340. TMTF’s Top Ten Things Learned in Ten Years of Animation

Today’s post was written by JK Riki: animator, blogger, and creator of Fred the Monkey, who is probably a bad influence on my typewriter monkeys. All the same, Typewriter Monkey Task Force is honored to share JK’s reflections on what he’s learned from ten years as an animator. For more great stuff from JK, check out his blog and Twitter. You may also want to swing by Animator Island, for which he writes.

After I sent my first guest post to Adam, he responded positively: “It’s good stuff.” Two sentences later came a spirit-crushing qualification: he was more interested in my creative process, particularly from the class of “animator” in which I dwell.

“Surely you can do better than this last, terrible post,” he noted in his email, though it may have actually been written, “I think your thoughts on the creative process may be even more valuable.” (I can read between the lines, you see. I know what he meant.)

[Editor’s note: What I, Adam, really meant was, “I think your thoughts on the creative process may be even more valuable, and I could really use a cup of coffee.” That last part is subtext to nearly everything I say or write, so I left it out.]

So fine, I’ll set aside my deeper thoughts on philosophy and the universe and give the audience what it wants. Plus I’ll do it in a time-honored tradition of TMTF: a top ten list!

That said, please consider…

The Top Ten Things I’ve Learned From Ten Years as an Animator!

10. Mediocre entertainment > unrealized genius

I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve wasted waiting to get “good enough” to do certain projects. “This is a brilliant idea,” I’ve thought, “but I really need to up my skill level to pull it off properly. Back you go into the Sack of Potential Greatness!”

Poor Sack. It’s been bursting at the seams for years now.

The truth is, a brilliant idea unrealized is pointless. Isn’t an inferior version that exists better than a wasted concept that, let’s face it, will never be made? Honestly, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be “good enough.” You’ll never reach that standard. It’s not worth the wait; go do it now. Save perfection for the next life!

Even the best animations start as rough, quick sketches!

Even the best animations start as rough, quick sketches!

That said, 10b. Always strive to do better!

9. Enthusiasm fades

Animation is a brilliant form of art for one unique reason: It takes forever. Because it takes forever, you have millions of opportunities to tweak things or change directions or quit and become an accountant. When you work on a single piece of art that takes weeks, months, or years for what seems like very little return, at some point you question what you’re doing.

The thing that divides the people who have done great animation (or really, anything at all) from those who only wish they could is pushing past this doldrum and pressing on, enthusiasm or no enthusiasm. Those days happen, and it’s up to you to not let them string together day after day, week after week.

8. Animation is hard

It does not take much physical effort to drag a wooden stick affixed with graphite across compressed tree pulp. It doesn’t even take much physical effort to do that billions of times so you can photograph them in sequence and watch the lines dance across a screen.

Despite the lack of physical energy required, animation is so, so hard.

JK's inner animator expresses the difficulties of the craft in the most eloquent way possible: shaking a sharp, pointy object.

JK’s inner animator eloquently expresses the difficulties of his craft.

People are used to watching movement. When you’re attempting to mimic that movement they know so well with pencil or 3D model, your audience are all experts. If you make a mistake, they’ll know about it, because it doesn’t match the decades of real-world experience they have with movement.

At the same time…

7. People are forgiving

In animation, you cheat. A lot. One of my favorite descriptions of animation is from Pixar director Peter Docter, who said “Animation is life with the volume turned up.”

As animators, we’re called to go beyond reality and create things that “look right.” Sometimes, in order to get something to look right, you have to throw all the rules out the window and make things up. The wonderful thing about this process is that people will accept your made up nonsense if it looks right. They’ll forgive your strange motion blurs and broken joints just as long as it feels the way it should. It’s because of this that…

6. Mistakes aren’t as huge as you think

One of the greatest moments in animation is when you finish roughing out a shot and you hate it with every fiber of your being. You look at the individual drawings and think “This is garbage. I should quit and become an accountant!” Then you play it in real time and oh! The beauty! The majesty! The countless hours were worth it, and for reasons unknown it works. There is reason to live again!

Life is long, and it’s a process. The mistakes of a “single frame” that seem overwhelming at the time may just work in unison with the images around it and turn out beautifully. Then the key becomes remembering that even the close-up errors really aren’t as dooming as they seem.

5. Things change

Fred the Monkey sure has changed over the years!

Fred the Monkey affirms that yes, things sure change!

If you aren’t growing as a person, you’re doing life wrong. We’re here to grow, to learn, and to become better every day. Knowing this, one should expect to change over time. When we expect this change to happen, we can better deal with the feelings of “failure” when it arrives. I once kicked myself for failing to keep FredtheMonkey.com updated consistently. Wait, to be fair, I kicked myself for that dozens of times.

The longer I live, the more I see that the goals I set at twenty-two are not the goals I have today. As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: A time to make Flash cartoons about monkeys, and a time to focus on family life and remodeling a house.” (Paraphrasing here a bit, so go look up the full non-cartoon-including list in Ecc. 3.)

Things change; it’s part of life. When we know this, we can…

4. Manage expectations to find happiness

Consider this scenario. You decide to go see a film this weekend. You’ve seen a trailer, and it looks absolutely terrible, but a friend/family/cute member of the opposite sex really wants to go, so you oblige. After two hours in the theater, the film turns out to be pretty average, but certainly not completely awful, and you realize, “Hey, that wasn’t as bad as I thought!”

Using the power of hypothetical situations, let’s go back in time. (Time travel is fun!) This time, a friend has told you about the film and how it’s the most incredible work of movie making ever crafted by human hands. Your heart beats quicker as the previews rush by and finally the film begins. Your hands grip the plastic theater chair arms in anticipation. Your knees tremble in spite of your feet being glued to the floor by soda and popcorn grease. This is it!

And… it’s decidedly average.

Now what? Chances are you’re going to walk out of the theater this time grumbling, “That wasn’t amazing at all, what were they thinking? I counted a dozen plot holes and the main character was an idiot. What a waste of two hours….”

What’s the difference here? Spoiler alert: It’s not the film, it’s your expectations.

Hippo with a jet pack

It’s easy to be disappointed when your expectations aren’t realistic!

Over ten years of animating, I’ve had many expectations. Some cartoons I knew were great, and would do so well on Newgrounds.com. They flopped. Some animations were rushed and I almost didn’t release them because they weren’t ready (see point #10, though). Reviews were glowing, and they made front page. Lol, what?

I’ve learned (and continue to learn) to manage expectations. There’s nothing wrong with hope, or wanting things to be wonderful. There’s a big difference between hoping for good things and expecting them. If you manage the expectation part, life goes so, so much better.

3. Edit well

Cut out all things you don’t need in order to make your point or tell your story.

[Author’s note: I’m still learning this one, because Adam had to edit this post for clarity and to remove most of my ramblings. The original was 518 words longer in total. Clearly there’s still work for me to do regarding Lesson #3.]

2. There is nothing like doing what you love

I have held several jobs in my life, ranging from things I’ve enjoyed to “I’d really rather be having teeth pulled, thank you.” For me, animation is a passion. It goes beyond enjoyment to a very strange place that shares borders with the lands of “Obsession” and “Madness.”

Someone once asked me if animation was fun. I thought about it for a moment and then said “No, not at all.” At the time I was surprised by my response, but if I could go back in time, I’d add, “I can’t imagine not doing it, though.”

I love animation. It is one of the things I think I was put on this Earth to do. As a result, no matter how difficult it becomes (see #8), I am filled with joy when I’m engrossed in it. It’s not about “having fun” as much as it is “bathing in the joy of purpose and meaning.” Do what you love and life becomes awe-inspiring every dang day.

1. Understanding the why is the most important thing

We devalue the why in our world today. We’ve gotten so caught up in the who, what, when, and where that we’ve forgotten all about the final W of the Big 5. It’s rather ironic, actually, because when something big (often tragic) happens our first reaction is “Why is this happening?!”

In animation, you must understand the why. Why is this character doing what he’s doing? Why is this prop in the scene? Why didn’t I go to school to become an accountant?

Life is the same way.

When I started FredtheMonkey.com more than a decade ago, I had conflicting dreams for it. On the one hand, I wanted to make the world a better place by producing funny cartoons that brightened someone’s day.

At the same time, I wanted HomestarRunner-level success. If I could just reach that level of popularity, boy, I could sure make this planet a better place. I could change people, convince them of things, and have influence. No doubt the money I’d make could help millions as well. Yes, that would be the day it all came together!

The further I unconsciously veered towards the second why during those ten years of animating poor-quality Flash cartoons, the more miserable I was. The more it was work, instead of joy. The more I didn’t want to keep doing it. I had lost the purpose that drove my initial creative process. I burned out a lot.

Each time I remembered my mantra of “If I make one person’s life better with this cartoon, it will have been worth it,” the peace and love of what I was doing came rushing back. I had to constantly stave off the allure of fame and wealth so I could be content with whatever came from my efforts.

And that contentment was far better than anything I’ve ever gained materialistically. Know the why of what you do, and remind yourself of it always.

I hope that these lessons I’ve learned can be of some help to someone out there. If it gives hope or inspiration to a single person, the decade of struggles will be worth every effort.

298. TMTF’s Top Ten Cartoons You Should Watch

I spend more time watching cartoons than any grown man should. Needless to say, I regret nothing.

The fact is that cartoons can be innocent, bright, smart, and funny. While the media is often jaded or cynical, cartoons are pleasant, and unapologetic about it. I appreciate them.

That said, some cartoons are much better than others. Today we’re listing ten of the best, because making top ten lists is what we do.

This is a list for Western animation. Anime (Japanese animation) is in a category by itself and deserves a list of its own. Someday, perhaps!

Discerning readers may notice that nearly all of the shows on this list are pretty recent, airing within the past decade or so. This is because I avoided cartoons until a few years ago. Growing up in Ecuador, I watched only the few shows my family had on tape. I mostly rejected cartoons in middle and high school, dismissing them as “too childish,” and only rediscovered them as an adult. (The irony has not escaped me.) Most of the cartoons I’ve watched are recent ones, which is why this list lacks any really old classics.

Let’s take a look, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Cartoons You Should Watch!

10. The Powerpuff Girls

The Powerpuff Girls

When an absent-minded scientist blends “suger, spice, and everything nice” to create perfect little girls, he spills an untested chemical into the mixture and produces the Powerpuff Girls: a trio of young superheroines who protect the innocent, defend their city from all evil, and attend kindergarten every weekday.

The show pokes fun at superheroes, monster movies, campy science fiction, and pop culture in general. Its playful tone and subversive humor are a blast. The Powerpuff Girls is full of charming little touches, from its hilariously incompetent mayor to the fact its greatest villain is a chimpanzee with an exaggerated Japanese accent.

9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Beneath New York City, in some dark, forgotten sewer tunnel, dwell four fearless fighters. They emerge at night to patrol the streets and protect the innocent. So what if these heroes happen to be turtles?

Nickelodeon’s recent take on the Turtles is refreshingly lighthearted and self-aware. It mixes the whiz-bang style of comic books with the stylish action of old kung fu films, holding it all together with some really good writing. The show never takes itself or its story very seriously… but then its protagonists are nerdy mutant turtles, so that may not be such a bad thing.

8. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

In Crystal Cove, a touristy town that proclaims itself the “Most Hauntedest Place on Earth,” four teenagers and their dog solve mysteries. These kids, who call themselves Mystery Incorporated, debunk the town’s “supernatural” phenomena as the tricks of frauds and criminals… much to the chagrin of Crystal Cove’s mayor, who wants the town to keep its spooky reputation. When Mystery Inc. is contacted by someone called Mr. E, they find themselves caught up in a bigger mystery than they can imagine.

I saw one or two older Scooby-Doo cartoons as a kid, and they were kind of terrible. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated astonished me with its excellence. It has character development, a story arc that stretches across the entire series, and an entire episode spoofing the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Best of all, Fred Jones—who was a bland stereotype in every version of Scooby-Doo up to this point—is reimagined as someone cheerful, well-meaning, slightly neurotic, and endearingly inept. I honestly don’t think Scooby-Doo will ever manage to be any better than this show.

7. The Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra

In a world divided among four nations, a messianic figure called the Avatar arises in each new generation to maintain peace and balance. Each nation represents a classical element—water, earth, fire, or air—and certain people can control or “bend” one of these elements. The Avatar is the only person who can bend all four. This time around, the Avatar is a short-tempered young woman named Korra. She must master her abilities and navigate the political complexities of her world to keep things from falling part.

I’m bending the rules with this one. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) The Legend of Korra is neither Western animation nor anime, but something in between. Its characters are nuanced and compelling. The action scenes are wonderful, and the animation is some of the best on television. Best of all, the world of The Legend of Korra is a magical mix of Asian culture, steampunk technology, and beautiful scenery. Korra would be much higher on this list, but it never quite achieves its full potential, and an even better show steals its lofty place… but more on that later!

6. Samurai Jack

Samurai Jack

When a young samurai from feudal Japan is flung by a demon into a post-apocalyptic future, he sets off on a surreal journey to return to his own time. The samurai’s travels take him from futuristic cities to lonely jungles, and he meets everything from aliens to crazy Scotsmen. Wherever he goes, the legend spreads of a brave, kind, noble warrior: the samurai known only as “Jack.”

This show is probably the most artsy on this list, and also the most cartoony. It brings together the zany humor of The Powerpuff Girls with elegant action scenes and measured pacing. Samurai Jack uses dialogue sparingly; sometimes whole minutes go by without anyone speaking. The visuals tell the story. The show is strange, stylish, and thoroughly enjoyable.

5. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic

In a fairy-tale world populated by candy-colored ponies, a bookish unicorn named Twilight is sent to a small town to “make some friends.” After settling in and meeting the town’s eccentric residents, Twilight begins to understand the importance of friendship. She and her friends live, learn, and occasionally save the world together.

This is a show for little girls, and it’s kind of awesome. (Its fans are also pretty neat.) It has all the sentimental, sappy, twee nonsense one would expect from a show about magical rainbow ponies. It also has some great writing, solid characterization, strong moral values, upbeat humor, and charming innocence. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a much, much better show than it has any right to be.

4. Phineas and Ferb

Phineas and Ferb

It’s a beautiful summer day, and stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb know exactly how to spend it: building some outlandish, impossible contraption in the backyard. Their older sister, refusing to allow such reckless behavior, tries vainly to get them in trouble with their mum. Meanwhile, in another part of town, an evil scientist tries to conquer the world—well, that might be overambitious. He’ll settle for the tri-state area. All that stands between him and its innocent residents is an elite secret agent… who happens to be Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus.

Phineas and Ferb has been around for years, and it’s still finding ways to subvert its simple formula for each episode. It’s the most self-aware show I’ve ever seen, peppered with droll dialogue, clever gags, and catchy music. Among other things, the show’s evil scientist, the lonely and forgetful Dr. Doofenshmirtz, is probably the funniest character I’ve seen on television.

3. Dan Vs.

Dan Vs.

Dan is convinced that everything and everyone in the universe, from his neighbors to modern art, is out to get him. He won’t take it lying down! This jobless misanthrope will go to any lengths to get back at whatever or whoever he thinks has wronged him. Chris and his wife Elise, Dan’s only friends, are often dragged along on his madcap schemes for vengeance.

Dan Vs. manages to be sharp and satirical without ever resorting to vulgarity or profanity. Dan is hilariously unhinged. I wouldn’t want him as a friend, but from a safe distance his schemes are great fun to watch. One of the show’s creators compared him to Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, saying “I think of the Dan character as Calvin as a grownup, if his life had gone horribly wrong somewhere.” Dan shares Calvin’s paranoia, intelligence, ill temper, and absolute lack of common sense. Dan Vs. is smart, biting, and a joy to watch.

2. Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls

Mabel and Dipper Pines, twelve-year-old twins, have been sent by their parents to spend the summer in Gravity Falls, Oregon. They stay with their Great Uncle (or “Grunkle”) Stan, who runs a shady tourist attraction called the Mystery Shack. Although Dipper is disappointed to be stuck in a small town, he soon finds a journal detailing the supernatural monsters and mysteries of Gravity Falls. As Mabel and Dipper begin unraveling the riddles of this sleepy little town, Grunkle Stan, a gruff skeptic and shameless shyster, does his best to swindle the tourists who visit the Mystery Shack.

Gravity Falls has been called “gently twisted,” and I think that’s a good description. The show is equal parts funny, intriguing, heartwarming, outrageous, and weird. I would call it just a good comedy, except that it’s also packed with riddles and ciphers for fans to solve, and held together by a really compelling mystery. I’m not sure what exactly is going on in Gravity Falls, but I can’t wait to find out.

1. Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar - The Last Airbender

Before The Legend of Korra, there was an Avatar named Aang. When one of the four nations, the Fire Nation, wars against the others, Aang and his friends must stop it and restore peace before the world burns.

It takes a few episodes to hit its stride, but once it does this show never falters. This not-quite-anime predecessor to The Legend of Korra creates a world as beautiful and fully realized as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and populates that world with a ridiculous number of memorable characters. Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t merely a kid’s cartoon. It transcends its medium to become as deep and gripping a story as any I’ve seen… while never losing the gleams of humor and silliness that made it fun in the first place.

O people of the Internet, what cartoons have you enjoyed? Let us know in the comments!

291. TMTF’s Top Ten Books You Should Probably Read

I love recommending books. This temptation, common to bookish people, seizes me occasionally. I am tempted today beyond what I can bear; there is no way out of this temptation so that I can endure it. That said, here are ten books I think everyone in the world should read.

This list is a mix of great classics, personal favorites, and books with widespread cultural impact. This is not a definitive list of ten books everyone absolutely must read, nor is it a list of my ten all-time favorites. These are simply ten recommendations for the average reader.

Let’s get bookish, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Books You Should Probably Read!

10. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday is either a gripping spy thriller set in Edwardian era London, or else an eloquent reflection upon the silence of God and the meaning of pain. Either way, it’s fantastic. The dialogue is clever, the plot has some astonishing twists, and the whole book is drenched in intrigue and melancholy romanticism. It’s Thursday himself who says, “Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?” This desperate courage, along with brilliant surprises and unexpected philosophical depth, make The Man Who Was Thursday a classic.

9. The Cay by Theodore Taylor 

The Cay

This book made a strong impression on me as a child. On the surface, The Cay is an exciting tale of survival: the story of a privileged white boy and a poor black man stranded together on a deserted island. A closer look at The Cay reveals themes like bigotry, sacrifice, loss, and cultural differences, all handled with disarming frankness and simplicity. The Cay is a quick, easy read, and a book well worth reading.

8. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Everyone should read this book because freaking Sherlock Holmes. He is the archetypical crime-solver and one of the most famous characters in fiction. The Holmes stories are worth reading if only to understand their cultural impact… and they’re also pretty fun to read. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of some of the best. While I personally prefer Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, there’s no denying the significance or excellence of Sherlock Holmes.

7. Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen

Living Poor

Living Poor is a memoir of Moritz Thomson, a man described as “the finest American writer you’ve never heard of.” After joining the Peace Corps, Thomson found himself living in a remote coastal village in Ecuador. His account of living poor is powerfully written, with jabs of wry humor punctuating a tone of bitter resignation. I grew up in Ecuador, so Thomson’s descriptions of its people and places strike a special chord with me. For all readers, whatever their circumstances, Living Poor is not only a heartrending glimpse of an impoverished community, but a look at the universal problems of poverty, depression, and helplessness.

6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Like The Cay, this children’s classic is disarming in its brevity and simplicity. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the delightfully funny story of the Herdmans, “the worst kids in the history of the world,” and their unexpected takeover of a church’s Christmas pageant. The book is hilarious. The Herdman kids respond to the Christmas story with suspicion, awe, and curiosity. Not only does this give readers plenty of laughs, but also a fresh, new perspective on an old, tired holiday. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is two parts funny, one part poignant, and all parts wonderful.

5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit

I mentioned earlier that the Sherlock Holmes stories are worth reading for their cultural impact. The Lord of the Rings is important in exactly the same way. It didn’t invent the fantasy genre, but it sure as heck defined it. While The Lord of the Rings is an amazing work of fantasy, it’s also slow-paced and really long. The Hobbit is a much quicker read: a simpler adventure that shows off Tolkien’s remarkable world and sows the seeds for the bigger tale told in The Lord of the Rings. The story of Bilbo Baggins and his epic journey “there and back again” is a charming read. I can think of no better introduction to the fantasy genre.

4. Silence by Shūsaku Endō

Silence

Silence is the story of a Portuguese Jesuit sent to seventeenth-century Japan, and also one of the most heartbreaking books I’ve ever read. The novel deftly changes perspectives partway through as it follows Sebastião Rodrigues in his journey from religious zeal to anguished perplexity at God’s silence. Silence is not only an elegy on the silence of God, but also a fascinating look at how cultures and their values conflict—much like Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, another book I considered for this list. It’s not a fun or easy read, but Silence is a book to challenge the mind and the heart.

3. Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Carry On, Jeeves

This is not a particularly deep book, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s a collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse. Really, what higher praise can there be? The book introduces two of Wodehouse’s most enduring characters, bumbling Bertie Wooster and his nigh-omniscient valet Jeeves, in a series of stories penned with Wodehouse’s effortless humor, aplomb, and British wit. Wodehouse’s work belongs on any list of recommended books, and Carry On, Jeeves is a fine place to start.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Many of my dear readers probably had to read this book for school, which is kind of a shame. Nothing sucks the fun out of books like being forced to read them. There’s a reason this one is read so widely in schools—it’s absolutely fantastic. Everything about the book is excellent, from the setting to the characters to its skillful handling of themes like racism, class divides, and the loss of innocence. Like Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another novel that nearly made this list, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the great classics of Western literature. If you’ve never read this book, read it. If you were forced to read it for school, give it another chance.

1. The Bible

Holy Bible

Along with Greco-Roman mythology, the Bible is the foundation of Western literature. Its cultural and literary impact over two millennia is literally incalculable. The Bible is packed with history, poetry, and philosophy that have inspired people and shaped societies. As literature, the Bible is a little uneven—the Psalms are much better reading than, say, Leviticus—but the work as a whole is an incredible wealth of wisdom, truth, and beauty.

O people of the Internet, what are your top book recommendations? Let us know in the comments!

284. TMTF’s Top Ten Toughest Dudes in Video Games

It would be tough to live in a video game.

Seriously, I wouldn’t last two minutes. If I were extremely fortunate, I might end up in a nice, nonviolent title like Animal Crossing or Professor Layton. I would more likely blunder into a racing game, fantasy RPG or first-person shooter and be run over, beheaded or blown to bits. Even family-friendly titles like Mario Kart offer plenty of opportunities for violence and mayhem. (Curse you, blue shells!)

With perils, pitfalls, monsters, explosions, blades, bullets, traps, tyrants or bottomless pits at every turn, life as a video game character must be tough. It makes sense, then, for video game characters to be tough dudes. Today, dear reader, we will look at ten of the toughest.

For the purpose of this list, toughness is defined as the quality of being durable, stoic, intimidating and that word I can’t use. The usual top ten list rules apply: only characters from games I’ve played, only one character per game series, no licensed characters from other media (e.g. Han Solo or Indiana Jones) and so forth.

Toughen up, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Toughest Dudes in Video Games!

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

10. Wobbuffet (Pokémon series)

Wobbuffet

At this point there are more than seven hundred Pokémon, representing all kinds of creatures and concepts. It makes perfect sense, then, that there is a punching bag Pokémon. In battle, Wobbuffet doesn’t ever strike first, but receives blows and then counterattacks. The stoic, patient way it takes its enemies’ attacks is astonishing.

9. Chell (Portal series)

Chell

Chell isn’t a dude, per se, but the mute protagonist of the Portal games is as tough as they come. Unfazed by deadly traps, frightening falls and the childish taunting of a deranged opponent, Chell solves puzzles and cheats death with a deadpan expression and stubborn silence that would make Clint Eastwood proud.

8. Link (Legend of Zelda series)

Tough Link

Link is an all-purpose hero, navigating dark dungeons, solving puzzles, defeating monsters and wielding an endless array of weapons with effortless aplomb. Neither horrifying enemies nor baffling riddles seem to trouble him in the slightest, and no obstacle or pitfall ever derails his adventures. Link would be much higher on this list if he were not so adorable.

7. Jim Raynor (StarCraft)

Jim Raynor

Jim Raynor—a man covered in tattoos and ammunition, and probably smelling of whiskey, tobacco and engine grease—is a marshal-turned-outlaw-turned-hero. Bringing together the grit of a Wild West lawman and the tactical brilliance of an admiral, this spacefaring marine is betrayed by humans, hunted by space monsters and feared by practically everyone.

6. Bowser (Mario series)

Bowser

Bowser may be surly, self-absorbed and not very bright, but there’s no denying he’s tougher than iron. This hulking monster survives eight plunges into molten lava in his first game alone. The games that follow subject Bowser to falls, beatings and all kinds of injuries, yet the only thing he ever seems to bruise is his ego.

Update: My younger brother corrected me by pointing out that Bowser plunges into lava only once in his first game, not eight times. Notwithstanding this correction, Bowser is a pretty tough dude.

5. Samus Aran (Metroid series)

Samus Aran

Samus Aran, like Chell, isn’t a dude, but that never keeps her from being resourceful, independent and ridiculously tough. Venturing alone onto enemy spaceships and hostile planets, Samus guns down the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals and escapes without a scratch. Truly, hell hath no fury like a woman with a laser cannon.

4. Tyrell Badd (Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth)

Tyrell Badd

Look at those bullet holes. Look at them. Even Tyrell Badd’s necktie has bullet holes. I can only surmise that the bullets, after passing through his tie, simply bounced off Badd. This hard-bitten homicide detective is a man of few words. Really, his coat says it all. By the way, that’s not a cigarette in his mouth, nor is he grabbing a gun when he reaches abruptly into his pocket. No, that’s a sucker in his mouth, and he’s reaching for a hand mirror. It’s a testament to his toughness that Badd makes even these effeminate items seem intimidating.

3. Leon S. Kennedy (Resident Evil 4)

Leon S. Kennedy

Nothing seems to faze this tough-as-nails government agent: not homicidal maniacs with chainsaws, not mutated monstrosities, not even the whiny college student he is sent to rescue. Leon S. Kennedy calmly and professionally handles every crisis, making every bullet count, thinking on his feet and suplexing anyone who gets too close. His tireless persistence and grace under pressure are remarkable.

2. Auron (Final Fantasy X)

I’m not sure I even need to say anything about this guy. Auron’s sword is nearly as big as he is, for heaven’s sake! He often fights one-handed simply because he can. His clothes are equal parts samurai and gunslinger, with an awesome pair of shades for good measure. Auron is noble and courteous, but takes no nonsense and will cut any obstacle into very tiny pieces. Oh, and one final thing: Auron is dead. Not even death can stop this man. He lingers for one final adventure simply because he has unfinished business in the land of the living. Heroes hardly get tougher than that!

1. Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid series)

Naked Snake

Naked Snake is the perfect soldier: an unstoppable combination of sniper, spy and infantryman. He sneaks through jungles and military bases, enduring harsh weather, surviving on rats and snakes, digging bullets out of his body with a knife and patching up his wounds before charging (or sneaking) back onto the battlefield. Snake defeats legendary soldiers, destroys massive war machines and prevents worldwide nuclear war at least three times. Then, tired of serving a corrupt government, he becomes a mercenary, creates his own nation-state and nearly conquers the world. (Note also his wicked eye patch.) There is no tougher dude in video games than this man.

O people of the Internet, what tough video game dudes would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

275. TMTF’s Top Ten Chase Scenes in Film

Do you know what’s exciting in movies? Chase scenes. I love chase scenes. Chase scenes are wonderful.

Whether the heroes are fleeing in fear from something dangerous or bravely pursuing an important objective, the high-speed, action-packed, adrenaline-pumping excitement of chase scenes is glorious. I’m no film expert, but I like movies as much as anyone, and today we’re looking at some of my favorite chase scenes in film.

The usual one-per-series rule applies here, of course, and I’ve included YouTube links to chase scenes wherever possible. Observant readers will notice a lack of scenes from the James BondDie Hard and Bourne movies. This isn’t due to any personal prejudice against action thrillers. It’s because I’ve seen hardly any of those movies I wanted this list to have some variety!

On your marks, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Chase Scenes in Film!

10. The Mines of Moria (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)

Mines of Moria

Although this chase isn’t as action-packed as others on this list, the Fellowship’s flight from the Balrog in the Mines of Moria ramps up the tension with an awesome musical score and a moment at which they must leap over a chasm as the unseen menace of the Balrog draws nearer. The monster doesn’t appear until the end of the chase, but the mere noise of its approach is enough to send Gandalf, a powerful wizard, running like a spooked cat. When the Balrog finally catches up with the Fellowship, it’s an epic conclusion to a thrilling chase.

I couldn’t find the scene on YouTube, so you’ll just have to watch the movie.

9. Light cycle chase (Tron: Legacy, 2010)

Light cycle chase

Short, sweet and colorful, this race between a Blue Guy and a Yellow Guy is great fun. The lack of music lends an understated realism to the scene; it reminds me of the podrace from the first Star Wars movie, but with brighter visuals and no annoying commentary. This chase also gets an honorable mention because Jeff Bridges.

You can watch this scene here.

8. Escaping the Reavers (Serenity, 2005)

Reaver chase

I was going to put the iconic speeder bike chase from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi on this list, but then I remembered this little gem from Joss Whedon’s Serenity. It has all the excitement of the Star Wars chase, and also boasts wonderful dialogue and much higher stakes. As an all-or-nothing escape from vicious cannibals, it’s a tense scene… but not so tense as to exclude one or two really funny lines.

You can watch this scene here.

7. Motorcycle chase (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)

Motorcycle chase

Indiana Jones is practically synonymous with exciting chase scenes. Every film starring this intrepid grave robber archaeologist has him running away from something. This chase is by far my favorite. I mean, it has motorcycle jousting. It also has Henry Jones’s deadpan reactions to his son’s violent tactics. These disapproving glances, like the relics Indiana Jones picks up on his adventures, are simply priceless.

You can watch this scene here.

6. Fleeing baboons (Tarzan, 1999)

Fleeing baboons

This wonderful chase has Tarzan rescue Jane as she flees a hoard of angry baboons. Sprinkled with droll humor and backed by a lively musical score, this chase also features CG effects that were pretty impressive for the time. My favorite part of this chase? Tarzan’s facial expressions.

You can watch this scene here.

5. Pirate pursuit (Castle in the Sky, 1986)

Pirate pursuit

This chase is one of the best scenes in what may be my all-time favorite film, a classic from the legendary Studio Ghibli. The Dola Gang, a notorious band of sky pirates, pursue an innocent boy and girl into a canyon. When the children hop onto a train on raised tracks, the pirates follow in a rickety automobile. This beautifully-animated scene would be wonderful even without the pirates’ dialogue, which is hilarious.

I couldn’t find the scene on YouTube, so you’ll just have to watch the movie. Seriously, go watch it. Stop reading this blog post and go watch the movie!

4. Race through Bagghar (The Adventures of Tintin, 2011)

Race through Bagghar

Steven Spielberg, bless him, sure knows a thing or two about directing great chase scenes. This chaotic rush down the streets of Bagghar, a fictional Moroccan city, is a joy to watch as Tintin crashes through buildings and over rooftops in a motorbike, trying to snatch a scroll from the talons of a hawk. There’s also a tank and a zip line and some accidental cross-dressing. Really, it’s quite a chase.

You can watch this scene here, but the quality of the clip is very poor; you may be better off just watching the movie.

3. Motorcycle duel (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, 2005)

Motorcycle duel

Despite a nonsensical plot, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is probably the best video game movie I’ve seen, and a personal favorite of mine. Why? Because it’s packed with scenes like this one, in which the hero wields an oversized sword to fend off bad guys while hurtling down a highway on a motorcycle. Everyone in this scene has superhuman agility and reflexes. There are gratuitous slow-motion shots. Explosions and gunshots punctuate a frenetic musical score. (It’s basically The Matrix, but better.) And this, an extended version of the scene, throws in some helicopters because why not.

You can watch this scene here.

2. Locomotive chase (The General, 1926)

Locomotive chase

Chase scenes are generally frantic, but they don’t have to be. The General, Buster Keaton’s masterpiece, has two phenomenal chase scenes that last at least ten minutes each. In the first, the protagonist chases a train on foot, and then on a handcar, and then on an old-fashioned bicycle, and finally on his own locomotive. In the second, the protagonist’s locomotive is pursued by enemy trains. Everything about these chases is perfect, from Keaton’s deadpan expressions to his ingenious solutions for overcoming obstacles. They may not be fast or furious, but these chase scenes are outstanding.

You can watch part of the first chase here, and you should go watch The General in its entirety. It’s a great film.

1. Toy train shenanigans (The Wrong Trousers, 1993)

Toy train shenanigans

My favorite chase scene in film history has no guns or explosions. What it has is a penguin, a dog, a toy train, a pair of mechanical trousers and a middle-aged man in his underpants. This scene, animated painstakingly in clay, is superb. As I worked on this top ten list, my younger brother asked me if this scene was number one, and added that he would slap me in the face if it was not. It’s that good. This brief, bizarre, brilliant chase through an ordinary English residence is my favorite in all of film.

You can watch this scene here. Please do.

What is your favorite chase scene in film? Let us know in the comments!

265. TMTF’s Top Ten Tips for Fighting Depression

I’ve been reading a book about depression. See, depression is a part of my life. It has been an irregular yet consistent struggle for many years. The book set me thinking me of all the ways I’ve learned to cope with my gloomy condition, and also reminded me that TMTF hasn’t featured a top ten list in ages.

If you suffer from depression… I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. This much-more-serious-than-usual list is for you.

Before I begin, there’s one thing I should make clear. This is a list of practical tips for coping with depression when you are already depressed. This is short-term advice. This is not a list of long-term lifestyle changes for treating or preventing depression. That’s another subject for another time.

Take heart, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Tips for Fighting Depression!

10. Drink some tea

I may be the only person in the world for whom tea is a coping strategy, which is why I’ve put it so low on the list, yet I find the process of brewing tea calming and reassuring. Besides, the warm strength of tea never fails to make me feel a tiny bit better.

9. Take a nap

Naps aren’t usually my thing, but it can be a blessed relief to disappear for a half an hour into the cozy darkness of my sleeping bag. For someone suffering from severe depression, a nap is a break from the agony of wakefulness.

8. Listen to good music

Since you probably can’t focus on anything else when you’re depressed, you may as well spend a few minutes sitting in a comfy chair listening to music with headphones. Angry or melancholy music is a great way to vent negative emotions, and cheerful music can be a warm balm to a troubled soul.

Depression Tip #75 - Depression can't withstand the groovy power of dance.

Silly Depression Tip #75 – Play seventies music and dance. No depression, however severe, can withstand the groovy power of disco. If you have them, wear bell-bottoms.

7. Take a hot shower

Hot water is a gift of God. It loosens tense muscles, eases aches and washes away the grit and grime of life. A good shower is refreshing and relaxing. Even when I’m severely depressed, I feel a little better for being warm and clean.

6. Go for a walk

Depression thrives on bleak inactivity. It can be hardso freaking hard—to leave behind the security of your home and step outside when you’re depressed, but a good walk can work wonders. It’s good to have fresh air and sunlight, or at least a change of scenery.

Depression Tip #142 - Look at pictures of funny animals, such as platypuses or blue-footed boobies.

Silly Depression Tip #142 – Look at pictures of funny animals, such as platypuses or blue-footed boobies. If that doesn’t work, remind yourself that birds called boobies are actually things that exist.

5. Look at photos from good experiences

I’m thankful my old man is a photographer. His photos of my beloved family, our vacations together and my dear homeland of Ecuador never fail to encourage me. Depression makes the world seem dark. Photos of pleasant places and faces are undeniable reminders that it isn’t.

4. Get some exercise

I can hardly believe I’m saying this. For all my life, I have disliked exercise. It seemed like a dreary, draining, sweaty, stinky waste of valuable time—time that could be spent doing important stuff like, um, lying on the floor being depressed. All right, maybe exercise is worth a shot. There’s a sciencey explanation of why exercise helps fight depression, but the gist of it is that exercise unleashes chemicals in the brain that make you happy… or something like that. Look, just do some push-ups, okay? I’m learning to enjoy exercise. Life seems simpler when I’m jumping rope.

Depression Tip #386 - Try an herbal remedy. Yierba mate is my favorite; peppermint is also effective. Oregano is strongly discouraged, except on pizza.

Silly Depression Tip #386 – Try an herbal remedy. Yierba mate is my favorite; peppermint is also effective. Oregano is strongly discouraged, except on pizza.

3. Do something productive (that isn’t stressful or complicated)

One of my ultimate strategies for coping with depression is to wash dishes. Seriously. I’ll put on upbeat music (Tip #8!) and run some hot water and get those dashed dishes clean. Washing dishes is therapeutic for me. It isn’t stressful or complicated. It’s something I can do no matter how depressed I feel. Afterward, I can look back and tell myself, “See that? You did something productive. You were useful. Not all the time you were depressed was wasted.” Your thing may not be washing dishes. It may be sweeping or baking or walking your dog. Find whatever it is, and do it.

2. Connect with someone

I don’t usually hug people, with the outstanding exceptions of close family members. (Awkward sibling hugs are the best.) All the same, hugs help. If you have a loved one handy when you’re depressed, ask for a hug. Ask for a prayer or a kind word or a cup of tea. If your loved ones aren’t located conveniently nearby, call them or send them a message. At the very least, tell someone you’re struggling. Solitude isn’t a bad thing; I prefer not to deal with most people when I’m depressed. However, solitude and isolation are different things, and isolation hurts. Connect with someone.

1. Pray to God

Not everyone may appreciate this tip, yet in my experience nothing is better for fighting depression than prayer. Asking God for help and putting my depression in his hands generally helps me most.

O people of the Internet, what’s your advice for coping with depression, anxiety or discouragement? Let us know in the comments!

239. TMTF’s Top Ten Unstoppable Heroes in Literature

Many works of fiction feature unstoppable heroes. These paragons of excellence may not be immune to defeat, but they sure seem like it!

Take Batman. He has no superpowers; Bruce Wayne is just a man with a high-tech suit and some fancy gadgets… and he’s also nigh-invincible. He excels physically, intellectually and morally as a strong fighter, brilliant strategist and champion of justice. I suppose it’s technically possible to kill Batman, but we all know in our heart of hearts that he’s unstoppable.

Literature is full of characters seem physically, intellectually or morally perfect. These are the characters the reader is sure will never be killed or get caught or suffer defeat. They are not invincible, but they may as well be. Some are nearly invulnerable; others are simply too clever or confident to be held down.

Why must I take an entire blog post to list unstoppable heroes from fiction? I can only echo George Mallory and reply: “Because they’re there.” As long as there are things to be ranked in top ten lists, TMTF shall be delighted to oblige!

My usual rules apply to this list: only one character is allowed per author, and characters can be included only from books I’ve read. (Batman would make the list, but I haven’t actually read any of his comics.) An unstoppable hero is defined as a character whose physical, intellectual or moral excellence make him or her seem utterly impervious to defeat.

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

Prepare to be amazed, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Unstoppable Heroes in Literature!

10. Phileas Fogg (Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne)

Phileas Fogg

Phileas Fogg is an impassive British gentleman whose life of precision and strict regularity is interrupted by the decision to circumnavigate the world in just eighty days: a feat that seems impossible given the limited technology of the time. Is it even possible to travel so far so fast? The reader must wait for an answer, but one thing is clear from the beginning. If it is humanly possible to travel around Earth in eighty days, Fogg will do it. Nothing—not faulty railways, conniving detectives, Sioux warriors or insufficient fuel—can deter this man.

9. Professor Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

Albus Dumbledore

Gentle, wise, whimsical and rather odd, Professor Albus Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Dumbledore’s seeming frivolity and warm sense of humor belie his shrewd mind, powerful magic and terrifying capacity for anger: “There was cold fury in every line of the ancient face; a sense of power radiated from Dumbledore as though he were giving off heat.” Despite his age, Dumbledore seems far too clever, strong and wise to be stopped even by death. Right? Right?

8. Tristan Farnon (All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot)

Tristan Farnon

In James Herriot’s fictionalized memoirs, Tristan Farnon is an irresistible force of optimism, charm and good-natured mischief. Not even the tyrannical bossiness and short temper of his older brother Siegfried can dampen his cheerful outlook. Tristan drinks too much, plays practical jokes and flirts with every young female in sight—and he nearly always gets away with it.

7. Mr. Great-heart (The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan)

Mr. Great-heart

Mr. Great-heart is too good to be true. A manservant, Mr. Great-heart is ordered by his master to accompany Christiana and her companions on their journey to the Celestial City. His role for the rest of the story is to slay giants, rescue pilgrims, light dark paths, discuss theology and generally be an impossibly perfect (and mostly uninteresting) blend of warrior, mentor, guide and teacher. Mr. Great-heart is so angelically brave and pure that there’s absolutely no question of getting in his way.

6. Kaito Kid (Detective Conan by Gosho Aoyama)

Kaito Kid

Kaito Kid hails from Detective Conan, a long-running (and ongoing) series of mystery manga (i.e. Japanese comics) also known as Cased Closed. Kid is a gentleman thief, expert magician and master of disguise whose crimes are perfect. Even his habit of announcing heists beforehand never seems to get in his way: no matter how smart the police, Kid is smarter. Kid pulls off tricks that seem supernatural… until Conan, the eponymous detective of the series, figures them out. However, even Conan can’t always stop Kid. It’s fortunate that Kid always returns whatever he steals!

5. Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Sherlock Holmes

As long as we’re discussing detectives, let’s not forget the father of them all: Sherlock Holmes. How many cases has this man solved? How many juggernauts of crime has he brought to justice? No trick is too tricky nor mystery too mysterious for the incomparable Holmes. Besides being, you know, a freaking genius, Holmes is a skilled fencer, actor, sharpshooter, violinist, martial artist and expert on a bewildering range of subjects from poisons to tobacco ash. No criminal stands a chance against Holmes.

4. Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Gandalf

According to Tolkien’s mythology, Gandalf is basically an angel. A freaking angel. So yeah, he’s unstoppable. This short-tempered wizard is ancient, but his age doesn’t stop him from traveling the world, battling monsters and getting in and out of scrapes. Even death can’t stop this man. When Gandalf dies after dueling a demonic beast, some higher power resurrects him and sends him back to save the world. Gandalf recovers from death the way most people recover from colds, and I’m pretty sure there’s no stopping him.

3. Obelix (The Adventures of Asterix by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo)

Obelix

When the ancient Roman Empire conquers Gaul, a vast region of Western Europe, they don’t conquer all of it. One tiny settlement, “the village of the indomitable Gauls,” remains free. The good-natured residents of this tiny town repel the legions of Rome thanks to a potion that gives them temporary surges of superhuman strength. When young Obelix falls into a cauldron of this potion, it has a permanent effect on him. Obelix grows into a pudgy delivery man who can lift anything, cannot be harmed and is literally unstoppable.

2. Jeeves (Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse)

Jeeves

Imagine Socrates, Confucius and Solomon rolled into one person, and then make that person a polite British valet. Congratulations: you’ve just imagined Jeeves, insofar as human imagination can devise a person as brilliant as he. Jeeves doesn’t contend with giants or monsters or criminals—if he did, they would be toast. No, Jeeves turns his colossal genius toward solving social crises and keeping his wayward employer, well-meaning but dimwitted Bertram Wooster, out of trouble. Jeeves’s dry wit, perfect composure and sheer intelligence make him an inexorable force of peace and order.

1. Aslan (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis)

Aslan

Aslan is basically Jesus Christ, and also a lion with huge muscles and sharp teeth. You can’t get any more unstoppable than that. What’s that? Aslan dies? Please. Aslan watches Gandalf conquer death and says, “See here, lad, this is how it’s done.” Able to appear anywhere and do anything with his infinite wisdom and boundless power, Aslan is absolutely the most unstoppable hero in any fiction I have ever read.

O people of the Internet, what unstoppable literary heroes would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

231. TMTF’s Top Ten Mad Scientists in Video Games

We’re all a little crazy.

Some of us, of course, are crazier than others. In video games, the craziest people generally fall into three categories: villains, mad scientists or both.

I find mad scientists particularly interesting. They abandon morality (and occasionally their own humanity) in their frenzied pursuit of knowledge or power. Like Adam and Eve snatching the forbidden fruit of Eden, these lunatics rebel against God and nature in the name of progress.

Mad scientists may not be good people, but they sure are good characters!

In listing ten remarkable mad scientists in video games, my usual rules apply: I won’t include characters from games I haven’t played (with one notable exception) and will include only one character per game series.

Let’s get crazy, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Mad Scientists in Video Games!

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

10. Andross (Star Fox series) Andross Andross was once a brilliant scientist, but experiments damaged his sanity and ruined his body. Although he doesn’t have much personality, Andross establishes himself as a notable villain by killing the father of the games’ protagonist and declaring himself emperor of the solar system. I also want to point out that Andross is apparently comfortable with sacrificing his body and becoming a disembodied head. That’s pretty crazy.

9. The Doctor (Cave Story) The Doctor (Cave Story) No, not that Doctor. This Doctor is actually a medical practitioner, albeit one with a terrifying lust for power and a violent disregard for the Hippocratic Oath. The Doctor is merciless, selfish and cruel. He also gets bonus points for using himself as a test subject and becoming a hideous mutant. Besides, I love that he carries around a pen. More villains need pens sticking out of their pockets.

8. E. Gadd (Super Mario Bros. series) E. Gadd Egad! This nutty little gentleman has the distinction of being pretty much the only good guy on this list. Professor Elvin Gadd is an inventor and paranormal researcher whose crowning achievement is a vacuum cleaner that sucks up ghosts. He’s cheerful, egotistical and blithely inconsiderate. He also sounds exactly like an Ewok from the Star Wars films. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. All the same, this pint-sized prof definitely has a few screws loose.

7. Fennel (Radiant Historia) Fennel Fennel is the head of a military research and development team. He’s also just a head. (There might be a body inside that slug-like machine, but I’m not sure.) Working for the warlike nation of Alistel, Fennel develops thaumatechnology: an arcane sort of machinery consisting mostly of weapons and other stuff that can kill you. He’s in love with his work, which takes place in a dim, ironclad labyrinth of underground chambers. Seriously, Fennel is kind of creepy.

6. Jean Descole (Professor Layton series) Jean Descole I haven’t actually played any of the games in which Jean Descole appears, but my brother insisted I put him on the list. (I’ll finish the Professor Layton series sooner or later.) Descole is cold, calm and cunning… except when he’s angry. Then he’s kind of scary. This archaeologist, master mechanic and self-proclaimed scientist manipulates others, shows no remorse and stops at nothing to achieve his goals. Don’t be fooled by that detached smile. Descole is not a sane man.

5. Doctor Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog series) Doctor Eggman As his name and title suggest, Doctor Eggman is a doctor shaped like an egg. Despite being extremely intelligent, he is not particularly bright; his schemes for world domination are invariably foiled by either a hedgehog or his own incompetence. Eggman is short-tempered, egotistical and prone to bouts of maniacal laughter: defining characteristics of a mad scientist. Besides, dat stache.

4. Pamela’s Father (Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask) Pamela's Father This poor fool, who is never given a proper name, is so devoted to his study of supernatural phenomena that he moves to a desolate, haunted valley to study ghouls and ghosts… and takes his young daughter Pamela with him. When his research causes him to deteriorate into a monster, she traps him in the basement and bars the front door against the ghouls circling the house. Terrifying? Heck yes. Pamela and her father are eventually rescued and his humanity restored. Regardless, any scientist crazy enough to drag his daughter to an isolated wasteland to study monsters is, well, really crazy.

3. Ansem (Kingdom Hearts series) Ansem Without delving too deep into the convoluted lore of the Kingdom Hearts universe, I can confidently declare this man a lunatic. His research into the darkness of the human heart leads to the creation of Heartless, shadowy monsters that swarm across the universe to devour worlds. Ansem himself becomes a Heartless. Then—in the time-honored tradition of mad scientists—he tries to conquer everything. This tanned, stylish scientist gets extra points for inverting the stereotype of the pallid researcher in a lab coat.

2. GLaDOS (Portal series) GLaDOSThis psychopathic artificial intelligence builds death traps and forces test subjects to solve them. Why? For science, of course! So what if her research methods kill a few people now and then? GLaDOS believes her experiments are worth the cost: “The science gets done and you make a neat gun for the people who are still alive!” I love how this AI becomes unhinged throughout the games, eventually stooping to ranting and petty insults. For complexity of character and degree of insanity, GLaDOS is wonderful.

1. Cidolfus Demen Bunansa (Final Fantasy XII) Doctor Cid Cidolfus Demen Bunansa is one of the best video game characters I’ve ever seen: supercilious, brilliant, arrogant, foppish and seemingly insane. He treats tyrants with casual disrespect and talks aloud to an imaginary friend named Venat. I would call Cid a delusional lunatic, except for one minor detail—he’s actually sane. Cid is a rational man obsessed with defying the gods and putting “the reigns of history back in the hands of man,” abetted by the mysterious, invisible Venat. Of course, on his noble quest to liberate humankind, Cid doesn’t mind shedding a little innocent blood: this man ordered the obliteration of an entire city with the magical equivalent of an atomic bomb as a scientific experiment. Cid is fabulous, fascinating, evil, despicable, astonishing and awesome.

O people of the Internet, what video game mad scientists would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

213. TMTF’s Top Ten Life Lessons in Video Games

Wisdom can be found in unexpected places.

As we search for truth in literature, faith, philosophy and the lives of great people, we mustn’t overlook the lessons to be learned from BatmanDoctor Who, cartoon ponies and webcomics about video games. Speaking of which, video games have invaluable lessons to impart: useful principles that can be applied for success in real life.

What? You don’t believe me?

All right, then! Ladies and gentlemen, consider these practical principles as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Life Lessons in Video Games!

10. Be Creative in Solving Problems

As tempting as it can be for gamers to try solving everything with violence, some obstacles can’t be shot, hacked or blown away. Puzzles require critical thinking. Some enemies require timing and strategy, not brute force, to conquer. Players have to be creative in solving problems, and creativity is an invaluable gift.

9. Observation Is Important

Anyone who plays a Legend of Zelda game quickly learns to keep his eyes open for cracked walls. Apply explosives to a damaged wall and—boom!—a way is opened. In video games, good things come to those who notice stuff. Video games teach players not merely to hear and see, but to listen and observe.

8. Appreciate Beauty

I love solving puzzles and defeating enemies as much as the next gamer. All the same, one of my favorite things about video games is how darn pretty they can be. (Yes, video games can be beautiful. Like brushstrokes or pencil shading, pixels can make lovely pictures.) Players are treated to sunrises and forests and ocean views, and appreciating beauty in artificial environments is a step toward appreciating it in natural ones.

7. Plan Ahead

Bad things happen to those who are unprepared. The person playing a Final Fantasy game will be annihilated by a tough boss if she hasn’t leveled up her characters or stocked up on healing potions. The person playing a Mario Kart game will lose if he hasn’t bothered figuring out the controls. This brings us to the real world, where the person taking a test or applying for a job will fail if she hasn’t planned ahead and made necessary preparations. Once again, video games reflect how things work in real life.

6. Stay Calm

The player who panics and starts mashing buttons will most often lose, and gamers get plenty of opportunities to panic. It can be hard to stay calm when facing that tricky jump or twisty racetrack or nigh-invincible boss, but rational decision-making is more likely to lead to success than wild overreaction. People who learn to keep cool under pressure while playing video games are better equipped to keep cool under pressure while doing everything else.

5. Practice Makes Perfect

I stink at fighting games: kicks and combos and Hadoukens baffle me. There is, however, one kind of fighting game in which I will destroy you: a Super Smash Bros. game. (My younger brother is a rare exception to this rule; he defeats me effortlessly.) As a kid, I resolved to learn to play Super Smash Bros. to enjoy the game with friends. Mastering the game took time and effort and many failures… and it was totally worth it. Practice makes perfect. At the very least, practice makes better. Video games remind us of the fact.

4. It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

With these cautionary words, the first Legend of Zelda game echoes something in another famous work: a book called the Bible. Quoth the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” In other words, It’s dangerous to go alone.

3. You Reap What You Sow

So you’re playing a Final Fantasy game, slaying monsters, saving the world, when your quest is interrupted by some woman who wants you to gather medicines to heal a wounded traveler. A nuisance? Yes. You gather the medicines, the traveler recovers—and your kindness is rewarded. Another example: You take a break from your adventure in a Legend of Zelda game to attack a chicken. You’re enjoying yourself—after all, hacking away at defenseless fowl is fun—until the chicken decides to fight back, and your cruelty is punished with death. Seriously. For better or for worse, we reap what we sow. This biblical principle is common in video games.

2. Success Is an Investment

You can’t traverse that treacherous pitfall in a Mario game? Keep trying. You can’t conquer that unbeatable boss in a Kingdom Hearts game? Keep fighting. You can’t get your client acquitted in an Ace Attorney game? Keep gathering evidence. Sooner or later, you’ll pass that pitfall or flatten that boss or prove your client’s innocence. Now consider the real world. You can’t pass a class? Keep studying. You can’t afford something? Keep saving. You can’t achieve a goal? Keep working at it. No matter where you turn, success is an investment.

1. Good Guys Win

The world is full of terrible, selfish people who seem to succeed. Video games are no different. There are monsters, jerks and villains who triumph by lying, cheating and backstabbing. In the end, an overwhelming majority of those bad guys are brought to justice. The good guys—the guys who strive and fight and sacrifice to help others—win. You know what? In our world, the same thing happens. We need to be reminded that good guys sometimes win.

O people of the Internet, what useful lessons have you learned from video games? Let us know in the comments!

206. TMTF’s Top Ten Jerks in Literature

Jerks. They’re everywhere. Read any comments section on the Internet and you’ll see what I mean. Wherever there are people, there are jerks. (Except possibly in Canada.)

Dan Vs.

There are plenty of jerks in literature, and TMTF has chosen ten of the worst. The usual rules apply: I’ll include characters only from books I’ve read, and only one character per author. This list defines a jerk as a person who possesses unlikable qualities such as selfishness, cruelty, hypocrisy, rudeness or a tendency to kick small animals.

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Jerks in Literature!

10. Pap Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)

Pap Finn

Huckleberry Finn’s father is abusive, greedy, drunken, heartless, filthy, violent, wheedling, dishonest, neglectful, ruthless, irresponsible and utterly devoid of conscience, charm or deodorant. I could go on, but I don’t think there’s any need. Pap Finn is a jerk.

9. Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

Frightening.

My introduction to Ms. Umbridge was a description of her as a character with a personality “like poisoned honey.” This description proved to be extraordinarily apt. Dolores Umbridge is sickeningly sentimental, cheerful and twee… and also bigoted, sadistic and evil. With smiles and giggles, she inflicts horrible punishments on students and taunts her colleagues. Really, Dolores Umbridge is a jerk.

8. Bill Sikes (Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens)

Bill Sykes

There are many great Dickensian jerks, but none worse than Bill Sikes. Even Fagin—himself a notorious jerk—is afraid of this guy. Sikes is barbaric and violent, beating his lover to death, hitting his dog and stopping at nothing to get what he wants. He also has no fashion sense. Bill Sikes is a particularly nasty jerk.

7. Charles Augustus Milverton (“The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Charles Augustus Milverton

I’ll let Sherlock Holmes handle this one: “Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo, and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me . . .  I have said that he is the worst man in London, and I would ask you how could one compare the ruffian, who in hot blood bludgeons his mate, with this man, who methodically and at his leisure tortures the soul and wrings the nerves in order to add to his already swollen money-bags?” Sherlock Holmes has spoken: Charles Augustus Milverton is a jerk.

6. Bob Ewell (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

Mr. Ewell

Bob Ewell is basically Pap Finn, except more viciously racist and (the novel implies) guilty of sexually abusing his daughter. Mr. Ewell also attempts to murder a couple of children. This is becoming something of a refrain for this list, but Mr. Ewell is drunken, disheveled and filthy. (Umbridge and Milverton may be evil, but at least they take baths.) Bob Ewell is, without question, a jerk.

5. Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë)

Heathcliff

Heathcliff has the notable distinction of being the only fictional character whom I have ever wanted to punch in the face. He’s horrible: a man whose resentment and poisonous love for a childhood friend drive him to exact slow, cruel, methodical vengeance on everyone who slighted him. Heathcliff goes so far as to marry someone he despises as part of his plan to hurt as many people as he can. Seriously, Heathcliff is a jerk.

4. Assef (The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini)

Assef

Assef begins a bully, becomes a rapist and ends up a sociopathic jihadist, all with contemptuous arrogance and not a single shred of guilt. Many literary jerks have some tiny gleam of goodness to provoke sympathy, compassion or pity from the reader. Not this guy. Assef is simply a jerk.

3. Professor Edward Rolles Weston (Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis)

Professor Weston

Professor E.R. Weston is doubly a jerk. In his first appearance in Out of the Silent Planet, Weston is a ruthless believer in survival of the fittest: he calls a half-witted local boy “incapable of serving humanity and only too likely to propagate idiocy” and admits his intention to commit genocide to serve his own ends. In Perelandra, a later novel, Weston has transformed from an amoral humanist to an amoral spiritualist; he is implied eventually to be possessed by a satanic spirit. Thus it is proved: Weston is a jerk.

2. Dodge (Locke & Key series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez)

Dodge

An absolutely evil person isn’t necessarily a jerk. Thieves and murderers can be respectful, charming and even polite. Dodge is an absolutely evil person and a jerk. He lies, steals, manipulates, betrays, rapes and murders with calculated precision, sadistic glee and not even the faintest hint of remorse. Whether taunting mentally handicapped teens or shoving kids in front of buses, Dodge is an irredeemable jerk.

1. Abiatha Swelter (Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake)

Abiathar SwelterThis hideously obese, “drunken, arrogant and pedantic” man is the chef of Gormenghast castle, a horribly… well… horrible man. Well, man may be too polite a word. In a book packed with awful people, Swelter is the worst: cruel, short-tempered, disgusting, resentful, demented and murderous. He may not be the most evil character on this list, but I think he’s the most odious. In conclusion, I have only one thing to add—and I’m sure you’ve guessed it. Swelter is a jerk.

O people of the Internet, what despicable literary jerks would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!