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Article
Sims Update Opens New Possibilities
Jun 17th 2016
I have always really loved The Sims. I enjoy how much creativity players are allowed when creating their virtual world and one of its most important aspects of this freedom is character design. Recently, the game released an update that allows for more options for character design. After choosing whether the character is male or female, players now have the ability to access all of the character design aspects for either characters, including clothing, accessories, and different hairstyles. In their news statement, Maxis stated, "The Sims is made by a diverse team for a diverse audience, and it's really important to us that players are able to be creative and express themselves through our games. We want to make sure players can create characters they can identify with or relate to through powerful tools that give them influence over a Sims gender, age, ethnicity, body type and more."
Personally, I think this was a great decision. Identity in gaming can be made up of a lot of factors. When I am designing my characters, I either design them to represent me as I am or as who I would like to be. For some players, their characters have no representation of their identity, and for others, their characters are who they really are, even if it is not what their outward appearance appears to be. This is where this update is really nice. It continues to give flexibility to the players, allowing them to put as many aspects of themselves into their characters as they would like. For people who do not identify as their culturally assigned gender, this update would allow them to create a character to represent who they are. Or, if a player is more gender fluid, it would give them the opportunity to combine whatever masculine or feminine identity traits they see fit. It is now up to the players to determine how immersed they would like to be in their virtual world with their characters. As the video included in the article states, "Create Who You Want."
I would like to see more games adopt this style of character creation. However, I do recognize that in some games, character creation may not be that important. For example, I am currently playing Destiny. From my perspective, my character is really awesome, and I particularly love the mohawk that I chose for her. Yet, I am the only one who can see this; all of the other online players only see my character in her armor, which makes me pretty disappointed. I prefer to be more immersed in my gaming experiences; therefore I would enjoy having more options to make my character whoever I wanted them to be. For games that rely more heavily on a storyline, these character design features may also be less important. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the gaming community overall reacts to this update, and I am looking forward to seeing some of the many characters that will be created as a result.
Article
The Accidental Podcaster: Tap Time
Jun 14th 2016
Monday night planning sessions for On Tap are by far one of my favorite times of the week. What started out as a weekly logistics meeting to plan guests and write questions has slowly evolved into something that is part steering committee, part writers' room, part true confessional. If ever I were to describe something as a "safe space," it would be Studio B on Monday evenings from nine until one of us had to go to bed.
At the beginning, Tap meetings had almost a mystical reputation among the RCM staff. Nobody else had ever done them, or at least not on a consistent basis and certainly not for as long as we ended up doing them. Allegedly, the gatherings were secret, with no one outside of the main panel allowed. Very inside jokes referenced in front of the other staff and community members induced giggle fits and had the others convinced we were speaking to one another in code. A quip Killer made about us using planning meetings for secret cabals was interpreted and spread as gospel truth. In essence, for the first few months after our show's premiere, the three of us were the Illuminati of RCM.
In a way, the rumors weren't that terribly far from the truth. No, Tap meetings weren't a ruse for the eventual takeover of RCM, but they did help model the kind of planning and teamwork necessary for a show - and, if one extrapolated on the idea, a network - to create and maintain production standards a lot higher than one would expect for a group with little experience and no budget. Structure and consistency was the one thing RivalCast most desperately needed if we wanted to survive, and somebody had to show how it could work. Tap meetings, from the onset, were part of a wider initiative to model the hows of beating the odds and becoming successful.
Article
A Change of Pace
Jun 2nd 2016
The original Doom and Doom II are classics of the First Person Shooter genre, and for good reason: they would set the standard of what a FPS should be. For many years, any FPS would be casually be grouped together with the label of Doom-clone, just like the 3rd person sandbox games would be labeled as GTA-clones. Now I get to experience, as Varyar would say, THE GLORY that is Doom that I sadly missed out when it was released in the 90's. Here is some of quick thoughts so far about the game.
The Gameplay
Let me get straight to the point: Doom is a refreshing breath of fresh air. It is a welcome change of pace, literally. I had not really given it deep thought about how many shooters of today are slower pace than the shooters of yesteryear. The reasons for this slow down are varied and many, such as console shooters becoming popular, the introduction of recharging health and cover mechanics, and a plethora of "military" shooters being in-thing for some time. So when Doom goes back to the roots of 90's shooters, the contrast is drastic and welcomed. That is not to say that the more conventional shooters of today are inherently worse, but it does make one think about the rut the FPS genre seems to be in at the moment.
Article
The Accidental Podcaster: The Important Things
Jun 1st 2016
Today is a good day.
My last post talked about some of the issues that have come up to try and derail me in my empire-building, and I ended with the question 'what things are taking priority?' I think that scared the guys a little bit, because they spent the two weeks in between that post and today being exceptionally sweet. To be clear, RCM is instant priority, because it encapsulates everything I really want to do in one nice, neat little company. The people are a huge part of it - the guys are better than friends, and our fan base makes up the most amazing community on the Internet. But it's more than that. Eight years ago, I was begging independent publishers to let me moonlight for them for free just so I could get some experience in the industry. Even offering pro bono slave work, I got rejection after rejection because what I ultimately wanted to do, nobody else was doing, and didn't want to take a chance on.
Now, I'm running the kind of program I tried so hard - and failed - to find: taking novice writers, helping them find and hone their own strengths, and giving them a chance to get some publishing experience early on while also teaching them transferable skills in what I refer to as the Toolbox of Badassery. Make no mistake: people get out of the experience what they're willing to put into it, and everybody's got different reasons for being here. But it's working. Over the past year RCM Writing has brought a number of talented writers to the front page. Last weekend, Hax tweaked the front page a bit so all the fiction runs we've been doing are neat and easy to find in their own forum and the stories, articles, and news pieces all have their own places (IT'S PRETTY). And next weekend, the summer interns have their first brainstorming session as they workshop their summer projects, bringing more fresh talent to our front page. It's exciting.
Article
Multiple Holidays to Finish Out May
May 30th 2016
This weekend, most of RivalCastia is celebrating a Monday holiday. Those in the UK are enjoying the vaguely named "Spring Bank Holiday," which is generally celebrated on the last Monday in May as a secular replacement for the old late-May holiday of Whit Monday. These holidays tend to be just taking a day to rest, though in the village of Brockworth, the townsfolk traditionally participate in a race which involves rolling large pieces of cheese down a steep hill and chasing after them. Readers can learn more about the competition at the event's official web site, though with the caution that the entire site is written in Comic Sans and thus difficult for this author to take seriously.
Here in the States, we also celebrate a holiday for final Monday in May, though ours is for more somber reasons. Memorial Day is meant to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military. Despite what ignorant Facebook re-posts might tell you, this is not to be confused with Veteran's Day, which is celebrated in November to honor the living U.S. veterans for their service to our country, nor with Labor Day, which is celebrated in September and has nothing to do with the military whatsoever.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day, and evolved from a number of local springtime tributes held for the dead of the U.S. Civil War. During World War I, the scope was expanded to honor the American military members who died in all wars. The day is typically celebrated by decorating the graves of deceased military personnel and holding parades, many of which feature active military as well as members of veterans organizations. This is also a time where many American families hold picnics and barbeques. To help remind Americans of the true meaning of the day, in 2000 the National Moment of Remembrance resolution passed, asking that at 3 PM local time, Americans "voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence."
Article
The Accidental Podcaster: Priorities
May 18th 2016
It's been one of those weeks, writing-wise. Hell, let's be honest, it's been one of those weeks life-wise, too. The ones where you start quite a bit - snippet here, paragraph there - of a bunch of different projects, but can't get your thoughts together long enough on any one thing to see something through to its completion. They'll all get there at some point. Just not necessarily this week.
Part of the reason is that in my various roles, both at Rivalcast and in my day job, it is widely understood/assumed that I am In Charge; that is, I have a track record of responsible behaviors and knowing where to find things to Get Shit Done, and therefore must be able to do anything at any time with a certain level of competence and panache. This is a dangerous assumption and one that I try to minimize whenever possible, because being In Charge naturally leads people to assume I Have Answers and thus come to me with all kinds of problems I am most assuredly not qualified to handle. People come to me with situations and are pleased because I seem to be taking time and thinking, but honestly, most of those thoughts are trying to control the panic over figuring out what can possibly be done and why the person is coming to me in the first place. Pull a few rabbits out of your hat and people begin to think you're a magician.
And those are the easy ones.
Article
The Accidental Podcaster: Identity
May 4th 2016
It was a gorgeous spring day for my last community college visit of the semester. The atrium where the college reps tables were set up skirted a student art exposition showcasing their work for the semester - excellent, because I'd have the double bonus of increased traffic for my visit and get a more interesting focal point for my people watching. My assigned table was at the end of the atrium, directly across from the station where students of the sketch classes were doing free portraits of festival goers. It should have, by my estimation, been a very busy morning, so I wasn't even upset that my laptop battery drained itself in the first couple of hours trying to connect to the wifi. It was here things started to go astray.
Without the distractions of paperwork, my brain focused on the (increasingly loud) conversations of the students nearest me. One in particular stuck out - a first-year, dressed in expensive designer Bohemian look clothes, who was spending more time talking about how she was being persecuted and punished for, in her words, being a "full-out 100% lesbian" (or, alternately, gushing about the attractiveness of Chris Evans. Yeah.) than she was actually sketching. We'll refer to her as "Tortured Artist" for reasons which will soon become clear. When a same-sex couple sat down at her easel to have their portrait done together, I got to learn more about Tortured Artist's perceived notions of herself than I'd think appropriate in an academic setting. The "persecution" part was her own words, though her examples of this persecution were among the most laughably first-world problems I'd ever personally witnessed: Her father was punishing her by not buying her the new car she wanted, but a different one instead (her presumably straight sister got to pick her own car). Tortured Artist was being persecuted for her art by her fellow students - they just didn't understand her work (never mind that of the pieces I saw, it was truly awful). She loudly described, in vivid detail, her embarrassment the first time she took a girlfriend home to meet her parents and they didn't embrace her choice as openly and readily as she wanted (it sounded to me like they weren't disapproving of their daughter's choice, but confused about the Chris Evans thing, too). The piece de resistance, however, was how at the beginning of the conversation this girl's mother was an ally, but by the end she, too, had apparently bought her ticket on the persecution train via the inexcusable sin of purchasing Tortured Artist's organic something or other snack from Giant Eagle, a local grocery chain, rather than from Whole Foods Market.
The bitch.
Article
Press 'X' to Continue
Apr 26th 2016
During Baron, Varyar, and my discussion of the talking points we wanted to hit on the our first Youtube video of "The Good, the Bad, and What If" talking about The Division, we talked a lot about the things the game just missed the mark on. Sadly one of the points we could not fit into the video was a lack of mission variety. It is quite difficult to compress nearly two hours of discussion into a seven minute video. That particular point of lack of mission variety had me thinking on how other shooters did their missions, which led me to another thought: is it me, or does it feel like for many years now, many of the shooters released have been stuck in a mission progression rut?
For example, how many missions from different shooters does this following basic description describe? You start off, get some dialogue telling you what to do, which leads you run to the first area of the mission. Once you get there, you proceed to shoot up a couple of waves of bad guys. Once that task is complete, you get a prompt to either to continue on to the next area of the mission, or some dialogue saying you need to interact with a particular piece of the game environment. So you press the 'X' button (or 'E' if you are part of the PC master race) which leads to more waves of bad guys that you have to kill. Rinse and repeat a couple times till the end of the mission.
It is easy to understand how many shooter games have falling into this rut. For developers, it is much simpler to design missions in subsections of encounters with distinct beginnings and ends versus the mission being one giant encounter. Consider all the assets, ranging from A.I. to the game mechanics that are needed to make a single mission in a game. A change in one of those assets can cause ripples that affect how the others assets are used. Additionally, the game is mainly structured around shooting mechanics (otherwise it would not, by definition, be a shooter, or it would be a terrible shooter game). When the player's only means of interacting with the game are shooting things and using prearranged triggers put into the mission, it is easy to fall into the rut we see now.
Article
The Accidental Podcaster: Chaos
Apr 19th 2016
It is April, 2006. I am nestled in one of the many crevices in the basement of the old math building, a colored pencil behind each ear as I furiously count tiny boxes. I'm modelling a number of different rule sets based around Conway's Game of Life - given a row of cells in one of two states (colored or uncolored), the state of the cells in the next iteration are determined by a set of rules that show what the cell's state will be based upon the conditions of the neighboring cells. These types of models, called cellular automata, show how simple rules lead to much more complex patterns over a large number of iterations. Except my current model isn't showing a pattern, and I am concerned now that I've made a mistake somewhere, but I can't see it.
Leaning on the wall across from me, my algebra professor is amused by the mess of notepads and pencil shavings spilling out into the hall. "You know," he says as he heads back to his office, "MATLAB would make those iterations so much easier on you." He grins as he walks off.
"You're not helping." I'm being teased, and I know it. It's well known how much I hate having to do things in the lab. I need to see how each line, each step of the process works to be able to visualize and understand how things work. The programs don't show their work, and if I get an unexpected result, I have no way of figuring out exactly why. It also doesn't help that any time I touch a machine in our lab, it immediately freezes, and if I try to reboot it makes the problem worse. I just looked at one of the machines earlier - didn't even touch it - and immediately got the spinny beach ball of death. If that weren't frustrating enough, the previous day we also had our group meeting with our supervising professor for our teaching experience, which had gone so amazingly awful that I'd immediately gone to my faculty advisor to talk about switching majors... four years into my program. This in turn led to a screaming fit with my then-fiancee, which led to my not sleeping, which segued into a decision to drive to campus early with the aforementioned colored pencils and graph paper to work on my models in peace.
Article
An Accidental Non-cast
Apr 12th 2016
I should probably have mentioned in my last post that AP is going to be posting on alternating weeks for a bit while I'm finishing Agents of Arachnos (final episode May 6!), prepping stuff for the summer writing program, and editing a new long-term story for you to enjoy (the hype train will be boarding soon). Add to this the fact that all of us staffers have full time day jobs while we moonlight at our fledgling media empire and, well, it's amazing we get anything done at all.

I only wish the books I fall asleep in could be this soft and fluffy (photo: ThinkGeek)