Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

Big Ross is big.  Real Big. When he's not playing God in the lab, he coaches Superman on catching bullets with his teeth.

WB & DC have presented a clear introduction to, and launching point for, their combined cinematic universe. This is the universe that all movies will co-exist in moving forward. After seeing the movie, something bothered me. It’s not that the movie is bad (which it is), nor that it has a nonsensical plot (which it does). After stewing on it for a couple of days, it is clear to me that WB & DC have made a conscious decision for the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU). For inexplicable reasons that decision is to place the DCCU in a Bizarro universe.

Let me step back here. I questioned even writing a review. I thought, “What more can I say about BvS that hasn't already been said? And do I even want to say it?” That's maybe the biggest indictment against BvS. My reaction was so “meh” that I question if it is even worth discussing this movie. I could have talked about Mad Max Fury Road for days. I could and did talk about Star Wars The Force Awakens for weeks. But BvS is so mediocre, it doesn't seem worth the time. It is neither bad enough to warrant a scathing review, nor good enough to be worthy of mounting a defense.

The Big Bang Theory is a major player in geek popular culture. You either love it or hate it, and if you hate it and think it’s only loved by people who aren’t “true geeks” (whatever that means), then you haven’t seen the presence and draw of this show at San Diego Comic-Con.

Personally, I don’t actively despise the show, but I do think it’s a one-trick pony that has been getting beaten long after cessation of any vital functions. It’s biggest problem is that it is a comedy show full of unlikable characters who aren’t funny, haven’t been funny for years, and maybe never were.

Big Ross joins the CC2K Star Wars discussion with this SPOILER filled essay.

Before I go any farther, DO NOT READ THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE. THERE WILL BE DISCUSSION OF SPOILERS.

Still with me? OK. Of the many opinions being voiced about Star Wars The Force Awakens (TFA hereafter), one I’ve heard here on CC2K and elsewhere is that it is great fun, feels like a Star Wars movie, but is such a rehashing of Episode IV (and other elements of the original trilogy) it may as well be a remake. If it’s not clear, this last bit is a negative thing. CC2K alum Joey Esposito went so far as to say realizing this broke his heart. This is something I want to discuss a bit more.

First of all, I loved TFA. I had a blast watching it, and rode a high that lasted the rest of the day (and enjoyed it tremendously on a second viewing). Tony Lazlo nailed it when he said it looks and feels like a Star Wars movie. Abrams and company managed to capture that old magic, and that accomplishment alone is worthy of praise. And while others find reason to complain about the plot/remake aspect of TFA, I can’t say that I do.

I realize that I wrote recently about being worried that TFA would pull a Jurassic World and play the nostalgia card (for the record, I can’t believe how much I nailed that; I should go buy a lottery ticket or something), but in hindsight, I can’t say I’m surprised. Star Wars hasn’t been the vision of an imaginative, daring young filmmaker for a VERY long time. And once it was bought by Disney, and they announced they would make Episodes VII-IX, the chances of it ever being that again were slim to none.

One thing I’m sure of is that geeks and nerds the world over, ever since the announcement of Episode VII said the same thing. “It can’t be worse than the Prequels.” These words were spoken with hope tinged with desperation. I’m sure Disney execs said the same thing, but with none of the hope or desperate quality. For them it was simple determination driven by the fact that they invested an astronomical amount of money into acquiring Star Wars. Now that they had it, they were going to be damn sure that they were going to make a profit off of it. That meant one very simple thing.

There is absolutely no way they would give Episode VII over to some daring young filmmaker with a vision. It doesn’t matter if it was the greatest pitch in the history of Hollywood. Daring and different would be received as risky, and risky is the very last thing Disney would want. So they brought in Abrams, who proved he could not only reboot another venerable sci-fi franchise with Star Trek, but launch it to new heights. So we got TFA, and the rehashing of plotlines and elements from the original trilogy. Familiarity, nostalgia, these are safe bets. Sound investments.

I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t be sad that TFA wasn’t daring and new and different. But really, can you blame them?

And Now for Something Completely Different

I want to defend the use of Starkiller Base in the context of the movie. Rumors of yet another superweapon circulated in the leadup to release, seeming to be confirmed by the image on the poster. Having seen the movie, we know that The First Order built an uber Death Star. We can complain about the absurd physics of it, though in a universe where ships the size of X-Wings can make hyperspace jumps and maneuver the way they do in space and planet atmospheres, StarKiller Base is par for the course. No, I want to justify its existence altogether. I think there’s is an in-movie reason for seeing a superweapon built for a third time.

Imagine you are the command structure for a military regime bent on galactic domination and subjugation. Option A is to build an armada of ships so vast, an army of soldiers so extensive that you can deploy them, conquering and holding hundreds of worlds in star systems scattered throughout the galaxy. The logistics of this seem if not impossible, then unmanageable. How big would a military force have to be? Would they have to be in constant motion, moving from system to system quelling rebellion after rebellion and quashing resistance wherever it arises? How quickly do your troops burn out from constant deployment? How do you maintain your fleet of ships? How many resources does it take? Isn’t there an easier way?

Enter Option B. A nuclear option of sorts. Instead of the costly, logistical nightmare of conventional interstellar warfare, you build a superweapon. A battle station that can destroy whole worlds, or entire star systems in a single stroke. You demonstrate the power of such a weapon, relying on the fear you inspire with your willingness to use it to keep systems in line.

Maybe it isn’t just preferable, but necessary. Or simpler, easier, or more cost-effective. And yes, maybe some lucky, Force-sensitive pilot blows up the first station you build, but until that moment it was working! Would military commanders or political leaders give up on the idea so easily? Think of the real world politicians and the war on terror. The setting, enemy, and circumstances have changed over the years, but the answer trumpeted by some leaders has been the same. Whether it’s been Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, or Syria; Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, ISIS, or Assad; the solution has been unchanged. Air strikes. Invade. Troops on the ground. A surge, a sustained surge, a new surge.Remove Hussein from power. Remove Assad from power. Again and again and again, the same solution to solve these problems. Is it any wonder the despotic rulers of The Empire and The First Order are so quick to keep going back to the superweapon well?



Tuesday, 01 December 2015 00:00

10 Things to Love about Fallout 4

Big Ross returns from wandering the wastes to gush about the latest edition of the Fallout franchise.

Old-school Fallout purists may not like what Bethesda Softworks has done to the Fallout franchise since buying the rights and making it their own with the release of Fallout 3 in 2008. I can’t say I agree, as I fell madly in love with that game and the larger Fallout mythos in general. Even the follow-up, Fallout New Vegas (developed by Obsidian) was excellent and innovative. Now we finally have a true sequel to Fallout 3 with the release of Fallout 4 on 11/10/15. I’ve been playing as much as I can and loving every minute of it. I haven’t spent enough time with the game to write a proper review, but I did want to highlight some of my favorite things about Fallout 4.

10) The Graphics and Color Palette

Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas both suffered from rather drab, almost monochrome color palettes. Coupled with them being run on some rather dated (even when they were new) graphics engines, and with some few exceptions neither is what you would call a pretty game. So it’s refreshing that with Fallout 4, Bethesda has not only updated the graphics, but completely overhauled the look of the fallout world with a varied and vibrant color palette.

 

09) The Weather System

Fallout 3 had a day/night cycle, and that was pretty much it. Night was uniformly dark as much as day was uniformly bright. It’s revelatory that Fallout 4 features not only a more dynamic day/night cycle, but weather patterns too! And the thing I love the most is that there seem to be “normal” rain and thunderstorms, and then there are “radstorms” (my term, nailed it) - thunderstorms that subject you to brief exposures to radiation anytime lightning flashes. It’s awesome.

 

08) Feral Ghouls are Properly Terrifying

Feral ghouls are essentially radiation-induced zombies of the Fallout world. In Fallout 3 they were little more than cannon fodder. These melee-exclusive enemies were easily spotted from a distance, and just as easily dispatched. Fallout 4 changes everything, by taking a page from Left 4 Dead to make feral ghouls much more interesting and challenging. They’re better at hiding and ambushing you, faster, have better AI, a tendency to swarm, and a revamped look that all combine to make them some of the scariest enemies I’ve encountered so far. I hate feral ghouls, but I love them too.

 

07) The New Radiation Mechanic

Speaking of radiation, I’m incredibly happy and intimated at the same time by the new rad system. In Fallout 3 radiation came from the environment, and your exposure was cumulative. If your Rad Level got too high you’d suffer from Radiation Sickness, which would worsen the higher your exposure level got. You would suffer penalties to your Endurance and overall hit points. Great in theory, but the problem was that drugs to prevent or remove Rads were so abundant, you literally never had to worry about Rad exposure.

In Fallout 4, the Rad System has been completely changed. You now take Radiation Damage, which reduces your max level of hit points concurrent to exposure. This makes radiation a constant and imminent threat. It heightens the tension, and makes you much more wary of your surroundings. And I’m happy (and a little worried) to say that at least in the early game, Rad-X and Rad-Away are quite scarce.

 

06) Changes to V.A.T.S. and Critical Hits

The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (V.A.T.S.) made sense in the turn-based combat of the original game. I thought it was cool in Fallout 3, but it was more “necessary tactic” than “neat option” what with the weapon spread and lack of true iron sights. These two deficits were rectified in Fallout New Vegas, and I found myself using V.A.T.S. significantly less in that game. Thankfully, V.A.T.S. (and combat in general) has been updated in Fallout 4.

Weapon spread seems to be largely gone, true iron sights exist, and V.A.T.S. is fun and cool. It doesn’t completely freeze the game (like in Fallout 3) but slows it down (a sort of bullet-time), which keeps combat more fluid and dynamic. And critical hits have been changed and incorporated into V.A.T.S. In the past critical hits had a “chance to hit,” which you could increase with perks and clothing and such. They weren’t random per se, but you had no control over when they happened. In Fallout 4 you have a Critical Meter, and each hit you score in V.A.T.S. partially fills it. Once full, you activate a critical hit in V.A.T.S., which aside from doing bonus damage is a guaranteed hit. It’s awesome and makes using V.A.T.S. not only fun but valuable.

 

05) The New Perks System

In previous Fallout games, when you leveled up you would get to select a perk. There were a ton of these, and they did all sorts of things to affect your character and gameplay from simply giving you more hitpoints or damage resistance; a bonus to damage output with particular classes of weapons; or additional dialogue options with members of the opposite sex. One of the problems I always found was that these were organized in any way, and it was hard to see how different perks could work together. I’m happy to see that the perks system is another area that went back to the drawing board in Fallout 4. Now everything is laid out in a chart, and perks are associated with your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes. I really like the change.

 

04) The New Dialogue System

A lot of people seem to dislike the new dialogue system, which like so much else in Fallout 4 has been completely overhauled from previous games. But consider me an apologist of it. I really like the new system. It reminds me a lot of the dialogue in the Mass Effect games, and while Bioware may have done it better, the effort Bethesda puts forth here is worlds better than the dialogue in Fallout 3. A single-view, one-way “conversation” with a talking head while the rest of the world is “paused” is not fun. I’ll take the Fallout 4 system any day.

 

03) The In-Game World

Bethesda has been great at creating big, open worlds to explore. Some of the best parts of Fallout 3 had nothing to do with the main quests and missions, but happened when you were just out exploring on your own. Fallout 4 takes that idea and injects it full of PsychoJet. Gone are the single-street towns and monotonous landscapes of the Capital Wasteland. The Commonwealth is diverse, vibrant, and alive (while being long-since dead at the same time). The towns and cities feel like big, proper urban environments. There aren’t loading screens standing between you and most of the buildings, making exploration feel more fluid and natural.

The other big difference is the sense of verticality in Fallout 4. In Fallout 3, if you managed to find a tall building, which was rare, you had to go through a loading zone to enter it. Once inside, the building essentially functioned as an isolated space, cut off from the outside world. If there were windows, they were opaque. You couldn’t see outside. You were completely disconnected from the rest of the world. It was the same in Fallout New Vegas, and a major missed opportunity in the design of the Lucky 38. In Fallout 4, there are multi-story buildings and proper skyscrapers that you can ascend without passing through a loading screen. They exist as part of the world. It may seem a minor difference, but it is essential in keeping you present in the moment. It also adds a new, interesting wrinkle to combat.

 

02) Power Armor

Power armor has completely changed, and only for the better. In older games, you didn’t get access to power armor until late in the game, and then it basically was little more than a re-skinning of your character. It didn’t behave any differently than other armor in the game, just had better damage resistance and maybe a strength bonus.

In Fallout 4, everything has changed. You not only get your first suit of power armor VERY early in the game, it feels and acts like an Iron Man-style exosuit you wear. Your HUD and interface are different, movement feels and sounds very different, and you can mod and upgrade it too! The way the game gets around you spending all of your time in power armor is by introducing a new mechanic: fusion cores. You’ll need one to power a suit of power armor, and the more you do in a suit, the faster you’ll use it up. You’ll find more throughout the wasteland, but it still makes power armor feel special. You’ll find yourself weighing your options for when to go to it, saving it for big raids or missions you think will be combat intensive. It’s a great touch, and I absolutely love it.

 

01) The New Crafting System

Fallout 3 was a world full of junk, debris, and refuse from the old world. Nearly all of it was useless, worthless, and not worth collecting. Fallout 4 changes that with the new crafting system. Now guns and armor can be modified and customized using all the junk you find out in the world. This not only makes looting an entirely different ballgame, adhesive and aluminum almost always take precedence, but also revamps your arsenal. Fallout 3 had very little variety in the guns available, and many of what was available became obsolete fairly quickly due to low damage output. My impressions of Fallout 4 so far are that there are not only more guns available, but they are more viable late game. I absolutely love the new weapon and armor crafting systems.

There is also a new settlement crafting system introduced into Fallout 4. In general, I like it, though the interface as clunky and not very user-friendly. But while not perfect, I think it adds a whole other level to the game that is fun and interesting. I have spent a lot of time with it, but I think it does nothing but add value to the game.

 

If you’re looking for a good scary story to celebrate Halloween, Big Ross has nothing but praise for this oldy but goody from the master of horror.

N. is a novella written by American author and horror maestro Stephen King. It was published as part of the collection Just After Sunset in 2008. I discovered an audiobook version of it, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, on YouTube. I don’t understand how copyright law applies to YouTube, or if King got any money from my or the other almost 56,000 times someone listened to it. I hope so. Because it is good. It is very good. I’ve listened to it two additional times, and it has quickly become one of my favorite King stories ever. Read on for some in-depth analysis, but maybe first go read it (or IMHO, even better, listen to the audiobook version of it). SPOILERS FOLLOW!

Big Ross debates with himself whether or not to be worried about the upcoming return to that galaxy far, far away.

Over the weekend the official poster for Star Wars The Force Awakens was released. On Monday the final trailer for the film debuted during Monday Night Football, was shortly thereafter released online, and the internet (rightly) lost its damn mind in response. Oh, and tickets for the movie officially went on sale, and sites like Fandango promptly crashed do to the hordes of rabid Star Wars fans clamoring to get opening night tickets. It’s safe to say that the stakes for this movie couldn’t be any higher.

Which begs the question (at least in my own mind), should we (I) be worried about it? What if it’s terrible? Or (possibly worse) just mediocre? And do I have any reason to think that, or should I trust my feelings that, as the trailers promise, the first Star Wars film in a decade(!) is going to be as amazing as it looks. To try and sort through all of this, I’ve decided to argue with the only true worthy opponent I have: myself. I’ve color coded my arguments in a manner I think you’ll easily understand. Let’s begin! Oh, and there may be some SPOILERS that come up, so be warned!

Monday, 19 October 2015 00:00

My Top 10 Video Game Developers

Big Ross checks in to talk about some of his favorite developers of video games.

Success breeds success. It’s not only a catchy saying or caption to a motivational poster, actual science tends to back it up. Sure the “one-hit wonder” phenomenon occurs even outside the music industry, but very often success isn’t a fluke or a one-time thing. Successful people tend to be successful, not just once, but repeatedly. That’s certainly true in the video game industry, and that’s exactly what I want to talk about. These are my personal top 10 game developers. Successful one and all, certainly, but the only metric to my ranking is how much I like the games that they make.

Big Ross was at WWCC in Las Vegas. What he saw and heard there got him thinking, which got him writing.

I want to talk about gender, female heroes, male privilege, and objectification of women. And I want to talk about all of that because of my experiences at a recent Comic Con. I was at the inaugural Wizard World Comic Con in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. All told, it was a fun and memorable experience. I got to hang out with some friends in their booth in the main exhibit hall and help sell their wares (some great books and geeky scented candles), sit on a couple of great panels (my first time ever), and check out all of the geeky merch, cosplay, and overall wonderful sense of camaraderie. However, there were a series of encounters that left me feeling more than a little ashamed of my gender, and the way many (though not all) choose to conduct themselves.

Monday, 01 June 2015 02:00

Predator: A Retrospective (Part 5)

Wow. Predator turns 27 this month. To celebrate Big Ross has been taking a look back at Schwarzenegger’s best action film (and all that followed) with a series of articles all month long. This week he caps the series off with his pitch for a new Predator sequel!

Predator 3: Most Dangerous Game

Monday, 25 May 2015 00:00

Predator: A Retrospective (Part 4)

Wow. Predator turns 27 in June. To celebrate Big Ross has been taking a look back at Schwarzenegger’s best action film (and all that followed) with a series of articles all month long. This week Big Ross takes on the onerous task of looking at the sequels.

Don't Worry Asshole, You'll Get Another Chance