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2015 CON CALENDAR
We're done for 2014 but it's not too early to look at 2015.
MARCH
PAX East, Boston
Boston, MA, March 6 - 8, 2015
Emerald City, Seattle
Seattle, WA, March 27 - 29, 2015

JUNE
utopYA Con, Nashville
Nashville, TN, June 18-21, 2015

SEPTEMBER
DragonCon, Atlanta
Atlanta, GA, Septebmer 4 -7, 2015

OCTOBER
GeekGirlCon, WA
Seattle, WA, October 10 - 11, 2015 GeekGirlCon, Seattle, WA, October 11-12, 2014

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Wednesday
Nov262014

Famicom Females: Milky (Onyanko Town) and Zelda (Legend of Zelda)

milky-otMilky (Onyanko Town)

Release Date: November 21, 1985
Developer: Micronics
Publisher: Pony Canyon
Format: Cartridge
Role: Main Playable Character
Any Subsequent Appearances: No  

 

Introduction: Pony Canyon, a popular Japanese record label, decided to cash in on Nintendo’s successful Famicom by producing games themselves. Onyanko Town was their first title, developed by the now infamous Micronics, who would go on to ruin Capcom and SNK ports in a few years with their shoddy programming. Here, however, the team created a simplistic maze game starring Milky, a mother cat who continues to lose track of her son. She must brave a cityscape full of hateful canines and homicidal butchers in order to retrieve her son. Her only defenses against the horde of haters are manholes that drop dogs to their doom, and grabbing the occasional fish, rendering her invincible to the canine cavalcade.

ot-screen
Character Design/Personality
: Milky wears a pink dress with an apron, strongly suggesting that she is very much a housewife. She’s hunting down her wayward son, which shows she cares for the lad, but could also posit that she doesn't pay him the attention he needs. She lives in an animal kingdom equivalent of the sundown town. She doesn’t have much of a personality from the in-game spritework. She is excited when she returns home with her son, leaping high into the sky. Beyond that, there isn’t much to go on.  

Impact on Narrative: She is the heroine of the piece, so there’s that. She is the one who rescues her son and braves the mobs of hateful neighbors. However, she has little agency because she can't do much of anything beyond wander about the maze and open and close manhole covers.  

Positive Aspects: She’s the second lead female on the Famicom, and the first from a third-party! She is one of the very rare “mother” characters in a game.

Negative Aspects: Her design is very stereotypical and trite. Her game’s design stacks the deck against her very heavily, as she has no real way to combat the game’s obstacles and foes beyond running away. This reflects poorly on her having any control over what is happening to her. Her environment is toxic and has unexpected parallels to real-world race and sex relationships.  

My Reactions: Not a very progressive character by any stretch of the imagination. A helpless woman trying to retrieve her son who wandered off smacks of negligence at best. Add in the creepy tangent that every single creature in the game world is looking to kill her, and she has no recourse whatsoever... and you have a rather unsettling title. Unintentionally, Milky’s plight could have grander significance in terms of studying the game as a discourse on racial dynamics than as an actual game. It’s sort of eerie how much the game’s design mimics what I’m reading in James Loewen’s excellent but terrifying Sundown Towns.

Future Appearances: As far as I know, this is her only game.

Sources:
Chrontendo Episode 5

Grouvee Page for Onyanko Town

Honest Gamers Review (image sources)
 

 

 

zelda-lozZelda (Legend of Zelda)

Release Date: February 21, 1986
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Format: Disc (Japan)/Cartridge (other territories)
Role: NPC (Damsel)
Any Subsequent Appearances: Yes… well, sort of

 

Introduction: Princess Zelda is Nintendo’s second leading princess, and their third damsel in distress thus far. She is the namesake of one of the greatest video game series of all time, although in this game her role is marginalized in contrast to Link and Ganon. In the original game, she is kidnapped by Ganon for her Triforce of Wisdom. Unfortunately for the King of Evil, Zelda had already split apart the Triforce and hidden it all over the realm. Her final task before her kidnapping was to send Impa, her nursemaid, to find a worthy hero to put a stop to Ganon’s tyranny… which leads to Link getting involved. She appears in the game’s ending, following Link’s victory over Ganon, in a room in Level 9 completely surrounded by flames. Link’s sword extinguishes the fires, and Link returns the Triforce of Wisdom to her. She holds the reformed Triforce high as Link does the same for the Triforce of Power, plucked from the ashes of Ganon.

loz  

Character Design/Personality: Her artwork depicts her as a Disney-esque Princess. She wears a simple pink dress with a plethora of bows, pink pearls, and a jeweled headband on her head. She is depicted in a prayer-like pose, suggesting meekness. In-game, her dress is the same color as Link’s outfit at the time (red is likely what most players ran across). She stands still until Link touches her, and then the game ends with them both holding their respective Triforces aloft. She expresses a smile at her freeing moments, but that’s really it in terms of personality.  

Impact on Narrative: She is the arbiter of the game’s storyline  without her initial actions, Ganon would have dominated Hyrule without any problems. She scattered the Triforce shards across Hyrule (supposedly by herself? Considering the hells in those dungeons…I find that dubious. But hey, maybe she’s like Smash Bros. Zelda when she’s not in Ganon’s clutches). She also indirectly recruited Ganon’s rival Link through her nursemaid, Impa. However, beyond setting the game’s plot into motion, she’s almost trivial to the actual goings-on of the game. Link's quest only bumps into the titular princess at the very end.

Positive Aspects: She did have the foresight to hinder Ganon’s efforts of taking over Hyrule with her pre-game actions...

Negative Aspects: Unfortunately, Zelda’s origin is pretty terrible. She defines the damsel trope here: she only appears in the endgame, and serves as the “reward” for beating the game. Link’s motivation? Save Zelda. Furthermore, she is clothed in “feminine” colors and garments. She’s also a princess, which begs for the damsel trope. It set into motion the recurring “kidnapping Zelda” motif of the franchise, and she is almost always captured, assaulted, or somehow diminished in the narrative as a means of plot progression. Even her most empowered moments (save Smash and Hyrule Warriors) lead to this end result. Ocarina of Time’s Sheik? Snatched by Ganondorf moments after her big reveal as a disguised Zelda. Wind Waker’s Tetra? Once she’s confirmed to be the princess, she’s shut away in a dreary castle and then swiped by Ganondorf. Skyward Sword? She’s pursued throughout the entire game by Ghirahim, and when her true power is ultimately unveiled, he manages to finally catch her and whisk her away. It’s ridiculous how often this happens.  

My Reactions: This rendition of Zelda is nothing special or noteworthy. She’s a means for the game’s story to hinge upon, and that’s it. More disappointing is how Nintendo continues to recycle Zelda’s helplessness into nearly every other project under the franchise’s umbrella.

Future Appearances: This Zelda is only in this particular game. However, her ancestors and descendants have made many further appearances in gaming lore, typically in a similar role of damsel. There are a few exceptions to the victimized rule, though: Super Smash Bros. Melee brought Zelda into its lineup, granting her a magic-infused moveset based on Link’s Goddess magic from Ocarina of Time. She could also turn into Sheik for Melee and Brawl. In the 3DS and Wii U entries, Sheik was isolated into her own character, and Zelda gained the Phantom from Spirit Tracks as a new move. She’s got some hard hitting strikes, especially in the air, and is a solid, empowered character in the series (outside of the Subspace Emissary, where she is, once again, kidnapped for a time). Hyrule Warriors also grants Zelda a more liberated role within its playable roster, although I haven’t played that yet, so I’ll refrain from further comment for now.

Sources:
Personal experience
Hyrule Historia
(book)
Zeldawiki (Zelda image)
VG Museum
(in-game screenshot)

Friday
Nov212014

Review: World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

So I’m back playing World of Warcraft again. Even though I swore I would never be back again. I did pretty well though. I stayed away for around 3 years. Why I’m back is a story for another time. Why the fact that I am back is relevant to a review is this: 

I came back to WoW around August this year to an expansion (Mists of Pandaria) that was brand new to me. Because I was jumping in almost at the end of the expansion cycle, I didn't have the usual expansion launch headaches of long queue times, too many players in the zones, or launch bugs. This should have made the game a joy to come back to. It didn't. It just felt like the same old stale crap Blizzard has been churning out for years now. And so I kept my head down and leveled my toons waiting for Warlords of Draenor to drop. 

So far, I’m glad that I did. 

Just to be clear, I’m only reviewing what I’ve experienced of the expansion so far. That being the main campaign through leveling and the Garrison system.

Hello, old friend. You're looking good!Let's start with the feature of this expansion that didn't impress me much. New character models. Where they shine is the less than humanoid races of WoW. The dwarves, gnomes, orcs, and tauren look pretty good. However, the closer you get to human, like the elves and humans, for instance, the more flat they become. To my eye, those character models look like manikins up close. All in al,l the character model upgrade is pretty mediocre in my opinion. 

Where Warlords of Draenor wins big is the nostalgia factor. 

The first part of this nostalgia factor is the call back to the Real Time Strategy (RTS) days of the Warcraft setting through the use of the Garrison system. Shortly after an action packed string of events you end up in your starting area for the expansion and begin building your garrison.

And this is where things begin to feel … right. Because you're building a base just like you did in those old RTS Warcraft games!

The garrison allows you the option to build several different buildings, but not all the options at once. So depending on what you build you'll have a different experience and get different bonuses in game. For instance, I built the Forge for my Death Knight and at level 2 of the Forge, I could place a minion in the building that not only bolstered production, but gave a real nice 4 hour quality of life buff whenever I talked to that minion.

The second nostalgia punch is going back to Draenor and seeing all of the characters from the lore of The Burning Crusade and what Outlands was before it was fractured and ruined. I enjoy seeing what all these different characters are like in a different timeline and watching their stories play out through dramatic quest lines and cut scenes. 

I am the lord of all I survey.Nostalgia runs through the game in another major way  exploration. I remember when I started playing WoW almost 10 years ago, there was a real joy to exploring the geography of the game. Not because I would necessarily gain anything from it, but because it was fun. That may have never really left the game, but Blizzard has now made it profitable to take your time and look around.

Scattered throughout Draenor are hidden treasures. Some aren't too difficult to find; some are way off the beaten path. Sometimes it's a piece of loot you're just going to sell. Sometimes, very infrequently, it's a gear upgrade that you can use, a pet, or a gadget. Either way, it leaves you wondering at every turn.

At its heart, Warlords of Draenor is still a World of Warcraft expansion. But it's an expansion that reminds you what it was like to play WoW back in the early days of the game. The quest system is still the same old fetch or kill system it's always been, but tightened up and more efficient. Is it still grindy? Yup. But, for now, I’m really enjoying that feeling of the way things used to be. And, I think anyone who isn't completely fed up with MMOs will enjoy coming back too.

Tuesday
Nov182014

episode 138 - Holiday Playlist

In anticipation of the quickly approaching Holidaze, Rhonda and I invite fearless intern, Isabela, to join us for our holiday playlist episode. Starting an annual tradition, we make suggestions to help pass the time traveling to visit family and friends this year using your favorite electronic device or your favorite old fashioned device like a paperback book. Let us know your recommendations to pass the time this traveling season in the comments!

Until next time, game on!
Regina, Rhonda, and Isabela  

BOOKS - AUDIO

"A Christmas Carol" read by Jim Dale
"A Vision of Fire" read by author, Gillian Anderson
"Born Standing Up" read by author, Steve Martin
"Partials" by Dan Wells, read by Julia Whelan, first book in Partials series

BOOKS

"A Christmas Carol", Charles Dickens, free digital download
"The Secret History of Wonder Woman" by Jill Lepore
"Vixens, Vampls, & Vipers" by Mike Madrid
"Divas, Dames, & Daredevils" by Mike Madrid
"The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines" by Mike Madrid
"The Stepsister Scheme" by Jim C. Hines, first in the Princess Series

COMICS

"Supreme Blue Rose", Image Comics, Warren Ellis (writer), Tula Lotay (artist)
"Outcast", Image Comics, Robert Kirkman (writer/creator), Paul Azaceta (artist)

GAMES - MOBILE

"The Simpsons: Tapped Out", EA, Amazon, Apple, Google Play
"Dungeon Keeper", EA, Amazon, Android, Apple
"Daddy Long Legs", Set Snail, Amazon/Android
"Can You Escape", MobiGrow, Amazon/Android
"Puzzix", Oz Machine, Apple, Android, Google Play

GAMES - TABLETOP

"Anomia", party edition, card game
"The Resistance", Indie Boards and Cards
Cards Against Humanity

MOVIES

"Chef", 2014, rated R, Aldamisa Entertainment, Amazon, Google Play
"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy

MUSIC

"Letter to Laredo", Joe Ely, CD
"That's Christmas to Me", Pentatonix
The Black Keys

PODCASTS

CockTales, Don Diego, Podbean, iTunes
"Welcome to Night Vale"

TV - BINGE

"The Gilmore Girls", Netflix
"The Bletchley Circle", PBS, Netflix, Amazon, Google Play
"Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries"

TV - GUILTY PLEASURE

"Wonder Woman" with Linda Carter

WEB SERIES

"Carmilla"

Percy: Where are we?
Inez: This is Little Havana.
Percy:
Like in Grand Theft Auto?

"Chef", 2014, rated R, Aldamisa Entertainment 

Episode 138

Friday
Nov142014

SpellFall and the Problem with Pay to Win

About two months ago, I got a text from our editor, Ryan, telling me I should check out this game called Spellfall. I generally listen to Ryan's suggestions since he's pretty good at identifying mobile games I'll enjoy. On top of that, I was in the market for a new game to play on my phone so off to the iOS App Store I went. 

The addiction was immediate. SpellFall is a cleaner, leaner, dressed up version of a PC game I played for hours: Puzzle Quest. Essentially, it's a jewel matching game with RPG elements. Bejeweled meets Diablo II. I started playing obsessively, choosing to game on my phone instead of hoping on to World of Warcraft when I had a chunk of time to play. 

The honeymoon was lovely, especially after I broke my rule and spent some actual money on in-game currency — I wanted to support the game because I enjoyed it that much. 

Unfortunately, the honeymoon was ruined by a recent patch and the game I enjoyed was turned into one I now play in utter frustration.

I'll get to why I'm still playing later. Let me explain the game and the patch that destroyed it all. 

SpellFall is "Free to Play" — if you take the time and energy, you can reach max level and play all the maps throughout the game. Any damage your character takes while playing is healed over time and the length of that time increases as your hit points accumulate and you level up. You don't have to pay to unlock maps or levels in the game. 

There is an incentive program to keep you regularly opening the game: click everyday for 20 days and you get a heroic, gold level item that levels with your character and does more damage as you continue to level. The gem matching part of SpellFall has an elemental focus, so some of the gems do either more or less damage depending on your foe. These weapons increase the damage to specific elemental foes.

On top of different types of weapons and armor, each item you use has rune sockets where you equip runes to boost stats and allow you to cast spells. This takes your basic gem matching game and makes it just strategic enough to become addictive. It's not about the speed of Bejeweled Blitz; instead, you have to take the time to think through where and what you will play and the potential damage it can cause.

Originally, this was the reason I fell in love with SpellFall  a new form of game play that I found compelling. I was good with taking the time and playing daily to get the cool, uber strong gear, and delighted all the maps were available as long as you took the time to play. I'm ok with micro-transaction games as long as I can play the basic game without having to pay. The elemental weapons after clicking for 20 days seemed reasonable to me. If you are impatient, and don't want to wait 20 days for one, they are available for purchase in the store for $79.99. (No, that's not a typo. You can buy one weapon for almost $80.)

Then the new patch happened. 

I'd say everything changed but that sounds so cliche... but everything changed. The one positive was now when you use your elemental weapons against a matching foe — a Burning Claideamh against a cold monster for example — you do extra damage. 

I had collected two of the elemental weapons before the patch. Each comes with three open rune sockets out of five total. You would think for $79.99 ALL the sockets would be open but I digress. I was able to open all five sockets on my first two weapons. I can't remember the exact cost for the last two sockets but I only spent $10 on gold when I did buy it and that is only 122K gold pieces. On my third weapon, I clicked the fourth socket and this is what I saw:

279K! I thought there must be some mistake... that was an outrageous amount of gold, it would take eons to earn that much gold in the game BEFORE the patch. After the patch, they cut the amount of gold earned from completed maps from almost 2000 gold pieces per map to 880, so earning potentials went waaaaay down. 

Earning gold went significantly down and the cost to unlock rune sockets sky rocketed. What does that spell?

C-A-S-H G-R-A-B. 

To buy the gold to unlock the fourth rune slot on the elemental weapons would cost $24.99 and that only opens the FOURTH socket of FIVE. So a weapon that costs almost $80 would need another $50 at least to be at max power. I will admit I spend a fair amount of money on Steam games and my WoW subscriptions, but I have never, ever spent $130 on a SINGLE ITEM in a game, not to mention there are five elemental weapons. 

I've rarely been so disappointed in a game. I think my disappointment is highlighted by the fact that I was truly enjoying this game and planned to finish it so I could follow the story woven into each battle. It is no small thing in a mobile game to take the time and space to include a narrative, especially since most mobile gamers aren't interested in a storyline but rather a quick and satisfying game experience. 

SpellFall had transcended that experience. I was engaged with the game on multiple levels. I wanted to know what happened to my character and his companion, a spriteling guide. And that is why I continue to play even when I want to slam down my phone when I die over and over again on the same level. I am a sucker for a storyline and I must know what happens at the end. 

So I begrudgingly play and I curse Backflip Studio all the while. I won't spend another penny on the game, which may mean I'll never know the end of the story, but I'm not willing to continue to support a studio that so obviously only respects my pocketbook. 

Monday
Nov102014

episode 137 - "Chicks Dig Gaming"

This week we review an excellent anthology focused on women gamers. "Chicks Dig Gaming" from Mad Norwegian press is a great collection of stories and articles we are sure you would love. We share some quotes from our favorite stories in the collection.

We WRaP up the episode with what we are Watching, Reading, and Playing. We're loving some fall TV and new games this week. 

Until next time, game on!
Regina & Rhonda

WATCHING

"Constantine", NBC
"Godzilla"
"Bad Judge", NBC
"Awkward", MTV

READING

"Chicks Dig Gaming", Mad Norweigen Press, (Amazon)
"Chasing the Dead", Tim Weaver

PLAYING

"Civilization: Beyond Earth"
"Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel"

COMING

"The Homesman" in theaters November 14
"The Fall", BBC Two, Season 2, November 13 (Season 1 on Netflix)
"The Bletchley Circle", Season 2 now on Netflix
"Ripper Street", Season 3, November 14

But the point is that, no matter what, I still want to be able to say, “I, a pretty girl in fabulous shoes, saved the galaxy; yes, thank you, please throw all roses right here.”

- "Saving the Galaxy in Cute Shoes" by Zoe Estrin-Grele from "Chicks Dig Gaming: A Celebration of All Things Gaming by the Women Who Love It", Mad Norwegian Press, November 2014 

Episode 137