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Girl Genius

13 May

A Webcomic Recommendation

The internet is filled with webcomics. There are one-shot joke ones and plot ones; beautifully drawn ones and ones based on stick figures. There is also a wide variety of quality when it comes to webcomics. While there are great ones of all varieties, my personal favorites are usually ones with high quality art and high quality story. If you enjoy traditional graphic novels and you haven’t checked out some of these then you are missing out on the newest home of the media. One of my favorite webcomics is Girl Genius. It is one of the best examples of the high quality of works you can find on the internet.

Girl Genius is a two-time winner of the Hugo for Best Graphic Story and it definitely deserves it. The plot focuses on the adventures of the titular girl genius, Agatha, as she uses her new-found talents and figures out where she fits in the world. Character is one of the best features of the story and Agatha is not only lovable but interesting to watch. She is not alone in this though because each character is bursting with personality. From Gil, the romantic lead to Zola, Agatha’s current nemesis, every character will make you laugh and draw you in. Girl Genius has a fun and fascinating cast which will keep you reading to find out what they will do next.

Aside from the characters, the setting is one of the stories best features. The location of the story seems to be an alternate version of Victorian Europe. This alternate version may come across initially as steampunk but it is slightly more complex then that. While it takes much of its aesthetics from steampunk (gears, brass), the powers of the Sparks seems to extend beyond the realm of what is possible in a normal steampunk setting. Sparks are basically mad scientists and they make up a large portion of the cast. They are each bestowed with a power called the spark. They use this to make anything from a classic ray-gun to biological constructs to performing nearly magical feats. Only those with the spark can complete such projects. The magical nature of their talents has caused the creator themselves, the Foglios, to refer to it as Gaslamp Fantasy instead of steampunk.

The art of Girl Genius is highly stylized but good. If you have ever seen the Brawl set Club Foglio or any of these magic cards, then you have seen Phil Foglio’s work. This stylized nature not only makes the characters distinct but makes it easy to understand the emotions they are feeling via their expressions. As well as being stylized, a lot of detail is put in to each frame. This makes everything look more interesting and adds personality to the world around the characters. As well as having high quality art, after the first volume (which is in black and white) the coloring is also top-notch. Though it has been done by many people over the years, each has brought a vivid use of color to a series which could be overwhelmed with browns and brass. The coloring job emphasizes the personality present in the world and the characters, ensuring that nothing ever appears dull in the world of Girl Genius. The stylized art and bright coloring make Girl Genius one of the best looking webcomics out there.

If you want to start enjoying Girl Genius, I recommend starting at the beginning which is linked above. Even if you don’t enjoy the whole weekly updates thing and prefer to read them chapter by chapter like a book, you will have nine years of updates to read through before you reach that point. You can also attempt to rent or purchase the published book form if you have an aversion to reading things on the internet. No matter how you read it, Girl Genius is a great piece of graphic fiction which I recommend wholeheartedly.

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The Adventures of Bitch Shepard Begin plus Miracle of Sound

1 Apr

-Bitch Shepard

I’m naturally a kind person. I hold open doors for strangers, smile at those who pass me by and do favors for my friends. Therefore when I play Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, I naturally lean towards Paragon. Some people might tell you that paragon is “good” while renegade is “evil”. This is not the truth. Both alignments of Shepard are trying to save the galaxy. They are both looking out for the greater good. The difference is how they go about it. Paragon Shepard is kind, friendly, trusting of strangers, idealistic, overall follows the law and treats all races as equals. This results in sometime is a Shepard which gets duped, sounds high and mighty from time to time and earns less money from not dealing with shady characters.

Renegade Shepard, on the other hand is an awkward mix of pragmatism, professionalism, badass-ness, racism, and being a jerk. The first three traits work fine together but with the racism and being a jerk thrown in there, it results in a Shepard who acts highly unpredictably. If you are seeking to develop a consistent Shepard in your mind, renegade playthroughs can make that hard. Also, wavering on which alignment you choose can have some negative implications since having a high renegade or paragon score are required to select some of the most powerful conversation options. So if you want to be kind to your crew but a son of a bitch to strangers, you’ll see your lack of single-minded character development harm you in the long run.

Though not a perfect solution, I think I have figured a way to make Shepard come across as less crazy. It involves using a feature added to the radial dialogue system in Dragon Age 2. When you hover over a dialogue choice, a picture is displayed in the center of the radial. The picture hints at what the nature of your response will be such as a heart for flirting. If the pragmatic and professional aspects could get a symbol (let’s say a pistol) and the racism and being a general ass had another (like a fist), you could avoid the aspects of renegade you dislike and form a much more consistent character. Of course a similar set of symbols would be implemented for paragon so to help those who’d like to be kind without being taken for a chump. While not a perfect system since it requires learning a set of symbols, it would help clarify Shepard’s intent while still allowing the ability to continue to navigate the dialogue quickly. Without such cues, either Shepard but particularly renegade Shepard comes across as a rather inconsistent character.

The difficulty of realistically characterizing a renegade Shepard more then any other reason has dissuaded me from doing a renegade playthrough until just recently. Well-developed characters are one of my favorite things in the world. While Shepard is probably one of the least interesting characters in the Mass Effect trilogy, they are the gateway through which the player interacts with the world and therefore it detracts from the experience if Shepard is too inconsistent to be considered a real character. To get through the experience of a renegade playthrough, I vowed to myself that I would not attempt to mentally characterize this Shepard and instead am treating her has an exercise in hyperbole. I will play this Shepard as renegade as possible to see where those choices lead as well as to laugh at how schizophrenic she comes across. I mentally refer to her as Bitch Shepard as I play.

So far it has been pretty funny, though I’m not very far yet. My favorite moment that has happened so far was when I knocked out Manuel, the slightly crazy assistant of a scientist I found in the area where the player is first introduced to husks. My Shepard first said “Night Night, Manuel” in a creepy voice and then punched him so hard he passed out. The scientist freaked out at my treatment of her assistant and I calmly and pragmatically explain that he was unstable, unpredictable, and could have hurt someone at any moment. Sound like anyone you know, eh Shepard? I hope to recount the funniest or most thought-provoking bits of my experience with my renegade in a reoccurring segment I’ll call The Adventures of Bitch Shepard. Tune in from time to time to see more hilarious hijinks and thoughtful in-game character development commentary.

-Miracle of Sound

This next bit is slightly Mass Effect related but mostly just a quick recommendation I wanted to get out there. Miracle of Sound is a musician best known probably for his original song, “Commander Shepard “

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t played Mass Effect, this song is dangerously fun, catchy and rocks quite a bit more then most people would expect a song about a video game to rock. And just this week, The Escapist, my favorite nerd lifestyle website, started featuring his music. His newest song, Age of the Dragon, is one his best yet with its earworm refrain and driving guitar. I haven’t even played Dragon Age 2 (which it is about) and I already downloaded the song from iTunes because I enjoyed it so much. It is always exciting to see someone with this much talent and creativity get rewarded for their efforts, but since I was already a fan and he is getting featured on one of my favorite websites, I’m doubly excited. Aside from the two songs I mentioned above, he has two other songs I really like: Gordon Freeman Saved My Life about Half-Life and I Suck at Call Of Duty. Sure his lyrics can be silly and his hooks are considered cheesy by certain people but hopefully some of you will give him a listen and discover that music about video games can rock. He will be uploading a new song that can be found at the Escapist ever two weeks of so on Wednesdays.

LoadingReadyRun

5 Nov

A Site Recommendation

Every Monday when I wake up, I skip reading my favorite webcomics and go straight to The Escapist . There awaiting me are two new videos by LoadingReadyRun . LoadingReadyRun or LRR as they are sometimes called is one of my favorite things on the internet. They are a troupe of geeky Canadians who write, shoot and act in a variety of comedic videos. Not only are these videos hilarious but they are also creative, clever and nerdy. One of the things I love about the internet is how it allows creative people to share their projects with the world. LoadingReadyRun is an ideal example of this. They release three comedic videos as week in three different formats as well as periodically putting out some other random entertaining ones. Their main staple, LoadingReadyRun, is a collection of random sketch comedy skits. This segment has featured a wide variety of entertainment over the years from troubles with time travel to a man telling a story about making a grilled-cheese sandwich. Aside from their weekly sketch bit, they also do a mock video game news show similar to The Onion and, a Mystery Science Theater 3000k-style bit featuring video game cut-scenes

On top of all this creative hilarity, they also do a yearly charity event called Desert Bus for Hope. In this event, they play the worst game ever made, Desert Sus, until people stop paying them. In the game, Desert Bus, you drive on a straight road surrounded by no scenery from Tucson to Las Vegas in real time at a max speed of 45 mph. Upon arriving you are given one point and then the process starts over again but headed in the opposite direction. There is no way to win and the car swerves slightly to the right constantly so you can’t even tape down the gas button and leave to make the trip. If you crash, you are towed back to your starting city in real time. The LoadingReadyRun Crew put themselves through this to earn money for the charity Child’s Play. Child’s Play is a charity started by Penny Arcade which provides games and other forms on entertainment for children in hospitals. Last year, LRR collected $140,449 dollars of donation and this year, due to their ever growing fame, I predict that they will earn even more. Aside from the busing itself, another part of the Desert Bus for Hope event is the Desert Bus Craft Along. People donate homemade items which get auctioned off to earn even more money for the cause. This year, a tetris-themed lolita skirt designed and sewn by me will be a part of the auction. I’m quite proud of it and if you are a nerdy lolita or just like different clothing, you might want to give it a look. Desert Bus starts on November 19th at 6pm PST. Feel free to tune in and watch them be hilarious while they torture themselves.

The LoadingReadyRun crew are creative, funny, geeky and giving people. Their comedy comes with my highest recommendation. Below are some links to my favorite skits and series to get your started but really watch any of their work to add a dose of nerd funny to your day.

Favorite series
CommodoreHUSTLE
Rapidfire I and Rapidfire II

Favorite videos
Bad News
Split Decision
Magicland
Omni-lingual
Desert Bus Killed the Internet Star
A Sacred Duty
Pull Yourself Together
Gorgeous
How to Talk like a Pirate
Eyewitness Accounts