Archive for the ‘Back To The Future’ Tag

A Cup of Kindness Yet…   Leave a comment

I’ve not actually checked, but I’m sure this title is being used by lots of people writing blog posts today.  You probably recognize it from the chorus of Auld Lang Syne, though I actually wanted to run with a lesser known line from the second verse.  Sadly, “Surely you’ll buy your pint cup, and surely I’ll buy mine” is kind of long for a title.  Plus I don’t buy pints, but I doubt anyone’d fact check that.

The fact remains, we’re sitting at the end of the 2016th calendar year in the Gregorian system.  The system’s not even that old in the grand scheme of things, clocking in at roughly 434 years (to make the math nice and fun they went ahead with the switch in October instead of just waiting three months for January.)  There have been a lot of opinions about 2016 as a year to the point that a few people have even started personifying it, typically as a sort of bumbling thing but every once in a while as a kind of malevolent one.  It’s a subconscious thing, but for the last few months pretty much anything unpleasant that’s happened has been blamed on the year.

And I have to admit that general events in the United States haven’t been great.  My understanding is that events in the rest of the world have also been less than awesome, even if the non-Brexit specifics aren’t coming to my mind right now.  From zookeepers who had to make a horrible decision about the life of a boy and a gorilla, to a ridiculous amount of beloved famous people passing away, to an election that was just mean no matter what your political leanings are, to callous disregard for the lives of black people in the face of armed police officers… and lest we forget, the city of Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.  This is just what I remember off the top of my head, and this is just the United States.

To make it worse, 2015 was a tough act to follow.  We celebrated the date that Marty McFly went to the Future, often at the exact time that he got there.  MST3K fans raised enough funds to create a new, twelfth season of the show.  Star Wars’ fabled seventh installment came out, and while the fans who’ve been keeping the franchise alive had strongly mixed feelings about it and what it meant for the expanded universe, the film was also applauded for taking steps toward less of a cast of white guys.

Possibly most surprising about that film was that its director actually agreed with criticisms that it too slavishly followed the plot of the original film and said he’d lessen so much imitation moving forward!  Legitimate response to a fair critique of a movie that most people admit was okay? Sweet.

So… 2016 already had a lot working against it, it doesn’t compare well to 2015 especially if you’re a fan of nerdy things.  But 2016 wasn’t all bad, either.  There are some gems here.  Ghostbusters 2016 was, despite fears that it would “ruin our childhood forever”, a really nice movie (with a villain that was, hilariously enough, seemingly composed of all the worst parts of the Internet’s complainers.)  It’s sad that Gravity Falls and Wander Over Yonder concluded, but they had amazing final episodes.  Police around the country are taking stands and saying that things have gone too far and they’re working for reform in their own departments to, hopefully, save lives.  People seem to be done talking about Deflate Gate.  Everywhere I look, I see signs of positive change.

Like, I’m not trying to sugar coat anything here.  2016 was a lousy year.  But a lot of the problems with it seem to be indicative of change, and I think there’s a lot of good change.  There’s bad change to, definitely, but the good change is really good.  I feel like the really bad stuff, not counting celebrity deaths, are suggestive of growing pains.  We have some entrenched systems in place and a lot of people don’t want those systems to change because change is scary, so it’s expected that we’ll see resistance in the form of both a lack of initiative and a presence of active opposition.  This resistance isn’t really stopping the change, though, it’s just… well, it’s just resisting it.

So when we remember auld lang syne tonight… that is, times long past, or even just “old times”… let’s remember the good parts of 2016.  The bad parts of it need to go away forever, yeah, but let’s celebrate the wins we got.  And, of course, let’s take the time to remember those no longer with us.  I’ve got lots of plans for 2017, and most of them wouldn’t be possible without the way that 2016 went, so… here’s to the good old times, and good riddance to the bad ones.  Seeya in 2017, everyone!


Back To The Future Day Movie Synchronization Guide   Leave a comment


So!  You’re a big fan of Back To The Future AND its sequels.  You’ve read Ryan North’s hilarious B to the F summary of the bizarre novelization of the first movie, you’ve laughed and cried to Telltale’s epic Back To The Future: The Game, and you’ve got Doc Brown’s science facts from the end of the episodes of the cartoon saved on VHS.  Maybe you even snagged one of the rare samples of Pepsi Perfect, though at $20.15 per bottle (a joke I didn’t even notice until my sister said that she got it) I can understand not going that far.  All of this means that you don’t need me to tell you that today, October 21st, 2015 is the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown reach the future at precisely 4:29 PM.

So, naturally, you’re gonna want to watch a movie.

And because the urge to do so is overwhelming, you have the desire to synchronize your viewing with the moment that Marty makes it to the future.

But be warned!  This is a trickier prospect than it seems!  Time is a fickle beast, as anyone who watched these movies could tell you, and while there’s no risk of paradox from simply watching a film, you might delude yourself into a scientifically inaccurate moment of synchronization.

We here at Crater Labs, Inc. know that explosions build character, but accidents are best to be avoided even if they DO build character.  So let’s take a quick look at what you’ll need to properly synchronize your viewing.

BTTF Synchronized Watches

1) Check Your Time Zone

I’ve seen a lot of people pointing out that Marty’s moment of future arrival is at 4:29 PM.  And that’s correct!  But it’s also misleading.  See, if you’re waiting for your clock to say 4:29 PM then you’ve only got a 1/24 chance of being correct (realistically better than that considering how few people outside of the Western world ever read my blog, but I’m not making any assumptions here.  …though if you’re in China you’ve already missed it, sorry.)  Hill Valley is in California, located within the Pacific Time Zone.  So if you’re in, say, Oregon?  Then 4:29 is the time for you!  If you, like me, are in Indiana, though, Marty’s actual time of arrival is 6:29 PM because I’m two hours ahead of California time.  Ergo, if I want a scientifically accurate recreation, I need to hold off.  Which brings us to another point…

2) Check Your Theater Listings

A lot of theaters across the country are showing Back To The Future 2 today.  Even better, most of them are starting their showings at 4:29 PM!  Even if they didn’t consider point 1 above, that’s a really swell gesture.  Now, which idea is more fun for you?  Carefully synchronizing a movie at home so that you start playing it before 4:29 PM PST so that Marty gets to the future right AT 4:29 PST?  Or heading to a movie theater, maybe with friends, and viewing it together in public?  I can honestly say, as much as fiddling with tricky things is fun for me, being in public with good friends is something I want to do more, and if I had the money for a ticket I would totally do it.  HOWEVER… you can actually have your cake and eat it too providing that you don’t live on the west coast or in mountain time.  (Sorry, entire western half of the contiguous United States!)  Take me, for instance: living in the Central Time Zone as I do, I could go see the showing of Back To The Future 2 at 4:29 PM.  The movie is one hour and forty-eight minutes long, which means the movie will conclude at 6:17 PM.  I could then, assuming I made preparations in advance, race home knowing that I have 12 minutes available to beat the deadline.  There are realistically only two time zones (Central and Eastern) that can do this at the time that I put this post up, so it’s not likely you’ll see it in Time, but you should know that for those of us in this tiny 1/12th sliver of the globe there’s still that chance.  People to the west? Sorry, you’ll have to pick and choose.

3) Check Your Edition

Not all DVDs are the same!  Heck, not all DVD PLAYERS are the same!  On my personal copy of Back To The Future 2, from the time I push play on the menu screen to the time I see the modernized Universal logo pop up, 35.90 seconds pass.  That’s a variance of greater than half a minute!  DON’T LET THAT TRIP YOU UP!  Take note that this issue is even more true for VHS copies of the movie.  Props for going as retro as possible, but different VHS players run at different speeds, even if that difference is usually not significant enough to see.  This brings us to…

4) Check Your Player Speed

At this point you’re doing a pre-watch of the movie before your watch of the movie.  Good for you!  After the modernized Universal Logo on my DVD, the actual movie begins with the classic Universal logo that doesn’t have the big anthem going along with it.  This step mostly happens at the same time that you do step 3, but I mention it as a technically significant variance that may affect your schedule!  And finally…

5) Choose Your Moment

This is the tricky one.  Most people will settle for merely watching the movie at 4:29 PM.  This is fine and dandy, sure, but it’s only one of three options, and I maintain that it’s the least accurate.  I mean, it’s not bad, but if you’re going to this trouble anyway I suggest looking at the others.  So, here are your choices.

  • The Huey Lewis Special:  You can tell your doctor that you don’t mind so long as you get back in time.  Back in time for what? Who knows.  Or Huey knows.  One way or the other, this is the option most people go with, and the option they need to go with if they’re going to a movie theater.  This is when you start the movie at 4:29 on the dot.  To synchronize for this viewing, you need to take the first four steps.  For me, I’d have to start watching 35.90 seconds before 4:29, which would be 4:28:24.10 PST, or 6:28:24.10 Central Time.  Marty McFly in sunny Hill Valley (or rainy if the weather prediction is accurate) will be a few minutes ahead of you, but you know what? You’re watchin’ a movie.  It’s all good.
  • Didn’t Have Time To Build It To Scale Or Paint It: This is pretty accurate… from the point of view of a typical 80s teen.  This method of synchronization has you viewing the film so that 4:29 happens the moment that Marty McFly and Loraine are in a flying car with Doc Brown, right when it hits 88 miles per hour.  4:29 in this method comes 3 minutes and 25.40 seconds after the movie begins.  To hit this mark, you need to begin viewing even earlier, starting no later than 4:25:34.60 PM PST, which in my time zone would be 6:25:34.60 (Central Time if you haven’t been paying attention.)  And from the point of view of someone in the 80s going along Marty McFly’s personal timeline, this would be perfect!  But we’re not starting to work on this from 1985, we’re living back in good old 2015.  We want to meet Marty when he arrives.  This leads us to the final option.
  • Save The Clock Tower!  This method doesn’t have us departing with Marty, it has us arriving with him, and in my opinion this is the way to go!  After Doc Brown takes off from 1985, the movie continues for a bit without actors as we get an aerial view that moves through the clouds.  Now, we’re meant to think this is the view from a flying car… and it may be exactly that… but if you pay attention, the storm clouds over Hill Valley aren’t what the DeLorean flies into, they’re what the DeLorean appears in the middle of!  If you want 4:29 PM PST to land on exactly the moment that Marty is first in 2015, this is what you want to use as your moment of synchronization.  To make this one work, you need to begin viewing at exactly 5 minutes and 1.37 seconds before 4:29!  To accomplish this, you need to start watching at 4:23:58.63 PM PST, or 6:23:58.63 Central Time.  This viewing has you on the track to be waiting for Marty not just when he arrives but WHEN he arrives.  …those mean the same thing, but I was talking about When from two different directions.  Time to enjoy a movie like we do in 2015!

BTTF2 Jaws 19

Gettin’ sick of seeing that image yet?  EVERYONE’S USING IT, AND I’M NO DIFFERENT!  See, it’s clever because we’re talking about a movie that showed movies in 2015, and now it’s 2015.

IMPORTANT NOTE: remember, that in my calculations, I’m factoring in the 35.90 second delay that’s on my DVD copy from the moment I push play!  This won’t be the same for you, though it may be close.  If you want to cue up your DVD to just after the modern logo (or its equivalent) and just before the old classic Universal logo begins, you can start 35.90 seconds later!  So this would change your viewings to…

  • Huey Lewis Special: 4:29 PM PST (no real challenge here)
  • Didn’t Have Time To Build It Or Paint It: 4:26:10.50 PM PST
  • Save The Clock Tower! 4:24:34.53 PM PST

As with all things, there’s room for human error, and this is just using my own DVD player.  You may need to run a trial run yourself and do these calculations on your own depending on any play speed variances.  Plus it’s always good to check someone else’s work.

Anyway, keep all this in mind while viewing Back To The Future 2, and no matter how you view it, be sure that you have fun.  Split second timing is fun… and important, as Doc Brown likes to remind us… but we also need to take a page out of Marty’s book and take it easy once in a while.  So if you miss starting the movie right when you want, don’t worry about it.  Have fun!

Magical Mondays: Making Your Origin Story   Leave a comment

For today’s Magical Mondays, I’m talking about a concept that I use to try to give some feeling to the magic in my games.  I’ve seen other people do this, but I don’t know if they do it intentionally (or if they do it intentionally, if they ascribe any significance to it like I do.)  Basically, I like to give themes to my casters, but I try to take it a step beyond simply saying “This caster likes acid spells”, or “this is a pyromancer.”  See, rather than treating the spell as a magical widget that a magician fills with energy to create a certain effect, I like to use these themes to explain where the magic comes from.

I think this is an area where comic book writers actually have a leg up on game designers, or even novel writers.  We’re often shoehorned into thinking in certain ways regarding certain genres… and that’s fine, honestly.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wizards wearing pointy hats and long beards who all cast very similar fireballs, lightning bolts and magic missiles.  If your book only has one magician, and that magician is a lot like Gandalf or Merlin, well, that’s fine most of the time.  Your readers expect it, and it can make it easy to start writing.  However… when you read about, say, Longshot’s supernatural luck or Zatanna’s backwards magic words, there’s a certain element of fantasy that’s missing from… well, fantasy.  Part of this is admittedly related to the fact that comics have been around so long that trial and error has caused a lot of intriguing magical concepts to come into play.  I think a lot of it, though, is related to the fact that comics have the time to explore the reasons behind certain powers.  I mean, your average comic book reader will be familiar with the phrase “origin story” after all.

(As a side note: I think it’s a bit of a cop out that one of Superman’s weaknesses is simply listed as “magic.”  I don’t want a knife to be able to cut Superman because it’s “magic”.  I want a knife that can cut Superman because it’s “magically imbued with the ability to pierce the hide of even the most dangerous beasts.”  That’s not really related to this topic, I know, it’s just something that’s always bugged me.  It’s like saying “This gun can harm Superman, because we built it… with math.”  Technically accurate, sure? But… we can put more effort into that, guys.  Okay, rant over.)

I think this is why the mages that I see running around fantasy RPGs all seem to look more or less the same, while the magic users in comic book RPGs have more of a flair about them.  The focus is on the execution of the power and origin of it rather than what the power is.  That’s all well and good for MMOs, I suppose, but this is a tabletop blog.  What’s it look like when we apply this to games?  Let’s take a look.

A friend of mine once ran a World of Darkness game (Hunter:The Vigil to be specific), and our antagonist was a Mage (built using a lot of the rules from Mage: The Awakening, naturally.)  In true Word of Darkness fashion, the Mage was actually a pretty well fleshed out character.  He’d been imprisoned by his fellow mages for coming close to destroying the world, and we accidentally broke that seal.  He called himself DJ Danger (among many other names), and he loved 80s Music, and the 80s in general.  His music was his life, man.  His soul.  And, ultimately, the music was his power.  My friend had scoured a lot of the best (and worst) pieces of 80s music, and had tied many of them to spells, abilities, and effects.  Even worse, this mage was more or less unaware of the 90s, Naughts and Teens, and with over two decades of missing pop culture knowledge a lot of what we had to say was lost on him.  We could not, it turned out, depower him by requesting that he play Never Gonna Give You Up.


Astley, you failed us when we needed you the most.

Anyway… ultimately, this mage’s powers (probably) came from the towers that all mages get their powers from in World of Darkness.  However, in terms of this particular story? DJ Danger’s power came from his music.  It led to my favorite character death to date: while locked outside on the roof of a skyscraper, I happen to see something coming up the side of the building…


But instead of McFly, it’s Danger holding a boom box.  And then that classic Scorpions song began blasting, making my character be Rocked like a Hurricane.  The German rock music summoned (was?) the mighty wind, I didn’t roll enough successes, and my character fell to his death.  Now, could any other Mage have done the same thing to me? Quite possibly.  But DJ Danger did it in the way that mattered.

I’ve spoken about this earlier, specifically when talking about how there can be different versions of the same spells or magical effects, but in this case the emphasis is on how the magician creates these effects.  In the Zork universe, magic is described as being comprised of Presence, Incantation and Unusual Effect: if you want a memorable magic user, don’t worry too much about the Unusual Effect and consider, instead, the Presence and Incantation side of things.  Let’s take a look at the identical spells of two D&D necromancers and see just how we can make them different.

0th level spells: Disrupt Undead, Touch Of Fatigue, Light, Ray Of Frost
1st level spells: Cause Fear, Chill Touch, Animate Rope

Sammar Scorchman, Pyrekeeper: Sammar is a necromancer dedicated not just to death, but also to death caused by fire.  Sammar believes that fire, flame and ash represent great mysteries, especially when used to manipulate death itself.  Disrupt Undead is fueled by holy fire from pacts made daily with beings from the positive energy plane, and Touch of Fatigue hits a target with a feeling of intense humidity.  Ray of Frost is curious: unlike most wizards, Sammar’s spell isn’t a ray that shoots cold energy at a target: instead, it’s a ray that pulls the warmth from the body of his enemies.  Moving on to first level spells it becomes a little harder: Chill Touch is similar to Ray Of Frost, as it also saps the warmth from the body leaving an incredible, frosty chill.  Cause Fear is an ability granted because Sammar has stolen a fragment of the soul of an ancient red dragon, instilling a portion of his frightful presence onto the assembled.  Finally, Animate Rope works due to a literal spark of life stolen from an individual (possibly from a Ray Of Frost cast weeks earlier) that allows the rope to act as Sammar chooses.

Scurvy Samuel Sawbones, Watcher of the Black Tide: Sam Sawbones has been a sailor all of his life and a pirate for most of those.  He learned from an early age that the sea was an engine of death, just as much as a medium for passage and a provider of food.  Disrupt Undead is an ancient pirate curse that befouls the remains of anything that forgot how dead it should be.  Touch Of Fatigue is a single touch that compresses a day’s work of sailing into a single instant.  Light is a remnant of St. Elmo’s Fire, brought into being to cause some good for once, no matter how unsettling the other sailors find it.  Ray Of Frost is the piercing sensation of the icy blue waters at the bottom of the sea.  Level one spells are a bit easier than they were for Sammar up above: Cause Fear reaches into the primal sensations of ancient people when they first learned to fear the sharks and krakens that hid in the deeps, Chill Touch causes a person to briefly become possessed by the soul of someone who was keelhauled, feeling the water just as they expired.  And, finally, Animate Rope is an old sailor’s trick, often said to be invented on sea before the land… though some think it makes use of the souls of the poor sailors who got caught up in the ropes while they weren’t paying attention one day.  Samuel knows, but won’t say.


These aren’t great characters, in my opinion, but I think with some work those kinds of concepts could come to life in a character.  I went with Necromancers because I’m playing one at the moment who comes from a culture where manipulating ghosts was commonplace, and so each of his spells are thought to actually be the work of ghosts instead of arcane energy.  Having said all this: remember that there’s a lot of fun to be had from any other number of ways when you flesh out a character.  If you want someone who’s basically Gandalf but with a fear of stars, go for it.  Toy with your characters, and I think you’ll be surprised at what you can come up with.