Saturday, August 27, 2011


I'm adding Deus Ex: Human Revolution to the backlog. Its inclusion is about 80% wanting to play it and 20% wanting to be able to have an informed opinion on some elements of the game that have proven controversial.

Off the list: Tangled

Why, oh WHY didn't I see this in the theater? Anyway, yeah, I noticed that Disney's latest film, Tangled, was up on Netflix and decided to watch it this morning and it was incredible. Zachary Levi was great as Flynn (not that surprising - he's great in Chuck) and the tale actually turned into a really good action-adventure movie very quickly. Disney flipped their formula a bit and made it a redemption story instead of just a hero tale, which was a great touch. I really don't want to spoil anything in this part of the review, so I think I'll leave it at this: If you like adventure, fantasy, and/or comedy, open up your Netflix account (or go get a free trial code from a TWiT show or Swagbucks or something) and watch this NOW. Beautiful animation, fantastic voice acting, fun story - awesome.

RPG notes: Spoilers aplenty. Go watch it and come back. And don't you dare NOT watch this!

Anyway, first some quick D&D notes: Maximus is now the official inspiration for every paladin's mount forevermore. That horse is full of epic win. Flynn also provides a nice example of the rogue with a heart of gold archetype, but what I'd really like to get into is Rapunzel's hair. The filmmakers actually constructed a surprisingly complex and interesting mythology around her hair, the flower it was derived from, the properties it had and so forth. There's some real parallels between Rapunzel's hair in this movie and Samson's in the Bible, and while Disney tends to avoid explicit religious themes in most of its works, you can definitely infer a "gift from God" property here. There's also some nice, subtle cues in the movie about how to craft a kingdom rules by wise, benevolent monarchs if you pay attention. The look and feel of the capital city and even the royal couple in particular convey a lot without any explicit exposition. I think one of the coolest and most important things you can pull out of this movie, though, is that you can get a fairly solid story (and even portray some real evil) without going all horrific and gruesome. The "mother" in this movie is also an excellent example of restraint and subtlety in villain design.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cleared: Priest

Well, tonight I was in the mood for a cheesy action movie, so I swung by a redbox on the way home and rented Priest. And what I got was indeed a cheesy action movie. That said, it's not terrible as cheesy action movies go. The fights are fairly decent (if completely physics-defying), the story is passing fair (if utterly formulaic), the actors aren't awful. It's not a horrific, painful thing to watch, at least not if you do so at home on your PC while doing other stuff like I did. One thing I really did like about the movie is that the vampires weren't all beautiful and sexy. In fact, they were nothing of the sort. They were eyeless, gruesome, leech-like things and that was really cool. (In fact, they were a completely separate species, rather than cursed or infected humans and that was cooler still.) The filmmakers also did a nice job of stirring some varying genres together in a way that actually felt far more seamless than it normally does; depending on where the characters were, you got either Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, or Western feel, but it still felt like the same world. That was cool.

RPG notes: Aside from the movie's new take on vampires, this was about the most formulaic thing I've seen in over a year, which sadly means there really isn't too much else to glean from it as far as game ideas go. But let's linger on the re-imagining for a moment, shall we? There's a lot of value in the idea of taking something and making it look different in a game. In fact, that was one of the things I really liked about how Paizo did Pathfinder monsters - yeah, they're the same critters with the same capabilities and usually a pretty similar role. But the flavor and appearance are changed just enough to feel different. That can be really valuable and can let you get more mileage out of familiar elements than you otherwise could. Beyond that, you have a really smooth genre-mash, but that's hardly new, if a lot of fun.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cleared: Pandorum

Woo Hoo! 20 movies cleared! I finally got up the gumption to watch Pandorum and was glad I did. First of all, I'd forgotten that the movie stars Ben Foster, who I always really like as an actor, and this was no exception; he's as great as ever in this. Also, without spoiling things, for a sci-fi action-horror movie this has an incredibly hopeful thread that runs through it. Foster's character in particular is an amazingly gutsy, heroic and decent sort. He's also smart, which is nice to see. I enjoyed the movie a great deal, and I'd love to see a sequel that picks up a few years after the end of this one, though it would feel completely different. If you can handle a few scares and some gore, I'd recommend it. Oh, and a weird misconception the box art and posters give that I'm happy to dispel: the movie is not all about body horror involving tubes. Its scares come more from environmental dangers, claustrophobia, and madness.

RPG notes: [SPOILER WARNING] Everything I'm about to discuss in this part of this post is about as spoileriffic as spoiler-y spoilers can be. If you haven't watched Pandorum and want to, for the love of cinema, do so first and only then read further![SPOILER WARNING]

This one was packed with cool ideas, most of which are only truly revealed towards the middle-to-end parts of the film. The idea of a "last colony ship" with the sole survivors of humanity onboard escaping from a destroyed Earth is obviously one that's been done a number of times before, but some of the other elements are completely different. For example: the ship ISN'T actually in space at all, having crashed in the ocean on the planet they were headed to hundreds of years ago. Humanity actually IS saved, they just didn't realize it, and once they escaped from the hell that was the inside of the Elysium, you get a very strong sense that everything is going to be okay for them. The monsters inside the ship (evolved/mutated humans adapted to live inside a ship) were also an interesting, incredibly creepy touch and one that could make for a very cool set of opponents if done correctly. If I were going to run a game in this setting, I'd almost certainly start it about an hour after the movie finishes. That ship is full of resources, but it's also dangerous. The planet is dangerous in different ways, and also unknown, but also full of possibility. In fact, if you wanted to run a post-Pandorum game, there's actually an existing product with a lot of similar concepts that could be easily hacked to do it: Blue Devil Games' Dawning Star setting. The base concept, however, needn't be limited to sci-fi or even space travel games. Refugees trapped in an ark that's become a very dangerous place that need to escape to a better life that's waiting outside if they can just figure out what's really going on would work in fantasy, too. (You could do planar travel or even just a sealed "tomb" designed to wait out something like the Lunar Rain from Dragonmech or even some sort of other apocalyptic event (possibly even a cyclical one) that affects a fantasy world.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Off the list: Left 4 Dead 2

Today I'm going to write for the first time about a multiplayer game. For those of you who know me, this is rather unusual, to say the least. It's also a little unusual for me in that I "cleared" it (played through all of the campaigns) months ago. But tonight I played it with some friends and realized I had some stuff to say about it, so here we go. Left 4 Dead 2 is, for those who are unfamiliar, a four-player cooperative first-person shooter. The setting is a zombie apocalypse one and depending on the mode, the game falls somewhere between straight-up action and survival horror. Because it's a Valve game, it's more polished than a Marine's boots and it will run on anything more powerful than a Commodore 64. And it is also really, really fun. The trick is to get a good group of friends together to play with, but once you have that, it's a fantastic experience. I play pretty regularly (at least weekly) with a rotating group of 4 other people and I enjoy the game immensely. It is so much fun as to be borderline therapeutic when played with good friends. And you'd better play with friends, because even the most basic success in the game is predicated on working as a team and watching each others' backs. When you do that, though, the game is magic. You get the benefits of the jokes and chatter through the integrated VOIP and then to that add the catharsis of blasting scores of zombies with various assault weapons. Even though this game has been out for a while (it was released in November of '09) I'd say it's still competitive with newer games. I'd also say this would make a list of essential PC games that every PC gamer should own and play. The rave reviews and awards it's garnered were all very much deserved.

RPG notes: The setting of the game is certainly fertile ground for a great RPG setting to be grown in, and the various "special infected" (particularly the Spitter, Charger, Smoker, and Boomer) would all make very serviceable monsters in a tabletop RPG setting. (The Hunter, Witch, and Tank are too generic and the Jockey is too dependent on the video game aspect, I think.) However, I think the "watch your buddy's back" element that's in there might be the real gem in the game. The cooperative dynamic is pretty awesome in play, and while most adventuring parties generally work together, the kind of loyalty and mutual back-watching that Left 4 Dead characters do would make for a very formidable party with some really nice pathos.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Yet another list of additions and removals

I spent a bunch of time tonight digging through Netflix's catalog and my collection of media of various types.


PC Games:
Frozen Synapse

TV Shows:
Jericho, Season 1
Jericho, Season 2

The American
There Will be Blood
The Town
Tron: Legacy
The Lincoln Lawyer
Drive Angry
Resident Evil: Afterlife


PC Games:
All the Prince of Persia stuff. Platforming just doesn't feel all that appealing these days.
Dead Space, F.E.A.R. and the Scourge Project - horror doesn't either
Garshasp and Oni - can't get these to work right now and I have enough other stuff that fighting with them is NOT a high priority
Gothic III - as it turns out, what I have is an "expandalone" instead of the full game.

Also: it's been a while since I knocked a book off the list, so I'm going to try to do that soon. I've been working on Whitechapel Gods.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cleared: Black Death

Well that was about the bleakest, grimmest thing I've watched in a long time. The movie paints everybody as bad. The warriors are bad, the priest is bad, the villagers are bad, society is bad, it's just plain awful. There's nobody and nothing to like or root for and innocent people die all over the place. It's well-executed and well acted, but I really can't think of a good reason to watch it. It's just way too grim. I have no desire to ever see this one again.

RPG notes: This movie contained a couple of excellent examples of simple tricks and theater standing in for actual sorcery. It could be worth it, now and again, to trick PCs with what seem like magical opponents who are nothing of the sort. Also, if you want to run a grim, all-shades-of-dark-gray game, I guess this would serve as useful inspiration.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Off the List: Brink

Review: I never added Brink to the list (whoops!), but I just finished playing through it, so here's my thoughts. Brink is an objective based competitive team shooter game in the vein of Team Fortress 2. The game is similar to TF2 in its style of play and in that it possesses and exaggerated art style. Unlike TF2, however, there are a lot of weapons, none are limited by character class, and all but a few of them can be modified by players to fit their combat style. The precise look of a player's avatar is also highly customizable, though I imagine certain costume pieces will bet far more use than others. Also very unlike TF2, Brink has an actual story, lightweight though it may be, and surprising amount of lore available for players to unlock and discover. Also of note is the ability to seamlessly jump and slide around obstacles, which adds an interesting vertical aspect to some of the maps. The game is a lot of fun, and even once everything is unlocked, is enjoyable to play. I prefer Brink to TF2 myself, but I'm admittedly biased, and the specific bias is this: I enjoy video games, but am not all that skilled at them. I play most of them on the lowest difficulty setting, and enjoy that experience. That means that when I go online to play vs. other human, many of whom are extraordinarily skilled at video games, I get blown to shark chum. This is less-than-enjoyable, and so I confine most of my online gaming to co-op games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Magicka. This is where Brink comes in: it feeds my urge to tinker with its customizable everything and it also allows you to play through all of its missions in single player mode. Huzzah! So, I'd recommend it, especially if you're a clod of an FPS player like me.

RPG notes: For those that missed the post where I announced I'd be doing this, this marks the first review of mine that will include a discussion of the game as idea material for tabletop RPGs. If this holds no interest for you 1) I wonder how you found this blog (welcome just the same, though!) and 2) feel free to skip this part. Right then, let's get to it.

Brink actually has several ideas worth appropriating for tabletop RPGs, the first and most obvious being The Ark itself, which is one of the better game settings I've seen in a while. (Jim Rossignol over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun mentions this too.) It bears mentioning that before I started playing the game, I didn't realize that the entire thing was on water, a giant floating archology. (In fact, I wonder if Ark started out as a phoenetic shortening of "archology," if it's a reference to Noah's Ark, both or neither.) The Ark is largely self-sufficient, though scarcity is enough of a problem to have touched off a revolution, and the technology that built it was obviously adaptable enough to allow for expansion, though it expanded into slums that call back to the cities in Fallout 3, cobbled together from whatever was around. The Ark itself seems to be built on floating foundations of some sort of artificial coral, which is a cool idea in and of itself. The Ark, or something inspired by it, would make for a very interesting and cool setting for an RPG. An interesting thing to note is that while other technologies have advanced from the present in Brink, weapons technology is exactly where it is today, to the point of most of the weapons being copies to modern guns.

The second major concept that struck me is that both sides of the Security/Guests conflict in the game are actually right. The population of the Ark has increased to the point where society (and the Ark itself) are starting to break down, but the outside world is not a nice place, either. Ironically, each side has information that would end the conflict if the other side were to get a hold of it, but neither side shares, and neither side knows about the other side's information. Furthermore, neither side's leadership nor foot soldiers is particularly fanatical or without doubts. This dynamic could definitely be used by a shrewd GM to cook up all manner of interesting adventures.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A new feature for review posts going forward.

Inspired by a podcast I've been listening to lately (Postcards from the Dungeon) I have decided to add RPG inspiration potential notes to the capsule reviews on this blog. I'll break it out from the main part of the review, so if you don't care, you can skip it. I'm on the fence as to whether to start with the next thing I post or go back and add to older posts. If you're reading this and have an opinion, post in the comments and tell me what you think.