Feb 212014
 

Thief2

 

The new Thief game will be out next week (2/25). How do I feel about that? I’m still not completely sure, but I will admit that against all better judgement I have started to feel hope. Hope that they have not simply made an actionized, pumped-up version of the Thief games, perhaps overly drawing on some of Dishonered’s gameplay. While that worked fantastically for Dishonored, a game I will readily admit to loving, it isn’t exactly what I want for Thief.

Let me explain some of my feelings here. Thief was one of my very first PC games. It was one of the first games that really showed me what a computer could be capable of, compared with what consoles of the time were putting out. It gave me an open-ended world, full of possibilities, with fantastic AI and a dark, brooding atmosphere. And it started what would become a lifelong love of stealth games in general.

So yes, when this was first announced, I was nervous. As time went on and more was released about the game, that feeling only grew. They were replacing the voice actor who played Garrett (arguably one of the finest performances I’ve heard in any game). They inserted a new focus mode, which highlights items in environment (something I will always maintain removes the player from the narrative and reminds me I’m playing a game). Everything I saw and heard made it sound like the gameplay and difficulty was going to be simplified and made into more of a stealth-action type, again almost like what Dishonored was going for. And not a “Taffer” could be heard in any of the trailers.

Thief1

But then came news that there would be numerous options to ramp up the difficulty. This honestly was what I was waiting for. I don’t mind if there is a bit more of an action element possible, as long as there is the ability to ramp up that difficulty and more or less force a stealth approach to each situation. Garrett has always been little more than minimally competent at combat, stealth was the game and it punished you accordingly for breaking that concept, and there should be the option to play the game as such. With the last few trailers on top of the difficulty options, I can happily say I am cautiously optimistic, even excited, to give this new Thief a go. I’m not sure I will ever be able to accept the new voice actor, but if that is the greatest flaw present I will consider it a resounding success.

Check out the launch trailer for Thief here!

 Posted by at 12:15 pm
Feb 182014
 

The Lego Movie

 

Everything is awesome: when you see The Lego Movie.

[DON'T WORRY - NO SPOILERS]

I was surprised when I first heard about the Lego Movie. My initial reaction was: “Wait, how it has taken this long for a movie like this to come out?” Not only has this been a beloved toy for decades, the pure merchandising opportunity alone made me think this is something that would have existed long ago – or at least in 2 or 3 different forms by now.

But here we are, and it is a move doing just as well as anyone probably suspected. Actually better, considering it grossed $69.1 million on its first weekend.

The question then becomes how. On the surface this movie has all the components of a pretty good children’s movie that adults will enjoy too:

1.       For the kids it has funny Legos running around in cool and awesome action sequences

2.       For the adults it has a killer cast and crew of people. Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman…just to name a few.

3.       For the kids it has a great message in believing in yourself to do something great

4.       For adults it has plenty of nostalgia appreciative humor (Old Lego sets, Star Wars references).

5.       For kids it has fun, catchy songs.

6.       …For adults it has fun, catchy songs.

It has a plot that on the surface seems pretty cookie cutter. The hero of this tale is Emmet played by Chris Pratt. He is an ordinary construction worker who lives a pretty average life. Until he meets the girl “Wyldstyle” (Elizabeth Banks), discovers something called the “Piece of Resistance” and finds out that he is in fact – “The Special” – the most interesting, most awesome, coolest guy in the whole universe. He then has to figure out how to use the Piece of Resistance to stop the villain, Lord Business (Will Ferrel) who is trying to destroy their universe.

So on the one hand you have your pretty standard ordinary guy becomes extraordinary to save the world and get the girl. On the other hand you have a tale of believing in the power that you can do something great.

Pair that with a killer soundtrack, cool animation sequences and more nerdy inside jokes that you can count.

Again – all of this has the opportunity to make a pretty good movie. Yet the movie does exactly what Emmet himself set out to do – they somehow made pretty decent extraordinary. I think they successfully pulled this off because of the idea of imagination. If you strip away the plot and the animation and the music, at the core of all this you have exactly what the toy they’re portraying is about: The story of imagination. When you make your story about a core value that everyone can relate to, you have the power to strike a chord in everyone’s hearts. Kids feel inspired to create; adults feel the power of not forgetting their child-like selves, yearning for creativity.

As Willy Wonka said: If you want to view paradise / Simply look around and view it / Anything you want to, do it/ Want to change the world? / There’s nothing / To it

Of course, the nerdy references don’t hurt either. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.

If you’ve already seen the movie, make sure to check out the blooper reel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29DwAc-8_oQ

———————

Feb 142014
 

Mech games is a rather niche section of the gaming landscape that, very sadly, has not been seen in some time, but they appear to be coming back in a very big way. MechWarrior Online was released late last year, and we have Titanfall on the horizon as well. And now we have Hawken, a multiplayer-only first person (mech) shooter for the PC, which will be taking a big step forward tomorrow by releasing their early-access client via Steam today.

bruiser-screenshot-1

While the Hawken beta has been available for some time directly on Adhesive Games website, they officially shut down their launcher last week and have transitioned over to the Steam client. Account holders have been able to download it early and begin play, but things should ramp up a great deal now that it has been released for general Steam users. Obviously moving over to Steam isn’t going to change the game in any significant way beyond maybe your friends list, but it is definitely going to bump up their visibility.

raider-screenshot-1

Even for early access, this game is an absolute blast so far. The action is very fast-paced, and the levels are relatively small, so not much in the way of tactical combat but it makes up for it in sheer chaos and robotic goodness. Different classes of mech, and the ability to customize that mech in your workshop, adds a ton of variety to combat. If you are a fan of the idea of piloting your own mech in a fast-paced team shooter (and who isn’t) you owe it to yourself to give Hawken a try, and being free-to-play, there is almost no risk if it isn’t for you.

Feb 132014
 

If you do not live under a rock, you have heard of cosplay by now. Costume-play: it’s no longer for the very obscure anime fans (that should be the new tagline).  In the past several years, cosplay has moved from into the mainstream and people are making careers and lives out of it.

The level has risen to the point where these amazing costumes look like your favorite video game/comic book/anime/TV characters jumped right out of their medium and are now walking around your streets.

So, should YOU do it? I will tell you my experience as a first time cosplayer and let you decide.

1. It is EXPENSIVE. If you are doing any sort of character with unique armor/special costuming (or anything more than a Lycra bodysuit) those little touches add up. For my first Cosplay, I decided that I would be Lilith from Borderlands (and Joe would be Mordecai). We spent over $800.00 on both of our costumes and definitely could have spent more.

2. It is TIME-CONSUMING. 6 weeks before Stan Lee’s Comikaze I made the decision that we would do it. (I had been toying with the idea for months). We did not have a spare moment (or any space in our living room) from that moment on. It was all cutting/painting/sewing/shaping with whatever show on in the background. Be prepared to put a lot of time in it.

3. It is UNCOMFORTABLE. Your wig will itch, your contacts will burn and something will be digging into you. If you have a very large or heavy costume, it will get hot.

4. Once you get to the convention, you have to be prepared to take twice as long getting from one place to another as you will be stopped for pictures. Along with the rise of cosplay, there has been a rise of cosplay photographers. There are people who go to conventions SPECIFICALLY in order to take photos of all the cosplay. It can be very rewarding as you just spent all this money and time (see points 1&2) on your costume, but it is hard to smile when the 50th person asks for your photo while your contact is burning your eye.

Is it worth it? Yes. The first time you see someone smile when they see your costume and they tell you how many hours they have logged in that game (or time spent reading the comic, etc), you feel a special kinship and camaraderie. It reminds you that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.

        Mystie    Joe

Just be prepared to be poor, stressed and itchy.

Feb 122014
 

694px-Star_Wars_Logo.svg

With the Star Wars franchise changing ownership, and rumors of a massive overhaul of the EU underway, the time has come to reflect on new ways the owners of the Star Wars universe can reach out to its fans-both old and new.

As the setting is in a universe with tens of thousands of planets, a population of trillions, and a clean slate on post-Endor history, Star Wars developers hold the key to a writers wet dream. In the near future, these developers will need to decide what platforms would be best to reach fans and keep the setting both prolific and profitable.

While I would argue that video games, comics, and books make for ideal platforms, the main platform I propose they consider would include the creation of a live-action Star Wars TV series. TV series are great platforms for the creation of canonical storyline and presenting them to the masses in an entertaining and (hopefully) intellectual manner (like with Star Trek series, Star Wars Clone Wars). Technology is finally at a stage to give good, cheap lightsaber scenes (like with that youtube kid jumping around in his garage), and great ship battles (such as with Battlestar Galactica, DS9, and Stargate).

A Star Wars live-action TV series could give fans what its movies cannot–a story much smaller in scope than the move story lines but one that still offers us Star Wars flavor. Like Star Trek, they could produce series in different sections (quadrants, for you trekkies) of the galaxy, with overlapping or separate timelines. Despite the Star Wars universe being a Kardashev III civilization, even a regional or planetary based show could be made to feel important to its audience. The added benefit to this would be expanding on the cast of canonical characters that could then be used in later movies. These small budget series could pave the way to large budget films the the audience will (again, hopefully) know and love the characters, like with Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity.

I certainly hope this argument is something that the powers-that-be come across and consider. I love the Star Wars universe, and I would love for my children to say the same. They need only take the setting and combine it with the best loved of sci-fi our various generations–Firefly’s dialogue, Star Trek’s intellect and diplomacy, Battlestar’s dramatic twists and finales’, and naturally, the lightsaber.

At a cross roads, Star Wars is. Choose wisely, they must.

Feb 112014
 
FTVAnnihilation1

Yesterday, Wizards of the Coast announced From the Vault: Annihilation, an ultra-premium, extremely limited edition print run of Magic: the Gathering cards. FTV: Annihilation includes 15 cards printed with a foiling process unique to FTV products, a spindown D20 with the FTV: Annihilation logo in place of the number 20, and a collector’s guide. Six of the 15 cards have new art commissioned.

The From the Vault printings have become an annual offering, with the last product celebrating 20 years of Magic: the Gathering. That boxed set included Jace the Mind Sculptor, one of the most powerful and sought-after cards in all of Magic. With a set symbol appearing to be destruction of planetary proportions, we can expect to see some of the greatest and most powerful ‘sweepers’ ever printed. Nobody yet knows what the 15 cards are, but what fun would the announcement be without a little speculation?

Wizards included a single piece of teaser art in their press release, and of course they didn’t say what card it was. Magic players are notorious for spinning up rumor mills with their guesses; we were all proven wrong when what players thought was Mother of Runes turned out to be the not-nearly-as-exciting Impulse. So I’ll throw my hat in and say that it’s very likely to be Supreme Verdict, based purely on the similarities between the two arts (which is currently one of the enabling cards of Azorius Control in the Ravnica/Theros constructed environment).

FTVAnnihilation2

That we will see some kind of mass sweeper is basically a given. Wizards themselves stated, “These limited-edition, black-bordered superweapons are legal in many tournament formats. Sweep the battlefield clean with this powerful arsenal and blast the opposition into oblivion.” I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the chase card this time around was ‘Emrakul, the Aeons Torn’. The card includes the keyword Annihilator, which in this case causes your opponent to sacrifice permanents. As if that wasn’t powerful enough, Emrakul also gave its caster an extra turn, regardless of whether or not it is countered.

I don’t know what else we’ll see, but I can tell you that I would love to see any of the following cards reprinted: Liliana of the Veil, Pox, Balance, Decree of Annihilation (And with a name like that, it sounds like virtually a shoo-in!), Pernicious Deed, Smokestack, Jokulhaups, Cataclysm, Armageddon (or Ravages of War, its functional reprint from Portal: Three Kingdoms), Bend or Break, Wildfire, Catastrophe, Damnation, Obliterate, Void, and Worldslayer, .

I would really like to see Maelstrom Pulse and Oblivion Stone reprinted as well, but considering the former was just in Modern Masters while the latter was just in Commander 2013, I don’t think it’s going to happen here. I feel the same way about Nevinyrral’s Disk, but it’s such an iconic card with such a powerful activated ability that I could see a reprint justified on those strengths alone. All Is Dust was just provided as a Grand Prix foil, so I also don’t think it will be reprinted here.

Akroma’s Vengeance will surely not be printed again, as it was just placed in FTV 20. Nothing on the reserved list can be printed either. Wizards tried that with FTV: Relics when they printed Masticore but immediately reversed that policy when they received a public walloping.

And unfortunately, nothing in the file names or meta data from the released images contained any worthwhile information, as far as I could tell.

Wizards’ suggested retail price is $34.99, but odds are you’re never going to actually get one at that price because the secondary market almost always inflates prices to whatever people are willing to pay. FTV: 20 had an MSRP of $39.99 and sold for upwards of $200, almost exclusively on the strength of Jace alone. Even now the FTV Jace, a single card, sells on the secondary market for over $100. Will we see prices similar to FTV 20? Magic’s popularity is growing by leaps and bounds, but the cards themselves will be the biggest indicator of demand. Without knowing what to expect, any speculation is just that: speculation.

From the Vault: Annihilation will be available for sale on August 22, 2014. The original press release can be found on the Mothership here.

For all FTV: Annihilation tweets, wizards suggests using the hashtag #FTVANH. My nerd brain sees: FTV: A New Hope. :/

Feb 072014
 
dontstarve

The Art Of Survival and why I now have a love/hate relationship with Klei Entertainment.

It’s day 3 of your survival. I’ve died two times and now I’m angry playing the game. I’m ANGRY playing a game because I refuse to give up until I find something cool or unlock the story. I have never angry played a game and I’m sitting here playing out of spite, hatred, and pure loathful determination.

This is one of my new favorite games.

I’m talking about Don’t Starve by Klei Entertainment. If you’ve played this game you probably know what I’m talking about.

If you haven’t then you’ll come to find: Don’t Starve is a survival/sandbox/resource building game. Your first character Max is plopped into the middle of the woods with a mysterious man telling you need to survive.

All you know is that you have a stomach meter gauging how hungry you are, a brain meter telling you how sane you are, and a clock showing you how much time you have until night. Then you play.

Through trial, error and perhaps the occasional internet forum check you begin to figure how to play the game and what the goals are.

This is where my love/hate relationship begins.

Oh Klei Entertainment, where do I begin…

I love this world you’ve created where you can start building resources and slowly build your way to making tools which can lead to more advanced tools and gadgets. You can find a portal into a challenge world where you can use your skills to fight and survive against unique and interesting challenges. There you can find a rich and interesting store line.

…a world where if you die you start the whole damn thing over. Whole. Damn. Thing. And that can happen within minutes or hours of playing a game.

I love how much that raises the stakes.

I love your Tim Burton-eske artwork. I love its bleakness and how it fits into this world of monsters and survival…

… a bleakness that is also a constant visual reminder of the fact that no matter how many days I survive there may be no point to this in the end.

I love that you’ve created a wonderful search and discover game. There is no hand holding. There is only trial and error. The goals are simplistic at first enough to get you started then progress to more complex goals to make things interesting. It’s a wonderful formula…

…that is addicting as hell.

I love that you’ve created the perfect game for patient gamers. If you are patient you are rewarded with a bounty of cool new gadgets which you’ve carefully and painstakingly gathered and learned for. You will unlock cool new characters with unique tools, skill sets, and quirks. You will have found a portal filled with unique resources monsters and challenges to keep things fresh…

…but if you are not patient, you will give up on the game all together. Or you will become like me and find yourself angry playing the game, even after dying for the 5th time and going through all the same entry level tasks because-even though you are sick and tired of chopping down trees-you just know there is so much more to see.

There is supposedly a really interesting and poignant ending to see. And you will do all you can to see it, god damn it. Even if it kills you.

And it will kill you.

And Klei Entertainment, you know all this you sick bastards. On your website you even say the game offers Uncompromising Survival: No instructions. No help. No hand holding. Start with nothing and craft, hunt, research, farm and fight to survive.

And if you don’t believe me, just take a look:

Don’t Starve drives me mad like few games ever do
http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/01/14/dont-starve-ps4-review-2

Don’t Starve is a survival sim that gets under your skin.
http://www.polygon.com/2013/6/26/4439118/dont-starve-review-eat-to-live

Don’t Starve is a brutish, complex affair
http://thechronicleherald.ca/artslife/1184380-the-player-don-t-starve-is-a-brutish-complex-affair

Don’t Starve: No hand-holding and no hints
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/dont-starve-ps4-review-no-handholding-and-no-hints-this-is-a-proper-survival-game-9061442.html

But with relentless punishing comes reward. Don’t starve is a game I can pick up at any time. It’s timeless in its simplicity. But in addition to that developers are committed to creating new maps, new challenges and new characters for the game making it an ever-evolving experience. The game is amazing in its complexity and I’m excited to keep playing it.

Either way, it was just reported that this game has passed the one million player mark so they must be doing something right.

My final verdict: Check it out. Love it or hate it it’s worth a play through. Now I have to go. Night is coming and I both have to wait for this game to come out on vita and collect more logs to make a fire.

Feb 072014
 
Hearthstone

Hearthstone has finally moved into open beta, and of course now is the perfect time to jump in and give it a shot. Even though it is still in beta, the game has already taken on the polish that Blizzard has really become known for, while providing what could easily be qualified as a full game experience. For those who don’t know, Hearthstone is a free-to-play, competitive card game, loosely based on the unbelievably popular Warcraft series. You pick your class, each with their own specific set of cards and abilities, build your ideal deck, and battle others online.

Ultimately, this is basically Magic: The Gathering distilled to a more simplistic, easy to play form. Each match-up takes approximately ten minutes, so it is perfect for a quick game or two when you have time. Building your deck can be a much more in-depth experience though for those who desire it, but the big question that will face Hearthstone moving forward is whether it can match the depth that games like Magic hold. So far though, the limits have yet to be found and this could continue to be a huge game on both casual and competitive scenes for years to come, and as such you really owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

Feb 042014
 
GB

When I was an engineering student at the University of Southern California, one of my favorite activities was Girl Scout Badge Day. As a part of the Society of Women Engineers chapter, we would bring young girls to campus and teach them about science through the use of non-Newtonian fluids (cornstarch and water), static electricity (balloons), and rockets (using string and another balloon as a propellant). There was not one girl among them who didn’t jump in with both feet at every station. The volunteers, the parents and especially the girls would end the day covered in cornstarch with tons of clean-up to do, but it was always worth it. For the students, seeing the faces and hearing the laughter of the girl scouts gave us the amazing feeling that we had passed our love of science and engineering on to the next generation.

Despite this program and ones like it, the number of women graduating with science and technology degrees is still significantly lower than the number of men. It begs the question “At what point are those little girls internalizing the messages that we keep sending them, that ‘boys are better at science and math’ and ‘boys won’t like you if you are smarter than them’”?.  At what point are we going to stop sending them those messages?

I recently read She’s Such a Geek and couldn’t believe how much I identified with most of the stories despite the fact that my journey was happening years AFTER theirs. For the majority of women, when faced with a male-dominated field you either embrace your femininity or hide it. I embraced it. Maybe not outwardly, as I wore baggy sweatshirts and kept my long hair in a bun for most of the time while I was at college, but I joined the Society of Women Engineers and the Women’s Student Assembly (SWE’s parent organization at USC) and I kept up *part* of a social life. I liked telling people that I was an engineer because I got satisfaction when they were surprised (but hated it when they questioned it). There were times I thought about how much easier my life would be if I dropped engineering, but it was never something I considered for more than a half-second during those 12-hour homework Saturdays. I was much too stubborn for that.

In a way, I think I was very lucky. I was always pushed by my parents to go into “something stable” and there was never any doubt that I was going to go to college. I never faced any sort of gender discrimination at home, so I was better equipped the few times I faced it out in the “real” world. Sure, I played with Barbies, but I was also taught how to change my own oil, and I was never told I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl. However, I was still very aware of the stereotypes about men being better at science. I couldn’t tell you where I learned it – I just knew. If that knowledge was compounded with less than absolutely supportive parents, I can see why girls wouldn’t be motivated to fight their way through the discrimination and difficulty.

While I was watching the Super Bowl ads, I was pleasantly surprised by GoldieBlox. I was very disappointed in most of the commercials that I watched; if women were represented, it was poorly and none of the messages were ones I would want my (future) daughters receiving. But, in the GoldieBlox ad, the girls were using their “pink aisle” toys to build a rocket. It is reminding us that we need to watch the messages that we are sending to our children- both the girls and the boys. What are we telling the little boys about women if they are only allowed to play with pink dollhouses and baby carriages and play-kitchens? If you are not familiar with GoldieBlox, check out this statement from their website:

“At GoldieBlox, our goal is to get girls building. We’re here to help level the playing field in every sense of the phrase. By tapping into girls’ strong verbal skills, our story + construction set bolsters confidence in spatial skills while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things. In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math…and girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8, GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered “boys’ toys”. By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.We believe there are a million girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. We think GoldieBlox can show them the way”.

As an engineer, I would have loved these toys as a kid and you can bet your ass you know what I will be buying my best friend’s little girl when she enters this world in a month. We need messages, through ALL forms of media, that young girls can do whatever the hell they want to. And GoldieBlox is on the right track.

Check out the commerical here.