Friday, December 31, 2010

The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask

Every now and then, I like to brush up on my apologetics, if for no other reason than to stay fresh. So when I saw The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask by Mark Mittelberg, I figured it might be worth checking out.

Mittelberg's method of compiling the questions was intriguing. He partnered up with the Barna Group and asked Christians what questions they didn't want their non-Christian friends to ask them. He then zeroes in on the questions at the top of the list and then proceeded to answer them.

None of the questions were that eye-opening to me. They're the type of questions that most Christians have struggled with for years, such as "How do you know God really exists?" or "Isn't the Bible just full of myths?" or "Why are so many Christians hypocrites?" Mittelberg then went on to answer those questions to the best of his ability.

None of what he does is all that groundbreaking. I've seen much of what he says in the past. But there were a few times when I encountered a new thought or illustration that helped clarify some point. Having said that, this book would be great for a lay person "in the trenches," speaking with and witnessing to non-Christians.

So it's definitely worth a read, even if you're just brushing up or getting started. An apologetics library is never too full.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Superman/Batman Apocalypse

Oh, I love my Netflix account right now. I just got done streaming Superman/Batman Apocalypse to my computer and I had some fun with this one.

A surprise arrives in Gotham City in the form of Kara, Superman's cousin. Superman trusts her almost immediately whereas Batman is a bit unsure of why she would show up at that particular moment. This causes problems as they try to find a place for Kara to fit in. She grows sick of the Fortress of Solitude. She can't quite control her powers, so Metropolis is out. It seems that Wonder Woman has to step in and bring her to Paradise Island.

Only the triumvirate of heroes aren't the only ones with designs on the newest Kryptonian on Earth. No, Darkseid of Apokolips has designs for Kara as well, one that could destroy the Man of Steel.

Storywise, this one was kind of all over the place. At first, I thought that they were going for a sort of origin story thing, what with Kara's arrival on Earth as the opening act. But no, you have to be at least somewhat cognizant of the larger DC universe to totally get this movie. I mean, you should have a somewhat passing familiarity with Darkseid and his minions. I mean, I'm all for appearances by Granny Goodness and Big Barda, but even I was left scratching my head about some chick named Harbinger (who bore such a striking resemblance to Supergirl, I thought she was Supergirl when she first appeared).

That being said, this turned out into a fun romp. I was just a touch disappointed at what I thought was supposed to be the "big battle" at the end of the movie (although Batman's gambit rocked), but then when . . . you know what? Spoilers. Never mind. Let's just say that they had a great surprise waiting for me that kept me smiling the whole time.

The voice actors, as usual, were quite good. I mean, you can't go wrong with Tim Daly as Superman and Kevin Conroy as Batman. Honestly. But Summer Glau as Supergirl? And Ed Asner as Granny Goodness? Wow. Inspired choices.

In terms of animation, you can't fault this movie. At least, I enjoyed it.

So definitely see this if you're a comic book geek. But like I said, better do some research on Darkseid, especially if you think I misspelled that.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I seem to be doing a lot of video game reviews lately. I suppose that's all right because I've come across some great games. Add another to the list: Eufloria, yet another indie game that I acquired through Steam.

The concept is fairly simple: you are in charge of a group of seedlings that also double as mini starfighters. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. You use these seedlings to plant what are called "Dyson Trees" on asteroids. These trees come in two varieties. One type produces more seedlings. The other deploys mines that destroy enemy seedlings. You are defending your little patch of . . . well, I guess an asteroid field from an invading sickness called the "Grays." You must wipe them out so the Growers can one day return to the field.

In terms of graphics and sound, this game gets by on very little. The asteroids are basically circles. The seedlings are simple, as are the different trees. Each level looks very much like the one before it. The sound consisted of trippy music, generated at random by some factor I never did figure out.

In terms of gameplay, things stay relatively basic. There is some variety in terms of what kind of seedlings your asteroids will produce (differing in terms of power, strength, and speed). I suppose there's a deeper strategy at work in these levels, but often it came down to sheer numbers. I would simply get a large fleet of seedlings together and crush my enemies under my . . . roots? I'm not sure how to make that metaphor work for giant space trees.

The "story," if it can be called that, isn't anything special. It seemed more like someone at the studio sat down and said, "Quick! Come up with something to tie all these levels together!"

All of that being said, this game is incredible enjoyable. There was something fun about watching the different seedlings zip from one asteroid to another, deploying their wings as they came into orbit. While simple, the game draws you in and keeps you playing.

My one gripe, and it is fairly significant, is the lack of a mid-level saving function. Once you start a mission, you can't quit it without losing all of your progress. None of the levels were all that long, but there were a few times when I had to give up halfway through a near win because I had to go do something in the real world. Being able to save my progress might have been nice.

So this is a fun game, a simple game, but a game that's worth checking out.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bejeweled 3

I almost feel bad writing a review about this one. See, this was a quasi-"Bowling Ball Named Homer." I hadn't bought my wife enough stocking stuffers this year and I know how much she loves Bejeweled games. Seriously, we own every one. So I figured buying Bejeweled 3, the latest in the franchise, would be a good way to make it up to her. The fact that I wanted to play it too never entered into the equation at all. Nope. Not at all.


Okay, so I admit it, I wanted to check this one out too. I mean, they've created four different iterations of this game over the past several years. After Twist and Blitz, I was kind of wondering what they could do to the hallowed Bejeweled game to make it different.

As it turns out, quite a bit. The geniuses at PopCap Games have done it again, revamping the venerable "match three gems to make them disappear" game and adding some fresh twists to it.

That phrasing is a bit of an intentional nod to the previous incarnation, because PopCap took a lot of stuff from the previous games and included it in this one. Hypercubes, lightning gems, supernova gems, they're all here. Well, all of them except my beloved Fruit Gems from Twist, but beggars can't be choosers.

Also a pleasant surprise were the myriad new styles. You have "Classic" and "Zen" (which I guess is supposed to be easier and relaxing). But then they also added "Lightning" (a new version of Blitz where you gain extra seconds for your next rounds), "Poker" (you put together a hand by carefully matching the gems. It's a lot more fun and difficult than it sounds), "Butterflies" (some of the gems are butterflies that fly up the board to where a spider waits), "Ice Storm" (where ice slowly creeps up the board and you clear it by making matches), "Diamond Mine" (you excavate gold and artifacts by . . . well, you get the idea), and last but not least, "Quest."

Quest Mode was a great surprise. Not only do you have to play versions of the other games with very specific goals, there are also about half a dozen other puzzles you have to solve. For example, in "Balance," you have to match a certain number of red and blue gems, but for every gem you eliminate, they get dumped onto opposite sides of a scale. If the red or blue side gets too heavy, the scale will basically tip and the game ends.

I was pleasantly surprised by all of the changes and I know I'll be playing this one for a while. If I can get the computer away from my wife, that is. After all, it is her game.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Earlier this week, I watched Batman: Under the Red Hood, the latest animated movie in the Batman franchise. And all I can say is, "Whoa."

The story opens with the tragic death of Jason Todd (the second Robin) at the hands of the Joker, a traumatic event for Batman. Fast forward to modern times, where a new criminal calling himself the Red Hood is making a name for himself by stealing territory from the Black Mask, an underworld kingpin. Naturally, the Black Mask isn't happy with this. And neither is Batman. But as Batman starts to investigate the identity of the Red Hood, it threatens to dredge up some painful memories.

This movie surprised me. It's a lot more adult than I expected, darker and grittier than I expected. The opening ten minutes told me that much. And you have to know a little bit about the Batman universe, like the history of the Red Hood, Jason Todd, and R'as al Ghul or the story might be a little hard to follow. At the same time, having that knowledge made the plot a little predictable. Just a little. Just saying.

The vocal talent was outstanding. I was a little skeptical that John DiMaggio could replace Mark Hamill as the Joker, but he did an excellent job. And then there's Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing. What surprised me most, though, was that I didn't miss Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman.

So this one is definitely a must-see for Batman fans and even some non-fans as well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

World of Goo

Back around Black Friday, the good folks at Steam were having a series of incredible sales. One such sale was a bundle of independent games for life $5. One of the games in said bundle was World of Goo by 2D Boy. I've just finished (most) of this ridiculously addicting ridiculous game and I know I'll be revisiting it soon.

The premise is simple: there is living goo balls and you have to build structures to solve puzzles. Usually these puzzles involve building a lattice-structure to a pipe that will suck up the loose goo balls that skitter along the lattice. But many of these puzzles are anything but simple. You have to do some out-of-the-box thinking to figure out how to build bridges, towers, or dangling chains of . . . well, I think it's supposed to be spit to get to your goal.

The game itself is short, just five quick chapters, but like I said, I know I'll be back to replay the levels. Part of this is to try for the "OCD" badges, namely to finish the levels while achieving a difficult feat (i.e. rescuing so many extra goo balls, completing it in so many moves or within so much time). Plus there's also the tower building mini-game. You can use goo balls that you've rescued to build a tower. Supposedly there's a meta-game that you can eventually reach. I haven't gotten close yet, but I'll keep trying.

If you're interested in trying it out, you can purchase it via Steam here. Trust me, it's worth every penny.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tron: Legacy

Thanks to the good folks at Philips Norelco, my wife and I were able to attend a sneak preview of Tron: Legacy tonight. Only this wasn't any ordinary sneak peek. No, this was held at the IMAX Theater at the Minnesota Zoo. In 3D, even! We weren't allowed to bring in cellphones. We had to be security wanded by dour faced gents. And then we got to munch free popcorn in a spacious auditorium to see the sequel close to thirty years in the making!

The movie starts with Flynn, the hero of the first movie, telling wild tales to his son, Sam, about Tron and Clu, his friends on the computerized grid. And then Flynn disappears for fifteen years or so. His son grows up, bitter and angry at Encom, his dad's company. Apparently the company has gone in a direction that Flynn wouldn't have approved of.

A mysterious message draws Sam to Flynn's old arcade, where he is sucked into "the Grid," a cyberworld his dad created. Now Sam has to survive the games, find his father, and escape from that dystopian neon world.

So let's talk story and characters first. In that regard, Tron: Legacy is a hot mess. The initial clash with Encom basically has nothing to do with the story going on in the Grid. And the story in the Grid is sort of nonsensical, having to do with Flynn inventing . . . well, I'm not sure what the Grid is supposed to be. The Internet? Internet 3.0? Some sort of cyber-dealie that will somehow make the world a better place by being flashy and shiny? I have no idea. Apparently Flynn made some sort of discovery that will shake the world to its core. It'll change everything about computers and religion and economics and all that stuff. But here's the thing: they never explain how. Even when the massive change-the-world event happens, it's not really that big of a deal.

More problematic is the sheer predictability of the plot. Every "surprise twist" is telegraphed to the point that you can guess what will happen. At least, I saw most of them coming, especially when it came to Rinzler and Quorra.

But hey, let's be honest here. I didn't go to this movie for the plot and, I suspect, neither will most people. So let's talk visual effects.

Stunning. Mind-melting. Really cool.

Thankfully the world of the Grid is not the bleached out blue-white of the original. There are some pretty vibrant scenery to enjoy and the whole thing popped to life in the 3D. Thankfully, the 3D was not too overwhelming or cheesy. Instead it seemed to be used to add depth and texture to the world. My only gripe was the fact that I had to lock my head into one position for the entire movie. Swivel my head just a little bit and the screen would go out of focus, ruining the effect.

So all in all, I'd say go if you're willing to spring for the 3D. Otherwise, you probably won't be missing much.

"The Dark Knight Rises" Speculation

Okay, so a few months back, I read an interesting article at Entertainment Weekly's website, one that speculated about who the villain for the third installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, namely The Dark Knight Rises. There were some really interesting possibilities (Superman? Could be fun).

But then the rumor mill started churning. Apparently the scuttlebutt was that the villain would be Dr. Hugo Strange and that the movie would be based on Prey. I've never read it, but from what I was was hearing, it would be a pretty awesome story: a rogue police psychiatrist goes to war with Batman, having figured out his true identity. It would fit perfectly with the way The Dark Knight ended, with Batman on the run after supposedly killed Harvey "Two Face" Dent.

But hang on a sec. This past Sunday, Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly pointed out that the speculation about Hugo Strange as the adversary of The Dark Knight Rises seemed to be really close to the apparent plot of up-coming video game Batman: Arkham City. Just check out my post from yesterday with the game trailer. Pointy-bearded Strange (who has cracked Batman's secret identity), the elite squad of police/soldiers hunting for the Dark Knight? Jensen wonders if maybe the rumor mill got their wires crossed. Or if we'll see two very different renditions of the same story.

Well, I was feeling a bit speculative myself and I decided to write a "treatment" of how I would plot out the final Nolan movie. I'm stealing from the original EW article a little and also borrowing from my brother-in-law Chris, who knows his comic books a whole lot better than me. SO here we go:

The Dark Knight Rises opens where the previous film left off, with the Batman on the run. Gotham City has turned against him, but in many ways, Batman doesn't mind. He is still lurking in the shadows, doing his best to take out criminals.

Only he's run into a small problem. Remember those counterfeit Batmen from The Dark Knight? The ones who were "inspired" by Batman but resorted to guns and such? Well, one of them tried to emulate his hero moreso than the others, eschewing firearms and sticking to his martial arts training. Well, this "best of the Batmen" feels betrayed by his hero's fall from grace. In an on-line video, he renounces his cape and cowl, adopting the new persona of "Nightwing." Several times, Nightwing and Batman cross paths, Nightwing making it clear that he's going to take Batman down.

But things only get worse, because the new mayor of Gotham City doesn't think that Commissioner Gordon is doing enough to bring in Batman. So he makes a private arrangement with a powerful mercenary, namely Bane. Bane approaches Nightwing to see if the young vigilante will team up with him so they can "break" Batman. Nightwing agrees, which turns out to be a mistake.

Bane, you see, is using his position as the mayor's muscle to unite Gotham's criminal element under his own ruthless leadership. He uses Nightwing to "discipline" those who oppose him. Eventually Nightwing sees the error of his ways (thanks, in part, to Batman) and they join forces to stop Bane before he can completely take control of Gotham from the underground up.

Of course, the problem is that Batman is still being hunted by the cops and he now faces Bane's army as well. But in the end, Batman and Nightwing take out Bane in a public way, proving to the public that Batman has always been on the side of good. Nightwing admits that he was wrong to judge Batman and leaves town, leaving the Dark Knight to keep his city safe.

Or, since Christian Bale has made this clear that this is his final movie, it could be an interesting twist if they went the Knightfall route and had Bane break Batman over his knee, forcing Bruce Wayne to retire and officially hand over the mantle of Dark Knight to Nightwing, allowing a new Knight to rise.

Now naturally, I'm just spinning this story as I see fit. I also wouldn't mind seeing Clayface replace Bane in my story (not the shapeshifting version, but as a veteran master-of-disguise), sewing tension by impersonating Batman and committing crimes. And, of course, if the movie turns out to have Dr. Hugo Strange, that'd be cool too. I just felt like sharing, that's all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Trailer for "Batman: Arkham City"

Next year is going to be a good year for gamers. Yesterday I mentioned Mass Effect 3. Well, here's another gem from the VGAs, a trailer for Batman: Arkham City.



Sunday, December 12, 2010

Footage of the Metrdome Collapse

Well, they want a new stadium . . .

Wow. But I think this tweet from TheTweetOfGod is a pretty good capper to a weird weekend here in Minnesota:

Mass Effect 3 Teaser Trailer

Apparently this aired last night at the VGAs. I don't get Spike, so I couldn't see it live. But still . . .

Three words:


Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Blizzard Prayer

Dear God,

After the Day of Judgment, could you do me a favor? Turn off the fires of hell for a day and then give the Devil three things:

1) A heart.
2) A shovel.
3) A driveway full of plow-packed snow.



Friday, December 10, 2010

The Sending

I really struggled with whether or not I should write a review of The Sending by Matt Koceich. I kept thinking of the old adage, "If you don't have anything good to say, then don't say anything." And while it isn't nearly that bad, I was severely tempted to simply let this one go. But there's an issue with this book that I felt I had to address, a fairly serious one. I'll get to that in a moment.

The other reason why I wasn't sure I should write a review because people might accuse me of sour grapes. The Sending was the winner of this year's Marcher Lord Select main contest. I was a participant who got eliminated in the first round. So some might think that jealousy might motivate what I'm about to say. Let me assure you, I'm not speaking out of anger or spite. This is simply how I see things.

The Sending is the story of Mark Grant, a young man with an extraordinary gift. He is a remote viewer; he can project himself away from his body. He's been hired as part of a project to find the Garden of Eden so humanity can finally partake of the Tree of Life and experience immortality.

Only Mark's ability and involvement in this project doesn't sit well with his wife, Aubrey. So Mark tries to back out of the project. When he does, his wife and son are kidnapped and he's told that if he wants to see them again, he'll have to finish what he started. He has to find the Garden or he will lose everything that matters to him.

So let's talk good stuff first: the premise is dynamite. A modern-day search for the Garden is a great story. In theory, Mark makes for an interesting character (what with his special ability) and based on the premise, this should be a good book. Unfortunately, the whole thing goes completely off the rails shortly after it starts.

The story is disjointed and confusing. I think Koceich was trying to do something similar to Ted Dekker's Circle trilogy, with two separate realities intermingling. Sadly, the attempt fails. The transitions happen for seemingly no reason and oftentimes, I had no idea what was going on.

The characters also didn't feel real. For me, the worst was Sam, Mark's 4-year-old son. I was beginning to wonder if Sam had some sort of speech impediment or developmental disability because of the way Koceich wrote his dialogue. "Scoy" for "score." "Luh you" for "love you." That sort of thing. I have a four-year-old at home and I asked him to repeat some of Koceich's dialogue. He was able to with clear enunciation. Sam sounded more like he was two than four.

Also problematic for me was the theology. I realize this is speculative fiction and I'm all for dancing on the end of a theological tree-branch at times, but this one really made me wince. Koceich weaves an odd take on Satan's temptation of Adam and Eve that really didn't sit well with me. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't care for it and thought it was a bit over-the-top.

But what really sent me through the roof was the blatant heresy that popped up in the book on more than one occasion. It would appear that Koceich has drifted into a trinitarian heresy known as modalism.

Let me give you an example: from page 136 of the book, Koceich writes, "John just thought that Iesus was Creator but not Father." Later in the book, Mark encounters Jesus and calls Him "Abba" and Jesus refers to Mark as "His son."

Small problem: Jesus is not the Father. This flies in the face of historic Christianity and is opposed by no less than the Athanasian Creed. Quite honestly, when I encountered that first statement, I was so disturbed I almost stopped reading. But I thought maybe it was a typo or an overstatement so I kept reading.

Now I don't know if Koceich meant to drift into a heresy rejected by the Church for the last 1,700 years or so, but I was not happy with this.

At the end of the book, Koceich seemed to be setting himself up for a potential sequel. If that's the case, I'm getting off here. Maybe there's an audience for this book, but it doesn't include me.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Let's talk about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, shall we?

Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are summoned one last time to Narnia, but instead of traveling with their older siblings, Peter and Susan, they bring along their younger cousin, Eustace Scrubb (who has, in my opinion, one of the most evocative names I've ever encountered. Describes him to a T). They find themselves reunited with King Caspian on a ship called the Dawn Treader. Caspian, having secured Nania and winning himself some peace, is sailing east to the Lone Islands, searching for seven lords who fled his evil uncle.

As it turns out, all is not well. A great evil is brewing in the eastern oceans, one that threatens to consume all of Narnia. Only Edmund and Lucy and their companions can free Narnia from its grip.

If you've read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, you're probably scratching your head about that last paragraph. I certainly was while sitting in the movie theater. I was a little disturbed at some of the liberties that the director took in this movie. The book's story centers around Caspian's quest to find the seven lords simply to find them. Narnia isn't in jeopardy. There's no "big bad" lurking in the shadows, waiting to devour everyone. And yet, even without the high adventure, Lewis's book is a fun read.

The movie is a little . . . off, I suppose you could say. It's a fun ride, that's for sure. It was great to finally see the Dufflepuds brought to life. But the newly tacked on adventure quest didn't mesh with Lewis's original material too well. They tinkered with the plot and added in some stuff that made me roll my eyes (i.e. the three lords at Aslan's Table and when they were restored; way to miss the point).

But what made me smile is what the director kept in. Eustace's journey hews very closely to the book and that was a good thing. Like I said, the Dufflepuds were awesome, even if they were only in there for a brief moment.

But best of all, they kept the line. THE line, the one that helps explain what Narnia is all about. Aslan says it to the children right at the end of the movie and it's so important, I'm going to quote it from the original book:

"I am [in your world too]. But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

Given who Aslan represents in Narnia, it's great that they kept that key statement intact and didn't fiddle with it.

So I guess, all in all, this was an okay movie. I worry, though, about future adaptations. If they continue to stray too much, Narnia might become unrecognizable. But for now, it was good to join them on the voyage.