Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Firefly hip hop concept album? Sure, why not?

In space, no one can hear your 1200w sound system (source)

No matter what your opinion of Joss Whedon might be, one cannot deny the impact Firefly has had on science-fiction fans and geek culture in general. After the premature cancelation of the series and a grassroots campaign to revive it (which ultimately culminated in Serenity), Firefly proved that fans can have an impact on the decisions of production companies... provided they purchase enough DVDs to make their voices heard.

With such a hardscrabble past behind Firefly, it's little wonder that it would lead to a host of creative fan projects. Captain Mal cosplay crossplay and fanfic are expected, but a Firefly hip hop concept album by Adam WarRock... now that's something to take notice of!

I first heard Adam WarRock (the self-proclaimed foremost comic book rapper on the internet) through his contribution to Nerdcore Now Vol. 1., although he's been at the nerdcore/hip hop thing for awhile now. What makes his Firefly concept album (The Browncoats Mixtape) particularly impressive is that all of the beats and samples come from either Firefly episodes or clips from Serenity, so it will likely sound pleasingly familiar to fans of Captain Mal & Co. Also, it's 100% free on his website.

Although the nature of the album may alienate some fans, the novelty of an entire album of songs written about characters or events in the Firefly world should entice them to broaden their musical horizons slightly. Sure, The Browncoats Mixtape is a legit (and pretty good!) rap album, but it's also a legit (and pretty damn good!) Firefly rap album. Much like how Random's Black Materia album convinced many Final Fantasy fans to listen to hiphop for the first time with its songs about Cloud and Sephiroth, it's likely that Adam WarRock will be the first rap that most Firefly fans will actively seek out. In this sense, The Browncoats Mixtape is a great ambassador of nerdcore and hiphop in general since it's both good geeky music and good music in general.

So quit reading. download it and pretend that it's 2002 all over again!
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bad news for people who like good otakus

I'm still not quite sure how how otaku dating became the scare story subject du moment, but mainstream media has been having a field day of running with it. First there was this incomparable douche who raped an underage girl that he met at Katsucon last year, and soon after that incident The Washington Post ran an alarmist piece alerting the public to the presence of creepers at Otakon. After that, things quieted down as the nation's fears returned to more rational and pressing concerns like the economy, upcoming elections and the role of gays in the military, apparently*.

But the period of quiet that Otaku have been enjoying has ended, thanks to this fancy gentleman who was arrested and denied bail for imprisoning, beating, and torturing his girlfriend for a little over two months.

Not exactly the face you'd want to represent your fandom. With the money he spent on a single convention pass, he could have bought 2-3 months of Proactiv (source)

Above is Sir Wilfred Camaligan (Sir? Really?) a purported "megafan of Japanese cartoon culture". Much like the androgynous pedophile from Katsucon, Sir Wilfred met his girlfriend/victim at a convention but the crimes took place well afterwards. Sir Wilfred and his victim traded Facebook messages as their relationship matured, and soon she moved into his apartment.

Sure, they had a couple of fights here and there but what new couple doesn't? And sure, he strangled her to the point of unconsciousness and forced her to use a knife to carve an "X" into her breast while kneeling on a bed of rice which... could fall under the grounds of super-kinky BDSM experimentation so maybe the press is really just blowing this out of propor-

"After she moved into his Northwest Side apartment in July, he soon became possessive, forbade her from leaving (and) ...beat her with a wooden stick and crowbar"

Ok, so... that's a bit harder to explain.

When all of this shakes out, people will (hopefully) realize that Sir Wilfred is a twisted fuck who happens to be an otaku and that not all otaku are twisted fucks. Every subculture has their odd elements that hang on to the periphery and draw bad press to the rest of the group because of their extremely atypical- if attention grabbing- actions. John Wayne Gacy was a member of a Moose Lodge but parents don't caution their daughters against dating Moose...s. Moose...i? Mööse?

Although Sir Wilfred's victim was 20 when they met and- thus- legally an adult, both her situation and that of the underaged victim from Katsucon could have been avoided if the parents were more active in the lives and interests of their children. But nobody wants to hear or read that because- wow, aren't otaku weird?

*= It's 2011, are we really still concerned about this? I'm about the biggest coward there is when it comes to guns, so if someone else wants to join up and potentially take a bullet for me I say more power to 'em!
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Geek Stereotypes To Be Retired Part VIII: The Awakened Animal

Today's post is the eighth installment of a series focusing on some of the most cliched portrayals of geeks, gamers, and otaku to plague mainstream media. Part 7 was The Deus Ex, and the series continues next week with Part 9-The Obligatory Renaissance Festival.

Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired
Further proof that no one in Hollywood has no idea what a computer actually does

Animals have long been a favorite plot device of writers to draw attention to various aspects of the human condition. Whether the animal in question is an articulate alcoholic inexplicably capable of speech or a taciturn, but loyal, assistant with strangely human emotions, they follow the path of the protagonists unflinchingly and are willing to lend a hand, paw, or bit of sage advice whenever the plot calls for it.

But in the past two decades this trope of animal companionship was given a new, and unwelcome, spin. Animals wielding intellects that outstrip their masters soon began appearing, and through a myriad of plot contrivances, they became able to speak, reason, and in a few cases earn college degrees. It's one thing to be told to believe a computer network can achieve sentiency on its own, it's another thing entirely to expect me to consult...

#8 The Awakened Animal
If the animal has its own action figure, chances are it perpetuates this stereotype.
  • Stereotype Cliche: Usually, but not always, relegated to a science-fiction setting, The Awakened Animal is an otherwise normal representation of its species that just so happens to possess preternatural intelligence that would easily land it a spot in Mensa (assuming it could figure out how to hold the pencil while taking the exam). Rarely given the same screen time as a main character, The Awakened Animal occupies roughly the same supporting role as The Jargon Fountain- waiting patiently in the background of most episodes until an explanation of something technical is needed. Unlike The Jargon Fountain, who usually elicits feelings of rage from most viewers, The Awakened Animal is able to deliver a the most dense, expository dialog and endear themselves to the audience by displaying a cute, cuddly mannerism and pressing the d'awwwwww! button
  • Notable Examples: Snoopy (Peanuts), Red XIII (FFVII), Darwin (SeaQuest DSV), Nibbler (Futurama), Meowth (Pokemon), Ein (Cowboy Bebop), Gromit (Wallace & Gromit), Archimedes (The Sword in the Stone)
  • Why it's offensive: The Awakened Animal exists only to show the audience that man is not alone at the top of the intellectual food chain. When the ship's captain must consult a dolphin to repair a leaking nuclear reactor or when a dog rolls its eyes and once again steers its master away from harm, audiences laugh, coo, or marvel in amusement all the while ignoring the centuries of evidence that suggests animals might not have the leg up on humans that screenwriters believe they do.

  • Suggested Replacement: An adorable dog that doesn't try to lecture its master on scientific ethics, a mechanical engineer in a fursuit.
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Monday, September 26, 2011

The new Avatar theme park will be in... Disney?

News hit the wire this weekend that Disney will be expanding its theme park offering to include a new attraction based on Avatar. Sadly, for fans of Aang & Co. the Avatar in question refers to the big, blue catlike people of Pandora made famous by James Cameron in his script-by-the-numbers 3D epic and not the peace-loving protagonists of The Last Airbender ...although, that animated world would make for a pretty awesome theme park!

Fact: All Na'vi own at least one pair of denim culottes (source)

Everything about James Cameron's proposed Avatar theme park seems odd. For starters, it is being sponsored and housed by Disney, which is in itself strange considering they had absolutely nothing to do with the production of Avatar (that would be 20th Century Fox) and are usually pretty good at sticking with their own brands. Secondly, the theme park is slated to be a feature of Disney's Animal Kingdom, the red-headed stepchild of The Mouse's empire, which makes some degree of sense given the forested nature of the park. One would think Epcot would be a better fit for such an attraction, but then I suppose Disney needs a way to generate some interest in Animal Kingdom as the memories of The Lion King continue to fade.

While I'm sure the prospect of seeing costumed actors in second-skin blue bodysuits is sure to generate some ticket sales from beleaguered parents (as will the inevitable Cirque de Soleil tie-in show, Eywa), I can't imagine the theme park will be that big of a draw for kids. As for the older tourist demographic, it would be a hard sell to sci-fi geeks to pay $85.00 for the chance to wander through a giant safari land when they could be buying butterbeers (and waiting in hours-long lines...) at Universal Studio's Wizarding World of Harry Potter for roughly the same price, and far more geek cred.

Despite these reservations, chances are good that the Avatar theme park will be a wild, over-produced success that will dazzle the eyes and earn millions of dollars from the movie-going public before they realize that they've once again been tricked into fangushing over Fern Gully.
As for myself, I'll probably go and see it- as I did with the movie- just to say that I did, and will hate myself for it in the morning.
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Friday, September 23, 2011

A belated happy Hobbit Day!

It (only) comes in pints?! (source:

As if I didn't have enough reasons to dislike Thingeek these days, it turns out the demotivational calendar I have hanging next to my desk mistakenly labeled today (9/23) as Hobbit Day. Those of you who have taught yourself enough Sindarin to say "Suilad, mellon!" know that 9/22, and not 9/23, is Hobbit Day... but for some reason I didn't think to question my humble, ostensibly geeky, calendar despite the nagging doubt in my mind that it was wrong.

So what *is* Hobbit Day, you might ask? Is it an occasion to be nice to the vertically challenged among us? Hardly! Those can't-reach-the-top-shelf bastards already have their own appreciation day. To fans of Lord of the Rings, Hobbit Day (9/22, SR) is recognized as the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. The day after (that's today, 9/23, by Shire Reckoning) is marked as the day that Frodo set out from the shire and began a legendary quest that spanned 681 minutes of pure cinematic gold.

Celebrations for Hobbit Day are, admittedly, not at all standardized and I don't think the shirefolk would have it any other way. This humble Tolkien purist plans to continue the celebration from last night and content himself by drinking a gallon or two of pumpkin ale* from a Prancing Pony pintglass while watching as much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy as he can until he can forget that Peter Jackson is once again writing parts for female elves into Tolkien's work.

An early promotional shot, seamlessly inserting the new character of Tauriel. least Evangeline Lilly seems like she's respectful of the original text. Let's hope the production staff is as well.

*Pumpkin ale has admittedly nothing to do with Hobbits or Lord of the Rings. It is, however, incredibly awesome.
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

A (tabletop) gaming interlude

Tabletop roleplaying game systems come in a staggering variety of flavors. No matter what sort of story world a gamemaster would like to create, chances are that there exist a good set of rulebooks to help them adjudicate the mechanics of the game.

Yet often times, the codified rules are not able to be tailored to every creative situation. In these cases, the rules are modified- or built from scratch- in a homebrew game system. I turned to homebrews to help me along with an idea for a tabletop game which, to my knowledge, had never been attempted by anyone before: Kitchen Warfare.

The setting I had envisioned would be a common household kitchen, where the food comes to life at night. Players would assume the roles of rolls entrees from the various kitchen island nations as they battled to preserve their freshness and autonomy. It's a bit of a high concept game, but I think if done properly it could provide political commentary on a positively Orwellian scale.
Just one of the enemies you'll encounter when you cross the cold, linoleum sea (source)

Although highly fantastical at the outset, this game world would be a fairly low fantasy environment. There would be no Spaghetti Mages or Multigrain Clerics, but there would be undead. Fruit, like flesh, rots and decomposes most readily so this makes some degree of sense. Protagonist pasta dishes would face Banana Zombies, Orange Ghouls, Peach Banshees, and Plum Wights among other expired baddies.

I don't have a name for this game world yet, nor have I paid any real thought to the mechanics, so it will likely require a lot of work before it's ready to be seen by anyone let alone playtested. But will it be worth all the effort just so I can tell my players that their blood runs cold as the still night air is shattered by a fruit banshee's peachy keen?

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New gaming tech allows players to experience being shot, stabbed

When they're not taking us to fantastical new worlds or into the darkest corners of our subconscious, video games do a great job of presenting a believable simulacrum of the real world. But the verisimilitude of this representation has always been limited by the physical senses of the player that it can appeal to. Stunning graphics and captivating music are terrific, but do nothing to appeal to the other three senses which are often neglected during prolonged gaming sessions (although, the sense of smell may beg to differ).

No, I didn't make this is MS Paint- this came from their own damn demo video. Suddenly, the Wii's Nunchuk and MotionPlus add-ons don't look so bad

This will all change when thanks to the latest research being done by the Kajimoto Research Group, which aims to bring the sensations of touch into video games by hooking sensors up to the players. Unlike the Nintendo's Wiimote, X-box's Kinect or the PS3's Move, this new innovation will allow the player to experience the sensation of objects penetrating and moving through their bodies by increasing tactile feedback on one side of the body while decreasing it on the other.

In essence, this new gaming option is little more than a hyper-advanced version of the rumble pak in that it provides vibratory feedback based on stimuli that the player encounters in a game. Unlike the rumble pak, however, this new technology will do more than simple make your hands numb and wrists sore from attaching its impressive bulk to your controller. If what the speculative work of The Kajimoto Research Group becomes accepted by the gaming industry, the new technology will allow players to experience the sensation of being shot, stabbed and punched... all of which makes me wary about picking up the next incarnation of Dissidia. Unless, of course, they find a way to simulate the sensation of Tifa's perky, supple... fists... pressing into my back.

Anyway, the demo video is a bit sparse in details, but it's a pretty good indication of what's to come next to console games: unbridled, and all too realistic, pain and torment.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Geek Stereotypes To Be Retired Part VII: The Deus Ex

Today's post is the seventh installment of a series focusing on some of the most cliched portrayals of geeks, gamers, and otaku in mainstream media. Part 6 was The Annie Oakley, and the series continues next week with Part 8-The Awakened Animal.

Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired
Further proof that no one in Hollywood has no idea what a computer actually does

Once computers became an accepted thing capable of doing more than taking up the entire living room with their steering wheel, film and TV writers had a field day predicting the untold havoc they could visit upon us. Ostensibly created to make our lives simpler, the humble computer soon became a ticking time bomb capable of wiping out the entire human race... once it became self-aware.

That last bit is key, you see, because a computer that isn't self-aware really isn't capable of visiting all that much destruction on a single person- much less the world- unless you drop it on your toe really hard. But once you give a system a sense of self-awareness or upload your own sense of self-awareness into a computer network, the sky(net) is the limit for what writers think you can do. Enter...

#7 The Deus Ex

H.R. Giger, eat your heart out. Y'know, maybe this cliche isn't so bad after all...
  • Stereotype Cliche: A hyper-advanced form of digital intelligence gone rogue, The Deus Ex serves as a cautionary tale of mortal hubris. Created to serve man, the computer/network that plays host to The Deux Ex exceeds its designed parameters and decides to do things a little bit differently than its creator intended and usually turns against them at some point. Variants upon this cliche include examples of humans who have uploaded their intelligence/consciousness "to the net" and are capable of creating rogue programs, viruses, and computer anomalies at will despite lacking any previous ability to code in a limitless number of computer languages beforehand.
  • Notable Examples: HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey), VIKI (I, Robot), Skynet (Terminator 2), The Almighty (Chaos Rings), GLaDOS (Portal 2), pretty much everyone who isn't Togusa (Ghost in the Shell)
  • Why it's offensive: The Deus Ex- much like most all of Michael Crichton's good books- serves as a constant reminder that man can be too clever for his own good. This ethical tut-tutting may have had some merit 20 years ago before computers, smartphones, and wireless networks made every aspect of our lives dependent upon machines, but at this point it's a bit too late to wonder if it is in our best interests to embrace technology wholesale. Really, it's probably better to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

  • Suggested Replacement: A sign-waving Luddite, a script that emphasizes the horrors of unchecked and self-aware user acccount control.
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI hit the PSN, Star Wars continues to decay

EDIT: Apparently, there was a reason why Sony wasn't publicizing the release of these two games on the PSN. They're not releasing them... yet.

There's good news for the jRPG faithful this week, which is more than I can say for diehard Star Wars fans who are still rubbing their collective temples and tricking drinking themselves into forgetting about the changes Lucas made to their beloved childhood on his shiny new 6-movie Blu-ray set. But before I dive into the jRPG news, let us take a moment to remember Star Wars the way it was before Darth Vader shouted "Noooo!" and before Ewoks learned how to blink.

I'd like to target her small thermal exhaust port *rimshot* (source)

The vaunted good news being reported by IGN and RPGfan (and is readily available in the title of this post, but hey- you read down here so the jump cut worked!) is that both Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI will be released on the PSN for download tomorrow, 9/20, assuming the usual PSN update isn't delayed. Both games were announced on the PSN earlier this spring but had yet to receive a NTSC region release date as of last week. Apparently, Sony didn't feel the need to publicize this very far in advance- but hey, that's what the internet is for... right?

If you own a PS3 or PSP, you'll have a chance to download two of the best jRPGs from the glorious 16-bit days of the console RPG's golden age- back before the grim, addictive specter of DLC reared its ugly, yet seductive, head to forever defile the purity of the genre. Both games will unsurprisingly be released in their ~2000 PSOne updated incarnations, meaning FFVI will have nifty CG full-motion videos while Chrono Trigger will include its anime-esque cutscenes.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to down some sleeping pills and set my alarm clock for tomorrow morning.
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Friday, September 16, 2011

As if you needed another reason to fly to New Zealand

Many of us have dreamed of being in a movie- or at least a made for tv movie like Sharktopus- at some point in our lives. While it's unlikely that your average moviegoer/obsessive fanboy would ever be cast in a speaking (much less starring) role, there is hope for those who would be content to appear in a major movie as an extra. Such an opportunity exists if you kind of look like an elf and want to be in the two new Hobbit movies Peter Jackson & Co are filming this winter.

Assuming, of course, you can pay your way to fly into Otago next weekend...

Technically, she's a half-elf but I still think she'd make the cut (source)

The Otago Daily Times has reported that an open casting call for extras is being held by production company 3foot7 next weekend to rope some 200 lucky souls into appearing in the two new Hobbit movies. The casting call appears to for men of Laketown and elves of Mirkwood based on the posted criteria:
"For townspeople, production company 3foot7 said it wanted men and women between 30 and 80 years old with interesting character faces - men with beards.
"All shapes, sizes and ethnicities welcome," the studio said.
For elves, it wants people between 17 and 35 years old, more than 168cm in height."
In other words, you either need to be preternaturally tall and skinny or have an "interesting" face if you hope to forever enter into the canon of geek movie charac- Wait a minute, 168cm? That's like... 5'6" (thanks Google!) That's not exactly a strapping sequoia of an elf right there. Are Kiwis really that short? Sweet jesus.
Up until reading that, I was seriously thinking about flying down for my chance to live the dream as an elf but it's more likely that my 6'5" ass would be cast as an Ent. An Ent if I'm lucky.
Anyway, since it's Friday and most of you are probably looking for something to serve as a distraction before the weekend, I wouldn't dream of leaving you unfulfilled so here's on my all-time favorite videogame reviews. Everything is better with an affected Shakespearean accent...
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Nintendo can (and should) do to save the 3DS

A few months back, a hauntingly beautiful aspiring journalist wrote a cautionary piece on what Sony can (and should) do to assure a successful launch of its new handheld the PSP Vita in the wake of Nintendo's less than triumphant launch of the 3DS. No doubt spurred on by the words of this handsome rouge, Nintendo trotted out a host of enhancements to the beleaguered handheld at the Tokyo Game Show this week.

These enhancement ran the gamut from good ideas to mystifyingly misguided ones with highlights including a bulky-as-all-hell clip on "slidepad", a new system color called "misty pink" (+1 for the stripper name!) aimed at attracting female gamers, and a host of new titles including a 3DS exclusive RPG developed by Square Enix (Bravely Default: Flying Fairy) But are clip on controllers, sexist system colors, and JRPGs with names that don't even come close to making sense- seriously, "Bravely Default" is what you do on your student loans after a few years of working at Starbucks- what Nintendo really needs to save the 3DS?

Considering that Bravely Default makes use of the 3DS's augmented reality feature to project this cute little sprite on your coffee table, I'd say that maybe this is *exactly* what Nintendo needs to boost sales. A video of how this works can be found here (source: Siliconera)

Here are some things that Nintendo should do well to include if they really want to turn things around for the 3DS:

Create a service that allows you to game online
The PSP Vita beat Nintendo to the punch with this, allowing its users to connect and game with friends miles, states, or countries away by using their native online service. The fact that the Vita will come in an optional 3G flavor only emphasizes the global reach of its online gaming capability. The current non-Vita PSP allows you to sort of accomplish the same thing with AdHoc Party assuming you have a PS3 to link your handheld to. If you have a DS or 3DS and want to play with a friend in another city, you had best invest in the bus fare because Nintendo doesn't offer a comparable service. With the announcement of Mario Kart 7 this would be a great time for Nintendo to make that happen.

Keep mixing up legacy games with new intellectual properties
Actually, despite the lack of initial launch titles, Nintendo is doing ok on this front. With plenty of nostalgic titles being resurrected for the new console (including a 3D sequel to 1986'sKid Icarus... a property which hasn't been touched since 1986), Nintendo is lure in its loyal fanbase. Crossover games like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy should also do a good job of luring in diehard franchise fanboys, and Monster Hunter 4 (which may or may not be exclusive) has all but guaranteed the success of the 3DS in Japan. Assuming these titles come out in due time and aren't too buggy, Nintendo might be able to make up for the paltry selection of launch titles.

Give it a few more non-gaming features
When the lackluster announcement of the non-3D Netflix streaming app was met with yawns, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata assured 3DS users that 3D streaming content would be available "soon". When this happens, it will certainly be a selling point in favor of the 3DS but for now, most consumers would be better served streaming their Netflix selections to their smartphones (which almost assuredly have higher resolutions). At Tokyo Game Show, Nintendo announced that the 3DS would now be receiving the ability to capture video in 3D which is actually kind of nifty.

Surprise the world with a 3D, high-def remake of Final Fantasy VI
Just sayin'.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Mirror Lied, and you'll be happy that it did

It's been a long time since a game has scared me. The 7th Guest was the first one to come close to accomplishing this feat (the original iteration, I haven't played the iOS version yet), and there have been plenty of harrowing moments and nail-biting bossfights in my years of gaming, but rare is the game that has truly and profoundly scared me. The indie darling The Mirror Lied changed all of that two years ago, and after Monday's post reminded me how close we are to Halloween, I decided to go back and play through it again to put me in an appropriately autumnal mood.

(Before you continue reading, I'd like to point out that The Mirror Lied is completely free, so open a new tab and download it. Go on, I can wait.)

There's no real backstory to be had in The Mirror Lied. You wake up in a two-bedroom house as a young girl and have to feel your way around before the plot begins to unfold itself. You will see no other characters except for yourself (which is difficult, since you don't have a face), and the main gameplay takes the form of exploration and puzzles which are all quite easy to solve. There is no combat to be had, and you'll never level up, but you won't even care. The game tells its story quickly and relies on the imagination of the player to draw meaning from its existentialist message.

In this age of hyper-realistic graphics that dazzle the eyes but do nothing to stimulate the brain, this classical approach to storytelling is rather refreshing. The most noteworthy accomplishment of The Mirror Lied is that it manages to deliver so complete and thorough of a mindfuck despite having an average playthrough time of 20-30 minutes and a soundtrack consisting of only one deliciously creepy song.

It manages this feat by building a creepy and bleak atmosphere so expertly that you find yourself unable to resist being drawn into the game's sense of dread. You can change your character's clothes or play the piano in her bedroom if you choose, but neither choice really matters (or do they?) and both drive home the desolate nature of the house in which she finds herself. All of the lights can be turned on or off at will, and cast a reassuring glow in whatever portion of the room they are in, but they really only exist in the game to comfort the player and give them an illusion of control over the surreal nature of the ever-changing house. It's sort of like House of Leaves in that respect, which is probably why I love it.

Although somewhat limited in terms of graphics and depth (it was built on RPG Maker and retains many of its unnecessary trappings), the detail given to the game world is nothing short of impressive. The soundtrack, for example, drifts out from a lonely music box set on the dining room table and grows softer or louder based on how close you are to it. This is really a simple trick to make you feel like you're "in" the game, but it's surprising how well it works.
The Mirror Lied is certainly not the most sweeping or epic game to be released (it's a 9MB download!) but it is a masterstroke of storytelling that will leave you scratching your head at its conclusion.

So if you're in the mood for a quick game to play that will leave you questioning your place in the order of things, give The Mirror Lied a go. On your second or third playthrough, I'd recommend muting the game and playing some spooky Icelandic hipster music to help you enjoy the unheimlich nature of the game even more.

But then, thanks to Sóley's vocals, that's pretty much my solution to everything these days.
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Geek Stereotypes To Be Retired Part VI: The Annie Oakley

Today's post is the sixth installment of a series focusing on some of the most cliched portrayals of geeks, gamers, and otaku in mainstream media: Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired. This series will present some of the most prevalent, and offensive, geek stereotypes in pop culture in an attempt to convince you that screenwriters really do hate the technologically gifted. Part 5 was The Babysitter, and the series continues next week with Part 7 - The Deus Ex.

Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired

Further proof that no one in Hollywood has no idea what a computer actually does

Geek girls are pretty awesome. Statistically as common as geek guys, they should both exist in a genderless world in which they are defined by their technical prowess and encyclopedic scientific knowledge, and not by virtue of their genitals. But such equality is rarely the case since screen, film, and manga writers are all but convinced that anything dealing with computers and technology is a man's work and that women shouldn't be expected to know how to turn on a TV, much less interface with a computer, without firing off a confrontational one-liner to the closest male in the room.

At least, this is the assumption that you would probably arrive at if you did a quick sample of popular geek media and noticed the gender-bashing antagonism that female technical adepts are infused with. These women are true marvels of geek stereotypes, able to code with their hands while attacking the masculinity of protagonists with their bellicose wit. These pants-tightening sweetheart geniuses are known collectively as...

#6 The Annie Oakley

Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. Whoa. She's a girl... and she knows how to use a computer? There's no way the audience will believe that!

  • Stereotype Cliche: A brilliant technical mind in a body lacking a Y-chromosome, The Annie Oakley is able to manipulate computers and electronic locks with ease, crack passwords in the matter of seconds, and hack networked coffee makers without breaking a sweat. In fact, their towering intellect and abilities often surpasses the most brilliant male in the series, and the writers will take every opportunity to remind the audience of the fact that a woman is beating a man at something thus undercutting any sense of achievement the character would otherwise have.
  • Notable Examples: Leslie Winkle (Big Bang Theory), Ed (Cowboy Bebop), B'Elanna Torres (Star Trek Voyager), Tomoka (Girls Bravo), Agatha Heterodyne (Girl Genius), Willow (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Amber (Sucker Punch!)
  • Why it's offensive: The very existence of this stereotype implies a fundamental intellectual inequality between men and women. If they were assumed to be equals, then a girl who knows her way around a computer system wouldn't be something other characters would find surprising. While the presence of a brilliant, snarky female technical genius would seem to be a way of correcting this wrongful perception, it really serves as more of a digital pat on the female character's butt than anything else.
  • Suggested Replacement: Female characters with depth and multiple levels of intellectual complexity, perky cheerleaders with shampoo-commercial quality hair and the ability to power flounce.

(hidden animated gif source)

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Don't neglect your pet this Halloween!

With Halloween only a few weeks away, the more enterprising (and attention-seeking) of geeks have probably invested some thought into their costumes and LED costume accessories. While this degree of forward thinking is commendable, all too often geeks focus on themselves and forget to bedeck their pets with costumes for their Samhain soirees.

With a host of readily available pre-fab geeky pet costumes to choose from, a pet parent can be forgiven for punting and simply buying their pet a Halloween costume that shows off their obsession of choice. With every base from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to Velociraptors covered, there are plenty of choices... but what if you want to go it alone and make your dog a geeky pet costume from scratch? Would the results be able to eclipse the more professional kits?

The answer is yes. Very yes.

The profound look of betrayal on this poor pooch's face almost- almost- distracts you from the awesomeness of this homemade Halloween costume. (source)

Admittedly, the USS Adorable costume above isn't as polished as, say, a Headless Horseman or Superdog costume which you can buy from a big box retailer, but it blends geekery and white trash chic together in a way that only True Blood has managed to accomplish in the past few years. In fact, the only real competition it has from a DIY geeky pet costume is the World of Warcraft epic dog armor and even then it still might pull ahead for its ingenious use of Bud Light cans.

If I could only convince myself to choke down that domestic elixir of mediocrity, I'd consider copying the design above for my own dog come the end of October. But since I'm not the biggest Star Trek fan, I wouldn't consider this an appropriate use of time or liquor. Until such a time as I figure out how to smelt down empty bottles of single malt scotch to make a convincing Rush costume for my faithful companion, he won't have to worry about being saddled with a comparable ensamble.

Although, I bet PBR cans would work pretty well...

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Odd gaming dice are expensive, unnecessary

Once upon a time, before tabletop games embraced the d20 system, a gamer required his dice bag to hold multiple icosahedrons, dodecahedrons, decahedrons, octahedrons, hexahedrons, and tetrahedrons... or 20-sided dice, 12-sided dice, 8-sided dice, 6-sided dice, and 4-sided dice. This was a confusing time created by confusing, disparate game systems that each required their own set of dice (White Wolf, for example, had a happy hard on for 8-sided dice but didn't care too much for d20s). Still, the variability in percentages afforded by these varied die types was worth the effort of lugging them around.

But true gamers, ones who can tell you the acronym behind THACO without blinking, will recall a time when less common dice were employed by more eldritch systems. Legendary dice with equally legendary names like triacontahedrons, cuboctahedrons, and zocchihedrons were were the veritable Arkenstones in the dice bags of the most ardent of geeks. And now they're back, on Thinkgeek, for damn near $40.00.

The "Weird Dice Gaming Set" consists of seven rare dice and a velvet drawstring pouch. While the set may appeal to some truly pedantic geeks, the results of most all of the dice in the set can be easily mimicked by a combination of other, more easily rolled (and common!) dice. The Weird Dice Gaming Set features a d3, d5, d7, d14, d30, and d100 and while they look kinda nifty, it turns out you really only need the d14 and d30.

Once you realize that the d3 (the die in the top left that looks a little too much like a Nyquil capsule) can be easily replaced by rolling a d6 and halving the results (1-2 = 1, 3-4 = 2, 5-6 = 3) the rest of the dice set begins to fall apart. The d5 is knocked out by the same logic (halve a d10), which also makes the d7 redundant with the presence of the d14. The 100-sided die, a nearly-round abomination that sounds like a maraca and is next to impossible to read, has been neatly replaced by rolling two d10s (one representing "tens" and the other standing for "ones"). The d30 is kind of cool, and is the one truly unique die offered in the set, but for the love of me I can't remember a single time that I needed it in all my years of gaming. Also, you can buy a d30 on for $2.99 (a d14 will cost you $4.00).

So while you might think the "Weird Gaming Dice Set" would make a good gift for you local DM/GM/Dicemonger, you'd probably be better served buying the d30 and d14 on Amazon and spending the $30 you saved on their liquor of choice. Because if there's one thing gamers running a D&D campaign need more of, it's the delicious, numbing taste of sweet, sweet coping juice.

It makes you player types that much easier to deal with.

(banner image source: Dead Gentlemen Productions)
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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Serious about your fandom? Take it to the PhD level!

Back in June, I posted about a PhD program in Manga Studies offered by Kyoto Seika University. While I doubt anyone who read the post actually applied (if so, remember me when you need an RA!), there was a fair amount of buzz in my inbox for more information for a similar program stateside.

While an analogous accredited program does not- to my knowledge- exist in the United States, there are options for those of you us who love anime and are of a scholarly persuasion. It's not guaranteed to bring you fortune and glory, but like all good things in this world, it involves a lot of anthropology.

Cultural anthropology, specifically.

Hey look! A cute, studious anime schoolgril! You'll see lots of those around the anthro department no matter where you... a-are those 3.5 floppies? (source)

This should hardly come as a surprise, given the subject areas that cultural anthropology concerns itself with. Also, when one considers the widespread international appeal of manga and anime and the amount of capital (both monetary and cultural) that they command, it seems like a major oversight that no one has invested any serious research into the processes behind the twin fandom juggernauts.

No one is, of course, an exaggeration as there are a few noteworthy anthropologists studying manga and anime such as Matt Thorn or Charles Dunbar, but if you're looking for a PhD to work under, the pickings are- as they say- slim. The good news is that University of Southern California's Mizuko Ito is here to help!

...the bad news is that you'd probably have better chances of landing a front-row seat at the Viz Media Panel at next year's Otakon then you would of securing some of her department's research funding as a graduate student.

Boasting an academic resume that anyone would be jealous of (capped by dual PhDs from Standford, one in Anthropology and one in Education), Ito focuses her research on new media usage by youth in Japan and America. This lead her to do a few case studies on online anime fandom which opened the floodgates for other otaku researchers. These graduate students are still struggling to be taken seriously by their peers in more established areas of research, but they're gaining ground.

Perhaps the most noteworthy contribution by anthropologists such as Ito, Thorn and Dunbar is that they are all pushing for academia to take manga and anime more seriously. In fact, Ito outright calls for it in her defense of Annie Manion's master's thesis (Discovering Jaspan: Anime and Learning Japanese Culture, click here to download). As manga and anime continue to generate an interest in Japanese culture and spawn their own, distinct subcultures of fans abroad, it would be silly if cultural anthropology did not develop a few codified centers for research.

If fact, cultural anthropology kind of needs to establish anime and manga studies as a subfield of research if they ever hope to be as cool as economics. When they hell did they become the cool kids of social science? Oh... right...
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I still love Rachel, even after all these years.

This post is going to be pretty spoiler-y, so if you haven't played FFVI and are the type to find your knickers in a twist if you learn minor plot details, you may want to skip it and read an archived post instead.

As you play your way through Final Fantasy VI, you quickly learn that one of the main heroes is carrying some major emotional baggage around with him. Ever chivalrous and quick to protect women, it soon shakes out that the thief of the party, Locke, had himself a girlfriend who died some years back through an improbable sequence of events that would make a soap opera writer blush. Still, there's something about the character of Rachel and her relationship with Locke that I find compelling years after playing through the game for the first time.

Upon having her memories and life restored, Rachel wisely tells Locke that they should see other people. (image source)

Locke and Rachel's relationship runs something like this: when she was still alive and not an amnesiac, she joined her boyfriend Locke on a fun weekend trip to explore a mountainside dungeon in search of a suitable engagement ring. As they wound their way up the sun-soaked slopes of the mountain, they happened across a rickety bridge which Rachel was hesitant to cross. Ever the dashing rogue, Locke pushed on and the bridge began to collapse.

Rachel, in an act of misguided love previously only demonstrated by a labrador retriever, dove onto the bridge and shoved Locke to safety, taking the fall for him. She survived her craggy tumble, but lost her memories and had no recollection of who Locke was when she came around. Destitute at having lost his girlfriend (mentally, if not physically), Locke moped around Rachel's house until her father- and the rest of the townsfolk- rode his depressing, star-crossed ass out town.

Shortly thereafter, the eeeeeeeevil Empire raided Locke's hometown and Rachel died in some horrific and indeterminate manner, most likely after being blown up, raped, and/or stabbed to death. When Locke learned of this attack, he returned to the town and was told Rachel regained her memories before her death and declared her love for him before dying. Heartbroken, Locke asked the conveniently local apothecary to preserve her body with his herbs while he set off again- presumably to find a cure for being blown up, raped, and/or stabbed.

At this point, the main events of the game pick up and Locke finds himself drawn to another woman. Their romance develops rapidly, and begins- as all great relationships do- with some light bondage. After he loses track of her in a global cataclysm, he assumes that she is dead and goes back to pining for dead (but preserved!) romantic interest #1, Rachel. He eventually finds the Phoenix magicite which has the power to revive Rachel, but discovers that it is damaged and not quite up to the task of reviving his long-dead lover. Locke tries anyway, and Rachel is brought back to life, albeit briefly.

In possession of her memories and life once again, Rachel speaks the following lines to Locke to absolve him of his guilt so that he might play ball(gag) with his new love:

"I have to go now... But thank you so much for all the happiness you've given me... Please, let go of chains that bind your heart... I release you... Give your love to the one who now dwells in your heart... Love you loved me..."

Some crying ensues, the Phoenix magicite is made whole by Rachels' tears, and the party eventually leaves. Not too bad of a plotline for a linear JRPG, eh?

It is no surprise that the story of Locke and Rachel has inspired some rather impressive fanfic (43 chapters!), a few choice pieces of fan art, and a particularly grating love song. Personally, I find the tragic element of their relationship- the conclusion of which is completely optional to the game's completion, by the by, and can be skipped entirely- to be the most compelling subplot of the Final Fantasy franchise.

...although I still wonder why they didn't just have her die in the fall from the bridge. Was the imperial invasion all that necessary? Would Romeo and Juliet be improved by having Juliet drink amnesia-inducing poison only to die under the hooves of a runaway horsecart full of mead while Romeo is off getting his BDSM on with Beatrice?

Hm. Phrased as such, I guess the imperial invasion was kinda necessary after all. Now to put my bid in to direct some high school Shakespeare...
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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Geek Stereotypes To Be Retired Part V: The Babysitter

Today's post is the fifth installment of a series focusing on some of the most cliched portrayals of geeks, gamers, and otaku in mainstream media: Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired. This series will present some of the most prevalent, and offensive, geek stereotypes in pop culture in an attempt to convince you that screenwriters really do hate the technologically gifted. Part 4 was The Token, and the series continues next week with Part 6 - The Annie Oakley.

Overused Geek Stereotypes That Need To Be Retired

Further proof that no one in Hollywood has no idea what a computer actually does

Who doesn't love a good action movie? While The Black Swan certainly had its memorable moments, no amount of deep character development or schizophrenic lesbian trysts can hope to equal the box office draw of watching Antonio Banderas murder half of Mexico. Unless you really, and I mean *really*, double down on the amount of hallucinatory lesbians.

But no action movie star is invulnerable. Eventually they will come across a problem that's too complicated to be punched, shot, and/or fucked into submission. It's at this point that writers will resort to calling in a geek trope that is so cliched and odious that Paul Giamatti lives in fear of it. When action heroes need security drones disabled, or when a director needs an unattractive geeky guy to stare at a computer screen while yelling at the hero to build tension, they call in...

#5 The Babysitter
Miles away from the action, this stay-at-home hacker takes a well-earned break after disabling security robots that nearly shot his friends to pieces. His next order from the field team: googling them a nice Italian place for dinner in the warehouse district.

  • Stereotype Cliche: A gifted computer hacker/protege, The Babysitter is vital to the success of a more likable, physically attractive hero- but only when writers back themselves into a corner and realize they have no way for a hero to know/deal with certain information that they need to advance the plot. Usually kept far away from flying bullets or super-sweet explosions, the most dramatic moment that The Babysitter can hope for is an over-the-shoulder shot of them in a dark room staring at a blue computer screen while barking orders at the hero. Once the puzzle is solved or the security drones evaded, the hero (and the writer) will forget about The Babysitter until the ending shot when they inadvertently cockblock the hero- usually with a highfive.
  • Notable Examples: Ishikawa (Ghost in the Shell), Michael Lee (Witch Hunter Robin), Al (Quantum Leap), Riley (National Treasure), R2D2 (in the only 3 Star Wars movies worth watching), Abby Sciuto (NCIS), Q (James Bond franchise)
  • Why it's offensive: The Babysitter presents a massive threat of typecasting for geeky-looking actors. By taking a role such as this, an actor proves the limits of their range is yelling "GET OUT OF THERE, ROCK!!!!!" while typing furiously on a keyboard. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people to fill roles such as this since the preceding situation makes up about 95% of vent conversations during MMO raids.
  • Suggested Replacement: A hero who can solve his own problems, a tech-savvy sidekick with rocket jets.
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Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Roundup!

Whether you're a fiscally conservative Republican or pro-Union Democrat, pretty much everyone here in America is observing Labor Day today. Regardless of your political affiliation, I wouldn't dream of leaving you, the office worker stuck at work, or you, the family barbecue escapee, without some form of entertainment today, and so I have decided to follow the ad hoc tradition I've observed or other holidays (such as Memorial Day and July 4th) and turned this post into something of a linkdump.

As for myself, I'll probably be spending today in an alcohol-induced haze playing JRPGs.

...can you blame me?

If the internet can bring you a sexy White Mage cosplay, it was only a matter of time before you could expect to see a sexy Black Mage cosplay (image source:

  • Dragon Quest X was officially announced today and is being developed by Square Enix as an MMORPG surprisingly set to launch for the Wii and Wii U. A Dragon Quest MMO... who could have seen that one coming?

  • While I'm quite happily committed to a child-free lifestyle, seeing costume projects like a Moogle baby onesie makes me wish my sister would get off on her ass and make me an uncle already. Not that I can use a sewing machine worth a damn...

  • The Angry Birds Movie is still taking shape, but the midair Angry Birds Asian Challenge, an 8-player tournament that will take place 33,000 feet above sea level between Helsinki and Singapore this September, is drawing attention for some reason. It's not exactly like this is a flying LAN party for chrissakes, Finnair. Pretty much everyone who flies these days can be counted on playing Angry Birds at some point during the flight- usually during the pre-flight safety drill.

  • Finally, this last one (an internet classic) speaks for itself but is another wonderful example of what a talented musical mind can do with traditional chip-based videogame music:
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Friday, September 2, 2011

How not to date an otaku

Coming out as an otaku means that you'll never find love, acceptance, or validation from the cool kids. No matter how functional you might you think you are as a PhD student and anime geek, or hedge fund manager and world champion Magic: The Gathering player, you'll never belong in the real world because of your shameful, morlock-ish hobbies and interests.

At least, that's what you'd think if you kept up with the dating saga of a former Gizmodo intern and Jon "Magic, Motherfuckers" Finkel- the 2000 Magic: The Gathering World Champion.

There's love out there for every otaku be they straight, gay, yiffie, a Magic: The Gathering World Champion, or any combination thereof. (source)

Alyssa Bereznak, the former intern in the above example, met Finkel randomly via OKCupid and after googling him discovered that he was a bit of a M:tG otaku (note: "a bit" here is an understatement, Finkel has an official card patterned after his likeness). She- like so many who have become frustrated with online dating- went out with him anyway despite her lack of initial interest, and quickly realized there was nothing there between them. The romance-to-be quickly fizzled and they went their separate ways after one date, never to speak of the other again.

Just kidding. Bereznak wrote a nasty essay about it, bashed Finkel as a nerd, and Gizmodo then published it. How very 1997.

Bereznak has been rightfully lambasted by the geek and nerd communities a la Ramona "Talentless Canadian Hack" Pringle for her attempts to increase her profile by perpetuating a dismissive and patronizing stereotype of gamers. The presence of insider geek dating sites like Geek 2 Geek, Soul Geek, Fan Crush, Otaku Crush, MaiOtaku, and Sqzzy might seem to support Bereznak and Pringle's skewed world view, but the point of these sites is that they were created by geeks for geeks to meet romantic partners with similar interests. Because of the relatively few number of datable prospects in a given fandom, these site are a convenient- and sometimes necessary- way to find someone who shares similar interests. Yet if a geek wants to head to a mainstream dating site like PlentyOfFish or OKCupid to find love, it's somehow seen as deceptive.

One almost wants to sympathize for Bereznak after the digital beating she endured for opining about her personal dating preferences. After all, a person should be allowed to state their opinions freely- and if some people find otaku to be fundamentally undatable, and others (through questionable research methods) state that black women are statistically unattractive, they should be able to do so.

...but they had best be ready to deal with the consequences.
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Thursday, September 1, 2011

More Hatsune Miku news than you can shake your stick at

After making landfall in a Toyota Corolla commercial late this spring, Japanese digital diva Hatsune Miku found her US future licensed to VIZ Media. Almost immediately, VIZ held a contest for a new signature "American" look for Miku to wear stateside and after weeks of entries and voting, the winner was announced:
Sure, she kinda looks like a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader... but it's a version of Hatsune Miku we can call our own! (image cred: Exiled Artist)

But a new look is only the beginning of the Hatsune Miku news hitting the net at the tail end of summer (author's note: holy fuck, it's September!) After selling out her first US concert at LA's Anime Expo, fans were eager for more performances or at least a DVD of LA's MIKUNOPOLIS concert. News of Miku's crossover with Sanrio's flagship Hello Kitty IP- Hello Miku- was not enough to mollify these hardcore fans, and so eventually Crypton Future Media (in collaboration with Sega) decided to produce and ship the concert CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Rays just in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, they will follow the abnormally high prices of her Giving Day concert swag with CDs costing ~$41, DVDs costing $82, and Blu-Rays ringing in at close to $100.

Miku fans who find those prices hard to swallow can fire up their iTunes Store or Amazon MP3 Downloader to pick up Ryo (Supercell)'s latest EP to feature Hatsune Miku's signature vocals, Sekiranun Graffiti. For once, it's cheaper to snag on iTunes ($3.99) then it is to download via Amazon ($4.95) but let your feelings on DRM guide your purchasing choice.

Although light in the track department (5 total, 1 remix, 2 instrumentals... it's an EP, people!) Sekiranun Graffiti' is noteworthy as its title track will be used as the theme music for Miku's latest PSP Project Diva game which will probably never be available in the states (unless you pirate it), so that probably won't mean much to anybody here... but, hey, the song is quite catchy!

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