Virtual Reality (VR) has been thrown around the gaming forums a lot over the last year or two. It’s not a new thing. I am totally aware I am not submitting ground-breaking journalism here.
With the start of a new year, the discussion has come up again. Is this the year we see VR units in every home? Is VR really going to revolutionize gaming? Or will VR be another demographic divide in the world of gaming?
I adore video games. Ever since I played that first Atari game when I was a kid I’ve been hooked. Later I had a Nintendo NES and I’ve yet to find anyone that can beat me at Dr. Mario. Let me know if you’re up to the challenge, though. I’m more than happy to show you how wrong you are.
I’ve tried many different types of games through the years and found my favorites in MMORPGs. In my 20’s I discovered Everquest and would spend hours every evening camping spawns, training to zone (I was epically notorious for this one), and running all over the place turning in quest items for special gear. Even more hours on the weekends were spent questing with my guild. And there have been many other games since then.
First, here are a few games that only require paper and pencil:
Celebrity: I played this with a group one New Year’s Eve a decade ago and some of us who were there still refer to it as one of our favorite parties. Hand out small strips to paper and a pencil. Everyone writes the name of one celebrity on each strip (alive, dead, real, fictional…) Depending on how many celebrities each person writes, the game can be long or short (4 – 10). Here is the complete gameplay. Be sure to do the Alternative Version which has three rounds.
Drawing Telephone: One of our favorite party games because the less-skilled you are in the art department, the better! Everyone gets a piece of paper and pencil. Each person writes a random phrase on the top of their paper and passes it to the person on their right. That person illustrates the phrase. Then everyone folds back the phrase so only the drawing is showing, and passes their paper to the right. Now the next person only sees the illustration and writes a phrase they think matches it. And so on. Here is a more detailed description of the game. We have some games taped up permanently in our house because they were so hilarious.
Round Singing: You all know Row, Row, Row Your Boat. And Are You Sleeping? Get everyone to try a round. No one needs to sound like a pop star, it’s just for fun. Here is a nice resource. Don’t be shy. If everyone is singing, who cares what individual voices sound like? (By the way, making live music together lights up more of your brain than any other activity, so this is good for you!)
And here is a list of great games to buy for lots-o-people to play!
Mad Libs You’ve got one around the house somewhere, right? If not, get one! Every theme imaginable is available.
Tsuro: The Game of the Path Explanation takes less than five minutes so perfect for non-gamers at the party. Also, it’s a really perty board.
7 Wonders Explanation takes awhile, but once the first round is played, people get it. New Year’s Eve is a perfect time to introduce a new game!
The next three games are ‘apples to apples’ types that can have multiple people, and end whenever you feel like it:
Snake Oil Card Game My son received this as a gift last year and it has become our go-to when we visit other people to have fun. I guarantee this game will make you laugh.
Mad Scientist University This game takes creativity and the ability to just go with it. How can you write your name on the moon with only rubber bands? With science!
Whether you’re throwing a big neighborhood party, or staying home with the drapes closed this Halloween, chances are there’s a game to suit both your tastes and this spookiest of seasons. To help you celebrate Halloween I’ve picked out six games in six different styles including board games, video games, and games to play with kids.
You’ve said it to your kids when they complain about how difficult life is. Go ahead…admit it.
“Back in my day, we had it hard!”
“We walked uphill in a blizzard to school…both ways!”
“Your Dad and I had only seven TV channels! And if you missed your favorite show, you were doomed until the rerun came on!”
“If you didn’t rewind the video cassette rental before returning it, you were charged a fine!”
Recently, my husband and I had heard some commentary from our 10- and 13-year-old sons about how primitive their Wii video game system is compared to their XBox 360. That seemed to spark quite a family conversation one evening.
This Saturday, the first episode of Game Shakers premieres on Nickelodeon. The show features two 12-year-old-girls who start their own gaming company, beginning with an app called Sky Whale. To add to the fun, Nickelodeon plans to release all of the games seen on the show. Sky Whale (iOS and Android) was released last Thursday, and I’ve been playing it ever since.
Really, how can you resist the lure of a flying narwhal in red high heels and a snorkel eating donuts and achieving things like “Double Money Monkey Toilet” and “Double Sushi Pig Nose?”
When you hit a cheeseburger in the game, it announces, “Welcome to Good Burger!” That’s because Game Shakers stars Kel Mitchell, of the “Good Burger” sketch in the series All That, which became its own movie in 1997.
The two-episode premiere will include other familiar guest stars, including Victorious’ Matt Bennett and Yvette Nicole Brown (Robbie Shapiro and Helen Dubois).
If the show turns out to be half as fun as the game, I won’t mind a bit when my kids won’t stop watching it.
Game Shakers premieres on Saturday, September 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon. Meanwhile, check out the trailer:
As a group, us geeks can be a little, well, snobbish about the games we play. Why would we play Clue when we could play Catan? Why choose Scrabble over Stone Age? As much as we might think that way, a quick Amazon search for “board games” reveals that classic titles such as Monopoly, Clue, Sorry!, and The Game of Life are still the top results. My husband and I returned to two popular games—Yahtzee and Clue—both of which had recently been given a Firefly-themed makeover, to see if they could win us over.
GenCon, held each summer in Indianapolis, Indiana, touts itself as “The Best Four Days in Gaming.” The focus isn’t on video games, but on board games, card games, role-playing games, and miniature wargames. It’s the unplugged game convention and it is a massive affair. You cannot possibly see and do it all, but having just come back from my fifth GenCon, these are five things that should definitely be on your list.
1) Wander the Vendor Hall
It’s pretty much mobbed from open to close, but you must spend at least some time wandering the aisles. There are big names like Fantasy Flight Games alongside small independent companies that are the ones you should really check out. The big guys will be in your local games store, but the small guys might not, so this is your chance to demo great games you’ve never heard of and take them home on the spot.
2) Watch the Cosplay Parade
The cosplay parade at GenCon happens on Saturday afternoon and it’s not to be missed. Any cosplayer can participate in this march through the convention center to an area outside the vendor hall where they all gather. It’s a great chance to take pictures without clogging up the aisles of the vendor hall.
You have to take a break from gaming sometime and that means squeezing in a few hours of sleep and grabbing something to eat to keep you going through your next game demo. There are food options aplenty, but my can’t miss meal is at Scotty’s Brewhouse. They rename the foods to things like Goblin Fried Pickles and Ectoplasmic Dip, play geeky movies all day, and have the 501st on hand in the evenings for photos. Also, you get a limited edition die that’s a different color each day of the convention. One can never have too many dice. Good food. Good beer. Free dice. Enough said.
You know that tower you built on your kitchen table with a handful of playing cards? Imagine that, but with hundreds of cards from all different kinds of games stacked into towers that start on the floor and rise up above your head. This charity event is open to anyone with some very creative types building clocktowers and even dragons. Saturday night at 10:30, it all comes to an end. Everyone throws coins at Cardhalla to knock it down with frantic bidding taking place to see who gets to toss the first coin. Cardhalla comes crashing down and local charities benefit from all the donations.
5) Play All The Games!
This is The Best Four Days in Gaming, so play some games. There is open gaming everywhere, even in the hotel ballrooms, and if you don’t have friends at the con, then you’ll easily make some. People want to play with all the games they just bought and will be looking for players ready to join up. Don’t be afraid to jump in and try a new game with a whole new group of gamers.
Just remember, food, sleep, and a daily shower are important parts of the convention experience too. You can’t see it all, so don’t stress. Instead, enjoy what you do see and make the most of every minute. It’ll all be over before you know it!
“Journey to a distant land where bold adventurers wield magical blades against dark creatures from the shadowy depths. Thrill to the arcane power of enigmatic sorcerers as they master forbidden arts to strike down their diabolical enemies. Marvel at the courage of common folk who refuse to surrender to the tide of evil sweeping over the land. These, my friend, are the CHAMPIONS OF AETALTIS!” –Marc Tassin
I’ve been working on a really exciting project for the past couple months alongside the folks at Mechanical Muse and Aetaltis. Champions of Aetaltis is a heroic fantasy anthology that is set in author/game designer/creator Marc Tassin’s world of Aetaltis. It’s going to include stories by some of the top authors in fantasy today, and will develop the already wonderful world into something truly spectacular.
What is Aetaltis? Well, above all, it’s a fantasy world, much like people are used to seeing in Dungeons and Dragons, Forgotten Realms, and Pathfinder. What makes Aetaltis exciting is that it is a platform upon which many things can be built—games, stories, comics, art—and as we are learning, the possibilities are endless.
With the anthology, 20 popular authors, including Michael A. Stackpole, David Farland, Lucy A. Snyder, Larry Correia, David Gross, Elaine Cunningham, Ed Greenwood, Cat Rambo, and more, will be exploring the different aspects, areas, cultures, and legends of the world of Aetaltis and creating a rich story base concerning the people who live there. What excites me about this project is that it takes the tropes I grew up loving, and runs with them instead of fighting them or trying to reinvent them. Yet, the world still manages to be fresh and exciting. I asked Marc Tassin, the world’s creator, to explain this concept a little better than I can. So please, welcome Marc!
GeekMom Melanie: What makes Aetaltis different?
Marc Tassin: I’ve been asked this question a lot since I launched the Kickstarter, so I figured I’d better address it. So here we go…
Readers: What makes Aetaltis different from other classic fantasy settings?
Marc: It’s not! <Use your imagination to insert the screeching noise of the needle scraping across a record!>
Not the answer you were expecting? No problem. I’ll explain.
Anyone can break the rules, because breaking the rules is easy! Sure, it takes skill to break the rules in an artful way, but it’s not hard to smash the norms. You just go in and swap out a bunch of stuff and kick the rest over. Boom! You’re done!
But taking something beloved, embracing a long-held tradition, or working with ideas that are so deeply ingrained in our imagination that they’re the stuff “everybody knows”—taking those things and then doing something really wonderful and compelling with them? Now that is hard. In fact, it’s really hard.
That’s why Hollywood often avoids the hard thing. For example, trying to present Superman in his purest man-of-steel, heart-of-gold, “there’s always a better way,” boy scout in red underpants form without looking stupid is really, really hard. Do it wrong and it comes out really wrong since, like I said before, “everybody knows.” Hollywood can’t afford that risk. It’s way easier to skip all that and just change things up a bit. Doing it the other way is hard!
But… it’s not impossible.
Which brings us to Aetaltis. I decided that I wanted to embrace the traditions and tropes that we love about fantasy, and I took the hard road. After all, I love that stuff! I just wanted to see it done right! It’s like the artisan food movement. It’s not about avant garde departures from the norm—it’s about doing the classics exceptionally well.
So if I’ve done my job right—and if the reaction I’ve received from the authors and pre-readers is to be believed, I have—Aetaltis will give you even more of everything that made classic fantasy classic in a way that you’ll absolutely love. It will do it so artfully and respectfully that you’ll give it a place in your imagination, along with all the other wonderful worlds that it was borne from.
This is also why I turned to the authors I did. I’m not ignorant to the fact that having a New York Times bestseller on your project is a good thing (it is), but that isn’t why I asked the authors I asked. I asked them because they’re really good authors, and you need a really good author to achieve the goals I’ve set out to achieve. Like I said, doing this right is hard. Not just anyone can pull this off.
So there you go! How is Aetaltis different? In the ways that count, it isn’t—and that’s a good thing.
Thanks for reading! I hope I helped to shed some light on my goals with this ambitious project.
Thanks so much for joining us, Marc, and for explaining why Aetaltis brings the best of the old and the new together into one world. The Kickstarter campaign for Champions of Aetaltis will end on June 23, so if this sounds like something you would enjoy, I encourage you to head over and back it!
Elder Sign is a cooperative dice-rolling game based on the Cthulhu Mythos in which you and your fellow players work together as a team of researchers investigating a museum, attempting to prevent the rise of an Ancient One. Players must collect a number of Elder Signs before the Ancient One fills its Doom Track, kills the players, or drives them all mad. Sound good? Then find out more in our in-depth look at both the physical game and its digital alter-ego, Elder Sign: Omens.
How Do You Play?
The museum that forms the playable region of Elder Sign is composed of a number of large cards, each representing a room, while in the digital version you are faced with a map of the museum with a number of locations highlighted on it.
Players choose a room to enter (embarking upon an Adventure) and attempt to roll dice and match the symbols on the card—sometimes in a specific order. If the player successfully completes their Adventure by matching all the symbols, they can gain spells and weapons to help them win more Adventures; they can also gain the all-important Elder Signs needed to defeat the Ancient One. Failing the Adventure can result in a loss of the player’s health and sanity, the arrival of a monster who will increase the difficulty of future Adventures, or Doom being added to the Ancient One’s Doom Track. After each player’s turn, a clock is advanced and at midnight, the Ancient One reveals a card that can benefit them, so players are encouraged to win as fast as possible. Some rooms also have their own, usually negative, Midnight Effects.
How Do You Win and Lose?
To win at Elder Sign, players must collect a set number of Elder Sign tokens. The number is determined by the Ancient One they are fighting.
The tougher the Ancient One, the more Elder Signs will need to be collected to defeat it. Completing some Adventures will win you multiple Elder Signs, but the better the rewards, the harder the Adventure will be to complete. The team of players lose if they all are killed or driven insane by the Ancient One, or if the Ancient One fills its Doom Track.
Are There Any Expansions Available?
Yes. For the physical game two expansions, Unseen Forces and Gates of Arkham, are available. If you are playing digitally, there are currently three expansions: The Call of Cthulhu, The Trail of Ithaqua, and The Dark Pharaoh. All three unlock additional player characters and Ancient Ones to battle.
What Formats Is the Digital Game Available On? Elder Sign: Omens is available on iOS (for both iPad and iPhone), Android, Kindle, and Steam.
How Do the Costs Compare?
The base game currently retails for around $30 with the expansions costing $15 to $20 each, making this one of the cheaper games currently on the market. The digital base game retails for $6.99 (iPad), $3.99 (iPhone), $14.99 (Steam), or around $4.50 on Android. Expansions are $2.99 each.
What Age Is It Suitable For?
The game is recommended for age 12+, and having played it many times, that feels like the correct choice from the developer. While the game play is simple enough that a younger child could understand what’s going on, the artwork is obviously very intense (this is a game set in the realm of the Ancient Ones, after all) and some of the mechanics would likely go over their heads.
The digital version also contains occasional cut scenes that could scare young children. If your child is already acquainted with classic horror, they may enjoy the game, but for the majority, the recommended age will be accurate.
Is It Actually Any Good?
Whether or not you will enjoy Elder Sign, either digitally or physically, is more than likely going to boil down to how much you enjoy randomness as a factor in your gaming. Completing Adventures is entirely based on dice-rolling (occasional cards and characters can change die rolls, but these are frustratingly few and far between), which means that even the best-equipped Investigator can fail spectacularly over and over again if the dice just aren’t in the mood to behave.
This can be incredibly aggravating, and I would know. Despite countless attempts and intentionally hoarding as many helpful cards as possible, I am still yet to beat the final card of The Call of Cthulhu expansion, by nothing more than sheer bad luck.
The randomness effect does, however, level the playing field, meaning that any group of players can work well together from experienced Investigators to total newbies.
The cooperative element really shines during physical play, as players debate which rooms/Adventures they should attempt and which to avoid. We played as a group late on New Year’s Eve and, despite losing spectacularly, had a great time playing—and isn’t that the whole point?
Digital Vs. Physical Green = Pro, Red = Con, Black = Neutral
Game set up is as good as instantaneous.
The game keeps track of which cards can be used at any time, instantly deals out the correct rewards (or penalties) at the conclusion of an Adventure, and advances the clock as required.
The player has to play as multiple characters, remembering each individual’s special abilities and current inventory once their turn rolls around.
Designed for single player, so you don’t need to get a group together.
The single-player format means the game loses out on the cooperative nature of the physical version, arguably one of its best parts.
Both the base game and the expansions are cheap. The complete game with all expansions can be bought for as little as $13.
The base game is somewhat limited and quickly becomes repetitive, so the temptation to buy expansions is high.
Rooms with a Midnight Effect (a usually negative outcome every time the clock strikes midnight) are easily spotted on the map, as are those with Terror Effects.
Only one room can be seen at a time, so the player must either remember the requirements for each one or spend time looking at each one every time they choose a new room/Adventure.
Lots and lots of parts means the game takes a very long time to set up.
The game can be played by up to eight people, making it a great party game and a good choice at a games night with lots of guests, where other games might leave people out.
Midnight and Terror effects are written in small print on the cards, making them easy to overlook.
Although more expensive than the digital game, the physical edition is one of the cheaper games on the market (keep an eye out for frequent price reductions too).
Despite being cheaper than many games, the build quality is fantastic and the pieces are all well made and lovely to handle.
There are only two expansions. However, for those of us trying to limit our rapidly growing game collections, this may be a good thing!
The cards representing the rooms are laid out on the table and the requirements for each one can be seen all at once, making choosing your next room/Adventure easier.
Best played with a group, so not ideal if you don’t have a gaming group or local gamer friends nearby.
GeekMom received the base game ofElder Signs: Omens for review purposes.
Disney Junior is getting ready for a sizzling summer. The network just announced plans to launch the “Soaring Over Summer” event, which will include new episodes of several shows, awesome guest stars, and retro-style arcade games.
“Soaring Over Summer” will last for a total of seven weeks, starting June 29. It will include a brand new episode of one show every single weekday during that time period. As part of the event, we can expect to see new episodes of Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins, Miles from Tomorrowland, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and Henry Hugglemonster. If you miss an episode on TV, you’ll be able to catch it the same day on Watch Disney Junior—assuming you won’t be playing video games.
Yes, while your kiddies are watching their favorite programs, you can be playing in the “Soaring Over Summer Arcade.” Disney Junior plans to unleash several retro-style arcade games with voxel versions of Sofia, Doc, Miles, Jake, and Henry.
During the “Soaring Over Summer” event, look for season-three premieres of Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First, with the latter featuring guest voices Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) and John Ross Bowie (The Big Bang Theory).
Other geeky guest stars to expect this summer include Malcolm McDowell, Jim Rash, David Tennant, Nestor Carbonell, Brett Dalton, and Chloe Bennett in episodes of Jake and the Never Land Pirates; Isla Fisher and Sean Aston on Sofia the First; and Alton Brown on Miles from Tomorrowland.
The “Soaring Over Summer” event will run from Monday, June 29 through Thursday, August 28. The premiere episodes will air each weekday at 9:00 a.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel and 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Junior.
The earthquake in Nepal has left thousands dead and ravaged the country. The recovery process is going to be a long one with many months of rebuilding and recovery ahead for the area. It’s heartbreaking to see images of the devastation and it can leave you feeling a little powerless to do anything to help.
Video game company Bungie is doing their part with a special shirt design that they recently put up for sale in their on-line store. The Destiny-themed shirt will help raise funds for organizations that are assisting with relief efforts in the country.
“Nepal needs help now, Guardians. Answer the call and become a real legend.”
The shirts are available in men’s, women’s, and youth sizes with 100% of the profits going to help recognized charities directly aiding the people of Nepal. You also get an in-game shader and emblem code. Shirts are available for $24.99 in their online store now through May 24th and will begin shipping out to customers in June.
It might not seem like there’s much you can do for Nepal, but every small bit helps.
At our house, Minecraft is the most popular video game with my boys who are ages 10 and 12. Sure, they like Disney Infinity on the xBox 360 and various apps on the iPad, but Minecraft leads the pack. Dinner conversations often focus on “Minecraft this” and “Minecraft that.” I’m always trying to change the subject to something else. Although I admit that I’ve never played Minecraft, I am well versed on what a “Creeper” is and what “spawning” means. I even helped build a Creeper head as a Halloween costume. The game seems rather harmless if not graphically inferior; didn’t we do bitmaps back in the 70s? Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to survive my child’s Minecraft addiction.
It all seemed so innocent when my boys asked to buy Minecraft on the PC several years ago. I paid, and we downloaded, and then the work began.
“Mom, I need help installing a mod.”
“Everything you need to know is in this YouTube.”
Sure, installing some of those mods required every bit of computer programming skill I have. I was so frustrated. Then came the Minecraft Launcher along with the boys getting a bit older, and now they are more self sufficient installing mods and updates. I love that Launcher!
Over Christmas I got the latest request. I was innocently reading my book half paying attention to the football game that was on when they hit me. “Mom, can we have our own Minecraft servers?” Huh? They had asked me this before, and we even tried to configure our own server—another hair pulling intensive computer skill fiasco. I had tried to explain that servers were a lot of work and that their computers probably weren’t powerful enough to support a server with multiple users playing the game. I thought we had put the whole server issue to bed. Apparently not!
Introduce GForce Servers. The boys explained that you can now buy a server running on someone else’s computer but still manage it yourself. One of their Minecraft friends already had one running and configured, and he was volunteering to get them started. It sounded to good to be true.
GForce offers several Minecraft server options, and we chose the Iron option at $5 a month which comes with 1GB of memory, a dedicated IP, and all the options any Minecraft enthusiast could want. They used their allowance, I paid, and I hoped I wouldn’t regret it. Of course they each wanted their own server, and I couldn’t see a reason why not as I hoped this would be a good computer programming learning opportunity.
The boys have been up on their new servers for a couple of weeks now, and everything is running smoothly. They each have a log-on to a GForce control panel, the Force Panel, which allows them to manage and configure their servers.
They can manage mods and plugins for their server.
They can set-up their Minecraft world just how they like it.
They can even get the thrill of entering console style commands.
I haven’t heard one complaint, and I haven’t been roped in to help. Happy kids and a happy mom.
I’d like to point out that one benefit of having a personal server is that you can control who your kids play with. With a dedicated IP, only kids that they share the IP with will be able to log onto their server. So, if you want to have more control over who your kid plays Minecraft with, this might be the right solution for you.
GForce has game servers for several other games including Grand Theft Auto and Garry’s Mod. They also offer a free trial.
There are other hosted Minecraft server options too. Do a Google search on hosted Minecraft server and review the links.
Innovation, experimentation, collaboration. That’s Global Game Jam. For 48 hours teams around the world will be given a theme to create video, board, and card games. For what? For fun!
It’s not a competition, and teams are formed by on-site participants (not beforehand). It’s a way to meet people who like to game, design, create, and enjoy using their imaginations. In 2014 there were 488 locations, and 72 countries that created over 4000 games! Many of these quick weekend game developments have continued to become fully realized versions afterwards.
Here are groups around the world saying hello:
Want to participate? Go here to find a location. Kids and adults are welcome to join in the fun, but you have to register; go for it!
Some people think homeschoolers teach their kids at home, short and simple. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sure, I might teach my son, the Chief, how to do math, or how to find out more information about his favorite planet, or we might read stories together. But truly, the learning goes both ways. Take this, for example:
A few years ago, the Chief discovered video games. The only thing we had at the time was the original PlayStation game and a few disks, including his favorite, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage. I usually sat on the couch and was watched him play while I did other things. Every two seconds, I would cringe and say things like, “Be careful! No, don’t do that, you’re going to die!” And, “You’d better get more butterflies so you can earn more lives.” At one point, there was this big boss, and he was shooting fireballs, and the little dragon couldn’t move fast enough… and… and… and… D’OH, sure enough, Spyro bit it. Not only that, but it was his last life, and the screen filled with the message “GAME OVER.” This was back when dying was a little more complicated than it is now, and you could lose a day’s worth of gaming progress.
I have to admit, I was hesitant to look over at my son. I felt kind of crushed on his behalf. Then I heard him LAUGH! He just pushed a button and started the game all over again, continuing on as happily as ever. All I could think of were all those times I had played that same game, and all the times I died and became so frustrated and stressed out that I…well, might have said some things that weren’t acceptable in mixed company. And yes, I knew how silly it was to get so frustrated over a game, something that didn’t really exist, but there it was. I admired my son for his good attitude, and for keeping the good spirit of the game.
Fast forward to the other morning. I’ve been working on a scene in my current novel, and it just would not work out. In fact, something was extremely broken about my whole idea, which seemed to be working so well up to that point. I pulled my hair out and cursed at my computer, finally announcing that the thing was impossible.
Then, I remembered. The Chief, who has the attention span of an ant and who should be the one to get frustrated by things, just accepts when things don’t go right the first time, like when he had to start over again at his game. He simply saw it as the nature of the beast. He wasn’t good at something, he didn’t get it right, so he just kept on trying until he did get it right. He can be so zen about it all. I suddenly felt kind of foolish. Why was I getting so frustrated? Furthermore, what sort of example was I setting for the Chief? That you just quit when something gets too hard? No way.
I put a new game on our table along with all my other stuff from the day. My fifteen-year-old son was immediately drawn to the unwrapped box.
“A game I need to review.”
“Nice art. Can I open it?”
“Sure.” I smile. “You can figure out the rules for me…”
He happily spent some free time reading the rules and playing on his own before we found an evening where he, his dad, and I could sit down and play Ruckus: The Goblin Army Game. It was a successful Kickstarter project early this year by Matthew Papa.
(Full Disclaimer: GeekMom received a copy for review purposes AND Matt is someone I chat with at my local gaming store, plus, we went to college together waaaaay back when. He’s a great guy! Okay, back to the review.)
Ruckus has definite curb appeal with its adorable-looking creatures with amusing props and scenes on each card, plus silly names for all the goblins: Both “Jerry” and “Jerry’s Uncle Larry” can help you win. It’s strictly a fighting game, with the winner gaining the most victory points after multiple battles.
My son did my homework for me, and led our family in the first gameplay. There are three levels of play, and we did the first level. It was halting with rulebook checking, and I doubted the “eight years and up” on the box. But by the end of the game, we were getting it. My son and I played a few times on the second level, and game play was smooth and fun. He then taught my eight-year-old niece, who picked it up faster than I did, and quickly trounced me later that week. She loved the art.
So how does the game work? There are four Goblin Guilds: Fighters, Thieves, Clerics, and Necromancers. Each has their own deck with unique characters. The goblins in each army have an attack level, defense level, and special ability. Learning how to best use your army as a unit is your personal battle to win. The strategies vary depending on the guild and which cards you happen to draw each turn.
Everyone sets up their army cards behind a battle screen for two or three lines of attack. After removing the screens, different card abilities are played, the top fighting guilds are determined, and damage is distributed. Eventually only one player is left standing, and they collect a card from a specific deck that usually comes with a Victory Token. There are other rules and ways to get VP points, and another deck of randomness that keeps the game beyond just a power-card fight.
Overall it’s well-designed, though we did have some sticking points, the main one being a power unbalance. After half a dozen game plays, no one in my family could figure out how to win with the Thieves. It may be we are missing something, but that guild seems to be underpowered. My son also felt the rulebook could have been clearer. He also argued that there was a snowball effect with how the cards are dealt back into the individual decks each round, but I disagree on that one.
Ruckus is straight forward enough to keep play exciting for all, while the multiple strategies will make it interesting for many game nights to come. Check it out!
I still have my old edition of the Guinness Book of World Records that I got as a young adult, remembering so many years of flipping through the editions at the library. Very few photos, mostly text. Thick mass market paperback volume. So much data. So many superlatives. So much geek.
Times have changed, it appears. Now there is no one volume that covers it all. Enter the Guinness World Records 2015: Gamer’s Edition! Packed full of facts, data, and obscure trivia, this version of the book series covers who the first person was to unlock all achievements in World of Warcraft, what the best-selling game was on Sega, and what the most popular game beta was.
Broken mostly down by game title of the top 50 games of all time, as rated by their readers, this tome is a video game-lover’s delight. Photos and images abound, but there is still plenty of text everywhere for those of us who like our content in a more verbal way. My beloved Guild Wars 2 is unfortunately not represented, but plenty of other favorites are. I won’t spoil it by revealing any of the rankings, but many types of video games are profiled, including intense first person shooters, platformers, kid games, MMOs, and more.
Guinness World Records 2015: Gamer’s Edition retails for $14.99 and is a great holiday gift for the game lover of any age on your shopping list. You can check out this extremely colorful and content-filled book starting on November 11th.
GeekMom: So Cory Doctorow said you did all the heavy lifting on this project. Would you say that’s true?
Jen Wang: The way this project worked was I was given free rein to adapt the script however I wanted so as to offer my own vision to the story. After that Cory would go over and offer ideas of his own and help guide the script into something that matched us both. We went back and forth like this for a couple drafts before settling with what we have. So yes, I made most of the changes in the story from the original to the graphic novel version, but it was a melding of both our sensibilities. And of course I did all artwork!
GM: Could you tell us a little about the artwork in IRL? What inspired the images in your mind? Was there something you felt was important to capture in the images?
JW: The most obvious decision in the design was the contrasting color palettes between the real world and the online world of Coarsegold. This is all from Anda’s perspective so it makes sense that her real life is uninteresting and the online world is colorful and exciting. I ended up using a “brown” filter over the real life images to reflect a serious (but not depressing) reality, while I used a multicolored filter to heighten the colors in Coarsegold. Other than that, I was given free rein to illustrate the book however I liked so I just had fun making up a coloring landscape that I felt would be appealing to someone like Anda.
GM: What is the process like, making a graphic novel, and perhaps, working on IRL in particular?
JW: I start with a script, which in IRL’s case involved both Cory and I. My scripts are roughly four pages of comic to one page of script so from there I have a rough idea how long the book is going to be. From there I do really rough thumbnails one chapter at a time. I like the thumbnails to be as rough as possible, enough to give me an idea of where to go, but leaving it open to experiment during the actual drawing process. The next phase is the pencil drawing, and after that the inking, scanning, and coloring.
GM: I lived in Flagstaff for a few years, and I noticed the couple frames where you have some background imagery, like the outside of the school, for instance and the landscape behind it, are just spot on. They really capture just the right things about the atmosphere of Flagstaff. Have you ever been there? Or were you able to catch that just from pictures and ideas?
JW: I have been there! I was actually on a trip to the Grand Canyon when I first stayed in Flagstaff. I thought it was the perfect place for Anda to live. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, and you’re next to one of the great natural wonders of the world. And yet I could see how all this would be lost on a teenager. The town is small and there’s not a whole lot to do. Someone like Anda would easily be compelled to spend a lot of time online in a fantasy world.
GM: I loved the expressions on the characters faces throughout the book. I think you’ve captured so much of the dynamic teen personality in this book. How do you think you managed to do that?
JW: Expressions are a thing I love to draw, so it’s fun for me to indulge in. It’s like a form of acting except it comes out through a drawing instead of your body. I don’t like being the center of attention so I feel like having the emotions one step removed and projected onto a character is one way I can conjure these feelings vicariously without having the focus be on me. Who knows, maybe in alternate universe I would be an actor!
GM: This is your second book. Has anything changed for you in the way you approached the work between your first and second books?
JW: I definitely started writing full scripts after my first book Koko Be Good. With Koko, I scripted a chapter and drew it chronologically one at a time. Meaning I didn’t get to the ending until I got to the ending. I used to be more into stream of conscious writing and allowing myself to feel the surprises as they come. Now I much prefer being able to edit and improve on things and look at the piece as a whole.
GM: What was your favorite part about working on IRL?
JW: Finishing it! But no, kidding aside, the writing process for this project was hard but it taught me a lot. I’d never worked with another writer before and I’d never rewritten so much before, but I’m a much more confident writer now than I was at the beginning of it.
GM: We know that Cory Doctorow is a very active… well, activist. Would you classify yourself as such? What things are important to you?
JW: I wouldn’t say I’m as active as Cory, but I definitely feel very strongly about issues particularly with women, queer identity, and race. Sometimes I feel a little unsure how to approach activism because I know there’s an inherent privilege to being able to do that. It’s presumptuous to be in a position of education and outreach and tell people how to think even if I believe it is right. On the other hand, I’m in the unique position of writing literature for young adults and I definitely care a lot about what I represent as a creator and as a person. I hope at the very least as a woman and person of color my voice adds something of value to the young adult and comics readership.
GM: How do you think gaming can affect a teen’s life?
JW: Games are very time consuming and immersive. It can affect a lot! I don’t say that in an alarmist way because a lot of good things can come out of it too like friendships built, identities born, and creativities sparked. Like I think it’s so great kids are playing Minecraft and building their own worlds. On the other hand I wish there was more diversity in games and more variety in the types of games being made. That’s changing every day though as game-making becomes more accessible and I feel very optimistic.
GM: Do you game? If so, what do you play?
JW: Not a whole lot. I have a bunch of games on my phone and once a while I’ll play something off Steam everyone’s been recommending. Games are like comics in that the mainstream hasn’t appealed much to my demographic, but as the making and self-publishing becomes more accessible to creators I’m seeing more and more stuff that appeals to me. Gone Home, Analogue: A Hate Story, and Dear Esther are fantastic story-based indie games. I also like a lot of text-based games likes the ones made for Twine like Howling Dogs and Horse Master.
GM: Do you have any advice for a younger person trying to break into art or gaming?
JW: I can’t speak for gaming, but for art I’d say the best thing to do is just start drawing. Start drawing and have a lot of fun. It can be intimidating comparing yourself to others and what being an artist means for your future, but the best way to be an artist is to really love what you’re doing. Have fun and meet other artists online and at conventions. They will motivate, inspire you, and make you feel less alone as you toil away at your drawing desk.
GM: Any thoughts for younger people who might be interested in helping others like Anda does?
JW: Get to know all different types of people! Listen to their stories and let their experiences inform you how to help them. Maybe some people don’t want your help, but they appreciate your support. Also, if you don’t see enough outlets for an issue you care about, feel free to make your own. Start a blog or a project that helps raise awareness like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Not only can it be fun, but it might inspire new people to your cause.
Thanks so much for chatting with me, Jen Wang! And for the rest of you, please check out IRL, available now wherever books are sold!
Jen Wang is a cartoonist and illustrator currently living in Los Angeles. Her works have appeared in the Adventure Time comics and LA Magazine. She recently illustrated Tom Angleberger’s Fake Mustache. Her graphic novel Koko Be Good was published by First Second. In Real Life is her second book.
Recently, I had a chance to ask Cory Doctorow, author of such books as Little Brother, Makers, and Rapture of the Nerds, and co-editor of Boing Boing, some questions about his upcoming graphic novel, IRL (In Real Life). Illustrated by Jen Wang, IRL is the story of a teen girl’s adventures with online gaming, touching upon topics such as poverty, culture clash, gaming, and adolescence.
GeekMom: Tell us a little about this book: What’s it about, and what inspired it?
Cory Doctorow: As I told Forbidden Planet: This is the third iteration of an idea that I’ve been circling around since the early 2000s. It started with a Slashdot story about a (notoriously unreliable) games developer announcing that he’d been secretly paying cheap Mexican workers to labor in a popular video game in order to amass game-treasure that could be sold on eBay.
That idea rolled around and around in my head and in summer 2005, I wrote a story called “Anda’s Game” (the title a play on Ender’s Game), which imagined labour unions taking advantage of the fact that “gold farmers” worked in a game space that their bosses didn’t own—a space that actually prohibited the bosses’ business!—so that they could organise workers who were otherwise not reachable.
This, in turn, related to my frustration with the dialog about globalism and labour that started in the 1980s, with the Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney war on unions. When the car wars kicked off and jobs began to move from Detroit and southern Ontario to Mexico, the workers there acted as though the enemy was Mexicans, not their bosses.
This was profoundly ahistorical. In the early days of the labour movement, when waves of new immigrants were regularly presenting themselves as new industrial workforces, it was common for the bosses to fire striking workers from one country and replace them with scabs from another, and then use racism to play them off against each other. “You’re the proud sons of Germany! Are you going to let some lazy Irish pig tell you that you’re not allowed to earn a buck?”
(This was used with real savagery when it came to African Americans who’d come north in the post-slavery era, who were routinely denied access to the best jobs and who were ruthlessly exploited by a cruel ruling class that recruited them as thug labor, to break strikers’ skulls with the Pinkertons.)
It was bizarre to watch the descendants of the workers who only won basic rights by seeing through their bosses’ cynical race-baiting, now falling prey to exactly the same kind of race-baiting. As soon as the Detroit workforce was convinced that the answer to their problem lay in racist, anti-Mexican bumper-stickers—and not in going to Mexico to unionize their brothers and sisters there, chasing GM and Ford to the ends of the earth—they had lost.
But of course, Mexican factories were in “Free Trade Zones” where union organizing is illegal and where corrupt police can beat, torture, and kill with impunity (though it was hardly better in the early days of the American Rust Belt—check out the Wikipedia pages on the Flint Sit-Down Strike or the Calumet, MI Copper Miners’ Strike).
But when the outsourcing movement reached Silicon Valley and programmer jobs started to flow to India, American workers’ reaction was even more shortsighted and stupid.
After all, the workers in India who were doing the jobs that these displaced techies had once held all spoke English, and all used the same internet. If you’d told a labour organiser in 1913 that he could reach out to replacement workers half a world away and talk to them in his native language, he’d have laughed at the ease of the task before him. You mean I don’t have to learn a foreign language and entire a hostile nation to reach out to these workers and ask them to stand in solidarity with me and mine?
My gold farmer stories imagine a globalised labour movement with the bravery and smarts of the IWW and the other early unions. They come out of game guilds—a guild being pretty close to a union already—where they have honed the skills of cooperation and tactics, and they have a shared identity as gamers that they appeal to in their quest for labour justice.
“Anda’s Game” went viral, and was, for a time, a lot better known than the still-obscure practice of gold farming itself, so that whenever a story about gold farmers hit the news, I was praised for my predictive ability. (William Gibson calls this “predicting the present.”)
By 2006 or so, gold farming was totally mainstream and there were hundreds of thousands of workers in the Pacific Rim making a living at it—mostly Chinese workers. In 2009, I started work on a novel called For the Win, a global, multi-POV young adult novel about a trade union called the Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web (or “Webblies”). (I stole all this stuff from Ken MacLeod.) I traveled to Mumbai and Singapore and south China, and was given generous assistance from gamers, writers, dissidents, academics, and labour organisers.
I had originally thought that FTW would be a graphic novel series—a series of three single arcs that would each showcase a different game world and real-world setting (gamers in El Salvador playing mecha-fighter combat/strategy games, say).
But in the end, First Second asked for “Anda’s Game”—with its simple, stripped-down story—for a graphic novel adaptation, and found the amazing Jen Wang (whose Koko Be Good is one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read) to work on it.
Jen did all the heavy lifting on this project—I want to be crystal clear on this. There are so many gracenotes in it that are entirely of her own making. I recognise my fingerprints on it, but it’s a collaboration in which she is the senior partner, and it’s her vision and visual sensibility that brings this story to life.
GM: Did you write IRL for anyone in particular?
CD: No, though the first iteration, “Anda’s Game,” came about pretty early in my relationship with the woman who’s now my wife, Alice Taylor, who used to be a professional gamer, and in the first iteration, Anda was a British gamer, so there’s a bit of homage there.
GM: Who do you think would get the most out of reading this book?
CD: I have to be honest, I have no idea how to answer this question about this book or any other book I’ve ever read or written! I think books and their effects are ideosyncratic. I mean perhaps there’s a perfectly spherical, frictionless, hypothetical ideal Doctorow reader out there, but my experience of meeting my readers over the years has taught me that there’s a lot of variation in the cohort. I mean, there are plenty of nerdy dudes in black T-shirts with Unix jokes who totally hate me, and there are people who express their ardent fandom who look like the kind of dudes who used to beat me up after school. Apart from “The sort of people who think that this sort of book is a good book,” I got nothing.
GM: Why is this book important?
CD: Again, I think this is the wrong sort of question to ask about books. Books are important because of what they say, but also (and more significantly) because of where they arrive in the reader’s life. I mean, the questions of virtual and real identities, about labor and class, and about globalism and the paternal nature of entertainment and business in the 21st century are significant and only getting moreso, but this book could be a trivial afterthought in the life of one reader and a turning point in the life of another identical reader, based on whether these two readers were at a crossroads in their life in which a kind of emotional elucidation of these issues resulted in some kind of epiphany or change in direction.
GM: What would you say to a parent who is concerned about their child entering the gaming world? Would this advice have been different, say, 10 years ago?
CD: In general, my advice to parents is to chill out. This includes my advice to me, and I should listen to it more. Gaming—like sports, or math, or chess, or chinchilla breeding—can be a great way to pursue excellence, geek out, broaden your horizons, find a safe space to grow in, and establish your own identity, learn, and explore creative possibilities, find out about both personal excellence and teamwork, etc. Or it can be a trivial and transient hobby. Or it can be a cancer on your life, destroying your perspective and enabling you to avoid confronting the pressing issues of your world, to your enormous detriment. So basically, the advice is, “Try and figure out which one of those it is, and if it’s the last one, try and help your kid, but seriously, it’s probably OK.”
The major thing that’s changed over the past 10 years in games is the rise of the super-exploitative, psychologically engineered Zynga-style games, the Farmville progeny. These things are actually alarming, inasmuch as they are designed as Skinnerian conditioning devices to trick you into engaging with them without ever giving back any real satisfaction. Seriously, screw Zynga.
GM: What impact do you think gaming can have on a teen’s life?
CD: Depends on the kid, the game, and the other gamers. Big MMORPG raiding guilds offer chances to learn strategy and tactics, teamwork, heuristic development, programming, art, and math.
GM: What is some advice you would give to a younger person, or anyone really, who is interested in social justice/making a difference in other people’s lives?
CD: Yes. Don’t worry about pessimism or optimism. Worry about hope.
When you start trying to change the world, people will ask you if you’re optimistic or pessimistic about your chances. That’s totally the wrong question. Because if you’re trying to change something, that thing had better be a burning hot important thing, a thing that must change for the world to be a good place. Fighting cancer, fighting starvation, fighting against sexual violence, whatever it is—these are things that shouldn’t exist and that must be changed.
If something must be changed, then you do the thing you can think of that helps you change it, even if the odds are long. If your ship sank in the open sea and you had no chance of rescue, you’d still tread water until your last kick, and that’s not “optimistic,” it’s hopeful. The chance of getting picked up is infinistesimal, but it’s zero if you give up and sink. Everyone who was rescued—everyone who succeeded—had hope. No one who gave up ever succeeded.
GM: How did the process of writing a graphic novel differ from writing a regular novel?
CD: A lot easier! Because Jen did all the hard work! I should do ‘em all this way!
GM: Do you see any solutions to the problems you bring up in this book?
CD: The problems in this book—sexism, body image, economic injustice—are epiphenomena of larger questions of economic and social justice. We can and should fight about these issues, but for so long as our society is structured to require deep inequalities of outcome in order to drive cheap labor and windfall profits for investors, they won’t ever be resolved.
GM: Social justice work can be discouraging at times. Do you have any suggestions for people dealing with that?
CD: See above!
Thanks so much for your time!
Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger—the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of young adult novels like HOMELAND, PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER and novels for adults like RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and MAKERS. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London. His forthcoming books include IN REAL LIFE (a graphic novel from First Second), INFORMATION DOESN’T WANT TO BE FREE, a nonfiction book about copyright (from McSweeney’s), and a children’s picture book.
We’ve been to GenCon for the last five years, but it has always just been me and my husband. We’ve flown out and driven out and decided that driving is more fun. Flying can be a hassle and I love road trips, so we always stop at fun places along the way. World’s largest ball of twine? I’m in!
This year, we did the whole trip a little differently because we decided to bring our two girls for the first time. They’re 12 and 10 and have been to local conventions, just nothing this big and all consuming. It’s one thing to drive into Boston for the day to attend PAX East, but an entirely different thing to drive 14 hours and then spend four days straight at a convention.
We thought about this, a lot, before we actually decided to bring them on the trip. It’s not just the distance, but the whole intensity of the thing. We wondered, as much as they love to play games, would The Best Four Days in Gaming be too much? Would they stay up late and be so tired that by day three they’d be little wrecks? Would this somehow make them hate gaming and never want to go near a board game again for the rest of their lives? We had concerns.
In the end, we decided that we’d make the trip with the girls and just play it by ear. We didn’t plan to attend a lot of events. We didn’t have a crowded schedule of games to play. We didn’t even plan our exact drive route. Instead, we figured we’d see the sights on the way and take it easy once we arrived at the convention.
Lots of people make the drive from New Hampshire to Indianapolis in one day, but we broke it into two, stopping in Buffalo, New York, at the Staybridge Suites so we could have Buffalo wings for dinner. It’s what you have to do when you’re in Buffalo, right? Last year when we made the trip on our own we stopped there, too, and tried Anchor Bar. This year, we went with Duff’s Famous Wings because we were told that these are the places you go to in Buffalo for wings.
Although we liked Anchor Bar, Duff’s won our hearts for their super hot wings and giant bowls of french fries. If you want great hot wings and plenty of fries and giant pitchers of soda at a price that won’t break the bank, then try Duff’s. Also, there are two locations and though you might be tempted to go to the original, the one near the airport is not far and way less crowded with no wait when the other location is packed.
We also found a great stop for breakfast at Paula’s Donuts. This and Duff’s are all within just a few minutes of the hotel which really makes this a great pit stop. Sure, donuts aren’t the healthiest breakfast but I’m choosing to channel my inner Bill Cosby and his famous chocolate cake bit. If you go, try the cheese donut. I know, sounds odd, but think cheese danish. Everyone local suggested we try it, and they did not steer us wrong.
We arrived at GenCon on Wednesday night, the day before the convention started, and the kids had plenty of time to unwind in our room at the JW Marriott. This is where we stay every year. The staff handles the crazy of everyone checking in at once as though it was no big deal. They’re friendly, helpful, always professional, and never frazzled.
There are lots of places to eat in Indy, but the hotel offers a little break from the mobs of gamers. Their restaurant, Osteria Pronto, offers a wonderful breakfast buffet and a selection of upscale meals for dinner. It is on the pricey side, but the food is worth it, and the wait is never as long as you’ll find at less expensive restaurants in the area.
First thing Thursday, they were ready, and when I say ready, I mean ready like it was Christmas morning! There was no plan to get there the minute it all opened, but the kids wanted to see the crazy.
It was packed, and they were totally fine with the mob. They held our hands through the initial rush through the doors and happily wandered the show floor with us, checking out games and dice and stuffed animals and t-shirts and hats and, it was a lot of stuff. This is a big convention and it hit a record number of attendees this year at nearly 60,000 people, but the crowd was still manageable.
The girls loved every minute. They tried out some demos, had fun looking at the cosplayers, discovered the joy of eating at food trucks, and my oldest narrowly avoided being thrown in jail by a Stormtrooper. Hey, it happens at GenCon.
This was a GenCon unlike any other for me and my husband. We still went out and gamed, but we ended up splitting up with the girls so we could show them each the things they wanted to see. One night, the three of them played a new game at some chairs in the hotel lobby and the girls thought it was the best thing ever.
During GenCon, gamers take up every square inch of space in the local hotels. There are games being played everywhere you look at all hours of the day and night. This small moment, simply playing a game with my husband in the hotel lobby, made them feel like they were a part of it all and it was wonderful.
They even helped us at at our panel, where we recorded an episode of The D6 Generation with a live audience. Let me tell you, if you’re trying to get a room of unruly gamers to behave, nothing works as well as having two little girls give them all sad puppy dog eyes.
At the end of it all, we were all exhausted, but in the best way possible. We stayed up too late playing games. We walked around all day long hardly stopping to rest for fear of missing something good. And we all ate like we were on vacation.
But what made it perfect was going with the kids. We shared something we love and they loved it, too. It wasn’t the same as going on our own, but in the end, this GenCon was so much better. The last day, my youngest was very sad and said, “That went too fast. I don’t want it to be over.”
A dog’s life is mostly walks, scratches, and a few squeaky toys. As awesome as it sounds to some, it can be kind of boring. Your busy day leaves the dog with a lot of free time, which can lead to torn couch pillows, curtains, and trash bags. Enter CleverPet.
CleverPet is an upcoming WiFi-enabled device that’s designed to educate and entertain your dog. (Although, cat people are certainly invited to try this at home.) More accurately, it’s like a Simon-fueled treat dispenser.
The company behind CleverPet describes the device as a “learning console.” Not only will dogs learn that interacting with CleverPet will yield treats, but the device also adapts to each dog’s behavior. In other words, the more your pet is willing to play, the harder it will be to score some of those delicious treats.
Users can control the device and keep track of Fido’s progress through an app or other web-enabled device. After all, like any other gaming console, you may want to monitor the amount of playtime.
CleverPet does start out slow, providing treats when the dog is willing to push buttons. However, after a while, the dog needs to respond to lit buttons to get the goods. CleverPet promises to never get too difficult, though, so you shouldn’t expect to come home to find a half-chewed CleverPet next to a sleeping dog.
That’s a good thing too, seeing as CleverPet isn’t exactly cheap. What gaming device is? Currently, CleverPet is seeking funding on Kickstarter, with an early bird price of $159. At retail, it’s expected to sell for about $120 above that. It’s definitely a little pricey for a treat-related toy, but could translate into savings, depending on how your dog typically spends his or her free time. (Socks, shoes, purses, toys—what’s his/her pleasure?)
At last peek, CleverPet was about halfway through its $100,000 Kickstarter goal. The campaign is will run through Monday, June 2, 2014. Just don’t expect your precious pooch to get instant gratification; initial CleverPet orders won’t ship until February 2015.
As a network administrator, I buy a lot of computers. HP is always at the top of my preferred list when it comes to laptops, because I’ve had great experiences with their durability and longevity (and considering I’m in the construction industry, that says a lot). The sleek design and 15.6-inch HD bright-view LED-backlit touchscreen feature is what drew me to the Envy Touchsmart.
From the moment I turned it on, I was impressed with the speed that I was experiencing. On average it took 4 seconds to boot up to the login screen and when I was ready to shut it down for the night, it took 19 seconds on average to fully power down.
Getting down to the basics, the HP Envy M6 features an AMD A10-5745 M processor with a Radeon HD graphics card and operates at 2.10 GHz. It also has 6GB of memory (but can be maxed out at 16GB) and the 64-bit Windows 8.1 operating system. The wireless card inside operates on 802.11 b/g/n with Bluetooth capability. I’ve been told that the graphics card does not have dedicated memory, and while that might be bad for some, I didn’t notice any lack of performance because of it.
This particular model does not come with a CD-ROM drive, but because everything I need is either downloadable or loaded on a flash drive, I’m not missing it. In place of the CD-ROM drive, the Envy has one HDMI port, (2) USB 2.0 ports and (1) USB 3.0 port, an SD card reader, and an Ethernet port.
How Does It Compare?
I compared the HP Envy M6 to two other laptops online: the Toshiba Satellite P55T-A5116 and the Lenovo IdeaPad U430. Toshiba is another one of my favorite brands, but it came in at $100 more than the HP Envy, with the only differences being in memory (8GB) and processor (Intel Core i5). After some reading on various CPU websites, I learned that while the Intel chip gets higher scores for some things, the AMD still wins out because it has more advantages than the Intel chip, including its larger number of cores to tackle multiple processes at once.
Lenovo was the closest in price to the HP Envy ($659.99), but it lacked in hard drive space (500GB compared to 750GB in the HP) and still cost more. The biggest Achilles heel on the Lenovo is that you can’t expand the memory on that particular model. At least with the Envy, if you have a need for more memory, it’s pretty simple to install.
Something that makes the HP Envy stand out above the competition is the Beats audio system and AMD Radeon graphics card.
No other laptop brand has Beats technology, so if you are looking for great sound out of your laptop, this is one you need to be considering with its audio dual speaker and subwoofer sound system. When it comes to sound on a laptop, neither my Asus nor my Sony Vaio could hold a candle to the quality that the HP Envy dishes out.
For the graphically inclined, you will be happy to hear that the HP Envy comes with a dedicated graphics card. That basically means that it doesn’t share its memory power with the rest of the computer and it’s less likely to cause your graphics to bog down your computer. After talking with a couple of gamer geeks, they recommended this laptop for anyone who would like a less expensive, but still reliable, gaming laptop.
To test that theory out, I downloaded two games: Star Wars: The Old Republic and Disney Infinity. Disney Infinity was the easiest to play and I had no problem with the graphics. Star Wars: The Old Republic, on the other hand, was a bit more of a challenge. I could see the graphics didn’t want to play 100-percent nice, but that could also have been my internet connection. After looking at the CPU usage of both games, I noticed they jumped between 10 and 30 percent.
Included Software: The Yay and the Nay
Now normally, I would remove all the extra programs on a PC when setting it up. This time around, I decided to play with a few and see if they were worth keeping.
The first one I played with was the AMD Face Login application. This program allows you to set up your computer for facial recognition login. Translation: It takes a picture of you and instead of logging in with a password, it recognizes you with the webcam and logs you in instantly. This made logging in much simpler when I wanted to get down to work. As far as the login speed though, if I got my password right on the first shot, it only took 4 seconds for me to login verses the 8 seconds with the facial recognition.
Another feature of the AMD facial recognition is the ability to set it to lock the computer if it doesn’t see you in the webcam for a certain amount of time. This is cool if you walk away from your computer a lot and forget to log off or lock your keys.
The next program I played with was the AMD Gesture Control. The best way to describe this program is that it’s like an XBox Kinect system on your laptop. With the flick of your hand, you can scroll up or down, or open files. This one likes to lock up on me, so I can’t say that I’m that impressed. When it was working, it was neat, but since I don’t like random things running in the background, it’s not something I would run all the time.
YouCam is a fun program that uses the webcam to either take pictures or record video. The fun part comes in with the special features that allow you to draw on the screen, change the frames, and add other special effects to the video/image. My son and I had a little fun with this the first night, and I can see this as an easier way to do video posts in the future.
The program I was most excited to see included was Dragon Naturally Speaking 12, a voice recognition program that allows you to talk to the computer and operate it without touching the keyboard.
This paragraph was “typed” using the Dragon natural speaking program. It didn’t take me long to get used to it, and overall it was a lot of fun to play with. The only downside to this is if you have a loud household and don’t have a quiet place to go to dictate to the computer.
At the time this paragraph was “written”, I had the original 1980’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie playing on my TV and Dragon was only picking up my voice and not Shredder’s dominating voice. As I’m talking, I notice that it tries to pick up Shredder’s voice but when it realizes it’s not mine it disregards and does not put what he’s saying in this text.
An unexpected surprise was a free 50GB lifetime subscription to Box cloud storage. The ironic thing is that the HP Envy comes with Windows 8.1 installed and the Box installation gave me a hard time because of Dot Net-framework 3.5. I found a work-around that helped me get it installed, though. The trick is downloading the file manually and then going into group policy and command prompt to get it to install correctly. You only need this trick if you plan on installing Box on another Windows 8.1 device (like your home computer).
I’d like to start off by telling you that I never turn off my laptop unless I’m on a trip and the flight attendant tells me I have to. Otherwise, I keep it turned on and unplugged until the battery starts yelling “Danger! Danger!!”—and even then, I wait until it hits 15 percent or less before I plug it in. With that said, the other day I let it get down to 15 percent and then I plugged it in and waited to see how long it would charge.
With the screen on the entire time, it took approximately 2 hours to go from 15 to 100 percent. As for how long the battery has lasted me, I turned it on and used it for a couple of hours, then shut the screen (left the laptop on), and went back and forth with it for three days before having to plugging it back in. I only used it for a few hours each time I woke it up during those three days.
In my opinion, the battery life fits my needs and I’m very happy with how quickly it charges.
Pros and Cons
1. If you use the touchscreen feature, your screen will get dirty pretty quickly, so keep a bottle of screen cleaner handy.
2. The screen leaves something to be desired in terms of glare. You can buy an anti-glare screen to help with this, but that will also keep you from using the touchscreen feature.
3. I wish the webcam had a timer function, so you could take a picture/video without it being obvious that you’re messing with the keyboard to do it. A “photo booth”-like app addition would also be neat.
4. The gesture feature is cool to play with once, but after that, it’s not very useful on a day-to-day basis.
5. From an IT standpoint, installing memory or replacing the hard drive takes a bit more effort than I’m used to, because you have to remove the entire bottom of the laptop to get to anything.
1. The HP Envy has amazing sound and I couldn’t be happier with the graphics (my comics look awesome).
2. It’s just the right size to carry with me to work, the library, or a friend’s house.
3. I love the touchscreen feature and use it so much, when I return to work, I catch myself wanting to touch the screen instead of using the mouse.
4. The inclusion of both Dragon Naturally Speaking ($60 value) and a lifetime 50GB subscription to Box cloud storage (around $60 per year value) is a major plus for me because they are both services I will use.
5. The hard drive space and the memory are just right for my needs without going to overboard. If I feel the need for more memory in the future, I have the knowledge to install it myself.
In a typical day on my laptop, I’m on Manga Studio 5 and Photoshop Elements, surfing the internet, checking my email, or reading my comic books on ComiXolgy. The laptop handled these functions very well and performed very quickly when my Wi-Fi at home was cooperating. To my surprise, the included software was actually useful for once and I can see myself using it quite often.
Overall, this laptop is a “Swiss Army laptop” in the sense that you can play games, work on some Photoshop, dictate a blog post, stream movies, listen to music, or just relax during those moments when things aren’t so crazy.
I was introduced to geek conventions with a small con in my home city called Albacon. It hosted maybe one hundred people? I played some games, listened to fantasy authors, and watched anime with a friend for a day. As a parent with two early elementary aged children, it was a wonderful escape.
“That was fun!” I enthused. My friend shook his head.
So I accompanied my friend that summer to ConnectiCon. Ah. I understood why my friend had not been impressed with the other one. ConnectiCon, a fan-run convention, had a few thousand people (now they have close to 10,000), many dressed in elaborate cosplay, tons of panels on such a variety of topics, famous guests, soooo much anime, and way more than I could take in. As someone new to being a geek, and an older woman with kids, I felt somewhat out of place. But I was intrigued by this culture, started getting into it, and went back year after year. Eventually I brought my kids when they were teenagers. Love it.
And I’ve enjoyed myself at Pi-Con, “The Friendliest Little Convention in the New England,” as well as subsequent years at AlbaCon.
A couple of weeks ago, my kids and I tried out GeneriCon, another small geek convention close by. We played games with friends we knew (Kung-Fu!), watched some anime (Angel Beats), attended panels (Bad Anime by ConArtists was brilliant), admired artwork, participated in Iron Cosplay (10 minutes to put together a costume on a random theme with random materials), and generally had a good time.
I love the energy of big cons: famous names, rows and rows of cool art, crazy panels with loud crowds, big stage cosplay events, jammed-packed late-night dancing, test playing new games, and the incredible realization that THERE ARE SO MANY GEEKS OUT THERE! I remember describing NY ComiCon to someone, “If you took the entire population of Albany, turned them into geeks, and threw them together in one building—that’s what it’s like.”
At smaller cons: Cheap tickets. No lines for the bathrooms. No lines to get into anything! Plus, keeping track of my kids was darn easy in a small space. There’s also something else: getting to know the geeks in your community. At GeneriCon, I kept bumping into people I knew from other walks of life. They didn’t seem surprised to see me there (I do write for GeekMom) but I didn’t know THEY WERE GEEKS TOO!
I’m a fan of cons, and I’ve had good and bad experiences at large and small ones. What are your experiences? Do you like larger or smaller exclusively?
Let’s start off with something amusing/creepy and going viral. It’s a German supermarket ad. Oh, the bathtub part, I can’t even…
Next I’d like to introduce you to Dael Kingsmill and her MonarchsFactory vlog. This young woman has a smart take on superpowers in real life. In highschool she decided on Probability Manipulator. Women are so practical in our fantasies.
With my daughter getting ready to go to college this fall, this video came at the perfect/worst time. Hilarious, but, urg….
Not sure which is more entertaining: watching the skateboarder continually fall while flexing his muscles, or the gamer boys giggling.
For our learning segment, and in honor of the Olympics, here is a video with lots of downloadable graphics on the physics of different kinds of skates:
My daughter has been working on her beatboxing for a year now, and we often find talented people on the web. This guy gave a TED talk about his craft. What a musician! Be entertained:
It’s cold and snowy around here, but the beauty of snowflakes is something special when caught by this filmmaker:
Did you know a couple of GeekMoms are on YouTube? Check out Natania Barron reading chapters from her novel, Pilgrim of the Sky (Great book!)
And, well, me. Your Undead Heart is a zombie romance music video animated by Dave Barnis to my original tune on piano and cello:
And finally, in case you missed this one going around the fangirl circles: Tom Hiddleson and Benedict Cumberbatch dancing. Tom wins.
This post is brought to you by Protect Your Bubble.
It’s no secret that for many geek households the console has come center stage. No longer do these amazing machines do just one thing—play games—they’re now where we go to watch movies and television, work out, connect with our families, and even let the Internet know what we’re up to. The line between home computer and home console is quickly blurring.
My first console was an Atari 2600. Soon followed by the original Nintendo. And while it was certainly used by my parents, it was most definitely something that my sister and I had lordship over.
But now there’s a problem. My son loves playing Minecraft just as much as my husband likes playing the Witcher games—and just as much as my husband loves Assassin’s Creed. And my toddler daughter soon wants her say when it comes to Blue’s Clues and Signing Time. More people means more of a risk when it comes to what our new Xbox One can handle. And that’s just the beginning!
Game consoles like our Xbox one are so much more immersive than they used to be. The Kinect component—and many other similar movement based controls—means there’s a whole lot more fidgeting going around. We learned once with the Wii and our unfortunate dog that flailing around playing a game can mean some serious damage. And not just for the people involved, but with the consoles and components, too.
Thankfully there’s a few things that you can do to try and mitigate the risk with your consoles.
Keep the console up and away from little hands. That might mean mounting it higher or, potentially, even purchasing some special furniture to manage it. The last thing you want it little sticky fingers or chewing pets getting to your system. This doesn’t have to be expensive.
Make sure all cords and extraneous parts are tidied well. We’ve had great success using cord clamps that stick on the back of our buffet table (which we use to put the television and our various console systems).
Think ventilation. Don’t put the console in a closed environment where it can overheat. Heat is terrible for the inner workings of any computer hardware, and we’ve personally lost two Xboxes to the red ring of death due to this problem.
Get a surge protector. Along with those organized cords, make sure you’ve got everything plugged in well and grounded. Otherwise that investment might go up in smoke.
Get insurance for your console. Yes, this exists. Protect Your Bubble offers a wide array of Home Gadget coverage, but what’s most pertinent to many of you is their console coverage. It starts as little as $1.99/month, and you have the choice for paying all at once or in installments. That’s cheaper than one game a year, and it includes things like in-home repair, replacement, and coverage for things like mechanical breakdown, surge protection, and a no lemon policy. Plus a $0 deductible means if you have to be a little more lax with letting your kids get their sillies out, you won’t be shelling out later. They’ve got you covered in ways the other folks might not.
Memorization is one of the fundamentals of education. Whether you’re learning your letters or complex chemical formulae, the ability to store and recollect information is vital to every step through life. BrainBox is a game with editions aimed at every age group and interest combining memory skills with other subjects in a fun game.
The game itself is very simple. You look at a picture printed onto a 8.5cm square card for ten seconds then roll a dice. Another player then asks you the corresponding question which will be related to the picture you just saw; answer correctly and you keep the card, answer wrong and it goes back in the box. The rules state that whoever has the most cards after ten minutes is the winner but that figure could easily be adjusted to compensate for different ages and attention levels.
Boxes start for aged three and up with subjects including ABC and My First Maths, and become progressively harder. Those aimed at older children include ranges from Horrible Histories and a new Roald Dahl edition alongside others focusing on inventions, the world, dinosaurs, art, and fairies. There’s even a Senior Moments box (recommended age 55+) featuring “scenes that most of us past a certain age will recognize, from pirate radio to the first Moon landing to memorable hairstyles!” Alongside this range is a smaller selection of BrainBox “On The Go” travel editions. These are quite Euro-centric and include Paris, Prague, and Devon.
My four-year-old son and I played with the ABC box. He immediately took to the game, understood the rules and wanted to play often. The questions were at just the right level for him allowing him to get most answers correct but not breeze through without even trying.He was also able to recognize most objects on the card, although he needed my help with a few more abstract items such as a “twist” or a question mark.
For a boy just learning his letters and starting to ask how words are spelled, this box was the perfect fit for our family, if a little easy for the many adults he dragged in to playing with him.
We really enjoyed playing BrainBox ABC as a family and I can certainly see myself buying more boxes once my son starts school and begins studying subjects in depth for a bit of extra stealth learning at home.
I’m quite keen on the Reminisce 1990 – 2010 edition for myself, too, so I can see how well I remember my childhood and teenage years!
I’ve never been all that big a fan of romance as a genre. I think the biggest problem I’ve always had with it is that is simply doesn’t represent who I am. OK, so that statement could apply to most of us unless of course you were painted lounging naked on a chaise lounge on the Titanic, but if you’re reading a website called GeekMom I’m sure you get my point. Romantic films always seem to be about girls who have a secret desire to have boys propose their undying love in front of the whole school/holiday camp/castle. If you’re like me, then having someone drag you into the spotlight for any reason is enough to trigger a panic attack that will last several days and being crowned prom queen is probably the most embarrassing and cringe-worthy things that you could imagine.
Backward Compatible is a boy-meets-girl romance for people like me. It opens at a midnight release for the 10th installment of fictional game Fatal Destiny X where George (cosplaying as a druid character named Wayfarer) meets Katie (cosplaying Syntania, a scantily clad mage) and soon introduces a cast of characters I felt like I already knew. There’s Lanyon the best-friend who I’m sure was based on one of my high-school friends, Seynar the somewhat arrogant blogger who believes everyone wants to read his opinions of The Desolation of Smaug despite only having 12 followers, and a host of other random gamer types. The plot follows George and Katie’s exploits through both the real world of their new found friendship and also online in FDX as they and their friends team up, gathering the weapons they need to fight the game’s ultimate hidden Boss.
The book is crammed full of more references than an entire season of Community, and not just the soft-core ones that anyone who’s seen Star Wars will get. The level of obscurity attained inside these pages is enough to impress even the most die-hard nerd. There’s an impressively involved Portal gag, a joke about Christopher Tolkien, and more Python references than you can shake a heavily-laden swallow at; plus the characters even occasionally swear in the Firefly style. At first the constant referencing felt forced, as if the authors were intentionally trying to cram as many in-jokes onto each page as possible, but the style soon settled down and soon it felt more natural. Once you got to know the characters it seemed obvious that they would tell a Denny’s waitress how many pancakes they wanted by announcing that “three is the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three.”
As a lot of the plot follows the characters playing FDX, the gaming talk comes thick and fast (insert countless jokes about grinding at this point). I’m not a hardcore gamer so a few went over my head but even my husband who has never played an MMO, RPG, or anything along those lines in his life enjoyed the book and had no problems figuring out what was going on. Of course a familiarity with that world is going to enhance your appreciation of the book exponentially but most people who’ll pick this book up will have no problems there. Gaming also plays a large part in one of the most traditionally romantic parts of the book, when George writes a poem for Katie. However unlike poems in most other books this one includes the line, “You are the weapon at my spawn point.” It’s a very specific line for a very specific kind of girl, but for the right girl it’s about as romantic as it comes.
I absolutely loved this book. It was about people who represented me and it was set in the real-life world I have inhabited since my early teens. I wanted the characters to be real so I could talk to them and become friends (also FDX sounds pretty freaking awesome). OK, so I’m a married mom and so have left the awkward dating phase behind, but this is still my world. I hope we get another book in the series where we can meet George and Katie a few years on and see how their relationship has progressed. After all, staying up all night to grind and level your character is a lot trickier when you’ve got a baby—just saying!
GeekMom received this product for review purposes.
As the first grandchild to come along in several years, our two-year-old got a lot of presents this year. So far, one of our favorites is this Roll & Play game from Thinkfun. (Retail price $19.99.)
The game is wonderfully simple, and can be started and stopped at almost any time. We take turns throwing the die, which is big and soft and plush and just about as big as our toddler’s head. He loves throwing it. We name the color that comes up on top, and then pick a matching color card. Then we act out whatever the card says, and move on to the next turn. No need to keep score, just something fun to do together.
There are six categories of cards, and each color has a specialty. The blue cards have you look for colors in your surroundings (“Find something orange”); others have you make face (“Make a surprised face”—just about the cutest thing ever), count (“Clap your hands six times”), make animal noises (“Gobble like a turkey”), or act (“Do a silly dance”).
Our son has started asking us to play “the dice game,” and it’s easy to throw the cube around a few times after dinner. And since the “set-up” is so easy, especially since the plush cube has a pocket to store the cards, you don’t feel cheated when your toddler’s attention finally wanders off.
My favorite part is that it’s teaching him to take turns along with the basic mechanic of drawing cards. My husband and I are both enthusiastic board gamers, and we’ve both remarked that our son’s enthusiasm for this game bodes well for future family game nights.
The guys behind the Accursed RPG clearly have a sense of humor, choosing to launch their dark fantasy game full of monsters and witches on Friday the 13th of 2013. I suppose that gives this wonderfully dark RPG an extra dose of wickedness.
The world of Accursed is one with Witches that have ruled the land and turned innocent humans into monsters forced to do their bidding. These monsters are the Accursed and now that the Witches have lost their hold on the world, the Accursed have turned from minions to adversaries.
Their terrible forms prevent them from ever returning to the lives they’ve left behind, but it doesn’t stop them from working against the Witches. The Accursed now try to help the humans they once hurt and to lift the world from the darkness cast by the evil Witches.
Accursed is an officially licensed Savage Worlds product and the plan is to produce two core rulebooks for the game. They’re currently seeking funding to produce those books, complete with beautiful artwork created just for Accursed.
You can check out the Kickstarter for Accursed and make a pledge to get PDFs, hardcopies and even a chance to have the designers GM a game for you and your friends.
I will always try out any product developed by Toca Boca. Founded in 2010, they make digital toys for children that engage the imagination and allow parents to play along, too. No rules, no time limits, no in-app purchases, coupled with excellent graphics and an easy listening soundtrack. This is a parent and kid-friendly company. Since my four-year-old son enjoys watching his dad play Minecraft, I had a feeling we found a winner when Toca Boca came out with Toca Builders this summer.
With a crew of six building robots, players wander across a tiled floor, destroying at will. You are architect, contractor, builder, and demolition expert all at once.
Connie enables you to lift and move blocks precisely where you want them.
Blox has a backpack that automatically lays out blocks. He can also crush these blocks simply by walking into them.
Cooper paints by rolling over the ground. You can change colors as often as you like and turn the paint function off to pass by without painting.
Stretch makes himself as tall as necessary to place blocks in mid-air; great for roofing!
Jum-Jum changes the color of any block by spraying paint at it. Spraying for longer periods of time changes more blocks.
Vex, last but not least, is my son’s favorite builder. Vex can jump, Vex can put down blocks while jumping. With Vex you can build stacks, walls, and staircases.
Once you open the app, you have the choice of creating a new world or working on one of your existing creations–thank you autosave! There are two ways to move your robot: Slide your finger on a ball at the bottom of the screen or swipe an arrow to travel in straight lines or turn at 90-degree angles. Bear in mind, the maximum height to build upwards is six blocks and every fifth world you create will populate with “extras.” My son seems to prefer having a blank slate each time, and rarely goes back to a previously created world.
We allow our son five minutes of gaming at a time. With most games he kicks up a bit of a fuss. With Toca Builders, when we say his time is up he takes a snapshot to store in his camera roll and then happily moves on, like a junior architect saving his work for later. I can only attribute this to the calm pace of the game which is completely at his control. He is never frustrated by what he can’t do; he simply enjoys what he can.
To see how older kids would respond, I had a fourteen-year-old friend sit down with it for awhile one afternoon. She enjoyed it, and noted its similarity to Minecraft calling it “Minecraft Junior,” but it isn’t something I think she would pick up of her own volition. She enjoyed the colors, the tools of each robot, and the ways they interacted, but it was definitely more of a hit with my preschooler. The game is aimed at kids five and older; my son, at four, isn’t getting as much out of it as he will this time next year. More advanced users can find building plans on Toca Boca’s YouTube page. This is a game that will grow with your child; grow until he or she is ready for something like Minecraft, in fact!
Call it a modern sandbox, a digital Lego set, or a mini Minecraft, this is a great game.