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Spider-ManFirst, this post contains massive, I repeat, MASSIVE SPOILERS of Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 (GotG2), Wonder Woman (WW), and Spider-Man: Homecoming (SMH). If you haven’t seen all three of those movies and don’t want to know specific plot points, stop reading now. Go read something else, like my novel A Fine Basket of Fish.

You have been warned.

Second, I am sharing my thoughts on the three most recent superhero movies released in 2017. I am excluding Logan because it is essentially not a superhero movie. It is a dystopian sci-fi story that features some super-powered people. It’s a different type of comic book movie (CBM) and, while I appreciate some people like that type of film, I do not. Logan is dark, depressing, excessively violent, and I don’t even want to think about it.

SPOILERS begin here…

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In which I present a few remarks about the “press briefings” of the 2017 E3, a snooze-fest of game trailers, most of which we have already seen.

EA

Does EA actually need to hold a media event? Don’t their games just sell themselves (new FIFA, new Madden, new NBA, new Need for Speed)? I tuned in specifically to see the new game from BioWare and got 10 seconds of nothing.

Please.

Microsoft

Sea of Thieves, a new pirate-y adventure from Rare, looked rather bad, and looks even worse after Ubisoft showed Skull & Bones. SoT wasn’t the only dud, Super Lucky’s Tale and a few others weren’t especially exciting, but Microsoft’s game lineup was mostly solid. I finally got to see Anthem from BioWare and…color me unimpressed. What has happened to BW? They made a name creating narrative-rich RPGs and now they’re making Destiny rip-offs. I want a new Dragon Age or, yes, even a new Mass Effect, or something in that vein.

The big takeaway from MS is the Xbox One X. (Horrible name. Won’t spend time on it.) What is the point of this console?

Is it just a graphical improvement? If so, existing XB1 owners have no real reason to upgrade and non-XB1 owners have no reason to plunk down $500 large for this console when they can get an XB1S for under $300. Two-hundred plus is a lot to spend on a fancier graphics card.

But, is the XB1X more than just better graphics? Will we start to see games that won’t run on an original XB1? If so, MS just declared the XB1 to be dead, in which case they just told ~25 million people, “Sucks to be you.”

There’s also the nagging issue that all “exclusive” games to the XB1 are also available for Windows. Instead of putting down $500 on a console, you can spend $750 on a gaming PC and play the same games and keep your rig updated to run all the latest games.

I’m not feeling you Microsoft. I don’t understand your strategy.

Bethesda

Sorry Fallout and Elder Scrolls fans. Bethesda has decided it can make more money making cheap mobile games and selling mods for Fallout 4 and Skyrim. That’s pretty much the sum total of Bethesda’s 30-minute video sizzle reel.

And we’re getting a new Wolfenstein. I like the alternate-history aesthetic, but not my cup o’ tea.

Ubisoft

I’m not the target market for most of what Ubisoft is selling, but they might have been the best show at the show. They had one big hit after another, all of which look great if that’s your type of game. The only one that I’ll be likely to look seriously at is Skull & Bones, though I may dip my toe in the waters of Assassin’s Creed again for Origins. Mario + Rabbids game looks pretty bad to me, but I know a lot of people are definitely picking that up. Beyond Good & Evil 2 was a solid closer.

Sony

Sony just did a victory lap by showing us all the games they showed us last year. True, almost everything they showed is on my watchlist. (Days Gone is a notable exception. Can we all agree zombie games jumped the shark with Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2?) Also, a lot of what they showed still has no firm release date. “2018” is code for “maybe next year, but probably not until 2019.”

Their most interesting information was in the pre-show, of which I saw about half. I liked Knack and will get Knack 2. Undertale is coming to PS4 and Vita. (Yes. Someone actually mentioned the Vita in a Sony presentation.) What really got me was PlayLink, a platform for making games that use smartphones as controllers. I think PlayLink has a lot of potential, and I’m surprised they didn’t include it in their official press briefing.

Or, maybe not so surprised. This was an hour-long video sizzle reel, not a press briefing. I enjoyed it, but it just didn’t have to punch of previous E3s.

That Spider-Man gameplay footage was LIT, though.’

Nintendo

To a certain extent, Nintendo is just doing a victory lap as well. The Switch is a smashing success, and Nintendo has figured out they just need to make Nintendo games using Nintendo IP and they will sell consoles and games. There wasn’t much new in the Spotlight, just solid Nintendo games. I find myself wanting a Switch to supplement my PS4. I really want Metroid Prime 4.

What was most interesting was the complete lack of anything related to the 3DS. I suspect Nintendo is going to phase out the “handheld” hardware and put everything on the Switch, which is both a home console and a handheld. The announcement of a “core Pokemon RPG” coming for the Switch seems to confirm my suspicion.

Summary

BioWare is deteriorating. (Sob) Microsoft is confused. (Hehehehehe) Bethesda is…I don’t know. Resting on their laurels, I think. (Sigh) Ubisoft, Sony, and Nintendo are still making great games. (Yay!) If all the games announced for 2018 actually release, it will be a great year for games. Fall 2017 doesn’t look that bad either.

 

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Tale of Two Trailers

I was ten when Star Wars was released, and I saw it in theaters a bunch of times. (Those were the days when popular movies played in theaters forever. SW ran for over a year.) I enjoyed Episodes V and VI. Moderately enjoyed Episode I. Hated Episodes II and III. Got a warm wash of nostalgia watching Episode VII. I thought Rogue One was okay, but I like it better now when watched immediately preceding Star Wars. (I will never call it Episode IV.)

I said all that to say this, the first teaser trailer for Episode VIII is extremely boring. Here it is, in case you haven’t seen it…

Now, a movie trailer is supposed to do one thing and one thing only: sell tickets. Movie trailers are supposed to put seats into seats, if you get my drift. I already want to see The Last Jedi just because it is Star Wars, and now this trailer is making me think…eh, I don’t need to spend money on a movie ticket. I’ll wait until it hits home video. This trailer is actively UNselling tickets.

There’s nothing about this trailer that excites me or makes me want to find out more. Even Luke’s big ending line, “It’s time for the Jedi to end,” is a throwaway. We KNOW that will be said in the first five minutes of the film, followed by Rey successfully cajoling Luke into training her. Why bother “teasing” it?

What the marketing gurus at LucasFilm need to do is walk across the studio lot to their friends at Marvel. Just a few days before The Last Jedi trailer hit the interwebz, we got the first teaser trailer for Thor: Ragnarok. Here it is…

It’s OK if you want to rewind and watch it a few (hundred) more times. Now, the Thor movies have always been my least favorite (modern, since Iron Man in 2008) Marvel films. [1] I never saw Thor: The Dark World in theaters because the first one was just so blah. I was moderately excited about the new Thor (Jeff Goldblum! Karl Urban! Benedict Cumberbatch! Hulk!), but wasn’t really anticipating it. Then I saw that trailer.

Sweet Christmas! [2] I’m now thinking Thor: Ragnarok might be the most exciting superhero movie this year. The movie might be BAD, but that trailer is going to put me in a seat in the theater, and that is its job.

As a side note, I am a huge non-fan of the Zach Snyder DC movies, but the first Justice League trailer is moderately awesome and makes me want to see the movie. Not as much as Thor, or Guardians, or Spider-Man, but WB/DC has significant baggage with me that must be overcome. Here’s that trailer…

Yeah, I know, that’s three trailers, not two. You got a bonus.

[1] I have a theory that casting Natalie Portman as the hero’s love interest is a death sentence for a movie. Discuss.

[2] I know I’m mixing my Marvel catchphrases. Not sorry.

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doctorstrangeAbout five minutes into Doctor Strange, Marvel’s newest entry into their global cinematic empire, the world goes catawampus. People of a certain age will know exactly what that means. People younger than that will understand catawampus—perhaps too well—once they have seen this movie.

At about the same time as the world twists in on itself, Tilda Swinton, as The Ancient One, runs out of bubblegum[1]. It is at this moment, while Swinton out-Neos Keanu Reeves, that you realize you are in for a bumpy ride and you had best hang on for dear life.

Unfortunately, the movie then has to give us stock superhero origin story number three: rich jerk discovers the true meaning of life and also really cool superpowers. You can’t blame the filmmakers for this, nor even Marvel. It is endemic to comic books as a whole, where a half-dozen backstories are spread among dozens upon dozens of costumed crime fighters as though they are nothing more than soup cans lined up in rows[2].

Doctor Strange is saved from becoming a dull recitation on the responsibility of great power by the aforementioned visuals, which repeat themselves often enough to heighten your enjoyment of the film without lasting so long as to permanently scar your optic nerves. The film also benefits greatly from the scintillating performances of its cast.

It is, perhaps, fitting one of the themes of this movie is bargaining with the devil, since someone at Marvel has clearly struck a deal that keeps landing perfect actors. From Robert Downey, Jr. to Chris Evans to Chris Hemsworth to Scarlett Johannson to Samuel L. Jackson to Chadwick Boseman to Paul Rudd to Tom Holland and now to Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch embodies Dr. Stephen Strange so perfectly, he almost doesn’t have to act. His costars: Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelson, and Benedict Wong, are also worthy of praise. The one disappointment is Rachel McAdams as love interest Christine Palmer, but the failure is less due to the actor and more to the lack of a decent part. She tries, but her character could have been reduced to “sort-of-friendly colleague” and worked just as well.

Marvel has a formula for their cinematic universe, and Doctor Strange doesn’t mess with the formula. Why should it? The formula works. But it does one thing new—it introduces magic to the MCU, and future films will be all the richer for it. And it makes magic so slick, so eye-popping visual, you can’t help but want more of it. Yes, Marvel keeps serving us the same dish, but it is so good, and always just a little differently seasoned, that you should keep coming back for more.

[1] As in “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick butt…and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

[2] An Andy Warhol reference. Kind of obscure, and sounded way better in my head than it reads.

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Having purchased Skyrim Legedary Edition (part of the Elder Scrolls Anthology box set), I received the Special Edition automagically in my Steam account on Thursday night. Herewith some quick impressions of the graphic improvements accompanied by comparison images. These were taken on a comparatively old system (Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU @ 2.4GHz, 4GB DDR2 RAM, Radeon R7 250 w/1GB GDDR5 RAM). SE cuts my frame rate in half from standard Skyrim, but the graphic improvements may be worth it. I especially like the more saturated palette and the water effects.

Standard Skyrim (no mods) is the top image, and Special Edition is the bottom image in each pair. You can click any of the below image pairs for a full-size version. Note the full-size versions are 1440x1800 in PNG format and average a little over 4MB in size each.

skyrim01small

Helgen keep, first room if accompanying Hadvar. You can see the darker, richer palette at work here as well as more texture in the moss and rocks. Special Edition has a wider range of lighting as well, contributing to a more realistic look in every area.

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Here's how the NFL schedule works. There are eight divisions (NFC North, East, West, South, and AFC North, East, West, South). Each division has four teams, each of which plays 16 games. The opponents for those games are determined like so:

  • 2 games against each of the other 3 teams in the same division (6 games)
  • 1 game against each of the 4 teams in another division in the same Conference (4 games)
  • 1 game against each of the 4 teams in another division in the other Conference (4 games)
  • 2 games against the same place finishers in the 2 divisions in the same Conference they are not already playing (2 games)

For example, Jacksonville is in the AFC South and finished in 3rd place in their division. This year, the AFC South plays the NFC North and the AFC West. So 14 of Jacksonville's games are: Indianapolis (2x), Houston (2x), Tennessee (2x), Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit (NFC North teams), Denver, San Diego, Oakland, and Kansas City (AFC West teams). Their final 2 games are determined by their 3rd place finish. They will play the 3rd place AFC North team (Baltimore) and the 3rd place AFC East team (Buffalo).

Every time some NFL "expert" starts jabbering about this or that team's "1st place schedule" or "last place schedule," metaphorically knock some sense into them. A team's placement in their division from the previous year has very little effect on their schedule in the current year.