Today marked the first day of my Fall semester of classes, after a whole week off following the end of my summer course on fiction writing. Which was awesome, I wrote some stories such as this one and this other one which you should check out. Still may be revising them some, but for now they exist. I need to write more! Especially since I may have agreed to give away all my books if I don’t write another 20 or so short pieces of fiction between now and the end of the year. I don’t know why I did that. I suppose because I need the motivation. I’m in the fortunate yet dangerous position of having a lot that I want to do yet not a lot I need to do. I’m comfortable enough in my life that I really don’t have to do anything, which is like having enough rope to hang yourself, for an artist. I have to force it if I want to create, there’s nothing external pushing me save for the goals I set for myself.
School is a big part of that, which is why I’m taking all of these writing courses. I actually started one today on Writing for Interactive Games! It’s taught by Sheldon Pacotti, who did the writing on the original Deus Ex, among other things. Thus far it seems like a really cool course, and after the interactive fiction project I did for my digital media course last spring, I’m interested to see what kind of narrative possibilities there are in an interactive space.
But Tim, you say! What’s all this nonsense about stories and video games? Aren’t you a film major? Well, yes. And I still like film very much, and plan to take courses in screenwriting next year. In fact these digital and game-related courses are a part of UT’s Radio/Television/Film program, which is pretty broad. And I plan to pursue a minor in English with all of these writing classes I’ve been taking. The fact of the matter is I like telling stories, and as I’m passionate about all of these mediums as reader/viewer/gamer, I see no reason to tie myself down to any of them. You can tell very different types of stories with all of them, and some stories can only be told as a novel, a short story, a TV series, a film, an action game, an RPG…I’m a writer, a teller of tales, a crafter of experiences. I hope to be able to do that while being open to as many different mediums as possible. Luckily I’m in a position to learn about all of them, and I’m trying to take full advantage of it.
And speaking of learning things, the first half of my summer was not a waste either. I took some welding and metalworking classes, with an eye toward possibly making some improvements to my desk at some point. I took an afternoon course in magic, and another in first aid, because they seemed like cool things to learn. And I finally started taking guitar lessons, after letting my left-handed Ibanez hang on the wall collecting dust for a solid year. And as if that weren’t enough, the other class I started today was Beginning Italian. I’ve been interested in the Italian language for several years now, starting with reading John Berendt’s excellent The City of Falling Angels, then strengthened when I started seeing some excellent Italian films in different film classes. And, I won’t lie, Assassin’s Creed II may have stoked the fires a bit. It’s a beautiful tongue that I think gets overlooked a bit compared to the more popular romance languages of French and Spanish. I’ve never really tried to learn another language before so it’s a bit daunting, but I’m excited.
I’ve got one other class this semester that doesn’t start until Friday, so I don’t have much to say about it yet. It’s a media studies course that looks to be focused a bit more on the business/marketing side of media, which is definitely knowledge that should come in handy. And straight from school on Friday I leave for the airport, because it’s time for PAX Prime in Seattle! There are so many fantastic panels this year, and I’m only going for two days so I imagine I’ll be really busy. I also want to get out to the showfloor and see a couple of things I Kickstarted earlier on, namely Story War and Delver’s Drop. I’m also making a point to stop by and see Michael Todd‘s excellent Electronic Super Joy, which you should check out if you have the chance. The developer is a friend of a friend who I was fortunate to meet on a trip to Toronto a couple of years ago, and a hell of a juggler as I recall.
Then there are all of the big developers that will be showing games as well, and the board games, and… well, PAX is always a whirlwind. I’ve been fortunate to go almost every year since the first one in 2004 (only missed 05, 09 and 10), and I don’t plan to stop attending if I can help it. This year I had to squeeze it inbetween classes which is why I’m only making Saturday and Sunday, but I’ll still be there, and I plan to make the most of it.
Man, I need to use this blog more. I feel like there are so many other things I ought to talk about at some point. But I’ve dumped enough info and links for tonight, and I’ve a thousand other things to do this week. Check my Twitter this weekend for lots of PAX goodness!
I’ve been on a bit of a Kickstarter spree recently, largely due to getting my tax return this month. And since most of these get better the more people donate to them, I want to take a minute to point out each of them and talk about why they’re exciting to me.
This one actually just ended, so I’m a terrible promoter. I found out about it pretty late though, and luckily it did meet its goal. Still well worth checking out. I love turn-based tactical games like this, and when you add retro-gaming nostalgia and destructible physics-based environments, I’m paying attention. It’s definitely the smallest project I’ve backed, but the developer seems devoted, the game seems pretty far along, and the price was pretty reasonable, so I took a shot. Really looking forward to getting to play it.
I never played the original Longest Journey, but I enjoyed the heck out of Dreamfall on the original Xbox. These are intelligently designed adventure games with really original, intricate and mature storytelling behind them, and I’m pleased as proverbial punch that the series is getting continued. As you can probably tell by the over million dollars raised for it so far, many others are as well. The Kickstarter has a little over a day left to go, and around $150,000 to go before reaching a stretch goal that adds back in a lot of content they had to cut from their plan for budget reasons. Hoping they meet that, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the final product regardless.
This is a game I saw briefly at PAX Prime last year and resolved to keep an eye on, so I was on board early once they started their Kickstarter campaign. The art style is charming and the gameplay is a lot of fun for anyone that likes top-down dungeon crawlers like the classic Zelda games. I really like that they’ve got puzzles in the mix, so it’s not just combat and avoiding traps. What impressed me most though is how much more polished the Kickstarter footage looks compared to the build I saw last August, which already looked quite good. Excited to see what the finished game will be if this is how much they’ve accomplished on their own without funding.
I am so super excited about this one. Cards Against Humanity has been a mainstay at parties I’ve been too recently, because that’s just my crowd. I love the social atmosphere and discussions that such games generate, and Story War takes that a step further by actually building the discussion over which card is best into the gameplay. Not to mention that it’s a game about telling a fun, creative story with comical fantasy motifs, which taken all together seems like a card game custom-designed for me. I actually put quite a bit of cash into my backing of this one, and I’m comfortable with my decision to invest in it because I know from what I’ve seen that I’m going to get a lot of enjoyment out of this game. In fact, I don’t want to wait for my physical set, and will be printing out the PDF version as soon as it becomes available!
Well, I mean, come on. This movie just looks like good fun.
This is a short research article I wrote for an eBook one of my courses is publishing. It’s basically me on a soapbox for a couple of pages arguing that video games can be used to tell good stories, which is something I happen to believe fairly strongly in, being both a writer and a gamer. I’m mostly posting it here to give me an excuse to plug the Humble THQ Bundle, where you can currently still get Metro 2033, along with several other excellent games, for as low as $1, which then goes to charity. It’s a very good deal, as the Humble Bundle always is. I encourage you to take advantage of it while it’s still available.
There is considerable debate as to whether or not video games can be considered a narrative medium. Media scholar Henry Jenkins comments, “One gets rid of narrative as a framework for thinking about games only at one’s own risk.” On the other side of the debate between analytical focus on narrative vs. interactive elements, game theorist Jesper Juul states that “You can’t have narration and interactivity at the same time.” One of his primary arguments cites Seymour Chatman’s principle of a story’s transposability between different mediums, giving Atari’s 1983 Star Wars arcade game as an example of a narrative that fails to translate recognizably to video game form (Chatman 20). However, by examining more narratively complex video games as well as the definitions of some key terms, it is possible to gain a better understanding of the potential of games to convey a story.
Much of the disagreement over the narrative capabilities of video games results from differing interpretations of the concepts involved. Therefore, in the course of any discussion on the topic, it is helpful to first define some of the more important terms. So what is a video game? The Oxford English Dictionary provides this basic definition: “a game played by electronically manipulating images displayed on a television screen.” Games are, first and foremost, “played,” that is to say interactive. Anyone who has ever played with muted volume can attest that the game is still a game without sound, and text-only adventures suggest that visual elements are also optional. Simple games like Atari’s Pong allow that the inclusion of narrative elements is likewise not required. Even the presence of difficulty or opposition is not universal, as demonstrated in atmospheric games like Tale of Tales’ The Graveyard, where the entirety of the gameplay consists of walking an elderly woman to a bench. But control is always required on some level: a video game without interactivity is just a video. The only other firm distinguishing feature can be found in the other word, “video”: these games are always displayed via an electronic platform of some sort, be it a PC, a console, or a mobile device. Thus, any interactive game on an electronic display can be said at the base level to be a video game, with sound, graphics, narrative, and difficulty being optional components.
Having established the definition of the medium, it is equally important to determine the nature of narrative in order to examine their relationship. The OED defines a narrative as, “an account of a series of events, facts, etc., given in order and with the establishing of connections between them; a narration, a story, an account.” Can games fit this definition? In 4A Games’ Metro 2033, a series of events and facts is indeed depicted in a variety of ways: the game opens with a video, presenting the voiceover of the main character, Artyom, describing his life and the post-apocalyptic underground he inhabits. While not many specific events are depicted in the video, it does convey facts (within the game’s fictional context) which provide the setting for the rest of the game’s action. Within the game, more narrative information is conveyed in a variety of ways. Spoken dialogue is often used to explain elements of the world or to establish new goals, such as when the character Khan instructs Artyom to go to Armory station and meet with a man named Smith. This then becomes Artyom’s new short-term goal and the driving narrative objective of the next segment of the game. Information is also conveyed visually: when the player sees a floating electrical Anomaly sweep through a tunnel and clear it of mutants, it both removes that obstacle from Artyom’s journey, and communicates knowledge about this new hazard.
None of these elements, however, address Juul’s purported contradiction between narration and interactivity. Can gameplay mechanics themselves be used to further a narrative? In fact, an excellent example of this can be found in Metro 2033‘s “Child” chapter. In it, Artyom meets Sasha, a young boy who has been left alone after his uncle was killed by mutants. Artyom agrees to escort Sasha to the other survivors of his station, and at the end of the section’s opening cut scene, Sasha runs toward Artyom, passing out of the field of view. Once control is returned to the player, they find that the boy is nowhere to be seen, though he can still be heard speaking. This could be mistaken for a glitch if not for the fact that the game’s controls are also altered here: turning suddenly becomes slower and more ungainly, hampering both navigation and combat. The gameplay here thus conveys, without it being explicitly stated (until the boy is returned to his mother later), that Sasha is now riding on Artyom’s back. By itself this would be considered poor gameplay; the “floaty” controls could be derided as sloppy design. It is only when given its narrative context that this episode makes sense: the change in gameplay signals how Artyom gets Sasha back to his people, sacrificing his own maneuverability and safety in the process. The very interactivity of this segment is used to convey information about the character as well as how the narrative is moved forward.
Returning to Juul’s statement that narratives cannot translate to video games in a recognizable form, it is helpful to examine one final concept: medium. Media scholar Marshall McLuhan explains that, “it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (McLuhan 9). Therefore, it follows that an individual’s experience of a narrative in any medium will always be altered by the format in which it is presented, making a perfect translation impossible. This can be seen often in translations between novels and films: movies made from books will remove scenes or entire storylines and characters in order to present a more concise narrative, while novelizations will take advantage of their greater length and depth of material to actually expand on events and concepts only touched upon in a film. A change of medium can also affect a story after its creation: consider the way in which commercials break the narrative flow of a film on broadcast television, altering the viewer’s perception in comparison to theatrical presentation. The manner in which a narrative is presented will always change its form in relation to the audience.
The issue, therefore, becomes not whether narratives can translate perfectly to video games, but whether they are still recognizable as the same narrative after the transition. Juul argues that Atari’s Star Wars arcade game fails this test, but it is possible to turn to Metro 2033 for a far more robust model. In the game, Artyom leaves his home station after being charged by Hunter with carrying a message to Polis, along the way encountering dangers including monsters, environmental hazards, and other humans. He is helped by several characters during his journey and eventually reaches Polis, joining with a group of elite warriors there to destroy the “Dark Ones” plaguing his home station. In Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel on which the game is based, many of the events are different. Artyom visits different stations and at times encounters different characters. The dangers in the novel are more psychological, eschewing the mutated enemies which fill out the first-person shooter interactivity of the video game.
For instance, in one early portion of the story Artyom is a member of a party traveling one of the metro tunnels, and finds himself the only man not rendered helpless by a mysterious noise that only he can hear. In the novel Artyom rallies his compatriots against various psychological afflictions (one man falls unconscious, another breaks down sobbing, a third wanders forward into the darkness aimlessly.) In the game, all of the other characters exhibit similar signs of psychological disturbance, with one man muttering about an undefined “them” as ghostly shadows appear along the walls of the tunnel. The entire party is then knocked unconscious after being enveloped by a strange light. Artyom awakes in time to fight off a horde of mutant enemies while he guards his helpless companions. This narrative event occurs differently in ways that suit the respective mediums: communicating with a delusional, weeping man would not make for exciting gameplay, while the harrowing battle against the pursuing creatures would feel repetitive and dull in the novel without the excitement of interactivity. But in both versions of the story the same basic event occurs: Artyom’s party is disabled while in transit between his home and the next nearest station, bringing him face to face with the mysterious dangers of the tunnels. He is the sole member of his party to retain his ability to resist, and is seen as the hero of the hour by the other men after he delivers them from danger.
The same principle holds true of the story as a whole: despite changes to accommodate the differing mediums, the basic structure of the narrative remains the same in both versions. Artyom journeys through the Metro for Polis, seeking to save his home station from the encroaching Dark Ones. The setting, beginning, end, and many of the major characters all survive the transition from one medium to another largely intact. Were all mention of the title “Metro 2033” to be removed from the game, no one who had read the novel could fail to recognize it as the same story, any less than, to return to Juul’s argument, the events of a Pride and Prejudice movie can be recognized by those who have read the novel.
Although McLuhan’s oft-quoted catchphrase declares that “The Medium is the Message,” what is less often cited is his accompanying statement that “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium” (McLuhan 7, 8). Video game software can thus be viewed as a medium of communication filled with both implicit and optional elements including interactive gameplay, graphics, and narrative, each of which is a medium in itself and carries its own message which interweaves with others to contribute to the meanings created by the video game as a whole. Games are not, intrinsically, narratives, any more than a film or a book is. But they are a valid and unique platform for telling stories.
Chatman, Seymour. Story and Discourse : Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978. Print.
Glukovsky, Dmitry. Metro 2033. Trans. Natasha Randall. London: Gollancz, 2011. Print.
The Graveyard. Dev. Harvey, Auriea and Michaël Samyn. Tale of Tales. 2008. Video game.
Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” First Person. Electronic Book Review, 2004. Web. 2 December 2012.
Juul, Jesper. “Games Telling Stories?” Game Studies. 1.1 (2001). Web. 11 November 2012.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005. eBook.
Metro 2033. Vers. 18.104.22.168. Dev. 4A Games. THQ Inc. 2010. Video game.
“narrative.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. OED.com. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.
“video game.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. OED.com. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.
I’ve been a good little consumer this month. Got my Starbucks gold card, got my Best Buy silver premier membership, opened a Newegg Preferred account. I haven’t gone credit crazy; I’m actually in considerably less debt than I was this time last year. But I was in a position this month to take care of a few tech upgrades I’ve been meaning to make. Let the technobabble begin.
First, I updated my main desktop PC to an SSD drive and Windows 7 64-bit, something long overdue. Honestly, the performance jump hasn’t been as much as I was hoping for, but the rest of my system is running on some slightly dated hardware, so I wasn’t able to get the newest drive. Within the next year or two I expect to be building a whole new system, so we’ll see what’s what then. I also updated my home media center PC into a blu-ray capable system, and promptly learned that finding software to play blu-ray is much more difficult than I might have imagined. It makes me wonder if Sony being too picky about the licensing of that technology will ultimately speed its abandonment in favor of all-digital video. At the very least, it may speed -my- abandonment of it. I do like special features though, so we’ll see.
Finally, I made the switch to an iPhone 5. So far I’m really enjoying it. I usually upgrade every generation, so my 4 was starting to show its age. The lighter weight and expanded screen size on the 5 are both nice, but the real killer feature for me so far is the LTE network, which really blows 3G speeds out of the water. And I know I’m a year late on this, but I’m actually really impressed with Siri. She’s no thinking AI assistant, but for the things she’s set up to do she actually works really well, and is a lot faster than doing it manually. I already regularly use Siri for setting reminders, keeping a shopping list, or just playing a certain artist or playlist. I’m excited to see where future iterations of this technology might go. I’ve always said that I hope to either talk with an AI or walk on another world in my lifetime, and so far science has been dragging its feet.
My life depends on my phone and my calendar right now. I’ve got every class, every due date, every study session in there, as well as my work hours, social obligations, etc. My full calendar with all the events is a terrifying thing to behold, an explosion of color and commitments. But just one more month, and my time should clear up. Oh, the things I’ll do then. The books I’ll read, the games I’ll play. I may finally get all my laundry put away. May even pick up the dust-covered guitar that I never learned to play, or the book of shadow puppets I’ve barely opened, or any of several other inane random talents that I’ve resolved to pick up at some point or another. May even get back to work on the novel that’s been hibernating on my hard drive for months, or, heaven forbid, visit the gym. For now, though, my focus is still on these final few weeks of the semester, on keeping up with the work, and especially with getting to sleep on time. It really makes a difference.
I’m eight days in, and already it’s a choppy month. I’ve cut myself off from social media for the duration, which means no Twitter and no Facebook. So far this has had a positive effect on my free time and my work, although I haven’t gotten to where I’m consistently writing, studying or cleaning as much as I’d like yet. My main goal in the short term is to force myself to become more of a morning person. It’s proving difficult, but not yet impossible: even if I’m not yet full of energy in the morning, I’m now generally getting enough sleep that I’m not exhausted during the day. Hopefully by December I’ll have gotten used to going to bed at a reasonable hour, which in itself will be a victory. The other thing I’m coming to terms with is that I may in fact be trying to do too much, and reducing my leisure activities will not be enough to let me accomplish all the tasks I wish I was every day. By stripping myself down to basics, I can recognize the real limits of my own capabilities.
For all my concerns though, things are going well. Even if I’ve had to pull a couple of all-nighters to get things done, all of the feedback I’ve gotten from instructors has been positive. This past week I registered for my spring courses, which should be the last semester I’m stuck in lower division courses. I wasn’t able to get into a music class I wanted to take as an elective, but I found a different one on European folklore that fits my schedule well, is interesting for anyone who writes fantasy and mythic structure like myself, and even includes a friend from my ACC days in the bargain. As last minute substitutions go, I think it works out pretty great.
Being an undergraduate student at 26 is an interesting experience, although I’m not sure I’d recommend it. I’m just old enough that I can pass for a senior, but at the same time any time I mention I’m in school, people assume I’m a graduate student. I’ve got neither the energy of someone younger nor the knowledge of someone older, but a little bit of both. So far it’s been enough to get by on, and I hope that it continues to be.
This is not a very cohesive blog post. It’s more a substitute for tweeting than anything else. Reply to me with your favorite brand of toothpaste, and what you feel it says about you as a person.
It’s been over a week now, so this may not qualify as the timliest of blog posts. But I did attend PAX Prime again this summer, my sixth outing to that show since it started in 2004. It’s changed a lot in the past eight years, becoming both much larger and more organized. Being a regular attendee is nice because I sort of have my bearings at this point, and don’t feel like I’m missing out on everything, because I’ve had a lot of the experiences that PAX offers.
At the same time, every show is a little different. For instance, last year there were several new games coming out that I Was interested in, so I spent a lot of time in the expo hall. I wanted to get my hands on Mass Effect III, Skyrim, Knights of the Old Republic, Skyward Sword, and several other titles, before they came out in stores. The downside of that was that I missed out on a lot of panels and other events that were going on outside the expo hall. By contrast, there really aren’t that many games that interest me, and I spent a lot more of my time in the event theaters. A welcome addition to the programming at PAX this year were several panels focused on narrative and writing, specifically in a science fiction and fantasy context. There were panels on creating non-human races, magic systems, fight scenes, villains…this is all just candy to me, as in past years I’ve been stuck with a lot of panels on art and game design. A lot of what I heard at some of these panels has already affected my plans for current works I have in progress, and I was fortunate enough to get to participate in several Q&A sessions as well. In fact, one concept I came up with on the fly to illustrate a point ended up being returned to throughout much of the non-human races panel, and may now end up turning up in one of my stories.
None of this is to say that I didn’t spend any time in the expo hall, as there were still many great games to see there. Mostly I was checking out Assassin’s Creed III, as I’ve been invested in that particular series from the beginning. Sadly, there wasn’t much new to see of it. The demo they showed was almost identical to what’s been seen before, although they did drop a few gameplay tidbits here and there about bear-baiting and dog-petting. Also interesting to me is the impending launch of Nintendo’s Wii U console, so I made sure to get my hands on that and play a little Mario. Verdict- the game was kind of ho-hum! I was not impressed by the gameplay; it plays like a Mario game but I wasn’t feeling the charm. But that controller feels pretty nice. Much lighter than I expected. I’m not too worried about Nintendo delivering on amazing games later on; it’s kind of what they do. However, it is disappointing that they aren’t really coming out swinging on this launch.
One other difference in PAX this year was that I had friends from Austin along for the ride, and on Sunday we settled down for some low-key boardgaming in the tabletop freeplay area. We stumbled upon a card game called We Didn’t Playtest This At All, which ended up being the most immense fun I’ve had in awhile. It’s cheap and it’s super-easy to learn, so I can’t recommend it enough. The only problem is I’m informed that there’s a card stating that all players named Tim lose, which doesn’t really work for me.
Finally, I spent a bit of time browsing the merch. Now I’ve made no secret in the past for my love of Fangamer, they put out some fantastic designs based on classic games. If you haven’t seen their Kickstarter yet, check it out, it ends tomorrow so there’s still time to get some cool shirts. However, right next to the Fangamer booth was another apparel company that I hadn’t seen before, who also had some really great designs. SO if you have time, be sure to check out Sanshee. Just don’t buy the Deku Tree shirt because it will be awkward if we both wear it.
Just a quick post today to share some interesting films I’ve seen lately that might not be on your radar. And wouldn’t you know it, they’re all available for streaming on Netflix.
This film is weird and dark and weird and experimental and weird, but the experiment works. It accomplishes some very cool things within its limited setting, not the least of which was surprising me. That alone gets it a mention.
It’s got a fantastic cast and an intriguing premise, but this movie does suffer from a couple too many subplots, most especially the unnecessary love triangle. It’s really a symptom of focusing on too many characters, but they’re all quite well executed so it’s difficult to say which should be trimmed. Despite the bloated structure, this film made me laugh and made me want to know more about wine, both worthy feats.
Everything Must Go
Will Ferrell, why don’t you do more dramatic roles? You’re good in them. Stranger Than Fiction was a treasure, and this film was yet more proof that you can play more than just a buffoon. It’s slow and quiet and slightly depressing, but also very amusing and sympathetic. A movie about beginning some relationships and moving on from others.
This film is just gorgeous. It’s got kind of an odd pace and not as much really happens in it as you might expect, but the visual style and sense of atmosphere are simply top-notch. If District 9 and Children of Men had a quiet, contemplative love child, this movie would be it. This is not a film about fighting aliens, but rather the character-focused drama of two people on a journey in a world that happens to be occupied by hostile creatures from another world. It’s a unique take on the genre and worth seeing.
When I finished my first draft of this post I realized I’d used the word “interesting” in all four descriptions and the opening. That just wouldn’t do, and I’m so glad I caught it. That’s all the films I have to recommend for now, but do let me know if you’ve seen any of these and liked or hated them, or if you have any other recommendations to share.
Today we’re going to talk about asynchronous games, and why you should be playing one. With me.
I keep busy these days. I have a blog, a fantasy novel in progress, a full schedule of classes, a part-time job, a cat, an apartment, a social life, shows to watch, books to read, and a scattering of odd hobbies I’m trying to pick up on the side, covering everything from playing the guitar to making shadow puppets. I’m still very much a gamer, but my video game time tends to be sporadic and at odd hours. This is fine for single-player experiences, which have always been my bread and butter anyway. But it’s still nice to be able to play with other gaming friends. It’s a hobby that lends itself to being shared, and I don’t want to completely forgo that bonding element just because I don’t have time to level up a smuggler, practice my 2-gate Zealot rush or practice my twitch-headshot skills. Now I’m adding some social gaming back into my life by hosting retro gaming parties, but that’s a subject for another time. Right now, I want to talk about asynchronous games, and how they’re a great help to the modern, mature gamer-on-the-go.
I’m not going to talk about Words with Friends, because the fact you’re reading this indicates that you have internet access, whether under a rock or otherwise, so you already know about Words with Friends. But did you know that Zynga also has a range of other asynchronous “with Friends” games? They aren’t playable on all of the platforms that Words is, but if you have an iOS device there are several options that aren’t Scrabble-inspired. I’m currently knee-deep in losing a game of Chess with Friends to my father back in Virginia, a time-honored tradition since I was young. I haven’t given the other games much of a look, but I’m not dis-interested. My tag is TimGarris on that service.
Penny Arcade first brought this game to my attention, which I imagine is a common state of affairs. I’m glad they did, because this is a fantastic turn-based strategy game that’s great for pulling out for a quick minute or two between appointments. Or meals. Or stoplights. Or sentences. You each get a team of units with unique properties depending on which faction you choose to play as. The units are all fairly well balanced and have different abilities, and which ones you get are chosen randomly, like drawing cards from a deck. The small grid-based playing field keeps the action pretty constant and easy to digest, and after a few rounds you’ll likely be tempted to drop money on one of the expansion faction, like dark elves or dwarves. If you’re a gamer looking for something a little meatier than a board game, this is a great one to pick up. It’s available on both iOS and Steam with cross-platform play, so it’s super accessible, too. My name on there is Smikian, one of the permutations of my usual gamertag.
I just started playing this recently, and it’s the game that made me want to talk about this subject in the first place. It’s desktop-only and a bit more involved than the other two, but still very much in the “play a quick turn whenever you can” setup. Basically you control little representations of soldiers on a simple 3D map, giving them instructions on where to move, where to aim and so on, then pit your strategy against your opponent’s, with both playing out simultaneously. If you ever played the original Rainbow Six back in the day and loved the planning phase, this is for you. It takes some thinking to get used to all of the tactical options and learn to think strategically and anticipate what the other side will do, but once you get it down it’s a really fun time. It also has the ability to replay turns, which can get addictive when you pull off something really cool. My name on there is Smakian, yet another gamertag variation.
Those are the asynchronous games I’m playing right now. Do you play any of them? Or have another that you want to recommend? Let me know!
As a sidenote, I just realized that two out of three of these games was developed in Texas, which reminds me how much I love the game development scene down here. Also did not notice before that the Hero Academy guys are also the Orcs Must Die guys. It’s not asynchronous and so not really within the purview of this post, but those games are also awesome and worth checking out.
Was having a discussion with friends recently about who hadn’t seen what movies. The truth is that recommending movies to people is one of my few true joys in life. And while it’s much easier once I know someone, I can try here to throw out a few broad suggestions for you, the anonymous internet as a whole. Now recommending movies is a tricky business, as I recently found out after encouraging some friends to go see Joss Whedon’s excellent Cabin in the Woods. One enjoyed it, but I discovered that the other Really Does Not Like Horror Movies. You need to take people’s tastes into account. And when suggesting en masse like this, I also have to try and select movies that most people probably haven’t seen. It’s a difficult challenge, but I think I’m up for it. And if you’d like more personalized recommendations, let me know what you like. I watch a lot of movies; I can probably toss out something.
So anyway, here’s a list of movies to check out. I’ve posted trailers, but please note how often good movies have bad trailers. Also note that most of these are streamable online, either on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or Youtube. So check em’ out if they seem interesting!
1. Simone (Comedy/Drama)
This is the second film from Andrew Niccol, best known for the fantastic Gattaca. I actually wrote a paper about him awhile back for a film class; he’s done some really good stuff. Simone is probably his most obscure film, but well worth checking out. It’s the most light of his films, and a backhanded commentary on Hollywood, stars and fame.
2. Conversations with Other Women (Romance)
The split-screen thing is interesting and used as more than a gimmick, but the real draw here is the fantastic set of performances by the lead actors. Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter have to carry over an hour of near-constant camera time, and they make it work.
3. Brick (Thriller)
Ever wanted to see a noir-style detective story done with teenagers? That’s basically what Brick is. It’s the first film from Rian Johnson, who went on to do the fantastic Brothers Bloom and is working on a new film called Looper that looks very intriguing. He is definitely one to watch.
4. Ink (Fantasy)
The sense of atmosphere in this film is really mesmerizing. In terms of visual aesthetic the closest comparison I can think of would be MirrorMask, but this movie is definitely much darker in tone.
5. Reign Over Me (Drama)
I’m really surprised that this one isn’t more well-known. Amazing performance by Adam Sandler, and Don Cheadle…well, what can you say about him? Just one of the most underrated actors working today. This also has one of the best uses of a video game that I’ve seen in a film.
So this is where I am. I’m wearing a shirt with a big hole chewed into the side of it by my cat that I keep because I love this shirt. I’m in my living room watching the first season finale of Veronica Mars and sorting through the basket that I pile things in when I don’t have time to find a place for them. It has some birthday presents in it from my friends, which was lovely of them. My birthday weekend has been a blast; and the best one I’ve had in many years. There were boardgames and pancakes and singing, and also a small fire. I don’t know that I could realistically ask for any more. Mother’s Day was not forgotten, but after I brought my mom flowers she wanted to go see Avengers, so that was what we did. My mom is awesome, by the way. Do you want to be awesome too? Buying a movie ticket and seeing Avengers would be an excellent start. Allow me to be the first to tell you how amazing that movie is.
So maybe the last few weeks of the semester were not the best time for me to try and commit to regular blogging. A lot of things fell by the wayside in the name of weekly exams and papers due. But I made it through, and I’m pretty sure I acquitted myself well in all of my classes. So, once my final grades are in, I’ll be turning them into UT, and I’m pretty confident in my admission chances. Still have a couple of online classes I’m taking over the summer, but my schedule should be pretty free. Moreso than it’s been at any point in my adult life, actually. Whatever will I do with all that free time? Mostly what I’ve already discussed. Juggling practice. Italian practice. Guitar lessons. Writing and submitting. Fitness. Cooking. And a whole lot of movies/TV, books and games.
I’ve got incompleted saves in Skyrim, Bastion and Recettear to finish. Bastion was off my plate for awhile as I couldn’t get it to run on my gaming PC. Supergiant Games tried to be helpful but in the end gave up and sent me a code for a free soundtrack for my trouble, which was nice of them. I eventually got it running on my laptop though, at least enough to finish it. I also picked up Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands for 360, a game with an all-too-apt name as I completely forgot that it existed. I was going to replay Half-Life 2 in preparation for an announcement regarding that franchise this summer, but the asshats at Valve seem to have precluded that. I do however want to replay Aquaria, the Metroid Prime series, and Super Mario RPG…the latter for the elusive 100 super jump prize that’s eluded me since I was 11 years old. That game had achievements before there were achievements, man.
As for TV, I’m in the middle of Veronica Mars as previously mentioned, and also Dr. Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Yeah I know they’re all popular and it’s super shameful that I haven’t seen them. As far as stuff that’s current, the only show I’m following that’s on right now is Game of Thrones. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation, which probably means the fourth and fifth seasons are going to be super boring. I was also following Supernatural for awhile, but that show went down the toilet after the showrunner left, and I will not follow it into that particular abyss. And it had a good finale; I have no idea why they decided to bring it back after the show clearly ended. Waiting for Dexter to come back, waiting for The Walking Dead to come back. And I guess I need to go back and pick up Fringe at some point; I hear good things about where it went.
Books; I’m not sure. I kind of want to go back and reread the Wheel of Time series, as I haven’t yet gotten to the new ones by Brandon Sanderson and he’s one of my favorite authors. Speaking of which, I really need to read his “The Way of Kings”. Also looking forward to getting to some recommendations I’ve been collecting. Chief among them…Harry Potter. Okay, I know, if my TV lapses above were super shameful, this is mark of Cain level. My only defense is that by the time I really resolved to read them, the prospect had turned into something of a project, and it’s been a long time since I had the room in my life for multi-book projects. But now may very well be the time.
Beyond that? I want to have some adventures. I have tickets to see The Kooks in concert next month, as well as the Legend of Zelda symphony when it comes to Austin. I’ve also never been in a cave, and central Texas is an excellent place to do that. Oh, and my grandfather gave me a telescope. I want to figure out how to use it. So, there may be stargazing in my future.