Ok, I can move my arms now.

*So, I guess comics companies said what they were going to do in October while I was away? DC has two interesting bits in connection to stuff readers of this site know and love:

1. Seven Soldiers #1 is on the calendar again, this time for October 25. Spooky! The solicitation copy on DC's site still seems to think it's only 32 pages, but it's likely going to wind up double that when all is said and done.

2. It looks like we've got the first official word that New Line is moving their horror books to Wildstorm, which also neatly explains the onslaught of occasionally rushed-feeling Avatar books the other week. A Nightmare on Elm Street debuts on October 4, provided that it all gets done considering that there's no credited artist yet (Chuck Dixon writes). Maybe it'll be fortuitously pushed back to the last New Comics Day before Halloween? I find myself more drawn to the Mature Readers label than anything else, and interested in how Wildstorm might try and match Avatar's more-is-never-enough approach to gore, which really struck me as the main draw of their version of the line anyway. Or will the more Direct Market secure Wildstorm opt for a path less extreme? Rich Johnston, who broke this story a while back, notes that the rest of the Avatar-published franchises (Jason, Leatherface) will be following in Freddy's path, regardless.

*God, a nice day of moving things around this was. It's been kind of hot lately, but I'm already feeling better from getting all burned up on my vacation. I used to have this paste-white sunscreen, bought in the mid-'90s, a big black tube of it that seemed like it'd never run out (probably because I only ever use it when I'm on some sort of vacation). Its contents were having difficulty holding themselves together this year, splitting off into yellow and oily elements, but I still used it, until it was gone, and then I had to make due with this new-fangled spray-on stuff that didn't do the trick at all.

Ah well, it was a nice time. I went in the ocean a lot. Something decided to welcome me on the first day by leaving a tiny puncture mark on my right arm as I swam. For about 45 minutes after, I felt an odd sensation from my wrist to my elbow, like a hundred or so miniature needles were pricking me from underneath my skin, trying to press their way outward into the air. It might have been a jellyfish - I saw an awful lot of them over the weekend, whole schools (or at least classrooms) of them drifting by. Sure, most of 'them' were actually just clear husks, but nothing quite beats that gelatinous texture rubbing against your body while you're in the water; hey, if you're going to swim in the ocean you've got to realize that there's a lot of stuff living (or having recently lived) in there, and not all of it shares your tender human appreciation of good behavior.

Little kids were making a game of it, really. Finding the big ones, the specimens with rusty centers, and bringing them back for Mom's no doubt thrilled critique. A few drifted by that could easily wrap themselves around an adult human's fist. Nature!

But not everything on vacation is natural, oh no. I sat around a lot and enjoyed appallingly colorful drinks. I managed to return to the same old soda machine in the same old hotel I'd known since I was at least 17, the one that spat out drinks for under fifty cents. I felt a twinge of regret that I hadn't gone down a bit closer to 'Senior Week' so I could enjoy the pleasures of unsupervised teenagers screaming obscenities at everyone making the mistake of walking back to their hotel too late at night (hmm, maybe that is natural).

And needless to say, I went up to an arcade on the boardwalk to look at video games. Because I am a terrible, terrible nerd.

Here is what I found -

The House of the Dead 4: Boy did I love the original The House of the Dead. That wonderful 1996 Sega light gun game will forever be attached to my high school memories, specifically that one kid talking to me about it for a few minutes then backing away and noting “You never looked like the type who’d be into something like that.” Ha ha, but I am! Ridiculous gory zombie-fighting mayhem, body parts flying off enemies depending on where you shoot them, red blood gradually turning into green ooze on more and more screens as time went by and arcades decided that the action was maybe a bit too rich, and the appropriate switches were hit. My friends and I would never play the ‘green’ machines. Out of principle.

Anyway, this new installment in the series is toned down in the gore department from that initial fun-filled virtual arterial spray, which I recall being kind of a gradual flow across sequels - standing in replacement is a new submachine gun attachment, all the better for mowing down literal hordes of zombies. It’s quantity now! Plus, there’s sensors in your weapon, so you can shake it around to dislodge zombies who’ve grown attached to you, and you can fire crowd-clearing grenades for those special occasions. Also, the single-player difficulty is kind of high, though that’s also been a franchise standard since part 2 - or maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age. Anyhow, I couldn't even get far enough in level 1 to check out any of the branching paths the game is supposed to have.

Ghost Squad: This, on the other hand, really caught my attention. It's also from Sega, also a gun shooting game, but a very tongue-in-cheek one, concerning the adventures of a group of special forces folk who fight terrorism across three selectable levels. And let's give it up for terrorism: silly arcade games in which the player shoots at bad things on a big screen are going to get a solid decade (minimum) out of big loud fights against that most perfect shorthand for villainy (see also: the newish Target: Terror Gold). Sure, accuracy is jettisoned, but who cares about any of that in arcade 'shoot the evil' games - in Ghost Squad, 'terrorism' means a multicultural bunch of masked dastards in military gear called the Indigo Wolves, led by flamboyant supervillains who wear armor or flail their arms around in motion capture splendor. And you get to shoot them with a number of weapons, playing along a bunch of alternating paths, completing amusing sub-quests (defuse the bomb! remove the land mines! engage in hand-to-hand combat by waving your gun around and pressing special buttons!), and even selecting a costume for your character, the choices ranging from jungle gear to a full cowboy ensemble (for cowboy diplomacy?).

Sadly, both machines in the arcade I visited (and the two of them were almost always occupied) were lacking the optional 'card' system, in which the player can record their accumulated scores and experience points onto a pre-purchased ID card and use their totals to unlock new weapons, costumes (a panda outfit!), and more difficult and original branches for the game's levels, creating a fair amound of fresh replay value. Still, it was fun while it lasted, from the careful positioning of play styles to the (fictional) President of the United States giving you a big high-five upon the success of a mission.

OutRun 2: A racing game from Sega, released in 2003 (subsequently ported to the Xbox) and left unnoticed by me until now. I generally don’t play racing games (preferring to rack up vast numbers of points on my actual driver’s license), but this one really managed to capture my attention by immediately evoking powerful thoughts: “Wait,” I asked myself, “Didn’t OutRun come out back when I was five or something?” Yes! This is the official sequel to the 1986 Yu Suzuki-produced classic (there were some other games in the franchise, just not a properly titled sequel), in which you drive around a branching series of colorful scenes against the clock.

I decided to play in Heart Attack Mode, in which your male player character is driving around with his girlfriend, who will not love him anymore if he does not perform tricks like passing cars and ‘drifting’ around turns. Apparently your lady love’s list of demands grows ever more baroque as you become increasingly successful, but I was rarely able to get her past outright anger into even the realm of resigned depression. If only I’d have blazed through that last curve, my beautiful drive along the beach wouldn’t have turned into a nightmare of sullen glares and painful introspection. It’s a turgid little psychodrama played out inside that happy vehicle-shaped arcade compartment; I beg of you, lead characters of Sega’s OutRun 2, hit the brakes for a moment to think about where you’re really driving. In life.

An officially licensed Ferrari product!

Time Crisis 4: A teeny peek at the internet reveals that this thing is brand-new for the Summer of 2006 in the US, not that I’d know otherwise. It’s the latest installment of Namco’s pedal-tapping powerhouse, this time oddly confined to a smallish pair of screens (two-player action is linked) in contrast to the ‘bigger is better’ ethos of Sega’s assorted treats. Unless the arcade itself opted for a small version of the cabinet from a number of options, anticipating less business than other popular selections - certainly this thing was kind of abandoned in a front corner, though it looked consistently-played nevertheless.

There doesn’t look to be much in the way of major innovation; you have your pair of way-cool action hero hipsters (one of them so blatantly modeled after Johnny Depp I couldn’t suppress a giggle) who storm a trio of stages by ducking behind stuff and popping out to allow attack when the player hits the pedal at the base of the machine. You can earn ammo for selectable weapons, and portions of level 1 (as far as I ever got) seem to demand conservation of certain weapons for particular situations, or at least that’s what the on-screen characters were yelling at me. Once again, the menace is Terrorism!©, and this time the terrorists have a slew of evil yet delicious-sounding metal bugs called Terror Bites. I bet if you liked all the other Time Crisis games you’ll probably like this one as well, but I didn’t have all that much money left over to spend on it.

Some 'Classic Nintendo' Three-In-One Thing: Featuring Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Mario Bros. With the difficulty ramped up to totally fucking insane. I know these games couldn't have been this hard back in 1981-83 when these things first hit the pizza parlors and bowling alleys, but the cabinet I hit had the toughness amped up to quarter-killing levels. Donkey Kong Jr. in particular became a methodical dance of give and take, each and every movement timed out to the smallest degree to afford the poor little monkey even the slightest shot at survival. At least the cost was kept down to a single quarter; the new school Galaga 'n whatever machines will rock you fifty cents. Then again, everything else I've talked about here is a buck to play, starting and continuing, though the particulars are up for grabs at your own local place. I've heard of House of the Dead 4 going as high as $1.50, which is totally crossing some hidden threshold in my mind; is this what players in 1983 felt when Dragon's Lair hit for half a buck? There was also a Dragon's Lair machine in the same arcade, but one of the new dvd-based jobs, with Space Ace thrown in for extra value. Plus, one of those great old live-action full motion video western shooting things, the kind where there'd always be scenes of someone tumbling into something that would explode, because it's Real Action. Although I think that one was a dvd revision too.

Tron: No! Even this bloody 1982 machine is no good anymore, because some fool broke the twirly dial. How will I aim Bruce Boxleitner's arm now?! It's like I'm a cruel god to him, ripping his aim away from the deadly spider things at the very worst moment - forgive me Bruce, but nearly a quarter of a century has been just too long, I guess.

The Silly Haunted House Rifle Game Inside Another Arcade Entirely, the Name of Which I Can't Recall: But this restored my good spirits. No frills, nothing fancy, just a big counter with a line of light rifles on it, and a looming plaster wonderland behind, red and gree sensors shining out. Shoot the black cat, and it howls. Shoot the coffin, and a skeleton pops out. Shoot the windows, and a red flash lights up. Now that's simple, affecting gun-shooting entertainment, perfect for screaming children and sunburnt internet nerds alike. One hit one kill, Mr. Cat!

And there was so much more, but none of it I can remember. I wandered through a pair of bookstores, but nobody had any comics. I didn't even see many superhero-type prizes at the midway, despite all the movies out this summer. A lot of it still looked to be banking on kids' animated films like Ice Age 2, or television stuff like Family Guy. There was this huge grabbing crane game in which players would fish for stuffed prizes as big as a small child. The plastic walls of the machine were tall enough that crowds would gather around every side of it and observe the goodies getting picked up... and dropped right down. Over and over.

Soon, something became obvious. Players were acutely aware of the spectator aspect of the game, and began feeding more and more cash (two dollars per play) into the machine in order to keep going, if not to save face then at least to refuse to surrender their lead to anyone else standing nearby. I mean, shit - Peter from Family Guy is right on top of the pile now, right near the trap door! Just another push... another...

I can recall a little kid watching my game while playing Ghost Squad. "You like this one?" he asked during a lull in my sweaty clash with world terror. I responded positively, and he said "Yeah, I put like twenty bucks into this. Mind if I join in?"

It's not like that with the grabber machine. You've got to feel a little sick letting the machine suck in that vital two dollars you happen to have that the person before you didn't, onlyto snap at a mammoth teetering at the edge.

Games. They make every vacation swell.