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Friday, 13 December 2013

Random Aside: Stats for Xan made in Fate Core

Hey everyone, today's blog post is not a review. Instead, I'm going to try something fun with two things I did reviews for, Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition and Fate Core. I'm going to take my favourite companion NPC from Baldur's Gate and make him a character using the Fate Core rules.

First things first: What defines Xan enough to be his High Concept? Well, what we know is that Xan is an elf from Evereska sent to Nashkell to investigate the happenings at the mines. He's a rather dour, sarcastic and pessimistic fellow, doesn't get along well with Eldoth the bard and often wishes him ill (even showing a brief moment of happiness should Eldoth fall in battle), nor does he get along with Ajantis whom he sees as having an over-simplified worldview. Xan also has a powerful Moonblade, and is a Greycloak (a sort of magical law enforcement agent) of Evereska. Additionally, Xan was chosen by the Moonblade to be it's wielder--this hints that he's probably going to be someone important later on.

Most importantly, however, Xan is a Lost Greycloak of Evereska.  That tells us how he fits into the game universe.

For his trouble, I'm going to take a quote directly from his voice set. Our Quest is Vain. Or perhaps We're All Doomed might be more fitting. Our Quest is Vain has a little more zazz and proactiveness to it, so I'm going to go with that one.

Xan's Moonblade is a pretty powerful item, as well as something indicative of him having an important role later not (never happens in BG or BG2, but if the BG:EE guys are reading this... Baldur's Gate 3? Maybe Xan should become someone important!) and something that defines his position in Evereska, so for his background aspect, rather than going with his capture by Mulahey, I think his Moonblade should get its own aspect. Chosen by the Moonblade has a lot of clout to it, especially once you realize the importance of the Moonblade beyond being an awesome item for a mage to haul around.

Xan having as many lines as he does for Ajantis and Eldoth makes him stand out in Baldur's Gate, so I think we can assume those would make good aspects as well. Ajantis Lives in a Black and White World is a pretty catching aspect, I think, and really establishes his relationship with the paladin squire.

As much as I try to stick to his dialogue for these aspects, he doesn't have a really snappy line that defines his thoughts on Eldoth, so I'm going to have to make something up. We know he doesn't like Eldoth because he views him as crude, unnerving, and just plain mean-spirited, so lets say Eldoth Should be Locked Up, as I think that pretty much sums up why he can't stand the guy. Aside from Eldoth being evil, he's also quite unashamedly criminal, and Xan is a law enforcement officer.

That covers Xan's 5 aspects. Next, we're going to cover his skills.

As Xan is an enchanter, Lore is quite obviously going to be his peak skill at +4. Xan is also an investigator, so Investigation and Empathy should fit nicely at +3. I think he'd be pretty good at telling when people are lieing, and he is an enchanter. Next down we have Will, Contacts, and Rapport at +2. As pessimistic as he is, he's also the only person who can keep Ajantis from just randomly attacking evil party members. Finally, I think Notice, Fight, Athletics, and Resources. He can use that Moonblade if he has to (I mean, sure he's a D&D mage, but I'm not going to let the mechanics trump story here), and he's pretty good at keeping out of trouble. If he were back home in Evereska, I think he'd have more resources at his disposal than he does here on the Sword Coast. As an investigator, he's kept his eyes trained, but that's not his main method of investigation.

As for Stunts, I'm going to give him the stunt Arcane Enchanter. This lets him use Lore to Create an Advantage by casting mind-affecting spells such as Sleep or Charm. If I were trying to translate him as a D&D mage, I'd also let his magic attack, but I always used him purely for Crowd Control. I mean, he is  an enchantment specialist, and he's darned good at it, so I think this is a fairly simple stunt for him to have handy.

Next I'll give him the Practiced Investigator stunt, which gives him a +2 to Overcome aspects meant to hide a criminal's trail of clues.

For his third stunt, I think something concerning the Moonblade would be appropriate so, I'll give him a stunt Chosen by the Moonblade, which grants him a +2 when using Fight to attack in melee with the Moonblade. Some might think this gives him a +2 all the time, but then they forget that something as simple as having the "Unarmed" aspect put on him by a foe, or the GM being mean and compelling his "Chosen of the Moonblade" aspect to mean he left his moonblade at home will deprive him of this +2.

So, to recap:

Lost Greycloak of Evereska
Trouble: Our Quest is Vain

Other Aspects:
Chosen of the Moonblade
Ajantis Lives in a Black and White World
Eldoth Should be Locked Up

Lore +4
Investigation, Empathy +3
Will, Contacts, Rapport +2
Fight, Notice, Resources, Athletics +1

Chosen by the Moonblade (+2 when attacking melee with Fight if wielding the Moonblade)
Practice Investigator (+2 when using Investigate to Overcome advantages intended to conceal a criminal's trail)
Arcane Enchanter  (Can use Lore to create an advantage by casting a mind affecting spell such as a sleep spell or a charm spell. This can be defended against by Will.)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition

13 years ago, I began a journey. This journey was abandoned for a good 10 years, but yesterday I accomplished something. I beat Baldur's Gate. In this case, it was Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, meaning I had available to me class kits that weren't introduced until Baldur's Gate 2. I used an Inquisitor Paladin, but I didn't use any of the new party members introduced in the Enhanced Edition.

What a blast! This game is a tactical RPG of the highest degree. Through playing, I've earned a new respect for Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition, and a realization that I'm a lot smarter now than I was when I was 12.

After battling my way through dungeons, investigating corrupt merchant houses, fighting devious mages and making friends along the way, I discovered my true calling and defeated my most wretched of foes: The nefarious Sarevok.

And I beat him.

By a fluke.

The hilarious voice acting, and the uninteresting companions aside, I only have one beef with this game. That beef is with the Sarevok fight. Nothing prior to that fight prepares you for it. Prior to the Sarevok fight, no mages had any pre-cast defensive spells on them. At Sarevok, the mage hasn't just cast them on himself, he's cast them on the archer as well. And there are traps everywhere, and they're almost impossible to find as well. It is an absolutely brutal fight. I turned the difficulty down to Novice, and I still didn't beat it... fairly, anyways.

No, what I did was set my mages to drop fireballs and skull traps on them while they were still off screen, and then I sicked Minsc on them in Berserker fury. That still  wasn't quite enough.

I kept my main character hiding in the back, and what finally killed Sarevok was the fact neither he nor Tazok could see my main character hiding in the back corner, so they stopped chasing me.

And stood in a cloudkill spell instead.

That's  how I beat the game. By the main bad guy standing in a deadly spell and killing himself when he couldn't see me.

That said, Baldur's Gate is still insanely fun, and it's a tent-pole classic. It and its sequel Baldur's Gate 2 are the godfathers of the Western RPG, and the reason why Bioware has the ridiculous standards put on them that they have. Both games have great writing, interesting characters (even if the NPC companions don't banter as much in the first game), and Baldur's Gate 2 introduced the ability to romance your party members. The games took risks that few games would have dared, and created the modern RPG.

They're available on Steam, and the iPad store and well worth picking up.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Day of the Doctor

Well, I watched the day of the doctor on Space's website last night. And I have to say, I was... unimpressed.

I have a love-hate relationship with Doctor Who. I like the show's premise, I like a lot of the actors, and on occasion it has stories that really interest or excite me. Most of the time, however, I find the stories to be lacking, or to be ham-fistedly pounding in nihilistic anti-religious worldview in the Tennant seasons. My favourite episodes (The Impossible Planet, parts 1 and 2) weren't written by the standard writers, unsurprisingly and most likely because it dared to claim not everything can be explained, even by The Doctor.

The Day of the Doctor was over-all underwhelming. After all the hype, all the build up in the preceding episodes, what we got was a rather disappointingly average Doctor Who episode. The best part was when he met the Curator, only because the actor was my favourite doctor, and he was delightfully eccentric as always.

Even more disappointing, I think we all had it in our heads that this was when the 12th doctor would die, and we would finally see the 13th doctor. But all we got of the 13th doctor was his eyes. Cool shot, but rather disappointing.

On the plus side, it was nice to see David Tennant again. He's a fantastic actor and was a great doctor, and John Hurt did a fantastic job in his role as well. Could have done without the not-Rose-Tyler character. I never liked her actor much, and I liked the character even less. All in all, I'd have to say the 50th anniversary special was a massive disappointment, and proof that we need to fire Moffat and hire that guy who wrote The Impossible Planet, because he's awesome and we need more episodes like that.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Mass Effect Overview, or Why The Mass Effect 3 Ending Wasn't That Bad (And why I'm Excited for ME4)

To anyone who knows me, it comes as no surprise that I love the Mass Effect games. I'm a complete and total Bioware fanboy, dating all the way back to the original Baldur's Gate games. I even wrote my business letter to them for my junior high language arts class. So one can understand why the vehemently negative reaction to the Mass Effect 3 endings kind of irked me.

"But!" I hear you say, "It completely invalidated all our decision through out the games! Without my own unique personalized ending, everything I decided was worth nothing!"

Well, first of all, that's complete BS. If you make it the bottom of the dungeon and get the Orb of Zot, no decision you've made up till that point matters at all. All that matters is you got the Orb of Zot. When you beat Bowser, it doesn't matter if you took a warpzone or not. The only thing that matters is that you beat Bowser. 

I think this mindset serves to demonstrate very powerfully just how much Mass Effect has mastered the illusion of choice. Because in the end, there are actually very few truly meaningful decisions. Up until Mass Effect 3, decisions you made had very little impact on the actual plot. The biggest impact was mostly on who would survive and who would die.

For instance, lets look at Mass Effect 1. This game is an absolute rail road. You get to Eden Prime, no matter what you decide you end up saving the opposite gendered human from you, and getting blasted by the beacon which gives you whacky visions. After that you have a few choices on where to go next, but ultimately no matter where you decide to go next the story plods along exactly the same. All the missions end the same way. There are a few instances (like with the Thorian Beast, or more memorably at the Krogan Breeding Facility) where you get to make decisions about who lives and who dies. But in the end these decisions have little impact on the actual plot of the story. You will still end up in a crazy fight against Saren. 

And the side quests don't really lead anywhere either. Scanning all the keepers gets you an Acheivement, and a little e-mail in ME2 that tells you "Oh yeah, by the way, keepers? Totally some kind of like thing that takes care of the citadel and used to be connected to some kind of alert system" which tells you nothing new about the keepers that you didn't already learn from Vigil. A few side quests get you some neat cameos in 2 and 3, but for the most part these side quests don't really net you anything--in fact, the simple fact that they net you resources in ME3 which can be used to help you get all the 3 endings is a vast improvement from the complete lack of impact they have in ME2, except to get the Asari business woman to recognize you rather than be stumped as to who you are. 

So, after two games in which your story had little to no impact on the actual plot, what, exactly, where people expecting out of the Mass Effect 3 endings? Did the original endings fail to tie things up? I think that's pretty reasonable. They didn't provide the sort of denouement that we wanted after spending so many years with these characters. Is it a reason to complete hate the game? I'd say "NO". The game itself was very well polished, took risks with the ME3 story and provided exciting and dynamic game play that the series had been crying out for since the original, which had stiff controls and confusing cover mechanics, and nearly impossible to aim guns.

That's another complaint I've heard. That the game play has "Sucked since ME2". What. A. Joke.

Mass Effect 1 couldn't decide if it wanted to be a Real-Time Sci-Fi ARPG with some third-person shooter mechanics, or a Cover-Based Third Person Shooter with some ARPG level-up mechanisms. It was poorly designed from a game play perspect, it's dungeons were all the same dungeon just with different rooms locked and unlocked (*COUGH*DRAGON AGE 2*COUGHCOUGH*), and movement mechanics that were baffling at best, and killed you off at worst.

ME2 was a vast improvement. The cover mechanics actually made sense, aiming the gun was far easier, and it had finally decided how to get that balance between RPG elements and cover-based shooter in such a way that it felt like it had a cohesive game design. Each of the classes was unique in its own way, but operated in such a fashion that everything made sense.

This illusion of choice, however, put unrealistic expectations on the endings of ME3, which for whatever reason drowned out the stellar gameplay, world design, and the rest of the ME3 story telling. 

A lot of people are now accusing EA and Bioware for "Milking" the Mass Effect series because of the announcement of Mass Effect 4. I'll admit I can't honestly see how furthering the series will work unless its assumed only the Red or Blue endings are canon, as the green ending was a little bit too weird admittedly, even with the expanded endings.

Ultimately, I'm excited to see where they take the Mass Effect stories from here, and I can honestly say I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Machete directed by Robert Rodriguez

This movie is FANTASTIC. It gets a lot of flack for a lot of stupid reasons - it's goofy plotline, it's supposed political motivations (HAH!), it's grindhouse tone and the nudity (which isn't bad compared to most hollywood blockbusters), but for what it is, Machete is simply AMAZING.

Conceived originally as a joke trailer for the Grindhouse double feature (Death Proof and Planet Terror), it keeps up this tone and gives us a movie that is cheesy, violent, sexy and all around bad-ass. Danny Trejo commands the screen in this film, and every moment with him in it is fantastic. He fits the film's tone perfectly, and he immerses you into the genre immediately. The film's violence is so completely over the top (at one point, Machete spins in a circle and decapitates six people) that even my normally-squeamish wife was laughing along side my at the computer generated blood spurts and the decapitations.

This is definitely not a movie for small children, but it IS a movie that taps into the man-child inside all of us. Don't go in expecting some deep Quentin Tarantino film that's secretly some loaded political message. This is schlock for the sake of being schlock. It's the kind of movie that you just have to separate yourself from the stupidity of it, and just enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Adventure Time to Date

Well folks, I'm all caught up on Adventure Time to date. It's been a strange and bizarre experience, with lots of highs and lows. I will say that the writers and artists have a way about them to evoke some powerful emotions--particularly with the Ice and Fire episode, and the Simon and Marcy episode. It challenges its viewers without having to completely betray its own set-up. That said, it also asks a lot from its viewers in the first season. We are excepted to accept a lot of things on face value, and without asking "Why?". To those who say everything is explained: It's not. It really isn't. At least it hasn't been yet. Some stuff is, some things you never even thought to ask "Why" about. But most of the details of this universe are never really explained, they just are, and over time you become inured to it.

The animation in this show is fantastic, and the quality only gets better the longer the series goes on. For that alone it's a show worthy of remembering, but the story telling only adds to an already incredible show. Daring, and possibly even avant garde in a way, it pushes the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable in young adult television without ever being crude or inappropriate. Instead of luring teenagers in with fart jokes and sexual innuendo (those are there, too) it lures them in by treating its viewers with respect, and by treating them as adults. It tackles issues of how hard it can be to grow up in a big world you don't understand, how important it is to not judge someone if you don't know where they came from, and the importance of friendship. But it does this in a way that is so exciting, so heart felt, and so subtle it doesn't come off as being preachy or didactic.

That's the allure of Adventure Time. It's soulful. It's earnest. It has a confidence that many shows directed at the young teens of the world truly lack. Not just these days, but at all.

Adventure Time is a show I will likely continue to watch, at least until it jumps the shark.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Adventure Time Season 2 Opener

Well. This... this was different.

Certainly didn't pull it's punches, that's for darn sure. The first season always had a kind of dark subtext that lay just below the surface, but there was really no truly disturbing imagery or anything like that in it. But this first episode of the second season was something else.

Good lord, it was horrifying. Absolutely terrifying. It opens with Finn opening a portal to He--er, sorry, the "Nightosphere", and summoning an avatar of ultimate evil, who then proceeds to distort his face in a terrible fashion and attempt to devour his soul. Later in the episode, the avatar of evil turns into a horrible vagina-mouthed monstrosity with egg sacs under its jowels containing the souls of all those it has devoured.

What. The. Heck.

Seriously, this show is beyond messed up. But this horrible random darkness is oddly compelling. It's like staring at a crashed plane. Part of you is horrified at the injuries it may have caused, and can't bear to look. But another part of you is morbidly curious as to just how many dead bodies they'll pull out of the twisted burning wreckage.

The following 2 part episode doesn't really need me to review it, but during this season if I see anything particularly shocking I'll be sure to let you all know.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Adventure Time Season 1-The Rest of It

What a weird journey this has been. A weird, wonderful, terrifying journey. This show's subversive darkness has persisted through the series, hiding in the cracks and crevices, and lurking beneath the bright and cheerful colours of the show.

It's a show a kid could watch, and they would never understand this terrible darkness that rests beneath the surface.

And I enjoy it, to an extent. It definitely got much easier to grasp as the series progressed, although some of the bizarre inconsistencies (don't they have a cure for death? Didn't tree trunks die?) don't line up with the consistencies (Jake is afraid of vampires). So which is which? Are you creating a series in which every episode follows the previous, or are you creating a show that is purely episodic?

Beyond that, the animation is certainly unique and interesting, and the idea is definitely creative.

Once I can track down season two, I'll be sure to check it out.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Adventure Time, Season 1, Episodes 5-15

Well, checking in with you again.

Adventure time has certainly become much more... palatable.

There's still a lot of logical inconsistencies I don't quite understand. For instance I was fairly certain that Tree Trunks was dead after the apple episode, but she shows up again in Marselline the Vampire Queen's episode at the party in the cave-house.

Over all, the show is totally bizarre and oddly compelling, in the way that watching a car smash into a wall in super slow motion is compelling. It's a beautiful train-wreck of writing. There is a certain audience for things like this, though I'm not sure I'm it.

The animation so far has been very interesting, hearkening back to shows like Ren and Stimpy and Courage the Cowardly Dog, shows that masqueraded themselves as children shows but always had a much bigger appeal to older audiences.

Right on, I'll check back with you when I'm finally finished.

Adventure Time Season 1 Episdoe 3, 4, and 5.

Rather than review every single episode at a time, for the sake of longer posts I think I'll do a few this time.

The Ice King is a pretty interesting character, and from what I've seen I think we'll be seeing a bit more of him later on, which is good he's pretty funny.

But what the heck happened to Tree Trunks the elephant? That episode started off pretty normal, but ended in the most twisted and bizarre way.

This show has a kind of twisted darkness that lies beneath the surface of all the colours and faux innocence. There are certainly some inside jokes directed at gamers (Magic Crystal Weak Spots, and Unaligned Ants), but at the same time there's something much more twisted going on beneath the surface of this show. It's a subversive kind of evil.

So far, the show has been quite enjoyable and I'm looking forward to watching the rest of the first season. See you when I'm done!

Adventure Time Season 1 Episode 2: Something Something Lumpy Space

Yeah, I don't remember the title, so sue me.

This episode was way less painful than the first episode. It starts off rather confusing, but it at least takes the time to explain the rules enough that we can grasp what's going on. The Lumpy People are pretty funny, and certainly remind you of those catty brats you went to high school with.

Not really a whole lot more I can say about it, the show is only twenty minutes long. I certainly enjoyed it way more than the first episode!

Adventure Time, Season One, Episode One: Slumber Party Panic




This show makes no sense.

At all. Like, seriously. At all.

For an intro into a new series, this is terrible. Absolutely terrible. Simply because I watch it having no idea what's going on. I initially thought I was watching the wrong series. For all the hype this show gets, I don't understand what's going on. At all.

This show wants me to invest in it for more than a few episodes, but it's given me nothing to suspend my disbelief. It's certainly shocking and weird, but that doesn't help the fact that I DON'T KNOW WHATS GOING ON.

Even the intro screen gives you nothing! NOTHING!

I'm going to at least try and survive the first season for you. As I watch the episodes, I'll struggle to make reviews of them, but seriously... this show was just... weird.

That said, I can at least see the appeal. People seem to like "randomness!" for the sake of randomness. And it's certainly colourful and the animation is quite good, but it's still just so... weird.

In between I'll still review movies. Expect a review of Machete and Machete Kills soon!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Oblivion by Joseph Kosinkski

Yeah, I was pretty surprised when I found that out. After the way he butchered my favourite television franchise, I kind of lost a lot of respect for him as a director. And this is coming from someone who really enjoyed Lady In The Water, if only because the characters were so memorable.

Oblivion is not a bad movie. It's not a good movie, but it isn't bad either. I have to side more with Rotten Tomatoes, who gives it a 53% with 215 reviews. Bafflingly, IMDb gives it a 7/10 with over 150 thousand votes.

 I want to say it was 'visually stunning', but it really wasn't. It felt flat, sterile, and without much character to it, and the same can be said for Tom Cruise in this film, who seems to be riding the crazy-train in this movie. At least he's enjoying himself. The acting is well done, which is unsurprising since it's a cast populated by Hollywood A-Listers, but the same can't be said for the story or characters, who are all bog-standard sci-fi tropes. Which can be the most I can say about this film. It's a bog-standard sci-fi action film. Pretty typical summer fare, designed to cash in at the box office.

The "big twist" in this film isn't actually all that jarring, and is well integrated into the plot, although it does leave a weird after-taste in your mouth at the film's conclusion.

Overall, I'd have to say that this film commits the worst crime of all: It bored me. Not that the pacing was bad, the pacing was fine. It was just that the film is so typical sci-fi fare, that it just fell flat. The best sci-fi should say something about the human condition, but the message this film sends is so dull and trite, and the characters so uninteresting and unengaging, that we don't connect with them enough for the ending to have any impact.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Boogiepop and Others by Ryu Kaneda

What was I thinking when I rented this from the library?

It looked fascinating, and it most certainly was, but it was borderline culturally impenetrable from a western standpoint.

For those who don't know, Boogiepop is a series of Japanese Light Novels (a genre very similar to our Young Adult Fantasy genre) about a girl who turns into a Shinigami, a Japanese Angel of Death, who is bafflingly named Boogiepop for no adequately explained reason, at least within the confines of the film.

Note that I will be approaching this film review with the film as a standalone object.

Boogiepop and Others is a fascinating film, with some very interesting cuts in it. These cuts come off as a very jarring, as the soundtrack doesn't even fade out. The film opens with a series of short vignettes that give us a brief introduction to the various storylines we see later in the film.

Each storyline builds on the last, giving us a different piece of the picture of the various high school students attending the school that the movie centres around. The central conflict is that there are girls going missing, one girl named Nagi is being blamed for them and accused of being Boogiepop, when in fact it's a completely different girl who is Boogiepop. It's all very confusing.

And that's perhaps the worst crime of this movie is that you spend half of it with no idea what's going on, and when you finally do find out and everything makes sense, it's just not super-rewarding. That said, the movie does a great job developing it's more realistic characters. Unfortunately, this just makes the fantastical characters seem more unreal, with the notable exception of The Manticore and her boyfriend. Those two were freaking fantastic for the short time they were in the film. I've never seen such a deranged and yet believable couple in my life.

All in all, if you're a fan of Japanese stuff you'll probably love this movie. Otherwise, probably not worth your time.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Fate Core Gaming Reveiw

Hey everyone! Today I'm going to do a quick review a new gaming system that was backed by Kickstarter, and is fast becoming one of my favourites: Fate Core!

Created by Evilhat and available for the amount of "Whatever you want to pay, even nothing" on their website, Fate Core was created to be a modular gaming system that can be quickly adapted to just about any setting imaginable.

Teachability: Fate Core is a quick system to understand, with their only being 3 major actions to take. However, it can take players familiar with more crunch-heavy RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons, or worse yet systems like Shadowrun, to understand the amount of narrative freedom given to players. The concept of Aspects can also be a little difficult for new players to understand, but most of this can be taught simply through playing. When it comes to getting a firm grasp of the rules, the game is very teachable and is easy for new players to pick up and play. The best advice I can give for teaching new players is to have the GM simply tell them "Tell me what your character would do, no matter how complicated, and I'll make the rules do it for you."

Character Creation: Character Creation in Fate Core can take as much or as little time as you want. It's easy to pick skills and figure out your character's stress tracks. The hardest part is coming up with the aspects, and unlike most games the players often help to determine the setting as well, meaning that character and setting creation often takes up the entire first session, although it probably doesn't have to, particularly if you're using one of the premade settings from the Fate Worlds books.

Game Creation: As I just mentioned, the players often have as much of a role in world building as the GM does as everything is generally done cooperatively. That said, it can be really easy to come up with a simple combat for the players on the fly, and since the game doesn't use miniatures or battlemats, there's very little prep time for a GM pre-game. At most, a GM might spend ten or fifteen minutes before each session just to catch up on where they left off and to review notes from previous games. This makes Fate Core and it's simplified companion Fate Accelerated Edition ideal for convention play and one-shot adventures, but even more ideal for ongoing living campaigns.

Playability: The game plays like a charm, and action can flow even with new players. The key to playing any of the Fate games is to remember the credo of "narrative comes first". The rules are designed to be flexible, which allows the players and the GM to tell their story together. The rules can be adapted to fit literally any situation, with actions being open-ended, and aspects being able to cover anything you can come up with a name for.

Non-Combat Resolution: Fate Core is excellent at making non-combat resolution fun and exciting. Non-combat resolution can include systems that are identical to combat in how they work, although narratively they're not combat at all. There's also the idea of challenges, where characters compete using skills and actions outside of attack and defence to try and beat their opponent (such as in a foot race, or when cops are chasing a perp). This means that even when your players are doing nothing more than an indepth investigation, the game remains tense and exciting.

Price Point: One of Fate's greatest features is that you can get the PDF for free. While the additional books might cost you a bit of money, the prices are incredibly reasonable. That said, shipping hard copies to Canada can be prohibitively expensive off the Evilhat website at the moment, so you might want to see if your FLGS has some shipped in already through a supplier first.

Other Impressions: Fate Core's modularity is one of the things that make it such a fun game to play. You want to do noir 1920s detectives fighting alien invaders from the planet Necron? Or would you rather be a group of plucky barbarians from the sand dunes of Azagar? Both are totally playable in the Fate Core universe. I would strongly recommend everyone go to Evilhats website and download the PDF for yourself. Read it, love it, and adore it. It's worth every moment.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Review of D&D 4th Edition

Hey everyone! This will be my first gaming review that I'll publish on this blog! As part of this review, I'll also explain what each of the categories for my gaming reviews will be, starting with the first category:

Teachability: Teachability is how easy a game is to teach to new players. 4th Edition D&D as a game has a very complex rules system that can be difficult for new players to grasp. However, once the basic concepts are more-or-less understood, the game can run rather smoothly, as there's lots of references on the character sheet and the power cards.

Character Creation: Character creation is usually the first and most important thing players do in a game. In D&D 4e, this is no different. It is difficult to seriously mess up a character and make a character who is completely ineffective, however Character Creation is an intimidating morass of rules, feats, and power selections and for this reason can take ages, especially if you don't use the Character Builder on the D&D Insider tools on the website. While choices are normally a good thing, there are simply too many choices at this point, so it would be wise for GMs to place some basic material restrictions for newer players, or just to roll up the characters for them entirely (as I did).

Game Creation: Game creation refers to the act of a GM writing up games, campaigns, and modules. D&D 4e, unlike most of it's predecessors, is actually very easy for encounter building, using a simple points-based system for generating encounters. Some pre-writing is required, but a GM could easily make up a game on the fly.

Playability: Playability is about how smooth the game runs. The game runs rather smoothly up until the characters reach the Paragon Tier, where the game can get a bit bogged down in the sheer number of action choices PCs need to make each round. This problem is only exacerbated when they reach the Epic Tier, where the problem becomes even worse due to the number of magic item powers and bonus powers each character gets.

Non-Combat Resolution: Non-combat Resolution refers to how non-combat situations are handled in game. In 4th Edition D&D, there is a basic skill system. For more complex situations, a skill-challenge might be used which is simply a series of skill checks. The skill-challenge system is very difficult to tell a story with, and can feel very artificial. It's a valiant effort to try and make non-combat encounters more interesting than simply "roll diplomacy" or "roll a search check", but it ultimately failed in it's execution.

Price Point: Pretty straight forward, Price Point is about how much it costs to get into the hobby, and how much value you get for your dollar. D&D 4th Edition is an expensive hobby. I will come out and say that right off the bat. However, if you start off by buying right into the essentials line, you can save yourself a bit of money as the soft-cover essentials pocket-sized books are considerably cheaper than the hard cover splat-books that are the 4e release line of books. If you don't buy any extras other than the stuff included in the Dungeon Master's Kit, you're looking at between 60-80 CAD$ to purchase the materials and start playing, excluding a set of dice which will cost between 10 and 15 CAD$ for a cheap set. I would strongly recommend buying at least a one month subscription to DDI, if only to benefit from the character creator programs and to get the extra material from the other books for free via the Compendium.

Other Impressions: Overall, D&D 4th Edition is a fun game. It's very different from previous editions, but you can still get impressions of the core mechanics of older versions of the game in the way some things are handled. D&D 4e's Essentials line is easily the best set of products released for 4th Edition, in my humbled opinion, as it breaths new life into the game and it, along with Psionics in Player's Handbook 3, is the first time that characters really started to feel unique in the way they're played.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Easy A, directed by Will Gluck

Easy A is a surprisingly good movie, and I would have to say is one of the most underrated comedies of 2010.

The cast is wonderfully amusing, and Amanda Bynes makes a wonderfully easy to hate villain, if a little bit under developed as a character.

The main character of Olive, played by Emma Stone, is easy to relate to and we really care about her as she goes through the struggle of at first embracing her sordid reputation, then becoming hurt by all the negative attention it gets her. She's a very funny and sarcastic character, but can also show real emotions and bring us on her journey with her.

I do wish we saw a little more of her love interest, Todd. He shows up a few times in the film, but the film never really lingers on him long enough to give us an idea of his and Olive's relationship, other than we know they once almost kissed in 8th grade. The same goes for Olive's best friend Bree, who does have an important role in the movie (she's the one who Olive first lies to) but aside from a few angry glances and cross words, we don't really see her personality other than being loud and boisterous.

In the end, though, this film is really about Olive, and she carries the film extremely well. If you're looking for something to watch on a friday night, you can't really go wrong with this movie.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, plus series Overview

Alright, everyone.

I've finally done it.

This is Breaking Dawn.

With every one of these movies, I further questioned my decisions. This one was no different, but it did do a few things right.

For one, I loved the cast of side characters. I really wish we got to spend more time with them. Seriously, it's like the only uninteresting characters in these movies are Edward, Bella, and Jacob. And Carlisle a bit, he's kinda dull. But everyone else has things like internal conflicts and interesting back stories and, like... personalities. Seriously, half of the side characters could carry an entire show all on their own. What the heck are they doing as side characters?

Also, the action sequence was great. There was no over-use of shaky cam, so we were able to follow the action. Lots of cool kill shots and beat-em-up action.

But that also brings me to the two things that bothered me the most. Not just with the movies, but with the books as well.

And I can't NOT talk about them.

Magic. And Dreams.

There is a massive genre shift in the series at this point. I mean yes, we've had it established that vampires get super-powers, and that's fine. But these were almost all restricted to things like psychic powers. Like Dakota Fanning (I can't be bothered to look up her character name) can cause pain with a look, Alice can see the future based on decisions people have made, Bella can shield her mind. Awesome, that all makes sense. Even shock-touch lady I can get behind. I didn't see it the way this director did as lightning bolts shooting across her fingers. I always saw it more as a toned-down version of Dakota Fanning's power, but there's something to be said for Artistic License, at this director tried to make everything mesh tone-wise.

But then we're introduced to a character named, disgustingly to me, Benjamin. He can control the classical elements.


Seriously, WHAT? Am I watching Twilight or Avatar: The Last Airbender?Seriously? I mean, you couldn't give him the ability to use Telekinesis or something, it's specifically controlling the four elements? Really?

How could Stephanie Meyer write that and not think “This may be waxing a teensey bit fanficy.”

I just, can't even... I mean, seriously people? Seriously?

But that's not the only problem here.

The other big problem is Dreams. Specifically, “It was all a dream.”

Our big climactic battle, where Carlisle and Jasper and a bunch of wolves and other vampires die, is all a dream just so we can have one big happy ending.

Listen up. I don't want one big happy ending. Let there be consequences. Unless you don't think it's appropriate in a book directed at teenagers for characters to die. If J.K. Rowling taught us anything, killing characters is a terrible idea. I mean it doesn't help to build tension or give a conflict a sense of real risk at all. Gosh.

That said, these movies weren't that bad. I've seen Adam Sandler movies that were way worse than this and probably had twice the budget. That said, I've seen movies with probably a third of the budget of this that were much, much better.

Overall, this series of movies had a lot of potential, sadly most of that potential is limited to side characters, small genuine moments, and stories that never get explored. I think that's the Twilight franchise's greatest crime. Who cares about the mythology of Vampires and Werewolves that they spit all over? No vampire or werewolf movie doesn't change the mythology and the rules to fit their needs. No, the biggest crime of this series isn't that. It's that there was some real potential, and it gets squandered.

Would I watch this series again? Probably not, but I can at least understand why some people do like it as much as they do. I think it suffers the most from staying too true to the books. While I think the romance angle could have really worked for this series, they really needed to overhaul the love interests to make it work. Edward, Bella and Jacob's entire relationships are so contrived and end so stupidly neatly that it really bothers me. Further more, the shows could have really benefited from exploring some of the characters and side stories that are ignored both in the books and in these movies.

You're not missing much if you pass by The Twilight Saga, but it's interesting to see something that became quite the cultural phenomenon and brought vampires into the mainstream in a very big way.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Boy oh boy! Looks like I have another one of these done for you guys!

Let's take a look at the over-drawn, extra-long melodrama that is Eclipse!

First off, one things that has consistently surprised me about these movies is that they handle those little awkward moments quite well, and you can really start to see some of the very real talent that David Slade has as a director in these small moments. There was real potential for a very heart-felt coming of age story here, but it's kind of drowned by the unbelievable and confusing paranormal love triangle that serves as the movies focus.

Also, where the heck were all the human characters in this movie? I mean, it's nice that we're finally starting to learn some stuff about where the Cullens come from, but  the human friends that Bella had in the first movie have now come to serve as little more than back drops to the Vampire vs Werewolf melodrama.

Jackson Rathbone, the man who played Jasper Hale in this movie, is actually quite a good actor and I would have liked to see more of him.

Idea for a spin off: A movie that's all about Alice and Jasper, easily the two most interesting characters in this entire freaking franchise, and the two play off each other fairly well. Seriously, everyone else can go die in a hole, lets just make a movie about those two.

I'll digress for a moment and confess that with each passing film, it's becoming more and more difficult to say anything good about these movies. I think I'm suffering from a serious case of Twilight Overdose at this point. But, there's still two more movies to go so there's no way to back off now.

Since the last two movies are two parts of a two parter, I'm going to tackle them both in the same review.

Until next time, my followers!

See you in Breaking Dawn!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Twilight Saga: New Moon Retrospective

Alright everyone! Here it goes!

Let's review NEW MOON.

As last time, I won't be doing a negative review of the movie. Yes, it is a bad movie, but I want to try and get people to take a look at this film in a new light.

I actually really liked the montage after Edward leaves, involving the time-lapse tracking shot and the e-mails to Alice. It was a good way of drawing us into the film, passing by a significant period of time without just saying “6 months later...” Also, I noticed that Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner have way better chemistry than Stewart and Pattinson. This is mostly on part of Taylor Lautner, who is a pretty decent actor and is good for his role as Jacob. I like Robert Pattinson as an actor, but he just didn't sell his part as Edward very well. I think this mostly comes from getting stuck with the cool icy “Blue” of their not-so-subtle Red vs Blue love triangle (come on, Jacob is even a red wolf, and Edward almost always wears blue or black... lame).

The Face Punch scene was appropriately awkward. This is of course the scene where Wolfboy and Token Human boy go to see a movie with Bella. I kinda want to see the Face Punch movie, though. Guess I'm stuck with Paranormal Love Triangle: The Movie for now.

As an interesting note (neither positive nor negative): There's some definite signs of Mormon influence, namely the scrap booking theme, and the idea that no good people go to hell (regardless of religious belief).

My biggest grief is that it looks like she lightly taps her head on the rock when she passes out, rather than a storm surge knocking her out, which I could have bought much easier. I think that was the intention, it just wasn't really well demonstrated. Which is a shame, because the cinematography and story telling is actually pretty good in this movie, despite what they had to work with.

Alice is great in this movie. She demonstrates why exactly she has some character depth, and the actress shows more than one emotion, and unlike most characters who can fit into the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” archetype, she isn't an unbelievable character.

Also, is just me or does Michael Welch look a bit like Wil Wheaton? Also, what the heck is a guy named Mike doing playing a guy named Mike? I remember Mike vaguely from the books, but it's almost like the casting director asked “Hey, is your name Mike? Yeah? Then you're cast.”

Ah well, it was a fun movie in the same way the last one was. There's some moments I chuckled at, others I snoozed through, but overall I might watch this again if I'm snowed in and I have literally nothing else to watch.

That said, if you want to really see something funny, go check out this reading from the spoof book Awoken by Serra Elinsen!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Twilight Saga: Twilight

Okay, this is it everybody. It's time.

I just finished watching Twilight with my wife. Full disclosure, I've read all of the Twilight books and enjoyed them for what they were, a vapid romance about teenagers and one of them happens to be a vampire. I've only ever seen the first movie before now, so partly out of curiosity, and partly because I figured it'd be fun to do a review of all the movies, I've finally decided I'm going to sit down and try to watch all of the Twilight films.

Now, I could repeat the same arguments about how terrible this movie is that you've all heard a thousand times, but that would be easy and I hate life so instead I'm going to do something different. Taking a nod from Maven of the Eventide, I'm going to try and find some good in this movie. Why? Because if you want to have people rip on twilight, you can go just about anywhere. I mean, it's a bad movie. There's no disputing that, but given what they had to work with it's not surprising. The books were bad even though they were an easy read, so the actors, screenwriter, and director only had so much they could do to try and salvage it. Although, the more I keep hearing about the original twilight adaptation the more I wish I had been sitting there watching that movie instead of what we got.

Still, there were a few good points in this movie. I really thought the music was done well in this film, and there are definitely some points in the score that I really enjoy, even if the Muse song in the baseball scene is kind of annoying. I also thought the few moments where the character Alice, played by Ashley Greene, was on screen were always fun. Particularly, I enjoyed the scene in the ballet studio where Alice gets some of Bella's blood on her hands and she has a little moment where she looks like she's about to chow down for some cardboard stew. There's a reason why Alice is listed as one of Maven's best female vampires, and that little character moment is one of them. Alice is one of my favorite characters in the books, so I'm looking forward to where they take her.

But lets be honest. Did I enjoy this movie?

Well, yeah. It's silly, and there's some utterly ridiculous moments in it. It's good for a lark, and is a bit of silly fun. The only thing that really pains me about it is that there was some real potential for some wonderful subplots that get ignored. I'd love to see how Bella's relationship with her father develops, or see more Alice. Actually, I'd take more Alice just for anything. She's a blast, and one of the only characters who has any real depth to her, despite having almost no screen time in this first film.

Anyways, tune in next time for New Moon!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The World's End, directed by Edgar Wright

The third film in the so-named "Cornetto Trilogy", with the other two being Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, The World's End is a fun film, but not without it's flaws.

It has the same fun tone as the previous two films, with what I feel is strong cinematography, fun references to ongoing, and enough changes that people who have see Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead will be able to appreciate them.

One of the biggest changes is the switch between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's characters. Where Simon Pegg normally plays the no-nonsense straight man, in this movie that role is taken on by Nick Frost, with Pegg playing a man-child who can't let go of his teen years, and whose been going through some rough times, and Frost plays his former best friend and the two have had a falling out.

My biggest problem with this movie is that it feels like two movies, and each film could have been strong on its own, but being put together they fall kind of weak. The first film is about a man who is trying to recapture his teen years, and bringing his band back together for one last hurrah. The other is a film about a small rural town in England being silently invaded by robotic replicants. While Wright does a good job of keeping the tone of the film steady, it doesn't make the shift between the two acts any less jarring or feel any less forced. Despite the jarring shift, however, the film does a fairly good job of keeping the ball rolling up until the weak climax of the film, which was a disappointment for me as I've thoroughly enjoyed both of the other entries in the trilogy. I won't spoil anything, but if you've seen the movie you no doubt know exactly what I mean about the climax of the film.

That said, it's a good movie to see on the big screen and I strongly encourage everyone to go and see it. If nothing else, the acting and the action sequences alone make the film worth seeing.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Andre van Heerden's Deceived (Not that you know who that is...)

So, just watched Deceived by Cloud 10 pictures (the people who made Left Behind). Well, it wasn't... great. Wasn't exactly bad either. 

I don't mind films with religious storylines at all, and if done right these movies can be really good. But this film crosses the line from a compelling story about a person whose lost his faith and then finds it again, to a film that is preachy and overbearing.

The movie is made-for-TV quality and seems like something that would get broadcast on the Christian Life Network or some sort of evangelical Christian version of Space. That said, it wasn't that bad. Honestly if they just cut down the diatribes and showed us way more than just spilled exposition all over our laps, it wouldn't have been a half bad sci-fi story with some religious underpinnings. The main problems come from the complete lack of characterization for the supporting cast, making their eventual possessions much less noticeable. We don't really get a chance to know much about them before they turn 'evil', so it becomes tough to really understand what the big change was.

Judd Nelson saves this film. He plays the main character, a technician named Jack, and he's the only one who really sells his character. The other actors were definitely trying, they just lacked Judd's skill. My biggest issue was not in how Jack was played, but in how everyone talks about Jack as being a "geek" and unattractive. This was made in 2002, people, geeks weren't that uncommon back then! Also, I don't care how geeky he is, Jack was not an unattractive character!

If you recognize the name Judd Nelson, that's because this is the guy who played John Bender in the Breakfast Club in 1985, and he was also in St. Elmo's Fire. 

Overall? It had flaws, definitely. But if you can find it for cheap somewhere, might be worth picking up for a corny movie night.

James Wan's The Conjuring

If you like horror movies, especially the old haunted house style films of the 1970s, you'll love this film. The director wasn't afraid to linger on the ghosts and the demons, and there aren't any fake-out scares in this film. No cats jumping out of shadows, no birds squawking accompanied by an orchestral sting. When the music and the scene is building up suspense, it's because something is about to genuinely happen. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck pricking up. Beautiful direction, and the lighting was fantastic. It was never so dark that you couldn't tell what was going on, and even when scenes were completely lit, they managed to give them a feeling of claustrophobia that built up the terror.

The acting was brilliant, especially the children who really sold just how terrified they were of what was going on. In particular, there's a scene where one of the girls is staring at a space behind the door. Even though we the viewers couldn't see or here anything, the abject terror on her face and the wonderful lighting freaked me right out. I kept expecting to see something, but the director wouldn't dare give us that satisfaction. When her sister is standing in the shadow, and the girl says "Oh my God, it's right behind you!" I just about peed myself.

Better yet, the movie has a resolved ending instead of leaving us with a pointless cliffhanger. This is a horror film that doesn't need a sequel. It stands alone on it's own merits, and boy howdy does is do an awesome job of that.