Archive for October, 2011

In my recent pursuit of interesting podcasts, I turned towards something nonfiction given my recent gaming pursuits. Because of my abiding love of the country, I listened to a few different shows about Japan ranging from news to life as a traveler or foreigner living in Japan to the actual history, though of course there are more podcasts out there than one might imagine on any given subject, so the extent to which I have delved thus far is fairly limited.

However, the one I ultimately chose to download is called A Short History of Japan by Cameron Foster, who is an Australian teacher. The reviews both on iTunes and his Podbean website are all very positive; the latest review on iTunes for example is from someone with a PhD in Japanese art and history and they approve of the accuracy of the content and the presentation as it is easy to follow.

It’s laid out easily enough, detailing one small part of the history at a time. The episodes are short, usually about 20 minutes each although a couple are nearly an hour long. It’s only intermittently released every few months, so a listener will have to subscribe and check back later, but this is not necessarily a bad thing as sometimes the sheer number of episodes being cranked out for a given show can be a little overwhelming.

It delves into the myths and legends regarding the origin of Japan and intends to discuss on through the modern era I would assume. It begins with the Shinto mythology about the creation of the island and its people, which is of course very interesting stuff. Mr. Foster, as a teacher, has a knack for arresting the listener’s attention and speaking in layman’s terms so that anyone can follow along without much trouble. He also has a wry sense of humor that I amusingly enough likened to Monty Python right before Mr. Foster made his first reference to that British comedy group. He is very funny while also being informative and educational. I shared this podcast with several other people, who then also became interested in it and downloaded all the episodes.

To anyone seeking a greater understanding of Japan; to anyone wanting to learn a bit in some spare time (or while multitasking as I have as I’ve listened to the podcast at work); to anyone who would like a little enriching entertainment, I would certainly recommend this outstanding history podcast.

My friend Lourdes gave the most succinct review imaginable: “I wish he was my teacher! I can listen to this podcast for hours, over and over again!”

Guild Wars Insider

Posted: 2011.10.04 in Podcasts

This was the first podcast I listened to, and one of the two that I intend to follow. Of all of the gamer podcasts I checked out, Guild Wars Insider is the most professional and solid source of information for Guild Wars players, old and new. It covers all of the most recent release information for Guild Wars 2 almost literally as it is released via ArenaNet’s blogs and press announcements.

As for the technical information, as previously stated this is very well done. It is professional, features splendid sound quality and pacing, and most importantly the episodes are only as long as they need to be. Seven, the host of the podcast, does not draw things out any more than they need to be drawn out: he gets to the point, adds his commentary, and moves on. When there is nothing to say, he ends it; similarly if there is no new information, there is no new podcast. Of the 6 episodes out right now, the lengths range from 30 minutes or so to a little over an hour and a half. I never find myself bored with what is being talked about, and I am generally a mixture of amused, interested, and thoughtful in response.

Seven has connections with ArenaNet (the company who created Guild Wars), which is a very open and receptive game company to begin with. The second episode for example was an awesome interview with Jeff Grubb, writer and game world designer; future episodes will feature more interviews with other ArenaNet employees who are involved in Guild Wars 2. Seven also features other guests on the show with him from the gaming community, with whom he bounces information and ideas around.

Now, let me state that although I’m a gamer, I’m not a specifically MMOer. My first MMO (not counting the one hour I tried Everquest at my sister’s request before I promptly uninstalled it) was Guild Wars, after which I have only played a smidgen of Dungeons & Dragons Online (again at the request of my sister). So, I don’t have much knowledge of how GW compares to other MMOs, or even all that much about how it differs other than some general features. So, this insight from others who have played several other types of MMOs for years is really interesting to me and helps me to better understand what ArenaNet is up to. In particular, several episodes have talked a lot about the PvP (Player vs. Player) portion of GW2. I only had a limited amount of experience with PvP in the original game, just a few minutes here and there in the arenas in the PvE (Player vs. Environment) realm, and have not played PvP in any game actually as I tend to do a lot of retro gaming. So, the information about PvP for GW2 has actually started to stir up some interest for me in that aspect of the coming game.

Even if you don’t know anything about Guild Wars or Guild Wars 2, links to reference materials are found in the show notes, and a new lore segment will help even newcomers to understand what’s going on and why there is such excitement drummed up for all aspects of this up-and-coming game release. I would of course absolutely recommend it for any current Guild Wars fan as well. ArenaNet’s staff involvement via blogs, conventions, interviews and the like coupled with this podcast grant some really great information to people interested in any aspect of this game.

Watch Out for Fireballs!

Posted: 2011.10.04 in Podcasts

I recently delved into the world of podcasts. I know, I know, they’ve ONLY been around for years, right? Well, I’ve never really been a fan of talk radio, so the concept of podcasts just did not appeal to me. However, as I can’t update my iPod with new music due to my computer being out of whack, I started downloading podcasts to my iPhone just to have something different to listen to at work. Watch Out for Fireballs! is not the first podcast I tuned into, but it is one of two so far that I have decided to follow. It’s about retro gaming and is hosted by Gary Butterfield and Kole Ross, who also run other podcasts. To put it simply, they’re funny, informative, and not too geeky (a little geeky is just fine in my book! What fan isn’t? I geek out all the time ;)~). Some gamer podcasts I’ve listened to are simply the unprofessional, idle rants of fanboys who seem to really have nothing else to do with themselves, but this one is solid and fun.

The first episode is the one that caught my attention as it covered Mega Man X. As a long-time fan of the Mega Man/Rockman series and in particular a fan of the more mature themes of the X series, this piqued my interest. If it wasn’t for Gary and Kole’s selection of this specific game for their podcast I might not have bothered to listen at all. At this time there are only two episodes available, Mega Man X and Myst, both of which I have played. My recollection of Myst was rather fuzzy, but I remembered more and more about it as I listened to the podcast. However, I was really laughing during the Mega Man X episode. I have a special love of the world of the X series, as I’d actually done some text-based RPing in it, and in fact had even drawn up part of a manga based on that original storyline.

But back to the podcast! Both of the episodes share the same format:

  • introduction and intro theme music
  • synopsis of the storyline of the game
  • gameplay mechanics and components commentary
  • pros and cons
  • overall first and renewed impressions of the game
  • listener feedback on the game
  • contact data and next episode info

This is a solid format that I think works very well. One of the things I enjoy the most is when they reminisce about their first experiences with the games when they were kids, as I can totally relate.

The game that will be covered in the third podcast is Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth by Bethesda. I have not tried this game before, but two factors have determined that at length I will try it when I have either fixed or replaced my computer: 1) it’s Bethesda; 2) WOFF! recommends it. In just two podcasts, they’ve gained my trust insofar as retro gaming is concerned (although it seems a bit strange to me to consider a game released in 2005 as “retro”…that’s a personal opinion only though!).

If you like retro gaming, I’d definitely recommend this podcast. Not raunchy like some, nor entirely pristine and boring, these are down to earth people with some solid feedback to offer. They also have a Facebook page for those of you on Facebook.

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Posted: 2011.10.04 in Movies

This movie is NOT a remake of the 80’s films, and nor is it trying to be.

This retailoring of Conan is based more firmly in the original stories by Robert E. Howard, but includes strong nods towards ALL versions of Conan past. What I mean by that is simply this:

  • The story presented in the Nispel film is, as far as I can tell, original and “inspired by” the types of tales found in the original stories written by Howard.
  • The flow of the movie as well as several of the scenes are easily paralleled with similar situations in both of the films of the 1980’s.
  • The actor who played Conan, Jason Momoa, stated that he and the director and screenwriting crew all studied the original stories, comics, film and TV episodes, and so on in order to draw from the entire pool of Conan mythos.

My first impressions of the movie when I went in and the heads started to roll was that this movie was very much Conan. My knowledge of the various incarnations of Conan up to the time I watched this movie were limited entirely to the two Schwarzenegger movies of the 80’s. I’d never read the Howard stories or the comics, never watched any other versions of the story; nor had I played the free MMORPG, Age of Conan. Regardless, I got the feel almost immediately that this was Conan the way that it should be told: gory, lusty, manly, and straightforward. After watching it, I was inspired to read up on Conan canon, and in fact have been reading the original Howard stories since. And my first impression was correct.

This is not “Movie of the Year” as there is nothing groundbreaking about it. It received mediocre reviews across the board. Yet even so, it was so enjoyable to me that I watched it in the theater twice within a week of its release. Given that I rarely watch movies in the theater and the last movie I can remember seeing multiple times in the theater was Jurassic Park, this was a Pretty Big Deal. Additionally, despite the reviews every person I know who watched it, liked it.

The story is, as previously stated, simple and easy to follow. It’s got gross parts, and lots of fighting, and lots of flesh everywhere. It’s a story written by a guy, for guys. It starts with a lot of explanation and ends in an abrupt manner — yet this is exactly the way that Howard stories were paced. The ending always seems sudden, as if there is something else that should be said, but isn’t addressed. As a direct quote from Howard, this new Conan presents viewers with the character’s lifelong motto:

“I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.”

Yup, that’s about it.

One of my first comments going into the new movie was, “If there isn’t any camel-punching action like in the other two, this movie fails.” I didn’t take it seriously and didn’t expect to be dreadfully entertained; I was skeptical. But I got my sarcastic and not at all serious animal-punching wish as two horses were punched by Conan (one of those with a chain). And I was also amused with the story.

Now, the acting.

I will begin by saying that I HATE ROSE MCGOWAN. This movie pits really good actors such as Morgan Freeman (narrator), Ron Perlman (Corin) and Steven Lang (Khalar Zym) with mediocre under- and over-actors. Sad, but true. Now, the whole thing really was carried for me by the good actors, and I could handle most of the mediocre actors other than Rose McGowan, who just entirely grated on my nerves. For someone playing an evil witch villainess, she sure had a squeaky, annoying voice…and most of the time she was entirely over-acting.

But what about Conan? Jason Momoa presented a very different sort of Conan than that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both are, in my opinion, very valid versions as they both capture some of the essential nature of the character created by Robert E. Howard. Schwarzenegger’s version is the more lighthearted adventurer, whereas Momoa’s is the sullen, dangerous lion. Howard’s character was a mixture of both extremes and infectiously likable, so I can’t find fault with either version. Momoa for his part specifically trained to have a leaner look than Schwarzenegger, and studied the way that lions move in order to better become the character. One of my friends, Kane, said it best: “Momoa IS Conan.” Yes, he is. And so is Schwarzenegger.

I will be reviewing the original stories once I finish reading them in their entirety. Also once I replace my computer I will be trying the Age of Conan MMO. But for now, I will say that while not stellar, if you enjoyed the first Conan movies, you will likely enjoy this one as well.