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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

By July 10, 2017 Books, Entertainment, Ramblings, Reviews, Stuff I Like

Much of the world, by this time, is familiar with Harry Potter. if you haven’t read the book, or seen the movie, you know someone close to you who has. And chances are they loved it.

Per haps they grew out of it. Maybe they just lost interest in it, or perhaps they love it just as much today as they did 10 years ago, or longer.  Maybe, just maybe, they’ve become even bigger fans.  Maybe they joined the local Quidditch team.  Or practice incantations and invocations in the deep of night.

The fact is, this story is everywhere.

So, why am I reviewing this book?  Read on!

Harry Potter was written by J.K. Rowling.  She wrote the first novel while riding the train to and from work.  It was based off of characters she made up telling her children bedtime stories.  It took her multiple tries before a publisher would print her book.

Her last novel was finished in one of the most expensive hotels in the UK.  The first, in a tiny home, with her family.  She is a true success story, rising to fame and fortune based off of her literary work, and some pretty fun movies.

Which is why it’s so interesting to see her style change and grow as she wrote the series.  She started in Sorcerer’s stone using simple descriptions, like green grass, and emerald green.  But by the final book, her prose was much more detailed.

But the story, both hers and Harry’s, starts with this book.

It’s a simple enough beginning.  Dumbledore drops baby Harry off on the doorstep of his closest blood relative.  Though they are “the worst kind of Muggles”, Dumbledore does it anyways.  This first scene set so much of the series up.  Hagrid delivering baby Harry on Sirius’ old motorcycle, and getting emotional.  Dumbledore knowing more than he tells even his closest advisors.  And Professor McGonagall ever the voice of reason and logic, but edged with caution and almost, but not quite, fear.

And the Dursley’s.  The Dursleys were, indeed, the worst kind of Muggles.  They were mean, cruel, and down right abusive to Harry.  But, for some reason (a spell perhaps?) they couldn’t get rid of him.  Instead, they used him as slave labor, and gave him hand-me-downs.  they even tried to stop him from going to Hogwarts – but of course there would be no stopping him.  Again, they would send Hagrid to collect Harry.  Probably not the best idea, but hey, Dumbledore knows what he’s doing, right?

And off Harry goes, introducing us to the world of magic.  This is a common literary trope, along with dead parents, that JK leans into heavily in the book.  She uses the red herring trope masterfully, and shows she had a long term plan for the story.  Through Harry’s eyes, we learn of magic, and the wonders thereof.  (And at the end of the story, when it’s ripped away from Harry and he has to return to the Dursley’s, we feel his pain, and strongly empathize with him.  )

JK introduces Harry’s frienemy, Draco Malfoy.  While he’s mostly an antagonist through much of the series, we ultimately learn that Draco isn’t REALLY such a bad guy….deep….deep down.  The concept of the Houses brings a natural drama to all the proceedings.  From this point on, it’s Gryffendor cs Slytherin, framing every conflict in the series to come.

We learn Harry has a natural aptitude for flying.  One of the only things he is able to do without effort or trying.  Pretty useful later int he series, but in the first scene with a broomstick, he impresses McGonagall, and is recruited to the Quiddich team.  This is a fairly easy trope to identify, as being naturally good at sports and instantly recruited to the school team is quite the wish fulfillment for quite a few people.  Harry as the reader surrogate really hits all the right notes.

As the year progresses, JK uses weather, and holidays to indicate the passage of time.  This is an issue many authors have, when telling a story.  It happens too fast, too often, with never a break in the action from one page to the next.  And it simply isn’t how life is.  Harry goes through almost an entire year before ultimately solving the riddle of the Sorcerer’s Stone location, and getting past all the traps, and ultimately having his showdown with Voldemort.  He has days, and months, before he happens upon a lead.  This is much more realistic than any TV police procedural.  Polyjuice potion?  Takes a MONTH to brew.  Sorry, that lab work won’t get to you in an hour.

JK has 7 years, and 7 books, she had to try to write for.  In this beginning book, she was trying to tell as complete a story as possible, while still keeping the story moving along, so they would age through the course of the book.  She intended her audience to, quite literally, grow up reading her books.  And they did!

By the end of the story, Harry has overcome obstacles, had a friend (Professor Quirril) turn to an enemy, encountered a Red Herring (Snape), had an enemy (Snape) turn into a friend (sort of), and saved the day, because he was “The Chosen One”.  She successfully used the literary tropes we are used to seeing, a sort of writing short hand, to be able to write an efficient story, and not describe every little detail or scene.

I think the big reason that this series is so successful, is that JK didn’t talk down to her audience.  While the book was marketed for kids, it was never really a children’s book.  The central theme is death, loss, and family.  These are some seriously deep issues for a ‘children’s book’.

As an introduction to reading, however, it is perfect.  As a child grows, so does their understanding of the book.  new levels, new truths are understood upon a second, third, and fourth reading.  As their reading comprehension grows, so, too, does their appreciation for the skill required to write such a masterpiece.

I was introduced to this series by a friend, who bought me the first 4 books (the ones that ere out at the time), and by the time the movie came out, I was a fan.

Buy this book.  Share it with your children.  The entire series is…if I may….MAGICAL.

 

 

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WWE PPV: Extreme Rules 2017 Review

By June 6, 2017 All The Rest, Entertainment, Ramblings, Reviews, Stuff I Like, TV, Wrestling

So, we’ve just had Extreme Rules (A raw specific PPV), and in a week or so, we’ll have Money in the Bank.

But today, let’s talk Extreme Rules.

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Episode Recap: Agents of SHIELD S4E21 “The Return”

By May 11, 2017 Entertainment, Marvel, Reviews, Stuff I Like, SuperHeroes, TV

Wow.  That’s all I can say about this season.  Last night’s episode was, to say the least, pretty emotional.

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Episode Recap: The Flash S3E21 “Cause and Effect”

By May 10, 2017 DC, Entertainment, Stuff I Like, SuperHeroes, TV

Last week, Barry discovered who Savitar was – and it was himself, from the future, sort of.  Turns out he is a Time Remnant.

This week, we get an explanation, as to what exactly happened that caused Barry to become Savitar.  The two Barrys’ have a nice heart-to-heart, and Barry learns how Savitar is created.

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Guest Blogger: Starr Piercy – The Quest for The Perfect Cheeseburger

By May 8, 2017 All The Rest, Food, Guest Bloggers, Ramblings, Reviews, Stuff I Like, Travel

Originally posted Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at www.StarrPiercy.com

The Quest for The Perfect Cheeseburger

I don’t know what it is about a burger. Perhaps it’s the juicy meat patty or the melty cheese; maybe it’s the soft bun or a nice hard ciabatta bun! Man, I was in heaven when Jack in The Box had the Ciabatta burger! Pretzel buns never really struck me though. I mean seriously…what was that about? I love a Wendy’s Baconator, and Scott has totally sold me on In N Out’s Double Double Animal Style, my favorite though is BBQ Bacon and Cheddar burger from Smashburger…that with some SmashFries…yum!

Clearly, I have a thing about burgers.

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Video Game Review: Golf Clash

By April 30, 2017 All The Rest, Entertainment, Ramblings, Reviews, Stuff I Like, Video Games

Golf Clash is a game made by Playdemic. Overall, it seems a pretty straightforward golf game.  If you’ve played Tiger Woods golf, or any golf game in the last decade, this should be a very easy game for you to pick up, and learn.  You can play it on Facebook via your PC, or on your phone, and connect it to your Facebook account.  I find it works MUCH faster and cleaner without having to go through Facebook, so I play a majority of my games on my phone.

The game starts off easy enough.  It walks you through driving the ball, and putting the ball against a computer opponent (a bot).  So, you drive a ball, you put a ball, then you play a game.  After that, it’s game on!

Story

It’s golf.  There is no story, except you are playing golf.  As you.  Against other people.  Occasionally, they will have national tournaments, and such…but there really is no story to this game.  It’s golf.  You golf for money and prizes.

Game Play

The controls are easy.  On the computer, click and hold on the ball, drag it backwards, and wait for the swing meter to be in the middle, and let go.  The swing meter moves faster or slower, depending on several factors.  The first is how hard you are trying to hit the ball (the further back you pull, the harder you hit the ball).  Overpowering a shot makes it go further, but makes the swing meter go back and forth faster than a Venus Williams tennis game.  Lower power makes the swing meter go slower, making it an easier shot.

You can also drag the ball to the left or right to curl the shot.  This gives it an arcing left or right curve, and can get you around obstacles (like water hazards, and sand traps), while keeping you on the green in a way a straight shot won’t.  Higher quality clubs have greater curl than the beginning clubs, so if you’re looking to curl your shot around those trees, better upgrade your clubs!  The better you upgrade your clubs, the easier the game gets.  More control, more accuracy, top spin, backspin, curl, and the bounce trajectory are all enhanced with upgrades.  Want to know EXACTLY where your ball will bounce?  Gotta upgrade your club!  Of course, upgrades cost money, as does entry to the hole.  So you have to be careful about upgrading too quickly, and leaving yourself stuck on the beginner course, with no way to earn more than 50 coins at a time.

All games are 1 hole, with a shoot-out in case of a draw.  I have found, when players are nearly equally skilled, and with similar clubs – the result is almost always a draw.  Unless the person leading off has vastly superior clubs, amazing skill/luck, or someone takes a really bad shot, most games are going to end up in a shoot-out.

The rules of the shootout are easy:  closest to the pin wins.  These are very short holes, usually not over 180 yards, so you won’t be using your driver.  Most of the time you’ll be using a wood club, so upgrade this club often, and frequently!  The better your wood is, the better you can place your shots.

The real challenge is when someone gets a hole-in-one.  Since the green is so close, you get 1 shot, and closest wins.  So, of course, the best play is to get your ball in the hole!  Whoever is closest wins, so if you both manage to get a hole in one, the game moves on to another shootout hole.  This continues until one fails to get a hole in one, or they both fail to get a hole in one, and one is closer to the pin.  The winner gets the spoils.  In this case, it’s trophies, gold coins, and occasionally a reward chest.

Golf Clash has a trophy system, as well as a coin system.  As you win games, you get trophies (2 for beginning, then 3, etc).  Trophies do nothing, except unlock the next tour.  Sometimes, you get gems for collecting trophies (such as 5 gems for getting all the beginning trophies (tour 1 is 20 trophies).

Gems are valuable, as they are the currency of the realm, along with the gold coins.  Gems can buy new clubs from the clubhouse (every day there is a special on a new club).  You can buy upgrade cards, chests, piles of coins, and piles of gems.  I prefer to play my games without spending money, so I simply collect the gems from chests, and from the achievement unlocks.

As you progress from tour to tour, you are comparing your total winnings against others in your division.  At the end of the week, the top 3 players in the division get chests (platinum, gold, and silver).  The chests can contain gold, gems, upgrade cards, new clubs, and special high powered golf balls.  You only get to use a golf ball once, so I try to use them sparingly, but they have special abilities like wind resistance, and a greater control over left and right spin.  Clubs can only control top and backspin, so if you need that extra edge, a good ball can do the trick.

So there’s the game play.  Aim your ball, adjust for spin, pull back, and release when the swing meter is centered.  That’s the extent of the controls.  The real challenge, however, is in mastering the spin, power, wind, bounce, and the rest.  Simple to learn, difficult to master.

The real fun begins when you add your Facebook friends and challenge them to a round!

Sound

Golf Clash has a very simple sounds.  An announcer tells you if you’ve had a great shot, or a perfect shot (perfect shot is the exact center of the swing meter, and a little off to the right or left is “great”.  He also announces the results of your putt (Par, birdie, etc).

There is also the sound of the club swinging, the crowd clapping and “ooooh”-ing, and the ball hitting a hazard.  But other than that there really are not a lot of sounds.  It’s minimalistic in it’s approach, but I think it’s effective.  Leave the rest for game play!

Graphics

On Facebook, it seems very low quality.  Perhaps it’s the interface, perhaps its the need of going through Facebooks servers.  Whatever the reason, Golf Clash looks terrible on Facebook, and it is slow to load screens or when changing between players.

On my phone, however, it’s amazing.  You can easily tell the difference between fairway, rough, and out of bounds.  The trees look nice (from a distance.  Up close, some of the tree texturing is funky, but you can ignore it without too much work.)  The water, the courses, the sky, all look amazing.  The superior golf balls have different designs on them, and you can see them move as they roll on the ground, a nice little touch.

The graphics for game play are good, the other graphics are fairly simple.  An easy to use interface, with easy to access pages makes it simple to get going without a lot of effort.  The graphics are done well enough you don’t notice them, and no glaring clipping issues or bugs.

Replay

This game is nothing but replay value.  If you enjoy golfing, or electronic golfing, this game is going to take hours from your life.  The format of 1 hole, and the shootout, means you don’t feel a large sink of time.  It’s always “just one more game, it only takes 5 minutes!”, and the next thing you know, 3 hours have passed.

The real challenge and replay value is in the additional tours.  There are 11 tours.  Tour 1, the beginner tour, is 50 coins to join, and you win 100.  Tour 11 is 10 million to buy in, and 20 million when you win.

Each tour brings slightly more challenge.  The beginning course, it’s all straight shots, wide open greens, and pretty easy not to mess up.  By the third tour, you have to deal with much strong winds, complex fairways (trees, hazards, etc), and little room for error.  This game is predicated on you playing it multiple times.  It brings you back with chests that unlock over time (or you can use gems to get them faster), a variety of tours to choose from, random players from across the world, and the ability to challenge your friends.

Final Decision: 21 points

The scoring is on a point system from 0 – 5.

Story – 0
There is literally no story to this game.

Gameplay – 5
It’s an excellent, fun, easy to play golf game.

Sound – 3
It’s got little sound to it, but the sounds that are there fit very well.

Graphics – 3
On Facebook it seems very low quality, but on my phone, it’s pretty high quality.  Good images, icons, and overall artwork is fine.  No lag on my phone, but some delays via Facebook.

Replay – 5
I would give it a higher score if I could.  This has taken hours of my time, and will probably take more before I am done.

Final Thoughts: I like it.  I’ve been a fan of golfing games for many years.  There is always some sort of way to raise the skill of your character (Outlaw Golf on the Xbox), or your clubs (like Tiger Woods PGA), and Golf Clash is no different.

It’s got high re-playability, which is important for me.  It’s got a way to play for free, without having to spend ANY money, also important to me, and it allows you to play against real people, in real time – even letting you challenge your friends!

The graphics, for a golf game, are pretty good, without being overbearing and too technical.

There is no story, but it’s golf, and that hardly takes away from the over all fun.

So there you have it, Golf Clash on your phone or Facebook.  I recommend it!

 

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Classic Video Game Review: Yar’s Revenge

By April 28, 2017 All The Rest, Entertainment, Ramblings, Reviews, Stuff I Like, Video Games

Yar’s revenge.  This game was unlike anything I had seen.

Back in the “olden times” (the 1980’s), video game graphics were terrible.  I mean, they stunk  up the place, badly.  If you squinted, and tried REALLY HARD, sometimes you could actually see what the artists intended you to see.  But 8 bit graphics were hardly able to keep up with the artist renderings on the outside of the box.  Yar’s Revenge had a simple box, brightly colored, with what looked to be a fly, shooting fire balls.  I mean, this was hardly eye catching, compared to some of the other covers competing for young eye balls.

Inside, there was a comic book.  It gave the backstory to the “Yars”.  Turns out, the Yars were flies, which were launched into space, on accident, during some human space mission (it’s in the 80’s, they set it ‘in the future’, that’s the best we get!).  Somehow, being launched into space gave them the ability to fly in space unprotected, eat literally anything (including energy) and convert it into energy balls they could shoot out of their face.  It seemed like a super cool idea (I was 12, give me a break!)  So I was pretty hooked, before the game even started.  Who wouldn’t want to play as a fly that could eat anything?

To be honest, I expected to be the humans, fighting the invading Yars.  Even with the title of “Yar’s Revenge” I didn’t expect to play as the Yar.  I expected to play as a human.  That’s how video games were played.  Aliens invade, we fight them.  I mean, Space Invaders captured the trope perfectly!  What else would I expect?

Certainly not the Yars defending their race after an evil alien race destroyed one of their planets.  It was the entire “humans defending their planet from an evil alien race” trope, but the ‘humans’ were flies.  My 12-year-old mind was blown.  These were peaceful (mostly) aliens, who simply wanted revenge for the deaths of millions, possibly billions of their species.

Now, you might be thinking “But these are flies!”  Sure, they’re giant mutated space flies that can eat any material and convert it to energy to blast you apart with.  But these are gentle, peace loving flies.  Not the buzzing, annoying flies of earth.  Or so I imagined.

And off I went to play the game.   Overall, game play is pretty simple.  There’s the Yar (you), the shield (right side of the screen), and a “neutral zone” (static bar in the middle) where the Yar-seeking missle couldn’t destroy you, and that’s pretty much IT.  Once you eat a piece of the shield, you can summon the Quarlon Cannon (or whatever the name was).  But that’s where the evil SWIRLY OF DEATH resides.  So, you are being chased by the Yar-seeking missile (and only safe in the neutral zone), while you avoid the Swirly of Death, and you want to shoot the forward-only Cannon into the vulnerable center of the shield.

The cannon followed you, the Yar, across the screen, and fired in a straight shot.  So, basic strategy was to eat a piece of the cannon, fire your energy blasts to make a hole, then fly off into the neutral zone, and fire your cannon to destroy the base.  Seems simple enough.

But, there are a few twists.  First, the missile gets faster.  I mean, not TOO fast, but faster.  Second, the Swirly of Death changes color, and each color change brings a new ability.  Fist, the Swirly of Death just shoots forward.  Easy to avoid, and go in for the kill.

Then, the Swirly of Death fires directly at you (well, one of the 8 square directions).  Then, it fires at you, and changes direction once.  Then it fires at you, and changes direction towards you as long as you’re on the screen.  The Swirly o Death becomes the Yar-seeking Swirly of Death.  And the neutral zone, which protects you from the missile….is useless.  The Swirly will find you, and it WILL kill you.  It has a special set of skills, and you will regret ever crossing it.

Which makes it sound like the game is pretty well capped at a certain level.  But you could not be more wrong.

In the 80’s, video game magazines sometimes posted screen shots (literally a picture of a TV screen taken on a camera…my mother’s Polaroid for example) of high scores, or such.  One game, called “Demon Attack” by Activision, after a certain point, the score would turn into all exclamation points “!!!,!!!,!!!”.  You could send the screen shot into Activision and get….”something”.  I took the screen shot, and sent it in, but never received the “something”.  Maybe it was easier to do than they thought?  Either way, you took a shot, and sent it in, and they congratulated you.

On Yar’s revenge, though, there was something similar.  If you managed to kill the Swirly of Death with the cannon (instead of shooting into the base), it would beat the level, and give you a free man.  In between levels, it was paused.  So after a level, you could take a break, and come back later.   Shooting the Swirly of Death was rather difficult, as you were the target, and it followed you, rather than flying in a straight line, like the cannon.

But, here’s the trick I found, which allowed me to play the game for over a week.

The trick is to get to the pink Swirly of Death.  This is the highest level of Swirly, and it follows you on the screen everywhere.  The Yar-seeking ability is critical.  So, here’s how to win:  Fly up to the shield, eat a piece, summon the cannon.  Fly into the neutral zone, and hang out at the very top (or bottom) of the screen.  The screen wrapped around up and down, but not left to right.  And that is the key to beating the Swirly of Death.  Once you’ve summoned the cannon, you wait in the neutral zone, where the missile can’t hurt you.  The Swirly fires, and you move off to the other side of the screen (top if you were on the bottom, bottom if you were on the top), and the swirly follows you, now safely inside the neutral zone.  Then you wait for it to get close, fire the cannon, and move off to the right towards the shield, and the Swirly follows you, and is destroyed by the cannon, giving you a free life.  I won’t say it’s particularly easy to do, but I will tell you that after a week straight, it gets a little boring once you master the move.  And get a free life with every stage victory.

I sent in my screen shot, of my Yar’s Revenge game…and I got a response!  They said they didn’t track how long someone could play Yar’s Revenge, but congratulated me on my amazing ability.

So, I’ve got that going for me.

www.cosmicscott.com

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