BioShock Infinite — The Mighty Stay Afloat

It would be an insult to say that words couldn’t describe how much I enjoyed the story to BioShock’s newest addition to their titular series. The team over at Irrational put so much care and thought into developing this game that to describe it as just “amazing” or “awesome” would be a disservice to their work.

Awesomely amazing!

Before I break down what exactly made this game so spectacular I’d like to quickly run down the things I found irritating.

Ammo in this game goes quickly, and from what I could tell on my play-through there didn’t seem to be enough money lying around to purchase all of the available gun upgrades. This is a bit counter-intuitive, as the short ammo spans and drops would seem to indicate that you’re intended to change weapons constantly and on-the-fly. With the upgrades being so expensive, I would have liked it if it was easier to hold onto guns. This is partially remedied by the presence of Elizabeth, which I will get into shortly.

There were also some barrier issues that I was encountering. I would find myself getting stuck on small objects or on corners, and sometimes bullets seemed to hit me from behind cover. This wasn’t enough to make me put down the controller at any point, but it was enough to take me out of the experience a handful of times.

Now that we have that messy business out of the way, I want to examine three things that this game did exceptionally well.


BioShock took what many have joked about in places like /r/gaming and other mainstream game forums and turned it into one of the most compelling parts of the game. “Escort quests” have been one of the most irritating and annoying design flaws in gaming since, well, ever. Idiotic movement; a seemingly careless value of the escort’s own well being, and getting in your way are just a fart’s worth of the massive pile of manure that comes along with any escort quest in gaming’s history.

See, the internet said so

So, to create a game that was one gigantic escort quest was certainly a gamble. Irrational identified these issues and did something that no other game has done previously, and that’s make a character who is designed not to be a pain in the ass. Not only did they do this through the programming (by having her be able to appear with you like a much prettier version of the slenderman) but they did it with the story as well. Without giving away too much in the way of spoilers the people who are trying to kill you are desperately trying to retrieve her. There won’t be a point where you have to worry about her health, and she does a very good job of staying out of the way of gunfire. Because of her “abilities” she is also able to supply you with ammo, money, health, and salts — the “mana” of this world.

I would also like to add that her movement and voice acting were all superbly done.

Art Design:

The graphics in this game are not worth writing about by themselves. However, the design and atmosphere that Irrational created for Columbia is. There will definitely be moments where you just stop to admire your surroundings, whether they are the architecture, a bombed out building, or the clouds as they pass beneath the city. One of the first interiors you see is in a holy site that I probably spent about two or three minutes just inspecting and admiring. This happens often. Seeing deified statues to the founding fathers of America is humorous, but also a bit terrifying in the sense that this has already happened to a degree. I tend to over-philosophize in moments like that, but there are a couple of events in the game that draw some pretty heavy parallels to the real world. Brilliantly, I might add.

Also, the first time you see “Songbird” you’ll marvel at the talents of Irrational’s art department. I wasn’t sure how they could top the iconic duo of Big Daddy and Little Sister from the previous games, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Imagine Gob’s chicken noise from Arrested Development

The Story:

I can’t stress enough how much I’ve missed good storytelling in mainstream video games. I’m talking about stories that have a clear purpose to them, and aren’t just methods of getting the character into the next exploding room or boss fight. Don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome explosions and boss fights in the game, but the story isn’t dependent on them. I had seen the video review from IGN before completing the game, and was wondering what the jaw dropping moment and “turn” was going to be. The end of the first BioShock had me yelling “Oh my God” as it unfolded, so I was very curious to see what this “jaw-dropping” moment was for Infinite.

Without giving it away, the ending is completely worth it. I tend to pride myself on being able to figure out plot twists and story lines as they develop, and with Infinite I had a bunch of hypotheses floating around as the game progressed. Few, if any aspects I had come up with were finally used to bring this narrative to a close. My mind wandered back to the days of watching Lost, and how the draw of answers and explanations is a powerful motivating tool to keep your mind attached to a fictional world. Unlike Lost, BioShock: Infinite gave a satisfying and compelling end to the story, and didn’t leave it with Booker Dewitt and Elizabeth sitting in a church with Comstock telling them about love or something nebulous like that.

“Ooooh, that totally explains the smoke-monster…” – No one ever

I hate you, Lost.

All in all, this game is completely worth the purchase. It isn’t the best FPS I’ve ever played, but it is definitely one of the most masterfully crafted stories I’ve played in video games. The way Irrational used the mechanics of looking through the eyes of a player-controlled character to develop the characters was so well done it is worthy of a post all by itself.

As most people anxiously await the next software update packaged as a brand new game from the Call of Duty franchise or Madden series, there are other games in between that are absolutely worth checking out. You would be doing yourself a disservice by not strapping into the lighthouse and journeying to the city of Columbia to see it through Booker’s own eyes.


Women in Comics: Sex sells, doesn’t it?

Eric the head dork suggested I write an article about women in comic books. Like anyone eager to shove both feet in their mouth at the same time I accepted the challenge. By the end of this post my feet will be cleaner but I’m pretty sure my mouth is going to feel terrible. So this is where the necessary preface about a man talking about gender dynamics and depictions of females goes. And THIS is where the line about attempting a balanced male perspective about recent developments regarding women in comics goes. And now for just one example why we still talk about depictions of women in comics:

You think the dude in the Hamburgler suit 
lounges sexily after burgling burgers? 
It must get hot in there. 

Early depictions of Catwoman during DC’s New 52 relaunch resulted in an understandable amount of outrage. The character was always meant to play on sex appeal but some cover (and interior) shots were just a bit heavy handed. Let’s, compare Catwoman to Batgirl for a second. Barbara Gordon is not nearly as objectified in her comic as Selina Kyle is over in the Catwoman book. Couple that with Gail Simone’s nearly universally praised work writing Batgirl and a funny thing starts to happen: sales. Both female characters are members of the “bat-family” but Batgirl is doing quite well while Catwoman struggles along to the point where they have thrown her into the Justice League of America team to boost sales AND started failed to deny rumors of Selina Kyle’s death this summer. While it is difficult to quantify just how much difference the specific word “bat” makes in a name it can’t be that much, right? Just because Eric drinks his beers out of bat-cans and I’m investing heavily in bottles of bat-tan lotion this summer doesn’t make us lemmings, just bat-fans. ACK I can’t stop with the bat and the rhymings! Wait. Yeah, I can stop. I understand some characters like Catwoman were designed with sex appeal in mind and depictions of them in sexy, impractical post-thieving high-riser lounging is going to happen – it just isn’t being rewarded like it was in the nineties.

There’s no shame in losing to She-Hulk, Tony.
Just in that Fu Manchu that’s taken up residence 
on your face. Shame. So much shame.

But this raises another interesting element. IF fanboys were so easily manipulated by sexy pictures, why would anyone purchase DC or Marvel titles at all? (The big two are family friendly corporations owned by larger family friendlier corporations) There are more risque options out there and publishers like Zenescope certainly appeal to this demographic. But a funny thing happened on the way away from the nineties: people started voting with their dollars and supporting (generally) better writing. The big two learned (for the most part) that sex sells but ANYONE can sell sex. They are the dominant publishers because they have characters we love and they got back to writing stories we want to read with art we enjoy. Perhaps more importantly, the boys’ club of comics production has become infiltrated by (gasp) women! Marvel and DC have both released anthologies of work largely or entirely created by women. I can’t speak from personal experience but my presumption is a female writer, artist, editor is going to craft a comic from their unique perspective. While gender is only one aspect of this perspective, it would be foolish to ignore the role of female writers like the aforementioned Gail Simone, critical darling Kelly Sue DeConnick and others in ushering in an era of strong, believable female characters. Incidentally, I believe there are male writers who have and will continue to write female characters well but it is more important – at this juncture in comic history – to acknowledge female writers making inroads writing female characters (as well as doing some great work on male characters or team books).

Sometimes girlfriends are around to serve as tethers to the human world
through realistic dialogue and well-rounded character development. 
Other times they get stuffed in a fridge.

I wouldn’t go so far as saying the days of “women in refrigerators” are gone but progress IS being made. I think there will always be a need to remind the reader how the imaginary world of comics is a very dangerous place and killing off loved ones happens to be a very effective way of doing that. We will soon approach the day when Batgirl has a civilian boyfriend who gets brutally murdered or maybe Wonder Woman’s boyfriend will…wait…scratch that. Can’t! He’s scratch-proof Superman! The point is not whether comics should stop depicting violence against women it is a matter of when these will become more equal depictions of tragedy affecting both genders. Civilian men need to be introduced into the role of “Princess in the tower” and, yes, some of these princes will need to be killed off. One can only hope they die with more dignity.

All of this is to say: Things are getting better. You know how I know they are getting better? When ridiculous depictions of women appear in comics those depictions and publishers get called out by more and more voices. I’m not sure there needs to be an outright ban or boycott of these images or poorly written/used female characters. When comics cost four American dollars a pop people will naturally vote with their wallets. Of course, if you want to purchase a comic with J Scott Campbell or Frank Cho drawing sexy girls then go for it! There should be no geek shame or judgment since we’ve all been ostracized for too long and comics are cool again! End nerd on nerd judgment!

But our jubilation over our moment in the pop-culture sun shouldn’t blind us to the importance of remaining/becoming inclusive. No one – male OR female – should feel like the hobby doesn’t treat them with respect. I firmly believe the industry is shifting as we continue to see Batgirls getting purchased while Catwomans languish. IF you care about strong female characters, good writing or how females shouldn’t be portrayed only as sex objects first then VOTE WITH YOUR WALLETS. There are lots of great comics starring these characters. The current incarnations of Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Batwoman are all fantastic in their own way with distinctive voices, unique plot-lines and amazing art that fits the style of the writing. Image Comics titles like Saga and Revival star strong female leads who also happen to be mothers. While readership has been good, there are still too many missing out on these great comics. Finally, there should definitely be more support for this book:

Sign of the (changing) times?

Set for release in June, acclaimed writer Brian Wood will be helming an all-female cast in a little book called X-MEN. What is the world of comics coming to?

The ins and outs of subscribing to comics

While print media such as newspapers and magazines continue to struggle (or go out of business altogether), print comics are increasing their sales in recent years! With more and more people (re)discovering comics there are bound to be questions regarding how the hobby operates. Whether you are an old hand at purchasing comics or a relative neophyte when it comes to your lcs (local comic shop), this article is meant to inform, educate and advise you on how to get the most out of your comics subscription.

…he does…in Superman#13

Just about every store policy is a direct result of a few simple facts: comics are ordered between six and eight week in advance of their release date on a non-returnable basis and – in general – orders cannot be canceled once placed. How does this effect me, the consumer? The most immediate impact you will feel is on what is racked in the store itself. A percentage of niche comics (even those by industry giants Marvel and DC) will not be racked at all. This means the store is essentially sold out on the day of release. While this seems a silly way to do business, many stores simply cannot afford to rack extra copies of Morbius #2. This doesn’t mean Morbius #2 is a bad comic or that you shouldn’t read it. It just means the store-owner made a calculation two months ago that it wasn’t worth the financial risk or rack space to offer a comic without a known local fanbase (remember this is a non-returnable comic).

When they find out the specific comic they would like is not available many customers throw up their hands and leave the store or simply say “ok thanks” and hang up the phone. These same people are often surprised to find out you can subscribe to comics just like you would a magazine or newspaper.

This should say: Oh, you mad Bro-ny? Anyway, this is what I think
when people get mad at me for things that are easily fixed.

When you subscribe, your lcs will make sure you get these comics each month before they ever touch the rack. No more worrying about a comic being sold out or getting the last copy that has been flipped through countlesss times.

Many stores will also allow subscribers to call in and ask certain comics/items to be “pulled” off the racks and put into their file for them. Obviously, it is beneficial to subscribe to comics if you know what you want on a consistent basis. But let’s dig deeper to figure out what policies are common (and why they exist) and more importantly for many of you: tips for maintaining a good sub-list.

Because stores are ordering just for you and putting in extra work to sort your comics each week they require a few things. Stores may have a minimum order requirement to insure there is a certain level of guaranteed profit involved in the extra labor. Stores will also generally require you to pick up anything they can’t cancel on your behalf if you change your mind about a title (or cancel everything out if you’re moving or making a giant mistake with your life choices). This means you need to be vigilant regarding what you actually want to keep up with.

Generally speaking, you will be responsible for one more month’s worth of comics when you cancel a title. It is easy to blame a store for just wanting to make more money but this is more of a “stop-loss” situation. No matter the store or publisher, odds are comics are ordered from Diamond Comic Distributors and if they say something cannot be canceled once ordered or is not returnable, then the sad reality is that policy needs to be passed onto the consumer or stores get burned. Now, you may be thinking to yourself “It’s only one copy of myfavoritenichecharacter, can’t you let it slide?” The simple answer is no. Those comics probably won’t sell…like ever. Even if they could sell, they would take up rack space that could be devoted towards better known titles with a higher probability of selling. Most importantly, this sort of thing happens in any decent sized shop all the time. If a store let it slide consistently and everyone took advantage of that system then said store would go out of business in short order. Of course, if you’re a good customer it is possible that larger titles like Justice League or Uncanny X-Men could be allowed to slide since those will most likely sell off the rack.

So I googled “stack of comics” to show you what NOT to do to your lcs
and this was one of the results. Ridiculous! If comics were pancakes then
stiffing me for five hundred comics would be fine…since they would be pancakes.
(I would invite my closest ZERO friends over and I would eat them)

Many establishments also require a credit card on file to make sure they don’t get burned. When I first opened my store, I wanted to honor the good faith policies of my predecessor in this area and trust that people would come in for the comics they ordered. I thought this would prevent any bad blood or alienation of the established customer base or maybe I was just caught up in the euphoria of how excited people were that a comic shop was still going to be around. Boy was I wrong. After being burned for around five hundred comics in the first month I had to reconsider how much good faith was worth when it was costing me good money. While shops need to take these steps to protect themselves, you should still ask what your card information is being used for and where it is stored. For example: Are you charged each week when comic come in or just once a month for whatever you have not picked up?

So now that you know some policies you’re likely to run into. What follows are some tips to make sure the sub-list keeps the hobby fun rather than becoming an expensive chore.

1. Work within your budget! Let’s say you decide $50 a month is your limit (if you think that is too much on comics then go eat at TGIF once a week for a month and tell me what you’d rather do with that money). So $50 will get a decent amount of reading AND art each month but there are a lot of comics so you still need to plan. If you’re getting DC titles then its pretty easy since they come out once a month. If you’re getting Marvel titles make sure to figure out what the release schedule is. Many of their major titles (Spider-Man, Avengers, etc) are release three times a month. This is the perfect reason to avoid making your sub-list based on titles – base it on the actual number of issues released and your wallet will appreciate the extra work you did!
2. Allow yourself to cheat…a little. It is no fun to walk into a store, pick up your list and head right back out the door. If something catches your eye on the rack or you hear some other comic lovers buzzing about something then allow yourself to try it out. But again, you need to set limits. It could be one indulgent purchase a month or 10% of your sub-list budget, figure out what is right for you. It’s like a cheat day for a diet. It keeps you sane when used correctly.

Waiting for you to fall in love with it.

3. Not everything has to be a full-run! Just because you are subscribing to something doesn’t mean you need to get every issue for all time. I’m the first to admit completing an entire run of a series is a nice accomplishment but it means so much more when you actually enjoyed that run! You may have started subscribing to the next hot comic only to grow tired of it around issue #7. Give it a few more issues to pick up and if it doesn’t then drop it. Don’t worry, there’s something else out there waiting for you to fall in love with it.
4. Know what “trying something out means”! Since you’ve committed to dropping things at certain points, you may need to add titles (don’t think of a budget as what you can’t go over, fill that bad boy up and get the most out of your hobby!) Make sure you determine a rule for what “trying something out” means. Personally, I don’t think you can tell much from one issue. Comics are serialized and meant to be read in story arcs. So read an story arc to give the title (and the author) a fair shake. The exception is if I just hate something. If you ever just hate the first issue you try then I would trust that reaction. Like, I hate oatmeal. I’ve tried it since the initial horror to see if it would “grow on me” and the only thing that grew was my hatred. Anyway, I’ve shared this personal tip with lots of folks in the shop and trust me, they’ve all quit oatmeal…AND there is a noticeable peace of mind with decisions to add or drop titles.
5. Make time to read! It is painfully obvious to me which customers are reading and which ones are just committed to the routine/chore of picking up their comics. I get it. We are all incredibly busy and sometimes being told you have to pick up the comics you ordered feels like a parent is scolding you. But think of it this way: you ordered those comics for a reason. Make time to read at least one comic within twenty four hours of picking up your comics. Try this one out too. Read the previous issue to a comic that you will be picking up soon. For example: If Superman #18 is coming out in a few days then read Superman #17 again to catch up and get excited. This simple trick will keep the hobby from becoming a chore.
6. Communicate with your store! If you can’t make it in or run into some money troubles then talk to your store about it. You’d be shocked at how important it is for a store to know if you plan on coming in or – for your own sake – if there is no money for the debit card you have on file so please don’t run it! Good communication will insure you still get your comics and your comic store knows what its cash flow looks like from week to week. On another note, communicate about what books you like and don’t like. No one working in a comic store can know about every title out there. If you are in the process of discovering/falling in love with the next big hit then pass that along to your store owner and maybe they will take a chance and start racking it for others to discover!

I know that was a lot but I also know there is no way I’ve addressed all the issues (gross…a pun) you may run into. Feel free to provide questions or comments below. If there are other topics you think would be helpful for me to cover I’m happy to explore your suggestions in a future post!