Friday, September 30, 2011

Tomorrow, I Test. Tonight, I study.

I had a whole post ready to go, formatted and with pictures and links, etc. (If you happened to check the site in the right 10-minute window, you may even have seen it.) Unfortunately, in that post I made an announcement that I can't safely talk about in this space just yet. I hate being vague and cryptic, and hate even more having to substitute a paragraph and a picture for an actual article today, but I really cannot make the time to write another one tonight, so I felt this deserved an explanation.  I anticipate that I'll repost today's scheduled article in a few days or weeks time, edited for context once I've been cleared to make announcements.  I'm not in any legal trouble, not in any medical danger and much as I would wish it, I didn't sign a book or other media deal.  I am also probably not dating a celebrity, as my wife won't let me.  I'll be back to normal posting Monday, presuming I survive the test.

The moon is also probably not crashing into my house tomorrow, I'm just
taking a very important test.
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Social Networking Sites: Change, Privacy and Controversy.

In the course of an average day, I spend quite a bit of time using social media. This site, in a way, falls into that category. Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit and StumbleUpon form a part of my daily computing that is just as important as blogging, gaming or email online. Whenever there is a controversy with one or more of these sites, it is usually as a result of something changing. Facebook changes privacy options or redesigns the user interface, a site has trouble maintaining uptime, makes inappropriate use of user information, or policies are adopted that the public objects to, sometimes very vocally. In the past weeks, there have been a lot of angry social media users and a lot of controversy happening at a few of the most popular sites and services. I'd like to summarize a few of those and talk about what the issues are, and what, in my opinion, they mean (if anything.)

Google+ and Real Names:
Google has dodged the wrath of the rich and powerful by not really requiring
"real names", just the "name you are best known by in daily life."

This controversy is the oldest of the ones I want to talk about, but since it is ongoing, it remains as relevant as the others. When the new social networking site was launched, it was embraced by many of the standard early adopters. Among the tech-savvy people who got in early were many bloggers, myself included. This highlighted one of the drawbacks to Google's answer to Facebook: No pseudonyms. Many bloggers prefer to only be known by the name given their internet identity, and with Google+ giving people the ability to add people whose opinions they'd like to hear without worrying if they'd get an add back, it seemed to be a good platform for online celebrities. If someone is only known by their online identity to a large audience, a profile tied to their real name isn't much use.

The debate over online anonymity goes beyond whether I'd rather have my Google Plus account under "Docstout" or not. There are many people online who cannot express their opinions without danger to themselves and those dear to them. Political dissenters, whistleblowers, victims of abuse or harassment, or anyone with an unpopular opinion are all the sort of people silenced in the name of "People are nicer without anonymity." These people cannot protect themselves, but 50 Cent is allowed a profile under that name in a disgusting display of inequality. Google+ finds itself in the position of protecting the wrong people and things. This is likely because their strategy for integration of services across Gmail, Google + and the rest of their online presence hinges on virtual "ownership" of people's online identities, and that product isn't as valuable if you aren't who you say you are. Unless you are wealthy and/or famous, of course.

Facebook Rolls Out Changes, Affects User Privacy (Again.):


Facebook has done stuff like this so much, it is hardly news anymore.

Google isn't the only company attempting to stake a claim in the online presence of its users, and their attempts to use that information has, over the years, resulted in many privacy scandals. User's names and photos in targeted advertising, how and when you use the social network, and even where you are physically present are all related to ever-changing privacy settings. The least private settings are set as defaults, with users constantly needing to "opt out" of having personal information shared with acquaintances, strangers and large companies. The latest round of changes put a mini-newsfeed showing virtually every action your friends perform on the site, including comments on pictures or the status of people you may not even know.

The anger over these changes seemed for the most part directed at things being visually different, which isn't anything new. Missed in the outcry is a simple fact that most people don't understand about Facebook. The reason the site is able to remain free to use, well maintained and with new features constantly being added is that Facebook users aren't the customer. Facebook users are the product being sold. I find the small amounts of personal information I allow the site and its partners to use is a fair trade for what I get out of the deal, but I recognize the arrangement for what it is. Wherever possible, I limit sharing of what I don't want shared, opt out where I can, and recognize that the many people who won't go through the steps to do that make the scheme profitable, so it is unlikely to change or go in another direction.

StumbleUpon Removes Blogging and Theme Features:

Et tu, StumbleUpon?

This is the newest of the controversies in Social Media, and one likely to impact me personally, if indirectly. I was a StumbleUpon early adopter, I've clicked the Stumble button over 76,000 times, and quite a bit of my traffic to this site comes from the service. I've never really used StumbleUpon's themes or blogging features, however, and these specific services will soon no longer be offered. Profile Pages will be limited to text and an avatar image, comments will be text-only instead of allowing HTML, and overall functionality beyond sharing sites with the network will be diminished. Most of the services that put StumbleUpon in the Social Networking category at all will be severely limited or cut completely, and many people are moving on. For every person that stops using the network, it gets a tiny bit weaker.

Why would a company do that? It seems that these features require time and money to continue to support through maintenance and helpdesk issues, and there aren't enough people using them to justify an expense. The style of blogging on StumbleUpon has mostly been replaced by Tumblr, with reblogging/sharing content and posting photos with brief thoughts about them. Removing these features means less time patching the security vulnerabilities their existence creates, and more time focusing on the core concept of StumbleUpon, which is delivering sites based on what someone likes at the press of a button. I don't like the idea of a mass exodus from the network, as the content is fresher and more varied in scale with how many people participate, but I understand the reasons behind this controversy in general.

Yeah, it is pretty much like that.

What these three stories have in common is, of course, money. Things that make users upset or angry are being changed anyway because even with those who leave over the situation, there is a profit to be made in going a certain direction. Every person needs to decide for themselves where their personal line is between what they get from a free online service and what is done with that service in order to make it a profitable business. In the next few years, whichever site can best balance its need to be profitable with keeping a large base of users happy will likely be the most successful in the long run.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Console Emulation and ROMS: Ethically Grey Waters in Classic Gaming

The more articles I write, the more I find myself leaning toward certain subjects. This makes a lot of sense, because while I may continue watching a science fiction series or continue playing a particular tabletop roleplaying game, I can (or should, rather) only write about it once. Video games, on the other hand, are a topic that due to the sheer number of different titles I play, usually generate possibilities for new articles faster than I can write them, because I never wanted these pages to be primarily about video games. There are many, many websites writing on that topic, and while I am happy to share my thoughts on the subject, I'd like this site to also be about other things. That said, rather than forcing an article about a different topic when games are on my mind, I'll write about what I'm into, and one of those things at the moment is playing console classics of years gone by on a hardware emulator for PC.

Many difficult NES games are being rediscovered in emulation, some
emulators having cheats built in, almost all allow saving at any time.

At the most basic level, an emulator in this context is a piece of software that allows a modern PC to execute instructions as though it were another piece of hardware, typically a game console. Though there are emulators for computers of years gone by and even calculators, Arcade cabinets and home video game systems are the most popular use of this particular kind of software. The actual games for these platforms are also software, Read Only Memory (or ROM) that is stored on a chip or disc (CD-ROM/DVD-ROM). The original ROM data, if on a chip, may have been housed in a cartridge or slotted into an arcade systems mainboard. This data can, with specialized equipment be "dumped" to a file that creates an image of the same data that can be stored on any device that normally holds files (CD, DVD, PC Hard Drive, USB Thumbdrive, etc...) The ROM file can be read and loaded by an emulator that translates original graphics, sound and controller input to the equivalent on the PC they are running on.

When I got started in video game emulation over 15 years ago, it was mostly for NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis and classic Arcade Games. There was never a question then in my mind regarding the ethics of use of commerical ROMs in this sort of software, as the vast majority of the titles could not be purchased from the original publishers even if someone would want to. Many of these games would be unplayable with the original cartridges due to the advanced age of the systems, and I'd purchased more than a few of them at original retail price. Things are changing, as emulators are released for more and more modern systems, and some of the classic software is becoming available for download for a small fee in the Nintendo Store, Xbox Live, and even for tablet or mobile phone platforms. The original copyright violations, while strictly non-commericial (no one got paid for any of this,) were technically illegal, and the traditional rationalization weakens as many of these games can be purchased now.

Legend of the Mystical Ninja, or Ganbare Goemon was once only available like
this, but now it can be purchased for the Wii.

The hardware emulators themselves are not illegal pieces of software, and they are freely distributed online. There are legitimate uses of this software, and games are being developed by hobbyists for consoles long since abandoned commercially for the newest model by their developers. Popular software includes MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) for Arcade games, FCEux, NEStopia and Nesticle for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Project 64 for the N64, Fusion or Kgen for Sega Genesis and SNES9x for the Super Nintendo. Not all of these emulators are still in development and some may support certain ROMs better than others or allow features like online or LAN multiplayer. There are even emulation programs for the last generation and current generation of game consoles, though frequently many features are missing, don't work correctly or require an incredibly powerful PC for basic operations. One of the advantages to using an emulator over the original hardware is the ability to save at any moment you like, instead of relying on save slots or checkpoints to take a break.

The ROMs themselves were once freely available on websites for download, with proprietary titles like Mario or Zelda games taken down when video game companies became aware of their existence. Certain popular ROM websites would go through years of battling with video game publishers' legal departments, with the eventual takedown of many of these communities as the eventual result. In those early days, for every site that fell to cease-and-desist orders, sternly worded warnings to the offenders' ISP and the like, two more would pop up. Now, websites claiming to offer ROMs are frequently scam or attack sites, full of advertising and with few, if any games. Like MP3s and Pirated Film and TV, the images of the games themselves have moved to peer-to-peer filesharing networks and there is little hope of their availability ever going away. An army of lawyers and lobbyists could literally spend years trying to legislate and litigate these files away, but every time a means of file transfer shuts down, another opens.

Legend of Zelda - Majora's Mask in Project 64 windowed mode on a desktop.

I've struggled with how my many years as an emulation hobbyist fits in with my feelings on piracy and intellectual property. It doesn't feel ethically the same to fire up Super Mario Brothers on an NES emulator as, say, downloading a cracked copy of Dead Island and running it on my PC would. It clearly isn't legal, and most likely isn't really any more ethical than any other form of piracy, but it occupies a part of my geek life, knowing that the entire Atari 2600 library is about 2.5 MB, and every game released for the NES could fit in a tiny corner of a flash drive. PC Gaming got me to stop pirating with Steam, TV and Films did the same with Netflix and other streaming content services. I'm sure that solutions for convenient, reasonably priced and legal alternatives to any sort of content people might pirate will take people like me and convert us into customers, without restrictive DRM or litigation. I'm just not sure where emulation fits into all of that. What do you think? Sound off in the comments.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jericho – (Immediately) Post-Apocalypse Drama.

Frequently, even though I have plenty of games and television series to keep me busy when not looking for work, writing or studying, I get the urge to try something new, and my first destination is Sci-Fi TV on Netflix streaming. Among the many shows that are in that category that I've seen already, there are a few I never watched for one reason or another. Jericho was one of those. My wife decided to start up on Jericho, we'd both heard about it years ago and it sounded vaguely interesting. It was one of those shows, I recall when it was on the air, that got canceled and a lot of people were upset. Normally, I'd be riding that bandwagon years after the fact and decrying the studios for not giving great TV a chance and wagging my finger at the public for preferring more vapid entertainment to allow such a situation to occur. Not this time. After watching the first handful of episodes of Jericho, my main question isn't: "Why did they cancel this?" My main question is: "How did this ever get a 2nd season?"

Once I'd gotten a hold of the concept, I really wanted to like this.

To be fair to the show, I think that placing this series in the sci-fi category is not particularly accurate, so a portion of my willingness to bail early on the series probably rests with it not being what I expected. Jericho is really a disaster drama set in the early stages of the post-apocalypse immediately after the disaster that ends civilization. In addition to people coping with the uncertainty of an apocalyptic event, trying to survive short-term, and hold a community together to maintain order, the show gets into the mystery of just what happened and why. On its surface, this is the sort of concept that appeals to me. Skeet Ulrich plays Jake Green, an adult who left the small Kansas town of Jericho in disgrace, but after cleaning up his life, he turns up to ask for his inheritance to get a fresh start. While in town for only a few days, the world ends, and he finds himself caught in his hometown and steps up to provide leadership in a crisis.

One of the problems with the series is that far too many events are played over the top with dramatic disaster music and characters explaining how the next action could kill people. Sure, many of the situations are dangerous, and the lives of the characters are frequently threatened in the immediate aftermath of nuclear weapons detonating in major cities around the United States. The problem is that it is impossible to maintain dramatic tension when everything is a crisis. Even if it is realistic that nearly every environment and action taken is risky or life-threatening, for the sake of a watchable narrative a point has to be reached where only the most dramatic crises are portrayed, and there is a little bit more summing up and getting on with the story. The sort of music heard once or twice in a good action movie, in the scenes where you can forget that of course the hero will survive... that music is constantly being played in Jericho. A little more often, and I'd have suspected that it was a sly, subtle disaster film parody because the music would have been unintentionally funny... it stops just short of that, in "tedious" territory.

Large cast, small, petty personalities for all but one of the characters pictured.

The single largest problem with Jericho is the characters, and how difficult it quickly becomes to care whether any of them live or die. The entire town is populated with stock characters, and most of them are jerks. The closer to being a decent person you are in Jericho, the more likely you are to be uninteresting by virtue of not having a shred of originality in your characterization. Maybe this is realistic, most people aren't interesting and in a crisis, they become selfish, petty and altogether unpleasant. This doesn't excuse them not being entertaining. I found myself still curious about the setting, and the mystery of why and how the apocalypse happened, but realized that I could look those details up online without having to suffer through watching the overly dramatic struggle of people who could die at any moment without an ounce of emotional impact for me. There is a single interesting man, but he's clearly not what he seems from the start, and he can't carry the rest of the show on his own, especially since he seems to be in opposition with them early on.

In some ways, Jericho, made in 2006, reminds me of this year's Falling Skies, as the concept of the apocalypse immediately after it happens is still a good one. Jericho, however, shares all of the flaws Falling Skies has without any of the things that makes the Alien Apocalyptic survival series good TV in spite of them. I can really only recommend this show if you are a disaster film junkie, or a fan of Falling Skies who is completely caught up and thirsting for something similar to the point you'd accept a lesser, diluted experience while waiting for more material. I'm certain that fans of the show might complain that I didn't give it enough of a chance, maybe it did get better later. I just couldn't watch anymore of a show that felt like an 80/20 mix of Dawson's Creek and Fallout. In a show with an ensemble cast this size, the characters and their relationships must be interesting to watch, or a great concept is wasted. 
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Free To Play Again: A Look at Rusty Hearts and Puzzle Pirates.

Now and again, I check out the world of Free to Play MMORPGs. In years past, I'd have to rely on directories dedicated to the topic and download from a link to the individual game's website. Now, there is a growing Free to Play category on Steam, and I periodically check out the offerings there. What I look for in a game like this is, naturally, the same gameplay that I would like from a commercial/retail priced game. Of course, I expect that there will be both an in-game currency of some sort and a premium currency that can be purchased with real-world dollars, as these games are financed by the players who decide to buy something. I evaluate a F2P game on whether the options purchasable only with premium currency are neat options, or whether they are essential parts of the game. Games that provide too many in-game benefits for premium gear are "pay to win," and with too much content sealed off behind a paywall, the game isn't so much "free" as it is a glorified demo, shareware in disguise. With these criteria in mind, I've spent some time with two more games now available on Steam, Puzzle Pirates and Rusty Hearts.

Puzzle Pirates:

Towns, islands and decks of ships may get crowded, but you can pretty much teleport
 somewhere else if you aren't having fun.

This isn't my first time playing Puzzle Pirates, as the game has been around since 2003 and shortly after release I gave it a try. Three Rings Design has continued to add new puzzles and gameplay refinements over the years, and Steam support got me back in to see what had changed. Your character is a scurvy dog who looks like he/she escaped from a Playmobil collection and you are dropped into a world where virtually every task that can be performed is done so with a puzzle game. Players can work on or even own ships, become merchants, and attack other vessels or search for buried treasure. Back on islands, shops, inns and homes are owned and operated by players and working or playing in one of the many different buildings opens up new puzzles. Getting into swordfights, fisticuffs or drinking contests with other players have puzzle games all their own, and gambling on more traditional games like poker, spades or hearts can make or break a bucaneer's fortunes.

There's a lot of free content, with the basic puzzles to operate a ship available for free, including sailing, rigging, cannon operation, carpentry and bilge pumping. In-game currency is measured in pieces of eight, frequently abbreviated as "poe" and this money can be earned working ships for the NPC Navy or jobbing as temporary crew on a player-owned ship. Owning a ship, working a shop, or playing most parlor games are among the many activities that require a special badge purchasable with doubloons, the premium currency. Some of the locked away content is available to freeplayers daily, and many, many hours of entertainment can be had without spending a dime. Puzzle Pirates also gets major points from me on making premium currency purchasable with in-game money at a player-driven market exchange. Players can also join crews that may operate one or more vessels to launch their own expeditions, and buy custom furniture for player housing.

One of the many challenging cooperative or competitive puzzles representing labor in Puzzle Pirates.

As a character plays more of the puzzles well, skill levels in each of the games is tracked on a permanent profile. Characters can be visually customized with clothing and weapons that can be earned in-game or purchased with either poe or doubloons. Weapons can be used to make custom strikes in the swordfighting competitive puzzle, which is reminiscent of tetris, and is the last part of boarding actions taken when ships get into naval battles. Fist fighting is handled in a minigame that plays a lot like Bust-a-Move, with colored bubbles filling up the top of the screen that need to be "popped" by bubbles of the same color fired by a cannon from the bottom. Many of the puzzles are variants on popular puzzle games like Bejeweled, Dr. Mario, and Rocket Mania, with a piratey theme. I've won enough to buy a ship playing poker in a seedy tavern, brewed beer and clashed swords after a voyage spent cleaning and loading cannons or pumping seawater from the hold.

Rusty Hearts:

For now, you'd better like these three if you want to play Rusty Hearts, because even with customization, this is pretty much it... sometimes these guys will be wearing an afro or sunglasses, but little else changes.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the beat-em-up Anime MMORPG Rusty Hearts. Currently in beta from Perfect World Entertainment, Rusty Hearts is set in a moody gothic gaslamp horror anime where mercenaries fight vampires and demons in the service to a psuedo-military organization. The cutscenes providing the backdrop for the world, as well as the environments themselves are very pretty. The story and dialogue options are appropriately hokey and translated about as well as any standard anime series or video game. As of this article, you select as your base one of three characters, so in public areas in low-level zones, everyone looks pretty much the same. The dour swordsman Frantz, the foul-mouthed witches' apprentice Angela and the wanderer-turned brawler Tude are the three currently playable characters, but there is a fourth in the works.

The gameplay is fairly smooth, with various special attacks unlocked and trained as characters level up, and basic attacking, grab/counter, block and combo maneuvers make gamplay feel more like an arcade fighter like Double Dragon or Golden Axe than a typical RPG. Monsters drop equipment and potions as well as cards which randomly are hidden in a grid of rewards the player can blindly choose from when a dungeon is cleared. Players are ranked at the end of a level based on combo length and special move use (style) compared to how many hits they take, to get a letter grade that affects rewards at the end of a stage. Gamepad support is present, and recommended to save wear on the keyboard, but customizing keybinds for gamepad leaves something to be desired. Unlocking harder difficulties opens up cooperative adventures suitable for a party, with rewards matching the extra challenge.

Boss fights feature tougher opponents and more complex strategies than the standard
chaining of special abilities and occasionally blocking.

If you can deal with every player being copies of the same three people all over the place, in addition to new skills and better equipment, eventually costume pieces can be unlocked to give individual characters a custom look. The fast route to these cosmetic modifications is premium currency purchased through the cash shop, but some costume pieces can be earned by questing or bought with in-game money. Players who don't care about the appearance of their personal characters will find that most of the game is free, cash shop items having very little impact on game power. There is also a PVP arena, a guild system and customizable personal quarters, plus a game bank and player auction house. The difficulty scales very well with how much time a player wishes to put in, so a solo/casual player has a good experience as well as the more involved players interested in partying up and tackling tougher adventures.
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Friday, September 23, 2011

My Review of Franklyn – A Mixed Bag of British Sci-Fi/Drama

Okay, I saw the trailer for Franklyn, and I'll admit it, they suckered me. The promo spots for this film, or at least the one I saw, focus on the most unusual elements of a film that is about two-thirds fairly mundane. You have Ryan Phillipe in a badass looking mask as some sort of dark vigilante in a fantastic dystopia that looks like it could have sprung from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, and a lot of unusual imagery from a dark haired woman in too much makeup, with occasional quick cuts of contemporary London. This trailer is, to risk understatement, misleading. All of the images presenting Franklyn as an unusual and risky dark superhero fantasy are advertising a different film, not the one that was made. Was the film presented in the trailer better or worse than the reality of what Franklyn delivers? That's a more difficult question.

This was the least disingenuous poster I could find for the film.

This is a difficult movie to summarize without giving the whole game away, as the first third of the film is complex, disconnected and the audience spends much of the time asking "What the hell is going on?" The characters we are shown have stories that on their own are not difficult to follow, but the plot and tone of each of the four stories being told suggest that they don't belong in the same film. One of the stories (the one that the trailer chooses to focus on, naturally) doesn't appear to belong in the same world as the others. There are bits of each tale that are well told, and a few characters that the audience can identify with, but for much of the film, I found myself wishing that they'd just get on with it. We have a dangerous masked figure reminiscent of batman dressed like Decker from Nightbreed, a stock troubled young female artist, a man who is dealing with having been left by his fiancee very near the wedding day, and an old man looking for his son.

First, let's start with Jonathan Preest, as his visual style sells the movie. I have to admit, the mask itself pretty much guaranteed that I'd check the film out. Ryan Phillipe gives us his best Rorschach impersonation in Meanwhile City, a place where everyone has a religion, as required by law. Everyone, that is, except for Jonathan Preest. He does his private detective work while evading the top hat and goggle-wearing Ministry Clerics, and the visuals surrounding everything he does are pretty awesome. The problem is, Meanwhile City is a one-trick pony, we get it... everyone has a different weird faith and we are constantly given examples without any deeper exploration of what such a society would be like. Preest himself is a collection of cliches, his gravelly narration and sparse characterizations have been seen dozens if not hundreds of times before. I'll grant that the overbearing fantasy without substance is likely as a result of filmmaker choice rather than lack of skill or imagination, but I'm not sure that gives it a pass.

Emilia, in the middle of her "art." Any time I saw this character's life
in danger, I found myself rooting for natural selection.

This brings us to Emilia, whose tale is, if anything more vapid, pretentious and cliche than anything in the fantastic Meanwhile City. I hated this character for the combination of not a single shred of anything unique or new and the overwhelmingly terrible art-house crap that is her work as an artist that the audience must suffer through. She is played straight down the numbers of any one of hundreds of gothy artistic women in films and comics. Wealthy mother, missing father, smokes and wears black and too much makeup while painting and shooting videos about sex, death and beauty while being depressed about her life and work. I found myself agreeing with her college art professor/advisor with regards to his assessment of how devoid of substance her performance art schlock routine was. Once again, given the presentation of the character and her role in the story, all of this could have been done purposefully, but that doesn't mean it belongs in something other people have to watch.

Milo is a little bit more sympathetic as a young earnest man who has just been jilted by the woman he was about to marry and leans on his friends and family while he tries to put his life back together. What little whining this character does is totally justified by what we see him going through, and a great performance from his supporting characters (his best man, his mother and the best man's better half) keeps the scenes from dragging. He begins seeing a mysterious woman around town as he tries to figure out how to cope with his destroyed love life, and pursues her into some unusual places, giving us just a tiny hint of the bizarre in his plot. Overall, played with more subtlety than the previously discussed characters, as we start filling in answers to the questions posed to his story, it carries a bit more emotional weight.





The fourth character, Peter Esser, is a highly religious man who is looking for his missing son. For me, his tale was the most interesting, and it has the least to do with any supernatural, fantastic or weird bits, at least to start. From the promotions for this film, you'd think that this part of the story didn't exist, as everything that doesn't focus solely on the Meanwhile City plot at best only shows the attractive young people as leads in the movie. This is a shame, as Esser's journey is a better detective story than anything in Preest's part of the film, and told from a unique perspective, to boot. I'd have liked to see the old man's search through hospitals and homeless shelters expanded on, as this bit had many of the best scenes in the film, and how his story ties into the other three very nearly redeems them by the end.

The film, by the end, does pay off in terms of a justification for why these characters are all in the same movie, and I was satisfied with the explanation. Franklyn isn't a bad film, but there is one character whose entire role in the movie annoyed me and diminished the experience as a whole, and the film that was advertised could have been a great one. Meanwhile City and Preest had potential, if there had been more substance to all of the great visuals, but in the end, what we got there was a really cool looking mask with absolutely nothing behind it. It is worth mentioning that this film had a fairly low budget and was the director's first film, and given those facts I'll give it credit for what it managed to do well. The final sequences could have been presented in a way that had more emotional impact and a better resolution, but I don't think "low-budget British sci-fi" when looking at the film as a whole. For those who have Netflix streaming, Franklyn is available as of the publication of this article, and it is worth a look. Just know what you are getting into, in spite of what the trailer promises.
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Batmen in Elseworlds – The best of Bruce Wayne in alternate universes.

When I write about comic books, I tend to write about Marvel. I've declared my allegiance there, but that doesn't mean I don't like DC. I could do without most of the DC Universe, but c'mon... Batman. When thinking about my favorite heroes in all comic books, I don't usually even bother listing him. Batman is just assumed to be at the top of that list. One of the things that got me into the Marvel continuity was What If?, as I've mentioned before. That said, my very favorite DC titles come from a similar source, in their elseworlds imprint. In fact, my favorite single issue of a superhero comic is probably the final issue of the Elseworld title Superman: The Nail. Over the years, however, I've made a point of tracking down and reading almost every one of the Batman Elseworld one-shots and limited series. These titles are the best of those, in my estimation.


Batman: Holy Terror – This book was the first ever to be published under the Elseworlds logo, and one of the many that takes familiar characters from Batman's corner of the DC Universe and places them in a new time and place, re-telling their origins through trappings of the transplanted genre. In this story, the Reverend Bruce Wayne of Gotham is told by his friend James Gordon, an inquisitor in charge of investigating the deaths of Bruce's parents that their deaths were part of a state conspiracy, and not a random mugging. His crusade to bring those responsible to justice in the Dark Theocratic Government brings him into contact with Barry Allen, and a witch whose spells are cast backwards, reminiscent of Zatanna. In the cape and cowl as a servant of God and Justice, he runs into the conspirators in the midst of "Project Green Man," involving a certain alien who crash landed in Kansas.


Gotham Noir – This one I rushed right out to purchase, as I'm a huge fan of detective stories and Film Noir. In some ways, this tale is more about Jim Gordon than it is about Bruce Wayne. We see Gordon, a washed up drunk and private investigator trying to deal with his demons when he gets pulled into a mystery. He has to find his way out of the bottom of a bottle and find out what really happened to the girl he failed to protect. Along the way, he has to confront what happened back in the war, and deal with criminals and thugs around every corner of the darkened streets of Gotham in the late 1940s. We meet several incarnations of classic characters from the DC Universe, including Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle and a version of The Joker. Batman himself is present, but it is unclear by the end if he is real, or hallucinations brought on by Gordon cracking under the pressure.


The Doom That Came to Gotham – Mike Mignola, of Hellboy fame with Dark Horse, spins a 1920s tale of a Bruce Wayne that could have come straight from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft. All of the looming cosmic horror and pulp adventure, with secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know lurking behind the mystery of it all. There are shades of much of the Cthulhu Mythos in this, most notably The Mountains of Madness near the start of the tale. Oliver Queen and Harvey Dent make cameos, and we are treated with 1920s versions of Mr. Freeze, The Penguin and both R'as and Talia al Ghul. Throughout the three volume series we also meet Alfred, James and Barbara Gordon and all three pre-Stephanie Brown incarnations of Robin – Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake.


The Batman Vampire Trilogy – Starting with Batman and Dracula: Red Rain, this series gets darker and darker as it progresses. Rather than putting Batman in an alternate time or genre, we see what happens when the Dark Knight gets involved with the Lord of Vampires. From the initial books dealing with his battle against the Dark Prince of the Undead through his own struggle against his nature upon contracting vampirism itself, we see Bruce Wayne's dark side through the lens of horror. The story plays with Batman's already tortured psyche and inner demons and shows us what happens to that character we already know when he is gripped by something inside him he cannot control. Bruce Wayne is already compulsive, tortured and extraordinarily driven to the brink of insanity, add to that a unholy thirst for human blood and we have a great superhero/classic horror crossover tale.


Batman: In Darkest Knight – This series resembles the Marvel What If? Line more than the others because it is based on a simple question, and following the answer to that question to a possible logical conclusion. The question is, in this case, what would happen if instead of the power of the Green Lantern passing to Hal Jordan, what if it had gone to Bruce Wayne? We get a very different take on classic moments in the Green Lantern canon with a different bearer of the ring, and some of Wayne's past interact with the problems facing the Green Lantern Corps in unexpected ways. Sinestro is, in this Universe, responsible for the creation of supervillainous versions of Harvey Dent and Selina Kyle, completing a triad of Green Lantern villains tainted by Bruce Wayne's own past.

These stories are not in any way the whole of the Batman Elseworlds tales, just a few of my personal favorites. Though I never read all of it, Gotham by Gaslight is also worth a nod, and technically Frank Miller's classic The Dark Knight Returns could be considered an Elseworlds title, but I think that story might deserve an article all its own. I may at some later date return to the topic to revisit the Superman Elseworlds which also occupy a special place of honor in those few DC Titles I actively pursue and read whenever I can get my hands on them. 
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Would You Play A First Person Game With No Shooting? I Would. - Warco

There's been a whole lot of to-do these last few years over whether or not video games can be properly classified as works of artistic merit. One of the things making the debate more difficult for those of us who believe that games can be art is the fact that so many games are the same. Imagine this scenario: crouched in a war zone, the soldier in front of you motions that there are insurgents ahead. You crouch, as someone to your left throws a grenade and you can see bursts from assault rifles through the smoke ahead as the firefight erupts. What I've just described could have taken place in any number of mostly interchangable first person shooters on the market now. Now, change one key thing. The character you control doesn't have a gun, or any other weapon. What you have is a high-quality digital video camera, because you are a reporter in the middle of a war zone. This is the concept for Warco, short for "War Correspondent," a game in development that advances the sort of thinking we need in game design for the medium to be taken seriously as art in the long run.
The idea might be a hard sell to major studios, but that thinking is why most
of my gaming today is from the indie scene.

In addition to running around and shooting with a camera instead of a rifle, Warco – The News Game promises to feature a different sort of player control. You don't influence the battles you are there to report on, but you do choose what to film, how to present what you've filmed and some difficult real-life decisions need to be made. What will your story say about your bias concerning the conflict you cover? Where does the line between freedom of the press and the safety or even morale of troops doing a hard job in a foreign land get drawn? When a soldier dies, do you film a dramatic moment for the sake of the impact of the piece, or do you refrain out of respect for the soldier's sacrifice and the well-being of his or her family? Getting to see the finished product of your recorded footage combined with a thrust to the piece based on your decisions on a fictional cable news station is something that is more exciting to me than killing another enemy soldier whose death is presented for entertainment.

This game is being worked on by Australian Indie development studio Defiant Development, and they hope to find a publisher capable of and willing to distribute the finished product to a wide audience. A first-person game in a warzone with no combat that the player participates in by shooting may be a hard sell, but if they can do it right, they've got something potentially amazing on their hands. The possibility for telling a different sort of story about military conflicts, ideally one suited to player perspective, free of default anti-war or pro-military bias, showing both sides and letting the player decide how to feel about them... I'd play that in a heartbeat. The idea of different players covering the same event and producing radically different newscasts by the end of a chapter or level intrigues me.








There are a lot of ways this could go wrong, however. Quality of the animations, good writing of dialogue of soldiers and others encountered in a warzone and overall polish are important to maintaining an appropriate mood. If a soldier is poorly voice-acted, moves stiffly and unnaturally or glitches through a piece of cover, the immersion is broken, and the experience ruined. Unlike more traditional games, I wouldn't be happy when encountering graphical oddities or other bugs to just complete the encounter and move on. Experiencing the visuals of a realistic battlefield, of interviewing humans who move, speak and behave like real people isn't a large part of the game, it is pretty much the whole game in this instance. It is worth mentioning that these are exactly the sorts of flaws we are normally expected to cut independent game developers a little slack on, and there isn't room for it here.

The proof of playable concept prototype has some rough spots, mostly in animation of individual soldiers, but showing the reporter in vehicles, dodging bullets and occasionally getting hit, panning and zooming in on particular bits is intriguing. Film Studios have funded further development of the game, and the work they've done so far has won "Best Art" at the 2011 Freeplay Awards at an Australian independent games festival. The game appears to be based around multiple objectives in a series of conflicts developing in the fictional nation of Benouja in Africa, with inspiration for the specific scenes taken from real-world conflicts across Africa and the Middle East. This one will be on my radar as it gets closer to completion, though at the moment there is no projected release date.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Netflix in the News Again... Qwikster

So, since my last article explaining the Netflix price increase debacle, people got mad. Most folks don't care if the problem was created by Big Content to do exactly this (hurt the Netflix brand,) and Netflix can't defend themselves on this point without angering huge companies who they need to have any sort of future in their industry. People see that their bill is going up, while offerings for the services they enjoy are declining in terms of selection, and they need someone to blame. The reactions to my initial article on the subject included some legitimate questions about how much the price increase would actually effect Netflix, whether many people would grouse and threaten and huff and puff... but continue to pay the higher prices, or at least those who made good on their threats would be replaced my enough new customers that it wouldn't matter. Netflix was surprised by the number of cancellations this month (revising expected subscription numbers by 1 million,) a number likely boosted by the news that their content deal with Starz! would not be renewed. So they had to do something, and they did.

Reed Hastings, on his "Taking the Blame For the Studio Bastards I Need To
Be Successful" 2011 Tour.

I'm active in a lot of different social media, so I got the apology from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings from many sources, all at once, and I was surprised by it. Not so much the apology, someone had to say something to mollify customer outrage, and throwing the true culprits under the bus isn't realistic, nor will it ever be a business-safe option. Like many others, the bit that surprised me was the sudden announcement that the streaming and DVD-by-mail businesses would be separated out completely, and the DVD option would be rebranded as "Qwikster." The reaction from the public was, at the risk of understatement, not satisfied with either the apology, the explanation, or the plan moving forward. The torches and pitchforks came right back out, and people started mocking the company, asking "what were they thinking?"

Before I give my take on what they are thinking, and despite the current prevailing opinion, why I think it is a good move in the long run, let's talk about the downside. In all fairness to the angry mob, there are a few things about this announcement that suck. Anyone interested and even willing to pay more for what they had before just had everything about these services made more complicated for them. Two websites, two bills, separate tracking of preferences for movies, reviews and ratings which, without a lot of duplication of user effort, means that the recommendations for both services are weaker. And while they currently honor announced pricing, separate companies with separate cost structures could lead those customers who just want 1 DVD and Unlimited Streaming to be paying a whole lot more for two services down the line, if either division is forced to raise prices again.

I'd given up on DVD by mail, but this move might make me reconsider.
Why? There's a clue on the right of the bowl of popcorn.

That said, the vast majority of the people yelling loudly that Netflix is making a terrible business decision frankly have no idea what they are talking about. The core fear in a business like Netflix is the idea that new technology could make you obsolete, the same way Netflix itself made the local video story redundant. Physical media for digital content is a dead-end technology. People wondered a few years back "What comes after Blu-Ray?" The answer is: nothing. Going to a store or having a box shipped to you with video, sound, games on them... the tech isn't quite dead, but it is dying. Do you want to have your main business associated with the buggy whip a few years after the average person has embraced the automobile? Netflix knows exactly what it is doing, when (and it is a question of WHEN, not IF) DVD-by-mail dies, their coroporate identity isn't tied to the sinking ship.

Before all that happens, there are other advantages to this new plan. Companies typically don't die gracefully overnight, they thrash around in the throes of obsolescence for years, and are sold off piece-by-piece. If that becomes necessary, having a separate division with no structural ties to the Netflix streaming website and databases makes the sale of the division much easier. In shorter terms, revenues from a division no longer have to support the development costs of the other unrelated business. DVD profits don't have to go to content licensing for streaming, and streaming profits don't have to worry about paying for shipping, inventory and warehousing of physical goods. In the short term, selection and service for both divisions can be improved proportionally to their level of success. This allows Netflix to focus on expanding its offerings and delivering the best content possible without fear that a sudden dip in the DVD business will affect the operating budget it desperately needs to remain relevant.

Profile picture (since changed) for the Twitter account that had the Qwikster name
long before this move was announced.

So... Qwikster. The name has already been mocked, but that doesn't mean much to a good product or service being successful (anyone remember what people said about the Nintendo Wii?) The separation also allows the by mail service to finally offer video games as part of an upgrade package similar to the Blu-Ray upgrade available now. Taking advantage of the distribution network and postage deals in place currently would make this an attractive alternative to competitor Gamefly, whose mailings are a lot slower, prices are a lot higher, and who pay more than Netflix does for postage. Personally, I'll have to carefully measure a price break and faster shipping against my current Gamefly subscription that allows me to keep games I've rented or buy used games for a fraction of even used game prices, plus $5.00 off purchase coupons issued every few months. It'll be a rough choice for me, considering through Gamefly I just bought Fallout: New Vegas for $4.00.

An amusing sidenote to the whole business is the story of Jason Castillo, the overnight Twitter celebrity who has the handle @Qwikster, and has for years, (though he rarely tweeted on it before the last few days.) The current owner of that account seems to be a foul-mouthed student and pothead who overnight went from a few followers to over 10,000 as a result of the new Netflix division wanting to purchase the handle from him. The young man was previously overwhelmed by events such as losing his "bowl" and hitting himself in the head with a wrench, so a large company suddenly wanting to do business with him seems a little beyond his capabilities. He has posted and since removed tweets about people offering to buy his name, and not being sure who to trust. Considering all the assumptions, misinformation and anger tied up in all of the stories the last few days about his namesake, I can't say as I blame him for his confusion.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Bastion – Indie Action RPG that is not to be missed.

I'd heard an awful lot about Bastion, and had a hard time understanding what all the fuss was about. This past weekend, I finally finished the title, and I get it. Bastion was first released a downloadable game, the sort of indie title you see all over Xbox Live Arcade, and it got rave reviews, and eventually made its way to PC via Steam, where it was a featured release. Some of the initial gimmicks are apparent from the demo, but Bastion is a game that continues giving based on what you put in, and most of the best of the game is left for the end. This bucks a trend I've commented on at length, where so many games focus on a strong opening and great buildup, and then cannot pay off the narrative, so they kind of "phone in" the ending. In Bastion, a gamer with a short attention span will miss out on something that I can call beautiful without fear of hyperbole.

Don't mind the anime-look or cartoon styling. There is nothing about
this game that I'd associate with any flavor of animation beyond visual design.

At the beginning of Bastion, your character wakes up from a post on a wall somewhere to find the world destroyed around him. We know this because as the world and controls are introduced, a narrator's voice tells us what is going on, describing the hero's actions (calling him only "the kid") as they happen. The narration changes based on actions performed, and the exceptional quality of the voice acting delivering the over 3,000 recorded lines gives a lot of the emotional weight to what might otherwise be a decent, but unspectacular, action-RPG hybrid. As the kid walks through the ruins of his shattered world, bits of the ground form up under his feet where he's about to walk. A few basic weapons are found, and we start to get into the heart of the gameplay.

PC controls are pretty simple, left-click for melee attacks, right click for ranged, tap the space bar to roll out of the way of danger, and hold shift to block with a shield or lock on to a target. WASD moves you around, the mouse controls targetting and the E key is typically used to pick up items or interact with the environment. The kid carries around blue tonics to restore health, activated with F, and black tonics to power his special skills, activated with Q. There are a lot of different melee weapons, ranged weapons and special skills to find and unlock throughout the game, and different combinations may make certain sections of the game easier. In addition to finding weapons and abilities, each weapon can be upgraded with items found throughout gameplay and "shards" of the shattered world. Passive bonuses such as extra damage, more tonics or higher movement speed while blocking are chosen for slots that open up as the kid gains levels.

Static screenshots really don't do this world justice, it must be seen in motion.

All of these upgrades are processed through buildings which can be constructed, and yes, upgraded at the Bastion, a floating home base/sanctuary that was to be used in case of disaster. Each structure can be built upon completion of a level, and the player chooses which order to build many of them in. Combat and exploration is fast-paced and fun, and character advancement and customization integrates well with the theme of rebuilding a world piece by piece. If this was all Bastion had to offer, it'd still be a pretty good game for the $15USD price tag. These elements are probably the least of the reasons I like this game. Gameplay is great, but what gets me is a good story, well told, and though it takes a bit to get rolling, this game has that.

The story is revealed bit by bit in the narration, details left out in earlier scenes explained a bit at a time at a perfect pace to match the tone of the game. The combination of the art design of the levels, the tone of the script and history of the world that was Caelondia before The Calamity, and what it has become creates a unique and internally consistent setting. Bits of character development for the principal characters are earned, line by line in dreamlike sequences where the kid fights wave after wave of creatures, each wave rewarded with another part of the story for the character we're learning about. The music, in particular the pieces with vocals, add to the atmosphere, and the soundtrack is amazing on its own merits. Some of the best scenes in the entire game owe their impact in large part to the music playing in the background.





Once the reasons behind everything that has happened, from The Calamity to events that unfold as the game progresses (which I won't spoil here) are revealed, the game pulls off a really neat trick. Games love presenting players with choices, especially difficult ones. The problem is, it is not easy to write a set of meaningful decisions without either one choice being obviously better in some way, or making the decision difficult by virtue of all presented options being things you'd rather not do. I hate it when games do this. It is poor writing to make a choice only meaningful because I need to choose between two things that are approximately equally unpleasant. Bastion has one of the most thought-provoking and difficult "Would you rather?" choices I've ever encountered to make at the very end, and another choice where you have to decide between someone getting perhaps what they deserve, and doing what is noble at great potential cost to yourself. Both of these situations are brilliantly crafted, and the payoff for making either choice made for an ending that had me smiling throughout the credits.

This is not a particularly expensive game, nor is it a 40-hour epic, but there is a decent amount of replay value, for at least one more go-round, and there are plenty of Steam achievements and ways to customize the difficulty (for greater reward) in-game. Collecting, achieving and unlocking everything possible will make this a hefty amount of content for a game that is a quarter of the price of a typical new release. Solid action, incredible story, and a game that manages to be beautiful and at some points kind of sad, while making the player think about the questions posed by the story... This one is a winner.
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Friday, September 16, 2011

T-Minus 14 Days and Counting...

I've mentioned before that I've decided on what I'd like to do, long term, even if it takes years to successfully start the career. I've been studying for the Foreign Service Officer Examination to start the career path toward becoming a diplomat for the U.S. State Department. I've gotten my testing date, which is two weeks from tomorrow for my first attempt at passing the written examination. The reading list is extensive, varied in content and so long that there is little hope of me finishing even half of it before the test. I'm supplementing my cultural education by researching as many topics as I can on my own online, and trying to catch the basics. This has divided my attention a little bit, so I've struggled to get full-sized articles out five days per week for the last few weeks.



My course of study has already taught me a lot about the interaction between my country and various parts of the world as well as historic perspective on events I'd thought I understood. It makes me realize that I have a long way to go, but I'm confident that I can pass this test, if not on the first go, then within a retake or two. Here's some of what I'm currently reading: (Partial List)
  • Racial and Ethnic Relations. 7th ed.

  • Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic, 5th ed.
  • The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. 3rd ed.
  • A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 7th ed.
  • The Politics of United States Foreign Policy. 3rd ed.
  • The Heritage of World Civilizations, 7th ed.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel.
  • Modern South Asia: History, Culture and Political Economy

  • Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.
  • A Peace to End All Peace.
  • Understanding Contemporary Africa,
  • The Two Koreas.
  • Americans in Waiting, The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States
  • Economics and Public Policy
  • Management and Human Behavior
  • The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

  • Fundamentals of Management: Core Concepts and Applications, 4th ed.

  • Organizational Behavior: Managing People and Organizations, 8th ed.
  • Managing Across Cultures, 2nd ed.

In addition to these books, I'm working on current events by keeping up with Time and Newsweek, trying to get a solid refresher in World Geography and browsing the Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy journals. Luckily, I'm fairly solid on elements of formal writing (more formal that what I write in these articles,) so I don't need a crash refresher on the Elements of Style to add to the list. I expect to be confronted with a Biographic Questionairre, a test on English Expression, and a Job Knowledge Test, plus the dreaded essay test.

If I pass these tests, I'll be called back for a session for oral testing which will involve some sort of scenario-based testing both individual and in a group, and a traditional panel-style interview which will determine whether or not I am offered a position in the Foreign Service. As the test looms, I will endeavor to continue to post every week day, but shorter articles may well pop up from time to time, or even late postings, so I'll occasionally do one of these as an update on my progress in this area. I intend to do this, eventually, and as soon as they'll have me.
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Harry Paget Flashman – The Most Famous Man Who Never Existed.

In 1857, an author named Thomas Hughes wrote a book called Tom Brown's School Days. The book is a semi-autobiographical piece of light fiction set in Rugby, at the boarding school there, and has cricket, discipline, and a young hero making his way through life at the Rugby School. I only mention this dull little piece of literature for its inadvertent creation of one of the most interesting faux-historical characters of all time. In the book, the title character is plagued by a bully, the scoundrel called Flashman, or Flashy, who after his defeat is expelled from the school for drunkenness. This spot is where George Macdonald Fraser picks up the life and times of Flashman, a self-admitted "scoundrel, cheat, thief, liar, coward and toady." The books, collectively called The Flashman Papers, are a trip through virtually every major world event from 1839 through 1894.


What I love about these books is the perspective character, an antihero and lout, manages to get himself into the worst possible situations, often by accident, but sometimes as a consequence of his behavior, but through sheer dumb luck and force of personality, he sails through frequently lauded as a hero. The scholarship the author went through to properly research and lay out the texts has caused more than one reviewer to mistakenly attribute the books to an actual historic figure, though his list of accolades would tip off the savvy. He is listed as VC, KCB, KCIE, Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur, San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth, 4th Class and recipient of the U.S. Medal of Honor, having served as a Union Major and Confederate Colonel on both sides of the United States Civil War.

Despite his long military career, Flashman is an abject coward unless anyone is watching and he fears a loss of social standing and/or being executed for desertion or dereliction of duty. He claims to be naturally good at only three things: horsemanship, foreign languages and fornication. Needless to say, it isn't typically the first two that get him into trouble. Gambling, whoring and taking credit for things he hasn't done (or things he did accidentally while trying to avoid danger,) Flashman finds himself in the middle of situations such as the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Battle of Little Bighorn and the Zulu War. He crosses paths with Abraham Lincoln, Otto von Bismarck, Edward VII, and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, among many others. Despite his bad habits and worse attitude, most of the time if anyone knows the truth about him, they are killed in battle before they can tell anyone.


One of my very favorite Flashman stories is part of his early history at age 19, when assigned to Piper's Fort in Afghanistan, Harry panics and his cowardice disgusts those around him. He sees the defenders fall one by one, including everyone who saw his lack of bravery and he is suddenly seized by an idea. If, as his fellows fight their doomed defense back to back, he can use their sacrifice to get to the fort's flag, he can surrender the colors and perhaps he will be allowed to live. He makes his way to the flag and seizes it, seeing his fellows dying all about him, he passes out, fainting in sheer terror. When relief comes, they find Harry Flashman as lone survivor, dead enemies all about him, clutching the flag and quite unconscious. Without any inconvenient witnesses to tell the true story, Flashman lets his rescuers assume that he was the heroic final defender of the fort.

Attempts to make the series into movies were only marginally successful, as the second book, Royal Flash, was adapted for the big screen in 1975 starring Malcolm MacDowell as Flashman. The book was originally a combination of The Prisoner of Zenda meeting with the Schleswieg-Holstien Question, as Flashman is charged by Otto von Bismarck with impersonating a Danish Prince.  Though Fraser wrote the screenplay for the film, he was dissatisfied with the level of control over his story that he had to surrender to Hollywood Studio-types, and he vowed that another Flashman movie would not be made in his lifetime.  True to his word, despite other offers to option the books for possible adaptation, Fraser blocked any such projects from moving forward.

Malcolm MacDowall as Harry Flashman in Royal Flash.

The complete memoirs of Harry Flashman comprised 12 books in all, written by Fraser from 1969 through 2005. I highly recommend all of the books, as a period containing the Victorian Era, the American Civil War and Old West, and the many Civil Wars and pivotal historic battles are amazing to see through the eyes of a single character whose base nature puts him as likely to be mixed up with the Underground Railroad as he is attempting to cheat on a duel to the death over a prostitute. I personally based a highwayman-type character loosely on Flashman, borrowing the name and some of the base nature for a character I played in the 7th Sea Roleplaying game, though that particular character was more properly closer in historic period and nature to Harry Flashman's grandfather John "Jack" Flashman, pirate, slaver and source of the family's initial wealth.
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