll tell you something, I flip on over to Bravo and check out tonight’s season premiere of Top Chef All Stars, and what I’m seeing there are real chefs, with real skills, real talent, real creativity and, if this is what’s holding you up, real tattoos and individualistic personality that show time after time that they can bring it, and I mean ALL of it, to the table.

In Hell’s Kitchen, I watch as the final five are trying to finish a dinner service, and the question isn’t “can they cook a scallop divinely”, the question is, “Will Ramsey catch the completely raw scallops that idiot sent to the pass before they reach the customers”.

I mean, are you serious? How can you watch these shows side by side and tell me that this is the best Hell’s Kitchen could come up with!

And if those aren’t the best… if they are intentionally picking trailer trash and Waffle House cooks for the show rather than the most skilled competitors available, then what is their actual goal here? What is the true focus of entertainment?

I watch Top Chef, and I marvel at the skill, the brilliance, the creativity and mastery of cooking I see in the chefs that compete. I admire Padme’s beauty, poise and gentle sense of humor. I enjoy every moment of Tom Collichio’s screen time, as he brings gravitas and a feeling of professionalism coupled with mild snarkiness to the kitchen.

And I cheer tonight as one of my favorite TV personalities, Anthony Bourdain, joins the judges table. Yes, even after his behavior tonight. He says it, and he means it at the time, even when he’s an asshole. I always admire honesty, even if he is crass. I have watched almost every episode of his show No Reservations, and I don’t give a damn about his politics, he’s my kind of person. And hey, anyone that has his attitude and also has the balls to hang with Ted Nugent on the Nuge’s ranch within range of Ted’s firearms, AND go ahead and shoot ’em, is a badass. plus, did you see the episode where he let the cops tase him? That shit was hilarious.

I find myself really cheering for different chefs on Top Chef for the win, but in the end I respect each and every one of them.

And then there is Hell’s Kitchen.

I start watching each season for one reason and one reason only; to watch Gordon go off on idiots.

To date, he has not disappointed me.  Each season, sure enough, there are people there to give him a reason to go off. To get upset. To go on a frustrated rant about how awful, terrible or incompetent a service was.

I rarely find any contestant on Hell’s Kitchen that does not, at some point, have me glad to see them get an ass chewing.

I don’t watch Hell’s Kitchen to cheer on a talented chef. I don’t want ANY of them to win. I watch to see Gordon Ramsey rip someone a new asshole. Plain and simple.

Is that what the producers of Hell’s Kitchen are aiming for? Are they picking people that are almost, but not quite talented chefs intentionally because the point is to give Gordon people to yell at? To watch bickering and backstabbing and drunken jacuzzi scenes?

I mean, damn. Seriously. I love watching Gordon rip someone a new one, but how much better could the show be if we had some contestants on there that were excellent striving for greatness, rather than mediocre striving for acceptable?

I love Top Chef. Sometimes, it feels like, sure, there are some politics behind the scenes on who is or is not allowed to continue on, but it’s pretty tight. And everyone really brings their “A” game and kicks ass. I’ve never watched a Top Chef and thought that one of the competitors didn’t belong there. Those are some insanely talented chefs.

And watching them compete, I really do feel great for them when they succeed, and I do feel bad for them when a dish isn’t considered a success. I feel like I can own up to watching Top Chef with pride. It’s a great show.

Watching Hell’s Kitchen makes me feel like an illiterate redneck with a dirty secret, possibly involving siblings who are also bound by the laws of matrimony. All right, sure, I *am* a mostly illiterate redneck, but it’s still an embarassing guilty pleasure.

It’s the same pleasure I’d get from watching R. Lee Ermy have a TV show about bringing 16 morons to a fake boot camp, with the one person able to make it through to the end of training winning the chance to go to Iraq for a one year combat tour as a First Sergeant. 

No, seriously. I’d be cheering R. Lee on as he ripped the morons a new one, as one failed to complete a three mile run, or another couldn’t find the courage to do a slide for life, or failed to qualify at the rifle range, or couldn’t keep his left foot straight from his right. But in the back of my head would be the knowledge that no matter WHICH one of these idiots won the final prize, ain’t NONE of them going to be qualified to go to Iraq as a First Sergeant. Oh, HELL no. Why? Because no matter how much hard work and pure HEART the person has, they don’t have the actual training and skills, nor the experience to get the actual final job done!

And likewise, I just can’t see any of the people that compete on Hell’s Kitchen, no matter if they’re the one left standing at the end or not, being capable of handling taking over as the new Head Chef at the fancy fine dining restaurant that is each season’s prize.

I wish them well, but, hell, I wouldn’t eat there after seeing their performance. I have this thing where I don’t LIKE salmonella poisoning, thanks a whole bunch.

Is it just me? I mean, HOLY SHIT, I just watched the two shows back to back tonight, and I just have to wonder, really, is it just me? Am I delusional here?

It’s like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  I’m watching these chefs compete and Gordon scream and yell, and I see the final episodes where a winner is selected and everyone is clapping and screaming and crying and cheering, and I’m all like, “But… they sucked! They can’t. cook. salmon! They sent raw chicken to the pass to serve to a customer. Raw f’ing chicken! Holy shit, are you people all crazy!?! That dude spent the whole time stabbing other people in the back and dividing the kitchen into a resentful hate filled mess! And now you’re putting HIM in charge of a real team? HOLY SHIT! How do you give that person the Head Chef job after seeing all of that! OMIGOD!!!”

And then the blog writer died from overuse of exclamation points.

Okay. I’m calm now.

Whew.

I’m glad I got that out of me. That’s been bugging me for a long friggin’ time.

Damn, this season of Top Chef is gonna be gooooooooood!

As Hank Williams once said, “All my rowdy friends are coming over tonight….”

Balancing personal desires with group needs

There was a great comment by Darth Solo made to yesterday’s post, a comment I thought was very thought provoking.

The comment from Darth Solo that I liked was;

“I would like to respectfully disagree with the premise that rotation doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. Otherwise GearScore would reign supreme. This can be easily checked in RAWR where you can switch around the skills in your rotation. As ret paladin simply using one skill before another can cost 100 DPS. And that’s valid for most classes.

Here’s a story to back this up. While running a heroic I noticed that the lowest person on the DPS chart was a DK who managed to deal about 700 DPS (yes, in a heroic!). Checking his gear revealed that the dude was wearing at least ilvl 264 items. And he was actually attacking mobs and everything. How the hell was that possible? It remains a mystery. I guess he’d probably bought that char off ebay or something.

In closing I remain of firm opinion that rotation does matter and is often more important than gear. Top DPS is also important in groups because otherwise the entire group might suffer due to one player. When playing alone, you can do 1 DPS as far as I’m concerned, and as long as you’re having fun it’s all good. I agree that people generally play games in order to have fun, yet by under-performing badly in a group you’re basically having fun at the expense of others and that’s not very nice.”

Now, I thought the comment didn’t really use the included example very well, the comment was about the importance of rotations, but in the example he didn’t have an exact reason why the DK from the story had only 700 DPS. In the end, it’s not really relevant. Whether it was because of poor rotations, or from having a weapon skill of 300 on a new weapon drop, the point was the DK was in a group providing DPS that did not match in any way his Blizzard-measured gear levels, and at least one person in the group noticed and was annoyed.

The more I thought about his comment, the more I really think that maybe he was right about his interpretation of what I was saying, if you read between the lines of my post. And that’s what made his comment so intelligent and enjoyable to me. It really highlighted the difference in our two approaches to the same issue, and showed me that maybe there was a much bigger issue lying underneath it all to talk about.

The first thing I want to make clear is, I agree with Darth Solo’s point about wanting to put your best effort into your performance during group play. I also agree with him that intentionally joining a group for the purpose of group play without being properly prepared shows disrespect or, perhaps better phrased, a lack of consideration for the other players in the group, and is a bad thing.

Long time readers know that one of my first posts from years ago was ranting and raving about people showing up to raids late, unrepaired, out of ammo and without self-buff foods and items. My opinions on that really haven’t changed very much.

But I think I have a better handle now, and can talk with a little bit more clarity on where your responsibility to your fellow team members should be balanced with your own personal enjoyment of your gameplay experience.

Where I think Darth Solo and I differ in our opinions, is to what lengths a player should go to meet the expectations of other players.

Isn’t that the core of what we’re talking about? You may have your own idea of how to play, and you really enjoy it. But there are also expectations that other players will have when they group with you. If what you like and what others expect aren’t the same, how much of your fun are you willing to sacrifice to meet those expectations?

How much SHOULD you be expected to sacrifice?

It’s in this middle area, I think, where my “casual” point of view deviates from that of a dedicated group player in serious content.

It’s not casual versus hardcore, it’s not even solo versus raider. It’s “I play this game for fun, enjoy playing this class and spec, and don’t want to play something else because you say so” meeting “If you don’t do everything you can to be the best you can be, you’re letting the whole team down.”

When I write posts, the point of view I invariably argue from comes from my own feelings of where that balance point lies.

Here is my personal take on it.

The game is an extension of the real world, in the sense that you interact with other real living people and should act accordingly, with courtesy towards others and consideration for their needs.

In accordance with this consideration and respect, when you choose to group up, whether in an instance or a raid, you should do what you can to be able to “pull your own weight” in the run. 

Having your weapon skill maxed, Defense Skill capped if tanking and your class requires it, your own buff food, flasks or elixirs if the situation calls for them (or mats to have same crafted), equipment repaired, ammunition on hand in sufficient quantity, reagents if necessary to cast your class buffs, and being ready to go when the group is SUPPOSED to be ready to go.

Along with these reasonable preparations, I feel that it is also the responsibility of each player to actually CAST their class buffs, as appropriate, and work together with other members of buffing classes to ensure even distribution. It’s a part of teamwork.

And finally, I feel that during the course of group play, it is the responsibility of each player to act as a member of the team, intentionally working together towards the common goal; killing internet dragons.

That means that if your job is to make the pull, you check your six first to make sure nobody is out of range or drinking to get mana back when at zero. You pay attention to what is going on around you, and try to stay on top of your game; you don’t spend half your time typing in your Erotic RP chat channel. If it’s someone else’s job to make the pull, and they have a reasonable expectation that they will be doing so, you don’t pull for them without clearing it with them first. And you do your best to watch your threat generation as DPS, and have exit strategies planned if you accidentally pull. Yes, running in terror to the tank screaming “get it off, get it off, get it off of me!” at the top of your lungs is a formally recognised exit strategy, known in the trade as “you pull it, you tank it, we rez you”.

All of these things are along the lines of unwritten rules. They are reasonable expectations we could each have of the other players, but there are no actual rules in place to force you to do any of these things. As some random pugs make all too clear.

But rules or no rules, I still try to personally abide by all of them, and hell yes, I do expect the other players to do the same. 

These are all things that, if not done, can hurt other players in the team in measurable ways. Wipes can happen from your pulling when healers or tanks aren’t ready, players time can be wasted significantly by having to wait for you to get food or repairs or ammo, you could cost other players their money by having to provide you with food and flasks you should have gotten yourself.

But what I do not see as falling within the realm of a reasonable expectation is that one person be expected by the rest of the team to choose a class or a Talent spec to play other than the one they prefer.

I strongly feel that each player should have the reasonable expectation that they can damn well play the class and spec they enjoy the most, so long as they do so to the best of their ability. 

Now, suppose we take Mages as an example. As things stand now, Arcane mages are considered by the general population to have the best potential DPS. Frost and Fire Mages, therefore, are considered to be inferior Talent specs.

So f&^%ing what?

I honestly don’t care if the grand biomass has theorycrafted the figures and proven that Arcane is a much more powerful DPS spec than Frost or Fire. If a player finds Frost or Fire to be more FUN, than they should have the reasonable expectation that, so long as they play that Frost or Fire Mage to the best of their ability, nobody else gives them any bloody shit over it.

If you like Arcane Mages so much, YOU bloody well play them, and shut the hell up about it.

Why? Why the difference when we get to Talent spec changes?

Because in this case, the only difference that affects the rest of the team is a theoretical reduction in potential DPS output over the course of the run.

And per my last post… if the Arcane Mage is in crap gear, and the Fire Mage is in great gear… are you REALLY going to be “hurt” more by taking the Fire Mage? Really? No. And what changes over the course of raid progression? Equipped gear strength based on dropped loot and Emblem investment. 

And is potential DPS even the biggest consideration here? Which is truly more beneficial to the team? An Arcane Mage that is focused on living up to DPS expectations, or a Frost Mage that is a master of using all of their utility spells while also cranking out the damage?

My key point here is, all rhetoric about potential DPS aside, in my opinion, if you’re going to argue that players have to follow a stringent set of  prescribed Talent specs and rotations on the basis of “having fun at the expense of others”, you need to show how doing it their way is actually HURTING those others.

As I said. I’m not an idiot, and I know that, for many if not most dedicated raiding groups out there, the expectation IS that in order to be considered a valuable team member, you will do everything you can to play your class to the maximum of it’s potential, and that expectation does include being told by the raid leaders/guild leaders how they expect you to spec your Talent points and what rotations to utilize.

I know. If that’s what you’re looking for, that level of commitment of doing what the team wants as a whole in order to achieve victory, that’s great. Making sacrifices for the sake of furthering the goals of your team of guild mates and friends can feel very rewarding, a true bonding experience. Another sign that you’re all in it together, sink or swim.

But it’s this general belief that random nitwits and nimrods in PUG raids have the right to criticize some other player’s choice of Talent spec based on the theorycrafting spreadsheets of an out of game website that I totally and completely object to. Why the hell should some stranger sacrifice their enjoyment for you in your PUG raid? Who died and made YOU grand archon?

And in conclusion…. I’d like any guild out there, 10’s or 25’s, that has successfully cleared ICC with groups consisting of non-optimal specs to feel free to trumpet your successes in the comments. Brag to your hearts content about how you were able to kick the Lich Kings’ bony ass just fine with a group including BM Hunters, Frost or Fire Mages, Frost DPS Death Knights (especially before the buffs of 3.3.3), Demonology and Destruction Warlocks (depending on which patch), and weird combinations of pure “flavor” rotations and gear.

All Druid clears are, of course, nothing but win, but we’ll take all Paladin clears and cheer you if you’ve got ’em.

Itty bitty comic geeky!

A word or two about Spider-Man, if you’ll indulge me.

Okay, I’m kidding. It’s a bearwall.

This one is so offtopic it’s off the map. Or is that off the chain? I get those two confused, I’m old.

A recent Gutters comic (god I love that webcomic) captured how I felt about the entire Joe Quesada “Brand New Day” Spider-Man retcon… well, perfectly.

Look, I think Joe Quesada has done a lot of positive things for the Marvel line-up. I really do.

I love the entire Ultimates concept that he supported, for example. 

And if we take a look at what actually happened to the mainstream Spider-Man comics, it wasn’t all bad ideas.

For one thing, there were just too damn many Spider-Man monthlies with similar titles, different numbering schemes, and crossover storylines that you had to hop from series to series to try and piece together.

Blech. It’s stupid. If you’re gonna tell a serialized story, put all the pieces of the story under one title, OR do it rarely and then clearly label those seperate issues that are part of the crossover.

I’m gonna have a very limited amount of patience with trying to decide if an issue is a tie in from another series in the middle of a story arc if you’re not gonna clue me in on the cover. And no, I’m not just going to buy everything you ever publish in the hopes that THAT way I’ll get the whole story. Umm, /facepalm.

Now, if you’re in the comics industry, and all you do is think about and follow the comics industry, then I bet you’ve got no trouble whatsoever keeping it all straight. After all, it’s what you do. You read everything done by everybody, and follow it all, and read the authors blogs, and developer diaries, and whatsis.

If the people who do that are your intended demographic… well, okay, then I should shut up ’cause I ain’t who you’re marketing for.

But if, by some chance, you do hope to catch the marketshare of the ‘people who like to read comics along with other stuff’, well, I gots better stuff to be doing with my time than keep track of your entire publication lineup. No, I don’t follow the trades catalog to see if you’ve got a special one shot coming up that will have a critical part of the story from your normal series that I’ll miss otherwise.

NO, I will not pick up a comic purchase story arc card from the comic shop so I can plan wwhich issues come out which month so i don’t miss them (are you f’ing kidding me with this? I’m looking at you, World War Hulk).

Just saying.

No, wait, I can’t let that go. Seriously, LOOK AT THE CHECKLIST THEY GAVE OUT!!!!

That’s just asinine. Joe, I want to bitchslap you so hard your ancestors will be put off sex, that’s what I want to do.

Anyway, Spider-Man and multiple series simultaneously.

Joe Quesada, perhaps bowing to sales figure reality, collapsed all the various Spidey titles under one umbrella… and then made it a triple a month release.

Hey, that should’ve been done years ago. One series to follow, and you bring it out more often per month to catch the sales interest in that character. Good job. Even *I* can follow one series. At least, until you do one story arc across a bazillion other titles.

No, I’m not going to even try to pretend that Joe Quesada is some kind of evil, smelly demon-man. Nah. He’s done a lot I can agree with.

I’ll bring up that Ultimates thing again. Umm, Joe, thanks for helping bring about the single greatest pleasure I have had in comics as an adult… seeing a brilliant re-invention of my favorite comics lines, from the ground up, done by adults.

I know the Ultimates brands are referred to as marketed to the teen audience, but I beg to differ. I prefer to think they were targeted, in terms of story, towards people that like tight stories.

Brian Michael Bendis’ Spider-Man run is my favorite, by far, but a real close second is the Fantastic Four relaunch. I really loved the entire Cosmic Cube storyline, from seeds planted early to eventual conclusion.

Yes, I know that a ton of pop culture is embedded in them… hey, that’s one of the things I like about them. I can identify and relate. Spider-Man interrupting a film being shot in New York about him? His fight action getting recorded and included in the film… and since he can’t reveal his identity, his not making a dime on it? Oh, that was hilarious.

I won’t pretend to like or enjoy the Ultimatum Wave ending, it felt pretty half-assed compared to other aspects of the overall Ultimates storylines, but hey… At least Ultimate Spider-Man is still continuing on.

But let me get back to that Gutters comic, and Joe Quesada’s continuity retcon.

I really liked J. Michael Straczinski’s run on Spider-Man. I did. He brought a ton of great concepts and built them very well.

And then, and pardon me if I still choke a little, Joe Quesada kicked all us fans right in the nutsack.

Peter Parker, after decades of us growing up right alongside the smartassed, wisecracking little nerd trying his best to fight the good fight, the kid with all heart and no quit, married the woman of his dreams. A real marriage, hard times, problems, stress, and working through it. He decided to try and do more with his life than swing around looking for muggings to interrupt; he got a job teaching a class in a school. Just a regular class, trying to make a difference, a difference we could relate to, a damn hard task for anyone, making a difference in the lives of some real kids who need a mentor and understanding teacher more than they do a guy in spandex.

I for one grew up reading Spider-Man comics.

I wasn’t some idiot who tried to be Spider-Man when he grew up, but I could definitely relate to the underdog aspect, the trying your damndest and never giving up aspect of it.

Okay, so i also loved that he was a smartass. To EVERYONE.

Who else do you know that will be a smartass to Galactus? Yeah, ahuh.

People talk about inspirations and examples for our formative years. The importance of having something to look up to, someone to admire.

And then, for the most part, we’re told to look at politicians and sports athletes and rock stars and movie stars to seek that inspiration.

Umm, no. Athletes pretty much equals a desire to take any perfomance enhancing drug if they think they can get away with it, drunken wild orgies on boats on lakes in Minnesota, driving over policewomen in downtown Minneapolis, and flying personal jets to training camp after the actual ‘training’ part is over, blowing off practice because you’re apparently too good to need any of that teamwork building crap, and making me applaud one brave announcer who proclaimed “The Ego Has Landed” when Farve touched down.

Wait, what was I saying?

And politicians? If you use a politician as your role model, well, jeez. Anyone aspiring to be a politician when they grow up might as well just be a bank robber – it’s a less dishonest way of making a living. At least you’re stealing it all at once without pretension to a higher calling of public service.

Rock Stars? Umm… okay, I’m not gonna go there. And movie stars? Man, give me a target that takes at least SOME effort.

But you open up a comic book, and what do you have?

You have an attempt to depict, for the most part, people trying to do the right thing… and exploring what that means. Whether they be aliens from another planet, or normal people overcoming great personal tragedy, or anything in between, one of the most prevalent recurring themes in comics is struggling to do the right thing… even struggling to understand what the right thing even is.

It goes way beyond “with great power comes great responsibility”. Many modern storylines take serious looks at what it might be like if someone with godlike power but flawed concepts of morality or ethics tried to impose their will on various cultures.

One of my favorites was the recent Black Summer by Warren Ellis, who writes some damn fine pieces of speculative fiction hiding behind pretty pictures.

Getting back to Joe Quasada’s gutting of Spider-Man.

The Spider-Man had it. His life was hard, it wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t even fun most days. It was frequently bleak, long hours of dedicated back breaking work, trying to do the right thing.

But he had the most wonderful, vibrant marriage to the woman he loved above all else in his life. That, and knowing in his heart that he was doing his best to actually make a difference, in costume and in normal life. that, and the struggle, was enough.

And Joe Quesada not only broke up Pete’s marriage and dumped Peter back into the Daily Planet, but he also decided in his massive retcon that all of that grown up crap NEVER EVEN HAPPENED ANYMORE.

It didn’t exist. No marriage. He didn’t even get along on speaking terms with MJ. Just, slam! Didn’t like that, did ya Joe? It’s more fun to have a single, angsty, dating problems Spider-Man with crap tossed in his direction by old tired super-villains, and teaching? What, teaching kids in school? SPIDER-MAN? Hell, who can relate to THAT? Nah, make good old Peter a struggling kid out to make a buck taking photos, and hiding his secret from Aunty May.

That… that was a galactic level kick in the nuts.

Why?

Because, there are SO DAMN FEW GOOD EXAMPLES OF A NORMAL LIFE in the media!

I actually, mentally just did a Jesse Ventura “meee deee ahhh” there in my head. I knew I should have stopped for beer on the way home tonight.

Take a good, long look at comics, or television, or really any other form of media.

Just how many examples of a strong relationship that weathers any storm do you SEE out there?

Look, emotional turmoil makes for spicy drama, so I know, I KNOW that for a quick and cheap dramatic turn by a lazy writer, you build up a quicky relationship JUST so you have something to tear down later. 

But it’s everywhere. That kind of writing, that relationship foundation is the norm out there. That is the most prevalent example you’ll ever see… nobody, but nobody has a stable relationship for long. They all fall apart eventually.

How many incidents of true love, true enduring ‘can’t touch this’ love can you name in comics or television media?

Relationships that lasted, and grew, and no matter what bullshit went on around them, just stayed strong because no matter what else, the two people loved each other and trusted each other, and no lazy writer came along and decided to shatter that trust by writing in a bullshit cheating or lying or deceiving moment?

Now… of those loves… how many were ended by the death of one or the other to provide some good old fashioned grief or revenge?

Don’t you think that such a relationship, depicted in fiction, and left alone to just keep going is a rare enough thing that it makes for an interesting story concept on it’s own?

Ahh, but it’s almost never done… so, for lazy writers, you’ve got to actually WORK to keep it interesting, don’t you? Nothing much to copy out there, is there?

But there was one. call it what you will, Peter and MJ finally had a strong, enduring relationship and marriage together.

And along came Joe Quesada, who saw nothing worth saving, nothing of value, in the enduring love of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Just tear it down, that stuff doesn’t make for gripping drama.

Hey Joe? Yeah, for that, and that alone, kiss my ass.

You know what I thought when I read that issue? The One More Day/Brand New Day arc?

I thought of the death of one other enduring, unbreakable love that really pissed me off.

I would be talking about the Willow Rosenberg/Tara Maclay relationship from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Now, episode after episode, once it got going, that was true, unshakeable love. It was hard at times, there were issues, there was some shaky writing in there, and there were moments of real high drama. But the drama was in our expectations… the episode where Tara’s got a group of, umm, ‘people’ who come to try and bring her back to their, umm, ‘home’ with them, in particular, was one of the most intensely worrying ones, because it really looked like there was an intentional storyarc building to show that Tara’s love and trust was a deception after all. The drama from that one came from the way you just can’t trust a storywriter to NOT write in a bullshit twist to cause a TV relationship to fall apart.

But no, that was a romance and a relationship that made me cheer what I hoped was a new age in TV writing. Writers daring to show a strong, trusting relationship that didn’t get betrayed by one damn thing or another, or by some stupid misunderstanding that could have been worked through if there was actual trust between the two. Damnit, I would have loved to have seen those two get married on top of a sealed Hellmouth as the series ending.

I’m not going to belabor the way that relationship ended. Aside from noting that, and I am not exaggerating, that moment, that exact moment when the relationship died in the backyard of their house stands out as one of the few moments in my life where I was truly pissed off and livid at a television show.

I mean, ‘choke the living shit out of the writer if he was in front of me’ livid.

But, that’s where they took it, and I guess a lot of people agreed it was a good direction to take the story, so whatever.

I’ve got a big middle finger for how they did it because i wanted it to keep going… but then again, if they started by wanting to get to ‘Dark Willow”, and were trying to find a way to do it, I’d rather they did what they did than that they cause some form of deception or failure of trust or messy bullshit breakup be the reason.

IF they really wanted to get to Dark Willow and were looking for a way while still treating their relationship with repsect, that is. And that’s what I think happened there. They wanted to get to a Dark Willow story arc, and wanted to find a way to do it while treating Willow’s relationship with Tara with respect.

Joe Quesada, from what I saw while reading those comics, simply wanted to destroy the marriage. He didn’t treat it with any respect, he treated it as something to shitcan for expedience in the name of a series reboot and as an attempt to boost sales.

Seriously, I honestly think that if I want to see a long lasting, enduring romantic relationship that withstands the test of time, two people that never lose faith in each other come what may, I’m going to have to write it myself.

Ahem… one shot movies like the Princess Bride, and Romeo and Juliet, don’t count. And R & J [spoiler] both die at the end, which cuts down on the recurring episode market for that one.

You know, even the most powerful on-screen recurring relationship I can think of, Beauty and the Beast, couldn’t maintain it without destroying it eventually in the name of ratings.

You’d think they could, considering the structure of the show… and if you stop watching after season two, and DO NOT WATCH season three, you can retain your blissful ignorance of any eventual tragedy, and prefer to believe, like I do, that Catherine and Vincent remain forever in love, sharing their lives in the Tunnels Below with their family.

Ahh, I miss that show, damnit.

Anyway, in the name of shining examples of actual, enduring love and trust and mutual respect, Joe Quesada, this middle finger’s for you!