The Lost Art of Video Game Instruction Booklets

I’ve got a confession to make — I’m one of the few people on the entire planet that actually reads the instruction manual before playing a new video game. Always have, always will.

The instruction booklet, seen here in its glory days.

The instruction booklet, seen here in its glory days.

Sure, knowing what the hell each power-up did was great, but for me, the reading of the instruction manual was always about the story and the characters. I wanted to know about the world I was about to enter, the monsters I was about to kill, the people I was about to play as, and their motivations for doing all of the insane stuff that developers would shove into their games.

It wasn’t enough to just play the game — I had to understand the mythology of the game, too (an affliction that still haunts me to this day, as I’ve spent many an hour looking up pointless things such as the chronology of the Metroid series, for example).

Perhaps it was the fact that the NES was a fairly simple console and therefore didn’t need pages upon pages explaining motion controls, alternate controls, memory and storage options, online settings, online troubleshooting, etc., but whoever was tasked with writing old-school instruction manuals had a lot of empty space to fill. Combined with the fact that most games never really told any sort of story during the actual gameplay (meaning that the writers could make up pretty much anything they wanted), you get a whole lot of crazy shit winding up in the hands of children across the world.

Take, for example, Super Mario Bros. According to the instruction booklet, the game’s plot goes a little something like this:

One day the kingdom of the peaceful mushroom people was invaded by the Koopa, a tribe of turtles famous for their black magic. The quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks and even field horsehair plants, and the Mushroom Kingdom fell into ruin.

The only one who can undo the magic spell on the Mushroom People and return them to their normal selves is the Princess Toadstool, the daughter of the Mushroom King. Unfortunately, she is presently in the hands of the great Koopa turtle king.

Mario, the hero of this story (maybe) hears about the Mushroom People’s plight and sets out on a quest to free the Mushroom Princess from the evil Koopa and restore the fallen kingdom of the Mushroom People.

You are Mario! It’s up to you to save the Mushroom People from the black magic of the Koopa!

Wait … what? Black magic? Only the Princess can reverse the spell? Mario is actually slaughtering the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom with each brick he destroys? And all of this nonsense applies to a game where you run constantly to the right and eat mushrooms how, exactly?

To be fair, the very concept of the Mario series is so messed up that anything the writers could have concocted back then wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense, really. At least they tried, and in doing so they produced a classic piece of video game literature.

The victim of black magic, apparently.

The victim of black magic, apparently.

In my opinion, the best part about the instruction booklets for the NES Mario games were the detailed descriptions of the run-of-the-mill baddies Mario would encounter during his adventures. Without these ridiculous blurbs, I wouldn’t have terms such as Goomba, Lakitu, Spiny, Bullet Bill, Cheep-Cheep, Podoboo, Koopa Paratroopa, Beezo, Pokey, Sniffit, Trouter, Birdo, Monty Mole, Thwomp, and Ludwig von Koopa burned into my brain until the day I die.

And just like the main plot, the backstory for some of the baddies had to be fleshed out a bit (especially when their only characteristic was “walking left”), often with glorious results.

In the Mushroom Kingdom, slowly moving left makes you a "wild fighter".

In the Mushroom Kingdom, walking slowly makes you a "wild fighter".

Unfortunately, classics instruction booklets a rare breed these days. Maybe Miyamoto and the boys assumed that we already knew what the hell a Goomba was (which is true), but the manuals for recent Mario titles such as New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy contain nary a single word about Mario’s enemies. These new manuals are sterile and soulless, featuring a rundown of the numerous control schemes and a brief explanation of the millions of power-ups found throughout the game — and nothing more.

And that’s a damn shame, because the colourful writing and sheer personality found in the older manuals was part of the unique Nintendo charm.

I'd much rather read this insanity than learn how to troubleshoot my Wi-Fi connection.

Admit it, you'd much rather read this insanity than learn how to troubleshoot your Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

Granted, at least Nintendo still puts in some semblance of effort with its newer Mario manuals. Lots of pictures and pretty colours, and all in all, they do a pretty good job of explaining the game mechanics. However, a lot of other game companies have completely done away with the in-depth manuals of old, replacing them with cheaply produced black-and-white inserts that explain practically next to nothing about any aspect of the game save for a tiny controller map outlining which button does what.

I suppose the justification is that since hardly anybody reads the manuals (besides me), there’s no point in devoting time and resources to the project. And while this makes sense, it hardly dampens the harsh blow of disappointment that festers inside me after skimming through yet another sub-par instruction booklet.

Luckily, the lost art of awesome instruction booklets isn’t completely lost, as a select few companies still “get it”.

Useful? Not really. A good read? Most definitely.

Useful? Not really. A good read? Most definitely.

While the manuals for the Grand Theft Auto games will never be accused of being particularly useful (they’re more form than function), they’re always an entertaining read, as Rockstar Games presents the elements of the game through a series of well-written Liberty City phone books ads, tourism brochures, police bulletins, etc. It’s a truly great way to introduce the reader to the world they’re about to enter.

Meanwhile, Konami’s manual for Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS was hilariously old-school, written entirely in over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, grammatically-incorrect language designed not to bore you with technical details, but to get you pumped about putting the boots to the alien menace. Even better, it also featured a list of enemies you’ll face along the way, including the ever-so-awesome “Ingrid Birdman” and “Missile Hugger 3000”.

While a few torchbearers of the craft remain, I fear for the future of the good ol’ instruction booklet, mostly due to the impending full-scale arrival of digital download delivery methods. Will the freedom of the digital form spark a renaissance for well-written and detailed manuals? Or is the instruction booklet as we know it witnessing its final days, soon to be replaced with mere FAQs and text files? Probably the latter … but I hope I’m wrong.

All video game manuals were sourced from ReplacementDocs.com. Check it out … it’s a great trip down memory lane, if I do say so myself!

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Playoff Parity and the NHL’s Worst Nightmare

In the “new” NHL (which is hardly new anymore, given that it’s nearly four seasons old now), practically any team can make the playoffs in any given year. While this may lead to some truly exciting playoff races (and this year is no exception), it also means that any team can make it to the Stanley Cup Final.

And that’s bad news for the NHL.

If the Montreal Canadiens continue their downward spiral and miss the playoffs this year (which would be ever so delicious, to be honest), it would mark the first time ever that there wasn’t a single Canadian representative in the Eastern Conference / Wales Conference playoffs. Instead of Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, the playoff spots would go to ’90s expansion teams and clubs from non-traditional markets such as the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, it looks as though all three Canadian teams have a good chance of making the playoffs. However, unlike the East, which can fill out the rest of its playoff spots with established clubs such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, etc., the Flames, Oilers, and Canucks could be joined by teams such as the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues, all of which are in the thick of the playoff race for the final few berths in the West.

Now I’m not here to bash the “southern” teams, as I’m sure that the fans of teams such as the Thrashers and Coyotes are just as passionate as the ones in any other city (although the financial and attendance woes of these teams shouldn’t be ignored). But the fact that so many expansion teams could make the playoffs this season — a season that has seen only a couple of teams really stand out above the rest of the pack — is simply not good for the NHL.

Consider the following Stanley Cup scenarios:

Canadian Team vs. Canadian Team: All of Canada would watch and CBC would smash all known viewership records. However, only a few die-hards in the States would actually watch the final series. Really nice for Canada, but ultimately bad for Gary Bettman and the NHL.

Canadian Team vs. American Team: Most of Canada would watch (as the last Canadian team standing is suddenly labelled “Canada’s Team” and becomes last bastion of hope to bring Lord Stanley home). Depending on the team, American viewership would be decent (but not fantastic). Not the best possible scenario, but acceptable for everybody involved.

American Team vs. American Team (Option A): If it’s two American teams with a solid history, a large fanbase, and exciting players, everybody wins. First of all, it gets Americans to tune in — last year’s Cup-clinching game between the Red Wings and Penguins was the most watched NHL game in the U.S. is nearly 30 years. And while such a series might not be as highly rated in Canada, last year’s match-up proved that a Stanley Cup Final without a Canadian team will still be watched in Canada (an average of 2.3 million viewers tuned in to CBC to see Detroit win it all, slightly down from the 2.5 million that watched Anaheim decimate Ottawa the year before). What can I say, we Canadians appreciate good hockey, regardless of who is playing.

American Team vs. American Team (Option B): Pittsburgh vs. Detroit is all well and good. But what happens if by some fluke the top seeds are sent packing early and the Stanley Cup Final is played by two American teams from non-traditional markets with little in the way of star players? Would you watch hockey in early June if it was the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. the Florida Panthers for the best trophy in sports? Or how about the Carolina Hurricanes vs. the St. Louis Blues?

Excitement!

Excitement!

I’m guessing the viewership for such a series would be embarrassingly low in both the U.S. and Canada. While Gary Bettman would probably be all smug about it and hold press conferences touting the tremendous success of his expansion teams, he’d be saying it through gritted teeth as the NHL head office tries desperately to market a Stanley Cup Final that absolutely nobody in North America would give a damn about. Americans wouldn’t watch because of the lack of a big market team, and Canadians wouldn’t watch because of our inability to comprehend the fact that a city that doesn’t get snow could win the Stanley Cup.

Just imagine … no TV ratings, no media attention, no interest, no hope. This would be the NHL’s worst nightmare. And it could easily happen.

Edmonton went from just squeaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed to being just one win away from the Cup in 2006. Who’s to say a team like the Panthers or Predators can’t do the same this year? Given how close the standings are this year and the fact that parity has made it so that any team can pull off a win on any night (just look at the Islanders’ recent shutout of the Red Wings for a good example of this), it’s not a stretch to say that any team, regardless of where they’re ranked, could go the distance.

Sorry Preds fans, but for the good of the game, let’s hope that doesn’t happen. The simple fact of the matter is that the NHL doesn’t get enough support as it is in the United States, even when its showcasing big market teams like the Flyers and Rangers on NBC. Having teams such as Columbus or Nashville in the Stanley Cup Final may help those markets and bring joy to a small number of fans, but in the end it would be like giving yourself a manicure when your arm’s about to get amputated due to arm cancer.

Or something like that.

Excitement!

Excitement!

Punch-Out: The Rise and Fall of the World Video Boxing Association

There once was a time when boxing was considered the sport of kings … the sweet science … the merry art of fisticuffery. To the disappointment of many, that time has long since passed, as boxing has been marred for several years by shady promoters, criminal pugilists, and downright boring fights.

If you want to pinpoint the exact moment of boxing’s decline, you’d have to start with the arrival of an upstart organization known as the World Video Boxing Association (WVBA) — because that’s when everything started going to hell.

There’s nothing wrong with a new league trying to establish itself in the market and competing with the bigs. In fact, the more professional organizations, the more opportunities there are to make a living in combat sports. A win-win situation for everybody, right? Unfortunately, the WVBA made a complete and utter mockery of the sport of boxing, to the point where it still hasn’t — and probably never will — recover.

Are you a hopeless drunk? Welcome to the WVBA!

Can't stop drinking? Then you've got what it takes to be a contender!

The Early Years

The problem started with the types of boxers that the WVBA attracted to its organization. The promoters didn’t try to emulate the WHA of the 1970s, which successfully picked off numerous NHL superstars with insane contract offers. No, the WVBA pinched its pennies by hiring a bunch of scrubs and tomato cans from around the globe — the cast-away boxers that either couldn’t draw in the bigs or simply couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag.

I'm pretty sure disappearing isn't allowed by the Athletic Commission.

I'm pretty sure that disappearing is against the Commission's rules.

It didn’t matter if you were grossly overweight, had a raging substance abuse problem, a history of concussions, a 99-fight losing streak, or were a comically insensitive racial stereotype — the WVBA hired you on the spot. Indeed, with sad-sacks such as Glass Joe, Von Kaiser, and Don Flamenco filling out its roster, in addition to rampant allegations of cheating by fighters such as Great Tiger (all of which were conveniently ignored by league officials), the WVBA was home to the most pathetic collection of professional boxers in recent memory.

The only reason the league was even able to scrape out a niche for itself was the explosive brutality of its champion, Mike Tyson. This man was a killer, a heavyweight boxer with knock-out power second to none. And when this man was shockingly upset by a scrawny kid in a pink tracksuit by the name of Little Mac, the WVBA promoters collectively shit their trousers, as they had lost their one and only meal ticket. Without Tyson, they had no star attraction — after all, who in their right mind would want to pay to see jerks like Piston Honda and King Hippo fight for a shot of Little Mac’s title? Nobody, that’s who.

The precise moment when boxing was ruined forever.

The precise moment when boxing was ruined forever.

The Next Generation — “Boxing’s Greatest Sideshow”

With attendance plummeting and the organization leaking money, the promoters had to figure out some way to put more butts in the seats. And so, in the mid 1990s, the WVBA dropped any notion of professionalism and opened its doors to any chump who knew somebody with a pair of boxing gloves. Lumberjacks? Clowns? Lucha libre wrestlers? Actors? Old geezers? Welcome to the WVBA!

To accommodate these less-than-stellar athletes, it no longer mattered if you actually knew how to box. In fact, the boxing rulebook was tossed out completely, with fighters actively encouraged to use headbutts, flying kicks, wooden sticks, juggling balls, and a variety of other weapons and illegal tactics. Boxing purists were outraged, but the fans absolutely loved it. The WVBA was back in business!

The new generation of WVBA "boxers".

The new wave of WVBA "boxers".

The WVBA’s new business model was to put on the craziest, zaniest, most extreme boxing show on the planet. Even though boxing insiders and sports commentators deemed it a “laughing stock”, the revitalized WVBA routinely sold out arenas across the country, as everybody wanted to know what sort of freak show would step inside the ring on any given night. As a result, the league’s promoters often found themselves sleeping on top of a pile of money with many beautiful ladies.

All natural, baby.

All natural, baby.

But it wouldn’t last forever.

Fresh off of its crackdown of Vince McMahon and the WWF, the United States government came down hard on the World Video Boxing Association — not for match-fixing, gambling, or even its profane mockery of the once-great sport, but for its unchecked steroid usage. The evidence was quite damning — just one look at top attractions such as the Bruiser Bros. or Super Machoman and you could practically see the bull shark testosterone and HGH oozing from their pores.

Even the league’s champion and all-around good guy Little Mac had been on the juice, directly supplied to him by WVBA officials. Indeed, millions of children wept openly as their hero confessed to his years of steroid abuse in a federal courthouse. Boxing’s one true shining light — the one-in-a-million shot from Brooklyn, the kid with a heart of gold and determination of a lion — had been extinguished.

Before and After. Note the roid-rage induced glint of insanity in his eyes.

Note the roid-rage glint of insanity in the eyes of the "After" shot.

Devastated by the scandal and financially ruined by tremendous legal fees, the WVBA was forced to shut its doors in the late 1990s. By then, however, the damage was irreparable. Boxing was now seen in the eyes of the public as a fraud and a joke (a froke, perhaps), no longer worthy of its time or attention.

As the years went by, the WVBA became an afterthought in the world of combat sports, remembered only be a few lonely souls on the Internet basking in the nostalgia of larger-than-life characters like Bear Hugger and Mad Clown.

That is, until recently …

The Revival

Over the past few weeks, rumours have been swirling like crazy that the WVBA is being resurrected by an unknown group of foreign investors. If this is true, all sorts of questions need to be answered.

First, what sort of fighters will we see in the revived World Video Boxing Association — the broken down has-beens of the early years, or the cartoon characters of the mid-90s? Is the public ready to forgive Little Mac, who has reportedly pledged his support to the new WVBA? What is the target market that the promoters are going after? And finally, can a revitalized WVBA bring boxing back to the top of the sporting landscape?

Little Mac and Glass Joe fight again.

Can Little Mac reclaim his lost glory and bring the WVBA back into the spotlight?

Time will tell, friends. Time will tell.

Game Review: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Before I get into my impressions of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, let me preface this post by first stating that I’ve never really been a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto series. In fact, it wasn’t until the release of Grand Theft Auto IV that I actually appreciated and enjoyed one of the GTA titles. I barely played the original top-down games, and I thought the controls were absolutely horrendous for the PlayStation 2 iterations — Rockstar tried to cram way too many things into those games, and as a result, they never really mastered any of them (and it didn’t help that the PlayStation controller was, and still is, ridiculously terrible).

Of course, that all changed when Grand Theft Auto IV hit the scene. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the controls actually worked! Finally, a GTA game that was playable — it was a miracle! Needless to say, I had a lot of fun with Niko and the gang, so when Rockstar announced plans for a brand new GTA game for the Nintendo DS (my system of choice for the past couple years), I was quite intrigued.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

I’ve been playing the recently released Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars since last Wednesday, and while I’m nowhere near completing all of the missions or finding all of the little secrets that Rockstar likes to sprinkle throughout its games, I feel I’ve seen and experienced enough of the game to give it an honest opinion.

And my honest opinion? This game is awesome.

First, the game looks really nice. Yeah, I know, the screenshots leading up to the game’s release weren’t very convincing, but trust me — seeing the game in motion is a thing of beauty. Will people confuse the game for a PSP title? No, of course not. But for what it’s trying to achieve, the graphics in this game are among the best on the Nintendo DS. In addition, there’s always a ton of stuff happening on screen and there’s no slowdown in sight, proving what the little handheld is truly capable of in the hands of dedicated developers. Good job, Rockstar.

Trust me ... it looks even better in motion.

A great looking game that looks even better in motion.

Second, there’s the gameplay, which melds the previous 2D and 3D GTA experience into something refreshingly new, yet comfortingly familiar. Whether it’s driving or shooting, everything controls quickly and easily, and the camera does a great job of following the action while you’re navigating the streets of Liberty City.

Police chases are a hell of a lot of fun in Chinatown Wars. No longer can you just run and hide and hope the heat goes away. While that’s still a viable strategy on the lower wanted levels, when the intensity cranks up, you need to be the aggressor and reduce your wanted level by forcing the cops to crash their vehicles and abandon the chase. Indeed, escaping the long arm of the law is much more satisfying when you’ve caused an entire squadron of police cruisers to slam against a brick wall or careen off of a dock into the murky depths below (complete with the always hilarious “dying police siren” stock movie sound effect).

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Nintendo DS title without some sort of touchscreen use. While the touchscreen is mandatory in many situations, it never feels like a cheap gimmick. If anything, it heightens your immersion into the world of Liberty City by using your PDA to check email, plotting waypoints on your GPS, rummaging through dumpsters, using screwdrivers to steal cars, smashing panes of glass, assembling sniper rifles, signing your name on safehouse leases, etc.

The variety of touchscreen "mini-games" is tremendous.

The variety of touchscreen "mini-games" is tremendous.

My only complaint comes when you need to use the touchscreen while driving (paying the toll on the bridge, tossing grenades and molotovs from your car, that sort of thing). One hand is on the control pad to steer, the other hand is on the face button to accelerate … if only I had a third hand to hold the stylus, I’d be set. Still, it’s manageable (you just have to let off the gas for a moment), and it never really feels too limiting or demanding.

Finally, there’s the most controversial aspect of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars — drug dealing. If you think about it, adding drug dealing to a game about organized crime makes a hell of a lot of sense, but for whatever reasons, this is the first GTA game to really dive headfirst into this area — and based on how well it’s pulled off, it probably won’t be the last.

Organized crime and drug trafficking. Makes sense to me.

Welcome, stranger! I'll buy it a high price.

Using the same general premise as old school classics like Dope Wars, the drug dealing economy in this game is simple at first, but is suprisingly robust and often very rewarding. While it seems perhaps a little too easy to make a boatload of cash simply by buying low and selling high when you get the right tip-off, at least there’s plenty of stuff to spend your money on (unlike GTA4), including dozens of safehouses, plenty of weapons, and the cleverly implemented scratch-off lottery tickets.

So, my final verdict on Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars? It’s exceptional. It’s fun. It’s pure awesomeness, plain and simple. It’s also highly addictive — like most GTA games, you could spend hours just wandering around Liberty City looking for more dealer contacts, stunt jumps, street races, cool vehicles to jack, etc. while completely ignoring the story missions.

If you own a Nintendo DS and have even the slightest interest in this game, buy it now. Because if you don’t, it will show developers that high-quality “mature” games can’t sell on the system and we’ll all have to suffer through more awful mini-game collections and mass-produced Babyz and Petz titles. And believe me, nobody wants that.

Before They Were Superstars: Big Bossman

Not everybody is born to be a pro wrestler. For every Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, there are countless others wannabes that have to work their way up from the very bottom, often working other jobs on the side just to make ends meet as they pursue their dreams of turnbuckled glory. But these people are the true legends of wrestling, for they display unparalleled dedication, hard work, and a pure will to succeed.

The Big Bossman is one of these people. And this is his story.

Big Bossman: Wrestling Legend.

Big Bossman: Wrestling Legend.

The following scene takes place in Cobb County, Georgia circa 1987:


The sweltering summer heat pounded down on the meticulously coiffed Vince McMahon Jr., the top wrestling promoter in the United States, as he walked the streets of Marietta, Georgia.

A pretty nice place as far as the south goes, he thought. But it sure as hell ain’t no Stamford.

Granted, it had been a while since he had been to Georgia. After all, this was NWA territory, and the idiots down here appreciated a much different style of wrestling compared to the more sophisticated tastes of the New York audiences. But things were changing. Hulk Hogan had just pinned Andre the Giant in front of 93,000 screaming fans in the Silverdome. It was time to break out of the regional territories and truly take the WWF national.

And if that meant pissing on the shoes of Jim Crockett and the NWA by holding a show in Atlanta — their own backyard — so be it.

Make no mistake, last night was huge. The Omni was sold out, packed to the rafters with 16,000 paying customers. Hogan and Kamala performed to the best of their abilities in the main event, a shitload of T-shirts were sold, and a lot of kids went home happy. Yes, last night will go a long way to solidifying the WWF’s presence in the southern market.

But what took place after the show was over — the very reason why Vince McMahon Jr., the top wrestling promoter in the United States, was sweating buckets under the Georgia sun as he walked the streets of Marietta — well, this was gonna be a PR nightmare.

Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake’s world was pitch black. His hands were bound, and he was pretty sure he was wearing some sort of hood or blindfold — but he doubted that the swelling of his eyes would allow him to see much of anything, anyway. His head was pounding. The taste of blood was still fresh on his lips.

He shook his head, trying desperately to clear the cobwebs. What the hell happened last night?

He remembers going out with Hogan and the boys after the show … but after that … nothing. A total blank.

The sound of echoing footsteps blasted through Beefcake’s cranium, each step penetrating his brain like a hot knife. Large, heavy footsteps. Probably the same monster that beat him senseless the night before. And the footsteps kept getting louder, closer …

Shit.

The top wrestling promoter in the United States.

Vince McMahon: The top wrestling promoter in the United States.

For a moment, he had actually considered letting Brutus Beefcake rot in Cobb County, Georgia. After all, he’s damn near useless as a performer, and it was getting harder and harder to find somebody who was not only willing to lose to the bum, but to also get their hair chopped off in the middle of the ring. But it’s never that easy. Beefcake is Hogan’s best buddy, and if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s that you gotta keep Hulk Hogan happy — no matter what the cost.

McMahon shook his head in disbelief. According to Howard Finkel, Beefcake pumped himself full of drugs at some cheap dive bar, went a little bit crazy, and started running naked through the streets of Atlanta screaming about demons and demi-gods. And then he vanished into the night.

It was until this morning when Gorilla Monsoon got a phone call from the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office that the company finally learned of Beefcake’s whereabouts. In his drug-fuelled insanity, he had somehow ended up in Marietta. And now here was Vince McMahon Jr., the top wrestling promoter in the United States, walking the sun-soaked streets about to post bail for one his drug-addled employees.

The jail cell door creaked open and the heavy footsteps got closer. Beefcake could feel the presence of the massive behemoth looming over him. He didn’t move. He was too terrified.

Crunch. Out of nowhere, a field of stars illuminated the darkness as he felt one his ribs explode. With the the blindfold on, there was no way he could see the kick coming.

The booming voice of his assailant echoed throughout the cell. “Git to yer feet, boy!”

Beefcake coughed and sputtered. More blood. Fresh blood.

“I said, git to yer feet!”

Crunch. Another kick. Beefcake groaned. “Stop … please … why …”

Big Bossman: Wrestling Legend.

Big Bossman: Wrestling Legend.

In one quick motion, the man removed Beefcake’s blindfold, and through the narrow slits he now called eyes, he could see the true form of his attacker. Not a demon like he had believed the night before. No, it was a large man, well over 300 pounds, wearing a cop’s uniform.

Crouching down, the cop violently grabbed Beefcake’s face. Although he was wearing sunglasses, Beefcake knew he was staring a hole through him.

“Why? Why? Because when you take a trip down to Cobb County, Georgia, you better read the signs and respect the law and order,” the cop barked. “Or else you’ll be servin’ hard time, boy.”

With that, he spat in Beefcake’s face, laughed, and rose to his feet. The cop then reached toward his belt, where he unsheathed a nightstick. It was caked in blood. He tapped the nightstick in the palm of his hand a few times before rattling it across the bars of the cell.

Clank-clank-clank.

“Somebody’s here to take you home, boy,” the cop snarled.

Clank-clank-clank.

“But I ain’t done with you yet.”

Clank-clank-clank.

“You done disgraced my city, punk. The city where my momma’s lived her entire life! You think she wants to live in a place where junkies like you run the streets?”

The rage in the cop’s voice was reaching a crescendo, when suddenly … silence. Beefcake braced for the worst.

The cop was now calm, collected. “And for that, I’m gonna make you walk the line.”

In a flash, Beefcake could see the red-stained nightstick hurtling toward him. And then his world went black once more.

Vince McMahon Jr. was tired of waiting. He was told Beefcake would be out in a minute. It had been fifteen. Dammit, he was the top wrestling promoter in the United States! He had a company to run! He didn’t have time for the dog-and-pony show of some hillbilly redneck police department!

That’s when Beefcake emerged from the back room of the police station. But he wasn’t doing so on his volition — he was knocked unconscious, being carried like a sack of potatoes on the enormous shoulders of a massive cop.

The cop stopped in front of McMahon. “Is this yours?”

McMahon looked at the cop incredulously. “Excuse me?”

“I said, is this sack of crap yours?”

McMahon couldn’t believe his eyes. Yeah, it was Beefcake, no doubt about that. At least, it used to be.

“Jesus Christ,” uttered McMahon. “What the hell happened to him?”

The cop unceremoniously tossed Beefcake to the floor.

“The Big Bossman happened to him,” the cop replied. “Now pick up your trash and get out of my county, boy.”

The cop turned to leave when McMahon grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Now hold on just a damn second,” McMahon growled. “Who did this to him?”

The cop tore off his sunglasses. There was a crazed glint in his eyes.

“What are you, boy? Deaf? Dumb?” The cop pointed to his shirt, the name Big Bossman stitched above his breast pocket. “You break the law in Cobb County, you gotta answer to me — the Big Bossman.”

McMahon’s eyes lit up, a sly grin creeping across his face. “How much do you make here in Cobb County, Bossman?”

“Enough to help my momma get by,” he answered.

McMahon nodded, then circled around the Bossman, sizing him up. “You’re a big fella. You get into lots of scraps here in your line of work?”

“Ain’t a man alive that can beat me, boy,” boasted the Bossman. “I’m the biggest, meanest, nastiest cop in all of Georgia, and that’s the truth!”

McMahon nodded again. “I see. Tell you what, Bossman. How’d you like to be a professional wrestler with the WWF?”

The Bossman didn’t answer.

“Just imagine. Money … fame … and you get to beat up punks like this for a living,” McMahon said, gesturing toward the motionless body of Brutus Beefcake. “And best of all, it’s completely legal, which means no Internal Affairs checking into reports of inmates with fractured skulls, that sort of thing.”

The Big Bossman paused momentarily before raising an eyebrow and leaning closer to McMahon. “Just how much money are we talking about here?”

On that day, the Big Bossman became a professional wrestler, and he received all that Vince McMahon promised him — and more. Although he never really won any championships of note, his career will be celebrated for generations to come due to his ferocity, tenacity, and a really awesome theme song.

He continued to work part-time for the Cobb County Department of Corrections until Internal Affairs stripped him of his badge in 1993. His dedication to law enforcement never wavered, however, as he juggled his impressive new career in the squared circle with dabblings in vigilantism and private security.

The Big Bossman is a shining example of how blue collar fatsos can make a decent living in the world of professional wrestling with very little actual training. Indeed, his is a true inspirational story. And for that, we salute him.

Big Bossman: Wrestling Legend.

Big Bossman: Wrestling Legend.

The Jurassic Park Dinosaur Killcount Showdown

The Scene: Isla Nublar, Costa Rica. In particular, Jurassic Park — a specialized theme resort created by John Hammond and the good folks at InGen.

The Participants: A bunch of awesome dinosaurs, some weak and pitiful humans, and a couple of lame farm animals.

The Question: Which dinosaur is truly the most effective bloodthirsty killing machine?

The Methodology: Each encounter (defined as “an edible foe being easily within reach”) will be scored as either a “KILL” or a “MISS” by our panel of judges. Final scores for each prehistoric creature will be tabulated in a manner similar to a batting average in baseball, with additional adjudicator commentary as required.

Allez cuisine!

Velociraptor

Clever girl ...

Clever girl ...

What the velociraptor lacks in size, it more than makes up for in speed, agility, and brains. Oh, and that razor sharp claw on the middle toe is a pretty decent weapon, too.

If Dr. Grant is to be believed, the raptor should be considered the deadliest creature in Jurassic Park. But is this truly the case? How does the velociraptor really fare when it’s put to the test?

  • KILL — Construction worker loading the raptor into the holding pen. A very good start to the season. 1 for 1.
  • MISS — Sure, Muldoon says that they are lethal at eight months, but the baby velociraptor missed a huge opportunity by not lunging for Grant’s jugular or, at the very least, nibbling on his thumb. We’re gonna have to dock marks for the blatant lack of effort and awareness. 1 for 2.
  • KILL — The sacrificial cow. Sure, it’s an easy target, but a kill is a kill. 2 for 3.
  • KILL — Arnold in the utility shed. Nice touch in leaving the arm for others to discover. Intimidation tactics at their best. 3 for 4.
  • KILL — Muldoon. As the saying goes, it’s not the raptor you see, but the one from the side that you never even knew was there. 4 for 5.
  • MISS — Sattler in the utility shed. Raptor’s decision to not pursue Sattler could cost the side dearly. 4 for 6.
  • 2x MISS — Tim and Lex in the kitchen. What can we say, this was a total team meltdown. Pure clusterfuck. At one point, a raptor walks right beside Tim in order to chase after Lex’s reflection. The other raptor must have an inner ear problem, as he can’t even pounce on Tim as he’s heading straight for a dead end into the freezer. Stupid overgrown turkeys. 4 for 8.
  • MISS — Lex dangling her leg from the ductwork. Come on, the book clearly established that you guys can jump much higher than that. Somebody’s been slacking off in practice. 4 for 9.
  • MISS — The entire gaggle of protagonists hanging for dear life from the dinosaur skeleton. So where do you jump? Not on top of any of the people, because that would be too easy, right? 4 for 10.
  • MISS — Grant standing defenceless in a wide open space beside the wreckage of the skeleton. Come on, you’re like a foot away from him! Don’t just hiss at him, you idiot! Eviscerate him! 4 for 11.

FINAL TALLY: 4 for 11 (0.363 killing average).
Jurassic Park Velociraptor LogoSuch great potential, but in the end, the raptor couldn’t quite cut the mustard when it mattered the most. Indeed, the velociraptor’s success in this contest closely resembles that of the Ottawa Senators (pick any year, really) — starts off strong, builds momentum, but ultimately craps the bed by the time the playoffs come around. Better luck next time.

Tyrannosaurus

T-Rex doesn't want to be fed, he wants to hunt!

T-Rex doesn't want to be fed, he wants to hunt!

When you think of Jurassic Park, you probably think of the mighty tyrannosaurus. It’s hulking size, powerful jaws, and massive teeth (as large as railroad spikes) make it an impressive challenger in this competition.

However, the T-Rex has several known weaknesses, including a lack of endurance and its mobility-based vision — if you don’t move, it can’t see you. Will the competition be able to exploit these weaknesses? Or will the tyrannosaurus power his way to victory?

  • KILL — The goat. Much like the cow, it’s a bit of a dick move, but when it’s all said and done a kill is a kill. 1 for 1.
  • MISS — Lex and Tim trapped in the car. Come on, they’re kids. Easy targets, right? Guess not. 1 for 2.
  • 1/2 KILL — Malcolm as he runs like a little bitch. Since the T-Rex critically injures Malcolm, but doesn’t kill him, the judges will award a half-point here. 1.5 for 3.
  • KILL — Gennaro in the bathroom. Eating the lawyer clearly proves they’re really not all bad. 2.5 for 4.
  • MISS — Lex and Grant beside the car. Okay, we can understand not killing them when they’re not moving, as the T-Rex is pretty much blind in this situation. But what about when they’re moving around the car and climbing over the concrete barricade? Seems like the Rex would rather nudge the car a few times instead of eating the delicious people, making us question his work ethic and commitment. 2.5 for 5.
  • 1/2 KILL — The car itself. Yeah, it’s not a person, so it can’t really die, but the tyrannosaurus sure did a number on that poor Land Rover. There’s no way it can be revived — it’s on a one-way ticket to the scrapyard. That’s good enough for a half-point in our eyes. 3 for 6.
  • MISS — The car chase versus Muldoon, Sattler, and Malcolm. Again, instead of headbutting the car, why don’t you try attacking the delicious people inside the Jeep? Did we mention that there was no roof on the vehicle, providing super easy access to the tasty morsels inside? Come on, the brass ring was hanging there, man — reach out and take it! 3 for 7.
  • KILL — Gallimimus. Look at all that blood. 4 for 8.
  • 2x KILL — The velociraptors in the Visitors Center. The only question is, how the fuck did the T-Rex get in the building without anybody noticing? Not enough glasses of water within viewing distance? 6 for 10.

FINAL TALLY: 6 for 10 (0.600 killing average).
Jurassic Park T-Rex LogoNot too shabby. Baseball players would kill for an average this high. Unfortunately, there will forever be an asterisk beside the Rex’s name in the record books, as it must be stated that he only killed a lawyer, a car, a goat, and a few other dinosaurs. As far as murderous rampages go, it’s not the greatest of all time.

Dilophosaurus

A beautiful -- but deadly -- addition to Jurassic Park.

A beautiful -- but deadly -- addition to Jurassic Park.

The dark horse of the predatory dinosaurs, the dilophosaurus is a reclusive creature that few people actually see live in person. As a result, it doesn’t get a lot of respect — much like those professional sports teams based on the west coast.

Those who are knowledgeable about the dilophosaurus know that it has a plethora of weapons at its disposable — including the ability to split blinding venom at its prey. Will this technique help it reach the top of the mountain?

  • KILL — Nedry. The fat bastard was asking for it, really. The description of Nedry’s death is a lot cooler in the book, by the way. 1 for 1.

FINAL TALLY: 1 for 1 (1.000 killing average).
Jurassic Park Dilophosaurus LogoThis score is pretty much unbeatable — the spitter is 100% pure killing machine. Unfortunately, the low sample size disqualifies the dilophosaurus from taking claim to the title in much the same way that an NHL goaltender must play at least 25 games to be eligible for the Jennings Trophy, regardless of whether he has the best goals against average in the few games he’s played.

Triceratops

Get up, you bum.

Get up, you bum.

Yeah, it’s a veggiesaurus, which means it’s clearly not a perennial favourite in this type of competition. However, that doesn’t mean the triceratops won’t get its fair share of opportunities to put some suckas to sleep.

With a solid defensive structure, a surprisingly sharp beak, and ferocious triple pronged assault capabilities, the triceratops is one tough dinosaur and not to be taken lightly.

  • MISS — Sattler. Come on, her hand was right there! In your mouth! Chomp down and break a finger or something! Vomit on her if you have to, but just don’t lie there like a chump! And don’t give me this “b-b-but I was sick and tranquilized” bullshit, either. You’re a goddamn dinosaur. Do your fucking job. 0 for 1.

FINAL TALLY: 0 for 1 (0.000 killing average).
Jurassic Park Triceratops LogoPathetic. You had one chance to make an impression and you blew it. Big time. Back to the minor leagues for you, buddy. Maybe next year you’ll actually put some more effort into your cardio so you’re not as wheezy and gassed out there on the big stage. People were laughing at you, man.

Gallimimus

Galluh ... galluh ...

Galluh ... galluh ...

A surprise entrant into this year’s contest, the gallimimus is looking to make sure that everybody can remember its name from here on out.

Meaning “ostrich mimic”, the gallimimus will definitely not overpower any of its adversaries. Instead, it will rely on its blazing speed and remarkable agility to wear down the opposition and try to eke out a decision victory.

  • MISS — Grant and the kids in the field. Okay, fine, so your attention was primarily focused on the T-Rex that was chasing you. That’s understandable. But you clearly saw Grant running in front of you, and you just honked at him as you ran by! It’s a stampede situation, for Christ’s sake! Kill or be killed! Run over that poor schmuck and save your own skin. 0 for 1.

FINAL TALLY: 0 for 1 (0.000 killing average).
Jurassic Park Gallimimus LogoReally pathetic. At least the triceratops had an excuse for its poor showing. What’s yours? Pulled a hammy? The judges were not impressed by your performance in the slightest. Show improvement in the off-season and we’ll consider letting you back into the tournament next year.

Brachiosaurus

Just think of it as a big cow.

A really big cow.

Last, but certainly not least [*Judges Note: Yeah, right … we’ll see about that.*], the Brachiosaurus is yet another surprise entrant into the competition due to its tremendously docile nature.

Don’t let that retarded look on its face fool you, though. The brachiosaurus is the largest competitor in the field, tipping the scales at 37 tonnes and able to raise its head a remarkable 13 metres above the ground. It’s definitely one dinosaur you can’t push around.

  • MISS — Grant, Sattler, and Hammond when they first arrive at Jurassic Park. You’re just steps away from the puny humans. You rear up on your hind legs. And then you don’t squash them like the bugs they are? What’s wrong with this picture? You could have at least whipped your tail around and broke a few spines. Come on. 0 for 1.
  • MISS — Grant in the tree. Grant’s holding a branch of leaves, which is conveniently placed in your mouth. Just give it a tug and watch him plummet to his death. It’s really not that difficult, you know. 0 for 2.

FINAL TALLY: 0 for 2 (0.000 killing average).
Jurassic Park Brachiosaurus LogoSuper pathetic. You’re a failure and disgrace to your kind. Scientists brought you back to life 65 millions years after your extinction, and you repay the paying public with this level of epic ineptitude? For fuck’s sake, man, you’re amateur. We’re done, professionally.

The results are in! The winner, and still heavyweight champion of Jurassic Park …

"Yes, we have a T-Rex!"

Enjoy the celebration. We spared no expense.

The Tyrannosaurus!

Now, I’m sure the velociraptor die-hards will be upset with this decision, given the quality of raptor kills compared to the quality of T-Rex kills. But as it is in baseball, it doesn’t matter if you hit them all out of the stadium while the other guy in the home run race barely managed to clear the outfield wall — they both count equally as a single home run. And in this case, the T-Rex has more home runs.

Congratulations, tyrannosaurus! May your awesome reign as champion be remembered gloriously throughout the annals of history!

Chekhov’s Gun: The Brilliant Films of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov uttered those words nearly a century ago, and in my opinion, there is truly nothing better in the world of cinema than watching a great movie that is absolutely cohesive and unified in all of its elements — nothing wasted, nothing unnecessary.

Let’s rewind a couple of years. 2007. I had just seen Hot Fuzz. My friends, like most people, were all talking about how funny it was and how epic the final act was. My first thought? How incredibly tight the script was. Yes, in my estimation, Hot Fuzz is perhaps the perfect example of what Chekhov was talking about all those years ago.

I recently went back and re-watched both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg), and no matter how many times I watch these movies, I am still blown away by the total completeness of their scripts. Nearly every single prop — and more impressively, nearly every single line of dialogue — becomes an important piece of information later in the movie. There are rarely any one-off jokes in either film — everything comes back a second time, and it is hilarious, glorious, and really awesome.

Nothing wasted, nothing unnecessary.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead. Great movie.

Shaun of the Dead. Great movie.

The most obvious (and blatant) use of the “Chekhov’s Gun” principle is the Winchester rifle that is hanging behind the bar in The Winchester Pub. During the first act, Shaun and Ed argue about whether the gun is real (as an extension of their argument as to whether or not the bartender is in the Mafia, when Ed is making up sordid back stories for the pub patrons). We get our answer during the third act, of course, when the gang is desperate for weapons and ends up using the very real gun to fend off the zombie horde.

Other recurring elements include:

  • “You’ve got red on you.” The first couple of times the line is said it’s about red ink. Later, it’s zombie blood.
  • The flowers for Shaun’s mother. When Shaun tosses them in the trash outside The Winchester after splitting up with Liz, you assume that’s the last we’d see of the flowers. Not in this film, however, as Shaun’s mother ends up finding her flowers as the group enters the pub.
  • Shaun and Ed playing the game Timesplitters together. Even when not playing multiplayer, the two work as a cohesive unit, providing advice as to where to look (“top left!”), when to reload, etc. This dynamic returns during the shootout in the pub, when Shaun asks for somebody to simplify the directions being given to him.
  • Ed’s penchant for not closing the front door. The first couple of times it is mentioned, it’s to point out how terrible of a roommate Ed is. Of course, how do the zombies get into their home? Because Ed left the door open.
  • Ed adding to an emotional scene by saying “I’m sorry” — followed by the admission that it’s because he just let loose a nasty fart.
  • The jukebox always being stuck on random.

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz. Great movie.

Hot Fuzz. Great movie.

When penning this script for Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg pulled out all of the stops. Just like in Shaun of the Dead, they’ve included a really obvious example — this time, it’s a pair of swords hanging on the lobby wall of Angel’s hotel. While it’s not as blatantly pointed out as the Winchester rifle in the pub (it’s almost a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment), the fact of the matter is, during the final shootout sequence, what type of weapon does the hotel manager use against Angel? If you guessed a sword, you’re right.

Other recurring elements include:

  • When asking what’s it like to be a big city cop, Danny asks Angel if he has ever shot two guns at the same time, shot a gun while jumping in the air, shot a gun during a car chase, etc. Naturally, all of these things happen to Danny and Angel during the climax of the film.
  • When questioning Angel’s insistence of wearing body armour, his fellow officers tell him that “nobody’s going to stab you … not a member of the public, anyway.” It should come as no surprise then that when Angel does get stabbed, it’s by his partner, Danny.
  • The Andys warn Angel that “everybody and their mom is packing around here”, including farmers and farmers’ moms. Not only does everybody in town whip out pistols and rifles during the final showdown, but the very first person to point a gun at Angel is, of course, a farmer’s mom.
  • When Angel meets the members of the NWA for the first time, one of them comments on his police background, saying, “I hear you’re quite the marksman. Perhaps you’d like to join us for a shoot one day?” How prophetic.
  • Similar to a scene in Shaun of the Dead, Danny makes up crazy back stories for the people they drive past along the main street. About one man, Angel asks why he’s wearing such a big coat. Danny says it’s because “he’s hiding something.” We’ll find out in the third act that he’s been hiding a gun underneath his coat the entire time.
  • The Andys ask Angel if he wants them to interrogate every person in the phone book, starting with Aaron A. Aaronson. It’s not just a sarcastic joke, however. Near the end of the movie, Angel has a brief run-in with a kid by the name of Aaron A. Aaronson.
  • The Point Break / Bad Boys references.
  • Danny’s fake blood / exploding ketchup packet trick.
  • The missing swan.
  • The use of the weapons confiscated from the old man’s barn.

I’m sure if somebody were to watch the movie while making a detailed checklist, they would find that damn near everything mentioned or shown in the first half of Hot Fuzz comes back again during the second half — it’s that comprehensive, and as I said before, damn impressive.

With movies like these, I can’t help but smile. They are very well crafted, extremely funny, and quite simply a joy to watch. Well done, Wright and Pegg. I can’t wait to see how your next movie turns out.