Some Saturday ruminations

It’s been another exciting week, not least because the essay has finally been submitted! So you can all heave a sigh of relief. In the event, it came in 11 words short of the 2000-word limit, but I feel I’ve made some pretty salient points. ‘Brevity is never a defect’, in the words of Giuseppe Verdi. So that’s that, anyway – I have an exam on 4 June, then the module will be over, and I’ll have four months off over the summer before resuming with A219: Exploring the Classical World. Good timez.

While it’s not strictly over yet, I’ve found myself reflecting on the module as a whole, probably because the actual learning process has now finished. On the whole, I really liked this module. From the national forums on the OU website, it seems I’m in the minority, but even so. From the Hundred Years War to the Scramble for Africa, there hasn’t been a single unit that I could possibly say “man, that was awful”. Some were a bit too brief, if I’m honest (the Glorious Revolution bit in particular), but I feel like I’ve learnt some really awesome stuff, particularly all the stuff on Burgundy! It’s been a really good course, and I suppose I’ll be sorry to see it go. But I have the Classical stuff coming up, and that should be awesome, too!

In the midst of getting the essay written, however, I’ve also got to enjoy something of a festival of Zahn. This is of course an exciting prelude to the main event, the Thrawn trilogy. I feel like I’ve mentioned this a lot lately, but for those of you who are busy wondering just what the hell I’ve been talking about, you’ll find out soon enough…

 

To end with, I just want to mention another android game I’ve discovered lately. It’s called ‘Rock Ninja‘, and while I’m pretty terrible at it, I find myself somewhat addicted! You basically control this little ninja dude, and you have to avoid the rocks that tumble across the screen while collecting these little, I don’t know, they look like little matryoshka dolls. Whenever you collect three of them, all the rocks on the screen smash up and you get bonus points or something. You also get points based on how long you stay alive, but I’m not really sure about that part. I’m also not really sure, but you somehow get money that you can then spend in ‘the dojo’ on stuff to help you survive in future games, like shields and – hilariously – a crow or something, which will fly across the top of the screen, crushing boulders in its path! It’s really fun, I can highly recommend it!

Post 207, apparently

Vader

As you can see, my weekend started spectacularly when I had this pop up in my Twitter notifications. It’s really hard to follow that, but as it’s a long Bank-Holiday weekend here, I might as well try. So let’s get started!

I’ve been playing a lot of Android games this week – I mean, more so than usual. My procrastination over the essay has continued, clearly! I have a Nexus 7, which I bought back in September last year, and use it primarily for looking at the interweb when I’m too lazy, or for playing games. When I first got it, I was primarily concerned with using it for stuff like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Elder Sign: Omens, and Settlers of Catan. However, around Christmas last year I discovered the joy of Magma Mobile games on the Play Store, and I’ve pretty much been hooked since.

First it was Octopus (how cheerful and cute do these guys look?!), then Bubble Blast Rescue, and it’s just gone on from there, until now, when most of the tablet’s memory is taken up with these games! They’re all free, which is fabulous, but they’re also really really good!

There’s a game called Dolphin, which is a nice and easy race game, where you basically have to avoid jellyfish and collect stars. As you can see, I’m a Super Dolphin, so yeah… Awesome! I also really enjoy the block breaker game Smash, which has both a challenge mode that takes you through a series of ten levels, and an ‘arcade’ mode which is basically a survival mode.

Around New Year, I discovered Mouse, which is a puzzle game where you have to slide blocks around to allow the mouse to escape. I got a bit obsessed with it, and spent about three hours one night playing through a couple of levels. I suppose it kept my brain active, but perhaps wasn’t the most productive use of my time…

My current favourite, however, is Flying Squirrel, which is precisely as whimsical as it sounds! You control a squirrel, and you go around collecting coins and nuts. It’s basically a platform game, which is why I think I like it so much. Remember I said a whiles ago that I was never really a computer gamer? Well, I’m not, I’m much more of a tabletop gamer, but I do have a secret love of platform style games. Never a big one for just shooting stuff, I greatly prefer to hop about and collect useful stuff instead! Anyway, something else in Flying Squirrel’s favour is the Evil Toadstool, which basically negates any special effects you may have accumulated (such as the wings or the star), but makes a sneeze noise when you encounter it! Delightful! I can highly recommend it, anyway!

Flying Squirrel Magma Mobile

Magma Mobile have got some really awesome games, and one of the best things about them is they’re free! Download them now and prepare to lose yourself in awesomeness!


The essay has finally progressed, you’ll no doubt be thrilled to hear! Yeah, I finally put fingers to keyboard the other day, and I have currently got it to around 730 words. Not the most inspirational of starts, and I’m not entirely sure about the bulk of what I’ve written so far, but we can’t have it all, I guess… However, the exciting thing about this week was that I enrolled in the next module for my degree! As I explained a couple of posts ago, I’m doing a History with Classical Studies course, and as I’m drawing to a close on the history side of things, next up is, of course, classics. Exploring the Classical World will begin in October, and no doubt I’ll continue to procrastinate over the seven essays that are involved with that course, too!


I read three short Star Wars stories this week, which you might be interested in. First of all, I read the four-part Side Trip, which first appeared in the Star Wars Adventure Journal that I have previously mentioned, but was reprinted in the Tales from the Empire anthology released towards the end of Bantam’s licence. The anthology is a collection of various stories from the Adventure Journal, with Side Trip forming its crowning piece. A joint effort between Timothy Zahn and Michael A Stackpole, it features an adventure with Thrawn masquerading as the bounty hunter Jodo Kast (a Boba Fett wannabe) on the planet Corellia. Stackpole’s pet character Corran Horn also makes an appearance, along with his dad Hal. The story is interesting, and ties in with Stackpole’s X-Wing quadrilogy published in the mid-90s.

It’s a contentious point, but I no longer enjoy Stackpole’s work as much as I used to. The X-Wing books were really enjoyable adventures when I first came across them, and I, Jedi is an acknowledged classic of the mythos, but in recent years I find them to be a bit, well, boring. Corran Horn is probably the biggest problem here. I’ve come to feel that Corran is written like some of the worst kind of fan fiction out there – he’s smart, he’s funny, he’s heroic, he’s a great pilot, he’s a Jedi, he’s awesome, he’s generally better than everyone else, and forms the lynchpin for the whole story arc. I, Jedi in particular had me smarting, the way Corran is said to be better than Luke – Luke basically is a bit of a wimp and a dithering idiot in comparison. But I’m getting off topic.

Corran used to work for the Corellian Security Force, of CorSec, before joining the rebellion, and in Side Trip we see him ‘on the beat’ with Hal. He’s marginally more tolerable in Side Trip than he is in I, Jedi, but the story is largely a favourite of mine because of the Zahn bookends.

Star Wars Bounty Hunters

(I discovered this awesome piece of art on facebook a couple of days ago – it is not my work, but I don’t know whose it is – if it is yours, and I’ve violated copyright or something, please let me know!)

In addition, I read two of the Tales of the Bounty Hunters, those of IG-88 and Zuckuss & 4-LOM. In the 1990s, Bantam released three anthologies of short stories centred around crowd scenes in each of the three films: the Mos Eisley Cantina; the Bounty Hunters, and Jabba’s Palace. Kevin J Anderson, the author of the IG-88 tale, oversaw the project and managed to edit Jabba’s Palace into a nicely cohesive tale, in my opinion! Unlike Stackpole, I find Anderson’s work to be as whimsical and swashbucklingly enjoyable as the original trilogy was. His Jedi Academy trilogy, while largely criticized, appeals to me on many levels (it was also among the first Star Wars novels that I read).

IG-88 is the assassin droid in the fourth panel in the above illustration. His tale is kinda hilariously over-the-top, and when taken in the spirit of “this is just a bit of fun”, it is really enjoyable! It does, however, feature an Imperial Supervisor who wants – a nose job. Seriously, he has a massive hooter and at one point asks Darth Vader to finance some rhinoplasty. I mean, seriously? But yeah, sit back and enjoy the ride, and it’s pretty entertaining.

The tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM (panels five and one, respectively) is much more serious. It deals with the final evacuation of the rebels from Hoth, including controller Toryn Far (“Stand by ion control. Fire!”), and sees Zuckuss and 4-LOM bait a trap to try to collect the Empire’s bounty on Han Solo using these rebels, but ends up with them defecting to the Alliance. Nicely written, I must say, with some really compelling character portrayals of some folks who were essentially set dressing for the movie!

To finish with, I also watched Return of the Jedi this evening. This film is pretty awesome, I have to say. Growing up, it was (along with Masters of the Universe) my favourite film. Indeed, when I grew up I wanted to be Emperor Palpatine (fact!) Apart from the whole thing on Endor, which I can kinda take or leave, I still love this film! The space battle above Endor is still my favourite, and I love the Imperial Guards, and that reactor run is amazing, and Ian McDiarmid’s acting is superb, and the whole Jabba’s Palace sequence is just amazing (even the special edition’s inane additions can’t dampen my unbridled love of that!)

So tomorrow is May 4th, Star Wars day. I plan to make a special post to mark the occasion – look out for that one!

 

 

 

Exciting times (for a Tuesday)

Exciting times, indeed!

While I’m still woefully behind on the essay (though I’ve managed to churn out 65 words of introduction, so that’s nearly 4% of the work done already!), I’m here again because I have some exciting times that I want to share!

First of all, I took delivery of the nightmare decks for Lord of the Rings LCG, part two of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. This is a card game that I will talk about at length soon, because it’s probably my favourite card game in the whole world. Yes, that’s right folks! So unless you know the game already, this whole paragraph probably won’t mean very much to you, but I want to share it anyways. The decks arrived yesterday, though I was entertaining so couldn’t really check them out until today, and my goodness, they’re looking good!

Let the nightmares begin!
Let the nightmares begin!

I probably want to try out Hills of Emyn Muil first, because that’s my favourite quest of all time (spoiler alert!), but from looking at the previews already released on FFG’s website, Dead Marshes looks absolutely wonderful! There are some pretty vicious cards in these decks, so I’m going to look forward to trying these out soon!

I bought a back issue of Star Wars Insider magazine last week – remember me talking about the short story Heist, by Tim Zahn? Well I checked through my stack of magazines and was horrified to discover I didn’t have it! So off I trundled to the Titan Magazines website, ordered it, and they’ve sent me the wrong issue! Dammit. I was hoping to be able to read more Zahn goodness, but clearly not.

I haven’t made it to any more Star Wars novels since finishing Choices of One at the weekend, but I’m hoping to get a couple of short stories read this week, so I’ll talk about them further down the line. Yeah, you can go ahead and get excited about that!

Back to exciting times, though! I have decided that it’s high time I made good on a sort-of promise I made to myself a good many years ago now, and try my hand once again at creative writing. And where better to showcase it than here, on my very own blog! So that’s something else for you to get excited about!

Basically, when I was in college I decided I wanted to try writing some Star Wars stories, because while I enjoyed all the stuff I could lay my hands on, I felt like there weren’t enough of the kinds of stories that I wanted to read out there and available. So I gave it a go, never getting very far, and real life always got in the way of course. But I’ve always enjoyed writing (that’s one of the reasons I started this blog), so whether it’s good stuff or bad stuff, I’m going to do it anyway, and then share it with you guys!

And procrastination over the essay is absolutely not the reason I’m going to be doing this!

So I’ll give you a sneak preview. I’m currently writing a short story based in the Star Wars universe, set around 3 years before the events of A New Hope. I’ve pretty much got it planned out now (in fact, I’ve planned a small series’ worth!), but have yet to actually start typing. With luck, I’ll do that at the weekend. But once it’s done, I’ll post it up for your enjoyment! As I’ve said, I’ve got vague ideas for about half a dozen stories in a kinda series, so I hope to pursue this over the summer, and for better or worse, we’ll see where it goes!

That’s all for now, anyway! Stay tuned for more geekiness to come, soon!

Saturday

I started this morning with scrambled eggs, which is always a good way to start the weekend. And what a weekend it has been so far! My great procrastination continues – I’ve got to write an essay by the end of next week, and while I’ve been thinking about it (honest), I have yet to put fingers to keyboard. And yet here I am, blogging . Shocking!

In case you’re wondering, I’m doing a degree with the Open University in History with Classical Studies. Because I love history (it’s in my tagline, remember!) and I love the Classical World. I’m currently nearing the halfway point – with this essay, and an exam at the beginning of June, that’ll be me exactly halfway through. OU degrees, unlike ‘regular’ degrees, take six years to complete rather than three, and I’m on the cusp of the end of the first module of my ‘second’ year. If that confuses you, you’re not alone. Anyway, the current module I’m nearing the conclusion to is A200, Exploring History: Medieval to Modern. It’s been really really good, I have to say! A lot of people doing the current course with me seem to be really down on it, as it’s too much reading or whatever, but seriously, the study of history involves a whole ton of reading, so I’m not entirely sure what they were expecting. History is more than just interesting stories, people! And thus I dismount my soapbox. The essay I’ve not yet started on is about territorial expansion, with reference to colonialism in Africa in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Awesome stuff!

I’ve technically had last week ‘off’, for Easter, so instead of working at the degree, I’ve been reading more Star Wars novels. Of course! Despite the recent announcement, I still have a huge love of the expanded Star Wars universe, not least because these are the stories that I grew up with – none of this Gungan flapping nonsense, but Hutts building Death Star-like superweapons, and blue-skinned alien Grand Admirals running rings around the fledgling New Republic! Oh yes! That’s the good stuff! And I doubt that anything Disney puts out from here on in will dissuade me from that.

This week’s book has been another Tim Zahn treat – Choices of One. Amazon tells me I’ve had this book getting on for two years now, and yet this is the first time I’ve actually bothered to pick it up. It’s a sequel to Zahn’s Allegiance, which is set during the three years between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and follows a similar plot, featuring the renegade stormtroopers self-styled as the Hand of Judgment. All the favourite rebels are there, including General Riekkan and General Cracken (a real surprise treat, that one!). Luke is the noob who still doesn’t know how to be a proper Jedi; Han is still the rogue who is unwilling to commit himself to the Alliance, and Leia is very much the authority figure we see her on Echo Base. In addition, we have Mara Jade as the Emperor’s Hand, running around rooting out treachery in the Imperial ranks. We also have the star destroyer Chimaera, and while Pellaeon is here, he’s not yet the captain of the ship. A really nice inclusion, that. The plot is all centred on a far-flung star system, where the Imperial Governor is accused of treason (hence Mara’s involvement), and deals with a nebulous threat lurking from the Unknown Regions. Voss Parck and the Adjudicator are also involved, which is a nice nod to Zahn’s shorter fiction that deals with Thrawn’s adventures in the time of the original trilogy.

Basically, I really liked this novel a lot. Perhaps even more so than Allegiance. As usual for Zahn, you see plenty of the puzzle pieces, but they don’t begin to connect until later in the game, and I’m either lazy or I was kept guessing right up to the final pages. Something I really, really liked was the way he keeps us guessing as to the identity of Lord Odo. (SPOILER ALERT: I was fairly convinced it was going to turn out to be Thrawn, but no!) The warlord threatening the galaxy from the Unknown Regions, Nuso Esva, was a really intriguing threat – while we didn’t see much of him (SPOILER ALERT: or did we?!), he was clearly a compelling antagonist, with a very intricate plot set up. Nicely done, Mr Z! MORE SPOILERS: The Nuso Esva plotline isn’t actually resolved here, however – for that, you have to head over to the 20th Anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire, and the short story ‘Crisis of Faith’ that is included therein.

I’ve not yet read Crisis of Faith, but I’ll let you know what I think when I do. I’m currently trying to read the fiction in chronological order, so I’m still a few years off at the minute 🙂


This morning, I took delivery of the fifth adventure pack for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. At least, I think they’re called adventure packs. Well, whatever. I’ve been off-and-on playing this game since last September, when it first arrived in my hot little hands. I mean, more off than on – I’ve by no means been playing it constantly, or anything! In fact, my boardgamegeek stats tell me I’ve played it seven times since I had it. (I’m on boardgamegeek as ‘spalanzani’ – feel free to add me as a geek buddy!) The game was something of a sensation when it came out – the forums were absolutely crazy with new posts, to the extent that I had to unsubscribe pretty sharp-ish as my subscription feed was just spammed daily. The idea of a game that was “the perfect amalgam” of card game and RPG seemed to scratch a lot of itches across the ‘geek, and of course, the Pathfinder RPG was close to a lot of peoples’ hearts. The box follows the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, a linked series of six adventures in the Pathfinder universe. I’m saying all this like I know what I’m talking about, of course – while I do indeed have the Rise of the Runelords RPG book, I’ve never actually played the RPG, so have no idea what it’s like. The RPG engine is, I believed, licensed from Wizards of the Coast’s D&D 3rd edition system, which I have also not played, but I have played d20 Star Wars RPG (Saga Edition), which I believe to be a similar engine. But all of this is pretty tangential to the actual discussion.

In the card game, you pick a character and have a deck of cards, which represents your “life” in the game – if the deck runs out, you die. You have a series of locations, represented by cards and an associated deck, that you have to explore. Within each location’s deck can be anything, from items and spells you can try to acquire, to monsters and even the villain of the piece! You have to fight these monsters, which is a skill check based on your character’s stats and a die-roll (the RPG element). Once you explore the locations to meet the win conditions of the scenario you’re playing, usually beat a villain in combat, you have a reward, which so far for me has been drawing a card from those unused in the box, or adding bonuses to your skills that will help in subsequent adventures (again, the RPG element).

Ready to go with Ezren!
Ready to go with Ezren!

By rights, I should be obsessed with this game, and I should be far too over-excited each month as Paizo sends me the new adventure pack (I’m just calling them that, whether they are or not!). But I find the game oddly dissatisfying. Like I said before, I’ve been playing it intermittently since September, and have taken Ezren through all the scenarios up to the midway point of Burnt Offerings. However, there is something missing, for me. While I enjoy the levelling aspect, and the dice rolling and the fantasy locales, I find myself feeling like I’d much rather play a proper RPG. For me, RPG-ing is a terrific social opportunity for storytelling and having fun while exercising the imagination. I suppose the ‘anything can happen’ aspect of the RPG is lost when you’re straightjacketed into the same mechanic of exploring locations and fighting monsters. Yes, arguably that’s what most RPG-ing comes down to, but there can be so much more variety in games where you can concentrate on diplomacy or any other of a multitude of types of quest. Plus, crucially, the presence of a GM in a RPG leads to so much more interactivity than we have here. So what we’re left with is a bit of a hollow shell of a RPG. Harsh, I know. When approached as a card game, it is much more enjoyable to play, but I find this game wants to be a RPG too much. Which is probably why I only play it in short bursts.