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Spotlight: The Marvel Minimum – The Four Movies To See Before “Avengers: Infinity War”

Spotlight: The Marvel Minimum – The Four Movies To See Before “Avengers: Infinity War”

When Marvel’s trailer for Avengers: Infinity War debuted, many comic fans, like myself, were excited. The culmination of ten years of dedicated movie watching will pay off in what MCU mastermind, Kevin Feige, has dubbed “[a thing] you’ve never seen in superhero films: a finale.” But being a self proclaimed comic expert, and even having my own YouTube Comic Book Show, means you become the person your friends text when they have questions. One that struck me after the trailer debut was “Who’s the purple dude that looks Hellboy-ish? The bad one who put a jewel into his knuckle?” The question is perfectly fair, although my response was a bit, um, charged:

“Um… Thanos? The Mad Titan. The ultimate villain that has been teased since Avengers ONE. WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHO IS THANOS?!!!!

WHO IS THANOS? Thanos is not amused. Source: Marvel.com

That simple question led down a rabbit hole of a discussion with my friend about the fact that they missed Thanos in all three of his movie appearances (two of which were post- or mid-credits scenes), and his mention in another. Then you have the Infinity Stones and how they fit in (literally and figuratively) with the Infinity Gauntlet and how all of this relates to the average moviegoer. When all is said and done, when you sort the movies out using those requirements, you have the following:

Thanos Appearances/Mentions

  • The AvengersMid-Credits
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Only actual in-movie appearance
  • Avengers: Age of UltronPost-Credits
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – Mentioned due to being Gamora/Nebula’s “adoptive” father.

Infinity Stones Appearances/Mentions

  • Thor (post-credits scene) – Tesseract/Cosmic Cube – Space Stone
  • Captain America: The First Avenger – Tesseract/Cosmic Cube – Space Stone
  • The Avengers – Tesseract/Cosmic Cube – Space Stone and The Scepter – Mind Stone
  • Thor: The Dark World – Aether – Reality Stone
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – The Orb – Power Stone and Aether – Reality Stone
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron – The Scepter/Vision’s head – “Mind Stone”, All 6 of the Stones were in Thor’s vision.
  • Captain America: Civil War – Mind Stone in Vision’s head
  • Doctor Strange – The Eye Of Agamotto – The Time Stone
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – mentioned Power Stone again
  • Thor: Ragnarok – Thor was looking for the Stones from when he had that vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

So, counting the above, in order to understand Thanos and the Infinity Stones (minus the Soul Stone.. WHERE IS THAT BAD BOY?) before going into Avengers: Infinity War, a person would have to have seen ten of the eighteen movies over the last 10 years just to understand everything that doesn’t have to do with our main characters. But is all that necessary? Could we shorten the list? Or, alternatively, how short can we make the list and still have it all make sense?

How many movies do you need to watch to even understand this promotional image? Where is Thanos’s helmet? Source: Marvel.com

Let’s start out with movies from above you could skip as they are unrelated to most of the Infinity War plot (either secondary mentions of Thanos/Infinity Stones or no mentions).

  • Thor
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Then let’s take out movies that can have single line explanations in Infinity War to remove the bloat:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger – By the way, the Cosmic Cube/Tesseract was the macguffin of this movie and is seen in The Avengers.
  • Doctor Strange – The necklace Stephen Strange wears and uses in this movie has time powers and is the Time Stone
  • Thor: The Dark World – The Aether (aka red mist) was from this movie and that is actually an Infinity Stone.

So removing those means that only four movies in the MCU have to do with the actual events of Infinity War from an understanding of the villain, giant cast of characters, and major plot points.

  • The Avengers
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Captain America: Civil War

Not bad. But let’s add in some movies to round out character motivations, and side characters that may be pertinent to Infinity War:

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Arguably the best MCU movie and introduces The Winter Soldier who’s a pretty major character at this point.
  • Thor: Ragnarok – What Thor and Hulk were up to while Civil War was happening.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – MORE GUARDIANS
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming – Gives you more information on Spider-Man and his relationship with Tony Stark.
  • Black Panther – Unreleased but BY GRABTHAR’S HAMMER this movie looks great. Not only is it the movie leading into Infinity War, but Wakanda probably has the Soul Stone that we have yet to see in the MCU. I’ll update this after the movie comes out either confirming it’s need or removing it from “recommended viewing.” 
Clearly, Black Panther is important. Look at all that Black Panther stuff going on. Source: Marvel.com

In conclusion, here is this comic nerd’s list of the movies you should probably watch before Avengers: Infinity War. Additionally, if you swap Avengers: Age Of Ultron for Iron Man (the first) these may be the best movies of the 18 MCU films anyway. The list below is in viewing order (by MCU chronology) with bolded titles being the MUST SEE four films.

  1. The Avengers
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  5. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
  6. Captain America: Civil War
  7. Spider-Man Homecoming
  8. Thor: Ragnarok
  9. Black Panther (TBD)

With all nine of these movies under your belt, anyone should be able to enjoy Avengers: Infinity War to its fullest.

Have any suggestions or edits to this list? Let me know in the comments below!


Taylor Katcher doesn’t like sand. It’s coarse and irritating and gets everywhere. But he loves comics, typefaces, and most other things to a fault…mostly. You can follow Taylor’s unbridled love for stuff on Twitter.

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 4

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 4

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This fourth part of a multi-part series looks at Chroma SquadRogue Legacy, and Steamworld Dig. Take a look at the third part here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-3/.

Chroma Squad

Chroma Squad by Behold Studios is one of those games that I never would have guessed I would have wanted: a tactical RPG themed around the production of a Super Sentai style show. Or, as one reviewer described it, “Power Rangers crossed with XCOM with a dash of Game Dev Story.” Yet, somehow, the theme works really well, resulting in a fun game that scratches that tactical RPG itch with a lighthearted sense of humor.

You have to defeat those Putties, Power Rangers! Source: Behold Studios

Perhaps one of the stranger aspects of the game is the meta narrative: the player controls a group of stunt actors who decide to create their own Super Sentai show. The game is divided between turn based battles, in which the cast acts out an episode of the show, and the time between episodes, where you create new costumes and upgrade the production equipment. This creates a unique spin on the RPG aspect of the game, with character improvement being tied to things like upgraded costumes. The battles are important insomuch that success and achieving bonus goals reflects on the show’s popularity with fans. It’s not enough that you win battles; there are goals that you have to meat in order to keep viewers happy and engaged. Do poorly and you may even find your show getting cancelled.

Buying new props for your team makes them more effective in battle. Source: Behold Studios

You can hear me discuss Chroma Squad back in Episode 131 – A Magical Failure. Since then, the game has expanded to include a new “Director’s Cut” free update which adds some new game modes and tweaks some of the play experience. The game is also available on other platforms, including iOS and Android, so you can take the excitement of Super Sentai with you wherever you go.

Check out Chroma Squad for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/251130/Chroma_Squad/.

Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy was the breakthrough hit Rogue-lite platform action-adventure game by Cellar Door Games, developer of a number of free Flash games like Don’t Shit Your Pants. Basically, it combines the difficulty and random generation of Roguelike games with the platform action-adventure of Metroidvania style games in a unique combination.

Action platformer craziness! Source: Cellar Door Games

The story of Rogue Legacy is relatively straight-forward: you play as a line of royal descendants entering a castle to find a great treasure. Every time your character dies (which is inevitable, given the nature of the game), you choose a new descendant to take his or her place. You have three options, each with their own combination of abilities and disabilities that will make that next play-through unique. You keep the gold and other items that you find through each expedition into the castle. These can be used to make further generations more powerful, either through purchasing new equipment or upgrading your castle (which, in turn, makes your heroes more powerful). Although the game can be frustratingly difficult at times, it still makes for a really fun game that captures the feel of a Roguelike without being too punishing.

After many collecting many treasures, you too can be this powerful. Source: Cellar Door Games

Rogue Legacy has actually come up in the show multiple times, back in 2014-2015. Andrew first mentioned the game back in Episode 27 – Super Sleep Mode. Dan started playing in Episode 53 – With Space Hands and continues discussing his experience in Episode 54 – Noun the Adjective. The game is available on Steam but also available for consoles (PS4, XBox One).

Check out Rogue Legacy for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/241600/Rogue_Legacy/.

Steamworld Dig

Steamworld Dig, by Image & Form Games, is the second entry in the “Steamworld” series of games that includes Steamworld Heist. Part platform mining game, part Metroidvania, the game follows the adventure of a steam powered robot named Rusty who inherits his uncle’s ore mine. Most of the game focuses on carefully digging through the mine, collecting valuable ore while making sure you don’t dig too much and get stuck.

A combination of steampunk, westerns, and … digging. Source: Image and Form Games

I will admit (again) that I am always a sucker for games that have that Metroidvania feel and Steamworld Dig did a very good job of capturing the essence of what I liked from a game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In a way, what it brings together is the best of platform action-adventure games with a reasonable dose of RPG gameplay. The game doesn’t do as much for exploring as some of the classic Metroidvania games, as most of the exploring is going further down the mine, but it manages to be a lot of fun. Perhaps, the only real complaint I had was that I was done with it so quickly; I sat down to play the game on a day off and found myself at the end before I even realized it.

Between descents into the mine, you get to go shopping. Source: Image and Form Games

For whatever reason, I never actually talked about playing through Steamworld Dig on the show. It probably has something to do with the fact that I finished it quickly enough that it didn’t make its way into my Week in Geek. However, it’s worth mentioning that since I played it, they’ve actually released a sequel to the game, Steamworld Dig 2.

Check out Steamworld Dig for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/252410/SteamWorld_Dig/

 

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 3

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 3

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This third part of a multi-part series looks at Stardew Valley, Renowned Explorers: International Society, and Project Highrise. Take a look at part two of the series here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-2/.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is one of those games where the designer wanted to make the very best version of a classic game. In this case, the game in question was Harvest Moon, first released for the Super Nintendo in the late 1990s. The premise is simple: after getting fed up with your big corporate job, you open a letter left to you by your grandfather and discover that you’ve inherited a farm in a quiet little town called Stardew Valley. From there, you… well, you farm. You plant crops. You water crops. You harvest crops. You make enough money to buy more crops. Go fishing in the local river. Or at the pier. Maybe build a chicken coop. Raise chickens. Harvest eggs. Make mayonnaise. Expand your house. Go adventuring in the local mine. Fight some monsters. Help rebuild the local community center. Make new friends. Maybe meet the man or woman of your dreams.

Farming takes work. And organization. And patience. Source: ConcernedApe

When I started playing Stardew Valley, I didn’t really have a lot of experience with farming simulation RPGs. I played Harvest Moon for about an hour back in 2007 and didn’t quite figure it out. But Stardew Valley became the game I spent most of my winter holiday playing last year. By the time the calendar hit New Year’s Day 2017, I had put more than 100 hours into the game. All in the course of about two weeks time. Say what you will about farming simulation RPGs, but this one is pretty great.

The people of Stardew Valley add a lot of character to the game. Source: ConcernedApe

I mentioned Stardew Valley in Shortcast 21 – Love the Stank. Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about new content. The primary focus has been on the fabled multiplayer support, debuting soon (-ish) on the Nintendo Switch and later on other platforms. But, they’ve also mentioned a few new pieces of content that they intend to add to the game.

Check out Stardew Valley for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/413150/Stardew_Valley/

Renowned Explorers: International Society

Renowned Explorers: International Society by Abbey Games is a strategy game with a fair number of RPG elements. You choose a group of explorers from the collection of possible characters and then proceed on adventures. You’re in search of treasures and renown in an effort to be the best explorer in the International Society. Each adventure involves exploring the local area, having encounters with the local residents, and sometimes engaging in battles. You have a fixed number of resources, so you need to decide how to best use them to succeed in the adventure. Many of the encounters involve story prompts where you have to choose what option to go with. Some require greater skill or sacrifice but yield potentially greater reward.

Exploring the local environment is a big part of the game. Source: Abbey Games

Battles shift to a hex based battle map, where characters take turns making attacks and using abilities. A lot of combat is based on a paper-rock-scissor mechanic of attitudes: devious, friendly, and aggressive. Not only do you choose an overall attitude for every battle but characters have individual abilities that are keyed to the difference attitudes. Learning how to best utilize these different attitudes is the key to succeeding in battle. Because the actions in battle can range from actual violence to talking (whether it be devious or friendly), it ends up being much sillier than one might think at the onset. But silly in a fun way.

To Battle! Agatha von Brunswick lectures the local farmers. Source: Abbey Games

You can hear about my experience with Renowned Explorers: International Society in Episode 133 – We’re on a Track. At the time, there was already one small expansion, aptly named More to Explore, available for the game. Since then, they’ve released an additional expansion, The Emperor’s Challenge, which includes four new characters and a variety of new East Asian themed adventures.

Check out Renowned Explorers: International Society for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/296970/Renowned_Explorers_International_Society/

Project Highrise

Back in the 1990s, Maxis, the company known for SimCity and its rather peculiar progeny, published a slightly different game created by Japanese developer OpenBook Co., Ltd.: SimTower. It was a sort of weird game where you build and manage a highrise tower. Twenty years later, Kasedo Games decided that the highrise simulation genre needed a new entry. With that, Project Highrise was born.

You’re in charge of all the stuff a bustling office tower might need. Source: Kasedo Games

In Project Highrise, you build and develop a building. This means everything from the structure itself, including elevators, utilities, and services, to the tenants that live or work in it. When you start, you only have a limited number of options for tenants; most of what you’ll be filling your building with will be small legal and accounting offices. But, as you get better and better at managing the building, your prestige will grow and so will your options. The focus of the game is managing your tenants needs while keeping your building profitable.

Nobody said your building had to make sense. Source: Kasedo Games

Project Highrise was one of the first games I got from the Humble Bundle Monthly. I talked about it back in Episode 125 – Hot Sauce Box. There have been a few expansions since then, adding some new types of businesses to your highrise, although the game is still a solid play experience without any new stuff.

Check out Project Highrise for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/423580/Project_Highrise/

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 2

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 2

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). It seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This second part of a multi-part series looks at Game Dev Tycoon, Starbound, and Turmoil. Take a look at the first part here: http://forallintents.net/worth-a-look-the-steam-winter-sale-2017-part-1/.

Game Dev Tycoon

Ever wanted to run your own game development studio? Well, that takes work. And you’ll probably face loads of failure. But, if you just wanted to SIMULATE running your own game development studio, Game Dev Tycoon, by Greenheart Games, is here for you. It’s a pretty straightforward indie game from 2013 that has a surprising amount of mechanical depth.

Every good game company starts out in a garage. With a DeLorean. Source: Greenheart Games

The bulk of the game focuses on developing games. It’s relatively straightforward: you pick a topic (like Virtual Pet, Pirate, or Hacking); pick a genre (like Strategy, Casual, or RPG); and select a system to develop it on (like the Ninvento TES 64, PC, or the Vena Oasis). For each game, you have to decide how to prioritize different elements of the game. Will you choose to emphasize World Design or Graphics? Engine or Story? Every type of game has different priorities, so part of the game is learning what works and what doesn’t.

It’s tough to know what makes a good Medieval RPG. Source: Greenheart Games

As your games are successful, your company grows. You move out of the garage and into an office. As you grow, you develop bigger games and build a larger fan base. You eventually get to go to the big trade show, G3. Get big enough and maybe you can even develop your own console. Or maybe a MMO. Eventually, you reach the end of the game (after about 30-35 years) and you get ranked based on your performance. Well, that’s assuming you don’t go bankrupt along the way.

This is a bit of a cheat because I just talked about Game Dev Tycoon in Shortcast 39 – Holidaycast 01, but I was specifically talking about the recently released iOS version. However, as it ends up, the Steam version is currently on sale! Although it hasn’t been updated with the new content from the iOS version as of this writing, the developers say that they’ve moved their timetable for it forward, meaning that the content should be available soon.

Check out Game Dev Tycoon for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/239820/Game_Dev_Tycoon/

Starbound

Starbound is a good example where I showed up to a type of game pretty late. I never played Minecraft. Or Terraria. I never got caught up in the sandbox building and crafting games when they first hit the scene. But Starbound, by Chucklefish, was my chance to not only get into this kind of thing but also to spend far too much time playing around with it.

Create a character from a variety of different appearances and playable races. Source: A. J. Asplund

Starbound, considered by some a sort of spiritual successor to Terraria, is a 2D sandbox building game with a light overlay of adventure and exploration. When you start your game, an entire procedurally generated universe is created that you will explore. Ostensibly, you are one of the last surviving members of a galactic federation. You escape just as a terrible monster destroys the headquarters of the federation. All you have is a broken down ship and a matter manipulator, a tool that lets you construct and deconstruct matter. From there, you get to explore the wide open universe located on your hard drive.

There is a lot of procedurally generated galaxy to explore. Source: A. J. Asplund

There’s a story to follow, but there’s also a lot to do on your own. Go mining for resources. Build your own house. Or city. Construct an underground empire. Go searching for fossils. Capture strange creatures. Build a space station. Raid pirate ships. To a certain extent, Starbound is what you make of it. On my home server, I built a small colony on an ocean planet. Shopkeepers and soldiers lived in peace on the surface. Hidden in the main structure was an elevator leading deep down into the ocean below, where I had constructed a giant underwater farming colony, growing exotic plants from across the galaxy. Eventually, I added a museum to showcase all the fossils I had discovered in my adventures. Starbound is what you make of it.

Building your own structures is a big part of the game. Here’s my museum. Source: A. J. Asplund

I actually talked about Starbound twice: once, in Episode 122- It’s a Fake, where I first picked up the game but didn’t quite get it, and again in Episode 136 – Make it So, when I set up a Starbound server at home for some friends to play around with. It’s worth mentioning that the game continues to get updated, so there’s seems to always be something new around the corner.

Check out Starbound for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/211820/Starbound/

Turmoil

Turmoil, by Gamious, is a lighthearted simulation game set in 19th century North America. It’s about OIL. You play a young entrepreneur that starts into the oil drilling business. Each level focuses on a single plot of land, precious black gold buried somewhere underneath the surface. Through a combination of using sounders and effective drilling, you try your best to pull as much of the oil as you can to the surface, where your oil delivery men then haul it to sell. And you have exactly one year to do it. Of course, there are challenges. Sometimes, the market price for oil dips, so maybe it’s better to stockpile your oil. Or maybe the pocket of oil you found has gone dry and you need to dig deeper. As you continue through the game, things get complicated.

Drilling for oil never seemed this entertaining in the movies. Source: Gamious

Between levels, you go to town, where you have the opportunity to spend your money on all sorts of things. New technology. Improved sounders. Better drills. All the sorts of upgrades you need as things get more difficult. You also have to compete against three other oil tycoons, each trying to be the best oil tycoon around. And, like any game about rich oil tycoons trying to make it big, you also have the opportunity to buy and sell stock in each other’s oil companies. It may be that the easiest way to beat Ricardo is to buy out his oil company.

Fred the Factory guy wants to upgrade your drills and pipes. Source: Gamious

I first mentioned this game back in Episode 128 – His Curry Name. There have been a few minor tweaks and patches since then. But, perhaps the most important thing is that they’ve announced new DLC that is coming soon, sometime in the first quarter of 2018. Maybe it’s time you take a chance at being an oil tycoon.

Check out Turmoil for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/361280/Turmoil/

 

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 1

Worth a Look: The Steam Winter Sale 2017, Part 1

The Steam Winter Sale 2017 began on December 21. One of the things that I noticed looking through the items on sale were the surprising number of games that I have played this year (or even earlier!). With it being a day of giving/commerce for a lot of people, it seemed like a good time to go and highlight a few of the games that are on sale now that I have talked about on the show. This first part of a multi-part series looks at Punch Club, Steamworld Heist, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

Punch Club

Role-playing. Boxing. Street fighting. Pizza delivery. Punch Club, by Lazy Bear Games, might be one of the stranger games I played this year. Perhaps the strangeness of the game is best summarized in its description on Steam: “Train hard, fight crocodiles and find love. Earn your place in the Punch Club ranks, and discover who brutally murdered your father, in this choose your own adventure boxing management tycoon.” That’s right. Choose your own adventure boxing management tycoon.

You have to choose the right skills and moves before every battle. Source: A. J. Asplund

The game is divided between fights, where you select which moves and abilities your character will use in battle and then watch it play through the fight, and the rest of the game, where you wander around the city performing odd jobs, training to be a better fighter, and signing up for tournaments.  The story starts simply enough, but quickly goes into unexpected directions depending on what you do and where you go. After a few days of play, I was going into the sewer fighting ninja crocodiles where a friend of mine had become an enforcer for the local mafia. There’s a lot of strange content in this one.

There are a lot of places to go in Punch Club, each with its own challenge. Source: A. J. Asplund

You can hear my initial thoughts on Punch Club in Shortcast 28 – Linguistic Bravado. Since that recording, I can say that the game only gets more strange. With a skill-tree character upgrade system more complicated than a majority of RPGs out there, this game sits in that weird place that so many indie games do. Part RPG, part management game, part simulation… a little bit of everything.

Check out Punch Club for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/394310/Punch_Club/

Steamworld Heist

Steamworld Heist, part of the “Steamworld” family of games by Image & Form, is a turn based strategy platform game. At least I think that’s the best way to describe it. You control a crew of space pirate robots that go from destination to destination, looking for salvage. Each character has a different combination of weapon, abilities, and hats that result in different play styles and uses within any specific level. As you explore the different locations in the game, you typically find yourself engaged in battle with a variety of different bad robots out to stop you. Different missions have different goals (whether it be defeating all the enemies, collecting all the treasures, or just escaping alive). Think of it a bit like a cross between XCOM and Worms.

Sometimes, all it takes to defeat the bad guy is a well-aimed shot. Source: Image & Form Games

Between missions, you navigate your steam ship through space to different mission locations. You can also visit shops throughout space that let you buy better equipment and weapons using the scrap that you find. This makes your robot space pirates more capable on missions, from better weapons to improved abilities. It’s a dash of role-playing style character advancement in the middle of a turn-based platform shooting game.

Oh, the grim looking places you’ll go! Source: Image & Form Games

When I talked about Steamworld Heist in Shortcast 31 – The Secret was the Clap, I had actually just downloaded the version on the PS4/PS Vita. What I didn’t realize was that I had picked up the game on Steam some time earlier (and forgotten). Like a lot of these indie games, they find their way to consoles in one form or another.

Check out Steamworld Heist on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/322190/SteamWorld_Heist/

Sentinels of the Multiverse

Anybody that listens to the show knows I’m a big fan of Greater Than Games superhero cooperative card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse. The virtual version, created by Handelabra Games, captures the fun of the card game with the convenience of not having to lug around a giant box full of cards. As in the tabletop game, everything begins with the setup: you choose a one of the four villains to battle and one of the four environments to do battle in. In addition, you choose three to five heroes to control from the available ten. This means that the base game has a lot of different possible combinations of play available. Expansions (of which there are many) add additional villains, environments, heroes, and even new ways to play the game.

So many heroic options to choose from! Source: A. J. Asplund

Once you’ve selected your villain, heroes, and environment, it’s time to start the actual game. Gameplay is identical to the tabletop card game, although the game engine prevents you from making rules mistakes (or, as some people like to call it, cheating). The system correctly plays through the villain and environment turns, making sure you don’t miss anything. On hero turns, you have to determine what cards and powers to use to defeat your opponent. When playing by yourself, you control all of the heroes in the battle. However, the game also allows for cross-platform multiplayer, so you can play with your friends on iOS or Android, each of you controlling your own hero (like the card game).

America’s Finest Legacy faces off against the villainous Baron Blade. Source: A. J. Asplund

Between the card version and the computer version, Sentinels of the Multiverse has come up quite a bit on the show. Dan played the Steam version back in Episode 87 – Thunder and Lightning. I mentioned it during our discussion of virtual versions of tabletop games in Episode 94 – The Garbleflangers. Either way, the whole line of Sentinels of the Multiverse products are currently on sale on Steam, but the base game is only $1.99 right now so if you haven’t given it a try, I recommend it.

Check out Sentinels of the Multiverse for Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/337150/Sentinels_of_the_Multiverse/

News Blast: Alita – Battle Angel

News Blast: Alita – Battle Angel

source: 20th Century Fox

Gunnm (or Battle Angel Alita, stateside) is a manga and anime with a cult following, deep history, and a rocky path to big-screen adaptation. The manga was written and drawn by Yukito Kishiro over the course of five years and nine volumes. Early in its run, it was adapted into an Original Video Animation (OVA) comprised of two half-hour, stand-alone episodes (based on the first two manga volumes) that were sold together on VHS, initially. In the states, the OVA (retitled to simply Battle Angel) had a large audience due to its emotional story and cyberpunk stylings, and gathered enough of a reputation to attract the interest of James Cameron, who eventually bought the film rights.

James Cameron, who had professed his enjoyment of the manga, was originally set to direct the film adaptation, but he has since left the dusty, rusted future of Battle Angel for the literally greener pastures of Avatar‘s Pandora. In his absence, the directing duties shifted to action auteur, Robert Rodriguez. After years of speculation and anticipation, a trailer has been released:

From the looks of the trailer, a lot of work has been done to keep the visuals true to the look of the manga and OVA, and the plot summary from the film’s website also seems to be holding to the basic story found in the first two volumes:

Set several centuries in the future, the abandoned Alita (Rosa Salazar) is found in the scrapyard of Iron City by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate cyber-doctor who takes the unconscious cyborg Alita to his clinic. When Alita awakens she has no memory of who she is, nor does she have any recognition of the world she finds herself in. Everything is new to Alita, every experience a first. As she learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield Alita from her mysterious past while her street-smart new friend, Hugo (Keean Johnson), offers instead to help trigger her memories. A growing affection develops between the two until deadly forces come after Alita and threaten her newfound relationships. It is then that Alita discovers she has extraordinary fighting abilities that could be used to save the friends and family she’s grown to love. Determined to uncover the truth behind her origin, Alita sets out on a journey that will lead her to take on the injustices of this dark, corrupt world, and discover that one young woman can change the world in which she lives.

Disregarding the nearly twenty year wait since the film rights were purchased where the fan anticipation has done nothing but build, the now-titled Alita: Battle Angel has another hill to climb given the context into which it will be released. Western adaptations of manga/anime doesn’t have a deep history, but, when it does happen, it tends to not do well. However, the most recent attempt, 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, was a cultural disaster as much as it was a box office stumble. Surely, with that still weighing heavy on the minds of fans and producers alike, it seems likely that Alita will be met with severe skepticism.

Ido has his rocket hammer, so Dan is happy. Source: 20th Century Fox.

Optimistically, it has some elements that work for it that actively worked against Ghost in the Shell. For one, all iterations of Battle Angel take place in a far future United States; so, aside from the general appropriation of a story originally written and drawn by a Japanese artist, the wide-scope white-washing that occurred in Ghost in the Shell seems avoidable in this case. In the small scale, the father-figure character from the manga and OVA, Daisuke Ido, has had Austrian-German actor, Chrisoph Waltz, cast in the live-action adaptation; the character has been renamed Dyson Ido, so the criticism can’t be wholly avoided. Second, translated editions of the manga and the OVA have been widely out of print for awhile, so Battle Angel doesn’t have as much presence in the cultural zeitgeist as Ghost in the Shell had with its classic manga, multiple movies and television shows. If anything, because of this, Alita: Battle Angel seems to be in a good position to be released without much fear of controversy.

The manga was brought back into print in English by Kodansha Comics in May of 2017, but it still remains to be seen if the long out of print OVA will see a new release, either on Blu-Ray or on digital services. A re-release seems likely as a marketing move to raise anticipation for the film’s release.

While fan reaction to the trailer has yet to be aggregated here, it’s clear that Rodriguez and his team are making interesting choices that could go either way with fans of Battle Angel and sci-fi movie fans in general. There is the digital deformation of actress Rosa Salazar to make her appear closer to how Alita (or Gally, in Japan) looks in her original representation. Whether this technique is applied to other characters––both main and incidental––throughout the remainder of the movie may be the line between acceptance or rejection of this choice by fans. As mentioned previously, the westernization of Ido by casting Waltz in the role could lead to controversy, but that remains to be seen. Canonically, his character is less tied to the cultural origins of his name in the story and more to the mysterious Zalem (in Japan, or Tiphares in the States; Battle Angel is a veritable totem for how wacky things can get when translating texts for the sake of localization), a city occupied by the wealthy and entitled that ominously floats above Scrapyard, where Battle Angel‘s story takes place. Therefore, Ido’s race-change may be a non-issue, at least within the context of the story.

All that being said, after almost twenty years of being in development hell, it is refreshing and curious to see a property surface from the mire, at the very least. We’ll have to wait until July to see how much of the mud has stuck.

News Blast: Marvel Announces Scripted Podcast with “Wolverine: The Long Night”

News Blast: Marvel Announces Scripted Podcast with “Wolverine: The Long Night”

source: Marvel.com

Marvel announced yesterday that it would be tapping into the dramatic podcast medium––citing popular true crime NPR podcasts, Serial and S-Town, as specific inspirations––using one of its most iconic superhero characters, Logan (as Wolverine), set to debut in the spring.

According to the press release, the 10-episode series, titled Wolverine: The Long Night, will be a crime narrative with Logan (voiced by British actor, Richard Armitage, most recently known for his role as Thorin in The Hobbit films) not as the protagonist but as the focus of a criminal investigation by a pair of detectives:

It follows agents Sally Pierce (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and Tad Marshall (Ato Essandoh) as they arrive in the fictional town of Burns, Alaska, to investigate a series of murders and quickly discover the town lives in fear of a serial killer. The agents team up with deputy Bobby Reid (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) to investigate their main suspect, Logan (Richard Armitage). Their search leads them on a fox hunt through the mysterious and corrupt town.

The podcast series will be a timed exclusive to users of the podcast aggregator and broadcaster, Stitcher, but only to those who subscribe to its premium services, and then only until fall 2018, after which it will be widely distributed. It’s an interesting and rather safe experiment with the debut being locked behind a paywall, but it will undoubtedly bring new listeners (and new premium subscribers) to the already prominent podcast-streaming website. In theory, if The Long Night does not perform well, then at least it died in front of a relatively small and curated audience.

British actor, Richard Armitage, is set to voice Logan in the podcast. Source: BBC

The teaming with Stitcher pulls some interest as it will undoubtedly guide a lot of fan attention toward the service, a service which has been under scrutiny about its business practices before. But since the deal is about timed exclusivity and doesn’t seem to be a production partnership, skeptical podcast fans need only to wait six months to listen using their preferred services. It is interesting that rabid fans won’t be able to simply download the episodes directly from Marvel at the outset, which possibly speaks to the fact that Marvel may be hedging their confidence until they see its success.

The prospect of an audio dramatized version of comic book characters isn’t wholly new––characters such Superman and the noir hero The Shadow were staple radio plays back during the medium’s heyday––but the podcast angle is new and seemingly novel. However, podcast-based audio drama is in a veritable renaissance currently, and this move is a logical, albeit a relatively safe, step. Disregarding the commercial availability of audio dramas through companies like Big Finish, fictional podcast dramas have had many iterations and successes through the years, with productions like The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Homecoming, and Welcome to Night Vale having been around for awhile to varying degrees of popularity (with Welcome to Night Vale being the standout from this list).

However, like NPR diving head-first into the podcast medium with Serial (it had been podcasting its broadcast shows, but Serial was its first main effort to produce a podcast from scratch), Marvel’s entry into dramatized podcasting could produce a similar effect, especially using one of its most popular, vexing, and mysterious characters. Logan’s past is a game of retcon darts where anything can be added if it’s thrown hard enough at the board. This canonical malleability makes Logan a logical candidate for a short experiment such as this and likely explains (in the only rational way) why Marvel would not use the current Wolverine in the form of Laura Kinney as the star of this series. With Logan as the focus of their first foray into this new medium (which will directly follow his return to the Marvel universe), if The Long Night succeeds it could really raise the visibility of podcast dramas in the eyes of a wider audience just as Serial did for its user base.

Logan hasn’t been seen in comics since the 2014 “Death of Wolverine” storyline, but returned in November 2017 in Marvel Legacy #1. Art by Steve McNiven.

Overall, this seems like a promising project. Written by Ben Percy, a veteran comics writer though one whose résumé is filled with mostly DC credits, it’s emboldening to see this project hire a person already comfortable writing in a serialized format with superhero characters, even if this story will be (and I apologize for using the heavily flogged descriptor) grounded and a bit more subdued. Some may wonder if Fox is involved, but––if I’m correct––this venture doesn’t need any approval nor collaboration with the owners of the film and TV rights to the property. At the time those contracts were signed, new media was probably not part of the deal and, in theory, Fox could do something similar with its filmic version of the characters. As it is, Wolverine: The Long Night is tied to the comic book version of the character rather than extending from the cinematic interpretation. This distinction will surely please the fans yearning for a non-comic book adaptation of the mutants that are separate from version seen from Fox.

The unfolding of this project will be intriguing as it could possibly open up an entire new medium to not only its fans but new fans who may have been unable to fully enjoy other iterations of superheroes, such as those with visual impairments. While audio drama may be viewed as an old or outdated medium, audio books have never been more popular. Even audio book services like Audible are producing original audio book and dramatized content for their subscribers. When looked at critically, audio drama holds a lot of potential in our digital and mobile context. With Marvel dominating the cinematic space and having broke new ground (even if the momentum has waned a bit) in new media with its Netflix shows, that the company is looking at new ways to present its characters to the world outside of traditional media is heartening and, more importantly, smart.

News Blast: New Releases for The Last Jedi

News Blast: New Releases for The Last Jedi

Although old news for just about everybody, Lucasfilm released a new trailer for the upcoming film in the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. [Note: Your guess is as good as mine as to how many colons belong in that title. I’ll leave that for Dan to determine at a later date.] As with any Marvel/Disney/Lucasfilm trailer, there’s a lot being packed into two minutes and thirty-four seconds. For those that missed it, here it is:

I’m not really here to make any major speculation or draw any conclusions from this trailer. As a lot of people on the internet have already pointed out, there is a significant amount of clever cutting and editing. Any conclusions that you may draw from the trailer are entirely speculative (unless your conclusion is, “These people are in this movie”).

However, there is one thing from the trailer that has also appeared in several other forms of advertising media that has turned a few heads and gotten a few people talking: Luke Skywalker in various stages of “looking like a bad guy.” In the trailer, some attentive fans have looked at 1:47, where a defeated (and wet?) Luke says, “This will not go the way you think.” Others have referenced 1:53, where a wet Rey confronts what appears to be Luke in his grimdark outfit. [Note: we’re not entirely sure what wetness has to do with it, but it may be important.]

Of course, a few seconds of a trailer never amounted to anything. Don’t worry, because Lucasfilm did not stop there. Shortly before the release of the trailer, Lucasfilm released the new poster for the movie. It features everything one would expect from a movie titled, “The Last Jedi.” All the characters locked in seemingly action poses. A couple of lightsabers. Lots of … red? Judge for yourself:

Apparently, the primary color being used here is “Sith Red.”

Fans of Star Wars posters have noticed a certain theme that appears throughout a number of the posters. It is typical for a villainous character to appears in the background, behind the rest: Episode 1 – Darth Maul; Episode 3 – Darth Vader; Episode IV – Darth VaderEpisode V – Darth VaderEpisode VI – Darth VaderEpisode VII – Kylo Ren. Certainly, it’s nothing definitive, especially since in half of those cases, the villain pictured is not main villain of the story. But, it’s another thing that have drawn the attention of fans.

And let’s not forget about the IMAX Standee, also released last week.

Big movie requires big standee.

The standee, which is cleverly divided into “good guys” on the left and “bad guys” on the right, also happens to feature one character on both sides: our man Luke Skywalker, again. We could go on with this, but it’s just speculative absurdity at this point.

What does it all mean? Apparently, we’re meant to believe that Luke is playing both sides in this movie. Or not? It’s never really clear. Teasing the fanbase is something that Lucasfilm (or, more appropriately, Disney) has turned into a veritable art form and a standard operating procedure. At this point, the only thing we know for certain is that a lot of people are going to go see the new Star Wars movie in mid-December.

Worth a Look: Video Game Criticism Edition

Worth a Look: Video Game Criticism Edition

Mass Effect: Andromeda stands as one of the most derided games of this generation. It’s to the point that Bioware said publicly that it’s no longer supporting it a mere five months after the game’s release. While I think the game is, indeed, very different from the previous Mass Effect games and, without a doubt, needed a few more drafts with the script, it was by no means a terrible game. If separated from the Mass Effect context––and when considered with all of its animation/texture/gameplay patches––it suffers from the deadliest of video game diseases: it ended up being a game that was just “fine.” Nothing stellar, nothing terrible, things that make it forgettable in the sea of games to get either quite excited about or quite angry about.

Pathfinder Sara Ryder from Mass Effect: Andromeda, a perfectly fine game. Screenshot courtesy of Bioware.

Though I may be biased because I enjoyed the game (aware of all of its flaws), I think Park’s ostensible defense of the game makes a very strong point not only about Mass Effect: Andromeda, but also about criticism in general. For those participating in the conversation around video games, both professional and amateur (though this line is blurring more than ever), a general agreement seems to be that to be “critical” means to look for what’s bad and point it out. I’ll grant some leeway because a lot of professional critics are playing these games during abbreviated periods for review purposes, so the bad stuff stands out even more. With a game like Mass Effect: Andromeda, it has the added burden of being a new entry in a highly venerated video game series, so expectations for the game were set a bit higher than other games. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have qualities worth discussing, remembering, and celebrating, and part of that, at least as Park argues, is because of gaming criticism’s relative youth:

We don’t yet have a critical structure that supports or fosters an appreciation of the misapplication of game language that causes “messiness.” And this is a major problem.

With that in mind, there is a trend away from more traditional reviews into a more personal or culturally critical look at a game. These are more critic-friendly because they don’t really need to be ready by the game’s release (although such timeliness is beneficial for SEO purposes), and such investigations allow the critic to step back from the game and take a more holistic approach to judging a game. Whether Mass Effect: Andromeda deserves or will even get that chance is up to history. At the very least, I hope future games––be they new installments in venerated franchises or new IPs––get the chance to be examined with a genuinely critical eye rather than just a score disguised as a conversation.

Instead of an article, this is an episode from the generally fantastic critical podcast, Bullet Points, where (at least) three games journalists record their thoughts of a video game they all played to write about and talk about for their website. Each episode is accompanied by articles written by the contributors and they’re always very thoughtful and insightful.

However.

This episode, where they look back on Epic Games’ Gears of War (the first installment), is an absolute disaster in the best possible way. In the hour-and-a-quarter episode, they spend about fifteen minutes total discussing the game and, instead, slam critical views together like rams over a ewe. The conversation devolves into an argument about how to read the game, critically. One wants to look at the mechanics and render judgment based on those while another wants to look at the game’s place in a historical context. And, in this conversation, the twain never meet.

C.O.G.s in the Gears of War (from Gears of War). Screenshot courtesy of Epic Games.

Throughout the entire fight, I found myself talking out loud as I listened while walking my dog one morning, hoping my mediation would travel through my headphones, up the RSS feed, and back through time so they could actually realize what it was they were fighting about. While it seemed like they were disagreeing about the quality of the game, the discourse on display was actually a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to critical analysis. There is no one thing called “analysis” and that’s what everybody does. We have developed different ways to look at the same thing––be it Deconstructionism, Structuralism, Formalism, Feminism, Marxism, and so on. Look at something like Catcher in the Rye through a Structuralist lens will give you a very different argument than if you looked at it through a Feminist lens. And that’s okay. They all coexist. However, the static that can be caused by the lack of agreement on which one to use while looking at a text can lead to an actual halt to discourse and then nothing gets done, as is the case on this podcast episode.

The clashing ideologies between the two journalists was basically a fight between New Criticism vs. New Historicism, but the entire episode propels along a single question that, in itself, is quite interesting: can dumb texts be worth talking about critically? Also, can texts still be important when authorial intent is ignorant, dubious, or manufactured? I’d like to hear the podcast where they discuss that. Maybe more would get done.

Week in Geek: Mass Effect: Andromeda

Week in Geek: Mass Effect: Andromeda

Imposter Syndrome is a natural psychological consequence caused by breaking free from personal norms. Trying something new can be scary. For those already beset with anxiety issues, the Imposter Syndrome converts us to flagellants, knowing simultaneously that these thoughts are bogus while also knowing they motivate us to push through the arbitrary and unconscious barriers we set for ourselves.

In graduate school, I had a bad case of Imposter Syndrome––one of many manifestations of my anxiety. The anxiety caused me to eat and drink a lot; it tickled my health in various ways; I lost a lot of sleep. I often woke up at one or two or three in the morning, spinning my impending failure through all possible scenarios or, if it was a good day, trying to harvest and codify all the ideas bouncing off each other like balls in a bingo spinner.

Eventually, I trained myself to just get out of bed. Go do something. Distract yourself. In the case of distraction, I learned that video games did that best.

Most of these nights happened after Nicole and I moved into our second Sacramento townhouse, away from the social thrum of midtown, which left us with mostly quiet nights; so, what sleep I could get would be uninterrupted and pleasant. On the anxiety nights, however, I crept downstairs, headphones already on and listening to podcasts––some video game commentary, some comedy interviews, some political debate, some history––and I’d fire up my Xbox 360 for hours of distraction, getting a good chunk of game in before the world even woke up. When I look back at these nights, the games that I see most in my memories are the Mass Effect series, specifically the two sequels.

Since I was playing with the sound off (so as to consume quality audio entertainment), I rarely worked through story missions during these insomnious sessions. Instead, I searched for the mundane in the games’ side missions: fetch quests, collection runs, delivery missions. The most calming task I could do, and what I did most often, was planet scanning.

I can feel myself calming down already. (Mass Effect: Andromeda screenshot courtesy of USgamer.)

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