The Return of Battle Chasers

Joe Maduriera’s beloved and often-delayed property that made him a comics superstar in the 90s is making a return as both a video game and a new comic book, Polygon revealed today. Not many details were revealed, other than the game would be a roleplaying game that allowed you to play as classic Battle Chaser characters, and that the comics would appear in three issue arcs, the first one tying up the cliffhanger from fourteen years ago. There’s no funding or publisher for the game or comic in place yet, so maybe take this whole thing with a grain of salt, but it’d be nice to see the property return from the dead. Check out some concept art below the jump.

Sword Coast Legends – the First D&D Video Game to Let you DM in Real Time

Announced today and headed up by Dan Tudge, the director of Dragon Age: Origins, Sword Coast Legends is a new Dungeons and Dragons game in the vein of old-school, top down, Baldur’s Gate style adventures. It’s based on the D&D 5th Ed ruleset, which we love here at Ace of Geeks, and it’s got both single player and Campaign modes. The really interesting part, however, is the Dungeon Master mode.

Tudge says: “”Dungeon Master Mode is going to allow players to quickly jump in and play as a real-time DM in a way that has never really been fully realized in a video game. DMs are able to adjust encounters, place, promote, manage and even control monsters, set traps, reward and punish party members – all in real time”

You can see a little bit of the proposed mode in the trailer below, but it certainly sounds like something we’ve all been clamoring for for years. What’s not known is whether this is a full world building set, like Neverwinter’s Forge, or just a way for a player to take control of the monsters in one set adventure. We’ll know more as the game comes closer to release.

A surprising first look at Doomtown: Reloaded

There were a lot of surprising things about the day I went to see the Doomtown tournament on January 31st, 2015.  I was surprised at how nice the day was, considering that it was the end of January in the northern hemisphere.  I was surprised at how much one fog bank can freeze you when not properly equipped for it.  And I was surprised about pretty much everything about Doomtown: Reloaded.

Please meet Xiong Cheng.  That’s hard to pronounce, so we call her “Wendy.”

Doomtown: Reloaded is a re-boot of a card game of a similar name.  The re-boot debuted at Gen-Con 2014, and released in September shortly thereafter.  The first Doomtown was a collectable card game, meaning that players would purchase booster packs of randomly assorted cards and try to collect the cards they wanted to use.  Unable to fight the 800 pound gorilla in the room, it folded and re-booted into a game that releases fixed card packs from time to time.  That seems familiar to me, but I’m not sure why….  (Note: this is not a “Living Card Game” because Fantasy Flight Games holds that title.  AEG publishes Doomtown: Reloaded, so it’s called an “Expandable Card Game.”)  There are two expansions on the base set right now.

The town that is apparently doomed in this case is called Gomorra.  Players take different actions to recruit dudes, form a posse, call out opponents, and initiate shootouts in the town square, all in the search for “ghost-rock,” a coveted material found in Gomorra.  One player wins when they have more control than the other player has influence.

The games resolves a lot of the conflict by drawing poker hands.  Each card has a rank and suit in the corner in addition to its other abilities, but since the decks are constructed by the players, you could have a several of the same card in the deck, meaning that standard poker probabilities don’t apply here.  Also, there are mechanics for cheating, which can trigger other abilities, but it’s all within the rules, not like the other kind of cheating I wrote about here.  Be careful before you pack your deck full of aces, because some conflicts are resolved with “low-ball” rules, also known as golf scoring, where the worst hand is the winner.

I spoke to Sky, who was kind enough to take time in between rounds to talk about the event she organized.  She plays in the South Bay area normally, but brought this event up to Heretic Games to build the community.  The event was 6 players, with one game per round, and a certain amount of confusion about the tournament ranking software used.  She thoroughly enjoys the game now, but did express some remorse for the way that her favorite faction was done away with in the previous edition of the game.  Like Legend of the Five Rings, Doomtown changed the background story line based on tournament outcomes.  I have heard that this device was popular with just about every L5R player I have ever known.  AEG could do the same thing with Doomtown and expansions, but with the expandable format, people might not like the way that cards cease to be useful.  Eventually, I think that this format might wind up with block events, where you can only play with some of the expansions and not all of them, but Doomtown is far from there.

The Doomtown Deluxe box.  Malcom Reynolds initiative tracker not included.

Sky and her opponent said that there were two main styles that people play competitively, Aggro (short for aggressive) and Control (short for…. umm….   controlling….. yeah…..).  Sky said that there are other types of decks, like Clowns and Mad Scientists (I know, right?) but most people don’t develop competitive decks around those ideas.  This event was set up to promote the game, recruit new players, and teach people to get better.  The format of this event could have promoted the goofier decks like clowns (fucking clowns, man), but with only 6 players and new people playing with standard decks, I didn’t see this happen.

Seth Oakley is an educator and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Daly City, CA. He loves costuming, analog gaming and role playing games. He got this job in a bar after making poor life choices and has to work through 87 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back.  If you want Seth to cover an event in particular, leave a comment to let him know.

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The Imitation Game: A look at Alan Turing, the Father of Our Age

Alan Turing

Have you ever looked at your computer and wondered what its origin was? Some would point to companies like Apple or IBM. Others might point to the room sized computers such as ENIAC. However there are two older machines, that were enemies, that stand as the Great Grandparent of all computers: the Nazi’s Enigma cypher machine and Alan Turing’s machine that was built to crack the Enigma settings for the day. Mr. Turing was much more than the father of all computers and A.I. theory, he also foresaw the coming sexual revolution and liberation of the late Sixties and Seventies. Indeed Mr. Turing was a man before his time, and The Imitation Game displays the life of a complex man who had thoughts that would not be realized for more than 50-60 years after his death.

A Life Portrayed (Spoilers for the film)

As Alan Turing was not a conventional person in his life, so this film was not written in a conventional manner. Rather than following a traditional story arc the film jumps between three critical stages in Turing’s life: adolescence, the war, and his postwar life. Graham Moore, who wrote the screenplay, weaves these distinct periods together to enlighten viewers to the struggles of a complex mind. As a teenage youth at school, Alan is shown to be a quiet boy with only one friend in Christopher Morcomb. They were near constant companions who shared a love of math and science. However, Christopher is very different from Alan. Christopher can swim freely in the world and interact with people while Alan in withdrawn and does not understand what people take for granted as normal. In a revelatory scene, Alan and Christopher are sitting under a tree reading. Alan asks what his friend is reading, he is told that it is an introduction to cryptology, a special kind of math that allows people to say things so no one else can understand unless they know the code key. Alan responds, saying “How is that different from what normally happens? People never say what they mean, but everyone understands what is being said.” Christopher laughs and hands Alan the book saying “I think you will enjoy this”. This and other scenes of Turing’s youth inform viewers as to Alan’s difficulty in working with others, his self assured knowledge of his intellect, his aloof behavior and the inklings of his early homosexual identity, especially in his interactions with Christopher.The majority of his war service is shown at Blechly Park or Blechly Radio School (different names for the same place) with interludes in the town of Milton Keynes, and London. This is where the Admiralty set up their code breaking headquarters, and Turing interviews for his position as a member of the team to crack Enigma. Here an adult Turing is arrogant in his intelligence, clearly doesn’t play well with others, and is has a general scorn for ideas he believes won’t work. The task of this team is is to crack the settings for the Enigma coding machine, created by the Nazis to encrypt every one of their transmissions. The problem was not intercepting the messages as they were broadcast in open air. The real problem was reading the messages once they were intercepted. The British had obtained an Enigma machine via the Polish, who had smuggled one out before the country fell, however the issue was that the British did not have the settings the Nazis were using to encode their signals. This was the task of the team that Turing was joining. They had 18 hours (from the first transmission at 6am to when the settings changed at midnight) to crack the settings for that particular day. Turing refuses to work by hand, and begins to draw up the plans for a “universal computing machine” that will crack the enigma settings. While initially not supported, Turing gains support from Winston Churchill and is made leader of the team. He eventually even gains the grudging support of his team members, one of which suggests the idea of parallel processing to speed up the elimination of settings. New team members bring new ideas and approaches to make the machine, called “Christopher” by Turing , faster and more effective.

Turing’s post war life is focused on the year 1952 where he is investigated by a detective after Turing rudely denies that a robbery occurred at his home. Turing, who was working as a mathematics professor at Kings University was also working on a new model of Christopher in his own home. This investigation ultimately turns up evidence of Turing engaging in homosexual acts, which was illegal under Britain’s indecency laws at the time. Turing charged with gross indecency chooses to undergo chemical castration, which ultimately robs him of his intellect. He would commit suicide in 1954, never seeing the realization of all the ideas he had and the world he had help given birth to.

Computers, Programming, and Artificial Intelligence
It is interesting to note that after WWII and later Turing’s death, the science of computers and programing began to languish. The film does not cover this, as it focuses on how the machine and Turing’s life are connected, but the book that inspired the film does. Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, covers in great depth the life of and triumphs of Turing. Published originally in 1983, the more recent publications have a new forward that include the Royal Pardon that Turing received from Queen Elizabeth II, as well as new information since the declassification of Turing’s work at Bletchly Park. The slow development of programming and new advances in “Turing Machines” or computers comes from the highly classified nature of the project. The British kept much of the information a secret for over fifty years, and all members of the project had signed the official secrets act, making it an act of treason to discuss the project. This secrecy inherently hampered Turing’s ability to publish his achievements to the wider intellectual world. Even then, Turing was not so much interested in the programming of computers but rather attempting to create a truly sentient machine. This is possibly related to the death of his friend Christopher, and may have been the driving force behind his attempts. Despite the secrecy, others continued the work that Turing started, and now look at world in which we live.

A Different Way of Thinking and the Father of our Time
If you’re reading this, you would have to be using a computer of some kind. Look at it, and realize what we owe to Alan Turing. If you play video games and interact with progressively more difficult AI as difficulties are increased, again, thank Alan Turing. He is the father of the computer and one of the leaders in our culture. Ideas posited by Turing are the just coming to realization in our time as technology progresses. Our science fiction films and books debate the possibilities of self aware machines, and what will happen if one is ever created. Neill Blomkamp’s new film, Chappie, debates the very possibility of how society might react to a self aware machine. We use drones to fight our wars, and survey our populations. All these technologies are rooted to Turing’s machine in one way or another. After seeing this film, my first reaction was to rush home and grab my Kindle and buy the book that inspired the movie. My second reaction was to write this article, and to use a computer to do it. It is common place that we take our technologies for granted, and I hope that I will cease to do that and rather think in awe of what went into making them – and the incredible men and women who helped create them.

In the film, Turing refers several times to way of thought. Sometimes he is referring to himself, while other times he is thinking of artificial intelligence. This theme of different ways of thinking is the ultimate theme of this film. We are so lucky to live in our time, despite everything that is wrong with it, we are truly lucky. We are more free to be who we are now than Alan Turing was in his time. He had to hide his feelings, while creating in secret what would be the first computer to crack what was thought to be an unbreakable code. While there are still bigots and backwards people in the world, homosexuality is widely accepted, and more and more each year, we are getting closer to equal rights and acceptance. Turing accepted himself and his feelings as just another way of thinking, and did not understand why others did not see it that way. He even got engaged to a woman with whom he worked, Joan Clarke.  Their relationship was based on a love of minds and thoughts not the physical body. While Turing would terminate this relationship for reasons unveiled in the film, Clarke had wished it to continue. She claimed that she had her own notion that Turing was a homosexual, and was not bothered when Turing told her. One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when Turing is in an interrogation room with the detective who was investigating him and they play the “Imitation Game” where a judge asks a subject questions to determine whether the subject is a man or machine. This very scene is where the film begins and comes to the beginning of its epilogue. At the end of the game, the detective claims that “he can not judge” Turing, and regrets even investigating him. If you have not seen this movie, go and see it, and if you have take time to reflect. It is my hope that people will go and see this film and be inspired to learn more about Mr. Turing. More importantly I hope that this film will go some way to break down the walls in peoples minds and hearts that keep them from accepting that because someone chooses to love differently from they way they do, does not make them immoral or strange. I leave you with these words:

A rebuilt functioning “Bombe” computer, as designed by Turing and his team

“He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example?”

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare Act 3 Scene 1

David Losey is a local techie, stage hand, historian, and home brewer. 

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Dragon Age Inquisition: Bioware’s Crown Jewel

Imagine it, you’re an elf who finds himself in the Fade, the spirit realm that hides behind the fabric of the real world, held back by the thinnest of barriers. The space you’re in is all rough stone, green light, shadows, and noise. With just a second to look around massive spiders appear and begin the chase you. You hear a cry for help and spy a golden woman telling you to run as she is menaced by a shadow. You race towards her, spiders on your heels, and as you reach for the womans outstreched hand, a flash of fade fire surrounds you. You’re transported to the real world in the ruins of a temple. Wreathed in green fade fire and surrounded by soldiers who stare at you as you, with more green light pouring from your right hand,  as the startled soldiers look at you, weapons drawn, you fall to the ground and everything fades to black. That is how BioWare’s newest title, Dragon Age Inquisition, begins: with an exciting hook that doesn’t let go.

Lessons Learned from Defeat
BioWare has not always known success with its Dragon Age titles. Dragon Age II received numerous negative reviews upon release, highlighting the various failings of the game. Complaints ran the gammut from the seeming lack of polish on the game to the repetitive levels, driving you through the same five areas throughout the game. The only redeeming quality of the game was the newer combat system, more reminiscent of the Mass Effect titles, and of course the excellent characters. The combat system was a change from the top down, quasi turn based combat system BioWare developed and showcased in Neverwinter Nights 2 (NWN2) and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (Kotor). BioWare would later admit that they were being rushed by publisher Electronic Arts to deliver the next Dragon Age title and promised fans that the eventual Dragon Age III would not suffer from the same problems. I am glad to report that BioWare not only kept their promise, they exceeded it. Not only is Dragon Age Inquisition  bigger and better looking than any of its predecessors, it retains the BioWare traditions of excellent gameplay and engrossing storytelling.

Bigger and Better Looking
In previous Dragon Age titles, I always felt like the levels were a bit small. Similar to NWN2 and KOTOR, the levels were generally small to medium in size and scope, with defined boundaries and definite paths to follow. Due to Dragon Age II being rushed, many of the maps were used multiple times through out the story. Thankfully the Inquisition team destroyed that previous template with a mallet and tossed all the pieces in the bin. Drawing on similar games such as Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and The Witcher II, Inquisition’s maps are huge. The first region available after the prologue, called The Hinterlands, feels roughly half the size of the entire Skyrim map. Gone are the small or medium scripted map areas, now “open world” unique maps deliver topography and flora. Wandering around Thedas, one realizes all the time that the development team spent in creating these realms. Not only are they big, there are all sorts of paths to wander, so the key word is explore! Always something to find or a material to gather so wander and explore and horde those materials.

On top of the new and bigger maps, the development team kept up with the current standards of graphics. No major graphics glitches, with the exception of the hair and the occasional pixelization/bluring around characters during conversations or cut scenes. The most noticeable differences is the textures and shaders used on the evironment. Trees and rocks look as they would in the real world. There are different colored veins in rock formations, trees have realistic looking leaves and canopy. Light and shadows follow as character moves through the world. There is no change from night to day however, so time passing is non realistic, but with so much to do its kind of nice. Where Dragon Age II looked bland and somewhat flat Inquisition is bright, vibrant, and nearly real.

Characters and Combat: Minor tweaks & Marked Improvement
Character creation has always been a staple of BioWare games. For Inquisition, players have complete control on the face of the character they choose to play. Players first pick their sex, and which race they choose to play each with specific benefits: Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Qunari. Players then pick from several face templates, and then are given free reign in how they want to sculpt that face. Hair color, skin color, scars, tattoos, bone structure; its all available for sculpting. Players can also choose from two types of voices, either a casual or an aggressive voice. After finally choosing a name, the game picks up where the opening video leaves off. There are a few changes, however, that some players may not like. First, players still do not have control over their avatar’s body type. Secondly, players no longer control stat point distribution. Rather as the player levels up, the stats adjust accordingly. Class specific stats are increased as different active and passive skills are chosen upon leveling up. This essentially means that while the player has less direct control over stat points than previous games, the wider variety of skills and the later class specialization options offer more tactical options for balancing out party abilities. This change is an adaptation of the system implemented in Mass Effect 3.

Inquisition’s combat system is more or less a direct import from Dragon Age II. While playing in “real time”, players are still fighting in the third person, slinging basic attacks while adding in spells as mana and stamina are available. Innovation to Inquisition’s combat system comes in the tactical control mode. When the tactical mode is engaged, everything stops and players are given a top down view of the battlefield. the player may freely move the camera around the whole battle ground allowing for players to plan ahead . Party members may be individually moved to specific points on the battlefield to take advantage of topography. Attacks, skills, and spells may also be individually targeted and cast here, allowing for maximum micromanagement of combat. The ultimate change is that players may now see their actions unfold without leaving tactical mode. Players may allow as much or as little time to pass watching their decision unfold and then pause to give new commands or avert disasters. This update of the tactical system first implemented in Neverwinter Nights 2 gives the ultimate control to lovers of tactical combat.

Minor Glitches
In spite of how polished this game is, there are still a few glitches that will annoy players. Occasionally, during cut scenes and conversations players might notice blurring or foxing around characters similar to poor rendering of blue/green screen effects. While this is rare it is noticeable under scrutiny. The one issue that I have run into are random game crashes. Im not sure if this error is confirmed for PC or Playstation versions of the game, but occasionally on Xbox One the game will randomly crash and return to the home screen. This most often occurs when fast traveling from one camp to another within a given area, returning to Haven or entering a different realm. Since any of these events initiates an auto save, data is rarely lost. I have yet to experience another incident where these crashes have occurred. However, it is best to remember the maxim “save early and save often”.

Buy This Game!
BioWare has quickly become a household name in gaming circles. There have been growing pains as well as a few failures, but despite that, they trend towards consistently creating polished and cutting edge games. Dragon Age Inquisition is not different, it contains an excellent story combined with stunning visuals and polished gameplay. Coupled with over 100 hours of content, there is rarely a lack of anything to do. Players will find themselves running around a given area until they complete everything. Just remember that Thedas is a wide world with much to do, so eventually you should leave the starting area.

David Losey is an actor, writer and stagehand living and working in the Bay Area.
 
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Who’s Annette, and why is she Running?

A friend sends me an invite on Facebook for an event: Official Net Runner Tournament.   The catch was that it was at a card shop near me called Anime Imports, and it was a Friday night.  That means that Magic the Gathering events would be going on at the same time.  What the hell – I need to write an article, so I plan to show up.  Nathan tells me that I should play in it.  He’ll teach me how to play on the day before.  That sounds like a recipe for success, right? (No. -Ed)

The game is simple enough.  I watched for about 2 hours and between knowing how to play a card game in the first place, listening to what people said, and having the game explained to me once before at another event, I think I got the hang of it.  The aspect that is most unique about Netrunner is the asymmetric nature of the game.  Fundamentally, most games have two sides that have the same resources, the same goals, and the same actions to get there.  Sure, they might go about it in different ways, but on the most basic level, they do the same thing.  This is where Netrunner stands out.  Here, you have two different sides that are working to achieve different goals.  One player plays as the Corporation, a giant technology company that is trying to put agendas in place and execute them.  The other player plays as the ‘Runner, a hacker trying to dismantle the corporation and steal their information.  One thing that you notice pretty quickly is that the ‘Runner cannot survive without the Corp, but the opposite is not true.  It kinda makes you wonder if the social commentary was intentional or not.

This version, “Android: Netrunner,” is the second iteration of the game designed by Richard Garfield (of Magic the Gathering) and has been licensed to Fantasy Flight Games in 2012 for publication in their new Living Card Game format.  Initially in 1996, Netrunner was a collectable card game, meaning that players purchased individual packs loaded with randomized cards, some more rare than others.  The Living Card Game format removes the random element, selling packs of 60 pre-determined cards to players.  You know exactly what you are getting each time you make a purchase.  The packs have 3 copies of each card, which is also the maximum number that you have have in your deck, so you can quickly build up a playset of the entire series.  Finally, they re-print runs of cards when they sell out, so you don’t have to go to a secondary market for cards that you need.

This Friday night was as expected, space wise.  Squished into a corner at the end of one of the tables, out numbered seven to one by Magic players, four Netrunner players played out their event.  Each match consists of two games.  In the first game, one of the players is the ‘Runner and the other is the Corp’, and then they switch places.  This means that you need to have two decks, one for each role, and know how to play both of them.  Unlike other two list formats, such as those found in Warmachine or Hordes, there are no cards that belong in both decks, so you don’t have to worry about balancing your strengths.  You play two games and then report your results to the organizer (who is also a player).  This can result in a lot of tie scores, especially since there was a lot of talk that sounded like “I haven’t really got the hang of playing as a Corporation yet.”

As a game, Netrunner can be really compelling.  The asymmetric nature of game adds a novelty and an additional layer of meta game complexity.  You are now responsible for two distinct sets of cards, and you need to know how to build to take advantage of what other people are playing.  The setting of the world is that of a somewhat dystopian future which both sides blame on the other, and that playful animosity can be fun.  The hacking mechanic is really cool, as is the setting up of security layers and trap servers by the Corps’.  You can set up two players with one starter set, and be ready to play out of the box.  However, the lack of multiplayer capability (though there is a jury-rigged format) is a problem for casual play, and the fact that you need to buy $300 worth of cards to be ready for competitive play is a problem in that setting.  Once you have all the cards, the upkeep cost drops to a much lower $15 or so every month when a new data pack comes out.  I’m not sure how a living card game works in the digital age, when you can just go online and look at tournament results for the best decks, but I guess a game about hacking servers would be really different without it, so that’s not really a legitimate road of speculation to go down.

Seth Oakley is an educator and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Daly City, CA. He loves costuming, analog gaming and role playing games. He got this job in a bar after making poor life choices and has to work through 89 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back.  If you want Seth to cover an event in particular, leave a comment to let him know.

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Game On! SF Foundry: Geek Mecca

Something nerdy is happening on Tuesday and Thursday nights in San Francisco’s trendy SOMA district. At the intersection of 10th and Folsom, the Folsom Street Foundry is a relatively new, astoundingly popular bar that caters to San Francisco’s burgeoning population of geeky twenty and thirty-somethings.

Early on a Thursday night

On any given Tuesday or Thursday night, the vast remodeled factory fills to the brim with people playing everything from Beer Pong to Magic: The Gathering. Every type of gamer that can be catered to in a social setting has been. Tournaments, emulators, food, booze and board games are all provided for a $5 entry fee.

The small bar

As I enter a group is playing a Santana song on Rockband, a small crowd gathered around them where a large projector showing the game. On my right is a small bar. This entry room is cozy. Here you can check your coat and you’ll find several tables with board and card games for the borrowing. In the back right, there is a Halo 2, two on two tournament going on.

Only part of a giant library of games
Board Games in front Halo 2 in the back

I follow the other patrons who look like they know where they’re going to an immense back room. This room looks like a factory set from a movie, but this workshop is filled with more modern machinery. On my right dozens of projected games fill every open space on the wall. I recognize Mario Kart 8 and sit down to play a round while seated on a large leather couch, looking up at the screen like I’m in the front row of a movie theater.

One of the smaller screens

The most popular video games at the foundry are the ones that have dedicated tournaments. Tuesday night is for Super Smash Brothers, Thursday night for Street Fighter. However, Tower Fall and Gauntlet are also extremely popular and have a strong following of regulars.

Starcraft Players

Some very focused and somber gentlemen sit playing Starcraft in the corner with headphones on. Not my cup of tea, but there really is everything here.

The Drink Menu
A busy Tuesday night at the Foundry, bar in the back

To the right of the Starcraft gamers is a very long bar – and the thing that keeps this place running in conjunction with the Foundry’s numerous sponsors. There is also a fantastic food menu, however at the time of publishing the kitchen is down for remodeling. The bartender was very apologetic and said the panini sandwiches are amazing, she swears. (I’ve had them, they are. -Ed) In the interim the current fare is fresh french bread mini pizzas only. Food orders are placed at the bar and then called out at the back of the space by a large red curtain that divides off the kitchen. From the bar to the kitchen, I walk past a long row of around twenty small TV monitors hosting any console game brought from home.

Frequently game developers showcase their kickstarter projects and newly funded board games at the tables directly across the bar. Other tables nearby host people playing Nintendo handheld games via the mobile network and the inevitable large group of Jenja players.

Winning @ SF Game Night

There is also beer pong with its questionably sterile ping pong ball. The best part of having beer pong at the Foundry is hearing its over-enthusiastic and intoxicated players commentating Pokemon battles.

Beer pong @ SF Game Night

Tips and tricks to have a great night:
– Sign up for tournaments early. Halo’s two on two closes at 9pm, or when 8 teams have signed up.
– Bring your friends! It’s next to impossible to rope people you’ve never met into a two hour game of Settlers of Catan.
– Several gaming stations run emulators for everything from “Aladdin” to “Zombies Ate My Neighbors”. Get there early or wait in line if you want to choose what to play.
– Game nights are busiest from 8:30pm – 10:30pm. Tuesdays are busier than Thursdays.
– Developers can get info on showcasing their indie game at info@showdown.gg

For more about the SF Foundry, hours, location and all the details, check out their website here.
or follow Showdown.gg on Twitter

Megan Marie Fox currently lives in San Francisco. Comic-Con is her favorite holiday.

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The Legend of Korra Video Game? Not great…

It is with a heavy heart and great remorse that I am here today to report that the new Legend of Korra video game is a bit of a flop.

Run awaaaaaay

While at work I read that reviews of the game had given it some of their lowest scores of the year. But I mean – come on. Platinum Games doing a Legend of Korra title?  I had to put those articles aside tonight, and I knew I was just going to have to play it myself.

I…don’t want to say the reports were mistaken, but they definitely aren’t too far off.  This was particularly disappointing, given that the development company—Platinum Games—had released several critically acclaimed games such as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Vanquish.



Please note that I’m reviewing this game from a PC point of view, so some of the technical issues I have described below may not be applicable to the PlayStation or Xbox systems.

The first of which being that as soon as you boot up the game, it strongly suggests that you should play this game with an Xbox or similar controller.  A bit of a bummer for those of us without controllers, but definitely not the end of the world.

Then there are the mechanics of the game.  Oh man, the mechanics.  By which I mean, there are very few.  This is a game I could give to my 7-year-old self who loved hack and slash, button mashing, kill everything as fast as possible kind of games and former me would be all over it.  Current me finds that clicking as fast as possible should be a mechanic left to games like Cookie Clicker.
And really, if you play Cookie Clicker right you only need to be actively clicking stuff for the first ten minutes before you can hand it off to your cursors.
No but really, check out the skill tree I have going right now:
It’s a lot of clicks.  My water bending combo?  Left right left.  Or right right.  Left left left left?  (If you’re using an Xbox controller, I believe it translates to the X and Y buttons.) I shouldn’t be able to roll my face around on my keyboard and spam my mouse buttons in order to win fights.  I will say that when enemies are stunned, there is occasionally an opportunity to click a directional control or the F key to throw in a finishing move…which looks exactly the same every time you use it.  Meh.
The camera angles are a whole other issue as well.  I imagine that on a console or with a controller, you can use one joystick to operate the camera and the other to move.  With only a mouse and keyboard, you have to fight the camera pretty frequently to see what you’re doing or who you’re supposed to be hitting.
Speaking of hitting enemies – there are a lot of encounters and the bad guys don’t ever really diversify.  Even though this game supposedly takes place in the gap between Book 2 and Book 3, we see nameless chi-blockers by the dozen, a couple of triads, and the occasional mecha-suit.
The story itself is quite lacking as well.  There’s an evil old guy, you’ve got to stop him, and you’ve lost your bending.  Really.  As for the lovable cast that we were looking forward to in this game?  I only saw Mako and Bolin for about 15 seconds before they got kicked off the pro-bending platform, never to be heard from again.  Jinora makes several short appearances as a sort of guide for regaining your powers, but the voice actor doesn’t sound like the one from the show.  Asami?  She doesn’t even exist.  Her tech sure does though, and it’s a bit of a doozey.
Given that some of the encounters are actually fairly challenging, it seems reasonable that the creators had implemented an item shop.  This particular shop is run by Uncle Iroh, presumably from the spirit world (although it’s not really explained).  He has many wares in stock, including potions, tea pots, scrolls and books with move sets and power ups.
There is a big downfall to the healing items in the shop though.  Say you’re fighting a mecha and you’re really struggling to time the counter attacks correctly; you burn through all 3 of the potions you’re allowed to carry, die, and have to start the match all over again.  You’d expect the healing potions to be back in your inventory because, technically, you’re loading a save so the fight never happened right?  Wrong.  If you run out of potions and die, you need to buy more potions.  You don’t get your previous potions back, and that’s kinda poop.
My final negative bit about the game is the cut-scenes.  There are cut-scenes thrown into battles that you’re supposed to lose.  You could be randomly jumping around and surviving just fine when dozens of spirits appear and then it’s automatically presumed you’ll lose so they move to a cut-scene of Korra being dragged away and then fade to black.  On the other end of the spectrum – there are a number of cut-scenes in which you see enemies start toward you and by the time the cut-scene ends you’ve already been attacked twice.  The flow for these particular scenes isn’t great.
With all of the negativity spewing from my fingers as I write this, there are still a few redeeming qualities from this game.
The animation does resemble the animation used in the series: both in the 3D gameplay and the 2D cut-scenes.  I think that this was a great choice.  It helps to have the player fit into the world they already know, and in a way it also brings back a sense of nostalgia.  The moves, although repetitive, are the same moves that benders use in the show while controlling their elements.  Water bending is very smooth and fierce, while earth bending is very heavy-footed, and it requires practice to get the timing just right.
The one mechanic I am a fan of is the leveling system.  Instead of having Korra level up, you level up your bending styles.  If you fight a lot using water bending, it makes sense that you’re getting in a lot of practice and therefore would be better at water bending.  If you don’t practice your fire bending, how do you expect you’d ever get better at it?
The voice acting for the most part was also well-delivered.  The only bit of voice acting I haven’t quite warmed up to yet is the new voice of Jinora, which is different than that of the show.  Other than that, the team did a great job.  The delivery of the lines is on point and all of the non-word expressions (the grunts and the yelps) are all appropriate and timed pretty close to perfect (if not perfect).  There are definitely a few silly lines (“deal with it!” after beating an encounter, or “I think that was Pemma’s favorite” while destroying jars on Air Temple Island), but for me these are well received and welcome lines.
***
Given the content that I’ve already gone though, I’d probably give it a 4.5/10. (If we had an established number based review system. Which we don’t. -Ed)  It’s Korra (which I love), it’s bending (which I also love), and the animation is pretty solid.  I would like to say that this game is now an example of how mechanics can get in the way of storytelling…except that there wasn’t much of a story to tell.  Eek.
With that being said, I will be completing this game over the next few days, and I’ll probably be streaming it on my twitch channel at twitch.tv/xellbe.  You can tune in, ask me questions there, and see for yourself firsthand what the gameplay is like.  If I find that the game is better in the second half, I’ll be sure to update!

Stephanie Cala is an avid board, tabletop, and video gamer, who streams regularly on her Twitch channel. She’s the Ace of Geeks’ Empress of Events, and would really love it if you would tune in this Saturday to win over $2000 of prizes while watching us game for 24 hours to raise money for Extra Life.

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Extra Life 2014 Live Stream Marathon!

The Ace of Geeks is proud to, for the second year in a row, be hosting a 24 hour live stream event for Extra Life. Extra Life is an organization that, through the magic of gaming, raises money for Children’s Hospitals around the country. Just like last year, we’re going to be raising money for the Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland – they received $300k in donations last year, but we’re looking to try and blast that number out of the water. Want to join us? Want more details? Check out this lovely video, and then hit the jump for the full schedule and a live feed of our Twitch stream!


In addition to the crowd of hilarious Ace of Geeks staffers entertaining you all twenty four hours, we will be raffling off over $2000 worth of prizes excellent prizes from Gator Games and Hobby in San Mateo, California, Anime Imports in Pacifica, California, and Gamescape in San Francisco, California. The only way to win them is to tune in to the stream and donate! Here’s how:


Here’s the full schedule of our time on the stream on October 25th:

GAMING SCHEDULE:
(subject to change)
10am-1pm Minecraft Contest
1pm-3pm Thunderstone
3pm-7pm Firefly (Blue Sun expansion)
7pm-11pm D&D 5th ed
11pm-3am Betrayal at the House on the Hill
3am-6am Neverwinter D&D MMO
6am-7am Aye, Dark Overlord!
7am-8am Ticket to Ride
8am-9am King of Tokyo/Fluxx
9am-10am Red Dragon Inn

If you want to help, please go to our donation page, come RSVP on our Facebook Event, and make sure to tune in to our Twitch stream on October 25th! Where do I find that stream, you ask? Why….right here:

Watch live video from AceofGeeksPodcast on www.twitch.tv

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Gaming Convention How-To: Theming Your Game by Justin Rhodes

Gaming conventions are ultimate meccas of nerdery, replete with so many wonderful distractions and remarkable pastimes. Previously, I wrote about making a memorable con-game and one of the nuggets of wisdom included theming your game. How can you do that? Here are some ideas:

1) Determine what your source material will be.


I’ve skinned both Avatar: The Last Airbender and Mass Effect  themes over the Savage Worlds system. Both times, I chose the themes because those worlds are ones that I love. Avatar is, in my opinion, one of the greatest animated shows to exist to date. I could think of no better way to honor it than by allowing my fellow gamers to roam around in its world. When you pick your source material, pick something you are knowledgeable and passionate about. I rewatched the entire series before working on my game because I wanted to make sure that I knew my s*** and could make the experience as immersive as possible.

2) Determine where and when your game will take place in the world.


Timelines are important for the sake of games like this, because they effect things like character power level. Stating a fledgling Aang, fresh from the iceberg, is much different than stating Aang after he’s learned to bend all of the elements. I wanted my characters to feel heroic, so I chose to set my adventure after the series ended. That gave me (and my players) a lot more to work with.

As for picking a location, it comes easily if you already have a plot in mind. If you don’t, scouting locations just might inform your idea of what your adventure’s plot might be.

3) Pick a system that compliments the feel of your theme.

Savage Worlds’ tagline is “Fast, Furious, Fun!” It seemed like the perfect fit for a show like Avatar, which at its core was light-hearted and fun, while still dealing with some serious subject matter. I felt it would benefit from being paired with a fairly rules-lite system.

When in doubt, run it in Savage Worlds.

Once I decided on it, I immediately began thinking of the characters in terms of hindrances and edges, which made the character creation process flow nicely. Not all themes would be well-suited in a single system though, so think about which one would work well with your theme. A Sword of Truth game might work well in the D&D world, for instance. I’ve also been pondering running a Locke & Key game using the Dread system. Find the perfect match for what you plan on running, and it will have an authentic feel.

4) Add your home-brewed setting rules.


 I did this before character creation, because I knew it would affect how the character stats played out. I streamlined bending, causing it to function like a Blessed’s Faith skill in Deadlands: Reloaded instead of muddling around with Power Points. I felt it much more in the spirit of the show, as bending was seldom limited. I also had to think about natural stat boosts based on what nation my characters came from. Water Tribe characters, for example, were provided with either a swimming or boating skill point for free at creation. This part requires a bit of legwork, but take some time, think about it, and maybe even have a discussion with friends who are also interested in your source material about rules that would make sense in the world.

5) Choose & Stat Your Characters.


Determine which characters you want to include in your game. Given the chance, most players would prefer to play main characters, the ones that they already know and love. It’s not always necessary, or possible, but I think you can tell that being a member of Team Avatar is far more exciting than playing as generic characters the DM created. As I mentioned, I chose to set my game after the series which meant I had to make Heroic level Savage Worlds characters, not Novice ones. This is where knowledge of your material comes in because you need to think about things like how many skill points you need to allocate to, let’s say, Sokka’s climbing skill.

He is a self-proclaimed “Great climber!” after all.
 Take your time. Think it through logically. Make the stats true to the characters and your players will be amazed by your forethought.
6) Write your adventure.

For some, DMing without a pre-written adventure is uncharted territory they’d rather not traverse. It’s easy to grab something ready-made and go, but if you want to wow your players with a themed game you will have to flex your writing muscle. If it helps, think of it like an episode and start mapping it out with varying bits of combat, dialogue, and read-aloud text. I can’t tell you what to write, but I can tell you that you should write the game that you would want to be in as a player.
7) Playtest!

No snark from me here. Just ponies playing D&D.
Playtest your game so that you get out all of your performance anxiety and your jitters. I ran my game twice before taking it to con because I wanted to make sure I got the timing and pacing right, and worked out all of the bugs. Plus, I got to show my friends the cool thing I made, which is always a nice feeling. Playtest. Get feedback (remember to disconnect your ego from the project) and make the changes necessary for an amazing con debut. Good luck, fellow DMs. Hopefully this helps you make something awesome.
Justin Rhodes DMs frequently.

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