WEEK IN GEEK: A Week In Geek extravaganza as both Andrew and D. discuss their respective forays in to Justice League-adjacent ventures as Andrew watches all four episodes of the CW’s “Crisis on Earth X” four-show crossover while Dan watches Justice League and they discuss––at length––what each interpretation does well and what could be done better.
THE STATE OF SUPERHERO CINEMA (AND TV): With so much superheroic media out there right now, and with Marvel, DC, and Fox swinging wildly on both the large and small screens, Andrew and D. Bethel take a look at how things are sorting out, how they’ve changed over the last year or so, and where things might go.
WEEK IN GEEK: D. Bethel looks at DC Comics’ retrospective of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studios, Wildstorm: A Celebration of 25 Years, and is completely underwhelmed by their effort while Andrew ponders the considerate world-building of Bethesda games as he dives back into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition.
And, for those that are dying to know the reference, here is the cover to Elder Scrolls: Arena (all apologies):
WEEK IN GEEK: In a fit of nostalgia, Andrew picks up The Sims 3 again (starts at 1:49) while Dan can’t get past a nit-pick to enjoy anything Netflix’s Castlevania has to offer (20:46).
SDCC 2017: [starts at 34:04] It was a big weekend for nerd culture as the San Diego Comic Con dropped a bunch of new trailers on the world. Dan and Andrew look at three trailers and how they seem to be pointing out the creative direction of their respective studios with Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, DC/Warner Bros.’ Justice League, and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One.
For reference, here are the three trailers the discussion focuses on.
Summer break is back with a vengeance, so the Shortcast run returns!
After a slight tangent discussing The Transformers and nostalgia, Dan and Andrew share their weeks in geek.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays Bioshock from the Bioshock: The Collection released to PC and consoles last year. Dan actually finishes a book before discussing it. This time, it’s the Kickstartered Wild Times: An Oral History of Wildstorm Studios by Joseph Hedges (now available for purchase).
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew watches through the first season of the hit Starz show, Ash vs. Evil Dead while Dan plays through the 2014 Bethesda game, Wolfenstein: The New Order, the reboot of the classic first-person shooter Id franchise.
KEEPING SCORES: It was announced this week that Danny Elfman has been hired to compose music for the upcoming DCEU movie, Justice League, after the original composer, Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL), amicably left the project. Dan and Andrew discuss the expectations for an Elfman score in a modern superhero cinema context, and discuss their thoughts on film and televisions scores in general.
Whatever your thoughts may be about BioWare’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, there is no doubt that something happened during its development that lead to such a rocky debut, a series of choices so clouded in the public’s questions and shrouded in the mystery a company like EA’s BioWare can afford, the game was otherwise assumed to be relegated to the “well, that happened” category of games and we (as the gaming public) would be forced to move on.
This frankly bizarre secrecy around AAA game development shines a light on a major deficiency in the community––companies can bury “failed” games in mystery because they can get away with it. Though not focused on a failed game, a few years ago the BBC made a docudrama about the legal troubles of rockstar game studio, Rockstar Games, against which the developer filed suit, in a bit of irony. The development of Sony’s long-delayed The Last Guardian was mostly kept behind curtains, allowing the game to speak for itself when its time finally arrived, which had the aggregated conclusion of “it’s fine.” Though these are two of many examples, most of the community has accepted the idea that we will most likely never know how the choices were made, for better or for worse, and these companies will keep their business secreted away behind blast doors.
Luckily, some people are starting to catch on to the fact that “video game history” isn’t relegated to the eighties and nineties alone; it’s happening now. Right now. Mass Effect: Andromeda got a lot of dirt piled onto it. I enjoyed it for what it was and what it’s worth, but the tidal chart of nerd judgement is rather unforgiving. If something doesn’t meet a certain standard (a standard I believe is often rather arbitrary), that game, movie, comic, or tv show is dumped upon. There is no critical middle anymore in popular culture. And such a strong negative reception can taint a studio or franchise for a long while, a stain nobody can afford to live with. So, with things like Jason Schreier’s article coming so soon after Mass Effect: Andromeda‘s release, it can shed some much needed counterpoint onto the conversation.
To be clear, Schreier’s article isn’t an apology for the game. Instead, it’s investigative; he isn’t casting judgement, but instead acknowledging that something happened and the public reacted to it and he simply wanted to find out why:
[To] those who worked on it, Mass Effect: Andromeda felt unusually difficult. This was a game with ambitious goals but limited resources, and in some ways, it’s miraculous that BioWare shipped it at all.
This is an effort to chronicle recent history rather than simply cast it in one light or another, but to try and find out the whole story so historians have all the pieces with which to assemble hindsight instead of waiting for a day when only two or three members of the team are alive to tell the tale. This has actually been a trend I’ve seen recently and it warms my heart to see members of the games press turning a historical eye to the industry instead of being the first to give readers a hot take (not that hot takes and investigative pieces are mutually exclusive). Waypoint published a fantastic oral history of Halo, a genre of historical recording of which I’m growing fonder (more on that in a future episode). Waypoint also published a fascinating look at development documents for what would have been the sequel to the 2012 Square Enix-published Sleeping Dogs. I think the industry needs to be more self-aware, or else corporate red tape could actually contribute in the hindering of keeping this medium from becoming the art form it deserves to be.
Way back in Episode 58, Andrew and I discussed our (and listeners’) “gateways to geekdom,” accepting that the road to fandom is not necessarily––perhaps rarely––a straight path. A lot of us come to our passions through strange on-ramps or off-ramps from one fandom or medium to another. Popular culture has definitely done this with superheros and their stories with the rise of superhero cinema. It certainly wasn’t the comics industry who were making amazing books that the populace grabbed onto, but filmmakers who loved the comics and finally, finally, started making good movies based on those properties. Does that make cinematic universe enthusiasts any less of a fan than comic book readers? Ultimately, no. A fan of Iron Man is a fan of Iron Man is a fan of Iron Man.
The fewtimes we spoke with friend-of-the-site, Elijah Kaine, he mentioned his initial gateway into comicsdom––of which he has become thoroughly ensconced and well-read––was not comic books but the X-Men animated series, and this was probably the “in” for many X-Men or comic book fans. How many people started reading The Walking Dead because they watched the AMC tv show first? During my teenage years, my severe interest in Japanese feudal history and martial culture could be traced back to things like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Highlander. But they were gateways for me to walk through and soak up the world on the other side of the jamb.
Mike Diver’s article hints at something a bit more nuanced. He discusses the fact that he’s learning about DC’s characters by playing the fighting game that uses them. Sure, he’s also jumping online to mine wikis, but the fact is he’s actually getting a strong sense and knowledge of these comic book characters by playing a video game set in that world (but in its own continuity). In fact, it may be fair to say he’s becoming a fan:
Here I am, playing, and learning—and with superhero fiction such a staple of modern entertainment, it’s good to get deeper into its (to me, at least) weirder corners, via the accessible “in” of an easy-to-pick-up fighting game.
This intersectional literacy is probably the most common method of knowledge creation and meaning-making, more than traditional, antiquated, or teacher-centric educational models would lead us to believe. While my previous examples were my gateway to an interest in the topic, sometimes there are non-traditional texts––like video games, comic books, movies, tv shows, etc.––that actually gives the user information that would otherwise only be learned in that actual field. I wonder how many people learned legitimate history from playing games like Age of Empires, or gained a knowledge about different aspects of our world’s cultures from playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? How many learned about the intertwined influence of economics and politics by playing Crusader Kings or Civilization? How many people developed an interest in the hard sciences because they watched Star Trek? The answer to all of these questions is likely the same: many more than you would think.
WEEK IN GEEK: Both Andrew and Dan saw Wonder Woman this week and decided to bring in a third voice to discuss the movie, Mary Traverse (from our friendly rivals, The Nerdhole), and they go pretty deep into this excellent, excellent movie.
THE GREAT WAR: Noting the novel decision to set Wonder Woman during World War I, Dan and Andrew discuss that war’s place in popular culture.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Is She With You? (Wonder Woman Theme)” by Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL (from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
-“En Avant La Musique” by Manuel Dante Mathieu Faivre, Miguel Vladimir Saboga, and Yvo Abadi (from Valiant Hearts: The Great War)
-“Wonder Woman Theme Song” performed by the Ron Hicklin Singers (written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimble)
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew puts his manual dexterity and patience to the test while assembling the LEGO Creator Expert Parisian Restaurant set, while Dan can’t stop playing Double Fine’s recent release of Full Throttle Remastered.
LAPSING SUBSCRIPTIONS:DC Comics announced that the third season of the fan-beloved Young Justice animated series, which will be called Young Justice: Outsiders, will be an exclusive release on DC’s as-of-yet unreleased subscription streaming service. It marks yet another step in content providers eschewing more popular platforms like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime in favor of doing something similar but centralizing around their specific content. Is this where streaming is heading, to a diversified subscription market? Or is it a swing at extra revenue that will ultimately be futile? D. Bethel and Andrew discuss.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays catch-up after the Guestcast by letting us know about his time with the indie game, Turmoil, as well as discussing his experience with Alton Brown’s live show, Eat Your Science, while Dan talks about reboots and his hesitancy going into the first two issues of DC Comics’ new series, The Wild Storm.
MASS REJECTS: As Andrew reported, the new Bioware game, Mass Effect Andromeda, has met with a lot of criticism. However, said criticism is all over the map. Dan and Andrew get deep talking about expectations, Mass Effect, fandoms, and video games as cultural expressions. WARNING: the hosts get a little worked up.