Stuff I like

Aside from Gaming and Writing and complaining about my crappy weeks, I have other things I enjoy, and I wanted to show my support to them by talking to you all about them.

Miracle of Sound: One of my obsessions lately. Miracle of Sound is one of the many and varied and highly entertaining stuff the Escapist Magazine has to offer.

Gavin Dunne aka Miracle of Sound composes and performs (mostly) videogame inspired songs, with cool videos using gameplay, promotional or in-game cinematic footage from the source material.
Gav’s music is fantastic, from a multitude of games and movies to original songs (by which I mean not inspired by anything but his own spark of insanity), and in pretty much every genre and style you can imagine, from the strangely alluring “Khajiit Like to Sneak” from Skyrim (the first song I heard actually) to the classic rock “My Iron Skin” inspired by Iron Man 3. Gavin isn’t afraid to mix things up and take risks, such as mixing native chants in with his Assassin’s Creed 3 songs, or collaborating with other singers on his Bioshock Infinite song, to switching musical styles and tones on the fly on the same piece, the aforementioned Bioshock Infinite song being a perfect example.

One of the things I frankly admire about Gav is how he’s somehow capable of changing his voice from song to song, and I don’t mean falsetto, but the fact he actually sounds like different people.

Gav’s songs are not only good music but he also manages to capture the spirit of the game they’re inspired by. A perfect example of this is my favorite song so far, Breaking Down the Borders, inspired by Borderlands 2 and a song I play on a constant loop while playing the game. It’s fun, has a nice rhythm and the lyrics capture BL2’s silliness and how it constantly makes fun of itself.

Miracle of Sound is usually a monthly show, but even if there’s not a new video on The Escapist, if you follow him on twitter/Facebook, you’ll get links to his latest projects.

I’d love for him to compose songs for older games, such as the Legacy of Kain series, the first Deus Ex, or hell, an Epic Metal Manowar-style Legend of Zelda song. I’d buy that in an instant.

Speaking of which, you can find everything he’s ever done on Bandcamp, where you can buy each song separately or the full album (I bought the BL2 song as soon as it was up on the site).

Aside from the videos, every now and then he writes a related column on the Escapist called Encore, where he answers the community’s questions as well as explains the entire process behind a certain piece.

TableTop: Wil Wheaton, by extension Geek & Sundry and by extension Felicia Day, is responsible for one of the biggest spending sprees in my entire life. After a few weeks of watching TableTop I spent over $200 on various board games, from Small World to Cthulhu Dice (not featured on the show but I saw it while looking up the other products).

Every couple of weeks, Wil and a group of celebrity guests, from internet-celebrities to writers, videogame developers, CEOs, etc., get together to play a tabletop game. Between the banter, the jokes, puns, the actual game and the fact Wil never wins a single game (though not for lack of trying), TableTop makes for an excellent show. Even if you don’t like the game they’re playing, as was my case with Settlers of Catan, the episodes are still thoroughly entertaining.

For those longer games, the show focuses on the highlights, presenting the key rules and not the play by play. For those of us who enjoy watching a complete game, there have been “Extended” episodes, uncut version of the regular episodes. Sadly those have been few and far in between. I’d take extended episodes instead of blooper reels without a doubt.

TableTop airs on Thursdays with new episodes every two weeks and blooper reels in between. Watch this at your own peril. It’s funny, witty, but extremely addictive. Trust me on that. I didn’t like tabletop games before watching the show (aside from P&P roleplaying games and Magic The Gathering), mostly due to a very intense hatred for Monopoly, a game I still insist is designed to make you lose your friends, but after watching and becoming a loyal follower and spender, I kinda got to love them. Every week I see a new game I have to play/buy or at least put on my wish-list.

I’ll leave you with one of the episodes, featuring a handful of shorter games including the ever favorite at my gatherings, Zombie Dice, and Ryan Higa’s statistically improbable streak of brains.

Looking for Group: One of the few Web comics I faithfully read. LFG started as a sort of WoW-parody, but since then it has evolved into a full-fledged story set in its own original world. The characters are interesting and well developed, and the story, while mildly convoluted, is not only entertaining but engrossing. Of special mention is Richard the Warlock, one of the main characters. He’s not only one of the characters with greatest depth and plot but also the comic relief, something I think no one has done as successfully. Comic relief characters are usually that, useful for a quick laugh but flat. Richard should be the norm for every comic relief character out there. I tip my hat to its creator Ryan Sohmer for that.

A looking for group animated movie/musical has been in production for quite a while and with watching a short song they released a few years ago, you should get a general idea of just how much fun you’ll have with this comic.

Order of the Stick: If you’ve ever played Dungeons & Dragons before, you need to read this comic. It features a standard D&D group of adventurers, all drawn in stick figures. A Human Fighter, Rogue and Bard, a Halfling Ranger, a Dwarf Cleric of Thor and an Elven Mage of ambiguous gender. The characters have some fourth-wall awareness, constantly making references to classes, spells and rules.

The comic follows their adventures on a quest of epic scale, but also takes the time to develop each character and the world they live in, without resulting in a “Tour du Monde” story, where the characters visit every locale in the world.

The villains in particular are fantastic, with the main villain, Xykon the Lich being of particular notice, for being thoroughly evil and enjoying every moment of it, even having “Evilgasms” when his plans go in pleasant directions.

The comic not only tells a story but also plays on D&D stereotypes and tropes. One of the most memorable for me is when, early in the story, the party kills a dragon and meets a Paladin afterward. The Pally is horrified of their actions until they say it was a black dragon (known in D&D as one of the cruelest of dragons types), to which the Paladin (a severely unhinged character) replies “Oh, that’s ok then!”. Another fine example of this is the party’s bard, a numbskull by all accounts except for when it comes to plot development and dramatic tension, on which he is a genius and can sometimes see things coming just because the narrative demands it.

Jimquisition: Another of the Escapists fantastic series. This one you can see every Monday and in it Destructoid veteran Jim Sterling rants about a current polemic/news/event/scandal in the gaming world, more often than not tearing it a new one.

Jim’s brutally honest and can come across as unnecessarily harsh, but always manages to speak and make sense. Some time ago I wanted to post something relating to video game and violence, but after seeing Jim’s take on the subject (the video features some very strong content), I decided not to post anything, because to be honest, there was no way I could ever top that or even worse, get the message across a clearly as he did on that short segment.

I personally like Jim’s work because unlike more mainstream videogame journalists, he looks at things from different perspectives instead of just agreeing with the rest of the world, as is the case with Nintendo and the way they do things. I’m a Nintendo man through and through (even though that won’t stop me from buying other consoles or enjoying other media) so it’s refreshing to see someone taking the time to look at things from their perspective and comment on them with a clear head.

If you enjoy the intelligent rants of a man with his head not firmly stuck in his ass, then you should really check this out.

Just remember to thank god for him at the end, and even if you don’t he’ll do it for you.

I’ll leave you with his episode dedicated to video game violence. WARNING: STRONG CONTENT NOT SUITED FOR MINORS OR PEOPLE CARDIAC PROBLEMS

 

P&P RPG: One of my passions aside from reading, writing and videogaming is Roleplaying. I’ve played since I was in college and actually spent years running and/or playing the same campaign. It’s a fantastic experience for me, both from the storyteller and the player experience. On one side I learn more and more about storytelling and that makes me a better writer, and as a player I get to lose myself in another world, interacting with strange and wonderful people.

I’m a D20 guy mostly, but I’ll play anything mildly interesting, and I’ve even been the storyteller in some d10 games, like Scion, a game I wholeheartedly recommend.

In fact, back to TableTop, if there was one thing I’d love to see more often it’s P&P RPG episodes. So far they’ve had Dragon Age and Fiasco, but an Exalted, Legend of the Five Rings, Pathfinder or Shadowrun game would be greatly appreciated.

RPGs in all their forms have the same things in common. You have a sheet with your character’s stats and important stuff and dice to play. The rest is up to you and your storyteller. It’s his job to present the world and play the secondary characters to your main ones. Your job is just to become someone else, to be whoever you wrote on that sheet. And well, the other thing everyone needs to do is have fun!

As a player I’m a phenomenal pain the ass. I’m pretty adept at sifting through layers of bullshit and finding out whatever the storyteller’s planning. That and I’m not a party player, I won’t join up with a group for the sake of it. It feels forced and frankly un-fun. I like that to happen naturally and I carry that over to my storytelling. I don’t force people to hang on together, letting them go about their lives as they see fit, but not every storyteller likes that.

I usually try to play once every couple of weeks and they used to be nights of junk food, all but intravenous Cokes and a good time. Now, years later, the only thing that’s changed is I cook tasty meals before we play.

World of Warcraft: My job away from my job. Nah, I’m kidding. I’ve been a Warcraft fan since Warcraft III, even going back and playing the first two just to get the whole story and after that buying every single piece of fiction ever published on that universe. I love the WC universe, so of course, playing WoW was the next logical step. When it first launched, I couldn’t play it, for technical and social limitations, which mean my PC blew and I was in college and wouldn’t risk flunking to go kill Nefarian.

What I love about it is that it’s not only a fun game and the master class daddy of MMOs, but there’s a huge focus on lore and storytelling, something clearly missing from many MMOs, and which has only gotten better and better with each expansion. The current one, Mists of Pandaria, is top notch on all fronts, from gameplay to endgame content to storytelling. They’ve managed to make Pandaria not just a collection of maps and quests, but a living, breathing continent with some of the most interesting fantasy races in fiction.

I started playing during Wrath of the Lich King, which was until now the best I’d seen in storytelling in and MMO. With Cataclysm the dropped the ball a bit, with some pacing and scale issues, and with a very disappointing final boss. Deathwing, one of my favorite characters and for whom I had very high hopes for final-boss-ness; ended up being a disappointing final battle when compared to The Lich King in the previous one. In fact, Lich King has yet to be surpassed, but I have moderate hopes for this expansion’s last boss, supposedly Garrosh Hellscream, a character I’ve wanted to see die for a long, long time.

Over the past year, the game has lost subscribers but still holds on to a number of paying gamers superior to the population of Israel. Over 8 million people still pay their $15 a month and will probably keep playing them. In my case, with my very limited currency-exchange-controlled yearly $400 for internet transactions, about $160 of those are reserved to purchase the entire year’s game time.

I’ve played other MMOs, but WoW is the only one I’ve held on to, some of it gameplay and some of it lore, but if there’s one thing I’m certain of, is I’ll only stop playing when Blizzard decides to pull the plug on it, and that day’s a ways off.

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