Wallpaper of the Week: More Left 4 Dead

June 9, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Saying no to progress just doesn’t make sense.

So I don’t really understand the pathetic whinging some players are doing this week after the announcement that Left 4 Dead 2 will hit Steam this November. Some idiots who take themselves far too seriously are even trying to push a boycott of the new game, and have written a “manifesto” touting their lame opposition.

It’s laughable. And it’s not logical. For some reason, they thought Valve — a for-profit company — was going to endlessly give away free downloadable content, expanding the L4D universe for nary a nickel.

Well, in a way, they already have. They gave us survival mode and new versus maps in May, and released the Source SDK for the game. What more could you ask for? Already, a modding and mapping community has sprung up, offering enormous and rather professional campaigns that are easy to install and use.

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The most complete, atmospheric fan-made maps I’ve found so far are Death Aboard (the shipyard is a lot of fun with a sniper rifle) and Dead City (the drawbridge, especially).

Given the short time since the SDK release, these campaigns are almost finished and still a little rough around the edges, but they tend to be A) larger than the official levels, B) just as inventive, and C) filled with far, far more zombies to blast into motionless corpses.

I’m also rearing to see the completed Death Knell, which is so far spooky as hell, and Brain 4 Dead, which has far more open space and novelty settings than some of its contemporaries.

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Sure, these DYI projects have their little failings; they tend to be a little too claustrophobic and maze-centered, with not much in the way of alternate routes. Sometimes they put ledges or jumps at just the wrong distances, causing undue frustration during horde-rushes. The designers can also can be obsessed with setting up dubiously convenient sniper posts and safe-platforms, which can take some of the fun out of the hunt.

But not much.

I don’t care. As much fun as the SDK-made campaigns are, I’m ready for L4D2: Electric Boogaloo, which supposedly sports chainsaws, frying pans,  axes, and incendiary ammo. It’s all about the add-ons, the new mechanics that will add a whole new gameplay depth (not to mention replayability).

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There are, as you no doubt have already read from E3 coverage, three more special infected planned, with one already revealed as the Charger, a sort of mini-tank. The regular infected are getting a little heartier this time around, and some are even clad in Haz-Mat suits to resist your molotovs.

So I’m excited, not only for what’s available right now, but what’s coming. And those L4D2-haters can get the bird. That’s why I went scrounging for some more L4D wallpapers to share this week. Enjoy.

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Wallpaper of the Week: Jacek Yerka

May 22, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Ferocious, living alligator-mobiles. Villages carved from hulking strawberries, onions, and loaves of bread. A steam locomotive roaring from the maw of a cavernous dragon’s head.

This is the mind of Polish fantasy artist Jacek Yerka.

Yerka’s canvases are places where physics doesn’t give a damn about enforcing its own rules, where the mundane and the unlikely collide in a matter-of-fact way. Often, the paintings show two worlds living on top of each other — one recognizable and the other entirely alien.

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The result is that you start to doubt your grasp on the known; another land could be lurking a few yards under my feet, filled with goblins, unearthly cities, strange dreamscapes, and peril.

It’s a nice thought to foster in this work-a-day world.

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Yerka, now 57, bucked his college art instructors, who wanted his style to fall more in the camp of loose and unstructured modernism. Instead, he insisted on elevating his neo-Dali-ism with exacting detail in the classical northern European tradition.

The pieces are better for it. The composition gives incredible depth to each world he creates, while hinting that there’s even more lurking below the surface. He shows me so much that it causes me to imagine even more — which is what good art should do.


Wallpaper of the Week: Devastator

May 11, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Maybe historians will call this The Summer of Nostalgia, or maybe I’m just getting to an age where I notice that everything old is new again.

I’m talking about movies, of course, and (as usual) about the resurgence of the 1980s pop culture I loved so much (to the point of wearing Optimus Prime Underoos as a five-year-old twerp).

This season sees a swell of iconic small-screen sensations at the cinema, with Star Trek, X-Men, Terminator, G.I. Joe, and Transformers getting franchise sequels and reboots. Fear not… The A-Team movie isn’t slated to launch until 2010.

I’ve already talked about the one that I think will be the biggest nerd-gasm of the bunch — Star Trek — but I’m getting more excited as Michael Bay and company leak an increasing number of teasers and stills from the set of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, due out June 24.

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Don’t get me wrong. I normally cringe at Bay’s name because he’s all about popcorn and explosions rather than characters and plot innovation. But giant robot movies aren’t about the later, and nobody should expect them to be. They are about enormous alien machines giving each other the smack-down and threatening the fate of Earth. Revenge of the Fallen will be about lasers and special effects. It’s not like the source material is a deep well of emotion that must be respected. So go Bay!

To rouse my enthusiasm, recent HD trailers for the film show the unmistakable form of Devastator, the giant combined robo-form of the evil Constructicons (see the very bottom image).

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I love seeing Devastator in the old Generation 1 cartoons. He was huge, lurching, animalistic and simple-minded as well as insanely powerful. He gave the Autobots a run for their money and shook up the internal Decepticon power structure. Plus, he boasted the same awesome baddy color scheme as the best of villains: Purple and green.

I never felt Devastator got enough love.

The Joker stylings are ditched in RotF in favor of a more naturalistic approach, and it’s impossible to tell from the trailers whether he’ll get even as much screen time as Scorponok did in the 2007 iteration.

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Either way, I’ve packaged up a few Devastator wallpapers here for you. I had to go a-hunting, because there really are very few large-scale Devy images on the web — and right now, they are all mostly pointed at the RotF concept art desktop (above). As always, they are in 1024 x 768 resolution.

Click the thumbnails in this post to enbiggen.


Wallpaper of the Week: Plastic Army Men

May 1, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — No moving parts. No interchangeable weapons. No transforming. No bright colors. No battle damage chests. No remote controls.

Army men were just solid-stamped molded plastic. And that left the door open for so much creativity.

My family didn’t have much money when I was young, so shelling out $60 for an Optimus Prime or even $7 for a G.I. Joe was pretty much out of the question. But grabbing a 30-piece army men set off the grocery store rack for $2 every once in a while was well within the budget, and it was enough to keep a five-year-old amused for hours.

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My army men waged thousands of campaigns. The sandbox became the desert theatre. The tall grass became the African front. The loamy dirt beneath the trees became home to jungle warfare.

The brave soldiers of Jason’s Army also lived and died to protect countless staircases, book shelves, and wooden block forts.

After some digging around, I discovered the toys I loved so much were the Vietnam-era M-16 Infantry line made by Tim Mee. They were actually the last run before the company cut production.

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Mine had all the classic members of the corps: Crouched machine-gunner, pistol-wielding commander, flame-thrower, bazooka-guy, radio guy, minesweeper, crawling soldier, the soldier swinging his bayonet overhead, the soldier waving his troops forward with machine gun in hand, the mortar launcher.

Once in a while, the army men would come bundled with half-tracks, tanks, jeeps, and emplacements.

Some folks have since created a papercraft world and a tabletop game around those little plastic dudes. Combat Storm looks incredibly interesting, not to mention visually appealing:

If you want to be cheap, though, you could always take the tack my little brother and I once did: Use army men as chess pieces. Bayonet guys make great pawns. Bazooka guys make excellent rooks. Flamethrowers work just fine as bishops.

Mortars make sense as knights. Machine-gunners are the logical queens, and the pistol-wielding commander is the only choice for king that makes sense.


Wallpaper of the Week: G.I. Joe

April 24, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — I’m not sure how I feel yet about the upcoming live-action G.I. Joe movie, The Rise of Cobra. But if it is anything like the recently-launched G.I. Joe: Resolute on Adult Swim, then it at least has a fighting chance.

And that’s half the battle. The other half, as you can imagine, is knowing.

I was grinning madly and hopping up and down in my chair watching the Resolute webisodes the other night. This ‘toon is serious. People die. They get shot in the head at close range. There’s blood. A familiar Joe is assassinated, and 10.4 million Russians are murdered in a single thrust by Cobra.

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There are no Viper pilots parachuting to safety at the last second. And Snake Eyes… let’s just say Snake Eyes is badass, even with a trench knife through his palm.

Like anyone born in 1980 or thereabouts, I watched the old cartoons and played with the toys until the legs and thumbs were broken. Lots of days were spent building sandbox Joe forts and waging complicated campaigns, so there’s a powerful nostalgic connection.

One thing I’ve always found interesting with any 1980s cartoon franchise is how much more compelling the villains are than the heroes. I mean, who else found themselves silently rooting time and again for Destro and the Baroness to finally hatch a winning scheme, or for Cobra Commander to grow a pair (boy, does he ever in Resolute!)?

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I think much of that feeling is wrapped up in character design. While Cobra agents are slick and powerful and domineering almost to the point of being alien or robot, the Joes are near-uniformly tall, strapping lads and lasses, clean-cut and boistrous in all-American gear. They’re practically quarterbacks and homecoming queens in red, white, and blue-speckled military garb.

Which gives birth to a realization, watching one or two episodes recently as an adult: The series was incredibly jingoistic, to the point of being an overt recruiting tool for the armed forces. It’s probably just as responsible for today’s rash of “rah rah sis boom bah” patriotism as any Reagan speech.

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The ‘toon might as well have been intercut with Starship Troopers-level nationalist propaganda. They’re doing their part. Are you? Join the Mobile Infantry and save the world!

I can’t imagine that the new movie will have that same slant. After all, this is war-weary America, and Hasbro and Paramount surely are smart enough to understand that cheerleader patriotism doesn’t really jive with post-Korea, post-Vietnam, post-Iraq viewers. Right?

At any rate, just given the leather outfit and sexy glasses, I’m already backing Sienna Miller’s Baroness.

That aside, enjoy these older-school Joe wallpapers. More can be found, strangely enough, at Skywarp’s Hardy Boys Casefiles Encyclopedia. There’s a mash-up for you.


Wallpaper of the Week: White rooms, soft lighting

April 17, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Most days, I want a wallpaper that tells a story, or at least taps a pop reference like Batman or Cowboy Bebop. I’m not so much one for landscapes and still-lifes unless they are of a superior artistry or convey some deeper emotion or attachment.

Which is why I’m so surprised that I like the chan-famous white rooms motif. These wallpapers are all about chunky shapes, sharp corners, and blazing sunlight cutting slants and squares across walls and floorboards. They are about clean, open spaces and contrasting soft and sharp natural light. They’re about balance and proportion and symetry.

I do not have an eye for interior design; that’s my wife’s bailiwick. Left to me, our walls would not be laden with decorative wrought iron, candles, and deep-stained wooden shelves. There would be no hanging plants and pictures.

I like straight lines. I like clean slates. My walls would be tabula rasa. I’d be living in an empty studio with spartan furniture and bare pine planking.

And that’s why I love these wallpapers. They give my desktop a feeling of space and organization — of perspective and freedom.

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BumpTop and Real Desktop are a start, but a true 3D interface would be more than just a skin

April 13, 2009

FROM JASON’S 3DESKTOP — The word “beta” in my Gmail inbox made my eyebrows take a happy-go-lucky jump, but once installed I found the BumpTop beta was just a piece of elaborately done-up nagware.

The eyebrows came back down and settled in a scowl.

There is a Prime Directive for my computers: There shalt be no shareware. Everything must be freeware, open source, or purchased. No adware, trials, or postcardware. No promotions. No commercials.

I took perhaps three minutes to sate my curiosity about BumpTop, then scoured it from my PC.

I love the idea of a 3D desktop, a virtual space using a physics engine to toss around files, pile them up, to basically treat your computer like a living space. It would make your desktop as comfortable as your bedroom.

But the options right now are limited, and severely flawed.

BumpTop isn’t the only name in the game, though it was the one to get early branding for its product last year. Real Desktop is a robust competitor, offering a crippleware version that has its own issues though it’s stable and completely free.

Real Desktop’s light version (I refuse to spell it “lite”) is decent but extremely limited. It doesn’t mask out RocketDock like BumpTop does, which is a plus, but both suites have their problems: The camera angles can be quite awkward. Dragging into a folder can be quite a pain. Both are susceptible to the “Show Desktop” widget.

BumpTop’s a bit laggy, even through my NVIDIA 9800 GT. Real Desktop doesn’t let you place anything on the walls, and doesn’t come with any neat-o widgets like Bump does, which means you are effectively wasting at least a third of your desktop at any given time.

And both affect only your desktop — no other folders at all.

The ideal Explorer replacement would convert my entire hard drive into a virtual world straight out of Hackers, allowing me to navigate the entire file structure in a true space environment. Let’s be honest here — the conventional Explorer interface is 20 years old now, and hasn’t changed all that much since the ol’ DOSHELL days.

MicroSoft’s file manager is functional, but not fun, and it’s organized but not necessarily intuitive. It needs an update. I’m just waiting for the right program… or maybe the right OS… to be ushered in. Imagine what kind of functionality we could eke out of a multidimensional interface instead of a flat one.