Thursday, March 31, 2011

Webcomics: I Can Stop Anytime I Want

 I've written a bit about traditional comic books, but I've also spent the last few years following a wide variety of webcomics. The addiction started out simple. Checking PvP and Penny Arcade as two titans in geek culture, with funny comics about the things I like anyway. It never stops at just a couple, though. I very quickly went from a few, to a bunch, to too many webcomics, and over the years I stopped following a few because regular updates became erratic or I changed PCs, lost the bookmark for the comic and somehow never bothered to restore it.

A lot of the larger, well-established comics that I read, (Sluggy Freelance, Real Life, The Order of the Stick, Ctrl+Alt+Del) have already had many, many words written about them. I may someday return to this subject and give some of these bigger comics a full article treatment, but a short summary doesn't really do much. If you like webcomics, you already are likely to know that Order of the Stick is about stick-like figures in a Dungeons and Dragons type world, and if you aren't into gaming comics, a paragraph about them isn't likely to get you to check them out.

If I'm wrong about that, and you just started with this comic because of this post, then... you're welcome.

There are a few newer or, shall we say “less established” webcomics out there that I've grown to make a part of a daily or 3x a week regimen that I thought I'd share a few brief thoughts on. In order to keep my attention, usually updating like clockwork is an absolute requirement, and a comic really has to try a lot harder if it updates fewer than 5 days a week, and the first one I want to talk about is a once-a-week-only comic.

Manly Guys Doing Manly Things updates on Mondays, and features an “agency” of sort helmed by “Commander Badass”, a cigar-chomping, beer-drinking action-movie stereotype with a heart of gold. The agency takes ludicrously macho characters from popular entertainment (more than a few of them from video games) and tries to acclimate them into normal society. That is, whenever they are not saving the world, or whatever their personal destinies call them to, assuming that something isn't really conducive to holding down a day job. Sten from Dragon Age, Hannibal from the A-Team, Kratos from God of War, Duke Nukem, Robocop, they all make appearances alongside series regulars like Jared, a twentysomething Pokemon trainer whose “pet” got him in as an intern.

Kratos is frequently lampooned. In another comic he asks "Stop using me as an example." The reply... "Stop BEING an example."

The line art, coloring and scripts are top-notch, and despite the protests of “this isn't really another video game comic”, the point is well-taken that the over-the-top macho stereotypical characters are often found on the X-Box, PS3, PC and Wii, so those types of characters turn up a LOT. The strips themselves are mostly gag-a-day, with occasional advances in a series continuity that develops the characters unique to the comic and ties everything together. I'm looking forward to reading this for years to come, and will be very disappointed if life getting in the way, as it does, stops the flow of badass.

Least I Could Do is more established, with a readership very near some of the comics I listed above as “larger”, but it has come a very long way since its early days of constant sex-jokes focused entirely on the promiscuous main character, Rayne. Rayne's childlike geek fantasies are highlights in a strip that has come to be “about” a wide variety of different things, and if you read it in early years, and were turned off by sexism or dick jokes, it is worth another look now. Another comic by the same team of Ryan Sohmer and Lar DeSousa is Looking For Group, the World of Warcraft inspired adventure/comedy told from the perspective of a Horde group of adventurers. Both comics update like clockwork, have solid artwork and writing, and are full color, which always gets extra points from me.

Pretty much impossible for me to talk about any of the work on these sites without a picture of Richard.

What are some favorites of yours I should be checking out? There's several dozen I haven't mentioned here that I either currently read or did at some time in the past, but I'm always up for new quality additions to my reading. (Note: I mentioned that there wouldn't be any April Fool's Gags here today, got my days mixed up... not doing that tomorrow, either.)
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's Playing: Borderlands and the Mad God

 Despite several posts explaining that the life of an unemployed geek isn't all web browsing, collecting unemployment and playing video games, I do manage to play quite a bit. The last week or so there have been two games that command a lot of the time I allow myself for computer gaming. One of the offerings is a completely free MMORPG (kinda, it'll need some explaining,) the other has been out for a while now, but I noticed how cheap it was on Steam and parted with a few dollars.

Since I'm going to be talking about games I like, it is only fair that I declare my usual bias. I usually play PC games, with a focus on RPGs, and I'm not a huge fan of modern first person shooters. I grew up on Wolfenstein 3D, Doom1&2 and Duke Nukem, so seeing all the new brownish-grey FPS games starring nearly identical space marines or WWII soldiers makes me turn up my nose saying “Eh, I played that game back when it was GOOD.” I also prefer single player or co-op to multiplayer deathmatch.

My bias means I've never played Halo 3, it also resulted in a 100% decrease in being called racial slurs on X-Box Live.

Because of my bias, most shooters have to have something else there for me. I loved Bioshock and Left 4 Dead, and it took me a long time to get around to picking it up, but I'm now really into Borderlands. Steam had the Game of the Year edition, packaged with all 4 pieces of DLC for $30, so I took the plunge. Borderlands basically is what happens when Halo and Diablo have a baby and send it to finishing school at Mad Max Academy. 4 character classes, with experience and levelling, a WoW-like skill tree and a very, very Diablo approach to loot. Guns drop off of enemies of varying quality, color-coded and with variations in gun manufacturer (affects a weapon's base stats somehow), clip size, damage, rate of fire, reload rate and possible elemental/status effects making the randomly generated possible guns somewhere in the hundreds of thousands.

All four of the misfits you cam play in your search for the holy macguffin, in this case, a Vault. So if you watch this game backwards, it's Fallout 3.

The world is post-apocalypse sci-fi with a dark humor bent, and lots of quests, vehicle combat a la Halo, interesting boss fights and drop in/out cooperative online modes give the base game a lot of bang for the buck. The 4 expansion packs add a zombie/tongue-in cheek horror with The Zombie Isle of Dr. Ned, Arena “game show” style survival combat and a bank for those extra guns in Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, and two raises to the level cap and more guns in the last 2 pieces of DLC. To be fair, I haven't played very much of either Claptrap's New Robot Revolution or The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, but I understand that the latter focuses on vehicle fights. So far, I've started playthroughs with Mordecai the Hunter and Brick the Berserker.

The other game that has claimed quite a bit of time is harder to categorize, but I'll try. Realm of The Mad God is a free 8-bit mmorpg with unlockable classes, gameplay that feels more like an old school shooter (more Gradius than, say Contra) and PERMANENT DEATH. You start with simple controls, each class has 1 special power (priests heal, wizards fireball, etc) and can equip 3 types of item. Game play is fast-paced, with quests basically being “Look, that guy over there! Go kill him!” Leveling up and getting better equipment happens faster in a group, and some of the big challenges can only be assaulted with a large team. Once 25,000 monsters die on a server, the Mad God teleports the entire server to his lair where everyone tries to kill him, and a few of the survivors get some very nice loot.

The game goes quickly from "Cool! 8-bit Pirates!" to "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod."

The speed of leveling up takes some of the pain out of death, which like in the “roguelike” rpgs that obviously inspired this outing is permanent. You die, you lose all your stuff and can make a new level 1 character. You can, at any time, hit F5 to teleport to safety, leaving those around you to a possible grisly end, though lag spikes can and do kill characters. Depending on how far you got before you died, you accumulate “fame” when the character dies and this affects the maximum possible stats on your fresh character. It looks like the optional “pay us money” parts of the game are truly optional and purely cosmetic. I played this game a little and watched hours just melt off the clock. Very addictive.

Are there any other great rpg/shooter hybrids you love that I forgot to mention, or maybe don't know about yet? Let me know in the comments. Also, don't expect any April Fool's Day Pranks in tomorrow's post. I don't think I've been doing this nearly long enough to pull that sort of malarkey.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unexpected Treasures from 1988.

 I've been reading for a very, very long time. Long enough that I can't remember a time when I couldn't. Very early on, I was fascinated by “swords and sorcery” epic fantasy, even more than science fiction. I have a very clear memory of seeing a picture of Gandalf battling the Balrog and not knowing what it was, but feeling that it was awesome. So I read the Hobbit, and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and then one summer, something amazing happened. Amazing things didn't happen in 1988 in Cicero, IL very often, and certainly not to pudgy curly-headed Irish kids who wore thick glasses.

Not this. This didn't happen. Not to me, anyway.

As kids, my brother and I would ride our bikes down the alley maybe more often than the street out front, and one summer day we found several boxes. I never really knew much about the person who put the boxes out by the garbage to be thrown away (I have a vague recollection of thinking someone said he was a pastor who moved out of the neighborhood.) This mystery person will certainly never know what they did for me. Inside the boxes were dozens of fantasy and sci-fi novels. C.S. Lewis, “choose your own adventure”, Twistaplot, even most of the collected Lone Wolf books and Steve Jackson's Sorcery! Whoever it was who threw the boxes of books away, they affected my life profoundly.

I think now that this series was the best part of those boxes.

I frantically dragged boxes down the alley to save the precious contents from the rain that was starting to fall, and looking back on it, I'm not sure I got them all. I wonder what treasures might have been ruined by water hours after I'd decided that I'd gotten “enough”. The trove of books in the boxes was in uniformly good condition, and I sat in the basement that summer sorting them into piles to be looked at later. I'd read some Narnia and Tolkien already, and I'd gotten a bunch of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” from the Scholastic Book club at school, but there were a LOT of those “adventure game/books” that I'd have never known existed otherwise.

Yeah, I still did the standard stupid kid stuff, played with toy guns (which was dangerous, because back then, toy guns looked real, and in my neighborhood there were more than a few young people out there with the real thing) set off fireworks, begged my Dad to go with me to put my allowance into Ms. Pac-Man, Elevator Action or TRON a quarter at a time... but there were those books. I'd already been an unusually bookish kid, winning a toy dog who wore a “Sherlock Holmes” kind of outfit for 1st place in the 1981 MS Read-a-Thon  competition at the Cicero Public Library. I was the winner by over 25 books.

Some of these were really pretty hard. All of the gaming from my childhood had a difficulty level modern gamers wouldn't tolerate.

I can honestly say that those particular books, that particular summer before we owned a computer, and when I only owned 2 games for the NES, shaped me into who I am today. My first Piers Anthony was in there, so was my first exposure to something called the Mail Order Hobby Shop. A catalogue was in the bottom of one of the boxes for the mail-order game supply business set up by TSR, inc. I'd known about and played Dungeons and Dragons nearly three years before, but inside the catalogue was a whole new world. I excitedly showed my find to my mother, but she was no help there. She thought video games were a waste of time and money, that I wouldn't like Lord of the Rings because you had to “read between the lines”, and D&D was “that game that the people at church think is Satanic.”

This was the catalogue from the summer AFTER this story takes place, which exposed me to my first Gen Con.

I'll give my parents credit, though. They didn't forbid me any of the activities that, once I got a taste for them, I chose to devote a lot of time and thought into, even if they didn't understand or really approve of them. I got more fantasy novels from garage sales, ordered a set of Lord of the Rings miniatures from the 1989 version of that catalogue, and even got my Dad to take me to Toys 'R Us to buy my own D&D Red Box, and later taking the longer drive to a mall game store for the Expert Set. (That is definitely a subject for another article, maybe two)

Yeah, looking at these covers hit me with serious nostalgia while writing this.

Oh yeah... those books? Though I lost a bunch along the way, since that summer was almost 25 years ago now, I still have about a third of them, paperbacks sitting proudly on our shelves.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

All We Have to Fear...

 So, I talked a bit last week about C2E2. One of the more exciting things out of it was some of the details on this year's big crossover event. Yeah, I know. Marvel said they weren't doing those anymore, and frequently any major changes as a result of these things is retconned out of existence within a year or two. I know these things, but the little kid in me that read the original Secret Wars back in 1984 just doesn't give a good god-damn, so these events always get me excited about comics again.

This year, the big thing in Marvel is 'Fear Itself', which focuses, to no one's surprise, on the typically popular heroes in Marvel's bullpen, and highlights the characters with movies opening in the next year or so. This event is cast in the same mold as Civil War, where real-world concerns and yes, fears will be confronted by superheroes, and we'll get to see how having superpowers makes these fears worse, or better.

Picking which one of these to add to the article was tough, I recommend Googling the rest.

Early teaser images focus on two different themes, “Do you fear?” which shows some of the mightiest heroes confronting their own personal demons, and “Who Are The Worthy?” which has various Marvel heroes and villains struggling with each other to reach for these mystical hammers, which will feature heavily into the event. I like both of these campaigns to promote the books, and I'm especially fond of seeing some of the Marvel “B-list” characters right there in the fight with the big names. Marvel's version of Dracula, Grey Gargoyle, and Absorbing Man are right there in the fight... and it looks like one of those three will be a huge featured player.

The “Prologue” to the event is out, and I've read it and enjoyed it a whole lot. Fear Itself: Book of the Skull gives us a look back into a classic World War 2 Captain America/Red Skull story, and lays the groundwork for how the Red Skull's past affects the current events in the Marvel Universe. I've personally always liked the Skull a LOT, he's right behind Dr. Doom as my favorite villain in the Marvel Universe, and way back in the day, I owned the Dr. Doom/Red Skull Super Villain Team-up comic.

Much as I like him, this image is more badass than anything I can remember Red Skull ever doing.

Seeing Red Skull get his due as a major villain again after many years of mistreatment is really, really cool to me. Re-imagined from “ultimate Nazi mastermind” to Communist and later, common criminal gave Skully a few bad years there, but he's back, after a fashion, and his daughter Sin is one of the major villains of the piece, at least until we see the direct influence of who or what-ever the God of Fear turns out to be.

It looks like we're going to see fears from the mundane “state of the world today” variety to “what have I done, or might I do with my powers”, and I look forward to both. I'm sure that there will be criticism from political pundits, just like there was for Civil War, about the manner in which Global Events and their associated politics are presented, but this is to be expected. People's opinions are divided and polarized, and not even comics will be safe from those who want to throw out accusations and arguments.

...and then, there's Deadpool's take on the whole "hammers" thing.

So we've got a story with modern politics/current events, magic hammers a la Thor, The Red Skull and the God of Fear and a massive crossover with characters from all over the Marvel Universe fighting their fears both literally and figuratively. I am so in.
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Can't Stick the Landing – RPGs and poor endings.

 Not so long ago, I wrote about Dragon Age 2. I read a lot of reviews of the game, and ended up liking it in spite of some of the things others mentioned that bothered them. Yeah, the same few areas were re-used over and over again. Yep, game was too damned short. And it sure would have been nice to get out of Kirkwall just a little bit more.

What bugged me most, and almost enough to wreck the game for me, was the tepid final act. The ending was abrupt and seemed forced, with characters behaving in ways that were supposed to be designed to make final choices difficult. The problem is, a good ethical/moral conundrum should not rely on all sides being equally unpleasant. “You're all jerks, but I hate this guy a little less, so we go with him.” That's not a well-written morality tale, it feels more like the attitude of the average apathetic American voter.

Don't give me that look, You know what you did.

This isn't the first time that a game I've played has had an incredible buildup, only to let me down at the last moment. The most striking example I can think of is Fallout 3 (to be fair, I've played NONE of the expansions or DLC.) Throughout, Fallout 3 had an engaging experience, your choices seemed to matter and I was having a good time. Then, you get to the ending, and you are forced into a “this or that” choice, both of which aren't very good... and you can't even back out and decide later. I gritted my teeth, unhappy but resolved to see it through, and then got the ending. I'd beaten previous games in the Fallout series, and expected to see the consequences of my decisions and how they affected the world. Not so. The vast majority of the decisions I made turned out to be utterly meaningless as far as my ending.

This ruined the game for me, and is the reason I didn't continue on with any of the additional material.

War. War never changes. And neither does the ending, aside from 2-3 choices you made.

Thinking back on it, a lot of the Final Fantasy games were like this, too... the ending got so weird that I disconnected with what came before and stopped caring about the story. What is it about so many modern RPGs that have great beginnings, great mid-game, and then completely fall apart somewhere in the Third Act? There are a few things that will utterly ruin a game if included in the ending.

  1. Radically changing your storytelling right at the end: This includes not only the “we're all in a dream/the afterlife/the matrix” or the sudden inclusion of aliens or magic “a wizard did it”, but establishing one kind of pace and one standard for player input for the game, and another for the ending. Talk about ruining suspension of disbelief.
  2. Huge buildup to a climactic conclusion, and insufficient closure before providing a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are annoying enough in games, but they really rob the player of the experience if after hours and hours of struggle, there's no moment of “victory.” If you take away the feeling that a hero's fight accomplished something, who cares what happens next?
  3. Cardinal Sin: Do Not, I repeat, DO NOT let a character other than the one the player controls swoop in to be the deciding force in victory. If this ultra-badass is the real hero of the day, why did anyone else bother to show up? Thanks, I always wanted to play “unintentional sidekick.”
Almost everything listed above, in one game.  The ending is somehow less comprehensible  than being an underwater soccer star whose father becomes a Satan Whale.

What games really infuriated you with a letdown at the end? Was there one in particular that everyone else seems to hate but you actually kind of liked the ending for? Let me know.
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

The SixtyOne. Part Internet Radio, part... MMORPG?

I've written before about my new daily routine as an Unemployed Geek, but I've left out an important part of any given day... my music. I've developed my musical tastes over the years to be something... unusual, as I listen to a little bit of everything, from Top 40 radio, through classical, nerdcore hiphop, Australian Folk-Rock, Christian Country Acid-House, Blues, Oldies... I could fill an article just listing genres... it'd just be boring. My musical taste was once described as “somewhere between eclectic and schizophrenic,” and I particularly like wildly different mixes of music with jarring transitions between songs.

NOT on TheSixtyOne... Unfortunately... after learning about these guys from playing Alan Wake, this Finnish Rock Band became one of my favorites.

My tastes mean that I like a constant influx of music I haven't encountered before. This isn't always easy, especially on a very, very limited income. I've tried a lot of streaming internet radio stations, like Pandora and Last.fm, and I like a lot of what I've heard, but most of it isn't new to me, and my tastes confound the matching algorithms and I don't get quite the right mix. One day, browsing the internet, I discovered a page featuring “websites you should visit, if you don't already.” The hook for one of them in particular drew me in.

Kill 16 indie-rockers and bring me their Vans to complete this quest.

Thesixtyone.com was listed as a Pandora-style site with a focus on new music and... gaming elements? I raised an eyebrow. Sure enough, the site had daily quests, an experience point kind of system, and even achievements. Dialing in on two separate elements of what I like on the internet, blending them haphazardly and making it all work, somehow? Yes, please.

The blend of music on thesixtyone isn't for everyone. There is a LOT of indie-rock, chick rock and other “white boy college radio” stuff on there, not a whole lot for, say, a heavy metal fan. If you like The Decemberists, Tetrastar or other similar artists, you'll find this site is targeted at you. I managed to also find quite a bit of nerdcore rap/hip-hop I'd never heard of, and the entire catalogue of Jonathan Coulton (Of Portal's “Still Alive” closing credits fame) is up there.

The cake may be a lie, but check out his other stuff... this guy is hilarious and amazing.

Some of the tracks on the site are available for download, and about half of those I've encountered don't even charge for the privilege. For those who feel strongly about artists getting paid for their work instead of supporting the recording industry, this site is real solid on that front, with a higher percentage of any digital sales going directly to artists than most other sites I've encountered. If anyone starts using the site and wants to add me as a friend, I'm on there, of course, as DocStout.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Co-Operative Games (Unplugged)

 When geeks typically think of Co-op, we think video games, usually first person shooters with a cooperative campaign mode, or maybe classic arcade games where 2-4 players could team up to beat up hordes of bad guys and work together to progress. I guess a lot of other forms of gaming are cooperative as well, as tabletop RPGs are cooperative in nature (unless you play with one of THOSE groups, or are playing Paranoia.) I love all these games dearly, but I'm not talking about any of these.

Red Wizard Needs Food - Badly. I show my age by using this as an image instead of something like Left 4 Dead.

I'd like to discuss a fast-growing niche in the tabletop board gaming world. The cooperative game, and its twin sibling, the co-op game with a traitor. My first board game article touched on one of the more complicated and popular games in this sub-genre, Battlestar Galactica. There were a whole lot of games released before BSG unleashed suspicion and paranoia into deep space.

The earliest ancestor of this style of game (as treated by my narrow definition that eliminates games with one defined 'antagonist' like Scotland Yard or Fury of Dracula) that I could find evidence of is Arkham Horror. AH was first published in 1987, with a redesign and re-release in 2005, making the first proper game of this type still one of the most popular today. Investigators in the 1920s fight monsters, dig up clues, and close Gates To Worlds Man Was Not Meant To Know. Players work as a team, trying to prevent the return of one of the Great Old Ones from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Personally, I love the new edition of Arkham, with or without expansions, there is so much going on and it fits the cosmic horror theme, running around with tommyguns and eldritch tomes, defeating cultists and going insane from shoggoths.

Remember, any wins are temporary. The Old Ones will eventually destroy all When The Stars Are Right.

Five years before Arkham was re-released, though, Fantasy Flight put out the game that introduced me to the cooperative board game genre. Lord of the Rings, by master designer Reiner Knizia had a group of hobbits playing against the board itself, attempting to bypass challenges and complete the classic Heroic Journey before the Eye of Sauron can claim victory. I loved this when I first played it, but the years have not been kind, as other games reveal a key flaw. Every turn, the game says “I'm going to make you lose," and the entire play is spent reacting, merely trying to stop it. This means most key decisions are made randomly, and all the players can do is react.

On the upside, any homoerotic hobbit bed-bouncing is entirely optional.

A few years later, we have the first really popular game with the “secret traitor” mechanic, Shadows Over Camelot, published by Days of Wonder the same year Arkham Horror was re-released. This is the one that really got me going on the co-op board game, and I still play it six years later (as recently as Sunday, matter of fact.) Players are Knights of Camelot, and every turn, on one of the many areas and sub-boards representing threats to Arthur's Kingdom, something goes wrong or gets worse. The balancing act of resource management in dealing with these issues and completing these heroic quests is that one of the Knights may be a traitor working for Camelot's downfall. It is random every game, with 8 loyalty cards (and 3-7 players) it is also possible there is no traitor at all.

This game is typical of Days of Wonder... impeccably made, art and components both sturdy and very pretty.

More recently, we've seen a mini-flood of these games, highlights being Pandemic, Forbidden Island and the new Co-op questing D&D boardgames like Castle Ravenloft, based on classic adventures. There's just something different about the mood and atmosphere in a game where (at least most of) the table shares victory or defeat. I actually like a game in this style that beats us as a group of players occasionally, the challenge makes the victory over the common foe that much sweeter. Even if the foe is a deck of cards and a little collection of plastic and cardboard.
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

5 Things That Sucked About C2E2.

 Yesterday, I did a top 5 style post (The most popular post on this blog to date, incidentally) and for today, I humbly submit a counterpoint, where I want to discuss the “less than perfect” parts of my C2E2 experience.

Limited food options and walking to the train in 30° weather makes me a Sad Panda.

  1. McCormick Place Venue was Out of Touch With Needs and Schedule of the Show. Without exception, the C2E2 event staff was courteous, helpful, and all around did their jobs. This is important because quite a few of these people who deserve praise and credit were working as volunteers. The facility staff, getting paid to do a job, don't deserve as much praise or credit. Frequently rude and almost universally ignorant, they detracted from the event.
    Venue management deserves some blame as well. On Saturday, the largest day for a 3 day show, you do not, I repeat, DO NOT close down all the restaurants in both food courts right before the three biggest panels let out, leaving a little pizza stand, nachos or barbeque as the only meal options for hundreds of people in the whole venue. Also, if you have someone directing attendees to charter shuttles, that person should know where they go. I didn't appreciate the long cold walk from Union Station to Clark and Lake to catch my train because a moron put me on the wrong bus.
  1. People Stopping in the Middle of A Crowded Aisle for a Photo Op Every convention has their fair share of people who, for some reason suddenly forget that they are in the middle of an aisle with lots of other people and suddenly stop to gawk. I'm used to that, even if it annoys me. Usually, however, you can walk around the slack-jawed nerd and keep moving after a few seconds. This is not true if someone in a costume stops in a congested spot and poses for a picture, as you have gawkers, the people involved, and all the empty space around the cosplayer where more considerate folks don't want to ruin the picture. Occasionally, I saw where people chose to do this, and thought, “Wow, I could find you a less convenient place to do that, but I'd have to do some math first.” It is flattering if someone wants to photograph the costume you worked hard on... have a little consideration and do it somewhere you won't cause a geek pileup.

    Awesome costume, but trapped in the roadblock, I'm almost too busy hating you to notice how hot this is. Almost.


  2. Non-existent Event Security Put Featured Guests At Risk During one of the panels I talked about yesterday, Tahmoh Pennikett was talking, and sniffling, and talking, and sniffling. He apologized for the sniffles into the mic, as the air in the venue was messing with his sinuses. Several minutes later, a helpful fan rushed up the side of the stage to hand him a pack of tissues. Good on him. But wait, a random dude ran right up to a celebrity guest without so much as a “Halt, who goes there?” with an object in his hand. Tahmoh, who is a Muay Thai kickboxer, said “Man, I didn't know what that was, and I almost took you out.” Even if he was joking, this could have gone bad in a lot of ways. DON'T let fans run up on your guests, especially Sci-Fi fans who are used to having potentially dangerous stalkers.

    Forget what I said up there, seeing Helo destroy a random nerd would have been AWESOME.


  3. Hall Layout Was Spectacularly Inefficient This compounds the issue I talked about in #2. certain aisles were cramped way too tight, others with a lot of unnecessary dead space, and some booths had side tables that extended into places where people needed to get by. In a few spots, I'm sure some ADA regulations were violated, as there was no way a wheelchair could get through. I understand that different lot sizes cost different prices and creating those parcels is far from an exact science. I may have mentioned before that I put together shows like this professionally (though mine never got this big.) Either the lots for booths were just drawn up badly, or the people who didn't stay in their assigned areas needed to be kept in line. Safety for your attendees comes first, and lanes being that cluttered could cause a hazard if evacuation became necessary.

  4. Do Three Things Well... Rather than 1 thing well, and 4 kinda “Meh”. The main focus of this event is comics, for sure, and comic-related parts of the show were solid. Quite a few of the other areas of the event need additional support and attention, or they need to be excised. I've worked with a lot of the guys and gals involved in the gaming areas, and I've seen what they can do with proper support. “Support” in this case isn't a mention in the con program, a room with a bunch of tables and a hands-off kind of “Good Luck, Buddy.” Putting someone in charge of an area and then basically leaving them completely alone isn't delegation, it is neglect.


Don't let the fact that this post is longer than the last one make it seem like I had a poor time at the con... it really was a spectacularly run show, and my eye may be more critical having run these things myself. Honestly, #1 & #2 got to me the most, and there's nothing the show organizers could do about those. Anyone else have any gripes from this show or ones like it?
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Monday, March 21, 2011

5 Things That Ruled About C2E2

 I've returned from a weekend spent involved in plenty of geeky pursuits, but the big one was my trip to C2E2 on Saturday. For those unfamiliar with the convention, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo is a massive show featuring comic books, sci-fi and fantasy celebrities, webcomics and games.


  1. The Costumes. Any Comic or Anime Convention is going to have their share of fans wandering around in costume, of varying quality and from any number of original sources. This year had the usual suspects of dozens of stormtroopers, attention-starved “hot girls” in skimpy outfits and of course, even Sailor Dude. There were Wolverines and Rorshachs, and a few people who should not wear tights or spandex in any color, but there were so many clever and creative costumes, feats of craftsmanship and technical ability, just the other attendees were worth watching.

    When I said "Sailor Dude", you wish I'd meant some guy in a sailor suit, right? Yeah, me too.


  2. The Exhibit Hall. The hall itself is the centerpiece of any successful big show, and this year's attractions did not disappoint. Marvel and DC Comics of course, had huge, incredibly slick booths with lines to stand in to pick up swag, talk with creators and see previews of what's coming next. (I especially liked the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent recruiting line, where I think they were giving away a car.) There were tattoo artists, vendors selling everything from the popular to the obscure in pop/geek culture, and plenty of different people and companies contributing to the show.

  3. The Gaming Rooms. There were gaming facilities in both the “plugged” and “unplugged” varieties, available to any gamer who wanted to take a break from the other show areas. Video Gamers could get a quick fix with Free To Play game consoles running solo play, multiplayer and tournament play on a wide variety of titles. I saw a LOT of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 play, previews of the new Thor game and the usual Call of Duty/Modern Warfare gaming. The Tabletop Game Room had Magic:The Gathering Tournaments, Dungeons and Dragons sessions available to players at levels of skill from “What's All This Then?” to “Been There, Done That, Killed the Dragon.”

    One of the highlights of the show, if you get a chance to see her give a Q&A, don't miss it.


  4. The Panels. There were panels and seminars given on comic creation, costuming, writing, Science Fiction Fandom and even Why Zombies Are Hilarious. My personal favorites were the celebrity Q&A panels in the IGN Theater. In my hours camped at my pretty decent seat for those panels, I watched Laurie Holden (Andrea) and Jon Bernthal (Shane) from AMC's The Walking Dead talk about character development, loss, and why Jon reflexively wants to bash in the skulls of people cosplaying as zombies. Later, Sam Trammell (Sam Merlotte), Brit Morgan (Debbie Pelt) and Kristen Bauer (Pam) from True Blood talked about their families' response to the show, the incredible fan reception and Sam always having to run around the cold woods in the nude. My favorite panel, though, was Tahmoh Penikett and Eliza Dushku, moderated by Chris Hardwick of Web Soup. Both of these actors have done a lot of work in sci-fi, really knew how to connect with the fans, were likeable, composed, and the whole Q & A session was hilarious, with a lot of talk about Dollhouse, Buffy and Battlestar Galactica. (I especially liked the running gag of Eliza discussing trying not to throw her “P-Word” around... she meant “producer”, and initially seemed ignorant of what everyone else present thought she meant.)

    Q: "What would you do in a real-life Zombie Apocalypse?" A: "Call up my buddy's wife, see what she's doing." THAT REALLY HAPPENED.

  5. Hi-Chew. This Japanese candy had a booth and many people in unusual costumes passing out samples. I'm a fan of snack foods from Japan anyway, from Pocky to wasabi peas, but somehow I'd managed to miss this one. Wow. Imagine something between a Starburst and a piece of Bubbleicious gum, with more intense flavor than either. Great texture, I managed to try Mango, Grape and Strawberry samples, and they sold packs for a buck, profits headed to disaster relief in Japan. By the time I decided to actually purchase some, unfortunately I learned that He Who Hesitates is Lost, as they completely Sold Out.

    OMG Bliss. I'm getting fatter just thinking about these.

Another longish article, I will probably revisit my trip a few times this week, and for sure, come on back tomorrow to get the counterpoint to this one in “5 things that sucked about C2E2.” Overall, I really liked the show and had a great time, but... nothing and no one is perfect.
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Friday, March 18, 2011

A Momentary Lapse, with The Unemployed Geek.... and Joel, another unemployed geek.

Good day to you all, my name is Joel.... I'm a distant cousin of Doc Stout, the proud author of 'What's Next? The Unemployed Geek'. I'm also a long time friend of his and former roomate.... I'm a fellow blogger and you can find my blog at: http://amomentarylapsewithjoel.blogspot.com/ . I've been writing it for just over a year and it's basically a blog on movies, music and life.... but mostly movies. It's a labor of love and something that I've attempted several times over the years, but with no success. Anyway, with that out of the way.... I'm also unemployed and a geek as well. I probably fall in a different category of geekdom, but that makes me no less of a geek. I'm proud of that label and relish in all its splendor and love to converse with others who are like-minded. That brings me up to this point where I was asked to be a guest blogger on this site. I was honored that I was asked and was happy to oblige. If I can direct people this way and vice versa, all the better. God knows why I was asked, but I'll do my best to try and be entertaining or somewhat helpful with some words of wisdom.


I'm currently 36 years old and have spent the majority of my life trying to find out where I fit in as far as the workforce was concerned. I started working as a parking lot cleaner when I was 12. I was paid under the table and did that until I could start legally working at age 14. Since then, I've worked steadily at all kinds of jobs and for several years at multiple jobs at the same time. The last 5 years of my life were spent working in a call center and I was damn good at it. Sadly, it slowly began to eat away at my sanity and after two nervous breakdowns and two trips to the mental hospital, my work started to slip. After about a year of trying to regain myself and retain my job (god knows why?), they gave me an ultimatum, “Improve in a month or we'll be seperating you from the company.” A month passed and I didn't improve, so I was let go. Deep down, I think I sabotaged myself on purpose. However, I didn't do it knowing that's what I was doing.... it was all under my brains radar. Right before this all went down, I started going back to school. It was suggested to me that I try and find something that I love and to pursue it. That's exactly what I did. Here I am now in school, jobless, but happy. I've started on my path towards a degree in Medical Assisting and I couldn't be happier. I was never a good student back in the day, but now I'm on the Dean's List, making straight A's and am getting high praise from my superiors on a weekly basis. I knew that I wanted to help people, and that's probably why I kept ending up in customer service, but I was never really in a position to truly help people.... now I am. I'm happy with my choices for the first time in my life. Granted, it may not be the right thing for everyone to go back to school for something.... however, I think that life is too damn short to do something you hate. I used to say, “I do what I have to do, to do what I want to do.” That was a line of crap. It was true in some ways, but in hindsight it wasn't the right thing to do. We spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at our jobs. It basically fills the majority of our day and keeps us away from the ones we love and the things we love. I think if we're going to be married to our jobs like that, we should at least like the person we're married to, right? Well, I'm engaged now to the right career and I can't wait to spend the rest of our lives together.


That's some pretty serious stuff there, eh? You know that we all spend a large part of our work days wishing that we could have more time to focus on the things we like to do. Isn't it funny that when we loose our jobs and finally have all of that time, we can't enjoy it. And what's funnier still, is that after an extended period of time we tend to get bored with doing the things we like. We crave that structure and 'big brother' environment that a job provides. I don't know why that is? I guess it has something to do with how we were raised. In school, things are hardcore.... we're told what to do and when to do it.... and in Catholic school it's even worse. That's probably why so many guys have eternal hard-on's for those damn uniforms. That makes me wonder why calling customer service doesn't get me horny? “Press 1 for an erection. Press 2 for a 'happy ending.' Press 3 for a spanking from the head of Human Resources.” If that was the case, I would call a whole helluva a lot more. Instead, I dread having to dial that 800 number because I know what it's like on the other end and it makes me flaccid just thinking about it. Thank goodness the internet has giving us a faceless way to get help instead of calling someone who's tied to a chair in a cubicle and is paid to make their company look good. Not too mention that there's porn to pass the time in case we get put on hold, luckily that never happens online. (But it's never a bad time to look at porn.... or 'Keyboard Cat'.... just don't masturbate to 'Keyboard Cat' or at least don't tell anyone about it.)


Right now you're asking yourself, “What do I do if I have a job I hate or have no job or can't afford to go back to school?” Well, I've been in those situations and something that I've learned is that I may not be able to find one job that I like that pays enough to cover the bills, but I have been able to find more than one job that I love and together they pay the rent. You may have to work out the scheduling with both employers, but in the end you'll be much better off. Perhaps one of the part time jobs will lead to a full time one and then you'll be all set. In the meantime, you'll be doing things that you love and getting paid. However, if you can't find those mythical jobs, you can always be your own boss. Granted, 'hooking' only pays well if you don't have a pimp taking most of your money and not getting you hooked on smack is also a good thing. However, the job has a couple of benefits.... it's nice because you can work lying down and the dental plan is fantastic. You can also open your own business. It helps to have a good idea that will get your business off the ground and it also helps if you don't start it up with someone who's mentally unstable. Trust me on that point. (note to self: re-usable condoms did not go over well in test marketing.... perhaps using bleach as the cleaning agent was not the best idea I've ever had. It burns.)


So what's next? Now we've all got decisions to make. Where do we want to go from here? I can't make that decision for you, but I think we all have to make our own ways. We all want different things in life, we all have different interests, we all have different expertise. Life has something in store for everyone. I know someone who's job it is to subtitle porn for god's sake! There is LITERALLY something for everyone out there, you just have to look a little and use some of your connections to find your way. In the meantime, relish the bonus time you have while you're out of work. Spend a certain percentage of your day looking for work and in the downtime pursue your passions. Write the great American novel, create the next 'Call of Duty', paint the new millennium's version of the Mona Lisa, direct a movie parody of 'The Grapes of Wrath'.... start your own blog. The sky's the limit! You have all the extra time that most of us dream about while we're strapped to our office chairs, take advantage of it. And on that note, I'm off to finish a painting, write an entry in my blog, study for school, look for work and take a nap. I'm not going to waste my time dwelling on the things I can't change, but rather focus on the things I can. Good day and good health. Best Blogger Tips
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Day In the Life of The Unemployed Geek

Routine.

Most people fall into habits, predictable patterns that become their daily rut, the path they choose to follow day after day. This doesn't stop cold when the paychecks stop coming in. The path mutates as you fall into new habits... hopefully cheap or free habits.

Not like this. I try to keep my Fabergé Egg Habit in check.

I've started to fall into my own kind of habits. Get up (whenever, variable based on how late I stayed up and if the wife needs a ride to school), check Facebook and E-mail, apply for jobs via e-mail, and work on a blog post while being distracted by social media and video games.

I typically start writing these and tracking down relevant images as soon as I'm sure about what I want the day's post to be. Having a schedule to keep, I think, helps keep a person sane. I try to vary the posts I make here to make sure there aren't too many about games in a row, and keeping an eye on making sure that I occasionally talk about being unemployed without this turning into a weepy LiveJournal.

Maybe I should have had "Horde or Alliance" listed in Geek Wars.

Every day, I at least log into World of Warcraft to check on a few daily quests and maybe run a dungeon with people in my guild. Three times a week in the evenings, my wife and I raid 25 man or 10 man content, working in our roles in a team to kill difficult bosses and distribute loot. We're both officers in the guild we've been in for almost 4 years now, and I was Guild Master until fairly recently when our founding GM returned to playing again, and I turned the reins back over to him. The concept of “gaming responsibilities” is big enough to get a post all its own, and something that people who haven't ever played in a raiding guild in an MMORPG probably won't ever understand. It is a lot like being on a sports team, but all the management and organization is done by the players, everyone's ego is always involved, and if people in certain positions don't log on... there's no game at all.

Outside of gaming, I spend a lot of time on the internet in general. Reading and commenting on other people's blogs (Morning Coffee FTW,) using StumbleUpon to discover new sites and Reddit and Digg to check up on news, share websites and generally participate in an internet community. I've been on SU and Digg for a very long time, but only recently started adding other users to my network, and just started on Reddit and honestly, feel kind of like an outsider there. Sometimes, Reddit feels like the first day at a new high school when you get into the cafeteria for the first time. Everyone seems vaguely hostile and the whole environment is exclusionary until one of the “cool kids” accepts you. I genuinely like the stuff I encounter there, so I keep at it, and keep getting downvoted.

Why do you hate me?  "Your content sucks."  More  downvotes... sigh.


Aside from that, checking for sales on Steam, watching sci-fi on Netflix with the wife or playing new computer games or on the Xbox/Wii... I prepare and organize the weekend Savage Worlds RPG game I run, schedules of the players permitting. For someone with a whole lot of time on his hands, my days are pretty busy (if not properly “productive”.)

As a sidenote, I'm delaying the Uberman Sleep experiment for at least a week, as I got a ticket to C2E2 (Formerly called Chicago Comic Con) and I'll be there this weekend. Also, the guest post from Joel at A Momentary Lapse should be ready soon, I may replace tomorrow's regular post with it, or if not... then Monday.

Long Article. Time for this Irishman to locate some Corned Beef and Cabbage, and then... Raid Night.
Slainté, and FOR THE HORDE!
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Avengers Assemble! - Marvel Comics' Huge Movie Crossover

 One of the core questions I asked in my Geek Wars post was concerning the great comic book debate was: Marvel or DC? (Yes, I know hardcore geeks will argue that we get better stuff from smaller studios, and on some level I agree.. but I'm not a frakkin' geek-hipster. To most of the world, there's only the Big Two.)

Personally, I've always held strong feelings on this subject. Though the best 4-5 DC Comics characters are my flat-out favorite superheroes (c'mon... BATMAN) if I had to choose an allegiance to one comics book universe over the other, I'm a Marvel fanboy. The sheer number of interesting characters featured in Marvel's comics outweighs the few interesting members of DC's Justice League, for my tastes.

Make Mine Marvel. Excelsior! Yeah... I'm a dork.

This brings me to the Avengers Movie project. Marvel has done a pretty good job in putting the characters in its back catalogue on the big screen these last few years. Not all of the movies have been good, but fan response has taught them a few things. Namely, the more faithful you are to an original property, the better the fan response will be. Since the successful reboot of the Hulk movie franchise and the wild blockbuster that Iron Man turned out to be, Marvel put together a crazy dream. At least it is the sort of dream that geeks like me might have.

What if Marvel's biggest non-mutant superteam got its own movie? The first concern, of course, is that quite a few members of the Avengers have their own solo titles, deep backstories and rich character histories... to put them up on-screen as bit parts in an ensemble piece would do them a grave injustice, as far as fans are concerned. No problem, says Marvel. We'll do individual movies for each of the best characters in The Avengers, lay the crossover angle on thick, then bring all those characters together like a 1960s Supergroup and make the movie that ties them all together.

Better than Cream... but no Clapton.


Did I mention Joss Whedon was directing?

Before I crumble under the weight of a massive nerdgasm, there's a little bit of a reality check. Marvel purists will note that some of the characters are getting unusual rewrites, especially certain elements of Thor, which releases this year. Also, some elements have been taken from the Marvel Ultimates universe, which a lot of old-school comic geeks despise as an unnecessary pandering to the “X-treme” new generation... but since Ultimate Nick Fury was based on Samuel L. Jackson, I'd give that one a pass. Also, Edward Norton won't be coming back on as Bruce Banner after negotiations with the studio broke down.

Remaining films this year in the Avengers Project are the previously mentioned Thor, and then Captain America: The First Avenger. I'll likely do individual articles on each of these once I've seen them for myself, but some of what I've seen so far is at least encouraging.

Aside from Dr. Doom (who Hollywood did wrong by), one of my very favorite Marvel villains.


The studios claim that they've been listening, that they know how to hit the sweet spot between satisfying us hardcore geeks, and the blockbuster-hungry general moviegoing public. I've heard it before and been let down...(Ghost Rider... damn you Nicolas Cage) but this time around... I want to believe.
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