PAX PRIME 2012

Hooray! It’s that time of year again! According to the PAX countdown, we have 1 day 18 hours and 32 mins until PAX begins. My insides are about to explode all over the place, I’m that excited. The energy surrounding downtown Seattle and the Washington State Convention center during the con is made of magic.

PAX is a major highlight of my summer and seeing as I’m all nostalgic, I want to share some of my favorite snapshots from PAX PRIME 2011:

I can’t wait to spend all weekend surrounded by my favorite things. My goal is to make this year’s PAX the best one yet. Experience, connect, laugh, share. It’s gonna happen.

My friend Collin wrote a great PAX Prime 2012 Guide that you must check out. I reiterate the prevention of Nerd Flu and searching for food places outside of the convention center. The linked guide suggests really great places to grab a bite to eat.

I plan to absorb the show floor as much as possible. I’ll go to all the Penny Arcade panels (Make-a-Strip, Q&A, etc.) and spend lots of time in the Bioware Base. I’ll for sure be at the Hawken party on Friday night and Zombie Studios party Saturday night. What’s your plan?? See you there.

Game on.

-amy

An Update/Video Game Character Inspired Fashion

Hey, Internet! I’ve recently started my senior year of college; so close to the end…yet so far. I’ve decided to keep going straight through summer quarter to speed up the process. I’ve mentioned before that I returned to college to finish my final two years after several years off. I want to get back to my regular lifestyle. Not to say I haven’t been enjoying my break from various “adult” things. I do have crazy-person outbursts sometimes from the workload. I’m just anxious to focus on my future career.

No matter, on to the fun stuff. I still do find things in my free time that I must share ASAP. Thanks to the fantastic Felicia Day and her perfect version of vlogging, The Flog on Geek and Sundry introduced me to an amazing Tumblr called Console to Closet. Simply, it is a collection of video game character inspired fashion, both for the ladies and the dudes. I’m kind of obsessed with it. My first favorite I came across is inspired by Subject Zero aka Jack from Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3.

It. Is. Perfect. Above image will take you to Console to Closet, which also provides an reference image of Jack from Mass Effect.

I’m also really loving the looks inspired by Leliana from Dragon Age, Garrus from Mass Effect and Night Elf from my current gaming obsession, World of Warcraft. I love how Amanda, creator of the blog, hasn’t made any of the looks too costume-y. Before that sounds like I hate costuming, I don’t at all! I actually have a secret desire to get in to some serious cosplay. I just appreciate the alternative approach to emulating a favorite game character.

Be sure to check out Console to Closet! It is already inspiring my fashion choices and is lots of fun to browse.

Turns out college is tough

I survived Winter quarter and I have art projects to show for it! Let’s just say this past quarter was quite the challenge. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not working. Or something.

I took an advanced art studio course titled Image and Imagination. My instructor Ted Heibert, a talented, established artist himself, assigned projects and readings [for an idea: Baudrillard and Viirilio] that chewed up my brain, spit it out and then told me to MAKE ART. I’ve never simultaneously detested and appreciated an assignment before. New feelings.

I’ve been following Meagan-Marie’s Game Industry Advice by tailoring each school project around gaming in some way. My concept was to challenge, question and observe the blur between reality and game worlds using World of Warcraft as my interface. Below is what I managed to produce after hours of learning how to tinker with Photoshop:

I really like how some of them turned out; others I have a hard time looking at. I realize they aren’t technically perfect either [exposure, alignment]. Overall, I believe the project was a success.

Does anyone else ever experience a game world bleeding in to the real world? Do you ever catch yourself seeing a part of a game in reality? This happened to me a lot while playing Fallout 3; every piece of junk I saw IRL started to seem usable, each with their own value and stats popping in to my brain.

Stay in school kids.

Cheers!

TRAILER: Mass Effect 3

This is no secret; I am an avid Mass Effect fan [a video games series developed by Bioware] More specifically, I’m a die hard FemShep [female version of protagonist Commander Shepard] player, fan, supporter, believer. It’s safe to say I do not stand alone. FemShep has an enormous fan base.

There has been no marketing geared towards FemShep–until now. Bioware has caught on to the popularity of FemShep and the fan demand to recognize her as the protagonist. In response, Bioware has included FemShep as a major part of the marketing campaign leading up to the release of the series third installment on March 6, 2012.

I’m not some BroShep/MaleShep/ManShep hater. I definitively get that he is some people’s Commander and he is badass in his own way. However, he isn’t everyone’s Shepard and I am so thankful Bioware isn’t acting like he is any longer.

While watching the trailer, I did in fact shed tears. It’s hard to explain if you aren’t invested. But I’m finally seeing a trailer for the series I’ve spent hours playing over the last five years.

As far as marketing and promotion, Bioware is genius to embrace their female protagonist.  It says a lot about how much they listen to and respect their fans. It would have been great if she had shared the spotlight all along, but I’m happy she’s getting her time now.

I am so happy to share the first official trailer featuring my version of Commander Shepard:

Consider yourself reinstated.

-Amy

The Goods: Art, Videos, Comics–Oh My!

Friday is my I’m-not-gonna-do-anything-but-be-on-the-internets day. Or this [EDIT: Um, I just realized THIS version of 'Lazy Song' existed. FTW] Result: I find things. Sharing is caring!

image via myjusticecake.tumblr.com

It’s Anders! And Sir Pounce A Lot! Even though I crush a lot on DA:O Alistair, Anders has the bad boy thing going on.  This amazing Dragon Age action figure was made by myjusticecake. Check out the link for more images [via myjusticecake]

Like Star Wars? Minecraft? This is their baby [via Kotaku]

Skyrim. As a cartoon. I want this to be REAL [via HarryPartridge YouTube Channel]

image via archaia.com

I may have had a geek spasm when I read this. Free Archaia Mouse Guard/Labyrinth hardcover for Free Comic Book Day 2012?!?! Arcane Comics better watch out, I’ll be there bright and early for this one. Check out the press release on Archaia for all the details [via geekwithcurves]

Skyrim FTW!

So guess what? I’m still playing Skyrim. A lot. Shocker. I don’t think I’ve advanced the main story at all since my last Skyrim post, though. I’ve been doing other important things! Like…scouring the world for Nirnroot so some chick in Riften will get off my case about her experiments…and making Apple-Cabbage Soup for my journeys….yeah.

My boyfriend and I are playing simultaneously and he is just as trapped in the word as I am. We are gearing up to do some geeky shit like write some Skyrim fanfiction! If that doesn’t expose who I really am..

Just me and Lids, trekkin' through the forest.

I still have Lydia! I’ve worked really hard at keeping her alive. Girlfriend gets in the way sometimes though! This guys Lydia wasn’t so lucky…makes me sad. I feel his pain.

OH GODS, DRAGON!

The scene at Dawnstar.

The last two times I’ve arrived at Dawnstar, dragons have appeared. I just slay, and everyone stands around like “ZOMG, a dragon”

You're so dead right now.

Docks at Dawnstar.

I love Dawnstar for some reason. It’s remote, no one really goes there, and I’m a hero cause of all the dragons I’ve destroyed here. I’ve mentioned this before, but I love snowy, arctic settings. Does something for me, I tell ya. I finally got in good with the Jarl here, so I basically own this shit now.

Night Sky.

Sigh. This game, right?? It’s a bit out of control with how expansive it is. And I love that. I do have issues with it at times. Like how I can’t seem to keep a horse alive. That’s the games fault, dammit! The horse mechanics are lame. Oh and the hair for everybody is so bad. It kind of looks like something peed on your head and it dried and that’s it. Once I finish the game (ha) I will attempt a fair review, including the good and bad. Until then…SKYRIM.

SKYRIM: A Photographic Tour

Maybe you’ve heard the word, but as of 11-11-11 Bethesda’s Skyrim has arrived. Epic date. Epic game. I’ve played about 31 hours so far and there isn’t so much as a faint glimmer of the end in sight, which makes me all warm and fuzzy feeling. Skyrim will destroy my Fallout 3 play time of 112 hours total. Here are my first thoughts and impressions of the game thus far. Once I’ve logged more game time, I will write a more comprehensive review.

Checking out the view outside of the City of Whiterun

People; this game is breathtaking. I’m playing the PC version, which offers such better quality than my Xbox. And non existent load times. It’s the first RPG I’ve played on the PC, and I’ve been missing out.

After about an hour creating my character (seriously) I settled on a Female Nord. I relate to the tall/fair and resistance to cold sounded like a good perk. I’ve been focusing on improving my one handed weapons while duel wielding, improving my light armor, and for the first time I’m actually sneak attacking with a bow. I usually don’t have the patience to sneak and wait, but I can’t just rush in and gouge people. I will die.

Alex (Female Nord) with her girl Lydia and the City of Whiterun on the background

Lydia. Oh, sweet Lydia. It started out as a love/hate thing. Now it’s mostly pure love. I like adventuring alone, but as soon as I was given Lydia as my housecarl, I’ve realized I couldn’t do it without her. Yeah, at first she was whinny and was always in my way. She still kind of is. But now she carries my burdens and keeps me company. And saves my ass when I need it most. I will not let her die, ever. I will reload and replay if it means keeping her alive.

View of the moon from inside Whiterun

Everyone comments on how sick/ill I look, or asks if I’m feeling okay. I didn’t pay attention at first, I figured it was because I looked dirty or something? Or because my armor was grungy? But once everyone started mentioning it, I knew it had to be a sort of warning. I figured out how to use a temple shrine, and it told me all diseases had been removed. From what I’ve read online thus far, I think if you don’t cure yourself bad things will happen. I don’t want bad things.

Snow and High Hrothgar

I have this thing for arctic settings. So the snowy mountains, and blizzard conditions in Skyrim excite me. But, what’s with the Frost Trolls being WAY harder than the dragons?? I’m sure it won’t stay that way, but so far I’ve died fighting trolls but not dragons. Oh, and WTF with the giants and their mammoths? Seriously, I’m obsessed with befriending them because they are so badass looking and have pet mammoths. But so far I’ve been on the other end of their one shot kills and my dead body has gone flying 5,000 miles up.

So far I’ve really just been walking around, chasing butterflies and picking wild flowers. Sounds crazy. I’ve discovered caves with vampires, hundreds of bandits on the road, been jumped one time, and fought and killed 5 dragons. Dragon’s just randomly fly around like birds and you fight them. My boyfriend and I are both playing the game, and we both yell “DRAGON! DRAGONDRAGONDRAGON!” and battles begin. I’ve stolen goods, crafted armor, created potions, even done some enchantments. Made a few friends, made some enimies too. I’ve owned two horses who have both gone missing or died fighting. Horses are awesome, but I can’t seem to keep them alive. I’m going to keep trying though! Oh, I even had a drunken night that took me on a crazy adventure all across the world. I’m not even sure of the full story other than dragon’s have been reawakened, I am dragonborn and I can take them down and suck their dragon soul to make myself more powerful. Any more awesomeness on top of that is just icing on a delicious RPG cake.

Here are some more shots from my travels so far:

Alex and her horse, who lasted long enough for this picture

Fight stance and the Aurora Borealis

Night sky while traveling

Sun set outside of Whiterun

See?? Gorgeous, massive, epic. A place I want to live.

I know others are playing. How’s it going for you guys? Anything I need to check out? Tips? Suggestions? Let me know.

Stay tuned for more Skyrim gushing.

Mass Effect Literary Analysis [COLLEGE]

Okay, so this fall I started going  back to school to finish my bachelors degree. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been a student. That is why I have ZERO HOURS to write anything not school related. I was halfway done with college already, looking for a career change and realized a college degree would be quite helpful. Anyway, I am taking a class called Video Games and Learning–basically my dream class. About 17 of us sit around and just talk about how video games help teach us how to effectively learn. Our text book was written by James Paul Gee titled What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and it introduces some great ideas. Check it out if you have the free time.

My point in sharing all this; I wrote my first literary analysis for the class and my subject was Mass Effect. My instructor game me quite amazing feedback which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, which then inspired me to share it. Check it below if you want:

Mass Effect Literary Analysis

Mass Effect is an immersive science fiction role playing game (RPG)/third person shooter developed by BioWare Corporation.  Released in 2007 exclusively on the Microsoft Xbox360, the Mass Effect series has since spawned a sequel released in January 2010 (accompanied by the option to play the game on Sony’s PlayStation3) and a third title to round out the trilogy releasing in March 2012. The series thus far has been received positively in the gaming community and has won several awards during its existence.

The main story quest follows Commander Shepard’s activation as the first human spectre, which is a group of enforcers who act outside of the law. Shepard and her team are assigned to hunt down a rogue spectre operative. During the mission, a larger threat to the galaxy is discovered, propelling Shepard and crew on a mission aboard the Normandy space craft to save the galaxy from destruction.

Mass Effect intertwines elements of both the RPG and third person shooter genres. At the start of the game, the player is asked to create their version of Commander Shepard, the central hero in Mass Effect. Shepard can be either male or female. The player must decide what class to choose, which will dictate how powers and capabilities develop throughout the gameplay. Lastly, the player is asked to choose a brief background story to round out Shepard’s personality. Along with character development, text book RPG conventions such as completing quests, earning experience (XP) from quests & combat, managing your various inventories (ie: weapons, armor, etc.), and acquiring party members who assist during missions, give Mass Effect the right to be part of the RPG genre.  The use of firearms and the “over the shoulder” perspective the player has when guiding Commander Shepard and her party throughout the galaxy is what qualifies Mass Effect as a third person shooter game.  The combination of both genres creates an immersive gameplay experience.

Much like our society, the Mass Effect galaxy is occupied by various different races. Though it’s a fictional universe, there is a subtext suggesting race dictates ones power and status in a society. The humans (in game) are a younger race and are viewed to be beneath more ancient races. The Asari, an all-female race whose main objective is to find a mate to reproduce with, are often sexualized and are frequently found in “escort” service jobs. The Krogen are a war torn, militaristic race, used as laborers and bodyguards, not considered a civilized race. It’s possible the game authors are implying how racial stereotypes can dictate one’s status in a society, much in the same way race has historically controlled people in our society.

There is also subtext of how controversial science can become when genetics are involved. The Salarian and Turian races, two highly intelligent groups, took it upon themselves to genetically alter the survival rate of the Krogen offspring in order to control what they viewed as a threat to the galaxy.  Naturally, the Krogen opposed this, causing long standing and deep rifts between the Krogen and those who are not willing to assist in finding a cure. This illustration of scientific controversy, specifically on genetics, could be a commentary on today’s highly debated topics.

The fidelity of the graphics adds greatly to the verisimilitude of Mass Effect.  The faces of some characters are so lifelike that it becomes easy to forget they aren’t real people. Glimpses of the night sky or the rising sun are familiar imagery to all who play the game. In addition to graphics, the quests provide several familiar struggles, from choosing between right and wrong, maintaining relationships, and learning how to react in difficult situations.  The game presents an emotional space that many can identify with, making the game seem very real and life like. On the other hand, the entire experience takes place in a galaxy farther than far, far away. There are made up races, space ships, intergalactic war, and futuristic weaponry which make the game obviously not realistic. Mass Effect accomplishes an emotional level of familiarity, whereas the context of the game is very much a fictional place.

Mass Effect (along with its sequel and upcoming conclusion) can become a total immersive experience, if the player is willing. The conventions of RPG games alone require a dedication that encourages immersion. Though controversies can arise during the game, it’s important to be aware that video game issues and real life issues may not be that distant from each other. What seems to be most important is the emotional familiarity the game can provide. People naturally want to be understood and accepted, and Mass Effect can provide that through Commander Shepard, her crew and the adventures they take as team.


Dragon Age II: Ups and Downs

I really did like Dragon Age II…but I did have some issues. I know this write up is about 4 months overdue, and I finished playing about two months ago. Before I go any farther, I am not a seasoned reviewer of video games by any means. I actually have never written a review for anything. I just like playing games. A lot. I’m not even going to call this a review; it’s a recap of what I liked/didn’t like.

Also, do I even need to say spoiler alert? If you haven’t played and plan to, leave now, then come back after you’ve played.

Synopsis from Kotaku.com (couldn’t have summed it up better myself):

“Fleeing from the Darkspawn hordes to the neighboring state of Kirkwall, Hawke and his companions soon discover that the seeming safe haven isn’t without its fair share of monsters, though they aren’t as easily identified. The stranded members of a fierce warrior race sow the seeds of fear and uncertainty among the citizens and officials of Kirkwall, while the tension between the dangerous magic-users and the mage-corralling Templars grows more volatile with each passing day. In the middle of it all is Hawke, destined to become the Champion of Kirkwall in BioWare’s eagerly anticipated action role-playing game sequel. His or her rise to power is a given. How Hawke gets there is all up to you.” -Mike Fahey, Kotaku.com author

Okay, so a little information. I played as Rogue FemHawke. She’s pretty hot. I also imported my DA:O character, so that the decisions made during that game play carried over to DAII, and I will do that for any other installments. Not that I can think of anything that came up during my DAII gameplay because of the import at this moment…I think the game knew that I was a FemWarden in DA:O. Anyways, there is a comfort for me in knowing I imported my characters and always will.

[screenshot from DAII, FemHawke, found on Obsidian Forums]

Here is what I liked:

I loved the new combat system. It was so much faster and efficient. I was left feeling extremely satisfied that I kicked ass so hard after every fight. And I did it with such precision, no moment going to waste. I killed monsters and bad guys like it was just another thing on my to do list. And you got some bad ass screenshots if you paused the game at the right moment. I loved doing that. I would squee, “David [the boyfriend], look at Hawke! She is such a BAMF!” The rogue talents and skills are very satisfying to use. I was constantly  backstabing as soon as it had refreshed.

The graphics. Not much to say here, they are obviously better than DA:O. Just take a look at the two. And I loved that your character had an actual voice in this installment. I personally enjoy my character having a voice, much like in Mass Effect and Mass Effect II. It helps the team feel complete and on the same page, everyone has a voice that can be heard and used. Without your main character having a voice, I feel like you are being talked to, rather than talked with. Also, its a bit robotic for me when you cut to your voiceless character and they are just staring, mouth shut always. I think a voiced character helps with the flow of conversation.

Oh yeah, and I love that your party stays drenched in blood during dialogue after a bloody battle. It was like this in DA:O as well, and it better stay that way.

I loved seeing old characters from DA:O. Whenever I would meet an old friend, I felt like I was reconnecting with an actual friend of mine. Isabela has a tiny bit part in DA:O (I’m pretty sure me, her and Allistar got busy in her pirate ship), and in DAII she is one of your companions (a sexy pirate rogue) Another companion is Merrill, who also had a bit part in DA:O. There are others, like Zevran shows up and Leliana does too. And I may have swooned a bit when Allistar (my romance from DA:O) sauntered on to my screen…my god, I had such a crush on him. Like, in game and real life…just don’t…I know…Okay, and Flemeth shows up again, and she is SO MUCH COOLER LOOKING! Having old characters pop up helps the two games have a common thread.

I may be alone in this one, but I liked that you didn’t have to worry at all about your companion’s armor! I get so stressed out about if I have my characters in the best armor they can have.  Did I sell an item that was better than what they have one?? Shit, is my entire party basically naked during battle cause I just cant handle all the options?!!?!?! Maybe that last part was a bit extreme, but I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders learning that I wouldn’t have to bother with dressing my companions. You still can outfit them with accessories (rings, necklaces, belts) and better weapons. This also made for a lighter backpack, I never even came close to having a full inventory, which I was constantly running in to during DA:O. I vividly remember being stuck in the depths of a cave that took me like 45 minutes to travel through and having to choose which item was least detrimental to destroy so I could pick up another item that was more important at that moment.

What I had issues with:

There was no party camp. Granted, the setting for this game is different than DA:O so having an actual camp somewhere isn’t really appropriate. However, I missed seeing my characters all in one place, somewhere the whole team was, somewhere I could easily talk to them all, somewhere that felt safe. In DAII, Hawke’s house kind of works as a party camp, some characters can move it, some randomly show up, and Sandal and his father figure Bodahn are there, able to sell you items or do Enchantments! on items from your inventory. But for me, it really didn’t feel the same as having your whole crew, camping out in the wilderness together.

There is not the same open world feeling you get from DA:O at all. At times, I felt trapped and confined in the Kirkwall, where the majority of DAII takes place. You can travel to a few other locations just outside of the city if its relevant to a mission, but it felt a little depressing at times. I really enjoyed the feeling of traveling great lengths to accomplish this mission in DA:O. However, because of how drastically different the story line is in DAII, being confined to Kirkwall starts to make sense, and is relative to story progression.

That brings me to my next issue, this game shouldn’t have been a sequel to DA:O. It was a completly different style of game. It was more like 3 mini games, and sold to us as one. It would have been better if it was just marketed as another installment to the Dragon Age series, not labeled as Dragon Age II. Putting that “II” in the title gives you the impression that its the second part to the first part. The first DA was Dragon Age: Origins. This one could have been Dragon Age: Kirkwall Is Going To Hell, or something like that. Just not Dragon Age II. That way upon first impression, the player is given the idea that this is going to be a different experience. If the player is set up for that exception, maybe there wouldn’t be as much disappointment? Maybe? Maybe not, but that’s what I think.

Overall:

There are so many more positives and negatives that I could rave/rant about, but the internet has done a good job of that already, so I will stop here. I really enjoyed this game. The combat system was very fun to use and graphically speaking, it looked much better that DA:O. When I first picked up the game, I played for maybe 3 hours, then didn’t play again for almost a month because I couldn’t get the game to fit right in my head. Once I figured out what the story was all about, how to navigate Kirkwall and its outskirts, and accepted that this installment was just a different game than its predecessor, I got really sucked in to playing non stop. The story did take a while to click for me, and I think that’s because I was expecting a game play like DA:O. It’s so hard to not compare the two, isn’t it? I’ll be more conscious of that for my next game write up. In the end, there was more good than bad, by a long shot, and I will likely pick up the controller and play through again.

[concept art for DAII, found on kotaku.com]