Saturday, August 28, 2010

Doctor Birch, or, How I Learned to Stop Hating On, and Love, Generation III

In this week’s Looking Forward, I saw that some at BulbaGarden’s forums had misinterpreted me as condemning Generation III within my article. I feel I should do a short piece to clarify what I meant, and my feelings on the third generation of Pokémon. I know I used the word ‘mistake’ often in the article. However, I meant that these were no mistakes in the games themselves.

With about seven years of hindsight, I view the third generation as a very important, if not perhaps the most important era of the franchise since Generation I. Originally; I was temporarily driven away from the franchise by Ruby and Sapphire. I was one of the many children bitter about having to start over, not having my beloved monsters from my Blue version I had demolished Johto with to decimate Hoenn. I was too young to know what effort values, natures, and individual values were. I looked at things from a purely aesthetic standpoint, and all my twelve-year-old eyes saw were the animations from Crystal gone, the day and night cycle eliminated, and many of my favorite Pokémon seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth.

FireRed and LeafGreen pulled me back in again, and by the time Emerald came around, I was a dedicated fan again. I came to love Generation III before it came to a close. Now, I recognize it as one of the most important eras of the franchise with understanding of its many revolutionary advancements.

Love the Generation III, my friends, love it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Looking Forward: 3:10 to Hoenn

Flame war starts in 3...2...1...
Let’s rewind to 2003: we’re set to be introduced to a new region, set far away from our old stomping grounds, filled with more new Pokémon than old, set to introduce a new battle system, and mark a new beginning for this beloved franchise. Doesn’t that sound like an ironic echo as we await the releases of Pokémon Black and White? Generation V has more than a few parallels to the last odd numbered generation and therein could lie trouble.
It’s a well known fact the days of Ruby and Sapphire were a dark time for the franchise. Sales slumped as the franchise’s hay day died out, many fans left the franchise for one reason or another, and to this day, it still remains the most controversial era to this day on message boards. Seriously, start a topic on a message board about it and watch the blood pour. The topic’s been covered on Bulbanews before. We don’t need another apology for Hoenn, but with the early emerging parallels with Black and White to Ruby and Sapphire, a look should be taken to see if Game Freak won’t make the same fandom alienating mistakes that were made then.
First, why is Generation III so controversial? Several reasons abound. Some point to the different art style of the monsters, which were more complex compared to the simpler designs of previous generations (you can even note the return to more simplistic designs when Generation IV came about), as well as bitterness towards lack of connectivity with previous generations. I remember, at twelve years old, being furious I couldn’t transfer my mighty Missingno-empowered monsters I’d had with me since Blue. To add insult to injury, many older Pokémon were unable to be obtained in Ruby and Sapphire. It felt like they had been erased from the franchise, even if we would later be able to catch them all when Colosseum, Fire Red, and Lead Green came around. Lastly, several features we had come to love in Gold and Silver (such as the day and night cycle and sprite animations) had been removed. In some superficial ways, Generation III could have been viewed as a step back.
Now, let’s look at the parallels with Generation V. Isshu has been stated to be far, far away from the previous regions in the series, just like Hoenn had no land connection to Johto and Kanto. This goes along with Game Freak’s stated goal of creating a brand new experience for old and new fans alike. Black and White also are taking an even bolder step forward by having an regional PokéDex filled entirely with new Pokémon, especially compared to Hoenn having a good amount of Pokémon from older generations accompanying the new monsters. Generation III also brought us Double Battles, set to be topped with Triple Battles.

Let us keep transferring our monsters over and hate will decrease 500%.
Game Freak seems to have learned its lessons though. Like I said, the major sticking point of Generation III hate was lack of connection with the previous games. Like Pal Park in Generation IV, Black and White will have a method of transfer from the current generation, the recently revealed PokéShifter. The day and night cycle has not only been kept, but upped in ante with rotating seasons. So that leaves one area where fans could be driven away: the new Pokémon. The new Pokémon in Black and White may ultimately be what makes or breaks the game in the eyes of the fans. As I’ve said in my first article, each new revealed Pokémon generates its own sea of praise and/or hate. Game Freak seems to be offering more complicated designs again, and while some welcome it, there will of course be detractors. In the end, I think this will be what will define Generation V in the eyes of the fandom.
Pokémon Black and White versions seem to be taking the best cues from its predecessors Ruby and Sapphire. At the same time, the developers seem to have learned what caused such a schism in the first place. Generation V is set to carve its own niche in the franchise’s history, and hopefully, it will do so without a firestorm of controversy following it.

Looking Forward can also be read on BulbaNews.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pokémon: The 3D Jump: Part 3

Fight to the Faint

This is a personal victory. I have finished something I started, and didn’t abort it halfway through gestation. First finishing a three part blog post, and eventually, maybe I’ll be able to finish something that matters. But you don’t care about my inability to focus in life; you want to read about Pokémon!
Welcome to Part 3 of my series Pokémon: The 3D Jump. Last time I discussed revamping the presence of the titular creatures in the games from sprites and stats to unique AI entities with personalities and appearances all their own. Now, I’ll put forth thoughts on how to bring the other side of the coin into the new era: the battles.

Pokémon certainly commends some respect for keeping such an old school system vibrant and lively in this age of real time battles and action-hybrid gameplay in the RPG genre. Anyone who tries to tell me otherwise should spend a few hours on Shoddy Battle and let them prove my point for me. I think there is much potential with a few cues from its brethren in the genre to make something mind-blowing and unforgettable for the franchise.

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Cue Rocky Music

There are currently two ways to train your Pokémon in level: battle experience and rare candies. To hone a specific stat, there is EV training and vitamins. Boring. As much as I dislike the anime at times, this is one area where I feel it gets something right: training can be done outside of battles, and in a variety of ways. 

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Not a total fail.

In the anime, Ash and his Pokémon often can be found practicing and perfecting moves and building speed and strength. This could be reflected in a 3D revamp of the franchise. The environments in the game could abound with training spots. For example, on a tromp through Rock Tunnel; boulders on the ground could be training fodder for your Pokémon. Send out your Machop, and build its Attack stat by destroying and lifting the boulders. Water Pokémon could increase their Speed stats with swims in rivers and lakes. Psychic Pokémon could increase their Special attack stats by practicing telekinesis on random objects in your environment.

If implemented correctly, and with a creative eye on the part of the developers, the entire in-game world could be one large gym for your Pokémon. Discovery and examination would be rewarded with new, and sometimes more efficient, ways to train.

Once a Tackle, Now a Take Down

One look at the list of Pokémon moves and similarities to other moves are noticed. Take Down is a more powerful (and dangerous) version of Tackle. Slash is a deadlier Scratch, and Psycho Cut charges it with psychic power. This brings me to my next idea: move trees instead of level up sets. A Pokémon would have a basic set of moves and techniques to battle with. 

Let’s say the Totodile you receive from Professor Elm would have basic scratch, bite, and water gun attacks. When moves are used, they are individually leveled up, and over time, they evolve into more powerful moves. Soon the scratch becomes a more powerful Slash, his biting prowess propels his Bite to a Crunch, and his water mastery takes him from Water Guns to swamping battlefields with Surf. Items or special methods of training would exist to elementally charge these attacks, such as transforming a Headbutt into a Zen Headbutt, or if your Pokémon was capable of using the Fire Element, even a flaming Headbutt attack!

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Captain Falcon shows us how it’s done.

Move practice would be extended to non-damaging moves as well. When moves are practiced to perfection, Stat Boosters would provide better powering up, and status moves could become more potent. Sleep Powder could cover a wider range, and imagine sharper, more dangerous stones coming from a perfected Stealth Rock.

Do Something Other than Attack

I’ve already elaborated in my first post that real time battles would be an excellent addition to the franchise. With that comes the realization that there is something other to do in a fight than spout of techniques. Give your trainer a set of secondary commands to issue to their Pokémon, different from techniques. 

Things like dodging, parrying, bracing for hits, etc could fill these commands. It could add new layers of strategy to battling, a split second decision on how your Pokémon should react to an attack could mean the difference between victory and defeat. An incoming Hyper Beam could be dodged, for example, but perhaps you know this Flamethrower aimed at your Aipom can’t be dodged, and all it can do is brace itself and minimize the damage taken.

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Pikachu! The horn!

These decisions would affect how battles flowed. Trainers would have to choose to command their Pokémon to react to the foe’s moves, and at the same time, you must be prepared for how your foe will react to your own moves. You could anticipate your foe’s reaction to your attack, and plan accordingly. Punish a foe who dodges with attacks too wide to avoid, or parry a Mach Punch for a quick opportunity at a point blank strike.

Disclaimer Time

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: I am not claiming the current system of the games is broken and needs replacing. What I’ve proposed here could exist on the consoles while the handheld games solider on as they always have. Pokémon is such a vast franchise it has room for both approaches. Maybe a 3D redo of Mystery Dungeon too, but that’s a post for another day. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pokemon: The Fight Club Theory

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Here is a new way to look at Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver: You and your rival are one and the same.

Your character is a mild mannered, soft-spoken boy/girl trying to live their own life in New Bark Town after your father left when you were young. You live surrounded by Pokémon: strange, mysterious creatures you don’t fully trust or understand. They are everywhere, and they horrify you. They have powers that give you nightmares. And yet, you go along with it, because everyone expects you to. You have to like Pokémon, or you do not belong in this world.

One day, you are ordered by the hermit scientist Professor Elm to travel alone, on-foot to another anti-social PokéManiac in another town, with only one of those monsters for company. And then you cannot take any more. You break down, and your mind creates Silver. Silver steals Elm’s other Pokémon, and proceeds to rage through the Johto region. He abuses and hates his Pokémon, but uses to torture and tear apart everyone else’s. You continue on in the charade, claiming you love them, but Silver reflects how you truly feel.

Only when Silver learns to love and accept Pokémon do you truly learn to love them yourself. You are then, truly at peace. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pokémon: The 3D Jump: Part 2

Monster Revamping

Welcome to Part 2 of The 3D jump, my series on how Pokémon could be upgraded to provide a more modern experience on consoles, instead of cheap rehashes of the handheld RPGs. Last time, I advocated for more basic advances; such as real-time battles and spoken dialogue. You know, to have the super old school handheld RPGs catch up with many of the advances the genre had made in the last few years. But, what I described basically amounted to Mass Effect with pocket monsters. 

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Such a game would need something to set it apart from most modern RPGs, and the way to do it is how the series set itself apart in the first place: with the Pokémon themselves. The series has always been based around capturing, raising, and ultimately conquering with your partners. The RPGs have tried to expand upon this with advances such as a Pokémon’s happiness level, but I propose taking it to the next level.

Individual to Individual

Other than shinies and a few gender differences here and there, all Pokémon of a species are represented with the same little sprite. With the jump to 3D graphics, there are possibilities to get away from such limitations. No two animals in the wild of the same species look exactly the same, so why not have the same for wild Pokémon? Each species could have their own variations on their look, such as range in height, bulk, color range, etc. Pokémon such as Houndoom or Donphan could have variations in horn/tusk length, while Vileplume and Roselia could appear with different flower colors. Install an in-game creator that randomly generates these variations on the monsters when you meet them, ensuring you meet a unique looking Pokémon every time.

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He has club envy.

On this same topic, why not have regional differences in species of Pokémon? Real world animals adapt to different habitats, so why not do the same for this series? For example, Machops in the more tropical Hoenn region could be smaller and quicker, while up north in Sinnoh they would be bulkier, to compensate for the cold climate. Just an idea.

Where Eggs Come From

Hot off the heels of my idea on individual variations in Pokémon, I also advocate some changes to the daycare. Currently, a Pokémon’s father is only good for passing on moves and a few IVs. Like that one guy in your high school who was a father to many but a dad to none. Imagine though, if characteristics from both parents could be reflected in the offspring?

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A nightmare in the making.

Say, I leave a female Lucario and a male Blaziken in the Daycare. When I hatch the offspring, the baby Riolu could have a reddish tint to its fur and be slightly taller in the legs, both inherited from its father. This could have competitive potential as well, as players could breed for better features in their Pokémon to better augment their battle roles.

Personality is More than Stat Values

In Generation III, we started noticing little blurbs saying our Pokémon had personalities. Then when we dug deeper we found out they were merely variations in stat growth, crushing our childhood perceptions that our Pokémon had emotions and loved us. Sure they have happiness levels, but those are useless unless you’re working towards a Happiness evolution. Why not make them have artificial intelligence all their own?

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You don’t have a soul!

This is one aspect of the anime I’ve always wanted the games to try to reflect. In the anime, the characters bond with their Pokémon, and the monsters all have their own unique personalities. Artificial intelligence has advanced enough in games it could be taken on in this series, and to great effect if implemented well. Just as I suggested Pokémon could have random variations in appearance, they could also have different AI personalities assigned to them when generated. Hell, I’ll throw the Tourney crowd a bone and say the Natures could still have their same stat growth affects, but have an Adamant Scizor be a headstrong dolt, while your Timid Togekiss would act, you know, timid. Higher ratings in happiness would also lead to better performance in battle, giving players an incentive to bond with their monsters. 

But wait, there’s more!

I hope at this point my vision for a 3D revamp of Pokémon is starting to look unique and new, yet still faithful to the series we’ve known and loved all of these years. But there’s one part left I haven’t discussed: battling. The monsters and their battles are the main staple of these games, everything else is icing on the cake. In Part 3 of The 3D jump, I’ll discuss how to bring the battles into the modern day, and the awesome potential therein.

What do you think of how Pokémon could be redone in 3D? Let me know in a comment. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Looking Forward: As the Rumor Mill Turns

Despite what the rumor mill would have you think, we actually haven't seen his final evolution.
Pat Hessman: This column is subtitled “Outlook and speculation from a lifelong diehard”, but admittedly there isn’t near as much speculation presented here as what goes on in forums everywhere. This is partly because I try to limit my speculation within this column to theories based on existing facts, not unfettered imagination, but this week that’s the topic at hand: out of control rumors about the forthcoming fifth generation. One offhand comment in a forum topic can lead to a completely transparent rumor being propagated in no time.
For example, on another Pokémon forum I visit, one poster made an offhand joke about the possibility of dual-element attacks, and ten pages later, people were preaching the forthcoming extinction of Salamence and Garchomp due to an Ice/Rock attack that was surely coming with Black and White. Joining me this week is someone who’s written extensively about explosion of fan rumors, SmearglePaints, co-writer of a series of articles entitled “The PokéGods: Secrets and Rumors Explored”.
SmearglePaints: Coming from the perspective of someone with first-hand experience with the very first explosion of Pokémon-related rumors I can say that there is quite a parallel between the early PokéGod phenomenon and the fifth-gen speculation.
The resurgence of fan-theories, speculation, and hoaxes are indicative of a much deeper change in the Pokémon fandom most don't seem aware of. They are symptoms of what defined the early Pokémon fandom and mark a return to the atmosphere of the PokéGod phenomenon. For various reasons the fandom has built up to a point where it can no longer ignore the need for more.
Pat: Any current hoaxes in particular you want to discuss?

SmearglePaints: The near-monthly CoroCoro hoaxes stand out, of course. Most people simply dismiss them as attempts for attention. While this is for the most part true I have to admit hoaxers fill an important role in the fandom. No one likes being hoaxed, but there is a desire for more information. There's no patience anymore. It's more more more, gimme gimme gimme. Hoaxes satisfy this need if only for a short time. The PokéGods were themselves a naturally occurring attempt at satisfying people's need for more. The state of the Internet and fandom simply made it last longer.
Pat: One in particular that has stood out to me was this purported image of the final evolutions of the Starter Pokemon. It was originally posted on PokeStation, supposedly from a magazine called Pokekokos, a mysterious magazine no one knew anything about. The image was confirmed as fake, despite its very believable appearance.
But as I said before, aren't a lot of these over persistent fan rumors the result of misunderstandings and random speculation taken too far? I'd be a fool to say hoaxes didn't exist, but I think you're over-inflating them a bit.
SmearglePaints: For the most part this is the result of misunderstandings and random speculation. Usually someone will mention a personal opinion and a dozen pages later or in another thread or even another forum someone will parrot it without context. The original post is lost. People like to grapple onto whatever scraps of information they can find and repeat it, even if they personally know it's not true. But there's always someone that will think maybe, just maybe, it is possible. It's almost a revolving door as new opinions overtake old in an endless cycle.
Pat: It isn’t unlike the pre-release days of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, an entire subfandom sprang up around predicting the final roster of characters, and several ‘prophets’ emerged and became trusted overnight when one of their predictions would turn out to be true. In this digital era, we get everything instantly. Attention spans are demolished by information delivered in seconds. Waiting for anything is torture to this generation of fans. We want to have every single Generation V Pokémon revealed to us. We wanted the entirety of the game revealed to us as soon as Black and White were announced. We want to see every city, gym leader, villain, Elite Four, NPC, event, and feature. We wanted the entirety of the game revealed to us as soon as Black and White were announced. Arceus forbid we have to wait!

Yes, you have to wait.
SmearglePaints: Exactly. In the old days the Internet would explode with every blurry image of a new Gold and Silver Pokémon. These were few-and-far-between. People appreciated whatever information they could come across. Nowadays there's no patience. When we finally do get a new Pokemon or bit of information there a few pages of either "I like it" or "Meh" before everyone forgets and moves on to wanting more.
I have to wonder if the Pokémon fandom simply changed from what it was or if it's an entirely new fandom altogether. Are we really no longer those anxious kids that liked Pokémon for what it was despite its shortcomings and didn't needlessly criticize every aspect that didn't fit our preconceived notions of what Pokémon is "supposed" to be?
Pat: I think you gave the fandom of ten years ago too much credit, I'm sure they were just as impatient as they were now. To sum it up though, fans are never happy and never pleased. The TVTropes term Fan Dumbapplies as well to this fandom as any. Though in the end, everyone is entitled to their opinions, and sometimes, healthy disagreement and speculation are the essence that keeps a fan community alive and active.
SmearglePaints: The fandom, like any, has always been impatient. But then again we were 10-years-old back then. Most of us now are in our 20s, and yet we're still impatient. I think that says a lot about the fandom. But there's still that need for something more that the fandom itself is providing and I think that says even more.
SmearglePaints is a freelance writer that currently works for several sites, most notably RageCandyBar alongside SailorClef. RageCandyBar focuses on information the major fansites have either forgotten or chosen to ignore, such as the PokéGods, beta information, and social critique of the fandom itself.

Looking Forward can also be read on Bulbanews.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pokemon: The 3D Jump

The Polygon Ceiling

The late nineties were an interesting time for video games. Super Mario 64 had just revolutionized the videogame landscape by providing the first great 3D game console experience. Many other franchises followed. The results were all over the board. Some, such as The Legend of Zelda and Metal Gear, broke the polygon ceiling effortlessly and became more celebrated than they had been in 2D form. Some were dead on arrival, such as the infamous Castlevaniaand Earthworm Jim offerings on the N64. Then there was a safer third option some took: update the presentation to 3D, but retain the gameplay of the 2D era, such as several Final Fantasy titles at the time. Many series attempted 3D offerings but later went to this option after missteps, such as the return to 2D sidescrollers in the Mega Man series and later Street Fighter IV.

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How NOT to do the 3D jump.

Pokémon is one such series. When the 151 monsters first jumped from sprites to polygons in Pokémon Stadium, it was not what fans had hoped for. Stadium was a 3D presentation of the same battle system present in the Game Boy games, along with a few minigames for good measure. Pokémon Snap also brought the series into polygon presentation, but it was a rail shooting photography-themed spinoff and had little to do with the main series.Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness on the Gamecube were touted as being the first 3D RPGs in the series, but at their fundamentals, they were nothing more than, again, a 3D presentation of the same game fundamentals in the 2D games.

Simply put, Pokémon has yet to truly make the jump to 3D.

So, with that in mind, here are some suggestions for how the Pokémon RPGs can take full advantage of the possibilities of 3D:


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Mt. Coronet in Concept Art, Mt. Coronet in-game.

Ever since Red and Blue, the games have been presented in a top-down perspective, though over time it has come to resemble more of an isometric perspective. The fourth generation games have toyed with the idea of 3D rendered buildings and locales, but still are 2D at their very core. Even Colosseumand XD resemble the top down perspective of the games in their overworlds.

I propose completely doing away with such limited perspectives, and instead adding a camera like most 3D games. Imagine walking over a hill to see the beautiful skyscrapers of Saffron City over the horizon, or climbing atop Mount Coronet and being able to turn around to look at the entirety of the Sinnoh region below. The vibrant and creative locales continually provided by Game Freak deserve more than the limited presentations of sprites.

Of course, this means completely doing away with the big headed overworld sprites, and quite frankly, they won’t be missed.

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Spoken Dialogue

I’m hitting another cliché about 3D games, and I suppose you can take this one with a grain of salt if you choose. I would want a 3D overhaul of the games to have spoken dialogue. The dialogue boxes in the RPGs are a hangover from their old school roots, and can be done away with in this day and age. Voice all of the NPCs, but for sake of tradition, we can keep our protagonist silent. Imagine Cynthia’s sultry voice, or Silver’s jeering spoken aloud. Hopefully though, the dialogue would have much better writing and voice acting than the current quality of the anime’s dub.

On another sound related note, do away with the Pokémon’s cries. No, I’m not suggesting the name-speak from the anime, but instead sets of grunts, roars, chirps, etc, like real animals.

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Don't even start.

Real Time Battles

Instead of shifting to an entirely different screen or display when you enter into a battle, have it all occur in real time. When a passing trainer challenges you, the two of you both step back and release your Pokémon. Your Pokémon would be controlled by their own AI, but you would issue commands they follow. Imagine the flashy potential battles could take on, with modern graphical capabilities; the 17 elements could make for a beautiful showcase on the screen every time, instead of trite sprite effects we have representing the moves now.

Of course, one question immediately springing up is how this would relate to wild Pokémon, who have faithfully appeared as we entered tall grass since the beginning. Simple: wild Pokémon would appear, living and acting naturally in their environments. Simply send out your own Pokémon to get their attention, and then the battle begins.

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The movie was pure fail, but it did show how cool it is to have fire, water, earth, and wind being thrown around on screen.

Pocket Monster Sandbox

Sandbox games have went from phenomenon, to cliché, to standard staple of gaming over the last few years. There’s no denying that Grand Theft Auto 3has changed video games forever. The idea has great potential for Pokémon as well. Imagine how alive the game world could become with a few random generators here and there.

Imagine walking through Viridian Forest. A flock of Spearow flies overhead, a Caterpie sits on a tree branch munching on leaves, and a Pikachu naps below. You continue, and you see two trainers engaged in a battle, instead of both of them simply waiting to challenge you. You run into a challenger further on, and your battle leaves scorch marks on the ground from your Charmander finishing off his Weedle. Bring the game world to life, show that Pokémon are everywhere, and so are the trainers that use them.

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I didn't mean it like that.

But what about the Pokémon?

Of course, all of these 3D advancements would still make a rather standard Pokémon game experience without new changes to the central mechanic to the games, and the franchise itself: capturing, raising, and battling Pokémon. I have my own ideas on how to bring this age old experience into the twenty-first century, but that will be elaborated on in Part 2. Stay tuned! 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Harry Potter and Politics: Part 1: George W. Fudge and the Order of the Eagle

Harry Potter and Politics: Part 1: George W. Fudge and the Order of the Eagle
By Patrick Black and Albus Earley

They were warned. For so long they stood in the dark, denying the danger looming overhead. Darkness fell across the land, a greater threat than they imagined was at their door steps, and despite the omens, they stood like ostriches, with their heads in the sands, until it was too late.
What is this describing? There are two possible candidates: The Ministry of Magic under the administration of Cornelius Fudge, and the United States of America under President George W. Bush.

At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter encountered a resurrected Lord Voldemort, returned from years of parasitism and weakness to emerge again as a threat to the Wizarding world. When he returned to tell the tale, he was believed by some but dismissed by the Ministry of Magic. Cornelius Fudge, then-Minister of Magic, fearing a power-grab by Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was among the most vocal deniers. For the duration of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Fudge and his government did their best to discredit the story, with the aid of the Wizarding newspaper The Daily Prophet, despite insistence by Dumbledore and Harry that he had returned and posed a severe threat to the safety of the Wizarding world. Only at the conclusion of Order of the Phoenix, when Fudge sees the very-real Voldemort with his own two eyes does he recant his position and acknowledge that his world was in great danger.

In August of 2001, while he was vacationing in Texas, President George W. Bush was given a memo entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” and it went unread. Though some advisors would insist that the memo was non-specific to an actual impending attack, other warnings went ignored as well, including those of the British government that the intelligence may have been faulty at best. Yet President Bush (whatever his motives) did little to nothing to prepare for a potential attack. On September 11, 2001, faced with an attack he had failed to prevent, the course of history was changed. The War on Terror would begin shortly thereafter, as al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups were acknowledged as a serious national security threat, to be hunted and exterminated.

George W. Bush and Cornelius Fudge both actively set out to discredit their political opponents. Though President Bush primarily did it after the attack and Fudge primarily before, the campaigns were no less vicious and no less effective. They both operated through their respective propaganda outlets masquerading as credible news sources – Fox News and The Daily Prophet, respectively – which supported the government line from beginning to end, no matter the evidence that was presented to them. The two also put forth the notion that disagreement with them was tantamount to treason, Albus Dumbledore was stripped of his position on the Wizengamot court and Harry Potter was subject to daily ridicule at the hands of the Prophet and Ministry officials. Torture was utilized by both the Bush and Fudge administrations – in the latter case, not by law but without major opposition, as in the case of a Dementor attack in a Muggle city that went uninvestigated and as everyone knows, Guantanamo Bay in the case of Bush Jr.

Perhaps worse than their cruelty and propaganda, however, was the incompetence of each administration. President Bush became famous for his ineptitude in response to almost every major crisis that confronted him – and was criticized for everything from his continued reading of The Pet Goat in the school after being alerted of the attacks to his truly appalling response to Hurricane Katrina. Cornelius Fudge ob the other hand sets new standards for government incompetency in literature. From his ceaseless pandering to known criminals such as Lucius Malfoy, to his endless paranoia that Albus Dumbledore was plotting to usurp him from a position that he had passed on years prior. It came as a surprise to no character, and the readers, when he reveals he had been sacked from his position as Minister at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Both men left their offices with legacies of ineptitude.

Many right wing minded people would be quick to paint Order of the Phoenix as an allegory of the War on Terror from a neo-conservative perspective, casting Dumbledore as President Bush and obstructionist peaceniks and the ominous liberal media as the danger-denying Ministry of Magic and its mouthpiece The Daily Prophet. There are more parallels with the pre-9/11 era than the post-9/11 era. The parallel surely wasn’t deliberate (author Rowling is British so would be less concerned with American politics, plus when the book was written in 2003 such details wouldn’t have been so widely available), and there are holes in the comparison (it could hardly be imagined that George W. Bush feared a power-grab by the British government officials). In the end, the connections are what you make of them. Harry Potter is a deep, rich series; fertile for endless theories, perhaps some of your own.

It is my belief -- and never have I so hoped that I am mistaken -- that we are all facing dark and difficult times. Some of you in this Hall have already suffered directly at the hands of Lord Voldemort. Many of your families have been torn asunder. A week ago, a student was taken from our midst.”-Albus Dumbledore

This post was co-authored with Craig Earley of The Earley Post

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Looking Forward: The Plasma Report

TO: All Rocket Executives 
FROM: Giovanni
Greetings my fellow leaders of Team Rocket. I write to you from a location I must keep secret, but I assure you I am planning a glorious and triumphant return as you read this. Like Ho-oh rising from the ashes, we will return again, more powerful than before. But there is a more pressing matter at hand: a newly discovered rival in the Isshu region, Team Plasma.
Details are scarce about them so far, I can only guess at their intentions at this point. If they are anything like the syndicates of the other regions, this in itself may be cause for concern. The other groups that dare to copy our name have risen to be great threats. Things are not as simple as our initial conquest to control the Kanto region, whereas we sought power through Pokémon and finances, the others over the years have sought goals that seem completely irrational.
Shortly after our defeat in Saffron City, I learned of Team Aqua and Team Magma in the Hoenn region. They were no criminals- they were terrorists. As we worked to assemble technology to create the most powerful Pokémon of all, Team Magma sought to bring an eternal drought upon the world by awakening the legendary Groudon, whilst Team Aqua planned to completely flood it by calling upon the sea god Kyogre. I was terrified to ponder which was worse. I thought to myself, why would one want to gain so much power only to destroy the domain to have power over?
After your failure to succeed in the takeover of the Johto region, I learned of an even more horrifying plot in the Sinnoh region. Team Galactic, a seemingly innocuous energy company, had instigated a plot at the behest of their leader Cyrus to harness the powers of Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina to destroy the very fabric of reality. The idea sickened me- attaining most absolute power only to use that power to tear apart the universe into nothingness. His ambition was great, and yet at the same time his goals horrified even me. These men were brilliant in what they attained, and yet misguided as to how to use it. Team Rocket would have far better uses of such power.
Since learning of Team Plasma, I have struggled to garner any information. My contacts in the Isshu region have only been able to give me photographs of their grunts, and little more. They dress in attire reminiscent of medieval warriors; like a brotherhood of knights temporally misplaced in the modern day. My guess is their goals are set upon the incredible power of the Black Yin and White Yang Pokémon, Zekrom and Reshiram. What they intend to do with such power is beyond me, perhaps they seek to alter the very balance of reality, or to twist it into a new metaphysical order tailored to their own views of how the world should be. The possibilities with such power are endless!
Yet worry not. These Teams have come and gone as fast as their plans are torn apart by ten year old children. Team Rocket will rise again; greater, more powerful, and more feared than any other group on Earth. I have a plan, perhaps my greatest yet, to tilt the balance of the world into the favor of Team Rocket. We will begin soon. There is no time to waste. I will contact you again soon.

Looking Forward can also be read on Bulbapedia.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pat’s Top 5 Internet Phenomena

As someone who uses the internet, typically, at least three hours a day; I know a thing or two about the wide world of the internet meme. These are the crazes that find their way into every little facet of the World Wide Web; if they be images, videos, or even widespread quotes. Take the words ‘pwn’ and ‘lol’ for example, words with their origins in e-mail and forums that now had wormed their way into everyday speech. What was once a little microsm of our own life has become a culture of its own, and spreads to other cultures. So, with that in mind, here are my five favorite phenomena born of the internet.

5. Leave Britney Alone

The phenomenon itself:

Chris Crocker’s hay day may have passed, but that doesn’t mean his little tirade has earned its place as one of the most memorable memes to erupt from YouTube. It may seem like a distant memory now with her career stronger than ever, but remember when Britney Spears was nothing more than the paparazzi and media’s red headed stepchild? Well, one adoring fan stepped up, and through his tears, passionately decried us to “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!” The response had little to do with Ms. Spears, though. Instead, the video was circled around to mock the androgynous activist, with comments typically saying either “lol fag”, or my favorite, “is this a guy or a girl?”

But now, everyone involved is better off. Those 26 million video views have made Chris into a celebrity in his own right. Hell, his YouTube page has a manager now. Meanwhile, Britney Spears has revived her career, and God damn it; her new songs are freaking earworms. So now, this video is nothing more than something to show your friends for a laugh. Here’s my favorite parody:

4. Garbage Day and Its Parodies

Watch this before you read more:

This one isn’t nearly as popular as any of the others on my top 5, but it’s a bit of a cult classic in the field of movie memes. This brief scene is from a 1987 slasher film Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, a movie consisting of nearly 50% stock footage from its predecessor. One of the original scenes though, is this little gem. Out of context, it’s a delightfully random: A psychopath approaches a resident of suburbia taking out his trash, shouts “Garbage Day!”, and shoots the poor bastard. Part of the fun of this meme are the many parodies, replacing garbage collection day with some sort of other day. Here are some of my favorite parodies:

Judgement Day:

St. Patty’s Day:

Free Comic Book Day:

Of course I was going to post a parody involving the Joker. You’re delusional if you think otherwise.

3. Downfall Parodies

This one’s popularity is almost sort of sad. Downfall was a very serious work. This movie made waves in Germany as dramatically portraying Adolf Hitler as a central character, humanizing a man dehumanized by history. A longstanding taboo towards Hitler was broken: Portrayed not as a monster, but as a flawed human. It was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Even a complex, envelope pushing work is fodder for the internetz though.

Starting in 2008; Downfall became a fully fledged internet phenomenon. A scene in the German war room is the target here. The original German dialogue is preserved, but subtitles are altered in parodic manner. Typically, the parodies all go the same way: Hitler is informed of a distressing situation, and then proceeds to angrily rant about said situation. Hitler’s woes have been issues such as banishment from X-Box Live, Barack Obama winning the Democratic Nomination, or Brett Favre retiring from the NFL. Really, Downfall parodies can be used for any kind of event in the news, and all it requires is a video editing software with subtitling capabilities.

This one is just too good to not mention, Hitler’s reaction to Michael Jackson’s death:

2. Nigga Stole My Bike

The possibly racist, endlessly parodied crowning jewel of YTMND itself: Nigga Stole My Bike. In context, this image is a loading screen from the Nintendo game Punch Out!, of protagonist/Boxing champion hopeful Little Mac and his trainer Doc Louis traveling to the next match in the boxing circuit. Out of context, the GIF animation looks like a young lad chasing after an African American on a bike; Nigga Stole My Bike. Once a catchy NES-styled tune was added, history was made, and a meme was born.

Again, this one is sustained by the parodies. Spoofs of this have the Nigga stealing everything ranging from Mario’s Yoshi to a fighter jet, all with variations of the catchy tune. Were I more racially sensitive, I may see it all as a bit racist, but as long as that music is so addicting, I’ll stick with it.

The original:

Some of the best parodies:

1. 300 Trailer Parodies

The film 300, in my opinion, is one of the greatest cultural achievements of mankind. It’s one of the greatest visual experiences ever put to film, regardless of what you think of the rest of the movie. Hell, even the trailer is one of the most iconic movie trailers of the modern age. It’s just so perfectly epic, perfectly setting up the movie. Hell, I can recite the audio off the top of my head. 

We Spartans are descended from Hercules himself. Taught never to retreat, never to surrender. Taught that death in the battlefield is the greatest glory he could achieve in his life. Spartans! The finest soldiers the world has ever known.

It’s quiet now, they came from the blackness.

Be afraid! Sparta will burn to the ground! The thousand nations of the Persian Empire descend upon you. Our arrows, will blot out the sun.

Then we will fight in the shade.


You get the idea. This shows how many of these parodies I’ve watched. The idea is the inverse of the Downfall meme: Retain the audio, but replace the video with footage from other works of media. Here is a sampling of 300 trailer parody subjects I’ve watched: Pokemon, Star Wars, Godzilla, Dragonball Z, Blades of Glory, Spongebob Sqaurepants, Bleach, Heroes, The Matrix, Kingdom Hearts, Pound Puppies, World of Warcraft, Pucca, Family Guy, Futurama, Anchorman, Final Fantasy, Halo, and The Office.

You can use the 300 trailer audio for really any kind of parody, all it takes is some creativity with the footage added in to really make something hilarious and memorable.

So, here are my favorite 300 trailer parodies.

300 PG Version:

Spongebob Squarepants 300:

300 Transformers:

I’ve even made one! The 300 Brawlers:

What are your favorites? By the way, a new Looking Forward tomorrow, so stay tuned!