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PAX West 2016 Day One: We have to call it “PAX West” now.

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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.

    Oculus Steve! #minecraftvr #paxwest2016 #meatspace #republicofgamers

    A video posted by Nerdhole Podcast (@nerdholistic) on

  • 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:
    IMG_9559For 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.
    IMG_9570
    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.
    IMG_9578
    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.)
    IMG_9582
    You can also just stand in the lobby and fog up the glass looking at REAL LIVE KALADESH BOOSTERS!
    IMG_9625
    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!

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Episode 69: Smash Squad (RIP)

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Too good for this world.
Too good for this world.

We nabbed ace game designer Brandon Bozzi for a great, funny interview about the design process and the economy of free-to-play games. We’re sad to report that Smash Squad, the game he was working on and discussing, has been axed since we recorded this, but we felt that the conversation was worth hearing anyway. We hope to have Brandon back on in the near future to talk about his next project, which for now must remain a mystery.

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On the Origin of Tee-Hees

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“I have a theory about the Joker,” said the most pretentious nerd ever.

Okay, now that I’ve acknowledged my extreme worthlessness, let’s get on with it. I think it’s impossible for the Joker to have a satisfying origin story. I don’t mean that there’s no writer good enough or idea captivating enough to work. I mean that any satisfying origin story cannot work for the Joker by definition.

It's not funny!
It’s not funny!

There are many, many explanations for The Joker peppering the literature. Some of the most interesting takes on his background (like The Killing Joke, which does contain some remarkable writing despite its vile and demeaning treatment of Barbara Gordon) acknowledge that they are on shaky ground at best, or even outright lies spun by the least reliable narrator. Some of the best interpretations of the character (The Dark Knight, duh) don’t bother explaining him at all, and this gets at the heart of my argument.

While he was occasionally little more than a clown- or playing-card-themed villain (see the Silver Age Batman comics for examples), he has largely been an agent of pure chaos*. When he lapses into logic, it’s invariably to show Batman how puny and unreliable reason is when confronted with reality–using logic to refute itself. The best Joker stories revolve around his provoking Batman to question or abandon his ideals, and he invariably wins by losing. He personifies the second law of thermodynamics, and that’s why he’s so compelling and terrifying: he reminds us that death is inevitable and the universe is uncaring.

He’s not a person so much as he’s an abstraction. That’s true for many comic book characters (e.g. The Hulk is rage), but in his case it limits his personhood much more sharply. Rage and other heroic/villainous qualities are human, but chaos transcends humanity–heck, it transcends what we think of as reality. If you are chaos, then you aren’t a person with a history, much less an origin story.

The Joker can either be a terrific iconic villain, or he can have an interesting backstory. But maybe what we need is more contradiction. I’m all in favor of adding more and more canonical origin stories to the mix until eventually we realize that they’re all wrong and misguided and unimportant. Tell us all the lies and one day we’ll see the truth.

And so it goes. Gotham has been nodding and winking about The Joker’s origin even as it’s been ducking and weaving in an effort to avoid the inevitable. If we’re all lucky (especially the showrunners), it’ll be cancelled before the big, unsatisfying reveal. Or maybe they know what they’re doing and can find a way to just call down the Joker without explanation. I’d watch the hell out of that.

* When I use the word “chaos,” I don’t mean random or ever-changing. I mean a state that reflects complexities our minds aren’t complex enough to understand. It’s the natural order of the universe that can’t be compressed into the artificial order we create with our minds. I swear to god I am not high.

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Episode 68 – Stranger Things

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What happens when people stop being nostalgic and start getting real.
What happens when people stop being nostalgic and start getting real.

We’re all over Stranger Things, Netflix’s homage to all of the 1980s. They may have poached Mary’s memoir title, but we can’t hold that against them because the show is just that perfect. When we recorded, Mary had binged the hell out of it while Rob had just dabbed a pinky toe in, but our enthusiasm is loud and clear (and correct).

LINKS

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We need to talk about Preacher

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AMC's new fantasy softball team
AMC’s new fantasy softball team

You guys. I just watched the finale of AMC’s Preacher adaptation–the one we talked about a few weeks back–and I’ve got some thoughts. If you’ve never read the comics and don’t intend to, skip down to the heading “OK, THEN, LET’S GET ON WITH IT.”

First, I need to revise what I said about the comics. I’ve reread the series since that episode, and the icky stuff is ickier than I had remembered. The comics’ attitudes toward women, people of color, and especially LGBTQ people are conflicted at best. Writer Garth Ennis consistently calls out and makes fun of bigotry–yay! At the same time, he uses gay male sexuality as a punch line so often that it feels like self-parody. As for the theme of modern American men coming to terms with women’s equality, yeah, it’s in there–but I don’t think Ennis went deep enough to pull it off. He could have taken one more step and created a fascinating take on women’s deaths as plot devices (“fridging”), but he never quite gets there, sticking instead with a fairly standard romance. Sigh.

But it’s silly to talk about what someone else’s work could or should have been. It is what it is, and what it is is problematic. The best of the series is still fantastic, but the worst of it is puerile.

What about the AMC series? It diverges so massively, in so many ways, from the comics that it’s like hearing that Avatar was based on The Smurfs. If you’re a fan of the comics, expect major differences in plot, characters, and relationships. Many of these changes were necessary to adapt the format to multiseason drama, but some are just inexplicable:

  • Jesse and Tulip knew each other as children instead of meeting by chance in a lurv-at-first-sight moment.
  • Arseface’s father is a tough, confused, but loving dad instead of a monstrously hateful bigot.
  • The pathetic second-string angels Fiore and Deblanc are elevated to big-bad status, sort of.
  • Jesse’s congregation survives his first taste of Genesis.

If Ennis and artist Steve Dillon weren’t involved in the production, I’d blame show creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for letting their self-indulgence run wild. But it could be they’ve just decided to tell a very different story, and it seems as if they’ve shed much of the most problematic material from the books.

OK, THEN, LET’S GET ON WITH IT
The show is lovely. It alternates densely-packed action with long, dawdling moments of conversation against a backdrop of Texas wasteland. The basic narrative of the show takes its time to develop, but here’s the elevator pitch: A troubled preacher with a past accidentally becomes the host for a power that rivals God’s.

The acting is terrific across the board. Dominic Cooper works surprisingly well as the lead, despite shifting the character away from the strong silent type toward someone more comfortable using his mind-control power. Ruth Negga is brilliant as Tulip, stepping up her game from Agents of SHIELD while baiting the racists and delivering one of the best character introductions in modern memory. Joseph Gilgun (Misfits) is perfect as Cassidy the vampire, full stop. And oh god Jackie Earle Haley kills it as bad guy Odin Quincannon.

The dialogue is good fun, and the exposition is never insulting, even though there is quite a lot of it. The show looks and feels unsettling and hyperreal, as if something terrible is just about to happen. (It usually is.) My one faint critique is that the first season felt like it was all just a setup for the next. It was a fun ride, but we didn’t get very far.

So! It’s definitely worth watching, unless your tolerance for violence is low-to-middling. It’s somewhere between Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, so it’s not for everyone. If you can handle blood spatters, lovingly rendered shotgun blasts, and cries of “He shot my dick off,” you’re all set.

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Episode 67 – Pokemon Go

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Pokemon Go Home! (Photo credit: José María Mateos)
Pokemon Go Home! (Photo credit: José María Mateos)

Pokemon WHAAAA? Mary tells us all we need to know about this quick-burning craze that is swallowing people’s data plans whole even as it enforces unprecedented exercise goals on unsuspecting nerds. Rob explains shutting it down after discovering that his closet is infested with Zubats, while Paul wryly observes his son’s dealings with this reality we call augmented.

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My Favorite Part of the World of Warcraft: Legion Pre-Patch

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InterfaceThe World of Warcraft: Legion pre-patch came out just over a week ago and the thing I’ve spent the most time doing is playing with the new transmogrification interface. For the uninitiated, WoW allows you to re-skin your armor with the appearance of other items you’ve obtained.

I’m not the only one obsessively playing dress-up… the first few days after the patch the transmog NPCs in every city were mobbed with players. It looked like a Black Friday sale at Wal-Mart. I’ve already built nine outfits for Lucythia, my main character, and at least two for most other characters I have. Which is a lot.

Previous to this patch any item that you might want to use for transmogrification had to be stored in your inventory (in your bags, bank, or Void Storage), which meant that those of us who love to transmog could quickly run out of space. With the new interface every item you’ve ever received as a quest reward or as a drop is now available account-wide in a nice searchable interface, so you can sell all the armor that’s been cluttering up your storage. The interface shows you how your character will look in each item, and you can choose to hide your helmet, shoulders, and/or cloak. It also allows you to save outfits—and name them—so you can easily switch between appearances (for a modest sum of gold, of course).

Below is a gallery of a few of the looks I’ve put together… since each wardrobe change costs a little over 300 gold for me, I’ve just included the dressing room images here, except for the outfit each character is currently wearing. Enjoy!

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The Fabulously Creepy Game We Happy Few Is Currently In Early Access

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WeHappyFew_14 I meant to do a post about this game during E3 because it is seriously up my alley. Developed by Compulsion (who also brought us Contrast), We Happy Few is a first-person survival stealth adventure game, and it’s currently available for play on Xbox One Game Preview, Steam Early Access, and GOG.com Games in Development. I’ve seen it compared to Bioshock, and once you watch the trailer and gameplay below you’ll see why. The retro, dystopian landscape populated with violent masked denizens feels very much like Rapture. I’ll definitely be checking it out.

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SDCC Movie and TV Trailer Round-Up

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As always San Diego Comic Con was filled with trailers: some made me feel better about things I wasn’t sure about, some just whipped my excitement into a frenzy, and still others that… well… Anyway here’s a quick round-up of some of the trailers I watched:


Trailers That Made Me Go SQUEE
These trailers legitimately gave me goosebumps when I watched them.

American Gods

I CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS. Of all the trailers this is the one that I lost my mind over, the one I keep watching over and over. The casting is spot-on, with every new announcement building my glee. The trailer looks like how the book feels which is exactly what you hope for in an adaptation. Look for an upcoming episode of Nerdhole where we’ll turn you onto the novel by Neil Gaiman so you can read it (or re-read it) before this show finally drops in 2017.

Luke Cage

HOLY CRAP. Based on what we’ve seen of Cage in Jessica Jones and what this trailer has to show, it’s going to be fantastic. And Mike Coulter… SWOON.

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Nerd HQ at San Diego Comic Con

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Zachary Levi at Nerd HQ 2016
Zachary Levi at Nerd HQ 2016

Some of the best panels at SDCC are always at Zachary Levi’s Nerd HQ, and this year is no different. So far this year the panels are some of Zach’s friends and favorites, including Nathan Fillion, John Barrowman, and Felicia Day. Some of the ones I’ll be watching that are still to come: the Orphan Black panel (the 2014 OB panel was OFF THE HOOK) and (SQUEE) an American Gods panel!!!

Here’s a link to the Nerd HQ playlist on YouTube and here’s a list of all the panels. Check em out!!

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