Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 King of the Hill: Weird December

The Theme Idea Lasted Only So Long...
Somewhere on my computer, or perhaps in the ether of this universe is the unfinished post of my first attempt to write my December summary.  I had partially written the first two movies in epic battle format.  Alas, the post is gone and I'm ready to start over.  The month started out with a theme, I watched two Christmas movies.  Then, well, everything got weird.  So, this month is the final month of my 2012 King of the Hill challenge.  Starting tomorrow, I'll begin the epic show down between the top monthly contenders to determine which movie is ultimate movie of 2012.

For those who do not know, the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge is my system for determining the best movie of year that I saw. One movie from each month will be selected and, at the end of the year, I will do a tournament style showdown where they will take each other on until the final movie has been selected. Bracket placement will be determined by the number of movies the monthly movie faced and won.

Home Alone v Rare Exports:  A Christmas Tale
Kevin (Macaulay Culkin)  is a kid who must stand up to be an unlikely hero to protect his home from burglars who would destroy Christmas.  Pietari (Onni Tommila) is a kid who must stand up to be an unlikely hero to protect his home from Santa Clause who would destroy Christmas.  And that is where the comparisons between the two movies come to an end.

Home Alone is a bit of a classic these days.  It is about a boy, Kevin, who is left behind by his family on Christmas vacation.  Kevin, thinks that this is from a wish he made and enjoys the life of living on his own.  Unfortunately for him, he discovers that there are two burglars who are trying to rob his home.  He is the last line of defense and must overcome his fears to fight back.  Despite the fact that this movie is remembered as a wacky, slapstick comedy, the battle between the burglars and Kevin doesn't even begin until the last thirty minutes of the movie.  Most of the movie is about Kevin, his family, and his adventures alone.  After having rewatched this movie from 1990, I was surprised to find how well written it was.  The movie even has a deeper moral story, which was a bit touching.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a horror flick.  From what I can tell, it is based around the folk-lore creature known as Krampus.  In this movie, a group of Americans are digging up an old burial ground looking for the body of Santa Clause.  As it happens, Santa Clause is not the nice man everyone thinks he is.    He, in fact, abducts naughty children and torments and tortures them for being such monsters.

As much as I'd love to give a Finnish language movie the title, Home Alone is just a better film.  It is, if you can believe this, less campy.  The story is also stronger.  I'd still recommend catching Rare Exports:  A Christmas Tale.

Winner:  Home Alone

Whip It v Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Whip It is not a Christmas movie.  It is a movie about a high school girl who sneaks off behind her parents back and joins a Roller Derby league.  Bliss (Ellen Page) comes from a home where her father hides his football watching, her mother hides her smoking, and Bliss is expected to do pageants because her mother tells her to.  When she discovers the brutal sport of Roller Derby, she signs up and joins the team.  The movie is a phenomenal story about family, growing up, and finding who you are.

If you do not know what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are, I feel sorry for you.  Stop, look them up, watch a few episodes.  This movie was the first live action film staring the four turtles, Splinter, and April O'Neil (Judith Hoag) as the fight the mysterious Footclan.  The film is a classic in my eyes and I actually have the entire movie, line-for-line, memorized.

Though I would love to award THIS movie to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I must recognize the fact that Whip It is a better movie on just about every front.  It has an amazing story, a wonderful cast of characters, and will most definitely survive the test of time.

Winner:  Whip It

Home Alone v Whip It
Interesting enough, both of these movies are about the power of family and the struggles that families face.  And while it is difficult to compare these two movies together, it is Whip It that has the stronger showing.  Home Alone is a comedy and while the movie is definitely a great film, you have to forgive some of the absurdity of the film.  With Whip It, you don't need to overlook the absurd and can let yourself fall into the movie.

Winner:  Whip It

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 King of the Hill: November Part 2

Historical Linchpins
It wouldn't be me, if I wasn't late on my movie updates.  It would also help if I made these posts go live instead of letting them sit in draft format on blogger.  Oh well, it is better to be late than to not show up at all. November was a slow movie month.  I only saw one other movie this month and, with all likelihood, won't see more than two or three movies during December.  My budget is very tight and my time is very limited.  Still, I managed to keep the November theme of history as I compare a time traveling movie with a historical story of one of America's greatest presidents.

For those who do not know, the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge is my system for determining the best movie of year that I saw. One movie from each month will be selected and, at the end of the year, I will do a tournament style showdown where they will take each other on until the final movie has been selected. Bracket placement will be determined by the number of movies the monthly movie faced and won.

Back to the Future v Lincoln

History is a fascinating subject.  Back to the Future plays with the concept of the linchpin and how one small change can result in an entire timeline changing.  Lincoln, on the other hand, is a detailed look at the historical details surrounding around one of the toughest fights from one of America's most famous and perhaps most influential presidents of the United States.

The movie is an all star cast with super star director, Stephen Spielberg.  The movie focuses not on the civil war, but the efforts of Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) to pass the 13th Amendment of the Constitution through the House of Representatives.  The movie shows the great lengths that Lincoln took to pass this Amendment, not because it would end the war, but because it was the right thing to do.  Though I am no historical scholar, I can say that there are a great number of people who to this day swear that Lincoln's motivation for the 13th Amendment was to punish the Confederate states and end the war.  In Lincoln, this doubt is put to rest.  Whether or not it is historically accurate is another story entirely and not one that I am in a position to debate.

Lincoln is a refreshing look at a story of a president that is often overlooked.  Lincoln is mostly known for his leading the United States against the rebellion with the Confederate States.  He is known for his life and his death at Ford's Theater.  But the other work of his is mostly unknown.  And this makes Lincoln a nice introduction into the long list of movies of this historical era.

Is Lincoln a better movie than Back to the Future?  That's another one of those close calls that is hard to tell. Lincoln is filled with a top not cast and has phenomenal directing.  Back to the Future is twenty-seven years old and still perfect.  Lincoln has not had a chance to stand the test of time.  Lincoln could contain inaccuracies and exaggerations.  While it is a phenomenal movie it will need time before it can stand on it's own.  And even then, in twenty-seven years, I doubt that it will have the strength to stand the way Back to the Future does.

Winner:  Back to the Future

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Alpha Game Review: Towns

Ghosts of heroes that starved on a wall they made
Towns is a game from the pages of the city building management genre.  The game is developed by a company that I believe calls themselves SMP, though confirming this has been difficult.  And perhaps this might be a bit of a warning of the undeveloped nature of the game.  Towns is a game that is in Alpha and I'm not going to lie and pretend that this isn't obvious.  There are definitely interface issues, bugs, and AI annoyances in this game.  If you are looking for something finely polished, you should skip on Towns for the time being.

Towns is, as far as I can tell, an open-ended game.  That is, there is no objectives to complete in order to win the game.  You start with a group of eleven colonists on a single size map.  Depending on the type of map, you'll be in a grassy plain, a desert, a snowfield, or a mixed environment.  From here, so long as you are keeping your villagers alive, you can go any direction that you want with the game.  Of course with most open-ended games, the initial set of directions you take will be limited by the resources available.

As far as game concept is concerned, Towns delivers.  Without drawing any comparison to other games, this game is easily classified as unique.  The closest level of comparison to a video game that I can come up with is a cross between ActRaiser from the SNES and the resource gathering mechanics of Minecraft.  In the game, you do not directly control any of the colonists and this can be an endless source of frustration as well as a blessing.  Instead, you issue plans for the villagers and determine how many resources should be gathered or made at all times in your stock supplies.  You could designate a section of land to be tilled, order a section of a mountain mined, or issue orders to cut down trees.  The colonists, in their own time and own pace, will complete those orders.  You can also set your auto settings for, say, harvesting 6 wheat.  Whenever there is less than six wheat in your inventory, a colonist will harvest wheat if they aren't busy doing something else.

Flour!  Makes a great floor decoration!
This interface brings me to the first significant annoyance with this game.  The game is rather clunky with it's controls and the steep learning curve can be an immediate deterrent.  If I want to build stairs, I have to remind myself that stairs falls under "furniture" in the right menu.  If I want to create storage barrels, I can only do so under the "storage" section of the left menu.  Additionally, some things cannot be set for automatic work which can be annoying.  In one example, I was creating a fancy red stone section of wall for an accent to my building.  This requires "Red Color" which is made from red flowers.  I can set the game to automatically produce X red color if it isn't in my supplies.  However, I cannot set the game to automatically gather red flowers.  I have to manually order gathering of my red flowers.  This is a minor concern, my major concern with these limitations comes from wheat.  I can set the number of pieces of bread to be made by villagers and I can set how much wheat to be harvested.  However, I cannot set how much flour to be tilled. What happens is that the colonists will harvest wheat up to the limit, till the wheat into flour, and harvest more wheat.  In one of my earlier games, I had 20 bread and 10 wheat in storage and had over 190 pieces of flour.  The only way to shut this off was to shut of wheat harvesting, which required I paid closer attention to food supplies.

For every map, there is at least one or two resources on that map that can get you killed if you aren't careful.  On my stream, I was playing a Let's Play on the snow map.  The second I setup a stockpile for raw materials, I lost two members of my town.  As it happens, snow piles are a component for making Buckets of Water which can be used for making both a type of food and for making snow blocks.  Snow piles occur naturally in the game and so two of my towns folk ran off to collect them which put them into combat with a Yeti.  This can happen with other resources such as collecting uncooked meat from animals that die naturally on the map and bones from anything that drops bones.  You can manually shut off collecting those resources in your stockpiles which can prevent these deaths, but then mean the resource goes uncollected until you have the means to combat the natural enemies on the surface of the map.

The game's AI bugs were recently announced to be something addressed in a future update and, as an Alpha game I've come to expect these sort of issues with the game.  I still enjoy the game despite having to play a bit more careful to prevent my town members from dying.  Good luck finding both iron and coal early in the game.