Movie Review: Unicorn City

This review starts with a little story.

I was at my friend’s house for a movie night, and I’d brought over a huge stock of the movies I owned so that we could find something everyone wanted to watch. Now, I’m rather proud of my movie taste, and was CERTAIN my collection would have something that everyone could enjoy. Then some girl I don’t know, who didn’t even bother to introduce herself, comes in with a DVD of “Unicorn City” and just dictates that we’re just going to watch this movie. Didn’t really ask anyone if a movie about LARPing (Live Action Role Play) sounded okay. Just threw the DVD in. So, I’m irritated and slightly offended. Already not in the mindset to really give this movie a chance, but at this point my only options are to be rude, myself, and leave, or pout, or sit down and see what it’s all about. So I sat back and watched, with a skeptical eye.

The DVD menu, however, piqued the interest of my inner nerd immediately. The background was an image of the coolest make-shift centaur I’ve ever seen!

(Not gonna lie. If I were white and could grow facial hair, I’d want to be him.)

 

But, I was still irritated and skeptical for about 5 minutes. But only for about 5 minutes. I’ll get to why after the plot.

Plot: Vos is a young man trying to get his life together while everything seems to be crumbling around him. Unemployment is catching up to him, his D&D guild is in distress, and even his love life is suffering. He goes into an interview for a video game company that asks him to come back with examples of how he
can lead a team of people. He then decides to use his Dungeons & Dragons hobby to prove his creativity and leadership skills. He records and documents the creation of his LARP world, Unicorn City, brought to life by him and his D&D friends, and leads them all on missions. His very shy neighbor, Marsha, does everything she can to help him, in hopes that Vos notices her. And all the while, his former D&D Dungeon Master (and nemesis), Shadowhawk, does everything he can to sabatoge Vos’ fun, and in turn, ruin his chances at getting a job.

*Warning – The trailer has spoilers*

 

Now, I will say, the only drawback I can think of is that this movie does have a fairly obvious storyline. But Bryan and Adrian Lefler managed to make the turning points interesting and not overly cliched. However I will say that some points were delightfully cheesy.

The best part of the movie was, by far, the humor. The humor was on point! After the first few scenes, and seeing how lively the characters are, how dorky the comedy is, and how well the relationships work together, you’re drawn into the story pretty quickly. I think it helped that I’m a nerd, myself, and can
appreciate all the little dorky things they do. But regardless, the lighthearted tone of the movie is set very quickly, so you know to buckle up and get ready for a fun show. All the humor in each scene was really tastefully done. I was, honestly, really surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

This film had really stellar casting. I was initially really skeptical, since there was no one I recognized…until Kevin Weisman came on screen. For those of you who’ve seen Clerks II, Kevin was the LotR nerd who throws up after Randall tells his version of the trilogy’s ending. His character was actually really fun in this movie too. But I digress, everyone’s performance was really on it. I thought the people they picked were perfect for the roles. They really brought these fun characters to life.

I really can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoyed it. It’s not the best movie ever written, it’s not my favorite of all time, but it’s one of those underrated, solid, fun movies. I initially expected this to be a boring, talentless trainwreck, but was incredibly surprised at how enjoyable it was, how well cast it was, how well written it actually was, and how much life it had. Don’t let the name and topic fool you. I highly recommend it to anyone with an open mind, and especially gamers or nerds who actually better understand that culture.

I give it a 4/5

Violent video games actually make gamers more hygienic

As a society, we really have moved past the basic right to personal privacy. Anything you do out in public is more than likely being monitored, whether or not we like it. How we shop, drive, eat, pay for things, or even interact with strangers has become the intense study of corporations, the government, and even other individuals. By and large, this large scale motorization on the smallest details is all in the name of what some larger corporations call “consumer studies.” Target even claims that they know their customers so well that they can identify when a woman is pregnant and exactly how far along she is.

Although there are hundreds of studies done on targeted groups each year, one group in particular continually stands out: gamers. Gamers make up a huge social demographic and companies and researchers alike are increasingly eager to find out and catalog as many details about them and their habits as humanly possible. Especially the level of violence within a game and how it effects said gamer.

Recently, studies are showing that when very inexperienced newbie gamers play increasingly violent video or computer games, their hygiene gets better and they buy more soap.

Seems a little odd, right? Well, popular psychology tells us otherwise with a theory called the Macbeth Effect. Essentially what the theory states is that when a person is initially confronted with general violence and violence against humans, they try to cleanse and purify themselves physically to help deal with the moral and mental distress. Hence the Macbeth reference (Lady Macbeth: “Out damn spot! Out!”).

Although this is more than interesting, and a very far cry from the usual accusation that violence in games brings out the violence in gamers, it should be noted that only 76 newbs participants were followed after playing video games in 15 minute intervals. Dvice Image Credit to: Wallpaper Webs

Next Xbox to not use discs??

Yes people, you read that correctly! According to a new report, Microsoft’s Next generation console (codename: Durango) will not feature a disc drive! This means goodbye DVD, Blu-Ray, and all of  the classic physical copies of your favorite gaming titles. This must be a tough blow to hardcore gamers with an extensive collection of past Xbox titles, but I cant say that they should be shocked. The future of all of our media seems to be going digital and to be enjoyed through the cloud to give us the consumer more devices and accessibility to enjoy our media wherever we are.

Apparently the new console is to employ “interchangeable solid-state card storage,” but it is yet to be knows weather this is going to be some sort of standard format, such as SD or CF. You must be asking yourself how we all got a sneak peek into this great information, well it seems one of Microsoft’s developmental partners is squealing all of the inside information (guess he was just so excited he could not wait for E3). He also gave us an insight of when to be expecting this new disc-less entertainment console, which according to the report is “100%” confirmed for a 2013 release! ha yea like we did not see that one coming.

Microsoft wasn’t going to sit back and read these claims without commenting and they did as such with this official response:

“Xbox 360 has found new ways to extend its lifecycle like introducing the world to controller-free experiences with Kinect and re-inventing the console with a new dashboard and new entertainment content partnerships. We are always thinking about what is next for our platform and how to continue to defy the lifecycle convention. Beyond that we do not comment on rumors or speculation.”

Pretty heavy! Other claims say Microsoft will actually release two! yes two, versions of the new console! One is rumored to be a download driven set model whilst the other to be a more traditional “core gamer” system. This “core” system should support physical copies of games and also Blu-ray! so we have one console that would be “streaming only” and the other to cater to our more traditional experiences with physical media and enhancing it with Blu-Ray technology.

Until the next Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 we wont know for sure and all of these “rumors” will be just that…rumors.

 

The Ultimate Geek Test: Name the 425 Game Characters

So do you consider yourself to be a geek? Maybe you even think that you are the pinnacle of the word geek, and you flaunt your geekiness by calling yourself the ultimate uber geek. Well, before you go around making a fool out of yourself in front of someone more geeky then you, I suggest you take the necessary precautions and put your geekiness to the test. It’s not such a big deal after all, is it?

Discover DreamHack, The 12,000 Computer LAN Party

This past weekend in one of the largest LAN parties ever, over 12,000 video gaming guys and girls showed up to demonstrate their skills.  The Winter 2011 DreamHack turned out to be a blast for all included; and the fact that it is hosted in Jonkoping, Sweden only adds to the awesomeness.  Everyone showed up with a desktop packed into a backpack, under his or her arm, or the occasional suitcase.  Regardless of your past notions, this is one of the most unbelievable sights to behold, thousands and thousands of gamers all coming together for one amazing party.  In fact there are only three main halls for all of the LAN, one of which holds almost five thousand computers and players in itself.

Playing video games alongside foreign gamers is not the only reason this many people showed up… some of the most prestigious tournaments are held at this location and DreamHack was no exception.  Many of the final rounds of E-Sports tournaments are held during the four day duration of this event. Don’t let the seemingly long duration of the occasion fool you, most people put off sleeping, and other normal functions to make sure they can view each and every single event that is showcased.  Note, the last sentence was not meant to deride the event goers, on the contrary I was trying to demonstrate the sheer amount of content and mini-events that were taking place at random times throughout DreamHack.

Another one of the gamer favorites is the video game cosplaying that can be found throughout DreamHack.  People just love to dress up as their favorite League of Legends champion, or maybe a Battlefield 3 sniper, but the general consensus seems to be almost any female dressed in a costume is a favorite among the male gamers.  Interestingly enough one of the main problems that needed to be addressed was providing a sufficient amount of web bandwidth to all of the players.  The local ISP named Telia and Cisco reportedly produced over 120 gigabits of internet bandwidth for the gamers at DreamHack alone, a monumental figure.

“DreamHack Winter 2011 had the world’s fastest Internet connection from Cisco and Telia. The record crowd – 20,984 participants – were invited to push the network to the max and also managed to break records in capacity utilization – a total of 23.4 gigabits. It is just as much capacity is required to watch over 2000 high-definition TV channels simultaneously.”  Via: DreamHack Official PR

All in all, Dreamhack this year did not disappoint, and provides an extremely fun event for all gamers to attend, though the airfare and rooming in Sweden may prove to be expensive, we would definitely recommend checking out this great LAN party next year if you weren’t able to attend.

Amazing Sixth-Grader Creates iOS Apps and Starts Programming Club

Do you remember what you did during your freetime as a sixth-grader?  I for one spent my days running around outside playing tag… maybe I played catch with my friends or threw around a football in a light-hearted game of two-hand touch.  The last thing on Earth that I would have been caught doing during my early double-digit years of all times, is programming applications on a computer.  That is exactly what this awesome pre-teen named Thomas Suarez has been doing in his free time, and he’s pretty darn good at it too!  He has created two best-selling iOS apps named Earth Fortune and Bustin Jeiber (a whack-a-mole game?).  Not only has he been spending his time learning a very important and innovative trade but it turns out his creations are phenomenal and have been receiving recognition from some of the power players in the App creation market. He was recently seen giving a speech at a TEDx ‘Transforming Learning’ convention, and it turned out extremely well, his soft-spoken and yet super innovative ways puts him on the same level as Steve Jobs when it comes to giving a good speech.

Onto his creations, Earth Fortune is an interesting yet simple app that has a ‘mood-ring’ feel to it.  It gives you a (possibly random) selection of a colored earth and then explains what that specific color means.  It essentially gives you a fortune in a new and interesting way.  The creator describes it as “Earth Fortune is not like any fortune teller you have ever seen. It shows different color Earths, randomly, color coded depending on if your day will be peaceful, etc. Also, you can share your fortunes with your friends and family!”  Cool idea, and being completely free to download and try out I can’t see why anyone would bash this app!  Next up is his best-selling application, appropriately named Bustin Jeiber.  In essence this is a take-off of whack-a-mole and you gain points by taking the floating JB heads that come across the screen at varying speeds depending on the level you have reached.  This app retails at 99 cents which seems to be the app store average for a cute game in the ‘time-waster’ genre.

Another interesting way that Thomas is involved with Apple and App creation is through one of Apple’s own pilot programs based around learning and putting iPads into school environments for the purpose of learning.  Essentially Apple gives a certain allotment of iPads to a school that demonstrates some need, and then they are asked to show how they have integrated the devices into their everyday classrooms to see just how much of a difference some added technology can make.  It turns out the young Mr. Suarez actually helped start this program up at his school, and is running the new App/Programming club.  Having this type of experience and well thought out plans for future inventions means that this kid is someone to watch for in the coming years, and as for his parents, can you say scholarship?

Battlefield 3 criticized by PETA over “animal cruelty”

You see the image to the left? that’s actually a soldier killing a virtual rat with his battle knife right before he picks up the rat by the tail and throws it away. Guess who is extremely interested in that image? You guessed it, PETA, they issued a press release in Germany criticizing Battlefield 3 over “animal cruelty.” After reading the News Release and watching the video I posted above from Pen and Teller, I start to lose faith in PETA every day.

PETA stated that the killing of any animal, even virtual animals, insipre young people to do similar acts. According to them, recent animal cruelty cases in Germany were caused by youngsters who were inspired by video games and movies. I don’t know about you, but when I stab the rats coming at me in my video games, I’ve never had the sudden urge to stab a rat. It’s to messy, I’d much rather put out a trap or call the exterminator… cleaner and it’s supper effective!

The following is what PETA had to say in their press release:

The realistic computer game “Battlefield 3″ treats animals in a sadistic manner. The game gives players the option to kill a rat with a combat knife in the back in order to then lift it by its tail, then toss it away. Killing virtual animals can have a brutalizing effect on the young male target audience. There have been repeated cases of animal cruelty in Germany, where young people kill animals. Inspiration behind these acts often came from movies and computer games.

Another thing that you need to really think about is that even if these people were getting the “ideas” and their “inspiration” to hurt the animals from movies and video games, it doesnt mean that the videos are the ones that are causing them to go and do it. The only way I can put this is, if I see people using drugs, I’m not going to have the urge and go and try it… I don’t care how videos of drug users I see, drug use is not something I’m interested in. A person who is a little “curious” might see it and go and do it, but they already had it in their head… videos or not, they already wanted to do it – Hope you can see where I’m coming from.

The news about PETA attacking BF3 reached several blogs and even social sites like Reddit. One of the users, DrGonzo1203, had this to say about the whole release, and I’m going to have to agree with him:

“they think you have the “option” to kill the rat? If you don’t, it gets you killed every fucking time. Not a lot of optional behind that.

Of course they have no problems with you brutally stabbing and shooting hundreds of PEOPLE throughout the game, but when you defend yourself from an attacking sewer rat, thats when shit gets real. It should be noted if you haven’t played the game (Like PETA), that the player character makes several attempts to shoo the animal away before it bites him a few times, and finally gets stabbed.

They seem to focus on the “tossing away” aspect…would they rather the PC eat it? Take a break from killing people to give it a little funeral? Keep it as a trophy?”

You can find the full PETA statement, in German, here You may have to translate it, but it’s worth the time.

The “Gamer” Simulator Has Come to Life

When “Gamer” came out in 2009, the instant thought I had was “wow this is a bad ass future for gaming” well, it would be if they weren’t using jailed inmates. But just recently a UK based TV show called “the Gadget Show” decided that they wanted to create a simulator that brings “Gamer” to our modern day Battle Field 3 – battle field.

The whole setup took about 6 weeks and $650,000 dollars  to build. the show used the Igloo Vision, a 360º projection dome with 5 HD projectors, to help you see your surroundings in the game. The details achieved with this projects are amazing, you can tell the difference between a grape and a raisin as good as day and night.

The show then added an omni-directional treadmill with IR motion-tracking, to help you walk around you dome without actually going anywhere and by adding  ambient lighting that actually changes as you walk through the game, they couldn’t make the experience any more realistic. To top things off, they added an incredible surround sound that lets you hears the bullets swoosh by your head.

You can also forget about the remote control, they used a set of Kinects to actually track your movements in the dome and replicate them  in the game. you can throw grenades, and even drag friends across the field by reaching out and graving them from their pack.  The remote was replaced by a plastic gun that has tracking beacons to help you aim. And to add a bit of reality to the simulator, they added 6 paintball guns that will shoot at your body every time you get shot.

All of these systems working together actually make this a fun experience, not to mention a scary one. Having a set of paintball guns aiming at your face as you walk around the terrain is not a pretty site. At least in Battle Field the experience is not that bad since a simple three shot burst can kill you. I would turn off the paintball guns if you’re going to play Halo, I don’t want to feel 80 different shots all over my body before my shields begin to go down.