selenite0: (tell me a story)
Toy Story 3

The kidlets love the Toy Story movies, so I took the older two out to see it on the big screen. Very well done story. It builds on the theme of the original two movies that toys exist to be played with. They avoided turning Andy into a jerk and even gave him a very sweet moment at the end. I heard a lot of adults crying during that scene. It was awfully scary for a kid flick, though. It was much rougher than I expected it to be. This is the first time I've ever been asked to not get a movie on DVD. She said she was afraid it would be too scary for her baby sister but I have my doubts.

To answer [ profile] joyeuse13's question, TS3 does tie into the Declaration of Independence. The non-Andy part of the story has our heroes overthrowing an evil toy dictator*. The dictator makes fascist speeches. Barbie rebuts him with an appeal to the "consent of the governed." I loved it.

* If you don't want spoilers you should've seen it by now. Besides, it's Disney, you know they win.


I want to go see this a second time so I can check for details, especially the wedding ring. It's a fantastic movie, something much more complex than I expect to see coming out of Hollywood. It's actually good science fiction, a story based on a new idea that looks at the implications of it in a realistic way. Unlike other SF movies I've seen playing with dream-vs-reality it avoided having massive logic holes.

It doesn't consider all the implications. We came up with a long list of possible applications for the dream sharing technology. Not least of which is what a good dungeon master could do with it. The potentials for psychiatry and education would be much more important.

Inception also managed to be a good movie as well as good SF. Interesting characters, great visuals, and action sequences that didn't confuse the hell out of me. All this while avoiding stupidity such as making Ariadne a replacement wife for Cobb.

I expect we'll be getting the DVD and having a whole bunch of rewatches to settle arguments.

Ukiah Oregon series (Alien Taste, etc)

At first this reads like a young-adult novel of a boy taking on a man's job (tracking down lost kids and kidnap victims) and growing into his full maturity. And, in a certain sense, it is. But goes way off the normal track of that kind of story in amazing ways. If someone described the premise behind this book to me I would have skipped it because it would obviously break my disbelief suspenders. Wen Spencer made it work for me, mostly by making the protagonist as shocked and amazed by the discoveries about his own nature as the reader is. Even when stuff got over the top I cared enough about these people to want to know what happened next. Alien Taste stands alone well but I read the rest of the series as fast as I could.


Dec. 29th, 2006 06:21 pm
selenite0: (tell me a story)
[ profile] celticdragonfly and I watched Hogfather last night, thanks to a friend who shall remain anonymous due to the legal status of downloading TV shows. She already squeed about it and I agree completely. But there's a few bits I want to comment on: For the spoiler-phobic ) I look forward to watching this every Christmas from now. And hopefully seeing more movies which treat books with as much respect as this one did. Though I think Hogfather was much easier to adapt than many would be.
selenite0: (tell me a story)
Last Thursday we made a family trip to see The Nativity Story. I'd heard of it but it was OSC's review which made us want to see it. Taking Jamie didn't work out that well, he was rambunctious and I missed part of the movie taking him out to run around a bit. [ profile] celticdragonfly wound up taking him out again and then bouncing him on her lap for the end part. Maggie was fine except for having to be shushed constantly. But she wasn't loud, except for "Look! A baby!" which I don't think ruined the moment for anyone there.

The movie is a good portrayal of the period. It avoided one of the classic Hollywood errors and had all the parts played by people who looked like they were Levantine. The only blonde I saw was a Roman legionary, which is perfectly plausible. Many scenes were set in the middle of daily life--stomping grapes, pitting olives, sowing grain--so it felt like you were watching real people, not a stage show.

I especially liked the portrayal of the three Magi. The "star" they followed was a planetary conjunction, which matches some of the theories I've read. The presenting of the gifts also included the symbolism of them. I was watching for that since [ profile] celticdragonfly recently told me about it: gold for the king, frankincense for the priest, and myrrh for the sacrifice. The magi announced the purpose if each gift, with the third one being very uncomfortable at speaking of the sacrifice to the parents of the child. Joseph's expression slid from "whoa, food money" to "sacrifice? wtf?" as well--Joseph got most of the good bits.

A good start to the season. Watching it may become one of our family traditions. Though I think I'd rather watch it at home than in a theatre.
selenite0: (Couple-FenConII-kiss)
Work has gotten busy so I'm just now managing to post about last weekend's movies.

[ profile] celticdragonfly and I got to see The Lake House as part of an actual date, with dinner and everything. It was wonderful, we have to do more of that. I'm grateful to Lee Ann for babysitting and letting us stay out late. It's a good movie for a date, very romantic in an old-fashioned style. The lovers are kept apart, only communicating through a magic mailbox (and I mean magic--there's not even an attempt to explain it). There's no sex (and only half a kiss) which is shocking for a Hollywood product. That's probably a carryover from the Korean original of the movie. It does stay true to Hollywood by having a happy ending, and by making the ending utterly shatter the previous logic of the story. The original (according to rumor) had gone for the tragic ending, and then been forced to change by the test audience.

We agreed that the happy ending was forced--the logic of the story was for the tragedy, and the happy ending was a horrible paradox. But Americans always want a happy ending. Which, thinking about it, is a good thing. Americans insist on happy endings. And we apply that to real life too. So instead of confronting some tragedy with a gallic shrug of acceptance, we wade in and change things. Slavery sucks? Abolish it. Europe overrun by fascists? Join in the war and beat them. Communists preaching the superiority of their system? Demonstrate anything they can do we can do better. Arab dictatorships spawning terrorists? Export democracy. Not that we always succeed, but I think our desire for happy endings gets better results than cynicism or fatalism.

Enough philosophy. The other movie of the weekend was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. I liked it, but not as much as I did the original. I knew it was the middle part of a trilogy going in, so the ending didn't bother me. It's just that "Curse of the Black Pearl" was a sea story with some ghosts in it, while this was a ghost story that happened to take place at sea. I like the former more, it's the kind of story where the humans can make a difference through wit, hard work, and bravery, instead of depending on luck and fate. I'm still going to see the third movie. Hopefully it'll be a bit more on the human scale this time.
selenite0: (shiny)
The other night we watched "The Zeppo", episode 13 of Buffy season 3. I loved it. I feel for Xander as the non-macho outcast. Sure, he's managed to stake a few vamps over the years but he's still the least useful member of the Scoobies (now that Cordelia's bailed). Now he's even getting excluded from the battle against evil just because he nearly got killed in the latest skirmish. That leaves him desperate to find some thing to hang his identity and self-respect on. I've been there. So I loved watching him try something, get in trouble, and then deal with a crisis by himself.

This was the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of the Buffyverse. Stoppard focused on the two minor characters while including the full scenes from Hamlet whenever they were on stage. So we had glimpses of the big battle against evil, enough to give us a vague idea of what happened, but never enough to really know what was going on. This was disappointing to those (such as [ profile] celticdragonfly) who'd come to see Hamlet and didn't want their time wasted.

Me, I liked it. I like Xander (much more than I liked R&G) and getting to see him do some growing up was good. I probably would've been happy just seeing him run around by himself, but face it, Xander's smart enough to ask for help when he's got problems, at least sometimes. So the rest of the gang had to be busy with something (and while you're at it, might as well make it something too over the top to fit in any regular episode). So he had to rise to the occasion, he did, and now he knows he can. Which is more important than anyone else knowing it.
selenite0: (Hawk)
Last weekend we watched the first episode of the new Dr. Who season, "The Christmas Invasion." Here be spoilers. )
selenite0: (Couple-FenConII-kiss)
[ profile] celticdragonfly and I have been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer an episode or two at a time. That's all we can manage in an evening between taking care of the kids and trying to keep the house under control. The last one had a really creepy monster, Der Kindestod. At bedtime we were discussing that the monster might show up in our nightmares.

Then it hit me: "This is how people do Buffy marathons and watch the whole series in a few weeks. Once you watch half a dozen eps you're too creeped out to sleep, so you might as well stay up and watch the rest."

[ profile] celticdragonfly: "Can't sleep, Buffy will eat me!"
selenite0: (Firefly logo/ship)
One of the bitter disputes among Browncoats, especially detailed-oriented GM-types, is whether the 'Verse's solar system has one star or many. It's gotten pretty heated on some of the boards. "JOSS SAID IT right in this interview!" "Interviews aren't canon! This screenshot shows a graphic which shows . . ." etc, etc. Both sides are, of course, utterly full of certainty that they're right. So I loved seeing this quote from the guy who did the graphics they're citing as canon:

Q: Any chance of a Serenity Star Charts book?

More likely a ‘verse poster, if I can resolve the one star system/multiple star system issue.
Well, that explains the ambiguity in the graphics. Since the artist didn't know which one it was he had to do a planet-scape that would fit with either. Now if only some of the participants in the flame war would remember this the next time they're yelling at someone for disagreeing with their obviously correct position.
selenite0: (shiny)
Last night was movie night at [ profile] kattelyn and [ profile] fordprfct's house. They introduced [ profile] celticdragonfly and me to Dogma. I was a little reluctant because it didn't sound like one I'd like, but I wound up laughing hysterically. I have enough Catholic upbringing to appreciate most of the subtle references. The bickering between the fallen angels was my favorite part (Jay and Silent Bob I can do without). The distinction between beliefs and ideas is a good one. A lot of what scares me about today's political/cultural environment is the amount of unexamined beliefs that people are throwing at each other--there's no way to get a consensus out of that.

Anyway, can't you see Buddy Christ standing in front of a Fosterite church?
selenite0: (Default)
CHUD sums up the box office story for Serenity. I don't see much in there to disagree with, other than the percentage of Browncoats getting ridiculous in their promotion efforts. So it doesn't bode well for Joss getting theatrical sequels. Other kind of sequels will depend on how the entertainment business is changing.

I've been looking at the various promotional efforts for Serenity as a experiment by Universal to see what the marketing people can do if they're turned loose. They had a good movie to experiment with--built in core audience to spread word of mouth, and a favorable reaction from critics. But it didn't get a huge opening, and it didn't get lots of people coming from word of mouth recommendations. For executives afraid that word of mouth driven hits are gone forever this may be the proof. Box office revenue is already shrinking, so at some point it won't make sense to do a theatrical release instead of going straight to DVD.

There's already plenty of direct-to-video movies, but they're bad. This is the fate of movies too good or expensive to be just thrown away, but not worth trying to promote for the theatre. Even ones originally intended for DTV are done poorly, since no one seems to feel it justifies their best work. But if DTV becomes the main profit sector for the studios that'll have to change.

So if Universal is going to ahead to the future of the business, it'll have to do some experiments to figure out how to market high-quality DTV shows. Serenity seems ideally positioned to be a test case. They're measuring the appetite for DVDs (as opposed to theatre showings) with a December release. If that's a bigger hit than the movie was on the big screen, it'll look like a good opportunity for a DTV sequel. After Firefly was cancelled, some fans were pushing for a subscription DTV follow-on. That could be a good model for Serenity, getting some revenue up front to justify the investment in making new episodes.

I'd also like to see DTV for the freedom it gives artists. Right now movies and TV have very rigid constraints on the stories they can hold. TV has hard time limits and requires a climax or cliffhanger before each commercial break. Movies are more flexible but still force the story into continuous high gear (I think the non-book scenes in the LotR trilogy were mostly there to maintain the rising tension). With a DTV mini-series Joss could do stories at the Firefly pace, and let them include all the little touches that make us fans.
selenite0: (Default)
Friday night I went to see Serenity. The Fort Worth contingent of the Dallas Browncoats (me, Jeremy, and Ruth Ann) had settled on the Ridgmar Rave theatre, with Chinese buffet beforehand. Gerry, [ profile] sandytyra, and their kids joined the party. My old MIT buddy Nat was coming into town for a visit before he went off to his next job in VA, so he joined the party.

I decided to get tickets before dinner to be safe. This was a bad move—I wound up ten minutes late to dinner. Normally not that big a deal, but as it happens I was the only person who knew any of the other people coming to the get-together. Ruth Ann and Jeremy hadn't been to any of the same Shindigs, and Nat and the rest hadn't had a chance to meet anybody.

No harm done—Ruth Ann had a Firefly shirt for a conversation starter, and Nat recognized the crowd as "these must be with Karl." [ profile] celticdragonfly dropped by to join us for dinner and give me the cell phone which I'd forgot to take with me that morning. Maggie was very happy to see some of her favorite people.

We got to the theatre early. Hadn't sold out. I'd guess about 2/3 full, not what I'd hoped for but a decent showing. The pre-show slides had one nice tidbit. Turns out Mira Sorvino speaks Mandarin. Everybody keep that in mind when casting the sequel. The Aeron Flux trailer looked like it was trying to pitch the same movie as Serenity, just without the real characters or setting.

As for the movie—how can I add to what's been said? I'd seen a rough cut. This was much better. I could pull myself out of the movie to watch the crowd's reaction (good, laughs and gasps at the proper moments) but I wasn't sitting there in watching-a-repeat mode. It's truly wonderful.

I was watching for some specific images but didn't get to settle the argument we've been having on the RPG board as to the shape of the 'verse. I suspect I'll be frame-by-framing the DVD and looking at some of the images up on the navigation displays. The big problem, of course, is that Joss doesn't want to draw a map, he wants a blank canvas. Some people say this means we should give up on applying science to the show. To me it's just more of a challenge.

Nat had never seen Firefly or anything about the movie, so he was our test case for how the general public (or general SF fans) would like it. Did he? On the way out of the theatre someone asked "Since you're not a fan—" and he said "I am now!"

We decided to go out for ice cream afterwards except nobody had looked up where the nearest ice cream place was. After discussing various options way too far away we decided to go to the Albertson's on the other side of the mall, get some ice cream and bowls, and have a tailgate party in the parking lots. Once we got there we saw an Applebees and headed over there. Had a great time chatting over various good desserts.

Nat crashed overnight at our place, and today I got him through the pilot and next 1.5 episodes. I think he's on his way to being a Browncoat.
selenite0: (Default)
First off, my deep thanks to Bridget and Jason for hand-carrying the book to me from Gencon, to Ron for a lovely autograph, and to Jamie & company for all their hard work. On to the review:

The Contents

There are two pieces here. One is a set of role-playing rules, the other a description of the Serenity setting. There’s overlap, and the rules are customized for the setting, but the chapters are split up so that you can easily skip past the rules if you’re using a different system.

If you’re not familiar with Firefly or Serenity, come back when you’ve caught up. For the Browncoats, there’s lots of good stuff here even if you don’t play RPGs. Detailed drawings of Serenity, descriptions of the different worlds in the verse, and even the tale of the exodus from Earth-That-Was.

The game rules are a switch from what I’m used to—instead of an attribute or skill being set to a number, it’s described as a size of die. A dunce rolls a d4 for mental tasks, while a genius uses a d12. Attribute and skill dice are combined to roll the target number or higher. Combat consists of comparing the attacker’s roll to the defender’s to see if you get a hit. More details are available here (When the official website goes online I’ll update this post with that link)

The Good

Damn, it's pretty. Not just the pictures of the BDHs, but the layout design and beautiful, beautiful deckplans for five different ships.

Character creation. There's enough customization here for to me to say "yep, that's detailed", and I'm speaking as a GURPS player with a couple of books the size of the Serenity RPG just on character creation. The method is also one to make a GURPS player happy—you have a number of points to allocate among attributes, (dis)advantages, and skills. Ships are designed as characters. I like that. It looks effective and ships as characters is very true to the spirit of the show.

Reference material. Lots of ship designs. Also lots of planet descriptions (details on all those names which were tossed around casually in the show), gadgets, and NPCs—not only basic stats but also personality descriptions for many of them.

GM advice. This is aimed at new RPGers, and it’s nice that there’s support for people new at this. How-to-GM is famously the first thing cut from an RPG book when the word count goes long, I’m glad this one survived. The advice looks solid too.

Game mechanics. I hate change, so I’m not that interested in learning a new rule system. But this one looks solid. It covers the situations that could come up, is flexible enough for the GM to deal with unexpected ones, and isn’t too complicated for newbies. I do have one complaint (see below) but I think it’s a good set of rules. It doesn’t have the detailed lists of modifiers beloved by snipers setting up ambushes, but this is Serenity, not Twilight 2000.

Few Inconsistencies and Errors. Okay, on p72 a crewman is paid Cr 200/mo, on p104 he gets Cr 10-20/mo. But there are very few errors. That’s pretty clean for a first edition. Plus I haven’t noticed any of the homonym mismatches that say "we ran this through a spell-checker but not by a human with good spelling skills." Good quality work. Probably less than the usual amount for a first release, and I'd expect an errata sheet up on the webpage. Along with that character sheet. Something else to tuck in with the GM screen.

Plot Points. As players earn points during the game, they can save them to build up experience or spend them to alter events in the game. This can be simple die roll adjustments or adding elements to the plot such as walk-on characters. I’ve seen this for other systems (here's a method for GURPS) but the plot points method is elegant and smoothly integrated into the rules.

The Bad

Mixed dice. If a player wants an 80% shot at pulling something off, I can tell him he needs a 13 on 3d6, or 16 on a d20, or 80 on percentiles (if he needs to ask). I'm damned if I know where the 80% cutoff is on 1d4 + 1d8 + 1d12, and if someone asks "How many plot points do I have to spend to get to 80%?" I won't have a clue without firing up Excel and running out the probability tables. Those tables would be a good thing to put in the GM screen, as an insert flyer if they won't fit on the screen itself. (For those not familiar with the tables I mean, see the bottom of this page)

No starting adventure. There’s good advice on how to make one, and the vignettes describe the start of a couple of adventures, but a newbie GM could really use a couple of pages describing a complete adventure through climax and resolution. This would make a good addition to the website and/or GM screen package. (Anybody from MWP reading this must be sick of those words) GMs with some experience I’d point at GURPS Traveller: Far Trader or the BITS 101 Cargos/Patrons/Plots, but those are more inspirations for creating adventures than complete ones. The out of print (but often on eBay) Star Wars Galaxy Guide 6: Tramp Freighters is probably better for a newbie, but does require some cutting and filing to fit into the Serenity ‘Verse.

No fuel processors. All the Traveller players will scream "What you mean, liquid hydrogen for fuel but I can't buy a processor to make it myself from water?" Might want to toss stats for the processor up on the website.

The Ugly

No map. Yeah, there's a pretty image on p208, but using it as a map is like trying to get from Dallas to Houston with the New Yorker's "View from Manhattan" map of the USA. Worse, the only travel time info is Table 4.1 with ranges from "20 to 1500 hours", which roughly translates as "hey, you figure it out". And that table has references to "planets in the same system" and "planets in adjacent systems", while Chapter 7 says all planets are in "a system". The pretty map does look like several solar systems right near each other, but that doesn't match the text. The planet descriptions don't even mention which are neighbors or distant. So I have to A. map the system myself, or B. find players who don't give a damn about inconsistency or a total absence of useful data for planning voyages.

I recognize this is probably not MWP’s fault. Joss has been keeping that part of the ‘Verse deliberately undefined so they may have been required to leave this alone.

Just Nerding Out

The "exodus" describes people traveling in generation ships, even though cold-sleep tech is established in the ‘Verse. It’d be a lot easier to move everyone in storage than maintain functioning life support for generations. My wife points out that freezing people might require high-maintenance equipment, so this can go either way. But I think freezing makes a better story—you get to park people and thaw them as new planets get terraformed.

The space drive is described as inertialess, but they only get up to 2% of lightspeed (p105). Inertialess should go to almost light-speed, which you’d need if you’re getting to Regulus or another blue star with some time left over to create some history in only 500 years. Presumably the ark ships had much more expensive drives and nobody’s going to waste that kind of money getting around one solar system.


Either as a complete game or a setting book for another system, the Serenity RPG is well worth the money for anyone wanting to play in the ‘Verse. If someone’s never been an RPGer, or is thinking of GMing for the first time, this is probably a good book to take the plunge with.

EDIT: Later additions

The price conflict bit above was worse than I thought. The equipment chapter and ship chapter used different values for the credit, with a ship credit worth 10 equipment credits. So you have to decide which one you want to use and convert everything else to that.

The rules aren't as clear as it seemed either. Resolving actions requires rolling a skill and an attribute together, but it never says which attribute. So a new GM gets hit with lots of judgement calls. It's worst for flying a ship. The pilot and ship both have attributes and skills which apply to situations, so which do you use? Some examples would've been a big help but there's not much of that.

If you've got a system you know which will work for the setting I'd suggest staying with that. The Serenity RPG is still good as a sourcebook, but I don't think it's worth the full price.

Now the GM Screen . . . the deckplan in that is worth the price.
selenite0: (Default)
A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope

Okay--the Star Wars movies make sense now. Sorta. You just have to assume that Chewie is a brilliant, manipulative secret agent of the Rebellion. And a few other things. But it explains it all.


I figure at this point about a million times as much brainpower has gone into justifying the various twists of Lucas' creation as it would've taken to rewrite things so it would make sense in the first place.
selenite0: (Firefly carry you)
( Follow the fake cut to the post )

For fans of Transhuman Space, this is a minor experiment in memetic engineering.

Now where did I put those asbestos long-johns . . .
selenite0: (can't take2)
I got to see SWIII-ROTS on Sunday. I agree with the general consensus--best of the prequels, pretty pictures, but unfortunately made by Lucas. Some random comments I haven't seen other people make:
Just in case there's people still avoiding spoilers. )
selenite0: (Firefly logo/ship)
[Cross-posted from [ profile] _the_firefly_]

We just got turned on to Firefly at a con and spent the past two weeks going through the DVDs. It's going to be horrible to wake up tomorrow and realize we have to wait until April for more Firefly. But being the kind of role-playing geek I am I'm contemplating the crew and trying to decide who's a PC and who's an NPC.

River's the easiest--she's the dependent NPC for PC Simon. Sure, she's got tremendous powers but they appear by GM whim, not when it's useful for the players. And Simon has to go through all sorts of work to take care of her, so she's clearly a dependent. The powers are just plot hooks for the GM to use later.

Mal is a PC with Kaylee as his dependent. He gets to make decisions and have adventures off-ship. She stays on the ship and still gets shot, tied up, or held with a gun pointed at her head. She can't even handle a gun, so she has to be an NPC--any PC would have the Guns skill in that setting.

Wash is Zoe's dependent NPC. "But wait!" I hear. "He went off-ship with Mal in War Stories!" Uh-huh. Goes off to do something, gets kidnapped, has to be rescued by PC. That's, like, the definition of a dependent NPC.

Jayne looks like he could be a standard NPC, the one added to give more firepower to the party. But over the series it's obvious he's the PC of the newest player, the one who just wants to kill things and hates roleplaying. That's why the GM is inflicting big challenges such as a hero-worshipping town and million-credit reward offers on him, to force the player to roleplay instead of just rolling to-hit dice.

The most experienced player has Book as his PC. Clearly there's a 10 to 20 page backstory write-up for him, but nobody but the GM has seen it because it's all a bunch of Secrets. This guy must have a job and/or family because he keeps missing some of the sessions.

So where does Inara fit? )
selenite0: (Default)
We rented the DVD and watched it over a few evenings.

My guess on why Jackson's mucking with the plot )
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