Weekly Round-Up for 28 Dec 2014

Call of Juarez – Bound in Blood: I gotta tell you, this western FPS is pretty much the definition of railroading. Granted, so are all of the episodes in the Call of Duty series, and I enjoy those. And I do enjoy Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. The graphics are dated (it’s a 2009 game), and it took me less than 8 hours to complete my first run-through, but I love using guns like (according to IMFDB) the Winchester 1892 Saddle Ring Carbine, the Jennings .41 Volcanic Repeater, and especially the Colt 1848 Dragoon. I kind of suck at the gunfights, but I’m learning, and I actually enjoy the story. It’s got a lot of hardboiled in its spaghetti western, and I love those flavours. I’m picking up Cartel and Gunslinger, which are pretty cheap on Steam right now.

Commitment: Another fantastic South Korean action movie about North Koreans. This time, the hero is a very young North Korean agent, recruited from a camp for political prisoners (there are really more like colonies, with numbers in the thousands and tens of thousands), and offered freedom for himself and his sister if he does this one job. Oddly enough, part of this movie is a high school drama. It’s very entertaining with some great action.

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Late Weekly Roundup for 21 Dec 2014

This one’s a little late and a little light as it’s the holidays and my social calendar is filling up, however I’ve got a couple of things to mention.

Innes & Gunn Rare Oak Pale Ale: I was finally able to try this and I really like it. It’s not hoppy, which I usually like, but it’s got plenty of character with a hint of flavour I took for bourbon, even though the barrels in which it is aged are not whisky barrels. While a strong beer, this is by no means as strong as Innes & Gunn’s usual offerings. I’m a fan, though Rum Finish remains my favourite.

Rage: This is my new computer game addiction. I got through Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, and this is another post-apocalyptic shooter that was on sale on Steam. It is kind of like Borderlands meets Call of Duty in Fallout‘s post-apocalyptic world. It’s on rails, like Call of Duty, with fast past shooting like Borderlands. It’s got the shattered Earth of Fallout, except Rage‘s setting has hi-tech buried beneath the waste. The setting is not as inspiring as Fallout or Metro 2033, and it’s not as fun or open as Borderlands, but it’s got me hooked.

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1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

I really dig the idea of gaming in the time of the Trojan War and the Greek myths. Can you think of a better time for heroics than the period of Odysseus and Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece? Even historically, the era seems ripe for heroic fiction or RPG-ing because we know so little about it, and much of what we “know” can be overturned with a new discovery or even chronology.

And then there was the Apocalypse.

I had often read snippets about a period in time when all the major civilizations collapsed. The time when the Mycenean Greece collapsed into the Greek Dark Ages, to remain quiet until the flourishing of the Archaic period many centuries later. The idea of an ancient apocalypse intrigued me.

I remain intrigued and better informed after reading Eric H. Cline’s 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. 1177 B.C. does a great job of explaining what happened, some theories of why it might have happened, and why we should care. For me, this book was just about the prefect mixture of information and inspiration.

So the Apocalypse was not exactly what I imagined, though there is a period in which multiple civilizations either fell or underwent extreme hardships. And it is possible that there was some kind of huge disaster that cost millions of lives. We don’t really seem to know.

What was even more fascinating for me was Cline’s explanation of how “globalized” the preceding period had become. We might call this “known globalized,” because the networks encompassed the world known to the Egyptians – whose empire did go into decline, but which most certainly did not disappear. Trade was brisk and merchants travelled extensively. This was very much a period of cultural pollination.

Which makes the following period even more fertile for RPGs. Considering the general idea in something like D&D is that the world has points of safety and civilization, but is generally dangerous and that the world lays atop the ruins of an older, more advanced world. That’s kind of the post-1177 B.C. “known globe.” Those empires that did not disappear went into decline, and the points of light style campaign would work great there.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for an overview of the coming of the ancient dark ages. While the book is well-referenced – allowing a reader to quickly find a book or article Dr. Cline considers authoritative – it is also highly readable. This is much more a popular history than a scholarly work, and so is very accessible.

I give 1177 B.C. 4.5 amphorae of wine transported from Knossos out of 5.

You can learn more about 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed here.

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Metro 2033 Redux

I picked up the Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light Redux versions on Steam. I had both of the original games and had not even made it through Metro 2033 due to lack of gasmask filters. The Redux version has a Spartan mode which is more fight-y and less survival-y, and while I’m still struggling because I am just not a very good player (poor reflexes, which can be a problem because – as Jack Burton always says – it’s all in the reflexes), I have high hopes that while the monsters will continue to regularly kill me, my way forward won’t be blocked due to asphyxiation.

Metro 2033 is a really atmospheric game with an amazing setting. It has inspired me to pick up the e-book of the novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky on which the game is based. I’m a little bit concerned because I strongly suspect that while the setting might be cool, the story won’t meet the very high expectations I’ve built from playing the game. Still, I hope Mr. Glukhovsky gets something from that e-book sale because he deserved it for the setting alone.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 here.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 Redux on Steam here.

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Weekly Roundup for 14 Dec 2014

Mercenaries, Hybrid Armies and National Security by Dr. Caroline Varin: Almost all the reading I’ve been doing recently has been non-fiction, and I just finished this book last week. I really liked it. While it included a lot of theory, the history and analysis of the French Foreign Legion, Executive Outcomes, and US Government contractors during the Iraq War was informative and quite interesting. I have to say that I learned some stuff, and the author was refreshingly open-minded about what might motivate “mercenaries.” If you dig this kind of stuff, I would recommend this book for a scholarly consideration of the practice of hiring out violence.

Mercenaries, Pirates, Bandits, and Empires – Private Violence in Historical Context edited by Dr. Alejandro Colas and Dr. Bryan Mabee: This book is a collection of essays on a topic not dissimilar to the above book, unfortunately it was so enmeshed in international relations theory and so full of axe-grinding, I didn’t enjoy it at all, and can’t really say that I learned anything. Too much of the discussion was about theories put forward by other scholars that were obviously wrong and let me tell you why, but not with any level of clarity. If you are in a post-graduate international relations program, maybe you’ll get something out of this, but if you are and if you read it, the lesson I’d like for you to take away is: don’t write this way.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: This is the 1957 movies directed by John Sturges and starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. Now, Tombstone is one of my favourite movies, and I’m sorry, but not even the legendary Kirk Douglas can hold a candle to Val Kilmer’s version however this is a really enjoyable movie. The approach is more of developing the characters of Earp and Holliday as they become friends and slowly draws us into the conflict in Tombstone. Do yourself and favour – if you like Westerns and haven’t seen this, check it out.

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Weekly Roundup for 7 Dec 2014

Black Ops: This is a documentary series that the Warden pointed me toward on Netflix. It’s definitely in my wheelhouse, portraying specific operations of special operations forces around the globe. It’s refreshing in that it doesn’t just focus on the US and UK SOF but includes forces from India and Russia, among others. My problem with it is that many of the episodes seem to have 30 minutes of information spread over 50 minutes, meaning there’s lots of repetition. The re-enactments are also painful to watch, with very inaccurate weapons, participants, and movements. While I am by no means an expert, the tactics, techniques, and protocols of SOF are pretty well known now. Look at something like the Unit, Ultimate Force, or Act of Valor – all of those were overseen by serving or ex-SOF operators. Black Ops could have at least copied what it was seeing there. Heck, as poor as the portrayal was, Outpost: Black Sun did a better job of portraying SOF. I think they should have dropped the re-enactments and just go with documentary format, like PBS’ Ambush in Mogadishu.

Also? General Stanley A. McChrystal’s hair would never touch his collar. Never.

The Unit, Season 4: So speaking of the Unit, I got a chance to go over season 4 again on Netflix. I didn’t watch entire episodes. I jumped over the b-plots and pretty much anything “relationship” oriented. Sorry, that’s not what I want from a show like the Unit. Strike Back is horrible with its pathological need for gratuitous nudity, but at least those scenes are fleeting. The b-plots took up a third to a half of a lot of shows. I get that David Mamet was trying to look at more than the cool, SOF stuff, but I am really not interested in family drama. There are a shit-tonne of family drama shows out there, thank you. Still, most of the a-plots of Season 4 would have fit into Strike Back, and I think the Unit was a much better production with better action . . . it’s just that the Unit had so little of it.

I also found out that my Detachment story is not so original as I thought. I forgot about “Unannounced” from the Unit Season 1, but that’s pretty much the plot of the Detachment. Not that I’m going to bury my story, because they evolve in totally different ways, but it’s funny how our sub-conscious and memory can trick us.

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Dredd, A Review

I recently re-watched Dredd on Netflix in Canada. I was really looking forward to this movie when it was in production, but as is usual for me, waited for it to be released on DVD/blu-ray before I got a chance to see it. I really enjoyed it. I saw it on Netflix and decided to watch it again, and came here to see if there were a review. I was honestly shocked not to be able to find one.

I’m remedying that now.

Dredd came out about the same time as the Raid: Redemption, and though their stories are very similar, production schedules suggest that they did not influence each other much if at all. In Dredd, Judge Dredd is evaluating Judge Anderson, and during the arrest of a drug dealer in a high-rise complex, they come into conflict with the local crime boss, who shuts down the building and sends out legions of mooks to kill our heroes.

Violence ensues.

The plot isn’t deep, but I believe the movie does a good job of characterizing Anderson. Dredd is Dredd, and Dredd does not change. That’s important. That’s part of the problem with Stallone’s silly (but not absolutely terrible) adaptation. Dredd does not fit the Hollywood paradigm, so this movie had to made outside of that system.

Dredd also isn’t really the protagonist of the movie. I’m not a major devotee of the comic, but in the few I’ve read, this also seems to be the case. Characters that in other comics would be secondary, such as the villain or another Judge, all but take over the story. These characters have the arcs and the growth that is denied to Dredd, who is unchangeable.

Karl Urban, as with everything I have ever seen him in, is awesome. Yes, I have a bit of a man-crush. He does an amazing job of embodying Dredd – at least a Dredd that I can recognize. Lena Heady – from Game of Thrones – does a great turn as the crime lord and Olivia Thirby really delivers as Judge Anderson.

The action is fast and furious and there isn’t the reliance on shaky-cam common to movies that either think it’s edgy or don’t have the budget for a fight choreographer. The setting is fantastic. I really enjoyed this movie.

I give Dredd 4.25 Lawgivers out of 5.

You can read more about Dredd on Wikipedia and IMDB.

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