Archive for June, 2011

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Read Lately…In Star Wars, Mass Effect And MORE Fantasy

June 13, 2011

And the reading frenzy continues!

Currently, I’m still on track to reaching my goal of reading 100 novels for the year of 2011. June’s nowhere near over yet, and already 51 books in, to be exact. As to why I’m doing this, there are a couple reasons — 1) for my love of reading, and 2) I’m insane.

It’s also quite fun. I read every day anyway, and in the same way I like to track my games and playtime with Raptr, I like to track my books and reading progress with Goodreads. By the way, if you are on GR, feel free to add me. If you’re a science fantasy fan, I could also do with some fresh new sci-fi recommendations that aren’t based on video games or Star Wars, heh.

Once again, here are some of the titles I’ve had the pleasure of reading these past couple of months…

Feed by Mira Grant

A zombie book! In a world where the CDC is the most important organization in the country, children are trained in firearms as young as 7, and Alaska has been ceded to “the Infected”, the population has come to depend more on social media instead of the mainstream news to get their up-to-the-minute information. Enter our protagonists, a trio of bloggers who land the story of a lifetime — the opportunity to accompany a senator on his campaign across the country to become the next president of the United States…but of course, bad things start happening.

Not that I’m a huge fan of zombie books, but when this one was nominated for a Hugo and my book club chose it to read for the month of May, I seized the opportunity. For one, I loved the premise behind the book. The story, however, turned out rather predictable and “telegraphed”, and for the lack of a better term the characters are kinda full of themselves. Ah, but the ending was a bombshell that made everything worth it. Despite my indifference for the characters themselves, the emotional fallout that resulted was simply gut-wrenching.

Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Shreiber

Did I say I wasn’t a huge fan of zombie books? Really, I’m not. Like, I don’t go out of my way to read them, but every so often something indulgent like this just falls in my lap.

And God help me, but I liked this book. I didn’t really think I would. When I first caught wind of a series of Star Wars books about zombies, I predicted only disastrous results. Zombies are good and fine, but I just couldn’t imagine their presence in my beloved Star Wars universe. But curse my curiosity, I wanted to see what it was all about. And it was a short read, so I picked it up.

And whaddya know, a few chapters in and I actually started enjoying myself. Sure, there were a lot of plot holes and things that didn’t make sense, but the book was also everything its cover promised — blood, gore, dismembered body parts, more blood and gore, flesh eating Stormtroopers, and even Wookiee zombies. It delivered where it was supposed to, and I mean, you might say the secret is low expectations, but then again you don’t pick up a book like this and expect anything more. This book belongs in my closet of guilty pleasures for sure, and I’ll just try not to feel so dirty for liking it.

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

No more putting this off; I’m making it a goal to polish off all the Dresden books by the time Ghost Story comes out, which gives me about a month and a half. Yeah, so maybe I have the attention span of a squirrel, but I usually have a lot of trouble reading books in a series back-to-back-to-back as I find myself getting antsy and needing a different focus after a while. The only series with which I’ve ever been able to do pull that off is A Song of Ice and Fire. Say what you will about the quality of the subsequent books after A Game of Thrones, but George R. R. Martin does have a way of engaging you and making you want to know what happens next.

Jim Butcher makes me feel the same way, which is how I’m now reading all these Dresden Files books in a row and still not feeling worn down. I still have issues with “emo Harry” sometimes, but the stories themselves are always so full of action and humor. Currently on the 7th book now and I’m pleasantly surprised at how the momentum has not slowed down, which is rare in an ongoing series. In fact, I’ve been told the books just keep getting better and better. At this point, I’m starting to believe it.

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

I’m always thrilled to give a new book and a new author a try, especially since everywhere I look, the consensus for this new series is the same: “Recommended for fans of the Dresden Files.”

I can see why — both are narrated by a male protagonist in the first person with a modern, “hip” voice. Both are humorous and full of pop culture references. Harry Dresden has a talking skull named Bob, Atticus O’Sullivan has an Irish wolfhound he talks to named Oberon. They both keep paranormal company like werewolves, witches and vampires. And always, there’s some bad guy trying to kill them, and action ensues. It’s inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between these two series.

Atticus, however, is a 2,100 year old druid. And despite taking place in modern day Tempe, Arizona, the Iron Druid Chronicles series is steeped in Celtic mythology and culture. You’ll love Hounded if you’re into that type of thing. Or even if you’re not. I had a lot of fun reading this book. I would say it is better than the average debut novel, but I’m also curious as to how this series will progress. Atticus seems to have a magical solution for every problem, or friends that do, so I’m interested in seeing how things will turn out in terms of character growth. In any case, it’s always refreshing to read an urban fantasy novel that doesn’t suck.

Mass Effect by Drew Karpyshyn

Have I mentioned this hour that I’m a big fan of Drew Karpyshyn? No? Well, I’m a big fan of Drew Karpyshyn. Loved his Star Wars: Darth Bane novels and enjoyed my first taste of his Mass Effect books with Revelation. So then I went and finished Ascension and Retribution, which tied together rather nicely.

One thing I admire about Drew and his books is his ability to make you sympathize with even the biggest jackwads. This is the man who managed to make me root for an evil Sith Lord, after all. Enter Paul Grayson, a Cerberus agent, drug addict, and a ruthless killer who sold his own daughter out to science. Kahlee Sanders returns to make him see the error of his ways and also to kick some ass, and in book 3 our old friend Anderson even comes back to help out. There is essentially no filler in these Mass Effect books, just action and more action. Typical of video game tie-in novels, but I find these much better written than many.

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

Right away, I sensed that Dalglish was attempting for a Song of Ice and Fire feel. The title format and certain phrases and names dropped as homages were a hint, but he also stated as much in his afterword.

Well, he succeeded in a couple ways, first and foremost in that the story is much too complicated for me to explain in three sentences or less. I also had the feeling I was going to be in for some political intrigue and that I best prepare myself for most of the characters I meet dying horribly and needlessly. Turns out I was right on both accounts.

I liked the book, but A Game of Thrones it is not. A very fine attempt, however, with plenty of character and world building. A little bit more of that and a little less of blatantly trying to shock the reader, then I dare say it could have come close. And speaking of shock-value, expect much violence. I’m so desensitized these days that I barely flinch anymore, but I still have a weakness for the eyes and fingernails and any time anything bad happens to those two specific body parts. Unfortunately for me, Dalglsih seems to have a particular fondness and fixation for eye-gouging and other eye-related torture and injuries.

The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney

This was perhaps my first real taste into the sub-genre of “military fantasy”. History or literature buffs will realize right away that The Ten Thousand is directly based on the events from Xenophon’s Anabasis. So maybe it’s a little difficult to feel much excitement or suspense when you know what’s going to happen already, but I found some of the fantastical elements in this book really intriguing.

I wish more details had been put into these, such as the mysterious black armor pieces worn by the Cursebearers or the strange exotic race of the Kufr, but most of the focus was poured into the book’s martial elements. That said, Paul Kearney has an obvious talent for writing scenes of warfare, as the battles and the descriptions of the fighting were really well done. I discovered after reading this book that I can take military fantasy, but it’s not really so much my thing. If it is yours though, I recommend giving this one a look.

Star Wars: The New Jedi Order by various authors

Okay, what I actually wanted to do was read the newer Star Wars books, like stuff from the Legacy of the Force or Fate of the Jedi series, but decided to go back a little further in the timeline and read up to it instead. Sure, I could have just read summaries on Wookieepedia and called it a day, but damn my stubbornness, I wanted to do things properly. As such, I started with The New Jedi Order AKA the “Yuuzhan Vong” series that’s, oh, about a whopping 20 books long.

I’m starting to regret things, but once I start a series it gets hard for me to drop it, especially since I’m already more than a third of the way in. It’s been a tedious journey thus far, but NJO does have its moments every now and then. Also, being familiar with the events of the Star Wars expanded universe is one thing, it’s another to go right to the source and read about the finer details. I like knowing more about the stories that until now I’ve only heard of or read about in passing, which was my motivation to tackle this series in the first place.

Kraken by China Miéville

China Miéville came highly recommended, though everyone who had read this one before me warned that Kraken is not like any of his other books. I still wonder if it was a good idea for picking it up for my first taste of Miéville. Even now, I’m at a loss as to what to say about it.

Two things are certain — 1) it was nothing like I expected, and 2) it’s going right into the “Weirdest Books I’ve Ever Read” shelf. The book follows Billy Harrow, a scientist at the Museum of Natural History in London. An expert on mollusks, Billy was also responsible for the preservation of one of the museum’s most popular exhibits — the giant squid. One day, out of the blue, the thing goes missing — all 28.3 feet of it. Investigating into its disappearance, Billy finds himself thrown into a side of London he never knew existed, a world full of magic, secret cults, doomsday theories and other supernatural creatures.

If you’re into Neil-Gaiman-type whackiness, then this book is for you. Personally, I don’t think I’ll be up for reading another book like this for a long time, but I’m more interested than ever now to tackle Miéville’s other more “straightforward” books like The City & The City. Nevertheless, Kraken was a fun if also bizarre read. I give this book a thumbs-up, if for nothing else the entire chapter full of Star Trek references including a live Tribble and an actual working phaser gun, plus the fact I got to annoy my husband by shouting “Release the Kraken!” before settling down with the book every night while I was reading it.

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Always In Motion Is The Future

June 10, 2011

Unsurprisingly, with everything that happened this week, today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic update was a recap of their events and features at E3.

  • Of course, the “Return” Cinematic Intro was the centerpiece. Last year, the “Hope” trailer had everyone excited about the Trooper, while this year, everyone is talking about the Smuggler. Bah! And they say BioWare gives no love to the Republic.
  • A preview trailer of the features we have to look forward to in SWTOR. Quite honestly, I liked that video just much as — if not more — than I did “Return”. It lacks the bells and whistles of a cinematic, but it has something better — actual gameplay footage.
  • A trailer for the Operation of Eternity Vault, a raid on the planet of Belsavis. There’s still not enough endgame information for me to make a judgment, but I’m curious. To recapitulate my own thoughts, I used to be a lot more interested in MMO raiding, but not so much anymore since I discovered how quickly I lost interest in the grind and gear progression. Don’t get me wrong — I’ll raid in SWTOR. But to be perfectly honest, unless they do something very different, I can’t see myself being converted in the long run. Don’t worry about me though, there are always going to be other classes to play. My favorite part of an MMO has always been the leveling, the journey, the experience.
  • The Tatooine Developer Walkthrough. Sith Sorcerors and Sand People and Krayt Dragons, oh my! And I still can’t get over how damn huge that place is. My sense of exploration is tingling.
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L.A. Noire – Halfway Point Impressions

June 9, 2011

E3, I love you because I’m getting all excited for all these upcoming games, but you’ve also managed to completely kill my gaming mojo. It’s difficult to get motivated to play anything right now, when I’m thinking of all the new stuff that’s going to be coming out in the next year. If you’ve noticed, I’m also in a bit of an MMO slump at the moment, even though that has little to do with anything; Rift is just slowing down but I’m looking forward to the big update at the end of this month and I’m still logging in every day to play a little, and do my dailies like a good little chump.

Not that I mind the slow-down; sometimes a break from online gaming keeps me sane and it also gives me a chance to dust off my neglected Xbox 360 and play some single-player console.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly working my way through L.A. Noire, the newest gem from developer Rockstar. I’m only about halfway in, just made it to Vice. Don’t get me wrong, I like their games, but like so many of their titles in the past, nothing about it really grips me and makes me feel I have to finish it as fast as humanly possible. At the same time, it works. I think Rockstar games are meant to be savored over time, or things will start to feel real repetitive, real fast.

L.A. Noire does have a certain je ne sais quoi to it though, something that separates it from anything Rockstar has made in the past. Cole Phelps, the character you play, is a good cop, a complete boy scout — which is a big shocker in itself already. I can’t punch a stranger in the face and start a street fight whenever I want, nor hogtie innocent civilians and leave them on the railroad tracks. You can, however, still drive like a maniac, which actually isn’t something I do deliberately, so that’s good news for me.

Speaking of which, recently I’ve been in discussions of whether or not driving is any easier or harder in this game compared to past Rockstar games. Despite the amount of property damage I do or the number of cars I go through, I’m actually not that bad an in-game driver. Really. I’m not. I swear. I’m just…reckless and don’t care enough. If that sounds contradictory, consider how I still manage to get into car accidents even when I strive to drive nicely and obey all traffic laws. Heck, even my damn partner got into a fender bender when I told him to drive — a bad one, which caused my jaw to hit the ground when it happened. It’s not just the controls, I think it’s also the AI which seems to have gone either completely suicidal or vindictive on me, causing other cars to turn blindly into my side or stop directly in my path. And no, Finbarr, the siren doesn’t help. Give me Red Dead Redemption, I prefer “driving” a horse any day.

But enough ranting from, because I doubt anyone is buying for a second that I don’t enjoy mowing down streetlamps or sending post boxes and newspaper stands flying. I need the outlet for my frustration, after all, from the interrogations. But while questioning suspects is the biggest challenge for me, it’s also fun as hell to read their faces and judge their movements and expressions. It has become my favorite aspect of the game. Mostly, catching them in their lies isn’t the problem, it’s accusing them of lying when they’re telling the truth which gets me every time. Apparently, I have trust issues.

Anyway, maybe it’s the more solemn nature of the game or the classy 1940s feel…or maybe it’s the fact you play a cop. But whatever it is, there’s an aura of sophistication around L.A. Noire that instills patience, thinking, and the willingness to put in the time. Or maybe it’s the other way around. The cases so far are excellent and well put together, the complexity evolving nicely as I go from Patrol to Traffic to Homicide to Vice and later Arson. I’ll probably go more into detail once I’m done; regardless, so far I’m enjoying myself.

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SWTOR: Utinni!

June 8, 2011

I didn’t follow E3 as closely today, playing some catch up with my work instead (on account of all the time I puttered away yesterday, watching all the presentations). I did, however, catch a couple of Star Wars: The Old Republic live streams and features.

One of them was a live demo session hosted by Daniel Erickson from the show floor, answering fan questions and showcasing a Bounty Hunter questing on the planet of Tatooine. The video can be viewed here.

My interest was piqued immediately, for not only is the Bounty Hunter my class of choice, BioWare had also been teasing Tatooine for a couple weeks now and I was really looking forward to seeing it. Everything sort of fled my mind, however, the moment they revealed Blizz the little Jawa companion. Tally another point under the “Reasons to play a Bounty Hunter” column, please!

Oh em gee, will you just look at how cute and cuddly he is. Though, I almost choked to death on my Coke when someone actually asked if he was romance-able (he’s not, thank god). Sorry, but that’s just wrong. Sooo wrong.

They’ve done a wonderful job on the environment; despite the lowered graphic settings for the live stream, everything still looked very beautiful and Tatooine-y. Oh, and massive. Something tells me I’ll be extremely grateful for my speeder “mount” for traveling. Other highlights — a med probe ability that acts similarly to the Rift “soulwalk” when you die, unlimited inventory space for quest items, ability to switch out your companions on the fly for convenience while soloing or grouping, and many other quality-of-life features.

You can’t sell your companions, which was sort of obvious to me, but I still couldn’t help but be amused by Erickson’s answer of no slavery in the Old Republic — if only because it reminded me of how long I’ve personally pondered the ethics of selling, trading, and even sending your bridge officers through the mail like some kind of human chattel in Star Trek Online. Heh.

The other live stream I watched was the short interview on SWTOR raids (which they call “Operations”), as well as the trailer for the Eternity Vault encounter on Belsavis:

You know what it reminded me of? Oddly enough, Episode II. Yep, Attack of the Clones. Battle of Geonosis. The scene where Padme finally professes to Anakin that she truly…deeply…loves him (like, really?) before they and Obi-Wan are hauled off to become creature food, and Mace Windu and his 212-member Jedi strike team have to step in at the nick of time to rescue their asses. The scene where, outnumbered 50 to 1, the Jedi fight to the end in a charlie foxtrot of running feet, flying blaster bolts and flashing lightsabers, utter chaos exploding in every corner of the arena.

In short, Geonosis was a complete gong show and it was the first thing I thought of. Not that that’s a criticism of the above trailer, however. On the contrary. Large-scale battles like that should be messy, they should be chaotic. I thought some of the game footage they showed captured that vibe very well. That said, there were glimpses of what appeared to be boss fights, but also many encounters where the players split up to engage multiple enemies — the latter is what I hope we’ll get to see more of. In any case, I don’t know what else to make of SWTOR raids yet, with still so little to go on.

I did also manage to catch the Nintendo unveiling of the WiiU this afternoon. This year seems to be all about the possibilities for me. The possibility of me actually using a Wii product again for something else other than exercising and work out games if I got the touchscreen controller. The possibility I might actually be drawn into the world of handheld gaming by the Playstation Vita. The possibility I might finally have enough reasons to get a Kinect. All prospects, but nothing really jumped out at me.

My main interest still lies more in MMOs than in consoles or anything, though I’ve enjoyed every minute of the coverage over the last couple of days on games like Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed Revelations and even Neverwinter.

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SWTOR: E3 Eye Candy

June 6, 2011

The new Star Wars: The Old Republic cinematic trailer, “Return”:

Excuse me for a sec, while I try real hard to hold my eyeballs in. They’re sort of bleeding out right now from watching all that awesomeness — but also from the flash and razzle dazzle. And here I thought the “Hope” trailer was over the top.

Still, Blur Studios has done it again, pulling off what is in my opinion the most detailed and elaborate out of all the SWTOR cinematic trailers. They gave attention to both the Empire and the Republic, filling in some of the history for both Satele and Malgus, while throwing in a healthy dose of space combat and the compulsory lightsaber duel sequences.

A few classes also got to relish their moments in the limelight, though some managed to look waaaaay cooler than others, *cough* Smuggler *cough*. I was a little skeptical about the overall look and feel of the Gunslinger at first, but no longer. He looked like he was born to rock the Star Wars universe and the Old Republic.

Also shown today at the EA presentation at E3, the “Choose” montage trailer:

Apparently, “Choose” was always going to be shown at the press conference, with “Return” being saved for a debut on swtor.com. Since the previous trailers were shown at E3, I think that led to a lot of confusion, despite the note at the end of the trailer pointing to the new cinematic at the official game site. Why Dr. Greg Zeschuk didn’t also say so in his opening speech was a missed opportunity in my opinion, or else they must think everyone is plugged into twitter or other social networks to know stuff these days.

There will be no release date announced during E3 2011, or any pre-order details. Not that I was expecting it, but I’m not denying that there was always that hope. I mean, picture it, how cool would it have been if the trailer had actually played out this way: “CHOOSE YOUR SIDE…JOIN YOUR ALLIES…THE BATTLE BEGINS”…and BOOM, release date? Sadly, now it’s more like, THE BATTLE BEGINS…on the official community forums!

If you can tune out all the rage, however, the good news is that Bioware is still aiming for a “second half of 2011″ release. Good things come to those who wait; with luck, we’ll be playing this game within the next 6 months. While the SWTOR coverage at the EA conference may have been scarce (though I did get to drool all over Mass Effect 3), over the next few days there should be more BioWare panels and demos from the show floor, with more on features teased in last weekend’s E3 preview trailer:

I love cinematic trailers, but they never reflect what the finished game will look like. I, however, thoroughly enjoyed feasting upon all the actual gameplay footage shown in the video above.

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For The Science – Thoughts On Portal 2

June 6, 2011

You’ve no doubt heard already — Portal 2 is an awesome game. I probably should have written my thoughts out long ago,  but I wanted to finish the whole game first (including the co-operation portion) before I did, and I guess late is better than never.

Upon completion of the single-player, my first thought was: Wow. Portal 2 is bigger than its predecessor in every sense — the length, the challenges, the story, the scope. They took everything that was great about the first game, made it better, and managed to do it without making me feel like I was going back over old ground. That in itself is quite a feat, considering what a brief but quintessential experience the first Portal game was. The sequel feels fresh while staying loyal to the spirit of the original, expanding upon it physics, humor, and whacky puzzle-based gameplay.

And speaking of puzzles, Portal 2’s are more fun than ever. The basics of momentum and portal mechanics remain the same, but the game throws a lot more technology at you this time around, everything from energy platforms to bouncy gels. Thanks to our deranged friend GLaDOS, the entire facility environment also comes to life, making things a lot more interesting.

That said, some of the test chambers can get pretty tricky. I was a little concerned at first, recalling some of the troubles I had from the first game. For the most part, however, I had little trouble with the puzzles in Portal 2. I don’t think they got easier, just that I may have been more familiar with the mechanics, physics and how the game “works” this time around.

Not that there weren’t other challenges to contend with. I’m mostly cool with the problem solving; given enough time, things can always be figured out. Instead, it’s needing to be quick and precise enough to fire a portal here or there or wherever at the right time that gets me. I mean, I’m not exactly Miss Coordination of the Year. That’s my problem, though, not the game’s — because in my opinion, all the puzzles were very well designed.

Still, the best part had to be the storytelling. Unlike the first game where the story had to gleaned from bits and pieces, Portal 2 has a clear beginning, middle, climax and end. Right from the explosive start, I was hooked. I enjoyed meeting Wheatley the excitable robot sphere, though I was initially a little annoyed with having a sidekick until I realized his bigger role in all of this. Between solving puzzles, I was filled in on the background of Aperture Science as well as my own character’s history. What impressed me most was how so much of the story was told through one-sided conversation, environmental cues and my own puzzle-solving driving the plot forward.

As for the co-op, arguably one of the most anticipated features of the game, I have to say: it was wild. If you played Portal 2 and enjoyed single-player, then you will probably like co-op too, where you and your teammate play as robots and continue to solve GLaDOS’s tests for the sake of science. The general idea is the same — but with two people, the puzzles are taken to a whole new level and require a very different way of thinking.

I had the pleasure of completing this portion with Blue Kae, who also suggested the neat idea that we should do a co-op review of the co-op gameplay! So here it is:

Blue Kae: I had expected the co-op game to be fun, but it turned out to be a lot more fun than I realized. Challenging in different ways than the single player, and somehow easier too. What surprised you about playing co-op?

MMOGamerChick: From the start, I knew co-op was going to be about playing together, but what I didn’t expect to see was how often we were put into situations where we had to work together…but separately. Initially, I think I was picturing something akin to a two-player platformer, where you and your partner would go everywhere together, do everything together. There were some puzzles like that, but I’d say most of them involved each person doing very different things, sometimes in different parts of the room. It made things more interesting, in my opinion. It’s still very much about the teamwork because our chances of success still depended on both people accomplishing their respective tasks, but that meant trust was also very important — especially when we couldn’t see what the other person was doing and had to rely on coordination and communication.

Okay, my turn to ask a question. What did you find was most challenging about co-op?

BK: Remembering that I was playing with someone. I mean we were chatting the whole time so I knew you were there and all, but after playing through on single player I was so used to running into a new puzzle and starting to throw portals around that it was an adjustment to remember I was playing with someone. I know there were a few times when I wiped a portal of yours out with one of mine because I wasn’t thinking.

I very much agree with your surprise about how the co-op worked. I assumed that our portals would link up instead of being separate. It was definitely more about communicating, coordinating, and trust. The spike maze comes to mind. :)

The best part was having a second person to help figure out how to solve the puzzles. I wasn’t tempted to go look at Youtube once. If/when there’s a Portal 3 are you looking forward more to single player or more co-op?

MMOGC: Both. I mean, obviously the co-op is a huge draw, but single player has its moments. And both portions were filled with humorous moments, GLaDOS doing her thing. That’s what made the whole game, I think. It would be difficult for me to say which I prefer or look forward to more.

And I totally agree with you about remembering that I was playing with someone. Though with regards to wiping out each other’s portals, I just like to think of it more as both of us being on the same page. Great minds think alike and all that!

BK: True! I think the single player had a bit more personality, maybe that’s because it stretched across two games. Did it seem to you like the single player was more about how to solve a puzzle and the co-op was more about actually doing the solution?

MMOGC: Oh yeah, definitely. I approached single-player and co-op very differently. In co-op (and I think you might have noticed this too), the first thing both of us did with a new puzzle was run in there and start exploring, playing with whatever buttons or stuff we found. I found myself “working backwards” in co-op more than I did in single-player. First find the exit, then “do” the solution.

BK: I wasn’t quite that organized about it. Mostly I was just trying to make sure that when we picked a solution that it was using all of the different parts in the puzzle.

MMOGC: Let me ask you another thing. Were you stressed at any point? ‘Cause I know I was. I kept thinking, “Oh crap oh crap oh crap, I’m going to let Blue Kae down and he’s going to think I’m an idiot.” I’m not the best when it comes to coordination and reflexes. There were several times that I botched a jump or a portal and I just felt terrible.

BK: A couple of times, definitely. I worried about getting you killed on a couple of puzzles where there was timing involved. But most of the time it was so easy to run back in, that I didn’t worry much. I can’t remember getting frustrated at all though.

MMOGC: Well, it was definitely much more enjoyable to play with a friend.

BK: I totally agree. The frustrating parts for me in the single player game were figuring out what to do next. Having someone to talk with and point out things I missed made the game much much more fun.

MMOGC: I totally carried you. Haha, just kidding.

BK: There were definitely puzzles that you just got right off that I didn’t and vice versa. There was only one puzzle, I remember, that stumped us both for a bit.

MMOGC: That part really was cool. I saw where my own weaknesses were, and was grateful when you figured stuff out that I couldn’t. I was really happy that we were able to figure everything out between us without going to outside help.

BK: Yeah, I ended up hitting Youtube twice for puzzles in the singleplayer game when it stopped being fun.

MMOGC: And fun is what it’s all about.

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Watched Lately: X-Men: First Class…And The Outlook Of Superhero Movies

June 4, 2011

Once upon a time, I used to write about the new movies I’ve seen on this blog, especially when it comes to comic book adaptations. They’re sort of an…esoteric interest of mine. I’d make an effort to get out to the theater, bribe my husband who doesn’t give a whit about comics with cookies so he’ll come along with me, and we’d watch whatever superhero/antihero that comes to life that week on the big screen.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve written about those, and there are a couple reasons for that. One, there has been an explosion of comic book films coming out of Hollywood lately, and let’s face it — so much of it is just utter crap. I’ve had to get picky with my money and time (not to mention that I tire of baking cookies) so depending on the movie, sometimes I’ll just pass if it’s an adaptation of a title from DC, Image, or an independent publisher. However — I will always watch anything based on a Marvel title, no exceptions. Too much of a Marvel fangirl; so much that I’ll take both the good and the bad.

So when I first heard about X-Men: First Class, I just knew I had to watch it. Come on, not only is it Marvel, it’s also the X-Men.

But I was wary. At first, I thought it was going to be a complete reboot of the movie franchise — mirroring the idea of the X-Men: First Class limited comic series. When I found out that it was actually a “fifth installment” and a loose prequel to the existing X-Men films, I was disappointed. I wasn’t a big fan of the first couple of movies to begin with even though they were both highly acclaimed, though I believe it’s safe to say the third one was universally despised, and I’m still trying to forget that that travesty of a Wolverine spin-off ever even happened.

To Marvel Studio’s credit, they’ve been putting out more great stuff than bad for the last few years. Still, I’ve always felt there was something missing. There’s more to a good movie than just high production values — sometimes, even the most excellent of special effects, the flashiest of costumes, and the creamiest of the crop actors can only take you so far. I’ve always felt that most comic book movies today lack a good story, and by that, I mean a story that’s both memorable and meaningful.

I certainly don’t mean to go on a rant but then I’m sure some of my comics friends are already familiar with this particular gripe of mine. Take the Iron Man flicks, for example. Love the character, awesome movies, but ask me if I remember any specifics from them right now, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you (like, in the second one…something about a Stark Expo, War Machine, and Mickey Rourke looking like ten miles of bad road with electric whips?) Same deal with the recent Thor. Hey, great movie, but again, I don’t know how much of it will stick with me in another couple years. They’re all just so run-of-the-mill and formulaic. Sometimes I think Chris Nolan is the only guy with any original ideas left.

Plus, a movie titled “First Class” but without the original team of Professor X, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel and Beast just feels…I don’t know, wrong.

Still, after watching it last night, I’m forced to eat my words. Because I liked it. A lot. I liked it so much, I’m actually here on my blog, extolling and writing a post about a comic book movie again. A rather long one too.

Ironically, the fact it was set in the same “universe” as the other movies (albeit loosely) was actually one of the reasons that made it appeal to me so much. Yes, There are a lot of new faces, seemingly a result of the movie producers taking a handful of random yet familiar names from the comics, trying to hammer these poor mutants into the plot and making them fit — that said, continuity is a little wonky and in many situations you can completely disregard the canon. But a few of the core characters return, and it is partly because you know what will happen, or that you know exactly whom will ally with whom, that was what made this movie so engaging for me to watch.

X-Men: First Class isn’t perfect, but it was much more than I expected. Despite some cliches and a few downright cheesetastic moments, I was surprised at how intense it was, given some of the simplistic themes it had to work with. Kudos to whoever did the music for the soundtrack, but a lot of it also had to do with the story’s pacing. It took its time to unfold and define the key players, clearly laying out their motivations every step of the way, so that when they finally acted upon them it didn’t feel like their personalities were changing on a dime. Also, set before a historical back-drop with real-world conflicts, X-Men: First Class felt like a more eloquent movie than its predecessors.

Superhero movies can’t afford to be typical anymore; if the audiences are anything like me, they’ll need a lot more to be impressed these days. Picking some random name from a hero’s rogue’s gallery, labeling them “the main bad guy” and throw in some action, rinse and repeat — that all used to be fine, but just isn’t going to cut it anymore. But I suppose if they had to choose a villain for this movie, they made the right choice in Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club. From William Stryker to Cassandra Nova to Apocalypse, there have been some excellent villains in the X-Men line-up throughout the years, but I’ve always thought Shaw was one of the creepiest. They captured that nicely in the movie, and my hat’s off to Kevin Bacon, who played him.

For me, the highlight had to be the Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lensherr/Magneto relationship. Arguably, it was the whole point of the movie, but I thought it illustrated their story of friendship-turned-animosity and bromance/frenemy dynamic perfectly. As they say in the books — two men, two sides of the same coin. Both actors performed admirably, but I felt it was Michael Fassbender who stole the show with his incredible portrayal of Erik.

While some elements of the superhero genre have remained the same, so much more has evolved (no pun intended!) such as plot lines becoming more complex and the focus on emotion as much as action. I’m going to remember the story of X-Men: First Class for a long time, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies as of late, not just comic book adaptations. I guess if they must continue making X-Men films…at least I like the new direction in which things are going.

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