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Movie Round-Up: September 10th, 2010

Resident Evil: AfterlifeResident Evil: Afterlife:

I loved the first film.  I liked the second one a lot.  The third one was fun, but I had some issues with it.  I’d make a comment about downward trends, but who would I be fooling?  No one.  Of course I’m going to go see this movie.  It’s zombies, it’s action, and it’s in 3D – and that’s all I need to know.  Now, the only question is who will I go see this with?

An MMO cannot exist on PvP alone

We’ve all heard the terms of “wolves” and “sheep” before.  Its the core of PvP.  No one wants to be the sheep, but sometimes you are.  In PvP games, you can learn from defeat and become a better player, but you cannot learn from being crushed.  In the FPS world, if you hop on a TF2 server and spend most of the game dead, you are less likely to return unless the game chat was just so awesome.  However, you can go to another server very easily, for no charge and no need to grind back up any levels.  For an MMO example, if you are in a battleground in WoW and your level 80 shadow priest meets a level 80 frost wizard on the battle field and you go toe to toe and lose, you can learn from that.  Pick different spells if it happens again, approach them from another tack.  But if you are out in the world on a PvP server and a level 80 warrior swings by and ganks your level 12 warrior, you aren’t going to learn anything from that beyond the fact that some people are power tripping assholes.  So, to keep sheep around, you need something for them to do, something for them to succeed at so that their faceplants in PvP don’t sting so badly.  And the wolves need the sheep, because if the “true sheep” start quitting, the “weaker wolves” are the “new sheep”.

Lots of PvP advocates love to trot out EVE Online as their example of how PvP totally owns and can be successful.  They conveniently forget that as a pure PvP game, EVE failed, and that over the years of its existence and continued development much of that has been spent making tutorials and NPC missions and trade skills.  The PvP of EVE has succeeded in the long term because the people at CCP worked on finding ways for the sheep to stick around.  Yeah, you might have attacked and destroyed my hauler and taken my load of goods.  You might have just set me back several days.  But I made twenty-seven successful heart-pounding runs through zero space before you got me.  And my rep as a guy who gets goods where they need to be is growing.  You are playing a PvP game, but to me you are just a new form of AI that I need to avoid in my PvE smuggler game.

The road to success is littered with the carcasses of failed PvP MMOs, and most of them end up failing for the same reason: they built a game for wolves and forgot to create a place for the sheep.

The First Law

Man, it has been a while since I reviewed a book that wasn’t a comic on here… but there is reason for that: I’ve been slogging through Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy (one, two, three).

Initially, I was going to review each book separately, but then I got to the end of the first book.  I enjoyed it, I liked what I had read, but it really felt like a good start and not a full book.  So I had a hunch, and rather than my usual running off to a new book and coming back to the second book later, I decided to run through all three.  These are big(ish) books, and I’m a slow reader anyway… but I finally did it, and now…

I really want to give this book a high rating.  Notice, I said book and not trilogy.  That’s because this trilogy reads more like a single book broken into three parts instead of three complete stories that work as part of a larger arc.  By the end of the first book you have been introduced to the characters and the world and the politics and wars and history and everything, and a number of exciting things has happened, but all those things don’t add up to anything satisfying.  Nothing is really resolved in the first book.  The second book is more of the same, and I mean that in both good and bad ways.  More people, more events, but the only real events that occur are one expected failure and one unexpected failure.  The second book did seem more rounded than the first, but it still left me wanting.  Not wanting for more, but wanting for the book to have meant something.  The third book reads like a good third act.  All the people and places coming crashing back together and lots of things coming to an end.

Overall, this trilogy would, in my opinion, benefit from some heavy editing, trimming this story down to one novel, or perhaps two.  I get the feeling that maybe the author had an idea and decided he wanted it to be a trilogy and fleshed the story out until it was.  A number of chapters could easily be cut, others trimmed and combined, and perhaps even the world itself could have been shrunk just a tad in order for the author not to feel like he needed to illustrate just how long certain journeys were.  I suppose my complaint is the same that I have for the Lord of the Rings, The First Law is like a travelogue.  We walk the world and are shown everything, but seeing that seminal work of fiction trimmed down to under 9 hours of script without losing one bit of the magic of the original, I think The First Law could be just as good at half the length.

That said, I look forward to read more by Joe Abercrombie.  The main reason for this is that after finishing this trilogy I thoroughly despise most of his characters, and yet I found myself rooting for them.  That is something hard to do, in my opinion.  To craft character that are not only flawed but flat out wrong and still get the reader to want them to survive, to be redeemed even when the character themselves is seeking no redemption.  I find myself having imaginary conversations with the author, “Hey, I really want to like this guy, could you please stop making him do horrible things?”

Anyway… would I recommend these books?  I would, maybe not to everyone, but to people who like a good well crafted world akin to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and are willing to put up with one story being told in three books and 1,500 pages.

Movie Round-Up: June 26th, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:

Pass.

Really, that’s about all want to say about it.  The first film was a piece of crap.  The story was poor, the acting was bad, they butchered the source material, and the action was that too-fast-to-follow sort where two things smash into each other, stuff happens, and then one of them wins.  Seeing the trailer for this just reminded me of how much I disliked the first one and how I was going to make no effort at all to see this one.  Sure, people will claim that its just a summer popcorn flick and I expect too much of it, but even for a cartoon designed to sell toys, the original had so much more heart and soul than Michael Bay’s bastardization.  It deserved so much better.

Save your money.  Please.  If it bombs, maybe he’ll stop.

My Sister’s Keeper:

I wept like a little girl.  Movies about cancer patients tend to get at me anyway, but this one was particularly heart wrenching because it is so well acted.  I won’t lie, I saw the “twist” in this film coming a mile away, but there was real edge of my seat interest in watching how long it would play out and at point would everything come to light.  It sounds odd to write about a movie which is about a girl dying of cancer and her sister who doesn’t want to be a donor anymore, but it is how I feel.  I’ve seen criticisms of the movie, and the book on which it is based, from people who say they have a child with leukemia and life isn’t like that, mother’s don’t act that way, donor siblings don’t refuse, blah blah blah… for one, this is a story, it is fiction, and a story in which everyone was happy and the only thing that happened was a girl died of cancer, well, that wouldn’t exactly be riveting viewing.  For me, I can easily see how a mother could get so swept up in saving the life of one of her children that many “lesser concerns” go unnoticed or forgotten.

All in all, a good movie… but bring tissues.

Movie Round-Up: June 5th, 2009

Land of the Lost:

I grew up on the show, which means I approach a remake with much hesitation.  Add to that the fact that I don’t really find Will Ferrell to be all that funny, and you’ve got a movie I am not itching to see.  But I’m sure it will make a ton of money.

The Hangover:

If you are going to go see one movie this weekend and aren’t dead set on seeing Land of the Lost, I suggest seeing The Hangover.  This movie is hilarious.  Just awesome.  Every actor seems so perfectly cast, and the whole thing is so absurd but it never quite goes into disgusting territory with its humor.  It is one night they will never forget, if only they could remember.

My Life In Ruins:

I wasn’t a big fan of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  It was humorous.  It was cute.  But overall it was… eh…  So I went in to My Life In Ruins with the bar set pretty low.  And that’s probably why I enjoyed it so much.  It is humorous.  It is cute.  Greece is beautiful and the whole film is well shot.  And Richard Dreyfuss steals the show.  If you go see two movies this weekend, and one of them is The Hangover, make the other one My Life In Ruins and just skip Land of the Lost.

Movie Round-Up: April 17th, 2009

17 Again:

Look, it is, fundamentally, a body switching movie.  If you have ever seen a movie where a person gets to be younger or older or swap bodies with a friend, an enemy or a parent, then you have seen this film.  But the reason Hollywood keeps on making this film is that it can be told in so many ways with so many angles.  The body switching story is always, fundamentally, about self discovery.  The main character or characters are in this situation because they need to learn something about themselves.

Thomas Lennon makes this film.  Sure, Zac Efron is going to be the huge draw with all the tweens screaming and wetting themselves during his shirtless scene, but it is the character of Ned who steals every scene that he is in and is the main draw for the parents of those tweens.  Zac’s (and Matthew Perry’s) Mike is the popular jock kid, while Thomas’ Ned is the extreme caricature of the rest of us for whom High School were not the best years of their lives.

Anyway, the movie overall was fun, enjoyable, but predictable.  If you like body switching movies, you’ll like this one too.

Crank: High Voltage:

Did you see Crank?  Did you like Crank?  I can answer yes to both of those questions, and so I suspect I’ll like Crank 2 when I eventually see it.  But while I suspect the film will be a fun action filled ride, I’m comfortable waiting to see it when it hits DVD.

State of Play:

I want to see this film.  I got a free pass to see this film.  I also got a free pass to see 17 Again on the same night.  As you can see from my long review above, the wife and I saw 17 Again.  It is because I drag her to all those horror movies, I’m sure.  I definitely might have to see if I can scrounge up the dollars to go see this, if not at full price then at least at the matinee or early bird (shows before noon on a weekend) price.  If not, then I’ll be waiting eagerly for this one to get to DVD.  Hopefully no one spoils it for me before then.

Movie Round-Up: April 3rd, 2009

Fast & Furious:

I have to admit, I liked the first movie in this series.  Really liked it.  It didn’t make me want to trick out a car and start racing, but I felt it was a well crafted film and worth watching.  The second one… not so much.  As for Tokyo Drift, well, I’ve never really enjoyed when a series gets to the point where no one from the original is involved.  Its like those direct to DVD movies that were filmed to stand alone, but once it became clear that it wasn’t going to the theater the studio decides it will sell better if its “Urban Commando 5: Rough Water” rather than just “Rough Water”.

So the tag line for this film, “New Model, Original Parts”, was just pure genius.  Its clearly aimed at people like me.  People who wanted to see “The Fast and The Furious 2” instead of “2 Fast 2 Furious”.

And having said all that, the movie delivers.  The only thing the movie fails at is making the timeline clear.  Even now, I’m still unsure of exactly how much time has passed since the first film.  Other than that, though, Fast & Furious rocks.  Its got the fast cars, the hot chicks, the adrenaline pumping races and chases.  If you liked any of the previous entries in this series, you’ll like the fourth installment as well.

Adventureland:

Growing up, I knew a few people who’d get those summer jobs working at the local theme park.  Being in Atlanta, we have Six Flags and White Water.  They loved those jobs… and they hated them too.  I never worked one myself, but sometimes wish I had.

Anyway… this movie, in my opinion, suffers from the same problem many many movies do: bad advertising.  The commercials for Adventureland emphasize that its “from the Director of Superbad” and it has upbeat music and lots of funny lines, but the reality of the movie is different.  Its not anywhere near as crazy or foul as Superbad, and while it is funny at times, its also a story about a guy whose post college plans fall apart and him trying to figure out how to get what he wants, all while falling in love.  This movie is less Superbad and more Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

That said, I really enjoyed it.  As always, managed expectations are important, so if you go with the right attitude I think you’ll like this one, if its something you like.  But go in expecting a profanity filled “dick & fart” joke-fest and I think you’ll be disappointed.

Movie Round-Up: March 27th, 2009

Hitting the theaters today are three films: 12 Rounds, The Haunting in Connecticut, and Monsters vs. Aliens.

12 Rounds:

I haven’t seen it yet, but I want to, which means I will likely rent it.  It seems like a decent action flick, but I’m just not sure its worth $10 a seat to see it on the big screen.  I will have to wait until I read a few reviews.

The Haunting in Connecticut:

Based on a true story.  I’m always a tad skeptical when I see that phrase associated with a film, because without a lot of leg work you never know how much is “true story” and how much is “based”.  But I like a good scary movie, so when the opportunity arose for me to see this one early, I took it.  There are two great things about this movie.  The first is that the build up of suspense is very well done.  A flash of ghost here, a noise there, with a dab of odd things over there.  Its done without getting right in your face, and is fairly creepy.  The second great thing is that they manage to tell the story without buckets of blood, tons of gore or any real kind of torture that has accompanied so many horror films over recent years.

I did have some problems with some of the characters in the film, and the sort of matter of fact coincidences that lead to all the right people being in all the right places.  The son with cancer just happens to meet a reverend in treatment who happens to know quite a bit about ghosts and hauntings and the psychic world.  But as long as I ignored that, it was a decent scary movie.

I’m not sure its worth $10, but its easily worth a matinee price if you enjoy movies about hauntings.

Monsters vs. Aliens:

Oh man.  When I saw the trailer for this, I knew I had to see it.  The trailer was pure unmitigated awesome.  Which is probably why I was a little disappointed with the movie as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong, still a good movie, but I expected it to be better.  The main problems I see for this film is that on one level it is clearly aiming for kids, but its got a few slow dramatic scenes and a number of older-skewed “inside jokes” that will sail right over their heads.  I’m almost 35, and I got every single inside joke and I thought they were hilarious, but someone ten or fifteen years younger or older might not get them.  Small children probably won’t get the Close Encounter or Beverly Hills Cop or a slew of other references.  As for the dramatic scenes… well, Pixar has proven that they are kings at giving you drama without stopping the action.  Sure, they slow down, but stuff is still going on, even while Mr. Incredible is explaining how he failed.  The Dreamworks people are still a bit clunky in this respect.  They want to have a serious or heartfelt moment between two characters and the entire movie grinds to a halt so we can see it.

Should you go see it?  Even with the problems I mentioned, I would.  But definately see it at a theater that is showing it in 3D.  You miss half of the awesome without 3D.  But even in 3D, if a few overly dramatic halts and inside jokes are going to spoil it for you, then you should pass on this one.

Choose Your Own Zombie Adventure

The Outbreak is an interesting bit of work.  Essentially, its a short film about people during a zombie uprising.  But rather than write just one story and film it, they wrote “all” the stories and filmed them.  From their website:

The Outbreak is an interactive movie. At certain points of the movie, you will be prompted to make a choice — These choices will determine your survival.

As an example, the very first choice you must make is whether or not to interfere when one of the people in your group is going to shoot the injured member of your group for fear he might be infected.

Very cool.

Special thanks go to my older brother for sending me the link.

30 Days of Game: Travian

Welcome to October 1st, and to our first installment of 30 Days of Game.  This is where I play a game for roughly a month, and then review it.

First up: Travian.  From their own page…

Travian is a browser game featuring a world with thousands of other real players. One begins the game acting as a chief of a tiny village.

To get a decent idea of what the game is like, I suggest running through the tutorial.  It only takes a minute.

Basically, you start with an empty village surrounded by resources.  You place your town hall and then get to building.  Each resource field (woodcutter, clay pit, iron mine, cropland) produces a set amount of its resource, which you can increase by building up the level of the resource.  In town, on the various plots, you can build a variety of buildings, from armories and stables to warehouses and crannies (for hiding resources from attackers).  As you construct buildings and upgrade them, you unlock new troop types and other abilities.  Eventually, you can raid and even conquer other players.  Yes, its a PvP game.

Its like a real time strategy game, only slower.  Every building, upgrade or troop training takes resources and time.  And while each building’s ability is independent (can be researching new armor, new weapons, training foot soldiers, horsemen and building siege devices all at the same time), setting your people to work on building or resource upgrades are only allowed one at a time.  So you need to plan, which buildings do you need first?  Do you go offense and raid other players for supplies or do you go defense and protect against other raiders?

You can join alliances with other players which allows you access to a private message board on the site for your alliance.  And each server is generally allowed to run for 300 days (100 for speed games) before it resets and starts over.  So, yes, this is not your traditional neverending MMO grind.  The game has a finish, and leaderboards, and enough servers that you can pretty much always guarantee that one is going to restart soon or has recently restarted, so there is less worry about jumping in and being so far behind the curve that you can’t possibly win.

The City of M`antra G`ald - My City

The City of M`antra G`ald - My City

Now, technically, I’ve been playing for more than 30 days, because I couldn’t think of a new game to start and I was already playing this one.  However, I’m enjoying what I am now referring to as a Lazy Time Strategy game.  Early on, when build times on things were very short and didn’t cost too much, I visited many times a day to keep my peasants working.  Lately, I visit two, maybe three, times a day, trading goods with other players and kicking off my next project or sending out armies to do my bidding.  Through my alliance I have heard other players talk about getting bombarded and overrun, but I haven’t had any trouble with that just yet, and I might not before the server resets.  I am just now getting to the point where I might be able to found a second city, which took longer than it would have if I’d gone straight for it.

Travian isn’t a deeply enthralling game, but I definitely think it is one I am going to continue playing because it is enjoyable and doesn’t require a dedicated hardcore player to enjoy it, although I am sure more hardcore players could find something in this game – be it min/maxing the build orders, or just crushing your neighbors.