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Ellen McLain & John Patrick Lowery (Zenkaikon 2017)

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John Patrick Lowery & Ellen McLain

Ellen (GLaDOS, Portal Series) and John (Sniper, Team Fortress Series) were my very first interview at Zenkaikon 2017. It was my absolute pleasure to be a bumbling nervous fan before them. They strolled in from the elevator and after a moment of asking where they should sit, I smiled and told them how nervous I was to be meeting them.

They both delighted in this fact. John said, ‘Well, let’s make it worse!’ and immediately shook my hand & gave me hugs. John took my hand and looked me in the eye and told me that this was a pivotal moment in my future and began making jokes as if he’d known me for ages.

I had read so many interviews with them that I had nothing to ask! Well, I had a few things. I knew how they met already, how they helped shape video game voice acting as we know it, and that they have also been pushing for video games to be recognized as the art form they truly are. Those were just reiterations of what I already knew about them but they were items that I felt so important that I wanted to hear them out loud and keep that flow of information.

I feel that they are both pivotal to video games as we know it. I loved hearing about the growing understanding and relationship between voice actor and engineer. When we still had a lot of instructional computer programs out there, where you could just spout out lines on paper in pops Voice Acting! and it’s no longer reading lines off a page. You need to understand what the motivation is, what’s happening in the scene, what will be the characters next step, what is their thinking. You need to convey so much to the player. Flat voice acting (I.E. Peter Dinklage in Destiny.. personally I disagree but that isn’t the point) is detrimental to the experience. So many people complained about Destiny that they had the entire script redone with another voice actor. Because it wasn’t contributing to their experience.

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During Interview

To that point, John Patrick Lowery has been a part of my life, my story, for a very long time. Let me explain. John voice acted in a little known game called Betrayal at Krondor. It was in the era of adventure games and the original Kings Quest. My father bought the game for us to play; we loved adventure games and RPGs and the like. Now this was in 1997; I was 16 and loved video games.

Voice acting was not typical in games then. These games made such an impact on me that I started writing my own stories, even to the point where I used Krondor as the last name of one of my many fantasy characters. These were also very special moments that I spent with my father, we both loved video games and the stories they told. I often wonder at how he would react to the changes that have been made in the 15 years he’s been gone. So for a small thing that John did 20 years ago it had a positive influence on me, on my life, and on my relationship with my father. Maybe after I read one of John’s wonderful books, he will read one of my mediocre short stories.

With all that being said, Ellen and John are too precious for this world. I wanted to pick them up and put them in my pocket, however impossible that is. I wanted to listen to every story they had to tell me and I am sure there are so many. I wish I could even convey to you the feeling of sitting there listening them. It was one of the only times I wanted to talk as little as possible and just be present.

They were incredible. I adored them and I pray this isn’t the only time I get the pleasure of speaking with them. The highlight of my convention!

Catlilli Games – When Science meets Board Gaming

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I had the good fortune to meet the driving force behind Catlilli Games at my first game demo at WashingCon last month. I was immediately hooked by Tacto, a programming in the guise of Tic-Tac-Toe that both teaches programming AND is genuinely fun to play. Catlilli Games has successfully bridged the gap between learning AND fun, developing educational games that are exciting to play in addition to teaching STEM.  Since the company was formed they’ve won numerous awards including awards from the Imagination Gaming Awards and three International Serious Play Awards this year. This week I sat down again with Catherine Swanwick to talk about women in games and game development.

What prompted you to get into game design, and why educational games?
I’ve loved board games my whole life.  I used to collect them and my parents would become exasperated when they took up so much room.  When I became a teacher, I started creating them (simple, short ones) whenever I could for the classroom.  One of my colleagues, Jon Nardolilli, did the same thing, and I discovered that not only was he a board game lover, too, but that he had designed his own actual full-length game.  I became inspired and started to design games, also.  We decided to form our own company, Catlilli Games (part of my first name and part of his last name).  We are both STEM teachers, and as a former scientist, I am passionate about educating the public about STEM concepts.  It’s the reason I became a teacher.  My company, Catlilli Games, is extremely mission-driven.  We want to transform STEM education with gaming.

How long have you been gaming?
I’ve collected/played/loved board games my entire life. I only started designing games in Jan. 2015 when Catlilli Games was founded.

Do you feel like the game design industry and tabletop community is positive towards women? Why?
Overall, I have to say that no, I don’t feel the game design industry/tabletop community is welcoming towards women.  I haven’t experienced outright animosity, but I am naturally excluded from gaming groups, and I do feel slightly uncomfortable when I want to attend game nights at stores but they are mostly men.  However, there are pockets of very welcoming communities, such as Labyrinth on Capitol Hill (Washington DC), where I have found men and women present in equal numbers and I have always felt a warm, friendly, accepting vibe toward women.

Whats your favorite game? Least favorite?
My favorite game is so very difficult to choose!  In general, I like cooperative games (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Mole Rats in Space – basically anything by Matt Leacock), although I do have a special place in my heart for Machi Koro.  My absolute LEAST favorite game is PieFace – I call it my archenemy.  It goes against everything I stand for as a game designer.

Why do you think educational games are beneficial/important?
Games are important for education because they are a natural way of engaging students.  They automatically stimulate their attention, and they let them interact with the material in a hands-on, creative, exciting way.  Even better, they allow students to talk through questions/problems and learn from each other in many ways.  I also believe that gaming experiences will help them retain the material for longer periods of time.

Whats your favorite stage of the design process?
My favorite part of the design process are the very earliest stages, when I or my former partner had the seed of an idea and knew it has the potential to make a great game, so we would sit for hours going through all the permutations to set up an initial prototype.  The excitement is indescribable.

Looking for an entertaining way to help a kid in your life with science? You can purchase Catlilli Games from their website. (And try Tacto – its outstanding!)

Best Bows and Crossbows in Video Games

Over the years a large cross-section of video games have included the trusty bow and arrow as the weapon of choice and the trend appears to be on the rise. The bow is a weapon historians have found in settlements dating back to around 9000 BC. Pop culture loves the bow and arrow and a good slice of the movie industry has taken up the gauntlet with heroes like Hawkeye and Katniss Everdeen wielding them.

Targetcrazy.com has compiled a comprehensive top 50 of the best bows (and crossbows) ever in video games and with their permission we’ve reproduced the top picks here. 

Best Retro Game Bow – Kid Icarus – The Sacred Bow

The favorite bow from older games is the enhanced Sacred Bow wielded by Pit in Kid Icarus. While he starts out wielding a short-range bow, the Sacred Bow lets him fire arrows much faster and farther. Pit has an unlimited supply of arrows and can use fire arrows to deal more damage. By the time Pit returned in Kid Icarus: Uprising, the bow was only one of many weapons he used, but in the original two games, it was his primary weapon of choice.

The Best Crossbow – BioShock

Do crossbows count? They are bows, after all!  Not only is the crossbow in BioShock one of the favorite video game crossbows, but it’s also considered by many players to be the best weapon in BioShock. It deals excellent damage with multiple types of ammunition, it is powerful at both short-range and long-range, and a headshot from the crossbow will kill a Splicer in one hit on any difficulty setting. If that’s not enough, its bolts can often be recovered intact (and you can upgrade it to make this more likely), which means it’s an incredibly powerful weapon with a ready supply of ammo. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Magical – Bayonetta 2 – Kafka

While some game weapons are magical, some are just plain weird. Bayonetta is here to prove bows can be very strange. The Kafka, a new bow added in Bayonetta 2 (and named in honor of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis) has a dragonfly-like appearance and shoots poison arrows. According to its in-game description the bow comes from a man who morphed into an insect and lives on inside the weapon to fire arrows made of venomous bugs. Indeed, if you perform one of the the Umbran Climax while wielding this bow it fires massive, demonic dragonflies at the enemy. A bow that shoots demonic dragonflies instead of arrows? It doesn’t get much stranger than that!

 

SciFi! – Crysis 3 – Predator Bow

You can’t beat an auto-loading compound bow! The Predator Bow from Crysis 3 is a fan-favorite with three draw weights you can switch between and four different types of arrows to fire: carbon-impact, electro/shock, airburst fragmentation, and super-thermite. In single player it has its own weapon slot and it is also the only weapon you can fire while cloaked without using energy. In short, the Predator Bow is one of the best bows in video games–science fiction or otherwise.

Better Than Real? Best VR – QuiVR

QuiVr is a multiplayer wave shooter designed specifically to be a fun, accurate archery game. Your trusty bow will let you take down wave after wave of enemies with physics designed to feel like actual archery. QuiVr isn’t the fullest gameplay experience out there yet but if you want to feel like you’re wielding a bow and take down enemies at the same time, this is the VR bow we like the most.

The Top 5 Best Overall Bows in Video Games

Some of these bows are in games where archery is a main focus while others just happen to have a good archery component but either way, these are the top 5 bows in video games and some of the games you most want to seek out if you’re looking for a fun archery experience.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor – Azkâr  – Azkâr is a special bow originally made for Celebrimbor, but Talion can use it in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor when he enters the Wraith world while in Ranged mode. This bow can be upgraded with Runes to gain special bonuses, and Shadow of Mordor is another game where archery is generally enjoyed by fans. You may not use it often, but between its gameplay and its connections to Lord of the Rings lore we feel Azkâr deserves recognition.

Dark Messiah of Might & Magic – Bow of the Dragonhorn – The Bow of the Dragonhorn available in Dark Messiah of Might & Magic is one of the most powerful bows in the game (especially against undead enemies) but that’s not why it has such a high spot on this list. Instead, we picked it out because many players consider Dark Messiah to have some of the most realistic and satisfying archery in video games with realistic aiming and physics.

Mount & Blade: Warband – Khergit Bow – Okay, the best bow is pretty divisive among fans but whether you favorite the Khergit Bow or one of the others, Mount & Blade: Warband is a must for satisfying archery combat. Just the fact that so many different bows can be considered the best depending on your style and preferences points to how strong its archery is. Not only that, but it has fairly realistic physics and aiming. In general, using a bow in Mount & Blade: Warband finds a nice balance point between realism and fun.

Tomb Raider – Compound Bow – As of the Tomb Raider reboot, the bow has become Lara’s standard weapon. There are many different types of bows you can use as well as various special arrows but as long as you don’t mind its slower rate of fire the Compound Bow is one of the best. It deals heavy damage and is a great choice for stealth. Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider don’t have the most realistic archery combat but they do make it fun so give their bows a try.

Age of Chivalry – Longbow Age of Chivalry is a free total conversion mod for Half-Life 2 focused on medieval combat between two fictional orders. (The team eventually made a full game called Chivalry: Medieval Warfare.) Archers in Age of Chivalry can fight with a longbow, a crossbow, or a javelin, and the longbow’s fast pace and long range makes it our pick. Not only is archery a strong focus, but it’s also fairly realistic–Age of Chivalry is another go-to game for players interested in bows that try to feel realistic.

20 of the Best Video Game Bows Ever

 

Cosplayers injured in DragonCon Incident

 

DragonCon 2017 attracted more than 80,000 fans to the pop culture-sci-fi convention in downtown Atlanta. Unfortunately for a couple con-goers it wasn’t all parties and costumes.

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Two women are recovering from head injuries after they were hit by chairs thrown from a tenth floor Marriott hotel balcony Sunday Sept. 3rd around 1:40. The Atlanta police department is investigating, but suspects have not been located. Congoers Kelly McDaniel and Jamie Temple-Thompson Amador both wound up in the hospital after being struck with the falling chairs. McDaniel credits her Loki headdress with saving her from further injury – she was struck in the head and wound up with staples.

Director of Media Relations for DragonCon sent Channel 2 the following statement:

“Two women at Dragon Con were injured at the convention early Sunday morning when two chairs were dropped from an outside balcony on the 10th floor in the Marriott to a landing below. The women were treated and released at separate hospitals.We are grateful that the injuries were not more severe.  And we are proud of the Dragon Con attendees who stepped up quickly, realized the severity of the situation and provided immediate assistance.”

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Kelly McDaniel and Jamie Temple-Thompson Amador

Reaction from the DragonCon community has been supportive of the two cosplayers as well as the convention. Jennifer M., who drove from LA with Amador told AJC.com, “The love and support from the Dragon Con family is heart warming to say the least. We can’t wait to return for an even better experience, and reconnect with our new Atlanta family!” Atlanta resident Tim M. shared with RWOG, “The security and crowd control were on point: authoritative but polite and professional… I was consistently impressed with the way they and the various hotels’ security as well as Dragon Con’s own volunteers remained visible and engaged, but let people have their fun.” Long-time Dragoncon attendee Jessica H. added “I’m actually surprised they’re not even more incidents given the number of people in the way hotel room are configured. All in all, I bet incident rates of this type are extremely low.” “DragonCon security operations do a lot of hard work to keep stuff like this from happening… But every year there is something. I honestly don’t think that this is going to slow down the con. Sh*t happens, people do their best to prevent it, and at the end of the day it’s up to people to self police themselves and their friends.” came from regular Con volunteer Shayna A. And yet another con attendee (who preferred not to be named) mentioned there were incidents regarding “throwing bottles and beer cans off balconies every year but for that many people they do a great job of keeping the crowd safe.”

DC1Birds Eye View of the Con from the Marriott Balconies

Ultimately we’ll be waiting to see what both the Marriott and DragonCon do to increase security for DragonCon 2018 in regards to this occurrence. RWOG is glad to hear both cosplayers are on the mend and we encourage anyone with information regarding this incident to contact the APD at 404-577-8477.

 

Too Many Games 2017

Too many

I sit here relaxing in my house at the end of day three of Too Many Games. My throat is recovering, my feet are aching, and I’m so tired I can barely string coherent thoughts together. However, I want to write about this amazingly wild ride while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Firstly, thank you kindly to Too Many Games for having us back this year. RWOG upped our equipment and our game for this event. We had the amazing pleasure to chat with The Gaming Historian, Mr Creepy Pasta, Keith Apicary, Plus 2 Comedy and more. Fans, friends, developers… I never thought I’d talk this much. Me. ME! I TALKED TOO MUCH! SO MUCH MY VOICE TRIED TO LEAVE ME!

Too Many Games was our first press opportunity last year and I LOVED IT! This year didn’t disappoint. Incredible music all weekend made the perfect soundtrack to an incredible time. Yelling, screaming, clothes thrown (tastefully), epic cosplays, THE BEST PANEL WE’VE EVER BEEN TO, comedy – I nearly peed myself post interview. Every convention I go to, I’m convinced that it can’t be as much as the last and it’s always better.

Additionally, thank you to the AMAZING volunteers. We met some great people who were still smiling come Sunday! Vanri kept pumping so much coffee into me that at one point she was worried she’d have to carry me to the car. I was exhausted! I don’t know how you volunteers kept the energy up but you were inspiring!

Cosplay Pro Wrestling happened in front of our faces! As a once hard core ECW Fan I had a FIT because Deadpool came out as Sandman! He had the ‘CP F’N W’ shirt, the Singapore cane and cracked a soda open with a fan. It was AMAZING and I was LOSING MY MIND. I grabbed Vanri and shook her, trying and convey the importance of what was happening before her eyes. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING?!” It was a moment that threw me into nostalgia and I loved every second of it.

I cannot wait to tell you about all the amazing games we encountered. Board games, video games, mobile games… there were almost… Too Many Games. Don’t you boo me.

Stay turned for more amazing content and I will see you next time! Kthxbye!

Racism in Gaming: Why This Matters

pewdiepie-mental-health_750x400_acf_croppedI have to say I’ve been staring at this article about PewDiePie and his use of the n-word for a few days now, trying to formulate words to express how I feel about the situation.  Then someone in one of the comments sections said something that wasn’t unlike many others, though the lengths at which this person went to not only say it was okay because he apologized – and the apology was enough – but even continued to make him out to be the victim of slander for his previous issues.  Thus, trying to make those truly victimized by the use of this word feel pity for him instead.  

Wait?  What?  Even if we remove Pewds history of behavior from this situation, this one incident speaks loudly to a huge problem in the streaming/gaming industry. With him being one of the biggest faces of that industry, he absolutely should be held accountable.

So, here are my thoughts.  For me, it is not a debate. He absolutely could have apologized better. That better way would have been to not give an excuse as to why that word would be so readily available to his lips. “Other gamers do it” is not an acceptable reason. And I would say that about any streamer.

I talk about this subject very openly when given the chance, but I felt I could not just sit by and say nothing because this should be a dialogue we all are having about how this behavior affects a population of this industry.  I encounter racism in this industry and in regular life through multiple facets.  Streaming has, however, brought forward the most concentrated amount of racism I have ever encountered in my life.  It’s given me a unique glimpse into online harassment and though I knew it was something that I would face, it never makes it normal to just expect it and live with it.

There was no real “interpreting context” with how he said it here. It was quite clear he used the word and he used it to be derogatory.  Whether or not PewDiePie has been targeted before for his intent or misconstrued words in the past, this is not one of those instances. Though he is considered a comedian, it was not even said in a way that could even remotely be considered a joke.  He said it to hurt and that is exactly what that word has been used for for decades.  

Which brings me to another defense from various people on his part.  “Why in 2017 are people getting upset over a word?”  Um, because it is a word that came hand in hand with oppression.  If you are not a POC and continue to question this, that makes you part of the problem.  You do not get to tell a minority group still fighting for equality on so many levels a word does not hold any power.  That is not how it works.  Your view point is moot if you think that because PewDiePie most certainly knew what kind of power that word had when he so easily used it on his stream.  In his apology, he does say he used it because it was “the worst word you can think of” which means he knew the words power and still he found it justifiable “in the heat of the moment” to say.

Uhh no… that is not how that works. And the only way you see that working is if you have the privilege of never being on the receiving end of that action.

We see the trend growing. Powerful people making this kind of behavior OK for the rest. There is a fundamental problem already with these kind of actions towards all minority groups in the streaming and gaming industry and him being one of the biggest faces in it means a chunk of people will not care that he apologized but that he will get away with saying it with little to no recourse and that gives them the feeling of freedom to show their hate.

He is not the only one in the industry who does this, but he has now become one of the biggest faces of the “problem.” PewDiePie’s prior issues with the media and the like have nothing to do with this instance and the impact it does have on streamers who are people of color.  Streamers like me.  

No game play or heated moment makes using racial slurs, sexist terms or a derogatory word ever acceptable and the more people that stand up against this behavior the better.  Though when I see how many are making excuses and defending him, it becomes equally disappointing as it is frustrating. I hope for the sake of so many that it does start to change. Until then, I will speak up every chance I get and so should you.    

So how can you help?  Be an ally!  Make this behavior unacceptable and shameful again.  Speak up in game voice chat, in stream chat.  Never make it seem like it is acceptable by simply being silent. Ban slurs, derogatory terms in your streams and make it a place for all your friends and peers to be comfortable in. It may seem so simple, but the battle is a long fought one and nowhere near won when it comes to those affected by this behavior. Having allies to stand behind us makes us stronger and the community better.  

Why did I cry During the Action Scenes in Wonder Woman?

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caption: Me rn all the time

Two months ago, I had the great pleasure of watching DC’s new feature film, Wonder Woman. It was a hell of a good time, combining the best aspects of Captain America, Thor, and Xena: Warrior Princess.  There has been a lot of buzz about this movie lately: feminists love it, comic book fans love it, even some Marvel fans love it.

My family is on Team Marvel.  We are deeply loyal and have even begun indoctrinating our two-year-old daughter (ask me about her Princess Spiderman birthday party).  But we still shelled out over $30 to see Wonder Woman and boy was it worth it.  The film made me proud, unstoppable, and powerful, but the reaction that will stick with me was a sense of seeing myself on screen for the first time.

You see, I’m a Gamer Girl, and I play a tank.  ‘Tank’ in this context refers to a party-role in cooperative gaming.  In order to form a successful team, a gaming group must consist of a balance of characters with differing abilities.  At minimum, a party will typically contain a healer or support character, a damage-dealer (DPS, short for damage per second), and a tank.  The ‘tank’ is a heavily armored character capable of absorbing a lot of damage.  The tank is often the first one into the fight, aggressively drawing fire from enemies to keep his (it’s almost always a ‘his’) allies safe.

If you play a lot of games, you start to see these roles appear in fiction as well.  It can be a lot of fun to categorize characters from movies or books into roles, especially if a diverse group of characters are on an adventure together.  The thing is, when you do this, you start to notice that women fall into particular roles.  The lone female member of a team is usually the healer.  I call this the ‘why’s the girl always got to play the cleric?’ trope.

This trope plays into the stereotype of women as caring and nurturing, existing only to support the men around them.  It shows up a lot in games.  Very often, female players like me, who actually want to beat up enemy pixels, are forced to chose between a character that suits their personalities and one that matches their gender (I never got into Black Desert Online for this reason).

The girl doesn’t always have to play the cleric, though.  Sometimes she gets to play DPS.  She can be a sexy sorceress like Lulu in Final Fantasy X, or a sexy rogue like Black Widow in The Avengers.  They stay on the outskirts of battle, dealing out heavy damage to opponents, avoiding being hit and looking good doing it.  This type of character can be fun to play, but when I try I always get killed because I rush in to melee a group of enemies without the hit points or armor to stay alive.  Sometimes I manage to take the mobs down with me.  Sometimes.  But deep down, I was always meant to play a tank.

There is a scene in Wonder Woman where Diana and her sidekick, Chris Pine, are in a tavern forming an adventuring party.  Pine’s character is a rogue, and they recruit a bard, and then we learn that their next group member is engaged in a bar fight.  “At least he’s good with his fists,” says Diana as she watches a large man pummel a much smaller man.  “Oh,” say her companions.  “That’s not Charlie.  That’s Charlie,” and indicate the smaller man who at this point has fallen to the ground, unconscious.

In the next scene, we learn that Charlie is an expert marksman.  Oh, I think to myself, he’s DPS. So they have DPS and support, but where’s the tank?  

And that was the moment I realized that I’d never seen myself represented on screen before.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that the party already had a tank from the start: the only woman in the group.  It hadn’t occurred to me because I had never seen it in a movie before.

So, when the warrior princess ignores the warnings of everyone around her and strides in all her glory across the no-man’s-land between WWI trenches, deflecting bullets off of her bracers and shield, I just kept thinking, ‘It’s me.’  Or, at least the me I am when I play video games.  The me I want to be all the time.

Stories tell us who we are and who we can become.  We absorb them and they help us grow.  Generations of moviegoers have been starved for a story of a woman who is brave and strong, who protects the men around her.  That starvation is finally ending.