There and Back Again: A Cripple’s Tale

I’m back!

Apologies for such a long absence; as some of you know (hello, IRL friends!) I’ve been dealing with some crazy health issues the last few months so my energy and focus has mostly been on, you know, figuring that whole mess out. But I am now, at least temporarily, on the mend and should be starting some new medications soon which ought to help with my energy a lot. (Fingers crossed for superpower side effects!)

A ridiculous amount of nerd news and events have occurred since my last post, and I’m frankly not sure where to begin. We’re coming up on the third and (thank the Valar) final installment of the Hobbit films, as well as the first Mockingjay film. I’m really excited for Mockingjay and will try to get a review of the film up here once it’s released! In the meantime, I recommend you check out some of the trailers; here’s one for your viewing pleasure!

 

Guardians of the Galaxy was released, and it was awesome. We’re FINALLY GETTING A WONDER WOMAN MOVIE, plus a roster of more sweet DC films has been released.

SDCC and NYCC happened, though I wasn’t able to attend either because of that whole super-sick thing.

Halloween is coming up, and I’m very excited to be making some progress on my costumes (this year, my boyfriend and I will be rocking out as Finn and Princess Bubblegum (Scientist Edition), and I’ll be dressing as Wednesday Addams for work on Halloween proper!).

Sailor Moon has been streaming from Hulu, and its amazingly gorgeous reboot Sailor Moon Crystal has also been released. Expect some posts on those in the near future!

Agents of SHIELD has also started up, and man are they bringing their A-game this season. Expect some FitzSimmons gushing in the near future. </3

I started watching Young Justice, and have finished Season 1. I’m hoping to get a full post up on the season soon, and I’m really hoping Netflix will get Season 2 up, like, yesterday, so I can get my fix of Young Justice-Robin kicking ass.

Lastly, there is the atrocity going on known as Gamergate. I am not going to get into this awful situation beyond saying that everyone needs to learn to treat each other with equal dignity and respect, and threatening someone who tries to speak out about inequality with violence is just wrong. Let’s just all stop being dicks for a change, okay people? Nerds and geeks should be working together for a happier world, filled with equal representation in comics, games, and film entertainment.

This is all I have time for today, but hopefully you’ll be seeing more posts from me! As always, if you’re interested in submitting a post for this page please e-mail me at ahearn.sann@gmail.com and I’ll be very excited to hear from you and coordinate a post!

Packing for PAX!

Hello, my chickadees! As you may be aware, PAX East is this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and I will be all over it this year, like a nerd at a nerd convention. I’ll be rocking my 3 Day Pass, and what I hope will be a darn fine Vault Dweller cosplay. If you see me, please come say hello! I promise I won’t use my sledgehammer to bludgeon you and loot your body for bottlecaps or ammo. Really. I promise.

I will be tweeting about the weekend from @sannahearn, so be sure to follow me if you want updates from all the dorkiest panels (I am suped for that mythology in gaming panel on Sunday!) and photos of the coolest cosplays. I will be writing a recap post of my weekend here when I return, but in the mean time I thought you may like a quick tutorial on how I made my Vault 101 jumpsuit. So check it out below, and let me know what you think in the comments!

VAULT 101 JUMPSUIT TUTORIAL 

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Hey there, Wastelanders!

This is my tutorial for altering an existing jumpsuit to make it into a Vault 101 suit. If you want to create a jumpsuit yourself from scratch, God speed; I had a very hard time finding any tutorials for that, and the only patterns I was able to find for jumpsuits were really for rompers, which helps no one. I wrote this tutorial assuming you already have some sewing knowledge, and a machine.

I approached this project with the goal to make the costume look as realistic as possible. I wanted to wear something that had utility, durability, and, most importantly, would keep me warm in the Boston spring but not overheat in the BCEC. It’s been stated that the Vault suits would actually be made from leather, but as a vegetarian with a relatively cheap plastic sewing machine and barely any money, there was no way I was going to tackle that undertaking.

I ended up buying this jumpsuit, opting for the heavier and darker twill fabric to try and make my suit seem more functional than the poplin suits I’ve seen most other Vault cosplayers use. I bought my suit without realizing this handy belt-less version was available, and I recommend using the belt-less version for your outfit. I originally planned to just remove the belt, but I like the assistance it gives my silhouette and was not confident that I would be able to remove it cleanly; I was not willing to risk a frayed, tangled mess on my front.

The twill fabric is lighter than I expected, but definitely warm; I’ve taken to wearing my suit around my apartment to break it in (and as a way cooler substitute to a sweatshirt) and have had to revise my planned outfit for the PAX weekend, learning it is far warmer than I expected. I’m planning to wear black leggings, a black or grey tank top, and a long sleeved thermal shirt which is very thin but very warm. If it’s particular cold, I’ll wear two sets of leggings and add a tee shirt to my torso; if it’s very warm I’ll just wear the tank and leggings. The fabric does fray pretty easily, so keep that in mind when cutting.

 

ADJUSTMENTS

 I purchased the smallest size available, 38 Short.  For reference, I am 5’1″ and about 120lbs, and this is what the sucker looked like.

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To start, I put my suit on inside out and used safety pins to pin the excess fabric and experimented moving around. I recommend having a friend help do the pinning; I did it myself, but it took far longer than it would have with help and I had to redo a lot of the pinning as I went, realizing it was completely uneven. Make sure you try the suit on after making any adjustments to ensure it still fits right. Practice a range of motion with the pinned suit to make sure you didn’t pin it too much (I did toe touches, windmills with my arms, some lunges, made sure I could sit cross legged on the floor and get up without ripping anything or getting stuck. I also ran through a few possible photo poses to make sure it was okay).

Safety pins in place

I removed the safety pins and replaced them with straight pins, like so. I did this one section at a time, to try and avoid any pins falling out while sewing another part. I started with the top, taking in the sleeves first and then the sides, and then any excessive fabric in the back, then I went on to the pants. I am still having issues with the crotch/lower torso area because I am so short, but am not sure how to adjust this area without inhibiting my access to the pockets, which I really want to keep. It’s nothing major, just a little unsightly bagginess around the butt, crotch, and hip areas, but it’s only noticeable when I sit. If I wanted to take the suit apart and re-sew, I think I could fix it, but just don’t feel it’s worth the effort and danger of ruining my costume so close to con time.

Back and arm, straight pins in preparation for sewing.

Make sure you hem the excessive fabric after you cut it! I don’t really sew “properly” because I am lazy and self-taught, so what I did was sew along the pinned alteration marks, then cut the extra fabric, and went over each section with a zigzag stitch twice to hem it.

The Numbers

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Homemade Stencils

I made my numbers myself; since I’ve never used an iron on applique before I was hesitant to try anything new on my suit that could potentially ruin it and require me to order another one. The stripes on front and numbers on the back are essentially patches I made myself, double-layering some yellow “bottom weight fabric” I got at Jo-Ann’s. I should have hemmed them properly before sewing, but the thought only occured to me after I sewed the stripes on, while I was plucking stray yellow threads from all over my suit. My numbers on the back were properly hemmed before being attached, though, and they are still pretty frayed. I decided not to sweat it, and will just chalk it up to some of the wear-and-tear caused by the Wasteland!

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I wanted to sew the numbers on my collar as well, but they proved to be too small for my stupid arthritic hands, so instead I bought some yellow fabric paint and spent about 2-3 days painting light layers of the numbers onto the collar.

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Check out those digits! (with bonus sledgehammer preview)

Et, voila! Your very own Vault 101 Jumpsuit.

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Game Alpha Review: Rust!

Alrighty gamers, it’s been a good long while since I’ve given you the scoop on any games (other than updating some previous posts; seriously if you haven’t bought Space Engineers yet you really should.  They implemented multi-player, for heavens sake!).  Today we bring you the skinny on a new(ish) game that is in Alpha: Rust.  There is only one goal in Rust: Survive.  Whatever it takes.  Survive.

Rust is a multi-player online game (servers range from 10-80 slots, but I have never seen more than 50 people actively playing on a server) with no story yet (it’s still in Alpha), but it has an interesting enough premise.  You spawn in the game world with a rock, some bandages, and a torch.  Where you go from there is up to you.  When I first started playing Rust, I likened it to a combination of DayZ and Minecraft.  They have since removed Zombies, so it is more like a prettier version of Minecraft.  It is still very fun!  And there are many more dangers than Zombies.

History

Rust is a game that was developed and produced in 2013 by Facepunch Studios, the same people who brought you Garry’s Mod.  It is currently in Alpha/Early Release stages.  It was previously a web-based game but they made it stand alone following the community feedback.

Rust began as a DayZ clone because the developers were annoyed by bugs and other issues in DayZ.  The developers thought they could do better, and they came up with Rust.  They collectively made the decision to leave the world empty and leave the creation of the majority of towns to the player.

Game Play

Rust is a purely survival game.  As I said earlier, when you start the game you spawn in a field with a rock, some bandages, and a torch.  You notice a health meter, a rad meter, and a food meter.  It becomes pretty clear that your first priority is to find some food and shelter.  Any action you take results in the food meter going down.   If it is night time and you don’t have a fire and shelter then you will get a Cold warning and your food meter will dwindle faster.   There are bears, wolves, boar, chicken, rabbits, and deer that you can attack to get meat (and other resources) from.  Some of them fight back.  Since you’re basically naked until you get some form of crafting material to make clothes or armor you should stick to chicken, rabbits, and boar to start.  Deer run away very quickly so I would avoid them until you get some better gear.

Once you get some meat, you should find a tree pile to chop down to get some wood, and maybe some rock piles to hack away at to get some metal and stones.  Build a shelter. SURVIVE.  Think of what you might try to do when you’re really in a survival situation.  There are lots of things that you can craft in order to accomplish your goals.  Is running around with a stone the best way to kill an animal or chop down a tree? Probably not.  What’s this? You can craft a variety of hatchets, piecemeal weapons (hand-made shotguns, shells, revolvers, bows, etc).  You should make use of every resource you can find.  There are supply crates strewn across the map.  They are mostly near towns though, and where there are towns there is radiation.  Radiation is indicated by a ticking Geiger counter.  The louder and more rapid the ticking the faster your rad meter will fill up.  500 rads and you will start to have radiation sickness and begin to die.  You can fix this by eating a variety of foods or finding Rad Pills.   They clearly put a lot into this.

There are a variety of threats in Rust.  If you’re on a PVP server, people are your biggest adversary.  If they think you are a threat or have something you can use then they WILL kill you.  It’s up to you to find a way to prevent it.  If you’re not on a PVP server, then the world itself can be a threat.  You can fall from a height and break your legs which leaves you crawling for a few minutes.  You can hit something and start to bleed.  If you don’t use a bandage, then you will bleed out.  Then there are the animals.  Bears and Wolves will actively chase you and try to, well, eat you.  That isn’t a pleasant experience, and I wouldn’t recommend it.  Get a bow and arrow or a handcannon or pipe shotgun to deal with them.

Graphics

Rust is in a pretty good state, graphically, for an Alpha.  The recent update on Friday changed the graphics for wood and rock piles: they now break apart when you chop away at them which is a cool feature.  The grass bends down as you walk over it (which lets you track people!) and slowly regenerates.  The creatures are pretty cool looking.  The structures that you can build look pretty realistic as far as what a person in the wild would be able to make (with the exception being the guns; i don’t know how someone in the wilderness can make an M4 or a P250 with their hands but that’s neither here nor there).

Overall Thoughts

The Good

  • If you have a small-ish group of friends, it can be a great game to play.  It forces cooperation among friends and suspicion about rivals and unknowns.  It’s basically an apocalypse simulator.
  • It’s very good fun usually! It can get a little tedious at times, but as I said, it’s a fairly realistic simulation of what we’d likely need to do to survive.
  • The graphics are pretty amazing for an early alpha game that is < 1 gig in size.  The textures are amazing.
  • The game play mechanics are also pretty well thought out.
  • The crafting system is merely okay.  Weapons are crafted with random perks (number of mod slots) which is nice but I’d kind of like to see some sort of rhyme or reason to it.  If I’m making my 30th handgun you’d think I’d have better luck than making my 1st or 2nd one.
  • Players are harsh.  You’ll notice this is in both the Good and the Bad sections, and it’s for a reason.  Players should be harsh in a cold world like this, but at the same time… See below.
  • The developers are pretty active and seem to be releasing updates and fixes on a regular (once a week or so) basis.

The Bad

  • People will kill you on a PVP server for seemingly no good reason.  That’s the risk you take for playing on a PVP server.  The PVE servers don’t usually have this problem, but they’re also few and far between and also very low population at the moment.
  • There aren’t really penalties for death (other than losing your inventory).  It’d be kind of cool (and frustrating) if there was a penalty for dying.  Lose a randomly chosen plan from your knowledge of plans for example.
  • They should really implement some sort of player trading system other than just throwing things on the ground and hoping the other party doesn’t run off.
  • Players are harsh!  There was a PVP server I connected to, I ran up to a tree and started chopping away at some wood, and a guy shot me in the face with a shotgun and then ran off.  No rhyme or reason to it.  I wasn’t taking a scarce resource like metal or food.  I just wanted some shelter.

The Ugly

  • Due to the nature of the Alpha, things change frequently and often unexpectedly.  The changes are sometimes minor (they finally eliminated zombies; the replacement however was wild animals like bears and wolves.  They intend on making the zombies into something else but haven’t decided so they went with a placeholder of animals, which is very silly) and easy to get back up on your feet from.  The changes can also be drastic (like when they changed and added things to the map and to the server code which necessitated a wipe of almost all the servers.  Even if the server you were on wasn’t wiped there was a good chance that your house could now be replaced with a mountain or rocks) and almost heartbreaking to recover from.
  • The learning curve is steep.  EVE-Online levels of steep.
  • The game throws you into the mix and says good luck and have fun.

Recommendation

Maybe hold off for a little bit.  The game is good fun, but the bugs and problems with server resets are still a little frustrating to deal with.   $20.00 isn’t a lot of money for a game, so if you have money to burn and are looking for something fun, if frustrating then I’d highly recommend it.  Wait a few more months and let the game let a little bit more polish.

New Years Resolutions Schmesolutions

In case you can’t tell, I’ve been sucking pretty hard at updating again. Derp. I have a ton of perfect valid reasons for my bout of blogging sloth, but I won’t get into that now. (No really! Some are, like, super good reasons.) I want you to know that from now on, I am going to my darndest to be better. All for you, my dear Reader.(…s?)

For the sake of moving on with life and assuaging my guilty conscience, here are some mini-recaps of some of the things that have happened I meant to write about but, y’know… Didn’t.

Oh, also; spoilers for whatever thing is underneath the bolded title of that thing, I guess? Enjoy!

Thor: The Dark World
Rating: Aww yeah!

I’da paid double to see this version. Amirite right, ladies?

Okay, okay. This came out practically forever ago, and in all honesty I don’t remeber enough to break it down in too much detail. All I can say is it was a bajillion times better than the first one! The biggest qualm I had was that the Elves were such poorly developed characters; I felt absolutely no sense of suspense or dread about their plan succeeding. Pretty much the moment they showed up on screen my suspense of disbelief was suspended.

On the flip side: You can practically feel Joss Whedon’s influence saturating the best parts of the script, Tom Hiddleston is the best part of the film once more (his little “ta da!” after zipping through the portal was the BEST LINE), Kat Dennings was super fun and I’m glad she got as much screen time as she did, and Chris Hemsworth is shirtless! For like, 45 seconds, but still! And it’s for literally no reason. Seriously; there is a scene change, and suddenly he’s just hanging out shirtless in his chambers, looking pensively out a window and washing chastely but hunkily in a basin, and then it’s a new scene. Nothing particularly dramatic had even happened before it, to make it look like he really had to mull something over…

It was a great movie!

Catching Fire
Rating: Amazeballs.

Ugh, my heart guts!

I had hesitant high hopes for director Francis Lawrence‘s take on the second installment of the Hunger Games tetralogy. The only other film he directed that I had seen was I Am Legend (which I only watched because I heard he was directing Catching Fire) and while I enjoyed it overall it had some serious problems.

I do not feel the same about Catching Fire.

This was so much better than the first movie; both as an adaptation, and as film. I expected to have a more difficult time choking down the forced love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale than I did, and it was a relief. Don’t mistake me; I still think there is absolutely zero chemistry between Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson (though both perform wonderfully), or with Willow Shields’ Primrose OR Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna. Katniss and Peeta’s costumes for the chariot ride are still mega lame, and, worst of all, there was still too much damn shaky camera! You half lied to us, Francis. What the heck, man?

For everything that grated my nerves in Catching Fire, there was something I loved that negated it. I much preferred Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch in this film to the first; he gets the darker edge he needed, though I was very disappointed we didn’t get to see any of his Games. The riot and murder in District 11 was exactly what it needed to be, and Gale’s whipping was appropriately brutal and haunting. Elizabeth Banks made Effie so wonderfully alive and sympathetic, her outbursts against the Quell nearly made me tear up. Jennifer Lawrence was utterly brilliant once again, and her expression at the very end of the film filled me with nearly overwhelming pride and hurt for District 12. Amanda Plummer’s Wiress was as perfect as I expected it be, and Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason was as perfect as I’d hoped it to be. Oh, and Phillip Seymore Hoffman. Need I say more?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Rating: Heartbreaking

Oh, Martin Freeman; enjoy the screen time while you can.

I didn’t have super high hopes for Desolation, as you probably remember from my recap of An UnExpected Journey, and this piece of Orc waste didn’t even come close to those subpar expectations. At some point I will write a full length review of this, so I actually won’t go into it too much hear, but you can rest assured I was deeply disappointed by Beorn’s scene (Freaking, really? Come on, wardrobe/make up, Wtf.), and the terrible and stupid love triangle between Kili, Legolas, and Tauriel (who I actually enjoyed in the few scenes the love triangle wasn’t mentioned, hinted at, or shown). Benedict Cumberbatch was a fantastic Smaug, and Biblo’s Conversation with him was wonderful (and practically the only seen poor Bilbo was in!), but it just wasn’t enough to save this stinking multimillion dollar pile of disappointment.

I hope your happy with yourself, Mr. Jackson. I’m sure not.

PAX East Cosplay Progress
Status: Assembling the Puzzle

Okay, so last time I mentioned doing my cosplay for Pax East, I said I was going to be Zelda from Twilight Princes. Sadly, that will not be happening. I just haven’t dedicated myself to perfecting my sewing as much as I wanted to (again; I have reasons!), and I had a shift in my finances that wouldn’t have let me make the costume as perfect as I want to.

So I have had to change my plans a little, but I am much more stoked for my new project: Fallout 3 Lone Wanderer (Vault 101 jumpsuit). I chose this as my alternative cosplay for many reasons– firstly, of course, because I flipping love Fallout 3. In addition, I will have a much easier time altering and modding an existing jumpsuit instead of sewing a satin floor length gown from scratch. Plus, this will be warmer for walking around Boston in early April, I get to wear boots and make a Pip Boy 3000, and I have a huge selection of other fun props and weapons to practice crafting! The open endedness of Fallout leaves so much room for creating my own character, my own cosplay. Heck, if something breaks, falls off, or spills on my costume, it’ll just make it look more authentic.

Plus, I get pockets.

I’ve already gotten almost all of my materials and pieces: a jumpsuit, belt, gloves, and knee pads to modify; most pieces for the construction of my Pip Boy (a huge shout out to Sew Old School Crafts; I am relying very heavily on these tutorials for my Pip Boy, and bottle caps, and I am hoping to make the mini-nuke purse as well, because its fantastic and adorably bad ass). I also plan to make at least one prop weapon to lug around- probably a sledgehammer, because that just seems fun! It’s one of my favorite weapons in the game; I love melee the stuff!

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Just gotta put it all together…

For anyone wondering where I got the jumpsuit I am modifying, I got this one; however, I recommend getting the beltless version. I may or may not have missed that it was an option when I ordered. I would return my belted suit, but receiving the one I got took longer than I have been told, so I don’t want to go through the effort- the belt seems like it will be easy enough to remove.

I have a lot of work to do, but I think I’ll be able to manage with plenty of time for revisions. I’ve never done any kind of prop construction before, so my biggest challenge is the darn Pip Boy. I am hoping to make it so I can use my iPhone as the screen, and I think my plan with work. If anyone knows of a good app for iPhones that would emulate a Pip Boy (except for the weather one that already exists; it’s no good for my purposes), please let me know! I’ll trade you 5 caps for it. 10?

I’ve just started goofing around foam to practice carving. It’s very messy, but fun when I don’t accidentally slice off a chunk of something I needed. I’m glad I have a lot of glue left over from my Flame Princess cosplay construction!

My very own Pip Boy! Oh GEE!

My very own Pip Boy! Oh GEE!

I will be sure to post some more progress pics, and maybe even my own tutorial or two as I go!

So, there you have it. For now. If you’re interested in seeing more regular posts up here, well why dontcha submit some material? E-mail me at ahearn.sann@gmail.com with an idea (or an actual draft, oooh!) and I’ll hook you up.

Thanks for reading!

Recap: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

It’s no news to anyone by now that I freaking love Tolkien. I am sure you can imagine that I am pretty stoked for the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this Friday, December 13. To help the rest of the world get as excited as I am, I thought it may be a good idea to get a little recap of the first film up here. Y’know, help get everyone in the Hobbitday spirit!

The Hobbit opens as perfectly as I could have hoped. There is a beautiful prologue that details how the fortunes of Erebor accumulated, spurred by rich dwarven culture and talent, and how the wretched Smaug the Terrible came to claim it as his own, destroying a large majority of the dwarf population, ransacking the nearby city of Dale, and driving a wedge between the alliance of elves and dwarves when the elves of Mirkwood failed to come to the aid of Erebor. Smaug settles into his new pile of gold, and director Peter Jackson takes us forward through time, back to the Shire that lovers of his first film trilogy loved.

Ian Holmes reprises his role of Bilbo Baggins beautifully, sitting down to write There and Back Again after bustling about in preparation for his 111th birthdya party. Bilbo wants to ensure that his nephew Frodo (reprised by a clearly aged, but still loveably dull, Elijah Wood) would know how Bilbo’s marvelous tale of the Lonely Mountain really happened, since he had never truly told anyone the full thing before. This segment transitions into the proper opening of the film, which is the best part in the movie. (I say it’s the best part because the dialogue is almost word-for-word copied from the book).

“Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

A youthful Bilbo (played by the ultimate perfectly relatable British straight-man, Martin Freeman) is enjoying some of his fine pipe-leaf on his front porch when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) mosies by and strikes up a delightfully confrontational non-confrontational conversation with Bilbo. After complimenting Gandalf’s fireworks, fondly remembered by Bilbo in his childhood, Bilbo become flustered when Gandalf explains he is in search of someone for an adventure. Hobbits traditionally shun such activities, you see, and Bilbo becomes quite flummoxed that Gandalf would think he may be interested in such nonsense. Bilbo rushes back into his hobbit hole to escape any association with adventure-seeking, but not before inviting Gandalf to tea the next day in his panic. (What a gentleman!)

Cue: Dwarves. Thirteen of them trickle into Bilbo’s lovely hobbit hole, uninvited by him, that evening. (Or the next evening? In the book it’s specified to occur the next day, but the film is less clear) The dwarves seem to take advantage of poor Bilbo, eating him out of house and home (which is a difficult thing to do, as you’d know if you ever saw a hobbit’s pantries!) and leaving muck and mud all over his fine floors and furniture. There is even a burping contest, which I found tasteless and unnecessary (I know it’s a kids movie, Jackson, but you don’t have to dumb it down just because you can! This novel deserves more dignity than that. As do the dwarves; I will never forgive you for making Gimli the comic relief, Peter Jackson. Dwarves are a strong and hardy people, and you’ve reduced them to the goofiness and crassness of Snow White’s cartoon roommates. Shame on you.) They have the decency to help with the dishes, at least. After dinner, and the late arrival of Thorin Oakenshield (the leader of their party and heir to the Kingdom of Erebor), Bilbo learns that the mission of this party is to return to Erebor and reclaim their fortunes.

Smaug the Magnificent hasn’t been seen, or even heard, in many years, and the dwarves suspect he may have died among their former jewels and riches. Thorin warns that if they have seen the signs indicating their riches may be up for grabs again, then so have others. He explains he met with their northern kin, dwarves from the Iron Hills, who refused to come with them to reclaim the Lonely Mountain. The dwarves are disheartened by the news, but ultimately decide to go on with their plan, especially now that they have a map and key to the kingdom, supplied by Gandalf, as well as a burglar. And by “burglar,” they mean Bilbo, which understandably puts him in quite a flummox.

Thorin and Bilbo agree that he can’t possibly be a good fit for this mission. That is, until Gandalf goes all Wizard Mode on them and says that he hand selected Bilbo for this mission, he has his reasons for doing so, and they are damn good reasons. Citing the resilience and hidden strength of hobbits, and the fact that Smaug would probably not recognize the scent of hobbit (giving them a much needed advantage), Gandalf essentially tells Thorin and his gang to STFU and play nice with Bilbo. Naturally, that means the dwarves tease Bilbo, who tries to put on a brave show and claims he could be their burglar… until one of the dwarves mentions a clause in his contract about what to do with his riches should he die before returning home. Bilbo faints at the thought.

Upon waking, Bilbo is blissfully pleased to learnt he dwarves have left, and he is home alone in the safety, comfort, and security of his hobbit hole. Until that safety and security begins to seem confining, and dull, and the contract the dwarves left for him on his mantle reminds him of where he could be right then: running off into the Blue for an adventure like no hobbit has ever had. Bilbo tears off, taking the contract and little else with him, to meet the dwarves. I’m pleased as punch Jackson and his crew included the bit where Bilbo forgets a handkerchief and freaks out; I hope to see Bilbo bemoan his lack of hankies more in the next two films. (Side bar: why are there still two more films?! I love Tolkien, but I am firmly in the camp of making the Hobbit a one-film adaptation. Two at the most. But three is right out.)

The dwarves travel on, with nothing very remarkable happening until they stumble across a mysterious firelight in the woods. They are in need of supplies, and since Gandalf has sauntered off for some kind of wizarding nonsense, the dwarves decide to send the burglar in to scope out the situation. Bilbo finds three monstrous trolls around the fire, lamenting their meal options. Filled with a sudden insane desire to make the dwarves like him, Bilbo decides to try and pick one of their pockets, because how could that go wrong? Well, it goes wrong because trolls apparently carry magic wallets that speak out to warn their owner if someone tries to steal them. (Can I haz one?) The trolls freak out, and try to capture Bilbo to eat him. The dwarves come to his rescue and there is a brief scuffle before the trolls grab Bilbo and threaten to squash him unless the dwarves lay down their arms; which they do, in a surprisingly heartwarming moment.

With all the dwarves and Bilbo trussed up for cookin’, the trolls argue over how the best way to cook them. Bilbo sees an opportunity to delay the meal, so to speak, and chimes in with his own thoughts on the best way to cook dwarf and causing an argument between their captors. Eventually the trolls catch onto it, and are preparing to eat them whole when Gandalf shows up in the knick of time, smashing a rock to allow the dawning sun to illuminate the trolls, turning them into stone. Like you do.

From there, the dwarves find the troll’s cave and scrounge for supplies. They don’t find much useful stuff, except for three bad ass swords; two longer ones, which Gandalf and Thorin take by virtue of being the baddest of asses (and y’know, a king), and one shorter blade that Bilbo gets, by virtue of being the only one previously without any weapons. The party continues on.

Around this time is when we come to what I think is the most egregious error in the films so far. And I’m not talking about Azog the Defiler being alive in the movie hundreds of years after he should have died, though that’s a damn close second. No, I’m talking about the inclusion of Radagast the Glob-damn Brown.

Even *he* doesn’t know why he’s in this movie!

Radagast is only briefly mentioned in the Tolkien’s actual work (Gandalf refers to him as a cousin in the the Hobbit) and is never actually met. In the film, however, we are forced to watch a cartoonishly awkward, fidgety wizard rushing through a dark, grim forest and trying to save a hedgehog that seems to have been poisoned. Dark shadow encroaches on his cottage as he tries to heal the animal, and we see the spindly legs of creepy, giant-seeming spiders teased along the edges of the screen. Radagast successfully heals his spiny buddy, and hurries to find the Lonely Mountain Party (now that’s a band name!) and tell Gandalf about a darkness filling Mirkwood.

And this is my peeve: it would not have been news to anyone in Middle-earth at the time that Mirkwood was, let’s just say, mirky. Originally called Greenwood the Great, a shadow began to fall on Mirkwood in TA 1050 (“Third Age”) which would earn it it’s new moniker. The shadow is eventually learned to be the remnant of Sauron, an enemy of Middle-earth long ago thought to be vanquished, who disguised himself as the Necromancer and spent his time in Mirkwood mustering his strength and power in preparation for the events that would unfold in the Tolkien’s later trilogy. So, that was in TA 1050. The Hobbit takes place in TA 2941. That is a 1,891 year span of time in which the Necromancer has been busy mirking up Mirkwood. Radagast, Gandalf, the entire White Council, and really everyone in the region was well freakin’ aware that there was some evil badness going down in the woods (though not everyone knew/believed it was actually Sauron, but that’s literally a different story).

I know it may seem minor, especially compared to the egregious changes Jackson allowed with the Azog story line (it is so not necessary for there to be yet another villain in this story; the dwarves and Bilbo already have a Maier-be-damned dragon, horde of goblins in the Misty Mountains, clan of wargs, skin-changers, Mirkwood monsters, mislead elves, and the elements to contend with. They don’t need a goblin who is also supposed to have been dead centuries before the story took place added into the mix). Minor or not, this transgression has just irked me to no end since I saw the film the first time. By including this inaccurate history and incorporating a character who never appeared in the story, Jackson has officially over-cluttered the film and disappointed fans who had faith in him to make the Hobbit as accurate an adaptation as The Fellowship of the Ring film was. Maybe my issue is really that he could have gotten away with one or the other: include Azog and his rewritten history or Radagast and the rewritten history of an entire region of Middle-earth. Not both. You can’t have your wizards and orcs too, PJ!

Okay. Glad we can all agree on that hot mess being a hot mess.

Moving on:

Radagast shows up for some stupid reason at just about the same time the Lonely Mountain Party (as I will be calling them from now on) is being pursued by Azog and his gang. Radagast bravely offers to be a decoy and distract them, and thank the Valar Gandalf accepts because it means he is out of the movie now! (Well, for awhile) The Lonely Mountain Party is pursued by orcs until Gandalf leads them to a convenient secret passage that leads to Rivendell, the Middle-earthian home of the High Elves– and the last place that Thorin wants to be, since he is still all butt-hurt over the Mirkwood elves abandoning his people when Smaug attacked (like they could have done anything anyway. Also, that’s racist Thorin; not all elves are the same, man! If you’re gonna hate on any elves, just keep it to the Silvan elves. F those guys.). Gandalf convinces them to go, since Elrond of Rivendell is probably the only person who can read the map’s directions to Erebor’s “back door.”

Cue another frustration of mine: the elves of Rivendell are a jolly, singing, happy folk when the dwarves arrive in the Hobbit. I wish the film would have let us see some of that. I think we, the audience, have earned some screen time with Hugo Weaving singing about dwarves having goofy long beards and drinking mead. Plus, this movie implies the elves are poor hosts to the dwarves (they complain about the food, the hospitality [what is with elves insisting to speak elvish to everyone?!], and just generally whine about the elves), which I don’t think was necessary to highlight the wedge driven between those two people by Smaug.

Anyway. Gandalf tries to get the dwarves to chill out and give the elves a chance. Thorin agrees for the time being, and in return Elrond does in fact read the map for them so the dwarves learn how to access a secret back door to the Mountain (“Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light on Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole”). Afterwards, there is a meeting of the White Concil; Saruman, Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf meet to discuss the dangers posed by the dwarves mission- after all, if they fail and do nothing but anger Smaug, there would be serious consequences for other regions of Middle-earth. Especially if it’s learned that Rivendell helped them out). Gandalf tries to warn his colleagues about Radagast’s “discoveries” (*huff*) in Mirkwood but is quickly by Saruman, who is totally not evil. While Gandalf delays the Council meeting, the dwarves sneak out of Rivendell likes BAMFs, since it’s pretty hard to sneak around elves.

From here, they begin to travel through the Misty Mountains. There is a terrible storm, and the dwarves seek shelter in a cave after a totally awesome (but equally unnecessary and gratuitous) close-scrape with some stone giants in the mountains. I’m really glad the giants made it in, but wish they hadn’t been jammed down our throats for an unwarranted action sequence. In the night, Bilbo attempts to sneak away from the group and return home; he had nearly been killed by the stone giants, and Thorin thought it would be appropriate to berate and belittle him for it, since it may have messed up their mission to lose their burglar at this stage (but not if they lose him because of bullying?). Bilbo is stopped by a friendly, inconsequential dwarf and they have a touching heart-to-heart, and in time to notice his sword, Sting, is glowing blue in warning of the nearby proximity of goblin. Oh noes!

The dwarves are taken in by the goblins of the Misty Mountains, who are totally goofy looking. I must say I am disappointed in Weta for these movies so far; the Arkenstone in the prologue looks like a lens flare in a box, Azog looks like a pretty normal dude with a wicked skin condition, and the Misty Mountain goblins don’t look threatening in the least. Again, I know it’s a kids movie, but do you really think you need to dumb down the CGI as much as you dumbed down the story, PJ? Anyway, I digress. Again.

The goblins threaten the dwarves, telling them that they’ve informed Azog of their capture and that he is en route to finish off Thorin’s family tree. Around this point, Gandalf shows up and creates a hulabaloo by setting of an explosion (at least, I think that’s what happened. It’s how it went down in the books, and I spent this part of last night’s movie-rewatch reading about the Three Elven Rings of Power… so, don’t take this part of the recap as gospel). The Lonely Mountain Party flees, but poor Bilbo gets left behind, of course. He’s knocked out in a scuffle with a goblin and wakes up alone in the dark in the caves, the dead/unconscious goblin nearby. As he grapples around in the shadows, he finds something on the ground; a ring. He drops it in his pocket, startled by the sound of something coming in the dark, and hides. A sixty-years younger Gollum appears, and drags the goblin’s body off to an underground lake. Bilbo follows secretly, for lack of anything better to do.

Next we have my other favorite part of the film! Riddles in the dark, man. Gollum intends to eat Bilbo, until being threatened with Sting. Instead, Gollum invites Bilbo to play a game riddles. Bilbo agrees with the caveat that if he wins, Gollum must show him the way out of the goblin caves; Gollum adds that if he wins, he gets to eat Bilbo. Yum.

I loved Andy Serkis’ portrayal of younger Gollum. I think the experience of pre-preciousless Gollum is an important addition to his character in the Lord of the Rings; in the Hobbit, Gollum and Smeagol seem to have nearlyequal control over their body, but when Gollum takes the reins you can tell this forming the pattern for the unhealthy schizphrenic relationship witnessed in the Two Towers. My heart swells when Smeagol’s eyes just light up at the first thought of playing a riddle game with someone not himself for the first time in hundreds of years, and it’s a view of the innocence he hadn’t even known he’d forgotten. Then Bilbo beats him at that game, and barely legally; while fumbling to come up with a riddle, Bilbo reaches into his pocket and feels the ring he felt earlier. Wondering out loud, “What have I got in my pocket?” and Gollum takes that to be the riddle. He demands three guesses, and doesn’t get any right; Bilbo wins, and demands to be escorted out of the tunnels.

Gollum goes to his little island in the lake, muttering that he needs his precious, and he’ll be right back. He can’t find what he is looking for, however, and begin to freak out. Bilbo panics and flees, as Gollum accuses him of stealing his precious. As Bilbo tries to run he trips, and his finger slips into the ring, making him become invisible. (Actually he has that same awful close-up-while-the-ring-hovers-around-his-finger-like-a-freaking-ring-toss moments Frodo had in Fellowship) Gollum can’t find him, and speeds off in pursuit. Bilbo follows and Gollum leads him to the exit! Bilbo can even see Gandalf leading the dwarves down the very same path, but Gollum stands between him and sunlight. Bilbo sneaks up, ready the stab Gollum while invisible… until Gollum turns around, his lamp eyes misting over in grief for his lost precious, and Bilbo’s hand drops, heavy with pity.

Then Gollum freaks out, cursing his name, and Bilbo decides to launch over him.

Bilbo escapes and meets up with the dwarves and Gandalf, who are talking about him behind his back, naturally. The joy of their reunion is short lived, however, since it’s about now that Azog’s forces find them. The Lonely Mountain Party retreats up some trees, right on the edge of a cliff because y’know. The orcs set fire to the base of the tress to try and smoke them out (or just burn ‘em to a crisp), so Gandalf throws magic, flaming pinecones down at them and causes a huge forest fire. Good going, G.

Azog shows up, all menacing-like. He throws down with Thorin and totally kicks his butt. As Azog is about to make the final death blow, Bilbo, overcome with feeling and/or temporary insanity, runs to Thorin’s side to protect him. He is about to get munched by Azog’s warg buddy when who shows up to the day? The mother-flippin’ eagles.

Sha-ZAM!

The eagles, who are pretty picky about who they rescue in the books but seem to act like Middle-earth damn taxi service in the movies, drop the Lonely Mountain Party off on a convenient cliff in safety. Thorin give Bilbo a big ole’ hug in gratitude for his attempt at saving Thorin’s life. Bilbo is clearly feeling some warm fuzzies by the change in his treatment by his fellow adventurers. The film ends with everyone looking at a speck of rock in the far distance, which the dwarves confirm to Bilbo is their destination; the Lonely Mountain.

Overall, I give the Hobbit a C-. The parts the film got right were so very right… but the parts they got wrong were incredibly wrong and awful. Jackson over complicated what should really be a simple, enjoyable adventure tale by altering the timeline of Middle-earth (Azog and Radagast’s appearances, specifically). He also added completely unnecessary and crass moments purely because he seems to want to drive in the fact that this is a kids film, and not the actual Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think he does the novel, Tolkien, and modern children a disservice by doing this. He could have removed pretty much every goofy moment from this film and it would still have been lighthearted and dark enough for children of almost any age to enjoy, without degrading it by making it more base.

I am looking forward to the Desolation of Smaug in that I am looking forward to tearing it apart afterwards. While I’ve heard some great things about the representation of Smaug and Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the Magnificent Worm, I have heard from a few people who have already seen it that this film is far more problematic than the first. Not surprising, considering I’m sure Jackson had to add in a lot of new, inaccurate, stupid things in order to stretch the short novel into a trilogy.

I am also excited and nervous to see Beorn. If you didn’t know, in addition to freakin’ loving Tolkien I also freakin’ love bears. Beorn has always been one of my favorite characters, and I really hope that we see a lot of him and his people in Desolation. Unless they did a terrible job of putting them in, in which case I hope they just ignore that part of book so I can die in peace.

OH MAN YOU GUYS

Time will tell! I will likely be seeing the film over the weekend (missing the midnight showing for the first time, my soul is crushed!) so keep your eyes peeled for my review!

Aaaaand, We’re Back!

I want to give a very special thank you to Mike Santangelo for all of his help (namely his totally awesome posts!), while I was busy slacking off! So, thank you, Mike. As a token of my gratitude, here is a pig in a blanket.

Yay, Mike!

Now, the sad truth is I didn’t even get to do anything for NaNoWriMo this year, so my absence has been almost for naught… Almost.

I say “almost” because I’ve got some rad posts coming your way in the very near future! Topics will include reviews of Catching Fire and Thor: the Dark World, a clip of my awesome brother in law (and owner of Jersey City’s FJB Comics & Games) being interviewed about the new Ms. Marvel, something about Adventure Time, and some posts about my experience learning how to sew on a sewing machine.

In all honesty, it’s the latter that sucked up all my time and energy last month. I have become utterly smitten with cosplay since completing my Flame Princess cosplay for NYCC, and have plunged into my next project: Twilight Princess Zelda, for PAX East in April 2014. Since I have almost no sewing experience beyond reattaching buttons by hand, this is quite an undertaking. I plan to document my progress and lessons as I learn to sew in general, and will hopefully make some tutorials for the cosplay itself as I progress!

This is 10 hours of sewing by hand I can now have a robot do!

This is 10 hours of sewing by hand I can now have a robot do!

So, keep your peepers peeled, because as long as I don’t drown in tangled bobbin thread I should be back on my weekly schedule here starting next week. To tide you over until then, here is the ISS’s view of a volcanic eruption. Enjoy!

Game Beta Review: Starlight Inception

Alright game fans, we’re back with more beta-build-game-y goodness! Today we’ll be bringing you a review of the same: Starlight Inception.  Starlight Inception is a game by an Indie developer I have never heard of, but while I’m waiting Star Citizen to get to some sort of playable state, I need a space-sim game in the style of Wing Commander, Starlancer, or Freelancer.  Starlight Inception fits that bill pretty well in my book!

Starlight Inception - Main Menu

 Starlight Inception is a 3rd-person space-sim game for 1 or multiple players (non-split screen play is not currently enabled, but is promised; split-screen play is available, but I didn’t try it since it requires 2 distinct controllers which I didn’t have available).  There are currently 3 modes available: Campaign, Patrol (free fight) and Multiplayer (free for all space combat).   I will be addressing Campaign and Patrol methods, since I won’t be trying split-screen multiplayer (which is a nice feature, but come on, this isn’t the 90s).

Update from 11/3/2013: Online multiplayer is now available, and more multiplayer modes are available, including: Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, Protect The Flag, & Football.

Story Line/Campaign

The campaign mode is currently in progress for this very early beta build of  Starlight Inception.  I spent about an hour playing two of the missions that were available; Certification Flight, and Operation: Titan Dawn.  Both were pretty fun, with excessive amounts of bad guys to shoot and explode in spectacular fashions.  I did encounter a slight bug with the Certification Flight though; it would never mark the mission as successful.  This is kind of frustrating when the entire time you’re being told that you’re doing a good job.  It’s a minor gripe at the moment though, as there isn’t a progression since the game is still in early beta.  The Operation: Titan Dawn mission works the way you’d expect it to, however, and is great fun.  It’s an escort and defend mission with lots of enemy fighters and capital ships to pummel.

Starlight Inception - Briefing

I expect to see more good stuff in the coming weeks.  They have a big content/bug patch coming out November 1st (it’s not out yet as of 10 a.m. EST, which makes me kind of sad) but they say:

Expect the rest of the missions (both single player and fly patrol), the rest of the fighters available, all of the multiplayer splitscreen missions, the carrier 1st person stuff and lots of bug fixes (including the joysticks) – basically everything promised, with exceptions, but still in beta state, which means there will be bugs present.

(Source)

I am looking forward to playing it this weekend, to be sure.

Right now the only way to access the missions is basically to go through the Campaign menu and select Mission Redeploy.  This will let you choose a mission and fly it.  Not a gripe, since again this is a beta build.

Update from 11/3/2013: Campaign progression now works properly.  The missions are still fun and engaging.  Very enjoyable game play.

Game Play

The game is fairly standard in terms of space sim game play.  You fly your ship, you shoot the red targets, and protect the green targets and occasionally the yellow/gold targets.  Flight in space seems fairly good.  You set a speed and you go.  You don’t reach that speed immediately, and you can’t break to 0 immediately.  You can fly in reverse however!  What a novel concept!

Starlight Inception - Landing Procedures

Once you get past the bugs in controller setup and configuration (which was only an issue for me while using the Xbox controller and was solved by switching to mouse and keyboard) the game play is actually pretty fun.  Navigation and combat are straightforward.  The Certification mission in the Campaign gets you accustomed to all the keybinds in very short order.  After running it once I was 100% comfortable with the keys.

Starlight Inception - Takeoff

Ships fly the way you’d expect them to; they have momentum and going from 1800 kph in one direction and trying to execute a sharp turn creates visual stress and isn’t effective.  You need to slow down in order to make those turns properly and keep lined up with the target you’re chasing.

Update from 11/3/2013: You now have to earn command points to upgrade your ships.  This makes the game much more challenging as you can’t just upgrade to the max and roflstomp things.  Additionally, there are now a LOT more ships to choose from!

Graphics

Don’t let the bland user interface for the main screens fool you: there’s some serious polish for an indie game here.  Currently, there are 4 different flyable ships, and each has a very different visual style and design.  The briefings are well animated and remind me of Wing Commander V (Prophecy) with a command table and a Commander describing the mission objectives. The character models are nothing stellar, but the ships, explosions, and weapons are all fairly cool looking!

Starlight Inception - In Game Cutscene

These two screenshots are in-game footage during a cutscene which immediately transitioned to gameplay.  Pretty gorgeous in my book.

Starlight Inception - USS Independence Flyby

Lots of little details are pleasant. Activate your missiles and you can see a pod bay door open on your ship.  Accelerate or decelerate, and flaps fling on the engines.  The engines flare a bit when you strain the afterburner.  They’ve clearly put a lot of thought into what you see.  That kind of attention to detail goes a long way in my book.

Overall Thoughts

Buggy! Buggy, buggy, buggy.  Though this is something to expect from a beta build, it is nonetheless frustrating.  The most common problems I had were with my Xbox controller (look ma, I’m permanently spinning around!) and the game going into split-screen mode for no good reason (depriving me of half of my screen real estate).   It was very frustrating to not be able to use my controller for one of those situations when it’s really worth while.  Thankfully, controlling the ship with a mouse and keyboard is not difficult (though it is cumbersome: mouse for aiming and firing, keyboard for thrust… it’s very reminiscent of the X-series of games — but this is a very good thing).  I also had an issue where my missiles wouldn’t lock onto a target while using the keyboard controls.  It worked fine when using the Xbox controller (assuming I had the Xbox controller working at the time).  I’m chalking that up to another bug.  They seem to be fairly responsive to feedback, which is encouraging.

Update from 11/3/2013: A lot of the bugs have been squashed.  The Xbox controller is still finicky at the best.  It may be due to the mouse though.  I am investigating.

Fun! So much fun.   I love space sim games, so I’m very biased. The faults mentioned above notwithstanding, the game IS very fun.  There’s no shortage of things to explode.  The campaign mode is largely incomplete as of this writing, but the missions I did have access to were fun and entertaining to fly.

Ship customization is a welcome sight to see in this game, though I wish there was a little more flexibility to it. You can select your ship, then customize your primary weapon, your secondary hard points (for missiles), and then your equipment slots (for special items and gear). I would like to have more than 2 options for primary weapons (there are 6 in total: 3 variants of 2 main types). I’d also like to see the ability to mix and match primary weapons. The ship in the next screenshot, Star Lightning, has 3 forward firing weapon mounts. They all shoot the same thing. I’d like to have 3 points where I can put whatever weapons I want in it, to give me flexibility. That being said, the ships are still in beta, and there may be more weapons to choose from in the future.

Starlight Inception - Ship Selection Menu

In short, this game is pretty awesome where it’s at right now. It’s lacking some polish, to be sure, but it’s still in beta! For $20 on Steam, it’s worth picking up.

Enjoy, and fly smart.

Starlight Inception - Capital Ship Explosion