Thursday, April 30, 2015

Playing Games with Kids

When I posted the picture of my daughter, Kira, playing the Marvel Superheroes RPG earlier this week, it generated a lot more feedback that I thought it would, all of it positive. That got me to thinking about playing games, specifically Role-Playing Games with kids. Just to warn you, I am going to be covering a good amount of ground that Shag and I did on an episode of The Hammer Podcasts!, but I think it's worth it.

First of all, playing games, of any stripe, is a great way for families to come together. Much like our house rules against video games or cell phones/tablets being prohibited during the week, this is a way for all of us to interact. In fact, we just played Uno last night, so any kind of game will do. I highly encourage setting up a family game night for your kids.

I like the idea of Role-Playing games for several reasons, though. Mainly it's the use of imagination. As we get further down the technology road, kids are required to use their own innate imaginations less and less. Everything is just shown to them on the screen, whether from TV or video games, and there are fewer blanks for them to fill in. By playing a pen and paper RPG, however, they have to try and picture what's happening in their head, as well as think about what to do.

Which brings me to my next point, critical thinking. There are always limitations in any kind of video game, not matter how open world it actually is. That's just a fact of their programming. Either the code says you can do this or not. Games like Marvel Superheroes allow for solutions of many different types, which also means that the players much think about the choices and decide what is the best option for all concerned. Kira, at one point, chose to fire a gas capsule at the Scorpion and a Thug, knocking out the Thug without her throwing a punch. Personally, I think that was a great idea, and I told her so.

Finally, there's the issue of math. Every RPG involves some kind of math, We're not talking calculus here, just simple addition and subtraction. Considering I'm dealing with a first grader, that's perfectly appropriate and I hope it reinforces what she's being taught in school. (Of course, I'm teaching her the way I learned, with hundreds, tens, and ones columns, so maybe not.)

What this all boils down to, in my mind anyway, is that there are far fewer things more rewarding than seeing the smile on my daughter's face when she wins the encounter by roundhouse kicking the bad guy in the face. You can bet we're going to be playing again, and maybe we'll roll her up her own character this time.

UPDATE: We sat down the other day and Kira rolled up The Hedgehog, a mutant with Weather Control, Emotion Sensing, and Projectile Quills, along with Am (50) Strength!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trailer Madness

Last week we got a couple of teaser trailers released that made people lose their minds. Of course, I'm talking about Star Wars and Batman v Superman. My general thoughts on each are below, but here's something that applies to both. These are teasers. They don't tell you anything you didn't already know about the movies already. No plot has been revealed, so saying "This will be the best/worst movie EVER!" makes no sense. Personally, I'm going to wait and see the movies before making that decision, but I've always been a little bit weird.

OK, let's talk Batman v Superman. I'm an oddity in that I didn't hate "Man of Steel", nor do I love it. It was "meh", in my opinion, but you can read more about that here. That being said, this movie feels like a natural outgrowth of that first story. Superman has been revealed, the population of Earth knows he's an alien and that his race tried to destroy the planet. So, it makes sense that we have those that support him and those that are against him.

Batman, from what I can gather, has been around awhile, but working in the shadows. Now he sees Superman as a threat and wants to take him down. All logical reactions, but I really want to see how they resolve it. I REALLY hope that we get the respect/friendship of Clark and Bruce at the end, rather than the standoffish-ness that they've gone back to way too much in the comics. We'll have to wait until next year to find out, though.

Now on to this year and Star Wars. I'm one of those people that grew up with Star Wars and can probably quote you the Original Trilogy from memory. I've also been a big fan of the now defunct Expanded Universe, so it will be interesting to see where this goes. (Aside: Thank you, Marvel Unlimited, for adding the original Marvel Star Wars to your catalog.)

One thing that intrigues me is the "Neo-Imperials" we see. New Storm Troopers, new black-on-red emblem, new Sith Lord(?). Are these acolytes of the Empire (like Neo-Nazis) trying to bring about a First Order to succeed the New Order? Is this the remnants of the Empire trying to re-exert control? Is the rebellion still going on after all these years? I don't know, and I want to see where it goes.

I am excited to see the original actors back in their iconic roles, but I don't want them to take over the movie. I'd much rather have this be about the new characters with Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie playing supporting/mentoring roles. But, then, I'd also like to see a green, humanoid rabbit walk across the screen in the background, so I'm ready for some disappointment.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Old Timey Goodness

People that know me are aware that I love old time radio programs. Programs like Jack Benny, The Shadow, Superman, Dragnet, Gunsmoke, Philip Marlowe, etc are all right in my wheelhouse. In fact, my default satellite radio station is Radio Classics, which we listen to while eating dinner every night.

Readers of this blog will know that I also love podcasts, most of which are more like talk radio than radio drama. However, my good friend, and fraternity brother, Bill Kokal, knowing my tastes, pointed me towards Decoder Ring Theatre. Unfortunately, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of episodes on their feed and put off listening for almost a year.

That was probably one of the worst decisions of my podcast listening habit, as all of their shows (yes, I said ALL) are right up my alley. From the hard boiled detective series "Black Jack Justice" to the pulp super-heroics of "The Red Panda Adventures", and even the side shows that go into science fictions or horror, everything is super high quality. The shows are so good that I'm not allowed to listen to "The Red Panda" without my wife and daughter!

If you're anything like me, and the fact that you're reading this means that you tend that way, I'd highly recommend checking out all of the DRT offerings. You can go through their website or check some out on their YouTube Channel.

Something else I would recommend would be The Red Panda Comics, of which there are currently 10. I'm reading those and the writing is still top notch (as Gregg Taylor writes these as well as the show) and the artwork fits it very well. I haven't had a chance to read the novels, but they're on my list. All of these are available on Amazon, but you might want to just go to the DRT website to check them out.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Black Hole

I recently re-watched "The Black Hole" for the first time in years and, I have to say, I still love it. I know that I loved it as a kid, and I'm not entirely sure why. It doesn't seem like a kids movie, really. What it is, and what I really appreciate, is that it's really close to hard sci-fi.

It's not entirely there, as it has anti-gravity on the Cygnus and sentient robots, but it gets a heck of a lot closer than any of it's contemporaries. Take the Palomino, for example. This ship was designed so that the only time there would be something akin to gravity on it was when the thrusters were employed. Otherwise, it's made to be a weightless, environment, which we see at the very beginning of the film.It also travels through space without it's engines typically on, relying on the momentum that it's already generated to get it where it's going.

The ending, while very reminiscent of the "Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria" sequence in Fantasia, offers no concrete answers. Do the astronauts make it through the black hole to another universe? Do they die and this is the afterlife? Did they get transported to another part of our universe? We don't know and that is the hallmark of good sci-fi, it raises questions that the viewer must puzzle out on their own.

Then there's the look of the movie, which is simply gorgeous. The models and backgrounds are highly detailed and it just looks like something that really could exist in a future time of space exploration. It's no wonder that it was up for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects (which it lost to Alien).

One take-away from this movie that has me disappointed, though, is that this film, for all of Maximilian Schell's villainy, is still a bright look at the future. Here we are presented to a time when many nations of the Earth have their own deep space programs and are all exploring far out from our solar system. This is something that we have gotten too far away from in our fiction. We need a bright future to look forward to, not a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Hopefully, now that NASA is moving forward on getting us to Mars, we'll see more of a push towards a better tomorrow in fiction as well as reality.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

April Fools?

No, I didn't do an April Fools episode of The Hammer Podcasts! or a fake post here, mainly because I don't have that kind of time. However, if you're looking for a good side-track, check out Tom Harris's latest episode of Radio Free Asgard. It's really well done, and you get to see what it's like when your childhood memories turn out to be not so accurate. Check it out below.