Friday, February 24, 2017

Video Game Bro Trip

Man I’m talking a lot about my guy friends lately.

I’m not usually one for multiplayer games, truth be told. While I have dabbled in World of Warcraft I’m more of a solo player, like Osaka from Sword Art Online. This habit however quickly drifts away whenever I can get a buddy in the same room to play the same game with me, an occurrence which has been happening more often these days.

A Tour of Sanctuary 
Lately this all started when my friend and I both realized that we were both fans of the Diablo series. He had only got as far as Di
ablo 2 though, but was delighted to find out that Blizzard still had their servers open and sold the game digitally for $20. After a quick download he and I were happily tearing through Sanctuary hot on the heels of Diablo and his brothers. Despite it being purely co-op the competition to collect the most gems quickly blossomed, making the game two parts adventuring and one part Dining Dash as we try to click on the shinies as fast as possible. We eventually moved into Diablo 3 where there’s less competition for the loot and more competition for who gets to kill the monster.

Pre-Disney Avengers Adventures

Before Marvel had its own cinematic universe, a few games came out in the early 2000s that capitalized on the idea of a super hero group beating up the baddies. These came in two flavors: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2 and X-Men Legacy 1 and 2. While wrapping up a game of Dungeons and Dragons I started perusing the PS4 store when I came across an Ultimate Alliance bundle pack for $60. My buddy let out a squee and offered to pay for the thing so long as we got to play it together. Before long our team consisted of Dr. Doom, Deadpool, Hulk and Invisible Woman and we were laughing so hard our sides hurt for days.

Heroes of the Storm and Final Fantasy Roadtrip

 Most of my bro games were made when I was a kid, or teenager, but a few like Diablo 3 can easily become bro trips. It seems that recently game developers have acknowledged the fun of having a bunch of guys go on an adventure. Final Fantasy XV was a game I originally wasn’t keen on playing because it looked like Entourage: The Game, but after some coaxing and watching the Honest Trailer I decided to give it a try. While I wish that the traveling companions were actual players and not AI dressed for an Evanescence concert, I am having fun enjoying their friendship and adventure with them.

 Blizzard pops up again with their latest promotion on Heroes of the Storm. If you play 15 games with a friend as a World of Warcraft character, you can unlock a special mount in the game and in WoW, thus encouraging friends to play together. My buddies and I have been having fun smashing AI while my wife practices, and I’ve learned the wonders and delights of being a Fairy Dragon. At the end of the day, video games are fun but like anything else they’re more fun when shared with others, especially if those others are friends who can help you beat the bad guy and laugh with you along the way. If you haven’t had a bro-trip through a video game world I suggest picking up something (Probably from Blizzard), grabbing a friend and having an old-fashioned video game adventure. -JOE

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Happy 55th Birthday Steve Irwin

Today Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, would have turned 55. That’s a young age (especially for those of us who recently passed 30), but it feels even younger knowing that he passed away over 11 years ago.

The Crocodile Hunter

Steve Irwin (Left) holding crocodile (Right)
For those who didn’t grow up with him, let me fill you in. Steve Irwin was the host of several Animal Planet shows back when they still had shows about animals. As his name earlier suggests he specialized in crocodiles but also dealt with all manner of deadly and exotic animals, mostly in his home in Australia. He was unique in that instead of just filming the animal then doing a commentary over the video he would actually interact with the animals, at time risking life and limb in order to give us, the audience, a unique perspective on the creatures we may’ve never had a chance to see. His wife and daughter became part of the experience as well, though they didn’t showcase as dangerous of animals.

End of an Era

Sadly, though, Irwin passed away before his time due to a freak encounter with a manta ray while filming another episode of his show. For those of us who were fans, this came as an extreme shock to us. While he did flirt with danger (Including one episode where he received a snake bite that made a young Joe cringe into the couch), he was always respectful of animal boundaries and limitations. He was a huge advocate for animal rights, and made sure to let those of us watching what not to do when encountering dangerous animals in our own back yards.

Animal Rights 
It’s interesting to me how much of an impact Irwin had on me both as a child and now as an adult. I find myself when visiting zoos and other animal attractions looking at the conditions the animals are in and wonder if they’re happy there. While I grew up in a family that loved and respected animals, I think it was watching Irwin that helped cement in me the need to steward these precious creatures wherever they are. I think it’s also why I get so outraged when I find out that an animal is abused or neglected.

A Sad Orca

Newborn whale at Sea World seen through murky water.
The one time I visited Sea World I remember how excited I was to finally see the whales. These beautiful orcas I’d seen in movies and read so much about. When we got to the tank between shows though, I noticed one of the males floating vertically and idly bumping his nose against the bottom of the dingy pool. I asked the attendant what he was doing and she said it was a sign of boredom. To me it looked like a sign of extreme depression if anything, but to me the fact that the whale was that bored was a sign that his enclosure was not suited to his needs. I was outraged. I have yet to be back, though I was relieved to hear that they have liquidated their orca program.

When it comes to childhood heroes there’s no telling what shape or size they come in. To me Irwin was a hero because he had a passion fo

r some of the most extraordinary creatures in the world, and he did what should be a goal for everyone: he died doing what he loved.

-JOE

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dear Evan Hansen and Guy Friends


From the Playbill
Recently I was introduced to the musical "Dear Evan Hansen". A brief synopsis of the plot is that a socially introverted high schooler is assigned to write positive letters to himself by his therapist. Another social introvert and drug abuser finds one of his letters that mentions his sister and takes the letter. A day later the stoner kills himself and the letter the introvert wrote is believed to be the kids suicide note. The parents believe that introvert was their son's only friend, and so as not to add to their pain, introvert plays along and fabricates a relationship with the stoner.

The Liar Revealed 
Friends who cosplay together stay together
Its your basic liar revealed story, in the company of Aladdin, the Beautician and the Beast, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, but the thing that I keep thinking about is this one song in the play titled "For Forever". At this point Introvert is trying to explain his secret friendship to the stoner's parents, so he gives an example of the perfect day he had with the stoner. Usually this is the point in the story where the liar has to make up some lies on the spot in order to keep from being caught and is usually played for laughs but here it’s done in a different way. Earlier we found out that before the story started the Introvert broke his arm climbing a tree, and so throughout the play he is seen in a cast. In his story to the stoners parents, he talks about wandering the woods with his best friend and them climbing the tree together and him accidentally falling with his friend immediately finding him and being there. The song paints the picture of a beautiful day between two guy friends. This was the first song I heard from the play, and at the time I just thought it was a beautiful song about two male friends, something rarely heard anywhere in music without the undercurrent of “No Homo”.

An Imagined Friendship
Nothing is better than a summer day with a friend
The idea of this imaginary friendship painted so beautifully intrigued me.  It’s revealed later in the play *SPOILER WARNING* that Introvert didn’t fall out of the tree, but actually jumped in his own attempt to commit suicide. So here we have him telling a story about this perfect day with a friend and in the process changing the narrative of his own real life story from being one of desperation and sadness to one of boyhood adventure. It makes me believe that the lie isn’t just to pacify the parents but is the kind of relationship Introvert actually wants. He wanted a perfect day. He wanted to be found in the woods by someone who loved him.

What Every Man Needs


Former MG writer and I
I wonder what the story would’ve been if the two characters had been friends in real life. If they’d looked past their differences and saw each other as two lonely young men in need of a true friend, a person to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, or even just someone to spend time with. I look at my own life at all the people I met in passing and judged them to be out of my league as far as friendship is concerned, or even worse, below me. I remember the imaginary friendships I made the times I was lonely and wonder if anyone made those imaginary friendships with me. It makes me want to take a good hard look at my world and ask “Who’s missing? Who needs to be found?”
Even Aang gets photobombed
#youwillbefound

-JOE

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'll Make a Man Out of You

(This post was originally posted on my personal blog in July 2011)

This blog post has been coming for a long time. It’s just been hard to put it into words. Many of my friends from Hill Cumorah Pageant will remember belting out “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” during karaoke on Hobart Day. There is also a Youtube video that Garrett showed me of him belting out this song (big mistake, buddy, haha). I also have memories of my friend, Michele Smith (who is now on her mission in Japan), playing this song whenever we (me, her, Melissa, and Eric) were going somewhere in Eric’s car. I absolutely love this song. It is such a goofy, weird, and strangely spiritually inspirational song.


The day my district left the MTC for Toronto, we were walking across the MTC campus in the early morning, this song was going through my head. Maybe it was because we were up so early… maybe it was because we’d spent three weeks straight trying to train ourselves to think spiritually… maybe it’s just because I’m weird… I started to analyze this song spiritually, in regards to a mission, so here we go:

The biggest point of this song, spiritually, that I saw came from a conversation I’d once had with Juliana about guys and missions. The point of the conversation had been that missions turn boys into men. In other words, the mission will “make a man out of you.” Get it? ;) A mission (hopefully) will teach a young man to follow the Spirit, to learn the gospel, and what is most important. Even after only the three and a half months I was out, people could see this in me.


I’m sure I could break down most of the lines of this song to have some spiritual meaning, but there’s one part that means something to me particularly right now as I come closer to finding out about returning to my mission (even if I don’t know exactly when I will find out): “You’re unsuited for the rage of war. So, pack up, go home. You’re through. How could I make a man out of you?” I mentioned the spiritual application of this part to Garrett in one of my letters. Oddly enough (or not oddly, for anyone who knows me and him) he had been thinking of a spiritual application to this song too and he’d gotten stuck on this line. My spiritual application that I told him was this: the line is Satan telling us we’re no good, we can’t make it the rest of the way, and we can’t do it. If you remember from the movie, though, this line in the song is said and Mulan is about to leave. She turns around, sees the pole, arrow, and medals from the original challenge that Shang had given them. She goes back and makes it up the pole.


Life seems to get hard just before something good happens (so I’m expecting something good pretty quick). Satan tells us we’re not good enough or strong enough to make it through the trial. If we give up when he tells us to though, we’ll miss out on the prize that our Heavenly Father has in store for us.  He will never ask us to do more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Nephi 3:7). When Joseph Smith was in the Sacred Grove, the adversary attacked him. By his own account, Joseph Smith was just about to give up, when the light of Heaven began to appear (JS-H 1:16). He will rescue us in our darkest hour. That I know for certain.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Spoiler-ish Yu-Gi-Oh Dark Side of Dimensions Review

In a world that is eating nostalgia up faster than popcorn during movie theater trailer, it’s not surprising to see so many franchises from the past 20 years and longer trying to make some sort of comeback. Power Rangers is doing that this year, Digimon started celebrating their 15th anniversary a couple years ago, and we’ve already gotten 2 seasons of Fuller House on Netflix. So I was excited to see Yu-Gi-Oh’s 20th anniversary movie this weekend, but I was underwhelmed and disappointed.

So the concept is solid: Pharaoh Atem’s spirit has been released for a while, but Kaiba having the big head that he does can’t leave it alone. He is determined to bring the Pharaoh back and duel him to settle his score. Next enter a new villain who has a vendetta and of course Yugi ends up right in the middle of it. While I liked the concept (the idea of bringing the Pharaoh back was intriguing because both Yugi and Kaiba were struggling to come to terms with his departure), the actual execution of this plot was not well done. And then in the end it was all wrapped with a deus ex machina that didn’t even get an ounce of explanation. So while Yugi and Kaiba got closure, I didn’t.

One thing I liked about this movie was bringing back the entire
gang back together again. Regardless of my other critiques,
the characterization of each of these were on point.

In a way the plot and mechanics of the movie were a little over-complicated. Instead of just a villain and a vendetta, we got oodles of backstory that I didn’t even care about. I mean, some villain backstory is necessary, but I felt like we got too much. Besides all that, the villain’s method of dueling was bizarre. If it had been properly explained, it might have been fine. Instead, things were brushed over. Also there were a lot of new cards added (mostly support cards for Blue-Eyes and Dark Magician) that I knew nothing about, so I was lost as far as exactly what they were doing. Granted, unlike in the TV show, the effects were written on the cards, but I don’t think split second shots to read card effects is sufficient.

Speaking of cards, I also didn’t care for the redesign of some of the cards. Dark Magician and Obelisk the Tormentor looked way too different from the original anime. Now if 100% of the cards had changed, I’d have been more okay with it. Instead, Dark Magician Girl and others looked exactly the same. I don’t know if it was to make the tone of the movie darker or what, but I didn’t care for it much. I certainly didn’t care for the inconsistency.

Dark Magician was the same in the card, so
why did the hologram change?

I’m also a bit sick of Kaiba’s overly prideful attitude. He’s always been obnoxious and a jerk (and a bit delusional), but I’d have thought after his experience in the Memory World and the final duel between Yugi and Atem (granted, that only happened in the anime, not the manga) that he’d be a bit humbler. Nope, instead he developed a god complex as he developed his new tech. Like I said, delusional.

One final critique: As much as this movie tried to tie up some loose ends regarding Bakura and Shadi and giving closure to Yugi and Kaiba, it left me with more questions, regarding the nature of the Millennium Items, the fate of the Pharaoh, and Shadi’s past (never mind that ending). I understand that this movie wasn’t planned when the original story was written, but the added details didn’t sit too well with me. It felt like there was inconsistencies in the story…. And having been a huge fan of Once Upon a Time and Lost, I have proven that I can handle inconsistencies and plot holes.

The movie had some good themes. The idea of fear and hate not being able to fix anything or make a better world is perfect for our world today. Like I said in a previous post, I see a lot of us vs. them going on (and Facebook is just a small microcosm of that) and it’s not going to solve anything in the world. A world of peace CANNOT be created through fear and anger.

As much as I have my issues with this movie, it was nice
to see Yugi finally face Kaiba all on his own.

Honestly, if this movie had been a trilogy or something, it might have been better, kind of like how Digimon is doing six movies for Digimon Adventure Tri. If we’d had more time, we could have gotten used to Dimension Duels and we could have had more time to develop the villain and we wouldn’t have had to rush through the duels we had.

All in all, there was nothing wrong with the movie… just hard to follow and process. Maybe if I watch it a second time I’ll feel differently, but I was frustrated enough with this that I’d rather not buy the movie. I’d rather watch one of the other two movies (“Pyramid of Light” or “Bonds Beyond Time”); they’re not perfect, but they were a lot more self-contained than this one.


Anyway, I’m done ranting. If you’ve seen “Dark Side of Dimensions”, let me know what you think. Would you recommend it? Do you disagree with me or am I on point?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Pokemon Lessons: Us vs. Them

It’s been 2 months since the Presidential Election and I have tried to be consciously quiet about it on my Facebook, on here, and on my personal blog. I have my opinions on the election like all people, of course. However, I think the bigger problem with the election and the world in general is the us vs. them mentality. Democrats vs. Republicans. Conservatives vs. Liberals. Gays vs. Straights. Christians vs. Muslims. DC vs. Marvel. Digimon vs. Pokemon. The list could go on, but here’s where I get deep.



Remember when we were younger and The First Pokémon movie came out? We were all excited about this theatrical release of such a fundamental part of our childhood. I remember going in psyched for Mewtwo, who was supposed to be the strongest Pokémon ever (that’s sort of changed now, but Mewtwo is still pretty awesome). Never mind the fact that we were treated to Charizard, Venusaur, and Blastoise all together. However, do you remember the crucible moment for Mewtwo? Do you remember those deep moments that have brought people to tears?

If you remember, Meowth was cloned by accident, while Team Rocket was snooping around the castle. When all of the super clones were released by Mewtwo and ordered to battle their counterparts, Meowth was initially freaked out because he thought he’d be attacked. But instead his clone was a passivist (how did that happen?). The benefit of having a talking Pokémon there is that we got one of the deepest exchanges I’ve seen in the Pokémon anime:

“We do have a lot in common. The same air, the same Earth, the same sky. Maybe if we started looking at what's the same instead of always looking at what's different ...well, who knows?”



I’ve said it before with issues that, in my opinion, have more eternal significance than an election, but the biggest problem facing us right now isn’t a political party or a candidate or a group of people. Instead, the biggest problem facing us now is hate.

The Savior commanded us to “love one another” (John 13:34). This wasn’t a flippant comment and it’s not just an easy cool one-liner. It’s more than just a primary song that we learned to sign when we were little. He really lived this way. Personally I know I need to love more. I mean, Christ was able to forgive the soldiers who killed Him and despite being betrayed by Judas, He showed no ill-will towards him. Can you honestly picture the Savior saying anything like what gets put on Facebook all too frequently?


I see it all the time: “Liberals want this and we can’t stand for it as conservatives” or “Conservatives have caused this problem because of this and as liberals we have to stand up to them”. First off, I don’t care for all-encompassing comments about any group (because no two people have exactly the same opinion anyway) but how is this making things any better? Sure I could pull a Donna Noble and complain about everything to try to make my life better, but it really doesn’t do anything. I spend way too much time complaining and being mad at people. It only rips me apart and pushes me further away from God. As much as I detest New Years Resolutions (because I think they’re a joke), this would be a good resolution to make: less complaining, less dividing, and more loving.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Joe's Top 10 Video Games of 2016

I know I know, everyone's doing a top 10 whatever list of 2016, but whatever I'm doing one anyway.
Fair warning: I tried to keep this list to games I bought in 2016, which wasn't a lot, so this list is basically "Games Joe Bought in 2016 and Why He Liked Them, but I still think they're worth talking about.

Okay let's do this.

10: No Man's Sky
I won't go into the three ring nightmare the PR for this game ended up being, since you can find that on any gaming website, suffice it to say that we were literally promised the sun moon and stars and were given the last level of Spore with a graphics upgrade. That being said, I loved the last level of Spore so this game was a blast for me. If not for the insane amount of grind and the hard crashes, this game would be higher on my list, but since this game won't be seeing a lot of top ten lists, I think 10 is a good spot for it.

9: Magic Duels
While this game came out in 2015, I personally didn't start playing it till 2016, but when I did I played it a LOT. If you're into Magic: The Gathering this game is a must, as it follows all the core rules and keeps up with the expansions as it comes out. The game is free to play on Steam and does offer the option to pay for additional boosters and decks but 70+ hours in and I nearly have all the sets without paying a dime. This game is also great for those who enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering but aren't as keen to deal with talking to other players, since in the PVP there is no chat. Check it out if you're a Magic: The Gathering fan or trying to become one.

8: The Curious Expedition
I was so excited when this game finally went on sale and I could buy it. This is a great game for anyone who's a fan of Kipling, Indiana Jones, or even a little Lovecraft. You play a world famous explorer (Or H.P. Lovecraft) and lead an expedition into the unknown all around the world. While the levels can feel a bit samey, even on different continents, the game play of exploring maps and seeing what's just beyond the draw distance is enough to keep any explorer engaged. The turn based dice combat takes a second to get used to, but once you do it's like playing a very aggressive form of Yhatzee.

7: Far Cry Primal
In my "Not Suitable for All Audiences" category we have Far Cry Primal: a cave man sandbox game. I thought the masculine power fantasy in video games was solely focused on guns but there's nothing like leaping from a cliff with spear in hand onto an unaware Neanderthal in nothing but a loin cloth and war paint to make you feel all sorts of manly-then try doing it in a video game! Plus you get to train saber-tooth tigers to do your bidding so my cat got a kick out of the game as well.

6: Gems of War
So this game came out in 2014 which pretty much makes this a retro review but since this year I clocked in over 80 hours I think its time to talk about it. The game is a hybrid of Magic the Gathering and Candy Crush where you build and upgrade a team to take on other people's team through color matching combat. The game carries the same addicting quality of Candy Crush where you just want to try one more game but find yourself still up at 1 AM looking for a fight. Gems of War is free on Steam so give it a look but make sure your well hydrated and ready for a new addiction before you do.


5: Stardew Valley
This year's indie darling, Stardew Valley is a throwback to the Harvest Moon games with the addition of also being able to fight monsters. As far as improvements go, any game without the ability to fight monsters can benefit from fighting monsters so this game was a winner in my book. Building your own farm and maintaining the plants and animals has honestly never been so much fun, and the top-down 2D controls is so much better than the clunky 3D-ifying the Game Cube tried to pull in the day that made it look like you were trying to grow balloon animals. Have a go at it if you long for the simple life but can't afford to move to rural Wisconsin.

4: Darkest Dungeon
Officially released this year, I was playing this thing all the way back in early access. The game is the typical rogue-like with the twist that the horrors and fighting your adventurers face can have a toll on their sanity, making them contract afflictions like addiction and paranoia if you don't keep an eye on them. The game is a dark Cthuhluesque adventure set in an 1800s backdrop, giving the feeling of watching a black-and-white horror movie while playing Dungeons and Dragons on a rainy night.

3: Worlds of Final Fantasy
No, this is not Final Fantasy XV. Frankly I decided to skip on that since it looked like the goth clique of a high school was having an Entourage style road trip, but Worlds is a whole different kettle of fish. Set in a wacky mix of Final Fantasy worlds, the game allows you to collect classic Final Fantasy monsters and train them like Pokemon, up to and including evolving them. The game play is fun, the story is funny in a self-referential fourth-wall Deadpool sort of way. The only reason this game isn't higher up is because the support character grated on my spine right out of the gate and there's no way to Old Yeller it in the starting area.

2: World of Warcraft: Legion
While not a full game, most expansions to WOW can be classified as stand-alone games given the amount of content they add,
and Legion is no exception. I immediately made a new Demon Hunter character and jumped right into the Legion expansion and quickly found myself falling in love with the game all over again. The massive demon invasions leading up to launch made it feel like the world was in peril on an epic scale and the coordinating quest was interesting and varied enough to keep my interest and never wore out its welcome in length. This game earns the #2 spot on my list because of all these I still predict its the game I'm going to dump the most hours into.

1: Pokemon Moon
With every addition the Nintendo gang tries to mix up the formula with the Pokemon franchise and this time they not only mixed it up but added diced pineapple to the batch. Set in a Hawaii inspired Aloha region, the game throws out the conventional 8 gym leader model in favor of puzzles and tests that truly challenge even the veteran Pokemon trainer. It honestly feels like every annoyance I ever had with the series has been either removed completely or revamped in a fun new way. My favorite example is the new Pokemon Uber system in the game (No I don't remember what it's called). What you have is a little device that you press to summon a Pokemon friend to you who will basically preform the functions HMs used to preform, from flight to rock smash to even just moving you faster so you don't even need the stupid bike or roller skates. This means you don't need to waste a slot on a Pokemon's moves to use an HM that can never be removed. It's also just a simple joy to jump on a Charizard and use fly right on his back.

What games did you love in 2016?

-JOE