Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Comic Books and Coffee Mugs Prove I Don't Understand Feminism or Marketing.

I want to be able to say that I'm not sexist. I'd like to think so. Every once in a while, something will set me off and I tailspin into some remarkable rabbit hole of self-loathing that makes me think that either I'm some sort of naive idiot or some evil monster.

This time it was a coffee cup.

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy a few weekends ago, and I really liked it. That's not really noteworthy, since it would seem that lots of people went out to see a movie that most people would have laughed at the premise of ten years ago. In fact, it's so many people that it's the number grossing summer film in the United States. In an effort to be additionally supportive, and to give me a frequent reminder of the film, I purchased a coffee mug that has four of the characters from the film on it.

So now I hear Peter Falk's voice in the back of my head going "Sorry to bother you, but there's one thing that I don't understand there. Aren't there five members of the team in Guardians of the Galaxy?" (For those of you too young to get the Columbo reference, just have a look on youtube.)

Who's on the coffee mug? Well, Star Lord has to be on the mug. It's practically his movie from start to finish. The bounty is on him, it's his spaceship, and it's his mixtape. Rocket and Groot are on the mug because they carry a lot of the jokes in the film. Drax is on the mug because he's awesome and nothing goes over his head. (Side note: Drax is so awesome that they also have a mug that's just him. I presume that the marketing department thinks that coffee drinkers identify with Drax.) I ask my wife while we're in the store - "Why isn't Gamora on the coffee mug?" - to which she wittily replies, "Gamora doesn't need coffee." She's not a fluff character in the film, by any means. She gets lots of screen time and several awesome action sequences.

So, then I start considering possibilities and the rabbit hole starts opening up on me. First, I think that they really did leave Gamora off of the mug because she's a girl, but then that would imply that the marketers think that comic books fans, especially ones that drink their own coffee but go the movies won't be accepting of her. Then I think - but I noticed that she was missing, and aren't I part of the intended demographic of both the movie and the coffee mug? So then that means I must feel guilty that a woman wasn't included, when women wouldn't actually want her to be on there to be objectified, so I'm bad for trying to introduce gender into a discussion that it shouldn't even have been in in the first place? It's not like the marketers can be wrong - after all, any time I don't get a commercial it's not because it's a bad commercial, it's because I'm not the intended demographic.

Don't comic books play into male adolescent fantasy a little too often for women to not be included, even if they're present for obstensibly the wrong purpose?

Then I think about it some more - Gamora is being played by the same actress that plays Lt. Uhura in the new Star Trek Films, and the lead Na'vi character Neytiri in James Cameron's Avatar. Is there a coffee-drinking man or woman that watches science fiction films that would decline to buy a coffee mug if she was on it? I think not. At a certain point, I have to abandon trying second-guess a feminist viewpoint and go back to trying to see the fan viewpoint. They're a team, she's on it, she should be on the coffee mug.

There's contact information on the bottom of the mug for the company that made them. Since it's here in America, I guess I will try to talk to them.

Let's try this in the contact form and see what happens:

I recently picked up one of the Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy coffee mugs from my local Wal-Mart retailer and opted for the "Character" mug over the "Drax" mug just to have more of the characters but I was still a little disappointed that Gamora was not included. I have been often reminded that I don't really understand marketing.  In those cases where I don't understand the marketing it's often the case that I'm not the intended demographic anyway. I don't actually drink coffee, but I got it for my wife who does. We're both over 40 and have a couple of kids and we all enjoyed the movie.  So - is it because I'm not the standard demographic for this product, or is it because of some marketing reason that I'm unlikely to understand that Gamora's not on the "Character" mug? (Or is there some simple explanation that I've entirely overlooked?)

I'll follow up on this post when I get some sort of a response from the mug manufacturer.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cubing in public, and breaking cube news

Having had a number of long days and odd situations at work, I was faced Friday with the prospect of having to take a long lunch so I didn't put myself into unauthorized overtime. I brought my good stickerless DaYan with me, and went to go run some errands to make the most of my lunch hours.

I had intended as my first stop to go to Home Depot and find out if they could sell me a prefabbed kitchen drawer to replace my blown-out silverware drawer. Particle board is not amenable to being re-drilled that much, and it had several stress failures in it. I discovered at Home Depot that they don't do kitchen cabinets the same way that they used to. I remember it being more like IKEA, where if you want a particular setup, they say, "Go get 4 drawer kits, one Base A, Two Base G's, and a Door M and N." Now, an entire section is a pre-assembled piece and you just have to fit them together, and the drawers are done completely differently now. Smartly, the rollers are underneath the drawer instead of hanging off the sides, so gravity doesn't act to misalign the mechanism.  I made a couple of laps around the furniture section, hoping to catch someone's eye so I could ask the stupid question to which they were going to answer "No" to, but the only employees that I was able to engage either were in other sections or the sniper guy in the front of the store that I wasn't going to talk to because I wasn't particularly interested in whatever special offers he had today.

Feeling down for having flunked out of the first errand, I walked over to the TigerDirect in the same plaza. Instead of avoiding the salespeople, I brandished my cube and walked right towards them. When the first person said "Hey - Rubiks' Cube!" I knew I was going to be good to do my three minute schtick. I managed to finish off a 27 second solve, talked to them about Will Smith learning to do the cube for ha movie, the fastest current time, the basics about the Fridrich method, how the corners first method is different, how algorithms work, and how learning how to do two moves with a single had motion improved my time. After the demonstration, I got someone to direct me to a good keyboard because I had gotten tired of the overly flat Dell keyboard that comes with the new computers that my company has been rolling out. They showed me a Microsoft Ergonomic 4000 and they had it for $35, and I was pretty darn happy about that. I even did a little bit of my cube demo a second time for the cashier who rang me up since nobody was in line behind me and they seemed interested.

After I got done with that, I went down to the Gamestop up the street. I found a used copy of Killer is Dead marked at $8, but it rang up $16. The cashier was nice about it and split the difference, so I got it for $12. While he was figuring it out, I did a little bit of my cube routine for the line that had formed behind me. During part of my schtick, I had mentioned to the cashier that I usually had my cube with me for when I had to wait in line at places instead of playing Angry Birds, and I got a sort of a hipstery I-didn't-think-anybody-still-played-Angry-Birds response from him. That's a sentiment that's not unexpected from the general public, but I found it slightly unexpected from a game store employee. This is Gamestop after all - if people weren't playing old games they wouldn't be making enough money to be in a strip mall every 15 miles all over America.

So, having forgotten several items on the list, I found myself at Walmart later that evening to get a couple of the things I couldn't manage to get elsewhere. Our local store is being remodeled, so everything is out of place. Towering shrink-wrapped pallets fill the rear aisles, the newly redesigned parking lot doesn't have cart corrals in the right places, the back-to-school section is two narrow corridors of doom and destruction, support posts block the traffic flow of the most used cash lane of the store, turkey pans are assisting with the air conditioning system, and if anything new came in the store you would only find it by accident.

Last night's accidental discoveries were some of the Star Trek series of Hot Wheels cars and a newly redesigned Rubik's cube!

The packaging is clear plastic on top to show the cube inside, with an insert on the bottom that mentions that there's a new smoother mechanism and on the other side that there's a new Rubik's cube app on Google Play and the Apple Store. The cube is shiny - at first I thought that it was just redesigned stickers but it turned out to be embedded plastic tiles. This is not the first time that a Rubik's cube was done with tiles, but the plastic tiles on the 80's cubes were thicker. These new tiles are recessed. I have not been able to disassemble the new cube as I find the mechanism is rather stiff. It may have a spherical mechanism similar to the Void cubes and the 80's Rubiks' Revenge, or it may just be that there are spherical feet. It is not suited for speedcubing that I can tell, but perhaps some breaking in will do it some good. The only information that I had found about the new cube was on the Hasbro page.  I had one face that I couldn't turn that well for ten minutes or so, and then with a firm grip on two layers I was eventually able to turn it. I couldn't tell if it was hung up or there was a piece of plastic flash, but now I can hear a rattling piece of plastic inside the cube when I shake it. Since I can't wear down or delaminate the stickers and they're widely available, I suppose I could silicone this one without fear. If the silicone lubricant works, it would be the first time in a long time that I can carry around a real Rubik's cube without having to apologize for it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

USFIV, slideshow version

I tried to add a Street Fighter video to my Youtube channel, but it was more like a slideshow. I was thinking that it could have been because I was connected via wireless, but apparently I'm not the only one with the problem.

Here you go anyway, if only for humor's sake and for subsequent comparison.

Ken's Ultra reaches a little farther than expected, both in the first and third rounds. Done out of total desperation on my part, that Evil Ryu player should have eviscerated me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The harsh reality of being old.

When you're really young, it's not that important to get it 100% right - just the idea that you're trying to do things and putting yourself out there is enough

When you're still young but not brand new, it's easy to be brash and outspoken, and perhaps people don't criticize what you do all the time because they can say, "Oh, they're still young. It's OK, they'll grow out of it." You can establish yourself as you develop your identity, and people will flock to you initially out of novelty, and then stay with you out of a sense of familiarity.

Everybody understands that things change, and perhaps the four year old and the ten year old look at the same things and have a completely different approach - to the point where the four year old couldn't even imagine what the choices of the ten year old would be, and the ten year old can't imagine the choices of the twenty-one year old. Once you've matured that much, perhaps the path forward becomes more intuitive, and sometimes when you can step back and look at all the changes, it's easier to see how you got from point A to point B. That doesn't stop the temptation of doing something brash just to get attention, or maybe just sticking by your guns and hoping that you find the right people to appreciate you.

Of course, I'm talking about Street Fighter. While it's Capcom's second biggest franchise (Resident Evil is their biggest) it's not experiencing the sort of mainstream popularity that it used to. While arcades were starting to dwindle at the end of the 80's, the strength of the Street Fighter II series games made arcades relevant again and paved the way for the character versus character fighting game to become the dominant paradigm of the arcade, instead of all of the shooting games that followed in the footsteps of Space Invaders and Defender.

In its middle age, the Street Fighter III series tried to abandon all of the old characters except Ryu and Ken, and had many problems retaining an audience due to its extreme difficulty and unfamiliarity. Later versions of the game brought back some favorite characters, but it was too late and still too difficult a game for mainstream audiences.

As a mature game, the Street Fighter IV series which is currently on its fourth home release over the course of  six years has tried to straddle the line between innovating and keeping the fan base satisfied. While it's selling more copies than it did during the Street Fighter III era, Street Fighter's overall cultural relevance has waned a little. More people are familiar with the cheesy "Street Fighter" movie with Raul Julia and Jean-Claude Van Damme than are familiar with the newer "Street Fighter:The Legend of Chun Li" starring Kristin Kreuk. It really hit home for me on Tuesday this week when I picked up my copy of Ultra Street Fighter IV. I had been to Target at lunch earlier in the day and had walked through the game section. If they had the new game, I didn't notice. Even when I got to my local Gamestop after work to pick my copy up one the way home, it's not like they had a big cardboard standup in the store or a bunch of copies on the shelf. I handed them my preorder receipt, and they had to look for it. It took them just long enough to find it that I had a moment where I started to worry that CAPCOM had delayed the release date and didn't tell anyone. Maybe now that the game is this old, they don't worry about the marketing so much because they figure they're not going to get any better audience that what they already have?

I like the new characters, although they're not entirely new. Hugo, Elena, Rolento, and Poison were all available characters in other games, and Decapre is visually similar to Cammy. Despite my concerns, Decapre plays like a completely new character. For that matter, the other four new characters have all had some adjustments to them that make them play a little differently than their previous incarnations.

The challenge mode in the game that gives you a set of specific objectives for each character in an attempt to teach you the moveset of each character had gone unfinished in the previous edition of the game, and at the moment is still unfinished. A future patch has been promised, and I will be looking forward to it. I found that I had never really learned Yun and Yang properly from the previous version without the challenge mode. Sure, you can go in training and mess around, and it's not like you can't look up the moves. but I found the challenges a good foundation for learning the other characters. Another feature of the game that I hadn't quite expected is that it pulls in your data from other games, so it knows that I played SFxTekken, and it knows what my scores and character usage from Street Fighter IV:Arcade Edition are.

I'm pretty happy with the game, even if I'm not the most awesome player of Fei Long or Vega or Dan on the internet. I'm looking forward to a lot of games against my older son and my friends. (My older son plays as T. Hawk, and I heard that they made some improvements to his moves. I guess I better watch out.)

The only thing that seems to bug me about the game is one of the the reasons that I waited to get the full retail version of the game on disk was so I could have all the costumes in one shot and get that over and done with. As soon as the game came out a new set of costumes was announced. I know, it's the new thing to monetize add-on content to every game, and it just doesn't sit well with me.

Maybe it's because I'm old.

Friday, August 1, 2014

What Wii still have left to play...

I was reminded at the store today that some people still have their original Wii, and haven't upgraded to the WiiU. It made me think that there are some really good games out there that if you didn't play on the Wii, you still should. I would also add that you will have a better time playing these games on your Wii hooked to a good TV using the component video cables than you will playing those games on a WiiU because of what the WiiU's upscaling looks like.

Here's a quick list of my personal favorites for the Wii that you might want to go back and play if you accidentally skipped them. The more mature-rated games are further down the list.

The Legend of Zelda:Twilight Princess (single player)
The Legend of Zelda:Skyward Sword (single player)
Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 (mostly single player, but a second player can assist a little)
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (up to 4 players)
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (up to 4 players)
Mario Kart Wii (1-4 players)
Excitebots Trick Racing
Wii Sports Resort (1-4 players)
Most of the LEGO games (Star Wars 1-3, Indiana Jones 1&2, Batman 1&2, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter 1-4 and 5-7, Lord of the Rings)
de Blob and de Blob 2 (single player - the first game is groundbreaking, but the second game is easier to control because jumping was mapped to a button instead of waving the Wii Remote)
Kirby's Epic Yarn (1-2 players, unbearably cute for some people)

Okami (single player, especially good if you liked the Zelda games )
Sengoku Basara (1-2 players. #1 game at my house by total hours played, but not for everyone)

Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition (single player, Mercenaries mode is still a lot of fun for a long time after you've finished the main story.)
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom (1-2 players, the only conventional fighting game on the Wii.)
No More Heroes 1 & 2 (While its status as 'Mature' content is often questionable as some of the humor is rather juvenile and crude, the games have a unique presentation and narrative without being so artistic as to be a drag on actually playing the game.)
Metroid: Other M (Single player. The game is ridiculous in many aspects, and there's no reason Samus needs to talk, but it was full of interesting combat and exploration and a streamlined control scheme that uses only the Wiimote. Metroid Prime Trilogy is also a great game that used to be three great smaller games, but the controls are more complicated.)
Sin and Punishment (single player, an interesting take on the rail shooter genre. I was glad that I picked it up for $20 when I could as copies have crept back up to $50 in some places.)
Pikmin 1 & 2 New Play Control ( story is 1 player in both games, Pikmin 2 has some multiplayer vs. games available after finishing the main game. They are conversions of a couple of the best Gamecube games that Nintendo made.)

I might also suggest the Rayman games and the Rabbid spinoff games, although they are not in my personal collection. I don't put games like Call of Duty or Tiger Woods or Rock band on this list because if you really wanted to play those games when they came out you're unlikely to be a Wii owner.

Feel free to pick on this list or suggest more.