The 10 Best Superhero Role-Playing Games

Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Copyright 1977 Gamescience, Inc.

The first commercially released role playing game - Dungeons & Dragons - was published in 1974. The game spread like wildfire and the market quickly responded to the phenomenon. What is remarkable about the early days of the role playing game hobby is how creative the initial D&D inspired products were. Unlike in the d20 boom of the early 2000s, the majority of the role playing games released by competitors weren't derivative books that were mere clones of the initial D&D rules set.

This isn't to say that no one was releasing competing fantasy role playing games into the market, or that no games would be released using mechanics clearly based on D&D's combat system. Those things would happen, but the truly derivative products took some time to reach the market. The early entries into the role playing game marketplace, both by TSR and others, covered a wide variety of genres. D&D was published in 1974; the next year saw the publication of Boot Hill, a Western role playing game published by TSR; En Garde!, a game of swashbuckling Three Musketeers-esque action published by GDW; and Tunnels & Trolls by Flying Buffalo. Of these three games, only one was in the same genre as D&D and it was written as a response to the nigh-unplayability of the original D&D rules. Tunnels & Trolls may have shared some features with D&D, but mechanically and tonally it was clearly a different product. T&T was a product that would revolutionize the role playing game industry in its own way, but that is a story for another time.

Steve Perrin in Different Worlds #23 - an issue dedicated to the rise of superhero role playing games - asserts that Superhero 2044 by Donald Saxman is the first commercially available superhero-themed role playing game. Saxman's game was self-published in a small print run in 1977 under the name Superhero '44. When Lou Zocchi's company Gamescience Inc. published a second edition of the game later that year, the name was changed to Superhero 2044. While the game was more the skeleton of a game than a full game in its own right, it is the fertile soil from which a number of later games grew. Grow they did. In 1977, Superhero 2044 was the only superhero game on the market. By 1984, there were no fewer than six competing games in the genre, one of them a Marvel-based role-playing game published by the industry's giant, TSR.

Like the white box D&D rules set, Superhero 2044 is nigh unplayable as written. Also like D&D, Superhero 2044 inspired creative minds that led to the creation of a vibrant new gaming market. While the superhero role playing game market has never come close to matching the size of the fantasy RPG market, it has been a robust market that has seen quite almost 100 different games. Many of these games are quite good and so the task of selecting the 10 best superhero role playing games is no easy task; although with games likeThe Foundation, it isn't impossible.

Before I begin this list, I should warn you that superhero-themed RPGs are my obsession. I have made it my life's goal to own a copy of every super hero RPG ever published and I'm doing pretty well. If I don't own it, it's either really rare, a foreign game, or exists only in digital form. I'm not saying this as an assertion of my authority, or to dismiss your personal favorites. Though if you disagree with me, you are clearly wrong and your favorite game was ignored because it was found wanting which is why I crucified it upon the Tree of Woe. Do you see it? That's right, it's the game nailed right next to SPI's DALLAS role-playing game.

What are the 10 best super hero RPGs, according to this crazed obsessive?

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10 Things I Learned About Video Games, Eroge, Japan and Myself From Playing Saya no Uta

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 6:00 am

Here in the US, video games typically fall into a small set of genres. First and third person shooters dominate the American market, with other genres like adventure, puzzle and role playing games holding their own. In Japan, however, there are seemingly limitless types of video games. While American kids were marveling at the original Nintendo Entertainment System's killer titles like Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda, Japanese gamers were learning military history and strategy in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or planning the next moves of their menagerie of mecha in Super Robot Taisen. Both Romance and Taisen were best sellers in Japan but at the time were never seen on American shores, mainly because as good as they were, they just wouldn't have sold here in the States.

With the increased popularity of Japanese culture in the US, the borders to entertainment have opened. In the few arcades left here, it's almost unheard of to not see a Dance Dance Revolution machine. Music games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are taken right from such Japanese classics like Guitar Freaks or Keyboard Mania, and it's not at all surprising to see Japanese imports like Taiko no Tetsujin sucking down quarters.

Of course, there are many more types of games from Japan that have not made the transition to the United States. One of the preconceptions about Japanese culture is that young men seem to have a hard time with members of the opposite sex. It's portrayed constantly in anime, with male protagonists becoming incredibly shy, subdued, or even having their nose burst into arterial sprays of blood during an interaction with an attractive woman.

That stereotype isn't helped when all you have to do is visit TR for some Super Terrific Japanese Things. The country that brought us Nintendo, sushi and Kirin Ichiban is also the same country that has given us Eel Juice, Vagina Bread, and the Penis Powered Game Controller. The Japanese culture has long been known for its technological prowess, with innovation solving so many of their problems. So what do you do when you have a population of young men who are believed to have difficulty talking to the opposite sex? Make it into a video game! Enter Dating Sims: games in which the goal is for you to pursue one or more virtual girls in the hope of forming a digital love connection.



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Twenty Things Shockingly Less Expensive Than Aniplex USA's Gurren Lagann Blu Ray Set

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Friends, our hobbies are expensive. Whatever you collect, chances are you've probably sat there, ensconced with regret, thinking to yourself, "y'know, in any other country, what I paid to get a DVD boxed set of Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp could've fed a family of three for a month."

Take pity, then, on the poor, bedraggled anime fans of the Western world. As the DVD market dried up, piracy ran rampant, and the general popularity of anime waned, companies that made it their mission to release anime in the West have either shrunk, gone out of business, or generally fucked off.

There are some survivors, but the one that drives the most ire out of any anime fan is easily Aniplex USA. See, in Japan, anime fans are used to being gouged and stripped of all their money by expensive. limited-release boxed sets and the like. Aniplex USA, seeing the home video market in the West evaporate as streaming services like Netflix became the norm, had an idea: "What if we charge just about the same amount of money as we do for Japanese fans, in the West?"

And thus, the FIVE-HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLAR Blu-ray boxed set of the rather popular series Gurren Lagann was born. That's a quite a bargain! I mean, considering that the MSRP on the thing is actually SIX-HUNDRED AND SIXTY-NINE DOLLARS. AND NINETY-EIGHT CENTS. Coming out tomorrow!

For the uninitiated: Gurren Lagann is a terrifically entertaining, ebulliently animated piece of entertainment from Gainax, creators of Evangelion among others. It's a hot-blooded show about giant robots, sharply dressed pilots, and all sorts of colorful, exciting mecha mayhem.

This guarantees two things: one, this will sell out. Every other absurdly-expensive Aniplex USA boxed set has, and I don't see how that'll change. Especially since Gurren Lagann is a terrific and entertaining show and people want it.

Two, the people who want it but can't afford it will be really angry and upset and whine on the Internet.

In the spirit of this, I present 20 things that are somehow less expensive than the Gurren Lagann Blu-rays!

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The Last of Us: Nine Ways It's Unforgettable

Monday, June 24, 2013 at 6:00 am

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As we reach the end of the PlayStation 3 era, titles that promise to max out the console's potential will be released to gamers everywhere. On September 17th, we will see if GTA V's much touted switching between three characters on-the-fly thing is really all that. For now, though, we have a story of two individuals taking place at the world's - and this console's - end.

Twenty years after an infection nearly wipes out all of humanity (animals, as usual, are unaffected) forty-something Joel is tasked with delivering a young teen named Ellie to a group of rebels known as the Fireflies. At first glance, the infected are the same as zombies, and those burned-out buildings without a primary power source recall NBC's Revolution somewhat, but the larger themes and sense of moral ambiguity is more akin to Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road - and to a lesser degree Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men. Which is to say everything feels pretty darn hopeless.

In terms of exploration in an interactive medium, The Last of Us is in a class by itself. This isn't an open world RPG like Fallout 3 or a frag-fest like the Left For Dead series. You'll only use ammo when you need to (and then still regret it). Does that mean that as Joel, you'll be in stuck stealth mode 24/7? Yes and no, but we'll get to that.

Although it's been said in numerous other reviews, The Last of Us is indeed a masterwork, beyond the scope of it's seemingly derivative parts.

In case you can't tell, I LOVED my time with Naughty Dog's latest. Before reading on, I believe the best way to play is to know very little, but in order to discuss I have to be a tiny bit spoilery so if you're merely wondering if the game is worth your hard-earned sixty bucks the answer is an enthusiastic yes. The Last of Us ranks among the best action-adventures, up there with Resident Evil 4 and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. If you want to know why I feel that way, read on as I discuss the game's strengths (many, many strengths) and few hiccups. Again, very minor spoilers.


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The Eleven Coolest Things in Starlog #002: Gene Roddenberry Has a Big Pipe, and Bigfoot Is Just Big

Friday, June 21, 2013 at 6:00 am
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The second issue of Starlog was published in September of 1976, three months after the premiere issue. It would be quarterly for another issue before bumping up to eight times a year in January of 1977, not reaching coveted monthly status until the 20th issue in April of 1979, by which point the post-Star Wars boom was fully underway and there were more than enough new movies and shows to cover. But in the second issue, Starlog was still finding its way, mostly by looking back. So, let's look back at Starlog looking back! As always, if you'd like to read along at home, the full run of Starlog is available over at the Internet Archive, and here's the first installment of this series. More >>

Topless Robot Road Trips: The 15 Nerdiest Places in Brooklyn

Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 6:00 am

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With the summer travel season officially under way, the time seems right to focus on some of our nation's nerdiest destinations. So for the next couple of months I'll be writing a number of Topless Robot Road Trip lists showcasing the nerdiest places in some of America's finest cities. From worthwhile tourist traps to obscure spots known mostly to locals, these articles will be your guide to the greatest geek getaways America has to offer.

For this debut list, I'll be introducing you to what I consider to be Brooklyn's dorkiest hot spots, including a shop to get all of your superhero gear, some nerd-oriented bars and other places designed to get your inner fanboy or fangirl worked into a frenzy. Obviously lists such as this are extremely subjective, so instead of bombarding me with "YOU FORGOT ___________" remarks, feel free to add your own personal picks in the comments. Sound good? Okay then, let's get this (hopefully bedbug-free) road trip started already!

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Eleven Disappointing Replacement Heroes (and Their Better Alternatives)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

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It's become something of a long standing comic book tradition - famous super hero gets injured, crippled or even killed off, and is then replaced by a new hero wearing their famous name and costume, with the original hero eventually returning to the role after a series of struggles, not to mention fan demand for their return to their rightful place. One could say the whole concept of passing the superhero mantle to a newer,younger hero goes back to the fifties, when original Green Lantern Alan Scott and original Flash Jay Garrick let those new whipper-snappers Hal Jordan and Barry Allen take over their roles as Green Lantern and the Flash, respectively. Of course, there was a separation there of several years between Flashes and Green Lanterns, but still, you get the idea; new characters taking older heroic identities ain't nothin' new in comics.

But the trope really became popular (and overused) over the past twenty-five years or so, and is now something of a tired cliche. But as much as replacing iconic heroes is a cheap gimmick, let's not forget superhero comics are nothing if not soap operas, and ongoing soap operas are full of gimmick storytelling. Doesn't mean those some of those stories weren't entertaining, or some of those gimmick characters didn't grow into something more over time. As with all things...some gimmicks (and characters) are just cheaper than others. And some cheap gimmicks can last for years before they are undone. Case in point, our entry at #11...

11. Spider-Woman Julia Carpenter Replaces Spider-Woman Jessica Drew

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The original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, was created out of corporate need more than any other reason; at some point in the seventies, Stan Lee realized if they didn't make a Spider-Woman spin-off character to their flagship hero Spider-Man, sooner or later another comic book company would take the name. So as a way of securing the copyright, Spider-Woman debuted in an issue of Marvel Spotlight in 1977. She was just meant to be a one-off character, created soley for that reason, but quickly Marvel saw potential in her, and within a year she not only had her own comic book series, but her own cartoon show on Saturday morning television.

Despite being created to be a female version of Spider-Man, much like Supergirl and Batgirl were female analogues of their popular DC Comics male counterparts, Spider-Woman ended up being an analogue in name only. Her origins, powers, and costume were totally different from Peter Parker's, and aside from also living in the same Marvel Universe as Peter, had no other real connection to him. This was a much smarter and more interesting way to approach the character, as opposed to just making her a cheap knock-off of a popular male character (and before anyone flames me for that comment, no, I don't think Supergirl and Batgirl are just cheap copies...but they did kind of start out that way). In the late seventies and early eighties, Spider-Woman was found on most products and merchandise featuring the Marvel icons, right alongside the Hulk and Captain America. She was clearly being positioned as Marvel's top female hero.

Then, in 1983, after fifty issues of her own series and an earned place in the Marvel Pantheon, her series was abruptly cancelled and her powers and costumed identity removed. Rumor has it that Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter thought a female version of Spidey (even though she really wasn't at all) emasculated Spider-Man himself. This sounds ridiculous, of course, but the fact that Jessica Drew was all but erased from Marvel gives some validity to this rumor.

Nevertheless, Marvel needed to have a character named Spider-Woman floating around occasionally, otherwise they'd lose the copyright. So in the epic crossover miniseries Secret Wars, the same event that introduced Spider-Man's new black costume, Marvel introduced Julia Carpenter, the new Spider-Woman. Although not a terrible character by any means - and with enough personality traits to not just make her a female counterpart to Peter Parker - the fact that her costume was identical to his, and her powers were far more similar to his as well, just made the the whole thing smell rotten, and well...a tad sexist. This version of Spider-Woman never carried her own ongoing series and was never fully embraced, leading to other characters taking up the name and mantle eventually.

The Better Replacement For Jessica Drew: Jessica Drew (Again)

So there were other replacement Spider-Women after Julia Carpenter, but none of them stuck around for too long either, because the truth was Marvel got the formula right the first time. In 2004, nearly twenty years after she was sent into comic book exile, Brian Bendis revived the original Jessica Drew Spider-Woman, original powers and costume intact. OK, OK, that version was really a Skrull agent in disguise, but we got the real Jess back in due time. And she is now once again a mainstay of the Marvel Universe and a high profile member of the Avengers.

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Ten Ways to Make a Dungeons & Dragons Movie Not Suck

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 6:00 am

On May 7th of this year, Warner Bros. announced that they had acquired the rights to make a new Dungeons & Dragons film. Initially, there were minor cheers throughout D&D fandom. Warner's claim hinted that they were going to make a feature film, and this was a significant step up from the past two made-for-TV films that had been broadcast on SyFy. It wasn't until people read deeper into the Deadline.com article that the collective groan of D&D fans could be heard across the multiverse.

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Wikipedia

The article was filled with conceptual landmines that set off the "it's going to suck" sensors of RPGers everywhere. Phrases like "the film will be produced by... producer Roy Lee and Courtney Solomon...[who] directed a 2000 Dungeons & Dragons feature," and "The studio...will use a script by Wrath Of The Titans and Red Riding Hood scribe...David Leslie Johnson. That script, Chainmail, was acquired last year as a free-standing project, based on an obscure game that was also hatched by D&D designer Gary Gygax before he and Dave Arneson launched D&D" were of particular concern. In the minds of many fans, any connection with Courtney Solomon automatically induces one to write the project off as a potential nightmare. Add to that the fact that the PR staff at Warner didn't know enough about the property to know that Chainmail is more than "an obscure game also hatched by" Gygax, it was the original combat system for D&D. The current combat system was referred to as the "optional system" in the original white box set.

Given that Chainmail also happens to be the name of a trademarked miniature skirmish game published by Wizards of the Coast (read: HASBRO) that had rules designed by Chris Pramas which had been released in the early 2000s, and that the past two D&D films were direct-to-TV affairs, it is not surprising that Hasbro almost immediately filed a legal complaint asking for an injunction preventing any development of a D&D film by Warner Brothers or by Sweet Pea Entertainment (Courtney Solomon's company).

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Copyright Wizards of the Coast 2000

Hasbro claims that Solomon's license with Hasbro for the D&D film and TV rights expired when Sweet Pea Entertainment paid Hasbro $20,000 in fees for the broadcast of Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness. It is quite certain that Solomon will file a counterclaim asserting his rights, and a mass melee will ensue in which all parties will attempt to use Vorpal Blades or maybe even Blackrazor to settle the issue. You can read the initial lawsuit at The Hollywood Reporter.


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Ten More Great Games From E3 (That Might've Flown Under Your Radar)

Monday, June 17, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Well, last time here on TR we covered Twelve Memorable Moments From E3 and highlighted a bunch of the show's biggest games (as we've also been doing this past week), but even then it still feels a little like scratching the surface...this was my first E3, and despite some hassles that caused me to miss some of the show and made me wish for the fiery deaths of some 7-Eleven employees (you know who you are), it was still an awe-inspiring display, and probably one of the biggest highlights of my life. Though yeah, it still would've been sweet to have the time to officially set up a Paras/Sly "Best Of" collaboration (it was like yin and yang, we could have been gods!!).

But yeah, consider this a "Part Two" if you want. One that covers some of the show's relatively lesser-known games, or just ones that haven't been talked about as much as the big guns, but deserve the same amount of attention. And boy, was there a lot to go through...you try and pack in as much as possible, but you can still be shocked sometimes at what you can miss. Hell, Sony's booth alone could've filled out the three days worth of gaming. So there are still quite a lot of gems to get through, so let's just get right to it...

10. Hohokum

Kicking off Sony's dominance of E3 and their recent desires to support indie games even more, we have Hohokum, and despite having a title that I am almost positive will be snickered at in several different ways, it made for quite the damn intriguing game indeed. Hohokum is one of those games billed as a bit more of an experience, where the goal is to relax and explore the various colorful abstract worlds the game presents you. They're full of whimsy and glorious bits of surreal-yet-calming nature...but that alone wouldn't be much of a game, so thankfully there's also a ton of puzzle solving to be had.

Every area has its own objectives, and your little rainbow snake creature (*snicker*) will be free to traverse every inch, encounter every adorable little being, and just have fun interacting with everything and figuring out what everything does and what to do with it. It's an adventure with an emphasis on exploration at your preferred place, and brings to mind other surreal PlayStation titles such as Flower, Patapon, LocoRoco and such, and if Hohokum is even half as fun as those, it's a clear winner all the way.

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E3 2013: Twelve Memorable Moments From the Big Gaming Expo

Friday, June 14, 2013 at 6:00 am

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On Tuesday, June 11th, I was making my way across a sea of gamers; E3 had opened at 12pm and by 12:05, the West Hall was already crazy crowded. Then I came upon Capcom's booth for Dead Rising 3, which was surrounded by a menacing-looking wire fence...turns out this was their way of keeping in the undead (READ: real LA working actors!) One of them, a woman in tattered clothes was sitting on the floor noshing on a severed limb. (I think it was an leg.) The attendees dug it, Instagramming and Vining each moment. The scene often played out along the lines of "Look, this zombie is trying to eat me, but he can't because of this fence! Ha!" Fun times.

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For me, though, the experience was a bit jarring. In The Great Gatsby, Jordan Baker makes the startling observation that large parties are intimate while small ones have no privacy. She's right. As I stood there with a Cool Haus red velvet ice cream sandwich digesting in my belly, I felt pretty isolated. Alone amidst that sea of fellow nerds.

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