X-Strike Studios, in memorium

After eleven years, X-Strike Studios is closing its doors.

You may have heard of them recently, or you may be a longtime fan.  Or you may never have heard of them.  That’s one of the struggles with being an independent artist.  Sometimes some of the best work goes unnoticed.

I don’t hesitate to apply the term ‘best’ to X-Strike Studios’ catalog.  While their films are definitely low-budget, that hasn’t held back their excellence.  If anything, it’s helped to underscore the talent and skill at play.  These are movies for a niche audience, by that same audience.  There’s no irony, there’s no multi-audience pandering, there’s no attempt to be anything that they’re not.  These are movies for gaming fans and nerds.  And the result is that they are some of the best video game movies ever made, hands down, bar none, damn straight.

But it isn’t some goofy love of games that makes their movies good.  River City Rumble, called ‘the Citizen Kane of video game movies’, is a solid (if low-budget) action movie that straddles the line between being serious enough to be internally consistent but not taking itself too seriously so as to deprive the fans of fun antics.  Silent Horror, and its sequel Resident Horror, are genuinely creepy at points while still providing a tremendous good time in every vein, something that their big budget imitators like the Resident Evil series fail to deliver.  Project Snake is an ambitious action story that some consider more entertaining than the games that inspired it.  Their Off-Campus series, while full of inside jokes, remains some of the funniest segments on the internet to this day.  And their most off-the-wall film P. Rappa’s Nth Mile is…a thing that exists.

X-Strike Studios came along at a time when video game films of pretty much any type were novelties.  The best video game movies available were studio-made behemoths like Street Fighter and the Super Mario Brothers movie, attempts made to appeal to general audiences with the after-thought of tapping into the video game fan market.  With the exception of a handful of Star Wars or Star Trek videos here and there, fan films hadn’t yet taken hold either.  There was no Street Fighter Legacy.  There was no Mortal Kombat Legacy.  No Megaman live-action.  And the idea of a video game-inspired fan film that was feature-length?  The very idea was unfeasible, a pipe dream fanboys talked about but knew wouldn’t happen.

And then X-Strike did it.  And then did it again.

Much like Troma Films, much like Robert Rodriguez’s early work, X-Strike Studios would establish a baseline from which other studios would be able to build their success.  An early pioneer of committed and dedicated fan films, X-Strike Studios would be a harbinger of what we know as the fan film industry today, an industry that continues to inspire and influence mainstream cinema.

It isn’t a surprise that X-Strike is closing its doors.  The assorted members had stated on numerous occasions they hadn’t planned for the company to endure indefinitely.  After all, it’s hard to maintain a consistent artistic vision from your early twenties into your mid-thirties, as most of the leadership has seen.  It’s a bittersweet announcement all the same because they’ve given the fan community so much entertainment.

Thank you, X-Strike Studios.

Tools of the Imagination — NES Power Glove

Power Glove

 The Holiest Of The Holy

Mattel, Nintendo Accessories Line, 1989

 

 

Okay, I know what you’re saying: ‘But Robert, the Power Glove isn’t exactly a toy.  It was a peripheral for the Nintendo Entertainment System’.  And I’ll respond by making three points.  One, I was looking for a non-Hasbro toy in my collection to review and this was about all I could come up with.  Two, I think it’s worth taking a look at this (extremely) early attempt to bridge the gap between electronic entertainment and tangible entertainment.  And third, the hell it ain’t a toy.

 

Background

When Thomas Goldsmith made the first video game was made back in 1947, he opened a door to an industry that would eventually come to the forefront of the entertainment and even artistic world.  But games have always been a unique fusion of technology, art, and entertainment.  And while they have been more often than not geared towards children and seen as children’s playthings, they have seen some ambitious attempts at some truly staggering technological milestones.

Our case in point today is the Nintendo Power Glove.  This was Nintendo’s first attempt at motion controls (roughly seventeen years before the Nintendo Wii would be released in 2006) as well as one of technology’s first attempt at recreating human movement within a video game realm.  While the Power Glove was a dubious work (more on that below), as a first attempt, you can’t deny its ambitiousness.

The Power Glove worked (in theory) in place of a regular controller.  You would plug the cord into the Nintendo and slip the glove on over your right hand (rumors persist to this day of left-handed Power Gloves but no substantial proof of their existence has been found… not that a great deal of effort’s gone into the search).  The glove could then be used to input controls using buttons on the forearm portion or using some of the most bizarre hand posturing this side of a using sign language while being struck with lightning.

 

Appearance – 5 out of 5

I’m going to come right and say this: the Power Glove looks badass.  That’s it.  There’s no two ways about it.  You can dress it up however you want, but at the end of the day, the thing looks frickin’ awesome.  End of story.

 

Construction – 4 out of 5

The 80s were not a great time to be a toy and video game peripherals were no different.  Many a game controller proved unable to endure the rigors and abuse of quality, hardcore gaming.  The Power Glove is not one of them.  This is a sturdy and well-made tool that has time and again endured decades of wear and tear.  The plastic is flexible and reliable and the whole product is actually quite comfortable to wear.

 

Movement – 1 out of 5

Enough praise.  Sure, the toy looks cool and feels comfortable.  But it doesn’t actually do all that much and what it does, it does poorly.  In this case, I’m using movement to meaning how well it performs its functions mechanically.  Not even whether or not doing ‘ABC’ translates appropriately onto the screen; just doing ‘ABC’.  And the truth is, no.  Attempting to perform the hand movements necessary to input commands into your Nintendo was an exercise in futility and that is at least in part due to the Power Glove’s terrible play design.

Breaking it down a bit, the problem comes mainly with the two sensor lights over the index and pinky fingers.  With the way the glove is designed, as well as just natural human kinetics, interacting with those sensors (which seemed to be the purpose of the controls) is pretty much impossible.

 

Extras – 2 out of 5

The Power Glove did come with a game: Super Glove Ball.  Do you remember playing?  No, of course you don’t.  Why?  For the obvious reason: it barely counted as a game.  You had more fun playing ping-pong against a wall.

 

Packaging – 3 out of 5

Nintendo accessories were packaged quite well and were the height of 80s commercialism.  They were stark, sleek gray-and-black-and-neon affairs that appealed to every child of the 80s.

 

 

Overall – 2 out of 5

Reviewing this toy was a bit unorthodox for me because I want to stick to toys and not delve into gaming.  The Power Glove, and its small circle of peers, is the bridge between those two worlds and is as close to reviewing video games as I’ll be getting on this site.

As a gaming peripheral, for all of the Power Gloves phenomenal reverence, it was terrible.  You couldn’t play a game with this thing.  Oh sure, you could CONTROL a game with it, but you weren’t going to be beating Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out with this thing… and certainly not by actually punching as indicated in the advertising.  That would have to wait for the Nintendo Wii.  But as a toy – a prop or costume accessory, really – this thing was so frickin’ cool.  More role-playing toys needed, and need, to be made with this level of quality.

So the ball’s in your court, Nintendo.  Give us the 2014 version of the Power Glove this Christmas.  Just for the love of god, make it awesome.

God of War vs Game of Thrones

A tweet can start a war, make no mistake.

Since I follow anime anthropologist and geek-academia god Charles Dunbar (and boy, you really should be too), I saw his retweet of the postulate by @TheifofHearts that “Game of Thrones is a mature fantasy, not because of the sex and violence.  God of War is not a mature fantasy even if it features those.”
This sparked a discussion between the living embodiment of geek knowledge and myself, about that.  Specifically, I asserted the opposite was true: God of War is the more-mature fantasy than Game of Thrones.

Before we begin, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what we’re talking about.  Game of Thrones is a television series based off the Song of Ice and Fire book series by George R R Martin.  The story revolves around political intrigue over supreme command of the lands of Westeros and Essos, while also confronting the invasion of winter and all the evils that come with it.
God of War is a video game series very loosely based off Greek mythology and follows a Spartan Warrior who is repeatedly tricked and betrayed, and subsequently seeks revenge for the skullduggery.

So, both stories are fantasy series that contain rather egregious amounts of violence and sex/nudity.  So why is one story ‘more mature’ than the other?

Now, key to this discussion is the vernacular which we should iron out, and specifically what ‘mature’ means and does not mean.  For the purposes of this discussion, we will be distinguishing between adult and mature.  This is a critical distinction to be made, like ‘dangerous’ versus ‘harmful’.  The two terms can be used interchangeably, but in this context (or at least the context of this essay), we’re going to define ‘adult’ as ‘excessive’.  An adult film is one geared towards hyper-emphasizing some element.  Not merely sex (though that is often where the term ‘adult film’ is applied); an adult topic or substance is looking to take something out of proportion, whether for analysis or consideration (like satire and metaphor) or just to get overloaded by it.  An adult product is meant, in essence, for those looking to damage themselves because they are extravagant and extraordinary over the regular world.

Mature, on the other hand, is at the heart of this discussion.  Maturity is about confronting one’s own reality.  It is, in essence, ‘concerning real-world constructs’.  The difference between a show meant for children and a show meant for adults is how much of the real world and its consequences are presented.  It is the evolved and higher sensibilities that come from experience and knowledge/wisdom.  It is about facing reality directly.

It is my assertion that what passes for maturity in Game of Thrones is a veil of civility, primarily based around a status quo that is to be as closely maintained as possible while still allowing for advantageous advancement of a select few characters.  It is quiet machinations and careful subtlety.  It is maneuvering others to achieve goals.
But a byproduct of this is that these characters also don’t, well, do anything.  By incessantly relying on civility and the veil of reason, the various characters and even whole states in Game of Thrones don’t handle their affairs; they lead others to handle matters, to the point where a vast network of favors and movements occur to facilitate the generation of more favors and more debts.  And what was begun as a social contract turns into a web of deceit and constant deception, to the point where most every character is committed to getting as much for themselves as possible while trying to avoid getting one’s hands dirty and to make sure blame always fall elsewhere.

It is upon this view that I believe God of War to be more mature than Game of Thrones because, simply, the titular character Kratos handles his business himself.  He doesn’t look to make backroom alliances so that someone else can deal with a problem; he deals with it.  He confronts reality.
When you think of a child in trouble, what do you imagine?  Odds are, it’s of that child crying to someone else (maybe a parent) to deal with a problem that they cannot.  It is the reliance on an external force to make problems go away.  And that is just about all that goes on in Game of Thrones: incessant politicking to avoid getting one’s hands dirty.  That isn’t a depiction of maturity; it’s a depiction of childishness.
To handle one’s affairs honestly and directly, and with minimal input and aid from others, is the essence of maturity.  To be able to do for yourself.  Few scenes in Game of Thrones depict this, and it is upon this construct that God of War is built.

Both series are excessive and exaggerated, and are at their heart escapist fantasies, but God of War is honest in one thing: Kratos handles his own problems directly.  Game of Thrones is almost a nonstop litany of backstabbing and conniving to have as many others do as much for you as you can manage, while doing as little as possible yourself.  That is not an adult; this is a selfish child who is expending his energy to convince others to solve his problem for him.