The Mall Geeks Used To Go To, Part II

July 24th, 2009 by Kyle

Kyle once again;

The title of these posts is a reference to a Chris Rock standup routine, which I think just about fits the situation of the Metreon vs. San Francisco Center. The Metreon is definitely the “other” mall these days.

But after we’ve come to terms with the fact that the place has just about completed its long slide from the Metreon into the “Ghettreon”, from a showplace to a noplace, the question left to ask is how it happened.

Here’s a one-word answer: Sony.

The Metreon was, right from the start, emblematic of what’s been wrong with Sony for years. How many times have you seen a Sony product that was almost – as Apple would put it – “insanely great”. Almost… but not. Again and again, Sony has released whiz-bang items that look great in product demonstrations, but that are disappointments in the real world. Too expensive. Too proprietary. Inexplicably lacking key features, and/or leaning on features that are outdated, unimpressive, or don’t justify Sony’s price premium. Seemingly designed by people who work in hermetically-sealed offices who have no idea either what customers really want or what their competition is up to.

Examples? The Mylo, which was almost cool enough to be an iPod Touch competitor (but was too proprietary, and lacked key features). The Vaio P and Vaio W (nice netbooks, but way too expensive for what they are). Memory Stick, which was okay enough, but that Sony refuses to let go even after it’s clear that SD won the format war (thus inflicting further problems with proprietary hardware upon us). The PS3, which was almost cool enough to extend Sony’s winning streak to three generations of consoles in a row (but was too expensive, and Blu-ray didn’t justify the additional expense for most people). Or how about Blu-ray itself, which does offer better video quality – but not good enough for most people to be able to justify sinking money into investing in a new format, especially when digital download looks to be about to make optical discs outdated.

And the Metreon. Like the Mylo, it was cool-looking on casual examination, but once you got into it, suffered from bizarre peculiarities. Like Sony’s attachment to Memory Stick, some of the anchor stores it contained were just inexplicable. Other key spaces were filled with stuff that, like Blu-ray, were probably outdated the day they appeared.

Such as the huge video arcade that anchored the second floor. In 1986, this would have been killer. By 1999, everybody had a game system at home, and video arcades were relics. I’ve played House Of the Dead in an arcade, and it was fun – until I realized that in a half hour of playing the game against a friend, I’d dropped about 2/3 of the money I’d need to buy a copy of the game for my console that I could own forever. And Sony, of all people, couldn’t see where this trend was headed?

Inexplicable? Try the Microsoft Store that was one of the Metreon’s original anchors. Remember, this was before either the Xbox or the Zune was introduced. So the Microsoft Store was there so I could, what – buy a new boxed copy of Windows at $399? Microsoft Stores are a lame idea even now. Opening one in the days of Windows 98 was just mindboggling.

In addition, the Metreon was laid out weirdly, in what I’m sure was an attempt to make it stand out, but that just made it not quite click. There was too much open space. This may sound like an odd thing to complain about, but remember that every inch of open space in your building is an inch of space where something isn’t going on. The people flow was wrong, and never drew you past the upper floor retail shops. The movie theater was hard to find. The food court – which is, along with the IMAX theater, the only part of the Metreon still doing any kind of decent business – should have been put on the second floor, to draw people upstairs.

There was no event space (other than the movie theater) designed into it, which I guess fits with the fact that there weren’t really any events (other than movies) there. How about free gaming space for RPG and card gamers? Yes, I know Games Workshop had a couple tables – but what if you wanted to play a game other than (Games Workshop’s proprietary) Warhammer? Or, considering that non-digital gaming was declining, how about some Sony-sponsored LAN/Playstation game parties with prizes? A Sony-sponsored anime club with advance screenings (I hear that Sony has some connections in Japan)? Sony Music-sponsored free concerts by up and coming artists? All of that could have fit in some of that pretty, but useless open space, especially on the second floor (where the “bridge to nowhere” Gaming Walk of Fame is).

Hell, even the Apple Store on Market Street, which is maybe 1/5 the size of the Metreon, is constantly having free events and classes in the little theater they have upstairs. At the Metreon? Zip.

Which demonstrates the core problem with the Metreon. Once the novelty wore off, and you’d seen all the stores, there really wasn’t all that much reason to keep going back there. As the cachet wore off the Sony brand, even the Sony Style and Playstation stores weren’t very impressive anymore. Eventually, all there was left to go there for was the three things that are still doing relatively good business – the IMAX screen, the food court, and the bathrooms.

Which won’t be enough to save the Metreon. Nor should it be.

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The Mall Geeks Used To Go To, Part I

July 23rd, 2009 by Kyle

Kyle again;

One of the things about doing a podcast, as opposed to radio, is that with radio, you know exactly who your listeners are, and where they are. Not so with a podcast, where people can as easily be listening to you in Kaihoro, New Zealand as next door. Thus, it’s a bit iffy to work in any local stories. There is one, however, that I really do want to address, and that I think has slightly larger significance as well.

In 1999, Sony opened the Metreon, a multi-story entertainment/shopping/dining/movie theater complex a block off Market Street in downtown San Francisco. It was the height of the tech bubble, and you kind of had to be there to understand the nearly crazed optimism of the time. It was cutting edge. It was tech-themed. It was vaguely asian. People loved it. Lines to get into the Metreon when it opened stretched for blocks.

Ten years later, the Metreon is essentially dead. The retail space is a ghost town. One of the large, first-floor prime retail spaces that had been sitting empty (it was, once upon a time, the Discovery Channel Store) has been filled by – get this – a farmer’s market. Yup – people selling ears of corn out of cardboard boxes is what’s hot at the Metreon these days. All the anchor stores have left, including even Sony, which had both a Sony Style and a Playstation store there. In fact, Sony doesn’t even own the Metreon anymore – it sold it to Westfield, a mall management company.

The thing is, Westfield already owns a big multi-story entertainment/shopping/dining/movie theater complex (San Francisco Center) two blocks away from the Metreon, right on Market Street itself. Why does Westfield need to maintain two properties that do exactly the same thing within two blocks of each other, in the middle of a recession marked by a drastic decrease in consumer spending?

A walk through the Metreon will tell you the answer – they don’t, and aren’t going to for long.

In fact, my guess is that the recession is the only thing saving the Metreon from the wrecking ball right now. The land it sits on has to be pretty valuable, but commercial real estate is in a deep slump, nobody is building any new office space, and Westfield is probably holding out for things to get better before they sell it off to someone who’ll demolish it to build an office building or something. When things do improve a little, or when Westfield gets tired of waiting, or needs some quick cash, my guess is that the Metreon is toast.

In the meantime, Westfield is letting the property go to hell. The free WiFi stopped working. The bathrooms (one of the few decent, open public bathrooms in the area) are getting dingy. The floors in the movie theater have gotten noticeably yucky. Westfield is taking no great steps I can see to replace the retail stores fleeing the Metreon with anything that couldn’t be booted out at a moment’s notice – like the farmer’s market. People have noticed – the place is usually damn near empty, no matter how many people are lounging in the neighboring Yerba Buena Garden on a nice summer’s day.

As much as I hate to say it, the Metreon’s days are almost certainly numbered. That’s a “Geek Tragedy” if ever I heard one – the idea had tremendous potential. And I’ve seen it succeed in other places – like the Trocadero in London. But Sony squandered it. In Part II, I’ll go a little deeper into how, and why, and what it means in a larger context.

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I Got Plenty of Nothing

July 23rd, 2009 by Kyle

Mike here -

Kyle’s been bugging us to come here and actually use this page for… ya know… talking and stuff. But the problem is, right now Geek Culture lives about 500 miles South of me in San Diego and we’re not there.

So I’ve got nothing to talk about right now. Zero, Zip, Nada. Tomorrow when all the press releases start to fly, maybe I’ll have something pithy to say then, but until then I’m staring at a whole bunch of ix-nay.

No, I take it back. With all this talk about nothing, I’ve managed to give myself something – I’ve got a headache. That’s something at least.

Ciao for now!
Mike

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NYC Photo Essay

July 23rd, 2009 by Kyle

Kyle here:

So forget all the fun they’re having in San Diego – I captured some geektastic sights right here on a walk around midtown Manhattan.

First, I got a picture of the ride of superheroes…


…and Batman, too.
Spotted this ad for Torchwood: Children of Earth on BBC America plastered on a crosstown bus headed down 42nd Street. I guess Auntie Beeb’s getting pretty serious about pushing Torchwood in the US.
“Not So Cool Kids *heart* Origami”? Pardon me, sir, but all the cool kids I know *heart* origami. Haven’t you ever seen Blade Runner? Ghost In The Shell: 2nd Gig?

Nintendo had a pretty elaborate demo for Wii Sports Resort set up in the middle of Times Square, for which they seem even to have shut down a block of Broadway. That couldn’t have been cheap. They set up a “beach” with sand, fake palm trees, and beach chairs for people to lounge in, and what had to be ten or so of these tents with Wii demo stations. Leave it to me to show up exactly when it started to rain.
So I ducked into the flagship Toys R Us on Times Square. Here’s a few of the sights in the store:

And from the Build-A-Bear Store, here’s Samurai Monkey:

Did I mention heroes? Yeah, I think making a fool out of yourself in a funny costume to raise money for a children’s charity counts, at least a little:

And finally, to find something cool to listen to on the way home…

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Next Reviews

July 22nd, 2009 by Kyle
Kyle checking in:

G. I. Joe on August 7th is a definite for all three of us. I’ll e-mail in a review to Mike and David, and post it here, too.

The buzz is that it’s the worst movie of the year – a consummate rape of our cherished childhood memories. How could we not review it for the podcast?
Speaking of “Worst movies of…”, I have tickets to the live RiffTrax event on August 20th. The guys will be riffing Plan 9 From Outer Space live, simulcast to hundreds of theatres around the country. I’ll post a review of that, too… but I already predict good things. RiffTrax does not disappoint very often.

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"Up" Yours, From New Jersey

July 21st, 2009 by Kyle

Kyle reporting.

So during my exile to the east coast, I decided to go see Pixar’s new movie, Up.

And I promise, no matter how this may sound, this isn’t a bad review. Really.

No, Up actually contains some of the best, most affecting, most heartfelt writing Pixar has ever produced. And therein lies the problem.

The thing is, Pixar (and just about every other American studio producing animated theatrical movies these days) strives to produce movies that are enjoyable for both small children and adults. With a lot of movies, this just ends up being disastrous – witness the proliferation of “sassy” characters spouting endless thirtysomething-friendly pop culture references and singing snippets of the kind of 80s songs that made me change the radio station even during the 80s themselves. But Pixar has usually struck a pretty good – and tasteful – balance in this area. The Incredibles and WALL-E are good examples of this. They worked all the way through for both children and adults, never becoming either boring or insipid.

This balance was off in Up. Put simply, the first half of the movie was too serious for small children, and the second half of the movie was too silly for adults. The transition, which occurred the moment a talking dog showed up, was jarring. It seemed almost to me as if someone realized partway into production that they’d really made a very moving, but downbeat movie (as the first half of Up is), and brought everybody in for a rewrite that would lighten the second half up with cute animals and sentimentality. All in all, it made for a very uneven movie that, when it was good (which, for me, means when it was serious) was some of the best filmmaking that Pixar has ever done, and when it was “meh”, was exceedingly “meh”.

Not to get hyperbolic, but I was kind of reminded of the Star Wars prequels. It seemed to me that Lucas could never quite figure out with them whether he wanted to make them movies for kids, or for adults. In the end, he succeeded at neither. A lot of the action (Anakin cutting off Count Dooku’s hands, or the massacre of the Jedi younglings come to mind) was inappropriate for children, and a lot of the humor (Jar-Jar) was insipid to the point of being insulting for adults.

It’s a tough thing to get just right. For the most part, I believe that filmmakers should just avoid it and make movies that are either made from the start as childrens’ movies, or as adults’ movies. Lucas, for example, just should have made the prequels as the serious, dark films that his fans wanted (and expected) him to make. Pixar, however, seems to have found its niche in making films that straddle this line. And considering their excellent record, I suppose they can be forgiven one that misses that mark a little.

That said, and as I said at the beginning of this post, this is not a bad review of Up. Go see it, flaws and all.

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We’re Missing Comic Con!

July 21st, 2009 by Kyle

For the sakes of our families. And they’d better damn well appreciate it.

We’ll follow it closely in the media, though, and tell you what we think of all the announcements that’ll inevitably come out of it.

We’re also working on the possibility of recording live (well, live to tape) at both Fanime Con and WonderCon next year.

But let the festivities begin (without us!)

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Taglines!

July 21st, 2009 by Kyle

We’ve been working up some possible taglines for the podcast. Here are our candidates so far:

Geek Tragedy: You knew the job of fandom was dangerous when you took it

Geek Tragedy: The Pedobear Seal of Approval was unsolicited

Geek Tragedy: The last remaining superhero-related media NOT starring Ryan Reynolds.

Geek Tragedy: You teenage sparkling vampires get off our lawn!

Geek Tragedy: We’re not two-bit punks. We’re 8-bit punks.

Geek Tragedy: Not a remake. Not now. Not ever.

Geek Tragedy: For anime fans who know that women over 14 can still be beautiful.

Geek Tragedy: Jeff Goldblum lives!!!

Geek Tragedy: The Statler and Waldorf of fandom

Geek Tragedy: Knowing is half the battle. Making fun is the other half.

Comments, anyone?

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Setup! Who Are We?

July 21st, 2009 by Kyle

In case you wanted to know…

Who are we?

We’re the Geek Tragedy Podcast, brought to you by National Press Comics!

Okay, but who are you?

That means we’re a weekly roundtable discussion about all the news in the sci-fi, comics, anime, gaming, fantasy, and media worlds by three lifelong fans. We’ve been around fandom a while, we know the good stuff from the bad stuff, and we’re not shy about letting our opinions be heard.

Who’s at the roundtable?

Mike, David, and Kyle are the permanent members of the roundtable. But we’ll have others sitting in, and maybe even some special guests, from time to time as well!

What are your qualifications?

We may not have any fancy degrees in fandom, but we know what sucks. And we’ll tell anyone who’ll listen.

Why should I care?

Fine – be that way. But you’re missing out!

Why call the podcast Geek Tragedy?

We would have called it Cranky Geeks, but John Dvorak would sue.

Are you really cranky?

You have no idea.

Are you going to cover technology?

Generally, no. We may touch a little on technology as it relates to fandom every so often, but there are lots of other podcasts (the abovementioned Cranky Geeks with John Dvorak, for example) that cover technology news better than we ever could, so we’re going to leave that to them.

Where can I get the podcast?

You can search for “Geek Tragedy” in iTunes, or follow this link for a direct download.

Why don’t the show notes start with Episode 1?

Because we didn’t get the idea to set up this blog until we’d been doing the podcast a while. Suck it up.

What is National Press Comics?

NPC was founded by Jamiel Hemphill – artist, writer, athlete, performer, fan, lover, and renaissance man of Oakland, California – in order to produce comics that combine the best qualities of the Silver Age classics he read growing up with the cutting edge of comics art.

Did he pay you to say that?

Yes – all in barbecued meat. Sweey, smoky barbecue.

Can I have some?

No. Scram.

And with that, welcome to Geek Tragedy!

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