Thursday, December 27, 2012

Icon in Progress: Christ the Vine

Well, here we are! The icon's getting closer and closer to getting done. It's mostly touch ups at this point, although I'll have to put in all the inscriptions...

Here's a close up of Christ's face. I really like how soft He looks at the moment.

Amazing Spider-Man 700 Main Story Review (Spo-HOI-lers!)

Why did they ever prefer Kirby's cover to THIS?

The first time (of many) that I read the main story of this issue, I was in shock. I just sat there, looking at the comic book on my screen, staring into space. Maria can vouch for the fact that I wasn't truly... there... for the rest of the night. When I went to bed I just lay there, staring up at the ceiling. I waited until today to read the comic again, and I'm noticing I'm in a bit more of a commentary-ish mood, and well, I just wanted to share my thoughts on this, the most important Spider-Man story ever published(!), with y'all. Yes, I just said the most important. The best, really.

Cause it's the one where Peter Parker dies.

I've read the boards, and the vast majority of people just don't seem to get it. They rant and rave about how awful a story this is, how there's missteps in the pacing, and that it's the dumbest idea ever. I mean, you've got your death threats, your "I hate Dan Slott" idiots, the list just goes on and on. By making those comments, these people completely miss the point about who and what Spider-Man is, was, and always will be, even without Peter Parker. 

Spider-Man has always been about making the best of a really horrible situation that you're more than half responsible for. 

Uncle Ben? A really horrible situation that was entirely Spidey's fault.
Gwen and Gwen's dad? Spidey was directly responsible for those tragedies.
Kraven's Hunt? OK, that one stands a bit cause it wasn't really Spidey's fault, but check on the bad situation...

But you get the idea. Spidey's always been at his best when he chooses the noble route in the face of overwhelming tragedy.

And what's worse than the following situation?

Doc Ock has taken over Spidey's body, and he's running around with his life, intent on living it out in his own way. Ock has put Spidey in his own, dying, body, and skedaddled. Spidey attempts to get his body back, but Ock (who has always been smarter than him) has him at every point and turn. Peter tries to kill Ock, but even that fails, because Ock is using his abilities better than Peter ever thought to. Now Peter's lying on the street, and Ock's about to kill him with a car with his own body(!), so what does Spidey do?

He uses the telepathic link that Ock established to make Ock relive Peter's whole life, except that it's now Ock living his life. He knows Uncle Ben and Aunt May's love, he knows how the selfishness that Ock has shown only all too much of robbed him of his Uncle, and he shows Ock what... they... do because of it. Ock is overcome, and falls to his knees, saying that this wasn't what he wanted, he only wanted power, girls, and fame(sound familiar?)! But he agrees that with great power comes great responsibility. Peter asks to see his loved ones one last time, and dies in the street, leaving Ock in awe of what he has just been given. He promises to be better from that day on out. 

Did anyone else notice the parallels to Amazing Fantasy? Arrogant and bitter teen gets awesome powers, uses them selfishly, and has a massive shock which convinces him to use his powers for the betterment of everyone, despite himself, and that with great power comes great responsibility...

Yup, this was Ock's Amazing Fantasy 15. T'was bloody fantastic. I can't wait to see what Slott does with this, in The Superior Spider-Man! Unlike the majority of the morons on the internet, I'm pumped. This is gonna be awesome!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pathfinder Beginner Box

So I bought this awhile back on a whim. I'd been curious about Pathfinder for awhile, if only because it's the successor to one of the worst balanced games I'd ever played which still has some nostalgia. But I waited awhile, reading reviews of what's been called one of the best beginner boxes of all time. People were commenting that certain rules were changed, tweaked, simplified... that intrigued me. So I looked for specifics, and found the key differences:

  1. Spellcasters couldn't cast while adjacent to foes. Just period, couldn't happen. This fixes pretty much all problems with spellcasters, cause all I have to do is base the poor spellcaster and spells are impossible!
  2. No attacks of opportunity. This lets combat move really fast, and moves the emphasis off of combat. 
  3. Max level is 5. No, not 20 (where the system breaks down so badly it's unreal), not 10 (which really is as far as the system can really go), but 5, right around the E6 idea!
... did they do this on purpose? Please tell me they knew what they did! They managed to fix all the problems that 3rd edition ever had, and put DnD back to it's true roots: a dungeon crawler, where combat was just one aspect of the experience. And since you couldn't get above level 5, the game stays at a very grounded stage, making the dungeon crawl is actually a dungeon crawl, not a cheap dungeon fly-by. 

And least, that's what I hoped it would do. This was all stuff I'd just thought about in my head. So I tried it. 

What can I say? It works. I ran a session of it, and it was AWESOME. The wizard was the perfect utility knife, the cleric healed and backed up the fighter, the rogue attempted to deactivate traps and  screamed in horrific pain whenever hit, and the fighter OWNED in combat, a veritable god on the battlefield! I ran them through a relatively tame dungeon, only killing two of their characters before they managed to beat the place. Everyone had a great time (even if the person "born of gamer aristocracy" complained that I was too tough. Bah, I took it easy on them!), and none of these people were newcomers.

The actual physical product is gorgeous. There's a player and GM book, and some of these AWESOME little pawns, along with character sheets, pregenned characters, dice, and battlemap. All the materials are well-made and durable. 

The player's book has everything a player needs to play, with a good variety of feats and other things. I found the GM's book to have an OK selection of monsters and traps, but nearly enough for what I wanted. Granted, I know it's a beginner's box and all, but I would have liked something to help people generate their own traps and monsters. The advice was of no use to me, because most of it was centered around a type of game I really don't think this rule's set was ever meant to actually play a narrative-based game. It would probably work out OK for beginners, but I'm afraid that they'd think this was meant RPGs could do, which is a horrible thought.

So, for all you people who ARE new to the RPG world, welcome! This product is really good,and I recommend it! But just be aware that the game will work out expertly for one thing only: dungeon crawls. If you like the idea of trudging through a dungeon so you can kill things and take their stuff then MAN this is the product for you! But if you're looking for something a little more story-oriented, I suggest picking up Mouseguard instead. It'll be much easier on you than this game when it comes to making stuff and, unlike this box, Mouseguard is meant to be self-sufficient. This game? Not so much.

Overall, though, an excellent product!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On the Evolution of People and Churches

So I got into an argument with one of my friends at church today over Vatican II and whether it was a good council or not. Now, for all people reading this to know right now: I'm a Vatican II man. I say good riddance to Latin and scoff at the idea that Thomas Aquinas should be the go-to guy (especially in the Latin Church. You guys have other people who are just as insightful, even if not as prolific). I personally think that the changes that were begun at Vatican II are the most important changes for the entirety of the Church at large, and that it's truly a council for the ages.

Well, my friend disagreed, like a lot of young traddy Catholics.
I'm looking for the cymbals.

I asked him why, and his response was that Vatican II didn't actually fix anything. All the other councils had fixed things, and this council was a miserable failure at doing that, I mean, look at the chaos out there! People are pushing for women to be ordained (pft, that's so 5th century!), there's horrible liturgical confusion (what, scraping off the paint of icons into the sacred species too bland for you? Try clown masses), we've got heretical bishops (HA! That's definitely not new), and the list just went on and on and on. Oh, and don't forget about clergy not doing their job in propagating the true faith by bending over with skirts up for the politicians. I mean, heavens to betsy let's not forget about that. Now, most of my snarky-but-true remarks were my ready response for him, considering that he's not the first person I've debated that yearns for "the bad old days" of yore (I mean, back then people got things done, justice prevailed, and frauds like Obama were tortured and killed in the good old-fashioned Medieval style.)  But my father interjected, and inserted a comment that definitely made me think.

"It was all in-process, the documents were just left as signposts for later."

Well that bowled me over. I'd never thought of that. Maybe, just maybe, these people didn't write everything down to commemorate the event of their victory (as I always figured), but they recorded their thoughts so everyone down the line had a chance to renew the fight should they fail. I mean, there were at least two(!) robber councils on Iconoclasm which cancelled out Iconodule statements! Arianism went rampant for a long time after Nicea I and killed a lot of people; that heresy was a bloodbath. The 2nd Ecumenical Council (I can never remember where it happened, sorry!) was called to complete the Creed because such a poor job had been done on it beforehand! And Saint Cyril of Alexandria ran a voter fraud scam that would have done Obama and the Democrats proud in the Council of Ephesus. I mean, our doctrine of the Theotokos was obtained via voter fraud! And yet here we are, 1600 years later, proclaiming her to be the Theotokos, and Cyril, a politician cut from the same cloth as Chicago's politicians, is a saint. He's got his miracles which confirm that he's up in heaven, and more than enough apparitions by the blessed Mother herself to confirm the title of Theotokos.

So the right side did win, it just did it the way any of us triumph over evil: step-by-step, inch by inch, and with a healthy dose of corruption and back-handed deals. Now, I'm not saying that the ends justify the means: evil is evil. But, ultimately, the Fathers really weren't any different from us. They had good, they had bad, and they just had to make do with what they had, like us.  They just pointed into the darkness and took the best shot they could, hoping that it would work. Did they expect things to work out? I have no idea of knowing, but when Saint Nick himself punches Arius in the face cause he couldn't argue with him you get the feeling that things didn't look all that great (I pray for that level of courage, BTWS).

Yeah, the triumph of justice and right happens just like it does in Christian fairy tales (and in a certain way it does, but more on that some other time), except when it doesn't. Somehow we have this idea that everything that happened in the past was part of a golden era that shouldn't be badmouthed (in the case of the traddies) or that everything that happened in the past was terrible and you better not try to do what those poor bastards did (not that I could blame anyone for this after WWI).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The REAL Burning Empires Review

Some games play pretty closely to how they read (3rd edition, sad to say), some take a bit of time to get used to (Mouse Guard), and some really do not play how they look at all. The last type of game is the hardest to review and to get an idea of how it works in play. Games like 4th edition look really damn boring until you actually play the game and realize that it doesn't play anything like how it looks, because the parts are designed into a greater whole that you won't necessarily get until you play the game for a little while and get where it's going. 

Burning Empires is one of these games. There's reading this game, and there is playing this game, and there's a world of difference. It's really hard to explain just how bloody competitive this game is and how cutthroat it's intended to be unless you go and crush the other side. 

Honestly, when I first saw the rules for this game it reminded me of my true love Burning Wheel (I mean, favorite game. Sorry Maria!). I mean, the lifepaths, the Duel of Wits, character creation (Oh, how I missed you...), races, the PTGS (well, sorta, it is changed a tiny bit), all of it screams Burning Wheel  to me. Now, since my initial read-through review of Burning Empires I've played a single-phase campaign. During this time Maria expressed interest at seeing the game, so at some point she came over and studied while the rest of us played. When we got done with the session, I turned to Maria and asked "Kinda funny how similarly it plays to Burning Wheel?" She then commented. "It doesn't feel like Burning Wheel at all!"

"It plays like Mouse Guard."

And she's right. That's when I realized a few things

1) I wasn't playing Burning Wheel like Burning Wheel. I was playing it like DnD/Burning Empires.
2) Fortunately, Burning Empires plays so damn well I accidentally started playing another game in almost the exactly same way I was playing Burning Empires. 
3) This game plays like Mouse Guard in a really good way.

There are a few caveats I'd include for those who are looking at this game. Play this game if you like:

1) An actual story-game. Yes, this counts as a real one. No, I'm not trying to be a pretentious ass. This game has a lot of fiddly bits, but it all works out.
2) A heavy, crunchy, juicy awesome piece of awesomness.
3) If you love playing heavy intrigue, you're going to ADORE this game. I mean, seriously, the Infiltration phase alone is so intrigue-tastic you'd be nuts not to love this game.

But this game isn't for everyone, do not play this game if you:

1) Hate rules-heavy games. Hell, while you're at it avoid Burning Wheel too. And probably Mouse Guard as well. 
2) Want a game where you just shoot people. If you want that, go play Pathfinder or any of the WoTC games. This is game is incredibly tactical, but the tactics produce a story first, action second.
3) If you want a mindless dungeon-crawler good Lord stay away from this game!

Honestly, I'm pleased as punch I've got this game. Go check it out!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Isn't This Most Major News Media?

I mean, really, who ever took TIME seriously? I sure as hell can't...

Review: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (Basic Game)

Well, Andy wouldn't stop praising this game, so I went and decided to try it out. I sat down with some of my old highschool buddies (I'm back in Chicago for my last Christmas break... ever!), they picked characters, and we ran the first half of Breakout! The session took about 2 and a half hours to conclude, and what I learned about this game was amazing.

  1. The rules are poorly written and organized. When I first started reading the dice rolling rules I was genuinely confused, and this is coming from someone who loves Burning Wheel's Fight! mechanics. The writing is abstract at best, and the organization of said rules had me jumping all over the book in a way that I didn't appreciate. I eventually gave up, called Andy, and had him explain how the damn thing worked. A ten minute explanation did more good for my understanding of this game than the actual rules text.
  2. As poorly written as this game may be, it shines in actual play. We played a 2 and a half hour long combat, and it didn't drag in the slightest. Everyone was engaged and having a ton of fun, deciding how they were going to be awesome for their actions and reactions. The fact that it took a little longer to resolve actions didn't matter, for the simple reason that everyone was working out a narrative amongst themselves, not just rules stuff. If I'd run the same scenario in 4th edition this game would have been a crawling, boring slugfest. Instead it was an exciting game of being as awesome as you could be. 
  3. The game is not easy on those who get hurt, and I mean that in a good way. This game has rules for injury that are intuitive and easy, allowing for the player to still do awesome stuff without getting rid of the drama of getting hurt, stressed out, or messed with. Again, the emphasis is placed on the narrative. 
  4. Convincing people to play characters that they had not made themselves was a genuine pain in the butt. I felt like I was pulling a two-year-old's teeth, except the two year old had werewolf incisors, not a baby's, so when they bit it hurt like hell. They simply did not get the concept that the game was about playing already-existing heroes and, when this was explained, one of the players bitched and moaned for quite awhile. Eventually he sucked it up and moved on, but for the simple reason that he was so uncooperative I feel even less inclined to let people make characters. Besides, I like the whole "pick your favorite character and move on" feel that this game has.
  5. Again, I like the pregen'ed events. I already have enough games that make the scenario on the fly, so I have no wish or urge to make up the narrative structure. Players do a better job of that in play, as do designers who have months to make all the groundwork and get paid to do so. So you better believe that, if I keep playing this game for any meaningful length of time, I'll get the events. 
Really, the highest praise I can give for this game is that the rules (once properly understood) are designed to get the hell out of your way so that way you can have fun. I've never run into a game that did it quite this, well, easily, in play as Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. It'll definitely be in my rotation of games from here on out. Now to just get my hands on a few more events, like Civil War. That should be interesting...

Review: Amazing Spider-Man 695-697 "Danger Zone"

Now that THAT joke is outta the way, on to the actual review.

Danger Zone is the 3 parter that leads up to the insanity that is the end of Amazing Spider-Man and it's... OK. There are some good beats here (and some awesome characterization) but really, this is the calm before the storm, and it shows.

The story revolves around a suitcase, which has...something... in it that everyone wants. Spidey's trying to stop the Hobgoblin (Phil Urich) from getting it, and is successful in stealing it. But that's when Tiberius Stone, the "shady guy" of Horizon, activates a device that ramps up Spidey's spider-sense. At first it's a nice bonus, until, well... Tiberius jack it up all the way, puts Madame Web in the hospital for an overload of "the web of life", and leaves Peter incapacitated. That brings Max Modell into the picture, as well as the original Hobgoblin (the real one this time, good to see you again Kingsley!), all of them getting mixed up into this whole stew of a mess.

Overall, the three issues are OK. The story itself is pretty easy reading, and while some of the stuff have some nice gems of characterization (particularly for Kingsley!), this story comes off as a distraction play. I'm betting we'll look back on this story after Superior Spider-Man 1 a bit more fondly, but without the context about what exactly we're being distracted from the story's a bit flat...

(And NOW with the knowledge that it was a distraction story I can say "brilliant job, Slott! This was a pretty well-executed in betweener!")

Monday, December 17, 2012

The City's Lights; Yoshino and the Creative Process, Part 3: What the Hell Have I Gotten Myself Into???

One of the things I hear a lot as an art student is "try and be different and original". It's the most damning phrase I can think of, really, for quite a number of reasons that I'll get into at the end of the blog post.

So last time I ended my post with a question: is there a collective unconscious? The evidence I've seen gives off a resounding yes, we tap into something universal when we try to create. I mean, look at all the myths that have been made over all the course of history. There are patterns, there are themes, in evidence between cultures that never had a chance to meet, but somehow had stories that are very similar. The themes mix in and out of different characters and make for a... well.. universal approach. Now the psychologists and scientists aren't coming out and saying it, but the last time science was sure of something they had to change their minds pretty quickly (I mean, bleeding people was a scientific thing), so I'm going to ignore them while they bicker about procedure.

The fact of the matter is, somehow we tap into the same myths, over and over and over. George Lucas figured this out with the highly successful Star Wars. He made a myth that, love it or hate it, you can't forget it. Luke's journey, while "typical", was the best selling trilogy of it's time. We can all connect to it in some way, shape, or form, whether we wanted to admit it or not (yes, I know people foolish enough to dislike Star Wars. No, I do not take their opinion seriously, especially when they're avid fans of Clannad). The story resonates with us and sticks there, deep in our souls, and we can't forget the story because we all know it, all believe it, and all want  to emulate it somehow, even if we hate the execution!

Clannad does a lot of the same stuff, strangely enough. It's the classic coming-age tale for a particular person, and what it means for him to grow up and have a family. Tomoya goes through the typical hero's journey, it's true, but what seems to strike the vast majority of Clannad fans isn't it's originality, but it's absolute sincerity. Like Star Wars, none of us give a damn if it's original, because we find it to be true.

Now, don't get me wrong, originality isn't the bane of all existence in art. I just happen to hate that particular line, because I like originality. But only up to the point where you're not trying to snub the universal rules. Because, like it or not, humans are creatures constrained by laws (otherwise there wouldn't be a concept of evil and moral good). Breaking those rules only works if you're trying to assert a "higher" rule, something people assert by intuition is more important. Something that's true.

And it's this quality of truth that's really the most important thing about the process, isn't it? I mean, with the possible exception of fans of 300 (and Zach Snyder's other putrid crap we call work) people want something that's real. Something that, even if we know it's not factual and doesn't actually exist, reminds us of those things we all hold in common, and that there are more good things than bad things. I know that, whenever I look at a piece of art, I look to be reminded of those things. I mean, it's already hard enough to find it in the "real" world, so it's nice to relax back into the truth, even if it's not see-able all the time in the factual world.

I guess I'm just glad it's a shared dream-space, and not a solitary one. I mean, how badly would it suck if our myths weren't universal? We'd all be alone.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

New Contributor to the Blog:SpiderBob!

So, y'all, I have a new contributor to the website (in case you can't read titles, I'm just going to regurgitate info and hope you can read what's under this nice pic of the Amazing and Superior Spider-Men.... although if you can't read the title I have no hope of you actually reading this page!), I've got a new contributor, SpiderBob! He's here to, well, he says talk comic books with me, but I probably won't screen his calls, so it's whatever he decides to put up besides child porn (which is legal in New York apparently. Yeah, it's legal to screw kids and video tape it for people to jerk off to in New York! SO DON'T DO THAT BOB!). We'll be doing some joint work after I'm done brain-washin... I mean.... talking... with him. Dunno when he'll post, but he's here, watching.... waiting.... 

I creeped myself out.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On My Tastes in Writing and Writer's Block

So I've been having a horrible writer's block for a while now, as far as fiction is concerned. I've been trying to figure out what makes me tick, and what I'd like to write about.So I started thinking about the types of stories that I have written. I've written stories about death: the process of facing it, mourning the life that you had, and being ready to move on. But recently I've found that that doesn't do it for me anymore.

I want a real bad guy. Real evil. Y'know, the guy who you look at and flinch, and realize that you're seeing a demented version of something real. The one who doesn't want to kill you because his wish is to see you like him. He wants a friend, not a corpse, and he'll do what it takes to make sure that you change to fit him.

He's alone, and wants company.

And he sees all the quality of a "friend" in the main character.

See, that would be a story I'd like reading.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The City's Lights: Yoshino and the Creative Process and... August Rush

Art is a very tricky thing to write about, because its complexity. You've got someone who hears something, sees something, views something and you find that you have to record it somehow. It may be something that seems rather sane to other people and yourself, or it may be incredibly off the wall and just insane to experience. But you have to record it, hell you may even have to show it to other people, to have them look at/listen to/ read this thing that you know is truth. Then you pray that everyone else isn't crazy and can see what you've made. Or that you've made it right. 

There's no doubt as to whether or not what you've seen is true, it's all in the communication, and in whether or not others can see it. To you, it is truth.

Now there's a reason I included August Rush in this, a Clannad post, because he really is the younger (and purer) Yoshino. He hears something, and realizes that he wants to reproduce what he hears for someone else. He never once loses sight of the fact that it is something that he hears, that he finds beautiful, but it's something he has to share with his parents. Yoshino's story is almost the opposite, it's the dark mirror of it. He has songs, but doesn't know why he's singing them, and realizes eventually that he was only making songs for Kouko Ibuki and himself. That was the audience that mattered to him. The fact that other people heard was really inconsequential to him, and to August as well.

Does this make artists selfish, considering that they only really make things for themselves and a select group of people most of the time? I don't think so, to be honest. Human beings have a need to take what's inside their own private worlds and bring it to the outside, into the outside world. I know that when I make an icon I don't make it to horde, I make it because it's inside of me and I want it to be around me, not just inside.

The inner world and the outer world need to be the same. We all feel this. And that leaves me with a question, one that directly relates back to Clannad: do we all share in the same inner world? Are we really tapping into the same place?