Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Micro Machine Camper Van

I am one of the 80's kids that decided not to grow up. I think most adults are actually stuck around 16-20 years old mentally, but the people born in the 80's and onwards have embraced their childhood in new ways. It's not just about the music and the clothes and the movies. It's also about all the toys. Or maybe, let's face it, toys and TV-shows from the 80's and 90's were just something extra special, and worth revisiting.

"Kidults" have apparently been around since the 50's, but I think we've only grown in demographic and by now it is obvious that the capitalist are trying to cash in on our nostalgic nerve. I am surprised that more toy-lines haven't resurfaced, with everything from Biker Mice from Mars, He-Man, Moncchichi and Care Bears probably easy money if they thought about it. But then again, so many of them just never went away, like My Little Pony, Spiderman/Batman/TMNT, and Transformers. 

But what about the Etch-A-Sketch? Can't hold a candle to modern Ipads of course. So let's forget about that one... 

I never managed more than stick figures.

But then we have the miniature fad. Polly Pockets may have come first in the mid-80's, but they were never really my thing. Then they made the Mighty Max toy line which were way cooler (and I might write a separate post about them some day). And then there were the Micro Machines. I was never a huge fan of Micro Machines, but for some reason I really wished for the Camper Van when I was around 10. I got it and initially I was quite disappointed. Who can explain the way the mind of a kid works?

That quickly changed however, and I remember having many hours of fun with it and my friends. It has a little bit of everything, an airstrip, a car wash, a race track, high hill - you name it. It has the added benefit of being tiny meaning you could have all that fun without having to take up all your bedroom floor (a benefit that I never thought of as a kid but have realized as a parent).

In fact, it is so clever you can fold it all up and carry it around. It is its own carry-case, a design choice I think a lot more toys would benefit from.

As an adult, or at least as an adult with somewhat of an income, the possibility to re-experience my childhood through old toys has not been lost on me. I was lucky enough to find a haul of Mighty Max toys at a flea market for cheap and eventually my thoughts would wander back to my old Micro Machine Camper Van. Surely that would be available to buy somewhere as well?

Of course it was, good old online flea markets rarely disappoint. I also managed to get my kids excited about the idea and now we have it together. Easy to take out and play with, so easy to pack back up again and put away. The Camper Van still provides hours of fun. So far I haven't been inclined to check out the other Micro Machines stuff... although, I heard some of the video games were supposed to be pretty good.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Choose Your Own Adventure

 Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Sure you do. Bet you haven't actually played one in years though. Neither had I until I stumbled across one because I was looking for something else.

I am a big fan of the Judge Dredd series and I am currently collecting the ever-long Complete Case Files series (I've only made it to book 6 out of 42 and I think they are still being released). If you've never heard of Judge Dredd... well that is just impossible. Sylvester Stallone did that very 90's action movie as the titular hero (completely butchering it yet still an entertaining watch) and you've definitely seen that (you should also watch the other Judge Dredd movie with Karl Urban which is also great). Other than that you don't really need to know more than he's a British comic book character from the 70's, with the comic still running. And I love it. In post-apocalyptic Mega City 1 literally anything can happen and the stories are wonderfully entertaining social commentaries while also exploring the human nature. Judge Dredd himself is also simply the coolest protagonist of any comic, I'll fight you for it.

So while looking for more Judge Dredd comics to throw my money at I found out that they had released the Complete Dice Man which is a collection of Choose Your Own Adventure series originally published in the 80's. The cover has Judge Dredd on it. I had to get that, of course. Judge Dredd only makes up one out of 15 of the stories in the book however, but it's a great one.

In it Judge Dredd has to go into a creepy mansion to face one of his most formidable foes, the Dark Judges lead by Judge Death, who is just as peachy as the name suggests. If you've seen the Hellraiser movies, you can think of them as a type of Cenobites but inspired by the Four Horsemen. Judge Death is accompanied by Judge Mortis, Judge Fear and Judge Fire to make life shitty for everyone around them. Judge Fear is pretty useless against Judge Dredd though because he can't feel fear. Grab you pen, paper and dice and jump in!

As you know with Choose Your Own Adventure, you get a selection of actions to take throughout the story where most of them end up in brutal death (or is that just the stories I read?). Video Games like King's Quest must've been heavily inspired by these kind of books. It takes a bit of discipline not to read ahead in these books, especially the comic book ones where the imagery is right there in front of your eyes. A well designed book won't have the pathways you can take right next to each other, but require you to jump around from page to page, that way you decrease your chances of accidentally looking ahead.

It took me four tries to get through the Judge Dredd Adventure, that bastard Judge Death crushed my heart three times (he loves doing that) before I could find my way through the mansion that allowed me to trick him back to his own dimension (yeah, he never dies). But it was such a blast and now I have a craze for these CYOA books that I felt I needed to share with you guys. So dig in your cellars, check your flea markets or even better, go order some from your local book store. You will have some great non-screen-time fun.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Arx Fatalis (PC, 2002)

 I didn't really start playing PC games until around 2005, coincidentally just after World of Warcraft was released *cough*...

So when I say I have a special place in my heart for PC games from the time between 1995-2005 I suspect it must be false nostalgia at play. Or maybe these games just capture the essence of the zeitgeist in gaming for me, story-wise, graphics-wise and game design-wise.

Because of World of Warcraft it took me a long time to get around to actually playing games from this time, but since then I have slowly made my way through games like Deus Ex, Thief, System Shock 2 and Anachronox to mention some. If there is something I've learned that the main thing that is stopping me from enjoying these games is how badly the controls have aged.

This ogre makes questionable art.

And now I am at it again, playing the action RPG Arx Fatalis. Arx Fatalis was released in 2002 and developed by the French studio Arkane Studios. They went on to develop the much liked Dishonored games, of which I have played the first and really enjoyed it (you can read my review on that game here).

In Arx Fatalis you start out as an anonymous hero who has, surprise surprise, lost his memory. When you create your character you can choose which stats to focus in. I am not fooled anymore and always go for melee heavy stats, since magic usually turns out to be powerful but difficult to use in PC games of this era. Arx Fatalis is no exception, but more on that in a bit.

You wake up in a goblin prison, probably destined to become the meal of some monster, but fortunately for you getting out of said prison turns out to be quite simple. 

You can tell Arkane went a long way trying to make a control system that would fit everything that you should be able to do and also not be cumbersome. Compared to some of the solutions we have nowadays though they've definitely not ended up with the best system.

Your character can basically enter three different modes - combat, casting and inventory. To wield your weapon you have to press "tab" and to cast you have to press "ctrl" (at least in default setup on my version). You can't wield a weapon and cast a spell at the same time. Combat is straight forward enough, your weapons have a certain damage and durability, pressing the left mouse-button will let you swing it.

Casting is a different beast however. Arkane has opted for a system in which you as a player have to "write" certain magic runes, with your cursor, across the screen to cast them. Not only that, but you have to combine magic runes to do most spells. Add to this that the game is extremely finnicky when it comes to accepting your "drawings" and I pretty quickly realized that combat casting was not going to be a thing in this game. Fortunately the system allows you to pre-cast and store up to three spells to quick cast in combat. You find runes lying around in the game and I have yet to find any combat-worthy ones, so I can't say if magic is useful in combat or not.

The inventory works well, in a similar style to how I remember Diablo working. Basically a grid in which you can store items, certain items take up more slots than others. To use an item in your inventory you have to open it with right mouse-button and press F over the item. It's very unwieldy in combat, which might be intentional, but works fine outside of it. The system as a whole is a bit counter-intuitive to me and if you take a break from the game it takes a while to get back into, but it's perfectly acceptable.

Dark and claustrophobic!

The graphics are typical for the time. Dark and claustrophobic. The game is set underground, which is probably more because of technical limitations than active design choices, the story is just built around it as an excuse. This means everything is candle/torch lit, but it works well enough. Another classic for the time is the color scheme, which at least so far in the game has been 50 shades of brown. If there is music in the game I have not noticed it. The soundscape however is extremely... weird. Items, weapons, enemies are all making noises that work well, but the ambient noise are these odd swirly whirly sounds that just adds an extremely creepy atmosphere where it doesn't really fit. 

As far as I have gotten into the game, about 3 hours of gameplay, the story isn't about anything other than me trying to figure out who I am. As I escape the goblin prison I stumble upon an outpost that requires help from the kind. I promise to deliver a message to the king and then the king asks me for another favor and I reckon it is going to continue this way. Every here and there you come across some character that gives you an odd side quest or there is some other issue to solve. These problems are definitely not self explanatory, but neither are they obscure. Not far into the game I have to get past an ogre, but he won't let me. After trying to figure out how I can appease the ogre, I try to jump into the moat and sneak up the path behind him instead. That worked fine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Prot Warrior Thoughts on Wotlk Pre-Patch

While I don't feel done with TBC yet and could've easily spent another year running around in Outlands, I feel a lot better prepared to move on this time around than I did last time. My main has turned out to be my prot warrior and as such I probably looked forward to the pre -patch with more delight than most.

Let me give you a quick rundown of warrior tanking in TBC in case you haven't tried it yourself. It's essentially crisis management. Don't ever think you've got things under control because you must likely haven't. Why Blizzard every thought it would be a good idea to endow most dps with decent to smashing aoe damage while give warrior tanks exactly zero tools for aoe threat is beyond me. My guess is that they counted on cooperation in the group, a beautiful collaboration and communication forced between dps and tank to make sure no one dies, and everyone stays happy. And to be fair, in most pugs and definitely in guild runs this usually works really well. I make it sound like warrior tanking was an impossible task, but I still enjoyed it immensely. It was just that tiny bit short of what was actually required, and it was easy to get frustrated. It was definitely not for everyone.

Then comes the pre-patch. I knew things were going to change, though I hadn't bothered to check up exactly what. New talents, of which I remembered some, like Shockwave. I remembered tanking in Wotlk being a delight, and aoe threat being a non-issue. Just how much of a non-issue quickly became apparent as soon as I had logged on, re-specced my warrior and gave it a run through an instance. It was crazy. It was bonkers. I was laughing out loud. I almost had tears at the corner of my eyes from being flabbergasted. I mean I knew it was going to improve but what the heck had Blizzard done?

I was now madly overpowered for the content in TBC, that was to be expected. But being a contender for the lead and often even the actual highest damage dealer in an instance, as a protection warrior? It was almost like Blizzard had looked at everything that was a struggle with prot warrior in TBC and decided to dial it down to "stupidly overpowered". 

Rage starvation? A complete one-eighty. Where before I had to plan my Bloodrage cooldown and manage my rage to make sure I always had a bit left over at the end of a pack, I now barely even had to glance at my rage bar. It was always full, my skills were only limited by their GCDs and CDs. I don't even use Bloodrage anymore...

No aoe threat? How about all the aoe threat? How about Thunder Clap does damage to everything? Even if they're 5, 10, 100 mobs. Sure you might think, that is how every aoe has worked, never being limited to a certain number of mobs. That is true, but I am also not limited by resources like mana and can clap away to infinity and beyond. It's a good thing it has a cooldown at least...

Ok, so I still don't have a ranged threat until I get Heroic Throw at level 80, but at least now I can charge in defensive stance and have got tools like Spell Reflect and Intervene. 

Even as a good tank (as I consider myself) I could count on losing aggro to some dps who wasn't following kill order who got some lucky crit streak. Now it's like I cannot lose aggro even if I completely let go of the keyboard and mouse and go make myself a cup of tea.

I just charge through instances with dps huffing behind me trying to keep up. It's fun, it's exhilarating, and it's going to get boring quite soon. It's just... too easy. I like tanking because it requires a lot of thought (if I want to chill while playing, I go heal in instances instead). I enjoy planning my pulls, planning my rotation and adapting it to the situation. Things are always the most fun when they go wrong and you just barely to make it because you used everything in your arsenal, and it worked. 

Fortunately, I know to enjoy it while it lasts, things are going to change once we actually get out to Northrend in a few weeks. I am definitely looking forward to that and in the meantime, I am going to blast through some more instances as the killing machine I am.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Netflix Resident Evil (2022) - Review (mild spoilers)

I am going to say straight off the bat that I am probably doing you a disservice by saying that I didn't end up hating this show. After having read the initial impressions I went in with extremely low expectations, and now that I've seen it I am a bit worried that it might be a prerequisite for not getting massively disappointed. Ok, off to a confused start? Good, that's as it should be when it comes to Resident Evil.

I am a pretty big Resident Evil fan. It started with the Remake actually, which got me to love the original. It lost me around RE4, I am quite old-school in how I want my zombies and my action. I loved the first Resident Evil movie with Milla Jovovich, the later once less but they're at least close enough to be somewhat entertaining. I liked the animated movies Degeneration, Damnation and Vendetta (haven't seen Infinite Darkness yet) and thought that the Netflix TV-series could at least have the potential to add something to the world of RE.

And she's cool.

It seems most people didn't like it
. It has got a pretty abysmal 3.9 on IMDB when writing this. I haven't dug too much around to see why that is. But it seems easily summed up in words like "disappointing" and "annoying".

I like to start with the bad, that way I can end with the good (where there is some). My biggest issue with RE Netflix is that it really ends up being two shows, and they don't mash particularly well. On the one side you have a (bad) teen-angst-drama. The show centers around sisters Jade and Billie who move to New Raccoon City and a lot of the show is about how they deal with feeling like outsiders. The other side of the show is about how their father (Wesker) might be insane and why the company he works for is so mysterious. It's easy to see the problems this show faces, because it can't decide which of these two story-lines to focus on. One of them is boring as nails, I'll give you one guess which one that is. The other one is a pretty decent take on the RE universe that I had fun watching.

I almost get the feeling that there was a team of actual RE fans trying to make a good show and execs came in and ruined it by trying to fit it into some hip demographic. Unfortunately I think the part of the hardcore RE fans that are also teenage girls who think no one understands them is very small. Why were they worried about making it just about RE? 

The choice in music is among the worst I have ever come across in television. If a scene is about Jade trying to figure out how she should support her sister Billie, a song comes on with someone singing something along the lines of "ohh, if I only knew what she was thinking of. Maybe I can help heeeeer?". If Billie is getting angry with her sister for showing boys more attention than her a song comes on singing "why can't she see meeeeee? If only I could make her understaaaaand". I am only slightly exaggerating. They must've literally done a word search on the dialogue to try to get song that fit, because they are excruciatingly on the nose. And why are these scenes that exist in a show about RE?

The whole thing about Jade and Billie is not just beyond boring, it's also pretty much useless even as a plot device. If they were completely cut out of the story it would've barely made a difference, other than make this show a hell of a lot better. I almost feel sorry for the two actors playing young Jade and Billie, because it is not their fault that they've been put in a show where no one wants them.

There is not enough of this.

The show also follows two timelines.
One of the mentioned young Jade and Billie as nervous teenagers and one as Jade as an adult where the world is already overrun by zombies. One can see it as one timeline taking place in the first Jovovich movie and the other in the last Jovovich movie. There are some plot twists, most of which are not particularly twisty, one which is halfway through the show and is absolutely amazingly twisty and actually had me sit up in my chair going "this is the RE I love!".

Lance Reddick, who plays Wesker, is probably the best thing about this show. Paula Núñez who plays Evelyn Marcus, the shows iteration of the crazy owner of Umbrella is also pretty spot on. If the show was only about these two it would've nailed a lot of RE (and zombie) tropes that we know and love; gigantic zombie animals, check. Someone getting murdered by a zombified family member, check. A lunatic trying to save the world by watching it burn, check. People making really poor decisions, check. Science doing things science can't do, check.

I really did have fun with this part. I suffered through the teen-angst for this part. Someone did a cut of Obi-wan that cut out all the stupid scenes. Something similar could possibly be done with this show, and it would be half as long. The show ends abruptly, at first I didn't realize I had finished it and was looking for the next episode. But there is a lot of good material here, some interesting and fun RE ideas. Maybe the most disappointing part is that they had to be forced to wallow around in a show that is nothing about RE. 


Tamara Smart, who plays young Jade, looks and acts so much like Heather Langenkamp (Nancy) from Nightmare on Elm Street. Look at them and tell me I am wrong.

There are quite a few references to the game series scattered throughout the show. Some are obvious, some are less so. It's fun to try and spot them.