Friday, March 30, 2012

A Thunder Bear's Loot.

After my previous post I thought I might share a visual record of just how awesome my son's horde of birthday loot was.

The obligatory cake and table image! As you can tell he insisted on a Captain America motif, not that I'm complaining. 

 Another cake shot, this time it was ready for it's close up.
 Whut... Is that... The Mighty Thor? In miniature? AWESOME! (We heard that word a lot, I think it was the word of the day.)
 Whosoever wields this hammer... Yeah, his big brother instantly knew the unspoken warnings that were hanging in the air when this one was unwrapped.
 Red samurai ranger: check. Shogun armor: check. We lost him for a moment there.
 "What is that," someone asked? "REAL STEEL," he roared in his best ring side announcer voice.
 A bonus gift included with some clothes - a little spider man car that has segments that rotate around to reconfigure into different styles.
 He really gets the best clothes! I often have to admit that I am jealous of his wardrobe.
 You doubt his claim as Lord of the Thunder Bears? Ta-Da! Who wields the legendary sword now?
 Oh, and let's not forget the claw shield!
Surprisingly, not even the cards were overlooked.

So, there you have it - photo documented proof that my son had one heck of a birthday.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Irony; The Temporal Boomerang.

Irony has a way of revisiting itself upon you it would seem.

Recently my son celebrated his 5th birthday, and let me assure you it was a monumental achievement for him. It is best summed up by his excited proclamation: "Now it takes all my fingers to show how old I am!" Needless to say the day was one of wonder for him even before the gifts or party. However it was one of these gifts that holds a special meaning for me; the legendary Sword of Omens from ThunderCats.

The ironic part is that as a child I held almost the exact same interests as my son, and around the same age I also held the very same toy in my hands. It was a cherished toy of my own childhood, so seeing his eye light up reminded me of all the fun I had with my own.

But do you want to know the funny part? My son's Sword of Omens is a thousand times cooler than my old one. I mean we're talking quality construction and features that amaze me. The blade collapses to resemble the dagger-like quality the sword has in the show, and has a trigger release to allow it to extend when you flick your wrist. An added bonus is that when you have the electronics turned on it lights up the Eye of Thundera and say's "Thunder.." until you release the trigger whereby it completes the famous battle cry "ThunderCats HO!"

Further adding to the delight is a button upon the hilt that when pressed allows the hilt's blade guard to pop out if it is collapsed in closed. This also serves double duty where, again if switched on, it lights up the Eye of Thundera and plays the sound effect of it chiming to life before declaring "Give me sight beyond sight!"

When I look back on my older version I cannot help but marvel at the differences. My classic version couldn't extend at all, and as far as features go I believe a couple AA batteries in the handle let it light up the Eye of Thundera with the press of a button. I sadly don't recall it doing much more than that if even that to be frank. Mostly I spent time imagining charging around with it and don't remember it even having batteries inside it. I do recall some duct tape applied from time to time though!

In any event, here is to the hope that my son will forge his own fond memories with his own version of a toy that I used to enjoy as well. The technology of them may change, the design even, but the inherent fun to be had through imagination will always be timeless.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Conjured Apples And Thermal Detonator Oranges.

This past weekend I had the very enjoyable fortune to try out SWTOR, thanks to their free weekend pass. And while I have played WoW for going on the last 6 years or so, let me be completely frank here: you cannot compare the two. It's like trying to compare apples and oranges; while they're both round, edible and grown from a tree they are also quite different. However, with that said, I must also confess that you cannot look at an MMO these days without at least referencing some aspects of WoW. Yet both of these games are very well crafted but they are done so in different ways. Some of these elements are so subtle that I couldn't quite put my finger on them and others are so obvious that you almost don't have to mention them(i.e. - Sci Fi theme vs. Fantasy).

The character creation system was instantly familiar to me, being very typical and straight forward. You select one of two rival factions (Republic or Sith Empire), then have 4 class options available to you. Now, there is a little point I have to make here - you may be thinking that only 4 classes available is very limited. The truth of the matter is that each of these 4 cover some of the core base of game play and allow you to move into one of 2(or perhaps more) advanced classes later. They are all well rounded and capable for their designed style of play and every single one is a blast to play.

Once you select a class you then get to pick a race available to that class and then a gender. After this step you come to a welcome breath of fresh air. While in WoW and other games you do get to customize your characters appearance to a small degree, SWTOR takes things a step farther. It is at this step you can choose a body type ranging from bean pole skinny all the way up to thick and hefty. You have full control to set your character's complexion, scars, cosmetics for females, even a very wide variety of hair colors and styles. This step was such a welcome change that on a whim I created Jedi knight who ended up looking like a rotund African American with thick bushy white beard and dread-lock like hair pulled back. He was soon dubbed 'Cornbread' and a running tag line for him became 'Cornbread; the flava of da force.' Needless to say that one was a non stop source of humor and commentary.

Another area where the game shines is in the storyline itself and how it is both engaging and inclusive. At every turn I felt completely part of the story and involved. Every interaction with an npc during dialog etc allows you choices on how to answer or handle things. Because of this the story shifts as you choose to be respectful, inquisitive or even brash as it were. You can make decisions that award dark side or light side points that of themselves mark your character, just as you can weather or not to take a mission or turn it down. The story is a master piece that you can easily get sucked into without feeling completely like it must be exactly the same for everyone else.

A couple of interesting mechanics to point out include some staple for most such games; a quick return to town ability, transportation and storage. Now, in regards to the return to town function I did love the element they names 'Quick travel.' With it you can call up a speeder taxi that doesn't just return you back to town. Nope, any town you've 'discovered' by binding with a little node there you can return to with your quick travel icon. The ability itself does have it's own cooldown but it is an expected standard of about 20 minutes or so. As for transportation I didn't make it to high enough level to unlock my own starship(something everyone does at a set level) but I did get to hire a speederbike whenever I wanted to move from site to site if walking didn't suit me. And as for storage, everyone starts out with a inventory that held easily around 30 or so slots. The real nice thing worth mentioning was below it was an option to unlock more room simply by purchasing it with credits anytime you chose to.

After trying one of every class on both factions I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience to the point that I found myself missing it once the pass expired. The game still has a lot of potential for growth though, but as far as I got to explore promises to be a great game in itself. Does it thoroughly trump the veteran MMO WoW? That I cannot say it does because these just are not the same kind of game. Like apples and oranges they each posses different flavors and textures to be savored and enjoyed.

One thing I would highly recommend is that if given the chance, say the next time a free weekend pass rolls around, is that you definitely give the game a try.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Power Of Names.

A recent article came to my attention: How Names Influence Our Destinies. That same article cued up various mental chain reactions of thought that have been bouncing around my noggin' for years. Like a pseudo-psychological pinball game these notions have been setting off bells and flashing lights within me for years, it's high time I share the scores with you.

Now, as the article suggests, and I have mentioned to people before - names are powerful things. Even the Ancient Egyptians and countless other cultures knew the inherent power in a name. In various folklore it is the true name of someone or something that many hide to prevent power being excreted over them/it. They [names] can affect and shape us in both unseen and observable ways. For example, let's look to my own given name: Matthew Caine Gill. Now,  if we disregard the family name(an entirely separate issue lol), we can focus on the names given me at birth by my own loving parents.

I happen to have an book of baby names that belonged to my mother, printed around '93. So it's neither ancient nor cutting edge, and for the record since I was constantly using it to name characters in stories she let me have it. And due to it's middle-ground of age I think it a good place to start. Okay, so my first name is listed as Hebrew in origin and one with the assigned meaning of: 'A gift of the Lord.' Nothing really surprising there. So what about my middle name, aside from the obvious connotations? Well according to the text it is Gaelic in origin and is said to mean: 'Honor or tribute.'

So looking to the associated meaning alone, I have two names that you could interpret as meaning that I was to be a gift from the Lord marked either with honor or as an honor/tribute. Again that is just one view though, but it is something that has always held a sort of value and mark of pride for me. However, growing up I quickly found that there were a lot of Matthew's in my classes. So much so that, no matter how many times I pleaded to be called Matthew instead of the shortened Matt, I quickly became Matt G, Mr. Gill etc.

In contrast, I had never came across a Caine before. Therefore once I began college and found myself surrounded by people with no familiarity to me I decided to instead go by my middle name. I had always been proud of the name, and figured it a means to avoid the annoying confusion when someone called for a Matthew out of a room with several. The downside - I was enrolled at a school that was basically a Baptist college. I soon discovered that the associations of such a name were too much for some people to overcome, or separate from my own character. As such only a single professor could bring himself to call me by name, all the others would fight and struggle only to quickly resign themselves to calling me Mr. Gill with irritated tones.

Sadly this only furthered my inward contemplations on the issue of names. Over the years since I have found countless family members and friends unable to refer to me by anything but my first name. Some, because it's how they always have known me, others who had only known me by my middle name later found themselves opting to call me by my first after learning it. I could go on to list various other issues regarding my name and it's impact but I think you get the idea.

Now my parents have mentioned over the years alternate names they considered, and I have to admit I am eternally grateful to have the name I do.

Weather you consider it or not your name shapes a good deal about you. It affects your own personal views of self as well as what others think of you even if they have never seen or met you.