Mar 292014
 

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I have played the Elder Scrolls Online beta for a while now during a couple of their weekend beta events leading up to the April 4th release (Or sometime in June for you poor plebs). Overall, I think the game holds a lot of promise, but whether it can deliver on that will very much depend on whether you are looking for an MMO-first approach set in the same universe as the other Elder Scrolls games, or if you are looking for an Elder Scrolls game that you can play with your friends.

If you are willing to buy into the MMO experience, this game should absolutely be on your radar. While the graphics aren’t anything amazing (most MMO’s are not), this game manages to look pretty gorgeous in parts, certainly one of the best looking MMO’s I have played. As a player, you are given much greater freedom to just explore the world, which is something they absolutely needed to nail as exploration is a signature of all Elder Scrolls games. They don’t really do much to revolutionize the genre, but I think they have done enough to refine it and create a game that could gain a pretty massive following.

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However, if you are like me, and are not really a fan of MMO’s and what they offer, this is going to be a much harder sell (Kind-of obvious I know but…). Many people, myself included, still want a core single-player game, that adds a cooperative option, maybe along the lines of what you can do in Borderlands or Torchlight. If that is what you are looking for, this will probably not satisfy that desire. So many other people running around, chatting, doing the same quests I was on, all too often killed the immersion for me. Quests are pretty varied, but still have difficulty getting out of some of the tropes established by the genre, and again are so plentiful that you can go almost nowhere without finding some sort of “kill this many things” quest.

This also led to me very rarely feeling the same sense of accomplishment or discovery that I often would with the single-player games. I didn’t really get invested in many of the quests to allow for that feeling, and it seemed so much harder to just wander off and find some deserted cave or crumbling structure hiding some unknown monster or loot. I’m sure these things exist in the game, but again with all the other players running around, they are much harder to find, and a lot of that thrill is diminished.

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So for MMO fans, this game is definitely something that is shaping up to be something special. For many others though, we are just going to have to wait for the next game in the series to be released, which maybe, if we are lucky, will include some-sort of cooperative option with a few friends. Hint hint Bethesda.

 Posted by at 2:11 pm
Mar 222014
 

Episode two of Cosmos aired last Sunday, and built upon the successes from the first episode and delivered an excellent and very important message. This show is really coming into its own, with Tyson excelling as a replacement to his predecessor, and really tailoring the themes to some of the modern issues that have become major conflicts.

This weeks episode focused mostly on evolution, and the various mechanisms by which it is carried out. Evolution has become an incredibly touchy subject in parts of the world, which seems to be a common theme with new ideas and changes. This issue was just recently highlighted with the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, which really seemed to just further entrench each side.

I believe that Tyson is much more effective than Nye was (and a lot of this is the format) at delivering this message and explaining the simplicities and brilliance of the theory of evolution. His segment on the evolution of the eye is especially interesting, as this has become one of the major bastions for those who believe evolution to be a falsehood, and Tyson quite simply and eloquently breaks down how it is that natural selection could bring about something as complicated as the eye (like many things with evolution, the concept itself is actually quite simple, which is what is so brilliant about it).

It is hard to say whether this will make much of a difference, as it remains to be seen whether the majority of viewers have already been convinced, or even if those who haven’t been will allow themselves to be. The key is the facts are being presented, in a rational and thought-provoking way. Tyson is proving to be a masterful host, breaking down what may seem to be unbelievably complex ideas into their most basic concepts. As he points out at the end of the program, there is no shame in not knowing everything. The real shame is not knowing everything, but pretending that you have all of the answers anyway. I cannot wait to see where the next episode goes, and if you haven’t started watching yet, get to it!

 

You can watch the latest episode of Cosmos here.

 Posted by at 4:04 pm
Mar 172014
 

When you’re an adult and a nerd, sometimes you find your nerdiness leaking out into things adults care about – like house design. So if you have a house, and in some cases maybe an incredible amount of wealth lying around, consider these epic home upgrades:

1. A Lego Basement and Bar. When you need to enjoy a good beer and build some shit!

 

2. An Arcade Basement. Because, obviously.

 

3. A Star Wars Themed theatre, when you’re feeling like chilling with Boba Fett and C-3PO

Modern Media Room by Beverly Hills

Home Media Design & InstallationModern Home Theatre

 

4. Or if the Final Frontier is more your style, try this on for size.

 

5. If you happen to have a cave that came with your home (it really helps regulate the electricity
bill) consider a bat cave.

 

6. If epic lighting is more your style, try this on for size

 

7. If you are super-adult and enjoy wine, but want to keep your nerd cred – try making it Indiana
Jones themed. It’s better than Disneyland.

 

8. If you’re concerned that there are no options about where to sleep yet, maybe a Jedi Starfighter
is your style.

 

9. And if a big problem when gaming is that there isn’t enough TV space, well…

Industrial Media Room by Calgary Home Media Design &

InstallationK&W Audio

 

10. Bonus: If you’re not an eccentric millionaire and these options seem a little out of your price range, just try a circuit board table.

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 Posted by at 8:56 pm
Mar 162014
 
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It’s an exciting story that you follow along with bated breath – a 60s’ mystery-spy-thriller-fiction novel with hints of mind control and someone following you. Oh, and very stylish design.

Throw in some puzzles and you’ve got yourself a game. And that’s just what the 2-man game developer Simogo made (four, in this case as they paired with Daniel Olsén & Jonathan Eng to make a soundtrack for the game)

“A surreal thriller in which the written word is your map

DEVICE 6 plays with the conventions of games and literature, entwines story with geography and blends puzzle and novella, to draw players into an intriguing mystery of technology and neuroscience.”

And surreal it is. The gameplay is very basic. Stripped down to what could best be described as an interactive novel. As you read, you learn that the protagonist – Anna – has been dropped onto a mysterious island with no recollection of how she got there. As the story unfolds she has to wade through a series of clues to discover what forces are at play here, keeping her there.
The game plays in 6 “chapters.” And although written like a short story or novel – Simogo hasn’t taken the design aspect out of play. In line with the 60s’ world and mystery that’s unfolding before Anna, the story moves with the player. You follow lines of text like they’re a road or a bridge to 60’s inspired color blocks containing black and white pictures. The pictures aren’t extensive but they do exist to set the mood and provide the player with added clues.

As you play a chapter, you follow the text, turning your iPad or iPhone along with the story, discovering hidden twists and turns. The game allows you to go back and forth – gathering clues to be able to crack the final puzzle that awaits you at the end of each chapter.

This game definitely drew me in. I’m a big fan of mystery novellas myself and this one had enough intrigue to keep me going. The puzzles were challenging. There wasn’t too much hand-holding as far as how to achieve the answers.

There are a few interactive elements in each chapter (buttons to push, pictures to slide) so you really had to scrutinize each picture, push each button, go back and forth across the text to really dig down and find the answer.

In addition to all this Simogo did a nice job of adding in pictures and text just to add to the story that has nothing to do with the puzzle. I spent a fair amount of time going over these pictures trying to extract clues out of them until I realized I might have been overthinking it.

As far as replayablity goes this game has two things going against it. It’s a puzzle game so once you play through you pretty much know what to do every time after that. And it’s a mystery novella with a big reveal at the end. So this one for most would be a play once and move on. However the storyline is interesting enough I say it’s well worth even just one play through of it. Also It’s storyline does also work in its advantage as I would want to play it again if only to “re-read” the story.

Now if this all this game had – a mystery novella, fun puzzles, a great design – it would be a pretty stellar game on its own. However, Simogo took it even a step further and…don’t worry, no spoilers…I will say the game takes things a wonderful step further with a very playful and interesting way of breaking the 4th wall during the gameplay.

This game is only available via iOS right now, so if you have one of those devices make sure to pick this one up. If you don’t have one of those devices, just tell your friend you need to borrow their iPhone for a couple of hours. IT’S IMPORTANT DUDE.

Check out the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdnjXQL6Muk

Mar 162014
 

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Cosmos has returned to television, this time presented by astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson (taking over from the late Carl Sagan). The show is being produced by Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow. After an extensive marketing campaign, and very high expectations to match the success of the previous program, the first episode has aired, and while not perfect, it is a wonderful continuation of the original Cosmos.

First of all, Neil deGrasse Tyson is every bit the perfect host that Carl Sagan was. He is personable, charming, and has the experience as a scientific educator to really step into the role. Perhaps a bit of Sagan’s ability to convey wonder has been lost, but as this is only the first episode I really expect Tyson to grow into his role as presenter and have some truly fantastic moments. His tribute to Sagan toward the end of the program was touching and inspiring, you can absolutely see how much it means to Tyson that he has been chosen to continue that legacy, and it’s an amazing thing to see.

This first episode focuses on our location in the universe, examining the solar system in light detail as well as it’s place in our galaxy, followed by it’s place in the greater universe. As often as I have heard it, I am still blown away at the scope, and just how small humanity really is, both in time and space. The segment condensing all of history from the big bang to the present into one calendar year, was especially an eye-opener (I’m a sucker for any space scale demonstrations).

There were also a few pointed references to some current-day issues as well. The dire warning of Venus, and the hell it has become from rampant greenhouse effects, should serve as a poignant reminder of the dangers we face from the same effect. A major segment of the show also focused on Giordano Bruno, who was outcast and excommunicated from the church, and finally killed, for speaking of a greater and more expansive universe. This has some modern day parallels, but I honestly could have seen this segment shortened considerably.

Overall, I absolutely consider this first episode of the re-imagined Cosmos as a huge success. They had some large shoes to fill, but I think they have really managed to capture the spirit and tone of the original. A lot of that has to do with Tyson and his ability to give us something new while also having reverence for Sagan’s work. I heartily recommend giving this show a chance, to anyone, regardless of your prior knowledge and experience. It’s been a lot of fun already and looking forward to seeing what they do with the remaining episodes.

You can watch the first episode here.

 Posted by at 1:54 pm
Mar 042014
 

After playing through a fair bit of the Thief Reboot, I find myself with rather mixed-feelings. Is it as good as the first three games? Certainly not. However, I am finding that I definitely enjoying the game itself, mostly when I ignore the name on the cover. As a sequel/reboot to admittedly one of my favorite game series of all time, there are just too many places where it falls flat. As a stand-alone stealth game though, I absolutely do not regret my purchase and would even go so far as to say I’m enjoying myself quite a bit.

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 First of all, one of the things that I mentioned as a worry for me going into this game was the difficulty setting. I love the fact that they give you a ton of options to tweak the difficulty around to suit your play- style, and I think it works pretty well for the most part. The guards are… not brilliant by any measure, and often will pass just in front of you, as long as you are in shadow. I expect some of this since they need to keep it interesting and exciting, but still a bit underwhelming.

The nice thing is this also allows for some of the more enjoyable moments that I have experienced, such as sneaking right up behind a guard and pickpocketing his coin purse before dashing back into the dark alley behind me. Or just managing to pick that lock in the nick of time before the guard swings around and spots me. Thief is full of moments such as this, and there is no shortage of things to snatch.

What I am finding I miss the most though is the freedom to tackle levels in different ways. The context-only actions such as jumping and rope-arrows or opening windows is pretty poor. I found myself getting frustrated several times at this system, especially when it looked like I should be able to make the jump, or I should be able to use a rope arrow to get up to that high-ledge. When it comes down to it, most of the missions are quite limited. Some will have a couple options for how to approach objectives, but most will be pretty straightforward on how to proceed and allow one path. This is really too bad, and I wish they could have kept it a bit more open-ended.

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The story itself is pretty awful as well. I wouldn’t say that the first games had fantastic stories, but they were definitely above-average, especially for the time, and again this game falls flat in comparison. At this point, I find myself more or less ignoring cut-scenes and hurrying forward to just get to the next area to steal more things.

So yes, the game definitely does have faults, and I think a majority of them stem from the failure to live up to some of the creativity allowed in the original games (mostly the first and second). As a stealth game though, I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far. Maybe not quite up to the level as dishonored, but I think it’s close enough that if you are looking for a stealth fix, Thief might be just what you are looking for.

 Posted by at 11:36 am
Mar 012014
 

Y UnmannedI knew very little about Y: The Last Man before I began reading it, other than the fact that it is written by the same author, Brian K. Vaughan, that wrote Ex Machina (and, of course, currently writes Saga). My very limited knowledge did not even include much about the plot itself. But the comic had come highly recommended, and this past Christmas, my lovely wife and our very own talented author Ben purchased the first four trade paperbacks for me as gifts.

I dove in immediately, and a difficulty I have grappled with since I began reading comics last year set in right away: I wanted to read the whole work all at once. Indeed, just the first page of Y was enough to get me hooked, and made me glad that I knew next to nothing about the work, as my ignorance lent even more power to the revelation that “All the men are dead.” Similarly, I was immediately drawn to Yorick’s character (despite the dramatic name), who is simultaneously obviously very intelligent and charming, but impulsive and, perhaps, even reckless in his decisionmaking processes. Although I have not yet begun reading the second paperback, it seems clear that Vaughan intends to continue developing these traits of Yorick’s, as evidenced by some of his more rash actions later in the first paperback, which is aptly titled Unmanned.

Quite a bit takes place throughout Unmanned, making it difficult to cover every aspect of its plot as well as the introduction of the main characters. But Vaughan’s treatment of the time leading up to the sudden onset of the plague is worth mentioning, as it provides a dearth of backstory for our characters in only 29 minutes of comic-time without feeling at all contrived. Even the final five seconds of the countdown – each of which is given its own panel – is riveting, and in no way does the artistic treatment by Pia Guerra (penciller) and Jose Marzan (inker) take away from that. In fact, they reproduce the effect you feel when frantically flipping through pages at a particularly gripping moment, but without actually requiring you to do so. This is a real achievement in my mind, made all the more special to me because of my unfamiliarity with comic books as a medium more generally.

However, it isn’t just the treatment of the plague’s onset in Unmanned that makes me glad I received several paperbacks for Christmas. Although one of the more obvious characteristics of the work is that there are only (mostly) women left in the world, Vaughan stays away from old, tired, stereotypical treatments of a post-male society, repeatedly demonstrating that women are not fragile beings and would be more than capable of caring for themselves after such an apocalyptic event. Indeed, it is Yorick’s mother, a congresswoman, who tricks him by luring him into the panic room so that he will be safe, not the other way around. Even more refreshing is the group of GOP widows, who take up the political mantles of their dead husbands, and are literally up in arms in an attempt to defend their beliefs amidst the chaos. Just in case readers didn’t get the message, though, Vaughan erases any doubt that his intention to write Y‘s female characters realistically was anything but purposeful. Just before Yorick’s mother heads out to deal with the GOP widows, our eponymous last man, who is shocked that these women have so brashly attacked the White House, asks, “When the hell did women get so petty and…and power hungry?” Yorick’s mother replies, cleverly, “Didn’t you vote for Hillary?” A hilarious joke, yes, but it is more than just that; Vaughan isn’t telling us that the plague made women petty and power hungry. He’s telling us that some of them already were.

Regular old intrigue sucked me in as well, though, with the fast-traveling Daughters of Israel chasing down Yorick’s trail. And, naturally, at the end of book one, I was dying to know where Agent 355 would take us next. I’ll leave that much for next time, though! Let us know what you thought of Y‘s first book if you’ve read it. If not, pick up a copy soon!