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Recap Review: The American Girls Premiere

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One lovely summer day, my parents were summoned to the basement for the world premiere of my very first play created on the computer.

This one-woman show invoked the minimalist style, in the sense that almost nothing actually happened. Its protagonist, Felicity Merriman from the American Girl franchise, crossed the stage and recited a brief soliloquy in robotic monotone: “Hello. My name is Felicity.” Then she curtseyed and walked off the stage.

…well, I thought it was a work of genius at the time. And it was the start of many more bizarre plays starring the American Girl characters.

For those unfamiliar with it, the American Girl franchise started out as a doll collection. Each doll was based on a fictional nine-year-old girl living in a specific period in American history. Around the time that the franchise caught my interest, there were six of them: Felicity, living in Colonial Williamsburg just before the Revolutionary War, Josefina, living in New Mexico before it became a U.S. territory, Kirsten, a Swedish immigrant, Addy, a slave who escapes to Philadelphia with her mother, Samantha, an orphan who lives with her wealthy, old-fashioned grandmother in 1904, and Molly, whose father is a doctor overseas during World War II.

The dolls each had six books that described their misadventures with family and friends and showed how important historical events had an impact on their lives. I loved reading them as a kid. I also loved staring longingly at the many, many accessories and clothing that you could purchase for the dolls in the American Girl Catalog, most of which I couldn’t get because they were just too expensive.

And then came an odd but kinda amazing addition to the franchise: The American Girls Premiere.

The American Girls Premiere was a computer game for Windows and Mac, where you could create your own plays using the characters from the American Girl stories. It gave you numerous tools to work with: characters, setting, props, music, sound effects, lighting, and actions.

Unfortunately, it did have one big limit, story-wise: you couldn’t create an epic crossover starring Felicity from 1774 and Molly from 1944, or Josefina from 1824 going on adventures with Addy from 1864. Once you picked one of the girls, you became confined to her time period, her settings, and her supporting cast.

I’m guessing that the company didn’t want girls coming up with plays that were too wacky, but in hindsight, they might as well have let us go wild.

The most memorable part of the game was the horrific, computerized voices that you got to use to make the “actors” say their dialogue. Technically, the game also provided a voice recording option if you had a microphone with your computer. I didn’t, so I could never get that feature to work and had to rely on the voices given to me.

The results? Well, you can watch this masterpiece of a play to get an idea of what they sounded like:

I couldn’t find many videos of people’s American Girls Premiere plays anymore (and I suspect some of them were removed for copyright infringement), but “Meet Robot Felicity” is a perfect representation of how these productions often looked and sounded, and then some. You could indeed make characters soar through the air or burrow underground.

Although the game came with a basic tutorial, I ended up uncovering most of the ins and outs myself. It offered me an opportunity to mess around and see how far I could go when putting together a play. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it also offered a learning opportunity in how to create something with limitations. Need to show the character sleeping in a bed instead of lying on the floor? Levitate him or her so that he or she would appear to be lying on top of the bed. The computer can’t pronounce the lines correctly? Well, time to deliberately misspell the words so it would.

The American Girls Premiere wasn’t perfect, but it offered many, many hours of fun.  It served as a nice introduction to the different elements in creating a play: having the right props, the right lighting, etc.  The silly robot voices added some unintentional humor to the whole experience.  I’m glad it existed and I miss playing it.

Sword Art Online: An Anime Review

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Sword Art Online is an anime series about a multiplayer game based on a manga of the same title. It originally aired in 2012 and is comprised of three seasons.

When the MMORPG that everyone is talking about is finally released gamers cannot wait to get into the game. Sword Art Online is created and released by famous game developer Akihiko Kayaba. Gamers scramble to purchase the game and the nerve gear technology that goes with it. Beta testers spent months in the game before. One such tester, named Kirito is also eager to get back in the game. After befriending a new player and gaming together Kirito finds he cannot log out. All the gamers are transported in game to receive a message from the Game Master. They cannot leave, any attempt to do so will leave them dead in the real world as well as in game due to technology in the nerve gear. The only way out is to beat the game.

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Sword Art Online is a truly beautiful anime to watch. The art really is amazing. With the setting being a game the artists really have a chance to shine as they create the world and graphics of the game. The detailing that goes into the costumes of the character’s avatars is so vital to the story. We see the characters grow and develop as they spend time in the game and their avatars level up. The work done to make everything from towns to pastures to dungeons is really fantastic. The score is also a treat for gamers and anime fans alike.

I really enjoyed Sword Art Online. I love watching characters develop and as leveling up is an integral part of plot viewers get to witness that. As a gamer I really appreciated the work done to show what it is like to be deep in a game. I enjoy the main character and there are many secondary characters who are also really fun to watch. There are also characters that do not thrive being thrown into the pressures of having to beat the game. I appreciate that Sword Art Online did that. We have all met jerks while gaming online so it makes sense that this game would be no different, only now you are stuck with them. You are also stuck with newbie gamers like me. Do you help them or leave them behind to insure your own success? These predicaments are all explored in the show.

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I would recommend Sword Art Online to many different kinds of anime fans. Gamers especially. Fantasy fans will also enjoy it since many of the games selements and settings are fantasy themed. Hopefully if you haven’t watched Sword Art Online yet you will give it a try.

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Review: To The Moon

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You may or may not know this, dear reader, but part of the VanriTheRogue persona is the fact that I don’t have emotions. At least, I don’t have strong ones.

In an effort to see my emotions, a long time viewer decided to take matters into his own hands. Randomly one day, I received a gift on steam. One of my friends and our long time viewer, Plottrig, had sent me a story-heavy indie game called To The Moon. He wanted me to play it on stream, so that I could feel the feels.

What’s it about?
To The Moon follows two scientists who work for a company that grants dying wishes to dying patients, for a price. The game begins with the scientists arriving at the house of their patient. We meet his caretaker and her two brat children. We find out that the patient is in a coma upstairs and his final wish is to go to the moon. The scientists set up their equipment and prepare to enter the patient’s mind. Their plan is to rewire his memories so that he thinks he’s gone to the moon.

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What did I think?
The game doesn’t have much gameplay to it. You walk around a bit, find things that are important to the patient as memory points, and solve small puzzles to jump from memory to memory. It’s in the retro, 8-bit style that I love so much. The detail in the artwork is amazing, I wish I could have explored more.

The story itself is powerful and sucks you right in. I completed the whole game in one sitting because I just couldn’t bring myself to exit out of it. There’s no voice acting, but the soundtrack creates the perfect atmosphere for a story as heartbreaking and heartwarming as To The Moon’s.

The only problem with games like these – not just this one, but all of them – is that there’s no replayability. The story is the same every time. The items and the puzzles are the same every time. If you go through it once, you could go through it a hundred times. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but I do like my choices games and my multiple endings.

Do I recommend it?
Yes. I recommend you go and buy it right now. Play through it and feel the feels that I felt… and showed… on stream. (I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING!) Go and be as scared about the outcome as I was. Go and experience the amazingness that is To The Moon.

Thank you, Plottrig!

Review: The Man in the High Castle

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What would have happened if the Nazis would have bombed the White House before the United States could bombed Japan during World War Two? That is the base question for The Man in the High Castle.

The Man in the High Castle is an Amazon Prime television series based on the book by Philip K Dick. In the year 1962 the United States as we know it no longer exists. The pacific states are under the control of the Japanese Empire. The eastern states are under control of the Nazis. There is a strip of states in between that are called “The Neutral Zone” where no one has control and it is more like the lawless Wild West of old.

There are many players in this show and they all contribute to the direction that the story takes. The Man in the High Castle, is at its heart, a story about stories. Different people reacting to the situations they are put in and how those actions affect those around them. There are also alternate versions of the stories, but we are just beginning to find out about those on the show.

Julia Crain has accepted the Japanese influence in her life. She practices aikido, looks after her mother and lives with her boyfriend. She has a fairly normal life for someone who is considered a second class citizen in her own country. There are other forces at play around her though. There are plots within the Nazi party itself and Hitler’s health is failing. The relationship between the Nazis and the Japanese are on shaky ground with the threat of war. The Resistance has something that they are trying to keep safely hidden. These are films. Films which show a different world. The question is whether these films a solution or are they something that should be destroyed?

The storylines in The Man in the High Castle are amazing. They take us from multiple people in the Pacific States, to the idyllic looking states under control of the Reich to Germany itself. All of the people from different countries and vocations are spun around each other seamlessly. The show keeps you guessing as it is filled with switches and turns. The characters are masterfully written.

The settings are also key to The Man in the High Castle. As the viewer travels from set to set we get an inside look at the lives which we are to be so invested in. Costumes let us know the show takes place in the past but also the status of the characters. Music is also a reminder that the sometimes familiar surroundings of our characters that what we are seeing is not what it seems. Everything in The Man in the High Castle is very delerate.

I would highly recommend The Man in the High Castle. It is a great story about alternative history with a rich cast of characters.

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING.      

 

Review: Narcosis

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We all know how much I love me some horror games. I’m always looking for new games to play, especially from amazing indie developers. I was ecstatic to get a review copy of Narcosis from indie developer, Honor Code, thanks to my fellow Mixer streamer and friend, Rorifett, who put me in contact with David, one of the writers and the marketer for the game.

What’s it about?
A hundred leagues under the sea lies several research facilities. Narcosis follows a nameless man as he attempts to find his way back to the surface after an earthquake destroys these facilities and kills almost everyone else down there. He must find his way to the single escape pod, while avoiding aggressive squids, bloodthirsty fish, and terrifying spider crabs. All the while, the game is being framed and narrated by an interview, possibly on a talk show.

What did I think?
This game is visually stunning. The detail in each chapter was so painstakingly realistic, both visually and atmospherically. Each piece of floating debris made me jump. Each spider crab injected a new nightmare into my brain. Each squid caused a mini panic attack.

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The story was slow building and kept me at the edge of my seat. What happened to the other survivors? Would we ever get out of here? All questions were answered in the end, which is extremely satisfying in a horror game. I don’t want to be left with more questions than I started with. I want to be left wanting more content, not answers. Narcosis accomplished this in bounds.

The most important thing – to me – is that this game actually terrified me. My stress level was so high throughout the entire game that I had to take my anxiety meds. Not only am I terrified of the ocean as it is, but the creatures in the deepest, darkest reaches also fuel the worst nightmares. If I never see a spider crab again, it will be too soon.

Do I recommend it?
Highly. If you like horror games, this game is for you. If you like deep sea exploring, this game is for you. If you want to be afraid to go into the ocean for the rest of your life, this game is for you. (That last one’s a joke, of course, I was already afraid to go into the ocean!)

Narcosis can be found on PC and Xbox One.

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Recap Review: Arkham Asylum

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Here we have yet another game that’s been on my radar for a while, but I never got around to playing until now. And boy, did it live up to the hype!

Full disclaimer: my knowledge of the Batman mythos mostly comes from the Christopher Nolan films. I’ve started watching The Animated Series, and I’ve seen bits and pieces of Tim Burton’s Batman and the 1960’s Adam West show. Oh, and The LEGO Batman Movie and Batman and Robin (unfortunately). That’s about it.

So I knew I wasn’t fully appreciating Arkham Asylum the way that a diehard fan would. But I still really enjoyed playing it and it’s inspired me to finally start watching the beloved animated series.

If you haven’t played it yet, here’s the plot: Batman has captured the Joker and they’re off to Arkham Asylum. Shortly after they arrive, the Joker escapes, kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and Warden Sharp, and then traps Batman and members of the Gotham police force in the asylum. Naturally, you play as the Caped Crusader as he navigates the island to rescue Gordon and figure out the Joker’s real plan behind all of this.

To save the day, you’ll have to use a variety of skills and weapons. Sometimes, it comes down to a regular fistfight with the Joker’s hired thugs. Other times, you’re stuck in a room with armed men patrolling the area, and you need to take them out through stealth. Other times, you’ll enter Detective Mode to follow the trail of the Commissioner or whomever else you’re trying to find as the plot progresses.

Personally, I found Stealth/Predator mode to be the most challenging, but also the most fun. That’s when I really felt like Batman. You’ll often have to take out enemies one by one, because if the others see you, they’ll start shooting, and your health drops fast. Then the Joker will often add to the challenge, i.e. rigging explosives on the gargoyle statues to prevent you from hanging from the ceiling, or telling Harley to kill the Commissioner if she or any of the other thugs see you. It’s not unlike the kind of challenges that Batman would face in the movies, shows, or comics. Only this time, it’s down to you to figure out a way around them. That makes it feel all the more satisfying when you succeed.

Another fun element of the game comes from the Joker’s commentary as you navigate the place; he constantly mocks his henchmen as you take them out. Fans of the animated series will be happy to know that Mark Hamill returned to voice him, while Kevin Conroy and Arleen Sorkin also reprised their roles as Batman and Harley Quinn, respectively. They all do a wonderful job bringing their characters to life, as do all of the other voice actors in this game.

I won’t spoil the rest of the game, but I will say that you meet and fight several other major villains in Arkham Asylum besides the Joker and Harley, and they each contribute to the plot in some way. The Riddler also provides two sidequests for you: one to find the many hidden Riddler trophies throughout the game, and the other involves solving actual riddles by examining the right area. I feel bad that I couldn’t get as excited by some of the character cameos, since I’m such a newbie to the Batman franchise. But diehard fans will love them, and the game’s so well-written that newcomers will likely enjoy them too.

Arkham Asylum was originally released for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows. It is now available as part of a collection with its sequel, Arkham City, on the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. The collection is titled Return to Arkham. I wholeheartedly recommend it if you haven’t played it already.

Review: Portal & Portal 2

Recently, I was asked to stream the Portal games. Of course, they were games I was interested in, but never had the pleasure of playing. Ok, that’s a lie. I was terrified that I would rage harder than I ever have at a game. I have always loved puzzles but there is a level of frustration that comes with them that can send me through the roof and fast.

However, I almost never say no to streaming requests and I almost never say no to Vanri’s streaming requests. Also, I had the honor of interviewing Ellen McClain so I should play her game. Right?

Portal

You awake in a cell with a robot talking to you. Not the oddest start to a video game thatm_img_27895 I’ve played but I’m down, let’s do this. Your character, Chell, is tasked by GLaDOS, to go through a series of tests. At the end of these tests you will be given cake. The tests start out simple enough. Go here, do this, place that here, make it to the exit. Wonderful. Then you receive the portal gun. You shoot it at one location, shoot it at another and create a portal. It’s hard to explain but what you are doing is creating a direct connection between two points, no matter the distance between them.

The whole point is to complete the tests set before you by GLaDOS. It will require finding ways to open the exit, usually by placing a companion cube on a button that will open the door. Usually. You will have to do so by creating portals, unlocking, opening, redirecting and a LOT of jumping. No two puzzles are the same. The rooms are vastly different but with a sense that you’ve been here before, since they all look the same. Each puzzle growing harder, more death rays to avoid, disgusting water not to drop into and making yourself a little motion sick once you figure out how to gain momentum.

These tests continue as GLaDOS taunts you, belittles you and throws everything except the kitchen sink at you (not for lack of trying). I, surprisingly, moved through the game with relative ease. Getting stuck once or twice, frustrated once or twice. Nothing too terrible. You do face some enemies, turrets, and obstacles that will kill you. I did have to restart a few levels a few times.

o2hhbvqI found the game oddly relaxing, fun and challenging. I looked forward to streaming it and not giving up. I came out with a sense of accomplishment and a renewed respect for actors everywhere. Ellen is a WONDERFUL person and GLaDOS was a TERRIBLE, if not hilarious, robot. Only amazing actors will make you love them and hate their characters.

All in all, it is a wonderful game with a great story line and interesting puzzles that will make you think. The twists and secrets throughout the game keep you guessing.

(Pro tip: Listen to the ending credits song.)

This is a MUST PLAY Game!

Portal 2

This time you awake in a cozy looking hotel room. A smaller robot rushes in and disasterportal-21 immediately strikes. I was tickled to hear the voice of Steven Merchant (and JK Simmons much later in the game) as the environment was literally coming down around me.

This sequel is a much bigger game with a much bigger story line. You go through so many twists and turns that it’s hard to keep up. Your gun doesn’t change but you get new things to play with, like paint! I’m also terrified of falling and, my Goddess, did this game love showing me that I could fall to my death OFTEN.

Now… let’s talk about frustration. Every ounce of it that I thought I would feel with the first game, I felt it tenfold in Portal 2. I got frustrated often, found myself having to look up several answers online and even scared people in my chat. Oh yeah, that happened. They ran.

The game is harder by far, longer for sure, and left me with more questions.

It is also ripe with hilarity, insults and opportunities to curse. So many opportunities.

There is a LOT to this game that is hard to talk about without giving away major plot points. It is wonderful in that it isn’t what you expected or thought it would be. The story takes turns and actually plays with your emotions a bit. You leave the game unsure of what just happened and wondering, what’s next? I doubt that question will ever be answered but how my brain plays with the possibilities.

This is a SHOULD PLAY game if you don’t get frustrated easily or don’t mind scaring your neighbors.