Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fun with dead bodies in Skyrim!

One of the most macabre methods of making your own fun in Skyrim is finding creative ways of displaying the bodies of your fallen enemies. Here are a couple of examples. Be warned: there may be some minor spoilers ahead!

As Keldor the Unbroken, I was all too happy to off the shrill lunatic Cicero when the opportunity presented itself. In the bowels of the Dark Brotherhood's long-abandoned sanctuary near Dawnstar, there was one obvious choice of storage for his body.

Rest in peace, ya loony!

Obsessive Mythic Dawn historian Silus Vesuius got what was coming to him after I looted his entire museum behind his back. It seemed like a fun idea to store him inside one of his own display cases. This was made far more amusing due to a basket that somehow attached itself to his foot.

Then, just for kicks, I closed the door. Things started going crazy, as he doubled up inside the basket, his limbs flopping around like a freshly-caught fish!

Naturally, I had to take a look at him with the door open again, and he was now in this state:

My nephew Braxton's surly Argonian  murdered the smarmy merchant Belethor-- or Ballathor, as we call him-- earlier today, and managed to store his corpse on top of the large moose's head in his shop, cradled by the antlers. (For some reason, I could not get a decent pic of this one no matter what!)


Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Santahkiin!

A little drawing I whipped up. The dragon looks pretty lousy; this showed me just how out of practice I am at drawing monsters.
As a nice little easter egg, the dragon isn't speaking gibberish. Head to Google and find a dragon language translator to see what he's saying! ;)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Xmas narrowly salvaged!

When my girlfriend Cindy came to my house to get the last of her presents earlier today, disaster had struck struck!

Inside the chest which was supposed to contain her second ring was this note!

It reads: "I suppose you were expecting to find a ring here. Unfortunately for you, the infamous Kleptothiar struck first! Accept my apologies, and take solace in the knowledge that the proceeds from the sale of your shiny bauble will be put to good use. Yours, M. Kleptothiar"
The dastard!
Cindy had no choice but to follow her destination marker.

Arriving at her goal...

...our adventurer came upon a most gruesome sight!

This letter was found near the unlucky thief's body:

It reads: This is a communication from the Daedric prince Blingathor. Your lust for bright and shiny objects pleases me, so I have struck down the petty thief who snatched your ring, and sealed his soul forever into an immobile plastic form. Your jewelry may be recovered in the chest from which it was stolen. Wear it well, and rejoice that you have had the great fortune to gain the benevolent notice of one of the immortal Daedra."
Hurrah, the day was saved!

Claiming her ring at last, Cindy had a glorious day! I hope all of you have had as exciting and wonderful a day as we have!

(Hopefully she won't find out that the thief and I were guildmates...)

Monday, December 19, 2011

This is what happens...

... when you try to fuck with Keldor the Unbroken.
As Keldor, the sinister Dark Elf battlemage, I was exploring the countryside, gradually making my way to Markarth for a Dark Brotherhood mission. After killing some Thalmor scumbags, I went poking around in the menu and noticed that I had picked up a small bounty somewhere along the way. Naturally, the next small settlement I came across had a guard posted, and he immediately came running toward me. The fine was small enough that I figured I'd just pay it, so I went into my inventory before the guard reached me so I could drop all the stolen items I had on me. (Stolen items are confiscated when you pay a bounty off or go to jail. How a pissant guard can recognize something you stole on the other side of the continent is beyond me, but there it is.)

So, I pay my fine to this jackass, and then remember that I have to go to the nearest city with him. The game loads, and I'm in the middle of Markarth! I quickly run back to where I dropped all my stolen items, and begin picking them back up. Oddly, a ring of them was suspended in the air, and would drop to the ground as I walked into them. A few items never did drop, so I suppose they're still hanging there. I should go back and check on that.

I decide that, for inconveniencing me so greatly, this asswipe guard needs to die. So, I walk over to the mine entrance he is guarding. Some douchenozzle in a puffy white shirt starts talking to me, but I ignore him and go stand by the guard. I figure Nozzle has to go into the house at some point, and I'll be able to take care of the guard without any witnesses to deal with.

Several in-game hours pass, and Nozzle is still hanging around. I go talk to him, and realize he is involved in a quest focusing on that mine, so he's probably not going anywhere. "Fuck it," I said eloquently to myself," I'll kill him too." The guard dies quickly with the one-two punch of a fireball and my sword in his face, and then I turn to chase down Nozzle. I lob some flames at Nozzle, and his knees buckle as I swing my sword. This leads to one of the most badass finshing move animations I've seen in the game; I plunged my sword through his chest as he bent over backwards, and basically pinned him to the ground like a prized butterfly.

I figure Nozzle's part is done, but I'm still not finished with that asswipe guard. I take everything he has, including his uniform and his douchey helmet. (It was at this point I got the idea to document this with photos; since I don't have the game on PC, I can't do hi-res screencaps, so my rather crappy photos will have to suffice.)

I drag him to the top of the rocks nearby...

Drop him off the cliff...

And I lob some fireballs after him for good measure.

Just a fun little diversion in my Skyrim day!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The (Skyrim) story so far...

I had the idea a few weeks ago that I might keep some kind of running commentary on my experiences playing Bethesda's latest sprawling monster of a video game epic, Skyrim. One problem: I've been way too busy playing the hell out of Skyrim to do it. Perhaps writing a brief overview will galvanize me to make this a regular thing, as I had originally intended.

I had to wait nearly two weeks after the game's release to play it. I received it on December 1 as an early Xmas gift from my wonderful girlfriend. Suddenly, all the time she spends doing various things online for her church seemed like a blessing, as it enabled me to keep playing Skyrim when she is over at my house. She witnessed the creation of my first character, Valkara the Reaver, a gigantic Nord woman with flaming red hair, piercing blue eyes, and a bevvy of scars that serve as reminders of all the battles she's experienced prior to her experiences in Skyrim.
(Readers of some of my stories will probably remember the name; this character is indeed based on the character of the same name who appears in them.)

The character creation is much better than in earlier games in the series, although the customization options are still not up to the level as games such as the WWE series; for example, you cannot adjust your character's height. Still, with the sliders for facial features, and adjusting the character's physique, you could make a very realistic version of yourself, if you were so inclined. Personally, I often play as a female character in these games simply for change of pace, as the majority of video games have you playing the role of a big hairy guy. It's nice to be able to go the other direction sometimes.

Thankfully, I haven't experienced many of the bugs and glitches that have plagued some people. I'm playing on the Xbox 360, and have not installed a single patch for the game, so I'm not bothered by the issues introduced by some of them. Aside from a few graphical glitches-- such as the horse whose front half was embedded in the ground-- the only problems I've experienced are weapons plaques in one of my houses that will not work, and once the door to the cistern in the headquarters of the Thieves' Guild would not open. In that case, thankfully, I had literally just saved my game, so I just reloaded the save, and it worked fine from that point on.

I currently have two characters, as I made a second one a few days ago. I am by no means done with my original character, but I usually like to have two characters in these games with focuses on different skill sets, and therefore, different play styles. I alternate between them depending on my mood. Whereas Valkara is a virtuous hero, an unstoppable beast in combat, and knows only a few essential spells, Keldor the Unbroken is a sinister Dark Elf who relishes the kind of action he gets in the Dark Brotherhood, and is more of a battlemage. He roams the land with a spell ready in each hand, and a nasty sword at hand just in case he needs it. It is testament to the depth of the game that each of these characters offers a very different experience in playing it.

So, those are some quick thoughts about my experiences in Skyrim so far. Now, I'm off to make some more!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Update for regular Rant readers

Regular readers (all 60 of you!) have surely noticed that there were no comic reviews this week. Like I said when I began the weekly reviews back in August, I reserve the right to bail at some point, and it looks like that time has come. With everything else that's going on, it's become harder and harder to find time to do them each week. That may change in the future, and I've thought about only dong a few key books each week, so there is a chance reviews will return in the near future. In the meantime, I'm working on another weekly feature that will appeal to all of you who have enjoyed the blog thus far. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: The New Annotated Dracula

One year ago: Dracula (1931)

It really doesn't need to be restated that Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of the towering classics of the horror genre. It has been alternately derided and lauded, and analyzed nearly to death. But for all of that, a hell of a lot of people still haven't read it. It's easy to understand why. Its format and the style of prose can be off-putting even to those who read regularly. Stoker presents his story via a collection of journal entries, letters, and  newspaper articles. conveyed in the florid prose typical of the era. The story is full of plot holes and inconsistencies. Even so, Stoker's novel remains a fascinating work, and it continues to resonate more than a century after its publication. Buried within those letters and journal entries is a ripping good yarn, well-worth the time it takes for modern readers to immerse themselves in those pages. I've read the novel a few times over the years, and this time around, I decided to read Leslie Klinger's The New Annotated Dracula. With access to Stoker's notes, as well as the manuscript for the novel, it promised an unprecedented inside look at the workings of the novel. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this edition.
Klinger approaches this annotated edition as if Stoker was merely relating actual events; this gets very annoying by the second page of the novel. After page one, there are literally six pages of annotations, some of them conveying information that is completely inconsequential. This persists throughout, although the annotations do not overtake the actual novel to that extent again. The "gentle fiction," as Klinger puts it, of pretending the novel relays actual events, means that many of the annotations are worthless speculations about where or when such-and-such event actually occurred, and how Stoker changed the facts to protect identities. Often, the reader is not sure whether an annotation is real, or merely invention to support Klinger's "gentle fiction." This is perpetuated even in the supplemental chapters. As Klinger had access to Stoker's manuscript and notes in preparing this edition, it seems a gigantic missed opportunity. What should have been a truly magnificent volume is instead a frustrating reading experience. .

For anyone who wishes to read Stoker's novel with some quality supplemental material, I recommend sticking with the Norton Critical Edition. Dracula itself remains as interesting as ever, and I can think of few things more appropriate for this day than spending a little time with this novel.

That wraps up this year's orgy of Halloween horror! I hope all of you have a great Halloween night!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: Our spiritual reading for tonight...

... the Necronomicon Ex Mortis! Also note the bloody organs, conveniently shrink-wrapped: essential items for any ghoulish gab session!

31 Days of Halloween: Blood-curdling Bottles!

One year ago: The Masque of the Red Death

An ongoing Halloween project of mine is using these labels I got in an 8-pack at Dollar Tree a few years ago. It's tough getting enough of the right kind of bottles (at least, when you don't drink wine or sparkling grape juice), so I still haven't used quite all of them. Here are the ones I do have, along with a couple of other cool Halloween-friendly bottles.

Dr. Rotgut's Embalming Juice certainly sounds crisp and refreshing, as the label promises.

This bottle of red blood is aged for 10 years, but was bottled in 1994; clearly, I'm saving it for a special occasion.

This liquid-form zombie virus is essential for any Halloween- themed dinner party. (We were out of food coloring, so I just watered down some paint; that can't possibly backfire on me at some point, right?)

Liquid Phantom contains "one angry, carbonated ghoul."

This bottle of Ye Olde Spider Venom dates to 1897; surely it's worth something, eh?

Speaking of spider juice, this bottle came from the craft store Michael's just a little over a month ago. There was a nice selection of cool bottles, but this was clearly the best one.

Last, we have this remnant of Target's post-Halloween clearance from a few years ago. It's a blueberry cocktail mixer, but I got it just because the bottle with its wax seal is so cool & creepy.

That does it for today, but skitter back tomorrow for this year's Halloween finale!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: Monster busts

One year ago: Young Frankenstein

Today, we're gonna take a look at more Halloween decorations, specifically, some monster busts! First, we have the Wallace Shawn vampire. If that name doesn't ring a bell, you probably have seen/heard him in The Princess Bride and as the voice of Rex in the Toy Story movies. Just take a look at this and try to tell me this vampire is not him.

This is Countess von Razorcheeks. Seriously, look at that face; you could slice a ham with those cheekbones! Still, all things considered, Count Shawn married a little out of his league. Way to go dude!

The last one for today is Mandusa, so called because, while clearly intended to be Medusa, take a look at that mug: it's clearly a man, man. He also appears to have some pretty horrific cataracts. This one came from Dollar Tree, which means it weighs about 30 pounds, as the statues and busts they sell are made of solid concrete.

That's it for today, everyone enjoy your Halloween weekend!

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days of Halloween bonus: Macabre Monster Nails!

Just a quick bonus post today to show off Cindy's nails that I painted for her. The Frankenstein Monster is on the thumb, Dracula is on the forefinger, Mummy is on the middle finger, Witch on the ring finger, and a zombie on the pinky. They're far from perfect, but I reckon they came out okay, given the teeny tiny canvas on which I had to work! I did both hands, but it's the same arrangement on both. Maybe I should open my own seasonal nail salon, eh? :P

31 Days of Halloween: Frankenstein

One year ago: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

Nearly two centuries after its publication, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein remains relevant. The ongoing controversies regarding such matters as cloning and stem cell research were all anticipated by Shelley's remarkably prescient novel. As great as some film adaptations have been, none of them come close to covering the same amount of ground as the novel. The story had its genesis in a summer retreat that included Mary, her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Byron's Smithers, John Polidori. (Polidori's The Vampyre, which featured the Byron-esque Ruthven as the titular bloodsucker, was the other notable work to emerge from that retreat.) A challenge was issued that each of them would write a scary story, and Mary based hers on a terrifying dream she had. This eventually developed into the novel Frankenstein as we know it.

Percy went over the novel before it was published, adding the florid prose that he was famous for, to help make the book more marketable. Ironically, it is this aspect of the novel that serves as the largest stumbling block for modern readers. (I have been wanting to read this edition of the novel, which jettisons Percy's contributions. I wasn't able to get my hands on it in time for this Halloween season; maybe next year!) It can get very tedious at times, particularly for a reader who is unaccustomed to writings from that era. However, I truly believe that the tale of Victor Frankenstein and his doomed creation is worth the effort. The Monster is one of the most tragic figures in all of literature, and he is the heart of this novel, not his callous creator. The novel is a bit of a slog at times, but it's worth it in the end. You'll be hooked by the time the Monster has met with his creator and brought him up to speed regarding his trials and tribulations. From there, the pace quickens, and events hurtle headlong toward their tragic conclusion. The novel is essential reading for fans of classic horror, and it is sure to amaze with the parallels between the issues raised in its pages, and those present in our society today.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

31 Days of Halloween: The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror

One year ago: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

The annual Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons have become a Halloween tradition, even if Fox does inexplicably wait until after Halloween to air them, more often than not. I have fond memories of watching the very first one, and many subsequent ones in the years since then. Watching the older episodes has become an essential part of my run-up to Halloween, so it's only natural to present to you my ten favorite Treehouse of Horror segments!

Hungry Are the Damned
No list of the greatest TOH segments would be complete without this tale of alien abduction and hidden motives. This was our introduction to the venerable duo of tentacled aliens Kang & Kodos, who have appeared in ever single Halloween episode of the series. It all began here, in one of the show's finest moments.

Dial "Z" for Zombies
When Bat and Lisa accidentally raise the dead, the family has to fight back as Springfield is overrun with zombies! Includes the classic exchange: "Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!" "He was a zombie?"

The Devil and Homer Simpson
Homer learns firsthand that the Devil is bad news when he sells his soul for a donut. Turns out the Devil is none other than Ned Flanders("It's always the one you least suspect!"), and he selects the jury of the damned when Homer is granted a trial to fight to keep his soul. Unfortunately, they've hired Lionel Hutz to defend him, so it'll be an uphill battle at best. Plus, Homer has to spend the day in Hell in the meantime!

The Shinning
Mayhem ensues when Homer is hired as caretaker to Mr. Burns's mountaintop hotel for the winter. Cut off from civilization, and left with no beer and no TV, Homer is filled with insane murderous rage. The family's only hope is that Bart can summon help with his "Shinning." A dead-on parody of Kubrick's classic The Shining, and damned hilarious.

Citizen Kang
Kang & Kodos encounter a stumbling block in their plans to take over the Earth when they learn an election is occurring next week. Abducting presidential candidates Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, the aliens take their place so that whoever wins will rule the country, and from there, proceed to take over the rest of the world. This is probably the finest hour for Kang & Kodos.

The Homega Man
When France launches a nuclear bomb at Springfield, Homer is the only survivor. The only normal survivor, that is, as many of the town's residents have been horribly mutated by the radiation. After interrupting his nude dancing at the church-- don't ask-- the mutants hunt Homer relentlessly.

Desperately Xeeking Xena
Bart and Lisa acquire superpowers, and they swing into action when Lucy Lawless is kidnapped by the Comic Book Guy-turned-supervillain the Collector. This one remains one of the biggest fan-favorites, and supplied several classic lines and moments.

Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace
Groundskeeper Willie mysteriously vanishes, and begins turning up in the dreams of Springfield's children to torment them. With all the town's adults trying to cover up what happened, it's left to Bart, Lisa, and Maggie to deal with Willie on his own turf.

Terror at 51/2 Feet
This parody of the old Twilight Zone episode where Shatner is the only one who sees a creature on the wing of a plane finds Bart in a similar situation: on the way to school, Bart keeps seeing a Gremlin trying to sabotage the bus so it will crash. No one else can see the creature, so Bart is believed to be insane. The pace in this one is relentless, even for one of the Halloween episodes, and includes one of the better twist endings.

Time and Punishment
Homer tries to fix the toaster, and accidentally turns it into a time machine. traveling to a number of different timelines, he struggles to get back home. Along the way, we get glimpses of some truly hilarious alternate timelines, including one in which Ned Flanders is the undisputed master of the world!

Fox is actually airing this year's Treehouse of Horror episode before Halloween; it's coming on this Sunday, the 30th. Don't miss it!

Rant Review: Batman: The Dark Knight #2, Superman #2, Blackhawks #2, Teen Titans #2, The Savage Hawkman #2, The Fury of Firestorm #2

If you missed yesterday's reviews, you can find them here. I was unable to get a copy of Voodoo #2, so that gets left out this time around.

Batman: The Dark Knight #2
Written by Paul Jenkins, Plot & pencils by David Finch, Inked by Richard Friend
This issue is better than the first one, but that bar is not set very high. Batman and Alfred try to discern the source of the drug that removes fear from the mind. Nearly the entire Bat-family cameos, though Robin is portrayed in a thoroughly generic way that doesn't sound the slightest bit like Damian. I can hardly believe that this is the same Paul Jenkins who is doing such excellent work on DCU Presents. Finch's art is his typical stiff and inconsistent work; he does a much better job drawing buildings and machines than he does with people. If you dislike his art, nothing here will change your mind. This series has been only mediocre at its very best, and it  has one more issue to improve drastically, or I'm done with it.
My score: 

Superman #2
Written by George Perez, Art by Jesus Merino
After the rather lackluster debut issue, my hopes for this second issue weren't very high. Thankfully, it is a bit better, but still seems to be marking time for the most part. Much of the issue is spent watching Superman being hit by a creature that everyone can see except him, and then watching him punch it into submission once he figures out how to work around it. With Perez leaving in a couple of issues, I would expect this story to wrap up soon, but who knows what to expect at this point? So far it seems to be just build-up to something, with lots of arbitrary action thrown in to take up page space. This isn't a bad comic, just a thoroughly mediocre one.
My score:

Blackhawks #2
Written by Mike Cost, Art by Graham Nolan & Trevor McCarthy
After a shaky start last month, this series picks up some serious steam here as the plot moves forward, and we get to see more of the team in action. Things are suddenly getting very interesting in this book, and I'm glad to see it. It's not one of the best of the New 52, but it went from being on the bubble to remaining on my pull list for at least one more month, and on much more solid footing this time. With this issue, it's much closer to the military-flavored, high-stakes action series everyone was hoping for.
My score: 

Teen Titans #2
Written by Scott Lobdell, Pencilled by Brett Booth, Inked by Norm Rapmund
Just like the debut issue, this mostly reminds me of so many comics from the early to mid-'90s, for all the worst reasons. There is at least some semblance of a plot, as NOWHERE are trying to round up all the superpowered teenagers, but it's accompanied by inane dialogue and bad art to the point that it's hard to care. The bubble just burst for this book; I'm done with it.  I'm sure some readers will derive some enjoyment from this series, but it's not for me.
My score: 

The Savage Hawkman #2
Written by Tony Daniel, Art by Philip Tan
Yeah... the word balloon in the pic above pretty much sums up my thoughts as I read this issue. After a halfway decent debut issue, this one is a muddled mess. There's a big dumb fight at the beginning, a bunch of cryptic things happen, and there are hints of something nasty to come. Tan's art is pretty good, but that's really all this issue has going for it. I had to force myself to finish reading this comic for the purposes of this review, or I would have just stopped about halfway through. I'm only marginally interested in Hawkman at the best of times, and I think this issue ended my time reading this series.
My score: 

The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men #2
Written by Ethan Van Sciver & Gail Simone, Art by Yildray Cinar
Things stay nice and crazy as assassins continue to hunt Ronnie and Jason, and the origin of Firestorm is partially revealed. Tonya gets a very disturbing vision of what the future might hold, as well. This isn't one of the New 52's shining stars, but it's a nice, solid superhero adventure book, and there's not a damn thing wrong with that.
My score: 

That's it for this week's comic reviews! Pop back by later for today's 31 Days of Halloween post, and enjoy your weekend!