Category Archives: Nonfiction

The reason SWTOR is winning more affection than Neverwinter.

The Reason

I’ve had the privilege to partake a Neverwinter buffet this weekend. It’s more compelling than I’d assumed from character creation. Cryptic delivered across the board.

The level of polish that’s free-to-play is astounding compared to the landscapes of yesteryear. Voice acting is the norm for Neverwinter, bringing it into the new era of MMOs.

I’ve had faith in Cryptic since playing Champions Online, which remains the best superhero gameplay available (sorry DC) and full of concessions for roleplayers.

Cryptic’s interpretation of the Neverwinter franchise is similarly action-packed, an odd feel for a D&D game. It’s a daring decision that pays off: Reticulated targeting and timing-based attacks make Neverwinter a fusion of traditional sword-and-sorcery with physical combat. Facing and positioning matter.

Neverwinter is full of other pleasant surprises: an elegant interface (despite limited customization), convenient keybinds (we’ve finally learned that players use Q before 7), period-appropriate music and a breathtaking game world.

So why do I keep returning to Star Wars: The Old Republic?

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The day I reveal mechanics for Infinite Advent.

PathsYesterday, I introduced INFINITE ADVENT, the RPG I created after researching D&D Next.

Today, I’m going to share specific mechanics.

Background

If you’re a fan of Pathfinder or 3.5, it’s possible Next is just what the doctor ordered.

I’m a 4E man, however, for no other reason than I thought 4E was a move (first of many, I’d hoped) into the new millennium. It embraced MMO concepts like replenished resources, classes that level in parallel.

It also got things horribly, horribly wrong (duration of combat). 4E’s infrastructure screams “power bloat.” That might be great for a publisher like WOTC, but for DMs and gamers, it’s just more to look up. Read More →

The day I review “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

star_trek_into_darkness_poster_enterprise

“Into Darkness” might be the best Star Trek film ever made. That claim invites the wrath of Khan and his fans, but I will risk it. The franchise reboot already fights uphill against They Changed It, Now It Sucks.

The film opens with two vignettes. In media res, snappy dialog explores Trek themes; it’s episodic, a day-in-the-life for the Enterprise. The next scene changes gears entirely as a silent drama unfolds for new characters…episodic again.

Then Kirk’s called out for being Kirk, and the movie explodes. Simple motives become complex. Mentors clash. It’s impossible to tell who the villain is. My nitpicks vanished as the characters engaged me.

I was guessing until the very end. We’re in the hands of expert storytellers: They let us feel ‘in the know’ seconds before The Reveal.

But I was surprised (even shocked) just as often.

“Into Darkness” turns Mood Whiplash into art. There’s hardly time to digest one transformative event before the next tragedy unfolds. Armor Piercing Questions leave cast and audience deliciously clutching for purchase. You don’t know the right course any more than they do.

The characters evolve, yet remain believably iconic. That particular tightrope is why I don’t attempt fanfiction, but Abrams succeeded on the silver screen. Shatner’s Kirk was a surefooted, his reputation established. Our younger Kirk has the same  instincts, but no clout, and it matters. When success in Starfleet directly contradicts the conscience of his crew, you wonder which way he’ll leap.

True to form, Kirk Takes Third Options, but even those have consequences.

Fans of the Original Series may miss the methodical, scientific storytelling of trial and error. “Into Darkness” is more about human ethics than understanding new life. It’s not cerebral in the puzzle-solving sense, it’s cerebral the way “The West Wing” was, rapidly moving from topic to topic (quite hypnotic). The heroes are larger than life, but they also make mistakes. I have new respect for Chris Pine; Quinto and Cummerbatch were already favorites.

The action borrows as much from the superhero genre as Star Trek. Fortunately, the plot isn’t just an excuse to blow things up. People fight when they’re out of options. I would prefer advanced choreography to quick cuts and shaky cam, though. That kind of storytelling has also evolved.

The ending will be intensely personal for any Trekkie. Whatever you think of his choices, Abrams was faithful to the spirit of the franchise, and he borrows with pride from your favorite moments. Just like the characters, the plot manages to be both iconic and new.

See this one in theaters. You won’t be disappointed.

And later when you buy it, it’ll fit snugly in your collection. Right across from Wrath of Khan.

Five reasons Luke Skywalker is a jerk.

Five ReasonsRemember Luke Skywalker, the hero of the original STAR WARS trilogy? He’s kind of a jerk; here’s five reasons why.

1. He drops everything to chase tale.

When backwater Luke wakes up R2’s messaging software, the holographic princess awoke something in Luke. We can chalk some of Luke’s behavior to being a Tatooine provincial, but not all.

One sight of the princess and he’s forgotten about cleaning droids. He wants the entire message, and only bedtime interrupts him. (Perhaps Luke has reason to rush for the privacy of his bedroom.) In the morning when R2 is missing, any responsible young man might have confessed his error, prompting Uncle Owen to dock Luke’s allowance to pay for a replacement. Not Luke. He risks not only himself, but his other droid in hot pursuit. Read More →

Five reasons “The Two Towers” is the worst Lord of the Rings film.

Five ReasonsCritics claim that the middle film of a trilogy is the most difficult. They’re wrong.

The opening has the advantage of introduction. More time is allotted to get to know the people, setting, rules. Caring about the characters is more critical than advancing the plot.

The ending has the advantage of drama: Everything hinges on individual moments.

The penultimate installment has its own advantages, though. New threads can be introduced that don’t require immediate resolution. The characters are established. The center of a trilogy is the only place you can get away with episodic cliffhangers (the kind television takes for granted).

That’s why The Empire Strikes Back is the strongest STAR WARS. There’s no time wasted on Luke’s background, Han’s motives or Leia’s personality. Obi-Wan’s stoicism sets up Yoda’s hilarity (which wouldn’t be funny if we’d met Yoda first). Throw-away lines from the first movie (“You think a princess and a guy like me…?”) become whole plots, because there’s time for development.

Events aren’t concluded. Heroes stumble from bad to worse ’til credits roll. It’s fantastic.

Despite the gooey fun at the trilogy’s center (like a tootsie pop), The Two Towers managed to repeatedly disappoint, though sandwiched between two of the greatest fantasy adaptations of all time. Read More →

The day my favorite book became my favorite movie.

I first read ENDER’S GAME at age 14. It was introduced to my family by aunt Bronya, one of the sweetest ladies you’d ever meet, and has great taste in fiction. (She’s also a stellar baker and hostess; if you’re ever in rural Missouri, I recommend stopping by.)

After devouring this quick read, I was stunned by its much deeper sequel and the philosophical volumes that followed.  When CHILDREN OF THE MIND came out, dad bought four copies: One for himself, me, my brother, and my then-girlfriend; none of us had to wait. That’s one of my favorite memories of dad: spontaneously generous, thoughtful, and sharing our excitement.From high school onward, I read science fiction because of Card. Oh, I’ve since read Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke, but that came later.

I majored in Philosophy because of science fiction, which was difficult to explain to my professors.THE WORTHING SAGA — which even most Card fans have never read — remains one of the most thorough and convincing treatments of theodicy I’ve ever read. (“Theodicy” is the problem of evil and suffering in a world governed by benevolent and omnipotent being[s].)

When an old friend finds me on Facebook, they’re liable to mention Card. As in, “I still read Card because you got me into him.” So Card has not only influenced my reading and my education, but the warp and woof of my social life, and of course my career as a writer. There are a dozen autographed OSC novels in my home. ENDER’S GAME and SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD sit on the top shelf in my office, facing out so you can see their covers. I will buy anyone who wants a copy of either book, no questions asked. Read More →

How to reread Wheel of Time before A MEMORY OF LIGHT.

This article is dedicated to Carey Peters, Bruce Lecus, and Ryan Jones.

So you’re a Wheel of Time fan. The final book, A MEMORY OF LIGHT, is finally finished. Praise the Light! Only it’s been years since you’ve read the Wheel of Time, which contains rich mythology, heavy foreshadowing, and loads and loads of characters. And most of the books are long. Will Continuity Lock-Out keep you from enjoying the final volume?

Don’t panic; there are a variety of ways to enjoy this epic tale before Tarmon Gai’don. And most of them don’t require rereading the entire series from pages 1 to 10,670, though that is certainly an option. Brandon Sanderson did so multiple times while writing the penultimate novels, so you’re in good company.

The idea of skipping books or chapters will strike some as odd; I assure you, it’s warranted. I’d rather you enjoy what you can than skip the whole series.

About NEW SPRING:

I was furious that Jordan wrote a prequel with the series unfinished, and (at the time) most releases failing to resolve much. I haven’t read NEW SPRING and don’t plan to. It is omitted from this guide.

Why your first reading was worthless:

The series is an order of magnitude better on subsequent readings. To modern readers, Jordan is dry, long-winded and fills his books with pointless chapters, especially later in the series. Only upon rereading (or reviewing supplemental material) does it become clear just how much Jordan planned in advance. Chapters which seemed at first irrelevant actually fill critical niches in the chronology.

For example, I used to hate any chapters with Whitecloak or Forsaken POV. They seemed to progress nothing. But both are rarer than I originally believed, they just seem longer when you want to read more about Mat. What you can’t tell in a single reading is how important a particular event becomes to the main characters  along arcs that take 8+ books to resolve.

Whatever you think of his prose, Jordan was a master planner; the foreshadowing and resolutions in Wheel of Time are second to none. On page 204 of the first book, Jordan tells you what Mat will do at the end of Book 13 to resolve a dangling thread from Book 5. Jordan’s work is photomosaic: Single chapters and books are downright ugly until you can see the larger picture. There’s too much to digest in one reading.

Your Prime Directive

I’m outline options to get you started, but the cardinal rule for rereading WOT is:

Don’t read what you don’t enjoy.

If you hated a book, chapter, or character, skip it. Even on your first read. I would rather you enjoyed the remainder. Remember Sturgeon’s Law:

90% of everything is crud.

…and the fan corellary:

The remaining 10% is worth dying for.

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