It’s that time of year again, time for Worldbuilding June. (See my posts starting at the beginning of June 2016 for a refresher on what that is.) Unfortunately, I never managed to finish the prompts from the last one despite having potentially an entire year to do them, which says a lot about my life and productivity. However, quite a few of the prompts seem to be the same as the ones from last year, so I’ll probably just continue them this month (or should I say this “month”…). Stay tuned for a continuation of last year’s Worldbuilding June from day 13 onward, as well as some extra prompts for any days that may be different.
Well, this review is about a month late, but I recently watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which, if you don’t know, is a spin-off of the ever-popular and ever-overrated Harry Potter series. Coming in, I really didn’t know what to expect other than that there would be fantastic beasts and, presumably, at least one person finding them in some capacity. I had read the book, but that actually reveals surprisingly little about the movie. There were really only two things I had already known about or relating to the movie prior to watching it: that Alison Sudol was in it, and that the American English word for Muggle is apparently “No-Maj”. Seriously…No-Maj. Let me just take a moment to emphasize that that term not only sounds utterly ridiculous but doesn’t even work in American English phonology because of the way we handle unstressed vowels, as a friend of mine pointed out. (Yes, I hang out with people who are familiar with phonetics and how they are used in certain languages…you mean you don’t? Maybe you need to find better friends.) Furthermore, even if we do accept “No-Maj” as an acceptable bend of phonological constraints and a permissible localism, they also screwed it up in another way in at least one place in the movie where it’s pluralized with just an “s” (i.e., “No-Majs”) instead of “-es” as one normally does when pluralizing English words ending in a “j” sound. It doesn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things, I guess, since it probably won’t come up much; if my life is ever reduced to such a pitiable existence that I decide to write Harry Potter fanfiction in lieu of original stories and decide to write one set in the US, I could probably get away with pretending that that detail doesn’t exist. They’ll always be “Muggles” to me anyway, and I’m not sure J. K. Rowling actually knows how Americans talk. Then again, I guess after the past couple years, should I happen to leave the country for any reason, I’ll be lucky to convince anyone from anywhere else that we are even capable of speaking in complete, coherent sentences.
Anyway…the movie. (Sentence fragments.) First of all, I should mention that there will be spoilers, so if that bothers you, it would be a good idea to stop here. Second, I should also mention that it is the same as the book basically in name only; the only commonality between them is that there are magical creatures involved. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, considering that the book was written in the style of what was basically an in-universe reference guide, so it would have been hard to create a completely verbatim adaptation of the original version for the same reason that it would be hard to make a movie out of a volume of the encyclopedia. With this addition of an actual plot, we follow Newt Scamander (the writer of the original book within the Harry Potter universe) as he makes a trip from the UK to the US with a suitcase full of magical creatures of many kinds. Yes, a suitcase that acts as an entire nature preserve in its own right. It’s magic, okay? Naturally, once he gets to New York City (it’s always New York City, at least when it’s not a nameless small town), some of the creatures escape into the city, mainly as a result of accidentally switching suitcases with a local aspiring baker, and he has to track them down with the help of him, an agent originally sent to investigate the trouble, and her flirtatious sister. Meanwhile, there’s some sort of invisible monster that keeps destroying things that has nothing to do with Newt, which they also have to figure out about and stop; there is a group of people opposed to witchcraft who actually aren’t aware of the magical world and don’t get in the way that much but mostly just lurk in the background acting like a bunch of abusive fundamentalists (which certainly doesn’t resemble anything we’ve encountered in reality…); and there’s a plot point about the rise of a dark wizard named Grindelwald (who was mentioned in the main Harry Potter series once or twice early on and later in the last book) that turns out to be important later.
The characters were decent enough, I guess. Newt, Tina, and Jacob were all pretty likable (at least, once Tina warmed up a bit). Queenie is one of those character archetypes that tend to give me a bad first impression, but I warmed up to her as the movie progressed. I might be biased because the thing I found the most noteworthy about her was being played by Alison Sudol, who has some sentimental value for me because she’s one of the few famous people whom I’ve actually met in person. I may even have a bit of a celebrity squish on her (a squish is a platonic crush, for anyone who doesn’t know). She also probably has the nicest smile of anyone I know of in the entertainment industry (though I can think of one acquaintance from school who could probably stand on equal footing with her in that respect).
The supporting cast did seem a bit weaker, though, especially in terms of accomplishments. The Magical Congress was exactly as competent as one would expect from people in positions of power in these stories, which is to say that if they were all locked in a cryogenic chamber on the surface of Mars, they would actually be more useful than they were as it stands, because then at least they’d be out of the way instead of actively obstructing our intrepid protagonists at every opportunity. That president lady in particular (Seraphina Picquery, her name was) honestly seemed like the most bloodthirsty character in the movie overall. For that matter, that execution method was actually kind of creepy…I mean, extracting a person’s memory from the past and showing it to them to make them want to kill themselves…really, MACUSA? Really? I guess it’s at least a more peaceful death than a lot of things would be, but it’s still very unsettling. It really does not help that they were willing to execute the main characters for what seemed like very minor crimes in comparison to the severity of the punishment, and without even hearing their side of the story either. (Also, shouldn’t there be international laws protecting a person from suffering such a punishment by another country’s government?) And since Newt is presumably the only one who knows enough about the magical creatures to be able to safely capture them all…yeah, I see no possible way that getting rid of him could have ended poorly. Nope. Had the execution actually gone through, any continued magical beast-induced loss of property or life afterward would have been 100% their fault.
They also never gave the heroes any recompense for the way they treated them. (Tina’s promotion doesn’t really count.) No transfer of power, no new helpful organizations, not so much as a “sorry we tried to freaking murder you“. No, even when the ostensible climax comes, they get in one last “screw you” moment when the protagonists are trying to talk the guy with the crazed shadow spirit thing (the Obscurus) down, and then they come in and just blast him to bits instead, rendering Credence’s entire plotline essentially moot (aside from making a lot of building insurance companies very displeased, I suppose). Honestly, I hated Seraphina more than the actual villain of the movie. He might have been genuinely evil, and I’m sure he’ll be important in the sequels, but he really only showed up for the final battle (unmasked, anyway), while she was present throughout the story and caused far more actual harm to the heroes despite it being completely in her power to actually help them in a way that would benefit everyone. (On a side note, I find it hard to believe that they’d have a black woman as a political leader in the 1920s, and I’m not being racist or sexist, just emphasizing that people in general were racist and sexist in those days. Also homophobic, transphobic, ableist, religiously oppressive, culturally insensitive, and if there are any other mainstream forms of xenophobia, they probably had those going on too. It would be one thing if the wizards and witches had been shown to be more open-minded than non-magical folk, but both the movie and the books showed that they quite clearly aren’t.) Really, the entire magical government seemed to be composed of idiots (again, this is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to any real people living or dead is entirely coincidental); while they did actually show some sense at the very end of the movie, it did little to make up for them acting like utter blockheads for the first 96% of it. The whole “person in position of power doesn’t believe unlikely warning until it’s too late/things have become much worse” is a tired trope for sure; I get that stories usually need to have some form of conflict and drama, and having a high-rank person exert their authority to solve things early would undermine the plot structure, but…come on, writers, you can still have meaningful conflict without needing to make every authority figure have their head so far up their butt that they could see out their bellybutton if they wore X-ray glasses.
While we’re still on the subject of characters, there’s one other point I’d like to address: Whatever happened to the little girl? The one who was hiding the wand under her bed. I get that she was being oppressed by the crazy cultist woman, and when she tried to go too far, the Obscurus killed her, but then…that was it. She never showed up at all after that. Did she ever get reintroduced into society? Was she actually a witch? Did she ever find out what happened to Credence? I suppose it’s one plot thread that may or may not be continued in the sequels.
This is one of those movies where I feel like one watches it more for the scene-by-scene moments than for the overarching storyline. When taken as a whole, it actually feels a bit disconnected (see below).
Characters: Good to forgettable
I thought the main characters, at least, were good. They each had their own distinct quirks, mannerisms, and interests; they were likable; and their interaction felt pretty natural. I’ve already grumbled at length about the government people. (And in the grand scheme of things, they weren’t even that bad; the Harry Potter series loves its jerks and its psychos, so characters who are merely dangerously incompetent are barely a blip on the radar.) The gangster goblin was basically just a one-scene slimeball. There actually isn’t much to say about the other side characters; none of them got enough screen time for us to learn much about them, with the possible exceptions of Credence, the guy who turned out to be the bad guy in disguise, and maybe the leader of the anti-witchcraft group. And even then, we only really found out one main thing about them (“tormented soul lashing out at everything”, “do racist villainous things”, and “rawr, I R wicked fundie”, respectively).
I think the special effects and CGI here deserve a mention. A lot of fantasy movies that contain magical creatures don’t make them look very good (including the main-series Harry Potter movies…ever seen the merpeople in Goblet of Fire? One of the few things I remember about that movie is how awful those looked…), but they actually did a pretty decent job with this one. The creatures, for the most part, looked relatively realistic. The magic spells and such weren’t half bad either, though I’ll admit the only notable one of those that I can remember off the top of my head is when Queenie assembles a pastry in mid-air.
Again, I can’t immediately recall any particularly noteworthy conversations, but the dialogue at least seemed natural? And as I said before, it worked all right with the character interaction.
Positives: Likable main characters, pretty decent CGI/special effects, and a good balance of adventure, downtime, and worldbuilding, if you ask me.
Negatives: I feel like this movie’s biggest problem was trying to juggle too many plotlines. At the very least, there was the main one with Newt trying to recapture the escaped magical creatures, which tied into Tina’s and Jacob’s worlds (Tina because of her history in magical law enforcement, Jacob because of a chance meeting that ended up dragging him into trouble); there was the underlying threat of Grindelwald; there was the whole thing with the New Salem Philanthropic Society and the little girl; and there was the Obscurial, which also kind of ties into both Grindelwald’s story and the society’s. I guess they could certainly have done a worse job connecting them all, though. Also, the American English word for “Muggle” is freaking “No-Maj”.
Final score: 6
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a pretty decent movie. It had some good moments and some not-so-good ones, and it brought in some interesting new developments as well as some that I could do without (such as the fact that the American English word for “Muggle” is “No-Maj”), but I enjoyed it overall. From what I’ve heard, they’re actually planning as many as four sequels to it, which seems weird to me, and I’m worried that the sequels will push all the magical creatures to the side in favor of more of Grindelwald’s story. Still, though, I actually liked this movie substantially more than the actual Harry Potter movies, for what it’s worth.
Yes, it’s time for another post about the latest MTG block. This time, we’ll be discussing Conspiracy 2, Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, Commander 2016, and Modern Masters 2017. I really should have posted this earlier, considering it’s been a good 3 months since the last main set and the next one has now been released, but I wanted to wait until the Modern Masters set was out, and after that, I guess I kind of let time slip away from me, plus there was Easter week to create busyness. Yes, I at least should have gotten it done before the next set was out, but…you know me.
Since we don’t need much of an introduction this time, I’ll start right off discussing the sets. Let’s actually do the supplementary products first, though, since we actually have such a thing to discuss. First up is Conspiracy: Take the Crown, and I really don’t have much to discuss about this one, since I’ve never played Conspiracy as a format nor do I know how you’re supposed to do so. It has some decent new cards, though (for casual play, anyway); Selvala’s new card seems good, there are at least a few decent reprints (Followed Footsteps, Forgotten Ancient, Serum Visions, Wild Pair…), and I guess the new mechanics aren’t bad, if not as relevant outside of a multiplayer game (in fact, goad does significantly less against only one person). I suppose I have more to say about the story this time around, and I’m kind of conflicted on the new characters. Leovold and Adriana didn’t really get enough story time to reveal much, and while Kaya is certainly interesting, she falls into that category of “clearly not a bad guy, but I’m not sure I quite agree with this person’s moral compass anyway…”. That seems to be a common theme with non-villainous black-aligned characters (with one notable exception, which we’ll actually discuss later on); I don’t like Sorin much either, though I do think Kaya’s at least better than him. Of course, since she’s only in a supplementary set anyway (so far), it’s kind of hard to fit her into the major story arc anyway. I wouldn’t mind seeing her show up again in a main set, though, as long as she’s still a reasonable person and doesn’t turn into a sociopath or something. Though my biggest complaint with the story is that it seemed like it ended way too abruptly, like the writers were rushed and just had to cut an installment or two from the end. As I said, though, it’s a supplementary set, and one for a format that I’ve never ever played, so…it’s okay, I guess?
Next, let us talk about Commander 2016. I at least know how to play Commander: 100-card deck where every card except basic lands must be unique, and you have a legendary creature (or one of 5 planeswalkers) who is your “commander” and exists separate from the deck. This Commander set brought us 4-color commanders for the first time (there are only 5 other 4-colored cards in the entire game), which I suppose was an interesting idea. Of course, 4-colored decks don’t tend to be very practical a lot of the time because having so many colors can easily put you in a position where you don’t have enough or any of the right colors to cast what you have in your hand, and I imagine it would be even worse in Commander because you can’t double up on multicolored lands and things. (Trust me, I know from experience. I have a couple 4-colored decks, and I’ve had one heck of a time trying to get them to be reasonably consistent.) It also means the colors don’t always seem to fit what the card does, though it does make more sense if you think of them as representing everything that the single missing color is not, such as altruism for the “everything but black” commander or artifacts for the “everything but green” one. (Incidentally, the decks themselves are built around the same concept.) And Atraxa is just disappointing. As much as I would have loved to have a card around that proliferates for free every turn (not to mention the swath of keyword abilities she has), she is both Phyrexian and prohibitively color-restricted, so I don’t see myself using her in a deck any time soon. Overall, the 4-color commanders are interesting, but I haven’t gotten much out of them, if I may be quite frank. (In fact, the one that’s in the color combination I usually use in my 4-color decks is actually harmful to its user if not built around.)
That said, though, that doesn’t mean that the set is a miss either. For one thing, it introduced the partner mechanic, where you can have two commanders if they can be partnered up. That seems like it could easily be brought back for just about any future set, which would also increase the number of available partnering options. For that matter, a 2-colored legendary creature is much easier to fit into a deck than a 4-colored one. Commander 2016 also has some pretty decent reprints; highlights include Kalonian Hydra, Master Biomancer, and Progenitor Mimic. So overall, I’d say it seems to be a pretty decent Commander set, even if I haven’t gotten a chance to try out the decks to see how the 4-colored, “everything antithetical to the missing color” setup plays.
More recently, Modern Masters 2017 came out. This was actually after both Kaladesh sets, but I’m saving those for last. The Masters sets are pretty much just for reprinting highly requested and used cards, so there’s nothing new to see here. The reprint selection is decent enough, though. I don’t think the set is as good as some people have said, and it’s certainly not worth $10 per booster pack (booster packs are dumb and overpriced anyway, but the ones for regular sets are usually only $4), but I at least could get some use out of it. The cards seem to fall into four main categories: prohibitively expensive before the reprint and still prohibitively expensive afterward (Cavern of Souls, all of the fetchlands, Liliana of the Veil, Snapcaster Mage, Tarmogoyf), cheap before the reprint and either the same or slightly cheaper afterward (all of the populate cards, Coiling Oracle, Cackling Counterpart), annoyingly expensive beforehand but a bit more manageable afterward (Pyromancer Ascension, Voice of Resurgence, Craterhoof Behemoth), or mid-range-priced beforehand but fairly cheap afterward (Soul Warden, Wall of Denial, Niv-Mizzet, Lone Missionary). The last two categories are the most important ones. Some of the best reprints I thought came out of the set are Thragtusk, Entreat the Angels, Pyromancer Ascension (which deserves special mention because before the reprint, it was about 7 times the price it is now), Voice of Resurgence, and Boros Reckoner. And I guess the fact that it’s the first Masters set to cover the Return to Ravnica block (well, I guess Eternal Masters technically did) probably means something as well; even if most of what I could identify from it consisted of the Selesnya populate cards, those have a bit of nostalgia value for me because the first deck I ever really used was a populate-based one. Though I will admit that the set also has plenty of cards that didn’t really need reprinting (however useful a 10-cent card may be, I just can’t get excited if it gets reprinted), and there are a number of cards that I really wish had gotten reprinted that didn’t. Where’s my (additional) Doubling Season reprint, Wizards? (You might remember my last MTG-related post complaining about that card being around $37. Well, now it’s up to about $60.) Or Rings of Brighthearth, or pretty much any more of the dual lands or the Mirrodin sword cycle…or Genesis Wave, Khalni Hydra, Reflecting Pool, Archangel of Thune, Darksteel Plate, Kor Spiritdancer, Privileged Position…and I’d definitely add Parallel Lives to that list as well if it hadn’t gotten practically a functional reprint in the next set that’s currently quite reasonably priced (spoilers!). I’m also kind of surprised that Time Stretch and Slippery Bogle haven’t gotten any reprints yet, and Time Warp hasn’t shown up since the 2010 core set. Also, did Niv-Mizzet really need a reprint? I like his card, but it was only about a dollar or two even before MM3; if they were going to include more legendary creatures, why not, say, Mikaeus (the Lunarch), Thrun, Sigarda, or Rhys the Redeemed? And that’s still less odd than their choice of planeswalkers; Liliana makes sense, as an absurdly overpriced card from one of the two blocks new to MM3, but…why Domri? He wasn’t that expensive, and I haven’t heard much about him being played that frequently. Wouldn’t one of Elspeth’s cards have been a better choice, or one of Garruk’s perhaps? Or Tamiyo’s first card? In any case, I guess Modern Masters 2017 is pretty okay, provided you buy the singles and not the booster packs.
That leaves us with our main feature of this discussion: the Kaladesh block, which consists of Kaladesh and Aether Revolt. And unlike the previous block, this one I actually really liked. It was nice to have a more locally-focused threat to deal with (at least, until Tezzeret showed up) rather than some interplanar horror; the new characters were interesting, and the interaction between everyone was pretty good; the setting was cool, and it made for some good artwork to boot (seriously, I love the artwork on Kaladesh cards); and the selection of cards wasn’t bad at all.
First of all, there was the story, which I think they’ve been improving on lately. I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the Gatewatch at first, not because I disliked the concept of such a group in general but because I thought they picked some of the flattest and least interesting planeswalkers as representatives (this is what happens when your main characters are monocolored…), but it seems like they are fleshing them out a bit more. Jace is still kind of an enigma, but Gideon gets some heartfelt moments, Nissa opens up a bit, Liliana is…at least not acting like a horrible person, and Chandra is strangely cute and lovable for being so prone to social faux pas and setting things on fire (often one and the same). Honestly, I think Chandra is my favorite character out of the original five Gatewatch members, which I suppose is rather odd given that she’s mono-red and my own color alignment seems to lean toward white and blue. I’d like to think I’m “the actually fun white/blue mage”, though. (Though my third color is a lot harder to figure out and might well be red, and color alignments for real people are hard to pin down anyway…does anyone have an actually reliable test for that? My results seem to vacillate a lot, and when taking the Ravnica one, I actually managed to get 9 of the 10 guilds at least once [the only one I never hit was Rakdos].) I feel like she has the most personality of any of them, though I guess to balance things out, she has the least variety in magical powers. (Her method of doing anything usually comes down to “set it on fire, and if that doesn’t work, use more fire”.) And now that I think about it, she reminds me of my sister a bit, though Chandra probably has a more stable emotional state.
Now…I said “original five” Gatewatch members because Aether Revolt actually added a sixth: Ajani Goldmane, who has shown up in previous sets. He’s basically a huge humanoid albino lion who heals and protects people, and if one particular story is to be believed, he is pretty well loved by children too, so…he’d definitely be friend material. Big cuddly kitties who can still dish out a good butt-whooping if needed are good, right? Incidentally, that story was probably my favorite of the entire Kaladesh arc, despite mostly not even being set on Kaladesh (I think my second favorite one would be the last story in the arc, while my third favorite would be the first one.) I can take or leave the action scenes and dramatic confrontations, but I really do enjoy the ones that just focus on worldbuilding and character interaction. Honestly, they could write an entire book about the Gatewatch and other planeswalkers and such people they know just doing nothing but casual activities like going out for pizza, taking a walk in a park, going shopping for clothes, housecleaning, etc., and I’d read the heck out of that. It didn’t hurt that we got to see Tamiyo again in that one story, and she is one of my favorite planeswalkers. I think Narset still tops her (and she was actually mentioned in that story as well, though she didn’t appear in person), but still. Interestingly, my third favorite planeswalker is most likely a character who was introduced in this block: Saheeli Rai. I’ll admit she didn’t get nearly as much screen time or fleshing out as I would have liked, but she still seems like an interesting person, her personality is nice, her powers (metalworking and creating, essentially, robot replicas of creatures) are neat, and she’s probably the closest thing we have to an artist planeswalker. I hope we see her again, maybe even as a permanent Gatewatch member. I’d like to see Rashmi show up again as well, though it would be harder for her since she’s not a planeswalker. Some people do not like elves, but most elves aren’t brilliant but friendly inventors.
The rest of the supporting cast wasn’t half bad either. Oviya Pashiri was cool, Shadowblayde (yes, with a Y) at least provided some comic relief…and then there is Yahenni. Oh boy, Yahenni. Honestly, I actually quite liked Yahenni as a character, which is saying something considering they’re black and, as I mentioned above, I have a marked tendency to dislike black characters. (That’s black-aligned, not dark-skinned. And yes, it is way too easy to make jokes about that.) I’d even say that Yahenni is my favorite black-aligned character, especially for the monocolored ones. Why couldn’t we have gotten someone like them in the Gatewatch instead of Liliana, Stereotypical Vain Sorceress? Dovin Baan was all right too, I guess. He got more time in the story than Saheeli, which is a bit annoying (I guess I just found the artistic metalworker who makes pretty yet practical robots a more compelling character than the anal-retentive blue Vulcan), but I wouldn’t object to seeing him again either, especially since the Consulate is actually doing its job properly now that Tezzeret and Baral are out of the picture. Baral, incidentally, was honestly a pretty decent villain. I’m not saying I liked him…”love to hate” really does not exist for me; generally, either I feel sorry for an antagonistic character or at least ambivalent about them, or I just plain hate them. No, Baral was a corrupt, conniving, murderous, sadistic scumbag (and mono-blue to boot, which is never a good sign for someone who likes to power-trip…guy throws out countermagic like it’s going out of style), but he was at least a reasonable scumbag, and probably more complex in his motives than the game’s three major groups of bad guys to boot, which can be summed up as “planes are delicious”, “I deserve to be the merciless ruler of the universe”, and “brainwash everyone and everything”. I wish we’d get more characters like him, really, because I’d rather see more smaller-scale villains than more of the game’s huge interplanar threats. My biggest problem with the antagonistic forces in MTG lore is that they’re just too overpowered. I mean, when you have foes that are ostensibly more powerful than anyone else in the multiverse, or that cannot be entirely eradicated, how are you supposed to pit the protagonists against them without either a grim ending or a deus ex machina? That’s also one reason I haven’t been reading the stories for the next set.
On a side note, one funny coincidence I noticed about the way the story and release dates were set up is that Aether Revolt, a set that’s all about taking power back from a corrupt government that is too oppressive and uncaring of its people, happened to release on the date of the 2017 presidential inauguration. At least, I assume it was a coincidence and not intentional, but either way, it’s still kind of an amusing parallel. I suppose if you stretch it a bit, having Eldritch Moon release on that date also could have worked, when you think about it. I suppose it’s not fair for me to compare Republican politicians to the Eldrazi, though: one of them consists of a group of terrifying, hideous abominations that destroy, consume, or corrupt everything they touch with no higher cognitive ability spared for the countless people and parts of the environment ravaged in their path, while the other is just a bunch of monsters from a card game.
I suppose we’ve about covered the story, so how about the mechanics? There actually aren’t that many of them this time around, just three new ones in Kaladesh and an additional two in Aether Revolt, but of those five, two are a pretty big theme and archetype throughout, those being energy counters and vehicles. The former had apparently been in the works since the original Mirrodin block (which came out in late 2003, if you care to know), while the latter honestly seems like an obvious thing to have that would have shown up eventually. Maybe vehicles wouldn’t fit as many planes as equipment would, but still…it makes sense. You tap creatures with total power up to a certain value to make a vehicle act like a creature for a turn. Energy, meanwhile, is a new type of counter that players can get and that can be spent to do things. It requires some support to work (you can’t use energy counters if you have nothing to spend them on), but it makes a novel new resource that I could see returning. Beyond that, there was fabricate (first set only), improvise (second set only), and revolt (second set only). Fabricate gives you a choice of putting a certain number of +1/+1 counters on something or creating that many 1/1 tokens, and it’s kind of just…there, I guess. It’s fine, but it’s nothing really all that special aside from the modal nature of it, not to mention it’s pretty heavily tied to a specific plane. Improvise makes sense, being used to reduce the cost of spells that have it by tapping artifacts, and I suppose it might be good in something like an “affinity for artifacts” deck, though it’s a bit too archetype-specific for me. Revolt, which does things or adds additional affects if you’ve had a permanent leave the battlefield, is another one of those simple mechanics that’s kind of just there. I guess it could be thought of as a broader version of the “morbid” mechanic from the first Innistrad block. I don’t know. Kaladesh had some decent enough mechanics, a few pretty interesting ones, some fairly reusable, and none that stood out to me as either “bleh, I don’t like that mechanic” or “this mechanic would be so much better if it weren’t so overcosted” (and if you’re wondering why the second one needs to be specified, let’s just say we’ll get to that if I ever discuss previous sets, and in fact, it might well come up during the next block as well [spoilers!]).
I guess I couldn’t name all the interesting cards that came out of this block, but there was some good stuff. Chandra’s new planeswalker card is pretty great (I’d use that in almost every red deck I have if it were cheaper…), the gearhulk cycle was interesting (though I still think the white one is dumb), Heroic Intervention is frankly something I’ve wanted for a while, some of the artifacts were pretty unique (Panharmonicon comes to mind, as well as Paradox Engine, Aetherworks Marvel, and Planar Bridge), the “expertise” cycle was neat (even if I’d really only use two of them), more enemy-colored dual lands are always welcome, and Rashmi’s card is cool.
In summary, Kaladesh was a good block. I can’t decide if I liked it better than Return to Ravnica, but it’s up there. The mechanics were decent enough, the artwork was beautiful, the cards were overall quite good, the story was pretty entertaining, and the characters were interesting. (Shout-out to the new boy-girl duo of planeswalkers, Dovin Baan and Saheeli Rai, who disappears halfway through the story until the renegades start mobilizing.) Provided they don’t mess up the plane, I would gladly take a return to Kaladesh eventually.
Hello, everyone. Today is St. Patrick’s Day and also marks the release of Modern Masters 2017, but neither of those things are what I’m here to talk about. As you may or may not know, Nintendo just released a new video game console on March 3, the Switch. It’s more of a hybrid between a home console and a handheld, though, and I get the feeling they were kind of trying to make a “Wii U 2.0”, going for a similar idea to what they had with the Wii U but improving on it. Whether this counts as the first console of generation 9, a second entry into generation 8, some sort of “generation 8.5” (perhaps a bit like the PlayStation 4 Pro and that Scorpio thing with the Xbox One?), or something else entirely at a point when console generations are getting muddy remains a riddle for the ages, or at least for the time being. I imagine, though, that this is as good a time as any to discuss my feelings about this new console and what it means.
And quite frankly, I am not impressed. It’s really too early to say for sure (hey, this is a speculative post, not a “whole picture” one), and I know the majority of consoles don’t have much to offer at launch, but even if I had the money (which I don’t; I’d be surprised if I managed to save up enough for a single game these days), that Switch would be sitting there collecting dust for a while, because none of the games released or announced for it so far are ones that I care about. Sure, Breath of the Wild has been getting glowing praise from the critics, but that doesn’t mean much; unless I find a critic whose game tastes are nearly identical to mine, their opinions are all but worthless. I don’t play Zelda, I don’t play open-world games in general (even if they are Mario ones, so Super Mario Odyssey isn’t on the table either), most of the other series I like either don’t get releases on Nintendo consoles (Trails) or flat-out don’t get games anymore (Mega Man), and I’ve learned my lesson about spending more than $15 for a game that I might not like, mainly by way of a whole lot of Nintendo 64-related—and, to a lesser extent, 3DS-related—hype backlash. So right now, as with so many other modern consoles, while the Switch may have a few games to play, its stock of games that I actually want is like what Mega Man X’s partner would be if he ate a whole box of donuts every day: a big fat zero.
I’ll admit, though, that with the Switch being a Nintendo console, the situation isn’t as futile for it as it has been and still is for previous consoles (hellooooo, Microsoft), and it’s likely that it will eventually get something I won’t be able to resist…but on the other hand, Nintendo hasn’t exactly been treating all their different series well lately, nor subseries within them. Need I bring up what they did with Paper Mario and Metroid? Let’s count up the badges of shame: Releasing games generally considered to be too much of a deviation from the normal formula at the worst possible times, after already treading on thin ice with their predecessors; basically sticking their fingers in their ears and going “la la la, I can’t hear you” in response to fans telling what kinds of games they do want; and to add insult to injury, throwing huge copyright tantrums over fangames that were closer to what people would like and slapping them with DMCA takedowns (see: AM2R). And I’m not even that interested in Paper Mario or Metroid, so why do I care what happens to them? Well, when two or three of your neighbors’ houses have caught fire, you just might want to invest in a sprinkler system. If they can drag those series through the mud, what’s to say they won’t start doing the same for the ones I do like? How, after that, can I be sure to get another good Donkey Kong Country game, or another solid Yoshi game? (Actually, maybe let’s not use Yoshi as an example, since that subseries honestly has had more bad games than good. Boy, the pickings for good Nintendo series are slim these days…) I mean, there’s something to be said for empathy here.
Okay, so the game selection is cabbage. The console itself, though, it seems all right. I’ve heard conflicting information about how durable it is; some people have apparently scratched the thing just by putting it in the dock, while somebody else had to drop it 11 times onto concrete before it got put out of commission (and not even permanently), so I really can’t say much on that subject. I actually like the idea of a home console/handheld cross, though. Sure, it means it won’t be as powerful as a dedicated home console would be, but I feel like that really isn’t much of a drawback these days, even though it might be to some people. I actually almost feel sorry for the purists, being that picky…I grew up with video games on a 256×224 screen, on consoles with 5-bit color depth and as little as 128 KiB of RAM (yes, that’s kilobytes…or kibibytes, technically, but who’s counting?), as well as 64 KiB each for audio and graphics, and it was more than adequate to make some excellent games. So when I hear people throw a huge hissy fit over, say, a game only being in 720p instead of 1080p, it mostly just gives me the urge to either laugh, sigh, or start belting out Weird Al’s “First-World Problems”. You have to wonder how long it would take such people to go insane if you cut off all access to any consoles made before 2013. I guess there’s a little Cranky Kong in all of us, though. I assume that it will no longer support playing on the TV and using the handheld screen for something else like the Wii U did, which is a shame, since I thought that was also a decent idea, even if no Wii U games I ever played used in in a meaningful way. (No, touching blocks and blowing into the microphone in Super Mario 3D World doesn’t qualify as meaningful.) I’m also glad they decided to use cartridges this time around. I guess it was more pragmatic than anything else, since a disc drive wouldn’t be very feasible for a handheld, but I prefer cartridges to discs anyway; they’re much more durable and load faster. And with today’s technology, capacity isn’t nearly the concern that it was for the cartridges of the ’90s. Currently, the Switch cartridges come in sizes from 1 to 32 GB, though they could make them bigger if they used SDXC or something instead. And these things are tiny, too, only about as tall as a 3DS cart and maybe 65% as wide. They’re also apparently coated with a bitter chemical (a denatonium compound) to prevent children from attempting to eat them, though I wonder if that would be problematic for adults who might, say, touch one with a damp finger and then unconsciously lick it later. I’m actually kind of curious now how nasty they taste, and I don’t usually lick my game cartridges.
In any case, I reserve full judgement on the Switch until it’s had some time on the market for a few years, but I’m still not particularly excited about it. These days, pretty much every console and game manufacturer is guilty until proven innocent when it comes to making meaningful contributions or not (I guess Falcom and maybe Yacht Club Games might get a pass? Possibly Retro Studios, too.), and the Switch has done nothing to counter that. It’s a nice idea, but we shall see if it actually pans out. Nintendo should ensure that they’ll have a library that is reasonably high in quality, quantity, and variance; they should address any problems that crop up with hardware or software; and they should get that stick out of their butt about copyright. Not necessarily in that order of priority.
English grammar can be a point of contention for many people, incorrect grammar even more so. There are enough rules that it can sometimes be difficult to remember what is valid and what isn’t in some cases, but using something in the wrong way can potentially end up making a person come off as ignorant, stupid, or even apathetic. At the same time, the majority of people can probably come up with at least a few rules and instructions for how not to use the language: don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t put this word here or that punctuation mark there, and so on. However, there are some cases where a rule that we’ve been taught (or just kind of know based on hearsay) might not quite hold up, and a particular construction perceived as incorrect might not be as wrong as we think. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen plenty of cases where people have used blatantly malformed grammar, and it can range from maddening to unintentionally humorous…but we can talk about those another time. Here are some examples of supposedly incorrect grammar that might actually be perfectly fine, at least in certain contexts.
10) Apostrophes in plurals (occasionally)
Hey, don’t close out that tab yet! It should be pretty common knowledge that one does not form plurals in English with an apostrophe before the S, so indeed, if your local grocery store advertises “apple’s” and “tomato’s”, it is still an abomination and should be treated accordingly. (Upon encountering such detestable constructions, you may wish to writhe on the floor screaming “Ooohh, it burns! The apostrophes…they pierce my soul!“. Provided, that is, that the staff have a sense of humor or you’re not particularly attached to the offending place.) There is, however, one edge case where an apostrophe can be used in a plural form: when pluralizing symbols. In particular, it is usually used with lowercase letters to resolve any potential ambiguity, especially if italics are not available, as in “mind your p’s and q’s”. Whether the apostrophe should be used with uppercase letters (as in “those L’s look like I’s”), numbers (as in “I rolled two 3s and three 5s on the dice”), symbols (as in “fill in this math problem with +’s and -‘s”), or words used as units in themselves (as in “we will learn the do’s and don’ts of this new job”) seems to be a matter of whom you talk to as well as personal preference. I tend to find them easier to read with the apostrophes most of the time, but different style guides suggest otherwise. Of course, apostrophes still aren’t supposed to be used when referring to years, so something like “I’m a ’90s kid, but I prefer the newer technology of the 2010s and am really interested in history from the 1800s” would be considered correct, though I wouldn’t chew you out if you did put apostrophes there in that case (just make sure not to double up on them for “’90s”). This is kind of a weird edge case, though, which is why it is only at #10.
9) “It is I” vs. “It is me”
Now here is one that’s pretty disputed. You may have heard that “It is I” is the correct form and “It is me”/”It’s me” is not. Well…it really depends on where you’re using it. The “It is I” construction is something called a predicate nominative, where the fact that the verb in the sentence is “to be” (or another linking verb, which is a category that also includes verbs such as “become” and “feel”) causes what looks like the object of the verb to be treated as a sort of second subject, though it’s not always easy to tell in English because we don’t have separate forms for subjects and objects (unlike Latin, for instance); pronouns are the only case (unintentional pun…) where it even matters. Because of that, however, the predicate nominative doesn’t really do much in English. Getting back to the presented dilemma, “It is I” is technically considered correct, but it is rarely used in speech; if you’re used to saying “It’s me” and find “It is I” to sound excessively formal (and nobody ever uses the contraction for that either; “It’s I” sounds even worse), then you are definitely not alone. It basically comes down to two things: 1) formal vs. informal context, and 2) prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar. A quick and dirty explanation of the latter for any non-linguists is that, more or less, prescriptive grammar is “the way that is considered correct”, while descriptive grammar is “the way people actually use it”. And since human society, as a rule, is not driven by the best and brightest, the prescriptive side tends to end up winning out, and the language changes as a result. (Your first thought may be something like “Oh, lordy, what if it eventually becomes correct to say ‘I seen’ or use ‘less’ instead of ‘fewer’, too?” Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t, but it’s already happened many times in ways that we don’t think about (to name just one, the word “edit” was accepted as a word only after “editor” was). Basically, the fact that hardly anyone ever says “It is I” already puts one of its feet in the grave. If you’re not using it in a formal setting, “It is me” is probably just fine.
8) Flat adverbs
You’ve probably used these, you’ve probably seen them, but you may not even know what they are or that there was a term for them. Well, if not, I am here to enlighten you, but before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story. Most people presumably know that you can (usually) change an adjective into an adverb by adding -ly to it. Some could point out that there are some adverbs that don’t end in -ly, as well as some that don’t even have a corresponding adjective, such as very, well, and soon. Now, is it correct to say “drive fast”? Should that be “drive quickly”? Or how about “work hard”? Or perhaps “go far”, or “shoot straight”? Despite looking like adjectives, these are, in fact, adverbs of a type known as “flat adverbs” because they are the same as their corresponding adjectives. Most of these, you’ll notice, don’t even work with an -ly on the end; “hardly” does, but it means something completely different (and probably not something you want to tell your boss), while things like “fastly” and “straightly” aren’t even words. (It doesn’t help either that a few words end in -ly that aren’t adverbs, such as “lonely” and “family”.) So you can say “walk slow” without it being incorrect, though I’ll admit “slowly” sounds better there.
7) “I am good”
Some people will argue that one should not say “I am good” (in response to a question such as “How are you?”, for instance) but rather “I am well”, possibly because “good” is an adjective and “well” is usually an adverb. This seems to be some sort of hypercorrection: notice that the “well” in “I am well” is still an adjective, and an adverb wouldn’t even fit in the sentence there. This becomes obvious if we try substituting words that are more evidently one or the other. “I am happy”, “I am tired”, and “I am anxious” are all fine, while “I am happily” clearly isn’t. These are examples of predicate adjectives, and they are related to the type of verb I mentioned back in #9: linking verbs, which contrast with action verbs. (Perhaps you thought that all verbs described an action…even the Schoolhouse Rock song about them did nothing to contradict this assumption. But no, linking verbs describe an association between the subject and predicate, or a state. They are also known as copulas, though “copula” usually refers specifically to the verb “to be”.) Another criticism of “I am good” is that it really means that you’re a good person, which is equally nonsensical. Words have multiple meanings, and claiming that “I am good” really must mean “I am morally upstanding” has no more basis in reason than claiming that “I am cold” really means that I’m a blunt and unfeeling person, or that “I am depressed” means that I’ve been squished down by something. It is true that if someone asks “How are you doing?” and you respond likewise, “I am doing [something]”, then well would be correct, since “doing” is an action verb and therefore requires an adverb (so “I am doing well”), unless you mean “I am doing good” in the sense of good deeds. For simply “How are you?”, though, you may say “I am well” if you’re referring to your health (for instance, “I finally got over my sore throat, so I am well”), but for a general state of being, “I am good” is just fine.
6) Latin- and Greek-derived plurals
Well, some of them, anyway. There are certain nouns we have that clearly appear to be derived from Latin, usually by virtue of ending with -us, and some of these pluralize according to expected Latin rules; “alumnus”, for instance, becomes alumni. There are at least a few cases, however, where either the Latin-derived plural—with the -us becoming -i—or the regular English one is acceptable, as with “radius” (“radii”/”radiuses”) and “cactus” (“cacti”/”cactuses”). More importantly, there are some words that actually aren’t intended to form plurals that way at all. A readily accessible example is “octopus”, which looks Latin but is actually derived from Greek (were it Latin, it would be “octoped”), and as a result, rather than “octopi”, the plural technically should be “octopodes”. (Even classical Latin did actually borrow words from Greek on occasion, though it’s anyone’s guess how people back then felt about such a thing, or about confusing Greek with Latin. I can only assume that mistaking a Greek speaker for a Latin one would be sort of a first- or second-millennium B.C. equivalent of showing up to a St. Patrick’s Day party with a kilt and bagpipes.) The regular plural “octopuses” is also accepted. (If you care to know, there are three possible Latin noun declensions that can end in -us, and only one of them, the second declension, actually forms plurals with -i. “Octopus”, or octōpūs, is actually a viable word in Latin, albeit a modern one, but it is a third-declension noun, and indeed, the plural is octōpodēs.) The word “platypus” follows the same pattern, though it is less well known. The word “virus” is pluralized perfectly regularly as “viruses”, and it is kind of a weird case. In Latin, it’s a mass noun that can mean “poison” or “venom”, and it actually didn’t even have a plural form, for the same reason we wouldn’t usually pluralize a word like “wheat” or “milk” in English. (Word nerds might care to know that it is also a neuter second-declension noun, which so rarely end in -us that rules for such a case are difficult to define.) In summary…there are indeed some English words that are derived from Latin, end in -us, and can or do form plural forms ending in -i, but if somebody tries to call you out on “octopuses”, “platypuses”, or “viruses” and claim that the correct form is “octopi” or the like, they’re talking out of their butt.
5) Singular “they”
Here is another controversial one. Some people will say that “they” cannot be used as a singular pronoun (for instance, “Any person interested in the school play should decide ahead of time if they would like to audition in the morning or the afternoon”) and that “he or she” should be used instead, or sometimes just “he”. Despite the singular “they” often being considered ungrammatical, however, you might be surprised to learn that such usage is not as recent of a development as might be assumed; “they” has been used as a singular pronoun as far back as the 1300s. In fact, the word “you” wasn’t always considered singular either; back in the old days of knights, castles, and tuberculosis, rather than “you” being used for both singular and plural as it is now, “you” was exclusively the plural form, and the singular was “thou” or “thee”. I suppose second-person plural pronouns—always a mess—are a topic for another day, but if “you” can change that way and become accepted, why not “they” as well? At this point, though, it is still considered somewhat informal, and in a more formal context, it would probably be better to use “he or she” or reword the sentence to use a plural noun instead. (I actually used just such a sentence at the end of the previous entry, and I could have changed it, but I thought it would make a nice lead-in.) Another case where “they” can be used as a singular pronoun is if a person doesn’t identify as male or female. (That may seem unlikely or strange, but I have encountered, at the least, two such people in real life, two online, and one in fiction/popular media.) “They” seems to be a common preferred pronoun for nonbinary people, and I would consider it a valid justification even in formal writing if you absolutely must refer to a singular pronoun. (If someone complains, try using the wrong pronouns for them for a bit and see how they like it. See, I just did it again.) And this usage, again, may be older than we think; one source dates it back to at least 1950. Singular “they” may sound ungrammatical, but it’s likely not going away any time soon, nor becoming less accepted.
4) Ending sentences with prepositions
If there’s one thing prepositions are known for, it may well be that ending sentences with them is ungrammatical…supposedly. There are even jokes told about the subject. This, however, is one of those rules that was kind of just made up. In this case, it’s because people thought that since Latin was the prestigious language, the language that smart people knew, and something of a role model, English grammar should follow it more closely rather than the Germanic grammar of its ancestry. Now, if you’ve studied any amount of Latin at all, you can probably guess that this is not the case. In Latin, prepositions aren’t supposed to go at the ends of sentences, but it is, for the most part, just fine to do in English because English isn’t Latin or even based on it (as the Romance languages—such as Spanish and Italian—are). It would be as silly as trying to fit German or Dutch into a Latin paradigm. There is a quote supposedly from Winston Churchill that goes “This is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”, referring to a hypercorrection that someone else had suggested for a sentence in order to avoid the preposition being at the end. While almost certainly misattributed (and occasionally phrased differently, such as with “tedious nonsense” or “the sort of English”), it’s still a valid bit of linguistic humor, though interestingly, the “with” here isn’t actually being used in “that way”; it doesn’t “count” as the same kind of “with” used in a sentence such as “Whom are you going with?”. “Put up with” is a construction called a phrasal verb, where what looks like a preposition is actually tied to the verb phrase as part of an idiom. Similar phrasal verbs include “stand for”, “throw up”, “carry on”, and “look forward to”. Of course, it would still probably be best in formal contexts to reword such a sentence so that the preposition does not need to be at the end. Ending sentences with unnecessary prepositions is also a bad idea; in something like “Where are you at?”, the “at” can be left out entirely and the sentence still means the same thing, and in fact, the preposition here is redundant because “where” already indicates a place, so I would consider that construction ungrammatical. Otherwise, you can rest assured that prepositions are just fine to end sentences with.
3) Split infinitives
An infinitive is a type of verb form, usually considered the “base” one, and in English, an infinitive is the one that starts with “to”: “to write”, “to do”, “to eat”, “to honk”, “to explode”, etc. And since English infinitives are two words, putting one or more words in between—thereby “splitting” the infinitive—has been frowned upon. The tagline from Star Trek, where the narrator says “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, is a commonly cited example. Once again, however, there is no real basis for this in English grammar, and once again, it is a rule basically made up by people who wanted English to be more like Latin. See, the split infinitive rule is easy in Latin, because Latin infinitives are a single word. Where we would say “to write” or “to love”, Latin would say scrībere or amāre, which you might notice can’t exactly be split. It quite simply isn’t possible to say “to boldly go” in Latin, no more than it would be possible to say “I am fart loudly ing” in English. And as I said in the last entry, English grammar is English, not Latin (insert your own “Longcat” reference here). There are also at least a few cases where the sentence can’t easily be reworded to remove a split infinitive while still maintaining the intended meaning (for instance, “I want to actually watch Avatar: The Last Airbender rather than just hearing about it all the time”). It’s another made-up rule that doesn’t really reflect actual usage, so as long as you’re not trying to be formal (that formal writing just ruins everything, doesn’t it?) or doing it just for kicks and giggles, by all means, split infinitives if you deem it necessary.
2) Starting sentences with conjunctions
Just to round things out, here is yet another oft-cited grammar rule that has its roots in Latin despite not really being necessary in English. Sheesh, I like Latin and all, and frankly, I’d kind of rather be speaking it than English (we get a proper future tense, among other concise word forms that English doesn’t have? sign me up), but its adherents back in the days of yore might have been a bit pretentious. Even back in the 17th or 18th century, people brought their fandoms into everything. It would be an interesting thought experiment, though, seeing how Latin would handle modern vernacular. (I think “ragequit” would be something like furordēsinere, while “git gud, noob”—with deliberate misspellings corrected—could be translated as “perītēsce, novīcie“, but don’t quote me on that.) Anyway…this one, honestly, is fairly easy to overlook, and in fact, I’ve done it several times in this article already. You may have heard that one should not begin a sentence with a conjunction such as “and”, “but”, or “so”. In reality, doing so is considered perfectly reasonable by most style guides, though, of course, it can be overdone like anything else. Often, as with the split infinitives, there isn’t a good way to reword a sentence to avoid the leading conjunction, and sometimes it just flows better, especially when there would otherwise be an excessively long and complicated sentence that could simply be broken up at one of the conjunctions.
1) Sentence adverbs
Finally, we arrive at this. What would you say to a sentence such as “Hopefully, we are done for now”? A lot of people seem to think that the “hopefully” there is being misused and that it should only be used to mean “in a hopeful manner”, as in “She asked her grandmother hopefully if they could make cookies”. Nope. If it were incorrect, it wouldn’t be on this list, let alone at #1. The “hopefully” in the first sentence is called a sentence adverb, which, as you might guess, modifies the entire sentence rather than just a certain adjective or verb. Sentence adverbs are used as a comment about the speaker or writer’s feelings toward the rest of the sentence; “hopefully, we are done for now” basically means “I hope that we are done for now”. The thing I find weird about the whole situation is that “hopefully” seems to be the only adverb that gets called out for this, even though there are others that function the same way: “mercifully”, “luckily”, “sadly”, “unfortunately”, and the like. (Try out some example sentences: the “unfortunately” in “Unfortunately, the cat ran off with my pants” can be stated as “It is unfortunate that…”, for instance.) Yet none of those seem to get the negative press that “hopefully” does. That as much as anything else might clue you in that the whole thing is a load of baloney. Sentence adverbs might not look or act the way we might be used to adverbs acting, but there is nothing wrong with them. (Outside of formal writing, that is, and since I’ve given that as a qualifier for several of these, I will say right now that even in that case, it’s still more misguided pedantry than any meaningful linguistic paradigm.)
With that, I’ve said my piece. What’s your opinion on the things that I have enumerated here? Can you think of any other cases of a supposed rule of language that, upon closer inspection, are merely a myth? Feel free to reply in the comments.
I’d say it’s about time for the first post of the new year, though it’s not that new anymore. Yes, it does happen to fall on Friday the 13th, but I’m not superstitious in the slightest, so it’s not a problem. I could have made it on New Year’s Day itself, but my birthday was 2 days ago, I thought I could post about that as well, and given the relative proximity of the two dates, I figured I might as well combine them. I should be way too young to feel old, but I feel old. So, do I have any New Year’s resolutions? Well…not really. I’ve never actually done them. I could at least come up with things to strive for this year, but I can do that anyway. I would like to be more productive than I was in 2016, though. Let’s get that YouTube channel at a better pace, do a few more posts on here (and vary them up a bit), and actually try to finish some projects for once this year, shall we?
I will say, however, that I’m not actually expecting this year to be any better than 2016. When it comes to my life, I figure unless a real windfall happens, my personal and social life probably won’t be any better (and might very well be worse, given that one of my best friends will most likely be moving away), the employment situation might only marginally improve, and I most likely won’t actually be any better at getting things done, considering I’m fairly sure my insurance doesn’t cover lobotomies. Moving outside of that…well, about all I can say is that if you thought 2016 was bad, hoo boy, you’d better start stocking up on prayer books/kitten pictures/antidepressants/hard liquor/cathartic outlets of your choice for 2017. It’s far too early to say if we’ll have more celebrity deaths, but as far as human rights are concerned, all signs are currently pointing to the situation getting a good deal worse before it gets better.
I will say, though, that the turn of a year is a good time for self-reflection. Not that I really need more self-reflection; I tend to do a good bit of that already, and most of the time, I end up only making things worse for myself. I guess my brain is pretty weird, though. I’ve also noticed that I seem to attract people who aren’t entirely typical; I certainly wouldn’t say every one of my friends is a complete freak of nature (or family members, for that matter…most of my family seems to consist of incomplete freaks of nature), but quite a few of them are at least in a notable minority when it comes to neurophysiology, gender and sexuality expression, personality, hobbies, or whatever. But hey, a lot of the most interesting people are that way. I love you guys. And I’m not actually sure where I was going with this…my stream of consciousness sometimes meanders between boulders, over logs, through rapids, and over waterfalls and probably has some fish poop in it, but there it is.
With that, I think we are about done for now. This year, I plan to breathe, eat, drink, and sleep every day, and I shall do my best to make this goal come true.
Well, since I haven’t done one of these in a while, and I feel like I should at least post something in December 2016, here goes. I’m honestly not sure what to say right now, but…I hope everyone had a good Christmas. Or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Saturnalia, whatever winter holiday you may celebrate. Some people apparently find just the generic “Happy Holidays” offensive and want to “keep Christ in Christmas”, which I can only assume means they want to help the needy, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and celebrate Christmas in March, which I think is when Jesus’s actual birthday was said to have been. Oh, that’s not what it means? Huh. It’s almost like people who yammer about the “war on Christmas” have no flipping clue what they’re talking about and just found a new excuse to be butthurt. I can’t speak for every world religion or lifestyle, but I’m pretty sure “There shall come a great leader who will serve as a role model to all. He will be known as ‘The Grinch’.” is not a tenet of any belief system ever.
Anyway, here’s hoping 2017 will be a good year…oh, what am I saying? I don’t “hope” anything, unless it’s something trivial that has no real bearing on my life. But I guess if nothing else, I am very slightly on track to getting a job; my depression apparently isn’t so bad that good food, nice conversation, and Studio Ghibli movies can’t mitigate a substantial portion of it; and I finally finished a YouTube project that I’ve been at for a while. So…yay? Off we go, across the arbitrary boundaries, into 2017. Now, does anyone know any New Year’s Day songs other than “Auld Lang Syne”? Are there even any? Would it be a breach of etiquette to go out “New Year’s Day caroling” and sing nothing but that for 3 hours straight? These are clearly important life questions.
You know, we really need a better way to describe music written as a standalone piece rather than being written for a video game, movie, etc. “Real-life music” doesn’t cut it, nor does “band music”. It certainly would have helped with the title of this article. The point is, have you ever noticed that sometimes certain pieces of music sound like others, even if the similarity was unintentional, and in some cases, even if the music in question comes from completely different genres and contexts? I have. And since I’ve played a fair number of video games and listened to even more video game music, I’ve noticed a number of music tracks from video games that sound like a song composed for a live band or performer intended to be played for an audience (see what I mean about how to describe that kind of music?). This isn’t even remotely an exhaustive list, but it’s some of the most familiar and striking ones I’ve noticed. (That is, not counting ones that are clearly a direct rip; for instance, Earthworm Jim 2 uses at least two movements of the Moonlight Sonata for level music.) These are ranked roughly on how much of each song sounds similar to the other and how great the level of similarity is (though I want to emphasize “roughly”; these kinds of things are tough to rank accurately).
10) Donkey Kong Country 3 (Game Boy Advance version) – Rockface Rumble/Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama
They admittedly don’t sound that much like each other (which is why this is only #10), but they have a similar cadence and feel, and they use the same chord progressions in parts.
9) Paper Mario – Huffin’ and Puffin’/Taylor Swift – State of Grace
I have two sisters who are huge Taylor Swift fans (though less so now than they used to be), and I remember hearing State of Grace and thinking of it as “the Taylor Swift song that sounds like Huff N. Puff’s theme”. Most of the songs aren’t that much alike, but the similarity of the percussion is very noticeable, especially at the beginning before the melody of each song comes in.
8) Yoshi’s Island grassland theme/The Four Tops – Loco in Acapulco
Okay, so I kind of cheated on this one. I actually didn’t know about the latter song until it was specifically brought up, but listening to it, I can definitely hear the similarity. It’s hard to say whether this one should be higher or lower than the Taylor Swift one, because while the similar section in this one extends to more than just one line of instrumentation, it also is mainly just at the beginning rather than throughout the entire song.
7) Mega Man Zero 2 – Gravity/Led Zeppelin – Kashmir
Once again, the similarity is pretty much confined to a certain part of the song (at least, for the former track), but the chords are nigh-identical in that section, to the point where Kashmir was pretty much the first thing I thought of upon hearing the Mega Man Zero 2 track.
6) Mega Man X6 – Weapon Center (Infinity Mijinion stage)/Europe – The Final Countdown
Interestingly, I think this is the only pair of songs that are on here for their instrumentation and structure more than the sequences of individual notes. The synth brass in the two tracks sounds uncannily similar, though the percussion isn’t that far off, and they both have fast electric guitar solos.
5) Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex – Atmospheric Pressure/Edvard Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King
Now here’s one with a classical piece rather than pop or rock. The rhythms in these two tracks progress similarly for much of the time, though it would admittedly be more obvious if they were at the same tempo. I vaguely remember hearing that the track from Crash Bandicoot 4 was actually inspired by the Grieg piece, but since I’m not sure if that’s actually true, I will leave it at this.
4) Super Mario Land – Muda Kingdom/The Beatles – Penny Lane
Again, the main riff of the SML theme really reminds me of Penny Lane, though is it a bit faster. Of course, the track is so short that it doesn’t really even have time to mimic more than the refrain of the other one.
3) Mega Man X3 – Neon Tiger/Guns ‘n’ Roses – My Michelle
That’s the third Mega Man example on here…what is it with that series? The problem with this one is that it’s on here for the same reason as #8 was; I’d never even heard “My Michelle” before it came up in the topic of video game tracks that sound like something else. Beyond that, though, the main riff of both pieces is quite similar indeed, not to mention both of them are played with an electric guitar. Funny enough, I remember playing this game in the living room years ago, and my dad thought this stage theme sounded more like Genesis than Guns ‘n’ Roses (the band Genesis, not the console).
2) Yoshi’s Island world map theme/Enya – Anywhere Is
This upbeat, nostalgic Nintendo overworld track and this pretty, atmospheric Enya song might have a very different feel to them on the whole, but the melodies are remarkably reminiscent of each other, to the point where, as with the Led Zeppelin and Taylor Swift examples, I tend to think of the Yoshi’s Island music every time (read: on the rare occasions that) I hear “Anywhere Is”.
1) Super Mario 3D Land World 4 map theme/Deep Purple – My Woman from Tokyo
As with #4, the video game representation here is too short to sound like more than a small part of the other music, but boy, that map theme really sounds like the refrain of “My Woman from Tokyo”, with pretty much the same melody line (and this time, the “this reminds me of that” feeling is the other way around compared to most of the others since I heard the Deep Purple song first). The version from the regular World 4 is similar enough, but the Special World 4 version sounds even more like it.
…and that’s about all I have to say about that. I hope this was interesting and entertaining.
“You shouldn’t make political posts on Facebook!” my sister says. “It’s embarrassing, awkward, and stupid!” All right, Miss Kvetchlord, I’ll make political posts on my own darn blog. Happy now? Besides, this post isn’t entirely about politics. And yes, the election was several days ago, but you know me: Neither rain nor snow nor Trump presidency will prevent me from procrastinating on projects that I should get done.
Now, about that election…well, about all I can say at this point is “yikes”. I didn’t really even pay attention to politics until a few years ago, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I already have enough anxiety and depression in my life as it is, not to mention lack of faith in humanity. I wouldn’t say Donald Trump himself is the biggest problem…I can’t stand the guy, though Hillary Clinton has a lot of detractors too. Personally, I would have liked Bernie Sanders, but he kind of got thrown under the bus. The real issue is what it indicates about our society. While half the people in the country probably aren’t racist, sexist, homophobic, prejudiced against disabled people, and the like, the fact that they didn’t consider all that a deal-breaker is suspect at best. So while my reaction to anyone who voted for Trump (I even know a few people) might not be “you’re an evil, hateful person full of prejudice”, it just might be “what the @#$%&!! were you thinking?!“. And then, of course, there are the people who actually do agree with all the hateful rhetoric and consider it perfectly acceptable to threaten and assault people for being different from themselves, who have been given a new surge of zeal now that the leader of the country at least appears to be validating their beliefs. I’d call it a sociopathic mentality, but that might be offensive to sociopaths, at least some of which are decent people despite their abnormal neuroanatomy. (And in the case of the people who are frightened of the changing times and would rather America be as it was in the ’50s, I’d call them a bunch of driveling old dinosaurs, but that might be offensive to the older folks I know, who are generally kind and open-minded.) I do still think understanding, solidarity, and a sense of why people would support such a slimeball is important, especially for the next 4 years, but…if your Glorious Leader has been happily endorsed by Kim Jong-Un and the KKK, and hate crimes in his name are already on the rise after his election, he just might not be your best spokesperson if you don’t want to come off as a psycho intolerant bigot. And to anyone who did vote for him despite not being a bigot, since you were the ones who had faith in his moral fiber, it’s mainly on you to let people, especially people in positions of power, know that that kind of garbage is unacceptable.
Now, I’d imagine at least some people are wondering why I’m so fervent about all this, considering nothing that I’ve mentioned really affects me personally. First of all, yes it does, because I have friends and acquaintances who would be hurt. Do you think I want my black friend threatened, my Muslim professor deported, my female friends and family assaulted, or my LGBT+ friends to have their rights stripped away? (Heck, I almost fall into the LGBT spectrum myself, though you have to extend the acronym out a few letters for me.) Second and more importantly, not caring if someone or something is threatening the rights or livelihood of another group of people because it doesn’t affect you is an extremely self-centered way of looking at things and not a mentality that I would condone. It’s easy not to worry about drowning when you’re on dry land, until the flood comes. Honestly, I’m not sure why any of this is so difficult. In this day and age, we can talk to a person on the other side of the world instantly and for free, we can fit entire collections of literature and movies into a space the size of a fingernail, we have entire buildings floating in space, and we’re developing robots small enough to travel through a person’s bloodstream…and yet, we can’t seem to accept a person who is trying to enter the country to escape a warzone, has a higher level of melanin in their skin, worships a supernatural higher power in a different way or not at all, or wants to marry someone of the same gender. Congratulations, human race; you fail at everything forever, especially priorities. (Seriously, forget being American; I’m not even sure I want to be Homo sapiens right now.)
As for me, I’ll just have to see how it goes. I’d say that the situation has made me lose a lot of hope for the world, but that would imply that I had hope for the world to begin with. I’ll probably be dealing with this highly adverse situation the same way I deal with most things in life: Copious sarcasm and smart remarks, supporting my friends and family as much as possible while getting support from them in turn, a bit of Weird Al and video game music (and video games, for that matter), and some Chocolate Brownie Thunder ice cream. (What? Chocolate goes well with nihilism.) I’d also like to remind everyone that we are all unique, and while a person in a position of leadership might represent a group of people as a whole, they pointedly do not represent each person as an individual. Just because we elected Donald Trump as President (and mind you, he’s not president yet), that doesn’t mean we all have to agree with him. (To be honest, as much of a narcissistic jerkwad as Mr. Drumpf is, I almost feel a bit sorry for the guy; the position is a big burden to bear (look at all the stress it caused Obama), and he clearly has a narrow, twisted sense of reality if he believes half the reprehensible and preposterous things he’s said.) Now, I won’t even bother saying that we all need to come together (considering that that would mean, in at least some cases, that victims would have to accept their tormentors), but we are at least not alone. I doubt I’ll get involved in any sort of activism, because I am a self-admitted humongous wuss who wouldn’t have the courage to protest against a social studies teacher let alone an entire governmental organization, but I’ll be there for moral support. I will support the continuing diversity of our country (which, if you ask me, is really what makes America great, relatively speaking); I will support my LGBTQIA, female, non-white, non-Christian friends and family and anyone else who needs it; and you bet I will be wearing my safety pin. Giving up is not an option.
Here is something a bit new. While my rating scale for normal reviews has all possible permutations for level of quality by my personal opinion, I will admit that most of my reviews will probably be for things that I at least somewhat liked (or if I didn’t like them, if they at least went by quickly enough that I could put up with them). More importantly, I only ever review things that I’ve actually finished; I feel that if I don’t get all the way through something, I can’t really give a fair assessment of it. Now, what does that have to do with this “List of Limbo”? Quite simply, the List of Limbo is basically reviews for things that I might never do a real review of because I may never actually finish them for whatever reason, because of personal bias or preference against the genre, not enjoying it enough to want to continue, running into a roadblock, or whatever else. I even have a separate rating scale for the List of Limbo, as seen on the info page below the regular rating system, for how likely I am to ever return to that item in the future and do a proper review of it.
The first work of media that I’ll be looking at for this is Super Mario 64. It may be a timeless classic in a lot of people’s minds, but if it’s on this list, I clearly don’t agree. I warned you all that when it came time for me to review things, I might be stomping on some childhood memories along the way, but you know what they say about omelets, so…let the childhood stomping begin.
Super Mario 64, if you didn’t know, is the first 3D Mario game and a launch game for the Nintendo 64. For a lot of people, it is probably the game that codified the 3D platformer genre. This time around, I guess Bowser’s trapped all the Toads in paintings or something in his perpetual quest to give a princess both PTSD and Stockholm syndrome, and we as Mario must enter the worlds depicted in those to retrieve special stars and use those stars to return things to relative normalcy. There are 15 main levels in the game, each with 7 stars to collect, and there are a few stars elsewhere as well for a total of 120 stars. Each level needs a certain number of stars to reach by way of locked doors in the castle.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, I’ve been saying for a while that 3D platformers might be the only genre easier to screw up than RPGs, and Super Mario 64 is a pretty good example of that. Given that it was one of the first 3D platformers, it stands to reason that it would have some rough spots. The camera is pretty bad, for one; it has a marked tendency to position itself at awkward angles, and despite supposedly having a manual control option (I’ve actually heard that the Nintendo 64 controller was designed for Super Mario 64, the C buttons being one reason), messing with the camera using the C buttons doesn’t seem to work very well. And speaking of the controller, the controls in this game are actually kind of annoying. I’d imagine most people have probably heard about how janky the Nintendo 64’s controller is by now, but I will at least reiterate how crappy the analog stick is, and I’m not sure why this game even needed analog control in the first place. Really, I’m not sure why analog control in general is supposed to be so great; in every game I’ve ever played that had it, I could only think how much more accurate it would have been with a separate button, rather than having a control stick that you’ll inevitably end up pushing a micrometer too far in a particular direction, causing your character to run too fast right into an obstacle. Things like “use the analog stick to tiptoe so you won’t wake up the sleeping Piranha Plant” seem just as shoehorned-in to me as the Wii’s infamous motion controls. The presence or lack of good controls can really make or break a video game, and this one definitely tends to lean more toward the “break” side. Sure, it added new moves such as the triple jump and wall jump, but I felt like the basic controls just weren’t as accurate as they should have been, especially when swimming.
Both of those pretty significant problems, however, are still less important than the thing that really ruined this game for me: the gameplay. The levels, from what I played before I gave up on the game, are small and not generally organized or paced very well, and there are only 15 of them in the entire game. One might assume that that is rectified by the star system, but the levels really don’t change much. Whichever star you’re going for, you’re still playing basically the same level, even if you’re not taking the exact same path through it. The end effect of this is that it feels like rather than playing up to 105 short stages’ worth of content, you’re just doing the same levels over and over again, and at least some of the repetition is mandatory, since you need at least 70 stars to defeat Bowser. I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea or an enjoyable way to play a game. It’s as if worlds 3 to 8 in the original Super Mario Bros. were retreads of all the levels in the first two worlds, with the only differences being that some of the levels had a few blocks, platforms, or enemies added or removed. I guess one reason for doing this could have been to save cartridge space, but considering Super Mario 64 doesn’t come anywhere near maxing out the available space inside a Nintendo 64 cartridge (the biggest games ever made for the system used 64 MB cartridges, while this game is only 8 MB), that excuse only really flies inasmuch as it was a launch game and they probably hadn’t tapped into the potential yet, similar to how Super Mario World was squeezed into a 512 KB cartridge when later SNES games such as Donkey Kong Country quite easily went up to 4 MB (in fact, the ratio is the same).
One other thing that tends to turn me off Super Mario 64, though it isn’t the game’s fault, is its fanbase. Poor game-modding communities aside, I hardly ever hear anyone who likes Super Mario 64 describe it as less than not only the best 3D Mario game but the only 3D Mario game worth playing, or even the one that all other 3D Mario games’ design should be based on. There’s always some qualifier about, for instance, Super Mario 3D Land and World not actually being 3D games (looks like somebody needs to look up what “3D” means) or being objectively inferior to Super Mario 64 (keep that dictionary around to look up what an opinion is while you’re at it), or all 3D Mario games needing to be open-world and have star collecting to be good, or some other garbage. It’s fine to like the game even if I personally don’t, but it’s not fine to tout it as the be-all, end-all approach to 3D Mario games and disparage anyone who doesn’t agree.
Problems: The way the levels are set up makes the game extremely repetitive, the camera is questionable at best, and the controls could have used some touching up.
Things that were okay: The music is decent enough.
Circle of limbo rating: 3
I really tried to like Super Mario 64, but I think I’ve given it enough chances; I wasn’t really having fun with it, and I doubt I’d ever have much incentive to give it another try. The controls are screwy, the camera is even screwier, the levels frankly feel like a whole lot of blandness and repetition…and is it just me, or is a good portion of this game’s fanbase absolutely insufferable by Mario game standards? Super Mario 64 might have been impressive in 1996, but in 2016, not so much. There are some games from that era that have aged like fine wine (Super Mario RPG, Yoshi’s Island, the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, and possibly the Mega Man games), but Super Mario 64 aged about as well as a bowl of potato salad in Death Valley. There are good 3D platformers out there, but this, as far as I’m concerned, is not one of them.