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When Players Are in Control

swcombineJohn and I often write about the kind of MMO we want to play. And it generally comes down to giving us the options of a tabletop RPG in digital form. We want the power to control the governments, the economy, etc. in the game.

But what happens to a player-controlled game when the player base is dying?

Enter Star Wars Combine.

Star Wars Combine is a browser-based MMORPG set in an alternate Star Wars timeline. Nearly everything is player controlled, and it has some neat system to balance that. Travel is real time. Want to jump across the galaxy? You’re going to be on your ship for two weeks. All in all, I like it. It has some good ideas.

But it’s been in development for over 15 years, and it’s not complete yet. Combat has yet to be fully implemented. The interface is bulky and hard to understand (I don’t think it was made by native English speakers).  But, the roleplaying has made it worth it to me. I joined a group of people calling themselves the Falleen Federation (you might remember that Shadows of the Empire villain Prince Xizor was a Falleen, but these guys purport to be more virtuous). I even made some friends.

But the player base is dying. You know what happens when people are in hyperspace for two weeks? They don’t log in for two weeks. And if they have some major responsibilities within their guild or faction, those can get neglected. Case in point, my faction gave me a mission to complete, but I haven’t been able to finish it yet because I am waiting for a person from a separate faction to give me access to a space station. She hasn’t logged in for nearly 8 days. So, what do I do? I wait. And it makes me not want to log in since I can’t do anything. And I can’t force my way in… because that hasn’t been implemented yet.

I like the people, though, really. It’s just… it’s kind of a boring game. An economic simulator, really, right now. And there’s no threat of physicality to balance the economics.  And because of those basic things not being implemented, more people are leaving the game. It’s like watching an entire mini-universe gasping for breath.

It’s an odd situation, but maybe when it comes to having players control everything, we are getting exactly what we asked for. And a lot less.

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Before Gen Con 2014

Gen Con 2014Gen Con is my favorite convention. It’s one of those conventions that I feel does nearly everything right. Registration for events happens beforehand. The convention center and surrounding environs are big enough that the convention (minus the exhibition hall) doesn’t feel too terribly crowded. This will be my fourth year going, and my third year for coverage here at The Cool Ship.

This year, I planned convention activities for nine people. I won’t do that again. It’s way too stressful. I did, however, get us into a bunch of events I think we’ll really enjoy like a big Pathfinder game, a massive Call of Cthulhu game, and hopefully lots of time for free gaming and steak. Mmm. Steak.

So, starting Wednesday the 13th, The Cool Ship goes into Gen Con coverage mode. Every night, we’ll recap our day, telling you what we saw, who we met, and what we did. We’ll give out recommendations for new games every day. I hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a good time.

The Last Days of the MMORPG

Only now, at what feels like the conclusion of more than a decade of Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Gaming am I starting to get a sense of how strange and grand these games really are. Watching their inexorable decline makes me think of the elves of Middle Earth preparing for their journey west. In some ways, I feel like we never really understood their mysteries.

Wow. So geeky.Shipples

I’m not saying we don’t understand how these games work. Quite the contrary. Creating “the one chosen hero” and then grinding levels while making friends with all the other chosen heroes is old hat.

I mean to say that where these games fit in our lives is still an evolving question. A question that gaming companies have lost quite of bit a money attempting to answer.

One of the most interesting modern examples is where The Elder Scrolls Online comes in. With a rumored budget of $200,000,000 (sometimes you need to write out all the zeroes) the game is quite possibly the last attempt a game studio will make at a AAA MMORPG. During TESO beta testing before the April launch, I gave  the game a whirl. After my excursions in the newest iteration of Tamriel, I was left with one question. Will this be the biggest gaming disaster of 2014?

More importantly, is this the last roar of the genre?

Yes, there will still be other MMOs in one form or another, but I don’t think they’ll be massive the way we’ve understood it. At its height, World of Warcraft had somewhere between 10 and 12 million subscribers paying them $15 a month. That’s a truly insane amount of money. So much regular cash, in fact, that WoW spawned satellite industries. At one point, thanks to resource farming, WoW gold was worth more in US dollars than the Mexican peso. Even today it has a better exchange rate than some world currencies.

And since that wild, and completely unforeseen success, challenger after challenger after challenger has attempted to be the “WoW killer.” But in the 10 years that WoW has dominated the market not a single game has come close to topping it’s player base.

The cards are stacked against TESO.

I had the opportunity to give the game a try, and I think I walked away with some valuable lessons. In theory this game could operate a lot like Skyrim, but with other players. The graphics are almost on par with Skyrim and, to the game’s credit, it is quite beautiful. And at the end of the day, Skyrim is a whole lot like a single-player MMO. You get quests from individual NPCs  and then you go out and complete them. So you should get all the stuff you loved with Skyrim while enjoying the company of many other players.

And I think Zenimax is playing it that way. The voice cast for the game is positively ridiculous for any game, much less an MMO.

I mean, come on! John Cleese? Kate Beckinsale? Those are some serious guns for MMO dialogue, which we can expect only a portion of the players to get if they are faction specific.

But TESO still feels like an MMO. And all the MMOs since WoW have had one key problem: they are all basically WoW. Having button bars on the bottom of the screen and grinding quests through different zones is something we’ve seen before. It feels like the same game I’ve played before, with a different skin. As a matter of fact, most MMOs I’ve played, with the exception of EVE, have felt like variations on the same game.

And that’s really what I’m getting at. I’m not looking to snipe TESO. Honestly, I haven’t even kept track of the game’s success since its launch. But I do wonder if this massive investment in cash signifies a change in the dynamic.

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An Incendiary Note On Doctor Who’s Retcon

Sitting at my day job, as I sometimes do,  my mind wanders to all manor of things. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the X-wing Miniatures game and Green Lantern Comics. Sometimes I also think about how weird the 90s actually were. Sometimes I wonder if we would have achieved this level of technology if the planet was only 2 tenths water instead of 7.

For some reason I feel like the answer would be no.

Last week I started reflecting on The Day of the Doctor. It’s been a while since it came out, but I got there eventually. I mean (spoilers) how cool was that episode? How completely amazing was it to see the Time Lords back in play? And Billie Piper was back as an alien super-weapon’s conscience. I mean, bangarang Rufio what?!?!

And while Tennant is one of my least favorite new Doctors, I always love seeing him along.

But as I reflected, I started thinking about the logistics of the Time War and all its subsequent events. And it strikes me, as I try to focus on my work, that The Day of the Doctor makes no sense. Like not even a little. Here is my list of grievances because I would love to argue about it on the internet.

My understanding of The End of Time is that the Time Lords are trying to break out of the Time Lock using the signal they implanted in the Master’s mind. So I believe they are already timelocked or whatever it is that the The Doctor remembers doing when John Hurt pushed the big, red button. I’m assuming he only remembers pushing the red button to activate The Moment since #9 and #10 only recall burning Gallifrey. I mean, if Gallifrey was just hidden in a pocket universe and all the Daleks killed each other in the crossfire, how did Dalek Caan pull Davros out of the time lock to rebuild the Dalek Empire and steal Earth during the 10th Doctor’s run?

And if there was no time lock how was the Lord President of the Time Lords back in The End of Time to wreck everyone’s day?

And how is it that the Doctor has always remembered Gallifrey being both timelocked and burned? In The Day of the Doctor there was a discussion about how many children were on Gallifrey when it burned. So why time lock the war if you’re going to kill everyone?

And why did 10 believe at The End of Time that all the crazy from the war would come back? He talked about the Nightmare Child and the Would-Have-Been King and a million bajillion Daleks. I get that The Doctor’s memories were confused because of… actually I don’t really get it. There’s some timey wimey about all the timelines being messed up and John Hurt, 9 and 10 not remembering this stuff. Still, my problem is not with hand-waving away his missing memories, but with the idea that both happened.

And what the hell is a time lock? I assumed that it was a point in space-time that was put in a big bubble that other people can’t time travel to. Again I ask, if it’s locked up, why burn everything? And if you’re gonna burn it, guess you don’t need the lock, right?

God I miss Babylon 5.

God I miss Babylon 5.

Also, what the hell is up with the time lords? This was THE last great war that almost swallowed the whole universe and made a man committed to fixing things talk himself into fake genocide. I was expecting some next level space wizard s***. I wanted some science-as-magic themed super soldiers a la Babylon 5‘s technomages, but even cooler.

What I didn’t expect was a generic-combat-armor-scifi-film-wardrobe-are-these-guys-cosplaying guessing game. And for my money, I’m thinking Wing Commander or the Lost In Space remake with Matt LeBlanc. Also, how did they get Gary Oldman in that movie? Wait, that question probably belongs somewhere else.

How is it the Doctor’s own people conduct a war in much the same way I would expect us to? I’m not saying they should be better at it, but one could make the argument being alive for billions of years damn well ought to make them better at it. I’m not saying they should be better in the sense that they should be morally above our kind of warfare. Part of the reason John Hurt pushed the button was because the Time Lords had become monstrous. I’m saying they should look cooler doing it. I want laser screwdrivers that look like wizard’s staves and war TARDIS battles with clever time-shift tactics.

Also, did Gallifrey actually get destroyed at one point? Is this like, it always was burned until this first time when Matt Smith changed his mind? Or is it like it never got burned and John Hurt, 9 and 10 just remember it weird because the Time lines crossed the streams or something?

Just saying.

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Sean Connery Still Number 1

 

American television and film have long had a love affair with British actors. As the quality of television writing has improved many film level Englishman have made a name for themselves(some for a second time) appearing on small screens across the pond. Actors like Hugh Laurie have used American tv as a stepping stone to American cinema.

The Q scores organization which considers itself “The recognized industry standard for measuring consumer appeal of personalities, characters, lisenced properties, programs and Brands.” Bi- yearly since the 1990’s, QScores.com has released it’s top British actors according to American consumers.

For the third time since 1998 Sir Sean Connery has come out on top. Despite not having made a film in 10 years, and spending the last 8yrs as a tax exile in the Bahamas the 83 year old Scotsman is number one. Connery endeared himself to the American arriving on the scene at the end of the “golden era” of Hollywood.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Connery’s breakout role as James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No lead to a type casting he would spend 25 years trying to escape (despite returning to the role twice). Connery’s second coming began in the early 1990s playing the aging action star and sage adviser in films like The Untouchables. Sean Connery’s last live action film role as Alan Quartermaine in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman was a fitting finale to a fantastic career. Quartermaine is road-weary and tired, ready to pass the torch to the next generation.

“Connery ranks among the top 10 Hollywood actors of all time,” said Henry Shafer of Q Scores. “Awareness of Sean Connery and his appeal was strong across the country and with all ages.”

Sir Anthony Hopkins finished second in this year’s results, followed by Liam Neeson,  David McCallum of  NCIS  and Daniel Day-Lewis. Dame Judi Dench is the highest-placed woman in the list at six, followed by Dame Maggie Smith at seven.

The complete Q scores top 20:

1. Sean Connery
2. Anthony Hopkins
3. Liam Neeson
4. David McCallum
5. Daniel Day-Lewis
6. Judi Dench
7. Maggie Smith
8. Daniel Craig
9. Hugh Laurie
10. James Purefoy
11. Benedict Cumberbatch
12. Robert Carlyle
13. Eamonn Walker
14. Colin Firth
15. Jonny Lee Miller
16. Jane Leeves
17. Kiefer Sutherland
18. Gerard Butler
19. Lucy Punch
20. Daniel Radcliffe

What is your favorite Sean Connery Role? Who do you feel is missing from this list?

 

 

 

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My Antic-Who-pation Continues to Grow

The title is a bit of a stretch but it works.

As the release of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special steadily approaches, with the Christmas Special not far behind it, I find myself becoming increasingly anxious as the days go by. I’m wondering how they’ll bring Rose and Ten back, what the deal with John Hurt’s Doctor is (Is he Nine or not?), and what Peter Capaldi’s Doctor will be like. And the last thing makes me wonder about how I’m going to handle Eleven’s regeneration. I’m not as attached to him as I was with Nine and Ten, but I still think it’s gonna be rough for me. This is all so much to process.

I’m most excited about the return of Rose (Billie Piper) and Ten (David Tennant): my favorite Doctor and companion back in action once again. However, I am worried as to how they will return. Are they going to be Rose and clone Ten that were supposedly trapped in another dimension or are they going to be Rose and the real Ten and somehow Clara and Eleven will cross timelines with them? I trust Moffat not to fail on something as monumental as the 50th Anniversary Specia,l but it doesn’t mean I’m not worried.

 

Is this the real Ninth doctor?

Is this the real Ninth doctor?

The enigma of John Hurt’s Doctor has been bouncing around in my head since he first turned around and “Introducing John Hurt as The Doctor” appeared on the screen. Is he Nine? Does this mean Nine is now Ten, Ten is now Eleven, Eleven is now Twelve, and Peter Capaldi is actually the Thirteenth Doctor? Does this mean the Doctor actually has one less regeneration than we thought he did? Is he going to be an angry, merciless, destructive Doctor or a remorseful Doctor wracked with guilt from what happened during the events of the Last Great Time War? There are too many questions, but I do expect an amazing performance from John Hurt.

Almost as much as Rose and Ten’s return, I’m excited for Peter Capaldi becoming the new Doctor. I’m constantly wondering what type of Doctor he’ll be. A goofy Doctor, an angry Doctor, a cynical Doctor, a completely serious Doctor, or a little bit of everything like we’ve come to expect? How will he dress? Classy like the First or Eleventh, modern like the Ninth or Tenth, or silly like the Fifth or Sixth? Will he change his Sonic screwdriver, and how will the Tardis look when he takes over? I’m hoping that his Sonic has an orange light, the Tardis stays the same, and he has a beard. Capaldi looks pretty awesome with a beard. Also, I want River to stick around and Captain Jack to make a comeback. That’s not asking for too much, is it?

 

11 to 12Finally, I have no idea how I’m going to react to Eleven’s regeneration. Matt Smith has grown on me over the past few years. It took a while to get used to him after becoming so attached to Tennant and Eccleston, but once I did, I’ve found him to be quite an amazing Doctor. He really knows how to make you laugh and pull at your heartstrings. I’m thinking it’s going to pretty emotional when he says his goodbyes this Christmas and a lot of people are going to be very teary-eyed. For me, Capaldi taking over will soften the blow to my tear ducts a little more then when Smith took over for Tennant. Though I will have to wait until next year to truly see how great of a Doctor he will be.

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The Walking Dead Returns on Sunday!

Before we start geeking out together about the return of The Walking Dead (TWD) in the scariest month of the calendar year (Yes, October is scary. Don’t you watch television? All of the scaries are in October! I’ll have you know that my husband is planning to make me watch Aliens this month. I’ve never seen it! Isn’t that shocking? Well, yeah, kinda. But, still…scary!), I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about AMC’s undead flagship.

Rick season 4

Pssst! Rick! Behind you! Image courtesy of AMC.

I’m dreading the emotional drain I know is coming. I’m dreading the hopelessness, the bleakness.

I can’t go straight to bed after watching an episode of TWD. Seriously. And no, it’s not because I stay up to write my recap (Catch up on TWD by reading ALL my recaps! They’re clearly marked. Don’t be lazy; just scroll and click!). It’s because I can’t stand the thought of going to bed with such a sense of  despondence weighing on me. It’s like a physical pressure on my chest. I usually have to catch a sitcom rerun or watch a snatch of something fluffy to snap out of my TWD funk.

That being said, I AM pumped about the return of Over-the-Cray-Cray Rick, B.A. Carl, Dreamy Daryl, and the piece of Swiss cheese they call a prison (Oh, yeah…totally safe! I mean, there’s giant holes EVERYWHERE, and walkers shamble in at an alarming rate, but it’s fiiiiiiiine. Just fiiiiiiiine. ). There’s Michonne, too, and Carol. And let’s not forget about the quietest baby ever to be born: Judith! (Seriously, have the writers ever been around a newborn? I think not!) Hershel, Glenn, and Maggie, too, I suppose. My interest in them is waning, though. Frankly, I’m surprised Hershel has made it this far.

Prediction: Hershel is not going to make it out of this season alive! I don’t really have much to base this on other than a general gut feeling and the need for something else to torment Rick…besides burgeoning B.A. Carl. You read it here first!

AMC has been releasing webisodes on and off, and that’s been nice. Their latest was last week’s “The Oath,” an uplifting (not really) three parter. Check it out:

Turns out the hospital with the Angel of Death was the same in which Rick woke up in at the beginning of TWD. Nice Easter egg. However, it begs the question of why the creepy doctor didn’t find Rick and abandon him to the same fate as Paul.

Details, details.

TWD returns this Sunday, Oct. 13, at 9 p.m. on AMC.

 

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CONfessions of a Journeyman Gen Con Attendee: Part 2

This is the recap of the experiences I had at Gen Con 2013. Part one can be found here.

Day 3:

When I went to bed on Saturday morning, I was running on fumes. Upon waking a few hours later, though, I was energized and ready for Kobold Press’ Freelancing 101 panel.  (The Tome Show recorded the panel). Wolfgang Baur, Ben McFarland, Colin McComb, and Brandon Hodge discussed the steps to break into freelancing for the game industry (and some cheats for breaking in as well).

All of these guys have a bunch of experience in freelancing, so their advice was useful. I would strongly suggest that you listen if you’re interesting in busting into the tabletop games biz.

1004508_10151790782957438_1057252889_nAfter that panel, I attended Publishing 101. This one was a Wolfgang Baur solo affair, and he related stories from the first year of starting Kobold Press. He did a great job of relating the trials and triumphs of getting into publishing. I’m sure I’ll be listening to both of these panels again soon.

We were hungry, so our group ate some brunch (street food–I got some delicious wings) and did some shopping in the exhibit hall. We had a lot of downtime, so we spent part of it simply sitting and watching people. We also got to watch some games of Giant Star Trek Attack Wing.

Giant Attack Wing played exactly like regular Attack Wing, just on a much larger scale. In fact, I think they just attached a bunch of old Trek toys to larger versions of the bases, and let people play. They had giant dice, giant movement markers… it was pretty cool.

After our period of laziness, we headed over to True Dungeon.

True Dungeon is basically a life-sized dungeon supplemented with actors playing monsters. I was expecting something like a LARP, but it was something very different. Combat was resolved with something that reminded me of shuffleboard (you wanted to try to hit a 20 on a play area shaped like the monster). I think it was an interesting experience, but I can see it being a major money drain.

Your equipment is represented by tokens that you put on your character card before the game starts. You can buy extra packs of tokens, but you are given a certain amount before the game starts as well. There are also tokens for spells, potions, and other useable items; though, you have to give them up to the room’s DM when you use them.

1209341_10151790783407438_425928493_nIt was fun, but I had a few problems with my playthrough. 1.) There were two many people. The party was 10 people, and I think it was just too much. There were rooms when six people would be doing something, while four just hovered around. 2.) There was a dude in our group that stank really badly. That isn’t True Dungeons fault, but this guy was pretty pungent. Maybe he was staying at the convention center and got sick one night or something, but it was pretty bad as far as Con funk goes.

All-in-all, it was fun. I got to play a barbarian, and I was pretty good at the combat game (so was John, and he had to throw two at the same time because he was “dual-wielding’). Now that I’ve done it once, though, I’m hesitant to do it again. Maybe if I get 9 friends to do it.

 

1005481_10151790783302438_334450510_nAfter that we had dinner  at the Marriott hotel attached to the convention center. The food was pretty delicious. Miranda and I had the Turkey leg covered in gravy and served on a bed of mashed potatoes. As you can see, it was pretty delicious.

After that was the Masquerade Ball. This year’s theme was “Dance of the Dead,” but I don’t think theme mattered that much. It was a lot of fun to see all the costumes. And watch people lay on the floor and play their Nintendo DS.

Finally, the night ended with Artemis. We were all getting pretty exhausted at this point, but I think we overall had a good time. Our captain was getting a mite bit douchey and not really listening to his crew, but you know, sometimes that’ll happen. You just play the best game you can. We beat level 4, which was my personal record, so that was good. After that, it was time to sleep. The drive to the hotel took a lot longer than it normally would, since I was tired and kept missing turns.

Final Day

We slept in on Sunday. I’m sad that we skipped our first game, but I was barely able to move when my alarm went off that morning, so I just slept. I think the rest of the group was glad. After waking, we had the long task of packing up all the stuff we had bought in addition to all the stuff we bought. The back of the van was stuffed full of gaming paraphernalia.

We got to the convention center around 11:30 AM and played a fun little game called “Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Alliance“. It’s a game of making and breaking alliances and stabbing your buddies in the back. Our game basically devolved into two teams, in which one side of the table started picking on the other side of the table. It was fun, but not very sportsmanlike.

After that, Tyler and I entered a tournament of Star Trek Attack Wing. He won his first game and lost his second, and I did the opposite. Either way, he walked out of there with three new Attack Wing ships to add to his fleet, so not a bad tournament. Certainly much better than the Magic: The Gathering tournament I took part in.

After that, we waited in line in the parking garage to go home. We were sad and exhausted to leave, but I’m already planning on how to do things better next year. If we decide to go (and I hope we do).

Tomorrow, I’ll relate my tale of running a game at Gen Con for Kobold Press.

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CONfessions of a Journeyman Gen Con Attendee: Part One

Gen Con is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s one of those times when I can completely geek out about gaming, and it’s perfectly okay to do so. It’s a time where I can chat with established game designers and meet with up-and-comers. If I was physically able, I could game 24 hours.

Now that I have steady internet (the hotel wi-fi was extremely slow and spotty), I can relate a little about my experiences.

Day 0:

This year, my Gen Con started in Columbus, Ohio on August 14. I received an invitation to attend “The Sundering” event hosted by the Thurber House at the Columbus Museum of Art. The Thurber House frequently hosts author talks and signings, and I was excited when RA Salvatore, Ed Greenwood, and Erin M. Evans were announced as guests pre-Gen Con.

All the authors seemed like extremely nice people, and Ed Greenwood even chatted with me about  beards for a few moments while he was signing a couple of my books. All seemed excited (especially Ed and Erin) about this new Sundering series, so I’ll be delighted to finally begin reading them.

You can see more pictures from the event, as taken by the Thurber House, here.

Day 1:

John already went into detail about our first day of Gen Con, but I wanted to talk about my experiences a bit as well. Let me start by saying that this was easily the busiest first day I’ve seen since attending. The lines for retail were un-real, and I kept hearing rumors about people finding copies of the completely sold out Firefly game. Finding a copy of Firefly was like living in a weird gamepocalypse where conjecture and rumor are your only companions and you don’t know if someone is deliberately throwing you off the trail.

I just decided that I’ll get the game online sometime.

Turns out, it WAS the busiest Gen Con ever. There were almost 50,000 attendees–almost a 20% growth over last year!

Thursday was also my first face-to-face meeting with some of the good folks from Kobold Press when I attended their book signing at the Paizo booth. Ben McFarland, Brian Suskind, and Wolfgang Baur were super friendly. You should go buy their books; did I mention they won two Ennie Awards?

Next up was the Magic: The Gathering tournament, where everyone but me did amazing. Seriously, I lost all my matches. I only won a free booster pack because I was given a by in the last round. The judges must have felt bad for me or something.

We ended the night by checking into the hotel and eating. I had pork loin. I remember it being delicious.

Day 2:

Friday is a blur. I started the day by running “Madman at the Bridge” — an adventure by Kobold Press. I had a great time, but I’ll detail it later this week in another post. It was the first game I’ve ever run at Gen Con, and I doubt it will be my last.

After that we played a game of Battletech. It wasn’t the tabletop game but instead was a series of 16 pods networked together that basically let us experience 16-player MechWarrior. The pods are completely enclosed, and you get a radar screen and a HUD screen, as well as various levers for movement, shooting, and firing your jump jets. It looks like a lot of fun, and if I get time, I’d like to experiment with it next year. I heard that late at night is the best time to go, so maybe I’ll take an evening to play a bunch of rounds of Battletech.

After that, we played a session of Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator in order to get our Gen Con newcomers prepared for our 2-hour session on Saturday night. We did well, and I didn’t have to give up my engineer position.

After that, shopping and food ensued. St. Elmo’s has some awesomely spicy shrimp sauce that I recommend you try at least once in your life.

And finally, we ended the day with the Giant Pathfinder Society Scenario “The Siege of the Diamond City.” I’ve never experienced so many people playing the same Pathfinder adventure at the same time. I think Paizo did a good job of making the group feel like we were contributing to the greater experience. However, the part of the adventure we played seemed a little basic. I’m guessing it was necessary in order to keep things simple for the people who had to calculate all the information presented.

All right, that’s the first half of Gen Con. Tomorrow, I’ll detail Saturday and Sunday, and on Friday I’ll talk about running a game at Gen Con.

 

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The Long Con

Another GenCon Indy has come and gone. In celebration of surviving the annual pilgrimage, here are some quick tips for outlasting four or more days of pure indoor living.

Strategic Food Outcomes

By stigma and stereotype gamers, comic book fans and geek aficionados are not considered the healthiest demographic. Couple that with a nerd culture that is damn near synonymous with Hot Pockets and Mountain Dew. Now consider that thousands of people enjoying accommodations in the hospitality industry with commercial vendors and restaurants as their only food source.

What you have is a perfect storm of garbage eating. You’re going to have the strong temptation to eat whatever is delicious (because hey, it is a vacation after all!) and whatever is readily available. During this last con I had Starburst for breakfast and at least one day where I ate 1500 calories worth of pasta, pizza, breadsticks and Cherry Coke at a Fazoli’s.

This isn’t a preach about eating better or losing weight. The simple fact is that the best four days of gaming is a marathon, and you need to do whatever you can to stay energized for maximum satisfaction. Half a week of chips and candy will bring anyone to a crawl and dehydrate you. It will also carve a hole in the wallet where sweet games, comics and merchandise could go instead.

Go in with a food strategy, stay hydrated and bring snacks where possible for the best results.

Pack For Bear

Aside from the snacks and water you should already be toting, you’ll need enough space for your phone charger, spare clothes, entertainment, and all the swag you are going to buy/win and any other essentials you find necessary. That means you’ll need a pretty serious bag. And you need something you can carry around for up to 18 hours of standing and walking.

My suggestion is a backpack, which we do see a lot of at conventions. Tote bags, hand bags, fanny packs, plastic cases and pretty much everything else can be spotted at a sizable con, but a backpack is, pound for pound, the best choice you can make if you’re in it for the long haul.

You Need The Me Time

Most of us only get to go to a few conventions a year. When we go, we want to go hard. During our trip we would wake up at five or six in the morning and not get back to the hotel until midnight or later. By Saturday, members of our party were hurting for some rest. Unless you’re a vendor or someone else there to promote a brand, it’s a great idea to plan out some time to decompress.

Not to mention a great way to alleviate the aches of walking all day. Almost anyone, regardless of physical fitness level or convention veteran status is going to be feeling it after a couple days, especially if you’re following our second suggestion.

Pick a morning to sleep in or take an afternoon to play some games with friends. Read a book or listen to some music. And definitely get away get out of the artificial lights and Cheetos stank of the convention center for a while. Most conventions take place in landmark cities that deserve to be explored.

Con With Purpose

During GenCon this year there was a Dance of the Dead masquerade. It was held in the ballroom of Indianapolis’ Union Station area. While 20130819-162610.jpgdancing and mixing it up with other guests, I noticed a body sprawled on the ground next to the dance floor. For a moment I thought someone had literally died, raising the irony level considerably. That was until he refreshed the screen on his Nintendo DS and I realized he was gaming.

If you’re going to make a full trip to a convention, do it with purpose. Figure out what it is you like and find it. It may very well be that our friend lying on the dance floor was taking my advice to get a little me time, but it struck me as an odd location. And it also made me think that was time he could be spending doing something not normally available at home.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Con Alone

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Nothing sounds worse than traveling to a strange city alone for a massive convention.

I look forward to next year knowing that The Con is a marathon and I need to stop sprinting.

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Gen Con II: The Wrath of Con

In which we avoid crying cat girl, meet John’s GenCon crush and defeat the scourge of metropolitan parking.

Day One of Gen Con is always a chaos. You always forget something. Sometimes something really important. And you always struggle with Indianapolis traffic, regardless of day or time.

However, yesterday was delightful as me and TJ, and newcomers Tyler and Miranda, got our bearings at Gen Con 2013.
Per the usual, parking was a 40 minute affair. Not one, but two garages put “full” signs up only minutes after we entered. Still, we did find something for only ten dollars. Having defeated parking, we strode into Gen Con like the kings and queens of promise.

We started the Con in a line. The line, however, was much shorter than last year. I was able to pick my badge and tickets very quickly, and by the time I was done there, the others were finished in their queue.

So, we hit the exhibition hall. So much stuff to buy. And I couldn’t believe the lines. Paizo, the makers of Pathfinder, had a line around the booth, and Fantasy Flight Games and Privateer Press had some of the longest lines I had seen outside of Space Mountain and Disney World. (Hyperbole!)

After wandering about and buying things we didn’t really need, we tried our hand at learning Mage Wars. It’s an awesome combination of a board game and a card game. I really wish I could have spent more than an hour with it.

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I was also haunted by a living meme. We saw a crying girl in cat cosplay and immediately became fixated. Why are you crying, crying cat girl? From where does your suffering come and is it part of your costume? Will you still take photos with my friend or is it weird now?

And then she vanished into the throng of people.

I would also like to take this moment to begrudging compliment Indianapolis. The core of the city is a beautiful, bustling metropolis that does a great job masking the horror that is rural Indiana.

Except for the homeless girls sleeping in the church doors across the street from The Con. That hurt my soul.

 

We also got a photo of TJ with my GenCon crush, Marie-Claude Bourbonnaise. We saw her last year in full anime garb and failed to get a photo with her. NEVER FORGET.

I thought it was gonna be a whole thing where we search and search and keep missing each other and just at the end, when we are both leaving, I see her and walk up. She would look at me and I would look at her…

And I would come up with a really good lie about liking whatever cartoon she was dressed as and then she would take a photo with TJ.

But I spotted her in the first 2 hours and we got it done.

So I guess I need to ratchet up my bucket list.

We also played Magic: The Gathering and I actually won all three of my matches. My winning strategy was to take all the green cards and black cards I booster drafted and add land. And now I’m the champion (one of several) of the 5pm Beginner’s Level 2 No Elimination Tournament. No doubt I’m blowing up on Twitter (@jcal101) right now.

Today’s recommendations:

Skull Kickers by Jim Zub (@jimzub). Though freely available on the Internet in web comic format, a hard copy is worth a look with beautiful art and extras in the Image Comics hardcover version I think it’s worth the investment.

Star Trek: Attack Wing by WizKid Games. I have to qualify this by saying I haven’t actually tried this game yet, but it looks great. For fans of Star Trek that want to do miniature battle without actually having to paint them this is worth a look.

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Gen Con: The Best Laid Plans of Gamers and Geeks

 

shepard

Super Creep Face. I don’t normally look like this, I promise.

 

I’m super-mega excited for Gen Con this year. Not only are John and I both attending again, but we’ll be bringing a couple of friends along with us. Twice the people means twice the fun, right? Probably.

I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to approach the Con this year. It’s my third year, and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of what Gen Con has to offer. There’s so much to do! Even if I went the entirety of the four days without sleeping, there’s no way I’d get to do a tenth of what’s available.

So, here’s the plan.

1.) Meet people — I’m a naturally shy person. I don’t generally like to “put myself out there” when it comes to meeting people, but I think it’s time to put on a friendly convention persona. I bought some business cards and stickers to hand out, and I volunteered to run a game for the good folks at Kobold Press. I really envy people that have friends they meet up with at Gen Con every year. So, I guess my goal is to make friends and influence people.

hypnotoad

HIRE ME TO EDIT YOUR STUFF.

2.) Do more — I’m signed up for some panels, some games, and I’m going to the big masquerade ball. I might even don a costume. I’m trying out my first True Dungeon run, and I’ll pretend to be on the crew of a star ship with Artemis. I’m also hoping to come away with some signed swag. My favorite game developers are going to be there! Maybe they need an editor. 🙂

3.) Eat food — I had the best steak of my life last year, so I’m (of course) going to hit that place again. Indianapolis offers a lot of great restaurants. I don’t plan on over-indulging, but I’m definitely going to enjoy my meals.

4.) Play games — Whether for a specific event or just demoing stuff on the floor, I had a blast playing games (I mean, it’s “The Best Four Days in Gaming after all), and I’m going to play a whole bunch of them! What’s a gaming convention without trying new stuff?

5.) Keep up — Last year, I kind of burned out by the last day. I don’t want that to happen this year. I’m going to take some healthy snacks to help keep energy up; I want to do this right. It’s not often that I get to be a dude without kids for a few days, and as much as I love my children, I’m going to savor being without them for a few days.

In the end, I just want me and my pals to have a good time. Gen Con is only two weeks away. John and I will keep you up-to-date on our adventures. I hope to see you there!

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The Problem with Power Rangers (or, How About a Mighty Morphin’ Retcon?)

Let me preface by saying that I am almost 31 years old and I am still a fan of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and have been since the day they premiered in America. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Notice I said the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, not just Power Rangers. I prefer the originals (US originals, I haven’t seen much of the Japanese originals to properly judge). I haven’t been a fan of most of the other variations starting with Lost Galaxy. Although I wasn’t a big fan of Turbo because they replaced Rocky with a little kid (that little twerp pissed me off to no avail), but In Space wasn’t too awful. Tommy was always my favorite character, so after he left it pretty much stopped caring.

With every new series, the luster of the show faded more and more. It became quite uninteresting. Maybe it was because I was growing older and the show was geared more towards the younger generations, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that I felt like each new series was just a regurgitated version of the original. Just a copy of a copy of copy (and so on), each one weaker than the last. It could have something to do with the acting getting worse each time. I’m not saying that the original series was worthy of an Emmy or anything, but the acting in it was 10 times better than any in the later incarnations.

I’ve seen part of an episode of the new Power Rangers Samurai and it wasn’t half bad. I can’t say that it’s anything fantastic, having only watched like 5 minutes of it, but just in that brief viewing time it seemed to be an improvement from all the post-Turbo Rangers. Still, not enough to make me a regular viewer. They’re still marketed towards a younger crowd (preteen/teen), even though most teens nowadays are more interested in other things (Twilight, Hunger Games, etc.). Their target audience should actually be the people that were tweens/teens when the show first premiered. They were there at the start and some are still there but there yearning for something more. I know I am. A grown-up revamping is in order to breathe some new life into the series.

Hey, Haim Saban….hit the restart button and let’s get this show on the road!

Here are some suggestions for an upgrade:

1. Make it prime time. That’s right…Prime time. Turn it into an hourly action/sci-fi/drama and air it at night. I’m thinking the Syfy Channel might be a good place for it. They haven’t had the greatest history of quality shows in the past but they’ve gotten a lot better in the past decade. Battlestar Gallactica, Haven, Being Human, Alphas, Eureka, and Warehouse 13 are proof of that. And airing it during evening hours gives the show the opportunity to go beyond being a kid’s show and offer something more for the older crowd.

2. Blood. But not just blood. Bruises, cuts, scars, broken limbs…ya know, realistic battle damage. Make them look like they’ve actually been in a fight, not like they’ve been roughed a bit and got a little dirty. And cut out the sparks and flipping backwards. Take a hit like you’ve actually taken a hit.

Armored, movie Rangers [image source: moviepicturedb.com]

Armored, movie Rangers [image source: moviepicturedb.com]

3. Armor up. Remember how badass they looked in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. They looked like they were wearing armor. That’s what they need, armor. No more spandex and motorcycle helmets. Sleek and redesigned with optimal mobility, kinda like Batman’s new suit in The Dark Knight.

4. CGI the big guys. Take away the stuntmen in rubber monster suits and Megazord costumes, throw away the cardboard cities, hire a highly talented CGI team, and make the colossal battles look awesome. I’m not saying they need to be Transformers or Pacific Rim quality graphics but something at least 3 or 4 times better than the CGI in MMPR: The Movie would be nice.

5. Fire the old writers. Hire a quality writing team and explain to them that they’re not writing for kids. They’re writing for the grown-up kids. Tell them to make it “realistic,” or as “realistic as you can get for the Power Rangers. No more cheesy dialogue, no more lame plots. Just solid character development and enthralling stories. Think Joss Whedon meets Zack Snyder meets Steven Moffat.

This is a no-no. Nix the floating head.

This is a no-no. Nix the floating head.

6. No floating heads and annoying little robots. Make Zordon more of a Dumbledore/Yoda/Master Splinter/Professor X character. A mentor and a teacher with a body, not just a floating head in a giant test tube. Show him training the Rangers to use their powers, even fighting along side them at times. Give Alpha 5 the “J.A.R.V.I.S.” treatment like they did in Iron Man. If not AI, than maybe something like an android like Data, not like C3PO.

I think all of these ideas would be a great start to rebooting the series. There are certainly other things that would need some tweaking (Putties, main villains, weapons, finding a  place in the series for Jason David Frank and Johnny Yong Bosch, etc.) but these would be the main areas to start with.

A retcon is long overdue and much needed. I’d like to enjoy watching MMPR again and making some new memories with them, not just reliving the old ones. Let’s make this happen, Haim Saban.

And for your viewing pleasure:

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What Console Gaming Could Learn From The PC

Two years ago, if you had asked me what I thought about PC gaming, I would have told you it’s irrelevant. I would have said something like Why the hell does anyone want to play on a PC when the console is there, with a compatible controller, and I can just stick it in and have fun. Past me had that kind of mentality.

Xbox_360_System

If you’re 20 right now, this probably came out when you were 12. How’s college going?

And, a few short years later, it’s a personal testament to how wrong I can be. Between then and now I built a gaming PC, and it is fabulous. Never before have I known what it’s like to be able to play ANY game. Absolutely any game I want to play. If I wanted to, I could attach four monitors to a computer and play the most insane racing game ever. Or have a 3D monitor. Or a sound system that makes the basement rumble. It’s a completely different world from the console experience. Like watching The Dark Knight in high definition after years of Uwe Boll and Tommy Wiseau films.

Some of the things you can do are truly ridiculous.

And it’s no secret that the console generation is holding back PC gamers as well. It’s not like console games are ugly, but game companies often produce with the minimum abilities of consoles in mind and then try to tack on some extras for the PC crowd.

If you’re into better graphics and way more gaming options, the PC is the way to go, but it’s not for everyone. You do have to build it yourself, unless you buy a pricey pre-build. And even when you build it yourself the the cost of a true gaming system is still substantial. And there’s the matter of how involved you are. A lot of perks you get outside of graphics and loading speeds include game modifications and ancillary products. In short, if you just want to pop the disk in the machine and play the game as is, then the PC probably isn’t for you.

Which is why console developers should start taking their cues from PC gamers.

Wii U aside, the big consoles have been in operation a legendary amount of time. The Xbox 360 has been out since November of 2005. PlayStation 3 almost exactly a year later. That’s 7 years on one platform with several more months before we see something new. The 360 has been out so long that Microsoft redesigned the shell and most of the component parts to accommodate trends like WiFi capability and touch pad controls.

I choose to look at that lifespan the same way I do computers, because that’s what a gaming console really is. Check out these prospective statistics Kotaku has for the upcoming Playstation 4:

  • System Memory: 8GB
  • Video Memory: 2.2 GB
  • CPU: 4x Dual-Core AMD64 “Bulldozer” (so, 8x cores)
  • GPU: AMD R10xx
  • Ports: 4x USB 3.0, 2x Ethernet
  • Drive: Blu-Ray
  • HDD: 160GB
  • Audio Output: HDMI & Optical, 2.0, 5.1 & 7.1 channels

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Hard drive, RAM, GPU–these are the exact same parts you find in a gaming PC, but at lower quality and capability. It should be noted that these are specs for the test kits given to developers so the consumer Playstation 4 could have better, and it’s not terrible. The video card is competitive a 8-core processors are the new standard for high-end computers. The hard drive is garbage but, again, it’s a developer kit. The rest of it is pretty standard, so it’s not altogether terrible.

But it won’t last. The new system could have a shelf life that goes as long as 2021 if it’s anything like its predecessor. Who can seriously expect to have the same computer for 4 years and be able to keep up with the demands of new innovations, much less 8? So why should we have to deal with it in a gaming console when the solution is SOOOOOOO easy and potentially profitable.

I, not wanting to bemoan the creative failures of others without suggesting a solution, have an idea. Why not create modular gaming consoles?

Because you deserve photo-realistic lighting and reasonable Netflix loading.

Because you deserve photo-realistic lighting and reasonable Netflix loading.

I envision a platform not so different from what we have today, but instead of a single package wrapped in a plastic shell, put different ports on the thing that allow consumers to buy their own components like one does with a PC. People could buy their own RAM and their own Hard Disks and their own video cards and just attach them to the console at the desired capabilities. Basically there would be a standard mother board (upon which all of the parts listed by Kotaku would be mounted), and people would choose how hard they want to game.

The platform companies already do this to a degree. Memory cards and hard drives are detachable from the current generation of consoles. And, there are all kinds of accessories for controllers and such.

So Microsoft and Sony could sell games in packaging that details minimum system requirements (like PC games do), and when the standards increase, instead of launching a whole new platform they could just let consumers do the necessary upgrades. Obviously, there are some things consumers couldn’t do on their own, like mount a processor. That’s tedious and easy to mess up. So at some point down the road folks are going to need to replace their system to get a new processor and motherboard, but then they’ll have all the associated parts already, lowering the cost.

This is normally the place where someone would explain that it’s all too complicated and it kill consumer accessibility. And that is correct, to a point. Anyone that doesn’t know the difference between RAM and a hard drive is going to have to catch up. Luckily, most of these things are sold in the home entertainment departments of your various chain retail stores. That means there are already people, trained to sell computers, in the same space as the gaming console ready to answer questions. It’s barely employee training at this point.

This isn’t an attack on the gaming console so much as a critique of the annual launches we have to do every decade. Instead of a big thing where everyone  read the reports about how the Playstation 3 is unprofitable or that no one wants to buy the Wii U, there would be a constant flow of money and a more regular interaction with the consumer.

This is a new era. Game consoles sit at the heart of home entertainment systems. Maybe we’re due for a new paradigm.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day

I’m going to take a brief break from writing about geeky things to reflect for just a moment. If it wasn’t for Dr. King and the civil rights movement, this very website might not exist.

Here’s the full text of the speech:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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Gun Control, Violent Games & The Digital Violence Paradigm

The sims

Death in a box.

When I started this column, I had this idea. I wanted to write about that space where fantasy escapism (i.e. popular entertainment) and social forms meet.  I wanted to talk about why we make the entertainment we do and what that entertainment does to us.

Because I do believe that the process of doing something changes us. And since I’ve taken the Area Of Effect title I’ve done pretty much everything but actually talk about that.

Until this week. This week a president decided to lay down some new rules about how guns are purchased in this country while petitioning Congress to make even more.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook there’s a resurgent question in the air. What causes gun violence and how do we stop it? An associated question: do violent video games kill people?

My first instinct is to say no. I love violent video games. They are the only games I play, and I have yet to kill anyone. But I’m an individual, not a statistic. And individuals are pretty bad at working out patterns in huge numbers of people by eyeballing it.

The Stats

1. The U.S. has the highest rate of fire-arm related murders of any developed country in the world.

2. Americans are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than someone in another developed country.

3. An average of 82 people (8 of them children) die in the United States every day from gun violence.

The Sandy Hook tragedy is a single example of something that’s happening in this country every day. After more than a week of media blackout, the NRA came back with a condemnation of the cultural glorification of gun violence in video games. Guns don’t kill people; video games kill people.

Personally, I thought it was laughable at the time. This is an old argument from the ’90s. And, to me, an obvious opportunity for the NRA to guide the conversation away from gun control. Apparently that’s not the case, as a real conversation about video game violence seems to be in the works.

That’s not to say that I don’t believe video games do anything to us. I think the mass consumption of violence is probably doing a lot of things to us, but I don’t believe it makes us kill each other. And science doesn’t believe it either. Academic studies continue to show that there just isn’t any substantial evidence that video games are a causal mechanism for violence.

Here’s the thing. I actually do think video games and violent media in general do something to us. Just this week I commented on how messed up it is that movies universally recognize domestic violence is bad while at the same time romanticizing boyfriends that kill.  And I think it does a lot to reinforce stereotypes about race, gender, and a on and on until we drown in an ocean of political correctness. But there are some important caveats.

First, cultural artifacts like movies and video games are the product of a culture as well as a means for reinforcement. The stuff we see on the screen doesn’t appear from a vacuum. It is somewhere in the society and somewhere in us. That’s the reason someone makes it and the reason other people pay money to consume it.

Guns are a part of our national persona because violence is a part of our national persona. Ask yourself a question. When’s the last time you watched a movie where the protagonist overcame his challenges without using violence? I can’t speak for you, but of the top 20 grossing films of all time I see only two that didn’t need violent protagonists: Titanic & Toy Story 3. And I’m reluctant to give Toy Story a pass.

My point is violence is the most popular way our heroes solve problems. There is a corollary between the the games we play and gun violence, but it’s more apt to say that the idea of gun violence causes violent video games rather than the reverse. Robert Brockway at Cracked may has one of the best takes on it:

We’ve spent the vast majority of our national history involved in active, bloody wars. We won our independence with gun violence; we stayed a nation with gun violence; we helped stave off worldwide genocide with gun violence. Gun violence has, generally speaking, been working out pretty spiffy for us. The vast bulk of our movies, television shows, and, yes, video games revolve around praising gun violence. And we’re all writing, approving, designing, and buying these things, then turning around and looking at the finished product like we’ve just discovered a rabid animal in our bathroom. Everybody is standing there aghast, wondering which of our media caused all of this violent thinking; nobody’s asking why we made them all in the first place.

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Second, everything I’ve read and come to understand about popular media consumption tells a story of perspective rather than impetus. Pop culture may cause us to feel certain things, and it most certainly impacts our thinking, but it does not build within us a drive to murder children.

Consider Spec Ops: The Line for a moment. We did a whole write-up of it at the end of last year because of how profoundly and completely it highlighted the problems with military shooters. The short version is that combat shooters use something that isn’t real, a fun war experience, to make war seem sexy. While I doubt these games cause players to up and join the military, I do think they shape the way we think about warfare and help us ignore some of it’s nastier consequences. Just the same way I think images about race or gender repeated over and over by popular entertainment shape the way we think about those topics too.

What they don’t do is cause stable, mentally healthy people to kill. Video games aren’t the problem, though they are symptomatic of a problem. People are the problem. In a sense it’s true that guns don’t kill people. People kill people with guns.

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I Wanna See Daniel Day Lewis in That

Already thinking about the 85th annual Academy Awards? Well first, that is just sad; and second, let me sum the coming awards onslaught up in a single word: Lincoln!

Best picture: Lincoln; best director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln; best actor: Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln.

Only two people in history have had more written about them than our 16th president: Jesus Christ and William Shakespeare.  I cannot think of a film that has had more written about it than this year’s Abraham Lincoln biopic. Likewise, Daniel Day-Lewis has seen more press and acclaim for his short body of work than any actor in recent history. He inhabits a role often spending a full year getting into character. Day-Lewis is 55 and has only a handful of starring roles because of his intense approach to preparation.

In honor of Day-Lewis’ coming pile of trophies for Lincoln, I give you five roles I wish he would play:

Image property of RoyOrbison.com

5.  Roy Orbison

I am a huge fan of Orbison’s work. His vocals are unmatched in the pop rock music pantheon. Few people bother to develop the range that he possessed.

Orbison was also a dark, reclusive person, always hidden just below the surface or behind his ever present dark sunglasses. Roy Orbison has yet to receive the biopic treatment; many of his Sun Records cohorts already have. Though Day-Lewis is already two years older than Orbison was when he died in 1988, I think he could pull it off.

4. The Saint/Simon Templar

Please, if you have not already, try to forget Val Kilmer and the 1997 flop of an action romance that was The Saint.

The Saint was a master of disguise and a quick thinking con man who could create an  identity out of thin air. He walked the line between hero, spy, sleuth, and criminal.

There is so much for Day-Lewis to explore in this character! He could make Simon Templar something more than a James Bond or Jack Ryan ripoff.

3. The Shadow/Lamont Cranston

A very flawed Shadow feature film was made in 1994 starring Alec Baldwin. The character of the Shadow reaches all the way back to 1931 and has been said to have helped influence the character background of Batman. The Shadow has the power to cloud men’s minds; he can make them see things that aren’t there, and he can make himself appear invisible.

Think of this as the opportunity to see an understated superhero flick; less explosions and more cerebral warfare. Day-Lewis could do for the superhero genre what Gary Oldman did for the secret agent.

2. Mike Hammer

Mike Hammer was played most notably by Stacy Keach in the TV series of same name. Micky Spillane’s private investigator has seen no shortage of screen time. Hammer is a tough, sarcastic lady killer.

Film noir is in need of a savior, and I can think of none better than Day-Lewis to rescue it…along with any damsels in distress that show up along the way. Adding depth to this forgotten genre is certain to bring about more Oscar gold.

1. Fighting Jack Churchill

Probably the best forgotten hero of WW2 is the eccentric Jack Churchill. The British soldier was known to charge into battle carrying a claymore (Scottish broad sword) and was the only person in that conflict to kill an enemy combatant with a bow and arrows. Churchill, who was no relation to the Prime Minister, often played a song on the bagpipes before charging into battle.

If Day-Lewis were ever to make a WW2 picture, he would need the outsider perspective of a character like Jack Churchill. This could be the one action film that would make sense for such a fine actor.

 

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A Post of Random Holiday Stuff

 

I think we’ve all seen something like this:


It’s generally pretty awesome. (Side note: my wife informed me that these people broadcast the music over unused radio bands. That makes sense.)

Since the holidays are coming (or already here, if you are one of my Jewish readers), I decided to go in search of awesome holiday things. I’m going to warn you that, much like my mind, this list is going to be pretty random, so bear with me.

 

First up, Bing Crosby and David Bowie. I’m so glad the universe conspired to make this happen.

 

Here is a Spock Santa hat. Live long and sleigh ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is pretty. The Piano Guys perform O Come, Emmanuel.

 

This album exists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, to end this mildly strange journey, here is an animated .gif of Lumpy, Chewbacca’s father, from the Star Wars Holiday Special.

I’m sorry you have to see this. Happy Holidays!

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Confessions of a Casual Girl Gamer: Girlfriend Mode

No doubt, you’ve heard all about the hubbub surrounding the “girlfriend mode” comment made by Borderlands 2 Lead Designer John Hemingway.

Mechromancer concept art courtesy of EUROGAMER.net

The controversy stems from the design of a character referred to as the Mechromancer. Scheduled to launch about 60 days after Borderlands 2 is released, the Mechromancer isn’t totally finished, yet. However, she does have one of her three skill tree’s completed: Best Friends Forever.

And that’s where Hemingway got himself in trouble. He called it “the girlfriend skill tree” and later, “girlfriend mode.”

Here’s what Hemingway said to EUROGAMER.net:

“The design team was looking at the concept art and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we’ve ever had. I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters. Can we make a skill tree that actually allows them to understand the game and to play the game? That’s what our attempt with the Best Friends Forever skill tree is.”

Inevitably, the Interwebz rose up in outrage, and Gearbox Software (the company behind Borderlands 2) President Randy Pitchford was quick to deny cries of sexism and the like.

He took to Twitter with a series of declarations to set the story straight.

“The future DLC Mechromancer class has a skill tree that makes it easier for less skilled coop partners (any gender!) to play and be useful.”

Look him up at @DuvalMagic  for the whole string.

So, how do I feel about all this?

First, let me say that I’m not the greatest at FPS. My husband displays a great deal of patience when I deign to play with him. I’m a button-masher by nature and don’t have the patience to set up a shot, sneak around, or even refrain from charging in yelling every gamer’s favorite catchphrase, “LEROY JENKINS!” (Seriously, I do that. My husband is a good man.)

Really, I gotta say that I don’t have a problem with the Best Friends Forever skill tree. And, truthfully, I’m not all that bothered by Hemingway calling it “girlfriend mode.”

From a public relations standpoint, it was rather stupid, granted. But, I know guys like Hemingway; he wasn’t trying to offend women. He was just trying to relate to his audience. He was catering to the guys he thought would be reading the story on EUROGAMER.net in the first place.

That being said, however, the Internet is a very swift judge and jury, and Hemingway’s casual comment has turned into a deeper clash about women and gaming as it relates to sexism on a larger scale. But, that’s a whole other column…

What do you think? Were Hemingway’s comments sexist? Will this hurt Borderlands 2?

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Pond Life Debuts Monday!

Whovians everywhere have even more reason to rejoice! Not only is the beloved Doctor coming back into our lives on Sept. 1, but a new web series, Pond Life, will begin airing on MONDAY (August 27)!

Image courtesy of BBC

Pond Life has five parts and will feature Amelia Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), and the Doctor (Matt Smith).

Pond Life provides us with a lovely opportunity to catch-up with Amy and Rory since we saw them at the end of the last series,” said Chris Chibnal, the series’ writer, on BBC’s Doctor Who blog. “It opens with the Ponds at home and gives us an insight in to just what happens when the Doctor drops in and out of their lives.  Travelling with the Doctor is one of the greatest things you can do, but it’s fun to spend a few moments looking at the chaos he can also bring.”

Slight aside: It’s still weird to me that these two are generally referred to as the “Ponds.” Poor Rory Williams; doomed to death so often without even the dignity of his own name!

Here’s an introduction to Pond Life from Gillan and Darvill:

Pond Life debuts at noon on Monday on the BBC’s Doctor Who blog.

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