Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unleash your inner 8-year-old with the new Voltron game

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Voltron to geek and otaku culture. Created in 1983 by the late Peter Keefe (and his amazing mustache), Keefe cobbled two anime series (Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV) forming Voltron, which would fast become the first commercially successful exposure to anime for most westerners. While, certainly, anime existed in the west before Voltron, the flying lion robot introduced the mecha trope to an impressionable generation and then all but vanished into 1980s nostalgic obscurity.

Various attempts to revive the Voltron franchise have cropped up over the years (I *think* the live-action movie may actually be made one of these days...), but curiously there has never been a widely-released video game based on the early 1980s consumerist juggernaut that was Voltron. Tomorrow, that will all change- provided you have access to the PSN or X-Box Live Arcade...

Bust out the Nerds Cereal and Hi-C, it's time for some Voltron! (source)

Voltron: Defender of the Universe appeals to the inner pre-teen in all of us by allowing options for solo and cooperative online gameplay. You read that right: with (up to) five friends, you can form Voltron and wield the Voltron sword together against all sorts of psuedo-Gundam baddies. I'm not quite sure what the player who forms the leg will be doing while the lead player smack enemies around, but it still sounds like an interesting concept.

Unfortunately, critical reception to the game is tepid and cautious, owing largely to the developer (Behavior Interactive)... but who cares? It's a Voltron videogame!

So long as it doesn't feature (or allude to) Shia LaBeouf, I plan to play the hell out of this game and use it to replace the once happy childhood memories of Transforms that I had before Michael Bay murdered them with his franchise.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Want to spice up your relationship? Try gaming together!

If the video game market is any indication, the most common male fantasy in the 18-35 age demographic is prefixed by the word "Final", yet years of psychological research outside of the gamersphere would place a male-female-female threesome pretty high on that list.

While many young men have grown up accepting that a threesome is pretty much the best thing they can talk their girlfriend into doing, there exist more socially acceptable fantasies that will actually be beneficial to a long-term relationship.

Take gaming with your girlfriend, for example...

Gaming with your girlfriend can be fun *and* sexy... but be prepared! If she winds up pulling most of the weight in a group gaming effort, you'll be the one shaking your ass on the balance board for her amusement. (source)

If you're passionate about video games, chances are that you'll be excited about sharing that passion with your partner... which, as it turns out, is a very good thing. Research has shown that couples who take on new challenges together are happier, on the whole (scroll down to Gonzo and Camilla for the summary) and video games are a terrific- and accessible- challenge that most couples can undertake together.

Common gender stereotypes might make the above scenario seem as far-fetched as talking a girl into a threesome. Video games are, after all, what boys do for fun while girls... um... titter... and play with dolls while painting their nails, and dreaming about unicorns and baking things. Thankfully, these stereotypes are complete crap and the fact is that both sexes enjoy gaming almost equally.

Not all games are created equal, however. Playing against your beau in an FPS deathmatch might provide a quick, therapeutic catharsis (who hasn't thought of rocket launcher on their partner from time to time?) but it doesn't encourage the same sort of feeling of accomplishment and teamwork. If you're looking to capture that feeling of pure, unbridled yatta, you should pick a game that you can experience and overcome together.

The real trick, then, will be finding a game that you can both enjoy. Roleplaying games or action platformers like Uncharted or Skyward Sword are perfect choices for the amount of investment required and challenge provided. If you and your girl are feeling really spicy, try doing it bareback* and don't use a guide or FAQ. Sure, you might miss a few unlockables along the way... but knowing that you figured out things out as a couple will be infinitely more rewarding in the long run.

As a final word of warning, if you've never tried gaming with your girlfriend or boyfriend before- be aware of the very real possibility that they might be wearing the pants afterwards... which might just encourage a whole new take on roleplaying for you as a couple.

*- I cannot wait for that quote to be taken out of context.
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Monday, November 28, 2011

Kevin Butler knows how to deliver a (final fantasy) wedding toast

While Sony's most beloved fictitious VP Kevin Butler might not be real in the strictest sense, the message and humor of his commercials are real enough and are wildly popular in the the gamer community. Recently, he Sony took a step away from saluting l33t players and feats of online multiplayer prowess to focus on the something few gamers ever find online: true love.

 That is to say, the true love... Final Fantasy XI style as he delivered a toast to two players- Siloeyes and Okenko- who met on FFXI, fell in love, and were recently married.

Like most of the Kevin Butler commercials, the people and story behind the commercial are 100% true which is amazing in and of itself. But what is truly amazing is the accuracy of the FFXI references worked in by Sony's VP of First Person Shooter Relations...

While not everyone who plays an MMO is destined to meet their soul mate, enough relationships form through and around them to make even the most attention-starved outsiders take notice. Still, it's nice to see some recognition by the industry at large!

...even when they're busy saluting the accomplishments of a 9-year-old game from their previous console generation while its current successor damn near killed the franchise.
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Friday, November 25, 2011

Christmas Music For The Discriminating Geek (Part IV)

As the four part series draws to a close, I hope that I have encouraged you to show- and indulge- your inner geek this holiday season. Friends and loved ones may make you suffer through holiday music stations or, worse, holiday CDs by their favorite 90s pop stars in the name of spreading holiday cheer, so when the time comes for you to share your Christmas music, be sure to treat them all to chiptune Christmas carols, Vocaloid holiday arrangements, or WoW-themed renditions of holiday classics.

Being who I am, I could not leave the series off on a World of Warcraft holiday album- no matter how creative and geeky it might be. So for those loyal to turn-based JRPGs and protagonists with plenty of hair gel and angst, I recommend Square Enix's X'mas Collection album to round out your geek-themed holiday cheer!

A careful player of FFXI will wonder why there's a Windurstian Flag next to a Jeunoan Tree in a San d'Orian Mog House. To them I say, it's time to move onto FFXIV.

Square Enix release X'mas Collection quietly last year over in Japan and never saw its distribution expand out of the far east. Which is rather curious, considering the glut of the tracks are remixes of fan favorites themes from Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy (VII, no less!) and Legend of Mana. While it's easy to be exited by the opening track- Final Fantasy XI's Christmas track Starlight Celebration- the FFVII Christmas Remix- which mixes the Golden Saucer and Overworld music features enough sleighbells and tecno backbeats to make anyone's season bright- is pretty incredible for its cheesy appeal.

The X'mas Collection album is, unfortunately, harder to track down than Noel-loid with being the only vendor to stock it. Other, freer, options exist but if you're set on purchasing it ($20.00) and negotiating the international shipping, it should hopefully put you in the holiday spirit!

Of course, if you're feeling less ethical you could click here to download the album and listen to it as you wait for your copy from to arrive...
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Christmas Music For The Discriminating Geek (Part III)

Our special feature Christmas Music for the Discriminating Geek doesn't believe in holidays and continues today to provide you with non-traditional holiday music choices as you fight off food comas and belligerent relatives. Take a moment to remember that they are your family (and probably mean well), turkey is delicious, the cake is not a lie, and in a few hours-if not sooner!- you'll be back to your digital opiate of choice.

The biggest problem with traditional Christmas music is that dated message of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus doesn't really resonate in the digital age no matter how you try to shoehorn it in, and the less said about Feliz Navidad, the beter. Thankfully for all of us- especially those of us who look forward to spending the holidays in Azeroth- there's Oxhorn's Christmas for Geeks- a World of Warcraft themed holiday album perfect for the 21st century!

Deep down inside, gnomes may know that there's no Santa... but that doesn't mean they don't want to believe in him! (source)

Written to appeal specifically to World of Warcraft players young and old (all 10.5 million of them...), Oxhorn's silly arrangements are ones that most gamers can appreciate regardless of their franchise or MMO allegiance. The songs are all written with an insider's knowledge and plenty of humor, so this album will fill you with equal doses of holiday cheer and good 'ol fashioned geeky cheer. If you're not smiling by the middle of I Saw Three Rogues, then I have no idea what you're doing on this site*.

Oxhorn's Christmas for Geeks is available on iTunes, Amazon, and a host of other digital distributors... but why not take a listen to see if this is the nerdy album that will put you in the holiday mood?

If it puts you in any other kind of mood you may want to keep that to yourself. Or just reactivate your WoW account, spike the crap out of your eggnog, and ring in the holidays in the new old fashioned way!

*- You can be forgiven for missing half the references in It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like This Raid Isn't Going to Happen- I barely caught five myself.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Christmas Music For The Discriminating Geek (Part II)

If countless holiday specials of my favorite TV shows have taught me anything, it's that the true meaning of Christmas is sharing. Too often this sharing manifests as parents and playing bog-standard covers of the same 10-15 Christmas songs from musical acts that would be lucky to headline a state fair in 2012. Take heart, geeks who revel in the holiday season, there are alternatives!

Continuing on the series which began with yesterday's post on chiptune Christmas music (more (free) albums of that available here, here, here, and here), today's installment is far less pixelated in sound but is by no means less electronic.

I'd like to stuff/unwrap/trim/share her stocking/present/tree/holiday spirit
... if you know what I mean (source)

Today's option is a Hatsune Miku holiday album with the endearing title Noel-loid (Noel + Vocaloid, for those who need the assist). This album is the latest offering from U-Rythmix Records- full tracklist here- and features Hatsune Miku singing all-new Christmas-themed songs and arrangements. Noel-loid is turning out to be a bit hard to track down as a digital download but for those who can navigate, the physical album is available to purchase here for $27.00... which is as expensive as any other new Vocaloid release, unfortunately.

While you're on, you can pick up the latest CD/DVD single by Hyadain (the gentleman famous for his Mega Man love ballads) entitled "Merry Chrusimimas" which earns points for its intrepid and mostly accurate phonetics. Of course, if you'd like to skip that and just purchase Miku's Noel-loid from an English language site, is your friend.

Rabid fans of Miku can wait for an international edition of Noel-loid to be released- which doesn't seem likely to happen- or they can shell out $30 for the Japanese import. Or, they can just watch this summary video below to listen to what they're missing.

Other Vocaloid Christmas songs can be found on YouTube, so I'm told, but many lack the polish of Noel-loid. But what they lack in polish, they more than make up for in groucho glasses...
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christmas Music For The Discriminating Geek

With Christmas fast approaching, it is likely that you've already reached your saturation point with gaudy decorations and uninspired holiday music. Some stores have taken a firm, if unpopular, stance against early Christmasfication but they are- unfortunately- in the minority.

Because it seems unlikely that you will escape the onslaught of tedious holiday music this weekend, you friends here at Kawaiian Punch has taken it upon themselves himself to help you find a way to rebel against uninspired Christmas music while still enjoying the holiday mood. For the remainder of the week, Kawaiian Punch will highlight some of the best non-traditional geek friendly holiday music available... and what better way to start then with some chiptune Christmas carols?
Jesus was a simple savior and I like to think that he would have chosen to be born not as a fully-rendered 3D model, but as a humble, 8-bit sprite (source)

Three years ago, Philadelphia's own Doctor Octoroc released an amazing 18 track 8-Bit Jesus which went largely unnoticed by the world at large but won a devout fanbase online. As the chiptune scene gains momentum, more and more people "discover" 8-Bit Jesus every year... so why not include yourself among them? With track names like We Three Konami, Icarus! The Angels Sing, Have Yourself A Final Little Fantasy, and Carol Of The Belmonts, there is sure to be something for every old school geek to enjoy.

Because this is a Philly chip artist and not some tool with a Casio, you can be sure that each track is a cheesy masterpiece of everything that makes chiptune great. As an added nod to the 8-bit days, each track incorporates the musical themes (or at least sound) of the game mentioned in the title. Take Carol of the Belmonts for example...

...or preview the whole album here! Either way, if you're looking to add some serious old school geek cred to your Christmas playlists, you won't find better than 8-Bit Jesus.

Available via iTunes or physical disc.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Harry Potter potions class lands at... the University of Nebraska?

Ever since the first run of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Philosopher's Stone, fans of the boy wizard have dreamed about taking classes in magic alongside the likes of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Penelope Clearwater*. Thanks to the brilliant mind of Assistant Professor Rebecca Lai and her prototype Chemistry class at the University of Nebraska, students now have that chance. Sort of...

Hogwarts could do with a few more professors like Lai... (Image Source)

"A Muggle's Guide to Harry Potter's Chemistry" (Chem 192H) is being made available at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this spring thanks to the pioneering spirit of Lai and her willingness to subject herself to academic criticism for teaching a chemistry class using the tropes and appeal of pop culture. While Lai's attempt to sex up the hard sciences with Harry Potter is hardly new (see Roger Highfield's The Science of Harry Potter), the willingness of a university to invest funds, and trust, into a full credit science class revolving around the world of Harry Potter- or any fictional work- is noteworthy.

Assuming the class carries even half as well as Lai's research record to date, Professors like her should see their efforts rewarded- or at least broadly recognized. Lai is taking the opportunity to turn "Chem for non-chem majors" into something fun and accessible that will (hopefully) help her students understand the world of chemistry a little more clearly. While most freshman would choose Bio101 (which almost unilaterally is entitled, or deals with, "Human Sexuality") as their science gen ed requirement, it wouldn't be surprising to see Lai's class enjoying a healthy wait list in the years ahead.

Lai has committed to the theme of Harry Potter for the model of her proposed class, and has announced her plans to (arbitrarily) sort her students into Hogwarts houses in preparation for group work and group projects. Unfortunately, she has remained frustratingly tight-lipped on what role- if any- owls will play in this new academic endeavor so it will either be 10 points from or 10 points to the intrepid underclassman who brings their plush Hedwig to class with them on the first day...

*= what? I like me some Ravenclaws!
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Friday, November 18, 2011

You won't see better FFIV cosplay that doesn't involve Rosa and Beach Volleyball...

When looking to cosplay as a character wearing armor, otaku are faced with several limitations and challenges. To begin with, many conventions ban metal costume pieces outright- and even if they didn't, a full suit of custom made steel armor would set you back at least the price of a new Kia or two. So what can a resourceful cosplayer do?

Crafting foam is an old standby, and it certainly has the potential to win an international competition or two, but what about more modern methods like 3D printing? Well, let's just take a look at how NealBomBad's project for Cecil's Dark Knight armor turned out...

Now that's what you call Cosplay. (source: Joseph Chi Lin)

Fans of the Original Final Fantasy II IV may be wondering where in the game this armor came from. They can be forgiven as the original 16-bit sprite didn't really provide too much detail. When FFIV was ported over to the Nintendo DS, Cecil's armor was given a bit of an update. When Dissidia rolled around, his look was finalized into something even cooler (and closer to Yoshitaka Amano's concept art).

Using 3D rendering software, a 3D printer, ABS plastic, and 500 hours of print time, NealBomBad was able to manufacture this armor from his own 3D models and turn it into a head-turning reality. By harnessing some of the most advanced printing technology available and combining it with the DIY-mentality that even beginner cosplayers possess, this Cosplay went from a ridiculously complicated concept to a ridiculously well-executed triumph of what American cosplayers are capable of.

Yes, there really is a person in there. A really dedicated person... (source)

A great gallery of the cosplay can be found over at Gameinformer or over at AC Paradise. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to take a small loan to send this man a commission request...
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pixar's Brave has a trailer, looks awesome.

Pixar has yet to do wrong in the box office. In 2009, the ultra-depressing Up managed to become one of their highest grossing international films and this year's offering- Cars 2- which made over half a billion at the box office despite being universally panned by critics. So it should come as no surprise that their upcoming film, Brave, looks pretty incredible. At least, it does from this new trailer...

Once the "oooh!" wears off, you'll likely be struck by how much it looks to be a cross between The Secret of Kells and Dreamwork's How to Train Your Dragon... except that the Scottish accents actually belong in the world of Brave. Y'know, it being set in Scotland and all. There are kilts and wode, you see. I also bet someone will be tricked into eating a haggis somewhere in there.

Unfortunately, Brave is likely to have an uphill battle with kids and critics (both of whom, I am convinced, share the same intelligence and attention span) if it hopes to differentiate itself from the bafflingly Scottish viking village in How to Train Your Dragon. Still, if you like your women empowered, your social conventions to be challenged, and your moppets to be red-haired, Brave looks like the movie you've been waiting for!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

PETA claims Mario fans endorse animal cruelty?

Once again proving that trolling can be elevated to even more expensive and sanctimonious heights, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has declared war on their latest enemy- Nintendo- for apparently glorifying the wearing of fur. Quizzically, PETA's complaints are not aimed at any of Nintendo's more controversial titles like Bear Skinner X-Treme, Pimpquest IV, or Boss Tweed's Night Out* but rather Super Mario 3D Land... for using a Tanooki Suit.

And being the classy individuals that they are, P.E.T.A. has launched a grotesque website parodying the game with the player taking on the role of a bloody, skinned tanuki who chases Mario in a quest to recover his filched fur.

So, PETA can copy the Super Mario Brothers 3 box art... but didn't care enough to protest the Mario/Tanooki conspiracy back when it began in 1988? (source)

PETA's gripe with Nintendo is that Mario's use of the Tanooki Suit upgrade is sending gamers a message that it's ok to wear fur. Scoff all you want about how the Tanooki Suit looks nothing like a real tanuki but the issue is an important one- because, apparently, there's a substantial overlap between gamers and people who can afford to wear fur coats.

The biggest problem with PETA is, as usual, in their approach. While apparently tanuki are being harvested and slaughtered en masse for their fur, blaming Nintendo for endorsing the practice seems more than a little misdirected. Rather than attacking Nintendo and its customer base (their preferred form of negotiation), PETA could have easily used the inclusion of the Tanooki Suit in a new Mario title as a great moment to begin an educational discourse with gamers... which is probably needed on the subject of tanukis anyway. I had no idea idea what a tanuki was until I read Villa Incognito and even now I only barely remember them as being ill-tempered raccoons with enlarged scrotums (ref: this famous 19th century woodcut).

Consider: with the money which PETA spent on that ridiculous flash-based propaganda piece, they could have easily secured a booth presence at a great many game/anime conventions throughout the United States. At these conventions, PETA could have brought the plight of tanukis to light in a calm and rational manner ("Hey, do you like Mario? You know how he uses a Tanooki Suit? Tanukis are real and being massacred! Would you sign this petition to help us end the slaughter of tanukis in Asia?"). This would have simultaneously educated gamers while helping PETA's beleaguered public image in return for nothing more than booth swag and vendor fees.

While PETA's vitriolic approach is warranted in certain cases (like the northwest nudist who killed a horse and then posed naked inside of its butchered caracas), this laughable lambasting of Nintendo will earn them far more scorn than support. No one who has played Super Mario 3 or Super Mario 3D Land has ever thought that the Tanooki Suit looked like anything other than an amusement park character's costume and PETA is woefully misinformed if they think otherwise.

And besides, if PETA really wanted to capture a gamer's attention and raise awareness over the unseemly side of raccoon fur suits, they could have followed this intrepid fashionista's approach in creating a live fur coat:

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still chuckling over "coonilingus". (source)

*- Ok, so these aren't real titles... but I bet they would be pretty sweet games!
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Anime Festival Asia's Cosplay Champions Are Intense...

Earlier this year, cosplay duo Zhel Guiral and Amado Carl Hernandez (aka TEAM M.A.R.C.H. OMEGA) won the rights to compete in Anime Festival Asia's Cosplay Championships representing The Philippines. This weekend, their amazing costumes took first place making them- in theory- the best cosplayers in Asia! Southeast Asia, that is. Japan wasn't really invited, but that doesn't take anything away from their impressive work- or the work of their competitors:

It's amazing what you can do with some foam, crazy glue, LEDs, raw talent, and 96 hours...
(Image Credit: Asia One)

Amado Carl Hernandez, a former cosplay prop manufacturer turned cosplayer, took the stage as Final Fantasy XII/Dissidia's Gabranth while his partner Zhel Guiral was crossplaying as Final Fantasy I/Dissidia's Warrior of Light (close-up of her helmet, not pictured above, here). The duo's skit included a choreographed fight from Dissidia along with Zhel's WoL costume being set ablaze with LEDs for effect... most likely during her Ex Mode. I swear, sometimes I have to reflect on how easily this information comes to my mind and wonder how it is that I've managed to live a functional life on things that don't revolve around video games.

Anyway! This story isn't receiving too much syndication stateside, perhaps out of perceived cosplay shame and/or jealousy, but it certainly should. Not simply because the winners of Anime Festival Asia's Cosplay Championship were ones who chose Dissidia as the inspiration for the costumes (the inner fanboy in me will never die), but because they show that an amazing costume can be created with a reasonable amount of time, dedication, resources and talent. While I doubt I could ever churn out anything this impressive on my own- 8 hours a week is certainly a reasonable amount of time to dedicate to a hobby- so why not make it shine?

Shine brighter, that is.

Hat tip on this article: Asia One
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Friday, November 11, 2011

Hatsune Miku Live Party 2011, and HD Miku concert footage!

Last night was the Hatsune Miku Live Party 2011 simulcast which I was (un)fortunate enough to catch in Baltimore. The concert itself was pretty amazing, in the most deliciously postmodern way, but Beltway traffic and the derelict, musty theater it was shown in that smelled so much like my best friend's parent's basement left much to be desired. Still, once the cosplayers jumped up and started dancing along to the videos, three hours of sitting in traffic was forgotten.

The setlist featured some of Miku's best known songs (Po Pi Po was cut criminally short!) along with a few that caught even the most dedicated and diehard in the audience off guard. Her backing musicians gave great performances without taking a single break in the 2 hour event- holograms don't need a lot of time for costume changes, you see. As the flyer above suggests, Hatsune Miku was joined by brother/sister vocaloid duo Kagamine Rin and Kagamine Len along with the overtly Japanese Megurine Luka, who only sang two songs but brought the Baltimore audience to their feet with both:

Yes, there are vocaloid characters outside of Hatsune Miku!

As mentioned elsewhere, the Live Party 2011 simulcast was used to celebrate and advertise the launch of the Hatsune Miku Live Party 2011 CD/DVD/Blu Ray so while the vocal talent behind Vocaloid might be synthetic, the use of a highly publicized tour to shill for a new album is as true to the traditional music industry as it can be. With CDs starting at $40.00 and Blu rays approaching the $100 the investment isn't for everyone- but considering some of the rarer choices available on the offering it might well be worth it. Take the ethereal and spooky (to say nothing of damned catchy!) Musunde Hiraite Rasetsu to Mukuro for example. The koto really makes it...

Anyway, as promised in the title here's some HD footage I stumbled across of the Mikunopolis concert in LA this past summer. Hat tip to The Singularity Hub for the heads up!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Experimental laser surgery changes eye color, cosplayers rejoice!

Up until this week, if wanted to change the color of your eyes you had but two options: colored contact lenses or a steady hand and a colored sharpie (not recommended!) . Colored contacts were either ill-fitting and uncomfortable (expressions) or very subtle and expensive (impressions), leading more than a few folk unhappy with their ocular endowments to consider the sharpie route.

Thankfully, a new alternative is in the works that will permanently change your eye color. Unfortunately, it is expected to cost $5,000 and involves lasers...

If I could be guaranteed to look like this (or possibly this) I'd totally shell out the $2500 for this surgery! (image source)

The procedure, pioneered by Dr. Greg Homer, is so far limited in application to changing brown eyes to blue by burning off the pigment present in brown eyes. The layer of brown pigment apparently masks the natural blue that all brown-eyed individuals have, which is something I honestly didn't know until happening across this article- and I bet you didn't either, so don't act all smug, mister!

Dr. Homer, fittingly based out of Laguna Beach (leg cramp! leg cramp!) says the laser surgery is completely safe to eye health and function, and will completely change the eyes from brown to blue in as little as two weeks after the initial zap. The change is put into motion by the laser surgery which alters the pigment tissue. Gradually, the eyes recognize that the pigment tissue has been altered by the laser treatment and then procede to shed the altered tissue. Altogether now: Ew ew ewww!

While few cosplayers will likely commit to this surgery (assuming US approval) I can see many fans of colored prescription lenses looking for a combo Lasik/Laguna treatment. As for myself, I would consider shelling out $2500 for one blue eye if I could be guaranteed some sweet heterochromia like Yuna (or Bowie!) pictured above- if only to screw with the DMV and Passport agency when it comes to the field "Eye Color".

Now, to start my savings fund...
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Are better graphics hurting our imaginations?

Games today do an amazing job of stimulating a player's senses with dazzling visuals and wonderful music, but too often they fail to stimulate a player's imagination in the way they once did. While research suggests that games are beneficial to developing imaginations, there are still lingering concerns that graphics are eliminating the need for players to extrapolate from what they see presented on the screen.

This often overlooked aspect of video games in general is most painfully apparent in turn-based RPGs- specifically in the attack animations:

Not exactly what you think of when you read of a hero driving their sword into the hide of a fell dragon, is it? (image source)

To take a slightly deconstructionist viewpoint, when you tell your character to "Attack" in a game, you are simply telling the game that you want to damage to the enemy with whatever your character is holding at the moment. Damage is calculated by a set of equations that factor in everything from your character's equipped weapon to the phase of the moon, but the end result is the same: an animation happens on screen while the equation works in the background, numbers flash over the enemy indicating the effect of the attack, and combat moves on. But what really happens during that attack?

Back when games were 8- and 16-bit, my imagination could flesh out the shoddy animation for a character's attack sequence. I liked to envision my party doing all sorts of crazy backflips and diverolls as they ducked under the enemy's clumsy attacks to drive their sword through the poor random encounter's ribcage. This may sound silly, but I didn't really have a choice here. Either my imagination took over or I simply accepted that in a fantasy world with dragons and goblins "attack" meant "walk forward a few steps with no real urgency, wave a sword up and down a few times, and then calmly return to the lineup of other characters". For the sake of a young imagination, less is more- in this case, more stimulating.

This simplistic animation also made the battles much faster to slog through then they were in later, more technologically advanced games. The most elaborate spells of a 16-bit game had their animations restricted to a handful of seconds, largely due to the technological contraints of the day, but as the raw hardware that powered games became more complex, so too did the animations behind them. Attacks now incorporated a few flashy moves and spells became a spectacle to watch.

At least, they did until they reached the point when a powerful summon's animation became a great excuse for a bathroom and/or snack break...

FFVIII's Eden GF. While impressive, the record for the longest summon animation in a FF title is Final Fantasy IX's Ark eidolon, clocking in at 1:51

But the irony behind these amazing (unskippable...) animations is that they distill to the same basic formula of choosing "Attack" in an 8-bit RPG. Equations fire off in the background, an animation fills the screen, numbers flash over your enemy, and the battle rolls on. In many ways, these ridiculously complex animations are worse than simple attacks because they rob the player of the chance to use their imaginations and force them to accept what they are passively seeing on the screen.

That said, the improvements to graphics and animations have been quite welcome to a long-time RPG veteran. Yet, at some point (we'll say FFVII, as much as I try to avoid using that game as a benchmark for anything) a perfect balance between animation and imagination was reached. And then, as always, the genre shot clear past the balance without ever looking back.

Yet there is hope. More recent titles have begun to return to simpler attack animations, and this is an encouraging- if natural- development. As gamers like myself who grew up in the days of high imagination and low animation gain more influence in the industry, it's expected to see a return to the older style of gaming which relied on a player's imagination to fill in a few gaps here and there.

And the gaming industry will be better for this.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

All I want for Christmas is you (... a direct sequel to Super Mario RPG)!

The pre-holiday rush is already beginning to take shape, what with the gorgeous Europe-onlyLegend of Zelda 3DS, the gilded glory of The Skyward Sword pre-order bundle, and- of course-the officially announced release of Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI (!!!), and Chrono Cross on the PSN. But all of these ring hollow for me because the one thing I really want for Christmas this year (other than this for obvious Terra Branford related reasons) is for Square Enix to either do something with their rights to Super Mario RPG or to formally turn them over to Nintendo.

This may seem like a tall order, but if German and British soldiers can sing in the trenches during an impromptu Yuletide cease-fire, you'd think Square Enix could formally relinquish their royalty rights to a 15-year-old title...

Super Mario RPG was a great and unexpected game for the SNES that combined the turn-based JRPG engine that made FFV and FFVI so amazing with the mercurial, light-hearted world of Super Mario Brothers. Mix in the 3D graphics of Chrono Trigger and an amazing soundtrack (some of Yoko Shimomura's best work!) and it's easy to see why this game was a huge success. Its release on the Wii's Virtual Console saw enthusiastic sales from curious Mario fans and veterans of the 16-bit gaming days, but no direct sequel thanks to the involvement of Square in the original game's development.

The issue of a sequel is more or less a moot point since Nintendo has turned the Paper Mario series into it's Mario RPG flagship, but to date none of these games capture the feel of the first game in any appreciable manner. The cute, 2D graphics pale in comparison to those of Super Mario RPG and the music is a bit lacking as well. On the topic of music, if you're feeling somewhat piratical you can download the Super Mario RPG soundtrack here, or just follow the clip below to youtube and click around on some of the other titles. Consider it an early Christmas gift, from me to you.

If you have a Wii and haven't downloaded Super Mario RPG, it's the perfect low-investment investment to tide you over until Skyward Sword is released next Sunday. Also, don't forget about the whole "me giving you a Christmas Gift thing". If you feel reciprocating, I can think of something for you to stuff my stocking with...
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Demon King Daimao lands on Netflix

A jaded otaku once opined that once you've seen one harem anime, you've seen them all. Certainly, there is some truth to this since there are only a finite number of plausible circumstances in which a feckless male protagonist can be surrounded by a coterie of nubile coquettes vying for his attention, but one shouldn't pass on a harem anime just because it's a fanservice smorgasbord.

Case in point: the 12-episode run of the hilarious Demon King Daimao which, incidentally, was just made available on Netflix's instant watch...

It's really not as unseemly as it seems. He doesn't really *want* to be the nefarious dark lord surrounded by all those beautiful and willing women. (Image Source)

The story behind Demon King Daimao goes something like this (minor episode 1 spoiler alert!): 100 years before the story begins, the Demon King waged a war against all of the good and free people of the world and was defeated in a titanic, earth-shattering war. Now, a century later, a young man named Akuto Sai heads off to the Constan Magical Academy (Hogwarts, in the slightly futuristic Japan) with the dreams of becoming a High Priest in the church so he can help the downtrodden. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the blasphemous when the sorting hat err... sorting crow... reads Akuto's future and announces that his future occupation will be the next Demon King.

Chaos, panic, gratuitous panty shots, swordfights, dark magic, and mayhem ensue as the girls of the Constan Magical Academy try to woo, kill, or protect the new and comedically reluctant Demon King. Part of the appeal of the series is the fact that these experiences are ones that most men will recall fondly when they think of their first year at a new university. At least, most men who aren't me. In my first year of college, I was sorted into the oldest freshman dorm, tore my left ACL, came down with mono in under a month, and had a girl put her cigarette out my leg when I was trying to ask her out.

Unfortunately, like most Anime available on Netflix, Demon King Daimao is available only as a dub which may or may not be a dealbreaker depending on your tastes. Being the slight anime snob that I am, I picked up a Blu-ray copy of Demon King at Otakon and have only watched the subtitled version so I can't speak for the quality of the English voice actors but with talents like Maggie Flecknoe, Chris Patton, and Luci Christian (among others) behind the series, it shouldn't be that bad of a dub.

There is a good deal of nudity (implied and blatant) and sexual situations, but they're all handled with a great touch of humor that adds to the charm of this series. If you have Netflix, and like anime (or fanservice), you'd be silly not to give this series a watch.
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Show your love this Christmas with custom love pillows!

With Christmas looming less than two months away, the enterprising geek is likely already stressing out over gift ideas for their friends and loved ones. In the past, if one couldn't find a prefect present for a family member, they would default to a gift card which. While practical, these were always a fleeting and somewhat impersonal pleasure.

Thankfully, the time of gift cards is over. If you'd really like to show your family that you cared enough to go the extra mile, but can't think of anything they'd actually need, why not order a custom love pillow of your likeness in your own signature pose?

I can't decide if I feel worse for: Pooh, or the person who'd actually use this

Dakimakura, or love pillows, are little more than body pillows with screen-printed covers featuring popular anime and game characters that you snuggle with when you're alone. Although, most who buy or sell Dakimakura know that "snuggle" in the preceding sentence is a really polite euphemism for "dryhump like a teenage monkey in heat". They're the perfect way to make the object of an unobtainable romance a little more obtainable... but they're also pretty damn hard to explain away to anyone who happens into your bedroom.
With so many love pillow designs to choose from, you'd think it would be easy to find a custom pillow case printer to help make your generous, thoughtful boudoir gift a reality.

Unfortunately, even the custom designs leave something to be desired, being- understandably- centered around anime coquettes and bon hommes (link not 100% SFW). Heck, finding love pillows marketed to women can be difficult enough but if you click around long enough, you can find a supplier willing to print a custom Dakimakura for you... provided that you can find a 3000 x 900 pixel glamor shot of yourself.

So why not give your family members the gift that keeps on giving? And if you order a custom print of your ex's Facebook profile picture that you'll hold close as you sob bitter tears alone on Christmas, well, your secret is safe with me.
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Once again, I'm jealous of a convicted felon.

It takes a special sort of talent to make costume replicas of weapons. In the case of an unidentified Welsh prisoner, he had that talent- along with plenty of time and, apparently, matchsticks. The combination of all three (and a few sharpies for color, I'm guessing) lead to the impressive anime/jRPG arsenal below which was confiscated by some rather bewildered and impressed guards...

Someone really needs to lay off the Bleach! and later 90's Final Fantasy titles

What makes his story particularly impressive is the fact that his matchstick weapons (above) were allegedly sharpened to the point of being considered a threat to the guards. Actually, that's not nearly as impressive as the Buster Sword (love with junctioned materia!), Zanpakutos, and minty fresh Gunblade- complete with a working, revolving barrel! Also, if unrelated... are matchsticks even that common these days? I'm sure they're popular at trendy bars and nightclubs, but you'd think prisons would probably stick to flimsy books of flimsier matches to discourage this sort of crafting.

Having never been to prison, I can't really sympathize with what drove the prison to his misguided arts and crafts masterpieces, but I do know that these are about ten times better (if smaller) than the average cosplay prop you'd see floating around your local anime con. Exceptions do exist, of course, but still perhaps there is something to the latest study to come out of Michigan State's Children and Technology Project, which to suggest that video games lead kids to be more creative and imaginative. Given enough time, source material, and resentment for a penal system focused on punishment over rehabilitation and the sky's the limit!

If this anonymous Welshman is ever released, he'll likely step into an easy career as a regular panelist at any convention that features a "making props for less!" panel. Unless of course he's a sex offender. We really don't need any more of those kicking around...
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Quidditch World Cup Beckons...

November is fast upon us, loyal readers, which can mean only three things: Guy Fawkes Day, Thanksgiving, and The Quidditch World Cup are almost here. The last event may draw a few cocked eyebrows from those unfamiliar with the craze of intramural Quidditch, but if you live near New York City or have been secretly jealous of the people running around your college's spare rugby pitch in capes whilst straddling broomsticks, you may want to keep the weekend of the 12th and 13th free...

The McGill University Quidditch Club, Canada's #1 ranked Quidditch team (source)

If you've happened across this site, it can be assumed that you already know what Quidditch is: Harry Potter and his wizard friends fly around on brooms and beat each other silly while playing something that resembles a mix between soccer and rugby. Four years ago, a group of students at Middlebury College decided they could do the same thing in the real world (just without the flying) and codified the rules for "Muggle Quidditch", an intramural phenomenon that is wildly popular amongst private liberal arts colleges but sees some play in major state universities as well.

Shortly after the first game was played, The International Quidditch Association was founded in 2007 on the self-same American college campus (who has yet to add "birthplace of Muggle Quidditch" to its press kit). The sport is similar in look, feel, and athleticism to Ultimate Frisbee- which coincidentally also has its origins in the American northeast- but has become a spectacle unto itself thanks to the three day long Quidditch World Cup.

With tickets ranging in cost between $20 and $100 (for the weekend and championships) and 85 schools announced in the pools, the event may seem intimidating. But is it worth it?

Yes. Very yes.

The quest for collegiate Quidditch to become recognized as a legitimate intramural sport is going quite well outside of the IQA and the World Cup pageantry. Sports Illustrated has compiled multiple galleries of Quidditch players (the majority of whom are female- a few with capes tied around their necks) which is a surefire sign that a sport is well on its way to legitimacy and mainstream exploitation.

But can muggle Quidditch ever overcome the stigma that it is a sport by, and for, bookish nerds? If the Texas A&M's Quidditch club is any indication, I'd say its future reputation is in good, and extremely intimidating, hands.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Site News... and a Darth Vader corset?

The weather's most recent attempt to once again derail Kawaiian Punch (the hurricane and devastating earthquake weren't enough?) has proven futile. I'm without power, cel service, or internet, so I can't promise much in the way of news, but I can promise much for Star Wars fans who always dreamed of bringing a bit of the dark side into the bedroom with this custom made Darth Vader Corset ...

Impressive... most impressive. Just don't ask what the batteries in the lightsaber are for

I really have no idea why this was bookmarked in my site news folder but- well- here it is and I can't argue with it. I'm not quite sure where the coquette in question purchased that corset from, but I do know that she is one of the Suicide Girls (which is hardly surprising) so if you're looking for specifics you can probably start there!

If you're looking for a slightly more authentic- and slightly less, ah, functional- model or just don't want a visit to Suicide Girls showing up in your search history, this corset can be yours for $600.00. Of course, if you think of yourself as more of a follower and less of a leader, there's always the $500 storm trooper corset.

Up until this discovery, I would have said the incomparable art of Wil Woods was the best thing to happen to Star Wars fans on the internet:
That man is a genius.
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