Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to Cover Conventions Without Insulting Your Audience

Last week, San Diego Comic Con coverage swept across the internet like a swarm of locusts, devouring and overshadowing everything in its path. I mean this in the nicest way possible, of course, as it included tons of updates about things fans have waited ages to hear about (Avengers: Age of Ultron images, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, etc.) I was among those who could not attend and was therefore even hungrier for second-hand information, so I found myself trolling the internet every hour or so looking for new coverage of the goings on at Comic-Con.

More than once, what I found left me shocked and appalled. In regards to coverage of the cosplayers in attendance, many of the articles and gallery links were thinly veiled nerd bashing, and others fostered a hostile environment in their comments. These were often by bigger media providers, which made it particularly offensive.. Anyone who works as some form of “press” can tell you how selective SDCC is about who they give press access passes to the con: they want only the most highly circulated programs and well regarded news sources. And yet, they allowed in several outfits that openly harassed costumed attendees or paved the way for them to be made the butt of jokes on the internet.

Jimmy Kimmel. CNN. These outlets should know better. I thought professionalism and common sense went hand in hand, but apparently not. So let's take a moment to break down what these pieces of coverage did wrong and highlight some great, high profile galleries that did it right!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Yes, Hercules Lied to You - And That's a GOOD Thing. by Mike Fatum

(Quick warning: This article, by its very nature, spoils the entirety of Hercules. If you still wanted to see this movie, I'd avoid reading this until after.)

Let's begin with what I'm not saying here: The Rock's newest starring action vehicle, Hercules, is not a great movie. It's not even on the level of the Fast and Furious movies that have helped his career so much. I did enjoy myself watching it, but I enjoy most movies on some level unless they insult my moral sensibilities, so take that how you will.

However - in the wake of Hercules' launch, I saw several articles popping up around the internet decrying Hercules for "lying" to the audience. For those of you not in the know, here's the skinny - the trailers portrayed Hercules' twelve labors heavily, promising a take on the classical Hercules myth, with him battling monsters and eventually taking revenge on the God, his mother Hera, who murdered his family.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies - new teaser trailer and posters!

A new teaser trailer and a new poster (above) was released today for the final piece of the Hobbit trilogy: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.  Take a look! 

Ryan Reynolds IS DEADPOOL! Is This Footage from a Possible Deadpool Movie?

     Earlier Monday, footage was leaked online (earliest link we found was Superhero Report). While we are not certain that this represents a movie, per se (some are saying the characters are overly digital, so it could be a game), as our resident Ryan Reynolds Voice Recognition Expert, I am damn sure that is RR.

Watch below:

     Please comment your thoughts below. What did you think of the dialogue/humor? The action? The Music?

What's shaking in the Largest Warhammer Fantasy GT on the West Coast

Saturday and Sunday of the July 19th and 20th weekend saw a great deal of violence in San Francisco at Fort Mason. Blood was shed, brave warriors fell, and cries of great beasts were heard throughout the land. You did well to avoid this conflict if you are 28 mm high and made of plastic, resin or pewter. However, if you are closer to 6 feet, flesh and blood, and interested in the game of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, you may have missed the Quake City Rumble.

I’ve written about this game before, so skip this paragraph if you know what’s going on. For those of you new to my column, Warhammer Fantasy is a tabletop miniature game played by two or more players. Each player selects an race and builds a force from the rules governing that race. Armed with tape measures and a fist full of dice, they do battle by moving their models over a battlefield, resolving cannon shot and monsters breathing fire by comparing their die rolls to unit statistics and charts. Armies are comprised of several different sorts of troop types: Characters, the great leaders, mages and fighters that command units; Infantry, the grunt troops that slog into battle on their own two feet; Cavalry, units that ride into the fight atop all manner of mounts; Flyers, units that are able to travel great distances over the heads of their foes; Monsters, including monstrous infantry or monstrous cavalry, whose presence alone can make troops turn tail and flee; and War Machines, engines of destruction that lob great stones, or launch spears through the air. Each unit has a point cost and an availability, so for this tournament, players put together 2500 points worth of models and deploy them on the battlefield. Games last for 6 turns, and the winner is typically the one who destroys the most stuff. At least, I assume that’s true, since I wrote it last time, and no one called me out on it.

"Yeah, that guy's right!"

The Quake City Rumble (QCR) is one of the big names of Grand Tournaments in the country, and organized by the gaming club Leadership 2. You might recognize this name from a host of finalist lists around the country. These guys get around, and place highly pretty much everywhere they go. They also have one of the snazziest websites that I have I seen for a gaming club.  By the way, the name is a play on the Leadership stat from Warhammer. A Leadership score of 2 is the lowest in the game. For a bunch of guys that make goblins look disciplined, they sure know how to put a tournament together.

A Grand Tournament is a minimum of 2 days, 5 rounds, but they usually run extra days with events before or after so people who come in from out of town get a few more games. The Quake City Rumble is no exception. I talked to Jared and Rex, members of the Low Comp Crew, who played a team tournament Friday night against their rivals, Bizarro Hammer. LCC went 1 for 4 in that match up, and continued the friendly rivalry between their two clubs. These sort of competitions build friendships and bring together people from different areas to see new armies they haven’t played against before. LCC pulled no punches laying the blame on each other on Sunday when I spoke to them about it. Wherever gaming goes, good old fashion shit talking is never far behind.

The primary reason they are called the Low Comp Crew
That was one of the motivations of the players that I talked to: you go to a tournament, meet other like minded people, and play against people that you haven’t seen in a while. In the first round of the tournament, no one has any standing or score, so (in theory) everyone is on an equal footing. QCR is set up to allow you to request a specific opponent for the first match, in what is called a Grudge Match. Some players request friends from other clubs, people they played against in the past, or someone new they might not get a chance to play against. I also heard talk of last round grudge matches. These keep things interesting for people who have taken enough losses to knock them out of the race for prizes, and would like to play a game against a friend, or another interesting army. Maybe you played 3 games against Elves, and you can’t stand to face another pointy eared bowman, you can request to play empire with cannons, or daemons with 100% fear causing models. Ok, maybe I’m not selling it, but you get the idea.

I got a chance to talk to Mike Hengl, the tournament organizer of QCR for the past 4 years. Along with Ivan Jen, Josh Frick and Jeff Suess, Hengl rents out building D at Fort Mason. They bring in dozens of tables, game boards filled with terrain, a concessions stand, and two or three kegs of beer. If you were one of the lucky first 60 people to early register, you are given a commemorative pint glass and a bracelet that entitles you to all the beer that you can drink until the kegs run dry. Ages 21 or older, void where prohibited, please drink responsibly, alcohol may inhibit your ability to make sound tactical decision and in some cases handle models safely. In case there is any question about the nature of this pre-registration policy, it has a really convenient title: FREE BEER.

He wants some Free Beer.

Hengl said that they received 107 sign-ups this year, and that this is pretty typical for them. Over the course of the 5 years he has run it, they have stayed steady at 90-100 people. Their limit is 112, so they shoot for a fairly precise target. After a few cancellations and withdrawals, they had final scores for 99 people. What makes QCR so big is the draw of people from across the country. Leadership 2 has a rivalry going with Hangover Heroes of Texas, a club that runs The Alamo GT in San Antonio, Texas. HHoT sent a contingent of 8 armies out to try to take the trophies of LD2. Hengl said they had gamers from South Carolina, Wisconsin, and in past years Alaska. One of the downsides to having this many people, Hengl said, is that they can’t run a 40k tournament at the same time. They have some players that mainly play 40k but dust off their Fantasy models once a year to play QCR. They would need another set of organizers, and another location. The only other one that would work is three times as large, a little too spacious for a start up tournament.

Like SAWS Challenge and the other North American Indy GT’s, QCR has no escalation or official participation to other tournaments. These are all done for the love of the game, bragging rights, and a handful of prizes given out to the winners. Hengl does talk to the organizers of SAWS, West Coast GT, and other GT’s to coordinate a few details, like tournament rule interpretations, and composition scores. He says that he wants to keep a diverse tournament environment for players. While QCR has comp score awarded by the decision of judges, SAWS Challenge uses an objective scoring sheet that players score on their own. Other tournaments say play what you want, as long as it is legal. For QCR, they back this score up by sending the “Best General” award to the player with the highest combined Battle Score and Comp Score.

Prize support from the manufacturer, Games Workshop, is non-existent. Endgame of Oakland helps out with prizes as a portion of their sponsorship of the event, and some of the registration money goes to paying for prizes, while other prizes are donated by people who want to see the tournament continue. This is one of the primary reasons that GT’s like QCR continue: people want to play Warhammer Fantasy as a community, not as a strictly competitive sport. To that end, QCR is considering a paint requirement in the future. Hengl is tossing it back and forth: on one hand you don’t want to invite a club from 2 states over and have them turn up and play against a bare plastic army. On the other hand, there are players he knows that started their first tournament with half unpainted models, and are now serious contender for the painting awards.

I talked to some of the players about their experience in Warhammer Fantasy and in the tournament scene. Jared Briscoe of the Low Comp Crew says that the number of people playing stays about the same. New people will show up, older people will leave, but the game lives on. He noticed more and more people are coming in from further away. Hengl mentioned this as an attraction for a lot of players: QCR is one of the few tournaments set in the middle of a tourist city. Fort Mason is a national park, and if you step outside the venue, you are deep in the heart of San Francisco. West Coast GT is an hour out of Los Angeles. SAWS Challenge is a 20 minutes drive from downtown Sacramento. A tournament set up in the middle of a city with an over the top nightlife is a draw for a lot of players.

Jen Starling came up from Orange County with Club Capri. When I spoke to her at the end of the 4th round, she was 3 and 1, and looking for a good fifth game. Her Daemons of Chaos list is called Attack of the Poop Monsters, and thoroughly disgusting to look upon. I asked her about the game and the tournament scene, and not surprisingly, she enjoys it. She used to play Warhammer 40k until a few years ago when the game became more competitive. She noticed a very different attitude between the 40k and Fantasy players, and didn’t really like the spirit of the game any more. She’s been playing Fantasy for 4 years now, and performing decently at it: 38th of 99 in QCR, 54th of 100 at Waaaghpaca in Wisconsin (yes, that is a real tournament, and no, it is not easy to find if you have never seen it spelled before), 54th of 68 at the Alamo GT in San Antonia, Texas, and 16th of 54 at the West Coast GT, local to her in Southern California.

Hengl is hitting up a bunch of these tournaments as well. Crossroads GT in New York had 102 players, Lone Wolf if Dallas Texas had 82, SAWS Challenge had 60 players, and Bragging Rights Team Tournament had 72 (18 teams of 4). There are also a ton of smaller 3 round tournaments all over the country, to numerous to name. If you want see one covered on Ace of Geeks, let us know.

Seth Oakley is an educator and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Daly City, CA. He loves costuming, analog gaming and role playing games. He got this job in a bar after making poor life choices and has to work through 93 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back. If you would like to see the complete album of photos taken, tell Mike in the comment box. I took 60 photos, so a gallery or slideshow would be cool, right guys? Right?
(Please also leave a note telling Mike how to DO that on Blogspot. - Ed)

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

SDCC Day Two News Roundup!

Hey kids! Friendly neighborhood editor-in-chief Mike here. It's Saturday of San Diego Comic-Con 2014, which is when all the big news happens. Can't be there in person? Don't worry, that's what we're here for. Let's run down everything awesome that happened today:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Star Wars: Rebels - First Episode Report. by Horatio

San Diego Comic Con International 2014 has been a great time already for Star Wars fans! Thursday night we attended the Star Wars: Rebels panel with Dave Filoni (writer and director), Simon Kinberg (creator and writer), Freddie Prinze Jr (voice, Kanan), Vanessa Marshall (voice, Hera), Steve Blum (voice, Zeb), Taylor Gray (voice, Ezra), and Tiya Sircar (voice, Sabine). I live tweeted the entire panel @horatiolikestoy on twitter, so coverage of anything said in the panel can be found there. 

It's what we did after the panel that warrants review and discussion. After attending the panel we buzzed across the Gaslamp to Reading Cinema for a private showing of the first episode of Star Wars: Rebels. This was the first showing available to members of the public, and it was not easy to access. We were invited as part of Saber Guild, a costuming group that we work with. 

For this review, I'm going to avoid spoilers, but still give details, so anyone who doesn't want to know anything about the episode should leave now. The episode opens on a tight shot of Ezra looking down on a Lothal (The name of his homewold. -Ed) street, while a group of Imperial Officers are harassing a fruit peddler. From the very beginning we're shown a very specific side of imperial tyranny. It's smaller than the wholesale destruction of a planet, and left in the hands of officers saying, "What are you going to do to stop us?" as they steal from the proletariat. At first I felt the inclination to describe my first impressions of Ezra as a Robin Hood type hero, but I very quickly identified him more along the line of Disney's Aladdin. Ezra rescues the fruit peddler, but takes a little extra fruit for himself. Hardly a major theft but definitely a notable character development. 

It becomes clear that Ezra is a conflicted character, he despises the Empire and everything they stand for, but is more interested in his own well being than acting as a Robin Hood - at first. "I'll stick it to the empire, but who's going to stick there neck out that far?" He asks Hera, who replies "We do." 

Hera acts as a mother type figure. She looks out for her crew and waits on the ship during missions to monitor the first signs of trouble. One of her most memorable quotes from the episode is "If you only care about your own life than your life means nothing." She is selfless, matronly, and commanding. 

Kanan is a stern character with not an exceptional amount of emotional development in the first episode, at least alongside the other characters. He is quick to act in the face of trouble, a strong lightsaber duelist, and an intriguing teacher. During the Rebels panel, Freddie Prinze Jr suggested that Kanan had a "adolescent dark side," and I'm curious to see how this develops. As far as the first episode goes it ends with the mysteries of a Jedi surrounding Kanan.

 Zeb is a gruff but lovable character, somewhere between Chewbacca and Jayne from Firefly. He tries to come across much crueler and hard-hearted than he actually is, and for a single episode he becomes a very sympathetic character for me. He chooses Ezra as a character he can pick on a little bit, but there is a burgeoning respect hidden behind the mild bullying. He picks on Ezra but respects his strength and character. I look forward to the development of Ezra and Zeb's relationship most of all. 

Sabine is a delight. There's a definite flicker of potential romance between Sabine and Ezra, which is clear with Ezra's clumsy flirtations, and by the end of the episode we can see Ezra begin to grow on her. My favorite trait of Sabine, and possibly one of my favorite moments of the entire episode, is when we see Sabine's propensity for tagging an Imperial ship... With a surprising result that to my knowledge had not been shown in any previous footage. I refuse to ruin the moment for any readers, but it definitely elicited applause from the audience. 

And finally, of course, we have Chopper, who primarily acts as a comedic foil for the other characters (especially Ezra in this episode). The only way I can describe Chopper is as a somehow sassier version of R2-D2. 

During the episode there are several name drops of characters and locations that we know, like Jabba the Hutt, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Kessel. These serve as a bridge to the original trilogy. We are introduced to a new recurring villain, Imperial Agent Kallus, and see minor character development with him. 

Overall the episode was fantastic. While we were told that it was technically unfinished, I saw few signs of this in the episode. The music is well paired with the scenes, the voice acting is ace, and the animation is stunning. Rebels was everything that I expected it to be, and I can't wait to watch it on Disney XD. 

 Horatio is a dorky toy reviewer who can be found on YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr where she runs a Stargate SG-1 blog.

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Comic-con is on! For those of you stuck at home, the Ace of Geeks is here to fill you in on what's been happening - be sure to check out our twitter account during the show for live updates, videos and photos. We'll also be providing wrap ups of each day here on the blog. Today, we've got Justin Rhodes and Megan Marie Fox with their thoughts on Day One.

Justin Rhodes & Megan Marie Fox
Slouched out of bed a bit before 8. That’s actually sleeping in for a cosplayer. After we slapped on some TNG tunics and light make-up we set off for the day. Many “Live long and prospers” from random strangers later and we were back inside the convention center.

I bid Megan adieu and trekked (pun intended) to my first panel of the day “Show Your Story, Don’t Tell It” with Maxwell Alexander Drake. The panel was a one-man show of writing advice, complete with power-point presentation, and it was good advice. How-to panels are not usually counted among the main draws of the convention, but this was an hour well spent. For aspiring creative types you should do at least one panel dedicated to improving your craft per con if not more.

Episode 111: Jurassic WHAT?

The Ace of Geeks Podcast comes to you live from...not Comic-con. But we get over our suffering by talking about how great this season of The Legend of Korra has been, the awesome film Bounty Killer, the really fun card game Slash, and Jarys lovingly reads us some dinosaur erotica.

Episode 111!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

GamerX2 - Merrily We Roll Along - By Malkontent Blizzard

When Mike approached me to write a piece about GaymerX2, a convention about gaming and panel discussions where I didn't play a single new game or attend a single panel, I thought he was more nuts than usual. Then Jarys helped reframe the topic as what people brought back from the event.
So here goes, my biggest takeaway was community.

Not that one -Mal

I mean the type of community that comes from 20 odd (and at our CaH games evidently very odd) geeks banding together for a common purpose...and pizza.

Yes, that one -Mal

From the very beginning of the training on the Wednesday before the con I knew this wasn't the same type of operations staff, either in composition or in mission that I grew up with, and I couldn't be more excited. Our training consisted of an operational briefing of course but then our moderator Brian a youth worker from Texas began our Safe Spaces training which leaned heavily on the experiences of “Cosplay is Not Consent” and the microaggression project. The discussion was lively and educational for everyone I spoke with that night myself included even after 12 years of assisting with this type of training.These are the principles we were trained to model, not enforce but model.

This was made manifest at the registration table the next night when we put out the Preferred Gender Pronoun tags for anyone that wanted them.
You read my mind, oh magical editor -Mal
And further reinforced by the turning of our restrooms from Men's and Women's rooms into Gender Neutral restrooms which, since each only had one wheelchair stall and I have a rather relaxed view of my own gender identity, made my life immeasurably easier.

Friday morning the self described “protective mother octopus” of the Sprites (our name for Gofers) Soraya Een Hajji (who, as the Media director for Extra Credits had 18 other things on her plate preparing for her panel the next day) approached me on my break to assist in establishing accessibility zones in all the function rooms.

 Now this may seem like a form of tokenism but it actually showed a dedication to one of the geekiest forms of management technique I have ever seen “Person As Expert”. Put simply a person is always the most senior expert on their own experience. So we went to the various rooms all 13 of them of varying dimensions and configurations and set to work.  Soraya listened intently and engaged constructively with me about turning radii and chair width. After we did this I got breakfast and decided to go look at my handiwork after the first panel...and then the real work began. It turned out that the hotel had helpfully reset all the chairs to maximize the seating...after my 15 seconds of growling I grabbed the Sprites at the doors and reestablished the seating.

When I returned to the Sprite Castle (our name for the operation centre) I briefed Brian about what happened and I then learned a second very important lesson about this type of community.

Not again -Mal

That lesson is “When everyone's expertise is utilized horizontal command structures are preferred”. Brian asked me what I thought was the best way to address this and we decided to just scrap my job profile and put me on floor checks. What this meant was every hour I would go one floor downstairs (taking about 10 minutes thank you for attending "ElevatorCon") and if the chairs had been moved grab the door Sprite and have them help me move them back. No easy task when the panel rooms were spread across the entire level and we only had a 15 minute turnaround between panels. But we did it. And on each of my checks I saw people with various devices leaving at least one of the panel rooms without any obvious frustration, which was a surprising and refreshing change of pace since I am so used to myself and others being unable to attend a panel that has become standing room only. At the group photo taking the Convention Chairbeing Toni Rocca (thank you Avengers for the term) told us that she thanked the attendees with ability concerns for attending and sticking with us the entire weekend since even with all of our work we still had issues, she then told us that several people got misty eyed and one person thanked us for making them feel welcome.

This isn't to say that all our accommodations were born Athena like on Friday. One of the other major measures taken was the construction of ramps to the stage for the Cosplay contest. With these we were able to have a wheelie John Stewart and our Audience Choice award winning Drider be able to enter and exit just like every other contestant.
Drider, a new symbol for gender-inclusivity? More at 11:00 -Ed

And it wasn't just us that were looking for ways to address these and similar issues. I would like to continue my habit of singling out people for well deserved praise with Jenn Bane from the Cards Against Humanity (yes that game) customer service team. Cards Against Humanity curated the “Some Games We Like” space where they brought in various games from small publishers that wouldn't be able to get much exposure otherwise. In their rooms they decided against using the hotel chairs, they instead used easy to move and safe to collide with inflatable furniture. Jenn also on Friday asked us to particularly describe what we were looking for in terms of accessibility she then made sure that all her team was aware of our concerns and kept the space open.

So in conclusion (cue the 1998 DNC standing ovation) my biggest takeaway from the convention was this, “When geeks help geeks miracles tend to occur. And one of those miracles can be the birth of a new community.”
I give up. I guess I need to watch the show now -Mal

MalKontent Blizzard signing off.

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SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON WRAPUP: Day Minus-One/Preview Night

Comic-con is on! For those of you stuck at home, the Ace of Geeks is here to fill you in on what's been happening - be sure to check out our twitter account during the show for live updates, videos and photos. We'll also be providing wrap ups of each day here on the blog. Today, we've got John Garcia with a wrap up of the goings on before the con has even opened, and Megan Marie Fox with her thoughts on preview night.


My group of friends got a good deal at an extended-stay hotel, but only if we get a certain number of days, so since last year, my group has done the Monday to Monday stay for SDCC.

Most of Monday was spent traveling and we got to the hotel really late, so I figure I would start filling you guys in on Tuesday, July 22.

We still had a lot of last-min costume construction to do. A lot of my hotel-mates and friends are from the 405th Infantry Division of Halo cosplayers, so they were working on missing bits of armor pieces, while I was working on leftover touches on my Brother Warth costume.

We decided to take a break and do some fun, touristy things around San Diego. We went to this amazing place called "Hash House a Go Go" on 4th street.  They are famous for their amazing breakfast things like a chicken and waffles tower with amazing country friend sage-flavored chicken and waffles that have bacon inside. (Next time, I'd better eat breakfast before reading your articles, John. -Ed)

This year, though, after a 30 min wait, I got a giantic 18-oz hammered, country-fried pork loin. It was around a 16 inch by 16 inch monster.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is the Legend of Korra Really Being Cancelled?

The internet was set ablaze today when rumors of cancellation circulated the web for the hit show “The Legend of Korra” on Nickelodeon. The show is currently in the middle of its third season, and is a sequel to the groundbreaking “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which ran from 2005 to 2008. As of this writing, there has been no official statement or press release by the studio itself, although the creators of the show have made remarks regarding the show’s future.

Michael DiMartino, who created the Avatar series with Bryan Konietzko, posted on his Facebook community page “There is 1 new episode this Friday at 8, then the rest of the season will be available from various sites online.” Konietzko also posted an image to his personal Tumblr blog assuring fans that the series was not cancelled, but was simply “moving to digital.”

Speculation for the move has ranged from ratings concerns to demographics issues, but until an official statement is released, speculation is all we have. Korra was shown a great deal of support by the studio when it debuted in 2012, signing on for more content before the first season even finished. However, that support seems to have waned in the last two years, despite being contracted through a fourth season. Some have suggested that the rapid broadcasting over the last month was due to a leak of the first episodes earlier in the summer.

Regardless of Nickelodeon’s reasons, the DiMartino’s Facebook post indicates that at least one new episode will still broadcast this Friday (as opposed to the two new episodes everyone was expecting). Fans of the show eagerly await further news at this weekend’s San Diego Comic Con.

UPDATE: The Korra Nation Fan Page has come down with an official word. Korra is NOT cancelled, it's moving to digital as we already knew. Here's the full release:

"Hey Korra Nation! Phew. Some of you may have heard versions of this news elsewhere, but here’s the official word. After this Friday’s on-air premiere of Episode 8 “The Terror Within” at 8/7c, all remaining Book 3 episodes will move to a digital rollout. That means two things: 1) Korra is NOT cancelled, 2) the remaining episodes will roll out weekly on and the Nick app beginning August 1, as well as on platforms like Amazon, Google Play, Xbox and Hulu.

Thousands of you have been asking to watch this incredible show online, so hopefully this news works in your favor. Mike and Bryan created a breath-taking season for us all…so get ready to watch it all go down!!!

Thanks for being the BEST fans in the industry and see you at Comic-Con."

Lose Two Sanity - Why Game Mechanics Aren't a Good Source of Public Discourse. by Melissa Devlin

Do you carry around a tube of blood known as your health pool? Does it slowly seep away no matter what kind of injury you have received? Or are metaphorical representations a good way to get a game to work but not really expected to be anything like the real world?

Lets back up. Patrick Lindsey wrote an article about gaming and mental illness, taking issue with two common portrayals of madness: the bat-shit crazy psychopath who does his bad deeds because he’s off his rocker (fair enough), and oddly, the sanity meter in many horror games.

First off, the introduction was very sensitively written, props. Second, I admit that “well he’s a bad guy because he’s nuts” is a little old (British understatement). It also misses the fact that even madness has motivation. We crazy people have reasons for doing the things we do, they just might not be clear.

But I take issue with Lindsey’s first argument. That the mechanics of having a sanity meter even belongs in the discussion of the portrayal of mental illness.  What do I mean? I’m Bipolar I. I’ve had delusions. I’ve had hallucinations. I’ve experienced some really frightening crap. And I really like the idea of a sanity meter.

Why? Because it owes literary allegiance to the Lovecraft idea that seeing too much slowly drains away your ability to cope with the world. And guess what? Sometimes that’s what madness is like. Sometimes the more you see, the harder it is to get by and get over it. Because anyone who says being mentally ill isn’t sometimes scary is lying. The sanity meter also just a device, like a mana pool. A way to quantify terror and the peculiar things it does to anyone’s brain.

I also like the way games toy with you when you run low or worse run out, which Lindsey also objects to. Because, frankly, that isn’t all that different from being either untreated, or what you experience when the meds don’t work. (Yep, that happens). When you are in the grips of an episode, the world just doesn’t work the way it should.

Lindsey makes the point that our view of reality is valid even if it is off. Valid isn’t the same thing as correct. Example? You think you're being followed around by demons. Feeling like you’ve been to hell and back? Valid. Have you actually? Well, no.

Now granted, what I have is pretty severe, and mental illness comes in many varieties. Maybe I’m lucky and I have the workings of some good stories to tell. (Says the optimist.) But to go back to valid, why not let the world see what it’s like to live with a broken perspective?. Because, and here’s where I really take issue with Lindsey, (this is not going to be popular):

There is something wrong with me.

I’ve learnt to cope. I get by. I’m doing better than ever. But I am at a disadvantage when it comes to being part of the normal world. I have to spend a great deal of my energy managing my symptoms, making sure I make sense to my loved ones. There is a difference between having every right to exist this way, which I do, and wishing it on anyone else, which I don't. Do you see the logical difference?

I agree that mental illness is a part of the spectrum of human experience, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. And I don’t really like the stigma that comes with it. Sure lets stop using madness in place of character development. It’s a bit boring anyway. But horror games that play with the idea that what you see can twist your mind? Lets keep that. Because just for the time that you are playing that game, you know what it’s like when the drugs don’t work.

Sleep well tonight.

Melissa Devlin is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Northern England. She now lives in Petaluma, California with her cat, Sybil. 

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Best Things to See and Do at Comic-con This Year. by Mike Fatum

San Diego Comic-con International, known to its friends as SDCC, or simply Comic-con, has been the biggest event in the Nerd World for more than forty years now. With the explosion of Geek Culture in the last ten years, the event has grown to mammoth size, drawing hundreds of thousands of people, and taking over the entirety of San Diego's Gaslamp district. For those heading to the convention for the first time, and even for those going for the fiftieth time, SDCC can be hugely overwhelming. With so much to see and do, how do you decide how to spend your time? We at the Ace of Geeks have taken the time to do some of that legwork for you, and put together a list of the best stuff to see and do at Comic-con this year.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Superheroines Don't Selfie: A Girl Against the New Batgirl. by Megan Marie Fox

Fan art by Sam "Hidalgo" Logan

 A little over one week ago, the big comic book companies started leaking to the press upcoming changes for their fall comic line up. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Marvel has revealed that Thor’s mantle will soon be worn by a female, and that Captain America will soon transfer his costume to his good friend Falcon. These past weeks DC has also been stirring up dust, arguably trying to meld the new 52 line up with the old.

DC has gotten grittier and darker over the years, and not all fans are happy with that. However, reverting characters to their starting positions is clearly not an option. How to make things lighter? DC’s answer clearly is selfies, stereotypes, and cliches.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Episode 110: "Be Yourself, Even if You're a Terrible Person"

The Ace of Geeks comes to you live with the shocking discovery that Mike doesn't like Snow Crash. The horror! Plus, the Falcon is now Captain America and Thor is now a woman, Batgirl's got a redesign, and Jarys saw 17 minutes of Guardians of the Galaxy!

Episode 110!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fish, Piracy and Streaming - By Eli English

     Philippe Poisson, better known as Phil Fish, was a video game designer best known for his work on the platform game "Fez." I have yet to play Fez, but it has tons of great reviews and is considered by many to be becoming (or already is, for some) a cult classic. In 2013, Phil made a very public exit out of game development, after an online argument, with a post from the Polytron (his company) twitter feed and his own Twitter account.  "Fez 2 is cancelled. I am done. I take the money and I run. This is as much as I can stomach. This isn't the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign. You win." (Source)

     On June 18th, 2014, Phil made multiple posts on his Twitter account about Lets Plays of Fez. These posts indicated that YouTube users or video game broadcasters who made money off of Fez (he never directly stated broadcasters, but I'm assuming he meant them too) owe him cash and that a system in which ad revenue, which is normally split between YouTube and the user who displays the ad, should be shared with the developers and that "anything else is basically piracy." Phil continued with more posts on his Twitter account. "If you buy a movie, are you then allowed to stream the entirety of it publicly for people to watch for free? No, because that's illegal. Systems are in place to prevent that. But buy Fez, put ALL of it on YouTube, turn on ads, make money from it and that's TOTALLY FINE. And the developer should in NO WAY be compensated for their work being freely distributed to the world. Right. Makes sense." (Source) After these posts on his Twitter feed, Fish finished his rant with a "Nevermind." and made his account private so only followers he allowed could view his posts.

     Now, let's count down some of the reasons why putting in a system like he suggested is a terrible idea.

Can a picture be catchy? -Ed
1) -- Fair use

     Fair use is always a tricky subject. Streaming or recording a game is almost always okay and it's free marketing. It allows someone to get a chance to see your game before they lay down the asking price. Reviewers are also almost always allowed to post their honest thoughts on your game. When you tell these reviewers that they have to choose between giving you money or possibly being sentenced with piracy charges, chances are pretty good they won't take that lightly. Other YouTubers will proceed to rip you apart for making claims like that.

Phill Fish wants to kick you down the $tairs -Ed
2) -- Where's it going?

     Lets say that Phil's idea goes through and people who do Lets Plays or streams of games must pay the creators (in this case, all of the money would be going directly to Phil). Chances are pretty good that if this happens, other big developers will also push for the same thing. Then we have to ask ourselves where that money is going. In the case of an indie studio, the studio usually doesn't have a huge team so the money would probably be split in a way where everyone gets a bit of the ad revenue. But, in the case of a big studio (EA, Ubisoft, or Activision for examples), where will the ad revenue from YouTube users and video game casters be going? Lets face it. It's not uncommon for developers to get shafted in their paychecks. Between Crytek UK developers not getting paid on time and multiple cases where developers are kicked off of projects right before or right after the games are finished, so I'm gonna stay a little skeptical that every penny will be going back to the developers (or the sound designers, marketing, PR, managers, artists, testers, publishers and so on).

3) -- Legal suits

     Again, lets assume that Phil has his way and people who want to stream or record themselves playing games requires you, the broadcaster, to hand over some of your hard earned cash. Lets say you refuse to. Great, now you risk being made an example of. Piracy claims are a big deal if you ever get caught -- it could be anything as mild as a Cease and Desist letter to being sent off to jail for a couple of years with some pretty massive fines. And since you're putting videos on YouTube or streaming, they can find you and most companies will nickle and dime you for anything. Now, to be fair, I don't think most major gaming companies will adopt this. It's a bad PR move, it risks losing free advertising and it will slowly kill off jobs for the YouTubers or Twitch users who focus on Twitch or YouTube to put a roof over their heads and to put food on the table.
This could get you sued -Ed

4) -- Loss of features

     Xbox One, PS4 and a huge amount of games provide the ability to stream freely and it seems like it's just a matter of time before more games catch up to this. Now, games that allow streaming will be okay as the developers have already given you a green light to stream it as much as you want. So they more than likely won't jump on Phil's ideas, but the Xbox One and Playstation 4 would suffer if other companies (sadly) decided to jump on this bandwagon. Games would need to be updated to either feature some sort of code that turns off the on-console streaming services or Microsoft and Sony would have to remove the features off the console. Either way, money is being wasted, jobs are being lost and free marketing is being killed off.

Gamers ANGRY! -Ed

5) -- Boycotts

     If this has a chance of ever happening, companies will be boycotted. I don't know if this will be successful, but as soon as YouTubers and Twitch players have a risk of losing a large amount of their income or losing their jobs, there will be a storm of fans who will defend their commentators. Twitch, YouTube, uStream, all these sites have BIG fan followings. The second you threaten (as Phil did) to remove those fans from the people they follow, hell will come. We've seen boycotts before. Some of them caught on and got a lot of attention, others failed horribly. But if big YouTubers, broadcasters and fan groups got together, it would get attention and companies would think twice before stabbing their fans in the back.

     Overall, game companies need streamers. Modern day marketing alone isn't gonna cut it anymore for most companies. If it wasn't for YouTubers, Amnesia, Outlast and free to play games such as Smite or League of Legends would have a significantly smaller fan following and people would be jobless, as I've stated above. So, with that in mind, I wonder if Phil still wants broadcasters and YouTubers to lose a large cut of their income or if the vocal outcry he got made this idea drift away.

     Do you think Phil had a good idea? Are you worried companies may decide to give his idea a try? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think!

How to treat your customer support representative, and how they should treat you. - an Editorial by Stephanie Cala

Let me start off by saying that I've never had a job that hasn't been in customer service on one level or another.  My first job was a museum docent, my second position was for event staff, my next was an event coordinator, and my current full time job is working customer support for a small tech company in San Francisco (where I have maintained a 95% satisfaction rating since I started, mind you).  My job title is literally "Customer Delight Specialist" - I'm serious!  If my customers aren't delighted, then I'm not doing my job well enough.

My priority at all of my jobs has always been about making people happier after an interaction with me than when they had first reached out.  It's been about identifying a problem and being able to fix it.  And if for whatever reason you cannot fix the problem, you have to act as an advocate for the customer.  It's your job to face the company and say "HEY this thing is broken and people are upset about it, so we should fix it".

With that being said, please understand that when this popped up on my facebook newsfeed, I was absolutely mortified:

Married couple Veronica Belmont and Ryan Block called Comcast customer support and wanted to cancel their service.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, the customer support representative makes the experience absolutely horrendous.  And this recording isn't even the whole phone call!  Belmont handed over the phone to Block after about 10 minutes of back-and-forth because she didn't want to deal with the rep anymore.  Who could blame her?  The rep asks over 15 times in the 8 minute recording why Belmont and Block want to cancel, and every time Block replies with something along the lines of "We're not interested in your product anymore".  The rep on the other hand can't seem to take that for an answer.

There are quite a few things (good and bad) worth noting about this recording.

First off, Mr. Block is courteous and knows exactly what he wants.  This is great - in most situations having an objective and being able to define what that objective is for the person on the phone or in a message is a wonderful asset.  He was able to keep a straight and stern tone throughout the interaction and kept repeating what he wanted to achieve.  He is the kind of customer I love to talk to because in most cases it shows that they have had customer support experience before and know what to expect when calling a support line.

And you know what?  When a belligerent customer calls me the best thing that I can do is recall the situation and restate the goal of the transaction.  Yes, I understand that the program isn't functioning properly; in order to help diagnose the problem you're experiencing I need to know what error is occurring in the program.  Could you please describe the error for me? And that's exactly what Mr. Block did.  He stated and restated that he wanted to cancel his service.  He customer-serviced the customer service.

When a customer calls in and is civil I'm more amiable and likely to comply.  Hi there!  How are you?  I'm afraid I forgot my password for the program, is there any chance you could reset it for me?  Let me ask you: if a person were to randomly start yelling questions at you on the street, what would you do?  Chances are you'd either yell back or try and remove yourself from the situation.  If a person were to calmly approach you and ask you a question, you'd probably be more at ease and could help them out.  The same works with customer service.  I'm good, thanks for asking!  I'm so sorry that you've been experiencing trouble logging in.  Let me go ahead and reset that password for you, no need to worry about fumbling around for a password reset email.

Of course, there will be some times when the goal you have in mind isn't achievable.  I want to be able to access the program on my smartphone and tablet.  At the very least the representative will let you know that the goal isn't achievable, and should give an explanation as to why.  Depending on the level of support, the representative may even be able to give you alternate options.  Currently, our product is not supported on smartphones.  This is because many smartphones do not have the support software needed to run the program.  However, we offer a free app version of the product in the app store that you can download for your tablet.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

The only thing that Block could have potentially done that may have cut the shenanigans short would be to ask for the rep's supervisor.  This could have led to a quicker resolution, or it could have led to more badgering about why they wanted to cancel their service.  I think in the end it worked out okay for Block as he was able to keep his cool, and his service with Comcast ended after three weeks like the representative had stated.  Comcast also offered a formal apology to Block and Belmont:

There were, surprisingly, a few things that the representative did correctly (albeit in the worst manner possible).  Just hear me out for a second here - I'm all about positive reinforcement.

The representative was able to verify what the subject of the call was - the customers wanted to cancel their service and he was able to acknowledge that.  The representative was able to cancel the service.  Finally, the representative thanked Block for being a customer.

But...the good notes pretty much stop there.

I don't have to tell you that the repetitive questions were wrong, inappropriate, and unnecessary.  We all know that.  That's why this sound clip is now viral.  But there are other things this rep did wrong.

It's extremely unprofessional to slander other companies, even if they are your competitors.  It's even looked down upon if you so much as make an assumption about the other companies.  I'm glad that you've been doing some research about programs that are available in this field!  Although I cannot speak for X company as I do not work for them, I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about our products.  For the rep to say that there's no way that Block would be able to have better service with Astound was a defensive play.  However, it really revealed to Block (and us) that the only thing Comcast fears more than people unsubscribing from their service is having them switch to a different provider with faster speeds at cheaper rates.

In some companies the customer service representatives sometimes double as sales representatives and get knocked when a sale is lost.  Being in a position where your job may depend on how many accounts are kept from unsubscribing or how many products are ordered is horrible for all involved parties.  This puts pressure on the representative for obvious reasons, and overall it can make the transaction with the customer even more stressful.  To me, it sounded like the rep couldn't take no for an answer because he'd be in trouble if he did.  That sucks for him, and it also sucks for the customer. (This is true - see Ed's note at bottom. -Ed)

Having a customer sales representative double as a salesperson also has the added negative effect of changing the way support services are handled.  I had mentioned earlier that when you become a customer support rep you also become an advocate for the customer.  When there is something wrong with the company or its products according to the customer, it's your job to turn to the company and have them fix the issue.  If you're suddenly in a position where you need to pitch the products to the customer you get the reversal: now you have to be an advocate for the company because now there is clearly something wrong with the customer and WHY DON'T YOU WANT OUR PRODUCT?  And really, that makes me want to tear my hair out more than anything.

I want you to want to keep using our product.
Why would I want to keep using the product?
Because having you want to want to keep using our product would make my company happy

Overall, I've found that if both parties treat each other with respect that in most cases things don't need to be escalated.  If you find that every customer service representative you've spoken with in the history of ever has somehow ended up being a jackass to you, please take a moment to reflect on those instances.  Did you treat that representative with respect?  Did you address your concerns in a civil manner?  If you flubbed a bit then it's okay to admit that as long as you learn from it.  Consider that you may have been receiving poor service in the past because you were a difficult customer.  You're better than that can can do better in the future.

Then take a moment and ask yourself how the representative handled themselves.  Were they calm and informative?  Were they able to address your concerns and answer your questions?  If after the conversation you felt that not everything was addressed properly it's always okay to ask for further clarification.  If their service wasn't satisfactory, it's okay to either send feedback or ask for their supervisor.  If you truly feel the customer support representative could have handled the case better, let them know!  That way they can learn from the experience as well.  It also signals to the supervisor that there are some areas that they could work on as well - if the rep didn't know how to handle the situation, they may not have been fully trained for the issue at hand.

There's always room to grow.  Just remember that everyone is human.

(Editor's Note: As I was getting this article ready, a perspective from someone who actually worked at Comcast popped up on Reddit, from user txmadison. It's...exactly as horrible as you'd imagine. Here:)

I've been an employee of Comcast for almost the last 9 years, as an SBA in BI, NE&TO, Customer Service and Marketing. I worked for Comcast Corporate (meaning the headquarters in Philly) so I dealt with all of our divisions and regions for the US, because of my position I was frequently in budget/planning meetings and was handling data for subscribers for the same, I've seen down to the penny the monthly earnings for years, I know how much goes to tax, how much is pure profit, I know what the total payroll cost for the company is, etc - I wasn't a high level executive or anything, I'm a data analyst, I analyze shit. I left the company a few months ago, so I'm not really worried about saying anything here (I also never signed anything requiring me not to disclose anything I've said or am about to say.)

When you call into the IVR (the 1800 comcast that makes that annoying clicking noise) and you answer the prompts (1 for cable tv, 2 for high speed internet, etc and then 1 for new service or 2 for a problem etc etc) you get routed to a specific department.

When you call in to disconnect, you get routed to the Retention department, their job is to try to keep you. The guy on the phone is a Retention Specialist (which is just a Customer Account Executive who takes primarily calls from people disconnecting their service.)

If I was reviewing this guys calls I'd agree that this is an example of going a little too hard at it, but here's the deal (and this is not saying they're doing the right thing, this is just how it works). First of all these guys have a low hourly rate. In the states I've worked in they start at about 10.50-12$/hr. The actual money that they make comes from their metrics for the month which depends on the department they're in. In sales this is obvious, the more sales you make the better you do.

In retention, the more products you save per customer the better you do, and the more products you disconect the worst you do (if a customer with a triple play disconnects, you get hit as losing every one of those lines of business, not just losing one customer.) These guys fight tooth and nail to keep every customer because if they don't meet their numbers they don't get paid.

Comcast uses "gates" for their incentive pays, which means that if you fall below a certain threshold (which tend to be stretch goals in the first place) then instead of getting a reduced amount, you get 0$. Let's say that if you retain 85% of your customers or more (this means 85% of the lines of businesses that customers have when they talk to you, they still have after they talk to you), you get 100% of your payout - which might be 5-10$ per line of business. At 80% you might only get 75% of your payout, and at 75% you get nothing.

The CAEs (customer service reps) watch these numbers daily, and will fight tooth and nail to stay above the "I get nothing" number. This guy went too far, you're not supposed to flat out argue with them. But comcast literally provides an incentive for this kind of behavior. It's the same reason peoples bills are always fucked up, people stuffing them with things they don't need or in some cases don't even agree to.

Comcast wasn't always that bad, I watched the steady decline over the years I was there - and the attitude that is pervasive in customer service flowed over into the other departments like a cancer. There is a giant propaganda machine at Comcast focused on the employees, they send out emails and brochures and have the bigwigs come in to talk about things like why net neutrality is bad and encourage the company (via emails to every employee) to speak out against it.

I left because the culture there is disgusting, there is nothing redeemable about the behavior, and it's just headed in a worse direction. The people who try to advocate for customers are liquidated.
I say it as a loyal Comcast employee for almost a decade, if you have Comcast - get out now, you're just wasting your money. They're going to increase your bill 3-5% twice a year, it's part of the annual budgeting process even though our costs actually go down. The internet business (as in, high speed customers) is almost purely profit, and it's turned down on purpose like everyone here already knows. Comcast has DOCSIS 3 capabilities and the infrastructure to support it in most major areas (this means gigabit speeds, by the way) - it can be activated simply by pushing the proper bootfiles out to the modems. This can be evidenced anywhere they have competition, they can respond overnight.
If there's not a serious change in legislation or regulation, I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel.
(take this with a grain of salt, I'm not going to post anything personally identifiable, if you don't believe me - you don't have to. edit: Not that it's really proof, but here's a post a year ago where I respond specifically mentioning that I'm a Comcast employee (at the time) )

TL;DR - Comcast provides heavy incentives for this kind of behavior, it's been on a steady trend heavily towards this for years, the entire corporate culture is toxic and there is a pervasive 'us against them' attitude. Also the profit margin is insanely big. You shouldn't do business with Comcast. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Best and Worst Games at Evo as a Spectator. by Mike Fatum

This weekend, fighting game fans the world over were treated to three solid days of incredible action, as Evo 2014 took over Las Vegas. The best fighters from around the world converged on the Westgate Las Vegas resort to compete for glory and huge cash prizes. Like other years before it, the entire event was streamed live on Twitch, allowing fans the world over to watch their favorites like Daigo, Mang0 and Garireo compete.

There's long been a stigma attached to fighting games that it takes as much time to learn to watch the games as it does to learn to play them. To someone who's never played one of these games, the nuances can be completely lost. This weekend, I found that to be not entirely true. For some games, being a spectator is awesome. For others, it's damned near impossible. Here are the best and worst games to watch at Evo.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Batman v Superman SDCC Trailer Leaked? UPDATE: Nope. It's fake.

For everyone who can't make it to SDCC, the worst part is hearing about all of the trailers and clips that are shown exclusively to the folks in Hall H. Most of us wait with baited breath in the hopes that someone managed to snag a video during a panel, and is unethical enough to upload it for the rest of us. Well, this year, it's possible that the SDCC footage for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, has been leaked early. We've all been fooled by very good fan work before, so take this with as big of a grain of salt as you can. Hit the jump to watch the video.

Episode 109: Puppystilskin

Picture It's a Television Spectacular on the Ace of Geeks Podcast! We discuss Orange is the New Black, Penny Dreadful, American Horror Story, Leverage, and whether all these shows on non-cable networks really need to have sex scenes in every episode. Plus! The Luigi Death Glare!

Episode 109!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cautionary Datafile - Poem

Beware, children, of ladies with gums of blackened hue.
Though her face has life's pallor, she oft gives death its due.
Her mouth hides dark carbon, and machines small as a mite,
At will they fold carbon into diamond vorpal bite.
Protect the precious data fused to your young blood.
For it's enough to sate a dark rose's graying bud.
Through your heart beats knowledge they'll keep in a bio-seal.
For a darker purpose do dark ladies, children's blood, steal.
Future's hope, you children are, that we have made true.
Halcyon crafts and customs, our injected gifts to you.
Pulled into a culture of duality we fight,
envy of sick savag'ry, our sanguine nanosite.
We clash like soap and water, which clean with confused sud,
and cooler sea and driest earth, mixed form primal mud.
Fear not the ghoulish lady, the wages of her meal
she knows not, she'll become us. We, her. All to flux kneel.

(Copyright Jarys Maragopoulos 2010)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rejoyce, citizens of Strongbadia! Homestar is Coming back

     Citizens of Strongbadia, Free Country USA will be allowing internet visitors to once more espy the going-ons of their favorite denzinesy.  Though the itty bitty tid-bit were were given in April was deemed to be a ploy to fool the fools of April, an anonymous tipster has told the Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Podcast that there is more to come. More Strong Bad? More Homestar? More hidden features?

Ok....I'll get to the quote. -Ed

     This whistleblower, going by the nomme D'internet Matt Chapman, had many secrets to tell. "When we did that April Fools update this year, way more people looked at it than we ever even imagined would have at this point. Our goal — we did that thing as sort of a test to get back into doing it." He went on, we imagine, after adjusting his luxurious and identity concealing false mustachio  "We'd love to start making things again...It depends on how whole-hog we go, if we give Strong Bad a Twitter or Strong Sad a Tumblr."

     A Twitter....for Strong Bad? Are those tears in my eyes?