Sci-Fi Television Shows: current hits and misses

Did you guys see that NBC is bringing back Heroes? They’ve collected all of your favorite second-string characters, like Peter Petrelli’s mom and the kid of the lady with the killer split personality! (Who I think was also a clone? I kind of wandered off in season two…)

Anyway, for whatever reason is seems that soft sci-fi is once again in vogue in the television world, and I have watched a lot of it lately while travelling and sick. If you like sci-fi television, here are my recent hits and misses.

Sense8 – Excellent!

Sense8 is a Netflix Original series that was created by J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis. For reasons I won’t go into, the premise of the show is that 8 people around the world suddenly gain an extra-sensory connection to each other. They explore each other’s lives while trying to stay ahead of a nebulously evil organization that wants to capture or kill the “sensates”. (Get it?)

In truth, I basically wrote this post just so I could tell you to watch Sense8 if you haven’t yet. It is astoundingly beautiful on screen, truly global (shot on location in Mumbai, Berlin, Seoul, and more), and the characters are diverse and interesting. It makes me laugh, and cry, and at least once I clapped my hands in glee and cheered at my T.V. screen. Sense8 is more of a character study than an action-packed romp, but it is so worth it.

Season 1 is currently available on Netflix. Let’s all have a moment of silence in hope of there being a Season 2.

The Strain – Good!

It’s not necessarily a sign that I’ll love the content, but the words “based on novels by Guillermo del Toro” (and Chuck Hogan) are certainly enough to pique my interest. Without giving too much away, The Strain is about a plague of zombie vampires (!) and their ancient evil leader who is trying to take over the world, starting in New York City. The show has great production values, and I appreciate that they’re taking their time to tell the story. Most zombie-style media skips right to the collapse of civilization, whereas The Strain starts with a relatively small incident and examines the life of characters as they slowly realize that things really aren’t going to go back to normal.

Season 1 is currently on Hulu. Season 2 just started last week (I haven’t seen this yet).

HUMANS – Good!

I’ve only seen the first episode of Hum(upside-down A)ns, but it stood out as being quite good and it reminded me a little bit of the bleak, dystopian Black Mirror. It’s a cross-continent production with a short run of only 8 episodes, produced jointly between Channel 4 and AMC. The world of HUMANS is a world where incredibly lifelike androids, known as synths, are used as the working class by flesh-and-blood humans. Nearly every home has a synth helper, and they can be found doing tasks that many actual humans would rather avoid, such as manual labor and sex work. Synths don’t mind, of course, because they don’t have a feelings or a real consciousness… OR DO THEY?

Season 1 is currently available on the AMC website. Apparently discussions have begun on a Season 2 production.

Wayward Pines – Okay!

Wayward Pines is produced by M. Night Shyamalan, and it is appropriately goofy. An FBI agent, played by Matt Dillon, gets in a car accident during an investigation and wakes up in the strange town of Wayward Pines, where time seems to move differently. Everything is pretty idyllic in Wayward Pines, in large part because breaking the rules means you get executed in the town square. Oooh, bummer!

Despite having high production values and a killer cast, Wayward Pines lacks substance. I started out the season so I’m going to end it, but I’m not sure I’d exactly recommend it.

Season 1 is currently available on Hulu. They said it would only be one season, but the rumor mill says there may be a Season 2.

The Last Ship – Bad!

I started watching this show because there were huge advertisements for it up in Times Square that showed a child in a gas mask standing in some post-apocalyptic rubble. Dystopian futures? Sign me up! As it turns out, though, the show is pretty formulaic and jingoistic dreck that is more about the U.S. Navy being awesome than the collapse of the civilization due to a particularly deadly strain of bird flu. It’s the NCIS of end-of-the-world television.

Season 1 is currently available on Hulu. Season 2 is currently being aired.

And the favorite Scion of the Seventh Dawn is…

And the favorite Scion of the Seventh Dawn is…

I’ve written before about how the story in FFXIV involves a lot of nodding, and players of the game will know that the people with whom you nod the most are the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. Without giving away too much of the plot, the Scions are .. basically the Avengers of Eorzea. They are also your main companions during the game, so you get to know your fellow Scions fairly well.

AlphinaudHeavenswardLast week I informed Twitter that fancy elf lad Alphinaud is the best Scion of the Seventh Dawn, and Twitter seemed less than agreeable about that fact.

I like Alphinaud because he’s an elf of action. He doesn’t just stand around and make speeches, and he certainly would never use the word “decreeth” (looking at you, Urianger). When things need doing, Alphinaud is not afraid to wade in and make it happen. He doesn’t like being told what to do. He’s a practical elf, not one of those la-de-dah “feel the magic of the wind” elves. Plus Alphinaud yelled at that Ishgard guy once, which was pretty cool.

But seeing as there was some dissent with my choice, I figured I should do a quick poll.

Favorite Scion of the Seventh Dawn

4 – Tataru
4 – Y’shtola
3 – Alphinaud
3 – Yda
2 – Cid (honorary Scion member)

It should be noted that every single person agreed that Minfilia was definitely NOT the best Scion. Sorry, Minfilia. Perhaps a shirt and fewer inspirational speeches would help.

I was actually surprised at the lack of votes for Thancred in this highly informal survey. He’s suave, he ninjas people in the face, and he gets some of the best comedic lines. Why don’t you like Thancred? (He would be my runner up to Alphinaud.)

Want to include your vote? Leave a comment listing your favorite Scion!


On a personal note, there is a wee little event happening in my life this Fall. :)


Onward to 60 and First Impressions of the Astrologian

Onward to 60 and First Impressions of the Astrologian

Hello from home! I had a nice time visiting Manhattan (for fun) and Halifax (for a family wedding), but I have to admit that after 10 days on the road I was pretty excited to come home and play video games while wearing comfy pants.


I have some travel thoughts that I want to include in their own post so let me just say one thing now: air travel is bad and airlines should feel bad. It’s been a while since I’ve flown on a national air carrier, and I was shocked at how terrible it all was.

Charging people $50 to check a suitcase is crazy and contributes to the mess of people trying to shove their whole lives into the overhead compartment, which in turn made just about every flight run late. On top of that, despite booking our flights together my travelling companion and I were informed at the airport that we had to pay an additional $300 per leg of the trip if we actually wanted two seats next to each other.

It’s bloody airway robbery, it is. And I’m not buying that whole “air travel has tiny margins” nonsense — the price of fuel has dramatically decreased in the last decade and the average airline ticket price has correspondingly been reduced by 75 cents. It is a shame that we have no other choice for fast global travel.

Okay, rant over. You’re on notice, AIRLINES. *shakes fist*

In less angry news, over the long weekend I finished up the level 50 main story quests which means I am officially in Heavensward! I’m actually quite pleased to only be a couple of weeks behind the official launch, and I’m pretty sure I can meet my goal of at least keeping up with the story patches that come out every three months or so.

Without going into spoilers, I am impressed with the quality of story-telling in FFXIV. There is action and drama. There are triumphant victories and surprise betrayals. I am actually excited to start the main story quests in Heavensward and find out what is happening with my stalwart companions and the terrible political machinations that are tearing apart the land of Eorzea. (I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say that one of the main baddies is of the short Lalafel race, and every time they appeared in a cutscene the feller and I would look at each other and solemnly say, “That is a very bad potato.”)

I mean don’t get me wrong — it’s still goofy MMO writing. Your main character has no voice acting, so the cutscenes have a lot of serious nodding occasionally interspersed with happy nodding or the even more exotic frowny nodding. It’s entirely likely that any given scene will end with every single character on the screen nodding in turn.

And the cutscenes… good heavens. Make sure you have a cool drink with you when you finish the level 50 story, because you are in for a 20 minute movie. I mean, the animations look great and the plot is interesting, but it still feels a little strange to take a short break in your MMO playtime to watch a film.

After opening up the first zone in Heavensward I was able to enter the city of Ishgard and quickly find the trainers for the new jobs. Obviously I had to try out the new healing class, Astrologian. I only had a couple of hours to play around with it last night, but it is very pretty and I have no idea what I am doing.

2015-07-05 21_54_57-FINAL FANTASY XIV

Astrologians have a number of spells that are similar to White Mage, such as a defensive cleanse and an array of small and large heals. However, the unique central gimmick to AST is the card draw, which lets you randomly select (draw) a short friendly buff every 30 seconds and apply it to yourself or a party member. For example, by hitting the Draw button once I could draw a “card” that will buff someone’s attack speed for 10 seconds. I apply it by targeting a party member and hitting the Draw button a second time. The random nature of the card Draw means that I spend a great deal of time at the moment reading mouseover tips trying to determine who could make best use of whatever I’ve just obtained. I imagine that will get faster with practice.

The Draw mechanic along with the supporting Arcana buffs, which are six different short-term buff options, leaves me with the initial impression that the AST is one of those support classes that will take practice and skill to play well but will be absolutely essential in any serious content-clearing team.

My only concern is whether AST can stand on its own as a healer in a small party. I love playing support classes, but they shine when they have a team to support, not when they have to handle sole responsibility for a corner of the holy trinity.

I suppose I had better get into a dungeon and find out. Until then… spin those cards!

Guest Post: Gelatinous Cubes Make Excellent Team-Building Exercises

Guest Post: Gelatinous Cubes Make Excellent Team-Building Exercises

Yeah, yeah, Liore is still on vacation. What a slacker! In the meantime, enjoy this excellent post by NBI participant Sonja from Soultamer Gaming.


Picture 1

“At this point,” the DM brought to light to the Dungeons and Dragons table last week, “You’re really freaked out. Against your better judgement, you’ve all stuck around in the chamber to trounce this beast.” While Melody’s player counterpart faked being short of breath, the rest of us sat a little more forward as the DM moved the 4d6 a little bit closer to Finn. “So, what next?”

A fast run-down of the characters mentioned: I’m playing an elf mage (Lylien), Finn is our dwarven barbarian, Ammo is a human fighter/archer, and Melody is a halfling rogue.

Picture 2

Some background on the situation: We’d been stuck in a labyrinth for a few days, followed by a mine of sorts, on our way to find Melody’s enslaved family. We’d met halflings, tieflings, dwarves, Duergar, and all sorts of other shadow-dwellers (or otherwise), only one of whom didn’t outright try to kill us, and the Gelatinous Cube before us was absolutely no exception to that rule.

The Gelatinous Cube, meanwhile, is one of the most notorious villains in the history of Dungeons and Dragons in that it’s seriously one of the weirdest things. At a Wisdom and Charisma of 1 and an Intelligence of – (which, yes, is an intentional hyphen), the Gelatinous Cube’s only motivation in its existence is to track down anyone it can get to and engulf them in its goo, devouring them and holding their items. I’ve heard it to be a milestone and major point in the experience of a player to fight one, and so far, I agree.

Picture 3

“Fire,” Ammo suggested, as I relayed last messages to him telepathically before the room was better-lit, “Fire, fire, fire, fire!!” I sprinted after Finn, who had bolted, but didn’t go as far as he, blasting a ray of fire at the Cube. It sucked the fire up, and didn’t seem to do anything else. That’s what I’ve come to hate about Gelatinous Cubes, really – Not that they engulf you and make escape kind of (very) difficult – That they’re absolutely emotionless. If one were to pull an internal helmet-less Buzz Lightyear, the party would never know.

In time, the party was split around the room. The Cube had traveled in an attempt to corner Melody and Ammo, who had both sprinted away successfully, changing the Cube’s focus to Finn, who dodged an initial grab. That left me on the other side of the room, the cube still perfectly within my range of fire. At this point, whether our intelligences were seven or seventeen, we knew the stakes. Losing Finn would mean a great loss of resources, since he was carrying all the food and money. Losing Ammo would put us at a great disadvantage for ranged attacks, and put my less reliable fireballs in his place. Losing me would take away intellectual advantages and the “don’t-touch-that” repetitions, and losing Melody would strip us of any reason to even BE in the mess we’re in. We passed nervous looks around as we continued attacking, our attacks hitting or missing without any otherwise effect on the Cube.

The DM shifted in his seat, then standing. “Alright, I’ll be right back.” Bathroom break. We all nodded and sat back, passing around a box of cookies and waiting until the door to the room closed behind him. Only then did the frantic meta-gaming begin. We all had valuable skills, but we had no idea if any of them were working. On top of that, the party was split, and the threat of the Cube was almost too much to solidify an easy strategy.

“Fine, then,” one of us decided, “We won’t pull together an easy strategy.”

Picture 4

If we were going to get out of here alive, we’d need to really work as a team of adventurers, and not as a conglomeration of ragtag individuals with offensive techniques (and two boxes of cookies). As we put some ideas down on my notebook and a napkin, we began to fill each other’s sentences, accommodating our own techniques to the others’ strengths. I’d be able to light flaming arrows if the archer had decent aim, and the halfling was as easy to toss around as a football if need be. Slowly, our not-so-easy strategy and plan came together.

Our time together that evening was, as usual, cut short. My table often plays until a certain time (or convenient end to an encounter) and picks up again the following week. We left the library in an excited huff, our minds formulating ideas to bring to the table next Wednesday. But one thing was for certain: In a turn of unfortunate happenstance (or perhaps just the DM’s idea of a good time), a wacky, legendary beast had turned us from mere individuals to a single team of multi-talented adventurers. Burning down a wave of kobolds was an exercise of the past, with a glob of passage-shaped goo being our lone adversary. We were no longer a child, a chef, a solider, and a sage – We were a party, and a party to stay.

Cat Context 78: Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, Director’s Cuts

Cat Context 78: Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, Director’s Cuts


Liore left Elly and Aro at home with keys to the liquor cabinet, so naturally, they took advantage of it. There is some talk about Dragon Age 2(!), Final Fantasy ignorance, and various Director’s Cuts of movies.

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* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years

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