Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dad Takes On Comic Companies' Lack of Girl Superhero Costumes

Description: A caucasian girl with blond hair
poses in her home made Ms. Marvel costume- a blue
tunic emblazoned with a lightning bolt over a red shirt &
cape.
The tumblr user Captain Milkshake has a daughter who loved to read comic books and have them read to her.So when she was invited to a superhero-themed birthday party she wanted to attend dressed as her favorite super hero: Ms. Marvel. Unfortunately, there weren't any official Ms. Marvel costumes available for purchase. While he happily made an awesome looking home made costume (pictured at right), Mssr. Milkshake also realized this was part of a larger problem in the comics industry-- a distinct lack of female inclusive merchandise.

He also posted an open letter to Marvel Comics that doesn't just go into how he made the costume but also WHY, and uses that reason to make the case for having more female-inclusive superhero-related merchandise. It's more than just a company leaving piles of money being left on the table. As he outlines in his open letter, it goes a bit deeper than that (although it's an issue as well):

My daughter was recently invited to a Superhero themed birthday party for Thor Odinson. Naturally she leaped at the opportunity. As I’m currently reading Marvel comics with my daughter at bedtime, I thought it to be perfectly fitting that she goes as the one and only Ms. Marvel. I searched my local Forbidden Planet and to no surprise I found nothing there. ‘No biggie’, it was a long shot, but I’m sure Amazon.co.uk would have something. I was even more disappointed to find the results for girl super hero fans under the search ‘ms.marvel girls outfit’. It started off ok, the first search result being a Spider Girl outfit, closely followed by Captain America girl’s outfit, but that’s where the options stop for 6 year olds. Second page of results give a Spider Girl outfit again but this time in pink (really?) and page three, Sexy Batgirl and Sexy Red Riding Hood, which I don’t need to go into detail over. 
OK, time to rack up the dad points here. There’s only one way Ms. Marvel is going to celebrate Thor’s 6th birthday and that means I’ve got to make one. A flustered trip round Croydon resulted with a blue dress (reduced from £60 to £10), the yellow fabric from a pillow (£3), a glittery blue mask (£2) and some cheap red polyester (£2, per foot). A further expense being getting the dress taken in (£18) and the tights and top we already had. I exercised my sewing machine skills and the result, you see above. £32 worth of work pad off in my view. Providing one goes down this route in the future I wish you all success in buying a blue dress in the first place, let alone one in the right size. 
When it finally came together, my little one fell in love with it. With hindsight, I’m glad I made it over buying one already put together, but I write this not as a rant but as a plea to make merch more girl inclusive. Ms. Marvel is an incredible concept who empowers a multi-cultural demographic and to be honest, this needs to be pushed harder!!! 
I love the avengers as much as the next guy and it’s great that we get to buy cool toys that allow us to shoot silly string webbing from our wrists, or smash things with over sized green fists, but maybe Ms. Marvel Embiggend Fists is what we need to see on the shelves AS WELL AS her angry green counterparts. But should the merch for all of Marvel toys be so male-centric? It may be a shame that this is the truth, but I believe this post could be the start of something good, if even it gets the wheels turning a few degrees.
Yours in hope
Captain Milkshake

What do you think, readers? Sound off in the comments below?

This Cute Hedgehog May Change Movies & Virtual Reality

Description: A cartoon illustration of Henry, a hedgehog, looking
at the  viewer, smiling and waving hello.
 Henry is the star of a self-titled animated short. It's about a hedgehog who likes to hug that feels lonely on his birthday. He makes a wish for friends to celebrate with... which is when a little birthday magic  grants his wish... in the form of baloon animal friends, which is a little difficult for a hedghog to hug. The short is an original story created by former Pixar animator Ramiro Lopez Dau, who is also the director of the animated short. He is joined by fellow former Pixar artist Bernhard Haux and a former Dreamworks production designer Kendal Cronkhite who halped the director and animation crew develop the signature  look and feel of the project. Sounds like a cute, promising animated film, right? Henry isn't just a short-- it's an animation experience because it's also an interactive virtual reality. Take a look at the sneak peek below:



Sure, the team could have gone with something more action packed or gritty or science fictionish or, well, game-like, since this short will ship for free with the rollout of the virtual reality Occulus Rift system to consumers. In a WIRED featured article entitled "The Most Important Movie of 2015 Is a VR Cartoon About a Hedgehog" (seriously), the team explains that they wanted to give the experience an emotional connection, too:
It wasn’t just that Story Studio needed Unreal to do something it wasn’t made for. They also wanted to do things that had never been done in movies, period: they want Henry to look you in the eye, no matter where you are in his virtual world. At its core, Henry is a simple story... There are emotional ups and downs, and when Henry experiences a certain feeling, he looks at the viewer to share his sadness or excitement. This is an incredibly rare thing. It’s also unnerving; the first time I tried an early demo, I immediately felt like a voyeur, as if I was spying on this poor hedgehog during his sad solo birthday. But in VR, the whole point is that you’re meant to feel as though you’re physically there ... it’s weird if Henry doesn’t [notice]. “It’s just like ‘Why don’t you look at me? I’m right here!'” Unseld laughs. But when he does it carries an emotional connection, an empathy, that even those abused action figures in Toy Story 3 didn’t quite muster. 
You can read the whole article here and read more about Henry here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Classic Macs, Memories & Facts, Simulated Hijacks


Multimedia artist Jesse English is more well known for his creation called the Sincerity Machine-- a working  ink-ribbon typewriter reworked to actually type in Comic Sans-- but he also considers himself a bit of a new media archeologist. So when he was trying to look up a barely remembered game he played on an AppleII in his 7th grade social studies class. He remembered it was part of a larger lesson plan on terrorism, and reproduced it here:


Using an emulator to create artwork that would look similar to the artwork style that would be generated for Mac Classic is pretty impressive. Also impressive is that a mere 3 weeks later, he found the game in question, and did a Let's Play run of it!



Guest Comic: Ghosts In Video Games

it's funny how in video games there's all these ghosts.and it's like wow, a ghost,proof of an afterlife! And then the ghost is like hey i'll sell you some yogurt for a quarter. like it's just such a banal transaction for a ghost. and the yogurt is probably just strawberries in ectoplasm.
Today's guest comic is courtesy of the talented Laura Ellyn. She is an artist and author, and has a graphic novel about British Columbia labor history that will be released this fall via BTL Books. You can find her on the web at lauraellyn.com!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Lost Dimension (PS3)

Lost Dimension - Playstation 3 Game Review

Keep Your Friends Close, Enemies Closer To Save The World

Lost Dimension starts off with the stakes as high as they seem they can get: a cartoonishly evil villain who calls himself The End has created a tower called "The Pillar". He launches a scattered nuclear strike and the death toll is 2 billion. The End announces to that he has more nukes pointed at the rest of the world's major cities and he'll launch them in just 13 hours unless someone can scale the tower and stop him. Conventional military weapons are useless, so the world's last hope is SEALED: an 11-member team with psychic powers.

There's a twist, though: 5 of your team members are secretly traitors. Before you can proceed to each level, your group is required vote to "erase" the traitor before you can continue. If you choose wrong, not only do you erase an innocent person, but you will have to fight the traitor AND the final boss.

Sho Kasugai  uses his powers to try and weed out suspects.
The team leader, Sho Kasugai, has the power to use psychic visions to read the vibes of those he leads in battle. This means that after each battle you can get vague impressions of the chosen squad members-- with three suspects per floor. You can use Sho's "Deep Vision" ability to delve further into a squad member's mind to find out if they are innocent or not. But the "Vision Points" that grant you this ability are a precious resource, only given out after 3 of the many battles on each floor. You can only use that Deep Vision on a squad member you've taken into battle recently.

The game manage to take the issues of suspicion, teamwork and trust and weave it into the core gameplay. The higher your teammates' trust levels are with you and with each other, the more likely they are to join in assist attacks-- free additional combination attacks on a target enemy in range. How do you build up trust? By taking them into battle with you. The more battles a character fights in, the weightier the vote is during the time to choose a traitor for erasure. Talk with teammates after battle and you increase camaraderie, which can lead to to the highest level of trust and a character exclusive subquest that offers more character insight and extra points to level up your skill tree.

The combat superficially resembles Valkyrie Profile-- combat is turn based, with circles measuring out your movement, your attack range and the enemy's range. In addition to ranged weapons and melee weapon attacks, each character has a unique set of psychic powers, both active and passive, that let you do everything from copy an ability to ignoring terrain height to turning enemies against each other. And when a traitor is erased, they leave behind "Materia"-- special items that let you assign your fallen comrades' abilities to others; this is also the only way to unlock special skills for each character. With so much flexibility in the battle system, abilities and combo setups, the combat is rock solid and fun to play, with all sorts of stackable strategies available to develop.

The story does start off like a typical "band together to save the world" quest, and the addition of a secret traitor in each section adds an extra level of tension to clearing each floor. Each character is broadly characterized, but display distinct personalities and issues that link the social aspects with the powers used in combat. Not only does this strengthen the character development in the story, it gives you a real punch in the gut if a character you like turns out to be a traitor. And the traitor is going to be different from floor to floor and from playthrough to playthrough. I don't just mean your playthrough would be different than mine. After you beat the game, you get a sort of "bad ending" and are then told that you must reach complete camaraderie with EVERY character to get the true ending, something impossible to do on one playthrough.

Whether this extends replay value or just artificially wastes your time depends on which side of the coin you fall on. I actually had to play through 3 times to max out all my friendships because one of the first-floor traitors in the second playthrough was one of the characters I hadn't gotten to max out friendship the first time around and you can't do character subquests until the 3rd floor. Lost Dimension really, REALLY makes you earn that happy ending! On subsequent playthroughs the dead-simple deep vision minigame gets a little repetitive. Some variety would have been nice. While the characters are strongly developed, the world building is pretty thin, leaving a lot of details to be filled in by reading game lore in standalone documents (confusingly categorized under "Tips"), which can leave you confused on character motivations for betrayal unless you track down some optional documents on the 2nd playthrough. Another issue I have to warn you about is that there was one battle on my first playthough (the "Alarm" battle) and one battle on my second playthrough (the first battle intro on the second floor) that consistently crashes or hangs, locking the console up too. Save often.

If you download this game from the PSN Store this week (either the Vita or PS3 version) you can also download $20 worth of free DLC for the game, from alternate costumes to mission packs. And while there are a few bumps in the climb upwards to save the world, the satisfying combat, intrigue and social dynamics system make Lost Dimension a worthwhile journey.


This review is based on the Playstation 3 version. The review was compensated with a download code for this game provided by Atlus.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Multicultural Steampunk Anthology Wants YOU!

Steampunk WORLD ANTHOLOGY COVER
Sarah Hans, editor behind the award-winning anthology Steampunk World, is currently looking for short fiction for its follow-up, Steampunk Universe.
According to her website, the type of work she's looking for:
Your story should take place in a non-Western culture. I’d love to have a variety of stories that take place in the diverse cultures of Central/South America, Asia, and Africa.
Your story should contain a character with at least one exceptionality. It should be a major element of the story, providing the character with extra challenges but maybe also special insight or abilities. I want to explore how steampunk technology changes the lives of people with exceptionalities, for better or for worse.  I’d love to see characters who are also members of other marginalized groups (such as LGBTQ characters).
Your story should contain steampunk elements. I get a lot of submissions with steampunk exoskeletons and dirigibles, but not many with spaceships or submarines. I’d really like authors to stretch themselves and instead of just writing alternate history, set the story in a parallel universe or on another planet. Read Tobias Buckell’s excellent story “Love Comes to Abyssal City” for an example.
All submissions are due by June 1st of next year, More info can be found  here.

Bizzarre True Crime: Embezzlement, Fraud, and Collectible Comics

Description: A copy of "All Star Comics
#3" encased in a protective sealed cover.
It all started with the comic book pictured at left, as The Verge reports:

Published in 1940, it’s a milestone in what’s known as the Golden Age of comic books: the debut of the first bonafide superhero team, the Justice Society of America. There’s hardly a plot, only a meeting of some of DC’s biggest stars... So when an All Star Comics #3 surfaced at Heritage Auctions’ first big sale of 2012, collectors took notice. The copy was off-white, its condition ranked at 8.5 out of 10 by the Certified Guaranty Company. CGC knew of only two higher-ranked All Star #3’s in the world, one of which (a 9.6) had sold for $126,500 back in 2002. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide — the bible on such matters — estimated an 8.5 copy to be worth somewhere between $36,500 and $70,750. 

But someone bidding at the Heritage auction was willing to pay significantly more. The comic had been low-balled at first, going for $49,293.75 during the auction itself. But after the official bidding closed, private offers flooded in: $65,000, then $75,000. In the end, it sold for $200,000, putting it in the same class as a record-breaking debut Spider-Man that had sold a few years earlier.

At first blush, it just looks like maybe it was someone who really, REALLY wanted that issue? Or maybe it was a new-money collector who didn't really have a handle on how bidding wars worked and had more money than sense. The truth was even wilder: it was part of a scheme to hide 9 million dollars a lawyer had embezzled from the company he was director of legal counsel. The Verge has the whole sordid story in full.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Video Series About Race In Gaming Needs Our Help


MYNG's Samantha Blackmon and Alisha Karabinus have announced "Invisibility Blues" which will be an online video series that aims to cast a critical eye on how video games deal with the issues of race and minority representation in video games. They plan to produce a five part series presented in a web documentary format and feature their own analysis as well as input from other gamers. The are looking to crowdfund the series via Kickstarter because "We love what we do, and we want to bring the discussion to a wider audience. We hope you’ll stand with us, by sharing, supporting, and talking about the project as we work."

Check out their progress at the hub page here and think about kicking in a few bucks to help out. They have 16 days left and are 3/4 of the way there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

MST3K's Frank: "We Were Ahead Of The 'Too PC' Curve"

Frank Conniff as "TV's Frank" and Trace Beaulieu as Dr. Clayton Forrester from MST3K

Frank Coniff, who played the hapless assistant "TV's Frank" to the hopeless mad scientist Dr. Forrester in Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K for short), recently posted a reflection on his Facebook about his time writing for the show:
The current debate about PC comedy has got me thinking about this because when I look back to that glorious era of my life at Best Brains, I think in some ways we at MST3K were ahead of the curve when it comes to being "too PC." ...we were also very conscious about not doing jokes that would be offensive to women or gay people or any other marginalized group. Did we police ourselves? Absolutely... But on the other hand, I'm proud that we went against the tide of the racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comedy that was quite prevalent back then.

Strange Horizons Is Sick Of Your Cliched, Crap Stories

Description: A wastebasket, overflowing with crumpled up pieces of paper and trash.
Strange Horizon is a online speculative fiction magazine that has released free, curated content and 51 issues a year for fifteen years. They've published a LOT of fiction... and read many, many more submissions. Of course, when you see so many, you start to notice certain ideas, trends, and plot devices that occur over and over... in Strange Horizon's case, they've seen so many they've compiled a list called called "Stories We've Seen Too Often". Here are some examples:

  1. Weird things happen, but it turns out they're not real.
    1. In the end, it turns out it was all a dream.
    2. In the end, it turns out it was all in virtual reality.
    3. In the end, it turns out the protagonist is insane.
    4. In the end, it turns out the protagonist is writing a novel and the events we've seen are part of the novel.
  2. An AI gets loose on the Net, but the author doesn't have a clear concept of what it means for software to be "loose on the Net." (For example, the computer it was on may not be connected to the Net.)
They're up to 51 different types of stories, with several sub-types. And lest your consider your story that follows something on that list (or like some people I know, you thinking that list is actually a challenge):

We often receive stories that match items on this list but that have cover letters saying "This matches something on your list, but I've done something new and unique and different with it." Such stories almost always turn out to be very similar to other stories we've seen. If your story is a close match to one or more items on this list (especially if it's a close enough match that you feel the need to include a cover-letter disclaimer), you may want to consult some friends who are well-read in the genre before deciding that it's probably different from what we see all the time. (And by the way, we often don't read cover letters until after we've read the story.) One more thing: We know it's tempting to look at this list as a challenge. Please don't. In particular, please don't send us stories that intentionally incorporate one or more of these items.
The whole list is instructive, illuminating and also kind of awesome. Read the whole thing.

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