Kevin C. Wong

June 2022

Movie - 3:10 to Yuma (2007) [+]

3:10 to Yuma (2007) is a western based on a short story which was made into a movie in the 50's.

Set in Old West Arizona where Union veteran-now-farmer Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is having trouble with the local big rancher whom he owes money to. Just last night some thugs came by to burn down his barn as warning that he needs to repay a loan very soon.

The next day while gathering their scattered herd with his two sons they see Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his banditos rob a heavily guarded payroll coach, killing all the guards except Pinkerton mercenary Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) who they leave greatly wounded. The bandits see Wade and sons and take their horses, leaving them on the trail to slow them down.

Wade rescues McElroy and once a posse arrives they head into town where Wade happens to be captured because he wanted a bit of a dalliance with local saloon manager Emma (Vinessa Shaw). Meanwhile Wade's second in command, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), had taken the rest of the men across the border to Mexico.

Railroad agent Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) is determined that Wade not be lynched on the spot but be sent to prison where he will get a trial and the hanging he deserves. He needs three men to help him escort Wade to the next town where they will put Wade on the 3:10 train to Yuma and federal prison.

Dan volunteers for the $200 that will save his farm. McElroy volunteers because he's ornery and hates Wade. Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk) is volunteered to make sure McElroy's gunshot wound is tended. Tucker (Kevin Durand) goes along cause he sees himself as a tough guy, tougher than Wade. Tucker also led the thugs that burned down Dan's farm (instant Drama!). Later on Dan's eldest, 14-year old William (Logan Lerman), sneaks off after them because he wants to have an adventure and has a romantic view about outlaws (more Drama!).

The rest of the movie is this group trying to convey Wade to the next town and onto the train while being chased by Prince and Wade's men. The group has to contend going through Indian territory, people who want revenge on Wade, and Wade continually escaping and killing them one by one.

Dan has an interesting character arc. He's a veteran missing a leg (he wears an artificial lower leg). He allows himself to be pushed around. But there's steel underneath and it turns out he's desperate to prove himself to his son William who has a low opinion of dad. When it comes for the final confrontation everyone else backs out leaving Dan alone to get Wade onto the train and that's something Wade comes to respect.

There is a lot of action. Some gunfights and shootouts, though mostly appetizers for the big end battle running the gauntlet across town while half the town is out to shoot Dan because Prince put a $200 bounty on him. Good character moments, especially with Dan. Great acting and Wade is ruthless and charming outlaw.

I've heard this is a great western film and I agree.

Aroma Rice Cooker and Food Steamer, Model ARC-743-1NGR [+]

Aroma Rice Cooker is a smaller 2-6 cup rice cooker, which means the number of cups after cooking because three cups of uncooked rice when done fills up the pot. Enough rice for a family of 4 to 6 people.

It's cheap at $25 retail. C3 gifted me one when I moved in three years ago and at least the first year it made great rice. Then the second year good rice and the last year good to less than good, kind of prone to burn rice a bit. Maybe I scratched the pot a bit and I've read you're not supposed to machine wash the pot.

The sensor was dying and then the cooker stopped turning on today. Three years is not bad for $25, though my previous rice cooker had lasted a couple of decades I think. Anyway, it's now time to replace it with a better rice cooker that costs $200 with tax so I have high hopes for that.

Still, for the price this is a good basic rice cooker.

Spot Reviews 06/24/22

Podcast - Dust (2019) [+] Science fiction short stories with professional voice acting. Season one is seven episodes of 15 to 40 minutes. There is supposed to be a theme but they don't say what it is, maybe artificial intelligence. Season two are short stories about people in a flight that gets warped into 2040. Season three is a 14-episode story of galactic scale. I've only listened to season one and it was excellent so I'm looking forward to the next two seasons.

Movie - California Christmas: City Lights (2021) [/] Romantic movie, sequel to A California Christmas. It's a year later and Callie (Lauren Swickard) and Joseph (real-life husband Josh Swickard) are planning their wedding. But Joseph's family business needs him so he returns to the big city (San Francisco) with Callie. The previous film had Joseph as the fish out of water and now it's Callie's turn as the sophisticated life may be too much for her. Meanwhile Joseph's former girlfriend Victoria (Laura James) and a VP at his company is subtly trying to break them up... It's a light romantic film and it does it fine.

Apple Arcade - Red Reign (2019) [/] A light fantasy RTS battle game. Home bases at opposite corners with three lanes between them. Each lane has a resource or two. You only build combat units then send them out on one of the lanes and once you send them you lose control of them. When a resource is conquered you automatically extract resources which are used to buy/upgrade buildings and buy more units. Lots of maps and races to fight. Intended for PvP though you can fight the computer. No campaign game. It's nice graphics and simple gameplay but you can't pause so the game is a bit too frenetic for me.

Movie - Tron: Legacy (2010) [+]

Tron: Legacy is a sequel to the 1982 movie. In 1989 Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappears leaving his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) as future heir apparent. But two decades later Sam is a rebel who refuses to take charge of ENCOM. One night he gets a page from dad's old hangout, Flynn's. When he gets there he finds a secret lab and accidentally activates a scanning laser that sends him into the Grid.

Once in the Grid Sam has to fight in the Games and meets Clu (Bridges), a program created by his dad to help remold the Grid. Somewhere along the line Clu became a dictator obsessed with perfection and bringing that perfection to Earth. Sam escapes with the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and is reunited with his dad, who has been living a monastic life out in the boonies after realizing that resistance against Clu only makes Clu stronger.

But Sam is not the giving up type. He plans to sneak back to the city and somehow make his way to the Portal and the way back to Earth. And when that is in danger of failing dad and Quorra are there to help him... Bruce Boxleitner has a minor role reprising an elder Alan Bradley and a bit of Tron before that character is killed by Clu.

I watched Legacy years ago and I guess wasn't greatly impressed. A couple months ago I watched Tron and now I watched Legacy and paid more attention. Legacy makes a lot of references to the original film and kind of logically follows it and I missed that before.

Hedlund as Sam is not exactly the hero-looking type, then again neither was Bridge in the original movie. There is a lot of face rejuvenation CGI for Bridges and Boxleitner and it's not seamless but I guess ok since it's supposed to be a digital world and Clu's face being not quite human is fine. More of a problem the brief time younger Kevin Flynn was shown but mercifully that was only a few seconds.

Wilde is actually really good doing Quorra. Quorra does not talk a lot but observes a lot. Many scenes have Sam talking, Kevin talking, Sam and Kevin talking and it cuts to Quorra reacting or she's in the background reacting and there's a lot of personality portrayed. And it's nice there's no romance to it, it's like a kid seeing her heroes and wanting to take it all in.

The Grid world and people are reminiscent of the original film but updated while still having a bit of an anachronism since movies nowadays portray cyberspace as either just like the real world but a bit different or totally digital and not like the real world at all. The Grid is still "this is what the 80's thought cyberspace might be like if programs were like real people". It's kind of like a noir film; the Grid has a style of its own.

There is the requisite dueling discs battle and a few other disc combats. Light cycle 5 v 5 battle on a two-level area is fairly cool. A later scene has our heroes on a light 3-person flyer chased by five fighter flyers and they're all streaming solid light walls which makes that aerial combat quite unique. It's cool seeing a Recognizer up close and used as a prisoner transport. You also see a few tanks but not inside them. A lot of Tron tech that gladdens my younger self.

Anyways, I did like this film watching it a second time and I think it does better after recently watching the original rather than watching it years and years after the original.

iOS Game - Diablo Immortal p2

It's been a couple more weeks of playing Diablo Immortal.

Besides the main plot I mentioned you can do bounty quests. These are mini-missions and you can do eight per day. If you don't do them they carry over until a maximum of 24 you can do in one day. Some of the quests are counted in an area's completion percentage and the quests get you exploring an area. Quests tend to progress to further regions and I've gotten quests for a region before I've done the main plot that gets me to that region.

Sometimes a hidden area opens in a region. If you find it then it's a unique dungeon.

If you just like doing dungeons there is an Elder Rift and a Challenge Rift. The Elder Rift I think gets harder by using these tokens which also means better end treasure. The Challenge Rift you do level by level and it slowly gets harder. Both rifts you can rush through to the end boss and there's a timer so I guess if you kill the boss before the timer ends you get bonus loot. If you don't kill the boss (and you kind of have to rush past monsters to get to the end before the timer runs out) the boss appears nearby.

At a certain level you are invited to join the Shadow Lottery. If you win (there are several lotteries every day and it's like 250 winners per lottery so you win fairly quickly) you can do the Shadow Faction storyline and eventually join the faction. Apparently there are three factions: Adventurers (unaligned), Shadows (which are most clans), and Immortals (one? clan). Every couple of weeks the top Shadows battle the Immortals and if the Shadows win the top Shadow clan becomes the Immortals. Being in Immortals gives you lots of stuff but most likely requires very active players.

For now I've been in Shadows, no clan. You can do Path of Blood which are small combats for Shadow points. Vault runs which are 4-player runs for more Shadow points. And Shadow quests for more Shadow points. Shadow points let you rank up and get more bonuses from being a Shadow. It's something else to do.

There is a subplot about a spirit tree and a rift forming behind it. This leads to a quest that requires 8-players. And once you finish it seems like there will be similar raids.

As you can see besides the main plot there is lots of stuff to do each day.

Spot Reviews 06/17/22

Movie - Interceptor (2022) [/] American-Australian action film. In the middle of the Pacific SBX-1 is an Army platform designed to intercept a Russian ICBM attack. When a team of terrorists take over the platform they don't get into the control because of Captain JJ Collins (Elsa Pataky). She and two ratings have to keep the bad guys out for an hour until help arrives... Fairly good action. Bad military realism. Direct-to-video quality CGI. But still kind of entertaining if you don't expect much.

Podcast - Single Malt Strategy (2016) [-] A podcast about computer strategy games, i.e. wargames. Two regular hosts and often a guest. They do like their games though I don't really play computer wargames and most of them are Windows only anyways so I quickly lost interest.

iOS Game - Dyslite (2022) [-] A free-to-play MMO combat game. Collect heroes, level them up, battle bad guys. It's supposed to have good music and interesting mythology but playing on my iPhone it looked so bad, like a bad port.

Documentary - They Call Me Magic (2022) [/]

They Call Me Magic is a 4-episode documentary about Magic Johnson from his childhood to the present relying on interviews with Magic, his wife, kids, parents and siblings, coaches and teammates. Playing basketball in high school, playing for Michigan one year and getting the NCAA championship, then going to the Lakers and helping (or even mainly) turning the franchise from runner ups to champions, the Dream Team, AIDS and his retirement (and coming back and retiring a couple of times), then moving on to become a business man and developer helping to reinvigorate inner cities.

Even though basketball is a big part of his life there is a whole episode on life after basketball. There is the ongoing relationship with his wife, how they met in college and how he kept committing to marry her then backing off until they finally wed months before he contracted AIDS. There's a lot about growing up and a lot about him personally. I guess it's like two episodes focusing on his NBA career while there are other things going on in his life.

Contrast that with The Last Dance about Michael Jordan. 10 episodes and much more focused on basketball (and I guess understandable since it was produced by ESPN). They Call Me Magic is more about seeing Magic Johnson as human with gifts and a great personality versus seeing Jordan as a mythical figure with flaws. Both are good documentaries in their own ways.

I found They Call Me Magic interesting and worth watching.

Bunnies & Burrows RPG 3E (2019) [/]

Bunnies & Burrows RPG third edition is a totally rewritten version of the very old FGU RPG done by the same designers. It is hardcover with full-color glossy pages and plenty of illustrations.

Characters have eight Traits (Strength, Speed, Intelligence, Agility, Constitution, Mysticism, Smell, Charisma) generated with 3d6. The Trait value itself is not used other than for determining a Trait Bonus (13-15 = +1, 16-17 = +2, 18+ = +3) and Maximum Trait Level (from 4 to 8). Trait Levels are like skill levels in other games and you increase them one point at a time by spending Advancement Points (AP) equal to the new Trait Level (as I like to think of them, Ars Magica style).

Trait Rating = Trait Bonus + Trait Level. The base mechanic is 1d6 + Trait Rating to match a Difficulty Class (DC). Combat is opposed rolls of Agility vs Speed.

There are eight Rabbit professions, one for each Trait: Fighter, Runner, Scout, Maverick, Empath, Seer, Herbalist, Storyteller. Each profession has special abilities for being that profession and extra abilities at Trait Level 3 and 6. Most special abilities are modifiers to regular rules, for example most Rabbits can carry Agility Bonus +1 of small items (basically tucked in their fur) while Mavericks can carry Agility Rating of small items.

There are also eight non-Rabbit professions, one for each Trait: Raccoon (Bandit), Jackrabbit (Herald), Chipmunk (Spy), Skunk (Burglar), Porcupine (Guardian), Opossum (Shaman), Armadillo (Trader), Squirrel (Grifter). Besides profession special abilities these different races have their own Trait generation rolls (from 1d6 to 4d6), hit point progression (Hit Points = base + Constitution Bonus, each Constitution Level adds a level base + Constitution Bonus), and languages (the game lists 16 languages which are by animal behavior, e.g. Grubbers include armadillo, mole, pig, javelina, wild boar, opossum).

Combat is a bit complicated in that you have a Pursuit mode and a Combat mode. In either mode there are Tactics each character can use. There are Fugitive Tactics and Predator Tactics and each character knows a few (some are from being that species and some can be chosen). Combat is a move+attack or attack+move system and both Pursuit and Combat are meant to be played on a battle board (the rulebook has a dozen Battle Boards at the end which you can photocopy, there is also a couple pages of counters; the Kickstarter had printed copies on cardboard stock but no longer available).

There is a whole big chapter on Herbs. There are four herb classes and Herbalists can modify herbs to change their behavior. It's set up so that the 100+ herb varieties are about 1/4 known and the rest filled in by the GM (the herb appendix lists all the herbs with their characteristics and blank lines for GMs to fill in). It's a somewhat complicated system but I guess this is like the magic system of other RPGs.

There are a bunch of smaller rules for adventuring and living. Overall it feels like a complete game (though the original edition was also pretty complete at 36 pages, this edition expands on everything and more explanatory writing in its 224 pages).

Still, I've been running a B&B 3E campaign and don't use many of the rules. Every thing is its own little subsystem. I think the combat and herb rules are overly complicated. It's not an easy system to pick up and run. Hence why I added GURPS skills (each Trait is a skill of level Trait Value + Trait Level) then use whatever GURPS rules I feel like using as needed. (And although GURPS is a much more complicated system than B&B, mechanically almost everything is rationalized to a 3d6 roll low mechanic so as a whole it makes more sense to me than B&B).

In the end, this is a gorgeous deluxe edition of Bunnies & Burrows, by the same authors who've poured their knowledge of nature into the game. If you've read my adventure reviews two of the B&B published adventures are very good but all four combined make for a good six sessions of play (more if you do the full random encounters and battle board combats).

Spot Reviews 06/10/22

Apple Arcade - Patterned (2019) [/] A jigsaw puzzle game. Take a pattern, a complex drawing tile-shaped, then repeat the tiles to create an infinite canvas. Take the tile and cut it up into puzzle pieces (Tetris like orthogonal pieces) the it's up to the user to place the tiles correctly. It's actually fairly hard for the size of the puzzle. It downloads patterns and there are several hundred in the database. It's a pretty relaxing game for people who can do the hard IRL jigsaw puzzles.

Podcast - Plundergrounds (2018) [/] Apparently started out as a Dungeon World podcast. I listened to the last few episodes. A lot of looking at OSR stuff, more towards the small physical products you can get nowaways. Also musings on various role-playing and RP-adjacent topics (movies and literature). Although I like hearing about new OSR products he rushes through reviews and is mostly superficial. Not that great of a podcast but probably average for a self-produced RPG podcast.

Movie - Eternals (2021) [/] A Marvel Cinematic Universe film and the first one with these characters. Eternals are an artificial race created to battle Deviant infestations throughout the universe. After defeating a Deviant infestation on Earth in prehistoric times a team of Eternals has been living on Earth waiting. Now the Deviants are back and the Eternals discover that their true mission is not to save humanity. As the team takes sides it's basically Ikaris (a superman archetype superhero played by Richard Madden) vs everyone else led by Sersi (Gemma Chan)... it's a 2-1/2 hour movie that spends a long time on the setup and reveal with not much action so kind of meh.

TV Show - New Girl s1-s2 (2011-2013) [/]

New Girl is a sitcom with four quirky characters:

Jessica (Zooey Deschanel) - a bubbly always positive elementary school teacher, she moves in with three guys in their large apartment.

Nick (Jake Johnson) - well-meaning bartender who's kind of crotchety and ornery.

Schmidt (Max Greenfield) - uptight a-type personality who keeps the apartment clean and organizes great parties.

Winston (Lamorne Morris) - actually even newer than Jessica because he replaced a similar character from the pilot; he's a former pro basketball player (in Eastern Europe) and college friend of Nick and Schmidt, now a bit aimlessly looking for his next thing.

There's also Cece (Hannah Simone), a model and Jessica's best friend.

Each episode there's usually a goal and they work together and at cross-purposes to accomplish it. In season one there's a subplot about Schmidt and Cece hooking up and kind of falling in love which carries over into season two when Cece decides to get married to someone more agreeable to her Indian family.

Conversely there is this tension between Jessica and Nick that eventually is consummated late in season two and it's just bad because Nick is such a disagreeable character. Meanwhile Winston is just sort of there and getting no story love.

It's very funny at times. It's very cringe at times. Ultimately I decided I can do better things with my time.

iOS Game - Diablo Immortal (2022) [+]

Diablo Immortal is a new free to play MMO RPG apparently set between the events of Diablo II and Diablo III. You play one of six adventuring classes (of either gender) and the campaign has you going around recovering shards of the World Stone.

In terms of story, looks and gameplay it is very much like Diablo II and III with a fairly standard fantasy storyline, isomorphic view and arcade-like combat. Besides the campaign there are bounty quests, hidden dungeons you can find, and challenge/rift dungeons in the main city. There is voice acting and it's pretty good for an RPG.

For equipment you collect random equipment pieces (of common, rare and legendary types) and equip them in one of about a dozen slots. Equipment can be upgraded in two or three ways and all upgrade types can be done on the same piece. Also upgrades can be transferred (for free?) when you replace the piece so there's no reason to not be upgrading. I think there are equipment sets.

Each class has several skills though you can only equip five, including a basic attack. You have runes that modify skills. Apparently you can also switch classes and the game tries to convert your equipment to about the same level for the new class. Combined with the easy equipment swapping and it seems like Blizzard is trying to remove the pain points of MMO RPGs.

You can form ad-hoc parties to do quests and you get better rewards. You can join a clan (of up to 500 people?). High level quests can take 48 players.

I played this with a controller and sometimes without. With a controller it's joystick to move, buttons to do actions, triggers to activate skills, button-pad to choose some menu choices. Once you get to the equipment screen (and other screens) you have a cursor and use the joystick to move it, which is more cumbersome than tapping.

Touch controls are actually pretty good. Left thumb anywhere for virtual joystick. On-screen skill button which you press with your right thumb. And actually the on-screen skill buttons remain on-screen even with a joystick. It's mostly auto-aim so you don't need a right joystick (virtual or real).

One thing is that I play on my iPad and it feels cramped. Besides the on-screen buttons on the lower right there is a small map on the upper right, quest/bounty objectives on the left, your character picture and health on the upper left, and a small chat window on the bottom center. It really feels like I'm not quite seeing everything and because the camera is a bit close I'm frequently running into monsters and they're right there. A little unfortunate since I'm playing a ranged class but I don't think it has hurt me. Still, Diablo II and III have a lot more area showing in the screen.

Even though this is a well done MMO RPG after a few days I think I'm done. The cramped gameplay kind of bothers me. The MMO RPG attributes don't really bother me and it doesn't seem like you need to buy coins and such if you're willing to grind a bit (not a lot of grinding like most games). Although I guess the daily rewards and month-long events do bother me since it's like you have to play every day to get your free perks.

But really the storyline is kind of boring, sort of a more detailed version of Diablo II and having Deckard Cain around really doesn't help. I guess it's a familiar world for Diablo fans but I've played it already and I want something more original.

(Not necessarily a disadvantage but it is a big game. I think I have all the assets downloaded and it's 12-1/2 GB. It did download in the background as I played and I only had to wait once when I wanted to use cosmetics.)

Spot Reviews 06/03/22

The Richard Sherman Podcast (2021) [/] I listened to the first four episodes which started when he was signed on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He talks about himself and his football preparation and journey. He interviews teammates and other players. I like his veteran player's perspective on the game and how it plays in the field rather than an outsider's perspective which tends to focus on more stats and what the camera sees. Still, I'm not enough of a fan of football in general to keep listening to a non-49ers podcast.

Movie - Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) [-] Reboots the franchise and based on the reboot of the video game series. Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) returns to a dying, mostly abandoned Raccoon City just in time for a zombie infestation. Meanwhile brother Chris (Robbie Amell) and members of STARS Alpha Team investigate a spooky mansion and start getting separated and torn apart by zombies... This is more of a horror film than the previous Resident Evil and yet less scary than Milla Jovovich's version which I guess is a bit more of a high-tech dungeon crawl.

iOS Game - Ace Defender (2021) [-] Free to play fantasy combat game. Collect heroes and level and gear them up. Then fight 6 on 6 in TFT-style combats (i.e. set your team and watch them go) or do a parallel Tower Defense track. It is iPhone-only though the graphics are not bad at 2x on my iPad. Still, uninteresting gameplay.

Documentary Series - Marvel Studios Assembled (2021) [+]

Marvel Studios Assembled is a series of 45m to 1hr long documentaries on various CMU properties. It covered

  1. WandaVision
  2. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
  3. Loki
  4. Black Widow
  5. What If...?
  6. Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings

After this the series continues as individual episodes so I may end up never watching them.

Each episode interviews actors, directories, producers, artists, etc. In general a bit of a production diary format where the interviews are in the order done. Lots of behind the scenes footage as well as background stuff that went into the stories but not explicitly shown.

Pretty interesting.