Monday, May 13, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 Review

"I don't think she decided ahead of time that she was going to do what she did. And then she sees the Red Keep, which is, to her, the home that her family built when they first came over to this country 300 years ago. It's in that moment, on the walls of King's Landing, where she's looking at that symbol of everything that was taken away from her, when she makes the decision to-- to make this personal." 
- Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss

I don't usually watch the "Inside the Episode" features, even of shows that I follow closely. But I thought I'd check it out for Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 to see what the show's creators had to say about Daenerys Targaryen's out-of-the-blue-yet-somehow-strangely-predictable departure from seven seasons' worth of character development. And that was the best that Weiss could offer: she decides "to-- to make this personal." But the decision to burn all the innocent people in King's Landing alive had nothing to do with any "personal" grudge of Dany's - it essentially amounts to her becoming a fantasy war criminal.

Khaleesi has been through hell over the show's history: she's been bullied, beaten, raped, lied to, stolen from, sold into slavery, had attempts made on her life, and subjected to all sorts of torture, both mundane and magical. Throughout it all, she has seemingly not lost sight of her goal: to retake the throne that had been in her family's possession for generations, and establish herself as a benevolent monarch who has the people's best interest at heart. And I just don't buy that anything that happened to her up to this point in the current season would cause her to become so violently unhinged.

Granted, the Dragon Queen has been through some rough times in the previous two episodes: she's witnessed the deaths of two of her most trusted friends and advisors - Jorah Mormont (a.k.a. Ser Friend Zone, a.k.a. Jorah the Explorer*) and Missandei of Naath (who was probably the only one in Dany's retinue who knew all of her various honorifics). Not to mention, one of her two remaining dragons just got crossbowed out of the sky (in what had to have been the most boneheaded strategical maneuver of the whole show. I mean, had no one on her team ever heard of "reconnaissance?" Maybe just do one high altitude flyover on a dragon before sending the whole fleet into an enclosed bay. Or have Bran warg into a seagull and check the situation a couple days in advance, rather than just using his powers to spy on the Night King while he was brushing his teeth before the Battle of Winterfell). Oh, and she did just learn that her erstwhile lover is secretly her nephew, who has a stronger claim to the throne than she does, based on the antiquated medieval rules of succession.

* All credit to YouTuber Ozzy Man Reviews for the mint nicknames.

So yes, that is a lot to have gone through in a short span of time. But is it any worse than what she's suffered in Seasons 1 thru 7, none of which caused her to lose her cool and sacrifice all the goodwill that she's fought to achieve? GoT co-creator David Benioff starts off the post-episode dive into Daenerys's motivations by pointing out that, for the first time, she is operating without some of the close friends and advisors who have helped her make these tough decisions in the past. So, what, has Jorah been Dany's moral compass the whole time? The same guy who was originally hired to kill her, and basically changed his mind because she was pretty? Tyrion is at least twice as smart, and three times as persuasive, and he's been counseling her against mass slaughter from the start. And despite their newly-complicated family situation, Jon Snow seems pretty even-tempered as far as civilian-burning is concerned. It's not as though she's suddenly devoid of reasonable people to listen to.

But I keep going back to Weiss's phrase: "make this personal." What personal grudge did Khaleesi have against the random people that she decided to exterminate? As far as I can tell, there was exactly one (1) person in King's Landing who wronged Daenerys in the past, and she happened to be standing right next to a window in the most exposed tower in the city (at least from a flying dragon's perspective). If Dany was really taking things personally, she would have flown up to the Red Keep, blasted Cersei in the face with some dragonflames, and gone about the business of, you know, establishing herself as that benevolent monarch, which has been her goal for 71 of the 72 episodes of Game of Thrones so far. She did not "make things personal," she revealed herself as secretly insane.

Which brings us to the question of her lineage. Before he was deposed, Dany's father was known as "The Mad King," with a penchant for burning his enemies alive while he watched and cackled maniacally. Then you have lines like, "every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath." So I get it, she was genetically predisposed to mass murder, so when you think about it, they've actually been setting this up from the very beginning of the show. Because the nature-vs.-nurture debate has been solved, and nothing that happens in a person's life can temper or counteract the crazy they're born with. Benioff and Weiss might as well have explained it by saying, "What we didn't explicitly tell the viewers, is that Dany was on her period during the invasion of King's Landing, which caused her actions to become erratic and unpredictable." Frankly, that's the kind of explanation I would expect from showrunners who see serial rape as the equivalent of character development, and who write lines like, "Men decide where power resides, whether or not they know it." (Emphasis mine.)

So as we prepare for next week's series finale, I'll close with a sentiment I recently saw on twitter dot com:

Oh, also this one is really good too:

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 8 Preview

Which characters' stories can we expect to see most represented in the upcoming Season 8 of HBO's Game of Thrones? This is a question that could be puzzling some viewers as they prepare to tune in before tonight's season premiere. I didn't think to ask it to myself just now, but it so happens that I had been maintaining a story grid of the scenes throughout the show's previous seasons. Examining the frequency of scenes primarily featuring certain characters could potentially be used to answer this question. Here's the top 10 appearing characters, according to the analysis I've put together, color-coded for ease of reference.


113 total scenes

Most of the promotional material I've seen for GoT S8 has featured the lovely mug of Kit Harrington's lovable bastard... OR IS HE? I mean, he is lovable either way, but his lineage has been thrown into doubt with some conveniently-placed flashbacks. He's taken over the Night's Watch, recruited the Free Folk, and made an alliance with the Dragon Queen (i.e. the queen who has dragons, not the one who acts like a dragon). His upward trajectory and unwavering good alignment make Jon Snow a powerful protagonist, but will he feel any ill effects from the dark magic resurrection spell from the end of Season 5?

109 total scenes

I have been known to clown Peter Dinklage's accent in the show, since as a straight-up British accent, it honestly isn't all that sharp. But that was in my younger, more judgmental days, and now I realize that his character's not British, he's not British, and not even all the people who play Lannisters on the show are British. It's an accent that is sui generis, and either way, it hasn't distracted me from enjoying the quality of Dinklage's acting through the years. Also THE DINKLES THO!!!1
As one of the prime behind-the-scenes movers in GoT, Tyrion has never exhibited the traits of a true power seeker, and he seems more like a support class than a classic hero.

101 total scenes

Khaleesi was a fan favorite from the moment audiences saw one of Emilia Clarke's 12,000 wigs (am I getting that right?). Westeros history buffs are also more likely to root for her, pointing out that her family was initially in charge of the Seven Kingdoms, until they were overthrown by the Starks and Baratheons. Although, who did the Targaryens take over the throne from when they emigrated from ... is it Easteros? Essos? The point is, you live by the coup, you die by the coup, and not all rebellions are bad as far as the PEOPLE are concerned. She's got dragons, an army, a love interest, a good advisor, and DRAGONS. Not to mention her goal is clearly the throne, so she's gotta be considered the number one contender.

76 total scenes / 75 primary scenes

76 total scenes / 62 primary scenes

It cannot be a coincidence that the two Stark sisters have appeared in the same number of total scenes over the course of seven seasons of television... OR CAN IT? Digging deeper into the numbers in the chart above, you can see that Maisie Williams's Arya has the advantage over Sophie Turner's Sansa in Primary Scenes (where a character's story was the primary purpose of the scene, from my unprofessional perspective), as opposed to Extra Scenes (where that character's story was advanced in a scene that primarily featured a different character). Either way, they are firmly back on the same side, manning the first line of defense against a zombie hoard, and starting further than anyone from the location of the actual Throne. Not looking terribly promising for the Winterfell crew.

74 total scenes / 63 primary scenes

The only true villain so far on this list, Lena Headey's character is close in scene total to both Arya (in total scenes) and Sansa (in primary scenes), which makes sense, given all the scenes the two of them shared in Season 2. But the question is, should Cersei even still be referred to as Baratheon? Her Baratheon husband is dead, as are all three of the children that she was trying to pretend were Baratheon; might as well drop the charade, right? At any rate, in the eyes of succession nerds, her claim to the throne is at best suspect, but let's not forget that possession is 9/10ths and all that. Given that Cersei has all the resources of both King's Landing, the Tyrells, and the Greyjoy fleet, Daenerys would do well to remember that a rightful claim isn't power, POWER is power.

53 total scenes

50 total scenes

I'm grouping these two stories together because they're basically finished. Sean Bean, Richard Madden, and Stephen Dillane have been off the show for multiple seasons now. It's true that Carice van Houten's Melisandre has kind of become a free agent, and Liam Cunningham has gone on some solo missions since Davos Seaworth joined forces with Jon (most recently to pick up another throne claimant Gendry), but neither really drive the narrative at this point.

46 total/primary scenes

Since going north of The Wall, Isaac Hempstead Wright has gone full Druid, all but removing himself from the concerns of his now former family, the Starks. Bran now goes by the moniker "Three-Eyed Raven," he can see different areas of the timeline, and he has lost all sense of social interactions. Scrying, ahem, WARGING is a useful tool for any adventuring party to have, but it seems like Brandon has taken on more of a support role.

46 total scenes / 45 primary scenes

This MUST be a coincidence, that the eldest surviving Stark son and the eldest surviving Lannister son appear in the same amount of scenes... OR IS IT!?!?!?!? We've seen a shift in Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's character from being purely power hungry and serving his own self-interests (thereby serving those of his family) to having some concern about the greater good. Will it be enough to aid in the battle against the darkness, or will the knight's change of alignment be too little, too late?

Above is the series cast summary for Game of Thrones on IMDB, as of just mere hours before the premiere, showing that the actors with top seven episodic appearances are also part of the top 10 in terms of story scenes. Of the remaining ones, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley, 38 scenes) is still in the mix, heading back to the action from Oldtown with some pertinent information. Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen, 37 scenes combined) has embarked on some sidequesting to rescue his sister Yara (nee Asha, played by Gemma Whelan, and who is also represented in the gray-shaded scenes). I had grouped Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) and Varys (Conleth Hill) together, but they only truly carry 12 total scenes, since their two storylines were closely linked to Sansa and Tyrion, respectively. The same goes for Iain Glenn's Jorah Mormont, who had appeared in solely Daenerys-dominated scenes for the majority of his time on the show.

I know people always say that past results do not guarantee future performance, but you  mostly hear that in terms of finance or athletic performance. Who knows if it applies to a narrative that's been designed for a particular resolution? Either way, now you know who's had the most, if not screen time, than STORY time in all the past Games of Throne, and it's up to you to decide how it might affect the unfolding season!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Let's Play Batman: Return to Arkham City: Episode 10

I've said many times that Episode 9 was the equivalent of this Let's Play's midseason finale, so that means Episode 10 is the second half premiere - and it should be treated with all the excitement and fanfare that accompanies a premiere. Even though it wasn't published until nearly three years after the release of the Return to Arkham series. And even though this blog recap was delayed for more than a month because of the excitement surrounding the start of the baseball season. But just watch the episode yourself and tell me it wasn't worth the wait...

As is fitting with any premiere, this episode starts with a lengthy cutscene, which establishes our new primary objective: retrieve a blood sample from Ra's al Ghul, so that Mr. Freeze can use it to complete his cure. Also in this cutscene, we see one of Ra's's ninjas (or rather one of his daughter Talia's ninjas) escape from one of Penguin's glass display cases and scamper out of the museum, conveniently leaving a trail of blood for me to follow. After we regain control, the in-game music drops out so that we can concentrate while scanning the evidence and updating Oracle on our progress. However, since you, the viewers, don't need to concentrate on anything except being entertained, I cut in the Arkham City Main Theme here, since the second half premiere is as good an excuse as any to bring back the game's most recognizable piece of music. Then as the conversation turns to the family al-Ghul, I use the opening theme from their first dedicated Batman: The Animated Series episode, the two-parter "The Demon's Quest."

Speaking of the Animated Series, after finding said ninja and stealthily equipping her with a tracking device, we get a new gadget delivered by none other than our fourth-favorite sidekick, Robin (the Tim Drake version). This particular music choice is one of my favorite in this whole Let's Play because of how perfectly the track syncs up with the in-game action. There's no music during the cutscene where Robin hands over the Line Launcher and agrees to take a sample of your infected blood to help Gotham area hospitals prepare for the impending epidemic, so I put in a track from Robin's (i.e. Dick Grayson's) two-part origin story "Robin's Reckoning" (partial audio link). I basically picked the first track from that episode with a length that fit in the space between when the ninja chasing theme faded out and the gadget upgrade theme faded in, and it just happened to follow the dramatic action of the scene, right down to the climactic swell when Batman reassuringly tells Robin that he'll find a way to solve this mess. For more examples of how BTAS music fits well with Arkham cutscenes, check out my Let's Play of Arkham Knight, although you might want to wait a few weeks until I start re-uploading the episodes in glorious full HD.

Before following the tracker, I take a break to pick up a Riddler trophy and fight some random henchmen, which also gives me the opportunity to experiment with more multi-layer music tracks, this time from the Arkham City soundtrack. You might recall that the ambient explore theme "I Know What You Guys Are Thinking" is among my favorite tracks in the game, but this piece of music also has an additional unreleased layer with percussion accompaniment for combat sequences. I'd say to watch that sequence and listen closely to see if you can spot where the new layer comes in, but it's not really a mystery since I explain it in the commentary. Shortly after this, the ninja's tracker leads us into the sewer system, where I use a track from the Arkham Asylum soundtrack that plays while you explore the cave system connected to the auxiliary Batcave.

While underground, we get a surprise cameo by Batman's most famous sewer-dwelling enemy Killer Croc. (Shout out to anyone who thought I was going to say the Sewer King.) For this brief scene, where Croc's uncanny sense of smell picks up the subtle aroma of Batman's infected blood, I use the music that plays when Croc chases you out of his lair underneath Arkham Asylum in the first game in the series. Then after progressing further into the sewers, we get another reference to the reptile-man formerly known as Waylon Jones, as I stumble upon a room he used as his hideout. While scanning the shock collar with which he was fitted back in Asylum (thereby completing another Riddler challenge), I play the opening theme from Croc's first Animated Series episode "Vendetta" to give the situation some appropriate atmosphere.

In between these two Croc sightings, there's a combat sequence with some Joker thugs that normally plays without music. For this fight, and the henchmen banter leading-in to it, I use another dual-layer track from Arkham Asylum. On the official soundtrack, this piece is rather generically titled "Crackin' Heads," but in order for the music to properly follow the action, I had to mix in its component parts: from the ch3 Admin series in the game rip audio files. Thus ends one of the most musically intensive episodes of the whole Let's Play!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Astrology 2019 Projected Lineups - Air Division

We're rounding things out with the Air Division, the home of former powerhouse Libra, winners of _ previous Fantasy Astrology championships, but whose reign of terror ended last year when they didn't even win the division. Actually, the Scales technically didn't NOT win their division, as they finished with an identical record as Gemini, but ESPN's proprietary "points for / points against" system awarded the Twins with the victory; they would eventually go on to win the championship. But as Libra is slated to be on top once again this year, let's start with them. As a reminder of the scoring system, signs gets 5 points for each Tier I player in their talent pool, continuing in descending order, finishing off with 1 point per Tier V player. And the color coding is as follows: Green = Tier I, Blue = II, Yellow = III, Red = IV, Purple = V

Despite the presence of only one Tier I batter, this outfield is by far the strongest in the astrology landscape, due to its incredible depth. AL MVP Mookie Betts leads the charge, and he's followed closely (albeit one tier town) by the owner of the richest contract in MLB history Bryce Harper, who hopefully doesn't show any lingering effects from being hit by a pitch on the ankle just a few games into his first Spring Training with the Phillies. The defensive prowess of the team's lone Tier III batter Starling Marte means that he would hold down center field in real life or a simulation, but Harper qualifies there as well for 2019, despite his poor defensive performance. Tier IV's Eddie Rosario and Andrew McCutchen could serve as a pretty serious DH platoon, while Tier V Aaron Hicks will provide yet more center field insurance when he comes off the DL. In the middle infield, Xander Bogaerts and Robinson Cano would make a fine double play combination, depending on whether the latter has truly cleaned up his PED act.

The Libra rotation has the curious distinction of being filled entirely by Tier IV starters; or it will be once Mike Foltynewicz is healthy enough to take the field. Until then bounce back candidate and former Team USA ace Chris Archer and lefty strikeout artist Robbie Ray will lead the pack. Those two will be followed by the most expensive pitcher in the sport (in terms of AAV) Zack Greinke and burgeoning Cardinals top of the rotation presence Jack Flaherty. In the bullpen, Dodgers star Kenley Jansen is hoping for a smooth recovery from offseason heart surgery, for both professional and general health reasons. Still playing out the extension he signed with the A's, Sean Doolittle flashed numbers that were superior to his Tier III standing, but staying on the field is always a challenge with him.

The fact that Gemini "won" the Air Division last year has almost everything to do with its pitching staff, and very little to do with a fully uninspiring offensive group. Pending free agent Anthony Rendon tops the bunch, and only a very deep crop of third basemen drops him all the way down to a Tier III standing. I don't  know if he's first-round-pickable, but he's definitely extension material for a Nats team that has come to terms with multiple Scott Boras clients before him (but then again, they also just let the biggest one walk away). Even a Tier IV placement for catcher Jonathan Lucroy assumes that he'll return to the solid offensive production that marked his early career, although even if he doesn't, I'm still salty that the A's allowed him to go to their in-state, in-division rivals rather than re-upping him after his magnificent work handling an unproven pitching staff. It's still unclear whether Luis Urias will gain shortstop eligibility, but until that happens, Brock Holt can hold down the fort.

NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom headlines a deep and exciting starting staff that quite litrally carried this team into and through the Fantasy Astrology postseason last year. Recently extended Phillies ace Aaron Nola was no joke either, and it remains to be seen if new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen will follow suit with his former client. Staying with the extension theme, Jose Berrios declined the latest offer from the Twins (Minnesota) to lock up their young ace long term, but that development might make the Puerto Rican hurler that much more motivated to perform. The success of the Twins' (Gemini) bullpen is heavily predicated on when (whether?) Craig Kimbrel signs with a team prior to the 2019 season. New Cardinal Andrew Miller has been a high-leverage relief stud in the past, but he's coming off an injury-plagued season, and there's no guarantee that he'll see save opportunities with flamethrowing Virgo Jordan Hicks slated for the closer's role. Tier V reliever Jose Alvarado could end up getting the bulk of the ninth inning appearances for the Rays, but it's hard to count on any pitcher who plays for a team that's actively upending traditional roles throughout their staff.

Bringing up the rear, as they always seem to do in the Fantasy Astrology league, is Aquarius, a sign with only four tiered players on their entire roster - one less than the Libra starting rotation alone. Mutli-positional threat Whit Merrifield is a true fantasy asset for any team, and his ability to play the outfield alleviates a fairly significant roster logjam (allowing Tier III second baseman Rougned Odor to get into the lineup), but he's not necessarily the kind of player you want to headline your team with. It's possible that the White Sox's acquisition of Aries benchwarmer Yonder Alonso will keep Jose Abreu fresh with more at bats as the DH, but it's also possible that the DH penalty exists, in which case the Water Carriers would really be in trouble.

Speaking of being in trouble, this sign's only tiered pitcher found himself on the receiving end of a whopping 75-game domestic violence suspension last season, but despite that, Roberto Osuna is slated to close games for the heavily favored Houston Astros in 2019. Interestingly enough, another domestic violence suspension server, Addison Russell, is also a member of the Aquarius talent pool. Since there are no more tiered players to talk about, let's examine an astrological divisional oddity: the fact that Aquarius, a sign with Water in its nickname, resides in the Air division. This is actually quite logical if you think about it: although Water Carriers do interact with water, they must do so in an environment surrounded by air. If they were in water, there would be nothing to carry, and the bucket (or other receptacle) would just be floating around, and thus not able to be carried. Maybe someday there will be a bunch of elite players born between the months of January and February and we'll be able to focus only on the baseball accomplishments of this sign, but 2019 ain't that year.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Astrology 2019 Projected Lineups - Water Division

Next in line to preview is the Water Division, which is the home of Cancer, my home sign. I'm starting this post with the Crabs (formerly known as the Decapods), even though I led with Pisces in the list on the hub page - the two signs had the same amount of points in my bootleg ranking system. As a reminder of said system, signs gets 5 points for each Tier I player in their talent pool, continuing in descending order, finishing off with 1 point per Tier V player. And the color coding is as follows: Green = Tier I, Blue = II, Yellow = III, Red = IV, Purple = V

Cancer's two Tier I players exemplify the number one worst situation as far as positional ability vs. eligibility. Since Manny Machado and Trea Turner are only qualified to play shortstop, one of them has to be the DH, which means that position-less power threat Nelson Cruz must remain on the bench. Now, it's true that Machado will gain eligibility at the hot corner in short order with his new team in San Diego, but moving there would be displace Tier III third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who's ranked above Cruz. The real solution would be if Turner could line up at second base, which he totally could in real life, based on his skill set and 42 career games there. Heck, he could even line up in center field, which he did for 45 games in 2016.

Speaking of center field, the Crabs might be in line for some eligibility issues there in 2020, as Tier II outfielder Charlie Blackmon is slated to move to right field in favor of Virgo former first baseman Ian Desmond. Speaking of primary first basemen playing center, Cody Bellinger will give way to new Sagittarius acquisition A.J. Pollock, although the latter's  injury-prone status gives hope that the second generation big leaguer could maintain his eligibility. Meanwhile, fellow Tier III Andrew Benintendi has top tier defender Aries Jackie Bradley blocking his way in center for Boston. Rounding out Tier III is legendary catcher Yadier Molina, while Tier IV first baseman Jesus Aguilar's 2018 breakout is the main reason why Bellinger qualifying in the outfield is such a big deal.

The reason why Cancer has to squeeze every fantasy point out of its offense is a dearth of a quality, dependable pitching staff. The only hurlers Tier II or above are both closers, and while Blake Treinen put up otherworldly 2018 numbers and Felipe Vazquez throws gas whatever his name is, relief pitchers are a notoriously fickle source of points. Also Tier V relief pitcher Will Smith will languish on the bench for most of the fantasy season. Their top two starting pitchers, new teammates Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, have durability and inconsistency concerns (respectively... no, actually both have each). They say pitching wins championships, and if Michael Wacha doesn't return to prominence and Aaron Sanchez doesn't overcome his finger issues, this could be a long summer (or at least a short fall) for the Decapods.

Outside of consensus top catcher in the game J.T. Realmuto and his new Phillies teammate shortstop Jean Segura, this projected Pisces lineup will look a lot different than the one they'd be eligible to field on Opening Day. 2018 saw Tier III first baseman Rhys Hoskins lose his first base eligibility, thanks to the ill-fated plan of putting him in left field, but he'll get that back early in 2019. Until then, Jurickson Profar is actually qualified to line up at first, despite the fact that he'll be the primary second baseman for the A's this year, leaving Marwin Gonzalez to fill in until the great roster shuffle happens. And perhaps the biggest boon to this lineup will be when superprospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. gets over his oblique injury and gets the call to the big leagues.

When Vlad Jr. comes up, Tier IV third baseman and 2018 AL Rookie of the Year Miguel Andujar will shift to DH, which is his best "position" in real life too. Speaking of defensively limited sluggers, Nicholas Castellanos will patrol the outfield for this sign, since defense doesn't matter in fantasy. Both Tommy Pham and Tier V outfielder Michael Conforto have center field eligibility, but the latter was worth a win BELOW replacement level with his glove last year. If Realmuto struggles or goes down via injury, the Fish have a pretty good backup plan in Tier IV backstop Francisco Cervelli.

Despite his advanced age, Justin Verlander pitched himself back into Tier I status with the pitcher-whispering Astros organization. He's joined in Tier I by closer Aroldis Chapman, who will headline another stacked Yankees bullpen. Injury concerns push Clayton Kershaw into Tier II, as he has battled back issues in recent seasons. I don't know if the recent prognosis that Yankees ace Luis Severino will miss all of April would bump him down out of Tier II status, but I've already made these color-coded lists, and I'm not going to change them now. Tier IV starter German Marquez has proved that he can succeed in the rarefied air of Coors Field, and promises to lead another promising Rockies pitching staff this season.

In a near identical situation to Cancer above, Scorpio has both SS and DH gummed up by single-position-eligible players: in this case it's Indians star Francisco Lindor and Rockies slugger Trevor Story, the latter of whom could absolutely play second base (38 career games there in the minors) if this were a simulation rather than a fantasy lineup. That arrangement would allow Asdrubal Cabrera to function as a utility bench piece, and get Tier IV outfielder Marcell Ozuna into the lineup as DH. As things stand now, with fellow Tier II's Giancarlo Stanton and Juan Soto occupying the corner outfield spots, Ozuna will have to languish on the bench. Rangers slugger Joey Gallo is also eligible in the outfield, but it makes more sense for him to line up at first base, despite the presence of vastly overpaid Eric Hosmer on the roster. Behind the plate, Yasmani Grandal should continue to be a big asset, given that the fantasy season doesn't extend into the real life playoffs, where the switch-hitter has a history of choking with the Dodgers.

Also similar to Cancer's roster, the strength of this team is 100% its offense, as the best pitchers on the staff are of the Tier III variety. James Paxton has ace-level stuff, but has yet to prove that he can stay healthy consistently. Jameson Taillon is a good bet to continue his breakout streak with the Pirates, given his former prospect pedigree. Charlie Morton is another Tier V candidate, if the analysts bothered to do a deeper dive into the position that shows up more often than any other on a fantasy roster... Meanwhile in the bullpen, Cody Allen's new job with the Angels assures that he should go back to getting plenty of save opportunities, which wasn't the case at the end of his last year in Cleveland, where he was all but supplanted by trade acquisition Aries lefty Brad Hand late last season.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Astrology 2019 Projected Rosters - Earth Division

As outlined in the last post, the Fire Division has the top two signs, according to's positional fantasy tiers. Next in line is Virgo, which resides in the Earth Division. As a reminder, signs gets 5 points for each Tier I player in their talent pool, continuing in descending order, finishing off with 1 point per Tier V player. And the color coding is as follows: Green = Tier I, Blue = II, Yellow = III, Red = IV, Purple = V

Jose Ramirez won over the hearts and minds of fantasy evaluators, despite a late-season dropoff in production last year. Sticking with the 3B position (rather than going tier-by-tier), the Brewers re-signed Tier IV third baseman Mike Moustakas with the expectation of shifting him to second base, a position he's never played in his professional career. If this experiment goes well, it could work wonders for the Virgo Maidens, for which 2B was a bit of a void last year, at least according to strict fantasy eligibility. There are plenty of sluggers with experience at second base - among them Ramirez himself, Tier IV first baseman Max Muncy, super utility player Chris Taylor, and Rays shortstop Willy Adames - but you have to go all the way down to Enrique Hernandez (the sign's 38th highest-ranked player, according to before you get someone with enough 2018 games to qualify at the keystone.

For many years, Paul Goldschmidt has been the gold standard for fantasy first basemen (pun intended), and it's scary to think that his number might actually improve now that he's been traded away from Arizona, where they keep their baseballs in a humidor. Goldy headlines a famously deep crop at 1B for Virgo, which interestingly includes one in each tier: Freddie Freeman, who was once almost able to alleviate this logjam when the Braves briefly played him at 3B, Joey Votto, whose power outage in 2018 kept him from the elite status to which he is accustomed, and the aforementioned Muncy. Carlos Correa headlines a similarly deep group of players at shortstop, as he's followed (in's rankings) by Elvis Andrus, Marcus Semien, and Andrelton Simmons; which could be useful if Correa ends up missing time again. Center fielder George Springer is the lineup's lone Tier III starter, while Justin Upton earns a Tier IV placement heading into his second full season as Mike Trout's number one lineup protector.

After heading to the Astros last offseason, Gerrit Cole finally took the next step into superstardom (and Tier I honors) after several inconsistent years with the Pirates. It might be optimistic to expect him to repeat his performance, but maybe Houston's pitching gurus just have what it takes to unlock potential. Speaking of potential, Noah Syndergaard has some of the most electric stuff in the game, but injury concerns keep him stuck in Tier II land for now. David Price put up another decent regular season last year, while also exorcising some postseason demons. If's fantasy staff included a Tier V for starting pitchers, you'd have to believe that recently-extended Miles Mikolas would be in it. The Virgo bullpen is headlined by two Tier IV closers whose stars have fallen a bit of late: Wade Davis did not pitch up to his usual standards in his first season in Colorado, while Ken Giles found himself unceremoniously shipped from the Astros to the Blue Jays at last year's trade deadline. I guess there are some pitchers who are beyond the reach of Houston's pitching gurus...

One might look at Taurus's cavalcade of tiered batters - only first baseman Brandon Belt failed to get a mention in the article - and assume that this sign is a fantasy astrology superpower, but just wait until you get to the next section. Former AL MVP Jose Altuve is the lone Tier I batter, who should be fully healthy after knee issues slowed him into the 2018 playoffs. It wasn't the knee, but the elbow that kept Corey Seager off the field for most of last season, but the former Rookie of the Year should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery by Opening Day. Another former Rookie of the Year, Aaron Judge also struggled with injuries in 2018, although the nature of those injuries escapes me at the moment. The starting catcher spot normally belongs to Salvador Perez, but his season-ending UCL damage was reported before these tiers were established, so I didn't have to do any tinkering to place Tier III backstop Willson Contreras in the starting role. For some reason, Dee Gordon gets a lot of love from's fantasy ranking system (chicks dig the stolen base, I guess?), and the potential second base logjam is alleviated since he has holdover eligibility in center field. Speaking of the second base logjam, Scooter Gennett might not have any contract extension offers to remain in Cincinnati, but he does have one more year left playing in their bandbox of a stadium.

Want even more second baseman? Former all-world power threat Brian Dozier will be suiting up at the keystone for the Nationals, while speedster Jonathan Villar will likely split his time between Baltimore's two middle infield spots. Sticking with the middle infield, Jose Peraza has found a home as the Reds' shortstop after bouncing around the diamond early in his career. I might be biased, but I think Matt Chapman deserves more than a Tier IV placement, but it is true that fantasy does not take defense into account. The catching position is fairly well stocked, even with Perez succumbing to Tommy John surgery, thanks to the presence of Welington Castillo as a backup. In the outfield, only injury concerns keep Michael Brantley as a Tier V placement, since his bat deserves better. If the hype surrounding Dee Gordon doesn't pan out, his new Mariners teammate Mallex Smith will make a fine fallback option when healthy, and of course there's one of the game's top prospects, Victor Robles, waiting in the wings.

The Bulls have the ignominious distinction of being the only sign without a single tiered pitcher in their talent pool. Breakout lefty Kyle Freeland is another candidate for a hypothetical Tier V placement, while Marcus Stroman has shown some star potential in the past, and Justus Sheffield is a fast-rising prospect to watch. It's also cool that a pair of Trevors occupies the final two slots in the rotation. The Taurus bullpen actually does have two pitchers that could be in line for their teams' respective closer roles in Mychal Givens (Orioles) and Wily Peralta (Royals), but unfortunately their potential save opportunities will be few and far between on the teams with 2018's two worst records.

Only two signs fail to boast a single Tier I player on their rosters, and you're looking at one of them. Former MVP and Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant surely has that potential, but injuries kept him from achieving it last season. A key piece of the Braves' young core, Ozzie Albies is less proven, and his production did fall off dramatically in the second half last year, but the talent level (and the enthusiasm level) is real. Mitch Haniger's center field eligibility helps his overall fantasy picture, but he doesn't need it on a Goats team that also has Odubel Herrera as a starter and all-world defender Kevin Pillar as a backup. Edwin Encarnacion likely has a tough road ahead of him to return to one of the game's premier power threats, especially playing his home games at spacious Safeco Field... until he is traded, that is. Looking ahead to the near future, shortstop prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. should take over soon, pushing Eduardo Escobar to utility infield duty.

Capricorn has a deceptively deep rotation, despite only one tiered starter: analytics student and social media bully Trevor Bauer. But Rick Porcello and Dallas Keuchel are both former Cy Young Award winners, Cole Hamels had a resurgent second half last year after a trade to the Cubs, and his teammate Jon Lester has had a long and illustrious career. All should have solid, if not spectacular, performances in 2019, assuming Keuchel eventually signs with a team. Raisel Iglesias possesses tremendous talent, but the Reds' willingness to use him as a non-traditional reliever (read: goodbye regular save opportunities) could limit his fantasy relevance. Drew Steckenrider is likely the best shot to get those save opportunities for the Marlins, but it's questionable how many will be available for a clear rebuilding team.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Astrology 2019 Projected Rosters - Fire Division

Starting with the top team in the Fire Division, Aries has one fantasy astrology championship under their belt (way back in 2017), and they look primed to pick up another one with a stacked roster in both the offensive and pitching sides of the equation. Let's take a look at the players tier by fantasy tier - see the hub post for an explanation of the color-coding system; the numbers to the right of each player's line represent how that player's overall fantasy ranking compares to the other members of that player's sign.

The recently extended Nolan Arenado is the lone tier 1 batter on the Rams team, and he's earned his place amongst the game's top third basemen, Coors Field bonus notwithstanding. I should note that Alex Bregman was actually ranked among the second tier of third basemen, his primary real life position, despite the fact that he was fantasy eligible at shortstop last year. Not to wish ill on his Astros teammate Carlos Correa (a Virgo), but if Bregman doesn't get his minimum 20 games at short to qualify again next year, this team will take a huge step back looking ahead to 2020. Speaking of injuries, it's not unreasonable to expect Buster Posey to jump back into the top tier of fantasy catchers with a full, healthy season in 2019.

Skipping over Tier III (for now), the versatility of projected starting DH Travis Shaw (2B/3B) allows Aries to carry an additional first baseman on the bench behind starter Matt Olson. I picked Carlos Santana over Miguel Cabrera, not just because of the former's switch hitting ability, but also because I frankly doubt that the latter will bounce back to approach his mid-career form in his age 36 season. I think Daniel Murphy is getting the short shrift being stuck in Tier IV, since a) he's slated to move to a less challenging defensive position (1B), and b) he'll be playing his home games in the hitter-friendliest park in the majors.

Not one, but two Tier IV catchers are available to back up ther perennial All-Star Posey: Blue Jays prospect Danny Jansen, who is no longer blocked by Russell Martin following the Aquarian's trade back to Los Angeles, and power hitting Mike Zunino, who is no longer in Seattle following his trade to Tampa Bay. Lorenzo Cain headlines a surprisingly weak outfield for such an impressive overall sign; the only other outfielder of note is Tier V left fielder David Dahl, the third Rockie in the projected starting lineup.

On the pitching side, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber should continue to put up elite-level numbers after a winter filled with sensible extension discussions and surprising trade rumors, respectively. If you're going to pay for saves on your fantasy team, Edwin Diaz is a good bet, although it's still unclear how he'll perform under the bright lights and high scrutiny that comes with playing in New York. The only other tiered starter is Kluber's Cleveland teammate Carlos Carrasco, who signed an extension of his own after another quietly dominant season. Their fellow Indian Brad Hand should have a clear shot to racking up saves totals with Sagittarius closer Cody Allen now out of the picture.

The only two Tier III players on this roster are relievers with drastically different situations. Kirby Yates earned the Padres' closer role last year and should hold it down this coming season, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Conversely, Josh Hader is part of a three-headed bullpen monster in Milwaukee who's not guaranteed more than 33% of his team's save chances, but his lights-out stuff and tendency to be used in multi-inning stints makes him a good bet to put up impressive points totals. It's still not clear whether David Robertson will give way to youngster Seranthony Dominguez at the back end of the Phillies bullpen, but he's an established enough closer to easily land a Tier IV placement.

Ranking Gary Sanchez in the first tier of catchers (a tier in which he is joined only by Pisces backstop J.T. Realmuto) requires the optimistic assumption that he will be able to stay healthy and hit at his usual scorching pace for a full season, but the talent is undeniably there. When I saw Javier Baez ranked in the first tier of second basemen, I a) wholeheartedly agreed, and b) was worried about how his multi-position eligibility (he also qualified at 2B and 3B) would affect my highlighting system for this list. Reading ahead, my fears were allayed, since each player is listed only once. Nevertheless, he occupies shortstop for the Archers, where he will likely start 2019 for the real life Cubs while Aquarian Addison Russell is serving his suspension, leaving second base for AL Rookie of the Year finalist Gleyber Torres (who also qualified at shortstop for his time spent filling in for the injured Pisces Didi Gregorius). The other two Tier II outfielders had extremely impressive seasons in terms of hardware, as Christian Yelich won the NL MVP and Ronald Acuna Jr. was named the same league's Rookie of the Year.

Continuing the theme of infield versatility, Matt Carpenter not only qualified for third base last season, but that will be his primary position in 2019 with the Cardinals' acquisition of star Virgo first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. However, not only was he ranked in the third tier of first baseman, that's where he'll play for the Archers, as they have both a Tier III and Tier IV third baseman on deck, in Justin Turner and Josh Donaldson, respectively. It was curious to me that ranked Khris Davis in the third tier of outfielders, since he played just 11 games in the field 2018, but luckily this astrolgoy team has an open DH spot for him. Tier IV right fielder Yasiel Puig rounds out the starting outfield, with a trio of Tier V players available as backups: A.J. Pollock for center field, Wil Myers, who is also fourth on the sign's 3B depth chart, and superprospect Eloy Jimenez, who likely won't see the White Sox's MLB roster until a couple weeks into the season for service time reasons. (The ^ next to his name denotes that he has yet to qualify at his listed position in the majors.)

Despite winning the AL Cy Young Award last year, Rays lefty Blake Snell has to be content with a Tier II placement heading into 2019. Maybe the pundits doubt his ability to repeat his impressive breakout season on a team that is increasingly shying away from the traditional starting pitcher. Tier III reliever Jose Leclerc's recent extension with Texas should allow him to hold down the closer's role all year, without the front office worrying about those pesky saves totals driving his salaries up in the arbitration process. If Tier IV starter Mike Clevinger can continue his impressive production from last season, the Indians should be in a good spot as far as the AL Central is concerned, despite a rather quiet offseason. If the Brewers continue their reliever usage pattern of 2018, Corey Knebel might be the most fantasy relevant of the star-studded bunch, since he got most of the traditional three-out save opportunities last year.

Leo has somewhat of a top-heavy lineup, but when the top is the consensus best player in baseball, you've got a good starting point. As if Mike Trout weren't enough to anchor a fantasy lineup, he's joined by another Tier 1 outfielder in J.D. Martinez, who, unlike Khris Davis, actually qualified as an outfielder last year, despite DH being his primary position. Add to those two a Tier II first baseman like Anthony Rizzo, and you not only have a solid middle of the order, but also a good lefty-righty balance. This is especially true when you consider Tier V outfielder David Peralta, whose 2018 breakout was apparently viewed as mostly smoke and mirrors by evaluators.

It remains to be seen whether Tier III catcher Wilson Ramos will be able to maintain the health of his knee over a full season in the DH-less National League (although rumblings are that this rule could be changing soon). In a speed-happy Royals lineup, Adalberto Mondesi should have the chance to pad his stolen base totals. I also want to say something about common sense defensive alignment vs. strict fantasy positional eligibility: either Mondesi or backup shortstop Paul DeJong could absolutely handle second base in a real life/simulation situation, which would keep this team from having to rely on unproven prospect Brendan Rodgers. Beyond that, Zack Cozart's injury status (denoted by the + next to his name, which also procs spellcheck on Google Docs) makes the infield picture even murkier at the moment.

It turns out that Leo's rotation is as top-heavy as its lineup, with the game's highest-ranked starting pitcher serving as their ace. But things get significantly less consistent behind Max Scherzer and his yearly strikeout totals that are all-but guaranteed to approach 300. Tier III sophomore Walker Buehler has tremendous potential, but he did throw a lot of innings last year, and has a Tommy John surgery under his belt. Madison Bumgarner is a playoff hero who has cemented his place in Giants lore, but injuries, both baseball- and recreation-related, have stalled his last two seasons. In the bullpen, it's not at all clear that Archie Bradley will win the D-Backs' closer job over veteran pickup Greg Holland (an un-tiered Scorpio). Brandon Morrow gets an unceremonious Tier V placement (despite his superior rank to Tier IV Bradley) because the hard throwing yet fragile righty will likely not be ready for Opening Day after missing most of the end of last season.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Astrology 2019 Projected Rosters HUB

Recently, the good folks at broke down the players at every position on the diamond into tiers for fantasy purposes. Combined with my baseball database (updated as of the start of Spring Training games), I thought this would be a good opportunity to size up the Fantasy Astrology lineups for the upcoming season. So I threw together some projected rosters based on's overall fantasy rankings, and devised a rudimentary point system to determine which astrological signs are the best equipped for success in the 2019 season.

Basically, signs get five (5) points for each tier one (I) player in their talent pool, 4 points per tier II player, 3 points per tier III player, 2 points per tier IV player, and 1 point per tier V player (a tier that only exists for outfielders and relief pitchers). The math nerds amongst you might be able to come up with a better, more comprehensive system, but this is the best I could do under the... amount of work I was willing to put into this project. There's also a color-coding system, but that is detailed in the following image that also has point totals for all 12 signs.

As you can see, Aries is the clear winner with an 12 "point" advantage over runner-up Sagittarius, a sign that has never yet had much fantasy astrology success, but that could change with a sneaky good lineup that might prove good enough to carry a lackluster piching staff. Those two are followed by perennial contender Virgo, then a tie between Pisces and Cancer (the "Fish" are listed above the "Crabs" because they have more "tiered" players), with former powerhouse Libra not far behind.

Then there's a clear dropoff in talent level as we get to the second half of the league. Taurus, Leo, and Scorpio are closely grouped together as far as points, but each have significant holes in their respective rosters (which will be ennumerated in subsequent recap posts to appear at a later date). Last year's surprise champion Gemini headlines the bottom quarter of the astrology teams, with Capricorn barely reaching the 20 point barrier, while the hapless Aquarius brings up the rear, as usual.

Below is a list of all 12 fantasy astrology teams - in text form, not an image. As articles for each team (or perhaps for each division) start to appear, this text will magically transform into hyperlinks, on which you will then be able to click to lead you to said articles. Until that starts to happen, please enjoy some let's play videos of (the remastered version of) one of the best video games of all time, Batman: Arkham City!

Aries (61)
Sagittarius (49)
Leo (34)

Virgo (45)
Taurus (35)
Capricorn (20)

Cancer (43)
Pisces (43)
Scorpio (33)

Libra (41)
Gemini (24)
Aquarius (14)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

All-Acquired Teams 2019 - Spring Training Update

Since we've reached the episode that serves as the "midseason finale" (and beyond) of my Return to Arkham City Let's Play videos, I've decided to take  a break from the blog recaps to jump into a little baseball. Spring Training games started nearly two weeks ago, on February 21, but it's taken me since then to update my patented baseball database with rosters and rankings as of that day. And with that endeavor, comes the opportunity to update another one of my patented offseason lists: the All-Acquired Teams. I had been keeping track of each league's roster on a semi-regular basis, but since I haven't updated that in a while, we can see some of the more wholesale changes. So here's the first look at my newly updated 2019 database, with a few extra columns, and's 2019 fantasy rankings!

My previous posts were last updated as of Christmas 2018, so most of the main contributors in this lineup were previously covered, including Paul Goldschmdit, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Donaldson, and Yasiel Puig. Since that time, both J.T. Realmuto (traded from the Marlins to the Phillies) and Yasmani Grandal (signed as a free agent with the Brewers) supplanted Wilson Ramos behind the plate. Also A.J. Pollock (signed by the Dodgers to what was at the time the winter's biggest free agent contract for a position player) solidified a center field mix that had been mostly populated by minor league signees. At seconds base, Daniel Murphy barely beats out Robinson Cano (ranked 128), probably because Murph is slated to play his home games at offensive haven Coors Field.

Because this version of the list had a "pencils down" cutoff of 2/20 (the day before Spring Training games officially started), two of the NL's biggest acquisitions aren't covered here. There are a couple of different ways to get the Padres' newest infielder Manny Machado (ranked 9 overall) into the lineup. One is to simply have him replace Josh Donaldson at his projected 2019 position of third base, but that's taking away a lot of upside from a former league MVP looking for a bounceback season. The other is to put Machado at short and move Jean Segura to second base, where he has played in the past, even though he didn't qualify there based on 2018 positional eligibility. That would take Daniel Murphy's left handed bat out of the lineup, but this team stands to add another one in the form of new Phillie Bryce Harper (ranked 14), which would push either Puig or McCutchen to the DH spot.

In the pitching staff, Patrick Corbin (signed by the Nationals), Alex Wood (traded from the Dodgers to the Reds), and Luke Weaver (involved in the above-mentioned Goldschmidt trade) were already accounted for, along with closer Edwin Diaz (who was traded, along with Cano, from the Mariners to the Mets). The two new members of the rotation were added by teams that had already appeared on this list, as Sonny Gray was traded from the Yankees to the Reds (by way of the Mariners) and Anibal Sanchez joins Corbin as a free agent signing by the Nats. Andrew Miller was already in the all-acquired pool as of my last updates (having been signed by the Cardinals on 12/21/18), but since I was going by 2018 fantasy points rather than 2019 rankings, he was placed behind Jeurys Familia. Newcomers David Robertson (signed by the Phillies) and Greg Holland (signed by the Diamondbacks) both have a decent shot to accumulate saves with their new teams, which is why I put Holland on the list ahead of Trevor Rosenthal (yet another pitcher signed by the Nats) even though the latter was ranked slightly higher at 250 overall.

Would you believe that Nelson Cruz (signed by the Twins the day after New Years) was the only position player added to this roster after the previous Christmas Day '18 update? Even Mike Zunino was in the pool (he was traded for Mallex Smith), but he amassed fewer 2018 fantasy points than Robinson Chirinos. I'm admittedly bending the rules a bit by placing Carlos Santana at third base, as he only played the hot corner during a brief experiment for the Phillies last year, but otherwise the best option there would have been Asdrubal Cabrera (ranked 228), who was signed by the Rangers. Come to think of it, if we're willing to sacrifice defense, I might as well have put Mallex Smith in center field and had Jake Bauers (ranked 181) line up in one of the outfield corners, despite the fact that he too is a first baseman by trade. But either way, the American League has pretty seriously lagged behind their National League counterparts in terms of bringing in new players during this offseason.

Like the NL, the one, two, and five spots in the rotation had already been accounted for before the holidays - James Paxton was traded from the Mariners to the Yankees, Charlie Morton was signed by the Rays in rare outlay of free agent dollars, and Trevor Cahill was plucked from the open market by the Angels. Yusei Kikuchi will be making his MLB debut when he starts first for Seattle, but his Japanese league stats last year were very impressive: 1,869 points and an average of 81.3 points per game pitching for the Seibu Lions. Shelby Miller is a bounceback candidate in a Rangers rotation full of them, but if he follows the same path that Mike Minor took last year, he could be in line for a more successful trip through free agency next year.

By contrast, all four relief pitchers on this list are new additions. Cody Allen, another free agent signing by the Angels, will likely have the first crack at save opportunities with his new team, after taking a step back from his dominant closing career with the Indians in 2018. Kelvin Herrera might be engaged in a camp battle with fellow newcomer Alex Colome (ranked 286) for the ninth inning role on the south side of Chicago, as he recovers from a season-ending knee injury. Adam Ottavino might have the best raw stuff of any all-acquired reliever, but his low placement in a deep Yankees bullpen depth chart affects his ranking here. I really wanted to put a lefty in this last bullpen spot, but I couldn't get past Zach Britton's fantasy rank of 426, even though his ranking was suppressed for the same reason as Ottavino.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Let's Play Batman: Return to Arkham City: Episode 9

If this Let's Play series were a season of a television show split into two parts (in the style of The Walking Dead), this episode would serve as the midseason finale (or "midnale," to use a term I coined). I won't say any more for now, except that it ends with a rousing bit of action that also serves as a natural stopping point in the game's narrative. Go ahead, see what I mean by watching the embedded video.

But before we get to the exciting conclusion, we have to wrap up the business from the last episode: rescuing the undercover cops from Penguin in the museum. The predator challenge where we save a big group of them from some armed enemies happens with accompaniment of a driving, horns-based musical theme, known on the official soundtrack as "How Does It Feel, Pig?" However, if you listen closely to the music in this part of the game, it's clear that this track is actually the second layer of a musical theme we've heard earlier, called "Trophy Room." So that's why, after I took out all the henchmen and talked to the cops, I filled this usually music-less space with this same track. Additionally, during the trip from the Armory over to the Iceberg Lounge, I use a track that we've heard before from the extended soundtrack called "Entering Penguin's Turf."

We quickly discover that it's pointless to confront Penguin without first finding a way to disable the ice gun that he stole from Mr. Freeze, so we have to search the museum for everyone's favorite cryogenic scientist - and that's when the music gets interesting. For this section I inserted my favorite piece of music from Arkham Asylum: a dual-layer masterpiece that is not on the official soundtrack, but which can be found in the in-game audio files under such innocuous names as Batman and Combat. If you listen to those two tracks separately, you'll see that one contains just the strings, while the other features just the horns, but when you put them together, they form an extremely complex and evocative theme that perfectly embodies the feel of both the Arkham games and the Batman universe in general. What's more, for its use in this Let's Play, I mix the various layers in and out depending on the action in the game. For example, listen closely to the music during the search for Mr. Freeze (and again as we make our way back to the Freeze Suit in the Armory) and see if you can distinguish the different versions of the track.

But between those two segments, we actually have to find Mr. Freeze and get some information out of him. Since he is locked in a room with more of Penguin's character-specific display cases, I took that as a good opportunity to showcase some more music from Batman: The Animated Series. First and foremost, there's the opening theme from "Heart of Ice," when we first see Mr. Freeze (the zero-suit version, pictured above). But before that, we see the remains of Joker's famous hyenas, which make their first animated appearance in the episode "Joker's Favor." Then there's a case for Harley Quinn, under which I put the opening theme from the episode "Harley and Ivy." And for the Clown Prince of Crime himself, we get a theme that we've heard before, from "The Last Laugh," but it's such a perfect musical representation of the Joker, that I don't feel too bad about reusing it multiple times.

The last piece of personal music in this episode is probably the most outrageous one in the whole Let's Play, but it goes along with what's probably the most outrageous moment of the whole game. While traveling back across the thawing lake, Tiny the shark makes another appearance, this time jumping up to chomp down on our raft! Reacting quickly to this surprise attack, Batman executes a Beat Down maneuver (i.e. spamming the strike button) until it goes away. This is clearly a reference to the extra campy "Shark Repellant Bat Spray" sequence from the 1966 movie Batman, starring Adam West, which is why I punctuate this moment with a jazzy rendition of main theme from the soundtrack of the 1960s TV show.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Let's Play Batman: Return to Arkham City: Episode 8

I probably shouldn't admit this, but looking back on it, the entirety of Episode 7 could have been lifted out of the timeline without too many adverse effects. Sure, we got the first entrance into Penguin's museum, and the Zsasz backstory will be relevant later on, but the presence of those sensor jammers (even though they're technically part of the main story missions) doesn't have much of an impact on the plot. That said, Episode 8, on the other hand, is jam-packed with plot development, compelling twists and turns, and top notch gameplay action!

Despite all the above sensor jammer-bashing, we do have to deal with the aftermath of that "side" mission at the top of this episode, when Penguin broadcasts to his henchmen who failed to protect his devices, as we make our way back topside. For this little audio interlude, I used the opening theme of Penguin's third dedicated episode in Batman: the Animated Series, titled "Birds of a Feather". In this episode, Penguin convinces himself that he's reformed his villainous ways after a lengthy prison sentence, and attempts to join high society... with disastrous results. I thought the upbeat, operatic string section provided a nice juxtaposition to the brutality he was threatening to inflict on his workforce.

Once we finally get into the museum for real, we're presented with a sticky situation: three of Penguin's goons are torturing an undercover cop, who is part of a strike team sent in by Commissioner Gordon. While this happens, the in-game music starts off as a track from the extended soundtrack, appropriately titled "Trophy Room," since the scene takes place in the Trophy Room. However, once we're done beating down the enemies and we start talking to the cop - the strongly named Elvis Jones - all the music goes away. So I inserted a variant track that's very similar to "Trophy Room," except without the subtle driving percussion. This cue extends though a tour of the trophy room itself, including two separate display cabinets set up for Bruce Wayne and Batman... imagine Penguin's disappointment if he ever managed to catch our hero!

After a confrontation with the Penguin himself, he predictably resorts to throwing a bunch of henchmen at us, in a fight scored by the in-game track "It's Initiation Time." This fight also includes a TITAN-enhanced henchman, which was the inspiration for the next bit of personal music: the TITAN henchmen boss battle theme from Arkham Asylum. This plays while we're explaining the situation to the newest entry to tonight's support team, Oracle (a.k.a. Barbara Gordon), and continues while I explore the way forward. While I start with the full version of the music, as this sequence continues I also utilize the track's component parts: the strings and percussion and the horn section.

And that's it for personal music, excluding the track I used for the "last time on" recap (which was also from the last episode) and the brief moment where I returned to the Arkham Asylum main menu theme for selecting an upgrade. Tune in next time for what would be the mid-season finale, if this series was split in half, a-la the later seasons of The Walking Dead.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Let's Play Batman: Return to Arkham City: Episode 7

It might be hard to believe, but a full two-thirds of Episode 7 of my Batman: Return to Arkham City Let's Play is part of the main story missions. Watch the video below and see if you can which parts are mandatory, and which are side missions:

If you guessed that the first "act" was the one comprised of side missions, you'd be absolutely right. But it's understandable if you thought the rest of the episode wasn't particularly story-centric, since by the end of the episode, we're still not able to progress very far into Penguin's museum, which is the goal of our primary objective. But sometimes you have to go a long distance out of your way in order to come back a short distance correctly.

You see, Penguin had set up his base of operations inside the Cyrus Pinkney Natural History museum, which, as a municipal structure, I should have been able to hack my way inside using the Cryptographic Sequencer. But since Oswald Cobblepot has access to military grade equipment for some reason, he was able to block the signal back to the Batcave using communications jammers, which are inconveniently spread all across the map. So while destroying them is necessary for progressing through the main story, it's also a task that could be pretty easily isolated and lifted out if necessary.

But before getting to that in the episode, I tackle a pair of actual side missions: gliding through advanced augmented reality obstacle courses and chasing after a couple more of Victor Zsasz's ringing phones. This Zsasz element provides the only real opportunity to name this episode after a character, even though we were introduced to the self-scarred serial killer in the previous episode, and we won't complete his side mission until many episodes later. But since Calendar Man's only appearance was in the previous episode and we don't get our first real meeting with the Penguin until next time, I was left with precious few choices.

Meanwhile, the AR side missions provide the only real chance to insert any personal music - namely the Arkham Asylum Main Theme while I'm in the pause menu searching for the next mission. I know I said I wasn't going to highlight any future uses of this track, but it's basically the only one in this episode, so I'm making an exception. Oh, there is one other track I added: after destroying the third jammer, Batman does some VO commentary about how he's now able to get into the museum. This happens after the predator challenge music stings out, so I spiced this moment up with a track from the extended soundtrack (which we also heard earlier in this episode, upon entering the museum for the first time) called "Entering Penguin's Turf."