Darkest Dungeon: The Roguelike in Darkness

Last week, I had posted an entry that discussed Kickstarter and its potential for opening doors to prjects and ideas that might not normally be supported otherwise. Now, I don’t intend to just rehash my sentiment from before, but I feel that it is at least worth discussing other projects that had gained life from Kickstarter. In this case, it’s to discuss a particular game within the genre of the roguelike. For those unfamiliar, a roguelike is a genre of video game that is most associated with turn-based combat and procedurally-generated levels. This means that it’s a game where you do not have the same paths or levels every time you play. The term comes from the game Rogue, released back in 1980 and featuring such a play-style. However, I will not be discussing that game. Instead, I shall be discussing a game that takes that play-style, but infuses it with the horror and madness of H.P. Lovecraft. In this case, it is a game known as Darkest Dungeon.

The game stars you as the heir of a rich relative, one who has called for your aid. Having grown bored with all forms of the standard vices, he sought something more intoxicating. He sought a way to gain power from eldritch forces, summoning them from a portal in the depths of his illustrious manor. However, he had lost control of the abominations he had brought forth, his sanity shattered by what he had found. Now seeking to atone for his deeds, he has called for you to clear out what lurks in the shadows and depths of the ancestral home. To do that, you assemble a team of various warriors to journey into the mansion. The team can be formed from all sorts of characters, from highwaymen to plague doctors to even jesters. Once this team is formed and you have taken care of any needs in the town, you journey on into the mansion. Each level has you walking through the halls of the mansion, investigating all sorts of curios for any hidden items and battling monsters and bandits lurking within the darkness. Placement for your team members is key, because different characters have different ranges for who they can target. Those core elements sound familiar, but where Darkest Dungeon waves its flag with pride is with its feature of resolve.

In this game, all characters possess resolve. This is a bar that represents the sanity of your character, which can be depleted if you encounter things that freak your team members out or they watch their teammates take damage or even die. Depending on the events that unfold in a stage, your teammates can gain new attributes that affect them in a variety of ways. Some are positive, such as the Lurker attribute which gives you a buff to damage whenever you’re in a darkened space. However, there are also plenty of negative attributes. They can range from the general, like the Clumsy attribute which gives a -5 buff to your dodge stat, to the specific, like the Plutomania attribute which forces the character to investigate any money-related curios. These attributes aren’t the only thing affected by resolve. If your character loses all of their resolve in a level, then they go insane. This can manifest itself in a variety of ways, from hurting teammates to refusing health items to even hurting themselves. The only way to treat those who are insane are to send them off to be treated, forcing them out of play for a while. The result offers an engrossing element to the gameplay, with characters changing and being affected by their actions as you journey into the darkness. It gives the feeling of your actions having an effect on the characters, their experiences shaping who they become. In fact, it helps in capturing the feel of H.P. Lovecraft, who is clearly a major influence on the game.

For those unfamiliar with H.P. Lovecraft, he was a writer from the early 20th century. Though he is probably known to most as the creator of the alien monster Cthulhu, Lovecraft’s greatest strength as a horror writer came through certain themes that reoccurred throughout his work. Among those themes was the fear of the unknown. Many of Lovecraft’s stories explore those seeking to gain knowledge or power, reaching and grasping into the darkness for some unknown key. It is what lurks in the darkness, however, that irrevocably changes them. Those who reach into that darkness find themselves facing unknown terrors, most frequently alien beings beyond our conventional description. Such encounters frequently bring death and madness to those poor souls. Lovecraft’s work has left an indelible mark on the horror genre, and Darkest Dungeon serves as a strong example of that influence. It captures the feeling of his stories, of the growing dread and the threat of eldritch abominations. It does so not only through the visual style, which looks like a mixture of the Gothic and the unearthly, but also through the resolve system. The resolve system gives the feel of change as your teammates face these creatures, their sanity challenged as they fight. No matter if they come out alive or wind up dead or insane, they are forever changed by these experiences.

Sometimes, the ideas or influences of another can help to bring the spark to the great idea. Darkest Dungeon is an example of how well such a mixture can turn out. By bringing together the procedurally-generated approach of a roguelike with the madness and horror of H.P. Lovecraft, it has offered a game that captures the feeling of madness when faced with grave monsters from horrible misdeeds. Perhaps a trip to these dungeons may be what you need if you’re looking for something off the beaten path.

If Darkest Dungeon sounds like a game that might fill your need for a modern dash of Lovecraft, it is currently available on Steam Early Access. Though it achieved its funding on Kickstarter, it’s in Early Access so the developers (Red Hook Studios) can currently make tweaks and changes to the game while receiving input from players on it.

Gravity Falls: Mysteries, the Supernatural, and Waddles

When it comes to Disney and animation, it is not only their films for which they are known. Over the years, they have gained many fans and followers from their numerous animates show for television. Some have been hooked from the adventure and laughs from series like DuckTales or Darkwing Duck. Some are among the devoted fan cult that sprung up from the dark and gripping Gargoyles. Others were hooked through the teen action and thrills of Kim Possible. Certainly, Disney has offered plenty of animated shows that cover a variety of styles and presentations. However, in recent years, they ended up becoming an outlet for a brilliant new series they have released. It is a show that offers some of the sharpest writing I have seen for a Western animated series, yet it is one which seems to be plagued by a non-steady release schedule. Created by Alex Hirsch, this new show is Gravity Falls.

Set over the course of one summer, the show is centered around Dipper and Mabel Pines. One is an intelligent and nerdy boy, the other is a fun-loving and cheerful girl, but both are twin siblings who have been sent by their parents to spend the summer in the small town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. There, they find themselves under the care of their great-uncle (which they shorten to grunkle) Stan Pines, a schemer and con-man who has turned his home into a tourist trap known as the Mystery Shack. However, what should be a fairly routine summer changes when Dipper discovers a mysterious journal in the woods surrounding the Shack. It depicts a six-fingered hand on its cover with the number 3, and its pages tell of all sorts of monsters and mysteries that seem to be lurking beneath the surface of Gravity Falls. Realizing the impact of this journal, Dipper sets out to reveal the truth of just what exactly is happening around this town and why there seems to be so much weird activity.

This show is an example of superb writing and shows off that strength in a multitude of ways. Firstly, the world of Gravity Falls is well-developed. All of its characters feel fleshed out and lived in, from major characters like Mabel Pines and her big heart mixed with her quirky sense of style to minor folks like the burly lumberjack Manly Dan and the forever put-upon journalist Toby Determined. As a result, the world feels alive as the mystery unravels. Along with that, the humor on the show is top-notch. It comes from all forms, from character-based humor such as the schemes that Stan uses in his pursuit of greed, or ridiculous concepts for monsters or mysteries such as the overly-masculine Manotaur or a love god who dabbles in playing concerts at Coachella-type events. The humor covers a broad range, but none of it ever feels cheap or takes away from the characters. Even Pacifica Northwest, the show’s take on the snooty rich girl archetype, has depth to her even as her dialogue offers up some nice quips. Above it all, however, is the strength of the overarching story.

For most shows, there might be some challenge to trying to pull off a series-long mystery. However, Gravity Falls manages to not only dole out information or reveal surprises and twists at a proper pace, it also manages the pacing of its characters and actions. Continuity is wound tight in this show. Nothing is wasted. For example (to use one that offers no spoilers pertaining the overarching mystery), the first three episodes of the show have a figure in a grey jumpsuit appear in the background to grab a random object. It is not until the ninth episode that you finally meet the character, a time traveler named Blendin Blandin (voiced by Justin Roiland, of Rick and Morty fame). Due to the episode’s events, he ends up having to go back in time to fix a few potential time paradoxes. These moments of him fixing paradoxes, it turns out, are the moments the viewer can see him in the background of the first three episodes. This, along with many other elements ranging from big reveals to even the smallest details, serves to showcase how carefully plotted and planned the series is. Such writing for an animated series is worth rewarding. Alas, the schedule for episodes has been a little lax.

Currently showing on Disney X-D (A secondary channel for Disney aimed towards young teenagers, though with no hyphen in the channel name. That’s just there to stop WordPress from making an emoji.), the airing schedule for Gravity Falls has been wide, sometimes going for weeks or even months at a time without a new episode. This can be frustrating, especially for a show with such great quality to it. Still, this does not have to be disheartening. After all, there are ways to still support the show. For example, I recommend tuning in for the next episode, which airs September 21st. Though, you may want to catch up on earlier episodes, both for your own enjoyment and to catch up on a great show. Maybe if enough folks show their support, Disney might offer some stronger ground to go with the strong support.

Mad Max – Fury Road: Oh, What a Lovely Day

Back in 1979, a little film from Australia known as Mad Max, directed and co-written by George Miller and starring Mel Gibson, was released. Showing society falling apart at the seams and the crushing blows to the life of police officer Max Rockatansky, the film had a polarized response from critics when released. However, it is the sequel that would make Mad Max a familiar name, a sequel known to most as The Road Warrior. Set fully in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with Max pulled into an ongoing conflict between survivors in an oil refinery and the forces of the brutal Lord Humungus, the movie gripped people’s attention when it hit theaters. Its pure action and its vision of a punk and leather wasteland not only made the film stand out in its release back in 1981, but still remains at the defining point for most post-apocalyptic tales. From video game franchises like Fallout and Borderlands to comic books such as Tank Girl, the impact from The Road Warrior is still being felt. Now, 30 years after the last movie (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), George Miller brought the world back to the wasteland with a new entry in the franchise. Back in May, at the beginning of the 2015 summer movie season, he gave to us Mad Max: Fury Road. Well, the wait was most certainly worth it.

Still keeping with its post-apocalyptic setting, the film starts with Max (this time played by Tom Hardy) captured by a group of chalk-white psychos known as the War Boys. As he seeks to escape and regain his freedom, he is pulled into a conflict that bubbles and boils around him. On one side is Immortan Joe, a masked tyrant who rules over his land by rationing out fresh water and who is desperate for a genetically-pure male heir to succeed him. One the other side is Furiosa, a driver who has left his ranks and is seeking to set his wives (a group of women kept locked up, seen by Immortan Joe as his property) free from his cruel treatment. The result is a near-nonstop chase, with cars and trucks speeding along the wastelands as Furiosa and Max journey to freedom while fighting off Immortan Joe and his War Boys.

This is a film that feels like a breath of fresh air when it comes to the action genre. Regarding the action itself, it is marvelously handled. The film is able to bring something fresh to each action sequence, with the movie as a whole pulling off its spectacle through real stunt work and as much practical effects as is possible. The result is that each fiery explosion, each tumble of a car or truck sent barreling off-course, each high-flying War Boy leaping through the air, is real. Having such a tangible and physical element better sells the action, instead of relying upon just CG to deliver its thrills. The writing is also top-notch. Though its core story may be brief, the film is filled to the brim with character development. What’s striking about that is how bare-bones and sparse the dialogue is, mostly used for those details that must be said. Otherwise, the movie allows its tale to unfold through action and implication. It’s a wonderful showcase of the classic screenwriting rule of “Show, Don’t Tell”. The visuals are also a sight to behold, with a clear camera view of the action and colors that are striking and bright. The overall result is a film that is top-notch with its visuals, its storytelling, and its action. There is another thing, however, which is worth noting that adds to the film’s strength: Furiosa.

Played by Charlize Theron, Furiosa is one of the strongest female leads I have seen in a long time for an action movie. She fights and battles for these wives, doing all that she can to ensure that they are finally free from the cruel clutches of Immortan Joe. However, it is also clear how much she cares for them, knowing their pain and fear oh so well. The mixture is one that captures a fine balance between her strength and support. It is not over-layered by “feminine” elements in some desperate attempt to define her solely by that, nor is it so overloaded in hard edge and toughness that she could be easily swapped with a guy with no loss in content. No, the balance allows Furiosa to shine as a character who can be appraised as both (if you’ll understand my phrasing) a strong female character, and a strong character who happens to be female. In fact, this movie is really more of her story. Max is just along for the ride at first, though he does grow more invested beyond a basic need to survive. At the chase goes on, he undergoes his own changes and becomes a helping hand in this battle between Furiosa’s path for freedom and Immortan Joe’s hunger for control. Though his help is definitely a great aid, it is Furiosa who is the real central figure for this tale.

It’s almost hard to believe that it has been 30 years since the last Mad Max film. The franchise has left such an indelible image of the post-apocalypse, of punk-fueled and leatherclad psychos zooming across the wastelands in their cars, that it almost feels like no time has passed. Still, it is a great thing that George Miller has returned to bring such an iconic world and hero back to the big screen. Under his skilled craftsmanship, he has shaken up audiences with something wild, something brash, something masterfully told. In short, he’s given us something a bit mad, and it’s all the better for that.

If you’re ready to go beyond Thunderdome, Mad Max: Fury Road is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD. Also, at the time of this post, the movie will be re-released to certain IMAX theaters for one week only starting on September 11th.

Video Game Movies: Forever Lost in Translation, or Just New Translators Needed?

Video game movies. Those three simple words conjure up images of failure after failure. Now, I am not speaking about movies that concern video games as a subject, such as Wreck-It Ralph or Tron. No, I speak of the numerous films that have been made that are based upon video games, the vast majority of which have been bombs in terms of critical reception or box office numbers. Though there are a few that do remain enjoyable, if not very accurate in spirit or content to their respective games, most have been dull (at best) or horrible (at worst) features made just to turn a profit based upon the brand name recognition of the source material. In fact, the first thing most might picture is the output of Uwe Boll, a German filmmaker who has made such terrible adaptations as House of the DeadBloodrayne, and Alone in the Dark. Though he may be one man, it is not only his failures that have painted the genre as they are. This does raise a key question: what is it about video games that makes them so hard to adapt?

For me, the issue of adapting a video game to film has a central issue. Namely, the challenge lies in adapting an interactive medium into a passive one. Though adapting a work from one medium to another will always have its challenges, video games are unique in their interactive element. Whether a book or a play, those works have the audience experiencing the world in a passive form, with no control of their own over the story. Video games, however, have their audience actively engaged with their stories. Their audience gets to take control of a character, guiding them through the narrative. They can take as much time as they want, exploring every nook and cranny, or just streamline through and follow just the main events. By giving the audience so much power, it allows them to engage with the work in a more connected fashion. Simply adapting a video game as is would be nearly impossible, given that core factor of gameplay. Most video games have long stretches of item quests or action sequences that would consume too much time in a film medium, but would have room to breathe within the interactive confines of a video game. For example, some of the more lengthy puzzles from an old-school point-and-click adventure game might seem like a slog to audiences if they were a sequence in a film. So, how to get past that? I would say to focus on those things that you can translate: story, world, and characters.

As video games have been expanding and evolving, so too have the worlds and characters they offer. While the adventure games of old were made to show off their narratives in an interactive format, more and more games in genres like first-person shooters or action games are featuring engaging stories and characters. By putting the focus on the characters and story rather than worrying about translating the gameplay, a filmmaker could have a better chance at capturing the spirit of the game and why people love it. For example, one popular video game that was, at one point in time, being developed for a film was BioShock. Now, BioShock is one game that is renowned for its story and characters, set within the underwater Objectivist dystopia known as Rapture. However, I could not see adapting the game itself. The basic plot of the game is alright, though it is one whose method of unfolding is intrinsically tied to video game mechanics. Instead, I propose that a BioShock film would be best handled as a prequel to the game’s events. The reason why people were so hooked with the game was not solely the gameplay. Rather, it was because of the fascinating setting and captivating characters such as Andrew Ryan, a 1940s businessman who founded Rapture as a place “where the great would not be constrained by the small”, and Frank Fontaine, a crooked smuggler who serves as the non-believer reflection to Ryan’s hardcore Objectivist. Showcasing the fall of Rapture, as it crumbles from the war between Ryan and Fontaine along with the natural cracks forming among its citizens, would make for a gripping film and capture the spirit of the game while translating it to a passive medium.

Though video game movies currently have a cloud over them from the numerous duds and failures over the years, it does not always have to be this way. There are two films in development based on video games that show a greater promise than others have. The first film is Warcraft, based upon Blizzard Software’s hugely successful real-time strategy (and MMORPG, thanks to World of Warcraft) franchise. To be directed by Duncan Jones (the director of Moon and Source Code), the film will center around the first encounter between humans and orcs, following characters on both sides of the conflict and showing them in an equal light. The other film is Assassin’s Creed, based upon Ubisoft’s action game franchise, centered around the conflict between the Assassins (who seek for humanity to be free) against the Templars (who seek to control humanity to maintain order) as shown in the present day and in the genetic memories of Desmond Miles and his ancestors. The film (which is being co-produced by and starring Michael Fassbender) will be centered around Callum Lynch, a modern day man who uses the genetic memories of his 15th-century Spanish ancestor Aguilar to combat the Templars. Both ideas capture the spirit of their respective games, translating over the worlds or characters of their games while allowing themselves room to craft and develop a core story better tailed for a passive medium like film.

At the time of this post, I hope that both films live up to their potential. It is about time that someone makes a film that realizes the potential in translating video games and all of its iconic characters and worlds to the movie screen. All it needs is the right translator to get the job done and show the light.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Ridiculous. Extreme. JoJo.

In recent years, anime has grown to become a popular medium to Western audiences. First arriving in the 1960s through shows like Astro BoySpeed Racer, and Gigantor, anime cemented its foothold in the late ’80s/early ’90s. With the arrival of the anime film Akira and shows such as Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, the medium of Japanese animation has come to grip the world of pop culture. Of course, while certain shows rise up to the forefront of Western audiences right away, some shows or manga (Japanese comics books) find themselves not as well-known. This can happen to those works that maybe didn’t have quite the same broad appeal or perhaps run into a situation where their adaptation or translation might prove problematic. In this case, I’m talking about a work that is still on-going as a manga and finally received an anime series in 2012. The subject of this entry is the always odd but very engaging JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Created as a manga first in 1986 by Hirohiko Araki, the series unfolds over the decades, following members of the Joestar family who finds themselves having to battle great evil with the use of supernatural powers. The series begins in 1880s England with Jonathan Joestar, a rich young gentlemen who gains himself an enemy in the form of Dio Brando. Though Dio initially schemes to claim the Joestar fortune, his greed gets set higher when he gains vampiric powers. The rivalry that unfolds between Jonathan and Dio turns out to be the starting point for the overarching story, as this first clash plants the seeds for further battles throughout the ages. From there, the story follows different members of the Joestar family at different points in time. The second story arc, for example, is set in the 1930s and is centered around the rude but clever Joseph Joestar. Meanwhile, the series’ third story arc takes place in 1980s Japan, with the stoic delinquint Jotaro Kujo as its protagonist. No matter what the time or the protagonist, however, they are all linked together by the Joestar blood and its seeming destiny to challenge powerful, supernatural threats to our world.

To say that this series is bizarre would be a fitting description. All of the members of the Joestar family are shown as being supreme heroes, rising up to face down any challenge, no matter how extreme or weird the threat. From vampires to ancient apex predators to mystical martial artists, the show runs the gamut but manages to channel it all within its particular brand of magic. Along with that, the series finds new ways to escalate the stakes and powers over the course of its journey, starting from warriors who channel sunlight through proper breathing to the series’ signature element in later arcs: the Stands, embodiments of certain abilities summoned by their users. However, the thing which really helps to solidify this series is its style. Characters are drawn in a realistic style, but given impossible and clashing colors. Action is accompanied by unique onomatopoeia and poses that can range from ridiculous to almost impossible, with the onomatopoeia even featured in the anime. There are even a fair share of characters whose names are inspired by musicians or musical groups, including such characters as Robert E.O. Speedwagon and Captain Tenille. The result is a style that is off-kilter but always thrilling and even a bit ludicrous at points. All of this can be chalked up to creator Hirohiko Araki.

For his creation, Hirohiko brought a lot to the table for this bizarre mixture. Its artistry came from Hirohiko wanting to do a classical style with modern elements layered onto it. As such, he drew inspiration from classical paintings along with modern art and shading techniques. As for the poses, names, and numerous monsters and mystical tricks, those came from his own love for heavy metal music and horror movies. In fact, the poses themselves were inspired by his study of Renaissance artist Michelangelo’s sculptures. The result is a fascinating stew pot of influences, from classic art to modern horror, that remains a hit in Japan to this day.

The series is one of the best-selling titles for Shonen Jump (a popular manga magazine) and the manga’s influence is still felt in Japanese pop culture, with numerous anime shows and pop idol performers referencing its over-the-top action and iconic poses (known as JoJo-dachi in Japan, which means “JoJo standing”). Unfortunately, the series is still not as well-known to Western audiences due to potential rights issues stemming from the use of names of real-life musicians or bands, but it has started to be noticed. Fighting games based upon the franchise have begun to work their way over, and Crunchyroll (a website which streams anime) offers the anime series among its many programs. Along with that, Viz Media has begun printing the manga in English, beginning with the first story arc. Perhaps now people will find the remarkable that lays within the bizarre.

If you’re looking to check out a weird series like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Crunchyroll currently carries the anime adaptation, which at this time covers through the third story arc. The manga can also be found in stores, currently covering the first arc with the second arc being released in Fall 2015 at the time of this post.

Chroma Squad: It’s Morphin’ (and Broadcastin’) Time!

Kickstarter is a site that represents the realm of possibilities. It is a place where those who have an idea, a project they want to make and achieve, can showcase its potential and others can help to donate and fund its realization. Now, the initial rush and wonder of Kickstarter has faded a bit, as reality sets in with those whose projects don’t quite reach the dreams they pitched or those who never even bring their work to fruition. It is frustrating, especially because there are those whose ideas might not have otherwise gone noticed without the help of a site like Kickstarter and such failures make people more reluctant to help fund such ideas. This entry isn’t about the numerous failures. Instead, it is a look at one such project that came to be and proved to be worth its pitch. That project is a video game called Chroma Squad.

Chroma Squad tells the tale of a group of stunt actors (whom you name) who work on a Power Rangers/Super Sentai-esque series. Tired of the constant berating and arrogance of their director, they quit and go off to form their own indie studio and make their own Power Rangers-esque program. Gameplay is divided into two portions. One half is a tactical turn-based action game, as you play out the battles being filmed for this action series. These portions have your five main characters (each of whom fills a different niche in your team) acting out their roles as costumes heroes, battling generic minions and colorful monsters while using the power of team work to more effectively move and fight. These portions also have director’s orders, which are bonus goals that can help to net you more viewers and cash. The other half of the game is a simulation game, set between “episodes” as you deal with all the work that goes into running your indie studio. This includes such things as crafting props and costumes, upgrading your studio’s tech, and even handling marketing.

Both portions of the game make for a fun whole, with each showcasing the strengths of their respective halves. The first portion, with its turn-based combat, captures the feel of fights from shows like Power Rangers. Moving around the board, you can easily use simple combat to take down the goons and monsters that threaten your team. However, you can choose to instead offer boosts with the power of team work, putting on a striking pose that can unlock special moves or flip teammates to move them further across the map. You can even have all five teammates strike a pose next to the boss, allowing you to pull off the sort of powerful team attack that would be saved for the last five minutes of a Power Rangers episode. Along with giant robot battles that appear from time to time, the result is something that captures the fun of Super Sentai combat with a nice dose of strategy.

The other portion, with running this indie studio, also offers its own challenges. The two main keys to this portion are managing the funds you have along with trying to net in more viewers to help keep the show alive (and get you more money in your budget). The result means that you are forced to make choices for how to want to advance your studio and keep it going. For example, one of the issues that can come into play is marketing. You are offered a variety of ways that you can use to get the word out about your show. You could, for instance, offer some funding to bloggers to help spread the word. It is cheaper, but you’ll have to heavily depend upon word of mouth from your fans to get new viewers rolling in. Another option might be to turn to a classic marketing campaign, which provides television ads and billboards. The result means you’re guaranteed new viewers rolling in, but it also takes more money from your budget and locks you into a contract for three to five episodes. That means you have to earn that extra money if you want to ensure those new viewers. Having to make choices like these, or even when doing stuff like crafting new props and answering fan letters, not only helps to offer a new dimension to the gameplay beyond the turn-based combat, but also affects those turn-based portions in terms of viewer numbers, stats, and personal abilities.

Now, both portions of this game could have made fine games on their own. I could see someone making a fun turn-based action game that recalls the nostalgic thrill of Power Rangers, and I could see a good game to be made from the trials and challenges of managing an independent production studio. However, combining both ideas into one game results in a work where they compliment and enhance each other, with the turn-based portions showcasing the work that these stunt actors want to do, while the simulation portion shows the work that has to go into making this thing that they love. The result is a game that probably would not have been an easy sell to big-name studios, but thanks to an outlet like Kickstarter, it found the support it needed and became a reality. Games like this help to show the world all the wonderful ideas that lay waiting and dormant, dreamt by those who wish to make them real. All they need is the support to help them flourish.

If you want to give Chroma Squad a try and get a taste of the “tactical sentai RPG” it offers, it is currently available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. There are, at the time of this post, plans to bring it to Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, and Xbox One.

Ms. Marvel: A New Hero, A New Life

In the world of Marvel Comics, there are plenty of iconic heroes. Spider-Man. Captain America. Iron Man. While they are all familiar faces, sometimes there can be something good in seeing something new. Most of the time, these changes can come in the form of creating some new look or having someone (usually temporarily) taking on their mantle. These changes can offer a good new look or element to the character, but there are plenty of times when such tactics are just used to help boost fledgling sales. However, Marvel has had a change in mantle for one such character that is not only a breath of fresh air, but a fun read as well. Once known as Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers has taken on the name of Captain Marvel in more recent years. Instead, the mantle of Ms. Marvel is in the hands of a bright new addition to the Marvel Universe: Kamala Khan.

Set in Jersey City (situated in New Jersey and across the Hudson River from Manhattan), Kamala Khan is a teenage girl navigating those classic teen issues. She’s trying to find her voice in this world, also grappling with feeling “different” because is Muslim and a Pakistani-American and the judgments from others because of that. One night, when she decides to disobey her parents and sneak out to a party, she ends up being caught in the middle of a mysterious mist that rolls through. Unlocking genetics that she didn’t even know she possessed, Kamala finds that she has gained the power of morphogenetics (meaning she can stretch herself and become small or giant, change her appearance, or even heal herself). After saving one life with her newfound gifts, she is inspired to continue using these gifts for good, inspired by her fandom for superheroes to take on Carol Danvers’ old identity as Ms. Marvel.

Now, the concept of a teenage superhero may not be exactly new. In fact, Marvel showed how effective such a character can be when they introduced the world to Peter Parker, better known as the Amazing Spider-Man. In this case, the series has been well-written, with not only Kamala as a fully-fleshed character, but also the world around here. Jersey City feels like a natural part of the Marvel Universe, almost like a second-string city stuck in the shadows of its top-tier neighbors across the river. Its inhabitants are souls who feel familiar, from Kamala’s friend Bruno and her family to classic high school jocks and alpha girls like Josh and Zoe. Conflicts, whether more personal interactions or big brawls with supervillains, have their characters at the heart, not only spectacle.

In fact, one of the biggest things to note of the writing of Kamala is one of the things that caught everyone’s attention when the character was announced: the fact that she is a Muslim Pakistani-American. It is not often you see such a character in major superhero comics. It’s only natural that such a character would get that initial burst of attention because of that difference. What has helped to give her legs as a character, however, is that those aspects do not define her character. Much like Daredevil and his Catholicism, they offer insight and elements that help factor into her personality, but they are not the things that make her who she is. They are just a part of her, as much a part as her geekiness and her fandom for heroes like Captain Marvel, Wolverine, and Spider-Man. In fact, when the series does touch upon and explore her feelings of being “different” because of her heritage or how she does not fit the standard expectations of beauty, it feels like it’s written more from the standpoint of the almost universal issue of how teenagers feel awkward and different in those years. Who hasn’t felt “different” during those pivotal years? Kamala Khan feels like a person and that is a wonderful thing.

The series is still new, so thankfully if you want to catch up, it’s pretty easy to do. Currently, there are three paperback volumes that have been released for this Ms. Marvel series. I suggest picking them up and showing some support for a new face in the Marvel Universe.