Friday, February 7, 2014

5 Mom Friendly Games

A friend of mine was bemoaning the difficulties of connecting with her increasingly distant teenage son. Then she ventured into the unfamiliar realm of Azeroth.  Yes, she joined millions of others playing World of Warcraft. “Now my son and I have something in common. He actually wants to spend time with me.”

As more non-traditional gamer types venture into the lands of computer, console and mobile games, it’s important that their first experiences be fun and welcoming, not intimidating or confusing. When recommending games to novice or non-hardcore gamers, I look for games which are easy to pick up, fun and challenging, but one which doesn’t require expert timing or complicated button pressing. The final thing I look for in games I’d recommend to newbies is community – is there one? If so, what’s it like? If I introduce my Mom to this game is she going to find a group of reasonably mature people interested in game play or will she have to deal with tons of offensive language and griefing?

PvZ2 - Egypt Screenshot
1. Plants vs. Zombies 2 (PvZ2)
This game is a great Mom-friendly game. Mechanics are simple to learn and complex to master. PvZ2 expands the wildly popular PvZ world, adding different scenarios, new zombies and of course, more plants. Plant food is a nice addition although it does take some of the challenge out of the game. Many players, myself included worried that moving PvZ2 into a free-to-play model would ruin the game, but I found it’s still fun to play without spending a lot of money on the extras. This game appeals to folks with busy schedules as each level is short, only a few minutes of play time, which lures the player into the “Just one more level” trap. PvZ2 is very repayable, and the achievements, for completeist players, actually require more than one run through. With additional features, such as mini games, one can lose a lot of time soiling one’s plants.

Fez - Rotatable Environments

2. Fez
This platform based puzzle game combines 2 dimensional puzzles with 3 dimensional space. It’s perfect for players who enjoy fun and interesting puzzles and don’t mind dedicating a lot of time and thought to solving them. Many puzzles require rotating the terrain and maneuvering through maze like structures. Because there is no penalty for falling or missing in Fez, it keeps the frustration levels low as some puzzles take several attempts to solve.

Room 2 Official Press Screenshot
3. The Room Two
The Room Two is a perfect fit for Mom. Its touch interface is simple and intuitive. There are no confusing controlers, keys or buttons to deal with. Much like the popular Myst series of days past, the Room Two relies heavily on exploration, observation and experimentation. The Room Two has a relatively short play through time, but is difficult to put down once you start. Not only are the puzzles intreging and wonderfully satisfying to solve, but the underlining story will draw players in.

Guid Wars II Official Press Screenshot
4. Guild Wars II 
Most "Gamers" won't consider an MMORPG something that's newbie or Mom friendly, but my experience says otherwise. Many non-gamers are curious and eager to try their luck in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Guild Wars II is a great way for them to get into a type of gaming they might normally shy away from. Why you ask? Guild Wars II allows players to play alone or group up, but without the heavy emphasis on raiding or group play. It's possible to advance the story alone or if you need help but don't want to ask for it from random internet people, you can use NPCs to fill out your group. There's tons of content with new stuff added all the time so players aren't stuck grinding or capped with nowhere to go.
Lego LotR Official Poster

5. Lego Lord of the Rings
This is a super Mom friendly game in that it's also suitable for younger audiences and co-op play is available. Players fight and puzzle solve their way through Middle Earth. While the game play is fun and challenging, it’s not too difficult or frustrating for novice gamers. There are tons of characters and items to unlock and manage as well.  This game combines all the joy of pervious Lego video games with action and adventure of Lord of the Rings. The key to enjoying Lego LotR is explore and unlock as many characters as quickly as possible. Some puzzles can only be solved by certain characters.

What are the games you'd recommend to your Mom or to a non-gamer friend?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Riddick - Take my $5 and leave me alone!

It's a big, normal world out there and we nerds need to stick together, support each other.

Despite dire reviews, I determined to support a fellow nerd and paid to watch Riddick.

For those of you who don't know, Vin Diesel has played D&D for years and wrote the forward to "30 Years of Adventure:  A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons".

Enough history - To the review!

Riddick is betrayed by the Necromongers (remember Chronicles of Riddick?  Yeah, the death cult) and left for dead on a desert planet.  After setting his broken ankles, Riddick sets off across the planet with his pet hyena-dog and finds an abandoned station.  He triggers a beacon which reports he's a dangerous criminal and summons two ships.  One is filled with rag-tag mercenaries; the other with a militarish group of bounty hunters.

The movie quickly descends into a testosterone fest as the mercenaries and bounty hunters jockey for position.  Riddick picks them off and peeps on topless Dahl (Starbuck from BSG) while she bathes.

Real classy, Riddick!
As epic rain begins armless dinosaur creatures with venomous stingers in their tails emerge from their dormant state and attack the station.  Queue the Pitch Black 2 sequences.  Survivors race across monster saturated terrain to retrieve fuel cells so they can escape the planet.

In the end, Dahl, who throughout the movie has been a ball-busting lesbian, asks Riddick to have relations with her.  Wait.  What?

Apparently, the writer(s) of Riddick think the cure for lesbianism is to throw a testosterone fueled man-thug at the lesbian.  Surely she'll see the error of her ways if confronted with enough juvenile come-ons and boorish leering.

The end basically turns Dahl into a mere object of contention between rutting males, to be awarded to the winner.  Man fights, wins, has woman.  What do you mean, she might have her own thoughts and feelings?  

I am disappointed in Vin, in the movie and most especially in Katee Sackhoff for playing such a shallow, stereotyped space bimbo.  

What would Starbuck do?
Back off or I'll kick your @$$!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Likes, Upvotes, Views, Re-tweets and Shares - Social Media and You

Long, long ago, my fellow nerds boldly went where none had gone before.  The interwebs...

I know.  I know.  Nowadays everyone is on social media - all the time.  In order to maintain social cred, you must Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Reddit, Pinterest, VineTumblrInstagramGoogle+ and more!  There really aren't enough hours in the day to be as social as you have to be.

Not to mention more specialized sites - like GoodReads (for literate types), DeviantArt (for peeps who like pretty pictures) or YouTube (when you need moving pictures and sound)

It looks like the web, once the sole province of the socially disinterested and the technically elite (nerds), has been taken over by teens posting selfies, numerous cat videos, and the NSA (Hi Guys!).

So what's a nerd to do?

  1. Stop - just breath and realize you don't have be into everything.  You're a nerd remember.  It's ok to be really, really into your thing.  
  2. Find your community - believe me, whatever you're into, it's on the interweb (See Rule 34 - NSFW!).
  3. Sign up and lurk - watch forums and blogs.  Follow interesting people/topics.  You don't have to contribute
  4. Contribute - if you want, when you have something to say.  And try to be nice - we don't need more trolls!
    From Munchkin Card Game - Use with as much adult supervision as you can find
  5. Schedule - if you're running a blog or posting to some social media site and you want a ton of people watching/following you, schedule your posting times.  Around 6-7 Eastern is when most people are online, so you have the most chance of people seeing your stuff before it's lost in the shuffle if you schedule your uploads.

Does that make the interwebs a bit less scary?

Remember, my dear nerds, the interwebs is ours!  We had it first and we know it best.  Make it work for you.

What are your tips for surviving the social media jungle?

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Word on Worldbuilding

One of the wonderful things about nerds is their creativity.  In my recent post I listed a number of traditionally nerdesque stories and ideas which have gone mainstream.  One of my friends from Writers' Bloc asked me about how my creative process works.

From talking with other writers/creators I've found there tend to be a few different approaches to story creation.  There are the Outliners and those who fly by the seat of their pants, also known as Pantsters.
Whether you're a Outliner or a Pantster, there are a couple of approaches to how you arrive at your main story.  Some use a character based approach.  Others start with a world.  A few base their story on an idea - usually a "What if...?"

If you've done a little writing, you might already know - am I a Pantster or an Outliner?

I am definately a Pantster and so, it seems, is one of my favorite authors, Stephen King.
“There’s no outline, nothing like that. That freezes it, it takes what should be a liquid, plastic, malleable thing to me and turns it into something else. Hey, to me it’s the difference between going to a canvas and painting a picture and going out and buying a Craftsmaster paint-by-the-numbers kit.”  - from “Digging Up Stories With Stephen King” by W.C. Stroby, March 1992 WD
If you've done more writing, you might also have an idea of how the story comes to you:

  • A character who whispers in your brain, demanding their story be told, as Robert Jordan claims Conan did to him
  • A world, complex and rich, full of mystery and wonder, like Dune, or the London Underground of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
  • A 'What If' idea - What if soldiers where deployed overseas at the behest of evil corporations run by vampires, seeking blood, not oil?  - What if a man sat in a jail cell and waited, stocking footed (the image Stephen King says inspired his screenplay for Storm of the Century).
Maybe you're some combination of all of these.  What gets your creative juices going?

Here's more info on worldbuilding:

On Worldbuilding - Ilona Andrews

YouTube - Brandon Sanderson

Friday, June 28, 2013

Nerds go Mainstream - GoT, the Matrix, LotR, TBBT and comic book movies

Look out world!  The nerds are no longer huddled in dark corners like Morlocks.

Increasingly we're seeing pillars of nerd culture encroaching into the mainstream.  You know what it says to me, when office workers cluster around to discuss the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones?  This is so acceptable even 'cool' people admit to it in public.  Wow!

Yes, nerds are everywhere.  We first saw nerds making stealthy inroads in to normal society with The Matrix.  What could be more nerdy than Buddhist philosophy, comic book style fights, trench coats and leather outfits and a dystopian future ruled by machines?

Next up, Aragron, Legolas, Frodo, Gandalf, Eowyn and the rest of our friends from Middle Earth took the normal world by storm.

Then there's the Big Bang Theory.  Here I have some doubts about who's side this show is really on.  I recommend you read this The Problem with TBBT .  Some excellent points and I discovered the awesome show Community.

Of course, many normals are lured into Nerdvana through the simple, yet effective trap of summer block buster movies - X-men, Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Avengers and of course the TV rip of X-men, Heroes (first season rocked - after that don't waste your time).

I leave you with this clip of people reacting to the Red Wedding.

Reaction to Red Wedding - Game of Thrones

For us true nerds who have read the books, or for the beginner nerds, testing the waters with floating things on their arms who watched all of Season 3 - Please don't spoil it by explaining why everyone's so upset.  Let this be a recruiting tool for the great nerd army :)

Have I missed any cherished bastions of the brainy and socially disinterested?

Friday, June 21, 2013

5 Reasons Why It's Good To Nerd Out

I love being a nerd!

I didn't always.  No, high school was a cruel place, even college was skewed toward the normies.  I imagined, "When I grow up, none of this popularity BS will matter.  We'll all be mature and appreciate each other for who we are, our diversity of viewpoints and life experiences.  It won't matter who's cool and who's not; who has the most toys/cars/clothes.  We'll be beyond all nonsense."

And then I grew up...and guess what?  We're not.  We still climb the social ladder and gossip about our co-workers, just like study hall.

But here's the difference - Me.  I'm no longer that nervous kid, trying to figure out who I want to be.  I know myself and I love being a nerd.  I proudly quote lines from Monty Python.  I have a favorite bacteria, favorite genes and favorite virus.  I think anime is neat and comics should be a serious storytelling medium.  I love sci-fi and fantasy books and I read Game of Thrones before the TV series!

My top 5 reasons why it's good to be a nerd (special thanks to my FB friends for your suggestions):

5 - Nerd clothes are way cheaper and more comfy.  Jeans and a T-shirt with an ironic saying or Dr. Who reference is haute couture.

4 - Adventure!  Books, movies, places, people, hobbies, food, careers.  Nerds try new things.  We have more interests and are less bored.  We're early adopters and trailblazers, quietly trend setting.

3 - Accepting others, no matter how strange.  Nerds are always a little out of step, a bit out of sync.  We know what it's like to be weird, different, other.  We're ok with people being not normal.

2 - I'm smarter than everyone else.  Nerds are expected to be witty, clever, sarcastic/sardonic.  No more pretending not to know the answer so I won't get labeled 'Teacher's Pet'.

1 - The huge relief of not having to try to be cool, hip, groovy, superswank, in, boss, etc.   I can be myself and love what I love without it ruining all my carefully hoarded social points.

What are your favorite aspects of being a nerd?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Songs To Game By

We all know music is an important component of setting the right vibe for role-playing.

Here are some of the factors I consider when compiling a playlist:

1.  Fit the story - no rock'n'roll music in a high fantasy setting, folk music is not ideal for ShadowRun, etc.
2.  I prefer not to have lyrics, but if there are lyrics they should support the themes of your story.  I have several songs I've added to playlist because they match a character's situation or mindset perfectly.
3.  No sudden loud, jarring changes - avoid music with trumpet blasts, drum fanfares and heavy metal ballads where the lead singer screams incomprehensibly for 30 seconds

I recommend the following:

For traditional DnD / medieval settings - Lord of the Rings soundtracks, the Fountain soundtrack, the Road soundtrack, Pan's Labyrinth soundtrack, Enya, Loreena McKennitt

For adventurous settings - Gladiator soundtrack, Last Samuri soundtrack, Battlestar Galactic soundtracks, Children of Dune soundtrack, Last of the Mohicans soundtrack

For horror/creepy settings - Nox Arcana

Light/Fun settings - Chocolat soundtrack

Future/ShadowRun settings - Transformers:  Rise of the Fallen soundtrack, NIN, Paul Oakenfold (DJ), Break of Reality, Kopas, The XX

Random settings - Putumayo has various world music that can fit a lot of different settings

What are your favorite soundtracks/playlists to game by?