Dual Berettas and painkillers

Max Payne, An MA-rated golden oldie? Believe it. I just had to take this screenshot--it's so evocative of the concept.

Thing is, I shouldn’t have liked this game. Take a NYC cop with nothing to lose, fold in cadres of baddies to mow down in a myriad of urban environments—the choice of modus operandi is endless, from Desert Eagle to Molotov cocktail to sniper rifle—and chop in some then-revolutionary ‘bullet time’, which slows down time to make dodging gunfire (or just showing off) actually possible in an otherwise realistic game world. Whisk until there’s no one left to shoot.

Why, then, would it interest someone with a Hello Kitty address book? Because this game has several things to make up for its violence.

1. A wussies-go-home (but still killer) story. Max Payne was living the American Dream when junkies on the fictional designer drug ‘V’ murdered his family. Something snapped inside Max—a newborn nightmare that you spend parts of the game fighting through—and he transferred to the DEA to investigate a mob family for the drug’s source.

He’s undercover when someone sets him up for his best friend’s murder; that clinches it for our hero. During the worst snowstorm to hit New York City in a century, he plunges headfirst into an underworld of mobsters, drug clashes, government ties (naturally) and a hired killer chick named Mona, walking in uninvited on V deals as sirens ring through the night, following him like the ghost of the crime he didn’t commit.

2. Max’s noir psyche. The cutscenes in this game are like turning the pages of a graphic novel—but with sounds and top-notch voice talent intact. So then there’s Max’s narration to the tune of “I released my finger from the trigger. The final gunshot was an exclamation point to everything that had led up to this point.” and “I came in from the cold and the dark. Outside the city was a cruel monster.” and “Seeing her there got me thinking about another woman on another bed. Got me thinking about a fallen cradle.” He doesn’t always make metaphors, no—but when he does, in a perfect gravelly voice for metaphors of that sort, it complements the scenery.

3. Hard work went into this, and it’s obvious. It helps that all the voice actors drawl and quip just like you picked a few thugs and cops straight off Brooklyn. And that, though Max is alternately given clues and double-crossed during the drug war/storm of the game’s plot, it never gets repetitive.

One time, he’s slipped some V and suffers through a shrink’s-dream-come-true version of the night he came home to his dead wife and daughter (complete with mazes and blood smears that suggest his wayward soul)—and wakes up tied to a chair in the boiler room of a roachy hotel. A mobster plays baseball with his head and leaves for a crap. Max breaks the chair to get free; all the doors are locked except one that leads to a hallway; that hallway is heavily patrolled by the heavily armed. All Max has is the mobster’s bloody bat. It will take creative use of bullet time—his only advantage in this one-man war—and stealth to get him out of there.

Another favorite of mine is when Max arranges a meeting with a mafia big fish in a restaurant that turns out to have been rigged. As Max runs through each room (the place is burning in real time) obstacles realistically block his way: shelves fall on each other like dominoes, fire extinguisher tanks explode—a fine puzzle of design that’s quite different from having him face eighty enemies head on (hello, every other third-person-shooter game I can think of). Of course, the exit is a secret basement door in the kitchen leading to a sewer, and it’s guarded by ingram-wielding psychos, but it’s the design of the game that pulls, first and foremost.

4. OK, the violence is relatively amusing once in a while. Max is like the guys in the movies; he never stays down (unless he’s out of painkillers; he takes those things like I do Pez. What are the long-term psychological effects of that?). He can leap across fire escapes, catch rides on train roofs, and escape from self-destructing steel factories if he wants answers, and this whole game asks strong questions. The terrain gets cooler with the story; one minute you’re in a subway station, next the token arms-smuggling Russian freighter, so on through a Gothic nightclub and—finally—the penthouse suite of a vicious CEO. I left some stuff out. I don’t want to spoil it for you.

5. Smashing windows by jumping through them. Why the hell can’t you do that in Vice City? Because that’s the constitution of an inferior product and likewise depleted gaming experience. Every game that’s set in the modern day—RPGs, therefore, are excluded—should include the feature of climbing any fire escape you see, to the roof if the spirit so moves you. And get this: ALL the windows should be enterable, and each room you gain access to should have some kind of unlockable hidden there. Now that games are getting fancier, they should really explore all that crazy stuff humans never get to do in daily life instead of just copying what sells. E.G:

- An online game where you and pals rob a realistic Target. No, Whole Foods Market. No, Suncoast…

- you have ten seconds to crash an 18-wheeler. Variations: the vehicle is situated atop a hill, in the middle of realistic traffic, or on top of MIT and you’re armed with Evel Kneivel’s motorcycle.

- wrestle with construction machines. Can you imagine?

- you are a black cat whose mission in life is global annihilation.

- OK, and this is a really cool one: Car Polo. The difficulty level depends on what your ‘pony’ is: a Charger or Escalade is obviously expert level. Medium—Jeep. Beginners go for Harley Davidson. Backdrop: a college soccer field while nobody’s looking.

That just about telegraphed it: Max 1 is 8/10 and a classic. So the graphics might disappoint you (which is because you’re spoiled) and bullet time is now cliché (because everyone else stole it), but this story taught me about using character, setting, and motivation in contemporary fiction.

Too bad the sequel could suck a golf ball through fifty feet of garden hose. It has better graphics, though.


Why I hate cell phones

My Motorola 120t has been comatose for 2-3 months now. Up until a couple weeks ago it worked somewhat—that is, by pressing the LCD screen in hard and squinting you could just make out ‘TELCEL’ and in the corners, sometimes, ‘menu’ and ‘names’—but now all that tells me it’s still alive is the sickly glow when I press a number or plug in its charger. I would love this except I still have to take the damn thing everywhere with me.

Honestly, its games sucked (21, video poker, and Falling Numbers—YEAH, FALLING FRICKING NUMBERS—at least give me Snake II or Tetris) and I was once grounded for 2 months for not bringing it to the tennis court. It’s not just the 120t’s age and shittiness; the concept of the cell phone is an I-crapped-in-a-jewel-case-and-made-millions-off-it gimmick and always will be. Why?

  1. I DON’T WANNA THINK ABOUT IT,57488-0.html

The Swedish study included three groups of rats that were exposed for two hours to various GSM phones at different levels of radiation. The study found a link between electromagnetic frequency exposure and a leakage in albumin -- a protein in human tissue -- through the blood-brain barrier. The researchers also noticed that the neuron damage the rats suffered increased in response to the amount of EMF exposure.

The authors of the study acknowledged that their test sample was small, but that "the combined results are highly significant and exhibit a clear dose-response relation."

Such a hole in the brain could prove life-threatening because it would mean that almost anything circulating in the blood -- including toxic pollutants -- could enter the brain, said Dr. Tom Goehl, editor-in-chief of Environmental Health Perspectives.,0,7105692.story

Two of the studies found a correlation between the tumor's location and the side of the head where people reported they held the phone. One also suggests the greatest risk is in people who began using the phones before age 20, but researchers said the study group was small and more research should be done.

The lowest average sperm counts seemed to be in men who had the most cell phone use (more than four hours a day); those who didn't use cell phones seemed to have the highest. Although the sperm count appears to go down with increasing cell phone use, the difference in numbers wasn't significant.
Aww, why are cool things always bad for you, mommy?


Mr. Masaru Emoto’s research into computer/TV, microwave, and cell phone radiation on water (so he studies 75% of both your body and the planet at once) is illustrated in Hidden Messages in Water, which you can pick up waiting for your next flight in most airports. The deformation of ice crystals under said radiation isn’t even something you have to take his word for—the book includes some fine full-color photography.

Computers are useful, but every expert will recommend “taking a 15-minute break for every hour of use”. How about those Anytime Minutes ads when actors show off the ability to talk for hours?


Like getting high and MySpace, cell phones are mistakenly assumed cool among my peers. We must not allow this conspiracy by the money-junkie adults to continue.


Inevitably, if you more or less have a social life (or bored parents) your cell shall ring while you’re rinsing off Neutrogena conditioner/shaving/being pathetically constipated. “But that happens with every phone!” you’re chanting. So it does, but with a difference.

With a regular phone, you know how many meters you’ll need to towel-shuffle even before you turn off the faucet (far enough to the kitchen wall/coffee table) or even leave it to your answering machine.

A cell phone forces you to leave wet prints all over the house, with repeated taunts of the 1812 Overture besides. It could as easily be under the bed as in hell (where it belongs for once), and your guesses’ odds are equal between the small pocket of one of the 15 handbags Grandma sent you for Christmas, and up your basset hound’s small intestine playing billiards with the TV remote and your mood ring.

“Just take it to the bathroom with you!” you’re thinking now. (Yes, I can read minds. Sue me.) But guess what, I’m an American citizen—and I won’t for the same reason I close my laptop before changing clothes; they could be watching. How they hell would you know? NOT IN MY HOUSE, PATRIOT ACT.


I’ll just quote Amy Poehler of SNL’s Weekend Update:

“Recent studies show that 34% of drivers like to talk on their cell phones while crashing.”


So you pay money to see a stupid movie that you could have for free JUST because it’s on a sperm-whale-size screen with elephant-seal-mating-call speakers. Or plunk down twice more for a double-bathroom bus and not one that sits you with third-world turkeys and their counterparts, both which have, according to the media, equal possibilities of giving you the avian flu.

That’s when someone’s ringtone shoots a twitch through your eardrum. He seems to let it go forever on purpose—now ‘I’m Sorry Mama’ by Eminem’s going to be stuck in your head all day—and finally a click. “Bueno?”

At least the screaming babies are inevitable. (Wait, they’re NOT!) It’s worse, because the baby has a reason to bawl its head off, and that important conversation, nine times out of ten, goes like this:

“Yo, man, where are you?”

“Sup, I’m at the Cinepolis.”

“What’s on?”

Click. Where are you, foo?”

“On the bus. Just with my ‘pod.”

“What’s on?”

“’I’m Sorry Mama’. He should have titled his album that way. He sings a lot about his damn mother.”


Music downloads, little decorative beads, shit-quality cameras, screens and skins and wallpapers—I already have a blog. I’ll tell you, Silicon Valley, when I need another way to waste time, and whether I’ll want to pay for it.


When was the last time you sat in a bus stop or read a magazine and realized that Ipods are now more heavily funked than Cadillacs or Peugeots in their advertising? Now it’s cell phones that—wowzers!—function as MP3 players and video messengers.

Here’s an idea: take all that money you pump into discovering better Bluetooth—and put it into better American education (it only takes 4.1% of your parents’ taxes, compared to military’s 28.5%) or even keeping acid rain/global warming from exterminating all life (1.4%). There are still children who get raped, starve, live on the streets, and don’t learn how to read or worse (slave at ten cents an hour in Taiwan for Fruit of the Loom, Nike, and WalMart, nineteen hours a day), and with everything ELSE going on you cannot justify your pathetic, money-leech existence that screams on every passing billboard and insinuates itself subliminally into our minds on every TV network. ( if you don't believe me)

Yeah, somewhere this stopped being me vs. cell phones and got into extremist opinions about corporate America. Let me say one last thing before you think, “Screw this hippie,” and go download a midi of the first Pokemon theme song; that high-tech-looking piece of ring-ring you clutch in sweaty palms after reading this won’t make you cooler, it’ll only give you headaches when you’re forty, and all those games and your bus-trip high scores in them won’t rake in the opposite sex, at least not the category really worth raking in.

Incidentally, my Falling Numbers top was 7000. The only excuse I can think of is the electricity going out during hurricane Wilma.


Merry Christmas nobody

So I wanted to finish a new page of Demon Dreams before the new year. I haven't done any work so far...this is because every time I take a break from the novel I want to work on my drawing or something else. But drawing is hard for me a lot of the time for the same reason that writing is; that little voice in your head going all "his shoulder isn't right. Do you call that perspective?" because it's not that drawing got harder when I've been doing it all my life. No, I'm the one who got harder to please. I've belonged to PK BBS for a year now and seen so many awesome artists that I sweat over every line, wanting to get everything right the first time I do it. I don't like this. It's OK for a sci-fi teen novel to take 4+ years, but not a comic. I want to be able to jot something down. Over, sketched with. Hell, they'll teach me the fine points in art college anyhow, right?


Reminiscence: Card games

Everyone goes through this. At least I didn't waste money on Yu-Gi-Oh (out with it, you did, and now the attic is full of crappy Penguin Warriors and Book of Moons that are not only a fire hazard but will haunt you for the rest of your natural-born days as you struggle to give them for free at yard sales). Yeah, my brother and I got into Magic: the Gathering, with no cartoon graphics or stupid TV-show tie-in, and as much a rip-off of D&D as Yugi was of it.

There were three of us--we'd wrangled a nerd kid from Canada into the deal--and we hit the supermarket. I take credit for the whole ordeal because it was me who saw the cards in their pristine boxes in a stationary shop while shopping with Mom. Expert decks. I got Sliver Shivers, my bro got Elfish Assault or something to do with fricking elves, and the Canadian got Zombie Massacre or whatever (look it was a while ago). It took us a while to learn how to play. My brother and the nerd had known how to do it years ago in America but they'd forgotten, naturally.

It was very nerdy fun. Slivers, once you got the hang of them, were awesome monsters. One, Armored Sliver, gave all slivers more defense. One, Brood sliver, had little baby slivers depending on how many slivers were out. The Canadian said I smirked whenever I had something up my sleeve, and we made up special aliases for our warlord selves (this is really embarassing) and had badass quotes for when we wiped someone out. Three-way Magic was pretty interesting. Without meaning to advertise, here are some weird cards:

Which brings me to another reason they're cool; the artists who do each card. My favorites (my brother calls me a sissy for this) were mana.

I got another deck after I was tired of my old one--as a Christmas present, I think, from the States this time. I should have kept it. It was called Pulverize, and it had a lot of crazy tricks that suited me. No hulking monsters, just trickery with mana costs and Morph abilities. The last time I played with it, I beat my brother, who spent a lot more time improving his deck than me and fought his other friends with it. I left Pulverize in my Dad's apartment because I was thinking of getting money back from a hobby shop in Boston. I should have kept it, at least for the pictures. Man...


Testing. One, two, three.

So I'm giving myself a blog for Christmas. Hopefully I'll become a better writer for it. I've always wanted to do columnist-style stuff, but I can't think of anything now...