Archive for April, 2013

Flying High with “Iron Man 3” on the iPad

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Iron Man 3 is coming out in theaters this week, and with it has also come a brand new game for the iPad which I have been exploring for the past few days.  One thing I like about this game is that it is a variation on an “endless runner” in the tradition of other iPad games like Temple Run.  Normally, in these types of games, you basically run continously on an endless path and try your best to not run into or get hit by anything in your way.  The Iron Man 3 game puts a twist on that formula; instead of running, you fly through the sunny skies of Malibu and the concrete jungles of New York and blast away enemies with your repulsor rays in what I think might be the world’s most awesome shooting gallery.  I think it is a very good game with some nice graphical details, particularly the myriad suits of armor you can dress your virtual Robert Downey Jr. character in, but there are a few tiny problems which have dampened my experience a bit so far.

I do like how the game’s story starts where the Iron Man 3 movie ends, but there are no details given as to the movie’s ending (I think it’s safe to assume Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man survives).  Tony spends his days doing test flights around Malibu and New York with his army of armors and attempting to figure out the plans of the A.I.M. terrorist organization.  Each new day you play brings with it a new mission related to the story, usually detailing the involvement of a new boss character who has a vendetta against Tony.  At the beginning of a boss fight, the boss character and Tony (who doesn’t sound like Robert Downey Jr. at all, by the way, but the guy doing the voice does have nice, dulcet tones) engage in a brief dialogue exchange revealing the boss’s motivations and reasons for working alongside A.I.M.  After you beat the boss, they typically taunt Tony with some variation of, “I’ll get you next time,” then fly off to goodness knows where to show up again on another day.  Outside of these missions, you probably wouldn’t even know the game had a story, but it has kept me coming back to the game every day to see what happens next.  It’s a little corny, but I like to think of it like an old movie serial; you get just enough characterization and plot twists keep you coming back.   

As I mentioned above, the visual details in this game are top-notch.  The various Iron Man armors stand out the most to me, no doubt because they are the one thing I have been staring at the most.  The way that light reflects off of the armors and how every detail of each armor, from bolts to weapon attachments and even helmet shapes, stand out making them a pleasure to play with and ogle at in the main menu screens (when you start up a new game session, you can also examine each armor in considerable detail like you were in the showroom of a car dealership, a very classy feature in my view).  The Malibu environments you fly through, including beaches, busy city streets, Air Force bases, and car tunnels, are slightly less detailed but I think they are just varied enough that your eyes won’t get too bored.  The New York areas, which I just recently discovered after a plot twist in one of the main storyline missions, are a bit prettier and more varied with gleaming glass skyscrapers (some of which are on fire or falling to the ground due to missile attacks from the sky; I wonder if those missiles are the result of what happens in the movie?), underground subway tunnels, and harbors teeming with boats, crates, and construction.  The enemies you’re blasting away are somewhat plain-looking, mostly flying bullseyes and guys with jetpacks and bulky armor.  They are designed to only be on screen for only a few seconds, so I guess I can’t complain about them too much.  However, this same design treatment seems to have been given to the boss enemies, including famous villains from the Iron Man comics such as Russian Iron Man clone the Crimson Dynamo and giant-head-on-a-chair MODOK.  When I first saw these guys in the comics, they were huge and menacing, but in the game, they’re as small as the regular enemies and don’t really stand out too much visually.  Also, the boss fights seem, to me, much less epic than I feel they should be.  I hope more compelling bosses will be included in updates to the game in the future.    

The bosses are a cakewalk compared to the regular enemies.  Many of these guys carry huge lasers with them which are tough to dodge at times.  In addition, a lot of missiles show up in large groups with only a small hole in between to fit through.  I cannot tell you how many times my runs have ended due to my being too inundated with constant bombardments to move out of the way of one of these things.  I think I’m supposed to move out of their way and fire back, but that’s hard for me to do because I have to hold the iPad with one hand and move around the screen with the other.  I just can’t find the dexterity to move and fire at the same time.  If the game was a little more generous with the amount of time it takes for enemies to fire their shots, I could move out of the way a little better.  I wouldn’t mind this high difficulty at an arcade, but since I’m playing on a mobile device, it just makes the whole process of starting my run for a high score all over again just a smidge more irksome. 

One issue which I feel might become more irritating if it becomes prolonged is the game’s insistence on making you wait for things to happen.  A small portion of my time in the game so far has been watching timers count down while my armor’s health meter recharged for another run, an upgrade to the amount of my armor’s health or increased damage or special attacks took its time to be implemented, or waiting for a whole day to see the next part of the game’s main storyline.  These timers are generally short but can also be bypassed by paying a certain amount of in-game currency (which can be replenished by either picking up more of it in the game or spending some real-world money to increase your coffers).  As I have unlocked more armors and upgrades through regular play, I have noticed that the time for certain things to happen has gotten noticeably longer.  Early on, I could start another run right after I had finished my previous run, but now I have to wait a minute or two to start again.  In other “endless” games like Temple Run, you can play again automatically without any delay.  I could do this in Iron Man 3 as well by playing with a less powerful armor while my preferred one recharges, but I don’t really have much desire to do this because the game practically encourages you to use your most powerful armor to get the most distance, currency, enemy elimination rate, etc.  Patience isn’t typically a virtue valued in the “endless runner” genre, so I have little idea why it would suddenly be embraced in Iron Man 3.

Overall, I do have a few complaints about the Iron Man 3 game, but there are some things I do like which keep me coming back for more.  The story is serviceable, the voices of all the characters work well for a quick thrill, and going for all the new missions and upgrades is a compelling pastime to me.  Difficulty and underwhelming enemies aside, this game isn’t half bad in my eyes.  I definitely want to see more of what this game has to offer, even if I have to get hit by more of those darn missiles.

I’ve played a bit of the Price is Right Bingo game and it’s better than I thought it would be, but I want to hold off on the full review until after I’ve explored it some more; I’m still on the opening Cliff Hangers room and there’s still two rooms left to play for now, so I’ll catch up to you on that front.  I’m also looking forward to watching the Iron Man 3 movie this weekend, so I might post a review of that next week as well.  What do you guys think of my plans?  If you’ve played the Iron Man 3 game, what do you think of it so far?  Are you planning on watching Iron Man 3, and if so, what are you most looking forward to seeing in it (personally, I want to see how the movie treats long-time comics villain the Mandarin)?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

My Hopes for “The Price is Right Bingo”

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
Yes, I know I8 doesn't really exist, but you know, for the sake of the joke, people...

Haven’t I seen this game somewhere B4? Must’ve been something I8.

The other day as I was looking over messages on my Facebook page, I noticed that there was an ad for a new bingo game on the site based on The Price Is Right.  It felt to me like the world stopped turning for a few seconds while I tried to take this in.  There are times when I like to pass the time with a quick game of online bingo and watch The Price is Right.  Put the two together?  Well, I don’t plan on being in front of my computer all day, but I do want to give the game a shot.  Bingo with Bob Barker might be one of the best combinations I’ve ever seen since that Reese’s guy put peanut butter and chocolate together.

From what I have seen from previews and screenshots of the game so far, the game makers seem to have the basics of bingo well in hand and matched up with a few show features already.  Getting a bingo will allow the player to participate in a minigame based on the familiar toss-up game where contestants bid on prizes.  Players can also somehow earn “Master Keys” which can unlock bonus prizes such as decorations, wallpaper, and other cosmetic features; I wonder if the “Master Key” pricing game is in there as well.  You can also spin the big wheel from the Showcase Showdown to get a multiplier which can increase your winnings, a feature I naturally assumed would be implemented in just that way.  I think all of these make for nice bookends for each game you play and they are a pretty big part of the show so I’m glad they made it in there.

The different bingo rooms in the game seem to have themes based on different pricing games from the show.  However, from what I have seen so far, I do not think any elements from the games themselves play a role in the actual bingo gameplay.  I’m surprised at that because when I first heard about the game, I kept picturing images of Plinko chips being placed on random numbers on a bingo card.  Thinking a little further, I started imagining gimmicks that the game makers could take from different pricing games and match up with an aspect of bingo.  For example, if the room theme was “Secret X,” one column on your bingo card could be hidden from view.  At the end of the game, the column would flip over and reveal a hidden marked number, just like the hidden X in the namesake pricing game.  If that number fell into a line of other numbers you had marked, you would have an instant bingo.  Also, I think it would be interesting to have players write out their own row of numbers at the beginning of a bingo round, in a manner similar to writing out your amount in “Check Game.”  Small additions like these could bring out the personality of the show a bit more while staying true to the traditional gameplay of bingo.

If ever there was a true application of the phrase, “two great tastes that taste great together,” then that might be The Price is Right Bingo.  It is a combination I never expected to see, but which I now can’t wait to check out.  After I “Come on down,” I hope to have a review of it for all of you shortly. 

What do you think of this new game, and would you want to play it?  If you’ve played it already, is there anything you like or dislike about it?  What would you add or take from it?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Opening Lines

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

How’s this for an opening line: My first elective class has finally started, and it has me thinking about what makes for a good opening line.  As homework for a creative writing class, I am attempting to develop a story from a single opening sentence.  I have come up with a pretty good opener and the rest of the story is coming along nicely, but this assignment had me thinking throughout the week about good opening lines and why they stick with the reader or listener long after they have been given.  I have often heard it said that a good first impression goes a long way; here’s a few iconic openings from television and movies that have made a great first impression on me and which I would like to emulate in my own work.

“Space: the final frontier.”  Star Trek

I can only imagine what viewers must have been feeling the first time they saw a field of stars shooting at them from their TV screens while William Shatner intoned this famous four word phrase.  My thoughts of it are shaped a bit more by Patrick Stewart’s version from Star Trek: The Next Generation which has a few more planets from the solar system flying by, but its effect on me was just as powerful as Shatner’s probably was with my mom and dad.  The implications of this phrase run very deep with me, hinting at a greater unknown universe just begging to be explored via a cosmic Oregon Trail.  The rest of the opening narration gives in more detail the general premise of the series (the voyages of the Enterprise and her space-bound sisters in orbit), but these first four words are, I think, sufficient enough to bring to mind a whole universe of possibilities.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Star Wars

This opener reminds me of how a typical fairy tale might start out, as viewed through the filter of a science-fiction storyteller.  Taking its cue from lines like, “Once upon a time in a faraway land,” the piece of text that pops up on the screen before the opening text crawl of the Star Wars films might seem a bit old-fashioned for a high-tech world full of laser blasters, laser swords, wise puppets, etc.  Hey, I think it sounds a bit corny, too, but it does give me comfort heading into the show.  George Lucas isn’t about to drop you into a full-fledged space battle without settling you in for the ride first.  I  imagine Princess Leia might use this line at the beginning of telling her kids about the fantastical adventures of crazy Uncle Luke.  It just seems to me like the perfect start to a rip-roaring bedtime story, for better or for worse.  Good night, sleep tight, don’t let Vader bite!

“There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity.  It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call… the Twilight Zone.”  The Twilight Zone, Season One opening narration

I couldn’t stick with just the first line here; I think the entire paragraph needs to be given to get the whole effect.  Of all of the different openings The Twilight Zone used over the course of five seasons, it is this first one which has always been my personal favorite.  When I first started watching Rod Serling’s masterpiece of a TV series on DVD, before I knew anything else about the show, I first encountered this opening monologue which Serling intones in a deep, deliberately paced voice while images of rolling fog, unearthly landscapes, and a twinkling starfield fill the screen.  This blew me away when I first saw and heard it; it instilled in me a feeling of uncertainty, but also of wanting to find out the cause of that uncertainty, not unlike the battle against fear many of the show’s various lead characters fight against.  It remains my favorite part of the show, even more so because it was only used during the first season, making it something of a unique snowflake among iconic TV moments.

I hope that in the future I will be able to come across other beginnings that are just as memorable to me as these are and that I, as a writer, can come up with openers that other people can be inspired by.  What are your favorite opening lines?   Leave them in the comments and don’t forget to identify where they’re from so I can find them, too.

Thank You, SEPTSA

Thursday, April 18th, 2013
The biggest puzzle I'll ever have to solve.

Autism awareness: a cause close to my heart.

I would just like to say thank you to the members of the Special Education Parent Teacher Student Association (SEPTSA) for allowing me to speak at the most recent meeting for Autism Awareness Month.  It was an amazing opportunity that I was glad to take and it was great hearing what the other speakers had to say about their lives with autism as well.  Each of us had a different way of telling our story: one speaker had a conversation with another person to illustrate how their autism affects the way they communicate, another used a PowerPoint presentation to emphasize key facets of her speech, and I gave a written speech.  I noticed that there were a lot of similarities between their experiences and my own such as difficulty navigating crowded hallways, the need to maintain daily schedules, certain sensory issues, and slowly adjusting to big changes in one’s life.  It was interesting for me to hear about our shared experiences, and I admire the other speakers for having the courage to stand up and talk about their lives.

I was also impressed with the large number of people who came to hear us speak.  There were a lot less people at the last SEPTSA meeting, so seeing many more people was something I had not expected.  I am glad that so many people are interested in the welfare of special needs children in my community, and I hope they attend subsequent meetings.

It felt great to me to deliver my speech.  I had practiced it a few times, but seeing and hearing the audience’s reactions at the meeting was a very special experience for me.  Their eyes lit up as I spoke about how my mind works and they laughed in all the right spots.  I was surprised that the speech went over so well; I had not expected all the support, at least outside of my own social circle, but I am glad that so many people appreciated what I and all of the speakers at the meeting had to say.

I would like to say thank you one last time to everyone who came to the SEPTSA meeting, including my family, teachers, and other members of the community.  The great thing about these meetings for me is the ability to learn new things about my community through the testimonies of the group members and the special presentations that are presented at each meeting.  I think SEPTSA plays a very important part in this community, and I hope it continues to prosper for many years to come.

Classes and Speeches and Trips, Oh My!

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Hi, guys.  I just wanted to provide a brief update about what’s been happening since my last post.  There’s been a lot going on with me lately so it has been hard to find time to write posts.  I don’t like these hiatuses myself, but considering what I’ve got coming up, I am finding they can’t be helped.  My schedule for next week looks particularly busy, so here’s a small look at where I’m going.

Starting tonight and for every week for the rest of spring and summer, I am taking a series of elective classes at a local college.  I’m taking a different class each month in subjects I’m interested in, such as creating better short stories and fictional worlds, formulating strategies for my career path, and (this one’s just for fun) the impact superheroes have had on the world.  I took an elective class on voice acting last year at the same college and I found the small, intimate atmosphere of the classroom very pleasant and fun.  Hopefully, this year’s classes will be just as good.

I am also working on a speech I am going to give at a local special education PTA meeting next week about my life with autism.  I’ve already written about it a couple of times for my AutismAfter16 column, but I feel a little funny now that I’ve actually written the speech and I’m just a few days away from delivering it.  It has felt like a distant thing to me for a while, but it’s only just hit me that I’m going to give the speech very soon.  I sure hope the speech goes well at the meeting, because it is only then that I’ll know if all my work on it was worthwhile.

I’m going to be on the road for a few days this week.  My dad needs some help with his work as a belt and hose salesman, so he has asked me to come along with him.  I have assisted him several times before, and I greatly enjoy it because it allows me to get out of the house and see a portion of the world I normally don’t get to see.  It looks like we’re going to have some great weather on the trip, too, so that makes me even happier. 

I also have to get my column for AutismAfter16 done for next week!! 

With all I’ve been doing lately, I’m starting to think of this trip as a much-needed break from my normal routine.

I’m planning on writing on here again in a few days, so stay tuned!  As always, leave your thoughts in the comments.

Random Thoughts: WrestleMania 29 Edition

Friday, April 5th, 2013

WrestleMania 29, the WWE’s biggest production of the year, airs on pay-per-view this Sunday from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.  I know fairly well that this event has been subject to endless debate and discussion just about everywhere else on the Internet already, but I wanted to contribute a few thoughts of my own.  I’m not going to make any predictions about who’s going to win, lose, or draw here.  Instead, I’d like to talk about a few details about this year’s show that are just a little bit unsettling to me.

For instance, I thought it was unusual this past Monday night when it was announced on WWE Raw that the Intercontinental Championship match between Wade Barrett and The Miz, a match between two athletically gifted wrestlers that had been continuously hyped on WWE programming and which I was looking forward to with enthusiasm, has been scheduled to appear not on the pay-per-view card itself as one might expect, but instead as part of the hour-long pre-show which will air online prior to the big event.  Even though it is typical for at least one match to be included in the pre-show, I thought a different kind of match or two, perhaps a couple of matches with some lesser-known wrestlers, would be placed in that spot instead of this one. 

The part that irks me, though, is that this particular match will be contested for the Intercontinental Title, which, in my opinion, is not exactly a great honor in itself anymore (having your champion, Wade Barrett, lose important matches right and left on your TV shows for months on end doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in me that the belt really matters in the long run), but still holds enough interest that it could warrant a fairly exciting match if it were presented on the WrestleMania card itself.  Barrett and Miz have been debating on television for months about who among them is the bigger movie star; their rivalry has become so heated that they were bound to compete for the title on the “Grandest Stage of Them All,” which I believe they rightly should.  However, now that the match is part of the pre-show, it will only be seen by people watching on YouTube, Facebook, the WWE’s mobile app, and a few other places online.  That leaves a lot of people without Internet access who won’t be able to see what I believe will be a fantastic match, unless WWE decides to air highlights of it during the pay-per-view show.  I’m glad that the match will be featured somewhere, but why not do it on the main show?  WWE has hyped this contest to the moon and the main show is four hours long.  Surely, they could’ve devoted a little bit of that time to the Barrett/Miz match for the entire viewing audience to enjoy.

In fact, I think Barrett/Miz would be a better fit for ‘Mania than the musical performance from Diddy (also known as Sean Combs, P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, etc.) that is scheduled for the show.  Musical acts have been regularly featured at ‘Mania alongside wrestling matches.  They usually come in the form of someone like Aretha Franklin singing “America the Beautiful” to start the show or bands such as Motorhead playing live entrance music for the wrestlers to walk out to.  I have seen and heard most of these performances and appreciated the talent of the artists who performed them.  I liked it even more that they usually did not distract from the main attraction of WrestleMania, the wrestling matches.  I’m not sure why Diddy is on the card for this year, though.  The song he will be performing, “Coming Home,” has been a regularly featured part of WWE programming for most of this past year, and I do think it is a very nice song.  However, I don’t see any reason why it should be performed live on pay-per-view.  For me, on a ten-match wrestling show, Diddy sticks out like a sore thumb.

Despite my disappointment in the slight given to Barrett/Miz, I do feel that this year’s ‘Mania show will still be a fun one.  I’m most looking forward to seeing two of my absolute favorite wrestlers, the Undertaker and C.M. Punk, face off against each other in what I think will be the best match of the night.  The Rock and John Cena rematch should be nice as well, and I hope the undercard will have some standout moments.  I’ll hope for the best and have a good time regardless of what happens.

World Autism Awareness Day

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013
The biggest puzzle I'll ever have to solve.

Autism awareness: a cause close to my heart.

Today, April 2,  is World Autism Awareness Day.  I have lived with autism all of my life, and while it has been hard for me to live with at times, it has shaped a lot of what I have done and who I have become.  It causes me to miss some things but I have picked up on others, and I don’t think this condition has ever held me back or stopped me from fulfilling my dreams. 

On this day and during the entire month of April, Autism Awareness Month, I would like to encourage everyone reading this to keep in mind those of us who may not be able to pick up on everything going on around us but who can still contribute much to the world if you give us the chance to try.  My family is shining a blue light outside of our house for the entire month to show our support for autism awareness and research, and I highly encourage you to “Light It Up Blue” as well.  Also, if you’re a parent or friend of autistic children or young adults or want to learn more about autistic lifestyles and research, come by for articles, columns, and all sorts of other useful information concerning autism.  I write a biweekly column there called “The Learning Curve” when I’m not updating my blog, so come look at that as well.

Easter Baskets Full of Movies

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

This past Easter Sunday was a nice, quiet day.  The Syracuse Orange college basketball team  moved onto the Final Four the day before so I was in a good mood, and my family wasn’t planning on going anywhere.  I also got some great stuff in my two, yes, count them, two baskets!  Also included were some great movies!  My mother and I sat down to enjoy three of them.

My favorite movie of the three (and my mom’s, too!) was Rise of the Guardians , a DreamWorks movie about a group of magical characters including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and new member Jack Frost, who come together to protect children everywhere from the nightmare-inducing Pitch Black.  I wasn’t sure what to expect; I had seen a few trailers but not much else.  The description on the back of the DVD case made the movie a bit more interesting for me when I came across the villain’s name which was given as simply Pitch, which I recognized as an old name for the devil, something I thought was a bit unusual for a family movie.  Everything in the film was full of magic and wonder.  The settings of each of the Guardians’ homes and the town they visited looked fantastic, the characters were lively, funny, and touching when the moment called for it, and following Jack Frost’s journey from aloof prankster to rightful hero was very inspirational to me.  This film was a great one for me to get lost in, and I would love to see a sequel.

Hotel Transylvania was a much wackier film than Rise of the Guardians, but it hit another of my sweet spots.  The premise of Dracula running a hotel for monsters and his daughter Mavis falling in love with a human were solid in my view.  To me, the film felt like a two-dimensional cartoon even though it was really a computer-animated movie.  With the way the characters were bouncing around, it reminded me of an old Tex Avery cartoon at some points.  The jokes were also consistently funny all the way through; my favorite joke was one of the Wolfman’s daughters, a very young girl, giving Drac and his friends detailed directions to the airport.  Both this movie and the Guardians film had very cute characters, causing me and my mom to go “Awwwww!” every few minutes.  On a day where cute things are very welcome, these two films had some of the most adorable things I have ever seen and made me feel very happy.

The last movie my mom and I watched on Easter Sunday was Wreck-It Ralph, a tale of redemption which I now think was appropriate to watch at the end of a day concerned with rebirth and renewal.  In the movie, the title character, tired of being endlessly humiliated as the villain in a popular Donkey Kong-like arcade game, leaves his home and goes “game jumping” into other arcade machines in the hope of obtaining a medal which he believes will make the other characters in his home game accept him as a hero.  Along the way, he meets up with a little but feisty girl named Vanellope who, in turn, helps him to save the entire arcade from a massive infestation of murderous virtual bugs.  In true Disney movie fashion, he soon finds out the true meaning of heroism.  This is is the only film of the three which I previously watched in a movie theater, but it was fun to watch it again at home and be able to see a lot of details I hadn’t noticed before.  It was my favorite movie of 2012, at least of the movies I actually saw last year.  However, after watching the other two movies and being astounded by those, I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed with this one in comparison.  I already knew how Ralph’s story went, and I was a little less excited to watch it again after seeing what the Guardians movie had to offer.  All things considered, though, I think it was a nice way to end the day, and it is still one of the best Disney movies I have seen in quite a while.

I enjoyed all three of these movies and they made for a great Sunday triple matinee.  I believe they all had a theme of “bad seeds” (Jack Frost, Dracula, and Ralph) finding better paths for their lives which come to benefit everyone around them; what better message could you give on Easter?  How was your Easter Sunday (if you celebrated it, that is?)  Did you do anything special?  Let me know in the comments.