Saturday, February 23, 2008

Back from WonderCon

Had a great time at WonderCon.

Anne Hathaway seems very sweet, and to her credit, she managed to restrain herself in my presence. Being three billion rows away probably helped her out on that.

Steve Carell seems really nice, too, and he said that, having served 2 weeks in jury duty, he's thinking of writing an episode of The Office next season in which Michael Scott gets called for jury duty.

There were tons and tons of people, some of whom we got our pictures with. Once we get all the pics sorted out, I'll post a few here.

Right now, my feet are killing me, and I'm very tired.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Time for Nerd Prom!

Tomorrow, I will be up to my eyeballs in pop culture at WonderCon in San Francisco.

Aside from the usual comic book-related stuff, there's also sci-fi stuff, other movie stuff, animation, people in costumes--a whole bunch of stuff.

And Peter (Chewbacca) Mayhew is going to be there again! Yay!

This year, since my brother is supposed to be helping with his newborn son, I am going with my friend, Karyne, who is as socially retarded as I am. But being socially retarded at a comic book convention is akin to being a clown at a circus--no one notices too much because you are one of many.

Now don't get me wrong; most of the attendees are perfectly normal-looking, well-balanced people who like this stuff. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with dressing up in costume either, as far as I'm concerned. It's pretty much the same as painting yourself various colors and rooting for your favorite team.

I like meeting the talented people who are responsible for the pop culture artifacts I absorb. While I'm still shy, I usually manage to work up to a "hi" by the time I get up to them.

This year, I'm keen on attending a feature on two upcoming Warner Bros. movies, 10,000 B.C. and Get Smart. It's the latter that I'm looking forward to, as two of its stars will be in attendance to pimp promote the flick. One is Steve Carell, which is awesome enough. But the other? Anne Hathaway.


Hopefully she can hold herself back if she happens to gaze into my eyes. Cross those fingers, kids.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Retrogaming: Space Taxi

Today's game du jour of the day, Space Taxi, is another favorite from my Commodore 64 days.

In it, you operate a (wait for it) space taxi, taking passengers on presumably interplanetary journeys. There are various landing pads from which you pick up and drop off your fares; some are wide, and others are barely wide enough to land on without smooshing your prospective customer.

Once you pick up your last passenger in a level, he'll say (in passable voice synthesis), "Up, please." Make sure you navigate that portal at the top of the screen, or you will die in a mangled fiery heap.

And you won't get paid.

As the levels progress, it gets harder, with various gimmicks trying to keep you from making an honest space cabbie's salary, such as moving platforms, those pesky block holes, and the bane of many a driver's experience, a giant ping-pong game.

While it seems pretty simple, it can be a pain in the ass when you finally navigate through an 8-bit representation of Godzilla's lower intestine only to forget to drop your landing gear at the pad, and dying in aforementioned mangled fiery heap.

This game taught me to swear more effectively.

The basic gameplay can be found in the more recent Crazy Taxi. Now I'm thinking, here are two games begging for a mashup: Crazy Space Taxi!

Tell me that wouldn't rock out with your wok out.

Instead of traveling from screen to screen, you'd drive in various immersive space sectors, starting in our own solar system. Not only would it have proven gameplay potential, but awesome space graphics, too.

And you could get a passenger to ask you to "Take me to Uranus," thus promoting much puerile giggling. Just be sure, as my pal Karyne observed, not to ram the car upon reaching your destination.

Yes, we're both 12-year-old boys.

You can play an updated version, Space Taxi 2, or, if you're looking for that old-school thrill, there's some gameplay video below.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oooo, scary!

My wife showed me this video, and I have to say, it's pretty convincing. You be the judge:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Retrogaming: Hard Hat Mack

In sixth grade, I got to be the unofficial teacher's assistant in my computer class.

Partly because I'm just that cool, but mostly because I took the same computer class during summer school.

We had Apple IIes in our class, all with those crappy monochrome screens that were shades of amber or green. I only make note of that because they were impossible for me to see half the time, depending on the light. We did have one or two with full-color monitors, but we generally didn't use those.

If you needed an 80-page-long banner printed with a festive font, I was your guy.
So while I was the mad pimp Print Shop designer of the class, I never had much fun playing games in class (with the exception of Oregon Trail, despite the fact that my damn oxen and wagon floated away EVERY SINGLE TIME I tried to ford a river).

Until I showed up one day after school when two kids were using the color monitor to play a game, that to me, looked a lot like Donkey Kong, except different.

The kid playing lost his last man in the game, and it went back to the title screen.

Even as an adult, when I hear 'OSHA,' I think of this game first.
Hard Hat Mack, published by some company called Electronic Arts.

It looked like a fun little game. You were a construction worker who had to achieve various goals -- welding, jumping, collecting lunch boxes -- while avoiding bad guys.

After taking a turn playing it -- and sucking mightily -- I was hooked. I had to beat this game.

Shortly after that, we got it for our computer at home, the Commodore 64. Well, technically, it was the 128, but we almost always ran it in 64 mode.

I was so excited to beat the third level, until I found out that the game just started over at the first level, but faster. But by then, I'd conned my parents into buying a good handful of games in addition to Hard Hat Mack, among them, Skyfox, Space Taxi, and Impossible Mission.

Below is some sample gameplay. Dig the sound effects and music. I can still hear it all even with the speakers turned off.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fight for your right to party

I was on top of the world.

In a few short days, I'd forever be away from Monte Vista Middle School, and I'd be going into high school.

Even better than that, the big graduation trip to Great America was the next day, and this school day couldn't end soon enough.

As it is, I only had a few classes to go. I went to my locker and got my books. Or tried to, anyway. Once I'd opened my locker door, someone slammed it shut. This was fairly common in middle school; at least it was to me.

I didn't know my tormentor; he was a tall kid with a shock of carroty hair and beady Scut Farkas eyes. After the third time he shut my locker, I figured, ah, to hell with it, I'll just get my stuff later since this moron obviously had some kind of problem.

His problem persisted. As I walked away, Carrothead started kicking the backs of my feet, you know, like when you try to trip a guy? You kick his foot while he's walking, hope it locks in the back of his knee joint, causing him to fall, and hilarity ensues.

Alas, he was kicking my foot only when it was firmly on the ground. Taller than me or not, he was pissing me off.

"You know, that works better when my foot is off the ground, ass," I said without looking behind me.

I made it almost around the corner when he shoved me. Hard.

"What the hell?" I asked, trying to keep my Jiminy Cricket voice as deep as it could go.

"What's your problem?" he asked me, shoving me in the chest.

Ever the diplomat, I replied, "I'm just trying to go to class, and some stupid moron asshole is trying to trip me. That's my problem."

"You think you're tough?" he asked, giving me another shove.

In point of fact, no, I didn't, but this hardly seemed the time to bring it up.

"I don't even know who the hell you are!"

"C'mon, pussy!"

Saying that I'm not good with conflict or confrontation is like saying Amy Winehouse is an occasional social drinker. Though I didn't know who this guy was or why he had this problem with me, I did know that I didn't want to get into a fight the day before the Great America trip; I'd already paid for it, and it be in double trouble if I couldn't go because I got caught fighting at school.

I was looking over his shoulder, expecting to see a teacher or school security type show up and break things up before they got to involved; that's how it usually went. You almost never saw an actual full-blown fight.

So the one time in my life I was in the situation, there was no one to be seen. Except for the flocks of kids gathering around to see what was going to happen next.

In this case, it was him repeating himself with various insults, punctuating each one with a shove. I shoved him back.

"Just leave me the hell alone! What the hell is your problem?" I spat.

"Oh, are you gonna cry?" he asked, shoving me yet again. Still there were no authority figures around. Time seemed to stretch. Everything stopped. I had an open shot. His arms were down; he obviously wasn't expecting me to do anything.

But with everyone looking at me, I knew I had to do something in my defense. I watched as my arm shot out reflexively toward his head, at which point I --

-- gave him the Vulcan nerve pinch.


While my instinctive attack did not render my opponent unconscious, it did give me a second to brace myself for the next few seconds while he asked, "What the hell?"

Capitalizing on his size difference, he grabbed my leg to flip me backward. But since I weighed all of 90 pounds with a loaded backpack, I kept my balance, watching as he pretty much lifted me straight up.

For about two seconds, and then we both collapsed. More catcalls from the crowd, mixed with laughter.

I turned around to get up, thinking that I should get up before him just in case he tries something else.

I'd almost gotten to one knee when I saw the word NIKE briefly before the bottom of his shoe connected with my face. The left lens of my glasses fell to the ground, partially from the impact, and partially because the screw had been loose for the last few weeks.

Either way, it looked dramatic as all hell, based on the gasps from the crowd. One of my classmates, Miguel, pushed his way in between us.

"What are you doing, Brian?" he asked. "He's littler than you!"

"But he's older than me," he said. Insult to injury: I got kicked in the face by a seventh-grader. I suck.

"Yeah," Miguel agreed, "but...look at him..."

Blindsided by this tremendous logic, the douche that walked like a boy was distracted long enough to forget why he was bothering with me in the first place. He backed off, and the crowd dispersed.

Fuming with anger that was probably radiating in visible lines from my head, I picked up my backpack, slung it over my shoulder, trying to ignore the stares I felt from all angles.

The bell rang, and I trudged to class, launching my backpack at my seat once I entered the classroom. My teacher looked up to say something, but she apparently saw the look in my eyes and went back to her gradebook.

I waited for the inevitable taunts, but aside from a few questions (Oh, that tall guy? He's an ass. Are you okay?), no one said anything, which made me feel better and worse about it.

At least I got to go to Great America, and that schmuck didn't. Petty? I suppose, but ultimately satisfying.

Vulcan nerve pinch.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Taking a small break

I was going to write about this epic childhood tale, but Jen and I are watching a movie, and I'm laughing too much to really focus on writing.