Monday, May 25, 2015

All Hail Fandom Television: 'Supernatural' Is Like a Video Game with Expansion Sets

I've mentioned it in this blog before, I really enjoy the TV series Supernatural. It's funny most of the time, it's silly all the time, it's a dark fantasy based in mostly Judeo-Christian mythology/theology, and it has moments of "the feels" (which are usually hilarious).

My own pathway to fandom parallels that of the main characters. The father character, John Winchester, got his sons, Dean and Sam, into hunting monsters, but John eventually exited the series because he made a deal with the Yellow-Eyed Demon. My dad inspired my brother and me to watch Supernatural, but my dad eventually stopped watching the series because it gave him funny dreams.

Or maybe my dad stopped watching because the actual main story ended after the fifth season, and everything afterward is anticlimactic.  How does a show follow (1) defeating the Devil and (2) averting the Apocalypse?

I think my brother and I have continued to watch the show because Supernatural almost reads like a action-adventure/RPG video game (e.g., Diablo III or World of Warcraft) with an almost-endless series of expansion games (e.g., Diablo III: Reaper of Souls or the various ones for WoW).

It actually might be cool if Supernatural were an action RPG with an isometric perspective, with a series of chapters and bosses. The original game would be called, simply Supernatural, and it would cover the first five seasons of the show, with four "act" bosses:

1. Meg the Demon,
2. Azazel the Yellow-Eyed Demon,
3. Lilith the White-Eyed Demon,
4. Lucifer the Devil ... and Michael the Archangel, simultaneously.

In addition to the main fight against demons and angels, the Winchesters would have to fight a bunch of regular monsters, like vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc. Even though there were five seasons for the main arc of the show, the third season was abbreviated due to the Writer's Guild strike of 2007-2008. So let's divide this show up into four "acts," like Diablo II vanilla and Diablo III vanilla.

Act I is a quest to find John Winchester, like the first season of the show. John's Diary would be the item to identify all the unidentified items. The hardest monsters to beat would be vampires, and demons would be few and far between. The heroes would have to find John, fight Meg, and lose John to the Yellow-Eyed demon.

Act II is a quest to stop Azazel the Yellow-Eyed Demon, like the second season of the show. The Trickster makes his first appearance here, and is probably like a Treasure Goblin in Diablo III. The mini-bosses would be the Special Children, who have powers like Sam. There would be lots of demons to fight as well. The heroes would have to find John Winchester's soul to stop Azazel at the Hell Gate. Starting this act, Bobby Singer would replace John's Diary as the informational non-player character.

Act III is a quest to stop Lilith from freeing Lucifer. We have to skip much of the third season because it deals with Dean dying from his crossroads deal. Since this is a video game, in which Dean is a perpetually playable character, this won't happen. This is a combination of the third season and fourth season, with enemies ranging from the Seven Deadly Sins demons, lower-level angels, the demon Samhain, the demon Alastair, and the boss demon Lilith. The Trickster would also show up in this act, as well. Non-player characters would include the blonde demon Ruby, the brunette demon Ruby, the con artist Bella, and the prophet Chuck. Killing Lilith will actually free Lucifer from his cage, just like the show.

Act IV is a quest to avert the Apocalypse, covering the fifth season of the show. There are a lot of higher-level angels to fight -- the heroes should fight and defeat the Archangel Raphael and the Archangel Gabriel (the Trickster in his true form), as well as the seraph Zachariah. The Whore of Babylon and three of the Four Horsemen would also be enemies that you can defeat. After making a deal with the Horseman Death, the heroes would be able to lock up both Michael (in his Adam Winchester form) and Lucifer (in his Nick form because Sam is a playable character) at the end of the act.

After these four boss fights, the heroes Sam and Dean would probably be at "Level 60" in skill and power. In a traditional dungeon crawler/action RPG (e.g., the original Diablo), there are at least three character classes:  Melee fighter, missile shooter, and magic caster. Let's say that the larger Sam is the melee fighter class (wields Ruby's demon-killing knife), the smaller Dean is the missile shooter (shoots the almost everything-killing Colt), and Castiel is the magic caster, inexplicably at the start of the game. (The character Castiel first appears in the fourth season of the TV show.) It's a video game, after all; it is allowed to make less sense than an already nonsensical TV show!

Act V: The first expansion, covering the sixth season, would be Supernatural: Mother of Monsters. Team Free Will, consisting of Sam (Melee), Dean (Missile), Castiel (Magic), and Bobby (item identifier but otherwise a non-player character), will have to find a way to stop the expansion bosses Raphael the Archangel, as well as Eve and her entourage of Alpha Monsters. Diablo expansions tend to add a new class of character for every expansion, so for this one, we get to also play as Crowley, who summons Pets (demons and hellhounds).

After killing Eve, the heroes would cap their experience at "Level 70."

Act VI: The second expansion, covering the seventh season, would be Supernatural: Rise of Dick. Team Free Will will have to fight a new class of monsters, leviathans, and they will lose Bobby. The expansion boss is the head leviathan, Dick Roman. Just like Diablo III losing Cain and replacing him with a book, Rise of Dick will replace Bobby's identification function with John Winchester's and Bobby Singer's journals. Charlie the Hacker (Traps) will be the new class of playable character.

After killing Dick, the heroes would end up in Purgatory, and their experience would cap at "Level 80."

Act VII: The third expansion, covering the eighth season, would be Supernatural: Close the Gates. This adventure would take Team Free Will from Purgatory to Heaven to Hell to Earth. The main boss to click and kill would be Naomi the Bureaucratic Angel, but the true end of this plot would be to combine elements to perform a super-spell to close the Gates of Heaven and Hell, upon the suggestion of the angelic scribe Metatron. This would be a trick because casting the spell would end the game and expel all the angels from Heaven.

Let's recap the player classes available in this hypothetical game:  Sam (Melee / Knives), Dean (Missile / Guns), Castiel (Angelic Magic), Crowley (Demonic Pets), Charlie (Electronic Traps), and a new playable character, Kevin the Prophet (Holy Magic Melee ... or something like that). Since the boss fight doesn't sound as "epic" as the other acts (Naomi, really?), let's add Benny the Vampire to the character list. Let's say that Benny can do what both Sam and Dean can do, but not as well.

After expelling all the angels from Heaven, Team Free Will's experience would cap at "Level 90."

Act VIII: The fourth expansion, covering the ninth season, would be Supernatural: Scribe of God. This adventure would be to track down and defeat the megalomaniac angel Metatron and reopen the Gates of Heaven. Along the way, the heroes will pick up a powerful "item" called the Mark of Cain, as well as the First Blade. I can't think of a new character class for this expansion. Perhaps it might be Werewolf Garth the Hunter (Missile and Hulking Out in Werewolf Form) or one-shot characters from the eighth season, like Aaron and his Golem (redundantly more Pets). Okay, let's just go with Garth. In any case, there are two bosses for this expansion: The Knight of Hell Abaddon (but you'll need the Mark of Cain and the First Blade first) and the angel Metatron.

After killing Abaddon and imprisoning Metatron, Team Free Will's experience would cap at "Level 100."

If I can briefly return to talking about Supernatural as a TV show: I watched Season 10 knowing full well that Sam and Dean were hunting and fighting at the figurative Level 100+, so most of the danger didn't really affect the main characters. It was the supporting characters that had to face much of the danger. Okay, let's get back to the expansion packs.

Act IX: The fifth expansion, covering the 10th season, would be Supernatural: Mark of Cain. In the show, the Mark of Cain affected Dean Winchester ... but not that much. It was supposed to turn him into a heartless killing machine, but they probably couldn't show that sort of potential ultra-violence on network TV. For the sake of a video game, let's say the Mark is a mostly-MacGuffin item that summons and creates way more monsters to the player(s) to kill, for some reason. Basically, the plot of this expansion game would be to assemble items (the Book of the Damned and a code-breaking computer) so the witch Rowena could cast a spell, kill the demon Cain, kill the (Franken-)Stynes, and kill your buddy Death (for some reason). The new character class would be Claire Novak (Thief) -- she'd be, like, a sneaky assassin-type character class.

Let's review all our character classes:

1. Warrior (Sam Winchester)
2. Ranger (Dean Winchester)
3. Mage (Castiel)
4. Summoner (Crowley, Act V)
5. Trapper (Charlie, Act VI)
6. Warrior-Mage (Kevin, Act VII)
7. Ranger-Warrior (Benny, Act VII)
8. Doctor Jekyll-Mr. Hyde (Garth, Act VIII)
9. Thief (Claire, Act IX)

Of course, every player character must start from Act I of the original game, so it would be interesting to see Charlie fight the Yellow-Eyed Demon -- this is a game, afterall. It doesn't have to make that much sense.

Let's review all our big bad bosses:

Act I: Meg (Blonde)
Act II: Azazel
Act III: Lilith
Act IV: Lucifer and Michael
Act V: Raphael; Eve
Act VI: Dick
Act VII: Naomi
Act VIII: Abaddon; Metatron
Act IX: Cain; Death

For single player games, there should be the option to fight alongside a non-player character or two, at least for a limited time in each act:

Act I: John Winchester
Act II: Ellen and Jo Harville
Act III: Ruby the Demon (Blonde and/or Brunette forms)
Act IV: Gabriel the Archangel
Act V: Balthazar the Angel
Act VI: Meg the Demon (Brunette)
Act VII: The dog that Sam ran over
Act VIII: Gadreel the Angel
Act IX: Sheriffs Mills and Hanscum

At the end of the ninth act of the video game, the Mark of Cain is removed, but Rowena betrays everyone and becomes super-powerful with the Book of the Damned, just like TV series. The removal of the Mark unleashes an ancient evil called the Darkness.


Act X: I can't speculate how the 11th season of the show will pan out, so I really can't speculate how a hypothetical action RPG video game expansion called Supernatural: Into the Darkness should be like.

From what I've seen in the ninth season finale, I like the potential of this slight retcon to the series mythology. Apparently, before God created light, as in "Let there be light," he and his Archangels fought an ancient evil called the Darkness. God locked away the Darkness and created the Mark as a lock for the Darkness. God then placed the Mark on Lucifer, who subsequently went mad and evil over the course of eons. Lucifer passed the Mark onto Cain, before he was locked away in the deepest part of Hell. Cain subsequently went mad and evil over the course of millennia, before a short hiatus of his madness, due to love. Cain passed the Mark onto Dean, who turned into a demon for a while, before being cured, and sort of went kind of mad and a bit evil over the course of a few months, before apparently killing Death and having the Mark removed by Rowena's spell.

The 11th season big bad(s) will possibly be Rowena (like Adria in Diablo III) and the Darkness.  It should be fun to watch. And now I'm pretty spent, just imagining and speculating how cool it would be to play a Supernatural video game -- and I don't play video games that often.

If I had the know-how and the time, I would at the very least create a non-commercial dungeon crawler with 8-bit, Legend of Zelda graphics set in a simplified, Supernatural-like world. Yes, this blog post is extra long, but I am passionately writing about a thing of little to no consequence, so please bear with me.

This Zelda-like Supernatural game would only be one player. Initially, you could choose to be either Sam or Dean, with the other taking the Impala to the checkpoint/save point in each "dungeon" level. You can switch characters whenever you find the Impala. Each playable character has a strength scale total of nine, divided among melee hits, missile shots, and overall life. Sam's blade hits are worth 4x damage, his gunshots are worth 2x damage, and he has 3x life. Dean's blade hits are worth 2x damage, his gunshots are worth 4x damage, and he has 3x life.

The first dungeon would be the first season. The ghost of an on-fire Mary Winchester would tell the boys to find their father John. The boys are armed with machetes and salt guns. Halfway through the dungeon, the boys find John, who tells them that he knows who killed their mother. They must find an exorcism book to access the boss fight. At the end of the dungeon, they exorcise the demon Meg, but Azazel briefly appears and kills John.

The second dungeon would be the second season, at least a simplified version of the second season finale. The dungeon is a pentagram, and the boys will have to destroy the seals of each point of the pentagram, in order to access the Hell Gate, where Azazel awaits. A Special Child is the boss of each point of the pentagram. Sam and Dean will have to also find the Colt to kill Azazel. Since Dean's gunshots are stronger (the video game way to indicate accuracy, I suppose) than Sam's shots, it would be advisable to use Dean for this fight.

The third dungeon would be a combination of the third and fourth seasons. Castiel is now an unlocked, playable character. In this dungeon, Castiel is the only one who can kill angels. Castiel's blade hits are worth 3x, his blue angel fireballs are worth 3x, and he has 3x life. The demon Ruby tells the boys that they must unlock five seals, with five or more mini-bosses, to stop the demon Lilith from taking over the world. Ruby gives them her knife to make demon-slaying a bit easier. Some of the rooms with seals have angel wards, so Castiel can't enter some parts of the dungeon. Ruby actually tricked the heroes into unlocking the five seals and killing Lilith (the sixth seal), in order to release Lucifer from the cage.

The fourth dungeon would be the fifth season. This level would pretty much be like the second and third dungeons: Unlock/destroy five seals and fight the main boss. Bobby Singer gets the player started on the quest. In this case, the five seals are War, Famine, the Whore of Babylon, Pestilence, and the seraph Zachariah. You must find Death in order to get powered up with all four Horsemen rings. The boss fight will be in a cemetery against both Michael and Lucifer. The Impala will also be there, so you can switch characters in the middle of the fight. At this point, everyone wields angel swords, that can kill angels.

The fifth dungeon would be the sixth season. Crowley is now an unlocked, playable character. Grandpa Campbell, for video game reasons, tells the team of its next quest. Crowley also wields an angel blade like Castiel, but his blade hits are only worth 1x. Crowley can summon hellhounds, which attack in random directions, and are worth 5x damage. He has 3x life. Crowley cannot enter rooms warded against demons. This level is the same deal as many of the previous dungeons:  Kill Raphael, kill the Alpha Shapeshifter (who becomes the previous bosses), kill the Alpha Djinn (his sub-level is a dream world), defeat the Alpha Vampire for information how to kill Eve, kill the Phoenix for his ashes, and finally, kill Eve.

The sixth dungeon would be the seventh season. Charlie is now an unlocked, playable character. Charlie can hack into locked rooms. Her blade hits are worth 1x damage, her multi-purpose traps (devil's traps for demons, holy oil for angels, borax bombs for leviathans, etc.) are worth 6x damage, but she only has 2x life. Kevin the Prophet, for some reason, triggers this quest. In this level, you have to find the items to kill Dick Roman, as you ascend the tower of Roman Industries.

The seventh dungeon would be the eighth season. Benny is now an unlocked, playable character. His blade hits are worth 3x, his gunshots are worth 3x, and his life is 3x. For some reason, the first half of the dungeon places Team Free Will and the Impala in Purgatory, and they must fight their way out. Escaping Purgatory somehow destroys the balance of the realms, so Metatron tells you all to gather elements for a spell to restore the balance. It's a trick. Since there's no big bad for this dungeon, Kevin is also a playable character: Blade hits are worth 2x, the Word of God strikes in random places with 6x damage, but he has 2x life.

The eight dungeon would be the ninth season. Garth is unlocked. He is a special case of character. In non-werewolf form, his hits are worth 0x, his shots are worth 1x, and his life is 8x. In werewolf form, his hits are 6x, his shots are worth 0x, and his life is 3x. Unfortunately, he also attracts hunters when he is in werewolf form. This dungeon is a quest to find the Mark of Cain, as well as the First Blade, kill Abaddon, and defeat Metatron. I'm running out of ideas, so I suppose the angel Hannah gives this quest.

The ninth dungeon would be the 10th season. Claire is unlocked. She is also a special-case character. She can only melee hit enemies from behind, with a total of 7x damage. Her shots are worth 1x, and her life is 1x. Claire might be overpowered, but a bit useless. The dungeon quest is given by Rowena, to find the Book of the Damned and a code-breaking app for the book. Along the way, you have to fight Cain, the Styne family, and Death.

The tenth dungeon would be the 11th season. You'll have to fight Rowena and the Darkness, or something to that effect.

And I think I'm done. The TL;DR (too long; didn't read) version is that I speculated how a Diablo-like Supernatural game would be like, as well as a Legend of Zelda-like Supernatural game. If someone were to make something like this, and distribute it for free on the Internet, I'd play the hell out of this game. If the rights holders licensed and produced a game like this, and sold it for a reasonable price, I'd also play the hell out of this game.

Someone, do something.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fix Your Broken Things and Save Money

A few weeks ago, like any other day before then, I turned on my trusty powered speakers. The left speaker sounded as great as it ever was. The right speaker let out a nasty hiss and was essentially useless as a speaker.

Yesterday, I got around to fixing that speaker. The problem was caused by two blown capacitors. Other than dealing with the manufacturer's liberal use of glue, this was an open-and-shut repair job: Unplug the unit, unscrew the back panel, pull out the insides with the circuit board, unsolder the busted capacitors, solder new capacitors, return the insides, re-screw the back panel, replug the unit, and test it out -- so far, so good (knock on wood).

For today's blog post, I want to quickly highlight a few important tools to have to fix broken things around the home and office.


1. Google/YouTube/The World Wide Web. In exchange for advertising and using your personal information in their various algorithms, you get a whole lot of information. Use it. Okay, evaluate whether the info is BS or not, then use whatever is helpful. You can literally save hundreds of dollars from finding good how-to advice. For example, a leaky faucet might just be a broken faucet cartridge, which costs about $5 for a new one. The alternative would be to buy a new faucet, which would cost around $50 for a cheap model, not to mention that it's more complicated to replace an entire faucet.

A broken temperature dial on an old car might have an easy fix: Open up the center console and use zip ties on any wayward wires. It's literally a $2 fix. Otherwise, the dealer can track down a replacement unit, and charge you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for parts and labor. You can Google almost any solvable problem, especially in the realm of do-it-yourself repair. You just need to search using the best keywords possible.


2. Safety goggles. Yes, you'll need both Google and goggles in your toolbox. Safety first!


3a. Screwdriver(s). Until the Doctor lends you his sonic screwdriver, and regular one will do. A Phillips driver, a flat-head driver, and perhaps a selection of Allen (hex) keys -- standard and metric -- should get you started. You'll eventually need other kinds of screwdrivers, wrenches, etc., and while we're at it --

3b. Cordless drill. You'll get drill bits and driver bits. A good drill/driver isn't quite a sonic screwdriver, except that it can get loud. If you don't have an immediate, regular need to create holes on surfaces, maybe you can hold off on this purchase until sometime later.


4. Soldering iron and solder for soldering, and a solder sucker or desoldering braid for unsoldering. It's not scary at all to change circuit board components or fix faulty wiring. Just don't burn your house down. I couldn't have repaired my broken speaker without having this equipment around. (I am fortunate in that I am a guitar enthusiast, and many guitar modifications require all this soldering stuff.) I just had to buy a 10 pack of replacement capacitors for about $10. In case my other speaker develops the same fault, I already have everything I need to fix it.


5. Cutting tools. It's a good idea to have a craft knife (i.e., X-Acto knife) for small things, and a variety of saws for larger things. And scissors. Never underestimate the utility of a pair of scissors. Just don't maim or dismember anyone, including yourself. I couldn't have removed the busted capacitors without an X-Acto knife to carefully hack and slash through the manufacturer's ridiculous use of glue.


6. Hammer(s). For now, cover the basics: A claw hammer, a rubber mallet, and Mjolnir.

I think that pretty much covers the basics, as far as the minimum amount of tools to fix a bunch of broken things. I suppose pliers, glue, Spackle, paint, clamps, extra screws, nuts, bolts, and stuff like that would also be useful. Of course, you'll inevitably expand your bag of tricks, err, tools, err, box of tools -- like we all do. I realize that it takes an investment to get a tool collection started: About $5 for goggles, about $30 worth of screwdrivers and hex keys, about $50 for a light-duty drill, about $30 for soldering stuff, perhaps $50 or so for cutting tools, and maybe $15 for a selection of hammers. So basically, you might expect to buy $180 to $200 worth of equipment that you might not already have, not counting how you can access the Internet for information (computer with ISP plan, smartphone with data plan, the library, etc.). Of course, you'll buy more tools on top of the initial $200.

I could have given up on my broken right speaker, ditched both speakers, and buy a new set of sound monitors. That would have cost about $200 for a similar placement, and even more for a quality upgrade. Instead, I used what I already had (the initial investment from long ago) and bought $10 worth of parts. That was it. For the next problem, and there will be a next problem, the chances are good (but not guaranteed) that the fix would also be relatively inexpensive.

Plot twist! In addition to fixing broken things, these very same tools can be used for modifying things, as well as creating new things. Shocking!

I hope this helps! Cheers!