Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thor 2: Dark World Review (Spoiler Alert)

Spoiler Alert
 
 
Back in August, when the last trailer for Thor 2 premiered, I made a prediction based solely on that trailer about what I would see. I ended up not being far off. Rather than the Dark Elves invading London in the beginning, it happened at the end. Rather than joining Malekith, Loki takes out Odin (how, we don't know) on his own. Other than that, the sequel was what I expected: Thor, in bone-crushing fashion, saved the day and Jane Foster.
 
That's not to say I didn't enjoy Thor 2 or that the movie didn't hold any surprises. The two best twists came at the very end. First, Loki faked his death, which, as long as you were paying attention to when they showed a random Asgardian on Svartalheim, was visible soon after he "died." Ultimately, the twist was the villain triumphs; Loki takes the throne of Asgard. Second, during the credits, Sif and Volstagg take the source of the Aether to the Collector, who is played by Benecio del Toro. What was interesting about this scene was finding out the source was an Infinity Gem that had to be separated from another gem in Asgard. While this doesn't necessarily set an Infinity Gauntlet movie in stone--maybe, Avengers 3--it does make the prospect a possibility. After all, the most notorious villain to ever get his hands on the Infinity Gauntlet and the gems is Thanos, who was shown at the end of the Avengers and will make another appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy. I definitely have my fingers crossed. Due to copyrights, Marvel and Disney will never be able to create an exact copy of Infinity Gauntlet, but they could come close, especially if the next Fantastic Four movie bombs and they reacquire the rights to an important character like Silver Surfer.
 
Another great surprise in Thor 2 were the cameos. I always enjoy hunting for Stan Lee; this time around, they made it easy. And in a funny scene, Captain America, played by Chris Evans, made an appearance. Well, to be technical, it was Loki playing Captain America...played by Chris Evans. I wasn't expecting it at all, even when Loki started shifting in and out of illusions to mock Thor.
 
In fact, Thor 2 was loaded with jokes. One of my friends snorted in the theater for half the movie, and she asked afterwards if Marvel comics were as funny as the movies--I told her a lot of them had jokes throughout the issues. I think I laughed more during this film than majority, if not all, of the comedies I saw in 2013. I really got a kick out of Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) too, who had lost his mind since the events of Manhattan.
 
And, of course, there was a lot of action. Mjolnir flew about, smashing. Thor and Kurse pummeled each other. Creepy Dark Elves poured out of spaceships firing high-tech guns. Malekith and Thor hopped through dimensional rifts as they fought.
 
If I had one complaint that really threw me off, it was after Loki's "death" scene. Thor and Jane Foster found themselves stranded on Svartalheim, homeland of the Dark Elves. There was an entire realm, yet they wound up in a tiny cave that happened to be the portal they needed to get back to Earth in time to stop Malekith from obliterating the universe. It was a stretch, even for a movie with Norse gods.
 
Par for most superhero movies, the plot didn't make me think deeply. It wasn't meant to. Thor 2 was a popcorn flick, designed to fill our eyes with CGI and explosions, give us a laugh or two and expand upon characters we may or may not already be familiar with. I liked it. I thought it was better than Iron Man 3 and superior to its predecessor. It definitely gave me hope for the future of Marvel films, particularly Winter Soldier.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

X-Men: Days of Future Past Trailer


Once again helmed by Bryan Singer, this is the first glimpse of the latest X-Men movie. I'm hesitant to say it looks good, as I've been burned in the past, but I was excited to catch a glimpse of Bishop. I was wondering when one of the futuristic X-Men would make an appearance. I just hope he's going to be more than just a cameo in the opening sequences, when they show how the war ravaged Earth.

The trailer, unlike others, doesn't divulge too much about the movie. I appreciate that. It leaves a lot of mystery, especially in terms of action and, of course, the Sentinels, yet still gives us the plot and a slew of characters. As someone that wasn't huge into X-Men growing up I didn't even recognize a few of the mutants; I did spot fan-favorite Beast (will Kelsey Grammer have a cameo?), Rogue, Mystique, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Blink, Storm, Bolivar Trask--I can't wait to see Peter Dinklage as the villainous genius behind Sentinels--and Wolverine, who looks to be a co-lead with Professor X and Magneto.

It'll be interesting to see how Singer weaves such a large cast into the movie.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Trailer


Here's the first trailer for the next Captain America movie. Unlike a lot of people, I was a fan of The First Avenger, particularly the first hour, and its sequel appears to have improved the franchise with a darker tone and a more serious theme.

Again, I think this trailer shows too much of the film--I wish both the helicarrier crashing and the elevator scene had been kept a secret until release, but at least they didn't reveal (for those who haven't read the comic) the identity of the Winter Soldier. Hint: it's not Captain America.

What I enjoyed the most about First Avenger and will probably enjoy in this film as well is the involvement and growth of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters and Black Widow. It's good to see the introduction of new characters as well: Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, who could possibly make an appearance in Avengers 2 or even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the comics, the Falcon has ties to the cosmic cube, Black Panther, the Secret Avengers, and even replaced Steve Rogers as Captain America for a while, so there's a lot that could be done with this character.

Actually, the Black Panther helps design the Falcon's wings; I'd be ecstatic if he had a cameo.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Things We Say When Drunk

“Happy," I muttered, trying to pin the word down. But it is one of those words, like Love, that I have never quite understood. Most people who deal in words don’t have much faith in them and I am no exception – especially the big ones like Happy and Love and Honest and Strong. They are too elusive and far too relative when you compare them to sharp, mean little words like Punk and Cheap and Phony. I feel at home with these, because they’re scrawny and easy to pin, but the big ones are tough and it takes either a priest or a fool to use them with any confidence.”
Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary


Ever since Saturday night my head has been in a whirlwind. I've been anxious and paranoid, excited then depressed, then confused. I've had partial insomnia, then when I do fall asleep, I wake up in the early morning and have no desire to get out of bed. One moment I flip between wanting to find jobs out of state, retreating to the woods to live in seclusion, or driving my car into a tree; the next moment I'm incredibly hopeful, writing feverishly, planning for future endeavors, and grateful to be alive.

All of this is due to a night of heavy drinking with great friends, and it's not because I said something wrong. It's not because I embarrassed myself or hurt someone. For once, it's not anything I did at all, yet it stems from the frustration of the things people say when they are drunk. There's the old Latin phrase, "In vino veritas," meaning, "In wine there is truth," but is there truth?

Words are powerful. People tend to forget that. After a few shots, the tongue starts waggling. Stories become exaggerated. We start confessing, revealing thoughts and feelings that would have remained in check if not in the company of Jack Daniels and his sordid friends; as the Russian saying goes, "What a sober man has on his mind, the drunk one has on his tongue."

When drunk, I've poured my heart out to pretty girls. When drunk, I've aired my grievances like Frank Costanza on Festivus. It was what I felt, and it felt right...at that time. I think that's the key: the things we say when drunk are exactly how we feel in that moment, good or ill, and when we sober up, that feeling wanes. Those emotions subside, and we're left to wade through them, to ponder what extent we meant what we said, if at all.

Words are powerful. They can break relationships. They can strengthen them. Words can be petty or cruel. They can be grand or insightful. They are what we make them to be and take on a new meaning for the one that voiced the words and the one that heard them, and more often than not, at least in my short-lived, personal experience, the things we say when drunk are laughed off or ignored the next day, especially if we're afraid of how serious those words really were. Such words turn into awkward stares, uncomfortable silences, and a sad game of chicken where both parties swerve in opposite directions as they shrug aside the previous night's events with, "I was so drunk."

And I, days later, maybe even months and years from now, am left to wonder if what was said to me in the waning hours of a crisp autumn night was truth or alcohol or a bit of both.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Marvel Heroes: Patch 1.3 Review

Initially, Patch 1.3 was loaded with bugs, so I waited on my review. Its follow-up patch to correct bugs and adjust spirit and defense was practically unplayable, causing disconnects whenever entering terminals, treasure rooms, or different zones. I was sentenced to Avengers Tower for twenty-four hours, but as of yesterday night, the problems are mostly fixed.

One of the big arrivals to Marvel Heroes is Synergy. This system allows for passives on each hero, unlocked at both level 25 and 50. Once you reach that goal, they can be toggled at level 1 for any hero you wish or all your heroes. While it's a wonderful addition, granting bonuses to energy damage, health, rarity/special find, and even XP, I find it tedious to level a majority of my heroes beyond that first level 25 mark. The leveling, at least for me, is still grueling from 25 - 50. I have 15 heroes and only one is at level 60. The rest are 30 or lower, excluding a level 47 Iron Man. Synergy essentially promotes the usage of multiple heroes and alts yet the rate of leveling dissuades me at the same time.

Speaking of Iron Man, he saw a complete revamp. Along with new skills such as Wrist Rocket, an aoe missile attack, and One-Off, a laser attack taken from the movie Iron Man 2 (this skill is absolutely amazing and clears the screen), he now hovers when moving, instead of running. I do still find him a bit squishy, making a melee build impossible at higher levels where red terminals are desired to level faster, so some of the new skills are pointless until he is tuned. I've spent a few retcons on him, toying around with builds, checking out the different skills. He's fun, yet I still find other heroes such as Deadpool and Human Torch more fun to play. Others are loving Iron Man, especially the diehard fans of him.

A Prestige Mode was also introduced; it's akin to prestige in Call of Duty, where players with a level 60 are given the opportunity to start over from level 1. I said previously that 25 -50 is grueling for me, so I have no desire to even attempt this mode. It can be done up to 5 times. I can barely get a hero to 60 once. Unless they drastically change the speed at which one can level without buying loads of XP potions, I can't imagine very many players will endure this mode, especially since the only benefits are pets you can buy and a change in the color of your name. Maybe when achievements are implemented Prestige Mode might appeal to more people. I doubt it ever will for me.

Legendary Quests were implemented to assist the leveling experience. They're a randomized auto-pickup, starting in Heroic Mode and sending you to different zones and terminals to accomplish a list of goals. Once completed, you gain experience and pick up Odin Marks. These marks are spent at the crafter, improving artifacts. At first, the quests did not give anywhere close to the promised "best experience" in the game. When players complained on the forums, the amount was adjusted. They can be a tad time consuming; I find red terminals remain the best way to level, if your hero can survive the insane damage output of the mobs within them.

Along with the Odin Mark upgrades, artifacts can now be Advanced. They're supposed to be superior, but I haven't found any of worth--they've all gone to my crafter, which I'm tirelessly leveling...still.

On top of the hunt for Advanced drops, a slot for team insignias was put into the hero gear sets. These little perks, ranging from uncommon to epic, drop at random and not only give boosts to your hero, they boost those on your team. There are several types of insignias. Since my Human Torch has only ever been part of Fantastic Four in the comics, he is limited to Fantastic Four insignias and S.H.I.E.L.D. insignias (any hero can use S.H.I.E.L.D. insignias). Other heroes like Spider-Man and Iron Man have more options.

As usual, Gazillion continues to slowly but surely improve the overall depth of Marvel Heroes, demonstrating the game's potential. Their patches come fast, one or two majors a month, and every major patch seems to bring a new hero. This time around it was Luke Cage, who I haven't had the time to play, even though I received him in a random splinter box.

Unlike other ARPGs, I don't find myself getting bored to the point that I start searching for another game. It's probably due to the amount of patches and updates and heroes and bonus weekends. Plus, if the developers stay true to their word and start bringing in new zones (Asgard is slated to arrive soon), as well as raids and PVP, I may have no time for other games at all. My Xbox is dusty and lonely this morning, yet I'm about to log back into Marvel Heroes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review (Potential Spoiler)

My original fear was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to be Heroes with a Marvel logo on it. While they do share a key element: superheroes living secret lives amongst regular people, the most interesting aspect of ABC's show is that it follows normal, albeit highly intelligent/trained agents, hunting down, saving, or stopping superheroes. There's also a technological flair and espionage-driven story inherit in this fictional universe, and I don't feel every episode will have to focus on superhuman feats, shifting to plots about rival secret agencies and the characters within them.

As a huge fan of Marvel I was hooked with the opening shot, because that particular scene, a kid looking into the window of a toy store filled with action figures of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, demonstrated to me the potential of the show. In the pilot, there were already crossovers and nods to Iron Man 3 (the pilot's antagonist is infected with the Extremis virus) and Avengers. I suspect each episode will continue in this fashion, possibly containing Easter eggs. The show even has the capacity to introduce new villains, new heroes, new side characters, and new plots that may or may not spill into the movies, as well as leave the door open for major cameos or the development of other characters, something they delved into by recasting Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. I, like most Marvel fans, am hoping a major star such as Chris Evans or Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance. It's a small possibility; it would take a lot of convincing and probably a lot of money, yet there's a chance.

The show's longevity is not dependent on A list actors doing cameos. They have Clark Gregg, and he's fun to watch. I have liked the Agent Coulson character since the first Thor movie and his lines, "It's not easy to do what you did. You made my men look like a bunch of minimum wage mall cops. That's hurtful." Gregg has a unique charm in his delivery, and it's entertaining even when the show ripped a scene from Back to the Future. I half expected for Coulson to say, "Where we're going we don't need roads," when the pilot ended with a flying car zooming at the camera. Despite his many appearances, Coulson is still a mystery. He has had little to no backstory, and the show can explore his origins.

I hope I'm not ruining this for anyone that enjoys the show yet has never really been into Marvel comics or video games, but I'm 99.9% positive (POTENTIAL SPOILER) Coulson is a LMD, which stands for Life Model Decoy. For those that don't know, S.H.I.E.L.D. is infamous for employing LMDs, particularly Nick Fury. It's an android double of a person that can be used to hear or see and can also be controlled by the owner--my theory is that the writers might make it more of a clone than a robot, because if it was being controlled by the real Coulson the other agents obviously wouldn't have to lie to it and make up a story about vacationing in Tahiti.

One of the biggest distractions I had throughout the show (other than Chloe Bennett's hotness) was the science duo of Leo and Jemma. They had cool gadgets, brought up interesting ideas, but I missed half of their dialogue due to repeatedly talking over one another. I had the sense they were trying to go for the quirky, fast-paced back and forth and hint of unspoken sexual attraction akin to Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, but it failed. I was more annoyed than delighted, and half an hour into the show, I rooted for their demise.

The pilot wasn't a flawless start. The show has a few kinks to work through, the biggest being the cast interactions. Some actors brought their best while others seemed to still be in the process of finding their groove. There were awkward moments and lines that didn't quite feel right to me, jokes and a few scenes that ultimately flopped (the interrogation room with the truth serum, for instance). I've read a few reviews from other Marvel fans that somehow expected Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to have the action of a blockbuster. Please, don't expect that. This is television, where the CGI isn't as advanced (this show probably has better CGI than most other shows), and the budget isn't as grand as a fully produced, 200 million dollar+ movie. If given enough time to develop, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has all the makings of becoming a stellar show, finely tuned for hardcore Marvel fans and the average viewer alike. It just needs a little tweaking.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sleepy Hollow Review (Spoiler Alert)

Last night I watched the premiere of Sleepy Hollow, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Throughout the pilot I likened the premise to shows like Supernatural and Castle, where Ichabod Crane, freshly awakened in the future after sleeping for over two hundred years, and a skeptic cop named Abbie Mills team up to solve supernatural mysteries in the town of Sleepy Hollow.

A lot of the charm of the show comes from the relationship between Ichabod and Abbie, as he's prone to make unintentionally rude comments such as, "Since when do women wear trousers," and, "You've been emancipated, I take it." More than the witches and demons and the yarn about the coming apocalypse, I found myself entertained by Tom Mison's portrayal of Ichabod as he adjusted to modern society yet maintained a calculative nature. He's more interested in the world and gadgets, asking about Starbucks across the street from one another and looking into a flashlight. I do hope this is a persistent aspect of the show, for Ichabod has more than two centuries of history, social changes, and technology to catch up on. There's a reverse Life on Mars feel to it, where Ichabod is thrust forward in time rather than back, and a lot can be explored as he comes to grips with the modern world that's so different from the one he left.

I thought Nicole Beharie was a good choice for the co-lead as well. The back and forth between Ichabod and her gave me a few laughs, even when they delivered lines that were full of cheese, and it's hard for a show that deals with headless killers and witches and the four horsemen of the apocalypse to not have cheesey or awkward lines, but the actors did enough for me to buy the premise and be entertained, including Orlando Jones, who plays a more serious role than I'm accustomed to seeing from him.

Neither is Sleepy Hollow on the level of shows like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, nor does it pretend to be. This is a show with action (a taste of what's to come was a quick showdown with a priest casting magic and the Headless Horseman sporting a shotgun) and a bit of mystery; it's sometimes dark, sometimes comedic. It's very much a show designed for pure entertainment, not introspection or a commentary on society, and if the viewer is looking for a faithful adaptation of Washington Irving's tale, this is not where to find it.

My one major complaint so far is that during the premiere they had two great actors, John Cho and Clancy Brown, that were killed off. There was little to no development with their characters, which means there was a brief window of mystery surrounding them, though I suspect Clancy Brown will be doing voiceovers throughout the series. It really irked me to have these characters introduced and killed by the Horseman almost right away. I feel as if it was a ploy to get people to watch the pilot by advertising a great cast, then having half that cast be nothing more than cameos. Of the six major characters shown in the first episode, half of them are gone--seems like a wasted opportunity to me.

All in all, the pilot was solid, and I'm a sucker for supernatural shows. While I could do with a little less of the cop show aspect, I look forward to new episodes and seeing where Sleepy Hollow takes me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mists of Pandaria: Patch 5.4 Review

Earlier this week, the last major patch for Mists of Pandaria released. A slew of changes and additions came with the final raid in Ogrimmar to bring down Garrosh Hellscream. Since the first section of LFR doesn't come out until this Tuesday, Connected Realms are still in a test phase and not yet implemented on dying servers such as mine, and my friends on another server went ahead and did a Flex Raid without me, I haven't had the chance to see the Siege of Orgrimmar raid yet, but there's plenty to do and see this patch in the meantime, unlike 5.3.

First and foremost, there's the Timeless Isle. It's a sandbox loaded with hidden treasure chests, mini-events, rares and elites that are sure to challenge even the most skilled and seasoned players,  five world bosses, and a pet battle tournament. In this modest-sized area, item level (ilvl) 496, bind-on-account gear drops like rain in Seattle. Within a couple of hours of landing on the Isle, I received enough loot to raise the ilvl of my alt Shaman and Lock to get them into Throne of Thunder LFR and raised my Hunter's ilvl enough to get him into the Siege of Orgrimmar LFR (once it releases), all while playing on my Druid and Mage, who are both ilvl 505+. Catch up on alts is easier than it has ever been. I've received so much gear for alts this weekend that I groan when a leather specific item drops, as I have no need for them anymore.

Any piece of gear found on the Isle can also be upgraded into ilvl 535 loot, should you collect 50,000 coins, which is accomplished by hunting down treasure chests, killing rares...well, killing just about anything you see on the Isle, including the opposing faction as well as your own faction. The latter has caused an uproar through the community, and I experienced the griefing firsthand. My server is predominately Horde, so I figured I could travel around unscathed while coin collecting. I was wrong, and I was killed repeatedly by my own faction. Some servers have countered the killing of your own faction via bans, guild kicks, and blacklists, but this isn't the case on all servers, and the forums are ripe with complaints.

The Isle has a reputation faction called Shahao Emperor as well, which I haven't done much with. I have avoided this grind because it requires killing hard-hitting elites. A group is basically required to kill scores of servants of Ordos and slowly, painstakingly grind that rep. It's an old school grind like killing pirates for cartel rep, and I've never been a fan of such endeavors. Maybe next expansion when the level cap is raised I'll return to the Isle to grind the rep, since the faction offers nothing more than vanity items.

And, of course, with a new area comes new battle pets to collect and fight. There are three types of moths found on the island in the wild, as well as eleven drops from rares. I have yet to nab a rare drop, but from what I've seen on Wowhead, they look interesting. There's also a crane found randomly in their nests, and a Hozen with boxing gloves found by opening chests in a cave, where a vendor named Kukuru appears to sell keys for coins. On top of that, four miniature versions of the celestials can be achieved through the tournament.

I dabbled with the Celestial Tournament, giving up quickly. I do not have enough of certain pet families to run through the gambit of battles in this scenario, for players are not allowed to heal their pets. Round One requires defeating three teams of three legendary pets. Round Two, still not being able to heal, requires taking on four legendary elites. To win the tournament, I'll have to level at least three of every family to 25, because the Round One compositions change week to week. Not being able to heal or revive pets against legendaries also means there's a lot of casualties during the course of the tournament, and it's doubtful a pet would be used more than once.

Speaking of casualties, I attempted the daily Lil' Oondasta pet battle and had my ass handed to me. He's legendary, elite, and hits like a truck, dealing chain attacks to the back row. Having only one mechanical pet at level 25, I need two more to even stand a chance against him.

There are other ways to spend time off the Timeless Isle, such as Proving Grounds. I reached gold ranking for DPS and was one wave from unlocking Endless, garnering achievements, and that's as much as one can gain with this scenario. It's a practice mode, which doesn't offer titles or vanity items. For the most part, it was interesting and fun, yet I wish Blizzard had done more with it.

Though the new PVP season doesn't start until next week, I've played a good portion of battlegrounds. There were a lot of class changes for 5.4, and they were evident early on. I've already given up on my Boomie for PVP, deciding to focus on my Mage until Balance's mobility is improved. At this point, I may switch to my Mage full-time, and I'm growing exceedingly tired of the constant changes to classes. Having not played my Lock for months, it was frustrating returning to him and having to relearn my specs. Back and forth, the classes never seem to balance out. They continue to change and some of those changes are head-scratchers, such as making Boomies less of a DoT-spam class and more hard-casting, stationary fodder or putting a Mage's Ice Floes into stacks, making their combat clunky, or removing Destruction's ability to refresh Immolate with Fel Flame, forcing reapplication, as well as nerfing their mobility. Seriously, why is it so difficult for Blizzard to balance classes? They alter the course of every spec every patch with different design philosophies; the developers need to make up their minds about what they want out of every spec, stick to that decision, and solidify the playstyle, then scale damage, healing, etc. from there, not flip-flop with every single iteration of the game--it's infuriating. Oh, and I'd be extremely grateful if they'd ditch hard-casting all together and allowed every spell to be cast on the move the way it is in Guild Wars 2.

In 5.4, a bunch of glyphs were added. Many of them are minor glyphs with cosmetic changes like turning my Mage's Water Elemental to a meaner-looking Unbound Elemental, so scribes should be busy. They won't, however, be as busy as other crafters. Once again, Blizzard introduced a new set of daily cooldowns with scores of recipes learned via grinding and crafting mats. The best additions I have seen are for Engineers, who can craft two unique pets and an amazing mount called a Sky Golem that not only looks similar to a Shredder, it flies and can harvest while mounted. I look forward to owning one, for its mats aren't crazy or expensive but they do take a month of daily cooldowns to obtain.

Overall, I'm moderately pleased with 5.4. I feel as if I will be happier once I start raiding in the near future or can at least get my characters into LFR. Once my server is connected to another and healthier, I may even be ecstatic for a while, but I have to wonder how long the glow of a new patch will last. The upcoming transition into another expansion is going to be crucial to the continued longevity of WoW, because like myself, players tear through content quicker than before, and if we're still raiding Orgrimmar six months to a year from now, as we did in Dragon Soul, few of us will be happy...assuming we're still around.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Marvel Heroes: Patch 1.2 Review

As of yesterday, Patch 1.2 launched for Gazillion's ARPG MMO Marvel Heroes, and it's their largest yet, bringing a slew of changes. While the patch arrived a few days later than its expected time (it was supposed to be the large August patch), it went through without the problems of previous additions. There were a few hours of maintenance then servers went back up, nothing close to the debacle of the last patch, which was released, reverted, and released days later for a second time.

Once logged in, I immediately went to my highest level hero, Human Torch, and changed his setting, for Patch 1.2 introduced two new difficulties for Story Mode: Heroic and Superheroic. The enemies in these modes are tougher with more health, more damage, and new affixes, designed for higher level heroes, and they have a higher rate of loot and special drops, as well as currency; throughout four chapters of Superheroic, I've received scores of epics, cosmics, relics, crafting mats, and roughly 250k in credits (Marvel Heroes' in-game currency).

Players that haven't been on in a while are probably wondering what relics are. They are a new gear slot added this patch. A total of seven different types drop at a fairly regular pace, offering a bonus in stats. There are melee or ranged power boosts, health  and speed boosts, spirit and thorns, and leeching, all of which stack from 1 to 999 per hero. It's going to take the casual gamer such as myself a good deal of time to gather 999, so, in a way, this new system reminds me of the Paragon used in Diablo 3.

Also reminding me of Diablo 3 (other than the new format of blue and yellow aura mobs that are reminiscent of Champions), is the introduction of Uniques. These brown lettered pieces of rare gear that are loaded with stats--sounds like a Legendary, right?--are either tailored for specific heroes or universal. While I haven't received one yet, I have seen screenshots of a few that look interesting. For instance, there's a SHIELD Enhanced Biosuit or Wolverine's Bone Claws, and they have amazing stats...along with unique buffs/debuffs such as losing health or taking damage when dealing damage or summoning health orbs. I can't wait to get one.

On top of the new loot and what appears to be an increase to the rate of splinter drops, Emma Frost was added to the Hero Roster. I haven't saved enough splinters to purchase her yet, but I've seen a lot of players running around as her. One of her main abilities is mind-controlling enemies and making them a pet. The only limitation I have seen on this ability is that supervillains can't be controlled; everything from symbiotes to evil Cyclops to robots and dinosaurs are fair game, and if you capture an enemy with an aura, they keep that aura and buff you along with your group. At this point, I'm a little tired of the stream of X-Men. There's a total of eight of them, a third of the roster, and there are two more in the works (Gambit and Nightcrawler), so I won't be purchasing Emma. As someone said on the forums, "Why not call the game X-Men Legends 3 and get it over with?" So many heroes to choose from: Ant-Man, Reed Richards, Invisible Woman, She-Hulk, Ghost Rider, Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Adam Warlock, etc. and they're hurrying on more X-Men--I don't get it.

There were game performance updates, though I can't really tell what they were. I believe they had to do with graphics, yet I'd rather the game run smoother than look prettier. In high traffic areas, it gets laggy for me, especially when I click on a crafter or quest giver. I can't tell if the problem is my PC, which can run any game on the market with no problem, or Marvel Heroes.

Defense, dodge, crit, and damage were all revamped. The numbers on gear went higher. Breaking points and diminishing returns were added. While powers were amped synergies were nixed to allow players more freedom in their builds. When all is said and done in this department, these fixes to the game are welcome, but there are still heroes in desperate need of attention. The devs are aware, and weaker heroes that weren't improved this time around have overhauls coming in the following weeks.

For endgame, level 60 terminals were added. I don't quite understand their inclusion. From level 20 and up, which is forty levels, players are forced into terminals or Story Mode, both of which are essentially the same zones. There really hasn't been any additions in the form of new content, other than a couple new missions and Midtown Patrol (endless dungeon). Playing one or several heroes, low level or maxed, you're doing the same thing over and over with few differences, mostly differences relying on difficulty. It's not appealing and part of what drove many players away from Diablo 3. Hopefully the release of the X-Mansion event will be the start of new content.

Also, I have my fingers crossed the devs are analyzing the leveling process. Level 20+ is a nightmarish grind, and the redistribution of XP needed for all levels is horrendous. I've given up on all my other heroes due to how long the lower levels take now, so this morning I spent 4 hours--half an hour of that I had an experience boost potion on--to grind from level 49 to level 50; I completed half of Superheroic mode. At that rate, I will be level 52, at best, when I complete the hardest mode in the game. That means I'll be back in terminals for a minimum of 32 hours just to max out and then only have the option of doing more terminals at max level. Just thinking about it makes me cringe.

Marvel Heroes has come a long way since its June 4th launch, and Patch 1.2 is definitely a huge step in the right direction, but the developers still have a long way to go to make it one of the most addicting and fun games on the market. As of today, I find myself in that peculiar zone I was in while playing Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2, that place where I have to ask, "Am I still having fun and have I seen and done everything the game has to offer?"

Patch 1.2 breathed new life into Marvel Heroes; will it last?



Saturday, August 31, 2013

Old School Gaming

When I lived in Denver I was struggling to get by, and as a result, I had to sell my Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Playstation 2, and my huge collection of games. It was not a happy moment, and I wish I had been able to hold on to them. I enjoy older games immensely. On my Xbox 360, I've been able to round up a few titles that I lost: all my Sonic games, Turtles in Time, Phantasy Star II, and Ms. Pac Man, but that's not even a 16th of my collection.

In the past month or so, I nabbed Final Fantasy VII off Steam, and I received a Playstation 2 from one of my friends. Since receiving the Playstation, I have started to collect a lot of the games I'd lost, and I've almost completely forgotten about my Xbox 360. I plan to buy back all the games I parted with, for I have too much fun on older games not to.

Between nabbing Rogue Galaxy and Gauntlet: Dark Legacy this week, I purchased Warcraft III on my PC (I have my fingers crossed Blizzard might rerelease Warcraft II one day, as it's my favorite RTS game). I've been flooded with memories, but nostalgia isn't the only reason to enjoy an older game. While the graphics aren't going to blow anyone away, I find the stories to be richer than current games. I find the older games have unique, interesting characters. I also find a lot of the older games to be longer than their current releases in the franchise, especially with the open world style of previous Final Fantasies, and they have highly addictive though simplistic gameplay.

If I owned a Wii, my first purchase wouldn't have been a game loaded with eye candy. I would have bought Kid Icarus, maybe my favorite old school game of all-time, and I would have played that game hundreds of times over. Every time my sister and brother-in-law tell me they barely use their Wii, I try to convince them to give it to me or sell me it just for Kid Icarus. As I've said before, Wii has the greatest collection of old games, everything from Super Mario to Chrono Trigger to Mario RPG. With so many classic titles at my disposal, I probably would never have bought a single new release on the Wii, and it really does frustrate me when friends say they use their Wii for just Netflix or videos. I always respond, "You bought a gaming console to do everything but play games?" If only Wii had new, more adult releases on par with Xbox or Playstation, I'd purchase it in a heartbeat.

I would be in gamer heaven if companies found a quick and easy way to rerelease older titles across platforms, whether they updated the graphics or not, so long as the charm and gameplay of the original was not altered at all. Currently, I don't think it's feasible. It might not even be profitable, which is why I think companies stray from this and usually only release classic games that were extremely popular.

A lot of people talk about how they'd travel around the world or buy huge mansions if they won the lottery. Not me. I might buy a house, but within that house I'd build the largest, greatest collection of games money can buy; there would be shelves lined with games, a TV for each system, and classic arcade games. And, of course, if someone did get lucky and beat my high score at Ms. Pac Man, it'd have to be unplugged and reset...


Friday, August 23, 2013

Ben Affleck Named as Batman

When I first heard about the sequel to Man of Steel including Batman, I was excited. I thought DC was making the right move rebooting the Dark Knight in what sounded like a storyline that would be loosely based around Frank Miller's work, where I'd see the Bat and Superman go toe to toe, possibly witness kryptonite gloves, and an epic showdown; it initially appeared a Justice League movie was not only a possibility but a foregone conclusion.

Then I began speculating who would be Batman. Would Snyder bring in new blood? Would he find a lesser known actor similar to the way he did with Cavill, who I really had no clue about until I saw Man of Steel. Would he use Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which a lot of fans of Nolan's Batman were rooting for?

Well, I received my answer this morning as I woke with a hangover from a birthday celebration. Part of me wanted to believe that I was still drunk from the night before and imagining Ben Affleck was named Batman. The disaster that was Daredevil is still fresh on my mind, and I have to wonder about this project, because Affleck has portrayed a masked superhero before and I was not impressed.

Keep in mind, I do not blame Affleck for the Daredevil movie. That blame rests upon an awful script and an equally awful director, both the work of Mark Steven Johnson. There wasn't a single actor in Daredevil that gave a compelling performance, and Colin Farrell's Bullseye was the worst of the film, including Garner as Elektra and Michael Duncan Clarke as the Kingpin. The sets and even the soundtrack were bad, so, unjustly, Affleck, who starred as The Man With No Fear and was essentially the face of the film, takes the blame from all the rabid fans.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't apprehensive of Affleck as Batman due to what I saw in Daredevil. I'm not sure he can pull off Bruce Wayne, but I was also one of the people left scratching my head when I heard Heath Ledger would be the Joker. The big difference between the two is that I had not seen Ledger in a movie as either a superhero or villain, so I had nothing to base an opinion on, and until I started seeing stills from the set, I was uneasy. Nolan and Ledger, of course, proved all the naysayers wrong. Ledger had the best performance of his life, in my opinion.

Can lightning strike twice? Did Nolan, who is producing the Man of Steel sequel, and Snyder see something in Affleck the rest of us aren't capable of? Will our outrage be thrown back in our faces, when stills and clips and trailers start to release? I will say this much, Affleck at least has the rugged qualities similar to how Batman is depicted in the comics, especially the jaw.

The concern rests in his ability to portray Bruce Wayne for me. As I saw another fan write, "I always thought it best if they casted for Bruce Wayne, not Batman." Affleck has been in movies I enjoyed, such as Good Will Hunting, Phantoms, and The Town, so I can only hope he surprises us all. Otherwise, if Batman/Bruce Wayne is not portrayed to the level of Bale or Keaton and is more like Clooney's version, this film is already dead in the water.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mists of Pandaria: Patch 5.4: Siege of Orgimmar Trailer



It's about that time for the final patch of Mists of Pandaria, and with it comes the release of this epic trailer. Truthfully, I haven't been playing much; my realm is in shambles and barren since the transfer sale, and I can't bring myself to grind LFR or level my last two characters to 90, which are the only things really left to me at this point, but, "Every time I think I'm out...they bring me back in."

As soon as I saw Taran Zhu appear on the bridge, I was ready to start raiding, because I had a feeling he was going to die or at least suffer a major wound. Garrosh has got to go, and seeing all the ships with both crimson and blue sails approaching Ogrimmar, I got excited. I really think this is the best patch trailer--not to be confused with the cinematics--for the game thus far. It did its job getting me interested in the game again and amped for the final confrontation of the expansion.

I don't even know as much as I should about what's coming in 5.4--that's how little I've played and kept up on the PTR. Most of my time has been spent either at work, with friends and family, or enjoying a mix of other games, but I think it's good and healthy to take breaks from WoW, and it brings me back feeling fresh and ready to take down a tyrant.

I've been patiently waiting to kill Garrosh for a long, long time. I have even more of a reason now: avenging Taran Zhu. He was my favorite Pandaren.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Ender's Game and Thor: Dark World Trailers


Here's the latest trailer for Ender's Game, and it offers a peek at a zero-gravity battle as well as some of the space fights. So far, I think it's shaping up to be faithful to the book; the question remains whether or not the director and writers will explore the characters and develop them, instead of overloading the viewer with CGI and explosions.

One thing that bugs me about the trailer is the huge spoiler. The biggest reveal in the book is that the final "test" for Ender turns out to be a real battle, not a simulation. Not only does the trailer say it plain, they show parts of that particular space fight. I have to wonder if this was done because they're trying to appeal to readers that already know the ending. If so, I'd say it worked. If not, it's just dumb; why show the biggest surprise before anyone even sits down in a theater? As is always the case, not everyone interested in the film will have read the book.


Well, there were some things added to the new trailer that weren't in the first one, and I have to admit I'm very disappointed they decided to show me a shortened version of the entire movie. Just based on this, I'm going to guess the order of the movie goes: Dark Elves invade London, Thor saves the day, Thor enlists the aid of Loki to hunt the Elves and take out Malekith the Accursed, then Loki betrays Thor and joins Malekith to take on Odin and his family--ultimately, Thor saves Asgard and probably Jane Foster (I doubt Hollywood has the guts to kill her off and give Thor a monumental dilemma, in that he failed as a superhero). That's my guess, based only on the trailer. In a few months, I'll check back to see if I'm right, because, regardless of how much I think I know, I'll still go to this movie.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Marve Heroes: Patch 1.11 Review

After three days of struggling to implement the latest patch for Marvel Heroes (the servers were down were a bulk of that time), it has finally released. During that three days, I downloaded roughly 15GB: the initial patch that failed, the revert to the old patch, then the new patch again, so it was lucky for me I had recently picked up Kingdom of Amalur and had something else to play on my days off, instead of hounding Gazillion on the forums.

Human Torch, a.k.a. Johnny Storm, arrived with the patch, the first of many heroes to be released post-launch. From what I've been hearing and reading he seems to be a success, outside of a few bugs that have lingered from the test servers. He looks fun to play with a self heal, damage reduction, mobility, medium to high dps, and loads of sarcasm; he might even have funnier lines than Deadpool. Many players are hesitant to purchase him right away, and I don't blame them. The main concern is he'll be nerfed or altered after the devs see how he plays on live servers.

*Update: I realized this morning I had enough Gs saved on my account from when they compensated players to pick up Human Torch. Wow, he's insanely fun to play. I haven't found a bad attack on him yet, as most of them are fiery, aoe explosions (that includes an aoe attack that leaves the Fantastic Four symbol on the ground), so it appears he's going to have a lot of different builds. Plus, his movement animation is flying, something I wish Iron Man had. To top that off, he has a still-glitchy ability called Flame On that leaves a devastating trail of fire in his wake and also increases his speed. Safe to say, Iron Man and the rest of my heroes are being shelved. Human Torch is now my main.

Luckily, unless you're in a hurry, there's no reason to purchase a hero with real-world money. Ever. The biggest change in this patch is how players obtain new heroes. The random drop system, which was a nightmare (I ended up with only Cyclops as an original drop after 170 hours worth of play and 48% special find), has been thrown away. Instead, eternity splinters were introduced. They are a form of currency that drops at a steady click, and 200 - 600 splinters allow you to purchase the hero of your choosing. While it sounds like a high number, a dedicated, hardcore player could probably snag at least one hero a week. For me, who plays roughly eight to ten hours a week, I'll probably have a new hero in a month. Yesterday, I earned 25 splinters in a couple of hours while switching between leveling Cyclops and doing endgame on Iron Man.

There were a few additions to Story Mode in the patch but not enough to get me crazed about the game the way I was when it first released. I'm still a little bored with leveling new heroes, even after completing a new quest that involved fighting Venom's symbiotes in a NYC building. Gazillion would do well to add interesting quests and small villain stories such as this to liven up the low level experience, and I'm sure they plan to, yet that was not their main concern this time around.

Patch 1.11 was focused on a platform overhaul, and the improvements were noticeable the moment I joined a brand new endless dungeon called Midtown Patrol. As of this moment, I'm actually capable of group content without excessive lag, and Midtown Patrol, which replaced Limbo, might be my favorite piece of endgame. In it, players wander around Manhatten while swarms of mobs with accompanying mini-bosses appear. Eventually, supervillains appear, and they tend to arrive in supervillain groups. It gets a little crazy with nine or so players taking down Rhino, Wizard, and Bullseye or Magneto, the Blob, and Lady Deathstrike all at the same time. The best part of the new group terminal is players can come and go as they please. There's no timer or threat meter. You join, fight, and when you decide to do something else, you leave without punishment or feeling as if you're missing something.

Also, Gazillion tossed Bitraider for a new launcher. I was fed up with Bitraider before I fully downloaded the game before launch, switching to Steam, and from the countless complaints on Facebook and the forums, I'm not surprised they found something else. From what I've seen, there have been a few kinks but players seem to enjoy the new launcher more.

Possibly my favorite part of the patch is materials for crafting finally stack. I have three times the room in my storage than I did a few days ago due to this much needed change, and I'm no longer stressed or suspicious that Gazillion is trying to herd me into purchasing more space. They added more artifacts and cosmic gear that drop in the game, as well as items, such as potions, pets, and costumes, to the store, but I believe I'm beyond purchasing anything else...unless they release Silver Surfer.

Heroes were either revamped or completely ignored this time around, depending on which hero you play. I'm sure the developers will continue to balance them, but part of what frustrates me about this game is playing as Iron Man and feeling useless. By the time I clear a couple henchmen, heroes like Cyclops and Storm have cleared out an entire room with one attack. For one of the upper tiers of heroes, meaning one of the most expensive to obtain, it's confusing that Iron Man is so weak. On the forums, the compliments about his talent trees and abilities are few and far between, if present at all. As an example, he has an entire tree dedicated to shields, which after the shield bug fix, makes a lot of them worthless; Iron Man needs to be reworked, as do some other heroes.

All in all, Patch 1.11 is a major step in the right direction. Gameplay performance improved, as well as the UI. Heroes are chattier and faster in the hubs. Chat functions improved. Even small things like damage numbers appearing (if you toggle it) add much needed customization--for some reason, seeing my damage on the screen keeps me entertained, helps me adjust tactics and abilities. When scrolling over a terminal daily, there's a pop-up added that informs you whether or not you can earn a cube shard for the day; patch by patch, Marvel Heroes continues to improve.

I hope they can keep the current pace and start concentrating on adding new content, especially in Story Mode.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I Suck at Fighting Games

Today I bought Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition, because I was in the mood for a style of game I haven't played in years, and no sooner had I turned it on and started going through the ladder did I come to the realization that'd I'd been denying for years: I suck at fighting games.

I struggle with combos. I forget my block button exists. I can barely execute special attacks, and the one thing I want to see the most, because I loved it so much in the original, Fatalities, I can't perform to save my life. Even the simple fatalities are out of my reach, causing my character to appear to be having a seizure...when not jumping around wildly. No matter how hard I try or how many hours I sink into this genre, I never get better.

Mortal Kombat is the only fighting game I have purchased for my Xbox 360. On some level, I've always known how terrible I am. I never pumped quarters into Street Fighter or Tekken at the arcade growing up. I watched my friends play Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat 2, but I never joined them. If I had a friend over, we usually took turns against the computer, because I knew it was a waste of time to play another person.

Fighting games are my kryptonite, and because I'm so bad, they make me angry. They make me furious. In a rage, I once snapped Soulcalibur 3 in half when trying to progress through Chronicles Mode. After that moment of shame, I steered clear from all fighting games for years, yet I couldn't resist Mortal Kombat.

I have very fond memories of the original and its sequel. I don't think I'd ever seen blood in a video game until then. The new Mortal Kombat captures the original well while still hosting an expansive list of playable characters from the franchise and beyond, including Freddy Krueger.

Unfortunately, as amazing as the game is with its different modes and challenges and unlockables, I'm downright terrible. I just spent a forty-five minute session cursing at my TV, unable to win against Shao Kahn. Let me be clear, there's little to nothing wrong with the new Mortal Kombat. The only problem is my inability, even after Training Mode and two hours of practice, to do anything even remotely exciting with the characters.

Though I won't be returning the game, too stubborn to admit defeat, I think it's about time I do the right thing and stop buying fighting games. If I haven't improved in this genre after twenty years, it's safe to say this is not my genre. Despite the temptations I had earlier this week, I will forgo Injustice.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gaming Frenzy

In between yard work, odd jobs around the house, and work, I've taken advantage of Steam's annual summer sale. I now have more video games on my computer than I know what to do with, and it's a crazy feeling. Every time I sit down to play something, I look at my new list and can't decide; I dabble a little on each and move to the next game, waiting for one of them to consume me.

So far, Orcs Must Die 2 is the frontrunner. I held off on making this purchase until I saw it listed for around three dollars, skeptical that I would be able to transition from the original on Xbox 360 to my computer, but after the intro level, I felt at home with the controls. I would say the controls are even smoother on the PC than a console, making weapon switches in the middle of combat a breeze. This sequel has the same look and feel as the original with slight changes to the leveling system. Rather than skill trees, points are allotted into weapons, traps, trinkets, and costumes, the costumes being purely cosmetic. There's also an additional character called a sorceress with different traps and builds. The result accommodates a wide array of play styles, co-op, mass orc killing, and a whole lot of replayability--it surpassed my expectations.

As a gift from a friend, I tried the Indie title The Binding of Isaac. Right away I noticed the similarity between this game and the Legend of Zelda. It incorporates a dungeon system almost identical to Zelda in appearance (with blood stains) and movement, with locking doors, bombs, keys, and frustrating boss battles. Though the game appears to be simple, it's very dependent on luck and skill. To take down Mother, who wants to sacrifice Isaac to God, one must study the patterns of twisted enemies, gather the best weapons and items, have keen reflexes, and cross your fingers the randomized system doesn't stick you with junk early on.

While scouring Steam for sales (I got my eye on FF VII), I downloaded DOTA 2. I've heard about this franchise over the years but never played. I'm a newb, still running through the training levels and trying to decide what hero suits me the best. There's a ridiculous amount to choose from, and each one that I've used has played differently. Despite the game appearing to have simple team objectives, the simulated runs that I've done against bots are complex and layered. I'm not confident enough to join other players, having heard the community is harsh on people that don't know what they're doing.

I'm logging into Marvel Heroes as well, though the fever is nearly gone. This morning Cyclops dropped for me, and it's the first hero I've obtained that I didn't already own--I've received six Iron Man while using Iron Man and two Hawkeye while using Hawkeye and no costumes. My problem is due to the repetitiveness of the endgame; it's instanced versions of Story Mode, so when I received Cyclops part of my thrill dissipated when I realized I would have to trudge through Story Mode a sixth time with zero new content and no surprises. The developers are still balancing the heroes, ironing out bugs, and improving systems like crafting and random drops, so nothing has been added. Though they've stated they have plans for new zones, heroes, etc. I don't know how long it will take them. Other than new costumes I think cost too much to purchase, the content is roughly the same as it was a month and a half ago when it released--I'm considering shelving Marvel Heroes until there's additions to run my low level heroes through.

The only disappointment I've had this week is my purchase of Final Fantasy XIII-2, which I returned this morning after twenty hours of play. I'm a huge fan of the Final Fantasy franchise. Until the release of XIII, I never thought there would be a bad title, and I'd heard amazing things about its sequel. Unfortunately, it was not what I was looking for. The game is too linear; I miss the enormous open world exploration of the older Final Fantasy installments. The story and music were dull, as were the borderline-generic characters, and I wasn't compelled by the fighting or leveling systems at all--less automation and more choice would be preferred. The graphics were amazing, but that's about the only compliment I can give it. What I find even more boggling is that another installment of XIII is near to release. If any Final Fantasy titles were worthy of sequels, it would be Final Fantasy III (American), VII, VIII, or IX; I'd even take updated versions of them or a compilation over another yarn based off XIII.

In exchange for Final Fantasy XIII-2, I snagged the Game of the Year Edition of Dead Island. I'm not sure how it's going to be, but I plan to start playing sometime tonight, when I can turn off all the lights and create a dark atmosphere in my room. Until then, I'll be juggling my new purchases.

Happy gaming!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Man of Steel Review (Spoiler Alert)

I just returned from Man of Steel, and the whole ride home all I could think was, "This movie was trashed for no reason." Just to be upfront about my history with Superman, he was not one of my favorite heroes. I wouldn't even call myself a huge DC fan, other than Batman. To me, a lot of the DC comics weren't dark enough. I have a total of ten Superman comics in my collection, most of which pertain to his death and battle with Doomsday. The old Christopher Reeves movies were not really my thing either. Though I thought he portrayed a perfect Clark Kent, especially the hokey, humorous aspects, I always felt there was something lacking when Reeves came out of the phone booth.

When I started reading reviews calling Man of Steel too dark and too action-packed, I realized this Superman movie could be the version for me. The critics and disgruntled fans were not wrong, yet what they hated about the movie are the aspects I loved. The movie was dark, bordering on a Batman-style tale. It was action-packed--finally, Director Zack Snyder progressed beyond his slow-motion crutch, and it was thrilling to watch. Like the cartoons I used to watch, Superman did on film what I've always wanted him to do; he tossed villains through buildings, was smashed and thumped and came back for more, and, in the ensuing battles, destroyed towns. As Superman's origins unfolded, I fretted there wasn't going to be the action I craved. I thought I was going to watch another two hours of a man in tights flying around with his love interest. Seriously, I couldn't be happier with the action sequences--they reminded me of Dragon Ball Z fights.

Henry Cavill, who I'd only seen in the Immortals and Count of Monte Cristo (when he was younger), was a great choice to play Kal-El. Not only does he look the part, he has talent and nailed the scenes where he had to emotionally scream. It sounds like a weird thing to notice, but those screams can go horribly awry. Don't believe me? Watch Revenge of the Sith, when Vader dons his suit, or Donnie Darko, when Drew Barrymore gets fired.

I would go as far as to say I approve of most of the casting, from Russell Crowe as Jor-El to Laurence Fishburne, who played Perry White. Michael Shannon was an interesting Zod, and, despite my apprehension, Kevin Costner soared as Jonathon Kent. I'm a fan of Christopher Meloni as well, so seeing him in a summer blockbuster where he was more than a cameo was satisfying. Another fan mentioned to me Jax-Ur was in the film, played by Mackenzie Gray. I had to look it up on IMDB for confirmation, but the bald Kryptonian was Jax. Maybe he'll reappear in a later movie as a more prominent villain. Something else that struck me was that I was fascinated by Antje Traue's Faora-Ul, maybe even more than Zod; she was easy on the eyes, quite sinister, and was involved in stellar action sequences.

If there's one major complaint I have it was Amy Adams as Louis Lane. She had great lines; something was missing in her delivery. There wasn't enough sass, and her chemistry with Cavill was lacking in a painfully obvious way. The love story was almost nonexistent, but I feel it's something that can and will be explored in later installments, along with Clark Kent.

*Spoilers*

Superman's infamous alter ego is absent from the movie to a large degree. We see Kal-El grow and develop his powers along with his morals via flashbacks, yet nerdy Kent is more of the pay off in this movie, along with a sly line from Louis, welcoming him to the planet...cough...the Daily Planet. I enjoyed this particular ending, because it wonderfully destroys the long-running joke about no one being able to recognize Kent as Superman due to his glasses. The other day I heard Jerry Seinfeld on Howard Stern quote another comedian that had said, "If your friend put on glasses, would you suddenly be unable to recognize them?"

*Major Spoiler*

Perhaps it's just me, but I was shocked when Superman snapped Zod's neck. It's not something I expected from the Big Blue Boy Scout. Like Batman, he's supposed to be opposed to violence no matter what, and the lead in to that scene, Zod yelling, "This ends with either you or I dead," was cheesy. The major reason why I didn't let the death bother me is because I remember Superman II, where Superman not only kills Zod and his cohorts, he does it without regret after they've been stripped of their powers and are harmless. At least in this version, he's torn up about what he's done, and he's forced into it.

When all is said and done, I believe Man of Steel is a milestone. It's the first step in the Superman franchise that I've been waiting for. I've heard and read a lot of complaints ranging from the soundtrack, which I really liked even though it didn't have a hint of the old theme, and Snyder spending too much time on Krypton, another part of the movie I found intriguing, so I know my opinion isn't going to be popular, yet I want a trilogy where everyone cast in this movie, aside from Amy Adams if she can't step up her game, to continue in their roles under Snyder's direction and Nolan's production, and I want a new villain, one we've never seen before. I want Brainiac or Darkseid and a trilogy that ends with a confrontation with Doomsday. If they revert to the stale format of Lex Luther, despite how much I enjoyed this film, I'd probably sit the next installment out. I don't mind Lex as a secondary antagonist, but I couldn't sit through another two hours of him as the main villain.

Man of Steel, however, I could watch over and over...and I plan to.





Thursday, July 11, 2013

Under the Dome Review

I've thought long and hard about what to say about this CBS miniseries, but now that I've reached my three episode decision point, I think I've finally come to one conclusion: this is not a good miniseries.

Normally, I can abide changes. I usually defend changes and expect adaptations to contain them, but unlike other adaptations, such as The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, or other works by Stephen King, the alterations don't work; they're not improvements on the story at all. They don't capture the essence of the novel; they tell a different tale entirely, with what feels like different characters.

For instance, the entire series opens with Barbie burying a corpse. It's a man he murdered, who we find out later had an unloaded gun. In the book, Barbie is former military with a distaste for violence. He fought when he had to, in defense. He was the hero, a white knight of sorts. He wasn't an enforcer or murderer or whatever it is they're trying to make him into in this series. Most often, he was a victim of circumstance, caught in the wrong place. In the series, he's a bit of a villain. He even lies. I don't think I can even refer to him as an anti-hero or a flawed hero at this point in the story. While these changes might seem insignificant they change the entire course of the series and his character. When Barbie in the show says, "I don't want any trouble," I find myself scratching my head--he has already murdered someone, is covering it up, and that's the epitome of trouble.

For decades, Stephen King complained about the character changes made to Jack Torrence in Kubrick's The Shining (I love what Nicholson did), so he's well aware what it means to alter them in drastic fashion. It can go horribly wrong. That's what has happened in this series. Pivotal characters are either outside the dome or nothing like what they were in the book, everyone from Barbie to the DJ to Big Jim. The villains of the book are not intimidating in the series; Junior is downright laughable--having watched House at the End of the Street a week ago, it's all I can think of when there are scenes of Angie chained to a bed underground--and wearing a hoodie does not make Junior scary.

On top of a lot of added clich├ęs that weren't in the novel, the acting is stale, a lot of times it's emotionless, and the dialogue is atrocious. Sometimes, I wonder if I'm watching a WB drama when the characters have heart to hearts. I half expected Big Jim and Barbie to hug it out last episode. I must say, despite an awful script, Mike Vogel and Dean Norris appear to be the lone actors bringing anything interesting to the show, yet they can't save this sinking ship.

The rising tension, edginess, and creepiness of the novel did not translate into the show, not in the slightest--it's watered down and pitiful. I find myself oftentimes chortling or scoffing, yet I can't look away. I know I'm going to stick through the miniseries up to its end. I know it'll be torturous, and I'll rant on the forums. I'll bitch like a book snob until I'm red in the face, and I'll continue to be a fan of Stephen King. After all, nothing can lessen my love for the novel--Under the Dome is one of the greatest pieces of literature he has ever written. In some ways though, I might have lost a pinch of reverence. I can't help it; I'm baffled that Mr. King signed off on this script. I really am.

Friday, July 5, 2013

World of Warcraft: Surviving Low Pop

A few weeks ago, Blizzard had a half off sale on faction and realm transfers. The net result on my server was a mass exodus; we lost 9 of our top 10 raiding guilds for both factions and what appears to be half of our population, dropping from medium population to low population almost overnight. I finally understand why there have been so many complaint threads about server mergers the past couple expansions: being on low pop is boring.

There is good news, though. In 5.4, Virtual Realms will be introduced. While they're not called mergers they will basically act as mergers. Low population realms will be linked. The auction house and trade of a few servers will be combined, and players will be allowed to join each other's guilds and raids, as well as see each other in towns and whatnot. The sneaky part of Virtual Realms is that it will allow mergers without forcing name changes, because players from other realms will have an asterisk next to their name. Farming rares is easy, too. There's less competition, and almost every time I seek one in Pandaria, it's up and untagged.

Until the day of Virtual Realms arrives, however, one must survive in low pop where raiding anything other than LFR is seemingly impossible--I can't even find two other people for heroic scenarios most times. In the meanwhile, I have been farming in Pandaria and stocking mats for when the auction houses are linked and there will actually be things to buy/sell. It's not the most exciting part of the game, but it's definitely worth it. Personally, I like to turn the volume off in WoW and play music lists on my computer to alleviate the monotony.

There is also Brawler's Guild, which I have been grinding away on. I have raised a couple of my characters to level 6 or beyond, but I've been snagged on a couple of fights until I can boost my gear a little bit. It's more difficult than it needs to be to increase in item level and DPS, thereby progressing through Brawler's Guild faster, when there's no way to enter to a normal or heroic raid.

Another way to kill time is finishing leveling characters. As of today, I have a rogue and monk that I still need to get through Pandaria to 90. With the nerfs to experience, I'm hoping to have at least one, if not both, at 90 by the release of 5.4, though I highly doubt I will use my rogue beyond hitting level cap; it's still the one class I know I'm not good at, don't enjoy, and have no interest in learning about. I'm a bit OCD, so having one of each class at max level is a concern of mine; having them all pimped out in epics is not.

Though I can't find rated teams for battlegrounds, I still queue for the random battlegrounds. It's enough of a distraction to keep my mind off my barren server, rack up some honor, and a little conquest. In fact, I've done so many random battlegrounds on my druid he has half a tyrannical set, including weapon, without ever doing a rated or arena.

Lastly, I have spent a lot of time with pet battles. In the past couple weeks, I have farmed old raids with at least five characters per week and managed to collect each of the pets that drop, along with their achievements, and the reward pets: Tito and Mr. Bigglesworth. I also scored a rare Qiraji Guardling from Silithus and earned the Zookeeper title. I've done so much pet battling this expansion, I'm running out of achievements; about the only thing I have left are PVP pet battles, which I have yet to really get into.

So that's what I've been up to in Azeroth as I wait on 5.4 and hope Virtual Realms save my server. There's really not much else to do, unless I pay for a transfer. My one concern is that my server will be overlooked or not included in the Virtual Realms. Should that happen and I continue to be stuck on a dead realm for the Siege of Orgrimmar I may have to call it quits. The game is just not that appealing to me when there's no one else around.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Taunting A Gorilla

I was perusing the Internet this morning, when I came across this video:


It depicts school children at the Dallas zoo taunting a gorilla. One of the kids waves his arms around and yells, "You ugly!" For some reason, the video really got on my nerves. I think what bothers me the most is that the parent or teacher recording the incident did not stop the children and try to explain to them that it's not right to act this way in a zoo...or toward any sort of wildlife.

Is it a sign of our times? Was there more to the video we didn't get to see? Maybe the parents did, in fact, say something to the children afterwards, but going on the video alone, it would seem the parents or teacher had as much of a laugh about the taunts as the children.

Irks me.

I remember as a child going to petting zoos, my friend's farm, and whatnot and looking at animals in awe. I was also a little afraid of them, especially the large ones, even cows. While I'm not sure if that's something my parents taught me or something that was always there, I've always been inclined to respect and marvel at nature. What I do know for sure is screaming and taunting anything in public around my parents would've resulted in some sort of immediate reprimand.

I can only hope the twinge of fear that gorilla put in these children will make them think twice the next time they taunt. In other words, I hope a lesson was learned, though I can't imagine anything was learned the way they immediately start pointing and laughing at its rear...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Random Thoughts

Microsoft Word's Table of Contents feature in the 2013 version is infuriating. I've been trying to get my book ready to sell on the Kindle, and the only thing holding me back is a Table of Contents. For starters, there's only two templates available to me. Secondly, the program only allows a total of 9 lines in a Table of Contents, when I need at least 20. I've been going crazy trying to get it to work the way I need it to.

In between fiddling with Word, I've been playing more Marvel Heroes. I'm on the verge of quitting. I've leveled all four of my unlocked characters to 20 - 40 without receiving a single hero or costume drop, so I refuse to give Gazillion any more money. Then I found out, after grinding my crafter to level 10, the cost of adding a core is 200,000 credits. Most cores are +1 to a stat. I would use the special find ones. The price is steep, and I'm debating whether or not the game is worth my time and effort, especially since things happen like last night: I killed Mandarin and right when I killed him he cast an attack that made me immobile. I could not move to loot the Cube Shard I needed. I tried to bodyslide out of it to no avail, logged out then back in, cleared the entire board again, and found out the Cube Shard that I didn't receive counted as my daily Shard from that boss. Swearing, I turned the game off in disgust. Oh, and after waiting two and a half weeks on a ticket stating there's a browser error when I tried to enter the forums they recommended using a different browser and that it's not a problem on their end...despite it being the only place on the entire Internet I can't log into.

I'm also frustrated with World of Warcraft. There was a half off sale two weeks ago, and the sale ended up killing my server. Of the top ten guilds left on my medium population home about eight of them transferred off. My server is now low population--it's not even fun logging in anymore. In the meantime, I'm keeping my sub, leveling my final character to 90, and hoping the next major patch that will introduce Virtual Realms will help fix the lack of population. Otherwise, I'm calling it quits until there are legit mergers or something interesting happens.

I got SiriusXM back in my car this week. While Bubba the Love Sponge is no longer on there and Howard Stern seems to play mostly reruns, I'm thrilled to have the music channels back. In my area, the radio stations either have a lot of commercials or static.

The main reason I got satellite radio back is that I'm finally employed after three years of job hunting and groveling. As I repeatedly said in my interviews, I was willing to do anything to prove myself, and I'm demonstrating that by commuting forty-five minutes a day for a part-time position. Feels great being at work again, and I have the radio to make my drive easier. So far so good.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Teaser


As I watched the teaser, I noticed there's going to be significant additions and changes to Bilbo's tale in the second installment of the trilogy, and...I couldn't care in the slightest!

As long as the movie maintains the key points of the book, which at first glance it seems to do, I will be thrilled to have more action and a little more depth. I actually like the idea of seeing the Elves' side of the story, in particular, including Legolas, the Prince of Mirkwood. Plus, Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, head of the Elven guard, should make for an interesting heroine.

A few things to note in the teaser: Beorn's giant bear form (I assume), Radagast, Gandalf about to storm the necromancer's keep, spiders, barrels, Azog, Bard the Bowman, and, of course, Smaug. It's evident, as was rumored, that Vermithrax Pejorative from the movie Dragonslayer was used as inspiration. I don't know how far the second movie will go, but it would appear we can expect the initial conversation between Bilbo and Smaug. I'm unsure if we should expect the culmination of that part of the story, though, given the title, that might be the case.

That said, I can speculate the third and final movie will be based around the Battle of the Five Armies and the journey home, meaning the Desolation of Smaug will have a lot of action. A lot.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Marvel Heroes Review

Last weekend, I started early on Marvel Heroes, Gazillion's massive multi-player online action roleplaying game (MMO-ARPG). I spent twenty dollars on a Punisher pack, then used the extra Gs to purchase Iron Man at half price. My intent was to play these characters and grind out other heroes.

After the prologue, starting with Hawkeye, I received Thing as a quest reward, and I thought it wasn't going to be that bad of a grind for heroes. When I beat Doctor Doom as Iron Man, I received a second Hawkeye--I shrugged that off, learning I could use the duplicate to upgrade his Ultimate Power at level 30.

I began my endgame, grinding daily missions. Until I had a decent set of hard-hitting gear with specialty boosts, I did not start farming bosses. I figured I would stack my gear (I believe I had some potions too) and a new hero would be a cinch to obtain. One hundred hours and then some into the game, I have yet to receive a hero drop, and for me, it really puts a damper on the game.

Don't get me wrong. There's fun to be had. The controls are easy to learn, as they are no different than other ARPGs like Diablo 3, Path of Exile, or Torchlight 2. Each of my four heroes plays different, and the skill trees aren't bad. While picking talents might appear unforgiving, there's a quest in the game where a free Retcon Device is given upon completion (Chapter 4, killing Bullseye), allowing a player to respec, and it can be repeated for the reward by restarting Story Mode.

Throughout Story Mode there are Event Bosses, including Venom, Green Goblin, Blob, Rhino, and others. Since they appear in the free-roam world, there can be upwards of twenty players taking these villains down, and the villains scale in health and damage to the amount of players beating on them.

There's also a Crafting System, which a player levels via gear donations. Rather than selling items, you give them to a vendor or crafter. This increases the level of gear sold or expands the list of crafting recipes--crafting is essential. With it, you can add bonuses to costumes, make potions, change rares into epics, or change Cable's gear into Iron Man's gear. Its only setback that I have seen is that materials are not stackable, and they will fill an entire stash with ease, if you don't constantly merge them into stronger versions.

At endgame, downing bosses in daily missions will net a Cube Shard once per day per boss in both green and red rooms; collecting ten shards grants a Fortune Card. These cards are pure luck. Sometimes, you'll get a new costume, a pet, or (I've heard) a new hero. Most times, you'll get some sort of timed experience bonus or rarity find boost.

What's troublesome about endgame is the lack of variety in missions. Despite there being three places of increasing difficulty, as well as green rooms and red rooms, the latter being much more difficult, the missions are identical. Not only are they identical, you can't loot a shard off the same boss at different locations, so killing Shocker in the Abandoned Subway in green three times a day does nothing for you. Yes, there's really three green room versions of Abandoned Subway and three red versions. To break it down, there are three green rooms of Abandoned Subway/Shocker (that's 1 cube shard), then three red rooms of Abandoned Subway/Shocker (another shard), which require a cosmic key to enter. That formula repeats for each green room and accompanying boss. They're progressively harder, yet they're still the same. Doing a red room will give you an extra shard, but it will not give you better loot, despite a considerable boost to difficulty. There are also purple rooms, which require a group to complete. It's definitely less appealing than it could be, especially since there's a whole host of super-villains left off the daily grind list. On top of that, it's really the only way to grind from level 30 to level 60 with any efficiency--this is the endgame.

PVP is in Beta, but I haven't really given it a shot yet. I don't know that I will. PVP in an ARPG has never really appealed to me, and I don't Brawl in Diablo 3 either.

Back to my original point: rarity of hero drops. The only true carrot on a stick in this Free-to-Play title are heroes and costumes, as gear upgrades drop at a fairly regular pace, so I was disheartened to learn the rate at which heroes drop was significantly lowered from Beta. In Beta, I could expect to receive at least one hero, even if it was a duplicate, between level 1 and 30. Now, I've marched Iron Man to 35, Punisher to 30, Thing to 17, and Hawkeye to 26 without a drop. I have stacked specialty gear while farming every boss every day since I cleared Story Mode. For my effort, I have not received a single hero; it's worse than finding legendaries in Diablo 3 after its launch.

*Update: In the latest patch, the drop rate of heroes was increased. There was also a weekend of increased drop rates. I did receive two hero tokens, but they were both duplicates.*

I completely understand why the rate was lowered (to get us to purchase our favorite hero), but at the same time, the cost of heroes was increased. Iron Man and Spider-Man, for instance, cost the same as my Starter Pack--twenty dollars. Others, like Rocket Raccoon and Wolverine, are twelve dollars, and there's a slew that are nine or six dollars. By the time I reach either level 60 on Iron Man or level 30+ on all of my heroes, I can't foresee myself splurging on more heroes; it would cost more than a full Xbox 360 or PC game to get all the ones I want.

In other words, I have to ask myself: if the carrot on a stick is too far away, will I continue on this journey? I don't think I will. When they add new zones, I may wander back, yet I feel as if my hope for this game's future and my plans to make Marvel Heroes my next addiction have already been crushed. I'm a Marvel fanboy, but unless the carrot is brought closer and soon or the cost of heroes decreased, Gazillion's title will very likely face a mass exodus, myself included.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Game of Thrones: Red Wedding

I waited a little bit to post this, in the hopes that those who missed Sunday night's episode of Game of Thrones had time to catch up. If not, steer clear now because this will contain spoilers.

The Red Wedding finally arrived, and as a reader, I was not in the least bit disappointed. There were minor changes, but I believe the producers at HBO did the scene justice, and they even managed to throw in a little surprise, such as Talisa, Robb's wife, taking a knife to her pregnant belly four or five times. I have watched the episode three times now (I've been waiting for this event since I heard the announcement of the series), and the more I see it, the more I appreciate the setup.

Throughout the scene there's a slow buildup. Everything that is said or done escalates, starting with Catelyn talking to Roose Bolton; his expression when she said, "Ned didn't think it right to break a man's jaw on our wedding night," is something I didn't catch the first viewing, and it was priceless, because, as we all know, he planned to do worse. Then the doors were shut and the band in the balcony played, "Rains of Castemere." Even though I knew what was going to happen, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I was nervous, thinking, "Here it comes." I haven't felt like that since the final scene in the Sopranos--I still cringe seeing Talisa's fate.

The outrage from viewers, the total shock, was unbelievable. It reflected what I felt when reading the books (I threw my copy across the room). Even my dad, who is usually immune to these types of events on television and movies, was amped about the Red Wedding, saying, "It was a slaughter." There are not many shows or stories these days able to surprise its fans, and only a few have the guts to do what Game of Thrones did last weekend. The writers and producers could have decided to let Robb or Catelyn live because they're fan favorites and drastically alter how it is in the books, but they stayed true to the source material.

I wouldn't be surprised if fans were still outraged. I had a friend on Facebook tell me the Red Wedding was why she stopped reading Martin's novels. As I told her, she shouldn't have given up. New tales and characters are coming--wait until you meet House Martell from Dorne--the paths of old characters will shift with this event, and as Varys said in the beginning of this season, "The revenge you seek will be yours in time."

Be patient, like our friend the Spider.

In the meanwhile, here's a couple videos of fan reactions and George R.R. Martin talking about why he wants his readers to be afraid.





Friday, May 31, 2013

"Zombies"



While the photograph doesn't really do this drawing justice (I really need a new camera or a larger scanner) this is something I made for my brother's girlfriend. I promised to draw her a picture, and when I asked what she wanted, she said zombies. It was the first time I even attempted to draw a zombie since high school. What I liked the most is that I was forced out of what makes me comfortable, most notably, drawing buildings. I did screw up a few places, but that's what I get for trying to draw structures freehand instead of buying myself a ruler...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Learning on the Web

I'm sometimes humbled when I learn something new, especially when it's a tidbit I either never considered, didn't think possible, or overlooked. This morning a friend on Facebook posted a status update that was a quote from the movie "Django Unchained." I have seen the movie (loved it), but I did not recognize the quote and thought it was an every day observation.

Her update was, "This is like the time I found out that the guy who wrote The Three Musketeers was black." I own a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. It's one of my favorite books, maybe one of the best tales of revenge I've ever read, and the remake of the movie with Guy Pierce and Anthony Hopkins is also one of my favorites, yet to my shame, I knew absolutely nothing about Alexandre Dumas until today.

I had always assumed, given the time period his books were written and the little depiction of Dumas on the back of my book, he was white. Assuming is usually bad--it definitely made an ass out of me. What was even more interesting is that after I replied to the status update more people replied with similar reactions; I didn't feel as ridiculous.

My mind was further blown when I learned Alexandre Dumas was a pen name. He was born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, a name derived from his slave grandmother and his father's name, who was Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, "the first black general in French history and still the highest ranking person of color of all-time in continental Europe." It was fascinating to me to learn this history and at the same time realize I had read Monte Cristo multiple times yet knew nothing about its author. Even what I thought I knew was wrong--amazing.

While doing this research on Dumas, I came across an interesting article about bright pink slugs. Again, I was humbled by the notion that an 8 inch slug as vibrant as a pink neon sign could even exist, let alone come about after millions of years. I couldn't find any more information on them other than the fact they're there, but I had to wonder: why are the pink? How does it benefit them? Does it deter predators or serve a function? Are there even predators on the mountain it inhabits? Is it just happenstance? A curious critter, indeed.

Then, as if I didn't feel like a fool already, I read another article about nuking dangerous asteroids on a collision course for Earth. For years I have laughed at the movie "Armageddon," thinking to myself, "If we blew up an asteroid, we would just get bombarded by the pieces." While the plan scientists have come up with doesn't involve landing miners on the asteroid in space to drill a hole and plant a nuke, it does detail a system of shooting a hole into the asteroid, then shooting a nuke into that hole. The theory is the asteroid will break apart, diverting the large sections; the rest of the pieces will either burn up in our atmosphere or have smaller, non-global-killing impact.

All in all, it's been quite the day of lessons via the Internet.