Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On Ultramarines (A Spoiler-Free Review)



So, I don't do as many reviews as some of the other blaggers in our circle, (I personally find them a bit dry to write), but I promised to put up some thoughts about the Ultramarines movie when I watched it, so here we go.

Here is a 'Rome's Rapid Rubric*' breakdown of the movie:

Action/Fanservice/Plot:
7/0**/4

*[Note that Rome's Rapid Rubric only accounts for these factors by volume, not by quality. This is particularly important for 'plot,' which is 'how complicated is the plot,' and not 'how good is the plot.'  Inception is a 6 in plot, while Primer is a 9, but this doesn't mean Primer is "better" - it just packs more "goings-on" into the time it has.]

**[In the RRR, Fanservice ONLY denotes sexually-oriented fanservice.  Other kinds of fanservice certainly exist, but are too nebulous to deal with in this intentionally over-simplified metric.]

I went in with a very specific set of expectations, and I was satisfied.  I expected to see the Ultramarines kick some ass, and the film did not disappoint in that regard.  The plot was pretty solid and though it was in no way revolutionary it was a more than serviceable as a vehicle for the main event (the action).  It wasn't excessively predictable - the 'plot summary' that TG built from the trailers alone proved to be wrong (warning: Spoilers, Nerdrage, Misinformation, and Heresy regarding the possible divinity of John Hurt) so that's something, at least.


("The Action," courtesy Bell of Lost Souls)


The CG was the part of the film that your average person will probably have the most trouble with.  It was far from photorealistic, but they tried hard enough that it slipped into the uncanny valley at times.  Personally, I would have gone with more stylized CG instead of attempting photorealism with an insufficient budget.  The long and short of it is that machines (power armor, vehicles, etc) all look pretty good, and faces look kind of... off.  If you can get over that, though, you can probably enjoy the visuals - they are quite detailed, and at times they can be pretty impressive.  Just don't go in expecting Tron: Legacy or a modern-day Blizzard cinematic and you won't be disappointed.  The characters also wear helmets for much of the film, which helps a bit.

For Warhammer 40k fanatics, however, the slightly outdated (if pretty well-implemented) visuals are not going to be the major point of contention.  No, as forums have shown already, the greatest source of RAAAAEG is "Why Isn't This Movie About My Army of Choice?" syndrome.  However, before you post yet another thread about how "overpowered" the Ultramarines were in this movie and how it's really the Blood Angels/Space Wolves/White Scars/Rainbow Warriors/Imperial Guard/Adeptus Janitorius who are the real heroes of the Imperium and deserve this kind of attention, remember this little fact about Warhammer 40k: every faction gets to be the 'big heroes' in their own novels, comics, stories, etc.  If they make more movies, of course, I'd like to see them branch out from the Ultramarines, but it's not a bad starting place, either.

So I think that's how I'll sum it up.  It was a good start.  I wasn't floored by it, but I enjoyed watching it - I'll almost certainly watch it again sooner or later.  I don't know if it was commercially successful (I somehow doubt it, but who knows), but if Codex Pictures makes another Warhammer 40k film, I'll want to pick it up.  Unless it's about the Blood Angels.  F*ck those Mary Sues and their sparkly bishounen vampire crap.

-Stormshrug

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On Meeting the New Cast (Acolytes)

Same as the Old Acolytes?  We'll have to see.

I've decided to make this a more visually-oriented post, for expedience and lulz.

Now then, our current roster, in no particular order:

Marcus Diomedes Argon the Fifteenth:
Player: Captain BEES
Class: Guardsman
Lowest Stat: Weapon Skill (27)



















Charyl "The Pebble" Rockwell
Player: A hulking rage-bear
Class: Adepta Sororitas
Lowest Stat(s): Intelligence, Perception, and Fellowship (3-way tie at 20)




















 Han Uno
Player: Some heretic
Class: Scum
Highest Stat: Shooting First (Always)





















Dario Lichtus
Player: Kory
Class: Scum
Highest Stat: Fellowship (60-fuckin'-2, with rolled stats no less)

[The image for this charming young man appears to have been removed for "privacy reasons" at the request of local councilman Suthcil Oirad, a recent appointee the post who seems to be an up-and-comer in the local political scene and all-around great guy.]


Leopedoptera Philliskirk
Player: Matt
Class: Tech-Priest
Coolest Augmentic: Geordi Laforge Visor-Eyes

















Castus Eisen
Player: Will
Class: Psyker
Highest Stat: Age (59)
Lowest Stat: Facts known about Castus (he truly is a man of mysteries - to which we may will never know the answers!)




















Nithroc Abletor
Player: Stormshrug
Class: Psyker
Lowest Stat: Strength (15)
Highest Stat: Number of third degree burns from being shot with a Lascannon (or perhaps it's just one large burn)


















And now that introductions are taken care of, we can move on to the chronic-  what's that?  That's all of our time for today?  That's too bad.


-Stormshrug

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Alternate Universes

A list of my favorite media-type-things that don't exist in our universe, in no particular order:

-A good film version of Beowulf.

-An anime retelling of The Iliad in space with GIANT ROBOTS.

-A series/movie/weekly radio show/whatever in which everybody is voiced by Alucard or Emperor Wakamoto or BOTH.

-A 20 page paper on how Beowulf fails to use weapons properly on my hard-drive.

-Ciaphas Cain: The Musical.

Possibly more to come if I manage to actually survive creating ONE of these...

(Note: Sadly, it is NOT Ciaphas Cain: The Musical that is due at noon on Friday).

-Stormshrug

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Practical Difficulties

So, I really want to play a game of Apocalypse 40k at some point.  Probably not before break, since I straight-up don't have time.  But next semester, maybe.  Unfortunately, you can't spell "Apocalypse 40k" without at least a few of the letters from "Logistical Nightmare."

Why is Apocalypse such a pain to orchestrate, you ask?  Well, there are a few reasons.

First and foremost, TIME and SPACE themselves are against you!  You need roughly 64 square feet of table/floor-space for a good game of Apocalypse, and at least 8-ish hours.  As I understand it, the game is best played a bit like Cricket - over the course of an entire day, at a leisurely pace, and interrupted frequently by tea-breaks.

Secondly, it requires you to get at least one other person into this 64 square foot space for roughly the same 8-ish hours that you occupy it.  It's also generally advisable that you get them to want to be there of their own volition for the entire time.  I think anyone who has ever tried to schedule anything ever can speak to the difficulty of this.

Finally, Apocalypse itself is, to put it nicely, degenerate.  There are no limitations to what you can run.  No force organization charts, no "single army" restrictions, no nothing.  You can put Eldrad with a bunch of Dark Eldar Archons and then re-roll your 2+ Invulnerable Saves until the cows come home*.  You can put 4,000 points into a single model and then OUTFLANK the damn thing.  You can give disposable infantrymen (or, god forbid, Guardsman Marbo) a grenade that opens a rift directly into the warp, killing everything it touches.  So, since it's such a pain in the ass to get a game running, you can take two routes - both sides can see the other's list and give it an 'okay,' or you can go in blind and just try to out-cheese your opponent as hard as possible, Vortex Missles and Strength-D template weapons blazing.  Of course, you have to get all players on the same page in this regard, or the 500 Orbital Lance Strikes and 0 models that one player is fielding are going to make the game rather boring (and depressing) for the person with the balanced army list.

So, if it's this much trouble, why play Apocalypse at all, you ask?  A very reasonable question, to which I have a very simple answer:


























C'mon, HTMC.  I'll help you proxy-up that Manta!

*You can only reroll each failed roll once, of course.  Still, that's a 2++ that rerolls.


-Stormshrug

Monday, November 8, 2010

On Rumors of this Blog's Demise

They are highly overstated.

























I love it when you find an obvious variation on a meme that nobody has done.  Unless somebody has, in which case I sure feel stupid.

Anyway, I would post a review of the Macross Frontier movie, but frankly, HTMC has it covered.  The only things I have to add are that it was gorgeous, which is redundant but cannot be overstated, and that Alto somehow became even more of an utterly ricockulous pilot from one training montage than he did from the entire war against the Vajra in the series.




















Oh, and Ozma is still my hero, as he is responsible for the SMS 'initiation' scene, which is perhaps the best part of the film.


-Stormshrug

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Expectations, Reactions, and Results

Or, "HOW DID I MISS THIS MEME!?!"

For anyone who hasn't read the page or doesn't immediately understand it, I'll give you a gloss:

"What I Made" is a (hopefully) oversimplified version of your character concept.

"What the DM Saw" is how your DM perceived the question in character.

"What I Played" is a (hopefully) oversimplified version of how you played the character.

Now on to the fun part: characters of mine from past campaigns!


Private First-Class Mercito Grant from Inquisitor, Winter 2009















Tech-Priest Daret Feliron from Dark Heresy, Summer 2010:














("What the DM Saw" image courtesy HTMC.)


But yes, this meme combines two things I love: oversimplified character concepts and "What I watched/What I expected/What I got!"  If only the original /tg/ thread wasn't dead and gone...

-Stormshrug

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Enjoyable Mediocrity

Alternatively: "Sometimes You Just Want a Show About a the Hijinks of a Kid Inheriting His Demon Yakuza Family."

Nurarihyon no Mago, or Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, as it is apparently titled stateside (but hey, it's being simulcasted free on Hulu, so I'm not gonna b*tch excessively about an awkward translation of the title), is not a great show.  I wouldn't recommend it that highly to anyone, and I'd even say that anyone who does not like shounen series should probably take a pass.  There are fifty things you should watch first, but that's another story.

Its characters are not terribly original.  Its narrative is far from groundbreaking.  Its humor is not uproarious.  As a work, it does not challenge me to think, either deeply or obsessively.  I don't think much about it at all, except when Monday rolls around.

But, week by week, I watch it.  And, what's more, I find myself excited for the new episodes because, dammit, I'm excited to see what mess Rikuo's humorously precarious position has gotten him into this week.  Yeah, I can usually guess where the plot is going to go with some degree of accuracy, but I nonetheless enjoy it.

I think the reason behind this is that my expectations for the work are relatively low, even after enjoying it for twelve straight weeks.  It is what it is, and I'm content with that.  It doesn't strive to be a work that commands my attention, and I don't treat it as one (inb4 irony).  If anyone reads this and then goes to watch it, they may well be disappointed.

But for me, expectations and quality are balanced rather nicely right now.  And in the end, I think this may be almost as important to enjoyment as actual quality.  Or that's what I tell myself to justify watching a show about a kid inheriting leadership of his wacky demon yakuza family instead of doing a million other more productive things.

-Stormshrug

P.S.:  I think I may be writing a post in the future about recommendations, and how recommending things to people works (and doesn't).  But this is not a recommendation, nor an anti-recommendation.  If you choose to watch Nurarihyon, it's on your head alone, and I wash my hands of the matter.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On Bones and Gainax

Not to be confused with 'Boners and Gainax,' which is a different subject entirely.

Studio Bones and Gainax have been having an ongoing conversation for a while now about giant robots.  I know that the roots of angst and metaphysical examination in the giant robot genre are extremely deep (hi, Amuro!), but I think that we can jump into this particular discourse when Neon Genesis Evangelion came out, earned boatloads of money for Gainax (150 billion yen to date) and left anime with psychological scars that haven't healed a decade and a half later.

Here's a timeline of the conversation, as it has played out (between these two studios) (Here there be mild spoilers):

Neon Genesis Evangelion - 1995
Evangelion was not the first series to deconstruct Super Robot tropes.  Still, NGE so relentlessly took apart Shinji, the world he lived in, and in the end, the viewer's expectations, that its deconstructive aspects shouldn't be overlooked just because it wasn't the first to have giant robots cause giant collateral damage.  NGE is about unmaking.  This theme meshed very effectively with the Judeo-Christian imagery of the series - NGE is certainly an apocalyptic tale.  However, the incomprehensibility of its ending(s) left the series without any sort of conclusive recreation of the world.  There is an apocalypse, but is there a better world beyond the veil?  The series and the films leave this too much to the viewer's interpretation for most people to be really satisfied.  I certainly wasn't.

Neon Genesis Evangelion also helped to propagate the popularity of the Unlikeable Passive Male Protagonist in Mecha series.  This is a subject of much RAGE for me, I admit.

RahXephon - 2002
 To say that RahXephon is merely a clone of NGE is to simultaneously state the obvious and entirely miss the point.  The fact that cloning, and the anxiety of identity that it creates, is a major theme of RahXephon should be a pretty good tip-off that RX knows what it's doing.  RahXephon repeatedly recreates not only aesthetics (the plugsuit, for one thing), but also entire scenes, nearly shot-for-shot, from NGE.  But it does it with NGE in mind, and uses the viewer's knowledge of NGE to twist expectations.  The seemingly evil director of the secret government giant robot program (the Gendo Ikari surrogate, if you will) takes an odd interest in the strange girl with an odd hair color.  Seems familiar.  But, as the series progresses, Bones takes the time to reveal his real motives, and they are quite different from what one would expect, given the formula that NGE set up.  In fact, many characters whose obvious or even explicit counterparts in Evangelion remain largely inscrutable are fleshed out to a far greater extent, in usual Bones style.  They do love them some secondary characters.

RahXephon behaves much the same way with its protagonist - Ayato Kamina seems a great deal like Shinji at first (though he has a different NGE character's looks).  Like Shinji, he remains largely passive until the end of the series.  But, in the very end, when he does finally act, things go quite differently.  The apocalypse still takes place, but beyond the clouds of one reality lies another, better world.

Also, he fights giant face-robots.  This will be important later.

(Thanks for the image, TheSoviet)


Eureka 7 - 2005
Eureka 7 is in many ways Bones' second crack at Evangelion.  While the first time, with RahXephon, Bones took on the universe, this time it takes on Shinji more directly.  There is little to like about Shinji in classic NGE, but there is little not to dislike about Renton when Eureka 7 begins.  Renton is immature, irritating, and largely useless to the rest of the cast for the first half of the series.

But that's the point.  Unlike Shinji, Renton learns, grows, and matures, mostly without backsliding, as the series goes on.  By the second season, he has reached a point of confidence and competence as to be likeable.  By the end of the series, he's damn impressive.  This is the classic hero's journey, but to set it along side the trappings of NGE (emotionless blue-haired girls, giant organic robots, government conspiracies to end creation, inscrutable aliens seemingly hell-bent on wiping out humanity) makes it all the more poignant.  Unlike Ayato Kamina or Shinji, Renton is given some agency from the start - when he chooses to use this agency roughly half-way through the series, he has a real impact.  Much of Eureka 7 is Renton's story, not the story of things happening to him.


Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann - 2007

Ah Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann - Gainax's rejection of Neon Genesis Evangelion, in which the initially mild-mannered and passive Simon becomes the kind of hot-blooded badass who can literally drill a hole in the chest of Eva unit 1... I mean... the Rasengan.

Aside from spiritually slaying Shinji, however, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann significantly features a Christ-figure named Kamina whose actions begin the process of recreating the world (by fighting giant face robots), which I simply cannot believe is total coincidence, given RahXephon's similar use of an extremely different character with the same name.  The idea of the Spiral Nemesis - the over-abundance of energy that threatens to consume the universe, also resonates with the problems of Eureka 7, especially those pertaining to the awakening Skub Coral.  Additionally, Eureka and Nia, although different in personality, are two examinations of the same idea of a heavenly messenger in mortal form - an idea that can also be traced back to Ayato Kamina in RahXephon and even further back to Kaworu, the 17th Angel, in NGE.

Star Driver: Radiant Takuto - 2010
This is the latest contribution to the dialogue, apparently (thanks for the link, GG).

So, where is the conversation going?  I admit that I've hardly scratched the surface of where it's coming from, and now we're already looking ahead!  I'm actually tempted to watch Star Driver purely because I'm curious about this - Bones seems to have a lot of interesting things to say about Gainax, and I'm sure Star Driver will be no exception.  It looks like they're going full-on Gurren Lagann here, ridiculousness and all (but perhaps with a larger dose of fabulousity).  That said, I suspect that this academic curiosity won't be enough to get me over the two major humps of it being a Super Robot Show, and, far worse, a Fanservice-Driven Harem Series, which is my Red Kryptonite (that being the kind that drives Superman into an unstoppable RAAAAAGE).



-Stormshrug


P.S.:  In writing this post, I realized that perhaps FLCL and Xam'd of the Lost Memories should be on this timeline.  However, I ultimately decided that they're more on their own (inscrutable) wavelength than the specific threads I was following, and, honestly, I don't really want to write about either right now (or, in FLCL's case, ever).  I do think they have some interesting parallels, though.

Friday, September 3, 2010

On Trivial RAAAAAAAAAAGE


Sing to me, Muse, of the Rage of the Blogosphere!




[Broken JPGs too fill me with RAAAAAAGE!  So instead of the original image, here is Kharn, a pretty fun guy to be around, courtesy 1d4chan]




We seem to spend a lot of our time RAAAAAAGING about relatively minor things.  I know that I certainly do.  Be they tiny issues of game balance, minor events in the lives of fictional characters, or fucking Code Geass R2, the things that seem to bring my blood to a boil most often are almost totally irrelevant on any significant sort of scale.  And I won't say that I don't feel like I passionately hate some of these things.  But, certainly, my hate could be better spent, couldn't it?  There exist a myriad of real problems that I could put that mental and emotional energy into raging about, and maybe helping to alleviate or solve.

The problem is certainly one of proximity and self-involvement, as it always is when I consider why I'm wasting my time on something when I could be doing good in the world.  But, I should hope that I have more important things going on, even in my own life, that overshadow the irritation I feel about frickin' Warriors and how overpowered they are.

Maybe it's safe to hate trivial things.  I cannot change most of them, in the end, so my rage can stew eternally without ever requiring me to take real action that might inconvenience me beyond writing an angry missive to Blizzard about the dire state of Starcraft II because of b0rken Void Rays.

Maybe I don't really hate them.  I dislike them, and I play-act hating them so that I can blow-off my irritation.  I've certainly felt deeper, more primal, less coherent rage than what I feel about even the most brutal of literary betrayals that I have experienced.  Still, this seems a matter of scale, not of kind.  I just hate some things more passionately than I hate Rogues.  But, in terms of raw time spent raging about something, regardless of intensity, Rogues may take the cake, or at least come close.

Maybe I just need to RAAAGE about something sometimes, and these trivial things are convenient.  When I have a more pressing matter, I focus on that, but when I don't, that excess RAAAGE has to go somewhere, and it goes into little things that don't really matter.  But this seems wrong.  I don't think I have a RAAAGE quota that I need to exhaust per day.  That's as silly as putting an incoherent ending on a great series, thus ruining it FOREVER.

In the end, I don't really know.  There's probably actual intelligent literature about the psychology of anger somewhere.  Maybe Mr. Flask knows something about it?  It'd explain how he's so good at getting Jesse's goat.

-Stormshrug

P.S.: I think Flask left something in this post for you, Jesse.




Friday, August 27, 2010

On Power at a Price (and the Starcraft II Editor)

Call me crazy, but I think this thing may actually be *too* powerful.

I've been poking around the Starcraft II Editor a bunch recently, and I have to say, I've been impressed and somewhat terrified.  Clearly, it's been made with the extensive mod community in mind.  You can fiddle with everything - and I mean everything.

On the other hand, I feel like I should only be using the thing with a manual open in my lap, a Youtube tutorial loaded up, and somebody who knows what the f*ck they're doing within arm's reach.

I used the Starcraft I and Warcraft III editors pretty extensively (if very casually - I never did get around to publishing any maps, but I had fun on my own time).  While there were certainly plenty of hiccups and tricky problems (particularly with triggers), I was able to muddle my way through, mostly on my own, through trial and error.  If you wanted to make a new unit, you hit the 'Unit Editor,' and so forth.  It was vaguely intuitive, and the vocabulary was mostly shared with the gameplay.

Not so for the Starcraft II Editor, where it took me five full minutes to figure out how to make a new unit, and I only got there by blindly stumbling upon the 'Data' tab.  Gone are the artificial (but helpful) categories of 'unit,' 'ability,' and 'doodad with Chris Metzen's face on it' - it's all in 'Data' now.  Additionally, the number of factors that go into making a 'Zealot' a 'Zealot,' for instance, has gone from probably 3 and change (change being stats and color balance) to six or so subcategories, each with a wealth of attributes that go right over my head.

Now, I have two worries regarding this change.  The first is small and selfish, which is that this gigantic machine of data coordination scares me sh*tless.  I'm sure I could learn to use this program, if I really wanted to, but just learning to use it would have to compete with schoolwork, workwork, DMing, actually playing video games like Starcraft II itself (and WoW), apathy, and laziness.  And that would be before I could actually even start to make custom maps.  In other words, the barrier to entry is probably just too high.

The second is slightly more relevant: don't all serious modders just hop straight to the code anyway?  And, if that does hold true (and perhaps it doesn't, or won't now that this new utility is available) and the serious modders are doing their modding from within the code anyway, who exactly is this monster of a map editor supposed to help?

-Stormshrug

Saturday, August 21, 2010

On Morality in RTSes

So, Flask recently wrote a post filled with lots of interesting complex analysis regarding dirty communists trying to steal from John Galt, who is apparently a baker or something in the Dragon Age universe.  He used lots of big words, and challenged us to ask "Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?"

I am here to rant incoherently about the stupid simplicity of moral choices in Starcraft II.  To anybody who has not yet finished the game, please activate your spoiler-o-vision by clicking on this link.  Do not open it in a new tab, as that will diminish its effectiveness significantly.

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So, you get three choices of consequence in Starcraft II.  One is purely strategic, so far as I can tell, though admittedly I haven't played it both ways, so I don't know if it has a plot impact.  One is uninterestingly obvious - trust a random character who sounds suspiciously similar to Azula and works for your archenemy or your ol' buddy and all-around great guy Gabriel Tosh, who most certainly isn't a psychopath, as he is quick to assure you.  However, one choice, at least the way the set it up, is an interesting moral quandary that left me thinking for a few minutes.

At the end of the Hanson 'quest chain,' you are confronted by a fleet of Protoss ships headed by Selendis, who inform you that some of Dr. Ariel Hanson's refugees are already infected by the Zerg plague that they have been trying to avoid.  The good doctor then reveals that she already knew, but is working on a cure for the infection (which she has, in the past, been unsuccessful at curbing).  Selendis has brought her fleet to purge the infected colonists, but she offers you the chance to do it yourself, giving you the opportunity to save those colonists who are still healthy.  Dr. Hanson tells you that if you 'stall the Protoss' (aka butcher them in droves), she is certain that she can save all of the colonists - but her past failure casts doubt upon whether or not this confidence is reasonable.

So, you've got the following known pros and cons to each side:

         Kill the Infected Colonists Yourself:

Pros:
-Guarantee that some colonists survive, even if you have to kill the others yourself
-Guarantee that the infection is contained
-Maintain inter-species relations with the Protoss
-Avoid having to kill the Protoss, who are basically good people trying to do their job and not die horribly

Cons:
-You can't wait and see if the cure can be found - you have to act immediately.  If a cure was possibly, you've killed lots of innocent people who you might have been able to save.
-Diminished chance of finding a cure in the future (since Dr. Hanson is pretty committed to THIS group of people)


      Fight the Protoss:

Pros:
-Guarantee that all efforts to save the infected (who are innocent people) are made
-Greater chance of finding a cure that offers a permanent solution
-Improved reputation with your (at that point) potential love interest

Cons:
-Risk the ire of the Protoss if this incident provokes them
-Loss of Protoss life (Protoss are people, too!)
-Danger of the infection spreading if Dr. Hanson fails
-Danger of the entire population being lost if Dr. Hanson fails

Personally, I'd say this is a pretty difficult decision.  The Protoss counsel safety and conservatism - avoid unnecessary bloodshed between allied forces and prevent the spread of the Zerg.  Dr. Hanson, on the other hand, is a risk-taker - gamble that she can come up with the solution or risk losing everyone on the planet and giving the Zerg a foothold in Protoss space.  Each side is prioritizing its own interests over the other's in a way that is completely understandable, and there are no meaningful incentives distorting the moral ramifications of your options.  Ultimately, I decided to abuse the system and play both routes, then choose the one with the better results.

I was pleased, if annoyed, that the game made me think so deeply about a choice.  I was NOT pleased when the ridiculously lopsided results came back.

       Fight the Protoss:

Dr. Hanson comes up with the cure, all of the colonists are saved, the Protoss suffer minimal casualties and their commander Selendis salutes your valor on the battlefield before leaving without even so much as raising her (psionic) voice at you.  Dr. Hanson gives you a kiss as she leaves to join her people on their new world of sunshine and unicorns.

       Kill the Infected Colonists:

The infection has already spread further than you thought.  You have to kill lots of colonists, and you save a few.  When you return to the ship, you find out that Dr. Hanson's failed attempt to find a cure has caused her to mutate into some kind of Hydralisk thing.  You kill her.  Emotional scarring ensues.  Selendis thanks you and departs.  A news update informs you that the refugee colonists who you saved are being turned away from Inner Colony worlds, left adrift in space.  Footage cuts to a boat drifting peacefully across a lake.

What the f*ck?  Seriously?  It might as well have said GOOD END and BAD END after those things!  I'm surprised that choosing to kill the infected colonists doesn't give you a non-standard game over, honestly, given the stark contrast between the two results.  It'd have been one thing if siding with Hanson had implied that, perhaps, relations with the Protoss were worsened by your choice.  But, if anything, beating Selendis seems to have improved your cred with the psionic space elves.  There are NO downsides to one path, and NO upsides to the other.  So much for moral complexity.

So, what's the lesson?  Remember, when faced with a catch 22, ALWAYS SIDE WITH YOUR LOVE INTEREST.  ALWAYS.

In other news, the end of the game was so f*ck-awesome that I have completely forgiven this hiccup in an otherwise flawless work.  I'm extremely excited to find out what happens in Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, when it comes out in 2020, right after George R.R. Martin's next volume of A Song of Ice and Fire.

-Stormshrug

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Storm Front (Book 1 of the Dresden Files)

I read Storm Front on the plane back home today.  It was pretty much the perfect length and complexity for a six-hour plane trip, so that worked out nicely.

Characters:  I liked Butcher's characters quite a bit.  Harry Dresden steals the show from the plot itself.  The background characters are sufficiently compelling, most of the time, although the villains and antagonists lacked characterization (more on this later).

Writing Style:  The pulp-noir writing style that Butcher invoked was spot-on, but it also reminded me of something, which is that I'm not ridiculously fond of pulp-noir.  While it was interesting to see it applied to a fantasy kitchen sink universe (though there are certainly many works that do this, he carried it off very well), I'm not a big fan of first-person narratives that are not explicitly set up within a framing device.  Not having a framing device makes it even more tempting to 'tell' rather than 'show' than usual.  As such, we get Harry's thoughts on everything, but the degree that they're the thoughts of 'omniscient narrator Harry' or 'holy sh*t that demon is trying to eat me RIGHT NOW Harry' is necessarily somewhat blurred because we don't know the circumstances under which he's telling us this tale.  Is this supposed to be written?  Orally passed along?  Something one heard from a friend of a friend?  This means that we get a lot of "she was desperate" or "he was angry" - a mainstay of pulp detective works, to be sure, but I don't like it.  Similarly, because Harry is 'telling' the story, we end up with a very self-centered view of what was going on, and this deprives some more minor characters, including the main antagonist, of the opportunity to shine.


Story:  The mystery itself was neither groundbreaking nor disappointing.  It served well enough as a vehicle for an interesting universe and nifty characters.  The arc-based plot was considerably more compelling than the particulars of the murder case.

Universe: The universe, and especially magic, were very well done  One advantage of the first person narrative was that it let Harry  be Mr. Exposition without requiring an audience surrogate.  This helped flesh these story elements out without making Harry seem like some kind of captain obvious who repeats everything to a bewildered bystander character who otherwise serves no purpose.  And I hate the 'audience surrogate who provides nothing of any real consequence' archetype.

Obligatory Sci-Fi/Fantasy Gratuitious Sex: Made into a plot point, a la Fate/Stay Night (sex = Rite of Flame or Seething Song*, apparently).  Other than that, filtered through the somewhat prudish Harry, and hence not too bad.  Still very, very present, though.

Overall Evaluation:  A fun read.  The story, which is clearly the beginning of a longer saga, had more potential for depth than actual depth - this is probably fleshed out in later books, though I don't know for sure.  Good characters, good universe, passable story and interesting storytelling (even if I personally didn't like some aspects of the genre).  There are other works I'd recommend first, but it was a nice way to pass the time at 30,000 feet.

-Stormshrug

Monday, August 16, 2010

On Difficult Choices (I'm posting on Starcraft II because it's trendy!)

On Wednesday, I hope to pick up Starcraft II.  When I do, however, I am faced with a difficult choice.

On the one hand, I'm a long-time Protoss player.  Carriers are pretty  much the shit.

On the other hand, Terrans now dominate in the field of giant humaniod robots.  And I looooooove me some giant humanoid robots.

Honestly, though, it will probably come down to whichever feels more natural to me.  That's what I did with WCIII (and how I ended up maining Orcs).  That or whichever is better against Flask.

-Stormshrug

Sunday, August 8, 2010

On Being Totally Wrong

[Mild spoilers for Legend of Korra]

THAT'S IT!  EVERYBODY DIES!

Apparently, Bumi is not the norm.

In regards to age, that is.  I think we all knew that Bumi wasn't the norm in terms of just about everything already, though.

It'd have been interesting to see some of the original characters outside of flashbacks, but it's probably for the best that we're getting this spoiler so early on.  I'd hate to have expected them to show up and then have it not happen.  Looks like your wish is probably not going to be granted, though, Mr. Flask.  I'd still  be shocked if we don't get at *least* one flashback to the original cast.

-Stormshrug

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Doing Things You Know are Stupid (Carefully)

So, my character for the Dark Heresy campaign in which our group is currently engaged is Daret Feliron, a Techpriest who thinks he's the hero of a pulp western film.

My intrepid Cowboy Cogboy is saddled (hur hur) with two dangerous delusions.  Not 'Psyker' dangerous (using psychic powers is basically rolling on a 'ways to kill your party table'), but still not great for his survival chances.  The first is a natural part of being a Techpriest.  Having a Techpriest in your party is the most efficient way to see any and all Pandora's Boxes that you happen to encounter opened before you can say "wait, that's a Necron Tomb!" (note: saying that will actually make the Techpriest open it faster).  The second is the delusion that he's a gunslinging badass who lives in a universe where that counts for something.  He is a gunslinging badass, by most definitions, but so is everybody else, and most of his enemies have both more gun and more ass (the bad kind).

Dark Heresy is not the kind of setting where you can get away with this kind of sh*t.  So I have to work to keep Daret alive while still letting him do his thing.  This balance has lead to some character developments I didn't initially expect.  Being a Techpriest, Daret is supposed to be above squishy things like emotion and vital organs.  But being a Techpriest in an RPG, Daret is guaranteed not to be so far above such 'faults' as he would like, because frankly, playing suicidal Spock is boring.  Hence his delusion that he's a heroic Groxboy, roping giant space-cows and fighting off Eldar wearing bandanas around their faces.  However, my own need to play Daret at least mildly pragmatically has lead this to mutate a step further: Daret is aware that he isn't capable of living up to his own ideals as a Techpriest or a Cowboy.  He still tries to fulfill the genre cliches, though, because he optimistically aspires to such heights.  Just not necessarily while he's being shot at.

Hence moments like the one in the last session, where he kicked in a saloon door with pistol drawn, only to be faced with an entire room full of bad guys.  In the 'picts, of course, he'd have shot the leader and the rest would have panicked and surrendered, leaving him to casually order a drink.  Of course, given that this is Dark Heresy, Daret's gun jammed, and then he exited the building pursued by a significant quantity of ammunition from anti-personel armaments.  But he DID exit the building, even if he was a bit miffed inside about having to do so*.

-Stormshrug

*"And leaving through the door, how absurd! People always leave saloons through the windows!"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On Conversion Ideas

Well, here's an old post I've had simmering on the back burner for a while (read: I wrote half of it and then forgot that it existed for two weeks).

Warhammer 40k lends itself a bit too well to bringing in out-of-universe ideas, characters, and hell, entire armies.  Much as with D&D (or really any RPG worth its salt), you can easily throw together a stat block for just about anything.  However, Warhammer 40k is such an 'everything including the kitchen sink (which also wants to kill you)' universe that, for most science fiction and fantasy military forces can be translated without even having to draw up new stat blocks.  Generally, the less changes I have to make, the greater a success I consider conversion attempt.  It's easy to draw up stat blocks in 40k (they're rather simple), but it's hard to FIND statblocks for every single thing you want to represent.
Every time one of these ideas for a new 'count-as' army takes root in my mind, I end up doing something very dangerous - namely, I consider starting YET ANOTHER army.

A few bouncing around in my head:

Gears of War (Imperial Guard)

The relatively obvious but still inescapable 'Gears of War' IG army, based around the 'Straken Mob in a Vendetta' close combat strategy.  Colonel Straken as Marcus, Commissar Yarrick as Dom, a Techpriest as Baird and a Ministorum Priest with Eviscerator as the inimitable 'Cole Train.'  Straken's command squad as an attached team of Redshirts (perhaps the various Carmine brothers).  Slap it all in a King Raven (Vendetta or Valkyrie) and do exactly what you do in Gears of War - rush in and beat your enemy's face into a pulp.  A few squads of Veterans in Chimeras would round out the army (and, you know, let you hold objectives), as regular COG soldiers in Centaurs (or other APCs).

"Scratch one grub!"

Code Geass (Tau)

When I first watched Code Geass, my immediate response was 'Knightmare Frames ARE Crisis Suits!'  The right size, appropriately armed and armored, highly mobile (but not 'fighter jet' mobile) - admittedly, there are plenty of mecha that would fit these qualifications, but Code Geass is one of the few mecha series I've seen where the focus is as much strategic as tactical.  Most mecha series consist almost purely of dogfighting - which is quite enjoyable, so long as it's well executed.  But, as I've mentioned before, I'd love to see another series with a greater focus on the commanders, and the strategies that win battles in addition to the Ace Pilots who dominate the battlefield.  So Code Geass lends itself rather well to Warhammer 40k more generally.  In this particular case, I freely admit that I did cave in and tweak the codex a bit - nothing terribly substantial, but the ability to mount an Ethereal in a Crisis Suit is long overdue for the Tau anyway, and I couldn't very well have Code Geass without some rules for the Geass itself.  If I ever manage to recover said 'Codex Geass' (hurr hurr) from the depths of my old, very possibly fubar hard drive, I'll probably do a post on it.  I've also modeled about half of this army, and done some paint work (though some of it needs to be redone, and I suspect I'd want to touch a lot of it up, given that it was like two summers ago).


Mobile Suit Gundam (Imperial or Eldar Titans)

Ah, the holy grail.  How to get a Mobile Suit into Warhammer 40k.  Imperial ground forces fit the Earth Federation and Zeon ground forces quite well (since Mobile Suit Gundam is heavily based on World War 2, and so are many Imperial Guard armaments, this is no particular surprise).  For Mobile Suits themselves, however, it's a toss-up between Warhound Titans and Eldar Phantom Titans.  Both are roughly the same size, they're roughly equally resilient.  The Warhound Titan has more choices for armaments, which I like, but the Phantom Titans have superior close-combat skills, an 4+ Invulnerable 'Holofield Dodge' save, and the ability to 'Jump' 36" and then make an assault, as compared to the much more sedate 12" move range of a Warhound Titan.  Perhaps the answer is simply to decide on a case-by-case basis.  As to fielding a Phantom Titan alongside Imperial Forces, well, it's Apocalypse.  You can field 80 Orbital Strikes and nothing else if you feel like it.  I'm not overly concerned about balance.

1 Warhound Titan + 18 Land Speeders with Multi-Meltas = Kshatriya with Funnels


Thanks for letting me borrow the Funnels, Ghostlightning.

Also 1950~ points.  But it's totally worth it for the Funnels.

(Incidentally, Mr. Flask, I've realized that even though you hate everything good  America, you communist! everything not comedy (or so you claim, though I can see through your LIIIIIIES), Funnels are basically psychically controlled robot BEES with frickin' laser beams.  Just thought you should know.)

I feel like Codex: Chaos Daemons also opens up a host of new possibilities in this direction.  Alucard Khornate Daemon army, anyone? (Yes, Alucard would comprise the entire army).  One big, nasty Daemon surrounded by lots of Flesh Hounds, Bloodletters, etc.  Another series I recently picked up on, Nurarihyon no Mago, provides a large and mildly militarized organization of highly diverse demons.  Could be interesting for many of the same reasons as the Armycard, but provide a less uniform modelling experience.

Anybody else thought of any good conversions in this vein (that is to say, repurposing armies.  Though I'm always interested to hear new stat-blocks, too)?

-Stormshrug

Friday, July 23, 2010

On Killing PCs

Discuss.





Okay, I'll give you a bit more than that.  Fine.  Be that way.

Let me first qualify 'death.'  When I say a character is 'dead,' I mean 'unplayable.'  I do not mean 'mildly inconvenienced' (hi, Epic Level!)  I do not even mean 'significantly inconvenienced' (level loss, etc).  I mean 'open up the character builder and start choosing stats.'

As a DM, I have a mixed relationship with inflicting death upon Player Characters.  On the one hand, I want people to be responsible for their actions, and for consequences to be realistic.  I want there to be a sense of danger in combat, and a thrill when a monster's attack narrowly misses or a key save is made.

On the other, people do not like having their characters die.  Players get understandably attached to their characters.  They should.  If they don't get invested in their characters, the campaign (or at least any 'role playing' therein) is likely to suck.  But, of course, this attachment also means that it's difficult for me to kill their beloved characters, even if that's simply how the dice fall.  I'm not there to emotionally scar my players, I'm there to have fun with them, after all (though some DMs might take a different stance on the issue of whether or not emotional scarring constitutes fun).

So, historically, I have made compromises.  There have been three fatalities during my two campaigns, and none have stuck.  I'm not entirely happy about this fact, and while I'd like to rationalize each of my decisions, the fact is that, historically, I've been unwilling to actually take the hard line I espouse in theory on character death.

Monster Power Cards, which clearly define the abilities that monsters have to the players, are one step in the right direction.  If monster abilities are more static, I think death seems less arbitrary, and "fairer," even if from all functional standpoints, I still control what abilities the monsters have.  Players seem to be more bothered by the DM coming up with something on the spot than with regular unbalanced design, and I'm happy to accomodate this preference.  I think the Joker had some good stuff to say about this idea in The Dark Knight.

The 'Table of Messy Results,' which substitutes gross bodily injury for actual death (most of the time), is another helpful tool.  Having a character greviously injured provides a challenge to overcome (for the player and the character) as a penalty for failure.  It might require a change in direction for a character's development, but I'd say that's a good (or at least interesting) thing.

I also hope that having more experienced players will lead them to accept the results of their actions, and more importantly, lead me to be willing to follow through on those consequences.  I hate the thought of being the douchebag DM who turns the newbie's first three characters into bloody stains because he or she happened to be (understandably) genre blind.  Yes, many people learned to play this way.  Yes, 'back in your day, you didn't have no fancy healing surges.  You had 1d4 hit points and a rock.  And you had to share the rock.'  Yes, I'll get off of your lawn.  If it's nobody's first rodeo, though, I think I'd have less pangs of guilt about smacking PCs for making foolhardy, misinformed, or just plain unfortunate decisions.

In the end, though, it really is on me deciding to stand by the ideals I've put forth numerous times on the subject.  Anyone have any insight on this?  I'm always open to hearing new ideas regarding this tricky subject.


-Stormshrug

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On Recirculating Content

So, first of all, there's now an honest-to-God interview with Mike and Bryan.  Wall St Journal, you have been all over this one, haven't you?  What's more, the questions are actually poignant and demonstrate a surprising knowledge of the series.  I give props where props are due to Mr. Farley, who is either a fellow fan or an extremely dedicated researcher.

Anyway, I always feel a bit cheap when my blog post consists entirely of responding to content generated somewhere else.  That said, I'm probably going to keep making these posts because, let's be honest, they're easy, and I usually have stuff to say about what other people are saying.  I'll continue to try to have my own 'value added,' however.  Tell me if that's working for you or not.

So, what new information do we get from this Interview?

-Katara is Tenzin's mother.  Nobody is surprised.

-Being stuck in an iceberg DID "[burn] up some of [Aang's] extra Avatar time."  Lucky guess on my part, I suppose.

-New Republic City is based on Shanghai in the 1930s.  Gee, there was another series like that recently... whatever happened to that show, anyway.  (Fansubbers?  Care to tell us?)

-Legend of Korra is Mike and Bryan's response to the usual "Hey, this is making money, do another season" request that gets handed down by the network when something does well.  I would like to speak for the fandom when I say: THANK YOU for not tacking an unplanned season onto the end of A:TLA.  The temptation is obvious, and the results are rarely good.  More writers, producers, directors, etc. should be willing to take the risk of letting one story end to start another (even if the two are connected, as these two stories are).

Here's to hoping for the best for Legend of Korra!

-Stormshrug

On Unbridled Optimism (Starcraft II)

Okay, so, I lied a little bit last post.  Sorry, Mike and Bryan, but in my defense, Blizzard was here first.

I'm willing to say right now that this is going to be awesome.  Given that it's been in Beta for ages (and apparently the Beta's pretty awesome, if a bit unbalanced), I'm not too worried about this statement biting me in the ass later.

Kudos to Blizzard for releasing another trailer to build hype - the first one did a great job, but I suspect that it's a bit far from people's minds, since it was, what, two years ago?  Three?

Anyway, I have to say, the thing I'm most interested in with Starcraft II is the development of the plot, especially Raynor's personal arc, and it looks like he's going to be front and center for Wings of Liberty.  I'm not very good at RTSes (though, like Warcraft 3, I may well find this one compelling enough to elevate myself from 'unforgivably horrible' to 'not a total embarrassment'). 

Starcraft's universe is interesting in that it's pretty much an extremely downscaled version of the 40k universe.  It takes on many of the same themes, but does so over much smaller areas of space, with less species (who fill all of the same niches), and has only a few important characters (Raynor, Mensk, Zeratul, Kerrigan, and maybe, I dunno, Artanis?), particularly after the lore purge that took place in Brood War.  I love the epic, expansive feel of the 40k universe, but this is nice, too.  It lets you get invested in the characters, instead of the setting.

The number one feature I'm looking forward to is, as always, the campaign editor.  Not that I actually ever FINISH the projects I begin in the campaign editor, but I very much enjoy working on them nonetheless.

Plus, given all of the giant robots they have now, I have a good reason to play Terrans.  We'll have to see if they upset Protoss (and their noble Photon Cannon Spam) as my main species for Starcraft II.

Hell, it's about time!

-Stormshrug

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Cautious Optimism

Well, we've finally got an official announcement and a premise for Avatar: Legend of Korra (good job being on the ball Chris!  And Jesse!).  Bryke are notorious Comic-Con Trolls (Warning: Sh*ttty handcam incoming), and incidentally, Comic-Con 2010 begins tomorrow (with some opening previews tonight).

Interesting notes about the premise as reported by the Wall St. Journal (passed on via Last Airbender Fans, as the WSJ link they provide is dead, but I found a working one to the same article):

-It takes place 70 years after Avatar: The Last Airbender.
-It follows Korra, a waterbender and the new Avatar.
-One of the settings (there will probably be many - it's Avatar) is 'Republic City,' a steampunk metropolis melting pot of all four nations that has apparently either replaced or surpassed Ba Sing Se as the center of the Avatar world.
-Not everyone in said city likes benders.
-Aang had at least one child, named Tenzin, who is an Airbender.

If this info is correct (and not misreported, intentionally or otherwise), it means a few interesting things for the Avatar-verse.

-Aang died relatively young, by Avatar universe standards.  If Korra is 16 (the usual age for beginning the Avatar journey, and she probably isn't younger than 12), that means that Aang was only around 67 when he passed away.  Given that Bumi and Guru Pathik are both well over a century old at the end of the series and still going strong, and Avatar Kyoshi lived for over two centuries, we know that individuals in this universe *can* live an extremely long time by our standards.  We don't know the degree to which characters like Bumi and Guru Pathik are anomalous (and Kyoshi certainly was, though presumably the "Avatar Stuff" would apply to Aang).  Still, for an Avatar, it seems young.  Maybe being stuck in the iceberg did take a toll on Aang's body.  Maybe he was killed.  In any case, I suspect that there's something going on here.

-Any of the other children and teenagers from the original series could reasonably be alive.  They'd be pretty old at this point, admittedly (early to late 80s), but given what we've seen some Cool Old People do in the Avatar universe, all this means is that they'll be more badass than ever.

-Technology continued to progress after the war.  I doubt this surprises anybody, but while Avatar: The Last Airbender gave us a world on the edge of a technological explosion, here we see the results.  Nature versus unchecked industrialism is going to be even more of a core issue than it was before.  Hopefully, as before, both appreciation of the natural world and the utility of new technologies (when used responsibly) will be treated maturely.

-Bending is cultural/belief based, and so, as the influence of technology waxes, the prevalence of bending may wane.  The Earth Kingdom had the smallest percentage of benders in the original series (though, given its size, this said little about raw numbers), and was also the most industrialized and bureaucratized (if not the most technologically advanced) nation.  Air Nomads, on the other hand, typically eschewed worldly pursuits to focus on the spiritual, and as such, all Air Nomads were Airbenders.  It'll be interesting what, if anything, they do with this.  The mention of anti-bender politics also suggests that benders have become rarer - they were so integral to daily life virtually everywhere in the original series that it seems unlikely they would be oppressed, but if there were less benders and society did not rely on them as heavily, such sentiments could more easily take root.

-The Shipping Wars will finally be put to an EVEN MORE definitive end.  Probably.  Unless the series is so unimaginably trollish as not to tell us who ended up with whom via their shared offspring (and probably their offspring's offspring).  That said, I guarantee you that people will try to ressurect Zutara in some form with Korra and [most prominent Firebender within 10 years of her age's name goes here].  It's gonna happen.

Now that I've overanalyzed some tiny, insignificant scraps of data, I'll say that I am reserving full-on excitement until we've at least got a little more data.  You know, like the front half of Korra's character design.




This is what we're working with so far...


I have about as much faith in Mike and Bryan as it is possible for me to have in a (pair of) creator(s).  But not every work lives up to its predecessors, and I've been burned before.  I also wish that we could be more certain of Avatar: Legend of Korra reaching completion, but if it's airing on TV, we get no such guarantees.  While Avatar: The Last Airbender recieved very good ratings and reviews, it occasionally seemed to be on the verge of disappearance and possible cancellation, and five month periods with no word from Nickelodeon about the air date of finished episodes did not help in the least.  Of course, this is part of the gamble any show must make, but animation in the U.S. is a tough bracket to compete in.

This is a lot to worry about now, though.  For the moment, I'll be keeping my eyes on Comic-Con to see what spills out.

-Stormshrug

On Forgetting

I was biking to work today, in something of a daze as I usually am before I caffienate, and I had a great idea.  Well, it may not have been great.  But I remember that it seemed great at the time.  It was one of those 'why hasn't anybody ever done this before' ideas (I'm sure the answer is 'somebody has,' but I can't verify that unless I remember it.)  I think it was the concept for a story, or a joke.  Perhaps it was more cute or droll than truly clever.  I can't remember.  For some reason, I'm drawing a mental connection to Rome, so it probably had to do with speculative fiction.  Time travel, perhaps?  It's hard to tell reconstruction from new ideas inspired by the attempt at reconstruction.

Infuriating.  I need to invest in that pocket notebook, and more importantly, remember to use it.

-Stormshrug

Monday, July 19, 2010

On Regularity

So, in case it isn't abundantly clear, I'm not trying to post every day.

First, I must salute Mr. Flask for doing so (whenver he isn't away).  Writing every day is no small feat.  I was tempted to try to match him, because, let's be honest, I'm competitive, and I like the idea of a challenge.  Plus, as he points out in one of his first posts, writing every day is probably the best thing for your skills as a writer.  So far as I know, that's true. 

I considered all of this.  Ultimately, I decided that unless I have something I want to say, I'm willing to let silence preside for a while.  And sometimes even when I do have something to say, I don't want to publish it immediately.  I like to let my posts sit a bit before publishing them - probably because I'm indecisive and a procrastinator, and by delaying, I can put off committing to my words a  bit longer.

-Stormshrug

Monday, July 12, 2010

On Online Tabletop RPGs

There are things I really like about playing in tabletop RPGs online.  I'm not the kind of person who *needs* to roll physical dice, and so I like that added convenience of not having to waste time with digging around to find the third d10.  I also like that it's easier to separate roleplaying and table talk - in text, it's very easy to demarcate character speech and player speech (although, this reminds me that, the next time I have a reason to play a face-to-face campaign, I need to make up and use a different voice for my character other than my normal speaking voice, to accomplish the same thing).  I think people are also willing to take more risks, with typed text, and, as such, get more into character.  Acting a part is hard, but if you reduce the required input to text only, I think people are more willing to push the envelope.  And, of course, you have a clear record of what was said, what was done, and what happened, which is useful for a plethora of reasons.

That said, there are, of course, a number of problems inherent in online tabletop gaming that like to accompany all of its wonderful advantages and stab you in the back when you look away.  Imagine trying to play a sit-down tabletop RPG with every player in possession of a laptop, iPod, phone, or other electronic accessory.  All the time.  There is a reason that I greatly dislike it when players bring such items to face-to-face games, and try to discourage them from doing so.  The distractability factor for players is simply too high.  During whatever element of gameplay a player does not find interesting, he or she is likely to tune out - but this is very problematic later, when details from that period of time become important.



"NO! We were allied with those (hob)goblins!"*

(A completely out-of-context Order of the Stick panel!  Used for an unrelated joke!)


Access to electronics is an unavoidable part of gaming online, and though it isn't insurmountable, it certainly causes problems.  It also has a kind of sickening synergy with the reduced rate of conversation in online games - few people can type as quickly as they can speak - and so there may be (perfectly reasonable) pauses in an online game.  Added lulls combined with easy access distractions can mean trouble, even in a situation where the DM hasn't made any mistakes.

We're about to have a campaign run with both text and voice-chat, though.  I'm very curious to see how that will go.  The distraction factor is still present, but this might be mitigated by the slighlty faster clip of gameplay (ideally).

-Stormshrug


*He knows.  He just doesn't care.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

On Forgiveness

Blizzard may have ticked me off with RealID (okay, more like mildly irked but heavily concerned), but a new Cataclysm Screenshot reveals exactly why I love them anyway.


















-Stormshrug

P.S.: Yes, this is tagged under 'Unforgivable Puns.'  Irony ensues.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On the Ordo Xenos (In Progress - Pt. I)

Commander Fyre (Pictured with Veteran Retinue)




Commander Fyre is a tenacious soldier and the consummate commanding officer.  By which I mean he has a really impressive beard.  Commander Fyre has served alongside Inquisitor Balerephos for two decades after being inducted for a 'three hour mission' to clear some Genestealers out of a dead Craftworld, but he has never once complained of this reassignment or the painful, painful injuries that it has caused him over the years.  Commander Fyre's stately demeanor and imposing facial hair help to keep the veterans under his command in order, even in the face of the horrible enemies of mankind and Inquisitor Balerephos' idiosyncracies.  Commander Fyre is usually accompanied by his Veteran Retinue and an Astropath.


Sergeant Ironheart



Sergeant Grafh 'Ironheart' Zefen is the leader of the 'Valar's Razors' Stormtrooper squads under Inquisitor Balerephos' command.  Sergeant Ironheart is a traditionalist, and sometimes clashes with the more unorthodox leadership and tactics of the 'Reaper Squad,' the Inquisitional Stormtroopers he serves alongside.  Still, his loyalty to the Imperium, and by extension, the Inquisitor, is unquestionable, especially after the Inquisitor risked his life and limb to save the 'Razors' on Khala, personally pulling the wounded Ironheart from the wreckage of a crashed Eldar tank and seeing to it that his damaged vital organs be replaced with augmentics.

'Valar's Razors' Squad, Imperial Storm Troopers





'Reaper' Squad, Inquisitorial Storm Troopers

The core members of the 'Reaper' Squad have been with Inquisitor Balrephos since he first reached the rank of full Inquisitor, although some of its members have changed during that time, and its number has risen from the usual 10 to an unorthodox 13.  Unswervingly loyal to Balerephos, the 'Reaper' Squad is usually split into three fighting forces.

'Scythe' Team






'Scythe' Team, one of the two fireteams usually made from the 'Reaper' Squad, is equipped with two Plasma Guns.  Typically, the 'Scythe' Team and the 'Harvest' Team spearhead an advance, supporting the Chimeras and Deathwatch Kill-Team from behind with their deadly firepower.

'Harvest' Team



'Shadow' Team



The 'Shadow' Team is comprised of the three best crack shots from the 'Reaper' Squad, armed with Plasma Guns, and all three of its members hold rank equivalent to the sergeants who lead the 'Scythe' and 'Harvest' teams.  This group almost unfailingly accompanies Inquisitor Balrephos into battle, never farther behind his advance than his actual shadow.

'Dreadwind' Vendetta Gunship



The 'Dreadwind' falls into the category of 'assets borrowed by Inquisitor Balerephos and then never returned.'  Its pilot, Ark Dartagan, may not be the finest Ace from the Imperial guard, but what he lacks in talent and experience he more than makes up for in sheer audacity.  Dartagan was inducted into Inquisitor Balerephos' forces when the Inquisitor asked for a pilot volunteer to deliver his Deathwatch troops into the heart of a Necron phalanx. 

Dartagan, at that point a cocky technician waiting his chance to become a pilot, volunteered when no pilot with any real combat experience would possibly consider doing so, and 'borrowed' a Valkyrie against his commanding officer's orders to carry the mission out.  Dartagan then proceeded to fly the Valkyrie directly towards the Necron monolith at speeds members of the Deathwatch Kill-Team later recalled as 'suicidal', and when he was inevitably shot down, crashed direction into the Monolith, opening a hole in its armor that later allowed Deathwatch Librarian Gabriel the Stern to plant a Meltabomb, destroying the foul contraption.  Dartagan narrowly survived this experience by bailing out at the last second  before impact (the Deathwatch team, miraculously, also landed unharmed) and then running around on the ground like a decapitated pterrachicken dodging Gauss Flayer shots until the Killteam settled matters with the Necrons. 

Inquisitor Balerephos then stepped in when the Commissar attached to Dartagan's unit attempted to execute him for his rash actions, inducting both the pilot and the nearest Gunship, a Vendetta called the 'Deathwind,' into his forces 'for the next few days.'  (By which he is generally understood to mean 'forever.')

'Nightcrash' Veteran Squad 




The 'Nightcrash' Veterans, also called 'Tal'shere's Raiders,' are a Veteran Squad under Commander Fyre, commanded by Sergeant Tal'shere.  They specialize in Stealth Demolitions, scouting ahead of the main force and destroying any installations or vehicles that would pose a problem.

'Cloudspear' Veteran Squad


[Image Coming in the Next Batch!]

The 'Cloudspear' Squad are armored assault Veterans under Commander Fyre, who usually operate from within a Chimera transport, and form the main thrust of any assault along with Inquisitor Balerephos.


Deathwatch Kill-Team Preview





To-Do List:

-Deathwatch Kill-Team
     -(3 members modeled but unassembled, 7 to go)

-Brother Charon

-Commissar Meredith Tahl

-Inquisitor Balerephos, and full Retinue

     -Acolyte Jenkins
     -Other Minions
     -Mystic/Chef Rylen Tarsas

-Sergeant Tal'shere

-Sergeant Fossman

-Co-opted Command Chimera ("Fortress of Indestructible Glory," also called "The FIG")

-Chimera ('Thunderhead')


-Stormshrug

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On Poking the Bear (Druid)

So apparently, Blizzard has implemented plans to make your name - your actual name - visible on the forums whenever you post. 

Yes, in theory, it's supposed to combat this:


(Thanks, Penny-Arcade)

Practically, it's about as well thought out as Leeroy Jenkins' ill-fated dive into the Rookery of Blackrock Spire.  On the surface, it's the stupidest thing you've ever seen, but also like the Leeroy Jenkins video, there may be more going on that there appears to be (the video is staged, for comedy). 

I'm inclined to say that although I don't buy any of the conspiracy theories regarding this change, I also don't think that this is to fight forum trolling so much as it is to tie all of their products together more tightly, creating easier transitions from one to another in the days to come, when Blizzard will inevitably release a new MMO. 

Thankfully, this change will not apply retroactively to old posts.  I guess I'm not going to post in the forums any more, though (not that I really ever do).

Even more disturbingly, some addons can apparently read (and repeat to other people) your real name thanks to in-game RealID.  Awesome.  Guess I'm killing all my addons for the moment (not that I use so many).

But what's really interesting about this is that it's the biggest forum furor (which are always hilarious in and of themselves) I've seen since the second coming of Bus Shock, and impressively, this clusterf*ck may be even more... shall I say... Cataclysmic?


-Stormshrug

P.S.: I predict that by week's end, either Blizzard has addressed this issue or it has become clear that people really don't care that much.  Still, it's an impressive storm brewing on the forums.

Update #1 (7/7/2010):

Well, the sh*t is really flying now, and Godwin's law has hit the forum hard regarding Blizzard's liberal application of the banhammer.  Inevitable V for Vendetta comparisons are being made, as they always are whenever the internet gets angry.  The official thread on Battle.net changes is over 1,000 pages long.  Blizzard has also made clear that this change is part of their long-term plans, and seems to be holding firm on the issue.  It'll be interesting to see where things go from here.

Some interesting points have been raised in the debate, the most valid of which, I think, is that this change has some disturbing ramifications for those whose real names reveal a great deal about their identities.  Of course, the standard response from supporters has been "don't post, don't have your name revealed," but while technically true, this answer is laden with unfortunate implications about how people who fear being victimized should be silent.

Update #2:  And lo, by Friday night, it has been retracted.  Real names will not be displayed on the forums.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

On Mediocrity

So, according to reviews, the new film inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender is ANYTHING but mediocre.  It's running an 8% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this post (this may fluctuate a bit, of course).  To put an 8% in perspective, Manos the Hands of Fate has 0% on RT, but apparently even the Mystery Science Theater guys couldn't make that one watchable.  Friggin' Dragonball Evolution has a 13%, however.  So 8% really blows.

I am now going to say something radical.  This is a good thing.

Well, that's not quite true.  It's not a good thing.  But it's a less bad thing than a mediocre adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender would have been.  Here's my logic:

With our 20/20 hindsight from after this film, we can now see that M. Night Shamwow's glory days are beyond all reasonable likelihood behind him.  As such, we can say with a fair amount of certainty that he was not going to turn his career around with this film.  It was simply never in the cards that 'The Last Airbender' would be a good movie under his creative direction.  So, at "best," it would have been mediocre and forgettable instead of being a train wreck.

However, I don't want a mediocre ATLA movie.  I want a good ATLA movie.  And, I strongly suspect that the chances of a good live-action adaptation happening in the next decade or so are greatly improved by this recent turn of events.

You see, when a famous franchise has a movie and it's mediocre, it gets swept under the rug.  Think about 'Daredevil.'  'Daredevil' was a passable film, if not a good one.  It didn't do anything violently wrong, it just didn't really do anything right.  It pulled a 44% on RT, which isn't good, but isn't a total disaster.  And then the franchise sort of disappeared, and I guarantee we won't see another Daredevil film until the next superhero fad revival in 30 years or so.  I don't care, but fans of Daredevil kind of got the shaft.

Then look at the 'Hulk' movie from 2003.  It outscored Daredevil on RT, but it royally cocked up the Hulk's lore, alienating fans and performing poorly at the box office.  While it was not considered a terribly bad film by critics, the people who mattered - fans - reviled it.  And lo, only five years later, the franchise was rebooted with 'The Incredible Hulk.'  Which was a vast improvement in many regards, but still a mediocre film, so we won't be hearing from the Hulk for another 30 years or so.

Do I expect to see another Avatar: The Last Airbender film go into production in the next few months?  Of course not.  Hell, I don't think it's even that likely that it will go into production in the next decade.  But if 'The Last Airbender' had been mediocre, I think there would be NO possibility.  And if not a film, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Nickelodeon push something else into production to reinvigorate the franchise.  Heck, maybe that's what the rumored 'Legend of Korra' project is.  'The Last Airbender' is not going to give the franchise the momentum it needs, but honestly, I now strongly suspect that it never could have anyway.  And with any luck, its pyre will create fertile soil where something better can take root.

Of course, this may only be wishful thinking on my part.  It's crossed my mind that this colossal failure could torpedo the franchise going forward.  But it seems that the vast majority of reviews, while negative on the film, were positive about the source material.

-Stormshrug