Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Post-Steam Summer Sale-retrospect

Bastion-a game I heard was fun
I don't even want to know how much I spent this summer on the Steam Summer Sale, where half the games on my wishlist drop down to $1. All I know is that I have a pile of new games and like a kid after Christmas I don't know what to play with first.

When the sale started, I noticed that I had nearly 50 games on my wishlist (modest compared to some I know), but about half of those were games that I had no idea why they were on there in the first place. I'm sure more than a couple came from watching "Games you might not have tried" videos those nice folks over at Extra Credits like to make, but as I watched the sales my wishlist started dropping down both from buying things AND kicking them off.

I kinda learned how to play D&D 3.0 from this game. 
Fast forward to Monday when the sale was over and I looked over my games library and found five or six games I flat out didn't recognize, as well as several games I had once upon a time spent a lot of money on but never played past the intro. I honestly felt bad, sitting here with a massive pile of games I never play but just sit there on my Steam list.

So why on Earth did I spend an embarrassing amount of money last week?

Talking to friends I've found I'm not the only one with a back catalog of unplayed or underplayed games. I'm starting to wonder if Steam has become the new toy box for adults, we scream and we beg and we budget to get the shiniest newest game, or in Steam's case, early access to what will hopefully become a shiny toy, then we forget about it three hours later, letting it sit forever on our Steam library gathering digital dust.

Looking at the old Seam library now I can count at least 20 of my 71 games I haven't put more than ten hours in, which ten hours may seem like much for any normal activity but for gaming these days it'll barely get you to the main story. All of them I want to play with, almost desperately, but sadly with a full schedule of school, work, writing musings for this blog, and cooking Costco meatballs, finding time for these guys is becoming harder and harder.

Just for a lark, here are some games I have spent less than an hour with:

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Small World 2

Jurassic Park: The Game

Breath of Death VII


Half Minute Hero

Icewind Dale

The Ship

Space Farmers
I complain a lot about Star Wars but this may be my favorite
part of the extended universe, and occasionally trumps the
original films when I'm in a bad enough mood. 

Now granted, some of these I've played before just not on Steam, but then why do I have them?

Okay let's do something interesting besides listen to me whine about having too many games and be a complete first world gravy balloon. Have you ever played any of these? In the comments below tell me a game from this list that you've played and tell me weather or not it should become my new obsession. If anything turns my fancy I'll do an entire Mormon Geeks post on that game.

Also, what's on your Steam list you've yet to get around to playing?


Monday, June 22, 2015

Podcast Episode 16: Spelled and the Wizard of Oz with Betsy Schow

T.J. finally gets to sit and discuss Spelled with Betsy Schow along with the many variations/stories within The Wizard of Oz universe. It's hilarious. Also, shout outs to Jessica Guernsey and Karen Pellett who let us use critique group time for this.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Top 5 Video Games coming out this year

The game industry is finally making reconciliation for three years of lousy sequels, prequels and the squalor of awful games that made the next gen consoles almost not worth buying. Gamers favorite franchises are finally getting the sequels they deserve, and here are the five best coming out this season. All these games will be available for X- Box One, Playstation 4 and PC.

5: Disney Infinity 3.0
Han Solo judges you.

Since the first Disney Infinity launched two years ago, they’re has been talk of Disney adding the Star Wars franchise to their popular game/toy collection, and it looks like fans are getting their wish this November. It’s a wonder why players haven’t had a chance to use Chewbacca to beat the fairy dust off of Tinkerbell already, till we remember that this is Disney we’re talking about, the king of merchandising and fan-baiting. All previous figures will be compatible with the new set, so at least Disney isn’t completely evil, just mostly evil.
XCOM 2: Electric Boogaloo

4: X-COM 2

Technically this is X-COM 6 or 7, if you count the 90s PC games, but since nobody does we’ll just call it X-COM 3: Sorry for The Bureau: X-COM Declassified. The franchise came back on the scene a few years ago to glowing success, and X-COM 2 looks to bring the series back to that, only with next gen graphics. For the uninitiated think of playing chess with guns against aliens. Turn-basexd combat hasn't been this much fun since Final Fantasy Tactics on the Playstation.
 This is also the only game on this list that isn’t either an adventure game or first-person shooter, which in the current market is a badly needed change of pace.

3: Fallout 4

"I'm just going to stand here in my rain coat and
let the attack helicopter get me....
Fallout: New Vegas could’ve been one of the greatest games to ever been made, if not for the game crashing glitches. It took several updates before the game was even playable, and by that time the Fallout fanbase was looking for another post-apocalyptic wasteland to explore. Fallout 4 will be bringing the series back to the east coast, using Baltimore as its base location. As long as this time players can get through the game without being paranoid about getting stuck in a wall, the franchise could finally be revitalized.

2: Batman: Arkham Knight

Batman gets robbed by better Batman
Arkham Knight isn’t an apology for a sequel but for the prequel Arkham Origins and follows after Arkham City and the Joker’s unfortunate demise. Players who preorder the game get the opportunity to play as villains Red Hood and Harley Quinn, and the makers have already hinted at multiplayer mode with Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl. Players were already excited for a more open world than Origins as well as the opportunity to drive around in the Batmobile. This looks like the game fans have both needed and deserved.

1: Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

I love the guys at the next table over. "What are you people
staring at? And young man, sit in that chair properly!"
For some reason it seems that the historic revisionist series with secret organizations controlling history works better when it’s taking place in historic settings and not actual historic events. Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Unity took place in the American Revolution and French Revolution respectively, and both bombed faster than an all children’s production of Pulp Fiction. However, fan favorite Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag just took place during the time of pirates in the Caribbean, and the first game was during a little known crusade in the Holy Land, and both made more money than the Templars could ever dream of. Syndicate takes place in Victorian England, vaguely around the time of Jack the Ripper, and while the game hasn’t directly said that it will have Steampunk elements, with top hats and corsets already in a video game it won’t surprise if a robot made of brass and smelling like tea will show up at one point.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

NovaTees-Awesome tee shirts you need to have!

I was contacted by a friend the other day letting me know that he's working with a new up-and-coming geeky tee shirt store, and more than happy to help out a friend I checked out his store's site.

Yeah... I need all of them... is at first reminiscent of, except when I went to NovaTees website my computer didn't have a seizure. Selection is slimmer than Teeturtle, but quality is certainly not lacking. Based out of Provo Utah, the new company is off to a good start with variety and fan combinations that make even my jaded heart squee with glee, plus none of the tee shirts are the least bit inappropriate, which in the geek world is becoming fewer and further between.

If me raving about them isn't enough, here are three of my favorites directly from the website:

Hate to say it, but I called him Zelda until I was like 15. 

One Ninja Turtle in Smash Brothers... That's all I ask...

Follow these folks on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and Instagram!
Buy buy buy!!!


Monday, June 8, 2015

Mormon Geeks Podcast: Episode 15: Friends

It's been a while since I (T.J.) have done a podcast. But since my friend Casey was visiting with her husband this past weekend, I took the opportunity to talk about one of the things we both frequently quote with one another: Friends!

It's lengthy, we were tired, and it probably could've gone on for 24 hours at least.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Saying goodbye #andamovie

It's no secret that Community is my favorite show. It has been ever since it's premiere in 2009. It's clever writing and quirky characters won me over pretty much right away. It's equally hilarious and heartfelt. The TV series has had a troublesome history with the looming sword of being cancelled hovering over it's head for many seasons. Fans, cast and crew rallied with a campaign of #sixseasonsandamovie.

What's awesome is that despite poor TV ratings the campaign really did get the show six seasons! The sixth season had it's finale this past tuesday. The finale was emotional, hilarious and heartbreaking. It was saying goodbye without knowing if it really is a goodbye or not. Everyone is moving on to a new chapter of their lives. In a literal sense, whether or not Yahoo renews another season is up in the air. It was an almost satisfying end to the series.

I still want a movie.

That's right. I went there. Feel the heartache.
There are plenty of TV shows--and video games, cartoons, etc--that I love that have a premature end. Firefly is the obvious one. Glad we got a movie with that one and some closure in the follow up comics. Another favorite is Young Justice which cartoon network cancelled after 2 seasons. It was a brilliant show with brilliant animation and writing. Ugh. Dollhouse only ran for two seasons as well. They got to have an actual ending though unlike Firefly.

There are other parts of my life that I felt had premature endings: my childhood in Maryland, friendships I shared growing up, dating relationships, job experiences and amazing adventures in far away lands. When a dating relationship fizzled out I wouldn't want to date for months. I remember I had the opportunity to visit my cousin in Colorado but I didn't want to go because I knew I would only get a few days and have to say goodbye again. I didn't want the heartache.

Oh gosh, it hurts. Stupid Disney.
You could say I'm allergic to goodbyes. Tears will come to my eyes. My nose will start to run. The only remedy is complete detachment and that has some pretty awful side effects. I think the toxicity of numbness and loneliness aren't the best trade offs. They prevent you from making new connections and finding a quirky new TV series to fall in love with. The coincidence is that being "too attached" has the same effects. Holding on to something because you miss it so much? It can be easy to not move on because your mind is still on what's left.

So what's the solution?

Well, understand that heartache is to be expected. It always will be--even in a small amount. It has to be if the connection and attachment was real. The other thing to remember is that letting go doesn't mean detaching. I can let go of Community and Firefly but still love the series. I can let go of an ex-girlfriend and still appreciate the connection we shared. No, she may not be part of my life anymore and that's okay. I may even try to reconnect with her from time to time. That's okay too. Letting go means that I don't let the attachment rule my life and prevent me from enjoying everything else I have going for me. Letting go means I do not allowing the premature end stop me from developing new friendships, relationships and passions.

"There is skill to it. More importantly, it has to be joyful, effortless, fun. TV defeats it’s own purpose when it’s pushing an agenda, or trying to defeat other TV or being proud or ashamed of itself for existing. It’s TV, it’s comfort.

It’s a friend you’ve known so well, and for so long you just let it be with you and it needs to be okay for it to have a bad day or phone in a day. And it needs to be okay for it to get on a boat with LeVar Burton and never come back. Because eventually, it all will."

Abed Nadir (Series Finale)
I still want a Community movie. I want to say goodbye to these characters I love in the best way possible. And if I don't get it, I'll be alright. I'll remember the good times. I'll re-watch favorite episodes. I'll revel in the fact that we got six seasons! Don't forget about the good times and good friends. Don't close the door on them either. Such things may or may not be absent from your life but never your heart. Some things may have to come to an end, say goodbye. New things will come in to your life, let them in. Try something new. Familiar things may return, embrace them and help it renew.




Thursday, June 4, 2015

Review of Arrow: Season 3

 As some of you may know, I was a little late jumping on the Arrow bandwagon. I didn't start watching the first season until the second season was over. Once I had, however, I had to wait several months, by which time the third season had started, before I could watch the second season.

As a result of all of this, my review of the first season didn't come out until well over a year after the season had ended, and my review of the second season didn't come out until about six months after that season had ended. And because I binge-watched the second season, I was able to watch most of the episodes of the third season within days (and often within hours) of when they aired. And so my review of Season Three comes less than a month after the season ended.

As with my second season review, I will mention some minor spoilers for some of this season's episodes, I will avoid major spoilers for the overall arc of the season. But as I can't do justice to this review without discussing things that happened during the first two seasons, there will be some major spoilers for the events in the series that happened prior to the start of Season Three.

So before you read any further, SPOILER ALERT!

A new logo was issued for Season Three
Season Three starts several months after the end of the second season. And things are as good for the Arrow and his team as they've ever been since he began his crusade as the vigilante known as “The Hood” two years earlier. As a result of Team Arrow's victory over Deathstroke's terrorist attack on Starling City, Oliver and Roy have been publicly recognized as heroes and have brought crime in Starling City to an all time low. Officer Lance has been promoted to Captain and has disbanded the anti-vigilante task force. Laurel is doing her part working for the District Attorney's office by prosecuting the criminals Oliver and Roy catch. And Diggle and Lyla are expecting their first baby.

A poster depicting Team Arrow during the third season

Though not everything is perfect for our heroes. Oliver has lost control of his company and is now broke. Nobody has heard anything from Thea since she left Starling City during the second season finale. Roy is struggling with keeping the fact that he knows why Thea left a secret from Oliver. And Felicity has been reduced to working a low paying tech support job at a computer store.

Oliver's opening monologue for most of the third season is: “My name is Oliver Queen. After five years in hell, I have come home with only one goal- to save my city. Now others have joined my crusade. To them, I'm Oliver Queen. To the rest of Starling City, I am someone else. I am something else.”

Early in the season, Oliver and Felicity begin to explore their romantic feelings for each other, but as is often the case for these characters, whenever someone starts to experience happiness, disaster strikes.

And as disaster strikes, Oliver comes into conflict with trying to maintain his identities as Oliver Queen and the Arrow. As he says in an early ad for the season, "I thought I could be Oliver Queen and the Arrow. But I can't." Throughout the season, he struggles with the dilemma of wanting to have both a normal life as Oliver, but realizes that in trying to do so, he puts those he loves in danger due to his enemies who have it out for the Arrow. Though other superheroes have dealt with a similar problem, it is still interesting to see how Oliver chooses to face it (or not face it, as is sometimes the case).

Oliver experiences an identity crisis
During the second season, the League of Assassins was introduced and Ra's al Ghul was mentioned. But both play a much bigger role in the third season. As with Malcolm Merlyn in the first season, and Deathstroke in the second season, Ra's al Ghul is the main villain of the third season, and much of the season revolves around Oliver's conflict with Ra's and the League and trying to find a way to defeat them, as that is the only way he can keeps his loved ones and his city safe.

Ra's al Ghul, played by Matt Nable
As with the earlier seasons, the third season is full of twists and turns. Some things happened that I definitely did not see coming. Some of them definitely left me shocked.

The third season also sees a number of changes between many of the major characters Some of these relationships improve, others get much worse, and still others move back and forth between the two. For several of the characters, their relationships with each other will never be the same.

Malcolm Merlyn, played by John Barrowman
This season also saw Malcolm Merlyn being brought into the main cast, and much more is revealed about his motivations and what drives him to do what he does. The season also contained flashbacks that showed not only his origin story, but also that of Deadshot and Felicity Smoak. And as I mentioned before, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Ray Palmer brought in as a recurring guest star this season, seeing him build the Atom suit, and watching him develop into a hero in his own right.

Ray Palmer/The Atom, played by Brandon Routh
The season also contained one major crossover with The Flash, as well as several guest appearances of characters from The Flash (For that matter, there was also one major crossover with Arrow on The Flash, along with several episdodes with guest appearances of characters from Arrow. But I'll save those for my review of the first season of The Flash). I really enjoyed seeing how characters from I've come to love from both shows interact with one another. The contrast between Barry and Oliver in particular is very interesting to watch. They are both heroes, but each have very different methods. In spite of this, they each not only admire and respect one another, but they also learn and grow from their interactions with each other.

A screenshot from the Arrow/Flash crossover
Though I did enjoy this season, I found that it to be a bit of a let down from the previous seasons. Though the overall story was good, it didn't live up to its potential as much as it could have. Often, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it, I was left with a sense that something was missing or was coming up a little short of what it should have been.

In addition, some of the characterization seemed off to me. Starting with Roy, even though he was part of the main cast this season, his role seemed much more diminished than in the previous seasons. And many of the episodes that did attempt to center around him just didn't quite do him justice. They attempt to deal with Roy's guilt about learning that he killed a cop while being influenced by Mirakuru last season, but it never quite felt authentic to me. Roy also seemed too mellow compared to how he was portrayed before. While, it's true that much of his anger and rage during the second season was due to the Mirakuru, gone is the anger and much of the passion that we saw in him in the first season and the first half of the second season.

Though his characterization may have been a bit lacking,,
Roy did get an awesome new costume and code name this season
I also found some of the characterization of Malcolm Merlyn to be off, as well as his relationships with both Oliver and Thea. Though I get that parts of Malcolm's personality conflict with each other, the extremes he bounces back and forth between don't fit with how he was portrayed in earlier seasons. In addition, with Thea, and to a lesser extent, Oliver, I find them to alternate too much with at times being far too forgiving of his actions while and being far too accepting.

And while I enjoyed seeing the conflict that developed between Oliver and both Felicity and Diggle, it just didn't fit like I felt it should. I lost track of how many times during this season Felicity said something along the lines of “We are not seriously even considering this, are we?” And nearly every time she did, it just felt out of character for her.

So overall, while the third season of Arrow was enjoyable, it didn't quite live up to the same standards as the previous two seasons. While I've heard rumors that the reason for the drop in quality is that many of the regular writers for the first two seasons started writing primarily for The Flash (which in my opinion had an excellent first season), they may or may not be true, But if they are, I fear that the same thing may happen with The Flash when Legends of Tomorrow launches next year.

Despite the problems mentioned, I still did enjoy Season Three. Even when falling a bit short of the bar the series set earlier on, I found it was still very much worth watching. I just didn't get quite as excited about it as I did for the earlier seasons (or for The Flash, for that matter). My only hope is that next season we see a return to the quality that marked the first two seasons. This is a show that I still definitely intend to continue watching.

Season Four of Arrow begins this fall

And if you're a fan of the Arrowverse, or even just of superheroes in general, keep watching in the coming weeks for when my review of the first season of The Flash.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Not Taking Games Too Seriously

At time of writing Steam has me clocked at playing Infinite Crisis for 72 hours since I got it a few weeks ago. For me this is a significant amount of time spent in one game, since my ADHD rarely lets me stick with a game for longer than a week.

For the uninitiated, Infinite Crisis is a MOBA or whatever MOBA stands for. Basically it's like getting all your friends together for laser tag, except instead of running around with lasers here you're DC Comics super heroes and villains and instead of necessarily zapping each other you're punching each other into orbit with Kryptonian fists. I'm told that it's reminiscent of another MOBA virtual laser tag game named League of Legends, which is the whole thing but with fantasy and Anime characters, which is a game I've never really gotten into but a large basis of Infinite Crisis's players are quite familiar with.

The game came out in beta last year and since I'm a huge fan of DC I decided to give it a whirl. An hour later I uninstalled it from my computer because according to the other people on my team I wasn't pretending to be Shazam the right way and was messing up their game. THis is one of the reason I hate playing online games with random strangers. I play games for fun and to relax, not because I want to get yelled at by someone ten states away.

Anyhoo, the game came out in its full version on Steam for free and after learning that Harley Quinn was one of the characters you got to unlock right away I decided to give it a try. After a couple hours of tutorials and practicing with robots I figured I was ready to try the whole thing again, this time as my favorite hench-girl.

Time had not sweetened the other players.

At first I was shrugging the more obnoxious comments off, but one game I was doing particularly bad since I had switched from my usual Arkham clowns to Doomsday, and kept dying. One player became increasingly agitated with me and another person's style. The conversation went like this:

Me: Dude, I'm still learning
Me: Dude, I'm trying

His last phrase struck me. I had frankly had enough of people like this spoiling my game.

Me: You're an expert at pretending to be Batman. My, that's a real talent. You and Michael Keton and Adam West and Kevin Conroy should really get together sometime.

Third guy in the game: LOLOLOLOL!!!!

Then a weird thing happened: By this time we were going to lose so our little characters just stood around the base and played Candy Crush on their phones while the players chatted. The angry player apologized and said that he had been in 3 straight games with new players and was sick of losing. He had dumped mounds of hours into League of Legends and had switched over for a change of pace. He then offered to take me and the other new guy into a private arena against bots and teach us how to use our characters. I was stunned! We played and I learned how to be a better Doomsday (Which means don't charge into Superman and expect everything to go well) as well as tips on how to play the game better in general that I still use to this day.

Fast forward several weeks: I'm now an okay player, and after weeks of begging my friends we finally have a game together of Infinite Crisis with my former roommates and wife. Some of these guys were League of Legend and the like players back in the day, and my wife is just super smart, but I noticed my one friend was having some trouble. At first I was finding myself getting annoyed and angry at him. Why couldn't he just perform a basic attack? Why didn't he move when the other guys were coming?

Then I remembered my friend from before, the one who was taking the game too seriously and yelled at me. I remembered then that it was just a game, and the point of a game was to have fun. I calmed down after that, and my friends and I set about the task of teaching my buddy to play. By the end of the night he was holding his own, getting kills and staying alive himself. I was proud of him.

At the end of the day, video game immersion is supposed to bring players further into the game, and while it's fun to be good at something, it's even more fun to build a community of players who can all play together and strengthen each other, instead of tear each other down. Maybe if these communities were built out of friendship some of the stigma that still wafts around gaming can finally disappate and we can focus on the real enemy: Orcs.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Spelled by Betsy Schow

Today I'm gonna talk about a new book coming out tomorrow (unless you're lucky and can find it in a B&N or something.)

That book is Spelled by Betsy Schow.

What is Spelled? Here is a great review from the School Library Journal:

"A cute adventure with romance set in a world full of fairy-tale mash-ups. Readers will love Dorthea's evolution from spoiled princess to strong, confident heroine... For Oz fans, this work is a great clean-read alternative to Danielle Paige's Dorothy Must Die." - School Library Journal

Yes, Spelled is "unoriginal" as it is the story of the Wizard of Oz. But in all honesty, it's as much of the Wizard of Oz as Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In other words, it's not. It's better. (Yes, I'm a fan of Willy Wonka...more a fan of chocolate...but whatever.)

So yeah, I may have a small bias in that Betsy is in my critique group. However, I have no problem stating how much I like this book. Betsy's humor is beyond amazing. Pretty much, I see Spelled as taking Baum's classic Wizard of Oz while throwing in Cher from Clueless who is bored with her dad's credit card watching the Home Shopping Network and then reversing the polarity (Doctor Who reference, basically saying flipping the world upside down).

Also, the story of spoiled brat to humble heroine is always one of my favorites. This is what makes Draco in Harry Potter 6 and 7 as interesting. Everyone needs a wake up call in life and as Dorthea gets hers, it's a really well-told reminder to not take what we have for granted. 

Since it's definitely worth reading, here is a nice handy-dandy link so you can go buy Spelled.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.