My own perspective on gaming, in reply to my best friend.

Howdy folks. This post will be a bit unusual. It’s a response to a post written by my friend Josh over at jdhjanus.wordpress.com in which he outlines his perspective on gaming and why he likes the things he does. So before continuing any further with reading this, I invite you to read his post first, otherwise this probably won’t make a whole lot of sense.

All good? Kay. Welcome back. Let’s do this.

I think Josh makes a very key mistake in his opening premise, that American (and most Japanese) gamers don’t share his mindset of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. That mindset, I find, gets thrown about a lot by people in life and work by people where it’s not true. It may very well be the case that something isn’t broken and works just fine. But there’s absolutely no reason why it can’t be improved and made even better. Did the older games work? Absolutely. But they also represent the best that could be done with the technology at the time. We’ve improved on that tech tremendously. To not iterate and improve on what you can do with gaming would be a waste.

Now let’s look at each of his individual points, and I’ll provide a sort of rebuttal to it based on my own experience.

 

1.  Traditional Gameplay

In a lot of areas of life, I’m like Josh in that I stick with tried and true and don’t experiment much. You ask me to cook; I’m going to ask where the directions are. Ask me to do the laundry, I’ll ask for directions on what should be done normal, what on permanent press, and so on. I’ll read directions on how to assemble, use, or repair stuff.  I’m not really the type who will just “wing it” and see what happens, because if it doesn’t work, then I’ve wasted materials, time, or both, and that’s not something I’m terribly fond of doing. Actually, it outright scares me.  For a long time, I had that approach about gaming as well. It’s only been more recently that I’ve been able to branch out and try new things, and I’ve had an absolutely amazing time playing some truly fantastic games as a result.

To Josh’s point where he says that storyline is a very important part of a game for him, that I can and will heavily agree with. But I do not agree that gameplay should fall as far short below on the priority list as I think he’s making it out to be.

Josh, I direct this quesiton to you. You say that you don’t want to spend a ton of time learning a new gameplay system because sometimes the battles or other gameplay detract from the story. I have to ask then: why are you actually playing a game at all? It sounds to me as though you would much rather be watching or reading the story rather than interacting with it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I just wonder if perhaps you are looking for what you really want in the wrong art form entirely.

Video games are, by nature, an interactive medium. We take on the role of someone or something and take a journey with/as them. The experience of that journey is just as important as our capability to interact with the world of this journey. If you aren’t excelling at both, then in my mind, your game is not complete.

And yes, at the time, with the limits of the technology being what they were, the original turn-based RPG systems and point and click adventure titles were absolutely great. They were a natual evolution from the tabletop RPG games and text-based games that pre-dated them.  Why should the evolution stop there? Why get to one point in the design spectrum and say “Yeah, this is good enough for every single thing that will come after this”.  Sure, we absolutely will see some mistakes along the way (Final Fantasy 8’s magic/leveling system was gawdawful), but just because we might have some stinkers doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and we, as gamers, should NEVER be afraid to try something new that’s been shown to us. If we don’t try the new, we’ll never know what we might be missing out on.

I will definitely agree with Josh that we don’t necessarily NEED revolutionary innovation with every game release, and I definitely think there’s a place in the market for an old-school RPG that has a defined class system and turn-based combat. Like he said, it definitely works well and will appeal to some segment of the gamer population (myself included). But we should not leave games at the point they were 10-20 years ago, by no means. Those gameplay systems were a product of the technology of their time. The technology of today allows us to do much, much more.

 

2. The focus on Action Elements

Again, let me preface this by saying that, like Josh, I don’t “like” to make decisions quickly. I like to consider various options, weigh pros and cons, and decide based on that. Sometimes I can be impulsive with purchasing decisions, and I would say approximately 50% of the time I end up regretting not having “done the research” and found something more to my liking. This goes back to my earlier dislike/fear of “wasting” things, in this case, money.

But that’s something that has a real-world consquence. In videogaming, you (usually) don’t have that issue to worry about. If you make a bad call, you can work to amend it or try again on the next go-around, depending on what you’re playing.  So, unlike Josh, I have no issue with it and in many cases, I actually prefer it.

One of the biggest draws of gaming is to immerse yourself in situations that you likely would never encounter in real life, be they playing in “the big game”, mowing down hordes of zombies, exploring the far reaches of space, or exploring life with superpowers, either as yourself or as a part of someone else’s story. The repeated term I just used there is “you”. You might be playing someone else’s role, the role of you in this situation, or a completely different role that you choose, but the point is, it’s you, somehow or some way.  You’re having this experience that you (probably) can’t have in the real world, thanks to the medium of video games.

Of course, it’s impossible (for now) to completely translate the experience of taking cover, popping out, and unleashing torrents of gunfire against invading aliens. You’re divorced from most of the physical requirements of such situations, as well as most of the fear, because your own life isn’t on the line. But as technology has advanced, games can give us incredibly realistic environments, AI programming that not only has gotten smarter but now adapts to your actions, and the capability to have our avatars do things that were previously not possible, allowing us to develop different strategies beyond “watch for patterns and attack the weak spot”.

And that sort of realism, to me, is so much more satisfying to play through. You not only have to rely on your own ability to strategize, but also to think on your feet and adapt as the situation changes, just like you would in reality. Of course, you could always make the wrong decision. That’s the risk. But the consequences? Not terribly severe. You can simply try again, and this time you’re armed with the experience of your previous attempt. You don’t really die, and the world isn’t really overrun with zombies, killer robots, or shambling horrors that defy all attempts to even comprehend their biology. Your brain is even better for it, because the more you force yourself to think quickly and respond to new situations, the better it will be for other situations where you need to do so in the future.

So, my dear friend Josh, I challenge you to not only find a game with a fantastic storyline and action sequences, but devote yourself to completing it and make your brain work better! I’ve got some recommendations for you, too. We’ll talk ;-)

 

3. Preference of linear and straightforward plots

Josh builds his arguments around 2 points here that I have to disagree with

  1.        Western RPGs are filled with nameless characters that have no personality compared to their Japanese counterparts
  2.        Said games do not have a strong linear plot and are instead open worlds full of sidequests where the plot takes a backburner.

For point 1, I would point you at pretty much any RPG that BioWare has made just as a single example from my own perspective. If someone is going to sit there and try to tell me that the characters (including the player ones) from the Dragon Age series or the Mass Effect series do not just as much personality development as anything in a Japanese RPG, then I just have to walk away and let them wallow in their own ignorance. Yes, you do customize part of that character, but said character has a defined voice, personality (though you can alter it with your choices in these cases), and personal story. And I’m certain that there are numerous examples that I simply don’t know about because I haven’t played them.

With regards to point 2, I have to take issue with his dismissal of side quests. I have played a not-insignificant number of eastern RPGs in the past, and I remember all too well a common element to all of them: grinding. Whether you needed to grind out some levels to be up to par with where you were supposed to be, or you had to grind out some cash to be able to buy a new set of gear from the nearby town’s armor shops, or grinding away whatever other arbitrary points the game had to boost your abilities, at some point you were wandering around waiting for that little flash or change in music that meant a random encounter had just happened and it’s time to fade to the battle screen!

Side quests are that, but with additional little nuggets of story to go with them.

Instead of mindless monster killing and boring wandering around, you have a clear objective, a little piece of story, and you get to explore certain areas while you do it. And what’s even better, in many modern cases, they’re completely optional. I invite you to go play the most recent single-player RPG in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, and ignore every single sidequest you pick up. Just do the main storyline quest chain. You totally can.  It’s an amazing story, too. You’re a prophesied hero, and you traverse a massive world to battle an evil that wants to obliterate creations. And you never have to touch a single sidequest to do it. Of course, you’ll have a much stronger and richer game experience if you do.

This goes back to what I mentioned earlier with regards to realism: Having the freedom to choose what you do makes games a more satisfying experience. If I choose to put a hold on my quest to save all creation to help a little girl deal with a bully, doggone it, I like that I can do just that. And in many cases, optional side quests are just that: optional. I don’t particularly see what the difference is between getting them early on or only having them available at the end of the game. Either way, I can choose to do them or not.

Quick sidenote: I recognize there are games where sidequests are pretty much not optional, and you practically have to do them to keep up with the game’s story. A lot of MMORPGs are guilty of this, the most notable example that I’ve recently played being Star Wars: The Old Republic. That’s a design style I do not particularly enjoy. Old Republic gives you an absolutely fantastic personal storyline that’s incredible and epic. Unfortunately, the leveling experience comes incredibly slow, forcing you to do side quests and the side planet storyline to keep up. That is one thing I will fault most MMORPGs for. World of Warcraft, in my opinion, got this one very much right with the Cataclysm expansion’s revamp of the original game leveling experinece. Each zone is a self-contained storyline on its own with minimal side questing that is usually related to the main plot you’re playing through anyway, and especially in later expansions, the zones tie together into an overall plot that you explore once you reach the level cap.

 

4.  The preference of 2D worldviews

I can get Josh’s desire to see everything around him. It’s why in a lot of games, if given the option, I will switch from a first-person perspective to a third-person one. I did this in Skyrim, I did this for most of the Jedi Knight series, and most of the MMOs I play tend to default to this setting anyway.

And by no means is the classic 2D worldview completely and utterly dead: I mean just look at the number of indie titles out there making fantastic use of it. Mark of the Ninja is a fantastic 2D stealth game. There have been new classic Megaman titles in recent release. It’s still out there and still being used. But It’s not the future.

This goes back to my earlier point about advancing technology triggering the evolution of games. The 2D experience was great when it was the limit of what we could do. Why in the world would we want to just stop there when new tech allows us to do so much more? We can build entire worlds to interact with in incredible detail

I have to direct another question to Josh here: Josh, is it possible that you had one bad experience with Ocarina of Time and it’s completely scarred you from 3D games entirely? It sounds to me like that’s the case. I think you’re letting generations of fantastic games with incredible experiences waiting for you pass you buy because of this fear, and as your friend I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think its time to jump back into the fray and conquer them and see all the awesomeness you’ve been missing. Your preferred old-school 2D games are awesome, and that isn’t going to change, but that in no way means that new 3D titles are thus inherently bad.

 

Hopefully in reading my responses to Josh’s point you got a good sense for how I feel about gaming. I look forward to what the future offers and can’t wait to try it out. While I do have my own genre preferences (such as not touching sports titles with a 10-foot pole), I’m also much less afraid to jump in and try something new than I used to be.

Some random thoughts on a WoW Insider

“Add to this the fact that, when World of Warcraft Started, there was a novelty in playing the Horde. The Alliance was humans, elves, gnomes, and dwarves, your typical D&D party. The Horde was orcs, trolls, forsaken, and tauren – the monsters”
-source

There’s a lot I disagree with Matthew Rossi on in this article on, but one thing I do happen to side with is the idea that the Horde is the Monster faction, the Alliance are the stereotypical fantasy humanoids.

This was the case in Vanilla WoW, but come Burning Crusade, the stereotype was turned on it’s head. The Horde gained Blood Elves, a stereotypically good guy pretty race, and the Alliance gained the Draenei, retconned to resemble the race of demons known as the Eredar, but their antithesis on the moral alignment.

While I understand that this needed to be done to address faction imbalance (too many kids or old-school gamers both tabletop and electronic wanted to play the “good guys”), I still think it’s taken a part of the identity away from the factions. I miss the days of feeling like the Horde was the faction of misunderstood and feared races, bound together for mutual survival. And I still don’t particularly think the Blood Elves story was handled well at all for the entirety of the expansion.

If we could do this all over again, I would love to see the faction identities of Alliance as the “good/pretty” and the Horde as the “misunderstood monster” preserved. I would leave the Blood Elves as antagonists in Burning Crusade (preserving the rebellion of the Scryers of course), but have a separate rebel group who still called themselves Quel’dorei/High Elves refuse to have anything to do with the path that Kael’thas lays out and return to the Alliance. Meanwhile, the Draenei crash-land on Azeroth, and are met and helped by Orcs practicing Shamanism, most of whom have no memory of the Draenei or the horrible things their fathers had done to them. Many Draenei would object to allying with the race that nearly brought them to extinction, but the Prophet Velen would have a vision showing a redeemed Orcish race battling the Legion that once used them. They join the Horde both out of need for a protective alliance and to help guide the Orcs along the path of redemption.

The Horde would still gain access to the formerly-Alliance-only Paladin class via the Draenei, and you could simply leverage the Wildhammer connection early to gain the formerly-Horde-exclusive Shaman for the Alliance.

As far as the Cataclysm races, while I do enjoy my Goblin Hunter, I would have preferred that the Goblins stay a truly neutral race. Yes, playable Goblins gives the Horde a shorty race, but the Goblin people have for most of WoW and WC3 been adamant about staying out of the Horde-Alliance conflict. Plus, the Worgen would make much better members of the Horde anyway, I mean they’re Werewolves for crying out loud! I’m not sure who the Alliance should get in lieu of the Worgen, unfortunately, perhaps the Dark Iron or Wildhammer Dwarves could be added in as a second Dwarf race.

I realize that this would ultimately mess with the story of WoW quite significantly, but frankly, the new races have had terrible lore so far (Draenei and Worgen practically ignored after their starting zones, Goblins have had a racial leader that they spent half their starter zones fighting and yet he’s still in power somehow, and the Blood Elves were kind of messed up from the start, though lately they’ve done much better by them).  I think there’s some very good story opportunities in going this route, and it’s a bit sad Blizzard chose to dilute the flavors of the factions and miss out on these.

My Wrestlemania 30 dream card

Warning: Professional Wrestling talk ahead. If you don’t care about pro wrestling at all and/or don’t care to hear my thoughts on it, go do something more productive. I won’t mind, promise.

So, with WWE’s Royal Rumble for 2014 out of the way, we are officially on the “Road to Wrestlemania 30″ as they love to say. And oh dear GOD is it shaping up to be a craptastic show.

I mean, Batista vs Randy Orton for the WWE World heavyweight championship? Yawn. Could they have possibly picked two less interesting guys to main event this show? And does anyone really want to see Triple H insert himself into the spotlight AGAIN by wrestling CM Punk, who deserves better than this crap? John Cena against Bray Wyatt might be interesting, but one match does not a crap card unmake.

Of course, it’s easy to criticize, it’s entirely another to try to do it better. So I considered the WWE landscape as it exists today and tried to book what would, in my opinion, be the best possible Wrestlemania 30 that I think is possible today. With one notable exception, I tried to only use wrestlers currently signed by WWE, and the one exception is one that I believe is a feasible person to sign to a contract. I came up with 10 matches total (a good size card for an event like ‘Mania), and I’ll go through each, why I would want to see it, and who I’d like to see be booked to win. Let’s get started.

1. Air Boom vs. International Airstrike

We start things off with a tag team match that features two high-energy teams with tons of amazing aerial offense on both sides. By all reports, Evan Bourne is ready to return to the ring from his recent injury, and with Kofi Kingston not really booked in any other storylines, reuniting Air Boom to further the WWE’s great tag team division seems like a natural fit. But who to pit them against? A team consisting of two men who are CRIMINALLY under utilized, International Airstrike. Justin Gabriel and Tyson Kidd are fantastic wrestlers, and a ‘Mania match against Air Boom would give them recognition to the WWE fanbase and give them a chance to impress.

As far as who should win, this one’s a tough call. Both teams could benefit from a push, so you’d have to book the match in such a way that no matter who wins, both teams look strong going forward. I’d almost say give it to Air Boom to give the returning Bourne’s some momentum, but only if Airstrike is made to look like they gave a hell of an effort. You can even turn them heel here and have a post-match assault to start up a feud. I only hesitate because Bourne has had two wellness violations and Kofi has been given chance after chance to develop an interesting character, and I’d hate to toss another wasted chance at them when Airstrike could really use it. I’ll go with Air Boom, and give them the benefit of the doubt.

2. Cody Rhodes vs. Goldust

The brothers finally collide. They’ve been teasing a split of this wildly popular tag team for some time now, and I think Mania is the place for the big blowout to happen. Goldust, despite his age and ridiculous character, has proven that he is just as capable in the ring as he used to be, if not moreso, and Cody is still a fantastic performer who has main even potential in him. These two clearly know each other very well, and could give us a fantastic match.

I have to give the win to Cody here, for obvious reasons. Goldust’s final run is almost over, and putting over his brother would be a fantastic way to end his comeback. I don’t think anyone foresaw how good Goldust would be when he returned, and I know he and Cody will give us one to remember.

3. Real Americans vs. Sami Zayn and Kevin Steen

Remember that exception I mentioned? Here it is. Kevin Steen isn’t currently signed to WWE, but I think WWE should sign him. He’s a big guy who can brawl well, but has a surprising number of aerial moves he can utilize. He’s a proven commodity on the mic who can be equal parts funny and terrifyingly serious, and he has a substantial fanbase he’d bring with him. Here’s how I envision this going down.

Sami Zayn makes his long overdue WWE debut, and immediately his old rival, Antonio Cesaro, and his Real American partner, Jack Swagger, come after him, fueled by the anti-Canada rants from Zeb Colter. Every match Zayn has, the Real Americans interfere. He has singles matches with both Cesaro (woo NXT rematch!) and Swagger, and interference from the other costs him each time. Finally, he cuts a promo, stating he will not give up, and makes reference to his friendships and wars with Kevin Steen, calling him the toughest man he’s ever fought. He won against him and he will eventually win against the Real Americans.

Finally, things come to a head where, in a rematch with Cesaro, the Real Americans double team Zayn again. All of the sudden, Steen’s music from ROH hits and the fans go nuts. Steen comes down to the ring, and looks at Zayn like he’s scum, apparently still full of hate for his old rival. The Americans appear wary, but slowly realize that maybe Steen wants to help them. They give him their “We the People” solute, and Kevin appears to return it…only to sing “OHHHHH CAAAAANADAAAA!” at the top of his lungs and assault the Real Americans, single handedly dismantling them. Zayn recovers and the two longtime best friends are reunited in WWE. They proceed to nail their signature indy spots, and send the Real Americans packing, and setting up this tag team match for Mania.
Steen and Zayn would draw in even more indy fans, and Cesaro is a well known indy wrestler who has battled both Zayn and Steen before. This match is full of talent and not only be spectacular on its own merits, but would also be a subversion on the classic “Face Americans vs Heel Foreigners” trope in wrestling.

Give the fans what they want in a Zayn/Steen victory, but this feud can and should continue past ‘Mania as well.

4. AJ Lee vs. Natalya for the WWE Divas Championship

Natalya deserves infinitely better than her current lot in WWE. She’s a Hart, so she’s a fantastic technical wrestler, and has proven that time and again. But over and over she’s been given crap gimmicks and unfortunately put in with the “Total Divas” crowd. WWE needs to start booking her seriously. With enough time and proper preparation, this feud has the potential to go into Lita/Trish Stratus levels of awesome. Both women are fantastically good in the ring, and deserve to be at the top of the women’s division. With Kaitlyn gone, there really isn’t anyone else in their league.

As for who wins, I would say let AJ retain using underhanded means and keep the feud going a little longer. Natalya should capture the title eventually, but WWE needs to sign some ladies who deserve to be at the top of the wrestling business to challenge her and AJ.

5. Big E Langston vs. Dean Ambrose – Unification match for the Intercontinental and US titles.

With the World titles unified, it’s time to do the same to the mid-card titles. Langston has made for an interesting IC champion, but even now he is barely put on TV. The US title hasn’t fared much better, most of the time people forget Dean Ambrose has it. It’s time to unify them and give the IC title the attention it deserves. Ambrose can take the opportunity to showcase his wrestling style solo of his shield compatriots (as Rollins and Roman Reigns have had the chance to do) and outsmart the powerhouse Langston using tricks and underhanded means. Book him to look like a classic Ric Flair-esque heel here.

I’d give the title to Ambrose. He can use it to further drive a wedge between his Shield brethren by hinting he’s better than them for having a title still, and Big E can move on to taking on bigger challenges. Big E’s got a lot of potential to be a main event superstar pretty soon, and there’s any number of feuds you can take him to from his IC reign to get him there. Ambrose can feud with his soon-to-be ex-stablemate Seth Rollins over the IC title.

6. Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Paticipants: Seth Rollins, Christian, Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus, Randy Orton, Damien Sandow, Curtis Axel.

The Money in the Bank Ladder Match needs to be a staple of Wrestlemania, because it’s almost always exciting, full of incredible spots and opportunities for new talent to showcase their chops.

Now, you’re probably thinking, Randy Orton? Why’s he in here, he’s the current World Heavyweight Champ! Well, this is my fantasy booking, and in mine, he lost the title at Elimination Chamber. To whom? We’ll get there.

I think every single man in here can come out looking better in the fan’s eyes than they did coming in. Seth Rollins can showcase that even not being a part of the Shield, he’s still an incredible talent. Damien Sandow has been under utilized, and can take this opportunity to showcase how good he is again. Christianwill be fresh off an injury, and can do the same as Sandow. Sheamus can remind us all that he is a HOSS, and Curtis Axel can take the opportunity to silence his many (deserved) critics. Orton needs to lose here, and he needs to do so because he needs to bring back the cold, merciless personality that earned him the nickname “The Viper” and is echoed in his entrance music, because he’s reverted back to his whiny, entitled personality he’s exhibited one too many times, and no one likes it. His “Viper” persona was widely loved, and if he wants to belong in the main event, he needs to go back to it.

Dolph Ziggler, in my mind, needs to win this. Ziggler is deserving of a main event push again. He’s paid the price for not playing with WWE’s stupid politics, it’s time to put that aside and do what’s best for business, and the fans will pay to see Ziggler as a main event player.

7. The Usos vs. The Wyatt Family – WWE Tag Team Championship

Why the heck are the New Age Outlaws, both of whom have been retired from active competition and serving in backstage roles for years now, the tag team champions? They need to lose those titles, and quickly, and I’d say they should lose them to the Usos at Elimination Chamber. Their first serious competition should come at the hands of the Wyatts. Both of these teams are red hot right now, and a win over the Wyatt family would give the Usos some solid credibility after having to win the titles from a team that no one takes seriously.

After the match, I would have the Prime Time Players insert themselves into the title picture by attacking the Uso during their victory celebration. The PTP are long overdue for a serious feud and are talented enough that one with the Usos will be spectacular. The Wyatts, in the meantime, can be reinserted into whatever storyline Bray Wyatt has going next.

8. John Cena vs. Roman Reigns.

Our third member of the Shield! Roman Reigns is being booked like a monster as of late, and it’s very clear that the WWE is impressed with his work. What better way to push him to that next level than a feud with Cena? There’s any number of storylines you can set up to get here, but ultimately Reigns will have to show that he’s wanting to seperate himself from the Shield and wants to go after the biggest target he can.

Cena has shown he can have a fantastic match with a good opponent, and this is an opportunity for Roman to prove he’s in that league. Ultimately, a win for Reigns will do more good for him than a loss for Cena will hurt him, so I’d give the victory to Roman. A rematch would be inevitable, but Reigns needs to get a solid footing in the main event before he can start taking a loss or two.

9. The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt.

It’s the next bout in the Wrestlemania streak, and I can think of no better opponent in terms of story than Bray Wyatt. Wyatt’s cult leader gimmick is an eerie callback to the Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness days, and can set up an almost supernaturally creepy storyline. I think these two will mesh styles together very well, and Taker’s veteran experience will help the two of them push this match from really good to possible match of the year level.

Undertaker should win, of course, and keep the streak alive, but because he’s that kind of great guy, will make Wyatt look like a fantastic wrestler despite the loss. Wyatt can then jump to any number of storylines without any loss of his own build up.

10. CM Punk vs Daniel Bryan – WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

The fact that this is not being set up as the main event of Wrestlemania XXX is utterly ludicrous, and it proves that WWE has no idea what the fans, who are the source of income for WWE, lest we forget, really want. Daniel Bryan is the hottest thing the WWE has going, and while Punk has not even remotely been utilized correctly in the past few months, he’s still one of the WWE’s biggest commodities. The match these two had during Punk’s recent title reign was spectacular, and it’s time to hand them the main event and let them give us the greatest Mania main event of all time, because you know they can do it.

I would give the title to Punk at Elimination Chamber to set this up, but I think the only way you can cap off a match of the caliber I know this one can be is to give Bryan his “Wrestlemania Moment” and finally, without interference, without controversy, and without any doubt, be the WWE World champion. It shouldn’t be long until Punk gets it back, of course, and the two continue their feud, but ‘Mania is where the fans go to see the big moments, and this one would be huge.

So that’s my Wrestlemana XXX dream event. I know I left out a few superstars like Alberto Del Rio, Ryback, and Brock Lesnar. That was on purpose. Del Rio is boring beyond belief and needs to be released. Ryback was pushed way too hard way too soon because of Vince McMachon’s love of bigger, bulkier wrestlers, even though it’s clear that Ryback wasn’t ready for a main event push. Brock Lesnar, unless he wants to come back full time, needs to go away. The only reason he can get away with his part time schedule and still be a main-event lever superstar is because of his success in UFC and his size, two things that Vince McMahon seems to have a thing about. He loves Brock because to him, Brock brings credibility to the wrestling business. All he brings me is irritation, because I’m bored beyond belief with his shtick. Come back full time or go away, Lesnar.

You a wrestling fan? Think I got it wrong? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to hear it!

Ooooh, fajitas

Having had a very busy week between work, my baby daughter and wife being sick, and a number of other commitments, I found myself deprived of a blog topic for this week and not a whole lot of time left to do this one if I wish to maintain my goal of doing one per week. So I turned to the newly released service from the good folks at Twitter known as Jelly for inspiration. Most of the provided topics were either not something I felt qualified to write on or just not that interesting, but one person’s suggestion of “food” did stir up the neurons in my brain.  I am one of those rather particular people when it comes to restaurants who has a “usual”, the dish they order every time they go to that particular dining establishment. Or rather, I used to be. I admit since Karen entered my life I have found myself branching out more and more, but at certain places, I retain those habits from earlier years of my life.

One such place, or rather genre of places, is the Tex-Mex restaurant. Being from Texas, and living in a major metropolitan area, there are a fair number of such places within an easy driving distance no matter where I happen to be. Needless to say, I’ve tried a number of them in my life, and have developed an appreciation for a number of dishes common to that particular variety of cuisine, but none so more than the Fajita.

I recall having fajitas for the first time at a chain establishment known as Don Pablo’s. Today I believe they’re all gone, but in my childhood, it was a common establishment, and one with my mother and I, along with a family we were very close to, enjoyed on a number of occasions. In those early years, i was very picky, and insisted on only ever having tacos, only with meat, lettuce, and cheese. Anything else, I wouldn’t have it. At some point, somehow, I tried some of my mother’s fajitas, and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve continued to enjoy it, and now I tend to judge the quality of Tex-Mex establishments by just how good their fajitas are, specifically their beef ones. I enjoy other meats of course, but the beef fajita is the gold standard.

I’ve developed a number of criteria around which I judge an establishment’s beef fajitas, which I’ll outline below.

The beef strips themselves are, of course, the primary factor in the overall enjoyment of the dish, and consequently the hardest for someone to nail. It’s not surprising really, if you think about how many times you’ve ordered a steak and had it come out over- or undercooked. Beef has a very narrow window of doneness where it’s not too cool but still not overdone to the point where it is overly chewy. Fajita beef is no different. Cook it too long and the meat will be tough and stringy. Don’t cook it enough and of course it will be cold or worse, unsafe for eating. The latter is much more rare, I find, restaurants are paranoid of food-borne illnesses caused by undercooked meat and consequently ruin it by giving it the consistency of shoe leather in the name of “cooking it thoroughly”. The beef in fajitas should be incredibly tender, practically melting in your mouth, never offering resistance as you take a bite. It’s an extremely rare event to enjoy an entire plate of fajitas and never encountering one stringy bit of connective tissue that you have to tear off, and even more rare is the restaurant that can reliably replicate such excellent preparation on repeated visits. Thus far I have yet to encounter one that is perfect every time, but I have located a number of places that get it more often than they do not.

There are typically two vegetables that are prepared with fajitas, the onion and the bell pepper, and they normally serve as a bed in the skillet on which the beef strips themselves are served. They taste excellent together when wrapped in a tortilla of course, and are the second factor by which I judge my fajita meal. I avoid eating the peppers themselves (I find the consistency too rubbery) but I thoroughly enjoy the spice and flavor they add to the meat. The onions, however, are another matter. I feel fajitas should be served with a VERY high ratio of onions to peppers, and never so thin that it makes them difficult to pile on top of my tortilla before I add the beef.  Rarely (thankfully) I have been served fajitas with more peppers than onions, and it is disappointing in the extreme to run out of them before running out of beef. The onions themselves should not be underdone of course, but it matters little to me if they are done to the point where charring is forming. I enjoy that taste equally as well.

Finally, we come to point three, and that’s the side condiments. This is, after overcooked beef, the other most common area in which restaurants screw up fajitas, because there are a number of different sins I run into.
1. If you are serving any type of beans other than refried, SHAME on you. Rice is not usually my cup of tea, so I’ll ask that you substitute it for a second side of beans, but really, not having refried beans is just a sad choice. Chili’s, I’m looking at you.
2. If you insist on charging me for wishing to have all three of sour cream, guacamole, and shredded cheese, then you clearly care more about making extra money than the care and quality of the plate you are presenting. That’s perfectly well within your right of course, just be aware of the choice you make and the reflection it makes on you! Sadly, this particular sin is rather common
3. If you insist on serving your pico de gallo (which I have no interest in) on a bed of lettuce, fine, but do not even THINK about doing the same for your guacamole. It ruins the texture and the flavor. Another one that’s rather common, I’m afraid.

I’ve had what I consider “perfect” fajitas (ones which conform to all of the above criteria) before, but never consistently every time I go to a particular establishment. The Mexican Inn locations in Bedford and Burleson, as well as Cristina’s location in North Richlard Hills, have gotten it closest to perfect more often than not, and if you enjoy fajitas I highly recommend all of those establishments.

I continue my search for the location that consistently delivers the perfect fajita, however. And when i find it, I may never eat at another Tex-Mex location again!

Mage changes I would love to see in Warlords of Draenor

I’ve been playing a mage as my main in WoW since I originally got the game in August of 2005. I’ve dropped the game and picked it back up a few times, and I’ve spent some time devoted to other characters, but for a majority of that time, it’s been my troll mage that I’ve spent the most time with.

I contemplated changing to a new main at the start of Mists of Pandaria, and I did originally level through the content as a Warlock, but ultimately I found myself wanting to experience the story content as the mage (he would be extremely interested in bringing down the Zandalar, whom he sees as traitors to the troll race, and has wanted Garrosh dead since late Wrath). That and the fact that I was reading stories of how well balanced all three mage specs had FINALLY become, something I had been campaigning for since Wrath of the Lich King as well. Plus Frost was finally raidworthy! How could you not love that!
So by the time of Patch 5.4′s release, I was fully committed to my mage again. I’ve seen all of Throne of Thunder (in LFR anyway) with him and I’m working on clearing Siege of Orgrimmar in LFR now (having an infant daughter is a joy, but it does take away from your gaming time!) And based on that experience, I do have a wishlist for what I would like to see happen to mages in the game’s next expansion, Warlords of Draenor. I’ve not yet decided what I’ll play (waiting on Class changes to get previewed before I seriously think about that) but if these changes get put in the game, I would almost certainly stick with the class.

1. Completely revamp the gawdawful level 90 talent Tier

Seriously everyone hates you, level 90

Seriously everyone hates you, level 90

I don’t think I know of a single talent tier that is met with more disgust by players of the class than this one. Every single one of them is basically a punishment to us in return for allowing us to regen mana and have a spellpower buff that makes us competitive. Incanter’s Ward forces us to take damage, teaching us the bad habit of standing in the fire. Rune of Power? Yeah, you’re pretty much immobile. Invocation? You’ll be prevented from doing damage for a bit every minute in order to keep this buff up, oh and we’ll kill your passive mana regen to make sure you need to do this.
Why? This adds no fun to the mage, it’s an irritation more than anything. We either choose from two flavors of mobility loss or being forced to stand in avoidable damage just to keep our damage output up to snuff. Meanwhile we stare longingly at Shamans with their Spiritwalker’s Grace, Warlock’s with Kil’jaeden’s Cunning, or Hunters who can pretty much move and cast everything they have and ask….why?
This tier needs a revamp. We shouldn’t feel like we have to pick between three different punishments, especially for level 90 talents. Those should feel like awesome rewards we want to use as much as possible

2. Reduce Fire’s dependance on Crit, and smooth out its scaling.

PYROBLAST!

PYROBLAST!

Fire has always been a bit of a problem for mages due to it’s extreme reliance on the Crit rating stat. Early on in an expansion, lower item levels don’t give you enough crit to get enough Hot Streaks or a high enough ignite DoT to do competitive damage. Later on, once you reach some magic threshold of Crit rating, Fire’s damage skyrockets and it blows anything else away.
Warriors have this problem as well (mostly Fury, from what I understand) in that our primary sources of damage output as a spec are overly reliant on getting as many critical strikes as possible. It’s time to reduce or outright eliminate that, and make it so those mechanics can be triggered in other ways, especially ones that will raise the value of other starts (haste and Mastery) to be closer to Crit’s value. This will also solve Fire’s scaling problems and make it viable across all gear levels.

3. Make Arcane more mobile again.

Can I move now, plz?

Can I move now, plz?

Right now Arcane is very much undesired for serious endgame raiding due to its extreme lack of mobility. This is primarily caused due to the fact that it is utterly shackled to the terrible Rune of Power talent. If we aren’t standing on or near the rune, our damage and more importantly our mana pool will plummet. Raid design, at least for now, places a very high premium on mobility. Sure Blizzard made the Rune larger, and allowed us to place a second one without the first fading, but the Rune still has a cast time, which we must stand still for. All this adds up to a very static spec where movement of any kind drains your damage, and so far, most raid bosses have required an ample amount of movement. I think getting rid of Arcane’s shackle to Rune of Power will certainly help, but ultimately I think Arcane could use another tool to help with their mobility. Fire can cast Scorch while moving, and frost still has the capability to spam Ice Lance, while neither is optimal, it still allows mages to keep doing damage until they are out of danger. Arcane does not have this right now.

4. Balance secondary stats for all three mage specs.

As it stands, every mage spec focuses almost entirely on one of the secondary stats, and pretty much stacks it above everything else. Fire stacks crit, Arcane stacks Mastery, and Frost stacks haste. This makes spec switching a costly endeavor, as you must go reforge and regem your gear each time if you want to remain optimal. If you like changing up your spec occasionally to change up the game for yourself a bit, as I do, this becomes a painful endeavor. It was lessened somewhat back when primary stat gems were the norm for gemming strategy, but the changes to gems in Mists of Pandaria have made it most optimal to gem “combo” gems which contain a primary and secondary stat. This will be ameliorated somewhat by the removal of reforging, but gems will still focus on secondary stats, which I am not a fan of. To this end, Blizzard, in my opinion needs to focus on balancing the three secondary stats for mages as close together as possible so that we can switch up our specs whenever we like and not cripple ourselves without regremming.

5. Increase our solo survivability

Possibly the worst experience a mage can have is playing the solo experince. I marveled at how much of an absolute pain it was to level my mage throughout MoP compared to leveling any other class due to sheer lack of survivability. We have no pet to tank for us, no self-heals outside of the Glyph of Evocation (which is crippled by our level 90 talents), tissue paper for armor, and are reliant on long cast times that require us to take a beating to finish casting before we can move. It’s high time we got something to fix this. Practically every other DPS class has either a self-heal or a pet to mitigate the damage they take, we need something to make our solo lives less painful.

6. Make Combustion less clunky, and give fire some of its fun back

Seriously, I want this friggin spell back

Seriously, I want this friggin spell back

Combustion, on paper, is a fantastic idea. In practice, you need an addon to properly manage it, and you have to cheese Alter Time and Heating Up stacks to reliably get a high enough Ignite tick to make it worth using. And heaven help you if you use it when you don’t have a decent Ignite, because then your damage is bleeeeh. This needs to be less RNG dependant and more of a straight up DPS increase every time. It should be used as soon as the cooldown expires, and it shouldn’t be useless without an addon. Come on.

Also, can anyone explain to me why Blast Wave and Flame Orb were removed? Blast wave was a fun AOE spell to weave into Fire’s AOE rotation and Flame Orb was just a cool looking spell. You gave a Frost Orb to Frost, why the need to remove Flame Orb?

7. A couple of ideas that are a bit out there, not really necessary, but would be awesome.

BLIZZARDS EVERYWHERE!

BLIZZARDS EVERYWHERE!

People keep talking about removing “pures” from the game, classes that have no roles they can fill outside of DPS. They do this by recommending existing specs be changed to be tanks or healers or some weird “support” role. The most often bandied about ideas are to make Demonology Warlocks and Beast Mastery Hunters tanks, and Arcane Mages as healers based on the idea of time manipulating and “reversing” damage. I’m okay with the idea of no longer having pures, and I even like the idea of a mage healer, but please, let’s not replace existing specs. That would be awful. I’m still miffed that Blizzard took away Blood DPS from Death Knights (behind the old Frost/Unholy dual-wield spec from the early days of Wrath), and I’d hate for fans of those specs to lose them. Instead, if you’re going this route, add a 4th spec. Druids already got them when Feral was split from it’s tanking role, there’s no reason other classes couldn’t get a 4th spec. I’m not even a particularly big healer, and I’d try a “Chronomancer” healer spec out.

One of the more “Iconic” roles the mage once had was being the king of AOE. Between Blizzard, Flamestrike, Cone of Cold, Arcane Explosion, and others, no other class really had the AOE power we did. Most of the classic forms of AOE as a whole has been nerfed pretty much to the point of non-usefulness, largely to counteract the “AOE down the trash” model that dominated much of Wrath. I think it’s been overdone, and we need to see the Mage return to a much stronger AOE damage dealer, especially in a solo environment. Strong AOE would be one step towards solving our solo issues.

Well that’s my ideas for one class come Warlords of Draenor. I’d love to hear your opinions, or even what you’d like to see from your own class of choice! Comment below!

Top 10 Favorite Villains

Wow. I’m long over due on this one aren’t I? I sort of fell off the blogging wagon at the end of last year. Sorry about that, especially to Josh, who I vowed to try to keep up with.

For 2014 one of my personal goals is to start writing more often. I enjoy writing and I need to develop that. So expect more things here, including more short stories. Here we go.

Time for another top 10, this time it’s my favorite villains. Like my boy Josh did over here on his own list, I’m limiting this to single villains (no groups or evil races), only one villain per series/show/universe, and only to ones I myself have experienced (meaning I’ve played the game/seen the show or film/read the book/etc)

Let’s do this thang.

10. Gul Dukat – Star Trek: Deep Space 9

guldukat

Gul Dukat: A true victory is to make your enemy realize they were wrong to oppose you in the first place; to force them to acknowledge your greatness!
Weyoun: Then you kill them?
Gul Dukat: Only if it’s necessary.”

“What?” you might say. “This is your entry for Star Trek, and not Q?” Yes, yes it is. For one thing, I don’t think Q is actually a villain. Half of the various episodes he’s portrayed in, his morality is something akin to “Beyond Good and Evil” and the other half, he’s either actively helping someone (however twisted it may seem) or just being goofy. Gul Dukat, however, is a truly magnificent villain. You could make lists of his individual crimes that would go on forever, yet because of his charm and likable demeanor, you could almost forget you’re having dinner with a mass-murderer. Seriously, watch the show and count the number of times he switches sides, or at least appears to.

The quote above pretty much exemplifies why Dukat is so enjoyable to watch. He never believes anything he does is evil. He believes he is a great man, and that sometimes great men must do things other lesser beings consider horrible, but of course that is only because they lack the proper vision! His ego is that out of control, and it leads him to allying himself with creatures which are the Bajoran religion’s equivalent of demons, nearly annihilating the galaxy in the process. I loved watching this guy, and Marc Alaimo did a fantastic job portraying him

9. Harbinger – Mass Effect series

Harbinger

“ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL”

The Reapers are terrifying enough. Massive ships that resemble squids, equipped with a weapon that can shred capital ships in one or two hits, posessed of incredibly deep voices designed to induce terror in their foes, and have the ability to indoctrinate people, which is essentially a form of mind control that they can do even when they’re dead (the Mass Effect wiki describes it starting out as feelings of paranoia , like they’re being watched, evolving into  subtle whispers that they subject cant ignore, that you follow without question, and eventually devolves into mindless slavery). They’re very clearly designed to resemble Lovecraftian entities in design, intent, and undefeatability.

Now make one of them larger, older, more devious, and multiply it’s firepower several times over. That’s Harbinger.

You first “encounter” him in Mass Effect 2, although you don’t realize who or what he is at first. Your enemies in that game, the Collectors, aren’t very well understood initially, and occasionally when fighting them, you’ll hear a deep voice utter “ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL” and one of them will rise into the air, become enveloped in some kind of energy, and land with heavier armor and coming at you with better tactics. You kill it, but the voice only taunts you again afterwards, and later, you find yourself battling another “possessed” Collector. As you continue in the game, you’re led to believe that “Harbinger” is the name of the Collector’s General, and that it possesses its own drones to better fight you and serve as a battlefield leader without endangering itself.

It’s not. The General itself is possessed by the true Harbinger, and it’s used as an intermediary for the drones. Harbinger is in fact a Reaper, the oldest Reaper. It’s bigger, more powerful, and smarter than the rest. And it wants you dead.

You can make a case for Sovereign (the Reaper that was the main antagonist of Mass Effect 1) being an equally good or better representation of the Reapers, but I find the constant terror of battling Sovereign’s posessed soldiers to be a more satisfying experience overall. And the final scene of Mass Effect 3, where Harbinger is doing his damndest to kill you personally, is just sheer terror and adrenaline.

8. The Joker – Various Batman series

The Joker

“My point is, I went crazy. When I saw what a black, awful joke the world was, I went crazy as a coot! I admit it! Why can’t you? I mean, you’re not unintelligent! You must see the reality of the situation. Do you know how many times we’ve come close to world war three over a flock of geese on a computer screen? Do you know what triggered the last world war? An argument over how many telegraph poles Germany owed its war debt creditors! Telegraph poles! Ha ha ha ha HA! It’s all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for… it’s all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can’t you see the funny side? Why aren’t you laughing?”

Oh man, the Joker. Of all the Batman villains, you knew it had to be him. He’s been the Dark Knight’s main foe for years, and his appearance and demeanor has ranged from amusing to downright terrifying. I can think of so many versions of the Joker that are memorable. The No Man’s Land series when he murdered Sarah Essen-Gordan. The entirety of Batman: The Killing Joke, where one of many versions of the Joker’s origin story is detailed (though this one may be the most famous). And of course there’s Mark Hamill’s masterful voicework as the Joker of the Bruce Timm-helmed DC animated universe. But I think a lot of us can only think of Heath Ledger’s Joker from the Dark Knight when we think of the character. And why shouldn’t we, he did an absolutely fantastic job.

The Joker is madness personified, a man with no restraints, no morals, nothing holding him back from doing whatever he likes strictly for his own demented amusement. Nothing is sacred to him, there’s no line he won’t cross if he feels like it. And he isn’t going anywhere, because Batman’s own moral code prevents him from ever killing him. No matter what the Joker does, no matter how many he kills or ruins, he’ll always come back for more.

7. General Tarquin – Order of the Stick

Tarquin

Tarquin: I’m sorry, Elan, but you brought this all on yourself. I tried to give you a dramatically significant death scene to swear vengeance over, but you seem to prefer this…this disjointed anarchy.
Elan: Didn’t we… already do the scene… where you try to convince me to do things your way?”
Tarquin: Yes, and it didn’t go right, so we are DOING IT AGAIN. And we will CONTINUE to do it until you understand that it is in your best interests to listen.

The Order of the Stick is a comic where everyone is aware that they are characters in a D&D-based comic, and concepts like attack rolls, hit points, skill checks, and saving throws are well known and natural to the world. The heroes know they’re the player characters, the heroes of the story, and the world almost literally revolves around them. So what makes a villain dangerous in a setting like this? One who is completely aware of the tropes and cliches inherent in stories about villains and their minions and is able to subvert that knowledge to keep himself in power. Tarquin knows he’s in a classic fantasy story, and he knows what happens in stories like this one. He uses this knowledge to set himself up as the ultimate villain, knowing that some day, some hero of destiny will come to take him down. He welcomes the inevitability, because he knows the story will make him a legend.

Of course, he’s well equipped to make this goal happen. He’s an incredible warrior, a stellar tactician, and he has the support of his own party of adventurers, friends who have gained in power as he has. The six of them rule the three most powerful empires on the Western Continent from behind the scenes, manipulating their puppet rulers to keep their kingdoms strong. When the Order of the Stick encounter him, he is affable, helping the Order both out of sheer confidence in his own established power, and his belief that the story will keep him in power until it is most dramatic and poignant to do so. And he’s right, it seems impossible to ever topple him. It doesn’t help that his son, Elan, is a member of the Order himself. Tarquin firmly believes that his son is the hero of the story, and he is determined that Elan will follow the plot of the story as he believes it is destined to go: Elan will suffer some sort of defeat, swear vengeance, wrestle will the idea of killing his own family, and culminating with a final showdown. The problem is, Elan isn’t the leader of the Order of the Stick, and he’s not the story’s main protagonist. He knows this and is content to serve his purpose in the story. As you can tell from his quote above, Tarquin does not take this well, and you can see how ruthless, sadistic, and vile he is under that affable exterior.

Tarquin is a subversion on the usual fantasy warlord villain, and he is a lot of fun to watch, just to see how many of the usual ways heroes trick villains he will see coming and be prepared for. And it makes Order of the Stick far more interesting, because a villain who sees what we expect coming requires an outside-of-the-box solution to beat!

6. The Master – Doctor Who

The master

The Doctor: But you’re changing history. Not just Earth, the entire universe!
The Master: I’m a Time Lord. I have that right.
The Doctor: But even then, why come all this way, just to destroy?!
Toclafane: We come backwards in time, all to build a brand new empire, lasting 100 trillion years!
The Master: With me as their Master. Time Lord and humans combined; hadn’t you always dreamt of that, Doctor?

The Master, like the Doctor, is a Time Lord. Where the Doctor goes and seeks to help people, the Master is bent on conquest and rule.

Played primarily by the brilliant John Simm in the new Doctor Who series (Derek Jacobi briefly held the role before the Master was shot and regenerated into the John Simm version), the Master served as the memorable “Big Bad” of season 3, as well as Tennant’s final appearance as the Doctor in “The End of Time”. Credit can be given to this version of the Master for greatly expanding his backstory. As a boy, the young Master was taken to look into the Untempered Schism, a rip in the whole of Time and Space where one could see the entire Time Vortex. The experience drove him mad. The Master constantly hears a series of 4 drumbeats in his mind, never ceasing, and he blames this event.

The Master is a conqueror, seeking absolute control over the universe. In the revised series, he fled the Time War in fear, hiding at the very end of the universe, forcing himself to forget who he was using Time Lord technology to make himself human. Unfortunately, he is awoken, steals the Doctor’s TARDIS and returns to present day Earth, manipulating the British government and citizenry to become Prime Minister. With the help of some creatures (won’t say what, as it’s too awesome to spoil) he had encountered at the end of the universe, he takes over the planet, ruling unopposed for a solid year, building a fleet of rockets to go forth and conquer the rest of the universe, in the name of establishing a “New Gallifrey”, the Time Lord homeworld which died in the Time War.

John Simm’s portrayal of the Master is spectacular, switching from an evil mastermind gloating at the Doctor’s failures to speaking with the Doctor as though the two were long lost brothers, catching up after so much time apart. He perfectly pulls off the charming exterior that barely conceals a sadistic madman, and manages to make him utterly hilarious at the same time. For that, he gets a spot in the top 10 for me.

5. GLaDOS – Portal Series

GLaDOS

“Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an “unsatisfactory” mark on your official testing record, followed by death. Good luck!”

GLaDOS is one of the most unique villains on my list. Initially she’s just a voice on a loudspeaker, compelling you to proceed through elaborate test scenarios of the portal gun. She seems benign enough, if a bit cold, but slowly you realize the maliciousness of this voice, culminating in her leading you to your would-be death. You escape her clutches and control, and eventually seem to destroy her. She returns in Portal 2, more vicious (well you DID kill her) and deadly. Through a series of strange circumstances you actually end up allied with her against a worse threat. She regains control of the testing facility, and just when you think she’s going to end you…she lets you leave.

GLaDOS is memorable because of her distinctive voice, her dialogue (which ranges from very subtly threatening to being outright yet still affably malicious), and the seeming impossibility of defeating her or wresting control of your fate from her, a very Lovecraftian concept.

4. The Lich King – World of Warcraft

The Lich King

“But, be warned. The land itself will rise up against you.
Long forgotten terrors will smother your courage.
Sacrifice everything as the final darkness falls…
In the end, all that awaits you is death.
Only then will you understand,
you’ve been following in my footsteps all along.
So come then, you heroes! Come in all your power and glory!
For in the final hour, all must serve the one… true… king…”

Oh the Lich King. First introduced in Warcraft 3, where he began as the fallen paladin-turned-Death Knight Arthas. Ultimately at the game’s conclusion, Arthas would don the Lich King’s armor and merge his soul with that of the original Lich King, the former Orc Ner’zhul. In World of Warcraft, the presence of his undead minions was felt, but the Lich King himself would not appear until the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, where he would attack major hubs of civilization in both Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms in hopes of luring powerful adventurers to Northrend, where he would constantly appear, sending powerful minions against you, but curiously, never attacking you himself. This lasted throughout the entire content cycle of this expansion until the final raid on Icecrown Citadel was added to the game, where you battle the Lich King himself.

And that’s where he reveals that everything he subjected you to, all the powerful undead minions he threw at you, the moral quandaries he subjected you to, even the fight with the Lich King himself….was all a test. After you sufficiently damage the Lich King enough, he uses a single attack that instantly kills your entire raid. And then he reveals his plan: to bring the greatest, most powerful adventurers and heroes to Northrend, test their resolve and strength, and weed out those powerful enough to challenge even the Lich King…and raise them up as his most powerful undead generals, warriors capable of covering all of Azeroth in darkness and death.

Had he not made the single arrogant mistake of leaving Tirion Fordring alive during the battle, he would have succeeded. But he did, and Tirion shattered his bonds and then shattered the Lich King’s iconic runeblade, the weapon that started him down his path to damnation, Frostmourne. The runeblade released the souls it had stolen, one of whom held the power to resurrect the dead adventurers and bring the Lich King down for good.

The Lich King is one of the most iconic villains of the Warcraft franchise, and a classic example of the fallen hero. However, there is no redemption for Arthas. We’re never really sure what exactly the Lich King is, in the end, though. Initially, he’s the corrupted spirit of an Orc Shaman, then by Warcraft 3′s end, it seems Arthas and Ner’zhul fuse into some sort of gestalt entity. The Lich King book’s conclusion would seem to have Arthas obliterate both the spirit of Ner’zhul and the remnant of his good side (represented by himself as a child) making the corrupted Arthas the dominant personality. And then when you kill him in World of Warcraft, his iconic helmet falls off, the icy power fades from Arthas’ eyes, and he asks if it’s over before dying. However, the idea that “there must always be a Lich King” has been made mention of several times by this point, and another must take up the mantle of the Lich King to prevent the Scourge from overflowing Azeroth. I’m massively summarizing here to avoid spoilers, it’s a cool cinematic and you should all go watch it, but ultimately another heroically chooses to bear the burden, and puts the Lich King’s helmet on. When he does, his voice noticeably changes, becoming very much like Arthas’ when he was the Lich King. So what exactly is the Lich King? Does Ner’zhul’s spirit live on in the helm? We may never know.

3. Loki – Marvel Cinematic Universe

Loki

“Are you ever not going to fall for that?”

Let’s face it, before Tom Hiddleston took the role over, Loki was fairly low in the ranks of popular Marvel comic villains. Sure he was considered Thor’s archenemy, but as a villain, he was a fairly typical megalomaniacal world-conqueror sort. Tom Hiddleston, in his appearance in Thor, The Avengers, and most recently Thor 2: The Dark World, have redefined Loki and made him one of Marvel’s most popular characters.

The Marvel Cinematic Loki retains Loki’s powers and tactics as a trickster and sorceror, but made the focus of his character development his self-worth issues. In Thor, Loki feels that Odin considers him inferior to his brother, this despite Thor’s arrogance and immaturity. This is made even worse when he discovers he’s not even Asgardian, he’s a Frost Giant adopted by Odin. So to win his father’s love, he shows Thor for the ass that he is, and then manipulates the Frost Giants so that he is in a position to kill their king, and look justified in doing so, giving him all the reason he needs to try to wipe out their world. In The Avengers, bereft of acceptance from his father, he tries to prove he is greater than him by conquering Earth (with the help of Thanos and the Chitauri). Finally, in Thor 2, he’s given up any semblance of loving his adopted father, and is only motivated to help Thor by revenge against the Dark Elves. At the film’s end….well, it’s still a little too new to say here, but lets just say Loki’s need for affirmation has manifested itself again.

Tom plays Loki as a charming, witty, affably evil persona barely concealing the rage and fury he feels at his place in life, and does a fantastic job with the role. The little nuances, such as the laughter, the mirthless smile, and the few times when the facade drops and we see the true sadistic side of Loki, are all brilliantly done. It’s a shame we won’t see Tom as Loki again anytime soon, because he’s set himself up as a superstar from that role alone.

2. Handsome Jack – Borderlands 2

Handsome Jack

“Hey, you know how I got my hands on that Vault Key? See, a few years back, Wilhelm and I paid a visit to your little friend Tannis. And we beat her for hours. We ripped it outta her broken fingers. But we let her live. Because that’s what heroes do. They show mercy. “

Okay, if you’ve played Borderlands, you know it’s not a nice place at all. The wildlife is vicious and terrifying, most of the people have gone completely insane and think nothing of inflicting horrible atrocities upon each other, whatever parts aren’t overrun by bandits are almost all controlled by a monolithic mega-corp that has equally low regard for human life, and ever the heroes that you play as have what could most kindly be described as “issues”. But nothing shows the ugly, the evil, the skin-crawling wrongness of the world of Pandora like Handsome Jack.

Handsome Jack is the CEO of Hyperion (the aformentioned mega-corp), which has essentially interdicted Pandora. He is seeking another Vault on the world to release a powerful being known as the Warrior, as well as the means to control it, to bring “order and civilization” to Pandora. Sounds like a worthy goal, right? Well, it would be, except he’s a sadistic psychopath, and his concept of “bringing order” pretty much entails “viciously killing anyone or anything on the planet that isn’t Hyperion, and sometimes even Hyperion personnel”. And I do mean anyone. Jack is mentioned to have killed innocent men, women, and children during the game. He has practically enslaved his own daughter, and is using her to empower the device that will allow him to free and control the Warrior. Mind you, this entails pumping her full of a radioactive substance native to Pandora AT ALL TIMES, and keeping a slave collar on her just to control her. He cracks up at the result of his murder of Helena Pierce, barely containing his laughter long enough to order his men to kill the refugees she was leading to safety. His corporation maintains facilities where humans are experimented on. And he regularly contacts you just to give you crap about things you’ve done, scream threats at you, or let you know about some other horrific atrocity he’s committed or planning to commit.

Jack himself isn’t very intimidating to you the player, because you’re a far bigger badass with loads and loads of guns, but as a concept, Jack is terrifying. The idea that a human being could be this depraved, to do the things he’s done, and in his mind consider himself a hero, AND gained the crazy amount of power Jack has, is utterly horrifying to comprehend. Jack inflicts some horrible tragic things on the protagonists and the people they protect as well, and together, these things make him my second most favorite villain, and a true joy when I get to the final boss fight with him in the game.

1. Grand Admiral Thrawn – Star Wars expanded universe

Thrawn

Thrawn: “It was my one failure, out on the Fringes. The one time when understanding a race’s art gave me no insight at all into its psyche. At least not at the time. Now, I believe I’m finally beginning to understand them.”
Pellaeon: “I’m sure that will prove useful in the future.”
Thrawn: “I doubt it. I wound up destroying their world.”

Grand Admiral Thrawn. The first villain introduced to the Star Wars universe beyond the Emperor and Darth Vader. So much was unknown about Thrawn when Timothy Zahn first wrote his trilogy of books in the early 90s. With blue skin and red eyes, it was clear the man was not human. So what was he? Why had his species not been seen in the Empire or the Republic before it? And how did he get to the ultimate military position of power in the Empire, known to be extremely xenophobic to non-humans?  His genius is demonstrated early on, combining incredible tactical knowledge and skill with the ability to get into the minds of the foes he faces, to understand their psychology, simply by studying the works of art of their species. He gives the nascent New Republic the first true real threat they’ve faced since defeating the Empire at Endor, and for a time it seems like he’s unbeatable. Only by making a major error in understanding the Noghri, an alien race that had dedicated itself to the Empire, does he fall.

But what were his motivations? Further writings show that he was a maverick among his people, who as a nation do not attack others with military force unless provoked. Thrawn believed that first strikes were necessary to ensure the safety of the greater good. He was exiled for acting on this belief, and was later found by the Empire and brought to the Emperor. The Emperor granted him rank and sent him to map the Unknown Regions, in the name of the Empire. It would seem he succeeded at doing that, but he created a vast swath of territory in his own name and ideals…the best of the Empire (unity, common purpose, strength) without the worst aspects (xenophobia, megalomanical displays of power, leadership through fear), and called it the Empire of the Hand.

It would seem his motivations lie in uniting the galaxy in the face of extra-galactic threats, though some of his actions described in the Thrawn trilogy would belie his noble purpose (see the scenario described in the quote above). Whatever Thrawn’s true motivations may have been, he made for a wonderful villain for the New Republic, and his legacy on the Star Wars universe earns him my number 1 favorite villain spot.

So there you have it. Did I miss someone I shouldn’t have? Is there someone I’m missing because I simply haven’t seen/read the universe they’re a part of? Comment below!!

Stuffed animals for Amelie

So, not going to talk about Amelie’s journey in the hospital here, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen the Facebook or Twitter posts detailing her progress.

Suffice to say, she was supposed to come home today, but it’s going to happen tomorrow instead. We are sad, but we know that good things come and all that.

In this particular post, I want to make you all aware of something!

My baby girl has a LOT of stuffed animals right now. A lot. Most of them were mine or Karens when we were younger. There’s my Alvin (from Alvin and the Chipmunks), Karen’s Teddy Bear Judge Scotty, a stuffed Eagle named “SKREE!” that we got from the Texas State Fair, more monkeys than we can shake a stick at, even a couple of super heroes I won for her at Dave and Busters!

Suffice to say, we got a buuuuunch.

But there are some others that I’d like to have for her. Geeky ones!

If you’re of a mindset to get my baby girl a stuffed animal, I’d really like it if you got her one of these! Most of them can be found on Thinkgeek.com, but you can also occasionally see them in various stores.

So here goes!

1. PONIES!

Because every girl needs a pony

I’ve seen these  in all kinds of stores, most recently a consignment shop called “Kid-to-Kid” in South Arlington. They look awesome. And I know my little girl is gonna grow up watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic with her parents, so having one for her would be adorable! Now the question is, which one! If it was for Karen it’d be Pinkie Pie in a heartbeat, but Amelie might be a Rarity or Twilight kind of girl. Who knows!

 

2. ADIPOSE!

Who knew a sentient blob of fat could be so cute?

Adipose are sentient blobs of fat from the Doctor Who episode “Partners in Crime”. In it, an Alien was trying to help repopulate a world, so she engineered a drug that would convert human fat into, well, this. She then sold it as a weight loss pill to us unsuspecting humans. The problem was, it worked a bit too well, and the process tended to convert….entire humans. The Doctor stopped the alien, but her clients did come to collect the Adipose children, who weren’t really malicious, being cute babies and all. They seemed to rather like their human surrogate parents! I think Amelie would enjoy the little guy!

 

3. SHIPS

Saving the galaxy, when you’re not cuddling with them

I got two of these for my Godsons! I love them! My little kidbot’s gotta have one! I like the AT-AT walker myself, but they’re all really cute!

 

4. TURRETS!

Target Acquired!

The turrets from Portal 2 are a lovely mishmash of cute and terrifying! But seeing as how this one probably won’t try to kill anyone, it’s just cute! Amelie already gets called a kidbot, she needs a robot friend!

 

5. CREATURES! FROM A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY!

Bantha, Wampa, Rancor, and Tauntaun!

We love Star Wars! Amelie will too! Right? Well if not, she can at least have a critter from the films to cuddle with!

 

6. PLANTS! SPECIFICALLY ONES WHICH DEFEND YOUR LAWN FROM ZOMBIES!

Zombie on your lawn? Gotcha covered!

LOOKIT THEM THEY’RE CUTE! And they have the added bonus of being proven Zombie protection. We gotta keep our girl safe from Zombies right?

 

7. CTHULHU!

The world’s cutest Elder God. He might devour your soul….after naptime

If you aren’t familiar with the works of writer H.P. Lovecraft, you might not know who or what Cthulhu is. Basically, Lovecraft wrote cosmic horror, featuring entities that were so terrifyingly powerful and above human concepts of good and evil, things which considered us as we considered ants. Cthulhu was one of the central entities featured in his works, and has become a fairly popular character on the Internet. This little guy probably doesn’t need to be summoned by insane cultists, just by a little one who wants a hug. It may not drive you insane or attempt to consume your very being, but I bet he’ll give good hugs!

 

8. ZERG!

Transforms from Zergling to Baneling! But never away from adorable!

The Terrans of the Koprulu Sector might be scared to see a Zerg, but I’m betting Amelie will be very happy to play with her little cuddle bugs! Let’s just hope the Baneling doesn’t decide to explode on her. I’m guessing that won’t wash out.

 

9. COMPANION CUBES!

The Weighted Companion Cube will accompany you through the test chamber and generally be adorable and squishy

It’s your best friend in the test chamber! And you never have to incinerate it! And when the testing is over it will enjoy cake with you! Okay maybe not that last part. Maybe Amelie won’t be subject to the eerie terror of the test chambers or GLaDOS, but she still needs a lovable companion! Who says it can’t be the cube?

 

10. WOOKIEES

GRAAAAARRRWWAAAGH means I love you in Shyriiwook!

Best protectors in the galaxy! Once they swear a life-debt to you, they’ll protect you from anything, including monsters under the bed or in the closet! Amelie won’t need protecting (she’s a warrior princess!) but she might need a furry best friend to watch her back!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 530 other followers