RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Games

Influental Women in the Gaming Industry: Yoko Shimomura

Posted on


The gaming industry would not be the same without Yoko Shimomura. She is a talented composer and musician. Yoko has used these talents to bring some of our favorite video games to life.

Yoko was born in Japan in 1967. She started playing the piano at a young age and found that she really enjoyed it. Yoko then graduated from Osaka College of Music in 1988.  After graduating Yoko knew that she had options on how she could share her talents with the rest of the world. She knew that her music had the power to make the world a better place.


She decided to pursue a career in a field where she would become one of the most famous video game composers in the world. Yoko started her journey by working for Capcom. From 1993 to 2002 Yoko worked for Square Enix. From 2003 on Yoko has been working as a freelance composer.

Yoko has given life and beauty to many different video games throughout the years. She has worked on the Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam soundtrack to give it a lighter and more upbeat feel. Gamers can listen to Yoko’s stylings as they restore the land in the Legend of Mana soundtrack. Anther popular RPG is the Kingdom Hearts games which Yoko also lent her talents to. Final Fantasy XY has also benefited from Yoko’s talents as a composer.

Yoko Shimomura has given the world of gamers much beauty. She shows that all kinds of talents are needed to make the gaming industry great. She has taken risks to bring her music to the world and they have, thankfully, paid off. Yoko is an example of how hard work and creativity makes the world a richer place to live. Sometimes your talent can even make multiple worlds richer.

Always keep sparkling.

Review: Diddy Kong Racing

maxresdefault (2)

When I’m not playing video games or writing, I can be found working at the library. Every other month or so, I like to combine my job with my interests by bringing all kinds of video game systems to the library for people to play. When that happens, I’m always amused by the way everyone gravitates towards Mario Kart.

It doesn’t matter which Nintendo systems I put out, whether it’s the brand-new Switch or the Super Nintendo. It doesn’t matter what games I include. Splatoon 2? Super Smash Bros. Melee? Anything from Legend of Zelda? Just Dance? Nah, Mario Kart 64, Double Dash, or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will work just fine, thank you very much.

It makes perfect sense because the Mario Kart series is so much fun to play. It’s a game that you can enjoy whether you’re a hardcore or casual gamer. It’s more fun when you can race against one of your friends or family members, but I love it even when I’m playing by myself.

That said, Mario Kart isn’t my favorite racing game. That honor belongs to Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64. As kids, my brother and I, along with our friends, spent countless hours playing it. In Diddy Kong Racing, you have the option to choose from three different vehicles: car, hovercraft, or airplane. You’re also required to unlock racetracks in multiplayer mode by completing them in the single player adventure mode. But that’s less of an issue now, if you buy a used copy from your local retro game store with a preexisting save file.

Unlike Mario, Diddy Kong Racing has a story, albeit a very loose one. Diddy’s friend, Timber the Tiger, gets put in charge of his parents’ peaceful island. Unfortunately, a giant, evil pig called Wizpig arrives and conquers the island. Desperate to clear things up before his parents get home, Timber gathers up his friends to defeat Wizpig…by racing him. It makes no sense, but it’s just an excuse plot for racing. I do like that it’s there because it used to give me a feeling of accomplishment whenever my brother and I won enough races to unlock another part of the island.

Each track comes with extra items you can use to give your character a boost. They come in the form of balloons and they’re less random than Mario. Red balloons give you missiles, Blue gives you a speed boost, Green gives you obstacles to drop, Yellow gives you a shield, and Rainbow gives you a magnet that you can use to pull other racers behind you. Unless you’re in a tight spot, you’ll want to hold off using the balloons right away. Hitting a certain colored balloon two or three times will provide you with power-ups. For example, if you collect one red balloon, you’ll get one missile. If you collect two, your missile will have a higher accuracy. If you collect three reds, you’ll get ten missiles.

You’ll need all of the balloons you can find when you finish the regular racetracks. Diddy Kong Racing has four thematic “worlds” on the island: Dino Domain, Snowflake Mountain, Sherbet Island, and Dragon Forest. (After you’ve defeated Wizpig, you unlock a secret world with even more tracks.) Once you’ve completed the tracks that make up a particular world, you get to challenge the boss. And the bosses are definitely a challenge. They’re fast and they start running before you do. If you don’t hit every speed boost and enough red missile balloons, you’re doomed.

In addition to regular races, you can unlock different mini games in each world. My all-time favorite was Icicle Pyramid. It’s basically a family-friendly version of the Hunger Games. You and three other players get dropped into a pyramid course with a certain amount of lives. Using the Red missile balloons or the Green obstacle balloons, you have to try to take out everyone else before they kill you. My friends and I would often form alliances to knock off the computer AIs and then turn on each other. I was no Katniss Everdeen and often lost. But we all had a blast with it.

Diddy Kong Racing also has a fantastic soundtrack. Even if you’re struggling against Wizpig or one of the other bosses, the fast-paced music gets you pumped and ready to try again. Diddy Kong is bright and colorful as well. Although it’s obviously no Mario Kart 8, the graphics for this Nintendo 64 game still hold up.

I should also point out that Diddy Kong got a remake for the Nintendo DS. It’s okay, but I’m not a fan of it. They had to replace some of the characters, namely Banjo from Banjo Kazooie and Conker from Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and mini games like Icicle Pyramid can only be accessed by playing against a friend in multiplayer. So if you don’t know another person with a DS and a copy of the game, you’re out of luck.

(Fun fact: Speaking of Conker, he was my favorite racer in Diddy Kong. One day, I saw a game called Conker’s Bad Fur Day at the game store and got excited. A game starring that cute little squirrel that I loved? HOORAY! Thank God my innocent eleven-year-old self did not purchase it. I had no idea how much Conker’s personality had changed in that M-rated, South Park-esque game.)

So if you have a Nintendo 64 lying around, give Diddy Kong Racing a try! It’s a lot of fun and the bosses provide some serious challenges that you won’t necessarily find in other racing games.

…or you can play Mario Kart 64 instead. I won’t judge you. I’ll probably join you. It is Mario Kart, after all. 🙂

Games to Get Excited About: March 2018


The end of first quarter of 2018 is packed full of game releases, including two games specifically for PlayStation VR.  We have Final Fantasy XV finally coming to the PC, an HD re-release of the Devil May Cry series as well as continuations of series like Far Cry, Valkyria Chronicles, and Attack on Titan.  Honestly, though, this month there’s not one game I’m personally interested in, but I know there’s one that many people are looking forward to.

Far Cry 5 is the latest installment in a popular adventure shooter series coming near the end of the month.  Set in the fictional county of Hope, Montana, the game will follow a religious cult and the sheriff deputy (the player) sent to stop them.  The development of the game has taken longer than expected, releasing this year rather than back in 2017.  The player will be able to recruit allies from the local townspeople in the game as well as taming animals to assist with the mission.

Why People are Excited

Far Cry is a very popular series and this game has had a lot of talk around it already due to heightened political discourse.  Setting the game closer to home for a lot of people, instead of some exotic far-away land, has caused speculation about whether the game has some hidden meaning or not.  There was even a petition to change the game’s protagonists from American Christian fundamentalists to a group of Muslims.  Most gamers that I know took the petition as satire, which it very likely was, but it certainly stoked the flames of discussion.

For the important part, the game itself, it looks like Ubisoft plans to deliver a thought-provoking story with a couple of new game mechanics.  The writers want to explore the theme of separatism and what drives citizens to become so disenfranchised that they turn away from their own government.  What causes people who live in such a free and open society to turn against it so dramatically?  Dan Hay said the story looks at the consequences of belief and ideology taken to their extreme.  In the current climate of extremes from all sides, it’s a bold story to present, and hopefully one that they deliver well.

Right from the start, a new feature in this release is to introduce a character generator.  Rather than play a pre-defined character made by the developers, the player will be able to make their own.  They’re also bringing back an element from previous games which allows you to lean around corners again.  We’ll also see a wider selection of close-quarters weapons as the game focuses a little more on melee combat.  In this installment, the player will navigate the open world by way of outposts, working their way through the story by liberating them from cultists.  The writing and outpost element is meant to create a world where no two players should experience the game the same way, as each outpost can be found and overcome from different angles and at different times.

Other Notable Releases for March

Final Fantasy XV – The latest installment of Final Fantasy that released in November for other systems will be coming to PC on March 6th.

Devil May Cry HD Collection – An HD remake of this series will hit PC, PS4 and XBO on the 13th of March.

Kirby Star Allies – This side-down platformer is coming on March 16th to continue the Kirby series on the Nintendo Switch.

Attack on Titan 2 – The sequel to the game based on the popular manga and anime is coming to all major systems on the 20th.

Sea of Thieves – A new title from Rare to XBO and PC on the 20th as well. Cross platform play is promised in this cooperative naval combat game with a pirate theme.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 – The fourth installment of this strategy game is hitting the PS4 on March 21st and will introduce a new class and cast of characters.

Agony – A new title hitting PC, PS4, and XBO on the 30th will put players in hell as a tormented soul trying to survive and escape.

Top 10 Favorite Table Games

Posted on

I love RPGs, gathering around a table and getting lost in fantasy with my friends. Sometimes though I just want a beer and pretzels type of game. Deal out the cards, lay out the tiles, and have fun. In no particular order (because I’m lazy) here are my favorite tabletop games:


Munchkin – This card game is a simplified dungeon crawl with a stack of doors, and a stack of loot. Each person starts out as a 1st level human with no class, and that’s just the first joke of the game. The weapons are all tongue in cheek, the artwork comical, and the gameplay is fast and funny. The basic game is fantasy based, but there are any number of official sets for whatever your fandom might be. The best news is they can all work together making for some strange combinations.

Betrayal Title Image.png

Betrayal at House on the Hill – Betrayal was the first random map game I ever really got into. You and your friends play a group of (fools) entering a haunted house. The map is laid out randomly from the foyer as you explore and find omens that will eventually reveal that one of you is a traitor. Or not. The main game has 50 possible reveals, and they’ve recently released an expansion for it, Widow’s Walk.

Abduction – Now this random map game is a simple deck of cards with cardboard cutout minis. You have been abducted by aliens and have to be the first one to escape. The layout of the ship can be chaotic, and with certain cards played, it can actually change at the last second snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. I call dibs on the cow mini.


Zombies!!! – I thought zombies were cool before they were cool, so when I saw this board game where you and your friends all played survivors trying to escape a town overrun with zombies. I was in. Starting with the center of town you deal out random tiles trying to find the helicopter pad and escape, or be the first to rack up a zombie kill count of 25. The game comes with 100 rubber zombies, so I also found it useful for the survival horror RPG I was running. There are several add-ons to date (8 I think) that make the map more complex adding a shopping mall, a military base, a college campus, a prison etc.

Zombies!!! 4 – The 3rd expansion for this game can really be called a stand-alone. Whereas the first game takes place in a city , this setting is a haunted forest accessible by a bridge out of the main city. The point here is to collect the pages of the Necronomicon and perform the ritual. This version also comes with 100 rubber zombie dogs to “hound” you throughout the forest.

maxresdefault (1)

Red Dragon Inn – Dungeon crawls are fun, but what happens after the quest when the party is loaded down with gold? They drink and gamble it away. This game, with its four stand-alones and several individual add-ons has you choosing a character and using their personal deck to out drink their fellows, or win all their gold. If you pass out or go broke, you’re out of the game. Each character has their own strength and weaknesses. If you choose to imbibe some adult beverages of your own, drink responsibly.


Epic PvP: Fantasy – This is a one on one deck battling game. Your race is chosen at random, as is your class making for some interesting combos. They’ve also come out with a companion game Epic PVP: Magic that can be combined with the original or played separately. My only wish is that it was designed for more than 2 players.


Cards Against Humanity – How bad are your friends? How badly do you want to know? Play this game once and you’ll find out. The only drawback I found was after multiple games you start to get shocked less by the combos. Buying more cards, or finding new players is a must to extend the replay ability of this one.


Chrononauts – Time travel is cool. A series or cards are laid out depicting the timeline of our natural history with alternate versions of key events on the reverse of the cards. Each player is given a secret goal that must achieve in order to win the game. By traveling up and down the timeline and playing cards to switch events they can create the future they know in order to win the game.


Flux – You win by playing cards to empty your hand, but every card you play changes the rules. I’ve seen versions for just about every fandom (Chtulu, Monty Python, Batman as examples). It’s a funny game that’s easy to pick up and play.

PAX Unplugged and The Roll Initiative

Posted on


Lords, Ladies, Lads, and Lasses – I have recently returned from attending my first convention as an exhibitor. Thia the Bard was gracious enough to provide me some questions to answer about my experience.

How did you find out about The Roll Initiative?

I saw an ad posted by The Roll Initiative on a Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League facebook page looking for volunteer Dungeon Masters for PAX Unplugged. I’ve had experience playing in the AL and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to step up and DM, delving deeper into the league.

What is your favorite thing about TRI?

I like that it’s just starting out and this was the first event they were orchestrating. The entire lead team are also gamers and fans of D&D. I was able to be myself and ended meeting a lot of fun people. I hope I made a few friends along the way.

What are you most excited about for PAX Unplugged this year? 

Since this was an official D&D event, TRI was able to get Fai Chen to attend our RPG slots. (Fai Chen’s Fantastical Faire is the D&D Adventures League trading post.) Players in the league can use Fai Chen at conventions to trade magical items they don’t have a use for. I’ve collected a few myself, and honestly that was my biggest goal in attending the convention. 


That’s our logo!

Did you get to attend any panels?

I was so busy running modules over the weekend I was unable to attend any of the panels. I would have liked to have seen the Critical Role gang.

What advice do you have for newbies headed to events like PAX Unplugged?

Be patient. The role playing game fandom is HUGE and sometimes the organizers underestimate how many wonderful people they’ll need to accommodate. The lines this year were incredible and this was the first year for both PAX Unplugged and for TRI’s RPG tables. Next year I’m sure everyone will have a much better experience.

Do you have any tips for gamers who are looking for a group like TRI?

TRI is growing, I can’t speak officially for them, but follow the link above and check them out. I’m sure they could use more DMs. You can also stay active on social media. Facebook has a lot of fan pages for DMs, players, item trades, and games with open slots. Also, if you find a page, or group you like…share it. Word of mouth is the best way to expand what we like about gaming.

Can Beleaguered Wizard World Continue into 2018?

Wizard World
Financial woes have plagued pop culture convention host company Wizard World for the last few years and 2017 is no exception. Wizard World’s quarterly report (released 11/14/17) shows that the comic convention runner is still in financial trouble, down about $1 million for the same quarter last year and almost $4.5 million for the year. In response the company stated “We have evaluated the significance of these conditions in relation to our ability to meet our obligations and have concluded that, due to these conditions, there is substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern through November 2018.” A 2.5 million dollar investment by Wizard World chairman Paul Kessler (through his financial firm, Bristol) was used up in the first three quarters of this year and they reported a loss of 1.5 million for the first quarter of 2017. Overall first quarter 2017 revenue was $74,199 compared to $348,182 in the first quarter of 2016.

In addition to financial losses, the number of Wizard World conventions dropped from twenty six in 2016 to sixteen in 2017. While rumors originally circulated that they would have as many as 40 in 2018, their late September announcement shows only seventeen. Of those, five are shows that had originally been scheduled for this fall but were postponed. The official statement indicated that these changes came about so that they would have more time to plan those shows. “In moving five of our more recently announced shows to 2018, we are better equipped to put on the kind of successful pop culture celebration that our fans have come to expect.” That being said, none of the rescheduled shows actually has calendar date.


Wizard World’s efforts to relaunch Wizard magazine digitally this year tanked as well. After much fanfare in July regarding its new format, Wizard Digital has disappeared from the WW website and former Associate Editor Luke Y. Thompson posted to twitter “Okay, followers. Seems I’m looking for work again. I’d love any pointers. Thanks.”

Additionally the accompanying Facebook daily video series Wizpop has only managed to pick up 1.2K followers in the last 6 months. Wizard had a circulation of over 100,000 at its height in 90s.

And the company has been suffering through legal woes this year as well. Former COO Randall Malinoff left the company in July and is now “engaged in a dispute” with Wizard World over his departure. Wizard World told investors that they were “ in communication with a representative of Mr. Malinoff, which communications may, or may not, result in a conclusion of this matter.” A contract dispute was filed in the Los Angeles court system on 9/1/17. This comes seven months after Wizard World sued their former Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Shamus (brother of company founder Gareb Shamus) for allegedly using his position to obtain more than $1 million dollars worth of signed memorabilia and collectibles which he then sold for his own profit. Stephen Shamus counter-claimed that Wizard World manufactured the claim  and owed him over a million dollars. That matter has since been settled but not before some pretty outrageous stories emerged alleging Wizard executives were trying to loot the company.

How much longer can Wizard World carry on despite these legal, financial, and administration troubles? Well, I wouldn’t mark any of their dates in sharpie on your 2018 calendar.

Catlilli Games – When Science meets Board Gaming


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!)