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?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fridays are Magic, Except for This One!

Hey there, everybody. No Fridays are Magic post today, I'm afraid. I've got a topic I could write about, but I'm also planning to see Equestria Girls tomorrow, and my review of that should more than fill my pony quota for the week.

Instead, I'd like to share something semi-pony-related that was drawn for me by my sworn brother, Morgan King. Some time ago, a post on Facebook posited the idea that, if the universe is infinite and there are an infinite number of universes, then there are an infinite number of worlds where your favorite characters watch shows or play video games about you. I was kind of amused at this idea, and extrapolated it a bit further.

"Somewhere, there's a universe where Edgar Roni Figaro, Donatello, Twilight Sparkle, and Frog are collaborating on a fanfic about me."

Yesterday, Morgan sent me this, and it is completely freaking awesome.

See you tomorrow, folks!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Weekday Review: Man of Steel

The Grand General of Meh.
There's a character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors series called Lu Meng.  His most interesting attribute is always how completely and utterly average he is.  He's a decent fighter; he does decent damage, has decent defenses, and a decent moveset.  His appearance is always aesthetically pleasing, if unremarkable, and his voice acting and writing is always serviceable without being particularly noteworthy.  He is, essentially, the embodiment of "eh, not bad."

(As a note, the actual Lu Meng--the historical, or rather, "historical" version--is actually one of the more interesting and admirable characters in the Three Kingdoms saga.  It's just his video game incarnation that's decidedly slightly-above-average.)

My unofficial brother and I have long used "Lu Meng" as an adjective to describe things that weren't particularly good, but weren't really bad, either.  I've seen a few other attempts to describe that particular brand of mediocrity elsewhere; Young Justice coined the term "whelmed," and there's always the old standby of "well, you know, it was okay, I guess."

Man of Steel was, for me, decidedly Lu Meng.

That isn't to say that it was bad, not by any means.  There's a lot to like here, and some of the complaints about the movie being too grim or too "Nolan-y" are unfounded.  The movie certainly has a serious tone, and there isn't a lot of humor to be found, but it never seemed like a depressing slog of tragedy and violence.  Superman may not crack jokes, but he does act like Superman: he isn't resentful, he doesn't bear those less powerful than him any real ill will, and he goes out of his way to save the lives of those around him... even when they were just shooting at him.

Perhaps the movie's greatest strength is Henry Cavill, who plays the eponymous Man of Steel.  Cavill really has nailed the inherent goodness and nobility that make up Superman's core, the things that make him the moral center of superheroism.  He gets to show a decent range of emotions, all while maintaining an air of calm, confident resolve that what he's doing is the right thing.

The film also has some amazing action scenes.  Just having action scenes in a Superman movie is amazing enough--looking at you, Superman Returns--but the fights here really sell the power of the characters and the unchecked devastation they can cause.  There's plenty of bits that wouldn't look out of place in an anime, and that is by no means meant as a disparaging comment.  The fight Supes has with Evil Kryptonian Lady and Evil Really Tall Guy is a particular standout, with some great choreography and bone-crunching impact.

If only the film had a better plot to go with it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Weekend Reviews.... ?

No reviews today.  Sorry, folks.  Not only were there no TV shows to watch, but I've yet to be able to see Equestria Girls and I was hesitant to go see Man of Steel after hearing so many conflicting and contradictory reviews.

However, I am planning to go see the Supes movie with a couple of friends tomorrow night, and from what I've heard, I think I'll have a lot to say whether I enjoy it or not.

Also, Equestria Girls releases locally this Saturday.  If I'm able to see it sooner, there will be a review sooner.  If I'm not, I'll put on my Doctor Whooves shirt, head down to the theater, and hope my fellow local bronies aren't too weird and embarrassing.

The bit of word I've heard so far is that, to my intense surprise, EQG's actually kind of good.  Of course, this is the first movie that the fandom's had to form and discuss opinions for.  I'd love to hear from a more experienced movie buff who is also a brony, like Chris Sims or Bob Chipman, but no word from them yet.  Hell, it would be nice to hear opinions from people who went in, like me, expecting it to completely suck.  I could probably find some if I cared to look.  But by the same token, I'd like to avoid having my own review influenced by other peoples' gripes and insights.  So, y'know, c'est la vie.

Check back Wednesday (or maybe late Tuesday night) for some more write-y type stuff!

Oh, and if anyone's wondering about the Let's Plays: my headset has died (sigh), meaning I have to use my speakers.  Speakers + microphones + in-game recording are a terrible combination.  It's like Voltron, except that instead of a kickass giant robot, you get a deafening, ear-piercing screech.

Once I replace 'em, I'll be back in business.  In the meantime, you can just watch the funnier and better-equipped guys from Achievement Hunter play Grand Theft Auto IV's awesome multiplayer.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fridays are Magic: Equestria Girls (sigh)

Not really, but pretty much.
I haven't had much of a chance to blog this week; I started my summer classes, and I'm still getting into the rhythm and trying to figure out what my workload is going to be like.  Fortunately, I don't have class on Fridays, so I can still do my weekly post about ponies!  And let's see, what did I plan to write about today?


Well, hell.

Okay, then.  I guess it's time to talk about Equestria Girls (sigh).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Twenty Sided Hangouts

Do you read Shamus Young's blog, Twenty Sided?  Do you comment occasionally, or maybe even visit the quasi-secret forums?  Do you play PC games, have a Steam account, and want to hang out and play computer games with fellow Twenty Sided readers of varying (but generally poor) skill level?  Then you're in the right place, you lucky duck.

To help get our occasional hangout sessions organized, we've created a public Google calendar for everyone.  If you're pretty sure you can make a session, PM me on the forum, comment here, or send me an email and I'll put you on the list.  If you'd like administrative access to the calendar to add your own events and whatnot, the same procedure applies; I'll just need your email address.

Without further ado: here it is, all fancy and embedded.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Weekend Review: Game of Thrones S03E10, "Mhysa."

"I don't always orchestrate the brutal slaughter of my enemies, but
when I do, I have it happen at a state wedding and make sure
somebody else takes the blame."
"The Northerners will never forget."

"Good.  Let them remember what happens when they march on the South."

Tywin Lannister is kind of a dick.

After the Red Wedding last week--and the massive cauldron of anticipation that had been bubbling up inside us book-readin' types for weeks--this episode could've easily been nothing more than an examination of the massacre's fallout.  And while it did cover that ground, it also was surprisingly eventful, setting up a few of the big stories that we'll start seeing in the next season.

But first, let's talk about the Lannisters.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Brony Bookclub!

Yeah, I'm breaking my "pony stuff only on Fridays" rule, but it's not like weekends tend to be all that exciting 'round these parts.

A couple of nights ago, I got to co-host another episode of "The Brony Bookclub" podcast with my buddies Roy and Sam.  It was my third time being on the show, and my first being a proper member of the team instead of a guest.  Of course, the actual guest sort of never showed up (Roy's fault), so we just ended up talking about Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and various fanfics featuring them.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Fridays are Magic: Being a Fan

I sort of expected Equestria's Middle Easterners
would be camels.
If you're a brony, you're an ambassador for this fandom.

I know.  Maybe you don't want to be.  It's a responsibility you didn't ask for, and honestly, it's really not fair to expect anybody who devotes a reasonable (or unreasonable) amount of time to thinking, writing, or creating art about ponies to also have to shoulder the burden of playing diplomat to the masses.

Nevertheless, it's true.

While the general opinion of bronies seems to have gradually shifted from "those guys are weirdos" to "eh, whatever," one can still stumble into corners of the internet where the mere mention of ponies (cartoon or not) can start a war.  Some of the folks who react so violently are just judgmental idiots, absolutely.  But just as many--perhaps more, based on my anecdotal experience--are just sick and effing tired of bronies forcing their fannishness down everyone's throats.

Pictured: weird.
Yeah, I know the counter-arguments.  "Anime fans do it, too!"  So do Adventure Time fans, so do Whovians, so do Futuramians (my word), so do sports nerds and gun nuts and political junkies and yadda yadda yadda.  The sad fact is, though, that all that other stuff falls well within the realm of cultural acceptability.  Nobody feels threatened by Finn and Jake.  But add Twilight Sparkle into the mix, and suddenly things get weird.

Why?  All I've got are guesses and strawmen, and I might be completely off-base with some of them.  Nevertheless, here's what I think.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Let's Play Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

I picked up Chivalry: Medieval Warfare on Steam for a few bucks a week or two back, and figured I'd give it a spin.  By my estimation, it's roughly halfway between Battlefield 3 and Two Worlds II, so it kind of fits.  Right?

Anyway, the game itself is fun, though it's tough to compete online with a ping of 100+.  The game's all about precision and timing, and when you're trying to compensate for latency, it becomes damned near impossible to really have a chance.  You can always play a bot match, but the AI is really limited.  As you shall see shortly, I think.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Weekend Reviews!

Trololololo, lololo, lololo...

You know that huge spoiler in Game of Thrones that everyone who's read the books has been annoyingly hinting at for months, maybe even years?

That was it.

If you had it spoiled ahead of time, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I can only imagine how furious you must be. For the rest of you? Trust me. It was just as shocking in the books, and we've all been waiting with desperate anticipation for you to catch up so we could talk about this.

My friend Noah's only started reading the books recently; his wife, Jenn, hasn't yet. When he got to last night's events in A Storm of Swords, he flipped out and threw it against the wall. He couldn't explain to Jenn what had happened, because he didn't dare spoil it for her. Instead, we had a text-based conversation with a whole bunch of capital letters and exclamation points. Because holy shit.

Okay, I've danced around this long enough. Here's the break. If you press on beyond this point, things will be spoiled. If you haven't seen "The Rains of Castamere" yet, and you've managed not to have the ending spoiled, you should stop right the fuck here. Because you absolutely deserve to go in with fresh eyes and get the full impact from what happened.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Let's Play Battlefield 3, Part 6: Flank Them From the Canal?

And we're back in Black... burn's perspective again, fighting a chaotic, confusing, too-dark-to-see-anything ground war in Iran, being repeatedly told to do things that don't make any sense and being expected to basically shoulder the entire war effort ourselves.

Also, apparently Russian(?) mercenaries aren't fans of Queen.