August 30, 2013

My Five Favorite Films From...1984

Honorable Mention – Beverly Hills Cop: The film that cemented Eddie Murphy as a star. It’s impossible to imagine Stallone in the role of Alex Foley. But that was the original plan before Sly pulled out. His vision? You saw it in Cobra.

5. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: The darkest of the four films, it’s still a lot of fun. The mine-cars chase was an instant classic. Still, I like Raiders and Last Crusade more.

4. Ghostbusters: An all-time favorite of most people in my age bracket, this is still watchable almost a quarter-century later. Funny with some classic one-liners. And Rick Moranis as Tully makes the film.

3. The Natural: I still think this is the ultimate baseball film, Field of Dreams and Bull Durham included. But wow, is it ever different from the novel.

2. The Terminator: The movie that launched the career of Arnie. And gave us the best killer robot ever.

2. This Is Spinal Tap: Smell the Glove. Stonehenge. Dwarfs. And exploding drummers. This movie still makes me laugh hard enough to hurt myself. The all-time best mockumentary.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: 1984, Gremlins, Amadeus, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Karate Kid, Dune, Red Dawn, Police Academy, Once Upon A Time In America, Repo Man, Star Trek III, Blood Simple, NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Romancing The Stone, Revenge of the Nerds

Guilty Pleasure – The Last Starfighter: I don’t know why this average-at-best sci-fi flick has a hold on me, but it does. Likely, it’s the idea that there is more going on in the universe than we realize. And if there is, then I want in.

Insane Film That Must Be Mentioned – Cannibal Holocaust: “But wait!” you say. “Hasn’t this repulsive film already been mentioned on your 1980 list?” Yes, it has. But it wasn’t released in the US until 1984. Suffice it to say, this movie is so over-the-top, so bat-shit insane/horrific/repugnant, that it deserves to be mentioned in two separate years. I’ll say it again; this is a film you see once, on a dare or as part of a group of high-school/college kids who “heard” about it. If you are re-watching this movie, you need a psychiatric examination pronto.

August 29, 2013

Movie Review: Braveheart (1995)

There's a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.. - William Wallace (Mel Gibson)

Director: Mel Gibson

Writer: Randall Wallace

Producesr: Stephen McEveety, Mel Gibson, Bruce Davey and Alan Ladd Jr.

Studio: 20th Century Fox, Paramount

Major Stars: Mel Gibson, Brian Cox, Patrick McGoohan, Sophie Marceau, Angus Macfayden, James Cosmo, Brendan Gleeson, Catherine McCormack

What do you do with a problem like Braveheart? A film of undeniable craftsmanship and stunning scenery and action, it is also completely detached from the history it claims to represent.

Let’s talk about the good stuff first. Braveheart is an expertly-directed and shot film. The characters are well-written and memorable. The battle-scenes are fantastic. Especially the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which is one of the best battles I have ever seen on film.

There is real emotion in the film. The death of Wallace’s first wife is heart-breaking, and the palpable anger it creates in Wallace drives him in all he does. There are also some wonderfully funny lines, mostly courtesy of Mad Stephen (David O’Hara), the self-proclaimed King of Ireland.

And the scenery…wow. Just beautiful vistas of mountain-tops, fields wrapped with low-lying fog…amazing. You can hardly tell the battles were shot in Ireland while much of the rest of Braveheart was shot in Scotland.

And the actors/actresses are wonderful. Partick McGoohan is enjoyably detestable as Edward I, aka Edward Longshanks, King of England. Sophie Marceau does a nice job a Princess Isabelle, wife to Edward’s son and Wallace’s secret lover. And Gibson is charismatic as hell in the role of William Wallace. He dominates the story and the screen as he should.

There is a lot to like about this movie. The problem is that most of what there is to like is set up by using a blatantly false and inaccurate history. Here are just a few problems:

August 26, 2013

The History of the RPG: Pool of Radiance (1988)

Last Installment: Dungeon Master

By the late 1980s, the computer RPG was well-established. In particular, the "sword and sorcery" genre. But there was one interesting omission. Despite the fact that they pretty much made sword-swinging tabletop games a cultural mainstay, Dungeons and Dragons had yet to release an RPG for the computer-based gamer. All that changed, however, in 1988 with the release of Pool of Radiance* .

What made Pool of Radiance stand out wasn't the ability to choose your race and class. It wasn't the scenario (cleanse a city of evil!). What made it stand out what that it faithfully translated the experience of playing Dungeons and Dragons to the computer. Which, if you were a fan without like-minded people around where you lived, was a pretty big deal.** So you had the same ruleset, the same monsters, the same geographical locations. It's so commonplace now, but at the see the names on the screen was pretty incredible.

The combat system was excellent as well, a top-down projection that became a standard for these games. Commands issued in combat were executed at once by each character, instead of waiting for everyone to go at once. Like in the tabletop game, classes had specific attacks (thieves back-stabbing, for example) and you could rest to heal afterwards. And if this sounds a lot like how combat works in Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter're right. The basic template for how the Dungeons and Dragons games would work was laid down here.

They also continued the "bring your character to the next game" trend that was developing throughout this time and has found its full flower in the Mass Effect series. There were four games in all in what they called the "Gold Box" series that you could import your character into.

Pool of Radiance did have one interesting little quirk I have not seen used too much in newer RPGs. You could listen to gossip at the tavern and pick up quests. That is still used today in all kinds of RPGs (Skyrim made great use of that). What Pool of Radiance did was throw in red herrings that you could follow up on and just get you into a really sticky situation. Which is way more realistic; you can't trust every piece of tavern gossip you hear.***

Pool of Radiance is simply a solid gaming experience. There are people that still play this game through emulators. If Pool of Radiance had not delivered the goods, bringing Dungeons and Dragons to the computer would have been a lot harder.


Laid the groundwork for all Dungeons and Dragons - related CRPGs. Refined tactical combat to include real-time/pause hybrid. Made the "gossip for a quest" standard.


All the Dungeons and Dragons games that came after it. Other RPGs that assign quests through overheard gossip or chatter.

Next on the list: Wasteland


* I know... there was a Dungeons and Dragons cartridge for the Intellivision back in 1982. But that was never really a big deal, it wasn't on a computer and it wasn't that good. So we aren't counting it.

** Yes, this would be me.

*** I really like this idea and I wish modern games would use this. It would add another level of realism.

In Paraguay They Play for Keeps

Being a native New Englander, I take sports seriously. The Yankees are the spawn of Satan, Montreal is a city of dive-artists and crybabies. And the Jets...well, they're just sad. Really, really sad.

But as seriously as I take sports (as do many other fans and players across the country), it never really gets to the point of what you see in South America or Europe. Like fans invading the field. Or, say, a player kicking the ref in his face like it was some kind of kicking bag.

Enter Marcos Leguizamon of Paraguayan side Porvenir FC. After one teammate barrels over a player like a drunk chasing a truck full of free beer, he draws a straight red. Then another teammate draws a straight red for getting in the ref's face. But Marcos will not stand for that. Oh no, he must be the most over-the-top player on his side. And so he goes Bruce Lee on the ref's face.

Say what you will about the morality of it all, but the dude is flexible.

The Need For Permanence and the Impact on MMORPGs

I don't know if it is a function of my age or just a quirk in my psyche. Bear with me as we go back to almost a year ago.

When looking at DLC for Skyrim on the 360, I was presented with two choices:

  1. Dawnguard - a storyline about vampires trying to rule the land and the reformation of the Dawnguard that was dedicated to killing them. And:
  2. Hearthfire - an add-on that allows you to design a build a custom home at one of four locations in Skyrim.
Now, you'd think a rollicking tale of lopping off blood-sucker heads would be the one to get excited about. But man...I was way more excited about Hearthfire. To the point I spent about 3-4 hours do everything I could to max out the house.

Granted, it was easier for me to do it since I have already cleared the two main storylines. Now I have Heljarchen Hall in The Pale, because I'm a New England boy and if you aren't living in the snow, you're a wuss. I can go into my trophy room and look at the skull of the dragon I killed.

So why? Why be overly excited about building a virtual house? I am willing to bet I am not the only one who felt this way. And I think it has something to do with our desire for permanence, to have something lasting. Regardless of whether it is virtual or real.

In Skyrim I have built something that wasn't there. And it will remain there until the game is deleted or my 360 goes up in a shower of sparks. That speaks to something that is in all of us.

Look at Minecraft. It's an 8-bit game in the 21st century. If you hear someone describe it ("You create things in a virtual world" is the basic gist) it doesn't sound like it's any fun at all. Instead, it is one of the most popular games on the planet. It has more registered users (16 million) than World of Warcraft (9.1M) and The old Republic (under 1.0M) combined. Why?

Permanence. It's the ability to create something and have it be there, in theory, forever. It's creating a city in the sky (which more than one person has done in Minecraft) and having it be there as long as you want it to be.

And this is where MMORPGs fall short and why they lose subscribers. World of Warcraft caught the wave at the right time and rode a long, highly profitable crest. But it's subscriber base is shrinking fast. The old Republic was supposed to be the next big thing. I mean...Star Wars! How can that fail? And yet it is crashing spectacularly. Why? Why do MMORPGs always seem to rise and then fall?*


Site of Future Awesomeness

Coming soon.

Site of Future Awesomeness

Coming soon