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Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode seven of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” Today I’m doing something a little different, I am going retro. Today I discuss Traveller, a space-faring RPG from my youth.
Traveller was first published in 1977 by Game Designer’s Workshop. It was written by Mark Miller, who has continued producing new versions ever since. The second version of Traveller is called MegaTraveller and was published in 1987. Traveller: The New Era followed in 1993 and then T4: Mark Miller’s Traveller was released in 1996. The current version of Traveller is Traveller5, published in 2013 by Far Future Enterprises. Along the way, other versions of Traveller have been released.
Steve Jackson Games released a version of Traveller under their GURPS rules. It’s called Traveller: Interstellar Wars.
In 2002, a d20 version of Traveller, called T20, of course, was published by QuikLink Interactive. And, in 2008, Mongoose Publishing published a version of Traveller simply referred to as Mongoose Traveller. It is now in a second edition published in 2016.
I give you all that just as a brief history. You can read more about the game’s versions at the Wikipedia entry linked below. I have never played any version except the first, now commonly called “Classic Traveller.” And today I’m just going to talk about the game and what I like about it.
The original ruleset for Traveller was published as three “little black books” sold in a box set as pictured here (along with some additional books). Those three books cover characters, spaceships, and worlds for adventuring. In 1982, those three core books were consolidated into a single book with additional material, and sold as The Traveller Book. I still have mine here. This is the hardcover edition. There was also a softcover that had artwork on the cover rather than the plain black. Obviously, I like this one much better. Especially since it has held up for 35-plus years.
This is a transcript of the above video.
Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode six of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” Today’s topic is villains. Specifically, the villains in the 18 films comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m going to rank them from worst to best. Why? Because I’m a geek, and ranking comic book movie villains is something I do to pass the time.
There will be spoilers for all the Marvel films since Iron Man in 2008. I am not including X-Men, Deadpool, the Amazing Spider-Man movies, or the unfortunate Fantastic Four reboot. I am including Spider-Man: Homecoming. Since just NAMING some of these villains counts as a spoiler, do not watch this video if you haven’t seen all the MCU films and don’t want to know what happens.
I am not including minor villains, or antagonists that don’t have much to do with the plot. I am also not including any villains from the small-screen MCU. (Can we still call TVs “small-screen” anymore?) Anyway, I haven’t watched most of the Marvel TV series, so I’m just leaving them all out. Yes, that means no Kingpin or Cottonmouth or the Purple Man, but, I haven’t seen all of them, so they’re out.
All right. Here we go. And, once again. SPOILER ALERT. You have been warned.
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Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is a episode 5 of my video blog, Go Game, Young Man. Today I am going to review Black Panther, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
No spoilers! Well, there will be some minor spoilers. If you want to know absolutely nothing about the film, stop the video now.
Black Panther LOOKS every bit as good as the trailers. Better, actually. Costuming, sets, cinematography...they all pop. The “nation” of Wakanda itself is interesting, a mix of a futuristic city (that is, essentially, the entire nation) mixed with tribal farmlands that protect the illusion that Wakanda is a third-world country. This gives the director, Ryan Coogler, all kinds of things to play with, especially in the final battle which looks like something out of a Tarzan movie mixed with a battle scene from Star Wars. It’s a heady concoction that really works and gives Black Panther a very distinct aesthetic in the Marvel universe.
Unfortunately, underneath all the glitz there isn’t much of a movie. The plot boils down to a documentary of an election campaign...a campaign for kingship and settled not by votes but by ritual combat. And it’s very difficult to root for either candidate: one is an ultra-isolationist and the other is a radical revolutionary. Neither is particularly sympathetic.
T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, comes across especially poorly, which is unfortunate since he is the titular Black Panther and hero of the story. Boseman can’t quite escape the cardboard cutout that is his character.
Michael B. Jordan fares much better as radical revolutionary, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens. He chews scenery like most Marvel villains, but, also like most Marvel villains, his entire story arc is a plot to take over the world.
In one of the film’s trailers, T’Challa says, “What happens here determines what happens in the rest of the world.” I’m pretty sure they cut that line from the movie, which is good. I suppose you can argue that Killmonger’s plan would have changed the world, but his entire plan is based on a pipe dream. Both T’Challa and Killmonger are constrained by the plot’s attempt to play at identity politics. But its politics are heavy-handed, and overly broad. Everything in the movie is based on an assumption that every black person in the world is oppressed, except for the Wakandans...
Suspending disbelief for futuristic flying ships that work on thought, or hovercraft Land Rovers, or energy bazooka spears is one thing. Suspending disbelief to buy into the fact the world is a caricature of reality isn’t as easy. Not that I disliked the caricature, I just found it lazy and rather bland. That is, ultimately, the problem with Black Panther. Underneath the visual sizzle, it’s just very bland. Again, we’re essentially watching a documentary on an election-year campaign. It’s kind of hard to make that very exciting.
And, those “elections” happen by ritual combat. And combat is another thing Ryan Coogler does not do well. The fights have way too many jump cuts. Cuts that are so jarring, the fight scenes are almost enough to nauseate you. They’re just...really bad. The lone exception is the final battle scene, which, as I said earlier, looks like a cross between Tarzan and Star Wars. There’s enough...cool stuff happening there (yes, mostly CGI) to outweigh the choppiness of the editing. I really enjoyed that scene, I wanted to close my eyes during most of the rest of the action sequences.
On the plus side, our two uninteresting male leads are counterbalanced by, perhaps, the best trio of ladies in any superhero film. Maybe any film. Nakia, a Wakandan spy and T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend; Okoye, general of the Dora Milaje, personal bodyguards of the Wakandan king; and, Shuri, T’Challa’s little sister and inventor/doctor/technician extraordinaire are all brilliant characters.
As my wife and daughter said, Black Panther is a movie with girl power. And it is. But it’s not shoved in our faces. It’s just a fact. Those three women are powerful (not super-powerful, but powerful), good at what they do, and willing to do it. The fact they’re women isn’t an issue.
Danai Gurira’s Okoye is, by far, my favorite character in this film and easily top five in the entire MCU. She’s fierce and fiercely loyal to the Wakandan throne. There is a scene in the final battle that steals all of the Panther’s thunder. It’s brief. It’s powerful. And Gurira’s acting is superb. You’ll know it when you see it. Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s “Q” is everyone’s favorite kid sister. She’s brilliant and energetic and just seems to be having a whole lot of fun. She’s basically Tony Stark without the alcoholism or grumpiness. I hope she gets to put him in his place some day. Make this happen, Marvel. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia is a bit more restrained than Okoye or Shuri, but is still presented as competent and caring. She is the early driving force behind T’Challa’s journey in the film, and can handle her own in a fight, when necessary.
Winston Duke’s M’Baku provides a bit of comic relief, but also a credible threat. You want to laugh at his jokes, but you’re afraid he might beat you up. Duke pulls off his one-liners and threats with equal versatility. Martin Freeman had a larger part than I expected, and I think we’ll be seeing more of him in the overall MCU. Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker were fine, though their parts are small. Andy Serkis steals every scene he’s in as Klaue. He doesn’t just chew scenery, he giggles as he does it...you just kind of want to like him, even though he is overtly evil.
Marvel has got a formula. And it works so well, they’ve begun to give filmmakers more leeway and their continued financial success--which, in case you’ve missed the news, Black Panther is a massive success--gives them the opportunity to try something different. Black Panther is...something different. It brings a freshness and vibrancy that keeps the formula from getting stale.
I know we’ll be seeing a lot more of Black Panther in future MCU films. I’m hoping we get to see more of Okoye and Shuri, those two would make any film they’re in better. Black Panther is definitely worth a look, in the theater. Trust me, you need to see Wakanda and that final battle on the big screen.
Thanks for listening. Be sure to hit that Like button and the Subscribe button below. Hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, links in the video description. Next week...I haven’t decided the topic yet, but until then, go game, young man.
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Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode four of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” I’m recording this Saturday, February 17th, and I already have my tickets to see Black Panther tonight, so you’ll likely see this video and my review of Black Panther posted to YouTube about the same time.
Speaking of Black Panther and movies in general, I’d like to make some comparisons between films and my favorite entertainment...video games. Specifically, I want to talk about cost, and the general finances of the video game industry.
You see, I think games are too expensive, and their expense is an integral part of some of the issues in the industry and with triple-A games, issues like the ones I discussed last week in my review of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Why do developers fill their games with so much fluff to stretch out the playing time? What difference does it make if it takes you 20 hours to finish a game versus 60? Or 100? The answer is value-for-time. The problem is, games aren’t going to win that “competition,” no matter what, so why try?
Here’s the basic comparison:
You go to a movie. It costs $10. You get two hours entertainment. That’s $5 per hour.
You buy a game. It costs $60. You get 20 hours entertainment. That’s $3 per hour. A better deal, right?
Sort of. Yes, it’s a better deal per hours of enjoyment, but you still have to pay $60 up front compared to $10. And that’s only compared to going to see a movie in the theater. Compare $60 for a game to $8 for a month of unlimited movies on Netflix, … and, games can’t compete on a value-for-time basis. So...developers pad their games. They offer 60 hours or 100 hours or more of entertainment because they: 1) have to convince people to cough up $60; and, 2) they are trying to get the cost-per-hour of entertainment down closer to that Netflix level.
And there’s where we start getting into the weeds. No matter how hard developers try to make their games a better “value” than movies, the audience for games is much smaller than the audience for movies. Let’s take a popular superhero film from 2017 as an example, Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman has grossed about 820 million dollars at the worldwide box office. At a (very rough) average of $9 per ticket, that’s around 91 million viewers. And that’s just movie tickets. It’s grossed another 100 million in disc sales and who knows how much from digital streaming.
The hugely successful Grand Theft Auto V, released FOUR years ago, has managed to sell around 62 million copies. But that game is an extreme outlier. Horizon: Zero Dawn that I reviewed last week and is considered one of the big hits of 2017? Less than 5 million copies sold.
True, not every movie is as successful as Wonder Woman just as not every game is as successful as Grand Theft Auto. But Wonder Woman was not an outlier. Four movies released last year grossed over 1 billion dollars. Another twelve grossed over 600 million.
To gross 600 million dollars a game would have to sell, at $60 per copy, about 10 million copies. The number of games that sold 10 million copies in 2017?
The closest was Call of Duty: WW2 at nine-and-a-half million. And I don’t know what the average amount the publisher gets from each sale, but it’s probably not more than about twenty bucks. How can a game like Horizon: Zero Dawn, at 4.5 million copies sold, recoup a 6-figure development and advertising budget?
And game development budgets is why I’m comparing the game industry to Hollywood. Triple-A game budgets are hitting 100 million plus, and I don’t think that is sustainable at the sales levels for even the “big” hits.
But, publishers can’t raise their prices. Not counting inflation, game prices have been static for over a decade. Factor inflation into the equation, and game prices have been in a steady decline. Add in the “Amazon effect,” where pre-ordered games get an automatic 20 per-cent discount, and games go on sale within the first month…Is it any wonder publishers are releasing collector’s editions and filling their games with micro-transactions, and pushing multiplayer where they can sell loot boxes, day one DLC, and every other method to try to boost actual income because individual sale units are not going up.
There are a few studios out there that are producing some monster hits--i.e. games that easily sell over 10 or even 20 million units. But most are scrabbling for every dollar. And gamers aren’t helping because, let’s face it, we’re cheap. As I said last week, I did not rush out to buy Zero Dawn until I could get it on sale. I paid 20 bucks for it. The current economy of games is not sustainable. We’re going to see more micro-transactions in games. We’re going to see more studios making mobile games or online games. The only thing we’ve gotten from Bethesda Softworks since Fallout 4 in 2015 is a mobile game and a MMORPG. Yay.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I would like to see big, AAA-quality, SINGLE-player games continue to be made. I want another Elder Scrolls game. I want another Fallout. I want another Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I would like a sequel to Zero Dawn. So, what needs to happen?
I don’t know. But, here are some suggestions, and I have no idea if any of these would actually work.
First, release games are a lower price. If games released at 30 dollars, would they sell twice as many copies? Maybe. I would be a lot more likely to buy a game at release if it were 30 instead of 60.
Second, reduce game budgets. Tighten them up. I would like Zero Dawn just as much--maybe more--if the game world were smaller. I would like Skyrim just as much if there were not quite as many things to do. Every extra, meaningless step-n-fetch quest; every extra square mile of empty space, is extra time and money on ephemera.
Third, and I really hate to say this, but it’s the economics of the industry, take some of the bigger side tasks, pad them out, and release them as DLC. Maybe an initial release of 30 dollars, followed by multiple 5 and 10 dollar DLC packs is a better model? It sure works for the LEGO games.
And fourth, and this one I reeeealy don’t want to bring up...maybe it’s time to scale back from “realism” and concentrate on content. It certainly has not hurt Nintendo to not have real-life-looking graphics in their games. Maybe that results in smaller teams to make the games? I’m certainly not wishing people to lost their jobs, but if studios close because their games don’t sell enough to justify their price, people are going to lose jobs anyway.
I know smarter, better economics-educated people than me are working on this problem. At least, I hope there are. I like small, indie games, but if that’s all we end up with...I might be going to the movies more often. Or watching TV.
Anyway, sound off in the comments. Hit the Like button AND the Subscribe button. Check out bettysterlingbooks.com for some...old-fashioned entertainment in the form of my two fantasy novels. And check me out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; links in the video description. By the time I record this, I will have already seen Black Panther and I will be spitting out some verbiage about that very shortly. Next week...I haven’t yet decided on a topic, perhaps something will suggest itself in the next few days. Until then, go game, young man.
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Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode three of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” You know, at some point I will must get some theme music and a nice title slide, but, for now, it’s just me.
I’m actually going to talk about a game this week. Specifically, Horizon: Zero Dawn, a PlayStation 4 exclusive title that came out almost a year ago, but which I only got around to playing in the last couple of months. Mostly because I’m cheap and waited to get it on sale during Black Friday Deals week on Amazon.
This will be a review of Zero Dawn, and may contain some mild spoilers. If you haven’t played the game and really want to go in fresh in order to be “wowed,” stop this video now. The rest of you may continue without fear of anything important being revealed.
I really enjoyed Zero Dawn. I think it’s a great game. The story is intriguing and would make a wonderful movie. The game is set on Earth hundreds of thousands of years in the future. Not hundreds. Hundreds of thousands. Humanity has almost been wiped out and has reverted to a very primitive state.
The ruins of “The Old Ones,” (i.e. “modern” humans from our near-future) have been almost completely swallowed by nature. The only remnant of their society are very large, artificially intelligent machines in the form of various beasts. Mostly prehistoric dinosaur types. There’s a T-Rex, and a sabertooth, and a giant crocodile...you get the point.
You, the player, take on the role of Aloy, an orphan cast out of her tribe and raised by another outcast. Your task is to seek information about your mother, and this leads you into discovering information about the Old Ones, the fate that befell humanity, and what is becoming of the world you inhabit.
So the story is great. There’s a lot of reason to keep pressing on to the next objective so you can get more history, and discover Aloy’s origins. And the world you travel in is quite beautiful. I’m showing some screenshots from the game, demonstrating the next-level graphic fidelity.
Note, I do NOT have a PS4 PRO, so these are the 1080p textures with non-HDR lighting and they are still wonderful.
Here is a conversation between Aloy and her adoptive father, Rost. Look at the level of detail in the animations and the expressiveness of the faces. We aren’t quite at “real” yet, but we are getting very close. The conversations and cutscenes are so good, I didn’t even skip through them as I usually do.
The game is also quite long. It took me just under 60 hours to complete the game, including all the side quests and miscellaneous objectives. Guerilla Games obviously spent a lot of time on the graphics, writing, and world-building.
You knew there was going to be a “however,” right? The game--especially the world--might just be TOO big. Once you get past the beautiful sights and the excellent story and acting, the gameplay tends to be very average.
At first, fighting the machines is fascinating, but there is just too much of it! Here is a screenshot of the world map, zoomed way out so you can see almost all of it. All of those animal figures are “machine sites” where machines can be found and regularly respawn.
As you can see, they cover the world, and that’s only about half of the actual places machines are found. Many of the sites where machines spawn are never marked on the map. Traveling around the world is essentially a giant, overland dungeon crawl with enemies around every bush.
After a dozen hours or so, I spent more time sneaking AROUND the machines rather than going through them. And, you do have to go either around or through because you get to walk (or ride) EVERYWHERE. There’s a lot of this…
And some more of this…
And yet more of this...
Yes, as you travel you open up fast travel spots and that helps make the game faster in the later stages. At the beginning...it’s a slog. And then throw in all the machine encounters as you’re hoofing it from one place to another...There’s some real tedium involved in those 60 hours it took to finish the game.
And what I’m finding in modern, triple-A games, is tedium is the currency being used to sell the games. Zero Dawn, Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, to some extent The Elder Scrolls...all filled with mostly tedious filler or empty spaces to make the game seem bigger than it really is.
Compare that to the Uncharted games that are very linear, not open-world at all, and can be finished in half or a third the time of those other games, but every minute is packed with story. I get to the end of Uncharted and feel, “Is that it?” At the end of these other games, it’s more like, “That’s finally it!”
Another issue that contributes to tedium in Zero Dawn is the repetitiveness of combat. There are two dozen different machines in Zero Dawn, but the strategy against all of them is roughly the same. Find their weak points using your scanner (called a Focus) and attack the weak points.
Often, those weak points are items that can be torn off with special ammunition. In some cases, as with these Ravagers I’m fighting in the video you’re watching, you can rip weapons off the machine and use its own weapon against it. So I guess that’s kind of cool, if you can survive long enough to pick up the weapon and aim it.
For some machines, you weaken the machine with fire, cold, or electrical damage and then hit its weak spots. This video shows the tactic against one of the mid-game boss machines. I’m heating the machine up and then using high-damage weapons against the exposed weak points.
And, while I’m talking about weapons, let’s “unpack” Zero Dawn’s inventory system. Like most games, you have a limited inventory. OK, I’m used to inventory management, it’s a part of almost every game I play. But, then, Zero Dawn doubles down and forces you to craft just about everything you need, like, say, ammo for your weapons.
You can see me crafting arrows in those combat videos. Since you have to craft your own supplies in the field, you have to carry lots of the materials you need with you at all times. Your inventory fills up fast, and the first thing you do is desperately try to obtain the material to upgrade your inventory capacity, so you can then carry all the other materials.
At low difficulty levels it’s not that bad. You can kill enemies fairly quickly and can cut down on how much raw material you carry to make ammo. At the Ultra Hard difficulty? Forget it, you go through ammo like Amazon Lightning Deals. My inventory needs increased by about fifty percent when I started a new game at the harder difficulty.
At some level, Guerilla Games must have realized they had painted players into a corner, so they stuck random merchants just anywhere on the map. Like this poor soul standing in the middle of nowhere so Aloy can sell off junk and restock with good stuff right before a big quest objective. Helpful. But...does break immersion just a little bit.
I know it sounds like I’m giving Zero Dawn a hard time, but...here’s the thing, and from a certain perspective it’s kind of sad...I EXPECT this from most games. Actual gamePLAY--you know, the thing that should be the core of a GAME--takes a back seat to visuals, and storytelling, and mo-caps, and...
Look. I’m a gamer. I’d rather play a video game than watch TV, and, in fact, that’s what I do. I have almost no conception of what’s on TV anymore these days. And I liked Zero Dawn. It is, in the end, a glowing example of game-making in 2018. I just wish, sort of in the back of my mind, that game-making in 2018 was a little more about the GAME.
That’s it for this week. Next week will be a two-fer. I’ll put out a regularly-scheduled video at the end of the week (more discussion about video games), and then, hopefully, get a review of Black Panther up early the following week. All dependent on whether or not I get out to see Black Panther over the weekend of the 16th.
If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to hit the Like icon below and Subscribe to my channel to keep up with new releases, which should continue at the rate of about one per week.
If you enjoyed what I have to say, be sure to check out what I’ve written. Go on over to bettysterlingbooks.com to get copies of my two fantasy novels. You can follow me on Twitter, @PapaGamer, and on Facebook and Instagram, both @PapaGamer66. Links to all in the description below. Until next week, Go game, young man.
This is the transcript of the above video blog...
Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode two of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” Even though I won’t always talk about games. I don’t know, I might have to rethink that title.
I want to talk today about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, specifically about Luke Skywalker. I can’t discuss Luke or his actions in this movie without MASSIVE SPOILERS! I’m going to put a large “SPOILER” warning on the bottom of the screen. Right about there.
Before I talk about the “new” Luke, I want to revisit the original trilogy, i.e. Episodes four, five, and six. I was eleven (well, actually ten, almost eleven) when Star Wars was released in 1977. And in Star Wars, Luke was the hero, Leia was his love interest, and Han was the sidekick.
A few years later, Empire totally rewrote the script. HAN was the hero, Leia was his love interest, and Chewie was the sidekick. Luke was the B plot. Return (of the Jedi) kept the same basic scheme. If you think about it, it’s Han and Lando who save the galaxy, and Vader kills the Emperor. Luke does exactly bupkis.
And then the prequel trilogy came along and rewrote the entire thing into the anti-hero journey of Anakin freakin’ Vader. Suffice it to say I’ve been...disappointed in all the movies since Star Wars. That’s right, I’m not a big fan of Empire, even though that seems to be the favorite of most people. I identified with Luke as the hero, and I want him to be the hero again.
So, fast-forward to Episode seven. The Force Awakens. We get just a glimpse of Luke at the end of the film and it looks like he’s going to be called on to save the galaxy once more. And that’s really exciting. I was truly looking forward to seeing Luke SAVE THE DAY in The Last Jedi.
At the beginning of Last Jedi, Rey gives Luke his lightsaber in a wordless plea for help, he looks at it, then tosses it over his shoulder.
There has been some angst about that scene.
I LOVED IT. Maybe it’s because I’m most of the way toward being a grumpy old man myself, but I totally get Luke. Let’s rehash what we know from the original trilogy, the prequels, and flashbacks in Last Jedi.
The Jedi order takes force-sensitive children--YOUNG children--and trains them for DECADES. Why? So they can learn to control their emotions, especially anger and hate, and use the Force for good.
The exemplar of this is Qui-Gon Jin. If he had been played by anyone other than Liam Neeson, he would have been robotic. He’s just so cool, calm, and collected. He displays emotion, so he’s not Spock, but he’s always in control. This is what the Jedi want.
So, the Jedi council doesn’t want to train Anakin because, at nine, he’s too old. But Obi-Wan trains him anyway, for a decade. And he still turns to the dark side. Jump forward 20 years, and Luke gets, what, a week’s training with Yoda? I mean, you can’t even call him a half-trained Jedi.
But, he goes running off to save his friends (which he mostly completely fails to do). He discovers the truth about Anakin. He does manage to turn Anakin back to the light, but, then thinks he’s got what it takes to train other Jedi.
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