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Author: Andrew Asplund

News Blast: Star Wars Celebration 2017!

News Blast: Star Wars Celebration 2017!

This weekend was Star Wars Celebration Orlando, the twelfth instance of the Star Wars Celebration experience. Star Wars Celebration is usually an opportunity for fans to get together and talk about their love of Star Wars. Of course, it’s also a great opportunity for the people that make Star Wars to unleash new content onto the world. This year was no different.

Perhaps the biggest news is the revelation of a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi:

The Internet is already abuzz over the release of the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode 8: The Last Jedi. Mark Hamill drives the trailer as Luke Skywalker, providing the overall narration and a lot of heavy context to the “Last Jedi” aspect of the title. It sounds like the film will address the “balance of the Force” theme that first appeared in The Phantom Menace and has been further explored in Season 3 of Star Wars: Rebels. I’ve already spent an undue amount of time trying to determine if Tom Baker found his way on to the cast list, given his role as the Bendu in Star Wars: Rebels. With a release expected this December, there’s already a lot of fan excitement developing for this title.

“Jedi and Sith wield the Ashla and Bogan. The light and the dark. I’m the one in the middle. The Bendu.”

In addition to the Episode VIII trailer, a preview for the upcoming fourth (and final!) season of Star Wars: Rebels was also released:

For those not following Star Wars: Rebels, it is the story of a cell of rebels fighting the Empire that become an essential part of the Rebel Alliance. The show has continued to provide a background for the formative years of the Rebel Alliance, and this final year appears to be no different. Season 3 villain Admiral Thrawn makes an appearance in the trailer (with what appears to be a silly General Veers style helmet) as does Katee Sackhoff’s character Bo-Katan, who was previously seen in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Forest Whitaker’s character Saw Gerrera also appeared briefly. With regard to thematic content, it appears that they will be addressing both the “balance of the Force” theme and the battle for Mandalore (which was an element of Sabine’s storyline from Season 3).

Probably the only character not featured (despite claims that her fate would be addressed) was Ahsoka Tano. As /Film’s Peter Sciretta points out, showrunner Dave Filoni seemed to tease the audience with a clever t-shirt swap during the Rebels event last weekend.

For not saying anything about Ahsoka during the event, he certainly seems to have said a bunch.

Given everything Star Wars that was unleashed in Orlando, it looks like 2017-18 will be a relatively big year for the franchise.

 

News Blast: Mass Effect Review Round Up

News Blast: Mass Effect Review Round Up

This week saw the release of the long awaited “next title” in Bioware’s popular Mass Effect series: Mass Effect: Andromeda. For any number of reasons, Dan and I are far from the “cutting edge” of video game playing; I have no plans to play the game soon and Dan will start playing it this week.

That being said, the game has attracted its fair share of reviews, commentaries, and discussions. A lot of the internet is abuzz over the game, with many reviews acknowledging the games strengths but also admitting a healthy share of weaknesses. Erik Kain from Forbes even called it the “worst-reviewed game in the franchise.”

No matter how beautiful the planet, somebody has something negative to say…

From IGN‘s Dan Stapleton:

Mass Effect: Andromeda is an expansive action role-playing game with a few great moments that recapture the high points of the landmark trilogy that came before it, and energetic combat and fantastic sound effects contribute to a potent sci-fi atmosphere. Without consistently strong writing or a breakout star in its cast to carry it through the long hours and empty spaces, however, disappointments like a lack of new races, no companion customization, and major performance problems and bugs take their toll.

From Kotaku‘s Patricia Hernandez:

The plot and structure of Mass Effect: Andromeda can be viewed as a metaphor for the game itself, where a population eager for a fresh start makes a leap into a new frontier. The destination isn’t the paradise we hoped for. For our characters, Andromeda required a leap of faith, the belief that the universe must hold more for humanity. Nobody anticipated how much work building a new home would really take, and in a way, the entire game is about mitigating everyone’s disappointment. The truth is that Andromeda itself isn’t the promised land players hoped for either, but there is a lot that’s good in this flawed new frontier for Mass Effect.

From Polygon‘s Arthur Gies:

Let’s be clear: I’m conflicted about Mass Effect: Andromeda. There’s a lot of roughness throughout the game, and the technical issues, while not game-breaking, are often incredibly distracting. But it’s my time with the cast that I’m still thinking about, and the mysteries about the world that haven’t been answered that make me feel like I’m waiting once again for a new Mass Effect game. And if I’m judging a game by where it leaves me, Andromeda succeeds, even if it stumbled getting there.

Being both a sort of prequel and sequel to the original Mass Effect trilogy, it’s understandable that there would be both excitement and trepidation regarding the changes made to the venerated series. However, in at least one case, dissatisfaction with the game has taken a rather dark turn.

Kotaku‘s Ethan Gach reports that Allie Rose-Marie Leost, a woman who worked for EA Games in the motion-capture labs and had been associated with Mass Effect: Andromeda, was the victim of a series of online harassment and threats. Some people appear to be discontent with the animations in the game, somehow identified Leost as a lead animator, and are holding her responsible. The harassment ranges from threats of sexual assault to accusations of her providing sexual services in order to get her job.

This was going to be a screenshot of some of the awful tweets made towards Leost, but I figured it would be much more positive and uplifting to just post a Mass Effect: Andromeda screenshot instead.

After the initial onslaught began, Bioware decided to try and take action to rectify the situation by tweeting that somebody who had been “misidentified as a lead member” of the team was not, in fact, a lead member. It also clarified that she was no longer an employee of EA Games. This has been met with mixed responses from media websites and fans.

More recently, former Mass Effect animator Jonathan Cooper took to Twitter to both oppose attacks made against members of the development team and discuss some of the methods used in animation development. Pointing out the expansiveness of a project like Andromeda and the time limitations associated with the development cycle, his comments provide context for how a few of the more prominent animation mistakes have become the signature video for the game.

First though; going after individual team members is not only despicable, but the culprits and choice of target revealed their true nature. Just as we credit a team, not an individual, for a game’s success, we should never single out one person for a team’s failures. That said, animating an RPG is a really, really big undertaking – completely different from a game like Uncharted so comparisons are unfair. Every encounter in Uncharted is unique & highly controlled because we create highly-authored ‘wide’ linear stories with bespoke animations. Conversely, RPGs offer a magnitude more volume of content and importantly, player/story choice. It’s simply a quantity vs quality tradeoff. In Mass Effect 1 we had over 8 hrs of facial performance. In Horizon Zero Dawn they had around 15. Player expectations have only grown. As such, designers (not animators) sequence pre-created animations together – like DJs with samples and tracks.

Since the game’s release, there has been some discussion about providing some sort of patch or fix for some of the concerns expressed by fans. Ian S. Frazier, the lead designer, has expressed on Twitter that they’re “looking at patching lots of issues and want to strongly support the game moving forward.”

How all of this will affect the game (and, potentially, the critical response) remains to be seen. It does also, however, touch on the growing conversation around the status of high-profile, triple-A games being released in increasingly hobbled conditions (commonly decried as being “unfinished“), requiring either day one patches or, after vociferous fan and critical response, releasing one as soon as possible. Where Mass Effect: Andromeda falls in that conversation is unknown, but time (and sales) may yet tell.

Nerd Law 101: Intellectual Property Basics

Nerd Law 101: Intellectual Property Basics

It is hard to talk about “the law” and the importance it has in all things geeky and nerdy because “the law” is a vast collection of rules with a lot of interpretations and intricacies that vary from state to state and country to country. However, when considering the different areas of law and how they apply to nerd and geek issues, one practice area stands out as most applicable to your average nerd or geek: intellectual property.

Intellectual property usually refers to non-physical things like inventions or identities or stories that the government has determined important enough to recognize as a specific type of property. Typically, intellectual property is divided into four separate categories that cover different types of things: copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret. Because three of these things (copyright, patent, and trademark) come up with some regularity in nerdy and geeky endeavors, they’re worth discussing in a bit more detail.

It should go without saying that the contents of this article are meant as a general overview. This isn’t legal advice. Do not base any legal arguments on what you read in this or any further Nerd Law articles. Their purpose is to provide a basic understanding of how intellectual property law is relevant to nerdy and geeky stuff so you don’t end up saying something silly like “I’m going to patent my comic book” or “I own the copyright to this rule system.” One more time, just to make it clear: the contents of this article do not constitute legal advice.

From Plows to Portraits

When you look at the whole of intellectual property, it’s important to recognize that there are different kinds of things being protected. A new, unique farm tool is a very different thing from a painting of a farm, and both are different from the recognized trade name of a farming conglomerate. Because the sort of things being protected have different purposes, the rules associated with them are different and they have different names. Knowing the difference is important, because it’s common for people (even lawyers) to get the rules mixed up.

Copyright is probably the most famous (or infamous) type of intellectual property because it protects so many things that people interact with. Copyright protects creative works and expressions. This includes stories and paintings but also includes film, sculpture, dance, and songs. If it’s something you’d describe as “art,” it probably falls under copyright.

Patents, on the other hand, protect “inventions” like new machines, tools, chemical concoctions, and medicines. Specific processes also falls under patents: a software algorithm and a method for exercising your cat with a laser would also be a patentable invention. Usually, something falls under the protection of copyright or of patent, but rarely both.

Actual illustration from Patent #5,443,036.

Trademark, in contrast, is used to protect names, symbols, and other identifying marks associated with business. These are the marks and styling that let consumers know they’re buying items from a known business. Think of logos and brand names: “DC Comics” and the DC logo let you know that what you’re looking at is made by the company that makes all the Wonder Woman and Batman comics. This is a main reason why most superheroes have big logos on their chests.

Knowing the difference can be important, especially if you find yourself doing something that involves intellectual property. In the future, we will take time to focus on each individual type of intellectual property. For now, it’s good to start simple. Think of copyright as the law that protects creative things that artists do, patent as the law that protects inventive stuff that engineers and scientists do, and trademark as the law that protects identifying stuff that marketing people do. That’s a generalization, but it’s a good place to start thinking about it.

Knowing What They Don’t Do

Keeping in mind the basics of each type of intellectual property, it’s also important to recognize what they do not protect. Although there are interesting exceptions, most things fall into one of the three categories of intellectual property. Yet, I mentioned earlier that a lot of people tend to mix them up. Even lawyers, although one could argue that it’s less a mistake and more of a bold attempt at “shotgunning” a solution. Let’s take a somewhat recent example: the lawsuit that Wizards of the Coast brought against Cryptozoic over their online trading card game, HEX. This lawsuit claimed that Cryptozoic infringed on Wizards of the Coast’s copyright, patent, and trademark property. Consider this excerpt from the copyright section of the complaint:

37. Cyptozoic copied the cards, plot, elements, circumstances, play sequence, and flow of Magic. Players in both games are confined to the same parameters based on an initial dealing of seven cards and play progresses in a substantially identical manner. Players must efficiently use their skill and calculation to assemble their initial decks and then in suitable selection and play of the various cards.

Although this paragraph comes from the copyright infringement of their complaint, most of what they’re describing is the process or procedure of the game. But, it’s worth pointing out that they never say process, procedure, or method of operation, because “[i]n no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” 17 USC 102(b) (emphasis added). The attorneys here are carefully trying to sneak patent concepts into the copyright section of the complaint.

It’s obvious something is going on here.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. If you go down to the patent section of the complaint, they make the following claim:

55. Cryptozoic deliberately and intentionally copied the game play, rules, player interaction with the game, layout and arrangement, visual presentation, sequence and flow, scoring system, and Magic’s overall look. By duplicating the rules, scoring, and cards, Cryptozoic has copied Magic’s then-inventive game.

Most of that sounds like a patent issue (rules, processes, and procedures). But, then something else sneaks in: “layout and arrangement, visual presentation, […] and Magic‘s overall look.” That’s strange, when you consider that patents are obtained by “[w]hoever intents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new, and useful improvement thereof[.]” 35 USC 101. Nothing in that says anything about “visual presentation” or “overall look.” As before, the attorneys for Wizards of the Coast were packing extra claims, in this case, likely a variety of trademark claim, into the incorrect section of the complaint.

When Even the Lawyers Are Not Sure

This just goes to show that intellectual property law can be a difficult subject. And I haven’t even gotten to things like fair use, derivative works, trade dress, non-obviousness, functional aspects of aesthetic components, or any of the other wild and crazy elements of intellectual property. From Rocky IV to Monopoly to Games Workshop, there are plenty of interesting issues to explore in the world of intellectual property.

This is just intended to be a quick introduction to the three major types of intellectual property that affect the nerdy/geeky community. Consider this the first step of a much larger exploration of how intellectual property manifests in the world of all things nerdy and geeky.

News Blast: Iron Fist Roundup

News Blast: Iron Fist Roundup

With Iron Fist set to come out on Friday of this week, it seemed appropriate to do a quick round up of all the news and reviews that have been circulating in the previous week. For those who have been distracted by other news, Netflix has released the first six episodes of Iron Fist to a number of reviewers and critics. The response has been … less than was perhaps expected.

“He’s not a human. He’s like a piece of iron.” -Ivan Drago. Image by John Gallagher

From Polygon‘s Susana Polo:

Iron Fist’s problems with its portrayal of Asian cultures and Asian-Americans are embedded throughout every episode. It’s just that its problems with delivering exposition, crafting consistent characters, and even basic dialogue writing run right alongside.

From The Onion A.V. Club‘s Danette Chavez:

Had Netflix rolled out Iron Fist first, its unsteadiness would be forgivable; this is a process, after all. But it’s actually the final step before a huge showdown, so it can’t afford to buckle under the pressure. And yet, with all that riding on it, the first half of the season is just a checked box. Filler episodes are one thing, but right now Iron Fist looks like a filler season.

From The Hollywood Reporter‘s Daniel Fienberg:

Iron Fist feels like a step backward on every level, a major disappointment that already suffers from storytelling issues through the first six episodes made available to critics and would probably be mercifully skippable in its entirety if it weren’t the bridge into the long-awaited Defenders crossover series.

From Business Insider‘s Jethro Nededog:

First, it doesn’t live up to the quality of storytelling found in “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” and “Luke Cage.” Plainly stated, “Iron Fist” is boring.

Of course, it is worth remembering that this is based entirely on the first six episodes. Rumors abound that the seventh episode of the series will be extremely violent. The episode has been rated 18 for “Strong Bloody Violence.” Given the stagnant impressions of the first six episodes, it remains to be seen if episode 7 (titled “Felling With Tree Routes”) is as much a dramatic turn as the portended graphically violent turn.

Given that the Defenders mini-series is already slated for a 2017 release, it’s clear that Iron Fist‘s poor initial reception will not stop the Marvel/Netflix hybrid from moving forward. That being said, it’s unfortunate that the same studio partnership that produced Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Daredevil has hit a slump with their most recent offering; whether this should be viewed as a bump in the road or an image of what’s to come is uncertain.

Spotlight: 2016 Mobile Games Year in Review

Spotlight: 2016 Mobile Games Year in Review

Although Dan and I lamented, cursed, and even sang songs about the year that was 2016, it was sort of a big year in one important way. The mobile game market has become a hot bed of gaming activity. 2016 (including the end of 2015, to be fair) saw a few big names throw their intellectual properties into the ring. Somewhere in that maelstrom that is pay-for-play micro-gaming, I got caught up in the ride. Although we’re already several days into the new year, I thought it would be appropriate to look back on all the games that I looked at, played, talked about, and otherwise engaged with in 2016.

Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes by Electronic Arts

Technically, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes was released near the end of 2015, but I did not get to it until much later. It was my Week in Geek in Episode 93 – The Clay Man Incident. Filled with many characters, locations, and ships from the Star Wars universe, this turn-based squad based battle game provides a vast amount of content. There are a lot of different characters from the movies and television shows that you can group together to battle.

Exciting squad-based combat featuring Star Wars characters!

Since I first started playing back in April, they’ve added a great deal of content. The game expanded beyond the simple five on five combat to include massive “raid bosses,” in which player-organized guilds fought to defeat a massive enemy in turns. More recently, they added a ship combat mode in which X-Wings and TIE Fighters shoot it out in an entirely new (yet surprisingly similar) game mode. Some of the more recent content has been viewed somewhat negatively; what started out as an effective “could be played for free but maybe I’ll spend a little” game has turned into a “if you can’t spend a huge amount, don’t even bother” game. Accusations of rampant cheating have also soured some paying players from participating (at least some of those that I have spoken to), an important consideration since so much of the game relies on playing against other players.

In the end, the biggest draws for Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes are still the ongoing stream of new character content and the powerful license. Even for folks that disliked The Phantom Menace (or the prequels in general) or don’t follow Rebels, the depth of Star Wars content in Galaxy of Heroes will keep nearly every fan interested for as long as they keep providing it.

Check out Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes on the iTunes App Store and the Android Google Play Shop.

DC Legends by Warner Bros.

Always interested in trying to do something as well as somebody else, Warner Bros. released their own squad-based battler in November. I discussed my initial thoughts back in Episode 114 – Su Gana. Very similar in feel to Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, this game features an array of heroes and villains from the DC Comics universe. Perhaps the biggest gameplay difference from the aforementioned Star Wars title is the presence of a loose story to tie the narrative together: “As the shadow of the Blackest Night prophecy falls on every world, sheer force of will alone cannot save the shattered DC Universe.”

All your favorite (or not?) DC comics characters come together to punch things!

Still in its first few months, most of the additions to DC Legends so far have come in the form of character and event additions. As with other freemium games, chasing the “hot new character” is an important part of the gameplay. The game has yet to do any major additions or changes, still relying on the basic gameplay elements to keep the game going.

With so many similarities to the slightly more mature Galaxy of Heroes, this title has a lot of catching up to do. The biggest driver for this game is the fact that you can have Black Canary, Sinestro, the Flash, and Zatana fighting together against… well, whoever gets thrown at you. At that point, it feels like it’s more a matter of what license do you want taking your money and time and less which game you think is better designed.

Check out DC Legends on the iTunes App Store and the Android Google Play Shop.

Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius by SQUARE ENIX

Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius is the second Final Fantasy themed freemium mobile game that Dan and I both found ourselves playing (at least for a bit). We both discussed our initial impressions of this game in Episode 99 – Jaw-Jackin’. Since that initial release, they’ve added more content both in the way of the “story” mode and in semi-regular themed events. Compared to the previous mobile game, Final Fantasy Record Keeper, Brave Exvius brings a lot more to the “game” front. The “story mode” feels a lot more like something that might be a classic Final Fantasy game with a narrative, dungeon exploration, and the sorts of thing one expects. That being said, random battles have been replaced with a more “spend energy to explore” style freemium model.

Fighting battles with … Exdeath?

All that being said, it combines enough of “new experience” with “recognizable intellectual property” that seems to be essential to the constantly churning market that is freemium mobile games. The story introduces a new world with new characters, but connects it with the recognizable characters of classic Final Fantasy through the power of “Visions.” You build a party of characters from both the main characters and these collectible “Visions” and use them collectively in battles to explore new areas, discover treasures, and unlock additional content. Since its initial release, they’ve added some significant content updates that provides access to more things to do, additional things to unlock, and more items to craft.

Similar to Final Fantasy: Record Keeper, this game leans heavily on overall Final Fantasy nostalgia and probably has little appeal to people that don’t know much about the expansive worlds. Although essential in battle, these characters do not involve themselves in the story or have any contribution to anything; they simply serve as warriors to kill off the never-ending legion of monsters. However, as Dan pointed out, the characters are drawn and animated very well, giving a new appearance to many of the classic characters. If nothing else, they look good.

Check out Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius on the iTunes App Store and the Android Google Play Shop.

The Trail by Peter Molyneux and Kongregate

I first talked about the new Molyneux title, The Trail, in Episode 114 – Su Gana and followed up in Shortcast 19 – What Was Town? Although it didn’t stay too long on my play rotation, it did stand out from most of the mobile games on the current market. Whether due to the Molyneux involvement or, in the alternative, development by Kongregate, The Trail feels more like a collecting and crafting themed video game and less like a pay-to-play freemium title. Yes, the game still occasionally throws a “buy this special pack” splash page at you, but with nowhere near the intensity of most of the market.

Walking along a trail picking up garbage is an important party of any balanced game, right?

But, let’s be honest. Though it may feel like a collecting and crafting video game, it’s not a particularly great one. Specifically with the need (whether literal or perceived) to play for extended periods at a time, it makes it tough for this game to survive in a market that specializes in repeated, yet relatively brief, engagements. When you put these two together, it feels like the better option would be to try a different mobile game or get a more in-depth crafting game for the console or PC instead of mobile.

Check out The Trail on the iTunes App Store and the Android Google Play Shop.

Plants vs. Zombies: Heroes by PopCap Games

In the ongoing quest to play as many of the hot new mobile games as possible, this is one that pretty much came and went before I even had time to mention it. First released in October 2016, Plants vs. Zombies: Heroes is a fusion of the recognizable franchise that is Plants vs. Zombies with the mechanics of something like Hearthstone. In a sense, it’s tower defense meets digital trading card game. Players play as either a plant or a zombie, with a deck of cards built from a pool corresponding to your side and whatever sub-faction your “hero” is affiliated with. For example, the zombie hero Super Brainz can choose his cards from the Sneaky and Brainy categories of zombie cards. The game is played one-on-one, with a slight difference in how the game plays for zombies and plants.

A screenshot of gameplay (on the left) coupled with a screenshot of deck building (on the right).

There are a lot of different cards out their with which to customize decks, leading to a lot of variation in play. Of course, like any trading card game, it requires a certain dedication to the meta. Players can’t just be good at playing cards; they have to be good at figuring out which cards work well in which decks. Like Hearthstone, the deck-building portion is just as important as the actual play portion of the game. This puts it in a strange place with respect to the competition. It is not as deep or developed as a card game as something like Hearthstone and its likely too involved and complicated when compared to the original Plants vs. Zombies. Although I don’t personally know that many PvZ players, I suspect most of them were quickly turned off by the complexity of PvZ:H. We will have to wait and see how it turns out going forward.

Check out Plants vs. Zombies: Heroes on the iTunes App Store and the Android Google Play Store.

Fallout Shelter by Bethesda

This is another one of those “it actually came out in 2015” games, but it found its way back into my play rotation when I started playing Fallout 4. This is one of the few mobile games that Dan and I did NOT spend a great deal of time discussing on the show, mostly because it sort of “came and went” for both of us relatively quickly after its release (although Dan played it obsessively for a week or so). However, you can hear our friends at the Nerdhole talk about it here, in Episode 33 – Fallout Shelter.

Who is indisputably the most important person in Vault 101: He who shelters us from the harshness of the atomic wasteland, and to whom we owe everything we have, including our lives?

When released, Fallout Shelter was mostly a quick little “collect resources, build more buildings, grow more people, collect more resources” sort of game. Not much more than your typical aquarium “log in and tap” sort of game. Since its release, they’ve added some content meant to add more depth to the game. There is now a quest system, special outfits and equipment, and some new features added. It’s a nice improvement from the original title and worth the time for folks really engaged with the Fallout style. With Bethesda already moving to develop more smartphone and mobile titles in the future, it should be interesting to see where they take gaming to next.

Check out Fallout Shetler on the iTunes App Store and the Android Google Play Shop.

Marvel Avengers Academy by TinyCo

One of the more recent mobile games to make its way onto my smartphone, Marvel Avengers Academy is one of the many “aquarium” style games present in the market. I first mentioned it in Episode 111 – #CyclopsWasRight. It’s nothing complicated or fancy. Some even argue it’s not much of a game; it’s more just a thing you turn on every few hours and tap with some regularity. But don’t let that fundamental lack of compelling gameplay fool you! It can actually be quite an entertaining product, especially for people with interest in the characters upon which the game is based.

Nobody really knows what’s going on here. Except Maria Hill.

From a gaming perspective, MAA is probably easiest to compare to a worker placement style board game. There are fixed locations (Stark Tower, the Avenger Dorms, the Shooting Range), a set of characters with fixed actions that take different amounts of time, and a series of tasks or missions that need to be accomplished for prizes. Part of the challenge is finding ways to best (rather, most efficiently) complete the missions assigned. Inefficient play is not prohibitive to advancement, but it does slow down unlocking new characters, buildings, and actions.

Black Widow, dressed for spying. Or dancing. Or both.

What keeps the game changing is a constant stream of new special events. When I began playing back in October, they had just started a special Halloween-themed event. The Academy was under attack by the forces of Mephisto and an array of strange characters joined my Academy team, including Ghost Rider, Misty Knight, and Moon Knight. Shortly after that four-week event concluded, the Academy fused with Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum as the forces of Kaecilius attacked. With each new event comes new characters with novel new actions and animations. All of it is tied together with a somewhat organized storyline in which the origin of the Academy, the fact that most of the characters are in their teens, and the “truth” about what’s going on are waiting to be uncovered.

As a Marvel fan, it’s a cute time-waster that never asks too much. The narrative that they are slowly revealing is enough to keep me tapping and the ongoing array of new and interesting characters are sufficient to keep me coming for more.

Check out Marvel Avengers Academy on the iTunes App Store and the Android Google Play Shop.

Going Forward

2016 saw a lot of new content come to mobile and handheld devices. A lot of it came wrapped in massive licenses, whether they be comic books, video games, or movies. As we enter 2017, new games will be made, old ones will be upgraded, and some will just fall by the wayside. Continuing to find new ways to keep the gameplay interesting while not driving away too many players with paywalls will continue to be a challenge. Of course, there’s always the issue of micro-transactions and the lasting effect it has on player retention, but that’s a discussion for another time.

News Blast: The (Colorful) Power of the Daleks

News Blast: The (Colorful) Power of the Daleks

Fans of classic Doctor Who already know about tonight’s US premier of the newly re-constituted (or, more appropriately, regenerated) story, “The Power of the Daleks,” first aired in November and December of 1966. Lost in the infamous archive purge that the BBC went through in the early 1970s, the story was targeted for an animated form after several other stories received animated supplements (e.g., “The Invasion,” “The Reign of Terror“). The big difference with this story is that (a) the entire story had to be animated due to the loss of any complete episodes; and (b) this was Patrick Troughton’s first story as the Doctor, taking over after William Hartnell’s departure. In that regard, this is a pivotal story in the history of Doctor Who because it presents the audience with “regeneration” (or, as described in the story, “renewal”) for the first time.

The newly regenerated Doctor in his animated form.
The newly regenerated Doctor in his animated form, baggy pants and all.

More recently, the BBC announced that this story will also be done with a separate color-animated version, to be included as a separate digital download or as an added feature to the DVD release. One can assume that they based the animation’s colors on production stills from the episode. It can even be seen in the color choice for the Daleks, who sport the classic 1960s white/gray and blue exterior.

1966 Daleks in full color. Or, colour, I guess. The original 1960s color scheme, as well.
1966 Daleks in full color. Or, colour, I guess. The original 1960s color scheme, as well.

This is unexpected, as all of the previous black-and-white Doctor Who stories had been released without any color added. It probably more represents a feature of the animation process and less a desire to colorize old episodes. Previously, a number of Third Doctor stories have been re-colorized by the Doctor Who Restoration Team; only black-and-white versions of color episodes had been retained, so the team used relatively sophisticated methods to restore color to the footage. But there had been no discussion (until now, at least) of adding color to the historically black-and-white episodes.

The question remains to be seen as to whether or not this will be attempted for other episodes. The Restoration Team has done “special editions” and re-cuts of some of the later episodes, including a substantively re-worked rendition of “Enlightenment” and a re-cut “movie version” of “The Curse of Fenric.” It may be simply that “The Power of the Daleks” was a big enough episode to warrant special treatment. Maybe “The Unearthly Child” or “The War Games” will warrant a special colorized version as well. Only time will tell.

 

News Blast: The Casting of Lando Calrissian

News Blast: The Casting of Lando Calrissian

Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, something Star Wars related is always percolating. It seems set that the House of Mouse will give the world more Star Wars movies one year at a time, following the numbered sequel/side story alternating style. In that format, 2016 will see the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and 2017 the release of Episode VIII. The NEXT Star Wars movie on the horizon (scheduled for 2018) is the tentatively titled Untitled Han Solo Star Wars Anthology Film, which promises to fill out the story of how a young Han Solo got himself to where we know him in Episode IV. One of the important characters to be (as of yet) announced is the gambler and con man Lando Calrissian. And, in the last week, Lucasfilm announced that Lando will be portrayed by actor Donald Glover.

This new film depicts Lando in his formative years as a scoundrel on the rise in the galaxy’s underworld — years before the events involving Han, Leia, and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and his rise to Rebel hero in Return of the Jedi.

Donald Glover has quite a sizable fan base, getting a significant amount of attention in Dan Harmon’s Community and more recently in an as-of-yet unrevealed role in the upcoming Spiderman: Homecoming. That’s not to mention the fan base acquired through his already prolific music career, mostly under the moniker of Childish Gambino

Although a lot of people are excited about this casting, at least one person has expressed vocal concern: Glover’s mother. As he said in an interview on the Ellen show, when he told his parents about the casting, his mother made it clear that she will not abide him messing up the character. This is a fair concern, as Billy Dee Williams is well known for bringing a sufficient amount of smooth to the role.

Lando Calrissian, c. 1980 and 2016.
Someone must have told them about his little maneuver at the battle of Taanab.

The one thing that does seem to stand out from all of the recent coverage is that this announcement seems to have shifted the focus of the film. The press release explains how the movie will depict Lando in his formative years “before the events involving Han, Leia, and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back[.]” The IMDB listing already has Donald Glover listed above Han Solo actor Alden Ehrenreich. Given Donald Glover’s popularity, it almost seems like he’s stealing the show before the show has even been made.

Lando Calrissian, reminding everybody that he wears the best cape of the entire galaxy.
Lando Calrissian, reminding everybody that he wears the best cape of the entire galaxy.

At this point, the most important question is pretty clear: Will Donald Glover be able to wear a cape as well as Billy Dee Williams?

News Blast: The End of the Starcraft Pro League

News Blast: The End of the Starcraft Pro League

Today, the Korean Esports Association (KeSPA) made a big announcement: the formal Starcraft ProLeague would come to an end. Although there are a lot of different reasons that the Starcraft league was cancelled, the Chairman of KeSPA summed it up reasonably well:

[T]he drop in the number of ProLeague teams and players, difficulty securing league sponsors, and match fixing issues have made it challenging to maintain ProLeague.

This is not an isolated assessment. Professional eSports organization TeamLiquid also noted that five professional Starcraft II pro teams also disbanded. Although people on Twitter have already declared Starcraft dead in Korea or competitive Starcraft II dead altogether, Blizzard has yet to issue any response and the 2016 WCS (World Championship Series) Global Finals are still scheduled for early November.

Maybe it's time to pour one out for professional Starcraft...
Maybe it’s time to pour one out for Starcraft…

It’s no surprise to anybody that interest in watching Starcraft has decreased significantly in the past years while viewership of games like League of Legends and DOTA2 have dominated the eSports milieu. But, even considering the popularity of LoL and DOTA2, it just feels like the end of an era; Starcraft II was the impetus for the ever-popular “Barcraft” phenomenon that started in 2011 in the United States. That was the time where a bar could potentially fill any day of the week with either live streams or recently played games of professional Starcraft. Of course, with that being said, the whole “watching video games in a bar” phenomenon was arguably already losing steam before this announcement; both the Barcraft sub-Reddit and the TeamLiquid Barcraft listing are mostly vacant.

Whether this is the end of the line or just a bump in the road, it’s hard not to look at this as a condemnation of eSports as nothing more than a fad, or at least something that will never have the social gravitas of “real” competitive sports. Nowadays, it’s probably easier to find a RuPaul’s Drag Race watch party in a bar than it would be an eSports event. Perhaps it just says something about the nature of watching events as a group.

News Blast: Wonder Woman and the United Nations

News Blast: Wonder Woman and the United Nations

DC Comics’ Wonder Woman recently made the news in a rather peculiar way. The United Nations announced that they have selected Wonder Woman to be the “United Nations Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.” As Wonder Woman approaches the 75th anniversary of her creation, she will be used by the United Nations to promote messages of and about the empowerment of women and gender-based violence.

In her satin tights fighting for our rights. And the old Red, White, and Blue.
Wonder Woman. In her satin tights fighting for our rights. And the old Red, White, and Blue.

It’s not every day that a fictional character gets named as an honorary Ambassador for the United Nations. The UN will be holding an official ceremony on October 21 to “bestow” the title upon Wonder Woman. By doing so, the UN hopes to promote its Sustainable Development Goal #5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The President of DC Entertainment, Diane Nelson, along with unnamed “special guests” will join the Secretary-General for this honor. It is not clear if Gal Gadot or Lynda Carter will be among the attendees.

This news comes shortly after the naming of the next UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. With growing concern over the lack of women in positions of leadership at the United Nations, some have argued that this honorary ambassadorship is a token effort and a deflection. Given that the United Nations had previously forbade the BBC from associated Doctor Who’s UNIT with the United Nations over concerns that it did not properly represent the United Nations, it seems perhaps a bit peculiar that the warrior woman from Themyscira would be recognized as an ambassador.

 

Let’s Play – Star Trek Online (Part 1)

Let’s Play – Star Trek Online (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, I sat down to play Star Trek Online on the PS4 (shortly after it was released), though I failed to make a post for it up on the website (until now). Watch me play through the first two or so missions (essentially, the tutorial) of the Federation quest/storyline.

Although the video has been on our YouTube channel since I first played it back on September 10, 2016, it took me a considerable amount of time to “annotate” it using the YouTube annotation system. The annotations are visible only on certain viewing platforms (web viewing, mostly) and can be turned off. It’s mostly additional trivia and Star Trek facts that I was only able to think of after I finished recording the video.

The inspiration of the annotations comes from the Special Edition DVD releases of the original Star Trek movies. Technical editors Michael and Denise Okuda wrote a series of sub-titles that included weird facts and information about Star Trek, the design, and the implementation of the movie.