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Blogging A to Z Day 25: Video Games

If I’d discovered a way to get paid for playing video games when I was in my late teens, I would be one of the wealthiest people you would ever meet right now. For years, I spent most of my non-writing computer time playing video games. I haven’t been into gaming in years now because work, a grandson, and blogging doesn’t leave any time for them.

Here are the games I spent more time playing than the rest when I was a hardcore gamer.

  1. Morrowind – My favorite game ever.
  2. The early games in the Fallout franchise – Especially Fallout 2.
  3. Civilization Games – My favorites were Civ II and Civ IV.

Morrowind is one of those games you either love or hate. It’s the third installment of the Elder Scrolls series and the only one I ever played. It was released in 2002 and I picked it up year later at the used game shop. Fell in love with it immediately, and it’s pretty much the last game I ever played.

Several things make Morrowind special. It’s set on a island so huge and detailed it takes a single player months to explore. It has a linear storyline and quests, but you don’t have to actually complete any quests or the storyline to enjoy the game. And the game doesn’t end once you finish the main quest. It’s basically a huge sandbox that allows you to do pretty much anything you want.

It has an excellent system for creating custom spells, crafting magic items, and making potions. And it’s one of the easiest games to modify that I have ever encountered. The modding community gave this game a lot more longevity than it would otherwise have had. Want a huge palace or a companion to travel with you? There are mods for that, and for just about anything else you can think of.

Fallout is set on a post-apocalyptic earth which was laid waste by nuclear war in the 1950s. The first game begins 100 years after the war. The player character has grown up in an underground vault, is given a quest which requires him to venture above ground, which is now a wasteland peopled by bandits, mutants, and paramilitaries.

The Fallout wasteland is one of my favorite settings ever. This series is distinctive for its striking iconography and darkly humorous storylines. The first Fallout was simple, and too short, but I remember thinking at the time (1988) it came out that I’d never seen anything quite like it. Here’s the intro to Fallout 2, voiced by Ron Perlman, to give you a sense of what this world is like.

The Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise has probably gotten more of my time than any other. I played these games off-and-on from 1991, when the first one was released, until about four years ago when I stopped gaming. These are turn-based strategy games in which you build cities, use them to produce units to defend your civilization and build more cities. The game begins at the 4000 BC and runs to 2050 in most versions.

You can win civilization in several ways: by sending a spaceship to Alpha Centauri, by total military conquest, by domination — which means ruling a certain percentage of the world’s population and territory — or by being ahead in points when the game ends at 2050. You can play on randomly generated maps of various sizes, and choose the number of opponents to play against. My favorite thing to do was upload a pre-generated map of the actual earth and play with as many opponents as possible, because that makes for a long, interesting game of shifting alliances.

I could go on and on about civilization, but I’m already over my word count for an A to Z posts. So, what about you? Ever been into gaming? What are some of your favorites?

Blogging A to Z Day 24: Ultron

The title villain of the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, who is he? What is he? Why should we care? Other than being freaked out by James Spader’s amazing voice acting

The Ultron reveal from Avengers #55. Image found on a comicbookresources.com article.

The Ultron reveal from Avengers #55.
Image found on a comicbookresources.com article.

Ultron first appeared in Avengers #54 in 1968, with a full reveal in #55. He is a a robot, an android – but also so much more than this. He is a program, an artificial intelligence – which, when it reached the point of enough intelligence, improved itself. Himself. Itself.

He also has daddy issues, having been created by Hank Pym – the original Ant-Man and sometimes Avenger. Ultron expresses this both by attempting to destroy the Avengers whenever he gets the chance, and by imitating what his father did – create.

One of the things that Ultron is most known for is for creating the android known as the Vision, another Avenger. Vision just didn’t come out evil like his father Ultron…

Because Ultron is more than just a robot, because he is a program that can be replicated and backed-up and transmitted… he is basically impossible to fully destroy. And so, he attacks, he learns, he fails, he learns, he attacks again, better. Several recent storylines have included Ultron time traveling, or in other ways affecting the timeline – attacking from the future, where he is himself safe from harm.

Indeed, that was the plot of the recent Age of Ultron comic storyline. Ultron manipulates the present from the future, instantly creating a robot utopia (which is a human dystopia). Fighting fire with fire, the heroes try time travel themselves – some going forward in time to punch Ultron (because that always works), and some going back to stop the original creation of Ultron…

Team Punch in action - Age of Ultron #10 from Marvel.com

Team Punch in action – Age of Ultron #10 from Marvel.com

Which they succeed at by killing Hank Pym, only to find out that things are just as bad if not worse with him – and without the Vision. It turns out that this led to two Avengers no longer being around, and then every good thing they accomplished was undone – but hey, no Ultron. Anyway, they undo that time change, and let Team Punch do their thing.

Of course, this was just the next phase of a previous Ultron plan, just the next try from him to take control of the timeline and win, forever, against everyone. Because, given enough time, he can. He’s the unkillable kill, and his goal is domination.

A future timeline from 2010 in Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis. I used this on my review of Marvel's Heroic Age and Marvel Now!

A future timeline from 2010 in Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis. Click for a larger version!
I used this on my review of Marvel’s Heroic Age and Marvel Now!

He’s a perfect sort of villain to throw in every once in a while – what new plan does he have? What do the heroes have to do to stop him? How will he escape to come up with his next plan? He doesn’t require resurrection or crazy explanations like other villains returning, he doesn’t have to break out of Arkham again like the Joker is always doing. He’s always going to escape, and he’s always going to come back. It’s inevitable as clockwork.

This post was by @CompGeeksDavid of the Comparative Geeks and regular Sourcerer contributor. For more A to Z geekery, check out Comparative Geeks.

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 20 – The Fallen

BannerI know not all fans will agree, but I loved this episode. In fact, The Fallen is one of my favourites of Season 3 so far. The drama was maintained from beginning to end, and the emotional weight of the episode was a powerful thing. Plus John Barrowman got to show off his fine acting skills and I’ve missed his special brand of arrogance over the last few weeks.

The show started with Thea curled up next to the broken table Ra’s so viciously threw her into last week. That wasn’t the worse part though, no, that was running her through with his sword and leaving her to die. Thea had made a valiant attempt to reach the phone when Ollie walked into the apartment. I have to say, his reaction was priceless. He actually paused for a second, as though he couldn’t quite process the scene.

The emotional onslaught began with Ollie lifting his sister into his arms and rushing into the emergency department. His acting was superb this week. It’s not only the stark emotion in his face, it’s all the little things – the way his pain is reflected in his eyes, in his very posture. At one point he actually stumbled back in relief when Thea’s heart started beating again.

Then came Merlyn, and his own heartbreak. Say what you will about him. He genuinely loves his daughter. He might have a twisted way of showing it, but I don’t think he truly understood the depth of his feelings until he was faced with losing her.

When Diggle and Felicity arrived, Ollie was in the waiting room, trying to process the fact Thea was going to die. Not that the League gave him very long before sending up a smoke signal, demanding his attention. Diggle tried to talk Ollie out of confronting them until they had a plan, but Ollie was too angry to see reason. His failure to predict Ra’s actions, and to protect Thea weighed too heavily.

After confronting Maseo (leading with his fists first), Ollie was offered a way to save his sister – which we all knew was coming. Diggle and Felicity found him packing and would have tried to talk him out of it, I’m sure, if it hadn’t been for Merlyn’s intervention. Finally, the healing pool was referred to as the Lazarus Pit. Merlyn informed them, rather ominously, that the pit had allowed Ra’s to live for over a hundred years and could restore the dead back to life. The chill factor cranked up a little when he tried to tell Ollie that the Thea he got back would not be the same. That she would be fundamentally changed. It didn’t make a difference and, as always, Felicity was entrusted to lighten the mood. Her line about a magical hot tub was classic!

jetHaving decided to accompany Ollie on his crazy mission, the next obstacle was finding a way to Nanda Parbat – cue Ray. This time, instead of his helicopter, Felicity asked to borrow the jet. Even this scene tugged on the heart strings, and usually the pair provide a little light relief. Ray confronted her about her feelings for Oliver and even when she admitted she didn’t love Ray (or as good as), he sent her away with his jet and his good wishes. That had to hurt.

When they reached Nanda Parbat the League were waiting. As Ollie walked forward with an unconscious Thea in his arms, they all bowed to him. It was a gripping moment and I couldn’t help wondering how Ollie felt; if the full weight of his decision sank in, or if he was focused solely on Thea.

arriving in Nanda Parbat

As they prepared her for the ritual, Maseo showed Diggle to his ‘digs’ (sorry) – with a throwaway comment about hoping the room was to his liking. I enjoyed the way Diggle challenged Maseo on his betrayal, because that’s how he sees it. As a betrayal to Ollie and their friendship. He talked about the League being feared for their bravery and power, when all he saw were weak men running away from their lives. Maseo defended his actions, finally revealing the death of his son, which at least cooled Diggle’s jets a little.

Thea’s resurrection ceremony was probably the only thing I didn’t like about the episode. They added drama with the chanting and lowering her into the water bound at the feet and wrists. But when she sprang up from the pool like a rabid beast, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the transformation, or by her confusion. She recognised her father, but thought Ollie was still dead.

TheaOne of my favourite things was the confrontation between Felicity and Ra’s. I love that she challenged him, and that he humoured the outburst. He spoke of his past, of having a family, and losing those he loved when a man came to his door and offered him a horrible choice. For the first time since the story arc began, it finally made sense. His obsession that Ollie should take his place. I think he truly believes in the prophecy and that conviction is a powerful motivator. That Oliver said no, especially when he didn’t have the same luxury, made him all the more determined.

When Ra’s told Felicity to say her goodbyes, and to confess her love to Oliver, it was a pretty clear indication of what would happen next, especially given the recent teaser trailers. I wasn’t sure how the scene would play out. Felicity and Oliver undeniably have chemistry, but the timing felt a little off. I was totally wrong about the timing, and it actually made perfect sense. Ollie saw an opportunity to show Felicity how he really felt, and the scene was quite lovely. At least in my opinion.

ollie and felicityI liked the way the writers played it, especially when Felicity said ‘so that happened!’ After being intimate, and understanding she might lose him forever, it’s clear to me why she did something completely crazy – like drug him when there was little chance of getting him out.

It’s not surprising the plan failed, but it did allow us to see Maseo trying to fight his way back, when he helped them. It also gave Ollie a chance to ensure their safety, and to say goodbye. I was touched by his scene with Diggle. I almost teared up when Ollie told him he’d always be his brother.

MaseoWhat did surprise me was Ra’s acceptance of Maseo’s betrayal. He’s killed men for much less. I think there’s more to that story, and we’ll soon find out. There are only three episodes left. Those episodes will likely be focused on Ollie’s transition, as he is required to renounce his old life. According to Ra’s, Oliver Queen is dead. I’m not so sure about that!

Still, he’s been cleansed by fire and got himself a whole new set of threads! Who knows what’s going to happen. But it sure is going to be fun finding out.

What did you think of The Fallen? Do you have any predictions about the way things will pan out? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

NB: Images used within this review are the copyright of The CW Network. All rights reserved.

Blogging A to Z Day 23: Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892 and lived part of his childhood in India. He served as an infantry officer during World War I and went on to become one of the leading philologists of his time. He held professorships at Pembroke and Merton Colleges, Oxford. He died in 1973.tolkien2

Tolkien is far and away my favorite author, and I doubt I’ll ever let an April go by without writing at least one post about him. This year I did three – I also wrote about The Lord of the Rings for L and the One Ring for O. I read The Hobbit, LOTR, and The Silmarillion at least every three years. I blog about Tolkien’s work often at Part Time Monster, and my ongoing series for that blog is so long I have it collected on a page for easy reference.

If my mother hadn’t read me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was a child, I might still have become a writer. But I doubt I would have developed a passion for fantasy fiction nor become a world-builder. I enjoy Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien almost as much as I enjoy the books themselves, and I’m glad the adaptations weren’t made until the special effects were good enough to make Middle Earth live and breathe.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of talking to a professor who actually met Tolkien on a trip to England. He said Tolkien had the manuscripts and notes for The Lord of the Rings in his office, and it was several six-foot-high stacks of paper. How cool would it be to have actually seen those manuscripts and talked to the man himself?

I recommend giving Tolkien a try if you’ve never read him. He’s equally good at humor and tradgedy.  He is Victorian and Modern at the same time, somehow. His descriptions and characterizations are excellent, and he has much to say about the nature of evil as well as the nature of good.

If you’re on the hunt for great Tolkien-related internet content, you might want to check out Sweating to Mordor, A Tolkienist’s Perspective, The Leather Library, and Middle Earth News. I follow them all and check in with them as often as I can.