Please Don't Have a 'Tweest!'...

After a rather long break from the genre, Will Smith will be returning to the silver screen this summer in After Earth.

After Earth looks solid enough. The aesthetics are nice; the near-organic look of Jaden Smith's outfit and weapon, combined with the Apple-ish free-floating displays and what appears to be either a robot or a small gunship firing some sort of energy weapon (at 1:48) make the point that yes, this is a scifi film. But the natural scenery looks good, too, and that's just as important. It feels, from an admittedly small sample, that this is going to be as much a spectacle as a story, and in that case getting good locations is so key. Would anyone have sat through ten hours of Lord of the Rings if Middle Earth looked like a one-lot sound stage?

As far as the actors, well, it looks like there's only two of them who really matter. Jaden Smith, who looks like he's going to be carrying most of the film on his lonesome, did good work in Karate Kid. When he's not being a mini-Will Smith circa Fresh Prince, he can hit a surprisingly wide range. Will, meanwhile, looks like he has a nice gravitas to him this time around. It's sort of reminiscent of his work in Ali and I Am Legend, and it's nice to see it on display here. It feels appropriate. And the 'youth cut off from technology and lost in the wilderness' theme is a classic for good reason; it works. If Jaden can sell his character's isolation, fear and determination, and I'm willing to lay at least even odds he can, then this could be a solid outing for both Smiths.

The only thing that really gives me pause here is the involvement of M. Night Shyamalan. The guy hasn't exactly been on a hot streak lately. While I've heard mixed reviews of Devil, looking back before that makes for bleak reading; The Last Airbender, The Happening, Lady in the Water. The Village was decent enough, but he hasn't had a real success since Signs, and that was a decade ago. Hopefully he's learned something from his failures. I'd like to say nobody would trust him to work with Will Smith if he didn't have some idea what he was doing, but Will's inclusion isn't necessarily an ironclad guarantee. We all remember the theatrical ending to I Am Legend, after all.

Also, I'm calling it right now; Will Smith dies before Jaden is rescued. And I wouldn't even be surprised if that voiceover was a recording he made for his son just before he kicks it from his injuries.


Kanaan Cluster League – Week 1

Opponent: Tyler (Dark Angels)
Mission: Purge the Alien
Deployment: Vanguard Strike:
Warlord Trait: Princeps of Deceit

10 x Tacticals w/Missile Launcher, Flamer
5 x Scouts w/4 x Sniper Rifles, Missile Launcher
5 x Deathwing Knights w/Perfidious Relic of the Unforgiven
5 x Deathwing Terminators w/Assault Cannon, 2 x Thunder Hammer/Storm Shields, Lightning Claws, Storm Bolter and Power Fist
5 x Deathwing Terminators w/Assault Cannon, 2 x Thunder Hammer/Storm Shields, Lightning Claws, Storm Bolter and Power Fist
Dreadnought w/Drop Pod

For the first game of the new league, I had my first fight against any of the 6th edition codexes. And against the most recent of them, too! I'd flipped through Codex: Dark Angels, so I had some idea of what to expect, but you never really know an army until you fight it on the battlefield.


Building the Mako - With Pictures

It seems the rumours Faeit 212 posted were a little off, as the next White Dwarf is going to be full of Warriors of Chaos, rather than 40K flyers.  This doesn't entirely sadden me, though, as it gives me a chance to show off my own converted Tau flyer before it's swept away by Games Workshop's official release.  Or, y'know, not, if it really is all S5 guns and sub-par missiles.

I've been having some success with Blood Angels allies, particularly an assault squad and a captain with jump pack and power sword.  Of course, being a player committed to the aesthetics of his army, I couldn't just plop some bright red Marines down beside my white armoured, Stormtrooper-esque cadre.  Instead, a group of XV25s were 'upgraded' into experimental suits, armed with chain-blades mounted on one arm and cut-down burst cannons on the other.  Right approximate size, both have jump capabilities and similar armour ratings, works just fine.  And since my counts-as Blood Angels are really Tau models, it stands to reason that the Stormraven they're bringing along would have to match, right?

Hence, the Mako.


It's a Bird! It's a Plane! Wait, Yes, It Is a Plane!

According to the good people over at Faeit 212, next month's White Dwarf will see the release of a new wave of flyers.  The wave consists of kits for the Tyranid Harpy and the Dark Eldar Voidraven bomber, as well as all new flyers for Eldar and Tau Empire.  Obviously, one of these is of significantly more interest to me than the others, so let's take a look at what's rumoured.

Tau receive a flyer and data sheet for it.  Fast attack choice. Armor 11 all around. Non tau pilot. Looks like a manta ray flying backwards.  Bs 4 super sonic. S6 ap4 missiles. Off center gun heavy 6 str 5 ap 4 twin linked or single small blast Str 8 ap 2.
That's not a bad look, actually.

First, the placement is nice; Tau don't have a lot competing for the Fast Attack spot.  If this thing had gone into Heavy Support it would have forced some pretty serious tradeoffs, particularly given its loadout.  The AV is good, not great but notably better than the Barracuda, and BS4 standard is the least one should expect.  The lack of hover might be problematic, but it hasn't stopped any non-Marine flyers from being dangerous, so it's not a huge problem.  The hull looks promising, though of course without a points cost or knowledge of the types of options available (primarily, can it buy a disruption pod?) it's impossible to say whether this will be a good kit or not.

Unfortunately, even without a points cost, one thing is obvious; this flyer is going to have very little to offer as a flyer-hunter.  For codexes without flakk missiles (read, all of them but Chaos Marines and Dark Angels) the best answer to a flyer is another flyer.  Yes, there's the quad gun and the Icarus lascannon on the Aegis, but those are single guns, with limited arcs and rates of fire, vulnerable to being destroyed by enemy forces before any flyers turn up.  If you really need to deal with another army's flyers, you need one of your own.  And whatever this thing ends up getting called, it's not going to do the job.

Heavy 6 is nice, but at the end of the day a S5 gun is too weak.  Relying on glances to deal with most of the flyers in the game is not a solid option.  Worse, this leaves it incapable of threatening the two most common flyers, the Imperial Guard Valkyrie/Vendetta and the Blood Angels/Grey Knights Stormraven.  It's S8 option would work better, but of course you can't fire blasts at flyers.  Which leaves it with its missiles, and at S6 the odds are actually even worse for dealing with AV12 than trying to take on AV11 with the main gun; at least that's Heavy 6, while these are presumably one-shot weapons, like every other missile in the game.  Worse, every other flyer in the game has better weaponry than this thing, even those like the Dark Eldar with tissue paper AV10 flyers.  This means that not only will Tau flyers struggle to deal with their counterparts, but those flyers that easily shrug off S5 will be more than happy to come back at it with S7, or 8, or even 9.

Like I said, without a points cost it's impossible to say whether this thing will be useful or not.  At 50 points, it could fill a valuable ground-attack role; with a flyer's speed it's not hard to get into rear armour arcs, where S5 Heavy 6 can really ruin someone's day.  But anything more than about seventy-five points is simply not going to be cost-effective for what this thing can do, given how expensive Tau units are relative to their utility already.  The Piranha is overcosted at that level, and at least it gets a melta gun.

So.  Here's hoping either this flyer is cheap-as-free, or that the guns are a lot better than what's been reported!


Gender Stereotypes: Our Last Line of Defence, Apparently

Much as I've been enjoying it, and I most definitely have been, there's something in XCOM: Enemy Unknown that bothers me. With all the customization options, different hair styles and colours, a variety of facial hair for men, some helmets, a huge range of colour options for armour and two different styles for each suit, different faces, even alterable voices, you can't do thing one about the basic build of your soldiers. No matter what, every woman is willowy with prominent hips and bust, and every man is a tank whose head and shoulders meet almost without need of a neck. This works decently enough for male heavies and female snipers, but what about the reverse? And why are my female assault units so physically insubstantial compared to their male counterparts? It's a little thing, perhaps, but it really does nag at me, because it prevents me from fully engaging with the world the game is offering me; the stark division between the sexes pulls me out of the experience, because I'm constantly reminded that what I'm seeing is a design choice rather than a representation of human body types.

This sort of thing isn't uncommon, sadly. Sexism isn't just about who is allowed to do what, or even whose armour is armour and whose armour is a chainmail bikini. Sometimes it's about the way you design a character, the things that says about them and the limitations it imposes on them as believable agents in their fictional universe. Body type is one of the most subtle, and in genre works the most pernicious, form of sexism.

Things with actual human beings, obviously, can't suffer from this too badly. While Scarlett Johansson doesn't quite look like the apex human killing machine she portrays in The Avengers, Jeremy Renner isn't exactly a walking slab of muscle himself. No, it's mostly limited to illustrated or animated visual media; your comic books, your cartoons, your video games. Anya Stroud has almost nothing in the way of muscle definition, compared to the hulking Marcus Fenix. Nathan Drake, lean and reasonably designed as he is, looks like a bodybuilder next to the spindly Lara Croft. Mystique and Elasti-Girl appear fragile, the former in particular, while Syndrome and Mr. Incredible are beyond solid, and even the lean and lanky Frozone seriously outmasses the women. Superman, an alien whose strength is entirely based around exposure to yellow sun radiation, has muscles on his muscles, while Power Girl and Supergirl, who are usually almost as strong as he, rarely have any bulges that aren't on their chests. Heck, compare Iron Man and Rescue, or John Henry Irons and Natasha Irons' Steel suits. Powered armour suits based on the same framework and fundamentals, but the men's is bigger, more solid looking, while the women's is thinner, lighter, with a greater emphasis on replicating their sexuality. John Henry's suit has broad shoulders and a moulded metal 6-pack; Natasha's has a wasp waist, tits and a braid.

Ironically, one of the places this comes up least is in the designs for Warhammer 40K. Yes, there are no female Space Marines. But the Sisters of Battle look bigger and more solid than Guardsmen. Female Dark Eldar wyches may not wear much, but neither do their male counterparts. And Tau and Eldar female characters are all the same size and build compared to their male counterparts; Jain Zar looks just as solid as Asurmen, which is to say compared to a Space Marine, not very. 40K has more, perhaps far more, than it's fair share of problems regarding sex and gender, but surprisingly this isn't one of them.

Now, a lot of these female characters are 'strong', which is to say that they're usually capable of dealing with a problem so long as there isn't a male character around who can solve it for them. Lara Croft is a successful treasure hunter; Elasti-Girl was a respected superheroine; Power Girl is simply amazing on all fronts, or at least she was before the Nu52 reboot made her an entitled thief and ludicrously reluctant superheroine. But these are visual media, and a character is defined as much by what they look like as what they do. It's great that Wonder Woman can go toe-to-toe with Mongul, but why does she have to do it in a one-piece and high heels when Superman is just gloves and a helmet away from being covered head-to-toe? The emphasis on sexuality, on showing curves through suits of powered armour and making equally strong non-human characters wildly different sizes, colours those characters just as much as whether they can knock out a room full of ninjas or punch through a tank.

There's nothing inherently wrong with making a character sexually appealing. It's when it happens at the expense of making them look like they'd be capable of doing their jobs, or when they look out place next to people who are doing the exact same job, that it becomes an issue. Yes, men and women are built differently in general, and yes, men often have an easier time putting on muscle than women. But the only people who look like Fenix and the other male COGs are people whose job it is to look that way; bodybuilders, not soldiers. You'll get good arms from toting a rifle, no question, but you won't get slabs of meat the thickness of your female counterpart's hips. And if Batman really wanted all those muscles everywhere, he wouldn't have time to be either billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne or the brooding dark knight detective, because he'd be spending all his time in the Batcave drinking protein shakes and doing reps. And don't even get me started on what Superman could possibly be finding to lift that would give him that kind of body!

On the great spectrum of sexism, this is a relatively minor issue. At least there are female XCOM operatives and COGs and such; for all its decent showing on body type issues, 40K has the Marines, Orks, Necrons and Imperial Guard as all-male model lines, with one Tau female special character and men in the Sisters of Battle codex. But just because you're not doing as badly doesn't mean you're doing well.

So, how about it, XCOM? Can I get a willowy male sniper and a behemoth of a female heavy? Pretty please?