Saturday, October 18, 2014

Two Blonde Dudes



I might have said something about finishing my dark heart of the soul analysis of Twin Peaks as a reworking of Peter Pan, but that shit be dark and depressing, and I got a little weekend getaway in Kyoto planned, so I felt more emotionally comfortable blogging about two white bread characters. Just be grateful I didn't have the time to include other blondes like Barry Allen (now a brunet on the CW), John Constantine (dyed thanks to NBC), or Animal Man

The Brave, the Bold, and the Blonde gender bender await after the jump!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Peter Pan: Twin Peaks for Kids Part 1 of 2



“Peter Pan flew with children, Lois...in a fairy tale.” So spoke Christopher Reeve, who made us believe a man (not an actress portraying a male youth) could fly. That poignant scene between two consenting adults is why I got problems with Steven Spielberg's Hook

Robin V Superman
Sure, Robin Williams was a brilliant actor working alongside one of cinema’s most talented, the director of Jaws, E.T., Indian Jones and The Shia LaBeouf Abortion that Never Happened. No one’s perfect. Hook’s insurmountable hurdle was having a cinematic adult Peter Pan in a time after 1938. Superman isn’t Peter Pan for adults. Superman is almost the Anti-Pan. The character’s story is mostly about growing up, not with reluctance, but on a cosmic folk tale level of adventure, which Smallville failed at showing for 10 long years. From a baby on Krypton to stumbling awkward blue collar young man in a big city, to romance with Lois, Superman reflects the experience of becoming and steadily continuing life in the daily grind of adulthood with super heroics as set dressing, much in the same way how those great early Spider-Man comics dealt with adolescence. Superman is an aspiration, not in regards to biceps, but for morality, humility, and conduct. The only documented case I’m aware of a grown man who wished he was Peter Pan was a so called king of Pop. I’m sure he was never associated with accusations of child abuse, right?

Just saying, Peter Pan is messed up!

So what does Peter Pan have to do with incest and Twin Peaks? If you type in a search for TP and PP together you’ll mostly just get links about Johnny Thorne’s favorite book. Johnny was a mentally handicapped man tutored by Laura Palmer. It seems to be Lynch showing his hand, but being very coy about doing a modern reinterpretation of the children’s classic tale. One could argue that is a little too vague for the director when compared to Wild at Heart’s strong connection to The Wizard of Oz, but does Marilyn Monroe’s life immediately jump to mind after watching Mulholland Drive? Regardless, let us strap on our Alan Moore goggles and slit the tender throat of innocence. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

8 Elements of the Nerd's Perfect Video Game

In this post, I'm going to attempt to distill my favorite features of video games and break them down to components I would love to see make up a single game that would, for The Nerd, be the end all of video games.

Until the sequel comes out, with improved graphics and smell-o-vision.

1. Turn-Based Strategy

This is a must for me. Real-Time Strategy games require too much in regards to practice and memorization. I don't argue that they are fun, but my method of thinking is more analytically, given to examining a situation to make the best decision, without feeling rushed. The strategy aspect highlights this as well -- sure, a turn-based RPG is acceptable, but adding unit location and map variation to conflict scenarios really draws out the strategy-enthusiest in me. And it also highlights the ability to solve a scenario via multiple methods (direct approach, bait and switch, opposed strength/weakness, etc...). I have seen games that use turn-based strategy for an overworld and then something more action-oriented to resolve conflicts... I'd be ok with that as well.
X-COM: Enemy Unknown's Turn-Based, Strategic Combat.

Examples: X-COM: Enemy Unknown had a beautiful system with varied maps, and the fog of war was a nice touch. Banner Saga was another great looking example, which focused on each unit being different, while the maps were not so exciting. A classic example would be Final Fantasy Tactics, though that system is a bit dated and runs too slow compared to recent ventures.

2. Team Building

Being able to grow your team by collecting and grooming new units adds another reason to play the game, aside from the story and combat/conflict. However, these units should be unique or extremely varied, should have different strengths and weakness, and must have different recruitment methods and rarity.
Yeah, 108 characters will work, Suikoden 3.

Examples: The Suikoden series has a roster of 108 characters, which are different across all the games. I've only finished the 3rd game in the series, but it was awesome recruiting such a large cast of characters that had individual stories, unique appearances, and different ways to get them on your team. Pokemon is a better known series that features a collectible, team-building style, and it worked as well. Shin Megami Tensei games have one of the most interest versions of this, with large cast of recruitable monsters, many of which can only be acquired through fusing others... Collectible card games are also appealing in this manner.

3. 'Town' Building

Building a town or location up as you advance in the game is an easy way to make a player invested. It can be a negligible aspect of the game that provides non-mandatory benefits for those who like the simulation-like aspect. Visiting a location you've help 'build' from the ground up is refreshing. Even better if you have to defend it or interact with it during missions. It can also offer an avenue of interacting with the large cast you've recruited above, if they end up relocating to this new location.
One method of "town" building, with X-COM's base screen.

Examples: Suikoden, again, uses this pretty heavily, and it was my absolute favorite part of the third game. I cared less about the main story and more about gathering the "108 Stars of Destiny" in Thomas' castle... XCOM: Enemy Unknown also features a base-building aspect that, while a touch bland, did introduce a puzzle-like aspect and some additional strategy to the overall game. A classic example would be Dragon Quest/Warrior III, which had a town that grew as your progressed the story.

4. Character Evolution

Characters should change throughout the game. Most commonly, this will occur via the story, but that's not the only way to do it. Characters that can unlock abilities that alter the game to a decent degree would work, or characters that undergo a physical change after a certain threshold is met allow the player to set goals based on their characters. Stagnant characters can kill a game fairly easily.
Pokemon Conquest's monsters and 'trainers' could evolve.

Examples: X-COM: Enemy Unknown had your soldiers gaining game-changing abilities as time went on, and their physical appearance changed drastically based on their equipment (and, after the expansion, certain abilities). Pokemon is an obvious choice here, with almost every monster being able to evolve. A less obvious example would be the main character of Knights of the Old Republic, who has a major revelation that is surprising and changes the way the player looks at the character. Similar again to the protagonist in the first Bioshock.

5. The Antagonist's Story

This one is probably the easiest to dispute from this list, but it is absolutely a requirement to be the perfect game for me. Having an opportunity to see the antagonist's story is a minimum. Even better if you can, in some fashion, play through their story. Either as post-game content, or recruiting them to your team, or maybe just given control of them for a couple of sequences.
Magneto was clutch in the final battle of X-Men 2: Clone Wars.

Examples: Chrono Trigger allows you to recruit on of the villains on your team. I'm fairly certain you could play as the antagonists in Suikoden 3, after finishing the main game, but I don't recall. Fallout: New Vegas allowed you to be a villain, and never required you to "save the world" or "fight the bigger evil." Golden Sun: The Lost Ages actually gives you control of some of the main antagonists from the first game, which was awesome. A classic example would be X-Men 2: Clone Wars, where Magneto became a powerful player character after you defeat him in a later level of the game.

6. Variety of Game 'Modes'

Cutscenes separating similar combat scenarios/styles gets boring, eventually. Sure, some games can come to a close before this happens, but I personally love longer titles. My favorite way to break this up is to work in an 'large battle' system or an 'territory conquest view.' These would have different gameplay elements that still required strategy.
Budokai 2 had a board game campaign within a fighting game!

Examples: Suikoden, again, featured this, in the form of large scale battles that gave you control of larger forces that followed different rules when being controlled. X-COM: Enemy Unknown's base building and global management definitely broke up the monotony of repeated turn-based battles. A classic example would be Ogre Battle 64, which had to methods of play - a map view, where you moved your forces around, and a combat mode that played like a typical RPG. The Devil Survivor series also mixed turn-based strategy with traditional RPG elements. Even Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 had a "campaign mode" that worked in a boardgame element. When pieces on the gameboard met, the combat would take place via traditional fighting game combat -- the losing player lost their piece.

7. An In-Depth, Variable Story

Several of the strategy games I play don't bother with a continuous, in-depth story. And the story should present you with options or opportunities that change the way the game plays, so that there is still a motivation to replay the game.
Mass Effect's Decision Tree. Notice how 3 goes off on its own...

Examples: On the negative side, neither Pokemon Conquest nor X-COM: Enemy Unknown have in-depth, persistent stories. They focus on generic or minor stories, with a focus on replayability. This works for them, but I'd prefer something continuous, and with a variety of meaningful choices. The Fallout games have always featured this. Something like the Mass Effect or Dragon Age series, however, where the choices made persist through multiple games, would be even better. Though Mass Effect specifically missed many good opportunities...

8. Appealing Setting/Theme

For me, an appealing setting or theme could pull from an existing universe (Marvel, Star Wars, etc...) or feature elements I enjoy (post-apocalypse, space travel, etc...). Generic fantasy would be hard to feel original, though it could be done. I'd love to see something in this format that includes giant mechs...
A turn-based RPG that uses Gundams? Oh, yes please, MS Saga: A New Dawn

Examples: The Front Mission series features giant mechs, which I love. Fallout has the post-apocalyptic angle covered, and Knights of the Old Republic was awesome for its innovative storytelling AND the fact that it was set in the Star Wars universe.



Games that blur the lines.

There have been some titles that have blurred the lines and mixed some of my favorite elements, though I know of none to get them all:

Pokemon Conquest - Combines Team Building, Variety of Game Modes, Character Growth, Variety of Game Modes, Appealing Setting/Theme. Technically it also hits The Antagonist's Story, though that's because there isn't a true antagonist. I love how it mixes Pokemon with Nobunaga's Ambition for the setting/theme. The strategy aspect is a bit too basic and easy, and there is no 'true' consecutive story, but this game comes pretty damn close.

Suikoden Series - Team Building, Town Building, The Antagonist's Story, Variety of Game Modes. And there are two titles in the series that feature Turn-Based Strategy. These games are pretty awesome, though each suffers from a variety of issues. I would love to see a new, next-gen entry into the series.

Fallout Series - Turn-Based Strategy (in 1, 2, and Tactics), Team Building, Town Building, Character Evolution, An In-Depth, Variable Story, Appealing Setting/Theme. The post-apocalyptic setting gets me every time...

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (Conquest Mode) - Turn-Based Strategy (via galactic map), Team Building (you had to unlock different units as time progressed), Town Building (you collected planets as you won battles), The Antagonists Story (you could be the Empire!), Multiple Game Modes (board game-like galactic map and then combat as a 3rd Person Shooter), Appealing Setting/Theme (Star Wars!). This game had a lot to love. With some polished combat and maybe a story-driven conquest mode, it could have been damn near perfect for me!


If you have any games that hit multiple points here, let me know in the comments! Also, if there are different elements you'd need for your perfect game, I'd love to read about them! Right now I'm playing MS Saga: A New Dawn and... Well, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which doesn't mix any of my favorite elements, really, but is still pretty damn awesome!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

September's 'Galactic' Loot Crate Review

I like things. I like collectible things especially. Subscription services, such as Loot Crate, offer a chance to get random things for a set price.

I... well, I don't much like surprises. So these subscription services generally go unnoticed by me, with the minor pang of regret when I see something I missed (dat Groot POP! figure!). But mostly I ignore them.

This month, they done advertised right. The theme was "Galactic," and they said it'd include loot related to Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and Alien. And more. But I don't need more, they had me at St--.

So I signed up. Used a coupon code. Total cost was about $16 for the month.

It came this weekend.

I'm happy with the loot included, but I also don't think Loot Crate is for me.


The Good:

1. The total value of the included items surpasses what I paid.
2. The packaging/presentation is spot on.
3. They had interesting things that I would not have purchased on my own.
4. The box included:

Even if they're not super interesting pieces, I do love me some Firefly, so the mini-Mal and the credit stack are fun. And the Han Solo poster looks pretty boss on my wall (featured in the most recent Never Split the Party Podcast episode...). The Tribble, surprisingly, was my favorite item in the box, however.


The Bad:

1. It kind of felt like someone got a discount at Newbury Comics, bought some random (related-ish) items, and threw 'em in a box. That's actually not an awful idea... but I'd rather just have the discount myself (or preferred things I COULDN'T find easily on my own).
2. There were several items I just didn't care about, and will create clutter (or trash):
To be fair, the "Galactic" book was interesting, but it isn't something I'm normally interested in keeping. And, as much as I love the Alien series, I don't care for this style of figure (I personally get the Alien, which was a small plus). As for the digital comic, meh. I dislike both Halo... and digital comics!


The Ugly:

1. There is no easy way to sign up for a one-month deal. You sign up for a subscription that bills you each month until you cancel, then have to send a written request through their website to cancel your subscription. This isn't unexpected, but I think they'd go a long way with offering a one-time purchase offer. That would entice me to try more. Now, knowing it's a bit more of a hassle to cancel, I'm less likely to try again, even if they advertise a theme that interests me.
2. Not every month is created equal. Some months have much rarer, more collectible items (that end up having more value in the long run). Last month's Groot figure is an example of this. This month offered nothing on that level of rare-ness. Not saying I don't love my mini-fig Captain Mal, there's just a clear discrepancy.



Honestly, I have similar issues with anything that includes a random element. Booster packs for card games or miniature games are the bane of my existence. But I know what I can possibly get in those, so I don't mind going back for more. Here, I really have no clue what I'm in store for, and it's entirely likely that a decent percent of the items simply don't interest me.

I'm happy with my loot crate, but this will probably be my last one. Unless they do a special "Maximum Carnage" themed one. Or maybe a Cthulhu theme...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Nerds Rule TV: 5 Killer Incoming Shows

Woohoo! Nerds are taking over TV! Comicbook shows are finally taking off and Star Wars is coming back to TV!

And this isn't even including the long running shows, such as Supernatural! It's a good time to be a Nerd. And/or a couch potato. Possibly an awful time to be married to a nerd (sorry Wife).

Here are the dates for the upcoming releases:

GOTHAM

We'll see, Gotham, we'll see.
Airing on FOX, the premiere is on Monday, September 22nd at 8:00pm.

I'm not sure just how excited I am for this show. DC isn't creating a large, connected universe, so this will be to the Batman series kind of what Smallville was to Superman. Kind of. It looks much darker and grittier, and the cast looks fantastic, just not sure how interested I am in a Batman setting sans Batman.

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D (Season 2)

Airing on ABC, the premiere is on Tuesday, September 23rd at 9:00pm.

The first season of this was pretty decent. It will be interesting to see where the show plans on going from here, and who they'll be able to rope in from the comics. So far, there have been some interesting mentions of Mockingbird and the Absorbing Man, both of which could have an interesting impact on the great Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or not. Marvel plays it safe with their connected universe. Either way, it will be interesting to see how they tie into any upcoming feature films...
Well, nailed the look at least.

STAR WARS: REBELS

This one is a bit interesting. First, it will be airing a special, 1 hour film, "Spark of Rebllion" on Friday, October 3rd at 9:00pm. It will be on the Disney Channel.
Meh on adding Sith...

Then the show itself will air on Disney XD on Monday, October 13th at 9:00pm.

I wasn't a huge fan of the Clone Wars cartoon, and chose not to watch it. Partially the animation didn't interest me, but mostly I didn't care for what they were doing with the characters or any they introduced. Towards the end I got interested, but still haven't made the jump to watching it (though I do have a "watching order" list on hand for when I eventually do...). THIS show takes place during a time I'm more interested in, and is introducing new characters. I'm totally down.

THE FLASH

Airing on the CW, the premiere is on Tuesday, October 7th at 8:00pm.

I don't care for the Flash (I'm not a DC fan), but I'm looking forward to this show, especially if it is the same quality as Arrow. So far, it looks very interesting, and I'm excited that the show takes place in the same universe as Arrow!

ARROW (Season 3)

Airing on the CW, the premiere is on Wednesday, October 8th at 8:00pm.

I loved season one. I enjoyed season two. My body is ready for season three.

Yay for crossovers!

This is all great, but what am I supposed to watch on Thursday and Friday!? ... Coming from the guy who hasn't caught an on-air TV show in ages...

What TV show has you the most excited? Or is there something I didn't list that you can't wait for?


Monday, August 25, 2014

Nerd-Dad: One Month Later

I have been a father for a whole month now. It really, really doesn’t feel like it, but the calendar doesn’t lie. Or so I’ve been told.

Before I go on a tangent about not trusting calendars, I wanted to talk about some things I’ve learned in this first month that I either didn’t know or didn’t appreciate before.

1.       Not sleeping is a super power.

I don’t have it, but The Wife does. She’s pretty impressive. I… mostly turn into the Hulk when I’ve not slept.

2.       Babies CAN be cuter than cats.

I didn’t think this would ever be true for me, but at the very least I find my baby adorable. And I’m much more likely to grab baby-variant covers than cat-variant covers of comics…

3.       It doesn’t require x-ray vision to tell when a diaper change is needed.

Seriously. If you didn’t hear it happen, you’ll definitely smell it by a month in. The first few weeks were mostly odor-free, but this current plot twist stinks.

4.       Babies have more outfits than Spider-Man has costumes (that’s saying something).

Strangely, I’ve noticed a bigger selection of boy clothing than girl clothing, but I may be prejudiced/shopping in the wrong area. Either way, Lorelai has more clothes than the Wife or me, and that includes a super hero (Batgirl) costume!
So. Many. Cloths.

5.       Hand-me-downs are AWESOME.

I used to think getting folks' old, used comics was pretty awesome. Now I’m all about the baby clothes and accessories – new old stuff is freaking awesome!
Babies smell!

6.       At this point, babies are like Oscar the Grouch.

They’re loud, they don’t like anything, and they smell. Doctor Grant was right…

7.       Getting pooped on isn’t all that bad.

Don’t have anything witty here, just as surprised as you to find this is true. Just know it’ll happen.

8.       Baby crying > Kryptonite.

Woof. At one month you can’t really tell if the baby is crying because she’s hungry, hurt, or just uncomfortable. And the volume is really picking up. You’ll try everything, from burping to bouncing to 4:00am walks in the Ergo, but there is no easy or surefire fix. And, just like Kryptonite in the comics, there’s going to be a ton of it…

9.       Super Soldier Serum is really coffee, energy drinks, and straight caffeine.

On those nights when I barely make three hours of sleep, I’ve found that an Amp or a large coffee can keep me feeling like Captain America. Otherwise, I kind of feel like Swamp Thing.
We're out of coffee!?

10.   Having a good partner is the most important thing there is.

I’m extremely lucky to be married to such a wonderful mom. I certainly couldn't have done any of this without her – I’m really more of a sidekick at this point than anything. Hopefully, when Lorelai is older and able to, I don’t know, hold a conversation, I can get promoted from Robin to Nightwing. Hopefully.
For now...

I imagine this will be the first post of many. We’re one month down and… forever to go?

Now, about those calendars…

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Game Time: Bravely Default, Mount and Blade: Warband, and more...

Howdy folks! It's your favorite sleepless nerd!

Unless your fans of Wil Wheaton, I hear he doesn't sleep much. And he's much better at the whole nerd thing.

But anyways! In between raising a baby, I've managed to sneak in a little bit of time playing some titles that are either new-ish or new to me, and I wanted to give a quick report. Later on I might try for a longer piece on Guardians of the Galaxy (or maybe not, that's kind of old news now), and I've also been reading a slew of comics that I haven't posted about yet.

Bravely Default

The Party
I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm a huge fan of RPGs. I especially love turn-based ones, possibly because I like to take my time doing just about anything. Bravely Default's titular feature is the Brave/Default system, which is a relatively interesting twist on the turn based mechanic. Every action costs a certain amount of Brave Points. By using "Default," characters defend on their turn and earn an extra BP, which can be done up to three times (I'm uncertain if this ever changes, I'm not super far). Using the "Brave" option, you can spend extra BP on a single turn to take more or bigger actions. The interesting component here is that you can spend BP you don't have, allowing your character to go to -4 BP. The trick is that you only regenerate 1 BP per turn, and that character is useless until their back to 0. Enemies are also able to use the same system.

This makes random encounters generally pretty easy -- spam Brave on every character, they get four attacks in a row and can generally wipe anything out in one turn. For bosses, however, it becomes a gambit -- when you're low on health and not sure if you should try an all out attack and hopefully kill the big bad, or play it safe so you can defend and heal and keep whittling away... I believe there are more combos as you get later in the game, but up to chapter three, it has stayed fairly mundane.

Character classes are run on a job system, similar to a Final Fantasy Tactics -- any of your four characters can learn a different class on a whim, as long as you've unlocked it. There seems to be a decent amount of jobs, which is good. There are a couple of points where Bravely Default has twisted this system as well. Each character can use skills from their current job and the skills from one other job they've learned. And they can use support abilities from any jobs that they've learned them in. This helps to create diverse characters and promotes switching jobs often. There is a feature, called "Abilink," that allows you to pair up your character with one of your 3DS friends accounts, which gives them access to any skills that player has learned in the chosen job. At first I thought this was pretty interesting, but it almost makes developing classes pointless if you've got friends (as I do) that have all abilities unlocked for all jobs...

Speaking of friends helping you in game, you're also able to "summon" them if they've uploaded an attack to the internet. To upload an attack, you choose the "Send" option and then make an attack -- it's stored on your profile until you record another one, and players can use it as a one-off until they record another (and you download it again). This is another thing that can trivialize the game -- I tested it on an early boss and defeated them in the single attack...
Orcs must die, amirite?

The game has gone a long way to be more accessible to new players and to promote connecting to others. And these features are completely optional. So I don't have any reason to complain, but I do wish there was a different method of player interaction that didn't feel game-breaking. But I appreciate what they've done with it.

As far as I am, the story has been typical JRPG fare, with four magical crystals you must save/restore and everything. The player cast, which you meet all four very early, are actually pretty interesting. And cutscenes are voiced... though I can't stand several of the characters' voices. I believe the story changes things up midway through the game, but I can't speak to that just yet. The art style is basic and a bit spartan in places (character models and faces, there are no anime-quality scenes, and you don't actually enter shops, just open the front door...), but it works and doesn't detract in any way from the overall game.

I'm definitely enjoying the game and very happy to see someone attempting to revitalize turn-based combat, instead of settling for the same old story. If I'm blown away by the story, I'll come back and post an update, but for now I'm confidant in giving this an 8/10 as is.



Well... That went on longer than I thought! I'll only just mention my other games, because I honestly haven't been playing them as much.

Mount and Blade: Warband

I've never played an M&B title, but I'm glad I picked this up during the Steam Summer Sale. You control a character in a medieval-style world. There's no plot, there's no real story, you're just in this world to do what you will. Generally, the idea is to recruit soldiers to help you fight battles. You can fight for yourself, you can hire yourself out to one of the several warring kingdoms, you can become a vassal to one of these Kings, or you can try and take over a piece of the world for yourself. You could also go for a low-combat route and become a merchant, taking supplies from one side of the continent to the other. But that's not why I play medieval style games...

Travel is done on a top-down world map, where you can travel from towns to villages to castles, passing other armies, groups, or even bandits. You can be a bandit yourself and attack villages, you can be the hero and crush bandits and uncover their secret bases, or you can be a soldier and fight in the many wars that will start up over time. Your character levels up and you can choose how to grow your stats and abilities. There are hero companions that do the same, and there are basic soldiers that "evolve" as they gain more experience, going from peasant to mounted knight (or other, there are many diverse units).
It's about to get real...

Combat can be first or third person, where your army meets another's on the battlefield. This portion of the game kind of reminds me of Chivalry, while the rest of the game is a bit more like a Crusader Kings or Total War title. It's fairly visceral, though standard gameplay definitely benefits from mods that allow for more strategic formations. You can also enter tournaments and the like for some different styled combat, which is a good way to earn money... Of which you'll need a lot.

I'm not super far in the game, but if any of the above in a truly open world setting appeal to you, I strongly suggest this game. Also, it has many wonderful mods (I myself am playing the Floris mod, which is a compilation of other, smaller mods), including one that turns it into a Game of Thrones setting...


Coop Deckbuilding!
My other gaming news brings me to the land of Legendary, Marvel's deckbuilding game. It just came in yesterday, so I haven't played with it too much, but the mechanics are fairly basic and the setting seems a bit more fleshed out than the DC version (that I've only played once). I'll have more on this when I actually get a group together to test it out.

Alright, that's all folks. Go away. Oh, and keep it nerdy.