The Last God

I was on a family weekend getaway and my sister had this book on hand. It had an interesting pitch, and I borrowed it for a solid read.

One of the more interesting bits here is that this series was developed with PnP in mind, so the tail end has an annex on how to apply D20/DnD rules to the setting. Given the amount of world building in many graphical novels today, it felt like a smart move. Most writers are going to spend a fair amount of time on the lore anyhow, and this allows a more practical view on the various character power levels and history.

The Last God falls into the fantastical horror genre, with a big layer of flawed legends and the gradual uncovering of the truth. The plot itself isn’t terribly innovative, and you can see most of the twists and turns throughout. There are character archetypes, the corrupt leader, the rebellious wife, the pure newbie, and so on. This isn’t a critique per se, it’s sort of like how there are many simple Lego pieces and depending on how you put them together, you get different results. There are many graphic novels that apply this mind set.

The results here are quite good, primarily enabled by the fundamental lore than gives a platform for these characters. The main character here is the setting. The gods themselves and their lasting impacts on the world are fascinating. The impacts of prophecy and the desire to escape one’s fate are cool. The cost of magic, at scale, is even more interesting. The ending feels like an ending.

The largest issue I have is the poor print quality. This was clearly digital art that was then transferred to paper, and the quality loss is significant. I’m ok with poor print quality in an actual comic that’s produced in large quantities. A hard cover book should do better. If you happen to have a 10in+ tablet, you’re better off getting a digital copy.

If you see it on sale, I’d say pick it up.

The Sandman – Netflix

“Unfilmable” is thrown around a fair chunk, in particular for written media that isn’t action-focused, or dialogue-driven. Cerebral material can be a true challenge to translate. Dune(1984) vs Dune (2021) is a good example of how different approaches can lead to vastly different results. With a good team, almost anything can be filmed now-days.

The Sandman is an older comic from the late 80s to mid 90s, covering 75 issues. Neil Gaiman is one of those authors where I just seem to click, and this series can be seen as foundational work to pretty much everything that he made since. Prose-driven, with anthropomorphic representations of states of mind, with a strong application of fantasy horror. I read a few of the comics when I was younger, and they were just enthralling because they were so different. This is when Infinity War was the big deal! Long-form comics are making a resurgence now, yet the stage was set back with The Sandman.

Netflix has recently launched their series on the first two storylines from the comics (of at least 12 main storylines, depending on your view). It is thick and slow, just like the comics. Some scenes are just disturbing in their construct (ep. 5 in particular) where humanity is laid bare. The protagonist is not exactly endearing, as he naturally lacks humanity, making for some interesting moral/ethical points of view. Empathy isn’t the point here, it’s the pure logical construct behind pure purpose, and then the means to achieve it.

The writing is solid, the art design fantastical, and the actors representing the Endless all do an admirable job. Boyd Holbrook is a standout, but not for the right reasons. He plays the same type of character here as he has in other media. It feels like a mis-cast as his character is by far the most nuanced and beyond the actor’s range – we need to sympathize and it just doesn’t work. It is important to note that the British/American divide is clear as day in this series, a staple of Gaiman’s work. It’s anti-bombastic and intellectual…

I enjoyed it, and I think it strikes the best possible balance of translating the comics to video format. I’d be more than interested in seeing more. Now, knowing Netflix, I am expecting a note about this series being cancelled sometime next week.

Reading Fatigue

Brought on By Belghast’s comment on Blaugust.

Back in the before-times, I worked downtown. If there wasn’t snow, then there was a festival. Ribfest was one of them, and while the prices were eye-popping, the food was amazing. We’d head out and pick up a copious amount of delight, and the first day was always the best. We’d head out every day, try to hit every stall. By the last day, you’d be just overstuffed on ribs, and while it was still enjoyable, it was also a bit of a chore to get another set in the belly. And that was less than a week.

Reading is a bit like that. I really enjoy reading, truly. A fair chunk of my work relates to reading things, quickly parsing it for valued information and taking action, then reading the next thing in line. By the end of the day my mind is fatigued and I can just use a nice break. When I used to take time off work (the before-times), I’d read through 4-5 books in a week. There’s certainly a hunger there and the muscle needs exercise.

Reading blogs is a tough bit. There’s some absolutely amazing stuff out there, but it’s not consistent. A writer may have 1 glorious post a month and then some OK bits for the rest (this is normal). I use Feedly to sort through my rather substantial list of blogs, allowing me quick access and a list of previously read content. In the spring, I’d have a dozen+ articles to read through per day, and I’d honestly struggle to get through that many. Commenting is its own challenge, given that not all blogging platforms are integrated, and there isn’t often things to add to a discussion.

Blaugust compounds that 10-fold. It’s a buffet of content, but in a different context. Folks like Wilhelm have no true need for feedback during this month, but someone who is new to the community can certainly use it. With that context, commenting has an increased value, just like when you meet a new person and shake their hand (we still do that, right?). I’m horrendous for this by the way, only able to make it work in bursts. Summer in igloo-land is just so special, and time is a finite resource, making August a very internally focused month. I should still make more effort, as a few minutes from me (or you) can make a really large impact on someone trying to find their voice.

So I guess I have my own challenge to surmount in Blaugust. Let’s see how that goes…

The Marvel Issue

Comics, at their core, are serials. They are chapters of a larger story. In the golden and silver age, these chapters were usually self-contained within a given series (e.g. Fantastic 4 storyline was only in Fantastic 4 comics). This made it harder for new series to launch, as cross-overs were harder to coordinate. In the 80s this started to change, and there were large cross-over events, like the infinity saga. To understand all the bits and bobs, you needed to buy multiple comics series in a given month. Since these events were contained, it felt special.

Then the 90s, and the quest for more money. Cross-over events continued and came with an overall increase in sales. So what would any greedy person do? Make more cross-over events! Marvel was notorious for this, where it seemed impossible to read a Marvel comic without having to buy 4 other issues. And then they came up with the idea of special covers for the comics, meaning collectors had to buy 4 or more copies of the exact same issue to get all the covers.

This has multiple impacts.

  • Cross-over storylines were getting near impossible to follow, more like a giant conspiracy theory to track.
  • The storylines lacked focus/closure because the “good content” was being spread across 4+ issues a month.
  • Some of the links in storylines were made after publication. You’d pick up a comic and be confused as it referenced something that happened in a different series
  • Market saturation generated a “bubble” effect, where people bough comics for their resale value rather than their story. This made supply a challenge, and people couldn’t follow the story if their local store couldn’t stock shelves.
  • All bubbles pop. The market crashed and Marvel took the biggest hit (Atari vibes here).

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is following this same pattern, and doubling down on it.

The original Iron Man and Avengers had a clear linear structure and you knew that something else was coming. To watch a sequel, it was good to watch the first one (e.g. Iron Man 2 was better if you watched Iron Man). This all came to a head with the Avengers saga with it having links, but not dependencies, on the other films in the MCU (Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Dr Strange, Thor). Fine enough.

What happened next is the what I like to call the Disney effect, or as we know it, the quest for more money. Disney+ launched and with it the next phase of the MCU. Every piece of content released since then is directly tied to the Infinity Saga, either interstitially, or as a consequence. Wanda Vision was an amazing series (with a horrid ending), but it is also mandatory viewing to make any sense of the recent Doctor Strange film (Spider-Man 3 is more than useful too). What we have in this phase is non-stop cross over events, where superheroes in one series are impacting another.

We’re in the storyline fatigue phase, where you need a Disney+ subscription to watch an 8 hour film (cut into 8 pieces) whose sole purpose is to prologue another film, which is a prologue for yet another film. For a Disney+ series, you can stop it, go and see what’s needed first, and then get back to it. A movie though, the experience is diminished because you’re confused. When the last Infinity film came out, Wanda was good and intelligent. Why is she “crazy” in Dr Strange? What actually happened in No Way Home aside from setting up the multiverse (and a confusing link to Venom)?

There’s market saturation, similar to the “dystopian teen sci-fi” crazy of the mid 00’s. MCU is making some really poor decisions if they want this to somehow be sustainable, repeating the same mistakes Marvel made in the 90s. Hopefully they can return to independent storylines, and keep the cross-over events as special occasions.

Blaugust – Late to the Party

More info on Belghast’s site

Every year I tell myself I’ll give it a go, then I realize that it’s smack in the middle of my summer vacation plans and I do not have the ability to schedule that much for my blog. Hence why you’re seeing this NOW and not at the start of August. On a given year, I average 3 posts a week. That’s ~150 per year, and certainly more effort than a tweet. I came to the conclusion long ago that blogging is a form of mental therapy for me, so the measure of success here is less volume and more general health.

Blaugust has been around for a while now, and it’s always a pleasure to find new folks in the community. Those who are “new” to blogging often find it a struggle to find a system that works for them, and the mentors/themes of Blaugust really help folks along. While the goal is certainly a post a day, that’s a serious achievement. If you’re not on the discord server, you’re missing out.

One tip that’s less for the bloggers and more for the readers (from Bel):

Mingle with the participants of Blaugust 2022. Get out and see the blogs, read the posts, and comment frequently! These folks represent a social structure that you can lean on for advice in the coming years. I deeply value the ties I have made with other bloggers and started this process as an attempt to cement those and build new ones.

Even if you are not a blogger, the comments are always appreciated and more often than not, act as further inspiration for content.

Looking forward to it!

MHR: Sunbreak – End-Game

The game proper ends at Gaismagorm, then you reach the end-game which is mostly about boosting your MR rank to various heights to unlock new content.

  • 10 gives access to tier 1 Afflicted monsters (tougher versions)
  • 20 gives access to Wind Serpent Ibushi and 2* Afflicted monsters
  • 30 gives access to Narwa and 3* Afflicted monsters
  • 50 gives access to Furious Rajang (Always in phase 2/3) and 4* Afflicted monsters
  • 70 gives access to Valstrax
  • 100 gives access to Scorned Magnamalo (permanent enrage)

Increasing MR comes from completing any quest, and getting to MR30 is fairly easy. Past that, it can feel grindy, which is an issue for 2 reasons. I’m at 39 now.

First, you’re likely to be fully kitted out on your gear by this point due to “ease” of drops. A decent talisman from base Rise is going to be fine in Sunbreak, same with decorations. 4 slot decoration slots are not common, and the actual decorations aren’t terribly interesting (except for perhaps Bow/LBG/HBG). If you are hunting for mats, odds are it’s to kit out a different weapon set.

Second, the optimal path for increasing MR depends on if you are in multiplayer or solo. Multiplayer has a single quest that dumps trucks of experience for low risk. Single player, you’ve got a few options but if you need to meld, it’ll probably mean farming Gaismagorm with a LBG.

Afflicted Monsters

This is a bit like Apex monsters from the base game. The monsters hit nearly twice as hard, and have a new debuff (Bloodblight) which is a permanent DoT and vampire effect, rewarding aggressive gameplay. You can’t capture them, which adds some difficulty. There’s a shared drop pool across various types (fur, claws, etc..) that are used to craft rank 10 weapons. Breaking parts gives higher chance of collecting these items… and you want them.

Once you’ve got your items, not much reason to take on the difficulty these monsters pose. Maybe if they had a better increase in MR rank to compensate…

Follower Quests

For solo players, this is likely the best way to farm materials. Each monsters has a quest where you can bring followers along, who will heal/tank/damage the monster. Extremely effective for non-countering weapons. It helps that the AI is quite strong here.

This mode is like the total opposite of Rampages from Rise. Rampages were painful solo, and with some Apex monsters, a stupidly high difficulty curve. Follower quests give you multiplayer benefits (NPCs + their palicos) and some added randomness on the battles. If they could get the AI to man turrets, then maybe Rampages would make sense. An interesting experiment, that’s for sure!

Ibushi + Narwa

Isbushi is quite similar to his presence in Rise, with a couple more air moves. You only fight him, and in the smaller cavern. Nothing terribly complex.

Narwa though… holy heck. The first half of the fight (until the ridable monster shows up) is not terribly hard. Past that point, Narwa goes HAM and spams massive AE attacks. I would recommend that everyone enter here with 20+ lightning resistance, as it’s very simple to get carted on a double attack. It’s one of a few fights in Sunbreak where you always want to have a Wirebug ready to use. Where Rise could have you farm Narwa for talisman materials, it is absolutely not recommended here.

End Goal

Content drop 1 is due sometime in August. It will be interesting to see what comes in that in terms of balance/QoL changes. Aside from that, I don’t see much reason to move past MR50 right now. Maybe I can add a challenge to add another weapon type – Dual Blade elemental seems quite interesting.

I will point that this is still hours and hours of content, and way better than most games are able to release. Would be curious as to how this does compare to where Dauntless is now (also on Switch). Still highly recommended.

MHR:Sunbreak – Campaign Complete

Meaning I’m MR6 with a new cap of MR10.

Monster Hunter games have never been strong on the story front, simply hand waving to present a new set of monsters. You get progressively more difficult monsters and then end up against a mini-mountain to close it off. Narwa was the pinnacle in Rise, and Giasmagorm in Sunbreak. Completing that monster runs the credits and the “end game” begins.

The monster variety in Sunbreak is lesser than I had hoped. You will see every monster but Narwa and Ibushi during the campagin, with a new moveset. There’s a minor increment in challenge here. There are new subvariants, like Aurora Somnacanth (ice), which adds some spice I suppose. The “new” monsters are generally twists of existing types.

  • Hemitaur and Ceanataur are crabs. I don’t understand why there are 2 crabs. They are the first monsters you reach, which makes them easy fodder.
  • Gore Magala and Shagaru Magala are dragon-cats, in the same form as Barioth and Tigrex. They look amazing, but have near identical movesets.
  • Garangolm is a stone monkey. It develops elemental attacks on its fists when enraged. I rather like this one.
  • Lunagaron is an ice wolf. I expected his attacks to be faster.
  • Astalos is an electric drake. This guy is insanely annoying due to the constant stuns and very fast attacks. Fun in a masochistic way.
  • Seregios is a ninja drake. Seriously. He moves constantly and ninja kicks you around. Probably my favorite new monster.
  • Malzeno is a blood dragon. This guy is a fun challenge. He inflicts a blight that causes a DoT that is only countered by attacking him. Has a very large moveset that doesn’t allow safe spaces. The “pure dragon” fights in MH are always impressive.
  • Giasmagorm is the big boss that takes up a large platform. You have less room here than with Narwa, making ranged attacks extremely challenging. It feels like constant explosions everywhere, and some bad RNG can kill you outright. I have yet to figure out how to counter any of his attacks consistently.

There’s only one with a new signature move (Malzeno), which feels like a lost opportunity given the variety of options present here. That said, MH is famous for it’s constant updates and monster additions, so I’m not exactly terribly worried. We’re certainly going to see some death-dealing monsters soon enough.

I will say that the quest variety is a weird one after MR6. There are always some solo fights to tackle (more on this), but there are more group fights than I expected. 3 or 4 monsters are very common. The good news here is that these monsters all have less HP, as the total monster HP for a quest is softcapped. A quest with 3 monsters will have each monster at about 33% total HP as a result. This is less good in a larger map as you can’t capture monsters as easily (I end up killing them accidentally), but very good for arena quests as you can mount monsters in a quick chain for a ridiculous amount of damage.

The solo fights are a weird one. Sure, you want to run them to get the quest done, and potentially unlock something new. But given that every (it seems) monster has a follower quest as well, you are way better off going that route. Having 2 or more NPCs follow you into battle is a huge benefit that doesn’t need explanation.

One additional quirk present here that was also present in Rise is that the end game cycle is self-driven. You may chase some material for a decoration or two, but 3 runs of a monster is usually enough to craft any armor/weapon you want. The RNG is limited to Talismans, which while useful, are not as game breaking as weapons/armor. Raising your MR therefore is a question of wanting to craft as much stuff as possible, rather than much in terms of power increment.

Next step is to get to MR10 for the August content patch. I’m 3 pieces shy of the gear I want, which should mean 1 more Teostra run, and then a couple of Giasmagorm. Let’s see how that goes.

Stranger Things 4 – Eps 8 +9

Good but too long. Some spoilers.

I had mentioned in my The Boys review that it’s important to treat each episode like it has value. Stranger Things has become a good example, with Episode 8 being 90 minutes and Episode 9 being 150 minutes of plenty of filler. We’re not in Dragon Ball Z territory here, but man…

Now, when the stuff actually happens, it’s as good as any 80s horror homage can be. There are plenty of great scenes to pick from, with Eddie’s guitar shredding masterpiece being a true standout. It just takes forever to get to these pieces, with dialogue that should have happened miles ago.

Episode 8 is called Papa, and well, it deals with the guy that has no empathy. It takes 90 minutes to reach a point of catharsis, and El’s helicopter attack/scream is impressive to behold. MBB is an impressive actress, though that’s mostly when she isn’t talking. But after 4 episodes of being in this mess, it reminds me too much of Lost’s season 3, where there was a writer’s strike and everyone was stuck in a cage for half the season.

Episode 9 was the final attack on Vecna. You know that horrible 80s horror trend where you would should at the TV “don’t go in there / do that” ? This episode is full of such moments, things that stand in stark contrast to the rest of the series. The total lack of urgency in anything here (except Eddie + Dustin) is infuriating. I won’t spoil much here, but the horror sports jock is there to stall for 10 minutes while having done nothing for hours, and then just gets wiped off screen. Sadie Sink (Max) still stands out here above all the others, in being able to convey actual emotion and character progress.

After an entire season, Mike had 3 minutes, Will spends the entire season afraid to say that he’s gay, Lucas finds out that being popular isn’t worth it, Hopper’s storyline didn’t go anywhere (but I will give a hand to Murray’s arc), Jonathan has a 2 minute scene, and Steve… well Steve is still the most interesting bro-dad on TV today.

Vecna, while a very interesting character, is a weird one as all the prior seasons had rather human antagonists, with a shadowy upside down as a threat. He’s impressively well acted, but spends an inordinate amount of time explaining things and gloating, just like a James Bond villain. That he still wins, feels kinda good in that regard, as it turns the tropes on their head.

This season had some standout moments, but it simply took way too long to get to them. Tighter scripts and better editing would have helped a ton to get a meaningful story across. 9 episodes, and 14 hours of content needs some work. Maybe we’ll see a fan edit of all this so that it comes down to a more respectable 45 minutes per episode (or less).

Season 5 is an interesting prospect. It’s clearly the end game of the larger arc. My guess says we’re going to fall into Stephen King honors next, with Hawkins turning into a replica of Derry, Maine. The whole multi-dimensional bit was explored at length, and The Dark Tower could use an on-screen analogy.

Stranger Things 4 is still a decent watch, and it won’t get cancelled by Netflix until it’s all wrapped up. And, there really isn’t much else out there that’s comparable. Backhanded praise, I know. It has so much good stuff in it, just a shame you have to get through the muck to get to it.

MH Rise – Sunbreak – Early Impressions

I had played a significant chunk of Monster Hunter Rise when it launched – it was the reason for buying a Switch actually. I covered a few months of content, up to Valstrax near the end of May. I stopped playing when the power curve started to tip sideways (and that farming Lazurite gems was pretty easy). I stand by my prior assessment, that Rise is a further simplification of World, to various degrees of success. The skill floor dropped significantly, while the addition of the wirebug dramatically increased the skill ceiling.

Sunbreak therefore compared to World’s Iceborne expansion, which added new climates, new monsters, and some skill rebalancing. At the early stages, Iceborne is more favorable, as the “new” is upfront, and the prior monsters take a backseat to a slew of new ones. For Sunbreak

  • There are 2 new environments. A smaller jungle map (fun, tight design) and a castle ruins map (slightly too large for my tastes, could have been 2 maps).
  • The first few hours are battles against existing or reskinned monsters. Garangolm is a much weaker version of Rajang. Lunagaroth is an interesting ice-wolf. The existing monsters all get new skill sets, which is nice to see given that the new patterns are important.
  • The new hub environment is a nice addition, where the measure between the item box, quest giver, and dango (food) is still only a few seconds.
  • Each weapon has a new set of silkbind moves, where most of them act as counters to attacks rather than additional attacks. This re-enforces Rise’s push for less aggressive playstyles, and allowing for a lower skill floor (aka “easier”).
  • There’s now the ability to swap silkbind moves while in battle, which opens up some tremendous situational agility. Some skilbinds are “builders” while others are “spenders”, and you used to have to choose between them for a total fight. Now you can have both, which for some weapons is a complete game changer. Skill ceiling just went up.
  • There are now follower missions, where up to 2 NPCs follow you in battle for specific solo-only fights. This dramatically speeds up farming runs. I should point the AI for these NPCs is really solid. They use traps and move strategically to lure monsters into them. Consider this another skill floor drop.
  • The difficulty curve at the start of the expansion is significant, as the practically “free” armor they hand out is 20%-100% better than what most hunters will have on hand. If you’re not using MR-rank armor, you’re likely to die in 2-3 hits. MR-rank weapons are even larger power increments.
  • Customization of Palico/Palamute are now present. You can swap skills, target specific builds, and increase the # of slots for skills. Prior to this, it was a slot machine RNG to get the “perfect roll”, which could only be done once after each fight. This is a huge QoL change, and allows for more testing of skills, given you don’t need to invest 50 levels of experience to see if it fits a build.
  • Weapons were rebalanced a bit, so that there’s slightly more parity between choices. If folks thought Longsword was OP, they didn’t try Heavy Bowgun. That felt like an automated sniper rifle. There’s now more drift between shots, slicing ammo and blast ammo took a damage hit.
  • Oh, Rampages are gone. I think that was an interesting experiment (tower defense of sorts) that had some good ideas but suffered from implementation challenges. It was a mode that only really worked in multiplayer, and then required a ton of coordination to rightly pull off.

I’ve yet to unlock Malzano, the titular monster for this expansion. I think I have 1 more rank to go. From what I’ve seen so far, this is a quality expansion that has a tight focus on quality of life changes rather than huge content updates. Then again, the MH model is monthly content updates which keeps you going for a long time. It’ll keep me entertained for a while still I am sure.

The Boys – Season 3

Well this was another level.

First, an important tangent. The Boys had a weekly episode launch, which means you need to wait if you want to binge. The positive side effect here is that you have more time to digest each episode, and each one therefore has more impact. The standout portion here is that this highlights episodes that are pure filler. The Boys has no filler, each episode is full of content. This is a high contrast to nearly everything on Netflix and most of Disney+(MCU in particular). This is not an 8 hour movie, which is refreshing to a point I forgot what it felt like.

The season itself is interesting for a multitude of reasons. The parallels to the Trump era of US politics is extremely pointed in its insanity. The fact that Soldier Boy is somehow worse than Homelander and Stormlight is impressive. The special effects and gore make some of the scenes stand out something fierce. Episode 6 in particular is a standout in “WTF did I just see?”. And cap this off with ridiculously strong performances by Karl Urban (Butcher) and Antony Starr (Homelander), give each scene a tremendous amount of nuance. Finally, the writing/pace of the storyline feels hectic, and time just seems to fly by in each episode.

The “scorched earth” approach here is certainly an interesting twist to the typical storyline, where there’s a much larger highlight that all superheros are essentially flawed humans without consequences. There’s a flaw in the MCU space where heroes are somehow idealistic, where in reality if there were no consequences for actions, then what’s really going to motivate people to be socially “good”?

I don’t want to spoil the storyline, as there are some interesting twists and turns that hit quite well. I will say that the Maeve storyline finally comes to a close, where it was clear that the team didn’t know what to do with her.

I can see where Season 4 would go, and ideally this will close out the larger chapter of the story. There’s a ticking clock on how this can keep going, but at the same time, The Boys is what the future of streaming should be.

I’m still digesting what I watched, and recommend that folks don’t binge the series, but take some time between episodes to find some sanity. Still trying to figure out what I just watched… and strongly recommend you do the same!