Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moonraker II: The Rise of Cobra

Just got back from seeing the G.I. Joe movie. It was dumb, as expected, but it was enjoyable and not insulting like the Transformers movie. First the bad.

1) The acting: It was pretty bad. The actors are not helped by the script here. Much of the dialogue falls into the George Lucas level of "You can write it, but you can't say it". A lot of tired cliches.

2) It rips off Moonraker. Climax of Moonraker: Attack space station to prevent missile launch, chase down missiles that do get launched, and destroy them at the last second. Climax of G.I. Joe: Replace "space station" with undersea lair. There was even the big fight outside the undersea lair just like there was outside the space station in Moonraker.

3) It rips off Firefox: Change "Think in Russian" to "Speak in Celtic" when flying the plane

4) It rips off Star Wars Episode IV: There is a trench run. They shoot pursuers from a turret while escaping the enemy base.

5) It rips off Star Wars Episode VI: One team disables the cannon while the other team is in a dogfight getting slaughtered by the cannon. "Stick close to the enemy ships"

6) It rips off Star Wars Episode I: The ninja fight is almost exactly the lightsaber fight from the Phantom Menace; there is a double bladed katana and Ray Park is one of the ninjas. It rips off a whole bunch of other movies too. They were coming at me so fast during the climax that I should have written them down.

7) All Asian people are not the same: There are Japanese people and there are Korean people, they come from different countries. This is fairly minor compared to the movies of yore, at least they are from the same end of the continent. Sadly this is an improvement for Hollywood.

8) Not all buddhists monks are the same. There are different types of buddhist and they are not all found doing kung fu in Tokyo in large numbers. This is a really minor quibble but worth mentioning since I saw it with a Buddhist.

9) How many homeless white kids are there in Tokyo? How many of them are martial arts experts?

10) Their CGI eyes were bigger than their budget stomaches, and it shows.

11) The usual conservation of mass, momentum, and energy problems that are in every movie show up in this movie. Guns that send people flying but don't have equal recoil; fast moving underground drills. There are so many cool things that can be done that are possible, why always do clearly fake stuff? Hollywood, get people who have degrees that are not BAs to check your scripts. It is really easy to do.

12) It is essentially a Thunderball - Moonraker era James Bond film. With everything that entails, good and bad.

13) The usual hack agency that doesn't exist macho crap. How about showing guys working inside the system to defeat terrorists? We actually have a pretty good track record on this, we have intercepted far more through police work than have succeeded in pulling off their attacks.

14) There are hologram projectors everywhere..... everywhere

The good:

1) It is essentially a Thunderball - Moonraker era James Bond film. With everything that entails, good and bad.

2) The bad guys are nano-enhanced and almost invincible. The good guys rely on training, hard work, smarts, and a little bit of natural aptitude to overcome this. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things through hard work. I can get behind that. There are no special, mutant demigods here.

3) The bad guys find democracy to be chaotic, with too many levels of power division to be effective. The good guys support democracy, and for the most part work within the system to win. They do choose to misinterpret one order on purpose to accomplish their goal, but frankly interpretation is part of democracy. When the good guys step outside the bounds of society they get arrested. One isn't even allowed to return to his home country again. There are consequences for their actions.

4) The good guys screw up. They don't get falsely blamed for screwing up, they actually blow it. This made the movie seem more real to me.

5) The characters came from somewhere. There are a bunch of Lost style flashbacks. They come from a cliched place that you can see coming a mile away, but they do come from somewhere. This is a plus in modern blockbusters. Actual it played out pretty neat. It was too predictable though. Go for broke on this in the sequel.

6) There are very few racial stereotypes in this movie. People from different countries and of different colors are every bit as skilled as white Americans. This almost never happens in movies. There was the usual Hollywood, all Asians are the same crap, but at least it didn't Chun Li on us. It was certainly no Transformers: The Revenge of David Duke.

7) It was well paced. It was much better paced than Transformers or Wolverine.

8) They picked the right amount of characters. There was actual meat here. It was McDonalds but it was there.

9) It actually had something to do with the license. This is a pretty low priority for me. I prefer a good movie to one that is accurate to the source material. Here we got a decent accurate one. But when you make something that has nothing to do with the license, and is worse than it, like Transformers, it really sticks out.

10) The suits were used sparingly

11) Wayons was used correctly. This could have been a disaster (D&D). He was at worst groan inducing and often, funny.

12) My favorite Doctor

13) The finale is stitched together bits of a bunch of other movies, as mentioned above, but they picked good stuff to rip off. I would have preferred an original climax, but at least they picked some of the best moments in action movie history to rip off. Some of them, like the Moonraker parts, actually work better in this movie. Moonraker was terrible.

All in all I think they did a passable job here. They chose to go with something that was fairly accurate to source material that is pretty hard to work with. The movie was fun. It was dumb fun, and you have seen all of it before, but it was fun. It has actually been a long time since the last cool Raid on the Secret Base ending. It is executed well here.

In my ranking of dippy action movies I put this well above Missing in Action, above almost all of the Moore era Bonds and slightly ahead of Independence Day. I would say it is right at the level of the later Connery Bonds (Not "Never Say Never"!) which it is obviously trying to emulate. In a way the climax of this movie is kind of James Bond base raids greatest hits. Thunderball is not bad company to be in.

I hope they stick to the format for the next one. Oddly, no one else is doing this anymore so it has a niche. Hopefully they will come up with their own stuff though. I've seen it before, and I'll see it again for the sequel.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

What the heck is happening in this RPG picture? The Legend of Weathertop

This is it, the first RPG product I ever encountered. I bought it at the school book fair. This was a gamebook, one of those books that combined dice rolling with Choose Your Own Adventure style numbered entries. If I remember correctly it was a hex crawl followed by a dungeon crawl. You had to find the entrance to a cave and find the scepter at the bottom. I remember playing it until it literally fell apart. At the time Dungeons and Dragons was not allowed in my house so my friend Corey and I took the rules from gamebooks and made up our own adventures for them. This series of books was especially interesting because while it had its own rule system it also had stats compatible with ICE's MERP. We had never heard of MERP andhad no idea where to find it. In fact I would not encounter a rulebook for it until I went to the Orc's Nest in London several years later.

Even though we never played it MERP would be the wedge that opened up D&D for us. We did find some sourcebooks for MERP in bookstores. These detailed different locations in Middle Earth. Tolkien was very much encouraged by my mom, and we eventually wore her down because some of this books had stats to make them compatible with D&D. Obviously D&D could not be evil, it went along with Tolkien.

Looking back it is funny that gamebooks are pretty much gone. I actually went looking for some for my nephew the other day and they don't seem to carry anything like them in the stores. Back then they were actually a better approximation of RPGs than the computer RPGs. In fact many of the computer games used a similar numbered entry system. Although I am sure that this was for copy protection and memory management reasons.

So that is what was going on when I encuntered the picture. What do you think is going on IN the picture? I'll post mine later, I want to hear yours. I have been looking at this thing for 24 years, I have had a lot of time to come up with stuff.

D&D and Anime

One of the most common arguments I have seen against 4th Edition D&D is that it has abandoned “pulp style” for “anime style”. Usually this charge is leveled by members of the “old school” community that seem to feel that only books listed in Appendix N can ever influence D&D. I find this charge to be ridiculous. Anime is the modern day pulp. This is quite literally true in the printed form of the style, manga.

Manga tend to be printed on cheap paper in digest sized books. Manga stories are a goofy mish mash of styles with little to no regard for scientific or historical accuracy. This was at the very heart of most pulp adventures in the early part of the last century. Manga stories, especially the fantasy ones, are often violent and tinged with sexuality. Violence tinged with sexuality is the very basis for Conan and his mighty thews. Many people express a love for the baroque, florid writing style of the pulps (time has worn away all the crappy, hack jobs). The best of manga has fantastic, expressive art. Manga, like pulp before it, is the low budget, accessible fantasy of its day. Anime is similar to the old sword and sorcery films in the same way.

Manga is the pulp of today. Having D&D inspired by manga and anime is not some grand betrayal, it is a proud tradition. This is the fantasy of today's high school kids. You cannot expect them to be constrained by seventy to one hundred year old “literary” conventions. Many of those stories have been out of print, or at least not very accessible, for years. Kids today don't know about them. In fact it would be hard for them to know about them. Why should they? They were the low budget escapism of another era, not Charles Dickens.

It is important for D&D to be grounded in the fantasy of the time. In the 1970s it was the pulp adventures dating back to the 30s. During the late '80s and through the '90s it was vast fantasy epics. These were in many ways inspired by the D&D campaigns their creators had grown up with. If fact I would go as far as to say that by the time TSR fell D&D was in danger of sinking into a closed, creativity feedback loop. Fantasy was based on the D&D model which was based on the fantasy it was based on. The introduction of the manga and anime styles is a much needed breath of fresh air.

Kids today are doing exactly what you did. They are living out adventures in a fantasy world inspired by the media they consume. And they seem to be having a good time doing it. D&D is a tool, not a religion.

Word Game: Angry and Sharp

Angry will not be put in the same category as “apple”. Starting with the same letter is not enough to qualify a word for the same category. The qualification must be based on a variety of factors including the part of speech and the composition of the word as noted in Joe's argument. However, whether a word fits in a category will not be decided by a mechanical scoring process where pros must outnumber cons. The number of pros and cons can be persuasive though.

The next word is “Sharp”. Should "sharp" be in the same category as "apple"?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Battlefield Heroes

So I decided to try out Battlefield Heroes. Usually these kinds of games are not up my alley but a few friends were trying it out so I gave it a shot. The opening video is amusing and I like the graphics style. I make a character and run through the tutorial. I have played BF: 1942, BF: VN and Warhawk so there is nothing new here. If anything the plane controls better.

After the tutorial I hit Play Now ready for battle. It can't find a server that fits my preferences and skill level. OK, I go to options and make sure my preferences are not restrictive. I can only find one preference and choose Both. I try to play again, same result. I keep trying for about half an hour before I go to the forums. Turns out that different characters might have a better chance of getting in. I make a character on the Nazi side and still can't get in. What makes all of this more annoying is that you have to keep hitting Play Now, there is no waiting list. Finally after an hour and fifteen minutes I get into a game. Turns out everyone can kill me in one shot, the reverse is not true. This is the level matching that took over an hour? I don't get time to experiment much because I get kicked off the server by something called Punkbuster(22).

I go to the forums and search for Punkbuster(22), there is an endless list of threads with titles like "Punkbuster kicked me off". It is evidently some kind of anti-cheating system. Their clever anti-cheating system caught me not being able to one-shot everyone and took care of it. Obviously, I was up to no good.

There is some kind of suggestion about emailing a different company and.... screw it. You made it clear, I am not wanted here.

Battlefield Heroes = FAIL

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Surfing with the Alien: 6/25/09

Came across this today at Game Set Watch, a steampunk PS3.

There is an interesting post over on Kill Ten Rats comparing the MMO grind to rats running in a maze. The author points out that MMO devs do everything possible to make us spend as much time in the maze as possible. They want us to enjoy the maze, we only want the cheese at the end. There are suggestions about putting more puzzles in the maze to make it better. My suggestion would be to get rid of the cheese. I play MMOs to explore the world, talk to people and have cool adventures with them. My fondest memories are from dangerous forays into EQ or FFXI where the only goal was to see the next zone. I am constantly frustrated by the fact that I have to collect a bunch of cheese to go to a new place. Eventually I get tired of cheese and quit. Get rid of the cheese! If you want people to explore, make it interesting to explore and have plenty of cool social things for them to do.

Disturbing news from EA. There has been a “restructuring” involving Mythic and BioWare. It is not clear exactly what has happened but EA has a long history of buying good gaming companies and destroying them. I am thinking specifically of Bullfrog and Westwood here, and many more.

Jeff's Gameblog outlines something shockingly close to my brainstorming process for a new campaign. Although I prefer a more complex rule set like GURPS because it is easier to convert real world units into play mechanics. Also I like the normal distribution of die rolls so that my players decisions carry more weight than luck.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (spoilers)

I just got back from the new Transformers movie and I don't have a lot of good things to say about it.

First, the movie is way too long. I wouldn't mind, except that it is all filler. There are so many weapon porn shots of U.S. military hardware getting ready to go to battle that it feels like an Air Force commercial. The problem is, in almost every case these weapons are only there to get blown up. So there is a lot of time spent on planes, tanks, and troops that won't be able to really hurt the bad guys. This was wasted time, it adds a lot of time to the movie too.

My second problem is directly related to the first. For the most part the humans are useless. Even when they do manage to call in an airstrike or barrage on the enemies that is effective, another enemy just picks up where they left off and they aren't able to stop that one. At most the humans are a delaying force. Even more distressing is that the more human the human force the less effective it is. Ground troops exist only to call in men inside machines (granted this is the way many modern conflicts are fought, but realism clearly has no place in this movie). The more machine-like the force the better it is. This was not as true in the first movie where humans, even armed only with a tow truck could contribute in a meaningful way. The main character exists only to activate elite fighting machines so they can save the day. In fact, it evidently is his destiny to activate elites (according to a bunch of dead ghost elites). He is kind of a human Bat-signal or something. Other than that he runs away.

My third problem follows the second, I hate elites, destiny, and prophecies (warning: long pet rant ahead). Every day billions of people get up, go to work, and make civilization exist. Ordinary people have solved every single problem solved in human history. Human courage and ingenuity is remarkable. Humans working in groups are even more remarkable. Humans working in large groups are almost unstoppable. Regular humans, working hard, and working together walked on the moon. They did this when your cell phone probably had more computational power than they had access to. There were no super humans in the invasion of Normandy. No demi-gods carved out our interstate highway system. Aliens did not build the pyramids, god kings did not erect the Great Wall of China. Why can't humans do these things in sci fi and fantasy?

This obsession with elites swooping down and saving us poor defenseless humans bothers me. Why do our escapist fantasies revolve around the idea that we don't have to do any of the work? It wasn't always this way. Conan was a normal human and he laid the smackdown on many a minor god, wizard, and thing that should not be. Even in Lord of the Rings, which has many problems with elites, the true heroes are average people (well hobbits). Frodo and Co. had no special powers, they take the skills and teamwork they have learned and kick the evil wizard out of town when they get home. Captain Kirk was a regular man, one with some obvious character flaws.

Now every science fiction or fantasy movie focuses on some kind of superhuman. Mutants, superheroes, and Jedi are not like Olympic athletes. They did not gain their power by having slightly more talent in an area and exploiting it with years of hard work. They are born/made SPECIAL. You cannot attain their power through work and ingenuity.

Throw in destiny/prophecy and pretty much nobody has to do anything. “Don't worry about it, a few of us get used for cannon fodder till Superman wakes up and everything will be OK. Some old guys told me it would happen”

Then we have the stupid stereotypes, and this movie is chock full of them. The robots represent a host of racial, ethnic, and even mental handicap stereotypes. Let's just say that there is no excuse for the two mini cars in 2009. The fact that they only mentally challenged Autobots were the environmentally friendly cars says enough on its own. Not only do most of the robots fill a stereotype that doesn't even make sense for a robot, they have no characterization beyond the stereotype. When Optimus Prime dies I am sure I was supposed to feel sad, but why should I? Because I had a toy of him when I was eight? This movie game me no reason to, I don't even know anything about him.

And it is not just their personalities that are cookie cutter. I understand why they went from the classic look to the more “realistic” look for the robots. The problem is, they all look the same when there are explosions and shaky-cam. And there is always explosions and shaky-cam. The fights hardly make sense because of the way they are filmed. Rapid cuts, smoke and a shaking camera make the action very hard to figure out. Sometimes I didn't even know if something good or bad had happened.

Speaking of not making any sense, here is the plan. We need to do is take out this robots in as small an area and with as little collateral damage as possible. What we are going to do is first send in our weakest units and let them get shot up for a while. Then we will send in some stronger units who will not be able to contain the situation and will engage in a city destroying chase. Finally we will airdrop the guy who can squash them like bugs. This is the first scene of the movie. It doesn't get any better. Marines run across a whole desert in 15 seconds.

Then we get to Megan Fox. Now, there is no denying that Megan is an attractive young woman. While she is hardly a great actress, she is a better actress than she gets credit for. In the first movie she is by far the strongest human character. In this one she is the only one who can take on a robot one-on-one and win. Not just win, but capture it for later use. You know, a human doing something smart. The problem is, she is useless in the second half of the movie. She just gets led by the hand by a man character as she runs for safety. When push comes to shove and someone has to dump the magic dust in Robo-Elite to wake him up, her boyfriend gets blown up. I was hoping she would grab the sock of dust and get it to Optimus herself. That would have been consistent with her tow truck driving character from the first movie, or working to get her deadbeat dad back on his feet. But no, she wakes up her useless man-child with her love so he can save the day. Actually he doesn't save the day, he just turns on the steel messiah to do the work for him.

Of course she isn't totally useless, this is where we get to her tits. Every shot in the last part of the movie is either gun porn, an explosion, or Ms. Fox's boobs bouncing, sweaty, in slow motion in a halter top. They have gutted her fairly strong character from the first movie. If I was her, I would be pissed. And why is it that in order for a woman to be physically tough she also has to be some kind of hoodlum? This is clearly not true in real life.

Another stereotype that bothers me is a political one. In the last movie when GWB was president the Sec. Def. was a kickass guy. Now that Obama is president (and they call him out by name) the Sec. Def is a weenie who is against the military, and the president runs and hides. Seriously, these Republican = gun toting, flag waving badass, Democrat = peace loving, sell out, wimp stereotypes are so old at this point. They in no way reflect the diversity, dedication, and intelligence present in both of our political parties.

Science fiction and fantasy should be about expanding the realm of what humans can do. They have become about limiting what humans can do and basing the problem on those limitations. We are no longer challenged to explore the unknown, or to buckle down and work to overcome adversity in clever ways. We are taught to hope that someone BETTER than us will come along and save the day. I love sci fi, and I love fantasy. While TV has gotten better with these genres, movies have gotten worse. Hollywood, please go read some actual sci fi like Left Hand of Darkness or Allen Steele's Coyote and make a movie that challenges us.

This movie was insulting to me as an American and a person. It applies stereotypes to me (a human), our armed forces (unable to come up with a good plan to fight robots), my countrymen (numerous ethnic and stupid American abroad stereotypes), and humans as a whole (we need to be saved). It also spent a lot of time insulting me, time that it could have shaved by leaving out all the gun porn and well.... actual porn. Wow, looks like I didn't have anything good to say about it.

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