NXT at MSG 11/16/16 Live Thoughts

November 16, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY

In addition to the general high quality of NXT’s in ring action, it is currently populated with numerous wrestlers I’ve followed for years before they came to NXT. Add in the fact that in all my time in the NYC area I’ve never been to a show at MSG, and I was beyond excited for NXT’s debut at The Theater at MSG.

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Just days away from NXT Takeover Toronto, WWE presented an NXT show that foreshadowed that event nicely and had great matchups that built throughout the night. The Theater is a good venue, with no bad seats and a fun feel.

The show opened with crowd favorite No Way Jose against Roderick Strong. As I’ll say about several others on this show, the crowd was obviously quite familiar with Roddy from his time at ROH, Evolve, etc. Jose has improved quite a bit since I first saw him, and had the crowd suitably fired up all match. These two had good chemistry and put on a fun opener leading to a feel good win for the crowd by Jose. Shane McMahon (who was watching from the front row) danced with Jose on his way out to a big pop.

Tag action from the women’s division was next as  Peyton Royce & Billie Kay faced Liv Morgan & Daria. I think the heel gimmick / persona is really working well for the former Jessie McKay. The Jersey team got a hometown-like reception (including to Liv coming out eating pizza), leading to good crowd involvement for this one. The more established heel duo picked up the win.

Elias Samson came out to sing and man did he get booed. Hard to tell if it was entirely “we want someone to come out and shut you up” heat or “we just want you to go away” heat, but I can see why NXT is trying to run with it. After a couple of verses insulting NY, he’s interrupted by Oney Lorcan to a big reaction. In addition to just wanting Samson shut down I again bet a good portion of the crowd was familiar with Lorcan from his indie days as Biff Busick.  Best match I’ve seen from Samson, as he and Lorcan had a decent, hard hitting encounter which the later come out on top of to please the crowd.

TM61 vs SAnitY (Alexander Wolfe and Sawyer Fulton). The SAnitY gimmick certainly has impact and presence. Not really familliar with Sawyer and Fulton, but they looked fine here as slightly psychotic bruisers. TM61 did some of their trademark high flying to keep the energy high here, and got a quick rollup in the end for the expected victory given they’re in the Dusty Classic finals.

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Eric Young joined his proteges for a beatdown of TM61 after the match, but was interrupted by Tye Dillinger making the save. The members of the tag match all bailed to the back while Young warned Tye about getting into their business and challenged him for “later tonight.” As the advertised lineup order would have it, Tye instead insisted it happen immediately.

Dillinger’s really coming along in refinement of both his ringwork and character and the audience was strongly behind him against SAnitY’s demented leader. The “10” chants were in full effect, including the audience taking over every count the ref did with “10” in place of whatever number was appropriate. I felt it was fine/amusing for this match, but when it continued later in the crowd it was wearing out its welcome. Like Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!” chants, when the crowd chants “10” when Tye’s not involved it could make it seem like the crowd likes only the chant, not Tye. Another feel good victory for the house show attendance here with Tye beating Eric.

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After intermission the show resumed with a surprise appearance by NXT General Manager William Regal who made a short statement thanking everyone for coming.

Cedric Alexander is a fantastic wrestler and received quite the ovation coming out, but it was admittedly dwarfed by the crowd’s explosion when the first notes of Bobby Roode’s theme hit. Roode’s act is odd, as he’s fantastic at making people boo during certain spots in his match with his commitment to his heel work, but at all other points in time the audience just eats his act up and cheers him like crazy.  A loud accompanying serenade of his theme from the crowd brought him to the ring, then in a … ahem… glorious moment when the song cut out just before the third repetition of the verses the crowd SANG THEM ANYWAY without the music. Roode was just looking around in wonder as our voices echoed through the venue.

The match itself was great, and right up with the two title matches for potential match of the night. Roode’s at his best with a fast, explosive babyface to play off of, and Cedric certainly fits the bill. Roode sneaks in a low blow before hitting his finisher to put away the upstart. Would love to see an extended program between these two at some point.

Asuka (c) defended her NXT Women’s Championship in a triple threat against Ember Moon and Nikki Cross. Always a joy to see my favorite wrestler ply her craft, and this was a particular treat as she faced two other Shimmer alumni in Athena (Moon) and Nikki Storm (Cross). Weird seeing Cross in a gimmick where she doesn’t speak much given her incredible promo skills, but she’s doing well giving an unhinged, dangerous vibe for her character. This was the expected solid work from the exceptional level of talent involved.

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The champion triumphant. Photo by David Powers.

Speaking of Shimmer, I coincidentally saw Asuka’s Takeover Toronto opponent Mickie James’ return to the ring the weekend right before this show at Shimmer 86. It will be an awesome end to the week to watch them face off after getting to see each live in preparation.

The main event was a star studded 6-man tag featuring Shinsuke Nakamura & DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa) vs Samoa Joe & The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson). NYC loves it some Samoa Joe. Once the match started the crowd was firmly behind the babyfaces, but during entrances Joe got a pop equal to DIY and Nakamura. Speaking of entrances and Shinsuke, the audience did the Bobby Roode trick again and hummed Nakamura’s theme for another round after the music stopped.

All six men are excellent in their roles, and with “Johnny Wrestling’s” firm fanbase and Nakamura’s one of a kind presence this was an electric main event. Both pairs of Joe and Shinsuke and DIY and Revival interacted in ways that whet appetites for their big matches this Sat. The faces prevailed here to cap off the night on a high note. DIY doing Nakamura’s pose with him afterwards was highly amusing.

Overall

Really good, fun show from top to bottom. Hope they did well enough to run The Theater again sometime, because it provided a great atmosphere.

*Thanks to David Powers for additional photos as marked.

Project Elite Review (First Impressions)

Project Elite is a game I backed on Kickstarter promising “an innovative real-time board game full of intense moments” with “highly detailed miniatures.” While they came nowhere near fulfilling the latter part, the minis are at least identifiable and fine to play with. As for the former statement, now that PE is finally in my hands I think in that respect they were quite successful.

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There is a non-trivial learning curve to start, as the players need to understand how everything works before even attempting the two minute real time sections that comprise the heart of the game. But it all meshes well once you start playing and the framework is really well designed so that players are concentrating on PLAYING while the clock is running, not rule clarifications.

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Having those previously mentioned rounds of real time play separated by untimed planning and alien upkeep periods is a great structure that balances all the needed elements of gameplay well. The players get a breather between rounds and all the things that take just a bit more time to set up properly and shouldn’t be rushed because of the clock aren’t.

Project Elite almost feels like a video game, in a good way. There’s a frantic pace and sense of urgency that only a few board games achieve, while retaining some elements unique to tabletop gaming.

My friend and I played a two player extermination game on easy difficulty. Our goal was to destroy three target tokens on the board and get back to base within eight rounds without ever letting any aliens get into our base.  We managed to win by skin of our teeth, which is about right for a first attempt played by regular gamers on easy difficulty level.

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The items and weapons are interesting and definitely have some effect on the strategy players will employ in pursuit of they’re objectives. Some of them seemed a little underpowered, but it could have just been beginner’s impression and/or poor luck rolling.

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Likewise the player powers all seem interesting. We made frequent use of the powers of the two characters we chose, and I imagine the game plays quite differently with different combinations.

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So far Project Elite seems like a great addition to my co-op collection. I’m definitely excited to play more in the future and in checking out how if feels at the various objectives, difficulties, and player counts.

Shimmer Weekend November 2016: Day 1 Live Thoughts

November 11, 2016 in Chicago, IL

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Like in June, Shimmer weekend kicked off with a Friday night show at Logan Square Auditorium. Logan Square is a nice contrast to Berwyn and I like having Friday and Saturday there and Sunday at the Eagles Club. The big points going into Friday night were Mickie James and Hudson Envy’s Shimmer debuts, Kellie Skater’s issues with the newly named Trifecta (Shimmer Champion Mercedes Martinez, Shayna Baszler, and Heart of Shimmer Champion Nicole Savoy), and possible new talent debuting as a result of Thursday night’s initial Rise show/seminar.

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The show opened with Rhia O’Reilly, who’s continuing to gain crowd sympathy and support, against Kimber Lee. Great way to start, as both wrestlers are exceptional and I think generally underrated. Rhia won to perhaps start a well deserved push, and Kimber is always impressive whoever she’s in the ring with.

The aforementioned potential new talent from Rise was featured in the following two matches, with Angel Dust vs Leva Bates and Shotzi Blackheart vs Melanie Cruise. Leva came out dressed as a Predator to the audience’s delight. I was previously unfamiliar with either Rise participant (and unfortunately missed the Rise show).  I personally would have preferred a different opponent for Dust given she was crowned Rise’s inaugural champion. Leva’s primarily a comedy wrestler in Shimmer (and as usual this match had humorous spots revolving around Leva’s choice of character) and if Rise’s champ had to lose her first Shimmer match a more serious competitor would’ve been more appropriate. The match was reasonably fun though and the crowd seemed impressed with Dust, so mission accomplished either way I suppose.

Shotzi got the “David vs Goliath” match as her debut against Melanie. Cruise pretty well destroyed her, but she showed fire and generated crowd sympathy, displaying good instincts and indicating she’d be a great regular member of the roster. I’d be happy to see both her and Angel Dust return.

Hudson Envy was impressive in her Shimmer debut against Xandra Bale. Envy has a unique look and strong character that makes her stand out and would be a good long term addition to Shimmer if possible. She continued to beat on Bale after the match ended, which prompted a save by Bale’s tag partner KC Spinelli. In response Christina Von Eerie made a surprise return to help Hudson, and the heels left Balespin laying to end the exchange.

Speaking of returns, with the announced Courtney Rush out with injury Shimmer brought back Cat Power as a last minute addition for the weekend. She has an EXTREMELY different look and gimmick since last we saw her, and it’s great. The self-proclaimed “Joshi Slayer” had a strong reintroduction to the Shimmer crowd as she defeated natural babyface underdog  Nixon Newell.

Tessa Blanchard and Vanessa Kraven continued their somewhat rocky but beneficial association as they helped each other to victories over Jessicka Havok and Candice LeRae respectively. Tessa vs Havok was a bit of a styles clash but turned out fine and was more about the angle of Vanessa once again handing Tessa a win anyway. I feel it’s getting a bit repetitive there, but Kraven is so good at playing condescendingly tolerant to Tessa’s treatment the dynamic is still amusing. The crowd is cheering Kraven nearly as a face, and is DYING to see her finally have enough of Tessa and reduce her to her constituent atoms. 

Kraven and LeRae had a good, competitive match with minimal interference from Tessa, continuing to subtly show Kraven as perhaps the more competent of the two. In addition to the crowd getting behind Kraven, they love LeRae too, so were into this. Kraven’s chokebomb finisher is great.

Slap Happy (Evie & Heidi Lovelace) defending their Shimmer Tag Team Championships against WDSS Flyin High (Mia Yim & Kay Lee Ray) was one of best matches of the entire weekend. These four are all high energy wrestlers who are sharp and crisp in everything they do, and the chemistry between them all both as teams and opponents is excellent.

Was a little bit of a shame that this was WDSS’s only tag match of the weekend, as they’re really hitting their stride as a duo, but on the other hand Mia and Kay Lee are equally great in singles so no real complaints.  

A week before her WWE return to face former Shimmer wrestler and current NXT Women’s Champion Asuka at NXT Takeover Toronto, Mickie James made her Shimmer debut against former Shimmer champion Nicole Matthews. Matthews is a well established veteran in her own right and a great choice as James’ first opponent. Their match was decent. It started strong and the first few minutes were exciting, then honestly they lost a lot of momentum and the match dragged a bit until the end. It wasn’t bad by any means, it just seemed that Mickie perhaps didn’t have the ring endurance she’s used to and had to slow things down significantly a couple minutes in. Still, a good return to the ring overall for James ahead of her high profile match at NXT. 

Mickie won when Nicole stole her belt and tried to use it to win the match. Saraya, who exchanged words online with Matthews regarding Matthews’ treatment of Saraya’s protege Rhia O’Reilly while Saraya was absent from Shimmer last June, stopped Nicole from using the belt and gave Mickie an opening to defeat her. Afterwards Matthews flipped out and called Saraya back to the ring, but bailed when her challenge was answered.

The main event saw Kellie Skater recruit Shazza McKenzie to face Trifecta (Shimmer Champion Mercedes Martinez & Shayna Baszler, w/ Heart of Shimmer Champion Nicole Savoy). I felt this was close to exactly what it should have been. Trifecta controlled until the end, just dominating the faces to establish them as a dangerous force. Finally Kellie got a surprise cradle pin on Mercedes, shocking the champ and setting up title match on the next volume.

I appreciate the idea of trying to elevate someone, but honestly while good Shazza is not quite at the same level as the other competitors here and it showed a bit. Also Kellie and Shazza could have used a few more hope spots to engage the crowd more. However, no one can fault the effort of any of the four and all in all this was a solid main event that kept several issues going and helped Trifecta to look like a strong, threatening unit despite the loss. 

Overall, Shimmer 86 was a solid show that set the tone for the weekend nicely. There were a bunch of good debuts and returns that helped compensate for the lack of Joshi and some of Shimmer’s regular stars like Eagles, Melissa, Savoy (in ring), Rush, etc (although honestly the absences were felt a bit).

Fun stuff. 🙂 Day 2 and 3 thoughts to follow.

Last Window Review

It’s 1980, and Kyle Hyde is four years and a lot of miles from his past life as a NYC Police Detective, and a year removed from the events of Hotel Dusk.

Last Window sees Hyde in a state of unmotivated limbo after the revelations of his visit to Hotel Dusk, and he’s pushing the patience of his boss perhaps one time too many. Yet the job might not be done with Hyde yet, as he receives a mysterious request unusually delivered straight to him at home.

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I adored Hotel Dusk: Room 215, and a long while back I picked up the sequel, Last Window: The Secret of Cape West. Last Window was never released in the US, but was translated into English and released in the UK. While 3DS is region locked for 3DS games, it is NOT for DS games, and as such the European release of Last Window will play on my US 3DS. So I got it when it came out, and have finally gotten around to experiencing Kyle Hyde’s second (and by all appearances final) adventure.

Last Window has the same purposeful, noir sensibilities that were present in Hotel Dusk, and I love them just as much here. As I said about Hotel Dusk, Last Window knows exactly what it wants to be and sticks to that vision from start to finish. All the little immersive touches are back, including holding the DS like a book, an almost sketchy art style with varying degrees of limited color use depending on the situation, and a deliberate, tense atmosphere that surrounds the central mystery.

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The basics of story and gameplay are introduced with a strong, short prologue tutorial, which is followed with excellently paced first chapter to get things moving. A good portion of the cast is introduced pretty naturally in first chapter yet with surprising speed. Four minutes in I had met seven new characters and been reintroduced to three from Hotel Dusk, yet nothing felt rushed or overwhelming.

Kyle Hyde is a classic hard boiled detective protagonist: surly and blunt, but capable of compassion. He’s living in a soon-to-be-sold building called Cape West, formerly a hotel and rumored to be the site of mysterious crimes many years prior.

Like the titular Hotel Dusk from the first game, Cape West provides the entirety of the locales for gameplay. Unlike the hotel however, Kyle will occasionally leave his apartment building for story related reasons during cutscenes. Last Window also takes place over the course of days, not hours, which allows for much more natural story pacing and room for developments to breathe a bit. A couple of small but nice refinements to gameplay mechanics and a clever nod to Hotel Dusk in the extras that allows some fleshing out of story points do a good job of moving things forward as a series without losing what made Hotel Dusk great.

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I feel Last Window is tighter than Hotel Dusk overall. Outside of one rather HUGE one in the premise, there are fewer coincidences here in terms of timing and motivations. I understand that the tighter plot might leave some feeling things tie together too neatly in some respects, but I thought it was all within the realm of believability for the story being told and really liked the way things came together for the most part. The events of Hotel Dusk were referred to and important to Last Window in certain respects so I do highly recommend playing that first, but Last Window has its own story that’s fairly distinct and removed from Hyde’s quest in Hotel Dusk involving his past as a detective.

The self given “interactive mystery novel” is once again a perfect description for this series. There are puzzles, and they are integrated well, but everything is geared towards satisfying the mental itch that gets ahold of Hyde when things don’t quite make sense and piecing together connections and explanations for the mysterious happening surrounding him. Both the characters and plot are very well built and developed by the end, and I might have ended up liking this a touch better than Hotel Dusk overall.

The events in Last Window are appropriately tied up, but room was left for more adventures with Kyle Hyde. From the general direction of the story I was afraid things would feel forced, but I was pleasantly surprised that I found it fit together and unfolded well instead. Easter eggs are also plentiful for fans who’ve played the first game.

I’m as thrilled that Last Window turned out to be a more than worthy successor to Hotel Dusk as I am disappointed that it was never released in the US and that it was the end of Kyle Hyde’s stories. Mystery fans and retro-gamers should definitely seek this (as well as Hotel Dusk) out.

Mythical Dragons Captured on Cloth

In addition to Tenri Cultural Institute‘s language school and numerous cultural events,  it hosts an art gallery that is always home to a variety of wonderful exhibitions ranging from traditional Japanese techniques to innovative multinational displays of modern art. I previously shared my thoughts on the June 2016 exhibit, and the multinational Ink Imagists exhibition. Here I’ll be spotlighting the currently showing Mugen exhibit.

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The centerpieces of artist Chika MacDonald’s textile exhibit are her majestic dragons.

Inspired by a desire to convey feelings of support and hope in dark times in a way that also celebrated Japanese culture and heritage, she embraced the idea of creating art featuring dragons rising or lurking just below some sort of horizon as symbolic guides to a better future. Her dragons are all either looking or moving towards the sun or sky, or facing outward to engage the viewer directly as a reminder and challenge to live in the present while keeping hope for tomorrow.

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MacDonald’s first piece, showing a dragon guiding several monarch butterflies (that could be seen as representing souls) towards the heavens.

The vivd colors and images she achieves are just INCREDIBLE. A lot of her backgrounds are darker colors to both provide great contrast for the subject of the piece as well as represent her previously mentioned themes of hope in the face of despair, yet she still manages to give those dark colors phenomenal vibrance through eye-catching hues.

MacDonald’s dragons are wonderfully distinctive, with carefully done gradations of color in the dyeing and beautiful, intricate details and highlights often in striking metallics that give the tapestries an extra feeling of dimension when they catch the light. They stand out against her deeply colored backgrounds and the combinations come to life in a powerfully evocative way.

I had the privilege of being shown around the exhibit by MacDonald and having her explain various aspects of her art, including some of the details I’ve shared above concerning her inspiration and what she hopes to express through her works. She is extremely friendly and excited about her craft, and it was a joy to discuss it with her. I was quite surprised to discover this is her first exhibit, as the level of detail and vitality achieved in her work belies her level of experience.

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Another highlight Mugen is a gorgeous kimono, the last piece to be finished for this exhibit. It showcases a water element as appropriate to Japanese dragons and has a distinct, powerful horizon separating sea from sky to again emphasize the dragon’s positioning and alignment towards the heavens.

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Beyond just the obvious quality and how visually stunning MacDonald’s pieces are, the exhibit shows an impressive amount of diversity. Differing colors, compositions, and atmospheres highlight each and every piece on display. I love depictions of these types of dragons when done well, and MacDonald’s are fantastic.

In addition, Mugen contains several floral pieces by MacDonald that match the dragons in feel and style and integrate into the exhibit seamlessly. Several of them are done in limited color fashion, which works well in highlighting and conveying the delicate nature of the depicted flowers.

In a fantastic finishing touch, MacDonald decided to supplement her textiles and paintings by asking friends to develop complementary jewelry and scents. A few small vials with delicate scents are placed among the exhibit and can be smelled by visitors, and a pedestal in the center of the gallery show a variety of striking, intricately crafted dragon and floral bracelets and necklaces. These elements, along with a sense of connectivity and progression in MacDonald’s work, bring everything together and give Mugen a real feeling of being a cohesive, complete exhibit.

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Photo with artist Chika MacDonald in front of her (and my) favorite piece of the exhibit.

There is an opening reception tonight (Friday November 4) from 6 to 8pm, and the exhibit will be open until Tuesday November 8.

Definitely catch Mugen at Tenri Cultural Institute in NYC if you can. These works of art need to been seen in person to be properly appreciated, and MacDonald will be present for the entirety of the exhibition. I highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunities to not only see this phenomenal art on to display, but also to meet this gifted artist and gain some insight into her process.

Triplet Review

Grad student Danae Panya’s has something beyond just her research project in mind when she applies to have Triplet’s most experienced Courier guide her through the highly restricted inner worlds and their respective environments of technology and magic. But any plans either of them have will have to adapt to conflicts from both the inhabitants and environments of their destinations.

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Timothy Zahn is my favorite author, and it’s nice to have a chance to check out works from early in his career that I have not yet read.

I’ve repeatedly praised Zahn’s touch regarding how much detail to provide to make his setting’s come alive without overwhelming the reader or slowing the pace too much, and the world-building here is phenomenal. The worlds of Triplet and the unique natures of each are quite imaginative and intriguing. I actually wanted even more information about the workings and “rules” of each place, but there were reasons for some of the ambiguities.  Experiencing Shamsheer and Karyx along with Danae was thoroughly engaging and fascinating.

Unfortunately while Danae and Ravagin start out equally intriguing to Zahn’s worlds, neither they nor the story quite reach their full potential. About midway through the book the slow building suspense and atmosphere give way to a rather by the numbers action/adventure tale. It’s good, but more events driven than character driven which makes things feel just a little shallow by the end. Zahn would become masterful at balancing plot and twists with character development in later novels.

There are also characterization issues, as I feel Danae in particular never got her due in terms of growth or having her motivations given proper weight. She wasn’t quite as selfish or naive as the narrative needed her to be for certain exchanges to feel right, so the resolutions between her and other characters struck me as a bit forced.

To be clear, I enjoyed Triplet overall and do recommend Zahn fans check it out. It’s just that the sense of wonder and engrossing edge to the tale dips a bit in the second half (where it really should have been ramping up), causing this not to reach the heights it seems like it could have.