Thursday, September 27, 2012

Off To RinCon!

You may have noticed that I released this week's podcast a little early this week. And that's because I'm off to RinCon this weekend, an annual game convention here in Arizona.

It's been since GenCon 2008 that I've been to ANY kind of game convention, and I've been chomping at the bit all summer.

With the help of some extended family in Tucson, I'll be making the two hour drive and staying in town for the con all weekend long, getting back Sunday evening.

I'm signed up to play mostly board games, which surprised me a little bit. But this is partly because these days I'm more likely to find people to play board games with rather than full-on paper and pencil RPGs. I'm also "on the hunt" this weekend for my "next favorite board game". I've been saving money all summer so that I can come home after this weekend with one, or maybe even two great games. As of now, I've got my eye on Mage Knight the board game, Descent 2nd Edition, and grabbing a few Heroclix singles. But I know there are a TON of games I've never heard of, so I'm wide open for something new to blow my mind!

If I'm not too busy geeking out, I'll try to record a few segments for the podcast. But don't hold me to that. The lure of non-stop gaming may be too strong!

I'll be back here on Monday! Catch you then!

-Paeter Frandsen

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Scott Appleton Interview and DC's "New 52" One year Later (SBU Podcast)

Interview with Christian fantasy Author Scott Appleton and some thoughts on DC Comics' "New 52" one year after its' launch! Plus, a brief look at what it means to be made in the "image" of God according to Genesis Chapter 1!

Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:



visit to leave a recorded message with your phone or computer for me to play on the show!I'd love for you to be a part of this podcast!

For Community, Free Stuff and TONS more, explore the rest of the growing "Spirit Blade" universe at-

Direct Download-

In Search Of Truth, Genesis 1:26-28 (The "Image" Of God)

Vs 26-27
There continues to be speculation over what exactly is meant by "the image of God" in passages like this. The same terminology used here to describe us as an "image of God" was also used in the ancient world to describe physical idols of various gods. These idols were purposed to carry out the work of their god and represent their god to mortals.

As Moses, the author of Genesis, wrote these words, it's very likely this connotation would have carried over to the Israelites' understanding of what it means to be made as an "image" of God. As humans, both men and women, we both reflect God's nature in some ways and are intended to carry out his work in the world, representing him.

Since we know, based on Genesis 1:1, that God is not physical, the "image" of God we carry must not be physical in nature, but related to our "personhood" in some way.

Last week I asked how an infinite, immaterial being breaks through the obvious communication limitations to reveal himself to humanity. We can possibly start by saying that he has made humanity in some way "compatible" with himself, by making their personhood a partial reflection of his own.

Vs 28
We were made to govern every living thing on this planet and manage every square inch of real estate. The Hebrew word used for "subdue" here means to "conquer" or "subjugate". The earth and all it contains was meant to serve us, not the other way around. Although this isn't to say that we should be careless and cruel as we rule the earth.

Our intended purpose from the beginning was to act on behalf of God, be the physical representatives of the infinite, immaterial Creator and his character. There is something in his personhood that is reflected in ours, and we're meant to display that in how we govern creation and interact with each other.

Of course, we can also be very cruel to each other and the created world. Is this part of how we reflect God? Or is there something else that is naturally a part of us that does not reflect God?

We'll take a look at that next time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The New 52, One Year Later...

One year ago this month, DC Comics aimed to take the comics world by storm with their complete reboot of the DC Universe. Although the basic elements of most characters remained the same, many of the details changed. First and foremost, the timeline was compacted, meaning that instead of Superman being a long established hero, in the "New 52" continuity, he and most other heroes have only been active for a maximum of five years.

I've been a big DC comics fan for a long time, and started seriously collecting comics in the late 90s. Over the years comics have changed both in terms of art and writing. DC comics has rebooted their continuity lightly a few times in the past, but not since 1985's "Crisis On Infinite Earths" have they so completely altered the continuity of their universe.

I knew I wasn't going to buy all 52 of their new titles, but I bought as many numbers one's as I thought I might enjoy, and then eliminated comics from my starting line-up over the next few months.

Last year, around that time, I gave a rundown of the different comics I was trying out, and why I liked or disliked what I was reading. You can read my entire series of "DC's New 52" posts at the links below:

Post 1
Post 2
Post 3
Post 4
Post 5
Post 6
Post 7

Now, one year later, I'm looking back at my comic reading habits since then, going over briefly which comics I read this last year, and why I'm either still reading them or not. Afterward, I'll give my overall thoughts on what DC Comics has done this year.


His new origin was very much in keeping with his original: The product of a secret project attempting to clone Superman.

Why I dropped it:
Without the guidance and grounding provided by Ma and Pa Kent, Superboy was just another angry, brooding "hero". Now, I like angry brooding heroes, but I also like character. And as this book began to crossover with other books, the story became confusing and vague. Attention to developing Superboy as a character was sacrificed and I simply lost interest, figuring I could get enough of him in Teen Titans.

Teen Titans

In the New 52, the Teen Titans are all brand spanking new crimefighters. And they're being hunted down by the government! A great premise and a pretty good character line-up. (Although with some obvious "demographic boxes" being checked by new third-tier characters.)

Why I dropped it:
Again, this choice was about character. I had already dropped the previous version of this title a year or so after Geoff Johns stopped writing it. It's hard to follow Johns' great, character-driven writing with material that is more about "big fights" instead. Teen Titans also suffered when it became part of the same confusing crossover story as Superboy and one or two other books. Great art in this book, but it wasn't enough for me.


Barry Alan is back and a bachelor. The Flash is a new hero who hasn't won over his hometown yet. In fact, he gets himself into trouble with the public pretty early on.

Why I dropped it:
It took awhile for me to drop this book. The Flash may be my second favorite character. But the art style never quite won me over, and Barry's personality seemed lost in the cookie cutter mold of "new insecure hero trying to make his way in the world" that so many of the New 52 books have become. When a story came along that represented the speed force as a weird, Dr. Seuss-looking dimension of floating rocks in space, I was done.


Supergirl has just arrived on earth. She doesn't speak English and she is very aggressive and defensive. And well she should be, since some crazy corporate big-baddie wants to harvest her DNA (or something like that).

Why I dropped it:
Same old-tune. Lots of action, not enough character. I felt like they offered some token bits of character development, but they seemed tacked on, rather than a driving force of the story. So much missed potential with this character concept.

Action Comics

This is the ground floor for getting to know the new Superman, as the first arc tells the story of his first five years fighting crime.

Why I dropped it:
Plain and simple. I don't like this Superman. You can argue up and down what he has in common with Superman as he was first created in the late '30s, but that doesn't make me like him any more.

Ma and Pa Kent are dead, removing their potential to give him loving support and mature emotional grounding. Superman seems angry all the time, and so does Clark, who sometimes comes across as a young college student who just discovered a cause and the past-time of protesting.

My favorite Superman is the one who kicks butt when he has to, but until then is inspiring, polite and SMILES now and then!

Detective Comics

Dark and brooding, this book features the solo adventures of the Dark Knight.

Why I've kept it:
This book is my refuge from the way this character is being mishandled elsewhere. I don't like the surrogate family that has developed around Batman. He effectively has three sons and almost a daughter, too, in his other books. He's also been talking about "putting the deah of his parents behind him" and "celebrating their wedding anniversary instead of their death". Who the crap is this guy? It's like a supervillain switched the souls of Batman and Superman in the New 52!

The story has been interesting, although the more recent "sci-fi" story veered away from the gritty "street level" stuff I like Batman for best. (Unless he's with the Justice League.) So we'll see how much longer I hang on to this one.


Aquaman is the least respected superhero, and he knows it. But that doesn't stop him from kicking butt and taking names as he goes on a mission to deal with the ghosts of his past.

Why I've kept it:
Easy. Geoff Johns. Great supporting cast. Intriguing concepts and characters. Great art. This book is for Aquaman fans, those that always WANTED to like Aquaman but couldn't, and those who think Aquaman is lame. Buy this book!

Justice League

Like Action Comics, the first story arc of this book recaps the first few years of the Justice League, making use of the "Big Seven", but replacing Martian Manhunter with Cyborg. (A choice I'm surprised at how much I like!)

Why I've kept it:
Geoff Johns again. That and the Big Seven (Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Cyborg). Love the bang for your buck in terms of big name characters, and Johns knows these characters so well that he makes it a blast to see them play off each other.

Blue Beetle

A powerful alien parasitic suit falls into the hands of Jaime, a teenage boy who tries his best to use his newfound powers to do good, even though the alien suit seems designed to do the evil deeds of a dangerous alien race.

Why I've kept it:
This book got off to a bumpy start for me in some ways, given that a small but significant fraction of the dialogue is in Spanish... and I don't know Spanish. But this seems to have been toned down a little bit and the rest of the book makes up for it anyway.

Sure, you can call the basic premise a rip-off of Spider-man in some ways. The main character's family and friends are constantly put in danger because of his suit. But as often as the Blue Beetle's enemies are the problem, the suit itself callously treats Jaime's friends as enemies, too. The book also has a more sci-fi space theme than Spider-man, and as usual, this DC counterpart is much more powerful than its analog in the Marvel universe.

Character driven stories and cool sci-fi concepts make this one worth coming back to every month.

Green Lantern

7200 Green Lanterns patrol the universe, promoting peace, order and justice. This comic focuses on Hal Jordan, earth's most well-known Green Lantern.

Why I've kept it:
Even if Green Lantern weren't my favorite superhero, I'd still be buying this book just to get another dose of Geoff Johns. 'Nuff said.

Green Lantern Corps

This Green lantern book zooms out a bit and gives us a look at what's going on with the Green Lantern Corps as a whole, though it tends to anchor stories with earth Green Lanterns Guy Gardner and John Stewart.

Why I've kept it:
One of my favorite things about the Green Lantern Corps has always been the pseudo-military vibe to it. And when the Corps was brought back to the DCU a few years ago, it was clear DC saw the value in this idea, too. Despite the massive scale of outer space in this book, the stories have that gritty, war and combat feel you'd expect from a military story. Green Lanterns bleed and die in this book, as they go up against the biggest and baddest threats in the universe. And amidst all the GL awesomeness, there's still room for developing characters that I've known for years.

Green Lantern New Guardians

Earth Green Lantern Kyle Rayner discovers he has a unique connection to all the various Corps.

Why I've kept it:
Honestly, I'm not sure why I've stuck with this one. The writing is good but forgettable, and one recent story just rubbed me the wrong way, philosophically. But I'm a sucker for a Green Lantern book, and this one isn't a bad one.

Demon Knights

In the Dark Ages, a handful of supernaturally gifted individuals join forces against an evil sorceress.

Why I dropped it:
This started out looking like the cool, sword and sorcery comic I've long dreamed of someone making. But in the end I found the story and characters too forgettable to invest in.

My Thoughts On The New 52

To sum up, I should say that I don't think all the books I dropped are bad books, by any means. But my geek interests, and therefore my time and money, have diversified over the last 5 years. I no longer feel like spending the majority of my "fun money" on only comic books and movies. Video games and table top games are invading my time. So when I make time to read a comic book, I can't settle any more for a mediocre book, or even a very good book. My standard these days is "superb", and I even wonder how much longer the books I've kept will last by that standard.

As for the New 52 in general, I'm not terribly impressed. I'd love to go behind the scenes and see DC's sales figures now compared to a few years ago. I'd love to cut past the publicity hype and see what DC execs and editors REALLY think about the effectiveness of their strategy so far.

What could have been a great reboot to entice new readers may be succeeding in its sales goals for all I know. And good for DC if that works for them. But many of the changes have resulted in things that either don't interest me or just plain turn me off.

I'm especially let down by the choices made for Superman's character, and the elimination of DC's greatest legacy characters, The Justice Society. (Yes, I know they're bringing them back, but as young heroes like all the others instead of mature veterans, and with no World War 2 background. The two things that most set them apart!)

I've heard buzz and seen action taken that gives priority to inclusiveness of minorities and consistancy in creative teams. And I've got no problem with either of these things. But it seems that somehow an opportunity was lost to prioritize something better, like character, and re-establishing the definition of superhero. (DC STARTED the genre after all.)

Maybe they feel they have done both of those things. Maybe the truth is that I'm just not interested in the direction DC is going and the philosophy driving it. I've even considered the possibility that I may be heading into the twilight years of my comic book collecting. Or at least a shift toward select trade paperbacks again, as I tended toward when I first started collecting comics to begin with.

That thought doesn't make me as sad as I might have once thought, though. There are lots of great creative things going on elsewhere. And who knows? With my DC collecting dropping back, maybe I'll even try out more Marvel trade paperbacks now and then.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Spirit Blade Special Edition Commentary, Part 4!

After a month off to prepare for the relaunch of the podcast, I'm back on schedule with the release of monthly special features.

Last week I uploaded part 4 of the Spirit Blade Special Edition audio commentary. In this segment, I talk about some new dialogue I inserted and why, and also share a pet peeve about Holly Frandsen, who is both my wife the voice of Ebony Ravenloft!

Download Part 4 of my commentary on our "free stuff" page!

-Paeter Frandsen

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution And Dredd Reviews (SBU Podcast)

Reviews of the latest Resident Evil movie, David N. Alderman's "Dark Masquerade" and the Dredd movie! Plus, a look at the "weirdness" of God.

Be a part of this podcast!

Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:



visit to leave a recorded message with your phone or computer for me to play on the show!

For Community, Free Stuff and TONS more, explore the rest of the growing "Spirit Blade" universe at-

Direct Download-

Dredd (Movie Review)

Although I'm a big comic book fan, I've only got a few issues featuring Judge Dredd. Mainly because the character is a U.K. property and doesn't see a lot of distribution in the U.S.

The few issues I do have I picked up on a trip to Australia in Jr. High. I loved what little I read of this strange, dystopian future in which crime is such a problem that the entire justice system is distilled into one armed force called "The Judges", who act as police officers, judge, jury, and often executioner.

I'm probably in the minority, but I enjoyed the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd movie that came out in the 90's. Some of what I knew of Judge Dredd it represented well. Some of what I knew it totally dropped the ball on. Either way, I was still very interested to see what this latest conversion to the big screen would bring.

The script and directing this time bring a decidedly more gritty and grounded feel to the world of Judge Dredd, both figuratively and literally. For example, the bikes that the Judges have been known to either drive or fly around on in the comics and earlier film are firmly attached to the pavement in this movie.

The setting is also more like modern America than you might expect. The people of the world have escaped the radiation of fallout by clumping together in "Mega Cities" that span hundreds of miles. These cities, despite their size, look much like run-down versions of modern cities, with the exception of massive newer buildings that climb high into the sky and house thousands of people.

The result of this mixing is a run-down future world that looks like ours gone to pot, but peppered with future tech. And though a few times I thought the Judges' uniforms looked a little too "superhero rubbery" for this gritty world, the blend of technologies works well.

The story centers on Judge Dredd, who is tasked with taking a rookie on a test assignment, to determine whether or not she is fit to be a Judge. And when things go south, Dredd and the rookie find themselves confined to one of these large housing towers, hunted by sadistically violent and depraved gang members.

This is a dark movie, to put it lightly. It's also extremely violent and gory. However some of the goriest moments are also the most captivating and, dare I say, beautiful, as the use of slow motion in key sequences is possibly the most mesmerizing display of gore since "300".

The performances are all very solid. Lena Headey is calmly menacing and disturbing as the leader of the gang. And Karl Urban makes a great, grim-faced Judge Dredd. Or half of a face. Props go to Urban for being willing to keep his pretty-boy actor face covered for the entire movie, as Dredd is traditionally portrayed in the comics. And although I wasn't always completely sold on Urban's voice being the right fit, I adjusted my expectations quickly, and he won me over with what he brought to the table even while limited to the use of his voice, neck and mouth to portray Dredd's character.

Dredd was probably the most interesting character to me. His back story is kept completely hidden, and we are only able to guess at what he might be thinking. But the way Dredd responds to evil, his cynical view of the world, all make him a wonderful puzzle to watch and listen to.

This is a great, dark, violent, action-packed dystopian sci-fi flick. If even half of those adjectives fit the kinds of things you like, you may regret not seeing this in the theater.

The movie also has potential for stirring up worthwhile thought or conversation about human nature and the concept of justice. Dystopian settings like this one expect viewers to willingly believe (at least while enjoying the story) that humanity is probably getting worse morally, not better. And the world of Dredd is depraved to say the least. There are a number of seriously evil people in this story, and many innocents become victims of their purposeful attacks, or selfish, reckless negligence. The experience made me yearn for justice to be done, and Dredd is the answer provided.

Yet even while it is gratifying to see the bad guys get their due, there are times when its clear that the Judges are not perfect and the system is not perfect. In fact it will likely seem overly harsh to some people. One death in particular is a messy situation (both emotionally and visually) because the man being executed was certainly guilty of attempted murder, but he also wasn't one of the card-carrying "evil-through-and-through" bad guys. I was left shaking my head, unsure of whether or not justice had been done.

I think the chief reason for this is that those judging and dispensing justice are themselves imperfect. This is usually the sentiment we throw back at others when they seem to be judging us. And yet most of us still recognize that justice is a good thing. We want justice. We crave it on behalf of both ourselves and others. But we don't like to BE judged and it feels wrong somehow to be judged by other flawed people.

This led me to remembering that one day our craving for perfect, absolute justice will be satisfied, and not by a flawed human or organization. It will be satisfied fully by God, who has done no wrong, who sees all things perfectly, and whom no one will rightly question as justice is dispensed.

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content

Quality: 9.0/10

Relevance: 7.0/10

What do these scores mean?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution ("Phoned-In" Movie Review)

Seems like everyone was "phoning-in" this movie, so I "phoned-in" my review!

Rated R for sequences of strong violence throughout

Final Score:

Quality: 4.5/10

Relevance: 2.0/10

 (Download or listen to my full review below.)

Direct Download-

Monday, September 17, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Genesis 1:1 (The "Weirdness" Of God)

Today marks the beginning of a new investigation as we search for truth in the Bible. We're going to take a journey through some significant passages of the Old Testament, or Tanakh, that deal with God and his relationship to humanity. We'll look at and "unpack" some of the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament and see what they reveal about the nature of God and humans.

This won't be an exhaustive exploration of any one book of the Bible, but will instead highlight passages relevant to our search for truth and understanding about the nature of God and his relationship to ancient Israel.

The ultimate aim of this investigation is not just to gain some "head knowledge" about God or ancient biblical history. What we explore and discover will have direct application to our moment-by-moment experience of and relationship with God today.

I'm of the opinion that this kind of study is an ideal one for many Geeks. Especially the kinds of geeks that love exploring strange new worlds, learning about their cultures and histories. Or geeks that love reading RPG campaign settings and stories that explore the limits of science and beyond.

"Theology" can be a scary word for some people. But theology just means "the study of God". Something all Christians should engage in. And I think the best theologians employ minds that are both ruled by logic and fueled by imagination. It's this combination that makes me suspect that the greatest Christian thinkers of tomorrow may rise up from the geek community. In fact you might just be one of them! So let's dig in and get started!

Normally, we'll look at several verses at once, but to start out we're going to look at just one.
Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

This brief statement, although short and seemingly simple, has major ramifications for our understanding of God's nature.

The Hebrew word used for "heavens" here encompasses not just the clouds and atmosphere of the earth, but the celestial bodies that move outside of the earth throughout the universe. God was the cause of the universe coming into existence.

Time itself, as we know it, came into existence at the same moment the universe came into existence. This means that God, who is the cause of time, must be independent of time. Without beginning or end, and not subject to change.

Since space came into existence with the universe, we can also conclude that God is independent of physical measurement. He is infinite and immaterial, rather than finite and physical.

We can also note that all natural laws originate with the appearance of the universe, and so God, who existed before the appearance of the universe, must not be bound by natural law. He is "supernatural" in nature.

So from this single sentence that begins the Bible, we can learn (just for starters) that God is independent of time, unlimited by any laws of nature, immaterial, infinite, and unchanging. And a key concept we should take from this is as follows: Although God interacts with humans, on the level of humans, he is completely different from any person we can imagine.

The Bible describes God using numerous techniques, including metaphor and allegory. The Bible also exists in written form. So from the start we should anticipate some careful thought required of us, given that we are learning about an infinite, timeless God from within the confines of time and a document composed of a finite number of words and ideas.

How does a timeless, infinite God break through the obvious communication limitations humanity has in order to reveal himself to us? The short answer is, "in stages". As we move through the Old Testament and reflect on its implications for the New Testament, we'll see that, rather than reveal his infinite being to us all at once (and destroy our minds in the process!), God has been revealing progressively more and more of himself to humanity since the creation of the first human life.

We'll encounter some things that may seem strange or even contradictory to how we typically think of God, and we'll attempt to wrestle through those difficult passages. In many cases, we'll have the benefit of additional knowledge that God revealed about himself later in time, such as Old Testament writings that fall later in history, or writing from the New Testament. But we'll also run into some things that will remain part of the mystery that naturally comes along with trying to understand an infinite, timeless, unlimited, immaterial, unchanging God.

Because of God's nature, we should expect to run into some things that seem "weird" on the surface. But the closer we look, the more we'll also see how these "weird" things we encounter reveal how privileged we are and how loved we should feel, given that this same, wonderfully "weird" God desires to have a closeness to us unlike any relationship we can imagine.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mass Effect 3 And Illusion Reviews (SBU Podcast)

Paeter's review of Mass Effect 3 and Professor Alan's review of Frank Peretti's "Illusion". Plus, the conclusion to our epic study of the book of Acts and an introduction to our next study!

I'd love for you to be a part of this podcast!

Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:



visit to leave a recorded message with your phone or computer for me to play on the show!

 For Community, Free Stuff and TONS more, explore the rest of the growing "Spirit Blade" universe at-

Direct Download-

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mass Effect 3 (Video Game Review)

I've been a big fan of the Bioware video game company for years, starting with Neverwinter Nights, followed by Knights Of The Old Republic, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. (I'm even going back now and playing the Baldur's Gate PC games!)

Although I first rejected Mass Effect because of an early "timed mission" (hate those) and my discomfort with its "shooter-like" qualities, I came back to it a year later, with a different mood and different tastes, and discovered an awesome, story-driven "shooter for people who suck at shooters". I was hooked.

I loved both the first two games in the Mass Effect series and eagerly waited in anticipation of Mass Effect 3, which I finally purchased and played through over the last couple of months.
Unfortunately, I discovered that my tastes may have changed again.

First off, don't get me wrong. If you love the first two Mass Effect games, chances are you'll really like this one, too.

The combat is virtually unchanged, but now includes climbing and jumping mechanics that allow for more 3-dimensional levels to shoot through. The sights and sounds are just as delightful as before, and the voice acting, once again, is possibly the best in the industry. (Although I prefer the female Shepherd voice to the male, who seems a bit dry.)

The story is more character driven than ever, and the choices are often difficult to make, ending in a final choice that creates one of several different endings, each of which come in their own shades depending on choices you've made previously.

One of my favorite changes is the new "narrative" difficulty option, which makes virtually every moment of combat a cakewalk. I spent most of the game on the "Casual" difficulty, because I'm cursed with terrible hand-eye coordination, but every once in a while when I didn't feel like stressing over a big battle, I would simply switch the difficulty down to narrative to get me through without any frustration.

Given that this new generation of consoles is seemingly impossible to invent cheat devices for, I think ALL games should come with a "narrative" option, or the equivalent. There are a TON of games I would spend my money on if I knew they had this feature. I don't care about missing out on achievement points (which happens on some games when you lower the difficulty) or bragging rights. I play games to explore the world the game designers have created, and too often the difficulty of a game prevents me from doing that.

I also think that in the Mass Effect series, and in Mass Effect 3 more than previously, Bioware has potentially invented a new genre of game, if future developers notice what they've done and run with it further. I would describe this new genre as an SG, or "Story Game". Or maybe an SSG, "Strategy Story Game". Because in today's world of Role Playing Games, Mass Effect no longer makes me feel as though I am "playing the role" of the main character when compared to games from Bethesda Studios, like Fallout 3 and Skyrim. Instead of giving you true control over the main character, Bioware is really giving you limited control over the story of the game.

There is definitely a good story to follow here. And that's part of my point. I felt like I was "following" the story, or at best changing its direction, rather than immersively entering into it. The branching dialogue options give choices, but since it's not clear exactly what Shepherd will say when picking a given option, I didn't feel like I was in control of Shepherd's personality as much as I'd like to be.

The context sensitive "Paragon" and "Renegade" dialogue options from Mass Effect 2 reappear in this game, but don't help me feel more in control of Shepherd either. In fact, near the end of the game, I was forced to trigger a "Renegade" reaction or fail the mission and lose the game. This made my ability to choose seem like a patronizing illusion, as the game makers forced me to fit into their story at that point.

I know, this is nit-picking a bit. Especially compared to classic RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest with FAR greater choice limitations. But the truth is that too many other games have raised the bar for "role-playing" in recent years, making it hard to go back when my idea of what constitutes an RPG is changing.

The structure and predictable pacing of the Mass Effect 3 story as it progresses has become tiresome to me: Talk to people on your ship (or the Citadel), go on a mission and blow away bad guys, talk to people on your ship (or the Citadel), go on a mission and blow away bad guys. (Rinse and repeat.)

The mission system was also not very helpful, as you are given missions in the first third of the game that you may not be able to even begin until you've accomplished several other missions. And you have no way of knowing what will "trigger" your ability to access the new locations needed to begin these many side-quests. (I had to find the answers online.) This resulted in choosing to either do most of my side-quests right before the end of the game (at which time you can be confident you'll have access to the places you need) or to simply give up on most side-quests because it's a pain to figure out when you'll be able to complete them. (I chose the second option.)

Mass Effect 3 still has some great gameplay and fans of the series shouldn't think twice about getting it. In addition, after complaints about the somewhat unresolved ending for the game, Bioware created a free add-on for the game that wraps things up with satisfying resolution.

It's a solid game and a worthy end to this groundbreaking trilogy. But if you've never tried this series before and you're a big fan of open world RPGs in which you can loot, make, do, be, and customize an endless list of things, the Mass Effect games will fall short for you.

But now to the parts I thought were especially interesting.

The writers of Mass Effect 3 definitely have some philosophical ideas and values they want to explore or promote, and they shape the game in subtle ways that limit your ability, as Commander Shepherd, to disagree with their philosophy and values, unless you want to force yourself into the category of "Renegade" (the game's morally dark path).

Here are just a few of the things I took note of:

There was a noticably increased percentage of homosexual characters throughout the game. Whether found in conversations you overhear walking through the Citadel, or characters you interact with as Shepherd. It's clear that the game creators wanted to increase the presence or "normality" of homosexual characters and your ability to have homosexual relationships.

Granted, you have plenty of opportunity to be promiscuous heterosexually as well, which also doesn't fit into God's intended design. Either way you look at it, there seemed to be an increasing desire to make this game "sexual" in nature.

I remember Bioware promoting Dragon Age 2 in interviews and being asked more than once "who can you sleep with?", as though this was one of the most popular questions on the minds of Dragon Age fans. (And for all I know, it was.) After seeing the shortcomings of Dragon Age 2, I had to groan inwardly as I wondered what good things were sacrificed in the development schedule in favor of making a more "sexy" game.

Although that isn't quite what happened here, there are even more opportunities for various romantic and ultimately sexual relationships of all kinds. I find it very interesting (and as a gamer who would like improved gameplay instead, a little disappointing) that Bioware is clearly making this aspect of gameplay a high priority.

But more than the increased "sexuality" of the game, I noticed the strong, pervasive naturalistic philosophy driving character development and, in the end, the plot itself.

At one point, Shepherd asks a sympathetic character if they are feeling ashamed. Their response was to say that "shame is a response to societal judgment." This is a very naturalistic, or atheistic idea of shame. In truth, we can feel shame before anyone in "society" is even aware of what we have done that makes us feel ashamed. The theist recognizes that they are ashamed because there are objective moral truths and a God who watches and judges everyone. The atheist usually attributes these feelings of "private shame" to an anticipation of what others would think of us, should they learn of our shameful act.

I also noticed a brief reference to the "multiple universe hypothesis" that the scientific community once considered as a method of dealing with the vast amount of time that natural evolution would require (and that earth's history sorely lacks). That isn't the context in which it is brought up in this game, but the fact that pop-science fiction still clings to that outdated hypothesis (even when most mainstream scientists don't) is interesting as well.

Most significantly is the recurring choice to either affirm synthetic or artificial intelligence as equally valid forms of "personhood", or to reject them, and treat synthetic and artificial intelligences strictly as machines and programs.

The naturalist view would argue that if humans created AI with sufficient intelligence, it could potentially become self-aware and just as much a form of life as humans are. The theist, or spiritually minded person would argue that humans have a non-physical component that they could never reproduce in a machine or program.

There are two moral paths you can follow to various degrees in Mass Effect 3. The "Paragon" path is the noble, self-sacrificing "good" path, while the "Renegade" path is more about doing whatever you feel like in the moment and not taking crap from anybody. While the Renegade path isn't exactly "evil" it's certainly the "less good" path.

I think it's very telling that the Paragon path always affirms the equal personhood of Artifical Intelligences, while the Renegade path rejects machines as having personhood equal to that of humans.

This theme isn't just a recurring background idea, either. In fact, the final choice and climax of the game requires Shepherd to make a decision almost entirely based on whether or not he views synthetic "life" as equal in value to biological life.

On the creative side of my brain, I'm a little surprised the creators of Mass Effect 3 would use this theme so strongly after it was already explored so thoroughly in the Battlestar Galactica tv series just a few years ago. My surprise is increased and the parallel becomes even more noticeable as I recognize the handful of voice actors in this game who were also major players in the BSG tv show.

This suggests to me that the nature of human life may be the "trendy concept" that science fiction is playing with right now. But rather than leave the question open (as in sci-fi stories like The Terminator franchise) modern science fiction stories exploring this concept (such as Mass Effect, Battlestar Galactica, Tron: Legacy, and of course the Matrix Trilogy) seem to want to answer the question for us, leaning strongly in the naturalistic direction.

Mass Effect 3 naturally shouldn't be missed by fans of the series, though it could have been much stronger and innovative rather than so much "more of the same". I think it's very likely to give those playing a reason to think about the nature of human life and the spiritual world. I can see two Mass Effect fans easily sharing their views on the spiritual or naturalistic nature of man after playing this game.

Rated M for Blood, partial nudity, sexual content, strong language and violence.

Quality: 8.0/10

Relevance: 9.5/10

What do these scores mean?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Illusion, By Frank Peretti (Book Review)

Review By Professor Alan

When the book (and later movie) The Time Traveler’s Wife was released, there was much discussion about whether it was a genre story or not. Yes, there was time travel, but the main dramatic through line was a love story. So was the book science fiction? Or was it just a romance novel, placed in a sci-fi setting?

I felt a similar tension reading Frank Peretti’s newest novel, Illusion. Peretti single-handedly brought unsterilized and unsafe storytelling to Christian fiction with his novels of spiritual warfare. But this latest novel more closely resembles The Time Traveler’s Wife than his classic This Present Darkness, especially the first half of the novel.

Dane and Mandy were a Christian married couple, who had a long career as a popular magic act. Their forty-year relationship ended when Mandy died tragically in an auto accident. Shortly thereafter, a woman who may or may not be the nineteen-year-old version of Mandy from four decades before arrives in present day, throwing her and others into confusion. Teenaged Mandy starts to earn money as a street magician, and does demonstrate actual strange powers. She crosses paths with sixty-year-old Dane more than once, and the pair find themselves strangely drawn to each other.  I admit, there is a mild "creep factor" about this, given the apparent 40-year age difference.

It does take a few hundred pages, but the novel eventually moves into solid sci-fi thriller territory in its second half. The explanation of how Mandy moved forward in time, and the source of her strange powers, is done well, as are the motivations of the scientists (mild spoilers) who caused it to happen.

The Christian nature of the story is very subtle, and I appreciate that. Mainstream Christian art does not do subtlety often, or particularly well, and it is welcome here. There is no sense of being preached at, at any point in the novel.

As a story about magicians should, this one contains lots and lots of doves. To those familiar with traditional Christian iconography, these references to the Holy Spirit as helper, companion, and comforter are quite well-managed in the novel. There was a strong theme of fate/destiny, as well, as Dane & Mandy always seem to find each other, no matter the circumstances of their increasingly twisted timelines.

There were a few aspects of the plot that did not make sense, events that happened in the novel (or character reactions to these events) that seemed unrealistic. But these moments did not pull me out of the overall flow of an otherwise solid story.

Frank Peretti does a more than serviceable job narrating the audio version of this novel, although I usually prefer professional actors as readers. I saw Peretti give a talk at a Christian festival more than two decades ago, and his experience on the speaker circuit serves him well here. He is definitely above average among novelists who read their own work.

In terms of the quality rating, I would give Illusion a solid 8.0, with the heavy romance angle of the first half of the novel keeping it from being an 8.5.

In terms of relevance, I would give the novel an 8.5. The idea of destiny is worth a discussion, as is the classic sci-fi trope of scientists "playing God," dealing with things that man was never intended to deal with.

Quality: 8.0/10

Relevance: 8.5/10

Read more from Professor Alan

Monday, September 10, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 28:16-30 (And Intro To Next Series)

At last Paul arrives in Rome to stand trial. Because there are no real charges against him and he is a non-violent prisoner, he is allowed to have his own living quarters, though he is constantly under the watch of a guard, probably even chained to him, as the text here and the customs of this time both suggest.

Paul was allowed to have visitors, and so called a meeting with the leaders of the local Jewish synagogues. He explained to them that no real charges had been able to be set against him, and that he was ultimately being imprisoned because of the hope given to him by the promised Messiah, as revealed in the Jewish scriptures.

The Jews in Rome would have been aware of the controversy surrounding Jesus, but seemed far enough removed from it and Paul that they were genuinely interested in hearing his case and giving him a fair shot. So they set up a time and brought more of the Jewish community along to hear Paul's entire case for Jesus presented.

For an entire day, Paul reasoned with them from the Jewish scriptures, trying to convince them of the truth about Jesus. The reaction was mixed at best, ending in disagreement and Paul's quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10. Despite being God's chosen people, the message bearers of God to the world, they had a long-standing pattern of stubbornly refusing to see the truth when it was right in front of them.

Paul seemed to be doing everything right here. He was warm and inviting toward these Jewish leaders, even though his experience with Jewish leaders so far had been pretty bad. He called them "brothers" and reasoned with them logically, using scripture to establish his case. But still many of them disagreed with him. A reality we face in our efforts to share the truth with others today.

But God's plan to lovingly rescue humanity would not be thwarted. Although many of the Jews rejected the truth about Jesus, God still moved forward with his agenda, extending his invitation of rescue to non-Jews (Gentiles) as well.

This seems to be a theme in the final chapters of Acts. God's plan simply will not be stopped. God often uses us to carry out his plan, but he doesn't RELY on us to carry out his plan. If we're unwilling to be a part of what he wants us to do, he mourns our decision and leaves the invitation open, but also moves on in his plan without us. If we feel like we're failing, as Paul may have now and then, we can remember that our strength is not required to accomplish God's will, and that his will may look differently than we think it should.

We're told Paul spent two more years in Rome. We're not sure when he had his audience before Caesar or his officials, but the evidence indicates that Paul was eventually released for lack of evidence or legitimate charges against him.

This doesn't mark the end of Paul's story, or the story of the early church, but it is where Luke chose to end his writing about both.

It also marks the end of a long journey of study here at The Spirit Blade Underground. When the podcast first launched about five years ago, we were looking at the Gospel of John. After that, I decided to take us through the book of Acts, stopping for detours into other New Testament books as they fell in the chronology of Acts.

It's been a really rewarding journey for me and I hope it has been for you, too. Next week I'm planning to start a new investigation into the Bible. One I've done before, but it's been a number of years and I want to refresh my study of it. We'll be coming back to the New Testament eventually and picking up chronologically where we're leaving off here, I think. But first I want to go back into the Tanakh, the Old Testament, and see if we can get a little more acquainted with Yahweh himself.

My plan is not exactly to do a book study, but to survey some key passages regarding God's relationship to humans, specifically his chosen people, the Jews. I want to unpack and examine some of the ceremonies and customs, especially related to the sacrificial system, that we see in the Old Testament.

If you're like I was at one time, that might sound incredibly boring and irrelevant to our lives today. But I think your mind might be changed as we discover what the symbolism behind these ceremonies tells us about who God is, who we are, and how much he loves us. Not only that, but I'm convinced this study will intensely enrich our understanding and experience with the New Testament when we come back to it. Stay tuned for that starting next week!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Episode 0 (SBU Podcast)

An introductory episode for The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast! Paeter introduces himself and the various elements of the show. Enjoy!



I'd love for you to be a part of this podcast!

Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:



Call 206-350-1226 and leave a message for me to play on the show!

You can also use your computer's microphone and a click of your mouse to leave a message at!

For Community, Free Stuff and TONS more, explore the rest of the growing "Spirit Blade" universe at-

Direct Download-

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Prepping For Podcast Relaunch

Get ready for this weekend's relaunch of The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast, featuring an "Episode 0" designed to introduce new listeners to the show and remind longtime listeners what we're all about!

This week and last I've been putting in long hours getting all of the podcast episodes switched over to our new host. I'll be "flipping the switch" sometime before Episode 0 is posted, but if you're subscribed to our feed ( or download your episodes directly from The Spirit Blade Underground, you shouldn't notice a thing in the transition.

As a side note, please forgive me if I haven't responded to an e-mail you've sent me recently. This week and last I've been unexpectedly taken hostage by my side gig (substitute teaching) nearly every weekday (EXTREMELY rare this time of year) and haven't had time to do anything else except make the podcast relaunch my priority. I hope to catch up on my e-mails and other things later this week or the beginning of next week.

Keep an eye here for Episode 0! Coming very soon!

-Paeter Frandsen

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Metropolis and The Possession Reviews (SBU Podcast)

Saturday, September 01, 2012 4:39 PM

A retro review of the sci-fi classic Metropolis, my review of The Possession and the final installment of The Summer Of Free 2012.



I'd love for you to be a part of this podcast!

Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:



Call 206-350-1226 and leave a message for me to play on the show!

You can also use your computer's microphone and a click of your mouse to leave a message at!

For Community, Free Stuff and TONS more, explore the rest of the growing "Spirit Blade" universe at-

Direct Download-