Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Puppeteers: Elizabeth Bursick

I was inspired by a photography project done by Robbie Cooper where he took pictures of gamers and matched them with their in-game Avatars called "Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators". I thought it was a fantastic idea, so I decided to start a similar project. I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the people behind the Avatars, the puppeteers if you will, and why they designed their Avatars the way they did. If you are interested in participating, feel free to email me for details!

The beautiful Elizabeth!
Star Wars: TOR Smuggler 
Dragon Age II Mage

Name: Elizabeth Bursick

Why did you choose the Avatars you did, and what games are they from?

The first is my Smuggler from Star Wars: The Old Republic. I chose her because she’s my most recent Avatar.

The second is my mage from Dragon Age II. I picked her because I wasn’t really a fan of the game, but I loved how my Avatar looked.

How do you feel when you play this Avatar? Does it elicit any special emotions, or is it just there to reflect your style?

My Old Republic character makes me feel completely badass. She’s very much a “shoot first, ask questions later” kind of character and it’s fun to play someone way more reckless and short tempered than I actually am. I also just really love the juxtaposition of this petite, freckled, redheaded girl zooming around and saving the galaxy armed with only a pair of blasters and a foul mouth.

My Dragon Age II character feels more genuine and similar to my real life personality. She really just wants everyone to get along and stop hitting each other, and wishes everything could end with rainbows and sunshine and ponies. Part of what frustrated me so much about Dragon Age II as a whole is how it constantly fought my instinct to try to make everyone happy. No matter how hard my Avatar and I tried, nobody wanted to get along. Having an Avatar that I liked kept me from getting too angry with the game though. I enjoyed her attitude and appearance enough that I wanted to see her get through to the very end.

Why do you think you need/like/want to feel that way?

With my Old Republic Smuggler I really enjoy getting to make choices I’d love to in real life, but wouldn’t dare to because they’d probably result in jail time. It allows me to step away from how I would actually act and take on a devil-may-care attitude without having to deal with the consequences of it.

In Dragon Age II, on the other hand, I enjoy putting my own personality and decision making into that setting. Unlike my Smuggler Avatar, my mage Avatar seems less about taking on a different personality to suit the game world and more about trying to influence the game world with my real personality.

Did you try to create your Avatar to look like you actually look, or did you make one that looks how you want to look? Why?

I always make my Avatars look as much like me as I possibly can. I figure that if I’m going to spend upwards of twenty hours playing as a character, I’d best be able to relate to and care about her. For me, the best way to relate to that character is to make a doppelganger of myself. My Avatar should be me, but a little bit better. I want to be a little braver, wittier, and more charismatic; I want to have the ability to shoot lightening bolts out of my fingers, to somersault across a room without breaking my neck, and to maybe make my nose just a little bit smaller. There are so many video games out there where I’m forced to play as a muscular white male protagonist that when I get the chance to customize a heroine, I want to play as me.

Do you feel like you succeeded in creating the Avatar you imagined?

In Dragon Age II, absolutely yes. I think this Avatar is the closest I’ve ever gotten to creating a character that actually resembles me. I loved that I can have traits I can’t usually find in most character creators, like round cheeks, a round nose, small eyes, and long blonde hair.

My Avatar from The Old Republic was a bit of a letdown though. I went into the game wanting to make a blonde bombshell Smuggler, but was disappointed when I fired up the character creator and discovered there was no option for blonde hair. There are about ten different shades of brown, but only one shade that could pass as dark blonde. I was a bit stunned at the time because it kind of felt like the developers didn’t think a blonde girl could possibly want to play a Star Wars game. It probably sounds silly, but I felt a bit like Bioware was calling me a dumb blonde. After I scowled at my computer for a few minutes I finally settled on red hair. I’ve been a redhead in the past and figured that was the next best way to physically match my Avatar to me. It was disappointing at first, but the Avatar has grown on me and I like her a lot now.

If you could change one thing about Avatar customizations in video games, what would it be?

Options for body type. I think body type for females is such a huge problem across all video games. We have games like the Soul Caliber series giving us gravity defying physiques and back breaking poses that are designed specifically for the male gaze, and then we have games like Fable and Fable II that make us subsist solely on water and celery if we want a female character who doesn’t have a hulking masculine figure. I don’t like it when my escapist fantasy video games pressure me in the same way real life does or when they remind me that I’m not their target audience. I would love to see more developers realize that there is a demand for unique, customizable female models. I think some games are heading in the right direction. The Old Republic does have a handful of body types to choose from and EVE Online has an amazing character creator that let’s you customize your pilot from her nose down to her calf muscles,. And for video games in general, things like the popularity of Female Shepard in Mass Effect and Lara Croft’s new athletic redesign for the upcoming Tomb Raider game are really promising too. I do think developers are starting to notice that we want female characters that reflect us, so I’m hopeful that we’ll soon start seeing a wider range of available female body types in games.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Game Review - Gotham City Impostors (PC)

I've played a bit of Gotham City Impostors and it's a pretty fun and colorful game. The premise is that Batman and the Joker are too busy with each other on occasion to bother with a large group of boozed up, crazy, weirdo Gotham City residents who take it upon themselves to dress up in make shift Batman and Joker gear and duke it out.

First I'd like to point out that the game is very much for adults, so please don't buy this for your kids thinking it's going to be a silly brawler. There's a lot of bad language and behavior from the introductory characters and the costumes are not exactly modest at times. That's not even to mention that listening to the actual players in voice chat is much like stepping into a Call of Duty match online. Lot's of talk about how they were screwing your mother last night and questioning the size of your junk.

The gameplay itself is a team based FPS and I've seen a lot of reviewers compare it to TF2 which I think is not even remotely accurate. Beyond being a team based FPS the game is really its own beast. That's the one part I think they did a great job with. There are a lot of unique moves and I love that the maps encourage you to make liberal use of gliding through the air, jumping high off of trampolines, and using grappling hooks. You don't have to play that way to be effective but it's cool that they give you much more opportunity for it than any other game I've seen.

There are three multiplayer game modes, a tutorial mode called "Initiation", and a challenges mode that is pretty self explanatory but nice in that it let's you test out all the doohickies and explore the maps. The multiplayer is the meat of the game and has the following modes:

Team Death Match - This one is your typical team vs. team gameplay. There is a set time limit and plays to 50 team kills.

Fumigation - This one is a capture point game. You stand next to gas dispensers and if you stay close for long enough that point belongs to your team. Basically you win by having your gas push out the other team's gas. It's all based on percentages, the team that controls the majority of the points gains percentage in the game and this continues tug of war style as the points are captured and lost. In the end the team that can hold the majority for the longest, until they hit that 100% saturation of their gas, wins. This was my favorite of the game modes.

Psych Warfare - I hated this one. It's steal the bacon. Grab the battery, take it back to your hypnosis propaganda machine thing and plug the battery in. Keep the enemy away from it long enough and you win! Except once the enemy team has the battery plugged in, it's extremely hard to turn the game around. I didn't think it was very well implemented, though waving your arms in front of you when your team loses a point and you're driven crazy is kind of hilariously fun.

One thing I didn't like about all the game modes was that there is no customization. The game chooses the time limits, kill limits...everything. The most you can do is object to the map that the game picked for you and hope that others also vote it down.

As you play you earn points for various achievements, kills, etc. Once you have enough points you can put them toward unlocking costume items. As you progress in levels you also start to unlock weapon keys and upgrades. When you first start the game you have a whole lot of nothing, which I was a little frustrated with. However, things seem to unlock relatively quickly and eventually you get the ability to start customizing your character. This was something that I both liked and disliked about the game. You don't get to choose whether you're a Batman or a Joker, you get randomly assigned. However, you do get the option to customize both costumes.

I like the ideas behind this game but you just don't get enough bang for your buck.

This game may work better on console than it does on PC. There is just too much neglect when it comes to the PC version and options. This is especially apparent when you have to start out the game battling with Games for Windows Live.

The match making system is total crap. It tries to do everything for you and makes the choices poorly. There is also not a huge player base, which is not really the game's fault, but still adds to the crappiness that is match making. There's no option for running a dedicated server. There's no option to pick where you connect to. So, you can't filter out a game that you might have a bad connection to. If it happens to be some guy hosting from Mongolia somewhere he's going to be the only one with a decent ping and rip everyone apart until they get out and hope for a better match next time.

There is supposedly a fix coming for this terrible match making, but I can not stand when devs think it's OK to push such a poor and clearly unfinished product.

To add to your troubles, I had a lot of difficulty connecting with a friend. In the end, he was able to grab me in and send an invite from his Games for Windows Live list while I was not at all able to locate him on mine and do the same.

At $15 I can't recommend this game. However, with some big improvements that the devs should have LAUNCHED the game with, I can see it easily being worth the cash. As of right now, I say skip it and wait for a few updates.

As it stands I give this game a reluctant 3 out of 5 because I can see it potentially climbing to an easy 4 out of 5 with suspected improvements. I know that seems a little high based on a mostly negative review, but it's hard to describe how original the gameplay feels. It's a lot of fun if you have the patience and fortitude to look past its many faults.

Rating Key: (0) Burn it with fire (1) Bad (2) Meh (3) OK/Average (4) Thumbs Up (5) Marry It

Note: A special thanks to [MR] Teatime for his collaboration on this review!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Puppeteers: Karlyn Meyer

I was inspired by a photography project done by Robbie Cooper where he took pictures of gamers and matched them with their in-game Avatars called "Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators". I thought it was a fantastic idea, so I decided to start a similar project. I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the people behind the Avatars, the puppeteers if you will, and why they designed their Avatars the way they did. If you are interested in participating, feel free to email me for details!

The wonderful Karlyn
Fallout 3 badassery

Alistair lovin' City Elf from Dragon Age: Origins

Name: Karlyn Meyer

Why did you choose the Avatars you did, and what games are they from?

The first is from Fallout 3. This was my first experience with character creation. The whole process was really thrilling for me, and this remains one of my all-time favorite games. The second is from Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings. She's a City Elf rogue. I included her because she's a character I really wanted to be able to identify with, but I had to work pretty hard to get her to that point.

How do you feel when you play this Avatar? Does it elicit any special emotions, or is it just there to reflect your style? 

Both avatars are near to my heart because I created them to reflect my personality. I select attributes that feel realistic so my characters remind me of myself. They tend to be intelligent, cunning, and persuasive, but not really strong or graceful--and they know nothing about magic. I like giving them other little pieces of myself as well. For example, my Fallout 3 character always wears glasses, like I do. I love that there's this little woman out there dominating the postapocalyptic wasteland in glasses.

Why do you think you need/like/want to feel that way? 

I love the fantastic setting that gaming provides, but I relish the ability to experience it through characters who approach situations as I would. I prefer there to be very little disconnect.

Did you try to create your Avatar to look like you actually look, or did you make one that looks how you want to look? Why?

I spend far too much time attempting to create avatars who look like me. I've been excited by the surge of women of color in video games; I rushed out to preorder Left 4 Dead 2 when I saw Rochelle on the poster, and it meant so much to have Alyx Vance alongside me later in the Half-Life series. But on balance, I've spent years playing beautifully written games in which my onscreen persona was a white man. I so seldom see a playable character (or even a meaningful NPC) who resembles me physically, so when given the opportunity, I create her.

Do you feel like you succeeded in creating the Avatar you imagined? 

In some ways. But I always struggle with skin and hair. I've run into the same problem that Eye-shuh mentioned in the first Puppeteer's interview: I have never been able to replicate my skin tone in a character creator. I err on the side of selecting shades much darker than I am (as with my Fallout 3 Avatar), just because I like seeing a brown girl on screen.

The Dragon Age character was especially frustrating. I achieved her shade only by completely maxing out every color bar, and she's still barely browner than a cafe au lait. This was compounded by the fact that all the NPCs in the game appeared white, including my character's family. Incidentally, both of the characters I included here have an origin story in which their mother passed away, and they interact with their fathers in-game. The Dragon Age character's father was of light complexion, as were all her cousins in the village where she grew up. In contrast, the father in Fallout resembled my character. In Dragon Age, it was hard not to think that brown-skinned characters--and the players who would create them--just weren't contemplated. But I just decided that the City Elf's mother had been very brave, very clever, and very dark.

If you could change one thing about Avatar customizations in video games, what would it be? 

In addition to my thoughts on skin tone, I'd love to see more options for hair texture. You'll notice that my Dragon Age avatar is bald. I have natural hair that ranges from a tight afro in the winter to a large, wild, kinky masterpiece in the summer. It's my favorite thing about my appearance. In games, however, I see dozens of choices for straight hair in many lengths and styles, but very few different textures, if any. You're lucky if you find loose waves. I'll stay on the lookout for a game that will let me give my character a nappy fro. In the meantime, I use the "male" styles in games that share one hairstyle bank between male and female avatars. And where that isn't an option, I go bald. :)

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Puppeteers: Tasha Schmidt

I was inspired by a photography project done by Robbie Cooper where he took pictures of gamers and matched them with their in-game Avatars called "Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators". I thought it was a fantastic idea, so I decided to start a similar project. I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the people behind the Avatars, the puppeteers if you will, and why they designed their Avatars the way they did. If you are interested in participating, feel free to email me for details!

The beautiful Tasha
Jaliyah the Mirialan
Tamsin the Chiss
Siobhan the Human (Cyborg)

Name: Tasha Schmidt

Why did you choose the Avatar(s) you did and what game is it from?

All three avatars are from Star Wars: The Old Republic, as this is the game that takes up the majority of my time these days. I picked these three specifically because I thought they showed the best range in style. I'm not really one who always plays a certain race or skin tone, especially in games where your race effects game play very little.

How do you feel when you play this Avatar? Does it elicit any special emotions, or is it just there to reflect your style?

My emotions are really quite separate from those of my avatars. Mainly the emotion I feel when playing a game is amusement, I guess. My characters might be hot-headed, evil, or a push over but I don't feel the emotions connected to those things. Particularly in SWTOR I might feel shocked based on what someone else in the story did, but that has no relation to what my character would feel (Siobhan, for instance, is an Imperial Agent so she probably figured it out way before I did).

Why do you think you need/like/want to feel that way?

It's important to me to keep my emotions separate because it allows me to do all sorts of things I couldn't in real life, both good and bad. I have friends who won't play an evil character because of the way it makes them feel. While that's not necessarily a bad thing I personally want to experience all the paths games have to offer. On the other hand there are those who legitimately enjoy being evil and I certainly don't want to turn out like that either. I also don't strive to be like Jaliyah who always makes the good choices, even when they don't benefit her. I have a bit of a selfish streak in me and I'm okay with that. =]

One thing that has some up with SWTOR is the romance options and how those in "real-life" relationships are dealing with them. For me it is easy for Tamsin to marry her companion, and for Siobhan to have countless one night stands, because my emotions aren't tied to that of my avatars. My husband has no need to feel jealous because he's not competing with my romance options for affection.

Did you try to create your Avatar to look like you actually look or did you make one that looks how you want to look? Why?

The only time I've made avatars to look like myself was when making a family to represent my own on The Sims. They do share certain stylistic preferences though, such as my affinity for having at least part of my hair up. Green and purple are my favorite colors, so there's a good chance one or both of those will make an appearance. I'm also partial to freckles. I will admit that I'd love to have red hair, so I make characters with red hair fairly frequently. Other than that it's less about how I want to look and more about what I find aesthetically pleasing. Occasionally however I will deviate from that entirely if I feel it's more inline with my avatar's personality to do so.

If you could change one thing about Avatar customizations in video games, what would it be?

I love the idea of "barber shops" and wish they were in every game! I shouldn't necessarily be able to change my face or height/weight, but if I can change my hairstyle and make-up on the fly IRL I want to be able to do it in game, too. This is especially important for games that add new styles after the game has been out for a while. I usually play my characters for years so being able to change them up a bit keeps them looking fresh.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sh*t Gamer Girls the shit all gamers say?

I'm not gonna lie to you, Marge. I don't really get the "Sh*t people say" videos. I've giggled at a couple moments in them, sure, but how on earth did they achieve such memeness?

The following one, "Sh*t Gamer Girls Say" caught my attention when it was reported on by the Jace Hall Show blog. Honestly I think that article gets it wrong though. I don't think the YouTube comments are necessarily an indication at all of how women are treated when playing games online (not to say that verbal abuse isn't an issue). I think the YouTube comments are indications of how the internet has trolls and a lot of them are genuinely not very intelligent.

Or that you shouldn't play Call of Duty games no matter what your gender. Either way.

Personally, I think the video is kinda funny. Yeah, I've said a lot of that stuff. I found it funnier after I read through the first handful of pages of comments and realized a lot of the down votes were likely from people who didn't understand that most of these videos feature gender swapped actors and that this guy was playing a woman as a joke and is likely not really a transvestite.

Given the nature of this meme I didn't find this particular video offensive. I actually thought it was more a reflection/parody of gamers in general rather than just gamer girls. However, I also think that the creators of this video know that and that it was part of the joke. There's nothing special about the way female gamers act - we're all just gamers...and we all hate Navi.

What do you think? Did you pay any attention to it at all or is it just another in a long line of a marginally humorous meme?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Steam Mobile - Steam on all the things!

UPDATE: Steam Mobile is now in open beta!

Valve seems to be giving away invitations to the closed beta of the Steam Mobile beta like candy, so when I downloaded the app and tried to log in (how to ask for an invite) I found a nice new inventory item in my account when I got home - another invite! Which means I got in!

As a quick side note, I think it's hilarious that they give you an additional invite in your inventory as a tradable item. I had a friend who was going to offer me his for my iPod headphones accessory for TF2. He was bummed when I arrived home to find that I had an invite of my own! It was a happy ending though - I offered them to him for free and ended up walking away with 50% off a Valve game from the Christmas special challenges. 

So, the Steam Mobile application. It is awesome, my friends. You can browse the store, add games to your wishlist, buy games, check out the community page, profiles, chat with your friends...pretty much the only thing you can't do with it is play any actual games. 


The chat works and looks great. I only had one small problem with it where you get about 2 - 5 seconds lag after you press send before it actually sends the message; connecting to wifi helped the issue but I still noticed a lag. However, it seems to make up for this a little by showing a "..." while someone is typing. So even if there's a lag after someone presses send you can still see that they are about to say something.

Surprisingly, I didn't notice a horrible battery drain. Yes, it's going to take a toll as any running application would, but I expected it to do a lot more damage to my power than it did for how great it looks. Unless you purposefully exit you'll notice that a Steam icon remains in your notification bar to remind you it's running.

Overall I was pretty impressed with the whole thing. I'm excited to have my Steam chat list available to me when I'm away from the computer because I definitely have people who I am friends with on Steam that I don't have connections with elsewhere. Plus you gotta love Valve for giving us another convenient way to shovel our money at them - and shovel I shall!

Valve is built on a great community and this is a fantastic extension of that. So download the application for either Android or iOS and go for the closed beta invite (be sure to try and log in so they add you to the list - this includes putting in a secure code they send you in email when you log in from a new computer)! Even if you don't get in, there's a good chance you'll be able to trade one of your TF2 hats for one!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Level Up Your Liver: Gaming Taverns

If there’s one thing that I know gamers are good at--besides gaming--it’s drinking!  I have seen so much alcohol consumed during gaming sessions, over an intense game of Munchkin, at Rock Band parties and at meetups at bars, you wouldn’t believe it!  Or maybe you would believe it; maybe you’re one of those people, like me, who likes to drown their sorrows in a drink after having your ass handed to you at Super Smash Bros. Brawl or Halo 3.  There are Geeks who Drink, Drunkosophers (just wait, ladies and gentlemen, Drunkosophy is going to be the greatest gift to clever geeks since Plato! Till then though, you should follow us on teh Twitterz), The Drunken Moogle, and a million various blogs, Twitter accounts and Tumblr posts dedicated to the glorious art of being geekily drunk. And yes, geekily is an adverb, it’s a real thing. I Googled it. 

In a noble effort to bring together two of these incredible elements, gaming and liquor, a few brave souls have rolled their dice, plotted their course, and opened the doors to their own gamer-oriented establishments that feature full (or partial) liquor service.  Most of these gaming bars are for adults who are of legal drinking age (21 years old in the U.S.) and have a distinct bar or lounge atmosphere.  Some gaming taverns are more family-friendly and have sections open to families and under-21s, and some establishments have specific all-ages hours and become 21-and-over after a certain time of day.  

Gamers go out to see friends!  TAKE THAT, societal assumptions!
While preparing to write this article, I decided to poll a few willing participants about their experience(s) with gaming bars, and also to get an idea of how honest my friends would be about their drinking habits (just joking!). 

Thank you very much to those of you who participated!  Next time I may throw in some prizes for participation, so stay tuned for more exciting surveys! I received 33 responses from 8 US states and 4 countries (including the US), an impressive data set, if I do say so myself (and I have some sexy pie charts to prove it!)!  Of those surveyed, a full 72% said that they thought gamer bars were “amazing” or had been to several, and 18% have not yet been to a gaming bar but would be interested in seeing what they’re all about.  Emorimiku says he likes gamer bars because they're like an adult equivalent of old arcades, and petfish believes that gamer bars have a more accessible environment for shy patrons.  Josh P. believes that gamer bars "are way better than regular bars, which are stodgy and boring", an intriguing observation!  No one who completed the survey said that they are not interested in gaming bars at all--which makes a good deal of sense given the purpose of this survey and the sample population that I surveyed. 

 And now, a comparison chart!  It seems that more people tend to go out to bars than arcades, but my quantitative data suggests that most (60%) of those that I surveyed would go to or return to a gamer bar if given the option.  Those who weren't interested in visiting a gamer bar said that they are either typically too expensive or they'd rather just go over to someone's house to play games.

"Multiplayer" and "Specialty" (expensive arcade cabinets) games seem to be most popular.
It makes a lot of sense that board, card and drinking games are popular at bars, especially for those of us who know that gamers aren't social outcasts.  It also seems sensible that arcade cabinets and pinball games are popular items at gamer bars, since they're usually "specialty" items that are expensive to maintain and aren't generally things you have at home. 

Now that we’ve established some basic stats, here’s a list of some real-life gamer bars and a brief synopsis and mini-review of each!  So settle in, grab your favorite at-home-and-browsing-the-internet-beverage, and find out which of these places you’ll want to have on your “must see” list for 2012! 

Location: Everett, WA (a good 35 minutes north of Downtown Seattle)
What it’s all about:  AFK Tavern opened in November 2010 amid extreme excitement from Seattle gamers, and, specifically, from our Pretty Gamer contributors!  In fact, we had a great opportunity to interview Alison and Kayla, two of the women who lashed together steampunk cogs and mana pools to bring AFK into the world.
Why it Rocks: AFK have everything you could ever ask for in a gaming tavern, period.  There is an impressive array of 3rd-gen consoles and games, large tables for RPGing or boardgames, an impressive sofa/TV setup (that’s great for watching fighting games), and it’s open to under-21s.
The Downside: It’s far, far away (from Seattle), and expensive.  Nianiania, on of my survey participants, points out that AFK costs about twice as much as other bars.  AFK has also had some bad reviews regarding food, slow service and “you have chosen poorly” cocktails.  But if you go with an open mind and average expectations, you’ll survive, and you'll like it.

PINBALL!!! (Shorty's)
Location: Seattle, WA
What it’s all about:  Shorty’s is a sweet, sweet heaven of hot dogs, nachos and pinball games.  It’s where Seattleites and informed visitors go to become Pinball Wizards! (Another place I’ve heard great rumors about is the Seattle Pinball Museum in the International District, no booze there, though).
Why it rocks: Booze, Pinball, Hot Dogs, Arcade Games.  Boom.  
The Downside: It’s in Belltown.

Location: Seattle, Washington
What it’s all about:  Cafe Mox is an extension of Card Kingdom, an expansive, comprehensive and really well-laid-out game store just south of the main thoroughfare of Ballard.  Buy your games at Card Kingdom and then drop into Cafe Mox and Playtest.That.Shit!
Why it rocks: The best part about Cafe Mox is Card Kingdom; it’s a great place to sit and play new games.
The downside:  Cafe Mox is teeny-tiny.  Don’t expect to go with a group of more than 4 or 5 or you’ll have to make sure you have good stats in Diplomacy to get someone to trade tables with you.  

Tron at Ground Kontrol
Location: Portland, Oregon
What it’s all about: Portlandians be proud!  Ground Kontrol is the big name around these parts, and even Seattleites make pilgrimages down to Oregon to stop in at this forerunner in the gaming-bar industry.  Ground Kontrol started out in 1999 (NINETEEN-NINETY-NINE!) and has been serving up drinks alongside classic arcade cabinets and pinball machines for nigh-on-thirteen years.
Why it rocks: Aside from the awesome classic pinball games like Demolition Man, Lord of the Rings and (classic) Doctor Who, they have /light-up-tables/!
The Downside: I want to take a jab at Portland here, but, I just can’t do it!  This place is just too cool!  You’d really have to make a day/weekend trip to Portland to make it worth it, but, Ground Kontrol has an established reputation for a reason.

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
What it’s about: It’s a bar in Vegas without the gambling.  Instead of slot machines you have, well, arcade cabinets with slots to put your quarters in.  And, to be quite honest, it actually is a bit of a gamble as to whether or not the machine will accept or eat your quarter.  Insert Coins is in downtown Vegas so it’s a lengthy bus ride to and from the strip.
Why it rocks: If you’re tired of losing money fast on bad luck, you know you’ll at least be able to get some real entertainment from a couple quarters here.
The Downside: It’s far from the strip, in a sketch area.  And I was serious about the cabinets eating your quarters. 

Location: Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia
What it’s about: Mana Bar exudes an exotic, international-gamer aura of intensity and hot Australian accents.  (In reality, though, I haven’t been to Mana bar, and I’m pissed that their Melbourne opening got delayed and I missed it, so I have no idea whether my fantastical image of this place is at all accurate...)
Why it rocks:  Clearly I have some of my own idealized notions about this place, but I have a sneaking suspicion (based on some of their expertly shot press photos and.. actually that’s all I currently have to go on) that I’m not far off base with my glamorization of this place.  
The Downside: It’s about $2,000 away from where I’m at!  If you’ve been to Mana Bar and you’d like to tell us about it, please comment below, so that I may revel in sweet, sweet jealousy.

The chains: Gameworks, Dave and Busters, Chuck E Cheese.  Are they “gaming bars” (or, for the kids-only places like Chuck-E-Cheese, "gaming establishments") or arcade power-houses?  Or something else entirely?  Perhaps I’ll do some more research and find out!  In the meantime, happy drinking!  If you make it to any of these places, tell us about it! 

For more images of gaming bars around the country, check out this album!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Puppeteers: Brenna Ce'Dria

I was inspired by a photography project done by Robbie Cooper where he took pictures of gamers and matched them with their in-game Avatars called "Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators". I thought it was a fantastic idea, so I decided to start a similar project. I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the people behind the Avatars, the puppeteers if you will, and why they designed their Avatars the way they did. If you are interested in participating, feel free to email me for details! 

Brenna in all her pirate glory!
Elissa of Dragon Age: Origins

Name: Brenna Ce'Dria

Why did you choose the Avatar(s) you did and what game is it from?

Elissa is the female human warrior- or rogue-option from Dragon Age: Origins. She wasn't my first character in the game, but the interactions I got between her and the NPCs was just... the perfect fairy tale in some ways. My original character was much more logical than Elissa--even to the point of being willing to kill a small child to prevent the demon possessing it from destroying a city. Not Elissa. It was idiotic, but she still took a risk and ended up saving everyone's life involved--the possessed child, his family, and the city itself.

How do you feel when you play this Avatar? Does it elicit any special emotions, or is it just there to reflect your style?

My Elissa play-throughs of DA:O are always all about hope, and about saving "the spider and the butterfly" as I came to realize after a very, very passionate bout of nerdrage over Dragon Age II's ending. All of my other characters in that universe came to understand that life wasn't fair, and they were forced to accept the bad with the good. Elissa simply never stops to consider that there's any possible result than helping everyone successfully, and since no one obviously stopped to tell her that's not how things really work, she hasn't failed yet.

Why do you think you need/like/want to feel that way?

As much as I adore playing bad guys in Star Wars games, and characters of... questionable... morals in everything else, who doesn't want to save the world every now and again? Elissa is my link to that fantasy.

Did you try to create your Avatar to look like you actually look or did you make one that looks how you want to look? Why?

A little of both. I adore having pale skin and dark hair, and almost all of the characters I've ever identified with have shared those two traits. When I get to customize a character I kind of make her "skinny me" and I normally give her either green or violet eyes, but other than that, I don't have a set goal of making her look like any other character I've used. Basically, a character that I could cosplay convincingly if I really wanted to, but not one that's a mirror image of myself.

If you could change one thing about Avatar customizations in video games, what would it be?

My complaints always change game to game. Oblivion had too many options. Skyrim has too few. SWTOR could do with a few more options than it has, but it also has a much more defined universe it needs to remain consistent with. Probably the best customization option I've come across is in DA2, though: you have to get certain DLC to get access to it, but you can change your character's appearance after the game starts. Sure, people tend to get into a routine and don't stray too far from it, but by god let me change my hair style every now and again!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gearbox has found their Lilith

A little while ago Gearbox put out a casting call to find an actress to play Lilith, one of the four characters from Borderlands. It was revealed pretty early on that she would be returning for Borderlands 2 in perhaps a Guardian Angel type capacity. The casting call went out for someone with a good array of facial expressions who looked similar to Lilith and would be her both in and out of game. The winner was aussie Yasemin Arslan.

Here's the video introducing her:

An Australian is the ideal candidate for such a role. She'll already have what it takes to make her way through the skag infested deserts of Pandora. Skag? Skag nothing. Aussies have to deal with spiders as big as your head! They have actual spiderants there!

I really wanted a gamer to win this job and if "vera.chimera" is really her, then I am pleased with this response in the comments of the video:

She seemed nice enough and her look, while not dead on, is close enough for me.

So, what do you think? Is she Lilith material? 

Organ Trail, your zombie infested alternative to the Oregon Trail

I kind of hate when people say "aren't we over zombies yet?" or "when is the zombie trend going to die?!" You know what people, it's not. Zombies are here to stay. It is with that zombie love in my heart that I took to Organ Trail by The Men Who Wear Many Hats. It's a super fun little in-browser Oregon Trail spoof that does a perfect job of putting an end of the world spin on the classic game.

If you're not familiar with The Oregon Trail, which is entirely possible as I have discovered recently I may be getting older (just a rumor), then you might not entirely enjoy it. I'll admit a lot of the fun has to do with the novelty of having a classic game from childhood redone in such a fashion. Back in my day (cough) it was hard to think of The Oregon Trail as an educational game but I could see how people who have never played before may not be wowed by this iteration. However, if you're into strategy and have some time, I'd say give it a shot.

I sucked a LOT at scavenging for food but I made up for it by being fantastic at trade!

Their Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success, so you can expect to see this game on your phone in the future. To be honest, I would pay a nominal fee if one were required. It's definitely worth it.

These guys clearly love gaming and are having fun creating games. On their website you can even find a flash version of one of the casino games you can play in Pokemon (Zero Flip). So all you poke-gamblers can practice up without the coin loss!

My only disappointment so far is that no one has died of dysentery. Of course, there's always time for that as the wagon rolls on.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Puppeteers: Eye-shuh

I was inspired by a photography project done by Robbie Cooper where he took pictures of gamers and matched them with their in-game Avatars called "Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators". I thought it was a fantastic idea, so I decided to start a similar project. I'm not sure yet how often this will run, perhaps once a week at first, but I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the people behind the Avatars, the puppeteers if you will, and why they designed their Avatars the way they did. If you are interested in participating, feel free to email me for details! And now I present to you the very first featured "puppeteer"! 

The girl behind the Avatar!
Badass Brick from Borderlands.
Fallout 3. Yes, this one is from the start of the game.
My original was on Xbox, and it's unplugged
right now so I recreated it. lol

Name/Handle: Eye-shuh

Why did you choose the Avatar(s) you did and what game is it from?

I chose two Avatars for this. The first is from Fallout 3 because it’s one of the few customizations I’ve been able to make where I could try and match my skin color without turning out orange. Most games interpret “tan” as “spray on orange tan” which is a bit frustrating. I’m proud to be a tan skinned half-Arab, and I like my Avatars to show that (yes, I realize I can't choose Arab as an ethnicity from the limited options, but you can still make most of them a nice tan). The second Avatar I chose is not really customizable, but I wanted to include it anyway. This is the character Brick from Borderlands. You can’t make Borderlands characters look any different but you can change their clothing colors. I made my big buff Brick pink. I generally don’t like pink, but for some reason I get a kick out of it when it’s on something unexpected. Example: for Christmas this year I got a 20 gage shotgun with pink camo accents. Thus, my shotgun toting tough guy wears pink.

How do you feel when you play this Avatar? Does it elicit any special emotions, or is it just there to reflect your style?

While the style thing is a big part of it, I would also say that both make me feel powerful. I love that the Fallout 3 customizations, even if you choose to wear make-up, leave your character looking gritty and dangerous and ready for a fight. My Brick makes me feel like I could take on the world--especially an alien one--with how giant I am. He’s easily double the size of a lot of the other characters throughout Borderlands. In real life I am a pretty short and not incredibly strong (working on it!) person. I like to start a video game feeling like if a dude tried to mess with me, I could punch him in the face and end that real quick.

Why do you think you need/like/want to feel that way?

I have an extremely active imagination, pretty bad anxiety, and a general doom and gloom idea of what goes on outside the basement I work in. If zombies ever attacked or a nuclear bomb turned everyone into crazed cannibals, I would probably be the first to go. However, these Avatars give me a little hope that maybe there’s a possibility that I would kick ass after all. I can be as strong as them...after all, I’m the one behind the controls!

Did you try to create your Avatar to look like you actually look or did you make one that looks how you want to look? Why?

For Brick, well, I just think he looks really cool and kinda funny in pink, going back to the whole “unexpected things in pink” thing. For my Fallout 3 character, I tried to make her at least somewhat similar. I like to identify with my video game characters. That tends to be hard for women since we get a lot of giant boob jiggling scantily clad with butt cracks showing characters. My boobs are not giant and I get pretty embarrassed when my belt fails to hold my pants well above my crack. My Fallout 3 character is a well armored half-Arab woman with a strong, toned, not overly stylized body and a fierce look in her eyes. I want her to look at least a little like me because then I can feel like I’m actually in the game punching the crap out of some Deathclaws.

If you could change one thing about Avatar customizations in video games, what would it be?

A tan skin tone that is really tan!


Well, that's it for the first run! I already have another participant ready for next week and several more volunteers. Let me know if there's anything you'd like to see changed or added! I hope this turns out to be an interesting, insightful, and fun project!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Video Gamers! You are officially adults now!

Over the weekend was a link to an article about a Progressive Insurance commercial with the headline, "Sonic Sells Out."  If you haven't seen the commercial yet, take a look.

No mistaking it, that's Sonic the Hedgehog in a Progressive Insurance commercial.  I decide to dig around the interwebs to see the overall mood.  It's a mixed bag.  Some folks like it and think it's "neat," but most hate it.  They can't believe that "SEGA is using Sonic to sell car insurance."

Well kids, I hate to break it too you, are the grown-ups now.  Yes it's true.  You are adults and you still play videogames.  Studies have shown the average video gamers are in their 30s.  Madison Avenue Executives know this too, they commission all sorts of studies and surveys.  They have to know the market they are going to sell a product to.  They know video gamers are adults with adult needs such as car insurance.

I went through this myself when music I listened to in high school started becoming commercial jingles.  I'm not talking about top 40 pop either, advertisers eat that pap up daily for quick sales.  Top 40 is tailor made for sales; catchy, saccharine, and disposable.  No I'm talking about Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest, music that isn't really "mainstream."  Yet there it was, on my TV, selling cars.

Not to mention even more recent commercials.

 The last one strikes me as the funniest since in the 80s they tried to brand metal as an "evil, corrupting, influence on young people."  Now Ozzy is practically as family friendly as Barney.

Some of you might be saying, "Yeah, but Sonic?"  Hey when you were a kid Sonic and Mario shilled sugar-filled cereal to you and you wanted it then.  Nary a hint or cry of "sellout" then.  You got the cereal then, Madison Avenue thinks you'll buy the insurance now.  My bet is an advertising company representing Progressive asked SEGA to use Sonic.  Considering the costs these days to make a video game, SEGA I am sure had no problem.  So don't blame SEGA.

If you think it's bad now, think about when you hit retirement age.  I shudder to think what 80s heavy metal song will be used to sell Depends.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Game Review - Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is just plain fun. I loved almost everything about this game! The gameplay clearly and strongly encourages you to use stealth, but if you're like me and you enjoy running into baddies guns blazing you still get tons of options on how to complete your missions. I think there was just one instance where the game actually forced me to use stealth or forfeit, which was fine since it was an optional side-quest. For everything else, watch out for my trusty shotgun baddies!

The greatest thing about this game is the options. You are given so many different ways to get to your objective and to take out bad guys and to go through the game it feels like the whole thing is custom made just for you. It made me relate more to the main character because I could make him act in the exact way I would act in that situation. (You know, if I was a technologically enhanced human being with awesome combat skills.)

The characters are amazing. Every person in the game has a different motive and distinct personality. It makes for a very immersive game that really sucks you into the Deus Ex universe. The combat system is fantastic and throughout the whole game does a great job of balancing your options between fatal and non-fatal weapons for use depending on your preference.

I do have a few criticisms. The inventory system is horrendous...I really struggled with being able to play with all the guns in the game and also have the ammo and supplies I needed. In the end I choose four guns (10mm, Revolver, Shotgun, Combat Rifle) and only kept ammo for those. Later in the game I got most of the DLC and also made room for the Grenade Launcher. I also wish there had been more options for the "guns blazing" approach rather than having so many Praxis dedicated to stealth and hacking. However, the options they give you are pretty good ones, so I can let that slide.

The boss fights would be my final beef with the game. I really feel like they take away from the overall experience. You go from having a million options and routes to being stuck in a tiny room with someone ten times more powerful than anything you've encountered thus far, who is hell bent on ripping your head off. This has been pointed out by many reviewers and while I'm not entirely convinced that the outsourcing of the boss fights is at fault, it's definitely pretty frustrating. Luckily for me I got myself the Explosive Mission Pack DLC which included a lovely grenade launcher. Bosses do not like grenades...especially an entire clip of them. Each boss is easy if you have a good technique for them (hello grenades) but they still felt awkward given the rest of the game play.

On a "this was neither bad nor good" note, I had a little bit of a hard time buying into the story. It could be that the ideas are a bit dated in this day and age, but I just could not relate to the human purist protesters. I would go for a robot arm in a heart beat! In this decade where I was promised flying cars and hover boards, I just couldn't help but wonder why on earth some people would be against awesome android super powers. Even the sequence of events in the game didn't do much to waver my opinion on the matter. Ah well. The game does a great job of catering to all opinions on the matter.

Overall, this is an amazing game. I would actually almost recommend it to first time FPSers. If you set it to easy mode and got yourself some fancy weapons from the DLC to ease the boss fights, this game would do a great job of introducing someone to the genre and letting them set their own pace.

Much as I loved it, given with the frustration with bosses I'm going to rate it a 4.5/5

Rating Key: (0) Burn it with fire (1) Bad (2) Meh (3) OK/Average (4) Thumbs Up (5) Marry It

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Book Review - Borderlands: The Fallen

I am a pretty huge Borderlands fan. In fact, I would go so far to say Borderlands is my all time favorite video game. So, when I saw that a book had come out I had no choice but to pick it up! Unfortunately, I more or less had to force myself to get through it. Borderlands: The Fallen is an extremely disappointing look into the Borderlands universe.

From the cover and the description one can be led to assume, as I was, that the book has the potential to perhaps be the first of four going into the history of our mysterious Vault Hunters. That was not the case. The book barely looks at Roland's history and is not even about him. At all. The story revolves around a family who gets in over their heads looking for some rumored new alien technology that isn't Eridian. The whole thing ends up feeling like a long fanfiction story where the author decided to insert himself in a corny fashion into the world and "play" with his favorite character from the game.

Not that I can assume the author of this book even played the game. The way he writes about the various Pandora inhabitants it comes off like he was provided a list of people, creatures, and places from the world so that he could write this book without actually having to play Borderlands. It was especially distracting when he messed something up, like for example, having a Badass Psycho speak when in the game they just sort of grunt madly at you. Yes, it bothered me. Yes, I am in love with Borderlands and I don't care if that seems like a small mistake. The whole book is riddled with small mistakes that make you wince as you read them. At one point the author accidentally puts a character's name in a scene that he's not actually in.

The dialogue of this book is painful. I mean, really really painful. It's hard to read. The author throws around the one-liners from the game wildly throughout the story as if to say "Look look! Look nerds! It's about your video game! See? See how they say the same things!" Roland has little to no personality, which more or less goes for the majority of the characters in the book. They all fall pretty flat and all the enemies sound the same. I had to grit my teeth to get through any long conversations.

Also, here's the thing, grim things happen in Borderlands and Pandora is clearly not a place you want to vacation. However, the video game gives you this fun dark humor throughout the whole thing that the book completely abandons. If the author attempted humor at some point, I never saw it. His story is extremely grim and barely entertaining. It does not even remotely come close to the same feel you get from the game.

Then you have to endure the ending, which turns out to be a Star Trek ending - the humans have to prove themselves worthy to a mysterious superior being who is too vague to have much real motive for anything and to save the author from having to be creative with the alien creature. (Note: That is not a criticism of Star Trek. I love Star Trek. I just think the author was using a Star Trek ending because he couldn't think of anything interesting on his own. Works great for hour long Star Trek episodes, works pretty horribly for this kind of novel.)

There is a small amount of good to combat all this glaring bad. The scenery of Pandora is written beautifully. I really felt like I was on the planet's surface every time he described the surroundings. I also loved getting a little bit of depth to why Pandora is the way it is. The author sadly doesn't take much time to go into these details, but what he shells out is very interesting and makes me wish I could know more about the world.

Unfortunately, the good does not quite balance the bad. I would love to give this at least an OK/Average rating, but I just can't quite do it.

If you are a huge Borderlands fan like me, I mean, completely obsessive about the game, then you might like to pick this up. However, it currently costs $10 which is way too expensive for what you get. Wait until it goes on sale on Amazon and pick it up for less.

Rating: 2.5/5

Rating Key: (0) Burn it with fire (1) Bad (2) Meh (3) OK/Average (4) Thumbs Up (5) Marry It

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Robert Khoo IAmA

Robert Khoo, the man behind the business side of Penny Arcade did a pretty fantastic Question & Answer or IAmA on Reddit. He got asked because of this which was caused by this which exploded because Reddit is good at exploding servers.

You can find the IamA here. It is a pretty good read in it's entirety and the way Reddit works with up and down voting makes it really easy to scroll through and find Khoo's answers (his name is also highlighted before each response) and the funniest comments.

Here are just a couple of my favorites:

Aaaaaand we're back. Probably. I don't know.

I kinda missed Blogger. Plus now that Google has made all these changes to it with G+ integration it's starting to look all new and shiny again. So, here's to my first New Years goal: I vow to post at least once a week.

....This post doesn't count.