Friday, July 31, 2015

Dungeons and Dragons: Druev in the Underdark

Smoke rose from a bowl of flaming incense and slowly coalesced into the image of a stone building decorated with a red awning. Druev Myslavi, the dark-skinned Human who had been sitting by the bowl muttering incantations for the last ten minutes, snatched a sheet of paper from the journal of one of his companions and dutifully sketched the building with a charcoal pencil. When he was done, he took a bite of a magically-enhanced Goodberry, the only nourishment he'd need for the whole day, and used some of the juice to provide some color to his drawing.

Druev had been lighting these morning fires since the day he became a Druid in the grasslands of his home, but not until now, when he reached level 7, did he receive a clear omen from the use of Divination. Maybe it was the particular mix of incense he used this morning: Druev had used most of the contents of his herbalism kit after the first couple of weeks in the Underdark, so he had supplemented it with roots from the ancient Dwarven ruins, plants from the Deep Gnome city of Sjungasten, and fungus from the Myconid kingdom. Today's development reassured him that he hadn't been lugging the kit around for nothing.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Druev addressed the party in his deep thickly accented voice. "I have asked the old gods for help in finding the tailor shop that manufactured the fabric used to make the red glove that was found at the scene of the crime..."

Druev paused for a breath; that was a lot of exposition for one sentence. A high tremulous voice emerged from what would appear to be an empty crate resting peacefully on the ground, but which was really Thrick, Deep Gnome Illusionist: "Yes, the theft of the Ruby Arcanabula."

"We all know what crime we're investigating, Thrick," piped in the irritated voice of Lady Elizabeth Black, Human War Cleric of the Red Knight. "Let Druev finish."

"I have divined that the shop looks a little something like this," Druev finished, brandishing his drawing.

"Excellent!" exclaimed Lonovan Geshaught, the Halfling archer, who currently looked more like a deep gnome, thanks to the disguise kit he had just finished applying. "Score one for nature magic." (He was part Ranger after all.)

"Now, if we're done with all this chanting and arm waving, let's get going," grunted Urgen, the hulking Half-Orc warchief as he slung Sunbrand, his greatsword, across his back.

"Of course," agreed the perfumed High Elf thief Lady Althea Glanandell, hopping nimbly to her feet. "Now it's just a simple matter of marching into the foreign quarter of Erath Belan and finding this building amongs thousands."

Erath Belan: the city of the Drow. It was here that Druev and his companions started their journey through the Underdark, having been enslaved by the wicked Dark Elves and forced to fight in their gladiator pit for sport. Well, that's how it started for Druev and his three taller companions: they met the two shorter ones after their daring escape. Now they were returning as part of a mission that would hopefully end with their safe return to the surface world.

Monday, July 27, 2015

If the Season Ended Today: All-Star Break 2015 - Division Series

I pose to you a two-part hypothetical situation. 1) What if today was the first day of the All-Star Break. 2) What if the season ended today. If both of those statements are true, this is what the first ALDS matchup would look like. The second matchup would be dependent on the winner of one of the similarly hypothetical Wild Card rounds.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

If the Season Ended Today: All-Star Break 2015 - Wild Card Round

When the All-Star Break comes around, all of my baseball attention (and most of my life attention) is spent on updating the massive Excel spreadsheet that tracks the roster status and fantasy progess of every player in the major leagues. The existence of this database gives the lie to a piece of advice from The Dark Knight Joker: If you're good at something, never do it for free. Problem is, I don't have any time to find someone to pay for the creation of such a database - because I've spent all my time on creating the database itself.

But that's fine, because creating the database is a complete labor of love, what some would probably describe as flow activity, whatever that means. It's also something I do pretty compulsively, so I try to find ways to spread it out, timewise, to prevent overflow of influx of information. One such way is to whittle the database down into a manageable size, e.g. a playoff bracket constructed as if the season ended today - although rather than today, I'll use the All-Star Break.

First is the Wild Card round in the NL, cuz it's the closest contest - not between the two participants, but rather between the contestants for the second wild card spot. As of the All-Star Break, the Chicago Cubs just beat out the New York Mets by mere percentage points for the right to face the Pittsburgh Pirates. Below is an infographic featuring a selection from my database showing projected lineups of each team, along with all the copious information contained for each player.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight Movie Cast, Part 1

"This is how it happened. This is how the batman died."

These are the iconic words that comprise the first and last lines of the script to the popular video game Batman: Arkham Knight. In said game, the words are spoken by Jonathan Banks (a memorable alum of Breaking Bad), portraying Commissioner Gordon, one of Batman's oldest friends. With all due respect to Mr. Banks's emotionally evocative performance in the game, he wouldn't be my first choice to cast as Gordon if in some bizarre, twisted, impossible alternate universe, there were ever a movie version of Batman: Arkham Knight (perhaps produced by, say, Warner Bros. at some point in the near future). That honor I would bestow on fellow Breaking Bad alum, Bryan Cranston. He's already done a damn fine job voicing Gordon in the Batman: Year One animated feature, which I think has earned him the right to give the role physicality as well. Plus I think he could nail the combination of righteousness and anger that makes the commissioner such an effective character.

Come to think of it, with all due respect to the way Rocksteady Studios chose to start their game, I would begin the movie version a bit differently. I love starting in medias res for a game, where you want the player-controlled action to start as soon as possible, but for a film version catered to people who haven't necessarily played all the games leading up to this one, it would be nice to expand the cold open to include some backstory - after those iconic first lines, of course. And the ones that follow:
Just put some gray in that hair and we're good to go.
Nine months ago, Joker was cremated. I pressed the button and burnt the evil bastard myself. And then... we waited. Gotham braced itself for the inevitable power struggle. But it didn't come: crime actually fell.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight, Part 11 - Knightfall Protocol


Part 10: A Very Arkham Conclusion

If I'm going to continue my story, there's no way to get around this spoiler bomb: despite my best efforts to stop him, Scarecrow completed his master plan - revealing my secret identity as Bruce Wayne for all the world to see - but it didn't have the effect he desired. For some reason, Crane thought it would break my spirit to be publicly unmasked, but it was quite the opposite, and (with a little help from my friends) I was able to best my foe once more. I was a little nervous to take him and Gordon back to the GCPD helipad in the Batwing, now that everyone knew who I was under the mask. But good ol' Aaron Cash immediately put my mind at ease with the line of the night: "So, Bruce Wayne, huh? If it's all the same to you, I'll stick to Batman." I mean, this is a line around which you could build a major motion picture. I'm thinking Samuel L. Jackson as Cash...

But the unwavering support of Gotham's police force notwithstanding, I knew that things couldn't go on as usual now that the Bat was out of the bag. One thing was clear: this would be Batman's last night. But thanks to the terror Scarecrow had unleashed upon Gotham, there was still a lot to be done before sunrise. The first priority was rescuing Catwoman from the Riddler's clutches. Nigma had somehow acquired the vast disused sewer system underneath Gotham and had spent countless hours and dollars transforming the tunnels into various deathtraps for the Batmobile (both of the obstacle race and logic puzzle variety). These challenges alternated with in-person tasks that Selina and I had to complete together at the Orphanage. After enough of these, Riddler did release his prisoner from her explosive collar, but then attacked us in an Aliens-style mech suit! However he refused to stay put for the final battle until I had solved all 243 of the riddles he had placed around Gotham.

But there was no time for a wild goose chase at the moment, as other, more dangerous super criminals were still causing trouble. The streets were veritably littered with Penguin's gunrunners, so I enlisted Nightwing's help once to track them all back to their home bases, beat up the guards, and destroy the weapons caches within. What's more, Two-Face's crew was using those guns to perform a series of daring bank heists, which I was of course able to stop single-handedly. (He didn't even have a rocket launcher this time, if Catwoman's story from Arkham City can be believed.) I even uncovered a shocking conspiracy, where the chief of Gotham's fire department, Ray Underhill, had been working with serial arsonist Firefly, giving him the means to start fires to ensure his department wouldn't be purged by fiscal cutbacks. The storyline was a bit too political for my tastes, so I locked up the chief along with the other bad guys.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed in the resolution of the Man-Bat saga. His reveal was perfect, and it was fun discovering that he was actually Dr. Kirk Langstrom and synthesizing an antidote through an amusing minigame. But any interaction with my dark inversion always calls to mind "On Leather Wings," the pilot of the seminal Batman: The Animated Series, where I hooked my grapnel gun to Man-Bat's leg and he dragged me through the skies over Gotham. I was all set to re-create that sequence, with Simon Stagg's airships standing in for the iconic police blimps, but sadly all that was required was to locate him, tackle him out of the sky, and administer a double dose of antidote. I was also dismayed to find that during his transformation, Kirk had killed his wife Francine: now how is she going to become She-Bat later on?

However, I wasn't disappointed in the satisfaction I took from destroying the various Militia roadblocks and sentry towers throughout the city, thanks to the fact that my old nemesis Deathstroke had taken over command after the Arkham Knight's defeat. These provided a challenging yet minimally stressful mix of traditional combat and predator challenges with significantly higher stakes than AR training missions. At this point I didn't even mind facing the endless army of drones that attacked whenever I tried to diffuse a bomb in the streets. These battles ceased to frustrate me when I recalled a line from The Simpsons where the Commandant of Bart and Lisa's military school describes the future of warfare to his graduating class: "most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today, remember always your duty is clear: to build and maintain those robots." At least Deathstroke was actually driving his own dumb tank, so I could punch his face after our battle was finished.

With all the major threats eliminated, there was nothing left to do but scour the city for Edward Nigma's infuriating trophies. I must admit, I had to resort to the Internet to find many of these, as I couldn't help running over some of the Riddler informants with the Batmobile - who would have divulged their locations if interrogated - but luckily Alfred is familiar with IGN. During the final battle with Nigma, all he could think to do was throw an army of Riddler bots at me, some of which I couldn't attack without receiving an electric shock. But luckily Catwoman showed up just in the nick of time and had no trouble getting past their defenses. After extracting Riddler from his mech, punching his lights out, and depositing him in the Batmobile, Selina and I shared a pash {that's Australian slang for "passionate kiss," btw}, I took Nigma back to the holding cells at the GCPD, and it was time to activate the Knightfall protocol.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight, Part 10 - A Very Arkham Conclusion


After my exciting confrontation with the Arkham Knight, in which he revealed to me his secret identity {the details of which are hidden behind a "Read More" link in the previous post}, I returned to finally free Commissioner Gordon from his bonds. It seems he had actually managed to track Scarecrow to this abandoned shopping center before being used as bait for the Arkham Knight's trap, and we were fully prepared to ride the elevator up to the roof and finish this. Well, it turns out Jim wasn't prepared, at least not for the giant haymaker that leveled him, courtesy of a militia brute who came rushing out of the elevator as soon as the doors opened. After I cleared the room, we had a moving, spoiler-ridden conversation on the elevator ride up, where we did in fact find Scarecrow waiting for us. He was alone and not looking very prepared to face me one-on-one - could the unforeseen defeat of the Arkham Knight have actually ruined his plans and left him unprotected enough for a satisfying beatdown? But then, shockingly, Gordon turned his gun on me.

While I had certainly defeated the Arkham Knight, it was not he who set the trap, but Scarecrow himself! He had somehow gotten to the Commissioner and convinced him to lead me here for the purpose of some dramatic betrayal. But why? And also how could he have gotten Gordon to his side...? And then I saw the reason: Barbara Gordon, bound and gagged and wheeled out by armed militia soldiers in perfect cover formation. So Oracle was alive!? I have to tell you, even after I saw her pull that trigger, deep down I had a feeling it could have just been the fear toxin talking. But her being alive meant Scarecrow had leverage against Gordon. And when Crane threatened her life, Jim turned and shot me right in the chest. That's right, a perfect hit directly on the Bat-Symbol, where my armor is the strongest. I played my part and tumbled off the edge of the scaffolding.

I heard from my hidden vantage point that Scarecrow didn't plan on upholding his end of the deal, as he edged Barbara further and further towards the edge... and finally off! It's a good thing I was using detective mode to monitor everything going on upstairs, because it allowed me to perfectly time my dive off the building to catch Oracle mid-fall and use my cape to gently glide her to the ground. Well, hard enough to bruise a couple of ribs, but significantly more gently than if she had just free-fallen. Come to think of it, this was eerily similar to how I saved district attorney Rachel Dawes when the Joker threw her off a building in The Dark Knight - but it worked so well then, why not once more? I guess Scarecrow saw my daring heroic feat, because he sent in a squadron of tanks to the bottom of the building to finish us off. And here I was with the Batmobile crushed to pieces at the bottom of a giant excavation ditch.

Here's where the limitations of the current generation of gaming consoles get in the way of telling the most interesting version of the story as I imagined it happening (granted, I was still pretty hepped up on fear toxin at the time). It's not that Lucius Fox wouldn't have had a spare Batmobile ready had I required it. But I also had access to a state of the art fighter jet, and quite frankly I was sick of dealing with these tanks on their own level. So I remotely called in the Batwing to lay down some suppressing fire and pick up Oracle and me. As we were on the way back to the GCPD, where I was going to set Barbara up on their computer systems, Scarecrow broadcast a chilling message stating that the precinct was already under attack by a drone army far surpassing any I had faced before! Maneuvering a plane through the steel canyons of the city while also targeting enemy drones and avoiding anti-aircraft fire was no easy task, but it was definitely more satisfying than getting back in that stupid Batmobile for another endless Battle Mode challenge. {Rumor has it that the developers were working on building a Batwing combat level in the same vein of Star Fox 64, but didn't have time to complete it prior to the game's release.}

After depositing Oracle on the rooftop helipad at the GCPD, I received another chilling message: Scarecrow had used Commissioner Gordon's voice to activate the secret entrance to the quarantine cells at Panessa Studios and kidnapped Robin from where I had locked him up earlier. I guess that little voice that usually tells me stuff like, it's a bad idea to leave your crimefighting partner alone and vulnerable on a night like this, must have been drowned out by the insane Joker ramblings that permeated my psyche. Scarecrow threatened to kill my two greatest allies unless I agreed to surrender myself to him unconditionally and submit to whatever ordeal the villain had planned. I didn't see any other choice, so I traveled to the appointed place, removed my utility belt, and stepped into the back of the truck he had waiting. The journey there was riddled with fear toxin-induced nightmares, where the truck crashed in Crime Alley and I had to battle an infinite number of Jokers that wouldn't stop until I gave in and broke my one rule, snapping my arch enemy's neck in rage. But of course that was only a dream, and the real-life truck continued to its destination, which will be revealed in the "Read More" link...

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight, Part 9 - A Spoiled Knight Unmasked


Part 8 - Drones in the City of Fear

Have you ever had to sneeze really badly? Your nose quivers, your eyes squint, you take short breaths in anticipation of that moment of sweet sinus relief... and then it's gone. Your head reels from the pressure, but more than that, you're disappointed in yourself for not following through on the payoff after such a satisfying and agonizing build. That's how it felt when I heroically swooped in, grabbed the Arkham Knight from his dumb tank that I had just defeated, and prepared to punch him in that flashy LCD-screen face of his. But then wouldn't ya know it, the fear toxin takes hold again and the Arkham Knight's mask becomes Joker's face (just like it did for Mr. Freeze when I tried to punch him in Arkham City), which gave me the idea that maybe this isn't a guy we want to be punching. Victor Fries did help me in the end after all, for without his cure I likely would have died from Joker's infected blood not long after Joker did.

But by the time all this went through my mind, the Arkham Knight had gone. Vanished. Escaped using some trick of the night that only I could have known... Then all of a sudden a message from Poison Ivy, using the bat-facetime device. Her trees were in trouble! She needed a jolt of electricity from the Batmobile's power winch to give her enough energy to produce the spores to counter Scarecrow's fear toxin {or at least that's how it would have happened if I wrote it}. I drove over there as fast as possible and hooker her up with the best mobile energy source that the Wayne Enterprises Applied Sciences division was able to create. Finally with our combined efforts, the gas was starting to recede. It took everything that Ivy had left to complete the molecular transformation, and when she staggered out of the trunk of her gnarled tree, she wafted away like dry leaves off an autumn branch. She was gone, but her sacrifice saved the city she so often terrorized. Based on Pamela Isley's psych profile, I don't doubt she would have turned on me soon after the city was safe, but now we'll never know if she truly turned over a new leaf... #NatureAlwaysWins #BatmanAlwaysPuns

What's that, Alfred? A message coming through on the police SWAT radio channel? But all the SWAT teams left during the evacuation! Turns out it's coming from Commissioner Gordon's police radio, and that he has somehow tracked Scarecrow himself to an abandoned shopping center on the other side of town. It sounded like a trap to me, but what other choice did I have but to follw? When I arrived at the mall in the Batmobile, it turns out the militia had indeed captured Gordon, and as soon as I approached, they sent him down an elevator deep underground. A scan of the area showed a labyrinthine network of freshly excavated tunnels, so I had the bright idea to take the Batmobile down there. In order to do so, I had to attach the power winch to a stable point and gently lower the car down the wall, which is a little bit like rapelling (or abseiling?) down the side of a building in a tank.

But it was a good thing I brought the car, because who should show up to spring the trap but the Arkham Knight, again in a gigantic obnoxious vehicle, against which I had no chance of survival. I tried my best to drive like crazy in order to lure him through obstacles, into traps, and within range of the explosives that had been set for the excavation, which did do some damage to his excavator. But in the end he cornered me and confirmed that he was the one who told Scarecrow about Barbara's identity. It was pretty clear now that the Arkham Knight was not a career criminal, but rather someone with knowledge of my darkest secrets. But before I had time to puzzle about something similar Scarecrow had said about my darkest secrets in the airship, the Knight's excavator surged forward and I just barely had time to eject myself free before my trademark ride was crushed to pieces. At first I was sad, but only until I realized that this joyous turn of events meant no more drone combats or obstacle racing challenges!

However, it also meant that the Arkham Knight had easily bested me in a battle of resources, which made him assume that he could best me in a battle of wits as well. He allowed me to get close to rescuing Commissioner Gordon before cornering me once again (this time with a simple handgun) and making a classic supervillain mistake: revealing their grand plans and goals right when they think they've won. In the Arkham Knight's case, this included his secret identity. Now in deference to the sheer magnitude of this plot point (and the opportunity to tell you whether my initial guess was correct), I'm hiding the rest of this post behind a Read More link. So if you don't care about being #SpoilerFree, please click the link and continue...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight, Part 8 - Drones in the City of Fear

It's a good thing I was on top of that rooftop defending Ivy's plant against militia forces when Scarecrow detonated the Cloudburst device, dispersing his fear toxin throughout every corner of Gotham City. Police officers, militia soldiers, super-villain henchmen, random thugs: none were spared from the grip of abject terror that did in fact make last night's demonstration at the diner look like child's play. Another reason why it was lucky that I wasn't on the streets during the blast was because the toxin cloud short-circuited the Batmobile, and it would not have been fun to be stuck inside a non-operational car while surrounded by people bent on tearing each other apart.

Finding a way to fix my ride was top priority, because I was sure to need the Batmobile's firepower to destroy the Cloudburst, wherever it was, since while that thing was operational, the gas cloud was too strong for Ivy's plants to disperse. However it became even more urgent since I received word that the Arkham Knight was sending a squadron of drones to take out Ivy's plant, which wouldn't be able to withstand concentrated heavy artillery fire for long. But the fact that the tanks could operate inside the gas cloud meant that the same could be true for the Batmobile. And I figured that my best chance of finding out how to make that happen was from the inventor of the Cloudburst, Simon Stagg.

Stagg was still on board his airship, but he had apparently regained consciousness, freed himself from his quarantine cell, and hidden somewhere out of reach of the armed militia soldiers who were searching for him. It was a simple matter of clearing the room and using his fingerprint reconstruction that I had on file to track Stagg to a Han Solo-esque compartment in the floor. He informed me that the Arkham Knight's tanks were using something called "Nimbus Cells" to operate within the Cloudburst's radius, and he was kind enough to gift me one from his personal supply. The only problem was that I had to physically insert the cell into the Batmobile, which would mean exposing myself to more of Scarecrow's toxin.

Normally I wouldn't be troubled by this proposition: back at the Asylum, I took three doses of Scarecrow's gas, plus two direct injections, all in a single night. But this time I was contaminated with Joker's blood, which meant his twisted persona was just waiting for a chance to take control of my entire psyche. It was slow and careful going to get the Batmobile in working condition again while also fending off crazed Scarecrow thugs, but the satisfying roar of the engine once I completed the task was more than enough of a reward for my steady hand. Now it was time to head back to Divinity Churchyard where the Arkham Knight was mounting his drone attack.

The group of at least 40 drones I encountered was easily the largest and most varied group I had seen so far. Of course you had mostly "Rattlers," the standard tank with a single cannon, but these were now supplemented by "Twin Rattlers," which had a  second cannon pointing in the same direction. I also saw plenty of heavily-armored "Diamondbacks," which not only required two shots from my 60mm cannon destroy, but they also had the ability to fire three cannon blasts at once, spread out in a 45-degree angle. But the most dangerous type of tank was referred to as the "Mama" (departing from the snake theme), which boasted a mounted homing missile launcher. There were also flying mortar-launching "Dragons," and at one point they airlifted in a long range missile launcher, which could launch homing missiles and ground cannons simultaneously. Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me.

The only advantage I had over the drone army (aside from my dashing good looks) was that the advanced computer systems on the Batmobile allowed me to move and fire at the same time, whereas the Arkham Knight's drone forces were limited to doing one or the other at any given point. Also, my heads-up display was able to show me the trajectory of incoming cannon blasts, which showed up red if I was in the line of fire or blue if I was in the clear. I still have nightmares about those intersecting red and blue lines endlessly flitting across my field of vision. It also helped to have Poison Ivy on my side, who would periodically cause savage vines to burst through the ground to destroy a tank or three. Without her help, I don't think even the Batmobile would have stood a chance against such odds.

But believe it or not, even after such an epic battle, I wasn't in the clear yet. Upon receiving news of my victory, the Arkham Knight dispatched a group of his newest, biggest "Cobra" tanks to patrol the area and eradicate me once and for all. These things were so well-armored that the only strategy I could employ was to follow them around like a facebook stalker long enough for my targeting computer to acquire a lock onto the main exhaust port in the back, after which one well-placed shot would destroy them. And to make matters worse, the Arkham Knight himself decided to join the fray in his very large, very fast very NON-drone tank. While its unique 360-degree constantly-spinning sensor tower made it a bitch to avoid, its presence on the battlefield was actually a blessing in disguise, because attached to the front of the tank was the Cloudburst!

It took me a while to eliminate all the patrolling Cobras, and even longer to scan the Arkham Knight's tank to identify a weakness without being detected, and even knowing the vehicle's schematics, it was still a harrowing ordeal. The main gun was fed by four distinct power supplies, all of which I had to disable before I could start taking shots at the Cloudburst. But even after completing stage 1 of my plan, the tank had enough secondary firepower that the only way to stay alive was to take a shot in tank mode, quickly transform into car mode, and then run like hell to escape the surprisingly fast pursuit. But after a seemingly endless battle, I finally disabled both the tank and the cloudburst, then heroically rescued the Arkham Knight before the resulting explosion. I can't tell you how much I was relishing some alone time with my newest enemy...

Part 9: A Spoiled Knight Unmasked