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Archive for September, 2019

Unearthed Arcana – Class Abundance

So Wizards of the Coast are busy pouring out Unearthed Arcana articles, their playtest material articles that give us access to things like new spells, rules, magic items, races, and subclasses that allow us to make an ever more diverse cast of characters to bring to the table. And currently subclasses is the key term, the pace of articles has picked up with a new subclass introduced for two classes a time, so far: (more…)

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Anime Review: Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!

Magical girl anime is, admittedly, not something I’m hugely accustomed to. I saw a bit of Sailor Moon growing up and never really saw any more of the genre. So then when I was told that there was an anime by the name of Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, I laughed. I thought it was a brilliant name, albeit a little bit on the nose. So I looked it up, found that it was completely available on Crunchyroll and went “yeah, I guess I can give this a watch”. After all, what good is the magical girl genre, if we can’t get a magical boy anime?

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Magic: the Gathering – Drafting M20

So, same as last year, I picked up a box of the latest core set from Magic, because while Throne of Eldarine looks very pretty, I can’t say I’ve seen enough to draw me in past the hydra-turtles. Usually for me that’d be enough, but finances are what they are.

M20 has a very particular theme. Actually it has several, elementals, goblins, birds, wolves, knights, the recurring leylines and cavaliers, a conspicuous return of Theros favourites and temple-lands, and a definite lean towards the commander format, all shine through in the setlist, but there’s a bias here that’s impossible to ignore, especially when you reach the list of red cards.

While each colour has a Planeswalker to represent it, red has three, all of whom are Chandra Nalaar at varying stages of her rise to power. Four of her key spells immediately follow in the set list, and much like with the return of the Theros cards, it rather feels like a nod to Magic’s future, as the upcoming TV series by the Russo brothers is expected to be heavily centred on the pyromancer.

My Deck

A quick reminder on how to draft cards if you weren’t already familiar.

Here was my first draw:

Unusual to grab a land as your first card, but scrying is a useful mechanic no matter the deck, and it does set the colours for my deck… so I was hoping. Unfortunately both of my opponents were keen on white and black, seemingly both throwing in a healthy dose of green just to scupper me. No one went blue… at all, until I started coming up with some beguiling options:

Ok, so I guess I’m building an elemental-heavy deck, I’ll put these with a collection of my red picks, heavy on the goblins to supplement the goblin deck I’ve been assembling. Surprisingly it wasn’t too difficult to assemble a synergistic draft based on the Temur colours: red/blue/green, and something that does what those colours do well. The deck I ended with filled the ground with creatures that support and feed off one another.

Lavakin Brawlers make the Creeping Trailblazer far more daunting, Scorch Spitter and Scampering Scorchers make it cheap and easy to bulk up the bonuses on each, and having drawn a Ripscale Predator and some goblins, it wasn’t too hard to make a rather daunting red-heavy deck, with green and blue supporting heavily.

The Game

I’d like to say that I won… we played four games between three players, of which I think we each won a game, but most of my experience was brief moments in which all of my horrible elementals worked together to swing for tremendous amounts of damage… before losing it all after one glorious push and dying horribly before I could rebuild. Overgrowth Elemental helped give me a drop of durability, and those Cloudkin Seers made it easier to keep a hand together and make plans round to round. But it took a genuine balance of good luck on my part and bad luck for my opponents for me to squeeze out a meaningful win.

Feral Abominations held me at bay, giants with deathtouch always blunts someone’s will to dive in to slaughter, and Griffins made it hard for me to slip flying through to their life totals. I was also facing down some green giants like Silverback Shamen and Thicket Crashers that dealt with a lot of my bigger nastier horrors, and while they left the battlefield for trying to get in my way, they took some of my teeth out as they fell.

Next

I like M20, and while I didn’t see many of the more interesting cards come out of my booster box I did pull Gargos, Vicious Watcher for whom I have the perfect deck, and Yarok the Desecrated who I immediately fell in love with for the sake of the mechanics, lore, and the colour combo that suits my playstyle to a tee… and yet still very easily traded away. While Yarok was right for me, one of my opponents pulled this:

Based on the colours I’d just put together, how could I not?

Now, Omnath howls Commander to me, and while I have about half a deck built in front of me, I still have a long way to go. I think there’ll be some awaken spells from Zendikar added to bolster the ranks of elementals from my land pool to make Omnath all the more powerful, maybe some flicker mechanics to have him bouncing in and out, some more land-draw effects to ensure that landfall ability of his comes into play.

I also foolishly passed on the Lightning Stormkin as a friend would benefit from having her in a wizard deck, and I’ll need to keep an eye out for a Thunderkin Awakener, and there’s a host of other mechanics that I’ve been mulling on that could really support a Commander. Apparently the Yarok deck I pitched against myself is already completed… guess I have some catching up to do.


GeekOut Bristol Meet – September 13th: Knights Gathering

With a “Ni”, our knights gathered around for an evening of fun and games, a hugely crafty competition and a lot of games across the board. From our typically large selection of games, through to a special drink presented to our noble warriors, we had a blast. September’s a strange time of year; a lot of folk are back to the grind after the summer holidays, the weather doesn’t quite know what to do with itself, it’s all a bit muddled. Thankfully though, we were there for another month, hopefully allowing people to get some much needed geeky familiarity within the Old Market Tavern.

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Ratchet and Clank Original Trilogy Retrospective Part 3

Ratchet and Clank 3: Up Your Arsenal – or just Ratchet and Clank 3 in other places – was released in 2004 on the PlayStation 2, once again one year after the game before it. The game opens with Ratchet and Clank enjoying life in the Bogon Galaxy, before revealing that Clank is now a Holovid star playing “Secret Agent Clank”, a news story plays showing Ratchet’s home planet of Veldin being invaded by Tyhrranoids under the command of Doctor Nefarious…

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Top 10 – Hunters

GeekOut Top 10s

Shh, do you hear that? It sounds like the trees rustled over this way, quickly, hide in the underbrush. Now, careful, for today we’ve got to keep on the low-down, lest we become prey for them. Whether you’re a vampire, a beast, or even just an ordinary human, today we’re going to check out the Top 10 Hunters across all pop culture. Video games, Film, TV, Literature, you name it, we’ve got it covered. (more…)


My Thoughts on Minecraft PE

A while back I bought Minecraft Pocket Edition (or PE for short), but my phones just could never handle it. Now that I’ve got a phone that can handle it, I decided to play about with Minecraft PE and I couldn’t believe just how far it had come along. I’ve had a few days playing around with it now and I can see some issues, as well as some areas where it truly excels. In all honesty, I love Minecraft and just about everything about it, so here’re my thoughts on Minecraft PE.

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Studying Video Essays

I’m a great proponent of the internet as a tool for delivering easy to digest learning materials, and yes, YouTube is awash with exactly the kind of tools I’m talking about.

Movies especially have an abundance of video essayists who talk at length about films and the film industry, taking wildly different approaches to the art form. Nerdwriter is a current favourite, whose short discussions that may dissect a single scene in a film, deeply explore a particular technique, or occasionally delve into a different topic. Lindsay Ellis does extensive studies that delve deep into the industry, historical relevance of certain creative choices, or shed light on some behind the scenes processes you might not have heard about before. The Closer Look, Every Frame a Painting, Lessons from the Screenplay, there are many of incredible students of film out to share their thoughts and insights.

For academia in general, Kurzgesagt, CGP Gray, some of the extra vlogbrothers content like SciShow; for literature Tale Foundry, and to an extent Terrible Writing Advice; for tabletop RP, Monarchs Factory, Matt Colville; these are the talking heads, the voices of people who have learned enough to want to share and impart what wisdom they can. Though most of it is heavily slanted by the perspective of the author/essayist/YouTuber in question, most strive for an objective approach and back their opinions with research or extensive experience.

I have been spending vast portions of every day studying the talking-head genre, because some time before the end of this month I’m hoping to put my own videos out there. Not something you’d think I’d consider too difficult, I’ve written 500-2000 word articles twice a week, almost every week, plus Top 10 entries, and most of those have been released on time (here, the author coughs by way of acknowledgement that this does not include today’s piece). I also like talking, especially to an audience, be it a half dozen gamers sat at a table, or a hundred or so gamers who are fool enough to want to listen to my opinions.

So where’s the hang-up?

First of all, a moment of gaming the algorithms on YouTube, what I need to produce has to last for ten minutes. After some experimentation playing around with an autocue generator, I’m estimating a minimum of 2000 words, and I – unfortunately – have a tendency to write concisely, too concisely. So it has been a lesson in padding and drawing out subjects without making it dull listening. This also presumes a script, which I’ll come to momentarily.

Second… talking to a microphone is a world apart from talking to an audience. I invested in a moderate quality microphone, poor audio quality is a killer for videos like this and frankly my webcam was proving inadequate. But here this thing sits… glaring at me, unresponsive. As someone who – by necessity – feeds off the reactions of the audience to inform the content, a microphone is a maddeningly passive audience.

Do I improvise, or do I script in full? I know there are plenty of talking-heads who do one, the other, or both. In my early attempts I tried to strike a balance, writing my script as if it were a D&D game plan, a few notes on talking points, a rough idea what I want to talk about and when, enough to structure without being restrictive, but I learned afterwards that I have a maddening idiosyncrasy that makes editing that style of essay impossible: when I’m thinking, I draw out syllables so that the space in between is almost non-existent. So effort two reads straight from a script, and, while better, I find I stumble over the words that I have written. I entered into the idea thinking it would be the perfect for someone who enjoys talking as much as I do, and here I find I’m learning to talk all over again.

When I put down my keyboard I’ll be trying again, and again, to get this right, possibly trying a few other approaches. I write purely to vent, this is a topic on which there are a thousand answers, none of which right for everyone, it falls within the category of “practice making perfect” and “finding what is right for you”.

I’ll be back when I have a right answer.


Opinion: Was Free-To-Play Inevitable For The Games Industry?

Throughout history, we’re told that change is inevitable. Whether it’s changes to your work, or changes in the form of a balance patch in your favourite fighting game, change is inevitable. However some change is a lot more necessary than others. Some change is born out of a need to move from the status quo, whereas other changes are to try and improve and innovate. So in an industry filled with innovation, was Free-To-Play simply inevitable?

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Black Blades – Moorcock’s Influence on Fantasy

Michael Moorcock is a big name in fantasy. He tends to fall off the radar a little in the face of Tolkein’s masterful mythologues, Pratchett’s wondrous mirror, and Martin’s political complexity, but Moorcock’s legacy runs as deep as any others.

Most famous for the Eternal Champion, a title given to a series of figures who undergo a repetitive cycle of events which, though cast in different circumstances, mark them as an agent of balance destined to restore order in times of chaos, or chaos in times of oppressive law. Eternal Champions exist as a universal constant, appearing in worlds, times, and dimensions beyond counting, they are destined to suffer greatly under their burden, with certain common factors appearing from champion to champion, and only once becoming aware of the cycle.

Among the most famous is the strange white-haired warrior, Elric of Melniboné, the White Wolf, whose details would mark him heavily as progenitor to fantasy staples like Drizzt Do’urden and Geralt of Rivia. I highly recommend delving into the legacy of Elric alone, but he’s not the major focus of this article. I want to talk about the sword Stormbringer, a sentient, black blade that steals the souls of those it kills (also paired with Mournblade). Sound familiar? It should. Because in addition to being a repeated element in the life of the Eternal Champion, it is an artifact that recurs throughout fantasy as a nod to Moorcock and his incredible creations.

Blackrazor, D&D – One of the oldest artifacts in the game is one of its most brazen nods to the Eternal Champion saga, popping up in Baldur’s Gate 2 and in the White Plume Mountain adventure, the weapon is sentient, malevolent, and devours souls of the slain. It has a personal relationship with a pair of other artifacts (Whelm and Wave) that makes it distinct to Stormbringer/Mournblade, but ultimately it’s a straightforward nod to the fantasy heritage upon which the game stands.

Dragnipur, Malazan Book of the Fallen – These books are a tough read but very worthwhile, because the fantastical concepts behind them, pushing them are truly magnificent. I’m a particular fan of the method by which magic works, where dimensions or planes called Warrens can be studied and opened into a mortal to create magical effects at great personal risk. The sword Dragnipur has its own Warren, into which souls are taken. Within the blade those souls are chained together, dragging a vast, mysterious wagon behind them, including a dragon held by the neck, all working together.

The Legacy of Kain – This one’s not a great stretch of the imagination, forces of law and chaos war over the actions of one, highly powerful vampire, who betrays his closest ally, who – in turn – turns on him, stealing a spectral fragment of a blade and learning to subsist on souls instead of blood, before returning to fight by his side against a far greater foe, becoming the soul of the sword as the fight together to restore balance. Said vampire looks astonishingly like sundried Elric of Melniboné!

Soulstone, Diablo Series – Embedded into the body of the Dark Wanderer, protagonist of Diablo 1 who attempted to contain Diablo himself but sadly failed. It’s not a sword, admittedly, what it represents (intentionally or otherwise) is the Black Crystal of Dorian Hawkmoon, which is used to manipulate Hawkmoon into obedience of a dark force. It’s another manifestation of the blade in the Champion’s continuity.

Soul Edge, Soul Calibur – Short example because I don’t know the series that well but it popped up in my research, another sentient soul-eating sword, but it’s not black… it’s black in places, sure, but it’s mostly metal… and sticky. It’s got a saga of its own going on, passing from owner to owner, changing shape to suit their needs but generally being the villain of the piece, considered at times to be the greater antagonist compared to whoever’s holding it.

Tyrfing – An old norse myth, possibly one of the earliest examples of Stormbringer – because hell no it’s not the first of its kind – is a sword that strikes true with every swing and cleaves stone and metal as easily as flesh, but is cursed to take a life whenever it is drawn, to cause three great evils, and to ultimately kill the wielder. Ok we’re talking a millennia of narrative changes, but it’s got definite thematic elements.

Black blades, soul devouring blades, sentient blades, all of these aspects pop up in a vast array of combinations with unique quirks and places within their own mythology, but they’re all part of a much greater and more fascinating saga. I’m not here to claim that they all start with Moorcock, Stormbringer, and Elric, but that the varying arcs of the Eternal Champion are something of a narrative loadstone, a lynch pin that has brought the concepts into much harsher relief.

In the same way we’d never credit Moorcock with creating the anti-hero – Shakespeare may still hold that credit but it’s still questionable – still he sets a mould that proves hard to break because of the way it has entered the culture, in the same way we can’t help retelling Shakespeare’s greats even when we may not intend to. The Eternal Champion also establishes the notion of law and chaos as independent of good and evil, a hotly debated element of character design in fantasy role-play. People and deeds can fall anywhere along either scale, where law and order may previously have been intimately tied to notions of good and vice-versa, Moorcock breaks those bonds.

Play “spot the Stormbringer” as you delve into the vast array of novels, games, films, and anime series, you’d be surprised how many you see.