You Never Call, You Never Write

Sometimes I wonder why I still own a phone. You know, one of those landlines that plugs into the wall and only ever rings for wrong numbers, telemarketers and old people. I’d chuck it, but it’s the only phone I own. I don’t have a cell or a smart phone or one of those 1967 Star Trek communicator thingies – whatever the state of the art is. Never had one, never wanted one. I have enough things in my life trying to give me a brain tumour.

Sometimes, every few weeks, I’m reminded why I let this thing take up a few inches of valuable real estate on my desk. I get a call. A special call. One of THOSE calls.

A long distance ring, an unfamiliar number on the call display.

I answer. Say nothing.

Caller: Hello?

Me: Yes?

Caller (reading from a script with a heavily accented, halting call-centre voice): Hello, my name is Melvin. I am calling because our records show that your computer is currently downloading an infection.

Me (instant full-volume screaming hysteria): OH MY GOD, AN INFECTION!!!!???!!!!

Pause. Silence on both ends. Momentarily shaken, “Melvin” returns to his script.

Caller: Yes, an infection. We wanted to let you know…

Me (instantly back to full-volume screaming hysteria): I’LL GET RIGHT ON IT!!!! THANKS MELVIN!!!!

I hang up.

My wife missed my performance because she was down the hall, behind a closed door, with the air conditioning and headphones on.

I’m afraid this moment was between you and me alone, Melvin. But it was good for me. Was it good for you?

These guys call at regular intervals. They’re not telemarketers, they’re criminals. Fishing for gullible tech-unsavvy rubes they can remotely manipulate into downloading a virus or malware under the guise of unsolicited technical assistance. What nefarious purpose lies in the code they so desperately want to get onto my computer, I don’t know. Maybe they’re after online banking information, identity-theft data. Or maybe they just want an algo running in the background that will get me to look at more ads for boner pills. I don’t know. I don’t want to find out.

They’re sitting in a call centre on the other side of the planet, safely out of any jurisdiction that might try to come after them, being paid a pittance for what amounts to cold-call sales of evil intent. I’d pity them if they weren’t trying to fuck up my life. But since they are trying to fuck up my life, I might as well milk them for some entertainment value.

Much as I enjoyed my interaction with “Melvin,” it was all over too quickly. I resolved to work on my stamina for the next time I got a call from one of his compatriots. The problem was, I never knew when they might come, when they might catch me. Would I be prepared, would I be on my game, would I be able to slip into character at an instant’s notice? Several weeks later, the phone rang again with another indecipherable number.

I had, I was told, downloaded a new virus that, fortunately, this anonymous stranger could attend to if only I followed his careful instructions.

Me: A virus?

Caller: Yes, I virus. You must take care of this or we will have to shut down your internet.

Me (giving a purposely stilted, absolutely flat line-reading): Please don’t shut down my internet! I sure wouldn’t want that!

Caller: I need you to press a key on your keyboard.

Me: Which key is that?

Caller: You see the key next to the control button on the left-hand side? What is it?

Me: “W.”

Caller: That’s the Windows key.

Me: No, it’s the “W” key. I have a custom keyboard.

I actually don’t, but this throws him.

Caller: Do you have Windows?

Me: I sure do! Box-frame, crank. You can see right through them.

This also throws him.

Caller: What do you see on your screen?

Me: Well, this is rather embarrassing, but it’s pornography.

Caller: What is it?

Me: Porn.

Caller: I am going to get my supervisor. Please hold.

Me: Okey-dokey!

Apparently pornography issues were reserved for a higher pay grade. The next voice that came on the line was a little more polished, a little less accented. By this time I had relocated to my wife’s office so she could listen in on my tech-support call. She’s a tech professional of the less-malignant type, so this shit amuses the hell out of her.

Unfortunately, having her listen to me do an improv workshop with an unsuspecting tele-scammer gave us both the giggles. Chortling into the ear of my long-distance confidence trickster might have spoiled the solemn mood of my serious computer problems and I nearly choked myself trying to supress a laugh. This led to a horrible coughing fit I was more content to direct into the phone’s mouthpiece.

Me (apologizing earnestly): I’m sorry, I have tuberculosis.

Despite upgrading to a “supervisor,” the quality of the crackling phone line remained poor.

Me: You know, for a telecommunications company, this is a terrible connection.

Supervisor: What?

Me (louder, so he can hear over the static): The connection is really bad!

Supervisor: We are having problems with our central communications hub.

Me: That must be very embarrassing.

Supervisor: I will call you back.

Me: Sure thing.

We were reconnected a minute later. The phone line was hardly improved.

Supervisor: Is that better?

Me: No.

Supervisor (undeterred): What do you see on your screen?

Me: As I mentioned earlier, it’s pornography.

Supervisor (unfazed – which is probably why he was the “supervisor”): Press the Windows and R key as in “Roger.”

Me (not doing it): Okay.

Supervisor: What do you see?

Me: I see…The Matrix.

Supervisor: What?

Me: It’s all ones and zeroes and they’re floating up the screen.

Supervisor (baffled): What do you see?

Me: The Matrix. It’s green.

Supervisor: Green, sir?

Me: Yup.

Supervisor: You need to restart your computer.

Me: Oh yeah?

Supervisor: Restart your computer and let me know when it comes back on. I’ll hold.

Me: Okay.

When in doubt, reboot. He sure knew his stuff. I carried the phone extension into the next room.

Me: Are you still holding?

Supervisor: Yes, sir.

Me: Okay, hold the line and I’ll let you know as soon as it comes back on.

Supervisor: Yes, sir.

I set the phone down and returned to my office to continue work. I checked back twenty minutes later.

Me: Still there?

He wasn’t. So I hung up the phone.

They haven’t called back since, and I find myself missing these interactions terribly. It’s been four months since our last exchange, and so far, nothing. Did my sarcasm break through the language/culture barrier and land me on the “Do not call this asshole” list? The possibility has troubled me. I miss Melvin and the rest of the call-centre crew, I really do. Every time an unrecognized or blocked number appears on my call display, I snatch up the phone eagerly, hoping for a repeat performance from my favourite gang of international compu-criminals. But it’s never them. It’s just some routine telemarketer, a wrong number, a robocall. Or family.

How utterly disappointing.

Even as I was in the middle of writing this, the phone rang. It was a local number, but one I didn’t know. I picked up, hoping it was somebody trying to rob me or con me or waste my time.

It was my old university, trying to solicit a donation from me. So I guess it was a little of all of the above.

It’s something. I’ll take it.

Let’s Ruin Reading for Everyone!

Is there anything technology can’t fuck up? If there is, wait five minutes. Someone will come up with an app for that.

There have been a couple of articles about the lost art of reading that have recently come to my attention. The common thread was that they amounted to two different technological “solutions” for the slow, tedious process of looking at the written word and absorbing it.

The first is Hemingway, a piece of software designed to streamline your prose by pinpointing things like style, complexity and individuality and recommending you cut that shit out. Although it was named for Hemingway, the author of this NPR article quickly discovered the app’s disdain for Ernest when some of his writing was plugging in for a quickie-computer rewrite. The results, concluded the reporter, were an improvement on the work of one of the most celebrated scribes of the 20th century – presumably because it turned his prose into something closer to literary Pablum. It was easier to swallow, bland and tasteless, and required little effort to digest.

HemingwaypunchI’d like to think Hemingway would respond by getting liquored up and punching this NPR flunky in the face.

Okay, now that we’ve ironed out all the bumps and surgically extracted the heart and soul of a piece of writing, how can we cram it down our gullet even faster?

I’m so glad (and dismayed) that you asked.

The Spritz app is designed to force your brain to absorb text much faster than normal reading speed. It’s like speed reading, but with a knife to your throat and your eyes pried open Clockwork-Orange style. Individual words are flashed at you, each with a single letter highlighted in red (presumably to keep you focused) at adjustable speeds that range from painful to tortuous.

Looking at the fastest setting gave me an instant headache. You couldn’t have given me a headache any faster if you’d hit me in the head with a lead pipe. It lingered all day after only about ten seconds of exposure. But it certainly worked. I could read fast. Extremely fast. And it was a horrible, unpleasant experience.

But maybe that’s the point. Hemingway tells us that the written word must be uniform and streamlined, while Spritz shows us that reading is a painful experience best rushed through and ended quickly. These technological innovations expose reading as a burden that should be glossed over and dismissed. Words are not something to sit with, absorb and think about. Language and nuance are for pansies. Books must be downloaded into our brains as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s all about speed. Comprehension is optional – undesirable even. In the time you waste thinking about one book, you could have flown through three more.

As for short stories, articles or, heaven forfend, blog posts, you better be able to swallow that disposable crap in the blink of an eye. You have places to be, important things to do, other apps to download and install to run and ruin your life.

In fact, why the hell are you still here reading this? Shouldn’t you be done already?

If you’re one of those philistines who still clings to reading fiction and wallowing in words, you might be interested in two more of my short stories slated to appear in upcoming anthologies.

“Young Turks and Old Wives” will be part of Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels Vol. 3 from One Eye Press. It’s out in November.

“Choke the Chicken” is to be featured in The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. That will come out sometime in 2015.

More details will appear here once we’re closer to the release dates or, more importantly, I have sexy cover art to show off. Until then, you can check out this cool fantasy mock-up for Canadian Noir that one of the writers threw together on a lark.

If you’re sold on the idea that everything must be high tech, I’m sure both collections will be available as ebooks for various tablets and devices and electronic doodads. Or you can curl up with these books the old-fashioned physical way. Order a copy or buy one at a book store – provided you can still find one of those antiquated archaeological dig-sites on a map.

Those of you interested in reading character-based crime fiction but are unwilling to invest more than five seconds at a time may want to check out 140 Notorious Characters. The genre is Twitter Noir and the project has just passed the half-way point. All the tweets are ultimately collected here, but you can also enjoy the twice-daily updates as they spill out of my brain, fresh and offensive, by following me on Twitter.

 

Simsenfreude

Much as I enjoy gaming, these days I’ve been spending far too many hours writing to get in any serious play time. Oh sure, I’ve nipped off for a heartbreaking permadeath or two in Don’t Starve. I even bought Prototype 2 for ten bucks in the latest Steam sale just for the cathartic pleasure of liquefying a few thousand innocent bystanders for no better reason than they were standing there, irritatingly minding their own business. But on the video-game front, I’ve largely been amusing myself by watching industry developments from the sidelines, reading articles, and trying to answer the most pressing question of the day: Is EA Games about to lay waste to another beloved and venerable franchise?

Since being voted the worst company in America multiple years in a row by an online poll, disappointing everyone with the universally loathed ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, and laying waste to a mighty gaming dynasty with the catastrophuck that was Simcity 2013, EA can do no right. Now, with a September 2nd release date written in stone, casual and obsessive gamers alike are waiting to find out if they’re about to destroy The Sims once and for all.

After nickel and diming fans with The Sims 3 microtransactions for the last five years, it was time to con devoted fans into buying all the same shit all over again for The Sims 4. EA bean counters are rubbing their greedy fingers together in anticipation of all the greenbacks they’ll see from pre-orders, deluxe pre-orders, online store items, and future installments that will roll off the assembly line multiple times per year for the next five years, give or take.

There’s just one tiny problem. The development and promotion of this new installment has, thus far, been an unmitigated disaster. And as a result, I’m getting far more entertainment value for free from watching this slow-motion train wreck than I could ever get for a seventy-dollar sticker price in September. To varying degrees, I’ve played all the past incarnations of The Sims. I don’t know if I’ll ever touch The Sims 4, but basking in the associated nerd rage amuses the shit out of me.

When I say I play The Sims, that’s not entirely accurate. I fart around with The Sims. I while away the hours overdesigning creepy freaks and outlandish buildings and sinister lairs. I micromanage every shade of colour, every texture, every prop’s position, until I’ve created exactly the mood I want. Then I proceed to never actually play the game itself because who really wants to spend all their gaming time reminding virtual people that it’s time to go to work, go to bed, eat something, clean something, or poop?

Well, apparently lots of people want to do that, and have done so for years, through three (going on four) incarnations of the game and more expansion packs, stuff packs and DLC than anyone has ever tried to count (FUN FACT: they once set Deep Blue to the task but technicians had to pull the plug after sixteen hours when it started smoking and stinking of sulfur and burnt rubber).

The big selling point of The Sims 4 is that your virtual people-puppets now come with emotions, emotions, EMOTIONS! Did we mention they have emotions now?

Okay, if you say so. Although I always thought the Sims looked pretty darn embarrassed every time they pissed themselves ten feet away from a perfectly functional toilet because they were too engaged in a rollicking game of chess.

When it comes to the new emotions system in the game, there’s only one emotion that comes to mind: Schadenfreude. From the moment EA minions announced that Into the Future would be the last expansion pack for The Sims 3, they’ve busied themselves laying waste to that future. The franchise now hangs on the success or failure of a sequel that has looked half-baked from day one.

Originally designed to be a multiplayer online experience like its Simcity cousin, the aforementioned catastrophuck necessitated a quick reversal on that front for fear of replicating one of the biggest disasters in video gaming history. Unfortunately, the infrastructure was already there, the engine was already built, and it was too late in the schedule to create the new game from the ground up. So now we have a single-player experience grafted onto a multiplayer design. The results are a massive leap backwards for the series, removing the open world of The Sims 3 in favour of lots and lots and lots of loading screens.

Ah, if only that were the sole setback this game had to deal with. Let us not forget the layoffs when EA cut its Maxis staff to the bone earlier this year. All sorts of beloved “SimGurus” featured in promotional play videos, product announcements, and tweets with the fans were given the unceremonious axe, leaving only two janitors and one accountant on staff to finish coding The Sims 4. As a direct result, the game isn’t ready. It isn’t even close to being ready. If it had another year of development time at its disposal, it might be able to get in the same ballpark as ready. Right now, it’s not even on the same planet as ready. But it’s getting a worldwide release in a little over a month because fuck it! EA gotta eat.

Nearly every single day for weeks there’s been a new announcement about what’s not in the game. EA is doling out the bad news incrementally to avoid a fan-base shock that would see all their preorders cancelled. It’s not really working. Preorders continue to be sluggish, and a lot of the ones they already had dating all the way back to 2013 have been cancelled. No Create-a-Style, no toddlers, no swimming pools, no basements. The hits keep on coming. Stuff that was promised to be in-game last year has since evaporated. Everyone is waiting on the inevitable announcement that cars and other vehicles will not be interactive in the base game. The silence on the topic has been deafening. Which means cars are out.

But did we mention your Sims will now have emotions? Yes, I think you did. Did I mention Sim fans have emotions too? They do. Rage, ire, disdain, hatred and malice. Read the forums sometime. The vitriol is poisonous.

Complicating the matter is EA’s typical tone-deaf approach to dealing with its customers. Videos, convention appearances and promotion for the new Sims title have been a joke. A badly told knock-knock joke with poor delivery, ill timing and no punchline. EA seized upon the opportunity of the E3 conference to provide no new information about the game whatsoever. After fans demanded to see actual in-game footage – any in-game footage featuring genuine game play and a user interface – EA responded with a contrived and woefully incomplete walkthrough identical to what they offered select members of the press back at E3 a month earlier.

SimGuru Graham, owner of one of the necks that avoided this year’s layoff chopping block, has been dispatched to calm fears and break bad news as sweetly as possible via Twitter and endless rounds of nearly identical convention interviews. The new Sim emotions may be garishly overacted and cartoony, but I think I can read some of the more subtle emotions going on just under the surface of those pandering interviews that hit all the talking points and never broach the subject of what’s gone so horribly wrong the game.

I’ve done those interviews myself, I’m been in those meetings. I’m sure many of you have as well. You know, the ones where you’re required to fake enthusiasm for a product you know is a steaming pile of dog shit? You pull your lips back, bare your teeth, and hope it resembles a genuine smile. You raise your voice to an artificially high pitch and volume and pray it sounds like excitement. But the eyes, ah yes, the eyes. Those haunted, soul-compromised eyes can’t hide the fact that you’re dying inside a little every time you present a false positive or nod in agreement with an idea you know is not just bad, it’s stupefying horrible.

Putting on a brave face, dying a little on the inside.

Putting on a brave face, dying a little on the inside.

More transparent is SimGuru Ryan, who continues to be tapped for interviews, announcements and gameplay videos. He’s been a constant frontman for the franchise for years, apparently thanks to his position as lead producer in charge of artificially positive spin. He comes across as so insincere, I worry the poor man fakes his orgasms when masturbating. Every time he opens his mouth in one of these clips, I feel like I’m being hard sold a lemon by a used car salesman. Except, of course, The Sims 4 won’t actually have real cars. That piece of bad news publically admitted to in three…two…one…

Of course there are fans who remain steadfastly committed to the title. Although the ongoing derailment of a fourteen-year-old billion-dollar video gaming cornerstone has sharply divided the community into bickering factions, that’s part of the appeal of watching everyone lose their shit and turn into a talkback troll. Stubborn supporters are very much needed to turn a critical panning into a lively boxing match. Without them it would be like having no delusional die-hards who stood up to defend the Star Wars prequels. Where’s the fun if everyone acknowledges the product on offer is junk and agrees to keep their money in their wallet?

You can read all the negative comments about The Sims 4 right now. The game itself, ready or not, comes out on September 2, 2014. Better-informed negative reviews commence on September 3rd.

The Worm in the Apple

I don’t like Apple.

It’s not just their slave-labour policies that drive factories full of Chinese workers to suicide, their ongoing efforts to get every man, woman and child on the planet to carry their own personal snoopable tracking device, or their general dickishness about how hip and cool and plug-and-playable their products are. I am, for the record, a long-time PC guy. I hate Microsoft and its indentured servant, the humble PC, as well. But at least we’ve never developed the smugness of Apple users. We don’t expect plug-and-play. We expect broken and irritating. It’s made us strong, and it’s taught us much about computers – namely how to take them apart, put them back together again, and reprogram the motherfuckers so that they actually work. Ask an Apple user to do anything other than hook it up and they’ll weep onto their touch screens and pray to their Jobs-Messiah for guidance and blessings.

Yes. there are plenty of reasons to hate Apple as a corporate entity. But my top reason is the cult-like love affair that goes on between client and product. It gets a little sickening after a while – like watching some fashionista fawn over the accessory rat-dog that lives in her handbag. Sure, lady, it’s great that you’re an animal lover and all, but you two should get a room. Stop Frenching in front of everyone at the supermarket because you’re making us all sick and my eyes are starting to burn.

“Fuck Apple,” may be one of my popular refrains, but I never meant it literally.

And yet technology is always willing to fulfill needs few, if any of us, ever knew existed. There’s a new product from the fine folks at Fleshlight, ever the vanguard of artificial-vagina technology (at least until the Japanese perfect their semen-powered mecha-cyborg vagina-kaiju and it breaks out of the lab disguised as a tentacled schoolgirl in order the milk the entire male population of Earth and reach critical mass – and my inside sources tell me they’re working on EXACTLY THAT). It’s the lastest and greatest in sex-toy strap-on technology. Now, you too, can have sex with your iPad. At last, Apple fans can pursue the twisted fantasy they never dared consciously acknowledge.

They call it LaunchPAD and, ever the savvy marketers, Fleshlight has even prepared a YouTube-safe commercial which speaks for itself.

Good luck getting tech support if it breaks. Better call a Biohazard team.

Despite my distaste and distrust for Apple, I have been known to borrow my wife’s iPad on occasion (as in every few hours) to play mobile games. And I have to say, despite the iProducts’ legendary intuitive interface, I could never, for the life of me, figure out where to insert my penis. At least this conundrum has been resolved in the most unambiguous way possible. Thanks, Fleshlight!

Bear in mind, this isn’t just for porn. Thanks to such cutting-edge technology, anything on your tablet screen is a viable target for your next erection. Now strange men can stick their dick in your Twitter feed, your Facebook friends list and, obviously, stuffonmycat.com. There’s a whole world wide web guys can stick their dicks in, and it doesn’t end there. I, for one, have longed for the day when I could stick my dick in Fruit Ninja. I just hope I don’t get any bombs. Unless, of course, it works like a forced-feedback joystick.

Nobody in their right mind asked for this, but now that it’s here, please enjoy your newfound ability to have sexual relations with your tablet to its fullest. Just wear a condom. We don’t need a world full of your iBastards.

This ain't your daddy's USB port.

This ain’t your daddy’s USB port.

A Pot to Piss in

I had a test tube of urine sitting on my desk all weekend.

No, I haven’t taken to drinking my own piss as a means of self-cleansing. I drink so much coffee, it would probably just taste like Columbian beans anyway, so why not just stick with coffee? As things-on-my-desk go, a test tube brimming with pee isn’t particularly out of place. Other things current sitting on my desk include a denarius of Clodius Albinus (from the brief period he stood as a usurper Augustus operating out of Lugdunum), a McDonald’s apple pie now in its 26th year of existence, a Lego minifigure of Christopher Lee, an alien-queen paperweight made entirely out of welded together hardware-store junk and bicycle chains, a 250 million year old trilobite fossil, a le Roy mechanical pocket watch from the 1950s and, inevitably, a cup of black coffee.

I wasn’t expecting to add urine to the collection, and I was eager to get rid of it. I found myself unexpectedly saddled with the burden last Friday when I went for a blood and urine test at the brand-spanking-new CLSC (centre local de services communautaires for the acronym-impaired (community service centre for the French-impaired)) around the corner. Purely a formality of my annual check-up, I popped over in the morning after the requisite 14-hour fast to get jabbed and bled.

The new facility had all the bells and whistles socialized medicine has to offer, including a touch-screen numbered-ticket dispenser, an elderly security guard to explain how touch screens work to the elderly patrons, a display monitor that goes “ping” when it’s your turn to check in at the counter, and bloated bureaucratic oafs to make sure it all runs as inefficiently as possible in the face of technological advancements in efficiency.

The bleeding part went smoothly. The urine part, not so much.

I’ll admit, my urine sample’s failure to launch was entirely my fault. The blood-test unit is only open in the morning, and closed by 9:00 am. That meant setting an alarm and getting up early. Mornings aren’t my thing, so I typically rely on autopilot to see me through my washing and dressing and eating a bowl of Shreddies (when I’m not fasting for a blood test). Purely on autopilot, I also indulged in my morning piss that day. Which meant I had nothing to offer by the time I was supposed to produce for my urinalysis.

I wish I could say this was the first time I’d done this to myself.

After the blood test, I sat in the waiting room, a bar-coded personalized specimen receptacle in my pocket, waiting for the magic to happen. In a concerted effort to force the aforementioned magic to happen, I made frequent trips to the water fountain to stockpile ammunition. A series of trips to a bathroom stall amounted to nothing but performance anxiety. I had a gallon of water sloshing around inside me, but my kidneys insisted on operating on their own schedule, in their own due time. Not unlike government-payroll bureaucrats, but I digress.

After nearly an hour of languishing in the waiting room, listening to a pair of grandmotherly junkie-rehab patients talk about the social dynamics of their halfway house, I was finally ready to perform. After squeezing out the first few drops through willpower alone, the floodgates opened and I was able to summon enough urine for a sample. More than enough. Much more than enough.

“Where were you?” I yelled at my copious stream of piss.

It offered no excuses.

Eagerly, I sealed the tube, returned it to its designated plastic bag, and rushed it to the clinic down the hall – which was locked tight for the day. It was past 9:00. Bugger.

I asked around and determined that, although no one would accept my sample because the daily shipment of bodily fluids had already departed for a lab across town, I could drop it off on Monday morning.

And so the piss sat, waiting patiently on my desk. Only last night did I empty the tube, rinsing it out and preparing it for a fresh morning sample. I left the empty tube in plain sight on the toilet tank where even my autopilot couldn’t fail to spot it.

This morning I embarked to drop off my new and improved sample like a good little patient. Returning to the CLSC, I avoided eye contact with any security guard eager to redundantly school me on how to use a touch-screen, and got my ticket number for a “sample delivery” with a single painfully obvious poke at a digital button.

It wasn’t long before I was called to the desk. I presented the plastic bag with a clear tube full of golden goodness.

“Where’s your requisition form?” demanded the all-too typical overpaid, over-unionized, under-motivated government stooge. Although there was no attempt to communicate what this requisition form entailed, the tone of her voice communicated so much more. Boredom and distaste mostly.

“I was told to drop this off here Monday morning.”

“You can’t do that without a requisition form.”

“That’s not what I was told.”

“We can’t accept it. This could be from anywhere.”

“My dick hole. That’s where it’s from,” I said with my sarcastic inside voice.

“It has a name and a bar code on it,” I said with my sarcastic outside voice.

I dropped the name of “Louise,” one of her co-workers who I’d discussed this with on Friday. The personal touch seemed to provoke some movement from the sloth-like government lummox. They don’t like it when you know their names. It gives you power. It arms you with a finger to point at somebody specific if you go over their heads to complain. She grunted and rose to her feet, lumbering off with my bag-o-piss.

“Louise, Louise, Louise…” she repeated, an annoyed mantra that suggested there would be hell to pay. Grunting, irritable, whining hell.

Realizing she’d made the terrible mistake of leaving the area with my sample in hand and not a single word of “excuse me” or “wait here, please,” I seized the opportunity and stealthily left the building like a ninja Keyser Soze. Poof, I was gone.

I expect one day, after the collapse of western civilization (which, I’m reliable informed, may happen as soon as next Tuesday morning around 10:30), my urine will be discovered by future archaeologists, still in its bar-coded test tube, safely ensconced in a ziplock biohazard baggie, forgotten at the bottom of a filing cabinet drawer. Or maybe the government worker bee just threw it away. I don’t know. She could have drank it for all I care. I don’t expect the lab technicians are likely to discover the secrets of the universe when they read the tea leaves (and coffee beans) that comprise the discharged contents of my bladder.

Perhaps the archaeologists will have more luck when it’s their turn to analyse my piss sometime in the post-apocalypse.

For those simulated-city-building nerds who expressed interest in my plug for Luke Hodorowicz’s incredible solo project, Banished, here’s a reminder that the game debuts tomorrow, February 18. It will be available through Steam (and elsewhere) for twenty bucks. Money well-spent if the hours of gameplay videos I’ve watched are any indication. I’ve been following the devlog for this project for over a year now, and it’s great to see it finally made available to all the eager fans who have been dying to play, myself very much included. Congratulations, Luke.

Arkham Addendum

Still feeling a touch snotty and feverish from a recent head cold, I decided to stay in and finish off my game of Batman: Arkham Origins – a title, already mentioned here, suffering from a bad case of villainitis. It would be easier to make a checklist of the Batman villains who DON’T show up for this particular Christmas-Eve storyline than to mention the dozens who do. Suffice to say, the rogue’s gallery is overly represented, with prominent figures from Batman eras past and present shotgunned at us en masse.

What makes the classic Batman villains the best in the comic-book biz is that they’re all defined by their psychosis rather than some silly super power. Each of them is a dark mirror of The Bat, with every individual representing one fractured part of our protagonist’s own tortured pathology. It’s what made these characters timeless and so open to interesting interpretations and reimaginings over the years.

What defines the modern Batman villains is that they’re all good at martial arts. So they can…I dunno…kick ass and fight and stuff. Not quite the operatic duel of wits that would require the Dark Knight Detective to do much detecting. It’s really all about the punching which, I suppose, is what people look for in this sort of video game.

Now, I did enjoy it. It was one of the rare adventure storyline games I got all the way through, because I actually wanted to see how it ended. Personally, I would have preferred an epilogue with Alfred and Bruce microwaving turkey leftovers after a very long Christmas Eve of fighting crime and not stopping for food or a bathroom break. But it does end well enough.

I won’t pretend to be a game critic here. I’m no Yahtzee Croshaw – I would need to drink far more coffee to hit that manic a pace. But I will say this latest Batman outing has a virulent strain of the You’re-shitting-me-I-have-to-fight-Bane-AGAIN!?! syndrome. Look, I know he was the main baddie from the last movie, but he’s not all that interesting. He’s certainly not (spoiler alert) three boss-fights interesting. Sure, he’s one of the few semi-classic villains who can give Bats a fair fight, but couldn’t we have at least one boss fight that involves knocking a few teeth out of the Riddler’s arrogant head after all those irritating puzzles? Sure it would be one-sided, but it’s not like the game isn’t already feeding the computer nerds this year’s dose of bully-fantasy-fulfilment. Really, I started to feel bad for all those Blackgate escapees I “interrogated” (read “tortured by standing on their heads”) and then pounded into unconsciousness after gleaning some petty nugget of information. They probably had shitty childhoods, a difficult family life and hard economic times to contend with. They just wanted to get home for the holidays and somebody at the prison left the door open. Can you blame them for seizing the opportunity and simply walking out? I can’t. But the Bat can. What a fascist asshole!

After winning my three hundredth ten-on-one street brawl in a row, I found myself longing for my preferred type of video game – the strategic empire-building genre. Is it wrong to daydream about playing another video game while you’re in the middle of one of the biggest releases of the year? It feels like cheating. But if it’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Because the game mechanics that were going through my head, even as I pounded faces into blood pudding on the streets of Gotham, were those of the upcoming Banished.

banished

The end credits of most video games today roll for twenty to thirty minutes on average because there are so many people involved. They make movie end credits (which hardly anyone watches either) seem fleeting. When the credits for Banished roll, there’s only going to be one name, and one name only. Because Banished is a solo effort. One guy, doing everything. And the game looks fantastic. It’s a city builder, and although I haven’t played one second of it, I can already tell it’s better than the uber high-profile franchise remake (and legendary disaster) Simcity 2013.

Apparently you need an army of people to design, write, code and release a game as fucked up as the new Simcity. But it looks like one guy can nail it acting alone. I don’t even know the name of this one industry insider who threw up his hands, said “Aw, screw it” and skipped all the bullshit in favour of making precisely the game he wanted to make, but he’s my hero. Banished looks like exactly the sort of game I love to play, designed by someone with an equal taste for the genre. The game is due out any moment between now and the end of the year, and it’s certainly premature for me to endorse something I haven’t had the chance to try. But I’ve been following the devlog for a long time now, and I’m more hyped for this than any of the giant releases due in the next year.

If you’re interested in this type of game at all, I at least hope I’ve made you aware that this exists. Check of the Shining Rock Software website and its various social media links for all the details. This is the one that deserves your day-of-release dollar, not the latest crapfest from EA (the most-hated corporation in America two-years running – congratulations guys, well earned – if it can’t be Monsanto, I’m glad it’s you). Even though the wait through this final play-testing bug-squashing time is excruciating, at least Banished is being properly beta tested, unlike Simcity, which basically charged everybody a fortune for a pre-order of what turned out to be an alpha-test of a game with catastrophic design flaws that could only be fixed with a square-one rethink and a time machine. May Batman stand on all your heads, you bastards.

Not that I’m bitter.

Holy Giant Props, Batman!

Just when you thought the mainstream news media couldn’t get any more lame, Fox News ups the ante with something that might even trump CNN’s abortive use of hologram reporting. Seriously, hologram reporting. They did that shit once. They beamed the image of their reporters into the studio so it looked like they were actually standing there, next to other reporters who were just standing there for real. This technological leap forward accomplished what journalists scarcely dared dream of for decades – filing a remote report in front of a hologram camera instead of a video camera. Pure genius. Sadly, the experiment failed when every hologram-projection filed proved to be a plea to somebody named Obi-Wan, who was, the reporters assured us, their only hope.

Not to be outdone, Fox News has now given us a studio full of prop-people diligently slaving away at prop-touchscreens. But they aren’t just any touchscreen tablets. No, they’re GIGANTIC touchscreen tablets. Looking akin to King Kong’s iPhone, they fill the set with superfluous techno-bling by the dozen. And the sight is indeed impressive – impressively stupid, instantly dated, and dumb in ways I can’t explain. So I won’t. I’ll let Fox News stooge Shepard Smith explain it himself.

Shepard – Shep to his friends, but he has no friends, so everyone calls him Shemp behind his back – makes a valiant effort to justify the unjustifiable. Apparently Fox hasn’t realized that making their reporting bigger doesn’t make their bullshit any more true than when they tried making it louder.

But what really grabs me about this new set is how much it looks like the modern equivalent of a set from the old Adam West Batman show. Giant props will do that. All they need to do now is shoot it at a slightly askew angle and Shep will instantly be promoted to the level of Batman villain, joining the ranks of The Joker, The Riddler and The Penguin. We just need to give him a better villain name. How about The Stupifier? His nefarious plan is to broadcast disinformation to the world at large, making anyone who watches dumber by the moment. Batman will obviously have to produce some sort of filtering lens from his utility belt in order to combat this devious plot or risk having his reading level lowered to that of a chimpanzee in the “special” third-grader class for slow learners. You know, like regular Fox News viewers.

And speaking of The Dark Knight of Gotham City…

There are no Adam West-era giant props in the new Batman video game, Arkham Origins, but there are villains galore. The premise of this free-range sandbox game is that it’s two years into the bat’s crusade against crime when suddenly, one Christmas Eve, a host of new villains start to come out of the woodwork to replace all those standard-issue mobsters he’s already thwarted.

According to the continuity of this prequel to the two previous Arkham games, we’re to believe that all in one night, Batman has his very first encounter with headliners like Killer Croc, The Penguin, The Riddler, The Mad Hatter, The Joker and at least a dozen other lesser, but still well-established members of his personal rogue’s gallery. Yeah yeah, it’s a video game, but c’mon…plausibility? Just a smidge? I’m sixteen hours into the game and I’m having a hard time suspending my disbelief that this is all supposed to be happening in one night. I know as a kid Christmas Eve seemed to go on forever and Christmas morning was painfully slow in coming, but even last-minute shoppers aren’t this rushed and busy on the 24th.

This game also marks the retirement of the definitive Joker. No, not Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero. I’m talking Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill who has been voicing the character for various video game and animation projects for decades. Apparently he took the job to carry him through to his next Star Wars gig. Now that that’s finally in the offing, he’s stepped down as the Clown Prince of Crime and passed the job on to Troy Baker, who doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. Following Hamill’s cue, he’s doing effectively the same voice rather than something entirely new – like Ledger’s weird gravelly Boston-tinged Joker. Given that Hamill so defined what the Joker is supposed to sound like over the past twenty-one years, it’s probably a good decision, if only for continuity purposes.

In other video game news, I’m compelled to mention my Halloween gift came early this year with the October 31 release of the “Blood & Gore” DLC for Total War: Rome II. Total War has long-since become my favourite video game franchise, and I’ve enjoyed every single incarnation of it since the release of Shogun in 2000. It was only with the arrival of Shogun 2 in 2011 that any attention was paid to depicting the bloody mess that was medieval and ancient warfare. Sure, modern warfare is also a bloody mess, but the Total War series has always spared us any forays into that boring mechanized button-pushing morass. Other game series have it well covered. Total War sticks to the swords and arrows and halberds, and long may it continue to do so.

Let us not pretend that getting a pilum in the face circa 100 BCE was a tidy affair.

Let us not pretend that getting a pilum in the face circa 100 BCE was a tidy affair.

Oddly, in a series so devoted to realistic ancient battle and tactics, it wasn’t until the Blood Pack DLC of Shogun 2 that they dared show us all the rolling heads and spurting arteries one might expect from hand-to-hand combat. Despite my notorious penchant for gory movies, I’m not as bloodthirsty as some might think. The pleasure I derive from seeing this much blood splashed across my monitor as virtual armies clash isn’t due to sadism, it comes from a desire for more realistic displays of violence in media. War isn’t a clean business. And perhaps if more people got a look at the blood and suffering it entails, particularly in our sanitized news media, there’d be a lot less of it.

Just don’t show it to us on those stupid giant tablets or I might get the giggles.

It’s Alive!

Welcome to the new, and hopefully improved, eyestrainproductions.com – now powered by WordPress, which I understand is an improvement over what I had before because it’s software that’s still supported and not hopelessly outdated. The problem with the old web site was that it was state-of-the-art ten years ago which, in computer terms, is like saying you’re tearing up the highway with your state-of-the-art ox cart.

Although my homepage has probably lost some of its quaintness, its charm, its low-rez, inadvertently retro hipster irony, I now have a lot more toys to play with, and can offer up all sorts of new types of content without having to go beg a web designer to do free programming for me.

Some of the old content is MIA for the time being, but will make its return soon enough. In the meantime, there’s new content I dreamed of adding to the site long before it became practical to do so. Go explore. You’ll no doubt find new insight into some of my obsessions.

Buying things should be much easier now, with multiple opportunities to add stuff to your cart as you read about some of the old comic work I still have copies of. Or you can go directly to the actual store on the top menu, which is currently sparse in design but straightforward.

The blog now has categories and a search field, making it easier to find topics you enjoy and skip all my other inane babblings. For good measure, I reread all my old postings and corrected some embarrassing typos that I was only able to spot with the distance of time. There are, of course, many many links that have died out or changed in the last decade. I didn’t bother to strip out all those urls that withered away over the years. Just keep in mind, if you’re reading the earlier days of the blog, that once upon a time those links used to send you somewhere cool or relevant.

And speaking of links, I’ve completely changed the old link page. To my horror, I realized the nature of one or two of those sites had switched from something I endorsed, to something I held in contempt – namely, crappy sleazy porn. If I’m going to recommend a link to you, the least I can do is point you at some quality porn.

Bits and pieces of the website remain a work in progress, but nothing is going to lead you to one of those annoying UNDER CONSTRUCTION pages. It’s all there, ready to be added to as time marches on. The remake is officially complete, the heavy lifting is done, and hopefully I won’t have to go through this again for another ten years.

Relaunch

The stagnation of this blog and website has been the source of no small amount of irritation on the part of friends and fans, and a heaping dose of embarrassment on my end. My previously mentioned inertia is only part of the story. The rest of the story is composed of words like “apathy,” “disdain,” “procrastination,” “ineptitude,” “boredom,” and “spelunking.” Most of those words are self-explanatory. As for “spelunking,” I haven’t actually taken up cave-climbing as a sport, hobby or pastime. I’m just really fond of that word. Spelunking. I like the sound of it. It’s soothing. It’s probably my favourite word in the English language, followed closely by “troglodyte.” I think if I ever actually encountered a troglodyte while I was spelunking, I’d drop dead of a joygasm.

The real story of what’s going on behind the scenes is that I’ve become aware of several key anniversaries that have altered my behaviour. First, it’s been ten years since the original launch of eyestrainproductions.com-slash-shanesimmons.com. After making a valiant effort to write something new at least once a month, I’ve fallen hopelessly behind, and habits are easy to forget about once you break out of the cycle. Especially good habits. Bad habits, not so much.

The website has also been looking a tad shabby, out-of-date, long-in-the-tooth. It is, after all, a 2003 design. There’s also been a fair amount of neglect that’s entirely my fault — links that became broken years ago that have never been changed or fixed, credits that haven’t been updated, news that hasn’t been announced, bugs that haven’t been squashed. On the plus side for the people who have been ordering my comics, you’re getting a good deal on the postage since I haven’t updated the rates to reflect the inflation that’s happened down at Canada Post in the last decade. I make a mental note to do something about that every time I eat it on another package headed anywhere out of the country (which is pretty much all of them because only eight people live in Canada, six of them already have copies of my work, and the last two don’t read comics because that crap’s for children).

“Re-do website” has been on the project list for a long time now. Lately, I’ve been doing something about it. Finally. Mostly because the software infrastructure of the site got chucked onto the virtual-technology trash heap right next to Windows 8 and the original code for Pong. It was upgrade and transfer files now, or lose it all in translation later.

I’ve decided to abandon the forgotten and unsupported Pivot and switch to the trendy and rather more functional WordPress. WordPress, I’m told, offers all sorts of shiny new bells and whistles and functionality, while helping my homepage look more professional, corporate and soulless.

So be assured, the next time I write a blog post the whole web site will look completely new and different. And you’ll hate it. Because change is bad and websites should never ever change no matter how shitty and out-of-date they get. Ask Harry Knowles.

The second major anniversary is that of Longshot Comics. The original minicomic edition came out an incredible make-me-feel-old twenty years ago. Availability of the comic has been helped along by various reprints in various languages, but someone needs to get all the material back into easily obtainable print. And maybe even offer some fresh pages. That task, if seems, falls to me. Which is a lot of work and entirely unfair, even if I am the sole writer, artist and printing press of the whole endeavor. What did I do to deserve this curse, other than creating it in the first place? Fuck you, karma.

There is a third key anniversary this year. Twenty-five years, the silver jubilee if you will, of something both grand and horrifying. Close associates will know what I’m talking about. The rest of the world will find out soon enough. I’m saving this one for the post-relaunch period, though I will have to discuss it at length before 2013 is up. It’s simply far too important to let slide.

Beware.

Fund This!

Here we are, at the end of another month, with nothing but a pathetic token blog entry to show for it.

It turns out my much-delayed downtime hasn’t been all that down for me after all. It’s funding season here in Canada (when isn’t it funding season?) and I’ve been running around helping various productions and production companies try to get their projects off the ground with everybody’s hard-lost taxpayer dollars. Considering their projects amount to three different feature films I wrote or will write, I have a certain personal interest in seeing these applications succeed.

Ah, there’s so much more happening, so much news to report or comment on. I guess it will have to wait, since I’ll be spending tonight writing more funding-support material to tell bureaucrats what’s in a screenplay they would rather read about than actually read.

I’ll just keep it simple and sign off saying, “Boy, I regret getting into that gunfight with Gary Coleman the last time I played Postal. Somehow, I feel responsible.

Eat hot lead, Willis!