Thursday, July 25, 2013

Looking to Kansas City as a model for the new D.C. United stadium

For every D.C. United fan gushing about Mayor Vincent Gray's announcement of plans for a long-awaited new stadium at Buzzard Point, there's someone pointing out the obvious pratfalls. It's a $300 million project, with $150 million coming from D.C. taxpayers' pockets. Mayor Gray insists the stadium will help revitalize struggling neighborhoods and makes use of an area that's currently just a dilapidated industrial wasteland. But as anyone who's read Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski's seminal Soccernomics can tell you, promises of economic growth from stadiums are nebulous at best.

The proposed stadium, with Nationals Park down the block
and the Capitol in the background

It can work, though. I currently live in Kansas City, home of the recently-rebranded Sporting Kansas City. Like D.C. United, they were a founding member of Major League Soccer back in 1996. While MLS has grown in popularity over the last two decades and new teams like the Seattle Sounders average over 40,000 fans at each game, some of the older clubs are struggling in 2013. Seven of the ten teams with the worst attendance in MLS this season are founding members of the league. The novelty has worn off the founding clubs, and teams born in the more soccer-friendly environment of the 21st century have more ease gaining a fanbase.

Sporting KC found a way to buck that trend. The former Kansas City Wizards were virtually a non-entity in the KC sports landscape, and when they rebranded themselves with a more European-sounding name in 2011, they essentially tricked the city into thinking it had a new sports team. Their average attendance nearly doubled immediately.

Sporting Park and its revitalized fanbase

The driving force of the rebrand was SKC's new state-of-the-art stadium, Sporting Park (it was originally Livestrong Sporting Park, but... ya know). I've been to a handful of games there, and it's a beauty to behold. They sell out every single home game, have a presence all around the city, and even got an in-depth New York Times feature yesterday dedicated to how awesome they are.

Kansas City has become a reliable home for the U.S. national team, hosting multiple World Cup qualifiers while Washington, D.C. hosts... zero. It's embarrassing that the United States is now one of the only countries in the world not to play meaningful national team matches in its capital city.

The U.S. national team playing a World Cup qualifier at Sporting Park.
Shouldn't the nation's capital get games like this?

The new stadium's location within the District of Columbia is its huge advantage over Sporting Park. Sporting Park is in the outskirts of suburban Kansas City, Kansas, rather than the city core of Kansas City, Missouri. Buzzard Point isn't exactly Chinatown, but with the combined forces of D.C. United and nearby Nationals Park, it's a step in the right direction. Not to mention easy Metro access... something Sporting Park doesn't have at all.

The Buzzard Point project is key to revitalizing and expanding D.C. United's fanbase. I wouldn't go so far as saying the team needs a new name, but some sort of rebrand could be in order as well. As soccer becomes an increasingly important part of American sports culture, it's critical that D.C. maintains a successful MLS club, especially with D.C. being such an international city. I hope this leads to long-term economic development stemming from the stadium.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Reviewing Civilization V: Brave New World

There's not much to say about Brave New World, the second expansion pack for Sid Meier's turn-based strategy goliath Civilization V. If you already play Civ V, you'll love Brave New World. If you don't, it won't make any difference to you. It's roughly the same thing I wrote about the game's first expansion, Gods & Kings.

Managing trade routes

That's not to say Brave New World is unremarkable. If you play Civilization, it's a must-buy. Brave New World adds a ton of depth to an already-deep experience. Developer Firaxis Games has overhauled Civ's culture, diplomacy, and trade mechanics, which is great news for peaceful players like me who want to win matches without resorting to military might.

But the sexiest of the additions, as always, are the new playable civilizations. There are nine: Assyria, Brazil, Indonesia, Morocco, Poland, Portugal, the Shoshone, Venice, and the Zulus. A well-rounded representation of countries from around the world, this brings the total civilization count of Civilization V to an impressive 43.

Archeologists are new units who can excavate "antiquity sites" around the world to add to your culture

The new civs in Brave New World add vastly different play styles to the mix. Venice can't found new cities, and instead relies on buying out friendly city-states. The Shoshone focus on a small number of cities with huge swaths of territory. These civs totally change the dynamic of a match, and are a welcome addition to the tried-and-true Civ gameplay formula.

In a world of downloadable content, the idea of "expansion packs" is becoming outdated. Civilization V itself has had a number of bite-sized DLC packs since its initial release in 2010. In the rare occasion that games today have full-on expansions, it feels like a meaty dinner rather than the slim appetizer of DLC. Brave New World refines Civilization V so much, it's without a doubt the definitive way to play the Civilization series in 2013.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dueling review: Pacific Rim

Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim came out this week. It's got the giant robots Austin loves and the pretentious arty director I love. Instead of publishing two separate reviews, we've decided to do a DUELING REVIEW. Warning: spoilers aplenty.

AUSTIN: They did it.  It's hard to believe, I know.  Pacific Rim lived up to the hype. The hype bar was set pretty high; I avoided all but the first trailer since they've become "the entire movie in two and a half minutes." Go see Pacific Rim, preferably in IMAX 3D.

JAKE: I thought Pacific Rim was an enjoyable, predictable sci-fi romp with some fantastic mecha art design.

AUSTIN: In case you somehow missed it, I'm pretty into giant robots. I could write a whole blog post dedicated to identifying all the things Pacific Rim reverently drew from. However, Pacific Rim is still its own movie. They're less "hey here's that thing" references and more acknowledgement of the history of giant robot/kaiju media. It's a film that's greater than the sum of its parts.  It's polished and executed superbly. It's not just a movie for people like me, but a movie for everyone.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Giant Robot Week: Day 5

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blogging for an important announcement:

That is all.  Expect a Pacific Rim review over the weekend, but now I got Robot Jox to watch

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Pull List: July 10, 2013

Welcome to the Giant Robot Week edition of the pull list.  There are two bonus entries in this edition of my weekly chronicle of the picture books I spend my money (hard-earned or ill-gotten) on.  Spoiler alert, like my previous posts on the subject hint at, giant robots are awesome.


-Superior Spider-Man #13 (Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Giuseppe Camuncoli)
I don't want to give the impression that I'm not enjoying the current story of Superior Spider-Man, but I really wish there was a different Spider-Man storyline going on now.  In case you were unaware, the current Spider-Man is not heroic.  There's no other way to spin it.  If you want to have that debate then I welcome it, however the evidence is on my side.  That said, it's still an interesting comic book that I am happy to buy.

-Avengers Arena #12 (Dennis Hopeless, Kev Walker)
Yo, the writing in this comic is some straight garbage, like for real.  I only got to the first caption box on the 2nd page before I had to close the comic in disgust.  It's not the graphic murder of children that has got me down.  Instead it is the insinuation, however tenuous, that the reader is the bad guy for "watching (reading) to see what horrible thing might happen next."  Look, I didn't start reading this comic for the shock value.  I picked it up because characters I liked were in a comic book.  That they are being brutally killed is off-putting, so I'm concerned for their fictional wellbeing as well as the wellbeing as them as characters that continue to be published.  If Marvel wants to feed some actually interesting new characters that aren't established white males to some hack writer, that's their prerogative.  I just won't be around to give them my money for it anymore.  Poor Kev Walker, art of this caliber deserves writing that can match it.

-Daredevil #28 (Mark Waid, Javier Rodriguez)
Fortunately Mark Waid is still wrtiting Daredevil.  Unfortunately Chris Samnee didn't draw this issue.  Fortunately Javier Rodriguez makes some damn fine art.  From issue #1 Daredevil has been a comic that could get by on its art alone.  It hasn't had to do that though thanks to Waid's brilliant storytelling.  A new story arc begins this issue and it deals heavily with Daredevil's not-so-secret identity as Matt Murdock, lawyer extraordinaire.  For a comic with a lot of heart and human characters, look no further.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Extended Toy Commercials: Some Recommended Giant Robot Cartoons

Robots have fascinated humanity for centuries. It is an interest that cannot be constrained to just one medium, but it would be foolhardy to deny that animation has provided a home unlike any other for giant robots.  That's not to say they don't have their place in music and video games, but, come on.  Since there hasn't been a better place than here (this blog) or a better time than now (Giant Robot Week), it's recommendation time.

Mobile Suit Gundam is one of the most important pieces of animated storytelling.  It's a story that brought more introspection to the giant robot genre and helped set into motion a number of trends that continue to this day.  The opening narration does a good job of establishing the scene and getting across that humanity is involved in a sweeping war with itself for control of the planet.  The primary focus is on a single ship and its crew doing all they can to survive.  We see that on each side of the conflict there are people with a real humanity.  MSG is at its best when it is highlighting the common thoughts and feelings that connect all people regardless of belief system or allegiance.  While it might not be a super serious war drama, it certainly has heavy moments that have lingering effects on both the characters and the viewer.  The original 43-episode television series from 1979 is my preferred form of Mobile Suit Gundam, but the movie trilogy, released between 1981-1982, condenses the plot and generally makes the animation much nicer to look at (since most people are put off by the old low-budget animation that shows up all the time in the TV series).  Either way, it is an exemplary tale of a young man's awakening as he and his allies desperately fight to stay alive.

Yas characters + Okawara mechanical designs = a winning combination

Giant robot don't always need to be used in a war of man against man.  In fact they are often at their best when going toe to toe with monsters of equal or greater giantness.  One such piece of animation is Aim for the Top! Gunbuster as you witness the growth of a girl from scared crybaby to humanity's final hope against massive space monsters.  It is a six-episode original video animation (OVA) from the then-fledgling studio Gainax.  It's a story as visually appealing as it is emotionally poignant.  Gunbuster's use of relativistic time dilation is a neat wrinkle that is handled in a way that really adds a lot to the final product.  Gunbuster is a hero's journey fueled by hard work and guts.

The pose

You dig giant robots.  I dig giant robots.  We dig giant robots.  Chicks dig giant robots.  These are all things that Megas XLR would have you believe as facts.  I cannot refute them, and really, who would?  Megas adds some levity to my introductory recommendations.  It's a loveletter from 2002 to giant robots, and to many other things as well, like videogames.  There's no reason to beat around the bush and try to apply some deep context that isn't there: this show is fun, pure and simple.  This is perfect for those that just want to unwind and forget real world troubles while watching a cartoon.  It's easy to get into and watch, an incredibly important criteria when recommending things, yet it has a huge amount of Easter eggs for the keen-eyed.

The buttons might be the best part of Megas

I can't make it through a list of recommended giant robot cartoons and not at least mention the grandaddy of them all in passing.  Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Tetsujin 28  (Gigantor on American shores) is the original giant robot anime.  The show I'm recommending however is the 2004 television series of the same name.  This Tetsujin 28 is all about mystery: a boy detective investigates a range of matters from the origin of his gigantic robotic companion to the nefarious plot of a cabal of international criminals.  Action isn't the key concern, and that might put some people off.  Anyone looking for an anime that can pull at all of your heartstrings will definitely want to give this 26-episode series a try.

Abandon tears all ye who enter

If Mobile Suit Gundam is almost a perfect masterpiece, then Patlabor is simply flawless. The original series, a 7-part OVA from 1988 sometimes known as Mobile Police Patlabor: The Early Days, is a relatively quiet look at the operations of a police unit tasked with handling crime related to 8 meter tall robots.  The mechanical designs of the robot are beautiful, but the real stars of this show is the rather odd collection of quirky police officers.  They are all goofy in one way or another, yet they retain a sense of humanity that is very real and believable.  Life is breathed into the cast by the gorgeous artwork and animation.  There's a lack of looming conflict, so the strength of the characters is even more important.  Patlabor hinges on whether or not the viewer can form a connection and attachment with the cast. That Patlabor is unequivocally good is one of the few points of consensus amongst a group of manchildren that spew vitriol at the smallest of details is an accomplishment that cannot be overstated.

Just watch it

A wise man once told me that six is a nice number, because it wasn't too much and wasn't too little.  So I'm going to tack one last addition onto this list.  GaoGaiGar: King of Braves is basically a superhero cartoon with giant robots, so it's great for action lovers and comic book fans.  There's almost always a new monster for the hero to fight each week in GaoGaiGar, and each week he defeats it through a combination of willpower, quick thinking, and teamwork.  No matter how dire the straits there is always a sense of hope, and this culminates in one of the greatest final episodes ever.  I'd say just go watch that episode, but you need to the previous 48 to really make it worthwhile.

Our very own king of braves

Six shows of varying length and tone is what I offer you in terms of an introduction to the animated world of giant robots.  I'd urge you to pick one that tickles your fancy and give it a try.  You won't regret it.  Now excuse me as I continue down the mecha rabbit hole.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Giant Robots and Video Games: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Giant Robot Week rolls on here at A Capital Wasteland, and true to the mission statement of the blog, I'm about to analyze some games.  Whether it was discussing the immersiveness of intricate controls, gushing over the style of an entire franchise, or praising a game with good music, I've already gone into detail about some of my favorite giant robot-related video games.  There was also that time I criticized a certain mechanical design.  This is then going to be somewhat of a whirlwind trip through some other favorites of mine of varying degrees of popularity.

Of all the mecha game franchises, I have lived with Armored Core the longest.  It was an infatuation that began with a demo disc.  For those not in the know, Armored Core  places players in the role of a mercenary that pilots a highly customizable robot.  You want hover legs?  AC's got it.  You want flamethrowers? AC's got it.  You want all the missiles?  AC's got it.  Basically any machine you can think of can become real and then be used to either take on a vast array of missions or climb up the ranks of one-on-one combat.  Its focus on deep stat management might have hindered mainstream success, but it's a series that was beloved enough to get a recurring feature in the back of Tips & Tricks back when magazines were still a thing.

Trying to find the right screenshot was infuriating, so please to enjoy Armored Core 2's intro

Even if I find enjoyment in all of the entries, there are still peaks and valleys.  Armored Core 3 and its expansion Silent Line are definitely my favorites, as they correct some of the flaws with the previous releases while adding in welcomed new features.  Unfortunately, the latest games have been my least favorite, as they streamlined much of the build process (taking out the radiators eliminated a chunk of stat management and strategy), added unwelcome features (a constant energy shield is not necessary), and completely changed the play style.  Where once there was a wide range of speeds and armor types now everything is way too fast and can fly virtually forever.  It's not the worst thing ever, but I tend to play with a slower, much more heavily armored mech with a methodical playstyle that became less viable in Armored Core 4.  I'd still recommend the franchise as a whole if you're looking to get in the cockpit of a mech of your own design.

Next time I play Armored Core I'm holding my controller this way
Speaking of deep customization, Front Mission is without a doubt one of deepest tactical role-playing games you can find.  If there was a spectrum for the level of tactics in a tactical RPG, Super Robot Wars would be on one side and Front Mission would be entrenched in defensible and flanking positions at the other end.  It's a thinking man's robot game.  There's less actual mech tweaking than AC but there's pilot and formational customization. If you don't know what you're doing it all might as well be gibberish, and your squad will end up more toast than a group of panicked rookies in XCOM.  When a plan comes together though, your unit operates like a well oiled machine.

Unfortunately, much like Armored Core, the latest entry in the Front Mission has been a letdown. Front Mission Evolved  is a stinking turd of a game.  What was once a deep tactical game has devolved into a terrible third person shooter with a bare minimum of robot customization.  There's not a part of the game that isn't awful from gameplay to story.  Probably the most egregious thing in the entire game is the cockpit design. They are huge boxy rooms with giant NOS tanks in them.  Whoever designed them either didn't care or has a terrible aesthetic taste.  This is a grim reminder of what happens when you try to turn a cult classic game into something it isn't to please mainstream fans who won't play it anyway.

This picture doesn't do them the injustice that they deserve.  I'd tell you to play the game to see for yourself, but I don't want you to hate me any more than you already do.
Lest you believe that this post is all about customization and recent failings, let's take a gander at something mired in licensing and rights drama.  Or maybe just mention the whole Macross/Robotech debate in passing as Robotech: Battlecry takes the stage.  Regardless of the source material debate, the fact remains that in Battlecry you take control of an F-14 that can transform into a giant robot in order to fight aliens.  It's a game that's incredibly true to its Robotech/Macross roots so much so that every time a missile is fired you aren't just treated to a singular homing attack but a goddamn Itano Circus.  It's a great game in that it executes a fun concept with incredible competence.  Maybe pick it up for the Xbox, Gamecube, or PS2; copies are easy to find at secondhand game shops.

The game also utilized cel shading to more effectively imitate the show
Robots are also great for fighting games. If you like fighting games and robots, which everyone should, perhaps Capcom's Cyberbots and Tech Romancer are games that already dwell within your heart.  Seek them out and challenge your friends to see who is the top ace.

Some Cyberbots action

Of course, I didn't give every giant robot game a moment in the sun--these were just a couple that were at the forefront of my mind.  Yes, I know Steel Battalion is awesome, but that's a story for another time when I can actually set up that glorious contraption for a replay.  Metal Wolf Chaos is something that I've never played since Microsoft feels the need to region lock its systems and felt it was unnecessary to publish a first-party game about the greatest president ever in right here in America.  Feel free to call me out and start discussions about other, better(?) games.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Vocal Music in Games: Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden

Video game music takes up a large portion of my hard drive, however it is merely a fraction of what mecha-related songs inhabit.  There is a great deal of crossover between the two though.  It's time to take advantage of that since I'm officially unofficially declaring this Giant Robot Week here at A Capital Wasteland.  Not sure I have the power to do that, but what the hell, expect a post a day related to the subject of mighty massive mechanoids.  Back to the music though, the game featured this time is -deep breath- Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden  released for the Playstation in early 2001.  The song is "Messiah of Steel" ("Hagane no Messiah" in Japanese) by the supergroup Jam Project.

Top Row: Xabungle, ∀ Gundam
Middle Row: Reideen, Bryger, Dancougar
Bottom Row: VF-1S Valkyrie, Great Mazinger, Combattler V

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Pull List: July 3, 2013

I read too many comics.  It's a habit that so far has only benefited my local comic shop.  That changes now as you can learn from the mistakes of my purchases, and perhaps even be intrigued to check out some of the cool picture books of the week.  There's always the option to make fun of my tastes, too.


-Iron Man #12 (Kieron Gillen, Dale Eaglesham)
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.  This "secret origin" stuff is a mess in Iron Man and legitimately a very infurriating addition to the characters back story.  That said, Howard Stark going all XCOM is something I've enjoyed in the past and will enjoy in the future.  An alien also makes reference to the Fresh Prince when he spots a fake(?) UFO.  The crux of my pulled-back-inness hinges on the closing reveal.  Tony stark is going to pilot a 25,000 foot giant robot named Godkiller.  I don't think I need to explain why that has piqued my interest.  Stupid retcons can't ruin this.  There is one man who could, though, so please Dale Eaglesham draw the next couple of issues.

-Avengers A.I. #1 (Sam Humphries, André Lima Araújo)
Hank Pym is cool, and if you don't agree may I direct you to a comic from last week that might change your mind.  Naturally I'm going to buy a comic book where he leads a team of robotic heroes in an attempt to usher in a new age of human-cyborg relations while averting the rise of a hostile artificial intelligence.  The debut issue is well paced and has some nice characterization going on for it so far.  The art is crisp and has a quality about it that is perfect for the mechanical subject matter.  The colors help make it pop too.  Magnificent sound effects warrant a special mention for Clayton Cowles' lettering.

-Avengers #15 (Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer, Stefano Caselli)
In case the last issue of Avengers wasn't vague enough for your tastes, Hickman and Spencer are right back to obfuscating things.  That's okay, since Caselli gets to draw the Avengers fighting a bunch of giant bugs and the obligatory triumphant group pose.  There's definitely a splash page of concentric circles.  I don't care if it's supposed to be two separate pages or not, there are rippling concentric circles on consecutive pages.  That's got to be one of the most Hickman things ever. 


-Stormwatch #22 (Jim Starling, Yvel Guichet)
For the past three months I have struggled to understand what is going on in Stormwatch.  Little has changed except that this journey has taken a turn (not an unexpected one mind you) into madness.  The previous 3 issues have merely looked longingly towards that path, and as if compelled by the voice of "a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly,rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind" Starlin has taken the comic straight off the rails.  Make of that what you will.  

-Action Comics #22 (Scott Lobdell, Tyler Kirkham, Frank Hannah, Tom Derenick)
Action Comics remains caught in a talespin of worsening comics since Grant Morrison's departure after issue #18.  The Superman and Clark Kent presented on these pages isn't the least heroic Superman of the summer, but beating out Man of Steel is not worth bragging about.  Surely this isn't the kind of stuff that Lobdell has been bringing to the plain Superman comic, because if it is, yeesh, that is not something I'd spend money on.  I have to assume that the mediocre art turned in by Kirkham is a symptom of the bizarre creative shift and poor story.  There's some stupid Kryptonian backstory in the back-up too.