Constantine (NBC Pilot)

DC is reaching. This isn’t a bad thing. They are taking a battle to Marvel Comics in every way possible. While Marvel (under the House of Mouse) have been hitting some major home runs in the Box Office, DC has been waging its bets on the small screen. By my count, it now currently has 4 shows on network television.
Arrow [Wednesday nights] The Flash [Tuesday nights] on The CW (aka Warner Brothers network), Gotham (Mondays on Fox), and now Constantine [Friday nights on NBC].

All are edgier shows, somewhat following the same mythos mechanics that Christopher Nolan has set with his Dark Knight Trilogy. That being a dirtier, grimier, and a more ‘realistic’ approach. Granted, most comic book properties are far from realistic, and both Arrow and especially Gotham hold a slightly more grounded approach in this ‘realism’, due to their main characters being mere mortals who have training. {I’ll cover Gotham in full, if necessary in another post}.

This post goes into considerable depth in regards to one of the more controversial figures within DC’s roster: John Constantine. While a movie was done many years ago featuring Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weis, it did its best to cram quite a bit of lore into its length. What it did, it did well enough…but was still missing enough time to really dig deep enough into Constantine’s character and the mythos contained in all of his appearances in the Vertigo line that DC introduced. 

This new series aims to amend that. Presumably, should the series be picked up and prosper, it’ll be able to do Constantine justice by allowing his tales to be told in a sophisticated fashion that keeps things suspenseful and entertaining. The pilot did well in throwing the viewer headlong into his world and give you a glimpse of what is to come. John Constantine is a Damned soul…a cantankerous asshole who has some redeeming qualities, but is hard edged to show it often. In the comics, he is also a hardcore vicer: chain smoking and hard alcohol.

While the series has already received some notorious press over the choice to not show Constantine smoking and I agree that it does seem really weird not seeing him with a cancer stick hanging out of his lips. It is as much a part of his overall character as his khaki trenchcoat is. Hell (pardon the pun), it is central to his character as he was dying of late stage lung cancer in the comics. Thankfully the actor chosen to play John has impressed me in doing the part very well, regardless of the tobacco use. He has the sardonic wit, the flawed bravado of John down very well.

I highly recommend the overall angle that all of these DC TV shows have to offer.  Constantine just adds a supernatural angle that will go over well for fans, and hopefully those willing to open their minds a bit and broaden their horizons. I can only hope they will choose to incorporate some story arcs from the Hellblazer / Constantine comics.

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The Flash (Series pilot, 2014, The CW)

I am still a comic book guy. A big part of me loves the mythologies that have come from comics and the lore that binds them.

While I have, admittedly,  always been more of a Marvel fan growing up…there are and have been a few characters from the other major comic house DC that I’ve always loved.

The Flash is one of them.

While I was not always able to follow along with the storylines within The Flash, the character has always been an amazing figure. I won’t lie, I watched the 90s series andwas saddened when it was canceled…just as it was getting good.

The new iteration premiered tonight. I just happened to already be off work and had seen an advertisement that it was supposed to be on, so I waited for it.

Before I give my impression,  let me first rant for a second about the current state of  comic book media blitz. It wasn’t so long ago that comic books were thought of as simply for immature and nerdy guys. The only respectable forms of the media were usually relegated to animated shows or movies. Most live action comic book fare was usually produced for the big screen, and there were more failures than hits making an already risky business (film making) into an even riskier venture.

Sure, there were only a few tried and true hits with certain characters that still resonate deeply today…but there are more flops from that early period than there are blockbusters. The jump from the silver screen to the living room screen was wrought with even more risk and even failures. Let’s not even discuss video games licensed to these IPs (especially in the 70s through the 90s).

I cannot tell you when the tides really turned for this culture. I don’t know that I can pick it apart fully to really explain when the masses began to truly accept anything live action based on Comic Book Characters or Storylines. That really is a discussion for another day. I’m just glad that we live in a world where it is now more accepted…where anyone can unabashedly be comic book geeky and be complimented for it. When I say anyone, yes, I do mean male and females.  It is ok to like this style of storytelling…now more than ever.
/rant

Ok, I don’t know what changed as far as retelling Barry Allen’s origin as The Flash. Some things have been retained, but most have been modified. The pilot episode I watched tonight owes much of its tone to a more sophisticated crowd as it does to the original source. It has Nolan-verse nuances and by that, I mean it is grittier and has some grounding in the real world while leaving little threads to pursue later. It doesn’t want to beat you over the head with too much comic mythos, but doesn’t want to be firmly grounded and stuck to the plane of “merely human”.

Barry is part of a CSI unit in his city. He is a little nerdy and ‘fringe’ for most of the police force he works with. When he was 11, as he recounts, he was awoken during the night to a sound. Following it downstairs he sees a red & yellow lightning ball whirling at inexplicable speeds around his mother. His father demands he atand back and eventually tells him to run for help. He returns only to find the police taking his father away. His father was tried for the murder of his wife and is in prison.

Barry has since lived with and worked with the Detective who was there that night. Barry was already friends with his daughter Iris, and they’ve remained friends ever since. They have a brother/sister friendship, but it is clear that Barry has feelings for her and just can’t explain it to her.

At the scene of a bank robbery, Barry uses some keen detection of clues to follow up on serial bank robbers that have threatened the city off and on. He goes back to work on the clues only to stumble on a lead and in return, gets to take Iris to S.T.A.R. Labs for the opening of a Particle Accelerator he has been dying to see on its opening night.

I don’t want to give you a blow by blow of every scene, but those even vaguely familiar with the comic book will find that the Speed Force chooses Barry and he wakes from a 9 month coma to find himself changed.

This is merely the pilot episode of what hopes to be a faily long run of a show. CW has done well with its previous DC comic book shows and will support this one with some very safe and occasionally writing.

I do have to give them some props from my end. Not only was it entertaining enough for a family show, but mature enough to keep my interest and prevent me from jotting down notes until the commercials. They even had the Barry Allen from the 90s CBS series (John Wesley Shipp) as this Barry’s father.

I don’t watch TV much, as anyone who has read this blog enough has noticed. You could do far worse than The Flash and I hope that it continues to do well. It should be on in Primetime on Tuesday Nights on whatever channel carries The CW in your area. One might even be able to watch it within a day or two of its airing online via Hulu (or like service).

Thank you for taking the time to read this.
The next game review will be out this Friday. I’ll be covering Car Mechanic Simulator 2014 Mobile for Android.

Hope to see you then, and as always…please be sure to like, comment, and share this with others!

Thanks.
– Harbinger Owl of Syn

Rise Through The Ranks

Rise Through The Ranks
A Tactikon 2 special edition:
Game Review and Interview with Eidolon Industries founder James Payne

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Tactikon 2 game logo

>>>Tactikon?

   Tactikon 2 is a FREE turn based strategy game available in the Google Play store  here.. It launched the 17th of April 2014. It was created as an upgrade to the original Tactikon with more units available, better A.I., and even more features.

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A tank in Tactikon 2

   It is reminiscent of other 16-bit TBS games like Advance Wars. It has a retro look that doesn’t hamper the gameplay. In fact, don’t let the graphics fool you, the larger the armies get and the more units are on the battlefield;  I’m sure your device will thank you for the simpler graphics.

  While the gameplay is fairly simple, it does take some strategy to win on a map. Gameplay consists of you starting with one city (your HQ) and at least one unit. The initial goal is to grow your army as best as possible and to reach the map goal: which is one of 3 Victory goals, Total Annihilation, Take over Enemy HQs, or take over all Enemy Cities. Only 2 unit types may take over a city that is neutral or razed, Infantry and Tanks. Each unit type take a certain number of turns to build and each city has a maximum of 4 slots.

   The additional unit types are:
*Destroyers (massive ships that can attack up to two squares away).
*Carriers (Can hold/refuel/repair aircraft).
*Transports (boats that can move 2 ground units at a time).
*Submarines (can submerge).
*Choppers (can carry a max of 2 infantry).
*Fighters are Jets with aerial superiority.
*Bombers are Jets designed to target ground units.

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A view of some of the units in action

   These units get upgraded to skilled veteran status for each successful fight they’re in that they survive. In addition, unit may be healed/repaired in any city you own after receiving damage. This will stop any current unit being built until the damage is resolved. 

   Terrain plays a pretty big role in your overall strategy as ground units move over different terrain types at different speeds, water units are (obviously) limited to water tiles unless docked at a city; and air units have the longest range but have limited fuel and must land on a carrier or in a city to refuel or fall from the sky. Each unit has strengths and weaknesses and there is a robust help file in-game to help you see how they stack up. Plus, each time you attack, you’ll be able to see the odds of your success.

   This game is difficult to master and the A.I. is pretty intuitive which will give you some challenging gameplay. If playing offline, you can play against the A.I. in a single player mode or multiplayer by handing your device to your friend/family member to take turns (Local Multiplayer). It is recommended that you put some time into the Single Player & Local Multiplayer modes before taking on the online multiplayer mode as you’ll need to learn how everything I’ve described plays out and how the pacing works. You can play with up to 8 players total in a multiplayer game.

>>>Tactikon 2 Online Multiplayer

   One of the best things about this game is the multiplayer support online. It uses its own setup and servers to host and run the games. You’ll have to make your own profile by choosing your Commander’s name and your Army’s Icon and colour. After that, you can join or set up online games. The servers keep track of your total number of games you’ve played, how many you’re currently playing, your win/loss ratio, and provide you with two sets of rankings.

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A massive war brews on

  The first ranking is your Rank as a Commander (following military titles of rank) and the second ranking shows how you rate overall amongst all of the other players at your rank worldwide. After further research, it appears that your Rank improves by virtue of the number of games you completed. You move from Private after 10 games and the remaining Ranks open up at the double of previous Rank. So 10, 20, 40, 80, 160, etc. How you rate at that Rank is determined by your W/L ratio out of all of the other players with the same Rank. To my knowledge, there aren’t any perks with each promotion…just the ability to show that you have risen the ranks to be the best player (or not) in your overall rank.

   You can also add friends from the other players you face (long press the match from the title screen to bring up this option) and even block players should they be an issue to you. I’ve never experienced any issues which have led me to blocking any player, but I have to add that there is even a simple and effective game chat built into each match. You simply drag a tab located at the top center of the match you’re in to access it. There is a character limit, but you also have the option of whispering to certain players instead of just talking to everyone at once.

>>>Maps and replayability

  The other superb portion of this game is the map editor which features in all modes. You have many different options available to you to play with in regards to the map you play on which include but are not limited to:
*Basic size of the overall map.
*Amount of water available.
*Ability to turn on/off forests and mountains.
*Ability to set city densities.
*Ability to mirror the maps with many options for mirror types.
*Many randomly generated maps for you to work with.
*Set online games for friends only
*Turn on/off Fog of War
The only thing you’ll not be able to do is actively edit/build the maps on your own on a tile-by-tile basis. The game handles that all for you by using what appears to be Simplex Noise. You will also get a balance rating before you start a game based on how balanced the map is overall. Finally, you can set a time limit for each turn, number of players, victory goal, and one or two other options to tweak.

  These map options alone give this game a massive amount of replayability.
With so many options to tweak and permutations available,  you may never play 2 games on the same map (unless you specifically try to). It adds to the overall gameplay because nothing will ever be very stale and also enriches the mind to ever deepening strategy.

!!!-The Verdict-!!!

   I’ve never been one to really use a number review system, but there is no better time than now to start. So, to make it fair, I’ll be using a maximum of 5 stars (*) in each category of:
¤Gameplay
¤Graphics
¤Sound
¤Multiplayer
¤Overall
   Each category will have a small blurb about why the rating was given and at least one Pro & Con. The ratings for each of the first four categories will be averaged to get the final overall score followed by my final thoughts.

¤Tactikon 2 Gameplay: *****
   The gameplay is fairly deep for a game that uses very simple gameplay mechanics. It is simple to learn and difficult to master.
-Pros:
~The simplified gameplay allows for anyone to play.
~The maps can be made to incorporate many different strategies and massive replayability.
-Cons:
~For its simplicity,  the rules could use a few small additions.
~Some have asked for additional units/unit types and/or a tech tree or upgrade system.

¤Tactikon 2 Graphics: ****
The game uses simple 16-bit graphics to give it a retro feel and keep the processing power down. The Sprites and tiles are animated to give it a sense of motion and make the maps feel alive. Simple palette swaps for color differentiate between player’s Armies.
-Pros:
~The simple style allows to easily make out units and terrain types with relative ease.
~There are also small icons to show veteran status on the units and to alert you of lost units or cities when your turn starts
-Cons:
~The simplified graphics may be overlooked by many who would miss out on a great game by judging the graphics alone.
~The terrain needs more variable tiles like roads, bridges, sand, snow, etc.

¤Tactikon 2 Sound: *
As of yet, there is no background music or sound effects to accompany the gameplay. As you’ll see in my interview (see after the final score), those ideas are currently in the works to be added;  possibly in a future update.

¤Tactikon 2 Multiplayer: *****
This is really where the gameplay shines. Whether you are playing against friends in the same room or playing online, you’ll have more fun playing this in multiplayer mode. This game does MP in such a simple way that many other Developers need to take notice.
-Pros:
~ Up to 8 players on one map
~ Chat is built in and can also be used strategically
~ Turns can be set to 24 hours so you don’t have to miss out. There are also notifications that pop up.
-Cons:
~ The community has yet to really embrace this aspect fully.
~ It would be nice to see Google Play Games Achievements, Quests, and Scoreboards

¤Tactikon 2 Overall score: ****
While the actual score was 3.75 as an average…it is closer to 4. This game is still early and there are many things that can and will hopefully be added to make it an even better experience. If you are a fan of strategy games and especially TBS, then this game is a must have. There is a toggle for difficulty, so anyone can try it out. Like a fine game of chess, it gives back when you find a good strategy that works. Plus, it can be a on the go game when you have a few minutes to kill or can eat hours away. There is a lot of promise to this game and I hope that a community grows around it even more and embraces it.

There is a Google+ Discussion group specific to this game and that can be found in the About option. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to it. Tactikon 2 Facebook page
The stage is set for some explosive community activity.

If you haven’t played it yet, I highly recommend trying it out. It will continue to grow and just needs dedicated gamers to help it grow further. The main website is Tactikon 2 main webpage
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