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Zenkaikon 2018: An Overview

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My mind is still a buzz from our weekend at Zenkaikon, a convention I will never get tired of talking about, that I absolutely adore, and that I look forward to every year.

This is only my second year at Zenkaikon and it did not disappoint.

I want to point out something extremely important: whilst the panels, guests, vendors, anime, games, etc are all of the utmost importance for a convention, there are two things I look forward to the most:

  1. The Staff
  2. Lancaster, PA

Of all the conventions I have been to, the staff here has never been rude to me or anyone else that I’ve seen. I also walk through those doors with an understanding that these people are not getting paid, they are volunteering. They are doing this for the love of it, for the fun, for the Zenkaikon community. They are trying to tame a convention of people. Every different type of person under the sun and, honestly, I think it would be easier to tame a rave of drunk squirrels then to keep a convention under control.

IMG_2845I also don’t mistake urgency for rudeness. I’ve seen them get loud. I’ve seen hurry people. I’ve seen them say ‘no’ more times than I can count. I’ve never seen them get angry. They have to be loud so you can actually hear them over the general convention noise. They have to hurry you along because you are one of over 5,000 people they have to make sure is safe. I love the Zenkaikon staff.

Lancaster, PA, is also AMAZING. Having grown up in the area, I knew Lancaster for two things: the Amish and the farms. I had no idea there was an actual downtown area until we drove into it last year. Now, thanks to an amazing Zenkaikon guide (MrEvilena1), not only was I able to figure out the convention and have so many questions answered, but he also pointed out delicious food. Granted, this year was a bit crazy, but the food never disappoints. It just get’s better and Vanri is so excited to tell you all about it.

On top of all of that,  I got to meet The Triforce Quartet, Sarah Wiedenheft, Jessica Calvello, Quinton Flynn, Jad SaxtonJonathan Maberry, Corgi Cosplay and the always wonderful Cosplay Burlesque. Of course, every year I am terrified of the guests and every year I realize that they are just a bunch of people. They’re mostly just nerds who love talking to people and being at cons. That makes my heart soar.

If you’ve never been to Zenkaikon, I urge you to go. You don’t know what you’re missing!

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Kickstarter Preview: Psi Wars

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It is the 37th century. Competing warlords have harnessed the knowledge of creation, using it to create powerful armies. This knowledge has spread across the galaxy unchecked causing mass-extinctions. Most of humanity has been wiped out. The Galactic Alliance has enlisted your help. Hyper-Card technology allows you to take part in planetary battles and help re-establish order in the galaxy.

In Psi Wars you’ll use advanced technologies to create an army of forces in order to fight for control of your planet. Creatures battle psyonically, physically, and through cyber attacks. To win, a player must use their army to crush their opponent’s forces and reduce their lab to 0.

Developed by Michael Wohl (a self professed old school gamer) and his son, Adeev (who usually wins their games), Psi Wars is a fast playing futuristic themed deck builder for 2-4 players. I chatted with the boys about Psi Wars and the game design process in anticipation of their Kickstarter launch.

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What prompted the development of Psi Wars?

Michael: My son Adeev and I have been playing games for years, including all sorts of card games. Since I have been a gamer for 40 years and an an entrepreneur for 30 (thanks to gaming) – I had a lot of experience to pull from, both as a gamer and a developer. I really felt games that had absolutes, such as games where a 5 always beat a 4) were missing important elements of life. A 5 has a better chance of beating a 4, but not 100%. In life there are no absolutes, which could be reflected in a game. We realized that we could create a multi-dimensional game that had relatively simple rules with tremendous degrees of freedom of decision-making. This would lead to highly creative strategies – a beautiful balance of creativity and reasoning. We went through so many iterations and refinements together. I like Decision-Making research, Game Theory, etc, which is at the heart of Psi Wars.

Adeev: My dad and I like to play a lot of games and watch movies together. We started bending rules of some games and really enjoyed the process. We thought we could expand this idea.

What did you think about the design/playtesting process? What did you like/dislike?

Adeev: It was a really fun and educational experience. I was able to create something from my imagination. I kept thinking of new cards and abilities and would share them with my dad. I created spreadsheets with tons of ideas. It was really fun doing this with my dad, we learned a lot together and I now know what it takes to launch a business.

 I was always a bit impatient about getting the game out there and always excited for new ideas. I even started counting down the days until launch. I even get to go to game conventions for ‘work.’ I mean, how cool is that?

Michael: The design and play testing was a highlight of the entire process. Our goal was a beautifully balanced game. Every time we changed a small rule it would change us and how we played. We’d see if there was a way to ‘game’ the rules, etc. Once it was refined, we sought highly sophisticated players of other strategic card games and their reaction was wonderful – nobody has played anything quite like Psi Wars. It was invigorating to recognize the excitement they found in playing our game. The other piece was working with all of the artists around the world to create an artistic vision that works also as 3D animated lenticular cards. We were lucky to work with some amazing people to produce outstanding art. Everyone flips out over the 3D cards. From the start, we wanted the game to be mesmerizing from an artistic and sensory perspective. I think holding back Psi Wars until it was really ready to launch was hard. We worked on it for over 2.5 years and we are dying for people to play it. We are very curious to see what all of the amazing minds in the world do when they start to construct/personalize their own decks and strategies. We have non-random expansion packs in the works.

What do you hope your audience gets/takes away from the game?

Michael: Really appreciating the card art while kicking some serious butt through mind-bending strategies that make you jump up and down and scream like we do when we play.  A new joy that playing Psi Wars brings through creative strategy and decision-making. Navigating the fog of war with perfectly imperfect information, which helps so much to understand how to thrive in the world.

Adeev: I hope they have as much fun and enjoyment as we do playing Psi Wars.

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Psi Wars is great intro to deck builders for new players and a intensely fast playing game for experienced ones with striking art that really evokes its sci-fi theme. Check it out on Kickstarter May 15th. Keep up with their progress and updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Initial Thoughts on “Hogwarts Mystery”

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It took almost two decades, but I finally received my letter from Hogwarts. And if you download the app for Hogwarts Mystery, you can get yours too!

Hogwarts Mystery is one of two mobile games set in the Harry Potter universe. The other, Wizards Unite, has not yet been released. While the latter appears to be similar to Pokémon Go, the former focuses more on the story and the chance to see yourself as a wizard in whatever House you choose.

After selecting a look for your avatar, you set off for Diagon Alley, as Harry did, make new friends and enemies, practice spells, and brew potions. You get to choose what rewards you earn for completing certain objectives in class. Every avatar has opportunities to level up in three ways: Courage, Empathy, and Knowledge. How you respond to various questions determines how fast you level up in each category, and sometimes an answer will be locked because you don’t have enough Courage/Empathy/Knowledge to say it.

You’ll also discover that your avatar has a mysterious family past: his/her brother got expelled from Hogwarts and disappeared. It looks like this will be the story arc that carries over for all seven years at Hogwarts. Luckily, your avatar finds a best friend in Rowan Khanna, who supports you in your quest for answers and defends you from anyone who tries to mess with you.

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I love her.

Rowan has been my favorite part of Hogwarts Mystery (outside of the wish fulfillment of going to Hogwarts). His/her gender changes depending on what gender you select, but I’ll refer to her as “she” for this review since that’s what I picked. She’s kind, funny, and loyal, and there’s something about her that just reminds me so much of the friends that I have in real life.

Unfortunately, I can’t hang out with my friends in real life while playing Hogwarts Mystery. I’d hoped that there would be some kind of multiplayer feature that allowed my avatar to interact with others. But so far, that doesn’t appear to be an option. Hopefully, it will come with an upgrade somewhere down the line, because I don’t want to imagine going to Hogwarts without my real friends by my side.

Hogwarts Mystery looks great, with fun, colorful graphics that remind me of the old Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets games that I used to play on my GameCube. There are times when my avatar’s facial expressions look awkward, but it’s not a deal breaker.

And speaking of those other video games, Hogwarts Mystery has some nice shout-outs to them as well. Your avatar will eventually learn the Flipendo spell, which never appeared in the books or movies, but was the go-to spell for just about everything in the video games. You’ll also learn how to brew Wiggenweld Potion, which Harry used to heal himself. It makes for a nice blend of the canon established by the books, movies, and video games, with something for every fan to love, regardless of how they were introduced to Harry Potter’s world. (Now, if they could just throw in a reference to A Very Potter Musical, I’ll be set.)

I’m enjoying the story so far. At first, I felt disappointed by the choice in setting because I wanted my avatar to be a random Hufflepuff having adventures during Harry’s years at Hogwarts. Now that I’ve actually started playing the game, I can admit that it was a good idea to place it in the time period between Voldemort’s initial defeat and Harry’s school years. This choice allows for an original story about your avatar and their friends, and we still get to interact with most of the teachers from the books, i.e. Professor Snape and Flitwick. Our avatar’s backstory has only been revealed in bits and pieces so far, but it’s intriguing.

I also like how we get to choose our House, rather than take another quiz. Granted, I never had a preference until Pottermore’s quiz put me in Hufflepuff. And if you like taking quizzes, you’ll find the Sorting Ceremony a little anticlimactic. But then again, doesn’t this tie into one of the themes from the books?  As Professor Dumbledore says in Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

So, the story’s great, the characters are wonderful, and the visuals look good. It’s a Hogwarts fan’s dream!

Except when it isn’t.

With a free-to-play mobile app, there will always be issues with micro transactions. After all, the developers have to make money somehow, and I don’t take issue with that. I do take issue with how the game prevents you from doing very much at any given time before you either wait for your energy bar to refill, or start paying.

Your avatar has an energy bar, and mine currently has a maximum of 25 points. Whenever you take lessons, your character spends energy doing things like studying, talking to Rowan, collecting potions ingredients, etc. And these are all things that you have to do in order to complete the lesson and move forward. More than once, I have run out of energy mid-lesson and needed to put the game on hold until the bar refilled. It’s also not very exciting or fun to tap away at your phone while your character “does” things and nothing’s really happening.

The game becomes more fun when you get to do things that don’t cost energy, like bonding with Rowan over a game of Gobstones and trying to guess the right responses to heighten your friendship. I’ve only just learned how to duel, but that looks promising as well. You need to pick whether to assume an Aggressive, Sneaky, or Defensive stance against your opponent, and then select spells or healing potions to use.

There’s one other major issue that I have with Hogwarts Mystery: the lack of customizable options for your avatar. Although you can adjust the shape of the face, nose, and eyes, all avatars have the same body type. You only get a handful of options for hairstyles and such when you first start the game, and everything else needs to be unlocked by spending gems and coins. This includes glasses. Why do we need to pay money to unlock glasses? Lots of people wear glasses. Harry Freakin’ Potter wears glasses. It’s not going to matter to most people, but it’s one of my pet peeves when a game doesn’t give you that option right from the start.

Given time, I’m hoping that the developers of Hogwarts Mystery will iron out the issues with the gameplay and find other ways to profit off of micro transactions. The game has a lot of promise with good characters, an interesting story, and shout outs to the Harry Potter franchise in all of its forms. If you’re a diehard fan, you will have fun here. But it requires either a lot of patience or a lot of Galleons to get the most out of the experience.

Why I Came Back to Overwatch

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Vel got Overwatch on Xbox One to play with his friends. I spent one night going through the tutorial and playing different characters against the computer. I enjoyed it, it was fun, but I was too nervous to talk to my teammates. I may have said “Hi” once, but two very important things were swimming through my head:

  1. Every time I’ve talked to a bunch of people I didn’t know over Xbox, it ended badly. Usually in trolling through the entire match, mostly because I am female. I am used to harassment, but that doesn’t mean that I want to put myself in a situation with the potential for harassment when I’m not streaming.
  2. Overwatch is considered one of the most toxic gaming communities. To me, that just screams that the above-mentioned harassment is bound to happen. Plus, I’ve left several games ( League of Legends is one of them ) due to that elitist attitude.

So I finished playing, put my controller down and didn’t pick it up again. At the time, I didn’t really have a problem with this because I didn’t know anyone who had it and played it often. Why bother with it? Plus, there is always Paladins, and that’s free-to-play.

Years went by and I didn’t think about it. I occasionally saw a streamer I follow playing it, but that was about it. That was until I started to make friends with the people who played it. Now it was more than just streamers I followed playing, it was my friends. Of course, I’m going to go into their streams, even if I’m not 100% interested in the game because that is what friends do. We hang out, show love and support and never miss an opportunity to watch them get sniped from across the map.

They looked like they were having SO MUCH FUN. I was even having fun watching them play. They would tell me about what characters they liked and why. I noticed that the outfits are amazing and they’ve added new characters. There is so much to see and many events to be had. I wanted to give it a go, play with friends and see if that makes a difference. Pro Tip: friends typically make any game way better. Big problem: all of my friend’s play PC and I have it on Xbox One. I was going to have to wait.

When I started to talk about it, though, an amazing friend sent me a copy. I call it an early birthday present. I installed it and played with them the very next day. I had so much fun! Much more than I had by myself. I played for nearly 4 hours and then came back later that night and played for another hour or more. Right now I have the itch to play, but I have work and no one is on. That also helps me from getting burned out on a game.

The game is nicknamed Oversalt, so of course there were some salty people. I turned off the general chat. After the match, people were a bit salty but mostly they just said “GG” and moved on. I was more concerned with talking with my friends in group chat and opening my loot boxes.

My take away from this is this: form your own opinion. Don’t avoid a game just because of the community, especially if you can play with friends. I feel the same way about Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th, both are games that I love to play but often have to deal with annoying people, just like Overwatch. I’m glad that I had an opportunity to play a great game with amazing people.

Inuyasha: An Anime Review

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Inuyasha is an anime that ran from 2000 to 2004. That means that it was airing perfectly in time with my tenure in High School. It was also a magical time where Cartoon Network ran anime everyday after school. Inuyasha helped cement my lifelong love of anime.

When highschool student Kagome accidentally falls down the ancient well that sits on her family’s shrine she is transported back in time to a parallel timeline in feudal Japan. Kagome stumbles upon a figure trapped to a tree by an arrow. When she frees him it seems like a terrible mistake. It is the half-demon Inuyasha who was trapped to prevent him from stealing a powerful jewel. Through a series of crazy events Inuyasha and Kagome find themselves bound and on a mission to find shards of the jewel.

This mission will lead them both on a series of dangerous adventures. During which they will encounter other demons and threats. Together they have to fight off the forces of evil. They collect allies as well as shards along the way. However both Kagome and Inuyasha have other problems though. Kagome keeps returning home to try to balance her new mission with her school life. Inuyasha has to face his own demons so that he can protect Kagome long enough to get his hands on the jewel.

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Inuyasha is a slightly older anime but the art is still lovely. I particularly love the different colors used to differentiate between scenes set in feudal and modern Japan. The soundtrack also does a wonderful job of adding to the story. Whether it be humorous or ominous the score is so well written. I love the characters and all the work that has gone into their designs. They are all so layered and complex. The relationship between Kagome and Inuyasha is one of my favorites in anime.

 

One thing about Inuyasha that I am very grateful for is how the lore of ancient Japan is mixed with rest of the story. That is to say that by splitting the settings of the story Inuyasha is able to create a world were demons exist. This was the first way that I learned about some of my dearest myths to this day.

I would most certainly recommend Inuyasha. It’s blend of humor myth and darker themes make it a wonderful anime for anyone to watch but particularly someone new to anime.

Always keep sparkling!

 

Indie Game Spotlight: Fire Tower

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Smoke rises on the horizon. A fire rages somewhere in the heart of the forest. From the height of a fire tower, you command the efforts to defend your tower and take down your opponents. With each turn, the inferno grows. Harness the power of the wind to push the blaze towards the other towers, clear tracts of land to fortify your tower, hinder the plans of your opponents with torrents of water, and unleash an arsenal of fire cards upon your foes.

Fire Tower is a strategic pattern laying and hand management for developed by Brooklyn and Martha’s Vineyard-based designers Samuel Bryant and Gwen Ruelle. The rules are simple to learn and explain, but an ever changing environment mean no two games will ever be the same. Set up takes seconds, and you can achieve a heavier games by trying the team variant. Also, the artwork (Kevin Ruelle) is striking.

Our own Crymson Pleasure had an opportunity to talk to Runaway Parade co-founder Gwen about their work on Fire Tower, currently on Kickstarter.

Tell us about the game.

Fire Tower is a 2-4 player competitive forest fire game where players must fight fire with fire. Most fire games are cooperative with players working together to beat back the flames and contain the chaos, but in Fire Tower your only objectives are to protect your own tower and send the flames towards your opponents.

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The wind is one of the main mechanics in the game, an unrelenting force that continually swells the flames. At the start of each player’s turn they must expand the fire in the current wind direction. Players also have a hand of five action cards that allow them to influence events on the board. Wind cards allow players to harness the destructive force of the gale and direct it at their opponents. Fire cards give the ability to add various patterns of fire to the board, and each variety has its own tactical advantages. Water cards beat back the flames and slow the efforts of determined opponents. Firebreak cards allow players to remove combustible vegetation and create barriers to block the encroaching flames. Every tower comes equipped with a trusty bucket for use in emergency situations. Also beware the Firestorm card, whose destructive power appears once per deck cycle and will dramatically expand the blaze.

To succeed in Fire Tower players must learn to effectively manage the resources in their hands, and use sound spatial planning to deploy them. The game incorporates an intuitive play structure that takes minutes to learn and requires negligible set-up. Each card includes a grid that visually explains the ways it can be used, saving new players from having to constantly refer to the rulebook. Although the core mechanics are easy to grasp, an ever shifting environment forces players to switch up their tactics and experiment with varied strategies, making Fire Tower a difficult game to master and each play through a fresh experience.

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What was your inspiration to create it?

The guiding idea that led to the of the creation of Fire Tower was that we wanted a mechanic that would force players to work against an unstoppable force, something that could be slowed but never contained, a growing sense of urgency, a situation that became more unmanageable over time. We wanted players to not only contend with their opponents but also the personality of the game, something more unpredictable than the other people sitting around the table. We also wanted a theme that felt underutilized in tabletop, and a forest fire game, especially a competitive one, felt like it fit all this criteria. The moment of inspiration for joining the theme and mechanics actually occurred while we were on a walk in the state forest in Massachusetts. Research into forest fires really helped guide the development of the game.

When should we expect to see it? 

After working on the game for almost 3 years we’re happy to announce that we’ll be launching our Kickstarter on April 24th! In the meantime, we’ll be at several conventions. Find us on Facebook to see where we are headed next!

Follow Runaway Parade on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news about Fire Tower. 

Guest Post: The Number of Female Gamers is Rising, Studies Show, so What’s the Problem?

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Gaming research studies for several years have been dealing major blows to the stereotypical view of the typical gamer as a white guy in his mom’s basement. In 2014, a paper by the Internet Advertising Bureau showed that a shocking 52 percent of the total gaming audience is actually women. It indicated a rise from the 49 percent in 2012. By 2017, the most recent research shows that this number had risen to an incredible 65 percent. The 2017 Google Play and Newzoo study revealed that women are now more than half of the gamer population.

The rising number of female gamers should be a positive sign for women in gaming, who have been long marginalized, discriminated against, and openly harassed by fellow male gamers. The million-dollar question now is, is it really? While women are boosting the multibillion-dollar gaming industry, largely by playing various mobile games, the sector is still struggling to accommodate female gamers. Many women gamers, it turns out, largely feel underrepresented in the gaming sector. Let’s consider some of the contributing reasons:

Persistent Stigma
Female gamers may have the numbers on their side, but the general attitudes in the industry largely stigmatize them. Veteran female gamers complain of bias female gamers still have to face. The stigma can be pervasive enough to drive women to pretend to be men when playing. Researchers have noted that a considerable number of female gamers do not disclose their gender because of fear of being alienated by male players. The “gamergate” scandal brought to light the level of misogyny hardcore female gamers have to face. There are also more subtle hints of misogyny indicated in surveys. Another Google Play survey found that male gamers are more likely to spend time playing with others if they know those other players are also male.

Lack of Female Game Developers
While the female percentage in the player sector is on the rise, the same is not true for women game developers, designers, or creators. Women players may be owning it in mobile games or building their own gaming PCs, but according to the International Game Developers Association, only less than 30 percent of developers in the gaming industry are either female or transgender. This affects how women are depicted in games, obviously. The traditional mold of the female characters in games being over-exaggerated sex symbols is still prominent, which discourages female gamers from trying out some of the top ranking titles. It should be noted though that some activist developers are trying to include more diverse and wholesome female characters in games.

Male Toons are Still Prominent
Women are getting into the gaming scene largely thanks to the rise of gaming apps. Women of all ages and from nearly all walks of life can play games while on the move. Some women, like new mothers, report that mobile gaming is a pleasant distraction. Naturally, these female gamers prefer to adopt female avatars and toons for in-game experiences. However, a majority of games still feature male personas rather than female ones. Google found out that the 44 percent of game app icons on Google
Play feature male faces rather than female ones, despite the majority of women consuming these products. A survey found that over 60 percent of female gamers think no more than one-third of mobile games are made for women.

The fact that the number of female gamers is on the rise should be a pleasant and welcoming development for aspiring female gamers and developers everywhere. But as the points above indicate, gender parity is still far from reality in gaming. Hopefully in the future, with more female gamers and developers, these unequal factors may change for the better.

Written By: Tracy Plunkett, Kiwi writer with a love for gadgets, games, and music. I also have an unhealthy obsession with cats.