June 26, 2015

"Mario Maker" First Impressions



Last weekend I had the priveledge of demo-ing Mario Maker at Best Buy.

The Nintendo reps had their demo configured so in your time slot you could either ‘make’ a level, or play through one. Since I had a couple of questions in regards to game mechanics and small things on the creation side, I opted to ‘make’ a level. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I chose the Mario 3 theme, and made a basic underground level. It was a demo I was doing, so not all the features were present. Some questions were, if I’m building a level in Mario 3 style, but swap it to Mario World, will all the Racoon Leaves transform into Cape Feathers? Can I use Yoshi in game modes that he doesn’t appear in? Things like that.

Anyway, I was quite impressed by what I was able to do, and I know I’m going to be spending lots of the time with the tools available at launch. Heck, I have a few ideas [which you may find online once I post them through the game] I won’t do anything too nuts [I was never quite a fan of towers of enemies] but a few different things here and there. Mario 3 could very well be my favourite of all the Mario titles, so look for tons of levels with that scheme. In fact, when I was younger I enjoyed playing the Mario titles so much that I draw my own world maps and random ‘screenshots’ of levels I came up with myself by using colored pencil crayons. I don’t have those anymore, as I sent a good chunk to Nintendo themselves [no I’m not seeking credit, but I would not be surprised if some of those ideas got used.] Designing my own levels and being able to play them, and have others play them, is part of my childhood dream come true. I am looking forward to seeing how extensive, in –depth the creation is, and what will be available at launch. I can foresee some content being available in the future for download, but what or how much is guess-work.

Anyway, after I ‘made’ my level, I quickly ran through and beat it. If I had more time, I would have loved to made a level, beaten it, and played a level that the Nintendo Reps had pre-loaded. So, I hung out for an additional 10-15 minutes afterwards and watched two sets of people who chose to ‘play’ rather than ‘make’.

The game launches this September, to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Super Mario – the classic first game (but not the first appearance of Mario, as he appeared in a few arcade style titles on and off the NES before then. But, to me, it will always be the first Mario game); and looks to be an essential title for those who own a wii u. Whether or not it will improve sales of the console itself remains to be seen. I am also curious if there will be something free for the N3DS that allows you download / play Mario Maker levels on your N3DS. 

June 17, 2015

E3 Reactions



Wow.

I, like others, was disappointed with Nintendo’s recent E3 presentation. There were a few good surprises, but not quite what the majority of fans were looking forward to, or hoping.

The Legend of Zelda (on wii u) is that console’s most-anticipated title. It is coming in 2016 sometime (my money’s on ‘sometime in November’.), so that was a no-show. That wasn’t surprising though. Here’s hoping that Nintendo doesn’t drastically change the game too much.

There was no sign of F Zero, be it a new game on 3DS or wii u, or even an HD / remake.

There was no Pikmin on 3DS.  No ‘proper’ Paper Mario. Not even a Captain Toad on 3DS. The Animal Crossing game that’s coming to wii u is a spin-off. Basically, it’s not what a lot of people were expecting. Hopefully that won’t hurt Nintendo too much. However, Nintendo is great at announcing, and launching titles throughout the year, as well as the Nintendo Directs.  Some of stuff was great though, but nothing in the way of ‘pleasant surprises’; just further information at what was confirmed, or guessed at. 

In terms of actual E3 presentation and title announcements and the like, to me the clear ‘winner’ is Sony with their PS4 material. Heck, with Final Fantasy VII remake wins E3 in of itself. Other games were shown as well, of course, too many to list here. As much as I am a Nintendo fan, one can’t ignore how well PS4 presented so far at E3. There are a few Nintendo titles I’m looking forward to (both on N3DS and wii u).

And, no sign of Earthbound / Mother making a return.

Here’s hoping that Nintendo continues to do some great games well before the wii u finishes, which I don’t think will be any time soon.

June 16, 2015

"Game of Thrones: Season 5" Spoiler-Free Review


Wow, what a season!

I am of the mind that a TV show is best viewed once all the episodes in a season are available at once, as opposed to waiting for bits and pieces of the season. Yes, I watched it week-by-week [the only show I do so]. But this method of watching TV needs to stop.

All I'm saying is that some episodes were better than others, possibly due to this format. The season as a whole had great aspects, and twists and turns (how about the last 5 minutes of the finale eh?). There are some weak, and questionable moments. This may be in part to me being a book reader and scratching my head at some diversions. for the non-readers, I doubt anything 'huh?' will be going on. Dorne is so much better in the books, it feels like i could have, and should have, been much better.

I said this review is spoiler free, and I'll stick by that. This season covers mostly the most recent book in the series of "A Song of Ice and Fire"; A Dance With Dragons. The rest is taken A Feast For Crows, possibly the next book in the series we're all dying for (The Winds of Winter); as well as show divergences.

I am open minded when it comes to both the book series, and the HBO series. The 'missing' material from this season that many book readers were expecting SHOULD (Kingsmoot and the related material) (hopefully) be popping up next season. I am critical of some of the changes, but there is no doubt that from Season 4 onwards, the HBO series has begun to diverge drastically from the novels in which it's based off of. Take that as you will, but I am enjoying both for what they are.

On the whole, I'd have to give this season a very well-rounded and solid

 8/10

There are some pretty epic moments, but those are few and far between, and I can't help but ponder some (unnessary) changes throughout the season. The highest rating I'd give would be 8.5, but it depends on my mood, so a solid 8/10 it is.

Bear in mind that the show is in 'transition' - it is in the midst of changing direction and beginning to begin to head towards the end. Expect 7 seasons at the least, 8 at the very most in total.
The show comes on every March/April, but waiting for Season 6 feels like it may well be the longest, hardest wait yet....

June 15, 2015

Into the Unknown



Well, it happened.

The last episode of Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 10, marks the end of the published material being brought to the screen. Here and there, there could have been a few spots out of A Song of Ice and Fire: Book 6, The Winds of Winter; but the show is so different from the books now, does that count? George seems to be doing everything he can to get that book out before Season 6 starts next March/April. If the book is not ready by then, fear not: the show won’t ‘ruin’ anything. As mentioned before, the show is so different from the books at this point, it matters not.

Though it would be nice to READ ‘what happens next’ as opposed to SEEING it, no matter how similar it is or not. The show is going to last until AT LEAST Season 7. I’m hoping for a two-part season, like Breaking Bad and others, with Season 7 being two parts, of 7 episodes each; with the final episode being 2 hours long. No ‘movies’. Game of Thrones is a TV show, and it should stay on that medium. As of now, from Season 6 onwards, NOBODY will know what happens next. Those book-show analysis posts will vanish. Here’s hoping George feels that Book 6 is good to go before Season 6 begins. I’m fine either way, but I’ve anticipating the next book for a while now.
And besides: sure George may get Book 6 out before next year’s episodes, but what about the year AFTER that?

[for those that watch the show on blu-ray only, as well as buy it, expect Game of Thrones: Season 5 to arrive Feb. 2016, as is customary] 

June 10, 2015

Best of Beau's 2015 Winners + A Tease of Oktoberfest


Beau's has finally announced the final 4, aka the winners, of the Best of Beau's.


Here is what they had to say, including one of the beers which will be in the Oktoberfest. Take it away, Beau's.....

Beau’s Brewery has announced the selections for the 2015 “Best of Beau’s” Holiday 4-pack, which will launch into LCBO stores this November. Once again, Beau’s let fans of its beer drive the process of deciding what brands would be included, through online voting. The 2015 pack will include two bold, dark offerings (Screamin’ Beaver Oak-aged Double IPA, & Matt’s Sleepytime Belgian-Style Imperial Stout) and two flavourful wheat beers (Fous Alliés Mango Saison, & Patio Saison). Nearly 3,500 votes were cast over the past three weeks to choose the winning beers, up from 2,000 in 2014. This was the fourth consecutive year the brewery let Best of Beau’s voting determine which of the beers produced in the last 9 years would go into the 2015 Mix-pack. Here’s a summary of the 2015 selections, in the order of most votes received:
  • Fous Alliés is based on a classic, refreshing and snappy saison style, with an intriguing mango fruit twist.
  • Matt’s Sleepy Time is an imperial stout that has been fermented with Belgian Ale yeast, and aged on oak.
  • Screamin’ Beaver is an amped up version of spring seasonal Beaver River, dry hopped and aged on oak.
  • Patio Saison* offers up mild pepper-and-clove spice in harmony with both the citrusy zest of organic orange peel, and the floral aroma of organic elder flower.
[*Beau’s elected to exclude the 4th top-voted beer, And Boom Gose the Dynamite, from the Holiday Mix Pack, and replace it with a close second in the voting, Patio Saison. And Boom Gose the Dynamite has already been chosen for the Beau’s Oktoberfest Mix-Pack, so Beau’s decided to favour an ultimately wider selection of beers.]
The mix pack, containing 4 signature 600 ml bottles, will be sold for $26 in LCBOs across Ontario, as well as direct from the brewery, and through home delivery in Ottawa via BYBO (www.bybo.ca). The 4-packs are expected to be on the LCBO shelves in November, just in time for the holiday season.

How TV Needs To Change

I’ve often spoken about my dislike of the present state of TV programming and how it needs to evolve. Please note: I’m not talking the shows themselves, but in how they ‘brought’ to us.

Home phone. Cursive writing. “TV” [not the display unit itself but TV via satellite, cable etc.]. these are all things that are either not being used on a wide basis, or phasing out.

So what’s wrong with TV providers? They don’t change or offer any incentive to stay.

With the debut, and success, of streaming services (Apple TV, Netflix…) watching shows/movies has seen a great window of opportunity, as well as the next phase in how we watch things as well. Some providers have taken a few steps in that direction with ‘On Demand’.

Without ranting, complaining or telling you about ‘the wave of the future’ or other long windedness, I’m going to propose my ideal out-come for ‘the future of TV’.

When you load up Apple TV, Netflix, etc…you get to choose WHAT you want to watch, as opposed to WHEN. There’s categories: Movies, TV Shows, etc.  In those categories, you get to see which films and TV shows are offered. Best yet, if you want to find something, you can also search. So for starters, it’s primarily the interface I would change. Scrap ‘channels’, and have all your stuff laid in a format based on or similar to this.

Next thing that needs to change is ‘airing’. Unless it’s a sporting or live event (which is totally streamable, seeing as Apple TV has sports), a TV ‘schedule’ needs to die. If it’s uploaded to your on demand or streaming method, it’s there until the provider decides to pull it. Let’s take a look at one of the more popular shows, The Big Bang Theory. This show, like many others, runs from Sept – May, typically. Well, instead of ‘day X at Y:YY’, upload episodes each day, on day X [assuming of course they don’t do the Netflix House of Cards method and post the ENTIRE SEASON AT ONCE. Which is the way to go way to. Waiting one week for one episode is stupid. Anyway….] Keep all the episodes uploaded until at the very least, the day before the next season gets uploaded the following September. Having the entire show archived would definitely be ideal, and entire seasons uploaded at once even more so.

Also, commercials. This is a big reason for cable-cutters. If you pay for something, it should be ad free. YouTube is thinking of (or will do?) a premium subscription to eliminate (most?) of the ads. If you have rabbit-ear antennas, and you pick up stuff for free, by all means – load that up with ads, as getting the content is free.

Finally, the ‘package system’ needs to die. Try getting all the nature, or nature related shows and you’ll see what I mean. How about science? History? Sports? You don’t pick and choose channels (or shows) you choose sets of channels pre-assembled by some big-wig to get more of your dollars.

As you can see, I think very highly of the method in which Netflix and Apple TV (and others I do not know of) deliver their streaming content. If TV providers were to offer a similar approach, they will be fine in the long run; because I don’t see TV as is lasting another five years. Some people I know don’t even have Neflix – their TV is used as a large display for video games and popping in blu-rays.

So, now comes my ‘anarchist’ rallying call – HOW do we go about bringing this change sooner, sending them a message, etc? There are two ways:

1) Contact them. Write letters, fill out surveys, call them even. Let them know how dissatisfied you are with their service, or offer ways (some of my own or yours) to improve it. Because that’s all I’m really asking: is for them to change.

2) My favourite: if you have a bundle deal with one of them (let’s use Bell for example), compare the TV packages with the internet ones. If it’s financially feasible, and you live in an area that is able to support current internet, considering doing this: get rid of your TV package completely and utterly, but increase your monthly internet usage. Why? Because, Netflix, Apple TV, etc uses your internet. So, by upping your usage, you will be able to use it a lot more, or in the cases of those that have a TV package but no Netflix account, the opportunity to sign up for an account (the first month of Netflix is free, by the way.) Doing this, all the financial and statistical stuff will show that a lot more people prefer to use the internet (to perhaps watch shows) than selecting TV packages.

So, in a nutshell – remove your TV package, and increase your internet to allow for streaming of your choice. If enough people do this, the providers will take notice, and hopefully evolve their rapidly aging format.

June 9, 2015

9 Tolkien Tales


This post was initially written by Shaun Gunner of the Tolkien Society.

Since 2007's The Children of Hurin, many, myself, included, have wondered if that could be our journey into Tolkien's realms of Middle-earth / Numenor / Beleriand; barring anniversary, illustrated or deluxe publications of currently existing material. Here's hoping that some of this material could eventually get published, either as a compilation (Unfinished Tales: Volume 2??), or a a dedicated book.

Here, Mr. Gunner writes which could very well be publish-worthy: [source: http://www.tolkiensociety.org/blog/2015/06/9-tolkien-stories-we-can-only-dream-of/ ]

Tolkien is not exactly known for his brevity: The Lord of the Ring ranks with War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo and Gone With The Wind as the butt of jokes for its length; whilst Tolkien beats the Bard in terms of word-count. Without even including The History of Middle-earth or academic texts, the works of the Professor surpass over one million words. It may seem strange that I would wish for some more, but I do.
Saying that, there are only five main Middle-earth books: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The Children of Húrin. C.S. Lewis gave his readers seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia – a template that has since been followed by both J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin – whilst Discworld aficionados have been spoilt with 40 books. We, however, have to console ourselves with unfinished musings, scattered fragments, and contradictory passages.
Putting aside questions of Legolas’s hair colour, the wingedness of balrogs, and the exact nature of Tom Bombadil, let us imagine that discovered in a loft there were a bundle of original Tolkien manuscripts to be published in the forthcoming years. What would we like to be in that bundle?

The Fall of Gondolin

Although a chapter of Tolkien’s posthumous tome The Silmarillion – “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin” – is dedicated to Gondolin’s downfall, sadly the longer version of the story remains unfinished. An early version was published in The Book of Lost Tales Part Two but, at 50 pages long, it isn’t quite at the full length we would like, nor does its story perfectly marry the condensed version in The Silmarillion. Just as The Children of Húrin was published in 2007, a similar version of “The Fall of Gondolin” would be perfect; a glorious drama of love, treachery, bravery and war, The Fall of Gondolin would make for a gritty companion piece to The Children of Húrin.

The Blue Wizards

We know that five wizards were sent to Middle-earth, including Saruman, Gandalf and Radagast. But the only things we know for certain about the other two is that they were Blue and they lived to the east of Middle-earth. Tolkien changed his mind on their names, their date of arrival, and whether they were successful in their quest against Sauron. Precious little is known about these two wizards and it would be tantalising to hear about their personalities, what cultures and peoples they encountered, and what adventures they became embroiled in. If The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are quests surrounding Gandalf, just imagine what the Blue Wizards might have got up to.

Númenor

The story of the Second Age is dominated by Númenor and Númenóreans. But, except for Númenor’s foundation and downfall, very few paragraphs are devoted to describing it in detail – many of the Kings and Queens are simply names on a list whilst we even lack the names of Isildur’s wife and mother. All we really have to go on is the Akallabêth and three chapters in Unfinished Tales; entire millennia pass with scant mention. Do you know anything about the rule of Tar-Telemmaitë? No, me neither.

Mariners

Mariners and ship-faring have an interesting dichotomy in Tolkien’s stories. On the one hand ships are used as a powerful device at key moments in Tolkien’s stories: the Corsairs of Umbar, Ar-Pharazôn’s attempt to invade Valinor, Fëanor’s burning of the ships at Losgar, Frodo’s parents drowning, Eärendil sailing to Aman, Frodo leaving Middle-earth. Yet, although ships are used as a form of transport in Tolkien’s works, very little is told of the journeys themselves. Even more curiously, the peoples of Middle-earth – save for Aldarion and Basso Boffin – were surprisingly incurious about the world they inhabited. What was life like aboard the ships? Were there ever great naval battles with another power? Did any sailors ever get left behind to start a colony in far-flung reaches of Arda? Essentially I would like Tolkien’s version of Prince Caspian.

Dwarves

Putting aside Mîm the Petty-dwarf in The Silmarillion, and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, our only real extended knowledge of dwarves is in The Hobbit. Even there, our knowledge of dwarven clothing and culture (save for the colour of their hoods) is pretty patchy at best. More importantly, four of the seven dwarf clans – Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks and Stonefoots – we know absolutely nothing about apart from their location in the east (cf. Blue Wizards above). We deserve to know as much about dwarves as we do about elves, men and hobbits.

Technological advances

Rather than a specific story this is a general observation. Clear dates are given for the invention of the Tengwar, the creation of the Silmarils and the growing of pipe-weed in the Shire. By the end of the Third Age the Shire appears to have developed a sufficiently sophisticated legal system to declare someone dead and auction off their goods, but there’s no electricity. What about the steam engine? Or the cannon? Why were these apparently sophisticated civilisations not advancing technologically?

Orcs

For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all Parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history.” – Winston Churchill
History is written by the victors, so it is said, and orcs are very much Middle-earth’s losers. Merry and Pippin’s capture by orcs, and Sam’s interactions with them at Cirith Ungol, provide a remarkable glimpse into the orc psyche. Far from being brain-dead, useless servants as can often be the caricature, they are shown to be intelligent and thoughtful (albeit still probably misguided, if not outright nasty). This image provides an amusing example of how a history written from the perspective of orcs might look.

Maps

The first experience of Middle-earth for many children is a sense of awe, amazement, and curiosity at seeing the fantastic world sprawling out from beneath their fingers in either Thrór’s Map or the fold-out map of Middle-earth at the back of The Lord of the Rings. These maps are beautiful and fascinating: I am sure that thousands and thousands of people around the world have spend hours poring over the maps, if not trying to redraw them themselves. The “Map of Rohan, Gondor and Mordor” provides the level of satisfying detail that I want for all of Middle-earth: what is north of Forochel? Where is Hardbottle? What are the cities of Harad? Even more than that, some artists over the years – such as the late Karen Wynn-Fonstead – have made their own maps of cities such a Minas Tirith and Gondolin. Such level of detail from Tolkien himself would be hungrily and joyously devoured by readers.

Dagor Dagorath

when the world is old and the Powers grow weary, then Morgoth shall come back through the Door out of the Timeless Night; and he shall destroy the Sun and the Moon, but Eärendel shall come upon him as a white flame and drive him from the airs. Then shall the last battle be gathered on the fields of Valinor. [..] Thereafter shall the Silmarils be recovered out of the sea and earth and air [..] and with their fire rekindle the Two Trees
Some of the details of the Last Battle, or Dagor Dagorath, as included on p. 165 of The Shaping of Middle-earth.
Christopher Tolkien decided to remove references to the Second Prophecy of Mandos – including the Last Battle – due to its inconsistency with later revisions of The Silmarillion and the published text. Fellow blogger Michael Martinez notes thatWithout a clear outline for the War of Wrath Christopher Tolkien struggled to produce a coherent ending for the story” – I would dearly love for such a clear outline to exist.

June 6, 2015

Catan: 5th Edition to Celebrate 20 Years



To celebrate the 20th anniversary edition of The Settlers of Catan, Mayfair has produced a 5th edition of the game, as well as its expansions and extensions. I finished completing my Catan collection early this year, so I consider myself fortunate that I have a nice complete set.

The following, from Mayfair:
The die lines and die cut remain identical, meaning you could mix and match a 4th copy of Settlers with a 5th edition copy of Seafarers without difficulty or compatibility issues. The card backs are similarly identical, allowing you to mix cards from different editions of the game. Similarly the rules remain consistent, though there was an extensive balance and readability pass, meaning numerous rules are clarified with input from designer Klaus Teuber and numerous rare "corner cases" in the rules are explained. These new clarified rules will become the official tournament canon and for those looking to brush up on the clarifications, the rules will be online in PDF form once 5th edition is released.

The game has SLIGHTLY updated rules, nothing too significant, as the game is compatible with the 4th edition. A (slightly) different visual style has been used as well, and it appears to be cohesive with the other new editions of the expansions / extensions. Also, the name has changed. The original base game WAS called The Settlers of Catan, but now it’s merely Catan. [also, the naming reflects my own naming conventions a bit. Because the original was properly called “The Settlers of Catan”, I took to using the name of the expansion I was playing as the name of the game. Example, I call the ‘Sefarers’ one “Seafarers of Catan” or, “Cities and Knights of Catan”.]

Even though the 4th and 5th editions seem to be, as far as I know, be compatible with one another, I strongly urge any future buyers to attempt to own a complete set of either one or the other. All the game pieces etc will match…it’s just “better”. [another self-thought: Explorers and Pirates is the most recent Catan expansion, so I don’t think there’s too much change (if any) in the 5th edition compared to the 4th of that expansion.]. That may not matter to some, but it ensues maximum compatibility.  

I’m sure glad I managed to get a full matching set of all the expansions that can be used with another! [Explorers and Pirates can’t be mixed with the other expansions]. I would not be surprised if some retailers are still in the process of switching over from the older version to the newer, just check out the slightly updated box art for which ones you want to get. On the Catan shop site, they only have the new 5th editions to choose from, so that's the official definitive way to ensure you get the newest editions, if you're after the 5th editions.

This is among my favourite (non video) games, possibly, my favourite. I strongly urge you to check out the main, base game if you have not done so.


For those interested, you can find the 5th edition rules here: http://www.catan.com/game/catan#downloads


Seafarers: http://www.catan.com/game/catan-seafarers-expansion#downloads

Cities and Knights: http://www.catan.com/game/catan-cities-knights-expansion#downloads

Traders and Barbarians: http://www.catan.com/game/catan-traders-barbarians-expansion#downloads

Explorers and Pirates: http://www.catan.com/game/catan-explorers-pirates-expansion#downloads

Also, check out the FAQs for each game.