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Top 10 (Nerdy) Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund

So here we are, deep into February with March right around the corner.  It’s the beginning of tax season and with all that’s fit to buy, I’m going to offer up my top ten choices to spend a tax refund on:

10. Steam Wallet

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First off, Steam is addicting. With a sale for every season and weekly deals the year round, I suggest you dump part (or all) of you refund into your steam wallet. When the Spring sale starts, you won’t be able to cry you don’t have money in your bank account; it’ll be right there on Steam waiting for you to spend.

9. Kickstarter

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Following a close second to the constant games on sale are games yet to come out. Feeling nostalgic for a game you used to play? There’s likely a reboot, or an anniversary edition being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. I’ve got my 20th Anniversary Whiskey Box Edition of Deadlands coming and I can’t wait. New ideas abound there as well. There might be an awesome game you don’t know you’ll love just waiting for you to back it.

8. VR Equipment

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Virtual reality is hot, even Pornhub is into it (so I’m told). The high end phones, and even the PlayStation all have VR tech waiting to gobble up your cash.  There are inexpensive models you can purchase for your phone if you’re not ready for a setup the same price as a full console.

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Another Cosply Competition Show Coming to Syfy

Another Cosply Competition Show Coming to Syfy

Cosplay Melee - Season 1

Cosplay Melee, a new show hosted by Yvette Nicole Brown, is coming to Syfy on March 21st.  I looks to be similar to shows like Face Off, pitting contestants against each other in a competition to create their own designs.  In each episode four top cosplayers will compete to create full costumes as well as original characters.  Other judges include special effects artist Christian Beckman and cosplayer LeeAnna Vamp.  If it follows the format of similar shows we may also see guest judges from similar fields.

This looks to be Syfy’s second venture into the cosplay world, though other shows have touched on its aspects, like Fangasm and Naked Vegas.  The network’s previous attempt, Heroes of Cosplay, had a bumpy two seasons.  The show was criticized for negative portrayal of the community, cosplayers, and even causing problems with contestants who weren’t part of the show when they changed the format of a competition.  While I personally enjoyed the show, I did see some of the issues that others saw in the show, and I’m inclined to believe that’s why it didn’t come back.

Other than Steampunk’d, which isn’t exclusively about cosplay, there isn’t really anything else on TV right now featuring this art form.  What began as just a hobby for super fans to express their love of pop culture, and their skill as crafters, has become a worldwide business.  Some cosplayers not only compete for a living, but model, sell branded cosplay props and costumes, and appear as featured guests at conventions.  With the immense popularity of other similar fandoms, it is surprising that we still have so little abut this on television.

What I hope we don’t see?  The catty, snarky, and backstabbing nature of most of these shows.  It’s a staple of reality competitions, whether it be makeup, tattoo, or cooking, there always seems to be a lot of back room bickering.  It’s hard to tell if it’s manufactured, or just the result of putting a group of dis-likable people in a room together and making them compete.  It’s bound to happen; not everyone gets along, I just hope it doesn’t become part of every promo and ‘next week on’ clip.

I also want to see amateur contestants.  As much as I like seeing the work of Nigri, Han and Doomkitty, I’d love to see the show feature less-known artists, and those just starting out.  Beginning cosplayers look at the work of the big names, and can be intimidated by the level of craftsmanship.  It’s especially disheartening when the work is portrayed in a lightning fast montage between commercial breaks when that kind of work can take a beginner days or weeks.  It’s like being a new writer (like me) and seeing how fast James Patterson can crank out a best seller.

I can’t deny that I’m excited for this show, but I’ll go into it with a bit of hopeful skepticism.  I haven’t been able to get into other programs like it, except for background noise while I’m doing something else.  I want to see a good cosplay competition.  I just don’t want to see a re-skin of Inked or Face Off.  What do you think?

Women in Gaming: Carol Shaw

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As an old-school gamer, it’s always been a part of life that women game, and women develop games.  From the beginning, advertising has included boys and girls playing Nintendo together, men and women at the arcade, and in company photos from some of the greats.  While there’s never been an even split, it never seemed strange to me that girls in my neighborhood liked video games as much as I did.  It was only within the last ten years or so that people have not only raised the question “Is it enough?” but also began to inundate our gaming news with so much negativity about being a woman in this industry.

I’ve interviewed female developers and gamers about this, and while their experiences vary greatly, most agree that the lack of positive coverage of women in gaming is a hindrance to making any substantial change.  When young women start looking at gaming as a possible interest, many will be turned away by the lack of any good examples in the media.  Let’s face it, bad news sells, but it also skews our perspective.  Take a look yourself and you’ll find top searches are a mix of contradictory stories, negative and frightening press, and too few articles about the women who have helped shape this hobby we all love.  So I’m glad to be able to do a little profile on one of the first, Carol Shaw.

Carol Shaw is credited as the first female game designer with two titles for the Atari 2600 in 1978.  Polo, which was never released, and 3D Tic-tac-toe.  She worked for Atari, Activision, and Tandem Computers during her career.  Her game credits are not long, but as far as I and many gamers are concerned, they are pivotal in early game development.  Her lesser known credits include Othello, Video Checkers, Calculator, and Happy Trails.

Her early childhood, she notes, was mostly spent with an interest in her brother’s railroad set rather than the typical girl’s toys of the time.  Her father was an engineer and she excelled in mathematics in school, all of which likely lent themselves to her interest in computer sciences.  In fact, her first introduction to gaming and computers was together in high school with text-based games many of us can remember if we’re old enough.  She attended Berkeley, achieving a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, and eventually finishing a master’s in Computer Sciences.  From there, it was onto Atari, who was the leading video game company at the time.

Before we talk about the game most consider the best of her work, and one of the top games Atari ever had, I want to bring up Super Breakout.  We had a lot of games on the Atari growing up, but there’s only a handful I remember.  One of those is Super Breakout.  It’s a game where you control a flat paddle, similar to what you find in Pong, and use it to bounce a ball around the screen.  At the top of the screen are bricks you are trying to destroy with said ball.  Let it hit the bottom of the screen and you lose a ‘life’, or ball.  I believe you had three balls to use.  Higher levels added a double layered paddle, and sometimes balls were trapped in the bricks, that once released into play, could all be bounced around to destroy more bricks.  As long as you kept at least one ball in play, you were in the game.  To this day, its one of the more challenging and fun games I’ve ever played, and we have Carol to thank for it.

Then there’s River Raid.  We had this on the Atari 5200, which Carol helped port over from her original design.  This game was by far my favorite, and is probably the reason I later fell in love with flight simulators.  River Raid, if you’re never played it, is based around navigating a plane through an obstacle course inside an ever-narrowing channel.  The screen moves forward and you can speed that up, but you can navigate the plane left or right.  You have to dodge, or shoot, balloons, helicopters, and other planes while avoiding contact with the sides of the channel.  It was probably more difficult than any game I’ve played, and I never did beat it.  This game is considered by many to be the best 8-bit game Atari ever put out.

There’s a great, and thorough interview with Carol over on Vintage Computing and Gaming.

Let us know what you think about Carol Shaw’s games in the comments below!

 

Influential Female Characters: Chun-Li

Influential Female Characters: Chun-Li

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Let’s just be honest about this from the jump; Chun-Li is a boss. She is the first female playable character in fighting games. The unofficial First Lady of arcade games. She has a great backstory and an unwavering sense of justice. Also, it is just so fun to play her and kick the actual snot out of people.

Chun-Li is also one of my favorite characters because she is closely tied with my early childhood.

When I was a kid, we went out for pizza a lot. Most of the local pizza places had some arcade style games. The real arcade was too far, so this was where my brother, my cousins and I played these games. One of these restaurants had Street Fighter. My brother and I loved Street Fighter. I always played Chun-Li. I loved how strong she was. I particularly loved how she could kick forever and kick so high. Thankfully, the owners thought it was cute to have me yell; “KICK! KICK! KICK!” as Chun-Li would decimate her opponents in battle. You can get away with causing some shenanigans as a cute little girl in pigtails bent on slaughter till your pizza is ready.

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There weren’t a lot of choices for me as a little girl to play a female character that were not a damsel in distress. Chun-Li was that option. She has always been a capable and highly ranked character in the games. She high kicked her way into my heart and let me know I could get myself out of situations and even be a little sassy about it.

Now that I am older, I can also really appreciate her backstory. Most of the time her origin story is that, as a little girl, she was very interested in martial arts and her father trained her. Her father was a detective who would go missing. She became a detective herself to find him. From there, she goes to all sorts of places and lengths to stop villains. 

chun-li_various_agesChun-Li fights for justice. Sometimes she fights for vengeance. She is a police officer and an overall likable person. She has been voiced and played by some pretty cool actresses, including Ming-Na Wen in the movie of which we do not speak from 1994.

Chun-Li is a fun character. She doesn’t have to be someone’s girlfriend. She is a career women with a backstory that is a part of her but does not define her. She uses her talents to help others. Chun-Li is also a favorite of cosplayers and who could blame them with her cool outfit? Honestly she is just a really great character to play.

Let us know what you think about Chun-Li in the comments below!

Always keep sparkling (and kicking), my friends!

Review: Cursed

Dev/Pub: Jetdogs Studioscursed_1
Medium: PC

I received Cursed and had a hell of a time playing it at first. I was trying to record it for Let’s Plays, but my software wanted NOTHING to do with this game. Finally I was able to stream the game.

What is it?
Cursed is a point-and-click horror type game with a female protagonist. Her fiance has been offered quite a sum of money to rebuild something at a far off estate. It’s odd, but you both want to get married and he takes the job. Off he goes, but it’s been sometime since you’ve heard from him. You do the only sensible thing, you go find him.

What did I think?
Well, that is a complicated answer. I liked and hated this game. It is gorgeously done, the graphics are great. I like the story concept and they added in some great touches. There is a lot to like about the game.

However, it felt disconnected. It lacked fluidity. You were given random puzzles with no inclination of what you were supposed to do. The clues were non-existent. It felt like dumb luck that I figured some things out. There were plenty of instances that it took me longer than it should have to get it, my fault. There were also plenty of times that I was using the hint button over and over because I had no idea what I was supposed to do.

At one point, you need to make a freeze potion to freeze the fountain. Unless I’m the only person who’s never seen an alchemy machine, I was lost. The lack of fluidity made me more frustrated than I would have liked for such a relaxing game. I found myself roaming around trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next. I really wanted to love this game, but I walked away from an anti-climactic ending feeling… meh.

It’s only $5 on Steam so give it a try if you want, but it isn’t one I’d recommend.

Watch Crymson’s stream of Cursed here:
https://www.twitch.tv/realwomenofgaming/v/111729543

Overwatch Just Can’t Catch a Break

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It wasn’t long ago that one person managed to complain hard enough to get Tracer’s pose changed in Overwatch.  Nevermind that the new pose isn’t really that much different from the original, or that the original is just like many of the other character victory poses.  Ignore the male victory poses that have them thrusting themselves forward as if proclaiming their victory with a burst of manhood at the screen.  This one character had to be changed, and Blizzard changed it.  They didn’t change it so much though.  She still shows her backside, looking over her shoulder, flirty look; not much difference at all.

Then comes winter.  Blizzard releases a fun holiday skin for Mei and people get upset.  It’s a fun skin, perfectly matched to the season.  It fits her character theme, and her original costume design.  Again, Blizzard apologizes, for a design choice!  They wanted to create something fun, fun being an entirely subjective word, and the company says sorry.  Of course gamers have a right to voice their complaints, but when’s the last time a painter apologized for a painting, or a writer apologized for a book?  It doesn’t happen all that often does it?  The artists that create our games, however, they always seem to be apologizing.

If only that were the end.  Now comes the Lunar New Year update and people are upset about Mei again.  Now, while the profile view looks odd, and yes it could either be her clothing or a strange bug, people weren’t just complaining about that.  Take off her thick fur parka and voila, she’s still a curvy girl but sans a thick parka.  Blizzard is saying this bug will be fixed, and granted they may not change her all that much.  How can we know, at this point, whether it was a bug, a design choice, or just a mistake?  Is it Blizzard just apologizing again?  We won’t know for sure, because they’ve set a precedent.

It’s not just them though, and no this isn’t going to turn into an ‘entitled gamers’ rant.  If you don’t like a game, something about a game, or the company that makes it, say so.  Don’t buy the game, express your suggestions, and do whatever you think best.  What I have a problem with is every company bending over backwards in an attempt to please everyone.  It creates an environment where if a few of us yell loud enough we can make an artist change their creation however we want.

It’s one thing to apologize about a mistake, a large number of bugs, or delays of release.  The list of apologies for design choices is long however.  Christina Love recently apologized and censored her own game because of complaints about one sex scene.  Just this past year a handful of games were censored because of outrage, localization or fear of outrage as in the case of Uncharted 4.  Watchdogs 2, a game featuring male genitalia, had to be changed to remove one instance of female nudity that was found (not readily on display), and shared to social media.

We’re creating an atmosphere where creativity is chained by fear.  Where art has to run through a checklist of things that are allowed and aren’t, and where artists are always questioning their decisions because someone might be upset.  I’m here to tell you someone will always be upset.  I’ve seen games change things to please one group, only to piss off another, then change something else that pisses off the first group again.  I’m a writer, and I can tell you there’s nothing less creative than having to work off a checklist of things you can and can’t do, things you have to do.  Then there’s the realization that even if you check off all those boxes, and do your best to make sure it doesn’t seem like you’re just checking off boxes, someone will still be pissed.

Don’t get me wrong.  Voice your opinion and give feedback.  Let them know when a game’s broken or that you are upset at a ridiculous delay.  Report bugs and offer suggestions.  Just remember that those hard-working artists that put all those hours into the games we love are people too.  They’re creative, caring, and real people.  When criticism turns into just a mob crapping over a design choice, or getting offended by a joke, we’ll wind up with games created by automatons rather than artists.  I don’t think any of us want that.

Artists, stop apologizing so much.  If you have to change your art to please some people, then you inevitably lose others.  If some people don’t want your work because of what it involves, guess what…that’s normal.  Not every person in the world is going to read my book, like someone’s painting, or play your game.  Make the stories you want to tell.  Create the art you want to share.  Never apologize for creating what’s in your heart.  If you make an honest mistake then own up to it, but when you bring something artistic out of your mind, or your heart and soul, that’s not a mistake, a bug, or an error.

Games to Get Excited About – February 2017

Games to Get Excited About – February 2017

Now that February is upon us, it is time for another installment of Games to Get Excited About. We’re looking at another upcoming game that may not be on your radar and running down some of the notable releases for February. February is usually a slim release month but with a slate of 1st Quarter Japanese game releases and the Nintendo Switch looming on the horizon, the release calendar in 2017 just isn’t letting up.

The Dark Souls series, along with its predecesor Demon’s Souls and spiritual successor Bloodborne have popularized a design ethos that has begun to inspire other developers to try their own hands at it. An emphasis on difficulty which demands patience and skill to master, winding levels to punish the unwary and reward the observant, and an experience system which turns every step into the unknown into a pull of risk versus reward. This formula has inspired straight copies such as Lords of the Fallen, been adapted into character action such as Team Ninja’s upcoming Nioh, and even found its way into 2d exploration heavy games like Souls series and metroidvania homage Salt & Sanctuary. The next upcoming game to try to put a new perspective on this style of game is our spotlight game of the month.

EITR

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EITR is an upcoming action-RPG from two-person developer Eneme Entertainment. It harkens back to the old school dungeon crawlers like Diablo with its locked isometric perspective and recalls an era of 16-bit graphics while pushing sprite-work that is more detailed and intricate than anything possible from that era. While the aesthetics are pure nostalgia, the game design itself promises to hew close to the Souls formula, with a focus on varied enemy types that challenge players to choose the right play style for each encounter and punishing bosses that demand that their attack patterns be learned and test the players reflexes.

Why We’re Excited

EITR tradeseitr-2 the Gothic fantasy trappings of Dark Souls and the Lovcraftian Victorian fever dream of Bloodborne for a dark adventure drenched in Norse mythology. In EITR players take the role of a Viking shield maiden as she tries to discover the source of a corrupting plague that is marching across the land. She will face undead warriors as well as more monstrous corrupted horrors. The story will be told through interactions with NPCs and the lore that can be pieced together through item descriptions and exploring the nooks and crannies of the game’s world. The game looks simply incredible in motion and we hope that it will manage to hit the tightly tuned sweet spot of difficulty and mastery that makes this style of game such a joy to play.

EITR is taking quite a few pages from the Souls design book, but it is turning a few of them in interesting way. Whereas in the Souls series character stats are king, in EITR a greater emphasis is put on the stats and special abilities of your equipment. This makes the Diablo style random loot more of a draw. Another departure from Souls is the way that experience is handled. In the Souls series and many of its imitators, you lose your Experience Points (souls) if you die, and must try to get back to the place you died in order to reclaim them. If you die again before you claim them, they are gone forever. In EITR, you do not gain Experience Points for killing enemies. Instead, you gain Favor Points for completing milestones in the story. Favor Points give you a bonus to damage and defense and make the game more survivable. The trick is, if you die while holding a Favor Pointeitr-3, it’s gone for good. If you want to keep a bonus from the Favor point, you can spend it to increase a stat of your choice by one point permanently. Do you risk losing the buff and give yourself an edge in the coming fights or do you spend it to give yourself a permanent but less powerful power up? Hopefully the game can live up to the series that inspired it while putting its own mark on the sub-genre.

EITR is currently slated to release on the PC, Mac, and PS4 sometime in 2017. Updates can be followed on Twitter @EitrTheGame or EitrTheGame on Facebook or Tumblr.

Notable February Releases

Nioh – Speaking of games with a Souls influence, this month sees the release of Team Ninja’s return to character action, NiohNioh is a Japanese flavored game that marries the design ethos and progression systems of Dark Souls with the technical depth of games like Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry. The game began development all the way back in 2004 (!) and has undergone multiple restarts and revisions to finally become the game that is releasing this month. I have played the pre-release Alpha, Beta, and last chance demo and I found the game to be incredibly satisfying. I can’t wait to try the full release.

For Honor – The two previous games looked at Vikings and Samurai. The next game, For Honor, pits them against each other in battle and throws in Medieval Knights for good measure. For Honor is a multi-player focused action game that sees players playing in team based skirmishes as these factions fight it out. The game will also feature a single player campaign but early previews make it clear that the meat of this experience is in the online play.

Halo Wars 2 – Halo Wars became a cult classic following its release on the XBox 360 in 2009. It traded the first person perspective of Master Chief for a pulled out Real Time Strategy game. Now the sequel is arriving on XBox One to continue the story of the first game. The game has been developed by Creative Assembly, the developers behind the well loved Total War series.

Horizon: Zero Dawn – Horizon: Zero Dawn is a new game and new IP from Killzone developers Guerrilla Games. The PS4 exclusive is an action RPG set in a world where humanity has regressed to primitive technology after a civilization destroying calamity and huge robotic beasts now roam the land. Players will need to hunt, craft, hack, and sneak to upgrade their abilities and turn the tide in battles against both human opponents and mechanical monstrosities. Sony clearly hopes that Horizon will become a flagship title and has been pushing the game as a technical showcase for the recently release PS4 Pro.