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How to Train Your Child to Love Dragons

Dragons have fascinated humanity for millennia. No matter which part of the world you travel to, odds are the indigenous culture had at least one myth devoted to these beasts. While some may run to conspiracy, the logical explanation for widespread dragon mythology is dinosaur bones… or are dinosaurs a cover-up for dragons?!

They’re not. Dinosaurs have always existed but it’s easy to forget that we’ve only started formulating scientific study on these fossils during the last couple centuries. Before then, they were just giant bones – proof that our planet once held strange and amazing animals.

The natural mystery of the dinosaurs gave birth to arguably the greatest fantastical creation of all time. One that symbolizes our creative spirit as a species and adds an element of wonder to our collective consciousness. So, in my mind, passing on this love of dragons is essential in healthy human development.

After all, I love dragons and I consider myself a well-balanced individual (twitch).

Early Childhood

If you’re trying to get your child to love anything then start early. I don’t mean ramming dragons in the face of your baby and screaming “like it!” – rather, maybe just choose books and films that are age appropriate. Luckily, popular culture has you covered.

In terms of movies, recent hits like Pete’s Dragon and The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader both feature friendly, nonthreatening creatures. Another obvious choice is the How to Train Your Dragon series from Dreamworks Animation.

If I may state a personal preference and a loved childhood memory, I would recommend Flight of Dragons. This light, whimsical fantasy gives dragon flight and fire a pseudo-science explanation and features a lot more elements of the genre. Talking animals? Got it. Ogres – yeah there’s one. James Earl Jones voicing the villain who turns into a giant monster – okay, we’re onto something here.

Also, it’s got this song:

Yeah, that will be in your head awhile. It’s a wonderfully meta film, choosing the author of the source book as a main character. And speaking of books, you don’t get much more famous than The Hobbit. Read that to your child and I guarantee, apart from the giant spiders, Smaug will be a highlight.

In terms of other books, really you can’t go wrong. There are so many dragon stories out there. I would also advise purchasing those giant picture books – like World of Dragons or something. They’re image focused so literacy isn’t a barrier, and the better ones feature drawings that will compel the development of a healthy imagination.

children dragons
One of the coolest aspects of dragon lore is how many different shapes and designs the creature can take. Try to look for literature that highlights each vision.

The tweens

As kids age, “cool” starts to matter more. Everyone wants to be cool – gotta do the cool things to be cool. However, they’re not quite teenagers yet so, you know, parents have yet to become the exact opposite of cool. So you can still make recommendations but the best bet is just making things available for consumption.

A film like Dragonheart, while rated PG-13, is perfect for this age range. After all, you can’t get much more awesome than Sean Connery voicing a dragon. It’s a little more violent without being Game of Thrones and the sexual innuendos will likely fly over your childrens’ heads… like a dragon, get it? I’m very clever.

Notable books include easy reads like Harry Potter, stuff your child can devour and process easily, helping to fuel not just a love of dragons but a greater affection for reading in general.

Harry Potter children dragon
Harry Potter ages along with the series, but its never particularly terrifying or overtly mature.

Teenage Years

Okay, now you’re not cool anymore. Being a teenager is all about being rebellious. Are they old enough to watch Game of Thrones? Doesn’t matter, they’ll likely watch it anyway.  However, this desire to revolt can be capitalized on with some appropriate dragon literature.

Gork the Teenage Dragon is every story of young adult high school trauma and liberation only… you know, with dragons. We follow Gork, a young, smaller dragon who is too nice for his own good. This hurts his chances of winning a female for the mating dance (a more straight forward name for “prom”) and impressing his family.

Gork has no idea what he wants to be but he feels the enormous pressure to be great. Typical teenager stuff, just substitute the people for dragons.

teenage dragon books
I feel the cover gives an excellent indication of the overall tone of this story.

The Magicians trilogy also provides dragons in more mature setting, although parents have to be comfortable exposing their child to teenage sex and drug use – if anything, it can be seen as prep for actual high school.

At this point, more scholarly works like Beowulf may also be attempted. Video games like Dragon Age also, as the name suggests, feature dragons very promptly. And I think it’s safe to assume that Skyrim will still be being released on new systems, even ten years from now.

And there you have it. Obviously there’s more to cover. I haven’t even scratched the surface of dragon pop culture.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject but I like to think that I still remember what it was like to be a child. Dragons are amazing creatures of power and mystery. These are qualities that I believe are attractive to children. Keep in mind, you don’t always have to go traditional.

As I mentioned in the beginning, dinosaurs are part of dragon lore and can easily expand the overall love of fire-breathing winged beasts. There’s also Godzilla, who is pretty amazing and fights other dragon-like creatures on a regular basis. I’m just saying.

How I would Improve the Friday the 13th Game

The Friday the 13th series doesn’t have much life these days, at least so far as the cinema is concerned. It has nine years since the Friday the 13th remake tried and failed to breathe life back into hockey mask-wearing slasher Jason Voorhees. If it weren’t for the 2017 video game (aptly named Friday the 13th: The Game), the franchise would be all but dead.

Oh but what a game it is. If you’ve only ever played the 1989 indecipherable mess that was the Nintendo Friday the 13th, you may have written off the series’ gaming potential. Which would be a shame since developer IllFonic and publisher Gun Media have created a fan love letter to the series, complete with meticulously recreated campground levels.

When I first started playing Friday the 13th: the Game over Christmas vacation, I thought it was fun but frustrating. Months later and I’m still routinely diving into Crystal Lake, the Jarvis House and newly added Pinehurst. Clearly they’re doing something right.

That said, I do have some thoughts on how Friday the 13th: the Game can improve and, maybe more importantly, how these companies can keep financing their efforts. I know: Unsolicited feedback from a white guy – how original.

Being able to turn the male counselors into mock kid Jason

One of the most interesting aspects of gameplay in Friday the 13th: the Game revolves around killing Jason. Yes, it is possible (if unlikely) for the counselors to band together and turn the tables on their foe. This method is a multi-step process that involves summoning Tommy Jarvis, stealing a sweater, and knocking off a mask.

It is the second part where the potential issue begins: Only a female counselor can steal the sweater. This is to recreate the ending of Part 2 where the final girl pretends to be Jason’s mother, halting the killer in his tracks. It’s a cool bit of fan service to be sure and – as I said – really interesting gameplay.

Yet if there are no female counselors in the game, or if they have died, it prematurely closes the option to kill Jason. This is kinda lame. Rather than have Chad discover his feminine side, I believe I’ve come up with a solution that stays close to franchise emulation.

While only female counselors can steal the sweater, male counselors can cut their hair and mimic kid Jason (much in the way that young Tommy Jarvis did at the end of Part 4). This will require a procedure of its own. First, scissors. Every game would load with one set of scissors in a drawer. It would be exactly one item that would function much the same way as a pocket knife should Jason grab you.

Friday the 13th: the Game
Sure, our counselors are a little older but the effect could still work. Not like Jason is supposed to be the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Once the counselor has scissors, it’s time to look for a bathroom, more specifically a mirror. After this is done, the counselor will need time (perhaps a button-pressing mini-game like car repair, except based on composure stat) to re-style his looks. After this is done, he now has a one-time opportunity to stun Jason, much like the sweater.

I believe this will add variety and further develop what already is one of the most interesting aspects of the game.

Adding a more open water level

A lot of perks in the game revolve around water – this is true for both counselors and Jason. While it’s a cool aspect to add variety, it feels pretty weak right now for one major reason: There’s not a lot of water on the current maps. Most have a shoreline in a corner or narrow rivers running throughout. I don’t have any solid numbers to back me up here but I wouldn’t be surprised if the average counselor spent less than 10% of his or her time in water.

This makes all those water traits kind of useless. When I can only equip three perks – who cares if one of them pluses my water speed by 99%? I’m never going to use that. Oh, Part VII Jason has excellent water speed… does that matter?

Friday the 13th: the Game
As things stand currently, this almost never happens in the game.

While one new level won’t entirely fix this problem, it will help. I would propose one of two options. First, the setting from Part 7: A New Blood. I would design that map to have a massive lake in the center – maybe with an island or two scattered on it. This will force counselors to swim for rapid transit or item retrieval.

Second option is the cruise ship from Part 8. Since this boat inexplicably sailed from Crystal Lake to New York (how did that happen?!), it would make sense to have supporting islands. The claustrophobia of the boat would also be a nice change of pace from numerous levels of open cabins and sparse woods.

More weapon variety 

I’m actually really happy that they toned down the amount of guns and machetes in the levels. I always wondered why a summer camp had like… literally a gun every few feet. While it could have been a commentary on the status of firearm worship in America, I doubt that’s what Gun Media and IllFonic were going for.

While too many top tier weapons is a bad thing, I hope they enhance the number of options for mid tier and low tier weapons. The branch is awesome but it needs company. So I propose three new weapons:

  • a paintball gun: Made famous in Part 6, this rapid fire projectile could temporarily blind Jason if enough shots hit. The blindness would work like the blooper ink in Mario Kart 8, physically obstructing the screen. Jason players could always wash the paint off in water. While it won’t do much damage, it would be a terrific irk weapon.
  • Dinner plates: I see them on every table, stacks of projectiles. This would be the lowest tier ranged weapon. Counselors could hurl plates at Jason, hoping with enough direct hits to knock him down or at the least stun him. Stun chance percentage would increase based on the number of direct hits. Plates would come in stacks of five.
  • A rake: This weapon would function purely as a push-away. Counselors could prod Jason from a distance, not doing much damage but keeping him from getting close. Given that they just increased the number of throwing knives, this would be a cool chance to highlight their effectiveness. Jason would also of course eventually just break the rake.
Friday the 13th: the Game
How funny/frustrating could this make potential matches?

Monetization methods to support continued updates 

Now here me out here fellow players: Games cost a lot of money to make and maintain. Not everyone can do what Minecraft did. Gun and IllFonic have, to date, done an excellent job of keeping their Kickstarter promises and delivering a slew of free content. There’s but some monetization but it has been limited to a couple dollars for costumes and kills.

I want them to build on that. Keep the Kickstarter promises free, obviously but augment them with DLC to justify their continued investment. The counselor costume variety is terrific – keep it coming! This nature of superfluous paid DLC is the best as it doesn’t make those who can’t afford feel like they’re at an unfair disadvantage.

To this end, I have a few suggestions:

  • New Jason starting screens: Currently, Part 3 Jason greets players every time they load the game. While he’s cool looking, some variety might be nice? Charging a dollar or so per main menu Jason seems reasonable. Again, no one needs it but I might fork over some money to customize my game further.
  • Roy voiceover:  If players select the Part 5 – or Roy – Jason, they still hear Pamela Voorhees droning on about killing kids and making them remember and bla bla bla. Honestly, it would be cool to hear someone else. While Dick Wieand may not want to return to voice his character, it would still be cool to hear someone play Roy. Dialogue could be more focused around vengeance and his little brother and things like that. I would definitely pay at least $2 not to hear Pamela every single game.
  • Part 5 Tommy: Designing models is expensive and getting voice actors is also not cheap. These two factors together explain why we only have one version of Tommy Jarvis – the Thom Mathews Part 6 version. Having John Shepherd’s Part 5 incarnation (or even an adult Corey Feldman) would add some awesome variety to the game. But for free, it doesn’t make sense – not on the developer’s side. I would be willing to pay for a new Tommy, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
  • A Kane Hodder Jason costume: While Savini Jason remains locked away forever (single tear), they could add another cool/funny Jason to the game. Kane Hodder. That’s it, no costume, no mask (well maybe some kind of mask for gameplay purposes), just the famous Jason actor. It would be a fun extra and technically wouldn’t violate their policy of not charging for Jason.
Friday the 13th: the Game
Obviously buying the likeness rights to Kevin Bacon will be expensive but I would be willing to help invest in that cost.

Adding in a way to report bigotry/hate speech 

One last quick thing: there needs to be a way to report players who are bigoted assholes. I was playing as Jason one night and came across a kid. I could tell his age because of his microphone – I could also notice an accent. But I think, whatever, all races and people are scum in the eyes of Jason Voorhees so I’m going to go after him.

As soon as I kill his counselor, this other one appears and starts shouting the most vile, hateful crap I’ve heard during gameplay. Honestly it made me feel awful for having offed the kid’s character. I hope he didn’t think I agreed with any of the shit this “adult” was saying (I didn’t have a mic at the time so I could not vocally voice my disgust).

I made killing the bigot my next priority but I didn’t feel like that made it right. People like that should face consequences for spewing vile garbage across the internet. Jason may kill people but even he isn’t that much of a monster.

A report option please – I never want to be in that situation again.

Friday the 13th: the Game
Social Jason Warrior (would also pay money for whatever that looked like)

So there you have it, just some thoughts on improving the game. Obviously I’m not alone in having suggestions – just hop on the Forums to see more. If you haven’t played yet, give Friday the 13th: the Game your time and money – especially if you’re a fan of the film franchise. It may be a mess, but it’s a fun mess.

Why I didn’t love Thor: Ragnarok

It’s been a few weeks but the critic and audience reactions continue to come in: everyone is having fun with Thor: Ragnarok. Why they can’t remember the last time they’ve enjoyed watching a movie this much (hint: Spider-Man: Homecoming) and wonder when’s the next time they’ll see a movie this light-hearted again (hint: Black Panther). Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – the Marvel superhero formula continues to turn out grins and box office dollars.

But for some reason – likely partly due to the fact that Thor: Ragnarok was the fourth superhero film I saw this year – I walked out frowning. Before I dive in, let me say a couple things: This film is much better than the dull Thor: the Dark World. Second, I applaud director Taika Waititi for making a genuinely funny movie.  But overall, I feel like Thor: Ragnarok missed the mark, leaving it an almost success, which can be more infuriating than a failure.

Comedy and Death

When crafting a story, it is vital to pick a tone and stick to it. Tone can be described as the “attitude of a writer toward a subject or an audience.” Usually a tone is determined by the story’s content. For example, if I were to be writing about a mother struggling to feed her family, I would probably go darker than if I were writing about two young children experiencing a first crush at the carnival. There’s wiggle room in every scenario but general rules apply. Death = darker, sex = more adult, clowns = horror. You get the idea.

Let’s look at the main events in the plot of Thor: Ragnarok (warning – spoilers)

  • Thor loses Jane (the woman he gave up the throne for).
  • Loki abducts Odin, effectively killing him.
  • Odin’s death frees Hela, who bashes Thor and Loki across the galaxy before murdering most of Asgard – including three of Thor’s best friends.
  • Thor is broken and made to fight. He meets a fellow Asgardian struggling with alcohol abuse and PTSD and his friend, Bruce Banner, who has been a mental prisoner of the Hulk for years.
  • Thor escapes his bonds and returns home.
  • Thor loses an eye.
  • Thor is unable to stop Hela without completely destroying Asgard (which he does), banishing the survivors to wandering uncertainty amongst the stars.
  • (BONUS after credits scene) Thanos shows up and looks to butcher the remaining refugees.

Sweet mother of Mary, that’s a lot of heavy stuff. The tone: WACKY IRREVERENT COMEDY! Seriously, there is a joke is almost every scene of the movie and nothing is off limits. Odin being forgotten to die – joke. Valkyrie’s alcoholism – joke. By the end of the movie, I was surprised Thor didn’t do some weird pantomime with one of the Warriors Three’s corpses.

A lot of people Thor cares about die during this movie.

The problem with setting such a bizarre tone (apart from its strangeness) is its effect on the sense of consequence. You would think Loki killing Odin would be, at the very least, an evil act but Loki is regarded as at his most heroic in this film. That’s a larger disconnect than no one pointing out that Tony Stark was responsible for every death in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Serious, depressing events unfold in Thor: Ragnarok but we’re made to laugh and smile. Only occasionally does the movie ever try to be dramatic and even when it does, you know the scene will climax in a joke. This works fine for a comedy or even a dark comedy but Ragnarok isn’t trying to be just those things (it isn’t trying to be a dark comedy at all… for some reason), it’s going for the typical Marvel bundle of laughs, action and drama, only none of the drama works. It simply is not allowed to.

Too Many Plots

When I structured Thor: Ragnarok, I focused on the main plot – mainly Thor’s banishment and return to Asgard but the movie has more going on.  Subplots are fine in films if they meet two criteria. One – there aren’t too many of them. Two – they all exist in service to the story’s central idea.

Buried under all the jokes and laughs of Thor: Ragnarok is actually a really compelling commentary on the evils of imperialism. Asgard’s dark secret past is exposed, capped off in a wonderful line by Hela that was something like “where do you think the gold for this throne room came from?” Thor is stripped and made an immigrant, a refugee at the whim of those in power – much in the same way Odin and Hela must have done to countless civilizations in the past.

That’s all great…but it’s not all there is. We also have a very brief arch involving Dr. Strange and his introduction to Thor and Loki. We also have Bruce Banner battling with the Hulk for control of one body. We also have Valkyrie struggling to come to terms with the loss of her girlfriend and battling her alcoholism/PTSD. We also have Loki searching for some new material/purpose. We also have a slave uprising on a gladiator planet. We also have Scourge struggling with his sense of loyalty. We also have Heimdall struggling to keep the survivors of Asgard safe from Hela’s tyranny.

Not to mention the fact that we have to introduce new wacky side characters!

There’s a lot going on and some of these plots work better than others. One which definitely gets short-changed is Valkyrie, who seems to pull herself out of complete human mess very quickly. Another is Hela who strangely has no subplot of her own (more on that later). People can praise the progressive nature of Ragnarok ‘s anti-imperialism all they want but… how come the women really had no time devoted to them?

It’s not just the ladies though. I’m really not sure how Banner’s struggle resolved itself. He became the Hulk again and then turned back into Bruce soooooo I guess it’s all good now? The inclusion of characters like Dr. Strange and Scourge took away from time that really could have been better spent elsewhere.

Especially Scourge – who the hell is Scourge and why do I care?

Endless Quipping

After Avengers came out, I started to hear how Joss Whedon had ruined Marvel dialogue forever.  His love of Bathos and Buffy Speak seems to have infested every Marvel superhero film since. Truth be told I never minded and I will tell you why: not everyone was witty. Not everyone had a one-liner waiting in the wings. I think back to the first two Avengers films and look at them as comedy compositions.

Iron Man was the wise-cracking sarcasm guy. Captain America was clueless in a hilarious way. Bruce Banner made often uncomfortable jokes about how he could kill everyone. And Thor was the straight man – he didn’t try to be funny or see the humor in his actions.

Well not anymore baby! This new Thor quips! He has one-liners galore and is always happy to diffuse tension through some snarky observation. In other words: he is much more Star-Lord than Odin-son. I know people found this new Thor funnier (I did too) but it came at the expense of his identity. If I wanted to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, I have two (soon to be three) films to choose from. I’ve got my snark fix. Thor was supposed to be my superhero Shakespeare and that is now completely gone.

In case any Marvel execs were wondering, the serious tone of Dark World wasn’t what made it bad. Comedy does not equal good, just ask Justice League.

Hela and the continuing Marvel villain problem

Before I go any further, let’s go back to Hela. Man does she make an entrance. First she breaks Thor’s hammer and then she murders the Warriors Three and takes over Asgard. Hot damn! What’s next?

Oh…oh that was it, I guess.

Hela is evil – for some reason? We’re never really told why other than she is very ambitious and aggressive. A conveniently hidden mural later helps flush out her backstory by essentially saying “See? This happened!”

Her grand plan is to use some magic fire… to bring back an army of the dead and a giant wolf… then sit in Asgard for a bit before eventually leaving – I think?

Hela’s undead army doesn’t appear particularly strong. In fact, they can just be shot by earth bullets. I have a hard time believing these guys were going to conquer anything.

We don’t care and that’s a real shame. Last time Thor had a sibling he turned out to be Marvel’s most compelling villain. We’re repeatedly told how powerful Hela is and early on we see it – she smashes the hammer but then… she makes pointed sticks.

Increasingly large pointed sticks and she can shoot them very fast. Yes, she is a super-charged evil version of Spyke from X-Men: Evolution.  Cool.

Hela didn’t need a lot of character to be effective. Heck, she could have enhanced the imperialism commentary if she went on about divine right and acted more racist/xenophobic but all we get is the generic “I’m evil!”

She’s the goddess of death, did she mention that? Someone should have told her that death is not innately bad – also she has no specific death powers so I call bullshit. At the end of the day, Hela is poised to take her place alongside the whip-guy from Iron Man 2 (not worthy of me remembering his name) and Red Skull from the first Captain America. Oh well, at least she was better than Dark Elf Man!

An Honest Question

If I were ever to meet Taika Waititi, I’d ask him this question: Did he ever really care about/like Thor to begin with?

I love Waititi’s work but honestly I hope he never does another Marvel movie. His original stuff is much better.

The callous end to the Warriors Three, the complete rewrite of Thor’s personality, the dismissal of Loki to just comic relief, the immediate removal of Thor’s hammer for a recycled plot exercise (it’s just a more dramatic repeat of the first film), the inclusion of the Hulk – all of this, to me, says “I don’t really get this Thor guy but I know how to make an entertaining movie!”

Often times, when a director takes over a project they don’t care about, it goes badly. Think Godzilla (1998) and X-Men: The Last Stand levels of failure. Here we avoided that but I think it has less to do with Waititi’s love of the character and more to do with his skill as a comedic director.

Thor: Ragnarok, to me, ultimately feels like a much better version of Thor: the Dark World. It’s still a product, but this one was put together by somebody who knows what they’re doing. Kenneth Branagh remains the only director who seems to approach the material with love and a seriousness that comes from knowing it can be good as it is.

Sadly, I have given up hope that we’re ever going to see a Thor sequel that understands and respects the source material in its entirety. I can understand why Natalie Portman wanted no part of this bombastic, uneven mess of comedy.