Wednesday, August 1, 2018 11:59 PM

Announcing a new Patreon campaign!

in General by MegaBearsFan

Patreon

Since starting this blog all the way back in 2011, I've avoided asking for donations or monetizing the site with ads. I hate obtrusive internet ads, and I want my readers to have a pleasant experience that isn't bogged down by ads. I also want for them to hopefully come away with the understanding that I share my genuine opinions and thoughts out of a true love and passion for the topics that I write about, rather than writing fluff pieces and click-bait for the benefit of multi-billion dollar international corporations.

The only ads that you've ever seen on this site (aside from ads that are in videos embedded from outside sources like Youtube) are the occasional Amazon Associates widgets. I have full control over what products are being advertised, and where and how frequently they are used. I always place links to products that are relevant to the post, whether it be a link to purchase the game that I'm reviewing, a movie that I'm recommending, a book that I'm citing, or so forth. I do this more to advertise products for the benefit of the reader, rather than as a revenue stream, since the revenue generated through these links is minuscule.

But this blog isn't free for me to operate. I'm not posting to a free public platform like Youtube, Wordpress, Squarespace, or Wix. I have been paying, all along, out of pocket, for the domain registration and hosting. Myself (and a small group of friends such as Chichian) are responsible for all the customization to the underlying blog engine, bug fixes, and content creation. It's a lot of work, and it's all done on my own free time outside of my full-time 8-5 job.

The monthly cost of operating this blog is roughly $100. At the very least, I'd like to earn enough to cover that expense. That way, the website would be guaranteed to continue operating, even if I were to lose my job or have my income reduced. If I could earn more, then I would like to branch out to more time-and-work-intensive projects. For example, if I were to earn somewhere between $500-$1000 per month, I could realistically reduce my work hours in order to spend a full day per week on content creation and research. This could allow me to move into creating video content, having a more regular timeline for strategy guides, producing more analysis posts, and maybe even creating more mods or my own small indie games. I doubt that I'll ever reach the prominence of some of my biggest inspirations, such as SuperBunnyHop, Errant Signal, Yhatzee, Jim Sterling, VaatiVidya, and so on, but I wouldn't mind giving it a try.

Most importantly, I'd like to thank -- in advance -- anyone who enjoys my content enough to contribute. The availability of crowd-funding has made it possible for more people than ever to be able to have the financial security and independence to pursue their dreams and passions. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to do the same, and very grateful to those of you who make it possible.

If you don't wish to donate, or can't afford to, that's fine too. I also thank you for supporting this blog by visiting, reading, liking, sharing, and commenting. And don't worry, MegaBearsFan.net isn't going anywhere any time soon. I will continue to release content that I hope will be at the same quality that you've come to expect, and I have no plans to lock content behind a paywall.

And to all my raeders, I have a suggestion: find your own passion and pursue it. I encourage all my followers to pursue their own dreams and ambitions. Make your own blog or Youtube channel. Create crafts or art on Etsy. Write stories. Express yourself! Maybe, someday, I'll be supporting you on Patreon too!

Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter to keep up to date on what gets posted on the blog, and also to read other thoughts that don't necessarily get a whole blog post!

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After reading through my complaints regarding the shrinking scale of the Star Wars film universe, a colleague of mine asked me to preview a novel that he was writing. He also grew up as a Trekker, and he sorely misses the optimistic science fiction that Star Trek represents, as well as the attention to technical and scientific accuracy that is sadly lacking in much of today's science fiction. Popular "science fiction" of today frequently focuses on special effect spectacle to the exclusion of cerebral or thoughtful stories and concepts, but there are still plenty of indie writers and film makers who try to offer more substance over pomp.

In his debut novel, Without Gravity, author David Pax explores an optimistic distant future in which humanity has spread across the stars, living in harmony with our technology and the worlds that we inhabit. It's not a vision of the future without conflict, however. Planet-bound humans are drawn into periodic conflict with a divergent culture of human "Spacers" who spend their entire lives within the confines of their zero-gravity space ships, making them virtually aliens to the rest of humanity.

When the Spacers launch a surprise attack on the mineral-rich frontier world of Tirimba, the citizens must take shelter within the cavernous mines and prevent the Spacers from acquiring the valuable resources that would allow them to build new ships and threaten the heart of human civilization. The Spacers aren't the only threat, as the citizens of Tirimba must also deal with one colleague who's selfish greed puts the entire war effort at risk.

Pax's vision of the future may be exotic, but it's also very grounded. The conflict is one of resources and logistics, as Pax pays diligent respect to the vast scale and distances of intergalactic conflict, and puts strict limits on the capabilities of the warships and technologies. Tirimba is remote, and is only a small piece of a larger conflict that happens mostly beyond the awareness and comprehension of the civilian refugees who remain stranded on the planet. This remoteness creates drama and maintains mystery and intrigue regarding the conflict. The story, after all, focuses on the civilians, and the personal cost that they pay, rather than on the military.

The novel itself is fairly short and a relatively light and easy read. Despite his engineering background and attempts to describe and develop the technologies and society that he has imagined, Pax doesn't drag the novel's pace down with unnecessary techno-babble. You don't need an engineering degree to follow along or understand.

Pax also writes short stories and maintains a blog. He's a friend and colleague of mine, and we share many common interests and perspectives. If you enjoy reading my ramblings, then I invite you to visit his site as well, and to support him and other indie authors who are trying to keep the spirit of science fiction alive.

If you do decide to purchase Without Gravity, use the promo code MEGABEARSFAN at checkout to receive a discount.

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Star Trek: New Horizons

Here's something that I've never done before: a review of a game mod! I don't play mods very often. When I play games, I usually want to play the game that the creators created in order to get a feel for what their intent might have been. For some of the more sandboxy PC games that I play (like Cities: Skylines or the like), I might try some small mods.

There has yet to be an official game quite like Microprose's 1999 release, Birth of the Federation.

For this one instance, however, I'm making an exception because this particular mod fills a very specific niche desire for me that has gone unfulfilled for around 15 or 20 years. The "New Horizons" mod for Stellaris is finally allowing me to play a full 4-x strategy game set in the Star Trek universe. I haven't been able to do that since Star Trek: Birth of the Federation, developed by Microprose for Windows 98!

The creators seem to have been inspired by BotF.

Yes, there have been other Star Trek mods for other games in the past, and there's even some community projects to create spiritual successors to Birth of the Federation (such as Star Trek: Supremacy). The problem is that I've yet to ever see one of these get finished. "New Horizons" for Stellaris is still a work-in-progress, but it is mostly functionally complete and fairly robust. Since Birth of the Federation holds such a special place in my heart, I'm going to take a stab at reviewing "New Horizons" and see how it compares to my personal favorite [official] Star Trek game of all time.

Built on the back of Stellaris

"New Horizons" is, of course, a mod for the PC game Stellaris (developed and published by Paradox). Because of this, it takes advantage of most of Stellaris' strengths, but it is also hamstrung by many of Stellaris' faults.

"New Horizons" makes excellent use of the massive size and scale of Stellaris' maps by featuring a detailed recreation of the canon Star Trek galaxy, and including a surprisingly exhaustive roster of Star Trek races and factions -- all of whom are playable. Yes, of course, the big players like the Federation, the Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, Ferengi, Dominion, and Borg are all here. As are all the expected ancillary empires like the Gorn, Tholians, Orions, and so forth.

The playable roster is surprisingly vast and exhaustive.

It doesn't end there, though. This mod also features a crap-ton of "aliens of the week" as fully-featured, playable empires. They aren't "minor races" like what we had in Birth of the Federation or the city states of Civilization V or VI. They don't just have one planet and a handful of ships just waiting for a "major faction" to conquer or absorb them. The obvious choices like the Vulcans, Andorians, Bajorans, are all there. The game also features empires like the Sheliak, Anticans, Selay, Caitian, Cheron, Dosi, Hirogen, Kazon, Krenim, Kelpian, and more! If you have a favorite space-facing civilization from any episode of Star Trek (including Gamma Quadrant aliens from DS9 and Delta Quadrant aliens from Voyager), there is a very good chance that it's a playable faction in "New Horizons"...

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The Dark Souls remaster was recently released, but it doesn't make enough [single player] improvements for me to really care to buy it. I might pick it up for the Switch when that gets released, because portable Dark Souls could be fun and interesting and fresh enough to warrant another purchase. However, the Switch version is being developed by another company, and it doesn't even support 60 fps, so I may not bother getting it anyway.

In the meantime, I decided to try out another "remaster" of sorts, and I got some friends together for some jolly cooperation in Steamforged Games' Kickstarted Dark Souls: the Board Game. This is a co-operative dungeon-crawler. I think the closest comparison that I can make is that it's a Dark Souls-themed variation on Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Unfortunately, Dark Souls: the Board Game doesn't seem to hold a candle to Descent.

Opening the box sets the tone of the game right away.

YOU DIED

The big mechanic that is imported from the video game is the inclusion of the video game's bonfire and respawn mechanics. Like in the video game, resting at the bonfire (or dying and being returned to the bonfire) resets everything. This includes all enemy encounters, as well as all the players' resources (such as the Estus Flask, Lucky Coin, or Pendant -- which actually has a function in the board game). However, a bit of the sense of attrition is also lost in translation, as your HP (and stamina) fully resets after each encounter. I think I would have preferred if the Estus Flask had a certain number of uses, but only restored a subset of your damage. That way, you'd retain some of your damage from encounter to encounter.

All the party's souls are dropped
on the spot where a character died.

Nevertheless, the Bonfire mechanic is probably the one mechanic that is most successfully translated from the video game source material. Despite the lack of health attrition, the desire to conserve as much resources as possible for the upcoming boss fight pressures the players into riskier play. Trying to conserve resources can lead to a lot of deaths.

Just like in the video game, if you die, all your souls are dropped on the floor where you died. If any one player dies, the whole party "dies" and is transported back to the Bonfire. The deeper into the dungeon you died, the more you have to fight through [again] in order to reclaim your souls. If you die again before reclaiming your dropped souls, all those souls are lost.

As I understand the rules, you can't leave an encounter once it's started, so you won't be making any "soul runs" to pick up your souls and then run back to the bonfire. You also can't open treasure chests until the encounter is won, which means you can't make suicidal "loot runs" either, which are a trademark strategy of the Souls video games. If you need to level up or buy new equipment in order to beat the encounter that killed you, you'll have to risk losing your dropped souls by farming against other encounters...

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I had a lot of trouble buying into the concept of the movie from the start. After all, didn't The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III already establish that there is another island populated with dinosaurs that are living without cages or fences or human intervention? If so, then the re-extinction concerns feel more than a little over-inflated. Did the writers of Fallen Kingdom forget about The Lost World? Clearly not, because so much of Fallen Kingdom's plot is lifted straight from The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Are the writers trying to retcon The Lost World out of canon? I don't think so either, because they pulled out a line of dialogue from John Hammond in that movie to act kind of as a thesis for this movie.

I guess I might have missed a throw-away line stating that all the dinosaurs on Isla Sorna ("Site B" had died). Even if that is the case, then what makes anyone think that the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar would survive regardless of the volcano? Isla Sorna was larger and had even more dinosaurs (and a wider variety of dinosaurs) on it. If they all died off naturally, then surely the smaller population of dinosaurs on Isla Nublar would also be doomed to die off. And since there doesn't seem to be any problem with simply cloning them again, what's the point of a rescue op? Oh, well the point is to sell the dinosaurs off to pharmaceutical companies and military contractors. Gee, didn't see that coming!

The bulk of Fallen Kingdom's plot [LEFT] is a shamelessly ripped straight from The Lost World [RIGHT].

To compound the problem of the main plot being lifted almost verbatim from The Lost World, Fallen Kingdom makes frequent references and callbacks to Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. In fact, almost every set piece in Fallen Kingdom makes deliberate references to scenes in those two movies. The quality of these references ranges from homage to blatant rip-off, and the sheer volume of these references created (for me) a constant predictable "been-there-done-that" feeling that deflated any tension that the scene might have been trying to create.

The whole movie almost comes off as a collection of "best of" scenes from the previous movies, stitched together like a [particularly high production-value, but poorly-thought-out] Youtube fan edit.

Almost every set piece in Fallen Kingdom feels ripped from either Jurassic Park or Jurassic World.

In addition, the characters all feel like they're jogging in place from a character development standpoint. Seriously, does anybody in this movie actually grow as a character? Even the villains are all cardboard-thin Saturday Morning Cartoon bad guys.

...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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