The Black Tapes Podcast Is Fearfully Delicious


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I have to state up front that The Black Tapes isn’t a podcast best listened to while browsing, gaming, or multitasking. I tried to get into this podcast several times and failed before I fell completely and utterly in love with it.  Finally I decided to give it a try without three or four other things dividing my attention and the difference was night and day. This is a story that thrives on the eerie atmosphere it creates, and like the great radio dramas of yesteryear, the listener has to do their part and use some good old fashioned imagination.

The Black Tapes is a podcast about Alex Reagan, a digital radio journalist trying to start a series about people with interesting jobs. The first people she profiles are a group of ghost hunters and paranormal researchers. As the events of the first few episodes unfold, Alex and her producer decide to shift the focus of the podcast from a variety of people and careers to researching the mysterious Black Tapes she comes across when interviewing the famous skeptic Dr. Strand.

Via the podast’s website, the story is:

a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.

The production values and voice acting are both excellent and highly professional. The enigmatic Dr. Strand in particular has a compelling and rich voice that makes the listener eager for every line. He’s the sort of voice actor who could read the phone book and make it sound exciting.

I only have a few minor criticisms. At times indistinct sound effects take place before Alex explains what is going on, leading the listener to imagine the actors doing something much different from what actually happens. Now, that’s not a bad thing when they use it for suspense and humor. But on several occasions it happened for what seemed to be no narrative purpose. For example, after heated words were exchanged at one point, there are sounds like footsteps across floorboards and a door opening, seeming to suggest that one character was storming out, only for the listener to belatedly be informed that the characters were simply entering another room all together.

The only other minor criticism is that Alex’s introductory descriptions seem to veer slightly into purple prose territory on occasion, trying a little too hard to paint a picture. Generally speaking I think listeners will imagine a character’s appearance to fit the voice on their own, especially as the scenes progress and they forget the detailed descriptions they were fed. The descriptions of people often feel slightly at odds with the rest of the podcast. It’s not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the show, however.

It’s been a long time since a scary story has gripped me as tightly as the Black Tapes has. Give it a listen in a darkened room with a quality headset or sound system and be prepared for chills and thrills.



Choosing To Be Positive In Fandom


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With Star Wars: The Force Awakens fast approaching and the World of Warcraft announcements regarding both the new expansion, Legion, and the upcoming Warcraft film, I find that a lot of the arguments and negative comments I’ve seen surrounding both of these franchises tend to have similarities.

Warlords of Draenor is widely believed to be the worst expansion of the game’s history, resulting in almost record breaking lows in their subscription numbers. Though the Star Wars prequels have received much more acclaim and a colossal following, they cleaved the fandom in half to an extent that few franchises have ever experienced.

Disclaimer before I continue: while I genuinely dislike the prequels themselves, I hold no animosity or disparaging feelings towards the people who prefer them. I wish it didn’t even need to be said, but in light of Simon Pegg’s comments about prequel fans on top of the general animosity they already often experience, I feel it’s important to make that clear up front. And if you’re a fan of the original trilogy who can’t make a case against a few movies you dislike without directing vitriol at the human beings who enjoy them, I invite you to kindly grow the bleep up. In the words of Wil Wheaton, don’t be a dick.

Both Star Wars and World of Warcraft are in the midst of many expectations surrounding the next installments of their sagas. Fans like myself who were let down by the prequels are hoping for a second chance at building on the original trilogy and finally re-experiencing the excitement we used to associate with the franchise as a whole. Prequel fans are hoping the emphasis on preserving the feel of the original trilogy won’t result in Abrams discarding everything introduced in episodes one through three. In realm of Azeroth, Warcraft fans are desperately hoping that Legion signals a change back to content-rich expansions and lore that has actual relevance to the main story that has been built up for the past 20 years.

I’ve noticed a lot of comments that seem to imply a dichotomy between embracing hope and managing expectations. Many people seem to think the best defense against false hope is a good offense and relish listing in detail everything that could possibly go wrong and how they won’t believe in positive changes until they see them.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” is a common mantra. J.J. Abrams promises and emphasis on real scenery and traditional SFX over pure CGI? “I’ll believe it when I see it!”Warcraft devs promise that dungeons will be more challenging and function as true end game content? “I’ve heard that before! I’ll believe it when I see it!”

I get it, I do. Hell, I’ve even been that person on occasion (*cough* Horde pvp this expansion *cough*). But I still think it’s the wrong attitude to take.

We’ve all heard and perhaps even espoused the concept of going in with low expectations in the hopes of being presently surprised. The problem with that attitude, however, is that the mind is malleable to suggestion, most especially to suggestions that come from inside our own heads. Telling yourself for months on end that you expect to be let down can have a very real effect on how you perceive something.

I’ve been let down by Warlords, to say the least (and being a newish player who only really started playing halfway through Mists of Pandaria, I recently had the depressing realization that by the time Legion comes out Warlords will have made up the majority of time playing Warcraft). But the funny thing is I had very low expectations going in; I was never a big Orc fan and Metzen’s description of the expansion as a “boys’ trip” was a tremendous turnoff. Managing my expectations did nothing to soften the blow of how awful the expansion turned out. I was perhaps a victim of hype as a tween going in to see The Phantom Menace, but I had managed my expectations sufficiently by the time Revenge of the Sith came around and that did nothing to increase my enjoyment of the film.

So I’m going to embrace positive thinking in the lead up to The Force Awakens and Legion. Spending weeks or months griping and wringing my hands and thinking up new and creative ways to be disappointing isn’t going to inoculate me with some mystical protection against disappointment. It will just mean that I have wasted weeks and months out of my life being unhappy about something I have no power to change, and that sounds like an appalling waste. I choose to spend the upcoming time savoring my happy anticipation.

At Blizzcon a few weeks ago, I was struck by how enthusiastic everyone was. All the grim predictions I’d heard about how people would surely boo Metzen off the stage or that there’s be loads of awkward and embarrassing silences whenever the Warcraft devs took the stage never materialized. And I was then equally struck by how the exact same announcements were met with endless pissing and moaning and outrage online once I got back home and started browsing the Warcraft forums.

Humans being social creatures, we take our cues from the people around us, no matter how we’d like to think we’re far too intelligent and individual to ever be susceptible to our peers’ influence. I’m making the conscious effort to spend my time and energy in places that will reinforce the positive attitude I wish to continue fostering. Things like Star Wars and Warcraft bring me joy and feed the majority of my social connections.  I have a choice, as does everyone, to focus on the good and the positive.

And in case it has been unclear, I am in no way suggesting anyone should not bring critical thought to films or games, or that they should try to force themselves to enjoy something. What I’m arguing for is a move away from the mindset of nitpicking and bemoaning the fate of a piece of entertainment we have not seen yet. There’s time enough to criticize something after you’ve at least experienced it.

There’s a lot of great things coming in the following months. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first course of a veritable feast of media juggernauts beloved by Geeks. Avengers: Civil War. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Warcraft. Ghostbusters. Deadpool. Suicide Squad. Grousing about what could go wrong won’t make you like them any more. You’ll like them or you won’t, but the time you spend feeding negativity can never be recovered.

Brick Shakespeare Builds On Classic Tales


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Some things just go perfectly together: Chocolate and peanut butter. Cocoa and little bitty marshmallows on cold nights. Me and red wine. LEGO minifigs and William Shakespeare. Bear with me for a few minutes and I promise I’ll convince you of that last one (the second-to-last one is equally true, but the less we speak of that the better).

From the creative minds of John McCann, Monica Sweeney, and Becky Thomas comes Brick Shakespeare, classic Shakespeare plays retold through LEGO minifigs and bricks. This review primarily covers Brick Shakespeare: The Tragedies–Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar, but there is a second volume as well covering the comedies A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Taming of the Shrew. They’re available either as two separate volumes or as a combined edition, but as the latter is probably quite heavy and ungainly, I’d suggest purchasing the two separately.

LEGOI purchased this book on the assumption that it was written primarily for children and that it would be mostly a visual treat for use as a coffee table book. I was delightfully surprised to find that, while abridged for length, the authors did not paraphrase or dumb down Shakespeare’s work. Also, it should be noted for parents considering this for children that the subject matter remains intact; Hamlet, for example, retains lines such as:

O, most wicked speed, to post / With such dexterity to incestuous sheets

While I love the idea of getting kids into Shakespeare at a young age using popular toys, just keep in mind that this book has not been expurgated.

The authors include a healthy amount of background information about each play. Hamlet begins with an explanation about how Elizabethan audiences would have noted the symbolic struggles between Protestantism and Catholicism, for example.

This segues into my favorite thing about Brick Shakespeare. The book in and of itself is a sot of wonderful microcosm of Shakespeare’s genius. It blends intelligent writing with pop culture and never favors one or the other. Though many a dry textbook has neglected to convey this, Shakespeare’s works were the height of “pop culture” for his time, touching on current issues and layering many levels that could be enjoyed by virtually all tiers of Elizabethan society. And they endured so long and so well because he never sacrificed any of those rich layers under the misguided assumption that some existential cleave must exist between “fun” and “intelligent.”

LEGO ShakespeareAnd that brings us to Brick Shakespeare, a book that blends the simple fun of the supremely popular LEGO empire with a timeless classic. The authors sacrificed neither fun nor depth when making this tome. They could easily have gotten away with just paraphrasing the story in simple lines and still sold extraordinarily well to a LEGO-adoring public. But they chose to preserve Shakespeare’s wit and beautiful language, pairing them boldly with the simple yet charming minifigs and bright geometric scenes.

Overall the execution was solid with a few minor criticisms. On several occasions the facial expressions were at odds with the tone of the scene; swapping in a few extra heads with more varied mouths would have been an improvement. They made good use of depth of field and cropping to vary the shots even when using multiple images of a single setting. I do wish they would have added in just a few more elaborate set pieces, but it’s a minor quibble.

Shakespeare LEGOI must also commend the authors for using the medium to create fanciful images based on the rich metaphors and hyperbole Shakespearean characters so often employ. I don’t know that any director of staged or filmed productions of Romeo and Juliet have ever attempted to recreate Juliet’s suggestion to “chain me with roaring bears.”




Cosplaying Veteran Needs Your Help


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cosplaying veteranCosplay is therapeutic for a lot of geeks. For a retired Army veteran of 25 years, Ronald Seaman, that holds even more true. After being confined to a wheelchair following a degenerative spinal condition as a result of his service, he turned to cosplay as a form of therapy.

In addition to his own cosplay adventures, he gives public talks about not allowing disability to prevent one from getting out of the house and experiencing life. He teaches people how to build cosplay suits and accessories from readily available materials.

cosplaying veteran2Ronald is reaching out to raise funds for a standing wheelchair, which will help him accomplish more and build his strength, possibly even allowing him to stand without the aid of a chair for short periods. If you have a few dollars to spare, please consider helping out a fellow geek and cosplayer who continues to help others long after his 25 years as an American serviceman.

Warcraft News From BlizzCon 2015


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Exciting news from this year’s BlizzCon did much to whet the appetites of Warcraft fans. I got to meet several wonderful people from my realm, take the new Demon Hunter class for a test drive, and experience the new announcements with fans just as excited as I was. The opening ceremony is free to watch on YouTube for anyone who didn’t buy a virtual ticket.

First up, the epic trailer for the Warcraft movie was released on the first day of Blizzcon. While there’s still many months of post left, it’s looking good.


Next, the cinematic for Legion was released as well:

A few big things stand out:

  • It’s nice to see a female character getting major screentime in a cinematic
  • There’s a bit of a parallel with Varian’s dialogue and Terenas’s voice-over in the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic
  • The suggestions of cooperation between Varian and Sylvanas seems to be setting a tone for Legion very different from the narrative that has been central to the Warcraft franchise for 20 years. “For Azeroth!”

The leveling system and open world will be utilizing the scaling tech introduced with Challenge Modes and further refined with Timewalking Dungeons. Most new zones will scale with the character, allowing players to choose which order they wish to quest in.

Classes are getting a major overhaul, with several specs being renamed entirely to give them a more distinct flavor. Talents are being significantly altered and players will have “hundreds” to choose from.

Professions are getting a shift in focus from somewhat passive activities. Instead of learning recipes from the vendor, players will have to venture out into the world and hunt them up. Recipes will have upgrades available as well. Fishing is going to get some changes; Ion Hazzikostas remarked that it should have a sense of excitement rather than players wondering what they’re going to watch on their second monitor.

The possibility of characters being able to join multiple guilds, like in MMOs such as Guild Wars 2, is something being considered but no timeline for when players could expect such a feature was given.

Sadly PvP news was scarce, and devs confirmed that no new battlegrounds would be introduced in Legion. There was no real elaboration on what players were told back in August when the Legion website went live.

I got to play a demo of the Demon Hunter starting zone, which begins at level 98. Bonus objectives are back and offer a significant boost in XP. Double-jumps and glide function in tandem with many abilities, giving Demon Hunters an unprecedented amount of mobility. It’s going to be an amazing class, and there’s several new types of demon added into the lore. People who pre-order Legion will get early access to the Demon Hunter starter zone, though exactly how early is not yet known.

As a fun bonus, Blizz set up an area modeled after the Darkmoon Faire. One of the most exciting and amazing moments of my life was to approach that iconic arch with it’s all-seeing eye gazing sternly down at entrants:

Darkmoon Faire

New Star Trek Series To Be Locked Behind Paywall


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CBS has announced that shortly after the 50th anniversary of the historic Star Trek franchise, a new tv series will be released via All Access, their paid streaming service. All first run episodes will be exclusive to the All Access service.

Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS Corp, explained to The Hollywood Reporter that their new entry in the Trek franchise will be used to lure millions of viewers to All Access, and that it will be the first of multiple scripted originals for their streaming service.

As several sources have emphasized that first run episodes of the new Star Trek will be exclusive to the service, there seems to be a slight possibility that reruns could perhaps appear either on broadcast TV or other streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon. However, no source has so far hinted at any information the likelihood of such viewing options or how long after the first run episodes reruns might become available if CBS decided to go that route.

The new Star Trek will not be related to the rebooted movie franchise, but longtime J. J. Abrams partner and screen writer for the films Alex Kurtzman will be the executive producer along with Heather Kadin.

From the CBS press release:

The brand-new Star Trek will introduce new characters seeking imaginative new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring the dramatic contemporary themes that have been a signature of the franchise since its inception in 1966.



I Hate Fairyland Review


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I Hate FairylandI Hate Fairyland is a new comic book by Scottie Young that launched in October from Image Comics. Fairyland features an off-beat heroine and an art style that’s equal parts creepy and cute. It feels a little bit like if Angelica from the Rugrats was transported into an especially violent variant of the Candy Land universe.

Gertrude, aka Gert, is an adorable green-haired little girl who dreams of being transported to a magic kingdom. When her wish comes true, she quickly realizes that fantasy universes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. As the title not-so-subtly suggests, little Gert quickly comes to loathe Fairyland with a violent passion. Cannons, machine guns, and her own jaws are just a few of the weapons Gert wields against the Fairyland denizens in her quest to find her way home.

The story and pacing were extremely solid; unlike so many comics I’ve read recently, I Hate Fairyland felt like it had a strong beginning, middle, and ending. It ended on a very natural stopping point with a compelling cliffhanger, which is a wonderful change of pace from comics that seem to abruptly stop mid-scene just because a certain page limit had been reached.

I Hate Fairlyland is highly recommended, and issue #2 will be available on November 18th.


Crimson Peak Review


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crimson peakCrimson Peak is everything I’ve been hoping for from a horror movie in recent years. And yes, I’m calling it a horror movie, despite all the admonishments warning audiences to, “Think of it as a Gothic romance; if you see Crimson Peak expecting a horror movie, you’ll be disappointed!”

Crimson Peak is indeed a horror movie. It’s a wonderful horror movie that relies on characterization, plot, and scenery to capture the audience’s interest. It doesn’t rely on jump scares, torture porn, shaky cinema verite wannabe camera work, or any of the other annoying tropes so many horror movies have been coasting on for years. Like the horror films of old, it trusts the audience to be entertained even during quiet, reflective scenes.

There are, in fact, some extraordinarily brutal, visceral scenes, with plenty of gory detail. The entire point of the movie, however, is that when they happen the audience is shocked and taken by surprise, because the director doesn’t dedicate half the movie to them. Violence happens to characters, rather than characters existing solely to have violence done to them.

The main cast of Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain (a Gothic romance name if there ever was one), and Tom Hiddleson were beautifully complimented by the supporting roles from Jim Beaver and Charlie Hunnam. Burn Gorman, a pleasant surprise for Torchwood fans seeing this film, managed to bring quite a bit to the film despite the brevity of his role.

Edith, played by Wasikowska, is an aspiring writer who gets caught up in a whirlwind romance with the charismatic yet somewhat grim Thomas Sharpe, played by Hiddleston. She eventually finds herself in a dire situation at Sharpe’s mansion, with his jealous sister Lucille trying to constantly punish his new wife ever so subtly for invading her homestead.

If I had to make one criticism, it would be that Hunnam’s character, Dr. Alan McMichael, seemed to drop out of the movie for an extended period to the detriment of the plot; his role in the end would have felt more organic if he’d had more to do in the middle. It was quite disappointing, as one of his earlier scenes introduced a fascinating angle on the ghost story. It could have added quite a bit of interest and excitement if it had been built upon.

Overall, however, it was another masterfully done film by director Guillermo Del Toro.


Minecraft Story Mode Disappoints



I’m incredibly unhappy to be writing this review. I like to think I had reasonable expectations for this game. I was expecting a simple, fun game that built on the beloved Minecraft world. The only aspect it really delivered on was the simple part.

Minecraft: Story Mode doesn’t actually feel like a game. You can easily go several minutes without being prompted to do anything. That would be annoying enough, but that’s the least problematic aspect. There’s only two things you are ever prompted to do: pick from one of three responses to another character’s dialog, and press random buttons to speed along an action that the character will perform.

The trio of dialog options, which claim to direct the story, are entirely optional. You read that correctly. You see, your time to respond is very limited, and if you take a second too long to respond, Minecraft: Story Mode will just keep going without your input.

The other way you play the game (I use both ‘play’ and ‘game’ loosely here) is that occasionally a character will break down blocks or build stuff (it is Minecraft), and you ‘help’ them. But for some utterly baffling reason, you don’t use the normal Minecraft controls for these actions. You get prompted to hit random letter keys or the arrows for actions like building or breaking down blocks, and the characters perform their actions in a way that feels strangely disjointed from your button mashing.

There also seems to be little rhyme or reason to when you’re required to actually do something. These intervals of activity happen so sporadically that one is often a bit startled when the movie stops and you’re asked to make the character walk for a few seconds or briefly interact with something in the environment.

In all honesty, if they were going to go this route, I wish they’d taken their lead from Lego and just made an actual movie using the Minecraft setting. I bring up Lego specifically, because I’ve seen people defend Minecraft: Story Mode as a “kids’ game” and admonish everyone not to judge it by unfair standards. Yet Lego also makes video games based on simple building blocks targeted at young audiences–arguably younger than Story Mode’s “10 & up” rating–and their games are delightful to play for people of all ages. Just because a game has a young audience in mind is no excuse to dumb down the gameplay to such an extent. Kids, even young ones, are capable of much more than Story Mode gives them credit for.

iZombie Is Back For Season 2


(Light Spoilers)

iZombie made its return with plenty of drama and mayhem. Liv, on a batch of grumpy old man brains, spent most of the episode grousing at hipsters and giving the impression she was just barely containing the urge to wave a walker over her head while yelling at kids to get off her damn lawn. I’m a bit disappointed that they didn’t give her a wardrobe to match the attitude; some high-wasted trousers and suspenders would have added the perfect touch. The final reveal in the murder case was surprisingly poignant.

Sadly, there was less humor to be found on the home front for Liv. Her mother and brother hate her for not donating blood when he was on the verge of death following the events of the season finale. However, Liv’s choice to just refuse to donate blood to her deathly ill brother rather than make up an excuse feels a bit forced. She could easily have lied about having a blood-borne disease of some kind. Her mother even offered her a an excuse in the form of accusing her of doing drugs. Family tension is a great tool for creating drama, but it should make sense; the audience should never feel the hand of the writing team deliberately injecting conflict where none seems like it needs to exist.

Blaine is back, cured from his zombie condition by Liv in the season finale, and takes a savage delight in showing off to her how much he can now revel in simple human pleasures like food again. It’s poignant how Liv’s method of eliminating the threat he posed has had such benefits for him; surely she must be thinking of all the murders her committed, the harm he did to Blaine and her brother, and how little he seems to be suffering his ‘punishment.’

Clive, unhappy with the loose ends in the investigation of the Meat Cute Charcuterie explosion, seems to be poised on the verge of receiving actual character development in his quest to get answers. With the exception of his undercover cop episode, he’s a character that essentially ceases to exist outside of the murder-of-the-week interludes. I’m tentatively hopeful that the writers intend to finally let him in on Liv’s big secret.

Liv has a familiar face–to the audience–as a roommate in Peyton’s absence. While it is guaranteed to be a great source of tension, I do hope Peyton returns and brings a bit of gender balance to the show. Like Veronica Mars, it has a great female lead who interacts only sporadically with other women.


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