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Women in Gaming: Laura Bailey

lb_1950When I started to get back into gaming, it was through Dungeons & Dragons. My friend and DM suggested I watch a stream of a show called Critical Role. He hoped that by watching, I would get a better idea of how to play. To get out of my head, stop worrying about the grid on the map and start being my character. I really enjoyed watching the stream. One of my favorite characters was the Half-Elf Ranger who snarked her way through most of the game. That was my first introduction to Laura Bailey.

Laura is a voice actress by trade and gamer for fun. She was one of the first really successful female gamers I had ever seen. She is what I strive to be when I play. In character and having fun. She is so good at playing in the moment while being filmed. Let me tell you, it is difficult to focus on playing a character while you know you are being filmed.

Laura is as talented as she is funny. As a voice actress she has given her voice to many characters in different mediums. She loves anime, which is where she got her start. Laura voices characters in different cartoons as well. She, of course, also voices video game characters which must be fantastic for a gamer to get to do.

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I have gotten to enjoy watching Laura play other games as well. Mostly she can be watched on Geek and Sundry. As I stated above, every Thursday she and other voice actors play D&D under their DM and fellow voice actor, Matt Mercer. Laura plays Vex’ahlia, who has gone through so much character development on Critical Role. I really enjoy Vex. I love her humor. I love her bear, Trinket. Laura does an amazing character who could have easily been annoying in the start. She gives Vex a lot of personality and emotion. She never holds back while she games and it is amazing to watch.

Laura teamed up last year with fellow Critical Role mates to game for a charity livestream to support MDA. Matt Mercer was the Sheriff, or basically a game master, and led the group through a thoroughly entertaining game of Deadlands. Laura played a gunslinger named Stinky Jules who was basically a Calamity Jane-esque character. She was hysterical and wonderfully inappropriate. The group helped tip Geek and Sundry over its monetary goal. Laura and her husband Travis also played Hearthstone in an episode of Worthy Opponents, which is a great way for newbies to the game to get to learn while being entertained.

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She has also played different games with Wil Wheaton on his Geek and Sundry show, Tabletop. Tabletop is a great show created by Wil to showcase different kinds of tabletop games. It has given me lots of ideas for games to try and also for games for friends in different stages of gaming. Laura also teamed up with Wil to play a character in his homebrew game called, TITANSGRAVE: THE ASHES OF VALKANA.

In Titansgrave, Laura plays a human cyborg named Lemley. Get ready for feels and lots of laughs when you watch this one. Lemley made me realize just how talented Laura really is at RPGs. Lemley is so different from Vex, and Laura gave her just as much love and attention. Titansgrave is also a really great series to watch for new RPGers. Laura and the rest of the cast do a great job of bringing you into the game. You really root for these characters as they try to accomplish their missions, which is a testament to the players.

Laura Bailey is a talented and hard working woman in the gaming industry. She tries to give back to the community. She makes mistakes and, literally, keeps on rolling. Laura really is a great role model for those of us trying to find our gaming style in the world of RPGs. I really admire her for her courage to be so expressive with her characters’ emotions. She also brings so much real joy to her gaming.

Always keep sparkling, my friends!

Influential Female Characters: Princess Zelda

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I know a lot of people who love Princess Zelda. Why wouldn’t they? She’s beauty. She’s grace. She’ll punch you in the face. Well, that is all dependent on which incarnation of Zelda one is playing, that is. She has evolved and changed with every version of The Legend of Zelda that has been released.

Despite her name being in the title of of the games, Princess Zelda is not the main character. The main character is our own pot smashing Link. In every game, we have a different version of Link. Usually he is saving or aiding Zelda. Then why name the games after Zelda? Because there would be no need for Link to be adventuring if not for Zelda.

Yes, she starts off as a damsel in distress, but in many of the newer games, Zelda handles herself fairly well. Also every Princess Zelda is chosen by fate, though often also a member of the ruling family,  to be charged with the Triforce of Wisdom. So, basically, she is a boss with all the wisdom to rule and a chosen one to boot. So yes, her name should be in the title of all the games.

In the first Legend of Zelda game, Zelda is not even seen until after Link defeats the big boss. However, she guides him throughout the game. Zelda usually has some form of psychic powers, including telepathy and sometimes premonitions. She is always very wise and fair in her judgement, which makes her a wonderful ruler. It, however, does not seem to be able to help her evade being captured.

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Zelda’s age and appearance depend largely on the game and Link’s age. Sometimes she is a child, a teenager or a young woman. Usually she has blonde hair – though sometimes brown – with blue eyes, pointed ears and long dresses. There are a few times where she wears boots and pants. Normally she looks very much the picture of a princess. She is always proficient with music.

Her role in the games also varies depending on the game. In earlier games she was normally a damsel for Link to save. There are times when she even wields Link’s blade. In some games, she has her own sword. Other times she has a bow and arrows.

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She is a kind ruler. Zelda tends to be forgiving of those who have wronged her. However, if you hurt someone she cares about, *coughLinkcough*, all bets are off. Her relationship with Link changes from game to game. Sometimes they seem to be together romantically by the end of the game. She does always seem to care about him and his welfare.

I like how feminine she is. I like how she is always strong, but not always in the way of having to physically fight. Zelda does everything within her power to protect her people. At the end of the day, Zelda is a really interesting character. I think it is important for her strength of mind to be something for gamers to look to as a positive trait as well. Sometimes we push away characters like Zelda because they are not always physically strong. That is is a mistake. Zelda has a lot of positive qualities that we can look to and emulate. 

Here is to Princess Zelda, the chosen princess of her people and overall boss!

Always keep sparkling, friends!

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

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!

 

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.

Games to Get Excited About – January 2017

Happy New Year and welcome to the first installment of Games to Get Excited About for 2017! Later in the article we’ll take a look at some of the exciting games coming out in January (including last month’s featured title Gravity Rush 2) but first we’re going to look a little further out for our spotlight title.

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Fallen Legion

Fallen Legion is an upcoming action RPG from developer Mintsphere. At first glance Fallen Legion calls to mind the works of Vanillaware with its rich color palette and hand drawn art style. In practice, however, the game has more in common with the classic Valkyrie Profile series while adding new wrinkles of its own. Fallen Legion puts players in the role of a Princess who has recently assumed the throne of an empire on the verge of collapse.

In each level, the Princess will be joined by three other party members and each character is mapped to a face button. The party will proceed through levels automatically, stopping to enter battle as they encounter enemies. Once in combat, players will queue up attacks for each character to build combos and exploit openings in their enemies’ defenses while managing their actions to block and counter the enemies’ own attacks. Players will also have access to spells and special moves to add variety and strategy to the battles as they make their way through the game’s levels.

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Why We’re Excited

The battles are only half of what makes Fallen Legion interesting. During levels, players will be asked to make decisions that will affect both the story and the play of the current level. The choices will ask players to balance short term buffs with the long term health of their Empire and can affect available characters, faction allegiances, and even the loyalty of their characters. Each decision only gives the players 10 seconds to decide and the results are permanent.

As a fan of the Valkyrie Profile games, I am very excited to see a new iteration on the style of RPG, and I also love games that ask me to make hard choices and live with the consequences. Hopefully this game will strike the balance between exciting, challenging combat and tense strategic decision making. I’m also a huge fan of the art style and I’m always happy to see new games with hand drawn art. Hopefully this game will be worth the wait when it launches later this year.

A note on versions:

Fallen Legion is currently slated for release on the PS4 and PS Vita. Mistsphere has confirmed that the Vita version will not be a simple port but will instead tell a unique story from the perspective of another character fighting for control of the Empire and will feature its own story scenarios and encounters. Both versions are slated for digital release sometime in 2017. Limited Run Games has confirmed that they will be offering a physical version of both the PS4 and PS Vita versions.

Notable January Releases

Normally January is pretty dead in the water as far as releases go, but a number of high profile Japanese games will be coming out this month in the US.

Resident Evil 7 –  Capcom’s venerable survival horror franchise returns this month with Resident Evil 7. For the past few years the franchise has become overloaded with spin-offs, ports, and and inconsistent main-line entries that have leaned more and more on action mechanics instead of horror. Resident Evil 7 aims to return the series to its roots by focusing on more atmospheric dread and claustrophobic environments.

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star – The Fate/ series began over a decade ago as a visual novel and now encompasses over a half-dozen anime series and movies as well as visual novel sequels, prequels, and spin-off stories. It has also been spun into a number of RPGs and other games. Fate/Extella is a spin off in the Fate/Extra series and will be the first action game in the meta-series. Extella will allow players to choose from 16 characters including series favorites and new faces in the next iteration of the Holy Grail War. The new game will feature gameplay inspired by the long running Dynasty Warriors series and its many spin offs.

Tales of Berseria – The next installment of the Tales of series comes to America this January. Tales of Berseria switches things up by removing the multiple party members of the previous games to focus on a single heroine in intense action-RPG battles. The Tales of series is well known for its anime inspired visuals and deep game play. Hopefully this next installment will prove worthy of its lineage.

Influential Female Characters: Lara Croft

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Lara Croft. It only seems fitting for me to start off this first blog post of Influential Female video game characters with Lara. I have spoken about how she is one of my favorite characters. I like her for a lot of reasons; she is smart, sexy and she gets to raid tombs. Basically Lara is everything I wanted to be as a kid. She has come a long way and I am excited to explore some of her story with you, my dear readers. So grab your gear and let’s dive in.

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So I have to be honest with you. My first encounter with Lara Croft was the movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider from 2001, so that is where we are going to start. I was in high school watching it with two of my best friends and we loved it. One of them played the games and she was the one who had got us together to watch the movie. We watched that movie a lot. We quoted it a lot. I loved how smart Lara was. I loved her lust for adventure. I loved that she was so unapologetic about being herself.

It didn’t hurt that she got to look for valuable artifacts. I had wanted to be an archaeologist for as long as I could remember when I was growing up but had been beginning to believe I couldn’t be. Up to that point, I hadn’t really seen any kick ass female archaeologists. Lara made me feel like I could go after the later dream if I wanted. Guys like Indiana Jones no longer got to have all the fun. The movie, even with its flaws, fueled my need for a female role model and was my gateway into the Tomb Raider series.

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The first Tomb Raider game debuted in 1996. Its protagonist was, somewhat surprisingly, a female archaeologist. Lara has gone through many different games which has given us many different backstories for her. She has been an heiress who shunned her old life, a woman searching for answers about her parents through the unexplored and a woman who hungers for adventure no matter what the cost. Through all of it there is one theme that is the same; Lara is a survivor.

She loses her parents and survives. Lara makes it through some pretty crazy places in the games and survives.She fights of foes both natural and supernatural. Through every evolution though Lara is, well, Lara. She never loses her drive.She continues to evolve and become more herself. 

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Lara is influential because she is female. She is also a person. She is never not portrayed as a person. She has flaws and is very real for a lot of us. She has dimensions and layers. Lara wears what she wants. She goes after what she wants. She does not strive to be a man. She just lives her life the way she wants.

Lara Croft is smart, she is sassy, she is capable, flawed and female without the last being her only quality. That is why she is the first influential women I will write about. Because she is a women who gave me the courage to be a dreamer and a person despite how people see my gender.