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Your avatar and you: where does one begin and the other end?

Let’s be honest, folks: James Cameron’s Avatar was a disappointing waste of time. If I wanted to see Pocahontas, I would have just dug through my parent’s VHS collection. Of course, the visuals were stunning and we can blame it on Cameron that nowadays every movie requires you to put on silly glasses, but the movie had an interesting element: transferring to one’s avatar, becoming an entirely different physical being with new capabilities and looks. It’s a thought many gamers can relate to, since it’s what we do every time we pick up our controllers or log-in to our game of choice. But just like the protagonist in this mostly boring piece of visual ecstasy, some of us don’t simply put on our avatars: they become their alter ego, and the more time they spend in that skin, the hard it becomes to shed off.

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Legend of Korra Book Two Premiere: what worked and what did not

korra season 2 episode 1 2

WARNING: THIS POST HAS MASTERED ALL FOUR STYLES OF SPOILER-BENDING!

Being treated to not just one but two episodes at the start of a new season is somewhat standard procedure these days, but it still surprised me when Nick decided to give us that extra bit of material last Friday. Nevertheless, I’m here to talk about the opening episodes of season two of Legend of Korra. Previously, I wrote about my wishes for this season, and I’m glad to see that at least two things of my wish list have been adressed already. Still, I can’t just sing praise about the first chapters of the new book, so I’ll be telling you what worked and didn’t work so far (at least from my point of view).

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My wishes for the next season of Legend of Korra

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Friday is September 13. Friday the 13th…hmm, usually, that means bad things are gonna happen. It’s a day where you’re supposed to evade black cats, ladders and other bad omens. This year, though, it can’t be that bad, since it will be the day the second season (or “book”) of Legend of Korra will air on Nickelodeon!

I’m a big fan of everything related to Avatar, so you can imagine I’m hyped for the start of the new season. However, the first season had some issues. Minor issues, to be honest, but issues nonetheless. That’s why I’m giving you my top three wishes for Legend of Korra: Book Two – Spirits.

Number 3: An in-depth exploration of the Spirit World
The Last Airbender did have its share of scenes in the Spirit World, but for a job that involves keeping the balance between both worlds, Aang didn’t wander off that often into this weird land of dreams and illusions. A shame, since I love the entire art and design of it. Luckily, the name of Book Two of Korra’s tale is “Spirits”, so there’s got to be some action in the other world! Considering Korra’s rash and fiery nature, I’m curious to see how she interacts with the spirits, and if we might learn more about the origin of bending and the role the spirits play. It would surely give some depth to the setting, and take the story to another plane of existence.

Number 2: Less love triangle
Don’t get me wrong, I love drama and emotion as much as any other fan of a good story, but the love triangle between Mako, Asami and Korra felt rather annoying to me. It didn’t add that much to the characters, and felt more like the writers thought that it was just necessary to have Korra go through some “girly feelings”. The rushed pacing of the episodes didn’t help here either, and so I felt like the relationship between the three couldn’t receive the time it deserve. So when I say I want to see “less love triangle”, I actually mean “less cheap, boring love triangle without any meaning to the plot”.

Number 1: Comic relief Bolin
Okay, I get it, every show needs a comic relief character. The Last Airbender had Sokka and the animal sidekicks for that, and Legend of Korra is using Bolin. However, there’s a difference between a comic relief character that does something, and one you only have for shits and giggles. Bolin, sadly, belongs to the second category. Once you’re past the first three episodes, Bolin has devolved from a cool, somewhat awkward earth-bender to nothing but the amusing sidekick of the group. I might exaggerate a bit here, but occasionally, I could take Pabu more seriously than Bolin. Either Bolin has some major character development early in the second season, or I really wouldn’t mind if Amon would just blood-bend him out of the show.

So that’s my top three wishes for the upcoming season. You agree? You don’t agree? No matter, leave your comments below and geek out with me when the first episode of Book Two airs coming Friday!

Chin out.

P.S.: Though he didn’t make it into my top three, I hope we see some more of foaming mouth guy. The show would be nowhere without him.

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My top 3 favourite portrayals of martial arts in fiction

“Martial Arts in the Sunset” by MINORITYmaN

Ah, martial arts. These two words alone conjure a myriad of images. From the old, wise sensei teaching his students secret techniques, to the tough practitioners who turn their bodies into lethal weapons through rigorous training: everyone has his own image of the martial traditions in his mind. Martial arts are a by now a staple of fantasy fiction, and have been portrayed in different ways in the media. I grew up with mutant turtles trained in ninjitsu, and cartoons these days teach kids that martial arts give you the power to bend the four classic elements.

Of course, most of these portrayals have almost nothing to do with the real deal. The martial arts of our world, while often steeped in tradition, are anything but supernatural. Yes, to master them, one most devote much time to them, but seldom do they involve spiritual journeys and fighting demons from beyond. Two years ago, I started to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and so far, it hasn’t given me any superpowers (unless you consider a healthy lifestyle one). However, I’m a sucker for supernatural martial arts, and in this post, I want to share my top 3 portrayals of martial arts in fiction with you. So don your gi, sit down in the lotus position, and read this countdown patiently, grasshopper!

Number 3: Jade Empire
BioWare has this special touch when it comes to making great RPG’s. While recent titles received quite some critique, the older games are true pieces of art. One of these is Jade Empire, an epic RPG set in a medieval Chinese setting, where the fist and wicked sorcery rule the land. Characters in this game learn supernatural martial arts, to fight against the evil that threatens the land.

While the premise is identical to the hundred of Chinese action movies you can find in the discount bin of your favourite DVD shop, what made this game stand out was its fluent and impressive combat system. Shifting from one style to another was fluent and easy, giving combat a really dynamic twist. Additionally, the styles your character could acquire were really distinctive and creative. Each style had their own cool animations, and all of them really fitted into the setting. It was delightful to simply see your character pulling off those moves, and I will forever remember it as the single RPG that made martial arts look rad!

Number 2: Tekken 3
Back when I was a little Chindividual, Tekken 3 was one of my favourite PS1 games. While I never mastered the depth of it, it was good enough to vent your aggressions and to beat up your big brother in some way. Each character had his own distinct style, and they all played different. From the half-demonic Jin to the kung-fu cop Law, Tekken 3 even offered you a chance to play a fighting wooden puppet. Most of the martial arts portrayed in this game was actually pretty down-to-earth, except for some subtle lightning animations and special glows. Though I’m not a big fan of fighting games, Tekken 3 still knows how to knock me out with its fighting swagger!

Number 1: Avatar
No, I’m not talking about that boring movie. I’m talking about the cartoons The Last Airbender (please forget the horrible movie adaptation) and Legend of Korra. In both cartoons, martial arts are ways to bend the natural elements of fire, water, air and earth. People who have a knack for it can learn one of these styles, and are then able to manipulate their chosen element through sweet-looking moves.

While many people wouldn’t call the bending of the shows actual martial arts, their movements are clearly inspired by styles from our world. It makes me happy to see a bunch of creative people turning these into a something so spectacular. While the fists of the characters seldom meet, they use their martial arts to force their will upon the world around them, directing it as if their bodies were divine instruments. It’s epic, cool and simply entertaining to see, and that’s why it’s my number one on this list.

So there you have it, my three favourite portrayals of martial arts in fiction. Do you think I missed any? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Strange Sunday – Every Dwarf was kung-fu fightin’

“dwarf monk” by travistye

Starting today, every sunday will be dedicated to the ways we can use to break the mold and make our games more interesting. I will talk about things that have the guts to ignore the stereotypes, and that bring new things to our games. Today, I will take a closer look at my favourite fantasy race, and tell you why they are often as bland as my fair-looking nemesis.

The reason why I love Dwarves more than Elves is simple: Dwarves are more relatable. They are cheerful, they love to drink, dance and be merry. They grow extremely cool beards, delve into the darkest dungeons to find the rarest ore and fight enemies ten times their size without even feeling a sense of fear. They teach us a lesson: no matter how tall or tiny you are, with the right mindset and a cold beer, you can tackle every challenge.

However, Dwarves also lack a bit of diversity. In most fantasy settings, they live deep in the mountains, make the best ale and have long beards. It gets old really quick, and while I would always prefer a bearded stump over a fair and pretty Elf, I hunger for some new ideas concerning our short-legged friends. What would make them really cool? Well, below you’ll find a short suggestion that you can use freely to make the Dwarves in your games a bit more interesting, giving your players more than the usual blacksmithing, beer-brewing bubs.

The Masters of Dragondance Mountains
In the far north, hidden in the depths of the Dragondance Mountains, a war rages between the Dojos of the Dwarves. Since the dawn of time, each of these martial arts schools has focused on mastering one of the mountain’s elements through physical exercise: rock, lightning, storm and snow. Each Dojo, lead by one of the Arch-Sifu, has claimed to be the most powerful, and every year, when the sun kisses the highest peak of the Dragondance Mountains, the Dwarves gather at Dao-Zhin, the Fateful Grounds of Earthen Justice. Here, the strongest students of every Dojo face each other in one-on-one battles for honour and the righteousness of their ways. However, trouble is brewing in the depths of the Dragondance, as a fifth, unknown Dojo has emerged, harnessing the darkness of the deeps. Will the four Arch-Sifus unite their schools to fight a common enemy, or will they falter before the might of the Ebon Sword That Pierces The Sun?

Masters of Dragondance Mountains combines classic Chinese martial arts movies elements with a bit of The Last Airbender to turn Dwarves in the kung-fu masters using a set of alternate elements to enhance their martial techniques. Secluded Dwarf cities become monasteries, where the young students learn their respective arts. Stories could focus on the rivalry between the Dojos, or the united fight against a common enemy in the form of a mysterious, fifth Dojo.

You coul also drop one of these martial arts Dwarves in the middle of your campaign, surprising your players with a complete new approach to the Dwarven race. Also, what about members of other races training in one of the monasteries? Do the Dwarves keep the secrets of the elements to themselves, or do they give strangers the chance to prove their mettle? A whole campaign could be based on the idea of a human trying to become a member of a Dojo, struggling for recognition by his Dwarven peers and finally showing his competence in the fight against the Ebon Sword.

Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you like yourself a helping of roundhouse-kicking Dwarves. Check back next week, when we give another cliché a strange and new twist on Strange Sunday!