Comic Review #2 – The Batman Chronicles #5 “Oracle: Year One”

Batman Chronicles #5 cover

I’m a huge fan of Gail Simone’s Batgirl, a series in DC Comic’s New 52 reboot; I was heartbroken when I learned she was stepping down as writer. She breathed life into the character, giving her a nuanced personality, with hopes, fears, relationship problems, family issues (to put it mildly) – and she wasn’t perfect. In other words, Gail Simone made Barbara Gordon relatable, a very average person doing extraordinary things, and that is something I treasure in comics. While I’m not a new fan of Batman, and have read some Batgirl comics in the past, Simone’s New 52 run is the first time I really delved into the character.

Simone started writing for the hero in Birds of Prey, where Barbara was known as Oracle – a persona she embodied after being shot and paralyzed by The Joker in the last comic I reviewed, The Killing Joke. That review was the start of my journey in exploring this character, and I’ve grown to love what she stands for. Oracle is disabled, but she’s not a trope. She is everything she was as Batgirl – smart, powerful, and resilient – but she had to redefine herself because of her disability. She couldn’t go out and fight criminals like she once did, but by using the skills she already had, she created a new, fulfilling life for herself.

When the New 52 reboot was announced, readers learned that Barbara Gordon would be “cured”; she would be back to her spandex and crime-fighting ways. Oracle, a character many had grown to love, was gone; she was once again Batgirl, stripped of her disability. This upset many readers, and Gail Simone was initially against the change herself. Then why was this icon for disabled comic fans taken from us? There is an interview with Gail you can read by clicking here that explains the decision, but I understand why fans continue to be upset over this. However, I think it’s important to remember that the decision was ultimately in DC’s hands, and Ms. Simone continues to create diverse characters (including other disabled individuals) that grace the pages of mainstream comics. That last fact is one reason why I remain an ardent fan of her work.

Since my obsession with Batgirl and Oracle has grown over time, and considering the focus of this blog, I thought it would be important for me to review crucial moments in the hero’s story. I want to make this a regular thing for The Geeky Gimp – a series, if you will. Sure, I’ll review other comic titles as well, but my passion lies here, with Barbara and Oracle and Batgirl. I suppose you could say I started the series already, with my review of The Killing Joke, but I feel icky beginning there. That comic was well done, from a purely artistic level, but it’s a painful read for me. It disturbed me. That isn’t how I want to introduce this character I love.

So I’m starting here, officially, with The Batman Chronicles #5’s “Oracle: Year One”. This is where Barbara stops feeling like nothing more than a victim, and starts empowering herself. The birth of Oracle, written by John Ostrander and the late Kim Yale, takes the horror and sexism of The Killing Joke and turns it into something meaningful. They give power back to the character, while portraying newly-aquired disability in a realistic manner. (more…)

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Lift Off! Interview with Eduardo Baraf

Greetings, earthlings!

I’m excited to present to you my new YouTube channel, titled The Geeky Gimp Presents! I’ll still be blogging here, but this is just a way for me to branch out, challenge myself with a new creative outlet, and engage my subscribers. For my very first video, I interviewed designer Eduardo Baraf. We discuss he new game, Lift Off, which is quickly becoming a hit on Kickstarter. We also talk about accessibility in gaming, his design process, and his previous game, Murder of Crows.

Transcript is available here in PDF, or below the video. PDF: LiftOffTranscript

The video also has subtitles.

You can watch the video below, or click on this link. Subscribe to the channel and receive updates on new videos! I will still be writing here, of course, but I’m just branching out into vlogging!

I hope you enjoy.

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Computer/Video Game Review #4 – Sherlock Holmes: Murder at the Diogenes Club

titleSherlock

Game Publisher: AppEndix LLC
Platform: iOS 7.1 or later, iPhone or iPad
Release Date: May 26th, 2014
Buy this on: iTunes for $1.99

Screen shot
Screen shot

When I was a young girl, I loved choose-your-own-adventure books; my favorites were the Give Yourself Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine. They were immersive and exhilarating for me, as I could go on these journeys without ever leaving my room. They also combined two of my favorite things – games and reading. When I was offered the chance to review Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jump back into an adventure.character creation page

This game is just like those choose-your-own adventure books I poured over as a kid. It is an interactive adaptation of the original “game book” published in 1987 by Iron Crown Enterprises. You play as Watson’s cousin, James G. Hurley, though you can change the name of your character if you wish. In your inventory, you have a notebook, pencil, penknife, and some money. There’s a place to keep notes, as well as a map of the area in which your mystery is set. Using these tools, you must join Sherlock and Watson to solve the murder at the Diogenes Club!

As a digital version of a game book, the story is crucial to the overall success of the experience. My judgments here are not geared toward AppEndix LLC, as they did not write the main text. You start the game off with a smaller mystery – the poisoning of a prized race horse favored to win the big race. This was my favorite part of this game, as more snooping around is involved. The story was fast-paced and fun to work through. After solving this mystery successfully, you move on to the main story of the murder at the Diogenes Club. This one was much slower, as a huge chunk of your investigation is interviewing the many suspects. It didn’t engage me nearly as much as the previous mystery because it relied too heavily on dialogue and bland exposition. The writing is decent, though, and fits in nicely with Arthur C. Doyle’s world.

 

screenshot of the game
screenshot of the game

I wasn’t able to solve the mystery this time, but the game gives you the option to go back and try again. Because of this, Sherlock Holmes has decent replay value, especially since you can always skip past dialogue you’ve read already.

What sets this apart from a regular novel is the RPG elements. Every page or so, you are faced with a decision or a challenge. If there is a decision to be made, whether it’s to interview a certain suspect or snoop inside a room, you press your choice on screen and go to a new page with text. If there is a challenge, such as picking a lock or getting the right information from someone, you have to take your chances by rolling dice, picking a random card, or scrolling through numbers. If the number you roll is high enough, you are successful – otherwise, of course, you fail.

The challenges, I thought, were too luck-based. One time, I didn’t roll a high enough number, and didn’t obtain the evidence I needed to win the game. That one roll took away all the investigative work I did previously. Therefore, I don’t think you are really making any decisions or using any skills in this game. Sure, you could decide to not interview someone, but why would you? Of course, you interview every suspect! I was ultimately going through the motions without feeling like I had any control over what I was doing. I did like the different rolling options, though.

sketchsherlockAt the start of the game, you have six skills you can assign bonuses to, which are: athletics, artifice, intuition, communication, observation, and scholarship. If you assign a bonus to athletics, for example, your chances are higher for making a successful roll during a fight. The problem here is you don’t know what skills will be needed until you play the game, and you can’t assign bonuses to all of the skills – just some of them. It’s giving you the illusion of making game-changing decisions, but I didn’t feel that was the case at all. Also, I never once used the objects given to me in the inventory. I also never had to look at the map. I’m not sure how or when you’d use them, so their inclusion seemed superfluous.

There’s a nice bookish theme to the game. The text is clean, though I’m not a fan of the font used on the skills and notes pages. I played this both on the iPad and iPhone, and it scales nicely. The screens where you roll your dice or pick a card are aesthetically simple, yet stylish. There are a few illustrations included in the story, but it’s mostly text. The introduction text has a lot of typos, by the way, but they are eliminated once you start playing the story.

Audio Quality:

There is background music in this game, and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off without muting the entire iPad. The soundtrack is nice, but after a while, it becomes grating. It makes it impossible to play in bed with your significant other without the use of headphones. There’s also sound when you roll the dice, which adds a cute touch.

Accessability:

Here’s my main beef: you can’t adjust the size of the text. I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find that option. You can’t even pinch-to-zoom. However, the text is selectable, meaning you can use it with VoiceOver. Still, it would have been nice to be able to enlarge the somewhat small text. The interface is confusing at first. The introduction doesn’t really address how to use it. But once I got into the game, and touched a bunch of buttons, I got the hang of how it works.

If you have limited range of motion such as myself, you may have trouble with the interface on an iPad. You have to reach the top of the screen as well as the bottom. Obviously, this is not as much an issue on the iPhone.

Bottom Line:

Decent implementation of the game book, but it suffers from accessibility issues and a lack of decision making.

 

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Update #4: Twitch Streaming and Upcoming Reviews

You can now follow me on Twitch, an online community for live game streaming. Watch me play World of Warcraft, Star Trek Online, and a slew of other games! I have my webcam and microphone on the ready, and I’d love to chat with my fellow geeky gamers. I’ll even invite some of you to play along.

I plan to stream regularly on Thursday and Sunday evenings, around 9 p.m. EST. I’ll also be streaming intermittently in between, so “favorite” my channel on Twitch for updates on when I go live. Just click on the image below to visit the channel!

The Geeky Gimp Twitch ChannelI’m currently working on some reviews for The Geeky Gimp. I’m not exact on scheduling, but you can expect these in the next few months:

  • Comics: Batman Chronicles #5 – Oracle Year One, Batgirl Annual #2 (Did you know I love Batgirl? Because I love Batgirl)
  •  Tabletop Gaming: Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition, Splendor, Dungeon Roll
  • Video Gaming: Sherlock Holmes: Murder at Diogenes Club, Tomb Raider
  • TV: The X-Files “All Souls”
  • Movie: The Amazing Spider-Man

As always, comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome! Thanks for reading – I really appreciate all of the feedback I’ve received so far.

 

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Computer/Video Game Review #3 – Nancy Drew #30: The Shattered Medallion

Nancy Drew Shattered Medallion logo
Game Rating: E (Everyone), with mild violence
Game Publisher: HerInteractive
Platform: Mac/PC, digital download or physical copy
Release Date: May 20th, 2014
Buy this at: Amazon.com, HerInteractive.com, or your local game shop for $19.99

I’ve been playing the Nancy Drew PC game series since their introduction in 1998. I’m a huge fan of literature and point-and-click adventures, so I knew this series would scratch that itch. I remember how the first game, Secrets Can Kill, came with two CDs you needed to switch out during gameplay. Now, some of HerInteractive’s award-winning titles can fit on an iPad! The technology behind these games (and, well, I guess technology in general) has advanced greatly. Gone are the days of multiple CDs, choppy graphics, and long load times; now we can enjoy our games with crisp animation, quality audio, small file sizes, and almost no load times. The Nancy Drew computer games have transitioned smoothly along with the technological advancements, and The Shattered Medallion showcases that exquisitely.

Screenshot of the camp in the game.
Screenshot of the camp in the game.

In The Shattered Medallion, Nancy has joined the competition reality show Pacific Run (think Amazing Race meets Survivor), with her friend George as her partner. The show is being produced and filmed in Australia, by a young guy named Sonny Joon; we were introduced to him in a previous game, Secret of the Scarlet Hand. He’s really into aliens and comics, and his involvement with Pacific Run seems fishy. Right away, things begin to fall apart, as strange drawings begin to appear, along with the dangerous sabotage of some players.

Can you, acting as Nancy Drew, get to the bottom of the mystery? You’ll need to compete in game challenges along the way, as well as communicate with the opposing teams to dig up more clues. Explore various locations, such as a cave, mine, sheep barn (it makes sense, trust me) and a lake. You can even go underwater and discover artifacts in a one-person submarine! The story here is unique and caters to those who enjoy such competitive shows.

I also enjoyed learning about Australian culture, even though there wasn’t as much reading to do in this game as in previous adventures. There isn’t enough immersion in this installment, and I sometimes felt the story was thin. HerInteractive has been moving in the direction of less story and more puzzle-based adventures. However, the puzzles integrated into the story perfectly, as they related to the team challenges of the reality show. Sometimes, the puzzles were extremely difficult; this game is aimed at preteens, but my 30-year-old mind can barely get through it without a spoiler. I think that is a good thing, as it doesn’t underestimate the child gamer. If you’re really stuck, you could always go on the message boards for free and ask your fellow detectives, or download the PDF game guide.

The replayability of this game is fairly high, as there are trophies to collect at the end for various tasks you complete. Any gamer who has to have all the trophies will definitely play it again to complete their collection. Additionally, Nancy Drew games lend themselves to replayability since they are just so freaking fun. I have played the adventures in my collection numerous times – they never get old.

Lake scene in the game
Lake scene in the game

With every new title released by HerInteractive, the graphics have improved. You won’t find realistic faces here, like in the adventure games on PS4, but the animation in The Shattered Medallion is wonderful. The scenery is gorgeous, with meticulous detail throughout. Colors are vibrant, with realistic shadowing to accent various items. You can play the game windowed or full screen, though the full screen option does not take up the whole screen. As usual, the task bar with your inventory, cell phone, and notes, looks great. The style of it has changed over the years, but I like what they’ve settled on. Overall, fantastic graphics.

The dialogue is witty, and it often contains references to previous games – perfect for the Nancy Drew fan. Unlike other Nancy Drew titles, I didn’t feel there was any unnecessary dialogue that bogged it down. There’s the option of skipping past dialogue, which is helpful, and you can turn that option off if you so desire. The voice acting is phenomenal; I’m not sure if they got actual Aussies to voice the Australian teams, but they sounded realistic to me. Then again, take that with a grain of salt, as I live in the United States. There are various audio options, including separate volume controls for dialogue, music, and effects. I love this feature! Sometimes I have trouble hearing dialogue, but I don’t want the music to blow out my ear drums.

The Shattered Medallion is a simple point-and-click adventure. You play this completely with a mouse, making it perfect for the gamer with a physical disability. Depending on where you place your cursor, you can move left, right, forward, and backward – the cursor changes to let you know where you’re headed. The cursor also changes when you can pick up an item or look at it closer. There is one section of the game that requires you to be very quick with mouse movement in order to move on. I usually don’t have trouble using a mouse, and even I struggled to finish in time. For the most part, though, you should be fine.

Cursor directions
Cursor directions

I think this game is great for gamers with disabilities, especially those who are deaf. The best part of the Nancy Drew series is that they are completely subtitled. You don’t even have to go in to the option menu to turn them on – they are there right from the start! Like I mentioned earlier, there are also separate volume controls if you have trouble hearing the dialogue. For blind gamers, there may be some issues, as the cursor change that indicates an active item could be too subtle to notice. Some of the text on signs or in books may pose a challenge, though making the game full screen could alleviate that problem. There aren’t any overly-stimulating lights or graphics here, so gamers with seizures, or those bothered by such lights, will be okay. If you can’t use a mouse, there are no keyboard options that I am aware of – though you could definitely use this with a touch pad/mouse. The timed puzzles might be tough if you have trouble using a mouse, as I mentioned earlier.

Bottom line: another fun installment of the Nancy Drew computer games. Wonderful graphics, amusing dialogue, challenging puzzles – all the stuff you’re used to with this series. I wish the story was a bit meatier, but I’m hoping that will be addressed in the next game. This is definitely an adventure you should check out!

 

 

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Gender in the Movies – Inamorata

Inamorata is a short film about women’s rights and sexuality in the 1960s. It’s being made by director Dominick Evans, who identifies as disabled. This is an important film, and is currently being funded on Indiegogo. You can check out the campaign by clicking here, or at the end of this interview. Since this movie is one I think needs to be made, I wanted to support the project as much as possible. It’s crucial that we include marginalized voices in the media we digest, and Dominick is striving to promote that through his work. I got a chance to speak to him about directing, education, films, and the ableism he has faced in his career.

Dominick talking about his film
Dominick talking about his film, Inamorata

Hi, Dominick. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how you got involved in film-making?

I’m 33 years old and was born and raised in Toledo, OH. I actually grew up in a little town outside of Toledo city limits called Walbridge. It was so small I used to cruise around in my wheelchair, and could get from one side of town to the other in about 15 minutes. At 4 I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type III. I walked until I was 16, but started using a scooter when I was 11, due to inability to walk long distances. I am the baby of my family. I have two, much older, half brothers, and one full-blooded brother. I’m Polish on my dad’s side and have a rich Polish heritage I have enjoyed discovering as I have gotten older. My maternal side is mostly British and Irish. I was very close to my Irish grandfather, Willie, who died last year, at 94. Other than my dad, who died when I was 20, Willie was my biggest fan. He always encouraged me to follow my dreams no matter what anyone else said about me. I currently live in Dayton, OH with my girlfriend of almost 12 years, Ashtyn, our teenage son, and our adorable shih tzu, Molly. Ash is from Michigan and we lived up there until I decided to return to Ohio to go to film school down in Dayton. (more…)

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Tabletop Game Review #5 – Paperback

During one of my daily BoardGameGeek website visits, I came across Paperback, a game by designer Tim Fowers. It was only on Kickstarter, with a few people receiving and playing prototypes. Advertised as a Scrabble-like deck builder, I knew I had to back it. I’ve been playing Scrabble with my family since I was a kid, and I figured this was something I could enjoy with my parents. About six months after the Kickstarter, I received Paperback in the mail. I had completely forgotten that I’d ordered it, so talk about a pleasant surprise! I managed to play two games of it since then, and you can read my thoughts in this review. Currently, the only way to buy this game is to find it on auctions, or pre-order the second printing. You can order it here (click me!), and I strongly encourage it if it seems like something you’d enjoy. Once pre-orders reach 500, the printing will proceed, and you will not be charged until that goal is reached. But I have no doubt it will happen.

Also, this is a special review because I am co-hosting/co-reviewing with Mr. Richard Ham of Rahdo Runs Through! I’m a huge fan of his videos, and I can’t believe I am getting the opportunity to collaborate with him. Thanks to Richard, my wallet has suffered from buying the games he features on his channel. I can’t say I mind, though my mom is a bit annoyed at the stacks of board games taking over the house. C’est la vie! There is a great interview at the end of this review, and once Richard posts his video and final thoughts, I will include them in this post. [Edit: the videos are now below!] Meanwhile, check out his run throughs on YouTube by clicking the link in this paragraph.

This review also will be different because I am trying out a slightly new format. Let me know which you like better in the comments – just check past tabletop reviews for comparison. I’m always trying to improve, so feel free to give constructive criticism :) Now, on to the review! As always, click on the images to enlarge them.

Paperback box
Paperback box.

 

Overview:

Game: Paperback

Designer: Tim Fowers

Artist: Ryan Goldsberry

Publish Date: 2014

Players: 2 to 5 gamers, ages 8 and up

You’ll like this if you like: Scrabble, Dominion, Boggle (more…)

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Computer/Video Game Review #2 – Grail to the Thief

Grail to the Thief is an interactive audio adventure game that is currently on Kickstarter, and produced by For All to Play. It simulates text-based adventures, or pick-your-own adventure games, and adds audio (including ambient sound, narration, and dialogue) for blind accessibility. I was able to play the prototype, currently available for Chrome and Opera users, and absolutely loved it. The story is engaging and humorous, while giving the player a lot of variety and freedom. Unlike other text adventure games where you must type in commands, Grail to the Thief offers you multiple choices to advance in the quest. Also, the sounds included in the prototype are not complete yet, but I really liked what I heard so far – the character voices are not dull, and made me feel like I was really interacting with them. The story itself is amusing, and I can’t wait to see what other adventures will be created for subsequent games!

Grail to the Thief logo
Grail to the Thief Logo

The creators of Grail to the Thief, Elias Aoude, Anthony Russo, and DJ White, were kind enough to answer some questions for me.

1) Can you tell us about yourselves and how you got into game design?

Elias: I’ve been playing video games my whole life. I can still remember going to the local toy store with my parents to purchase my first video-game console, the Nintendo Entertainment System. I brought it home and played Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt with my parents, siblings, and cousin all night long. I knew at a young age that I wanted to be working in the video game industry in some capacity, and now, I’m finally doing that.

Anthony: Games have always been, and will continue to be, a huge part of my life. I started playing games at a very young age, probably around two or three, on NES and later, Sega Genesis. I cannot remember a holiday, birthday, or trip outside the house that I didn’t ask to buy a game. I have wedged games into my life in every way that I possibly could. At a young age, I started learning how to produce 3D art for games. I wrote papers all throughout high school on the design and psychological effects of games. Even my Eagle Scout project was related to games, as I donated a Wii to a retirement home so the residents could get up and bowl once in a while and have fun as a community.

I am a lucky person, in that I have always known what I wanted to do and why. I want to make games because I want to deliver the sense of community and enjoyment that games have given to me my whole life to others. Whether it’s yelling at friends over multiplayer games, comparing times in a racing game, discussing story beats of a well-written narrative game, or talking about the intricate mechanics of the latest strategy game, I have yet to see a more social, engaging, dynamic medium than games. I have always wanted to be a part of its production, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

DJ: I’ve always been really interested in video games. My parents owned an NES before I was born, so some of my earliest memories are actually of watching my mom play The Legend of Zelda. But I never really considered working on games until I was at WPI. I had already decided to head towards computer science, but as I thought more about what I was planning on doing after school, I realized that game design was where I was really headed. (more…)

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Tabletop Game Review #4 – Le Fantôme de l’Opéra

Cover of game
Box cover! Click any image to enlarge them.

This past Christmas, I participated in BoardGameGeek’s Secret Santa. It’s a pretty huge event, with over a thousand people signing up to send complete strangers brand-new board games. This was my first year giving it a go, and I could not have been happier with my experience. Not only did my Santa send me Forbidden Desert and Ghost Stories, two games that have been on my radar for a while, but they also sent the hard-to-find (at the time) Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. I’d heard about Fantôme when I read a preview of the new games premiering at Essen, and the theme alone sold me. Phantom of the Opera is kind of my guilty pleasure – I adore the musical, and even liked the Gerard Butler movie. My mom is a bigger fan than me, so I knew I had to get this game as soon as it came out. Thanks to my Secret Santa, though, I didn’t have to! If you’re reading this, Santa, you’re awesome. So what is this game all about? Did it live up to my expectations? Let’s find out.

Overview:

Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
Publisher and Date: Hurrican, 2013
Designers: Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc
Players: 2
Ages: 9 and up
Length: 30 minutes
BoardGameGeek Link: Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
You’ll like this if you like: Mr. Jack, Clue, or any strategic bluffing game

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Update #3 – Support this Kickstarter!

Right now, I’m working on a review of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, a great board game of strategy and deception. You can expect to see that some time this week – maybe even tomorrow! But before I posted that, I wanted to let you all know about a great Kickstarter that I recently supported.

64 oz. Games is working on making board games accessible for the blind community. They have created card sleeves and accessories with braille text for some popular games, such as: 7 Wonders, Lost Cities, Dominion, Munchkin, and more. They are looking to expand this list, but they need your help. 64 oz. Games is also producing their own micro party game for blind users called Yoink! In this game, you have to feel for different shapes and patterns on the cards, and be the first to make a complete matching set. You can watch videos for this, and their braille products, on the Kickstarter page. I highly suggest you chip in, even if it’s only $5! It is so important to make board gaming accessible for all, and this project by 64 oz. Games is crucial in that endeavor. 

You can find their Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/64ouncegames/board-games-now-blind-accessible

If you can’t make a donation, please spread the word by sharing the link with your friends on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks!

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