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The Devil Doesn't Need You to Advocate for Him

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“I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate.”

The origin of this term, taken form the Catholic Church, is nearly literal: a member of the church was given the role of arguing against a candidate for sainthood in order to draw out their flaws and prevent misleading evidence from canonizing the unworthy. In modern times, it is used during debate or discussion to explore an alternative point of view, whether or not it is abhorrent. In a room fill of like-minded people, one plays the role of Devil’s Advocate in an attempt to speak for another.

People need to stop doing this.

We live in a world where it’s quite simple to find a person with an opposing viewpoint. I can hop onto the internet and, in minutes, find a person who will disagree with me on nearly any subject. It isn’t remotely a challenge. I could probably cull a list from people I already know on Facebook. There is no need to argue for someone else when that someone else is an instant message away. If you want to get perspective from someone outside your social circles, it’s quite simple. Twitter has shown us that there are millions of people who want to share their opinions with the world. Want to ask a white supremacist how they feel about a topic? Easy. Want to talk to a transgender person about life before or during transitioning? Simple. Want to find out why people still watch Supernatural way after it has peaked? They’ll probably be in the comment section of this very article, telling me off.

Perhaps you find confrontation unnerving. Not to worry! Long before twitter, there were all sorts of web sites that were devoted to chronicling the lives of individuals. Before web-based news and opinion sites co-opted the term, we called them “blogs.” Sites like LiveJournal and Xanga were the predecessors of Tumblr, and the two former examples aren’t even the earliest examples of the medium. Medium, by the way, is another place you can find all sorts of opinions that might oppose your own.

I don’t make this request simply because the world seems to be trending toward insular. I’m saying it because many people claiming to play Devil’s Advocate are actually advocating for themselves. Sometimes, it's because they know their opinion is unpopular and don't want to be disliked. Other times, they are twisting stories or lying outright in order to misrepresent their opposition before they can be afforded an opportunity to speak for themselves. When a pundit appears on television and speaks about their opposition, what they are actually trying to do is trick you into taking their side. They're betting on you not doing your own research.

When a conservative person tells you how liberals feel, turn off the TV or walk away. When a liberal person does the same about a conservative, have the same reaction. Don’t let a Christian tell you about Muslims, or let a life-long artist tell you about corporate life.

Get your sources first hand. Everything else is misdirection. Oh, and the Devil? If he were a real being — which I’m quite sure he isn’t — he’d be nearly omnipotent. I’m pretty sure he could advocate for himself.

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superberg
1254 days ago
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Palatine, IL
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Was Final Fantasy XV Worth the Wait?

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Ten years, man. Ten years.

It’s rare to find a video game that survives a full decade in development, and even rarer for such a game to see the light of day after so long. The history of video games is littered with the corpses of titles that stagnate or die in development hell. They are the horror stories that developers tell each other around campfires.

Final Fantasy XV is one such game. First announced in 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, it is in many ways a make-or-break product. Though strongly rooted in video game history, the Final Fantasy brand has taken on its share of tarnish over the years. Recent titles in the series have been neither critical nor financial successes on the same scale as their predecessors, and most of its mobile entries have faced harsh reviews from both players and reviewers.

Guests will occasionally join you on your journey.

Guests will occasionally join you on your journey.

Although every Final Fantasy game stands on its own with unique mechanics, characters, and even worlds, there are a number of commonalities that tie them together. The internet is rife with articles explaining them, so I won’t go into too much detail here; suffice it to say that every game in the series is as different as it is similar. Final Fantasy XV’s subdued opening sequence is an example of this. Instead of throwing the player headfirst into conflict, like previous titles, it introduces its lead characters as they push a broken-down car along a mostly-deserted country road. Florence and the Machine’s cover of Stand By Me plays in the background as they banter during the task.

The actual stakes at hand are no less dire than in previous Final Fantasy titles. Noctis, prince of a country called Lucis, is being escorted by bodyguard-friends Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto. Their entire planet is at war, with Noctis’ home country the last holdout against an invading Empire. He travels to marry his betrothed, princess Lunafreya of Tenebrae. As is often the case in these situations, things don’t go quite as planned.

One of your larger foes, though by no means the largest.

One of your larger foes, though by no means the largest.

Final Fantasy XV features a story as complex and engaging as it predecessors, but goes about telling it in a very different way. From a gameplay perspective, it takes many cues from 2014’s Dragon Age Inquisition, a fantastic game that made great strides in combining open-world concepts with the linear nature of storytelling. Final Fantasy XV does not approach the same level of character creation or player choice, but it does present a large, seamless world to explore. There is some artificial gatekeeping that forces the player to complete certain tasks before they can access it entirely, but it’s not something worth complaining about.

The lighting in Final Fantasy XV is amazing.

The lighting in Final Fantasy XV is amazing.

Just as one might play The Elder Scrolls or Fallout to get lost in the world, one plays Final Fantasy to experience its story. Final Fantasy XV does a fantastic job of drawing the player into the lives of its main characters, and captures the feeling of close friends on a road trip with perfect accuracy. It does a fantastic job of conveying a range of emotions, and even finds a way to manipulate feelings through gameplay. It’s a surprising experience that targets empathy to carry the narrative, and it is usually successful. It takes time to reach that point, but the investment pays off. The story also hits a breakneck pace around halfway though, and starts to feel a bit rushed, but it remains enjoyable throughout.

From a technical perspective, Final Fantasy XV is an absolute marvel. The sprawling world is overloaded with lush detail. Characters move with unparalleled fluidity and realism. Its lighting and shadows are a sight to behold(though they do have some surprising pop-in). Environmental effects, like rain and fog, offer appropriate feelings of weight. The only real let-down is the water, which animates and reflects awkwardly compared to other elements. On top of astonishing visuals, there is next to no load time, save when first starting to play or when transitioning between chapters. Once a player has repaired the aforementioned car and cleared a few blockades, they can seamlessly drive up and down the continent. The music is a bit more sparse that previous entries in the series, but the pieces played during battle and exploration are fitting and memorable. The voice acting is probably the lowest creative point; most of the acting is acceptable, though a few secondary characters are a bit grating.

The ascension grid is similar to Final Fantasy X's Sphere grid.

The ascension grid is similar to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere grid.

Combat in Final Fantasy XV is fast-paced and fun. The player controls Noctis alone, leaving the majority of companion control to the game’s artificial intelligence. They are actually fairly dependable, doing a good job of avoiding damage and doling it out. The player can issue the occasional command to them, though this is limited to coordinating team attacks and using healing items. Unlike previous games in the series, magic feels like a bit of an afterthought; characters have access to the “big three:” fire, ice, and lightning, but that is it for most of the game. It’s also always area-of-effect with friendly fire, making strategic use a necessity.

The game does falter at points. Camera angles during combat can sometimes leave a great deal to be desired, interrupting the flow of battle as the player attempts to re-orient the view. Contextual interactions, such as picking up items or talking to characters, sometimes result in Noctis jumping instead. All of these actions use the same button, which is only a problem when it isn’t doing the right thing. There’s also a chapter that outstays its welcome, though it does an acceptable job of serving the narrative. These are all nitpicks however; most of the time these things aren’t issues.

When you camp with Chocobos, they rest with you.

When you camp with Chocobos, they rest with you.

The most perplexing thing to me is Final Fantasy XV’s dealings with female characters. No one in the game gets anywhere near as much attention as the four main characters, but the women in particular are largely one-dimensional. The relationship between Noctis and Lunafreya is compelling, but characters like Cindy and Iris are bland archetypes that drag the game down. Cindy in particular dresses like she’s wearing, at best, a “Sexy Mechanic” halloween costume that was created by an adult film costume designer.

There is also the case of product placement: several major “real-world” brands make recurring appearances in Final Fantasy XV, and one of them gets an actual quest. It’s completely off-putting to have Gladiolus suddenly develop an obsession with a major instant ramen noodle brand, and fourth-wall shattering to have all four main characters shamelessly shill the product during a camping scene. It feels beyond forced. Seeing the logo of a brand isn’t a problem; being forced to listen to characters extol their virtues for minutes on end is weird and annoying.

For all its faults, Final Fantasy XV hits far more than it misses. The risks it takes usually pay off, and the homages it pays never feel out of place. I’m still not sure how to interpret the ending, but Final Fantasy XV is all about the journey, and it’s the best one I’ve taken in years.

Another example of Final Fantasy XV's fantastic lighting.

Another example of Final Fantasy XV’s fantastic lighting.

[The reviewer purchased a retail copy of the Playstation 4 version of the game for this review, and played over 65 hours.]

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superberg
1309 days ago
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Palatine, IL
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The Non-Complaint Geek’s Guide to Self Care

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After discovering YogaQuest at last year’s Wizard World, I was excited to find its crew presenting a panel at the 2016 convention. The Non-Compliant Geek’s Guide to Self Care is something right up my alley; as an established “weird kid,” non-compliance runs through the very fiber of my being. YogaQuest is focused on being as active and in-motion as one can be, and is carefully designed to be as open and inclusive as possible. Because of this, I knew that what YogaQuest founder Justine Mastin and her co-panelists would have to say on this topic would be well thought-out and possibly even eye-opening.

Mastin was joined on-stage by Kat Gordon and Kris Anne Regeth. The group began by defining wellness and presenting the idea of taking care of oneself for oneself, not at the behest or expectations of others. Mastin presented the backstory of YogaQuest: it was founded in opposition of gym culture and the very specific kind of people that tend to flock to it. Gym culture can be oppressive, demanding, and counter-productive to wellness. It is often makes one feel “less than,” and presents exercise as a social obligation.

Regeth followed this up by noting that it can be difficult to find a space to work out that doesn’t involve being judged. Even outside of gyms, Gordon noted, things like Food Policing — commenting on a person’s diet, lunch choices, etc — often exacerbates the challenges that face people that culture has deemed unfit. No one should have to explain their eating habits, but they often find themselves rationalizing eating something because it tastes good but isn’t a vegetable. Mastin asked a question of the panel audience: “Is broccoli more moral than a doughnut? Broccoli is delicious, doughnuts are delicious. Eat what you want.”

My dislike of broccoli notwithstanding, it’s a simple statement that shouldn’t ruffle as many feathers as it probably does. I don’t think the panelists are going so far as to recommend an all-doughnut diet, but they were giving everyone in the audience impetus to eat whatever makes them happy. Healthy eating habits stem self-care, not diet trends pushed by people who hardly know you. If you eat more junk food than is healthy, your body will let you know. I know mine does.

Expanding further on why they held the discussion, Mastin noted that “geeks and nerds are visionaries. Why can’t we create a bigger and more diverse world?” There is no denying that modern culture has been heavily influenced by intellectuals, despite the group generally being ostracized. Star Trek featured television’s first interracial kiss, after all, and the Internet and mobile technology change the world on a fairly regular basis. The article you’re reading now is available solely online, and chances are you’re reading it from a mobile phone. This would probably not have been the case a decade ago. Her story checks out.

Regeth noted that “The revolution doesn’t have to be big,” with Mastin adding that “just showing up is political.” They pointed to Pokemon Go as another example of nerd culture hitting the mainstream, brining with it activity without judgement. For those with physical disabilities, even minimal movement can be a big deal.

This segued into a discussion that particularly hit home for me: introversion and “spoon theory.” Spoon theory is the concept that a person begins their day with a reserve of spoons, and various activities use them up. People with physical handicaps are exhausted from what might be otherwise normal movement. Introverts find prolonged social engagement draining. I often joke with friends that “two hours is my limit for just about everyone,” and spoon theory is a great way of explaining that. “Part of self-care,” Mastin noted, “is staving off burn-out. It’s okay not to go out.”

“It shouldn’t be hard to take care of yourself,” Gordon noted, “but it can be.”

It’s easy to forget to take care of yourself when life is stressful. A hectic schedule, whether it be due to work, family, or friends, can make prioritizing yourself difficult. A world filled with advertising that cares not a whit for your well-being can shine a light on things that won’t actually address this issue, and can even hinder your own progress. The people behind YogaQuest have a better idea: that we all be better and happier people on our own terms.

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superberg
1421 days ago
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Palatine, IL
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I Just Want To See A Ghost

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Those first two things are (almost verbatim) things people have said to me/my family, and sounded like such great horror movie intros! But alas, the ghosts evade me. They know I want to see em so they take the night off. Who cares about normal-type murderers and your everyday Pond Wretches, show me the ghosts!!
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superberg
1564 days ago
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Palatine, IL
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C2E2 – What You Should Be Looking At

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Last year at C2E2, we interviewed writers, artists, and game creators. This year, we’re catching up with some of them. We’ve also got some suggestions for con-goers. If you’re at C2E2 now, or tomorrow, you should check this stuff out!

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez, writer for Skylanders, has more comics on display, including the Bowser/DK-Skylanders crossover, as well as fan favorites like Starkweather and Finding Gossamyr. You can find him at table U4 in Artist’s Alley.

J. Adam Farster

Adam’s Humalien is still going strong. Issue 3 is now available on Comixology, and issue 4 should be hitting the presses soon. In addition, he’s creating some awesome post-it art that you should definitely check out! He’s in Artist’s Alley at table M15.

Abby Howard

The creator of Junior Scientist Power Hour and The Last Halloween also has a deliciously creepy collaboration with Lonnie Nadler called The Portrait of Sal Pullman. I can’t recommend it enough. Head to table T5 at Artist’s Alley, you won’t be sorry.

Windy City Ghostbusters

The Windy City Ghostbusters were making their rounds on the show floor. Keep in an eye out for them!

Metal Souls

The scrap metal artists at Metal Souls make some amazing sculptures. They’re in the 500 Aisle.

YogaQuest

I had a great time at YogaQuest’s latest Spider-Man themed session. They’re in the Interactive Area at C100.

 

We’ll keep updating at the con goes on! Don’t miss it!

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superberg
1578 days ago
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Kitsch and Humor Go Hand-in-Hand in The Deadly Tower of Monsters | Review

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The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a game with all sorts of layers. There’s a film grain filter layered on top of the video. Director’s commentary is layered over the audio. The titular tower itself is a series of layers. Even more fascinating, the comedy is layered: the schlocky 1950’s SciFi style is itself parody, blending kitsch and mirth in equal measure. Comedy in video games is still exceedingly rare; games that are funny from beginning to end even more so. This alone makes games like The Deadly Tower of Monsters stand out.

Let’s skip that, through, and start with the basics: The Deadly Tower of Monsters is an overhead action game with bits of RPG progression and exploration elements finely sprinkled in. It’s the latest release from ACE Team, the developers behind the roguelike side-scrolling brawler Abyss Odyssey.

One of the later bosses.

One of the later bosses.

ACE Team seems to have grown considerably in skill since their last outing. The Deadly Tower of Monsters trumps its predecessor in every technical category: the graphics, sound, and controls are all the best the developers have ever presented. I would not go so far as to call The Deadly Tower of Monsters a technical marvel, but it is beyond competent and every basic gaming element fits just right.

Its graphics are great, capturing the style of the era it’s mocking perfectly. Its music is fun and fitting. Its leveling systems are par for the course, and both melee and ranged combat are simple. However, there is enough variety in terms of weapons and character skills that all kinds of players will find suitable matches to their preferred play styles. A total of ten guns and ten melee weapons come your way as you climb the tower, and a pair of each can be equipped at armories littered throughout the game. Each of the three playable characters learns three special moves, some of which are used to navigate environmental obstacles. The level design continues to be inventive as you make your way up the tower, making each stage of it exciting and new.

What The Deadly Tower of Monsters does really well, though, is the little details. The game pulls design cues from its source material fantastically. Flying enemies flutter about on visible wires, and stop-motion animated dinosaurs have perfectly jerky animation. Fingerprint smudges appear during some instances of lens flare, and budget cuts introduce bad cuts and film stock changes. Dialogue is corny and often nonsensical, and the director providing commentary is equal parts aloof and ignorant. Everything that’s so-bad-it’s-good about B movies comes to the forefront and shines. It’s rare that a game makes me laugh out loud, and The Deadly Tower of Monsters makes me do it with startling regularity.

Craft services and rubber monster suits.

Craft services and rubber monster suits.

Humor is the hook that keeps me coming back to The Deadly Tower of Monsters, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. ACE Team took the solid foundation of a classic game genre, then layered it with an unmissable coating of clever wit. As fun as the game itself is, it’s the comedy that really resonated with me. I’ve made my way to floor forty-five, and once I’m done with this article, I’ll conquer the last twenty. And I’ll be laughing maniacally as I do.

[The Deadly Tower of Monsters was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 using a digital copy provided by the publisher.]

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superberg
1625 days ago
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It really is hilarious.
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