Geek Force Network: 2013 in Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog (although it was only open for about 2/3 of the year):

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 22,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Live from Mobius, It’s Sonic the Hedgehog!

It’s a strange feeling to be on a live broadcast; to know that your every move is being thrown across the electronic cosmos for anyone to watch.  Until this past weekend, I had only brief excursions with performing arts through guest appearances on podcasts and making a schlocky movie with my friends in high school.  All that changed when I joined the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity crew, and agreed to participate in a 48-hour live-stream.

Over the course of two very sleep-deprived days, our dedicated team played video games chosen by viewers in order to raise money for charity:water, an organization that establishes renewable clean water projects around the world.  Some of these games were great to play, such as Tokyo Jungle and Tail of the Sun, while other titles were mind-numbingly terrible, like Superman 64 and Ninjabread Man.  No matter which game I sat down to play, there was the ever-present camera watching me and broadcasting my actions to the world.  It caused a blur between me and the electronic world, turning a hobby that I can casually enjoy into a performance to serve a much greater cause.  Almost if I was pulled inside these video games in order to save the world…


SonicLive2Sonic Live! first hit store shelves in February of 1997.  The seventh Sonic Special published by Archie Comics, the main plot of this 48-page comic book focuses on Sonic pulling two young children into the game world to help him defeat Dr. Robotnik once more.  Unlike most of the other Sonic Special comics which focus on certain game stories, Sonic Live! reads more like a clichéd cartoon from the ’90s that somehow snuck into the printing pile.  It is generally regarded as the worst of the special issues by fans of the series for its lackluster story and execution.

SonicLive3The main plot of the comic, “The Last Game Cartridge Hero,” begins with a showdown between Dr. Robotnik and Sonic atop a mechanical tower.  Instead of an epic battle or daring rescue, Sonic is straight-up killed by a barrage of lasers on the third page of the book.  But don’t worry, it’s just a game being played by a little boy on the next page!  Or maybe not, since Sonic is floating in a sort of electronic limbo in the same spread.  Through this strange virtual purgatory, Sonic is able to pull the boy and his sister through their television screen into the game world.  Once they arrive back in Mobius, the team discovers that Robotnik has also found out about the multi-dimensional portal that brought the kids over.  The evil doctor decides to teleport other versions of himself into Mobius and kidnap the (extremely American) developers of Sonic the Hedgehog in the process.

SonicLive4The comic continues quite predictably, with Sonic and his new friends saving the day thanks to their knowledge of video games (of course the Swatbots can be shut down with a giant Sega controller).  The developers from Sega use the multi-dimensional technology to send Sonic and his fellow Freedom Fighters to their proper dimension, and the kids are returned safely to their own world.  Overall, the plot of Sonic Live! isn’t outright terrible, but there are so many rough moments that add up to make a clichéd and awful story.  For example, in the live-action shots of the kids “playing” video games, the boy isn’t even holding a Genesis controller: he is playing with the damn remote control for the television!  Were the writers hoping no one would notice such a blatant detail or did they simply not care?

SonicLive5The artwork is a bit erratic, with certain characters being drawn better than others.  Sonic and Dr. Robotnik look rather fantastic throughout the story, with plenty of attention given to their facial features, but most of the side characters look plain and underdeveloped by comparison.  Any of the scenes with “real” people drawn next to Sonic and Co. look very odd, which may have been the intention from the start.  The line work for the kids themselves fluctuates between lots of “realistic” detail and plain cartoon drawings.  The entire presentation is a departure from the normally higher quality art found in the Sonic Specials, feeling more at home with the low-quality Saturday morning cartoons that the comic is clearly aping (looking at you Captain N).

After reading over Sonic Live! for the first time since my youth, I am glad that my weekend going live did not fair as poorly as Sonic’s.  When the broadcast ended, the U-Pick Marathon raised over $4000 dollars for clean water projects in Cambodia and Ethiopia.  We had tons of fun, plenty of memorable moments, and only minor technical difficulties.  Unlike the “Last Game Cartridge Hero,” the U-Pick Crew will return in the future with more live-streams for charity and plenty more video games for good causes.  Please be sure to stay tuned to our website and our Twitter account to keep up to date on when the footage from this year’s fundraiser hits and for future projects.

As a bonus to this week’s post, here’s a link to a photo-comic from Retro Nick Radio starring the beloved founder of U-Pick and yours truly.  Thanks to everyone who gave their time, money, and support to the U-Pick Marathon, and have a Happy New Year!

All in the Family: The De Santas of Grand Theft Auto V

The De Santas ("Reuinted the Fammily mission - Grand Theft Auto V © Rockstar)  (source)
Scene from “Reuniting the Family” mission – Grand Theft Auto V © Rockstar (source)

Despite the craziness that generally accompanies the holiday season, I’ve taken advantage of what free time I’ve had of late to catch up on some Grand Theft Auto V. Having made some good progress in the game over the past week, it’s been on my mind quite a bit this week. On my blog, I wrote up a Listmas list of some of my favorite things about the game so far – those things that keep me (and will keep me) coming back to the game. But recently I encountered one more thing element of the game that has more than captured my attention: the De Santa family.

*Did my best to avoid spoilers, but there are a few ahead mostly concerning a specific GTA V side mission*

I don’t think I need to rehash much about the game here – it couldn’t be escaped in the news this past year – but one of the three protagonists you get to play as in the game is Michael De Santa (formerly Townley). Continue reading All in the Family: The De Santas of Grand Theft Auto V

Listmas 2013: Ethan’s 14 Most Influential Games, Part II (Special Guest Post)

    Cave Story (PC)

I found this game at the height of my dissatisfaction with gaming and yearning for the retro days. It was the perfect find. Everything about this game is short and sweet, without any of the tiresome, excessive features that keep stacking up in mainstream gaming. Beautiful, pixel-based graphics, platform-shooter gameplay, a brief story that respects the player’s intellect. In artistic endeavors, keeping things simple is what opens them up for the view to put themself in. This is a game that really invites you to develop a relationship with it. It also was my introduction to indie games.

    Tetris (PC)

I’m not the kind of person who really bites hard into casual games. I see them as time-wasters more than an experience. As old as Tetris is, I didn’t really play it until I got a job. At Job, I learned that there isn’t always a lot to do, so while sitting at Desk and awaiting Responsibility, time-wasters can be pretty handy. In those many hours, I played Tetris. I played it hard. Then I started playing it at home. Tetris became less about wasting time and more about perfecting a new skill. I became better at Tetris than I ever before thought humanly possible, and I know that I’m nothing compared to the powers that others have obtained.

    We Love Katamari (PS2)

Did everyone play Katamari or did nobody? Everyone talks about it like it’s obscure. It’s one of the most unique games I’ve ever played on a console. You are a tiny prince with a sticky ball and it’s your job to roll up everything in the world, starting with paperclips and ending with countries. You can only roll up things that you’re already larger than. If the game wasn’t pure fun, you would probably notice that you’re committing some of the most horrifyingly violent acts to ever take place in a game. You roll up babies, mothers, cats… Terrified police open fire upon you in desperation, but it’s hopeless for them. The blindfolded guy swinging at a pinata shouts “What’s going on?!” as you absorb him. You don’t care. You’re smiling and laughing and singing along to the music. You’re a child again, incapable of empathy.

    Counter Strike (PC)

My first shooter after Goldeneye 64 (So: my first good shooter). There’s not a lot to say about this one. It’s purely a multiplayer experience. It opened me up LAN parties and gaming online, which taught me that I was not nearly as exceptionally good at videogames as I thought I was, so there was a lot of gaming to do before I could be satisfied with stopping. It’s a game that wouldn’t be worth much for me to go back and replay, but it redefined my outlook on games in ways.

    Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)

This is another game that I call a great artistic achievement. You are a swordsman slaying giant landscape monsters to revive a sacrificed girl. The bosses are fascinating and intense experiences, but that’s really all there is to it. The world is vast and completely open for you to explore, but there are only small things for you to find that boost your two stats (health and grip) very slightly. This game is the anti-Zelda. The world is so blank, other than the beginning and the end, that it becomes a playground for theory and the gamer’s own storytelling.


This grid-based, tactical game has two sides. There’s the main game, with puzzle based elements controlling the battlefield maps in ways that can either secure your victory or destroy you, depending on how they are used. It’s fun and challenging and has a funny, offbeat story. Then there is the post-game where everything goes crazy and you have to become insanely powerful to accomplish anything. You can beat the story at around level 50, but your characters cap at level 9999. There are insane difficulty jumps between every remaining challenge, and you have to find creative ways to maximize your grind to ever have a hope (if done right, you can gain hundreds of levels with a single attack). It’s the most satisfying thing to be completely destroyed by a mob of super-powerful enemies, then to return and crush them all with a single character whom they can’t touch. There’s also something to say about my lack of regret for sinking over one-thousand hours into the first two games… so far. It might not be a good thing. I guess I’m prone to monomania.

    The Mother Series (NES, SNES, GBA)

My prefered playing order for these games: Earthbound (Mother 2), Mother 3, Mother (Earthbound Zero). If you want to play them all (you do) but only speak English, you’ll have to emulate and grab fan translation hacks. These games are absolutely beautiful, and they completely deviate from their JRPG genre. They are set in vintage America, and the action is mostly text-based. All of the dialogue and situations are quirky and funny, but the games are no joke. They can be disturbing, tragic, highly intellectual, and touching. Throughout it all, the fun and the heartbreak, you feel a sense of innocence. These games have more love in them than anything else I’ve ever played, and probably ever will play. Not just love for the game, from the creator or the player, but love for everyone and everything; and, of course, all of the vulnerability that comes with it.

Goodbye, now.

Listmas 2013: Ethan’s 14 Most Influential Games, Part I (Special Guest Post)

Today and tomorrow, I’m running two lists from a close friend and loyal reader. Please show your love in the comments!

This isn’t necessarily a list of recommendations, nor is it necessarily a list of favorites. It could be a little bit of each, or it could be an instruction manual on what games to give to your child while they are still impressionable. Something it most definitely is, though, is a list of the games that have had such a profound impact on me during my twenty-six years of life that they are recorded in my soul-crystals and can never be replaced.

    Super Mario World (SNES)

This was the first platformer, maybe the first videogame, that baby-me was given. It taught me how to jump without moving anything but my thumb, though for many years I would be physically jumping through intense moments in any game. It has a great balance of difficulty, a steady learning-curve, a colorful and imaginative world, tons of secrets and alternate paths including difficult hidden stages for people who are into that, memorable music… everything. It’s not the standard against which all other platformers are judged. Why would we do that? It’s not in any contest with any other game. There are platformers, and there is Super Mario World. There is every other Mario game, and there is Super Mario World. Forever, in my head, saying “Mario” will be a pointer only to this game.

    Final Fantasy IV, VI (SNES)


I can’t pick one–I’ve been trying for years. If Mario taught me how to press buttons, these two taught me how to read. Final Fantasy VI (or III in Nintendo’s renumbering) is theoretically and artistically an amazing triumph and, I’ll always argue, the greatest Final Fantasy. It accomplishes its lofty ambitions so fluidly that it never seems out of place (For examples, having no main character, or having sidequests that are so integral that they are pursued without feeling “secret” or “optional.”) The memories of this game are mixed with Yoshitaka Amano’s beautiful and unique illustrations with which the now-tattered but still-treasured player’s guide was laden. And, of course, every note from the soundtrack to either game can be recalled effortlessly.

Final Fantasy VI was dark and tragic, but IV was lush and vibrant. Final Fantasy IV (or II, Nintendo…) is the triumphant fantasy that we all want told to us over and over–which is pretty much my approach to playing that game, as it was when I was young. Knights! Dwarves! Magic! Crystals! Regret! Rebirth! The future is from the past! Going to the moon in a giant whale/spaceship! So many crystals! There is everything to love, even if it is, artistically, pretty standard. It’s been ported with new content and remade with new mechanics and had sequels forced upon it, but none of that is canon with my childhood, so who cares.

    Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

I don’t know what to say. I bought a used cartridge from FuncoLand just because I liked the title-sticker. It didn’t communicate anything to me other than “this game has a sword in it,” but that was enough. This game was a new format that allowed a different kind of exploration. The world is open, but obstacles that can’t be passed without certain items make the experience linear. The whole time, you’re taunted with visible secrets and treasures that are just out of your reach, feeding your need to explore. I’ve played every Zelda game since finding this one. More, please?

    Wanderers from Ys III (SNES)

This game feels different from any other in the strangest ways. It feels like it was heavily influenced by text-based games, but it’s a side-scrolling sword-slasher that’s light on the dialogue. There’s a menu element is used just rarely enough to always feel like a special opportunity, unlike Zelda which has you flipping between items in every room. Success is based on experience points, new armor, and magic rings more than it is on skill, due to many misplaced hit-boxes on enemies and Adol, your swordsman, having such a short reach that it’s difficult to avoid damage if you want to deal any. It also has a… story? I never took much notice of it when I was young. It’s far from perfect, but I played it so much when there were so few other games at hand that its battles and music will be echoing through my head forever.

    Megaman X (SNES)

Another legendary game that fell into my hands through magic, this was a gift from my Aunt who had no children and didn’t speak English. This is a side-scrolling platformer with gun-based combat and a massive emphasis on mobility. Wall-clinging and dash-jumping were added from the original Megaman games, giving you the ability to practically fly through stages and dodge anything where you were previously glued to the ground and had to deal with every enemy that didn’t have the courtesy to jump over you. Playing these games just makes you feel awesome, until X5, that is.

    Super Smash Brothers (N64)

This game proved that you could have a fast, technical fighting game without having to memorize button combos. You have two attack buttons and each can combined with a directional button for a different attack. The controls are the same with every character, but they all play differently. It’s amazing. It’s also worth note that games like this, along with MarioKart 64, Mario Party, and Goldeneye pretty much redefined gaming as something (or the very best thing) that could be done casually with a group of friends instead of something for the isolated.

    Guitar Hero 2 (PS2)

I didn’t even like music until I got this game. Seriously. Most of all that I’d ever heard was classic rock, and only while being driven to school. The heavier rock and metal to which this game exposed me was life-changing. It was rewarding to watch my skill-growth over the years that this game would stay close at hand. Listening to the songs while finding the perfect times to hit notes also taught me about beat, note-quartering, and time signatures. It lit a new fire in me. It took a while, but now musician and composer are in my list of skills.