Photo: IMDB

Tomb Raider, The Video Game Film They (Sort Of) Got Right

As a nineties child, I spent a great deal of my money, and an even greater deal of my time, on the Tomb Raider games. We loved the games because they were fun and walked the perfect balance difficult puzzles and great action. I remember being disappointed in both 2001 and 2003 – with the release of the first two Tomb Raider films (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life). While these films were entertaining and highly stylized, the films were unmemorable. And they lacked the genuine qualities which made the games so damn good.

Film’s based upon video games have always sucked, and the bar is set perpetually low. Whether we were watching Resident Evil, Doom, Silent Hill, or Hitman; regardless of how great the gaming franchises have been, these films have all turned out to be disappointing. Part of the reason is, that video game inspired films have, and always will have, the challenge of condensing a story told via twenty-six of hours of game play into a two-hour feature film. This is not an easy task. But Tomb Raider shows us how it is not as difficult as we previously imagined.



Heroes Never Die – A Fan-Made Overwatch Film

Every day, fans of a certain niche genre or specific property, get together create something purely out of love for that video game, movie, book, or tv series.  Usually, they are met with scorn by the rest of the fan base, because the production value and story miss the mark completely. Ending in embarrassment. (Although there is sub-sub fan base who will love it for all its awfulness.)

But every so often, a gem is meticulously mined, polished and put on display for the world to marvel at.  In this case, the world of the FPS video game from Blizzard, Overwatch Available on Xbox, Playstation, and PC, Overwatch amassed a tens and nines and five stars reviews from all the major video game press outlets. Currently the games attracts 30 million players from all over the world. So, no pressure on the guys who wanted to make a live-action fan film.

Lupin Productions, headquartered in Tennessee, decided to take on that task. The small southern production company just released Heroes Never Die on YouTube and it has already amassed over 200,000 views and 7100 thumbs-up within the first 3 days of release.  It’s fair to say that the fans of Overwatch, all over the world, are pleased with this live-action fan made short film.  If you are thinking of heading out to do your own fan-fiction short film, the bar has just been set a little bit higher.



Don’t Switch Consoles Yet

On March 3rd, Nintendo released their newest gaming console — the Switch — and it looks like it is on track to be another failure. Do not get me wrong here, I have nothing but love for Nintendo, but sometimes Nintendo irks me more than a crying baby in a movie theater.

The first problem is: March…? Seriously, why on earth would they release a gaming system in March? Especially since the Switch will be hitting shelves with only nine games available. Instead of releasing the system immediately, why doesn’t Nintendo wait until November 2017, when most gamers are in the market for new systems, and the number of games accompanying the system break double digits? The news first broke about the Switch in October, 2016, and this would offer Nintendo an additional nine months to promote and manufacture hype.


rory pga

Rory McIlroy Finally Crowned in Time for St. Patrick’s Day

rory pga tour xboxOn March 16, one day before St. Patrick’s Day, EA Sports announced that the number 1 ranked golfer in the world, will not only grace the cover of the brand’s latest incarnation of it’s legendary video game, but that the Irishman’s name will also get top billing.  That’s right, the game that revolutionized playing golf from your couch, Tiger Woods PGA Tour will now be called Rory McIlory PGA Tour.  Make no mistake, this is actually huge in terms of how far Tiger Woods’ fall from grace has plummeted.  This isn’t just losing the cover, it’s losing the whole franchise. It would be as if EA Sports decided to replace John Madden’s name from Madden NFL.  Cowher NFL anyone?



If You Could Sacrifice Yourself And Save Humanity, Would You?

Would it change your mind if you weren’t given a choice?

I recently finished The Last of Us, one of the most immersive, incredibly well written games I’ve ever played.   Like Pewdiepie, I was also speechless and then WHAAAAA?!!!! at game’s end.

This is one of those stories that leaves your mind untwisting an emotional, moral knot for days after playing through it.  You pull carefully at threads at first, then start yanking them, cuss, throw it down in frustration, cuss some more, then feel lonely without it and start pulling again.

What follows is an exploration of the ideas in the narrative, not a review.  So after a brief intro, I’ll be pretending you are familiar with story and unconcerned about spoilers.

Warning: Zombies! 

This is a post apocalyptic world in which humanity is decimated by a bizarre fungal ant disease. 20 years later, the world looks like Discovery’s Life after People, only a handful of people are hanging on by a thin, frayed thread in a bleak existence that lives up to Hobbes’ billing as “nasty, brutish, and short.”

Meet Joel, the smuggler, only not the affable Han Solo type.  Think Liam Neeson in Taken only with a dirt-grown Texan accent and disposition.  If that’s sounding a little too wholesome for you, you’ll be pleased to know that his moral qualms are basically on par with those of a season five Walter White.

Early in the game, Joel meets Ellie, a young teenage girl who has been bitten, but possesses a special immunity to the disease.  Joel is tasked with smuggling her out of the city to a group of scientists who can reverse engineer her immunity in order to save humanity.  Their journey is the story of the game.

They must fight through a police state gang, a city of local thugs, cannibals, and variously,  “Clickers,” the zombie-like former humans who have been transformed by a species crossover version of Cordyceps, a fungal disease that grows into the brains of ants and takes over their motor skills (a real thing).  In The Last of Us, this happens to humans, but with Ellie, it doesn’t evolve instantly, remaining in a kind of stasis in her body.  A group of freedom fighters, the Fireflies, fight against the military zones and the clickers to try to preserve liberty for people and to find a cure.  This is the group Joel is trying to find for Ellie.

What makes the characters and narrative so rich in The Last of Us is the emotional relationships and the conflicts that test these relationships.

I’d like to focus on the most morally significant decision: to kill another human being.  This is something Joel does a lot of throughout the adventure.

Many of Joel’s kills are not so black and white.  In questionable situations, what moral compass is to be used?  At what point does killing someone in the game alter your moral identity of your playable character from good guy to ok guy to questionable guy to bad guy?

In The Last of Us, the military authority is at war with the freedom fighter Fireflies.  Joel isn’t party to either side.  One seems to be corrupt and self-serving and the other a fool’s errand in a world where nothing is left except subsistence survival.  Joel doesn’t kill because he believes in the cause of order (military), nor because he believes in the cause of liberty (Fireflies).  For the most part, Joel kills for survival and for the lives of his companions.

In the beginning, Joel and Tess, his lover and companion, are smuggling Ellie to the Fireflies in return for a stash of guns and ultimately money or resources to help them survive.  But after this plan falls flat, he is asked to fulfill an obligation by a dying Tess to protect Ellie and get to her to the scientists to help save humanity.

On his own, Joel is ready to take the girl back to the military and return to surviving day to day, yet he is willing to honor the last wishes of Tess.  He must kill for survival and to fulfill a promise for a cause he doesn’t believe in.  Naturally, you keep thinking eventually, he will come around just like crusty ole Han Solo.

Through the journey, he becomes attached to Ellie, as she fills in his heart a place left empty by the death of his daughter in the first onslaught of the zombies 20 years ago.  He even tries to protect her from killing, refusing her a gun until finally he all but has to give her one for their mutual survival.  The weight of killing is made apparent through a choked, hold-back-the-tears moment from Ellie after her first round of killing. Thereafter she becomes a full participating party to Joel’s violence.

When Joel is incapacitated for a section of the game, you play as Ellie and kill many people in an effort to shield and protect him. She kills to protect Joel and herself in the immediacy, while her ultimate goal hangs in the air legitimizing anything she must do.

This is where my opening question comes in to play:

If you could sacrifice your life and save humanity from a plague, would you?  Would it change your mind if you weren’t given a choice?

To flip it: is someone morally justified in killing you if they have a noble cause?

After some twists and turns, Joel makes it to the Firefly compound in desperate straights.  Ellie is unconscious after being swept underwater during an escape from Clickers.  Joel is pumping on her chest with the Fireflies arrive.  When he refuses to stop resuscitating Ellie, the Firefly promptly gives him a rifle butt to the head.  Darkness.

You wake up as Joel to learn that Ellie is upstairs being prepped for surgery so that the doctors can remove the fungal growth in her and use it to develop a vaccine.  The trick is, the Fireflies know that she is going to die from the surgery AND it is fairly clear she was never asked about her preferences on it.

Throughout the game, Joel has butchered people with pipes, shives, guns, and even a flamethrower, all to get Ellie to this surgery to save humanity.  Now, he decides that what they are doing to Ellie is wrong.  Why?

Ultimately, it lies with choice.  Choice is fundamental to moral action; without it, you are not free and so cannot be moral. A decision forced on you by others naturally smells, to the individualist soul, of moral repugnance – even if the end achieved is a good one in terms of benefits to others.  By individualist soul, I mean that part of the soul that everyone possesses, and so if you can’t smell the moral repugnance, it may be because you’ve dealt some moral repugnance lately and are unwilling to cop to it.

Knowing Ellie, I have to believe that if she were awake and could understand what was happening, she would decide to accept death to help others.  But the fact that she didn’t know and that she was not allowed to make the decision transformed the freedom fighters into authoritarians.  What does Joel do to authoritarians?  He bashes their skulls with pipes.

So now as Joel, we kill the nominal good guys, the only ones left, in an effort to save Ellie.  The problem is you have this creeping wonder all the while that this is not for Ellie, but for Joel.  He loves her, as he loved his daughter, and he is unwilling to let her die period.

In a final confrontation with the leader for the Fireflies, Joel says of Ellie’s fate:

“That aint for you to decide.”

The Firefly replies:

“Its what she would want.”

Joel has no reply.  Certainly, in forcing Ellie to make the humanity saving choice, the Fireflies have abandoned their total commitment to freedom.  But Joel, knowing Ellie as he does, has abandoned her character and is also taking her decision from her.  He is disloyal through his loyalty.

“You can still do the right thing here,” says the Firefly,  “She won’t feel anything.”

That earns a bullet in reply.  After rescuing Ellie, he escapes and when she wakes tells Ellie that the Firelies were not longer looking for a cure, that others like her have been no help.  He then brings her to a safe village they’d been told of earlier in the narrative, a place where, “people do the best they can.”  As they sight the town and prepare to enter it, Ellie asks Joel to tell her the truth about what happened with the Fireflies.  Joel lies to her again by confirming what he’d said before as true.

We can tell that Ellie doesn’t believe him, that her trust is shaken.  Annnnd, cut to black.

I walked away feeling that Joel was put in an impossible position and he erred on the side of loyalty to a loved one instead of loyalty to a cause.  But the amount of people that had to be killed to save Ellie was stunning.  You felt that each one was a misguided soul who was just trying to save humanity and by shooting them, you were a murderer.  In the emergency room when you grab Ellie, you have to kill the surgeon and you have the option of killing the other two medical assistants.  I didn’t, but I certainly thought about it.

The individualist in me wants to believe that Joel was heroic because he held choice sacrosanct above all causes.  I can’t believe he would have done what he did if Ellie had been conscious and agreed to the surgery.  Her lack of choice is what makes it necessary to act to kill for her – to preserve her ability to choose.

Our two meta-causes being used to justify killing are saving humanity and the primacy of choice.  My kneejerk reaction is that any sacrifice is worth preserving choice as the fundamental value to moral and just society.  But what if preserving choice destroys that society.  Let’s say Ellie dies and with her the rest of humanity.  Better to die a noble death or preserve life so that others can make moral achievements?

Is E3 Important Anymore?

For 10 years of my life, I was an avid subscriber to the late, great magazine Nintendo Power. I would be excited every month when I got to catch up on my favorite consoles, games, and installments. But there was an issue every year that always stood out — the publication’s coverage of E3.

Now for those of you who don’t know, E3 — or the Electronic Entertainment Expo — is an annual fair sponsored by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and it begins today. The Expo has beenlmwmrfgsfxo6eezzeoqx the premier place for companies to show off all their new games, systems, and merchandise. E3 has been around since 1995, and in its glory days, it was like watching Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Big consoles made all of their debuts there, there were wicked displays by companies that went all-out, and the place was just magical. I personally never got to go, but just watching live coverage was enough. E3 was a regular gamer’s dream, and this year the event will be at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 10–12. But I can’t tell if I should be excited or not.

Lately it seems that the expo is fading into the background, just like Nintendo Power (I still own a copy of volume 282), and I’m not sure how to feel about it. Several game developers are saying “good riddance,” while others like to make the case that the event still brings gamers and developers together, and therefore is important. But for me, I’m busy asking what the point of E3 still is? When it comes to funding, a lot of indie gamers can’t afford to show off their stuff, while some of the larger developers aren’t using the expo to make those grandiose statements, opting to do it beforehand and not dropping too much cash. And because of this, I feel like surprises are now few and far between.

yluovazuiigvxtahr424But speaking of dropping cash, what’s the point of a normal gamer to go to E3? As time goes on, the place only seems to have become a swirling carnival of demos among professionals swapping of business cards, and regular gamers are just paying way too much money to get swept away by the tide.

But the 12 year-old inside still says I’m wrong, still says that the coverage is totally worth it, and still says that Nintendo’s new Zelda WiiU game they’ll be premiering is totally drool-worthy. But how do you guys feel about E3 — is it still worth getting excited about? Do you find yourself following all the coverage, or are you burnt out?


Scripps National Spelling Bee: Fantasy League

This past week, ESPN televised what is perhaps the most exciting annual event in sports. No, not the Super Bowl, not the Masters, not the World Series. Instead, families huddled around their TVs to watch their favorite middle schoolers spell words that no one has ever heard of…

It’s certainly a strange phenomenon, with growing popularity due to the prime time ESPN coverage and the release of the movie Akeelah and the Bee in 2006The Scripps National Spelling Bee has become a cherished event by many in our nation, and I am no exception. There’s something about it that is just jaw-droppingly fascinating.

Ansun (left) and Sriram (right)
Ansun (left) and Sriram (right)

This year was an especially legendary year, as the spellers were so good they actually ran out of words! That’s right, Sriram Hathwar of Corning, New York and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas were named co-champions after exhausting the list of designated final words. What made it even more interesting is that both spellers actually missed a word in the same round, forcing them to continue the duel.

So that got me thinking. As a massive sports fan, I have been drawn into the world of fantasy sports. Using the talents of big-leaguers to gain bragging rights against friends and co-workers has gained popularity every year.

But the Spelling Bee, despite being one of the most heralded sporting events in the country, has never had the opportunity for fantasy. Until now. I have drafted the rules to a Scripps National Spelling Bee Fantasy League. Follow the guidelines below and prepare to assemble your roster of encyclopedic adolescents.


League Rules:


  1. General leagues will be made up of 10 teams.  There are 50 spellers in the Scripps National Finals.  Therefore, each team will have 5 spellers on their roster. Other leagues’ roster sizes will be determined by the number of teams in the league (10 max), but the number of active total roster members cannot exceed 50.
  2. The original draft order will be random and the draft style will be serpentine (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,1,etc.) before the final day of competition.
  3. Players will have time before the semi-final round to determine their drafting strategy.  Will you draft seasoned veterans who came oh-so-close last year?  Or are you likely to go after pedigree, drafting the younger siblings of previous champions?  As a former homeschooler, I will be seeking out the spellers who forgo the traditional schooling model to sit at home with Mom and study Latin etymologies.


  1. Trades between teams may be done at any time after the draft.   There is no limit to the number of trades that can be made.
  2. At all times a “Free Agency” pool will be available to all teams that includes all spellers that are not currently on a team.  General Managers can add and drop spellers as they choose, so long as their roster does not exceed 5 spellers.  The Free Agency pool can be used to replace eliminated spellers up until the Championship Finals.
  3.  If a “Keeper League” is ever made available, players on a roster at the conclusion of the Spelling Bee will remain on the roster for the following year (which may make drafting the lone 5th grader more valuable).


  1. All seedings and championships will be based on total score in comparison to all other teams.  There are no matchups or brackets.
  2. Each speller will amass 30 points for the first correctly-spelled word.  For every following word there will be an additional 5 points (30, 35, 40, 45, etc.).
  3. Additionally, spellers will earn points based on the rarity of the letters in their word.  Each letter has a point value (just as it does in the game Scrabble).
  4. The winner of the league will be determined by the score accumulated between the Semifinal and Final rounds (the 3rd day of the Scripps National Spelling Bee).

Optional Rules

A league may also choose to implement additional rules that add a new facet to the competitive atmosphere.

  1. A team is deducted 10 points if an eliminated speller goes to sit on his or her parent’s lap.
  2. A team is deducted 20 points if a speller cries.
  3. A team is awarded 10 points for every word with four or more syllables a speller uses in an interview.
  4. A team is awarded 30 points if a speller already knows the definition to his/her given word.

All I need now is a partner to help me code this thing for next year.

If a Spelling Bee fantasy league interests you, or if you have some adjustments to make to the rules, let us know!