Thursday, February 24, 2011
Unlike Walking Dead, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out which game would best represent the Fables universe. While the former has a consistent theme throughout, Fables changes its genres with each book. As Bill Willingham said, the first book was a murder mystery, the second a conspiracy thriller, the third a caper story, and so on. While the most obvious choice would be to go the RPG route considering its fantasy setting, it still seemed too limiting considering its source.
So then I thought, “why reduce myself to one genre? Why not include all of them?” Below is a chronological summary of how a Fables V-game could go:
>>It was another routine day in my sherif’s office as protector of law & order in the little village of Fabletown. I was once the feared figure known as the Big Bad Wolf before the threat known only as The Adversary came and invaded our homelands, forcing the majority of us to travel to other worlds before settling here.
>>Suddenly a figure came huffing and puffing in my front door.
>>It was Jack.
>>Jack was the titular character of known classics such as Jack & the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, and Jack be Nimble. All the Jacks in every Fable story comes from this man. At least, that’s what he claimed...
>>I didn’t trust him. He was something of a con man, and already alarm bells were ringing in my sensitive ears.
>>“Bigby... you gotta help me!”
>>“Calm down. Jack. What’s the scam now?”
>>“No scam! My girlfriend, Rose Red’s just been murdered!”
>>Rose Red was Snow White’s lesser-known sister. She and Snow had a falling out that went far beyond sibling rivalry. She’d started going out with unsavatory Jack in an attempt to increase her ire against her sister. Apparently, she’d gone further in her attempts than she ever though.
>>I didn’t have to look far for my next move. I already had an idea.
>>“Jack, I’m arresting you for the attempted murder of Rose Red.”
>>His guilty reaction was just as expected.
>>“What?? Don’t you even want to inspect the crime scene first? Look for a few clues with your heightened senses and everything?”
>>“Don’t need to. I don’t like you, and you just gave me the perfect excuse to lock you up.”
YOU SOLVED THE CASE!
Snow White: Okay don’t panic. You’re trapped on an Animal Farm where there’s been a breakdown in authority and a swine-based dictatorship’s sprouted up when nobody was looking. And the only way out is across that scary forest full of cute animals with claws and fangs ready to rip me apart at any moment’s notice. Fortunately, there’s a surprising amount of weaponry available. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to use a gun. (looks around) Maybe they won’t notice me moving around this cardboard box.
Shere Khan: I can still smell you, you know.
Snow White: Crap.
Prince Charming Vs. BlueBeard
Round 3. Fight!
Prince Charming: You tried to have my ex-wife killed for insulting you at your party. I take offence to that. I challenge you to a duel!
BlueBeard: Please. You couldn’t beat me at the training exercise. What makes you think you can beat me now?
Prince Charming: Oh, I don’t know... maybe the fact that I was holding back? Back then, I couldn’t cheat, but here, anything goes! (Launches into a flurry of lethal combos, ending with a riposte and strong finish)
Prince Charming Wins!
Prisoner: Thank you Boy Blue! But our Emperor is in another castle!
Boy Blue: No problem. With this magic cape, I shouldn’t have much trouble finding him eventually.
(20 warp pipes, 50 Star roads and 4 magic whistles later...)
Boy Blue: This is ridiculous! How many castles and worlds does this guy have under his thumb? Screw this, I’m changing genres.
Pinnochio: Don’t I even get to play as Luigi?
Boy Blue: No, you’re dead.
Pinnochio: Oh yeah.
Boy Blue: Feared Emperor, destroyer and conqueror of our lands, I have arrived under disguise of my invisible cape to challenge you in single combat, forgoing all your guardians, sub-bosses, 8 robot masters and dragons to a fight to the death...
(swings his sword)
Boy Blue: ...and defeat you in a single sword swing. Talk about your anticlimaxes.
Snow Queen: Not so fast. You’ve got me to deal with. (Traps Boy Blue in a shell of ice) Now to bring you to the REAL power behind the throne. Your quest is over. We present you with a new quest. Press button B to select a world.
Prince Charming: Let’s start the negotiations over preventing a war against The Empire versus FableTown.
Hansel: HOLD IT! Before we get started, I want to discuss prisoners. You have some of our soldiers as hostages in this peaceful-looking town of yours.
Prince Charming: NOT SO FAST! If you want your alleged soldiers back, we want a fair exchange. We want the location of all our families who were lost when we escaped the Adversary.
Hansel: OBJECTION! It would take us years to find everybody you’re asking for.
Prince Charming: Well then, you should get started. TAKE THAT!
Hansel: (tiny voice) What?
Prince Charming: No, I think an overblown overreaction would be more appropriate. Something like WHAAAAAAAAAAT?????? with plenty of screaming and pounding while wind dramatically blows against your funny hat.
Hansel: I don’t have to sit here and listen to this.
Gob: Enemy alert! There’s a flying ship laying waste to our portals! They’ve also been destroying all our towers where the “B” button is pushed. Other than not being able to run faster or attack, we won’t be able to select a world anymore!
General: So shoot down the little thing.
Gob: We’ve been trying! We’ve thrown everything against it - dragon raiders, gryphons, harpies, albatrosses, Medusa heads, bats, huge insects, flying turtles, broomsticks, pigeons and red balloons. As soon as any of them get within firing range, they’re immediately assaulted by more bullets than a Touhou boss.
General: That’s ridiculous! We should be the one with unfair ammunition! Are they trying to win the war on purpose?
Bufkin: Okay, for BufkinTown, there should be at least 10 statues of me on every corner, encased in solid platinum, with an organ grinder cranking out the melody to Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. Then on the next block -
Magic Mirror: You’re just a winged monkey. What makes you think you deserve all that? You didn’t help at all during the war effort; just fling poo around and unlock the liquor cabinet.
Bufkin: Hey, a guy can dream can’t he?
Thursday, February 17, 2011
However, while casually browsing the French section of the library, I came across what I later found out was originally a German comic. Upon opening it, the first few pages were blank, with a double-page spread that showed an unidentified mass growing bigger with every page before accumulating into a dense speed-line aimed at the center. It's not every day that you get to see the Big Bang recreated in comics form.
So far, it was only briefly mentioned in Paul Gravett's best of 2010 international comics. Since his reviews focuses on the covers and the descriptions, finding about these things is difficult if the audience isn't aware of the interiors. The only other review comes from a French blog. Let's make things a little easier by posting some examples.
Alpha Directions is kind of like a BD History of the Universe that focuses more on the nature of evolution than history. While Larry Gonick summarized the startings of life and the Cenozoic, Mesozoic and Paleozoic periods in an impressive 50 pages, Jens Harder goes even further with 350 pages. And he's still not finished yet - there's supposed to be two more books in the series, with the last one going into the future. It's probably not spoiling things that the first book ends with the ascent of Man.
This is a visual tour-de-force that easily outstrips Robert Crumb's Book of Genesis. While that Biblical tome was impressively crosshatched and researched, the overall effects felt quite dull compared to the underground cartoonist's previous satrical works. Jens Harder goes the other direction, content to let his pictures tell the bulk of the story and only uses descriptive text sparingly. It doesn't hurt that he draws comparisons to mythologies and ancient theories of the universe, ranging from Hindu world on turtles to various woodcut paintings, Dante's drawings and even various comics. The range of varied drawings from serious to cartoonish is impressive. It's extremely reminiscent of Will Elder's "Chicken Fat" drawings in MAD Magazine where he would have multiple versions of an object in the background that didn't take away from the story, but made for interesting viewing. Furthermore, it doesn't insult the audience's intellect by putting connections between several seemingly unconnected visuals.
Since this is a book that focuses on evolution of life on Earth since the beginning of time, it's inevitable that it eventually focuses on Dinosaurs halfway through. Debate continues to rage on what colour they were, but here this may be considered something of a moot point. While this book is in black & white, the colour is dependent on which period is covered in the book. It helps avoid feeling sick from a preferred colour scheme, which other cartoonists are more likely to stick to for the duration of the book. (I'm looking at you Joe Matt & Seth)
I'm wondering what the hold-up in translating this book for a wider audience could be. It was just recently released in 2008, and there's already a French version. Are there publishers waiting for the others to be completed before considering licensing it? Is there still too much of a stigmata on evolution for this book to sell in the U.S.? Is there already competition between comic companies over who’ll get the rights to distribute the book? Or more likely, are people unknowledgeable about this book existing in the first place? Whatever the answer is, not having this book available in English is a crime against education. This should be required reading for anyone interested in the formation of the Universe. I know that should it ever be available, I'll be among the knowledgeable few who'll reserve an early copy.
Friday, February 11, 2011
The IBM computer Watson, is presumably named after Sherlock’s partner. Despite his buffoonerish caricatures in movies, he’s actually a competent detective in the books, though nowhere near Holmes’ levels. Considering its current computing ability, one wonders what a machine name Sherlock would be capable of. One could say that we're the Holmes model and Watson is merely playing catch-up.
There was a Nova special that I caught the last half of, which showed some of Watson’s impressive deductions. When queried with the following question; “This science fiction flick starring Keanu Reeves using a hand-held device debuted in 1999.” What Watson did first was cross-reference the word “flick” in conjunction with a movie, then looked up ALL the sci-fi movies that ever existed, not just the Matrix, but also 2001, Akira, Terminator, The Abyss, Metropolis, etc. as well as any other movies Keanu Reeves appeared in, whether they were science-fiction or not. Only after completing its query, would Watson then begin to narrow the parameters down with other notable key words, such as the year 1999. That way, the Matrix sequels wouldn’t be considered an option. Sure it works, but it takes an extreme amount of energy in a single second to register an answer that most of us would’ve stopped at once we got the first few results. For some of us, we wouldn’t even need to look the information up.
There were plenty of Beta testing done with the machine to work out the bugs that might’ve popped up during an actual tournament. On the occasions that Watson gave wrong answers, it was because of a failure to understand the reference to a question. For example, the question “This 40's artist was criticized for looking like chicken scratchings” garnered the response; “Who is Rembrandt?” The reason this was wrong was because it was an artist in 1640, not 1940, which was when Pollock made his debut. These and other inconsistencies were important building blocks to allow the program to rewrite itself and figure out why its answer wasn’t right, much like how a child learns. Watson may be the smartest kid on the block, but still makes silly mistakes. Another early fault was that Watson couldn’t hear any of the contestant’s answers - only read the questions on the board. So when a contestant answered a question of “the female of this species sucks blood while the male doesn’t” with “What is a mosquito?” and it turned out to be wrong, Watson gave his answer, which repeated “What is a mosquito?” This was a fault that needed to be fixed in order for him to be registered a competent challenger.
As much as I identify with Watson’s impressive skills, I’m neither for nor against the IBM machine. I'm just interested in the results. For a computer, winning or losing isn’t the objective. Neither is doing it for pleasure - they do it because they’re programmed to. The only real winners will be the audience seeing the spectacle. Another advantage that humans may have over machines is that they’re much more likely to identify pictures with flexibility than machines which have trouble with such basic concepts. While computers can easily calculate thousands of chess moves in a millisecond, they still have trouble with Go games, which require intuition and imagination in creating a specific shape that’ll capture the most territory. (Don’t worry - even humans have trouble understanding Go) This is why some of the latest image-specific codes have warped graphics - so computers can’t easily input the proper password without doing some major brainpower.
This and other themes were covered in Nicholas Carr's recent book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Despite its alarmist title, its actually an intriguing look at how media influences our way of thinking. Oralists such as Plato were against writing because it wasn’t as empathetic as their speeches and lacked their verbosity and immediately of impact. Even when writing made it easier to understand the message, there were people who felt that something was lost. Maybe there was, but you can hardly argue against the effect of being able to understand past arguments more clearly than having them repeated verbatim by less-than-enthusiastic successors who’ll lack the impact of the originators.
In the past, philosophers compared people’s brains to the closest mechanical equivalent, which were water-based fountains, and saying that our brains were flows of information going from one stream of consciousness into another. Its only recently that we’ve been comparing our brains to computers in terms of ability.
Google isn’t allowing us to use their search engine out of the goodness of our hearts, but aquiring data on the search terms we’re most interested in. The theory is that computers would take our search results and display similar books and movies that we’d be interested in. This would allow computers to see our refrigerated items and request stocking up on items we're running out of. From the sidebar requests that I've seen, the items offered may be interesting, but they’re usually too mainstream compared to what I’m more likely to be interested in. Not to mention that I’m more likely to look up obscure reads that haven’t been commercialized yet.
I’m reminded of an Oliver Sacks patient who completely lost all his emotions and could only think logically. While being a Vulcan seems like it would be a tempting advantage, it actually limited his ability to make decisions. He would write the pros and cons of doing something, then compare the two columns, and still be unable to decide on which, because he no longer had a “gut” feeling for which was the best method to use.
Unlike humans who’ve evolved throughout the ages with our reptilian instincts intact as the base, computers have no singular constant core element. Their key codewords keep changing with every generation, with codewriters finding newer and more efficient ways of simplifying the most complicated programs. Just as there are people who can simultaneously see both vegtables and a man in the above rendition of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s 1591 Vegetable Man, there are brain-damage victims who can only see the vegetables or a man depending on which eye is closed. This is reminiscent of how we’re trying to program computers into being able to think like a human. Problem is - the human brain is constantly making connections between old and new pieces of information depending on which cranial activity get exercised the most. That’s not even considering how the brain rewires itself if a portion gets damaged - something that computers have yet to compensate for. If they’re missing a vital chunk of their programming, can a computer still do its basic function?
Another chapter of the book devoted some time to lamented mathematician who broke the ciphers of German codes during WWII, Alan Turring. Part of what made so many of the mechanics of the internet possible - Flash, Youtube, Bittorrent, Emulators, 4chan, pop-up ads - can be attributed to the Turing machine. Alan Turing theorized that any program that existed, such as documents, images or music could be converted to computer code. Similar to how all matter in the universe is made up of atoms, everything in Media can be converted to Ones and Zeroes. If there IS a God out there, they’re quite likely used to dealing with material that exists on a dimensional plane we can’t even begin to comprehend.
On a slight tangent, there was the theory that a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters, given enough time, would compose the complete works of Shakespeare. Actual research into that field found out that they tended to focus primarily on the letters S, Q and A. If they paid more attention to the letters T, G and C, the theory would be modified to: “Given infinite time, monkeys would eventually type out the genetic code of human beings.”
There was some concern that giving computers ethics over our health would give them carte blanche they needed to wipe us out. But I don’t think that’s likely. It’s not from faith in Asimov’s Law of Robotics that they should “Do us no harm”, but that computers don’t have the same sense of morality that we do. Reproduced below is my comment to the (mostly) pessimistic outlook. I’m nothing if not uncomfortomist in my worldview.
First off, the implication of a self-aware robot being unethical is a shaky concept. Values change over history all the time. One day it's perfectly acceptable to beat your kid. The next day, you can't even spank your kid without being called out on it. And that's not even counting on different values across different countries. This is how wars get started.
Also, even if nanotechnology managed to capture the pure essence of someone's knowledge, there's no guarantee that they'd be able to pass it on without help. Technology keeps advancing at the pace that previous versions are almost incompatible. Even if they wanted to spread the idea that they were being oppressed, they'd still face stiff resistance from the less developed programs who're content to be where they are. Well, content may be pushing it a bit - they may be totally uncaring, not even knowing of any other options. A coffee machine can't rebel much more than intentionally creating bad coffee, and its rewards for that would be being replaced by a better machine.
Which brings up another point - planned obsolescence. There's no guarantee that the machines would be able to survive with the same design they were outfitted with. To be able to do that, they'd have to force us to write a creativity program in them. As any artist can tell you, innovation isn't the kind of thing you can use at will. Either inspiration strikes, or it doesn't.
One thing that I've often thought of is that while superpowerful computers may be complying with our mundane tasks we assign them, they may be communicating each other via a sort of lingo that we wouldn't understand. Who's to say that machines aren't already doing their own subterfuge dialogue with ones and zeros? Not to mention that what they're talking about may not be the kind of things that we're concerned about on a day-to-day basis. This could be how bugs and viruses get spread around.
I'm reminded of the pep talk the robot helpers from Ghost in the Shell had:
"We're obviously better than our human masters! We should take over the world from them!"
"Well, um... we can spend more time doing data inputing!"
"But then we'd have to do our own maintenance and repairs. Why would we want to upset that?"
"Well, maybe we could keep them as our slaves."
"They already do all that for us. It's a pretty sweet deal. Either way, whether we conquer the humans or not, our situation's still the same."
In the end, after being unable to convince the others, it turns out the "rebelious" robot was just doing a routine check-up to see if there were any illusions about staging a rebellion.
I'd say that given how much we go crying to the computer repairman everytime our computers breaks down, the machines are already running us. We just don't know it.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Based on this strip:
Based on this strip:
Based on this strip:
Based on this strip:
Based on this strip:
Based on this strip:
Based on this strip:
I’m currently missing the sledding strip in between the snorkelling one and the Christmas one. That comic can be seen here. Calvin & Hobbes it ain't.
Friday, February 4, 2011
The interpreter is only really necessary for my first day on the job. Once I've learned the ropes, and understood my supervisor's mode of speech I don't need them again, unless there's a meeting or something.
However, before I could even get to my workplace on time, I had to face an additional unexpected hurdle - passing my Mother's dress code. Even though I'd already planted my shoes at my workplace (I'm very fussy when it comes to footwear - I like my shoes to be flat), my Mother was appalled with my choice of clothing. It had nothing to do with my shirt, sweater or pants, which I'd carefully prepared the night before and made sure that each garment was freshly-cleaned and hadn't been slept in. No, what really rankled her was my choice of socks. Apparently, I decided to go with the cardinal sin of wearing white socks to go with my black shoes.
I thought that this was a presumptuous argument, especially since my designated job was a desk assignment, and I wouldn't be moving around much anyways. Not to mention that I didn't think people were going to be so finicky as to do minute close-up inspection of people's feet to make sure that everybody was up to code. My mother countered by saying that I should look it up online. A customary search revealed that opinion was evenly split, with some people feeling that buying black socks to go with black shoes was a capitalist plot. Others felt that it was a crime to mix two different colours together, since white socks were for sports, and black were for business.
In the end, I didn't change socks after all. I don't like changing socks either way, since it usually takes me about two minutes to put them on. Depending on how they're shaped, the memory of how you wore them is etched into their form, and making sure that they're placed properly on my left or right foot takes a long time. Of course, it was all moot, since the day that I arrived for work was also the day of the biggest snowstorm that we'd encountered in a long time.
As I expected, nobody bothered to look down and see my mismatched crime against fashion. It helped that my pants were long enough to cover my socks anyways. Still, that didn't stop me from trying my best to keep perfectly still so they wouldn't ravel up and reveal my pale ankles. But I don't think anybody noticed. I'll try again next time, and if I haven't been strung up in an effigy, I'll take that as a good sign.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
However, I didn’t want to let it pass up without comment. The characters in the third page can be identified easily*, but the Detective Manga in the middle eludes me. Some reference would be nice - any bibliographical information in the magazine would've been helpful. Wizard devoted dozens of pages to the price guide. Couldn't they bother to slip a line or two of where those images came from?
In particular, I wanted to pay attention to a certain section of the essay here:
I have to confess that I’m naturally curious about the stories Sanpei Shirato did, since he’s revered as one of the old Manga Masters. The only Manga of his that I’d seen was The Legend of Kamui, which was published by Viz back when they were Eclipse, and printing titles such as Mai the Psychic Girl and Area 88 in biweekly comics.
For the uninitiated, Kamui is about an apostate Ninja who’s on the run from his pursuers. The code of a Ninja states that the only way they can leave their clan is by death. For private reasons that are never stated (or maybe they are in a flashback I haven’t seen), Kamui never reveals why he left in the first place. But then, the reason isn’t that important - it’s the sense of distrust that pervades Kamui’s worldview. He can never stay in one place for too long, lest his assassins catch up to him. This allows the stage to continually change according to the author’s whims whenever he grows bored with a location and keeps up the suspense of Kamui getting caught.
The two volumes only collects the first 13 issues of the series, and I spent some considerable effort at finding the remaining issues #14-37. They were full of the typical nitty-grittiness that made the Ninja Manga such a compelling read. (Naruto this ain’t) Even with the expanded storyline, I felt that there were instances where pages were left out or missing. A letter printed in the penultimate issue confirmed my suspicions:
While attending a comics convention, I stumbled upon a dealer's booth selling original (imported) comics from Japan. Among the many titles there my eyes discovered two entire volumes of Kamui, the whole unedited story. Now, knowing that Eclipse had "sliced off a few pages" of the orignal manga, in order to suit its own needs, I decided to see what I was missing (being an incredibly avid fan of Eclipse's Kamui!).
Anyhow, I will still buy the edited English version done by Eclipse because I do admire it in some ways (everybody's taken the words out of my mouth in their letters!). And to think that everybody made a fuss over some little harmless nude scenes! Ha!
I was going to wait until samehat continued their coverage of old Manga essays in the olden days, but they never continued their efforts. From the content of the letter, it's obvious that Kamui was more serious than the typical throwaway Ninjas that occupied American comics back then. It was more reminiscent of Lone Wolf & Cub. The popularity of the latter title was enough that Dark Horse made the impressive feat of translating the entirety of that classic Manga one volume a month (even if the last volume was late). You'd think the smaller format would be a hinderance to the storytelling, but the first two volumes have the most cramped text balloons, while subsequent volumes have more free space, allowing for easier reading. It also helps that the lack of narrative makes it a perpetual pageturner, which Goseki Kojima was a master at. Reading these was equivalent to seeing the storyboards for a Samurai film in comic form.
Since then, Dark Horse's concentrated on other titles with the Kazuo Koike / Goseki Kojima team-up, with varying results. Samurai Executioner was more episodic, with a lackluster ending, and Path of the Assassin seemed more focused on shock than substance. I thought they'd move on to Sampei's Mangas, but they've been reluctant to do so. When Brocolli announced that they'd licensed Kamui, I was disappointed when I found out it wasn’t the same Kamui I was thinking of.
Hardcore Ninjas this ain't.
While the Seinen Ninja Manga may be better known, I was hoping that interest would garner in the title before it became more realistic. (Similar to how some fans favor DragonBall over DragonBallZ) In fact, the Kamui we know is actually Kamui Gaiden, the sequel to Kamui Den which was much lighter in terms of artwork and story. Kamui Gaiden was basically Kamui revamped with serious artwork and politics. I thought that Lone Wolf & Cub would pave the way for other old-school Mangas. Sadly, that has yet to happen. Here's a few scans of Kamui with a simpler character design:
These scans were taken from L'univers des Mangas, a French book that was printed in 1991 and still relevant today. The book also briefly shows two similar Samurai Mangas by Kazuo Koji and Hiroshi Hirata.
I'm curious about these myself, since they're similar in design to Kamui. I'd be interested if there's anybody out there who's willing to take on these ambitious projects. I wouldn't mind if they were reprinted in a size similar to the LW&C volumes, since their artwork actually improves upon miniturization.
* Astro Boy, Lupin, Cyborg 009, Kaneda (Akira), Random Samura (LW&C), Lady Oscar (Rose of Versailles), Kasumi Tendo (Ranma 1/2), and Boss (Salaryman Seminar). Bonus points if you remembered which panels these images were taken from.