Monday, February 29, 2016

Greatly Belated Book Reviews: The Last Days of Krypton

(SPOILER ALERT: Krypton blows up at the end.)

Back in the day, I read a lot of Star Wars Expanded Universe novels. Nearly all of them, in fact. (Not counting a number of children's books and such, though I read a fistful of those as well.)

I didn't stop until the "Jacen is a Sith" story started wearing me down*, which means I sat through the entire friggin' Yuuzhan Vong storyline from one end to the other and spent a lot of time carping about the creative choices that were forced on the story by various editorial and publisher mandates**.

And so that means I read a pretty fair fistful of works by Kevin J. Anderson, the author of this book, The Last Days of Krypton (who wrote a trilogy, a fistful of short stories, edited collections of short stories, and co-wrote a pile of kids' books with his wife, all of which are part of the now-defunct Star Wars EU).

I didn't have a problem with the stories at the time, but looking back, a lot of his works... well, let's just say I understand the criticisms leveled at them. (It likely has a lot to do with the fact that I've since had a big chunk of literature-focused college education and my brain finished growing; I was kinda still a kid when I originally read them.)

So how does The Last Days of Krypton hold up?

Eh, meh.

A work like this was always going to borrow a lot from preexisting media; it was published in 2007, well into the nerdstalgia era. This isn't inherently bad; the DCAU managed to take that sort of thing and trim it down into one of the best possible versions.

This, well... it basically wants to be the prequel to the old live-action Superman movies, and just filled in the gaps with Silver Age stuff lifted wholesale from the comics.

Those movies were, well, mostly mediocre except for their casting (I know I'm in a relative minority for not liking them, but I'm not the only one) and so I found details such as Jor-El having white hair and the Phantom Zone being a window pane to another dimension stupid distracting.

There were, on the other hand, things I did in fact like.

For instance, an alien shows up and (rather heavy-handedly) tells the isolationist Kryptonian government that they really would benefit from outside contact and trade. They don't respond well to him, and so he wanders off with Jor-El, who he clearly sees as a kindred spirit of some sort as one of the only serious scientists on Krypton. Jor-El and the alien are trying to figure out something to do about the seismic issues Krypton's been having, when Zod (because OF COURSE there's Zod) has the experiment sabotaged and it blows up in their face, killing the alien.

Because a visitor from outside, a place Krypton has no familiarity with, has just been killed, and Zod is whipping up paranoia in an effort to gather personal power to himself, the Kryptonian government decides they should throw Jor-El under the bus for the accident and punish him to the full extent of the law.

But before that can happen, Brainiac carries off the capital city of Kandor, and does so in such a way that only Zod knows the truth. And Zod uses this as an opportunity to seize power for himself.

I should note that I find Zod kinda really silly, but this explanation for how he came to power actually really works***.

This actually ends up being where the story kind of goes off the rails, though; thanks to Zod coming to power, Jor-El is able to effect a solution to save Krypton.

You read that right-Jor-El stops the original Krypton disaster.

It isn't that simple, of course; while watching the skies as part of Zod's new planetary security mandates then spots an incoming comet. (He also overhears a message from Mars at the end of its history, which ends up being why he sends Kal-El to Earth-because J'onn J'onnz, the Martian Manhunter, brought his attention to our solar system. Which is another thing I'll admit to liking pretty well overall.) In a convoluted but predictable fashion, Jor-El is then forced to engineer Zod's downfall and destroy the comet in one fell swoop by wasting Zod's doomsday weapon trump card on it.

(Another thing I'll admit to liking: The weapons in question were extremely long-ranged and very powerful missiles created by an ancient Kryptonian warlord who definitely had panache when it came to naming stuff, such as these weapons, the nova javelins.)

Day saved again, right?

Except then a bunch of idiots throw the Phantom Zone into a volcano ( does that even work? That's why I don't like the stupid movie version of the Phantom Zone), and Krypton explodes anyway, because it's a bad idea to throw naked singularities into your planet's core.

I'm a little torn; I'll admit I find the sudden "Krypton is always doomed" factor kind of amusing, but mostly in a narmy way. It's almost as if the cosmos of the novel is self-correcting. "This isn't an Elseworlds," cries the cosmos, "Krypton's supposed to blow up!"

But that brings me to my biggest problem with the story: The way the narrative treats... well, a lot of things.

The reason the Phantom Zone gets thrown into a volcano is because some people who'd been in it had been put straight into positions of power afterwards, the Phantom Zone having been the way Zod quietly disposed of his political dissidents. These people had been quivering wrecks when they'd been brought out, and serious PTSD sufferers at best, and you people put them straight into positions of power in the government? At the very least, give these guys some time to recover before you give them serious responsibilities again!

And the narrative essentially treats these guys as being at least a little evil for having PTSD. What the hell.

It gets... further down some kind of rabbit hole. The author seems to find writing Zod romancing his girlfriend/consort/wife a little too fascinating, if you catch my meaning.

While it wouldn't necessarily have jumped out at me, the story ends up having Jor-El's and Lara's romance parallel that of Zod and his ladyfriend, and Jor-El's and Lara's relationship is very chaste while Zod's and his gothy hipster girlfriend's relationship is sexy (the reader is subjected to actual foreplay). There are multiple things I could see this meaning, one being what I've already suggested (the author finding it sexier than the other romance) and the other main one being that the author was depicting sex scenes as evil. And both those things are pretty screwed up. (Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, the author seems to like writing women who've had sex with powerful men, e.g. Admiral Daala from his Star Wars novels, who'd been Moff Tarkin's lover [yes THAT Moff Tarkin]. Weird.)

(And it's very specifically sex scenes, not actually sex. And having babies is highly acceptable, because Kal-El had to happen. Also Kal-El was conceived in his grandfather's Fortress of Solitude, which in the novel's universe apparently somehow inspired Superman's Fortress of Solitude. I'm not making this up.)

And oh yes, apparently gothy hipsters are evil and ambitious.

And then there's Nam-Ek, who aside from suggesting a DragonBall Z joke is a really horrible stereotype of a character, a man rendered mute by the horrifying experience he had as a child when his father killed the rest of his family and tried to hunt him down as well; he loves animals and tortured and murdered a man who slaughtered some animals, and implicitly from his skill and efficiency had been killing a lot of people. I'm not sure exactly what stereotypes these embody, but they sure as hell are stereotypes of something, and I don't like what they say.

Finally, there's the strangest, most bizarre thing in the entire story, which makes me shake my head at the whole thing: Supposedly, Krypton's long, heavily regulated history made everything too average, and as a result of this too average-ness, there was a sudden spike in violent maniacs and a fistful of supergenius people to counterbalance the disruption of the bell curve.


In review, let me put it this way:

I read this book so nobody else would have to.

Yes, there are parts of it to like, but they're isolated bits in what is for the most part a train wreck. Even if I'm not a fan of his Star Wars novels, they're better than this was.

*This is actually my biggest concern about the new Star Wars trilogy; it's already, in the first movie, retread a lot of the ground from the EU that I'd have been fine depth-charging into oblivion. I'm really hoping it goes in different directions with the next two.

**For instance, there were three Solo children in the old EU. They were going to have the youngest do some critical magic things in the war with the YV, but they were told that they weren't allowed to focus on that kid by Lucasfilm... because said Solo kid was named Anakin and the prequels were still coming out, so they were concerned audiences would confuse the two characters with each other. Might not have been so bad, except that they decided that meant it was time to kill Anakin Solo.

***It also ties Brainiac's theft of Kandor to Krypton's destruction, something that was done in a similar yet quite different way in the Legion of Superheroes cartoon. Actually, while LoSH was a rather underrated cartoon and one of my favorites from its era, I think I actually like the more sociopolitical explanation from this novel better, despite this novel generally being hit-and-miss.

-Signing off.

Friday, February 26, 2016

(Brief) Game Reviews: Free Fred

Free Fred is a harmlessly stupid kind of game. (Which describes a lot of games, so...)

You play as an old fart* who, upon seeing that his dolphin friend has been kidnapped by an oddly huge and extremely well-equipped group of... dolphin-nappers, concludes that the reasonable response is calling the authorities strapping some weapons to his boat and slaughtering them all.

There's really not a huge amount to say about the gameplay, which is what I've seen described as a rail shooter, i.e. you can't actually move and the only way you can avoid getting hit is by shooting things before they reach you. You start with a boat with a single measly gun and can upgrade it and obtain new boats; eventually you end up with the boat pictured above, which can heal itself and has a plethora of autofiring weapons (even the basic boat's gun can be upgraded to autofire). In fact, once you've upgraded the boat enough, if you just point the gun in the right direction and then go to another tab/window for a while, the strongest boat can go about two-thirds of the way through the game without further guidance. (It is admittedly not a very long game.)

The main draw, really, is the ludicrousness of the premise; this implacable old man is directing a massive amount of munitions at a bunch of generic bad guys and somehow managing not to injure the dolphin that they've trussed to the back of their bizarre battleship.

So, well, really just something you can spend an afternoon on; I don't know that it would take a good player even that long.

*Actual quote from the game's description: "As a kid, your best friend was a dolphin, some bad guys kidnapped it and now, while you are older, you are going to fight them." Now, while you are older. That's just kind of a funny way of putting it.

**Dolphins have a reputation, of course, of being nearly intelligent as human beings and also of being pure, wonderful angels of the sea. In truth, dolphins aren't nearly as smart as they have a reputation for being (they're probably not any smarter than dogs, it's just that they can talk to each other-and tool use has been observed in very simple animals such as wasps, so communication most likely doesn't necessarily require a lot of smarts either-in fact, bees have a pretty sophisticated language too, so...) and are horrible, horrible creatures (known to kill babies to make females come into heat, known to rape, and known to assault or attempt to assault humans as well as basically everything else-they're probably as or more likely to attack you as any random shark-and are known to kill just for fun rather than for any particular good reason***).

...It's possible I'm using this post as an excuse to rant about dolphins.

***One could almost argue that this is their most human trait, though seemingly wanton slaughter is more common in nature than popular culture would have you believe.

-Signing off.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Kazoo Again

I kinda have to wonder if perhaps the reason kazoos aren't taken seriously as an instrument has something to do with the fact that "kazoo" is an inherently funny word.

Because if you're good with a kazoo, you can actually do a lot with it. Case in point:

Of course, I think I've already established I like kazoo music quite a bit; I fairly gush over it here.

-Signing off.

Monday, February 22, 2016


So would you expect that a series about a bunch of colorful toyetic robot people would include a terrifying Orwellian police state in its history?


Well, it happened, and eventually it happened again. (Admittedly, the Transformers case is a little less in-your-face-dramatic* than the Bionicle iteration and is actually from fiction for adults instead of the technically-strictly-for-kids Bionicle material, which... is probably closely related to the difference.)

*If you'll pardon the pun, the exception to the in-one's-face thing is probably empurata, which... (shudder) Well, let's just say it's bad.

-Signing off.

Friday, February 19, 2016


It's always a darned shame when a mediocre product (e.g. a game) has something in it that's pretty great; perhaps the best example of this is when a game has serious issues but a great soundtrack.

For instance, 7th Legion (available on, incidentally, with its soundtrack included as DRM-free MP3s).

(Watch out for the one-finger salute, which there's a good chance you've seen already because it's right there in the preview.)

I can't say anything regarding its gameplay or story (beyond the basic premise sounding pretty amazing*), but the soundtrack? Yeah, I'd pay the six bucks's asking for to get that.

*Basic premise: All the rich people left Earth when it became unlivable. Centuries later, their descendants come back to reclaim it. But the 7th Legion, presumably the toughest descendants of the people they left behind, are throwing them a "welcome back BBQ." Hence the "A good 7th Legion recruit ALWAYS [one-finger] salutes his victim."

-Signing off.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Chrono Trigger Music Is Awesome

And so are remixes of such music.

That is all.

-Signing off.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Game Reviews: Aisleen

Aisleen is... a pretty weird game.

Although not necessarily in a bad way. (Fair warning: There's a bit of fanservice and cartoonish blood, and if you read into the story, it kind of comes across as a weird inner journey that has some decidedly disturbing aspects, although it's not deep mindscrew, it's just... kinda a bit horrifying in a fridge logic sort of way.)

Through a combo-oriented card game, you're playing through the story of an artist who is struggling with her own disappointment in her art.

If you're an artist or have ever known one, you're probably aware that this is a problem basically all artists have.

Anyway, the basic format is similar to that of Ether of Magic Cards (and Nan Creatures by extension, though like EoMC the game's purely one-on-one), with a few pretty key differences.

First off, the enemies all have very similar basic attacks and no cards the way the player does; the game's bosses each have a special ability, and every enemy heals each turn as well, but that's it. Each enemy has more hitpoints than their predecessors while the player's are capped at 100, and the later enemies tend to have over a thousand hitpoints.

But that doesn't matter, because while you still draw four cards per turn most of the time* (losing any cards you had before), you can play any number of cards per turn as long as you have enough "inspiration," the cost you have to pay for many cards and many of the game's cards will draw specific new cards and/or increase your inspiration. Most of the cards that do these things don't harm the enemy, but building up lots of inspiration also lets you use several abilities that aren't stuck to cards. (The best of these is definitely the most expensive one most of the time because it replaces your current hand-or lack thereof-with a full set of cards that draws a random card and adds two inspiration, but if you ever pull off a massive combo and build up maximum inspiration, the cheapest one will actually be more useful for replenishing your hand in the right circumstances. The middle one... eh, it was kinda more mediocre than it should have been.)

What makes this game unique is that there's no pauses between gameplay. Once you've defeated an enemy, the next one shows up, and it probably shouldn't even disrupt the flow of your turn (though the story bits might make you forget what you were doing occasionally). I'm pretty sure I've killed two or three enemies in a single turn.

You might be wondering about the card aspect of the game since there's no point where you can edit your deck; this is handled in a way that I don't believe I've ever seen in a computer card game. As the game progresses, cards are added to your deck automatically as part of certain abilities, attached to both certain of your non-card abilities and one of your cards, as well as to the final boss**. (Which makes the final boss a unique pest-it adds a useless card to your deck that clogs it up, making certain of your card draw cards' abilities draw it instead of the useful cards they're meant to.)

In and of itself, this is annoying, but what makes it interesting and more fun than it normally would have any right to be is that all of this-all of it-is being used as a surprisingly apt metaphor for creativity. The clog-up cards? They're a manifestation of artist's block.

And many of the cards seem to represent artistic moods; for instance, the card "Gore" (pictured in the below screenshot) apparently represents a mood of violent catharsis (a thing I know my sister occasionally finds herself expressing).

This is brilliant, regardless of what I think of the actual story.

What makes it even more incredible is that this game was apparently made in a hurry for a contest.

I really like this game, and if a card-based computer game with some twists sounds appealing to you, I'd definitely recommend it.

*There's a chunk of the game where Aisleen's emotional state halves the number of cards drawn per turn periodicially, though this fortunately doesn't affect the mass draw abilities any. This is also a pretty amazing of the sorts of ordeals real artists have.

**The game's creator intends to add some more content to the game, so the current final boss may not continue to be the final boss.

-Signing off.

Friday, February 12, 2016

This Says Something About Me

And also about my sister.

The first thing my sister figured out how to do in the cg animation dance choreography program MikuMiku Dance:

(Somebody collapsed in despair on the floor.)

The first thing I figured out how to do in the same program:

(Somebody firing eye beams.)

-Signing off.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Crossover Gag: DC/Star Wars Edition

It's pretty unfair that Mark Hamill's acting career never properly took off after Star Wars; he's a pretty talented actor.

On the other hand, we'd probably never have have gotten him turning to voice acting and playing the Joker that way.

And then we'd never have gotten this little gem, either.

Hamill's Joker is still the definitive Joker.

-Signing off.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Game Reviews: Give Up 2

Give Up 2 (I don't see a first game anywhere) is a borderline case of those "experimental platformers" I've talked about on a number of occasions. (It's also a little bit gory; watch out for the bloodstains and the dismembered stick people.)

Basically, in service of the painfully hard side that games like this often have, rather than having a large number of unique stages this game has a small number of basic stage designs that have an ever-increasing number of very lethal obstacles added on. Now, as with most flash games, there's no actual life system; the game would be unplayable for most if it did. (Check out the death counter-572.) This makes the game technically about learning routines; jump here when this happens, and so on, with a new thing to remember added on every time you reach the goal.

I... actually have a hard time believing I got through the first area and haven't gotten through the second; the first area was much more based on reflexes than the second, and as I've noted many times, I kinda bite at reflex gaming.

Regardless of all that, the truly great thing about this game isn't the gameplay, which is pretty basic everything-can-kill-you platforming once you get past the interesting level design. What makes the game great is the voicework.

You see that "Oh you'll feel that in the morning!" at the top of the screenshot? There's a computer character in the game who watches you the whole time and taunts you every time you die and periodically the rest of the time. The lines are delivered with so much obnoxious cheer that it's hard not to invest oneself in trying to get through, if only to try to shut him up. And every now and again one of his comments will offset the anger you're feeling, rather like the death cries in Yeah Jam Fury.

This is definitely one of those "play until you get frustrated, then go ahead and quit" games, but in this case I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that. It's kinda right in the title.

-Signing off.

Friday, February 5, 2016

I Will Post Any Type of Undertale Music Cover

Such as kazoo covers.

As it happens, this is both my favorite kazoo cover of an Undertale song and my favorite version period of Asgore's themes. Somehow, being a kazoo cover actually makes the song prettier, hard to believe as that may be.

-Signing off.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Transformers Music Needs Metal Covers

I'm well aware that there are plenty of metal covers of certain Transformers music, but all Transformers music needs at least one metal cover, and I recently discovered that apparently, Unicron's theme from TF:TM doesn't have a metal cover.

You've failed me, internets. You've failed.

-Signing off.

Monday, February 1, 2016

All This In Service Of Biology Humor

Being something of a fan of RTS games despite being terrible at them, I was delighted when Impossible Creatures became available on, but being a little short on money at the moment, my sister and I decided to hold off and see if there'd be a sale. There recently was, and so I've now poked at the game a bit.

The main feature of the game involves using mad science to make chimeric abominations unto nature (in a 1930s-ish setting where the factions are fighting over some remote South Pacific islands, which I must say is an inspired choice), and happily, the "mad science" theme extends to the fact that your builder units are called henchmen and have voiceovers indicating they're probably big and a touch dim, though they're also clearly quite skilled craftsmen and excellent swimmers.

The henchmen, actually, are one of my two single favorite first impressions from the actual scenario-based gameplay (I honestly wanted the game for the animal mixing tool, but that's not quite part of regular gameplay). More on the other in a moment.

You can upgrade the henchmen to get better at certain things, and when you upgrade them to be better at harvesting coal (the game's more limited resource), this is represented by them having little carry-yoke backpacks; sending a bunch of them off mining rather puts me in mind of a certain Disney musical number.

Also, you can build a gyrocopter and have a henchman pilot it; he can still build while piloting it and oh my gosh is it hilarious.

I mentioned that I had another first impression that stuck out. Said impression involves a startlingly effective strategy, at least in late game scenarios: LOBSTERS.

These beauties may not look like properly hybridized animals, but they are hybrids (all buildable animal units fundamentally are), and that's where they get their impressive size. The other species? Sperm whales. (Moose also match fairly well with lobsters, though the whales work a lot better.)

This ultimately came from trying to create the strongest possible late game gargantuans to send out; I was fiddling around with all possible arrangements of a sperm whale/lobster combination to try to make the strongest possible artillery*, and found that just using the combination to make a giant lobster was 1) cheaper than using any actual sperm whale components while actually making the resulting creature more durable, and 2) a big group of big frigging lobsters was nearly impossible to kill because lobsters regenerate. Add that to the fact that lobsters also are better at wrecking buildings than average, and we have a creature that's surprisingly cost-effective and horrifyingly powerful**.

So oddly enough, it seems like Impossible Creatures has its own counterpart to carcinization.

*Actually, if I'm being honest, I started with making a whole bunch of different lobster hybrids that were actually just huge lobsters as a gag for my own amusement, and then the AI I gave them to steamrollered the entire map, and did this despite another AI repeatedly invading and severely damaging its base while it was distracted finishing another opponent. I admit, when I realized how effective the lobsters were I blew my own base up partly out of frustration and partly to have the opportunity to watch the carnage.

**This information prompted my sister to joke that if a mad scientist starts playing around with altering lobsters, that's when you start worrying. Oddly enough, I'm not entirely sure that's actually a silly thought; as far as we know lobsters have comparable lifespans to healthy modern humans and could live longer in ideal conditions and can grow throughout their entire lives.

-Signing off.