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Author Archives: Trever Bierschbach

Games to Get Excited About: April 2017

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Did we skip a month? Sort of, but not really.  I realized that giving you games to be excited about in the same month as the article doesn’t give you much time to get excited, so the editor Goddesses have let me shake it up a bit and give you a little over a month to let said excitement build.  There’s a few games coming in April, including another Switch title, but the game I’m really excited about is Little Nightmares.

Little Nightmares is a puzzle-based platformer in which a nine year-old girl named Six is trapped in a creepy old house.  The girl is taken to a place called The Maw, which is a twisted resort for the rich and demented.  Given the chance to escape, you must navigate The Maw, looking for a way out, and solving the puzzles in each room with the items you find in each room.

Why We’re Excited

This game looks like Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro got together and produced a cute, twisted interactive movie.  Watching some of the gameplay videos showed a creepy game with some very cool art style and sound.  It looks like you can explore just about anywhere while to look for ways to unlock rooms and find your way out.  It has a great use of lighting and sound to enhance the experience.

I’m also excited because this reminds me of classic games like Myst and The 7th Guest.  While I enjoy games with combat, fighting, and adventure, sometimes it’s fun to sit back and enjoy something different.  I loved that about both the Portal games as well.  Exploring, solving puzzles, and working my way through a game without having to blow things up and kill imaginary people.

Finally, the art style is probably what hooked me the most.  The game looks beautiful, and unique.  These days any company can give you a realistic world with great character models, and some of them look as real as any CGI in a movie.  It’s getting to where the realism of Battlefield or Arma is the rule rather than the exception.  With Little Nightmares, the art isn’t realistic at all.  It’s got a very unique, exaggerated style that looks like that world would probably look to a frightened child.  Everything is overly large, and strangely distorted.  The bad guys are all grotesque and demented looking.  It looks like something right out of a childhood nightmare, and it’s not like anything I’ve played myself when it comes to the graphics.

Little Nightmares comes out in April of this year and will be available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Notable Releases for April

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – A port of Mario Kart 8 for the Nintendo Switch, this version will feature all of the previously released DLC.  This will bring the franchise we are all familiar with to Nintendo’s new platform on the 28th of April.

Dragon Quest Heroes II – A continuation of the popular hack and slash, Dynasty Warriors style game comes to PS4 on the 25th.  This series combines the play style of the popular Dynasty Warriors with the characters and monsters from the Dragon Quest franchise.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 – Is an open-world FPS in which you collect intel to find missions and complete your objectives.  From CI games we’ll see this on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on the 4th.

Persona 5 – Officially the 6th installment of this popular RPG, Persona 5 comes to PS3 and PS4 on the 4th of April.  The game is described as a social simulation and RPG, as you take the role of the silent protagonist living through a year of high school

Another Cosply Competition Show Coming to Syfy

Another Cosply Competition Show Coming to Syfy

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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!

 

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.

Nintendo Switch is Coming and I’m Actually Excited

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So, we know what it’s going to look like, and how much it’s going to cost.  We know what some of the games will be, and what they’ll look like, and I am actually looking forward to a console for the first time in awhile.  At the time the Wii U came out, we already had a PlayStation and there just wasn’t any games coming out on it that caught my eye.  Now we have the Switch coming, and Breath of the Wild.  Of course I’ve been burned before, buying a system for one game, so I’m doing my best to keep my enthusiasm in reasonable check.

I’m intrigued by the idea of a convertible sort of console, something we can take from a portable to TV-connected unit on the fly.  I’m glad to see that the controllers don’t look like the concept that was leaked early on.  Something as flat as the original concept would be awful.  I have an NES Classic, and I forgot how much those old controllers were hell on the hands.  Especially hands now suffering from Carpal Tunnel.

I’m not huge into portable gaming devices, but that could be because I never really have the money to own a console and a handheld.  I borrowed a PSP to play Final Fantasy II (the only way to get the original now) and I actually liked being able to game while I was doing something else.  I haven’t had a use for one before, but maybe with this system I’ll find a time to use both.  I think a lot of people are like me, only enough money for one system, buy maybe having a use for both.

The pricing looks good for a console of this type of versatility.  I’m a little concerned about extras though.  I’m sure there’s a lot of money to be made on cases, extra cords, controllers and screen protectors.  I haven’t owned a Nintendo system since the Game Cube, but they were always good about including what you need and making the extras just that, extras.  Of course it’s been awhile so I’ll have to see how things turn out as we get closer to release.

There are some concerns.  Paid online features, no Ethernet, and graphics issues.  For the first two I’m not too worried.  I do my online gaming on PC and I don’t expect that to change.  The types of games I tend to play on console aren’t multiplayer anyway.  Graphics concerns about preview footage from a game still in development isn’t much of a worry for me either.  People are doing a lot of comparisons of different previews of Breath of the Wild and showing how older graphics look better than the newer.  It’s not the first time, so it’s hardly any indication of whether the console will be good or not.

So, what do you think?  Are you as excited for this  as I am?  Has it brought back the Nintendo fanboy or fangirl in you?  I’m not positive yet, but it has definitely given me reason to watch closely.

Goodnight, Sweet Princess

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2016 has been a rough year for fandom.  We have lost some of the most iconic actors and artists from some of the best that geekdom cherishes.  Of all of the losses this past year, I think I am the hardest hit by the death of Carrie Fisher.  Of course our grief isn’t nearly as profound as that of her family, especially with the passing of her mother shortly after.  Having lost my own mother this year, I can empathize with what they are going through, and I know that what we feel as fans is nowhere close.  Our grief is real, though, and, while different, it is a sign of just how much Carrie meant to all of us.

Carrie was young when she landed the role that would forever place her among the stars.  In her life, she fought substance abuse and mental illness.  She battled internally and externally to find a healthy balance in her life, and is a real inspiration for people who are suffering from the same struggles.  She was a daughter, and mother, writer, and actress.  Of all the things she’s done, what most of us will recognize her for is her role in the iconic Star Wars saga.  It’s easy to forget the real trials she went through, and focus on the screen image we have of her, but I think for many these go hand in hand.  Neither should be discounted, since each is equally as important for different reasons.

“She was my first hero,” my wife sent me in a text when we got the news.  That is a powerful thing in geekdom.  We tend to choose our heroes a little differently than most people.  We look at fantasy worlds, and the people that inhabit them, and choose characters we would most want to be like.  Carrie, as Princess Leia, was just that for a lot of people of my generation.  She was a hero, for boys, but probably for a lot more girls.  She was a leader, a rebel, and a graceful woman.  She rescued the rescuers, didn’t take any flak from anyone, and gave as good as she got.  When her lover was captured, she put herself in danger to help and when she was captured herself, she took matters into her own hands and got herself free.  Eventually she would become a symbol of hope for the future Jedi, and finally a General.

In her most iconic role, and in her life, Carrie is a symbol of strength.  When the world – or the Empire – beat her down, she got back up and kept on fighting.  When drugs -or a giant space slug – enslaved her, she took that chain in her hands and strangled them.  She had a rough life, but I’m thankful that the last images we do have of our Princess, and our General, is again one of beauty and grace.  She will continue to be an example to people who struggle.  Her writing and her work will live on for generations.  She’ll be missed, but as many popular images are going around, she may be more powerful now than she was in life.

We will miss you, Carrie.  You are our hero.

Wonder Woman Honored then Snubbed by the U.N.

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The United Nations, famous (infamous?) for having Saudi Arabia on the human rights council, recently appointing Wonder Woman as the honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls.  Then, even more recently enough, people threw a fit that it was reversed.  Strangely enough of the people who complained aren’t who you think.  UN staffers, feminists, and non-fans of the character were vocal about their opposition.  Even written in the petition:

Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent warrior woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots –the epitome of a pin-up girl.

What this says about women who do look like Wonder Woman is a bit of a double standard in my opinion.  While every woman is different, there are probably a great many women who look like her and girls who will look like her.  Saying they are abnormal is just as bad as saying any other body type is abnormal.  Saying she’s a ‘white woman’ shows the ignorance of people who cannot tell the difference between the wide range of  European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern people, as much as the ignorance of people who think all Asians are the same.  And what’s wrong with pin-up girls?  It’s a job just like any other, and there are highly talented, and successful burlesque dancers, pin-up models, and dancers and if we are empowering women that means accepting whatever job it is they decide is best for them, right?  Who are we to shame any of these aspects of real women?

If a woman of Greek descent, who saves people all around the world and immigrates to America is too American, then which fictional character would work?  What other fictional female character is as well known, especially with the upcoming DC movie?  How many little girls, and even adults, cosplay as Diana every year?  What message does the UN send to these woman and girls, and even boys, when they say Wonder Woman isn’t womaning well enough to be an example for girls to look up to?

And current iteration?  Did they even google Wonder Woman before writing that?  Take a look.  Wonder Woman art is as varied as the artists who’ve drawn her.  Just in the top few results, we have her in the traditional red, white and blue, decked out in armor, wearing pants, and covered from neck to toe in an armored body suit.  She’s drawn as athletic and slender, or muscular and curvy, large chested or smaller, and everything in between.  The current iteration of this immigrant super heroine is quite diverse really, and it seems to me she shows that women can be whatever they want, and look however they want when they do it.

Thankfully fans are speaking out, with one 14 year old girl starting a petition to reinstate her.  Even Phil Jimenez shared this great tweet with art from Catherine and Sarah Satrun:

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Quite honestly, at the end of the day, if the point is to pick a woman who will fit everyone’s definition of a role-model, you’ll fail.  You’re not going to find a single fictional female, or male character, that everyone will think is a perfect example.  It’s simply not possible.  What I do know is when I see the faces of little girls dressed as Wonder Woman, they look like they’re having the time of their lives.  Do little girls really care what she’s wearing, or do they care that they feel like goddesses when they put on a costume and pretend to be Diana for a few hours?  Should we be focusing on what a woman wears (I’m told that’s really bad), or what she does?  Should our message be that a woman can do whatever she wants, and dress however she likes when she does it, or she can do it as long as she dresses in an acceptable manner?  I may just be one of those silly guys, but it seems like a damn confusing message to me.