The NAMES AIDS Quilt and The Dark Tower

Until about three days ago I had never heard of the NAMES AIDS Quilt, never even consciously realized that there was an AIDS epidemic really.  I mean I was born in ’87 so that was a bit before my time, but I was reading an article by Kergan Edwards-Stout on the Huffington Post and when he mentioned this quilt, I mean I got goosebumps.  I get goosebumps now just thinking and writing about it.

I’ve quoted that bit that blew me away, but you can read the entire article here:

“Several years ago, there was an article in the L.A. Times which I still find haunting — perhaps because I so identify with it. The story was about the NAMES AIDS quilt and how it now lays largely in a warehouse in Atlanta, gathering dust. And yet there is a woman there who tends the quilt, who has been there since that first day in San Francisco with Cleve Jones. She works endlessly, patching and mending panels as they are returned from exhibits. She plays dance music to “her boys” as she works, often alone late at night, and wonders why people have forgotten.”

Powerful stuff right?  But I don’t know if this bit would have struck such a special chord if I hadn’t read Stephen King’s Dark Tower books once a year for the past five years.  I’ve started on my sixth go round and I’m on Book Three right now, following Roland and his ka-tet through the wastelands (the drawers to those who walk the path of the beam) to that terrible train, Blaine.

The hero of the books is the gunslinger, Roland Deschain of Gilead that was, a sort of cowboy knight-errant on a quest to save the Dark Tower, the lynchpin of all universes.  He’s the last of his kind, his brothers-in-arms are dust in the wind since the Good Man destroyed Gilead, the final bastion of civilization. They fought and died for the Tower, Alain, Cuthbert, Jamie, even Susan Delgado in Mejis on the Clean Sea, though she never knew it. Still Roland soldiers on, but he remembers them all. He keeps each one of them in his heart, and if he reaches the Tower, reaches the blood-red fields of Can’-Ka No Rey? He will recite their names at the foot of that terrible basalt monolith before he climbs to the room at the top to meet… God? Gan? No one?

This woman that Kergan mentioned, she reminds me of Roland.  I could see her so vividly and I can see her now. It’s dark and it’s dusty and it’s late. She sits at her sewing machine carefully reattaching pieces of cloth to the quilt, mending those that have been damaged during transport. Each piece she holds tenderly, as though the sanctity of the memory contained within the threads might be somehow tainted if she’s too rough. She looks sad; she is grieving. She is always grieving, yet beneath the sorrow she feels hope, and most of all she feels love. She feels the love of those that remain, of those that honor the lost, burned into every fibre of the fabric. She feels proud, not only of her duty, but that the quilt travels this country, a living, breathing, growing monument to the fallen and a reminder to those who try not to remember and pretend not to see.

She is the protector of a people gone to the clearing at the end of the path, a steward to a terrible time that should never be forgot, a mother to untold thousands, a keeper of a secret history, and she reminds me of Roland. Ever since I read that little article I’ve wanted to see the quilt. I’ve visited Hiroshima, seen the innumerable paper cranes at the Childrens’ Peace Monument. It was a sobering, humbling, and unforgettable experience and I think seeing the quilt would be something like that. I could pay my respects.

I know she probably isn’t real, maybe never was, but that doesn’t change the way that Kergan’s words affected me. He created a fictional character in my head, as I hope to have done in yours. It doesn’t matter that she might never have been real, or that the quilt hasn’t been forgotten, at least not in the time of this writing. What’s wild is that this text may never have meant much to me unless I had read the Dark Tower and had travelled so many wheels with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, Oy, and all the rest. Can fiction make things more real? That’s not a question I can answer, but what I do know is that the synthesis of these two writings created something incredible in my mind, something I hope to have communicated to you in some small way.

Long days and pleasant nights.

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Diving into The Call of Cthulhu LCG

I’ve always wanted to get into collectible card games. In elementary school I was all about Marvel’s Overpower series but never played. I amassed my fair share of Pokemon and Magic cards in middle school – Pokemon because it was THE thing and Magic because of the incredible art. I played Culdcept Saga and a of couple Yu Gi Oh games for the PS2 way back when. I bought a starter deck of Avatar: The Last Airbender cards a few years ago on a whim, just because I love the TV series. Now, as an almost 25 year-old graduate student I think I’ve finally found a game that I’m willing to really learn and play: Fantasy Flight Games’ The Call of Cthulhu LCG.

I don’t know how I found out about it but after I did, I couldn’t get enough. I dug right into FFG’s top of the line tutorial vids, started reading all about the seven competing factions, read strategy stuff on the FFG forums, read/watched reviews; basically for about a two week period all I did was sponge up everything people were saying about The Call of Cthulhu LCG.  I didn’t own a single card but I couldn’t get enough! I think this was mostly to reinforce the decision I had already made, that I was going to get the core set and start playing, but I needed a good reason to spend that forty bucks. Then I realized I was going on vacation with my girlfriend. I started to plan.

It was the perfect time to rope my wonderful, beautiful, intelligent girlfriend into playing a card game with me that didn’t involve drinking copious amounts of alcohol, though as it turned out there were quite a few beers involved in our second game. We were heading up to Lake Huron to run a 10k on Mackinac Island and we were staying at my family’s cabin in Cheboygan. It’s remote: no TV, no internet, all I would need to do is hide the car keys and her phone, then I could spring my trap! She would be my captive, with no choice but to succumb to the siren call of H.P. Lovecraft’s most horrifying Ancient One!

Luckily my girlfriend is pretty great, so when I asked her to play I only got the requisite “the things I do for my boyfriend” eyeroll. We sat down and unboxed the game, chose our factions, she pulled Yog Sothoth/Syndicate and I got Miskatonic/Hastur, broke out the rule book and got started. While we had questions about domain draining, card effects, location support cards, and timing issues almost immediately, the games ran relatively smoothly. Some things became immediately apparent, that having domains free for defense is absolutely necessary, and that Miskatonic can rush really really well with low cost characters and investigation tokens up to wazoo.

What else did we learn? Oh that committing to stories so they’re not uncommitted seemed pivotal to defending stories and that, at least in the core set, the Ghost is a crazy awesome defense character for those situations without terror icons. The way you stack your domains matters, the characters you choose to have wounded matters, everything matters, and as much as my girlfriend says she didn’t want to play, I think she enjoyed winning some of those stories.

The most confusing thing for us was the timing. We were never quite sure when to play events, or rather we were confused as to when we were ALLOWED to play events. In the Operations Phase you can play characters and support cards, but can you play events before you have committed your characters to stories? Also, can you play events after the resolution of stories?

Because of this event indecision our second game devolved into a screaming match, my girlfriend claiming I was cheating, though I barely knew enough about the game to cheat. Oh and there was alcohol involved, so that may have had a small something to do with it. Now I think we’ve got a better handle on that sort of stuff thanks to the action diagram in the rule book, but at first we were totally lost and one of us was really salty. We also wondered about location support cards: are they permanent? Do they last the entire game unless destroyed? If so it seems like Victoria Glasser’s Apartment, which doesn’t allow players to restore insane characters during their Refresh Phrase, is a very very solid card, especially since Hastur is so good at making characters go insane.

Hastur bringing the crazy!

Other than that I had a great time. Through teaching the gf I think I learned a lot, though  I’d love to play against more experienced players who could really teach me the ropes. Also it has become abundantly clear that without collecting any of the Asylum Packs, which have replaced boosters thank gosh, you have relatively few options while playing the game. Out of the starter box you certainly get enough to learn, and for someone like me, who gets transfixed on possible strategies, it teases what would be possible with more cards, or copies of certain cards. I would actually say that’s the greatest strength of the core set, it give just a little taste of the possibilities, of the killer decks you could create with just a few more cards, and now I think I’m hooked. It was awesome to see that in two or three turns I could unleash a maelstrom of destruction on my unsuspecting significant other.

After we played for a while I found that I really liked the idea of playing Hastur and Mikatonic together. I tried looking up some possible deck ideas after I got home but there really wasn’t much out there, and I think I read somewhere that the combination itself wasn’t that great, or at least took a lot of work to make successful. However just from what I saw in the core set cards I started to strategize what I think would be a really cool way to win stories: pack in some seriously quick and cheap characters for a sort of investigation rush/success token battery deck.

My vision was to use three copies of Mad Genius and either send them insane through forced responses like after playing Victoria Glasser, overpaying for Bearer of the Yellow sign, or using them on defense to assure they go insane and can be restored at the beginning of my turn, giving me one success token basically every turn. In combination with Hastur and a three-resource domain, every turn can be used to get success tokens. Also, in combination with multiple copies of Dr. Carson’s Treatment, you have the potential to get as many as 2 extra success tokens on select turns, all without even committing to stories!








Seeing as the game has been out for so long I imagine people smarter than I have probably tried this, and being a skill 2 charater with no icons or text box makes the Mad Genius serious cannon fodder for anyone who wants him dead. Also the fact that you won’t always draw copies of the Mad Genius when you want, or Dr. Carson’s Treatment, or whatever, makes this strategy will undoubtedly hinder this strategy in the end but the thought of playing Dr. Carson’s Treatment right after my opponent has just exhausted his characters for a story and adding two success tokens for my restored Mad Geniuses and winning the story right out from underneath him seems so deliciously evil that I really want to try it out!

So there you go, my first experience playing The Call of Cthulhu. It was awesome and makes me want to play more so if anyone reading this is in the Lansing area feel free to hit me up!

My 10 Most Wanted Heroes and Villains for Injustice: Gods Among Us

When I heard that Injustice was going to feature 28 playable characters my mind briefly shut down just contemplating the epic grudge matches that could play out with a cast that huge. After I had recovered I started to think about who I would want NetherRealms to actually develop for the game and came up with a list of heroes and villains that I’d like to play. Feel free to comment and add your own, I’m much less versed in DC characters than I am Marvel so if you think I need to add somebody let me know!

Top 10 Heroes

Jeff Smith’s Captain Marvel

1) Captain Marvel/Shazam
Billy Batson and his awesome-alter ego Captain Marvel (I’m not sure if they’re actually calling him Shazam in the new DC U) have always been my favorite characters since I started buying my own comics. There’s just something so awesome, so primal, about the scream and lightning strike that I’ve always loved. Not only that but Captain Marvel has some serious powers, what with the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles, and speed of Mercury he’s more than a match for anyone he comes up against.



Guy being awesome

2) Guy Gardner
Hal Jordan is about as interesting as wet cardboard most of the time. Guy on the other hand has the fire, the attitude, and the ability to make it in a game like this. He’s by far and away my favorite Green Lantern, if not for his arrogance, then for his steadfast commitment to upholding justice and protecting the Corps.



Trident combat!

3) Aquaman
I’ve always liked Arthur Curry and it’s a shame he hasn’t been as well received as the other members of the Justice League. I think his latest incarnation would look great in Injustice, especially wearing some custom NetherRealm armor and brandishing that awesome trident. If he somehow manages to make it into the game without the it, well I’ll be disappointed.




4) Hawkman/Hawkwoman/Hawkgirl
I don’t care which of these characters makes it in, I just know that I’d love to smack my enemies around with a mace. Sure the wings might look a little unwieldy, but with a little effort (Tekken has Devil Jin/Kazuya) I think they could make it work really well. Again, I’d love to see what NetherRealm could do with the designs, especially since the Halls are so into armor and medieval style weaponry.



5) Beast Boy/Animal Man/Vixen
I don’t care which one of these characters they put in the game, as long as at least one of them is in there. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the days of Bloody Roar passed, but I want a hero that can change into animals or channel animal abilities into the game. I think if it was done well it could be really awesome. Charging rhino, eagle style dive kicks, electric eel shocks, that stuff would be awesome.



6) Swamp Thing
If we’re going to be running heroes with an animal theme, why not throw in a character with a plant connection? With his recent reintegration into the main DCU I think this is a more plausible choice than it would have been a year ago. The Swamp Thing is strong, durable, and one hell of a cool character. Long range command grabs with vines, status-changing spore attacks, there’s so much you could do with a guy like this.



7) Black Canary
We can’t just have Harley and Wonder Woman throwing down with the boys, and Dinah Lance can dish out some serious punishment. I imagine her having the same type of abilities that Sindel had in MK9, she needs that Canary Cry, but she would need to be a physical threat as well. She straight up kicks loads of ass.



8) Zatanna
I have a feeling that Zatanna would fit nicely into a ranged combatant in a game like this. Her spells could keep enemies away and if needed she could buff herself to get in and mix it up. Plus it’d be awesome to actually hear someone articulate her backward word spells.



9) Starfire
Starfire has super strength, flight, and projectiles. She can hang with the best and she would be a welcome change to the primarily white cast we’ve seen thus far, you know being orange and all. I’d also be interested to see what type of costume they could think up for her.



10) Etrigan
The Demon probably won’t be making an appearance in the game but hey this is a wish list. He’s a really unique character, speaks in rhyme (does he still do that?), breathes fire, and comes from the depths of Hell. Think… Firebrand on steroids minus the wings.




Top 10 Villains

Bastich!

1) Lobo
This is the only villain that I absolutely want to see in this game. Who doesn’t want to see the insanely violent mayhem this guy could cause? He’s the perfect character for Injustice and I hope against hope that he makes the cut.



2) Black Adam
If it somehow happens that Captain Marvel doesn’t make the cut, I’ll take his villainous archenemy as a substitute. He’s a great villain and powerful enough to serve Superman a fist in face sandwich. He has super strength, can fly, call down the lightning, and has absolutely no regard for human life. I’ll take it!



3) Sinestro
With all the hype we saw with Blackest Night I’d be very surprised if at least one Green Lantern villain didn’t make it into Injustice. I think Sinestro makes a lot of sense, and he’d make a great addition, especially with those fear constructs, just NetherRealm, please, no boxing glove. Please.



4) Metallo/Cyborg Superman
Do we have any metallic guys yet? Any robots? Didn’t think so. Metallo or Cyborg Superman would be great, especially if they could assimilate some of the destructible objects into their bodies, changing their move sets. I keep hearing about how the Batmobile can shoot missiles, well what if after activating the Batmobile Metallo could launch a limited number of missiles at the enemy? Cool right?



Cross up Omega Beams FTW!

5) Darkseid
I realize I’m throwing a ton of Superman villains in here, but he has such an awesome cast of enemies, but none of them are badder than Darkseid. I didn’t particularly like his DC vs. Mortal Kombat incarnation so I think this is a chance for them to give him another chance. My only requirement for the new Darkseid? Cross-up Omega Effect projectile. I mean if they can change directions, why not put that in the game. Plus it would be so freaking awesome.



6) Doomsday
This monster killed Superman. Put him in the game.




7) Gorilla Grodd
Like Etrigan I don’t see Grodd making it into the game but it would be really fun beating people up with a gorilla. Really I think that’s the sole reason for him being on this list.



8) Cheetah
She’s fast, brutal, and one of Wonder Woman’s oldest enemies. I think she would fit right into this madness and if none of my other animal themed heroes make it she’d be better than nothing.



9) Poison Ivy
If we don’t get Swamp Thing then I hope Poison Ivy gets a spot for all the reasons I mentioned above. She’d be a bit more of a ranged fighter, depending more on her plants than her own physical prowess, and I’d love to see what projectiles NetherRealm could come up for her.



10) Clayface
He’s gross and awesome and I’m sure they’d do some awesome animations that really take advantage of his metamorphic body. He’d just be a fun character to use, not only that but it would be great if he was a mimic, but not of characters in the game. No he’d mimic Batman villains like Two Face, Joker, Penguin, and so on. Yeah that’d be sweet.

Injustice: Gods Among Us – Is A Great DC Comics Fighter in the Works?

If you guys haven’t heard, NetherRealm studios, the fabulous people behind the storied Mortal Kombat franchise, are taking another crack at bringing the DC Universe to the fighting game scene. Just the other day they released the first trailer for their new game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and man does it look pretty. Sure it borrows from that moment-in-time opening we saw in UMvC3, but really who cares when it looks this good?

The only problem I have with the trailer is at the beginning, “What if our greatest heroes became our greatest threats.” Where’s the question mark guys? You are asking a question right? Anyway aside from the English nitpickery I thought maybe I’d try to go over what we know about the game so far. Well right off the bat (hehe) the game will feature Batman, Flash, Harley Quinn, Solomon Grundy, Superman, and Wonder Woman as playable characters.

There will be some sort of meter system involved, as indicated by Superman punching Flash into orbit. It will also feature what looks to be a robust environmental awareness element, coupled with breakable objects that can be used in combat. Each character will interact with these objects differently given their type: power, gadget, etc. Check out the video below to get the info directly from the horse’s mouth, Ed Boon himself.

What’s In A Name?
Let me start off by saying that I honestly think the title for this game is incredible. It’s a breath of fresh air in an industry that’s filled with banal “Generic Franchise Name and a Number.” The title is mind its provocative and compelling, and hints at something bigger, darker, and more sinister than what you might find in the typical fighting game.

NetherRealm Studios: Can They Hack It?
The other thing that I like is DC’s choice of NetherRealm as a developer. They already have a working relationship so it’s a partnership that makes sense. Not only will Injustice be their second game together, but after the success of Mortal Kombat 9, NetherRealm has proven they can create a game that appeals to the masses, is deep enough for sustained competitive play, and are willing to think outside the box to give both the casual audience and the veteran crowd something they can enjoy.

That being said, I’m also worried about NetherRealm Studios. They are virtually untested outside of their own firmly established franchise. Do they know how to make a fighting game appealing without getting their flagship characters involved? Will they be able to channel what makes DC characters great while providing an immersive, challenging, and fulfilling fighting game experience? I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. They have some pretty decent people on board, their initial character designs look great, and if the story mode in MK9, heads and tails beyond really any fighter we’ve seen to date, is any indicator I think they stand a great chance at making a great game.

Captain Cold anyone?

It Won’t Just Be Mortal Kombat 9 With DC Characters… Right?
If that were the case then this game will be aptly named. I can’t think of anything more disappointing than if NetherRealm made Mortal Kombat 9 with DC character skins. I’m not expecting them to reinvent the wheel here, they should certainly utilize whatever technology they have available, but I think it’s important to create some sort of distance between this game and Mortal Kombat.

Destructible Objects and Different Arenas
I don’t mind when developers decide to shake things things up a bit, evolution is the lifeblood of an industry, and I think that arenas and destructible objects could add some interesting possibilities to a game like this. However, from a balance standpoint, especially if this game wants to compete with EVO contenders, NetherRealm needs to be VERY careful as to how they implement this stuff. I can only imagine it transforming into the train wreck that was Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects. While kind of fun, it eventually devolved into players running around trying to throw cars and flammable barrels at each other. So much damage!

Character Types?
When Ed Boon references character types, Power and Gadget thus far, I think these categories will affect how the characters interact with their environments. He mentions that Wonder Woman can lift cars to use as weapons, while Batman can use his gadgets to manipulate the same car in different ways. That begs the question, “What other types of characters are out there?” Power and Gadget would be a strange duo on their own, and I think we can expect NetherRealm to reveal other types the closer we get to release.

Who’s Gonna Make the Cut?

This is what drives the hype train, and with an incredible 28 characters predicted, I can only imagine who DC and NetherRealm are going to bring to the table. I have my own want list that I’m going to go over in more depth a little later, but with nearly thirty characters on the way I’m really excited.

Who else are we gonna see here?

Final Thoughts
I’m excited for Injustice, I really am. It’s got a kicking title, a studio that knows its business, a massive pool of incredible characters to pick from, and enough interesting ideas to really give us something great. I do have reservations though, especially when it comes to the use of destructible objects and NetherRealm’s relative inexperience developing foreign IPs. Everything aside, I’m very excited to see what comes out of the E3 demo and hopefully it’ll give us tons to talk about.

Let me know what you guys think in the comments!