Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Taris and Nar Shadda

So, once we got through with cleaning up the murky underpants of the Republic capital, we were offered a choice of worlds to go to next. Well not a choice, really, more that we have to do both but can do them in any order. Even though one is flagged as lower level than the other. So a choice, yes, but one which you're pretty pointed at the "right" answer. That said, it did get me thinking about how there seems to be different ways to approach The Old Republic; each world so far as a mix of solo "open" content, your class-specific content, and then 2- and 4-man mini-dungeons you can run. Through Coruscant we'd done all of it, and approached the next worlds slightly over levelled, something that became more even apparent when we'd finished Taris to the same degree.

But I think really what you're presented with is a real choice - if a world leaves you cold for whatever reason you can nip in, ignore everything but your class-quest arc, and then nip out again, and there is enough "spare" exp lying around from other sources to compensate. Personally I'm finding TOR as a game about "the journey", and the stories are generally pretty good, so my inclination to skip is limited, but i do appreciate that the option is there. Anyway, onto the worlds themselves!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Box Set Blues: Castle, Series 1

I seem to watch a fair bit of "proper" TV. If you ask me to list shows I watch I'd go for the top draw stuff, the big American dramas of quality and style, but I do have a guilty secret - I have a huge soft spot for gimmicky, odd-couple procedurals. I mean, House, is a great example, and Bones. Shows which are basically the same every week, holding on my the fun of watching the characters do their "thing" together. I can't pretend they're quality shows, I can pretend they're cutting edge - all I hope for is fun.

So I was recommended Castle, staring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, as a new one for line up of DVD comfort food...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cons, Representation and Balance

It seems that there is a lot of discussion about women in comics flying around again, between some of the reports on female representation at SFX Weekender panels, and the so-far-announced Kapow! lineup and whilst this is the sort of debate I usually try to hide under a desk from, I just can't help but hold opinions.Now as you can tell from my profile picture, I am a not-yet-middle-age-dammit white male, and I can't - and won't - try to speak on "how women feel" about the comics industry or panels. There are already many erudite and thoughtful posts from women on this subject (like this one) and hand-on-heart I never looked at a panel at SFX and thought "gosh I wish there was more women on it" so in many ways I may be part of the problem. 

But there clearly is a problem - most people seem to agree on it. The question is why?

Firstly I think that we would all love to live in a world where the age, gender, ethnicity or sexuality (or any other mostly artificial line we stick across our society to mess things up with) just simply didn't matter, and it's frustrating that it still does. I'd love to think that I moved in a sub-culture where we could genuinely be beyond it but I know we don't. But it comes from us - from the community - and we need to look to ourselves to drive change as much as expect con organisers to make tokenistic placements or panel guests to make noble gestures in the name of equality. 

Kapow! is headlining guests that will get ticket sales through the door. SFX fills its panels with people that will get bums on auditorium seats. I'm no great con veteran but I've stood enough queues to know that a lot of con-goers aren't interested in up-and-coming creators, or small press publishing, or first time authors, and that means that change takes a long time, and also means that some genres are going struggle more than others. With so few women writers and artists at mainstream comics top table, for instance, they don't get the exposure, so a lot of fans never hear about them, so they don't get the con invites, and it's all a horribly vicious circle. 

Literary genres don't quite seem so bad, although there does seem to be a growing opinion I overheard at SFX that SF has become the "boys genre" and Fantasy the "girl writers" genre, something the reported treatment of a female panelist at one event may be a symptom of. And it's clearly nonsense - but if the community reacts so that SF panels become male-audienced and fantasy female-audienced, that it will be come a "truth" in no time at all. 

Is there an answer to this? Well if I had an answer to this then I'd screaming it from the rooftops, but I don't. I suspect that the fact that we're talking about female representation in a way we aren't talking about say, ethnicity, is a sign both that women are really, properly, breaking into a white male geek world, and a sign that there are still battles to be fought. Because I don't believe that there is much malice in Geek Culture, I don't think we mean to exclude anyone, or make anyone feel uncomfortable. But often we don't think enough, and debates like this show that we should. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Movie Review: The Muppets

In one our one-every-couple-of-months trips to the cinema last week, when faced with list of films of which we wanted to see many, we "ummm-ed" and "ahhh-ed" a bit before finally plumping for a good dollop of comforting nostalgia - The Muppets. Like many of my generation I have a long history with them; watched the show as a kid, saw the films as first as a kid and then as an "ironic" twenty-something, and now I get to inflict Muppet Christmas Carol on my kids every year because a) it's brilliant, and b) inflicting your childhood on your own children is one of the great perks of parenthood.

But in terms of "new" Muppet material there is always that tremor of fear - can you go back to that well, years later, without either being too twee and dated, or horribly trendy and modern? Well, it turns out, yes you can.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Coruscant

Slowly but surely, me and the missus are still playing through The Old Republic. This means that we are officially "subscribers" now, having paid for our second month, and I've not seen much about the overall performance of the game now that initial month has passed. Anecdotally, most of the people I know that bought the game are still playing, but what that means in the bigger picture I'm not so sure. I hope it's doing well though, the MMO space could do with a bit more competition surviving in the more premium end, especially as most of the (still anecdotal) stories I'm getting out of World of Warcraft paint a picture of a game sucking up huge large subscriber numbers but now just coasting lazily along.

Anyway, the next world in TOR after the introductory planet has taken us a while to get through, but it's pretty indicative, I think, of the leveling game as a whole.

Coruscant! Coruscant! Coruscant! (it's only a levelling zone)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Box Set Blues: House M.D., Season 7

It seems that a lot of the telly we've been watching recently has been first seasons of things. I suspect this is partly to do with having caught up on a lot recently, and we're not looking for new things to get hooked on, and partly because a few ongoing series have simply finished or gone into hiatus. So settling back into a show we've seen a lot of, and are familiar with, is a bit of comfort viewing, something where we don't need to get to know all the characters, and situations, and just enjoy a show happy in it's own routine. So with that in mind, we approach the seventh series of House M.D.

Monday, February 6, 2012

SFX Weekender 3: The Weekendering!

So, this weekend we packed off the kids, loaded up the car, and headed off to Prestatyn, North Wales, to the SFX Weekender. I've been to a few cons over the years but is my first Weekender, and the biggest one I've been to for a good many years. I didn't have much idea what to expect, to be honest - so here's my experiences...along with some dreadful photos!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

OK, so the Watchman thing...

I've seen this rumble around my twitter feed (oooh, get him!) for the last couple of days and as my thoughts on the matter are not easily broken into 140-letter chunks, I thought I should get it off my chest here.

So, the story is that DC have announced the creative teams and covers (which can be seen here) and as you might expect the Internet has exploded in it's usual confused and vaguely angry way. Some people a cross because they are doing Watchmen prequels. Some people are cross because of the people doing the Watchmen prequels. Some people are cross because other people are getting cross about the Watchmen prequels.

No-one actually knows what they're going to be about, how the supposed "interlinking" is going to work, or has read a single page of them. Hear that? It's the sound of a Hundred Thousand Knees Jerking as one.

Here's the thing - Watchmen means a lot to comics fans. It means a lot to me. It's a great work of art, by a great writer and a great artist. Its been constantly in print since it was written and is read by people who "don't read comics" - it routinely turns up on "Best Ever Novels" lists. It is that good and deserves that reputation. On the other hand, I don't see why those characters and universe must remain inviolate and never touched again. Watchman isn't great because of it's universe - it's great because of how it tells it's story and how it handles it's characters, and how it approaches superhero comics as a grown up, storytelling medium.

The most common complaint I've seen is that Alan Moore created the characters and "should" be involved. Now Alan Moore is not someone who needs random denizens of the internet to fight for him, and I'm sure if he has a strong opinion on the matter we'd all know about it. But we do - he's repeatedly said he'd put all that behind and he doesn't care any more - and quite right too, in my opinion. And these were adapted characters in the first place - used to dissect and analyse trends in comic book heroes, not hugely original concepts but hugely original uses. (Also, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls. So that's enough about using other peoples characters on the Alan Moore front, OK?)

The second complaint is that Watchmen is a complete story and any else is unnecessary. I have some sympathy with this point - Watchmen nested ambiguities are part of it's strength and shining a light on those does feel unnecessary, even more given the frequent flashbacks in the books. And there is certainly an argument that the advertising budget and talent behind these books could just as easily launch something new into the comics world, more original stories, in an era where mainstream comics feel a little stagnant - certainly it is unlikely these will make the sort of impact on the industry the original did.

But this isn't a reason to dismiss them out of hand - the comics industry is built on retelling of the same stories with the same characters in different ways. All the big characters shift and change over the years in response to new writers and artists, and changing times and trends. If DC want to try and make the Watchmen universe somewhere they can tell more stories, then good luck to them, frankly, it's a big ask of the creative teams they've assembled.

But let's wait till they're actually written, eh?