Sunday, April 29, 2012

Read and Discuss! from a fan.

Hello Nerds and Geeks!
We received a short story from a fan, who wanted to open up a discussion on story arcs. She gave us permission to post her story on our site, so that fans will have some foreknowledge when we discuss it on the podcast next week.

Please enjoy:
Behind the Scenes [by Erin Sterling]

They don’t tell stories about middle brothers. We’re just not as important as the rest of you. It’s almost become a cliché that middle brothers don’t get as good a deal as the oldest or the youngest, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And the worst part? The worst part is that we’re the same. Three. Brothers. Every time. Every story. It’s always us.
We don’t have names, you know. Not really. Sometimes some enterprising storyteller will try to tack an identifier onto each of us as a way to differentiate themselves from the myriad storytellers before them, but it makes no real difference. We are 1, 2, and 3; a, b, and c… even just John, John, and John. John is brash, reckless, and prideful as only eldest brothers can be. John is caring, competent, and clever, as youngest brothers must be. And me? Well, I’m just John. In the stories I’m prideful or dutiful or just silly, following my older brother’s example even though it is sure to lead to my doom.
Out here, though, I’m different. I’m not entirely sure why – after all, no character can escape the classification of their type. Perhaps it’s the swirling uncertainty that surrounds me – I was never fully formed through stories, and the uncertainty that surrounds who I am has allowed me to have some measure of control in shaping myself. For whatever the reason, I have found that I am more aware of our nature than either of my brothers, and certainly more than any princesses or kings that we’ve found. Jack understands, but then… he’s Jack. Everything to everyone, and nothing to himself. He sees the curtain, and knows what it’s like here, backstage.
        Sometimes there is a spark. Some new storyteller will take up the words and weave them anew, pushing us and shaping us into something that is more complex, more solid, more real than our usual ghosts of characterization. When that happens, I can see the others awaken. The realities of our existence come crashing in on them, and then a choice is made. The outcome is invariably the same.
So here we are, your puppets of legend, dancing on a stage of imagination just for you. Between the pages, during the pause, we wait for our next appearance, knowing that it will ever be the same as the last. Sometimes I wonder if we make the right choice, selecting the mundanity of a repeat performance over the unknown of unbeing. But, after all, it’s all we are, and all we can be. Treat us well, storyteller. Our lives are in your hands.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Episode 39: X+92=Geek

Picture This week, the Ace of Geeks takes on a very special topic: Teaching Jarys how to podcast. We'll also discuss the negative teachings of the sinister How to Train Your Dragon, dive into an email that opens up the book on privacy, and give you a review of Wiz-War, the new board game from Fantasy Flight. All this while waving our hands around like we just don't care!

Episode 39!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Episode 38: Official Fanfiction

Picture This week, the Ace of Geeks Podcast is brought to you by the magic of internet phone! Jarys calls in to the official headquarters from (shudder) Southern California, to discuss IHOGeek's campaign to crown a Maxim Gamer Girl, Drow and their brokenness, killing yourself from the future, and watching TV shows whenever you want! Plus, a review of the new Dungeons and Dragons board game, Lords of Waterdeep.

Episode 38!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bonus ACE OF MOVIES: Lockout!

(Quick note: When I wrote this review I had just finished watching two episodes of Downton Abbey. I'm afraid to say I can't stop thinking like a pretentious early century British person, and that might be a smidge reflected in this review. Wot wot. Bloody hell.)

They say, in life, the only certain things are death and taxes. In cinema, there are a few more. You know, when stepping into a movie theater, that you can count on certain things. James Cameron will give you a film of an epic scope, Robert Rodriguez will make you laugh and cheer, Tarantino will confuse and astound you, and Speilberg will break and heal your heart. But there's one more name I, personally, add to the pot, and that is Luc Besson. Besson is best known for being the director of 80s and 90s films like The Professional and La Femme Nikita. In the last few years, he's brought out a string of proteges and produced a series of mid-budget, european flavored action films like From Paris with Love, the Transporter, District B13 and Taken. Some of them, particularly Taken, have been successful at breaking in to the mainstream consciousness. Others, like B13 and From Paris with Love, have been a lot of fun to watch but not garnered a lot of attention. All of them, however, have been consistently high quality, enjoyable, popcorn action movies that give you exactly what you want when you step into the theater - a two hour escape into a simpler world.

So, is it any surprise that Lockout is no different?

Anyone who viewed the trailers for this film knows the plot from beginning to end, but I'll give you a short summary anyway: Escape from New York in space.

Ok, here's a longer one. Snow, a secret agent in the near-ish future, is caught by his own people and accused of a crime he didn't commit. At the same time, Emilie, the daughter of the President of the United States, is up in space, touring a new prison facility that houses convicts, Alien style. To avoid all of the problems that comes with keeping a prison population under control, they deep freeze all the convicts and call it a day. Snow is about to be sent to this same prison for his own crime, when a single prisoner escapes, kills the guards and releases all five hundred prisoners. Because a tactical assault will surely lead to the death of his daughter, the President authorizes a rescue mission by a single man, who of course is Snow.

 In the hands of anyone else, this is the plot of a straight to DVD movie. In the hands of Luc Besson's team, it's thankfully a little bit more.

Snow is played by Guy Pearce, who most of you out there will know from Memento. He has a long pedigree of playing serious, dramatic roles in independent film, so it had to have been nice to get the chance to play a smarmy anti-hero. Snow is all sarcasm and guns, with only the tiniest hints of character to back him up. Again, this is the sort of thing that, if I were reviewing a different kind of movie, would be a negative. But here it's a positive, and Pearce's portrayal of Snow is a joy to watch as he wisecracks and shoots his way through the orbital space station. There's always a joy to see an actor who's been cast in the same role over and over get the chance to stretch his range, and while it isn't quite as wonderful to watch as, say, Karl Urban in Star Trek, it's still a great surprise.
Even with a strong leading man, though, an action movie lives or dies on chemistry. A weak link in a female lead can send the entire film crashing to earth - just watch Jason Statham trying to play off his costar in Transporter 3 for proof. Thankfully Maggie Grace, pictured here because, well, I can, is up to the task of playing off of Pierce. The moments of the film where they're apart are dull and lifeless, and the moments they are together are full of the sort of zing and interest that sold action movies before they became about blank-faced marines fighting alien robots. The dialogue isn't the most brilliant in the world, but Pearce and Grace make it shine, and play off each other with wonderful timing.

The sets are beautifully designed, the world is fully realized, the acting is at least good across the board - but of course, it's not a perfect movie. There are plot holes you can drive a truck through. A particular CG sequence early on in the film has the sort of texturing I'd expect to see from Pixar fifteen years ago. And the final stunt sequence is so unbelievable that I, Mr. Suspension of Disbelief, laughed out loud. But that doesn't change the fact that there will come a Saturday afternoon, soon, where you are bored, and feeling listless. Where you just want to pack up your cares, drive to the movies, and get taken away for a while. And nobody does it better than the people Luc Besson gets together.

Go spend the $10 and see it. You'll thank me.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bonus ACE OF VIDEO GAMES: Journey!

I sat down to begin this review a few different times, each time coming up with a blank. I've never had a harder time describing what a video game is than with Journey. There's the simple description - Journey is a game about controlling a red robed creature as they quest towards a bright light in a distant mountain. But to describe this game as just that simple narrative belies the incredible depth That Game Company has managed to put together into one of the most interesting and beautiful games I've ever played.

That Game Company's previous work was another Playstation Network downloadable title, Flower. That game became something of a sleeper hit due to its incredible ability to relax the player. Journey is no different. The first word that comes to mind when playing it is "zen." The title of the game, I imagine, comes from the old saying, "It's not the destination, it is the journey." The end of this game, I can say without giving too many spoilers, is not the goal at all. It is the joy of discovery, and the beauty of the landscape you find yourself in, that gives the game its particular magic.

A single playthrough of Journey can be done in less than two hours. Your red-robed hero will make it to the mountaintop with a minimum of fuss or frustration. Any small puzzle work you find is quickly solved, and you will never find yourself standing back to scratch your head or check Gamefaqs. It is not, by typical modern standards, a difficult game. And unlike modern games, Journey never holds your hand or points you in the right direction. Beyond a very small button tutorial early on, you are never told what to do or where to go. Every problem placed in front of you can be solved with one of the three tools available to you. That journey, discovering what each tool does and how and where to use it, it one of the best experiences I've had in video games. It hearkens back to the days of the Super Nintendo, where finding a problem's solution meant learning the tools and discovering the answer, not waiting for a button prompt to point you in the direction the developers meant you to go.

In many ways, the game is reminiscent of the end of the first Portal. The discovery that a previously closed world was now open to you, and it was up to you to discover what to do was a magical experience in gaming. Journey gives you that experience of discovery from the moment you press start.

If it seems like this review is vague, that's a smidge intentional. The ability to discover what the world has to offer, and how you might explore it, is such a wonderful experience that I hestitate to mention any aspect of the gameplay. But I will point out one feature of the game - the multiplayer. Early on in the game, I came across another red robed creature, exactly like mine. As I walked near it, it sang to me, and then moved away. I followed, and the creature led to me one of the game's secrets, hidden away near by. Then the creature stayed with me, helping me through puzzles and to dodge enemies. I lost them soon after, but I found another. It was only when the game ended that the credits revealed that I had found other PSN users, playing the same game. When you run into a new player, there is no way to communicate other than the limited gameplay mechanics, and no need to do anything but ignore one another. What this creates, strangely, is the compulsion to help. You can reach the end by yourself, and even discover all the secrets alone. But this lonely, beautiful world causes players to want to stick together, to guide each other to new places and new discoveries. It's an experience unlike any other multiplayer I've ever seen. Cooperation is never suggested or encouraged, and somehow that makes it all the more desireable.

Fourteen dollars for a two hour game seems insanely steep. I scoffed at it even as I bought the game. But I cannot recommend the world of Journey highly enough. I wanted to replay my quest for the mountain and the light as soon as I finished playing it, and I know you will, too.

Journey is available as a download on the Playstation Network, for 14.99.

Episode 37: Teenage Mutant NINJA Geeks!

Picture In this week's episode, the Ace of Geeks Podcast takes on Michael Bay, making us just as mad as everyone else on the internet! Plus, we discuss the finer points of running a table top game, whether R.A. Salvatore can write tragedy, the Hunger Games vs Battle Royale, and many other things that are good! Good things! Listen!

Episode 37!