GiR by GIR: Gauntlet

It seems that writing for the blog just might suit the GIR, because he’s back with another game review for us. Woot for his second entry and also for what seems to end of this year’s new video game drought! (Also, for more PC gaming goodness, please feel free to join our Steam Group)
Image courtesy of Arrowhead Games
The remake of the classic arcade game Gauntlet has finally arrived courtesy of Arrowhead Games Studios, the same folks behind the much beloved Magicka.  While I myself never played much of the original Gauntlet, despite its appearance in so many arcades, I did log plenty of hours on the N64 version: Gauntlet Legends.  For the uninitiated, the Gauntlet series follows a fairly simple formula typical of the hack'n'slash and beat'em-up genres. 1-4 Players chose from the classes available, in this edition the Warrior, Elf, Valkyrie, Wizard, and battle hordes of monsters while collecting loot inside a dungeon. 

Each of these heroes has a fairly distinct play style with a unique move set and control scheme.  Let’s look at them individually.
Image courtesy of Arrowhead Games
The Warrior -  He uses an axe that has a basic slash, a Bullrush to knock down groups of enemies (which can eventually be upgraded into a leap attack), a whirlwind cleave that grants limited invulnerability during execution, and a high damage but irritatingly precise overhead chop. 

The Elf - Has a rapid fire auto-attack that does low damage, an escape roll to weave through waves of onrushing attackers, a charged up high-damage skill shot, and a bomb he can plant for some AOE/crowd control. 

The Valkyrie - I've spent the majority of my playtime with this champion. She has a basic sword attack, a penetrating spear thrust which not only carries her through enemies but often drops them with a single hit(on normal in any case), and, best of all, a shield which blocks any projectile or normal attack. Eventually this last ability upgrades to not only block but reflect incoming projectiles and finally morphs into a Captain America-style shield throw(which can be wildly unpredictable when it ricochets). Throwing the shield disables the blocking function until it returns to you. 
The Wizard – Last, but certainly not least. This class will feel distinctly familiar to those who have played Magicka.  Each of your buttons represents an element; push two then the cast button to unleash effects as varied as chain lightning, ice beams, fireballs (lobbed for aoe or on a direct line for single target), and several more combinations.  While there aren't nearly as many combinations as you’d find in Magicka, there are more than enough to keep things from getting repetitive as you forge your path through the dungeons. 

Additionally, each of the heroes can unlock and purchase upgradeable relics which provide myriad effects such as a freezing nova, a rapid burst of speed, or even the ability to turn an enemy into a succulent turkey leg. Mmmm…turkey leg. You'll power these relics through the use of potions that you discover in the dungeon alongside the food you will inevitably shoot and gold you will inevitably loot. This brings us to an important point. The nicest new feature I've found so far is that, while hunting your food is a classic staple of the Gauntlet games, in its newest incarnation there are now masteries which provide benefits for accomplishing certain goals over the course of your playthrough. Yes, even shooting the food.  So while it might suck to lose out on that sweet, sweet meat when you desperately need it, do it often enough and you'll actually unlock a mastery so that destroying the food will grant you a portion of life back regardless. This is true for things like dying as well. In their effort to make you less afraid of failure, Arrowhead has found a way to soften the various blows enough to keep even the most reckless or clumsy of players having fun and engaged in the act of progressing through the adventure with plenty of objectives to chase.  That said, I'm not trying to imply the game is easy or made for casuals. Arrowhead included several levels of difficulty which will challenge even the most veteran players and reward them with Vanity gear to customize the look of their chosen champion.
But what about the actual gameplay? 

Honestly? There isn't a whole lot of variety in the types of monsters you face and with 3 Zones, 4 Doorways per zone, you're only looking at about 4-5 hours of playtime for a single run-through on normal. I think that Arrowhead expects most people to beat it once with each class or grind away at the higher difficulties, which isn't an unlikely outcome if you have a solid group of friends to tackle these with. Gauntlet has always been best with friends and the same remains true of its newest incarnation. The game, while technically possible on single-player, isn't really enjoyable on the easier difficulties. It's grueling slog through room after room of either kiting massive trains of guys hoping to take a few swipes here and there or just brute-forcing your way through in a war of attrition with food.  I'm sure some folks out there could manage it, but I found the solo experience to be pretty miserable. 

On the flip side, it's one of the best Co-Op experiences (You can play Co-op either local or online) I've had all year and I can easily see myself wanting to try out each class at least once.  Skillfully chaining special moves and herding the hordes of the baddies hunting you down in order to kill them in the most efficient way possible is a real blast and the 70/30 cooperative/competitive split is a hallmark for the Gauntlet franchise. Let me take a moment and explain for those again not familiar when I mention the 70/30 split.  While you are all working together to get through the dungeon alive, there's also a strong incentive for each player to be the one with the most gold at the end of each level.  Arrowhead has even added a fun little twist where each level has a special crown; kill the monster wearing it and it drops to the floor. The first player to snag it and put it on their head can try to wear it out of the level, but take a single hit and it goes flying for someone to snag the rebound. It's always an amusing moment when half the group is trying desperately to kill the spawning towers that generate monsters and the other half is just making a mad dash to collect all the gold in the room.  Or, better yet, when the jerk with the crown needs food badly and you manage to snipe it right before they can get to it. Hey maybe if you wanted the food so bad you should have let me get the crown!   

So all in all I'd say check it out, if not right away then for sure during one of Steam's many Sales. It's a good time if you can get at least one friend to tag along and great with a full party of 4.  Despite the relatively short run time the price is right at $20 and it's out on Steam now.

Assorted final thoughts:
- Some sort of gamepad controller (vs. your keyboard) is highly recommended. 
- If you do want to give it a shot solo I strongly recommend using the Warrior or Valkyrie. 
- It's got Steam Trading Cards and Achievements if that sort of thing matters to you.
- The Leaderboards seem to be broken or easily exploited so you’re best off not getting too invested in them.

Gauntlet is rated M for mature gamers ages 17 and up. This review was drafted using playtime with the Windows PC version of Gauntlet. The game is slated to be released on iOS and Linux later this year.
Read More

This Week in Geekdom

It's really Sunday again? Well ok then. The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy here on the blog and hopefully you guys feel that any recent changes have been reasonably good ones. Last week I mentioned that the medium-to-long term goal for all these shenanigans is to turn the Care and Feeding of Nerds into something a bit more sophisticated, or at least more robust, than just my occasional digitized mutterings. Part of getting to that goal will be publishing more content, so we're hoping to get to the point where there are at least 2-3 posts a week in addition to this weekend wrap-up. Obviously, if any of our new features isn't working out, let us know on any of these. The idea is to make the site better, so let us know if we've gone astray. Fingers crossed though that our internet mad sciencing produces some goodness. But enough administrative chat; let's get down to the week in geekdom.

Movies/TV

In the bad-but-also-perhaps-good news category is this confirmation that a movie version of Y: The Last Man is officially dead.

It may have had its release date bumped back, but Jupiter Ascending is doing its best to prove that the delay is worthwhile with this new trailer

Apparently live TV musicals are going to be a thing. After last year's live production of the Sound of Music, Peter Pan will be getting similar treatment. Bonus: Christopher Walken will be Captain Hook.

As if Pride and Prejudice and Zombies didn't merit enough nerdy anticipation, it has been confirmed that Lena Headley, Charles Dance, and Matt Smith will be joining the cast.

Bryan Singer will be directing the third installment of the new X-Men movie franchise: X-Men: Apocalypse.

William Shatner will have a special cameo in the still-untitled third volume of the rebooted Star Trek series.

Comics

After decades of squabbling, Marvel and the estate of Jack Kirby have reached a settlement concerning the intellectual properties of the comic book legend. 

Games

On Tuesday Blizzard announced that, after seven years of development, that they would be cancelling their next-generation MMO Titan. When asked for a reason as to the cancellation, Blizzard responded that they, "couldn't find the fun." Right.

The amusing retelling of live-action Oregon Trail.

Halo 5: Guardians as retold in Minecraft.

Science/Technology

It's one of the most beloved features of the reading experience: a deep waft of book smell. But where does that storied smell come from? Here comes the science.

Researchers from Oxford University believe that the roasting process may be the culprit behind severe peanut allergies.

On Wednesday, Okayama University Hospital announced that it successfully completed a novel procedure that allowed a mother to donate segments of her lungs to her ailing son.

Wednesday also produced exciting new developments for India's space agency as their Mars Orbiter Mission (a.k.a. MOM) successfully entered the Red Planet's orbit.

Anthrax has a long-held reputation has a weaponizable bacterium. Now a group of MIT researchers hope to give the much-feared ailment a new, more positive role as a potential vector for chemotherapy drugs.

Robot butlers are not only becoming a reality, but may be available in a store near you in as little as one year's time.

It's only mere molecules in breadth, but a team from Penn State University believes that their research has produced in the strongest material in the world.

The latest edition of Physical Review Letters contains a description of what may be the closest we've come to producing significant amounts of energy from a fusion reaction.

The entire history of the universe in 10 run-on sentences.

However, there may be a challenge to that universal history. This alleged new theory posits that our universe may have been the offspring not of a Big Bang, but of a hyper-dimensional black hole.

Conversely, a physics professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has produced this research indicating that it is mathematically impossible for black holes to come into existence. Make up your minds people!

In 2006 the International Astronomical Union handed down one of the most controversial verdicts of our time: that Pluto was no longer a planet. Eight years later, the debate over Pluto's Fate has new life and may result in reclassification for the 'dwarf planet'. 
Poor unloved Pluto
The latest edition of Science features this research from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy that indicates the discovery of complex organic molecules in deep inter-stellar space.

What do the current crew of the International Space Station and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy have in common? The number 42.

Have you ever wanted to go to space? Perhaps pioneer the celestial bodies beyond our exosphere? Cyanide and Happiness has just the video for you!
If you're convinced that staying on Earth might be a good idea, then a team of chemists from the University of Pennsylvania have good news for you. The researchers claim that they have been able to observe and study the chemical reaction that keeps our atmosphere clean. 

A new DARPA program called Electrical Prescriptions, or ElectRx, aims to give participants in the program highly advanced healing abilities via microscopic implants. There's been no word on the construction of implants that will provide the bearer with adamantium claws.

 General Awesomesness/Feats of Nerdery

Members of the US Fox Valley Composite Squadron have captured the Guiness World Record for Highest Paper Airplane Flight (from a High Altitude Balloon). The paperboard aircraft bore a 14" (35.56 cm) wingspan and was able to cover a distance of 82 miles (131.97 km) after being released from a weather balloon.   

This is what happens when the good people behind Cirque de Soleil get their hands on some drones
Crowdfundables for Your Consideration

Woot for new feature! As the name suggests, every week we're going to provide brief descriptions for a handful of fun, innovative projects that are in the active crowdfunding phase and the corresponding links for you to find more information and/or offer your support. If you have a project that you'd like to bring to our attention, let us know.

First up is an unorthodox-looking game from the trio of minds behind Big Potato. Their project, Bucket of Doom, is a fast-paced, think-on-your-feet party game for terrible people in the vein of Cards Against Humanity. It aims to merge the absurdity of Cards with the storytelling aspects of other excellent party games like Snake Oil. There are only 9 days left on the Kickstarter, so don't delay if you want in on this fun!

That Which Sleeps has already surpassed its crowdfunding goal, but you may want to give this project a look anyhow. This offering by King Dinosaur Games bills itself as a re-imagining of the Black and White style god game. Players take on the role of a Cthulhu-esque Old One and wreak havoc on an unsuspecting populace all which avoiding being forcibly returned to their demonic slumber. The game will be available on all operating systems (yes, including Linux) and aims to be distributed through both Steam and the Humble Bundle Store. Check out their Kickstarter page for more details or vote here to get the game greenlighted on Steam.  
   
As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
Read More

GiR by GIR: Invisible Inc.

We've got a special guest post on our hands. After years of helping behind the scenes at the Care and Feeding of Nerds, the GIR is stepping out from the shadows and putting his thoughts to paper...er...html. In the following he tackles the Early Access incarnation of one of the most sought after demos of PAX East 2014: Invisible Inc. The game has already come a long way since its appearance at the BCEC, but is the Early Access worthwhile? Lets find out.
Invisible Inc., the latest offering from Klei Entertainment, may still be in Early Access but that doesn’t mean you should overlook it.  While the label of Early Access is applied more and more liberally every day, Klei has done it right with a substantial chunk of playable content right off the bat and reasonably frequent updates.  Personally, it was an easy decision to buy in and check it out as they are still operating off the good will garnered from previous excellent titles like Mark of the Ninja and I was pleased with what I found despite some obvious quirks which I chalk up to the Early Access aspect. 

Essentially a turn-based tactical espionage game, you are given control over a team of Operatives, each with their own specialties (Sneaking/Hacking/Etc.). Your goal is to Infiltrate, Hack, and Steal your way through the infrastructure of various corporations in order to gather enough resources to complete a penultimate mission given to you by the game’s narrator, the mysterious Central. Each safe or guard you successfully burgle yields secret files that can be used to level/power up your Operatives, granting them new abilities or enhancing existing ones.

To best, if not the simplest, way to describe Invisible Inc. is that it seems like Klei made a smoothie out several other games:

1 part art direction from Evil Genius
2 parts tactical grid & turn based systems from X-COM Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within
1 part stealth from Mark of the Ninja
1 part roguelike/Rogue-Lite from FTL

It's a combination that might make you raise an eyebrow at first but I have to say it tastes delicious.
The stylized comic art meshes superbly well with the tongue-in-cheek spy theme
At first there isn’t much roster variety with only 2 Agents at your disposal, but as you take on various missions via the World Map, you’ll be given opportunities to rescue more. Your new charges then become available for future operations, or at least until your run ends but we’ll come back to this point in a bit. 
Here is where we see the first flavors of X-COM.  On the global map, several locations of interest will pop up each indicating the following: The Corporation you are targeting, The Mission type you are undertaking, and the Degree of difficulty.   It’s important to review all your options because, as you’ll see the deeper we dive into this game, the fundamental mechanic at work here is every decision will have consequences, be they intended or not.  Target too many vaults to grab cash for upgrades and you might find yourself forced to use only 2 Operatives the whole time. Conversely, target too many Detention Facilities to free additional Operatives and find yourself perpetually broke with no money to make them powerful enough to survive.  There are even some apparently rare special missions that afforded an opportunity to steal prototype technology which provided unique and powerful benefits not only to your Operatives but the Incognita System itself.
 
The what system?  Right, so after selecting a mission your agents will be dumped into a procedurally generated series of rooms full of guards, safes, and computer terminals which represent the complex you’ve chosen to infiltrate.  Using an action-point-based system with a standard square grid you set about trying to complete your objectives without being caught and killed.
I've played roughly 6 hours and can confirm that no two map layouts I've encountered have been the same
The Incognita System, which had once been the title of the game, is the tool that allows you to hack the various security cameras, turrets, and safes you come across.  Doing this though requires a resource PWR(power...I see what you did there) which is obtained via hacking Terminals.  Once again we see the fundamental mechanic of Risk/Reward at work. Do I hack the camera to help track a guards movement, disable to turret to run down a hall or open a safe to get cash for upgrades?  So many choices, so little PWR, so little time. That’s the other thing constantly working against you in Invisible Inc. Once you've embarked on a mission a gauge in the upper right corner of the screen that represents the Security Forces’ awareness starts ticking up.  The longer you stay the more security cameras activate, and more guards flood the building to hunt you down.  It’s up to you how long you want to stay before you make a mad dash for the elevator that allows you to escape.  I myself was forced to cut my losses on more than one occasion and chose to fail a mission rather than throwing an Operative to the wolves, but be warned an Operative left behind stays behind! Unlike X-COM, there is no way to “recruit” new Operatives and, while you can revive someone during a mission with special items, once that specific mission ends, unless you got them to the elevator alive, they are gone from your roster until your next play through.
While this is primarily a stealth game in terms of you needing to hide behind cover objects to break line of sight, there ARE ways to combat the guards in the form of tasers, and one un-lockable operative even comes with a sniper rifle(with a clip size of 2).  The tasers don’t raise the alarm but only knock guards out for a limited number of turns, the rifle can kill but this often causes a rapid escalation in difficulty in terms of what the Security forces begin to deploy to stop you. The overwhelming force Security can bring to bear and the perma-death features ensure you will likely fail at some point and end up with a TPK.  But all is not lost!  As noted earlier in the review the game is meant to be Rogue-like or rogue-lite even in that you gain long term experience which unlocks new starting gear permanently in the form of Incognita functions or new Operatives.  You still only start with 2 but you can at least begin with say, the Sniper and the Safe Cracker as opposed to Generic Stealth and hacker. It's similar to how you would unlock different ship hulls in FTL. 
So in theory you should do a little better each run though you’re still primarily at the mercy of the procedurally generated layout.  If I’m honest I did find it frustrating that the very first mission labeled “Lightly Guarded” could be twice as difficult as an end game mission labeled “Very Secure” simply due to the layout offered up by the procedural generation, but hey if you've ever played ANY game with that as a feature you should know what you’re getting.
  
Bottom Line, TL/DR: Considering Klei's history of high quality AA titles I feel confident recommending this as a solid purchase. Per the Klei FAQ via the Steam Store Page the core set of content will be done in early 2015 at which point the current of $15.99 will increase to $19.99.
Read More

The Blame Game

Sometimes even the best laid plans get waylaid by chaos. In this case, as with so many others that rile up the ranks of Geekdom, chaos has taken the form of an internet kerfuffle. Our regularly scheduled post will appear tomorrow so we can chat about the maelstrom stemming from this article: “Denise Dorman Asks – Is Cosplay Killing Comic Con?”
Image credit
Wait what? Where’d this come from? What kind of insane claim is this?

Hold up; let’s start at the beginning. This past Saturday, Ms. Dorman, wife of comic/sci-fi illustrator Dave Dorman, wrote this post and published it to her personal blog. Note the title she uses for her post and give it a quick comparison with the header that Bleeding Cool assigned to the same post when they cross-published it (with Ms. Dorman's permission) on their site two days later.

Oh, so Bleeding Cool just turned it into clickbait then? What’s the big deal?

Yes, Bleeding Cool crafted a provocative headline in the hopes of getting the post to go viral. Given how prevalent the article has become since Monday, it would seem that they were successful in that endeavor. However, though the title was designed to incense, it’s not as though that idea (that cosplayers have changed conventions for the worse) was conjured from the ether. Dorman’s essay is a first and also allegedly collective second-hand account of what it’s like to be an exhibitor at a comic book convention. Her contention is that, for the creative minds that comprise the foundation of these events, the act of attending and exhibiting is no longer a profitable venture. She cites her personal experience along with that of her husband at 2.5 events that took place earlier this year: Wizard World, San Diego Comic Con, and GrandCon (which was halfway over as of the time of her writing). At each of these, the Dormans either barely covered their expenses or, in the case of SDCC, lost money. Ms. Dorman attempts to shore up her case by drawing on testimonials from other creatives attending these conventions before drawing this conclusion:

I have slowly come realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, COSPLAY is the new focus of these conventions–seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place. [emphasis is Ms. Dorman’s]

She then deploys an anecdote about an “uber-famous artist who traveled all the way from Japan” who was allegedly summarily ignored for the duration of SDCC, “…while the cosplayers held up floor traffic and fans surround the cosplayers – rather than the famed industry household name – to pose for selfies.” [emphasis is again Ms. Dorman’s]

Then she launches into the following:

The hard-working artists and creators who are the very foundation of this industry…the reason there even is an industry….those creatives who have busted their asses and spent money they perhaps didn’t have to spare in order to be there exhibiting for–and accessible to–the fans…have been reduced to being the background wallpaper against which the cosplayers pose in their selfies. At what point do you start to wonder if–other than your faithful, loyal regulars who are like family and who find you every time–the general fandom population even gives a shit about the creators more than they care about their Instagram profiles? [emphasis is yet again Ms. Dorman’s]

Ms. Dorman’s frustrations are certainly understandable, no one likes to spend time and money on ventures that are not worthwhile, but her ire is at least partially misplaced. It is no secret that conventions have undergone many considerable changes within the past decade or so. We’ve talked before about how SDCC in particular has grown and morphed into something that barely resembles its earlier incarnations as the impetus for the con has shifted away from comics and towards general pop culture (usually in the form of visual media). The problem that Ms. Dorman describes is also neither limited to comic book conventions nor is it an issue that plagues only exhibitors. Back in February we discussed the repercussions of a convention experiencing rapid growth and the often hard choices that would-be attendees are left with in the face of rising costs and diminishing con resources. Just last week we covered the importance of helping new, independent conventions gain traction and become self-sufficient. In all likelihood, it’s an issue that many of Ms. Dorman’s readers could have readily related to had she kept the scope of her post focused on exhibitor experiences and the painful economics of convention attendance.

Instead, she blamed cosplayers.

When the chips were down in the height of what she has termed 'my fit of rage' her primal, gut-reaction instinct was to blame cosplayers.

She has since attempted to clarify this accusation in this follow-up post, claiming that, amongst other things, “I have friends who cosplay.” Related aside: has the ‘I can’t be a bigot; I have friends who are [insert group being denigrated here]’ line ever successfully convinced someone that the speaker isn’t prejudicial? Ok, so maybe her original post was written out of frustration; that frustration is real and widely held, but that doesn’t excuse the conclusions she so very publicly drew. You lose the right to claim that it's just mutterings on your personal blog when you claim to speak for an industry, then give your content over to re-bloggers in the hope of getting more attention for your cause.

The real issue isn’t the outburst itself, but the sentiments surrounding it. Ms. Dorman conflates egotistic, ungrateful, and ignorant attendees with cosplayers. It’s unfortunately a set of assumptions that cosplayers have had to deal with for ages now. The follow-up post attempts to delineate between cosplayers and the true object of Ms. Dorman’s ire without going so far as to actually term the latter as what we colloquially know them as: fake geeks.

It's the new breed of attendees who are there because someone said it's cool to be there; they are the ones completely unfamiliar with the comics industry. They are the ones who attend any hard-to-get-tickets event just to boast online. They are the people I take issue with.

What a novel argument you’ve crafted! *coughcough*

While it’s good that Ms. Dorman made something of an effort to extricate her foot from her mouth, that effort is nearly as inelegant as her original contention. In her words, “I think the emphasis on Cosplay is symptomatic of a shift in the larger Cons from being a commerce-driven event to being a social gathering-driven event.” She then goes on to blame fake geeks in so many words.

What's baffling is why Ms. Dorman is focusing on cosplay at all. She had an excellent example of the actual problem at hand in her first post when she mentioned that long-time exhibitor Mile High Comics was considering pulling out of SDCC after suffering a $10,000 USD loss at this year's convention (the final figure was a $6,000 USD loss). What she didn't do was take five minutes to read over her source material (or actually cite it correctly, or follow up on the successor posts by Mile High's president, Chuck Rozanski, despite the latter helpfully linking them to one another). Mr. Rozanski's three-part series about being an exhibitor at SDCC 2014 is a succinct and heartbreaking look at what it's like to be a comics retailer right now. He carefully lays out how volatile the industry is and how retailers/exhibitors are largely at the mercy of major publishing houses and convention associations. He employs various anecdotes from his 42 years of SDCC appearances and his emotional investment in the con experience is readily apparent, but there is nary a mention of attendees and certainly no blame being foisted their way.

Mr. Rozanski is almost certainly not alone. The GIR and I have heard similar complaints from artists, craftsmen, and game developers in our travels through various conventions. Their angst is rooted in the dual-pronged offensive of ever-increasing costs associated with exhibiting at a con and decreased awareness of price point foundations from attendees. It's not surprising that, after years of having free 2-day shipping and very low prices from big-box vendors, many people have become bottom-line focused and disconnected from what exactly goes into developing novel content and value associated with that process. You often see this in the FAQs on the websites of artisans were said professional will detail exactly why their wares are 'so expensive.' This is a problem that affects just about anyone in a creative profession and can be remedied by just taking a little time to learn about a vendor's craft then, if you so choose, cast a vote of confidence with your wallet.

Again, it's a very real issue that can definitely cause and foster frustration. It also has absolutely nothing to do with cosplayers. Ms. Dorman has the advantage of an industry insider's view, an advantage she's since squandered with her rants. It's a subject that merits discussion, especially if we're to preserve things like brick-and-mortar comic shops and friendly local game stores, but casting blame and alienating segments of your base demographic is not the way to go about generating awareness.  
Read More

This Week in Geekdom

Happy weekend everyone! Whew, what an awesomely busy week. There was a vague mention of certain ventures a few days back and, though we're still in the very early stages, that basically translates into the medium-to-long term goal of building out this little blog into something more like a "real" website. Part of achieving that goal will be delivering more content and creating more interactive opportunities for you guys (woot for more free stuff), so be on the lookout for more features in the not-so-distant future! 

TV/Movies

The amusing Twitter war of one-upsmanship that has been ongoing between directors JJ Abrams and Zack Snyder was taken to a new level this week when Mr. Abrams released this footage of 'his' Millennium Falcon:

While we're in a Star Wars frame of mind, rumors about the forthcoming film abounded this week and included these potential cameos and this Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff movie.

Nick Frost, he of Shaun of the Dead and The World's End fame, will be starring in this year's Dr. Who Christmas special.

Tywin Lannister may reach Game of Thrones audiences from beyond the grave.

It's official chimichanga aficionados. We'll be getting a Deadpool movie on February 12th, 2016.

Games

If you happen to both a fan of Minecraft and the owner of a Windows phone, you got quite a treat this week. Microsoft's Xbox chief Phil Spencer confirmed that the recently acquired and widely beloved game will be made available on the phones. He also hinted that bringing the game to other Windows moble devices, like the Surface, was not out of the realm of possibility.

Violent video games have long been held as an easy scapegoat for any number of social ills, particularly those affecting young people. However, a new study detailed in the latest edition of Psychology of Violence indicates that such games may actually have a variety of interpersonal benefits.

One intrepid Counter-Strike fan has turned the entirety of the indie exploration game Gone Home into a playable map in the popular first-person shooter.

Science/Technology

On Thursday, the Annals of Improbable Research and Harvard University handed out their annual Ig Nobel Prizes for distinguished but unorthodox scientific inquiry. This is a brief rundown of the winners and their fantastical projects (who knew that cured pork could stop nosebleeds?). 

Throughout this year, we've chatted about the purported discovery of the gravitational waves stemming from the origins of the universe. Though that study is now under review, the question remains: How does one see the origins of the universe?

GPU makers Nvidia came up with a novel way to promote the quality of their wares. On Thursday the company released these images of the Apollo 11 landing that had been re-created and rendered with Nvidia products. The images were created in an attempt to prove that the lunar landing did, in fact, occur.

Can you guess which of these is a real lunar landing image? (answer: the one on the right)
Lockheed Martin will be resurrecting defensive turrets as a features on their military grade aircraft and giving them a modern upgrade in the form of lasers.


Paul Martin, the Inspector General of NASA, issued a report this week concerning the agency's preparedness to deal with near-Earth objects that may prove hazardous to our continued survival as a planet. Mr. Martin is not pleased. However, the U.S. Air Force may be able to assist in this endeavor.

Beautiful and deadly; this is a close-up look at some of the most contagious and lethal pathogens known to humanity.

Speaking of threats to humanity, chemists at North Carolina State University have discovered a method that will cause liquid metal to be manipulated into specific forms. Their work bears a not insignificant resemblance to the T-1000.

General Awesomeness/Feats of Nerdery

Here's a reinvigorated martial art that would be great to see more of: longsword fighting.

They are Batman...all 542 of them.

Nathan Yau of Flowing Data has taken 21 pop songs and distilled each of them down to minimalist graphs and mathematical expressions. The results are both impressive and amusing.

It's no secret that people sometimes go to great lengths to spoil their beloved pets, but sometimes those efforts yield amazing results. Meet artist Ben Dror. He developed this 'car' for his pet fighting fish Jose.

As always, best wishes for an awesome week ahead!
Read More

And the Winner is...


Number 3!

Congratulations and thank you to everyone who participated in our very first giveaway. I'm hoping that there will be more of these in not-so-distant future!
Read More

Gias Games: Woodle Tree Adventures

What? Five posts in six days? While this is certainly a record for publishing frequency on the Care and Feeding of Nerds, this may also be something of a peek into the future for this little blog. I'll hopefully be able to share exactly what that means before the year is out but, for now, we can enjoy this review by a new guest author. (Unrelated reminder: you have a little less than 24 hour to enter in our Thrash-Car giveaway!)

The following is the work of my friend Elder Gias. He's currently in the midst of slogging through a backlog in his Steam library and has decided to chronicle the pleasant surprises, misadventures, and occasional WTF-ery of this odyssey. Speaking of the latter, he begins with Woodle Tree Adventures, a 3D platformer by indie developer Fabio Ferrara that was recently featured in the Humble Flash Bundle
Image credit
When I think of setting precedent, I think of Brown v. Board of Education, Citizen Kane,  Goldeneye 64, and now Woodle Tree Adventures.  Before playing this game I thought I had played horrible games on Steam, but this game has given me the unique experience of having to reset my frame of reference for bad games.  This is currently the worst game I have played on Steam.

First let me tell you the few good things about this game.  It has a cute art-style that works for an old school platformer.  It has cute music that matches the visual aesthetic.  It also lets you zoom out on the levels more than any other platformer I have ever played.

Now for the rest of the experience:  When you make a 2D platformer, there is no need to worry about camera angles.  When you make a 3D platformer, camera angles are one of the things you need to worry about the most.  The creators of this game seem to have some Memento style memory loss going on where they constantly forget how to deal with camera angles.  They do show that they are able to switch angles based on where you move, as there are locations where when you round a corner the camera moves to let you see the new location you moved to.  This happens a total of one time in the game.  The rest of the time, the camera will let your character be hidden by anything and everything in the environment.  Additionally, your character will be hidden by the bag he carries many times. 

Normally this and the other camera issues would not be game breaking except, that since this is a 3D platformer with edges that let you fall to your death, proper character location is extremely important.  You will find yourself dying 90% of the time due to poor camera movement.

Speaking of the terrible camera, did the creator have a seizure while coding the camera?  In the second level, I died later in the level and respawned back at the beginning.  However, the camera had rotated 180 degrees such that I was viewing my character from what had previously been his back. This gave me the unique displeasure of having to try to control the character while he was completely obfuscated  by the landscape of the game.
It is a pretty landscape though
To add to the thoughtlessness of the creator, one cannot go back to the level select main menu.  You either have to beat a level or exit the game and restart it.  So to get out of the camera issue described above I had to shut the game down.  I wish I had stopped playing at that point, however I am an addict.  I admit, I have a problem, I am addicted to achievements and being a completionist with my game library, so I continued playing. The terrible camera means that many routine platform jumps are almost a total gamble.  You don't know how far on the Z axis you are, so who knows if you will land on the platform?  The best you can do is watch your character's shadow, but that is not nearly enough.

There are a few sections where you play underwater and you move so excruciatingly slow.  Civilizations rose and fell in the time it took me to complete the underwater sections of this game.  When I checked the clock, apparently there was some temporal anomaly occurring with this game because it took me one hour to finish despite the Eons it felt.  Another 30 min of game play got me the remaining achievements for the game.  I only had to do some key rebinding to get the multiplayer achievement rather than subject anyone I have positive feelings for to a game that is the digital equivalent of a punch to the crotch.

Speaking of key binding, apparently the Xbox 360 controller is the “optimal” way to play this game.  The number of times where the jump button would not respond to presses implies that keyboard and mouse of the game would be the equivalent of being a passenger on the Hindenburg’s final flight.  Getting beaten in the face with a 2-by-4 is my preferred method of mutilation when the alternative is getting hit in the face by a dire-flail.  That does not mean the preferred the method is good, just that the alternative is much MUCH worse.

Though you do have a choice of control input, there is no choice given in how inept your character is at the basic action of movement.  A normal game would have your character move when you input movement and have your character stop when you stop inputting movement.  The creator of this game apparently chose to become the Jackson Pollock of the gaming world and turn gaming on its head by showing you a new way to control your character, a much shittier way!  You move when you input movement, and you keep moving when you stop inputting movement.  For a 3D platformer this is a revolutionary idea!  No one has tried it to this extent before, we are truly seeing game development pioneering in how bad development decisions can be made.  When you are already dealing with a game whose camera is worse than Silent Hill 2 (one of the best games ever, by the way), with a jump button that works as well as Lou Gehrig’s muscles, you don’t need your character to move independent of your controls to show you that the developer hates you and loathes gamers in general.  You cannot fine tune your movements and jumps when you continue to walk several body lengths after you stop inputting movement.  This is most noticeable in areas where the ledges are only two body widths wide and you land in the direct center of the ledge.  If you don’t continue jumping you will die again and again because you cannot stop moving.

These continued deaths could have been mitigated to a degree if the checkpoint system of the game worked in any sort of appreciable way.  I know there are checkpoints because when you die there are certain places that you teleport back to, however, almost every time this happens you are then teleported again back to the start of the level.  Only twice in my playing did it leave me to continue playing from the apparent checkpoint. There is no conceivable way that the game’s creator beat this game without dying due to the control and camera implementation done by Helen Keller Industries.  As such, he should have noticed that they were teleported back to a checkpoint then back from the checkpoint to the start of the level.  I am guessing at this point he just threw his hands up and said “What the hell ever.  Let’s see if someone buys it”.  Thankfully, I only have this game because it was free on Indie Gala at one point.  I am a very frugal person and love getting games for cheap or even free but getting this game, even free, is the closest I have ever come to saying it was a mistake to get a free game.  There is no reason to buy this game.  If you get this game for free, there is no reason to play it unless you are an obsessive completionist, in which case, I feel your pain, get ready for an hour and a half of the video game equivalent of an iron maiden.

This game only has one play-through.  There are no save slots and the game auto-saves.  There is no way to reset the game to start over for someone else to play the game.  However, this not a huge complaint since if you are allowing someone else to play this game after you have played it then you are a bad person.

To further question the sanity of the programmer of this game, some levels have enemies below the entire level just sitting in inaccessible boxes below the ground.  This does not appear to be an aesthetic design choice, but looks more akin to programming errors that the game creator could not figure out how to fix.  It is as though he put in too many enemies to the level and could not figure out how to delete the extra enemies and instead just boxed them up in an inaccessible location.  Given how well everything else was put together, there are no surprises here.

Lastly, it is odd to say this, but thankfully the creators are really bad at adding your points in your total tally.  This leads to you getting way more points per level then you should, at least in the unlockable 600 point level.  If it had not been for this horrible coding of the points, I would have had to play the game even longer to get all the achievements.

If this game had been developed as a student’s art or programming project, I would say that they did a great job.  However, there is no legitimate argument for this game being sold to the masses.  The aforementioned issues should have EASILY been caught by any sort of beta testing by the game creator.  On the developer’s website there are a few quotes about the game from Indie Game websites.  The developers want me to believe that someone said “Woodle Tree is the Hotline Miami of the 3-D platformer.”  I wish that were true, then someone would have shot my character in the face and ended the torture.

At $2.99 on Steam this game is a steal.  And by that I mean the developer is stealing your money to fund another experiment into how best to maim gaming experiences further.  That cost equates to $2 per hour of excruciating play.  There are 8 achievements which thankfully do not take long to get.  The game also supports Steam Trading cards and gives you 3 of the six drops for playing.  However, even as a free game with free card drops I would feel dirty having the badge for this game on my profile.   The game also supports local Co-op game-play which I expect to be featured in the next installation of the Saw franchise.
Read More

Round Up: Boston FIG

Four posts in four days...what is this sorcery? This is apparently what happens costume construction is slow and there are games to be given away.

On Sunday there was a brief mention that the GIR and I had ventured out to the Boston Festival of Indie Games (a.k.a. Boston FIG) this past weekend. Boston FIG has been this semi-elusive for us for the past couple of years. Every time PAX East would roll around we’d see a flyer emblazoned with a giant fig leaf and say something like, “What a great idea, we should totally go,” only to have something else invariably interpose on our schedule. This year the proverbial foot went down: we were going and that was that; so we trekked up to the campus of MIT and took in all Boston FIG had to offer.

Overarching Impressions of the Con:  Yes, I know. In all other convention round-ups this little synopsis would be the last part of the post but, since many of the games featured at the FIG are self-published or were actively searching for a publication deal, our usual methodology would have been tough to follow.
Boston FIG is a con still in the very early stages of development (2014 was only its third year), so it wasn’t surprising that the setup of the event was fairly simple. However, simple did not in any way equate to boring. After participating in the jam-packed spectacles of PAX East and Gen Con, it was so nice to be able to navigate the halls without forcibly becoming intimately acquainted with fellow attendees. On that note, there was something deeply appealing about an event filled with up-and-coming developers. As we’ve discussed, some of the most beloved gaming conventions are now straining under their own weight so it was profoundly refreshing to sit down with innovators and fellow game lovers to assist in the creation of brand new games. Authentic. That probably sounds at least a little hokey, but it felt very authentic and true to the avocation of gaming as a whole.

Of course there were a few hiccups, namely the disparity in preparedness between exhibitors, but overall Boston FIG was a very welcoming and fun experience. To break down the highlights from Boston FIG, I’ve divided the rest of the post into Digital and Tabletop sections. Let us away to the games!

Digital – While the offerings amongst the video games were quite diverse, retro-themed pixelated graphics, zombie-heavy premises, and physics-based puzzle games were the most common themes on the digital floor. We were able to try out a whole heap of games and these guys were the titles that made the biggest impressions. 

Catlateral Damage - There's been much ado about goat simulators in the past year or two, but if you're more inclined towards felines, then Catlateral Damage is probably the game for you. Billed as the 'premier first-person cat simulator', Catlateral Damage allows players to indulge their inner kitteh, mostly by wrecking havoc on various domestic settings. The game fully funded its Kickstarter back in July and will soon be available on both PS4 and Steam. Check out the playable demo here.  

Prismata - A product of MIT's own Lunarch Studios, Prismata is a thoughtfully crafted hybrid of Starcraft-esque resource management and Hearthstone style head-to-head combat. Two players are presented with a roster of units (this roster varies with each matchup), some that provide resources while others that have offensive/defensive capabilities. Each combatant must manage both aspects of their roster, quickly building a viable microeconomy while also engaging in iterative combat with their opponent. Lunarch is currently looking for beta testers and you can learn more about Prismata here

Red Survivor - Mustachio Games presented this turn-based strategy game and, though it was still in pre-alpha, it garnered considerable attention. In the midst of the Russian Revolution, those recently slain in the conflict suddenly rise from their graves to pose a new threat to those still living. Players control groups of survivors struggling to re-create a rudimentary society amidst the devastation. The game featured most of the 4 components of your standard 4X game and hopes to have all 4 of those Xs, as well as a heaping helping of historical narrative, in place by the time they've finished with development. Sound interesting? Sign up to be a beta tester/get early access here.

Tumbleweed Express - This title, by the Dirigiballers, aims to combine all the best parts of the railshooter and tower defense genres. Set in an alt-history Industrial Era, players ride, manage, and defend the eponymous train from the aeronautical forces of greedy businessmen and corrupt law enforcement. There was also a surprising amount of narrative depth and strategy from something that initially presents as a steampunked shooter. You can access the same demo we played at the con here and learn much more about both the game and its creators on the Tumbleweed Express Kickstarter page.   

Tabletop  -  The demos offered in the tabletop section alone could have kept us occupied for hours. Like the Digital section, there was a broad range of offerings in tabletop, but evil minion-centric themes and build-as-you-go boards made repeat appearances throughout the hall.

Lair - Wee Big Games touts itself as 'deep strategy in a small box' and Lair lived up to every bit of that claim. 2-4 players are each trying to curry favor with Big Boss by building out a secret underground base (and undermining the base-building efforts of their peers). Despite having few components, Lair felt like a legitimate Euro game and, though there's an immense amount of modularity available in the game, we all felt pretty comfortable with it after a round or two of play. 

Moonquake Escape - A Pair of Jacks Games had one of the most eye-catching booths and one of the most hotly contested demos on the floor (with Lair drawing an equally large crowd). Players find themselves desperately attempting to escape a high-security prison facility on the lonely planet of Zartaclaton as the latter is slowing giving away to collapse. The game is in the very early stages of development and we look forward to seeing more from this interesting premise.

Moriarty's Machinations - Think Avalon or Resistance with a Sherlock theme and a bit more structure to the deductive process of the players (in the form of personalized narrative information). Moriarty's Machinations is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign if you're keen to learn more about this game.

Phoenix Covenant - A beautifully rendered melange of Magic: the Gathering and Final Fantasy Tactics, Phoenix Covenant will be a deeply satisfying play for lovers of both CCGs and strategy games. The title boasts not only stunning artwork, but also an immense array of in-game lore. Players can also select between head-to-head combat and and a player-versus-environment mission-style mode. It was very clear that Phoenix Covenant was a carefully crafted labor of love from the brothers behind Hikari Games and we look forward to seeing more from them.

Pleasant Dreams - Fresh off their successful Kickstarter campaign, Aerjen Games was keen to display their new artwork for this 2-player psychological thriller. Participants face off, beginning in a state of peaceful slumber and descending quickly into a nightmarish state. Featuring quick, but profoundly tense and often unsettling rounds, Pleasant Dreams will leave you wanting another go.

After such a great experience, the GIR and I are looking forward to visiting Boston FIG every year!

Read More

Our First Ever Giveaway!

Because who doesn't love a chance to win free stuff? 

About a year ago I wrote this post about some of the most interesting games to debut at SPIEL 2013. Now, several conventions and one successful Kickstarter campaign later, Brave Frontier Studios is proud to bring one of those names, Thrash-Car, to virtual gaming marketplace.

But one lucky reader can bypass all this whole marketplace business by winning their own collector's edition copy. It's  even signed by the game's creators!
Here's how you can enter to win:

Step 1: 'Like' our Facebook page, add our G+ page to your circles, or follow us on Twitter.

Step 2: Come up with the best name you can think of for your Thrash-Car racing team and leave that name in the comments of our Facebook/G+ pages or tweet your name @nerdycare on Twitter.

Step 3: Check back here on Friday, September 19th at 6pm EST to see if you're the winner!

The winner's name will be drawn at random from amongst the user names/twitter handles of those readers who submitted an entry as described in Steps 1 and 2. There is a limit of five entries per user/handle.

Good luck everyone!
Serenity will guard the grand prize until Friday :-P


Read More