The Top Six of 2013 Vol. 2: “War and Games”

Not only was 2013 a great year for video games, but it was the year that I finally set up a Steam account–which has become my new best friend.  I discovered Papers, Please and Don’t Starve via Steam, and fully expect to stumble upon all kinds of new crap next year.  All in all, my top six list has taken me all over the place–flying cities, a hostile alien invasion, and even through the crime-riddled streets of Gotham City–it’s escapism at its best.

Bioshock Infinite1. Bioshock Infinite (Irrational/2K Games): I wanted to hate the first installment of the Bioshock series purely because it was another first-person shooter in a seemingly endless line of first-person shooters dating all the way back to 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D.  I did not expect it to blow my mind.  Nor did I expect Bioshock Infinite to be as impressive as it actually is—I was a bit skeptical at the attempt to move a game set in an underwater city to a flying city, which initially sounded kinda dumb.

But I was dead wrong—which led me to realize the genius of the Bioshock games.  They’re subtly designed pastiches that transfer relevant social issues into clever metaphors.  I even think the idea to make these games into first-person shooters was done as a deliberate caricature of video games themselves.

Where the first two Bioshock games took place in a Randian nightmare of self-perfection, Bioshock Infinite guides the player through a world in which the Tea Party would feel right at home (think of Disneyland saturated in religious zealotry and racism).  Throughout Booker DeWitt’s quest to get the mysterious, dimension-ripping Elizabeth back on solid ground, the player is treated to a wonderfully mind-bending story, followed by one of the most perplexing and satisfying finales in video game history.

All that being said, I think it was the game’s clever use of a soundtrack that really lured me in.  There’s this moment when you first hit the streets of Columbia.  Everything is awash in color and you can almost smell cotton candy and popcorn.  As you progress, the sound of a familiar melody starts softly and gets louder.  Soon, you realize that you’re hearing “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys—only it’s being sung a cappella by a barbershop quartet.  Then, one epic video game later, the song wafts in over the closing credits.  You realize, in a split second, just how important that song is to the overall story.  And maybe—not that this applies to me or anything—a tear slides down your cheek.

papers please2. Papers, Please (Lucas Pope): Every now and again, a game comes along that makes me reconsider my definition of what a video game can be.  In indie-developer Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please, you take control of a border inspector in the fictional country of Arstotzka.  Your job is to allow or deny entry based on careful inspection of people’s documents.  Though it’s true that folks who crave a game in which gravely-voiced supersoldiers blow up everything in sight might not be into this particular title, but for those who are eager to explore something unique, Papers, Please is worth checking out.

At first, this is a game that doesn’t require much.  You check the pixelated tourists’ documents and let them enter if everything looks legit.  As the game progresses, however, tension rises quickly with realization that a secret organization is trying to penetrate the border and that your family’s lives are affected by your job performance.

The gameplay and graphics are astoundingly simple, which makes this game all the more interesting.  It tricks you into thinking it’s just a little novelty game to pass a few minutes only to lure you into a surprising volley of moral dilemmas—and that’s worthy of some love.

xcom3. XCOM: Enemy Within (Firaxis/2K Games): Despite the fact that The Bureau would totally end up on my “worst games of 2013” list, it was nice to come back to familiar territory.  Enemy Within is an expansion to last year’s Enemy Unknown, and it makes improvements in all the right places—most notably with the addition of a new resource that allows all kinds of fun and morally questionable upgrades for your soldiers.

There’s something to be said about playing a game in which there are more ways to lose than there are to win.  What makes the XCOM games awesome is that they put you in the role of someone who is working with extremely limited resources against an opponent that gets stronger regardless of how ready you are—a lot like teaching at a public school, come to think of it.  Nothing quite beats the feeling you get when you take a tactical gamble and hit the jackpot—especially since hitting the jackpot means splattering a hostile alien all over the sidewalk.

batman4. Batman: Arkham Origins (Warner Bros.): Though I think the first two installments of the Arkham games are superior, Arkham Origins still manages to bring home the awesome.  As it deals with a fairly new and arrogant Dark Knight along with his first encounter with The Joker, there are some very nice plot points that make the Batman nerd within me smile.  The sequence involving The Joker’s origin story (which both draws from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke AND introduces us to Joker’s first meeting with Harley Quinn—before he drives her nuts) adds a level of humanity to a villain that is batshit crazy.

And let’s not overlook the fact that it’s just fun to spend a Christmas Eve soaring around Gotham beating up thugs while being pursued by some lesser-known Batman villains like Firefly and Deadshot.

Diablo 35. Diablo 3 (Blizzard): It took me some time to warm up to Diablo 3.  The first two games basically define my adolescence, so I had raised the bar pretty high when I heard that a third game was in the works.  However, it managed to provide a clear and entertaining conclusion to a seriously great trilogy.

What makes Diablo 3 endlessly enjoyable is that it capitalizes on an addiction to acquiring better and better loot for one’s character.  It allows multiple playthroughs at varying difficulty levels in order to allow your character to stumble upon the magical helm that ends up defining them through many perilous battles—that is until you stumble upon the helm that’s just a little bit more magical.

don't starve6. Don’t Starve (Klei): Like Minecraft and Terraria, the point of Don’t Starve is that there is no point.  It places you in the middle of a hostile island, and you’re supposed to make sure Wilson the Gentleman Scientist doesn’t get eaten by wolves, go insane, or, you know, starve.  Gameplay consists of wandering around and collecting various resources and using your scientific know-how to construct implements of survival.  There are also seasonal changes to deal with—I have yet to successfully survive a winter.

One of the reasons that I never really got into Minecraft was because of the clunky controls and graphics.  Don’t Starve fixes this by offering a slightly Tim Burton-ish artistic style and user-friendly invention tab.  Basically, it’s Minecraft  for people who hate Minecraft.

Who knows what wonders will be released on the next-gen consoles? Here’s hoping that Sony and Microsoft invest in developers who stretch the boundaries of the video game medium.  There’s no such thing as a next-gen first person shooter.

The Top Six of 2013 vol. 1: “Wrapped Up In Books”

According to my goodreads.com profile, here are some interesting facts about me as a reader:

  • I’ve listed as many books as I can remember reading, and my grand total is 286.
  • I currently have 150 titles on my “to-read” list.
  • Thus far, I have read 51 books in 2013, even though my original goal was 50.  Here’s to crushing it.
  • From a perspective that is slightly more impressive—or tragically sad, depending on how one decides to look at it—I’ve read 15,018 pages of words this year.
  • I read three biographies/memoirs this year.  They were about Tina Fey, Simon Pegg, and Vladimir Putin.  I’m sure there is a connection here, though I have yet to discover it.

As I’m rather proud of myself for reading 51 books (15,018 pages), here is my top six booklist for 2013.

DISCLAIMER: Three of the books on this list were not published in 2013, but I happened to read and enjoy them in 2013 which means they may as well have been published this year.  Plus, it’s my list, so I can do what I want.  Bitches.

the troop1. The Troop by Nick Cutter (2014): In addition to being one of the most grisly, shocking, and emotionally wracking books that I have ever read, I acquired and read an advanced copy of this book at the San Diego Comic-Con this year—which is pretty badass because it’s not slated for release until February of 2014.  I read the entire book in installments while waiting in various lines for various panels, and I think I finished it right before we went in to see a Neil Gaiman discuss his charming British books with his charming British accent.  Subsequently, I’d like to apologize to those people in my vicinity who had to endure the noises of shock and revulsion that I was prone to making during this time.

 Succinctly, The Troop can be summed up as a modern retelling of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies by way of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.  It recounts the details of the worst scouting trip ever as five fourteen-year old boys are stranded on an island off the coast of Newfoundland with a parasitic worm that may or may not have already infected them.  As the book unfolds and the boys’ wills are pitted against the elements and each other, their true characters come dangerously close to the surface.

Cutter’s ability to force the reader into some truly terrifying and gruesome moments is what I both love and kinda hate about this book.  There were moments when I had to stop reading because the words on the page were succeeding in making me nauseous.  I’m not a lightweight, either.  I grew up on a steady diet of 80’s splatter flicks, and The Troop still managed to get under my skin—gross pun intended.  Any author that can manipulate language so accurately that it actually makes me queasy is worthy of my respect.

shock value2. Shock Value by Jason Zinoman (2012): Speaking of 80’s splatter flicks, Shock Value chronicles the golden age of horror movies in glorious and well-documented detail.  Throughout the pages of Shock Value, Zinoman takes a closer look at how directors like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, and George Romero took a previously impotent and stale genre like horror and used it as a medium to channel America’s dark and dirty subconscious circa 1970.

Horror films have always been a big part of my life—despite the fact that I would often be on the verge of tears if I ever wandered into the horror section of my local video store as a young lad—so getting a behind-the-scenes look at the people and stories behind films like The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, along with their cultural significance, was nerdy good fun.

Shock Value shows that though these films are violent and unsettling, they were actually great avenues for progressive thinking.  Duane Jones, the protagonist in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, set a new precedent for African Americans in film, and movies such as Alien, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street obliterated many of the stereotypes that were assigned to women in horror and sci-fi.

Though it’s getting harder to assign any cultural value to today’s horror films, anyone who says that the horror genre is one dimensional needs to only read this book.

locke and key3. Locke & Key vol 5: Clockworks by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2013): My enthusiasm for comic books and graphic novels has waned in my old age, but Locke & Key is one of those titles that makes me remember how powerful comic books can be.  I started reading this series back in August of this year, and I’ve steadily consumed all of them—most recently obtaining an advance copy of volume six which isn’t due out until next year.

Volume five happened to be my favorite installment, but the whole series is amazing.  Without giving too much away, Locke & Key is about the Locke family and their ancestral home on the fictional island of Lovecraft, Massachusetts.  After the Locke patriarch is done in by a deranged high school student, and the family relocates to Lovecraft, the three Locke children start discovering a series of keys that offer abilities such as opening a person’s head and fiddling with their thoughts or leaving one’s body behind to traverse the world as a ghost.

Hill and Rodriguez are a great team, and the story often feels brutally real despite its more fantastical elements.  The story spans several hundred years, and it touts one of the best lists of supporting characters ever.  A finely crafted story that has been illustrated by a gifted artist is what makes comic books cool, and Locke & Key excels on every level.

Imagine4. Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (2012): I don’t read much nonfiction, but every so often, when I force myself to read a book that doesn’t involve monsters or space battles, I find that my mind has been sufficiently blown.  Reading Jonah Lehrer’s work about the processes and practices that enhance a person’s creativity was one of those milestones at which I can say, “There was my life before reading this book and my life after reading this book.”

I liked how Imagine didn’t claim ownership to the secret of creativity, but rather explored various companies and organizations that maximize the creativity of their members (think Google, Pixar, and the pub outside of Oxford where Tolkien and Lewis founded the Inklings) in an attempt to figure out the best environment for a creative mind.

This was especially interesting to me as an English teacher, because encouraging students to be creative is a big part of what I hope to accomplish every day.  You’d think it would be easy to tell a student, “Here is pen and paper.  Make something happen,” but it’s not.  This book helped me make the process of teaching creativity a lot easier.

It’s a great source of information for anyone who seeks to cultivate creativity in any shape.  For example, David Byrne from The Talking Heads finds that riding his bike through unfamiliar parts of New York City is a great way to get his creative juices flowing.  The mere mental picture is enough to inspire creativity.

eleanor and park5. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013): The real tragedy about this book is that so many high school libraries refuse to carry it because of its content.  Not only is this insane to me—it’s no more shocking than the misadventures of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter—but I strongly believe that every teenager in America needs to read this book right at this very moment.

Not only is this a perfect love story for anyone who considers themselves a geek—there’s a superb moment in which Park makes a Boba Fett reference come across as heart-swellingly romantic—but the titular characters feel like actual high school students.

Rowell’s characterization of high schoolers differs from the likes of say, John Green, but in the right way.  The characters in a John Green novel fire volleys of witty repartee back and forth with the grace and precision of a Quentin Tarantino film.  Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does tend to make his characters seem more contrived.  Rainbow Rowell, on the other hand, makes more use of what the characters don’t say—which is a much more realistic vision of high school romance.  Because, let’s face it, when teenagers are in love, they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

Alif the Unseen6. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (2013): One of the reasons that I like to read books is because occasionally, I stumble across something that shows me something new about the world—something that has always been there, but it’s just taken me awhile to notice.  Alif the Unseen tells the story of a teenage hacker in a militaristic Middle Eastern country who finds himself caught up in a mind-bending adventure that blends old-school magic with new-school tech savvy.  I know very little about life in the Middle East, but G. Willow Wilson’s novel provided a window into that culture by way of fantasy and mythology—which made the unfamiliar environment instantly accessible.

I enjoyed this book so much because it showed me that people in different parts of the world often have the same problems, doubts, and questions about love and authority that I do.  Alif the Unseen gets bonus points for creating that cultural bridge and introducing me to the morally ambiguous creature known as Vikram the Vampire at the same time.

Stay tuned for volume 2 of this epic list of lists.  HINT: it will be about video games.

The Paste/Netflix Challenge: “Beyond the Black Rainbow” and “Pontypool”

Interestingly enough, I had just finished reading Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan right before watching Beyond the Black Rainbow, and I felt like Machen’s book gave me some insight into the film–both were about using science to test the boundaries of one’s sanity and dealing with the consequences.  I also found some similarities between Pontypool and The Signal since both involved regular people losing their shit because of an overabundance of information and communication.

Black Rainbow#21 – Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

I have a hard time categorizing this as a movie.  See, movies tend to follow a linear storyline, develop characters—that kind of thing.  Beyond the Black Rainbow is more of a collection of surreal scenes that could possibly be construed as a story, but could just as easily be individual studies of control and escape.

As far as I could tell, the plot of the film revolved around Elena (Eva Allan), a young girl with psychic powers who was being held in a sterile and fluorescent lab installation, and Barry (Michael Rogers) is her creepily involved psychologist/caseworker.  Eventually, Eva manages to escape, which sets Barry into a cold and murderous episode that involves pulling off his wig and popping out his contact lenses to reveal a Nosferatu-esque creeper.

I think it’s important to approach this from the right direction.  It’s not something you throw on for your friends, but rather an attempt to present a visually artistic statement in the package of a horror movie.

Best Moment: I don’t know about best, but there was one genuinely terrifying moment.  First, as our heroine is escaping, she stumbles into another cell.  Within this cell, we see a freakishly mutated dude wrapped in a straitjacket lying on a cot.  As soon as he sees Elena, he convulses and flops down on the ground, wriggling toward her like an oversized maggot.  She narrowly escapes by putting a glass door between them.  The mutant responds by smearing his face and tongue all over the transparent screen.  It was gross.

pontypool_xlg#20 – Pontypool (2008)

It’s a rare and beautiful thing to have a horror movie that relies on the implication of malice and dread instead of actually showing malice and dread.  This is where Pontypool succeeds—until the last half of the movie, that is.

The implication of which I speak comes right at the very beginning of the film as we see shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) on his way to work in a driving snowstorm.  An incoherent woman approaches his car as he is stopped at a red light.  She wanders off, but the implication of something messed up is put into the foreground.  As Mazzy’s morning show gets underway, he gets strange updates about violent outbreaks and riots via his field reporter.

The first half of the film is brilliant.  Mazzy, his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle), and their assistant Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) are the only characters involved, and watching them try to piece together what’s happening from within their radio station evokes this awesome feeling of uncertainty and mistrust.

It’s when Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) arrives that the film starts to fall apart.  Not to disparage Alianak’s great performance, but his arrival signaled the inevitable explanation of what was happening, which killed the film’s paranoid atmosphere.  It turns out, certain words in the English language have become infected with a virus that turns people into gibbering lunatics.  Though it’s an interesting idea, it kind of falls apart towards the end—right around the time we start seeing the crazy townsfolk descend upon the radio station.  I would have liked this film better if it stuck with an implied scary situation rather than showing us what was happening.  That way, the audience is left to decide whether it’s really happening or not.

Best Moment: After Laurel-Ann gets infected, our heroes hide from her in a sound-proof recording room.  She subjects herself to all kinds of self-abuse—including chewing off her bottom lip—until she finally vomits up a deluge of blood and chunks that splatters across the sound-proof glass.  Dr. Mendez, a scientist before all else, enthusiastically theorizes that her blood vomiting is a result of not successfully transmitting the disease.  His academic enthusiasm in the face of something truly terrible is both hilarious and worthy of admiration.

Next up, we’re going old school with the 1932 Mummy with Boris Karloff and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a tale of teeth-devouring devil-pixies.  Can’t wait!

The Paste/Netflix Challenge: “The Signal” and “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil”

Still working it in the name of blood, guts and celluloid.

The Signal

#23 – The Signal (2008): A long time ago, I made a stupid purchase.  It was a DVD box set that consisted of a bunch of crappy horror movies.  Most of them were, well, crappy.  There was one that stood out, however.  1973’s pseudo-zombie flick Messiah of Evil.  Basically, it’s about a town full of decent enough folks that become flesh-eating wackos when the moon is full.  Sure, it has elements of a zombie movie, but the fact that the monsters were just regular people who collectively went crazy was a bit more unsettling.  The Signal is a lot like that—only done with better acting and special effects; and instead of a full moon, it’s a mysterious signal that is broadcast via phones, radio and television that turns the people of Terminus into lunatics.

The film is broken up into three different segments that portray the dreadful events from three different perspectives.  Each segment is also tonally different, making you feel like you’ve just watched three unique short films that just happen to involve the same characters in the same terrible situation.  For example, the second segment is full of blacker than black humor, while the other two delve more into visceral and psychological horror.

It’s frenetic, intense, and filled with great performances from unknown actors and actresses.  Not to mention the fact that, deep within its cold black heart, it’s a pretty decent love story—a perfect combo for an under-the-radar horror film.

Best Moment: I’d usually call SPOILER ALERT here, but it looks like this scene’s right there on the damn poster, so it’s your call, folks.  After quite literally going through hell for his lady Mya (Anessa Ramsey), Ben (Justin Welborn) finds that she has been strapped to a chair and forced to endure the televised signal that’s making everyone nuts.  He’s just bested her psychotic husband (AJ Bowen—reminded me of a murderous and bearded Ryan Reynolds), and is desperately trying to get her to come back to reality.  He puts headphones over her ears so she can hear the alt-rock love song that represents their awesome and adulterous love for each other.  She flinches, takes a breath of fresh air, and looks up at her bloody gentleman lover.  Roll credits.

Tucker and Dale#22 – Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2011)

 I’ve seen this film before, but I liked it so much that I watched it again in honor of my movie challenge.  As far as horror films that swerve into slapstick—or “splatstick” as I once heard Bruce Campbell call it—this is one of the best.

It takes the horror cliché that involves attractive undergraduates who opt for a weekend getaway in the woods only to be murdered by deranged hillbillies and twists it by casting two hillbillies as misunderstood heroes.  Granted, there’s still a lot of bloodshed, but it comes from both the stupidity of said undergraduates along with a few unresolved anger issues.

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine, the dude who made Reaper funny)—the hillbillies—have just purchased a fixer-upper of a cabin, and are looking forward to a weekend of beer drinking and fish catching, when a wild group of college students rolls through town.  Having seen one too many horror movies, the college students are immediately terrified of Tucker and Dale, and it’s this misguided fear that leads them into several dangerous situations that cause them to die in gruesome ways.  Of course these deaths keep getting blamed on our eponymous heroes, which forces them into an inevitable conflict with, you know, evil.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil fits in the same morgue as Scream and Cabin in the Woods for its ability to deconstruct and satirize common horror tropes and reconstruct them into an original (and often hilarious) film.

Best Moment: At the same moment that College Dude D is making his way closer to our heroes’ cabin, Tucker is in the back cutting lumber with a chainsaw.  Unbeknownst to Tucker, the tree he’s currently working on is home to an angry beehive.  As the insects spill out and attack Tucker, he stumbles from behind the cabin screaming and waving his chainsaw to ward off the bees.  College Dude D, seeing a maniacal hillbilly with a chainsaw, loses it and books it into the woods only to impale himself on an overturned tree.  Aside from several bee stings, Tucker is unharmed.

Next on the ol’ chopping block: Beyond the Black Rainbow and Pontypool.  I’m expecting a fairly high level of weirding out and self-loathing with these two.  Don’t miss any of the action!

The Paste/Netflix Challenge: “Troll Hunter” & “The Grey”

Recently, Paste published a list of their 25 favorite horror films that are currently streaming on Netflix.  Through the month of October, I will watch these films and post about them.  This is the first of such posts.

 Troll Hunter#25 – Troll Hunter (2010)

 Let me put it this way: Government.  Contracted.  Troll.  Hunter.  Apparently in Norway, giant trolls still exist.  When they get too big for their foul-smelling loincloths, the government calls Hans (Otto Jespersen) the troll hunter.  As his occupation technically doesn’t exist, he leads a lonely and thankless life from within the confines of a stinky camper.  When a team of reporters who are covering a poaching story have Hans pegged as the notorious wildlife-hater, they follow him into the dark Norwegian woods (which are much scarier than American woods).  Hans rescues them from a pissed-off three-headed troll, and just like that, his secret is out.

It’s a fun film to watch, especially when thinking of similar shaky-cam flicks like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project.  Where those films use the documentary style to drop hints about what is stalking the main characters, Troll Hunter is unashamed to show the Nordic menace that exists in the dark corners of Scandinavia.

As far as its placement on Paste’s list, this is a good showing for number 25.  It deserves to be on a top 25 list, but only for the fact that it is a quality film with an unabashedly goofy premise.

Best Moment: Watching Hans blast a Mountain King with a ball of UV light and the subsequent crumbling of said Mountain King.  Also, the Polish smugglers who plant dead bears in the woods to help cover up Norway’s troll problem were pretty hilarious.

The Grey#24 – The Grey (2012)

This is the type of horror that is underused, which is too bad.  A film in which six guys become stranded in the middle of an arctic wilderness while being pursued by wolves is much scarier than…pretty much anything that is currently showing in theatres.  In addition to the terror of the situation, The Grey shows some serious filmmaking chops as it digs into the deep, dark places that plague the male mind.

When the film starts, and we see John Ottman (Liam Neeson) sharing the final moments of an arctic wolf that he has shot, as it’s his job to keep wolves from attacking the employees of this unspecified industrial site.  From the get go, we see that Neeson is a man who is nurturing some deep emotional wounds—who else would take a job killing wolves? We see flashbacks of his wife, which get violently pulled away from him as reality comes crashing back into his mind.

And then there’s this plane crash.

Six men survive the crash, and are then pitted against the elements in order to survive.  Among them, several aspects of the male movie archetype are present.  There’s the hot-headed ex-con, the wiseass who talks incessantly to cope with anxiety, the level-headed scientist, and the father figure who just wants to see his kid again.  As the wolves are quite literally at their door, the group of survivors becomes less like men and more like a rival pack, fighting for their right to survive.

Based on some of the films that I’ve already seen on Paste’s list, I think this one could be a bit higher.  This was my first time watching The Grey, but damn was it a satisfying cinematic experience.  I often find myself questioning Liam Neeson’s choice in acting jobs, but he was ideal for this part.

Best Moment: It’s a tie.  First, the moment when we see the Alpha Male take one step into the survivor’s camp only to see the overly-macho ex-con take one step backwards—demonstrating that talk is beyond cheap when wolves are itching to rip out your throat.  Second, the final seconds of the film.  Ottman stares directly into the Alpha Wolf’s eyes as he tapes broken bottles and a hunting knife to his hands.  He recites the only poem his father ever wrote as he lunges for the final confrontation.  Effing epic.

Greatness Awaits

Before you continue, watch this video.  Don’t just skip over it and say you watched it.  I’ll know if you do.  And we will have a conversation:

 

I love this commercial.

I love it for the unabashed smugness of the narrator, I love it for the weird-ass stuff happening in the background and, most of all, I love it because it makes me proud of my video game accomplishments.  I’ve rallied rival civilizations against a common threat.  I’ve fended off countless alien invasions.  I’ve inspired an army to fight on despite impossible odds.  And I’ve done all of these things from the comfort of my couch, often with a purring cat sleeping on my lap.  While I am more proud of the accomplishments that I’ve made in real life (because, you know, it’s real life), there is a part of me that can’t wait to charge proudly into a virtual world to collect golden points and the heads of vanquished foes.

There are three games that are currently on my plate: The Soviet-era border inspection bonanza that is Papers, Please; Rogue Legacy, the dungeon-crawler that keeps it all in the family; and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified an ambitious prequel to one of my favorite games of all time, XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  I had lots to say about my experience, and SLUG magazine was nice enough to publish that action.  Check this out, along with some other reviews of recent titles by my fellow SLUGgers.

Also, here’s some gameplay for Crypt of the Necrodancer.  As soon as this hits Steam, I’m so downloading it:

 

 

 

Ruminations From the Real World

In real life, I’m an English teacher.  I recently started my fifth year teaching, and I still get the jibblies before actually meeting my students for the first time.  To cope with said jibblies, I wrote this article for The Educator’s Room.  If you’ve ever had to teach a class or interact with a group of adolescents for an extended period of time, you might find solace in the fact that it makes everyone other than Ron Swanson nervous.

English: Primary School in "open air"...

Don’t let that fancy hat fool you.  This fat dude is terrified of his students like the rest of us.