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Episode.26 – Simpleek Stunning

Happy Day, Skype Call Recorder lives again! To celebrate, we have blogger and fan of the show, Simpleek, joining Joshua for Episode.26. The duo chat about gaming, coming from common backgrounds,  life in general and the why everyone LIKES the show, but isn’t IN LIKE with the show enough to leave some of them there communications on the Twitter. Also, with the restored function of Joshua’s Skype recorder, the door is very much open for guest hosts if anyone’s interested. Thanks always for listening!

  Show notes:

Sticher

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Playing “Evil” in Video Games

It’s inFAMOUS weekend, guys! I’ve been excited for Second Son‘s release for quite a while, but here’s the thing: I decided to tread the infamous path by being basically evil. And it’s so hard to do. My heart can barely take it. I won’t give any Second Son spoilers here, but that first choice you have to make? Ughhhh.

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So many video games these days let players make moral decisions and choose “good” or “bad” routes, and I once wrote on my blog about how much I love playing the hero in games. The thing is, in games like the Mass Effect series, even choosing Renegade options (the “bad” options) won’t prevent you from being a hero in the end. You might be tough on people, you might punch reports in the face, you might hang up the phone on the Council… but you’re still Commander Shepard, hero of the Citadel and humanity’s last hope.

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When the story is set that way — when your character is fated to be a hero — it frees me up to be a jerk for most of the playthrough. I love going for the Renegade, intimidate, badass side. It’s totally unlike how I am in real life, but that’s part of why I love it so much.

In real life, I’m a nice person. Probably way too polite, sometimes. I like to think most of us who play video games are nice, yet our games let us act out in ways we never would in the real world. That’s the fun of role playing.

I also have fun choosing an alignment that I never would in real life, even if it’s “bad,” and being a generally good person within its confines. For instance, I’m all for playing an assassin and making really tough choices there, as long as my character can be loyal to her friends and believe in her cause. The Dark Side can be fun, and it’s a world all its own.

But for some reason, when it comes to inFAMOUS, I have a really hard time treading the evil route. It feels much more “good” and “evil” than “polite” or “jerk.” And I don’t want to be evil. I can’t just run up to civilians and kick them. I can’t betray the people I care about — even if they’re not real. It doesn’t feel like an alignment choice, either. It’s just straight-up not-very-nice person — unrealistically so.

The funny thing is that I know a lot of people must feel the same way I do. In fact, Sucker Punch devs were surprised to see that the majority of inFAMOUS 2 players chose the heroic sacrifice ending rather than the more selfish ending.

It’s such a silly thing, but there really is a moral line that I have trouble crossing even in a virtual world, which must say something about how deeply ingrained morals can be. I’m trying to do it for this playthrough of Second Son… but it’s making me realize I really do like playing the hero in games!

— Ashley

Video Games: What I’ve Been Playing Lately

The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, but that just makes me treasure my video game time more than usual! Taking an hour or two to dive into a favorite game has been my retreat. Here’s what I’ve been playing lately:

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Kharjo, my newest follower...
Kharjo, my newest follower…

I’ve played Skyrim a couple of times before, but I’m vowing to keep my new character as my main and try to level up much more with her than I have with past characters. She’s a Khajiit named Sabe, and at the moment she’s around Level 22. I got the Hearthfire DLC last weekend and purposely jumped into the Dawnstar quests (“Waking Nightmare”) so I could become thane of Dawnstar and build the Hearthfire mansion in the Pale. It’s the snowy location, and on a clear day you can stand in a tower and see Dragonsreach in Whiterun, which is pretty cool. But now that I’m building, it makes me want to get out there and complete some more quest lines so I can decorate the house!

Also, can I just say that this new playthrough has been tiding me over until Elder Scrolls Online comes out… =)

Fire Emblem: Awakening

fire-emblem-awakeningWhen did I first start playing Fire Emblem: Awakening? According to my blog, it was sometime last March — which means I’ve been playing it for almost a year! And that’s the same playthrough. Which is crazy. It is an RPG, and it is long, but the real reason it’s taking me so long to play to the end is that I keep picking it up and putting it down. It actually works well that way. I’m savoring it as long as it lasts.

The Wolf Among Us

the-wolf-among-us-1With the second episode of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us out this week, I’m super excited to be playing through more of the story tomorrow morning. It took what felt like forever for this episode to be released, but I don’t want to replay the first episode quite yet. I want to have one playthrough — no chance to go back and “fix” mistakes or try things a different way. As with The Walking Dead games, I like to have one canon playthrough before I redo any single episode!

I really enjoyed the first installment in this series. The Telltale Games format works really well with a mystery, and I love the art style of the series. I’m reading the Fables comics (The Wolf Among Us is based on them) this month to learn a little more about this world.

And speaking of Telltale, I’m looking forward to playing The Walking Dead season 2, too! I might wait until all of the episodes are out and play them all at once, though. Waiting so long between The Wolf Among Us episodes is hard enough!

Game of the Month…

I’m also getting started on my New Year’s Resolution to play and actually finish one new game a month from now on. (I’m going to say one two-hour episode of The Wolf Among Us doesn’t count!) I have a few possible games in mind, but I think a Phoenix Wright game might win this month… I will keep you posted on my blog and publish a review when I’m finished with the February game. =)

What’s everybody else been playing lately?

— Ashley

Listmas 2013: Snowy Environments in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

It doesn’t snow in California. I’ve come to accept that, and having lived in places where it does snow, I comfort myself with the firsthand knowledge that as pretty as it is, snow can be a hassle too. But around this time of year, I find myself gravitating towards video games, books, and movies that feature cold winter weather. For some reason, the snowy settings help set the mood for the holidays. That’s why my computer backdrop for the season is this:

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It’s Skyrim. And that just happens to be my first choice for my favorite sci-fi and fantasy worlds that make awesome wintry vacation spots, even if it’s just in my imagination.

1. Skyrim

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It might be a dangerous place if you’re on the wrong side of the civil war or facing an unexpected dragon attack, but Skyrim is the most beautiful video game landscape I’ve ever seen and would make an amazing vacation spot. Though parts of it are sunny — a ‘crisp autumn day’ type of sunny, that is — much of it is covered in snow. In fact, Windhelm can look downright bleak with its gray walls and murky skies, but it has an intense atmosphere that draws you in. Personally, I love climbing snow-topped mountains and looking for ruins partially buried under the snow when I play Skyrim. And when I came across a little village along the way, the chilly atmosphere only makes ducking indoors feel cozier.

2. Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia)

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The world of Narnia felt so magical when I was a kid, and I still love it. This place is one where animals can talk and magic abounds. There are witches and centaurs and unicorns, and the change of seasons feels important. For instance, there was a time when the White Witch covered Narnia in ice and snow for 100 years, which caused all kinds of hardships for the people. But winter is exactly the time I would want to step through my wardrobe into Narnia, just to experience that thrilling chill of discovery in an atmosphere that so suits it.

3. Pandora (Borderlands)

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Pandora is another video game setting that oozes charisma. It’s not always the prettiest of places, but its dingy settlements, psychos, and monsters have a visual appeal that’s part art style, part amazing atmosphere. When I play a Borderlands game, I completely lose myself on the planet of Pandora, and my favorite areas are always the snowy ones. Seeing massive glaciers and tramping through snow with crackling ice nearby is the perfect way to start off a playthrough of Borderlands 2.

4. Hogsmeade (Harry Potter)

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Who wouldn’t want to get away from school and drink butterbeer in Hogsmeade? That’s what Harry Potter and his friends do when they get to spend a weekend day in this little all-wizard village of snow-covered cottages and shops. Hogwarts students bundle up in their coats and scarves to make the wintry trek to the village — and then they escape inside where it’s warm. Plus, enchanted candles nestle in the trees during the holiday season to make the place festive. It might be wizards-only, but this town would make a cozy winter getaway for anyone’s imagination.

5. Noveria (Mass Effect)

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Noveria is cold — so cold that people stay inside pretty much all the time. When you first visit the planet in the first Mass Effect game, there are severe storm warnings, but of course you brave the weather to complete your mission before it’s too late. While I enjoyed exploring the industrial-looking facilities built on Noveria to shield the people there from the elements, getting into the snow outside and seeing the glaciers up close was even better… even if it did involve driving the Mako.

— Ashley

So I Finally Watched the Sci-Fi Cop Show “Almost Human”…

This past week I came down with a bad case of the flu and couldn’t do much other than sit and stare. But the good thing that came out of it was that I finally got around to watching the new science fiction show on FOX called Almost Human.

Created by J.H. Wyman (who worked on Fringe), it’s basically a cop procedural set in the near future (the year 2048 to be exact), a time when every cop is assigned an android as a partner. Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) wakes up from a coma with memory loss and a synthetic leg. He doesn’t like the idea of partnering up with a robot, so he has eccentric android technician Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) hook him up with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an android model that was discontinued for being almost too human.

almost_humanThe pilot episode is a lot of Kennex adjusting to life back on the police force and getting into arguments with Dorian, who he calls “synthetic.” At one point, he tires of talking to Dorian and tries to turn him off — but besides not working, this seems to offend Dorian. By the end of the episode, Kennex is starting to like Dorian for his natural, emotional responses. Besides that, Dorian isn’t like the other androids on the force; he thinks on his own and sometimes breaks the rules. That’s the kind of partner Kennex appreciates.

To be honest, I’ve been missing another sci-fi show lately: Continuum, which returns with its 3rd season next year. Part of the reason I watched Almost Human this week was because I wanted to watch Continuum so much, and it turns out they do have a similar feel. I like the slightly futuristic tech they both feature… and they’re both cop shows.

imagesSetting police procedurals in the near future is an easy twist, but it works surprisingly well. You can’t think too hard about the technology — for instance, I’m not sure we’ll still be carrying cell phones around in 2048 — but the addition of fictional drugs, androids designed as prostitutes, and futuristic weapons and armor is always fun to see in these shows.

Plus, these shows always include some type of future-tech nerd. In Almost Human, Rudy fills that role and adds a lot of humor to the show. In the latest episode, “The Bends,” he goes undercover for the police, posing as a drug cook — and his oddball personality actually helps sell his disguise until things start to go horribly wrong, as they inevitably do in these situations…

Kennex and Dorian are also funny as they try to relate to each other. Dorian’s usually calm and composed but has a dry sense of humor when he teases Kennex. Meanwhile, Kennex gets irritated when Dorian points out things that people don’t normally talk about. A great example is in the latest episode, when Kennex tries to teach Dorian human manners at a Japanese restaurant — only to have Dorian retaliate by having the chef serve Kennex a meal that’s still alive.

Almost-Human

Sure, the show can get a little cheesy sometimes. That’s the way of low-budget sci-fi. Some of the plots are also very derivative, and I wasn’t into the latest episode’s Breaking Bad homage with the fedora and the genius cooking drugs (although I did like that the episode centered on Rudy!). And while I think the acting is good — particularly Ealy as Dorian — I feel like having the protagonist be a man with a troubled past, depression, PTSD, and a major chip on his shoulder is a little overdone.

But it’s working out okay so far. I’m getting into it. Mostly I like Almost Human for being an offbeat choice and filling in the gap until Continuum starts back up. I’m also looking forward to finding out more about Kennex’s past as his memory comes back to him. I’m sure it involves a major conspiracy…

— Ashley

10 Things I’d Love to See in a More Open-World “Mass Effect” Game

It’s kind of old news now, but did you guys see the design document for the next Mass Effect game?

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That is one massive bible, and I am so excited to see where BioWare takes the next Mass Effect game now that Commander Shepard’s trilogy has come to a conclusion.

BioWare has always been known for story-driven games with strong character development, but I’m placing a bet that Mass Effect 4 (for lack of a better title) will be open-world. That seems to be the future for gaming: more exploration, more customization, more player choice. And since it’s sharing core systems with the upcoming “multi-region” Dragon Age: Inquisition, it makes sense that Mass Effect 4 will also have open world elements. It might not be entirely open-world, but I like the idea of expansive maps and lots of non-story content à la Knights of the Old Republic.

Already we know of some changes Mass Effect will undergo, besides just moving on to a new story. After fans flooded Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson with ideas for the next game, he tweeted to acknowledge one trendy topic: playable alien races. And that leads me to the first thing I’d like to see in the next Mass Effect game, particularly if it’s going to be a more open-world game with some sandbox style gameplay:

1. Origin Stories

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The origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins are some of my favorite things in any video game ever. They are little adventures (1 or 2 hours long) that kick off your character’s journey in the video game, with six different origin stories available depending on which character class and race you chose. My first was the human noble origin story. They all lead to the same place: Your character meets Grey Warden Duncan and is asked to join the Grey Wardens to face the upcoming Blight. But having that personal story at the beginning made the rest of the game feel so much more grounded and relevant to your character.

I would love to see that in the next Mass Effect game. It would be an exciting way to kick off the new feature of playable races, and it would help players get a sense of alien cultures. For instance, if I end up playing as a turian, I might spend an hour or two on the turian homeworld of Palaven, getting to know the culture and getting a feel for what my turian character values. It would also be cool to peek into a day in the life of an asari or see what a krogan childhood is like through origin stories.

2. Collectibles

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Let’s be honest: Lots of loot is never a bad thing in video games. And collectibles are a big part of open-world games, because they encourage exploration, interaction with NPCs, checking out shops, and undertaking quests in hopes of looting dead bodies for goods. And you know what you can do with all those collectibles and loot? Put them in:

3. A House

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Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto, Elder Scrolls — they all have houses you can go back to if you want to save your game or rest from your adventures. Personally, I dig the Elder Scrolls style best, because you can actually decorate your houses with your loot. Sometimes, I would go on a Skyrim quest specifically because I wanted the reward at the end of it to hang above my in-game bed, and having houses made me want to keep things instead of selling them or replacing them all the time. When I out-leveled a piece of equipment,  I would throw it on a mannequin or sword rack to remember my adventures. (You heard about what happened to my Skyrim puppy, right…?)

In the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3, Shepard gets an apartment from Anderson. The decorating options are pretty disappointing, but the fact that a (slightly) personalized pad has already been introduced in a Mass Effect game is a good sign!

4. Customizable Ships

ME3_Captain's_Cabin

You know what could be even cooler than a house? A customizable ship. If the game has my character commanding a ship like the Normandy, it would be a dream come true to be able to select which type of ship I want, paint it, and decorate the inside of it. I would also like to be able to hire my staff, but that’s another thing altogether.

In Mass Effect 2 and 3, players were able to personalize their quarters — however slightly — with model ships and small pets like the fish that never seemed to stay alive. A personalized ship in Mass Effect 4 could easily be my character’s permanent home, and it would work well if the story has players jumping around space like the trilogy did. Plus, it’s a subtle way to keep the spirit of the original Mass Effect trilogy alive… because that Normandy was everything.

5. Pets

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Everybody loves pets, right? A lot of games I’ve played have included pets, such as the horses you ride in Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim and the dogs of Dragon Age: Origins and Fable II and III. Being able to adopt a pet and keep it at your character’s house or ship would be a fun, personal touch to the next Mass Effect game, and the designers can come up with all kinds of exotic alien creatures for players to adopt. Maybe they can be mabari warhound-ish so I can take my pet into battles with me. Or there could be more of those dog-mechs.

I’ll take any kind of pet except a fish.

6. Games

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I’m not talking about the Mass Effect 2 mini-games that have players hacking doors and stuff. Those can be tedious. What I’m talking about are card games like Pazaak or Triple Triad. It’s fun to immerse yourself in the fictional world by playing fictional games that are popular in the fictional cultures you’re exploring. Plus, card games can mean collecting cards — the best kind of collectible! In Mass Effect 4, I’d love to run my character around challenging NPCs to card games, collecting cards everywhere I go, and even earning achieements based on the size or style of my card collection or how much I’ve been playing the card games. And if I can gamble for loot like you do in The Witcher 2, so much the better! (See “Collectibles” above. This is a vicious cycle of loot here, guys.)

7. Sports

HeavyMech

Speaking of games within games, I want to know what sports people play in the Mass Effect universe. Characters in Mass Effect 4 could attend sporting events and bet on the results — a simple, realistic diversion that lets players make (or lose) some extra money while learning more about the fictional world. We had that in the run-down Tuchanka of Mass Effect 2, where players could bet on varren fights. But something like Star Wars‘ pod races could be even more exciting… or heavy mech arena battles. Remember the swoop races of Knights of the Old Republic? Maybe our Mass Effect 4 characters could participate in the sports once in a while to earn some extra credits and earn reputations as athletes or racers.

8. Factions to Join

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You know all those factions you could join in Skyrim? Mass Effect could absolutely do that, and it would be a fascinating way to explore the vast wold and various cultures that make the Mass Effect universe so detailed and realistic. I might not personally want to join the Blue Suns, but something like that would be awesome. Being able to work your way up in a faction to become one of its more important members would feel rewarding, and some factions could be unique to wahtever race you choose to play as or the planet you call home. (That would also mean more replay value!)

The trick is to make each faction’s quest line mean something to the player character — so I’d like to see more consequences for actions that what we see in Skyrim. For instance, if you join one faction, you can’t join its rival faction too. Except as a spy. That would be cool.

9. Character Missions

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Mass Effect 2 was all about the character missions, and I loved them. An interesting way to create more content for an open-world, sandbox style game would be to include quest lines that follow squad members and other important NPCs. Finishing a quest line might be necessary to fulfill a romance with an NPC, for instance — and it would be an awesome way to get to know the character better. I would love to see new missions for characters unlock throughout the game, so you can keep learning more about them as you go. Maybe gaining the trust of certain characters would even unlock more areas to explore, such as little colonies or home worlds typically off-limits to outsiders. There could also be one-off missions when a squad member asks you to join him in a battle on his home planet (rather like Garrus’s recruitment mission in Mass Effect 3), an assassination (for a character like Thane), or even a research project (for a character like Mordin or Tali).

10. Jobs

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When I play an open-world game, I tend to specialize in something almost as if it’s my in-game career. Some people got really into blacksmithing in Skyrim; I got really into alchemy. Other people are miners and go look for new mines all over the map. In the next Mass Effect game, I would love to try odd jobes on different planets. The game could even introduce certain jobs you could do over and over again to become an expert, such as researching biotics, building weather domes on remote worlds, constructing colonies, or mining for element zero. It wouldn’t be as tedious as just scanning planets in Mass Effect 2 (worst mini-game ever) if you can actually plant your character’s feet on the ground and feel a part of the world as you perform these duties. The jobs could also have collectibles and achievements attached to them to make them more enticing, and I sort of love the idea of setting up a shop somewhere to sell the weapons or medicines my character makes…

— Ashley

Geeky Comforts for Sick Days

It’s November, the holidays are coming, and the cold, rainy weather is finally here (here in San Francisco, at least!). I love fall and winter, but their arrival also means that flu season is officially upon us. Nobody likes to be sick, but there are a few things that can keep us going when we have to take a day off to recover — especially all of our geeky things like certain video games, TV shows, and movies. We love them at any time, but they’re an even bigger comfort when we’re not feeling ourselves.

VIDEO GAMES

Sometimes when you're sick you just need to kill some ogres.
Sometimes, when you’re sick… you just need to kill some ogres.

Video games are the greatest for getting through sick days. It’s so helpful to forget about whatever is ailing us and lose ourselves in a video game world for a few hours. And sometimes, by the end of the day when we finally turn off our console as roommates or family members come home from work, enough time has passed that we feel loads better.

My favorite games for sick days are Dragon Age: Origins and indie games like To the Moon that emphasize story over gameplay — nothing too fast-paced or strenuous when I’m sick, because too much action and high volume can make me feel worse. Dragon Age is a special favorite for me because I have a long history with that game and have played it many times. There’s something comforting about going through the motions of a game I already know by heart and enjoying it all over again.

TELEVISION

young justice

When I’m too sick to game, TV show marathons are where it’s at. They take our minds off the way we’re feeling and help us zone out. If we’re lucky, we might even be able to snooze in front of the TV.

I usually start out my sick days browsing Netflix for a good show to marathon, and geek TV is always a top choice. Sometimes I’ll take the opportunity to catch up on a show like The Walking Dead or Continuum. Doctor Who is a favorite for its slightly cheesy humor that’s perfect when I’m not feeling well. Other times, a comedy will cheer me up.

But the best remedy seems to be cartoons. Two of my favorites are Archer for some humor or Young Justice because it is simply awesome. The cartoon format, even with a mature comedy like Archer or South Park, reminds me of what it was like to stay home from school as a kid watching TV and having my parents take care of me. Even if I’m on my own for the day having to take care of myself, it’s comforting to have something silly on in the background!

MOVIES

Serenity

It seems like everyone I know has a “sick day movie.” Once we start associating a certain movie with being sick, it becomes a huge comfort whenever we watch it — but it’s a little different for everyone. I know a couple of people who always, without fail, watch The Princess Bride when they’re home sick. They grew up doing that, and they carry on the tradition as adults, too. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is another great pick (and very fitting), and I’ve heard people who watch all of the Lord of the Rings movies or lots of Star Wars to pass the day, too.

My comfort movie lately has been Serenity. I’ve watched it so many times that I have a lot of it memorized, which makes it the perfect movie for me when I need a little zone-out time. Even though I love the story and action, having Serenity just about memorized means that I’m now able to sink into the familiar setting and relax with it more than I can with any other movie. Plus, spending time with beloved characters is somehow soothing when I’m feeling my worst.

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Bottom Line: It’s no fun being sick, but being a geek seems to help. Also, all of these things go well with soup and orange juice. =)

— Ashley