Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lego Lord of the Rings Review

While I am a fan of the Lego series, I am aware it is a series designed for children, and I can't say I didn't feel a bit foolish when telling my eight year old cousins I had the same game as them on my Christmas list. With that in mind, I haven't been able to put this game down the past few days.

Lego Lord of the Rings is the first of the franchise to include voiceovers, and with all the actors, including the villains, having returned to do the work they delivered classic lines from the movies splendidly. There were a lot of cutscenes, almost too many, throughout the levels and in between, yet some of the funniest things in the game were in them. At least for the first playthrough, I suggest watching rather than skipping--Peter Jackson even has a couple cameos in Lego form.

I completed Story Mode in less than a week, playing a couple hours a day; that left me at 30% completion. The real bulk of the game takes place afterwards in Freeplay Mode, when the unlocked characters and crafted items are available to find hidden rooms and solve puzzles.

Unlike other Lego games I own: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Batman, Lord of the Rings doesn't have a single hub where a player spends most of their time buying other characters and deciding which level to play; instead, there is an overworld similar to a classic RPG. Not only can I fast travel to a level for Freeplay via the Middle Earth map, exactly like the system I'm accustomed to, I can travel around and explore. For example, after I finished Story Mode, I spent a solid hour climbing around the walls of Minas Tirith in search of Mithril blocks, and I must say, the view from the highest tower was spectacular for a Lego game.

The reason I searched for Mithril blocks is because there's a blacksmith in Bree. Once I've discovered a design in a level or the overworld, I can save up blocks and purchase a Mithril item I help the blacksmith forge. A lot of the items are cosmetic or used solely as hand-ins for the many fetch quests the overworld sports, but not all of them are Mithril. I happened by a rubber duck helmet as a treasure last night, and I had a laugh while the duck replaced Gimli's helmet. My favorite has to be a disco phial I crafted last night, which plays a techno mash-up of game voiceovers, and if you stand close enough to NPCs accompanying you, they'll dance. If I had one complaint about this system, it's that I constantly have to reapply the objects.

After creating a Mithril squeak sword, I wasted time racing sheep and tracking down characters I wished to play as; rather than a shop, the unlockable characters are scattered throughout the overworld. Many of them are familiar, but I was delighted to see Tom Bombadil and Radaghast the Brown made the cut, even if Radaghast looks exactly like Gandalf...except brown. I even found a blacksmith design for Mithril Fireworks--this was handy as it's the only thing I know of that can explode locks and metal--hidden above Gothmog (you'll remember him as the disfigured orc that commanded the Witch King's army against Minas Tirith) in Mordor.

As usual, different characters have different abilities. Legolas shoots targets with bows, can walk on top of ropes and snow, and jumps high. Gimli can smash hard objects, crawl through doors like the hobbits, and can be thrown by the taller characters. Sam can cook or fight with his frying pan, light fires, dig and grow plants while Merry fishes, and Frodo uses the Light of Earendil to brave dark spaces. There are more abilities as the game progresses, which any character, if you have the right Mithril items, can perform without having to switch later on.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with Lego Lord of the Rings. I was almost inundated with things to do after completing Story Mode, and for the first time, it wasn't just grinding through the levels over and over from one hub until I had finished all the achievements. I didn't see or experience any of the glitches I have read about, though I did receive an update before I could play that might have had fixes. At the moment, I'm at 45% completion so I have a long way to go and hours of enjoyment ahead of me--replay is still one of the shining aspects of the Lego franchise.

Friday, December 28, 2012

I Love Reading

As I opened World War Z late last night I sat still for a moment and listened to the wind rattle my window. With all my music and movies and video games, the only time it is quiet in my room is when I read a book; I would include when I sleep, but I usually sleep with the TV on, and I'm aware that I snore.

There's nothing quite like when a book grabs hold of me and I can't put it down, eager for the next sentence, next page, next chapter, staying up to all hours of the night until my back and neck are sore, my fingers hurt, and my vision is hazy. Unlike a movie or video game, where I am forced into one vision as events unfold, a book offers me an escape that is dependent on my imagination alone. I doubt few people, though they read the same passage, envision the same characters or setting. Even the action might vary.

Since I picked up The Hobbit years ago, the countless worlds and people within books have fascinated me, and an author with a knack for turning a phrase is just as intriguing. Reading offers an outlet for the problems and monotony of life, as well as ways to hone my own craft--sometimes, the worst books can help me learn more about the art of writing than a good book. It's a great way to wind down at the end of a day too, and along with experiencing a tale, playing a movie in our minds, we expand our vocabulary, develop better grammar, and discover truths, falsehoods, and philosophies. We think and question the world, a trait I find people that do not read often lack.

When I don't read, I don't have an urge to write. When I'm not writing regularly, I also stop drawing; I get bitter and depressed and lose hope, so I try to always have a book in waiting. I have asked for books every Christmas and birthday since I was eleven, and the only problem I have this time of year is trying to decide which book to read first.

This past week, I have had my new books stacked on an end table near my TV chair. As I have done every year prior, I rummage through them, flip the pages, smell the paper, read the inserts, the first and last sentence, and the blurbs from critics while I debate which book it's going to be. Am I going to combat an army of zombies or should I revisit Pennywise's torment of children? Should I hear the call of Cthulhu or better my knowledge on 1930s gangsters?

I love reading--I wish everyone did.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Still Here

As I expected, I woke up today on 12/21/12 at the same time as yesterday to a bit of rain hitting my bedroom window. I yawned, stretched, and went downstairs to make coffee, remembering there were people in the world that thought the apocalypse was supposed to have arrived.

This isn't the first time the end was nigh, and it certainly won't be the last. As seen in this comprehensive list of predicted apocalypses there have been upwards of 50 times in my 32 years of life that I should have been witness to doomsday. Other than the confusion over the Mayan calendar, Y2K was probably the most hyped.

I recall spending New Year's Eve of 1999 in a drunken haze...partying like it was 1999, but we were not gathered as a last hurrah. I was with my friends, home on break from college as if it was any other holiday. At midnight, the closest we came to a worldwide meltdown of computers and technology was when my friend shut off the lights and music and screamed, "Y2K!" For the people that didn't have their tongues and lips occupied or weren't previously engaged in one of the upstairs bedrooms, we laughed and cheered and resumed our celebration.

That's not say I believe life on earth, specifically human life, is eternal. Earth itself is not eternal. There are plenty of things in the universe that are not supernatural capable of wiping us out: nuclear war, a global-killer meteor, an enormous volcanic eruption (I recently read this might be what did in the dinosaurs), and a pandemic. I'm sure there are others as well not coming to mind. Of course, assuming humanity somehow survives for millions of years without a catastrophe, either our sun will feast on us or a collision with the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy will end our planet--maybe we'll have colonized other planets by then, but suffice to say, life and earth are finite. If, against all logic, earth and humanity remain beyond our sun's duration, there's always that pesky, supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way, ever-growing and sucking us all inward to places unknown.

Is the end near; can it be predicted? I'm skeptical of both. I'll remain so, until there is either a zombie at my door or the trumpets of angels blast from the sky.

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Famini"


I drew and framed this character from my fantasy novel for my dad as a Christmas present. Famini is a caretaker of sorts, a halfling that watches over the Nem Forest while guarded by a host of mischievous Tengu. His design came to me from looking at the negative space in a drawing my older brother did years back; I saw unintended forms and faces and sketched them into a notebook my senior year of college. Famini's face, along with his flower-hat, was among them.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review (Spoiler Alert)

There was a time in my life when I hated books and thought they were boring. In the fifth grade, that changed. I picked up a copy of The Hobbit from a shelf in the back of the classroom. The book's cover and the table of contents had been torn off; every page was battered. It just so happened a day later I came down with the flu and had to stay home. While I recovered, sitting in my bed and watching TV, the power went out. Too weak to play with toys, I opened The Hobbit and read it start to finish in a day. I have loved books, especially fantasy, since that moment.

Knowing that, one can imagine I yearned for a movie about Bilbo Baggins' adventure as much as I was apprehensive and concerned about its treatment on the big screen--last night was a wonderful experience. Even at a midnight showing, the crowd was lively. They clapped and cheered and laughed throughout, and I caught myself on several occasions with a huge grin as the actors delivered lines and songs from the book, word for word.

An Unexpected Journey was somehow faithful and different at the same time. Peter Jackson, wanting to flesh the story out a bit more (I don't blame him as The Hobbit is only 300 pages) made the decision to include lore from the appendices, unfinished tales, and the Silmarillion. I knew this going into the film, but I didn't know how much was going to be added.

Spoilers below!

I think the largest change was making Azog, the Goblin King of Moria, a major antagonist. While Azog's son, Bolg, was in The Hobbit--he still will be for anyone worried that Jackson may have merged father and son into one character--Azog was supposed to have died at the Battle of Azanulbizar, slain by Dain, son of Nain. Here too, Jackson swapped Nain and Dain for Thrain and Thorin, but I don't hate this move. For me, it was interesting to have an antagonist, a prominent one, tail Thorin's company on the first leg of their journey. It also made sense to me that the dwarves were forced to seek shelter with Elrond, instead of going willingly, and Jackson has now presented us with a war of families within the war of races.

There were some minor tweaks as well, which I felt were altered to speed the flow of action sequences; they were: the dwarves taking the trolls head-on before capture rather than one or two at a time, a battle between dwarves, orcs, and wargs on the plains, no guards at the exit to the Misty Mountains' caverns for Bilbo to slip around (instead Bilbo debates whether or not to slay Gollum), and goblins did not burn the trees Thorin's company climbed up.

I was absolutely thrilled by the additions to the story. Radaghast the Brown proved an even better character than I anticipated, adding humor and action, and we were given a council between Saruman, Elrond, Gandalf, and Galadriel. The Battle of Azanulbizar was a complete surprise, a welcome one at that. Even though we got to witness the fall of Erebor, the attack on Dale, and a glimpse of Bard as a child, Jackson was also tricky with how much of Smaug he showed us, saving the complete reveal for the sequels.

I heard a person behind me complain as we left the theater that the story in the beginning was slow, yet as a Tolkien enthusiast, I was delighted to see Bilbo and Frodo plan for Bilbo's birthday party, and I smiled throughout the unexpected party as dwarves flipped plates room to room and sang and Bilbo struggled with his decision to join Thorin as a burglar. After all, there are thirteen dwarves to introduce, and having read the book multiple times, I can still struggle to name them all. Plus, Martin Freeman's portrayal of Bilbo was perfect.

To anyone that has read The Hobbit, I think you'll be happy with the care Jackson gave to its scenes, from the Thunder Battle to "Riddles in the Dark," as well as Gandalf and Radaghast's use of magic. My brother always complained Gandalf never used enough spells; I think he'll enjoy these movies more than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy--I know I do, despite being an avid hater of prequels. Unlike the trauma I experienced leaving The Phantom Menace, I was giddy and jabbering when I left An Unexpected Journey.

My only problem is the long wait for the next two installments, but if they're as good as the first and the world doesn't end, the wait will be worth it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Funny Things on the Internet

While catching up on season 4 of the Misfits, some of my Facebook friends posted links that made me laugh.

The first one is a montage of women doing silly, embarrassing things. It's basically a whole bunch of homemade videos with just women falling down, smacking their faces, and attempting dumb stunts; I was reminded of America's Funniest Home Videos while watching. In between laughing, I cringed a bit; some of the videos look downright painful. Here's the video:

 
 
 
Second, here's a list called, "50 Funniest Tweets of 2012." They're not all winners, but the one that caught my eye was, "I like women the way I like my Star Wars: at least 29 yrs old & never having had Hayden Christiansen in them."
 
A friend posted an ad this morning. Seriously, who would buy:
 
 

As a bonus, here's my new favorite blend of Charlie Brown and Batman that the Facebook page Nerds Do It Better posted yesterday.
 



Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Tree Hunting

After trying to back out of going with my dad to find a Christmas tree, I wound up standing outside in rain and mud while he debated which of the two trees he was interested in buying. We had driven twenty minutes, because my dad was convinced that shop would have fresher trees than the shop two minutes from the house. Of course, he went with the opposite tree I pointed at, even though, at least to me, they basically looked identical. Apparently, he liked a particular branch on the tree he chose, which had about 100 needles that were white.

I was sent off to follow the employee with our tree while he bailed it, and then I was told to tie the tree to the roof of my dad's SUV. I have never tied a tree and spent about twenty minutes doing all sorts of knots, twining the rope over and under and around rails on the roof of the SUV, as well as the tree trunk, all while trying to seem cool and look like I knew what I was doing in front of a pretty girl that passed by--only to have my dad come back outside with another employee that undid all of my work. That's not to say I did a good job. I'm positive my knots would have resulted with a Christmas tree on the highway, but, had I known from the start my dad was going to ask an employee, I wouldn't have bothered, and the pretty girl wouldn't have laughed when the employee said, "This is a mess."

Once tied, my dad and I got into the SUV. He started the engine, and I asked, "Did you tip that guy?" to which he responded, "He doesn't need a tip. He owns the place." The drive home consisted of me trying to figure out how my dad could possibly know the guy that tied the tree was an owner and not just an employee, along with me repeating, "You should've tipped him, even if he was an owner."

At home, I untied the tree, carried it into the garage, and noticed I was covered in sap. In this moment, my finger, despite being washed three times, is sticking to my keyboard. I smell like pine. My jeans and hoody are in the wash, also covered in sap...and I just noticed there are pine needles clinging to my shirt, which will soon go in the wash.

Of all the things I love about Christmas and the Holiday season, which is an extensive list, the act of going out and getting a real tree has and always will be my least favorite. Even when I was a kid, I wouldn't want to go tree shopping; I'd get bored and sit in the car with my toys.

I'd kind of wished I still had toys to play with today, maybe a G.I. Joe or a Ninja Turtle, regretting I didn't bring my smartphone.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Movie Quotes Used in Life

Warning: Contains strong language.

This morning I wrote on someone's Facebook, and for the next fifteen minutes my phone buzzed from responses while that person linked a slew of random songs and movie scenes. In response, I posted one of my all-time favorite quotes:

 
Side note: Bobby Cannavale, the actor that yells, "Cut the shit!" deserves an Emmy for his work on Boardwalk Empire; Gyp Rosetti was the highlight of a slow season that didn't pick up until the finale.

As I replayed the scene, laughing every time, I wound up thinking about people using movie quotes in real life. Usually, they're quotes from comedies. I don't know how many times I've heard, "You're my boy, blue!" screamed in public. Will Ferrell's movies are probably the most quoted, at least in my circle of friends, especially Step Brothers and Talladega Nights.

Throughout high school, one of my buddies was always saying, "I love redheads," and "That's what I love about these high school girls: I get older, they stay the same age," from Dazed and Confused. He also enjoyed a random, "All right. All right. All right."

When the Hangover was big, everyone ran around calling each other a, "Re-tard." I have friends that have incorporated the phrase, "Classic," into their vocabulary, just like Alan, and it can only be contributed to the movie, because the word usage was not there prior.

At a recent stag party, I found my friend--he's an avid Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas fan like myself--in charge of the raffle, accepting money and saying, "Take the ticket. Take the ticket." Later in the night, when cornered by a dull story, he interrupted with, "Tell me about those fucking golf shoes."

Via Facebook, I discovered someone had even been in trouble with the law over a movie quote. In response to not helping him with a robbery, though he knew the culprit, he made a status update that was reported to the police by one of his friends. The status update, taken from Tropic Thunder, was:



I succumb to quoting movies as well, finding it an interesting game to see if anyone can recognize them. When I first died in the Elegon fight in Mists of Pandaria, not realizing the floor vanished and dropped characters into a deep pit, I wrote, "We all float down here," which is a line from Stephen King's "It." One other player got it. Over the summer, I found myself quoting Due Date and telling a friend, who could barely stand up let alone light his cigarette, "You better check yourself before you wreck yourself."

These days, I'm hard-pressed to find someone that doesn't use movie quotes in daily conversation, gatherings, or online, especially if they're around my age or younger; I've even heard my uncles drop a few lines now and again, though it seems to be less common with older generations. I can't recall either of my parents quoting a movie, and I think that might be because they did not experience media and technology in the same way.

So, who out there has quotes they either enjoy to use or are sick of hearing? Are they any stories of quoting mishaps or people you know that have never used a quote?



Saturday, December 1, 2012

Weird Mood

Last night I received a text from my sister letting me know she was going to be putting her dog to sleep today, a dog I had spent a lot of time with, and I had a dream that set the tone for my entire day; it was one of those dreams where nothing really seemed to happen, yet it was full of emotion.

In the dream, I was at a drinking party in a field of tall grass, similar to ones I went to in high school, and all the people there were friends that I was no longer friends with. Although the moon and stars were out, there was enough light to see into the distance. Everything was a shade of blue. I walked around with a Solo cup filled with beer in my hand and watched people talk by bonfires, watched them laugh, watched them kiss; then I decided to leave and walked down a dirt road. On both sides of the road, cars were parked under tall trees. I followed the road, passing faces I recognized and stopped at the end of a long line. From there, I waited, and I overheard a girl I once knew say, "He had so much going for him then. Now..."

I woke up confused and looking around my room, thinking someone had knocked on my door. Since getting out of bed, I've been in this weird introspective state of mind. I'm not happy, not sad; I'm somewhere in between, thinking about choices, thinking about the way things used to be and how they are, thinking about friends I used to talk to and places we used to hang out at, thinking about mistakes, thinking about things I did right, thinking about last October and sitting under a bright orange moon as my sister's black lab wandered around the yard somewhere in the dark, crinkling leaves that had fallen to the ground.

A weird mood indeed, if the movie Project X, which I watched in an attempt to shift my thoughts, had me staring at my TV in a semi-jealous daze. It also led me to discover The XX's "Intro" at the end of the film, and the song is amplifying my feelings, getting them out of me. In this moment, the tune is a panacea.

Sometimes, it's good to feel like this and work through it and explore and think and wonder, asking the important questions while teetering between hope and despair. Sometimes, the subconscious needs to realign, speaking through dreams.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mists of Pandaria: Patch 5.1 Review

This week Blizzard released the first content patch, Landfall, for MoP. While there are several fun additions to the game, some needed fixes and balances (depends on who you talk to about class changes, as players despise nerfs on anything they play), there are also some questionable changes and omissions.

I do enjoy the removal of a raid group to enter the old raids such as MC, BWL, and Naxx, as well as the additions to pet battles that drop off raid bosses. I spent a couple hours last night solo'ing MC on two of my 90s in search of pets, as well as tagging along with guildies to clear Naxx and BWL; we have plans to topple AQ40 over the weekend. My goal is to capture all these drops and snag Mr. Bigglesworth, who I was fond of killing at the start of every Naxx run in Wotlk. Having not been in Naxx for years, last night's run was nostalgic for me; I wouldn't have been there without an incentive, as I don't really get into transmog.

In the future, I look forward to the Brawler's Guild. The price on invites through the BMAH are too high for me, but members of my guild have already joined and will shell out invites once they're able. If anything, as more people get into the guild and invites are less of a demand, the steep price will drop. I believe they start at 10k. Plus, there's always the chance I receive one on an NPC drop in the new daily zone.

Yes, Blizzard added more factions (one for Horde, one for Alliance), and they require dailies. The length of the rep grinds have been lessened via purchasable commendations from each faction's quartermaster, once a player reaches revered. The effects are account bound. I don't do dailies on my alts, though I'm considering Cloud Serpents on my hunter with this patch--I never use flying mounts on my druid. The 100% rep increase is larger than I suspected. I exalted Cloud Serpents two days early; I will exalt Shado-pan a week early. I might even go back and grind both Klaxxi and Golden Lotus, which I abandoned at revered. It'd still be nice if the tabards at exalted were BOA and gave rep gains in heroics up through honored or something, but at this point, I'll take what I can get.

I like the new daily area in Krasarang. It's centered around the factions' campaigns to control Pandaria, including strategic points that can be taken by players similar to the towers in Hellfire Peninsula. On a PVP server, it's never dull. I even spent a solid hour on a wall in Domination Point nuking any Horde that came within distance while using typhoon to keep enemies off my ledge. I believe the RP and PVE servers were experiencing a glitch that flagged players; I read it was hotfixed yesterday.

While instances of world PVP are thriving, PVP balance continues to be its usual mess. Since nerfs were across the board, nothing really changed. Gimped classes stayed gimped, OP classes stayed on top, and the devs' decision to allow the use of silence to stop a shammy from dropping a totem, among other nerfs, is baffling. CC is still rampant, as are bots--I'm hesitant to try the updated Wintergrasp and Tol Barad because of this. MMR exploits weren't addressed other than setting all teams back to a 2200 rating. On PVP servers connected by CRZ, levelers must still remain vigilant of gankers in areas like the Dark Portal and expect serious traveling delays; I doubt there's a solution to this other than eliminating CRZ. Regardless of such nuisances, I enjoy seeing an active Azeroth, as opposed to my dwindling server...

There were a lot of complaints about the new UI feature for CC that lights up the screen and action bars. I tried to disable this feature and was at least able to remove all but my action bars turning dark. Though I can see how this feature would help a beginner, I already have my trinket and escapes keylogged and memorized, so it's no help to me at all.

The new scenarios are far and away more compelling than the originals, definitely what I had expected of them from the beginning, yet it's unfortunate they're not needed by geared 90s, other than a source for achievements (*update: in a recent hotfix, Blizz upgraded the bonus at the end of scenarios to drop gear more often and sometimes contain epics). I did them once. Maybe, if they pop at random, I'll do them again when I have a fresh 90 sometime in the future. If I get bored by LFR or heroics, I might queue as well, for I think I will be taking advantage of the new gear upgrade system once I've collected all the VP gear I can off quartermasters.

As for the continued story arch in 5.1, one thing about MoP that has irked me from the moment I hopped on my goblin mage and heard Garrosh say, "Paint the land red with Alliance blood," is the warchief's flat character; more and more he seems like a villain from a B-movie. Yelling everything as if Samuel Jackson on meth, he speaks in cliches. His motivation is lost in translation, and if the only thing driving Garrosh is a lust for power, it's really not that interesting. He is even hypocritcal: in Stonetalon, he kills one of his orcs for dropping a bomb on a city then does the same to Theramore. The warrior's code he lived by, something that was appealing and added dimension to his character, is nonexistent.

Given the direction he takes in the scenario, "Dagger in the Dark," Garrosh isn't even that smart; the writers have turned him into a mindless, paranoid brute that just so happens to be the warchief. For me, it makes no sense that Vol'jin is the lone faction leader within the Horde opposed to Garrosh, so it looks bad on the others as well. As far back as Cata, Garrosh calls the undead an abomination and refers to Sylvanas, who I always assumed was as cold-hearted as she was cunning, a bitch. What does she do? Stammers and little else.

All in all, I think 5.1 took as many step forwards as it did back. The most promising of the changes were to solo play, and I've found, in the overall scheme of the game, we're mostly where we started (I still have yet to even glimpse Galleon, let alone defeat him). However I enjoy MoP, I won't say there isn't room for improvement; some of the issues I've discussed are game-breaking for other players. At this stage of the expansion, I'm still gleeful to have things to do, because around every corner is a reminder of how bored I was throughout Cataclysm as I sat in a capitol and waited on a heroic.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Observers in Fringe

As I watched the season one Fringe marathon on the Science Channel I happened to notice an Observer leaving the terminal of an airport as Olivia's flight landed. At first, I thought I was seeing things, then I went on Youtube and discovered the creators of Fringe have been sneaking the Observer September (and some others) into episodes since the pilot.

Having seen every episode, I'm amazed I never noticed this before. As if I needed another reason to watch the show in its entirety, now I'll forever be on the lookout for Observers. It will be kind of like looking for pineapples in Psych.

Here's also a link to Fringepedia that has a list of known sightings.

My new awareness has led to some interesting questions, especially considering the turn the show has taken with Peter's storyline. Why has September been watching them for so long? Is he more than a rebel Observer? Is he Peter Bishop? Have the writers really known how things would end since they inked the pilot, years ago, that the Observers were always meant to be the final villains?

I guess I'll know in a few episodes. The series finale is coming up fast, and hopefully some of my questions will be answered.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Stephen King's Influence

They all float down here.
- Pennywise

A fellow blogger got me thinking about Stephen King this morning and how influential his work has been in my life. Whether movies, books, or television, King's visions have seeped into my subconscious and intertwined with my memories. His imagination is one to admire, even if you're not a fan, and his skill in the craft is one I hold on a pedestal, especially when I consider how prolific an author he is, producing a book every few months (take note George R.R. Martin). My copy of On Writing is battered from referencing it, and I've always aspired to write characters as fleshed and interesting as Flagg or Father Callahan. Even when King drops a corny line or a goofball joke, I enjoy it.

Fun fact: King's wife pulled a half-finished "Carrie" out of the garbage and urged him to finish.

I started reading King in high school, when I received a paperback edition of The Shining for Christmas. Until then, I had only experienced his movies, and as a kid, some of them downright terrified me. As someone that was already terrified of lakes and oceans, the part in Creepshow 2 about the oily blob in the lake that picked off swimmers one by one as they were stuck on a dock left me petrified. Then there was The Shining; though Kubrick took liberties with the source material, I'd be a liar if I said the twins didn't give me chills to this day. My mom still has trouble watching anything with Jack Nicholson. She says it has to do with his eyes. She has also mentioned that she had to leave the room during the maze scene and doesn't know how the film ended...thirty years later.

Currently, my three favorite King movies are The Mist, Shawshank Redemption, and 1408, which are all based on novellas. I find his shorter works translate better to film because there's no need for them to be trimmed. They manage to capture the characters and story and have room to be expanded upon, whereas the 1,000 page The Stand would be a nightmare to fit into two hours. I've read that's exactly the problem Ben "You Were the Bomb in Phantoms" Affleck is having, and I don't blame him.

I can't say everything I've read by King was a home run (I used Bag of Bones as an Ambien), but when a novel of his hits me, it's out of the stadium. For years, I gobbled up anything related to the Dark Tower series, including short story collections. There were a lot of spin-offs and crossovers. In college, I read The Gunslinger for a third time, as it was required for a course, and like any good book, each read is different. Each time I sat down and ventured with Roland Deschain I was a different person. I'd changed, thus what I took from the story changed. That's not to say I didn't struggle through some of the Dark Tower novels in the series. Some were stronger than others--I detested King putting himself in the story, and I wasn't keen on the overall climax. A Drawing of the Three wasn't to my liking either, yet Wolves of Calla, which was a King version of Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven, Wizard and Glass, a glimpse into Roland's past, and the original Gunslinger were top notch.

Every bit of his extensive work is tied to a memory: rewinding Halloran taking an ax to his chest over and over in high school, because it made the girls we were with scream and grab onto us, making stove-top popcorn in anticipation of the new installment of It, covering our buddy with popcorn when he fell asleep during the midnight showing of Apt Pupil, gawking and rummaging through my neighbor's bookshelf with the glass door that contained a Stephen King collection, sprinting home in the dark after watching Cujo, reading The Talisman by the heating vent in my Somerville apartment.

So many memories; too many to fully list.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Combating Internet Trolls

When I read an article online, it's hard for me not to skim the comments and try to get a sense of what other readers think. It's equally hard for me not to respond to a commenter whose opinion greatly differs from my own, thinking if I leave my opinion I may get to the bottom of why they think the way they do.

More often than not, leaving a comment backfires. Rather than a calm discussion or debate, the responses are flagrant insults or trolls. As I had to explain to someone a few weeks ago, a troll is someone that purposely writes a mean, racist, off-topic, or lie-filled comment in order to elicit an angry response. Once they get your hate, they've won and proceed to ask, "Angry bro?" until you're punching your keyboard and swearing, dwelling on what they said for hours. All the time I've spent on World of Warcraft (WoW), I've become practiced in the art of sniffing trolls out from under their bridge.

Yesterday, after reading an article on secession, I noticed the trolls were out in force. One man in North Dakota was gloating over his state's possible independence and calling for a nuclear strike on California. He had dozens of people react with threats and taunts, including a man from Texas that said, "BYOBB: Bring Your Own Body Bag." Death threats, childish remarks, and a call for the apocalypse against nonbelievers and sinners are the type of thing a troll feeds on. They tell a person, "Go worship your man in the sky," because they know the reaction they'll get.

As well as on news articles, the forum trolls at WoW don't just want one response. They set out to derail threads, instigate fights between other people, and will continue to taunt a person until they leave a thread entirely. Early last week, one player told me he hated me (my opinion differed from his), then he found my comments in a couple other threads. He wanted an angry response; luckily, I gave him nothing, though I admit I was tempted when he proceeded to call me, "son...kid...fanboi." Sometimes, a troll at WoW will create an entire thread with the sole purpose of upsetting readers so much they feel obligated to respond, and all the troll needs to do is post an outright lie.

The sharpest weapon in a troll's arsenal is discrediting the opposing commenter, rather than what they say. Such behavior is rampant in game forums. Should you write anything that might support the game, you're sure to read, "Fanboi, White Knight, or Wrathbaby," soon after. Along those lines in political articles, people are called, "Libtards or Repturds." Both sides claim the other is drinking Kool Aid and told to use their brain.

What do you say to a person that just publicly insinuated you're a brainwashed drone? Any response will get a rise from the troll, who will only attempt further aggravation. My advice is to either stay calm and write something sensible, which, to an intelligent commenter, outs the troll, or click off the link and find another bridge to cross. Retreat is always an option, especially if you're outnumbered and your opponent starts correcting grammar instead of the issues.

Have I succumb to trolls? Most definitely. I've taken their bait on occasion in seething fashion; it happens to the best of us, even the savvy Internet users. What used to drive me the craziest was when I had written a carefully plotted response, attempting to stay objective and on point, and my opponent retaliated with, "Strawman is a strawman." From there it was a downward spiral as I tried to prove I didn't write a straw man while they use a straw man to enrage me--I wouldn't be surprised if it's on purpose as the original debate shifts into an argument over semantics.

While I doubt trolls will ever go extinct, resilient hobbyists that they are, keep up the good fight. Stay witty. Stay vigilant. And if worst comes to worst, at least be whimsical.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mists of Pandaria: Pet Battle Review

I'll admit pet battles were the feature for MoP I was the least excited for. Although I didn't talk bad about it, I also didn't look forward to it. I was in college when the whole Pokemon craze hit, and I didn't quite understand how it was addicting, despite having had a friend give me a Jigglypuff toy that sat on my desk for four years.

The very first week of MoP I noticed people getting easy achievements through pet battles, and I thought, "I like nerdpoints, why not round up a few while I wait for this dungeon?" A month and a half later I have a small army of companion pets ready for battle, and their ranks are growing by the day.

What I appreciate about the system the most is its turn-based style that takes me back to the days of Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior, where I'm plotting what spells to cast and pitting Flying against Aqua. It's not clear right off the bat as you take your favorite level 1 pet around Stormwind or Orgrimmar that there's any sort of strategy involved in the fights; then you find yourself facing off against a couple of spiders in Duskwood and realize you're not going to win unless you use a mechanical pet of similar level. And, of course, you make the mistake of joining a PVP battle and want to cry like your character when all three of your pets are dead at your feet.

Another aspect I enjoy is finding pets in the wild. There are hundreds of them. At this moment, I have alts hovering in strategic positions around Azeroth. My mage is over Jaguero Isle in southeastern Stranglethorn, waiting for rain so I can nab a Baby Ape before anyone else can. I also bring my druid to Felwood when I know a server restart is coming with hopes of caging a Minfernal, one of the most elusive pets in the game, other than the seasonal (only in summer) Qiraji Guardling. Unfortunately, MoP released a week or two after the season, so a Guardling will take a year's wait to capture.

Yesterday, when seeing I had a fifteen minute wait for raid finder, I powerleveled a slew of pets in Pandaria to level 10 for an achievement--I like nerdpoints. I also like taking a low level pet, allowing it to smack a higher level pet, then swapping it out for my ringers and gaining a level each victory. What I'm really striving for is a contingent of pets. I need 3 of each family at level 25, if I'm ever going to clear the Pet Battle Masters in Northrend and Pandaria. I've been stuck in Northrend for a while now, because I don't have the team make-up to beat 3 of the masters and their level 25 pets.

What's even more promising is Blizzard is just getting started with this implementation. In 5.1 they'll be releasing more pets in places such as Naxxramas and giving us rare items to upgrade our captured pets from uncommon to rare, easing the grind of finding those blue titles in the field, which happen to have superior stats.

I think new pets are just the beginning. Down the road, there might even be new families or tricks to capturing pets, such as was done with hunter rares in Pandaria. Pet battles really are an outstanding mini-game, especially when waiting for a dungeon, battleground, raid, or just seeking something new to do outside of dailies. They're not going to improve your character. They're not going to make you rich, because, currently, we're not allowed to sell the ones we capture in the wild (I'd like this to change). If anything, they'll give you some titles, more pets, and nerdpoints to brag about, but after an expansion that took itself too seriously, it's a refreshing change of pace--having fun for fun's sake.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mists of Pandaria: PVP Review

Over the years of my playing WoW it has been easy to see the yo-yo of classes; one expansion beast master hunters are garbage, then the following expansion they're wrecking machines. I used beast master as an example, because I toiled through Cataclysm on mine against the advice of everyone and am absolutely shocked about their dominance in MoP.

It's a regular thing in battlegrounds for my hunter not to die and rack up 10-15 kills. Last night in the Temple of Kotmogu, my hunter was taking on 2 or 3 enemies at a time and stepping away victorious. It's almost too easy. On the other hand, my boomie is a glorified practice dummy. Boomies have no stuns, no pets (unless you spec for treants), and 2-3 second casts which require them to stand still to fire off. Usually I have to run away, root, kite, spam moonfire/sunfire (I hope to proc starsurge during this and wait for starfall to come back up) and heal myself--it has terrible mechanics. Compared to both my hunter and frost mage that have silences, stuns, roots, superior defensive abilities, and ways to break out of CC it's a downright travesty.

For certain classes that were either nerfed into oblivion or are underpowered, PVP simply isn't fun. It contains a handful of the same problems as in Cataclysm: MMR exploits, unbalanced BGs where one team is stacked with healers and the other team has none, as well as teams loaded with fresh 90s pitted against a team loaded with fully PVP geared players, raid gear boosting dps classes, and flavor-of-the-month classes. There are definitely specs that need buffs to bring them to the level of others. Boomies, in particular, need their instant roots back (it made a world of difference); I really don't understand why it was removed to begin with when most classes have instant roots like a mage's aoe root, frost nova.

The state of crowd control is obscene. There's simply too much. If outnumbered, a player must be lucky enough to run away. Otherwise, they'll be caught with a chain of CCs and stare at their PC unable to move until they are dead. When that happens, especially if your trinket is on cooldown, no amount of gear or resilience will save you. I don't even know if it can be called playing; it's more like watching a video.

One thing Blizzard somewhat fixed was the ridiculous survivability of healers. The mana cap plays a large part, as does the abundance of CC and the burst damage that a few classes now sport. Even in arena, it's a noticeable difference from Cataclysm. Healers these days don't feel like boss fights.

Their attempt to even the field with baseline resilience hasn't been that impressive. If a player doesn't craft all or most of the PVP gear when they first hit 90, they're fodder; even with that gear, other players will stack PVP power gems on their honor gear, which bypasses the resilience. The end result is really no different than Cata; I've actually seen characters die faster this xpac than in previous ones, yet once fully geared, my hunter feels tankish against everyone but those that outgear me.

What I have talked about, the biggest problems, were addressed in a Dev Watercooler by Ghost Crawler, and I feel if Blizzard follows through with what he states there's a good chance they might actually balance PVP this expansion--might. The one issue that remains, which GC seemed to be content about, is CC. I really hope they one day make it so all CC used on a player diminishes the way fear and cyclone do. For example, if you're frozen, then someone fears you, the following CC doesn't last as long. I also hope they stop adding new CCs to the game. There's more than enough already.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Fall TV Picks

I always find it interesting to learn what TV shows my friends are watching and why, especially the ones they're addicted to, so I thought I'd share my Fall picks. These are the shows that sunk their hooks in me as of late, the ones I try to watch as soon as they air so no one can spoil what happens, and the ones, if I should miss them, I catch up on as soon as possible.

Castle - It's my lone show on Monday nights. It's also my only cop/crime-solving show. Every episode is as quirky as the characters, and Nathan Fillion cracks me up week after week. It's also one of the few shows, maybe the only show, I've ever seen where the unrequited love story is resolved and when it's resolved, I'm not bored out of my mind. The writers have definitely been on top of their game this season.

Dexter - While I lost all interest in this show an episode into season 3 it brought me back in a big way with John Lithgow's portrayal of the Trinity Killer in season 4. It hasn't let me go. This season has been amazing, picking up the exact moment Deb learned about Dexter's dark passenger. On top of that the writers have returned to a theme I've always enjoyed: Dexter's attraction to dangerous females...who happen to be easy on the eyes. I knew this season was going to be a good one with the introduction of Isaac, a ruthless mob boss, and an episode revolving around a murderer that dressed like a minotaur and chased women through his maze.

Fringe - Never a disappointment. When I read the final season was going to take place in the future I was apprehensive; I completely underestimated the storytelling and characters involved. Instead of freak-of-the-week episodes and a case to solve, there's just one story: taking the world back from the Observers. The characters are still evolving, literally, and as I learned last week, none of them are safe. Fox Network's lone jewel, Fringe is the best science fiction on TV. I'll be sad to see it end.

The Walking Dead - As if AMC listened to all its fans complaining about the borefest that was season 2, this show has surpassed every expectation I had. Only a handful of episodes in characters die and make choices in season finale-esque style. I've been on the edge of my seat since Rick and the gang entered the prison. In between the walker action there has been a few heart-wrenching scenes that stuck with me as a viewer as well; I couldn't ask for more.

Supernatural - Dean and Sam are finally back to the basics, traveling around in the Impala on cases. They're no longer running around trying to stop the end of the world, a persistent theme for years. Instead, the story is about Dean and Sam's lives as hunters, their relationship with each other, and their choices. The writers also made a brilliant move by putting the demons on the run this season as the sarcastic brothers try to keep hell's minions off earth forever. It's a nice change to what had become a predictable tale.

666 Park Avenue - The beginning of this show was shaky for me, and I wasn't sure how long I would last. Lately, the stories have picked up steam, are congruent, and overlapping, and the overall theme has taken shape. It took a few episodes, but the characters are no longer these flat, uninteresting cliches. Terry O'Quinn (you probably know him best as Locke from Lost) as Gavin Doran kept the show afloat when it appeared to be sinking, and now I'm glad I stuck with it. The Drake, a devilish apartment building that seems to have a mind of its own, reminds me a lot of Stephen King's Overlook Hotel/Room 1408. In fact, the show could easily be mistaken for something King would have written. While I won't go as far as to say this is one of the best shows on TV I will say it's doing enough to keep me returning, especially with the latest introductions of villains. It definitely has potential.

American Horror Story: Asylum - I didn't watch the first season in its entirety. I saw three episodes and gave up--it just didn't do it for me. However, on a whim, I decided to check out the premiere of Asylum, and I've been craving each episode. Something about mad scientists (James Cromwell is spectacular and disturbing as Dr. Arden) and insane asylums intrigues me, not to mention the alien abduction plot and whatever is living in the woods. Then there's Jessica Lange as the meanest nun I've ever seen. Somehow, she can also be erotic, and I'm not sure I want to dwell on why that is. In the end, can you really not love a show that maims Adam Levine in the opening sequence?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Thoughts on Lucas and Disney

Earlier this week, George Lucas sold the rights to both Star Wars and Indiana Jones to Disney for a few billion dollars, and when I heard the price tag, I immediately moved past my initial anger. I really can't blame him. He's getting up there in age, is criticized for everything he does involving both franchises (I'm guilty of this), and probably does not have the time or drive to do another trilogy. Plus, 4 billion dollars is an insane retirement fund.

While fans are assured there will be another Star Wars trilogy many of us are worried about its future. It's hard to imagine the franchise under the direction of someone other than Lucas, but the man was never going to live forever; it was bound to happen. This sale could actually be good for us, if Disney is thoughtful of loyal fans.

The first thing they should do is revisit the originals and strip them of the added scenes, get back to basics: return to a time when Han Solo was the only person that fired in the Cantina, showing us all what a bad ass merc he was, take the Little Shop of Horror plant alien-thing (sarlacc's mouth?) out of the Great Pit of Carkoon, swipe Jabba from A New Hope entirely, and get that stupid song and dance scene out of Jabba's palace--just to name a few.

Second, even though Disney has already said the new trilogy is going to have an original script and characters, they should at least base parts of the upcoming movies on the Thrawn Trilogy, written by Timothy Zahn. They already told us the movies will take place in that general time era; why would they ignore available canon? If anything, at least give us a cameo or two. Like any of us wouldn't kill to see Han Solo on the big screen again, even if he's a grandparent. Hell, roll out Mark Hamill as Luke with a new apprentice. There's no age limit on Jedi masters.

As for Indiana Jones...that purchase scares me. Those movies are classics, and I still get a little bitter thinking of some scenes in the Crystal Skull that had me groaning in the movie theater (I'm looking at you, escapes-a-nuke-in-fridge). Harrison Ford is Indy, and there isn't an actor on the planet I could envision filling those shoes. But, Disney owns the rights. Eventually (I hope I'm not alive to see it), they're going to replace Ford with someone younger and revamp the whole franchise. Unlike Star Wars that touts hundreds of stories and characters, Indiana Jones revolves around a single personality. On one hand, it could turn into a James Bond deal, where Indy is replaced by a new actor every few movies. On the other hand, it could be a complete train wreck.

Whether Lucas' decision to sell is good or bad is going to be decided within the next few years, and like many other fans, I beg Disney to handle these franchises with the utmost care as they're cornerstones of my childhood, and I can do nothing but thank George Lucas for giving them to us to begin with.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Wolverine

This morning I went to IMDb to scope out some trailers, and while snooping around the info page for the next installment of Die Hard, I came across a link to the next Wolverine movie. Having no clue there was one in the works, especially one to be released in July 2013 (tentatively), I started doing some research.

What I've seen of the set images looks promising, as well as the teaser poster (see below).


After the first Wolverine movie, I'm going to try and reserve judgement until the end credits; it really left a bad taste in my mouth the way they handled Gambit. However, I can't help getting a little excited about Wolverine facing off against ninjas in Japan and the Silver Samurai, a mutant who charges a kitana with energy and can cut through anything--except adamantium. Plus, Hugh Jackman plays the role perfectly; I wish they'd give him better scripts.

It's been reported that the movie will be based solely off Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's 1982 miniseries, but as a fellow blogger pointed out, Silver Samurai did not make an appearance in the original. Also, along with rumors of a Jean Grey appearance, there are pictures of Svetlana Khodchenkova on set as the Viper, meaning this film is probably going to be a combination of the original series and its sequel. One thing that's up in the air is how faithful the character will be to the comics (will she even be named Viper?). Viper was originally portrayed as a Captain America villain and HYDRA operative, but the rights to Captain America are owned by Marvel Entertainment while 20th Century Fox maintains the rights to the X-Men.

Let's all hope the next installment of Wolverine is more like X-Men: First Class and less like Last Stand.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Post From Facebook

I'm not going to make a habit of posting about politics. In fact, this might be the only post I ever make. What I really want to do is share the Facebook post I received this morning from a guy I went to college with, because it relates to my "Social Network Failure" post. Without further ado, here it is:

"Steve the truth is marriage does not discriminate on gender or race, the true reason it has nothing to do with gays is because it is at its core a institution which involves procreation, sorry but true, and also true is some dude floating around on pixie dust is not the same as a mother, and some chick in a flannel with a crew cut is not the same as a father. Sorry but its reality. Also on a side note remember if murderers, rapists and pedophiles were allowed to vote, they would support the same guy as you. On a side note if the voting age was 35 no democrat would ever be president, people get smarter as they get older. So enjoy standing with idiot kids that don't know any better, the scum of society, the moochers, and the old moonbat libs. I'll stand with the majority of troops, working Americans, and noncriminals. I'm a Republican because someone has to work, and I'm not owed anything but life, liberty, and the pursuit of happyness."


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Iron Man 3 Trailer Released

Here is the trailer that popped up on my Facabook this morning. I've watched it quite a few times, excited by all the quick peeks, darker tone, and hearing, "Ladies...children...sheep."

There are rumors of who and what the man in the Iron Patriot costume is, because Sony holds the rights to that character. Osborn designed the suit, but he is a Spider-Man villain. Pictures show James Badge Dale in the suit, who plays Eric Savin. What I wasn't aware of until reading the linked article (Thank you Superherohype) is that Savin eventually becomes the cyborg villain known as Coldblood; it's possible the Iron Patriot and Coldblood have been merged to avoid infringement. I don't believe the suit is acting on its own when it grabs Pepper Potts out of Stark's bed; I also don't believe Rhodey would do that unless mind-controlled or something...

My current conclusion is either something Mandarin-involved is going to happen to Rhodey, it's Stark's nightmare, or we're going to see Coldblood/Iron Patriot. It's not 100% clear. One thing to keep in mind is that eventually there are going to be tie-ins within the movie to the upcoming Avengers sequel.

Also of note is Ben Kingsley looking a lot better than I expected as the Mandarin, complete with a snippet of his rings, and a Tony Stark troubled by the events in the Avengers, worrying incessantly about Potts' safety.

So far so good.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Social Network Failure

Today I had a mishap on Facebook. A new acquaintance posted something I misread. I thought she said she was being made fun of by a girl in nerdy glasses and a guy in tight jeans, so in her defense, I thought I'd make fun of the girl in nerdy glasses and guy in tight jeans. Turns out she was the girl in nerdy glasses and her boyfriend was the guy in tight jeans. The hicks she addressed was everyone else at the bar--in other words, I made fun of the wrong group and came off as an ass. The number of people that hate me rose by at least two today, as I tried to do right and did wrong.

It's instances like this that I miss the good old days prior to Facebook and Myspace. I miss the days when I could go off the grid and be alone. I miss when I could vanish for an entire summer, when I didn't have a cellphone. Being antisocial a decade ago, even five years ago, was actually possible.

When I lived in Denver I would go weeks without any sort of social interaction, excluding my boss at work who I had no choice but to talk to if I wanted to keep my job, and it was perfect. I never got in trouble. I never put my foot in my mouth. I had zero drama, because I never posted something on my page, then had to take the post down or apologize because one of my online friends found it offensive.

I never had to argue with someone about politics because I shared a Daily Show clip or be sure to "like" their away messages about going to the grocery store. I was never forced to be witty or feel pressured to tell a joke. I never had to alter my opinions or practice keeping my opinions to myself. I never had to guess the mood of the person living in Florida that I haven't seen in a decade when they leave cryptic messages like, "If there were only words..." and I respond, "Those are words," only to be rebuked with, "You're an asshole."

Social networks are drama machines, when not used for bragging. When I left Myspace, I thought I was out. Then I was told to get on Facebook. When I tried leaving Facebook, all I heard was, "You have to get back on. You're missing so much." The guilt-trips were endless.

What does an antisocial introvert like myself, someone that just wants to be left alone, get from a social network other than grief and problems? Do I really need to see photographs of someone I used to talk to fifteen years ago standing on top of a mountain? Must I really be subjected to an onslaught of baby/child/pet/family/wedding photos from people I'll probably never see again? Must I really be forced to view everyone's version of reality TV? While I adore seeing pics of kids and whatnot that I actually see and interact with in real life, it's a bit surreal when I'm bombarded by people that are strangers yet I'm too polite to unfriend.

Personally, Myspace and Facebook have ended more friendships than developed them. Then there's always that awkward moment at the bar when I bump into someone I deleted because I was sick and tired of their comments/spam/constant fights. Seriously, when will the social networks go out of style?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ghosts

If someone had asked me ten years ago whether or not I believed in ghosts my answer would have been a resounding, "Hell yes!" but these days I'm far more skeptical when it comes to the notion of supernatural beings, visitors from outer space (I believe in life on other planets but don't think they'd cross the universe and not make themselves known), and cryptids like Bigfoot or Nessie.

Part of what has fueled my doubt in recent years, ironically, is the wave of television shows that follow ghost hunters; I find it hard to swallow that most of what they give me isn't staged. The ghosts or moving objects are generally off-camera. The noises are feint or unrecognizable. Rather than canvassing a haunted structure top to bottom, the hunters throw a few immobile cameras up and ask silly questions for a single night. If the place is truly haunted like the hosts of these shows believe, why squander the opportunity for more evidence?

That's not to say I dismiss ghost theories at all or deny the possibility that ghosts could be real. I'm back and forth on the topic, cautious not to choose a definitive stance that they exist or don't exist. On one hand, I find it difficult to refute electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), yet I often wonder if EVPs are truly evidence of a deceased spirit that lingers in our world or something else entirely. How do we know an EVP is a dead person and not an ultraterrestrial (being from another dimension) or something we've never even considered--ripple in time/space. What if a person today thinks they see a ghost and sixty years prior another person believes the same, but in reality it's two people separated by sixty years somehow viewing each other briefly?

And when I hear someone give me their account of an experience I can't help wondering if they truly saw and heard what they think they did or if their mind was playing tricks on them. I feel my doubt is valid as most people with ghost stories do zero research on their houses; they don't try to get to the bottom of the area's history or who/what that ghost might be. They simply accept that they saw/heard a ghost and conclude ghosts are real.

As a fan of horror fiction and movies, as well as fringe science and cryptology, the notion of ghosts fascinates me. Sometimes, I think life is mundane and uneventful, void of all the magic I believed in as a child. Other times, I hope the supernatural is real; I hope to have an encounter, but until that day comes, I'm obliged to say seeing is believing and I have yet to witness a thing out of the ordinary.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Walking Dead's Season 3 Premiere Review

My biggest complaint about season 2 of The Walking Dead was the lack of zombie killing, which made the series drag on and seem to go nowhere (I wouldn't be surprised if that was intentional with all the characters stuck on the farm), until the last few episodes where an enormous herd of walkers passed through. After Sunday's premiere, I don't think season 3 is going to be slowly paced. I think season 3 is going to be one hit after another.

The first episode was filled with zombie slaying, including an interesting battle with correction officers in riot gear. With Rick's son, Carl, getting in on the action with a pistol, a change in the characters is evident; they have been hardened by the events on the farm. Rick, when he takes a can of dog food from his son, demonstrates his role has expanded. Not only is he trying to keep the group safe, he is keeping their humanity intact.

I actually wondered if Shane's death in last year's finale would hamper the series, but his absence was barely noticeable. In fact, I'd forgotten about the entire ordeal until Rick's wife, Lori, said, "He blames me...I put that knife in his hand," after they cleared the prison yard of walkers.

And I have to wonder are the zombies getting smarter? One went as far as playing possum. Until that scene walkers generally...walked. They went at things mindlessly, drawn by sound and movement. Either the writers were inconsistent in an attempt at a horrifying scene or deliberate in stretching what a walker is capable of. A thinking zombie, even on a basic, predatory level, could be fearsome.

With Shane dead and his cohort Andrea split from the group (it'll be interesting to see how her story with Michonne ties into the overall arch), the show is in search of new villains. That might sound weird in reference to a show filled with zombies, but just like Night of the Living Dead, the biggest threat in a post-apocalyptic world filled with the risen dead is still humanity. The last scene when Rick's group was discovered hints that there's not going to be a lack of antagonists.

If The Walking Dead keeps pace with the premiere, killing zombies and pitting characters against each other, I think we might be in store for the best season yet.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mists of Pandaria: Rep Grind Review

Of all the additions to World of Warcraft's latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, I have to say I'm least excited for the reputation grinds. Ghost Crawler had said the developers took out the required grinds for head and shoulder enchants, because they didn't feel it was good for players to be forced into them, yet they gated Justice and Valor gear along with profession recipes within reputation grinds. On top of that, they gated factions behind factions.

I loathe dailies; they are my least favorite thing in a MMO. I didn't like the Isle of Quel'Danas in Burning Crusade, the Argent Tourney in Wotlk, and I didn't like Molten Front in Cataclysm (I did them anyway). Averaging 25 to 50 dailies a day is not fun for me, and I've read that with patch 5.1 Blizzard is going to be adding new factions that require more dailies. As it is, by the time I do just one faction's worth of dailies and farming a day, I'm already considering logging off.

So far I have played two to six hours a day since launch and have only reached exalted with Lorewalkers, solely because it requires finding things in the world; it is the only non-gated faction and the easiest. I'm close to exalted with two other factions, Cloud Serpents and Tillers, revered with Anglers, and struggling through Klaxxi and Golden Lotus. (*Update: Shado-pan and August Celestials, while having 1, maybe 2 annoying dailies each, have been suprisingly enjoyable and twice as fast to both complete each day and raise rep.)

As honored with Golden Lotus, I receive three sets of dailies per day. They average about 183 rep per completion. I won't be revered for a week or two, which means it will be that long just to unlock the Shado-pan/August Celestials, and I won't be exalted with Golden Lotus for weeks. Once done with that, I might have it in me to devote myself to Klaxxi for a scorpion mount...depends on how burned out I am between grinding dailies and grinding alts to level 90.

It would seem Ghost Crawler has not only gone against his own philosophy on forced grinds, he's taken it to the next level. I'm not pleased, and I won't be grinding these ridiculously gated factions on more than just my Druid, my main. Neither do I have the time, nor the desire to spend every second I'm logged in running dailies.

After all, I have eleven alts that are lvl 85 or higher hanging around from Cataclysm. Unlike Mists of Pandaria's predecessor, I don't think this is going to be an alt-friendly expansion. In fact, I believe most if not all of my alts are going to be taking a backseat due to the gated content. It's bad enough running dailies on one character, let alone two or eleven.

Even with the upcoming changes to double reputation gains once a single character hits revered, the time required to gear up multiple characters will still be daunting. Perhaps as the expansion gets older I might be able to do more with my alts than level them to 90. (*Update: With the implementation of new LFRs, it is entirely possible to gear an alt via heroics and LFR. My Hunter is hovering around the same item lvl as my Druid, who raids and does dailies, simply because my Hunter has been lucky with drops.)

Personally, I hope Blizzard puts in boa tabards that can be purchased once a character reaches exalted and sent to alts to wear and gain rep in heroics; it would make the grind on alts so much easier.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Two Shows I Already Hate

There are two shows I thought might be surprise hits or something I would enjoy, but unlike Last Resort and 666 Park Avenue that grew on me by the end of their premieres and have me looking forward to this week's episodes, Elementary and Revolution have been scratched off my list of shows to watch.

Somehow, Elementary manages to make Sherlock Holmes dull. I found myself flipping through magazines halfway through its premiere. The second episode I zoned in and out of daydreams, then played on my phone. I found nothing new and interesting in this rehash of the British version, Sherlock (I highly recommend that adaptation with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman if you have Netflix). In Elementary Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes is a flat character. A recovering addict, he's not even that mean or disinterested in other people; he's simply a know-it-all that spouts off thing after thing that inept officers around him missed. It's annoying rather than endearing. Apparently, CBS thought they could just throw any British actor into the role and it would succeed...

Elementary is also the same formula as Castle and The Mentalist, which both tout better casts, especially in terms of leads, and writers. Castle has turned into my favorite crime-solving show on TV. In fact, it's the only one I can sit through and one I never miss.

Though I believed Lucy Liu as a female Watson might be a clever change of pace, she brings nothing to the table. She might be the most boring Watson ever put on screen--zero personality. If you suffer from insomnia, check the show out.

And then there's Revolution. The lights go out. Civilization crumbles, and militias take over. We get doses of the fall of civilization in flashbacks similar to Lost, except, in this case, I could not care less about the characters, and the things that come out of their mouths are terrible, as if the writers are trying too hard to be hip and funny. If NBC wanted to punch up the scripts with wit or humor, they should have paid a few people from Parks and Rec for one-liners.

Revolution is a post-apocalyptic story where every cast member is spotless. Literally. They're all living without electricity yet they appear to be clean enough to host award shows. They're farming with plows, cattle, and hoes, yet there isn't a speck of dirt on them. Even the sets are off; buildings are covered in moss yet pristine beneath; the bars are filled with criminals and dark yet everything seems to be in the right place. There's too much order in what should be a chaotic, disheveled world. Again, it seems to be another case of trying too hard.

Did I mention there's a group of people that have had a way to bring the power on for twelve years? And they waited twelve years to do anything about it, carrying little devices around with them, building machines...sitting back on their haunches as they're hunted down?

J.J. Abrams has had some great ideas, written wonderful, creative stories, and been involved in some outstanding projects; unfortunately, Revolution is not one of them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Wild Things"


Here is my complete final project from Animal Drawing, as much as my camera would allow. It's been a lot of years since I drew this (almost a decade?), yet it's still one of my favorites, and I have the drawing on my wall.

Friday, October 5, 2012

"Gorilla and Wildebeest"



For a reason I'm not quite sure about I decided to put this gorilla in a top hat, button down, neck tie, and a mask that resembles the one in the movie Scream. The wildebeest I found in a National Geographic and found its form interesting, especially since it was running from the photographer.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Woman and Wild Dog"



In searching for pictures of animals in National Geographic magazines I remember I found a photo of a woman covered in blood after butchering a pig for a religious ceremony; I couldn't not include her in my final project. It helped that I had finished Figure Drawing the semester before.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Dolphin"


Another piece to the puzzle for my final project in Animal Drawing. Dolphins just happen to be one of my favorite, yet I think I made this one look a bit more evil than I intended.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mists of Pandaria: Leveling Review

Late last night I finally hit level 90 on my druid and finished a leveling experience as lengthy as Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King when they were first released. As of this morning, I am only one of three players in my guild to hit 90, which is a fine indicator that Blizzard did in fact go old school-expansion, despite the naysayers.

I'm gleeful to be rid of Cataclysm.

For starters, there are elites wandering around just about every zone. Their numbers increase with each zone. Yesterday in the Dread Wastes (this place is packed with elites) my leveling friend, a mage, was squashed by a stone elemental he didn't see PAT, and later, he was slaughtered by a silithid-looking mantid he attacked before realizing it wasn't part of our quest.

Then, of course, was the twenty minutes that four of us (one was level 90) spent trying to kill a rare elite Pandaren monk after we fought for half an hour with a group of Horde that had the same idea; they eventually acquiesced when I used typhoon on their healer and popped him off a cliff. If you're wondering, all rares in Pandaria are elite. At this stage in the expansion, they can't be solo'd either, and I've laughed at plenty of players that tried. I tried at first too and took a 200k hit to the face--instant death.

The zones are put together brilliantly. Having leveled in beta, I knew some of what to do and where to go, picking and choosing quest hubs, plotting my course through areas. Other than the start of Jade Forest, players aren't required to go from point A to point B then C. A player can now choose B, C, then A or just skip to D. The scenery isn't too shabby either.

As an explorer, there is a lot to discover along the way. Blizzard tucked relics in the ground, in houses, and in caves, along with lore to read on statues, scrolls, and books. I don't think I found 25% of what is on Pandaria from glimpsing my unfinished achievements.

There's no flying until max level, so there's a lot of ground skirmishes with the opposite faction (it was incessant for me as my Alliance is outnumbered by Horde on my server) and competition for nodes.

The music is on par with Grizzly Hills; the tracks surrounding the Shado-Pan are my favorite.

Yes, there are Pandaren. Yes, they are a humanoid race of pandas that like to get drunk and know martial arts. However, as NPCS they are sprinkled through the zones. Some zones, like Dread Wastes, they're few and far between. The entire expansion does not revolve around them; as players, we happen to be in their lands causing upheaval with our war.

As usual there are references to pop culture and easter eggs. One of my favorites was an homage to Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Basically, a leviathan showed up at a fishing town, and I had to hop into a boat, shooting harpoons from a cannon as it circled a massive, seagull-covered octopus. Anyone that has sailed the high seas with Link on Gamecube gets the reference. This time around there is an abundance of vanity items to be had from quests as well, everything from kegs to golden bananas that emit a beam of light.

While the new farm system bores me and the pet battle system is just something for me to pass the time in between dungeons (I admit, I hated the idea of pet battles but they have kind of won me over when I realized there were strategies to it), professions like cooking are a bit more dynamic. It's not the normal grind of killing stuff, harvesting meats and veggies, and cooking. I have some dailies and six different cooking specialties to level.

As far as the leveling aspect, zones, and professions are concerned, MoP meets and maybe surpasses the standard of old. My biggest complaint is that there are only four dungeons along the way; most were designed as heroics for max level, and I haven't even seen them yet.

At the end of the day, as exhausted as I am from grinding all week, Mists of Pandaria renewed my interest in WoW, when I was at the breaking point and on the verge of quitting forever. I don't know how long the joy of something new will last, but I know it's a good expansion when the biggest complaints I see on the forums are when servers go down, gear/profs are too hard/time-consuming to complete, or leveling takes too long.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Peasant"


Here is a painting I did in college. I believe this was the first one I did in my Painting I class, sort of just getting a feel for the brush.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Koala and Lizard in a Bowl"


Here are a couple more critters from my final project for Animal Drawing. The piece is so large and my camera is so crappy that I'm going to show it in pieces over time before its entirety...as best I can.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Gator"



This is the upper left hand corner of my final project for my Animal Drawing class. I've always been partial to this alligator (you can tell it's not a crocodile by the roundness of its upper jaw), and I'll never forget the two caffeine-riddled weeks we had to make these enormous drawings, which could only be accomplished by taping large sheets of paper to walls.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Borderlands 2: Halfway Through

Borderlands 2 plays smoother than the original yet maintains the charm and action that made its predecessor so successful. I find myself laughing as much as I'm tense and swarmed by attackers...or grumbling at my screen because I'm having trouble killing a monster (threshers and constructors drive me nuts).

I was sometimes annoyed with the original, either from running through the same exact paths and areas over and over and over...or at Claptrap. Not this time around. While there's some side quests that require backtracking, it's not as repetitive; I don't recall having to visit the same mini-area on a map more than twice unless I choose to waste some time exploring/weapon hunting (so many guns). Now and again, there's even a mini-boss thrown at me to spice things up. Thankfully, Claptrap isn't up in my grill the entire game. He's there, and I can hear the sad-sack all over the town of Sanctuary, but it's nowhere near as extensive as Borderlands.

The non-player characters are as silly and insane as the original, which makes for some stellar laughs. You'll recognize a few as well, and they offer side quests that are downright fun. I've seen an homage to the Ninja Turtles with pizza-eating mutants living in a fully replicated version of the Turtles' lair from the 80s cartoon; I also instigated a clan war that involved me getting drunk and taking out an entire bar of people at a wake. Almost as an amends to how annoying Claptrap was in the original Borderlands, there was a quest for his birthday party; no one showed and I was stuck with him in a back alley, eating cold pizza, listening to his new Dub Step.

On the main quest line I'm at the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve looking for a Claptrap upgrade (hint: you have to kill a boss), which is the halfway point. I have no idea how many hours I've sunk into Borderlands 2 already, but it has to have exceeded thirty, and that's excluding the first character I made. I abandoned my initial Gunzerker because I didn't enjoy charging at things.

There are four unique classes, each with three talent trees. I went with Axton as a Gunpowder Commando my first romp through Pandora. Aside from a farther throw of my turret--a skill combined with a sniper rifle that can give you an insane advantage with long range fighting or combatants using cover--the talents I have picked are increased gun damage or increased mags. I've also spent most of my earned bad ass points on similar boosts, picking bonuses to reload, elemental effect, shield capacity, health, and larger mags when gun/melee damage aren't options.

The bad ass system is quite ingenious. Bonus stats are earned through the completion of challenges, everything from killing X number of a specific type of species to performing a certain boss tactic. Last night, after achieving a challenge of killing a zombie girl before any of the seven midgets defending her (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with a Pandora twist) I scrolled through the extensive list of challenges, finding over a hundred, most of which had 5 ranks. These stats are then allocated for each and every character, whenever you start one; it should make my next play through, probably as the assassin, a bit easier. The stats, as well as a character's build, can also be reset at any time. The bad ass points also operate independently, so when I reset my commando it leaves my assassin alone.

While the music has left a little something to be desired I haven't found a glitch, bug, bump, or hiccup thus far; I'm shocked. I haven't played a game this ironed out in years. I have read complaints about the field of view. I have also read complaints about motion sickness. While I think the field of view might be a tad small for the Xbox 360 I've found I barely think about it, and unlike the original, I have not experienced motion sickness unless playing at 3 in the morning with all my lights off.

As someone who rarely buys or even tinkers with first person shooters the Borderlands games, particularly the sequel, are fantastic. The addition of gear drops, character builds, and a leveling system (rpg elements) truly enhance a stale genre, and I feel I've barely scratched the surface of Borderlands 2. At this point, I haven't even experienced group play.

Unlike some franchises as of late (Diablo), 2k Games seems to have a firm grasp on what works and what doesn't in terms of what the players want, and this gamer is very appreciative of that understanding--it makes for a great sequel.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Cabin In The Woods Review

Yesterday I rented The Cabin in the Woods on my Xbox 360, expecting the typical gore and mindless story of a slasher flick--I was pleasantly surprised.

There was a lot of humor incorporated into this horror film through dialogue; it's part of the charm of Cabin in the Woods. Nothing is slapstick, and what jokes I saw were cleverly crafted into the flow of the scenes, usually a pair of characters discussing what to do, and at the same time, playing off the cliches we tend to see in horror movies.

Purposely stereotyped with jocks, a blond, and a stoner (there's a point to it that you find out near the end) the characters try to stick together. They try to leave. Unfortunately, a building full of men and women in lab coats conducting this "experiment" have tricky ways of manipulating behavior. Both Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins were hilarious right out of the gate. Rather than the opening death scene I've grown accustomed to, I saw five minutes of comedy partially unrelated to anything that happens the rest of the movie; it was a simple character intro that offered a string of chuckles that put me in the right mood.

The trailers had me thinking this was going to be a movie that took itself too serious, but the fact that it laughed at itself and poked fun at the genre made me fall in love with it instantly. Cabin in the Woods might be the best horror film I've seen in years, maybe as far back as Scream...or one of my guilty pleasures, Slither with Nathan Fillion.

Despite the laughs, as a viewer, I never forgot it was a horror movie. There was gore and blood and hillbilly zombies, as well as a host of other creatures. The ending especially was a nice twist, a twist I didn't expect, and I'd recommend this movie to anyone even slightly interested in horror or looking for a light-hearted monster flick; I might recommend this to anyone looking for a comedy or pure entertainment as well.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Little Insulted


"Jerry, I'm a little insulted."
"You're not a little anything, Newman."
-Seinfeld
 
 
After attending a wake this week, a bunch of us decided to go out for some drinks at the local watering hole. I got into a discussion about writing with one of the people at the table, mentioning I recently purchased The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I said, "Half the things in the book I already do," and the person replied, "Maybe you need to worry about the other half then," while perusing her smartphone.
 
 
What really aggravated me about the response was that it came from a person who, despite my repeated insistence they check out my blog, short stories, or novels, has never read a single word I've written. The true insult, whether they realized it or not, was being told I need improvement by someone unfamiliar with my work, outside of my status updates/comments on Facebook.
 
 
For the past few days, the person's response has been clawing at me; I've had other people in my life make similar comments. An uncle once told me, "Maybe you're not as good as you think you are." He has also never read my any of work.

Last weekend, another friend that has never read anything of mine referred to me as lazy and followed the insult with, "Come on. What's it take to write to a book?" He chuckled when I responded, "Try it, if you've got a couple years."
 
If these comments came from people that finished anything I had written: a chapter, a page, a paragraph, a sentence, I would take their words as honest criticism, doubling my efforts to improve, yet I can't. They are clueless of my methods or style, ignorant of what I'm trying to accomplish--they're flippant.
 
Why?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Female Figure"



This is from my Figure Drawing class; we were allotted ten minutes per sketch. It's a very unique experience drawing a person that is in front of you, not from memory, imagination, or a photograph. It's especially weird when they disrobe, but I remember most of us got over the initial embarrassment as soon as the pencil hit the paper.

I recommend any aspiring artist take a class such as this. I took Nature, Animal, and Figure Drawing classes that involved drawing what we saw in real life, and each of them improved how I studied and displayed forms.