Monday, August 26, 2013

Gamer Drama: A Story Critique of Tomb Raider

    I began to play Tomb Raider shortly after I finished Mass Effect, and I finished the game in three sittings. I really couldn’t put it down. Obviously, I really enjoyed playing the game. I did wait to write the Gamer Drama entry, though, because I really wanted to think about the game and the story line. So, without further ado, here is my story review of the newest Tomb Raider title. Per usual, I avoid big spoilers, but there could me some smaller ones littered throughout (Spoiler: you see most of the plot “twists” coming from miles away).


    In this reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise, Lara Croft is part of a research/videography team searching for the lost kingdom of Yamatai. When their ship strays too close, however, a huge storm strands the team on an island. Unfortunately, the island is already inhabited by a murderous cult—one lead by an unsettling man named Mathias and one that worships the long-dead Sun Queen Himiko. From the beginning, Lara seeks to help her and her friends get off the island, though she is initially unsure about her capabilities (though, really, since you can survive all of those falls and impalings, I’m sure nothing really stood in your way, Lara). Along the way she unearths some seriously supernatural goings-on and, more importantly, becomes increasingly confident in herself. It has everything an origins story needs, and you see the birth of Lara Croft as we know her today.

The Setting

    For a small island that few people have found in modern times, Yamatai has a diverse environment. Most of the island is covered by forest, but you spend a significant amount of time in the mountainous region. Which is important, because I guess you wouldn’t know where you were going if the trees didn’t start to fade as the altitude increased (also, there’s beaches because, you know, ocean).
    While the forest in Alan Wake was essentially a character and a plot device in and of itself, the island in Tomb Raider isn’t as successful in distinguishing itself as something beyond the backdrop for Lara’s character arc and tons and tons of murder. This is a little bit of an issue, because for a fairly large portion of the game Lara channels her inner Jack from Lost and claims that “the island” won’t let them leave. Of course, we find that this isn’t exactly the case, and the setting doesn’t bother to fully mature. Basically, the game could take place in any sort of environment and not be diminished. The setting’s biggest downfall, though, is that the island is fairly easy to navigate, and you rarely feel the frustration of someone outside her own element.
    It looks really, really pretty, though.

The Characters

    Tomb Raider is all about Lara Croft and her progression from archaeology student to professional bad ass. For the most part, it’s highly successful. Especially if you’re me, and the game sets the mood with a drowning scene because ohmygodIcan’tbreatheaaaahhhh. The tension is maintained as Lara washes ashore, is captured, narrowly escapes, and then sets out to find her friends. She meets up with some of her companions—setting up the damsel-in-distress and her wizened counselor. Lara knows that she needs to protect her friends, but initially it is only through Roth insisting that she can climb a mountain without safety harnesses or take out a wolf pack that Lara learns what she can really do. Lara tells us how she progresses, becoming more and more certain about what she can do and more willing to do the things she must. 
     Of course, the game leans more toward “telling” us that Lara doesn’t know what she is doing than “showing” us that we should be uncertain about her capabilities. Personally, when Lara walks away after being caught in a bear trap in the first twenty-or-so minutes of the game, I was thought “Alright, she’s got this.” There were a few times when I accidentally killed Lara where I wanted to stop and yell “I SURVIVED SOMETHING WORSE FIVE MINUTES AGO!” Lara has excellent aim, she can leap giant valleys in a single bound, and she has the upper body strength of Thor himself. She was going to be just fine.
Which really can’t be said for the rest of the characters. Lara’s friends are plot devices—she has to save them or she has to mourn them. Sometimes she sends them off to do their own thing, and then goes to save them later. Most of what you learn about supporting characters and their own back stories or personalities is found in documents hidden throughout the island. As I am not a strict completionist, and TOMB RAIDER TRIED TO MAKE ME FIND TOO MANY THINGS, I didn’t experience a lot of the minor character development. I don’t think it took too much away from the game, though.
     Another minor quibble comes from the obvious way that “bad” characters are portrayed. When you meet Mathias, you know that this is one shady son of a bitch. You also know that the character who betrays you is going to betray you. This isn’t the only way that the antagonists fall flat, though. Mathias doesn’t really progress beyond “crazy bastard.” He never really seems like much of a threat. The same is true with his henchmen. They’re only unsettling when they’re in a quick-time-event, or when they massively outnumber Lara. The “primary” antagonist (I guess that’s the best way of putting it) is only introduced late in the game, and really didn’t live up to the title. Basically, Tomb Raider feels more like a survival game than a “Lara vs. The Baddies” game. You’re not too concerned with the antagonists—no one’s a true nemesis—you just want to get off that damn island.

The Payoff

     You work hard and spend a lot of time saving and re-saving your friends. When you finally sail off into the sunset, you’re definitely relieved that you’ve escaped that island, with its tortuously frequent quick time events.
     In all seriousness, though, Tomb Raider makes you work hard each step of the way—at least, if does if you play it on a high difficulty level, like I did. The story line seems really drawn out near the end—I kept expecting it to be over soon for the last five hours I was playing the main story line. You relish the win when it happens, but it does feel a little underwhelming. This is largely, if not completely, due to the fact that there is no boss battle. There is no final, large fight to end the game. You have a quick time battle with Mathias that’s over so fast that you feel a little cheap, and then you “defeat” the Big Bad in a cut scene. Maybe I was spoiled as a child, with the likes of Ocarina of Time, but I expect to really DESERVE the end of a game through a boss battle. Or at least a lead-in that isn’t easier to survive than most of the rest of the game.
     So, does Tomb Raider provide a good payoff? If you’re focusing on game-play, I think it does. You work hard to get to the end, damn it. I’m less sure of the answer in regard to the story line, though. The plot twists and turns leading up to the end of the game are really formulaic. I didn’t find any of it surprising and, in a point where Lara experiences a key revelation I thought to myself “…wait. Didn’t we already know this?” If you’re alright with that, then there is definitely some great narrative payoff at the end of Tomb Raider. Everything’s wrapped up quite well. If you’re not alright with knowing what’s coming, well, then the story falls a little flat.

Grins and Gripes

  • Was SquareEnix paid by the quick-time event? Someone needs to tell these guys that QTE does not equal gameplay.
  • I was really entertained and intrigued by the seamless way that Tomb Raider moved from gameplay to cut scene to QTE and back to gameplay…for the first four hours or so. It became increasingly frustrating as time went by.
  • I mentioned this earlier, but there is a RIDICULOUS amount of collectibles in this game. I was initially trying to find everything, but once I realized that nothing really happens when you do, I stopped.
  • The voice acting is excellent, and Camilla Luddington’s performance as Lara Croft is probably the single best video game performance that I’ve ever experienced.
  • With a bow, a handgun, a shotgun and a machine gun, you’re able to mold Lara’s action style pretty well. I found that using the bow was immensely satisfying, and I spent a lot of the game slowly picking off enemies, trying to see how many I could kill before the sounded the alarms.
  • Surviving the island is abandoned in favor of surviving the crazy cultists pretty early on in the game. As a result, I found the Survivalist skill tree to be largely useless—I spent most of my skill points in the Brawler and Hunter skill tree.
  • One of my favorite touches in the game revolves around Lara’s physical changes. As you make your way through the island, Lara’s clothes exhibit the wear and tear that you would expect from her adventures. Also, even if her injuries don’t slow her down much, the character design shows that they still leave a scar (or scrape, cut, or abrasion).

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, August 22, 2013

August Loot Crate Unboxing!

I didn't film an unboxing video this month, due to the fact that I had guests when my Loot Crate came. I was too impatient to wait to film it, and I didn't want to film it in front of people--so, this month, we have unboxing pictures!

The theme for August was "Cake"--the box was a combination of Portal products and products celebrating Loot Crate's first anniversary!

Instead of a spoiler card, this month had a little Looter magazine with product descriptions and community news. It seems like this is going to be the trend from now on, which I like since I sometimes would accidentally spoil myself with the spoiler card.

This month's "big" product was a caffeine molecule power-up t-shirt. It's pretty cute, though it's not exactly my personal taste (I had the same issue with the Deadpool-Aid Man shirt a couple months ago). I'll probably alter it into something cool, though. Maybe a bag.

What was really exciting about the shirt, though, was that it came with $5 off a shirt from shirtwoot! I've been eyeing a couple designs on the site for a while, so I can't wait to use the discount!

The majority of the box was filled with Portal stuff. We have a cute Loot Crate/Portal sticker set, an Aperture Laboratories temporary tattoo, an Aperture lanyard, and an Aperture bracelet. All of which I thought were pretty cool, except maybe the temporary tattoo. I feel too old for those, especially since I have real tattoos.

They also included a Walking Dead Funko blind box, since the Walking Dead is the most often-requested theme for a box. I got the Tank Zombie, which is alright, but I would have loved the Merle figure (with his knife-hand), Daryl, or Bicycle Girl. He does look dapper, though.

That is everything in the box, except for a tiny package of jelly beans (which I didn't think was necessary to photograph. Also, they've been eaten.) This is my favorite box that I've received so far. I love all the Portal gear, the t-shirt coupon, and the blind box figure (I love anything Funko, to be honest).

Did you get a Loot Crate this month? What was your favorite thing in the box? If you're interested in signing up for Loot Crate, click this link! It's a great community, and a box of fun each month!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What? A TV Show About Cosplay?

Heroes of Cosplay has received a lot of flack on the internet from the geek and cosplay communities, even before the show aired. I avoided all the hub-bub until after the first episode aired, in order to go into the show with no preconceived notions or biases, in order to give you guys my own, truest reaction to the series. (Edit: This may seem a little thrown together, but there were a couple of things I really wanted to say as fast as possible after tonight's episode).

Spoiler alert: I think I like it.

I wasn't all that keen on the show when I watched the first episode (I saw it on Sunday, since I was on vacation for most of last week). I went into the show expecting something like Project Runway, or Face-Off (which is more apt, I guess, since it is also a Sci-Fi series). (NO, I WILL NEVER CALL IT SYFY). I was really disappointed with the processed drama, the cutting, and the reality showishness of the premiere episode. People made construction choices that looked really cool on camera, but would have been more successful through other methods. Delightful people seemed catty through editing (and also, because of stress--and rightly so!) People seemed to be working up to a punchline, and then cut off in a way that left off the elbow-rub and "haha!" and made them seen mean or petty. My first impression was less Face-Off and more of a...well, I can't think of an example because I don't watch them, but think of your traditional, catty reality show.

I returned to the solace of the internet, wondering what the cosplayers featured on the show thought about it. Since I follow many of them on Twitter, I was able to see their reactions quickly. I really have to thank them for reminding me that 1) Heroes of Cosplay is a reality show. It needs a little drama hype and tensions added in, and 2) no one's 100% pleased with the way they are edited on the show, but it doesn't diminish the fact that we have a damn television show about cosplay, guys.

There may be drama added it, some things may look goofily scripted, but after my time online I was able to appreciate the first two episodes a lot more. You know that Chloe Dykstra is going to have people show up to help her handle her sand snake, but does that make it less fun to watch? I'm not even sure that you can say it's completely predictable, because I was so sure Veronica was going to run into the competition with a finished Lulu costume at the last second. (Speaking of, does anyone know if that costume was finished? I would love to see it.)

That's something I really understood. I was working on my first cosplay until 2am the night before the Con. I even had to abandon some less-essential pieces in order to "finish" it. If you go on Twitter right before a big convention, it's full of people telling similar tales. Making connections like these helped me realize that some of this "drama" is only slightly amplified--and it helped me enjoy the show more.

The show takes geekdom and cosplay seriously. It doesn't poke fun at our little niche of life. It doesn't look at cosplay with underlayer of snark and "Haha, can you even believe these geeks?" Two women told everyone that they were cosplaying as their Dungeons and Dragons characters, and the response was a collective (though unspoken) "Sweet, and those costumes are totally awesome." Can we just take a moment to celebrate that? Names like Fiora are being tossed out like they're characters everyone needs to know, not just something that only "gamers who live in their parents' basement" recognize.

I would still like more in-progress shots of costumes. The editors just seem to want to show cool techniques--and I would prefer if they showed it in a "learn from it" way (though they do have Try This At Home shorts on the website, which is a step in the right direction). Maybe we'll get more of this in later episodes, once most of the cosplayers have been "established" as "characters" in previous episodes. Fingers crossed.

I was still very annoyed with one editing moment in tonight's show, about cosplay and body type. I forget what led to the conversation--I think it was a comment about embracing your body type in your costumes, and how that leads to some of the most successful cosplays. Chloe Dykstra then says that everyone should be able to cosplay as whoever they want--a sentiment I agree with 100%. The editors then set up Yaya Han and some of the other cosplayers as providing a counter-argument--that people who are overweight shouldn't cosplay, or shouldn't cosplay as think or athletic characters. But if you're really paying attention to the scene, and really listening to their words, that's not what they're saying. They are saying that, unfortunately, the internet and the cosplay community can be cruel. People who do this have to be prepared that they will receive cruel comments. They never say that they should receive these comments. They never say they deserve to receive this type of criticism for cosplaying against body type. It's just cut to make it appear that they hold these types of views. Which, if you've looked online, seems doubtful--Yaya Han in particular seems upset that it was edited this way and made people feel bad.

I recently put on a lot of weight, and I was very nervous about cosplaying at Chicago Comic Con this year. When the scene began, I was cheering on Chloe in my head. Then I realized that the others weren't arguing against her. They weren't even making an argument, they were just stating facts. People are often ridiculed online for their cosplays if they don't have the "right" body type. It's something that people should be ready for. It's just not something that should stop them from cosplaying as whoever they want to be.

I've gone off on a bit of a tangent, so I will wrap it up and get back to the point. It's definitely worth watching Heroes of Cosplay at least once. Start with the first episode, or start next week. It doesn't matter. I will keep watching, at least until I'm sure that they will not put a bigger emphasis on making the costumes. And, to be perfectly honest, I will probably be hooked and keep watching long after I reach that point.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chicago Comic Con: Sunday Recap

I got to Chicago Comic Con early on Sunday--I was there only minutes after the doors opened for non-VIP ticket holders. I had the Jason David Frank meet and greet at 11am, but I went over to Wil Wheaton's booth to see when he was signing autographs for the day. I was hoping to get my Wesley Crusher bobble-head signed before the end of the Con, and I wasn't sure how good my chances were going to be. Luckily, Wil Wheaton was scheduled to sign at 10:30 and, though he was a little late, I got my bobblehead signed in plenty of time to head to the meet-and-greet. Meeting Wil Wheaton was great--he was so nice. We had a great talk about some of his recent posts, where he was really thoughtful and caring, and he was really excited to see the bobble head. He hadn't seen one out of the box before, so he took a bunch of pictures of it. Basically, Wil Wheaton is amazing. My experience meeting him was everything I could have hoped for out of those couple of minutes.

I guess I was completely spoiled with celebrity/guest interactions on Sunday, because the meet and greet with Jason David Frank was also excellent. He's the type of person that makes you glad to have idolized him as a child (same with Wil Wheaton). He's outgoing, friendly, and really appreciative of his fans. He took every question seriously, gave long responses, and said he'd sign anything and everything we brought--even though I'm pretty sure it only said he'd sign one thing when we bought the tickets. He told us a bunch of cool stories about his Power Ranger days, his martial arts career, and his life in general. We then took individual photos with him, and he told me that he liked my Green Ranger dress and wanted to get one for his wife. The meet and greet ended with a group photo, where I was lost somewhere in the back. But still! It was a great time! He was also a great person to follow on Twitter and Instagram during the con: he put up tons of pictures, videos, and updates on what he was doing and fans/other guests he was meeting. He was also constantly thanking the people who helped out in the con and his fans.

He signed Saba and the lithograph for me!
I spent the rest of the con spending money and taking cosplay pictures. I tried to go to the Phelps Twins panel, but it was in a small room so it was packed. I also picked up my Nightwing sketch from Jason Metcalf. I'm not going to post the picture, but I thought I'd let you know how amazing and great it is. I'm going to shift around my art collection and hang it right above my desk. I also commissioned a couple of sketch cards--one of Larfleeze and the other of Dex-Starr (I believe the artist was Gregg Paulsen, but I've misplaced the card). It was funny when I was requesting them. He asked me who they were, and I told him Larfleeze was the only Orange Lantern, and then he asked who the second one was, again. When I said Dex-Starr, he went to write it down and then paused, looked up, and asked me " that the cat?" I said yes, and he said "Great!" When I picked up the cards, he said he was really excited because he loved to draw cats.

I left about half an hour before the Con ended, but I had a great time this year. I loved my entire three days there, even though I didn't get into two panels I was interested in. I can't wait for next year, even though I think I have come down with the Con Plague. At least I have Chicago Tardis and C2E2 to hold me over until next year, though. I've already started planning cosplays in my head for all three cons!

Read my Saturday recap HERE

Read my Friday recap HERE

Chicago Comic Con: Saturday Recap

I was hoping to get this up last night, but I was exhausted after the Con on Saturday. I didn't get back until 10:15, and then I needed to shower and get to bed so I could go to sleep and get up early today. I also struggled with not having a lot of pictures to put in this post, since I forgot my camera at home! My brother sent me some pictures via text, but I can't figure out how to get them to my computer. Weirdly enough.

On Saturday, I woke up about an hour and fifteen minutes before I wanted to leave for the Con--and actually left about forty minutes after I wanted to leave. My costume had several pieces to it, all of which I made or altered from existing pieces. My hair and make-up for the cosplay provided a little bit of a problem. My biggest issue was the fact that I couldn't find my wig cap, and couldn't get my wig on without it. I have really long, thick, curly hair--about to my mid-back. So after a while of struggling, I improvised and used a new pair of pantyhose. With my hair properly contained, I finished up my makeup (once again, using Espionage Cosmetics products), and left for the con!

We got there just in time to catch John Barrowman's panel, which was hilarious. Barrowman is so energetic and enthusiastic that a panel with him is bound to be the highlight of your day. Everyone was entertained--even my brother, who didn't know who Barrowman was. I'm sure others who were unfamiliar with his work felt the same way. I was a fan of Barrowman's before the panel, but I appreciate him so much more now that I've had the opportunity to sit and listen to him (as himself) for over an hour. This was probably my favorite panel this weekend--except, maybe, for Wil Wheaton's panel.

After the panel, I hit the con floor with my brother, my boyfriend's sister (who was in a Steampunk Catwoman costume), and her friend. We were stopped for a TON of pictures--I was insanely flattered! Even though I didn't get to do much shopping yesterday (which is alright, because I more than made up for it on Sunday). I did get a little bit of snark from one guy when it was just me and my brother (who was distracted by an anime booth). He said:  "Nice costume, but Harley Quinn? Didn't you know a villain that isn't so overexposed?"

I responded: "Well, I wanted to do Talia al Ghul or Jane Doe, but I wasn't sure how to translate it to steampunk in a way that would be recognizable. Especially since this is the first really complicated cosplay that I've ever attempted."

He apologized and walked away. I know my DC Comics, boys, don't worry.

After eating, I went to the Warehouse 13 panel in order to wait to see Jon Bernthal (Shane from The Walking Dead) and Norman Reedus. I have been interested in watching Warehouse 13, so I wanted to get a hint of what the show was all about: plot-wise and fandom-wise. Wondering what I thought? I have the first episode ready to go on Netflix. That should be enough of an answer. John Bernthal and Norman Reedus were both interesting, but not quite as enthusiastic as Barrowman was (in all fairness, it's probably not even possible). I'm interested in seeing Bernthal's new TV show, a period noir piece called Lost Angels. This is my third year in a row seeing Norman Reedus, so I have heard most of what he said before. He was also onstage only for about ten or fifteen minutes.

The end of the Bernthal/Reedus panel was also my most disappointing moment at the Con this year. The Con page and schedule both say:

"Seating for panels is strictly limited and available on a first served basis. We do not clear all panel rooms unless you are seated in a section that is marked with a sign at the end of the row reading 'ROW WILL BE CLEARED AT THE END OF EACH PANEL'."

I was sad that Chicago Comic Con was going to take on such a SDCC-quality, but I was willing to be flexible. Knowing that I wanted to see the Firefly panel following the Reedus appearance, I went to to the earlier panels thinking we'd be allowed to stay--I was somewhat interested in seeing them and I would be able to see the Firefly gang (Morena Baccarin, Summer Glau and Alan Tudyk). Without announcing that they were clearing the room beforehand, they cleared the panel room at the end of Reedus's panel. The line outside for Firefly was so long that we weren't able to get into the panel after leaving the room.

Let me be straight--I prefer the Clear-The-Panel-Room strategy, and I think it's the best way to run a Con (when it's logistically possible). I think that it sucks to wait in line for an hour (or hours) and not make it into a panel because people aren't leaving the room. I just think that if you're going to announce that you're no longer following that practice, you shouldn't decide to clear the room without announcing it beforehand. I saw Bernthal last year. I saw Reedus in 2011 and 2012. I didn't need to see them again at the expense of seeing an awesome panel with people I've never seen before from a show that I love. If I had known, I would have been in that line, not inside that room.

Since we couldn't see the Firefly panel, we wandered around the Con until the costume contest was about to start. During this time, I commissioned a Nightwing sketch from Jason Metcalf. I'll let you know how it turned out in my Sunday recap ;).

We went up for the cosplay contest, registered, and then waited in line for our turn on stage for about two and a half hours. Everything was awesome and I had fun the entire time, even though my feet and back were killing me after standing for that long. The judges and the emcee were great, and the cosplayers were all having fun. I liked how Jarrett "The Defuser" Crippen set up the walk to the stage: the cosplayers wove through the aisles, striking poses on several Xs so that the audience members could take photos. As each cosplayer or cosplay group crossed the stage, the line would shift up and each group would move to the next X. It was pretty awesome. I can't wait to see the video of the contest! I will put up a link here for anyone who's interested! Everyone who participated did a great job, and everyone who won totally deserved it! I think that after this year's showing, Wizard World is going to have to start awarding 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places for each category! The competition is fierce.

Anyway, the contest was done around 9:15, but we had to scoot out a couple minutes early because the girls I carpooled with had to get somewhere. I missed the announcement of Best in Show--if anyone can fill me in, that would be great!

Well, that was everything for the day! Once again, I'll leave you with some cosplay photos (taken by my brother, who had a camera)! Now it's time to watch the first episode of Warehouse 13 before I pass out.

Read my Friday recap HERE

Read my Sunday recap HERE

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Chicago Comic Con: Friday Recap

Hey everyone!

I spent the entire day today at Chicago Comic Con--from opening to close! Okay, so that's 12pm to 7pm, but it's still most of my day (especially with the hour commute).

My day began with hair and make-up. My cosplay for the day was Zoe from Left 4 Dead--one of my favorite video games. I absolutely love Left 4 Dead--it's my go-to game when I just want to hang out with other gamers. I straightened some of my hair, and then did my make-up with products from my favorite geeky brand, Espionage Cosmetics. (The colors I used were Not Today, Guild Romance, Mrs. Reynolds, and Nerd Rage. Is there anything better than that?

Here's the end result of everything! You can see my paint job on the shotgun here, and I also made my First Aid kit from scratch.

Once I was done, my brother and I drove down to Chicago Comic Con. Parking was in a different spot from last year (which was momentarily confusing), but we found parking with only a little difficulty. Getting in to the con didn't take more than twenty minutes, though I was a little jealous of those who didn't order and print tickets online--the line to buy tickets at the Con was non-existent. With admission we got a really nice variant cover of The Walking Dead, which I plan to get signed by the artist.

I was planning to go to the Dead Fans Walking panel, but I was immediately distracted by the retail floor. And missed it. If you went, let me know how it was! I did attend part of the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who Celebration, where I managed to surprise myself with how much I knew about Classic Who. I always forget that the first several doctors didn't have full "seasons" of television, like we do in the States, so I feel like I've missed a lot. Their number of episodes, though, are pretty small--not even close to the series lengths of the new Doctors. I was hoping Barrowman would show up for a moment, but if he did I missed it. 

I spent a good amount of time around the Sugar Gamers booth. I kept coming back to play Injustice, which they had set up through the PS3. I won all my matches, which is incredible as I haven't played it before and I tend to stay away from fighting games. I think I have to buy it, though--I had a blast. I'm looking forward to going to some of the Sugar Gamers events--they are a group founded in order to foster a community for girl gamers and geeks in Chicago. You should definitely click the link above and check them out. The video below is the group's mission statement, from its founder.

The Wil Wheaton panel was great. He's always great to listen to, and always manages to bring the perfect level of sincerity and humor. I was a little worried that we wouldn't get in, since Wizard World has stopped emptying rooms after panels (it looked like it was getting close to capacity for the Stan Lee panel, which I skipped because I'm more of a DC fan). There was more than enough room for everyone, even though there were tons of people at the panel.
What would a con be without grainy/blurry pictures of panels and the ultimate decision
just to take crappy projector pictures?
Before Wil Wheaton showed up, Five Year Mission played some songs. I really enjoy them--they're a band that writes and plays songs based on TOS episodes. You can check them out here. If you're at the Con and you want to check them out, they're playing again Saturday at 2:30 and Sunday at 10:30 on the Cosplay Stage.

Five Year Mission performing in front of Five Year Mission performing
in front of Five Year Mission!
Besides that, I spent tons of money today on a bunch of awesome stuff. Here's my haul--once again, I spent a lot of time in Artist Alley. Tomorrow's back to the Vendor's floor, though. I saw an excellent Captain Marvel dress that I need.

Everything I bought today.
My favorite piece, by the artist of the covers of the A Game of Thrones comics.
Obligatory short of the comics I bought today. 
Finally, I'll leave you with a collage of the cosplay photos I took today! More tomorrow!

Read my Saturday recap HERE

Read my Sunday recap HERE

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What You Should Bring to a Con

Hey Everybody!

Tomorrow is the first day of Chicago Comic Con! Well, that's a lie. Today was actually the first day/preview night, but tomorrow is my first day! I finished up my cosplays for both Friday and Saturday, and then I started packing my bag!

Without further ado, here are the contents of the bag--and my tips for what you should bring to Comic Con!

Now, some people can get away with bringing nothing with them, or a small purse. However, if you're like me: a cosplayer who spends all day at the con, from opening to close, you need things and something to carry them around in. I tend to go with messenger bags. They take less away from your costume, are easier to take off, plus your little brother is more likely to share bag-duty with you if you pick a plain, black messenger bag.

So what goes in the bag? In no particular order:

1. Things to do in line

Bring some games, whether tabletop or video. I personally think a tablet is great, provided you make sure not to lose it. I can read e-books or play games while I wait for a panel.

2. Emergency Supplies

Cosplay coming undone? Run into John Barrowman in the hallway, but you don't have a writing utensil for a signature? Maybe you're getting a phaser signed by Wil Wheaton, JUST AS HIS SHARPIE RUNS OUT OF INK. Or you've found the perfect poster for Norman Reedus to sign, but it's dark and OH MY GOD HE ONLY HAS A BLACK SHARPIE. This is why I pack pre-cut thread, needles, pins, superglue, pens and Sharpies (black and silver). You're welcome.

4. Girlie Stuff

This can also be considered "Stuff for Cosplayers," You'll be at the con for hours at a time, so you want to make sure that your make-up stays fresh. Alternatively, if you change out of your costume, you want to be able to take off the makeup without climbing into the convention center's sinks. I typically pack make-up removal wipes, brushes, colors, powder, and bobby pins. Also important are an extra pair of contacts and your glasses, if you have them!

5. Rations

Convention food is expensive, and you'll sometimes need to choose between standing in line for food and standing in line for panels. ALWAYS CHOOSE PANELS. Bring some grub that you can snack on throughout the day, as well as beverages. (Yes, I know, I eat like an 18-year-old boy).

6. Water

You'll be hot. You'll get dehydrated. If you're like me last year, you'll get so over-heated that your hands and feet will swell up like balloons. Hydrate yourselves. Pack a cooler and keep it in your hotel room or car (at Chicago Comic Con, your car is pretty close) or bring a refillable water bottle.

7. Cash, Tickets, and ID

These are essential! You will not get into the con without some of these, and you need others to enjoy things.

8. Camera and Chargers

Take awesome pictures, and make sure your devices don't die on you. IMHO, this is also essential.

9. Change of clothes

If you cosplay, you may want to change so bring shorts and a t-shirt with you!

10. Poster and Print Protectors

Bring something to put prints into so they don't get creased, bent, or ruined. You'll be glad you did.

That's it for my list! Do you think there's anything I missed? If you're at Chicago Comic Con, be on the look-out for me! If you see a guy about 6'5", that's my little brother, and I'll be the girl in cosplay hanging out with him. :) Except on Sunday, when I'm wearing my Green Ranger dress and he's at home.

Keep a look out for updates and commentary on my Twitter and Instagram accounts (@Geekphoria1), and re-caps here each night!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Gamer Drama: A Story Critique of Mass Effect

My summer quest to beat games that I own but didn’t have time to play since they came out begins with the first Mass Effect game. Begins? On August 7st? Granted, I finished the game last week, but I haven’t had much time to write the article, considering all the work I need to do and my obsessive play-though of the new Tomb Raider (a Gamer Drama review of that will be coming soon!)

In case you don’t know, Gamer Drama is the name for my collection of video game reviews. As you can tell by the title, I focus on the story-telling aspects of the game—setting, plot, characters—though I often comment on game-play mechanics, graphics, and glitches. Read on for my analysis of Mass Effect’s story line!


In case you didn’t know, Mass Effect is a Western RPG (I use this term to distinguish from Japanese RPGs, which have incredibly different game-play mechanics) set in—wait for it—outer space. Oh, you knew that? Whelp, anyway, in the game you control a character named Commander Fill-In-A-First-Name Shepard in a galaxy that has only recently been opened up to humanity. The main story mission is presented to you early on in the game. You find out that a Spectre (often presented as a space cop or secret agent with questionable amounts of power) named Saren has been up to naughty things, and is conspiring with mechanical beings (geth and Reapers) to bring about the end of the galaxy as we know it. Think of them like an intergalactic League of Shadows (from Batman Begins)—they have been behind a series of purges of intelligent organic beings throughout history. Shepard, with his or her team of aliens and humans alike, is tasked with stopping Saren and Sovereign, a Reaper.

So, basically, as Shepard you are tasked with saving the universe while improving the position of humanity in intergalactic society. So, you know, no pressure.

The Setting

Like all RPGs, the universe in Mass Effect is vast. Shepard visits many solar systems and planets from the central hub of the galaxy—the Citadel. The Citadel is the centerpiece of the new world that human life has entered since the beginning of intergalactic travel. It houses the governing body of the universe—a council of a conglomerate body of governments—as well as economic and security arms of society. The Citadel is home to representatives of at least nine other races, each with their own societies and disposition toward other races—especially the human race.

While the Citadel is fascinating, as a microcosm of the game’s universe, the rest of the open world of Mass Effect can be a little underwhelming. Exploration consists of fast-travel to different systems, and the majority of planets can only be observed from space. The game gives more information about some planets than it does others, and a small few can be landed on. Many of these planets are carbon copies of each other. There are three types of environments, none of which are particularly alien. Each planet has different atmospheres, some of which are deadly, but that’s only shown by a “damage” bar that comes on screen when you exit the Mako.

So, in conclusion, I think that the world-building (it’s so weird to use these terms when you’re talking about a space) is hit-or-miss. The society represented by the Citadel is engrossing and captivating, but the rest of the universe seemed flat. Here’s hoping the universe becomes more defined in the rest of the games.

 The Characters

As the main character in an RPG, Shepard doesn’t have a distinctive personality beyond that you give him/her. You form Shepard in every way—you decide everything from Shep’s past to Shep’s looks, to how Shep develops relationships with everyone around him or her.

So since Shep is a blank slate for the player, the characterization falls more heavily on the shoulders of the people around Shepard. Of particular importance are the members of Shepard’s squad—Kaidan Alenko, Ashley Williams, Urdnot Wrex, Garrus Vakarian, Tali’Zorah nar Rayya, and Liara T’Soni. The amount of character development you get for your squad members depends on how much you interact with them, and how often you take the character in your “away team” (yes, I’m a Trek fan). The more you interact with each character, the more information you “unlock” about your squad member, and the better you can relate to the character. I usually had Kaidan, Wrex, and Garrus in my squad, and I completed the Loyalty mission for Garrus and pursued a relationship with Kaidan. By the end of the game, I was extremely fond of all of the characters. At the same time, I found Ashley to be a little annoying. I think I figured out why, though. People on message boards seem to be fond of the characters that they interacted with most often, and brought on mission with them. Like me, they seemed to find those characters they didn’t use or interact with to be “annoying”. These characters become more developed for us, and we understand their motivations and the context behind their dialogue.

I was trying to figure out what to say about Saren and Sovereign, but I was kind of stumped. By trying to work through that, I realized that I thought they were kind of flat. They seemed like cliché villains, with cliché motivations. Saren was a good-guy turned evil, due to the insurmountable challenges facing the Citadel. He subscribes to the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” method of existing, I guess. Sovereign is introduced near the end, and is basically just there to act as the game’s Big Bad (yeah, I’m a Buffy fan, too). I wish I found the baddies to be more interesting, but they didn’t really capture my imagination or my attention. I took the threat of species annihilation seriously, but Saren and Sovereign weren’t intimidating in and of themselves, which kind of detracted from the urgency of the mission.

(My favorite character? Joker. Probably because he’s voiced by Seth Green. I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Seth Green since I was in elementary school.)

The Payoff

For the longest time, I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere in Mass Effect. I felt like the story wasn’t cohesive, and that I was spending too much time doing other things. I voiced this concern to my boyfriend at one point in time and he said, “Well, obviously, you’re playing an RPG.” I guess I got caught up in the FPS elements of Mass Effect for a while, and forgot about the very nature of an RPG. I really thought about Mass Effect as two different games: the main storyline, and the side-quests. They feel very disjointed: I’ve played quite a few RPGs in my day, and I think the side-quests here feel the most detached from the main quest as any game I’ve ever played. But that could just be me.

Despite not being too intrigued by the villains, I did feel very devoted to Shep’s mission. I was obsessed with the game in my last five or six hours of playing it. I powered through the last three or four steps of the main story line—didn’t eat, sleep, or go to work—and sucked it in. I felt very fulfilled by the end of the game. I felt like my choices had consequences and that I was able to stay true to the Shep I had created throughout the game. This is the most important part to me. Too often you play an RPG, and the end of the main quest nullifies or refutes most of the choices you’ve made. I feel like Mass Effect respected the Shepard I had tried to build.

I also thought the final battle in the Citadel was breathtaking. I really enjoyed how it wove the game play (with Shepard and the squad) with cut scenes of the battle in other places. I was wired for hours after the game ended, and I can’t wait to get back into the Mass Effect world.

Grins and Gripes

  • I played Mass Effect through Steam on the PC, and there were sections near the end of the main storyline where all characters and “props” you could interact with turned into lumpy, black shapes. I thought it was a problem with my PC, or my download, and I went to the message boards to try to figure it out. Apparently it’s a problem many people with many different computer parts experience which leads me to wonder—why wasn’t there a patch for this? It’s difficult to play a game when you can’t see what you’re dealing with.
  • While I did enjoy the romantic subplot for whatever weird reason, I was a little put off by the fact that it’s a relationship between a commanding officer and his/her subordinate. I think it would have been even more uncomfortable, in my point-of-view—if I had played in the role of the male Shepard.
  • It took far too long for my squad members to become useful in battle. My comrades were dropping like flies up until the last three quests of the main plot. I really just wanted to leave them on the Normandy while I went out to save the world. Don’t worry boys, I’ve got this.
  • The main plot is very short. I have the ability to immediately move on to Mass Effect 2 and 3, so I’m not too bummed by this—especially since it ends on an excellent note. If it was 2008, though, I would be incredibly depressed. It took me about 16 hours for 100% completion.
  • The voice acting is absolutely great. Sometimes I’m guilty of putting on subtitles and putting the volume down, but I didn’t do that for Mass Effect. The music is also a great homage to sci-fi, without being cliché.

Rating: 7/10