Tag Archive: Art Schmidt


Atari box

Atari, the company that brought us the Atari 2600–the game system that revolutionized what it meant to be a zombie–offered families in the early 1970s the benefit of the neighborhood arcade without that annoying quarter-gobbling component.  Adults who shake their heads today at kids zoning out over their smartphone games forget what it was like when they first zoned out over  Combat, Air-Sea Battle, Duck Hunt, Asteroids, Yar’s Revenge, Berserk, Pitfall, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and all their pixelated friends.

When Space Invaders was introduced, kids lined up at Woolco stores for hours on end to play the in-store demo model to try to beat the current high score.  The earlier Pong and Breakout games were revolutionary–and addictive–but Space Invaders was exciting, nerve-wracking, and required a different take on an old skill.  Hand-eye Coordination became a new, finely-honed, almost magical power.  Wielded the best by teenagers.

Then something strange happened.  We got distracted by something else.  Most of us didn’t even notice when Atari vanished.  When modern video games playable on PCs via compact discs came around we all went searching for the original Atari games and for years, nada.  What happened to Atari anyway?

Pac-Man game over    ET video game

If you didn’t track the business pages for Atari back in the 1970s and 1980s, a new documentary will get you caught up.  Atari: Game Over is a nostalgic look back at the first video game designers and how one designer created the first great game for Atari, and later the last, and then vanished into anonymity.  His journey parallels several die-hard fans’ strange and curious search to prove or disprove an urban legend–that Atari lost so much money on the E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial video game for the Atari 2600 (thought by many to be the single worst video game of all time) that Atari dumped at least a million of the unopened boxes in a desert town landfill back in 1983.  It’s also a story of one of the first Dot Com economic busts long before there were Dot Coms.

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Ant Lucia

In addition to great creators from outside the Midwest, like Black Widow artist Phil Noto (as we mentioned here at borg.com yesterday), the great thing about returning to a Con year after year is running into all our friends who write, sketch, or paint incredible works for a living.  Planet Comicon 2015 was no different.

Take for instance Des Moines artist Ant Lucia (pictured above).  Three years ago Ant was just beginning to put together great genre characters like DC superheroes and Star Wars characters in a unique retro style of poster art.  Flash forward to 2014 and an entire month of cover art at DC Comics was devoted to his creations, and statues based on his DC Bombshell designs are selling off the shelves in every town across the country.  Ant’s beautiful designs are second to none, and there’s not a more deserving guy to achieve such success from his ideas.

Other creators at Planet Comicon this weekend with national success included Jason Aaron, who had his own rock star sized line of fans getting his new Star Wars series autographed, as well as artist Freddie Williams II, drawing sketches for fans and signing copies of his Legendary Starlord series, among other works.

Jordan and Fyffe

Pictured above are artists Damont Jordan and Bryan Fyffe.  Damont had a new “spirit fox” print available that blew us away, and he churned out sketches for fans all weekend long.  And we noticed other artists at the Con were coming to Bryan’s booth to buy his framed art for their own homes.  Bryan has the best eye for design of anyone we know, and creates a variety of inspired multi-media works.  His most recent commercial illustration was for some major franchise properties, as well as the cover of John Renehan’s new novel The Valley.  Check out some of his work at his website here.

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Pic 1

Review by Art Schmidt

Peter Jackson’s final installment of his screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit is a breathtaking piece of film which aspires to the almost insurmountable heights that his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King achieved.  The goal is a worthy, if almost unrealistic one, and Jackson spares no expense in trying to soar to those heights where he took us ten years ago.

I’m of two minds about this movie, and have been struggling to combine them into a single piece for you, our faithful readers.  But like Jackson with this trilogy, I am not quite up to the task.  And so, like Jackson, I will split something that should be in a single piece into multiple pieces, and although I am aware that they will likely not equal the sum of what a whole, single review should, I will try nonetheless because I have too much to say on the subject and am utterly unable to edit myself.  Much like a certain director we all know and admire.

Review by a fan of fantasy cinema

The Battle of the Five Armies is a really good film.  Is it great?  Well, that will be up to each viewer, honestly.  It is big and bold, and gives good screen time to the multitude of characters we have come to know over the course of the last two films in the trilogy.  The movie opens where the previous film left off, a different approach from other films in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, which tended to open with flashbacks or clever recaps to bring the viewer back into the world of Middle-earth which may have faded slightly since the previous film.  Not so here, as the audience is plunged directly into the story right where we exited it last year.

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The dragon Smaug, scary and crazy in the second Hobbit film which bears his name, is magnificently rendered and feels vibrantly alive in the dark theater, the screen aglow with dragonfire and the air electric with his howls of rage and vengeance.  Benedict Cumberbatch captures the right amount of menace and vanity, bringing the drake alive in ways that superb CGI just could not do on its own.  The poor people of Laketown would surely stand in awe of Jackson’s creation if they were not fleeing for their very lives before it.

Martin Freeman knows how to play the everyman, which is essentially what Bilbo Baggins represents.  An everyday man who is snatched up from his comfortable if boring life and thrown headlong into the exciting, unpredictable and oft-times dangerous unknown.  His subtlety and good humor shine through his portrayal of the Hobbit and it is to Freeman’s credit that he can simultaneously stand up to the chiefest and greatest of calamities and also stand up for himself to Thorin, pointing out the sickness that everyone else can see but dare not mention.  The dwarves are also a humorous, entertaining lot, but far too much time would be required to provide the multitude of them a lot of individuality or backstory.  The few who are selected for the spotlight are well worth the time.  Lee Pace, Richard Armitage and Luke Evans play three leaders of different races whose loyalties lie to their people but with widely different styles and personalities.  As with the previous films, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and even Christopher Lee as Saruman himself all put in appearances, though not in a way most might expect!

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DM Guide

Review by Art Schmidt

Every gaming nerd in the world has stories about their first D&D game, their first (and usually favorite) edition played, their first character, first group, etc.  I won’t bore you with any of mine (I’ve got some pretty awesome ones, though!) but suffice to say I have been playing D&D since before the hardbound books, so it’s been a long time.  My first Dungeon Master’s Guide was the 1st Edition book, all two hundred and thirty-two glorious, black and white, densely packed pages of it.  It opened up worlds of possibility for my friends and me.  We spent endless hours exploring magical realms of perilous danger and heroic adventure.

I ran most of the games, as I had the Dungeon Master’s Guide (or “DMG” in gamer parlance) and a burning desire to create my own worlds.  We played the printed adventures, or modules, and then I created my own.  The DMG was a great help in this, chock full of tables, charts, and endless descriptions of magical items, weapons, ancient relics and fearsome villains.  I do not know how many tablets of graph paper I went through in my teenage years, but I always had some pages tucked in my text books, my folders, or folded up in my pockets, covered in lines and boxes representing mines dark and deep, full of orcs and dragons and swords of flame.

First Ed DMG

Remember 1979? We didn’t even have Atari back then. This was the BOMB!!!

Having spent the majority of my gaming years running games, versus playing characters, I have owned and used every edition of the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide (except for 4th Edition, and to be honest that’s not out of any dislike for that system but due to a lack of desire of any of my gaming group at the time to make the move from 3.5).  And I’ve loved them all, though at varying levels of love.  The original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) Dungeon Masters Guide (note the lack of the possessive apostrophe; this was 1981 for sure) was a genuine first love, wide-eyed and unjudging and incapable of believing we’d even been blessed with such a magnificent gift.  It literally opened up worlds of imagination for millions of gamers world-wide.  Never mind that the book itself was a jumbled mess of disparate information, random thoughts shoveled into a solid form so quickly that no thought was given to organization or flow.  It didn’t even have chapters, but did we notice or really care?  Heck no!

2nd Edition was more like Puppy Love; it all looked good on the outside and added in a lot of things we thought we wanted, and we knew we were supposed to love it because we loved the game.  But the mechanics weren’t completely sewn together and there were some issues with over-powered spell casting classes.

DMG version 3 dot 5

If they made a Guide to all of the 3.5 Edition rule books, it would be thicker than the DMG.

3rd Edition was a nostalgic love; it was a brave new departure from the old standard but the system was broken from the get-go.  The wildly popular Edition 3.5 was a rebound love;  3rd Edition was dysfunctional and a rough break-up, and 3.5 was a welcome bowl of ice cream and a warm blanket.  And it worked very well.  But after years of fluff and bloat, the system became unwieldy and overly complicated.  Especially so for players and DMs who wanted to focus on story, but had to acquiesce to players who wanted to min-max their way to a War Hulk or Shadowcraft Mage build which everyone knew would eventually break the campaign (and the story!).

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Monster Manual cover

Wizards of the Coast gets an “A” for effort

Review by Art Schmidt

So let’s cut to the chase, shall we?  Your time is valuable and so are your hard-earned gold pieces, unless you are a thief, in which case let’s face it, it’s not really your gold no matter how hard you “worked” to pick that fat merchant’s belt pouch (c’mon, be honest, we both know it’s true).  The 5th Edition Monster Manual from Wizards of the Coast (or WotC, for short), which goes on sale on the 30th of this month, is a well put-together book, with tons of classic monsters in it, and is really a must-have for anyone looking to run a homebrew 5th Edition game, or looking to convert any of their existing modules/adventures to 5th Edition.  Go out and buy it, though please do not pay the $49.99 suggested retail price.  Most game stores and online retailers will have it for around $30, including Amazon.

Okay, so… if you are still reading this then I will assume that: (A) you don’t fit the Dungeon Master description I used above, (B) need some more convincing, or (C) you have some time to kill right now.  Either way, cool.

The book itself is nicely bound with thick high-quality covers which are a must for a book that’s primarily going to be hauled around from game session to game session in a book bag, backpack, plastic tote or other means.  So, it’s going to see a lot of handling and miles (unless you are nice enough to be hosting the game, in which case, Huzzah to you!!!), and it should take the abuse quite well.

Monster Manual excerpt A

“Knock, knock.” “Who is it?” “Land shark.”

The pages are also high quality, thick glossy paper stock and the book is lively and colorful throughout.  I was not a huge fan of the background on every page which was introduced in 3.0, but in this series of books (the Players Handbook and Monster Manual so far, anyway) WotC is not placing thick borders on every page which in previous versions squeezed the content and gave it a skimpier feel (lots of artwork, less content).  The Monster Manual is chock-full of good information and continues their current trend of combining good humor and retro-elements into the content, as was done in the Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook.  The references to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Emirkol the Chaotic and the Demi-Lich Acererak are nice touches and an appreciated wink to both older gamers and the previous creators and contributors who have helped keep the game going for so many years.  I especially like the disclaimers at the beginning of each book so far, which are quite humorous and show that while the WotC Team took its work seriously, they didn’t fall prey to taking themselves so.

You will find nearly every classic monster you could ask for in the book.  And while at 350 pages it is a hefty brick of a book, its usefulness to the Dungeon Master can’t be denied.  From the mandatory entries of giants, dragons, fiends, elementals, constructs, undead and humanoids of all flavors, to the more exotic modrons, yuan-ti, the warring githyanki and githzerai, and the ever-present but rarely used axe beak, the book has a ton of monsters across the spectrum of challenge ratings.  (Seriously, how many times have you encountered an axe beak in all of your adventures?)

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2824589-13260-gamesrocks-superman

By Art Schmidt

I was having lunch with a friend the other day and we were talking about comic book movies and the slow transition of the formulas for the ones which have succeeded to television format. My friend was grumbling about the lack of costumed heroes on popular shows such as Arrow or the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I have to admit, I hadn’t really noticed the lack of costumes in those shows, loving the first season of Arrow despite very few folks with traditional comic book costumes, and enjoying the first couple of episodes of A.O.S. (can you acronym an acronym?).

But the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I was.  Why weren’t there more costumes in Arrow?  Certainly Deathstroke’s mask was a pivotal prop in the series, and the Dark Archer had a cool getup, but they weren’t costumes so much as work attire fitting the villain’s nature.  And of course A.O.S. is a show about normal people, super spies and highly-skilled to be sure, but not superheroes.  And certainly without costumes outside of May’s black leather suit, akin to Fury’s normal wardrobe and the attire seen by many personnel aboard the Heli-carrier in The Avengers.

Speaking of which, The Avengers is a perfect case in point.  The evolution of the superhero sans costume.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

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Creepy Little Girls part 11

The writers at borg.com have one fear in scary movies that seems to trump all others–creepy little girls.  From The Shining to The Ring to the new gothic horror flick We Are What We Are, we’d all just as soon duck in the corner and cover our heads than to watch another movie with the single element that makes you run out of the theater or jump out of your seat every time some evil filmmaker writes them into a script.

We’ve discussed this strange horror element before here at borg.com, with Elizabeth C. Bunce’s review of The Alphabet Killer and her list of Halloween video recommendations, in Jason McClain’s preview of The Woman in Black, in my Halloween recommended viewing list, in Art Schmidt’s favorite horror film list, and Jason McClain’s video recommendations.

We Are What We Are

All in, we’ve logged 11 scary flicks with one or more creepy little girls–enough so that we think it qualifies as its own sub-genre–and not only do we acknowledge them we recommend them, too.  They are The Ring, The Exorcist, Let Me In, Paranormal Activity 3, Watcher in the Woods, The Sixth Sense, The Shining, The Alphabet Killer, Turn of the Screw, The Others, and The Woman in Black.  Yes, they give us the heebie geebies, but if we want to see something that gets us to lift up our feet in the theater seats, it seems the secret weapon for filmmakers is clear.

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Review by Art Schmidt

One of the latest of fantasy pulp novels from Wizards of the Coast, owners of the Dungeons & Dragons brand of games and fiction, the Stone of Tymora is the latest offering from internationally famous best-selling fantasy author R. A. Salvatore and his son, Geno Salvatore.  Or rather, it was written by Geno and ‘overseen’ by his father, according to press releases and interviews with the authors.  The Stone of Tymora compilation was released October 2, 2012.

Originally published as three separate novellas (The Stowaway, October 2008; The Shadowmask, July 2009; and The Sentinels, October 2010), the compilation entitled Stone of Tymora follows the adventures of a tween orphan who has a powerful artifact tied to him while still in swaddling clothes and spends his youth alternately fleeing the artifact’s curse and then struggling to find a way to rid himself of it.

 

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To get to borg.com’s first anniversary it actually took us 366 days because of the leap year.  And what a year it has been!

So what do we have to show for 366 daily posts–our attempt to keep you up to date on what is going on in science fiction, fantasy, and entertainment news?

Jason McClain and Elizabeth C. Bunce

We interviewed some great people, like DC Comics artists Freddie Williams and Mikel Janin, writers Sharon Shinn and Jai Nitz, and Star Trek insider Penny Juday.  In our “Sneak preview” series we reviewed the pilots for new TV series ABC’s New Girl and NBC’s Awake before they were broadcast on TV.  We gave you our take on several opening weekend screenings of a big year in movies from Cowboys & Aliens to Green Lantern, from the last Harry Potter film to Daniel Radcliffe’s first big adult role in The Woman in Black,  to the day of Marvel Comics movies that led up to the U.S. premiere of The Avengers We shared the first images released of The Hobbit and Total Recall We reviewed new books and classic sci-fi books in our “Retro reviews,” from Philip K. Dick, Ian Fleming, Michael Crichton, Rex Stout, Ernest Cline, and Richard Stark, and several non-fiction books about the “behind the scenes” of movies.  We covered Comic-Con International, Wondercon, Planet Comicon, Free Comic Book Day and the early release party for Avengers vs. X-Men We reviewed dozens of new comic book series, from Morning Glories to Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising and a whole slew of DC’s New 52 reboot, as well as Marvel Comics’ limited series events.  Along with that we’ve kept tabs on our (and hopefully your) favorite things like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Walking Dead, Peter Jackson, baseball, Community, Benedict Cumberbatch, the Syfy Channel, USA Network, James Bond, Batman and Green Arrow.  We’ve posted lots of original comic art to get an eye on the creative process of the artist, and we loved discussing genre costumes, including the latest news about incredible screen-used prop and costume auctions.  We’ve also taken a closer look at science fiction movies with our “Anatomy of science fiction” series, featuring iconic images, and the evolution of space suits in film.  And to give you ideas for movie watching from the archives, we provided our “favorites” and “best of” series, revealing our recommendations for overlooked TV series, Halloween flicks, favorite fantasy films, best adaptations, favorite characters, and best art of Alex Ross and Frank Cho.  We’ve profiled favorite genre stars like David Warner, John Carpenter and Mark Sheppard.  We’ve reviewed new compact discs from some of our favorite celebrities, Hugh Laurie and Zoey Deschanel, as well as new fantasy video games.  And finally, we’ve talked about borgs from every sci-fi franchise out there, and even how borg technology as cutting edge science affects humans in real life.

Art Schmidt and CJ Bunce

We think we like what you’d like, so we’ve tried to help you get the most out of entertainment by recommending to you the best sci-fi, fantasy and entertainment out there.

A personal thanks to professional writers Elizabeth C. Bunce (fantasy author, intrepid TV reviewer and fangirl), Jason McClain (Hollywood columnist and master of myriad musings) and Art Schmidt (diehard genre fan and fantasy realm connoisseur) for their great contributions and getting us more than 250,000 site visits and hundreds of positive feedback comments in only our first year.

Thanks for reading!  Year 2 begins tomorrow…

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

By Art Schmidt

Marvel Studios’ newest and boldest superhero movie yet, The Avengers premiered on Friday in North America.  To celebrate the superhero team-up movie five years in the making, AMC Theaters nationwide offered an all-day Ultimate Marvel Marathon in select venues, previewed here last week, showing all five previous Marvel Studios super heroes movies, in order, leading up to the midnight premier of The Avengers:  Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger.  I reviewed the movie Saturday here at borg.com, but now I want to share the most excellent movie-going experience I had at the Ultimate Marvel Marathon.

I had been to AMC special events before; they carry the Fathom Events series, including the excellent Lost panel I attended prior to the series finale.  I had also previously attended their all-day screening of the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was discussed here at borg.com.  So I knew AMC would do this event right, but even I had no idea how Mighty it would be.

Early Thursday afternoon, the theatre was packed and there were tons of fans sporting their hero gear, many throwing props to their favorite heroes from both within the Marvel and DC universes and without (one guy sitting near me had on an Archer T-shirt, which I thought was hilarious.  Several fans were wearing Justice League gear, like silent cries for DC to follow in Marvel’s footsteps and begin work on a similar movie featuring their favorite DC characters.  There were several good costumes floating around, including a convincing Tony Stark in party tux and a great home-made Thor outfit which drew lots of cameras.  The folks at the AMC 30 Theater I attended the event at had things well planned out.  Marathoners had lanyards and special 3D glasses provided, and a limited supply of a free special issue of The Avengers comic book.  There were activities planned including trivia in between each movie and select prizes for the correct answers (posters, additional 3D glasses, and masks).

Before the showing of the first movie, Iron Man, the AMC hostess took a favorite character survey among the “Big Four” Avengers (the ones who have had their own movies thus far) and though it was close between Captain America and Iron Man, Tony Stark pulled it out during the second round of voting.

When the lights dimmed, the surprises were far from over.  Before each of the five movies leading up to The Avengers premier, there were short “debriefings” shown featuring none other than our favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Phil Coulson.  He provided brief reviews of the movies’ main characters, personalities, and the circumstances leading up to them becoming involved in The Avengers Initiative.  Before Iron Man, Coulson did a very funny bit throwing out a copy of Tony Stark’s own description of himself (in a very thick binder), and then showing Coulson’s own single-page description which was entirely inked over, being heavily redacted by the government.

There were very big cheers when each movie started, and huge laughs during all of the funny scenes in every movie.  The crowd was loud and raucous, and the carnival atmosphere was everything I had anticipated and more.  It was like being in the middle of a gigantic, six-hundred person nerd love-in, and everyone was loving it.  When Stark announced “I am Iron Man” at the end of the initial movie, you couldn’t hear yourself think over the huge cheers.

When Nick Fury came in for his first cameo at the end, the theater filled with an unexpected electricity his final words: “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.”  That scene took on a whole new meaning for the assembled crowd of fans, and the cheers were deafening.

Throughout the showings of the movies, there were big cheers at the first appearance of each of our beloved heroes, and Marvel-ous applause every time a Stan Lee cameo occurred.  When the Hulk kicked a heavily souped-up Captain Emil Blonksy into the tree in response to the “Is that all you’ve got?” the crowd roared the loudest it had thus far.  And things only got better.

The folks at AMC posted pictures on their Facebook page throughout the day and evening which fans happily scanned through on their smart phones in between shows.  The great crowd even made Iron Man 2 enjoyable, with lots of applause and laughs especially at the expense of Justin Hammer, played with gleeful scumbaggery by Sam Rockwell.

The last three films, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers were all shown in 3D.  Agent Coulson’s debrief prior to Thor ended with the instruction: “The time has come to put on your S.H.I.E.L.D.-supplied enhanced eyewear for three-dimensional presentation”.  Big laughs at that one, like good little Junior Agents, we all did exactly as we were told.

The movie Thor actually played a bit more corny against the others, or perhaps kitschy is the right term, when viewed along with the other films, especially the little New Mexico (?) town that never quite looks or feels quite real (as compared to Asgard, which was incredibly well-conceived and heavily detailed).

And thanks to free refills for large drinks and popcorns, the lines were never short at the concession stands all day long (nor for the bathrooms!)

The debrief prior to Captain America contained more humor, with Coulson beaming like a little kid as he shared with the audience that Captain America was his favorite hero.  “I have all of his trading cards,” he nearly gushed, before quickly regaining his composure and asserting, “But enough about me.”  Little did we know that this bit would play directly into the plot of The Avengers.

Just before the premiere of the main event, at midnight the AMC folks led the entire audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to an audience member who was turning 21 at midnight.  The song was accompanied by huge cheers and applause, and I know we made that guy’s day.

And then the main event started, and it was a great present for us all, birthdays or not.  AMC did this event right, a great movie event for movie lovers, and I’ll be sure to be on the lookout for future events such as this.

(Photos copyright AMC Theaters 2012, reprinted from their Facebook page)

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