The curious case of Ahsoka Tano

I've always been a Star Wars fan. Literally. As in, I do not recall a time before I loved the movies. Of course, I'm 45 years old. I saw the first film when I was 5 years old in 1977, so my experience may be a bit different than many of you who grew up watching them on home video, but if you're a fan you know what it means to have gone through the good times (Original Trilogy era), the dark times (prequels), and the modern era.

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When I first watched the original animated Clone Wars series (the first one with traditional animation), I loved it. Of course it was less a series and more of a proof of concept, but we didn't know that at the time. Back then it was just the thing that made the otherwise abysmal Attack of the Clones film a bit more palatable.

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Fast Forward to the CGI animated The Clone Wars and I honestly didn't even bother at first. I tried to watch the movie that kicked off the series, but it was not a good start. I had a host of issues with it. I didn't care for the art style, they had never made Anakin a likable character in the films so the thought of an entire series set around him and a heretofore unmentioned padawan made little sense, and then the mission upon which the characters were tasked with looking for Jabba's never before mentioned son... what the actual biblical Hell were they thinking? But chief among my issues with it was the Ahsoka Tano character. Every time the character would smugly refer to Anakin Skywalker as "Sky Guy" I'd secretly wish for the ability for Force choke myself to death.

By all accounts, I expected this would follow a safe, "child friendly" style. I expected it would be nothing more than what we used to call "Saturday morning cartoon" fare and I assumed I would not like it. Star Wars seemed to be in it's death throws anyway at that time what with the Revenge of the Sith being better than it's predecessors, but still the same kind of logic leaping and ultimately poor quality film I'd gotten with Phantom Menace and then Attack of the Clones. While there are great moments in the prequels, I still don't care for them and I doubt I ever will. I know there are some who have come to like them, and I honestly wish I could like them as well, but I just can't. Those issues combined with Lucas seemingly trying to make fans hate him with constant edits to the Original, the swearing that the actual Original trilogy didn't exist and could never exist again, and all the other baffling things he said in public it seemed Star Wars was well and truly over for a while there. At least from my perspective.

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So we fast forward again to the Disney era that we are currently going through. I'd heard that the canon had been drastically cut back by the purging of the former EU (now Legends) line and while I did enjoy many of those books and comics over the years, I thought it was likely a good plan. But I also started hearing people say that they were genuinely sad at the announcement that The Clone Wars would be ending and be replaced by something else. "Really?" I thought to myself. I found myself reading up on what fans thought and there seemed to be a genuine love of the series among many die-hards.

During the lead up to Episode 7, I was really in the mood for some Star Wars so I decided to give it a try. It was free to watch the entire series with my Netflix sub and I was eager for some Star Wars goodness anyway, so why not, right? While it takes it's sweet time, not really getting objectively good until well into the second season, I started to let the show stand on it's own merits. And I started to like it quite a bit. It humanized the Clone army in unexpected ways. It showed many of the Jedi we didn't get a chance to know well in the films or even the games. And most importantly, it had started to do the one thing the prequels had never managed to accomplish (or had they even bothered to try?). The Clone Wars let me like Anakin. The films showed him as annoying brat, bratty teen who talked back to the one character I already liked (Obi-Wan), and finally bratty grown-up but willing tool of his own demise by falling to the Emperor's obvious lies. But I digress, by the time I had gotten through the second season of TCW I was fully on board, but I was still not liking Ahsoka as a character.

I'm not stupid. I know how these things work. They add a young character to be the P.O.V. insert for the young audience they hope to court. It's not an ineffective move either. From a storytelling perspective it allows exposition to come across as almost fatherly lessons (something I can relate being a father) and it gives the kids a perspective they can call their own. But it's precisely because of this almost cynical approach that I found myself just never able to gel with the character. Or rather, not able to gel with her at first.

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The reason I titled this blog "The Curious Case of Ahsoka Tano" is because of the way I went from truly not enjoying a characters presence in the least to feeling that she was essential. And by the time I got around to catching up on the new Rebels show, I loved it when she showed up having aged and grown since our last TCW encounter with her and the pre Original Trilogy timeline of the show. Once I got to the end of the second season of Rebels and the huge confrontation she has with Darth Vader, and her realization of who he is under the mask, I was almost in tears for her. I realized in that moment that she had become one of my favorite Jedi characters without my even noticing.

Like I said earlier, curious indeed.

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The ZZoMBiE Goty 2016 list

I know I played plenty of games this year, but it feels like I missed more than I got to actually play. Still, there were some real stand-outs this year, some real let-downs this year, and there's a bunch of games I still need to get around to trying in the coming months. So here is my (diminutive) list of games that stood out this year.

  • Steep- As a long time fan of video games that emulate "extreme" sports like Skateboarding or Snowboarding, I was eager to try this one. And I'm glad to say, it does not disappoint. As it was my Christmas gift this year, I can't say I've played a ton of it so far, but I've played enough to know I want to play it a lot more. And since I love the sense of speed and exhilaration of these kinds of games, I decided I'd let it be on my list
  • Gears of War 4- Really surprised I liked this one as much as I did. I thought I was done with the Gears games after 3. Our game glitched out and lost all my progress right near the end so I never finished 3 and skipped Judgement. So I didn't expect to like this one as much as I ultimately did in the end.
  • Mafia III- This one could have been higher on the list were it not such a technical failure. The story is good, the characters are good, the world is good, but they were all let down by a lack of polish that permeated every facet. I actually fell through the world in Mafia 3, a bug I haven't seen happen in a few years. Shame really, because the art of the game was great, if only the technical side had matched the artistic vision this one could have been the number one.
  • Doom- Jeez, DOOM is great. It was great when it started, it's still great today. And since Halo has been a shit-show ever since Bungie left it behind I really was looking for a shooter to fill the void. This one lived up to the hype.
  • Hitman- I was so surprised by just how much I enjoyed this game. Not only enjoyed playing it, but enjoyed watching others play it. It's a rare treat when a game can so capture its vision and Hitman is one such game. It all works so well. The mechanics were near perfect, the fact that they keep the story beats light and on the periphery (where they belong with this kind of game) and the wonderfully well designed maps, it all comes together to make a satisfying game that I kept wanting to revisit. Really happy with this one.
  • XCOM 2- For me, this is the one that kept my attention held the longest. It's far from perfect, and I'm not even sure it's better than the 2012 reboot, but I've put over 300 hours into it and I still want to play it some more. So this one is my Game of the Year for 2016!

And sometimes a game hits you right in the gut. A game is so bad, so far afield of what you had hoped for or expected it completely lets you down. For me, my disappointment of the year is:

  • Dead Rising 4- I've already written a pretty harsh review for this one so I won't go into specifics. You can look it up HERE if you want to know more. But Dead Rising has been my favorite video game franchise since 2006. I've loved every entry up until this one. This one I cannot abide. And I wish bad things for the people who made it. Not anything severe, I don't want them to suffer or die or anything like that. But if some cosmic entity devoted to justice could give them all, like, a week of reeeeally bad constipation I'd be okay with it.

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Dead Rising 4 concerns

Dead Rising is my favorite series, so I'll buy the game regardless. I must say though, I'm apprehensive. It truly seems like they've stripped out all the things I've loved about DR in the past. And since they released the old games on the X1 and PS4, I've just recently replayed the best games (to me) in Dead Rising & Dead Rising 2.

One thing for which Capcom Game Studios Vancouver (or Blue Castle or whatever they're called this week) deserved to be praised was their willingness to have a new protagonist with each game. Using Frank West over and over seems like the easy route since he's a fan favorite. So when they introduced Chuck Greene I thought it was a ballsy move. When they repeatedly defied expectations in Dead Rising 3 with Nick Ramos, I also thought it was the right way to go. Another story, another hero; without relying on fan attachment to the former champion. Here though, it seems like they are literally whoring out Frank. We'll give you this beloved character (sort of) but everything else has to go and also he looks and sounds almost completely different (I guess he got a nose job when his voice broke?). I can almost understand everything else, but the reason for leaving out T.J. Rotolo make no sense. He's an actor, pretty sure he can adjust to give them the older "grizzled" thing they were going for and fans would have loved to see him return. I know I would have anyway. This reminds me a bit of the original reveal of inFamous 2. Wherein they changed so much about the character he just wasn't "Cole MacGrath" anymore. But whatever, it's too late to fix it now even if Capcom agreed with the fans and they clearly do not.

It's concerning, but as I said they've already got my money so it's hard to have much credibility as I sit here complaining while also existing in a state of "being their pawn". That may make me part of the problem and if so I'll own up to it. I'm kinda the pinnacle of impotent rage if I keep whining so I guess I'll end this diatribe here. One last point though: I do hope whatever Dead Rising 4 is, that it turns out to be good. I can handle changes that work, I just hope they've retained the spirit of Dead Rising and I think folks who are worried that its changed too much are justified (heh, call back to DR1), but try to keep an open mind. What we all want is good games and if it's good, I'll be happy to say this worry was for nothing.

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I spent a while writing a forum post about DR4, and then decided not to post it. It was sounding more angry than I wanted it to and I didn't want to put that anger out there. But I also put a bit of work into and wanted to keep it so I'm adding it to the bottom of this blog as an edit.

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This is a _Dead Rising_ game that more people can like, but I can't imagine anyone loving it. I can still sit down with DR1 and enjoy trying to get my "perfect run". Meanwhile _DR4_ thinks I'm so stupid I can't manage save files on my own so I have to wait for it to give me a checkpoint. It thinks I'm too stupid to manage my own inventory, so I get slots for each kind of toy and there's a gun every three feet (they should have set this one in Texas). And for this, people cheer? Man, why does every game have to be "for everyone". I'm not averse to change when it adds, but all DR4 has done is take away.

And before anyone says "The timers were stupid and we're better off without them" or something, here is the list of things that made Dead Rising a game I enjoyed and elements that have been removed only to be replaced with... nothing:

* Multiple endings (unless you count the DLC pitch at the end as "multiple")

* Saving survivors and leading them to safety (you know, BEING A HERO)

* Limited resources making you manage your inventory wisely

* Special moves learned through leveling. No more "Disemboweler" or even "Zombie Walk"

* Boss Fights with interesting characters

* Cut scenes for those interesting characters to help establish their motivations

* The ability to restart as I see fit and start over with my leveled character

Dead Rising 4 asks nothing of you. It expects nothing of you. And it's gameplay loop is about as deep as your average smartphone game. If you dig it, then you dig it. Good for you. Of course if you do dig it there were already a dozen zombie games that do the exact same thing elsewhere. I don't know why I had to give up my favorite franchise so people who hated _Dead Rising_ can now have a _Dead Rising_ that they might like, but whatever. Seems like we could have gone the way of 3 where there were options, nightmare mode for those who want the challenge and the regular mode for those who don't.

The one good thing that came from this is that I was a bit short of cash on the day I bought Dead Rising 4 so I decided to skip the DLC pass until later. Thank God for that because otherwise I would have wasted even more money on this stinker. Ah well, one more log for the fire that is my waning interest in the current state of gaming. _C'est La Vie_ I suppose.

The point is, for those of us who loved what Dead Rising was and don't care for this new direction, is that this game has removed choice. And while you may have hated the timers or leading the survivors to the safe house, many (most) of those things were never required of you in the old games, they were choices. And now choice has been taken away. I just don't see how that's a good thing and I never will. In purely pragmatic terms, you're paying the same money for much less game! Plus it's not a very good looking game. It's ugly and feels like there are less zombies than DR3, but I could be wrong on that one.

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My 2015 GOTY thing

I'll be honest, I only really played about 4 games this year. I mean I played more than that, but a cursory run through and an actual play through are two different things. I technically played Bloodborne, but I didn't play enough of it to know if it's really great or whatever. I wasn't a Souls vet so the game didn't have a pedigree with me personally. I like it. I liked the look of it and I enjoyed the small amount of time I spent there, but I couldn't adequately gauge it's worthiness in a year end wrap-up. I bought and played Forza 6, technically. But I didn't take the deep dive that I did with Horizon 2 or Forza 5 so while I can assume it's more of the solid racing goodness I actually don't really know.

So instead of a Top 10 list, I'm just going to point to the 4 games that I actually spent enough time playing to say that I liked them (or didn't).

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FALLOUT 4

This was kind of the big one for me this year. I know many of you will likley have enjoyed Witcher or Metal Gear more, but I never got around to those games (yet). I'm a huge nerd for Fallout though and from the announcement to the release, speculation and hope were pretty much all consuming activities. Happily, I can say that I enjoyed it greatly. Or rather, I AM enjoying it greatly as I have played nothing else since Novermber 10th.

I know the game has been criticized for being too similar to Fallout 3, but for me that is pretty much exactly what I wanted it to be. More of that thing I loved so much 6 or 7 years ago. And darn it all, it works for me. I'm not the biggest fan of Elder Scrolls, I've never played a Witcher game, but Fallout is the open-world game that just gets me. I like the dark sense of humor, I like the setting, I like the alternate version of history they've built over the years. I. Like. Fallout.

So this one is my best of the year easily and hands down. I've put over 200 hours into it already and I am not even near finished with my first playthrough. Heck, the first week it was out one could have been forgiven for assuming I played it just as a base-management sim. Settlements have occupied way too much of my time over the past month but it's all been a joy.

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Batman: Arkham Knight

I bought Arkham Knight and played it for a good amount of time. I finished its story (97%, never did get those last 120 Riddler trophies) and I guess I enjoyed it. But it wasn't a lot of fun. It certainly wasn't the end of an era game I was hoping it would be.

ROCKSTEADY has made two games that I adored (Asylum and City), but Knight did not grab me. I still love Batman in comics, films, whatever. But the game constantly forcing me into that Batmobile over and over to keep blasting away at endless Drone tanks just didn't sit well with me. I wrote a review you can read if you really want to know more. LINK

Bottom line; Liked it, didn't love it. Good, not great. And since Asylum and City were great, it felt like more of a misstep than a finale. Too bad. I hope whatever ROCKSTEADY works on next is fun both for fans and for them. Eager to see what they do next.

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Mortal Kombat X

In my younger days, I was a fighting game enthusiast in every way. Big fan of Street Fighter 2 in the arcade scene of the day, big fan of MK, of SNK, KI, even Tekken and Virtua Fighter to a degree. Though the 2D fighter will always be my favorite.

MKX felt great to play, it was fun and it had an entertaining story. I can't say it had a good story but it was bad in that way that all MK stories have been "bad". Like a bad B movie that you just love to watch over and over. I loved it.

This one ended up being fun for me on mutliple levels as well. Not only was it fun to play both as a single player game and a mutliplayer game, but I ended up using it as fodder for silly YouTube music videos. They're dumb, but I enjoyed making them anyway. I doubt anyone would want to see them, but if you do, here is a link to the playlist: LINK

And MKX gave me something I've wanted since I was 11 years old, I got to play as Jason Voorhees in a video game. Game, set, match. This one was a winner.

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Fallout Shelter

It feels strange putting a phone/tablet game on my list. I normally wouldn't have done that. But I did play a lot of Fallout Shelter this year. More than a lot of other games that I could have. As I said up above, I love Fallout. And this game was fun enough. It isn't great even for a mobile game. But it's simple comforting busy work kinda engagement and I kept wanting to see my vault grow.

But the main reason I kept playing this one was that my girlfriend started playing it with me. She's not a gamer. She's a nurse and her career is her main focus. But it's also a stressful job and I've suggested that a fun game to relieve the stress and take her mind off of things for a bit, might be beneficial. And Fallout Shelter ended up being that game. I still help her with it more often than not. But we both check in on our vaults and dwellers together and have a good time with it. Surprisingly, it ended up being one of the games I played the most this year.

Honorable Mentions

Mario Maker and Splatoon. Both good games that I enjoyed, but didn't play enough to really give them a spot on the list. I actually had more fun watching Mario Maker stuff than actually playing it. From Dan and Patricks throw-down challenge to watching my daughter get consumed by Splatooning, it was a good year for Nintendo even if the controller wasn't technically in my hands for much of it.

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And here's a few games that I plan to get around to playing if I can ever stop playing Fallout 4

  • I definitely want to give the Witcher games a try. I'm thinking I'll probably start with 3 rather than starting at the beginning. It looked great and all my friends have played it so I'll definitely give this one a whirl. Probably when I can grab a copy on Steam somewhere in the new year.
  • I know many people have been praising Rocket League. I never played it but it looked fun. I am normally not much for multiplayer games, but I may give this one a spin just to see what all the hype is about. The Quick Look made it seem fun so I need to get around to trying this one.
  • Until Dawn looks great. I borrowed a copy from my daughter's girlfriend and I'm going to try it out soon. Love horror games so this should be a no brainer.
  • Bloodborne. I did play a bit of this, but I want to go back and give it the attention it deserves. I was distracted when I played it and couldn't really commit to it and it seems like a game that needs you to commit. I'll revisit this one in 2016.

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Post Christmas UPDATE

Well I guess I'll get to Witcher 3 sooner rather than later. I received Witcher 3, Just Cause 3, Mad Max as well as the next gen version of GTA V as Christmas gifts from my family.

Geez, 4 open world games at once. It's an embarrassment of riches! Although now I have the difficult albeit fun task of deciding which to tackle first. It's a good problem to have!

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Giant Bomb/Star Trek mash-up

This one may take some 'splaining.

A week or so back in the community Spotlight, they featured a game by @havochq. I thought it was really neat, so I did some fan art for it. You can see the whole thing here: LINK

I then noticed that she'd also made a game called "Commander Ryckert". This, coupled with the Bombcast having some Star Trek talk in recent episodes, made me want to do a mash up of TNG and our beloved Giant Bomb crew. Sadly, I'm not the best at drawing caricatures (or anything really), but this is my best attempt and I hope you like it. :)

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I had to make a couple of major edits to the TNG crew since Giant Bomb has almost no women. I cheated with Mary Kish, but she was around from time to time. With Troi and Guinan, I just had to go with the gender swap. I thought about giving Vinny Troi's low cut outfits, but we'll save that for "season 2" perhaps. :)

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Spider-Gwen

To those of you who follow comics, you've likely heard about Spider-Gwen in the last few months. She was a new version of the Gwen Stacey character, reworked as an alternate universe where she got the spider bite powers instead of Peter Parker.

Almost instantly embraced by fans, she's made quite a stir and is even set to get her own series now because of the outpouring of fan support for a one-off story in a lead up to Marvel's latest Spider-verse event.

Anyway, I really dig the character so I thought I'd take a shot at drawing her. Here is the result. I hope you like it.

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And here's a picture of what would happen if Spider-man really had organic webs instead of Web Shooters and Web Fluid that he invented. :)

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A GotY list? Not really

This year has had some high points. There's no denying it. Shadow of Mordor was pretty good. I'm enjoying the GTA5 re release on my PS4. Wolfenstein managed to be a nice surprise.

All that being said though, a huge part of this year has been layers upon layers of disappointment. Halo: Master Chief Collection, the long running Assassin's Creed series, InFamous:Second Son was much less than it's predecessors managed even though it looked pretty.

Between the extremely piecemeal way some folks are trying to sell games now and so many various problems, I just don't think I can really get behind a Game of the Year list this year. It'd be full of asterisks. Too many games that were twice the hype for half the game (Destiny), games that tried something new with old concepts and left me wanting more (Titanfall), games that frankly should have been delayed (Master Chief Collection, Assassin's Creed), and even the games that I ended up liking were still hampered by a feeling of franchise malaise (InFamous) or just plain old missed opportunity (Sunset Overdrive).

This year has been a mixed bag. Elation, disappointment, happiness followed by heartache. It just feels like making a list of "Best of" would be disingenuous and hollow.

About the only game that really grabbed me with no caveats this year was Civ: Beyond Earth. Never having been very interested in Civ, this was my first one. Adding aliens and terraforming made it appeal more to the sci-fi nerd in me. I'm much more interested in science fiction than history, so I decided to finally give Civ and honest try. And I really ended up having fun with it. My PC has been giving me trouble of late, otherwise I'd probably still be playing it. Maybe next year I can finally get a new machine and give it another go. In the mean time I guess I can play on the Wii U. Mario Kart 8 was pretty great. So those two are my games of the year I guess. Congrats Sid Meier and Nintendo. You guys managed to make a couple of true gems this year. Kudos.

How about you? How was your year of gaming? Do you share my disappointment or am I being too dour? I'd love to hear how other folks have felt about this year in gaming. And if you've got a GotY list going, how about a link? I'd love to take a look. :)

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I hope Shadow of Mordor gets ripped off... a lot.

Like many video game fans, I picked up Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and I've been having a bunch of fun playing it this week. (I didn't start it the week it was released because of Forza Horizon 2)

After spending quite a bit of time playing ME:SoM, I really hope that other game makers rip it off (as the title suggests). There's a lot about the Nemesis system to praise and I'm sure you've all read much of it like I have over the past couple of weeks.

The real point of this though, is to share something I was talking about in passing with some friends. What I'd love to see happen is the makers of Star Wars games to look at ME:SoM and steal their little hearts out. The entire time I've been playing it, I can't help but wish it was a game based on a Force wielder.

As I imagine it, a Shadow of Star Wars type game would need to make only a few changes. Most of what works in Mordor would work well with only tiny tweaks to accommodate the license. Instead of a Wraith, you'd have to be in Force purgatory. Instead of Orcs, you'd need to be fighting Bounty Hunters. You could be specific even. Say you were fighting a colony of Mandalorians for instance. That way the Nemesis (NemeSith?) system could have the same kind of naming conventions as ME:SoM. In that you have a list of names and titles and the random generator throws a character together from the various tables or whatever they're doing behind the scenes to give the Orcs such interesting personalities in the game. They could have that unique Mandalorian armor basic style and as the action figures show it would be easy to come up with nearly infinite varieties.

They can even keep the dynamic where a fallen foe regularly comes back after defeat. Make the fights as brutal as you like, and after a defeat they can come back with robotic augmentations, scarred armor, blaster scoring, etc. And with the lesser enemies a lightsaber lends itself to the same kind of brutal combat we see in ME:SoM as well.

The one thing that would need to be changed or added would be some kind of morality system. Usually the binary Good/Evil morality systems are silly because humans are not binary creatures. We exist in the gray. But with the Jedi/Sith it works fine since that's kind of the whole point of the Light/Dark dichotomy. However they decide to implement the system, it should play out in the upgrade screens where you pick your skills. Characters should be similar to Cole from inFamous. With skill sets that favor aggressive saber moves and Lightning for Dark characters, and Stealth and more Force Push/Pull/Grab style maneuvers for the Light. Obviously Light side Jedi shouldn't be shooting Force Lighting and using Force Choke. Although a Kyle Katarn or Starkiller style character would be a must. Someone you could build a story around but also give the player the agency to travel either path but still keep the narrative flowing.

Anyway, this has just been an idea that's been kicking around my head while playing over the past week. I guess we all have our "dream games" we wish were real. So what are some of yours? And if they made a Shadow of Coruscant (or whatever) like I describe here, do you think it would be fun? In this dream scenario lets pretend that EA won't be developing it so we can avoid any fear that comes from them holding the Star Wars license for the purposes of this discussion. :)

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