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.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cold comes calling...

I've just finished reading Jim Butcher's newest book in his Dresden Files series Cold Days.  This is the kind of storytelling that just works so well.  Butcher's Dresden continues to impress with each adventure, and Harry meeting up with his fantastic cast is just some of my favorite material I think I've ever read.
For those of you who aren't familiar; Harry Dresden is a practicing Wizard in the city of Chicago.   As in Chicago of 2012.  The Dresden series is the 'go to' for Urban Fantastists.  Other folks might match him...but I haven't read anything that's done Urban Fantasy better.  He faces off with Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, psychic monsters, ghosts, things from outside the universe, the fae, oh and the original demons... all manner of baddies.
You'd think someone who goes up against these kinds of foes must have some serious advantages...and on occasion? You'd be right, but most of the time Harry's still trying to figure out what they're up to before he can take advantage of his many tricks.  He gets beat up.   A lot.  It's actually kinda funny, Butcher typically comments on how much he makes Harry suffer through.  And I suppose that's the thing that I like about Harry most.  He gets THROUGH it.  He takes it and keeps on going.  There are times when I'd really appreciate having those qualities in myself.  Probably what makes Harry such a good protagonist.

Anyhow, this latest entry in the Files is basically to familiarise everybody with the new groundwork in Chicago, supernaturally speaking, since Harry's absence and those things he did in Changes that rocked the face of the 'Dresden'verse'.  We start outside of reality in the Fae realms and Harry is finding out just how bad things are going to get with Winter (the Court, not the weather) when he gets his first job.  And it's a doozy.  So back to reality he goes.

Then it's a series of amusing events as Harry meets up with his old crew once again and finds out all kinds of secrets 'man was not meant to know'.  Then again, that's what Wizards do.  That's why they're Wizards.

Harry getting set with his new dynamic with Molly his apprentice is touching and there's a little bit of a spark there that Butcher's been flaming for a while.  The reunion with Thomas is hysterical and leads to some great little insult-wars between the pair of them.  I'm fairly convinced Butcher was watching Supernatural for inspiration at one point.  Harry meeting with Mouse is all kinds of adorable, but the one everybody was waiting for was Karrin Murphy.  I mean folks have been hoping for Harry and Murph to get together and have spell-flinging ninja babies since the first trilogy finished, so Butcher had a LOT to live up to.

And he managed to pull it off.  The conversations between the characters felt REAL even if some of the stuff they talked about was fantastic.  The emotions and the relationships that were so important.  The people that they were?  Those couldn't have been more genuine.  And that's one of the big highlights of the Dresden Books.  The Characters all HAVE it. Character I mean.  They're interesting and complicated and lovable and... I know I'd hate being in the same room as Thomas because of the jealousy I'd feel, but I still think he'd be awesome to have a beer with.  Harry too, especially if we could manage it at Mac's Pub.

I digress... well I do that a lot, but anyhow back to the point.
Changes was necessary to be the big shake up point for the stories, and Ghost Story, while interesting was basically just filler to get Harry back with everything else going on in his life.  But Cold Days along with Summer Knight has just gone up as one of my FAVORITE Dresden tales.
They may not be for everybody.  But I sure love 'em.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

X-Com: Enemy Funding Committees

The X-Com series was one of the highlights of my time gaming on PC's back before you needed an upgrade every 4 months to stay up to date on hardware.
It was strategic, and tactical, it had lots of aliens, and above all it was HARD.  And when I say hard? I don't mean 'a little challenging', I mean your first play of the game will end in complete failure.  Then you learn a bit more about how the system works, and maybe you'll survive with your squad intact for the first mission.  Then you get to save, and research and fund your operations, and it gets MORE challenging 'cause you've got a LOT more ground to cover.

It made it very different from most of the games on the market today that tend to hold gamer's hands.  Granted, that aspect wasn't entirely unusual in the market then, but the fact that you could permanently lose agents and assets, and the challenging difficulty of the monsters all made it a seriously challenging game.

That you had research, alien aircraft takedowns, invasions to take care of all made the game complex and interesting.  Now our good friends at 2K games have updated and re-done this marvelous bit of gaming history for modern systems and it's FANTASTIC.  In your tutorial mission, they show you how hard the game is going to be.  But there are all kinds of things that you need to learn along the way  through play, just like the original.

There is ALWAYS something you're looking to get, new gear for your troops, new vehicles, new rooms for your base, new stuff to research, and never enough time or money to get it all done.  The base portion of the game is all about prioritizing, while the tactical combat is all about keeping your troops alive, because there is NO magic reset button.  A bad mission will mean you loose all 6 of your top people and completely cripple your game.

The only game that really compares to it is Dark Souls.  Granted in Dark Souls you will die to learn new techniques and how to move through the game environment, XCom puts you in command of a team that does so.  The more successful your team, the more likely they are to make it farther in the game, but the less you'll want to risk them.  It's an interesting mix of cost/reward.

The game rewards patience and learning it's system, instead of the manic pace of the run and gun first person shooters that dominate the market.

It's a wonderful change in style and play for the game market, and I hope we might see something similar with the old Jagged Alliance mercenaries style game, it'd be a great step for the design team to take.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bourne Again...

So the Bourne Legacy is making it's way out to the physical and digital media as we speak.
I never really touched on it when it first showed up, I don't remember why I was distracted at the time, but I do recall that I was.  I think it was mostly because it was out at the same time as The Avengers, which stole quite a few hours of my time in the theater, and more at home on my media player.

The Bourne Series is a series of growing mysteries about the loss of identity and how the 'agent's' that get it stripped away and rebuilt from are still MORE than the training that they have.  It's got great Spy craft moments and drama, terrific characters.  Restarting all of that with new characters in Legacy is a huge challenge.  The loss of Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass seemed to interrupt the flow of the series, but Tony Gilroy really tries to pick up the baton and run with it as well as the previous team did.

Jeremy Renner has the new 'Legacy' role to step into, and that's really what the movie is all about.  The fallout from Bourne's quest for identity.  The exposure of the two programs, Treadstone and Blackbriar, leads to somebody from his former organization liquidating every program that could be exposed.  This brings us to our new protagonist Aaron Cross (Renner). As one of the 'assets' in this program he is on borrowed time.  But to make things worse, all of these assets are, to a certain extent chemically enhanced.  These enhancements make the assets faster, stronger, and more resilient than normal, but they also have a mental component.

One of the criticism's I heard about this picture when the film initially came out was that the movie felt like a 'fetch' quest in a video game.  I can understand that comparison, and there's even some truth to it, but what got me about it was there's an aspect of 'Flowers for Algernon' to this film that would be terrifying, especially considering that the ability to think clearly is only one of the things keeping Cross alive.

[Spoilers (Highlight to view)]

Cross was barely able to pass his entrance exam to join the Army before getting into the program.  Now he's capable of advance tactical thinking, and mentally very sharp.  The idea of your mind slipping away leading to you losing the only chance you have to stay alive?  That's some serious motivation.  

[/end Spoilers]

All in all, the movie falls short of the standards set by the drama and characters of the previous Bourne films, but that doesn't take away that the movie itself is really solid.  If viewed independently?  It'll stand up well.  If you're comparing it to the previous Bourne films, it's not going to be as strong.
Ed Norton makes a strong showing as the villan in this piece, and Renner's Cross is a solid protagonist... their motivations are never really in question, Cross wants to live and everything is based on that, Norton needs to eliminate the last piece of exposure his superiors could be exposed to.

In the end, all I can really say is that I really enjoyed the film, not as much as the previous ones, but it was entirely worth the time to explore where they decided to go with Ludlum's original series.