Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One of these (Batmen) is not like the other

I have finally had a chance to see a preview of Cartoon Networks upcoming Batman: The Brave & the Bold animated series.  Much like the comic series it was named after, the premise is showcasing Batman teaming up with various other superheroes.  Plastic Man, Blue Beetle (Jamie Reyes version), and Green Arrow (with a Golden Age look) all make appearances in the preview.

What surprised me most is the tone.  This is not the brooding Batman, tormented by his parents death that we have seen in most modern adaptations of the character.  Rather, it is Batman as costumed adventurer.  The art and tone seem much more reminiscent of the light-hearted Batman of the 1950s-60s than of today.

Or to put it another way, there is more Adam West than Christian Bale in this Batman.

While I have to admit I tend to like my Batman a bit more on the grim and gritty side, I actually want to applaud the creators of the new series for going in a different direction.  While I loved The Dark Knight, it wasn't and appropriate movie for kids.  Even worse, the kid-focused merchandising seemed as out of place as marketing a line of Godfather toys to eight-year olds.

Plus, bringing back Kite-Man?  Now that is just pure genius!


Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Requiem for a RoboCop?

Rebooting long running movie franchises seems to be all the rage nowadays.  Some recent examples include Batman Begins and Casino Royale.  The concept of the franchise reboot makes perfect sense from the point of view of a Hollywood Studio:  It keeps the name recognition advantage of a sequel, but is friendly to new viewer who doesn't need to be familiar with the continuity of the previous films.  It also avoids the pitfalls of a prequel, where the slightest variation from established "facts" can send fans into a tizzy.

Nevertheless, I was somewhat surprised to hear that a RoboCop reboot was in the works for 2010.  I was even more surprised to hear that Darren Aronofsky had been tapped to direct the project.

Darren Aronofsky is the director of Pi and Requiem for a Dream.  I loved Pi, a film that is better understood by viewing than any summary I could give here.  Suffice it to say it involves mathematics, stockbrokers, Hasidic Jews, Gematria, and the name of God.  Besides being a good movie by its own right, it should have been required viewing for anyone who played Mage: The Ascension.

I wasn't as big a fan of Requiem for a Dream, but not because it was a bad movie.  Aronofsky did an amazing job of directing the film.  The imagery he used to portray addiction in the film was horrific.  I have to admit I had some difficulty sleeping after seeing the film, which is probably I haven't seen it nearly as many times as I have Pi.

I guess this is a long way to get around to the question: What kind of film is Aronofsky going to turn RoboCop into?  I have to admit to having a soft-spot for the original RoboCop.  Yes, I know it was cheesy.  But it was kind of a fun movie that was also an enjoyable light satire.  I am guessing "cheesy light satire" is probably not the kind of movie Aronofsky is going to make.

Still, I am a big fan of Aronofsky's work.  I also have to admit that Batman Begins and Casino Royale both prove that the reboot concept can work.  So I am definitely looking forward to seeing what Aronofsky's take is on RoboCop.

I just hope it doesn't give me nightmares.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Because a real post would take too long

I stumbled across this on YouTube and thought it was pretty funny.  I was especially glad to see my two favorite muppets make a cameo appearance.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Random Reviews: The Dark Knight

Considering that this movie broke the record for opening weekend box office gross, you probably don't need me to tell you to see it.  Still, I figure I should tell you what I liked about it in as spoiler-free a manner as possible.

Why so serious?First, I liked this movie's take on the Joker.  A whole lot of people have talked about how this Joker is the ultimate force of chaos.  That he is an anarchist with no fear because he has nothing that wants other than to "watch it all burn".  This is all true, but it doesn't get at the heart of why I liked him.

I liked him because of the sadistic social experiments he performs throughout the movie.  Throughout the movie Batman is stymied in figuring out what the Joker wants, but what the Joker wants is obvious.  The Joker wants to prove that when it comes down to it, everyone is as bad as he is.  That civilization is a thin veneer which can easily be peeled away with just the slightest amount of pressure.

The Joker would have no problem killing your mother or your wife in front of your eyes, but given the choice he would rather get you to do the deed.  Especially if you had to choose between them.  Especially if the game was rigged so that you would lose everything anyway after you made your choice.

To quote Alan Moore from The Killing Joke, the Joker believes that the only difference between you and him "is one bad day".

Aaron Eckhart's performance as Harvey Dent was also a lot of fun.  While most of the press is justifiably talking about Heath Ledger's scene stealing performance as the Joker, Harvey Dent's character is the most dynamic in the movie.  The Joker is less a person then a force of nature.  Harvey Dent is a man who finds himself having to cross lines he never thought he would cross.  The Joker has nothing to lose, while Harvey Dent loses more than he though possible.  Aaron Eckhart takes us through this character arc so effortlessly that it is easy to overlook how good his performance is.

Of course, Harvey Dent's journey is just a dramatic echo for the journey Batman undertakes.  There is a thin line that separates Batman from the villains he fights.  At many points in the movie he walks right up to that line.  In some cases, he crosses it.  Despite all of this, his "victory" is pyrrhic at best. This is the movie where Batman loses.

So if you think this would be a movie you would enjoy at all, I would recommend that you see it.  Its not "just" a good comic book movie.  It's a good movie.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Oh Lord. I'm half-horse and half-naked!"

I am a big Futurama fan.  I think it is highly underrated as an animated series.  So not surprisingly I have been picking up the direct to video releases Bender's Big Score and The Beast with a Billion Backs.

However, after watching the trailer for the upcoming Bender's Game, I had a geekgasm.  See if you can figure out why.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Random Review: D&D Character Record Sheets

In an earlier post, I questioned if selling D&D Character Record Sheets in an era of unprecedented digital tools for creating them yourself was even viable.  I saw a pack for sale when I was picking up my comics this week and on an impulse decided to plunk down $9.95 on them. 

I figured that if I got no other use out of them, at least I could write a review on A Hero Twice a Month.  Unfortunately, I fear that will be the only real use I get out of the D&D Character Record Sheets.

Before I get into the review portion, I should go over what you get:

  • One illustrated folder to hold your Character Record Sheets.
  • Two official character sheets.
  • Two "widescreen-style" character sheets.
  • 64 color-coded blank power cards.

So, going over these one by one using the patented "Dragon Orb" rating system:

The illustrated folder is nice, but not great.  The front cover shows a picture of an adventuring group fighting a green dragon on one side and "generic 4th Ed Brown" on the back.  On the inside, the right flap has the XP table for levels 1-30.  The left side has seven lines for notes that will probably never be used by anyone.  Honestly, another table would have been nice here.  So, what is the value here?  Well, its a passable folder with a nice picture and one useful chart.  3 out of 5 dragon orbs.

The two official character sheets are identical to the free PDF you can download from the WOTC website.  There is nothing wrong with these sheets, but since they only give you two, they obviously are expecting most people to photocopy them.  Since they provide the same sheet for free in PDF form, there is not much value here.  0 out of 5 dragon orbs.

The two "widescreen-style" character sheets are almost identical to the official sheets, except formatted to display the information horizontally rather than vertically.  This format is actually pretty nice.  On the other hand, there is really no reason this couldn't have been released as a free PDF as well.  1 out of 5 dragon orbs.

The 64 color-coded power cards are actually kind of neat.  There are eight green "At Will" cards, twelve red "Encounter" cards, twelve "Daily" cards, sixteen "Utility" cards, and sixteen "Magic Item" cards.  They are all printed on perforated cardstock.  If you use a soft pencil, they would probably hold up to numerous writings and erasures.

On the other hand, why hasn't WOTC come out with pre-printed power cards?  They could release a set with PHB powers.  Heck if they wanted to they could split them up into different sets like a "Fighter Pack" and "Races and Feats Pack".   When new books came out they could release boosters like the "Martial Power Source Booster".  It seems like it would be right up their alley, since they made their name in the collectable card market.  I can only assume these cards couldn't be made with a wide enough profit margin for the D&D market.  Otherwise, this would already be announced as an upcoming product.

In any case, as the only part of the D&D Character Record Sheets package I am considering using (besides the folder), I will give the cards a 3 out of 5 dragon orb rating.

So it looks like the average value of the D&D Character Record Sheets comes out to 1.75 out of 5 dragon orbs.  Honestly, unless you really want blank power cards, and don't want to use any of the blank or filled power cards you can find online, its not worth the $9.95.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Watchmen Trailer

For those of you who don't know, Watchmen was a twelve issue comic book limited series published by DC comics way back in 1986.  It was written by the legendary Alan Moore with art by Dave Gibbons.  Like most of Moore's work, it is a dense work laden with symbolism.  It includes a comic book story within the story and numerous text pieces which expect the reader to read between the lines and make leaps of logic. 

It has also became one of them most lauded comic books ever written.  It won a Hugo Award.  It even appeared on Time Magazine's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to present" despite the fact that it is not a novel.

When they first announced they were making a movie of it, I figured there was no way they can make it work.  Much like Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, I believed it to be too tied to the medium it came from to ever make successfully make the transition to the big screen.

To be honest, I still believe that.

Nevertheless, the trailer was interesting.  Visually it is stunning, which is not surprising coming from the director of of 300.  It has a very distinct visual style which seems both gritty and superheroic at the same time.  Oddly, the slick character design almost at odds with the visual style of the book, which often showed how ludicrous people dressed like superheros would look in real life.

In any case feel free to judge for yourself.  Apple is hosting the trailer, or you can go to the official site for more information.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

So why isn't this being released in PDF?

Wizards recently announced that it would be selling PDF versions of their products at DriveThruRPG.  While I still quibble a bit with them on pricing, at least they are releasing non-DRM Watermarked PDFs at less than the cover price of the physical copies of the book. 

(Well, at least its less than the cover price if you are buying your books from your friendly local game store.  You can still inexplicably get physical copies of the books from Amazon.com for less than the PDFs.)

Isn't selling Character Record Sheets so 1970s? So far they have released the three core books, H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, and H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth.  There is one product that is missing though, the Character Record Sheets product. 

Now to some extent the omission makes sense.  After all, you can download a free PDF Character Record Sheet from the WOTC website.

Still, if some people are going to pay for the physical copy of the Character Record Sheets, I imagine some people will pay for the PDF version as well. 

Of course it's quite possible that the PDF version of this product is on the way and its just not up for sale yet.  If that is the case, I would like to make a suggestion: Release this product as a Fillable PDF.

Seriously, that could be what distinguishes the free PDF on the website from the version you would buy off of DrivethruRPG.  I can't imagine it would cost too many man-hours to add fillable fields to the PDF.

Of course, it might be fair to question why you would even attempt to sell Character Record Sheets in a digital era where there are so many tools to make your own sheets easily.  Not to mention dozens of freely available sheets you can find on the Internet. 

But I suppose that's a question for another blog post.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Digital Deja Vu

Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) releases a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, making radical changes to the game.  They also prominently announce upcoming suite of digital tools that will make your life easier.  Quick question, what year am I talking about?

  1. 1974
  2. 1977
  3. 1989
  4. 2000
  5. 2003
  6. 2008

If you chose number four, you would be correct.  It seems like ancient history now, but when D&D Third Edition came out, every copy of the Player's Handbook came with a CD-ROM containing a sample Character Generator.  This Character Generator was only a preview for the soon to be released Master Tools!

Master Tools would not just be a character generator, but a comprehensive suite of digital software including a character and monster generator, a 3D map-making tool, and much more.  Like many DM's running a game at the time, I eagerly awaited these time-saving digital aids.

I ended up waiting quite awhile.  What I didn't know at the time, is that Fluid Entertainment, the company hired to create the original Master Tools, was running into bureaucratic red tape.  Basically, the contract lawyers at WOTC became concerned that the 3D map-making tools Fluid was putting into Master Tools would violate the exclusive contract that Bioware had in developing D&D video games.  So Fluid was forced to gut its own product.

This product eventually debuted at Gen Con 2002 as the E-Tools: Character and Monster Generator.  The reason for the "Character and Monster Generator" after the colon was that it was supposed to be the first in a set of E-Tools products.  Those never materialized.  Even worse, the product was substandard.  Fluid Entertainment seemed to have lost its taste for deal and WOTC was left with a bit of a lemon on its hands.

Knowing they had to do something for disappointed fans, WOTC saw a quick fix solution when they were approached by several individuals from the Open Source PCGEN project, looking to gain some legitimacy.  At the time PCGEN contained home-brewed data sets that contained comprehensive information about all the game books WOTC published.  The legality of including WOTC copyrighted data, even in a free open source character generator, was questionable.

So when WOTC and the heads of the PCGEN open source project struck a deal.  They would be allowed to legally sell data sets containing WOTC material.  But part of the deal was that they had to fix the extremely buggy E-Tools and support it for a period of time.  These individuals formed a new company called Code Monkey Publishing (now separate from the PCGEN project). 

Meanwhile, WOTC washed their hands of the fiasco.  While they maintained approval rights for the data sets Code Monkey Publishing created for E-Tools and PCGEN, they didn't seem to do much to support their "partner".  References to E-Tools on the Wizards website completely ceased.  It became obvious that they had given up on an "official" set of digital tools to support 3rd Edition D&D.

Fast-Forward to 2007.  WOTC announces the upcoming 4th Edition D&D will include a suite of digital tools that will make your life easier!  At this point I was hopeful that they had learned from the mistakes of the past.  In fact, all indications seemed to be that D&D Insider would be ready on launch! We saw previews of the Character Visualizer, Character Builder, Game Table, and Compendium. When June 6th came, I anxiously awaited to see what would be available to try out.

Well, we know how that turned out.  As of this writing, one month after the launch of D&D 4th Ed, only the D&D Compendium is available.  Since that is essentially a simple keyword search tool, it doesn't impress me that much.

I still maintain hope that D&D Insider live up to its promise.  I am a both a tech geek and a D&D geek, and I am always looking for ways to use digital tools to enhance my gaming experience.  I would love an accurate character generator to help some of the more casual gamers in my gaming group create and maintain their characters.  Because of time constraints and distance, my gaming group is often forced to game remotely, something a well done electronic game table would help with immensely.

I am the guy WOTC should be marketing D&D Insider to!

But I fear that DDI may become another embarrassment to be forgotten, shoved under the rug, and ignored until they decide to make a D&D 5th Ed.