Saturday, December 31, 2011

Month in Review: December 2011

Well, that's officially one more year of blogging under our belts. Amazing, too--a new post every day at 11 AM, like clockwork, except when Alex forgot it was his turn to post. Or when I forgot it was my turn to post and begged him at 10:59 to fill in for me.

December was a month of comfort posting--familiar topics we could easily write about, long-running traditions we'd been planning for, and personal stories requiring relatively little effort to convey. Enjoy a look back at this past month:

- A recap of my contributions to videogame humor website in November and December 2011

- A link post regarding the worthwhile and occasionally humorous Fan/Pro Bill of Rights

- An explanation of how I went seven months without a weekend to myself

- Preparations and delays for our annual Gifts for Geeks feature, which covers surprise gifts, gift cards, nightmare shopping, gifts for geekettes, and assorted specific recommendations

- Thoughtful questioning about the relationship between creators and their politics

- Volume 3, Issues 49-52 of Alex's weekly sanity check-in with a comics news endcap, Waiting for Wednesday, covering Hellblazer Annual, holiday plans, change of employment (which is described in further detail in a follow-up post) and musings on over three years of blogging

- A reflection on the anniversary of the death of John Lennon

- An unexpected radio ad for a movie from the 1990s

- The Third Easiest Contest on the Internet

- Encouraging sales figures for the comics industry

- A celebration of the completion of my first bonus video for Mega Man 6

- A link post regarding Alex's ideal comics shop, and a story about what might just be Nathaniel's ideal everything shop

- A scattershot status update complete with geeky Christmas tree picture

- A butchering of Good King Wenceslas for the sake of roleplaying humor

- Thoughts on holiday traditions

- An introduction to Dragon Warrior, the sword-and-sorcery NES RPG series

- An epic announcement of this year's Great Comic Book Adventure

Friday, December 30, 2011

GameCola Recap: December 2011

This is the part where I begin to make up for the last two months of minimal contributions to videogame humor website With the wedding and honeymoon seen through to completion, my spare free time (that's right: spare free time) was once again available for GameCola use in the month of December.

Consequently, I've got a fresh take on my wedding story and a brand-new review to spotlight, along with participation in a podcast (that you probably won't hear until February) and two all-staff articles. I'm quite happy with how everything turned out, and I'm pleased to report that what I'm about to list is all quite accessible to non-gamers. Enjoy!


- A Very GameCola Wedding 3: Wed Hard with a Vengeance


- GameCola's Top 50 Worst Games Ever Made (Part 2)

- Q&ameCola: Strange Games


- Gradius (NES)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Great Comic Book Adventure, 2011 Edition

Today is an epic day, my friends. An epic, excellent day. As I write this (on the epic counter in my kitchen whilst drinking a not-so-epic cup of decaf), I am mentally preparing myself for a day filled with adventure.

As we do every year at this time, Nathaniel, neko-chan, and I go out on a comic book shop quest so spectacular that it often puts even Indiana Jones' most memorable treks to shame.

It seems like we always end embarking upon this quest on the Thursday of the week between Christmas and New Year's, which works out pretty well. You see, two of the shops we'll likely hit up today are running holiday sales.

This trip truly is epic and destined.

In years past, our Great Comic Book Adventure has taken us to many places and we've faced down many challenges. Like traffic, overcrowded restaurants, and (my) complete lack of a sense of direction.

And today? Well, today Nathaniel may very well come in direct contact with the horrible beast known as sushi. We will see how he fares. Plus, it's pretty cold out there this morning. I might need to wear my heavy coat.

Keep us in your thoughts, Exfanders. Things might get a little dangerous.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 52

Another Waiting for, another year gone by. Now, I don't want to say that I'm counting the years through blog posts, but I'm kind of starting to count the years through blog posts.

That's kind of funny because next week we'll start up again with WfW Volume 4, which will help mark the beginning of the (just about) three-year, eight-month mark of the anniversary of the day I told Nathaniel, "We've had a good run. Maybe we should pack it up."

Clearly (and happily) I was way off with that statement. We obviously have at least another three or four good months in us before we get thrown off the Internet.

: )

It's weird and wonderful where this blog has gone, and where it has taken me. Just last night, for example, I finished reading Wil Wheaton's The Happiest Days of Our Lives, a book I asked my brother to (somehow) find for me this Christmas.

Just about four years ago, I had no idea who Wil Wheaton was. This blog post changed that.

Now I've read all of his books, and I keep up with his blog on a daily basis. Just one example of the many new things I've tried since we launched Exfanding.

In these (just about) four years, I've played Dungeons & Dragons. I've watched Star Wars, despite my disliking of space. I've watched Kurosawa films and written about them in (hilarious) detail.

There's no two ways around it; this (innocent little fun) blog and its (fuzzy) co-writer have rubbed off on me. I no longer feel so out of place in a Game Stop, and I don't have to walk away when there's a Han shot first argument in the local comics shop. I've embraced my geekdom in ways I didn't even realize were possible.

Now, since it is the last Wednesday of the year and there are new comics out on the shelves today, I probably should talk about those books. But, you see, I really didn't feel like doing that today. As you can surely tell by now, I'm in a reflective mood this morning. So instead of listing new comics that I'm excited about buying (and there are a nice handful of them this week), I'll just say this.

Go to your local comics shop, look around, and pick up something you've previously never tried. You might like it. You might tell a friend about how much you liked it. You might even write a review about it. Maybe you'll do it online. Maybe you'll start a blog. Maybe you'll embark on your very own Weird and Wonderful.

Seriously, guys. What are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

'Twas the Day After Christmas...

'Twas the day after Christmas, and I was up visiting my wife's family. We had some free time in the afternoon to do some wrap-up shopping for the folks we had yet to see. Having done the majority of my holiday shopping as last-minute tactical Wal-Mart strikes and rush-shipped purchases, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to take my time browsing somewhere.

If you've read this blog for any period of time, you probably know how rooted in the past my interests are. About the only things I buy that aren't at least three years old are groceries (and even then there have been some mishaps). Especially when the majority of stores in my area are relentlessly modern corporate chains, it's refreshing to find any place--particularly one that's independently owned--specializing in old and uncommon items.

I had to exercise a tremendous amount of self-control when I found such a place on our shopping trip: shelf after shelf of new and used DVDs, CDs, comics, and video games. And I mean video games--beyond the entire rows of Wii, Xbox, and PlayStation games, there were display cases of Game Boy, GameCube, N64, Genesis, SNES, NES, and even Atari 2600 games, many of which were still in their original packaging. I saw the original Gradius in a box, and smiled.

Having grown so accustomed to the sleek, modern selections at Best Buy, it was interesting to see the "definitive" (and bulky) box sets of all the Rocky and Die Hard movies except the ones released in the last decade. It was wild to see multiple unorganized stacks of CDs by such artists as 38 Special, Melissa Etheridge, Jars of Clay, and Genesis all selling for as little as $0.49. It was almost overwhelming to see an entire wall of the store showcasing everything from Mega Man 4 to Mega Man Battle Network 2 to Mega Man Soccer. There may also have been other games.

I've been gradually letting go of this buying mindset I adopted some years ago, which tells me I should never pass up geek paraphernalia that's either unlikely to be so easily found again or on sale at an unusually low price. For a diehard collector with money to spare, that's arguably a fine mindset to have. For a guy in a store filled to the brim with great deals on items that went out of print in 1996, buyer discretion is advised.

I managed to impose on myself what seemed like some reasonable limits: no comics (our annual comics shop trip is just a few days away), no more than one item of each type (e.g.: DVD, CD, SNES cartridge, Game Boy Advance cartridge), and nothing I wasn't already considering picking up before seeing it on the shelf (to discourage me from padding my generally complete NES and GameCube collections). Reasonable, yes?

Well, reasonable enough. And it costs nothing to ogle. I went on a field trip, and even without entrusting the cashier with my life's savings, I still had a field day.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dragon Warrior: Classic Combat, Elegant Simplicity, Memorable Monsters

Swords and sorcery. Kingdoms and caves. Monsters and merchants. Boats and...blackjack? If the world's in peril and you've still got time to hit the casino, chances are good you're playing Dragon Warrior.

Nowadays you might more readily recognize the name Dragon Quest, but when this roleplaying video game series came to America from Japan back in the late 1980s, changes were made to certain aspects of the game, including the title: DragonQuest was the name of a pen-and-paper fantasy RPG at the time, and Dragon Warrior sounded far less infringatory. Personally, I think Dragon Warrior has a nicer ring to it, so I'll limit my discussion to the four NES games bearing this noble name.

If you've played Breath of Fire, Final Fantasy, Golden Sun, or any other turn-based, 2-D, fantasy RPG, the basics of the Dragon Warrior series should be familiar: fight, talk, purchase, explore. However, there are three key elements that distinguish Dragon Warrior from its competition:

(1) Every battle matters. Too many RPGs balance the presence of excessive random encounters with enemies that can be vanquished, unless you're grossly underleveled, by blindly mashing the attack button. The Dragon Warrior series gives its enemies a wide range of special abilities that require real tactics to overcome--even the most unassuming foes might be able to heal, hit your entire party with an unlikely-to-succeed instant death spell, summon reinforcements, or boost their defense power through the roof. Given that hit points and damage output are scaled back to reasonable levels (compared to games that don't use numbers with fewer than three digits), there are frequently times when a single point of damage could be the difference between life and death.

(2) Simplicity. The graphics remain comfortably similar throughout each installment. Most cutscenes, if they are present at all, are short and to the point. You don't need a strategy guide to keep track of all the playable characters. New equipment is obviously better or worse than what you currently have--it's very rare that you'll ever deliberate about what to keep. Sidequests are few and far between, and you never need to worry about being at a supreme disadvantage against the final boss if you skipped an optional sidequest. The games might seem shallower and more primitive than most modern RPGs, but I argue that the simplicity helps to keep the games focused on gameplay and progress.

(3) The artwork. I'm a sucker for the monster designs of Akira Toriyama; I suspect this is partially influenced by my love of Chrono Trigger, which he also illustrated. From smiley-faced Slimes to ghostly Rogue Whispers to those accursed demonic Bullwongs, I find the enemy designs to be creative and filled with character--even ubiquitous foes such as skeletons and simple forest animals seem to have a personality built into their artwork.

These three reasons apply to all four NES Dragon Warriors, although I can't say I like the games all equally. Each game has its highlights and its lowlights, though in many ways, if you've played one Dragon Warrior, you've played them all. Whack monsters with sticks, trade your shiny stone for a bigger helmet, chew the fat with kings and commoners, and traipse through the wilderness in search of the next plot point.

With your permission (I'll do it anyhow), I'd like to conduct a brief overview of the elements and ideas that set each game apart...for better or for worse.

Dragon Warrior

STORY: A lone hero sets out to rescue a princess and slay the evil Dragonlord who has brought darkness to the land. There's nothing fancy here--no elemental crystals; no meteors crashing into small towns; just uninterrupted monster mashing in the name of The Greater Good.

COMBAT: Don't think of the combat in this game as a series of random battles. Each fight is a sudden duel to the death. Players must be exceedingly cautious to stay alive, constantly weighing the risks of each decision both in and out of combat. When you're on your last few hit points and won't survive another hit, do you attempt to flee from your enemy, or take a chance on an unreliable-yet-powerful magic spell that could end the battle in your favor? Should you explore just a little more of the dungeon, or turn around while you still stand a chance of getting home in one piece?

The obvious road to success is beating up on the easy enemies until you're respectably overpowered and bored to tears; however, an adventurous player might adopt a strategy based on calculated risks that yield faster the time I sprinted across an entire continent, relying on getting lucky running away from each and every random dragon that stood in my way (having barely survived against just one dragon as a major boss), burning through my entire inventory of healing herbs, and ultimately limping through the gates of a distant city just to buy a new sword that I had no business owning at such a low level. That was fun.

WHAT MAKES IT GREAT: Atmosphere. Kings and commoners throw around "thee," "thou," and their ilk like an attendee at a Renaissance Faire; even if it's a little hackneyed, this twist on the otherwise simple dialogue gives the game character. Caves are pitch black unless you've got a torch or magic spell to illuminate a small radius around your hero, and eventually your light will go out, leaving you to stumble around in a place where no one might ever find you again. What a clever, scary bit of realism.

The simple boops and bleeps of the music manage to evoke a sense of cheerful safety in the towns, heroic solitude in the overworld, omnipresent danger in the underworld, and mortal peril in every battle. Combined with the tension from knowing that every random encounter very well could be your last, Dragon Warrior offers an atmosphere far richer than its repetitious gameplay and 8-bit graphics and sound would suggest possible.

WHAT MAKES IT LESS GREAT: If the aforementioned atmosphere doesn't suck you in, Dragon Warrior is pretty much a game about hitting the "A" button a bunch of times until somebody dies. Usually you. Repeatedly.

OVERALL: This is the game that made me fall in love with RPGs. There's a serious nostalgia factor here that colors my opinion of the game, but even so, Dragon Warrior's accomplishments are nothing to sneeze at. If they were, however, I'd feel a sense of nosestalgia.

Dragon Warrior II

STORY: One hundred years after the events of Dragon Warrior (rather, the event, singular; not much actually happened in that game), a lone prince embarks on a quest to defeat an evil wizard. After realizing that all the monsters are impossibly difficult and keep killing him all the time, he recruits a princess and another prince so that he doesn't have to die alone. Together, the trio marches and sails around the world, getting killed almost nonstop in an attempt to figure out where the heck they're supposed to go.

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: (Eventually) three party members instead of just one; ocean travel, bigger map. Not much else, aside from new music, monsters, and locations. Oh, and even after discovering battle tactics that work and spending multiple game sessions doing nothing but grinding for XP, the game is still oppressively difficult: between overpowered monsters, attacks you can't possibly defend against, and worthless party members who either can't hit their targets or can't survive the first round of any battle, it's a wonder anybody bothered getting out of bed for this. But that's only half the reason this is one of the worst RPGs I've ever played.

THE OTHER HALF OF THE REASON THIS IS ONE OF THE WORST RPGS I'VE EVER PLAYED: The natural geographic features of the overworld map have conspired with the townsfolk of every town in the world to ensure that the player will never have any idea where they're supposed to go. Clues as to the next destination are frequently vague or nonexistent, and memorable overworld landmarks are few and far between. The entire bottom half of the world map consists primarily of vast ocean, random tiny islands that are easy to miss, and sweeping coastlines blocked off by impassible mountains. When you don't know where you're going, there are too many directions to explore; in the rare event that you do know where you're going, you can't get there!

REDEEMING FACTORS: At one point, the king tells you, "Thy strength is that of many fearsome Hibabongos." Also, there are Hibabongos.

OVERALL: While it continues the story and expands on the gameplay of the original, anything that might be considered an improvement in Dragon Warrior II usually backfires spectacularly. The concepts of a bigger world, multiple party members, more complex monsters, and greater character diversity are all fine and dandy, but most of the fun of the first game is lost in the execution. There are people who love this game, but unless you're a diehard fan or obsessive completionist, you might do better to skim through a walkthrough of DWII, bang your head against the wall a few times, and then jump ahead to the next game--it'd be almost as though you'd actually played it.

Dragon Warrior III:

DISCLAIMER: I have to confess that I've only ever played the Game Boy Color remake of DWIII; my apologies for the lack of total authenticity in this allegedly NES-only review. My understanding is that the basic game is still completely intact, with a number of additions (minigames, bonus dungeons, a personality system that affects your stats as you level up), along with some changes (a new character class, weapons that now affect multiple enemies, modernized shopping mechanics). I've seen screenshots, so I can pretend like I've played the NES version instead (which, incidentally, has a few changes of its own from the original Japanese release).

STORY: One hundred years before the original Dragon Warrior, a lone hero, Ortega, travels the world to slay Baramos, the Evil Bad Guy. Ortega is killed, but apparently never saved his game so he could go back and try again. Thus, it is up to Ortega's child, the hero, to be guilted by the general populace into finishing the job.

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: You can choose the gender of the main character, and recruit (or dismiss!) party members at will. Gone are the set-in-stone character classes: not only can you select from a number of classes for your party members (Wizard, Fighter, Merchant, Soldier, etc.), but you can also change their class after a certain point in the game.

Time passes while traversing the overworld, and locations hold different secrets by day and by night. New kinds of equipment, spells, and items are available, all of which add a welcome level of depth to the gameplay. Just as DWII added ocean travel to the mix, DWIII takes transportation one step further and allows you to take to the skies.

IN OTHER WORDS: It's pretty much the most customizable and open-ended game in the entire NES series.

WHAT MAKES IT GREAT: The balance of a fairly linear plot progression with the freedom and replayability described above makes for a refreshing "guided sandbox" experience--you can explore and experiment as much as you'd like, but the next plot point is almost always within sight. Towns and dungeons contain enough variety, both in terms of layout and aesthetics, to keep them interesting and distinguishable from one another. The quests and NPCs are just unique and complex enough to feel more like purposeful missions given to you by the real inhabitants of this fictional world, and less like this thing you gotta do because a walking billboard told you so.

WHAT MAKES IT LESS GREAT: It's the times when the next plot point is almost within sight that the open-ended-yet-linear gameplay starts to drag. Exploration can easily give way to being lost. Experimentation can put your party into tough situations where no one is properly equipped for the fight at hand (though, admittedly, not anywhere near as badly as in Final Fantasy V Advance). If you're playing well, and playing regularly enough to remember what you're doing, you'll probably be fine; otherwise, DWIII can feel like a bit of a chore.

OVERALL: While I'm willing to grant that the niceties and complexities of the GBA release are probably affecting my opinion, DWIII is everything a sequel should be--deeper, more expansive, and more streamlined. The game doesn't take too many risks, and there's very little outside of the new gameplay elements that is particularly novel, but it's a "safe" RPG without any show-stopping flaws, and I absolutely love the continuity with the original Dragon Warrior that's eventually revealed.

Dragon Warrior IV:

STORY: Set in a time and place that have nothing to do with the first three games, a lone hero bands together with a number of other adventurers to defeat the Ruler of Evil. By far, this is the most complex plot yet.

WHAT'S DIFFERENT: You don't actually meet the lone hero until halfway through the game. DWIV is broken into chapters, and each chapter focuses on a different character or characters. You'll play as a headstrong princess and her two bodyguards, a soldier trying to rescue some missing children, magical dancing sisters seeking vengeance for the death of their father, and a merchant whose only goals in life are EXCESSIVELY EXPENSIVE. Only after their chapters are completed will you take control of the legendary hero and see how all these stories tie together (though you'll certainly get little hints along the way).

Also new to the series are some sidequesty minigames: a perpetual scavenger hunt for Small Medals, and a completely optional casino featuring multiple ways to change your character class to Utterly Destitute Pauper. There are some neat, exclusive items to be gained this way, but nothing so crucial that you can't beat the game without them.

WHAT MAKES IT GREAT: Each character has a unique personality and combat style that give a distinct flavor to each chapter. The solitary solider's chapter plays out like DWI, the princess and her companions are reminiscent of the heroes of DWII (though with considerably longer life expectancies), and both the merchant's and the sisters' chapters almost feel like they could be part of a different RPG series altogether.

It's refreshing to see such variety, and the overall story is strengthened by the opportunity to run around and establish some history with the locations and characters before the main adventure truly begins. Throw in a dynamic soundtrack, an eminently navigable overworld map, the aforementioned casino and item hunt, cleverly designed dungeons and towns, and creatively challenging enemies, and you've got what should easily be my all-time favorite Dragon Warrior game.

WHY IT'S NOT MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE DRAGON WARRIOR GAME: I fancy myself a somewhat respectable RPG tactician. I am also something of a control freak. If I die in an RPG, it should be my fault for choosing poor or overly risky tactics. Otherwise, a Game Over is not acceptable. Imagine how much I enjoy continually losing to the same boss because SOMEONE on my team is on autopilot and can't think of any other action but casting a guaranteed-to-fail instant death spell seven turns in a row.

Any party member who is not a lead character in the chapter at hand is relegated to autopilot during combat. Though you can assign general combat tactics (offensive, defensive, use no magic, etc.), there will always be one person who insists on putting everything to sleep instead of blasting it with holy fire, and one person who absolutely, under no circumstances, may be trusted with the immensely powerful one-use-only healing item you were saving for the final boss, and not some random encounter 50 feet away from a town.

I have never shouted, "MORONS!" at my television screen so frequently.

The other issue is that each chapter starts you off at Level 1. It's tedious to spend so much time working your way up to the cooler equipment and more challenging enemies, only to complete a chapter and start all over again with the same kinds of mundane swords, armors, and 9-HP foes you just graduated from. Especially when you have to start from scratch five different times.

OVERALL: If it weren't for the uselessly incompetent party members (who, I'm sure, have quite sophisticated AI by NES standards) and needing to work back up from first level over and over, Dragon Warrior IV would be the definitive Dragon Warrior game for the NES. However, even with these flaws, it's still every bit as good as DWI or III, except the highs are higher and the lows are lower--in the end, it about balances out.

With ports, remakes, and an entire franchise spanning years and years across multiple systems, there's plenty more Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest to enjoy. For the NES games, at least, any installment is a fine choice for first-time players--even Dragon Warrior II. It all depends on personal preferences and gameplay styles; most elements of these early games are so similar that you'll be able to tell fairly quickly whether this series is right for you, regardless of the unique highs and lows of the particular game you're playing.

If you're a fantasy nut, an RPG aficionado, a retro game enthusiast, or just looking for something to fill a lot of time, then fortune smiles upon thee. Thou hast found Dragon Warrior.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

On Tradition

This has been a weird Yuletide for me. I've spent most of it cycling between bouts of trepidation, bouts of annoyance, and bouts of disappointment, excitement, sadness, and happiness.

Also, there was some gas.

So, yeah, pretty much ran the gamut of emotion these past 30 days or so. Not exactly the way I pictured my holiday (or my vacation), but that's what's fun and infuriating and so great about Life.

After all, it's what happens when you're busy making other plans.

So while my December hasn't exactly been...typical...some things never change. And thank goodness for tradition, I say.

The holidays mean a lot of things. Gatherings with family and friends, exchanging gifts, drinking eggnog, trimming the tree, taking a week off and staring at the wall.

Most of all, though, I think the holidays represent the familiar. For a day or two over the course of the entire year, we can all dive back into things we've done for years, ever since we were kids.

And even if certain things about those traditions have changed--people, places--some things will just always be there.

For me, I'm spending my Christmas morning reading some Goon comics, waiting for company to arrive.

Whatever it is you're doing today, I hope it's fun, and familiar, and just what you wished for.

To all of you, we here at Exfanding wish you the happiest holidays and the Merriest Christmas ever.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Good King What's-His-Face

Good King What's-His-Face looked out
On some dude named Stephen;
Told the hero all about the
Quest he'd soon be leadin':
Evildoers he would fight;
End the Bad Guy's rule.
In return he'd grow in might
And find precious jewels.

"Well, good king, that's fine by me,
If you don't mind telling
Just how strong this foe might be
And just where he's dwelling?"
"Steven, there is no offense
That can pierce his chitin,
And I'll give you no pretense: we
Don't know where he's hidin'."

"Bring me swords of pow'r divine,
Bring me magic armor.
Potions, herbs will do just fine,
Scrolls of An'lyze Dweomer."
Though he spake with good intent,
His hopes fell like a feather
When the king did not assent
To the +5 Leather.

"Steve, I wish to help somehow;
I can't lift a finger.
Royal spending won't allow
Alms for a bladesinger."
"Mark my words, my kindly liege,
You offend me sorely.
No man e'er could mount a siege
Thus equipped so poorly."

Suddenly the king guffawed,
At the hero squinted.
Found his expectations flawed
When the hero sprinted.
Therefore, if your hero's poor
--And this point's worth stressing--
Little handouts will ensure
Your plight's worth assessing.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Big Life Stuff Redux


That's a good word to describe my feelings today.

It's my last day at a job filled with people I've come to respect and love. Publishing is a uniquely tough business, and one that has become increasingly so in recent years. Production schedules and turnaround time has shrunk on a level parallel to the diminishing salaries and the increasing hours spent at the office, or with pages taken home on nights and weekends.

You do this job because you love it. I've heard that a lot over the past several years. And, while that may be true, you really do this job because of the people you get to work with.

They keep you going. They make it fun to come into whatever deadline mess you're currently embroiled in. You manage to laugh at the Thing That Will Keep You Here All Night.

That's something pretty special, and I can honestly say that I'll miss it dearly.

Yes, I'm on to other things. Yes, I'm happy and honored by the chance to branch out into a new field with exciting possibilities.

But I'm sad to leave my job here. I'm sad to leave this desk that has become my life for the past 20 months. I'm sad to leave the people I've become friends with. I'm sad to leave traditional publishing.

I'm sad to leave books.

But it's time for the next chapter. The New Thing. I'm taking a week off, and then I'm diving right in.

I'm going to work for the WWE. Hang on. Let me type those words again. I'm going to work for the WWE.

Somewhere along the time stream...

The 8-year-old Alex has just dropped his Hulk Hogan action figure.

The 12-year-old Alex has just stopped trying to Super Kick his little brother on the trampoline.

The 16-year-old Alex is still buying that Stone Cold t-shirt at the mall, even though he's already spent most of his money on CDs (remember those?) at Tower Records (remember those?).

The two-weeks-ago Alex is amazed at how quickly things can change.

This is a Big Deal for me. It's new and exciting and a little scary. But I'm at a point in my life where I think I need a little scary.


To the next thing.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gifts for Geeks: Putting a Bow on It

I'd say it's about time we wrapped up (HA!) this year's edition of Gifts for Geeks, wouldn't you? Though not as comprehensive as in years past, the 2011 edition of GfG has been quite a bit of fun to write.

And I think we can all agree that the most useful--and best written--entry was by guest poster extraordinaire and wife of Nathaniel extraordinaire, neko-chan, with her rundown of Gifts for Geekettes.

Today, though, we'd like to do something just a little bit different. See, we haven't really been all that great about giving specific gift suggestions this year, and we'd like to change that with today's post.

We'll handle this quick-hits style, though, as we have been more than thorough in years past. (No, really, we have.)

So here we go.

Choose ONE gift for each of the following people/categories (And Nathaniel, ONE means ONE):

A sibling or friend who wants to get into [fandom of your choice]

ALEX: Well, we all know I'm gonna take comics, so let's just get it over with. When you're buying comics for someone who is just trying to feel his or her way into the medium, there are several directions you can take.

Personally, I would suggest foregoing the obvious routes of buying "evergreen" titles such as Alan Moore's Watchmen or Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.

Alternately, hoisting your own favorite series--no matter how great that series may be--upon your unsuspecting gift recipient might not be the best approach, either. Obviously, tastes vary, and even though I would ideally buy everyone on my list the first volume of Eric Powell's The Goon, I know that brand of humor might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Though I'm not sure you'd be my friend if you didn't like The Goon.

Anyway, instead of going in either of those directions, I would try to figure out what the recipient likes--outside of comics, I mean--and work from there.

For example, fans of the Firefly or Buffy TV series might enjoy the series of graphic novels put out by Dark Horse featuring "canon" stories for each of those shows. With stories by Joss Whedon himself and other writers from both series, you really can't go wrong by picking these up for fans of the shows.

But don't limit your choices to favorite TV shows or movies. If you know the person is a fan of horror novels, try Hellboy from Dark Horse or Locke & Key from IDW.

Also, since DC has relaunched their entire line of books, it's never been a better time to get in on the ground floor of their universe. You can pick up single issues from the New 52--still at their $2.99 cover price--and give a grab bag of titles.

NATHANIEL: I suppose that just leaves video games then, huh? If you have a particular game series or genre in mind, collections and variety packs are a great way to go.

Complete compilations such as the Space Quest Collection offer a convenient way to play an entire series without tracking down individual games (and, depending on the collection, individual systems). As an added bonus, compilations allow the player to start with whichever game is most up their alley in terms of difficulty, plot, graphics, etc., and that can go a long way in securing a dedicated fanboy or fangirl. I like Final Fantasy well enough, but some of the installments I've played more recently might have turned me off to the series if they had been all I had to start with, no matter how much other people might've wanted me to like them.

Digital distribution is making it easier than ever to get games you like into the (virtual) sweaty palms of the gamers you love. There's no imposition of required shelf space, and game bundles such as The Humble Indie Bundle make an ideal gift for someone who is looking to expand their gaming horizons without necessarily jumping on board with a series. Also worth mentioning are the retro game packages featuring absurd numbers of lost games from the heyday of companies such as Atari and Sega...though many of these "classics" have gone out of circulation for a reason.

Even if just one game out of the entire collection gets any kind of serious play time, you'll have a successful gift on your hands, not to mention a better idea of what your gift recipient's taste in games is like for the next time you give a gift.

Something for the hardcore fan of [inset fandom]

Alex: I was going to go with music on this one, but...well, just look below for Nathaniel's entry. Beat me to it, Flashman. Ah, well. I guess it's more comics, then.

Anyone who runs (or walks, wheezingly) in geek circles knows how hard it is to find a gift for a fellow fanatic. Mostly because it's tough to know exactly what he or she already owns.

This is especially tough when it comes to comics, because most collections are stocked are stored away in a closet, in boxes and hidden from the world.

For me, I've taken to getting fellow comics fans gift certificates to either brick and mortar shops or online stores, original art (it's one of a kind and can be quite a personal present, especially if you order a commission specifically for that person!), or I've simply broken down and asked the recipient if he or she already has something that I'm thinking about buying.

That makes it easy, you see, and I honestly don't think comics fans mind when you "ruin the surprise" of a gift. It's like a good spoiler. The way most fans look at it, it's better to get something you want, rather than to get something you already have.

This goes both ways, of course, as comic books can be rare, expensive, or simply difficult to find for the gift buyer.

So that's my story. How about you, Flashy?

Nathaniel: How about we go with music this time? Tickets to see someone's favorite band in concert are hard to turn down, unless you've overlooked any egregious logistical issues (I.e.: "Hey, guess what! I got you and your smelly Uncle Dingus tickets to see Blues Traveler in Reykjavík next November! Guess you'd better cancel your wedding and buy some plane tickets, huh?").

[Editor's--uh, Alex's Note--uh, Alex's Interruption: "smelly Uncle Dingus"?]

Good concert tickets are often expensive, time-sensitive, and annoying to order. In other words, simply going to the trouble of getting concert tickets is as much a gift as giving them. Keeping yourself in the loop about when someone's favorite artists are touring means you've always got a potential present on the backburner, even if it's several years before any decent opportunities come along.

A concert can be a milestone experience in someone's life, as Alex and I can attest to. I saw James Taylor; Alex saw Paul McCartney; I can guarantee you those concerts are among the coolest and most significant experiences we've ever had. Do not underestimate the profound impact of a musician on a person's life.

Concert tickets are one of the few non-edible, non-service-related gifts that can be given repeatedly without growing stale. Even seasoned concertgoers who have seen their favorite artists perform live several times over can appreciate a chance to see a different venue, and new music from the latest album. Concert tickets can become a tradition. They can be a rare surprise, too. While I wouldn't object to seeing James Taylor again, I like the idea of seeing a different artist perform every time I see a concert; the more unexpected, the better. Makes the time I saw the Village People all the more memorable.

Best [insert fandom] gift of 2011

Nathaniel: Sheesh, you act like I pay attention to anything released in the past decade. For anybody planning a Harry Potter marathon, I would think that Harry Potter: The Complete 8-Film Collection on DVD and Blu-ray would be a reasonable choice, especially given that the movies are apparently going out of circulation shortly after the holidays.

Alex: I'm gonna go on a similar path here and say that the Lord of the Rings trilogy extended edition Blu-ray is THE gift of 2011. Why? Because Amazon is selling it for $50.

Marked down from $120 bucks, if you or someone on your list doesn't yet own this, I'd say now is pretty much the best time to buy, ever. Great movies in a great package for a local convention price?

You can't beat that.

-- -- -- --

And there it is! Gifts for Geeks 2011 is all wrapped up. Let us know what you think of the new format and don't forget to give us your own gifts ideas! And for anyone who still has some shopping left before safe out there.

And tell 'em Exfanding sent ya! (And then back away, slowly, as people stare at you blankly.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 51

Issue 51, huh?

With one more of these bad boys left to write before the year passes us by, I have to say. It's been a wild, pretty wacky 2011. As Nathaniel alluded to yesterday, there's even more Big Life Stuff to report on.

Add that to a year already filled with Big Life Stuff, and, well, that's a lot of Big Life Stuff, let me tell you.

This time, the BLS is bittersweet as I leave one job for another. This departure is much different from my last departure from a job (longtime readers know what I'm talking about), and I'm leaving with a bit of a heavy heart.

I've made many friends at my current gig, and I've worked with some truly talented and amazing people.

Sometimes opportunity comes knocking, though, and one just can't help but to open the door. I'm moving on to a different field, though I'll still be editing in some capacity.

I guess that's just in the blood. The editing, I mean.

I'm branching out into Web- and TV-based stuff, for a big company, and while I'm sad to leave my current gig, I am very excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.

But more on that this Friday.

For today, I'm excited about (what else?) comics! Though, because co-workers have graciously been taking me out for lunch, dinner, or both each day this week, I won't be able to get to my LCS until Friday or Saturday.

Which is fine, as I've made it a bit of a habit over the past few years to walk into my comics shop on Christmas Eve. And this week proves to have some pretty great product available for my grubby (not so) little hands.

Let's get to it.

First up, we have a decidedly not Christmasy book from IDW called Memorial. This new series starts with today's issue one and from all accounts, this might provide IDW with their next big creator-owned book.
From writer Chris Roberson (iZombie) and artist Rich Ellis, Memorial sounds like a series that's tailor-made for my tastes. IDW has pushed this series pretty hard, and it seems to be a big part of their publishing plan for the future.

Here's the blurb from the publisher:

MEMORIAL is the story of Em, a young woman who arrives at a hospital in Portland, Oregon, with no memory of her past. A year later, her newly-rebuilt life is thrown into turmoil after she inherits a magical shop, the kind that appears in an alley one instant and disappears the next.

Em is drawn into a supernatural conflict between beings that not only represent, but are, fundamental elements of the universe itself. All of existence is at stake, so there’s only a little pressure on Em, the magical shop, and a talking cat.

If you're still on the fence about it, you can check out a free preview of the book right here.

Next, we have a new trade collection of a book I've talked about many times this year. From Image, Li'l Depressed Boy, volume 0, "Lonely Heart Blues," ships today.
This volume collects the original Web series about everyone's favorite depressed rag doll. Unlike the more recent Image series, however, the stuff collected here in volume 0 is definitely on the darker side--while the current series makes me (and lots of readers) smile, this volume certainly lives up to the title's namesake, so be warned.

Here's the blurb from Image:

For the first time in print: Before disastrous road trips. Before style-points. Before Jazmin. Join LDB as he takes his first steps on his search for love. Told in shades of blue with artwork by SAM KIETH, JIM MAHFOOD, JIM VALENTINO and many more. Including never before seen artwork and an exclusive all-new story drawn by SINA GRACE.

You can check out a free preview of the book right here, but if you're new to LDB, I'd suggest starting with the ongoing from Image, the first four issues of which have been collected in trade.

So, yeah man. Go buy stuff at your local comics shop--it's the holidays and they would love to have your business. Before you do that, though, one question. What are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Status Quote

Given that it's taken us two weeks to get most of the way through our week-long Gifts for Geeks celebration, I feel a status update is in order.

At virtually any other point this year, any delays could have been attributed to the Big Life Stuff that was keeping me busy. This time, I am pleased to report, it's not my fault. As it turns out, Alex is the one with Big Life Stuff afoot, which he'll probably share through cryptic hints over the next few months until he finally writes a formal explanation, which he will either immediately discard after re-reading or hold off on posting until the Cubs win the Super Bowl.

And yes, I realize the Cubs only play in the Stanley Cup.

So, without Alex here today to dismiss or substantiate any claims that behind-the-scenes machinations are responsible for our slightly irregular posting schedule, I can only give a status update on what's going on in NathanielLand. I realize this will have nothing to do with why we keep putting off Gifts for Geeks, but hey, it's free admission.

- Life is gradually returning to normal (or whatever passes for normal 'round these parts) now that the wedding is over and weekend road trips have been scaled back to a more reasonable frequency. Consequently, I'm finding more time to tackle my long-neglected errands, housework, and creative projects. Productivity is happiness.

- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been released and is consuming the lives of millions. True to form, I'm just getting around to playing The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

- With barely any time to enjoy it, my wife and I have finally set up our Christmas tree. Our 4' tall, chintzy blue Christmas tree.

In other news, we desperately need a more holiday-appropriate tree topper than a Dr. Wily action figure and an Enterprise NX-01.

- I inadvertently threw myself into a nightmare holiday shopping scenario, the likes of which I swore I try to avoid. The Saturday before Christmas, I head out to the mall. I realize it will be busy. I realize I may need to drive around a while before locating a parking space. I realize everything will be sold out by the time I get there.

I fail to realize I'm now living in a place where the mall is the size of the town I used to live in, and situated at the intersection of two major thoroughfares. I have a lovely 45-minute joyride around the mall before I decide that maybe a smile and a hug is all anybody needs for Christmas.

- The wife and I got out to see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in the theater this past weekend. We don't get out to the movies so often anymore--we watched J. Edgar over Thanksgiving weekend with my family; before that, I believe the last film we saw in the theater was Kung Fu Panda 2, back in May. Come to think of it, we've hardly watched any movies recently--it's been a lot of Star Trek and LEGO Batman instead.

- At long last, I discovered the option that allows me to organize the game list on my Backloggery. It was fun to tinker around a little bit and make some updates. I'm also pleased and amused to see that my GameCola article on The Backloggery is still the first Google search result that isn't the site itself.

- The Third Easiest Contest on the Internet, after sparking a good amount of initial interest, seems to have quieted down significantly. But, with a deadline of January 4, there's still plenty of time to follow us on social media and poke holes in our archives for a shot at a $15 gift certificate. See, it doesn't sound so much like shameless advertising when it's part of a status update, right?

Well, that should do for now. We've got a Waiting for Wednesday lined up for tomorrow as usual, followed by what we suspect will be a conclusion to this year's Gifts for Geeks. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Beat Me To It...

We've run a couple of posts about what our version of the Ideal Comic Book Shop would look like on the blog, mostly because such posts scratch two of our biggest itches--comics and telling people what's best for them (according to us).

Characteristics such as clean, well lit, and has a pleasant smell all rose to the top of our list of things our ideal shop would be or would have. Other than those (you'd think obvious, but not really) traits, we came up with a few extra goodies that we'd love to see in a shop.

For my tastes, adding coffee to comics sounds like the best thing ever. And so I wrote, way back when:

I think adding a personal touch to a store is important. It shows you care, and it allows you to stand out from the rest. For me, adding a coffee bar, a couch or two, and some original art would make my shop like a home.

Well, after reading about it on Bleeding Cool this morning in an article titled, "The Comic Shop That Merged With a Coffee Shop," Legend Comics in Omaha seems to be pretty much my ideal comic book shop.

It connects to a coffee shop, you see, so right there it has my attention.

What's more, though, it sounds like a very cool place to shop--they're doing a good job of building anticipation for the move with a teaser on their website, and they've generated some local press to get the word out.

I live nowhere near Omaha and have never visited Legend, but from the articles online, it looks like they'll have some pretty cool things to set their shop apart from other stores, like a massive selection of comics and graphic novels and even drive-thru and indoor movie screenings.

From photos online, it's easy to see that the store is well laid out, bright, and clean. it looks like a place I'd like to hang out in, as opposed to just stop by to grab some books and run. In fact, it looks like a place my non-comics-reading friends would enjoy, too.

And, of course, there will be coffee.

So, yeah. Legend beat me to creating that magical, wonderful comic shop vision I've had in my head all this time. That's okay, though. I'm not bitter.

What I am is interested--if anyone happens to be in the Omaha area and you've stopped by the shop, please drop me a line to let me know what you think. It looks like an awesome place and I'd love to hear your take!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gifts for Geekettes

Exfanded by Neko-chan

I am a geek. I read Dante for fun, I get excited about fabric samples and craft supplies, I play vintage PC games, I watch any sci-fi show I can get my hands on, I love world history, I have at least five different Green Arrow action figures, and I willingly married Nathaniel Hoover.

I am also a girl. However, I am not particularly “girly” in many of the traditional ways that people expect (i.e. beauty, fashion, gossip, etc). Sure, I dig flowers and chocolate, but I don’t usually wear makeup, I insist that my plaid Doc Martens count as dress shoes, I routinely put my hair up with office supplies and paintbrushes, I’m pretty sure a Kardashian is a type of sweater, and rarely would I choose to own, let alone wear, anything pink.

When I do decide to be girly, it is usually in an over-the-top theatrical way, such as my “Barbie cake” wedding dress that was 6’ in diameter and encrusted with enough sequins and beading to make a Disney princess jealous. My tastes simply tend to be capricious and unpredictable when it comes to anything classified as feminine.

Any of this sounding familiar? Chances are that you have at least one offbeat, unconventional female like me in your life, either at home or at work, whom you will feel obligated to find a present for this year. I understand that it can be stressful trying to choose the right thing; the combination of geekiness and femininity creates a powder keg of problems for any potential gift buyer.

Not only do you have to contend with the usual dilemmas of geek gifting such as “Does she own this already?” and “Am I buying the right character/game/version/edition that she requested?” but now you have to throw into the mix questions like, “By her pretty little bonnet, will she end me if I buy her these bath salts?” It’s always a toss-up whether we’ll react negatively to any of the “safe” gifts marketed towards women, and the whole idea of trying to buy us a decent gift can result in panicked nail-biting and a feeling of playing Russian roulette.

To help you in your quest toward purchasing a gift for someone in this diverse and oft-misunderstood demographic, I have compiled a wealth of ideas and suggestions to make this year’s gifting a bit easier.

Gifts for Geekettes, the Master List


Does she own more books than shoes? Is she on a first-name basis with her local librarians? Does she make you wait until a chapter break before responding to a question? Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of all this “e-book” hullabaloo, opt instead for a more personal and touching gift.

~ Try finding a rare edition of a book she loves, such as a collector’s edition, a first print, a special edition reprint, a signed copy, or simply a nicely bound hardcover version that will withstand the test of time. I highly recommend looking at Alibris. They have a great selection and some of the best customer service I have ever received.


Does she have more than a terabyte of music on her computer? Does she listen to bands whose names you can’t even pronounce? Can she tell the difference between Baroque and Classical? Chances are that she will either have whatever album you buy her, or will be extra-picky about the types of things she listens to; therefore, try making her a mix tape instead.

~ Fill up a disc with songs that remind you of her, and include a track list with your rationale for each song. It will be like getting a gift and card in one, and she will have fun listening to it and thinking of you even if the songs, themselves, are not her favorite style of music. (Or she may hit you if you choose to be like Nathaniel and put “Tempted by the Fruit of Another” on your first mix tape.)

[Editor's note: Hey! It's a good song!]

Kitchen and Edibles

Can she name more than ten varieties of apples without blinking? Does watching her cook evoke the image of a mad scientist in a lab? Has she ever planned a vacation around the cuisine and restaurants rather than the sight-seeing attractions? Spice up your foodie’s life with some fun and exciting kitchen tech or edible curiosities.

~ Food Fighters Party Picks – Being a hostess is a tough assignment, so let her declare war on boring parties with these culinary commandos, guaranteed to earn her a Medal of Honor for exemplary food service in the line of duty.

~ "Equal Measure" Measuring Cup – Sometimes it can be hard to remember how many teaspoons are in a cup, or how many ounces are in a pound. Kitchen math is tricky. That’s why she needs this measuring cup, which makes life a bit easier by converting kitchen measurements into convenient everyday equivalents, such as the “volume of one human breath” and “one thousand sweet corn kernels.”

~ Combine two of her favorite fandoms by commissioning a cake that reflects her interests, such as an Xbox cake or a World of Warcraft cake. Or get creative by crafting and decorating your own baked confection for her.

~ MoMA Espresso Set – The perfect gift for the heavily caffeinated foodie. This set combines ingenuity with efficiency; with coasters that nest into the serving tray, and spoons that balance effortlessly on top of each cup. It can also double as an impromptu juggling act.


Does she sew her own clothes or accessories? Has she ever squeed over a sale on tools? Does she refuse to buy things in stores, insisting that she will find a way to make them herself? If so, try investing in some quality media and gadgets to help her on her journey toward inevitable Crafters Anonymous membership.

~ Laser Guided Scissors – If she is a seamstress, this gadget is the answer to a prayer. Using the power of lasers, these scissors enable her to cut a straight line without having to mark or measure intermediate points on the fabric, which saves both time and effort. Did I mention they come equipped with lasers?

~ Self Healing Cutting Mat – This is a nifty device that is useful for both sewing geeks and papercraft geeks. Not only does it protect her work surface from damage, but the quasi-liquid construction of the material actually reseals itself after use, re-filling in minor cuts and dents and returning to a smooth, clean finish. Yay science!

~ Prat Art Presentation Case – If she needs to transport her art back and forth between home, class, work, or client meetings, she definitely needs one of these. It comes equipped with a hard PVC casing, a carrying handle, zipper-closure, double-backed archival binder sleeves, a storage pocket, and a strap to keep pages from sliding around during travel. This was the most valuable and exciting present I received last Christmas.

~ Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils – If your girl is a developing artist who wants to take her artwork to the next level, treat her to a set of professional media such as these premier colored pencils. They are softer, smoother, and easier to blend than the cheap Crayola or Roseart varieties, allowing her more versatility with her expression. Make sure you also tag on a soft-lead sharpener, though, as normal sharpeners are too harsh for this delicate medium.


Does she gravitate toward anything shiny? Can she correctly say the word “chalcedony”? Does she set off airport security with the amount of metal she adorns herself with? Well, if every kiss begins with Kay’s, then every Ohhhhh Myyyyy! begins with o-riginality. Spoil her with one of these unique gifts this year:

~Handmade Jewelry from - Etsy is the “eBay for crafters,” and there is literally something for every taste. You can browse through thousands of pieces such as a sterling silver Mega Man pendant and an eco-friendly leaf pendant made from cement board, leaves, and guitar wire, or, if you are looking for something specific, many of the sellers will also take custom commissions for one-of-a-kind pieces. also offers a small array of jewelry for the technically-minded geekette. Resistance is not futile with their matching earring and necklace set made from 1/4 watt resistors, and you can buy happiness with their serotonin molecule earrings.

~ Homemade Charm Bracelet – Get creative by starting a charm bracelet you can add to each holiday. Instead of buying generic and over-priced charms from a store, make your own by drilling a hole in found objects, such as game pieces or guitar picks, and attaching a clip. It’s a cost-effective, personal gift that shows how well you know her, and can hold a lifetime of memories and memorabilia.

Home Décor

Does she long for binary-patterned curtains? Is her original Labyrinth movie poster still hanging on the wall? Did she need to buy extra shelving in order to display her replica ship collection? Put your gift-giving skills on prominent display with one of these geek-themed décor items:

~ Lightsaber Candlestick – Sometimes it’s nice to just sith down to a fancy candlelit dinner, enjoy some Wol cabasshew salad, and talk about how many rebel fighters you destroyed at work. For those occasions, she’ll need this lightsaber candlestick to properly set the mood.

~ Pac-Man Fleece Blanket – If you’ve ever caught your girl “paku-paku-ing” around the house in search of cherries, she might like this retro-gaming blanket from Perpetual Kid featuring everyone’s favorite ghost-slaying pie-chart.

~ Art Nouveau Firefly Posters – Want to be the best gift-giver in the ‘verse? Head on over to ThinkGeek and pick up both sets, Les Hommes and Les Femmes, of these shiny, shiny new posters.

~ Glow in the Dark Moon Clock – You know the best thing about space? Space! If she is a total space cadet, get her this snazzy moon-shaped clock to decorate her control room, and fuel her intergalactic imagination.

~ 18” Geisha Shoji Lamp - If your girl owns more anime than live-action DVDs, views cosplay as serious business, or owns at least one J-Pop CD, she may appreciate this kawaii hand-painted table lamp inspired by traditional Japanese rice paper screens.

Clothing and Accessories

Does she wear her Call of Duty messenger bag with pride? Has she ever used cable ties to hold up her pants? Are most of her shirts printed with slogans that make Luddites stare wide-eyed in confusion? Help her befuddle and bemuse the hoi polloi with one of these quirky wearable gifts:

~ “She Blinded Me With Library Science” Tote – Now she can express her love of both reading and 80’s pop references while carrying her books to and from the library.

~ Circuit Board Headband – give her the motherboard of all tech-savvy gifts with this circuit board headband so she can hold back her locks in style. And if headbands aren’t her thing, try making her a circuit board belt buckle at home with this handy guide from HGTV.

~ Threadless T-shirts and Hoodies – No matter whether she is a Star Wars fangirl, a retro gamer, an eco-warrior artist, or a foodie, there is a shirt for her at Threadless. Designed by up-and-coming graphic artists, these shirts have character and originality, the perfect compliment to your unique geek.

Hopefully these suggestions have been mildly inspiring in some way, and have left you with the security of knowing that there are plenty of great gifts out there for all the geeky girls in your life. You can choose to ignore my suggestions, though, and brave the malls crowded with foaming, ravenous zomb… holiday shoppers, but don’t blame me when your girl hits you upside the head with that bottle of “artisan bath salts” you were convinced she’d like because it was in a magazine somewhere.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mega Man 6: Bloopers, Glitches, Tricks, and Behind-the-Scenes Insights

Think of today's post as a quick commercial break during this year's Gifts for Geeks show.

Following up on my showofftastic and reportedly humorous YouTube playthrough of Mega Man 6 is a bonus video showcasing all manner of funny and interesting things that didn't make it into the original video series:

What makes this bonus video different from previous ones is that I also include some top-secret and fairly extensive practice footage, discussing my video-recording process in more detail than before.

It's worth a watch, and I'm not just saying that because I made the video. I'm saying that because I'm also starring in the video.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gifts for Geeks: Nightmare Shopping

So far we've covered the "Would you rather?" portion of this year's Gifts for Geeks segment with our posts discussing surprise gifts and gift cards, but we're still a little light on the traumatizing-yet-educational holiday stories. Let's try to address that today.

What's the worst holiday shopping experience you've ever had?

Alex: Every year, I tell myself (and others, proudly) that I will be starting my Christmas shopping early. Like, in August or September. You know, so I can spread the money around and not feel it too much in the old wallet come December (or, more accurately, come January when the credit card bill comes).

I do this every year. That is to say, I tell people this plan every year.

But, to my credit, most years I actually follow through. Though, I must confess, the actual start date is typically right after Halloween and not in the late summer. I think November 1st is a perfectly reasonable, perfectly viable day to start one's Christmas shopping.

This year, I've managed to get the bulk of my shopping done and I've even handed out a few gifts. Still, this upcoming week--the last before Christmas--is going to be tight in terms of finishing off the list.

Now, what's all this talk about preparedness have to do with my Worst Holiday Shopping Experience, you say? Well, ironically enough, one year being prepared managed to get me into--and then out of--what was, simply put, a Vortex of Madness.

Let me explain.

It was November 22, 2005 (I have a feeling some of you have already figured out what I'm talking about), and I found myself standing outside a Sears attached to the Danbury Mall, shivering in the dark at 5:30 in the morning.

Even though the store wouldn't open for another few hours, there was already a line formed outside when I pulled up into the parking lot. I stood around in relative silence for a while, blowing on my hands occasionally to stay warm.

No one else on line was in much mood to talk, and that was understandable. It was cold, and after about an hour of standing there, it started to drizzle.

In line were all sorts of people.

Crazy people, like me; moms standing there with lists in their hands and displaying patience under pressure; dads standing there, looking annoyed and baffled; and even grandparents looking generally confused at what the world had come to.

We were, of course, all standing in line on that cold, dark, rainy morning because November 22, 2005, was the United States release date of the Xbox 360.

Now, before you get all hopped up; no, I wasn't waiting to buy one for myself. I was there--valiant as ever--helping my parents get a 360 for my brother. It had become sort of a running joke back then about actually managing to buy a 360 before the holidays because every store--EVERY STORE--was either sold out or just wasn't going to get a shipment in time.

It was Madness on a Tickle Me Elmo level, only with the added bonus that the customer base for this particular toy was in their teens and 20s.

My brother had even told me not to bother--it was going to be impossible to get one, so he was going to wait until after the holidays. But I was determined. Why? Love for my brother? Need to fill my life with (yet another) obsession? No idea.

But I was going to get my hands on one, even if it killed me. This was my Jingle All the Way. I was Arnold. The rest of the world was Sinbad.

Nineties Christmas movie references aside, I remember waiting on that line--I was only about 5 people back from the front--at Sears until they opened, looking at that new sign in the window with the shiny 360 on it that read "Xbox is here!" and thinking, wow, I'm actually going to score one of these.

I also remember the anticipation of the doors opening, the push from the folks behind me, and the look on the face of that poor, poor man from Sears who had to tell us the following.

"Um," he started. "We haven't got any. Sorry."

As if we were one entity, every person in line asked at the very same moment, "Any what?"

"Xbox," was the reply. "We didn't get a shipment in, and, well. It looks like we won't have them before Christmas."

As I walked back to my car in the now pouring rain, it was like a scene from a Romero flick at the store's door.

Because I was determined (and only a little brain dead), I continued on to countless stores over the course of the next couple of weeks. Every trip ended in the same empty-handed walk back to my car.

At that time, I had just graduated from college and I was taking a couple of post-grad courses in New York City. I had a good group of friends that I would hang out with after class every Tuesday night, and I started telling them my Xbox tale of pity and woe.

I added some flourishes (we were in a writing class, after all) to give the story a bit more flavor, and I might have thrown in a clown or two for good measure.

Anyway, I finished my story with a sigh and I took a sip of my drink. "And that's how I ruined Christmas this year."

My buddies laughed and there was a momentary silence as everyone at the table took a bite or a drink or simply took a moment to be thankful they weren't me. And then Mitch, from the corner, says, "Or I could just get you one."

Another momentary silence.

"One what?" I asked.

"An Xbox. My girlfriend's father is a big wig at [insert toy store here]."

I laughed. "That's mean. Haven't I been through enough--"

"No, really."

At that point, we were still two weeks from Christmas, but the semester had ended.

"Just meet me at work sometime next week, bring the money, and I'll have your Xbox."

Work, as it turned out, was literally a stone's throw from one of the largest [insert toy store here]s on the planet. And when I showed up to meet Mitch the following week, money in hand and big, stupid grin on my face, he handed me the Xbox and, as it would happen, the weight of the world.

"I'd get out of here pretty quickly, Al," he said. I was too busy smiling stupidly to understand what he meant.

"Alex. You should go."

"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to keep you," I replied.

"No, no. It's not that. Look across the street."

And there, at [insert toy store name here], once again I was faced with a scene from a Romero movie. The store, you see, had just sold out of the system (as the giant "SORRY, XBOX SOLD OUT" sign out front announced) and that eerie, dead-eyed look of failure was strewn across the faces of countless parents as they were exiting the store.

Some of the zombies--um, people--some of the people had spotted me. They saw the Xbox-shaped bag and I could tell that at least a couple of them were beyond the point of no return and attacking a complete stranger for a video game was something they might now consider.

So I left.

And that was that. It was a long, hard, and kind of stupid road, but in the end, I saved Christmas. And that's really all that matters.

Nathaniel: Unlike Alex, I try to avoid worst holiday shopping experiences. In recent years, I've done the bulk of my shopping at conventions--Comic-Con 2010 and Otakon 2008 were especially productive. I've also been conducting my shopping throughout the year, instead of in a mad rush in the day(s) before Christmas. There's usually a shopping trip to the mall one or two weeks out, but that's generally to give me inspiration for the last few stragglers on my list, and to fully immerse myself in commercialized holiday cheer.

I worked retail for a relatively brief period, and got a taste of the small-business holiday rush. I seem to have blocked the specific details out of my memory and may actually be fabricating part of this, but I do recall one customer who rifled through multiple copies of the same book before settling on one in gift-worthy condition, and after all the rigamarole of getting into line and handing the product over to be gift-wrapped, left the store in a huff because there was an imperceptible dent on the cover, grumbling something about going to a store that sold merchandise in decent condition.

Don't ever let the holidays get to you like that. Nothing is worth the stress that would drive you to that point. No retailer needs that backlash.

Anyone who's spent any time in customer service has at least a few stories of unhappy interactions and nightmare customers. I've got a story about a person who stopped me halfway through my complimentary gift-wrapping job and took back her gift so she could wrap it the right way at home. You've had worse, I'm sure. I've had it easy.

However, I did purchase a gift at Comic-Con 2011 and forgot to pick it up before walking away forever. I believe that counts for something.