Magic: The Gathering Planeshifts to Dungeons & Dragons

It’s official, folks, Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons are officially crossing-over with a DnD adaptation of the Ravnica plane and setting. The books were accidentally leaked on Amazon a couple of days ago, with the Rulebook, Dice and Map Pack found unlisted on Amazon. Today it was officially confirmed by Wizards of the Coast that the new setting was being released this year.

This is an exciting announcement, and one that I’m surprised has never been done before already. Given the fact that both IPs are Wizards’ properties, and the presumably strong overlap among fans of both games, it seems like a match made in heaven. Time will tell as to how good the adaptation and the rules are, but it will probably be fun to see MtG characters, places, and spells translated into the DnD system.

You can read the official product page here.

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Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta 2018

The Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta (hereafter referred to as “the fiesta” for the sake of my hands,) is an annual charity challenge event hosted by Eric Koziol and run through a combination of the Official Website and a sentient twitter bot known as Gilgabot. Players are assigned four random jobs, and are challenged to complete the game using only these jobs. Pledges are made, and all donations go to Child’s Play.

If you are interested, you can preregister right now through the official website. If you aren’t interested in participating yourself, you should still check out the kickoff race known as “The Run” which will be held on twitch.

I’ve participated in the fiesta for the past two years. Last year, I concluded with a summary of my runs and my overall thoughts on the experience. You can read that here, but I thought I’d talk about my goals for this year’s fiesta:

  1. I’d like to complete more runs than last year. This means I’ll need to complete a total of four or more runs in the two-and-a-half-ish months.
  2. I want to achieve the Triple Crown (Exdeath, Shinryu, and Omega) at least once.
  3. I want to collect as many badges as possible, which will mean completing runs with as many different rules as possible.
  4. I want to try some of the new rule sets.
  5. As always, I want to have some fun.

I plan to start simple and work my way up. I believe I will register for a normal or random run with the “fifth job” rule variant to kick things off. After that, we’ll see where we go from there. If I’ve piqued your interest about this event, I highly suggest you check it out!

Cogmind Has Hit Early Access

I’m excited to announce that one of my favourite games has finally hit Steam. Cogmind, a traditional roguelike in development for the last 4 years, was released on Steam Early Access this week. The game’s developer, Josh Ge, has been working solo on it since February of 2012 as an indie developer. I have a wealth of respect for Josh, who I have been friends with (if he’ll let me use that term) on twitter for the last year or so. During this time, I’ve watched him work passionately on the game as it has taken shape from a 7 Day Roguelike into a full-blooded traditional roguelike. I have no doubt that the game will be received well, and that Cogmind represents a new era of roguelike design. It should become a staple of the genre with the likes of Nethack, ADOM, and DCSS. Go and check it out now.

Congratulations on your launch, Josh, and I know this is only the beginning.

Blade Runner (1992)

I have yet to see the new Blade Runner 2049, and I might need to do so soon, if the box office numbers are any indication. However, I sat down and watched the original Blade Runner this past week, as planned. It’s been years since I watched the film, and I have to say I enjoyed revisiting it immensely. I actually ended up watching both the theatrical release and the final cut versions, with the few differences that actually entails.

Blade Runner was a divisive movie when it came out. Some critics praised it for it’s storytelling, neo-noir setting, and use of special effects. Others criticized it for being slow moving, boring, and style over substance. It was only through later review that the movie has gained cult status, as well as almost universal approval. I very much enjoy the movie, but I can easily see why others might not. Being a cyberpunk fan, I find the movie an interesting look into a future world very different from our own, and I love the use of the sets, costumes, and extras to achieve the world building.

Blade Runner is also a fascinating movie in terms of what was going on behind the camera. Basically everyone involved in the project hated each other, the studio meddled far too much, and they still somehow managed to produce a very interesting film. There are a half-dozen cuts of the film available, and none of them are perfect. Ridley Scott went kind of crazy over the years, decided that Deckard must be a replicant, and spliced in some nonsense with a unicorn that still has fans guessing and arguing to this day. If you aren’t intrigued yet, then I don’t know what will do it.

If you’re a fan of science fiction, you owe it to yourself to check out Blade Runner.

Loot Boxes – What is the Endgame?

I’m going to write about loot boxes one more time, so I hope you will indulge me. I’ve had some interesting conversations over the last couple of days, and it has raised some questions that I’d like to explore. I’m not going to go into great detail on my stance as to whether or not loot boxes should be considered gambling (I talk here about how they shouldn’t,) because I really don’t think that’s the motivation at work here.

I’ve been grappling with a simple question over the last couple of days. As I read tweet after tweet after article after reddit post about how video game loot boxes need to be classified as gambling and that the government needs to step in to regulate this kind of business practice, the question “what is your endgame, here?” rattles around in my head. Do we, as gamers, really want greater regulation in our hobby, simply because we don’t like loot boxes? I hate to use the “slippery slope” argument, but I can’t help but wonder if we really want to set a precedent that we will accept (or even welcome) a greater degree of regulation and intervention in the way we purchase and enjoy our hobbies. I’m sure that isn’t what we want, so what do we really mean when we claim that loot boxes should be an outlawed business practice?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and propose that we don’t want to get rid of loot boxes because they’re gambling: we want to get rid of them because we don’t like micro transactions. There’s a flaw in the thinking, however: Everyone seems to be assuming that if loot boxes are suddenly regulated, that the micro transaction infestation will, in some way, disappear from games. I find this idea to be incredibly naive. I hate to sound negative, but if loot boxes as we know them become no longer viable, AAA game companies will come up with another system that is close enough to be as lucrative, while remaining on the right side of legal. It’s too late to put that genie back in the bottle, and frankly, the vast majority of gamers seem to be okay with loot boxes. Sales have not, to my knowledge, been significantly harmed by the increased presence of micro transactions, and so the gaming public has already voted with their wallets.

I say too late, because there was a point when the general gaming public had a chance to reject loot boxes. Overwatch launched about 16 months ago to much applause and a little bit of controversy. The loot box system so heavily entrenched in the game did cause some criticism from certain gamers and personalities. The debate was relatively short-lived, however, and most video game consumers and commenters tolerated, if not outright praised, the micro transaction loot boxes of Overwatch as being well implemented and even pro consumer. Surprise surprise, almost two years later they’re being rolled out into every game possible.

I think it’s time to be honest about our motivations for disliking loot boxes. I might ruffle some feathers here, but I don’t buy the idea that your average youtuber, gamer, redditor, or twitter user actually cares that loot boxes might constitute gambling, and that children are being exposed to it. These are the same people who were gleefully opening loot boxes in Overwatch for the last year, without a care for the implications. It’s only now that the AAA sphere has rolled them out across all platforms that gamers are becoming sick of them, and now they need an angle for their outrage. It sounds so much better to say “think of the children” than it is to say “I was wrong, I don’t actually like these anymore.” It’s a nice notion, and it certainly grabs more attention, but I simply don’t believe it.

The cult of personality is strong. These days we seem to have a lot of popular personalities calling for the banning of loot boxes (even those who praised them 16 months ago,) and it is tempting to answer the call. I would advise that you don’t, because it’s a dishonest cause with little hope of actually changing any laws. As always, it really comes down to the choice of supporting the game or not. We’re great at sabre-rattling in the gaming community, but when push comes to shove we tend to just pony up and buy the things anyway. There are plenty of games that don’t have loot boxes, and I suggest you buy those instead.

Loot Boxes and Gambling

If you’re like me, you’ve probably noticed a lot of discussion about loot boxes popping up on your social media. Recent AAA releases have shown a previously unmatched inclusion of loot box systems in full price games, and this has earned the ire of many vocal and prominent members of the gaming community. They lambast these systems as greedy, forced-upon players, and most importantly gambling. They encourage gamers to “vote with their wallets” and not purchase these games, and then get upset when people don’t vote the way they’d like. However, I’d like to focus on the gambling allegations, because they are, quite frankly, incorrect.

I should begin by stating that I don’t like loot boxes, and I don’t play games that have them. I am also not a lawyer, and my opinions are based on personal research and not legal consultation. If you are a lawyer, and I am blatantly incorrect, then I would love the opportunity to discuss the subject with you for my own education.  This blog post does not, in any way, constitute legal advice.

Critics of loot boxes are fond of describing them as gambling, and even go so far as to accuse game publishers of providing outlets for children to gamble. It’s a dramatic and attention-grabbing way of describing the system, and it certainly works. The issue with this description, however, is that it simply isn’t true. A loot box allows you to purchase the contents inside, which are random, but guaranteed. The value of the items within the box is created by a secondary market, in this case the community, which defines value based on how desirable or “cool” the items inside are. There is no chance to lose your “bet” because you aren’t betting – you are purchasing an unknown, which is not the same thing as playing the lottery. This is the same logic that applies to Magic: The Gathering booster packs. Players are not gambling or entering a lottery when they purchase a booster, because they are receiving a product (in this case 15 random pieces of cardboard that can be used to play a game.) Players are not able to “cash in” their cards to Wizards of the Coast in exchange for the card value, and therefor are not gambling. The same system in a digital format is still the same system, and unless you’re able to refund your items for cash prizes from the developer, you aren’t legally gambling.

I don’t like loot boxes either, but we can’t make false allegations in order to earn support. Let’s stick to the facts.

John Carpenter’s The Thing

We finally got around to watching The Thing last night, and it was fantastic. I’ve said before that it is my favourite horror movie, and indeed one of my favourite movies period, and I was thrilled to be able to share it with friends. It was well-received, and I am already looking forward to watching it again in the future.

For those of you not familiar, The Thing is a 1982 science fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter, with a screenplay written by Bill Lancaster, and starring Kurt Russell. It is based on the 1930s novella Who Goes there? by John W. Campbell Jr. The novella has been adapted into several movies, but The Thing is a pretty faithful adaptation, hitting the major notes from the novella, and making for a great watch. The film is a cult classic, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made. The cult status is the result of its lackluster box office performance, but it isn’t really the film’s fault. It just had the bad luck of being released two weeks after E.T. and on the same day as Blade Runner. It would be hard for any movie to succeed against those two giants. A few things stuck out to me as I watched the film again, and I’ll discuss some of that here.

First of all, the visual effects are great, and they still stand up well even in 2017. Made before the era that computer generated images infested Hollywood films, The Thing featured practical visual effects for the monsters. There are  lot of stop-motion models and melting wax covered in fake blood, and it still looks great. It may not be the most visually spectacular thing you’ve ever seen, but it feels and looks real, and that counts for a lot these days.

The way the film was shot really stood out to me this time, as well. Specifically, the use of camera angles and light were interesting. The story heavily revolves around the erosion of trust and the mounting suspicion the characters experience as they begin to fear their colleagues have been replaced by alien monsters. The early scenes of the movie are well-lit, wide shots that feel comfortable and safe. As the movie progresses, we see more low-angle shots in dim lighting, as the characters begin to feel oppression and suspicion mount. I’m no cinematographer, so I can’t articulate it much better than that, but I found it very effective.

Finally, the mentality of the thing is simply fantastic. Taken straight from the novella, the alien creature infiltrating the base is subtle and insidious. The thing does not crawl through air ducts eating people, and it doesn’t hunt it’s prey with super-human efficiency. Instead, it is a subtle creature, slowly assimilating opposition and plotting its escape to civilization in order to devour the world. The thing will only fight if cornered, and it prefers roundabout alternatives to combat in order to achieve its goals. As a result, we have a film that feels more like a whodunit or a suspense film than an outright horror movie. That is, until someone starts melting and turning into piles of mouths and claws.

Watch The Thing this weekend.