Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Batman: Arkham Knight, Let's Play #5 - The Penguin


UPDATE: While the video has been updated, none of the commentary below (from 2016) has! Please consider this a re-post!



With this episode, we are one-third of the way through my interpretation of the Arkham Knight story mode. Enjoy this milestone!


As you know, I've named every episode in this series after a character (a villain most of the time) who plays a significant part in that episode. However, that shouldn't take away from the fact that the main plot of all the episodes centers on the overarching criminal scheme of Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. For instance, we don't get a scene with this episode's title character the Penguin until Act 3 (which was also the case with last week's villain). Act 1 consists of continuing our effort to rescue Oracle by chasing after the Arkham Knight - a chase that includes another ambush by the game's title character and culminates in a truly harrowing interrogation sequence - and Act 2 primarily showcases the abilities of our newest gadget (and quite possibly the best one in the game), the Disruptor.

In fact, the vast majority of this episode follows the structure of the game directly, so there aren't even any editing changes I made to the story that I can explain in a behind-the-scenes manner. The lone piece of personal content in the episode is a brief montage showcasing some of the particular skills that would make Batman an asset on the baseball diamond - namely his ability to swing the bat (i.e. use melee weapons stolen from enemies), run the bases (you can execute a feet-first slide by tapping the "crouch" button while running), and play the field (the principles behind throwing a batarang are very similar to throwing a baseball... I would know, I've done both).

But of course we do meet not one but TWO new characters in this episode, which means I get to posit two casting choices for my hypothetical live-action version of Arkham Knight. The first is Nightwing, Batman's very first sidekick, who had given up the Robin identity and moved from Gotham to Bl├╝dhaven at some point before the events of the Arkham series. But when Nightwing returns to Gotham for Arkham Knight, I would like to see the character played by Bradley Cooper. He can absolutely pull off the wry wit that Dick Grayson is known for, his hair would look great flowing out the top of Nightwing's weird mask, and most importantly, Bradley Cooper publicly idolizes Daniel Day-Lewis (my first choice to play Batman), and this would be a great opportunity for the two to work together.


Which brings me to the Penguin, one of Batman's most iconic villains, who is as ruthless and cunning in strategy as he is diminutive in stature. In the Arkham Universe, the character is a Gotham native who speaks with a cockney accent due to his time in a London boarding school. Given that Nightwing's demeanor gives his character some comedic undertones, and given that his story is intermingled with the Penguin's, I think the role of Oswald Cobblepot should be played by someone with a strong background in comedy: Stuart Pankin. Now before you look at the name at the top of this blog and shout out accusations of nepotism, let's look at the facts. Pankin has a long and storied career, including previous Batman experience, I happen to know that he can do a great cockney accent (in addition to being pretty competent in cockney rhyming slang), and while he's quite a bit taller than Penguin's listed height of 4'10", he would look quite a bit shy of imposing next to a 6'2" Batman.


Plus, as Samm Levine recently quipped while filling in as guest host on an episode of Kevin Pollack's Chat Show, "Hey Show Business: If you're not sure if Stuart Pankin can deliver for you, go f**k yourself!" Enough said?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Batman Arkham Knight Let's Play Archive

This post will serve as a hub for all content related to my Batman: Arkham Knight Let's Play, including links to both the videos and recaps/commentary.

UPDATE: All video links have been updated with new and improved HD versions! Enjoy!


Episode 1: Scarecrow

Episode 1 of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, edited into 15 half-hour episodes! This one features some backstory, Scarecrow's inciting incident, and introduces Batman's signature piece of equipment!

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv5DsGICbQU&list=PLFZxztgBabeZcjrSwhp1PjCbBMAGYsKIt&index=2&t=0s

Blog Recap: http://thoughtsaboutbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/03/batman-arkham-knight-lets-play-1.html


Episode 2: The Arkham Knight

In Episode 2 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, we meet one of Batman's most trusted allies, earn an upgrade for the Batmobile, and come face to face with the game's title character!





Episode 3: The Joker

In Episode 3 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, we finish rescuing the ACE Chemicals workers, confront Scarecrow for the first time, and deal with a demon from Batman's past!



Episode 4: The Riddler

In Episode 4 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Batman tells Gordon the truth about his daughter, we get a firsthand look at Oracle's captivity, and the Riddler's nefarious plot is revealed!

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdWb3P3lD9c&list=PLFZxztgBabeZcjrSwhp1PjCbBMAGYsKIt&index=5&t=0s


Episode 5: The Penguin

In Episode 5 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Batman tracks down the Arkham Knight, reunites with his very first sidekick, and pays a visit to the Penguin's secret hideout!




Episode 6: Simon Stagg

In Episode 6 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Batman infiltrates Simon Stagg's airships, does some fingerprint-related detective work, and comes face to face with Scarecrow once again!

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0HN3NP0xXI&list=PLFZxztgBabeZcjrSwhp1PjCbBMAGYsKIt&index=7&t=0s

Blog Recap: http://thoughtsaboutbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/05/batman-arkham-knight-lets-play-6-simon.html


Episode 7: Harley Quinn

In Episode 7 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Batman witnesses a tragic occurrence, defends the movie studios from Harley Quinn, and discovers new ways to work together with Robin!

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6hgdx5mrl0&list=PLFZxztgBabeZcjrSwhp1PjCbBMAGYsKIt&index=8&t=0s

Blog Recap: http://thoughtsaboutbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/05/batman-arkham-knight-lets-play-7-harley.html


Episode 8: Robin

In Episode 8 (of 15), we work with Robin to subdue the remaining Joker-infected patients, while re-living one of the most traumatic moments in Batman's history!

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXK-ZuoHugc&list=PLFZxztgBabeZcjrSwhp1PjCbBMAGYsKIt&index=9&t=0s

Blog Recap: http://thoughtsaboutbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/05/batman-arkham-knight-lets-play-8-robin.html


Episode 9: Two-Face


In Episode 9 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, we enlist Poison Ivy's help to stop Scarecrow's toxin, interrupt Two-Face's bank heist, and see a darker side of Bruce Wayne!




Episode 10: Poison Ivy

In Episode 10 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Scarecrow unleashes his fear toxin, Batman finds reinforcements for Poison Ivy, and the Arkham Knight launches yet another drone tank assault!

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzofK-gGwNI&list=PLFZxztgBabeZcjrSwhp1PjCbBMAGYsKIt&index=11&t=0s

Blog Recap: http://thoughtsaboutbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/05/batman-arkham-knight-lets-play-10.html


Episode 11: Nightwing

In Episode 11 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Batman battles the Arkham Knight's tank, Poison Ivy gives power to her plants, and Nightwing gets himself into trouble!

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XG_B5DH4Co&list=PLFZxztgBabeZcjrSwhp1PjCbBMAGYsKIt&index=12&t=0s

Blog Recap: http://thoughtsaboutbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/06/batman-arkham-knight-lets-play-11.html


Episode 12: Red Hood


In Episode 12 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Batman picks up Commissioner Gordon's trail, battles the Arkham Knight's largest vehicle yet, and learns the identity of his newest enemy!




Episode 13: Commissioner Gordon

In Episode 13 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Batman gets a pleasant surprise about a member of his team, defends the GCPD from a drone attack, and revisits the Riddler's challenges!

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0diPefsTVxM&list=PLFZxztgBabeZcjrSwhp1PjCbBMAGYsKIt&index=14&t=0s

Blog Recap: http://thoughtsaboutbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/08/batman-arkham-knight-lets-play-13-jim.html


Episode 14: Catwoman

In Episode 14 (of 15) of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Batman and Catwoman foil the Riddler's plans, Batman staves off another attack on the GCPD, and Scarecrow makes his final play!

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSB7luSDXIA&list=PLFZxztgBabeZcjrSwhp1PjCbBMAGYsKIt&index=15&t=0s

Blog Recap: http://thoughtsaboutbaseball.blogspot.com/2016/08/batman-arkham-knight-lets-play-14.html


Episode 15: Batman

In the 15th and final episode of the Batman: Arkham Knight story mode, Batman turns himself over to Scarecrow, takes a journey through his mind palace, and receives help from an unexpected source!


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Batman: Arkham Knight, Let's Play #4 - The Riddler



UPDATE: While the video has been updated, none of the commentary below (from 2016) has! Please consider this a re-post!



Episode 4 of my Batman: Arkham Knight Let's Play is a true actor's episode. I say that because this half-hour contains more cinematic sequences and exposition scenes than gameplay action. Which means that this might be a rare section of the game that's more fun to watch than to play.


The main acting development in this episode is the introduction of the Mark Hamill-voiced Joker as a series regular, in spite of the fact that this character died at the end of the previous game, Arkham City. Here's the brilliant way in which Arkham Knight makes the Joker's return possible: Batman was infected with Joker's blood in Arkham City, which is causing his psyche to slowly mutate from his own into the Joker's. And the added exposure to Scarecrow's fear toxin is causing Batman's fear of this transformation to manifest itself in a hallucinatory Joker, who hangs around Batman like the proverbial devil on his shoulder, providing commentary on his actions and goading him ever further into madness. It's an extremely clever plot device that gracefully allows us to experience another world-class acting performance.

But the Joker is by no means the only scene-stealer in this episode. Jonathan Banks as Commissioner Gordon has two great moments in the first act, once when Batman tells him that his daughter Barbara has been kidnapped, and again when Batman reveals that his daughter Barbara is actually the master criminologist/sidekick known as Oracle. The level of raw emotion in these scenes is extremely powerful, culminating in Jim Gordon renouncing his friendship with the Caped Crusader and striking out on his own to track down Scarecrow, a decision that's all but guaranteed to end in disaster.

These two Batman/Gordon scenes are separated by an unintentionally comical interlude and a quite intentionally chilling fear-toxin induced flashback. The first occurs when escorting Gordon to Oracle's Clock Tower in the Batmobile, and the humor stems from some confusion on my part as a gamer. The goal is to follow Gordon's police car and protect him from the attacking militia vehicles, but at some point I get so hopelessly lost and turned around that I end up in a full speed head on collision with Gordon's car! But rather than allow it to be totalled by the Batmobile, the game made Jim's car mechanically invincible, producing some hilarious results when I crash into it. If you only watch two scenes from this episode, this should be the second one.

If you only watch ONE scene from this episode, it should be this gem, featuring three superb acting performances from John Noble (Scarecrow), Ashley Greene (Oracle), and Troy Baker (Arkham Knight). It also features the return of my personally produced LEGO vignette style of storytelling, augmented with clips from the character bios and showcases. The reason I had to create my own visual accompaniment to this scene is that this audio is not part of the actual game story: it's a piece of bonus content that you earn by completing enough side missions. I included it in my version because the acting is too good to leave this scene on the bench, plus it provides a unique opportunity to cut away to a scene that doesn't involve Batman. However, looking back on it, I'm concerned that this scene might give a little bit too much away. I mean, I personally guessed the Arkham Knight's identity pretty early on in my first time through the game, so it's hard for me to tell. What do you think? Does this scene provide too much of a hint? Let me know in the comments!

The next notable acting is the official on-screen gameplay debuts of this episode's namesake The Riddler (voiced by Wally Wingert) and Catwoman (Grey DeLisle Griffin). I've already talked about how I would love to see James Urbaniak play the Riddler in my commentary to Episode 1 - and at least one user on the Penny Arcade forums agrees with me. But with a truly new character comes a truly new acting suggestion, and this one seems like a no-brainer to me: Rachel McAdams as Catwoman.


McAdams is undoubtedly a strong enough actress to bring more depth to the character than the signature whip and leather suit would imply. We've seen her do physical roles, where she excels at the alluring-because-she's-competent vibe, which is what Catwoman's all about in my opinion. And she can pull off either blonde or brunette, if you prefer the style of the Animated Series over the Arkham games.

I ended this episode on a cliffhanger reminiscent of the 1960's Batman TV series, which is sure to keep viewers coming back to check out what happens next time on... BATMAN: Arkham Knight.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Batman: Arkham Knight, Let's Play #3 - The Joker


UPDATE: While the video has been updated, none of the commentary below (from 2016) has! Please consider this a re-post!

Here's the latest episode of my Batman: Arkham Knight Let's Play, which is titled "The Joker," even though Batman's arch nemesis died at the end of Arkham City, and the first episode started with a flashback to Joker's cremation...


The first two acts of this episode proceed pretty much exactly as the according to the actual game (except of course for some internal trims for time/story streamlining), so there aren't a lot of personal flourishes to explain. Nor are there any major new characters introduced in the first two thirds, so I can't even give my casting suggestions. But I will say a few words about the most creative use of the Batmobile's power winch so far, in my opinion, even cooler than using it to drag the car up the side of a building. Problem: there's an elevator car stuck deep below ground level without any power running to it. Solution: blow up the wall hiding the elevator's counterweight, attach the winch to it, put the Batmobile in reverse, and pull the elevator up to ground level. Then once you're inside the elevator with the winch still attach, just gently ease the car forward and BAM: instant elevator.

I also want to talk a little about the music from Arkham Asylum that I plugged in following the helicopter boss fight. This track, or variations thereof, plays in such triumphant moments as after you defeat Scarecrow and Bane in the medical building, and also in such combat situations as when you fight your way into the visitor center prior to the final showdown with Joker. It's far and away my favorite piece of music from that game (written by Nick Arundel and Ron Fish), and yet it did not make its way onto the game's official soundtrack. I just want to take this opportunity to give another shout out to all the technically savvy gamers out there who took the time to isolate the unreleased music from these games and put it on the internet for our enjoyment. This project would have been a lot less interesting without you!

Image hat tip to Reddit user Circuitfire
Speaking of interesting, this episode really starts to get interesting in act 3, after we find out that Oracle has been kidnapped, and the impending explosion of ACE Chemicals has exposed Batman to Scarecrow's dreaded fear toxin. In this case, our hero's hallucinations take the form of his late arch-nemesis the Joker! The Clown Prince of Crime doesn't have much dialogue until after the following flashback, but I want to take this opportunity to talk about who I'd like to see play the Joker in a filmed version of Arkham Knight. First of all, let me say that Mark Hamill has done such an incredible job of doing the voice of the Joker for almost two and a half decades, so I feel like he should have right of first refusal of the role. I feel bad for not saying the same about Kevin Conroy, whose revolutionary work as Batman/Bruce Wayne over the same time period has been every bit as impressive, but he's mostly focused on voice work throughout his career, and I don't think I could sell a major studio on his inclusion in a starring role.

As an honorable mention for the Joker, I would also like to throw this name out there: Rob Lowe. He's another actor who's known for playing mostly likable characters, but I think he's reached a point in his career where he shouldn't be afraid of branching out and trying new things. Plus, he's proved that he can exhibit both the requisite manic energy (Parks and Recreation) and cunning strategic mind (The West Wing) to make a truly chilling Joker. But now, back to the game: In the flashback setting up that (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Batman has been infected with Joker's poisonous and mind-altering blood, we also meet four new Joker infected patients, all of whom play significant roles later on down the line, which means all of them need suggestions for who could play them. Here's my two cents in visual form:

Christina Bell = Katherine Heigl

Christina Bell is a high powered executive for the fictional Queen Industries, who develops an infatuation for Batman when the Joker infection takes hold. Katherine Heigl matches her put-together executive style with the ability to go completely insane (if reports about her behind-the-scenes behavior can be believed...)

Johnny Charisma = Adam Levine

Johnny Charisma (aka Jonathan Browne) is a popular performer with a hugely inflated ego who is writing a special song just for Batman. All Adam Levine needs to complete the look is some green hair...

Albert King = Shaquille O'Neal

Former prize fighter Albert King went on a murderous rampage after being infected with Joker's blood. Shaq is definitely right for the part physically, he's done movies before, and he even has a boxing background (remember when he fought Oscar de la Hoya?) - and that's not even taking into account Shaq Fu...

Henry Adams = Bill Nighy

Mild-mannered Henry Adams is the principal of Gotham's prestigious McCallum Academy. Come to think of it, I'm not sure if I've ever heard Bill Nighy do an American accent, but that's not to say he's probably not fully capable. But come to think of it, why does this character even need to be American in the first place?


So there you have it: my All-Star casting suggestions for these four characters unique to the Arkham universe. We'll see a lot more from them later, but I wanted to get these ideas onto the Internet as soon as possible, just in case someone at Warner Bros. was planning on taking this into development...

Monday, April 11, 2016

Duel Decks: Gitrog Monster vs. Reckless Scholar

Innistrad is a plane modeled after the same Gothic Horror conventions as popular stories such as Dracula and Frankenstein. The humans that occupy small provincial towns or seaside laboratories or fortified cathedrals cower in fear from the growing threat of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the disembodied souls of reckless dead. But deep in the bowels this haunted plane, something more terrible is brewing. Something that some of the plane's most esteemed scholars are trying desperately to find a way to defeat...

*****

Among the vampies of Innistrad, there has long been the belief that the urge to feed must be balanced by the pose of nobility. This belief started the trend in vampire society of the most powerful families building luxurious and ominous mansions throughout the Stensia territory, where the aristocrats could indulge in their decadent bloodlust behind closed doors. Most vampires of the Falkenrath family have relinquished all pretence at nobility, losing themselves completely in their all-consuming thirst. However this was not the case for Elga, youngest heir of the Falkenrath estate. Elga was a slight creature, small for her age, who preferred to keep her jewelry polished, her hair properly done, and her silk looking as red as her eyes. But as she began to enter the years that vampires term as "adulthood" - usually around the turn of one's first century - Elga began to feel something else stirring inside her...

*****

"No, no, NO! Where've they gone!?" The deranged wizard Ricklar wheeled around in his frantic search, knocking over something expensive and delicate in his laboratory. He was so close to being able to test his experiment, but he was lacking a very important component. "They're not here either! Oh, what am I going to DO!?"

Just then, we see a furtive Homunculus, a small humanoid creature with only one giant eye (not unlike a blue-tinted Minion). He darts up to his master's side and gets his attention by tugging on his lab coat. The wizard gives a shout of joy and grabs the precious bundle offered by his assistant.

"MY GLOVES!" He begins pulling on the oversized garments. "Oh, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! Always have to think of safety first when you're messing with the very fragments of time and space itself!"

The homunculus just stares back with its giant unblinking eye, and nods slowly.

"You poor thing," the wizard consoles, pulling on his goggles. "You never understand anything but my simple instructions, do you?"

The homunculus blinks once and shakes its head.

"Well, if this experiment is a success, you won't have to worry about ever taking orders again!" The Wizard pulls a ridiculously oversized lever, causing a blue arc of electricity to blast into the mage's head.


"Eureka!" The Wizard shouts when the sparks subsided "I've got it! It's the spirits! The spirits are disturbed by the ghoulcallers and stitchers, in their disgusting attempts to raise zombies, and they become geists, driven by restless anger! We have to find a way to harness the... OOPS!? I'm sorry who are you?"

The wizard had turned face to face with his homunculus assistant, who had not moved from that spot since before the experiment, but the wizards had no recognition of his assistant. All memory of the homunculus's existence was wiped from his mind, a side effect of his reckless experiment. 

Some would say that the wizard's work had left him quite mad. He would only reply that progress comes at a price.

*****

Elga walked on the small seldom-used cart path through the Stensia mountains known as the Needle's Eye. She liked coming up here in autumn to gaze at the blood red sunsets and muse on the vampires' dominion over the other races of Innistrad. But on this particular trip, she noticed something unexpected: a kindly old woman wearing a light dress and tattered cloak, sitting on a stump, and holding a lantern.

"Good evening, madam" said Elga, with a curious smirk. "Not to intrude, but we very seldom see humans this far up in the mountains this close to nightfall. And even then, never alone and unarmed... and unafraid. Do you really think it's wise to journey into Falkenrath territory?"

"I'm not afraid out here, dearie, for I know that a higher power protects me." The old woman smiled and lifted her lantern as a strangely threatening gleam came into her eyes. "It looks like you could use some protection of your own."



"Are you threatening me?" Elga asked, keeping her distance. Although not subject to the mortal constraints of aging and death, vampires could still be slain in battle, and something about this old woman's demeanor made it seem that she could take Elga in a fight. But something else told Elga that it wouldn't come to that. "I am Elga, heir to the Falkenrath estate, and if anything should happen to me, a horde of vampires would descend upon you like hellfire. I demand to know who you are and what you are doing here."

The old woman maintained her smile. "I am Kitya, a stranger to these parts. And I have been summoned here... same as you."

"Summoned?!" Elga scoffed. "These mountains are my ancestral home! No one holds sway over us here!"

The old woman chuckled. "Oh, dearie, you don't understand, do you? I'm afraid we are caught up in something far beyond your understanding. Tell me, have you ever heard of planeswalkers?"

"Planes... what?" But Elga was interrupted by a noise high in the air. Kitya looked up into the sky and Elga followed her gaze, but before she saw anything she, noticed that the temperature became significantly colder, which is saying something for a vampire. High above the treetops, a fearsome spirit appeared, holding two pale lanterns, glowing with an eerie light.

"Ahoy there!" cried a shrill voice. "Please bid welcome to my Niblis!" The voice belonged to Ricklar, the reckless wizard, who had scrambled up to the top of a nearby crag, dragging behind him a ridiculously oversized experimental contraption on wheels. "Attack, my pretty! Fly to victory!"

The niblis lurched forward, passing over the heads of the two observers, swinging its lanterns aggressively. Although she could not see the target of the spirit's attack, Elga felt herself weakened when it made contact.

"What is happening?" Elga cried. "Who is responsible for this attack?"

"That, dearie, would be our esteemed opponent," elucidated Kitya.

"Which opponent?" questioned Elga. "The Falkenrath family has many enemies in the vampire community: The Stromkirk? The Voldaren? Whoever it is will pay dearly!"

"I did not say 'enemy,' in the political sense, but 'opponent'" repeated Kitya, her smile giving way to a look of grim determination. "Another planeswalker, trying to challenge our authority. But don't worry: I have arranged for provisions in case of something like this."

Elga's ears picked up the sound of four, no eight, hoofbeats madly galloping down the path. The head of a grizzled scout appeared over a rise in the path, followed by the head of his horse, then by another horse, led by the rider. As the rider let go of the bridle, Kitya leapt into the saddle with surprising dexterity. Grabbing a battle axe from the saddlebag, the old woman charged forward, past the wizard, and launched an attack against the opposing unseen force.

As her opponent reeled from the impact, Elga looked over to her new battlefield companion, his horse still sweating from its journey. "How did you know that my friend could use your help?"

The scout glanced at Elga, still breathing heavily. "How do I know where aid is needed?" he repeated. "Look around you."

*****

"No, no, no, this won't do at all!" Ricklar muttered under his breath, as the old woman leapt off her horse and scuttled back to her side. "What we need now is the untamed ferocity of the wolves of Innistrad... but with a twist!"

A savage howl split the air, but the creature that accompanied the sound only vaguely resembled a wolf as we know it. Its body was covered more with rotting, corrupted flesh than with fur, its bright yellow eyes were accompanied by a second set of bright yellow eyes, and its bottom jaw was cloven in two, revealing a hideous gaping maw underneath. It was a truly horrifying sight, but it was met with only a delighted cackle from Ricklar, and another aerial attack from the spirit high above.

No sooner had the mage's laughter died down, then the newest member of his opponent's team spurred his horse and charged forward, ready to confront the unknown, confident that his horse and his weapons could subdue the wolf horror. But the wizard had another trick up his sleeve.

"You think you can deal with my pet, eh?" Ricklar asked, mostly to himself. "Well, let me show you how he can feed on my delirium!"

Throwing the lever of his apparatus once again, Ricklar felt his mind enhanced by his magic, but at the same time, he calmly let the memory of his hometown slip away from him. As if fueled by the lost knowledge, the wolf seemed to grow in stature, lashing out with blinding speed at the attacking horseman. The wolf's first strike felled the horse, but the rider deftly jumped from the saddle, pulling a knife and sword from his belt. But even as the scout took one final swing at his unseen opponent's life force, all three of the wolf's jaws closed around his throat, and the two wrestled in a fight that proved fatal for them both.

*****

"NO!" Elga screamed, for the first time showing emotion at the fall of a human. "This is going terribly! We will surely be overwhelmed!"

"Don't worry, dearie," said Kitya calmly. "It's all part of the plan."

"What do you...?" but before Elga could finish, she heard a sound somewhere between the croaking of a giant toad and the anguished scream of a demon. The cry belonged to a frog-shaped monster, easily twice the size of the provisioner's horse, emerged from the tree-studded swamp behind them. One look into the horrifying creature's dark, soulless eyes, and Elga finally realized what they were fighting for.


"All hail the Gitrog!" shouted Kitya, throwing her hands into the air in pure ecstasy and rushing forward to attack her unseen opponent.

"All hail the Gitrog!" echoed Elga, following Kitya onto the battlefield. But even as she joined in the assault, she felt the ground under her very feet tremble as it melted into a featureless heap of slag. But an anguished look over to Kitya revealed only more joyous laughter, as if this too were all part of the plan.

But then something happened that even the Gitrog did not intend. The ground beneath the monster's feet began to open up as though it were standing on a whirlpool, and with a confused croak, the legendary beast vanished, leaving behind a rock formation in the shape of a three-cornered hat.

"Oh, I'm sorry, has that chubby toad of yours gone missing?!" mocked Ricklar from the safety of his perch. "I might be able to deduce what happened. You see, he left behind a clue. The answer is right here, in my vast library of knowledge!"

The rock burst asunder in a flash of mana, and its precious contents spilled out into the wizard's head. "I've been doing some research, you see," continued Ricklar, "and I've figured out how to use the power of my magic to unleash the senseless rage of the undead. Observe!"

Ricklar threw the lever on his contraption, causing another bolt of blue electricity to shoot out towards the mage. But just as his eyes rolled back into his head and it looked like his mind would be overwhelmed again, a look of pure madness came into his eyes, and he cast an unorthodox spell.

The niblis above him became suddenly enhanced by the magic and flew ahead with redoubled strength. The impact was catastrophic and Elga could feel the life energy from her patron being sapped.

"What are we going to do!?" wailed the vampire. "We won't be able to withstand another of those strikes!"

"Just continue attacking, dearie" encouraged Kitya through gritted teeth. "When the time is right, you'll know what to do." 

*****

But a manic burst of laughter from Ricklar signaled that the tides were about to turn. "I've got it!" the mage screamed. "I've finally figured it out! It's not the wolves, nor the spirits, nor the zombies that will save us, but the Angels! People call them mad, but no, it's not madness - it's a revelation!" 

With uncanny strength, Ricklar grasped hold of the lever of his scientific contraption and bent it into the corrupt symbol of Avacyn and clasped his hands in prayer. "Archangel Avacyn, descend upon us with your purifying judgment and rid your plane of these nonbelievers!"

A bolt of lightning pierced the sky and Ricklar immediately felt the comforting presence of madness around him. The archangel herself would not join the battle directly - she had other matters far too pressing to attend to - but the wizard could feel her pronouncing her judgment. Ricklar was deemed worthy, but his enemies... not so lucky.

*****

Elga looked up at the blood red wings high up in the heavens, and she would have admired their shade if they did not spell certain doom for her and her companions. Instead she was filled with despair and all hope left her.

"Kitya, we're doomed," the vampire wailed. "The angel's rage will cut us down and the spirit will destroy us utterly."

"Not if I have anything to say about it," replied Kitya. "But I need your help, and I need you to act fast. You must let go of your mind."

"What!?" Elga asked incredulously.

"Listen to me!" shouted Kitya franticly as the Angel's fire streamed towards them. "Abandon the trappings of the Falkenrath inheritance and become heir to the night! Embrace your urge to feed and I'll take care of the rest!"

Elga concentrated. She thought of her ancestral manor, her satin bedsheets, her crystal goblets, her fine lace. She held the images in her mind... and then she let them all go. And as she did so, Elga began to change. Her eyes became wild and started to bleed, her fangs extended until they pierced her lips and she could taste her own sweet blood... and she began to raise up off the ground in flight.

At the same moment, she heard Kitya's cackling laugh grow louder and lower, lower and more sonorous, as though it came not from the kindly old woman, but from a ravenous demon! And then Elga saw it: what she had abandoned to spur her own transformation had fueled the delirium that allowed Kitya to show her true form: that of a demon-possessed witch

Kitya's fingernails became gruesome claws, her tongue became long and forked, and horns sprouted from her wrinkled forehead. And just as the angel's fire was about to descend upon her, she lashed out with all her hatred and strength, sending a blast of dark energy directly at the raging niblis high in the air, which was now on Elga's level, destroying the spirit on contact.

Kitya's low, resonant, demonic laugh echoed through the battlefield even as the witch's frail body was consumed by fire. Elga felt the fire flow through her as well and was about to embrace the end of her life... but then she started to change again. She felt a tingling in her left hand and tore off her kid gloves. In her previous life, Elga would have been terrified at the grotesque mutation she saw, but now she could only feel the power that was just barely keeping her alive. Where once was the milky-white palm of her hand, there now opened up a gaping maw lined with teeth. Her fingers lengthened into coiling tendrils that hungered to consume life energy. The angel's fire passed, Elga was still alive, and she knew what she had to do.

Using her new found power of flight, Elga soared above the wizard down below, who was shaking his fist at the vampire in futile rage. From her vantage point above the battlefield, she could see now plainly for the first time the planeswalker who was pulling the invisible strings controlling her enemies. With her last bit of energy, Elga reached out with her mutated hand and drained her opponent's life into that of her own patron planeswalker.

*****

Ricklar's world was in shambles. His wolf was gone, his spirit was destroyed, even Avacyn's power had failed him in his mission. He had killed the witch, but the vampire, who just moments ago had looked like a dainty ingenue, was now wheeling above his head, crazed with an insatiable blood lust. All that was left was his apparatus and the minuscule tattered threads of his sanity. And that last bit was about to take its leave when Ricklar saw what happened next.

The waters of a nearby bog rippled as once again the Gitrog Monster rose to the surface. Its webbed feet thundered on the ground as it made its way towards his side of the battlefield, the empty black pools of its eyes looming ever larger. Ricklar screamed, only this time it was not the thrill of madness overtaking his mind, but pure abject terror. The last thing the wizard saw was a gigantic tongue flitting out of the frog's mouth to devour him.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Batman: Arkham Knight, Let's Play #2 - Arkham Knight


UPDATE: While the video has been updated, none of the commentary below (from 2016) has! Please consider this a re-post!

Circumstances conspired so that Magic: the Gathering took over from Batman as the secondary focus of this blog last weekend. But now I'm back to business as usual, with a place for you to view Episode 2 of my Batman: Arkham Knight Let's Play project somewhere other than my YouTube channel.


Here's a couple of highlights to keep an eye out for. First is a cool mashup of "Invasion," one of Nick Arundel and David Buckley's most memorable tracks from the Arkham Knight soundtrack, with popular progressive rock anthem "Tom Sawyer" by Rush, which starts at the 00:55 second mark. The idea came to me because both songs are in the unusual 7/8 time signature, which I explain in a little more detail in a previously published sneak peek of this project. The next bit of personalization comes in at right around 05:18, where I inserted a montage of various images (including promotional clips and some bonus content you get as a reward for completing the game) to act as a visual accompaniment to one of Scarecrow's chilling speeches that he broadcasts throughout the city. I wanted to include this audio at this point, because it reintroduces the main villain and is expertly performed by voice actor John Noble, and I happen to think it's much more interesting to watch a homemade cinematic sequence as we listen, rather than just looking at the Batmobile parked on the side of the road.

The next scene shows the first in-game meeting between Batman and Oracle, an extremely important character who only made auditory appearances in the last two games in the series. Oracle is voiced in the game by Ashley Greene, from the Twilight movies, and while she does a great job in the game, my one gripe is that she's just simply too young to play the part in this "Batman's Last Night" scenario, where all the characters should be in their twilight years. That and she's not a natural redhead, as is Barbara Gordon in the comics. Thus in my hypothetical live-action movie version of this game, I would offer this role to Jessica Chastain. She's got the right look, she's done some big budget effects-driven fare, and she even has horror experience, which would be useful given the Scarecrow/Halloween-themed subject matter of the game.

After this meeting, we need to pick up the first upgrade for the Batmobile: a device called the Power Winch, which lets us reenact a memorable scene from 1995's Batman Forever, where the Batmobile drives up the side of a building. I don't know if this is a testament to the quality of computer graphics now or the campiness of movies back then, but I find it strange that a video game shows a much more believable version of this scene than a big budget studio movie. I also find it strange that the Batwing, Batman's supersonic jet with near perfect maneuverability, is only used in this sequence to drop off and install the Power Winch, rather than to just lift the Batmobile up and place it on the roof where it needed to be. Seems like an underutilization of one of Batman's most powerful toys.

The last and most impactful event in this episode is when we meet the game's title character face-to-face for the first time. The Arkham Knight, voiced by the extremely prolific Troy Baker, quickly proves to be one of Batman's most formidable enemies, not just because of the massive army of lethal drones and well-trained henchmen he was able to assemble, but also because of his intimate knowledge of Batman's methods and equipment. But rather than open this up to conjecture about the Arkham Knight's identity, let's talk about who I would like to play the role in my movie: Chris Pratt. Some might be uncomfortable with such a likable guy playing a villain, but I think it's the perfect opportunity for him to show his range. And maybe this is just based on his public persona, but he also seems like one of Hollywood's few leading men whose ego wouldn't object to spending the majority of the movie hidden behind a mask and voice modulator.

That's all for now. Tune in Thursday morning for an all new episode of Batman: Arkham Knight!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease

Stop me if you've heard the term "Vorthos" before. It's a term that denotes a specific type of Magic: the Gathering player who cares more about the flavor/artistic/story components of Magic cards than the nuts and bolts mechanics that make them effective weapons for defeating your opponent(s) on the battlefield. Stop me if I've already told you that I'm a Vorthos a million times before; let's just say I spend more time reading Magic fiction than I do playing Magic with other people. That's not to say I won't try my best to win in a competitive setting. It's just that I try to do so while staying true to the Vorthosian elements whenever possible.

With this in mind, naturally my strategy going into the prerelease was to build the best deck possible. To accomplish this goal, I had read a few articles from the leading Magic analysts on the Internet, pored over the card image gallery, and familiarized myself with the projected metagame. But the analytical side of my mind that was trying to evaluate these cards started getting muddled with the information from the various narratives I had read about the stories told by the cards. So imagine my surprise and delight when I opened a pure bomb rare in my sealed pool that was also featured in a recent official Magic story: The Gitrog Monster. As I joked to many participants at yesterday's prerelease, my plan was to open up that card and then pray I had enough black and green playables to support it.


My Black cards were fairly strong, if lacking in cheap removal (i.e. Throttle, lower-right), and at the end of the day it was the Black cards that did the most work in my matches. Specifically my three uncommon transformers (all pictured top-right): Heir of Falkenrath, a 2 drop vampire aristocrat who turns into a 3/2 flier, Kindly Stranger, an old peasant woman who turns into a removal spell attached to a 4/3 witch, and a woman who starts out as a Witch but then dies into a curse that slowly drains life from my opponent. If I were writing a movie about my deck, it would feature these three strong female characters as leads, alongside the CG Gitrog. I only had three zombies, which were all decent on their own, but not quite effective enough to combo off my other black rare, Diregraf Colossus (lower-middle). I think in 15 rounds, it never got a single +1/+1 counter and I only made one zombie token.

Green was nothing special, but also nothing terrible. There was a wolf theme with Quilled Wolf and Solitary Hunter, who is another character who could have a subplot in my script. The Human Warrior could maybe have a romantic fling with the Veteran Cathar, a Human Soldier who's usually more at home with White mana... But she does go with the human synergies from 2x Intrepid Provisioner (you brought 'er), which is a flavor win for the image of this Scout bringing a horse for someone else to ride for a turn. And with the Gitrog in the fold, I figured what I had was good enough to go on. After putting the deck together, though, I had a touch of builder's remorse: maybe neither of these colors are strong enough to work with each other and I should be looking at the other colors in my pool. So I put together half a deck in blUe and half a deck in Red (with one White card I'd be willing to splash), assuming that if my Gitrog-fueled craziness didn't cut it, I could always swap out a color during sideboarding. Here's what I came up with.


Blue had the makings of a pretty good aggro deck, with two Furtive (skulking) Homunculi who might sneak in early, two Niblises of the Dusk (i.e. evasive threats that like spells, lower-middle)), a Reckless Scholar (i.e. madness enabler, middle-left), and the seven drop Nephalia Moondrakes (top-middle), a rare you can find in one of the SOI Intro Packs. The only removal was one expensive bounce spell (Gone Missing, lower-left) and one expensive flash flier (Stormrider Geist, top-right), but there was also the Ongoing Investigation enchantment that set up an instant investigate/clue theme (to go with the other two cards with clue synergies in green). Red had five pretty decent wolves, including a prerelease-stamped Scourge Wolf (lower-right), and Avacyn's Judgment (top-right), potentially one of the best removal spells in the set, considering I also had two Red madness enablers to go with it (Lightning Axe and Tormenting Voice, top-right and -left).


In the end of deckbuilding, I decided to run out my Golgari Gitrog extravaganza until it disappointed enough to prompt a change in colors. The problem is, it never did disappoint, which is a good problem to have. I ran over my first opponent's Black/Red Vampires deck so hard in the first game (mostly due to mulligan issues) that he decided to switch to a completely new deck during sideboarding. I lost the second game to his Green/White Humans + Soul Swallower (i.e. TrampleWurm), but ended up using Accursed Witch's transformed side to win the third game (and thus the match) with more than my starting life total. The next match was against Esper Rise from the Tides / From Under the Floorboards / Thing in the Ice shenanigans, and it ended up being damn close. In fact, the ONLY reason I won the match was because Watcher in the Web could block exactly eight of the ten attacking zombie tokens, keeping me just barely alive enough for my flying vampire to save the day. Match three was no problem, as I was able to call down some Biting Rain on my opponent's werewolf army, which also had the added bonus of transforming Accursed Witch into an unstoppable draining-machine.

Maybe my problem was that I took a break for lunch in between rounds three and four, because I just didn't have the hunger I needed to win that last match. Well, that or my deck didn't have the hunger to draw me a playable hand my first or second tries going into game three. But it didn't help that my opponent was on the huge werewolves, Ulvenwald Hydra, and Westvale Abbey plan (one of at least seven copies of that card I saw in the tournament), and that's not even counting the Sin Prodder that actually ended up doing most of the work. But after reflecting on my 3-1 performance, which netted me four packs in prize support, I began to feel a crawling sensation that there was a better deck in my sealed pool that I left on the bench. I could have tried Red/Black removal heavy Vampires, but good as they are, those Black cards got a lot worse without the Gitrog. I thought maybe Blue/Green clues and flying threats, but I felt Blue and Green were my weakest individual playable colors.

Then it hit me: why not Blue/Red removal flying threats!? I pulled one of the best madness cards in the set AND one of the best madness enablers in the set, and yet it didn't strike me to put those two powerhouses together until long after the tournament had ended. I also pulled a RW dual land in case I wanted to splash a White Doom Blade. I guess I was just mesmerized by the blank, empty, and yet powerful eyes of the Gitrog Monster, driven mad and forced to play the deck IT wanted me to play. But now, after doing more reckless research, I've figured out the best Izzet-splash-Jeskai deck I could make with my pool, and it's beaten the Gitrog in both of the matches I playtested with them.

Those prize packs still sit unopened in my satchel, next to the replica of Tamiyo's Journal that acts as a deck box. It's Opening Day of the 2016 Baseball season and I just spent it rambling in a corner about Magic: The Gathering. I guess this is what happens when MADNESS DESCENDS!