Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dragon Age Keep Open Beta Impressions

Dragon Age Inquisition is only weeks away, and Bioware has finally launched the open beta for the Dragon Age Keep. Unlike previous Bioware releases, Dragon Age Inquisition will not feature a save game import feature. At least, not in the traditional way. Instead of porting a save file over from Dragon Age 2 into Dragon Age Inquisition, players will establish their world state via the Keep, an online app that allows you to upload save games from previous Dragon Age releases, and tracks those decisions for later use in Inquisition. For those who may have not played previous entries in the Dragon Age saga, the Keep allows you to make choices and establish your in-universe continuity the way you would like to see it. Once you are satisfied with your world state, whether by uploading or customizing, you will then be able to transfer that data into Inquisition when it is released on November 19th.

The Keep seeks to solve two problems. The first is carrying over save files from one console generation to the next.  The second is to solve several import bugs that occurred throughout the series. This pleases me, as nothing was more frustrating to me as a player than having everyone in Kirkwall tell me that my Grey Warden sacrificed his life to end the Blight, when in fact, he did not.
Yesterday, the open beta for the Keep went live, allowing players to get their hands on the app and test it out. In order to get a full impression of what the Keep’s general capabilities are in terms of customizing the world state, I decided to try and rebuild it from the ground up, as opposed to uploading a save file from a previous play through.

 Overall, the Keep is a very fine tool to use in crafting your own save game. It looks pretty, and has a simple to use interface. Choices can be made quite easily, and the logic of the system is on point. As I tried to recreate my own world state, it would frequently stop and make sure I was making accurate decisions, as some of the choices I was customizing interfered with the default set up. Fortunately, one click is all it takes to fix the problem, and the choices are readjusted accordingly.

One aspect I really liked about the Keep is that when your world state is finalized, you can watch a little “previously on” type video that explains with greater context everything that transpired along your world state, narrated by none other than storyteller supreme, Varric Tethras. Having Varric narrate the video was a nice touch, and made it feel less like an application, and more like a piece of the lore. It’s almost as if Varric is sitting around a fire and telling a story.

I did have a few problems with Keep. When customizing your Grey Warden, it seems odd that you are not allowed to change his/her name. The only way to go into the Keep with a name of your choosing is to upload your save game to Origin, then sync your Origin account with Keep. It’s a massive headache when it should be as simple as “What was the Warden’s name?” Likewise, you are unable to a give a name to your dog. If I start Inquisition and they refer to my dog as Barkspawn instead of Wrex, I’ll be pissed the hell off. Mostly because Barkspawn is a stupid name.

Another oddity in the Keep is that some choices are extremely specific, covering nearly every possible outcome and nuance. For example, did you tell Filda that her son, Ruck was dead despite the fact that he was alive? Did you tell her the truth? Did you kill Ruck and tell her the truth? Did you kill Ruck and lie? Literally every outcome is covered in that option. Meanwhile, the Landsmeet does not cover whether or not you got Anora’s support, or if she betrayed you. It breaks it down to, “Is Alistair king or not?” Okay that is an exaggeration, as it does ask specifically how Loghain died (in a duel with Alistair on mine), but it seems like big details are being left out.

If you played Awakening, you may be surprised to see that there is absolutely no mention of most of your party members or their fates. While Nathaniel and Ohgren are covered in detail, no one else is. We know that Anders and Justice show up again as one being in Dragon Age 2, so covering their fates in the Keep doesn’t matter (well, not until DA2 that is), but what about Sigrun, Velanna, and even Varel? All of these characters can either live or die depending on your choices. Not tracking those choices basically means we will never see or hear from them again. I can understand Varel not being covered somewhat. The chances of seeing him again are extremely low considering his voice actor, Robin Sachs, tragically passed away. Velanna and Sigrun on the other hand were companions. It would nice to meet up with them at some point in the future. If this is the final version of the Keep, we sadly never will.

Overall, the Keep is a very nice tool for building your world state in preparation for Dragon Age Inquisition. While I would certainly like Bioware to tackle my objections, even if they don’t it’s not the end of the world. It should be interesting to see what awaits players in Inquisition, and the Keep offers us a tiny glimpse of what that may be.


Simple and Easy to use (for the most part)

Typically very specific with choices and options

Varric narration is a nice touch

Cool artwork

Solves continuity disrupting bugs such as the fate of the Warden in DA2


Unable to name the Grey Warden, Hawke, or Dog

Could use some background music

Some decisions seem simplified

No information on the fate of Varel, Velanna, or Sigrun

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Runners Review

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend C2E2, Chicago’s coolest comic book convention.  Now, I love C2E2 and I try to visit it in some form every year.  Of course, my favorite part of any con is artist alley.  I love rubbing shoulders with fellow independent creators, making new contacts, and finding some hidden treasures.  This year, I found one such treasure.  That treasure is a science fiction graphic novel series called Runners.

Runners is about a group of space aged smugglers, desperately trying to make a not so honest living in a not so honest galaxy.  The crew is made up of the gruff Captain Roka, his easily angered, yet pragmatic second in command Ril, the young recruit with a kick ass glowing arm, Bocce, the gleeful, gambling sharpshooter Cember, the enormous stone like warrior Bennesaud, and the amnesiac stowaway Sky.  Together, they try to make their way in the galaxy.  Sadly, they aren’t very good at it, because they constantly find themselves in heaps of trouble.

To put it simply, Runners is a fantastic comic.  The stories for the first two graphic novels, Bad Goods and the Big Snow Job, are fun, exciting and extremely clever.  Sean Wang (who is not just the writer, but also the artist), manages to craft a story that is witty and engaging, with a kooky and all too loveable cast of characters.  While each installment features a standalone adventure, Wang manages to also foreshadow some farther reaching story elements, interweave the tale with some great character moments, and pepper in some intense and thrilling action sequences.

To make it even better, Runners has some truly incredible artwork. The character designs are rich with detail, yet clean and polished.  Not only that, but all of the alien designs are so weird, so fascinating and so otherworldly.  I can honestly say that I have never seen such cool and interesting alien designs.  One of my favorites is Cember.  He’s a happy go lucky marksman who has a set of tentacles for legs, and a set of 5 or so eyes that wrap completely around his head.  It’s such a cool and creative design, just like every character in Runners.

Another thing I love about Runners is how jam packed full of content the graphic novels are.  When you pick up a volume of Runners, you aren’t just getting a great story.  In the last pages of both volumes, Wang includes all sorts of extras, including a short story, concept designs, pinups, and even a translation guide to help you pronounce all the crazy sci-fi alien names.  If you pronounced the name Cember like KEM-ber, you’re doing it wrong.

Overall, I can’t say enough good things about Runners.  Sure, there are a few flaws.  The color work in the second volume is a bit drab at times, particularly during the opening gun battle.  A few major characters (Bocce and Bennesaud) haven’t had much to do thus far into the tale, leaving me a little cold towards them.  Other than those minor nitpicks, Runners is one hell of a comic!

With its cast of unique characters, fun and clever storytelling, pulse pounding action, a witty sense of humor, and some incredible artwork, Runners celebrates sci-fi geekdom with big ol’ stupid looking grin on its face.  With a seemingly effortless craftsmanship, Sean Wang delivers a science fiction adventure that is more fun than any comic has the right to be.  And comics are pretty damn fun.  The biggest flaw Runners suffers from is the fact that there is no third volume to start reading.  Well…. not yet anyways.

If you love epic sci-fi action, elaborate alien creatures, rich new worlds, and cool star ships, I suggest you hop on over to and start reading it now!  You won’t regret it!    

I give Runners a 9.5 out of 10.

PS:  Anyone else get the Twilight Zone reference in the publisher name?  I dig it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

San Diego Comic Con Drops Weekend Passes, Raises Prices

Ah, San Diego Comic Con.  A veritable heaven to all nerds, geeks, cosplayers, and entertainment enthusiasts.  Every year, fanboys and fangirls from all walks of life gather for five days of celebrating everything pop culture.  Comic books, movies, video games, you name it, you can probably find it at Comic Con.  The preparations for one of the greatest entertainment expos on Earth (and other planets as well) should be bursting with feelings of excitement, not riddled with stress and confusion.  Comic Con decided to change that, and a lot of other things as well.  It was recently announced that SDCC would not only be raising the prices for their tickets, but will also no longer be offering weekend passes to the event.

For the record, SDCC is one of the hardest conventions to get tickets to.  How hard, you may ask?  For last year's show, tickets sold out completely in approximately an hour and a half.  Yeah.  Tickets were sold out before some of us even knew they were on sale.  The theory behind removing weekend passes is to get more tickets out there to more fans who may otherwise not be able to go to the show due to the speed in which tickets sell out.  Certainly a noble enough goal, but my question is this: is it even worth it?

Let's start by looking at the logistics of the scenario for someone like me.  See, I'm just some average Joe living in the Midwest who, like anyone desiring to traverse across the country to SDCC, loves comics, movies and everything else offered at the convention.  I would love to go!  In fact, I've already been to a few conventions.  The biggest is C2E2, which is an enormous show.  So big, that after three days I still left Chicago feeling like I just scratched the surface of what C2E2 had to offer.

I once had a chat with a well known, professional comic book artist.  I'd rather not mention his name for fear of coming across like a pretentious name dropper, and he may not want to be associated with a blathering buffoon such as myself.  Anyway, we discussed the size and scope of some of the more popular conventions.  According to the artist, SDCC is like ten C2E2s.  Just hearing him say that made me feel overwhelmed.  If SDCC is ten times larger than C2E2, and only has an additional day and half to experience the whole show... Hell, an entire weekend isn't enough, let alone one day!  

It's almost more like a teaser than anything.  Imagine going to the premiere restaurant in town.  You wait in line for several hours, pay thousands of dollars, and are only permitted to eat an appetizer.  You don't just want an appetizer after all that!  You want the whole meal!  For a guy like me, Mr. Average Joe, aka The Blathering Buffoon, spending almost $1,000 just ain't worth one day.  I would definitely consider that for a whole weekend, because if I'm spending that kind of money, I want to get the most out of my experience.    

It is true that SDCC is not prohibiting fans from going an entire weekend.  Technically, you can purchase tickets for each individual day of the show.  The problem is that weekend passes would be sold at a cheaper price point than buying each individual daily ticket.  You would save about $10-15, generally speaking.  Not only that, but holding a weekend pass also granted you access to the preview night.

Preview Night is a long held comic book convention tradition that gives VIP, and Weekend Pass ticket holders access to the show before anyone else.  It's a smaller, quieter look at the show floor, and has always been granted as a reward for fans who want to see the whole show.

Technically, Preview Night is still around, but with strings attached.  You see, to get access to Preview Night, you need to purchase individual tickets for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the increased prices, and no discounted cost for purchasing the now extinct weekend pass.  Only then do attendees have the opportunity to purchase the Preview Night ticket.  Yes, even more money out of your wallet.

Odds are, you're already spending close to $1,000 on travel, hotel and food.  Tickets for the whole show, including Preview Night will come to $200.  That's a $20 price increase total.  That might not sound so bad, but for a lot people, $20 can go a long way.  Of course, I have never been to SDCC, so all of this is based on the traditional practices of other comic book conventions.  I have heard that folks have always needed to pay extra for Preview Night at SDCC, but seeing as how I have never been, I really wouldn't know for sure.

According to SDCC, the cancellation of the weekend pass is because it is, "repetitive and often lead to people purchasing a 4-day badge despite not needing to attend everyday."  So... people do not need four days to see everything Comic Con has to offer?  Riiiiiight.  So why does SDCC go on for four days then?  How come I can see everything I need to in four days at SDCC, but the much smaller C2E2, I miss 40% of the show, and I have three days.  That is a load of bull crap of the stinkiest kind.  You mean to tell me that there is someone who purchases a weekend pass, walks in one day and says, "Man I wish I didn't get a weekend pass.  There is nothing to do at SDCC today!"  I suppose it's true that people don't need to go for every day, but then again, they don't need to go to San Diego Comic Con at all, do they?  Are you guys going to cancel the show?  Didn't think so.
I sincerely question the motivations behind SDCC's move here.  On paper, it might seem like they are trying to benefit more fans by getting them into SDCC, but in reality, the only people they are truly benefiting here is themselves.  Increased prices with no way of cutting costs for attendees, and not offering weekend passes to ensure they get the most bang for their buck... It just feels like yet another business succumbing to the seduction of greed, because that $20 price raise translates to 2.6 million dollars of increased revenue to SDCC.  They will get that money too, because so many people want to go to the convention, it doesn't matter if you decide its not worth the trip, someone will take your place, and maybe that guy feels like he got screwed in the end.

I predict people will spend more money they can afford just to go to San Diego Comic Con for one day, only to be denied the experience they deserve, and walk away disappointed, maybe even enraged.  Meanwhile, the figureheads behind Comic Con International will be soaking in the couple extra millions they just made off of a bunch of suckers.  The worst part is, SDCC is so big, and attendance to the show is so coveted, they will get away with it, and potentially set a new standard for other conventions as well.  This could be the first step in the death of the weekend pass as we know it.  Which sucks, because big conventions like SDCC and even C2E2 need a whole weekend to let us enjoy all the fun and spectacle that these great conventions have to offer.

So what do you guys think?  Do you agree or disagree with my perspective on SDCC and their decision to remove the weekend pass?  Or am I just a blathering buffoon?  Leave comments below and let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I'm Back!

Greetings internet!  It has been way too long.  I suppose I have a bit of explaining to do.  Yes, I have been gone a long time.  Considering the last post I made on this blog was over a year ago, and frankly, my posts prior to that were few and far between, I can imagine that many folks out there thought I was gone for good.  To be honest, I thought I was as well.

You see, before I stopped writing, I had a bit of a... let's call it a "creative crisis."  My comic seemed to be withering into nothingness, my editing jobs had dried up, most of the contacts I had made all but disappeared, and I could no longer foresee a scenario where I could make any profit on my writing.  It wasn't long before my passion began to fade.

I tried various other avenues of publishing my words, ones that would surely offer more money making potential.  However, as I began to dedicate all of my writing towards those newer, more lucrative endeavors, I had unintentionally wondered into a cage.  I found that I could no longer write what I wanted to write about, in the way I wanted to write.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful, or unappreciative of these jobs I took on.  Many of these gigs were for very close friends of mine, and the last thing I mean to say is that I didn't want to work with them, because that is not the case.  The fact remained that I was writing for them, and not for myself.  In fact, that is giving myself far too much credit.  In truth, I was writing for money, and essentially turned myself into the literary equivalent of a prostitute.

The more I continued down this path, the more confined I began to feel.  Like a fly caught in a spider's web, the more I struggled, the more ensnared I became.  And soon, I began to lose faith.  The more I wrote, the less I cared.  Hollow had I become in my creative pursuits, and soon I simply could write no more.

During this period, I also had thousands of other forces at work in my life, further distracting me from my ambitions.  Chief among them was the most powerful force on Earth: love.  An absolutely amazing woman had entered my life (she drew the above cartoon of me!), and it was only a matter of time before we were engaged.  The future lingered in my mind more than  ever, and I had to do something to earn enough money for us to realize such a future.

I took a job working in retail.  Yeah, that's right.  I sold out to the man.  But you know what?  It wasn't all bad.  I found the work surprisingly engaging.  The job I took was surprisingly physical, offering up quite an exercise routine.  Lifting, jogging, stretching, squatting, that sort of thing.  In fact, I've lost a lot of weight and put on some serious muscles, bra.

Eventually, the job that was fresh, new and exciting took a turn for the mundane and repetitive. One day (like.. two days ago), I had a revelation, and not of something cool like the flux capacitor.  No, my revelation was much more... depressing...

Every day I go into to work I feel a portion of my soul being sapped away.  I spend 5 nights a week doing the exact same thing that I have been doing for almost a year.  More hours of my life are spent with my co-workers than with my fiancee.  I get to go inside from 30 degree weather, right back into 30 degree weather (I work in the meat and frozen food department).

I realized on that day, that I was in Hell... a frozen over Hell, and the blue light special of the day was my soul.  I was reminded of a quote from none other than Bill Murray from Groundhog Day.  "It's going to be cold... it's going to grey... and it's going to last you the rest of your life."

Okay, so yes I am exaggerating a bit, but the point is, I really don't want to work in retail.  Sure my bosses are nice, my coworkers are cool, and it pays the bills, but it is ultimately not what I want to do.  Nor is any other job that would fit into the category of "9 to 5."  I want to write.  And so, here I am.  Back with a vengeance, and ready to get back to what I love most.

I am taking my blog very seriously this time around.  Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, expect a new update.  I plan on having plenty of new content this time around.  Sure, I'll still have the articles, opinion columns, and reviews, but I also want to include some new stuff, and I can't wait to show you what I have planned.  Every article posted will be shared on each social network I am a part of, and if that's not good enough, you can now subscribe to my blog to get the latest and greatest the second it's available.

And so, I will leave you with one last sentiment.  Something I have said to many up and coming writers and artists at conventions, but had seemed to have forgotten myself.  Stop waiting.  Start creating.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Let the Kids Trick or Treat for St. Jude!

Hello everybody!  I would like to draw your attention to a little charity auction going on right now.  My good buddy Stephen Bryant of SRB Productions is putting on a charity to help raise money to fight against childhood cancer and other illnesses.  He has established a nice auction filled with great artwork, comics, books, and jewelry from many talented individuals, including yours truly.

I have put up a lot featuring a signed issue of Star Crossed Galaxy #1, as well as three exclusive, never before offered prints!  You can check it out here, or check out the other stellar items up for auction right here.  As stated, all items from my lot will be signed by me.  If you are wondering what the auction is all about, check out this interview with the man behind the curtain, Stephen Bryant

Thanks to everyone who bids, or at least spreads the word.  It is for a great cause, and it's something that I am very passionate about.  I wouldn't help out if I weren't.  The auction ends October 31st, so you have plenty of time to bid.  If you want to that is.  Just know, these kids desperately need your help (cue super sad Sarah McLachlan music). 

In other news, I will be at Detroit Fanfare next weekend (October 26-28).  I will be selling copies of Star Crossed Galaxy #1 and Twilight Pop Presents #3.  I do not have too many copies, so if you want to stop by and purchase a copy, be there quick!  Also, make sure to say hi to my table partner, Rose McClain, and take a ganders at her excellent artwork.  She is absolutely amazing.  

Two news updates, 6 plugs, 25 godzillion links later, and we've reached the end of this update.  Thanks everybody for paying attention (I say to an empty room).  Stay safe and awesome, and keep visiting da blag! 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Where Have I Been?

I know I haven't been around much, but there's a good reason.  I am now an official contributor of PCM Tech Help Show.  If you like my articles and reviews, check me out there.  I am literally doing the same thing at PCM that I do here, only now I get paid.  Check it out here!

The big question is, where does that leave my blog?  From now on, the blog will be used mostly for news on Star Crossed Galaxy, and for anything going on with my life that I feel like posting.  Or anything that would not be totally appropriate for PCM.  Like if I rant about parking meters, or something.

But today, I would like to take a minute to announce that I will officially be heading up to Detroit Fanfare from October 26-28.  I will be in artist alley selling copies of SCG, as well as Twilight Pop Presents.  If you are up that way, make sure to stop by and say hi.  

Well that's all for now.  Make sure to stay healthy and happy my followers!  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut Thoughts

                    Proof that cupcakes win every argument

Mass Effect 3 was released back in March, and with it came a furious tempest of outrage aimed at the ending to the would-be great sci-fi epic.  Mass Effect 3’s ending was littered with plot holes, narrative inconsistencies, confusion, bleakness, and disrespect to the fans and the lore that came before it.  Now, Bioware has the right to shit on their game if they want to, but the fans understandably outraged over an ending that not only destroyed the entire galaxy, but also abolished every choice you have ever made for your Commander Shepard, right down to the character’s gender (“The Shepard?” Fuck that).  Due to the sheer power of the outcry, Bioware elected to calm the storm and release a new extended ending.  This ending would feature additional cutscenes and epilogues that would further expand and clarify the existing ending rather than change it.  But considering how utterly horrific the original ending was, would that be enough?

As it turns out, Bioware did not simply clarify their ending.  They did in fact change the ending, however, the changed it by working within the confines of what was already there.  The truth of the matter is that ME3’s original ending set out to destroy the universe, abolish your choices and end the franchise on a ridiculous Adam and Eve reference.  What other purpose does the revelation of the asari goddess being a prothean serve?  Why else is the Stargazer scene necessary?  And what other reason would they strip away any reference to Commander Shepard by referring to him/her simply as “The Shepard?”  Why else would the Mass Relays explode if not to cause a catastrophic event in every single system?  Why else is it necessary to separate the Normandy crew from the rest of the galaxy, if it is not consumed by hundreds if not thousands of supernovas?  Thankfully, the ending is now much less grim and apocalyptic and actually commits to stopping the Reapers.

There is not a whole lot that has changed in the EC, but what has changed is dramatically different and has a massive impact on the emotions you feel at the end of the game.  Firstly, the EMS requirements have been lowered to an achievable level.  Now, every single ending option is available to you and your Shepard’s without having to resort to multiplayer.  As much as I appreciate this change I can’t help but remember that Bioware promised this was going to be the case at launch.  Among some other changes were new cutscenes that expanded the battle for Earth slightly, including an especially excellent scene involving the chosen love interest.  Also included is a stronger, more effective confrontation with Harbinger.  

The Catalyst has also been rewritten to actually make some sense.  Before, the Catalyst was an artificial entity inhabiting the Citadel and controlling the Reapers.  Obviously this creates a massive plot hole in ME1.  If the Catalyst is the Citadel, why do the Reapers need Sovereign to open the relay in the first installment?  Now, the Catalyst is the collective consciousness of the Reapers (which was my theory!  Woot!!!).  The Catalyst scene has been rewritten quite dramatically.  Not only can Shepard argue with the Star-brat’s logic, but the space toddler even admits to its own logical flaws.  It also provides further insight to the Reapers, the Crucible and all of the choices you can make for the ending.  One other addition to this scene is a new ending.  The much requested “Screw you Catalyst,” ending now exists.  However, this ending results in the utter destruction of this cycle, paving way for the next cycle to finish the job we started.  Basically, the original ending is now the new ending.  Control, destroy and synthesis are also explained in greater detail by the Catalyst, and each have a unique epilogue sequence that explain the result of your choice. 

In my opinion, the Extended Cut does its job.  Sure there are still tons of plot holes, retcons, and a host of other problems, but at least there are no inbred colonies.  It’s not perfect, hell it isn’t even particularly good, but it does its job.  Had Mass Effect 3 shipped with this ending, the fans may have simply said, “Well that was kind of sucky.  But oh well.  Let’s start over and play again!”  However, the original ending was, in my opinion, an insult to the most loyal of fans.  It was like cutting off a limb.  This extended cut merely attempts to put a band aid on and act like it’s all better.  Sadly, the leg is still gone and there is nothing you can do to repair the damage. 

Overall, ME3’s extended end fixes what it set out to fix.  The real problems throughout ME3 are still present.  Just a little bit more closure was added… sort of.  The biggest problem I have with the EC is that it still refuses to commit to whether or not Shepard is alive.  That was easily the biggest gripe people had with the original ending, and yet, Shepard’s status is still up in the air.  I don’t think Bioware realizes the power Shepard’s fate has on players.  If Shepard stood up and dusted him/herself off, this whole debacle would be over.  Fans would accept what they can’t change and move on.  Instead, Bioware continues to force us to write the ending in our heads, without even bothering to give us compensation.   

Does my score of Mass Effect 3 change now that the EC has fixed a few major gripes in the ending?  No, because it doesn’t fix the major gripes with the entire game.  My biggest issues with ME3 had nothing to do with the ending.  They were the auto dialog, the lack of closure, the useless characters that go nowhere, the horrifically bad dialog and reputation systems, the lack of player agency throughout the game, no consequences for any choice you ever made; I could go on and on.  None of these problems were fixed in any substantial way.  When I beat ME3 with this extended ending, I feel exactly the same as I did when I beat the game the first time.  Disappointed.  Still, both ME3 and the EC have some high points.  I recommend getting the EC simply because it’s free.  Just don’t be surprised if you still feel like you overpaid.  Mass Effect 3, you still get a 7 out of 10.  Enjoy it. 

And one last note to my readers, don’t be expecting me to review any more Bioware games or DLC.  I think I’m pretty much done with them.  I know many of my readers jumped on thanks to my ludicrous amount of Mass Effect articles.  I may be done with Bioware, but I hope you guys stick around.