Mar 24 2011

Let me tell you about The Sims Medieval

Well, I had every intention of putting together the last of my PAX posts and a Webcomics Wednesday post yesterday. Instead, I played nine hours of The Sims Medieval. That’s ridiculous. It’s a nonsensical amount of time to spend doing anything other than maybe sleeping.  The worst part was that I had no concept of the passage of time. It wasn’t until Brian got home from work that I even realized it wasn’t morning anymore.

Before I get into my review of the game so far, I should mention that I already love The Sims. I’ve played since the beginning, and other than the horrible idea they had to put the game on consoles, they’ve been fantastic. I’ll admit, though, that they’ve only held my attention for a short while. As soon as a new game or expansion came out, I would get it. I’d mess around for a while, make my Sims do stuff, and eventually use the cheat code for unlimited money and build the mansion of my dreams. This would hold my attention for a while, but eventually I’d get bored and stop playing. They’ve been the kinds of games that when I found myself with nothing else to do, I’d go back to them for a little while (of course World of Warcraft pretty much guarantees that I always have something to do), but they haven’t had the hold that some other “unending” games have had.

This game is different.

When you start up Medieval, the opening movie features really cool animation featuring voice over by Patrick Stewart. That’s right. Now not only do I want to take good care of my Sims, Patrick Stewart also wants me to take good care of my Sims. One of the major difference between this game and all that came before it is that you (yes, you) are a part of the story. Instead of being this nameless faceless controller who makes your Sims sleep with each other, you are the Watcher. It definitely has a sort of Black and White feel about it.  The idea is that now it is time for you to become more than just a Watcher. You are going to take an active roll in the formation of this Sim society.

One of the biggest problems people have with The Sims games is that there are no goals. They tried to remedy this with the Ambitions mechanic, but you never really got anything for achieving those goals. An even larger problem was that there was never any negative impact to not achieving them.

Right off the bat, you have to choose a goal for your entire kingdom. I’m still working on just the “Getting Started” goal, but there are different goals based around getting the most money, promoting religion, scientific advancement, etc. Once you’ve chosen your goal and named your kingdom, you create your monarch.

For this game, they’ve provided more ways to alter the physical appearance of your Sims, but fewer ways to alter their clothing. All clothing comes as outfits, which you can change the colors of, but no mix and match pieces like previous games. Faces are almost infinitely editable, with both a simple interface or a more advanced. You also have the option of using prebuilt Sims or using random rolling to create them.

Each Sim has two traits and one fatal flaw.  These influence different abilities your Sim has (one of my Sims can give comforting hugs) and debuffs that you can pick up (my apothecary has the “licentious” fatal flaw, so if she doesn’t get some tender loving on a regular basis, she gets a debuff to her focus).

Once you’ve chosen your kingdom goal and created your first hero, you choose quests.  These quests give you points when finished that allow you to build more buildings in town and hire more “heroes”.  These buildings have standard locations and standard layouts which you cannot alter.  You can, however, upgrade furnishings, walls, and floors. If two Sims from different buildings get married, you choose where they will live.

In addition to reward points for buildings, each quest also grants points to your overall kingdoms stats. These stats include well being, security, culture, and knowledge. Therefore, if your kingdom’s goal is to be the cultural hub of simulated Medieval times, you can choose quests that will grant you more culture points and ignore the others. It’s a really fantastic way to keep the same fun of controlling what these characters do while providing a goal oriented framework that is engaging.

After finishing the first quest with my monarch, Lord Fitzherbert the Great (yeah, that’s right), I built a clinic and hired an apothecary to work there.  This opens up new quests and new options for how I want to complete these quests.  Some quests are designed for one particular hero, but others let you choose who your primary (and occasionally secondary) hero will be and how they will go about completing the quest. The bard is going to have a different set of objectives in a quest than a blacksmith will have.

In the previous Sims games, you’ve been in charge of every aspect of your Sims life. You monitor their fun, their energy, and if they have to go to the bathroom. In early versions, you had to tell them everything to do. Later on, they got a little smarter and would take care of themselves if left to their own devices. Here, most of the nitpicking details you used to have to monitor have been rolled into something called Focus. The higher your focus is, the more likely your Sim is going to succeed at various tasks (such as harvesting materials or crafting items.) The only two stats you have to manage are hunger and energy. Have them eat when they’re hunger and sleep when they’re tired.  Pretty simple.

In previous games, your characters would find a job in the paper, get hired, and go off for several hours a day; all your Medieval heroes already have jobs. As a result, every morning at 9 you are given two objectives for the day. If you complete them in the allotted time, you get a buff to your focus. If you fall down on the job, you get a debuff. My apothecary works at the clinic and usually has to create tonics for people or diagnose their illnesses. My blacksmith has to make or mend weapons. My bard has to gather inspiration and write poems.  All the quests I’ve done so far only use one or two heroes, so there isn’t too much to manage. On a side note, gathering ore for the blacksmith is a pain in the neck, but the actual blacksmithing is really fun.

Controlling multiple characters for a quest can get a bit tricky when they both have multiple quest objectives in addition to their daily career requirements. They live and work in different buildings which results in a lot of back and forth. They’ve done a good job of giving you plenty of control in the UI to jump around to where you need to be. Also, if there is another character that your hero must interact with, they get a little marker on your screen indicating their location that you can click to gain access to all the interaction options without having to actually find where they are.

If you ignore your quests for too long, things start to go bad. After a certain amount of Sim time without completing any quest objectives, you get a debuff. At first there’s no real impact, but eventually your Sim can be put in the stocks for shirking their duty to the kingdom.  Happened to me. It was sad. My Sim was very unhappy. Once you get out of the stocks, you can jump right back into your questing, though overcoming the focus debuffs for the public humiliation can be a bit tough.

You can only have one active at a time.  You can abandon quests in order to pick up a different one, but in my experience you can’t really fail at a quest.  You can, however, succeed less, but the end result is still the same. Points for your kingdom and XP for your hero.

If you hate The Sims, this game probably isn’t different enough for you to get over that. If you just kind of liked The Sims but missed having goals, this game might have enough meat on its bones to satisfy you. I could go on for days about how much I’m enjoying this game and detailing all the adventures my various heroes have been having. My only real problem with this game is how much time it takes up without me noticing.  So, if you don’t hear from me, you’ll know where I am.

Mar 21 2011

PAX East 2011 Part 3: Card and Board games

I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed by the presence of card and tabletop gaming at what is billed as a video game convention.  Don’t get me wrong; it was fantastic. I think that because everything was so crowded last year that I just completely missed most of the “paper” gaming presence. As much as I like video games, I think sitting down to a board game with a bunch of friends is just about the best way to spend an evening.

Cool Mini or Not

Alright, so this first highlight isn’t really a board game. When I started painting my Warhammer 40k army, I was pointed at Cool Mini or Not as a place to check out other paint jobs and get ideas. Well, they had a huge booth at PAX this year and are working towards being your one stop for everything you need to paint minis.  They have tons of minis to buy, and are working on carrying every line of paints, brushes and basing materials that you could ever want.  I purchased a set of four dvds with over 13 hours of mini painting instruction.  I’m going to be busy!

Note: Looking at non-Games Workshop minis makes you realize how terrible the faces on GW minis really are.

Super Dungeon Explore

Brian and I got to play through a demo of this game at the Cool Mini or Not booth.  It’s being made by a company called Soda Pop Miniatures.  They specialize in Japanese Pop style stuff.  Lots of anime and mostly naked large breasted women.  This game, however, features chibi style minis of classic adventuring characters and enemies.  They guy who was showing us the game said they were trying to bring 16 bit graphics to a board game. The character models look really fantastic and we picked up a couple to paint.

On our play through, Brian played the paladin (surprise, surprise) and I played the mage (also shocking).  The game plays like a D&D dungeon where someone plays the DM and everyone else controls characters.  For this particular scenario, there were two crystals we had to destroy and a number of kobolds defending them.  Each turn we got movement and action points based on our characters.  The game was pretty fast to pick up and it looks like it’ll be lots of fun to play.

Because it’s not out for release yet and they only had demo versions, I’m not entirely sure what the game will look like when it’s finished.  I believe there will be mix and match dungeon tiles to help keep things fresh.  I am really excited that all the pieces will be paintable.  I already plan on painting up our plastic figures from Mansions of Madness, so this’ll be one more fun project. My only concern is that all the enemies, at least for now, are kobolds.  Granted, some are melee fighters and some are casters, but they’re all kobolds.  I’m hoping that maybe somewhere down the line they’ll release expansions with some other baddies for us to fight.

Munchkin Axe Cop

They announced it.  That’s all I really have on it.   I think there’s potential for something great there.  Axe Cop has such a rich world that I think it’ll fit well with a Munchkin game.  I also think Munchkin, like Monopoly, is well suited to take on a theme, with the major difference being that Munchkin is enjoyable to play.

Magic 2012

The new core Magic the Gathering sets will be coming out early this summer.  This is exciting to me mostly because I’ve hated the two most recent sets.  The infect mechanic has been prevalent throughout, but I’ve found it hard to play in a casual way;  games usually just wind up being reduced to 10 poison counters rather than 20 hit points.  It’s worse if only one player is using an infect deck and the other isn’t.  That rant, however, is best saved for another post.

Dungeons and Dragons

Wizards of the Coast has a huge presence at PAX, but the D&D available this year was really impressive.  They ran games all weekend.  There were encounters and learn to play sessions.  If you’ve ever wanted to give it a try, I really recommend signing up for one of the PAX sessions.  It’s a nice opportunity to get off your feet for a little while and interact with some of your fellow con goers to fight the forces of evil.

Indy Alley

One of the really awesome parts of PAX this year was Indy Alley.  It’s a bit hidden, but it’s where the independent game designers have their booths.  The guys who did Gamebook Adventures were there, as well as a couple of iOS game devs.

What I enjoyed most, though, was being able to meet Len Peralta of Jawbone Radio, Geek a Week, and Monsters by Mail (among other things).  He did all the art for a card game put out by Don Gusano Games called Quack in the Box (the fun card game of medical malpractice).  It was a little awkward.  We walk up to the booth and the girl working there was all excited to tell us about the game.  She was happy to tell us that, in fact, the artist was there signing copies of the game and doing sketches.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was really just there to meet Len.

At any rate, we bought the game and got to talk to Len.  I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but it looks like a fun, solid game.  I adore card games like this; they’re quick, fun, and portable. I’ll be sure to let you know how it plays.  If nothing else, I was more than happy to support an independent game maker.

That pretty much wraps up all the games that really caught my eye at PAX.  I’m sure I’m leaving things out, but I neglected to take any notes while I was at the convention. I’ve got a couple more awesome experiences that I would be remiss if I left out.  Coming soon…



Mar 18 2011

Gamebook Adventures: A review

This is one of the games I discovered in the “Indie Alley” at PAX.  Because I have bought and played it (and because I have much to say about it) I’ve decided to give it its own post.

I grew up in the golden age of Choose Your Own Adventure books.  I have very fond memories of scouring the book fair at school trying to find ones I hadn’t read yet.  I can guarantee that anyone else who enjoyed a good CYOA knows the very important strategy of keeping your finger in the page where a vital choice was made so you could go back if you went astray.  I loved these books.

Gamebook Adventures (for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch) brings back all the fun of a CYOA, and adds a huge new component to it. In these adventures (I’ve downloaded and played through the first one), you have your usual choices to make: Do you follow the northeast path or the northwest path? Do you search the coffin or leave it alone?  However, some of the choices in the book aren’t yours to make. Many are based on if you have a vital piece of information from some earlier conversation or an object from somewhere.

When you start the game, you roll for stats.  Depending on your level of difficulty, you roll slightly differently.  The easier the difficulty, the higher your stats are guaranteed to be.  One is your vitality stat.  This is used as hit points.  The other is your fitness stat.  This one is used where an agility or dexterity stat might be used in other rpgs. Offensive and defensive stats are determined by the gear you are carrying.  I realize this all sounds pretty complicated for a choose your own adventure book, but it’s all very simply handled by two dice rolls at the beginning of the game.

As you progress through the story, you might choose to jump out and help someone being attacked on the street.  In a standard CYOA, this would have a set result.  In this game, you’ll be entered into combat.  All combat is resolved through dice rolls.  It’s all handled for you, all you have to do is tap or shake the device to roll.  When combat has concluded, the result will differ depending on whether you won or lost. The same goes for non combat physical challenges.  If you opt to climb up a cliff wall, you’ll have to roll a fitness check.  If you succeed, you can continue up the wall. If not, well…

There are three different difficulty settings: Classic, bookworm, and novice.  Classic has the ability to use three bookmarks, bookworm and novice have 10.  These allow you to drop a save point before a critical decision or combat in case things go awry. I started on classic, knowing that I’m pretty good at puzzles and the like.  I thought this wouldn’t be too hard.

I got six hours into the game without getting to “the end” (Though I did find plenty of other endings along the way.).  Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t frustrating to fail.  If the dice went against me, that was tough to take, but making wrong decisions didn’t bother me much.  I finally had to restart on novice to get through to the end.  The story is engaging and, overall, well written (there were few parts that were a little iffy).  I think it’s definitely geared more towards adults and older children.  There’s a bit of blood and violence, at least in the one I played.

I had also assumed that there would be very little in the way of replayablility. However, now that I’ve reached the end, there were plenty of options I didn’t or wasn’t able to take.  I’m really looking forward to going back and finding all these other hidden avenues.  I’m also interested to see if I can finish the game on classic or find a different path to victory. They’ve also built in achievements, so that adds even more incentive to go back and try it again.

Gamebook Adventures are available on iOS devices.  There are 5 episodes available and are universal apps.  Each comes with a $4.99 price tag, which I’d say is a pretty good bang for your buck. I tried it out on both the phone and the iPad. It’s decidedly more enjoyable on the iPad as it’s just bigger.  Dice rolls feel a bit cramped on the phone’s screen.  If you only have a smaller device, though, it’s still worth picking up. They are working on a version for the Kindle as well, though I’m not exactly sure how it’ll work out. I’m definitely going to be picking up with other episodes.


Mar 18 2011

PAX East 2011 Part 2: Video Games

While Penny Arcade is a web comic, PAX is primarily based around video games.  In fact, with its attendance of 70,000, PAX East is the largest video game convention in the country.  So there.

Most of the big name games (Old Republic, Portal 2, LA Noir, 3DS) were all but inaccessible.  Most of them had a 3 to 4 hour wait.  As part of my resolution to not spend the entire con in line, I didn’t get to see much of these.  The LA Noir booth had a video playing on the outside, and Old Republic was visible without playing it, but the others were enclosed so without waiting in line there was nothing to see.  With the exception of Old Republic, those games are all coming out soon; it’s not like this was my only chance to see them.

Most of the games I enjoy playing are the less mainstream games anyway, and PAX is great for that.  I’ve got a bit of information about a lot of them.

Let’s jump right in.

Tropico 4

Alright, so there’s nothing really mind blowing here. I love the older Tropico games, and this game promises not to disappoint. Far from just being a rehash of the old stuff though, they have added new missions, new buildings, and a new mechanic. You can now get a counsel of ministers elected to help you get some of your more questionable plans passed and into effect. They’ve also added interactive natural disasters.  As I said, nothing really life changing, but I think it promises to be a really solid game.

Magic: Duels of the Plainswalkers 2012

Like Tropico, this is a sequel that while basically the same game as the original adds a pretty fantastic new feature.

The Magic TCG added a new multiplayer format called Archenemy.  It allows one player to control one large, epic enemy and up to 3 other players work together to take him down. I’ve played it a couple of times and you really have to have a strong deck and a strong coordinated effort in order to defeat the archenemy.  I’ve been crushed a number of times when the archenemy pulls a card that allows him to place a pile of 5/5 flying dragons on the board… and there’s nothing you can do about it.  They’ve added this multiplayer mode to the already pretty fantastic video game.

Defeating the archenemy doesn’t seem nearly as insurmountable as in the card game.  Brian and I did wait in line for this one, and we were matched up with one other person to take down Koth.  We were ultimately (and fairly smoothly) successful.  I think a large part of this was that the cards happened to be with us and not against us.  Only a couple of unlucky draws and we could have been in serious trouble.  I’m super excited for this game to come out.  I’ve been really into cooperative board games lately, and having a co-op video game that isn’t a shooter is pretty exciting.

If you are at all interested in Magic, even learning to play the card game, I highly recommend picking up the digital version.  It really helped me learn how to play, and I also get to play decks with more complex mechanics (landfall) that I would hate playing in a physical deck.  It’s rather akin to my love of playing Risk on the computer; there’s far less that you have to worry about figuring out. And far less for you to get wrong.

Child of Eden

This game looks pretty awesome.  It’s something kind of like a mellower Geometry Wars involving shooting shapes.  I can’t say that I was 100% certain of what was going on.

The game is apparently a spiritual successor to a PS2 game called Rez.  I never played it, but when I looked it up I discovered that it’s the game that in Japan came with an extra vibration piece you were supposed to put in your pocket to make the game more immersive.  (I remember reports that it was not being used for immersion, but that it was a great incentive for girls to play video games.)

Anyway, the interesting thing about Child of Eden is that it is a Kinect game.  For there to be a non-sports based Kinect game is pretty awesome in the first place, and watching people play is rather like watching them do Tai Chi. It also manages to be a Kinect game that’s not targeted at being a party game.  Other than the fitness “games”, there haven’t been many released that I really feel like I would use all by myself.  This one  seems like it could be really relaxing and fun.


I am totally excited about this game and it comes out next week on both the PS3 and 360.  It’s made by Hothead Games of DeathSpank and Penny Arcade Adventures fame.

It’s sort of a cross between Overlord and World of Goo.  The basic premise is that you start the level in command of 50 little Swarmites.  You get points based on how many of them make it to the end of the level.  You are meant to sacrifice some (in the demo video they show them all jumping off a cliff so that some can jump across their heads to get to the other side) and as you go on, some of them get different abilities (it looked to me like a few of them were on fire).  It’s that perfect combination of platformer and puzzle game that always gets me hooked.

Orcs Must Die

I won’t lie.  Just from seeing the name of this game I felt a little conflicted.  I mean, hey, I like orcs.  I like having them around.  I don’t want to kill them. Then I saw some gameplay and I got over it.

This game looks crazy. It’s a combination hack and slash and tower defense. Fear not, oh ye tower defense haters. It’s not like that. Instead of the standard fare of gathering resources and building units, you’ve got these traps you can place in the path of the oncoming orcs. There are spikes that shoot out of the floor, blocks that fall from the ceiling, springboards that launch them across the room.

Also different from your tradition tower defense is that you are an actual character running around and you have the ability to kill the orcs yourself.  This game has the potential to be incredibly fun or incredibly frustrating. Either way, the art style is fantastic and it looks like a solid purchase for me.


This game is not for me.  Then again, it never set out to be.  However, I feel like I need to mention it because it was the thing that Brian was most excited about seeing.

The game is described as a team based action shooter.  In reality, it’s a free to play MMO*. It’s a little bit Halo, a little bit TF2, developed by a guy who used to work on World of Warcraft. The game looks really awesome if you’re into those sorts of games, and I’ll admit that the art style is pretty cool.

Instead of classes, players will be able to use battleframes which will determine their combat style.  You can add to these battleframes or switch them at any time (I love the smell of microtransactions in the morning). It’s a really interesting concept and while it may not be my type of game to play, I’m interested to see how it does in the market.

*The developers have said that they don’t want to call it an MMO because it doesn’t fit into the traditional form of one.  I think they problem they have is that RPG so often gets automatically assumed at the end of MMO because, well, those are the types of MMOs that are on the market and doing well.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

This was the game I was most excited to see at PAX… and the only think I missed out on completely.  The keynote started late and ran long, and the Reckoning panel had already started when we got out (and was already full).  I had figured they would probably be on the floor as well, but sadly, they weren’t.  I’ll have to take my friends’ speechlessness as testimony that it’s going to be an awesome game. I’m just sad I didn’t get to see it for myself.

There were two games that are already out that I had passed over but as a result of seeing them in person, I am now very interested in.  One is Risk: Factions.  I adore a good game of Risk, especially a video game version.  The fewer tiny plastic army dudes I have to cram onto Australia, the better. I figured that I’ve already got Risk games, what do I need another one for.  The game said, “Yes, but now you can play Risk… as a cat.”  I’m in.

The other game is Raskulls.  It’s got over world levels and bonus stages with puzzles.  And the cutest art ever. Precious.  Gonna have to pick that one up too.

Well, that covers about half of the games that are out to take my money in the near future.  I’ve got a few pretty awesome board games to talk about in another upcoming post.

Mar 16 2011

PAX East 2011 Part 1: Overview

Well, we’ve been home from PAX for a couple of days now.  I’ve had time to unpack all my swag and think about everything we saw and did.  So, let’s talk about it.

1. Staying at the Westin was the right choice and staying over Thursday night was even better.

Even though we live less than an hour from the convention center, Brian and I decided to get a room this year.  We thought it would be a nice little mini vacation for us.  Plus, after last year when we drove back and forth from the convention center, staying over seemed like a much better option.  We also got a room for Thursday night which turned out to be especially good since the convention started at 10 on Friday instead of 2 like last year.

By staying at the Westin, which is connected to the BCEC, we were able to pop back to our hotel room anytime we wanted and take a break or drop off swag (oh man, did I get some swag).

There were two main negatives to the Westin, though.

First, they charge for parking, even if you’re staying there.  That’s a load of crap. If you want to also open your parking garage up to people not staying at the hotel and charge them, that’s fine.  And to add insult to injury, it was $30 a night.  On top of your room cost.  Nonsense.

The second problem is that there aren’t a lot of food options in that part of town.  Granted, that’s not a problem limited to the Westin, but their room service selection for meals other than breakfast weren’t stellar either (Brian and I have never been afraid to order room service when there’s nothing else to eat).  I think next year we might request a fridge for our room and bring sandwich stuff with us. That way if can’t find something to have, we won’t be limited to granola bars.

2. The BCEC is a really awesome venue.

After being packed into the Hynes last year, the BCEC had a refreshing amount of space.  One of my biggest problems last year was sitting on the floor while in line.  By the end of the weekend, my back and hips were killing me.  I’m just not built to sit on a hard  concrete floor.  Almost all the hallways where lines were formed were carpeted and most of them had benches.  It was fantastic.

There was just a lot more space.  Even with 70,000 people, you could find quiet areas of the convention center to sit and relax. (This is especially nice when you’ve run into one of those people who has been up for 78 hours and hasn’t showered yet.) There was also plenty of tables and chairs for playing card or board games.  They have a library of board games which you can borrow, and a lot of people would get them set up and put up a sign that read “LFG”.  The rooms for panels were larger and could accommodate more people. It felt like there was just a ton more to see and do this year. I wound up being pretty overwhelmed with everything that I wanted to see.

The only negative, as I mentioned before, is the lack of proximity to food.  There has been talk of expanding the convention complex, which would be fantastic.  On the plus side, the Starbucks at the Westin was fantastic and it broke our streak of going on great vacations where we are completely unable to get a decent cup of coffee.

3. Jane McGonigal’s keynote was fantastic.

Last year for the inaugural  PAX East, Wil Wheaton gave the keynote address.  Now, I’ve got to tell you, that’s a hard act to follow.  He’s definitely a guy who is a wonderful public speaker and one who really knows his audience. Plus, y’know, he’s Wil Flippin’ Wheaton.

For those not familiar with her work, Jane McGonigal is into seeing how games actually make us better people and better at what we do.  She goes way further than, say, using Mavis Beacon to learn how to type.  Her whole idea is that the skills we learn and develop by playing games can be used in the “real world” to make a huge impact on our everyday lives.  Her book, Reality is Broken, came out in January and if you haven’t read it, I recommend it. (I actually haven’t finished reading it yet.  Standing in line waiting for the keynote, I had my iPad out and was reading on my Kindle app.  A few feet behind me, a guy had the book out and was about half way through.  It felt like we hadn’t read the book for the quiz.)

Jane has been everywhere lately.  She did a TED talk and was even on the Colbert Report.  Public speaking is certainly not a problem for her.  I think she also had the advantage at PAX of speaking to a group of people who are behind what she has to say 100%.  I imagine at a lot of her talks there must be a fair number of skeptics who think that playing games (and especially video games) is either escapism or at least a waste of time.  The PAX audience got to hear a speech based around the idea that we are all awesome and it’s in large part due to the hobbies we enjoy.  You really can’t go wrong with a subject like that.

4. I didn’t spend the entire weekend sitting in line.

When I really stopped to think about last year, I’m pretty sure I spent a total of about 8 to 10 hours in line.  The kicker is that other than the keynote, I didn’t see any panels last year.   This year, I spent a minimal amount of time in line.  Some of this was by choice (We opted not to go to the concert this year. More about that in a later post.) but most was by design.

The use of official Twitter feeds was amazing.  There was one feed that was exclusively for lines.  It would tell you if a particular panel’s line was filling up fast or if there was plenty of room for more.  The only down side was that the internet at the convention center was a bit bogged down at peak times.  There was free wifi at the BCEC, and I was really surprised at how well it held up.  We overloaded the Hynes wifi within about an hour of them letting us in the building last year.  First thing in the morning I had no problem getting wifi, and I could occasionally pick up a signal off and on during the day.  Next year it might be worth it for me to splurge and pay for the hotel wifi just to be sure I can get important con information.

Another great improvement this year was the use of the Conventionist app.  Available on most smart phones, you could download the PAX info that included maps, a list of exhibitors, and a schedule of panels.  You could choose which panels you wanted to see and have your phone give you a reminder that they were coming up.  That was the hardest part for me last year.  I couldn’t keep track of what time it was or when things I wanted to see where going on.

The only feature that Conventionist is missing is the ability to share your schedule with others.  Ideally, I’d love to be able to swap schedules within the app.  Then I’d be able to look and see where my friends are and what their plans are and compare them to mine.  However, I’d settle for the ability to email my schedule to other people.  An lot of my friends that I don’t get to see often were at PAX, and I never got around to seeing most of them.

5. I laughed.  A lot.

The absolute highlight of PAX for me this year was the amount of time I spent laughing.  Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub were responsible for a lot of that (they get their own post), but a lot of it was just getting to hang out and play games with other people who are like me.  Going to the con really is like spending the weekend with 70,000 of your closest friends that you’ve never met.  Sure, there were a few people there who I’m not about to be inviting over for dinner anytime soon, but you can pretty much guarantee that you’ve got at least one thing in common with any other person in the building. For someone who spends most of her time alone, that’s a pretty great feeling. I’m already excited for next year and have started making plans for some awesome stuff.

I saw a lot and did a lot over the weekend, so I’ll have more posts detailing more of the specifics.  There are a ton of cool video games I can’t wait to talk about.

Dec 21 2010

[Podcast Review] Tweet Me Harder

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so let’s get to it.

I’ll admit, the first time I listened to an episode of Tweet Me Harder, I didn’t like it.  It didn’t make any sense to me.  I could not for the life of me figure out what these two guys were talking about.  I wanted to give it a chance, though, and I listened to a couple more.  Eventually, I started to get it. I then immediately downloaded every episode available and listened to them nonstop.  I am always excited to see it in my podcast download queue.

Kris Straub and David Malki are both very talented webcomic artists.  They’ve got a twisted sense of humor that serves them well in this podcast.  The basic format of the show is just a conversation between two people.  The topics generally start out seeming rather mundane, but eventually through some fast talking and making enormous logical leaps get to a place Marcel Duchamp could only have dreamed of. They broadcast live while recording, and listeners can contribute via their twitter accounts and the hashtag #TMH.  Kris and David often use this to ask questions of the listeners, such as what they would do in a certain situation, or will use listener comments as a jumping off point.

A few tips to help you get off on the right foot with this quirky piece of auditory artistry.

First of all, it’s not a podcast you can listen to while doing something intensive or walk away from while it still plays.  It does require a fair amount of your attention for you to pick up on all the nuance and follow the stream of consciousness that runs throughout. Leaving for even a minute can result in huge gaps in topics and missing out on quiet a bit as a result.

Secondly, this is probably the greatest example of true ridiculousness since Dadaism.  It’s hysterical to listen to Kris and David jump from nonsensical conclusion to nonsensical conclusion, spurred on by their devoted Twitter followers.  Episodes occasionally have a theme or story, but usually it’s a series of topics that spiral out of control.  All of them are hilarious in a surprisingly cerebral way.

I’m sure this podcast isn’t for everyone, but I really do recommend giving it a shot.  Download a couple of episodes and see what you think. Follow the official TMH twitter feed (@tweethard) to find out when episodes are being recorded live and join in.

Nov 17 2010

And we’re back…

After a terrifyingly long hiatus, I’m very happy to report that I am back and writing again.  Now that the wedding is over an no longer consuming my every waking moment, I finally have time again for the important things in life.  Like the internet.

So, fair readers, I’m sorry to have left you for so very long, but stay tuned.  More is coming.

Jun 15 2010

Bringing up baby, the nerd way.

Our friends, Tom and Stella, have recently been blessed with two precious little boys, Tyler and Connor. Tom is a gamer, an RPG player, and all around great guy.  When choosing gifts for his two babies, I had to make sure that they would help send these boys down the nerdly path right from the start.

Now, I love making quilts, especially baby quilts.  In terms of crafts, there’s a pretty good amount of instant gratification involved.  Once everything is cut out, it goes together quickly and pretty soon you have something that looks like you’ve gotten a lot accomplished.  I love that.  Plus, there are so many cute baby and kid fabrics out there that simpler patterns actually work better to accentuate the designs.  If making quilts was a financially viable career, I would do it in a heartbeat (sadly, it isn’t).

I went to the fabric store already knowing one of the fabrics I was going to buy.  It was an all-over castle print with knights and dragons and princesses looking out of windows and standing on walls. I had seen it when putting stuff together for another baby quilt, but it had been a little too “boyish” for little Grace, so I picked pink dragons for her.  I knew, though, that as soon as I had the chance to make one for a little boy nerd, that was going to be my first choice.

Detail of the knight quilt

The backing fabric was amazing too.  The same company puts out a fabric that is a map.  It has the same characters and names of Arthurian places.

The back. I fell in love with this.

The back. I fell in love with this.

I’m really happy with the way this came out in the end.  It was a good size, with some vibrant colors for a little fellow. The pattern that I chose was, as I mentioned, simple.  It’s just center squares with two borders around them and squares at the corners.  The only problem with the pattern was that it was a little older, so rather than coming with instructions on strip piecing for all of these borders, it called for cutting out all the individual squares and rectangles.  Instead of risking a miscalculation on my part, that’s exactly what I did.  Cutting took a bit longer, but everything more or less lined up in the end, so no harm done.

The full knight quilt

Of everyone that I showed these to, this one is pretty universally the favorite.  I’ll admit, that sweet little dragon is hard to resist. For the second quilt, I had been hoping to find something that was all dragons, but there was nothing to be found.  Fortunately, I found an alternative.


I fell in love with this fabric set a long time ago.  In fact, I fell in love with the designs when I saw them on scrapbook paper, before they were printed on fabric.  I was going through some of my quilting supplies the other day and found a set of small cuts of all these that I bought over a year ago.  So I guess, in the end, it was an easy choice.  I love that the colors are so different.  They’re vibrant without being primary colors.  Again, there was a fantastic fabric choice for the back.  It’s just a huge field of gears.  The whole quilt really makes an impact and is so different from the knight quilt, even though they are the same pattern.

The completed robot quilt

As much as I love the knight quilt, this one was my favorite.  If I was to make either of them again, the knight one would probably get a couple of fabric tweaks, but this one I would make exactly the same.

There was one more gift that I made for the birth of little Tyler and Connor.  This one was more for Tom, though.  We had been at a party where there were a bunch of babies and small children.  One of the fathers had a Steelers diaper bag.  While there was no accounting for his taste in NFL teams, the bag was really cool.  Tom asked him where he had gotten it, hoping to secure a Patriots one for himself.  The guy informed him that a friend had made it.  I told Tom I’d make him a Patriots bag, and he said it would be “the best gift ever”.  Well, that settled it.

Yeah, dude. Patriots.

I was really happy to find this fabric.  A lot of the sports fabrics are a little lackluster, probably because the licensing costs for the logos and team names are so high, they don’t want to go covering them up or going though the effort of designing something interesting.  They’re usually just the logos spread on a field of solid color.  I found the pattern for the biggest diaper bag with the most pockets.  It’s really a good size, and should be enough for the twins.  I enjoyed making it (other than the part where I put the zipper on upside down) and Tom really loved it.

I adore doing these sorts of projects.  I feel I have to do my part to make sure that the next generation of nerds are getting off on the right foot.

Jun 3 2010

The Story of Daniora

I’ve had a few internet names over the years, and most of them have been based around my interests at the time and abandoned as soon as those interests changed.  I have finally settled into my more or less permanent internet persona of Daniora (pronounced dan-YOUR-ah).  It’s the name I go by pretty much everywhere, and it adds a consistency to my internet presence that I’ve never had before.

Names are particularly important to me.  I’m not entirely sure why.  Any time I have to come up with a name for a character, it takes me ages.  If Brian and I start characters together in WoW, he is almost always level four or five before I’ve even settled on a name.  I don’t have a list of names that I regularly return to.  Each character is named individually, based on their background.  I scour the web looking for names that are from a particular ethnic background that I think fits or that has a meaning that matches some characteristic.  It’s one of my favorite things to do.

Many of you may know Daniora as my Blood Elf Warlock, but that’s not where the name originally came from.  She started life as Zingaran Pirate in the Conan pen and paper RPG.

There she is, 11 wisdom and all.

I hadn’t really intended to play.  I wound up at one session of the game and was suckered into playing an NPC for one part.  After that, the DM, my dear friend Sam, enticed me to stay by saying I could play a pirate.  Well, I figured, what the heck.  I was in.  It was a fabulous excuse to buy more books and hang out with people.  The Zingarans are a gypsy-like people, so those were the names I looked at when choosing one for my character.  I chose the male name “Danior” and added the “a” at the end to make it feminine.  The meaning of “born with teeth” seemed to fit my vicious little pirate.

I loved her.  She was tough, and she had to be; she was the only female in the party and lived in a world where women were more or less just expected to be naked and/or lamenting. Looking back at her sheet, I can’t help but notice that in addition to her high rope and balance skills, she could also play the trumpet.  I seem to remember that being some method of piratical communication, but so far removed from the game, it just looks funny.

It was my first roll playing experience, and I was a bit self conscious about it.  Especially because everyone in the group I was playing with were hardened veterans. My shining moment of roll play came when Daniora had stayed behind to guard a prisoner we had captured while the others went off for something or other.  When they returned, Sam prompted me to describe what they were returning to.  I said, “I’m sitting in a chair drinking from a flagon of wine. The prisoner is huddled in the corner, rocking himself back and forth and muttering softly.” That really did say everything about Daniora and how she operated.

In the end, I didn’t play for long, and never really got to use my pirate skills (we were mostly traveling across the desert.  I tried to get the other players to carry a boat along with me on it so I could get my skill bonuses, but that didn’t go over too well).  It was fun, and Sam is a great DM, but the sessions were a little long for my liking and it was hard to be enthused about spending all day every Saturday engaged in the same activity.

I had played World of Warcraft back when it first came out.  I remember having to buy the discs at the Mac store since all the regular stores were sold out (both Mac and PC were on the same discs). I made myself a human warlock, but back in vanilla, leveling was a grind.  The people I was playing with soon far out-leveled me, and I was left to face the mechanical harvesters of Westfall alone.  I quit after that.

When Burning Crusade was being released, the new group of friends I was hanging with were all getting back into it.  They loved it so much that I thought I’d give it another try.  New account, Horde side (boy, did that make a difference!).   Because the people I was playing with all had other characters, they all decided to level blood elves.  I figured leveling with everyone else would be easier, so I picked a blood elf too.  Besides, say what you will about them, but they are addicted to magic.  That’s pretty awesome.  I remembered really liking the idea of the Warlock class, so that’s what I made.

When it came to a name, Daniora just seemed right.  Really, I probably thought it was a shame to let such a great name go to waste, gathering dust on a lonely character sheet. For a long while, I was the only Daniora on the Armory.  More have cropped up since then, and I wonder how they got to that name. My choosing it seems so random, a masculine gypsy name made feminine, it’s hard for me to imagine how someone else could find it too.

I like this picture because she looks bored. She almost always looks bored.

Daniora and I have been plundering the lands of Azeroth and Outlands together for over three years.  Some players are alt-aholics, I’m a main-aholic.  I’ve tried playing other characters, but I never get very far.  We’ve gotten Loremaster together, ground out a lot of nonsensical reps, scraped together a fair amount of gold.  A lot of people lose interest in WoW because it’s not really story driven, there’s a lot of repetitive questing and the like.  I have stayed rapt because I adore my character.

When I started getting into Twitter and posting on forums, I wanted a name that I could use for all of them.  At first, I had a lot of trouble finding a name that wasn’t taken.  I had my distaste for reusing names to contend with, but Daniora tends to be odd enough that it’s available everywhere.  Besides, most of the places I was posting were WoW related, so one could do worse than be associated with their main character.  In the end, I could have done worse than pick the name “Born With Teeth” to stand between me and the internet.

May 25 2010

PAX East or The Great Wil Wheaton Adventure

PAX East has been over for two months now, and I never did get around to writing about it.  I had started a blow-by-blow post of the whole weekend, but it was rapidly becoming rather long and rambling.  So I’ll skip that in favor of documenting the most important occurrence at PAX: When I met Wil Wheaton.

Me, dorking out next to Wil Wheaton. Yes, I am wearing my +5 to Sexterity shirt.

This was my first Con and I don’t know that I knew what to expect.  I should, by all rights, have had a terrible time.  I spent most of my time waiting in lines and sitting on concrete floors which left my back and hips extremely sore.  I didn’t get to play any game demos, and I missed all the panels I wanted to see except for the keynote.  Sounds like a pretty terrible time, right?

The thing is, I loved it.  I had a fantastic time and all thoughts of the event, even during and after the line sitting, are of pure joy.  I blame this on two things.  One is getting to spend three days with “my people”.  This is common at any gathering of geeks, nerds, dweebs, and other outcasts.  When we’re together, everything is a little bit better.  I made “line friends” who told me about boardgames I had to buy and swapped RPG stories.  The second factor leading to my phenomenal time is The Great Wil Wheaton Adventure.

It’s probably a good thing that I’ve waited so long to write about this.  I’ve had time to go through all the phases of acceptance: dorking out, embarrassment, and finally joyful acceptance.  I’ve shared this story with a few people now, and while it is universally accepted as completely nerdy, it’s also supremely cool.

I had no idea that Wil Wheaton would be sitting at a table signing autographs.  That fact totally escaped me. I knew he was giving the keynote speech and I had my copy of Just A Geek with me in case I found myself across a game table from him or something.  However, when we went looking for Scott Kurtz so I could procure my Skull plushie, there he was, Wil Wheaton with the longest line ever. (Actually, it was the longest line ever… until his line the following day, which was much longer.) Brian and I parted ways, he headed for Jonathan Coulton’s line, I for Wil’s.

A note about Star Trek: TNG and my family.  I was six when the show first went on the air and thirteen when it ended.  These were formative years and the show was always appointment television for my family.  We had big Bose speakers hooked up to our tv, which we didn’t use all the time.  We did, however, always use them for Star Trek so we could hear the rumble of the engines.  It was awesome.  I was also, of course, at the perfect age to adore Wil Wheaton.  I mean, who wouldn’t?

I digress.  So here I am, in line, talking to my line friends about board games.   I see that he has two of his books that I don’t own, and his Wheaton’s Law t-shirt.  I intend to purchase all three.  I get to the front of the line and forget all of this.  I shall now document the exact dialogue exchange as it happened.

Me: Hi.

WW: Hi.

Me: If eight-year-old me knew I was talking to you right now, she’d lose it.  I mean, you are pretty much the first man I ever really loved.

WW: Awww.  I’m glad we finally met.

Me: Yeah, it’s been really hard on our relationship.

WW: Well, you grew up as beautifully as I knew you would.

Me: (blushing profusely) You too.

And then he asked my name and signed my book.  I know, I’m a total dork, but it was the coolest thing that’s happened to me in a while. It was definitely the event that saved PAX.  I can’t really imagine having as much fun without it.

I less-than-three you, too, Wil Wheaton.