Review: Pacific Rim Blu-Ray

pacific-rim-victoryI got the two-disc blur-ray edition with the special features bonus disc.

I didn’t get to see Pacific Rim in the cinema, but I’m not that sure that having missed it there is a huge loss. On a 52″ high definition plasma screen and at high volume – albeit without surround sound – you arguably get a better experience than the cinema. It can be hard to track what’s going on up on a cinema screen if you have to turn your head and if you don’t get good seats that can be even worse. You also don’t have to pay a stupid amount, you can avoid the 3D and once you’ve watched a disc 2-3 times you’ve gotten your value for money compared to a cinema visit anyway. You also don’t have to sit in spilled cola or have the back of your seat kicked.

I think, if you can afford halfway decent entertainment devices, the cinema has become redundant. With the internet you can also share your enthusiasm without having to whisper or spoil anyone else’s fun. I’ve felt this way for a while, but I think Pacific Rim cemented the fact that I can now get a better-than-cinema experience at home.

Pacific Rim is a great adventure movie and Del Toro’s love letter to the anime and mecha series of the past as well as the Japanese kaiju genre as a whole. It features giant robots smashing giant monsters in the face and really that’s all you need to know. Going into it you know that the day will be saved, the monsters defeated and humanity will stand triumphant. It doesn’t matter that you know though, this is modern cinematic technology, tried and true storytelling, old-school adventure and all delivered with a sense of joy and excitement that pervades the whole film.

The technology allows the giant robots and monsters to feel ‘weighty’ and ‘real’ while the lighting, style and detail simultaneously make them dream like and epic. The storytelling is age old, coming of age, facing up to responsibilities, facing evil, fighting for the highest stakes. The joy and excitement Del Toro has for the genre and its content – coupled with his attention to detail – brings the whole thing to life in a way that brings to mind a six year old jumping up and down and thrusting toys in your face while reciting endless detail about them – and it’s infectious.

This is apparent from the film, which is beautiful, epic and stirring, despite not treading any particular new ground in its story (other than the female lead not really being anyone’s romantic interest). It is even more apparent from the commentary and the special features in which Del Toro speaks often and at length about his passion for the project and the genres involved and this really comes across.

Visually there are only nods to the anime and kaiju influences, really the designs are their own thing, a new visual language for mecha and monsters taken from nature and from various other sources rather than the obvious ones. Every little detail is thought out and watching and re-watching the film you will always find new detail and new depth in the background.

Striker-Eureka-Australian-Jaeger_jpgThe only real weak points in the film were, for me, the scenes with Charlie Day’s scientist character ‘Newt’ who, despite having really cool tribal-style Kaiju tattoos was mostly annoying and whose scenes played out a bit too much like that 1998 abortion of a western Godzilla film. I could see the need for humour to be injected into the film but it was almost like he was in a completely different film to everyone else.

The best part of the bonus disc is the ‘notebook’ presentation of Del Toros ideas. The film apparently had a many-hundred-page setting bible and even though the film is fast-paced and doesn’t dwell on detail too much you can feel the weight behind it and you get more of an insight into that depth from the sketches, the explanations and the ideas presented in the extras. It’s some of the better bonus material I’ve seen for any disc.

Score
Style: 4
Substance: 4
Overall: 4

Review: GTA Online

GTA-Online

I already reviews GTAV, but it’s worth treating GTA Online as its own, separate entity. I’ll keep this brief though, since much of the commentary would be the same. The online version uses the same graphics, same setting, has the same living feel and buildings and so on.

The Good Things

  • You can create and customise your own character and even (le gasp!) play a girl.
  • You can customise and tune your vehicles (though this has a downside, see later).
  • People who are persistent shitheads become ‘bad sports’ and are banished to ‘bad sport’ servers.
  • There’s a huge amount of missions and almost as much fun to be had in the free-roaming section.
  • All the good things, minus the story praise, from the GTAV review.

The Bad Things

  • It is overflowing with shitheads. Even with the ‘bad sport’ system the chat is full of racist bullshit (though so far not sexist bullshit) homophobia and swearing. I was wary about playing online again and it’s not as bad as I expected, but it’s still pretty bad.
  • Aside from the voice chat idiocy there’s plenty of morons that screw the game up in other ways. Tank-trolls, glitch exploiters (huge amounts of free money, invulnerability, even invisibility a couple of times).
  • So. Many. Kids. I don’t mean teens, I mean… well, they sound really, really young. Should they even be playing this game?!? Not exactly easy to shock and pretty easygoing but wow…
  • The aforementioned glitches. A guy virtually ruined the game for me by throwing me 100 million dollars, unrequested. Rockstar support weren’t much help (they wanted evidence/screenshots which are hard to provide on a console).
  • People with bounties on them can hide in their apartments indefinitely, which ruins the point and is no fun.

Observations

  • Anyone spawning a tank in freeroaming is an idiot. Avoid.
  • Anyone with a pink gun is an idiot. Avoid.
  • Anyone whose car has a clown horn is an idiot. Avoid.
  • There’s always one motherfucker who thinks it’s funny to drive the wrong way around a race track crashing into everyone.

Conclusion

It’s still fun, but the exploiters are completely out of control and ruining the game for a lot of people. This should be the priority to fix, not new content. It’s still fun, and it’s free, and the idea of free-roaming plus instanced missions/races done in this way could be a good model for MMORPGs on a smaller, more intimate basis. Something people should consider IMO.

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Dragon’s Crown Review

dragons-crown-title

1364224242-9 (1)Dragon’s Crown is a modernisation of the old side-scrolling beat ’em ups like Final Fight and, more specifically, the D&D side-scrolling beat ’em ups like Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara. These were arcade games, back in the day, where you’d control a 2D character moving constantly (usually) to the right, beating up a succession of enemies and bosses to get to the end.

Dragon’s Crown is a bit more developed than that, in that it has a fully featured equipment system (and your 1364224241-10appearance changes appropriately!). You can enhance and advance your character, undertake quests, play together, work alongside NPCs and so it has a lot more depth and length to it as a game.

Gameplay is, mostly, simple (more complex if you play a mage) but there are little touches that add to it – searching the screen for treasure, assessing equipment, revisiting old places as you uncover new secrets, levelling up.

1364224243-11 (1)What really sells the game is its art which, considering this was the target of the most criticism in the lead up to release (and the reason I bought it because I’m a contrarian) and the most controversy. On the one hand many people considered the art to be horribly sexist – largely based on the Sorceress’ boobs and the Amazon’s arse – and horribly distorted, based on the exaggerated style.

Here’s the thing though. It works. It really, really works.

1364224241-8 (1)The game plays like you’ve stepped into a painting. Every character animation is full of character and fun. The exaggerations help that a great deal if anything as well as making it easier to spot your character on the screen when things get busy. Every background is gorgeous, every piece of still art adds to the whole. It’s a glorious experience to play and breathtakingly smooth, playing a comic, playing a cartoon film – one of the better ones.

1364224245-7 (1)I don’t think it’s for everyone, but for those who remember the old side scrollers and have a love of anime and fantasy it’s an essential buy. Just make sure you have a bit of a sense of humour, especially when it comes to boobs.

Style: 5 – Perfect.
Substance: 4 – There’s nothing ‘new’ here, but the ways in which depth and play time has been added to the genre is clever and effective.
Overall: 4.5

Indiecon 2013

Lewts

Contents of my lewts sack after escaping Indiecon

Indiecon is about my favourite convention. It has a small, more intimate atmosphere than many cons and is all about the joy of playing games rather than tournaments and sales (not that there’s anything wrong with these). Indiecon is attendee organised with masses of games being played at the site and the opportunity to meet new people, make new friends, learn new games and learn about the existence of new games as well as supporting indie game designers and the companies that also support them.

This was my first Indiecon as part of Chronicle City rather than attending as ‘myself’, as Postmortem Studios. In some ways this was a lot easier than previous years (I didn’t have to drag all my own stuff down there) and in other ways it was harder. While there were several of us the stand was much bigger (we had as much stuff as Leisuregames did, to give you some idea).

We did pretty well for a small con (250 or so attendees), taking home a good bit of money and running some great demos, we picked up a lot of stuff too and had some good conversations about work and play. As usual it was a great con.

That said, a few things weren’t as good as usual and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them. In no way take this as criticism of the con, which continues to be more and more awesome with every year.

1. The state of the site: The lodges and chalets on site are surprisingly comfortable and warm considering that we’re there in November and often battered by wind and rain (things were pretty mild this year for once). This year the lodges were looking a bit worse for wear and felt more fragile. Interior doors wouldn’t close properly, one of the showers was a little leaky, the kitchen utensils were even more scarce and useless than usual and the deck/balcony out back was undermined and starting to collapse. In the main hall the heating was ferocious, to the point that it made me sick one of the days we were there and when the aircon was switched on it leaked, with water dripping from the ceiling. Stock – and people’s games – could have been damaged.

2. Attendance: Normally the con is oversubscribed or subscribed to capacity. This year it seemed to be down. This was in part due to more people playing in their lodges (this was a shame, but last year it was harder to get tables, so it makes sense). It was also, however, in part due to the absence of the fanatical Pathfinder players who usually attend. On the one hand it’s arguable whether Pathfinder qualifies as ‘indie’ any more and the PF players never seemed to play anything else in any slot, on the other their absence is bad news for the con’s long term attendance and viability – which would be a shame.

On the more positive side, I made the following observations on demography at the con:

1. There were a good number of ladies present. I took a head count once a day and the proportion of lady attendees in the main hall varied from approximately 1/4 to approximately 1/6. That’s pretty good and, perhaps, reflective of the type of games played, the family/child friendly nature of the site and the welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

2. There were a lot of younger players present, at least comparatively. Between some gamer-dads running Happy Birthday Robot and other games for the really young un’s and some teenagers it was a hopeful thing to see so many teens and kids around. I couldn’t get a proper headcount but it did seem that gaming has sort of ‘skipped’ a decade or two. There’s a lot of older players and then it seems to be their kids – and their friends – that are making up the new generation. This gives me a lot of hope for analogue games in the future.

My Loot

Numenara & Player’s Guide: Safe to buy now that MotSP is out, this is a science-fantasy game with some eminently thievable ideas – such as effort.
Broken Shield  Based on the SF noir books by Gunnar Roxen. The demos were incredibly popular so this had to be worth a look. It’s also a Chronicle City product, hint hint 🙂
Iron Kingdoms: Kings, Nations and Gods: The updated setting sourcebook for Iron Kingdoms. A must buy if you like IK and a suitable replacement for the 3.5 edition versions. Mine has some ballsed up pages, but I don’t know if this is a broader printing problem.
Beat to Quarters: An immensely popular (at Indiecon at least) game that’s been present for years. Napoleonic in setting, Beat to Quarters is about naval combat while its partner game, Duty and Honour, is about troops combat. It engages at both the heroic and unit level and as such is perfect for gaming things like Sharpe or Master & Commander. It’s also eminently hackable and I’ve seen it used for Sci-Fi space battles and all manner of other things in its time. Check it out.
Fiasco: I just supposed I had better get a copy at this point…
Reign, Enchiridion: ORE system, played at the scale of nation/country/community. I’m a bit obsessed with three game concepts at the moment – cooperation, legacy, community. This was bought for research/inspiration.
Eternal Contenders: A GMless game of adventure/duelling that I found fascinating and wanted to read in detail.
FATE Accelerated: I may like this better than full-fat-FATE. Great for pick-up-and-play.
MSG: I reviewed this way back when and I wanted a physical copy since I had the opportunity.
Noteboard: A portable whiteboard. I’m not much for using minis in my RPG gaming, but for tracking initiative, sketching the lay of the land etc. This thing is great.
Misc Stuff: Bob the Diceman carries every dice you could think of and all the things you might otherwise forget too. He carries pens, pencils, packs of cards, beads, counters, dry erase markers… he’s a bloody godsend at any con he’s at and also does sales online. Support him!

The cat is Nik (short for Nikola Tesla, whom he is named after). He was not loot, but also would not move.

The Darkzel Scholarship Scheme

Zel

*I’M EXTENDING THE TIME FOR ENTRIES UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY, ANNOUNCING BY THE END OF FEBRUARY*

Introduction
Earlier this year I discovered that my good friend, Zachary Harris – better known to you as Darkzel – had been killed. He was in Korea, teaching English, when he was struck by a bus crossing the road and killed. A tragic, pointless waste of the life of a talented artist who – I believe – would have had a grand future ahead of him.

I have struggled to think of a useful and respectful way in which to honour Zel’s memory and to continue his legacy. In many ways our relationship was defined by the fact that the work I gave him helped pay him through his schooling and that we became friends as I watched him grow.

Life is tough for students as a whole and art students, perhaps, in particular. All that work, often without the support of friends and family, chasing a dream that may, ultimately, never work out and never pay. Fantasy artists are being crunched quite a bit as well, work is scarce and pay hasn’t really increased – at least in analog gaming – for some years.

If in some, small way, I can help other art students to get through their schooling, even if it’s just to make sure they’re kept in ramen noodles, that strikes me as a good way to remember Zel and to continue to help.

The Scholarship
Every year, every December, I will announce the opening of the Darkzel Scholarship for applications. This will consist of the previous year’s takings in terms of stock art sales from Zel’s work and sales of previous winner’s art. This will help keep the project relevant, continue to add material and continue to increase the scholarship fund and material year by year to keep it relevant.

This year’s scholarship amount will be somewhere over $250 US.

The Details

  • You will submit a piece of art at least A6 in size and at least 300 dpi, by email to grim@postmort.demon.co.uk
  • You grant permission, should you win, for this piece of art to be sold as stock art on RPGNOW.com. Money raised from these sales will go to next year’s scholarship.
  • You will include the name you wish to be credited by. The terms of use of the stockart license requires the users to credit you.
  • You will include a link to your online portfolio, deviantart page or similar.
  • You must be able to accept payment via Paypal.

FAQ
Q: Does it have to be adult art?
A: 
It doesn’t have to be adult art. Zel worked on adult projects like Hentacle and Cthentacle but he also produced stock art that wasn’t suggestive (as well as some that was). Zel also did science fiction, fantasy and horror work for me and elsewhere he did comics, adult and not, furry and not, LGBT and not. Zel did a huge amount of different stuff and you can do what you want too. Do what you love. Equally, don’t feel you have to hold back on what you draw.

Q: Does it have to be B&W or colour?
A: 
It doesn’t matter. Do what you prefer. Colour is more work and more impressive – often – but it is also less useful in many cases as stock art. There’s pluses and minuses to both. It’s up to you.

Q: Does it have to be anime style?
A:
Zel started out with a much more typical anime style and I think a lot of people have gotten their start this way in the last 10-20 years in the way my generation got a lot out of copying the style of superhero and sci-fi comics. His style developed over time and he’d really begun to find his own artistic voice towards the end, away from those roots. So no, you do not have to stick to a comic/anime or any other particular style. The only thing it really has to be is genre based. That is science-fiction, fantasy, horror, pulp, superhero etc.

Q: Can I make more than one submission?
A:
You can submit as many pieces of art as you want to. They will be considered as a single entry however.

Q: When will I be paid?
A:
Submissions will be accepted through to the end of December each year and I will try to make a decision and pay by the end of January.

Q: Do I have to be a student?
A: 
Yes. The Darkzel Scholarship is meant to help up and coming artists of the future. To give them a paying gig, help them get through school/college, soften some of the monetary pain day to day and to give them genuine exposure and the chance to have their art appear in real products and pay-it forward to others in following years. You can be an adult student though, the problems are no less when you’re juggling family, ‘real’ work and learning.

Q: Can I donate my submission for sale without winning?
A: 
Absolutely! If you want your submission to go up for sale anyway, even if you don’t win, please say so. The more art we have, the more we can earn for the next year’s scholarship. When you make your entry, please say so!

Q: How will you be judging the winner?
A: 
What I’m looking for is an ineffable quality. It is hard to define. I’m just looking for something that excites and engages, that stands out as a usable and great piece of illustration.

Q: I can’t enter, how can I help?
A:
Spread the word, tell students that you know that this is available. Talk about it on forums, tweet, facebook, G+, youtube, whatever you can do to pass it on.

Q: Can I submit art I’ve already done or does it have to be new?
A:
I would prefer you make a piece for this, but I appreciate December can be busy what with Christmas etc. So long as the submitted piece was created and completed within the year of the competition that would be OK.

Q: What happens with the image rights?
A: Anyone who wins or allows their art to be sold to aid the scholarship allows that art to be used in projects by anyone who buys the stock. Otherwise you retain all rights. You can sell prints, make T-shirts, use it in your galleries and portfolios, sell it to somebody else. Whatever you want.

Q: Zel was very supportive of his LGBT friends and community. How does that figure into this?
A: If you want to do LGBT themed art to submit, you’re more than welcome. It won’t impact at all on your chances and would be fitting.

2013 Scholarship fund: $250+