Strong as 10 Men, a List of 5 Favourites!

In my childhood, there was a figure that competed for my love alongside Godzilla, and that was Hercules! The Roman, the OG, the Bactrian Buddha buddy, however you sculpt your lion-pelted demigod, I was a fan! With my cartoon-drenched childhood in mind, I present to you some of my favourite portrayals as a child, along with some interesting traditional versions that I encountered as an adult.

Hercules: The Legendary Journey & Xena + Young Hercules

Hercules_titles

Kevin Sorbo first Hercules I ever knew. I got the gist of the myth from the intro to the show and the first few episodes, but (it was) these shows (and the similar live-action Sinbad) that got me all gung-ho about ancient superheroes and their big bads.

I was able to rewatch the whole main series in 2015 before it became unavailable to me on Netflix. It absolutely holds up. That isn’t saying it’s a remotely accurate historical or mythological viewing of events, but the way it smashes up everything from contemporary pop references to Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain (played by one Karl “Dredd” Urban!) is just absolutely fucking delightful. This show carries all the whimsy and fantasy of a child’s imagination (or in this case, the wonderful Sam Raimi’s) with the unmistakable awkwardness of 90s live-action TV.

As for Xena, well, it’s just another top-notch 90s live-action masterpiece. Young Hercules, on the other hand is a little weaker: it’s basically Roar but Hercules. *cough*BuffyTheCrowTheHighlanderAngelCharmedLois&ClarkBeastMaster*cough*. I have predilections.

Disney’s Hercules + The Animated Series + Disney’s Hades Challenge

Hercules_(1997_film)_poster

This coming out amidst the live-action show was an absolute blessing. By the Gods, I was elated! Not only was the movie great, but at the time we were able to get American satellite channels, so I got to watch the animated series alongside the Aladdin series! It was wonderful! It was all much the same as the totally unrelated live-action series from above: loose relation to mythology and history to enable contemporary references, things like using Philip of Macedon to reference backwater “hicks” and “be a Gyro” puns. What a wonderful God damned time for Hercules-based media!

The Rockules

Hercules_(2014_film)

Now, this may have come out in 2014, but it was as mythologically confused as anything the 90s gave us! There’s nothing like watching a beefy dude smash a bunch of other dudes into the ground. Hallelujah, the Rockules hath saved us!

The thing I enjoyed the most about this movie, and I can’t speak to how this went in the comic as I never read it, was the “falsehood” of Hercules. Hercules is just a man in this, at least that’s what he considers himself, seeing nothing divine in his life. Here Hercules is just a real big dude that is good at smashing other dudes with a bunch of mercenary-buddies keeping his PTSD in check. Spoiler: Until the ending when it goes beautifully off the rails and seems to “become” the Hercules of legend!

AristophanesThe Frogs

Aristofanes
Artistophanes himself

As an adult, I really enjoyed this version of Heracles that I encountered during a course at UofT (Intro to Classical Mythology.) I had never really delved into the actual created mythos of Heracles as much as I had just been ambiently aware of the myth without having had read particular takes on it*.

Being introduced to this comedic take on Heracles, as a foil to the bumbling Dionysus, was a pleasure. I was really taken with the ancient, Golden Age recasting of characters. It was nice to see ostensibly pious people treating their myths as playthings and using them almost lightly, instead of the typically associated tragedy of the era.

Age of Mythology (totally cheating, it’s a back-door plug for how great this game is)

Age_of_Mythology_Liner

This is… absolutely cheating. Heracles just technically shows up, but the actual strongman-badboy of the game is Ajax in the campaign. Age of Mythology was an early 2000s RTS, the first 3D game by the makers of Age of Empires (Ensemble Studios) and it absolutely stole my fucking heart. I was obsessed with this game, playing it hour after hour, running around at times with my laser bears, but mostly just swapping out my god powers over and over to make ents show up. The game is straightforward, it’s an Age of Empires game with monsters, it was to that series was Total War: Warhammer is to Total War. Here’s your cavalry, here’s your archers, and here’s a minotaur’s horn in your guts!

The semi-reason it’s here is that the game actually had an in-game encyclopedia, which I would spend as much time in as I did the actual game. I learned a lot of really digestible, simply laid out myths from Norse, Egyptian and Greek legend thanks to this game. This is a game I will always treasure, and it even saw a remaster within the last couple of years. They added in an extra Hellenic-esque Atlantean culture with The Titans expansion, and a Chinese culture via a DLC for the remaster. Unfortunately I know nothing of the latter, but the reviews are very poor, which is disappointing.

 

*I believe as a kid I used this website quite a bit to get the gist of myths: http://www.pantheon.org/

(Header image taken from Theoi.)

Go, Go, GODZILLA!

Well, I haven’t been around here… for about a year. Last time things were a little different, and I was sweating bullets like a chaingun. Today I’d like to reminisce about some old favourites, things that resurged in my memories when I saw Shin Godzilla over the summer. Godzilla was an absolutely gigantic part of my childhood: reruns late at night, and VHS copies made from those airings with the commercials left in; the occasional rental from a Blockbuster (or Rogers Video, which we had in my neighbourhood 15 or so years ago.) It was never “easy” for me to catch Godzilla, except the fake-Zilla in 1998 which splashed into theatres back then, and the commercial-enterprising around it with cartoons and toys. My Godzilla was always the Godzilla, though, the green, lumbering, spikey-atomic-breathing-unstoppable-monster. In a toast to my childhood with the king of monsters, here is a list of my seminal stompathons!

King Kong vs. Godzilla:

This is it for me. This movie is THE memory I have of Godzilla. The best Godzilla movie focuses on Godzilla, there’s no doubt, but for me the most fun Godzilla movies have “vs.” in the title! This was one of two favourites for me in the series growing up: my second favourite monster for the Big Green to tussle with was one Mr. Kong. Between the lightning powers and tail-spin-throws, King Kong is a real fucking boss in this one. I think, among all the enemies of Godzilla, this is actually a really great novelty, where the kaiju has relatively close to human mobility and motion, as opposed to either stumpy-arms, no-arms, or weapon-arms that most other kaiju have! King Kong really puts to use what he’s been gifted with!

 King_Kong_vs_Godzilla_1962

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster:

GHIDORAH! My Man! This badass was my all-time favourite growing up. He was the only equal for Godzilla, the one that always required team-ups because Godzilla himself just couldn’t duke it out with him. Three heads, it seems, is far better than one! Not better than two, though, as Mothra and Godzilla showed Ghidorah by teaming up and smashing his face(s) in!

This was also one of the first times I remember aliens being involved in Godzilla plots, which was always ludicrous, I absolutely loved the alien plots in these movies. Sometimes they were just alien-humans, sometimes they were Atlanteans, sometimes they were fucking cockroaches and gorillas!

Ghidorah_the_Three-Headed_Monster_1965.jpg

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla:

Who best to best Godzilla but Godzilla?! This was another great aliens-controlling-things set-up. This time, they built their own Godzilla! But lo and behold, it turns out that the power behind the mech is the literal skeleton of the original 1954 Godzilla, and it’s semi-sentient! DUN-DUN-DUUUUUUN! It’s a pure classic – Mechagodzilla was the first idea of a “mech” I ever really had, and it has stuck with me all my life. This movie defined for me how badass robots could be.

Godzilla_vs_Mechagodzilla_1974

Godzilla vs. Gigan:

I just rewatched this movie recently, and it is still totally badass. Gigan stomped and smashed its away right into my heart. More aliens controlling kaiju! I… I’m sensing a theme in the kaiju movies I like. I also liked Pacific Rim! Surprise!

Gigan has a pretty interesting design, and he’s paired with Ghidorah against a Godzilla Anguirus team. The aliens have control over the former, but the latter are actually defending their “home.” They live on “Monster Island” and the aliens wanted to mind-control them. It’s bonkers, it’s completely off the rails, but buzzsaw-chested Gigan, the mighty hook-handed one, makes for a good rough and tumble with the Big G.

Godzilla_vs_Gigan_1972

Godzilla 2000:

This just holds a small, but special place in my heart. It wasn’t that it was a particularly good Godzilla flick. It was that I saw it at the local AMC with my dad when it was released in Canada in August 2000. Other than this 2000 movie, I never actually got to see a real Godzilla movie in theatres. All I had was the 1998 American attempt and that one was a pretty bitter pill to swallow as a Godzilla fan.

I was a kid and this was everything to me: I got to see Godzilla, real, proper Godzilla up on a big screen, and it was something I never got to have before or have again since. It was a good movie to have that experience with, though. Godzilla fights… himself? Kind of? It ain’t SpaceGodzilla, but it is space mojo blended with his DNA to give us slimey-space-gross-lizard-thing vs. Godzilla! Orga is a weird damned monster, and it sure was cool that he tries to fucking eat Godzilla. Too bad that Godzilla is the living embodiment of indigestion!

Godzilla2000jap

Runner-ups for the list:

Godzilla (1954):

The one, the only, the H-bombed big man himself! This is actually one that I wasn’t too familiar with as a kid, but it was how I got back into the thick of it years later in my early 20s. It’s the real classic of the series, and the one I’ve found to be the most timeless. I suppose there are people that would see it as hokey, but to my eyes, the costume holds up best in black & white and seems the least “floppy” of all the monster designs throughout the series. This is also the most serious of the films that comes to mind, with it being a clear representation of contemporary fears regarding nuclear power from a nation that recently experienced it in force. Godzilla in this movie is nature’s wrath infused with science, and can only be stopped by regrettable scientific destruction.

Gojira_1954_Japanese_poster

Mothra vs. Godzilla:

Mothra needs to be here, because Mothra is a classic Godzilla enemy. The thing is, I never really liked Mothra as a kid, I really just hated the stupid butterfly because it’s a stupid butterfly. Now that I’m older, this is also one of the set-ups that hits me hard, what with the horrible “savage” islanders, who look like lighter-skinned Japanese people painted to be shades of brown and told to hold quasi-African gear while looking to be dressed vaguely in Pacific Island aesthetics. This is actually a problem throughout the era for Godzilla flicks, but this one just sticks in my mind as “the one” with it.

On the other hand, it gives us the fairy twins that lullaby Mothra, cool larvae web-spinners, and eventually I also just started enjoying the stupid butterfly as part of the cosmic order of badasses in Godzilla movies. Honestly, this one actually establishes a lot of the classic tone that I associate with Godzilla but I was too boy-ish to appreciate a big butterfly as a child (also, in a somewhat ironic twist, I have a vivid memory of watching King Kong vs. Godzilla on TV as a child and being literally scared out of the room by a large moth.)

Mothra_vs_Godzilla_poster 1964

For a personal touch, here is a picture of my own Godzilla-Kaiju collection. I actually didn’t own ANY DVDs for… any kaiju movies, until last year. HMV in Canada, which was the last gasp of music store/media store/nerd merchandising, went out of business fairly recently. I made the decision early in the year to acquire a few movies. I wasn’t thinking about the volume collections that exist, or even collecting them in general, at that point, but that changed towards the end of the year. That lovely Godzilla Complete Collection was pretty cheap at the HMV down Yonge, near Ryerson University, but when I finally made up my mind about wanting it, it was sold. Dani volunteered it for Christmas that year and I jumped at it. She ordered it off Amazon for me, and watching those movies was a moment of calm in a very tumultuous year. This year I’ll be getting those Toho Collections, Vol. 1 and 2, for Christmas, and I am so excited! I don’t want to wait for Christmas!

20171023_182332.jpg

(Header image taken from this website.)

I Hate Being Sick

Being sick is such a motherfucker. Back in August, Dani and I both got sick – we’ve since agreed that it was food poisoning – and it lasted for weeks. We were running to bathrooms for a good chunk of that month! Many plans were foiled!

Now, October. I’m sick! AGAIN! This time it is 100% a flu. My Saturday was plain as toast. Come Sunday I had a tickle in my throat, nothing out of the ordinary, though. Sometimes I wake up and I just have a real dry throat that lasts for the morning. This particular one lasted more than the morning. It lasted all day, and my nose wouldn’t stop leaking!

By the time the night was over, my nose was a faucet that I could not turn off. I was gonna spend Monday with Dani, but my sickness decided NERP. When Dani and I got to her place, I was burning. Everywhere. Even my eye lids! I was gonna spend the night eating and writing with Dani, but instead I was passed out like a chump around midnight. I’ve got all these wonderful foods just for snacking that I’ve stashed in the fridge, but I didn’t get to have so much as a slice of salami! DAMN MY BODY, DAMN IT WITH THE VERY FIRES IN WHICH MY FEVER WAS CREATED!

I woke at 5:45am on Monday morning. The only people that do that are people in emergency services! I woke up, completely soaked in my own sweat, desperately fumbled for water and acetaminophen and made a silent pee. I thought maybe I’d feel better when I woke up later. Nope. Nope, nope. I could barely get back to sleep!

Dani woke up just after 7:30am. She was gonna wake up earlier but I’d mistaken her phone for mine and switched off the alarm as it went off. Just how sick I was became apparent when she woke up. I was completely on fire, wet like the ocean, and my head was a swamp. Dani was saintly in all this, she prepped the most delicious smelling puchero, knowing my love of potatoes (she puts them in because I love ‘em) and ginger.

For at least two hours, she was checking in on my nearly lifeless body, kind of turning me over so I’d not sweat myself into hypothermia. The best thing she did, that anyone could have done, was the washcloth. OH MY SWEET JESUS! She put a cool washcloth on my forehead and it was THE VERY BEST MOST AMAZING THING! If I were a starving man on a desert island, this washcloth would be more satisfying than any drink or food! She must have swapped the washcloth at least four times.

I completely, entirely soaked her bed. All three pillows soaked. The main pillow I used? It had to be put aside to DRY, the actual PILLOW became a sponge! The sheets were completely wet, like I’d tried to bathe in ‘em.

Once I was stable enough to open my eyes, I got up. I wish I could have had some of that soup! The thought of puchero or sinigang right now fills me with a desperate want! Such magical broths! I eventually showered, which felt amazing, and helped Dani swap out the bed sheets and pillows. When I could, I got my butt to the bus stop and started my way home. The crisp, cool air was amazing. It was the only time I could breathe. Did I mention fuck being sick? Because fuck being sick.

The rest of Monday was hacking, wheezing and otherwise soaking whatever surface I came into contact with.

Tuesday was a repeat of Monday to start. Woken up to pools of sweat at 5:45am, now with the added glory of a hacking cough! YAY! Thankfully, my family had cough syrup on hand which did enough of the job, but that was a miserable-ass night’s sleep. Things are a bit shinier now, towards the evening, I’ve started to regain my footing, despite an otherwise blocked sinus system and bruised throat.

But at least I wasn’t shitting myself silly, thank all the gods!

(Header image taken from MarketWatch.)

Book Baubles: Wizarding Edition

Khairete! This is long overdue, as the semester has been a battle! Mikaius here, victoriously marching in with games, fresh booty from the War of Sales (not to be mistaken for the War of Sails, which I lost miserably)!

Yer a wizard e’rybody! Or rather, you can be, with these games!

(1) Rogue Legacy by Cellar Door Games

roguelegacy

This game is something special. I can play it and play it and play it forever. It’s a simple Metroid-style game with RPG-Roguelite elements: run around the castle, get gold, lose gold, buy things, kill things, repeat until you can fight a boss. Do this for every section of the castle, then do it all again! The sheer volume of character classes, upgrades, and other items, ensures that the game doesn’t get old. The downside is that you can also get very stuck, very easily, if you’re not making enough gold in your runs to meaningfully spend it before the next run. Eventually though, you reach a point where you will obliterate everything that crosses your path, as you upgrade, even in New Game ++etc. mode. When you get to that point, mindlessly slaughtering monsters may lose its charm, but might also be a great way to get through that massive backlog of podcasts we both know you have.

Grab it on GoG or Steam!

(2) Hocus Pocus by Moonlite Software

Hocus Pocus

Yer a wizard! No, really. A straight up wizard. You shoot lightning bolts at monsters. You platform. It’s an Apogee platformer for the PC! This is a great little game, loads of fun. Not much to say, but being able to pick it up as part of the 3D Realms Anthology on Steam was fantastic. However, the Duke Nukem portions of that anthology will be stripped out as of next year, so it may be better to spend less on Hocus Pocus itself over at GoG.

(3) Torchlight/II by Runic Games

torchlight_win

What to say about this series? It’s a Diablo clone. It’s Diablo. It’s even got some of the developers from the original Diablo working on it. Hit the dungeon, fire off your magical bolts, have an adorable pet ferret, beat the big bad! In the first game, you have three classes: a wizard, barbarian and rogue. The correct choice is the wizard, of course, because he is a steampunk wizard that shoots magic from his giant gloved hand. It’s a solid play, the animation is beautifully fluid, the mechanics are top notch and the aesthetic is right on.

Torchlight II is a step up, but if you’ve already gone through Torchlight, it just may not hold the same weight. The step between them is the same as Diablo to Diablo II, single-town-hub with a dungeon to overworld in traversing many environments. Now the classes are wizard, melee-rogue, ranged-rogue, magic-barbarian. Torchlight II also introduces multiplayer to the game, so now you can adventure with your own personal Hermoine and Ron!

GoG has the first one, also on Steam, but Steam has the second game as well.

(4) Magicka by Arrowhead Game Studios

magicka_hero

I don’t have much to say on Magicka. I haven’t really played it myself, but I have watched lots of it be played. What a manic time it looks like! Absurd and fun! Combine all kind of magical elements and blast your enemies, your friends and yourself into the next life! Looks like madness!

Go ahead and grab it on Steam – go crazy and set everything on lightningfire!

(5) Trine by Frozenbyte

trine

This is an interesting game. A puzzle platformer in 2.5D, with three playable characters. You can play in co-op or by yourself, switching between any of the three characters at will (but only one player can be any given character at a time). A wizard, good for moving objects around and making magical boxes to stack up, a rogue to flit about and swing with a grappling hook, and a warrior to punch skeletons real good and use his shield for protection. Good design, cute aesthetic, fairy tale all around. Fully recommended you hit up Steam or GoG for a copy, or for the whole trilogy! (Though fair warning, the word on the street about the third game is not pleasant.)

(Header image designed by Thomas Taylor, taken from Hypable.)

Literature Monday: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

Khairete, Mikaius returning as your humble paper-pauper.

I did not grow up with Harry Potter. I actively loathed it, having grown up on Lord of the Rings, I was simply too damn good for this kid’s crap. None of that “Diagon Alley” nonsense for my refined tastes! Mind you, plentiful WarCraft and Diablo “novels” were read, so I was clearly full of shit. I found out this year that Harry Potter is awesome. Dani sat me down for the movies, which were adorable and fun. Then she up and got me some of the books! Neat original editions too, gotta love those used book sales. Took me eight months to read the first book, a chapter here, a chapter there, between exams and assignments. What an adorable little book! I will never forget the damn awful “Mirror of Esired” as a name, but I also won’t forget the way in which Hagrid’s accent is written, or how quaintly the holidays were described. This first book is a delight – I thoroughly enjoyed it even at 25 years old; it reminded me of my own childhood and coming across the Hallo’ween and Christmas chapters at just the right time of the year really brought those passages to life.

“Harry had never in all his life had such a Christmas dinner. A hundred fat, roast turkeys, mountains of roast and boiled potatoes, platters of fat chipolatas, tureens of buttered peas, silver boats of thick, rich gravy and cranberry sauce – and stacks of wizard crackers every few feet along the table. These fantastic crackers were nothing like the feeble Muggle ones the Dursleys usually bought, with their little plastic toys and their flimsy paper hats. Harry pulled a wizard cracker with Fred and it didn’t just bang, it went off with a blast like a cannon and engulfed them all in a cloud of blue smoke, while from the inside exploded a Rear-Admiral’s hat and several live, white mice. Up on the High Table, Dumbledore had swapped his pointed wizard’s hat for a flowered bonnet and was chuckling merrily at a joke Professor Flitwick had just read him.

Flaming Christmas puddings followed the turkey. Percy nearly broke his teeth n a silver Sickle embeddedin his slice. Harry watched Hagrid getting redder and redder in the face as he called for more wine, finally kissing Professor McGonagall on the cheek, who, to Harry’s amazement, giggled and blushed, her top hat lopsided.”

Watch the movies, read the books, hate Ron Weasley’s dumb face.

(Excerpt: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone J.K. Rowling)

 

Book Baubles: of the Dead Edition

Starting with an anti-recommendation, a condemnation. Do not watch the World War Z movie, it is a sham and it is terrible. It is not a good adaption of the source material, it is not a good horror or action movie, and it is not even a good movie. I love Brad Pitt, I love the WWZ book, I love zombies, I love horror movies, I love action movies, but I hate this stupid movie. Pirate it if you want to see it; do not let any money change hands towards this refuse.

With the damnation out of the way, it’s time for damned great materials! It isn’t hard to find zombies in any medium these days, but it is a little harder to find good works amongst that. With that said, here’s a starter’s guide to zombies in games, books and movies:

(1) Zombie Survival Guide

The Zombie Survival Guide

The Zombie Survival Guide is the comedic companion piece to the stern World War Z. A trip through tropes, providing a background and insight into the functional zombie of Max Brook’s fiction. A little piece of work that exists the fiction of World War Z, and establishing a history and world for the zombies to inhabit. Easily available at the Book Depository.

(2) Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead

Now this is a movie. A dyed in the wool, festival of undead horrors. As ever in a Romero zombie movie, the threat isn’t the zombies, but the people. Night of the Living Dead saw the beginning of the outbreak, Dawn of the Dead the spread and attempt at containment. With Day of the Dead, the apocalypse is over, and all that remains are ghouls. A group of scientists desperate to understand the zombie plague, a group of soldiers that don’t care, and civilians that just want to be left alone.

Amazon carries it nice and cheap, but you can walk into any place selling DVDs and Blu-Rays to get a copy.

(3) Dead Island

Dead Island

This game is a special thing. It isn’t good. In fact, it’s a terrible little thing. It’s ugly, the story is so bad you’ll want to tear off your ears, and the latter half of the game is beyond tedious and boring. The start is fantastic, the atmosphere is tense, and the gameplay is fluid. If you have a gamepad plugged in (played this on PC), there is an option for “Analogue” control, which allows you to finesse your swings and strength. It’s an interesting system, and before the game burns itself with Dead Rising-type weapons and crafting, the more simple “real” weapons offer the closest I’ve felt to being in a zombie movie of any game.

It’s incredibly cheap now, and frequently on deep discount if you use Steam. Also comes with all the DLC in tow. Absolutely worth a couple bucks, crack some skulls and lop off some limbs.

Runner-up anti-recommendations: Everything George Romero “of the Dead” post-Day of the Dead. Dude lost his touch. The Walking Dead series is boring and not worth seconds let alone seasons (no idea of the comics, never read ‘em, not interested, but I hear they and the TellTale games (currently in its second season) are great).

Honourable mentions: Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead are top of their class zombie movies, the two former being great fun and the latter a little sad, a little funny, pretty cheesy and real great.

For anyone looking to get their hands on World War Z itself, Book Depository is still  the place to be.

(Header image taken from Hardcoregamer.)

Literature Monday: World War Z, Max Brooks

Khairete, Mikaius remains your ever loyal bookbuddy. It’s exam season, and students are endangered, so I have arranged today’s Literature Monday.

Today I’m bringing what may well have been the last book I read. My reading is limited, but I went through a predictable and absolutely massive zombie-phase in my late teens/early twenties. This happened to coincide with a general peak in zombies in fiction, from games to movies to books; zombies were everywhere and readily available. To that end, Shaun of the Dead was my favourite movie at the time, and Max Brooks was my favourite author. Reading World War Z was great fun and Brooks’ depictions of zombies were always in line with the classic Romero-slow-zombies that I so cherished.

The book is a series of interviews, vignettes between the author and interviewees, ranging from spies, grunts, teenagers, generals, doctors and economists. Through the interviews, the world is pieced together, the familiarity of regimes, the way certain ideologies clashed against the undead, and how the pieces were put back together. Who failed and why they failed, told through the lens of those that “lived it”. There are some cringey parts of the book, such as the Japanese teenager that ninja’d his way to an old blind man and formed a group around that. Otherwise, subjects such as submariners dealing with the endless distress signals from boats with outbreaks, people selling snake oil as cures, survivors guilt and full on breakdowns, the book becomes touching in its own way.

I don’t know how many times I read this book, and how many times I read my favourite passages. This particular excerpt, well, it might be entirely owed to be a teenager, a headbanger and a big damn fan of Iron Maiden, that I hold this one above ‘em all:

“The dogs were recalled, racing behind our lines. We switched over to our Primary Enticement Mechanism. Every army had one by now. The Brits would use Bagpipes, the Chinese used bugles, the Sou’fricans used to smack their rifles with their assegais and belt out these Zulu war chants. For us, it was hard-core Iron Maiden. Now, personally, I’ve never been a metal fan. Straight classic rock’s my thing, and Hendrix’s “Driving South” is about as heavy as I get. But I had to admit, standing there in that desert wind, with “The Trooper” thumping in my chest, I got it. The PEM wasn’t really for Zack’s benefit. It was to psych us up, take away some of Zack’s mojo, you know, “take the piss out,” as the Brits say. Right about the time Dickinson was belting “As you plunge into a certain death” I was pumped, SIR* charged and ready, eyes fixed on this growing, closing horde. I was, like, “C’mon, Zack, let’s fuckin’ do this!”

(*The SIR referenced above is a “Standard Infantry Rifle”, designed by the United States after a particular failed confrontation in the book.)

Max Brooks can be found on Twitter and seems to be readily doing regular rounds at various conventions.

(Excerpt: World War Z, Max Brooks)

Book Baubles: Star Wars Video Games Edition

Khairete! Mikaius again, bringing you the best Star Wars games of my youth!

Star Wars was my entire childhood. I wasn’t into Star Trek then, I didn’t find Doctor Who until I was 18, and Middle-Earth was a second-hand love. That I grew up in the 90’s meant that I could combine my favourite things so easily at home: Star Wars on the TV screen, on the computer monitor, in my hands with toys and LEGO. Today, in fond remembrance of the child that I was, I’m going to prattle about Star Sars on the computer monitor.

(1) Jedi Knight series, developed by LucasArts (& Raven Software for the last two)

Jedi Knight Collection

The Jedi Knight series, starting as Dark Forces, was a defining force in my childhood. Not only did I love the games, which handled as good as any PC shooter but with great swordplay, but also the Kyle Kataran-books, which are terrible in hindsight. The latter parts of the series, Jedi Outcast and Academy are the best ever lightsabers in gaming for your money. It’s the Jedi as I remember them to be, enhanced knights and samurai, not Force Unleashed, Prequel-fueled bombastic nightmares. They’re powerful and they jump real high, but it’s reasonable Force-powered acrobatics and nimble swordplay. Not sure if multiplayer is still big for Outcast/Academy, but the latter brought in dual wielding and double-ended sabers that were tons of fun to use. Highly recommended, especially if you have friends to set-up some matches!

Easily obtainable on Steam.

(2) Galactic Battlegrounds, developed by Ensemble Studios & LucasArts

Galactic Battlegrounds

I didn’t really have a console as a kid. I mean, I had an IntelliVision, and it was neat and all but it wasn’t cool. PC was where it was at for me: my dad needed them for business, so it meant I’d always have access to a middling PC and some hand-me-down PCs, so I grew up on PC games. Age of Empires blew me away as a kid and is easily responsible for my love of both history and media set throughout history. When Galactic Battlegrounds came out, it combined so many of my interests, it could have easily just given me a stroke! It is an RTS (my favourite!) game, using the Age of Empires engine (oh boy!), with Star Wars (yay!) history (YES!) as its setting. Play through the grand wars of Star Wars, from the Battle of Naboo to freeing Wookies and being Vader!

An expansion pack, the Clone Wars was eventually released. They are now both easily and readily available (thank you, Disney!) on GoG.com as the “Galactic Battlegrounds Saga”!

(3) Empire at War, developed by Petroglyph Studios

Empire at War

Wow. Just wow. This game takes Galactic Battlegrounds and just about makes the concept perfect. There is a pedigree to this game, developed by Petroglyph, the studio founded in the collapse of Westwood under the villainous Electronic Arts. It isn’t a perfect game, by any means, but it takes a great concept and just runs with it headlong into funtimes. The basic premise is a Galactic Map (think Risk), on which you are either Rebel Alliance or Galactic Empire, which is also a third faction the “Zann Consortium” in the Forces of Corruption expansion. Each faction plays a little differently: the Rebels are actually quite stealthy and make their way by stealing from Imperial planets, the Empire on the other hand plays classically, massed and brute force. You can even construct the mighty Death Star, going planet-to-planet obliterating each, supported by fleets of Star Destroyers and being your very own (but successful) Grand Moff Tarkin. Planets can be taken over through land battles, and protected through space battles, both of which allow for orbital bombardment joy. The map runs in real time, so you’ve gotta keep moving, keep fighting, keep researching and keep your enemy on their toes.

For the Zann Consortium, they are a criminal empire and play a little differently. In the Star Wars universe, criminal empires are as powerful and legitimate a force in their sectors/regions as the Galactic Empire. The Consortium is strong and hits hard, but is not as able to take a hit like the Galactic Empire can, and they work on the Galactic Map by obfuscating and hiding things from the Rebels/Empire.

Both games have enjoyable little campaigns, but unfortunately Petroglyph (between these games and Universe at War) has made slightly awkward land battles. They don’t feel quite righy: they aren’t broken or terrible, just unpolished. The meat of the game is by far the Galactic Map and the space battles.

If you can, grab it on GoG.com, as the game has a bit of trouble working on modern machines and you can expect full support from them in making it work. Steam isn’t as reliable, but is a totally viable option and far better than having discs lying around. Both are the gold-pack with the expansion included.

Guys, I would recommend the KOTOR games, but I cannot in good conscience subject other human beings to those buggy things. I could never even get KOTOR to run, and KOTORII was half-finished and barely playable, though what was playable was fantastic, and I understand there are restoration mods out there to complete the game. Sorry, but I cannot recommend spending money on those two, despite how good they are when they do function.

As a bonus, here’s a link to the big-daddy on Steam. Disney taking over Star Wars has been a good thing, if for nothing else that they have been proactive in getting the games on digital store fronts from GoG.com to Steam. This package includes the aforementioned KOTOR series and the absolutely delightful LEGO games. Honestly, when you can, go with GoG as their versions are more likely to run on modern machines, they’ll refund you (if they can’t get it to work) and the customer service is better. They also have also have some games (such as the Tie Fighter series) that Steam does not, but Steam has more modern Star Wars games.

As for that lovely encyclopedia from Literature Monday, here’s a link to a more recent version and the original.

(Header image taken from ThatFilmGuy.)

Literature Monday: Star Wars Encyclopedia, Stephen J. Sansweet

Khairete, Mikaius remains your substitute book worm as Dani battles mighty deadlines.

Well, it’s time for a moment from my childhood. Growing up in the ’90s, I was lucky enough to enjoy Star Wars before the Prequels and the ’97 Remasters: I was just old enough to get the “real deal”, and it’s nice to have those memories. It’s even nicer to have silly expanded universe materials that predate and catalogue those old-ways, though this particular book is dated 1998, and the Remasters are 1997. When I was a Star Wars obsessed 8 year old walking around downtown Toronto with my parents, I saw this particular diamond (Star Wars Encyclopedia) and could not be parted with it – as well as, if I recall correctly, a book of super-cheat-codes they used to make in the ’90s. I remember thinking “oh this is so expensive!” (the cover slip is labeled $70CDN!) and being incredibly excited that my mom agreed to actually buy this monster for me.

The coolest part of it for little me was that I got the little tidbits and information, the condensed data, without having to sift through the very-awful actual Star Wars books. Little things like learning about how lightsabers worked:

“Seemingly simple in design, a lightsaber has a handle about twenty-four to thirty centimeters long that is usually hung from a belt. Inside are a power cell and multifaceted Adegan crystals or jewels (usually one to three) that focus the energy from the power source and release it through a concave disk atop the handle, where it appears in a tight and steady colored beam of light and energy about a meter long. When they are activated, lightsabers hum with their coursing energy. Although considered archaic by some, lightsabers can be powerful weapons after their users undergo extensive training.”

Honestly, at this point you could get this whole deal by just going to Wookiepedia, but it was great as a kid to have this stuff at my lightning-firing fingertips.

(Excerpt: Star Wars Encyclopedia, Stephen J. Sansweet)

Book Baubles: Graecian Edition

Khaírete (greetings!), Mikaius bringing you today’s Book Baubles.

Considering the theme of this week’s Literature Monday, I wasn’t entirely sure how to do Book Baubles today. I could make a bunch of stuffy suggestions and condemnations about philosophy, or I could tell you to go watch Brad Pitt in sexy leather armour. I’m going with the latter. Here’s a bunch of items that are tangentially related to Hellenism!

(1) Troy

Troy2004Poster Troy, set in the Bronze Age of Mycenaean Greece, the backdrop of the famous epic poem “The Odyssey.” Troy is a loose retelling of the poem, but it is a far better retelling than the awful Alexander was of known history. This movie is a timeless tale and a fantastic aesthetic, carried out by a great cast. It’s real cheap these days, and it’s real good. Available at Amazon.

(2) Total War series, developed by Creative Assembly Romebox This series has had its bumps and bruises, and for me personally, it’s in a coma at the moment*. However, it’s been made into an amazing product through its community. Rome: Total War and Medieval II: Total War are absolutely fantastic games, with complete overhaul mods ranging from Europa Barbarorum (an intensely realistic overhaul) to The Third Age (an amazing overhaul set in Middle-Earth). The core games are set in a turned-based campaign across (typically) a map of Europe, leading into the Near-East and the Maghreb. The key to the game, which separates it from other turn-based campaign titles, is its real time battles, with potentially thousands upon thousands of soldiers pitted against each other in forts, keeps, castles, plains and any number of scenarios. There is no other historical series like Total War, and it’s also incredibly easy to catch ’em all now thanks to Steam (this whole package, or at least its parts individually will almost always go for 75% off during any given Steam sale).

The series recently celebrated it’s 15th birthday. Happy birthday, Total War, I hope there’s more on the horizon for you.

*I feel the need to qualify this statement because it’s such a storied series. Since the introduction of the Warscape engine, there have been a number of issues that unfortunately cannot be sorted out by modders. Likewise, it has become tiresome to turn to community members to fix the developers’ problems, and more is expected now.  Empire and Rome II are blunders beyond reckoning and the abandonment of both to their name-based successors (Napoleon and Attila, respectively) is a huge sore spot. However, it must be said that Napoleon and Shogun 2 were fantastic games in their own rights.

(3) Ptolemy’s Map Harley 7182 ff.58v-59 I have a certain fascination with ancient maps. Medieval maps are nice and all, but  cartography had kicked in by then and more or less accurately displayed the world. The mystery seemed a little lost. It’s amazing to see how without personal voyages, various ancient cartographers had managed such accurate representations for their times, and were also able to see the follies or end of their knowledge. I could not find any actual reproductions of Ptolemy’s original map, there seem to be posters (Amazon) and sellers (Etsy) out there with recreations of a 15th century reproduction of the original.

(Header image taken from TWCenter.)