Saturday, November 9, 2013

My RPG Person Profile (thanks to Zak)

    Zak over at Playing D&D With Pornstars posted this and I thought, what the heck, I might as well post mine.  It's taken me a while to get to it, since other things keep intruding on my limited brainpower.  So here's my profile (such as it is):

I'm currently running (at home): Pathfinder (intermittently, very intermittently)

I would especially like to play/run: The Dresden Files (Fate) - love the books, love Fate based on reading it, would like to try it

...but would also try: just about anything, once

I live in: Prescott Valley, Arizona (a far superior place to the blazing pit of Hades that is Phoenix)

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like:
Psionics Expanded and Psionics Unleashed by Dreamscarred Press - the absolute best psionics stuff for Pathfinder
The West End Games version of Paranoia - sometimes you just have to kill all the players while laughing maniacally
The Adept's Way supplement for Earthdawn - an awesome book of classes written by members of those classes, a great style of writing that's more useful than the typical story blobs (I'm looking at you White Wolf)

2 or 3 novels I like:  The Mistborn trilogy (actually 4 books now) by Brandon Sanderson, The Obsidian trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon, The Daylight War series by Peter V Brett (yeah, I'm cheating and putting series instead of books, but I read too much)

2 or 3 movies I like:  Serenity, Excalibur, Momento (and does that mix not tell you how crazy I am?)

Best place to find me on-line: my blog, I'm a Facebook lurker and would try Google+ if I had a steady internet connection (well, that and somebody to talk to :)

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's:  about hacking or house-ruling a system, I'm a born tinkerer

I really do not want to hear about:  honestly, I'm flexible, I don't care what people rant about, I'll just forget it if it isn't important or useful :)

I think dead orc babies are ( circle one: funny / problematic / ....well, ok, it's complicated because....)  any of the above depending on the game, though I tend to be on the dramatic side (curse you evil adventurers...)

Game I'm in are like:

Free RPG Content I made for Pathfinder is available here:
Pathfinder Feats by category and level-
Pathfinder feats by category, first level only-

The End Of Windows XP

    As we come into this holiday shopping season, there is something worth considering about next year.  On April 8th of 2014 Microsoft will stop all support for Windows XP.  What does that mean?  Well, it means no more security updates.  It means that the bad guys will have an even easier time infecting every Windows XP computer with viruses.  It is, bluntly, A Bad Thing.  If you have a Windows XP computer, which I wouldn't be surprised since it was a very good operating system, you really need to think about upgrading soon.
    The thing is, most criminals and virus writers don't really care about your computer.  Oh, don't get me wrong, they'd be happy to steal your bank account information and your credit cards and wring you dry.  But the biggest thing they do is infect your computer to make it attack someone else's computer.  When you get a virus, it is quite possible that you are helping to spread the pain and misery to other people.  You become, unwillingly, an accomplice to the crimes of the virus writers.  Security is a never-ending race.  Both sides look for every mistake in programming they can find, and bad guys exploit them while good guys fix them, both as fast as they can.  But when Microsoft gives up, when they drop support, so will everyone else.  Your antivirus program will also drop support, maybe a month or two later, but they will - they did when Windows 98 was dropped.  Without support, you are standing still in the great race, and you have no chance - except to hope the bad guys don't notice you, which in the always-connected internet age is kind of hard.
    Windows Vista users are a little better, support for Vista goes to 2017 - but even that is not as far down the line as it seems, four years can pass quickly.
    So, my point is, if you have a Windows XP computer, or even a Vista one frankly, it is worth looking at all the holiday deals and seeing about getting a new computer with Windows 8.  Now, I'll be brutally honest, Windows 8 is a stupid design that frustrates as much as anything else.  It seems like Microsoft can only design a good operating system on every other try, and this wasn't one of the good ones.  But it is safer, and it is supported, will be for quite some time to come.  If you can find Windows 7 it was one of the good ones.  If you want to jump off the Windows train, a sensible choice, Apple makes some great computers - they just cost a bit more.  Or, you could even take the plunge and try Linux, the Ubuntu operating system is pretty easy to pick up if you've used Windows, though it will require you to be willing to do some work and learn more about how to use it.
    What option works best for you I can't say, but as a computer guy I feel like I should start sounding the warning now to get people thinking about it.  There are more than enough bad guys doing bad things, we don't need to help them by using insecure operating systems.  That's your public service announcement for the day :)

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Homeless Nerd Reviews: Thor: The Dark World

At a glance- superhero action [this Thor is more superhero than god], otherworldly special effects, some good comedic moments

What is it?  Thor and Captain America were two Marvel heroes who I did not think would do well on the big screen (and have not in the past).  Thankfully, I was wrong and both turned into excellent movies.  Now, we need to see if Marvel can bring the magic again in the sequels to both characters.  We'll have to wait until next April for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but Thor: The Dark World opened today (or, well, really last night).  Once again we have the Nordic deity-turned-superhero ("There's no difference between us and humans... Except 5,000 years or so" as Thor and Loki banter in the movie) with his long-distance romance of an Earth woman, and of course evil threats from beyond time and space.  One of the things I like about Thor is how it is the vast series in the Marvel universe, it takes place across different planets and the furthest reaches of the galaxy.  That is a good epic backdrop for the scope that comic books have always had, but comic movies have lacked.  And heck, the special effects do look great.  This is where I'd usually comment on differences between the comics and the movies, but Thor was never really a favorite character of mine, so I honestly don't know his comic history very well.

The acting- We have a lot of actors reprising their roles.  Chris Hemsworth is Thor, and does a great job of not just the look, but the almost Hamlet-like brooding and semi-archaic speaking.  I think he has been great in the role.  Also great is Tom Hiddleston as Loki, back again to wreak havoc and illusion.  He has also managed to hit just the right note of multiple-personality disorder for the deity of chaos.  Natalie Portman is Dr. Jane Foster, and while she has a bit of the 'damsel in distress' in this movie, she also does a decent job of being the 'save the day scientist.'  She is watchable, but I really wish her character was defined a bit better than 'scientist love interest,' which is the fault of the writers, not her acting.  Anthony Hopkins is Odin, and Rene Russo his wife Frigga.  I do like that she has a cool scene in the film, though also a sad one.  Stealing the show to me are Idris Elba as Himedall, who may not have much screen time but manages to look awesome during every second of it.  And Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd as Dr. Selvig, not quite right in the head from his last run-in with Loki in The Avengers, also makes his limited time seem like more than it is.  New to the movie is Christopher Eccleston as our main bad guy (bad elf?), Malekith.  He is okay, the role is a slightly over-the-top villain, but not particularly memorable (again though, more the fault of writing than acting).

The story- There's a short into explaining that before there was light in the universe there were the Dark Elves (who must have stumbled around a lot) and they had an evil super-weapon the Aether.  They tried to destroy the galaxy of light to make it dark again (why didn't they prevent it in the first place, don't know) but were stopped by the Asgarians (Odin's father in particular).  But of course the evil super-weapon couldn't be destroyed (they never can) so it was hidden where no one would ever find it again (which is about 20 minutes into the movie).  Cut to the present where our love interest Dr. Foster is trying to go on a date and forget about Thor, who apparently never calls and never writes.  While she is investigating The Convergence, a time when all 9 planets/ galaxies/ somethings line up (which is always a bad time, never like a time of great happiness or merriment or anything) Thor is off policing the realms with his trusty sidekicks.  She stumbles across the evil super-weapon, he takes her home to meet mother in Asgard, and the evil bad guys wreak havoc, forcing Thor and Loki to team up, and ending with the final battle in London (nice to go across the pond since Avengers was in New York, still waiting to go to Canada for Alpha Flight though).
    There is a lot of special effects, and they look great, of course (a small city's worth of animators will do that).  The music was also nice, I thought it complimented the movie well (go London Philharmonic Orchestra).  There is plenty of banter and some good one-liners, to break up the action.  Not too many slow spots, it seems to move at a decent pace - for being almost 2 hours it didn't really feel like it.  My only complaints would be that the evil Dark Elves don't really look that evil, they look like deranged Kabuki theater performers.  And if the Asgardians have high tech like guns, why the heck do they attack everything with a sword and shield?  That's just stupid.  The mix of techno-fantasy doesn't always feel quite right, it might have been better had they picked one or the other.  Still, for a few flaws it works well and is very entertaining.
    This movie, being Marvel, has a clip after the credits, and like The Avengers it has two.  Once the movie ends there is a short animated credits sequence, then a clip that sets up the future story (points if you actually know what character appears, and I was surprised at the actor), then there is the long text credits, and finally a really short but cute scene.  So plan on sitting and chatting for a while after the movie itself.  One thing I hated when I was working at the movie theater was how people would wait for something at the end of the credits when for almost all movies there isn't anything - it made us late to start cleaning.

My recommendation- worth full price (though don't unless you have to), even if you didn't see the last one odds are you'll get this easily; if you've liked any of the Marvel movies so far, this is just as good as the others.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Homeless Nerd Reviews: Ender's Game

At a glance- science-fiction children go to war against aliens

What is it?   Based on the novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game is set in the future after an alien attack by the Formic (called the 'buggers' in the novel).  Earth is set to counter-attack the aliens, but needs a new breed of commanders, who start training as children.  This is a somewhat hard-SF novel, that is, it's based mostly on science and not thinly-veiled fantasy like Star Wars.  It is not really dystopian, but the future of the story is not a happy one.  And for being written in the 70s it has some fairly high-tech machinery like faster-than-light communication and Dr. Device, a cannon that disintegrates anything it hits.  This is a strange book/story, because while it is military SF, its protagonist is a kid.  Which may throw some people, who might not like it because "children don't think or act like that," but that's what drew me to the story.  As a kid I remember not liking most kids stuff, it was too stupid, it talked down to me.  I liked to read and watch the same things my parents did.  Transformers and GI Joe were entertaining, but you knew they were 'kids stuff' whereas Bugs Bunny was actually kind of smart and funny as well (only Bugs could do the 3 day epic Wagner opera in 8 minutes).  Ender is a kid who doesn't think or act like kid, which may make him more or less 'realistic' depending on your point of view about children.

The acting- Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin does a pretty good job.  His face manages to convey a good amount of emotion, which is vital since most of the story is really about what's going on in Ender's head.  My only complaint about him would be that he's too tall, a shorter actor would have conveyed Ender's underdog theme better visually.  Harrison Ford as Colonel Graf makes a strong appearance, which feels oddly out of balance if you've read the book.  In the book Graf only appears a few times, in the movie they kept all those times (and added a little), but dropped so much other stuff that Graf suddenly moves from background character to the forefront.  Jimmy 'Jax' Pinchak and Abigail Breslin as Peter and Valentine Wiggin have so little screen time that there's no point in rating their performances, another divergence from the book where they are just as important, in different ways, as Ender himself.  Ben Kingsley makes a strong showing as Mazor Rackham, with his Maori tattoos (sadly, only at the end of the story).  Nonso Anozie as Dap is actually the only character I liked better in the movie than in the book (book Dap is forgettable, movie Dap is cool).  Lastly all the other kids do a decent job for the little screen time they get, though Hailee Steinfeld as Petra has a much bigger role than in the book, and almost a teen-romance sub-plot that is totally different from the book, and almost (but not quite) works in the movie.

The story- When I heard that they were going to make The Hobbit into 3 movies of 3 hours each I thought to myself, "that's too long."  There just isn't enough material in the novel to support that many films.  On the opposite side, Ender's Game really, really, really should have been two movies.  If I had to give a one-word review of the movie it would be: rushed.  Everything just goes by too fast.  Ender is a Third, that is the third child of his parents, in a future when only two children are allowed to each family (presumably due to over-population, never really addressed a lot in the book).  After a devastating war with aliens, the planetary government is looking for commanders to lead the counter-attack against the aliens, on their own worlds instead of Earth.  Ender's brother Peter is brilliant, but vicious.  His sister Valentine is brilliant, but compassionate.  So the government allows Ender to be born, with a mix of empathy to read his opponents and determination to defeat them totally.  This is the core foundation of the whole story, and is totally neglected in the movie.
    Ender doesn't really want to be a soldier, but he is determined to protect his sister from the alien threat just as she protected him from the cruelty of their brother.  Again, not really used in the movie except for quick, passing glimpses.  Worst of all, Ender is constantly isolated- no one ever helps him, he has to look after himself.  Sadly, in the movie he is almost always shown with others, he lacks the alone-ness that made him push himself to be the best soldier, and later becomes one of the burdens of being a commander.  He goes to Battle School, a space station that puts kids in armies fighting in a zero-gravity game.  There he manages to outwit the bullies, become the top soldier, then create his own army, and become the top commander.  Which, in the movie, is about 5 scenes.  We hear how brilliant he is, and get to see him lead a whopping total of one battle.  Really?  Anybody can win once, Ender's power was that he always won, he was undefeated.  He starts as a misfit, not well liked by the other kids in both book and movie.  In the book he subtly and cleaverly manipulates the bully to break up trouble before it really starts.  In the movie he is belligerent towards his teachers once, and then all the kids magically love him.
    I know I'm doing a lot of talking about the book for a movie review, but I feel it's necessary not just because the movie is based on a book, but because it says a lot about the approach of books and movies, and the kinds of stories you can tell with each.  The unlimited imagination you bring to a book means that a story can literally put you inside the head of a character, seeing the world through their eyes and feeling their feelings.  But a movie, being visual, has to keep you at arm's length, outside and watching as events unfold.  I don't know why Hollywood hates the voice-over, which at least provides a little insight into a character while the action is happening.  Some of it is used here, as Ender narrating emails to his sister, but not enough.  This is a story about the inner development of a child into a man, burdened with the responsibilities of his intellect and actions and the society and people that use him - all internal stuff, which does not play well in an external film.  There are ways to do it, look at Momento, which for all the complexity of its storytelling manages to really put you in the disjointed world of its main character.  Sadly Ender's Game doesn't hit that strong note, and things just flash by without any proper build up for the pay off, and a lot of very good sub-plots that support the main story got cut out.
    So is this just another forgettable special effects extravaganza?  No, it's not that bad.  It has some emotion, some passion.  It looks great, the Battle Room is perfect, absolutely perfect (and then the final Command School setup is over-done, can't have everything I guess).  It's a little different from most science-fiction movies, which is a good thing.

My recommendation- if you like military- or science-fiction then catch the cheap show, and if you even liked just a tiny bit of it go get the book, it won several top awards for a reason.  Also, after you read the book of Ender's Game, read Ender's Shadow, which provides a wonderful re-telling of the main story from a different point of view.