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Friday, November 29, 2013

Grimm Season One: Portland Is the New Hellmouth

I just delved into the (not so) wonderful world of Grimm. My husband and a few of my friends have been dedicated followers of the show for quite some time. I'd seen bits and pieces of it, but I'd never watched an entire episode. I love retellings of stories like fairy tales, and I'm not sure why I didn't give this a chance sooner than this.

The basis of this story is Detective Nick Burkhaldt is a homicide detective and Grimm. Contrary to popular belief, the stories told by the Grimm bothers are not legends. The monsters, called wesen, in the stories have taken on human appearances and live among ordinary humans. Many seem to have reformed their ways, but just as many seem to flirt with lawlessness whether that's giving in to the crueler/mischievous parts of their animal nature or committing more human-like crimes.

The monsters are very good at hiding their true identities from normal humans, but Grimms are able to see them for what they truly are. Grimms are tasked with doling out punishment to wesen who break the law, as well. Most of the magic community is afraid of the Grimms, even the naturally "good" types. There's mutual fascination there between Nick and the wesen community, as well. Just as Nick has never seen them before his Grimm senses manifested, many of them have never seen a Grimm before either.

A skalengeck.
At the beginning of this series, Nick has no idea that he's a Grimm. He had started to see strange things, but doesn't learn the source of it until his aunt reveals they're monster hunters. His aunt meets an early demise, and Nick is left to fend for himself by using the information she left him. He learns more about this new world after gaining a confidant in the form of a blutbad (a wolf), which such a team-up is unheard of. I appreciate that the show doesn't just outright tell us that Grimms are feared, even hated, by much of the wesen community. Instead, we learn this through how they respond to Nick.

However, Nick has no idea how Grimms are supposed to behave. His clean slate is allowing him to shape himself into a Grimm who doesn't automatically assume that a wesen is the bad guy. He's on the side of fairness and justice, and as far as he's concerned, that extends to wesen as well.

The show mixes just the right amount of dark fantasy and cheesiness to melt my heart. There are times when it's a little over-the-top and has me arguing with my television. It's a serious show, but it's not serious. The writers know just how to write this to balance out the serious and non-serious aspects of the story. The monsters are interesting, and I'm always anxious to find out more about the "monster of the day." Many of the monsters have strict regimens they follow to control their animal, such as a blutbad becoming a vegetarian, but they still exhibit some personality quirks that can be attributed to their beast like the need to mark territory or an attraction to certain colors and objects.

The characters... Okay, I like the characters in this series, but they're still a little flat for me. Right now, they're not showing too many dimensions, especially the two prominent female characters. The men are starting to display more facets (although it still feels like superficial facets). For me, Captain Renard has shown the most interesting possibilities as a character goes, but the women still seem to be there to only add conflict and nothing else. They're barely visible or important to the story.

Juliette is treated little better than the blindly devoted, sweet girlfriend who endures her relationship with uncanny understanding. She doesn't argue with Nick or voice her concerns with how he's spending less and less time with her. She's the perfect, benevolent girlfriend. I understand that her role shows how dangerous her life with Nick is, especially since she isn't aware that he's a Grimm, but there has been very little done to make her seem like more than that. She's kind, and that's about all we know about her.

Adalind Schade is another female character that seems more of a cardboard female to serve exactly one purpose in the story. I cut her a little more slack since she is supposed to be this mysterious figure who's motivations the viewers are questioning. It makes it hard for me to like or dislike the character because there's nothing that stands out about her (or Juliette) that makes them memorable as characters. I'm hoping that changes as the series progresses, though. This overall character flatness hasn't deterred me from watching because I think the combo of story and character helps to make up for that weakness.

I'm a little past midway for season one right now, and I'm pretty sure that it's going to make it on my "must watch" list as long as subsequent episodes don't get wonky. I won't start watching the current season airing (which has a new episode tonight... so tempting...), though, until I'm caught up with the first two seasons.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mom Approved Gaming: Bastion

I thought I'd highlight some games that I've been playing with my children that might not necessarily be considered "kids' games," but have been enjoyed by both my children and me. Also, I may talk about kids' games that have actually appealed to us (the adults) as well. For reference, I have a son and a daughter, age 7 and 4 respectively, as of this writing. Being that they live in a household with gamer parents, they're turning into mini-gamers themselves. We try to limit what they play to age-appropriate games, but obviously, there are some games aimed at older gamers that we feel they can handle. Bastion is one of these games.

I don't think I ever get tired of singing this game's praises. I purchased this a year or more ago during a Steam sale for a little over a dollar. This game was worth that and more. The story follows a silent protagonist known only as the Kid as he navigates through his devastated world after a cataclysmic event called the Calamity. He goes in search of supplies and survivors for Bastion, a safe-haven where survivors are supposed to meet up in case of events like the Calamity, while facing various beasts. The story is narrated by another survivor who sends the Kid in search of cores needed to power Bastion.

Kids will enjoy smashing and shooting things with the various weaponry in this game, and the cartoon-style graphics (beautiful hand-painted environments) make the world colorful and eye-catching. The game on normal isn't overly difficult, neither does it demand much skill, but there is a "no-sweat" mode that does away with the lives and just allows players to soldier on without restating an area if they die. The game supports a gaming pad (we used an Xbox controller in our case), which comes in handy since the WSAD can be a little tricky to maneuver for kids.

Warning: There are some mild references to smoking and alcohol drinking, but again, not so obvious that a child would know that's what's going on. The Kid can access past memories by clicking on an object that sort of resembles a hookah, and many of the Kid's passive abilities come in the form of spirits (alcohol). However, neither has the kid actually engaging in these activities on screen, and the spirit bottles will just look like ordinary bottles that kids might see in other games, and they'll possibly equate the bottles to other things. My daughter thinks the hookah pipe looks like a perfume bottle, and she thinks the kid is being knocked out by perfume. Also, since this is a bit of a beat-em-up type game, there is cartoon violence, but nothing overly extreme.

Depending on the age of your child and what you feel they can or can't handle, they may not get all the nuances in the story, but they'll be able to grasp the basic concept of what happened and what they're trying to accomplish in the game. While the story is heartbreaking, it's done in a way that doesn't make it overly graphic or too grim to handle even for younger kids. You may find your kid emotionally invested in the story and the Kid's plight as they help him shape this world and find out more about the events leading up to the Calamity.

Monday, August 5, 2013

[Game Thoughts] Analogue: A Hate Story

Analogue: A Hate Story was one of those impulse buys during last year's Steam Summer Sale. While the screenshots didn't do much to inspire me, the premise seemed a bit interesting, and it was only a couple of dollars. So, I figured why not. If I didn't like the game, it would be no big deal since I bought it on sale. I'm pretty terrible about buying games on Steam and then forgetting about them. Recently, I said I was going to start cleaning out my catalog. Okay, this will be my second attempt at that. I said that last year, but then, Mass Effect 3 was released and with its release, all my ambitions were lost.

Analogue is more of a visual novel with the story being told in a non-linear fashion as the player unlocks more of the ship's logs. I was able to do two complete playthroughs in one sitting and unlock all the Steam achievements for it.The description of the game says that this is the story of a ship lost in space. In the 25th century, a ship was sent into space in hopes of creating an interstellar colony. The ship disappeared, but has finally been found 600 years later. It's only inhabitants are two AIs named *Hyun-ae and *Mute. The player can decide to explore what happened on that ship or do the simple assignment they've been tasked with and end the game.

I'm not going to say that description is misleading because it technically isn't, but this game ended up being an emotional rollercoaster of a ride that I wasn't really expecting. It's a very emotionally driven story that revolves around a "saying" found in the game: "Men are honored, women are abased." With that in mind, the treatment of the women in this story might be off-putting and disturbing for some gamers. This is intentional since it is a commentary on gender equality. Anyone who knows me knows that topics like that are very relevant to my interests. And yes, this (what happens with the women) is very important to what happened to the ship and its people, but I do advise caution for those who might be triggered.

I have two chief complaints with this.

This is more a sympathy complaint, but the console system can be a bit tricky. I can see where using the system might be confusing and frustrating for some players, even using the "help" command can be a little vague. This might cause many gamers to not fully experience the whole story as they'll complete the easiest objective and move on from the game unsatisfied. Personally, I thought it was fun to figure these things out, but I majored in Computer Science. I love tinkering with consoles.

Also, I think the art might make some think this story is sillier than it really is. Admittedly, I sort of felt that way about it and worried that I was going to get some gross story with the sexualized schoolgirl thing. I think that makes it easy to overlook or keep pushing to the backburner, which is unfortunate since this is a very thoughtful story.

Playing this now was apparently the perfect time since Hate Plus will be released on the 19th of this month. Also, the creator Christine Love sounds like someone to keep an eye on with her twitter bio stating: "I write games with too many words in them about women and queerness and technology. Please, let’s work hard together to make the world a cuter place!"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

[Book Review] Medicus

Medicus by Ruth Downie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Crossposted at The BiblioSanctum.

This story follows military medicus (doctor) Gaius Petreius Ruso who is a Roman man living in Brittania (England). He's escaped to the Brittania to heal from a disaster of a marriage that ended in divorce and the death of his father that left the family with many undue debts to pay. Brittania is considered a backwater town but important nonetheless. It's too small to be considered grand, but too large to be ignored by the Romans. As if going from everything to having nothing wasn't bad enough, women continue to bring trouble for Ruso after he examines a dead woman found in the river and rescues a slave from her callous owner.

This story takes place during a time when modern medicine was just beginning to emerge. Doctors were regarded as suspicious conmen and "healers" still ruled surpreme. I loved how Downie weaved that into the story, showing how doctors began to record treatment and discover new ways to deal with various medical ailments and conditions. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Ruso ushered around the new doctors in training and reveled in their naïveté after one fainted (and the others just barely made it out) when Ruso showed them a particular gruesome case. The description made me chuckle because it was just so Ruso-like.

Ruso is a bit cynical and serious, but he does have a little bit of a dry comedic side. He's very sure of his abilities as a medicus almost to the point of cockiness, but unlike his friend and fellow medicus, Valens, he keeps to himself in a world where knowing the right people means everything. He often feels awkward in social situations and almost always says the wrong things in his mind, so he tends to keep to himself. His bedside manners are cool because he's a man of logic, even by his own admission, but Ruso cares more about people more than he shows. This care extends beyond mere medical interest, but he's not sure how to "fix" people beyond what physically ails them.

Ruso complains that he shouldn't get involved in certain matters, but still he finds that his underlying compassion and concern causes him to do the exact opposite, which is how he ends up "investigating" a murder that he insists he's not investigating. He's also terrible at being a hard ass as shown when he became Tilla's "master." Tilla is just one of a group of ragtag friends he picks up during the course of the story which includes the charming Valens who thinks that Ruso needs a new wife, an overenthusiastic scribe named Albanus, and a dog he claims not to care for. He complains about them, of course, but I don't think he'd know what to do without them.

Despite all the elements that could make this a complicated story to listen to, it was very easy to follow. Nothing really went beyond my grasp or caused me to pause and rewind just to make sure I was understanding what I'd heard. Downie didn't use language that was too complicated, and the things that seemed a little unfamiliar she was able to explain in the simplest terms, even when it didn't really seem necessary. However, this was a surprisingly light listen. I was afraid that I would get partway in and decide that I need to read the book rather than listen to the audiobook.

One of the chief complaints I'd heard about this book was that the language was "too modern," but that's the usual complaint of many historical fiction settings ranging from books to television. I wasn't surprised to hear the complaint, but it just seems like old news now since many shows and books take this approach. I think that's because it makes it easier on the reader and the writer. How many people would really be interested in reading this if written in the style of that time? What writer would stick to writing a story in such a style? It would be tedious for both the reader and the writer. I agree that maybe some word choices absolutely were too modern, but that's such a nitpicky thing. However, I can only say that it doesn't bother me. Your mileage may vary.

My chief complaint is that, while I liked Ruso, he could be a bit annoying at times. I'd get mad at him for how he tried to treat Tilla, calling her property and trying to force her to call him master, even though he was terrible at being bossy--at least to Tilla. He does show a surprising amount of sexism that can be a bit annoying, too. Not because it's sexism, however. This is ancient Rome era we're talking about. It's annoying because it's obvious that he's not as sexist as most, but has defaulted to sexism because of his general disillusionment due to a bad marriage, which is understandable but so frustrating. Some of his actions were so obtuse to the point that I had to wonder if Ruso was okay mentally at times. An example being how he wanted the rumors about him investigating the murder to stop since he "wasn't investigating," but he made it his business to ask every person around if they'd heard he was investigating the murders. Really, Ruso?

As far as the narration goes, Simon Vance is quickly becoming one of my favorite narrators. He has a voice that is perfect for reading. This will be the third book I've listened to with him as the narrator and he never fails to impress me with his read. He's remarkable; his narration is always so impeccable. I have never encountered a narrator with such clean narration skills. Also, he understands that timbre not pitch determines how realistically a female voice will come across when reading, and even when faced with multiple female speakers in one scene, he gives them all their own personality that makes them easily discernible one from another.

The only real complaint I have is that he's a fast talker. I tend to speed up my audiobooks between 1.25 to 2.0 times faster than normal. With him, I have to get used to the pace he's keeping before I can speed it up, but that's really a trivial complaint when compared to how extraordinary he is as a narrator.

This was a great opening for the series, and I look forward to following more of Ruso's misadventures as narrated by Simon Vance.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

[Comic Review] Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection

Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection
Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection by Gail Simone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Crossposted at The Bibliosanctum.

Full disclosure. I stopped reading the New 52 after four comics. I read Mister Terrific #1, Justice League #1, Detective Comics #1, and Swamp Thing #1. Out of those four comics, I was only impressed with Detective Comics and Swamp Thing. Justice League was only “meh” and didn’t feel like it was worth the trouble of continuing at that point, and Mister Terrific was terrible when it had so much potential to be great. Even though I did enjoy Detective Comics and Swamp Thing, I still put them on the back burner in favor of other comics that I wanted to catch up on. Admittedly, I was one of those people who wasn’t that excited to see Barbara assume the Batgirl mantle again. I love Barbara. I really do, but I always felt that she was a more formidable hero as Oracle than as Batgirl. That’s neither here nor there now, and there’s no point in rehashing old thoughts. Moving on...

I decided to try Batgirl for two reasons. I wanted to try another comic from the New 52 to see how I would enjoy it, and I wanted to read more Gail Simone after sort of shying away from her writing because of a volume of The Atom I read that made me want to run away screaming. Friends and fans of Gail assured me that I would enjoy either Birds of Prey or Batgirl much more than I enjoyed The Atom. After some resistance, I finally decided it was time to close my eyes and step off this cliff again.

The Darkest Reflection follows Barbara Gordon who has made her return as Batgirl after an experimental—or at least it sounded experimental—medical procedure returns her ability to use her legs. For those of you not quite familiar with what happened or only have a vague idea of what happened to her, refer to The Killing Joke pre-DCnU. After some downtime rehabbing while living in her father’s home, Barbara decides that it’s time to spread her wings, move out of her father’s house, and take up the mantle of the bat again. What Barbara didn’t count on was her survivor’s guilt and PTSD (which is triggered when she’s faced with guns) making her return to crime fighting more difficult than she’d expected.
I enjoyed this much, much, much more than I did The Atom.

At first, I was a little afraid that I might have to put this book down because it started a bit campier that I like. Actually, no, I should explain that better. I love when writers use campy writing to their advantage, but sometimes, I feel like writer’s try too hard with it. In turn, that turns me off because it comes off feeling so artificial and forced and makes it hard for me to enjoy the story.  This was one of the main problems that I had with The Atom. There were points in the beginning of this story where I worried I might be traveling down that road again, but after a while, the story found its footing and turned into an enjoyable read.

Barbara is a survivor struggling with the thought of having her legs back. She struggles with conflicting feelings that make her feel blessed for this miracle, but questions why did she, out of all the people in the in the world, deserve such a miracle. After thwarting a murder attempt on a family, Barbara’s next foe challenges her miracle as well and brings out deeper psychological fears.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Barbara’s struggle. She’s of two minds for most of this comic. She’s a superwoman and a frail all in the same breath. One minute she’s praising herself for her strength and smarts, and the next minute, she doubts herself and if she’s even doing the right thing. She wonders if she’s squandering her miracle by pushing herself too hard, but then she feels that this miracle wasn’t given to her for her to sit by idly. A brief confrontation with Nightwing shows the feelings she stills hold for him while punctuating that she doesn’t want the others to believe that she’s not capable--to the point that she lashes out at him in order to show that she isn’t helpless. She doesn’t want their help. She wants to prove herself, her strength and ability to overcome, to the bat family.

Let me talk briefly about the ending of this comic. No real spoilers, but just some thoughts. When I realized that Barbara’s threat was eliminated in the fourth issues but there were still two issues left in this arc, I was thinking, “Okay?” It ended perfectly, and I was thinking that things were about to get odd since what could you possibly accomplish in two more issues? I was pleasantly surprised. You can say the next two issues in the arc were a mini-story, but still tied into the “reflection” theme showing Barbara what she could’ve been if she hadn’t had family and support.

The first part dealt with accepting that miracles happened to people whether they deserved them or not and that there’s no one who can decide that someone is undeserving of such a miracle, even if it’s a personal miracle. The second part dealt more personally with the idea that not everyone may see his or her miracle as a miracle. It showed how fragile the line between miracle and damnation is in some people’s mind, and it showed a thing about compassion and understanding, as well

Overall, this was entertaining. There were some hiccups for me, and I’m back to questioning why it’s so easy for some people to find out who the bat family is over other more intelligent criminals. That's a general annoyance of mine with Batman and the bat family, not something that's limited to Gail herself. However, I still enjoyed the story and appreciated it for showing Barbara’s return as a struggle that she’s working to overcome for physical and psychological reasons. I’ll definitely read more of the Batgirl books.

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Tempest Plays The Walking Dead Season One: Episode One

I just finished up episode one of this game. I'm so sorry that I waited so long to play this game. Friends had been trying to get me to play this game forever, but I kept putting them off. Finally, I decided to blow these Xbox points I had on episode one. (And got the rest of the episodes free during the XBL Gold membership deal thing.) I'm enjoying this way more than I thought I would.

This isn't a terribly hard game, but they don't allow me eight million seconds like Mass Effect to make decisions, which makes me tense. I guess that's the point, though, to make the player make their first choice without mulling over it forever. This is a tense situation. You have to think fast.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the choices I made during the course of the episode, so if you're not trying to be spoiled, you may want to leave now.

Go ahead.

I'll wait.

Still here? Good.

My decisions versus other players

Lied to Hershel? You and 63% of players told the truth.

That’s not exactly true. I stopped one step short of telling Hershel the complete truth. Up to the point where Hershel asked who Lee was riding with, I’d been honest. Of course, Lee’s answers were vague, and perhaps mentioning he’d been riding with a cop would’ve been equally as vague. I just didn’t chance it, but I was mostly honest! That should count for something. I guess there's not anything Hershel could've done about Lee in a zombie apocalypse besides try to kill him like Lilly's dad.

Duck or Shawn? You and 47% of players chose Shawn.

I actually got to do this part twice because my game did something weird and I had to shut down the Xbox and all kind of stuff. I chose Duck the first time, thinking if I saved Duck first Lee would do it quickly and could help Shawn. Duck's a kid. I have a weak spot for kids. Talk about being horrified when Shawn didn’t live. My game must’ve felt my horror because it gave me a do-over and I chose Shawn this time. Only to be trolled by the game. We could’ve saved Shawn if Kenny hadn’t ran off with Duck. KENNY!

Side With Kenny? You and 48% of players defended Kenny.

Even though I was pissed off at Kenny because of what happened at the Hershel's farm, ol’ girl’s dad ain’t just about to go killing kids when he's not even sure the kid has been bit. There seems to be an adequate amount of time to observe someone to see if they've been bitten before they become dangerous. That shit dad pulled wasn't cool. I’ll throw his off the hinges ass out there first with his damn daughter before that happens. I know everyone’s tense, but Lilly’s dad is out of control and dangerous. He’s not the ideal person to have around in a crisis like this, especially after he tried to get Lee killed. Do you think anyone gives a damn about what Lee’s done when there are ZOMBIES trying to kill them and Lee has been nothing but loyal and helpful. GTFOH, dad.

Gave Irene the Gun? You and 55% of players refused the gun.

This was actually an accident. I wasn’t going to give it to her at first, but then, I’m like… man, she probably should put herself out of her misery before she turns. She says something about becoming a walker not being Christian, but neither is suicide, I thought? Either way, I was going to let her do it, but then chose the wrong answer. So, I just let it stand. I’ll do another playthrough.

Doug or Carley? You and 76% of players chose Carley.

Game, no. Why did you do this? I wanted them both. I WANTED THEM BOTH. In the end, I chose Carley, though, because of her expert marksmanship. The fact that Carley liked Doug and tried to tell him before he died…? A bloo bloo bloo

On to episode two.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Things That Managed to Piss Me Off Today: Certain Book Readers

Just reposting this from my G+ account. No spoilers.

The thing that bothers me about this whole Red Wedding deal on Game of Thrones and the reactions is how snobbish many book readers are coming off right now to the people who DIDN'T read the books. This is a problem that I usually only encounter when my fellow comic book readers are being purist jerks to the point of needing to be slapped in the mouth. That is what's going on with so many of the book readers of A Song of Ice and Fire right now, and it's annoying me to the point on being downright combative toward them. Some readers are joking around and you can tell the ones who are just ribbing from the ones who are being openly snobbish because they read books and they just happen to have read these books.

1. "You know this was coming," is not an appropriate response to me. Book readers seem to assume because we (other book readers) knew this was coming that we shouldn't act all surprised. Just because I knew something was coming doesn't mean I'm not allowed to react with surprise, shock, and pain to the scene. I'm reacting to the scene as it was presented in this format, and it was an intense, emotionally driven scene. Knowing about the scene doesn't take away from the scene for me or many other people who have read the books. We live the experience as it is happening on the screen, not as it played out in our heads when we read the books.

2. "You should've read the books," is not an appropriate response to people who haven't read the books including other book readers and people who plan to only experience the world through the show. It is not okay to insert yourself into a conversation only to try to shame someone because they didn't read the books. That includes passive-aggressively using gifs and triple-play Scrabble words to basically call someone an idiot for not reading the books.

The one thing that I liked about this scene is that it fostered conversation between the book readers and the show watchers. It allowed a free flow of conversation where everyone could discuss how they felt about the scene and many of the show watchers were very receptive to what the book readers had to say about their experience with the scene in the book versus their experience with the scene on the show until the Book Reader Elite started coming in with their "read the book, didn't read the book" reaction gifs and just general boorish attitude that ruined a perfectly fine discussion between people.

Am I being testy right now? I might be, but this is one of my peeves when it comes to books/comics versus their tv/movie counterparts. The purists who feel their only goal in life is to disrupt conversation because "Haha! Read the book." You can't sit with us. Get out!