Saturday, July 13, 2013

Let's Play Hotline Miami

The Steam Summer Sale is in full swing, and I picked up Hotline Miami for just $2.49. I'm not sure why it took me so long to finally play it, but based on what I'd heard about it, I thought it might make for a good LP video to record my first half hour or so with it.

Towards the end, I pretty much go completely, violently insane. So I think we'll call this a success.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Fridays are Magic: Recasting FFVI, Part One

Pretty light posting this week, huh? (And by that I mean, zero posting whatsoever.) In my defense, I had midterms to deal with and didn't really have a chance to get out do anything worth writing a blog post on. But now it's Friday again, and it is my solemn duty to write something about ponies.

FiMFlamFilosophy is a name a lot of bronies might be familiar with. He's the mind and voice behind The Mentally Advanced Series and Rainbow Dash Presents, one of the two big Friendship is Magic abridges series' and a semi-animated, goofy retelling of some of the fandom's more messed-up fanfics, respectively. TMAS is a bit of an acquired taste--it takes a little getting used to the fact that one guy is voicing all of the female characters, and the humor is so dry it could be used as kindling--and RBDP relies on quite a bit of outside knowledge of the fandom, but as a member of both target audiences, I highly recommend checking them out.

Recently, he's been playing through Pony Fantasy VI, an overhaul of my favorite game of all time, Final Fantasy VI (or III, on the SNES in America), only with the main cast replaced by ponies. Combining colorful pastel equines with the greatest JRPG of all time should be right up my alley, and yet the more I see, the more frustrated I'm getting. Ponies and FF6 were never going to fit all that well together, but for all the effort the game's creator obviously put into making custom sprites and rewriting tons of dialogue, time and again he seems to have forsaken chances at doing something clever in favor of pushing some obnoxious bit of fanon or referencing a meme.

It's frustrating to watch, but Flam's done a damned good job already going through the game and pointing out its flaws. No, I'm not interested in critiquing Pony Fantasy VI; I'm just curious if a good story could have been made out of it at all.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fridays are Magic: Adventure Edition!

I've been playing D&D for a little over a decade. I've been reading D&D books for far longer, but I didn't actually start playing until after high school, when I moved across the country and needed to build some sort of social structure to avoid turning into a crazed hermit (rather than the normal kind I became instead). I've played 3rd Edition, 3.5, 4E (and may I never have to play that again), and various spinoffs like d20 Modern or SpyCraft. I've also played a few other systems, like Vampire: The Masquerade and Legend of the Five Rings, though not nearly as many as I would actually like to.

Of late, though, my gaming group has finally settled on a single gaming system that we can all agree is pretty fun: Pathfinder, Paizo's revamp/overhaul of the D&D 3.5 ruleset into something bigger, better, and more fun than its predecessor. Pathfinder streamlines a lot of 3rd Edition's more complex oddities, introduces a few new ideas that add a lot of fun and value to the game, and comes complete with a setting vast and varied enough to contain any campaign idea you can think of, somehow without homogenizing everything into a bland soup like the Forgotten Realms. It's good stuff.

In seemingly unrelated news, a bit of boredom led to my discovery that some generous soul had taken the old program HeroMachine--a free, Flash-based costume designer/paper doll thingee my group had long used to create quick, cheap, and rather goofy-looking portraits for our characters--and updated it to a new version, with tons of new features and customization options. I immediately set about sinking far too many hours into it, hoping to learn its secrets and use this newfound power for my own nefarious purposes. To do this, I needed characters that I could design. Being a brony, well, it didn't take long to figure out who.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Weekday Review: White House Down

John McClane and President Barack Obama
in: Die Hard 4.
Hey, did you know that there was a new Die Hard movie?  It's pretty good. It's definitely a throwback to the original in a lot of ways; there's a single location that gets explored throughout the movie to give it a real sense of place, there's a lone badass-but-not-superhuman action hero dealing with a broken marriage and a strained relationship with his kid, and a crew of highly specialized bad guys (and a bunch of grunts) whose actual goal is slowly revealed throughout the movie. There aren't any cars being launched into helicopters, no one ever cruises through a city while hanging onto the wing of an F-16, and the action--while fun and exciting--never really strays all that far from reality (save for our hero's remarkable Constitution score).

I mean, it's not officially a Die Hard movie, but it's the closest we're going to get to a sequel. I mean, it's not like they're still making those.  I wouldn't complain if they did, of course, but they'd probably just turn them into stupid, mindless action flicks with none of the charm or uniqueness that made the original such a classic, and that would be terrible.

No, the movie's actually called White House Down. It stars Channing Tatum as John McClane. Er, John Cale. John's recently returned from Afghanistan after enlisting to flee his failing marriage, and is working as a bodyguard for the Speaker of the House in Washington, D.C. He wants to join the actual Secret Service, mainly because he thinks it might score points with his 11-year-old daughter and future PoliSci major, Emily, who has a few issues with her dad thanks to him running off to the other side of the world for eight years. The two of them are touring the White House when a team of Totally Not Blackwater mercenaries, white supremacist sociopaths, and treacherous, Arab-hating Secret Service agents launch a coup against President Barack Notobama, played by Jaime Foxx.

Yup, it's a Die Hard movie.
The rest of the film is, as I've alluded, Die Hard. John Cale creeps around the White House, up and down elevator shafts and through every window the place has, taking out the bad guys one or two at a time and slowly building up a respectable arsenal. There's a hacker set up in the heart of the complex, with a big ol' timer counting down to the completion of some objective.  The leader of the coup exchanges threats and demands with John's helpful friend on the outside who is constantly shackled by imposing authority figures (Maggie Gyllenhaal). One of the hostages with a personal connection to him (Emily, played by Joey King) eventually has that connection exposed by incautious reporters, and she's used as bait to draw him out. Eventually, our bloody and battered hero manages to whittle down the bad guys' ranks, he takes out the Big Bad in some suitably hilarious and awesome way, and then he's reunited with his family after finally earning their love and respect.

There's copying Die Hard's template, and then there's copying Die Hard. I'm not sure where the line is, but this movie is hovering right over it.

There are differences, of course, mainly in the addition of a secondary heroic lead in the form of Django himself, Jaime Foxx. His character--President Sawyer--is probably the main reason you might have heard of this film.  He is, with absolutely zero subtlety or attempt at concealment, President Barack Obama. Literally casting the President--any President, really, save perhaps for Teddy Roosevelt--as the hero of an action flick is undoubtedly going to draw controversy, but when it's this already extremely controversial President, well, there's a bit of discomfort.

I'm going to need to talk politics just for a bit, in the interest of full disclosure. I've voted for President Obama twice, and I have never regretted it. I do not agree with him on every issue, nor do I think he hasn't made any serious missteps. However, I think many of his detractors severely underestimate the scope of the challenges and opposition he has faced every moment since coming to office--hell, since winning the election. I also think he's a good person; a politician, to be sure, guided by pragmatism and political reality before all else, but a basically decent human being. So, yes, the high concept of "President Obama with a rocket launcher takes on Blackwater, the KKK, and Dick Cheney" is pretty much all I needed to hear to be sold on this movie.

Pictured: the movie this should have been.
That said, President Sawyer's role isn't actually as superheroic as one might have been lead to expect. He's not a fighter; the two scenes of him doing action-y stuff in the trailer are pretty much it. That isn't to say that he's weak or useless; he's smart, reasonably athletic, and keeps a cool head in a crisis. Mostly, he's John Cale's sidekick, but he still has plenty of chances to show his own, quieter brand of courage.

It's also worth noting that one of the Bad Guys is an ex-NSA hacker turned anti-authoritarian anarchist. Given one of the big stories in the news the last few weeks, this is honestly kinda spooky. They even look alike. I don't know if discussing the similarities to Edward Snowden are a very good idea, especially considering that my own views are apparently deeply unpopular, though, so perhaps I should just let this paragraph end.

And, well, that's really all I've got to say. I enjoyed the film quite a bit, even if it wasn't quite the President Django vs. the World movie I was hoping for, and even if it was extremely derivative of Die Hard. I mean, there are far worse films to rip off, and I'm glad to see that someone's trying to bring the series back to life.

God, just imagine if they tried to keep making new ones with Bruce Willis. They'd probably give all the movies really stupid pun titles, too. Thank goodness Hollywood just let that dead horse lie.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fridays are Magic: Fan Fiction

"Would you like to read my Lyra/Bon-Bon adventure 'fic?"
Way back when I started this blog (a whole not-quite-two-months ago!), I mentioned offhand that I've written Friendship is Magic fan fiction. As with most aspects of my broniness, I was initially really embarrassed by this, and it took a lot of... I don't want to say "courage," but something sort of like it... to come clean about what I was doing. I wasn't writing weird stuff or anything like that--no clop, thank you--but it seemed very, very strange to me that, after years of lethargy, the muse that finally inspired me to start writing again was a cute cartoon show for little girls.

As I've mentioned, I find FiM's world to be really fascinating. The show rarely goes into the history of the setting, but a lot can be extrapolated from the things we know and occasional glimpses into the past. The story of "Hearth's Warming Eve" shows us that, long ago, the earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns lived in separate and culturally diverse realms. They eventually united to found Equestria, and some indeterminate time after that, Celestia and Luna came to rule it. During their reign, they came into conflict with a chaotic demigod named Discord and sealed him in stone. And, eventually, Luna was turned to the Dark Side by a shadowy force known as "Nightmare" and launched an ultimately failed coup against her sister.

Behold, the savage beastmaster.
A few other bits of setting detail hint at the past. The literal Gates of Tartarus exist--within a few days' gallop of Ponyville, no less--and are said to contain many of Equestria's greatest foes. The season three premiere featured King Sombra, the ruler of a once-powerful empire who used his sorcery to trap his subjects outside of time and space, becoming a creature of smoke and shadow in the process. Ancient pegasi certainly seemed to have a Spartan aesthetic, and we've seen at least three monsters straight out of Greek myth: griffons, hydras, and minotaurs. Are they related? Is there a common history between them? There are zebras, their culture apparently based on African shamanism; where do they come from?  There are mules and donkeys and cows that all seem to have human-level intelligence; what is their role within Equestrian society?

These questions aren't likely to be addressed within the show itself.  Some of them might be, eventually; the answers to almost all of them are, apparently, contained in the show bible Lauren Faust created several years ago. But for every question you could think to ask, you can bet that a fan of the show has already come up with an answer, and some of those answers might be better than even Faust's.

Quite frankly, from a world-building perspective, fanfiction is magic.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Crusader Kings II!

Paradox: great at making strategy games,
not great at making box art.
Guys, I think I might have a problem. After failing to get its hooks into me several times, Paradox Interactive's grand empire building/role playing/history simulating sandbox of insane proportions, Crusader Kings II, has pulled me into its gaping maw and swallowed me whole, and I'm too busy trying to keep my burgeoning young empire together to care.

Crusader Kings II is a hard game to love. It's obtuse and cluttered with menus that give you too much information and too little context. Hours of carefully-planned gameplay can be shattered in a heartbeat by a formerly loyal subject's sudden revolt, or a declaration of war handed down by a bigger, meaner kingdom.  The tutorial is a bad joke, and despite a surprisingly complex military simulation running under the hood, combat almost always boils down to who brought the most dudes.

I bought the game on a series of passionate recommendations and after reading a really cool Let's Play/chronicle on PC Gamer.  After around ten hours of bashing my head against it over the course of a weekend, I gave up.  Over the next few months, I reinstalled it a few more times, hoping to crack through the chitinous outer shell and into the meaty goodness within, but to no avail.  I'd pretty much written it off as one of those supposedly great games that I was just never going to be able to appreciate.

And then the latest DLC expansion for the game, The Old Gods, came out.  TOG adds a ton of new features, including an earlier start date and a revamped technology system.  Most importantly, it adds vikings, and all sorts of mechanics to let you be the bearded, mead-swilling pillager you always wanted to be.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Weekend Review: Equestria Girls

"Our movie didn't suck!"
That... was actually kind of good.

I just got back from seeing Equestria Girls--literally, I just walked in and sat down, and am trying to tank some cat aggro while I type. Only one theater here in town was playing it, and with only two showings. It's kind of odd how small of a deal it actually was, theatrically-speaking, considering it's been such a constant source of arguments and discussions among the brony fanbase. The rest of the world was lining up for Monster University or World War Z, while I was packed into a theater with a hundred or so enthusiastic (and somewhat obnoxious) male fans of the show and a small handful of children.

And I've got to tell you, I didn't want to go. I woke up this morning and gave very serious consideration to just turning off my alarm and going back to sleep. I was worried that when I got there, I'd find myself surrounded by bronies who hadn't gotten the memo on that whole "ambassador for the fandom" thing, wearing costumes and having long-winded, high-pitched conversations about some weird aspect of the show's mythology that would leave everyone around them with the impression they were either insane or seriously autistic.

There were those guys--I sat directly in front of them, to my dismay--but for the most part, people seemed sane and rational aside from their willingness to plunk down five bucks to see an animated film about cartoon ponies.

But, you ask, what about the actual movie?