Funny Video: An Unexpected Briefing

https://i2.wp.com/www.thereelbits.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/anz-briefing001-730x365.jpgWith all the publicity New Zealand has been getting from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises, both of which use the scenic land as the setting of Middle Earth, it was only a matter of time before the country’s air carrier began pimping it for all it was worth! Entitled “An Unexpected Briefing”, this safety briefing video is being used by New Zealand Air to both entertain and inform their passengers.

I think you’ll agree, it’s equal parts satire, thinly-veiled references, safety information, and good ol’ comic cheekiness. I dp wonder how JRR Tolkien would react… most likely, I think he’d be angry he wasn’t alive long enough to cash in on it! And pay special attention to all the costumes too, that’s the real money went as far as I am concerned. And thanks to my friend Janice Monk for turning me onto it! Check it out below:

Game of Thrones – Season Four Episode 9

got4This past weekend, the penultimate episode of Season Four of GOT aired, and an event which was a long time in coming was finally showed. Yes, after two seasons of build-up, the Wildlings under “King” Mance Rayder’s leadership, assaulted the Wall. Strangely, Mance was nowhere to be seen during this assault, but from the way they ended the episode, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him soon enough. And as usual, I got some bones to pick with the writers, but not the same reasons others have.

After this weekend’s episode aired, a common thing I noticed from the critics was the statement that the attack on the Wall was no “Blackwater Bay”. Much like Season Two’s smash-up where Stannis and his armies lay siege to King’s Landing, the entire episode was dedicated to this one battle and those involved. And while it didn’t exactly have the same epic scope and grandeur as that battle, I think this is an unfair comparison.

One cannot expect a massive siege every season! It’s just not cost effective. No, in the end, I felt this battle fell a bit short because of the way they changed things around in the story, not to mention the way they shot the whole thing. By the time things really got started, I wasn’t sure if I was watching GOT or Lord of the Rings. Somehow, it felt like Peter Jackson was at the helm and not George RR Martin. But first, a recap…

The Watchers on the Wall:
GOT4_9_1The episode begins with Jon and Samwell standing atop the Wall and discussing love. Sam asks what it was like being with Ygritte, while once again lamenting the fact that he left Gilly at Moletown, where he suspects she died. Jon sends Sam below to get some rest, but he instead goes to the library to learn what Wildlings are known to do to their captives. Aemon finds him and they spend the time talking of lost love.

Going back outside, Sam comes to the gate in time to see Gilly knocking at Castle Black’s gate and asking to be let in. After convincing the Brother guarding it to let her in, he tells her they will never be apart again. Their reunion is interrupted when they hear a horn sound. From atop the Wall, Jon and the other brothers spot a massive forest fire looming in the distance. Mance’s signal to attack is issued, and thousands of Wildlings, giants and mammoths form up.

GOT4_9_2Under the command of Ser Alliser Thorne, the Brothers begin preparing their defenses, and he takes a moment to let Jon know that he will be equal to the task of leading them. The mammoths move forward to the gate while other Wildlings begin scaling the Wall. Sam places Gilly in a chamber below and locks the door, telling her she must hide and he must stand with his Brothers. He kisses her goodbye, and she makes him promise he won’t die.

South of the Wall, Ygritte, Tormund, the Thenns and their raiding party are preparing to make their assault. While they wait for Mance to send the signal – “the biggest fire the North has ever seen”. When they spot it, they launch their attack on Castle Black’s gates. Sam and the others let loose on them with arrows, but are quickly overtaken as the Wildling party moves in and scales the short walls that guard the southern approach.

GOT4_9_4Hearing of the attack on the Castle, Thorne goes below to organize the defense, leaving Slynt in charge. Below, two giants lead a mammoth to the gate and hitch ropes from its harness the doors, intending to pull it off. Slynt quickly proves unequal to the task of leading the defense and begins muttering about how it was so much easier commanding the Kingsguard. Grenn then tricks Slynt and tells him he’s needed below too, which leaves Jon in charge.

Relying on the lessons he learned during his time among them, Jon has his archers fire arrows onto those scaling the Wall and drops barrels on those at the gate. Below, the battle in Castle Black’s courtyard turns bad. The brothers lose many men, Thorne is injured and incapacitated, and Slynt runs and locks himself in the same room as Gilly. Jon decides to go below with Grenn and some others, and orders Eddison to unleash fire on the mammoths.

GOT4_9_3This he does, which kills most of the Wildlings and sends the mammoth running. One of the two giants is then killed by a Scorpion up on the Wall, sending the other into a rage and leading him to begin prying the gate open with his bare hands. Jon arrives below and tells Grenn and the others to get to the gate an hold it at all costs. He then has Sam unlock Ghost from his cage and begins fighting his way through the Wildlings.

In a pitch fight, Jon kills Styr (the leader of the Thenn party) with a blacksmith’s hammer and comes face to face with Ygritte, who has her bow drawn on him. She hesitates to shoot him, and is then shot with an arrow through the chest by Olly, the young boy who mans the elevator. She dies, repeating the same words she said to him, time and time again: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Inside the Wall gate, the giant breaks through and attacks Grenn and his brothers. They die holding the giant off.

got4_9_5Up top, Eddis sees that they only have the few Wildlings scaling the Wall to deal with, and orders that they drop the “Scythe” – a large metal blade at the end of a chain that combs the wall when released. This kills the remaining attackers, and the rest fall back. In the courtyard, Tormund is wounded and captured, and Jon orders him put in chains. Sam returns below to find Gilly safe, and Slynt cowering in the corner.

Surveying the damage, Jon tells Sam that this was just the first assault, and that Mance will break through before long if they allow him to continue. He then tells Sam that he will meet with Mance, during which time he will attempt to kill him so that the Wildlings once again become divided. They head to for the gate, where they find the bodies of Grenn, the giant, and the others who died holding it. Sam orders the gate opened and says goodbye to Jon.

Summary:
Well, the episode certainly was fun and entertaining. One can’t deny that an incredible amount of time, effort, and good direction went into making it. And it did manage to capture the spirit, if not the letter, of the battle as it was described in the book. But as usual, there were some things that bothered to me that had to do with changes, not to mention how those changes affected the feel and flow of things. Here’s what they were, in chronological order…

First, there was no last-minute reunion between Sam and Gilly. She had been at the castle for some time, and a romance had not quite budded between them. Second, Tormund, Ygritte and the Wildling raider party had already assaulted Castle Black at this point in advance of Mance’s main assault. Having struck at Castle Black days before, they were thwarted by a great deal of ingenuity and booby traps, which were installed thanks to Jon’s help.

Third, there was none of this shuffling around of commanders in the novels. While it is true that Thorne and Slynt did not trust Jon, he was still put in charge of the Wall’s defenses since he had intimate knowledge of Mance’s plan of attack, and because Aemon on his Brothers vouched for him. It was not the case that he had it thrust on him because Thorne had to go below, or because Slynt was a coward. This last aspect they really played up, and it felt like it was just to give us someone to hate.

Fourth, two decidedly cheesy moments happened in this battle. The first was where Sam narrowly managed to get his crossbow loaded in time to take down a Wildling. The second – and by far, the worst – was Ollie going from a frightened little boy who couldn’t stand the sound of fighting to grabbing a bow and killing Ygritte with it. This more than anything was like a scene out of Jackson’s LOTR. It wasn’t nearly as bad as Legolas riding a shield down a set of steps like it was a skateboard, but still!

Fifth, Tormund was not taken prisoner during the battle. After losing his attack force south of the Wall, he fled north again and began rallying Wildlings later. Ever since, even as far as book V, he has not been heard from. And finally, Jon Snow did not decide to venture out and assassinate Mance once the battle was over. In fact, it was Slynt’s idea to send him out in the hopes that he would die while attempting to kill Mance.

You see, after the battle, Slynt and his allies were still nominally in charge since no new Lord Commander had been elected. And he would go on to be a pain in Jon’s ass since he didn’t trust him and saw him as a threat to his possible leadership. However, the way they’ve presented him here, as an incompetent coward, is melodramatic to say the least. It also kind of complicated the plot now, since Slynt disgraced himself for all to see.

In short, it felt like they were trying to sex things up from the original material; but really, I only felt like they dumbed it down. Many things they did get right, like the way the giants penetrated into the gate, or how Ygritte died with Jon standing over her and crying. They also captured the defenders sense of desperation, knowing that they were vastly outnumbered, but still protecting by the Wall’s defenses. And I have to say that this was one episode this season that didn’t bore or disappoint the hell out of me.

Still… where the hell was Mance this whole time? Has anyone else noticed he completely disappeared after his brief appearance last season? He better show up next week, as he’s kind of intrinsic to the plot!

Cast of Star Wars VII Announced!

star-wars-episode-7Happy (early) May the Fourth everyone! This year, I thought I’d get on this fandom anniversary early by passing on some franchise news that was just released from Lucasfilm and Disney regarding the upcoming relaunch of the Star Wars franchise. After months of speculation, the cast for the upcoming Star Wars movie has finally been announced! The news came this past week in a post on StarWars.com, where  companies spelt it out for all the fans who have been eagerly awaiting the news.

In addition to Mark Hamil, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher – who will receive top billing as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia – Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker will also be reprising their roles as Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2. Also, the movie will star several notable actors in new roles, including acting great Max von Sydow (The Tudors, Minority Report, Snow Falling on Cedars, Judge Dredd, Needful Things).

starwarsAlso, Adam Driver (Girls, Lincoln), Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood, Sucker Punch, Drive), Andy Serkis (who brought Gollum to life in LOTR and the Hobbit franchises), Domhnall Gleeson (who played Bill Weasely in the Harry Potter series), and British television stars John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were announced, though has is not yet been announced what characters they will be playing. But since the upcoming movie will be taking place 30 years after Return of the Jedi, it’s fair to assume that the focus will be on these characters rather than on the original cast.

In a photo release this past Tuesday (seen below), director JJ Abrams is seen having a roundtable discussion with the cast at Pinewood Studios in the UK. Note the body of R2-D2 which sits unboxed behind them, having no doubt just been brought out of storage. JJ Abrams, identified by his spiky hair and glasses, can be seen sitting to the left of R2, with Harrison Ford to his right, Carrie Fisher two seats down, and Mark Hamil seated opposite to the far left of the photo.

star-wars-episode-7-cast-announceWhen news of the cast was released, Abrams was quoted as saying:

We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.

This, the seventh film in the Star Wars franchise, and is slated for a December 18th, 2015, release. In addition to Abrams directing, he is also collaborating on the screenplay with Lawrence Kasdan, the man who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, and John Williams returns as the composer.

star-wars-prequelsI think I speak for fans and geeks everywhere when I wish them all luck! Lord knows we could all use a really decent Star Wars sequel, especially when so many of us felt so utterly let down by the prequels! However, I think it is fair to say that Abrams and the rest should not be too concerned about what the fans and expect. If this latest installment is to be a success, it must not be overly aware of itself or its legacy. Such was part of what brought the prequels down in my estimation, and like everyone else, I just want to enjoy what comes next!

Good day and May the Fourth be with you all!

Source: starwars.com

South Park: Winter is Coming!

south_park_60532South Park once again spoofed Game of Thrones this past week. Using Black Friday as a plot line, the episode had the children dressing up as characters from the GOT universe and plotting to get their hands on the new Xbox One’s and PS4’s. In true GOT fashion, this involved plotting, making and breaking alliances, and the use of the slogan “Winter is Coming” to portend the need for swift action.

And of course, the show itself was reference, much in the same way that Lord of the Rings or World of Warcraft was worked into the plot in previous episodes. As usual, Butters is the only one who doesn’t know about it yet and is promptly told to get on it by Cartman. Plotting ensues, and a war of GOT proportions is declared.


And just like with the Lord of the Rings and World of Warcraft episode, Butters is confused by (and has some hilarious observations about) the pop culture phenomena once he actually starts experiencing it. I’m sure fans of the GOT series know exactly what he’s talking about.


And there’s even a thread where Randy Marsh (Stan’s dad) joins the mall cops, ostensibly to earn more money for the holidays, but really so he can get a better shot at scoring some Black Friday deals. After the head cop, an old man with a scarred face, is stabbed and passes leadership onto Randy it’s clear they are alluding to John Snow and Jeor Mormont of the Night’s Watch. While I could not find a clip of that part, trust me when I tell you its quite accurate.

This is the second time that South Park has referenced this show, and about the millionth time that GOT was spoofed, referenced, or satirized in some way. Man, that show has made some serious inroads into popular culture, and dammit if they aren’t taking their precious time getting Season 4 out!

Elder Scrolls IV – Oblivion: A Video Game Review

elder-scrolls-iv-oblivion-oblivion-logoIt’s been awhile since I did any video game reviews, and since my purchase of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I’ve been to do one. But before I could cover the latest fantasy installment from Bethesda studios, I figured I should build up to it. After all, its predecessor was a big hit with me in its time, and I got countless hours of gaming enjoyment from it for many years before I retired it.

Such is the nature of these games, they are the gift to yourself that keeps on giving! In any case, Oblivion was the first Elder Scrolls that I ever played. Prior to it, I didn’t even know about the series and didn’t have the slightest idea of what it was about. My thanks to my friend Doug for introducing me to this, and others like it!

Background:
As the fourth game in the series, Oblivion takes place within the fantasy universe known as Tamriel. In previous games, players were introduced to several different provinces in the realm, and were treated to snippets of the ongoing history behind it all. It would be no exaggeration at all to say that universe is as vast as anything envisioned by Tolkien or Martin, and was most likely inspired by one or both.

tamriel_mapThe realm of Tamriel is made up of nine provinces – Cyrodiil, Morrowind, High Rock, the Summerset Isles, Hammerfell, Black Marsh, Skyrim, Valenwood, and Elsweyr. Each serves as the home of a specific faction in the series, such as the Dunmer (Dark Elves) of Morrowind, Orsimer (Orcs) in High Rock, Altmer (High Elves) in the Summerset Isles, Argonians (reptile people) in Black Marsh, Bosmer (Wood Elves) in Valenwood, and Khajit (feline people) in Elsweyr.

There are also several factions of “Men”, which include the Bretons of High Rock, the Redguards of Hammerfell, the Nords of Skyrim, and the Imperials of Cyrodil. At some point in the series’ history, the Mede Empire was formed by uniting the provinces of Men with the Khajit, Argonians and Orcs, either through conquest or alliances, and the Imperial City established as the administrative center of Cyrodil.

The-Elder-Scrolls-OblivionBeyond the Mede Empire, which is made up of Cyrodiil, Morrowind, High Rock and Skyrim, there lies the recently-independent Hammerfell. In addition, there is the competing and often hostile Aldmeri Dominion (comprised of the other four provinces) which is ruled over by the Altmer (High Elves).

At one time, it is indicated, High Elves ruled over much of Tamriel as the Ayleids, an empire which has since fallen into ruin. Another extinct civilization is the Dwemer, a highly-advanced society of Dwarves who were masters of machinery and automation, and who apparently knew much of the Elder Scrolls. Throughout the various games, these civilizations ruins provide all kinds of treasures and the keys to ancient mysteries.

elder_scrolls_racesWithin the realm, the established religion is the worship of The Nine (echoes of the Seven in GOT), gods that represent various virtues and powers. But of course, other faiths exist as well, such as the Nords faith involving dragons, mythical beasts which are apparently extinct at this point. But the other major faith is the worship of the Daedra, gods of “First Causes” that predate the Nine and are both good and evil.

The Daedra and their intervention serve as a major motivating force in the game, contributing to both the main storyline and missions of lesser import. At many points in the series, the coming of a Daedra lord to the mortal realm is the main plot line of the story, usually as a fulfillment of some major and ancient prophecy.

elder_scrollAt the center of it all however, are the Elder Scrolls themselves. These are rarely ever featured in the game, but serve as a plot framing device, where the events in the game “were foretold in the Elder Scrolls,” basically. These objects, which were apparently forged by the gods themselves, contain incredible power and are often incomprehensible to mortals.

Game Summary:
The_Elder_Scrolls_IV_Oblivion_coverThe story opens with an intro movie showing the last Emperor, Uriel Septim (voiced by Patrick Stewart), talking about how since the dawn of time, the Tamriel has been shut off from Oblivion – the hellish realm where the Daedra rule. However, he is haunted by dreams that the gates are about to open again, fulfilling an ancient prophecy that also foretold of the death of the Septim dynasty.

The game then begins with character selection, where you are required to specify your race, gender, class, etc., before things proceed. Once that is complete, you find yourself in the Imperial City dungeons, having been imprisoned for reasons you don’t fully understand. Believing the guards are coming for you, you are then surprised to see members of the Blades – the royal guard/secret police of the Empire – come to your cell with the Emperor himself.

You then overhear them saying that the royal heirs have been murdered, and they are apparently looking to smuggle the Emperor out through a secret tunnel that runs underneath the dungeons. You cell, which was supposed to be vacant, holds an entrance. After telling you to stand back, the Blades let the Emperor in, and he spots you and tells you he has seen you in his nightmares. After this introduction, he asks you to come with them.

Elder_Scrolls-Oblivion_urielIn the tunnels, you are beset by a number of agents that belong to a sect known as the Mythic Dawn. You are also able to learn from Uriel what is going on. He says that the Dragon Fires, a holy beacon which keep the planes of Oblivion and Tamriel separate, have gone out. They need to be relighted if Tamriel is to survive, but agents are pouring over the city trying to kill him and his sons.

Thus, the Blades are trying to get him to safety. After defeating the last of the Dawn agents in the tunnel, the Blades take off down a separate tunnel and leave you behind. However, you are able to follow them indirectly by passing through a series of side tunnels that are occupied by Goblins. This gives you a chance to collect gear and bolster your skills, and eventually you rejoin the main party.

You are soon cornered, at which point Uriel hands you the Amulet of Kings, the very thing that keeps the doors between Tamriel and Oblivion shut and can only be worn by someone of the Septim line. He tells you that their is one remaining heir, orders you to take the Amulet to a man named Joffrey who knows where to find him, and that only you and he can “close shut the doors of Oblivion”.

Uriel_Septim_VII_deathThe Emperor is then killed, and you are forced to find your way out of the sewers with the Amulet in hand. Once you’re out, you find yourself just outside the Imperial City and must then travel to Weynon Priory in the west. Inside, you meet Jauffre, a monk who is also a member of the Blades, and tell him what happened. He reveals that the secret heir alluded to by Uriel is a man named Martin who is serves at the Temple in Kvatch.

Ergo, that’s where your headed next. But when you arrive, you find the city is in ruins, with a refugee camp at the base of the hill and the guards camped beyond the gates and trying to hold the line against an open Oblivion gate. The guard captain tells you that a patrol was lost inside, and he and his men cannot retake the city so long as it is open. Battling through the hellish environment against Scamps, you find the last remaining patrol soldier and make it to the tower where you remove the Sigil Stone, thus collapsing the gate.

Oblivion-Gate_kvatchBack outside, you and the guards enter the city gates and begin retaking the place from the Daedra. After clearing the front courtyard, you find Martin (voiced by Sean Bean) inside the Temple with a group of refugees. You tell him your story, and his secret, and he agrees to come with you as soon as the city is clear and the refugees can be evacuated. Fighting your way further, you clear out the rest of the city and the main castle, where you find the Lord dead.

With Martin, you report back to Weynon Priory, which is under attack. Between you two and Jauffre, you manage to kill the enemy, but discover that they have stolen the Amulet of Kings. Once again, it appears the enemy are one step ahead. But with Martin alive, the three of you report to Cloud Ruler Temple, the Blade Stronghold in the north of Cyrodil, where Martin will be safe.

Oblivion_Cloud_Ruler_TempleOnce there, he takes charge of the Blades and you are given the option of joining them. With that complete, you are told to report to the nearby town of Bruma where enemy spies have been spotted. Once you kill them, you discover one of them is a resident in the town and search their house. Upon finding a letter, you learn they are part of a cult known as the Mythic Dawn who worship the Daedra lord of Mehrunes Dagon, Lord of Destruction.

Their plan is to open the gate of Oblivion so Dagon can reclaim Tamriel, and they intend to kill the Septim line since it is their blood that has been keeping the gate closed for ages. Intrinsic to this is opening a major gate outside of Bruma, destroying Cloud Ruler Temple, and now killing Martin. They are led by a Dark Elf named Mankor Camoran, a mage who has apparently been alive for centuries.

oblivion_pathofdawnYour next mission is to the Imperial City where you meet Baurus, one of the agents that was there when the Emperor was killed. He tells you that the enemy’s lair is somewhere in Tamriel and you must find it. The key appears to lie in Mankor Camoran’s volumes known as The Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes – a series of books about a tome of ancient power.

Already, you have found two while searching the spy’s house in Bruma, and the third is apparently on special order at the city’s book store. Meeting with the man who ordered it, you compel him to cooperate and hand it over. He tells you he had a date to meet with Mythic Dawn representatives to get a copy of the fourth and final volume.

Posing as this man, Baurus meets with Camoran’s son and daughter while you keep watch. His cover is blown when their escorts spot you and you are forced to fight it out. After killing them, you manage to retrieve the fourth and final copy and go to the Mage’s Guild and ask them for help discerning its clues. You realize that a secret message is inside the book that tells you to go to the city’s cemetery at noon when the sun will be above the White-Gold tower.

oblivion_mythicdawnWhen you do this, you see a map on the mausoleum wall that shows you the location of the Mythic Dawn’s lair. After arriving there, posing as another applicant, you come to see Mankor Cameron himself, who is wearing the Amulet of Kings. After giving his people a speech, he opens a portal to “Paradise” and leaves, taking the Amulet with him. Grabbing the Mysterium Xarxes, which he left behind, you fight your way out of the cave and head back to Cloud Ruler Temple.

Once there, Martin tells you that he may be able to open the portal to Camoran’s Paradise so you can retrieve the Amulet finally. He begins reading the Xarxes to discern what he would need to do this. In the meantime, you are told to report to Bruma where another gate has opened. Alongside the city guards, you go in and shut it again, but know that this is a temporary victory.

Given that the Dawn’s long-term plan is to open a major gate outside of the city and lay waste to Bruma and Cloud Ruler Temple, you know that time is limited. You are thus given two main missions. The first is to collect the items needed to open the gate to Camoran’s Paradise, the second is to go to every other city in Cyrodil and convince the local lord to free up soldiers to send to the defense of Bruma.

oblivion_cyrodil_mapThe first mission requires you to go to several locations, securing a Daedric artifact, the blood of Tiber Septim (the first Septim Emperor), and an Ayleid crystal. The second requires you to travel to all the major cities – Anvil, Chorrol, Skingrad, Cheydinhal, Bravil and Leyawiin – and close the gates outside of these cities. This gives you a chance to see each town and learn of their particular makeup and issues, as well as pick up additional side-missions.

With all of this complete, Martin tells you that there is only one other thing that he needs – a major Sigil Stone. This requires that you allow the Mythic Dawn to open a major portal outside of Bruma, and for the soldiers to hold the line while you go in and grab hold of the stone. A major battle ensues, and you are forced to grab the stone before the Daedra are able to bring out a massive siege engine and lay waste to Bruma, as they did Kvatch.

oblivion_paradiseWith the final item secured, Martin opens the portal to Camoran’s paradise inside the Temple, and you go through. Once there, you see a Edenic like environment, where Camoran’s followers live, but are forced to endure constant death as Daedric creatures hunt them and they are resurrected. They tell you how to make your way to Camoran’s seat of power – Palace Carac Agaialor.

Once there, you confront Camoran’s and his two children – Ruma and Raven – and do battle. Once they are killed, you retrieve the Amulet, and Paradise collapses. You are returned to Cloud Ruler Temple where Martin takes the Amulet, as Emperor, and you plan to return to the Imperial City to light the Dragon Fires and seal the gates between Tamriel and Oblivion once and for all.

oblivion_mehrunes_dagonAt the palace, you are greeted by High Chancellor Ocato – leader of the Elder Council – but the meeting is cut short when the guards announce the city is under attack. It seems that Oblivion gates are opening all over the city and Daedra are pouring through. With no time to lose, you head for the Temple District so Martin can light the fires, but once there, you see Mehrunes Dagon, who has passed into your world, laying waste to the district.

Martin believes all hope is lost, but a last minute suggestion from you that the Amulet might be able to help gives him an idea. Asking you to escort him inside the temple, which is dangerous considering it involves getting around Dagon’s massive figure, he goes to the center and breaks the Amulet, combining the kings and dragon’s blood with his own. He then transforms into a massive avatar Akatosh, the principle diety of the Nine, and does battle with Dagon.

oblivion_Martin_Mehrunes_DagonDagon was defeated after the avatar of Akatosh – a massive fiery dragon – chomped his neck and sent him back to Oblivion. The avatar then turned into stone, signalling that it too had departed Tamriel and Martin was now dead. However, his sacrifice had won the day, and permanently sealed the doors between Oblivion and Tamriel shut forever. The Oblivion Crisis, as it would come to be known, was over, and a new age begun

Having taken part in the final battle and see the victory of Imperial forces over the Daedra, you are named Champion of Cyrodil and given a special suit of Dragon Armor. In addition to being named Hero of Kvatch and Hero of Bruma, you now hold a rank reserved for a very select few. With the game now over, you are free to roam and pick up any additional quests.

Additional Quests:
Outside of the Oblivion Crisis, gamers have the option of participating in numerous quests, most of which revolve around joining a Guild. These include the Fighters Guild, the Mages Guild, the Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood (an assassin’s guild). Membership in each allows you to go on additional quests, earn ranks, rewards, learn new abilities, and take part in other adventures.

Oblivion_Fighters_GuildThe Fighter Guild quest culminates in you taking on a rival mercenary organization – the Blackwood Company – when it becomes revealed that they are abusing a narcotic known as Hist Sap that makes them bloodthirsty and unpredictable. The Mages Guild quest culminates in your facing a group of Necromancers led by the “Worm KIng”, an evil mage determined to destroy the Imperial Mages.

Joining the Thieves Guild makes you an agent of the Gray Fox, a recurring figure in the game, who provides protection for all of Cyrodil’s beggars and uses them as his eyes and ears. After participating in a number of lucrative thefts, you meet the Gray Fox and assist him in his scheme to recover his lost identity – Count of Anvil. As payment, you get to keep his magic cowl, the very thing that deprived him of it in the first place.

oblivion_dark_brotherhoodFinally, the Dark Brotherhood is an order that you can join the moment you murder someone in cold blood. A visitor then comes to you while you sleep and extends an invitation. Once you join, you are given the task of assassinating anyone who been named in a Black Sacrament – a dark ritual that marks people for death. In time, you have the option of becoming a vampire, and gain the favor of the Night Mother – their patron goddess.

And of course, there are many, many side missions where you have the option of performing tasks for various Daedra. Depending on the lord in question, these can be beneficial, harmful, or just plain mischievous, and all lead to certain benefits and rewards. And of course, there are plenty of missions to be had simply by adventuring around and helping people out.

Add-Ons:
There are also additional quests which I have played – Knights of the Nine, The Shivering Isles – but I really didn’t like them too much. In the case of Knights, you are tasked with resurrecting the order of the Knights of the Nine, collect sacred weapons, armor, and artifacts, and fight against an Aylied deity that is returning to Tamriel.

Oblivion_knights7However, the production value on this game was really not as goo as the main one, and the storyline seemed awful… Christiany. I mean really, the armor and finery you wear make you look exactly like a Crusader, and by the time you are finished with the main campaign, yet another quest involving a resurrected evil seems tired and played out.

In the case of the Shivering Isles, the storyline is a bit more weird, and much more psychedelic. Here, you enter into the realm of the Daedric lord Sheogorath – Prince of Madness and ruler of the Shivering Islesto battle with him and become the new master of the Isles. Here too, found the production values weak, the quest kind of pointless, and the story and setting really odd.

oblivion_shiveringMy advice, stick to the main quests and save your money when it comes to these expansion packs. Sure, curiosity might get the better of you, but why pay extra when what’s added is not up to snuff?

Summary:
I guess it goes without saying that this game is incredibly dense and detailed. And of course, the back story is lengthy and intricate, but as long as you do your due diligence, it’s not that hard to follow. And though it does have its fair share of fantasy cliches, it’s a very inspired piece of work with plenty of historical and cultural allusions.

Many times over, I was reminded of LOTR and other prominent genres, and combined with the depth and density of it, it was little wonder why I got so many hours of enjoyment out of it. Between all the spells, weapons, abilities, upgrades, and opportunities to learn about the Elder Scrolls universe, its a truly immersive and entertaining game.

Between the main quest, secondary quests, and the hundreds – if not thousands – of additional quests, it really seems like the game has enough material to keep going indefinitely. But eventually, you are likely to map out every corner of Cyrodil, obtain the very best items, and get to the point where no enemy can possibly best you. And chances are, you’ll lose interest before then anyway, so it all works out.

And it was my experience with this game that led me to finally get around to buying The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim not that long ago. Here too, I’ve received endless hours and enjoyment, and will be reviewing it soon enough!

News From Space: MESSENGER and Mercury

messengerWith Curiosity’s ongoing research and manned missions being planned for Mars by 2030, it seems that the other planets of the Solar System are being sadly neglected these days. Thankfully, the MESSENGER spacecraft, which has been conducting flyby’s of Mercury since 2008 and orbiting it since 2011, is there to remind us of just how interesting and amazing the planet closest to our sun truly is.

And in recent weeks, there has been a conjunction of interesting news stories about Earth’s scorched and pockmarked cousin. The first came in March 22nd when it was revealed that of the many, many pictures taken by the satellite (over 150,000 and counting), some captured a different side of Mercury, one which isn’t so rugged and scorched.

Messenger_smooth1The pictures in question were of a natural depression located northeast of the Rachmaninoff basin, where the walls, floor and upper surfaces appear to be smooth and irregularly shaped. What’s more, the  velvety texture observed is the result of widespread layering of fine particles. Scientists at NASA deduced from this that, unlike many features on Mercury’s  ancient surface, this rimless depression wasn’t caused by an impact from above but rather explosively escaping lava from below.

In short, the depression was caused by an explosive volcanic event, which left a hole in the surface roughly 36 km (22 miles) across at its widest. It is surrounded by a smooth blanket of high-reflectance material, explosively ejected volcanic particles from a pyroclastic eruption, that spread over the surface like snow. And thanks to Mercury’s lack of atmosphere, the event was perfectly preserved.

Messenger_smooth2

Other similar vents have been found on Mercury before, like the heart-shaped depression observed in the Caloris basin (seen above). Here too, the smooth, bright surface material was a telltale sign of a volcanic outburst, as were the rimless, irregular shapes of the vents. However, this is the first time such a surface feature has been captured in such high-definition.

And then just three days later, on March 25th to be exact, Mercury began to experience its greatest elongation from the Sun for the year of 2013. In astronomy, this refers to the angle between the Sun and the planet, with Earth as the reference point. When a planet is at its greatest elongation, it is farthest from the Sun as viewed from Earth, so its view is also best at that point.

Mercury_31-03-13_0630What this means is that for the remainder of the month, Mercury will be in prime position to be observed in the night sky, for anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere that is. Given its position relative to the Sun and us, the best time to observe it would be during hours of dusk when the stars are still visible. And, in a twist which that may hold cosmic significance for some, people are advised to pay special attention during the morning of Easter Day, when the shining “star” will be most visible low in the dawn sky.

And then just three days ago, a very interesting announcement was made. It seems that with MESSENGERS ongoing surveys of the Hermian surface, nine new craters have been identified and are being given names. On March 26th, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) approved the proposed names, which were selected in honor of deceased writers, artists and musicians following the convention established by the IAU for naming features on the innermost world.

crater_names

The announcement came after MESSENGER put the finishing touches on mapping the surface of Mercury earlier this month. A good majority of these features were established at Mercury’s southern polar region, one of the last areas of the planet to be mapped by the satellite. And after a submission and review process, the IAU decided on the following names of the new craters:

Donelaitis, named after 18th century Lithuanian poet Kristijonas Donelaitis, author of The Seasons and other tales and fables.

Petofi, named after 19th century Hungarian poet Sandor Petofi, who wrote Nemzeti dal which inspired the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

Roerich, named after early 20th century Russian philosopher and artist Nicholas Roerich, who created the Roerich Pact of 1935 which asserted the neutrality of scientific, cultural and educational institutions during time of war.

Hurley, named after the 20th century Australian photographer James Francis Hurley, who traveled to Antarctica and served with Australian forces in both World Wars.

Lovecraft, named after 20th century American author H.P. Lovecraft, a pioneer in horror, fantasy and science fiction.

Alver, named after 20th century Estonian author Betti Alver who wrote the 1927 novel Mistress in the Wind.

Flaiano, named after 20th century Italian novelist and screenwriter Ennio Flaiano who was a pioneer Italian cinema and contemporary of Federico Fellini.

Pahinui, named after mid-20th century Hawaiian musician Charles Phillip Kahahawai Pahinui, influential slack-key guitar player and part of the “Hawaiian Renaissance” of island culture in the 1970’s.

L’Engle, named after American author Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote the young adult novels An Acceptable Time, A Swiftly Tilting Planet & A Wind in the Door. L’Engle passed away in 2007.

Crater_names_August2012-580x376The campaign to name Mercury’s surface features has been ongoing since MESSENGER performed its first flyby in January of 2008. Some may recall that in August of last year, a similar process took place for the nine craters identified on Mercury’s North Pole. Of these, the names of similarly great literary, artistic and scientific contributors were selected, not the least of which was Mr. J RR Tolkien himself, author of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit!

It’s no secret that the MESSENGER spacecraft has been a boon for scientists. Not only has it allowed for the complete mapping of the planet Mercury and provided an endless stream of high resolution photos for scientists to pour over, it has also contributed to a greater understanding of what our Solar System looked like when it was still in early formation.

Given all this, it is somewhat sad that MESSENGER is due to stand down at the end of the month, and that the next mission to Mercury won’t be until 2022 with the planned arrival of the joint ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission. But of course, we can expect plenty of revelations and stories to emerge from all the scientific data collected on this latest trip. And I’m sure Mars will be more than willing to provide ample entertainment until 2022 comes to pass!

While we’re waiting, be sure to check out this informative video of MESSENGER’s contributions over the past few years:

Source: universetoday.com, (2), (3)

The World of “A Song of Ice and Fire”

a_song_of_ice_and_fire_version_2_by_scrollsofaryavart-d4rabm1After reading four of the five of the books in the ongoing Song of Ice and Fire series, I’ve come to realize something. I really like the world George RR Martin has created! In fact, you might say I haven’t found myself becoming so engrossed with a fictional universe since Dune or Lord of the Rings. In those fictional universes, as with this one, one gets an incredible sense of depth, detail and characterization.

And in honor of this realization, or perhaps because I couldn’t keep track of the names, places and events alluded to in the texts, I began doing some serious research. For one, I found several lovely maps (like the one above) that speculate as to the complete geography of Martin’s world – the continents of Westeros, Essos, and Sothoryos.

And when I say complete geography, I mean just that, not the snippets that are given in the book that leave out the all important sections of Qarth, Slaver’s Bay, and the Free Cities. While these places are described in relation to the rest of the world, keeping track of them can be tricky, especially if you’re a visual learner like myself! And seeing as how much of the story involves a great deal of travel, it helps to know where characters were going, how far, and which direction they were headed.

House-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-29965891-1920-1080Even before I began reading the books, I could tell that Westeros was very much inspired by the British Isles, with its tough and grizzled Northerners resembling the Scots, Picts, and Celts of old while the Southerners were more akin to the aristocratic Normans. “The Wall” was also a clear allegory for Hadrian’s Wall, with the people on the other side being portrayed much as the Roman’s would have viewed the “Northern Tribes” that threatened their domain.

King’s Landing also seemed very much inspired by London, with its pomp, opulence, and extensive moral decay. Yes, just like London of the Middle Ages, it was a fine patchwork of royal finery, castles, fortifications, religious ceremony, brothels and public executions! And it even lies upon a large river, the Blackwater, which seems every bit like the Thames.

Essos also seemed very much inspired by Asia of ancient lore. Here we had the Dothraki Sea where the Dothraki horsemen roamed free and pillaged in all directions, exacting tribute and taking slaves. Can you say Mongols and/or Huns? In addition, their capital – Vaes Dothrak – seemed in every respect to be an adaptation of Karakorum, Ghengis Khan’s one time capitol that was little more than a collection of temporary houses and tents. And Master Ilyrio, as if his name wasn’t enough, seemed to be every bit a Mediterranean at heart, living in a lavish sea-side estate and growing fat of off trade in cheese, olives and wine.

Upon cracking the books, I found that the metaphors only went deeper. In fact, they were so thick, you could cut them with a knife! In terms of Westerosi geography and character, the different regions of the continent called to mind all kind’s of archetypes and real-world examples. The Reach sounds very much like Cornwall, fertile, populous, and in the south-east relative to the capitol. Casterly Rock and the domain of the Lannister’s, though it resides in the west away from the capitol, seems every bit like Kent, the wealthiest region of old where the most lucrative trade and shipping comes in. And their colors, gold and red, are nothing if not symbolic of the House of Lancaster – of which Henry V and the VIII were descended.

And last, but certainly not least, there were the all-important cities of Qarth, Mereen, Astapor, and Yunkai. All eastern cities that inspire images of ancient Babylon, Cairo, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Antioch. With their stepped pyramids, ancient history, flamboyant sense of fashion, and lucrative slave trade, they all sounded like perfect examples of the ancient and “decadent” eastern civilizations that were described by Plato, Aristotle, and medieval scholars. The conquest of Westeros by the First Men, the Children of the Forest, the Andal and Valyrian Conquest; these too call to mind real history and how waves of conquerors and settlers from the east came to populate the Old World and the New, with genocide and assimilation following in their wake and giving rise to the world that we know today.

Middle-earthFans of Tolkien will no doubt be reminded of the map of Middle Earth, and for good reason. Martin’s knack for writing about space and place and how it plays a central role in the character of its inhabitants was comparable to that of Tolkien’s. And what’s more, the places have a very strong allegorical relationship to real places in real history.

In Tokien’s world, the Shire of the Hobbits seemed very much the metaphor for pre-industrial rural England. The inhabitants are these small, quirky people who are proud of their ways, lavish in their customs, and don’t care much for the affairs of the outside world. However, when challenged, they are capable of great things and can move heaven and earth.

In that respect, Gondor to the south could be seen as London in the early 20th century – the seat of a once proud empire that is now in decline. Given it’s aesthetics and location relative to the dark, hostile forces coming from the East and South, it’s also comparable to Athens and Rome of Antiquity.

And it was no mistake that the battle to decide the fate of Middle Earth happened here. In many ways it resembles the Barbarian Invasions of the late Roman Empire, the Persian Wars of Classical Greece, the Mongol Invasions or the Byzatine Empire’s war with the Turks in the High Middle Ages. In all cases, classical powers and the home of Western civilization are being threatened from Eastern Empires that are strange and exotic to them.

Dune_MapAnd let’s not forget Arrakis (aka. Dune) by Frank Herbert. Here too, we have a case where space and place are determining factors on their residents. And whereas several planets are described and even mapped out in the series, none were as detailed or as central as Arrakis itself. From its Deep Desert to its Shield Walls, from Arrakeen and Seitch Tabr; the planet was a highly detailed place, and the divide between Imperials and Fremen were played out in the ways both sides lived.

Whereas the Fremen were hardy folk who lived in the deep desert, took nothing for granted, and were a harsh folk sustained by prophecies and long-term goals, the Imperials were lavish people, pompous and arrogant, and used to doing things in accordance with the Great Convention. But far from being preachy or one-sided, Herbert showed the balance in this equation when it became clear that whereas the Imperials were governed by convention and thereby complacent, the Fremen were extremely dangerous and capable of terrible brutality when unleashed.

But as I said, other planets are also detailed and the influence their environments have on their people are made clear. Caladan was the ancestral home of the Atreides, covered in oceans, fertile continents, and a mild climate that many consider to be a paradise. As a result, according to Paul,  the Atreides grew soft, and it was for this reason that they fell prey to the Emperor’s betrayal and the machinations of their Harkonnen enemies.

And speaking of the Harkonnens, the world of Geidi Prime is described on a few occasions in the series as being an industrial wasteland, a world plundered for its resources and its people reduced to a status of punitive serfdom. What better metaphor is there for a people guided by sick pleasures, exploitation, and exceptional greed? Whereas the Atreides grew soft from their pleasures, the Harkonnens grew fat, and were therefore easily slaughtered by Paul and his Fremen once their rebellion was underway.

And of course, there is Selusa Secundus, a radioactive wasteland where the Emperor’s elite Sardukar armies are trained. On this prison planet, life is hard, bleak, and those who survive do so by being ruthless, cunning and without remorse. As a result, they are perfect recruits for the Emperor’s dreaded army, which keeps the peace through shear force of terror.

*                       *                        *

There’s something to be said for imaginative people creating dense, richly detailed worlds isn’t there? Not only can it be engrossing and entertaining; but sooner or later, you find yourself looking back at all that you’ve surveyed, you do a little added research to get a greater sense of all that’s there, and you realize just how freaking expansive the world really is. And of course, you begin to see the inspiration at the heart of it all.

Yes, this is the definitely the third time I’ve experienced this feeling in relation to a series. I count myself as lucky, and really hope to do the same someday. I thought I had with the whole Legacies concept, but I’m still tinkering with that one and I consider my research into what makes for a great sci-fi universe to be incomplete. Soon enough though, I shall make my greatest and final attempt, and there will be no prisoners on that day! A universe shall be borne of my pen, or not… Either way, I plan to blab endlessly about it 😉