Monday, December 16, 2013

My disappointment with the Legend of Korra, Book Two

I loved the first book of Avatar: the Legend of Korra, so I didn't have to think twice about ordering the second book on iTunes. Unfortunately, the second book fell flat in many ways. There were some good moments, but overall the second book was a disappointment.

Spoilers below the cut! They're lengthy. Sorry, I needed to get this off my chest.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Movie Review: Frankenstein's Army

As you probably already know, I am a big fan of the Weird War concept. This setting combines World War II, the most iconic conflict of all time, and adds in elements of the supernatural and/or science fiction. So when I first heard of Frankenstein's Army, I was intrigued. After all, who wouldn't want to watch a horror movie about Frankenstein creating dieselpunk zombie monsters for the Third Reich?

Warning: This review contains spoilers, and also includes a fairly disturbing movie poster and trailer below the cut.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thoughts on Thor 2: Would I rather be Thor or Iron Man?

A week ago, my lovely wife and I saw Thor: The Dark World. We also saw Iron Man 3 back when it was in theaters, and seeing both films brought back a question I have asked myself from time to time: who would I rather be, Thor or Tony Stark?

Both films are similar: the main character has grown as a person since we first met him, has established a romantic relationship with the other main character, and, perhaps most significantly, has recently saved the Earth from an alien invasion. I also find the differences between the characters fascinating. I can compare the two of them, but it's hard to pick a favorite, except for in one definite area where the leader clearly emerges.

Let me explain.

(Contains spoilers for both movies)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search goes right where The Promise went wrong

In my review of the previous Avatar: the Last Airbender comic series, The Promise, I hoped that the next series, The Search, would do better. I am happy to say that it did! Where The Promise had too many characters, too many storylines, shifts in tone, and characters acting out of character, The Search told a tighter story with fewer characters, a better narrative, and better writing.

And of course, The Search answers the top question asked by fans of Avatar: the Last Airbender: what happened to Zuko's mother? I won't spoil the answer, but it's worth picking up the comics just to finally know.

(This review does contain some minor spoilers, though, but probably nothing you couldn't pick up from the covers.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Happy N7 Day

Today is N7 Day (because it's November 7, so N-7), so today is a day to celebrate Mass Effect. There's only one problem: Mass Effect 3 came out on March 6, 2012. The final DLC, The Citadel, was released March 6, 2013. So it's been a while since we've had anything new to talk about.

So I was sitting at my desk, wanting to post something Mass Effect-related for N7 day, but unable to think of anything new to say. MLW suggested I write about why I love Mass Effect, and why I'm still so into it. I tried to think of what to say that I had not said before in my many posts about Mass Effect, and then MLW asked me if I had seen the N7 Day video above. I had not, so I watched it, and I knew what I wanted to write about.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"The Guide" gives me hope for The Legend of Korra, Book 2

Avatar: the Last Airbender is my favorite animated television series of all time. I was very excited when they announced a new series set in the same world, and I was very happy with Book One (The Legend of Korra is broken up into books, not seasons, with each book half the length of a regular season). My favorite characters were Lin and Tenzin, and I was eager to see more of their story in Book Two.

Unfortunately, Book Two stumbled right out of the gate and stayed disappointing for many episodes. Things started to turn around in the two-part episode "Beginnings," raising my hopes for the rest of the book. After today's episode, "The Guide," I think I can finally say that it looks like Book Two is turning around and getting good!

The rest of this post contains some serious spoilers for The Legend of Korra.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My favorite thing on Twitter ever

I keep meaning to post this, and I figured it's high time.

Patrick Weekes is one of the writers on Mass Effect.
Jennifer Hale did the voice of the female Shepard.
I am Baron von Chop.
Mark Meer did the voice of the male Shepard.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is better than you'd expect

The game's marketing pushed the physics engine, and how enemy characters react to being tossed around.

** Contains Some Minor Spoilers **

Star Wars: the Force Unleashed is a fairly old game, having originally been released for the XBox 360 in 2008 and the PC in 2009. I had heard mixed things about it, so I never bothered picking it up until this past Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you), when all the Star Wars games on Steam were on sale. It was only a few dollars, so I grabbed it. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found: the gameplay was quite fun, and the narrative, while not great, at least made an effort to tell a new, interesting story.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Brütal Legend: A review with many images

Prepare yourself for a world of heavy metal
I have many reasons to love Double Fine Entertainment: They made Psychonauts, one of the best and most unique 3D platformers I've ever played. They're a Bay Area company, so they're local boys. They are run by the immensely likable Tim Schafer, and they used to (but no longer) employ Scott Campbell (and Scott C did a large chunk of the concept art for Brütal Legend). I recently added one more reason to like them: they made Brütal Legend, a game that allowed me to spend more than 20 hours exploring, fighting in, and ultimately saving a heavy metal world.

Brütal Legend is famous for a very mixed reception at its launch. Commercially, the game was a failure, and it led to Double Fine shifting their focus from AAA titles to smaller, less expensive projects. Gamers didn't know what to make of the hybrid tactical/action game, which combined elements of Real-Time Strategy, open-world exploration, and hack-and-slash fighting.

I had the (somewhat dubious) advantage of waiting several years before playing the game because it took that long for a PC port to come out, but that meant that I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into. I played Brütal Legend on its own terms, and I found myself loving almost everything about it. It's not a perfect game, but it's so relevant to my interests that I don't even care.

(Brütal Legend has such a cool-looking world that this review called for a lot of images, some of which are a little spoilery but presented without context.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

There's no paper in Star Wars, and 4 other things I am glad Star Wars lacks

Image from the datapad entry on Wookieepedia
Star Wars fans know that one of the rules of the setting is that there is no paper in Star Wars. Star Wars may take place "a long time ago," but it's full of spaceships and blasters, so it makes sense that people wouldn't still rely on chopping down trees, mashing them up, pressing the paste flat, and smearing ink over it to convey messages. Instead, characters in Star Wars use datapads to record and transmit information. If characters absolutely have to jot something down, they use flimsiplast, which is basically "space paper."

Though the lack of paper in Star Wars is hardly vital to the setting, it got me thinking about the other things that I am glad Star Wars doesn't have. As it turns out, most of the things on my list exist in Star Trek but not in Star Wars. I love Star Trek, too, but these differences help the two great franchises "feel" different, with Star Trek being more science fiction and Star Wars being more space fantasy.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Thoughts on the upcoming Superman and Batman movie

Apparently a new movie featuring both Superman and Batman is in the works, according to an announcement made at Comic-Con. When I first heard the news, I had a brief moment of excitement, and then boredom set in almost immediately. I thought the recent Dark Knight trilogy was okay but seriously overrated, Superman Returns was just bad, and I haven't bothered to see Man of Steel yet. But I've had some time to think about it, and I think that a crossover movie might actually be pretty cool, depending on what direction they take it.

This post contains spoilers for the Dark Knight trilogy. Coming right up, in fact.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I saw Pacific Rim and it was amazing (spoiler free)

I was totally looking forward to seeing Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim promised giant robots fighting giant monsters, with the budget and the creative direction that such an awesome premise deserves. I watched it with my wife, who was at least as excited to see it as I was, which is really saying something. But since we had built up the movie to such a ridiculous degree, could it possibly live up to our expectations?

The answer is a 25-story-tall "YES."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pacific Rim looks amazing and I can't wait to see it

I have been geeking out about the upcoming movie Pacific Rim ever since I first heard of it If you haven't yet, you owe it to yourself (and your inner 12-year-old) to watch some of the Pacific Rim trailers on Apple's iTunes Movie Trailers site. Pacific Rim features giant robots fighting to save the world from giant monsters, and it is directed by Guillermo del Toro, so you know those giant robots and monsters will look great. Best of all, Pacific Rim comes out this week!

With the movie so close to release, my geek-out level is approaching dangerous levels, so I thought it might help stabilize my inner fanboy to talk about my expectations. To keep things simple, I will use an approach that my 12-year-old self would have approved of, and split my thoughts into things that are awesome and things that are dumb.

Monday, July 8, 2013

1000 is a badass series of animations you can help fund on Kickstarter

Imagine a vibrant, urban fantasy world featuring magic, demons, vampires, dragons, and more. It sounds like the premise to a great pen-and-paper roleplaying game, comic book, or video game, and maybe some day it will be! But first, 1000 will be a series of 90-second animations... if it succeeds in its Kickstarter. This project looks like the start of a creative and exciting new setting, and the fact that it's on Kickstarter means that anyone can help it become a reality. You can learn more about the project by visiting their page on Kickstarter.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Things that make me frustrated with video games (and why I shouldn't let them)

Nobody wants to be this guy
(If you don't know who this is, look up "angry german kid" on Youtube, but turn down your speakers first)
Normally I love playing video games, but there are times when they make me very frustrated. The scary thing about frustration is, you're often not aware of how frustrated you are or how you're displaying that level of frustration. Recently I was playing a stage in Double Fine's Brütal Legend and, though I didn't feel like I was exceptionally frustrated (I certainly wasn't swearing, shouting, or pounding the keyboard like the angry German kid), it was unpleasant and frightening to my wife. That got me thinking about the reasons I get frustrated, and the ways in which I can get over them and enjoy the game without losing my cool.

Friday, June 21, 2013

XBox One: Playing a Bit of Devil's Advocate

People act like what Microsoft did with the XBox One's intended policy for game ownership was a transparent cash-grab that came out of the blue. In truth, we already have virtually the same system in place with games on PCs. Since consoles are really just PCs in a smaller box, why the different system? If Microsoft would have said "Every user has to buy a unique CD key to play a game," people would have understood what Microsoft was trying to do. They want the ownership of a game to be tied to accounts (ie, individual people) rather than to a physical copy of a disk. Instead, we're going to continue to have a system with two different methods of ownership:

1. the disk-based version will continue use the physical presence of an official disk to make sure the company got paid for the game (meaning you have to have the disk in your system to play, even if the game is installed on your hard drive).

2. the digital version will be linked to account ownership, meaning everyone who plays it on a different account will have to buy a unique copy (since it's the only way to make sure people using torrents or file hosts don't just share the game with ten thousand of their closest friends without the company who made it making a red cent from it).

So to everyone saying that they don't want to have to pay separately for every account (ie, every person) to play a game: you're already doing that for digital games. The only difference is Microsoft wants (or, I suppose, wanted) to extend that system to all games, regardless of the physical presence of a disk. They don't want to continue with two different methods depending on whether you installed the game from a disk or through digital download. (And maybe, just maybe, we could have gotten to the point where we could play on a console without having to have the disk in, meaning no more disk-swapping.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Elves: More than pointy ears and long lifespans

Look up 'elf' in a fantasy dictionary and you are likely to see Legolas, from the Lord of the Rings trilogy
If someone were to ask you to picture an elf, there's a good chance you would picture someone like the gentleman above: green clothing, pointy ears, nice hair, and a bow. Bonus points if you picture that elf in a forest. Elves have been a part of the fantasy genre for so long now that fantasy fans know what to expect from elves, so fantasy settings tend to gloss over them. Magic, trees, bows, ears, done. If a fantasy settings wants to create a race that will make fans sit up and take notice, they create something completely different, like D&D's Dragonborn or the Elder Scrolls' Khajiit and Argonians. World of Warcraft doesn't even have regular elves, perhaps because they thought that nobody would want to play an elf unless it was a "dark" elf or a "blood" elf.

I think that's a shame, because if you stop and think about elves for a moment, you might remember what made them so interesting in the first place. Creators should spend less time trying to come up with new and increasingly ridiculous races and perhaps spend some time thinking about how to make the classic races interesting again.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The time I took a telemarketer on a dungeon crawl

Image from iStockphoto (obv)

Image from Detras de la Pantalla
Recently, I was telling a good friend of mine about the time a telemarketer called me and I took her on an impromptu dungeon crawl. I have spent a lot of time thinking about ways I could have done a better job of it, so when my friend suggested that I blog about it, I decided it was time to revisit this geeky moment in my past.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Iron Man 3: More of What We Love

** Contains spoilers for Iron Man 3, the previous Iron Man movies, and The Avengers **
If you're anything like me, then the main reason you went and saw Iron Man 3 was to see Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow return to their roles as Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. It helps that there was plenty of action, a brisk pace, and humor, but that was just an added bonus. As the third film in the series, and the fourth to feature these characters, the characters we see in Iron Man 3 have grown and changed since we first met them. Tony Stark became a hero in the past movies, but now his decisions are catching up to him and he has to deal with the consequences.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bluefish's Ideas for Star Wars VII

I drew up a comment to the last post, but  it wound up even longer than the original, so I thought I'd post it as its own entry.

I've been thinking about this ever since last night, and I've decided to narrow down my answer in a few ways to keep it from getting to be book-length (or at least fanfiction-length). First, I'm going to write about Star Wars VII, not just a new Star Wars movie. I hope that Disney--as they have hinted--will put out side movies in addition to the regular storyline of VII, VIII, and IX, just like they're putting out individual films for the Avengers in addition to the main plot. So as much as I'd love to watch a Star Wars movie that plays out like a horror movie with the main characters entering an ancient Sith temple on a forgotten planet where a hidden evil lurks, or a movie in which an outcast Jedi is hunted by the enemies she's made in the criminal underworld, those ideas will have to wait until later. And I have lots of ideas. Only a few involve Twi'leks and are rated R.
Picture source: Star Wars Galaxies Trading Card Game, picture by Kieran Yanner

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

BVC's suggestions for Star Wars VII

In my previous post about the upcoming Star Wars movies, I gave some reasons for optimism. Now that I have had more time to think about it, I would like to make some suggestions for ways in which the new films can be as good as, or even better than, the ones that came before. We have had several decades to enjoy the original trilogy and think about what else we would like to see in the Star Wars universe.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Let's talk about Discworld

Great A'Tuin, by Paul Kidby
Sir Terry Pratchett's birthday was a few days ago, so I think now is a great time to talk about his most famous creation, the Discworld and the series of excellent novels set on it! Discworld, as fans know, is a flat, circular world, born on the backs of four enormous elephants, who in turn stand on the back of Great A'Tuin, a giant turtle who swims through space. The disc is home to people, trolls, dwarves, gnomes, and dragons, though the dragons tend to be small, snivelly creatures who explode when they get excited. It's a fantasy world, but it's also surprisingly familiar. And I love it!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Young Justice Season Two goes wrong where Season One went right

** This post contains spoilers. Also, it turned out quite long. I guess I needed to rant. **

The first season of Young Justice may not have been perfect, but it made for a satisfying, consistently entertaining superhero cartoon. Earlier, I wrote about why I preferred Young Justice to Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Based on the strength of the first season, I bought an iTunes season pass for the second season. This means that I committed to paying for the entire second season before watching a single episode of that season. That turned out to be a mistake.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Walking Dead: Telltale Games' Masterpiece

I remember back when 2012's video game awards were coming out, The Walking Dead seemed to be dominating. Then, a friend got me an iTunes gift card for the holidays, and he encouraged me to buy all five episodes of the game with the gift card. I bought the game, and from the first time I played it, I was pulled into the story. The best thing about the game was its characters. At first, I wondered how the game was going to make me care about a cliched relationship like the tough guy protecting the little girl. About five minutes later, I was ready to do whatever it took to keep that little girl safe.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Update: The Reward - Tales of Alethrion has added more backer rewards!

So many rewards! Click to view larger.
In my previous post, one of the things that I lamented about the Kickstarter for The Reward - Tales of Alethrion was that there weren't enough rewards. The people behind the Kickstarter must have heard that a lot, because they have now added a lot of new rewards to entice people to pledge, or to raise their pledges if they had previously pledged. Even better, a lot of those rewards are quite reasonably priced!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Reward - Tales of Alethrion is a Kickstarter that could use your money

So, you've already seen The Reward, the hilarious tale of a friendship between two adventurers. You probably loved it and thought to yourself, "Why can't there be a whole series of videos like this?" Well, now there might be, thanks to a Kickstarter that the creators of The Reward are putting together to fund the first episode of a proposed series.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Uncaged: Faces of Sigil is exactly the kind of RPG rulebook I love to read

While most of the art in Uncaged is incorporated with the text, there are some full-page illustrations
Wizards of the Coast recently launched, a site that allows players to purchase PDF versions of classic D&D rulebooks. I immediately fell in love with Uncaged: Faces of Sigil, and bought it for ten dollars. Though I have no chance of actually playing in a D&D campaign in the Planescape setting, I don't regret that purchase for a moment. The book is packed with colorful descriptions of a host of interesting characters, topped off with some great illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Citadel DLC: A Curtain Call and a Fond Farewell

The best mission objective in all of Mass Effect?
**I'll try to avoid major spoilers, but this review does contain some minor spoilers.**

Mass Effect 3: The Citadel is the final DLC mission in the Mass Effect Trilogy. It's been an amazing ride, with some memorable characters, epic moments, tough battles, and hard choices. The Citadel DLC isn't so much a conclusion as it is a curtain call. It's one last opportunity to take your ME3 squadmates (and Wrex!) on a great mission, and then kick back and party with your space bros.

When I heard that the final DLC would be a party, I knew I had to buy it as soon as it came out. I had been less than impressed by the Leviathan and Omega DLC that came before, though, so I tried to keep my enthusiasm in check. I figured the writing would be cheesy, but I was okay with that. I also knew that the DLC would begin with a combat-focused mission, which I expected to be a throwaway plot to add some token combat.

I needn't have worried. The writing was top-notch. Sure, it was cheesy, but also heartwarming, nostalgic, witty, and genuinely hilarious. And the combat half blew away my expectations, with a well-crafted mission against a compelling villain. There were great set pieces, interesting combat, and more squad banter than you can shake a pyjack at.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Book Review: Old Man's War

In order to write a review of John Scalzi's Old Man's War, I must first make a confession: I've never read anything by Robert A. Heinlein. Just about any time you see a mention of Old Man's War, you'll see it compared to Heinlein's work. I've seen the Starship Troopers movie, but I don't know if that makes it better or worse. So, while I can't compare Old Man's War to what's come before, I can say this: it's an excellent sci-fi novel that blends humor, action, and science into a hugely readable whole. I highly recommend it, whether you've read Heinlein or not!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Madoka Magica: A magical girl anime that will blow your mind

Yes, this is the cover. For real.
Before you start saying "Baron von Chop has lost his mind" (or something else), yes, this is a magical girl anime, and yes, I thought it was brilliant and you should go watch it. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an anime about young girls who are given a chance to become magical girls. In exchange, they have to fight witches, who represent fear and despair while magical girls represent hope and love. The brilliance of Madoka Magica is that it looks, at first, like any other cute, brightly colored magical girl anime. But as the show progresses, the characters start to learn what it really means to be a magical girl, and I guarantee you that you will not see it coming.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cyber City Oedo 808: bluefish's thoughts

Like my friend Monsieur le Baron, I enjoyed Cyber City Oedo 808 for the flawed gem it is. With only three episodes, it's short enough not to outstay its welcome. I don't have too much to add to his review, but I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the show.

Produced in the early 90's, Cyber City Oedo 808 comes a little after the first cyberpunk books came out. I can't call myself an expert, but it seems to me that cyberpunk in Japan is often about cops and crimefighters: Ghost in the Shell, Bubblegum Crisis, AD Police, and Appleseed. In my mind, cyberpunk should have an anti-authoritarian edge; after all, it's the megacorporations that tell us what to do, what to think, and what to feel. You shouldn't be protecting them and the social order. But my definition is probably too narrow. Like any genre, you take a setting and a series of tropes and you tell your own story with them. The way you shape the fantasy world often expresses even more than how you talk about the real world. Perhaps it says something that in the minds of these storytellers, change is best made from within, by organized groups of right-thinking individuals holding the line. It's an inherent trust that the system isn't flawed, individual corporations and people are. And sometimes you fix them with bullets.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cyber City Oedo 808 - It ain't perfect, but I'll take it

When the teaser trailer to Cyberpunk 2077 came out, I was reminded of how much I love cyberpunk. I hit Wikipedia and started looking through the various examples on the page for Cyberpunk. I looked at the various examples of cyberpunk anime, and one of the titles that caught my eye was Cyber City Oedo 808. It was old enough to be "classic" cyberpunk without being so old that it looked awful. Its UK dub had a heavy metal soundtrack. And perhaps best of all, the whole series was only three 40-minute episodes long.

Before I saw the series, bluefish watched it first. He knows a lot more about cyberpunk than I do, having read just about everything by William Gibson as well as loads of Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, and authors I've never even heard of. As he was watching the first episode, he sent me an IM saying:
OEDO just referenced "ICE: That's intrusion countermeasure electronics"
Said by a guy with a mohawk and shades
That was a good enough endorsement for me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Where do your characters keep their gear?

Adventure Needs from Marian Churchland's wonderful blog
If I ran a sword-and-sorcery RPG, and if I had the guts, I would insist that my players write out exactly where each of their items are on their bodies, in their packs, or on their cart/horse/riding bird. Though it may seem like a chore, writing out or sketching everything your character is carrying and how the character is carrying it can make a huge difference in changing the way players think about their characters.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Goblins just wanna have fun

Last week, Evan Dahm drew a picture of a goblin every day on his tumblr, declaring it to be 'Goblin Week.' It got me thinking about goblins, and specifically, why I like those nasty little monsters so much. Goblins are as necessary to a good fantasy setting as dragons, elves, and dwarves. After all, those are the races that made up The Hobbit, besides hobbits and humans. But, while dragons, elves, and dwarves frequently feature on the covers of fantasy games and novels, goblins are treated as set dressing. Usually, they serve as Baby's First Monster: a stepping stone for first-level adventurers to cut their teeth on before moving on to tougher enemies. I think that's a waste of their potential, and a good goblin can make a campaign more memorable.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Other Change of Hobbit Needs Your Help!

Feb 4, 2013 UPDATE: The Other Change of Hobbit has been served an eviction notice. Thank you to everyone who bought books to try to stave off closure, and to the staff of TOCOH, thanks for all the books and the memories.

The Other Change of Hobbit is an independent SF & F bookstore located in Berkeley, California. They have been around since 1977, and according to Wikipedia, they opened on the same weekend that Star Wars came out.

TOCOH has been struggling financially, and now they're in dire straits: if they can't make enough to pay the rent this weekend, they may have to close their doors for good.