A Seattle-based podcast about games, comics, superheroes, zombies, robots, wizards, dinosaurs, and other things relevant to your interests. We're SJW FTW, and we’ve been nerding out about nerd stuff since way before everybody was a nerd.
We’re back at PAX, which has finally succumbed to the reality of large, successful organizations and renamed itself “PAX West.” We’re super-psyched for the success of our favorite nerd show, but it was nice to experience Northwest privilege while it lasted. PAX Prime is dead, long live PAX West!
Other than that, the vibe and essence of the con haven’t changed, as far as we can tell. Everyone is still super-friendly, the scene feels super-inclusive, and the focus on fans and players is clear as day. They’ve put together something special for sure, and we’re grateful for all they do.
We swept through the Indie Megabooth, scouting it out for more focused time during the rest of the show. One very noticeable difference was the massive number of VR games available. This was also true of the main show floor, but it was fascinating to see that tech get adopted so quickly by small, scrappy devs. Rob tends to experience IRL nausea when he’s set up with VR, but Paul and Mary welcome the new hotness.
We may have more to say about this later, but we wanted to give a quick shout out to Open Sorcery, which is on display at the Indie Megabooth. It’s a text adventure that incorporates modern elements to damp down frustration (it’s based on Twine, which is a big help) (can we just take a moment to reflect on how great Twine is? Like really?). You are a magical being that is also a firewall protecting community sites from intrusion, which should send some of you straight into the Smile Zone. Maybe its premise is a little hard to explain, but it’s well worth a look—check it out free online. It’s also on iOS and Android if that works better for you.
Mary wandered into the Bethesda booth and was immediately mesmerized by the trailers, standing open-mouthed and staring for a very long time. You won’t be surprised to hear that we’re all really looking forward to the latest Fallout 4 DLC, Nuka World. We saw both the adorable animated trailer and the gameplay trailer, the highlight of the latter being feral ghouls getting run over with a roller coaster. We really want to do that.
When we walked up to Republic of Gamers’ booth and there were only three or four people waiting to play Minecraft on the Oculus, we were like, “Did this come out last year?” But no! It was just the magic of Friday. (And perhaps the distraction of the ridiculously huge ARK T-Rex across the way.) Minecraft VR is pretty much brand new—less so for Gear VR—and it is hell of fun. Our nine-year-old nerdling henchmen very excitedly said, one to the other, exactly what you might expect: “It’s like you’re in Minecraft, dude!” We talked to the nice RoG guy about the future of more and more games being VR ready, and the coding hurdles required in basically creating simultaneous tandem left-eye and right-eye renderings. He was partial to playing Project CARS on Oculus (games where your avatar is stationary, e.g. in a driver’s seat, are of course ideal for VR), and he said that Project CARS 2 will likely be built even more for that experience.
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We have little experience with Dishonored, but the trailer for the sequel looks fantastic. In a very general way you could say that it’s steampunk-meets-Assassin’s Creed, but that’s not really doing it justice. Both the cinematic and the gameplay trailers show a neat mechanic that involves the player character turning into a smoky, ethereal form to sneak up on enemies and squeeze through tight spots. There’s architecture that literally folds up and transforms as you pass through it and an eerie conspiracy driving the plot. We’ll post more if we’re able to try out the demo.
Rob was intrigued and a little nostalgic about the trailer for the rebooted Prey, coming next year from Bethesda. It’s one of the first games he picked up for his Xbox 360, and it had some fascinating physical mechanics—like portals, a year before Valve’s Portal made us fall in love with magical door-like contraptions. It also gave a taste of social justice issues, as it starred Native American characters and used some kind of problematic Native American spirituality in what was basically a bug hunt. It turns out that the developers did a fairly decent job of reaching out to Native communities, and the protagonist is nothing like any stereotype we’ve ever seen. The new game is a “reimagining,” which could mean practically anything, but Rob will keep his eyes on it.
We were surprised to see that Blizzard had an entire booth dedicated to their brand-new World of Warcraft expansion, Legion. Blizzard makes relatively few appearances at PAX West, and generally it’s been well before an expansion drops. On the other hand, they’ve been working hard to make WoW even more accessible to new and returning players, and this is most likely part of that push. Mary will certainly have an entire post dedicated to Legion at some point since there’s plenty to say about it, but here’s the tl;dr: it has launched much more smoothly and with more fanfare than the last few expansions, so if you’re thinking about trying the WoW, now is a good time to do it.
We took a quick look at Yukon Salon, which was being touted in the board game zone by our podcast pal Andrew of A Podcast For All Intents and Purposes. It’s a fun-looking card game that involves (among other things) giving afros to miners and bears. More like BEARSTYLES, right? Anyway, there’ll be a Kickstarter coming your way in the very near future, and we’ll let you know when that goes live.
Our nine-year-old nerdling henchmen took us on a tour of Kaladesh, i.e., into the depths of a completely Magic’kd-up Paramount Theater to celebrate the debut of the new expansion. These were the highlights: For Seattle gamers who have probably seen everything from the Pixies to Soundgarden to Yo Gabba Gabba Live! here (we’re not judging), it’s exciting to see the Paramount all dolled up for one of our favorite games.
These guys were playing in the “Inventors’ League,” a free casual competition in which you grab a small deck (you pick your favorite color, plus a random one), put on a lanyard to identify your inventiveness to other Inventors, and then play five matches for a $2 discount on tourney play. There are many OP events (including 2HG, Mini-Master, and Deck-builder’s Toolkit Challenge) all weekend.
Or you can simply bask in the Magic World Championship happening on center stage, with the top 24 players in the world playing quietly in the background and duking it out for $70K. The stage is also home to many great Magic panels and an M:tG improv show on Saturday night that we kind of can’t not go to. (Is “Yes, and…” an instant? I need the name of a planeswalker and an enchantment! We’re here all weekend, folks.)
You can also just stand in the lobby and fog up the glass looking at REAL LIVE KALADESH BOOSTERS!
Last but not least, follow Magic on Twitter to learn about how they’re giving away these over-sized cards from the new set several times a day. This one went to the first person to bring a “vehicle” (in this case, a Magic Carpet card) to the corner of 9th and Pine at the appointed time. BTW, even if you don’t have a PAX pass, the whole alley beside the Paramount will be bustling with Kaladesh madness that you can partake in starting at 10am every morning, including Kaladesh cosplayers, glass-blowing, and a build-your-own-ornithopter(!) area.
Check out previous years’ PAX coverage at the Stranger right here. We’re also posting tons of stuff on Instagram!
Hey, it’s a Nerdhole sampler! We talk about a cool, short book by Kai Ashante Wilson, the sweet new video game by the folks behind Limbo, and a board game that briefly made NASCAR seem interesting. And we managed to bust out an entire podcast without talking about television. Achievement unlocked!
Rob Heinsoo recommended both Sorcerer and Thunder Alley, and you should be sure to check out his upcoming Legendary expansion based on Big Trouble in Little China. We playtested it and it is delightful–his blog has some neat previews and design notes.
With Mary on assignment, Paul and Rob discussed Preacher–both the new AMC TV series starring Dominic Cooper and the old-ish Vertigo comics series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. While the title has some legendary problems for those of us with a SJW bent, there’s some worthwhile storytelling and some complicated feminism, so we’re at least partly on board. And the series has made some interesting choices, including race-bending one of the primary characters, so we’re hopeful that it will leave the uglier stuff out entirely.
For some reason (let’s blame the booze), we didn’t get around to discussing the extremely problematic character Arseface. Here’s hoping the AMC series treats disability better than the comics did.
After a festival of bizarre tech issues, it’s finally time for Daredevil 2: Elektra Boogaloo. Mary and Rob are all caught up, while Paul don’t give a fuck. We still dive into spoilers, so beware if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want to learn its dark secrets prematurely.
While discussing the various gangs, we were wracking our brains to come up with the name of the Latino gang. Turns out they didn’t really have one–they were just “cartel gangsters.” We’re not sure if that flat, boring name reflects their own icy professionalism or the writers’ decision to anonymize nonwhite bad guys on the show. What do you think?
We turn our steely gaze to The X-Files now that its new season has crept to a weird, abrupt halt. As ever, Rob and Paul couldn’t quite make it all the way through six hours of viewing in time to record the show, but Mary and special guest star Jo Jo Stiletto more than compensated with their deep, unsparing knowledge and affection for the series. We had a blast gabbing with Jo Jo, and will be sure to have her back as soon as her busy schedule permits.
in case you missed season 10, here’s a great recap:
X-Files News is the terrific, FOX-approved site Jo Jo mentioned.
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Jo Jo Stiletto is a burlesque producer, performer and historian who explores the intersection of feminism and pop culture. As an expert on burlesque and fandom, she has presented at events like the National Women’s Studies Association’s Annual Conference, GeekGirlCon, Nerd Nite, and has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, NPR and more. Her works have included sold‐out events like Whedonesque Burlesque, The Burl‐X‐Files, Bechdel Test Burlesque and Guardians of the Sexy with Emerald City Comicon.
So Marvel and Netflix just announced the casting of Finn Jones (Loras Tyrell on Game of Thrones) as Iron Fist in the upcoming series rounding out The Defenders. We think Jones is great–but we’re sympathetic to the growing chorus of voices arguing that the role should go to an Asian actor.
There are two main thrusts to the arguments we’ve seen: We need more Asian leads across the board, and the Iron Fist character in particular is a troubling example of the lame old trope of the white guy being a natural at the other guy’s cultural heritage–and is therefore in dire need of revision. Agreed! With that in mind, and knowing full well that the casting is locked and loaded, here are our suggestions for any alternate universes still in need of advice:
Marvel’s second Netflix series dropped just over a month ago, and it’s surpassed Daredevil in our affections–something we really didn’t think was possible. Like all great genre work, it uses its fantastic elements to illuminate real-world issues faced by real-world people. Its exploration of the effects of rape, domestic abuse, and PTSD feels true and compelling–and it’s presented in a way that makes it accessible to viewers who may not be immediately sympathetic. And yet somehow the show is also deeply entertaining. Truly we live in an age of miracles.
We’re pleased with the response to our swag reading “SJW FTW,” but it turns out that not everyone in the world is familiar with our jargon. For you, we proudly present the Nerdhole Magical Nutshell of Exposition:
SJW: Social Justice Warrior. This is used as an insult by internet trolls who are upset that their privilege is expanding to include other people. We think it’s magically awesome and wear the name proudly.
FTW: For The Win!
It’s that simple. If you want a manifesto, keep looking. Better yet, write your own and share it with us!
We had no troubles getting ourselves together for Day Two, and we had a delightful time traipsing through the show with Friend of the Hole–and invaluable assistant–Tom. Here’s our report:
Queering Up Misconceptions: LGBT Game Industry Life
We started the day at this panel, which was a rollicking good time—and largely quite optimistic. Five industry pros talked about their experiences and what they want to see going forward, and it was gratifying to hear that most of them had no problem coming out at work. One, Hangry Studio‘s Chris Wright, was certain that he had outed himself to coworkers with a shirtless Hayden Christensen pic on his desktop, but was later told “I just thought you were really into Star Wars!” Moderator Gordon Bellamy kept it grounded and summed up the vibe with the line “Being allowed to exist is super powerful.” Good stuff!
Another sweet tabletop title at the Indie Megabooth, this one involved mech construction using modular mech parts that give players various weapons, capabilities, etc. It’s played on an expandable hex map and uses a card-based system to handle combat and other interactions. They’re launching a Kickstarter next month and we are sure to follow up then.
Patrick, the big brain behind Mech Deck, while explaining his development process, blew our minds when he told us about the Boston Game Makers Guild. This meetup group includes a bunch of local tabletop game devs who playtest each other’s games and then vote them up to get additional attention by the group as a whole. Playtesting, networking, support—it sounds like a brilliant way for game makers to hone their craft and get their ideas to market. If this isn’t happening in Seattle, let’s make it happen.
PAX 10: Dark Echo
The PAX 10 had a few winners this year (though of course they’re ALL winners), and we have some serious affection for Dark Echo, a sweet survival game featuring a nifty visual sonar system. It rewards experimentation and is really easy to pick up—Rob, who is terrible with new games, was happily evading obstacles in seconds. It was developed as part of Ludum Dare and is available on Steam, iOS, and Android.
PAX 10: Ninja Tag
This title is pure PAX 10 gold–a tiny, well-executed game by an underdog developer who learned to code while creating it as his thesis project. (That would be Leandro Ribeiro, a Brazilian economist going to school at the NYU Game Center.) Ninja Tag is a 2D, very fast-paced four-player death match between disappearing-reappearing-backstabbing ninjas armed with swords and crossbows (perfect for much animated giffery). It’s a natural party game, with a constant backdrop of woots, groans, and profanity. You might need to play it a few times to master the controls and the rhythm, but it’s definitely worth it–and super fun if you’re lucky enough to play with the same group for several rounds, so you can develop mature vendettas.
PAX 10: Tumblestone Tumblestone is a tense-but-fun cross between a bubble-shooter and competitive Tetris. You compete against up to three other players, racing to deplete your tiles by matching three tiles of the same color at a time–but you must also solve the puzzle of which colors to match first before the others do the same. It’s easy to learn, fast-paced, and good fun. See the demo here. You can also catch it in the Indie Megabooth!
PAX 10: From Light
This sweet-weird platformer gives Ninja Tag a run for its money for PAX 10 underdog goodness: it was an Intermediate Game Design project by a small pack of USC Gaming Design sophomores and juniors, with help from friends at the Berkeley College of Music for the sound. It’s hard to describe the gameplay adequately–watch the video below–but it involves a clever puzzle dynamic that mimics long streaks of starlight in long-exposure photography. (The cute conceit of the game is that you’re guiding a fallen star back to the moon.) The art in the demo is still primitive, but they’ve posted some lovely art in the booth (finished just last week!) that gives you a better idea of how the final game will look.
We got to meet the nice folks at the AbleGamers Foundation up on level 6 today. You should definitely say hi: they have candy. They also have a really cool and worthwhile cause, helping gamers with disabilities get access to often expensive assistive technologies to help them play. If you’re such a gamer–or a caregiver, or an interested dev–you should get in touch. Also, slight spoiler: go to their panel Sunday at 9pm to learn about a new program they’re announcing, which will get gamers with disabilities involved interning with developers.
Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked
What caught our eye about Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked is its delightful Tim Burton-esque, sketchy art style. The gameplay looks like lotsa fun too, though we’re not familiar with the original Don’t Starve. Check out the trailer for the original here to get an idea of the style and gameplay. Here’s the teaser for Shipwrecked–it’s just a quicky promo.
We spoke with author and game designer Jonathan Tweet about his new book Grandmother Fish, which tells the story of evolution for pre-K kids. We also delved into his storied history as a game designer and got some terrific inside stories from his super-smart daughter Tessa.