This Week in Geekdom

Hey guys. It's going to be a very brief post today because apparently Santa felt I needed to be sick post-Christmas. Blech. Anyhow, I'm gonna get down to some tea and soup while you guys get down to the Week in Geekdom!

Science/Technology

A team of researchers out of UCLA have some very interesting, potentially radical findings about where exactly our memories are stored. If their research proves accurate, it may allow for lost memories to be restored.

It's a discovery that's capped nearly a year and a half of rapid-fire developments in the world of math, but we may have an answer (or at least a more comprehensive response than what was given for the past 80 years) as to what the largest gap between prime numbers can be.
Source: Quanta Magazine
Meet the NASA project manager who is spearheading a number of massive, high-profile initiatives for the agency. Foremost among these is the recently unveiled ability to 3D print critical items in orbit.

How do you simulate the internet if you're living in a country where such a thing is almost nonexistent? Get creative about how you transfer data

In the spirit of the season, I leave you guys with this 8-bit rendition of A Christmas Story. Have an excellent rest of 2014!

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Happy Holidays!

Wishing you, your family, your co-op partner, those who surround your game night table or who gather around your GM screen a warm, wonderful, fun-filled holiday season!
We'll be back on Sunday with a new This Week in Geekdom. Until then...

Happy Holidays!

Kel, the GIR, and Elder Gias
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This Week in Geekdom

Happy Solstice everyone! For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we'll start getting a bit more daylight after today. That might seem kind of trivial, but right now we're only getting about 9 hours of daylight at the home base of the Care and Feeding of Nerds and that's, quite frankly, just too much darkness. Fortunately, there's a wealth of colorful holiday decorations about to distract us for the rest of this week at least. Speaking of distractions, let's get down to the Week in Geekdom!

Comics

Add Archie Comics to the ranks of the other publishers that feel a reboot of their trademark franchises is a sure-fire way to bring in new readers. The relaunch is slated to begin in the second half of 2015 as part of a lead up to the celebrations commemorating 75 years of Archie Comics.

TV/Movies

BFI claims that these are the top 100 sci-fi film characters of all time. Do you agree with the findings of their poll? 

Science/Technology

Since today is, as mentioned above, the solstice, here's a fun collection of factoids about this point in the Earth's annual revolutions.
Image credit
The latest edition of Nature Communications includes a claim from a team of researchers at the University of Singapore that quantum physics may be less complicated than we've believed all along. 

We're now awash in top 10 lists attempting to encapsulate 2014. Nature is no exception to this trend, offering this list of the 10 biggest contributors in the scientific community during the past year.

Blackberry is in the midst of an enormous push to re-establish itself as a contender in the highly competitive smart devices market. The latest stage of their comeback plan: teaming up with Boeing to create a self-destructing 'spy' phone.

This year has seen incredible leaps in technology that allows for movement to be translated through a device through the power of thought. The latest installation of this awesome trend is this instance of a paralyzed woman beating her brother in rock, paper, scissors via a robot arm she controlled with her mind.

General Awesomeness

Free digital spirograph. Fair warning, it's incredibly addictive.

As always, best wishes for a wonderful week ahead!
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Cosplay: Put a Bow (and Laces) on it!

Hey guys, hope your holiday season is warm and filled with awesome thus far. Amidst the deluge of games, books, and goodies, there’s also been a bunch going on behind the scenes here at the Care and Feeding of Nerds. Some of these stealthy machinations have to remain secret for now, but other activities can definitely be shared. One of said activities is the measured, but ongoing progress towards the making of Steampunk Hawkgirl.

In just about any other year a costume for Gen Con would already have been benched in favor of whatever was going to be worn for PAX East. There are a few reasons why things will be a bit different in 2015: both of the above mentioned conventions are being held much earlier than would be considered typical (late July and early March, respectively), the stakes have been upped with Hawkgirl as she’ll be part of a group cosplay, and whether I’ll be able to cosplay at all during PAX East remains to be seen (I promise I’ll clarify this last point soon). Given all this, I’m planning on refurbishing one of my existing costumes for PAX if I do end up being able to cosplay during that con.

Without other costumes on the cosplay docket, I was able to tackle a project that I’d always wanted to take on: making a corset from scratch.

<<gulp>>

Gonna be honest, for a very long time I regarded from-scratch corset making in the same way that I considered making deployable wings. It seemed like such an interesting project that was also fraught with complications and seemed all sorts of intimidating. While I wish I could say something like, “but it’s really not so scary. Anyone can do it!” that wouldn’t be accurate. What I can say is that making a corset is an involved process and, depending on what type of corset you make, can be quite difficult. However, difficult doesn’t at all translate to impossible. With solid preparation and careful execution, making your own custom corset is entirely achievable if you can sew in a straight line.

Before we get down to the nitty gritty of corseting, it would probably help to clarify what types of garments we’re talking about. If you haven’t already, you may want to read this post from a while back that talks about the differences between fashion ‘corsets’, bodices, and fully functional corsets. The construction techniques detailed below could be used to make a fashion corset or bodice by omitting the busk and/or replacing the bones with plastic stays, but I’m writing this tutorial for the express purpose of making a real, self-supporting corset that could be used for a number of functions, including waist training.

The reason I’m insisting on the corset being fully functional is that it’s going to serve as the foundation for the harness that will hold Hawkgirl’s wings. The corset ultimately needs to be able to support my dimensions, the weight of the harness, and the wings themselves. That being said, if you love the idea of a real corset, but are less than excited about the idea of making your own, there are a number of reputable corset dealers online that offer high quality garments or even custom pieces. If you end up purchasing a corset, a basic steel-boned garment will run between $75-$250 USD (custom pieces usually start around $250 USD).

Ok, now that we have the particulars set aside, let’s make a corset! First we have to decide which of the two main varieties of corset we’d like to make: underbust or overbust. These names describe where the neckline or top edge of the front of the corset will end. For this costume, I wanted an underbust corset since those seemed to be more prevalent in the Steampunk genre. Also, underbust corsets are generally a bit easier to put together than their overbust peers because you don’t have to build accommodations for your breasts. Fewer curves to sew = fewer headaches! (most of the time, anyway)

Once we know which type of corset we’ll be building it’s time to select or create a pattern. There’s a wealth of patterns out there on the interwebs, many of which can be downloaded for the low, low price of free. In my first go with corseting I drafted a pattern using these instructions, which are an excellent foundation for most underbust corsets. I loved the pattern and the resulting corset, but it quickly became clear that the garment, while definitely sturdy, would likely have a tough time supporting wings. After some additional googling, I came across the pattern you see below. The fuller, more encompassing design seemed like it stood a very good chance of being up to the wing-wielding task.

Corset attempt #1
The inspiration for the pattern I used for attempt #2 came via Alt-Noir
Regardless of the pattern you choose, the basic steps used to assemble a corset are the same. First, gather your materials. All fully functional corsets need the following:

Materials
Tools
A solid fabric for the outside of the corset
A Sewing Machine
Coutil, or another strong lining fabric
A Grommet Toolset
Boning, Boning Tips, and Busk
A Rotary Cutter & Mat
Waist Tape
Scissors
Measuring Tape
Lacing
Small pliers (like those used for chainmail)

Using your measuring tape, take the measurements that your pattern calls for and make any necessary conversions or alterations to your pattern based on your desired final size. Once you have all the math done, you can begin preparing your fabric. 

This is where, if you needed to have a specific color, you would do your dying. After you've completed this, you'll need to undertake a process known as blocking. All blocking does is ensures that the threads in your fabric are as perpendicular as possible. Why is this important? Just about every bit of your cloth will be load-bearing in your finished garment and you want as high a degree of tensile strength as possible in those threads. To do this, tug on your fabric at the opposite corners (also known as pulling along the bias); doing this gives each of the threads a chance to orient themselves. After you've done this, run an iron over all of your fabric to fix the weave in place, then you can begin cutting out the pieces of your pattern on the cross grain (see diagram below). If it seems it bit odd to cut this way, that's probably because it's the exact opposite of what you'd do with just about any other pattern. Cutting along the cross grain prevents the fabric from stretching all that much, which is exactly what we want to  have happen.

This diagram comes courtesy of Grey Cat Quilts
Once you've cut out all your pieces, assemble them according to the instructions of your pattern. This may involve quite a few passes with your sewing machine (first to baste, then to finish your pieces) and the help of an iron. The pieces should begin to resemble the shape of a corset at this point. 

Now it's time to add the waist tape. The tape is usually a grosgrain ribbon that runs horizontally along the inside of the corset approximately halfway between the top and bottom. While it's not at all mandatory to do this step, the waist tape will make your corset more sturdy and elongate its functional life by helping diffuse the tension placed on the highest stress area of the garment. I followed these instructions using this ribbon in solid black. Once the tape is in place your pattern may call for the addition of back facing, or another layer of cloth on the inside of the corset.

Up until this point the focus has been on the fabric (or fabrics, depending on how many layers you want or what your pattern calls for). Now we can turn our attention to the bones. Corset bones come in three basic material types: plastic, reed, and metal (usually steel). For this particular corset, I need the bones to be able to carry some serious stress, so there was no question that steel would be the best choice. Reed and plastic bones are really only good for fashion corsets or bodices, as they can't bear much weight or stress. Steel bones also come in two styles: flat and spiral. While spiral bones are awesome in that they are strong but still allow for a lot of flexibility, I ended up using mostly flat bones since mobility isn't really the goal with this corset. All of the bones and the casings for these bones came from here. Buying pre-made casings can be a bit pricier than making your own, but doing so will drastically cut down on construction time and will effectively remove any guesswork about the strength of your casing fabric.

Before you actually slide the bones into the casings you add your busk if you are using one. Instead of using a normal layout, I made a custom busk using heavy duty lacing bones, some rivets, and these funky brass clasps to give the finished corset more of a steampunk feel. Doing so took quite a while, as each clasp had to be carefully aligned before I could hammer it in place. If you're adding a traditional busk, these instructions provide an excellent guide to doing so.

Take one last set of measurements of the lengths needed for your bones, then trim them if you need to (though you can also buy pre-cut boning). If you do need to trim any bones, you'll almost certainly want to add tips to the ends, as the metal will end up sharp or jagged after being cut and you don't want that poking into you or your fabric. Once your bones are set, you can slide them into the casings and set the latter in place with a stay stitch along both the top and bottom of the corset. 

Almost done! All that's left at this point is finishing the edges of your corset, installing the grommets and adding your lacing. Most corsets are finished with bias tape (which was the case with Attempt #1), but I finished Attempt #2 with strips of heavy faux leather to make it look more steampunk. Then it was a matter of measuring and punching in the grommets along the back, which came together almost exactly the same way as the sleeves on my old Merida costume only I used a little hammer instead of a grommet punch. Once your grommets are all in place, you add your lacing and try it on! The finished product is over there on the right. Best of luck in your costuming adventures!
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Gias Games: Necro-review of F.E.A.R.



I just finished playing F.E.A.R. for the first time. I chose the game since I am both a horror aficionado and a fan of FPSs. I heard many great things about this game specifically and the series in general. Wanting to play the later games, I decided to start with the first volume to get the whole story and experience.

F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon is a horror-themed FPS from Monolith Productions and published by Vivendi. I played the Steam version. There are also two game add-ons and two sequels.

I am well aware that F.E.A.R. is from 2005 and, as such, is quite dated compared to the more modern games we usually cover. However, I am also aware that there are plenty of gamers who have not played the game yet, and there is currently a sale at Bundle Stars for the entire F.E.A.R. franchise (only $7.99 USD). As such, this review will hopefully be of help some frugal and patient gamers.
Not: Furby Eating A Rhubarb as I first suspected.
F.E.A.R. currently sells for $9.99 on Steam, but is also available on Xbox 360 and PS3. It has no achievements and no Steam trading cards. The average completion time for the Main Story is 9 hours. The average time for a completionist play-through is 11.5 hours. At $9.99 for 9 hours of gameplay, $1.11 per hour of gameplay is, in my opinion, a great ratio.

The story sets you as a member of a Black Ops special government unit that investigates paranormal phenomena. A military commander has gone rogue. Since this commander was bred to psychically command a battalion of mindless combat drones,  he uses them to take over an enigmatic military contractor’s facilities. As the story unfolds, you learn how the psychic commander came to be, what the military contractor was up to, and why the commander targeted that specific contractor. You are tasked with killing the commander, as that will end the fighting and stop the killing of clones that could be useful. However, you find yourself wading through and slaughtering the clone forces (but they are mindless, so I guess that makes it okay?)
Clones ready to be slaughtered, Sir!
The story is told through several means. Your character carries a radio with him and receives regular information updates from the rest of his squad. Periodically, he also finds laptops with top secret information, giving insight into the projects that the villainous contractor was working on. You will find telephones with a red indicator light which can be activated to hear voicemails from high ranking staff of the military contractor. Lastly, there are some CCTV monitors in some of the facilities that allow you to witness interactions between other people or allow them to communicate with you.

As you track down the commander and fight off wave after wave of clones, very creepy things start to happen. You find yourself slipping into horrible visions of hospital atrocities, blood-caked walls and floors, and a drenched creepy girl reminiscent of Samara from The Ring. Soon, you find yourself losing your grip on reality, as it gets harder to tell what is really happening and what is just a vision.
"I see dead people." "Um... how?"
The gameplay is that of a standard shooter. You can aim, crouch, jump, lean, carry three types of grenades, carry three types of guns, wear armor, and carry med-kits. The main signature combat mechanic of the game is a bullet-time slow mode a la Max Payne. It is essential to make strategic and frequent use of the bullet-time mechanic in order to fight off military clone soldiers without dying.

The soundtrack of the game is fantastic. It sounds heavily inspired by the score for Predator composed by Alan Silvestri (also known for Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and The Avengers, among many others). The music was eerie, haunting, and persistent. It urged me on, yet warned me to be careful and check around every corner. It heightened my anticipation and kept me on edge. It also made me question why we have not yet had a recent-gen Predator game. Hopefully The Creative Assembly devs will get on that soon given the success of Alien: Isolation.

Some great setups for creepy environments that benefited from the score.
Yet, oddly, I did not like the sound assets used for the game for effects. Most of the effects were fine, but it sounded as though some of the assets were ripped from other games. The most noticeable of which was the sound of using a med-kit, which sounded exactly like the Half-Life sound for performing the same action. It was distracting every time I heard it because it felt like it did not belong.

Generally I would not comment on game physics, but in this instance they do require comment since there were some noticeable issues. I found that after bumping into an item in the environment it would continue to bounce around, move, and make noise for a long time after hitting it. At first, I thought it was part of the paranormal atmosphere (seriously, it was so weird and unsettling I figured it was intentional) but after a while I discovered that it was just due to poorly coded physics collisions.

As a horror-themed game, immersion is very important. Though the story itself was interesting, it was delivered slowly and infrequently. That, along with the impersonal method of information delivery, gave the game story a lower overall impact.

The atmosphere and environment were my biggest complaints. Even given the age of the game, the graphical fidelity was quite good. However, the environments were unrealistic. I would expect dirt, debris, and a crumbling façade when walking through and old abandoned warehouse. However, things were too clean. Token effort was put into adding some papers here and there, or some items like brooms or cleaning supplies lying around, but it still felt off. At first I thought this might be due to the age of the game and the technology at the time to make realistic environments. However, Max Payne, which released four years before F.E.A.R., had realistically gritty environments despite much lower graphical fidelity. Further, not all of the environments in F.E.A.R. suffered equally. The warehouses were the worst of it, while offices in an office building were the closest to realistic. 
This decaying apartment building is the best environment the game has to offer.
The biggest technical issue with the game was the default settings. You must change these before playing, otherwise the framerate will drop to low digits and render the game unplayable. Before playing the game on PC, if you have any Logitech peripherals, you need to go into your Device Manager in Windows Control Panel and disable some devices. All “HID-compliant device” instances that appear under “Human Interface Devices” must be disabled while the game is running. It is safe to disable these instances, as they only serve to enable custom button functionality on Logitech devices.
Recommendation: Medium-low. It is important to note that F.E.A.R. no longer supports multiplayer and is now solely a single player game. As a single player game it is decent, but not good enough to recommend to a new player. Players who played it when it first came out might still enjoy the game through nostalgia-colored glasses. However, coming to the game as a new player now, it is difficult to recommend this game. It is not terrible, it is just not good, it is simply “meh”. It has not aged well for new audiences.
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This Week in Geekdom

Happy weekend everyone! Can you believe we have just <this> much left in 2014? Even as this year winds down, Elder Gias, the GIR, and I are already gearing up to bring you guys new and (hopefully) fun content for 2015. But ok, enough about the forthcoming year; let's get down to the Week in Geekdom!

TV/Movies

The Batman vs Superman movie hasn't even started filming yet and we're already learning that major characters are being killed off.

Sony and Marvel were, at one point, close to working out a plan that would have allowed Spider-Man to cross over into the realm of the Avengers. 

Other characters that won't be crossing over to get screen time with one another: the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers (if director James Gunn has his way). 

We have official confirmation of a Boba Fett spin off film.

Oh Syfy, you just can't get enough prequels can you? The network has confirmed that they will be making a new series, titled Krypton, that focuses on Superman's grandfather and the House of El.

Disney's long-lost first Christmas film found not so far from the North Pole.

Fans of the Flash will be getting a special treat in the form of Mark Hamill reprising his role as the Trickster.

The names of the characters in Episode VII are being released in a very retro way: you have to buy their trading cards.

While we're on the Episode VII train, here's the teaser trailer re-cut with footage from the original trilogy:
Games

Do you love Sim City, but don't want to deal with any of the nonsense that's plagued the newest incarnations of the franchise? Well, now you can download Sim City 2000 for free.

This is what happens when a parent conditions their child to play video games by forcing the child to play through the parent's gaming library in chronological order.

Science/Technology

Biodiversity is a subject that is often cited (usually as a symptom of climate change or other ecosystem shifts) but, as the latest issue of Nature details, it's one of the most difficult concepts for researchers to properly quantify.

Picking out the ripest, choicest produce is often part skill and part gut feeling. That process may soon become more science than art as the latest edition of Applied Optics gives us a peek into the research being done that will allow lasers to help determine when a fruit or vegetable is at its tastiest.

The current scientific consensus leans heavily towards the impact of the Chicxulub Space Rock being the culprit behind the extinction of the dinosaurs. However, a new study published in this month's Science Express posits that massive lava flows may have caused the mass die-off.

Speaking of long-held consensus stemming from encounters with space debris (because when else would you get to use that segue?), it turns out that the scientific community's hypothesis concerning the origin of water on Earth, that it originated with comets, may not be true after all.

Researchers at the Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry in Prague are attempting to re-create the conditions that may have resulted in life on Earth.

The human immune system, and the bacteria that assaults it, have long been engaged in an evolutionary arms race. It turns out that this milennia-old battle is over control of the element iron.
Yarr! It be iron piracy!
Earlier this week Spain enacted a new copyright law that would have forced Google to pay a tax to the periodicals it featured on Google News. Google responded by shuttering its news service in the entire country of Spain. Spanish periodicals are about as panicked as you'd imagine them to be.

General Awesomeness/Feats of Nerdery

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), we don't co-exist with dragons, but here is a thorough and interesting breakdown of humanity's long, storied relationship with the scaly beasts.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2014 Darwin Awards.

Someone put a LOT of time and thought into studying the characters that recur on XKCD.

I'll leave you guys with one more bit of Star Wars goodness: a Family Guy parody of the Episode VII trailer. As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!

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GiR by GIR: Dead State

While some folks may claim pop culture has reached Peak Zombie, I feel it’s difficult to find a better genre to hang an isometric, story-focused survival game on. Dead State is brought to you by the fine folks at DoubleBear Productions. As an early adopter of Dead State through its Kickstarter (which posted some pretty nice numbers: 10,096 backers, $332,635 pledged of a $150,000 goal), I’ve been able to follow along with the game's steady development to the moment of its somewhat surprising full release last week. Maybe I should start over though because, while survival is your goal, Dead State really is more of an RPG than anything else.
After building your protagonist via a fairly typical character creator screen, the game deposits you in a fortified Texas school after a plane crash. As you begin to explore dialogue trees with various NPCs around this initial shelter, you discover that, low and behold, the Zombie apocalypse has struck. The player’s job is to help manage the other survivors, maintain and upgrade the shelter, and, ultimately, survive. That last point is achieved either by escaping Texas or establishing a community strong enough to endure.

The graphics and audio are not exactly pretty, but that’s honestly not what the game is trying to sell you on. If you want AAA production values with quality voice acting, lens flares, and fancy cut scenes, go check out Far Cry 4. If you want over 10,000 lines of branching dialogue with fully fleshed-out NPCs like Fallout 2, shelter and resource management like classic X-COM (1994), old school turn-based combat on a square grid like Jagged Alliance 2, Dead State might be your new favorite thing.

Dead State does a great job easing you into the mechanics that will eventually allow you to thrive or die. Your first mission is a simple supply run to a hardware store to get construction materials to fix the fence around your shelter. While you’re at it, finding some food probably wouldn’t hurt either, as Food is the ticking clock that will doom you all. Every day, no matter what you do, Food is being consumed at a frustratingly rapid rate (frustrating because rationing, while possible, isn't particularly straightforward or simple to implement).

The pressure the Food resource puts on the player is most acute when weighing the benefits of saving lives and adding survivors to the shelter versus leaving them out in the cold. Being no stranger to the genre, I tried to implement a strict policy that anyone we let into the shelter had to fill a role or otherwise provide some sort of expertise to be worth the drain on our already meager reserves. This had some unexpected consequences when I found an ex U.S. Marine but who refused to return to the shelter unless we also admitted a 13-year-old asthmatic with no survival skills to speak of and a confused elderly woman who didn’t speak English. If I hadn’t just lost a key member of my team on a recent supply run I probably would have said 'forget it'. In the end I relented and all three come back with us, but boy did I regret it. Current residents of the shelter flipped out upon learning that I hadn’t consulted them before bringing home three more hungry mouths to feed and no fuel for our generator. Let me be clear about the legitimacy of their concern: death is for real in Dead State. There are no revives, medicine is extremely difficult to come by, and building an actual infirmary takes a staggering amount of resources when you could be building a well for fresh water or a greenhouse for a renewable safe food source with those same materials.
Forgive me; I am both getting side-tracked and ahead of myself. Aside from interacting and talking to NPCs with the main character, everything in Dead State centers around a white board where you assign fellow survivors Jobs. These jobs can consist of everything from “Repair Shelter Fence” to “Scavenging Party” to “Cheer People Up.” Tasks like building shelter upgrades or repairing fences will tell you how many hours it’ll take to finish with this number being adjusted based on the number of people you assign to it and the skills of those involved. Some Jobs have limits on how many people can be assigned to it, while others do not. Some Jobs have skill level requirements, while others do not.  Dead State does a good job of letting you approach things how you want. Would I rather put a skilled mechanic to work building a watch tower for 4 hours, or assign two unskilled workers to the tower and have the mechanic fix a truck I found so I can range further out for supplies? Or even assign only 1 unskilled worker to the tower and have it take twice as long? You can certainly get bogged down in optimization, but I found that, in most cases, taking the time to get the most out of my survivors was well worth it in the long run. 
The most flexible, and arguably the most vital job on the board, is “Scavenging Party. You may assign up to four survivors to form a team which you can then send out to explore on the World Map (this covers a large part of Texas). When you travel around you start on foot but, as you continue to range, you will eventually get, and need, horses and cars. The complications there being that horses require precious food and cars use fuel you might otherwise want for a generator to provide power for various shelter upgrades. Traveling on the World Map uses up the one resource you can never replenish: time, which is tracked by a digital watch display. Let’s just say not being able to get back to the shelter by nightfall is bad and leave it at that. I don’t want to say spending the night in the open isn’t survivable just because I haven’t been able to accomplish it yet, but honestly I’m not sure how. The few times I tried it, even at the later stages of the game, I was swarmed to death by the Dead. As you travel the map there are random encounters with an assortment of bandits, other survivors, zombies, and wildlife that will feel familiar to those veterans of this genre. These encounters, similar to when you reach actual marked locations to explore, bring you back into the isometric grid map. Movement will be real-time until you actually alert someone to your presence or deliberately click to start combat, at which point the game become an Action Point, turn-based affair.
You might notice I said alert a moment ago, which leads to what I felt was a fairly interesting mechanic not too many games can pull off well. In Dead State “Noise” is just one more resource you’ll need to keep an eye on. Whether it’s using a sledgehammer to break down a door, or unloading a shotgun into a zombie’s face, your party members generate noise. The higher the decibel level the more likely you’ll not only alert enemies on the map, but also lure in more zombies from the surrounding areas (which will start to trickle in spawning at the edges of the map zone you happen to be in). If you aren’t careful that trickle can become a flood. Ammo is NOT universal and can end up being pretty scarce for certain weapons. These two elements, along with inventory weight management, nicely encourage players to actually ponder the benefits of melee versus ranged weaponry beyond  your standard picking whichever has the highest damage rating.

Sadly, the living enemies who you’ll encounter may not share your caution and it can be irritating how reckless the enemy AI can be in terms of wasting ammo and their lives. Conversely, I tended to debate the value of the bullets in my gun and peaceful resolution versus the can of food the bandit wants. More often than not, living AI enemies will just charge my entire party, firing madly at me and alerting every zombie in the county to our presence. I mean, why should they care if they run out of ammo or die? They are just a random encounter after all; it’s not like they have any concerns beyond the screen they spawn on. I think I find it especially frustrating because the world is otherwise very well crafted. There ARE bandits who are scripted to talk to you and not just commit suicide by charging you with an empty gun. The issue is the inconsistency in the application of logic and lack of identifying information to tell the player which bandits they can actually speak with, as opposed to those who just want to watch the world burn.  

While I’ve certainly been enjoying my time with Dead State so far, I do feel the need to issue a complaint, though it is a complaint that is certainly not unique to this particular game. Way back at the beginning of this review I noted I was surprised that DoubleBear announced the game was fully released and no longer Early Access. This is because, after playing several iterations of the game: Alpha, Demo, Beta, and Early Access, I honestly can’t tell what qualified the current build for “Full Release.” Many bugs and inconsistencies that I went along with in Early Access are still present.

Now let me be clear; DoubleBear ran an excellent Kickstarter campaign: delivering on every feature they promised, providing monthly updates on progress and constant patches. They have done far better than most Kickstarted games in the press recently, and I do consider the game feature complete. It's just not exactly working as intended in all areas. My hope is, based on the level of communication and dedication DoubleBear displayed through their Kickstarter, they will eventually squash the remaining issues. But it makes me wonder: why not leave it in Early Access to give the polish it deserved and needed? This isn’t AAA; there are no arbitrary deadlines set by demanding overlords and, from where I sit, it seems the hasty removal of the Early Access label hurt Dead State's release more than it helped. I know lots of games have Day 1 patches, even major titles like Dragon Age Inquisition. DoubleBear certainly is not working with the same level of resources as EA and Bioware, but how did this become an industry standard even for Indies?  
   
Before I go back to boarding up the windows and stockpiling canned goods along with other non-perishables, I want to stress that I DO recommend picking up Dead State. Don’t let my remarks in the paragraph above drive you off from what I feel is a worthwhile game. While most zombie games are about action or horror, ultimately Dead State is a narrative-heavy game that is as much about how pockets of humanity can cope with disasters on a scale they can’t possibly control as it is about killing zombies and making experience bars go up. Dead State is currently available on Steam for $29.99 USD I encourage you brave survivors to go check it out. Good luck, and don't get bitten.
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This Week in Geekdom

Happy weekend everyone! It's been quite a productive couple of days. On the costume front, the corset and the 'bones' for the wings of Steampunk Hawkgirl both got finished and the details about how those came together will be posted soon. All of yesterday, literally the whole day, was given over to the making of holiday cookies, so if I seem a little out of it that's undoubtedly due to a combination of exhaustion and a monster sugar crash. But ok, less reminiscing and more about the Week in Geekdom!

TV/Movies

On Thursday Marvel confirmed what had been speculated over for what seemed like most of this year: that Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing Dr. Strange.

Hold onto your chimichangas, the Deadpool movie starring Ryan Reynolds in the title role, is actually happening.

Check out this amazing replica of the original 1963 Batmobile!

Games

Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of the PlayStation's first appearance in the global market place. Sony announced that they will be making and releasing a special edition of the PS4 to commemorate the occasion.
Sony didn't seem keen on maintaining any of the good will that the anniversary may have brought their way, as they proceeded to crush the spirits of Final Fantasy VII players by announcing that the PS4 version of the beloved game will be a straight port of the original rather than the much-sought-after remake.

Science/Technology

The biggest story of the week goes to the launch and return of the Orion spacecraft. If you missed any part of Orion's journey, you can catch up with this recap.

The latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences includes the finding of this study, which indicates that humans may actually be able to see beyond the standard light spectrum and see infrared waves as well.

Researchers at the University of Oxford believe that the virus that causes HIV is getting milder and less virulent as it continues to evolve.

Alan Turing is a scientific name that's frequently invoked and now, along with Stephen Hawking, is the subject of a major motion picture. Here are 8 factoids that you may not have known about the groundbreaking mathematician. 

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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Nomnoms! Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Why hello December. You made extra sure we’re aware of just how not-summer it is right now. While all this darkness and cold may stir up the desire to hibernate, there’s an excellent culinary defense against these doldrums: warm, yummy, comforting soup. Now I’ll fully admit that I’m in no way unbiased towards soup; if left to my own devices I’d probably eat it for the majority of my meals. This is especially true once the temperature starts to drop. The nice thing about the soup featured in this post is that the recipe doesn’t involve a lot in the way of ingredients or time, but still yields a very satisfying meal. It's perfect for one of those freezing cold work nights or if you wanted to introduce something new to your game night crew.
Difficulty: Easy
Availability of Ingredients: Semi-Common/Semi-Seasonal
Gadgetry: Highly Recommended
Feeds: 4-8 nerds
Time Till Noms: About 15-30 minutes of preparation and an additional 30 minutes of cooking time

Required Equipment: a cutting board, a large glass bowl, a large cooking pot, a heavy knife or cleaver, a wooden spoon
Optional Equipment: a garlic press, a vegetable peeler, a standard or immersion blender (if not using one of these, then a vegetable masher)
Ingredients
3.5-4.5 pounds (1.59-2.04kg) of Butternut Squash
1 large shallot
4-6 medium-to-large cloves of garlic
1 quart chicken or mild vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 Tablespoon of honey or agave syrup
1 Tablespoon of curry
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon of cardamom*
½ teaspoon garam marsala*
¼ teaspoon ground ginger*
A pinch of cayenne*

*optional

Step 1: Peel the squash then divide it into 1/2” (1.27cm) pieces. You want the pieces to be as small and uniform as possible; the smaller the pieces, the faster the squash will cook!

Step 2: Add the canola oil to your large cooking pot and swirl the pot around until the oil coats as much of the bottom as possible. Place the pot on the stove and turn the burner to a medium-high heat. Remove the skins from both the shallot and the garlic cloves. Dice the shallot (these pieces don’t need to be completely uniform) and add it to the cooking pot. If you’re not using a garlic press, dice the garlic along with the shallot and add them to the pot together. Otherwise, press the garlic into the hot oil after you’ve added the shallot.

Step 3: Sauté the garlic and shallot in the oil for 3-5 minutes until the shallot pieces turn translucent and the garlic becomes a golden brown color. Add the squash. Sauté the squash for 1-2 minutes, turning it frequently with your wooden spoon, just until the majority of it has been coated by the oil and the shallot/garlic has been mixed in.
Step 4: Add the broth, the salt, and the spices. Stir until the salt and spices are dissolved. Turn the burner up to a slightly higher heat (just off of high, if possible) and bring everything to a rapid boil. Allow the soup to continue boiling for 12-15 minutes, stirring the contents occasionally.
 Step 5: After Step 4 the squash should be tender (should squish easily if poked); turn off the burner and remove the pot from the heat source. Add the honey or agave syrup, then stir until it’s well blended with the rest of the soup.

Step 6: If you’re using a vegetable masher, you can use it now to mush the squash into as fine a paste as you can. If you’re using an immersion blender, lower it into the soup and blend until the ingredients are a consistent puree. If you’re using a standard blender, puree the soup in batches until all the liquid has been converted into a puree. While you can certainly eat it as soon as it cools, I’ve found that letting the soup stand for 30-45 minutes allows all the flavors come out. More flavor and less mouth burning!

A pinch of ground nutmeg and/or a dollop of plain greek yogurt are perfect garnishes for this soup. Pair it with naan or just enjoy it on its own. It’s a rich and surprisingly filling soup that will add a dash of color and keep you warm on these chilly nights.
FAQs

I’m not big on butternut squash. Can I use another vegetable?
You could probably use this same recipe with acorn squash, kabocha, or even pumpkin (or a combination of these!). The key factors are the sweetness of the squash and the dense, fleshy texture. Given that, the recipe won’t work on drier squashes, like yellow or spaghetti squash.

I’m vegan/vegetarian and will be using vegetable broth in this recipe. Is there anything I should look for when buying a broth?
You want as mild a broth as you can find; something where no one flavor would jump out to steal the attention from the squash or compete with the curry. The spices are quite strong, so you just want a good base to tie everything together.

My grocery store doesn’t carry those spices. Will it be ok to omit them?
You really only need salt, honey, and curry to get the base flavor. Everything else is just a nice bonus. 

How do I pick out a good butternut squash?
Ah, this can actually be a little tricky. When selecting a squash, you want a thick specimen that feels surprisingly heavy (relative to its size) when you pick it up. The skin should be a uniform tan-peach color and free of blemishes. It should also be very firm to the touch with no squishy spots. Lastly, you want to wait until the squashes have been available for sale for at least 2-3 weeks. The early season squashes that first appear in stores and markets tend to have very pale ‘meat’ that doesn’t have a strong flavor. You’ll need a good, mature squash for this soup.

Peeling and chopping the squash is scary! Do you have any tricks to make this less perilous for my fingers?
One thing I try to avoid is peeling the squash with a knife. While a knife will get the job done, a peeler will make things go more quickly and spare your digits. As for the actual chopping part (which I find to be scarier), I divide the entire squash lengthwise before cutting anything else so no part of it rolls away. After that, it’s a matter of having a rag or paper towels available to keep my hands dry during the chopping. The best defense against cut fingers is, ironically, a very heavy and sharp knife.
Best of luck with your kitchen experimentations and stay warm!
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GiR by GIR: Far Cry 4

I know it's been a while since the last review and for that I apologize. Between work and the holiday season kicking into full gear I haven't had much time to play games, let alone write about them. But I have returned to bring you my thoughts on Far Cry 4, aka Ubisoft's attempt to make you forget the abomination of a release that was Assassin's Creed: Unity.
Greetings from Kyrat readers! Wish you were here - but also not. That may sound confusing but hopefully I can clear things up in short order. Let me start by saying Far Cry 4 is essentially Far Cry 3 but refined to cut out what didn’t work, and expand upon what did. Nestled in the Himalayas, the nation of Kyrat covers a truly impressive area and is loaded down with everything you’d expect from the Far Cry franchise: radio/bell towers to climb, animals to hunt and be hunted by, outposts and fortresses to clear, natives to help, and collectibles to gather up. 
This screen shot represents maybe 1/3 of the entire map, I couldn't actually zoom out far enough to get it all.
One of the first and most obvious improvements have been to the plot and protagonist. Where many players felt a jarring disconnect from Far Cry 3’s Jason BROdy (a.k.a. Xtream to the MAXX White Boy adventurer whose main goal was to party as much as possible), Far Cry 4 makes it much easier to slip into Ajay Ghale’s shoes. Ajay fled Kyrat’s civil war as a child with his mother. His father was the founder of the rebel movement Golden Path and who struggles against the land’s self-proclaimed dictator, Pagan Min. Ajay has returned to Kyrat to scatter the ashes of his mother in the homeland which she loved and he’s presently estranged from. Unlike Jason on Rook Island, Ajay has an authentic and more natural reason to be in Kyrat. This connection makes your mission and goals feel that much more plausible and, thus, generally more engaging. Also setting Far Cry 4 apart from its predecessor are the behaviors of the native inhabitants both among themselves as well as how they treat Ajay. It’s  refreshing to see that Ajay is self-aware enough to recognize his outsider status, yet retains a genuine desire to help. Rather than put forth an arrogant attitude of, “I’m here to fix the mess you ignorant savages have made of your country,” Ajay seems to take a more humble approach, consulting with one of two Golden Path leaders and offering to carry out their orders. This leads to one of Far Cry 4’s fun new mechanics where, depending on who you support, the leadership and mission structure of The Golden Path changes.
But it wouldn’t be a Far Cry if the game took itself too seriously, and there certainly are more than enough opportunities to experience wackier and over-the-top cinematic exploits in Kyrat, which can be found the further you stray from the main story quests and which, frankly, I’d rather not spoil here. Let’s just say it would not be unreasonable to assume at some point one might: drive an ATV off a cliff to jump into an airborne plane, ride a rampaging elephant into battle like Tony Jaa armed with a grenade launcher, or get into a fist fight with an eagle while dangling precariously from a grappling hook line attached to a gyrocopter held together mostly by duct tape and prayers. Oh yeah, did I not mention the gyrocopters? They're just one of dozens of new vehicles Far Cry 4 offers up to players along with airboats, Tuk Tuks, the usual assortment of cars, jeeps, trucks, and elephants. The only way Far Cry 4 could have been better in this aspect would have been by letting players ride tigers too, though this may be a personal preference.
That said, beware. The wildlife is so deadly and filled with such hatred for all mankind I would almost claim they are more dangerous than Pagan Min’s army. I know some reviews have claimed the combat difficulty and enemy AI has been kicked up a notch as compared to FC3, but personally I think I’ve died at least twice as often to eagles, rhinos, tigers, crocodiles, bears and honey badgers (yes you read that correctly), than I have to anyone with a gun. 
If you're wondering what happens when you try to kill a bear with a flamethrower, it just results in you getting burned AND mauled.
Between great game play, gorgeous graphics, wonderfully immersive sound, and animation diversity all bundled around familiar mechanics it's easy to say, "Wish You Were Here!," but now we get to the why you may not want to visit.   

Far Cry 4 has changed up how it handles co-op play considerably. Instead of a stand alone mini campaign with linear mission structure, you have to advance the Single Player game far enough along in the story to invite a friend to simply drop into your world. Only the host gets credit for completing open world quests and events. Loot, XP and Karma are shared but that's about it for communal spoils. This wouldn't be such a big issue for me if the actual process was more reliable. Aside form Ubisoft's terrible Uplay interface not always functioning as it should, even once we were tearing outposts up together we would run into hilarious but ultimately game-breaking bugs like invisible vehicles, forced player teleportation, rubber-banding into lethal situations (particularly with the knife animations; silent takedowns & skinning), and missing player heads. While I know the forced teleportation isn't a strictly bug, it may as well be. For example, at one point my partner took off in a gyrocopter leaving me behind (I had missed my chance to grapple aboard) and I soon got a prompt that I would be teleported if we didn't bring our PCs closer together. I had just finished reading this when I was warped to my partner alright, directly UNDER the copter. As for  the knifing examples I mentioned, in the first I was skinning a fish and the animation dragged me out of the lake, but not up on shore. The effect was such I was swimming through the rocky mountains of Kyrat until I 'swam' too deep and feel through the bottom of the map and died. In the second, I performed a silent take down on a guard only to fling him bodily to the Moon when the animation finished up. Ultimately it depends on your tolerance for that sort of thing. While its fun to laugh at the first few instances, it can quickly become tiresome when it prevents actual progress from occurring. It just seems like the co-op was never fully tested, that Ubisoft bolted the feature on to say that the game had it and hoped that the amusing nature of some of the glitches would be enough to keep the angry gamers at bay.
Hurk threatens Ajay with a shotgun for making fun of his missing head.
There's also a competitive multiplayer called Battles of Kyrat. It's an asymmetric mode where a team of Golden Path soldiers are pitted against bow-toting Rakshasa warriors who are able to summon beasts and turn invisible. I didn't play much of it and wasn't terribly impressed with the standard map types and objectives.  

Bottom line: I strongly recommend picking up Far Cry 4 if you've been considering it and holding out. My co-op qualms aside, it's one of the few AAA titles of the year I would say that is well worth it's current price tag of $60 USD. The single player alone is well worth it and, as long as you can tolerate some bumps in the road for Co-Op, you'll certainly find the game more chaotic and potentially hilarious with a partner.

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