Category Archives: Gaming

Things I’m Geeking Out On – Top Ten Edition

There is so much going on in the geek circles this week that I’m just going to make this entirely a “Things I’m Geeking Out On” list. We’ll do it list style since we just did a list for Topless Robot this week on the new Daredevil series so my mind is in total Top Ten mode. (By the way, when you are done here, you can totally go read that over here – if you don’t mind spoilers, or have already seen it.)

Top Ten Things I’m Geeking Out On This Week

  1. The new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer – I didn’t think I was THAT excited about it yesterday when everyone was losing their minds over it, but now that I’ve watched it a couple of times, it really is pretty exciting. I found myself excitedly chatting up to one of my co-workers after she mentioned her dog is named Mara Jade. Apparently none of her friends are cool because she didn’t know the new trailer had dropped, nor did she know Celebrations was happening RIGHT NOW, 20 minutes away from our office! (I live for moments like this, I really do.) Anyways, it does look like it’s going to be hella cool, so you win this round J.J.
  2. Batman V Superman – Not in the sense that I’m excited about it, because I’m expecting it to be a hot mess at this point, but more in that I’ve been nerd raging about it since that insulting excuse for a teaser trailer dropped yesterday. Then the news that you had a to get tickets to see the trailer in select theaters? After the giant pile of MEH that was Man of Steel, I feel like the Warner Bros marketing team needs to earn my excitement, not act like they are doing the fans a favor. I mean, COME ON, the movie was pushed back A YEAR. That can’t possibly be a good sign. (If this movie isn’t another Suckerpunch, I’ll be amazed.)
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road – That new trailer is amazing. I cannot wait for this movie to be out. What a lovely day indeed.
  4. Fast and Furious 7 – Two of my favorite categories of movies are car movies (see above) and caper movies – F&F is pretty much the best of both worlds. The only reason we haven’t seen this already is because of Daredevil, but that will be fixed on Saturday! I need my car chase fix!
  5. Convergence: JLA – I was pretty skeptical of Convergence because I’m getting pretty tired of the seemingly endless DC comic crossover events, BUT give me the 90s versions of my favorite comic characters from my favorite era of comic collecting and I forgive surprisingly quick. In JLA, they doubled down and gave me not only some characters I’ve been really missing, like the green skinned Jade, Type A Speedster Jesse Quick, and Queen of the Sea Mara (Aquaman’s lady who is a force to be reckoned with herself), but gave us a girl power super group that I instantly fell in love with. If they turned this comic into a regular series I would lose my mind and subscribe in a heartbeat. The issue was pitch perfect – the art was beautiful, the ladies were tough, but also felt like real women, and the part where they taught some grabby dudes a lesson in manners was priceless. Also, a great reminder that DC has some pretty amazing super ladies BESIDES the way overdone Wonder Woman. In this case, we got Supergirl, Jesse Quick, Mara, Jade, and a very gothy take on Zatanna. This would be an amazing TV show – you hear me DC!?
  6. Convergence: Superboy – Speaking of characters I really miss, the Convergence version of Superboy was a total throwback to my favorite Superboy; the one with the leather jacket and the 90s haircut and the attitude. Team Cadmus is also back and excellently written (and reminded me more than a little of another certain science team on some show called Flash. Coincidence?). I felt like I was reading a lost issue from the late 90s. It made me miss it. Can we get this version back, please?
  7. Harley Quinn – Ok, I’m pretty much always geeking out on the Harley series, but this whole Team Harley storyline is pretty amazing. I love how the creators just single handedly exploded the number of female minority characters (and even added one possibly gay dude?) in the DCU. Also, those uniforms are like a gift to cosplayers everywhere. I want to see some cosplay group take this on. The humorous nods to Mad Max and 50 Shades of Grey via Harley and Ivy’s trip to the movies were also pretty delightful. Harley and Ivy’s BFF/FWB relationship has been pretty fun to watch play out.
  8. Daredevil – I liked it. I didn’t LOVE it, like some people seem to. It was very well executed and surprisingly meaty for a superhero show. My takeaway quip was that it was the Breaking Bad of superhero TV Shows. That didn’t make it into the article, but that would be my one sentence summary. If you liked Breaking Bad, you will probably like Daredevil. If you did not (I wasn’t a huge fan), you might find it’s serious approach a little much. Although, in fairness, this is the show Gotham should have been. A hard hitting crime drama with occasional super hero elements. Why didn’t I love it then? I felt like the Kingpin was not handled very well – it seemed like Wesley was in charge of everything most of the show, with the Kingpin seeming more like an idealistic figure head he was indulging, and Wesley seemed way more evil than the Kingpin would ever be capable of. Also, it was just really… dark. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it’s mainly a circumstantial evidence thing. See, we’ve binge watched A LOT of shows at this point. When something is really good, really grabs us – Battlestar Galactica, Lost, the first 5 seasons of the modern Doctor Who – you cannot drag us away from the TV. We will reschedule everything to squeeze in just one more episode. With Daredevil we found excuses to take frequent breaks, rarely able to sit through more than two episodes without suddenly needing to make a coffee run, go to the pool, or deciding to go out to dinner with friends. That’s not a great sign to me that I’m enjoying something. Would I watch a second season? Yes. Would I watch it all in one weekend again? Nope.
  9. Witcher III: The Wild Hunt – I was not expecting to geek out on this one, but we watched the trailer last night and this video game looks AMAZING. I’ve been waiting for someone to give me a Skyrim sequel for years now, and while this isn’t exactly that, it looks pretty damn close. Close enough for me to be super excited to play it!
  10. Community – I don’t know why it took me this long to watch this show, but I finally started it three weeks ago and… I’m already caught up. You see what I mean about devouring a show if I really like it? I think I literally watched all of Season 5 in one day. (Ok, it’s only 13 episodes at 22 minutes each, but still, I have a day job!) The show is really funny, and has that absurdist, pop culture aware sense of humor that I’ve loved since The Young Ones or The State, and currently love on Archer. If you are fan of either of those shows, or have ever been back to college as an adult (which I have), or just love geeky absurdist comedy that would make Weird Al proud, you should totally catch up on Hulu or Amazon, and then check out the new season happening on Yahoo.

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Elder Scrolls – SKYRIM (XBOX 360)

Skyrim is a surpassing RPG experience, and one Burgandy and I have both been logging long hours on. It’s the latest in a long series of games, but in my mind it’s basically a sequel to Oblivion, with all of the good and bad things that entails. It is a sandbox game – a lot of time is just spent wandering around a large game world, looking for trouble to get into and for things to do. You have plenty of things to do on a good / evil / political axis, as well.

Bethesda also does the modern Fallout games, which are another great experience – I remember thinking, after playing Fallout 3 after a long absence from gaming, that I finally understood why ‘the kids’ were largely over table top gaming. Bethesda RPGs have such immersive environments and freedom of action that they start to seem like a full role playing experience.

Now, one thing about Fallout and (even more so, say, Dragon Age), is that they have fully-formed NPCs and exciting plots. The Elder Scrolls games are a lot more ambient – there is lot of detail, but it’s more likely to be environmental – towns with realistic weather and beautiful scenery with plants you can harvest and bugs you can catch. The people you meet are pretty flat, which can be disappointing, though I understand why with the huge mass of people you can run into.

The main thing about this game is all of the stuff you can do – there are a half dozen different crafting systems which, unlike in most games I have played, have a lot of practical use in the game, not least of which the ability to gain experience and money from it. You can also fight with archery, magic, swords, two-handed swords, sword and shield, and even one hand with a spell and the other with a sword, which is great fun.

The combat is fun, but tough – you really have to use your brain and choose your spells, weapons, and companions carefully. You spend a lot of time fighting, but a lot of time just wandering, too. This could be a grind, but the game is so beautiful that I often would grab passerby and tell them to look at a bridge or waterfall I found, and there are strange things and mystical bits everywhere.

Basically, if any of the above sounds fun to you or if you just enjoy computer RPGs, I couldn’t recommend this one more. It is the most fun I have had with an RPG or really any video  game in general in years, and rivals some of the better tabletop gaming for sheer immersiveness.

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Strategicon – A Visitor’s Guide

Come to the geek side: We have board games!

After a long hiatus we began attending Stategicon gaming conventions, which are held three times a year (President’s Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend, and Labor Day weekend), at the Sheraton LAX (which is an excellent hotel, by the way, and deserving of it’s own review). Explaining what we did all holiday weekend usually invites some blank stares from my football loving co-workers, so for those who have no idea what a “gaming convention” is, or for those that do and are curious what all goes on there, here’s a brief overview:

Strategicon actually attempts to appeal to gamers of all types, providing a variety of areas which cater to different types of games.

But first, you’ll need a badge – just like any convention, you’ll need to pony up some cash for entrance, but the prices for smaller cons are fairly inexpensive. At Strategicon you can even get a family day pass for $50. Not much more than you’d spend on a trip to the movies. (As a parent, one of the things we love about Strategicon is how family friendly things have become. This is a great place to introduce your child to games that don’t require batteries, but are maybe more interesting than what you’d find at Target.)

On the first floor one can find a large room of tables for board and card gamers. This is a good area to find a pick up game of Munchkin, Ticket to Ride, Zombies!!! and other similar games. You can also often find folks happy to do demonstrations of games, helping you try out a game that looks like fun, but is a little more off beat than, say, Monopoly. A great area of people not familiar with gaming or with kids.

Down here you will also find rooms devoted to miniature gaming. I’m not that big into miniatures myself, although Malifaux looked quite entertaining when we looked over that game last convention. Which is one of the fun things about gaming conventions – beginners are absolutely welcome. Demonstrators tend to be friendly folks who are passionate about the games they play at con and always eager to introduce someone new to their favorite obscure game. (After all, if our beloved smaller publishers go out of business, we’ll be stuck with Hasbro and no one wants that – no offense MTG/D&D players.)

Recently a video game room was added, but we haven’t really explored that area, so we’ll skip that part of the tour.

Lastly, you’ll find the dealer room, where you can purchase a copy of that fun game you played in the board game area for your own collection, as well as a variety of other geek gear. (Tip: if you go on Monday, you can get some really good deals, but usually the dealers will only take cash and they may be out of popular items. Go on Friday and the vendors will be well stocked with items. Great if you lack an easy to reach Friendly Local Game Store in your area.)

So many games and accessories!

On the second and third floors is more what I think of when I say I’m going to Con for the weekend.

These are for the tabletop gamers, or RPGs. For civilians – yes, this means D&D, but it also means so much more than that. Games are held basically 4 times a day at regular intervals – 9am, 2pm, 8pm and Midnight, which means that if you don’t believe in sleep, you could potentially play for 3 days without stopping. Most of us sane people plan on skipping every 4th game to catch some shut eye and take a shower. There aren’t a whole lot of us at the convention, so you are forgiven if you are still there on Monday and think the Zombiepocolypse has finally arrived.

But lest that throw you off, know that this is less like a thousand of that “comic book guy” character from The Simpsons running around and more like a really geeky version of a rave. We join up in our assigned conference rooms, gather around tables and play our chosen games, much like we might do any given Saturday at home, except that at Con the players tend to be more open minded and beginner friendly. We try to reach out to new players, run games that are light hearted and/or humorous and hopefully easy to get into, and you often find yourself seated with the oddest assortment of folks (in a good way). At one point this last con, I found myself running a GURPS Steampunk game for a friend of mine who had defected from the White Wolf players for my game, an older gentleman with an excellent grasp of Victorian literature, and a lovely family with two teenage sons, one of which took to playing Captain Hook with wild abandon. It was awesome, and really summed up to me everything that makes going to Con fun.

If you’d like to give tabletop gaming a try, there is a table for sign ups, which has sign up sheets with brief descriptions of the games available. These generally fall into 5 categories Whatever the current D&D edition is will have games run by the RPGA, one of the oldest gaming clubs. Way back in the days of AD&D I had a membership and even ran a game or two, but I never quite crossed over to 4th edition and have let my membership lapse. Pathfinder, the biggest contender for D&D’s throne for Fantasy Sword & Sorcery style RPG, has the Pathfinder Society. I enjoy Pathfinder privately, but I find Pathfinder Society games a little too… structured for my tastes. If you like participating in ongoing campaigns with alot of structure, though, this is your area. GURPS games tend to be presented by MIB (Men in Black) dispatched by Steve Jackson games. (We’re currently working on our MIB status, and ran a couple games for this group at the last con. We were introduced to GURPS at Stategicon well over a decade ago, so it feels appropriate to make our home with this group. But just as full disclosure – I’m a little biased.) World of Darkness (White Wolf) games are generally supported by our own local Dead Gamers Society. (2nd disclosure – I run for them in between cons.) Lastly, you have all the smaller “independent” games put on by folks who just love the games they are running (Chthulu is especially popular), or would be game designers looking to see if their idea has legs.

Personally, GURPS is the most fun for me because the game is super easy to teach to newbies, has a wide variety of variations, which means we can pretty much run anything we think up, and I like participating in the tournament they hold every con. But that’s just me. Pick games that sound fun to you, don’t worry if you don’t know how to play, GM’s will be able to show you – that’s why we’re there, and don’t sweat it too much if a game is “full” on the roster – it’s pretty common for one or two people to not show up when it’s time to sling dice.

And remember, no matter how much fun you are having – sleep and shower every 24 hours. Your fellow players (not to mention your GM) will thank you.

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A FLGS with some class (levels)

I wanted to give a shout out to our favorite Friendly Local Game Store, DiceHouse Games in Fullerton.

We have not devoted much space to our gaming hobby here on OKOS, but once a month I run a White Wolf game under the banner of the local Dead Gamers Society of Orange County. At least that’s what I do now. Honestly, I’ve been gaming since junior high, when I received one of the infamous “red box” sets of D&D from my equally geeky older brother.

But being a female gamer has it’s challenges – one of the biggest being to find a game store where one can review books, talk shop with the owners, and sling dice with what is still a vastly male clientele, without feeling marginalized or like she’s digging around a garage sale in her dorky little brothers basement. I’ve been to way too many shops that cover both.

As a college project, I imagined a game store with comfortable furniture, tastefully decorated and neatly stocked. A store with decent lighting. A store with clerks that didn’t think that possessing a pair of breasts automatically made you unworthy of learning the finer points of putting together a killer Magic the Gathering deck, or who didn’t just assume you must be shopping for your boyfriend.

Apparently someone else also had this vision, because not long after Dice House opened and it’s been everything I’ve wanted in a game store since. Yes, I can get many books cheaper or sometimes even faster on the internet, but I like buying my gaming gear from people who know what good customer service means. I like store owners who take the time to get to know their regulars and will take it upon themselves to not only let us know when something we’d be interested in is available, but will set it aside for us. I like store owners that offer a safe, comfortable environment to play the games they sell, give you space to play games with other hobbyists without having to give out your home address (or making them deal with your cat/dog/crazy roommate), and who might even take the time to show you the ropes of a game your interested in learning.

There’s something both very forward thinking and old fashioned about Dice House that should be encouraged, and I happily recommend them to any fellow gamers I run into that haven’t already given their shop a go. Even if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, they are usually great about ordering it for you, or helping you find something else to tide you over until the next book release. Because that’s how they roll.

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Dragon Age 2 – Girl Friday Review

Ok, so I didn’t actually PLAY Dragon Age 2, I just watched and helped out with looking things up in the Wiki or in the guidebook. But it’s a pasttime I’ve enjoyed since Final Fantasy VII, and apparently not that uncommon among gamer couples. Fighting games, RTS, FPS – we fire up the second gaming rig and go at it with our own private LAN party, but for RPGs, I prefer to kick back, trying to figure out the puzzles first, and watch the FMV. I’m not left with much to say about the actual mechanics of the game, but how often to get to watch a movie where you can actually yell at the characters to do something different? (Now, if you can actually convince your game playing partner to do what you want… that’s a whole other issue.) 

So from that perspective, I loved Dragon Age 2. In the game as really long interactive movie goes, it was a really enjoyable sequel. Much smaller in scope, yes, but I felt like the amazing attention to detail that went into creating a nearly perfect continuity, especially given the amount of different choices you could make in DAO, really made up for that. I thought the mechanic of having the game go through your old save, and actually carry over the results of that play through to give you a tailored sequel experience was amazing. It was especially fun as we got closer to the end of the game and favorite characters from the previous game not only made appearances, but referenced stuff we did in the previous game! So fun.

Since I was spending more time watching than actually playing, I also appreciated that the animation showed remarkable improvement over not only the previous game, but pretty much every other RPG we’ve played recently. The facial expressions were especially well done – you could actually tell when a character was being snarky or slightly annoyed or skeptical by facial expressions that were amazingly subtle in their cues, something even Pixar seems to struggle to get right. That they actually managed to capture something as small as that slight turn up of the cheek under the eyelid that gives one that “Really?” look really impressed me.

Along those lines, the voice work was once again full of awesome, but made even more awesome because the main character finally speaks! And has a pretty cool Ralph Finnes sounding voice that made him very pleasant to listen to for the 60 some odd hours we put into the game. Also, as with the last game, the characters are all really funny, with some extremely amusing side commentary going on even when you’re just wandering around the city selling junk. The game also featured some really good writing, with some really interesting story twists that did a good job of challenging your impressions and relationships with various characters. I found the story really engaging and liked the romance angles, although if I had one complaint, it’s that this game had much less freedom in it’s romance possibilities than the previous one. I DID NOT like the fact that once certain characters moved in with you, you were basically stuck with them for the rest of the game, even if they turned out to be annoying, or betray you, or you just got bored with them and started to really wish you could dump them for someone else.

Also on the downside – you basically never leave the city, and they repeat alot of the basic maps (i.e. every fancy house has EXACTLY the same layout). So you get kind of sick of seeing the same “sets” over and over and over again. However, for turning around this game so fast, and since the game itself goes pretty fast as compared to the last one, I didn’t mind TOO much. But I’d like to see improvement on this in future DLC or games.

Also, less bugs that can only be fixed by shutting down the whole XBOX and waiting for everything to load up again.

So, I give Dragon Age 2 two thumbs up, with the small warning that this is a smaller game than last time and is kind of buggy.

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Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 was a rollicking good time. Overall, it was a lot of fun and it ate most of the last couple of weekends, plus when we took Friday off and basically stayed home playing. The main flaw with DA2 is that it was a sequel to DA1, one with a less sweeping story and an intentionally dumbed-down system.

The Good: Combat was a lot of fun. I played a Warrior and enjoyed the crowd control abilities and general feeling of badassery. The main story was edgy and vaguely topical in a fantastic way, think the Battlestar Galactica revival. The companions were fun and the voice acting was good. Giving the hero a voice made him a lot more engaging than the silent version that featured in Dragon Age 2. The graphics were better and I got engaged enough at the story that one particular betrayal actually made me feel angry, even on the way to work the next day, which is pretty unusual.

The Bad: The complexity was turned down, a bit too much. Pausing the fights to issue commands seemed pointless or unecessary. I breezed through almost all fights on normal difficulty, basically just stopping once in a while to hand out potions. This was very much so unlike the first one, which could be tough and required your whole brain. Also, just weird random stuff – I couldn’t give my warrior a bow to shoot when things were far away and I decided to not play a rogue upon realizing I couldn’t use full-sized weapons, which were my weapons of choice in the last game. I would have expected more options – having less was disappointing.

The ugly: Reused maps got a bit annoying. The new ‘wander to different locations and see if a companion feels like talking to you’ mechanic was a lot more complicated than the old camp mechanic. Plus they seem to have minimized the amount of dialogue – unlike the old days of hearing hours of exposition from companions things were pretty sparse, only a few questions with no chance to ask again. The romance options were a lot more limited, the old triangles and squares you could make in DA1 were much harder to pull off now, though the new Rival mechanic was a nice bit of variety that made interactions seem more organic.

 Also the game tended to freak our the XBOX after a while – my character’s arm shrivelling up or things losing their texture became common. Reboots tended to fix the bugs, except for a couple of quests that stayed broken, but it was still weird / irritating.

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Zombie-pocalypse! Mama Milla!

Due to a severe illness in our immediate family, we had to take an unexpected hiatus, but things are better now. In between hospital visits, we managed to watch ALL FOUR Resident Evil films. We’re actually currently on a quest to fill up the holes in our pop culture/geek knowledge. We watched Repo! The Genetic Opera and Superbad. Now we’ve covered all the Resident Evil films to date. Fight Club, Firefly (or anything by Joss Whedon, really), and The Big Lebowsky are all in the ever growing queue, just to give you an idea of how much catching up needs to be done here. But in the meantime, there’s Milla.

Milla Jovovich is amazing to me, personally – not that her acting is going to win her any Oscars, but she does get to act, in some pretty fun movies to boot, and she also sings, designs clothes, gets paid to wear clothes, and is a mom. That’s just cool. There’s some girl power for you here on International Women’s Day (OR MARDI GRAS TO THE REST OF US WHO STILL KNOW HOW TO HAVE FUN – sorry, the lack of Mardi Gras love here in SoCal was a pet peeve of mine today.)

Anyhow, there were lots and lots of zombies involved. As well as lots and lots of Milla’s in the fourth movie, which has what is now one of my favorite movie openings ever. The first movie was fun, even if it didn’t feature any major characters from the game. The general ideas were there, the mansion was cool, Michelle Rodriguez kicked ass (still love her from “Lost”), and it was a decent completely silly video game movie. If you never played the games, you probably won’t like it, so I’m going to forgive Ebert his awful review of this one.

I’ll also forgive his review of the second one, even if it was my favorite of the first three. The fact was, most of the awesome of RE: Apocalypse was in going “Oh, I totally remember that from the game! Squee! She’s wearing the right Jill outfit!”, which would totally be lost on someone who’s never played the game. As an added bonus, we recently played Dead Rising 2, and I’ll be damned if that game did not just totally steal half that movie, right down to the Asian newscaster. We came up with our own drinking game while watching the movie, which probably deserves a post on its own. A Southern accented good ole boy shooting zombies from behind a couple signs on top of a building? Take a shot. A kid infected with the zombie virus that has to get her antidote meds every few hours? Take a shot again. And so on, and so forth. (I’m really serious. If you’ve played Dead Rising 2, go watch RE: Apocalypse and you will totally see what we mean.)

On to number 3! RE: Extinction was my least favorite of all 4 movies. It was okay, and some of the action scenes were really cool – like when the crows attack or some of the massive zombie fights at the end, but the Mad Max feel just didn’t work for me. Also, I’m getting tired of movies (and games for that matter – I’m looking at you Fallout New Vegas), that have other cities like LA and Washington DC mostly intact post-apocalypse, but then Vegas is reduced to one tiny portion of the strip. Have these people been to Vegas? It’s HUGE. And surprisingly developed and urban (and suburban, for that matter.) It has MILES of streets and buildings, some of which rival the size of the strip. It’s a pet peeve, I know, but still, it takes me out of the movie. Especially since in RE: Afterlife, LA is practically untouched, other than the lack of people.

Now, RE: Afterlife, was awesome. The beginning was super cool, and while the story lagged at times, and made almost no sense in others (for some reason certain characters are still wearing the exact outfits they were wearing the day of the first zombie attack years later, and in perfect condition. Where is that Hollywood producer dry cleaning his suit in a prison? Seriously?) Anyhow, ignore some of the complete nonsense, the action sequences are wicked cool – especially the fight scene between Claire and the Executioner in the prison shower. And there was a huge amount of nods to Resident Evil 5, and we finally get Chris Redfield! Woo! If you have played RE5 (which was a fun game, even if the last hour or so basically sucked), you will totally understand what is up with the freaky Chthulu zombies and you might even be inspired to yell at Claire to shoot at the red barrel that is in the prison shower for no good reason to kill off the Executioner zombie, and you will be delighted with the fight scene with Wesker. If you have not played Resident Evil 5, well, this might just be the most confusing zombie movie of all time. The movies just don’t have the 30 or so hours to explain everything the games have. They do their best. I liked them. I understand why alot of critics wouldn’t though, and there’s not much else to say.

Now go eat some King Cake!

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