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A Force For Good – Starlight Foundation

Check out this awesome foundation that gives aid to children in need!

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As four-year-old Bailey colored in an activity room in the Pediatric Unit for Dignity Health-California Hospital Medical Center, he was suddenly taken aback by the Force that walked into the room: Darth Vader, accompanied by a Stormtrooper and Biker Scout.

“Do you like baseball?” Vader asked a stunned Bailey, who was coloring a picture of a baseball glove. Bailey, in the hospital for a respiratory ailment and asthma, nodded yes. And then he just looked up at the strange group that came to brighten up his day and stared, still too shy to speak.

The appearance of Vader and his Troopers was courtesy of Starlight Children’s Foundation and the 501st Legion, Southern California Garrison, part of an international group known as “The World’s Definitive Imperial Star Wars Costuming Organization,” endorsed and preferred by Lucasfilm Ltd.

Starlight teamed up with the 501st to surprise pediatric patients and celebrate May the 4th, a day honoring all things Star Wars. The date is a pun on the phrase, “May the Force be with you.”

http://www.starlight.org/

Visit Real-life Tatooine!

Check out this awesome opportunity in death valley: A must for any Star Wars enthusiast!

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May the 4th be with you! Star Wars fans looking to celebrate the holiday can geek-out in Death Valley National Park, where scenes from Episodes IV and VI were filmed: R2-D2 rolling across the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells village; Sand People roaming Desolation Canyon; Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Twenty Mule Team Canyon; Mardji the elephant (aka Bantha) making the Oasis Gardens of Furnace Creek Inn her home during filming (Furnace Creek Resort also provided accommodations for actors and the crew during filming).

Furnace Creek Resort has an exclusive map available for guests, leading them to the filming locations that are easily accessible via car or a short hike.

It’s a Thing – Now You Can Play Star Wars Holochess

Combining the elements of CCG, mobile gaming and augmented reality, check out Hologrid: Monster Battle – the ambitious project from Tippet Studio and Happy Giant:

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VFX Legend Phil Tippett & HappyGiant
Launch Kickstarter for AR Game

HoloGrid: Monster Battle is a hybrid board/CCG/digital gaming experience using Augmented Reality

 

May 4th, 2015, Berkeley, CA – Today, Phil Tippett & HappyGiant announced the launch of a Kickstarter campaign for HoloGrid: Monster Battle, a new hybrid board game, CCG, and digital augmented reality game, recently named “Best Technology of PAXEast 2016” byhttp://www.MMOGames.com

“No other tech on the gaming floor combined so many cool, new ideas at once quite like this game. It managed to put together AR, CCG gaming and mobile gaming into a mixture that engages with its personality and depth of play.”, said MMOGames.com “HoloGrid could have easily leaned on its AR tech to make it simply a neat toy, but it has built a very compelling game in the process. It has managed to toe that difficult line between being accessible while also offering a strong level of strategy. In addition, it has a strong base to build on for more variety of cards. If HoloGrid can secure the right attention and make its game affordable, then Happy Giant has possibly caught lightning in a bottle.

Phil Tippett

Phil Tippett is a 2-time Academy Award winning Visual Effects Supervisor and Director best known for his work on the original Star Wars films, Jurassic Park, Robocop, The Force Awakens, and many more. Tippett also created the “Holo Chess” scene in the original Star Wars, which he recreated for the Force Awakens.

“For years I’ve been making monsters for Directors to play with, and now for the first time, I’m making monsters for YOU to play with,” said Tippett. “We’re excited about the new fields of Augmented and Virtual Reality, and to be working with our friends at HappyGiant to create HoloGrid: Monster Battle.”

HoloGrid: Monster Battle’s gameplay is similar to Collectible Card Games (CCG’s) such as Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone, but uses physical playing cards to trigger Augmented Reality creatures and a gameboard. Players will be able to play head-to-head, either locally or remotely, and offline, non digital play is possible as well through a physical board that will come with the product. A “Hybrid” Board Game, Collectible Card Game (CCG), and Digital Game in one, it delivers to players a new type of gaming experience.

Creatures battle on your tabletop with AR

HoloGrid: Monster Battle is being built for next gen AR & VR platforms, but will first release for mobile devices, giving players the feeling that the creatures of Phil Tippett are doing battle right in front of them.

“We’re excited to be launching this Kickstarter with Phil Tippett and his studio, and bringing to life a game so many of us have always wanted to play” said Mike Levine, President of HappyGiant. “This is our first step into a new world of AR gaming, and while we are launching it on mobile initially so everyone can play it, our long term vision is to bring it to emerging AR and VR platforms.”

Photogrammetry

Another exciting aspect of the project is the use of Photogrammetry to scan Tippett’s real life physical monsters into 3D digital assets for the game, giving them a level of detail and character unlike any other.

“We’d been doing experiments with Photogrammetry, but more on museum level artifacts,” said Levine. “At the same time we began exploring doing projects with Tippett, we had the idea, ‘What if we tried this on some creatures?’ The results blew us away. That’s really where this idea was born.” “And it’s the exact same technique we used on The Force Awakens,” added Tippett.

About Tippett Studio

Tippett Studio, founded in 1984 by animation pioneer Phil Tippett, is an Academy Award®-winning media production company specializing in CG animation and digital effects for feature films, television, commercials, VR and AR. The Berkeley, CA based company has created visual effects for blockbuster movies including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Ted, The Twilight Saga, Cloverfield, Starship Troopers, Jurassic Park and Robocop. Tippett Studio’s commercial work has garnered four Clio awards. Tippett Studio is currently in production on a large format ride for a Chinese Theme Park.

www.tippett.com

About HappyGiant

Founded by veterans of LucasArts, ILM, Hasbro and Pileated Pictures, HappyGiant is an independent developer and publisher of video games and entertainment for PCs, mobile, tablets and emerging platforms.

 

Star Wars: Bloodline – A Beyond the Films Review

With a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soonStar Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler is now posting short, non-spoiler reviews for many new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will often follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)


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Bloodline by Claudia Gray (hardcover, 2016)

Back on Force Friday, Claudia Gray entered the scene as an established author and new Star Wars writer with her young adult novel Lost Stars, which I have previously stated on many occasions is (at least so far) the best novel in the Story Group’s new Star Wars canon. (You can see my review of Lost Stars here.)

Upon learning that Gray was writing an adult novel for Del Rey that would focus on Leia, I had high hopes, given how much I enjoyed Lost Stars, but the track record of Leia-centric works in recent years is far from stellar. The last attempt at a novel with Leia at its heart was Martha Wells’ Razor’s Edge, one of the most generic, throwaway Star Wars stories of the last decade. Moreover, the last time Leia was the focus of her own comic series, Mark Waid’s Princess Leia for Marvel, the result was an inconsistent characterization that provided a Leia whom readers could barely recognize. She was even prone to teenage outbursts with lines like (and I’m quoting here), “If things would stop going wrong for two seconds…” (Yes, that should be read in a whiny, spoiled brat voice for full effect.) Fans of Star Wars Beyond the Films will likely remember my mantra from our review episodes: “That’s not Leia!”

Has Claudia Gray captured Leia’s essence better than Mark Waid or Martha Wells? (And is there something just cursed about someone with the initials M.W. writing a Leia story?)

Bloodline

One of the most common complaints about The Force Awakens is that the film does not provide enough context or explanation for certain key story elements, such as the nature of the Resistance in relation to the New Republic, the origins of the First Order, etc. Some of these “missing” elements are quite obviously being held back for future films (e.g. Rey’s familiy background), but with the new “all things being equal” approach to canon, readers have been hoping for new novels that might fill in some of the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens in a period much closer to the latter than the initial (disappointing) novel in that gap, Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath.

Bloodline was designed to fill that role. The story focuses on Leia six years prior to TFA, during her tenure as a New Republic Senator. The tale that unfolds serves to illustrate the hidden conspiracy that would give rise to the villains of TFA, the frustrations and political twists that lead to the formation of the Resistance, and a rather interesting political schism within the New Republic in the years prior to the recent film.

This is Leia at her best. She is witty, intelligent, driven to action, and dignified in the face of a political situation that almost makes Donald Trump’s campaign seem tame. (I said “almost.”  Let’s not go crazy here.) That Gray captures Leia so well is even more important to making this a quality story when one takes into account that Han Solo is only in the story sporadically and the Jedi duo of Luke Skywalker and Ben Solo are frequently referenced but never actually seen. Leia has to carry this tale with mostly new characters at her side.

Those new characters (and the until-now-undeveloped Korr Sella, seen dying on Hosnian Prime in TFA) are a pretty strong batch, though their depth varies. We meet a brash young pilot in Joph Seastriker, a somewhat haunted former racing pilot in Greer Sonnel (recently featured in the Star Wars Insider short story Scorched), a seemingly shallow politician in Carise Sindian, and a rather interesting new political foil in Ransolm Casterfo.

Ransolm often nearly steals the scene whenever he appears, only failing to do so by being placed alongside a strongly-written Leia. His political views are complex and nuanced enough to make readers reluctant to like him at first, but he grows on you throughout the novel as he is further fleshed out and his views become clearer. He is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting new characters introduced in the Star Wars novels or comics since the “reboot.”

Bloodline is at times an action tale, but at its heart, it is a political thriller with serious ramifications for Leia and the galaxy. I am a political junkie myself, so seeing the New Republic torn between the Centrists and the Populists, the fracturing of governmental structures, and the political machinations on Hosnian Prime and beyond is just what I had hoped to see when it finally came time to explain how the Resistance formed from the New Republic and the First Order coalesced as its new foe.

That said, one aspect of the book will likely take many readers a moment to process, so I will raise a warning ahead of time. Many of the events in the Big Three’s lives that we know must take place before TFA have not happened yet in this novel. That can be quite a shock, given that most fans have assumed that the events that scattered them and set the stage for TFA must have happened long before (perhaps even at the same time Rey was left behind on Jakku). To have so much have happened in just the six years between this story and The Force Awakens is unexpected and might cause frustration for some readers. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how that six year gap is filled by future stories in the coming months and years. Bloodline‘s context is already a bit of a curve ball.

The Verdict

Bloodline is an excellent Star Wars political thriller with strong new characters and Leia finally done right. Those looking for answers to many of the burning backstory questions in The Force Awakens will find many (but not all) of those answers here.

I highly recommend this to fellow Star Wars readers as one of the few true must-reads of the Story Group’s “canon.” Claudia Gray has managed to do it again.

Recommended for: Those looking for political intrigue, Leia done right, and answers to some of the burning backstory questions from The Force Awakens.

Not recommended for: Those looking for significant amounts of Han, Luke, or most other established film characters other than Leia, or those for whom the idea of certain major events taking place in just six years prior to The Force Awakens will be migraine-inducing. Those who cannot stand politics will still find enough to enjoy but may wish to wait for paperback.

A review copy was received from Del Rey and used for this review. The reviewer also purchased a signed retail copy through Barnes and Noble.

Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space: The Snare – A Beyond the Films Review

With a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soonStar Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler is now posting short, non-spoiler reviews for many new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will often follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)


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Adventures in Wild Space: The Snare by Cavan Scott (softcover, 2016)

The Snare is the book #1 in Adventures in Wild Space, but before I begin discussing the book, it should be noted that there is a “prelude” book, The Escape, that is essential reading before checking out The Snare. It was released for World Book Day in the UK and Ireland in March 2016. I previously reviewed The Escape here.

It should also be noted that The EscapeThe Snare, and all the rest of Adventures in Wild Space are a series exclusive to the UK and Ireland. The series does not currently have a US counterpart. (In other words, if you want this one, you will need to hit up some UK sellers like Book Depository or Amazon UK, or try your luck on Ebay.)

Adventures in Wild Space

Adventures in Wild Space (by Cavan Scott and Tom Huddleston, each writing separate books) follows Lina Graf (age 10), Milo Graf (age 9), their droid CR-8R (Crater), and their Kowakian Monkey-Lizard (Morq) as they face off with the Empire (in the person of Captain Korda, an officer with a metal jaw akin to Darth Malak in Legends or Jaws in the James Bond franchise). Their goal is to save their parents, a pair of explorers who have been taken captive by Korda. The Empire, it seems, wants their exploration data about Wild Space as it expands.  It is under that premise that a half-length junior novel (The Escape) and two full-length junior novels (The Snare and The Nest) have been released with two more full-length volumes coming soon (The Dark and The Steal).

The Snare

The end of The Escape left Lina, Milo, Crater, and Morq on their way to the planet Thune aboard their parents’ ship, the Whisper Bird, in hopes of meeting with the Sullustan who arranged exploration contracts for the Grafs, Dil Pexton (a possible reference to Bill Paxton).

I mentioned in my review of The Escape that the kids work well enough as characters of their ages (9 – 10) for a young audience. I did, however, worry that Lina might be suffering from a “Wesley Crusher” syndrome, in that she appears to be extremely tech savvy and able to come up with miraculous saves that seem unlikely for a child of ten. It is in this book that this issue comes to the fore repeatedly.

The story’s first chapters, for example, find the Whisper Bird about to crash due to power generator issues, which force Lina to investigate, go EVA along the hull, and fix the problem with an improvised solution once back inside the ship. I am reminded of Spaceballs when Princess Vespa takes out numerous enemies.

Lone Starr: Not bad.

Barf: Not bad . . . for a girl.

Dot Matrix: Hey, that was pretty good for Rambo!

Yes, Lina, that wasn’t bad. Not bad for a child.

Oh hell, it was pretty good for Chewbacca.

That said, the story otherwise plays out pretty much as one would expect, as the Empire continues to seek important exploration data that the children’s mother transmitted to Crater prior to their capture, which Crater has been conveniently still decrypting since the middle of The Escape.

The story is predictable for adult readers, though younger readers might not yet be immunized to the book’s “twists” by years of reading similar stories. Still, the idea behind the series has potential, and having a new ongoing series for younger readers after the end of (the much more complex) Servants of the Empire is, I believe, a good thing for the saga’s new canon.

The Verdict

Adventures in Wild Space has potential, and while it does not reach the level of plot complexity of Servants of the Empire, it evokes enough of the Young (well, okay, more like JuniorJedi Knights and Galaxy of Fear series to make it something that adult readers who read those junior series might want to check out. If nothing else, the series will be intriguing to American readers by virtue of being overseas exclusives, much like The Bounty HunterJedi Dawn, the last few Decide Your Destiny books, and many of the comics never reprinted from the UK’s The Clone Wars magazine.

The Snare itself works better than its half-length predecessor, The Escape, but there is little here to surprise most readers. That said, there are a few moments which seem to raise the stakes for the children, and the book sets up the next book in the series nicely, just as The Escape did for this volume, making these relatively quick reads feel like they could one day be enough of a comibned whole to perhaps merit a closer look from more skeptical older readers.

Recommended for: Those looking for a new, original Star Wars series, aimed at younger audiences.

Not recommended for: Those looking for particularly complex storytelling.

The copy used for this review was a retail purchase.