Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Enough with the Fishing Minigames!

 I was playing through the latest indie darling Hades, drinking in the rich atmosphere, the interesting reinterpretation of the Greek pantheon and trying to escape the underworld when out of nowhere a character hands me a fishing rod and says that if I spot any fish swimming in the currents of the River Styx I could catch them and...

...And then I tuned out. 

WHY DOES A GAME ABOUT ESCAPING THE UNDERWORLD FEATURE A FISHING MINIGAME?!

I've noticed that fishing minigames have infiltrated most of my favorite games, and are popping up in genres where they don't belong, almost like a computer virus set up by Bass Pro Shop has infected Steam. Since I seem to be the only one bothered by this, I figured I should be the one to bring up the subject, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

Where They Belong

Now wet me clarify that fishing in video games in general is not a bad thing as long as the fishing is part of the core experience. Farming games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing the fishing makes sense because that's part of what you do. In general any life sim style game where the point is that you're just quietly making a life for yourself for me is perfectly acceptable to have fishing in it. 

In the same vein, collector games like again Animal Crossing or more importantly the Pokemon franchise make sense because you're collecting things that live under water, and it's realistic to expect a person to try a pole and bait before dawning a full scuba suit to get a goldfish. In these instances fishing isn't only a core part of gameplay but adds to the immersion of the game itself, 

That being said...

Where They Don't Belong

Rule of thumb: Anything where the main character's main role is to be the stalwart hero of the land and save all the peoples of the land from bad guys, that's where fishing minigames don't belong. 

Take Monster Hunter for example. You spend hours fighting giant kaiju and turning their skin and bones into more fashionable underpants for yourself, and yet the game asks you to occasionally stop the epic monster fighting so you can put a line into water to catch a fish. The lurching difference in gameplay is as startling as it is frustrating. 

While I have no doubt that Frodo and Sam had to take time to catch dinner every once in a while, the films thankfully saved us from having to watch them sitting along the bank of the Dead Marshes trying to catch a trout. Video games in some effort to add realism, or more likely to extend run time, make us watch the mundane activities of the hero deciding what to have for dinner. 

A What-If Scenerio

Okay picture this: What if every video game, regardless of genre, had a Mario-Kart-like level where your character had to race around a track and win races. The game would stop you at one point during your adventure for an elaborate tutorial on how to drive your cart, special power-ups, and had items you could only obtain by winning races. I think most players would get halfway through a race watching Geralt of Rivia in a tiny go-cart race NPCs and rage quit the game. 

That's about how I feel with fishing minigames. They don't make sense in every game, and yet they're appearing in games anyway and the only reason I can figure is that Bass Pro Shop has some expert hackers that have infiltrated the gaming industry and are trying to create a new generation of fisherman. 

-JOE

Friday, March 26, 2021

For Narnia and For Aslan!

With Easter coming up just a week away, I wanted to throwback to one of my favorite series, Narnia. This series won my heart back when I was a freshman in college and it never let go. So as we look forward to Easter, I want to talk about quotes by Aslan, Narnia’s representation of the Savior. 


“If the Witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice, she might have interpreted the deep magic differently. That when a willing victim who has committed no treachery, is killed in a traitor's stead, the stone table will crack, and even death itself would turn backwards.” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 2005 Movie)

I wrote about this one a couple years ago. The White Witch was conceited enough to think that Aslan could be defeated in the name of the “deep magic” holding Narnia together. It makes me wonder how the adversary can believe he has an edge against us in mortality. Satan thought he had won our souls when Jesus Christ died, but he must have overlooked just how powerful the Atonement would be in saving the sons and daughters of God.


“Oh, Adam's son, how cleverly you defend yourself against all that might do you good!” (The Magician’s Nephew)

Isn’t this true of human nature? It’s easy to disregard counsel and advice when it’s hard to do. We fight against people who have different opinions from our own and we get defensive. Maybe this is why Jesus Christ said that the meek would inherit the Earth. If it’s our pride that gets in the way of listening to God’s word, then it’s meekness and humility that enables us to turn to God to transform us into our best selves.


“To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that.” (Prince Caspian)

It would be impossible for me to tell you how much time I’ve wasted on the “what if” game. What if I had changed my career path sooner? What if I had mended bridges with that friend sooner? What if I’d held my tongue instead of losing my cool? It’s a beautiful thing to learn from the past, but when I let myself live there, it only brings me down. In the movie version, Aslan says that we can’t know what would have happened, but “what will happen is another matter.” So let’s learn from our mistakes and use it to better the future.


“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mill so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” (The Horse and His Boy)

I’ve written about this one as well. I remember during my first reading this book I was struck by these moments. It was a hard time in my life and this quote gave me comfort. Despite all the things weighing on my heart, I could tell the Savior was watching over me. Through friends, through family, through strangers. Despite how alone I felt, I was never alone. 


“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.” (Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Here’s a good one to end on. John Piper is quoted as saying “All heroes are shadows of Christ.” It’s a bit more explicit in Narnia than in other series, but wherever there is good, you can find the attribute of Jesus Christ. Of course there is no better place than scripture to find those Christ-like attributes. So as we head towards Easter, let’s take some extra time to search and learn of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Lessons from the Hill

I was 17, about to graduate high school, and start college. I was an unpopular kid with maybe 3 or 4 friends who I could hang out with. My parents suggested I try applying to be in the Hill Cumorah Pageant (the Church's visual retelling of stories from the Book of Mormon). What the hey, I can give it a shot. I applied and was accepted. Little did I realize that my experiences there would change me dramatically. 

When I arrived at the Hill, I was put into a group of peers. We would learn church lessons together, share our testimonies with each other, and experience incredible moments in some of the Church's most hallowed properties, like the Sacred Grove, or the Hill Cumorah itself. I was challenged to read the Book of Mormon while I was at the Hill, in a timespan of less than a month. I spent hours sitting on the side of the Hill Cumorah (the original location of the very plates that would eventually become the book I was reading), absorbing the stories and teachings. I have a vivid memory of the sun setting on the Hill, reading the words of the prophets, and feeling this overwhelming love from God. A feeling that told me that all these stories we were acting out, the words that I was reading, everything I was being taught -- it was all true. It really happened.

When you read the Book of Mormon in less than 3 weeks, you miss a lot of the details and nuances. (I would get those specifics later in subsequent readings.) Instead, you see the rise and fall (and rise again and fall again) of a nation of people. You see God's hand continually outstretched to a group of people that would sometimes turn to Him, and sometimes get caught up in their pride. You see a story of a God who loves his people, even when they don't make good choices.

Yes, that's me in the blue pants,
rehearsing to die on the front stage!
(Click to enlarge.)
In the pageant, I played a Frontline Nephite Battleman, a faceless fighter who could have fought in any of the myriad of battles in the Book of Mormon's thousand year history. I died on the very front of the stage, sprawled and mangled unceremoniously. What fun! I enjoyed it so much that I decided to come back a second year, when I was 19. That year I played Laman, one of the main characters who would eventually lead his family to destruction and spiritual death. As Laman, I had a chance to taste of the fruit of eternal life, but I chose to turn away and reject it because of my pride. This wasn't some nameless fighter, this was a very real man. A fully formed human being with a wife and children. Laman saw miracles and angels and was given a testimony, but he rejected it because of his pride and arrogance. 

I've thought about Laman and his choices. How am I like Laman? I've received a witness of God's word, a testimony of the truthfulness of all those stories we acted out on the Hill. I know they happened. More importantly, I know the words and teachings in the Book of Mormon come from God. And I have a choice just like Laman did: keep walking that path to reach the fruit of eternal life, or let my hubris and stubbornness get in the way of my progression. My life is a journey, and sometimes I meander away from the path, and sometimes I am firmly rooted on the path. But no matter what, I can always thank Hill Cumorah and my summers at the Pageant, and remember that they gave me a foundation and witness of what I believe to be true.


Monday, March 22, 2021

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Early Thoughts

Full disclaimer: This is not my bag. 

Let's talk about genre for a second.. 

Genre is that division that tells a consumer of media what they can expect from whatever they're about to consume. It's the thing that makes me skip the latest family sitcom because prior experience has told me that I don't like family sitcoms, and the same thing that makes me immediately interested in the latest horror anthology to hit Netflix. 

Marvel has mastered genre in its long years dominating the big screen. Superhero movies are too broad a category to lump the MCU into, since Guardians of the Galaxy was a space comedy and Thor was an epic fantasy opera. It appears that the Disney+ shows are following suit, with WandaVision being a fantasy/horror mix with heavy pop culture references, and now The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a Tom Clancy/24 military thriller where the participants happen to have robot wings and arms. 

Military thrillers are not my bag. 

That ALL being said, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's first episode wasn't a bad experience. 

Okay, throat sufficiently cleared, let's get into the review. 



A Post-Blip World

Like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes place months after Avengers: Endgame, where everyone who was taken away by Thanos's snap returned thanks to Tony Stark. Although the world is celebrating the reuniting of families and a return to a semblance of normal, chaos is threatening to tear the world apart as the population has effectively doubled once again. The political climate is a hotbed of problems, and luckily the government has the Falcon to help sort it out, because nothing helps political instability settle down faster than a man with robot wings. 



Redemption

Outside the military, Bucky Barnes is trying to cope with living in a not only post-blip world, but a post Winter Soldier world. He is plagued with PTSD of his former life, and the confusion of being 100+ years old but never experiencing the world around him outside of assassination missions. This doesn't mean he can't have awesome high-octane fight scenes with his robo arm, it just means that they're relegated to flashbacks to back when he was the most dangerous man on earth. Bucky is now trying to find his place in the world while making up for all the harm he's done to it. 

The New Cap

The first episode doesn't give us much to go on regarding the overarching plot of the series, just buildup and hints at what's to come, but one of the show's biggest talking points is who is going to be the next Captain America. Falcon decided to donate the shield to the Smithsonian, not believing he was worthy to wield it, but the government turns around and gives the shield to the world's most punchable face and calls him the new Captain. As of the end of the episode we have no idea who this guy is and what makes him worthy of the title, but I'm sure we'll find out in the weeks to come. 



Again, Not My Bag

Like I said, overall I enjoyed the show despite it being far from my wheelhouse of usual media consumption. Bucky is a compelling character that I fell in love with in Captain America: Winter Soldier but the genre just isn't one I get excited about. Fans of the MCU who just want more and probably fans of the espionage military world will probably love it, but anyone who wanted more WandaVision is going to be disappointed to find something very different, and this time we can't blame Agatha. 

-JOE

Friday, March 19, 2021

7 Weird Green Lantern Facts

 He's not the most well known character in DC, even though he might be one of the most powerful. He's Green Lantern, and he's had a weird history in comics. Most of it stems from finding ways to make him not the most broken DC character, or to make him interesting as well as being overpowered. Here's a few times those attempts were more interesting than he was. 



7: The First Green Lantern Was Weak to Wood

Alan Scott was the first person to become Green Lantern, forging his own ring and lantern out of a mysterious meteorite he found, because that's normal. He made force fields and constructs, just like the  modern Lanterns we know and love, but one sliver of oak and his powers are rendered useless. Darkseid with his Omega beams have no chance against Alan Scott, but a thug with a baseball bat and the Lantern is helpless. 



6: His Love Interest Became a Super Villain

Carol Ferris was the love interest of the most well-known Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. She was the stereotypical strong independent business woman who don't need no man, whose daddy owned the company Jordan worked for (Never date the bosses daughter). At one point she obtained a sapphire ring, which had basically the same power as Hal's but was retconned to work using the power of a broken heart. Star Sapphire was one of Green Lantern's fiercest opponents, teaming up during the Darkest Night story arc to stop the Black Lanterns (We'll get to that later). Heroes have dated villains before (See Batman dating Catwoman and Talia Al Guhl and Wolverine dating every female in the Marvel universe) but none have ever dated someone that then became a villain they later had to fight. 

5: He's Been Disarmed Several Times

The Green Lantern's power ring is one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, so you would think it would be hard to take from the wielder, but it turns out... It isn't really. Batman has proven that he can take the ring whenever he wants, just by distracting the Lantern for a few seconds. Deathstroke proved that he could stop a Lantern from using the ring by enforcing his will into the ring despite it being on the Lantern's hand. 

They really need to put a lock on those things...


4: The War Of Light

For years there was only one Green Lantern group, then in a massive storyline it was revealed that they're were several different rings of varying colors, each powered by a different emotion across the galaxy. For about a year the Lanterns tore the galaxy apart, while anyone who didn't care or wanted to follow the saga was left to just watch the light show. It lead to the Darkest Day, when a black ring gave DC an excuse to play with zombies, and then Brightest Day, where they brought a group of dead heroes back to life permanently. 

It's a good way to make a character relevant by making him the focus of every comic book for over a year, and then give him at least two dozen new friends to play with. 



3: Superman Met the Lantern Responsible for Krypton

Tomar-Re was on his way to Krypton to save it when he was blinded by a solar flare (You'd think the ring could protect against that but here we are) and he didn't get to the dying planet in time before it exploded. Superman eventually met the Lantern in what was probably one of the most awkward meetings in comic history, right up with Jean Grey finding out that Wolverine was sent by Magnito to assassinate Xavior and Gambit accidentally destroying Blob's costume and got full on Blob nudity. 

2: Green Lantern Likes Handing Out Rings

Besides the full-time Lanterns, rings have been given to, among others, Superman, Batman, Scarecrow, Lex Luthor and the Flash. During the War of Light, rings were being handed out to anyone with fingers, and to anyone dead once the zombies started coming out. The equivalent of this would be Batman making bat-suits for all his friends, or Tony Stark making Iron Man suits for other people.... 

Oh wait, that is a thing...



1: Green Lantern Once Nearly Destroyed the Universe Then Became One of the Most Powerful Beings in the Galaxy

Okay follow this:

Green Lantern's hometown was destroyed, and his bosses wouldn't let him rebuild it, so he went berserk, killed all the Green Lanterns in the galaxy, and started calling himself Parallax. 

Still trying to find a way to save his town, he went back in time with a bunch of people to restart the universe. Basically hitting the reset button on reality. 

Okay now buckle up cause it gets weirder: 

After he was defeated, he died trying to save the earth from another disaster, partially redeeming himself. In the afterlife it was revealed that Parallax was actually an alien energy being that was trapped in the Green Lantern energy that found its way into Hal Jordan's mind and possesses him. To redeem himself, Hal became the Specter, a powerful angel of vengeance. After years of being dead he was brought back to life because... Reasons... and the Parallax/Specter thing was forgotten. 

Superheroes can have incredibly convoluted stories, since they've been written for nearly a century with different authors and influences effecting the characters. Green Lantern, particularly Hal Jordan, has been through an especially complex history, because Green Lantern is a complex character with complex powers. 

Can you really blame DC for not being able to make a decent movie out of this mess? 

-JOE 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

How to Defy Gravity


Maybe I'm fixated on her verdigris, but nobody does self reflection better than Elphaba. Halfway through the popular show Wicked, this green girl goes through a major life change and finally takes flight as we all knew she would. I can relate. At the midpoint of my life, I also went through some big changes and finally realized my true worth and power.

Something has changed within me. Something is not the same.

Elphaba has lived her life making herself small, feeling like an outsider, wondering why she was given a "gift or a curse". Then she has an event that changes her dramatically. When I was 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything), I had several things happen to me in a short amount of time: I witnessed my best friend's suicide, my wife left the Church, my son was diagnosed with brain damage. I went to therapy, and I quickly realized how much I despised myself because of my own "gift or a curse" I had inside. And it was right there in that therapy session that I decided to go on a journey of loving myself. Little did I know it would be setting off on a journey to work on my mental health, and eventually to defy my own gravity.  

I'm through with playing by the rules of someone else's game.

Elphaba is done listening to what others think and how they judge her. Screw them all! She doesn't know why she has this magical ability, but she knows it's part of her and she's ready to accept this aspect of her person, no matter how scary it might be. I'm still working on this part, I'm a work in progress, afterall! But I know that the more I stop worrying about the judgments of others, the closer I come to fully accepting myself, the way God intends me to love myself. 

Too late for second-guessing. Too late to go back to sleep.

This is Pandora's box. Once you've passed the point of no return, it's impossible to go back and wonder if you made the right choice. For better or for worse, this is the choice that was made, and it's time to follow through. You can never go back to numbing yourself and hiding parts of yourself. 

It's time to trust my instincts. Close my eyes and leap!

This right here. This is faith at its essence! When I was going through my self realization, I learned more about prayer and faith than I ever did in my entire life. I learned what it meant to pray, feel I received an answer, and then act on it. It's as scary and vulnerable as facing a great and powerful wizard, but it's the only way one can truly fly.

I'm through accepting limits 'cause someone says they're so.

Who is the "someone"? And why do we worry about what others say we can or can't do? We know ourselves, and we can do whatever we put our minds to. As Elphaba says, "Unlimited! My future is unlimited!" (By the way, fun fact: Did you know those first 7 syllables are the same notes as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"?) Elphaba starts the show thinking she is limited in her ability to make changes, in her ability to fully realize her life. But when she finally rejects all those who limit her, she learns how powerful she was born to be. Likewise, humans are literal children of God. Get rid of the toxic and abusive people in your life. We were born to be unlimited. 

Some things I cannot change but 'til I try, I'll never know!

This should be the mantra of every person who wants to continue growing and learning throughout life. True, there are things that we don't have power over, and that's just fine. But we might surprise ourselves with the influence and power to change that we really do possess. But it requires us to close our eyes and leap!

I'm flying high, defying gravity!

End of the first act concludes with both a literal and figurative high note. Elphaba flies! She defies the wizard, she defies Glinda, and she even defies her own self doubt. Anything that pulls her down, she sheds, and she finally takes flight to the Western Sky. And haven't we all felt moments like these, where we can feel ourselves breaking past all the judgments of others, including the judgments we put on ourselves? (And if you haven't ever felt this sense of freedom, ask yourself what area of your life you can close your eyes and leap?)

And so Wicked has taught me that I am really am the unpopular freak with the green face. And when I finally learned to accept this fact -- accept who I am, embrace the weird, and let my freak flag fly -- that's when I finally found the magic to soar high. And if I'm flying solo, at least I'm flying free. And nobody is ever gonna bring me down!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Who is the Green Ranger?


Happy St. Patrick’s Day this week! In honor of this holiday, I wanted to spotlight a character whose name will always be associated with the color green for many of us who grew up in the 90s. So here’s to Tommy Oliver, the original green Power Ranger. Though he started out as green, he’s had quite a few powers. We’re going to visit each of them today.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

We got our first glimpse of Tommy as he arrived in Angel Grove as a possible martial arts rival for Jason. But it wasn't long before Rita corrupted him with the evil of the Green Power Coin. However, even as the Green Ranger, he was still defeated and he joined the heroes. Those powers eventually faded, but it wasn't long before he came back with the White Ranger powers.


So as the White Ranger, he traded out Dragonzord powers for White Tiger powers. As time went on he developed a romance with Kimberly and, along with the other Rangers, they got Ninja Ranger powers to trump their dino powers. But all good things must come to an end, as Kimberly passed on her powers to Kat and the remaining Rangers got turned into little kids.

If you want to see more about the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, check out this blog post.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

While not in the same continuity as the television series, Tommy appeared as the White Ranger, leading the Power Rangers against Ivan Ooze. Just like in the main continuity, they gained their Ninja Ranger powers. With their new powers and their new zords, the six Power Rangers took down Ivan Ooze and saved the parents of Angel Grove from an untimely death.


Power Rangers Zeo

After the Zeo Crystal turned him into the Red Ranger, Tommy continued to lead the team, this time against the Machine Empire. After a long-distance break up with Kimberly, he started dating Kat. During this time period, he also reunited with his long lost brother, David, as they had been adopted by different families. Later, after the Gold Ranger needed a replacement, it was Tommy who recruited Jason to return as a Power Ranger. In the end, the Rangers defeated the Machine Empire.

If you want to see more about Power Rangers Zeo, check out this blog post.


Power Rangers Turbo

But it wasn't long before more evil showed up. Tommy led the new Turbo Rangers to take on Divatox. These new powers and new Turbo Zords led Tommy to an interest in cars and mechanics (which probably affected some of his choices in grad school, which we’ll see later). Eventually, as he moved on after high school, Tommy chose TJ as his replacement for the Red Ranger. 

If you want to see more about Power Rangers Turbo, check out this blog post.

Power Rangers Wild Force

After his time as a full-time Ranger, Tommy eventually received a doctorate in paleontology and found three Dino Gems (to be discussed later). Throughout this time he seemed to stay in contact with other Rangers, as Andros (the Red Space Ranger) recruited him and eight other Red Rangers to fight off the remains of the Machine Empire on the moon. 


Power Rangers Dino Thunder

Years into Ranger retirement, Tommy became a science teacher, where he inadvertently met, recruited, and mentored three new Power Rangers. But after finding the Black Dino Gem, he gained the power of invisibility and became the Black Dino Thunder Ranger. During his tenure as a Dino Thunder Ranger, Tommy had issues after issue with his morpher and Dino Gem. But despite his issues he still teamed up with each the Ninja Storm and SPD Power Rangers. And naturally by the time their foe Mesagog was defeated, the Dino Thunder Powers were gone.

Power Rangers Super Megaforce

During the years that follow, Tommy must have been working on his Master Morpher (later shown in Super Ninja Steel). As the alien armada attacked Earth and countless Rangers came to the aid of the Megaforce Rangers, Tommy utilized both White Ranger and Green Ranger powers to fight the alien fleet. 


Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel

Only a couple years after the alien armada attacked, dark forces attempted to abduct Tommy, along with several other veteran Rangers. Tommy was able to evade capture and he used the Black Dino Thunder powers, the Green and White Mighty Morphin powers, and the Red Zeo powers to help save the other rangers.

The Future???

Tommy’s future is a bit fuzzy in Ranger canon. There’s a Zeo episode “A Season to Remember”, which is basically a giant flashback to the Zeo era. In the “present day”, he’s married to Kat with children and grandchildren. By the time he appears in Super Ninja Steel, he has at least one child, a son named JJ. In the comics (which may or may not be canon with the TV show), JJ becomes an SPD Ranger in the future and his mother is Kat. Does this mean Kat and Tommy are married in the show?


It’s hard to say where things will go with Tommy in the future of Power Rangers. Jason David Frank, who has portrayed him since day one, is loyal to his fans. I’ve met him and he’s super friendly. Always wants the best experience for the fans he meets. If you ever have a chance to meet JDF at a convention, he’s well worth the money. He's easily one of my favorite celebrities that I've met. As far as the character, it’s not in Tommy’s nature to leave others hanging. If the Rangers ever need him, you can bet he’ll be there. In my mind he’s just like a loyal Gryffindor who will always do what’s right. 

Salt Lake FanX September 2016

Sunday, March 14, 2021

My Last Day at the Hill Cumorah


When the cancellation announcement came regarding the Hill Cumorah Pageant, there was collective heartbreak for those of us who love it. Both for cast/staff alumni and for those who grew up watching it.

The Hill Cumorah Pageant has been part of my family’s story for decades. Way back when my dad was serving in the New York Rochester Mission he took one of his recent converts (my mom). Because my mom grew up in that area, we’ve been back to the Hill more times than I can remember. 


My first trip to Palmyra and the Pageant was when I was about 18 months old (that’s the age my daughter will be when the Hill Cumorah Pageant was to have its swan song). Instead, it was announced recently that (due to the COVID pandemic) the Hill Cumorah Pageant has officially ended. As much as my wife and I doubted that Pageant would happen this year, it didn’t prevent any heartbreak.

I was in the Pageant cast for the first time when I was 10-years-old. As an adult, I’ve been part of the cast three times since 2009. I owe a lot in my life to the Hill. Not only did the Pageant and associated service projects, missionary service, and devotionals strengthen my testimony, but as a lonely teenager it gave me a feeling of what friendship and fellowship should be, right as I left for BYU. It’s been almost 12 years since then and I have Pageant friends with whom I still keep in contact with. There’s a special bond between Pageant alumni that I can’t explain, even if we weren’t in the cast together, but it’s guided my adult social life more than I probably realize.


My last time at the Hill was during a road trip with a friend in 2017. It was his first time seeing the Pageant and I was able to reunite with Pageant friends while we visited. At the Hill that day, I wish I’d known it would be my last time seeing the Pageant. Would I have treated that day differently? Would I have paid extra attention to Nephi’s boat or Waters of Mormon scenes? Would I have opened my heart wider when the man portraying the Savior descended?

Life is full of “what ifs”. Bringing the geeky in, one of my favorite lines from Aslan in the Prince Caspian movie is “We cannot know what would have happened; but what will happen is another matter.” What if my mission in Toronto had played out differently? What if I had met my wife earlier? What if I had chosen not to finish my bachelors at BYU (which I haven’t used since)? What if I’d known that 2016 would be my last time in the Pageant cast? What if I’d known that 2017 was the last time I’d watch a performance?


Amulek said, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” It’s like a spiritual “carpe diem”. It’s a lesson regarding every part of our lives. I may not be able to know whether my last day at the Hill Cumorah Pageant was lived to the fullest, but I can make sure I take more moments to bond with my daughter, to be close to my wife, to listen in church, or to visit the temple (when it opens again). That's the blessing of the Atonement too... we may not make the most of every moment, but the power of the Atonement can still sanctify my efforts as I try to do better each time.

I had dreams of taking my family to be in the Pageant someday. When that wasn’t possible, I had dreams of taking my wife and daughter to see the Pageant on its last year. Former dreams are no longer possible, but I can still make the most of my Hill Cumorah experience to teach and preside over my family. The Hill shaped who I am spiritually and that will be with me forever. And you can bet I'll be back. Even without the Pageant, the Hill, the Sacred Grove, and Palmyra are home.

PS: Don't miss out this summer when the church puts out a recording on the 2019 Hill Cumorah Pageant which can be viewed online.

Friday, March 12, 2021

13 Coolest Dungeons and Dragons Subclasses


Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition
brought subclasses to the already intricate Dungeons and Dragons system, allowing an entire party to be one class but with vastly different characters. Some are basic archetypes but some make for bonkers characters that bring incredible opportunities to the table. 

I won't go into specific stats for the subclasses, but a basic overview on what makes them shine. 

13: Trickery Domain (PHB)

Forget the idea of the cleric being the cute missionary white mage, how about a cleric devoted to Loki who prefers to mess with the opponents during the battle? Yeah, he'll heal, but he might not be gentle. Made famous lately by Baldur's Gate 3's character Shadowheart, the Trickery domain cleric creates a healer that can't be touched, making them perfect for your side and a nightmare to deal with as an opponent. 


12: Chronurgy Magic (Wildmount)

Thank you Matt Mercer for making a time bending wizard class. Now you can mess with opponents by bending time itself around them for fun effects. While time travel is a nightmare for dungeon masters, a little bit of stat adjusting and messing around with who has advantage and disadvantage can quickly turn the tide of any battle. Imagine turning that scary OP monster on the battlefield into its awkward teenage version. 

Yeah, you know you're intrigued. 

11: Way of the Four Elements (PHB)

You're the Avatar. 

That's it. 

You do martial arts, you control the elements, you literally become the Avatar. 

And it's in the Player's Handbook. 


10: Rune Knight (Tasha's)

For anyone who's into the latest Viking craze, you can tap into the Norse power of giants through runes. A bit like the Eldrich Knight, this fighter variant allows you to empower yourself with magic, in case your fighter needs an extra leg up in battle. Turn yourself into Thor and trash through the enemy forces like they were long grass and you had a lawnmowing business. 

9: Oath of Vengeance (PHB)

Remember when paladins weren't cool? Back in 3rd Edition, they all had to be good and half their special abilities focused on their horses that you couldn't practically take into a dungeon. Now we have stuff like the Oath of Vengeance paladin, AKA Batman, to make paladins worth playing. These guys focus entirely on taking down the biggest baddest monsters that have wronged the world in some way. Make them as dark and gritty as you want, just remember that nothing quenches vengeance than tasty vengeance. It's the quenchiest! 


8: Circle of the Shepard (Xanathar's)

Ultimate collector, Circle of the Shepard druids collect friends that help them in battle, summoning them when they are most needed. Handy for any party that needs an army in a pinch, or for any player who likes to have animals at their beck-and-call, this subclass is great for evening out the playing field in your favor. 

7: Wild Magic (PHB)

One thing I've personally hated about Dungeons and Dragons magic is just how clean it is. You learn a spell and then you cast the spell. Done. Boring. What if you had so much magic though that when you cast a spell something random could happen, like you could turn into a houseplant or become a giant? Wild Magic sorcerers add the chaotic randomness to Dungeons and Dragons magic, making it a far more interesting system than the standard spell-slingers. Play this if for nothing else than to see what you roll on the Wild Magic table and see what wackiness you can unleash in an otherwise dull evening. 

6: Swarmkeeper (Tasha's)

Having a wolf or bear for an animal companion is pretty cool. Having a swarm of bees though.. That's just metal. This ranger variant lets you control a swarm of small animals that manifest when you cast spells and attack. Now, the words "swarm" and "animals" actually have some wiggle-room in the game system, so you can easily have a swarm of cats or a swarm of velociraptors (Think of the paleontological raptors not the awesomeness from Jurassic Park) as your little buddies. 

Imagine it: A swarm of cats. 


5: Grave Domain (Xanathar's)

The anti-necromancer, Grave Domain clerics seek to put the dead to rest, and the living who won't keep the dead resting resting themselves. They're basically running a mobile spa for people who like to make zombies. I know, making zombies is cool, but it's also cool to be the guy who takes down the guys raising all the zombies. 

Just sayin'. 

4: Pact of the Genie (Tasha's)

Warlocks have some of the best roleplay opportunities in the system right now, and every variant comes with its own opportunities for fun. Pact of the Genie means that you've made a deal with a genie for some of their powers, including giving you a lamp or a bottle to live in between battles. Literally phenomenal cosmic power and an itty bitty living space in one class. Worth the bargain. 

3: Circle of Spores (Tasha's)

Any The Last of Us fans out there? Here's the class for you. You get to control plant spores and raise the dead as mushroom zombies. Druids don't often get the chance to be creepy or play with monsters, but here they get to make their own monsters and control them, making them hard to distinguish from the villains. A fun way to play the druid if you don't necessarily want to be the tree hugger. 


2: Alchemist (Tasha's)

I could probably do an entire post on the artificer class, but as far as subclasses go this is one that needs to be noticed. All your spells manifest as different potions, some made on the spot and others carefully brewed to perfection. Being the creeper collecting exotic fluids from a dead monster (or other players) can make the world feel more complete as you try to science out how monsters do what they do. 

Bonus points if you play this class while wearing a plague doctor mask. 

Either in the game or IRL. 

1: Pact of the Great Old One (PHB)

I went full fanboy when I read this subclass because it directly said that the pact can be made with Cthulhu. Not some off-brand elder thing made up just for Dungeons and Dragons, not some hint at the Great Old Ones without naming them, Cthulhu himself. You straight up become a mad cultist bent on spreading madness throughout the world with your warlock spells. Lovecraft fans have waited too long for a class like this to be standard, and now all our Christmases have come at once. 

Our Christmases full of madness and cosmic horror. 

-JOE

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Problem with Digimon Adventure 02


I am the first to advocate for Digimon as a series and I always will be. That being said, during my most recent watch of Adventure 02, I definitely struggled a bit. It’s still in my top three Digimon anime series of all time (and I’ve seen them all), but that doesn’t mean it’s without faults. So here are a few things about the series that irked me--aside from the fact that finding part of the season on DVD seems impossible.... sigh.


My first gripe about 02 is regarding Angemon (and Patamon’s higher forms in general I suppose). He was the trump card of the first season and he was often able to take down Digimon of higher levels than his own. However, in season 2, he was unceremoniously stripped of powers. It made sense at first when none of the others could digivolve to champion level either. But then they had to make an excuse for why his powers couldn’t be used against the control spire Digimon. I get it; Angemon could have beaten all of them and rendered DNA digivolving unnecessary, but still. Angemon and MagnaAngemon are chronically underutilized.


Second and similar to the first, Gatomon basically got stripped of her champion status. Again, I get it; they had to put her on par with the others, since the others couldn’t digivolve to champion. But she went from taking down multiple champion-level Digimon in Myotismon’s castle to basically just making cat puns. And then while everyone else was digivolving to champion, she was stuck with armor digivolving to stay at all relevant.


Now I understand there were various writers and that left some unanswered questions by the end of the season. Honestly, by the end of the season I felt like they wrapped things up pretty well, tying it all together. That being said, the Dark Ocean still bugs me sometimes. We saw the silhouette of Dragomon at the end of “His Master’s Voice” and we all just accepted that it was never going to be resolved. But it would have been nice. We had all of Tri and Kizuna to get some sort of an answer too. And yet, nothing to explain what the Dark Ocean really was.


Again, the various writers for the series probably caused this, but I struggled with the inconsistent use of ultimate-level Digimon. Perhaps some of it was just dubbing errors (I’ve only ever watched the English version), but there was no indication that ultimate level was off the table until it was explicitly stated in “Fusion Confusion”. And yet in “His Master’s Voice” we had Angewomon and in “Davis Cries Wolfmon” it’s implied that Gatomon tried to digivolve again--also we saw Patamon and Gatomon reach all the way to mega level in The Digimon Movie. After the end of the series I guess they got their power back so they could reach ultimate level in Tri and Kizuna. But it was just a little odd with 02.


Now that I have my griping out of the way, I want to make sure I end on a good note: the things I loved about Adventure 02. Having a human enemy in the Digimon Emperor (and later Oikawa) was brilliant. Human enemies were later utilized with Tamers and Data Squad in the form of Yamaki and Kurata, but the Digimon Emperor (and his redemption) were something special. There hasn't been anything else quite like it since.


This season also introduced us to new types of digivolution, besides the linear pattern. As far as anime is concerned, armor digivolution and DNA digivolution were basically never used again and non-linear evolutions weren’t used again until the 2020 Adventure series, but they were a brilliant addition back in the day. But the idea of non-linear digivolution lines have been with the franchise since the beginning, so it was only natural for them to appear in the anime at some point, besides just dark digivolutions.


Finally, one of my favorite things to come out of Adventure 02 was the countless numbers of international Digi-Destined. Those of us watching during season 1 wished for a Digimon partner and the idea of Digi-Destined outside of Japan made that fantasy even better. How many Digimon fan stories have come out of this idea? How much more relatable did this make the series? Seriously, it only increased my love of Digimon to meet Willis, Michael, and all the rest.

Followers