Wednesday, March 21, 2018

When the Zealot Has a Good Point

*Spoilers for Black Panther and The Legend of Korra*

As Panda and I were sitting through the end credits of Black Panther, I made a statement that seemed to throw her off just a little bit; “This movie reminded me of The Legend of Korra.”
Now I know what you’re thinking: how on earth does such an epic tale like Black Panther remind you of a children’s cartoon? Well that’s easy: they both had some of the most compelling, empathetic villains I’ve ever seen on screen.

In each season of Legend of Korra you have a villain whose end goal is hardly something anyone would define as ‘evil’. To give a very short description of each season: one is about inequality, two is about maintaining harmony in the world, three is the importance of individual rights and freedoms, the fourth and final season is about protecting and rebuilding a broken nation. (Mind you, that’s an incredibly limited synopsis of what I would argue is a much deeper show, but that’s another article for another time!)

Each of those goals sound, well, completely valid, don’t they? We battle inequality and the consequences of past inequalities to this day in our own nation. We are a nation that was founded on personal freedoms. If you take a step back, evaluate each of these villains and their beliefs, you find yourself going “Wow he/she kind of has a point.”

I found myself doing this with the mesmerizing Killmonger of Black Panther. He was so steadfast in his beliefs, so molded by anger, abuse and being the victim of a world that mistreats minorities that he became radicalized. Here is a man whose hurt and rage caused by systemic oppression was channeled into an end goal: become the oppressor. He wanted to give the world just a taste of the mistreatment his brothers and sisters had experienced at the hands of others for centuries.

And, truly, can you blame him? Just like the villains in The Legend of Korra, Killmonger’s end game wasn’t inherently evil. He wanted to use the technological advances of his nation to bring about a global change to better his people. To paraphrase a line said by his father, “Our people are over policed, abused, neglected and we have the power to change that, yet we do nothing.” Killmonger took his father’s rhetoric and used it to become a facilitator of that change. His passion and ideology made him powerful, but it also made him a zealot.

That, ultimately, seems to be the key to villainy: radicalization and corruption of good or neutral ideals. This concept is even verbalized in the fourth season of The Legend of Korra. Toph, who is trying to help Korra work through her trauma by reflecting on her past battles with her enemies, says “Don’t you think you could learn something from them?” Toph points out that Korra’s enemies were unbalanced and excessive in their pursuits. Their passion and strengths were corrupted, and that led to their downfall.

Korra learns from her enemies and even empathizes with them. It doesn’t stop her from administering the justice that she needs to bring, but it gives her a new perspective on the world. The same thing occurs in Black Panther. T’Challa almost seems hurt as he watches the sunset with a dying Killmonger in his arms. He realizes someone should have listened, someone should have done more for the man he has killed.

Then, like a true hero, T’Challa uses that realization to help the world. It’s a great message of self-reflection. It also makes you wonder: would the same result have occurred without Killmonger’s influence? It’s a chilling moment when you realize the villain may have been right about certain things. It’s almost like the best villains are just people with dreams and goals.


Friday, March 9, 2018

A Normal Lost Phone Review

Who is Sam?

            A few weeks ago I was browsing upcoming releases section of the Nintendo eShop and a game caught my attention.  A Normal Lost Phone is a mystery game with a simple concept.  You find a random smart phone and you have to go through it to figure out what happened to the owner.  The game has a six dollar price tag on the Switch so I figured it was worth a try.  What I got was a surprisingly complex story told in a new and interesting style. 

            A Normal Lost Phone was made by a French company named Accidental Queens that, according to the description on their website “seek to create games that feature new mechanics, exploring topics from everyday life and social questions, through innovative narrative tools.”  One of the things I found so fascinating about this game was the gameplay.  All you’re doing is looking through a phone.  No shooting zombies or quick time events, just browsing a smart phone.  That may sound boring to some people but I found it strangely comfortable since I spend so much time on my phone anyway.  You understand the story by searching the text, emails, and websites Sam has visited.  Many of the puzzles you solve revolve around finding passwords to programs that are locked.  Here you have to use what you learn about Sam to progress through the game and continue the story. 

            The gameplay sounds simple (and it is), but what keeps you playing is the story.  You feel like you get to know the people in Sam’s life through their conversations.  One of the problems with reviewing games that revolve around their story is that it is hard to explain why you should care about these characters without giving too much of the plot away.  I became hooked and constantly found myself digging through old messages to find the clue that would unlock the next piece of the puzzle.

            In case it wasn’t obvious, my overall impressions of this game are very positive.  The only drawback that might deter some people is the length of the game.  I was able to beat it in about two and a half hours, and I really read through all of the text.  If a person were to ignore a lot of the optional information then they could probably beat it much faster.  Even though the game is short, you’re not exactly going to break the bank the bank getting it.  The switch version retails at $5.99 and iPhone/Android/Steam version goes for $2.99.  In my mind, well worth the experience you will receive.  My final verdict is if you have a few hours to kill and enjoy games that require deductive reasoning, this is a must play.  Also, if you want to support Accidental Queens, there is a spiritual sequel to A Normal Lost Phone called Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story available on iPhone/Android/Steam.  You can bet I’ll be playing that tonight.  I might even do another write-up for it. 

-Big O

Saturday, April 29, 2017

International Tabletop Day 2017

Hello Nerd Corpers (Yeah, I need to work on that), Big O here!  Today is April 29th, but it is also International Tabletop Day 2017.  As our listeners may know, we recently did a tabletop themed episode of the podcast:

In honor of the day, I thought it would be nice to do a short write up of what tabletop games have meant to me.  When I was younger, I had a group that I played Dungeons & Dragons with.  I was still relatively new to the game at the time so this was a learning experience.  The person running the game was one of my best friends Mike, another friend of mine, and I didn’t know the other members but we quickly bonded.  This campaign was one of my favorites, even to this day.  The story I told on the podcast about the sleeping ninja happened during this adventure.  We met up weekly and this campaign went on for months.  This continued, until Mike died.  Something that still bothers me to this day.  Obviously, we were all very distraught when this happened.  We decided to honor his memory by meeting up and starting a new campaign in his honor.  This campaign is still what I refer to as my favorite of all time.  I can only speak for myself, but getting together with everyone and playing every week was very cathartic for me and helped me deal with a lot of very complex emotions I was experiencing.  I will always be grateful to those friends and that story. 

Today, I am celebrating the day by having some friends over, ordering some pizza, and playing a bunch of games.  I want to encourage all of you to sit with someone you love and even if you are just playing a quick had of Uno, just spend a little time bonding with each other.  Who knows, you might make a memory.  Thanks for letting me get personal for a minute and I want everyone to have a great day. 

-Big O

Friday, February 24, 2017

Halo Wars 2 Review

Halo Wars 2 Review

It’s been 8 years since we last saw Captain Cutter and crew aboard the Spirit of Fire in the original Halo Wars. At the end of the last decade, Halo 3 was one of the most popular games on the Xbox 360. Even after the Halo Trilogy had ended, it was clear that there was still a huge universe to explore. People were clamoring for a new anything Halo, and most expected the next game to be another First Person Shooter, just like every other game in the series. Then Microsoft Game Studios did the unexpected. They partnered with Ensemble Studios, best known for the Age of Empire series, to create Halo Wars, the first Real Time Strategy game in the Halo universe. Halo Wars was widely praised by critics for bringing an RTS to consoles and making it accessible to people who might not have much experience with the genre. On the other hand, many people bought the game expecting it to be another fast paced, action shooter game. After the dust had settled and the confusion dispelled, a community of Halo Was lovers kept the game going until the end of the 360’s popularity. As the Halo series famously made its transition from Bungie to 343, and from the 360 to the Xbox One, no one expected a new game in the Halo Wars IP. But now, with Creative Assembly at the helm, the Spirit of Fire is ready to renew the fight on Xbox One and Windows 10.


The campaign begins 28 years after the end of Halo Wars when the crew of the Spirit of Fire wake up from cryosleep. Unbeknownst to the events that have transpired since around the time of Halo 3, the crew expect to fight Covenant, except now the Covenant have been replaced by an even deadlier foe. Enter Atriox, a massive Brute, and his army of ex-Covenant who make their home on the Ark.
Atriox (center) and his merry band of Brutes

Playing alone, or Co-op with a buddy, you assume control of a variety of characters as you traverse the Ark to hunt down Atriox and his generals. In the each mission of the about 8-hour campaign, players are tasked with base building, learning leader powers and completing objectives like destroying enemy bases, rescuing prisoners and fighting super powered bosses.

The levels are short, only taking about half an hour to complete if you take your time. However, additional objectives can be completed by exploring every nook and cranny. Each level has a Skull, which modifies gameplay, and Phoenix Logs, which provide backstory. With a little bit of practice and understanding of unit types, even an RTS newbie can quickly amass an army and breeze through the story.

Defending this beach isn’t quite as simple as it seems

It seems Creative Assembly, has closely followed how Ensemble Studios crafted the Halo Wars’ campaign. A hallmark of Halo Wars was the jaw-dropping cutscenes that fleshed out the story and brought some small scale action aspects to a supersized war game. Halo Wars 2 features cutscenes which are equally as pretty and add depth to characters like Captain Cutter.

Halo Wars 2 features mostly the same cast of protagonists. Fan favorites Sgt. Forge and Professor Anders return alongside Captain Cutter. New AI, Isabel, replaces Serena, and the Spartan Red Team, fills out the major characters.

The story is standalone, so you do not need to have played Halo Wars 1 to understand what is going on.


Where the campaign does lack some replayability, Multiplayer is fleshed out with 5 game modes and various ways to play. The newest and most hyped addition to multiplayer is Blitz. Blitz is a hybrid game mode consisting of one part deck building and one part domination. Each leader you choose to play as in Blitz has their own unique cards which are played onto the battlefield by spending resources. Cards can be either units or special abilities that have the potential to turn the tides of battle. Once on the battlefield, units are used to capture 3 points on the map. The more points you control, the more score you earn, and the first to 200 score wins. What generally ends up happening is a somewhat a mix of skill and luck. You could play a couple devastating Wraith units, but unless you draw and anti-air Reaver unit, your opponents Vulture is going to pick you apart. Further strategy is added when supply drops fall on semi-random points on the map. Getting to these before your opponent does means you can play more powerful units and secure points easier. Blitz can be played with up to 6 players for some truly massive battles and mixing leaders can lead to some unique strategies.

My aircraft and vehicles made short work of my opponent’s infantry

After each game, experience is tallied and level-ups are rewarded with a Blitz pack. These packs have a chance of containing new cards which can be added to your deck, and duplicates add strength to cards you already have. Halo Wars 2, like many other multiplayer games nowadays, features the ability to purchase Blitz packs for real money. All cards however, can be obtained in-game.

Leveling up rewarded me with a new power for Atriox
The other Multiplayer mode which will get a lot of play is simply called War. This is a standard RTS match which can also be played with up to 6 people. Two teams, starting on opposites sides of the map build bases, claim resources on a large map, with the end goal of destroying all enemy bases. Just like in Blitz, each player selects a leader before battle. Each leader has unique powers which are unlocked for killing enemy units and building more bases. Active leader powers include dropping ODST units from the sky, calling Glassing Beams down on enemies, or healing rings to keep units topped off. Passive leader powers can help you build upgrades faster or give units additional capabilities. Picking a leader is more than just deciding which faction’s units you want to use. In Halo Wars 2, more emphasis is put on playstyles rather than unit combinations.

Upgrading infantry is Cutter’s specialty

Design and Music

New units like Nightengales and Blisterbacks have been added to the already large roster of war machines. Still, some units which were present in Halo Wars 1 are conspicuously missing. Where are the Hawks that were so much fun to use? Surely they should still be around somewhere in the Spirit of Fire’s hangar, right?

The Multiplayer maps in Halo Wars 2 serve their purpose. Teleporters, energy bridges, and mini bases dot the landscape. However, some of the charm and intricacies of previous maps such as Fort Deen are missing from Halo Wars 2.

Halo Wars 2, like all other RTS games, is meant to be played with a keyboard and mouse. Shortcuts are easier and setting control groups makes zipping around the battlefield a breeze. However, using a controller works fine as well. The game is simple enough to be played without any major problems whichever way you choose.

One of the best parts of Halo Wars was the music. Everything had a great theme. From the menu music to the victory screen, each frame was dripping with sweeping orchestral music. To this day, Spirit of Fire and Through Your Hoops remain as some of my favorite video game tracks. That’s not to say Halo Wars 2 doesn't have some great music. Songs like the Main Menu theme are catchy just as humm-worthy.

Final Thoughts

Halo Wars 2 serves as a good successor to the original. Even 8 years later, the characters and units are just as fun to control. Creative Assembly has crafted a game which stays true to the Halo and Halo Wars IP, while also telling a story that stands on its own. Multiplayer is easy to get into and hard to master. If you allow yourself to get sucked in, you will be thinking about new strategies and builds for hours.



- Reviewer played Halo Wars 2 on PC