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2015 CON CALENDAR
MARCH 
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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Monday
Apr272015

ConGregate 2015 - Prelim Schedule

July 10 – 12, 2015
High Point, NC
Register, Hotel, About

 

The second annual ConGregate is coming to High Point, North Carolina this July. The success of last year’s con is due to the highly experienced and professional staff so I’m thrilled to be attending again this as a guest representing you—fandom.

The preliminary schedule came out last week for the con special guests to review. All guests are asked to participate in four to six hours of panel programming. Having the guests sign up for panels is the best method I’ve seen in getting the most out of your con guests and ensuring the guests are participating in areas that interest them. The panels, arranged by day and time, are sent to each guest. If the guest is interested in participating, all they have to do is sign up. This is brilliant. Although a guest may be an expert or professional in a particular field, they may have unknown talents, hobbies, or experiences. The guest is better at determining this than the con staff.

Most of the ConGregate panels deal with writing science fiction or fantasy. The hope is that the con attracts more and more professionals and the con genres will expand. More topics in pop culture, including television, film, art, and gaming would make the con much more interesting to me.

The following are the panels for which1 I’ve signed up. This is a very early version of the programming and not the final so you guys are getting a sneak peak.

“Fan Expectations to Media Adaptations and Tie-ins”

From Star Wars to the Marvel Universe, we fans can get vocal about our feelings. Are we entitled to our say or just entitled?

I’m hoping to moderate this panel. So far, there are no other expert guests signed on.  It would be great to have a comic book, Star Wars and/or Star Trek, Doctor Who, and sci-fi/fantasy novel special guest as well. The upcoming “Captain Marvelmovie and Fox’s “Gotham” will be how I will look at the topic of comic book mythos to film.

“Essential Superheroics”

As superhero media continues to flood the market, we're at a point where watching everything, or even just everything good, can eat up a lot of time. Throw in web comics, graphic novels, and a hundred or more new titles popping up in comic book shops, and things quickly get overwhelming. What's a hard core superhero junky to do? Can we get the room to agree on the top ten superhero media experiences that are absolutely essential?

Never. Never will you get a room full of geeks to agree on anything regarding superheroes because superheroes are personal. But this will be a super fun panel with fans spending a great deal of time on the nostalgia of geek media in our lives. Star Wars is a memorable marker in my geek history, so is Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, Dark Shadows, Isis, Batman, and Stephen King.

“Warrior Women”

From Xena and Wonder Woman to Brienne of Tarth and Jane Yellowrock, warrior women can be very different. What defines them? What critical aspects of a character make them "warriors?"

A fellow geek sent me an article on NewStatesman by Sophia McDougall called, “I Hate Strong Female Characters.” Along with Tricia Barr’s “What is Strong?” I want us to discuss the positive and negative aspects of building this type of female protagonist.

“Promoting Your Podcast”

Where and how does an up and coming podcaster spread the word about their releases? How do you keep your enthusiasm for the podcast while you wait for audience? Do you talk about what you like, what others like or both?

It takes a network of people with varying skills to be heard amidst the cacophony online streaming. There are few tips and tricks as valuable as persistence and passion for your topic.

“Women in Science”

Why don't more women go into science?  What can we do to attract women to the sciences?  Why do we even need more women in science in the first place?

This is a complicated topic where there is no clear answer. As a representative of my generation, I want to share what being a female teen geek was like, how I got into computer science, and the diversity I’ve encountered in my career field.

“Beyond Spandex and Studs”

Comics and Superheroes that push boundaries, break new ground, include more people, and turn tropes upside down.

Comic books are so exciting right now. There are titles in every genre of interest. “Ms. Marvel” is an obvious choice for a title that’s breaking boundaries but “Wonder Woman” was one of the first. The research for this panel will be so much fun.

“We’ve Got You Covered”

What are the primary jobs of a book cover? Does a cover need to portray different things on a printed book and a digital one? Should your cover be more innovative and different than other covers in your genre so people notice it? With so many people buying and reading books on small mobile devices, does the way a cover displays matter? I saw the perfect photo on the internet for my book cover, can I use it? Since it saves a lot of money, should I make my own cover? What makes a really bad cover? What makes a really good cover?

This is a panel the con might not know I’m qualified for, but I’ve been doing design part-time for several years. I’ve even designed a couple of book covers. Last year for utopYA con, I looked through the YA sci-fi/fantasy covers nominated for awards. It was numbing how they all looked the same. A good cover can sell a bad book.

If you’d like a small, well organized con and can make it to High Point, North Carolina, I highly encourage you to make it to this affordable con.


1 Proper grammar for Carol Philbasian, The Last Man on Earth, season 1, episode 2

Friday
Apr242015

There Goes My Hero(ine): A Brief Discussion on Beyond Good & Evil's Jade

Jade, Beyond Good & EvilToday I want to talk a little bit about my favorite video game character, Jade from Ubisoft's Beyond Good & Evil. But before I do, I'd like to conduct a little tangent first. It'll all make sense, trust me!

The current toxicity going on all over the Internet is heartrending to watch. The vitriol spit out at feminists, academics, journalists, developers, and players attempting to raise the critical bar of gaming is unfortunate, cruel and, in some cases, criminal.

The words I wrote two years ago ring truer now than they did then. And this drastic shift into negativity and hate has left me feeling awkward about my passion. I've loved gaming since I was 2 years old. Thirty years of my life have been contingent on video games and their amazing gift of recreation and escape. I believe that games saved my life as a teenager, and I believe that they are a wondrous invention that allows people to explore, discover, and enrich their lives in ways they cannot in the real world. One way I conduct such experimentation is by playing games as women. It's the closest way  (without surgeryI do identify as male, so that's not in the cards) I can begin to fathom the world women see, experience and, at times, suffer through.

Which brings me back to Jade. Beyond Good & Evil is my favorite game of all time and the biggest reason is its heroine. Jade is such a fantastic character. She's confident, capable, and courageous. She is a very passionate person and fights for the truth at every opportunity. She's also human and has to cope with the loss of her family and friends, the militarization of Hillys by the Alpha Sections, and her own inner demons (both figuratively and literally). But Ubisoft didn't resort to tropes or clichés to define Jade. Michel Ancel and his team created a protagonist that I can relate to, and ultimately one I try to aspire to be. She overcomes the many adversities thrown in her way, and she does it not only for herself, but for everyone she cares about, and for the planet of Hillys. The truth must be known; the terror must be stopped. No matter the cost.

Jade is an inspiration. She is an icon I can look to in these troubled times and remind myself that what I'm doing is important, and that, sometimes, you have to come face to face with fear in order to do it. And by being such a incredible woman in her game, I can hope that she can not only inspire me, but perhaps encourage some of you as well.

Wednesday
Apr222015

The Charm of Charmixy: An Interview with Tess Young

I had the pleasure to chat briefly via email with the art director for a fantastic Kickstarter game, Charmixy.

Tess Young took some time to answer my questions about this unique, puzzle-based combat game. It's rare that I promote Kickstarter campaigns but I think this game has great vision, diverse characters, an intriguing game play concept, and lots of content for an entirely free game. Pretty much everything you could ask for in a game!

REGINA:  What inspired you to become a game art designer?

TESS:  I grew up loving art and drawing, and was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged me. I studied traditional art for many years, and then in high school I discovered video games. The ability to create and design worlds of my own was so appealing to mevideo game art and design just seemed like the perfect thing to do!
 
What is your favorite thing about being a game designer? What is the biggest challenge?

The best part of being a game designer is brainstorming. It's really satisfying to work your creative muscles to construct an entire experience for someone else. The possibilities really are endless. I love just closing my eyes and going "oh, wouldn't it be cool if you could fly upside down during this part?" or, "Here, the music is going to pick up and a light beam will guide the player to the next level" or,  "And then, the bad guy comes down, and he's three times the size of the screen!"
The challenge of course, is putting in the plan and effort to execute your ideas. Once you have everything down, you have to sit down at the computer and grind it out. It's a very intense and draining process to create every moving piece in a video game. Most people who play the game may not realize just how much STUFF needs to be put together. But then, when you're done, and you get to SEE this thing that was in your head on the screen, alive.... It's awesome again! Game development is very much a roller coaster of emotions, haha.
 
What advice would you give young women wanting to get a start in the game industry?

It's a great time to be a game developer! Our predecessors have been fighting to open the door for all of us to enter and share our projects, and consumers are getting hungry for something new. Getting started is also very easyeverything you could possibly want to know about developing games is available online. The two skills you want for independent development are programming and art. Many game engines like Unity, Unreal, and Gamemaker are completely free AND they offer sample projects that you can follow step by step that'll teach you the basics of programming and using the engine, so you can install one you like, pick a tutorial, and teach yourself to code.
If you want to be a game artist, you have to draw, draw, draw! It's especially important to draw from life. Take a sketchbook with you and draw objects you see around you. When you're at home, get a digital painting program like Photoshop or Paint Tool SAI and learn to use all of the tools it has. Get an understanding of perspective. Lastly, keep your creative muscles loose. It will be hard at first, but you have to teach yourself the importance of letting go of an idea. You might think the first thing that comes into your head is brilliant, but 9 times out of 10 if you iterate and try to look at several ideas, you'll find a much better solution. In the industry when a game artist is asked to design a battleaxe for a character, they never draw just one and turn it in. They'll literally spit out 15 different designs in an hour, tweaking, trying different shapes and features, until they arrive at the best one.
 
How did you decide the game should be free?

There are lots of reasons why Charmixy is free. As a multiplayer game, the fun of the experience increases the more friends a player has who also own the game, so if the game is free, no one has an excuse not to play. In addition, players can sometimes be hesitant to risk money on a genre or developer who hasn't proven themselves as successful. But most importantly, I want to make a fun game that is accessible to as many people as possible.

When I was younger, I grew up very poor. My family has never owned the latest generation of console, and I always bought my games out of the bargain bin or from a good sale. It was always very embarrassing for me when every kid in class was playing the newest Pokemon or Mario Kart and I couldn't join in on the fun. I don't want to create that barrier for anyone else--I hope that if everyone has fun games that they can play, there will be more people who express an interest in game development, art, and programming. If there is some way to financially support myself externally, I don't think I will ever charge money for a game.

The game play looks very creative and inspired, a nice mix of chance and strategy. You mention this is the type of game you would like to play, but how did you come up with this mix of characters and game play?

It certainly would have been easier to simply make the core gameplay of puzzle combat, have a bunch of levels the player works through, and leave it at that, but I sadistically chose to put a ton more content in the game. I just happen to be a real sucker for a good story, especially the kinds that video games provide that suck you into this world that you can interact with and influence. Once we started using charms as a game mechanic, I imagined a fantasy world were there were these very cute witches learning how to duel with magic, and it was such a cool idea that I started building the external gameplay.

The first thing to get put in was the romance and friendship subplots. If the game takes place in this school environment with all these students interacting and such, I knew I had to allow players to develop relationships with these characters (I ADORE dating sims after all). One of the things I hate the most about dating sims is I'm usually very limited in the kinds of characters I can date. So I made as wide a range of personalities and backgrounds as I could think of, that way players can find at least one person who is interesting to them.

The art style looks Anime inspired and has a host of diverse characters (go you!). What kinds of games or other media inspired your choices?

I'm a huge fan of the magical girl genre, primarily because it taught me that I could be a strong individual without having to hide or downplay my femininity. For a long time I have been looking for more video games that reflect the kind of aesthetic and attitude of Sailor Moon and Saint Tail or Little Witch Academia, but have been disappointed to discover that most games with lots of pink, glitter, and cuteness are marketed as things for children. I wanted to create something rich and challenging that wasn't afraid to show off its frills!

What is your favorite game? (Other than Charmixy, of course!)

Ooh, there are so many. I have to give props to Journey for being one of the most beautiful games I've ever playedit was also the first one that showed me just how different games can be. Although no words were spoken, I was moved to tears during the very last level. It is an experience that I highly recommend. The only game that beats it in terms of raw, jaw dropping visual beauty is Trine 2. There will be moments in that game where you have to stop playing (although it is very fun to play, especially with friends) and just look around you at all the breathtaking detail.

I also have to give props to two games made by Double Fine: Brutal Legend and Psychonauts. Those games were made almost a decade ago and to this day I can't find a game with better story and character developmentI'll often go back and watch pieces of them to remind myself of how to craft a good narrative in Charmixy. I don't think I can put my finger on why I like it so much, but FEZ is probably one of my all time favorites as well. Many people will tell you its boring, but they were the ones who just went through the motions without actually thinking about their environment.  The whole point of FEZ is to discover the way an archaeologist discovers a hidden civilization (I'm not kidding, either, I had pads and pencils with me as I played, and I would decode little things on walls and draw diagrams and everything)!

Lastly, I've never had more fun that when I played the recently released Freedom Planet. It's a game that may remind you a lot of early Sonic, but I promise you it is so much more. It was the first game in a long time that I had so much fun I would skip meals or cancel dates just so I could keep playing. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed Freedom Planet so much I brought on the composers of the soundtrack, Leila Wilson and Kamu, to write for Charmixy as well!

*

Be sure to check out Tess's kickstarter for Charmixy

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.

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