I Went to See Rogue One…Then, the Rebel Princess Was Gone

I saw Rogue One less than 24 hours ago, shortly after knowing that Carrie Fisher was recovering from a heart attack. This update was going to be about the movie itself and the positive impact it had on me, considering the fact that I particularly disliked Episode 7: The Force Awakens. Now, I have come to the keyboard, but I cannot just write what I thought I would. Now my feelings about this update, about the movie, the franchise, my childhood, my own ideas…the just do not feel appropriate anymore. Many have been claiming how 2016 has been the year of the plague. It begun with another big favourite of mine – Alan Rickman – then I mourned a genius of British fantasy at his memorial – Terry Pratchett – to only find out not long after that, that the Goblin King was also dead – Bowie. I thought that was pretty bad, but now it just becomes clear the impact people have in your life. Even these people, who I never met, not in a million years I could have. I only knew them through their pictures, their words, what they conveyed to me through the media. I guess it was not until literally a couple of minutes ago I realised how much Carrie Fisher meant to me, personally. Not for her being her, but for the world she helped me discover.

If you have seen my post on our Facebook page, then you would have read this already, however I will repeat it just in case you didn’t:

Continue reading “I Went to See Rogue One…Then, the Rebel Princess Was Gone”

Total War: WARHAMMER – First Impressions of the Wood Elves

This month the latest and greatest piece of DLC has been added to Total War: Warhammer; The Realm of the Wood Elves. So far I haven’t had the time to play a full campaign with them or any multiplayer battles, and the amount of new things this faction brings to the table is fairly large, so for now I’ll give a brief overview and my first impressions.

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Glade Guard about to let loose a volley

So to begin with, the campaign. Like I said I haven’t played a full grand campaign so far, but having briefly started one I can see some interesting unique things already. The position on the map you start in is the forest right next to Bretonnia, and so along with the Beastmen and new Crooked Moon orc faction that came a few months ago, that bottom left corner of the map has become much more lively than ever before, which is great. In terms of how the Elves play in campaign, the first big difference is that you can win without necessarily having to defeat your enemies, but instead can fully upgrade ‘The Oak of Ages’, a gigantic tree at the center of your territory. This is something that TW Warhammer hasn’t had until now, so the variety is appreciated. However, the new resource that the Elves use, Amber, is required to achieve this, and it can mostly be acquired by taking settlements, or slightly less so through alliances. Amber is also used to do other things such as research certain tech, and recruit certain units. In terms of the units it is needed for, that depends on which faction you play as, as this DLC gives you two Wood Elf factions to play with. One is the standard Wood Elf faction, led by The King in the Woods; Orion. The other is one that is more focused on spirits of the forest, led by Durthu the ancient treeman. So when playing as either faction, you need to spend amber to recruit the units from the other, meaning if you play as the Wood Elves led by Orion, if you want some treemen in your army, fork over the amber that you would otherwise need to use on the Oak of Ages. The only other major thing about the grand campaign is that you are able to conquer every territory on the map, but can then only build one building there. This allows you to potentially get as much amber as possible, while also keeping to the theme of the Elves not really spreading or settling outside of the forest much, and just building small outposts.

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The Oak of Ages at the heart of Athel Loren

There is also the special mini-campaign that comes with the Wood Elves. Much like the Beastmen special campaign it focuses on a small area of the map scaled up, this time their home forest of Athel Loren and a small part of Bretonnia. This campain seems to mostly be about defending the forest from chaos corruption spread by the Beastmen and their new Legendary Lord; Morghur the Shadowgave. Other than that, I seem to mostly be having conflicts with the many other elf factions within the forest. So having played mostly this instead of the grand campaign so far, I haven’t had a huge amount of variety with the battles and the enemies I’m coming up against.

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Durthu wrecking some Beastmen!

Speaking of the battles, let’s get into what’s new here. Now there’s a fairly large roster for the Wood elves so where do I start? Probably with the basics. For the most part your armies will probably consist of your basic spearmen and archers, those being the Eternal Guard and Glade Guard respectively. The Glade Guard also have two extra variants you can unlock that do special damage, basically one of them does is armour piercing and the other is poison. With the more special units you get some really interesting archers, such as the Deepwood Scouts and the Waywatchers, who are based around ambushing the enemy, and can also be effective skirmishers with their ability to shoot in any direction, and while moving. Other infantry you can get is fairly lacking in terms of raw power of defensive capability, but the ones you do get, such as Wardancers, can be extremely effective damage dealers if you are careful with them. In terms of cavalry, you get the Glade Riders which are horse archers, and the Wild Riders, who are mounted on stags, which is pretty awesome. There are also flying archers in the form of Hawk Riders, and magical cavalry in the form of the Sisters of The Thorn, who can cast spells. Then there are the Treemen and Treekin, who are your damage dealers and big hitters for the most part, if you can use them. And finally there are the monsters, the Great Eagle, who seems slightly less great when compared to the Forest Dragon, the first proper dragon we have in the game.

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Great Eagle attack, shortly to be followed by a Dragon attack!

So that’s the units, but how do they work together? Well for the most part it seems that what you want to do with the basic units is try to do as much ranged damage as possible. Most of your infantry has little armour and won’t last long against enemies such as Dwarves, Chaos, or even Empire on their own. Once you’ve got enough archers, and are using the different types to do things such as slow advancing enemies down with poison, and target the heavy infantry with your armour piercing arrows, then you need to set some ambushes. Due to most of the roster being very good at hiding, especially in forest, you’ll want to avoid setting up in standard battle lines, and mix things up a bit more, hide some wild riders in the trees to use their superior speed to spring a trap on the enemy’s flank or rear when they lest expect it. Maybe keep half your archers hidden and create a killzone in between their arcs of fire, and then you can throw in some treemen or treekin to start wreaking havoc amidst that chaos. Whatever you do, this army will take a lot of micro-managing, and require your full attention. So they may seem difficult and underpowered at first, as I have seen a lot of people saying, don’t be too disappointed in that, and instead start being more sneaky 😉 

Superman is still a Hero – What we’ve forgotten about comic book supers?

 

If I told you superhero movies were big in Hollywood right now, would you be surprised?

 

 

I’m guessing no. What with FOURTNEEN currently released Marvel Universe films out, several television and streaming series between the major publishers and DC starting their own cinematic universe… silver screen heroes are pretty huge right now. In fact you might say they’re the biggest thing to hit Hollywood since the romantic comedy.

So why then do I feel unfulfilled in my comic nerdery? Why in the face of the lame-duck Man of Steel and Batman v Superman movies am I still willing to stand on my soap box and say Superman is still worth believing in? That’s because a nagging voice in my head, possibly a symbiote, tells me people have forgotten something important about our golden heroes.

I think we’ve forgotten what super heroes were supposed to be about.

It’s impossible to miss the marketing juggernaut the superhero genre has become over the last decade and plans are already in place to capitalise a dozen more popular names in 2017. As such we’re seeing some of the best stories in the medium rolled out pretty quickly, often without the pacing they deserve. But are these classic tales of heroes facing monsters really what made the Golden Age of comics a landmark? Most of the stories we see adapted to film, from Captain America going AWOL to Death of Superman, are lifted from the later (often called Silver Age) of comic books in which flashy stories and big twists were all the rage to keep the medium interesting.
Take a moment to look past these flashy title-grabbers with me and look at what really went into making these heroes, and why they became so popular to span upwards of eight decades; Almost an entire century in popular culture!

If we need a case study in how perceptions have changed for comic leads take a look at our mutant brethren in The X-Men. As a 1960’s publication by Stan Lee the story of societal outcasts banding together and fighting for social justice, pulled apart by two polarising leaders with different ideals, should strike a chord for anyone with basic knowledge of Civil Rights in the USA. The divide between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X fuelled much conflict in an already volatile social situation, with the black population of the States struggling to find acceptance in a world that classed them as ‘different’ and therefore bad. These struggles are paralleled in comic form and work as a brilliant mirror for the state of culture at the time – both the good and the bad.
Knowing this it won’t shock you to learn many superheroes were a reflection of their time period, but what if I told you some heroes actually managed to affect the real world as much as the real world affected them?

Let me tell you a little story about when superheroes were about Hope. Not ‘saving the world from disaster’ kind of hope, but the more human experience that so many people are looking for every day. Let me take you back to the 1940’s, Europe was torn apart by war and the United States- at the time heart of the blossoming comic book industry- was entering armed conflict abroad. Let me introduce you to a little someone called; Batman.

This period is still known today as the ‘Golden Age’ of comic books. The medium was fresh and captivating for young audiences who didn’t have many other outlets. It was literature for the youth at a time where stories of adventure and heroism weren’t as easy to come by. Most think-pieces on the period dive into how comic books (and various other mediums) tried to sell kids on the idea of romantic battlefield adventure, often tied in with ads for War Bonds and the American Red Cross. That was more the fault of the market and comics authority however, not the impact of the characters and their stories. Instead I want you to ask yourself something… Why did Batman need a Robin?

There have been decades of comic fans berating the inclusion of the Boy Wonder and fighting for a more independent and less child friendly Bat. Some of you might consider yourself among this number, but consider this, Batman first hit shelves under the Detective Comics title in 1939. His junior sidekick Robin would later join his adventures in 1940. Just one year later!
It doesn’t take much research to find out why, and the truth is actually quite heart-breaking. As the forties rolled in America sank into the war and a time of loss and sadness gripped the real world. Even prior to ’41 so many people in the States were refugees or had familial ties to the conflict, it couldn’t be escaped. One consistency among thousands of young people at the time was simply not having a father figure- whether they were serving abroad or tragically one of the considerable human losses of war. The lack of paternal role models was at pandemic proportions and it was down to Batman, and numerous other funny book heroes besides, to fill that place in children’s lives.
Robin entered at the beginning of America’s war and acted as a self-insert for young readers; getting to be a part in the thrilling adventures of their heroes, beating bad guys and learning important life lessons with each issue. The Boy Wonder was at his peak during these years and notably hit a similar resurgence around the time of the Korean and Vietnam wars. These were times when children needed something more than just adventure stories. They needed a hero in their lives.

Other franchises didn’t adapt to the times but were instead created by them. They are a time capsule of comic writers trying to communicate a message to their impressionable readers- and none more prevalent than Captain America.  Hitting shelves a year after Batman this hero was built from virtues the writers wished to personify about their country. He fights for Truth, Justice and Freedom. Not due to his character, but because everything from his title to his costume to his demeanour was supposed to make children think of America.
This was a powerful tool in the early Captain America comics and an intentional design choice to enforce just how brave and just the war against Axis powers really was to a young and- important to remember- not well informed audience. This was a time period before reporters and camera crews were littering battlefields across the world so the only exposure young people got to the war proper was the propaganda reels in their movie theatres, paper headlines that were strictly controlled for information security reasons, and of course… comic books. Remember that issue of Captain America punching Adolf Hitler (Issue #1, 1940)? This was the first time many kids would have seen what the German Fuhrer even looked like. Mostly because this issue hit shelves an entire year before the United States even entered the Second World War… !

We can see that many comic characters were created as more than just proxies for fighting baddies and having daring adventures. The most timeless of them were created to be something more.
Why then do I still insist that Superman may actually be the greatest of super heroes?

Let’s start by looking at where the ‘Big Blue Boy-Scout’ came from.
As the earliest super hero in the medium Superman was created in 1933 during a climate of fear and oppression around the world- crafted by the offspring of two Jewish refugee families, Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster. His is the story of extraordinary people forced out of their home and making a life in a strange and often hostile place, people who have strength and potential that often gets overlooked or misunderstood. It’s a perfect ‘outsider’ story from the creative children of immigrant families who fled out of Europe. Many people also insist on relations to the Moses story, of a baby being sent down the Nile to safety; however it’s essential to spot the differences between them. Moses was sent away by innocent peasants and raised by the powerful elite. This is the exact opposite situation to Superman’s tale and recognising that brings us to possibly the most important thing about him…

Superman is the equal of a deity raised by humble peasant folk. The most impossibly powerful man in all the world, yes, but one who’s humanity is his greatest strength.

People have forgotten where Superman’s conflict really lies. It was never about how strong he was, as it was always assumed he was mighty enough to ‘beat’ any enemy, because overcoming villains was never his conflict. Never his deeper story. Superman is the question of what happens if God tried to be mortal. What struggles would he face? What need of morality?
You can tie this in to the very real world fear and prejudice of the time it was created, standing in direct contrast to what Superman as a character was supposed to stand for. We need to consider this hero was written not only as a being of absolute strength but also of absolute Good. Flawed heroes like Wolverine or Batman are easier to humanise because they have more layers to work with, but how do you humanise something that’s better than human?

The greatest advantage of Superman’s premise is also what many perceive as his biggest drawback. He is, by design, flat-out better than anyone else. He’s ‘Super’- as the name suggests. But not because he was trained in advanced krypton ideologies before coming to earth. He wasn’t developed  by top government men like so many titular heroes nowadays. He was a baby found and raised by Ma and Pa Kent, two clean living country bumpkins. This is what makes him more than just the circumstances of his time period. Superman doesn’t exist to protect us from a looming threat of his generation- he was a symbol that people can be better. That there is always a chance to be better. It’s crucial to what makes Superman the character he is, raised on the best lessons and morals that we as a society believe in.  He was taught about hard work, loyalty and selflessness. That makes a fascinating character when you consider this child could have destroyed planets before hitting puberty.

Over the 80 years of publication there have been many climactic battles, but just as many smaller moments that need to be addressed. A perfect example is 2006 All-Star Superman, in which the man of steel comes to the aid of a young girl on the brink of suicide.  No fighting, no super abilities, just the promise of a better tomorrow from a symbol of hope.
The real wonder of this? This story and many others like it have become recurring symbols for World Suicide Prevention Day, with many reports of people finding strength in these fictional tales and helping bring them back from the edge- real life people, not just those on the ink. This shows that the heart of what made the Golden Age of comics so lasting is still alive today, heroes having a real impact on people’s lives.

So perhaps the magic isn’t entirely lost to history. But I think it’s important that people remember just what made superheroes so beloved to begin with, all those years ago. It wasn’t just about what happened on paper but also how these characters reflected and even changed the lives of real people.

You might argue some of these ideals are lost in the modern world. That superheroes aren’t supposed to be about inspiring the audiences, merely entertaining them. That Batman or Ironman don’t need to teach or convey anything, merely distract from the real world. I for one don’t believe it’s too late. People might say Superman is too corny for cinema now. They might say that Batman doesn’t need a Robin.

But that’s the beauty of real Superheroes. Even if we turn our backs on them today- they’ll be there for us when we need them the most.

 

 

 

 

 

My Favourite Wuxia Films since the 2000s

I may or may not have a thing for Wuxia films…Well, okay, I most certainly do. I am not 100% sure as to why. I think it is a combination of the aesthetic, the music and the incredible martial arts, but also the plots. Some Chinese movies are like nothing you’d ever see in a film produced by a western country. I also love how epic and heroic over the top are these plots are, and the way they get mixed with historical narratives and fantasy. I think this reflects a much older way of understanding and telling stories. Therefore, I have produced a quick list of Wuxia movies I particularly enjoy. You are probably familiar with many of them. I unusually watch these as double or even triple bill, because there is something about watching these stunning scenarios with convoluted combat scenes that makes you want more…

I will cheat though, and quickly skip Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon due to the fact that it is like the corner-stone of modern Wuxia filmography. Nevertheless, I have to say that I have also seen the sequel recently – Sword of Destiny – and, although it is of course no the wonderful work of Ang Lee, it has a competent script. But the best part of the entire thing is the amazing Donnie Yen as Silent Wolf, being badass as always.

-House of the Flying Daggers: I think I have potentially watched every period martial arts movie that has Zhang Ziyi in it. I just like her: she is cool! She has an incredible degree of empathy and evocation that I find hard to find in some other Asian actresses (as much as I respect Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh, what they do is slightly different). But what I really like about this movie is some of the fighting scenes: that moment back in the Peonyhouse, when Mei steals Leo’s sword, and it concludes with the amazing Andy Lau doing a grapple of doom and smashing her into the pool. The entire chasing scene through the bamboo forest is just gorgeous, with all the colour contrasts…And the last scene in the blizzard. The triangle between Mei, Leo and Jin (I am usually crying by this stage thinking Jin is whiling to die so Mei can escape but it doesn’t matter cause this could have been written by Shakespeare and it would be the same ending…). The face-off with the daggers, the blood all over the place…And just the story: this is not just martial arts; there is deception, plot twists and romance.

-Hero (2002): Perhaps not the best work Jet Li has been in (and probably not Ziyi’s either), but the rest of the cast has a lot to give, particularly the three assassins from Zhan: Donnie Yen with his masterful, stoic face, demonstrates that a lance weapon is just as beautiful to work with than a sword. I love the moment when Sky and Nameless stop the fight to ask the old man to keep playing music for them. The cleverest part of this film – apart from the amazing budget, choreo, colour use, filming, special effects and music – is the retelling of the story, up to three times – couldn’t help myself and start thinking it was a rather Beowulfian thing to do. You have to get the plot right on a movie to allow yourself to repeat the same story 3 times to actually get what is happening.

-Red Cliff: part 1 and 2 – Do NOT watch the abridged version, there is no point! You actually miss so much meaningful plot and character interaction it is unreal! In any case, the most epic part of this is just the sheer amount of just people at war, it’s just ridiculous. How many extras did they get for this movie, I do not know, but it is massive. And that is actually all the film it is about. John Woo, the director even confirmed he had changed the plot and moved away from the historical reality because he wanted to portray what the battle would feel for the audience. (As a historian, I think that is fair enough). And he does. In fact, the only reason why we can consider this a Wuxia film and not a historical drama is the change of plot, which really puts the film more in the context of the hero’s journey and the beautiful display of martial arts and combat. I think my favourite scene is with the boats in the second part: arrows and flames everywhere, over a beautifully filmed river, full on attack, dramatic poses…So many incredible fighting sequences in here, there is no way I can just pick one. Therefore, I won’t pick one in specific, because that is just really the entire movie. I think all the individual stories really contribute to the wider narrative – so even though the movie is about the battle and the political struggle and unrest within China, the personal perspective of each character gives it a back bone that makes it stand out and not just become another big fighting scene that lasts for hours with no aim.

-Legend of Zu (2001): now, a lot of people hate this movie, and in fact, it was not incredibly popular in cinemas in the West, but I think it is pretty cool. It is much more concern with mythology, which I appreciate as it is one of those Chinese legends you do not get to hear as often as say Journey to the West and the Monkey King, and the Jade Emperor. So I really think the coolest part of this movie is the story. Of course it is full of awesome fight scenes, but if you want a Wuxia movie that gives you something different, you should come to this one – or if you are lucky to find it Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain from the 80s which is, let’s say, its predecessor, or the first attempt to bring the story to the screen.

Of course there is many more, but this is just a quick list of my favourites and why. If you like it however, I will come back with other movies, more obscure ones, and more martial arts to keep you jumping around!

 

Making a Metal Gear Solid RPG

Time for another post about RPGs! This one is gonna be about the time I had a crack at making my own one a few years ago. Strictly speaking, I didn’t really make anything original myself as all I did was adapt an existing game system (Basic Roleplaying) to accommodate for the theme of a Metal Gear Solid setting, one of my favourite game series. However, I thought it would be cool to share a couple of the things I worked on in this unfinished attempt from a while back.

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First of all we’ll take a look at the system and other resources I used as a basis for the game. As I said, I had decided to use the Basic Roleplaying system. At the time this was probably mostly because I had been playing in and excellent Mythic Iceland game run by Lilly. A major influence from Mythic Iceland can be seen in the character sheet I made in the hit location figure in the top right to track HP and armour to different parts of the body, something I though that made sense for a game that was mostly meant to be based on realistic modern combat. Other than that, I really just liked the system for its simplicity in the skills, and although the combat rules in terms of firearms were a little lacking for me, I was planning on mostly replacing the combat, or maybe just scrapping it and relying on the skills list altogether and keep things fairly simple. I never got round to refining the combat though. Continue reading “Making a Metal Gear Solid RPG”

Probando Brew Crafters – Travel Card Game

Hemos probado este juego literalmente hace un par de horas, así que este post es fresco, fresco. Había oído hablar bastante de la versión de tablero: esta es simplemente una versión reducida y de cartas para que te la puedas llevar a todas partes. Y la verdad es que tenía mis dudas porque había visto un mix de comentarios tanto positivos, como negativos e incluso indiferentes sobre el juego, así que supongo que tampoco tenía grandes expectativas. Pero, siendo sinceros, para un juego que se tarda unos 20 minutos en jugar, de 2-4 personas, facilón, relativamente entretenido, y por un precio moderado no está mal. ($9.95 – en Amazon.es creo que sale entre €10-15 euros, supongo que sea posible adquirirlo por menos. En el Reino Unido se puede conseguir por unas £7.00).

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Continue reading “Probando Brew Crafters – Travel Card Game”

A Quick Look at Brew Crafters – Travel Card Game

Today, Adie and I tried Brew Crafters travel edition. Liam adores the full version of the game, so I was keen to see how it would play, even as an abridged version. I have heard mixed views from the travel edition, so I guess I was not approaching the game with the highest expectations, but I must say it was not as bad as some had suggested, and it was a perfectly good little, quick game.

Continue reading “A Quick Look at Brew Crafters – Travel Card Game”