Tag Archives: nerd

Film Review : Star Trek : Into Darkness

So they made a second Star Trek film. So I went to watch it. It was an OK action flick but suffers from major flaws that I will enumerate over the course of this spoiler filled review.

Poster for Star Trek Into DarknessAs with the first new Star Trek film, Into Darkness is a well made and visually spectacular 2 hours filled with action set pieces and explosions, aided by a fine cast. Unfortunately, as with the first film, the story is a terrible mess and the script is no better. In fact, Into Darkness is almost the same film as Star Trek 2009, with a crazed mad man seeking a stupid revenge.

But Into Darkness is also a semi-remake of Wrath of Khan, probably the only Star Trek film that counts as a excellent film outside the world of Trek. Turning Wrath of Khan (a cerebral battle of wits in which Khan and Kirk never meet) into a dumb action film (which ends with a long fist fight on top of a moving vehicle) did not go smoothly. Although Into Darkness keeps referencing the older film and the old series in general, the shoehorned lines and situations only remind the viewer how much better constructed Wrath of Khan was.

The biggest problem is Kirk. Into Darkness starts with Kirk getting demoted for being a dick. Star Fleet must be very lenient on gross insubordination because they only demote him one grade, and he gets command back 15 minutes later after a short lecture. Then the Enterprise is sent on a mission to track down the terrorist with a scheme so harebrained that even Kirk eventually realises it is a stupid idea, but comes up with an even worse idea by himself. Kirk then allows himself to be used by said terrorist even though he knows it is a trap. These are are actions of an idiot, not a captain. Because something similar happened in Wrath of Khan, Kirk sacrifices his life to save the ship for no reason but gets better.

Now I know that these film are explicitly not trying to be exactly the same as the old Star Trek, but this is some really weak writing. The original Kirk was a fairly level headed dude who generally followed procedure and only pulled out the audacious moves when faced with insurmountable odds. You could see why he was liked and respected by the rest of his crew. New Kirk is obnoxious and immature, and would be a danger to the ship if he was in charge of the laundry, let alone in command. I know the arc of the Into Darkness is supposed to be about Kirk learning responsibility, but a) that was Kirk’s arc in the first film, b) he is already captain here, and should act like it, and c) Into Darkness pretty much drops any pretense about character arcs after the first 30 minutes. Spock has much the same problem, his story in this film is exactly the same as the in Star Trek 2009.

Into Darkness goes overboard with weird little bits of continuity, strangely refusing to go its own way. I did like that in a film that cost $190 million, the tribble was still just a lump of fur but it was there for no particular reason except as a reference. Other callbacks are shoved in only for the audience and don’t make sense in the context of the film. The scene where Khan reveals himself is staged as if it is a major revelation, but none of the characters present have a clue who Khan is. This type of pantomime dialog where characters speak to the audience instead of each other gets very tiresome.

Having said all this, there are worse films you can spend your money on. Star Trek : Into Darkness requires that you shut down all higher brain functions, but once you accept that then, just like the first film, it has its charms. The best I can give is a lukewarm recommendation.

Rage of Thrones

So season three of Game of Thrones has started.

View on youtube
Actually, the adaption of Game of Thrones has been pretty great so far. In some ways it is even better than the books, mainly due to stuff actually happening in a timely manner. Also, instead of G.R.R.Martin’s vivid descriptions of breasts in every chapter, we actually get to see breasts. This behind the scenes look explains the creative process.

The books are crazily ambitious but the pace has been slowing with each successive novel. I suspect that the next book will cover in detail what each of the 85 characters did between the hours of 8:30am and 11:30am on a particular Tuesday morning, including what they had for breakfast, if anything scary made their bowels turn to water, and if they saw any nice breasts. It is these colourful threads that the novels’ rich tapestry is woven from.

(Axis of Awesome also have this unrelated but amusing song which is worth a look.)

Game Review – RoboRally

RoboRally Box ArtRichard Garfield is justly (in)famous for creating Magic:The Gathering, a game so nerdy that groups have to meet in secret less a roving chess team find them and beat them up. But before that, Garfield made RoboRally – a game that makes Magic:The Gathering players look like cage fighters.

RoboRally is exactly want it sounds like; each player has a robot which they guide around a factory floor. The object is to win the race by touching numbered flags placed in strategic locations in turn – the first robot to touch the last flag wins.

Each turn players are dealt 9 program cards each specifying a simple instruction (“turn 90° clockwise”, or “move forward 2 squares”, etc). Before any of the robots move, players place 5 cards face down in front of them in “registers” and discard any cards left over. Then each player reveals the card in register 1 and moves their robot on the board accordingly. Then register 2 is revealed, and so on.

But things aren’t so simple. In addition to avoiding the other robots, the factory floor itself is littered with obstacles. There are conveyor belts that carry any robot on top of them, walls that block movement and worst of all, lasers. Each robot also carries a laser, so damage is inevitable. Damaged robots first receive less cards at the beginning of the turn. The damage quickly accumulates to a point where the registers themselves become faulty, locking a movement card in place for multiple turns.

Because you effectively program in 5 movements ahead of time a certain amount of forethought is required. Forethought that might go to waste, because other robots can interfere with your carefully laid plans. You never quite get the cards dealt to you that you need, and once the damage starts to bite your robot with be careening all over the board.

RoboRally board, showing positions part way through a game
RoboRally scales really well and is actually better with more players, so long as you don’t mind a certain amount of chaos. It sounds complex but the rules are very clear and each turn takes only a few minutes. It is certainly not a game of deep strategy as any plans you make will collapse hilariously, but it is not totally random either.

Fast paced, humorous, and nice to look at. Highly recommended.

Movie Review : Prometheus

The poster for PrometheusSometime hence, a scientific team in Scotland finds evidence that mankind was created by extraterrestrials who left clues to their location. So they do the only logical thing: mount an apparently secret expedition funded by a dying billionaire to a remote moon in another solar system, hoping to literally meet their makers. Of course it all ends in tears – in retrospect Prometheus was a stupid name for a spaceship.

Prometheus (the film) has had a very cunning marketing campaign that made the film look stylish and mysterious without giving away much of the plot, but I am going to spoil some of it’s secrets in this review, starting with the biggest feature right now : nothing in this film makes a goddamn lick of sense!

The characters act in totally mysterious ways – nobody seems very impressed that they have found the remains of an alien building. Personally I would be overjoyed to find anything alien, even if it appears to be dead, but they treat it like it is no big deal. Is the film’s universe filled with alien artifacts that everyone has become blasé? Who knows, the film never explains it. Several times character experience weird or frightening things yet never think to mention it to the others. Even when people start dying nobody seems very concerned or motivated to do anything about it.

Sequels and prequels often steal little plot points from previous films in the series, and Prometheus is no exception, but some of them are eye-rollingly unsubtle and inappropriately shoe-horned in. I was particularly annoyed by the antagonistic class distinctions among the crew. In Alien and Aliens this made sense, since the characters were either military grunts or basically blue collar workers during a tedious job. But this was a hand picked crew hired for this specific mission, you’d think HR would have screened out those with obvious personality defects. They don’t even seem to be good at their jobs.

While watching I found myself wondering if there is going to be a much longer directors cut of this film. There are lots of little scenes that seem to exist to establish a particular prop or plot point but the payoff never eventuates. For instance, the camera lingers at one point over some armoured spacesuits stowed in the ship. These are never used even though they would have come in really handy. Other plot points are carefully introduced with tedious exposition but really could have been cut – what was the point of the self-contained life capsule? Everything that occurred there could have happened on the main ship. And why was a 90 year old man played by Guy Pearce in bad, bad makeup? You never see that character as a younger man, so why not cast an old guy to begin with? So many odd choices…

Are there any good points? Well, other than the plot and the characters, Prometheus is well made. The acting is OK I guess, but nobody really stands out. The special effects and sets look pretty cool. The costumes were nice, the film was in focus, and the cinema was at a comfortable temperature. I don’t really know what to say here, all the little touches that made Alien and Aliens so great are missing. I wouldn’t even rate it against Aliens vs Predator.

Perplexing and a disappointment. Not really recommended.

Game Review : Wrath of Ashardalon

Things are not going well for the villagers that live near the dark volcano that dominates the landscape. The smoke and ash the billows from the inaccessible crater is only a minor problem, far worse are the horrible creatures that dwell in the crevices that split the mountain’s flanks. And lurking somewhere deep within the lava-fulled depths – Ashardalon awaits!

First things first – Wrath of Ashardalon is an official Dungeons and Dragons game, played like you would a D&D adventure with simplified combat with the game mechanics taking the place of the DM. Still reading? Very well, let us continue…

Up to 5 adventures can play, each selecting a different pre-defined character but choosing a subset of the available abilities to start with. Each turn, the a player moves his character around the board and possibly attacks a monster if one is in range. At the start of the game, the board consists of a single 4*4 tile but if a player ends his move on an edge then pick a random tile and place it on the board, exposing a new part of the dungeon. At least one monster is placed on each new tile. Usually an encounter card is drawn as well, these have effects (almost always bad) ranging from the current player being hit by an arrow from the shadows to everyone taking damage from poison gas.

Then it is the monsters turn to move, the current player does that before ending his turn. The monsters all behave slightly differently, but the cards carefully explain what to do. Combat is very simple – roll a 20 sided dice and add the attack value to see if it meets the armour class of the defender. Most monsters can be dispatched with one or two hits so bookkeeping is kept to a minimum.

The ultimate goal changes depending on the scenario chosen at the start of the game. In our most recent game we had to fight our way through the random tunnels to find a special tile that opened into a large chamber filled with monsters led by a special “villain” monster with extra abilities. Our first attempt failed utterly but we got there in the end.

One word best describes Wrath of Ashardalon – hardcore! The box contains a vast amount of cards, tokens, thick cardboard map tiles, and 42 unpainted plastic figurines. The figurines are different from the normal D&D figures but detailed and suitable monstrous. The map tiles are very heavy card-stock and the art in nice throughout; full marks for presentation. The rulebook looks good but has a uphill battle trying to explain things, especially since many of the rules only apply during certain scenarios. It was only on our second game that we felt we were playing things correctly and even then we had problems.

The closest thing I could compare Wrath of Ashardalon to is the old Gauntlet arcade game from the 80s. The game forces you to move fast, uncovering the dungeon quickly to reach your goal. The clock is ticking since horrible events befall your party nearly every turn. Trying to mop up every single monster before continuing only leads to defeat; far better to keep moving and conserve your meagre resources as long as possible.

Wrath of Asgardalon certainly can be fun, but is really only for experienced players. The game balance is brutally stacked against the players, so everyone has to be making the most of their abilities all the time. Even then blind chance can completely screw you (and everyone else) over with no chance to counter it.

Recommended only if you have a group of friends who really like Dungeons and Dragons and Losing and Restarting.