Welcome to the BURN CENTER!

Hey folks, Jonny Napalm here welcoming you to my charred little corner of the sky. Here I will be sharing views on all the things I love and adore and loathe with the burning passion of a thousand suns. Be aware.. my views tend to the nerdtastic, so... you are warned.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Champion of the Creed

The style of game that we've seen rise since Ubisoft's first resurrection of the Prince of Persia series, hasn't really seen a standard classification.  There's a lot of parkour style movement incorporated into the primary characters and they're all about elegance of flow.  Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is the latest in this style of game and it does a good deal to evolve the new style of movement.  The incorporation of the parachute and horse-riding within cities while slight changes, do add some fun new variation on the style of play.  It's true that they don't add a great deal to the game, as is being said in most of the reviews, but for long term play it adds some entertaining elements.
But for me the defining element of a good game is always the story that it tells, and from my perspective Brotherhood does not disappoint.  The fantastic mix of science fiction (reliving history through the genetics of your ancestors) and history (the rise and fall of the Borgias' of Italy) and conspiracy theory is all kinds of fun.  Then there is the city of Rome itself...it's a beautiful character that changes and evolves as you progress throughout play liberating the people and doing what you can to aid them.  It's also a ton of fun to run around and explore.  Leaping from roof to roof, diving from peaks to haybales... it's an immensely gratifying experience.  Then there's all the fun sneaking around, blending into your surroundings, hunting people just at the range of your vision, makes for extremely entertaining gameplay.  There is also the additional ability added to play more as Desmond Miles, the true hero of the game creates new ideas of where the franchise will be going with the next episode in the series may end up.  It makes for a great story, and I'm looking forward to seeing that next episode.
The big addition for this game is multiplayer viability.  By incorporating the traditional game of Assassin, played on campuses nationwide into the great manhunt style of play introduced by the initial story play, creates a unique and inventive style of multiplayer game, one that incorporates precision and control over heavy action.  It's something tremendously engaging and fun.  One of the other intriguing additions is the Online Facebook game that Ubisoft created for it's player base.  The game actually does end up telling more of the history of the characters and events in the game, along with incorporating new unlockable features in the game on whatever console the player is on, and the ability to improve play on said console.  It makes for an interesting advertising scheme and way to add to the game. 
It's a fantastic game that has fun, fast, addictive gameplay and some great storytelling.  I look forward to whatever the Ubisoft AC team decides to introduce us to next.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Zelazny's Lord of Light

This is a classic piece of science fiction and one of my favorite books of all time... I find myself reading fairly regularly every year... and each year I find the book speaks to me in a new way.  The book originally ran about 250 pages, but it's current incarnations are about 300... but it's an incredibly quick read.  The first chapter of the story deliberately takes place in media res of the over-arching storyline with the resurrection of Mahsamatman (or Sam as he preferred to be known), and introduces us to our protagonist and a few other players in the drama.  It is designed to get the reader involved by asking questions... who are these people that call themselves by the names of Hindu gods and goddesses?  What are they doing?  What has become of this world they live on?  All these questions and more are addressed slowly, as the flowering of a blossom with different parts revealing themselves in turn and each bringing more answers, and then more questions.  
One of the reasons that I find myself so drawn into this book time and time again, is the complexity of the relationships and characters we are introduced to.  Our protagonist character Sam is a "god" of the trickster mold... playful, cunning, infinitely devious and brilliant, but also very very human in the best possible way.  He sees injustice around him and is compelled to speak against it...even to rail and wage war against "Heaven" itself for his cause.  He cares deeply for his friends and allies, but is very aware of their own capabilities and allows them to make their own choices.  Watching his efforts to change himself and his world is elegant and tightly written.  
This fantastic story which elegantly skirts the lines between science fiction and fantasy also has compelling concepts of technological advancement.  Along with an elegant parable regarding the nature of religion and faith, and how they can become corrupted.  There are few books that I tell all of my friends to read.  This is one of them.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Magicians

The Magicians is the second novel from Lev Grossman, book critic for TIME magazine.  A throughly well constructed fantasy and work of fiction.  It's frequently compared with the Harry Potter series, but with a CONSIDERABLY more adult target audience.  Set in modern day New York, the series focuses on gifted youngsters whose talents extend much farther than anybody could really expect.  Basing some of his concepts of magic on the old hermetic/Pythagorean philosophies, the magic isn't ever really explained and it really doesn't need to be, it's enough to know that the young people are gifted.  The novel also has a familiar call back to the stories of  C.S. Lewis' Narnia, with a series of books that the folks at the gifted school Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy seem obsessed with, and the novel has a terrific twist near the end.  The characters are all rapidly painted, but fully fleshed, showing considerable writing technique... Though the novel feels like more mainstream fiction, meaning that there is little chance of more writing on the characters or in the world the writer created I hope there's more at some point in the future.  I highly recommend this novel for folks who enjoy either mainstream fiction or excellent stand alone fantasy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

JMS takes on Superman...again.

Folks in the comic book world already know that J. Michael Straczynski (Of Babylon 5, Rising Stars, and Midnight Nation, as well as numerous other television projects) is currently writing for the Man of Steel, with his "Grounded" storyline...an interesting concept where Supes is walking across the country helping folks where he can... all based on a comment that a grieving mother makes when she says that by flying above everyone he forgets about the importance of people.  I dig that it isn't a tale about big battles and other standard comic book stuff (though those things are there), it's about a man making his moral choice and sticking to it.  Now that might be enough for some folks, but the good editors over at DC comics offered JMS a chance to write a new Superman for a new Earth (based on the DC comics world numbering system they've come up with for parallel realities).  He took it, and got this new young man of steel off on a solid start.
The basic story of Superman is still the same, thus the one that has grown and become part of the collective unconscious of the 21st century.  This is more a tale of who he is, and why he makes the choices he does, and the aspects of his revelation to his world.    It's a story about a young man with seemingly infinite potential and prospects, and the burden of the choices that he needs to make.  The primary changes we see with JMS taking the reigns is his re-imagining of the story of Krypton.  Who it's people were, what they did, and what happened to them. [Spoilers]  It's a brilliant idea, making the death of the planet not an accident or something it's brilliant scientists missed...but a deliberate attempt to exterminate a whole world.[/Spoilers]  And sets our new Clark Kent up with a whole galaxy full of folks who may want him dead... so if nothing else, the Superman of Earth One will have plenty of opponents to look forward to.   The book also has an interesting new look for Metropolis... It doesn't look like the City of Tomorrow anymore... it feels much more like modern day New York.  And it's Grand Dame:  The Daily Planet is feeling the pressure of the changing times as much as our real newspapers, with all the problems that suggests.  So the question will inevitably arise..."Why there?  With all the other forms of news organizations available to the savvy individual for trouble shooting... why would Superman associate himself with a hurting media source?"  Mr. Straczynski cleverly incorporates the reasoning and justification straight into the story... well aware of the traditional maxim "show, don't tell", all tossed together with the new characters of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen for this new Earth.
With Shane Davis' excellent artwork, JMS has crafted a great story, and fun characters interspersed with terrific action.  Still, one of my favorite pieces of the book is the Clark Kent interview with Superman at the end.  It's clever and works to set up both the personalities that will be working for the character throughout the stories, Superman and the mask of Clark Kent.  This is a highly recommended book to anyone who's a fan of the Superman mythology... point of fact it's recommended to everybody.  And speaking for myself, I can't wait to meet the next hero from Earth One.

Fable 3- not what I was expecting...

While I enjoy the heck out of all kinds of video games, and the latest incarnation of Fable isn't an exception, the game really doesn't live up to much of the hype that went around it.  With each version of his Fable series the head of Lionhead studios has promised gamers the moon, and while getting part of the way there, more often leaves us part way, gasping for air.  One aspect where he has become more insightful (in my estimation) is in his marketing.  He got involved in Kinect marketing with Milo last year (the primary demonstration of the systems capabilities...one that has yet to be introduced to the market), and that got him started with his Fable 3 marketing... And getting folks excited by the concept of getting into the Fable system once again and becoming King (precisely where the last game left off) didn't hurt either.  The promise of "evolving gameplay" a cool concept that brought a lot of attention to the series... Followed by the novel Fable: The Balverine Order by Peter David just before the games publication to get the series more into the public eye.  All great little marketing strategies to keep the game and his publishing company in the public eye.
The game itself is a fun bit of fluff.  None of the "remarkable" gameplay that was mentioned in press releases and lauded really made much of a difference.  I was hoping to enjoy John Cleese's role as Jasper the butler in the game's version of the pause menu, but after the first couple hours of gameplay his dialogue stopped completely, rendering the "alteration" of the pause from actual menus to a playable space moot.  Not to mention MORE time consuming.  The "evolving gameplay" that had been discussed while interesting to see, didn't actually see much evolving.  I used "hammer" type weapons through the entire game, which traditionally would have made the main character into a more muscular heavy built figure saw no changes in him at all.  The experience system for weapons is an interesting distraction, and most only change, when tasks for them are completed, and the fact that the evolution of the hero's weapons (Not the Legendary ones with experience bars) evolve throughout gameplay even without use.  I was terribly disappointed that while some of the weapons evolved through use, NONE of the magic system did.  The moral choice system throughout the game was actually my greatest disappointment, since the only real benefit to choosing the "evil" or "wicked" options being the accumulation of additional wealth.  And while in early game that can be a big asset, anybody who played the previous one, or investing in available real estate (in game) will quickly have more than enough available cash.  And that's without trading with pawn brokers throughout the game world.  Making the moral choices pretty much moot.  The "touch" system was also a big deal in press packets... but didn't really see a lot of effect to the game, just a change in animation.   The addition of the "Kingly" gameplay after the revolution in game was something truly new and fun... and would have been fantastic... if there had been more of it or more to do with it AFTER the game's conclusion.  All in all it's a decent game, with some great concepts to it that COULD have been great... but falls short at the end.  For me the best aspect of the game I found was the excellent packaging and design work on the collectors edition.
Now, that's a lot of material and not a great deal of praise for a very worthwhile effort that will likely speak to the development of a lot of games in future... and hopefully won't rule out a Fable 4 which may take all the best elements from the previous series.  Thus far the best element to come out of this series on Fable, was Peter David's book.  While it may not have a "pithy maxim" that could express the moral of the story, his book has a terrifically crafted narrative, interesting characters, and paints a more interesting picture of the world the Heroes of Albion inhabited than many of the games.  It also had a much more effective "moral lesson" necessary for the name of the series to stay accurate.  The book included a weapon for the game as well... but that was more of a marketing ploy... likely an effective one, but I hope that it will introduce some gamers to a great author and suggest that they may want to pick up some more of his work.
So in short... the Fable the novel:  Excellent... highly recommended.
Fable 3 the game:  For enthusiasts only... otherwise rent or Gamefly it.