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New Star Wars Game be “in the Cards”?

The vast and detailed Star Wars universe seems a good fit for collectible card games, and vice versa. When collectible card games (CCGs) first appeared in the ‘90s – think Magic – The Gathering (1993), a number of licensed and not-so-official star wars card trading games followed, attracting an enthusiastic and loyal fan base. Most CCGs have a fantasy setting, and Star Wars, with its vast and detailed universe, is as many parts fantasy as it is science fiction, so the two make for a good pairing.

Unlike in regular card games, in a CCG the player buys a starter deck and can then add expansions to it to obtain further cards, thus encouraging a culture of card-swaps and collecting amongst players. Cards are played off against each other as the game unfolds, with each card representing a particular combination of defensive and/or attacking stats. Buffs and debuffs are deployed, with an emphasis on strategy and tactical maneuvering. It’s a popular game model, but it’s been a while since we got the last big Star Wars CCG.

With the surge of publicity around Star Wars: The Force Awakens (now out on blu ray), and the upcoming release of the first standalone Star Wars movie Rogue One scheduled for December this year, there is a significant gap in the market. Perhaps the time is right to update this noble concept and take advantage of the extraordinary leaps forward in digital technology since the first star wars CCGs appeared on the scene.

Long ago, in a decade far away…

Decipher’s Star Wars: The Customizable Card Game kicked things off in 1995. Despite a hefty instruction manual, the 2-player game proved a massive hit, spawning 11 full expansion sets and various bolt-ons. Drawing its inspiration and artwork from characters, races and locations from the original trilogy (and umm The Phantom Menace), the game gave Magic: The Gathering a run for its money, and soon became a top-selling CCG in its own right.

The idea behind the game was simple enough: players choose a side (Light or Dark) and then set out to conquer the universe, one card at a time, by laying out their forces and maneuvering for battle. The complex rules allowed for enormous variety of gameplay, with the average game taking around an hour to complete.

As The Phantom Menace was hitting the cinemas, Decipher lost the license to make the card game.The final expansion set, Themed Palace, saw release in autumn 2001. Everything went quiet for a bit until 2012, when Fantasy Flight Publishing released Star Wars – the Card Game, again based around the classic trilogy, and again to popular acclaim. Designed by Eric M. Lang, this 2-player game was nominated for a number of Golden Geek Awards in 2013.

And then… along came Hearthstone and the CCG world moved online.

The Rise (and Rise) of Hearthstone

The publisher of War of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment first released Hearthstone on March 11, 2014. It was the first CCG video game, using lore from the Warcraft series and designed as a free-to-play turn-based online gaming experience.

The game client caters for Microsoft Windows, OS X and also supports iOS and Android devices, enabling players on different platforms to compete with each other using constructed decks of 30 cards apiece commanded by a selected hero with a unique power. The game ends when an opponent’s health has been reduced to zero… And then you swiftly start another one, because it’s seductive, easy to grasp, and very good fun. By April 2016, Blizzard reported a player base of over 50 million people and the game regularly features as a top Twitch stream. It’s easy to see why – Hearthstone is simple to play, yet fiendishly tricky to master. Individual games can be won or lost on a chain of critical moves. These are the requisite ingredients for a viewer-friendly sport, and so it has proved, with a number of high profile cash-prize tournaments hosted by Blizzard and other parties.

Hearthstone is so hot right now that even a series of celebrities have joined the ranks of its fans, from model Adrianne Curry to baseball pro Hunter Pence. Considering its heavily tactical gameplay, the hit game’s appeal to poker professionals is not surprising. Among the masters of the felt who play Hearthstone is Daniel Negreanu – who’s accumulated over $32 million to date in poker tournaments – and Bernard (ElkY) Grospellier. The latter in fact started his lucrative gaming career playing StarCraft II before moving to poker. ElkY often streams Hearthstone games on his popular twitch channel, just one of the reasons why he’s ended up in the top of the 2016 Social Power Table of poker players. Popular house DJs Zedd and Avicii – whose net worth is estimated at $75 million – also play the digital CCG, and there are tweets to prove it. Will they be this year’s surprise duelists at Blizzcon, just like Negreanu and ElkY played a live Hearthstone match there in 2015?

A New Hope

So what’s next? Enter HoloGrid: Monster Battle, which may turn out to be as radical a game changer as Hearthstone proved, stepping up the CCG format in decidedly futuristic (and familiar) ways. Star Wars Visual Effects Supervisor Phil Tippett is the name behind the game which is as yet still very much a work in progress. Tippett, winner of two Academy Awards for his special effects contributions, will be familiar to Star Wars fans as the man who created the famous Dejarik “Holochess” game played aboard the Millennium Falcon in the original film. Indeed, the two games, one fictional and the other virtual, bear uncanny similarities, as you can see below.

HoloGrid is something very new; a state-of-the-art digital modelling technique dubbed photogrammetry allows Tippett to scan in physical creature models and render them as 3D digital assets in the game. When played, physical cards will trigger miniature Augmented Reality creatures on a gameboard, wrestling for position in a way that looks an awful lot like Dejarik.

Tippett’s namesake visual effects company and now games developer is working closely with developer HappyGiant to bring their cast of alien monsters to snarling growling grappling life. It’s intended that the game be playable both online and offline, and also optimized for the new generation of AR hardware and Virtual Reality headsets. It’s certainly an ambitious idea, with some very intriguing possibilities.

“Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen…”

The technology is (almost) there. The phenomenal success of Hearthstone shows there’s a market to be had for online CCGs. And Phil Tippett must be in a good position to try his hand at a Star Wars licensed game along the same lines as HoloGrid.

HoloGrid could, then, be the “dry run” for a future VR/AR game based in the Star Wars universe.  Live-streamed Dejarik tournaments on twitch.tv might be closer than any of us suspected, so fast does the online gaming world move. Such a game would truly be a Force to reckon with.

 

Knowledge is Power: Legends in The Force Awakens

Crafting characters and universes is, put mildly, incredibly difficult. More difficult than threading a needle into a camel’s eye (such a small target and the hairy buggers keep objecting) or making pigs fly when the catapult is broken, it is nevertheless an essential part of storycraft. It can be done in hundreds of ways, big and small, and is often done in a clunky fashion, but sometimes done beautifully and well. And just occasionally you won’t even notice this artful crafting until one day when you’re having a bath, you stand suddenly and exclaim, ‘oh hey that’s funny.’ which is usually followed by ‘who left the window open, it’s a bit chilly in here?’

The Force Awakens has its fair share of such world building – and deliberately so. Set thirty years after the last installment, Return of the Jedi, and written specifically to harken back to the original films, Episode VII hides tiny nuggets of information in seemingly throwaway lines, imitating its predecessors which often did just that. I thought it would be nice to share one such part so that we could all go ‘oh that is quite funny’, and do so in a nitpicky fashion – because if years in the Star Wars fandom has taught me anything it’s that Star Wars fans love to nitpick (actually watching Star Wars comes a distant second). So as the saying goes, I’m here to nitpick and chew bubblegum, and baby, I’m all out of bu- oh wait I found a stick. Never mind.

Alien technology image via Prometheus

I’m contractually obliged to include a reference to a prequel film. It doesn’t specify which prequel

The Scene: 16 Crossing Paths (roughly 29 minutes in)

*Finn internally sings The Beatles’ ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’*

If your The Force Awakens copy is already set up to play (if not, why not?), please fast forward to the above mentioned scene. If you don’t feel like watching, here’s the necessary information: Rey and Finn meet. The end. Okay here’s some more: Finn ‘convinces’ Rey that he’s a member of the Resistence and that the beachball droid is important. And then this conversation takes place:

Rey: BB-8 says he’s on a secret mission, he has to get back to your base.

Finn: Apparently he has a map that leads to Luke Skywalker and everyone’s after it.

Rey: Luke Skywalker! I thought he was a myth.

BB-8 (Presumably): Could you guys draw me a bubble bath? Oh and some stormtroopers are here. We should leave, but bath first, ‘kay? #Priorities

At first glance I thought this was a simple allusion to the mythology of the Big Three – Han, Leia and Luke. In the same way that the Force is thought of as some hokey religion by Han in A New Hope – which itself takes place about twenty years after a time when the Jedi and the Force were prevalent in society – so too is Luke treated as some sort of made up entity. This idea changed when the novelization to the movie hit book shelves. In the book the above scene is presented from Finn’s point of view and, when Rey notes that she thought Luke was a myth, Finn’s internal monologue makes it clear that he knows quite well who Luke Skywalker is and what he did. More than that, he is quite surprised that Rey believes Luke to be a myth. ‘Backwater world’ may have been words thought by he.

Now, it’s a little bit iffy to turn to a book or other source for information that ought to be present in the film, so I went and watched the film again, in search for an answer. Truly I suffer so that you don’t have to. So let’s look to another scene, similar in tone to the above.

The Scene: 26 Chewie, We’re Home (roughly 41 minutes in)

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Best. Reaction video. Ever. Seriously I cry every time.

Again if you don’t wish to watch (which is fine, though you shall be shunned for eternity), Rey, Finn and BB-8 are escaping Jakku aboard the Falcon when Han and Chewie happen upon them. The two groups share a brief introduction:

Rey: This is the Millenium Falcon? You’re Han Solo!

Han: I used to be.

Finn: Han Solo, the Rebellion General?

Rey: No, the smuggler.

Finn: Wasn’t he a war hero?

Chewie (Presumably): Oh sure, he’s the war hero. Never mind that I fought in two galactic wars, freed my people, kept this hunk of junk in one piece and kept her fast enough to make the Kessel run in 14 parsecs and put up with that miserable git. But do I get a medal? I. Think. Not.

Rey: This is the ship that made the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs?

Han (indignant): TWELVE!

*Chewie sniggers to himself* (I’m guessing)

With these few throwaway lines it’s made clear that Finn once again knows more (sort of, I’ll get there) than Rey, backing up the assertion from the book, that Finn does actually know who that old bearded joker is.

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Finn is totally a Jason Todd truther

And this makes sense: as a member of the First Order of course Finn is going to know more about galactic political history. Even if it’s warped for ideological/propaganda reasons, it’s still entirely likely that widdle baby stormtwoopers would be taught about the terrible fall of the Empire and the rise of the hated New Republic, the death of their beloved dear leader, Sheev Palpatine, at the hands the Jedi, Luke Skywalker, the war ‘hero’, Han Solo, and … that politician one. Leia something.

Okay I’m being snarky without reason on that one, but since I’ve brought it up I’d like to note: since it’s never addressed by either Rey or Finn, we don’t really know what either know or don’t know about Leia. Because that’s the case I really have no grounds to be snarky about it. At a guess I’d say that Finn would at least know of her, whereas Rey would not, for reasons that I’ll get to. However it does feel like Leia’s getting short shrift in the film: she has not much impact on the story beyond getting Han to proffer a conciliatory hand to their son as well as being the general in charge of the Resistance – a role that could have been given to any random character, old or new.

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Sorry Leia

(That said, it’s good that she’s more than just a princess/diplomat and has a strong political role. I just wish that she had a larger role and one that isn’t comparable to a secondary character in the original trilogy.)

Where was I? Ah, yes. Whereas Finn would have a good or at least passable knowledge of the Force, Luke, Han and maybe Leia, Rey would reasonably only have good knowledge of Han – and that’s because they operate in the same universe: the mechanic’s universe. Look at that exchange again: she knows of Han solely as the smuggler because that’s the culture in which she’s been raised, one that puts more value on ships and the parts therein than the actual beings that flew them. Certainly more emphasis on gadgets than on some galaxy altering war which, in her corner of the galaxy, doesn’t actually mean much, and what alterations this war did have on Jakku happened briefly and before she was born. That one battle, as far as we know, is the one and only time that events of consequence have reached Jakku so it seems reasonable that Rey would have little to no knowledge of Han as some war hero, or even as Leia as a war hero, too, or politician.

If I may stop again: that’s an explanation for (seemingly) why things are, but it feels a bit too much like apologia for the film dropping the ball. I’m going to leave that in because it does explain Rey’s lack of knowledge of Han Solo as a war hero, but I wish to make it clear that if a book/comic/film doesn’t explain something adequately or fails in some other way, we should first try to accept that, yes, this is a thing they messed up – rather than quickly try to explain it away. Without that first step we’re merely hiding the problem – and that doesn’t help in the endeavor of addressing and fixing it.

First leaked image from the young Han Solo film

To return to the previous point: certainly there’s more emphasis on gadgets than a galactic war, and so too would there be more emphasis on this than on some wishy washy nonsense that is the Force. This makes sense both in and out of universe. Out of universe because it utilizes the hero’s journey narrative pattern as a means of grounding something so unknown and intangible as the Force. Put another way, by having Rey be some every-woman mechanic – something we can relate to in the real world – and by using the time-worn story structure, that thing we know well, it acts as a sort of stepping stone so that we may have a basic understanding of the mythology of the Star Wars universe.

And it makes sense in-universe because, well, the Force truly is a mythology to them. Aside from Luke and his select few (which has become even fewer thanks to Kylo-Ben), no one has a large breadth of understanding of the intricacies of the Force, and probably haven’t known it so well as the Old Jedi Order of the prequel trilogy era (thanks to another Skywalker).

So what does this all mean? Put bluntly: very little. There are no real, earth shattering bombshells to be had here. But it does present a good example of how to do story telling well. Movies have very little time to present their universe, their story and characters; they are little more than a snapshot compared to, say, a book or a video game or even a comic book. Filmmakers have to invest as much information as they can into ever scene, every bit of dialogue. Say what you like about the film (and we have, so very much), but I can’t help but admire how the filmmakers rarely wasted a scene to provide depth to the universe and the characters within it.

Michael Dare

Why Star Wars Rebels is a Must-Watch for any Star Wars Fan

Ever since Lucasfilm and Disney XD unveiled their latest Star Wars television series, Star Wars Rebels sometime last year, I have been enthralled with the latest exploration of the Star Wars universe. Aside from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there’s no doubt in my mind that Rebels is the absolute best Star Wars production since The Return of the Jedi.

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There’s a lot of debate among Star Wars fans who prefer The Clone Wars to Star Wars Rebels. While The Clone Wars has its many merits and is an absolutely wonderful series, I won’t be making any comparisons between the two shows, because in all honesty they’re both great shows in their own ways and don’t really deserve to be pitted against each other. Instead, I’ll be looking at what makes Rebels such a nearly-perfect show, and I’ll save the Clone Wars vs Rebels discussion for another article.

Anyone that knows that I’m a Star Wars fan should be well aware that I prefer the original trilogy over the prequel trilogy to the franchise, so when Rebels was the first Star Wars production to return to that era last year, it was something worth celebrating, and it felt like a return to something eerily familiar in the most unfamiliar of settings. Though we’re roughly in the same era as A New Hope, we’re being told a completely different story with entirely different, unfamiliar characters, and surprisingly, it works wonders. The series follows an unlikely team of Rebels who rise against the Empire during the dark period set before Luke Skywalker even enters the picture. Surprisingly, that setting of the show works well, and with this original new storytelling, and it makes a nice addition to the vast Star Wars universe.

But what makes Star Wars Rebels a truly impressive entry in the Star Wars canon? The storytelling throughout the show is so rich and engaging, and adds so many unpredictable twists along the way, crafting likable and complex characters. The series does a great job at setting itself between the dark period between The Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, not only does it do a good job at playing itself within that Star Wars period, but it also incorporates characters and set pieces from the original trilogy quite well. The thing that makes it so impressive though is that everything that made the Star Wars originals so spectacular is present in the series, from its superb storytelling right down to its quirky, subtle humor, Rebels has all the markings of a Star Wars classic.

There’s also plenty of bonus surprises for fans of The Clone Wars to be found in Rebels. Several key characters have made integral appearances on the show, and some with major story arcs that carry over from The Clone Wars into the rest of the Star Wars universe. Though it doesn’t quite necessarily need these characters to make Rebels a great show, the show benefits from having many of the same creators as The Clone Wars to throw in a few extra surprises to satisfy fans of the previous series.

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In the end, Star Wars Rebels continues to be an absolutely impressive new addition from Lucasfilm on a weekly basis, and a very welcome and satisfying inclusion to the Star Wars universe that’s bound to impress any Star Wars fan. Thanks to its likable characters and well-crafted storytelling, Rebels is truly a must-see show for the ages.

Mitchell Stein is the founder and operator of the Disney-fan based website The Mickey Mindset which is a leader in delivering Disney news, articles and opinions across the company. He can be contacted by following him on Twitter @MitchellStein1.

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.