iZombie is barely iZombie, but that’s OK.

I finally got to watch iZombie on Netflix. For those not in-the-know, iZombie is another entry in the annals of comic books brought to screen, this time from the Vertigo imprint. iZombie differs from its current comic book counterparts, though, in that it’s not gritty and hyper-dramatized. It’s… well… plucky.  While I thoroughly enjoy the uptick of solid comic-to-TV, iZombie is definitely refreshing.

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It’s a departure from the comic, though, which might irritate the hell out of some fans. The names have changed, the character’s professions have changed, and some of the character nuances are just different enough to feel awkward. It’s much more of a crime procedural than the comic suggested. At this point, it really is putting the “based on characters from…” line to its limit.

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All that said, it’s pretty charming. It has some of the cotton-candy fluff of TV shows that I enjoyed, like Eureka, but leaning heavily on the comic book trend we see coming out of Hollywood lately. I don’t mind the dark and brooding anti-heroes or the troubled vigilante battling sinister evil cabals of ninja assassins, for sure, but it’s nice to be reminded that there’s more than that out there in Comic Book Land.

It’s a worthwhile watch that might even be refreshing if you’re feeling a bit overloaded with the currently DC/Marvel TV/Movie line-up like I am. YMMV.

Buffy Season 8: The Long Way Home

I started Buffy Season 8, today. The first story-arc is The Long Way Home, and it totally feels like it belongs in the Buffy-verse. I’m a bit late to the party on this one (a lot, actually) but I felt bitter-sweet about the end of Buffy’s television run, so I never picked it up. I was kind of torn about it. I was afraid that it would pale in comparison to the show, and it would feel like another franchise, over worked to make a buck.  That was definitely not the case.

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This story line takes place after the events of season 7, with the hellmouth going all ‘splody. It mostly serves to re-introduce the characters — not just for us, coming back in after a hiatus, but establishing the new medium in general — while keeping ties to the original material. There were some changes, though…

 

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Dawn is giant. Like, huge.

What I like most about seeing Dawn as a giant looming teenager, a hat tip to classic 1950s sci-fi/horror, is that it continues the tradition of drawing parallels between real-world issues around growing up and crazy supernatural issues certain to destroy humanity. That’s really one of the strong-points of Buffy storytelling.

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It’s used to show the continued relationship between Dawn and her sister – Dawn’s growing difficulty with her situation and inability to change it, the freedom her sister gains by being empowered to confront her situations. It also acts as a mechanism to not just tell you that time has passed for the characters, but to make you care about what happened to the them.

 

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The gang’s all there. 

They get the bulk of the gang together, working in unison to defeat the big bag. Xander, Willow, Giles, Buffy, and Dawn are all there. Xander is now in some kind of operational command, putting on his best Nick Fury impression, and, as usual, keeping the whole family generally “together.” Buffy is out saving the world, torn between her duties as the Slayer and her duties as a friend and sister. Giles and Willow seem to have a transient appearance so far, off doing who-knows-what with who-knows-who. They drop hints at their story lines, possibly to be revisited later. All of the characters feel like the characters. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that was something I was worried about.

 

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The big bad.

In case you haven’t read it, I won’t post much in the way of spoiler. (You can google it if you want.) Suffice it to say that with Season 8, the time-honored Buffy tradition of each smaller story-arc having a smaller almost episodic Big Bad, leading up to a greater, more horrific Bigger Bad is still being honored. And the first one is kind of gruesome. The TV show amped up the content as it went through the seasons, and by season 6 stopped pulling its punches entirely. Season 8 is off to a great start, following through with the gross and the ew.

 

My favorite Xander Moment

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I love it.

My first dip into the warm waters of Buffdom were pretty great. I’m looking forward to not talking about Buffy in relation to the TV show. Not because its bad, but because I’m looking forward to seeing it thrive in a new medium. If it keeps up like this, Season 8 will stand on its own as a faithful installment. Get it? FAITHful?

I’m hilarious. I know.

Daredevil Season 1

I can’t really say I’m a fan of the Daredevil character. I know Ben Affleck gets a lot of crap about his 2003 portrayal, but I felt it was kind of honest. It was kind of not good. That said, I absolutely enjoyed the first season of Daredevil on Netflix. There are spoilers here, but come on. It’s Daredevil. Here are some of my thoughts.

 

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The Burglar vs. Ninja Claus.

Some things really stood out about this particular Daredevil. It was gritty and it ditched the dumb red suit. I liked that the series opened with a DIY black suit, reminiscent of a cat burglar. It highlighted a utilitarian character, making due, and drew a visual connection to the illegal nature of the vigilante archetype. It was shrouded in shadows. It hid from the police, and not the street thugs the character frequently dispatched. It was dark enough to make even the Dark Knight proud. It was worthy.

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And then they went red. It is kind of the coup de grace of the origin story, which is essentially what the first season is. Both Daredevil and Kingpin rise to sinister glory. The suit isn’t terrible or anything, but I can’t help but feel like in attempting to make what feels like an arbitrary connection to the source material, they reduced the utilitarian suit to a trope  and deprived it of what I loved. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but I was disappointed with the final suit.

 

Kingpin and his rise to villainy.

Kingpin is a fantastic character. There isn’t a Kingpin shot in the series where he doesn’t completely steal and command the scene. Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance alone is well worth the price of admission to this show. He captures the power and rage of Kingpin, barely tempered with an unusual, but relatable compassion.

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I can’t help but see this image as an example of that relationship. His unwavering pursuit to connect and to feel, his imposing presence, and ultimately, the almost blank canvas: His failure to do so. I find I have a great deal of sympathy for this character, almost to the point of not feeling that he’s a villain. I think that makes a FANTASTIC villain.  At the end of the day, both Kingpin and Daredevil are kind of equal, but different, parts villain and savior.

I think that’s why this show works, where the material before it did not for me.

 

Foggy McBottomsnoot and Ninja Claus.

There are a lot of stand out relationships in this show. They kind of drive it, actually. But the pinnacle of that would have to be the onscreen chemistry between Foggy and Murdock and eventually, Foggy and Daredevil. There hasn’t been a more believable onscreen friendship, complete with misunderstandings and deep history, that I can think of than these guys. Somehow, these two actors manage to deliver the best, and somewhat enviable screen-friendship that I’ve seen. It persists in their flashbacks, their work intermingling, and even the betrayal, as Foggy discovered Murdock’s alter-ego.

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They tried to duplicate this with Kingpin’s relationships, which had it worked would have offered a symmetry, further balancing the characters duality. They tried to evoke that between Kingpin and his bromance Wesley, and the femme fatale Vanessa. Both suitable characters, but it kind of fell flat. Kingpin was too good at not connecting.

 

Great brutal combat sequences.

The fight sequences are pretty strong. They range from brutal and gritty to innovative and artsy. It’s kind of hard to really quantify them, so I’ll show you instead.  There’s a clear homage to classic action sequences in films like Old Boy and Hard Boiled.

 

Ultimately, I enjoyed it. It’s easy to pick apart small details, especially since I’m already predisposed to disliking the source material, but even with its flaws I’m looking forward to next season’s performances by this cast. They were strong this season.

A Valentine’s Day Horror

This Valentine’s Day, my lovely girlfriend received this handwritten note, along with an elaborately crafted key. The contents of the mysterious letter are included, transcribed here:

Page one of this horror.
Page one of this horror.

 

Page two, unveiling.
Page two, unveiling.

Dear Shereena,

I hope that this letter finds you well. It is a matter of some importance that I illuminate for you some of the unusual happenings throughout this otherwise peaceful town. Recently, as the nights have grown longer, a series of strange events have begun to plague our beautiful city. As you know, not only do our friends not seem to see the shadows lurking, but indeed they even seem to welcome them! Imagine! What moxy. But certainly, I digress. Each of these events has come in triplets. Three of three. I don’t need to tell you of the importance of such a coincidence. It would surely seem unremarkable to an untrained eye, but I suspect that you understand. A woman of unique vision in these matters!

With that, I entrust to you this key. If all goes to prophecy, there will without question be a moment of unrelenting horror lurking above the peoples of this and nearby counties, and in the future, as seemingly distant as our interstellar neighbors, a door must be opened. It seems that at long last I have uncovered the key for just that door! Keep this near to your heart; a strange and bitter darkness moves between the stars. Restless. Eager.

It is dangerous to go alone. Take this key.

The key to unlock "The Door."
The key to unlock “The Door.”

 

The key. What door does it unlock? What horror is it hiding? Where will this strange adventure take us?

Weekly Movie Watch List!

I watch a lot of movies. Here’s a selection from this week’s viewing. These are either in theater, on Netflix, or Red Box. These aren’t reviews or anything, just thoughts. Please comment with opinions, questions, or suggestions! I am always looking for something new to watch!

RWBY was pretty fantastic
RWBY was pretty fantastic

RWBY

This one had a lot of recommendations coming from my Facebook friend list. Everyone’s advice was solid: The animation is a bit rough, but the dialog, story, voice acting, and combat sequences are worth it. Totally true! Some of the best characters I’ve seen in anime in a while!

 

Divergent improved with a second viewing.
Divergent improved with a second viewing.

Divergent

Revisited Divergent on DVD at the suggestion of a friend. They assured me I’d enjoy it more this time around. Now, I didn’t dislike it before, but I think coming back to it really helped me appreciate it. It’s not like there’s a lot of subtlety to catch with a second viewing, but getting away from the young adult hype really helped.

 

Magic Mike on Skates? Meh.
Magic Mike on Skates? Meh.

Jupiter Ascending.

It’s pretty much what I thought: Magic Mike on Skates in Space. It’s not that it was an absolutely terrible film or anything, it just felt like they wrote a sci-fi romance, but filmed an action movie instead. Pair that with the overt anti-capitalist, pro proletariat message, and you have a really, really confused film trying to say important things.

 

Seventh Son was solid fantasy.
Seventh Son was solid fantasy.

Seventh Son

Not one of those out-of-the-park experiences you sometimes have with casts like that, but it totally fed my inner child’s love of 80s sword-and-board fantasy movies. It was pretty fun overall, and did a good job at what it set out to do.

 

Chef. Now I want a cubano. Damnit.
Chef. Now I want a cubano. Damnit.

Chef

I live in a foodie town, so it’s no surprise that this came highly recommended. It lived up to the hype, for me. Pretty good drama centering around a guy that has difficulties with his relationships, but ultimately has to make it all work. I would describe it as a modern restaurant fairy tale.

 

Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

I don’t know why I like this franchise as much as I do, but I do. This film finally started to tie the other disparate movies together. The background mysteries and lore are starting to come into focus.

 

Holy crap old people are scary.
Holy crap old people are scary.

The Taking of Deborah Logan

Old ladies are fucking terrifying. No joke. This was sitting in my Netflix Graveyard for a while and I finally got to check it out. Holy shit! Pretty cool premise, documenting what appears to be a battle with alzheimer’s and ends up being something much worse.

 

Wick
Wick

John Wick

This might be one of my favorite movies so far this year. The action was solid, the fight sequences were excellent, the gunplay was great. The story didn’t try to reach too far, or deliver too short. Solid, stylistic action film.

2015 is going to be completely insane.

I just finished up the early 2015 planning session for Open Form Games. Our 2015 strategy is a pretty aggressive release schedule of episodic games. The general goal is about a release per month, give or take. Let me introduce you to the first round of games!

 

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The third installment of the Xamalga series, we are making it 3d and an MMO. Everyone collaborates to take down Xamalga as it makes its way to destroy Earth. Players progress through “sector space,” transmitting their consciousness to remote battle groups through a system called the Xamalga Defense Array.

 

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Data Burst is a cyberpunk inspired episode of the Vegas Prime Retrograde series. In Data Burst, the player discovers the background for VPR’s main heroes, while competing with an opponent hacker to collect data bundles deposited around Vegas Prime.

 

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The Gatherer is the first episode in the Transmission Alpha series. You play a deep space resource miner, called a Gatherer, as you gather resources from the surface of a once living planet. While you gather resources to sell at Vegas Prime, you explore the remnants of a dead civilization, experiencing the final thoughts as they prepared for the end of their culture.

 

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You play rock and roll badass E.V. as she battles swarms of evil robots, collecting mojo to summon her giant robotic counterpart Jett to do battle with various grotesque kaiju bosses. E.V. and her band battle through gritty city streets, evil volcano lairs, moon bases, and crazy martian landscapes, as the thwart the evil Dr. Badstuff.

 

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The player navigates a nightmarish dream state, as they look for clues as to the nature and reason for the tragic disappearance of Clara Moore. The tone of the game is driven by a sense of mystery, exploration, and malaise.

Retro-Gaming: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness

TMNT coverOne of my favorite RPG discoveries was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. Before stumbling upon this game, I had only really been exposed to the 1990 film and the subsequent tv show. For me, this game gave the otherwise cartoony franchise teeth and made them cool, ultimately pushing me toward discovering what would become one of my all-time favorite comic book series. Like most games based on other licensed media, though, it had some flaws.

Palladium’s Megaversal System

I didn’t really like this system very much. It felt heavy in the wrong places and tepid in the others. The system itself wasn’t horrible or anything, it just wasn’t my bag. It was a little too detailed sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I like detailed systems, but only if they get out of the way of the storytelling. I always felt like the Palladium system tried to define the storytelling. I hated that.

Classic shot.
Classic shot.

 

Making Characters

Making characters in TMNT was probably the best part of the game. The universe supported so much creativity and variety that wild and insane mutations were still on the table.  The game had a huge bestiary to base your mutations off of, not just the classic TMNT staples. It also had a comprehensive list of martial arts and general combat styles to go with the genre. It went into detail in defining the mutation and how traumatic it was, opening the door for some interesting character personality quirks. You really got to create an interesting character that would be at home in that bizarre and somewhat messed-up universe. Unfortunately, character creation was so intense that when you were done, you were kinda burnt out.

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It was hard to get people to play.

Getting people to make characters was easy! But playing? Not so much. By the time I was trying to get people to play this, both the TMNT film and television cartoon were popular. Everyone had this cartoony vision of what a TMNT game would be like, but the game was much darker. Fans of the comic had basically already walked away from TMNT because of the direction it was going and the new fans of the franchise were there for something a little lighter.

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Retro-Gaming: Cyberpunk RPG of the Dark Future

Cyberpunk 2020 holds a special place in my retro-gaming heart. I grew up in a gaming household, playing D&D and Rolemaster, and all manner of board games. It was pretty great, for sure, but there’s this quality of discovery with roleplaying that a lot of my friends had that I just didn’t have; It was all given to me. It wasn’t until I played Cyberpunk 2013 at GenCon/Origins in ’92 (I was like 14) that I really found MY game. It didn’t match the tastes of my parents and it certainly wasn’t a family game. It was gritty, irreverent, sexy, and it spoke more to me as a genre than stuffy D&D.

Art from the Cyberpunk 2020 rulebook.
Art from the Cyberpunk 2020 rulebook.

 

Cyberpunk 2013, 1st ed.
Cyberpunk 2013, 1st ed.

The Rules vs. The Setting

One of the cool aspects of Cyberpunk that, in my mind, set it apart from everything else I was playing was the distinction between the importance of the rules versus the setting. It took the rules seriously, anyone who used their combat system will tell you, but it placed much more importance on the genre and setting. It was about playing a character that lives in a world where high fashion and “being cool” were currency. Where the street-smart setting was its own character.

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Night City source book.

Characters and Lifepaths

There was a lot of good in this system. Like, a lot. It used the Interlock System, which later combined with the Hero system to become Fuzion. Most of the rules were simple and got out of the way. It felt very complete. It introduced a lot of cool character ideas, like hackers and media personalities, and made them important. Probably the coolest addition was the Lifepath mechanism, which used dice rolls to steer your character creation to a meaningful, and generally rich character. A lot of games use things like this now, but at the time, it was pretty great. When you finished, you had a character that had a history that would directly impact the gaming group’s future.

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Hackers and cyberspace were important, even during combat.
FNFF was brutal.
FNFF was brutal.

Friday Night Firefight

The combat system, Friday Night Firefight, was a bit cumbersome. It was meant to be deadly, and it succeeded. It was well conceived, from a rule standpoint, but from a gaming standpoint it was just too heavy.  It was one of the things that I always stripped out and replaced or just fudged around. I think it was simultaneously the coolest part of the ruleset and the number one thing that drove people away.

I always opted for a simplified version – I used the base skill checks with crits and fumbles, and I borrowed from the Rolemaster/Spacemaster Arms Law style crit charts for storytelling. Combat was deadly, as intended, but didn’t consume the majority of a session.

What’s next?

Going back is a bit weird and whatever is next has to deal with that. Some of the really edgy technology and concepts are either common-place or a bit dated. Some of the world events were strangely prophetic, while some just weren’t as chaotic and horrific enough as real life ended up being. That’s why most of the updates happened, though, like 2020 and v3, to update the timeline. I’m excited to see the MMO come out, though. I think a lot of the cyberpunk genre narrative stands up… it just looks different, now. I think that’s true about roleplaying games, too.

Cyberpunk 2077.
Cyberpunk 2077.

Need Some Holiday Fear?

Tis the season where everyone is complaining about the campy, feel-good movies taking over TV and our Netflix queues. I like holiday movies as much as the next guy, but you can really only watch Love Actually so many times before things get dark. So, here are a handful of movies that I like that should put you in the holiday spirit!

 

Black Christmas (2006)

So, you can (and should) watch the 1974 film — it falls somewhere between remake and sequel. You don’t have to. I just happen to really enjoy Michelle Trachtenberg’s stuff, post-Buffy.  It’s a fairly traditional slasher film that was released on Christmas day and was less than loved by religious groups for it.

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Salvage (2009)

Salvage was a low budget horror film that didn’t have a very wide distribution. It’s violent and disturbing, and takes place during some type of emergency that has a neighborhood isolated.

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Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

If you’re looking for something a little more classy, here’s another slasher film for your holiday viewing pleasure. This one is a bit of a cult classic. It’s all about a holiday murder spree. Who can really argue with that?

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Gremlins (1984)

Dude. This might be one of the finest horror/comedy holiday films *ever*. It’s suitable for children and old people, and serves as a cautionary tale about not being an idiot and killing everyone.

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There are more that people love to bring up, like Jack Frost and Silent Night, Bloody Night or Christmas Slay. Most of those don’t really do it for me, though.