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Tim and His Thoughts

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Ultimate Media March Madness: The Final Four

March-Madness

This last round was tremendous to watch. Voting was strong, matchups were close (well, at least three of them were), and in the Book Region final there was a come-from-behind victory.

All this leaves us with a Final Four: the Harry Potter Series, the Star Wars Original Trilogy, The Office (US), and Super Smash Bros. With the final #1 seeds eliminated last round, Star Wars becomes the de facto favorite, with Smash the last cinderella story as a #9 seed. We’re past book versus book and movie versus movie. It’s time to start running the regions into each other.

Click here to download the full bracket, and here’s what we have left:

final four only

The Matchups

I kind of love that it came down to these two. Two of the most popular and influential media properties of the 2000s. It simply can’t be forgotten or underestimated how big a phenomenon the Harry Potter books were. On the other hand, The Office made a star out of Steve Carrell and has to be up among the all-time great sitcoms.

While the first semifinal has some nice parallelism, this one is just all about trying to compare really, really different properties. Star Wars is arguably the most influential film series of all time. The original Smash Bros. gave Nintendo one of its most popular series ever. They’re both great for such different reasons. So I guess the question is: Do you want a narrative sci-fi epic saga, or a game to make you endlessly curse at your friends and love every moment of it?



Schedule:

Round 1 – 3/8 thru 3/13 – VIEW RESULTS

Round 2 – 3/14 thru 3/24 – VIEW RESULTS

Sweet Sixteen – 3/25 thru 3/28 – VIEW RESULTS

Elite Eight – 3/29 thru 4/1 – VIEW RESULTS

Final Four – 4/2 thru 4/4

Final – 4/5 thru 4/10

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Ultimate Media March Madness: Elite Eight

March-Madness

Eight remain. Two books. Two movies. Two TV shows. Two video games.

Last round saw The Lord of the Rings continue its stomp through the Book Region, an array of squeaker-close matchups (including three that went to tiebreakers), and the end of #13 Star Wars: Battlefront 2‘s Cinderella run.

So this is it. After this round, the regions go away, and one of each will vie for the championship. Who will go through? Well, that’s up to you to decide. Here’s the bracket as it remains. As always, you can download a full updated bracket by clicking here.

2016 elite eight only

The Matchups:

#1 The Lord of the Rings – 38%

#7 Harry Potter Series – 62% – WINNER

The Lord of the Rings has absolutely crushed the book bracket so far. It’s swept two of its matchups. It lost only 20% of the vote in the third. Undoubtedly, though, this will be its toughest yet. The most beloved classical fantasy series of all time versus the most beloved fantasy series in recent history. Harry Potter hasn’t quite rolled through its matchups, but it’s been strong. Time for a real knock-down, drag-out fight.

#1 Forrest Gump – 8%

#2 Star Wars Original Trilogy – 92% – WINNER

The entire Movie Region saw just one upset (#12 Master and Commander over #5 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) in three rounds. So it is that we have the only region where a #1 and #2 seed will face one another. This was one of the hardest seeding decisions to make, and I won’t be disappointed either way. It’s an incredible clash of styles and subjects, each iconic and eminently quotable in its own right.

#4 30 Rock – 31%

#3 The Office (US) – 69% – WINNER

Both of these shows made it through to the Elite Eight on a tiebreaker. They also represent my two favorite sitcoms ever. After the diversity of shows present throughout the bracket, it’s interesting to see these two fight for the TV Region championship. A few stats: Emmy wins skew in favor of 30 Rock, 11 to 5, as do nominations, at 103-42. Viewership, however, is heavily in favor of The Office, which regularly scored millions more viewers than 30 Rock.

#9 Super Smash Bros. – 73% – WINNER

#6 Portal Series – 27%

I feel like I have zero predictive power over this matchup. I always expected Smash Bros. to be a strong competitor, but I never expected it to steamroll through Ocarina of TimePortal, meanwhile, proved to be BioWare’s kryptonite, knocking out not only #3 seed Mass Effect Series, but also Knights of the Old Republic. These are both great games, but for such totally different reasons. I wash my hands of this whole messy region in which a top 5 seed couldn’t even make it out of the second round.



Schedule:

Round 1 – 3/8 thru 3/13 – VIEW RESULTS

Round 2 – 3/14 thru 3/24 – VIEW RESULTS

Sweet Sixteen – 3/25 thru 3/28 – VIEW RESULTS

Elite Eight – 3/29 thru 4/1 – VIEW RESULTS

Final Four – 4/2 thru 4/4

Final – 4/5 thru 4/10

Ultimate Media March Madness: Sweet Sixteen

March-Madness

Wow, was the second round brutal on the lower half of the bracket. Only one higher seed was upset in the Book Region and the Movie Region (although it was a doozy, with Ocean’s Eleven besting the Toy Story Trilogy on a tight 60/40 split), but TV saw its #1 seed – and overall victory contender, I thought – The West Wing fall and two more contestes decided by tiebreakers, and MY TOP THREE SEEDS!!!! in the Video Game Region all went down.

After a bit of a delay in the second round, we’re back on a tight schedule for the rest of the tournament. We’re into the SWEET SIXTEEN! Here’s how the bracket stands (or click here for a full PDF version):

ultimate media sweet 16 2016



 

Book Region

sweet 16 books

#1 The Lord of the Rings – 100% – WINNER

#12 Redwall Series – 0%

This would look to be another clear victory for The Lord of the Rings, which has lost only a combined 20% of the vote through the first two rounds (i.e. it’s won 180/200%). The Redwall Series has been surprisingly strong so far, and it denied an all-Tolkien matchup this round by beating The Silmarillion by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

#7 Harry Potter Series – 67% – WINNER

#3 Ender’s Game – 33%

This matchup, on the other hand, figures to be hotly contested. One of the most influential fantasy/young adult series of all time versus one of the best sci-fi novels of all time. My gut says the social weight behind Harry Potter pushes it through, but Ender’s Game is not to be trifled with. Please remember that this is just about the books, not the movies (both of which I can’t stand, but for some reason a lot of you seem to like the Harry Potter movies).



Movie Region

sweet 16 movies

#1 Forrest Gump – 57% – WINNER

#4 The Shawshank Redemption – 43%

Two ’90s classics that already went head-to-head in the Oscars, where Forrest Gump basically swept. It really comes down to a matter of personal preference, and it’s hard to fault anyone for making either choice. I’m very excited to see how this matchup goes.

#2 Star Wars Original Trilogy – 67% – WINNER

#6 Ocean’s Eleven – 33%

Ocean’s Eleven can hardly be thought of as an insurgent when it’s a six seed, but after knocking off the #3 Toy Story Trilogy and so disrupting a perfectly seeded final four from the Movies Region, I can’t see it as anything else. I gave it no shot against Toy Story, and I guess I give it even more of a no chance against Star Wars. The margin of victory for Ocean’s was small last round. I don’t think it’ll be so lucky this time.



TV Region

sweet 16 tv

#9 Arrested Development – 43%

#4 30 Rock – 57% – WINNER

I still can’t believe it. I know those original two and a half seasons of Arrested Development are great. But there were only two and a half seasons, and then the Netflix season happened. How did it beat The West Wing? It gives me pause. And, I think, it makes Arrested Development the heavy favorite in this matchup. 30 Rock is WONDERFUL, but it required a tiebreaker to shake off M*A*S*H.

#10 Mythbusters – 43%

#3 The Office (US) – 57% – WINNER

If there’s any favorite left in the TV Region, it has to be The Office. Yes, it had the easiest matchup of round 2, but it also was the only show to win by a decent margin. Those last few seasons were a little rough, but The Office was a phenomenon unlike anything left in this region.



Video Game Region

sweet 16 games

#9 Super Smash Bros. – 80% – WINNER

#13 Star Wars: Battlefront 2

I guess I understand how this happened, but I still can’t quite believe it did. So I’ll just say this: unlike last round, when Battlefront had a significant multiplayer/party game/replayability advantage over its competitor, it’s got to match strength to strength instead of strength to weakness. That favors Smash.

#7 Knights of the Old Republic – 25%

#6 Portal Series – 75% – WINNER

Even more than the top part of this region, I understand how this happened. Wouldn’t have been my choice, but Majora’s Mask vs. KOTOR and Mass Effect vs. Portal were in my opinion two of the very best matchups round two had on offer. This is going to be ridiculously competitive, but I expect Portal to have the edge.



 

Schedule:

Round 1 – 3/8 thru 3/13 – VIEW RESULTS

Round 2 – 3/14 thru 3/24 – VIEW RESULTS

Sweet Sixteen – 3/25 thru 3/28 – VIEW RESULTS

Elite Eight – 3/29 thru 4/1

Final Four – 4/2 thru 4/4

Final – 4/5 thru 4/10

Ultimate Media March Madness 2016 ROUND 2

March-Madness

The round one voting is in and tallied, and we’ve eliminated half the field. There were some landslides and some big upsets, but the #1 seeds keep their streak of flawlessness in the first round. Two second seeds are down, though.

If you want to see how the votes broke down, the results are posted over here, along with some ground rules if you need a refresher or you’re new to what’s going on.

Here’s how the bracket stands. (Or do download the updated PDF to see easier, click here.)

ultimate media bracket remaining

With that, let’s get into the matchups for round 2!



 

Book Region

book round 2

The Matchups

#1 The Lord of the Rings – 80% – WINNER

#8 Jurassic Park – 20%

I was honestly a little surprised that Jurassic Park made it past The Golden Compass in the opening round, and by nearly a 2:1 margin at that. I have to wonder how many people were voting based on the respective movies rather than the books themselves. Anyways, it’s a well won victory, but much as I LOVE Michael Crichton, I can’t see an upset here. The Lord of the Rings isn’t going to sweep Jurassic Park like it did I Am the Messenger, but I still expect a pretty one-sided affair. And its victory, should it prevail, reflects its position as some of the most influential fantasy written since the Arthurian tales.

#13 The Silmarillion – 37.5%

#12 Redwall Series – 62.5% – WINNER

A battle of upstarts, both of which made it into round two by some of the slimmest margins of victory in all of the first round. It’s also a rather curious matchup that’s formed. The Silmarillion is sort of like a grown up and slightly condensed Redwall series. They’re both mythic tales of the history of a land; one (Redwall) is just much more approachable. Hard to say what happens here. A Sweet Sixteen matchup between The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion would be quite interesting, but the full Redwall series is going to be tough for Tolkien to top.

#15 A Farewell to Arms – 30%

#7 Harry Potter Series – 70% – WINNER

As much as I love A Farewell to Arms, I was very disappointed to see The Crossing fall in round one, probably due to an extreme lack of recognition, comparatively. A Farewell to Arms will have no such luck in the second round, however, coming up against probably the most widely known item in the Book Region of the bracket. At times it’s tough to remember how culturally influential the Harry Potter books were in their heyday. They were everywhere. They dominated the conversation. I remember in high school my youth group left for a missions trip the day after The Half-Blood Prince came out and at least half of us had a copy.

#3 Ender’s Game – 80% – WINNER

#6 The Road – 20%

This is easily the best matchup this round in the Book region, and might be the most interesting in all of round two. Seminal sci-fi versus preeminent literary post-apocalypse. Obviously based on seeding I lean towards Ender’s Game, but the margin between these two books is razor thin. If The Crossing is going to get an early exit, the hopes for Cormac McCarthy in this bracket rest on The Road. On the other hand, after Ender’s Shadow‘s upset at the hands of Redwall, Orson Scott Card’s fortunes are now solely on Ender’s Game. This feels like a later round matchup already.



 

Movie Region

movie round 2

The Matchups

#1 Forrest Gump – 60% – WINNER

#9 School of Rock – 40%

The remaining bracket in the Movies Region is more by-the-seeds than any other, with #12 Master and Commander staging the only real upset. School of Rock barely squeaked by Her, tying the Redwall series for the slimmest margin of victory in the first round. And now it comes up against the #1 seed. Does it have a chance? Maybe. I love Forrest Gump with all my heart, and it’s undeniably good. But School of Rock is a quality motion picture in its own right. I still expect Forrest Gump to take the day, but I think it ends up closer than you might expect.

#4 The Shawshank Redemption – 60% – WINNER

#12 Master and Commander – 40%

I was surprised – even a little pleasantly surprised – at the outpouring of support for Master and Commander, which completed the round one upset with an astounding 82% of the vote. But a bit like A Farewell to Arms‘s victory over The Crossing, I think it benefitted greatly from simple recognition over the much older Butch Cassidy. That won’t hold through Shawshank, though the matchup remains interesting. The two movies have a somewhat similar feel, of a group of mens’ struggle against adversity (albeit adversity of very different sorts). Is Master and Commander more well-remembered than I thought? Maybe, but Shawshank is definitely not forgotten.

#2 Star Wars Original Trilogy – 60% – WINNER

#7 The Dark Knight Trilogy – 40%

I was very surprised that The Dark Knight Trilogy didn’t get a stronger round one challenge from the Jason Bourne movies, and I think it’s a matter of, “What have you done for me lately?” Which isn’t to sell Batman’s best cinematic outing short; it’s incredible. But let’s be real: it has no shot against the good Star Wars movies, right?

#3 Toy Story Trilogy – 40%

#6 Ocean’s Eleven – 60% – WINNER

Tough draw for Ocean’s Eleven, but I don’t really see a path forward for it. It’s a great movie, but it’s up against one of the all-time great animated franchises. The first two made Pixar; the third capped one of the greatest runs of success any production house has ever seen. If the Ocean’s sequels had been strong enough to stand with the first this might have been a competition. With apologies to Steven Soderbergh, give me Buzz and Woody.



 

TV Region

tv round 2

The Matchups

#1 The West Wing – 44.44%

#9 Arrested Development – 55.56% – WINNER

I expected Arrested Development to have a tougher time overcoming Scrubs, and in the early running it was close. But time to focus on the round two matchup. Arrested Development had effectively two and a half seasons of greatness, then hurt itself a little with the Netflix comeback. The West Wing is one of the all-time great TV shows that had about a 3/4 of a season lull in the course of seven seasons. Both are sharply written, but The West Wing manages both comedy and gut-punch drama. A matchup of two great shows, but in this case, one just seems head and shoulders above the other.

#4 – 30 Rock – 55.56% – WINNER

#12 M*A*S*H – 44.44%

I didn’t expect enough people had seen M*A*S*H to propel it to an upset over Avatar. But hey! That’s cool. And it makes for an interesting matchup, because on one hand you have 30 Rock: one of the best, funniest, most clever sitcoms in recent memory, but a show which constantly struggled for good ratings while it aired. And on the other hand is M*A*S*H, a brilliant show in its own right, the finale of which was one of the most watched TV episodes of all time, but an older show that fewer people may remember well.

#15 Game of Thrones – 45.45%

#10 Mythbusters – 54.55% – WINNER

I like Game of Thrones, but its win over Batman: The Animated Series is the round one upset I’m mad about more than any other. Think about it this way: The Dark Knight was a great take on Batman, right? Batman: TAS is WAY better. Ugh. But everyone’s all into Game of Thrones right now. Ok, rant over. I’m genuinely curious if Game of Thrones can carry the mojo over Mythbusters, which had so many seasons of brilliance. Such different shows in contest here.

#3 The Office (US) – 66.67%

#11 Chuck – 33.33%

I can’t believe Chuck actually beat Batman Beyond. But ok. Nice little upset. Not to be demeaning, because I really like you, Chuck, but this is as far as you go.



 

Video Game Region

video game round 2

The Matchups

#1 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – 14.29%

#9 Super Smash Bros. – 85.71% – WINNER

This is a deceptively tough matchup, as there’s a lot of Smash love to go around, fueled by nostalgia and memories of playing with friends. But for me, those memories, of which there are many, can’t touch the wonder and beauty of Ocarina of Time. It’s the best, most memorable, most inspiring game I’ve ever played.

#13 Star Wars: Battlefront 2 – 80% – WINNER

#12 Super Mario Galaxy – 20%

I have no idea which way this matchup is going to tilt. By just about any metric, Galaxy is the superior game. But Battlefront‘s multiplayer can’t be underestimated; online competition just creates different situations and thrills than a tight single player mode. They’re so different, but both so good at what they do. Really, the entirety of the Video Game Region is filled with interesting matchups.

#2 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – 20%

#7 Knights of the Old Republic – 80% – WINNER

Talk about a competition between two great single player games! KOTOR is obviously the more narratively proficient of the two, although Majora’s Mask does more than several other Zelda games in that department. Majora’s Mask has the edge in gameplay, although it depends a bit on whether you prefer its action-oriented gameplay to KOTOR‘s more strategic system. As for simple cool factor, you have Majora’s mask transformations versus KOTOR‘s epic reveal and the fact that it makes you really feel like a Jedi. Tight, tight race here.

#3 Mass Effect Trilogy – 40%

#6 Portal Series – 60% – WINNER

As I said in the first round Mass Effect is *this* close to eclipsing the N64 Zelda games (or at least Majora’s Mask) for a higher seeding. I love the galaxy and galactic community that Mass Effect creates, the overall narrative is very strong, and the characters are some of the best in any video game. But speaking of great characters, you have GLaDOS taunting you through most of both Portal games, and a strong supporting cast in Portal 2Portal is also home to some of the coolest gameplay and puzzle solving. Your favorite probably depends on which you prefer: great narrative, or great puzzles.



 

Schedule:

Round 1 – 3/8 thru 3/13 – VIEW RESULTS

Round 2 – 3/14 thru 3/24 – VIEW RESULTS

Sweet Sixteen – 3/25 thru 3/28 – VIEW RESULTS

Elite Eight – 3/29 thru 4/1

Final Four – 4/2 thru 4/4

Final – 4/5 thru 4/10

Ultimate Media March Madness 2016 Opening Round

March-Madness

I’m not really into March Madness. I kind of keep tabs on the NBA and will be sure to tune in when the Mavericks are in the playoffs. But basketball has never really been my thing, and college hoops even less so.

But you know what I do love? Books, movies, TV, and video games. So this year I’m finally putting up something I first thought of a couple years ago, my very own March Madness-inspired bracket.

Here’s how it’s going to work. I’ve picked my 16 favorites books, movies, etc. or defined series thereof and seeded them within each region. And you all are going to vote on them. We’ll spend about five days on each round, I’ll give a little commentary along the way, and in five weeks we’ll have an overall winner!

A few rules/things to keep in mind:

  • Everything here is stuff I’ve personally seen/read/played. This isn’t an all time great list, it’s stuff that I have a particular personal connection to. And yes, in some cases the fact that your favorite thing isn’t to be found on this bracket reflects a personal failing of mine because I haven’t seen/read/played it.
  • Seeds are definitely prone to being influenced by what I’ve seen/read/played recently, or what I have lots of nostalgia for.
  • In the TV region, I had to consider the ENTIRE series, not just a selection of seasons. For example, if I could have limited How I Met Your Mother to seasons 1-6, it probably would have been seeded a few spots higher. Because that’s most of the series, it still rates pretty highly, but it might have been higher if not for seasons 7, 8, and 9.
  • In the other regions, I could choose to either a single item or the entire series it’s a part of, although in some cases some common-sense delineations have been made. For example, you’ll see the Star Wars Original Trilogy on there rather than the Star Wars series. That’s because the Original Trilogy is a broadly recognizable unit separate from the other movies.

Click here to see or download the full bracket, or see the links below to jump to each region. The schedule for each round is at the bottom of the page.

Books          Movies          TV          Video Games



Book Region

book region

The Matchups

#1 The Lord of the Rings – 100% – WINNER

#16 I Am the Messenger – 0%

It’s a hard call to name a favorite book of all time; I usually list the first four seeds as a collective “favorite.” But harder luck for my favorite book I’ve read in the last year to come up against LotR.

#8 Jurassic Park – 62% – WINNER

#9 The Golden Compass Trilogy – 38%

It’s a shame to me that Michael Crichton only managed one book on this list (Timeline was VERY close to squeezing in), but if there could only be one, it’s definitely got to be Jurassic Park. Tough competition, though, as you’d expect from an 8 seed versus a 9 seed. The Golden Compass, and to a lesser extent its sequels, are still among my favorite books of all time. I love the main characters, and I love the inventiveness of the fantasy world stretched out before you.

#4 Les Miserables – 45%

#13 The Silmarillion – 55% – WINNER

Tolkien’s second appearance in this bracket, and though this is a competition between two forbiddingly large and dense books, I’ll wager more people voting here have actually read The Silmarillion. Which is a shame, because as great as it is,  Les Miserables, in all its luxurious (and at times overbearing) detail is positively incredible. The way it builds up to its magnificent conclusion is remarkable, and it deserves its spot as one of my four collective favorite books. Read it if you haven’t.

#5 Ender’s Shadow – 46%

#12 Redwall Series – 54% – WINNER

Orson Scott Card is all over this bracket, and it’s well deserved every time. I know there are some who consider Ender’s Shadow even better than Ender’s Game. Not for me, but Shadow is still great. On the other hand, though, I spent an awful lot of time reading Brian Jacques Redwall series. I fell off a few books before the last one was published due to some reliance on formula that the later books are especially guilty of, but there’s also something joyful to that formula. I recommend starting with Mossflower if you’ve never read the series.

#2 The Crossing – 9%

#15 A Farewell to Arms – 91% – WINNER

It’s so interesting to me that these two came up against each other; I seeded without regard for matchups, just trying to rank as accurately as possible. But Cormac McCarthy feels, in many ways, like the direct successor to Ernest Hemingway. They’re writing styles are different, but both are minimalistic, with a turn towards expression through character action only, rarely taking us inside someone’s thoughts. I considered including the entire Border Trilogy here instead of just The Crossing, but The Crossing is even a cut above the other two for me. FYI: you can read the trilogy (of which The Crossing is book two) in order, but it’s by no means required.

#7 Harry Potter Series – 92% – WINNER

#10 Old Kingdom Trilogy – 8%

Some of you may know the Old Kingdom trilogy better by the actual names of the books: Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. They’ve got a beautifully unique fantasy world and remarkable female protagonists (written in an age when that wasn’t so in style as it is now). On the other hand, Harry Potter dominated my childhood from 4th grade through most of high school, just like it did for so many others.

#3 Ender’s Game – 100% – WINNER

#14 – Alvin Maker Series – 0%

If Orson Scott Card is going to place three books on the bracket, at least it happens that two of them have to fight each other. Ender’s Game is an immediate must-read if you haven’t already. I distinctly remember the first time I read it: reading for a while, putting it down to make myself go do something else, and then being back to reading it again 15 minutes later because nothing else seemed half as worth doing. A literal “can’t put it down” moment. The Tales of Alvin Maker series is far less known than the Ender series, but definitely worth reading. It takes place in a semimagical alternate history America, with the first book starting a little before when the Revolutionary War would have taken place. The series meanders a bit and can get occasionally heavy with the symbolism, but it’s a quick, easy, delightful read.

#6 The Road – 57% – WINNER

#11 X-Wing Series (Rogue Squadron Books) – 43%

I’ve chosen to include here from the X-Wing series only the books which were written by Michael Stackpole, which are the ones about Rogue squadron. There are also several books in the same series about Wraith Squadron, written by Aaron Allston, and while they’re fun, in my estimation they’re not of the same quality. Even with that bonus, though, I expect they’ll have a hard time overcoming The Road, which is probably the most depressing book I’ve ever read but undoubtedly also one of the most beautiful.



Movie Region

movie region

The Matchups

#1 Forrest Gump – 79% – WINNER

#16 Stranger Than Fiction – 21%

Two movies of extraordinary happenstance, and both of them great in their own regard. This was maybe the toughest region to get into, with films like The Matrix, Good Will Hunting, and The Lion King just missing the cut. So kudos to Stranger Than Fiction (i.e. Will Ferrell’s 2nd best movie, following Elf). But Forrest Gump is a titan, and I expect to be able to gush on in more in subsequent rounds.

#8 Her – 46%

#9 School of Rock – 54% – WINNER

This is a weird matchup. School of Rock is Jack Black at his finest, a hilarious and heartfelt comedy with some really solid drama thrown in. But Her is my favorite movie so far this decade. It’s deliciously weird, chillingly foresighted, beautifully designed, and I just love the hell out of it. (See me gush more about it here, here, and here.) As close as 8s and 9s usually are, there’s a very definitive order to these two, at least for me.

#4 The Shawshank Redemption – 71% – WINNER

#13 The Sandlot – 29%

The Sandlot is a seminal coming-of-age movie, one of the very best ever committed to film. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the finest movies every made. Tough matchup, Sandlot.

#5 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 18%

#12 Master and Commander – 82% – WINNER

Now here’s a matchup. They’re both swashbuckling, hard-nosed adventures. Butch Cassidy is the film that launched Robert Redford, and features one of the most iconic pair of antiheroes ever. I mean, you remember the final shot of this movie and the hail of gunfire that sounds over the freeze frame. On the other hand, I think Master and Commander is under-appreciated and too easily forgotten. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany make an amazing pairing for this high seas Napoleonic contest.

#2 Star Wars Original Trilogy – 92% – WINNER

#15 Field of Dreams – 8%

Man, the baseball movies are pulling some tough matchups! So let’s give Field of Dreams its due as one of Kevin Costner’s best, and featuring a couple all-time great monologues from Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones. But come on. I’m such a massive Star Wars fan, for me this isn’t even close. And I’m betting the polls will reflect that.

#7 The Dark Knight Trilogy – 85% – WINNER

#10 Jason Bourne Trilogy – 15%

Another phenomenal matchup. I swear I’m didn’t make this happen. You’ve got probably the best superhero movies of all time (particularly Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) on one hand, and on the other is a trio of movies that redefined the modern action film. Bourne was so good at what it did, he made James Bond emulate him. But then again, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale giving us the on-screen Batman we always wanted. Oh, and Heath Ledger’s Joker, of course, adds points by itself.

#3 Toy Story Trilogy – 85% – WINNER

#14 Beauty and the Beast – 15%

Here’s the thing: Beauty and the Beast was, along with The Sound of Music, my first cinematic love. But I am Andy from Toy Story. I grew up surrounded by cowboys until I discovered Star Wars, and have been trading heavily in both ever since. Toy Story speaks to me on such an intensely personal level, on top of being the near-flawless set of movies it is.

#6 Ocean’s Eleven – 67% – WINNER

#11 Memento – 33%

I could be mistaken, but I think Christopher Nolan is the only director who’s placed two movies on this bracket (though yes, that’s selling a couple “trilogy” directors a little short. Nolan is a master of structure. If you look at his movies, their narratives are actually pretty straightforward. It’s the way those events are arranged that are a huge part of what makes him a remarkable filmmaker, and there’s no finer example than Memento. Then again, Ocean’s Eleven is in the masterful hands of Steven Soderbergh and is one of the best heist movies, and funniest heist movies, ever made, and employs some very clever plot structure of its own.



TV Region

tv region

The Matchups

#1 The West Wing – 80% – WINNER

#16 – Heroes – 20%

This might be the most one-sided contest in the entire bracket, in any of the regions. The West Wing is one of the most brilliantly written, incisive, hilarious, heartbreaking shows ever made. Sure, it’s got its lull in season 5, but that’s nothing compared to one great season of Heroes followed by several seasons that are mostly respectable curiosities. Just to be clear, this does NOT include that Heroes Reborn series, of which I only watched the first couple episodes.

#8 Scrubs – 23%

#9 Arrested Development – 77% – WINNER

I’m a recent convert to Scrubs, and only about halfway through season 3 as of this posting, so there’s a good chance that if I do this again next year it’ll have risen some in the seeding. But don’t sell Arrested Development short. The Netflix season 4 was a disappointment I haven’t even finished, but it’s easy to forget just how great those first three seasons were.

#4 30 Rock – 88% – WINNER

#13 The Newsroom – 13%

Let’s address The Newsroom first: a little seen, three season HBO series from Aaron Sorkin that doesn’t quite measure up to The West Wing (because what can?) but is a fun and challenging show in its own right. The Newsroom doesn’t lose much if you watch it now, but it was particularly poignant in the moment for delivering commentary on current events. So why is it seeded 13 while 30 Rock is up at #4? 30 Rock is one of the most cleverly funny shows I’ve ever seen, and probably more prone to make me actually laugh out loud than any other show on this list.

#5 Avatar: The Last Airbender – 42%

#12 M*A*S*H – 58% – WINNER

I was watching The Legend of Korra this week, and while I enjoyed it, it really just made me want to go watch Avatar all over again. It’s one of the most slickly produced and touching children’s series ever, unfolding a complete and well-told story over three seasons that even nails the tricky ending. M*A*S*H, on the other hand, was something I came to in high school, and fell in love with the sharp wit and full heart of the show. It’s on Netflix now, go give it a watch.

#2 Batman: The Animated Series – 45%

#15 Game of Thrones – 55% – WINNER

I’m going to cry if there’s an upset here. Game of Thrones is good, and it overcomes some qualms I have about its content with exceptional characters and an epic historical mystery in a fantasy world as rich as Middle Earth. But Batman: TAS is my childhood, and possibly the best sustained take on Batman we’ve ever seen. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are iconic in their roles as the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime, and this show gave us Harley Quinn!

#7 How I Met Your Mother – 42%

#10 Mythbusters – 58% – WINNER

I know Mythbusters just ended, and to be honest, it’s been a while since I watched it. But in some ways that’s a testament to its quality and longevity. The show was super fun and made me (and everyone) wish I had a giant workshop to use to build hovercrafts and giant slingshots and stuff. Meanwhile How I Met Your Mother, or at least the first six season, have a special place in my heart. If only they’d ended earlier and better…

#3 The Office (US) – 75% – WINNER

#14 Freaks & Geeks – 25%

The one-season wonder versus another show that was brilliant in its heyday but outstayed its welcome a bit. Still, as great as Freaks and Geeks is in its solo outing, length has to count for something. Plus, what a peak The Office had! I remember in college dozens of people would get together in the common room on Office nights to all watch together. It was amazing.

#6 Batman Beyond – 40%

#11 Chuck – 60% – WINNER

This might be the least-seen matchup in the bracket. Batman Beyond was a gorgeously creative extension of Batman: The Animated Series, one that actually took seriously Bruce Wayne’s aging. Terry McGinnis proved a worthy successor to the Batman mantle, as this show did as a new entry to Batman canon. And then there’s Chuck, which really ought to be a must-see for anyone who’s a fan of James BondGet Smart, or the spy genre in general. Yes, it’s full of genre tropes and over the top plots and characters. But that’s part of why it’s just so fun. An emotional heart underscores the entire thing and is not to be overlooked.



Video Game Region

video game region

The Matchups

#1 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – 100% – WINNER

#16 Empire Earth – 0%

Arguably the best game of all time (I certainly think it is, and I’ve probably spent more time with it than any other ever) versus a flawed but deeply entertaining RTS that was effectively the successor to Age of Empires. I love both games. I love Ocarina of Time way more.

#8 Deus Ex: Human Revolution – 0%

#9 Super Smash Bros. – 100% – WINNER

Human Revolution was a game I bought because I needed something to tide me over ’til Mass Effect 3 and it was $20 when I got it. What I found, though, was a sharply poignant near-future cyberpunk world, and one of the most memorable video game experiences I’ve had in recent years. Human Revolution makes a compelling case for video games’ ability to handle complex issues as well as, or even better than, other media. Against it stands the original Super Smash Bros., a crazy idea that turned into one of the best series Nintendo has on offer. But that original one is still the best; this spot is for that game alone, not the full series.

#4 Mario Kart Wii – 33%

#13 Star Wars: Battlefront 2 – 67% – WINNER

Battlefront II gets the nod here over the original for its mode additions, particularly hero characters, and its balance adjustments that made it a far better game to play regardless of which faction you fought as. It’s a great game. Mario Kart Wii is the most social game I’ve ever played. For two years of college, there were 4-7 of us that played this almost daily.

#5 Gizmos & Gadgets – 43%

#12 Super Mario Galaxy – 57% – WINNER

There are a few video games I credit with developing my love for the medium. While Gizmos and Gadgets wasn’t the first game I ever played a lot of, it was the first one I remember loving. If you don’t know it, try to seek it out. It’s technically an “edutainment” game, but it’s got some good platforming and clever (if a little easy now) physics puzzles that are well-integrated with the rest of the gameplay. Against it stands one of the best platformers ever created, and the only core Mario game I’ve ever finished. Super Mario Galaxy is a remarkable, tremendously fun, mind-bending game.

#2 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – 100% – WINNER

#15 Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – 0%

The entire Metroid Prime series is really good, and Corruption is easily the best for its improved controls. Indeed, it’s one of the best controlling Wii games around. Majora’s Mask, though, is part of what defines Zelda games for me. A little weird considering it’s one of the “non core” Zeldas in existence, but it and Ocarina were my first two. They defined the series to me, and I love how creepy Majora’s Mask is. The three day structure and abundance of side quests is phenomenal, and the dungeons that are there are simply great, as is the shapeshifting mask mechanic.

#7 Knights of the Old Republic – 83% – WINNER

#10 Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast – #17%

I’ve played these two more than any other Star Wars games ever. (Sorry, Battlefront.) They’re also inextricably linked to me. I was on board the hype train in the run up to the release of KOTOR, even through the delay to the PC release (I didn’t have an Xbox at the time). But when I got it, I discovered that our home PC wouldn’t run it. So I put it in the closet, went out to Best Buy, and happened upon Jedi Outcast, a game I’d played just a smidge of before with a friend. Jedi Outcast had (and maybe has; it’s on Steam now) a vibrant multiplayer scene coupled with a strong single player story, and both made you feel like a Jedi. When I eventually got to play KOTOR, though, I got to see why it’s one of the finest RPGs ever made, BioWare at the height of their considerable powers, getting to play in an unexplored part of the Star Wars galaxy.

#3 Mass Effect Trilogy – 71% – WINNER

#14 Hearthstone – 29%

Say what you will about the ending to Mass Effect 3, the sequence at the end of the game on Earth is harrowing and tremendously emotional. The entire series shines in story, only occasionally bobbles in gameplay, and is only barely outstripped by the two N64 Zelda games for the top seed. Hearthstone is a game I play all the time, but it will never have the impact of Mass Effect.

#6 Portal Series – 75% – WINNER

#11 Batman: Arkham Asylum – 25%

I can’t put the full Arkham series here because I’ve only played Asylum (although I’m getting ready to launch into Arkham City soon). That’s ok, though, Arkham Asylum is great. It defined a generation and then some for 3rd person hand-to-hand combat, but more importantly, whether you’re fighting or sneaking you always feel like Batman. Portal on the other hand is one of the most refreshingly unique experiences to grace video games in a long time, and followup Portal 2 made up for any loss in originality with a lengthier campaign with plenty of wonderful new gameplay elements to use.



Schedule:

Round 1 – 3/8 thru 3/13 – VIEW RESULTS

Round 2 – 3/14 thru 3/24 – VIEW RESULTS

Sweet Sixteen – 3/25 thru 3/28 – VIEW RESULTS

Elite Eight – 3/29 thru 4/1

Final Four – 4/2 thru 4/4

Final – 4/5 thru 4/10

The Cult of “The One”

Something I’ve been noticing in popular media for a while now is a fixation on a character most commonly referred to as “the One.” Neo. Harry Potter. I think Master Chief even got pulled into it this last go round. (Side note: if anyone can explain what the hell was supposed to be going on in Halo 4  and why I should care you have my thanks. And awe. Anyways…)

What is the cult of “The One”? Simply put it’s the difference between a typical protagonist and the destined hero of fate upon whose shoulders all the earth falls. Harry defeats Voldemort not because of some inner strength, but because in accordance with fate he is the singular person in all the earth who is capable of doing so. Somehow. That’s not to say a character arc and inner strength don’t inform the story. Certainly, they do. But Morpheus ain’t the one dodging bullets.

It’s not that I don’t like some of these stories. The Matrix  is a seriously cool movie. But I think the concept is both tired and misleading.

The One characters are build on the Christ figure archetype. Christ is the one and only son of God, so he is the only one in all the earth – ever- who can atone for sin. Likewise, “One” characters are generally destined in some way. There is something supernatural that limits those who could do what they do to only them. From a storytelling perspective, this works in the Gospels because although Christ is the focal figure he’s not the one we the audience identifies with. We see Christ in his perfection and quickly realize that status is unattainable (Again, from a storytelling perspective. I’m not trying to go into theology here.) Who we can identify with are the disciples. They’re normal folks, and some of the stuff Jesus says and does seems as weird to them as it does to us. Not only that, but Jesus starts and ends supremely powerful. A passing knowledge of Christian trinitarian theology makes us very aware that any perceived inability is a willing one, and we see Jesus as very much in control of some massive power multiple times through the story.

In general, the One character arcs try to capture this same idea, but infuse it with the imperfection of a normal hero. Let’s face it: all-powerful characters aren’t that fun to watch, and there has to be some pretty compelling motivation to make the temporary abandonment of powers believable. Let’s use Neo as a case study.

Neo is certainly a Christ figure in The Matrix. There’s a prophecy which speaks of his coming and his sole ability to set things right. Pretty straightforward. But far from being all powerful, Neo is pretty helpless. He learns quickly once he joins the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar, but power is something he has to grow into slowly and painfully. He makes mistakes. He gets beat up. And not because he’s allowing himself to; he’s powerless to stop it. It’s a very interesting reversal from the structure of the archetype, and pretty much every “One” figure follows it.

So here’s my problem with the one figures: what makes Neo special? If he goes from zero to hero, what is it that makes him uniquely predestined to succeed on a massive scale? As a counterexample, let’s look at Frodo from The Lord of the Rings. As the ring bearer, Frodo is in a position where the fate of the world rests on his shoulders. What he is not is the predestined carrier of the One Ring, the only one who could ever destroy it. No. Frodo finds himself in a particular circumstance and ultimately rises to the challenge, but Sam serves as the ring bearer for a while. Gollum is the one who ends up destroying the Ring. Frodo was put in a tremendously important position by an act of fate, but anyone else could have found themselves in the same position, and I argue that makes Frodo’s story all the better. He could have quit at any time, said that it was someone else’s responsibility. What made Frodo special is that he carried out the task, not that he was the only one capable of doing so.

Let’s look at another LotR example: Aragorn. As a member of the line of Isildur and heir to the throne of Gondor, it’s hard to argue that Aragorn isn’t beholden to some amount of destiny. Certainly he didn’t do anything to make himself Isildur’s heir. That’s just the way things are. But by the same token, there’s nothing to say that Aragorn is the one who must rise to take the throne. His father was Isildur’s heir, but he didn’t do it. Aragorn isn’t a “One” figure because, like Frodo, there’s nothing tying him to that role. How much more meaningful is his decision to abandon his past life and try to wrangle Denethor if that’s a path he could walk away from? It tells us so much more about his character. Neo may want to go back to how things were, but fate will not let him.

I like the idea that heroes can come from anywhere. The story of a flawed character rising to the occasion when not doing so is a real option is so much more compelling than the story of a flawed character who has no choice at all. (And just to be clear: this is a very different scenario than, say, a tragic hero unable to outrun fate or a true Christ figure who exercises choice in the decision to lay aside power.) But beyond that, I think the mythology of “The One” is fairly insidious, and that’s why I refer to it as the Cult of “The One.”

What are we really expressing with a One story? I think a big part of it has to be the desire to rise from humble beginnings. But this is possible in any story, so why do we see the One? It’s because we’re an entitled culture. The One may work hard to hone his/her skills, but the fact that a character in The One implies something innate. Neo is offered a pill that springs him from the trap of his mundane life. It’s easy to see where the appeal is. The Cult of The One says we don’t have to work for what we get. Working might even be pointless. Yes, Neo has Morpheus, Trinity, and the rest, but can they do what he can? They’re replaceable. Neo is not. We like the idea that great power will just be given to us one day.

That’s scary.

Look, I’m not saying that every “One” story is evil. I just think we need to be aware of some of the implicit messages of this story and the ways it puts a particular twist on the archetype it’s working from. Plus, I think it’s just lazy storytelling.

Two Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood…

This started as a post on binary moral systems in games, but has morphed into something quite different. I think I’ll get back to exploring moral systems in game design sometime soon, but for now I want to discuss something a little different: divergent narrative in games.

A lot of people were pretty upset by the end of Mass Effect 3. With the Mass Effect series, developer BioWare was trying something extremely ambitious, something that, to my knowledge, has never been done before. By allowing you to import your saved character from game to game, by the end of Mass Effect 3 you had the culmination of three games worth of choices. Some, very difficult choice. And while the final fight was appropriately harrowing, the game ended by essentially making you choose the red, blue, or green ending. Thus the hoopla.

But while that choice was indeed disappointing, I think there’s a deeper reason that people were upset about the ending, and one that perhaps isn’t being talked about very much.

What the Mass Effect series promised players was that our choices would make a difference. That they would have a tangible effect on the world. And for the most part, the first two games maintained this illusion. Yes, illusion. Because as the third game illustrates so well, everything plays out basically the same regardless of what we do. And to some extent that makes sense. In Mass Effect you play as a singular figure who, however influential, is still one man (or woman) in a galaxy of trillions. There’s a lot going on that we as Commander Shepard don’t have a direct hand in. But part of BioWare’s design of Mass Effect is to put the player at the crux of galaxy-rocking events. So it feels like our actions should have broad and lasting consequences. (ME1 ending spoilers!) When Sovreign attacks the Citadel at the end of Mass Effect and you have the choice whether to save the Council or not, that’s a big decision with some very wide consequences. It feels as though this and other decisions out to tangibly change the world.

But ultimately we’re still run through the same basic series of events. Mostly this is just a development necessity. The Mass Effect games clock in at least 20 hours each. There’s no time or budget to craft multiple complete storylines. And it’s well justified in the plot: the impeding doom of the Reapers coming is going to railroad galactic priorities regardless of what you would do on your own as Commander Shepard.

That’s the problem, though. Ultimately, the narrative and the game mechanics are telling the player contradictory truths. And by the end the narrative still stands, and it seems the game mechanics, the way we interact with the world of Mass Effect, were the lie. Thus, the player feels betrayed.

So with due respect to the 20+ hour experiences that we know and love, I believe it’s time for someone to step in a bold new direction. Let’s imagine a game where your decisions as the player did lead to drastically different events, not just different twists on the same event. It would be the sort of game where your play-through really would be dramatically different from your friends’. Never mind nuances on the same plot, but, say, three to five distinctive plotlines.

So let’s go back to developmental constraints and see where this leads. Obviously each plotline couldn’t be sustained 20 hours. That would be the equivalent of developing three or for games, even if you assume some overlap of locations and characters. But what about 8-10 hours of predominantly unique story per plotline? A triple-A developer would have the resources to do that, and 8-10 hours of gameplay nothing to sneeze at.

Plus, you can pretty well guarantee that the player is going to replay the game at least once, meaning the standard play-time for an action/adventure/RPG type game is met. And furthermore, the player is rewarded for playing differently, enacting different characters in the same situation. It gives the developer a lot of room for artistic exploration of human psychology, personality, the nature of life, etc. If games are truly an art form, they need to communicate on an intuitive level through aesthetic means. This sort of design would open up new avenues to do that.

I’m not saying that old modes of game design should disappear, only that the growth of the medium comes through continuing to explore new ones. This seems like a logical progression that has a lot of new territory worth exploring. I can’t wait to see some big games that take the risk and employing truly divergent plots to develop meaningful player choice this step further than anything that’s come before.

I Don’t Care What You Say, BioShock Sucks

I bought BioShock, oh, must be close to three or four years ago now. I found it at Gamestop for $10 and said to myself, “Hey, that’s supposed to be a great game. I’ll take a gander for ten bucks and see what all the fuss is about.”

I’ve never beaten the game. Hell, I’ve never gotten more than a few hours in. The game was so ridiculously frustrating to play that I eventually gave up. I was dying every two minutes, and it seemed like the only way I was progressing was just to re-spawn, go back to wherever I had been, and whittle down the enemy a little bit more. It was infuriating, so I quit.

And aside from a couple times when I pulled it out just to see if anything had magically changed (it hadn’t), BioShock sat on my shelf un-played. Until today, I hadn’t touched it in over a year.

But it’s been in the back of my head since then. I told myself that I was playing the game wrong, that I was charging forward headlong like some FPS when I needed to embody the character more. Sneak around. Don’t engage enemies you don’t have to. Immerse yourself.

So this afternoon I deleted all old BioShock save files and popped the disk in to start completely fresh. And despite still feeling that the game played more linear than it ought to (granted, maybe it opens up a couple hours in; I wouldn’t know), it was actually kind of enjoyable. I like atmosphere. The Shadow Temple from Ocarina of Time? Money. BioShock has that in spades, that’s clear from the outset. (Ok, all the temples in Ocarina are like that, the Shadow Temple is just a great example and the most directly relatable to BioShock. But I digress…)

I enjoyed it, that is, until I got to the first major fight. It wasn’t even the first Big Daddy you have to go toe-to-toe with. It was the stupid doctor with the tommy gun. Initially, I fought him pretty evenly. I had to use some first aid kits, but I was whittling him down. Then I discovered the water in the basement and decided it’d be smart to lure him down there and then electrocute the water. I did, and he was nearly dead when…

He reappeared with a full bar of health. He’d used the stupid first aid dispenser down there, and then, as I’d run out of ammo, he promptly shot me dead. Which mean I re-spawned with no first aid kits, no eve hypos, and no ammo. But I was not deterred. I went to the nearby vending machine and bought everything I could…which shook out to two first aid kits, two eve hypos, and a few pistol rounds. I quickly died again. Now I not only had no items, but I had no money. But I persisted. In the course of dying about three times, I got him low on health again. But when I came back the next time, he promptly rushed for a first aid station. No matter how valiantly I whacked him with my wrench, he was able to heal himself, and I died again.

And that was the point that I turned off my Xbox and decided to sell BioShock for whatever meager cash I can get on a trade-in for a new game. I’ve given BioShock its chance, and I honestly don’t see why everyone loves this game. It seems flawed on the level of basic mechanics. So I don’t care what anyone says. BioShock sucks.

But really, if there’s something fundamental I’m somehow missing, please let me know!

Mass Effect 3 “Retaliation” DLC

Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer component got a major update today. It added a new enemy faction (the Collectors), new units to the Cerberus and Geth factions, a host of new playable character classes, some map updates, new weapons and items, and a new progress tracker. Here’s the rundown of all the updates, plus a few thoughts:

Let’s start with the biggest addition: the Collectors. I like that BioWare is trying to add as much diversity as possible. Mass Effect 3 is their big finale to a very risky but successful trilogy. Even though the multiplayer bit is very separate from the single player campaign, people playing their game is a good thing for BioWare. It actually got me thinking what other factions they could/might eventually add. I had trouble coming up with much, though. I guess I could see a mercenary group like the Blood Pack, but seeing as you can recruit them to your side in the single player game, that might be weird for some players. Though I guess you can recruit the Geth as well. Oh well. They’re a much more established enemy.

As for the collectors themselves, they play somewhere in between Cerberus and the Reapers. It’s nice to have another set of enemies to keep everything fresher, but this is probably the weakest faction of the bunch (in terms of imagination, not how easy they are to best). Although the Collectors have Abominations (really just a Reaper Husk with red lights instead of blue ones), their base soldier is more like the standard Cerberus or Geth trooper than the Reaper Cannibals. They also have Captains, who are basically Cerberus Centurions with a barrier instead of a shield, Scions, a slow but long ranged armored unit (think Geth Prime, though not as strong as a Prime), and Praetorians, giant floating crab looking things which are their top-tiered unit. In addition, the Collectors have Seeker Swarms, which are weak but small and fast units that cause minor damage and keep you from using powers temporarily, and their units can randomly be imbibed with added strength (remember “Assuming direct control!” from Mass Effect 2? It’s like that, except the unit doesn’t become as strong).

The Collectors are different enough to be a worthwhile change of pace, although the Seeker Swarm and Praetorian are the only units that really set the Collectors apart.

Cerberus and the Geth both got single new units as well. Sorry Reapers, you’ve got enough. For Cerberus, they gain the Dragoon, an armored soldier similar in strength to a Centurion who has an average ranged weapon and a fairly long distance melee attack in which he uses electrified whips. I think the armor is meant to diversify the Cerberus troops a bit, and the new unit falls somewhere in between the existing Assault Trooper and Phantom. The Geth, on the other hand, get the Bomber, a small speedy drone that tries to drop grenades on your head. This might be the most interesting of all the new units. The Geth heavy hitters (Pyro, Prime, Hunter) are all slow moving, and even the rocket trooper you generally do best to engage at a distance. Especially on larger maps, fighting the Geth is an exercise in cover based combat. That’s not a bad thing, but the Bomber really makes you move. It’s fast and well protected enough to get on top of you if you’re not paying attention, and if it does you’ve got to move. It changes the dynamics of fighting the geth, to some extent.

Perhaps part of this DLC I’m most excited about, however, is the vast expansion of playable characters, including several classes of Volus. That’s right, folks, you will now be able to play as the perpetually asthmatic, bowling ball shaped aliens. I, for one, cannot wait, and I dearly hope their dodge animation consists of rolling on their bellies. All fun aside (though I am serious – I want to play as a Volus), Retaliation about doubles the number of playable characters. In addition to the Volus we get a couple Batarian classes, even a Vorcha class, and the extension of old standbys like the Turians and Asari into new classes. Heck, we even get duplicates in a couple places, with different types of the same alien race in the same character class, the difference being the powers they are given. All of these classes must be unlocked through the store, of course, so I haven’t had a chance to play as any of them yet, but looking through them there seem to be a number of new powers, and I’m excited to try them out.

In terms of maps, there are no completely new maps, but several have been updated. There are now new versions of Firebases Daggar and Reactor in addition to their old versions that include environmental hazards. That scary looking reactor in the middle of Firebase Reactor? It can actually fry you now, though I’m still a little unsure how the mechanics work to set it off. As for Dagger, it’s changes are more cosmetic, with a massive dust storm that makes it impossible to see across the entire map anymore. As far as I can tell it doesn’t actually affect your character, but it does give the map a haunting tone and makes it play a bit differently. There have been a couple minor changes made to existing maps as well. The most drastic I found was on Firebase White, where there are three new corridors. This actually makes the map a lot better. It’s more open, and while enemies can come from more directions now you’re also unlikely to get stuck in a corner, as was very possible before. It makes it more difficult to force your enemies to spawn in very predictable and clumped locations, making the map slightly more difficult, but a lot more fun to play.

I haven’t had a chance to dig into any new weapons or items yet. I know there are several new ones, and I played with a couple of people who had unlocked, for example, a Collector assault rifle, but I can’t say much to their quality on my own (nonexistent) experience. I’ll try to update this once I have a better understanding.

Which brings us to the final addition: Challenges. Basically, these are online achievements. Most of them are for things you’re going to do anyways, like finish each level so many times or use a certain biotic power a lot. A few of them, though, are trickier, like complete a mission solo, and will actually give players a challenge. Completing a challenge gives you challenge points, although it’s unclear what these gain you right now. Hopefully it translates to more items in the store, maybe permanent armor or ammo upgrades. We’ll just have to see.

A final note on the DLC – it seems to have done something funky to the menus. I’m sure BioWare will patch it soon, but for the moment it looks like everything lost a graphical layer or two. It’s harder to see what’s selected, there’s no icon showing who has pushed “Ready” for a mission, and everything seems sparser. Like I say, probably a minor bug that will be fixed in no time, but worth noting.

On the whole, this is a great DLC pack, not the least because it’s FREE! I would have liked to see a new map or two, but updates to the existing ones will do for now and I’m thrilled about all the new playable characters. The Collectors will provide a good diversion, and I’m hoping the challenges will end up being something more than a laundry list for OCD completionist gamers, of which we already know there are too many.

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