Archive for November, 2013

Tiny Death Star iPad Game Review: The Force Is Small With This One

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

 

Kinda looks to me like the "Globe of Death" from the circus.

The Empire’s ultimate weapon, in handy diagram form. Doubles as a cute hamster ball!

Tiny Death Star , I think, is an amusing game for the iPad that combines the premise and basic game mechanics of Tiny Tower, another hit iPad game, with the vast interstellar possibilities of the Star Wars universe.  Instead of Tiny Tower‘s premise of contstructing a massive skyscraper in which virtual “bitizens” can live and work, the player for Tiny Death Star  instead takes on the role of a teeny-tiny Darth Vader and builds a massive portion of the infamous Death Star space station.  At the start of the game, a miniscule Emperor Palpatine informs Vader that the building of the Empire’s ultimate weapon requires a great deal of funding.  To obtain the necessary galactic credits, he assigns Vader (alias, you the player) to the job of Imperial Landlord, moving various denizens of the Star Wars galaxy into apartments on the Death Star, putting those new residents to work in various restaurants, gift shops, and other stores, and extracting secrets from captured Rebel forces.  Will Vader prove himself capable of managing the galaxy’s most terrifying “ant farm,” or will it all blow up in his dark helmet-covered face?

I’ve played a bit of Tiny Tower before, but I stopped playing it and took it off my iPad.  I am not quite sure why: I think it was either because I found the basic game play a bit bland or I was not fond of its presentation of a combination apartment/office building.  Weirdly enough, Tiny Death Star is the exact same game as Tiny Tower with a Star Wars coat of paint, but I find this version much more compelling.  It is probably just due to the material being used, but let’s face it, watching small Stormtroopers and droids go about their daily routines isn’t something you see every day.  In addition, there is also a steady stream of miniature bounty hunters, aliens, X-Wing pilots, Han Solo lookalikes, and a host of other familiar faces among the itsy-bitsy crowd.  If you play long enough, you’ll even see a few of the really big players in the Star Wars  saga drop by.  Early in the game, I received a visit from Jar Jar Binks who used his long tongue to snag a sandwich from a high shelf in my cafe; unfortunately, he also caused a portion of the ceiling to collapse.  (Don’t worry, this was only in an in-game movie and everything was fine once the movie finished playing.  I’d still like to know why Jabba the Hutt fell through the ceiling, though; just how did he get onto the Death Star, anyway?)  If these special character cameos keep coming, I will be one happy Padawan (junior Jedi Knight; Yeah, it’s not my favorite Star Wars terminology either, but if I was eight years old again and able to swing a lightsaber around with Yoda as my teacher, I’d put up with any terrible name I was given!)

Seeing new characters is great, and keeping the Death Star up and running for them to enjoy is almost as fun to me.  My main duty as Imperial Landlord consists of managing my growing collection of residents and making sure they are in positions where they are able to generate the most credits.  Each of them has a series of numerical ratings attached to them indicating which type of work they perform best (retail, service, manufacturing, etc.).  A worker with a high retail rating placed in a retail job will, of course, generate considerably more income than someone with a low retail number.  Each resident also has a “dream job,” a particular place they would especially like to work.  If they are placed in that location, they generate a bit of a bonus income on top of their regular contributions.  I only have a few stores open on my Death Star at the moment, so my work force is not as productive as they could be.  I’ll need a bit of time to get things up to lightspeed, but once they are perfectly aligned, I will no doubt have one of the best sales groups in the cosmos!

What is really pushing me forward, though, is the potential for the game to tell a compelling story.  The building of a structure as huge as the Death Star is an interesting situation to play with, and Star Wars is fairly famous for game-changing plot twists (Vader being Luke’s father, for instance).  I can only imagine what might happen with an apartment complex smack dab in the middle of a gigantic space battle.  What happens if Rebel X-Wings take a few shots at the Death Star and ruin my new balcony?  What if the Wookiees (Chewbacca and his family and friends) and the Mon Calamari (Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar and the rest of his kind) don’t like each other and want to be kept as far away from each other as possible?  Just when in the Star Wars timeline does this game take place?  I don’t want no stinkin’ trench run ruining my well-intentioned apartment-empire!

The combination of Star Wars and real estate development has made for an exciting combination so far.  I think I will be sticking with this game for far longer than I did Tiny Tower.  I just hope that the experience lasts longer than the real Death Star did in the movies!

What are your feelings on Star Wars?  Would you be willing to play Tiny Death Star, and if you have, what do you think of it so far?  Do you think the Rebels would notice a bunch of apartment towers jutting outward from the surface of the Death Star (just seems like a huge security risk to me, is all)?  Let me know in the comments, and I’ll get back to you faster than it takes Han Solo to make the Kessel run (12 parsecs is a long time, you know!).

Random Top Five: Snoopy Personas

Thursday, November 7th, 2013
"Contact!" he shouts.

Here’s the World War I Flying Ace, looking proud on his Sopwith Camel featured on an emblem for the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron.

One of my favorite characters in all of popular culture is Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s beagle from the Peanuts franchise.  Ever since I first laid my eyes on him in a videotape recording of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I have grown to love Snoopy immensely and take great pleasure from seeing his antics.  I like the idea of a dog standing up on his hind legs, walking around, and hanging out with a little yellow bird.  The one aspect of Snoopy that I love the most, however, is that he has an overactive imagination.  Not content with being merely a dog, Snoopy has decided to fill the dull moments of his life with fantastic adventures in which he is the hero of epic stories, usually taking on some truly iconic identities in the process.  It is these alternate personas of his that stand out the most in my mind whenever I think of Snoopy.  Here is a small appreciation of five of Snoopy’s most famous personas and why I like them so much.

5. The World-Famous Novelist, a.k.a. The Literary Ace

“It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out!”  If you’re reading a Peanuts strip, chances are you will see these words hovering over Snoopy’s head while he is banging on the keys of a typewriter on top of his doghouse.  You will then have witnessed one of the most harrowing moments in all of literature: here is the World-Famous Novelist making another attempt at writing the Great American Novel.  It’s just unfortunate, though, that he is borrowing his opening line (the “dark and stormy” part, anyway) from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford, an 1830 work whose beginning sentence is apparently considered one of the world’s worst story starters.  Despite the continuous stream of rejection letters that arrive from various editors and publishers, Snoopy still persists in writing, always with that line as his lead-off hitter. 

I was inspired to become a writer partly because of Snoopy’s attempts to be a writer.  I admired how he never gave up on his dream despite everyone else telling him he should stop.  He kept on writing anyway just because he was that dedicated to his craft.  It just so happens that his work has been published at least one time, believe it or not, and I acquired a copy of it myself a couple of years ago.  The year 1971 saw the publication of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, a book based on several different Novelist storylines and featured a special reprint of Snoopy’s written work.  I highly recommend hunting a copy down for yourself on Amazon, especially because of the beagle’s account of a surprisingly awesome pirate fight.

4. Legal Beagle

Snoopy has a secret second life separate from his regular existence as a dog and even from his other personas.  In this other life, he is one of the USA’s most elite trial lawyers.  Here is the world-famous lawyer, easily recognized by his bowler hat, bow tie, and carrying a briefcase filled with legal papers (and doughnuts and cookies).  This stalwart defender of truth and justice, sometimes seconded by loyal assistants Linus and Rerun Van Pelt, has had an ecclectic list of clients, including most notably Peter Rabbit (It turns out Mr. McGregor can be far more deadly with a lawsuit than he ever was with a shotgun and rabbit traps.) and the Knave of Hearts (who may have stolen some tarts, but the evidence seems to be circumstantial; it may be that Snoopy himself had a nibble of some of the tarts in question). 

I like this persona mostly because of the absurdity of Snoopy being a part of the legal world and all of the unusual situations that would bring about, and also because I have seen it more in the comics than in the TV specials which makes it stick out more in my mind.  I wonder what would happen if Snoopy went up against Phoenix Wright in a real “trial by fire?”

3. Beagle Scout

When Woodstock and his identical yellow bird friends want to go camping, hiking, sailing, or engaging in nearly any other outdoor activity they can think of, they know the beagle to call.  Snoopy is the loyal den dog to the Beagle Scouts, a group of young birds working to earn merit badges in a variety of disciplines.  Sometimes their excursions take them out onto the neighborhood golf course, marching through sand traps and around holes, frequently taking some treacherous hiking paths through the nearby woods.  There is plenty of risk of being hit with flying golf balls or being chased off the course by its owners or by Charlie Brown and the gang, but the experience of being outdoors is well worth the effort to Snoopy and his young scouts.  The rest of the time, they hike and set up camp through some beautiful countryside; how much of this is really part of the neighborhood or just part of Snoopy’s imagination, the world may never know.

The Beagle Scout persona is a Snoopy persona I can particularly admire because he and his bird friends get to walk through some exquisite outdoor settings.  Charles M. Schultz drew amazing depictions of lush forests, wide meadows, craggy mountain passes, sheer cliffs, calm rivers and streams, and other outdoor locales for the Beagle Scouts to explore, ones which remind me a lot of nearby parks and woods near my home.  They look well-suited for places to spread out one’s sleeping bag and stare up at the stars.  Snoopy is truly an appreciative outdoorsman (or is that outdoorsdog?).

2. Joe Cool

Snoopy’s salute to the BMOC (Big Man on Campus), Joe Cool is undoubtedly one of the hippest (in his own mind) personas the beagle has.  The sweater-wearing, sunglasses-sporting “student” is not as concerned with making good grades as he is with making a name for himself around Charlie Brown’s school, hanging around the water fountain and flirting with the girls.  Whether this approach makes Snoopy/Joe any more popular is up for debate; if You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown is any indication, he certainly isn’t popular with teachers and other faculty who do not want a beagle leaving pawprints all over the school. 

Personally, I think Joe Cool lives up to his name, if only in that he knows how to make a sweater with one’s name plastered on it look like the coolest sweater in the world.  This somehow, by extension, makes the wearer himself look cool, so maybe the beagle is on to something here.

1. World War I Flying Ace

Here is what is undoubtedly Snoopy’s most famous persona, immortalized through his show-stealing appearance in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Royal Guardsmen’s top musical hits “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and “Snoopy’s Christmas,” and even a couple of video games (a different Snoopy vs. The Red Baron and Snoopy Flying Ace).  The World War I Flying Ace is a living tribute to all of the men and women in the armed forces, a pilot who is still fighting the war even though it officially ended when Germany signed an armistice on November 11, 1918.  The Flying Ace climbs on his Sopwith Camel and flies once more into the wild grey yonder (it would’ve been blue if only all those guns stopped blasting ordnance for a second), searching for the “bloody” Red Baron.  Even though the Baron is credited with a long string of successful wins in dogfights, his winning streak of  “ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or more” pales in comparison to his legendary rivalry with that ace of aces, Snoopy.  Thank goodness it’s a relatively bloodless rivalry.  Every time they meet, the Baron just shoots a few holes through the doghouse and forces his opponent to make a rough landing, free to repair his “plane’s” smoking (?) fuselage while shaking his fist (It’s astonishing that dog is even capable of making a fist.  Cartoons, gotta love ’em.) and shouting, “Curse you, Red Baron!”  Snoopy and the Baron even seem to have come to an uneasy truce: every Christmas, they land their planes and share a cup of tea together, wish each other a Merry Christmas, then fly away until their next aerial clash. 

This part of the Flying Ace’s legend is one that I really like to reflect on.  How cool is it that even though they’re such fierce rivals usually intent on “rolling out the score,” Snoopy and the Baron have enough respect for each other to reenact the famous “Christmas truce” from the 1914 portion of the War to End All Wars every single year?  It makes me hope that others will be willing to take up the cause of “…bringing peace to all the world/And goodwill to me-e-e-en.”

I have read many times that Charles Schultz stated that people could interpret his work however they wanted; that all he was trying to do with Peanuts was to make people laugh once a day every day for fifty years.  Well, he certainly made this reader think a lot about life while he was laughing.  In regards to Snoopy, Schultz said that despite the character’s sensational popularity, he himself tried his darndest not to let the beagle completely hijack the strip.  However, I personally believe that Snoopy is the best part of Peanuts.  His boundless imagination and creative flights of fancy are a wonderful respite from the usual storylines of Charlie Brown’s hangups and everyone else’s insecurities.  Snoopy is almost never depressed; he is astoundingly happy all the time and completely engrossed in his fantastic adventures.  Even if the rest of Schultz’s Peanuts work is forgotten over time, I hope Snoopy will remain popular for a long time to come.  I think the world would just be a lot sadder without him.

What do you think of Snoopy and his numerous personas?  Which one is your favorite?  Make sure to fly over to the comments and leave your thoughts, and here’s to hoping you don’t have any “dark and stormy nights” anytime soon!