The Death of the Walking Dead?

I fell in love with the Walking Dead when it came out back in 2010.  I had read the comic book and while it wasn’t my favorite series, it was intriguing enough for me to check the television adaption out and I was glad I did.  It quickly became a favorite.  The thing I admired was the uncompromising vision it presented on screen – the first scene of the series was a police officer shooting a little girl zombie in the head with a revolver for crying out loud!  From that point forward, I knew the show was going to bleak and I was hooked.

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Rick setting the bar early.

Nowadays, I wonder if I going to continue watching?

It has become fashionable lately to doubt the Walking Dead and I feel that it is entirely deserved.  Unlike most, I wasn’t put out by the premiere last Sunday.  The violence is why I watch the show – what else do you think the end of the civilization is going to look like?  I found Jefferey Dean Morgan’s Negan to be mesmerizing – I loved this actor since seeing him play the Comedian in Watchmen and I think he captures the character well.  I thought the final scene of last season, the buildup and then the single extended shot of him at the end of the finale to be one of the better TWD moments in memory.

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Negan 2016:  I’ll shut that shit down. No exceptions.

I’m turning against the Walking Dead because it has become boring.

First, rather than an adaption, TWD has faithfully stuck to the narrative presented in the comic books.  Sure, there are some sequencing changes, some new characters (Daryl wasn’t in the comic book), and some characters have been changed and deaths happened at different times.  That being said, all of the major plot points (‘The Farm’, ‘The Governor’, ‘Hilltop’, ‘Alexandria) from the comic have occurred on the show.  The problem is that the comic book isn’t very good.  There was a point in the beginning where it was solid entertainment but the quality has decreased markedly as the series has progressed and the story lines have become increasingly boring – oh look, another hidden threat of the horizon, wash repeat.  Just like the show unfortunately!

The other major problem are the main characters themselves have grown as much as they are going too.  Daryl has been redeemed from his bad boy background and is now a responsible citizen, hooray!  Michonne is no longer a loner with a sword, she has found happiness in Rick.  As far as Rick is concerned, he is caught in a rut narratively.  He thinks he is a good guy – he is brought low and must be cruel – he hates himself for being cruel – he pulls back and becomes a good guy again – repeat cycle.  The premiere would have you believe he has been brought low by Negan but totally not buying it.  He will be ‘low’ until the story brings him back up again, just like it has before.

Hell, Carl is more interesting than Rick at this point!

Where does the story go from here?  Well for one, it can focus on the three most interesting characters it has left.  Carol and Morgan are the ideological centers of the show now – Carol is the stone-cold killer who is barely holding on to enough morality to prevent herself from becoming a serial killer.  She hates what she has become but knows the necessity of it.  Morgan understands Carol because he has been there and realizes that his muscular pacifist code is the only way to retain humanity in a world bereft of it.  In many ways, the show has become about them and their competing views – they happen to be the only characters left who aren’t static in their journey.  Add into it Negan’s fascist counterpoint to their contest and you have the recipe to making TWD great again.

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They are the only ones that can save this show.

I will continue to watch for now but the Walking Dead is on notice in my household.  Start being interesting again or be eaten by the better shows out there.

Video Game Review: Civilization VI

civilization_vi_cover_artYes, I am a declared Firaxis fanboy with Sid Meier’s autograph hanging on my game room wall, but you have to believe me when I tell you that Civilization VI is by far the best game at launch that they have ever released and well worth your time if you want to take the proverbial one more turn. There are a lot of reviews already out there from professional reviewers, bloggers, and game sites that got advanced copies and they have been playing for over a month! The reviews are all resoundingly positive, 94% on Metacritic. I’m hardly a dissenting vote, but I would put it more in the 80 – 85 range with potential to be a masterpiece!

I’ve had only ~30 hours since launch to absorb what CivVI has to offer and I am extremely impressed with how refined the game’s mechanics are at launch. Civ had a reputation of launching the vanilla game and then adding mechanics like espionage and religion on future DLC releases. Not so with CivVI! Not only are all the familiar mechanics present, they are amazingly well developed and balanced for the new game. Though it has a familiar feel, the game is very different from previous releases and it took some time getting used to, even for a seasoned player like myself; however, now that I’ve got the hang of it, I don’t think I will be able to go back to any previous version.

For the first day, I logged 12 hours sitting side-by-side in the game room with my friend David as we each played CivVI on separate computers. At first, we thought we might multiplay, but instead I went with a standard game and David did a smaller, fast paced game. He got two games in quicker than I finished my first game and that’s how I would recommend anyone just starting CivVI. There are so many complexities in this game that it is easy to make mistakes just starting off. For instance, I love the new district system, but if you place your districts incorrectly, you’re stuck with it. And districts really matter! So, David was able to learn from his first game and apply the lessons learned to his second short game almost right away. The other advantage to playing alongside David was that as we each discovered new and interesting events, systems, features, and mechanics, we were able to learn from each other. It is complex, but it is the complexity which makes it such an amazing game with potentially infinite replayability. CivVI feels so complete, I almost wonder what Firaxis plans to add to the base game!

It’s not without issues of course. As with all 4X games, the AI has a few issues which detract from the enjoyment of the game. I believe the issues will be fixed in patches, but the AI issues are most prevalent in diplomacy and war. I would like to say that the leaders follow their stated goals, agendas, and current government types, but it seems like most will declare war on you at one point or another. It’s not necessarily something related specifically to some leaders because Gandhi does it too! War is a part of history, but some of these declarations of war seem ridiculous and the AI is unable to follow through with their aggression. The part I don’t like is how brutal the warmonger system is. When an AI declares war (happens a lot), they will send a peace treaty as soon as you approach their cities with a sizable enough force. If you accept their peace offer, they will be right back to attack you 30 turns later. If you don’t accept the peace terms, they and every other civilization will think you are a warmonger and soon the entire world is against you. The constant wars got annoying, so I ended up finishing off every civ that declared war on me so they would just leave me alone to do my city building.

My favorite new addition is definitely the districts! In older Civ games, there wasn’t much difference between your cities. Most cities could build almost every building, so each city looked about the same by end game, but varying in size depending on the terrain you settled on. Not so now. Each city is unique and you have to specialize nearly every city according to their strengths and what you need at that moment! As with real life, the key to successful city building is location, location, location! Planning the cities is awesome!

My least favorite addition is the proselytizing zerg swarm the AI does. My first game, I was too busy kicking Russia back to the Stone Age (see previous AI comment) to realize England slipped in with 20 or so missionaries and converted all my cities, including my Holy City. So, getting a religious victory absolutely seems to be a viable strategy – it’s just annoying when it happens to you!

Sean Bean isn’t as good as Leonard Nimoy was in Civilization IV, but he does give it some extra pizzazz.

I’m enjoying CivVI immensely, but really hope that the AI is fixed up a bit to make the diplomacy and war AI a little more balanced and less annoying. I think CivVI has potential to be the best of the series and I look forward to seeing what else Firaxis has in store for its flagship title.

 

 

 

Video Game Review: Football Manager

Football Manager (FM) is the best sports simulator on the market and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m addicted to it.

FM is a venerable game franchise which started in 1992 making it almost as old as the more popular Madden Football franchise. It originally started as a series called Championship Manager but when the software developer split off in 2005, it retained the rights to the source code but not the name.  It redubbed the game Football Manager and it has been cranking out a new version every year since.

What is FM? It is a comprehensive simulation of the world of domestic and international soccer – or football as the rest of the known universe which isn’t American calls it.  I’m not joking when I say comprehensive.  It models the professional and amateur leagues of 51 nations, the national teams of every nation which has one, dozens of national and international competitions including the World Cup and the Olympics, and tens of thousands of players.

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Not convinced?  You also get to control all aspects of coaching a team ranging from interviews to firings of the Staff.  You can manage the youth and feeder teams.  You’re also responsible for the training, morale of the players, establishment of tactics and formations, scouting for new additions, and the domestic and international transfer markets.  You got to deal with the media and answer questions in victory and defeat.  To top it off there is full financial modeling with loans, advertising, sponsorship and new stadiums and facilities.

I earlier compared this game to Madden Football but honestly, there is very little comparison.  Madden Football has essentially been making the same game for decades, optimized for console arcade-like play with very little innovation and thus its popularity has suffered.  Football Manager on the other hand has continued to innovate.  The latest iteration (FM17) fixing to come out in a few weeks includes social media interaction, new Staff additions including Data Analysts and Sports Scientists for you to get your ‘Moneyball’ on, and usual raft of match and AI improvements.  FM has a large American audience based off Steam sales but it is tremendously popular overseas – I have been in Germany and France for FM launches and the advertisements were all over the place.  I hear it is even crazier in the United Kingdom where flagship papers cover the game on their front page.

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Me?  I have been playing the game for years and I find it works best as a role-playing game.  In my latest dynasty, I started with an obscure Scottish minor league – Berwick – and after a couple of inconclusive years, my manager was fired.  He didn’t have a great resume so he got hired on with Limerick FC – a formerly powerful Irish team which had fallen on hard times.  Over the next six years, I took the team back to the top of the charts in Irish Football – a small less reputable league in comparison to the European powerhouses – but my manager’s reputation was enhanced by a better than average performance in the EURO Championship where he defeated a powerful Hungarian club.  Eventually, he earned an interview and a job with Dag and Red, a well-funded English club poised to make waves in English football and so far, has managed to gain promotion to the first tier of the Sky League – two steps below the Premiere League of Manchester United and Arsenal fame.

FM is one of those touchstone games where if you’re about sports simulations – not arcade games mind you – hardcore sports, then you owe it to yourself to give it a go.  It is expensive, but few games let you buy a world to play in.  FM lives up to the claim as best sports game.

Why I Geek

Why do I Geek?

It is a question I actually get quite a bit.  I’m moving into my mid-forties and a father of two children.  Furthermore, I have been an Army Officer for the past twenty years.  The culture of the Army, particularly in leadership can be pretty narrow in some fashion.  The ‘acceptable’ hobbies most of my peers seem to have relate to sports, athletics, partying, hunting, shooting, and other outdoor activities.  I don’t denigrate it – most of my closest friends unwind by doing the above – but things outside of those norms sometimes raise eyebrows.  Why can’t you pick something more serious to be into?

I wish that they could have seen what I’ve seen.

I have traveled the stars, rescued maidens, and stood on alien worlds!  I served aboard the TCS Victory during the Kilrathi Wars in Wing CommanderI fought with the resistance in City 17 in Half Life 2, taking down Alien Striders while hiding in the rubble.  I have stood on the frozen plains of Esamir and launched rockets at advancing Vanu Hover Tanks while tracers and laser beams lit up the dusk sky in Planetside 2.  I watched Aeris ran through with Sephiroth’s blade in Final Fantasy VII.

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I watched Flash Gordon lead the Hawkmen to victory against War Rocket Ajax.  I saw the SDF-1 lead the desperate assault against the Zentradi Grand Fleet in Robotech and I saw the Battlestar Galactica fall out of the sky and take Cylon garrison by surprise on New Caprica.  I saw John Crichton face down the Peacekeepers and Scarren in Farscape and saw Colonel McQueen take out the Chig fighter ace in Space Above and Beyond.

I saw the oppressed people of Luthadel rise up against the Lord Ruler in Mistborn.  I saw the heroism of the Union Army and Black Dow’s Northmen as they clashed in The Heroes.  I kidnapped the Enesha Queen in the Ghost Brigades and saw the Elven Cavalry fight British Tanks while Dragons and Typhoon Fighters clashed overhead in The Nightmare Stacks.

I’m not psychotic.  I know I didn’t ACTUALLY do any of these things – these were experiences watching movies, reading books, and playing video games among other things.  But does it matter?  These experiences were all precious and real to me in the ways that mattered.  They comforted and inspired and who doesn’t need such in their lives?

Anyone can visit one of the realms above but to be Geek is to live in them and to think about them when you’re not there.  I’m well-adjusted and capable enough in real life – I enjoy my family and my job and gleefully attend to my responsibilities.  But I also live in the marvelous reaches of my own imagination, fueled by ray guns and rocket ships, dragons and wizards.  I can go places you can barely imagine and I can do it at will.  This doesn’t replace my real life – this enhances it and makes it better.  And given that I’m a father of daughters, I take them along on the adventures as well.

That is why I Geek.