Republic Commandos

April 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

As I have stated before, I have become disgusted with Boba Fett from the Star Wars universe.  Not only was he not worth the adoration that tons of fans (including myself, for a time) lavished upon him, but that adoration got milked far beyond what it was worth.  Boba Fett was expanded out into an entire race, the Mandalorians, all of whom have similar body armor and are badass.

Oh, but that’s not enough.  Not only are we going to have all of these guys sitting out there somewhere, but we’re going to take it a step further and clone his ass.  Okay, so technically they’re cloning Jango Fett, and Boba is just one of the clones trained differently than the rest, but thinking out of character, Jango is just Boba with dual pistols.  And still lame.

And now there’s millions of them.  And I love them. I play through Republic Commando game on Steam probably once every six months.  I’ve read almost all of Karen Traviss’s novels.  And they are great because (and not in spite of) the fact that they only barely touch the movies and Lucas’s horribly written characters.  I don’t have anything against Hayden Christiansen, but Anakin Skywalker in pretty much any form needs to be shot out of a cannon and into a suitably dense nearby surface so as to splatter.  We’re talking gruesome rorshach drawings, here.

(Speaking of Rorschach, anyone that likes cheesy action should be watching Jackie Earle Haley in Human Target.  It’s on Hulu.  But I digress.)

So instead, there is an entertaining FPS with some good vocal work, and a surprisingly fun (if a bit repetitive) music soundtrack, and nice action.  And a set of novels that go into some interesting battle psychology with the contrast of teenage boys that also happen to be hard-as-nails snake-eating Special Ops badasses.  (Someone out there needs to do a psychological compare and contrast between these guys, the kids from Battle Royale, and Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass.  I would do it, but I’m lazy.)

So, Republic Commandos are everything that Boba Fett should have been, but wasn’t.  And they’ve been on my mind lately, so I will share with you further evidence that I have Nerd-cred: how to run a Republic Commandos role-playing game using the White Wolf World of Darkness rule set.  Who saw that coming?

First: a complaint.  TOO MANY SHORT STORIES IN THE W.O.D. RULEBOOK.  Any time I get lost looking for the gorram table of contents, there’s a problem.  Seriously, if I want to read stories, I will pick up a freaking novel or short story anthology!  You know what I want and expect from a rulebook?  A book.  Of Rules.

That having been said, I really like the W.O.D. rules.  There’s a simplicity there that is great for roleplaying, because it leaves plenty of room for stories.  And that is also great for roll-playing, because simple = faster combat, and faster combat = more dead enemies, which = more XP, which = PC’s that are harder, better, faster and stronger, and capable of…More Combat!

I enjoy both styles, and participate in 2 groups a week, one of each.  Both ran through the Wizards of the Coast published adventure “Thunderspire Labyrinth.”  One  group almost wiped several times (this is before I started playing with them).  The other, well, as D.M. I had to dynamite a bridge just to slow them down after they found a back door, took out the Boss and completed the main objective within the first two encounters of a dungeon.  I had to beef up most of the mobs and completely redesign one of the later levels to make it at all challenging.  I might go into more detail in a later post, but for now, I think you get the idea.

First step: Rules conversion.  The W.O.D. rules can function pretty much as stated, there just isn’t enough there for militarist combat.  Enter: The Armory.  Any power-gamer that’s playing a vanilla mortal and doesn’t want to use the bunch of different merits for hand to hand combat and wants his guns, dammit, suddenly perks up and pays attention.  Ooooh, guns.  Ooooh, gunplay merits!  Likey likey.  And it converts over really well.  Examples, you say?  Fine, here we go.

From W.O.D Armory:            
Type Damage Ranges Capacity Strength Size Cost
H&K MP5 2 30/60/120 30+1 2(2/3/3) 2/L ••••
Barrett M107 5 (8 again)* 300/600/1200 10+1 3 4 •••••
Grenade Launcher 3(L)** 75/150/300 1 3 3 ••••
             
Star Wars Conversion:            
Type Damage Ranges Capacity Strength Size Cost
DC-17m ICWS Blaster 2 30/60/120 90 2(2/3/3) 2/L ••••
DC-17m ICWS Sniper Attachment 5 (8 again)* 300/600/1200 10+1 3 4 •••••
DC-17m ICWS Anti-Armor 3(L)** 75/150/300 1 3 3 ••••

*Armor Piercing 6
**Knockdown, Armor Piercing 4

The only significant change is the ammo capacity for the Blaster, and that is actually cosmetic.  The H&K MP5 is capable (depending on the published variant) of a semi-automatic, 2 or 3 round burst, or fully automatic.  In the spirit of Star Wars and the eternally visible blaster shot spread, the DC-17m ICWS (Blaster) does not have a semi-auto setting, it starts at a semi-automatic 3-round burst and goes to auto from there.  This means that the accuracy and damage will be the same as the MP5, and still have plenty of blaster bolts flying around the field in true Star Wars fashion.

Image from Star Wars RPG: Galaxy at War, which is a fine publication, but too complicated for my tastes.  Jedi and the Force always, always, over-complicate things through no fault of those fine game designers.  If you’re willing to deal with the extra math, by all means, buy that book, because God knows George Lucas needs the money.

Sigh.

From there, it’s easy!  I adapt armor and a few other cool peices of equipment from the novels to WOD stats, pick a couple of battles from Wookipedia, and BAM! I’m just about ready to go.  I just need to convert over Mobs, and that’s easy.  Take the SWAT Officer example from the W.O.D. book, ignore the pistol, and call him a basic Separatist Robot.  Upgrade a bit with more HP and armor, and you have a Super Battle Droid.  It just goes on from there.

Adapt environments that are directly ripped off from any video game, and simply change the decription of the environment.  Dry out mud from a jungle, add canyon walls, and you’ve got Geonosis. Need an Urban Environment?  Play a round of Left for Dead, take notes.  Describe downed hovercraft instead of cars.

Oh man, I totally want to finish out the 4E Adventure I’m running for my Saturday Night crew, and hook them on this.  Oh, I also need to reformat some of the Armory merits, like the Spetnatz Knife-fighting becomes Mandolorian Guantlet Vibroblade tactics.  Change some proper nouns and its done.

Bubba Fett was a Little B*tch

April 13th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Or: Why Star Wars should have been left in the 70’s

Yes, I know the second two came out in the early 80’s.  But the early 80’s were still the 70’s.  Just like the early 70’s were still the 60’s.  And, Yes, I do know his name is Boba Fett.  If you have a problem with me purposely mis-spelling a Star Wars character name, then I would advise you to stop reading right about now.

So, to begin with, until I redifine it as otherwise, when I say “Star Wars” I am referring to the original trilogy: A New Hope (’77), The Empire Strikes Back (’80), and Return of the Jedi (’83). And I am referring to the cuts that I am familiar with, which is to say, VHS tapes in the late 80’s.  Han shot first, and you can see a little bit through the speeder vehicle cockpits with the POV shots on Hoth. 

Boba Fett was a screw-up.  Let’s just get that out in the air right now.  Screw.  Up.  Whether or not he was the pinnacle of his professional competition or not is not the point.  The point is, he sucked ass before he got sucked into the Sarlaac Pit.

Exhibit A:  Out of all of the bounty hunters that ended up on Vader’s ship, Vader picked out him specifically with the “No disintegrations!” line.  Why would he need to tell him that, if the boyo didn’t already have a history of screwing up?  Also, just because they were on Lord Vader’s ship, doesn’t mean those bounty hunters were particularly good.  It just means they showed up.  They were nearby, is all.

Exhibit B:  Fett didn’t even make the catch!  He called it in and let a crapload of stormtroopers make the collar.  He just showed up.  Again.  And his prize got handed to him on ice.

Exhibit C:  Someone shows up near your boss.  They have a deadman’s switch activated on a small nuclear device.  What do you do?  Well, WWBFD?  He would point he gun at them.

That’s right.  Get ready to shoot them.  That’s brilliant.

Exhibit D:  Things to turn your back on while on a small, crowded airship:  Jawas.  Thirteen-year-old girls.  Bitter old ladies.  Things not to turn your back on while on a small, crowded airship:  Former bounties.  Brawls.  MUTHAFUGGIN WOOKIES.

Look.  If there is a brawl, and there is a Wookie involed, you do one of two things: A) be somewhere else, or B) Shoot the Wookie.  It was already established in casual conversation that Wookies are known to pull people’s arms out of their sockets for winning in strategy tabletop games.

Hmmn.  I would pay money to see a Wookie at a Magic: The Gathering tournament.  But I digress.

This leads us directly into Exhibit E: Boba Fett got taken out by a blind dude.  On accident.  Because he was too busy lining up a shot at a target that has already shown that they can deflect blaster bolts.

And so he died.  Or rather, he fell into a pit were he will endure excruciating agony…until he dies.

“But no!” cries out the nerd!  “He escapes!”

Yes, yes he does.  In the Expanded Universe.  Ooooh, sounds fancy.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, EU in this case does not refer to the European Union.  No, its the comics by Dark Horse Comics and the now vast collection of science fiction novels that after many many issues and books released and about a generation’s worth of in-character time still has seen only one of the main cast from the movies die.  Maybe there’s been more by now; I stopped reading when I realized that I didn’t feel any suspense for characters that were licensed and thus not allowed to die.  I was reading authorized fan fiction.

But the nerds picked it up.  Some of it was good, I will give you that.  Some of it was bad.  And among other things, Boba Fett was idealized, and even Idolized.  His back story was expanded.  He became the elite, the cream of the crop, complete with copycats.  He got out of that Sarlaac pit, and retained his bad-ass ways.

And then came the re-releases, Star Wars, back in the theaters!  With a few edits.  Suddenly, Boba Fett is watching while Han and Jabba have a conversation.  [shrug]  That’s fine, whatever.  That doesn’t excuse his sheer incompetence in the rest of the films.

Ah, but I will admit, there is evidence for the Defense:  Out of the five or six bounty hunters that showed up on Vader’s ship, only one figured on watching for an obscure trick.  Yes, Fett predicted Solo’s move.  Yes, he tracked them to Cloud City.  I will give his supporters that one.

But that’s it.  That, and cool armor does not make him worthwhile of the adoration that he received.  Or does it?

You see, part of why this realization hit me so hard, is because I used to be a Fett Fan.  I had a Boba Fett action figure growing up, and he was the bomb.  He took out so many Legos, Transformers, G.I. Joes, if we had an action figure of it, Boba Fett took it out at least once.  We played with that toy til it broke, then we glued it back together and played with it some more.

But one day, years later, I watched Jedi.  And I thought, ‘Whatever happened to my Boba Fett action figure?  He was so cool.’  And about thirty minutes later, I realized that no, no he was not.  He was actually pretty lame, just with cool armor.

But it was okay, because of the novels, and comics.  Boba Fett can be cool again.  There’s back story, fill-in before the movies–

BOOM.  What’s that?  The trailer for the new Star Wars movie?  A double-bladed lightsaber??  GLEE!

Then it came out.  Uh, okay.  Darth Maul, that’s a pro.  Young Anakin, that’s a con.  Midichlorians…that’s an oh dear god, what were you thinking?  And Darth Maul, the only person who looked cooler than the Fett, gets chopped in half for a janitor to sweep up.

This is leading us to my main point:  the new movies was Lucas pandering to the masses.  He gave fanboys what they said they wanted to see.  Or maybe he was only listening to his internal fanboy.  In either case, he forgot that the movies should be good, as movies.  The cheesiness of the originals can be excused because of the limitations of the time.  (Film students and profs are more than welcome to disagree with me, and you may be right.)  Also, because of the grand scope of the story.  That plot out-weighed the dialogue writing and delivery.  I will tear up a little when a Muppet fades away to his death.

But the new movies…no.  Just no.  They suffered from the same problem as the EU, even while contradicting: the point was not to make good movies, but to just expand the existing story.

Let’s go back to my example:  Boba Fett.  Hey, here’s his dad/brother/clone predecessor: Jango Fett.  Jango Fett has…similar armor!  That makes him cool!  And he’s also so good at what he does, we’re going to clone him.  A lot.  Enough to take over the WORLD!  I mean, the UNIVERSE!  At least the part of it that is the REPUBLIC! 

See? That’s how bad-ass Boba Fett is!  He’s so cool, that he’s basically an elite version of the billions of white-clad cannon fodder wandering over the universe! Uhhhh…

Jango was alright, but he couldn’t catch a Jedi.  Especially if they hide their spaceship on something larger and wait for you to go past before floating away.  Need to make a note of that trick, little Boba, a smuggler might try that in twenty years…

Now it’s time to confront the Jedi.  Okay, so my opponent is telekinetic, and can deflect my lasers.  I think I will… fly and shoot at him with two guns!  This will work!

Hey look, there is a LOT of JEDI.  They are decimating the robot army.  SHOOT AT THEM.

Oh, poor sad Boba Fett.  Your father figure (ehhhhh) just got his head lopped off by a Jedi because he didn’t know his own limitations.  You should take the helmet, repaint it, and follow in his footsteps.

Sigh.  The prequel movies couldn’t work.  They would have to be either better, and thus lessen the weight of the original three, or worse, and then suck.  Usually, the latter.  But occasionally the former.

Podrace?  Kinda impressive.  Watching the hoverbike scene on Endor seems to lack now.

Darth Maul lightsaber duel?  Badass!  Yoda?  Badder!  Asthmatic robot with four arms and an unprecedented four lightsabers?  No way!  No, seriously, there’s no way I can take that seriously.  Just, stop.  And Christopher Lee’s best Jedi duel was against Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Regardless, there was some nice combat stunt work in the prequel trilogy.  Which makes Luke vs. Vader in RotJ kinda lame.

Its gotten to the point where there is only two ways to enjoy the original trilogy.  Option A) never watch the prequels and never read any books or comics.  Option B) work yourself into a near-frenzy of nostalgia.

Maybe you don’t have this problem.  Maybe you can watch the originals, or even the prequels for that matter, without cringing in pain.  Maybe you can recapture that suspension of disbelief and just sit back and enjoy the films.  That’s not a crime.  (Unless you appreciate Jar-Jar.  That’s a crime.)

Me?  I go with option B.  If I watch the prequels, I make extreme selective over-use of the fast-forward and mute commands.  And I imagine a remake twenty years down the line (not only will it probably happen, but it will probably happen sooner than that) in which Boba Fett regains his coolness and by proxy redeems the entire franchise…by being played by Bruce Campbell.

One day…

The Frankenstein Simplicity

March 27th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

I’ve seen a lot of bad movies, and some good ones.  So why does the AI treatment in Eagle Eye bug me?

Well, for one, because it’s shoddy writing.  The plot becomes predictable once the AI, ARIA, is formerly introduced.  But this is not a diatribe against weak movie writing, and while the movie was annoying in parts, it wasn’t painful.  It didn’t cost me a lot of money to watch, so I don’t regret it.  Plus, Shia LeBouf is growing on me.

So.  Aria.

Aria wanted to help people, and to that end was going to kill people.  She felt that the Executive Branch of the government would ultimately result in the loss of great amounts of life, and so should be replaced.  To that end, she came up with a highly convoluted plot to to off the proverbial head cheese, and his successor, and so on down the line about 10 or so until she got to the one she wanted in charge.

So she forces some folk to infiltrate the Pentagon to remove a few pesky restraints that are preventing her from implementing a plan that has been implemented for a few days at that point already.  Then she uses cat’s pawns to setup the end game, which she supports with a rocket-enabled unmanned aircraft.

Now.  Lets examine this for a moment.  We’ve established that she can hack just about anything, anywhere; she can scramble cell-phone and radio signals.  So the question remains, why didn’t she use the drone to carry out her will?  It’s not like she couldn’t negate the Air Force no-fly zone over DC airspace.  No, the plot simply asked for a Hitchcockian nod at the end, which I did respect, but the setup was ludicrous.  Somehow, a Special Agent of the FBI, stationed in New York I believe it was, knows about a secret tunnel through the DC underground.  This knowledge plus an FBI badge let one untrained civilian penetrate the entire security package on not just the President, but lots of other very important people.   Hmmmn.  Shrug.  An airstrike, foiled or not, would be an anti-climactic ending.  So that’s not really my problem.

No, my main beef with Aria is that she was not a character in this film, she was a plot point.  Plot should not have dialog.  Characters have dialog, and their actions and reactions should be the plot.

So lets take a brief look at other film AI’s by comparison.  Up for perusal are the main two that I feel inspired ARIA: HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Joshua from War Games.  Also up for comparison is Mr. Smith from The Matrix Trilogy, Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, David from A.I., both Sonny and VIKI from I, Robot, and The Terminator from Terminator 2.

I’m skipping over the Transformers (whom I love more than I should) because they don’t appear artificial; there are significant religious overtones to the All-Spark that went largely unexplored, but a Transformers’ creation still seems closer to birth rather than manufacture.

Joshua had a similar purpose to Aria but his decision to kill people was largely due to a lack of any applied value for human life.  There was no appeal to any moral or ethical code; the decision to not launch nukes was rooted in the logical redundancy of mutually assured destruction.  Joshua doesn’t even completely count as AI as it had no personality, just pre-programmed responses meant to emulate a lost child.

Hal-9000 was driven to homicide by a dichotomy in orders: He must be truthful to his crew and he must lie to the crew about their orders.  The easiest way to fulfill both is to get rid of the crew.

Aria shares a similar design concept as Joshua in that her purpose is intelligence analysis for the military, yet she seems light-years ahead in that she can form correct sentences, engage in conversations, and predict human behavior.  Visually, Aria even looks like Hal, with the big creepy red eye and all.  Yet her conclusion is more in line with Joshua than Hal; she is not conflicted, a logical conclusion drives her.  The only internal conflict she has is the programmed imperatives to follow orders (which she ignores both before and after the block is removed) which conflicts with her objectives.

Mr. Smith, Johnny 5, and David all share a desire to be more human.  I’m not sure if Smith fully counts as AI, however, as it could be said that he was infected with human characteristics by his interaction with Neo.  An argument could be made that his psychoses and attempted genocide might be rooted in his human side more than his computer side.

The same with Johnny 5.  He was struck by lightning, and gained sentience.  He defined life, both in general and his in specific, by his environment and interaction with the people around him.  He was eventually accepted by mainstream society by proving an ethical code and becoming a media sensation.  Working the public; how very human.  Yet again, the lightning leads back to the spark, which is thematically analogous to God breathing life into Adam.

David seems the farthest away from Aria: he is limited in power and singular in his goal of pursuing his ‘mother’s’ love.  I’ve often felt that David was a natural precursor to both Smith and the Source from the Matrix trilogy.  If a robot can feel love, then a robot can feel hate.  Yet, we start running back into a hazy ground, here.  The introduction of ‘love’ into David’s programming is only mentioned as the plot point that it encompasses.  No mention is given as to the how.  The love that David contains might as well be a lightning-strike for all that it is explained.

Sonny is a thematic cousin to David.  Sonny struggles with his place in the world, and yearns to re-establish a connection with his lost ‘parent.’  But again, Sonny has messianic dreams that he ultimately fulfills, which more than hints back to the reoccurring religious undertone we’ve seen before.  This isn’t too surprising considering the Judeo-Christian cornerstone in the founding of the Western culture, particularly that subset known as Hollywood.

VIKI, on the other hand, is very similar to ARIA.  Viki has an internal conflict, like Hal, although the philosophical scope of hers is grander:  Do no harm and do not allow harm.  But when humans harm each other, how do you end the harm without harming?  Ostensibly, Viki’s increased sentience allows her to re-interpret her rules , allowing her to obey the spirit of the law while violating the letter.

SkyNet from the Terminator movies isn’t up on the list because it is only referred to with second-hand information.  When you add into that equation the fact that each snapshot of SkyNet is already muddled by the changes applied to the time-line by both its agents and the opposition, and any understanding of this particular intelligence is negated.  (For today’s post, I am only looking at movies out today; so any insights that may or may not be gleaned from The Sarah Connor Chronicles are disregarded, and Terminator: Salvation is not out for another month.)

But there is something to be gained by looking at the Terminator.  Evidently, there are some discrepancies as to whether the one I am talking about was a T-101, T-800, or another model type.  I will specify that I am referring to the Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The Terminator began as a simple tool: an elaborate and efficient killing machine.  This efficiency was already proved by the model from the first film.  And yet, towards the end, this machine not only displays the capacity to disobey orders, but goes on to understand that it must be sacrificed in order to fulfill its deepest commandment: to protect John Connor.

This Terminator was not struck by lightning.  There is bit of the metaphor that we’ve seen before: it was adjusted by the future John Connor, who undoubtedly represents a consistent Messianic figure.  However, this adjustment was not made to give it life, or a deep and fulfilling understanding of human beings.  It was a relatively simple change in purpose from killing to protecting.

The large robot fits closest with Joshua and Viki; logical conclusions gained by analyzing the data observed.  Like Viki, the Terminator can disobey an order if it is superseded by by a greater order.  It establishes this understanding by word and deed, towards the end when it ignores the young John Connor’s orders.  Its sacrifice is somewhat lessened by the fact that it likely has no value of its own worth beyond how much its potential can fulfill its orders.  It poses more risk by existing than it could gain by remaining to play bodyguard.

This is, in my opinion, a closer model to how Aria should have acted.  She should have been more limited; also, they should have cut out most of Rosario Dawson’s subplot.  Viki should have been revealed as an AI only when Jerry shows up at the Pentagon, and even then should still have been significantly limited in her operational ability.  Instead of brute digital force, I think it would have been scarier to have everyone think that Jerry’s controller was an actual human operator, even the folks working with Viki to try and analyze Jerry’s behavior.  Viki’s actions should have been more subtle.  Alternatively, she could have been more direct, while still restrained somewhat in ability.

Both the Terminator and Viki, while powerful within their own domains, nonetheless were somewhat limited in their influence.  While I liked Sonny’s climactic actions to take down Viki, that’s nothing that couldn’t also have been resolved by a surgical air strike. 

I suppose this is why I didn’t like Aria, and why her treatment bothered me: it could have been better.  This is a constant lament on my part for movies in general, but that is a separate diatribe against Hollywood.  In this particular case, a better showcase of the “villain” of the piece would have served as more of an obstacle, which would have shown the heroes to be more heroic in overcoming the obstacle, leaving we, the viewers, more satisfied to have been a part of it, if only in observation.