Wednesday, June 6, 2012

E3 2012 - That "Meh" Kind of Feeling

Although there is one more Nintendo conference to go as of this post, most of the press conferences for this year's E3 are over and only the floor showings remain.  The "Big 3" (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) have all made their pitches with plenty of fancy song and dance, but with very few take-home points to get gamers excited in my opinion.  It may indeed be true that E3 has reduced its own impact by its very success over the past 2 decades, but to me what really made the conference "blah" was the sheer amount of over-the-top violence in most of the "blockbuster" titles and the industry's over-focus on connectivity via the internet.  To be honest, we've seen it and heard it all before.  If anything it's starting to feel like the console gaming industry is getting stuck in its own version of the ruts that the movie industry has fallen into in the past 5 years, ruts inspired by the fascination we've held with HDTV, social networking, and the ability to generate realistic graphics.

True, if you're into realistic action beat-'em-ups, sports, and first-person shooters then you'll probably be happy with the big name games this year.  Naughty Dog's The Last of Us is being billed as a very immersive survival experience with an interesting storyline and a unique set of protagonists.  Halo 4 and Splinter Cell have enough to wow current fans and maybe woo back some of the cynics who have lost interest in the franchises with each new sequel.  Borderlands 2, God of War, and Far Cry 3 also have enough to make plenty of current fans happy, while sports fans will once again have to decide if they love or hate the changes made to Madden and FIFA Soccer. And the Assassin's Creed franchise looks like its on very solid ground with its two new titles for PS3 and Vita this year.  Once of the biggest surprises that people are still digesting are the changes that Lara Croft has undergone in the new Tomb Raider, which has become a game much more focused on knocking people off than any of its predecessors ever were.  Unless the storyline is very convincing, I think most people are just going to wonder if the game is simply following the violence trend this year.

And its also true that if you are a huge fan of the latest gadget fads, all the connectivity announcements from Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony are going to make you pretty happy.  All the movie info you could ever want straight through your phone, huzzah!! Any tablet or smartphone, now able to interact with your gaming system!! Your friends' comments will now pop up in every network-enabled game you play!  Woot for technology, but I'm starting to think all of this has gone too far.  For me, gaming has always been about the games.  If I want to watch TV or a movie, I'll turn on the TV.  But why in the world do I want to be constantly bombarded with 50 different ways to get the same content?  There is such a thing as information overload, and I'm concerned that the gaming industry's focus on network connectivity as "the future" is just going to make console gaming more ADD-inducing, especially if the push to downloadable content forces us to go through all of that just to buy a game to play.  If this is an indication of where Sony and Microsoft want to go with their future console systems, I may be forced to move to PC or handheld-only gaming after all.

Usually when I get frustrated at how Microsoft and Sony seem to be leaving us RPG-loving adventure-minded life-long gamers in the dust, the Nintendo conference helps restore my faith in the industry.  This year, I'm not so sure.  Maybe its just me, but I don't really feel like the Wii has finished its run yet, and still here we are getting the specs on a brand new Wii-style system that can play Wii games but not GameCube titles. (Here's hoping that the classics will at least survive as downloadable content eventually.) The concept of "asymmetric gameplay" is somewhat appealing for me as a solo gamer.  I like the idea that I could still play my game while my friends watch TV in the same room.  But actually using the controller to play a game on two screens at once at two different distances from your eyes...?  I'd really have to be convinced that it wouldn't split my focus so much that my ADD would kick into hyper gear.  I have a feeling that when I do by a Wii U (and that definitely won't be for 3 more years or so) I'll interact with it much like I already do with my Wii.  The games currently announced for Wii U do look interesting, but honestly not things I'd buy the system just to play.  And with third-party companies only just now getting around to releasing games like Xenoblade for the Wii at the supposed end of its lifecycle, I'm concerned that the only real reason I'd want to buy a Wii U would be for the inevitable Zelda game sure to come along.  And for only one game, that may not end up being a wise use of my money.

The one device I really wanted to hear about was the 3DS, but for logistical reasons Nintendo is not talking about it until late tonight on its All-Access website.  A number of titles that look like fun have been announced, like New Super Mario Bros. 2, Paper Mario Sticker Star, Luigi's Mansion 2, and Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion.   The company claims to have 20+ more to announce tonight and that will be a welcome relief in a show filled with games that don't fit me.  However the one thing everyone REALLY wants to hear about is whether or not there is a new 3DS model in the not-so-distant future.  Ever since I heard about the right analog stick attachment that some games were supposedly requiring in order to play (including the new Kingdom Hearts), I have had no great desire to rush out and buy a system, even though the library of games I want to play is slowly growing.  I have a feeling that a lot of gamers out there are like me in this regard.  But there has been nary a peep out of Nintendo since the attachment was announced in September 2011, leaving a lot of us feeling lost in the dark.  There have been plenty of rumors because of that which so far Nintendo is simply debunking.  But in an era when we all are counting our coins, buying a system for a game that you can't play without extra stuff is not attractive at all.  So here's hoping that Nintendo throws us a bone tonight, and not a boomerang.

In my opinion, E3 is definitely becoming a place where you just follow the Big 3, Ubisoft, and EA.  There was no press conference for SquareEnix, Level-5, Konami, Capcom, or a number of other game developers that have graced the stage in the past.  While some of that is probably due to a shift in the way games are made today,  I will admit that it has made E3 a lot less vital to me as an event to focus on each year.  There were so many games I wanted to hear about that may not of even made it to the show floor, much less even mentioned on stage.  End result?  I'm back to browsing the internet for rumor and fact much like I do the rest of the year, and I'm back to feeling like I'm drowning in so much piddly information that I can't see the forest for the trees.  It used to be that E3 gave me the context for the next year in gaming.  Now, it feels like a fashion show in New York full of things that look cool but don't apply to me and I'll never buy.   My advice to the organizers is that if you want to keep this conference going (and I'd really rather you would please), find a way to be relevant to the industry and its consumers again. And find it fast.

In closing here's my post-E3 wishlist of what I wanted to see/hear more about this year, and didn't get to. 
  • Price point for the Wii U and a hard launch date
  • New 3DS model, or at least a clarification of the attachment debate
  • Lifespan remaining for the Wii 
  • GameCube games added to the downloadable library
  • The Last Guardian status update
  • Final Fantasy Versus XIII status update
  • any new SquareEnix RPGs planned for the future
  • Kingdom Hearts HD collection for PS3
  • Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracles 3DS
  • Inazuma Eleven DS/3DS US releases
  • Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for PS3
  • the future of backwards compatibility - only on downloadable content? 

EDIT: Now that I've watched the 3DS show, I don't really feel like I know much more about anything new.  The segment mostly consisted of live gameplay examples of the already-announced games and absolutely no mention of anything hardware-related.  Its been more informative to scan the bloggosphere for news coming out of the E3 Demo showings, like this bit about the Wii U most likely being able to handle Gamecube games via Virtual Console.  Also according to online digging the new Kingdom Hearts game supports the Circle Pad Pro attachment, but doesn't require it.  SquareEnix did show a newer RPG for the 3DS called Heroes of Ruin that looked like is sported zombies or something as foes.  Not sure I'm real crazy for it at this point.
Sources: Gamespot, Nintendo All-Access @ E3 2012

The Benefits of Attending a Comic Conference

Every year I post a summary of my adventures at Otakon, the East Coast's largest convention on Japanese anime.  For a lot of my friends, that is a bit out of their comfort zones, probably because in Anime there's a lot of "anything goes".  But did you know that there are also conventions for American-made comics and animation that have been going on for decades?  What started with the fan conventions for Star Trek has become a staple for how the video game, comic, and animation industries connect and converse with their fan base and colleagues.  In a funny sort of way, its like when 40,000 people attend a game for their favorite sports team. You get the full set of fans and pros from crazy to mild all out enjoying one thing that they all have in common.

So what do you do at a "con"?  Depending on the size and subject, you'll have industry panels where producers talk about their latest shows and products; fan panels where you'll talk about everything from what you hate to what you love; workshops on how to draw, write, dance, or even make costumes; panels where you get to have Q & A with famous voice actors, producers, animators, writers, you name it; vendors who sell the latest collection of fan gear; spaces for people to display their own fan art; photo shoots for the costume-minded attendee; autograph sessions, and the list goes on.  I find there's always something to see, do, or play at when I go to a con, which is why I'm always inviting people to go with me. But to entice you further, here's a sample of one of the panels that was hosted by the Emerald City Comicon this spring.  You just can't find this kind of entertainment anywhere else but a con!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Project Ideas from Around the Web

The world has changed, my friends.  No longer do you have to hunt through books and magazines for crafting inspirations.  Nowadays, everyone's got a blog, and everyone's posting their projects online!  While that's wonderful for the crafter in me, the sheer volume of material out there is a little daunting.  So I'm starting this little category to keep track of some of the gems I've been finding in all the junk of the Internet.  Here's some of today's rare items:   

  • No-Sew Easy Roman Shades
    • This lady is clever!! The hardest part of building Roman shades is the "skeleton" structure, so to speak.  By using cheap blinds from Wal-mart as her skeleton, she's figured out how to decorate her place creatively but cheaply!  Personally I favor more stitching than she does, and I'd probably use some muslin to back my fabric so that it lasts longer in the sun but other than that, this is a great idea!

  • Wrapping Gifts with a Card Holder
    • I'm not usually a Martha Stewart fan (not really my style), but every once in a while her people come up with great ideas.  Here's how to wrap your presents so you have an invisible "pocket" for the card to slide into.  

  • Petticoat Skirt from a Sheet
    • The lady over at Little Birdie Secrets came up with a great simple pattern for a cute girl's skirt that I'd love to upsize for myself! And she reminded me at the same time that style isn't as hard to create as I try to make it. Kudos!

  •  Making Sturdy Tote Bags from Old Placemats
    • This gal takes my vote for a creative way to upcycle your old things. Here's her tutorial for making sturdy, attractive tote bags from those old cloth placemats you might have lying around.

  •  Making Your Own Homemade Stamps
    • Craft Junkie from the blog Craft Therapy gets some major respect from me for coming up with a cheap but robust alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on rubber stamps.  With some good foamboard, the right glue, and an old Jenga set you can create all kinds of stamps following her instructions. Since we're all trying to save money here, mad props!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book Review - "You Grow Girl" by Gayla Trail

I was of two minds where to post this review on my blogs, but in the end gardening is a hobby so here it goes on the hobby page! First off, I am NOT a talented gardener. I've inherited a fairly black thumb from the ladies in my family, I live in a condo with very little growing space, and I can kill just about anything plant-like just by looking at it! But being a biologist and a firm believer in expanding your own abilities to produce things on your own, its was inevitable that I eventually would be bitten by the grow-your-own-food bug. It started with the rapid consumption of The Herb Companion and Herb Quarterly magazines, expanded to such journals as Hobby Farm and Hobby Farm Home, and started to make inroads into my book purchases where I found this little gem: "You Grow Girl" by Gayla Trail.

Guys, I'm sorry to say you might not want to use this as your primary urban garden reference because it is definitely written with the female community in mind. But for those of us city girls who are eager to try something new in the space we have, dive right in! There are tips for how to buy plants, how to find the tools you need and have room for, discussions of the special problems and potentials of container gardening, how-to's for making your own garden apron, and above all a fun "can-do" attitude that is a joy to read! Ms. Trail is the author of the very popular garden blog and she has taken the treasure trove of tips and experiences she and her readers have shared to create this book. This is still the first book I go to when I'm mucking around in my city dirt!

And that right there is probably the key to why this book is so accessible. This is written from a single city-girl's point of view who lives in an apartment or condo. There are many many many gardening books out there that are beautiful to read but just drive you crazy because you almost have to be a pro gardener to do anything mentioned in them! Azaleas? Sunflowers? Blue bonnets? Annuals, perennials, did I mention succulents?! The gardening world is HUGE, and all the more daunting to get into because if it. By backing off and starting at where most young women actually live, Ms. Trail has taken the vastness out of gardening and made it something adaptable, accessible, and above all possible for us to do too. No longer do we have to wait until we are 65 and retired to enjoy growing our own tomatoes or eating fresh potatoes. We don't have to wear large flower print dresses with straw hats to enjoy a rose or wildflower on our porch! And best of all, we don't have to spend money we don't have to get started! Now that's something I can jump into!

Check out the forums at if you'd like more info on the book!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Releases - May 2010

As usual I am half a month late but I still got some of this month's stuff together. Fortunately May is pretty quiet for all but anime DVD releases and a few hi-profile games like Super Mario Galaxy 2. Most of the news on the anime front is about companies, such as 4Kids and VizMedia. 4Kids is being delisted from the New York stock exchange and has reported a 3.5 million dollar loss for the first quarter of 2010 despite rumors that it is looking for a buyer. Regardless of all that it has been aggressively been pursuing new properties and will be restructuring its Saturday morning block to offer a more Japanese-slanted animation package in hopes of gaining new revenue. The most profitable property it owns continues to be Yu-gi-oh while Pokemon is seeing a slight decline in popularity. Meanwhile Viz has closed down its New York branch even though they have announced that they will not cancel any of their product lines. It just goes to show that the economy is hurting all industries, especially fringe products like animated entertainment.

Funimation has confirmed that it has licensed the Tsubasa Chronicles OVAs and will be releasing them Stateside in the coming months. SquareEnix is also bringing new IPs to the US in the form of its Fantasy Earth Zero MMORPG this May. This game is being offered free-to-play like many of the other recent MMORPGs from the past couple of years. It has been active in Japan since 2005. The Professor Layton series from Level 5 will not only receive a 6th game installment, but a second movie later next year as well. All 6 titles are slated for a US release, though only 2 have made it here so far. Manga U.K. has picked up the rights to release the first movie on DVD in the UK, but there has been no word on a US release as of yet. Level 5's Inazuma 11 series has also been successfully converted into an award-winning manga series this year.

Finally the world of Pokemon will be getting a new entry in the form of Pokemon Black/White for the DS this August, when a new season of the decade-old anime series is slated to begin. For this game, not only is new gameplay offered but a whole new 3D-style interaction will be offered. Pokemon Black/White will be compatible with all of the DS generation Pokemon games released so far.

  • Reader Rabbit Preschool/Kindergarden/1st/2nd Grade (Wii) - 5/4
  • Earthworm Jim (DS Ware) - 5/10
  • Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (All) - 5/18
  • Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow (DS) - 5/18
  • Fantasy Earth Zero (MMORPG) - 5/18
  • Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) - 5/23
  • Hexyz Force (PSP) - 5/23
  • Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans (Wii) - 5/24
  • Rock Band: Green Day (PS3, XBox 360) - 5/31

  • Eyeshield 21 Collection #1 - 5/18
  • xxxHoliC Complete Series - 5/18
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Part 1 - 5/25
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple Complete Season 1 - 5/25
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple Season 2 Part 2 - 5/25
  • Air Gear Complete Collection - 5/25

  • Kobato Vol. 1 - 5/18
  • Kobato Vol. 2 - 5/18
  • Black Butler Vol. 2 - 5/18
  • Lucky Star Vol. 5 - 5/19
  • Oh! My Goddess Vol. 35 - 5/25
  • Negima! Vol. 26 - 5/25
  • Rave Master Vol. 34 - 5/30
  • Monochrome Factor Vol. 5 - 5/30

Sources: AnimeNewsNetwork, TVShowsOnDVD, GameSpot, Mania, Borders Books & Music

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Releases - April 2010

Do you feel the Spring a'coming? Its time for a new major season of television, the start of the second (and more active) quarter of game releases, and the opening games for our Boys of Summer!

Gintama has ended its 5 year run with its 200th episode this past week. In true slapstick style this one featured various interpretations of "Santa Claus" with no real meaning whatsoever. However the series director Shinji Takamatsu has told fans that "Its not over," leaving us to wonder if a "Gintama II" is in the works for the future. The manga is still running. Funimation has confirmed that it will be overseeing the Stateside release of Kuroshitsuji, which is good news for fans of the popular goth-mystery-feel series. A spinoff season, Kuroshitsuji II, is scheduled to start in July as well ensuring that this year will also be a popular one for costumes at Otakon. For Kekkaishi fans, your wait is over! Adult Swim will start airing the series in May in its late-nite timeslot thanks to the timely people of Viz. Finally the longest-running baseball manga in Japan, Major, makes a return to anime with its sixth season starting this month.

In the gaming world, Nintendo's DSi XL hits stores this week promising a bigger, brighter dual screen and better connectivity. Already DSi units are starting to edge into the market with all indications that despite the company's insistence that it won't replace the DS Lite, its going to do so anyways. Also on the edge of rumor are the newest designs Nintendo might have for a handheld console, the 3DS. Reportedly this version will allow game designers to present their media in 3-D without the use of special glasses.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Releases - March 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are a Final Fantasy follower or just an RPG nut, this week is your week to celebrate! The long-awaited latest installment of SquareEnix's flagship series is here, so bust out your wallet and sign over your free time for the next month or so.

For the past few months, US gamers have been anxiously waiting to confirm for themselves if all the hype over the game is true. From all accounts this is visually the most stunning FF game yet, though the jury is still out over the AI-heavy gameplay and the light-on-character-driven plotline. This is one of the first major RPGs to come out for the next-gen systems and all involved parties are hoping for a major return on their investments despite the state of the economy. When the world around you is taking its time getting back to normal, sometimes a little escape is just what the doctor ordered!

In other news, the Pokemon series gets a facelift as HeartGold and SoulSilver hit stores this month. These games are the DS upgrades of Pokemon Silver and Gold but don't let the familiar plot fool you. There are new twists, graphics, and sidestories that will lure you back to Johto to catch them all.

In the anime world the focus this month is primarily on movies, movies, movies. New trailers have been posted for Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl: The Phantom Champion Zoroark, Detective Conan: The Lost Ship in the Sky, and Trigun: Badlands Rumble. The wise-cracking anime Gintama has finally made it for a State-side release, the Trigun manga is on schedule for a new 2-volume storyline, the anime Tegami Bachi will be getting a second season this fall, and Viz has bought the rights to the manga & light novels of The Story of Sainkoku (which is almost as good as if they had decided to make a Season 3). And for those of you who like microbes, Moyashimon will have a live-action series for you to laugh through this year. I swear real microbes really do look like this...

  • Lunar: Silver Star Harmony (PSP) - 3/2
  • Sonic Classic Collection (DS) - 3/2
  • Final Fantasy II (SNES on Wii) - 3/8
  • Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, XBox360) - 3/9
  • Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver (DS) - 3/14
  • Resonance of Fate (PS3, XBox360) - 3/16
  • God of War III (PS3) - 3/16
  • Dragon Age - Origins: Awakening (PS3, Xbox360) - 3/16
  • Infinite Space (DS) - 3/16
  • Fragile Dreams (Wii) - 3/16
  • Dawn of Heroes (DS) - 3/23
  • Sakura Wars: So Long My Love (Wii, PS2) - 3/30
  • The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (PC) - 3/31

  • King Arthur and the Knights of Justice Complete Collection - 3/2
  • Ponyo - 3/2
  • Eureka 7 the Movie - 3/2
  • Yozakura Quartet Complete - 3/2
  • Aria the Origination and Arietta - 3/16
  • One Piece Season 2 Part 6 - 3/16
  • Slayers Revolution Complete Set - 3/16
  • Case Closed Season 4 - 3/23
  • Case Closed Season 5 - 3/23
  • The Best of Soul Train - 3/29
  • Lupin the 3rd Episode 0: First Contact - 3/30
  • Ouran High School Host Club Complete Collection - 3/30
  • Soul Eater Part 2 - 3/30

  • Shaman King Vol. 27 - 3/2
  • Gintama Vol. 17 - 3/2
  • Prince of Tennis Vol. 36 - 3/2
  • Tegami Bachi Vol. 2 - 3/2
  • Wild Ones Vol. 9 - 3/2
  • One Piece: East Blue Compilation - 3/2
  • One Piece Vol. 35 - 3/2
  • Bleach Vol. 30 - 3/2
  • Inuyasha Vol. 46 - 3/9
  • Rurouni Kenshin VizBig Vol. 9 - 3/16
  • xxxHoLic Vol. 15 - 3/23
  • Fairy Tail Vol. 10 - 3/23
  • Nabari No Ou Vol. 3 - 3/23
  • Bamboo Blade Vol. 4 - 3/23

Sources: AnimeNewsNetwork, TVShowsOnDVD, GameSpot, Mania, Borders Books & Music