And next week, on January 29th, we will be joined by author, transmedia expert, and “super-creative” J.C. Hutchins. J.C.’s print work includes Personal Effects: Dark Art and 7th Son: Descent. More recently J.C. has worked on online projects tied to X-Men: Days of Future Past and Almost Human. We’re going chat with him about what media he’s been consuming lately, of course, but we’ll also focus on his new fiction project, “The 33.”
We’d love to have you join us on Google+ for the show Wednesday night (9 pm) Eastern, but if you can’t, and you have questions for Matt (this week) or J.C. (next week), post them here or over at our Facebook page.
Did the series finale of Doctor Who make you wonder how the heck John Hurt might fit in the whole “The Doctor” universe? The BBC posted a “mini-episode” that answers some questions, and creates even more!!
Last month SpecFicMedia.com hosted a special gaming show on Hangout/YouTube where Christiana Ellis, Justin Macumber, and I selected SpecFicMedia.com\\™s \\Top 10 Videogames of this Generation.\\ Of course this list is only the opinion of three writers who love strong story-based videogames, so go troll somewhere else. And because of the nature of our roundtable, two of my favorite games didn\\™t even make the top 10. Also, due to the console ownership of our hosts, a few games (Super Mario Galaxy 2, so sorry) didn\\™t get discussed at all. It\\™s just the way of things, but I\\™m still very happy with our final list. We hope you enjoy it, and let us know what your top 10 games list is!
#10 – Tomb Raider
For a long time the character of Lara Croft was known for two things — her gigantic breasts and her guns. Okay, I guess that’s four things. She was a gaming icon, but also a bit of an embarrassment. But now\\¦ now that’s changed. Thanks to the smart folks at Crystal Dynamics, not only has Lara been given a makeover, trimming down her bosom and putting actual clothes on her, but the entire franchise has been rebooted. Now instead of the seasoned spelunker we used to know, Lara is a young woman thrown into a deadly adventure. Tight platforming mechanics, amazing graphics, a compelling story, and a wonderful music score by Jason Graves gives this once venerated franchise a breath of new life it sorely needed. Lara is back and better than ever! — Justin R. Macumber
#9 – The Walking Dead: The Game
Great games move players to do things other than simply survive the level,kill the big baddie, or win the race. And in The Walking Dead, Telltale Games succeeds in this, in a way never before seen in what used to be considered simply as the \\point and click\\ adventure genre. Over the five part season, you move from simply survivingthe zombie apocalypse to openly caring for and protecting another character, a young girl named Clementine. You are presented throughout with challenges and choices that are difficult to make, many of which do not have a right answer. And while the choices you make as a player affect your story, you will eventually come back to the same (or nearly the same) ending. It is the best example of how the journey is the thing, rather than having multiple endings based on your choices (I\\™m looking at you, Beyond: Two Souls). \\“ P.G. Holyfield
#8 – Bioshock
Years after creating one of my favorite games of an earlier generation (1999\\™s System Shock 2), Ken Levine and Irrational Games released one of the most rewarding experiences of this generation… Bioshock. The gameplay was similar, but what really set it apart was the vision of its setting, the steampunk meets art deco underground utopia-gone-so-very-wrong called Rapture. I won\\™t go into the political/satirical elements of the game (Objectivism is not my strong suit), but at its core it explored a question worth asking: How far will a player go in following a game\\™s quest objectives, and the requests of a voice on a radio? And will you choose to harm little girls in order to harvest a type of magical energy that will help you reach your goals? What? A game that makes you think!? And oh yeah… it\\™s fun as hell. \\“ P.G. Holyfield
#7 – Portal 2
A lot of recent top ten lists include Portal as one of their choices, but we went with Portal 2. Valve expanded up on 2007\\™s Portal, and in so doing made the original look a bit like the prototype it was. All it took for me was the voice of J.K. Simmons as Aperture\\™s founder, Cave Johnson, to mark this as a great game (along with Stephen Merchant as a personality core named Wheatley, and the return of Ellen McLain\\™s GLaDOS). The puzzle mechanics build logically and seamlessly as you proceed through the game, and the humor is ratcheted up multiple notches from the first game, including during one of the best co-op modes ever created. \\“ P.G. Holyfield
#6 – Uncharted 3
Naughty Dog built upon the mechanics of Uncharted 2 and created one of the most cinematic games in history. The action-adventure game expanded upon the ways Nathan Drake can move, shoot, and fight, and concentrates on a story that is part T.E. Lawrence and part Sir Frances Drake, with a few Timothy Leary hallucinogens thrown into the mix. Add onto this is an even better integration of motion capture and voice acting, and you end up with one great experience. U3 is a story about \\finding your way,\\ and by the end Nathan Drake has found his happy ending with Sully and Elena… at least until Uncharted 4 is officially announced at next year\\™s E3. \\“ P.G. Holyfield
#5 – Read Dead Redemption
John Marston used to be an outlaw. Now, he wants to be a family man, but even while progress threatens to change the Old West, the past refuses to be forgotten. Red Dead Redemption features a classic story with both humor and deep emotion, but the real star is the dense, gorgeous setting. Featuring landscapes which range from the evergreen forests of the Rocky Mountains to the dusty deserts of Mexico, the experience of living in a collage of all your favorite western movies provides a unique environment for all of the open world gameplay Rockstar is famous for. – Christiana Ellis
#4 – Mass Effect 3 \\“ P.G.
As you will figure out soon enough, we love Bioware. Hell, I even loved Star Wars: The Old Republic (okay, love is a bit strong I guess). Mass Effect 3 wasn\\™t a perfect game, but it was still a damned fine one. ME3 saw even greater improvement in its combat, and did a great job in tying up all of the threads and relationships established in the first two games. And it is one of the best sci-fi RPGs ever. The only thing that holds back Mass Effect 3 from being the top game of this generation (in my mind), was the end of the game. It\\™s not that I didn\\™t like how the game ended for me, or would have ended if I had made another choice at the end, but the realization that the promise at the beginning of the series didn\\™t really come to fruition. Your choices, as we\\™ve seen in other games on this list, gave you your story, gave you your own journey, a journey different than most everyone else. But in the end, it still came down to a binary (or tertiary) choice, and the choices along the way didn\\™t really matter (as Bioware had promised since the original Mass Effect). And, sadly, in gaming terms, the lack of a true final battle was enough to lessen the overall impact of the finale… for me anyway. – P.G. Holyfield
But here I\\™m sounding all negative when I\\™m talking about our #4 overall game of this generation. Visuals, gameplay, music, voice acting… ME3 was an incredible achievement. And in the end, ME3 was more satisfying than all but three videogames on our list. So there… 😉 – P.G. Holyfield
#3 – Mass Effect 2
BioWare has long been known for their stories and deep yet still enjoyable gameplay, and in no game is that more the case than in Mass Effect 2, the middle child of the Mass Effect trilogy. Once again Commander Shepard finds himself/herself with a galaxy to save, but that’s only the beginning of the adventure. Loaded with incredible characters, amazing locations, plot twists upon plot twists, and painful choices, ME2 is a nearly perfect role-playing game that also happens to be a damn good action game at the same time. It might seem extreme to call it the greatest game ever made, but for me, it’s simple truth. — Justin R. Macumber
#2 – The Last of Us
Armed with a tight, gripping story, Naughty Dog expanded on and adapted the outstanding mechanics and visuals from the Uncharted series to create the most intensely emotional and stressful gaming experience of my life. The Last of Us ratcheted the survival story to the next level (and to the level beyond that), and along the way created two of the strongest characters ever to appear in a videogame. Beautiful at times, horrific at others, and with the best implementation of live actor performance in a game, The Last of Us is simply a masterpiece. \\“ P.G. Holyfield
#1 \\“ Dragon Age: Origins
Featuring a rich and compelling setting, brilliant tactical gameplay, and incredible characters, Dragon Age: Origins distinguishes itself amongst not only other fantasy-themed RPG’s but the entire medium of videogames. Pairing a strong narrative structure and choices that actually matter, this game allows players to create a Grey Warden that is truly their own, and then to lead them into battle against threats both mortal and moral. Strategy in battle is both deep and flexible, giving any adventurer plenty of options for how they want to play. A triumph, from start to finish. – Christiana Ellis
The Honorable Mentions
Not all of our favorites could make the top 10, of course. The following games are the ones that pained Justin and me most… our \\Favorite Game(s) that didn\\™t make the Top 10.\\
Justin Macumber – Rock Band 3
Like so many people out there, I once had dreams of being a rock & roll star. I was that kid standing in front of the television as Van Halen played on MTV, broom in my hands, strumming power chords, imagining I was up on that stage instead of Eddie. I even went so far as to get an actual guitar years later. Several, in fact. But eventually I realized that no matter how much I wanted to be a rock god, it was never going to happen, so I gave it up and focused on writing instead. It was the right choice. What makes Rock Band 3 so wonderful is that now I get to have that dream again, a plastic guitar in hand and a list of literally hundreds of songs at my fingertips. Every song has been lovely transposed from real music to buttons by the people at Harmonix, so much so that it’s easy to forget you’re NOT really playing them, and since you can choose from guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and vocals, any rock & roll dream you had can be relived. For people like me it’s the closest I’ll ever get to playing for an arena full of sweating fans, and thanks to Harmonix it feels damn near real. It transports me to a wonderful place every time I play.
P.G. Holyfield – X-Com – Enemy Unknown (and a special shout out for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim!)
These two titles I loved most that didn\\™t make the top 10 for the group (silly co-hosts) were also the two games I logged the most hours playing during this generation.
I loved them both equally, but I\\™ll focus on X-Com here because it is the only game I\\™ve completed on two different platforms (XBox 360 and PS3), and by the time I\\™m done I\\™ll finish the game on the only slightly less perfect iOS version as well. X-Com features turn-based combat, rpg elements and a separate base building meta-game, all in the service of allowing us to save the world from an alien invasion. X-Com was also great because it had two simple mechanics that, when combined, created what some would call exquisite torture: one, the ability to name your squad members (Chooch, I need a MEDIC!!) and two, permanent death (Macumber bit it? I can live with that…). It is a beautiful thing.
I can\\™t leave without mentioning Skyrim. I put over 100 hours into the damned thing. It has a huge open world that puts GTA5 to shame, great rpg and combat mechanics, a solid story, and nearly limitless side-quests. Skyrim is a must-play. As Liz Lemon would say, “I want to go to there.” So go…
A few years ago I wrote a short story (short for me, in any case, around 8K words) for Matthew Wayne Selznick\\™s The Sovereign Era: Year One anthology. It was called \\Every Breath You Take.\\ It\\™s the story of high school senior Christian Murphy, who has it bad for a foreign exchange student named Stacey… \\˜but in a world where thousands of people are learning they possess unique, incredible powers, what exactly stands in the way of Christian getting what he wants?\\™
Last Fall, Matt did a Kickstarter for his second novel set in this universe, and I offered to write a \\˜sequel\\™ to my first story as a pledge reward for his fans. Matt allowed me to play in his universe once again, and this story became more of a \\˜novelette,\\™ with a word count of nearly 14K. Now that Matt has fulfilled his Kickstarter obligations, we\\™re getting this puppy out as an e-book on Amazon and B&N for $3.99. The name of this novelette? \\Canary in a Coal Mine.\\
It will be available at online retailers on Friday, but if you are an .epub or .mobi consumer, you can pre-order it now for $2.99 until 11:59 PM PST, tomorrow night.
So, more about \\˜Canary,\\™ which can be read as a standalone story (although there are characters from the first story that appear in this one as well, so go get \\˜Breath\\™ for 1.99 at Amazon or B&N… it\\™s good)
\\Sovereign Conduct Enforcement Team (S.C.E.T.) investigators Adoette Smith and Joshua Wolff team with a local police officer to investigate what happened at the end of \\˜Breath,\\™ and the disappearance of the potential Sovereign, Stacey Miller
When circumstances bring Adoette\\™s violent, troubled past to the surface, will she be able to utilize her own Sovereign abilities in time to find Stacey?
I had fun with this story, and doing it got me back in the writing mood, in a big way. I hope you enjoy it. And if you enjoy the setting and haven\\™t read Matt Selznick\\™s Sovereign novels, please do!!
Here is the video from the Hangout-a-Thon: The BTW discussion of “weather in Westeros” starts around the 2:23:00 mark.
During the recording of the special BTW discussion during CosmoQuest’s Hangout-a-Thon in June, I made the announcement that any profits from SpecFicMedia.com’s Spreadshirt Store for the rest of this year will be donated to Citizens Science Project: CosmoQuest.
SFM Presents: Consumption is a new podcast/Google Hangout/YouTube show we’re starting this week.
SpecFicMedia.com Presents: Consumption
Some of us are media content creators; others are creators of a different type, make, or model… but all of us are media consumers. SFM Presents: Consumption will be a show where the hosts and a guest will talk about what media they are consuming (with a focus on speculative fiction media, of course). Movies, television, games, books, comic books… they’re all on the table.
As with BTW, the bulk of the show will be spoiler-free (as some of our discussions will be about things that some of the hosts may not have played, read, seen, or heard). But unlike BTW, we will have a spoiler section at the end of each podcast where all topics are fair game.
Our first episode/live show will be Wednesday, July 31st at 9 pm Eastern time. Viewer Q&A will be done through YouTube. I will post the link here when the time comes, but the best place to find our content is our YouTube channel.
On Monday I saw that Ryan Davis, the primary host of the Giant Bombcast and one of the founders of Giantbomb.com, passed away last week at the age of 34. Giant Bomb is a gaming website and the Giant Bombcast has been my favorite podcast the last couple of years. The reason I love it? It\\™s a weekly podcast about video games and the gaming industry that has very little to do with video games. Well, that\\™s not really true. The four or five hosts (writers and other content creators on the Giantbomb site) spend a good amount of time talking about games and everything going on in the gaming industry. But it is secondary to why I have listened to 2 to 3 hours of audio on a weekly basis. What these guys do, better than most, these five distinct voices with wonderfully diverse personalities, is enjoy each other\\™s company, just shooting the shit about what\\™s happened since the last time they recorded.
For example, Ryan starts each episode asking Jeff, Brad, Patrick and Vinnie what they have been doing. Now in normal circumstances, on other gaming podcasts, you would expect this to go around the table and maybe 20-30 minutes of discussion on the games they\\™ve played or the events they\\™ve attended, the hosts would move on to talk about the next topic, be it news or maybe some focused talk about an upcoming game that they might have seen at some press event. But on a Giant Bombcast? Ummm… no. I was listening to an old episode yesterday and Ryan asked Jeff Gerstmann about his week and after a discussion of topics such as cable service, the horrible delivery pizza situation in San Francisco, professional wrestling, and the Super Mario Brothers movie (\\˜93), Ryan moved on to the next host\\™s (Patrick Klepek\\™s) week. I looked down at my iPhone and realized that they had been riffing off of each other for over an hour. And it was glorious.
Anyway, it\\™s not for everyone. I remember when I first listened to the podcast I was unsure about it. Because the show was so personal, and because I was starting to listen three years after they had started the thing, I was lost. Even with the very distinct voices of the hosts it was hard to figure out who was who, and certainly the ongoing \\narrative\\ was such that I felt three steps behind most of the time.
But I recognized immediately that these guys were smart, funny, and have different strengths and weaknesses that played off each other perfectly. And even though it felt free-form and loose, it was directed wonderfully by Ryan. He was a sarcastic, bombastic, happy man that loved to push buttons but in a way that always made friends and listeners feel like they are \\in on\\ or \\part of\\ the joke. And that\\™s why I kept listening. I wanted to be part of that joke, part of that family.
I\\™m not here to talk about Ryan Davis specifically. I\\™ll post some links to stories written about him, some videos featuring him, etc. But I never met him. I never wrote an email to him or any of the hosts of the podcast with questions or comments (though I\\™ve thought of doing so several times over the last three years). I never made it to PAX or E3 to say hi and shake his hand and thank him for all he does. I\\™ll leave the tributes to those that knew him.
But I do want to come at this from a different direction, because of something I experienced yesterday. I was on IGN, looking at the news (yes, when I say \\news\\ you can bet has something to do with video games or movies… unless we\\™re talking about The Daily Show… that\\™s news, right?), and I see a news item with Ryan\\™s photo in the corner. My first thought was \\Why is Ryan\\™s photo on an IGN story? Is Giantbomb leaving CBS Interactive?\\ And then I saw the headline. And then I went to twitter. And then I noticed that Giantbomb\\™s website hadn\\™t updated with new content since the July 5th. This is a website that updates content multiple times a day. So it wasn\\™t a hoax, or a joke.
And to the reason I\\™m writing this… I was devastated. It wasn\\™t an emotional, eyes tearing up, need to call somebody to hear their voice type of thing. It was a stomach churning, energy draining, lose the ability to focus, can feel the headache coming event. I felt like I had lost a brother. Hell, the man had just gotten married a few days before he died. I felt bad for his wife, his friends, his co-workers.
I\\™m sure it showed on my face, because a lady at work noticed and asked what was wrong. And I tried to explain, but she didn\\™t understand podcasting and I could tell what she was thinking… \\you feel this bad over someone you don\\™t know, have never met?\\ and it wasn\\™t a mean thought at all… she\\™s a very nice lady. So I thought about it for a minute and asked her \\Is there a radio or talk show host you like?\\ She said sure, Conan O\\™Brien. I immediately said \\No, that\\™s too famous a person. How about someone local?\\
She said the name of some local country music dj I hadn\\™t heard of. I said \\That works. You know how over time you learn some things about their personal lives, funny anecdotes about when they were in college, stories about their kids or some event they attended, basically what they can share without offending anyone, or making management angry because they might chase away listeners or sponsors?\\ She nodded her head. \\What if this guy started an internet show that you could listen to, where it\\™s just him sitting around with some of his buddies, talking about everything and anything, no restrictions.\\
She admitted that would be cool. \\Now let\\™s say that\\™s 2 or 3 hours of audio every week, and you listen to that for 3 years. You have heard him and his friends talk about everything\\”what they\\™ve done, where they\\™ve gone… the good, the bad and definitely the ugly\\”sort of a reality show but unedited and unscripted, so you know you\\™re seeing the real person, not just what some reality show producer wants you to see or hear.\\ She was getting it.
\\And then he dies.\\
She nodded again. \\I understand.\\ And she patted me on the shoulder and walked away.
People ask me about podcasting from time to time. Some ask why I still do it when it\\™s no longer related to my writing. Others ask if podcasting is dying out. I usually respond that with the growth of video that podcasting has changed, but that at its core it\\™s still an important medium, even if it is a very niche medium. Podcasting is the only place where as a consumer you can find people talking about the exact thing you care about, as a regularly released audio or video show. And as a listener, you can become a part of that show\\™s community. You can interact with the hosts and other listeners, contribute to the show in different ways… and if you are dedicated and have something to offer, you can probably become part of the show in some way.
As people on this website know, I host a podcast with four of my friends where we talk about HBO\\™s Game of Thrones television series. There are at least eight or nine podcasts like ours that I would try out if I wasn\\™t doing one myself, because that\\™s what I like. And if I found a Game of Thrones podcast with hosts that I connected with in some way, I\\™m sure I\\™d continue listening to it.
The world has changed. Most of my best friends now live states away, but I see them in Skype video chats or Google Hangouts whenever I want. And if we find a topic we are passionate enough about, we might start a podcast, just to see if other people might like it and want join in the fun. Part of it is driven by ego I\\™m sure, and there\\™s always the hope that if I someday finish another novel and it gets published, some of my listeners might buy it.
But the most important reason I podcast? So I can see/hear those friends once a week, even though they all live in other states (or Canada); we get to catch up on life, and talk about things we love. And if other people enjoy what we talk about, and feel a connection to us, that\\™s a nice bonus.
I know it\\™s different for people like Ryan Davis. When he and Jeff Gerstmann started the Giantbomb gaming news website, they made a conscious decision to set themselves apart from the more corporate gaming sites out there. They knew, in order to compete with larger sites, they had to focus on the personalities of the people writing previews, reviews, and features on the site. And one facet of that \\˜transparency\\™ was their primary podcast, the Giant Bombcast. They had been involved in podcasting and video content creation at Gamespot.com and knew that was a great way to connect with a potential customer base. But of course it was much more than that, for them and for their audience, as I hope I\\™ve described well enough in this article. They were honest, funny, professional in the ways that matter, and transparent as hell.
And from the thousands of comments on the Giantbomb website and countless others that have run stories about Ryan\\™s passing, there are many other people that feel the same way that I do.
So, as one of the many voices that make up the signal, I would like to say to Ryan: Thanks, friend… for letting us all become part of your extended family.
Amazon has started a project called Amazon Studios. They are looking to produce movies, tv series, etc., and using community participation to not only create content but help make it better. It looks exciting to me, that’s for sure! Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think…
The online streaming convention I’ve coordinated for the last two years will be delayed until Spring 2013. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year, and there’s just not enough time in the month to do both. Also, the convention will be rebranded, as I would like to move away from the Tuaca name. Fireball Con, anyone? We’ll see.
If you are a writer, musician, artist, etc. and would like more information, there are a lot of videos from TuacaCon 2010 and 2011 over at UStream.tv
If you would like to participate, please send an email to pgholyfield at specficmedia dot com