One couple, two perspectives, tons of geekery

Monday, August 30, 2010

Video Game Review: Limbo

This isn't quite what little Billy had in mind when he said he wanted to hang out with his friends.

Limbo is a new game developed by Playdead Studios available on Xbox Live. It is a puzzle based game featuring a surreal, monochromatic setting in which you play a young boy searching for his little sister across a ghastly, ever-changing landscape. The game was released on July 21st, 2010.

The Princess’s Take:

The Warlock heard about this from Game Informer. Between the haunting description of the game and the critical praise it received, I was instantly intrigued. We checked it out and I have to say – it did not disappoint.

The gameplay is very simple, with only two main commands (jump and walk/run) and the option to push and pull various objects. Despite having such a limited range of options, it is amazing how many clever puzzles are presented. One of the things I loved about these puzzles was I found their challenge level optimal – not too easy to the point of you getting bored but also not too difficult that you are pulling your hair out. It’s challenging, but in no way impossible.

One of the great things the developers did with this game was to not have background music, but instead focus on atmospheric sounds. This effect works wonders to create truly eerie experience to an already creepy game. You can hear the boy’s feet crunching against the grass; hear the cracking of glass and the currents of electricity passing through power lines. It was an effective technique to draw players into the setting.

As for the visuals, the black on white silhouette style makes it look like you are watching some kind of horrific shadow puppet show. It’s another element that helps create a complete thematic of the macabre. The interaction with the environment is the main part of puzzle solving in this game, and the developers did a terrific job at doing just enough details to foreground without compromising the simplistic allure of the game.

This is a pretty quick game to play. It took me and The Warlock roughly six or seven hours to get through. For some, it might seem too short for the price tag ($10 USD), but I like playing quicker games and I think the price is well worth what you get in return.

Overall, this game hit all the marks for me. It’s pretty much got exactly what I want out of a game and has such a captivating stylized format that I think many gamers will find this an enjoyable play.

5 out of 5 stars

The Warlock’s Take:

Besides being a simple well put together game this is a great hook to pull in someone who plays video games more casually, or doesn’t want to watch you play Modern Warfare or WoW. While it’s single player it’s still fun to figure out puzzles with a partner, and the creepy setting can set up a nice horror movie effect, complete with sudden deaths, and squeals. Just the thing to set the right mood.

The simplicity of the controls makes it great for handing off as well, and the game can engage both experienced and new gamers.

I won’t get into the great visuals and audio as The Princess already hit on them, but it is amazing what they did with a minimalist game in a world currently ruled by hyper-realism.

For the down side: The replayablity of the game is limited, with the exception of running around to get all the achievements, once you’ve figured out all the puzzles that’s pretty much it, and the game is fairly short. But it’s a downloadable game and 10 bucks and your already getting everything else we mentioned out of it. It can be a fun thing to throw on for a guest, and can even lead to some philosophical debates and conversations, not bad for a download.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 27, 2010

Event Report: A Song of Ice and Fire Focus Group for HBO's New Series

Oh Ned, why didn't you just stay in Winterfell?

Last night we had the chance to participate in a focus group discussing one of our favorite book series, A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin. We found out about this opportunity through a post on Westeros and the Livejournal community, Westeros Sorting.

Weeks before the focus group took place, we had to speak with a representative of the marketing company who were presumably hired by HBO to gather fan feedback for the upcoming HBO series, A Game of Thrones, based off the books.

During this phone interview, we had to answer several trivia questions about the series to prove our fan status. These questions included: “Who is Cersei’s lover?”, “Where did Catelyn take Tyrion?”, “What is Gregor Clegane’s nickname?”, “ Who is Robert’s true love?”, and “How did Tywin’s wife die?”.

After answering all the questions, we were invited to join the focus group and were told to bring any fan paraphernalia we had, a list of ASoFaI related websites we read, and were asked to create a collage based on elements we enjoy about the series. The collage request tripped us up a bit. We stewed over it for a while until we created these using Polyvore:

The Princess's collage featuring her favorite couple, Rhaegar and Lyanna:

The Warlock's collage featuring the Kingsguard:

Yeah, we won’t be quitting our day jobs – don’t worry.

The focus group itself was split up into two groups – one group of nine females and one group of eight males (ten signed up, but only eight showed). The session lasted about two hours, with the ladies going first, followed by the guys.

We discussed our separate sessions with one another afterwards and came up with the following rundown:

For the most part, we were asked roughly the same questions. They seemed interested in finding out what we loved most about the books, who our favorite characters were, and what type of extras we would like to see in the series.

Both groups mentioned that the detail in the world was a big factor in what makes the series stand out. Everyone seemed to agree that the wealth of history really helped make it a believable setting. The stylized POV chapters were another huge draw for everyone since they allow for multiple perspectives and the chance to get inside different characters minds. Other things mentioned in both groups were the witty dialogue and dynamic characters.

As for characters, it appears that Tyrion was the favorite in both groups. Both groups spent a decent amount of time speaking about him, followed by Sansa, who divided the groups into Sansa fans and Sansa haters. For both Tyrion and Sansa, there was a lot of discussion generated on their motivations and what makes them so interesting to the readers.

They asked us a few other character questions, too:

Who did we feel the main hero of the story was? Both groups went with Jon Snow.

Who did we feel the central bad guy was? Both groups mentioned Tywin, but the ladies veered more toward Cersei while the guys veered more toward Littlefinger.

Now the interesting thing is that the ladies were asked two questions that were not brought up in the guy’s group:

Who did we think was the sexiest character? (The ladies went a unanimous vote of Jaime)


Who did we think the most romantic character is? (Both Sansa and Rhaegar won out here)

After characters were discussed, our focus group leader asked us what kind of extra features we would like to see included in either the DVDs or extra feature section on HBO. Both groups mentioned features on fight choreography, costume design, character histories, family trees, character profiles and flashbacks (though the guys said that they would actually prefer to have the flashbacks in the actual show and not as extras). The guys also requested maps while the ladies mentioned detailed looks into the Wall and the various castles.

We were also asked if we read any websites related to the series. Winter is Coming, Westeros and Westeros Sorting were all mentioned.

The ladies group was also asked for words of wisdom on things we felt must be present in the show or things that should not be present in the show in order to make the adaptation work. The ladies mentioned that the most important thing was for the overall tone and theme to remain the same as well as the characters personalities and motivations. All the ladies agreed that changing core parts of characters would really upset them. Additionally, the ladies also requested that the appearance of the characters be consistent with the descriptions in the book since families and bloodlines are an important factor in the series.

In general, we conclude that the ladies group covered more topics while the guy’s group covered less topics but went into greater detail and discussion on the topics presented. It also seems like there was a definite consensus between both groups in regards to over many elements of the series that we enjoyed and wanted to see present in the show.

Does this mean we might see more screen time for Peter Dinklage (who is playing Tyrion in the upcoming HBO series) and Sophie Turner (who is portraying Sansa), plenty of flashback sequences and a making-of extra featuring fight choreography and costume designs? We hope so!

On an side note, The Warlock was pleased to get pulled aside by one of the clients who is interested in playing in The Warlock’s planned weekend long ASoIaF LARP for next I-Con. Score!

EDIT: We were just reminded by one of the Westeros Sorting ladies that was in the focus group with The Princess about something we forgot to mention... Both groups were also asked if we had any suggestions for good taglines in addition to "Winter is Coming" which is already featured on the teaser trailer. "Win or Die", "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die", "Life is not a song" and "Don't wake the dragon" were all mentioned as taglines we liked.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gamer's Grimoire: Using Scent in Your Game

Our Gamer’s Grimoire series explores ways to go deeper into the role playing experience. This series will feature such things as special effects and different techniques to help create immersion into your table top and live action games.

The first thing we wanted to highlight was utilizing the sense of smell in a game setting. For the most part, we often rely on audio and visual cues in gaming experiences. However, scent is another way to add a layer of depth and impact into any game. Sounds and sights are familiar, but scent, when done effectively, can provide an unexpected twist and make for a memorable experience.

For example, we were involved in a game in which an NPC faerie stepped into the room. He didn’t have to say to do anything to get the players attention, because the moment he stepped into the room the scent of roses filled the air. Everyone turned to the source immediately. The smell of roses coming from the NPC evoked an otherworldly and very fae feel. Years later, this simple trick is the thing the most players remember about the scene. It made a lasting impact. Of course, it’s no surprise considering that our olfactory sense is tied to our memories. It’s a good trick to help create memorable characters and scenes.

For personal use, scent is a great way to add definition to player characters and NPCs. It’s just like any other accessory you might add. People give off a variety of different odors from either their natural body chemistry or by wearing their favored perfume or cologne. Giving a character a signature scent can help identify them to other players.

You can also use a room spray to give an area an atmospheric touch, just as you would use background music or dim lighting. It helps set the scene and tone by fully immersing players into the location you are trying to evoke. Since you’ll want to avoid fire hazards, incense may not always be the best option depending on your gaming space and smoke allergies of those involved.

If you are looking to incorporate scent into your game, we highly recommend checking out BPAL. They offer a wide selection of perfume oils, including some very original and offbeat aromas that are ideal for capturing almost any environment or character. You can also check out local perfume stores in your area. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you might even want to try your hand at crafting your own blend. Here’s a great site with info on getting started, if you do.

When using scent, we are creating an intangible and ephemeral change in the air. We are using subtly to draw the players attention to details often otherwise ignored. It can help give off a more visceral sensation. However, it should be noted that you need to use common sense here. Most players are not really going to want to play in a room that reeks of cat urine and moldy garbage even if a scene is supposed to be taking place in an urban alleyway. Likewise, some of your players may be sensitive to certain scents and/or have allergies. Before using this effect, you may want to survey your players and make yourself aware of any sensitivities to perfumes and air sprays.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Movie Review: The Expendables

Last weekend, we got a chance to see our favorite childhood action heroes come to life in The Expendables. It’s an hour and a half action packed romp about a group of mercenaries who are hired by a CIA operative to the travel to South America overthrow a tyrant. In the process, the team tries to liberate the dictator’s daughter who helped aid them bring down her father.

The Princess’s Take:

This is a pretty straight forward action flick. Don’t expect any great cinematic achievements or award winning performances – this movie is all about the explosions and epic fights of action hero legends. And really, that is what you came for. And you get it. In spades.

The cast does a great job at doing their thing (kicking butt). The fight sequences are intense and plentiful, although the shaky camera occasionally hurt my eyes and made it difficult for me to keep up with the fights. But I got what I came for. Violence, violence, and more violence.

As someone trying to keep a megalomaniac in check, I definitely could sympathize with the tyrannical general’s daughter, Sandra. It’s a shame she didn’t just try to distract him with the cunning use of Facebook Apps and cookies-n-cream milkshakes. Works like a charm for me.

My only real let down was that Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger only make the briefest of cameos in the film. But the barbed dialogue during the scene is quite enjoyable. I also wish that the rest of the cast, especially Jet Li, could have been a bit more prominently featured.

Overall, I’ve seen better, but I’ve also seen worse. But if you’re a 1980’s action movie buff, it’s a must. It may not be exactly as epic as you would like it to be, but the nostalgia factor is well worth the price of admission.

3 ½ out of 5 stars

The Warlock’s Take:

A great popcorn movie with enough action to sate your bloodlust for the evening. You should go in knowing that it’s a Stallone and Statham movie with a lot of great cameos, and probably not the ensemble piece you had in your head. Be that as it may, it’s still a fun ride and worth seeing if you are looking for an action packed afternoon.

For the fights Jason Statham steals the show, with honorable mentions to Dolph Lundgren and Stone Cold. Jet Li’s limited action was disappointing but he does help to showcase the others. With any cast this large screen time is always going to be an issue, but this movie does handle it better than most of the contrived Hollywood all-star line ups that came before it.

On the villain’s side, no great masterminds or inspirational schemes we haven’t seen a hundred times already, but Stone Cold does play a great enforcer, and shows all the right qualities a starting or even established warlock should look for in a right hand minion.

By the end of the day, there’s nothing in the movie you didn’t already know was there, except a bit real acting by Rourke, and Willis, but still enough action to keep you entertained throughout, even if you can never really go back to your childhood.

3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Princess's Garden: Beyond the Stereotype

Everyone is subjected to being stereotyped, male and female alike. However, I am sure that I am not alone in being dismayed when I come across one dimensional female characters based purely on a template. I’m not saying that it’s not equally as frustrating for men who encounter this problem, but I think, for women, it’s an issue that is a bit more pronounced considering that we’ve only recently started to get a foot hold in an industry that used to be primarily marketed toward a male audience. It’s as if the geek media has finally just discovered that girls like to kick back and whip out our d20 just as much as our guy friends.

Through the course of time, certain stereotypes have become a regular staple of female characters in geek media. Some of these may be a residual effect of a formerly male centric interest, while others are the result of women trying too hard to fight back against. While there shouldn’t be a pressure to play or create a character that is completely original, when we don’t go beyond a stereotype we are not stretching our creative muscles as gamers and writers. Archetypes are a good foundation, but they need to be shaped to form something with depth. To craft them into an interesting and balanced character.

While there are numerous stereotypes that exist, I have chosen to address three of the ones I see the most frequently. Let’s examine their pitfalls and how we, as a community, can strive to go beyond the stereotype.

The Damsel
This, more than any of the others on the list, is the stereotype that the majority of women rail against the most. It’s also the one that many starting players create. Why? Because many female gamers come into gaming through their significant others. They are often referred to as a “backpack” among gaming society.
The profile of The Damsel is a character that has little to no physical attributes, is dependent on other characters, and has minimal motivation or goals. They are frequently the love interest for another character and lack a clearly defined background. She appears helpless with no indication of ever trying to get involved or make her own choices.

The problem with this stereotype is that those playing The Damsel will often find that they feel alienated from the game and the other players. The reason for this is usually because of their dependence on others and weak concept design. Motivations, goals and a fully conceptualized background help give a character the fuel they need to be an active participant. Without this drive, other players may become exhausted with trying to constantly work in ways to get you involved or having to rescue you every five minutes.

Those who want to play a more classic heroine role shouldn’t let this deter them though, because there are ways to construct this archetype into a fully fleshed out character. One of the best ways to do this is by giving your character a useful, non-physical based skill set, whether it be diplomacy, martial tactics, economic strategy, first aid, empathy, academics or linguistics. Giving yourself an edge is one way to make your character a part of the team. Not everyone can be the fighter. Sometimes you need someone to be able to talk down the monster or translate ancient documents.

An example of this can be found in fan favorite, Princess Leia. We are presented with a character who needs to be rescued and upon first look seems to be a damsel in distress, but we soon learn that she possesses a strong moral code and sense of self. She conducts herself with confidence and is able to take command of military units. While she might not always jump out directly into the fray, she’s still involved in the action.

Princess Leia

The Gun Bunny
Next we come to the ever-popular Gun Bunny. This stereotype is a two-fold construction from guys wanting to salivate over busty girls in tight leather and women wanting to escape the confines of The Damsel stereotype they have been presented with for too long.

Gun Bunnies are usually defined by their martial prowess. They are often have no flaws and no rational excuse for their powers and/or skills. In addition, they can often be found going the lone wolf route in an attempt to display just how cool their character is.

These stereotypes become an issue due to their frequent unwillingness to work with a group and also for their unwillingness to show any faults. While it’s tempting for many girls to play someone “empowered”, I think the idea of inner strength gets blurred with a total focus on physical skills. Gaming is a social pastime and as a result, alienating yourself from the group doesn’t do anyone any favors.

If you want to play a more social based character, it is possible to play this archetype effectively without having to compromise integrity. The goal of creating a character like this should focus on making the character be realistic. Flaws and short comings are universal and your character shouldn’t be exempt. This goes beyond having an eye patch. We’re talking about true flaws and insecurities that can truly affect the character. In addition to this, to make this character endearing, you’ll want to craft a believable backstory and be approachable.

Personally, I find Joss Wheadon to be one of the best writers of believable female characters. One of his characters that I think is a perfect example of the Gun Bunny done right is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Faith. Faith starts out as a very likeable girl. Everyone immediately gets along with her, she doesn’t spend her time skulking in a corner – she’s out there making jokes and having fun with the others. We also get to see some great moments of vulnerability that display a near crippling self- loathing. In this, she transcends from being a run-of-the-mill antagonist and becomes a character you can relate to.


The Crazy Girl
Those who don’t’ want to be a physical powerhouse like The Gun Bunny nor a delicate and demure Damsel, will often turn to a third option – The Crazy Girl. From happy homicidal psychopaths to excessively traumatized teens, the Crazy Girl has become a recent favorite among gamer girls and geek media alike.
The Crazy Girl can often be found laughing manically and rambling incoherently in a corner. Their random actions are focused on silly antics. Their purpose seems to be exclusively to seek attention and offer, often disruptive, humor. They usually have little other defining characteristic aside from their insanity.

The problem is that many players find this stereotype to be annoying. And with good reason. The Crazy Girl has a habit of disrupting otherwise meaningful and emotional charged interactions for a chance to throw in a joke or make a scene. Constantly diverting attention to yourself can ruin a moment and rub other players the wrong way.

If you want to play a Crazy Girl, there are ways to pull it off without becoming disruptive. One of the key things is learning to be subtle. A constant barrage of flamboyant antics doesn’t give you room for displaying levels of clarity and psychosis. Sometimes it’s more unsettling to stare at someone blankly than to pull out a fish from your shirt and whacking someone on the head with it. Another thing you can do to keep everyone on their toes is to have moments of utter normalcy. These moments will make moments of insanity that much more impacting because you display a level of unpredictability without relying on humor.

A good example of this type of character that would fit in well with a game is Luna Lovegood. She is clearly “not all there” but she’s still an active member of the team. Sometimes her dialogue is nonsense, but it is sprinkled with wisdom and she rarely hogs the spotlight. She has subtle quirks and eccentric beliefs that cause her to be unsettling without being over the top.

Luna Lovegood

While those are only three examples, I think we should constantly seek to go beyond all stereotypes we may encounter. We should always strive to delve further into our characters and craft fully realized concepts. Challenging ourselves to push the beyond the limits of popularity and convention is how we will continue to grow and make a solid presence for ourselves in the gaming community.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Introducing...The Princess & The Warlock

Hello and welcome to The Princess & The Warlock, a blog designed to feature various offbeat hobbies as discussed by a couple involved in all manner of geekery. So let’s start with introductions, shall we?

About Us
The Princess is a former SCAdian and current active member of the lolita fashion community. She loves 1980’s fantasy movies, Asian ball jointed dolls, Renn Faires, RPGs of all kind and almost exclusively reads children’s literature.  Her favorite fandoms include Harry Potter and Final Fantasy VII. She also likes Tim Burton and Hayao Miyazaki movies and the writings of Neil Gaiman. Some of her all-time favorite characters include Princess Eilonwy (The Prydain Chronicles), Alice (Alice in Wonderland), and Magick (X-Men).
The Warlock started his journey at the young age of seven, when he first played Palladium’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG. His mission for world domination has since continued. He enjoys playing RPGs, video games, CCG’s and keeps a large collection of miniatures and comic books. His favorite fandoms include Star Wars and A Song of Fire and Ice. He also likes classic Nintendo games and the works of Joss Whedon and Alan Moore. Some of his favorite all-time characters include Boba Fett (Star Wars), Raistlin Majere (Dragonlance) and Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
The Princess and The Warlock met in their first year of college where The Warlock introduced an already very geeky Princess into the big wide world of LARPing.  Their friendship eventually blossomed into romance… or at least that’s how The Warlock tells it. The Princess insists that he conveniently leaves out the whole kidnapping part. Either way, they married on October 1st, 2009 in a Labyrinth-inspired fantasy masquerade themed wedding. There was much rejoicing. 
The Princess and The Warlock, Oct. 1st, 2009

About the Blog
Through our years of delving into our numerous pastimes, we’ve learned a lot. For a while now, we have wanted to share our experiences with a broader audience to help promote discourse and critical thinking in our favored hobbies. Our goal is to bring together geek lifestylists from all backgrounds and give them a look at different related topics as told from two different points of view.  
We hope to bring you reviews of all kind (movies, comic books, tv shows, books and games), articles geared toward geek lifestylists (gamers, lolitas, cosplayers, rennies, collectors, etc), event reports and interviews featuring fellow bloggers and industry workers.  Since our aim is to reach out to the community, we encourage comments and discussion. You can also keep up to date by subscribing to our feed and following our Facebook and Twitter pages. If you have any questions for us, you are also free to email us at princesswarlock@gmail.com.
Thank you for checking us out!
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