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Monthly Archives: August 2008

Geek-Out Moment: I see dead dinosaurs

jurassic_park Dinosaurs rule and Jurassic Park brought them to life.  Steven Speilberg adapted Michael Crichton’s novel about an island amusement park filled with living dinosaurs cloned from a fossilized mosquito’s blood. The film unleashed eye-popping special effects in computers and robotics, bringing to the screen realistic fake things like never before.  This inspired many directors from Peter Jackson to James Cameron to George Lucas, all who went to push the technological envelope of film (though not all for the better).

Geek-Out Moments through history

September will be a special month for Geek-Out Moments.  All of history is up for grabs recognizing the influential geeky moments throughout time.  From Shakespeare to ancient gaming, these are moments that have changed geek history.

Geek-Out Moment: Manga crosses the ocean

lone_wolf_cub Seven years after Gen of Hiroshima became the first English translation of a Japanese comic, Lone Wolf and Cub hit the American newsstands. Lone Wolf and Cub, though, became the success that opened the manga market on U.S. soil. Today, manga provides an enormous influence for American comics. Marvel employed Joe Madureia, with his complete manga style, to draw the X-Men. Dark Horse Comics created a solely manga line as Marvel has recently. In addition, Lone Wolf can be credited with opening up the market for the successful and incredibly influential Akira film, trend setting Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the art styling of the video games Final Fantasy and Capcom characters. The Matrix film also credits manga and, the animated form, anime, as a major influence.
Though a small niche in the comic book market, Viz Communications (who dedicates itself to produce nothing but manga translations) and other publishers are increasingly adding manga to their art styling as well as manga imports. Growing more and more as the years pass, Japanese comics provide a creative heaven in a land where comics account for 40 percent of the print material in the country as a $5.5 billion industry, compared to the $200 million in America. Manga provides credibility and thus, influence.

Geek-Out Moment: Superman dies

Superman #75, Superman dies, from DC Comics Superman’s a pretty big character.  He’s one of the most recognized icons in the world.  So it was a big deal when, almost a year before it happened, DC Comics told everyone they were killing the icon off.  The even transcended the comic world to becoming a media frenzy all the way until the record-breaking release of Superman #75 where lines poured out of comic stores as everyone and their grandmother ran to buy several copies in the hopes to retiring early.  The 5 million print-run did away with a real second-hand market, but the event itself shocked some life into the comic book industry, from collectors and headline grabbing events from publishers.  And high-profile deaths (and returns) have stayed ever since.

Textbooks just another monopoly

I’m starting graduate school and the horror of textbook prices are draining valuable video game money (and playtime). Several stories have commented on the digital future of textbooks which looks bleak.  Publishers have a loyal clientele in students who must buy overpriced books to keep up in class. Universities and professors are complacent, keeping this archaic system going instead of looking for alternatives.

Wired Campus writes about surveyed students demands for digital textbooks, from costing less than the printed versions and allowing them to be printed.  Many digital textbooks cost the same as their print versions, but limit what you can print and expire after 180 days (with no resale value like the book).

The problem is textbook publishers have little incentive to innovate.  Students spend the money, but only universities and professors can sway what books get assigned (and thus sold).  As long as universities keep assigning expensive textbooks, publishers will continue to gouge students without consequence.

Piracy is starting to nip at the textbook market, but students, like me, who like printed versions find piracy a last resort. Pirate Bay and Textbook Torrents offer surprisingly large supplies of required texts that have only recently caught the eye of publishers.  Instead of recognizing an opportunity, textbook publishers are pushing digital supplements to their textbooks, requiring expensive subscriptions to supplement “losses” to piracy.

Textbooks could thrive in the digital space. Some writers and professors are experimenting with free, open-source e-textbooks to letting students write their own textbook on Wikibooks.  To encourage publishers to conduct their own experiments, professors and universities must unite to represent their students. Students can’t do anything (except file-share) as long as professors assign expensive textbooks.  Schools should screen books for pricing and reward publishers that sell books at fair prices.

Geek-Out Moment: Gotta catch them all

pokemon I believe the global economy crashed around the late 1990s when everyone in the entire world realized they Gotta catch them all. Nintendo released the first Pokemon game for the Game Boy in 1996 for Japan and 1998 for North America in an attempt to conquer the world. And they have almost succeeded. The Pokemon franchise is second only to Mario in sales of games and has expanded to almost every conceivable medium from anime to comics to card games to fanny packs and underwear. The games themselves foster a completist’s frenzy as gamers are charged with finding all the Pokemon hidden in the world. The original game had 151 Pokemon to collect, but you needed two versions of the game to find them all. The recent Pokemon Pearl and Diamond have upped that number to 493 Pokemon with different genders and colors, allowing for hundreds more to collect resulting in mass absences from elementary schools. Gotta catch them all.

Geek-Out Moment: Getting spotting in Metal Gear Solid

metal_gear_solid You can be the most patient gamer this side of Duke Nukem fans, but sometimes you just didn’t wait long enough. Metal Gear Solid has been the standard for stealth games since its 1998 introduction on the Playstation. As Solid Snake, you infiltrate a nuclear weapons disposal facility or something like it that’s cold and gray in an attempt to stop an evil terrorist group from, you know, terrorizing. Even as a super-powered action hero, Snake had to spend most of his time hiding in cardboard boxes than kicking henchmen ass. But every once in a while, whether out of boredom or an over anxious thumb, you’d poke out of your hiding place too soon, get spotted, and then have a continuous stream of lackeys to deal with. But the alarm sound was still pretty cool.

Geek-Out Moment: First Batman

Eager to earn a share of the money Superman’s creators were getting, Bob Kane, employing the help of Bill Finger, created the entire opposite of Big Blue. Batman hit the stands as a superhero that any person could imagine being. Batman had no superpowers. He utilized his intelligence and strove to reach top, physical condition through constant training. Since his inception, Kane added to the basis for superhero clichés with secret lairs, wealthy playboy secret identities, gadgets and vehicles, etc. Batman’s rogue gallery has also set the standard with the Joker, Catwoman, Mister Freeze, and Two Face showing how important the villains are to a hero. For one, Batman showed Superman was no fluke. Secondly, Batman broadened the identity for superheroes that allowed for more than planet moving knock offs. Creativity was key.

Geek-Out Moment: He’s a cop and a robot

robocop RoboCop clanked onto movie screens in 1987 with violence and cultural commentary and a robot cop for the lead. Detroit police officer Alex Murphy gets wounded in the line of duty, and to save his life, his face and brain are built into a robotic crime fighting machine who only wants to love. The satirical cultural commentary took a back seat among fans to the incredible action sequences, culminating in a slug-fest with the chicken-legged monster machine ED-209.  The franchise turned into a forced trilogy (stories by comic legend Frank Miller) with a relaunch film scheduled for 2010.  RoboCop remains an iconic hero for 80s action fans to cherish.

Geek-Out Moment: Maus wins the Pulitzer

maus So you think comics are for kids? Well, this little piece of work tells of the creator’s father living through the Holocaust. Told using animals, Maus relates to the creative success of George Orwell’s Animal Farm as a social commentary keeping the audience at a distance. By winning the Pulitzer, comics earned a sense of credibility that rarely comes around. The rebuttal comic fans give to nay-sayers usually includes a reference to the classic work. Maus proves comics aren’t just about muscular men in tights. They are a powerful medium deserving of wider critical acclaim.