Doctor Strange

Writing a review for Doctor Strange might be, well, the strangest thing I’ve ever done.  It’s a fun film that’s exceptionally well-cast and stands apart from the majority of Marvel’s other offerings…and yet it’s a film that can’t be objectively recommended.  While it’s a step-up from the likes of Ant-Man, Hulk and Civil War, Doctor Strange has some critical flaws that keep it from entering the Iron Man 1/Winter Soldier/Guardians tier of top Marvel films.

The major critique with Doctor Strange is that the film is just too short.  At a run time under 2 hours, it’s amazing the film accomplishes as much as it does.  It has to establish Stephen Strange’s character, the accident that leads him to becoming a powerful sorcerer as well as how magic works and differs from other superpowers.  That’s a lot to do in a film that’s only 115 minutes.

And it’s that short run-time that really does Mads Mikkelsen (and Rachel McAdams, to a lesser extent) an injustice.  In a film that’s incredibly well-cast, Mikkelsen’s talent is wasted by giving him a role that could have been played by anyone else.  With a longer time, perhaps the actor behind Casino Royale’s Le Chiffre and Hannibal could have put an interesting twist on a villain in a cinematic universe sorely lacking in them.  Instead, his character is never anything more than “revenge seeking ex-student foil to the protagonist.”

Rachel McAdams is also shafted but given that Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man) and Natalie Portman (Thor) have been written out of their respective series, it’s much less of a surprise.  Guess Marvel’s going to stick with romantic pairings between the main cast like Gamora and Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s a shame that these two flaws cripple the film from being something really unique.  Every other aspect of the film is top-notch.  There’s a ton of talent in the cast.  The visuals are spectacular and even more so in 3D.  Some could complain about how formulaic the Marvel movies have become but there’s enough of a performance and visual novelty to make this film worth seeing.  It’s definitely the best Marvel film since Guardians came out over 2 years ago.  However, factor in ticket prices and the flaws emanating from the short run-time and it seems like this film shouldn’t be recommended like it should be.

Aw hell, I’ll probably watch it again.

Inferno

Inferno is a bit of an oddity, as both a Dan Brown novel and a movie.  As a novel, it’s the darker and more mature of his Robert Langdon series (there’s no other way to describe an ending where the characters are relieved only 1/3 of the world was sterilized).  The film adaptation is now happening over 7 years after Angels & Demons hit theaters.  Let’s not forget all the other weird things surrounding the film, like how the project started out as an adaptation of The Lost Symbol (the third book) before the studio decided to skip over straight to Inferno.  Too long of a sequel gap with a somewhat troubled production, the deck is definitely stacked against Inferno…and yet, it was a really enjoyable thriller.

Some might complain about the spoilers in the previous tag but (A) that’s only how the book ends and (B) it’s hard to talk Inferno without using spoilers.  The plot synopsis (Robert Langdon must team up with a doctor to solve Dante-related puzzles while thwarting global conspiracies in order to stop a virus from sterilizing the human race) is almost completely invalidated over the course of the film.  As is true in every Dan Brown work, few things are ever as they seem.  So, the viewing experience centers on the audience not only getting interested in seeing how everything pieces together but if it makes any sense.  Inferno makes full use of dramatic tropes to convey the sense

A more meta recommendation for Inferno is the acting talent involved.  Tom Hanks in a starring role automatically makes any film watchable.  Felicity Jones is the female lead and since she’s going to be the main lead in the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One, some people might want to see if she has the talent to carry a movie.  Inferno proves that she does.  Irrfan Khan is also a treat to watch.

This isn’t to say the movie’s perfect.  The film starts slow and takes its time before the pace picks up substantially (which fits thematically within the story but isn’t too exciting to watch).  The book was darker and edgier than Dan Brown’s other works but the movie’s a bit more upbeat and action-heavy, which can rub some people the wrong way.  The ending, in particular, doesn’t end with the heroes’ efforts to thwart the release of the Inferno virus mostly in vain.

However, most people are looking for an enjoyable way to kill 2 hours worth of time and for that reason, Inferno serves its purpose.  The movie’s a fun little romp with phenomenal acting talent.  Go in with those expectations and Inferno should meet them.  Besides, has there ever been a terrible Tom Hanks movie?

100 Songs from the 1980’s

Pop Icons released a video titled “Best of 80’s music” that was pretty atrocious.  While opinions are subjective, it was really odd to see some songs that were omitted for…well, no reason in particular (like Van Halen’s Jump).  So rather than merely “dislike” the post, it made more sense to make my own list to compare and contrast.  Of course, that video was a little over 8 minutes and only included 66 songs but since video-editing is out of the question, I can list up to 100 in text format and link to the appropriate video.

The only criteria I used were one song per artist (otherwise people like Michael Jackson would own the list), no more than one song per album (sorry Maniac), the song had to be a single (otherwise Heaven and Hell would made the cut), had to have been released in the 1980’s (Pink Floyd’s The Wall came out in 1979) and preference was given to songs that appeared in Grand Theft Auto:  Vice City (which would be an excellent response to anyone who asks for a “best of the 80’s” compilation).

  1. Take On Me” – a-ha
  2. Back in Black” – AC/DC
  3. Summer of ’69” – Bryan Adams
  4. Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” – Aerosmith
  5. Madhouse” – Anthrax
  6. Heat of the Moment” – Asia
  7. Never Gonna Let You Down” – Rick Astley
  8. Turn Up the Radio” – Autograph
  9. Walk Like an Egyptian” – The Bangles
  10. Mickey” – Toni Basil
  11. (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” – Beastie Boys
  12. Hit Me with Your Best Shot” – Pat Benatar
  13. Call Me” – Blondie
  14. Livin’ on a Prayer” – Bon Jovi
  15. Let’s Dance” – David Bowie
  16. Flashdance…  What a Feeling” – Irene Cara
  17. Heaven is a Place on Earth” – Belinda Carlisle
  18. Glory of Love” – Peter Cetera
  19. In the Air Tonight” – Phil Collins
  20. Karma Chameleon” – Culture Club
  21. (I Just) Died in Your Arms” – Cutting Crew
  22. Pour Some Sugar on Me” – Def Leppard
  23. Rainbow in the Dark” – Dio
  24. Money for Nothing” – Dire Straits
  25. A View to a Kill” – Duran Duran
  26. The Final Countdown” – Europe
  27. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” – Eurythmics
  28. She Drives Me Crazy” – Fine Young Cannibals
  29. I Ran (So Far Away)” – A Flock of Seagulls
  30. The Message” – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
  31. Welcome to the Jungle” – Guns ‘n’ Roses
  32. Out of Touch” – Hall & Oates
  33. Miami Vice Theme” – Jan Hammer
  34. Rockit” – Herbie Hancock
  35. Sunglasses At Night” – Corey Hart
  36. What About Love” – Heart
  37. I Wanna Dance with Somebody” – Whitney Houston
  38. The Power of Love” – Huey Lewis and The News
  39. Don’t You Want Me” – The Human League
  40. White Wedding” – Billy Idol
  41. Need You Tonight” – INXS
  42. The Number of the Beast” – Iron Maiden
  43. Centerfold” – J. Geils Band
  44. Thriller” – Michael Jackson
  45. Super Freak” – Rick James
  46. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
  47. Don’t Stop Believin’” – Journey
  48. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
  49. Working for the Weekend” – Loverboy
  50. Like A Virgin” – Madonna
  51. Jack & Diane” – John Mellencamp
  52. You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” – Judas Priest
  53. Celebration” – Kool & the Gang
  54. Danger Zone” – Kenny Loggins
  55. La Bamba” – Los Lobos
  56. Bassline” – Mantronix
  57. Peace Sells” – Megadeth
  58. Down Under” – Men at Work
  59. One” – Metallica
  60. Too Young to Fall in Love” – Mötley Crüe
  61. Ace of Spades” – Motorhead
  62. Broken Wings” – Mr. Mister
  63. Sister Christian” – Night Ranger
  64. Straight Outta Compton” – N.W.A.
  65. Your Love” – The Outfield
  66. Crazy Train” – Ozzy Osbourne
  67. Ghostbusters” – Ray Parker Jr.
  68. St. Elmo’s Fire (Main in Motion)” – John Parr
  69. Automatic” – The Pointer Sisters
  70. Every Breath You Take” – The Police
  71. Batdance” – Prince
  72. Another One Bites the Dust” – Queen
  73. Cum On Feel the Noize” – Quiet Riot
  74. Keep on Loving You” – REO Speedwagon
  75. All Night Long” – Lionel Richie
  76. Start Me Up” – The Rolling Stones
  77. Rock Box” – Run-D.M.C.
  78. 18 and Life” – Skid Row
  79. Raining Blood” – Slayer
  80. Jessie’s Girl” – Rick Springfield
  81. Born in the U.S.A.” – Bruce Springsteen
  82. We Built This City” – Starship
  83. Mr. Roboto” – Styx
  84. Eye of the Tiger” – Survivor
  85. Everybody Wants to Rule the World” – Tears for Fears
  86. Wild Thing” – Tone Loc
  87. Africa” – Toto
  88. What’s Love Got To Do With It” – Tina Turner
  89. I Wanna Rock” – Twisted Sister
  90. Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler
  91. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – U2
  92. Red Red Wine” – UB40
  93. Jump” – Van Halen
  94. Chariots of Fire” – Vangelis
  95. Missing You” – John Waite
  96. Walk the Dinosaur” – Was (Not Was)
  97. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” – Wham!
  98. Here I Go Again” – Whitesnake
  99. Kids In America” – Kim Wilde
  100. Owner of a Lonely Heart” – Yes

Best-selling PS2 Games

The GameFAQs poll for today asks “Of the top 10 best-selling PlayStation 2 games of all-time, which is your favorite?”  The answer is obviously Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas but there were some titles on that list that were surprising to see (Tekken 5!?).  Since the poll options are listed alphabetically instead of by sales figures, pulling up the numbers led to some interesting finds.  With this data, people can see the effects of marketing, brand recognition and sequel fatigue.

Below are the poll options listed from highest sales to lowest…

  1. Grand Theft Auto:  San Andreas (27.5 million)
  2. Grand Theft Auto:  Vice City (17.5 million)
  3. Gran Turismo 3:  A-Spec (14.89 million)
  4. Grand Theft Auto III (14.5 million)
  5. Gran Turismo 4 (11.76 million)
  6. Metal Gear Solid 2:  Sons of Liberty (7 million)
  7. Final Fantasy X (6.6 million)
  8. Tekken 5 (6 million)
  9. Final Fantasy XII (5.2 million)
  10. Kingdom Hearts (4.78 million)

Grand Theft Auto and Gran Turismo absolutely dominate the top half of the list.  Thanks to a combination of marketing, notoriety, critical acclaim and brand recognition, each GTA sequel improved on its predecessor on every conceivable metric.  It’s also worth pointing out that San Andreas set the bar so high that the next GTA game (Grand Theft Auto IV) never surpassed it and the bar wasn’t cleared until GTA V.  Coincidentally, Grand Theft Auto V was also set in Los Santos, the first city players see in San Andreas.

While there’s not much of a drop-off between the two Gran Turismo games, there has to be some series fatigue going on there because all the other excuses don’t apply. Sales in the European market increased but decreased elsewhere between Gran Turismo 3 and 4.  While Gran Turismo 3 came out earlier in the PS2’s lifespan than Gran Turismo 4 did (2001 v. 2005), that didn’t stop San Andreas (2004) from reaching the top of the list.  The same reason could also apply to the slight dip between Final Fantasy X and XII.

It’s not surprising to see Metal Gear Solid 2 on the list, given the hype and anticipation that surrounded the game.  It was shocking to see the drop-off from Sons of Liberty to Snake Eater (3.7 million), though.  Sons of Liberty is rather infamous for its complex plot and movie-length cutscenes but seeing the effects of that divisiveness play out on a business scale is pretty staggering.  Sales for the next game dropped almost in half!  That’s pretty depressing, especially since Snake Eater is widely regarded among Metal Gear fans as the series’ best.

It’s amazing to see how certain continents propelled some games on the list.  Nearly 2/3 of Tekken 5’s sales (4 million) were in Europe and the continent also loves itself some Gran Turismo.  Grand Theft Auto is built primarily on American sales.  If we were looking at sales on a specific area vs. total sales, this list would look a lot different (if we looked at Japan only, for instance, Dragon Quest VIII would make the cut and Grand Theft Auto would tumble down).

One final note to takeaway from all this is that all of the listed games are either PS2-exclusive (Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy) or started out that way before getting ported (Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid 2).  Thanks to a strong relationship with publishers/developers and the success of the PS1 (which the PS2 was backwards-compatible with…), the PS2 ended up being the best-selling console of all-time.  Never underestimate console exclusivity.  It’s one of the main reasons Nintendo is still afloat, after all…

Luke Cage

Marvel’s Netflix division is still going strong with Luke Cage.  While it’s an excellent TV series, there is one pet peeve:  While its plot references fellow series Jessica Jones, Luke Cage doesn’t keep the main thing that should carry over.  Jessica Jones‘ penultimate episode and finale established that Luke Cage, despite his toughness and strength, is vulnerable to concussive force.  That doesn’t carry over into Luke Cage and there’s at least two instances where the lead should be dead.

It should go without saying there will be spoilers for the first seasons of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

Towards the end of Jessica Jones, Jessica and Luke (who’s mind-controlled by Kilgrave) fight and Luke ends up taking a shotgun blast under his chin.  Now the bullets themselves don’t kill him since they can’t puncture the skin.  However, the concussive force of having shotgun pellets impact his face can knock the brain loose from the cranial spinal fluid it’s floating around in.  This can have all sorts of effects, from inducing dizziness and headaches to altering a personality (if they survive).  Further reading on the effects of internal injuries induced by blast trauma can be read at National Geographic.

At the end of Luke Cage‘s third episode, Luke is in a building with his landlady and is subjected to a blast from a rocket launcher when he uses his body to shield her.  The resulting explosion brings down the building on top of him.  Regardless of his super durability, Luke should have died from the resulting internal injuries either from the blast going off next to him or the building coming down on him.

What if he hand-wave all that way and chalk up the discrepancy to Jessica Jones‘ writers not coordinating with Luke Cage‘s?  Maybe someone wrote Luke to be tougher than it really was?  This is a pretty plausible explanation, especially with a corporate umbrella as expansive as Disney’s.  Even if we buy into that explanation, though, someone didn’t do the research on what happens when a rocket explodes next to you.

Obviously, the fire from the explosion wouldn’t have incinerated his skin but it could still affect him internally.  Luke would have died from the fire eating up all the oxygen in his vicinity, resulting in either a collapsed lung or the fire scorching his respiratory system.  A collapsed lung would have resulted from the air pressure rapidly changing due to the force of the blast.  The rapidity of this change flattens the lung and makes it impossible to breathe.  Luke and his landlady would have then suffocated to death.  If the lung doesn’t collapse, then the explosion’s heat and chemicals used to create would have scorched the airways of the victims.  With the airways set ablaze and respiratory system torched, both of them would have asphyxiated.

I’m no Doctor or even WebMD but TV Tropes pointed this out too.  This is also only the first instance Luke should be dead.

The other instance occurs shortly after mid-season when Luke is shot twice by bullets that can pierce his bulletproof skin.  Let’s put aside “there are safe places to shoot someone” trope and marvel at the fact that Luke Cage is able to move around, defend himself, fight (not at his best but still…) and not bleed out on a 12 hour drive to Georgia from Harlem.  Let’s also marvel at how Luke and Claire can travel across multiple states through multiple congested metros (Philadelphia, Washington D.C….) notorious for how congested they are traffic-wise without stopping for 12 hours.  It’s almost as if a writer ran directions through Google maps and rolled with it…

This piece detracts from an otherwise brilliant show.  Luke Cage has kickass music, a unique yet suitable tone and presentation as well as some great moments and themes that it explores.  Thinking the main lead should be dead after 3 episodes really hung over the series though.  It keeps the show from eclipsing Daredevil as the best Netflix show.

 

 

Majora’s Mask: The Best Zelda

The Zelda timeline splits after Ocarina of Time but in our series playthrough, our group decided to follow the game up with Majora’s Mask since the game stars the same Link.  Not only is the game impressive from a development standpoint (Ocarina came out in November 1998 and Majora’s Mask was released in Sept. 2000, meaning the game was developed in a little under 2 years), it’s one of the highest points in the series.  In fact, let’s be honest, it’s the best Zelda game despite not having a lot of the series’ core elements.  What it lacks in exploration, Majora’s Mask makes up for with characterization and ingenuity.

This isn’t to say Majora’s Mask is a perfect game.  To those who stress about such things, the 3 day time limit discourages exploration.  The game’s fairly linear with access to areas gated by items (the bow is needed to enter the mountains, powder kegs are required to get the horse which is necessary to get to the ocean, etc.).  While challenging, the dungeons are remembered more for their tedium or gimmicks than anything else.

All those low points are overshadowed by how amazing everything else is.  The game has the best characterization in the series, with people who actually have agendas and desires.  In most other Zelda games, NPCs stand in one spot during the day and another at night.  Regardless of what’s going in their lives or in the world, they’ll always be found at that spot.  This makes the characters static and the world less immersive and interesting.

With the clock and timer in Majora’s Mask, NPCs actually move about and will only be found at certain points during that time.  The actions they do and what the player does will affect their schedule.  Take the entertainment troupe leader, Gorman, for example.  He goes to a meeting with the mayor’s wife on the morning of the first day, finds out his show has been canceled and then goes to the bar and drinks himself into a stupor the next two days…unless the player has access to the Milk Bar and all the racial transformation masks, at which point they can snap him out of his funk.  If this is done on the first night, Gorman can be found playing cards with his employers and noting they’ll be leaving town to avoid the moon.

It’s worth noting that helping Gorman is completely optional.  He only gives a mask which isn’t needed to complete the game.  The sequence does show, however, that Majora’s Mask was years ahead of its contemporaries.  In an era where Telltale games and RPGs are built around player choice, Majora’s Mask was among the pioneers of that design decision.

The game’s also incredibly meme-tastic.

link_statue

Autopsy: Ocarina of Time

Continuing on to the next chronological 3D game in the series, the Zelda playthrough arrives at Ocarina of Time.  It’s a game that often tops (or nears the top) of a “greatest games ever made” list but the game was released in November 1998.  There’s some validity to the critique that the game hasn’t aged all that well, although not nearly to the point of Final Fantasy VII (where the non-battle sequence or FMV character models have had people clamoring for a remake for at least a decade).  While not my favorite Zelda game, Ocarina of Time can still be appreciated as a piece of game history.  While there’s some wrinkles to the game, it’s also quite playable.

For the record, our group’s playthrough was based on the Master Quest version on the GameCube.

Ocarina of Time successfully brought the Zelda franchise into 3D.  It was so successful, in fact, it set a template that was pretty well-established up through Skyward Sword.  That template was essentially give the player a safe tutorial area to get used to the game mechanics before unleashing them on a world that’s only gated by the items the player possesses.  The game also established the “collect 3 of ‘x’ (Ocarina‘s spiritual stones, Wind Waker‘s orbs, Twilight Princess‘ Fused Shadow) to open up the 2nd act of the game where you collect ‘y’ (medallions, Triforce pieces, Mirror of Twilight) so you can fight the final boss” plot.

It’s worth considering that even with Breath of the Wild opting for an open-world approach, it wouldn’t be too surprising if they kept some of the Ocarina formula.

Aside from the safe tutorial area, the above isn’t too similar from A Link to the Past.  The obvious separation between Ocarina and A Link to the Past is the series’ jump to 3D, where Ocarina laid the groundwork for future 3D action-adventure games.  Camera lock-on via Z-targeting allowed real time combat that was both challenging and feasible.  The scale and depth of the game was only rivaled by PS1 JRPGs.  While Metal Gear Solid was also released in 1998 and Ocarina’s plot isn’t nearly as complex, the game still tells a story that is epic and sensible.

Without Ocarina of Time, games like Shadow of the Colossus and Devil May Cry would have turned out very differently.

Autopsy: Skyward Sword

Beginning the Zelda series play-through with the first chronological game (complete with drinking game), Skyward Sword is definitely one of the more controversial entries.  There’s definitely some attempt to shake up the series formula and yet the game never truly shines with its originality because of how many references and call-backs there are.  The marketing to tie the game with Zelda’s 25th anniversary didn’t help.  Add in motion controls and the game is going to be a “love it or hate it” deal.  This autopsy of the game will show that Skyward Sword is easily the worst 3D Zelda and a contender for the franchise’s lowest point.

“Worst in the series” might seem like hyperbole until people realize Skyward Sword doubles down on things people hate about Zelda.  Case in point:  tedium.  Majora’s Mask has a section where the player has to go underneath the well and exchange bottled items (fish, milk, a blue potion, among others) and magic beans with mummies in order to progress through the well.  While the majority of those items can be found within the well itself, it’s rather tedious to send the player on various fetch quests to get these items.  Thankfully, it’s only a small part of Majora’s Mask and this whole sequence only needs to be done once.

Skyward Sword, on the other hand, takes that sequence and turns it into the whole game.  “Sure, I could tell the player where Zelda went and send them towards the first temple…but first, they must find these three Kikwi!”  “The player could enter the second temple after climbing up a volcano but first, they must assemble the five pieces of the dungeon entrance since it was broken because plot!”  “The Water Dragon could teach Link the song of the hero but first, they must break the song into collectibles the player now has to go fetch!”

The whole sequence to find the Sandship is like this too.  First, collect a navigation map from the pirate’s house that is inexplicably located on top of a massive rock.  Next, go to the shipyard and ride around on a mine cart to realize the ship’s not here and is probably somewhere else.  Then go to the pirates’ hideout and realize it’s not there either.  With all those locations ruled out, the ship must be somewhere out in the sea but it’s invisible so have fun locating it!

Skyward Sword is the longest game in the series but longevity does not equal depth.  It’s also not necessarily “good” if a game’s length is needlessly padded out.

One other bit before moving on:  People complained about Twilight Princess having way too long of a prologue.  Skyward Sword‘s an even more egregious offender.  It can be argued that a more intensive tutorial is necessary since the game is so reliant on motion controls.  Well, Ocarina of Time had the series jump from 2D to 3D and that game’s tutorial is maybe 30 minutes (if that).

Combine the above complaint with the game’s motion controls and it’s easy to see why people dislike Skyward Sword so much.  To its credit, the swordplay can be incredibly immersive (when the motion controls aren’t so finicky) but there’s never a point where the Wiimote is preferable to a game pad.  Different types of sword attacks have been common in the series since Ocarina of Time so it’s not like none of the sword combat could be reproduced on a conventional controller.

If anything, the motion controls make the game harder than it should be.  There will be more than a few times the game won’t register the Wiimote’s commands because the sensor’s just not registering the player’s input.  Also, while it was mentioned earlier the swordplay can be immersive, this can backfire.  Most enemies have a tell on which way to swing the Wiimote but how fast it needs to be done is a process of trial and error.

Take the third fight with Ghirahim where the boss pulls out the giant sword and the player has to hit the blade in a certain manner to “chip away” at it.  If a player is immersed in the fight, they’ll try to hit the sword as fast as they can.  That’s a mistake since Ghirahim shifts the blade so the same sequence won’t work, so the player has to actually slow down.  This breaks the immersion since why would Ghirahim leave such an opening?

This isn’t to say Skyward Sword is completely terrible.  The soundtrack’s possibly the best in the series.  The characterization for the Skyloft citizens (particularly Groose) is well-done.  Despite complaining about how ridiculously drawn-out the Sandship sequence is, it’s one of the best parts of the game (everything from the Ancient Cistern to the Sandship is golden).  The scenery is gorgeous and the art direction outside of certain parts of characters (Link’s lips, Zelda’s nose) is outstanding.  The stamina gauge, sprinting and the adventurer pouches are all welcome additions to spice up the series.

These compliments are not enough to save the game, though.  Terrible game design and finicky controls are enough to keep this game from being one of the series’ best.  Add in perhaps the most boring overworld in a video game ever (it makes sense that the air around Skyloft is mostly monster-free but it’s definitely not fun to fly around with little to worry about except tornadoes) and obnoxious hand-holding from the worst NPC companion in the series and Skyward Sword‘s going to rank at the bottom of the Zelda tier.  At the very least, no way it’s better than the other 3D console titles.

Drinking Game: Skyward Sword

E3 was a few weeks ago and despite not technically attending the conference and showcasing only one game (primarily), Nintendo put on the best show.  Now, there was a fair amount of impressive games at E3 and arguments could be made for other companies that actually “won E3” but Nintendo was the most impressive.  The Legend of Zelda:  Breath of the Wild makes the NX (or whatever the new console ends up being called) a must-buy.  That’s a pretty impressive turn-around, especially for people like me who haven’t bought a Nintendo console in two generations…

But a detailing of Nintendo’s failures can wait for another day.  It’s a better idea to prepare for Breath of the Wild by playing through the 3D Zelda titles (at the very least), possibly even with friends.  Chronologically, Skyward Sword is the first title in the series (until Nintendo decides otherwise, like how Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time and The Minish Cap were all “first” at one point).  Skyward Sword is also dubious for being one of the worst games in the series, what with the over-reliance on motion controls and the amount of quest padding involved.

Terrible game?  With awful controls?  And questionable design choices?  The only way to tolerate a game with any of this crap is to play a drinking game!

Take a drink whenever…

  • Your character’s name is referenced in dialogue (to make things easier, name the character DRINK).
  • Ghiriahim licks something or teleports.
  • The Guardians catch you in the Silent Realm (finish your drink if you had collected all the Sacred Tears and then got caught).
  • You catch a reference to a previous Zelda game.
  • Fi calculates a probability.  If you wish to live dangerously, drink for every box of dialogue Fi has.
  • A fetch quest is added for reasons that equate to “you must prove your worth”.
  • You hear the “you solved the puzzle” jingle.
  • The Wiimote is out of alignment.

Retirement?

To game-mastering, not the blog (although given the track record of how often this page has been updated, maybe that’s not a bad idea either)

Anyway, the last tabletop game I ran was about 8 months ago.  That’s a fairly substantial drought.  There hasn’t been any clamoring for a new game either.  The last game I ran also had perhaps the finest moment a game master can ever hope for.  Rather than attempt to top that moment, why not go out on a high note?

So, that story should probably be told…  I’ve written some of the details in this post here but that’s just a general overview of what went on.  The full story of Star Wars d20 campaign and the subsequent Fate of the Galaxy would take too long to recap but I can relate the proudest moment with sufficient detail to not be overbearing.

The Star Wars game is definitely the longest game I’ve ever ran and been a part of, starting in late 2010 or early 2011.  This is impressive, considering the game itself is pretty terrible.  There’s some interesting ideas (Force skills draining vitality and tying some of the more Force abilities to feats) but for a d20 game, it lacks the complexity to solve problems that D&D offers.  It also went through a revision and got phased out in favor of SAGA within about 6 years, so the game lacks the depth of the West End Games version.

If there’s trouble conceptualizing this image, think Dragon Ball GT with the terribleness of it replaced with the space fantasy of Spelljammer.  Keep Dragon Ball since the player’s home planet was the Earth from Dragon Ball and the entire first arc of the story was to keep The Empire from finding the wish-granting artifacts.  Dragon Ball Earth was the result of trying to find a good home planet for the PCs, since single-biome planets are lazy and I wanted something that would resemble a home to the galaxy’s multitude of creatures.  Dragon Ball had humans living alongside animal people, so why not use the Earth as a template?

This is all window-dressing for the events of the story, which stayed true to canon (since the galaxy’s a big place and all) until the timeline of Return of the Jedi.  While Gary Kurtz’s ideas were never fully implemented, they did influence the story and allow the PCs to take up the role of being the galaxy’s greatest heroes.

“We had an outline and George changed everything in it, “Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”

The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.

Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy-bear luau.

He was especially disdainful of the Lucas idea of a second Death Star, which he felt would be too derivative of the 1977 film. “So we agreed that I should probably leave.”

With Han Solo dead and the other principals (Luke and Leia) slated to live, we need new people to take part in the finale.  Enter the PCs:  Jedi Master Jace Beleren (fresh off being resurrected with the Dragon Balls after his death at the hands of his Imperial nemesis), General Carmine (elite Rebel commando with powered armor that would make Tony Stark envious), Jedi Knight Carmine (the Carmine family being incredibly numerous, the player having at least 5 unique character sheets at one point) and Crime Lord Spice (the galaxy’s most prominent criminal who’s not in this fight for the revolution but so that his criminal activities can be legitimized in the new galactic order).

Now, a criminal mastermind sticks out in comparison to the other two.  However, Spice wasn’t a Hutt (so he doesn’t have some understanding with The Empire) and was the guy who came out of the Jabba power vacuum victorious.  I also figured in a galaxy as big as Star Wars, the Rebels wouldn’t be the united good guy front they are in the movies.  There’s be people who’d think Mon Mothma’s methods were too tame and they’d need to wage total war against The Empire (as opposed to just hitting military targets).  It also makes sense for Imperial propaganda to have any effect, there would need to be some Rebels who give the others a bad name.

Despite his vast resources, Spice was so addicted to his namesake drug that his physical body had withered to the point he needed to be “more machine than man” to survive.  The player really wanted nanites, which I ruled would give him vitality point regeneration (since that’s how they work in a d20 modern supplement).  The person who built these nanites and implemented them into what was left of Spice’s body was renowned mad scientist Dr. Kochin (the same one who had survived the events of The World’s Strongest).

As a mad scientist, Kochin’s creations had a very strong boom or bust effect.  When they worked, they were among the best in the galaxy.  If they failed, well, the results would be catastrophic.  Kochin had a very good working relationship with the Carmines, having designed the majority of that player’s armament.  The power armor, for instance, was capable of flight on par with an X-Wing (so it had a hyperdrive built in) and was the most durable piece of work in the galaxy…unless the player rolled a critical failure, than it would enter a meltdown that would result in either the power source being ejected (rendering the armor unusable and the player stuck until he somehow got out of the armor) or a massive explosion on par with multiple thermal detonators.  Despite their knowledge of Kochin, Jace and the Carmines never warned Crime Lord Spice that what he was having integrated into his body might be incredibly dangerous.

At the time, none of them know how dangerous.  In fiction, nanotechnology just does whatever the hell the writer wants and how it works isn’t exactly explained (if at all).  Now, one of my favorite things about gamemastering is deconstructing and exploring tropes.  So, nanotech in Star Wars works kinda like everything else does in that universe:  through the will of the Force.  Spice’s nanites fed off the Force itself, a pretty sweet deal since the Force is an omnipresent energy field binding all living things in the galaxy together.  As with all Kochin creations, there’s a rub:  Upon the death of the host body, the nanites continue to replicate.  Indefinitely.  This leads to the grey goo scenario, where the entire galaxy is consumed by nanites.

Kochin knew about this possible outcome but didn’t share it because he’s a mad scientist who figured the grey goo outcome and extinguishing of all life in the galaxy was preferable to the tyranny of The Empire.  Conveniently for him, Spice was a Force user who had neglected his abilities to pursue a life of crime (the final d20 session had the characters at either level 15 or 16 and to get all 10 levels of the Crime Lord prestige class, Spice had to multiclass as a Jedi Consular/Noble).  Kochin figured either the Rebels win the day through battle or via Spice triggering a nanite storm upon his death (highly possible considering he was in the same location as some of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy).

So, after the Battle of Kashyyyk when the players learned Kochin’s fleet left suddenly during a point where the fight was in favor of the Imperials, the players were completely baffled.  Jace and the Carmines wrote it off as simply Kochin being a wacky, weird mad scientist but Spice treated it as military desertion.  Spice would spend the next five years devoting all available resources to finding Dr. Kochin.  When Spice located Kochin, he declared martial law over the planet for the time it took to capture him, severely disrupting a Republic diplomatic mission.  Kochin was then executed after a show trial.

A drug-addicted crime lord is never entirely sane but the stress of locating Kochin, ruling a criminal empire and pouring resources into the creation of a virtual reality to replace the galaxy everyone lives in eventually wore on the guy.  Spice would go into bouts of insanity where he’d “nanite swarm!” where he’d split himself into pieces and reform as a way of finding mental clarity.  Of course, this had the side effect of pieces that didn’t reform into the central host creating a separate body…so he’d make copies of himself to explore ideas since he didn’t trust his subordinates.

So, instead of one crime lord with nanotechnology that could end the galaxy, we have a few hundred!

Of course, the Jedi felt the disturbances in the Force (since the nanites literally eat the Force to replicate) and needed some way to rid the galaxy of the Spice threat.  Kochin’s old research notes survived in the chassis of his old droid and the real threat to the galaxy was eventually revealed to the Jedi and the New Republic government.  All of whom now had to figure out how to handle the Spice issue while Grand Admiral Thrawn is reconquering Imperial space.

Now, there was a few months worth of sessions between the Battle of Kashyyyk and the reveal of Spice’s nanites.  So, when the truth was revealed, Jace’s player looked at me and said, “Did you have this planned out several months ago?”

“Mhm.”

The look on his face afterward was the proudest moment a gamemaster could ever hope for.  The look of shock (oh my god, Spice is a bigger threat to the galaxy than Thrawn!), awe (wow, this was all planned out several months and somehow didn’t get fucked up by the players) and appreciation (suddenly a lot of things that have happened in these sessions makes perfect sense)…it’d be incredibly hard to top that moment.  It’s probably best to think of this as a retirement in wrestling or music terms (where it’s never really anyone’s final performance until they’ve died) and maybe circumstances change but for right now…I’m satisfied ending on that note.