Posted by: markfender | January 19, 2016

A Game of Thrones 2nd Edition LCG

Over the Christmas break, I got the opportunity to play this game…several times.

gt01_mainIn fact, probably too many times. But, as a fan of the 1st edition, the new edition is pretty good.

Now, there are eight factions in the main box, unlike the 1st edition which only had four (Granted, two of those factions were added for the second edition). The bad news, of course, is that you need three copies of the base game to have three copies of all the cards. Which is a continual annoyance from FFG. However, they packed a lot of cards for different factions into the main box, so I’m a little more inclined to forgive this time. It’s still kind of annoying though.

Another great change is that the box is smaller. It’s a pretty minor thing, but the standard FFG square box size was always too big for their Living Card Games. So I’m glad to see them picking a box size more appropriate for the amount of material contained therein.

As for the game play, it’s basically the same. There’s challenges, a dominance phase, and plots. There’s been a few tweaks to gameflow, but nothing too major. The rulebook is better at explaining itself and the really complicated turn-windows/moribund states rules language has been dramatically cleaned up. This shouldn’t impact your regular casual games, but, if you ever degenerate into one of those card-rule-based arguments about timing, it should be a lot easier to figure out now (The last edition was pretty arcane when it came to that).

A fairly major change, at least for how we play, are the Title cards. In multiplayer games, everyone gets a Title that gives them a special ability, a person they can’t attack, and a person they get bonuses for attacking. In the new edition, there’s two people you get bonuses for attacking. Likewise, the abilities got stronger (if they needed it – certain cards remained the same). In another dramatic change, these are picked privately, with no revealing happening until everyone has picked a Title. This can make the game state a little more random than I tend to prefer (especially if someone’s on the edge of winning and you need to pick the perfect Title to stop them), but with the addition of two enemies per Title, I can certainly see the reasoning behind the change. This will change how multiplayer plays out.

Out of the box, I’d say the eight factions are pretty well balanced. All of our games were pretty close. Every House got a slight shift in how they played. The Baratheon, for instance, used to gain Power all the time. Now, they kneel your characters (which will ultimately end in them claiming more Power). The Martell were best when they were losing, but now, in addition to that, they also gained an odd timer where they can potentially explode late game. But, it’s a Living Card Game, so I’m sure every faction will get new schticks as more cards are released (It’s kind of the nature of the beast).

So, in short, it’s good. It still is the best multiplayer card game of its ilk. It still has thematically appropriate abilities for all the characters, capturing the books fairly well. And you should probably get it.

Posted by: markfender | January 18, 2016

OMGWTFLEGO – M.K. 008-05

4armIt’s got four arms, so it’s twice as cool.

Posted by: markfender | January 13, 2016

Influential Musicians

There are two musicians who I think have had an influential effect on culture that perhaps haven’t received their due.

sir-mix-a-lotYes, that’s right. It’s Sir Mix-a-Lot. Because ever since “Baby Got Back,” butts have been in. And that song came out in 1992. It even got rereleased  recently as Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” (It’s mostly just Mix-a-Lot, so I don’t think it counts as a “new” song). With the success of the aforementioned Minaj and some of those Kardashians, butts are bigger than ever (Ha!). And we can pretty much place the current cultural impact that buttocks have had on this song. Because, it wasn’t until Mix-a-Lot let us all us white people know about the derriere that white people suddenly started noticing them.

Lisa-LoebLots of musicians inspire fashion trends. Lace gloves got a big boost from Madonna…for a few years. I recall the week that everyone started wearing their clothes backwards after Kris Kros, until everyone realized that wearing your clothes backwards is kind of uncomfortable. But those fashion trends come and go as musical tastes change. But Lisa Loeb single-handily made glasses “cool.” Specifically, the nerd glasses look. Which is still a thing twenty plus years later. While the exact cool frame has varied over the years, the basic shape has remained the same since Lisa Loeb wandered around an empty apartment.

Sure, neither of these artists are The Beatles. No one’s analyzing their lyrics like they might Dylan’s. They’re probably not inspiring the next generation of musicians with their dope rhymes and soulful acoustic jams. But, as far as the what the culture at large values, the body parts and corrective lenses they sported have continued to be popular. They’re influential in a way neither artist probably intended to be.

Posted by: markfender | January 12, 2016

Sherlock

If you will excuse me, I must go into my mind palace where I didn’t watch this.

sherlock-specialfinal885435In the grand tradition of BBC, Sherlock had a Christmas special in which the characters returned to their origins in the Victorian era. So, isn’t that kind of like throwing away the premise of your entire show?

But it was never going to be that simple with Sherlock. Because, besides the well-realized Victorian era stuff, it turns out that Sherlock is just in his mind palace, where he’s imagining the whole thing. Which is, well, dumb. Because these mind palace things seem to gain more and more supernatural abilities as the show goes on. I didn’t mind the concept when it was first introduced in Sherlock. It lets them use fancy cameras to show Sherlock’s deductive process and that just usually means some cool visuals (The notes floating around in this episode, for instance). But now I guess it’s just a super power that lets the showrunners do whatever the hell they want by just shouting “mind palace!”

But that wasn’t the worst part of the episode. The worst part was the absolutely heavy-handed Victorian mystery. Besides lots of hints about the role of women in the Victorian era (including an utterly odd Molly dressed as a dude), the bad guy turns out to be…the suffragette movement. Because women don’t have a voice in politics, they come up with some elaborate plan to gain one. All of which is man-splained by Sherlock while the women stand around silent – uh, isn’t that like the very thing they were complaining about?

I’m totally cool with a gender-based plot. I’d even watch a whole show about a secret group of suffragettes spying on the world of men in order to gain power. But this show has all the subtlety of Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones and goes way too broad to make its points.

And speaking of broad, we’re also subjected to a lot of Moriarty prancing. Which is tedious in its own way.

This is probably the worst episode of Sherlock ever (Even worse than the Hound of the Baskervilles episode, which had so little plot it had to spend 45 minutes watching a guy be scared). While Freeman and Cumberbatch are still good in their roles and there’s some snappy dialogue as one would come to expect from the fast-talking Sherlock, everything else about it was disappointing.

Posted by: markfender | January 11, 2016

OMGWTFLEGO – Nemesis

greymech

An awesome mech. Because mechs are awesome.

Posted by: markfender | January 6, 2016

Visual Language

Turns out my eyes are dumb.

what-f-stop-to-use-1I’ve recently been attempting to learn some new software for work. And it’s not going well.

I’ve dabbled in Photoshop before, but never really invested into it. It seemed very complicated and I possess no artistic talent, so it didn’t seem like it would benefit me all that much. Besides, I’m a word person.

But the practicalities of modern business have forced me to at least understand some basic functionality of Photoshop. Okay, fine. I picked up a Dummies book and delved into Photoshop 101.

Turns out I should have started with a Photography 101 or something, because the author of this book just assumes I know what things like f/stop mean. Sadly, I should know what f/stop means because I took a photography course once (Granted it was a very long time ago – we had to go into the darkroom, which should tell you how long ago that actually was). But I don’t remember and reading explanations online is not really helping.

I think this is weird because I understand film language. Perhaps its just because I’m a movie buff, but I know what pans, steadicams, and focus pulling all are and I can identify when they’re being used in a film (I had to stop myself from squeeing during Force Awakens at the single shot that contained four focus pulls, because I recognized the craft behind it). So, it seems I’m well versed in camera movement, but not what actually occurs inside a camera to capture an image.

So, I’ve been trying to learn more stuff about that. But it’s hard work because it turns out I’m pretty ignorant. I don’t think the colorblindness is helping (In fact, that may be the reason I’ve never really invested in figuring this out before now). And my experiments in Photoshop are also pretty slow going. (It only took me three pictures before I understood how the Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop works.)

I don’t know why I just told you about how I don’t know stuff.

Posted by: markfender | January 5, 2016

Practical CG

Hey, I finally watched Mad Max: Fury Road!

madmax

Tom Hardy is not that orange

It was okay. I was entertained and there were a lot of explosions, but it was also pretty ridiculous. I’ve never really understood the world or style of the Mad Max films – too much Australian, maybe? And it did amuse me that, for a movie about a guy called Mad Max, we don’t even see his complete adventures (The scene where he wanders off and then comes back with fresh wounds and fresh ammo, with no explanation of where he’s been, made me laugh). But, as has been discussed ad nauseum, the film wasn’t really about him.

But the other thing about Fury Road that was discussed to death was the use of practical effects. George Miller and his crew made a big deal of talking about how they did as much as they could practically in-camera. It was discussed as the return of practical effects and showed why CG shouldn’t always be the default option for films. Cars and chases, in particular, benefit from the “weight” of real life to add realism. So, that’s all good.

But it’s also a bit of bullshit. Because Fury Road had a ton of CG. The color grading, for instance. Tom Hardy is not that orange. Charlize Theron had a cyberarm the entire movie – that’s not exactly something you can rig up practically. Or how George Miller kept slowing the frame rate down.

Fury Road cost $150 million dollars to make. Do you really think that was all practical effects? Even though they did make all those fully functioning vehicles and run them around in a desert, that doesn’t cost $150 million. No, what costs that much are massive server farms to run computer renders. According to wikipedia (the most trusted news site we possess, now that we’re all Buzzfed), there were 2,000 effects shots in the film. That’s a lot of CG.

If anything, Fury Road shows how both methods should be used in film to capture a director’s vision. Miller wanted his deserts to be orange, he wanted elaborate desert bases carved into cliffs, and he wanted to show some sort of storm powerful enough to throw cars around. All of those things need to be CG. But, action scenes benefit from practical effects, and so he used those as well.

I think the problem with modern films is that CG is easy. The director can save tons of time that would be spent on set getting a practical effect just right by just handing it to the computer people. And the computer people spend all their time attempting to rig something up that seems realistic. And, there’s lots of places where CG has benefited the industry. Explosions, for instance, can be placed way closer to actors now because they all live in the computer. For safety reasons and just sheer coolness, it’s probably worth it to send those sorts of details to the render farm. But I think Miller demonstrated why it’s important to still do things the hard, old-fashioned way.

There was still way too much CG, though.

 

Posted by: markfender | January 4, 2016

OMGWTFLEGO – Lemmy

23961966891_663ff9ba75_zRIP

Posted by: markfender | December 30, 2015

Merry Fucking Christmas

Let me tell you about my shitty fucking Christmas.

tumblr_mfcuo4HZIg1qkxrtro1_1280After arriving at the airport bright and early on a Wednesday morning, I queue up at the automated ticket thingie to get boarding passes. This requires far too much time, as the people in front of me were incapable of operating electronic devices. They stood in front of the machine, lost. The helpful airline personnel kept staring at them and saying helpful things like “That machine isn’t printing any boarding passes.” After the third time of this repeat behavior from the employees (and after the guy in front of me tried to help the poor, disenfranchised old people who are lost in our modern touchscreen world), I yelled at the employee, “Well then, why don’t you do your job and help them?” This eventually triggered some action. Merry Christmas to you too, United Airlines’ shitty customer service.

After printing my boarding passes (because I’m capable of operating an electronic device) and going through security (Merry Christmas to you too, fucking terrorists), I discover my flight to O’Hare has been delayed two hours. Since I’m connecting in O’Hare, I kinda need to get on a plane at some point. I am assured by United that a backup plane is on its way from Denver and should be here in an hour (I don’t question that it takes a plane the same amount of time to fly as it does to drive because I assume air traffic control is inefficient).

Meanwhile, hundreds of phone messages are received by everyone waiting, updating them on the status of the delayed flight. I was getting updates on delays before the airline employees were, which seems a bit backwards. Eventually, it is revealed that the plane from Denver has developed engine trouble and won’t be flying to O’Hare. The next flight out is in six hours. Merry Christmas to you too, United Airlines’ shitty planes.

This obviously means I’m going to miss my connection in O’Hare, so I head to the customer service desk to get rerouted. And, of course, there’s one whole other flight from O’Hare to my final destination that leaves from O’Hare exactly 12 hours from the current time…and it’s standby only. After searching for alternate flight paths that are also all standby only, I finally decide that this Christmas trip isn’t happening at all and ask for my money back. I mean, I suppose I could sit in O’Hare all fucking night and be aggravated, or I could just go home and sleep in my own bed.

So, yeah, I spent Christmas in my apartment with no food (because I’d planned to be out of town, obviously) and no presents (still waiting at my final destination). Happy holidays!

Posted by: markfender | December 29, 2015

Birthday

Hey! You didn’t wish me a Happy Birthday on my birthday.

eeyore-disneyWhat the hell, you? Didn’t Google remind you (It did me)? Didn’t Skype let you know? Didn’t Facebook inform you? What about Twitter?

It was two days ago. I was just sitting here, waiting for your call. I didn’t have a party. I didn’t get any presents. Just some small acknowledgement would have been nice.

My parents didn’t call and wish me a Happy Birthday. Neither did any of my friends. I’d say that I was disappointed, but I’ve been having disappointing birthdays since I was born (That happens when you’re born two days after Christmas).

Boo on you.

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