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Monday
Apr202015

"Cinderella" – 1950 vs. 2015

It’s been perplexing me for weeks why I disliked Disney’s latest live-action version of Cinderella so much. At first I thought it was about the unabashed damsel-in-distress storyline. Sorting through the issues with the film there were questions I felt needed to be answered. Why is this story so endearing and enduring? Looking at the story critically, am I tearing down innocence with my adult perspective? Why did I, a 52-year old woman, want to go see it in the first place?

Disney’s new Cinderella is true to the old tale but, unlike the original 1950s animation or any other version for that matter, it is incredibly boring. Director Kenneth Branagh tends to make his films feel long-winded and Cinderella is no different. From beginning to end the whole thing is a teeter-totter of juxtapositions: a stunning cast with predictable and dull dialogue; fantastic artistic design with slow, stilted framing. The lack of freshness to the story, as well as not putting enough live-action into the live-action translation, adds to the dullness factor. The animated version knew itself much better where the live-action plays so close to reality at times the fantasy portions feel out of place.

Endearing and Enduring

The Cinderella trope can be found as far back as 7 BC. There are innumerable variations in almost every culture – the “persecuted heroine” who achieves unexpected recognition. There are just as many arguments as to why Cinderella is such a globally appealing tale: rags-to-riches, becoming a real princess, justice being served, and even the American dream. There is not just a single reason that explains it... except maybe that it’s one of the most basic and original tropes.1

In the recent waves of online social justice, the word "trope" has taken on a negative connotation when it’s simply a literary term used in the fascinating study of the different types of figurative language used in creative works. Tropes are a communication tool of the artist. And like all tools, they can be used for good or evil in the hands of the creator. The trope of Cinderella was handled respectfully in the original 1950s animation, but not so in Disney and Brannaugh’s 2015 version.

From Child to Adult to Child

The 2015 screenplay, written by Chris Weitz, was not modernized in the least little bit and had no adult appeal whatsoever. Weitz is adept at telling stories from a male perspective (About a Boy), but he wrote a flat, boring story that portrayed the worst parts of the damsel-in-distress trope.  

The most common feminist complaints about the Cinderella trope are that, to escape her predicament, Cinderella must be rescued by a man and marriage, and that a man is her salvation. There are no other options available to this healthy, young, intelligent but naïve woman except servitude. This message came through loud and clear in the live-action version. Ella2 is an object who shows very little fight or self-identity.

But I don’t think we should ensconce with the whole trope. The original animation has depth and fight. Cinderella has a dream her life will get better but she doesn’t define that as marriage simply as happiness. She struggles, as we all do, with hanging on to that dream against all odds, overwhelming authority, and the need for self-preservation.

When Cinderella is introduced in the animation, she sings about believing in your dreams – a good message for little girls. But then, in the kitchen, she turns around and tells Bruno, the dog, to quit dreaming about catching Lucifer, the step-mother’s cat. Why? Because if you like having a nice, warm bed to sleep in, you’ll learn to like cats. This is a complete contradiction to what she said in her opening scene. In her room all things are possible and dreams live, but in every other part of the house is the harsh truth of her life.


In the end she doesn’t compromise and learn to like being abused but chooses to fight for her dream. To break down the door between her room (the dream) and the house (the reality), she calls on Bruno to live his dream by chasing away Lucifer who’s blocking the door. This is a great message of courage, friendship, and strength.

Twirling in Glass Slippers

I didn’t really understand my desire to see Cinderella but it felt very… female. What finally pushed me to leave my comfy, leather sofa was the article in EW magazine by Clark Collis called “Cinderella: How to Dress a Fairy-Tale Princess.”

You remember the 1950 animated classic: the golden-voiced heroine, the adorable mice, the devilishly evil stepmonster. Now Disney is putting a fresh spin on the bibbidi-bobbidi-boo of it all with a live-action Cinderella dripping in lush details fit for a fairy tale.3

Dante Ferretti was the production designer for Cinderella 2015 and Sandy Powell was in charge of costume design. When Collis describes the design as “lush” he’s not kidding. The carriage that carries Cinderella to the ball was painted and gold leafed by hand. The infamous blue ball gown had around 10,250 Swarovski crystals applied by hand. Powell said, “I wanted the dress to look like a moving watercolor.” The fairy godmother’s dress was wired with 4,000 LED lights. And the glass slipper – a single solid piece of Swarovski crystal. Wow! Who doesn’t want to see that?

♀♀♀

So besides a boring story and a paper doll protagonist, my complaint is that Helena Bonham Carter and her LED dress didn’t get enough screen time. As it turns out, for me, it’s all about the dresses and shoes.

I’ll Give You a Topic

  • What was your favorite Disney movie as a kid (be honest)?
  • Are you offended that unattractive women are shown to have large feet?
  • Do you like the original 1950s Cinderella animation by Disney?
  • Is romance a societal construct used to define genders?
  • Why do we desire romance? What is romance?

 


1 “Trope” has gained popularity just in the last twenty years
2
Ella is the protagonists name until her step-sisters rename her Cinder-ella because she’s covered in soot  
3
Clark Collis, EW, March 20/27, 2015, #1355/1356

Friday
Apr172015

Hiding Behind Beta

Recently, I returned to playing Warframe after about a six month hiatus. The impetus for this being that I wanted to see how pretty it would be on the new PC I built. After waiting about 20 minutes for the game to download, I began the install and was surprised when a beta Terms of Service popped up on my screen. I hit "Accept" while thinking, “Hasn't this game have been released already?”

Beta Product  A pre-release version of a product which serves as the focus of a beta test; typically at or near feature complete, likely includes a number of known and unknown bugs.

Warframe has been in open beta for just over two years now (March 2013 to present). It was in closed beta for about five months before that (October 2012 to March 2013). At this point, the game has been in beta in one form or another for about three years.

During this time, the game has had several features added. These have included a private ship for the player to call home, companions like sentinels (robots) and Kubrow (dogs) to help with missions, and the Archwing (space combat). To be clear, these are big additions to the game and might lead you to believe that the game shouldn't be out of alpha. But these additions are more akin to DLC and not huge reworks of the main frame work of the game. So the feature complete idea goes right out the door.

In all the time that Warframe has been in beta, it has also been monetized. Yes, it is a free to play game, but it does have an in-game currency you can purchase with real money. That seems odd to me  being able to make money off of an incomplete product.

Please realize that I have nothing against a game developer making money off of their product. Nor do I have any issue with a game developer adding value to their product by adding more content. To be fair, Digital Extremes are not the only ones doing this. There are examples of this both in other video games (looking at you, Firefall) and in the greater software market at large (hello, Google).

So what am I trying to say here? I guess it boils down to if you're making money from your game and continually updating it to add content and replay-ability, it's not really a beta anymore. Especially when we are speaking about a game like Warframe.

I really like Warframe and I think Digital Extremes is doing a great job with it. So much so that I gave it a pretty good review here. My feeling is that they, and so many other software developers, need to get off the crutch of labeling their game beta for years at a time. In my opinion, the only reason developers do this is so they have a built-in excuse in case they do something people don't like.

Any complaint a person might have can be waved away with the sentence, “It's still in beta.”

Constant updates don't need to be handled this way at all. For instance, Gazillion Entertainment continuously updates Marvel Heroes 2015 and it's been out in the wild as a full release since June of 2014. Are there issues with some of the updates? Sure, but they hot-fix them. Just like Digital Extremes does with Warframe.

Again, to be clear, I'm not saying that Warframe is a bad game or that Digital Extremes is a bad developer. What I'm saying is that it is disingenuous to say their product is still a beta. They have a great product that is very polished and making them money. They should have the guts to drop the beta nonsense and stand behind the product because it is a good product. And so should all the other software developers out there.

Why is this important? Well, the honest answer is it's not important until it is. Meaning that one might think that everything is fine with a piece of software wearing the infinite beta tag right up to the point where a developer makes a terrible change to their game and says, "it's still in beta." 

What about you? How do you feel about the infinite beta business model? Have you ever been burned by it? Please let us know in the comments below.

Wednesday
Apr152015

Guilty Doesn't Mean Bad

When talking to a co-worker about how I was reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon because I was a big fan of the show on Starz, the words "It's a guilty pleasure of mine" actually slipped out of my mouth.  

Jaime and Claire from Outlander.

I thought I had stricken that phrase out of my vocabulary, but sometimes it makes its way into my speech, no matter how much I try to keep it out. I started this when I realized that "guilty pleasure" was something I used to wave away things I enjoyed, but knew the average person would think were silly or trivial. Or, more often than not, media that is primarily aimed at women.  

Case in point:  Outlander (the show and the books), most reality shows (I'm partial to home improvement shows), most of the books I read (a lot of my female friends read young adult novels), like Jacqueline Carey's and Anne Rice's books.... One of the few exceptions to this rule happens to be my love of the Fast and Furious franchise.

I decided to stop using that phrase because I always seemed to use it to subtly slam things I genuinely enjoy before someone else can.  The decision goes along with my argument that anyone can be a nerd or a geek -- in that same vein, there are many ways to enjoy media.  I don't think enjoying Game of Thrones should be seen as much different from enjoying Outlander.  Outlander focuses on a smaller cast of characters (at least so far in my reading), is a little more focused on personal experiences rather than political... but the both feature their fair share of sex, violence, and political intrigue. One series happens to be written by a man and the other a women....

So what's the difference? Why do I feel just fine admitting my enjoyment of Game of Thrones while having to qualify my enjoyment of Outlander as a "guilty pleasure" that I let myself consume? I'm afraid I don't really have a straight answer.

That's a question I'd like to pose to our readers:  

Is there a theme to the things you consider guilty pleasures?  What do they have in common?  

And why do we feel embarrassment about admitting we like certain things and not others? Does it have anything to do with how widely accepted it is in popular culture? 

Monday
Apr132015

The Fuse and Wikipedia

The Fuse, issue #1, Part 1 of "The Russia Shift", February 2014

The first series of The Fuse, “The Russia Shift,” came out February of 2014. Written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Justin Greenwood, in the simplest terms, it’s a crime drama in space. But with a multi-layered mythology and two complicated characters that do not conform to hero norms, it is so much more.

The Fuse is a five-mile-long satellite in orbit around earth – a floating city with a population of about a half million people. Spanning fifty levels, The Fuse is divided into two political districts: I-SEEC and Midway City.

Ralph Dietrich, a young man of color, is an accomplished detective from Munich who requested a post on the Fuse. His background is a mystery, especially why anyone would volunteer to leave earth and be posted on the Fuse in the Midway City Police Department (MCPD).

Dietrich is partnered with Sergeant Klementina "Klem" Ristovych, a Russian homicide detective with the MCPD. You don’t know how old Klem is but references are constantly made about her still being around. She is highly respected in Midway City in an almost legendary status.

The year the story takes place is never spelled out exactly. Hints are made throughout the existing series with a specific timeline of events. The Fuse itself is somewhere between thirty and fifty years old and Klem has been on it since the beginning.

The Fuse, issue #1, Part 1 of "The Russia Shift", February 2014Klem and Dietrich have a great working relationship. She teases him about his youth but respects his tenacity. She respects that his past is his business as long as it doesn’t get in the way of his job. "Marlene," as Klem calls Dietrich, is too young, driven, and qualified to be on the Fuse but Klem trusts him. Besides, it’s probably just about a girl.

“The Russia Shift” is a six-issue series and was published from February to June 2014. You can now purchase the comprised issues in Volume 1 of The Fuse. The second, six-issue series, “Gridlock,” started in November 2014 and will conclude this month (April 2015). The comprised volume is due out in June 16, 2015.

Johnston and Greenwood are building a really great world. When I started reading “Gridlock” there was some references from the first series that I couldn’t remember. A wiki didn’t appear to exist for The Fuse so I decided if I was going to go back and re-read all the issues, why not compile the data for a wiki.

Image Comics has a pretty good presence on Wikipedia but I was shocked The Fuse didn’t even have a page, nor was it listed on the “List of Image Comics Publications” page. Who knew? Something that isn’t on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia was launched January 1, 2001, so their editing system is a polished machine. It’s easy to create an account and create an article. As expected, the how-to documentation is thorough although obsure and fussy when searching for answers. The most difficult task is uploading images and inserting them into the articles, but there’s a good reason. Unlike most of the internet, Wikipedia respects copyright so uploading images requires permissions, approvals, and documentation. This is not a complaint. On the contrary, it is something I very much respect.

In the summary of this article I was going to give tips and tricks about editing and/or writing for Wikipedia but, the process is so well documented there’s not much new I can add. After-the-fact I found this article when I was trying to find out more about the Wiki approval process. It's four years old but still gives a quicker overview of getting started on Wikipedia than the overly verbose mothership. One little hint I have would be to copy and paste.

If you plan on starting a brand new article, login to your account on Wikipedia and do a search for an existing article similar to the one you want to add. Select the “Edit” tab to display the editing box for the article. At this point you can select sections to copy and paste into your own article to continue the consistency of keywords and outlines.

At this posting my Wiki article for The Fuse is still awaiting review, which could take weeks.

I want to thank Antony Johnston for helping me with the article and giving permission to upload images. Keep writing, guys!

Friday
Apr102015

Smash Up: The Awesome Level 9000 Expansion

After a short hiatus, I'm back to further discuss Alderac's wonderful Smash Up card game. This time, I'll be covering the first expansion pack to the game:  the Awesome Level 9000 Expansion. All expansions add four new factions into the fold and this original add-on has some of the more intriguing additions to the Smash Up canon: Steampunks, Ghosts, Killer Plants, and Cossacks on Bears!

As I've mentioned before, the key to understanding Smash Up is considering what factions would work well together as a team, and I hope that this primer will help. (Note that I am far from a tournament player, but I have put in several hours playing the game, so I am not necessarily inexperienced, either).

COSSACKS (in Soviet Russia...)

Focus - Moving Minions, Destroying Rival Minions, Minion Protection

Cossacks are a very versatile faction, designed to boost both the offensive and defensive capabilities of your deck. At first glance, they seem to be a lot like Pirates; Cossacks have a fair amount of movement and destruction options in their stable, much like the seafaring faction. However, Cossacks operate a bit differently. While Pirates focus on moving themselves, Cossacks instead specialize in moving others. Their destruction options mostly hinge on moving rival minions to a particular base hosting the card of destruction versus the Pirate's more straightforward approach. They also lack any Power 2 or 5 minions; instead, they feature two sets of Power 3 minions and one Power 6 minion. Add in their stunning capability to prevent the destruction of their owner's minions, and you've got a solid addition to your deck.

Key Cards

Minion wise, there's two that really stand out: the two Power 3 minions, the 3 Bear Cavalry and the 4 Cub Scout cards. These epitomize the Cossack method. The Scouts can destroy any minions with less power than them if the rival minions are relocated to a base where Scouts are in play. Since they are Power 3, that opens up the potential of eliminating most faction's grunt units.

Cossacks have many ways to move rivals around, and the Bear Cavalry minions do just that. If you have Scouts on all of the bases, this would severely cramp up certain factions, like Pirates. Robots and Giant Ants are also in trouble, since they each have more than the usual 4 minions with a power level lower than the Scouts. Before switching to actions, I want to add a note about the Power 6 General Ivan; when he is in play, all of your minions are safe from destruction. The inability to destroy minions can really ruin some factions, like Ninjas, Pirates and Vampires.

High Ground is the Cossack action of choice. This is applied to a base and it can destroy ANY rival minion that moves to that base, no matter its power (if a minion states it cannot be destroyed, then that ability does overrule this card, so keep that in mind). Yikes. The two Commission cards let you play a second minion and then move a rival from that base to another one. You're Pretty Much Borscht forces all other minions, no matter how many players there are, to shift to another base. Combined with High Ground, this will devastate your foes!

In short, don't mess with the bears!

GHOSTS (BOO!)

Focus - Hand Discards, Minion Manipulation, Discard Resurrection

Ghosts are one of the trickier decks in the Smash Up canon. They work at their best when their owner has a small hand; the less cards you carry, the more effective and powerful they become. Two minions and four actions require you to have two cards or less in your hand to work, but if you do, the benefits you gain are significant. They can also utilize the discard pile to summon up minions a la their undead cousins Zombies, but that trait doesn't dominate the faction's toolkit so much. They have a greater emphasis on minion manipulation, particularly rendering those cards immune to other player's abilities and actions. Ghosts are difficult to play, but if you can find a good pairing for it, they can be a great support deck with mild offensive options.

Key Cards

The Ghosts lack a Power 4 minion and, instead, feature two Power 3 minions. Of the two, the two Hauntings deserve mention, as they showcase the Ghost methodology quite nicely. If you have two or fewer cards in your hand, they gain a +3 Power boost and become unaffected by other player's cards. The capability of a impervious Power 6 minion popping up is something a Ghost player will definitely want to strategise for. The Power 5 Spectre can be called up from the discard pile to be a playable minion if you have two or fewer cards as well, making it a constant menace to the game.

Action-wise, Ghosts have a few doozies. Make Contact is the nastiest, as you can possess and take over any minion in play from your rivals, as long as it's the last card you were holding in your hand. Shady Deal grants a Ghost player 1 VP if they have 2 or fewer cards in their hand. The two Ghostly Arrival actions let you play both an extra minion and an extra action if you can. And for your non-Ghost compatriots, the two Incorporeal cards render a minion immune to other player's cards. If played effectively, Ghosts can really haunt the plans of your opponents!

KILLER PLANTS (Feed Me, Seymour)

Focus - Extra Minions, Deck Manipulation, Base Manipulation

Killer Plants are an interesting faction. Their focus is to grow and spread their might across bases, and they have many ways to accomplish that task. Primary among those options are the three card types that can call out extra minions. They also have three cards that enable their players to search their decks for extra minions to either play or store in your hand. And Alien, Pirate, and Cossack players will hate some of their base actions, which prevent movement or return cards from affecting them. Add in some other particularly nasty base actions and you've got one of the better factions in the game.

Key Cards

The four Power 2 Sprouts are the keystone to the Plant attack. After being played, on any subsequent turn, you can destroy it to enable a search through your deck for any Power 3 minions or less to take its place. Depending on your partner, this can really cause headaches for opposing players. Cossacks work well, as do Ghosts, since they have a higher plethora of Power 3 minions than other factions. Shapeshifters, with their Power 0 Mimics and Power 2 Copycats, can also be a solid ally.

Plants lack Power 4 minions, instead featuring 2 Power 5 (gasp!) minion types. The Power 5 Venus Man Trap is the champion of the two, with its talent to summon extra Power 2 minions once per turn from your deck. The two Power 5 Weed Eaters are useful as well, but their full power takes another turn to activate.

Plants are loaded down with fantastic actions. Overgrowth forces a base to break on your next turn, which can generate panic in your rivals. Blossom lets you play up to three extra minions with the same name. This can also cause distress among foes, since you can throw out three Power 2 or Power 3 minions with many factions (if you have the two Weed Eaters, you can quickly add 10 Power to a base on your next turn!). The two Sleep Spores cards are played on a base and reduce all other player's minion's Power by 1, and can be stacked, making their efforts to win a base far more difficult. Lastly, Choking Vines is the one card Plants have that can destroy other player's minions, although it has to wait until the next turn to activate. As you can see, Plants are truly terrifying in the right hands.

STEAMPUNK (Do you feel lucky?)

Focus - Base Manipulation, Discard Manipulation, Extra Actions

Steampunk just so happens to be one of my personal favorites. They are very much a support deck, lacking any form of destruction. However, they have some of the best base actions in the game, and their minions aren't shabby, either. They are the only faction in this expansion with a "normal" minion distribution: there is a Power 2, 3, 4 and 5 minion, and all of them are pretty useful in some way. They can also utilize the discard pile, but unlike Ghosts and Zombies, they resurrect actions, not minions. They also can replay or use extra actions. To summarize, Steampunk could very well be the best supporting half of a particular deck in the entire canon.

Key Cards 

The Power 5 Steam Queen prevents any of your actions from being affected by other player's cards. Given how important actions are to this faction, this is a godsend. The two Power 4 Mechanics can use a discarded base action as an extra action when they are played. And the three Power 3 Steam Man cards gain a +1 Power boost if they are played on a base with an action of yours. As you can see, base actions are truly pivotal to this group.

Aggromotive and Rotary Slug Thrower are two of the fiercest base actions in the entire game. These give your minions incredible Power boosts: Aggromotive gives you a +5 overall bonus if you have a minion there, while Rotary Slug Thrower adds +2 to each minion in play on that base. This can cause bases to break quickly, and with the Mechanics and the two Scrap Diving actions (which let you place a discarded action in your hand), can easily come back into play over and over again. Ornate Dome is the among the greatest preventative base actions you can find in Smash Up: it cancels out any actions in play on a base (minions included), and stops other players from playing any other actions on that base while it is in play. Couple this with a Steam Queen and that base is effectively shut down for some groups.

Last but not least, the two Zeppelin cards let you move one minion either to or away from a base. If you are battling for a Ninja base that is going to break, for example, and you can slip into second place if one minion leaves that base, then play Zeppelin and relocate! Steam on!

The Awesome Level 9000 Expansion normally retails for $19.99, although many outlets discount it to $14 or so. If you like the Core set, this expansion is definitely worth considering!

View the rest of the articles in this series