XCOM 2: The Turn Based Strategy I Needed

I pre-ordered XCOM2 about a month before Christmas for myself, my brother, and close friends. I had only seen one teaser for it and admittedly had only a moderate interest level. I grew up with XCOM and spent hours sending my blonde mo-hawked men into silver UFOs to get shot. It was never a game that I excelled at because I was too young and it was too complex back then. XCOM Enemy Unknown and XCOM2 have both done an amazing job revitalizing the game and giving old fans (like myself) more.

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I don’t play a ton of turn-based strategies. I was playing Shadowrun: Returns last month but XCOM2 got me a lot more involved in every single action. Alien Activity have always been two words that make me sit, unblinking and tensing every part of my body until I was sure none of my friends and family died that minute. Yes, I said friends and family. When XCOM Enemy Unknown became popular and I was able to hear from more people who played the XCOM franchise, I learned I was not the only one who enjoyed renaming and customizing characters to resemble family and close friends. There was something so much more meaningful, and painful, about taking someone you trust into battle and trying not to get them killed by aliens.

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In XCOM2, there is surprisingly even more customization than Enemy Unknown. I am a huge fan of the game offering more content in this area. There are so many gratuitous closeups and cinematic kill angles when you take an action that allow you to take a moment from being ultimately STRESSED to just sit back and watch an alien get utterly destroyed. It may sound like a small thing, but allowing you those few seconds of reveling in the reward of a successful kill makes it all worth while.

Customization options allow you to change everything from what their armor components look like (e.g. arms, legs, torso), accessories, and tattoos which are earned. You can now give their weapons names, patterns, and color. After spending 10 minutes customizing one soldier, I was extremely relieved to find the “Save to Character Pool” button. Yes, the game takes pity on you and says, “We know you will reload 100 times to not lose all of this hard work. Here, we pity you.”

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Your soldiers all start off as Rookies and individually level up when they get kills in battle. They are automatically assigned a “class” after their first promotion and then you get to choose their specialization as they grow. You can stick to 1 skill tree or dabble in both depending on your play style. A lot of times, I would get skills and forget about them only to be surprisingly rewarded in battle later. Battle gets increasingly more fun as your soldiers level up because your men become stronger in ways that cater to how you play. I keep a sniper or two in the back and send in rangers to do a lot of flanking damage. I also love to bring a medic along and someone to hack the shit out of robots.

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There is also this new loading screen to and from missions that have your soldiers sitting in the Skyranger looking extremely badass. On the way to a mission, it tells you a summary and where you’re going. On the way back, you get some highlight statistics from the mission and MVP charts for a few select feats like who dealt the most damage. Again, it’s just another really nice touch that allows you to admire your team of soldiers and feel more attached to them. It really does motivate you to make smart decisions in battle… and reload 100 times.

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The one thing I really can’t bring myself to care much about with XCOM2 is the story. I always find myself clicking through the little cutscenes in which you are talking to the doctor or engineer. I just don’t even need the plot with the rapidly developing alien technology and how they’re retaliating to enjoy the game. I just want to skip through it all to get into missions quicker. I haven’t beaten the game yet but I already look forward to trying an Ironman playthrough (no save scumming allowed). If I never post again, it is because I am dead from jumping off of a bridge after missing a shot with 98% chance to hit.

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Warhammer Vermintide Gives New Life to the Ye Olde Gaming Tradition of Rat Killing

Warhammer Vermintide is the newest 4-player co-op game to consume my free hours of the eve as of late and it may be my favorite yet. I did not think it could happen, but I find myself enjoying this game more than I did many 4 player titles over the past several years. My friends and brother tend to team up to kick ass in 4 player games like we did in Left 4 Dead, Evolve, Payday 2, and Monaco. I had no idea what Vermintide was all about when it came out, but I took a swing at it after it was gifted to me by my benevolent friend and I have been slaying rats since.

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Red Moon Inn

Before you jump into the action, everyone gathers in the Red Moon Inn. It’s important to mention this part because it’s really a minor detail that makes a lot of difference in 4 player co op games. To have a virtual space to “relax” and recoop in feels like the missing element I always wanted. When you’re in a game like Payday 2 or Left 4 Dead, you’re just sitting looking at a menu with UI elements when you aren’t actively fighting your way through a level. It’s so much nicer to have a place to stand around in, swap out your gear, and show off your loot to other players before getting into things. Or, if you just need to take a break and breathe, you can hang out and take a few minutes while still allowing your teammates to forge equipment, upgrade, and use a shrine to “pray for loot”.

I love this touch. It also allows you a chance to get to know the characters a bit better because each of them have their own room made up to decor that suits their personality. You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their stuff.

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There are 13 different missions in the game that are filled with a variety of objectives to accomplish. The variety of events throughout missions really feel like tests to challenge the strength of a team. The number one challenge of the game is teamwork and sticking together to survive the random chaos! I feel like more and more games like this are coming out; games like this seem more fun and appealing if you have a group of people to play it with. If you can find some kind of steam group or online group to team up with if you don’t have enough friends who like to do this kind of thing, I highly recommend doing so.

Another in-game feature I really enjoy is the presence of collectibles in most levels called Tomes and Grimoires. When my friend was first explaining this aspect to me, it was one of the most appealing things. Tomes and Grimoires, when picked up, will replace the players’ inventory space where healing items and potions go. They are hidden in tough to get to places in levels that require solving short jumping puzzles. That is awesome for two reasons. One, it calls for level exploration that isn’t in the pursuit of getting to the end as soon as possible. Two, the players have to be confident enough in the team’s abilities to go out of their way  for them and sacrifice the inventory space!

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Loot phase. 

 

Possibly the best and worst part of the game is the loot phase. You get to press a button to roll dice. Now, I must say, I really really wish this worked like dice in the Witcher 2 in which you released the left mouse button as you moved your mouse to “throw” the dice and roll them. In Vermintide, you just click a button and they roll themselves. This feels a lot less satisfying because then you wind up feeling like it was out of your control. In the Witcher 2, if you accidentally rolled dice off of the table, tough luck! At least it felt like your fault. When you make it through a level in Vermintide with 3 tomes and 2 Grimoires just to roll a 2 or 3, it pretty much calls for an immediate ragequit.

I could just go on and on about this game. It’s pretty cheap at only 29.99 retail. I would gladly have paid a full 60 for this. If you love co-op games or just want to decapitate some rats, get this! Now! GO!

Davey Wreden Delivers an Intimate Story Game: The Beginner’s Guide

This is the kind of gaming experience that compels me to get my thoughts out about it because I have been thinking about it nonstop since I finished playing about 24 hours ago. The Beginner’s Guide is a first person narrative experience with minimal player interaction. Instead of keeping you busy with mechanics and enemies, a narrator (Davey Wreden) guides you through a compilation of games to tell you what he thinks of them and of his relationship with a person named “Coda”.

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There’s always a man. There’s always a CS map. 

Please excuse my bad Bioshock Infinite joke.

Anyway, the player moves from level to level seeing what appears to be the slow progression of a game designer becoming more skilled and honing their creativity through games. What starts of as some kind of strange analysis of his friend’s games turns into this concerning dilemma of what Davey wants and how the friend reacts through his creative medium.

Spoilers ahead in the next paragraph.

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One of the biggest feelings I took away from playing this was creative inspiration. I was blown away by some of the imagery that the levels presented. Starting in pure whiteness or darkness blew my mind. The manipulation of space that made everything seem so magical and temporary reminded me the power that games really have. At one point, you enter a room with floating text of many, many game ideas. It fascinated me. I felt like I was being shown drafts and wanted to take any one of his ideas and run with it.

I am in love with this concept of minimal control, walking-simulator style game that hits hard on delivering a certain feeling or idea. There will always be a place for AAA titles, yes, but now that games are so accessible on Steam it only seems right that personal games like this are emerging more and more.

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Davey Wreden took this compilation of games (or made them) to show us just how hard the creative process can be. He shows us how the desire for creative freedom can often juxtapose the “rules” that we take for granted in games. He makes us question tropes, puzzles, and solutions. I think the most powerful thing he did in The Beginner’s Guide was use 3D space to metaphorically explore the inner mind space of the developer. I felt privileged to be led by Davey through such personal experiences like growth, frustration, and isolation.

The Beginner’s Guide artfully explored new territory with this one. I hope to see more projects from him, and other creators, that deliver a similar “auteur” experience. If games like The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, and Jazzpunk were up your alley, don’t miss this one.

 

Among the Sleep: Psychological Thriller Meets Crawling Simulator

This weekend, I took a break from playing The Witcher 3 and finally installed and played Among the Sleep. As usual, I bought it during a Steam sale some time ago and never got around to it. My partner was perusing Steam games on Saturday and I brought it up as a suggestion because we both tend to like first person games that are focused on a narrative. I installed it and we both sat down to play this together with only the knowledge that it was about being a two-year-old who crawls around in fantastic looking environments. Boy, was there more.

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The voice acting makes this bear sound creepy and untrustworthy.

I am going to give a vague synopsis to avoid spoilers and discuss the core mechanics of the game. It begins with a cutscene as you become acclimated to the life of a two-year-old and what your living situation is like. You receive a teddy bear that speaks slowly and with the voice of a middle aged man. But, you are willing to follow the bear (because you have to) as it plays games with you.

After you become familiar with the basic mechanics and what life is like for baby-you, something jarring happens that makes everything shift. The house becomes dark and scary and you are helpless as you crawl through it to open doors and peek around corners. You are a vulnerable observer who wants nothing more than to find their mommy.

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Go ahead. Crawl around. Nothing to be scared of.

Reality then breaks away into fantasy, or perhaps nightmare, as you fall into a sort of dreamworld representation of your psyche. You then proceed to navigate through several levels that may be places you have experienced as a two-year-old with creepy filters changing them that may represent some kind of fear or trauma. The environments seem to be alive in that there are sounds and visual shifts happening as you navigate through them to solve puzzles. If you have played a game like Amnesia, it is similar to that in how you progress.

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I thought this was just a nice park…

You can alternate between walking and crawling and hold shift to run, albeit not very fast. You are a toddler after all. And who wants to run? It’s so noisy. Crawling felt like the most immersive, and scariest, means of traveling. Feeling small and low to the ground enhanced the feeling of vulnerability in the world around me. The feeling of vulnerability is key to making you feel like a victim to trauma as you discover childlike drawing scattered throughout each level which depict your perception of important figures in your life.

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Vision distorts as baby-you cannot handle certain sights.

The game is about uncovering the child’s life and the secrets it holds. What happened to you and why are you here piecing things together? Each level is rich with scattered pieces of the narrative, scares, and memories. When you are scared, the best you can do is hide under or inside of something such as a bed or cupboard. It’s exactly how you think as a child; if I hide, maybe it will all just go away. And it does, but not for long.

FEZ: A brilliant game that sat in my Steam backlog for way too long.

I felt that it was necessary to include in the title of this post that I just got around to playing FEZ. I’m pretty sure that I bought it during the summer Steam sale of 2013 months after it came out. Two years later, I booted it up because I wanted to play something that my laptop could handle when I wanted to be near my partner who was stuck on the sofa playing Bloodborne.

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I would be more disappointed in myself for waiting so long but, on the other hand, this is just the kind of game I was in the mood to play this summer when not screaming at Rocket League or spending hours on my Desktop in The Witcher 3. I can play Fez for 15 minutes to an hour and get plenty of satisfaction from my play time. It is a pretty casually paced 2D/3D platformer that allows the user to change the perspective on the fly.

Change perspective on the fly?! That sounds crazy, you might be saying! Well, it is. I was pretty awed by the puzzles that could be created from such a mechanic in Monument Valley but since FEZ came first I’m giving credit where credit is due. Of course there may have been other titles to do this first. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments!

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You play as the little white dude named Gomez. He looks like he’s made of clay. You also get a hat, so rest assured you Team Fortress players. You traverse across many different types of environments trying to collect cubes by climbing vertically and horizontally. It works similarly to Super Meat Boy or I guess even Super Mario that you will encounter more advanced types of puzzles and geography to navigate as you progress. I think I am about 20% of the way in right now so it’s been fairly easy so far.

One of my favorite parts of the game are all of the cute little animals strewn about the levels. There are rabbits, turtles, bunnies, pigeons, and worms. They all have adorable animations and sound effects, too. Sometimes I just have to walk up to them and watch them live their little lives. There is no way I know of yet to harm them. They just meander around looking cute while you play the game.

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This game is only about $10 full retail on steam right now. I’m sure most readers probably already on it on Steam from the 20 sales that have happened since the game first came out. If you haven’t taken the time to boot it up yet, go do it! This game will instantly charm you.

Finally got a Playstation 4. These four titles have kept me playing!

I kept waiting and waiting to pull the trigger on getting a Playstation 4. $400 is a substantial investment, there weren’t a ton of exclusive titles, and I figured the price would drop over the summer of 2015. Well, turns out it doesn’t matter that I waited because my girlfriend wound up buying it for us (thanks, babe!). Seriously though- it has gone to great use since we got it. To be fair, she uses it much more than I do. I didn’t think I would play much on it but these four titles have kept us pretty glued to it these past several weeks!

1. Bloodborne

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I haven’t played more than 20 minutes of this game, and half of that was spent in character creation, but I can see why my girlfriend has been glued to it 24/7. It’s a console exclusive game that is a part of the Dark Souls series set in a gothic style world. The player is challenged by all sorts of crazy blind dudes with scythes, swords, pistols, and chain… whips? This game calls for player mastery in the 3D space and of your chosen weapon. You can alternate between a long range and short range weapons to take on enemies alone or with others. The online system uses beckoning bells to find other players who are trying to get through the same levels as you.

If you haven’t played any Dark Souls games or Bloodborne, you have probably heard another gamer passionately discuss how hard it is. Why would so many people keep playing it if it seems so rage-inducing then you may be asking. I know I asked. Well, my theory is because it is so incredibly rewarding when you do conquer things. You team up with unknown allies to defeat huge bosses and enemies that would otherwise seem impossible to overcome and it takes a lot of work. My girlfriend says it feels like she is really doing something with her life when she makes good progress in Bloodborne. Not many games can do that!

2. Rocket League

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ROCKET LEAGUE. This is one of those games that, at first glance, looks like nothing special. Let me tell you that this game is worthy of all of the attention it has been getting. I was talking to a coworker about how I thought this game’s success could also be attributed to it’s timing. This game came out in the middle of the summer with no other really big AAA titles flooding the market and when everyone is looking for a game to hop into with friends. It was being given away for free for anyone with a Playstation Plus account while going for $19.99 on Steam. I am pretty confident in saying it is the best free game I’ve ever played.

Think Matchbox cars meets FIFA. The gameplay is simple- hit the ball with your car using boosters and jumps to get it into the opponent’s goal! Each game, whether you win or lose, you get an item at the end. The item can be a topper for your car, an antennae, wheels, decals, or a different trail particle effect. The matches are 5 minutes each which is perfect for the fast pace. Losing is easy to cope with due to the low cost of sticking it out for one game, but winning feels so good. There are no weapons and being good is mastering the jumps, timing, and angles. It’s one of those games that has me cheering and jeering at my TV and pumping my fists like I just scored a goal in the World Cup.

3. Trials Fusion

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I was so fond of Trials after having played the first one on Steam years ago that I looked at the new one on the shelf at Gamestop with a knowing smile on my face. I remember having tested Trials Fusion a year or two ago at Comic Con before its release. Fortunately, my girlfriend was familiar with Trials so it was an easy pickup for us. As much as I love my hardcore RPGs and FPS games, sometimes it is nice to play a casual game like Rocket League and Trials Fusion. Both games offer as many laughs as they do controller-gripping vein-popping moments.

Trials Fusion is just a good time. The goal of the platform time trial game is to get from the starting line to the finishing line as quickly as possible to place-hence the title. What makes it unique is the ability to lean your player forwards and backwards to balance your rider and spin your bike. Unfortunately, your avatar is highly susceptible to crashing and will ragdoll flop all over the place after the slightest touch to their body. It makes for some hilarious results, too. In Trials Fusion, you can use the L and R stick to flop around and do some ridiculous ragdoll flailing before you decide to give it another go. The quick restarts make gameplay feel smooth and addictive. Similar to Rocket Legaue, you can unlock various upgrades to your bike for fun customization. It’s another great local co-op game for those who have gaming SO’s!

4. FIFA 15

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What can I say? I love soccer. I miss having cable to be able to watch Premier League and some MLS games but now I get my fill by playing with coworkers and playing FIFA. I don’t know all of the fancy new features that 15 has over any other version but I think it is a fine game. There is a lot of nuance in moving the player and the dribbling/defending. There is an astonishing amount of unique animations but very often do you see popping, clipping, and other odd bugs. Considering the movement animation is at least 50% of the game I have to say I am pretty surprised at the amount of bugs I see in each game but it doesn’t ruin it for me. For as many bugs as I see, I am also wowed by some of the unique moments in player celebration, reactions to calls by the ref, and idle animations.

I’m very much looking forward to FIFA 16 with the addition of women’s teams. I hope that they push the PS4 graphics a bit further as I think that the VFX could use some stepping up .I really noticed the water FX in particular when you are playing in the rain. One more nice thing I like about this version is there is very little repetition in what the announcers say. I think it was FIFA 12 or 13 that I heard a lot of repetition but maybe I just haven’t played as much yet.

Well, that’s it for my two cents on some great PS4 titles! I would have mentioned GTAV, of course, but since I am already playing it on PC, so. I am looking forward to some other titles on the PS4 like the next Quantic Dream game, Horizon, Firewatch, and The Last Guardian.

My Dragon*Con 2014 Experience

Previously, I wrote about my Thursday before the real Dragon*Con weekend began. In this entry, I’m going to focus entirely on our (one of my best friends, Colin, my brother, and I) experience at the largest sci-fi/fantasy convention in the southeast this year. We were lucky enough to nab a room in the Marriott. As many D*con veterans are well aware of, this is regarded as the best hotel to be in due to the central location, great cosplay, and fun night life in the hotel. Thanks to my mom and brother’s hard work, we were able to acquire two rooms; we got one room for us and one for a friend’s group. Booking a room in the Marriott is harder than getting the blue ribbon special item on Black Friday. The phone lines get so hectic… it’s like trying to snipe a bid on e-bay while on dial-up.

The Marriott is also extremely photogenic.

The Marriott is also extremely photogenic.

In order to hit the con, as I mentioned in my previous post, my mom drove Colin and myself down to Medical Center (metro Atlanta area) at the time she goes to work in the morning. In other words, we had to get up at the crack of dawn. It’s cool though because coffee exists. Colin and I hopped the MARTA train down to Peachtree Center and hit the con bright and early. The first thing we did was catch breakfast at the Metro City Diner before heading into the con and exploring. Since we got there way too early before any panels started, we decided to hit up the game room in the Hilton.

Happy to be breaking fast before the big weekend.

Happy to be breaking fast before the big weekend.

Due to the length of the trek from the Diner to the Hyatt, obviously we had to take a pit stop along the way to street pass. Anyone who has a Nintendo DS knows that the best place to fill up on street passes are conventions; you can fill up your region map with people from all over the world!

After Saturday night, I'm pretty sure I gave up keeping up with Street Passing regularly LOL.  It took me way too long.

After Saturday night, I’m pretty sure I gave up keeping up with Street Passing regularly LOL. It took me way too long.

In the basement of the Hilton, it was only $5 to get an all-access weekend pass to the board games. It was a humongous basement with lots going on: virtual battle mech gaming; magic tournaments; miniature tabletop gaming; miniature painting; and, of course, board/card games galore! We nabbed a game called Galaxy Truckers because Colin spoke highly of it. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but we soon got into it and played two full rounds of the game. Several folks stopped by as we were playing to praise the game and some were even nice enough to help give us advice on how to play.

It reminded me a lot of Faster Than Light, but it was all about ship-building, then facing what the galaxy had to throw at you!

It reminded me a lot of Faster Than Light, but it was all about ship-building, then facing what the galaxy had to throw at you!

After we had had enough Galaxy Truckin’, we headed out of the FRIGID, cold-ass basement of the Hyatt to see what else was going on. It just so happened that there was a big Fallout cosplay shoot going on right outside behind the Hilton. I was extremely excited and we went out there to admire all of the costumes and take tons of photos.

The great thing about Fallout cosplayers is that everyone has a different look which was influenced by their play style or which faction they really liked. Very cool!

The great thing about Fallout cosplayers is that everyone has a different look which was influenced by their play style or which faction they really liked. Very cool!

It was really an amazing bunch of costumers and I was in awe at the uniqueness and variety of each person’s Fallout costume. After I took at least 50 photos of everyone there, we headed in to go to the “Designing Awesome Video Games” panel, featuring: Chris Avellone, Creative Director of Obsidian Entertainment (who accidentally went to another panel instead and never showed up); Mike Capps, President of Epic Games; Ian S. Frazier, Lead Designer at BioWare Montreal; and Jonathan LeCraft, Senior Game Designer at Blizzard Entertainment. Didn’t get any pics during the panel due to us coming in late and having to stand in the far back corner, but they talked about obstacles they tackle in the industry, how to work with large companies to make a good game, and a variety of other topics that involved working with video games.

The following panel was much more interesting and engaging for me though which was called, “Women in the Video Game Industry”, featuring: Seraphina E. Brennan, Community Manager for Turbine Games; Pilar Gut Rod, working in Video Production for Riot Games; Cameron Harris, Senior Editor for BioWare Montreal; and Ann Lemay, Writer for BioWare Montreal. After introductions and some brief chatting, it was pretty much an open-mic Q&A panel. So, having been in the gaming industry for about 6 months, I rushed over to the other side of the room to be first in line on the microphone. I asked how they felt about integrating into an industry that is currently predominantly male and, for those from BioWare, how they felt about the LGBT decisions made in Mass Effect and other games in general. The second question wasn’t as important to me, but for the first one they had so much amazing advice to give me about being a woman in a video game studio. Every panelist had advice or a story to give me about how they handled situations, found allies in their studios, and held their own in their respective studios. It was very eye-opening and boosted my confidence.

Myself with Seraphina Brennan, Cameron Harris, Ann Lemay, and Tiffany Spence.

Myself with Seraphina Brennan, Cameron Harris, Ann Lemay, and Tiffany Spence.

My brother managed to catch up with us before this panel, so afterwards we decided to finally check into our Marriott room and get our stuff in there before going back out into the con. The room was so nice… it felt good just to lay on the giant, fluffy beds for a few minutes. Again, we stayed in the room for about 30 minutes just clearing Street Passes before going out. The view from our room window was also just beautiful. The sky was beautifully lit just before sunset and we could see majority of downtown and even a little bit of Georgia Tech Campus (where we all went to school).

Chillin' and SPassin'.

Chillin’ and SPassin’.

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View of the Marriott Lobby in the evening from our floor (29th).

View of the Marriott Lobby in the evening from our floor (29th).

After catching dinner at High Velocity, one of the best and only places to grab some grub at the con, we hit the Comic/Art alley for a bit.

Just don't order the wings. That's what we learned. Everything else is bangin' though.

Just don’t order the wings. That’s what we learned. Everything else is bangin’ though.

I definitely spend most of my money in the Comic/Pop art and Artists’ Bazaar every year. I used to spend money on more baubles and t-shirts at conventions, but those get old really quickly. Unless you’re looking for a specific collectible or deals on games, there’s no real sense to buying a lot of things you could just find online or anywhere else at a convention. I wound up grabbing some prints from one of my favorite artists who shows up annually, poopbird. I can’t seem to remember his real name at the moment, but he does an amazing variety of work from various series and he’s just a great guy. He also does tattoo work in Georgia; you can see his work if you follow poopbird on instagram.

poopbird wearing his Fallout power helmet.

poopbird wearing his Fallout power helmet.

I wound up finding a great Metallic Star Wars print of the Empire Strikes Back in the artist’s alley that I wound up buying for my dad as a birthday present. I didn’t even know Metallic prints existed until I saw it and they explained it to me. I was happy that my friend and brother were just as excited to spend hours looking at and buying art as I was.

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Just a sampling of the art/prints I acquired pictured above. The first was a print created by the Illustrator of Archer for seasons 3-5 and current, Adam Toews. The second was one of only a limited run of hand-painted pictures of Meatwad by the man who animated Aqua Teen Hunger Force for… 6 years I think it was? They were sitting side-by-side in the pop artists’ alley and it was a thrill to meet both of them.

Adam Toews, Illustrator of Archer, and the best Pam cosplayer I've ever seen.

Adam Toews, Illustrator of Archer, and the best Pam cosplayer I’ve ever seen.

I met Courtenay Taylor and Kimberly Brooks in the “Walk of Fame” which is where all of the celebrities can be found at various time schedules to sign autographs and take photos with you for whatever they decide to charge. When we showed up in the Walk of Fame initially to find Courtenay Taylor, we found out she wasn’t going to be around for another couple of hours, but Kimberly Brooks was there and she was a wonderful person to talk to. I asked her about the voice recording processes she went through with Bioware versus Irrational out of curiosity and found out that the recording she did for Ashley Williams in Mass Effect was a much longer, more intensive process than doing Daisy Fitzeroy for Bioshock Infinite. Irrational basically did it over a conference call. I asked her who directed her. She said she wasn’t sure, but after a few guesses, I think that she spoke directly with Ken Levine who was telling her all about the character and what he wanted. But I digress!

The Artists' Alley... where all the money is lost.

The Artists’ Alley… where all the money is lost.

We definitely came back to the Artist’s Alley more than once. There were many times we had our hands full with purchases, or got hungry, and had to make trips back to the room before going back for more. I love that aspect of Dragon*Con; if you need to go do something, whether it be refueling or attend a panel, you always have more time and another day to return to finish where you left off with everything to see and do.

Every year in the Artist’s Alley, I visit my favorite artist, Aedan C. Roberts. He is a Manhattan local and shows up every year with phenomenal art. I’m not the best at describing art, as I am not extremely learned in the jargon, but his work features bold colors depicting surrealist, often LGBT or robot-themed, scenes. He often features the male body or cartoon-y elements. He is just a sweet person, too, and I love to chat with him every year before buying something of his. Also, he cosplayed as “stripper Finn” from Adventure Time this year and it was the best thing ever.

Aedan C. Roberts at Dragon*Con 2014.

Aedan C. Roberts at Dragon*Con 2014.

After hitting up the Artist’s Alley and spending all of our money on art, I think we decided to return to the frigid cold gaming basement to play more board games. We really wanted to get Galaxy Truckers, but we never got lucky as it was always checked out by someone else. What I did see though was Sentinels of the Multiverse. Since neither my brother nor my best friend had played it before, I thought that would be fun to teach them.

This game got intense!

This game got intense!

From my brother, going clockwise, we played with Legacy, Tempest, and Visionary. We decided to fight Baron Blade, who was a good villain to fight as beginners. The goal of the game is to work together as superheroes to defeat a villain of your choice. It’s a fantastic co-op card game and I love how it allows you and your party to make decisions together in the heat of battle to overcome really intense situations. Needless to say, we beat the crap out of Baron Blade, and we all laughed and high-fived in such triumphant joy after the fact. Games that can create moments like that are fantastic. It develops such a feeling of camaraderie between players that it makes you all feel like you’ve really accomplished something when it’s all over.

Eggs benedict is one of those breakfast foods I spoil myself with. TREAT YOSELF.

Eggs benedict is one of those breakfast foods I spoil myself with. TREAT YOSELF.

Saturday morning, Colin and I got up bright and early to have breakfast before hitting the Parade which started at 9 or 10… I forgot already. I had been attending Dragon*Con for about 5 years, but never got to see the parade. So, this year I was determined to get out there early, grab a good spot, and watch the parade. For those who have not attended Dragon*Con, or those who have and have a hard time figuring out food, the Hyatt hotel is a great place to go for breakfast. It’s a little bit pricier than just going to a Starbucks or something, but in my opinion Dragon*Con is a vacation when you gotta TREAT YOSELF.

Colin and I ready to see the Parade begin!

Colin and I ready to see the Parade begin!

The beginning of the Parade!

The beginning of the Parade!

I yelled, "I WANT TO BE A MORE COMPLETE WOMAN" at him and got a thumbs up.  LOL

I yelled, “I WANT TO BE A MORE COMPLETE WOMAN” at him and got a thumbs up. LOL

The Dragon*Con parade was great to see. We were right on the curbside where everyone walked past, so we had a perfect view of everything that went by. There were groups of everything: Game of Thrones, Mandalorians, Doctor Whovians, Stormtroopers/Star Wars, Mass Effect, Ghost Busters (lots of them), Zombies, Pirates, Steampunks, you name it!

The parade lasted for about two hours. My voice was completely shot from doing Rick and Morty impressions all Friday, but that didn’t stop me from cheering and whooping at the great costumes I saw. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of attending cons, it’s that these costumers work so hard, it’s really great to show them your appreciation whether it’s with a polite compliment or aimless cheering during the parade haha.

Great Batwoman costumer in line for the Dealer's Room at America's Mart.

Great Batwoman costumer in line for the Dealer’s Room at America’s Mart.

Saturday was the day we decided to hit up the dealer’s room. The dealer’s room is where you can buy everything from dice and comics to leather goods, collectibles, and replica guns from just about any sci-fi/fantasy show you can think of. Last year, Dragon*Con 2013, was the first year that they moved the dealer’s room from the lower floor of the Marriott Marquis to the America’s Mart near the Westin/across from the Hyatt. It was great when they did that last year because the space is much more open, less claustrophobic, and affords for a larger capacity of people. It was also better last year because nobody knew where it was, making it extremely easy to get into and browse at your leisure. This year was different; everyone figured out where the dealer’s room was, and even at mid-noon there was a huge line just to get in to the dealer’s room.

Someday... I will get a lightsaber at Dragon Con (next year) <_<

Someday… I will get a lightsaber at Dragon Con (next year) <_<

What they don’t tell you… is that you can actually just go into the Starbucks next to the entrance into the dealer’s room, foregoing the line, and walk right into it. I know it made us horrible people for doing so, but to be fair we did buy coffee from the Starbucks and the rear exit just HAPPENED to lead into the dealer’s room. Not to mention there was also a side entrance on the other side of the block you could have entered instead of waiting in the giant line that nobody seemed to know existed.

Anyway, we each had goals for things we wanted to acquire from the dealer’s room this year. For Colin and I, we wanted to find replica Star Trek: The Original Series uniforms to wear that night and on future occasions. The other thing my brother and I wanted was some new dice.

You could even buy replica Fallout props in the dealer's room!  Ugh, that was tempting. I hope they're there next year.

You could even buy replica Fallout props in the dealer’s room! Ugh, that was tempting. I hope they’re there next year.

The variety of goods in the dealer’s room is always astounding to me. There’s always the ‘usual’ stuff like autographed prints, lightsabers, leather goods, corsets, and nerdy t-shirts, but I personally like to pick up collectibles such as toys, good deals on comics or board games, and some geeky jewelry or other trinkets.

The two dice sets I picked up this year.

The two dice sets I picked up this year.

After spending hours perusing the dealer’s room, and successfully finding the Star Trek shirts we sought after, we decided to recuperate at the room and yet again hit up the board gaming room! After seeing all of the board games in the dealer’s room, there were several we wanted to try such as Castle Panic, Bears!, and Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards.

epicspellwarsofthebattlewizards BEARS castlerush2

 

They were all great games. Bears! was short and hectic, a very fast-paced game. Castle Panic was all about defending your fortress from the waves of orcs until you got through the ENTIRE bag of orcs. We didn’t think we were going to make it, but we totally did and it was extremely gratifying when we survived with two castle walls remaining! Haha. Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards was very cool; the art looked like if you took the style of Superjail combined with Rick and Morty or Adventure time. It was all about creating powerful spells by combining three cards to defeat the other wizards (players). I don’t really remember who won, but it is definitely worth picking up.

Ready for partying on Saturday night!

Ready for partying on Saturday night!

After changing into our Star Trek garb for the evening and refueling at Velocity yet again, we checked the schedule for what parties were going on Saturday night. The options included The Last Party on Alderaan in the Marriott, The Dilithium Crystal Ball in the Hilton, or some other party that I can’t remember the name of in the Sheraton. We sure as heck didn’t feel like ‘trekking’ all the way to the Sheraton, so we decided to check out the Last Party on Alderaan first. By the time we got there, it was way too packed and there was a mob of people waiting outside to get in. So, we said screw it, let’s go to the Dilithium Crystal Ball instead.

Dilithium Crystal Ball, aka, Star Trek party

Dilithium Crystal Ball, aka, Star Trek party

I’m so glad we wound up going to the Dilithium Crystal Ball. There weren’t a ton of people there which is common for the Star Trek parties at Dragon*Con frankly, but those who were there were having a great time. Some people just sit and watch, some like to stand there and drink, but there was a small crowd of people dancing and having a great time. The DJ was killing it with good music. I wasn’t drinking that night, but I was having a great time dancing with my friend and just enjoying the atmosphere. I was able to meet up with a good acquaintance of mine from college and talk with him for a bit. There were also some drunken guys on the dance floor who amused us for a while before spilling my brother’s drink which was not amusing at all. The guy didn’t even realize it.

The party seemed to be dying down at around 1:30 and we wanted to see what else was going on, so we began to migrate back towards the Mariott to see what was going on with the Alderaan party which was supposed to be ending at 3am.

The point of Saturday night is to get Wrrrrickety-wrickety-wrecked, dog! Am I right?! Wubbalubba dub-dubs!

The point of Saturday night is to get Wrrrrickety-wrickety-wrecked, dog! Am I right?! Wubbalubba dub-dubs!

We were able to walk right into the Alderaan party when we got there but much to our demise, the party itself was awful compared to the Dilithium Crystal Ball. The music quality was poor, quiet, and nowhere near as funky. Not to mention no one was really dancing even though there was about three times the size of the crowd as the previous party. It just seemed like the result of a train wreck; maybe the party was great before we got there and it was just gasping its last few breaths of life the moment we arrived. Who knows. We left when the DJ started asking everyone how drunk and/or high they were before throwing free t-shirts at the audience after playing a do-wop song from Rocky Horror. Yikes.

The dubstep machine which, as the creator put it, had the compelling effect of  'making young women shake their booties'. <__< That's when I walked away.

The dubstep machine which, as the creator put it, had the compelling effect of ‘making young women shake their booties’. <__< That’s when I walked away.

samus maxpayne aidenpierce

 

Saturday night is also the best night to see costumes, as the Mariott has the largest unofficial designated spot for people to stand and pose in the costumes they labored over. Pictured above, the Samus costumer is standing in the area I’m talking about. The other two photos feature a Max from Max Payne 3 and Aiden Pierce from Watch Dogs in front of Velocity.

We eventually got tired and decided to cash in at around 2 or so. Once we got back to the room, we all showered and tried to get in a game of Magic before sleep, as we were too amped up from the night to go straight to bed. Let it be said for the record that Magic is a lot harder to play at 2:30 in the morning and is also good at getting you ready for some shut-eye.

Amusing slide.

Amusing slide.

I awoke before everyone else on Sunday due to my incessant insomnia at the time. I got some oatmeal and coffee from Starbucks before browsing the Dragon*Con app to see what was going on that early on a Sunday morning. I decided to hit up a panel called, “The History of Japanese Cuisine” in the Hyatt because I like Japanese food and history, so I went! The presenter was very well-spoken and it was quite educational. We didn’t get around to a heck of a lot of panels during the con, so it was nice to go to this one and just listen for a while.

familypizza

 

For lunch, we all met up with our cousin and her husband, who were cosplaying Hotline Miami, at Mellow Mushroom. It was a little bit of a walk (about 10 minutes) but nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the convention area for a change. It’s nice to be able to catch up with family at Dragon*Con. Funny story, I had run into my cousin at Dragon*Con the year before and we were mutually surprised to see each other because we hadn’t in at least 10 years or something like that. They were wearing costumes from Payday 2, so I couldn’t see their faces at first, but then she recognized me and took her mask off! So, since then, we’re making a point of meeting up each year which is fantastic.

Funniest random costume award goes to... this guy.

Funniest random costume award goes to… this guy.

Sunday was the day that we hit up the Walk of Fame I mentioned earlier. I did get to meet Courtenay Taylor and it was absolutely amazing to talk to her. She told me all about how much she related to Jack as a character, and then went into detail about her life in high school, how she was a bit of a delinquent herself,  and how she liked how Bioware was pushing the envelope in developing characters with such depth in their recent products. We talked a lot more about trends in the industry and she wound up swapping Twitter information with me. I was star-struck and just chuffed to bits at that. I didn’t take a photo with her, but I will never forget having met her. I told her the impact that Jack as a video game character had on my life and I think she really appreciated hearing that.

Giant Settlers of Catan board!

Giant Settlers of Catan board!

After the Walk of Fame, it was back to the board gaming room yet again! We had gone to the dealer’s room to pick up some things and my brother wound up buying the Adventure Time Munchkin game. While we were looking for a space to play on (it was packed!) we saw this giant Settlers of Catan board that was set up for the SoC championship apparently. It was awesome; it made me want to buy the game, as I often miss playing it.

Danny had fun kicking our asses in Adventure Time Munchkin.

Danny had fun kicking our asses in Adventure Time Munchkin.

Adventure Time Munchkin was a great game. Played just like Munchkin, but the adaptation wasn’t half-assed at all. There were some features in it, like special character abilities, that made it feel like a different game than just regular Munchkin. I wish I hadn’t been so darned tired while I was playing it, but we still had a good time getting our butts kicked by my brother.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force in front of a Starbucks.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force in front of a Starbucks.

Sunday flew by in a flash. I barely remember what we did on Sunday aside from more Dealer’s room, eating, playing board games, and just walking around really. I did wind up taking a nap for several hours during mid-afternoon. Pro tip: if you ever feel sleep deprived at Dragon*Con, seriously just go and take a nap. You will thank you, your body will thank you, and people around you will seem much less irritating.

Harrison Krix and his notorious Marriott carpet patterned military costume & car.

Harrison Krix and his notorious Marriott carpet patterned military costume & car.

Definitely got to run into a lot of friends on Sunday and say hello. Even though there were around 60,000 attendees this year, I still somehow manage to run into a majority of my friends for a brief conversation and/or hug.

Got to meet up with one of my friends whom I go all the way back to middle school with on Sunday night!

Got to meet up with one of my friends whom I go all the way back to middle school with on Sunday night!

Sunday evening, I really wanted to meet up with my buddy Joe Peacock to have a drink and take him up on a Tetsuo drawing I had commissioned him to do at an AWA years ago. Unfortunately, he got tied up somehow and wasn’t able to meet up with us in the Hyatt, but we had a lot of fun hanging out at the Hyatt bar on Sunday night just people/costume watching.

hyattparty3 hyattparty2

 

Breakin' it down near the Hyatt bar.

Breakin’ it down near the Hyatt bar.

We checked in early that night at around 12 or 1am. Monday morning came sooner than expected, and we were quite reluctant to pack up our stuff to leave. We left on Dragon Con TV, which can only be viewed from a room in the Marriott, and were amused by the fake commercials and Venture Bros panel as we packed up our swag.

Post con depression... the struggle is real.

Post con depression… the struggle is real.

We made a few last minute stops on Monday after putting our stuff in the car. My brother wanted another thing or two from the Comic/Pop art alley, so Colin and I had a seat in the Hyatt and listened to Emerald Rose play. Emerald Rose is known as a Filk band, a type of music genre, culture, and community tied to science fiction and/or fantasy.

Who got something cool this weekend?

Who got something cool this weekend?

It was pleasant to sit there and listen to their Northern Georgia style. It was like being in a tavern in some RPG listening to some bards play. We were also just happy to sit because it was Monday and we were simply dead tired by then.

So much walking room!

So much walking room!

We tried to hit up the board gaming room one last time, but found out it was closed early on Monday. So, with nothing left to do, we decided to head back up to Alpharetta to meet up with Friends and Family before Colin and I had to head back north the next day.

Oh Grumpy Cat, we know even you would have fun at Dragon*Con.

Oh Grumpy Cat, we know even you would have fun at Dragon*Con.

And so, our Dragon*Con came to an end. We came home, put on some Rick and Morty, and proceeded to look at some of the great stuff we bought as we relaxed on the floor of my parents’ living room. The Monday ended with Mexican food and Magic games with good friends of mine I rarely get to see. Already planning for Dragon*Con next year!  It’s never the same experience each year I go, and I always get to see or do something different. This may have been one of the best Dragon*Cons yet, if not the best. I hope some of you reading this had a great con as well. See you next time, space cowboy.