January 31, 2009

Hope For A New Trek

Today I happened upon the second half of an interview in the LA Times with J.J. Abrams about the newest Star Trek Movie.  Now I have been a critical skeptic of this project because of how easy it is to ruin a good franchise, and the appreciation of the Star Trek universe is almost like a family heirloom on my mother's side.  I hold Star Trek very dear to me.  I would be heartbroken if the universe was needlessly torn apart just in the hope of making huge money.  But this interview gave me hope.

Abrams talks about how he's trying to keep the balance of staying true to the universe while at the same time appealing to a general audience.  I think this is a good idea, but a tricky on at the same time.  But I think it will work, and it's because of how he's addressing the movie in relation to the original tv show:

"... it was one of the things that was incredibly important for me that was this film--in addition to being character-centric and having the classic "Trek" debates and rapport between the characters--that it also be a movie that actually realized the promise of the adventure that "Trek" often had but didn't always have the resources to pull off."

This was the clincher for me.  Abrams is trying to preserve everything that I  know I loved about Star Trek: great characters, intense ideas and fantastic adventures.  These are qualities that lead to good stories in any genre.  Science fiction is no different.  The only thing that Abrams is hoping to take out is the outdated technology that made the original series. (And in some people's opinion, the bad acting of a certain captain.)  I feel that those are great goals to achieve for this new movie.

How true will the movie stay to the original series in those regards is the only question I hold now.  There are some nit-picky things that I have turned a blind eye to because in the whole scheme of things, they don't ruin the Trek universe.  The constant debate of where Kirk can drive stick shift is one of those petty things I don't bother with.  However, when I found out that Romulans were fighting Starfleet that early on, I was afraid that Abrams was trying to fit in whatever potential action sequence he could for serious money.  Thinking about that made my heart break.  One of my favorite episodes is Balance of Terror, which is supposed to the be first time Humans ever sees the Romulans.  This is important to the entire history of the Star Trek universe and to The Original Series.  It was a great discussion on the fear factor that happened in the Cold War (and you could relate it now to the fear of terrorists in America).  I could also relate to Spock, who looked like the enemy.  Officers suddenly couldn't trust him just because he shared physical features with the Romulans, despite the fact he was a dependable commander.  I didn't want to lose all of that depth in the entire universe just so a movie could have a legit fight sequence in space.

I've taken a somewhat closer look at the way Abrams is manipulating the timeline and I am ready to give it another shot.  Come May I'm going to go out of my way to see this movie.  I'm still somewhat apprehensive, and if things get too ridiculous I have told people I will walk out of the theatre.  Sure, this makes me one of those whiny purist.  So shoot me with a phaser set to kill.  Star Trek is ingrained in my family history.  I feel I have every right to be protective about it.

January 29, 2009

Hollywood, Let's Be Original

Today I found out something sad.  The film industry has shown once again that it doesn't have a original bone in its body.  Friends and fellow readers, Robert Rodriguez is doing a rehash of Predator. 

Think about this for a second.  Can you really do anything better than this classic?

First of all, I don't think we have an actor that really achieves the beefy manliness that is Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1987.  The close I can think of is Vin Diesel, or possibly Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock).  But still Ahhhrnald personified beefy warrior with big guns and an instinct to kill.  There aren't a lot of actors that fill that quota anymore.

The climate today is very different too.  In 1987 we still had a lot of people who remembered the hostile jungles of Vietnam.  That was the most recent war we had participated in.  But now we're in 2009 where most war is about sand dunes and secret bombers.  Is that really the kind of setting that is beneficial to a villain like Predator?  And could an audience enjoy the jungle setting as much in relation to the wars we see on television now?  I think the latter question can be answered a yes, but I don't know how big of a yes that is to the audience.  Also, why do we want to focus on freaky aliens hunting us when we have a bunch of popular horror movies about humans hunting humans.

Despite these logistics, why can't Hollywood think of something ORIGINAL?  I can forgive them for some of the cool comic book movies, and possibly TV movies, but what the hell is up with these reloads of movies that weren't worth remaking?  Why can't we have some more original content on the silver screen?  

It makes me sad to think that Hollywood can think of anything to captivate my nerdy interests.  They used to be a lot of sci-fi/fantasy things that were new out there, but now I don't feel that way anymore.  I feel like people have been tired of exploring the final frontier, and instead are visiting the same alpha/delta/gamma quadrant in hopes of getting me in a theatre seat.  And no, rehashing a show from the 60s does not make the movie original.  Even if I plan on watching it anyway.

I understand there is money to be made from fandom, but please, screenwriters EVERYWHERE, please give me something new to love, because soon you'll run out of old stuff to work every last penny out of, and then we both lose.

Readers, how do you feel about this situation?

January 26, 2009

So done with 2012

Alright, let's stop talking about 2012.  Well, not until I've finished this blog post but still.  I was reminded about the end of the world prophecy this morning as I rolled out of bed to get ready for a pretty busy day and was ticked off to be reminded again that supposedly the world will end in December 2012.  I am a skeptic on this whole thing. Really?  End of the world?  Sure some people may get blown up considering the political situation at hand, but I don't think the world is going to end.  

You know who's partially responsible for this?  This guy right here: 

That's right, I'm pinning it all on you Nostradamus, with your vague predictions of the world.  I really don't even think he could predict when he next passed gas, let alone the end of the world.  I doubt there really is a man that can predict when the world ends, especially if they write as vaguely as this guy did.  Look at these interpretations that are supposed to point to the many bad things that are supposed to happen by 2012.   Here is the "prophecy" that is supposed to predict World War Three:

By River Danube and Rhine shall come to drink The great camel which shall not repent Trembling is River Rhone and most violent for for those near River Loire And near Alps the Cock shall ruin them.

Really?  Maybe he was just saying the circus came to Europe for a tour and the elephant tripped near Rhone while the lions got out in Loire.  Alps, I'm sorry guys but I think that means bird flu.  Seriously guys, that is vaguer than my horoscope on yahoo when I check that email every morning. 

"But d20 Sapphire, the Mayans predicted the end of the world too!"  No, they didn't, you're just being silly now.  First of all, December 21-23 (I hear multiple versions of the actual end date) is the end of the calendar cycle that lasts 5,126 years.  Think about how long that is.  Now if you were in a society that didn't have the luxury of carbon dating or didn't have the capacity to figure out how old the universe is (which is pretty damn old) you would probably think that nothing could last that long when the average life span barely goes past 50 years.  Think about it, if you knew of nothing that you could prove was older than the oldest person in your village or city, would you think anything could get any older?  So thinking the world couldn't last that long is actually very logical if you don't have any science to prove otherwise.

Also, the mayan calendar still doesn't suggest an armageddon scenario.  It suggests the end of an era and the birth of a new one.  Here you can find some articles agreeing with that assessment, with varying degrees of legitimacy.  However, all the statement to this new era are a lot more legit than the people saying that in 2012 the end is coming.  The Mayans celebrated the end of a cycle, and didn't fear it.  Also, they were wiser than they realized considering that the date that ends their cycle also is the same time the center of the Milk Way Galaxy aligns with our sun and Earth.  As awesome as that is, I don't think it means the world will end.

I think that the Mayan calendar is getting the same bad reputation that the death card in a tarot deck does.  Not that I believe in tarot... okay I did when I was in high school, give me a break.  But there was one thing I learned that was super important: do not fear the death card.  The death card in tarot is more like Shiva in the hindu faith, in that it represents a transformation.  It's about a life reborn, the coming of a new age.  For those people who are just fearful of change, this could be a scary card.  However there are a lot of people who think that the death card means that they will die.  That's a common misconception, and I can understand why a card that says death on it would make someone think that.  But alas, it really is about change.  It's about a radical difference that will be felt.

When you start thinking about it, I wouldn't be surprised if 2012 is the beginning of a new era.  We have politicians who aren't all slimey in high positions, we have hope being the theme in one of the most powerful countries of the world, and technology is so pervasive there is no way a country will be able to escape it in the long run.  Oh, and an economic crisis that will change the way we think about money.  Don't forget that.  

2012 is not the end, but the beginning of a time we should be eager to see.

January 24, 2009

Sabotage From Within: When PCs attack PCs

I take any chance I get to make my title sound like a Fox TV special.

As a DM I'm very grateful to have a group that seems to have a lot of initiative these days.  I've been playing this campaign for 2 and a half years, and since I have given them a lot to work with they have, in return, given me a lot to work with.  From there you get great combinations of strategy, creativity and humor to make a great game.  Sometimes, though, it can possibly put everything at risk.

For about a week or so, one of my players had thought of a great plan to sabotage at least one fellow PC, if not the entire party.  Now I'm not the kind of DM to say you can't sabotage your fellow players.  However, the consequences are something I don't hide either.  So when this player brought up the idea to me, I let him know it would at least result in an alignment shift for him, and probably a ton of other not so nice things if his fellow players discovered what he was doing.  After a week of going over the plan and making sure every angle was covered, the prospective traitor decided to wait a little longer.  Unfortunately the turns of events prevented the plan from ever being acted, but it got me thinking... is sabotage ever good?

I'm not talking about DM inserted sabotage character that helps the plot.  I'm talking about PCs deciding on their own to sabotage a fellow PC, if not the entire party.  When you think about it, following an act like that through is a big risk.  As a player character you are expected to be part of a team that works toward a mutual goal.  In a campaign you hop towards mission to mission hoping to save the NPC, get the gold, and kill the bad guys.  If you do that with the same people over a long period of time, there's a lot of trust that the party will stick up for one another.  What happens if you ruin that trust and consistency?

My biggest fear, as a player and as a game master, is making a character unplayable.  I've experienced it too.  Let's just say if you're under the employ of a queen, you shouldn't be stealing from within that kingdom so blatantly.  Making a character unplayable is heartbreaking, especially when you've invested so much time and energy in them.  And if that character was the only connection to something important for the rest of the party, a lot more is lost than just "the tank" or "the spellcaster".  

There is also the sense of trust in a group.  We all know how relationships between people can deteriorate over time if trust is lost.  Things are never the same and it takes a lot to get trust back.  Imagine doing that with you and four of your closest associates.  While on the battlefield.  If you're not sure the cleric is going to heal you if you get hit by a fireball, how much are you going to help your party out?  As interesting this is in a story setting, it's more tenuous when playing an RPG, and even more so if you're playing that RPG with friends.  

I don't want this to discourage the idea of sabotage amongst PCs.  In certain campaigns this can work quite well.  Or if a player hates his character and wants a creative way to get rid of him.  Or when it's a one shot where the PCs are strangers to each other.  In the right situation sabotage is a great story device to play with.

My morbid curiosity wonders what would've happened if my player went through with this very original back stabbing plan of his.  In the end, though, it's probably better for my campaign that he didn't.  Kind of bittersweet, don't you think?

January 22, 2009

Games making fun of Blagojevich

Admist all the joy of Chicago's Obama becoming President of the United States, we can't forget the horrible politicians that have almost tarnished his image.  I'm thinking of Illinois' own Rod Blagojevich (pronounced blah-GOY-AH-vitch) who proved that although the mob is gone, corruption unfortunately still exists in Chicago.  The man is a total dick and we shouldn't forget it.

To commemorate the douchiest douche that ever douched in Illinois politics, Headline Games made two casual games that I suggest you check out when you're bored on the job or just in the mood for something simple to play.  Both of them poke fun at the scandal.  First there is Red Tape Breakout, a version of breakout where you are Attorney General Lisa Madigan trying to serve Blagojevich his papers admist a ton of red tape.  Fun, but I found it kind of possible.  It may be because I didn't use a mouse and instead I used a touchpad, but the papers come at you fast and I'm not a very coordinated individual. 

I prefer Blago Run, which is a frogger type game where you are vying for a senate seat.  To get it, you first have to get a dimplomat application or 5 money bags to get the seat open.  Then you go over to the now opened senate seat, which you literally steal from Burris.  Sweet!  You start off as Jessie Jackson Jr. and go through all the named senate seat seekers, with 3 being unknown and looking like they jumped out of an iPod commercial.  It's still fun, once you actually read the directions unlike I did the first time.  I would suggest this one more.

I may be ashamed that I com from a state where a governor thinks he could get away with selling a senate seat, but you got to laugh at how absurd the situation is, and these games are great for that.

January 20, 2009

Congrats to Obama: President and Confirmed Trekkie

I really do want to congratulate Barack Obama for becoming the 44th president of the white house, and the first African American President of the United States.

Some of you may know that Barack is also a confirmed Trekkie, and believes in the final frontier.  I can see why too--Star Trek has forever been talking about people like him and I.  People who are from two extreme distinct backgrounds that may not always get along.  I think this is one of the many reasons Gene Roddenberry is a genius.  He was talking about interracial people and their identities  before there were a lot of us in America to talk about in the first place.  It's a big deal for me.  Today, in honor of our President's many backgrounds (and hopefully a finer appreciation of mine)  I want to discuss how being interracial was dealt with on Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation, two shows from my childhood that in some ways taught me how to accept who I am.

Gene Roddenberry dealt with a lot of issues dealing with different alien races because the censors back in the day didn't like dealing with real race issues.  For example, when he first thought of doing Star Trek, he wanted the first commander to be a black human.  This would be a great way to talk about race relations.  However, he knew it wouldn't fly with the censors.  So instead he tried to make Majel Barrett first in command as a woman and put Spock on the bridge in the pilot.  The censors didn't like a woman first in command, stating that is wasn't believable to the audience.  When the first season aired, there was Spock as first in command, a half human half Vulcan.

Spock was the archetype of "the other" on the ship.  He constantly was representing his Vulcan heritage, choosing  suppress his emotions as is standard custom.  He was logical in thought and hardly ever let his feelings dictate who he was or his actions.   This played well against the over emotional McCoy, who says some nasty things to Spock.  If I were part Vulcan I wouldn't want someone just going around calling me Green-Blood, even if it is true.  I have a name, thankyouverymuch.  But Spock looked past his ignorance and merely carried on his customs.  He even had to defend his heritage in the great episode Balance of Terror, having to aid his ship being attacked by Romulans while at the same time suffering prejudice because he looked just like them.  

What I think allowed me to relate to Spock the most was the episode where his parents were on the Enterprise.  Sarek, his father, was a Vulcan Ambassador known for his many achievements.  It seemed his mother, Amanda, was being the dutiful politician's wife but also a caring, loving mother.  The tension between Sarek and Spock at the beginning of the episode was thicker than butter.  Sarek was disappointed that his son went to Starfleet instead of becoming a scientist on Vulcan.  It seemed that Spock could never be Vulcan enough.  Here we have the classic struggle for interracial people seen time and time again: Never could Spock be human enough to Starfleet peers, nor Vulcan enough even to his own father.  Spock chose to be more Vulcan than anything else, and was embarrassed to let his human emotions out.  Yet he could never satisfying either side of his heritage.

Would I say Barack can relate most to being Spock?  Actually, no.  Although a lot of interracial people can understand what's happened to Spock by finally picking a background to stick to, I don't think Barack has done that.  He isn't just black, and he isn't just white.  He's both.  He accepts both sides and how each of them have affected him as a person.  I can relate to that 100%, because that's how I feel about the issue too.  Unfortunately Spock never gets to that point in the series, unless of course you're awesome and you see the director's cut of the first Star Trek movie.  But that's a rant for another day.

Who has accepted both side of their heritage in the Star Trek universe?  Deanna Troi, that's who.  She's half betazoid and half human, and accepts both of those cultures as part of her own.  She even helps Worf's ex-wife(who's half Klingon and half human) with the question of how to deal with one's heritage.  Deanna's character is all about acceptance, and because of that she accepts herself, every part of it.  Of course there is the episode where she loses her empathy powers and doesn't know how to relate to people, but that's something she's always had so it's almost like if I had lost my left eye or something like that.  

Barack is more like Deanna.  I'm more like Deanna.  I didn't choose to be more black or more white.  I'm both.  My history is from both of those culture in America.  And I'm glad I have the opportunity to appreciate both to the fullest.  Barack does the same.  I think with that idea of acceptance, he has become one of the most relatable and open presidents that America has had in a good time.  

Also he's a trekkie, so I trust the next four years of America are in good hands.

January 19, 2009

Gm Writer's Block

As I mentioned before I am running a D&D 3.5 campaign that will end this May.  My PCs are psyched about finishing the game and so am I.  There's only one problem: I'm suffering from writer's block.

It's not the same as regular writer's block but it's just as annoying, especially this one has a deadline (every Friday at 7pm) that I can't avoid.  So what to do?  

I went to RPG.net and asked for some advice on the forums there.  There was a lot of good stuff, and a lot of stuff that applies better to pure newbies.   (I'm not a noob, I've been doing this for about 9 years now off and on.)  One of the better tools is more like a writing exercise, which is why I think it's so useful.  Its called the Adventure Funnel.  If you run a pen and paper RPG check it out.  It's pretty handy and I think I'll be using it to figure out how to get from point A to point B in the game.  It's also good if you know one component for the plot line, but nothing else.  

January 17, 2009

Strange Sky Mall Sightings

I fly a lot to and from school.  I'll be very happy to not do it as frequently as I do now someday.  Occasionally I'll notice the Sky Mall catalogue, and then ignore to look at the safety placard since I find that more necessary and, quite honestly, more interesting.  I'm not one who believes in shopping as a past time, so shopping while I'm flying home or to school thousands of miles in the air isn't appealing to me.  But this time I thought "Well, maybe there's some undiscovered  find that I can share with my readers!"  

There is a reason why this stuff has been undiscovered.  

Don't believe me?  Okay either the stuff is overpriced, gimmicky, explicity nouveau-riche, or no one would want to buy them in the first place so the only place the retailer can find refuge for their god forsaken product is in Sky Mall.   Okay that is a little harsh.  Some of the stuff is useful.  But here is a list of things--mostly gadgets since I don't think you guys care about trouser racks--that is just bizarre and in Sky Mall.  I also want to note that some links are missing due to the fact that Sky Mall's site didn't like me tonight.  With that, we're just going to leap right into the strange and start with the
Big Foot Garden Sculpture. Yes, the Big Foot Garden Sculpture.  I don't think I could say Big Foot Garden Sculpture enough times for me to believe that it exists.  Let me try that one more time.  Big Foot Garden Sculpture.  Nope, I still don't believe it exists.

This thing is creepy.  Think about how that will look late at night.  Your neighbors will think you're constantly getting robbed.  Passersby will have heart attacks because they will seen a monster hiding behind your foliage.  And imagine all the ignorant yeti hunters that will ruin your lawn!

I don't see this being in a garden that looks that nice in the picture.  It is in some lawn in a trailer park where some guy saved up to get it, and occasionally decorates the structure with a beer can and a trucker hat so people can mistake it for his Uncle Harry late at night.  You know who you are, ugly lawn dude!  Hope the local teenagers steal it and take pictures of them humping it to teach you some sense of landscaping taste!

What do you think this next item is?  A bluetooth headset?  It certainly looks like one.  If it were, I would have no immediate problem with it.  Alas, it is a ruse!  This is the Stealth Secret Sound Amplifier.  It's actually a cheap ass hearing aid in the clever disguise of a cell phone headset.  Apparently this is supposed to make you look young  and hip while helping you hear without looking like a geezer.  Young and hip?

This, my friends, does not look young or hip.

In fact, that guy is using the amplifier thing to trick that young woman in the picture.  "Hey honey, I'm really only 35.  I swear that smell is not depends and bengay."  

I'm already annoyed by jerks who feel the need to show how important they are by having me listen to their calls on the train back from a long day's commute.  I'm even more disgusted by a product that allows the hearing impaired to pretend to be one of those jerks for a mere forty bucks.

And this isn't geezer stealth.  This, dear readers, is geezer stealth.

Okay, so if the stealth sound amplifier wasn't bad enough, how about the Electronic Listening Device?  This can hear sounds up to 300 feet away.  This is okay if you're a private investigator. This is not okay if you're the nosy housewife from church who lives down the street from me.  This is exactly what the town needs, a tool for the local snoop to use.  At least it's obvious when someone is using this thing, with it's highly sophisticated dish that is big enoug to serve a tv dinner on.  

The Listening Device also looks like it's from an old spy movie, which of course validates its high quality.  However, if that is from an old spy movie, 
the Head Spa Massager is from a british sci-fi series from the 70s.  I swear the costumes crew from Doctor Who made this out of a bike helmet for some alien race, but realized it would work when Tom Baker couldn't stop laughing at it.  

I'm all for a good head massage, but thinking practically, this thing looks like it weighs about 10 pounds at least.  That's a lot to put on top of your already heavy head. (Because it's so full of knowledge, right?)  This doesn't look comfortable, and you could only get me to use this if I needed it to crash land on an alien planet and I could take it off before I got out of the ship.  

Look at this guy.  He's ready to boldly go where no idiotic headgear has gone before!

Stop for a moment and think about what this product is before you scroll down.  Examine it, analyze every detail you can in this picture.  After you've given it a good, long, hard look, I would like you to speculate what this device might be?

An alarm clock?

A night light?

A hamster heater?


None of the above, would you believe me if I told it it was...
a hair restoration device?

That's right, using lasers, you can make your hair grow back thicker and fuller!  The HairLaser (such a creative name) uses "15 distinct points of laser light" to help you obtain the luscious locks that you desire!

Okay, this is probably some of the worst pseudo science I've seen to date.  Aren't lasers used for hair removal, along with getting rid of wrinkles and tattoos?  How is that suppose to help hair grow?

If I think about it too much my brain may crash.

Finally, there is the Electric Food Steamer and Rice Cooker.  This is probably the most practical thing on the list.  I just have three qualms with it. One, that meal looks pretty bland.  Two, it looks kind of funny.  It's a food skyscraper in your kitchen!  Three, this is a perfectly fine device if you're someone who's a good cook.  However, if you're a bad cook this is a great way to mess up every component of the meal you hope to eat.  So if you can't cook, do NOT think this will save your dinner party!

Alright, that's all for now, but there's so much more I may have to do this again.  

January 15, 2009

d20 Sapphire is now on Eastern Standard Time

Back at school.  Campus is empty and lame.  But I do know one thing that isn't lame.  This retelling of Star Wars by a girl who's never watched Star Wars.

Just plain hilarious.

More in depth nerdiness when I am not recovering from flying halfway across the United States.  Though if things get boring this weekend I am going to be showing you the ridiculousness that is the Sky Mall catalogue on every plane you fly.  That's right, an in-depth analysis of gadgets you don't need.  You only get quality coverage like that from d20 Sapphire.

January 14, 2009

Rest in Peace, KHHAAAAAANNN!

Ricardo Montalban died at age 88, also known as Khan from Star Trek's episode Space Seed and movie Wrath of Khan.

I'm very sad.  This guy was an amazing actor.  Let's pay respects and yell a KHHAAAAAAAAAANNN in his memory.

Damn, this is a horrible way to end my winter break.  First Majel Barrett and now Montalban.  

Let's hope Star Trek doesn't suffer any more losses for a while. 

Back to School

Tomorrow I fly to the east coast to finish my final semester at college.  It's going to be busy and I'm going to stress out about putting a pool on a stage (long story) and finishing school.  

The nerdiness will continue though!  I'm finishing the last chapters of my Dungeons and Dragons campaign as well as possibly being dragged into some other games my friends are running.  There will be less video games and more RPGs essentially.  And more dice.  And less of the trashy reality television that has been shrinking the size of brain.  God, I don't understand why I find it so entertaining.  It probably speaks horrible of me that I watch this instead of reading the Asimov that's on the bookshelf next to the television.  More on that another day though.

Again, if you guys ever get an idea to talk about, leave a comment or email me at d20sapphire@gmail.com.  See you all when I'm in another state!

-d20 Sapphire

January 11, 2009

On Finishing Mass Effect

I'm very slow to playing video games recently because I'm a college student who cares about her grades.  This means 1) I don't have a lot of time to play them because I'm busy studying, and 2) when I finally do get to them, they're old news.  So I understand if this Mass Effect stuff is old news to you by now.  But there is something that kind of bothers me about this game, and I want to rant about it.

Spoilers Alert Even Though This Game Has Been Out For About A Year

As many of you may know, this game is all about choices.  I like this in a game.  It helps with your investment in a character that you should sincerely by invested in.  You choose your characters background story, her gender, her career, what her face looks like... and then you choose how the stories goes from choices there on.  You can even get a love interest, which has sparked some unnecessary controversy from FOX that I'm only going to dignify with this link here.  You can choose between the path of Paragon, a genuine good guy, or Renegade, an anti-hero. Or you can be in the middle ground.  This helps make the story your own.  Of course, for all of you who are not hiding in an academic cave, you know this by now and don't need another advertisement for it.

This is the thing that bothers me: how little an ending can change from what I deem to be a HUGE choice.  At the end fight with Sovereign, a force that could end all of humanity as your character sees it, you can choose to either have the space fleet heading towards you aid the Council that you have been serving for a good part of the game and not head straight for Sovereign, or have them focus solely on Sovereign and essentially let the council die.  

I, being the trekkie that I am, remembered Spock's famous line" "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."  The universe could go on without a council.  So I take the gentler response that results in the Council dying under attack by a ton of enemy ships. (I could be an asshole and say "Let them die!" or be tactful and say "Focus on Sovereign".  My character said the latter.)  The Boyfriend tells me at the end soon after that killing the council affects absolutely nothing when it comes to the final fight with Sovereign.

Um, excuse me?

That's a huge deal tactically.  Sending all your manpower to save one ship while trying to destroy another even bigger ship that is planning to destroy all of humanity (I repeat, destroy all of humanity) makes a big deal on the battlefront.  And BioWare decides to give the space fleet fight the same outcome regardless?  What the hell?  Every other choice before that makes a bigger deal down the line.  Ugh!  At least punish me for being an super duper altruistic Council saver if I put all of my force there instead of killing the main bad guy that will kill all of civilization!  

I was a bad gamer and went back and changed my decision so that when the sequel comes out, that decision doesn't bite my character in the ass.

All in all, I did like Mass Effect.  The game play is good, the story is great and of course being a stereotypical girl the romance thing was appreciated.  I will still recommend it to my friends who haven't played it yet.  And recommend it to my readers who haven't played it yet.  It's a great feeling knowing you're playing a character that's very much yours in a video game that isn't the Sims 2.  

January 10, 2009

What Doesn't Get You Published: A Lesson in the Video Game Industry

I keep up with GamePolitics.com religiously these days.  Blame The Boyfriend, since he's been introducing me to a lot of good gaming news sites.   So today I wake up to see an article about a guy who attempted to lock himself in his room for 100 days to protest against Nintendo.

"But why would a man do this d20 Sapphire?" you might be asking right now.

This guy (named Robert Pelloni, or Bob) ambitiously created what he calls a "2D adventure game with focus on story, puzzles, item collection and communication" rather than battle sequences.  I may be wrong, but isn't that an RPG?  Sorry, I'll get to my gripes later.

Bob has spent years on this game that he was hoping to port to the DS.  He claims he just needed to purchase a DVD from Nintendo with software that would allow his game to be retail ready.  He contacted Nintendo, he fits all the requirements necessary to legitimately purchase this software, and after being given the run around, Nintendo says they'll here from him in 6-8 weeks.  He waited 17 weeks.  

Bob finds this unacceptable, so he decides to lock himself in his room for 100 days to protest against Nintendo in order to get this software.  I'm sorry... but protest?  When I think of protest  I think of people who are fighting for their human rights or against mistreatment by authority figures.  I think of Martin Luther King Jr. marching down the streets of Chicago for fair and equal housing.  I think of the Suffragette Movement when women starved themselves outside of Congress in order to have the right to vote.  I think of the sit-ins by workers who were being mistreated by their employers during the Industrial Revolution.  I do not think of one guy who made a game and wants a multi-million dollar corporation to take him seriously, because you're no longer talking about what people's rights are.  You're talking about business.

Business is unfair and unjust because it doesn't need to be fair and just 100% of the time.  If Nintendo is not interested in your business, it can refuse to help you develop your game.  It's that simple.  Bob could try to convince them in letters, in game demos, in calling the office as much as possible, but if Nintendo doesn't want to give him the software, it doesn't have to ever.  Protesting was not the right way to go about this.   Finding another way for Nintendo to take the game seriously should've been on Bob's agenda.

My biggest gripe with this is that Bob seems to think he has the right to this software.  But it isn't a right, it's a privilege.  I understand he's up to par with the requirements, but this isn't like a driver's license.  This is not a government-sanctioned permit or something.  It's an opportunity that is given to someone by Nintendo.  It is a privilege to be able to work with such a company.

There are plenty of instances where good game ideas get screwed over.  The Boyfriend has had experience with that.  I won't go into details because it isn't my story to tell, but he essentially had a good game idea, and one of the three console companies loved it and said they just wanted a publisher.  No publishers stepped up to the plate, and one or two even blatantly tried to steal the idea instead of helping The Boyfriend and his company.  It was a big bummer, and now the company is trying stuff again.  But The Boyfriend didn't think he had the right to have a publisher pick him up.  He accepted the road block as part of the business world, which is harsh but something all entrepreneurs have to live with.  Now he and his company are working on other projects in hopes of gaining some ground.  Business isn't fair, and it's a privilege to have a company believe in your idea enough to invest in you, whether you earned it with hard word or not.

In the end, Bob couldn't even finish his protest and stopped after 30 days.  Even as his protested died his arrogance got the best of him.  Look at the news portion of his horribly designed site (horribly designed because I had to scroll a long way to discover there was a news section on his site) and see what he says during his lock-in, and after.  I don't think insulting Nintendo during the protest to plea with them gains you any favor, Bob.  Saying "I am far better than Miyamoto, Itoi, Kojima, Carmack and Wright COMBINED" shows a lack of respect for the same company that you wish to gain favor in.  That's just bad public relations, Bob.  Just as bad as the youtube video that involves you working on your game in nothing but your boxers.  Could you at least put a shirt on?  Most other people do while they're working.

There are things I think about the game to, such as I think it's an RPG rather than an adventure game, and I think it's hard to trust a product that complex made by one man since he could be a jack of all trades and a master at none, making everything just plain old average.  But this isn't what my post is about.  My post is admitting that the business world, even for video games, isn't the nicest place.  If you want to work in that world, you have to accept that sometimes you're not going to get what you want and there's nothing you can do about it.

In all honesty, good luck Bob.  At least you have the ambition and drive to finish such a huge product.  I hope you do get something out of it.

January 6, 2009

Giving Reality TV the Nerd Treatment*

I'm a college woman who buckles down to study when I'm at school.  However, when I'm on break I succumb to the temptation of reality television.  Mainly, competitive reality television.  I feel like the shows that require people who have talent make better entertainment then stuff like Survivor or Laguna Beach.  I've been watching a lot recently since I lack homework.  The other day I was thinking "Hey, if we had better nerdy introductions to the general public, no one would look at me weird when I say I play role playing games."  Seriously, people think I'm a sexual deviant when I mention that.  They get even more scared off when I mention dice.  

Moving on, here are some competitive reality TV shows that could use a nerd treatment to help introduce the general public to our favorite subculture.

Top Chef

I've been keeping up with the recent season while on break.  This is where I got the idea to give the nerd treatment to reality TV shows. 
Concept For Those Who Don't Know: A number of chefs duke it out each episode to prove who's "Top Chef".  Sometimes they make individual dishes to get judged on, sometimes they do team meals.  Each week there is a theme for the main competition, and each week one chef is eliminated from the show until the winner is named and rewarded.   
The Nerd Treatment: I think that for when there are 12 contestants left, divide them into teams of four, and then each make a four to five course meal based on a Sci-Fi television show.  Each team would be given a dossier about each show, its central themes and some famous episodes.  My picks are Star Trek: TOS, The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, and Lost In Space.  I think sticking to old classics helps make this more of a challenge and an even playing field rather than stuff that's been running in the last ten years.  I'm tempted to replace the X-Files with either Blake's 7 or Red Dwarf, but for a TV show you want something that is relatable to a larger audience.  American's unfortunately don't know the brilliance of old british Sci-fi.  Well, possibly Tom Baker's Doctor Who.  That might work.

Top Design

I like this show, although I'm afraid it doesn't contain the same appeal or spunk as the other shows mentioned.  The subject matter is a lot more subtle, so I'm afraid not everyone will see it in the genius that it is.
Concept For Those Who Don't Know: Interior designers strut their stuff in hopes of having the "top design".  Each week the designers take a space and make it beautiful in their own aesthetic according to the theme of the challenge.  Each week a designer is eliminated until one is left standing to collect the prize.
The Nerd Treatment: Redo the offices of an RPG company.  I'm personally rooting for a company other than Wizards of the Coast or White Wolf, but something tells me it would be one of those two.  This would force the designers to figure out what the company is about, and I would love to see some dice incorporation.  Go polyhedral furniture!  I think this is great since interior design is like RPGs. Both are about telling a story, even if the method is different.

The Apprentice

Okay, if you don't like the Donald, don't worry.  He's not part of the plan.  I like the format of the show.  Factoid:  The first winner of the show was from Chicago, and chose to facilitate a project in Chicago.
Concept For Those Who Don't Know: Businessmen compete for a chance to work for the tycoon they look up to.  Each week the competitors are divided in teams to complete a task, one team wins and someone is eliminated on the losing team until only one man stands to take the position.
The Nerd Treatment: The Apprenticeship is in the video game development world.  A company that is willing to invest in innovation would be a great one for this show.  EA is big enough that it wouldn't suffer much if something went wrong with the hiring, maybe they could do it (though I'm not sure how good of an idea this is).  The competitors would have to help with an E3 event, present a new project, design a lead hero that is marketable to the 16-30 age group that is so lucrative for the industry... the list goes on.  This would prove to be entertaining because not only would this involve business smarts, but creativity as well.

Project Runway

Can't you tell I love Bravo's programming?  Project Runway proves to show how talent and competition put together make a fantastic show.  Love it!
Concept For Those That Don't Know: Fashion designers make an outfit each week fitting a different theme or set of parameters to please the judges.  Each week one is eliminated until there is just one after New York's famous Fashion Week, where the final 3 show their collections.  One wins the glory and the boost to his or her career.
The Nerd Treatment: Take each captain from a popular Sci-fi show, take his personality and his look, and make a strong feminine look to counter it.  Unfortunately I can't think of any female captain's that are famous other than Janeway, so I'm lacking in that information.  The first ones to come to mind are The Doctor (Doctor Who), Picard (Star Trek: TNG), Mal (Firefly), Kirk (Star Trek: TOS).  I'm sure there are more to add but I feel these are essential to add to the list.  I would love to see the difference between Kirk and Picard, since the personalities of the captains would be essential to the design.  Also, its hard to retool that uniform to look chic.  I want to see someone do it.

America's Next Top Model

I was fortunate enough to meet Sarah from season 9 (who's pictured above, top, third to the left) through a friend.  She's a cool person, funny and smart.  In fact, I think there is a lot of smarts and talent involved in being a good model.  However you can be smart and crazy, like Tyra Banks.  Woo child!
Concept For Those Who Don't Know: Women compete each week in a themed photo shoot or fashion show, utilizing different skills handy for becoming a model.  Each week one is eliminated until one is left standing as America's next "top model".
The Nerd Treatment: Role playing game characters!  There are two ways you can go about this.  Either you can do characters from different game settings, or you can do different characters from the same setting.  I prefer the latter, from a game that has a modern swing with some versatility.  Unknown Armies is the first to come to mind.  Classic Dungeons and Dragons would be cool too, but easy to make too cheeky.  Unfortunately a lot of indie games would be too vague to use, but there are other options out there I'm sure.

*Hey producers: You are NOT given permission to use these ideas without my written consent, not that you would read this dribble anyway.

January 2, 2009

A classic American tradition: Lawsuits!

Worlds.com is in the process suing NCsoft for a patent that they hold regarding a, get this, "System and Method For Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual Space", which is paten number 7,181,690 if you're interested.  Read a little more about it here.

I'm very disappointed by this predicament.  If you look at worlds.com's website, you see that they do not seem that impressive, or at least not as much as they were years ago.  They're a company that obviously past its prime.  I'm not surprised to see them going after NCsoft who's in charge of games like City of Heros and Guild Wars for an extra buck during desperate times.  Losers.

Second, how vague is that patent?  Think about it.  Could it get any broader?  It is detailed a little bit more in the actual patent, but with the right lawyer (we can't forget the undefeated Chewbacca Defense from the late Johnny Cochran now can we?) this patent could shut done roleplay chat rooms, let alone popular MMOs enjoyed by the public.  What the hell, worlds.com!  Dick move.  

The scary thing is that with this, worlds.com could sue any MMO it pleased.  And I do mean any.  This doesn't seem right at all.  If anyone speaks legalese well, is it still permissible to sue these companies if they developed the technology on their own without the help of worlds.com?  I hope not.  

That company better be careful if it threatens WoW.  It would be in for a riot, an old fashioned one like those in the Frankenstein movies.  That's right, we're talking about your grandmother's definition of disorderly conduct, with torches and pitchforks.