Vry vs The Dungeons & Dragons 5e Character Sheet

I have a bone to pick with you, Mr. Character Sheet.

Your attempts to make things “easier” and “accessible” have left me with a constant frustration at our table. You’ve dumbed things down so far as to completely break any attempt to swim against the stream. Customizable? Hardly. You sir, have betrayed the very players you swore to aid!

Of course, what I’m actually talking about is the way that the Dungeons & Dragons character sheet automatically assumes that you should fill in the appropriate ability score modifiers with the skills they “go with”. Bah. I scoff at you, Sir Sheet. I use the very rules laid out in the Player’s Handbook that state – AND I QUOTE!

In some situations, though, your proficiency might reasonably apply to a different kind of check. In such cases, the DM might ask for a check using an unusual combination of ability and skill, or you might ask your DM if you can apply a proficiency to a different check. For example, if you have to swim from an offshore island to the mainland, your DM might call for a Constitution check to see if you have the stamina to make it that far. In this case, your DM might allow you to apply your proficiency in Athletics and ask for a Constitution (Athletics) check.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Player’s Handbook

How then am I supposed to accomplish that easily when every player at the table immediately stares at the big glaring number next to the word Athletics and murmurs out a series of monosyllabic grunts that could only be interpreted as, “Well that’s what I use right?” Instead, I – their benevolent god of all – have to halt the game that I have crafted with these two hands of untold power for their amusement to explain that no, simple ignorant player of meat and bone, if you have proficiency with Athletics, you can add your Proficiency bonus to a Constitution check. Then attempt to reascend my throne of conjured creativity to wrangle these blind and deaf cats to the next plot point before one of them opens their steaming word hole to unleash another question that they would know the answer to if only they had pried open that holiest of tomes that they spent half a c-note on and actually read something in it.

How about a proposal, if you will, to hide the ‘default skills’ and just show that big dot that shows you have Proficiency with the skill. Indeed, we can clean things up significantly by putting Skills & Saves in a single column (first Saves, then Skills) and just a dot next to them to indicate whether to add the proficiency bonus to them. You could put the box that indicates their current Proficiency Bonus right at the top of the column. Just give it a quick scan and see if you add the number at the top to your Ability Check.

I don’t think this approach is unreasonable. Not in the slightest. In every adventure, on every monster block, and indeed any part of any published text will always frame the check as such: [Ability Modifier to Add to Roll] (Skill to Add Proficiency With) [Difficulty Check Number]. So really there wouldn’t ever be a need in that format to remember what skill goes with what ability score. If you really need to remember on the fly, Dungeon Master Screens and various other shortcut cheat sheets for the Dungeon Master can readily have that information available for reference. The only possible way this would be difficult is if you were completely illiterate and are still learning what colors are and which shapes going in the different holes. In that case, 4th Edition is over there.

At the core of it, I’d like to draw attention that these are called “Ability Checks” in both the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Not “Skill Checks” – which was the nomenclature of previous editions. Shouldn’t the focus be on making a check with your ABILITY SCORE and then getting a bonus based on your training. If you wanted the focus to be on Skills then why didn’t you call them Skill Checks as was the standard until this very edition? Do you hate the written word so much at the Wizards of the Coast that you wish to destroy the already unstable foundation that our modern English shakily stands on like a chihuahua trapped in a wind tunnel?

Defaulting assigning a specific numeric value to the Skill on the character sheet will cause the player to associate that number and that number alone with that skill. For example, if the player had a great strength score and decided for some reason to make constitution their dump stat, then using the example above would be akin in their mind to driving over their first born in a pick up truck. You have robbed them of a potential 20% increase in their chances to succeed and believe me when they are muttering to themselves in the late of night while sharpening the very blade that is destined for your poor dungeon master throat – you will regret the false hope that Mr. Character Sheet gave to your player.

So really what I’m saying is maybe a few more options for character sheets set at the campaign level in D&D Beyond.

That’s all.

Oh, and uh. One final note here. This is all just for fun. The Character sheet thing is a pet peeve of mine that I figured I’d have a bit of a laugh at making a big hyperbolic argument about it. However, the internet is a place where sarcasm and humor is sometimes very easily missed so I wanted to place this little disclaimer here at the bottom before everyone got their blood boiling. No, I don’t think this is a serious issue. Yes, I would love more options for character sheet layouts on digital tools. No, I don’t hate D&D 5e. I don’t hate D&D 4e. In fact, 4e has a very fond place in my heart. Do not worry, this was just hear to be a bit of silly-angry-rant-fun. Hope you had a giggle. – Vry

Land of Odd PREMIERE! The Chosen RPG – Tonight at 6pm PST/9pm EST

Tonight at 6pm PST/9pm EST, the Land of Odd will be premiering a new video on our Twitch channel at http://twitch.com/vrykerion where I will be playing The Chosen RPG, a super cheap, super fan service-y, super generic RPG Maker that I had to pay actual money for instead of downloading off some random forum.  Come and watch as I easily walk through wave after wave of enemies after the game gives me the legendary best weapon after a single dungeon.

D20 Style Combat in RPG Maker

UPDATE: While the logic below is sound, a recent comment drew my attention to testing what I posted here to find a number of small but crucial JavaScript syntax errors that may cause the formula to result in always returning 0 (the universal RPG Maker sign that something broke). Here is the corrected formula for use in the Damage Formula:

b.def <= (Math.randomInt(20) + 1 + (Math.floor((MOD – 10)/2)) + (Math.floor(a.level/2))) ? Math.random(X*Y) + 1 + (Math.floor((a.atk – 10)/2)) : 0;

Substitute MOD for a.atk or a.mat or whatever parameter you want to use for the attack.  Substitute X for the number of dice. Substitute Y for the dice size (4,6,8,10,12,20).

Something I’ve often toyed with aside from my own game FateStone was the idea of re-creating a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in something like RPG Maker.  Seems easy right? You’ve got dungeons, monsters, characters all there and ready to go!  However, the big hurdle is quite simply that the way combat works does not overlap. Like at all.  RPG Maker’s combat calculations are more inspired by Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest than anything you’d find in a Pen & Paper RPG tome. So I recently put my mind to work on figuring out how exactly you would be able to bring a d20 or D&D Style of combat to a RPG Maker game.

Now take in mind that this is a very basic version of what I started working with.  While I have started working on versions to incorporate all the different D&D ability scores, I haven’t hammered out all the nitty gritty of using them.  So for now I strictly went for Attack Roll (Attack) vs AC (Defense) and Spell Attack (Magic Attack) vs Saving Throw (Magic Defense).

First is the dice roll:

1dX = Math.randomInt(X)+1

YdX = Math.randomInt((X*Y), Y) + 1

For the YdX formula, it’s important to note that you’ll be setting the range of the random numbers, when it says X*Y you should replace that with the actual value of X * Y.  In other words, for 3d6 don’t put (6 * 3) just put (18).  These formulas will be used for everything from determining the attack to the damage, so they are pretty much the cornerstone of this whole thing.  But another important one would be how to you get the Ability Modifier from the Ability Score.  For that you’ll want to use the following calculation:

Math.Floor((A – 10)/2) = M

A = Ability Score.  M = Ability Modifier.

In simple terms, you subtract 10 from the Score, divide that by 2 and round down (because you always round down in D&D) and that will give you the modifier.  So an Attack (Strength) of 14 would result in a modifier of 2.

So how would this work for an actual skill?  Well, let’s take a look at one.  First, you’ll want to set the Skill in RPG Maker to be a ‘Certain Hit’.  We are just going to skip the whole Accuracy/Evade cycle of the attack in favor of our own math.  Then our damage formula will look something like this:

If (b.def <= (Math.randomInt(20) + 1 + (Math.Floor((a.atk – 10)/2) + (Math.Floor(a.lvl / 2)) )) Math.random((X*Y), X) + 1 + (MOD – Math.Floor(a.level/2)); else 0

Kind of crazy, right?  Let’s break it down.

If (b.def <=: This First bit is essentially starting an ‘If-then’ clause that says if the following math results in something equal to or higher than our target’s defense (AC).

(Math.randomInt(20) + 1: This is our d20 roll.

+ (Math.Floor((a.atk – 10)/2): This is adding our attack modifier

+ (Math.Floor(a.lvl / 2)) )): This adds half our level to the math and finishes our If condition.  So it’s a random number between 1-20, plus the modifier, plus half our level.

Math.random((X*Y), X) + 1 + (Math.Floor((a.atk – 10)/2))This part is our damage calculation. Essentially, do this much damage (a random XdY dice amount) plus our Attack modifier damage.

else 0 And if the math DIDN’T equal or beat the Target’s Defense(AC), then deal zero damage due to it being a miss.

To summarize, the formula is basically:

If (Target AC) <= 1d20 + Attack Modifier + Half Level; Deal XdY + Attack Modifier damage; else deal no damage.

Naturally, you can probably imagine how this basic formula can be applied to a lot of different things.  It forms the basic idea for skill checks, saving throws, and pretty much any Difficulty Check based roll. You could replace the target defense with a d20 roll on the enemy side as well and have an opposed check.

As I said at the top, this isn’t perfect.  It doesn’t quite yet take into account D&D’s Ability Scores, which I’m still working on.  Mostly just stuck on thinking of a way to make the Target Defense side of things work when b.def would simply be their Constitution score or something.

If I ever figure out a good solution to it, I will let you know.

In the mean time, you might find the following plug ins for RPG Maker MV to be handy when it comes to recreating the D&D experience:

Yanfly’s Weapon Unleash: Allows you to reassign a different attack skill to different weapons, thus being able to give daggers a different damage formula than a great axe.

Yanfly’s Limited Skill Usages: For those interested in bringing D&D 4th Edition’s system of At-Will, Encounter and Daily abilities to the game, this plugin can help.  However, you might want to create a common event for sleeping that gets called when using an item like ‘Camping Set’ or something to reset the Daily uses.

Odd Thoughts: Reward Cubes

Be they Loot Boxes, Prize Crates or good ol’ fashion RNG Containers, there’s nothing quite like the topic of Reward Cubes to bring a heated boil to the gaming community at large.  Are they pay-to-win?  Are they gambling?  Do they belong in full price $60 games?  Do they belong in anything beyond Free-To-Play games?  Should they exist at all?

Recently, the controversy has boiled up a bit thanks to some rather ahem… enthusiastic reaches by companies like WB Interactive and Electronic Arts in their big fall titles (Shadows of War, Star Wars Battlefront 2) and I’ve heard that even the sports games have decided to dab their quills into the ink as well with the latest installment of 2K sportsball and Forza something or other.  I will admit, the practice has gotten admittedly scummier since my first encounter with the loot box scenario when they were added when Star Wars The Old Republic went debatably free to play (two hot bars, a 250k credit limit, and can’t equip any epic loot but hey it’s free to suffer through!)

Now you have loot boxes that are tied directly to player progression, offering new abilities and ability boosts in Battlefront 2 or simply being able to skip the grind and have a medley of legendary orcs spring forth from a chest like clowns from a car.  And yeah, that’s B.S.  I’m not even gonna sugar coat it.  Optional or not, cash should not be a way to skip the game you just paid sixty bucks for.  It definitely shouldn’t let you be able to quickly overpower players that don’t shell out for it.  I’m glad there seems to be at least a majority consensus on THAT at least.

Personally, the only way I’ve really “enjoyed” loot boxes – not that I’ve ever enjoyed them.  Put up with them? – was in games like Overwatch.  Where they don’t give you anything BUT random visual flair to add to the game.  And you earn them when you level up. Nice. But hey, then they went above and beyond and added ADDITIONAL ways to get free crates in the Arcade. So not only do you not have any tangible reason to get them beyond looking cool but they also keep giving you more ways to get them? Not a half bad model.  Still would like just ways to unlock the skins and whatnot on my own in the game maybe.  Not banking on random chance from a box every few hours.  Maybe some sort of unlock systems based on in-game achievements? You know like you already do with certain sprays?  Bah. Oh well.

Of course, there are still down sides to Overwatch’s model too. The whole thing is psychologically angled to make you want to spend.  You see someone with the cool thing? You want the cool thing. Better go pay money for a chance to get the cool thing.  A covetous model of persuasion is exactly what Activision’s recent patent for Microtransaction-based Matchmaking is built on. Instead of matching players on skill or win ratio, it finds the ‘Haves’ and then pairs them against the ‘Have Nots’ and then after you lose to their Cash Shop Super Weapon while donning their Ultra Rare Skin, you offer them the chance to get the same cool stuff from these handy dandy cubes o’ stuff we sell for real dollars.  Psychology is a dangerous weapon when paired with greed.

For no better example of psychology being used to line the pockets, look no further than gambling.  Oh, I hear the screams of forums back in TOR echoing through to the youtube comments of today of ‘It’s not gambling – you always get something!’  And that’s true. Sort of.  Loot crates are a weird legal loophole where since you always get something out of it, it’s not gambling. But you also always get nothing – nothing tangible with an attached dollar value that can resold – so it’s also not gambling.  HOWEVER, from a psychological standpoint and not a legal one, Reward Cubes are very much gambling.  They scratch that same itch, provoke the same reaction, and still drive you to swipe your credit card over and over chasing an elusive jackpot.  Heck, why else would the crazy Kylo Ren-style lightsabers be introduced as a new ultra-ultra-ultra rare platinum item in SWTOR?  It’s the hot new thing. It’s only comes from the cash-only loot boxes.  It’s got a 1-in-10,000 chance to drop! Didn’t get it in this box? That makes it MORE likely to be in the next, right? (Not how that works at all by the way.)

Loot boxes CAN be dangerously addicting to those with a pension for such habits.  And sure, there are non-loot box ways you could get it. Someone could sell theirs in the in-game market for in-game currency.  But that still means SOMEONE paid cash for it. And to be honest, I casually played SWTOR for years – played every class at least once if not twice or three times – and I STILL never made enough credits to buy one of those Kylo Ren sabers for what they were going for on the market.  Eventually just decided that was one thing I was never gonna end up getting. Like PvP achievements.

Overall, I think what I was going for with writing about this was that I’m used to seeing people take a very hard line stance on this issue. Understandable since it’s a very passionate issue.  But I don’t think there’s really a good hard line stance to take.  Loot boxes can be a fun addition to a game.  I do think Blizzard is getting a knack for what a good balance of what should be in the crate, how easy it should be to get free crates vs paid crates, and definitely figured out a good way to make them feel fun.  However, left unchecked the whole system begins to turn corrupt.  You see pay to win become an incentive to buy crates, you see things being designed to nudge players toward crates to speed up or skip parts of the game, and you see the effort being put in to continue to make more alluring jackpot items to drive that addictive quality in wanting to keep buying to get the best stuff.  Heck, I’ll even say that Overwatch could be improved.  They gave away loot boxes for Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone for Twitch Prime that had guaranteed rare items like legendaries or gold cards.  I’d love to see that sort of thing be added to the game as a reward for major achievements.  Get 100 wins? Get a gold box.  Unlocked all of a character’s achievements? Get a gold box.  Complete a limited time holiday quest? Get a gold box so you will at least get ONE of the legendary skins during the small holiday event windows.

I wanted to approach it all rationally.  I don’t think reward cubes are going anywhere.  I think that as the industry pushes more to perpetual monetization over pay-once-and-your-done tactics with games we need to start really critically thinking about where we as consumers feel comfortable drawing the line.  All or nothing approaches may be admirable, but so is throwing yourself on your sword and none of it accomplishes much.  There doesn’t have to be a universal approach either.  I want to encourage everyone to find their own personal line on the topic and then work with that.  Let that be a personal factor in your buying decisions.  It’s one of the reasons that despite looking amazing and fun, I didn’t buy into Battlefront or Battlefront 2.  It’s why I remain hesitant about Anthem.  It’s one of the major reasons I decided to stop playing SWTOR.

But I am not going to presume to tell you to do the same.  All I’m gonna ask is that you think about it.  Think about what you want and what you are comfortable with.

That Sauce-y Incident

I think it says something that in the wake of this whole Szechuan Sauce thing that everyone seems to be focused on the supposedly “cringey” Rick and Morty Fans and their reactions and NOT the horribly botched attempt at promotional relevancy that McDonald’s made.

I mean, this wasn’t some spur of the moment thing. There was planning. There was prep.  They made custom packet artwork for these things.  It’s not like they just hauled out a box from the back room or something.  So the fact that there was THIS much planning that went so very very wrong? Yeah. That’s worth mockery to me.  McDonald’s is who we should be pointing the finger at and snickering.

The fans? Oh sure. Some went overboard.  But you know what, they are fans.  I’ve seen flash mobs of people doing dumber and more random crap at cons.  And in terms of stupid crap fandoms have pulled? Oh come on. This doesn’t even crack the top ten.  But why can’t they be like normal fans and turn over a car when their sportsball team loses? Bah.

Then again…  this wouldn’t have even been a blip on the radar if not for the HORRIBLE planning on McDonald’s part.  This is like Nintendo levels of bad supply planning.  Some people I’ve spoken to seem to pretend that Rick and Morty fans descended in mass to wipe out entirely supplies of McDonald’s sauce and then demanded more and more.  Instead of you know, sending a handful of packets and posters to each store and just hoping it works out.

So yeah. Fans can be silly.  Corporations easily should have known better. Mock the Clown. Not the clowns.

Announcing the Kingdom Hearts Story Summary

Well, if there’s one thing the Land of Odd has been getting popular for its these Story Summaries.  Quick and easy chunks that bring you up to speed so you don’t have to go through the grit of each and every patch/expansion/questline to get the feel for the tale.  And hey, if there’s one gaming series that needed a skip button – It’s Kingdom Hearts.

Not that Kingdom Hearts is bad.  It’s just frustrating to play every entry in the series.  Before the recent 1.5 and 2.5 collections, you had a series that spanned the GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Portable, Playstation 2 and iPhone/Android devices.  Not only is that a lot of gaming hardware, it’s also older hardware that might not be so easy to acquire anymore.  Thankfully, the updated collections for the PS3 and PS4 have managed to bundle most of the software in a single place for your playing enjoyment.  But what if you don’t want to play Kingdom Hearts the Card Game? Or figure out how to level up your Command Deck?  You don’t want to be lost come the recently announced 2018 release of Kingdom Hearts III!  Well, this guide will help you.

You can find the Kingdom Hearts Story Summary (In Chronological Order) page right here.  You can find a spoiler free timeline of the games here.

The Story Summary page also includes a new thing – a FAQ section.  You can send me questions about Kingdom Hearts and I’ll see what I can do to answer them. I know the series can get kind of confusing at points.  You can send them to me in comments, via twitter (@Vrykerion) or on Tumblr (Vrykerion).

Odd Thoughts: Optimism in Gaming

I miss when video games were fun.

Oh not the games themselves – they still are fun as heck – but more so everything surrounding them.  In recent years, gaming has been something of a ‘problematic fave’ to borrow a term.  You can enjoy the product but damn if the dubious ethics of the publishers, the foaming rage of the fandoms, and the all out tug-of-war over artistic merit doesn’t sour the whole experience a little bit.  When its gotten back to the point where people are backing away from being labeled “gamer” again (albeit for wholly different reasons) you know things have gotten bad.

I don’t get it.  I really don’t.  I don’t know if its something about my experiences or upbringing or when I got into gaming or anything but a lot of this stuff doesn’t seem that complicated to me.  Enjoy games.  Treat other people with respect. Don’t assume your view is the only valid one.  Sesame Street taught me this stuff.  But even I’ll admit that there were periods in my life where I let them slip.  I suppose none of us are without flaws.

Still it’s weird to be an outsider because of things like ‘giving the benefit of the doubt’ and ‘being optimistic about games’.  For instance, I really liked the original ending to Mass Effect 3.  I may have mentioned that on this blog a few (dozen) times.  But I really did.  It felt like a solid science fiction open ended ending that you would find in like an old Heinlein novel or something.  I never got the whole ‘your choices didn’t matter’ thing because really, the entire game was a culmination of your choices.  I bumped into faces that I did a side mission for back in ME1 and helped out or let live.  Not everything got a big dramatic cutscene but if you read all the things (Note: This was before Final Fantasy XIII taught me that gamers don’t like to read apparently.  Put down your torch, that was a joke.) your previous choices DO have an affect on things.  Like the Rachni.  If you take the Rachni back with you in ME3, the outcome is dependent on whether you saved them in ME1.  If you did, then these Rachni will remember you and benefit the war effort.  If you killed them, these are artificial Reaper controlled rachni and they will go nuts in your labs and you’ll lose precious resources from the war effort.  Yes. That’s in the game.

So how is all that the benefit of the doubt?  Well, generally I don’t just discount something because it’s obtuse or doesn’t make sense right away.  I was a fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion after all.  I suppose it got drilled into me back in film school.  There’s meaning and purpose behind things we create.  You just might not see them right away.  Take the previously mentioned Final Fantasy XIII trilogy.  Is it flawed?  Very.  Is it difficult to understand? Can be.  But if you take the time, savor it, and take in everything that it offers to you – I found it to be a magnificent game with a wonderfully fascinating story.

Even outside of game plots, there are things like DLC.  Downloadable content has been viewed almost universally as a blight on the gaming landscape.  Assumed to be lazy cash grabs or content ripped out from the finalized game in order to sell later to make additional cash.  While I can’t argue that those things have never occurred and certainly can point to a few examples where they most definitely have, there are some positives to DLC that I don’t ever think get given the time of day.  Take that “content ripped from the final game” concept.  I see that one a lot.  Especially with games like RPGs.  People argue that they should have just included it in the final game and not sold it separately, that in ‘ye olden days’ of gaming that you would get the full product at a single price.  Which isn’t really true.  A lot of the stuff that ends up being DLC is stuff that is planned for the game, but can’t be finished by date they need to go gold by (the date the game needs to be finished so they can send it to be mass produced and packaged for the actual release day).  A lot of times, studios will keep working on polishing the game after that point and push those updates out as a big ‘day one patch’.  But a lot of times content that was planned like that would just be cut or dummied out.  That happened A LOT in the old days.  Heck, there’s entire plotlines to the original Knights of the Old Republic that got dummied out, and a romance plot too.  Games can have massive unexplorable areas that were going to be used for something but there was no time to finish it.  Going back to Mass Effect, a lot of the complaints about the DLC being “on the disc” were only partially right because yes, these planned for expansions were planned for and thus their bare bones were already in place but incomplete.  All the dialogue and scenes where Kasumi Goto in Mass Effect 2 interacting with the existing missions/story were on the disc, but her model was a generic placeholder and her recruitment mission and loyalty mission where absent.

DLC is something that can – and often is – used as a second chance to save ideas from the scrap pile without having to sacrifice a release date window.  But people often assume the worst, greediest, and most scummy practices imaginable.  Again, I can’t say those horrible views are based somewhat on fact.  There have been cases of that happening.  I just think that its awfully pessimistic to paint the whole concept of post-launch content with such a negative brush based on those incidents.  Now whether you don’t think the price is worth it is a whole other debate, and really that always comes down to personal taste.  No different than ‘Is this game worth X dollars?’.  Sometimes it isn’t.  No I don’t want to spend $1.50 on a swimsuit I personally won’t ever use in Final Fantasy XIII-2 (I do have the swimsuit outfits, but that’s because they came as part of a bundle.)

I suppose a lot of this can be viewed as the ‘gaming fandom’ going through its cynical teenage years of being a long term fanbase.  But there’s always those who buck the flow, and Indy gaming being embraced so wholeheartedly is just one sign of that.  The fact that games made by small teams that don’t just become best sellers, but spawn entire fan followings solely around their games can just so that people can find something positive to enjoy in gaming still.  It’s not just a bunch of grumps spouting witty cynicisms like a bunch of jaded critics.  Gaming is something that should be enjoyable.  Be that conquering the hardest difficulty if that’s your thing, or playing on ‘Story’ difficulty because you’re interested in the story and lore.  You should play what you enjoy and how you enjoy.  Be it Braid or Boy and His Blob, Tetris or Tekken – just enjoy your games.

Of course, that’s not that there isn’t anything to be concerned about with gaming in general.  I mean, from the online threats to the unethical pressures publishers have pushed on developers, gaming as an industry and as a medium has a long way to go.  And yes, there are plenty of valid criticisms that can be discussed about games.  But if there was one thing I learned back in art school, it was that criticism is healthy for growth, and not everyone is going to like everything.  Heck, my own writing was often berating for having ‘no substance beyond being entertaining.’  I personally believe that the important thing is to keep looking forward at how games can improve, how we can enjoy our entertainment to the fullest, and be considerate of other viewpoints that will help gaming grow into a vast and diverse community where we can all enjoy things.

Then again that’s all just me.  I said I didn’t want to preach and I meant it. I’m not going to demand that my view is the right one, or the only valid one.  It’s just mine.  I just miss when games were fun.

A Trailer That Remembers the Face of Its Father

Which would be like…  a teaser?  The poster?  A synopsis?  I’m not entirely sure how parentage of a movie trailer works.  Anyway, I’m talking of course about the much anticipated – for me at least – Dark Tower trailer:

I’ll just say this now so you can either click away or tell me I’m wrong right away instead of getting to the bottom:  I. Loved. It.

Idris’ imposing charisma and gravitas as Roland, McConaughey’s sleazy and menacing presence as Walter/Randall/Man in Black, and just the amazing visuals of Midworld or the connection to the rest of King’s works all shining through in this short trailer.  It definitely delivers on everything I would want from a film adaptation of the Dark Tower series.

And I think that’s where there’s some debate going on about the trailer.  People aren’t happy that this seriously deviates from the source material so much.  People have had issues with the film focusing more on Jake, the movie toning down some of the more western concepts, or them being racists.  You know, pick your poison.  Overall, I wasn’t expecting a transfer of the books story to the big screen.  Because that would be terrible.  The story of the Dark Tower books barely fit into anything resembling a traditional narrative structure and more closely resemble a traditional saga where the characters go on a meandering journey to ultimate destination and have various adventures along the way (also see: The Hobbit.)  There is no easy way to break The Dark Tower into a simple beginning/middle/end.  Heck, one whole book is like 90% flashback.  Even the first novel, ‘The Gunslinger’ would work as a straight story namely because it ISN’T one.  The Gunslinger is five short stories that take place in a chronological order, but while each of the shorts have a roughly complete arc unto themselves, the whole of the narrative doesn’t.  Heck it doesn’t even really have an ending.  Not one that resolves any of the conflicts brought forth in the story at least.

And that’s the Dark Tower in the nutshell.  It lacks the structure that a film demands.  So to expect any of it to make it to the big screen without some level of heavy adaptation taking place is naive of how media adaptation is supposed to work.  That and I assume you’re a big fan of The Last Airbender.  That was pretty much just copying plot point for plot point of the entire first season of Avatar to the big screen.  (Full disclosure: I loved the Last Airbender.  I have never laughed so hard at a movie.  It wasn’t because it was good though.)

The other idea put forth about the movie that solves a lot of these conflicts would only make sense to those who have read the entire book series so this next point may have some SPOILERZ in it for those who are interested in reading the books.  The idea being introduced and seemingly confirmed by both King and the filmmakers is that this story is another one of Roland’s cycles.  Referring to the idea that entire series has been repeated an unknown amount of times until Roland gets it right by bringing the fabled Horn of Eld to the steps of the Dark Tower.  When we last see Roland at the end of the last book, his journey has begun once again but this time he actually has the Horn in hand.  While the Horn of Eld isn’t seen in the trailer (photos on the set show a horn like object in Roland’s satchel however), it doesn’t mean that this theory is bust.  After all, it wouldn’t be the first cycle where Roland lost the Horn.  But even Stephen King has hinted on his twitter that this is the next cycle after the books and that this time we’ll see Roland blow that horn and face down the Crimson King.

The one point I like about this theory is that it doesn’t tie the film makers to the events of the books.  Mid-World is still there, the old familiar faces may come and go, but those are this cycle’s versions of those people.  In the same way that Roland remembers Cuthbert fondly instead of bitterly at the end of the last book, we can’t simply assume that the events before or during the course of Roland’s last journey to the Tower will play the same.  That means the film makers have full access to the names and ideas presented in the books, but don’t have to use them or even use them the same way in the film version.

Combine all that with the fact that you can tell from the trailer that the behind-the-camera team has a lot of love for the property, and this could spell a great time for King fans and non-King fans alike.

One final aside that I’ve been pondering on with the trailer:  In one shot we see Jake wandering through an over-grown forest in the remnants of an amusement park with a giant broken down sign that reads “PENNYWISE” and a dilapidated statue of a clown holding balloons.  Of course, this is easily a reference to Stephen King’s IT that is slated for its own theatrical movie here soon.  But something struck me as odd – Is this where the clown came from?  It takes many forms in the course of the novel – a werewolf, a mummy, Bev’s Dad – all conjured from the children’s frightened minds and of course Its final physical form of some Lovecraftian horror that could only be described as “Giant Spider-like creature”.  But none of the kids were afraid of clowns.  Heck, even little Georgie wasn’t scared of Pennywise when they first met.  So where did that form come from?  We know that It comes from the Macroverse, a place described in very similar terms as Todash Space in the Dark Tower, and Its natural enemy is the Turtle, which is a reoccurring guardian deity in All-World.  So perhaps this right here is a hint to where the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown comes from original.  Maybe this isn’t a reference to IT as much as IT is a reference to this.  Who knows.  Maybe we’ll find out in August.

Odd Thoughts: The James Rolfe Ghostbusters ‘Controversy’

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Some may be aware of the recent kerfluffle involving James Rolfe aka The Angry Video Game Nerd posting a video that quickly rose to infamy across the net where he spoke out about how he refused to watch the new Ghostbusters film.  The reaction to the video has been mixed and draw heat from many different sides.  I’ve seen people calling James ‘sexist’ for not backing the new all-female cast, I’ve seen others stand by him and pledging their support to help him weather the onslaughts of “Feminists and SJWs”, and I’ve mostly seen people chiming in with a just a simple “Is this really what all the huff is about?”  And that’s the interesting thought to me. Why is this such a big deal?  A guy can just have opinions right?  Of course.  But how one voices their opinion can sometimes be an opinion in itself.

Let me first say that I am in no way condemning anyone with this post.  This issue was already a massive clash of a growing cultural divide in nerd culture that predates the announcement of this film’s production.  This video was much like that one offhand comment made on a day time talk show that sends the just starting to calm down guests right back in the heat.  James doesn’t want to see one of his favorite movies rebooted.  That’s fine. We’ve all been there with something.  Especially geeks and nerds.  I know I pretty much stopped seeing the Transformers movies after the first one.  I know a lot of people who didn’t want to touch the newest Ninja Turtles or even the 2003 TMNT movie for pretty much the same reasons.  The issue comes from the fact that this movie already had a ton of heat associated with it due to the number of voices decrying it because the cast is female becoming mingled with the voice of people who just aren’t interested, and nothing ever stays simple when gender politics enters the picture.  Likewise, I don’t think the gender flip is a bad thing.  I’d like to see it done more often – especially with reboots.  Explore another side to things.  After all, what good is a reboot if you don’t try to do SOMETHING different with it?  It might not work, but that’s true with anything.  I don’t know if anyone would have wanted to see a shot for shot remake of the Original Ghostbusters either.  But the gender issues being brought to the fore front by this remake are a discussion worth having.  A lot of ugliness has been brought to bare in the wake of this movie’s announcement and trailers.  And everyone who has a personal stake one way or the other in the fight are pretty much coming to this movie with all or nothing mindsets.  We win or we die.

So perhaps it was a wider view of the landscape that James lacked when making his video.  After all, all the video says is that he is going to do a “non review” because he refuses to see it.  And why couldn’t they do a ‘good reboot’ like the Star Trek movies (a subjective comparison if I ever saw one) along with the feelings of how he wasn’t wow’ed by the trailer and all the cgi looks dumb.  So what’s wrong with that? Why am I even writing this?  I can only speak to my problem with the video, one that I have spent several days thinking about what bothered me about it, and say that I honestly think it’s the way he said it.  If it had been made as an offhand comment on Twitter in reply to people wondering if he was going to review it, I don’t think this would have been a big deal.  But this was a 6 minute video: lighting, camera, editing, visual effects, the whole thing – not just to say but to ANNOUNCE that you are REFUSING to see and review a new movie, on your YouTube channel that is mostly video games and classic horror movies.  Oh sure, there’s a few vlogs, but I don’t think that’s what your channel is known for.  Just like I don’t need to produce a 5 minute video to tell people that I don’t much care for the new menu numbers are McDonald’s when everything else on my channel is a Let’s Play.

Also, ‘refuse’ is a strong word. Refuse usually implies a command or a request that you are not willing to do.  If you were working for a paper, and they were sending you to see the movie, then you might refuse.  But no one is telling James to go see it.  In fact, everything else he describes is just that he doesn’t want to.  A personal preference.  But the use of the word Refuse in combination with producing an entire video about said refusal, makes it come off like you are taking a stand, protesting, or just straight choosing to be a martyr for the cause of not seeing this film.  Which is a bit over dramatic, and I can’t say that is what James intended with this.  He probably just wanted to voice his opinion, but the problem there is when you are a public figure – and we cannot deny the importance of the AVGN character or James Rolfe’s contribution to the internet media we have today – that how you say something can doom you.  Especially since this wasn’t a VLOG off the cuff thing but a produced & edited video.  There was time and thought put into this.  So it’s not like you don’t have the opportunity to think about the intent.

I imagine that might be what upset some people about this, why others don’t think it’s a big deal, and why others are throwing their unwavering support behind it.  Because through it’s language, design, and intent it can be all of those things and probably none of them as well.  Am I saying James shouldn’t have made the video?  No.  He has an opinion and his channel is his to say what he wishes on it.  But given his choices when making and releasing the video, there was going to be a volatile reaction.  Given his years doing ‘The Nerd’ I’m sure James is not stranger to all kinds of volatile reactions.  I also don’t think any kind of volatile reaction (barring threats of bodily harm and any illegal act) should be silenced either.  I just wanted to examine exactly why this whole thing even happened, really.  Goodness knows James’ ad revenue with YouTube probably just peaked for the year.

Oh and as for MY thoughts on the new Ghostbusters? Looks interesting.  Reminds more of the cartoon than the movies. Not a bad thing. Will probably check it out and maybe do a write up if I have something worthwhile to say.

Final Thought: Just… don’t go into the YouTube comments on these things.  That should be common knowledge for any Netizen, but I felt in this case it beared repeating.  Seriously. Don’t.

Whoever Wins, George Loses

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So…  Episode VII.  Wow, who ever thought we’d see this day.  I haven’t seen it yet, and I probably won’t until the crowds die down some because I’m old curmudgeon at 32 years and I don’t want to sit in a crowded theater with a bunch of damn kids. (Also, thank you damn kids for continuing to read my ramblings)  But I for one can’t wait to see General Thrawn, Mara Jade, Jacen and Jaina all on the big screen.  I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

However, a thought did occur to me while trying to avoid spoilers in my online perusing: There is no scenario with this new movie in which George Lucas actually looks better to the fan base.  Like at all.  No matter what the reaction to this movie will be – short term, or long term (because in the short term people LOVED the prequels, and in the long term…  well just google ‘Star Wars Prequels’ and see). And that kind of makes me sad.

To elaborate on my point,  if the new films are a resounding success (to the fandom, not financially – they are pretty much a guaranteed win financially) then it will be heralded as solid, stone cold proof that George Lucas was an awful and terrible director who ruined his own franchise and it could only be redeemed once firmly removed from his hands.  On the other hand, if the movie turns out to be despised and used as a curse the same way “Mass Effect 3’s Ending” is across the internet, then George Lucas will be considered a traitor for abandoning the fans and selling out to Disney whose grubby mousey hands ruined this beloved franchise.

Whoever wins, George Lucas loses and that makes me sad.

Why? Because I think George is one of the more inventive world-builders we’ve seen in the last few decades.  That was the true gold of the Prequel films in my opinion and one of the reasons I love them so: they built the galaxy beyond a few space stations, two factions, and planets that are wholly a single biome.  While the Original Trilogy was a classic tale of good versus evil, it didn’t leave you with much of an impression about what society was like.  We saw a few worlds on the fringes that were barely inhabited if at all.  Is that the way things worked?  Was the Death Star the seat of government? Then why was it just built?  Where does the Emperor live?  What the heck was the senate that got dissolved in one line of dialogue?  We got glimpses of a much bigger galaxy but saw nothing of it in the scrappy dogfights between a totalitarian government and the terrorists that fought against it.  The prequels however gave you that. All of that.  It explained how we got to the point of this battle of good & evil, how good intentions sent to the galaxy to hell when guided by someone who wasn’t interested in helping, and it built up the mythos in a way that the original films never even touched.  I LOVED the prequels because George Lucas went from a classic hero myth of good v. bad and turned it into something that felt like a living galaxy.

So if nothing else, this post is for you, Mr. George Lucas.  Thank you for the galaxy far far away that I’ve spent 32 years enjoying the heck out of (No, seriously, one of the ways I learned to read as a kid was Jabba’s subtitles).  And here’s to Disney’s New Trilogy and may it find success and a place in the hearts of fans new and old alike.

May the Force Be With You, and The Force Shall Set You Free.