Sandbox #2 – From Tabletop to Desktop

I never cease to be amazed by the timeless quality of pencil and paper role playing games.  Just when I start to ease myself back into my oversized old man armchair, telling tales of the “good old days” of gaming, I am shocked to discover how many people still play Dungeons and Dragons, or Shadowrun, or the White Wolf: The Whatevering du jour.

I mean, it really doesn’t get any more low-def than a blunt pencil and a paper character sheet riddled with erase marks and Mountain Dew stains.  Forget high-poly counts, there are no polygons at all.  No tessellation, no supersampling, no high dynamic range rendering, no slick user interface, and no high dollar celebrity voiceover work (though my friend Jimmy has a great nasal RP accent which alone made any game he DMed worthwhile).  So how is it possible that a game whose engine is built around a series of plastic polyhedral dice can still somehow hold our attention?

As it turns out, tabletop games still own the one critical aspect of immersion that video games haven’t been able to fully duplicate: the gravity of choice.

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Poor Man’s Gamer Presents: Gaming as a Culture

As many of you know this week is GeeKon, a time solely dedicated to geek culture and geek fun, well for the past week I’ve been trying to come up with an appropriate post for an event this big and important.  So a few days ago I went through my entire gaming catalog looking for any games that I deemed good enough to warrant this honor, but to be perfectly honest I just couldn’t.  Now by that I don’t mean to say that there aren’t amazing games deserving a look or anything, I just happen to think that GeeKon is bigger than any one game (or even any one group of games) which is why I’ve decided to take a look at Gaming Culture (as the title suggests).

To start off I want to talk about all the different kinds of gamers out there, because there are quite a few.  To some gaming is a pastime, to others it’s an escape, some see gaming as a way of life, and still others see it as a way of making a living.  You look around the gaming community and you will see people who only indulge in the blockbuster games as well as those quite content in the indie scene.  Additionally you will see those who play games casually day to day when they have a minute or two to spare on the bus or while waiting for a meeting, on the other end of the spectrum it is increasingly acceptable and even commonplace to engage in Major League Gaming, gaming for profit through contests of skill.  There are people who stick with certain series of games throughout their lives as well as those devoted to certain consoles.  When you look online you find that there are whole entire communities of gamers in MMOs and throughout the many social venues of the internet, from YouTube gamers to people who build communities on forum pages and within the comments on countless wikis.  We live in a world where things like Twitch Plays Pokémon is a raving wave of ever increasing attention and thrill and where gaming journalism is constantly on the prowl for scandals and intrigue.  Throughout the numerous and honestly quite different gamers there are still certain bonds that hold them all together and make them more similar than different.  Gaming is in itself and at its very core a means of having fun and it always has been.  It was something that brought people together whether it was in arcades or in LAN parties or even over the internet.  Yet gaming still remains criticized by many as a waste of time and energy.  In many lights it is viewed as childish and without use or purpose like so many other things from childhood.  Few outsiders understand what a role gaming can play to the adults that still indulge in it.

Today we live in a world where many have grown up surrounded by games.  They exist as a part of our childhood as countless other cultural norms like music and fashion and movies.  People have learned to cherish certain games and consoles because of how they’ve influenced their lives in countless ways.  By talking to any gamer you can see just how important gaming is to how they became the person they now are.  So to help me in exploring gaming as a culture I sat down and spoke to a few of my friends and asked them what it was that gaming meant to them and how gaming had influenced their lives, and now I’d like to share with you some of their answers.

I first sat down with a friend of mine who told me the story of how gaming had brought her and her brother together.  She and her brother would sit together and play on the original PlayStation for hours at a time; it was how they bonded with one another.  When their father saw how closely they had gotten over the system he decided they deserved an upgrade and bought them the PS2 which only went on to continue and strengthen their relationship.  On top of that they explored the early world of MMOs together, barely too young to register for an account they lied about their age and made a shared account for the two of them.  At the end of our discussion my friend went on to add that the games she remembers and cherished most were games like Rayman and Crash Bandicoot.

The next friend I went to is a little older so he had a slightly different experience with gaming.  He remembered going over and forming friendships with his neighbors down the street by playing games like Vectorman and Golden Axe and X-Men for the Sega Genesis.  As he grew older gaming became something else, gaming became an escape.  With an ever increasingly busy schedule he had less and less time for gaming in his everyday life so instead gaming became a way for him to relax and get away from the stress and tedium of his everyday life.  Gaming was so appealing to him because of what it offered in comparison to his average day monotony, gaming allowed him a chance to engage and partake in the impossible.  In games he could drive a car 120 mph down the highway and not worry about the consequences, he could explore lost ruins and worlds, and he could find himself engaged in a way that he couldn’t find anywhere else.

My final consultant in the way that gaming has influenced lives gave me his answer through the way that different series of games had gripped him.  In games like Super Smash Bros he could find himself engaging in whole entire days of nonstop fun with friends throughout entire summers.  It was the way that his childhood found fun and excitement.  In other series he found much deeper meaning and connection.  In games like Pokémon my friend had nothing but fond memories staying up late for midnight releases and staying up until the wee small hours of the morning.  He started playing Pokémon when he was in 2nd grade and back then he connected with so many different elements of the series.  He fell in love with the idea of young boys going on adventures, traveling the countryside with friends, camping, and fighting to get stronger and stronger.  Pokémon was one of those things that he surrounded himself with because of just how strongly he connected with it; he had cards and posters and even stuffed animals that he used to take on adventures in his imagination.  In the Legend of Zelda he found a similar bond.  The first game in the series he ever got to experience was Ocarina of Time as he watched his cousin play it.  Later he went on to play through Majora’s Mask, his first true Zelda game.  In it you are kid going around helping people without question, putting your life on the line to save someone that you’ve loved and lost in a world full of travel, exploration, and adventure.  Later in life he was introduced to mature games through a friend and Final Fantasy X.  This game (and series) opened him up to games that focused more on in depth character development, open and complex worlds, and intricate and unique storytelling.  Since I’ve met him, I’ve introduced him to the wide and wonderful world of Steam and PC gaming, even getting him addicted to both Terraria and Sid Meier’s Civilization V (two games I absolutely love).

I’ve had a similar experience to all three of my friends.  In gaming I’ve connected with friends and families and developed stronger relationships with both, whether it was playing Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon with my sister, playing Guitar Hero with my family during the holidays, spending hours on end fighting a war in Civ V with friends, or just getting together to compare sales we found online.  I’ve enjoyed seeing where games have come and where they are likely to go (Oculus Rift) and though gaming may become a smaller and smaller part of my life I doubt it will ever really leave me entirely.

So with this I leave you to reflect on the ways that gaming has changed and influenced you.  While you do this take the time to enjoy this year’s wonderful installment of GeeKon and indulge in all things geeky, I know I will.  Feel free to share your own gaming stories here or on the GeeKon Record Facebook page.  In the spirit of GeeKon and the promotion of PC gaming I will be giving out Steam Keys to anyone who decides to share their story.  I have a bunch of keys to a bunch of different games including Hotline Miami, Little Inferno, McPixel, Guacamelee, Antichamber, Monaco, and many other games.

The d20Something Presents: Starting a Gaming Group

College! You are finally free from the confines of your parents and your high school peers! You’ve taken your meager earnings and purchased the latest Fantasy Flight Games title tearing up the hotness bar on BoardGameGeek.com.  You’ve meticulously cultivated a swath of lauded euro-game masterpieces from the likes Uwe Rosenberg and Vlaada Chvatil. The last piece of the puzzle? Finding a group of like-minded individuals to meet wits with you on the fields of battle, be they the shipping routes of 14th century France or the orc-infested mountains of Terrinoth.

 

…And on one is interested.

It’s a sad reality of the gaming hobby. You’re often going to be met with blank stares and confused looks when you tell someone your passion is playing board games in your free time. It can be very difficult for anyone to put together a stable, well-rounded group of players to explore the hobby. Luckily, we twenty something gamers have an advantage over our wizened and grey-haired counterparts: College! The vast myriad of social networking opportunities available to students means your pool of potential gaming peers is nearly unlimited. You just need to know where to look. Here are a few tips to help board and card gamers get out there and make some friends.

1.       Be Willing to Make the Local Scene

If you’re lucky enough to be in a town with a friendly local gaming shop, become a regular. Make small talk with the staff, see what events they’re going to be hosting, ask what people are turning out to play. Yes, some FLGSs will cater almost exclusively to Magic: the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh!, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find anyone there interested in a game of Pandemic. Remember, these are nerds who like fantasy and science fiction just as much as you do. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to politely approach them and see if they would be up for learning a new game or two.

2.       Be Aggressive

Let’s talk about approaching people for a second. If you want to find a group of people to game with, some outgoingness is required. You can’t expect to show up to a comic shop with a box full of Battlestar Galactica expansions and assume someone else is going to ask to play a game. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and invite a total stranger to sit down with you for 45 minutes while you teach them a game they may have never heard of. Much like asking someone if they’d like to go on a date sometime, this can be pretty nerve-wracking, and there is just as much chance of rejection. Being aggressive doesn’t mean being a jerk when someone says no. It means politely saying, “No problem! Anyone else interested?”

3.       Be Passionate

This part is actually pretty easy. Most nerds in general are very passionate about what they enjoy. Take that passion you have for gaming and use it to get others jazzed up for trying out a brand new game. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you approach someone with genuine excitement about playing a game, they will be far more inclined to give it a try. Even people who under normal circumstances would have no interest playing a hobby board game can sometimes be drawn into one by observing how much fun others are having. Let your passion for gaming come out and others will become curious as to what all the fuss is about.

4.       Be Realistic

So you’ve followed these tips, put in the time and effort, but you just can’t get five players together for that great game of The Resistance you were dreaming of. It’s not the end of the world. Even if you’re unable to find more than one other person to play board games with, just think for a moment how many fantastic games there are for two players. And what about three? A quick visual basement of my own game shelf reveals several titles I would prefer with three players more than any other number. The same goes for four. If you have one or two passionate friends to play games with, then you’re already over the biggest hump of cultivating a game group. If you throw yourself into the great two and three player games out there, you’ll soon forget that you don’t have enough players for a 16 hour cut-throat Diplomacy play.

 

Well, I hope these small tips can help you expand your play group and enjoy the hobby. It may see daunting at first, but cultivating a good game group is all about realistic goals and determination. Join me next month, where I’ll discuss how you’re supposed to keep up with the latest and greatest games when you can barely afford Ramen noodles for dinner. Gaming on a budget for a twenty something! Until next time, The d20Something.

The DOC-ing Station: Wedding Videos

This installment of the DOC-ing Station is the first of a series of posts that all deal with the documentary form known as the wedding video. The idea of a wedding video used to be pretty simple (and slightly boring!). You had an aunt or uncle or distant cousin whose name you can never remember for the life of you, set up a dinky little camera at the back of the church or building. They press record and boom it’s done. Now, the wedding video is truly a documentary piece. It could, quite fairly, be considered an art form and a lucrative one at that. With the dawn of the DSLR age, wedding videos are no longer considered just “videos”.  They are marketed as “films” because of the artistic style and cinematic quality they possess. Do a quick search on Vimeo and you’ll be amazed at the quality you find. Here’s one for example:

Now, I was approached by a friend at the last minute to shoot their wedding. Their family member, who was supposed to record it, came down with a sudden illness.  Because of the circumstances, I decided to take the gig free of charge.  It seemed like the right thing to do, especially considering I had zero experience shooting weddings. However, this also took a lot of pressure off me. I could tackle the gig as a learning experience. There was no fear of not meeting expectations or not getting paid. It was purely a chance to be as creative as I could be and do my best in the process. It sounded like a blast!

So here’s a run down of the gig:

– I was asked to shoot the wedding about a week before the big day

– My gear consisted of equipment I borrowed and what I had on hand already

– I would be the only one filming the wedding

– The wedding took place in Lubbock, TX so I had no way of visiting the site in advance

So taking these considerations in mind, preproduction was going to be key.  I had to keep myself organized and had to develop a plan of attack for the event.  Regarding gear, here’s how my preproduction went down.

__________

My CAMERA of choice was a Panasonic AF100.

I own a Canon DSLR, but the AF100 I borrowed came with a Nikon lens adapter. This allowed me to use the wider variety of Nikon glass I had on hand. This was going to be key if I was going to get all the shots I had in mind. I also needed the ability to shoot around location restraints which I’ll get into later.

The couch unfortunately is sold separately.

The couch unfortunately is sold separately.

My LENS choices consisted of a 50mm, a 24mm-70mm, an 11-16mm and an 85mm

In order from foreground to background: 50mm, 24-70mm, 11-16mm, 85mm

In order from foreground to background: 50mm, 24-70mm, 11-16mm, 85mm

The AF100 has 1.5 crop factor (which if you don’t understand that concept I’d be happy to explain it in the future). The crop factor made my 85mm more of a 127mm which was perfect for a long lens. It would give me the close ups I needed while maintaing my distance. I wanted to stay out of the way of guests and the photographer’s shots as well. The 50mm is just a great all around portrait lens that has a great feel. The 24-70mm is a Sigma lens and has a beautiful look as well. As a zoom lens, it would also allow me to be more flexible in the heat of battle (if I was shooting in situations that were a little less predictable). Finally, I used an 11-16mm to use for my wide shots. In retrospect, I really didn’t need the 50mm but seeing as this was my first gig I wanted to make sure all my bases were covered and these lenses definitely did the job.

In terms of AUDIO…

I brought a wireless mic system solely for the purpose of capturing the vows and words the pastor had to share. This took a bit more work and coordination, but it has made SUCH a difference in post. Creatively speaking it guides the edit so well and I’d be screwed if I didn’t have it.

My two ACCESSORIES…

were a shoulder rig and Kessler pocket dolly. I knew I really wanted some slider shots and having the shoulder rig was going to be critical for getting relatively stable footage.

__________

PREPRODUCTION

So the plan was relatively simple. I did as much homework as I could and researched the location where the ceremony was taking place online. This allowed me to get somewhat of an idea of the shots I wanted before hand. Knowing that the location was going to be super tiny, I developed a lens package accordingly to shoot around space constraints.

They managed to squeeze fourty people AND a string quartet in here. It was snug to say the least.

They managed to squeeze fourty people AND a string quartet in here. It was snug to say the least.

Finally, I touched base with the bride and groom and was able to get an itinerary for the day. This allowed me to plan where I needed to be and when. Considering I was the only guy filming, I had to have as much information as possible. I wanted to make the final edit feel like there were multiple cameras shooting. I would find out (amongst many other things) that this was going to be WAY harder than I imagined…but still a fun challenge!

Anyhow, I think I’ll conclude this part for now. Next time I’ll talk about the the wedding day and how it went. I’ll include some videos I took during the course of the day where I discuss some challenges I faced and observations I made while shooting.

I’m sure there are A TON of things I might have glazed over very quickly or missed completely so if you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you. Also, I know my first entry was a vlog and, though I’d love to continue vlogging, I think a written article is just so much easier to keep up with. This isn’t to say I wont post videos from time to time, but for the time being I think written articles are the way to go.  Anyhow, keep shooting and keep it real.

Cheers.

King of the DC Playground Talking JL8 with Yale Stewart

In what seemed to be the Muppet Babies or Pup Named Scooby Doo version of the justice league, Yale Stewart has crafted one of the most earnest, heartfelt and genuinely hilarious web comics with JL8. Originally called Little League, JL8 tells the story of a very young justice league getting through elementary school woes. From playground drama, to crushes and all the ball busting friendship in between Yale captures the essence of childhood while staying true to some of the oldest most beloved characters.

I was lucky enough to be able to interview Yale Stewart for the piece (Flash Fact: Simply because I asked, never hurts to just ask).  Through our Skype conversation we went all over the place so I’ll try to condense as best as possible.

It is poetically beautiful that his most famous creation came basically out of nowhere, Yale went on to explain “I was bored at work one day, in-between Gifted since I needed to go get some reference drawing of my old high school, and it just popped into my head this idea of the justice league as little kids”.

That spontaneity is truly something given by a muse or alien life we have yet to understand. It is a face-palm-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that kind of idea. Though a good initial idea isn’t everything. Genius and earnest execution is what stole the hearts of readers. Through the guise of these super hero kids we see ourselves at that age, worried about cooties, only wanting to watch cartoons and play. Every time I read a strip something of my childhood is captured in the strip. The fact that the characters are some of the truest interpretations of the most beloved DCU characters only adds to the earnest flavor of the strip.

Drawing it initially as something only for himself and his friends, Yale soon discovered that this might be something for the world to see. “After showing it to some of my friends and they really liking it, they basically said that I should put this out, so I started a Tumblr page and it just blew up from there”. What started, as a cure for artistic boredom became an Internet sensation after one of his strips was reblogged by Kate Leth of web comic and tumblr fame. Along with the reblog that circulated all over the internet, an article about the web series was posted on the nerd-mecca website Io9 (where I heard about JL8) propelling it into even more popularity.

As the popularity grew a grand majority of fans were the people who could identify the most with the strip, kids.  In a everything must be “dark and gritty” world it is nice to see something made that is optimistic and kid friendly while still accessible to adults.

This influx of new fans led to beautiful experiences for Stewart. He recalled about having a little girl coming up to him with a drawing of power girl she had done during his panel. “That has been the best experience and reward that has come out of JL8, it is still up and framed in drawing room” Yale evoked sincerely.

It is in this sincerity that the magic behind the strip is made clear. The heart is fully on its sleeve, open and vulnerable like a child. The strips range from fun gags to emotional real moments, sometimes even in one strip. Storylines concerning a young Wonder Woman accepting her role as a princess while her heart is still that of a warrior and Batman trying to prove his maturity and strength to the older mean kids (beautifully done kid versions of the Legion of Doom) show the full scope of what this strip is capable of. While there are cool cameos and nods to the DCU (Neil Gaiman as a book shop owner followed by the Daniel version of Morpheus made me shriek like a schoolgirl at a One Direction concert) the true heart of the strip is in how he uses the characters to tell stories mainly about friendships. Week after week ,even while busting balls, Batman is still shown doing all he can for his obvious best friend Superman. The strips that show the Flash and Green Lantern showing The Martian Manhunter around (he is new to earth) plays out like a nicer version of That 70’s show with The Martian being Fez. These themes of friendship and youthful empowerment make the strip truly great for children and can make even the most cynical of adults crack a smile and remember those grade school days.

            After continuing to talk about comics and what the future holds, Stewart pondered “Just going to continue JL8 and see where it goes from there”. While having written a drawn a back up story for Marvel’s Nova and other such work, real comic work has eluded Stewart. Though I feel it won’t be long before one of the big two come to their senses and pick this guy up. A Flash or Young Avengers run by Yale would be a godsend and shake up the dark and gritty world of modern comics.

             At the end of the interview I asked my shameless fan boy question. What advice would you give an up and coming creative type or artist? “Just be honest man, do what makes you happy and you will find an audience” Yale responded as a true testament to his experience. Here is a guy who chased a whimsy. Who thought of a simple idea and executed it in a way that delighted him. What happened? The audience came.

If you take anything away from this piece (besides that you should go read JL8 right now) is that any little idea that pops into your head that makes you happy just chase it. We live in a time where information and art can be shared without restrictions. This thing you are reading right now is a product of that. So chase whimsies and do it honestly.

Yale Stewart might still be a young artist but there is no doubt in my mind that he has many years of work ahead of him and I for one I’m more excited to see where it goes. Until then go read JL8 and enjoy one of the few pleasures of life, feeling like a kid again.