Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Month in Review: January 2012

With more free time for creative pursuits than I've had in nearly a year, and with Alex's time and focus going almost exclusively toward his new job, January was simultaneously one of the strongest and one of the most concise months we've ever had on this blog.

Let's take a look at how we kicked off the New Year:

- Our annual joint post discussing our New Year's resolutions

- Insights from Alex about his job transition, a quick follow-up after the first week, and a deeper reflection on the matter

- A list of fandom-centric aspirations for the year, which are totally different from resolutions

- Alex's weekly opinion column with a hint of comics, Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 4, Issues 1-4, covering The Goon, the Mayans, the Wikipedia blackout, and actual excitement

- An announcement of our contest winners from The Third Easiest Contest on the Internet

- Excuses as to why our Year in Review hadn't posted yet--also notable for being the first post in Exfanding history to go up without a title (which was quickly fixed)

- A discussion of my wonderful cycle of relaxation and anticipation, and all my creative input

- The story of my introduction to the wonders of Netflix

- Alex returns to the realm of comics with an additional resolution

- My wife's amusing alteration to my desktop wallpaper

- A request for suggestions of toys to put on display at work

- A guide to becoming a minor Internet celebrity

- Plotting for my next Dungeons & Dragons adventure

- A video playthrough of Mega Man vs Ghosts 'n Goblins

- A quick spotlight of an indie comics publisher's involvement in the SOPA protests

- A review of the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist

- Alex provides encouragement to join the Bark Side

- A realization that we haven't run out of ways to exfand your horizons

- A review of Richard Moore's mini-gargoyle comic series Chip

- A guest post looking back at the Nintendo GameCube

- A review of my recent gaming endeavors and a question about where to go next

- Alex gets to professionally interview his all-time favorite wrestler, Shawn Michaels

- The photography of a levitating woman

- A review of SCAM #1, an X-Men meets Ocean's 11 indie comic, and our first-ever review copy for this blog

Monday, January 30, 2012

Exfanding Review: SCAM #1

The ComixTribe press release describes it as "X-Men meets Oceans 11"; while a description like that usually means something to the effect of, "we're trying to piggyback off of the popularity of these two things by blending our favorite elements from them," I can't think of any other comparison that would describe as accurately and earnestly what Joe Mulvey's SCAM is: a comic that plays out as though the cast of X-Men were living the plot of Ocean's 11.

I admit I'm stepping into unknown territory here; indie/creator-owned comics are usually the sole domain of this blog's resident Wednesday Warrior, my blogging compadre Alex. I'll also tell you up front that neither I nor Alex was head-over-heels in love with SCAM #1...but the first installment of a series isn't always an indicator of where the story and style are headed.

What we liked:

- The story wastes no time bringing in both action and exposition. By the end of the first page, we've met all the characters and are beginning to get a feel for how they play into a heist that's about to occur. By the end of the second page, we know the important details of the heist and have a conflict spurring the characters into action. By the end of the third page, we're understanding some of the relationships between these characters. By the end of the fourth page, a few twists reveal some critical details about the characters and make the conflict a whole lot worse.

- The characters have superpowers (or, "freakishly unexplainable killer skills," as one character puts it) that offer a lot of interesting possibilities for this kind of story. My personal favorites are the ability to remember everything you've ever experienced and the ability to make anything you touch invisible--maybe I don't read enough comics, but those seem pretty cool, especially in this context.

- There's enough variety in the locations and coloring to keep the comic visually interesting, and a few of the panels really "pop" with an almost cinematic quality.

What we didn't care for:

- There's a big disconnect between the introduction and the rest of the story, which takes place two years later. Whereas the introduction throws the reader right into the action and keeps the pacing fairly tight, the rest of the story feels like a mostly unrelated tale that's gradually warming up, and it doesn't help that the characters aren't immediately recognizable as the thieves from the first few pages.

- Often times it's difficult to tell what's going on. Sometimes it's because of how the panels are arranged; sometimes it feels like there's a key panel or line of dialogue missing; sometimes there's there's a little too much fluff in the dialogue to properly process what's actually important to the story and the character development. I had to stop myself multiple times and re-read entire pages to make sure I didn't miss something in the illustrations or the text; that's something that very rarely happens to me even once in an issue, let alone more than once.


The writer says in the afterword, "...I hope you stick around and give me the chance to tell you some more of the story. It's just getting started." SCAM #1 starts to lose cohesion and luster after the first few pages, but those first few pages--and a handful of small moments throughout the rest of the comic--hint at what might be a more enjoyable and compelling story in the long run.

If SCAM #2 can smooth out the flow of the panels, clarify the most important dialogue, downplay the nonessential dialogue, expand on the character relationships, and continue putting all those cool superpowers to good use, SCAM might end up being a series we're eager to recommend. In the meantime, you can visit the official SCAM website and the ComixTribe store to see if SCAM #1 is more up your alley.

[A free digital copy of SCAM #1 was provided by publisher ComixTribe for this review.]

Sunday, January 29, 2012

This...is Pretty Awesome

Thanks to a really cool slide show featured on Yahoo News the other day, I became aware of an incredible photography blog called yowayowa camera woman diary.

The idea behind the blog is simple, but the execution of the idea, I'd imagine, is anything but.

Each post on the blog is labeled, "Today's Levitation," and as you can see from the photo above, that's exactly what photographer Natsumi Hayashi aims to do in each photo--"levitate."

There are some super cool shots on her blog, and I hope you take the time to check it out, because I had a lot of fun going through the site.

Also, keep in mind that Hayashi is not using PhotoShop on these--she's jumping and employing the age-old adage of "try, try again" until she gets the photo to look just right.

That...is a lot of jumping, I'd think.

So go check it out, already! Also, enjoy your Sunday and we'll be back tomorrow to kick off another Internet-breaking week of geek.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

It Was Shawn Michaels!

Remember my cryptic Waiting for this past Wednesday, where I hinted at (read: blatantly beat you all over the heads with) the fact that I had interviewed my favorite wrestler of all time?

Sure you do. It was exceedingly well written, witty, and blah blah blah. Right.

Anyway, since my article has now gone live on WWE.com, I can safely say that the interview is/was with Shawn Michaels--my all-time favorite WWE Superstar.

And you can check out the link to that article right here.

And you can also rest assured that this will be the last bit of ridiculous self-promotion that I'll indulge in. Promise. : )

However, since this is my last hurrah at pandering, I might as well play this one up for all it's worth. The article is about the lead up to the Royal Rumble, WWE's first pay-per-view event of 2012, and always a huge deal in wrestling as it's the first pay-pay-view to build towards WrestleMania in April.

The Rumble takes place tomorrow, and I'll (obviously) be watching.

The interview made its rounds all over the Internet, as Michaels is, arguably, the greatest wrestler of all time and people want to know what he thinks of the business today.

So, yeah. Got to talk to a guy I've been watching (with awe) on television since I was a little kid. That was cool, and something totally unexpected. Also, I didn't say anything too stupid or embarrassing. With me, that's always a plus.

Check it out if you're so inclined, and thanks for indulging me, Exfanders. Enjoy your Saturday!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Game On!

My Backloggery is calling to me again...it's time to make a decision about where to focus my free time next.

Where I've Been:

Last week I completed Kirby & the Amazing Mirror with 100% item completion. Easily my least favorite Kirby game of the few I've played thanks to the mostly unnecessary gimmick of summoning brain-deficient AI clones to "help" you, and the confusing level design that could commit to being neither Kirby nor Metroid long enough to be consistently satisfying.

This week I finished Sparkster, which followed the same trend as Legacy of the Wizard: the more sincerely I tried to beat it, the less I enjoyed it. It was great fun to rocket around the screen and try out all my fancy moves on all the cartoony baddies, but the fun began to give way as anything fancier than walking and basic sword slashing started getting me killed, and as boss battles became more and more based on excessive patience and luck. I feel bad for disliking this game because, like Legacy of the Wizard (and Mighty Bomb Jack after that), a friend of mine put a lot of effort into handpicking this gift featuring some interesting mechanics that should be right up my alley. Really, in all three cases, I've liked the mechanics--but in all three cases, something about the execution has fallen short, and it's not something you'd guess until playing it for yourself.

A few days ago I decided to give Mega Man Soccer a shot, having picked it up over Christmas vacation after being curious about it for some time. I ran around in circles for maybe 15-20 minutes, had more fun with the concept than the actual gameplay, and decided I'd need to look at an instruction manual if I was to stand any chance of beating the thing.

Wanting to fill out the remaining gaps in my Mega Man education, I went poking around last night for other obscure and forgotten games that I could get my hands on. I finally settled on Rockman & Forte: Challenger from the Future, the grayscale WonderSwan game that is exactly what you'd get if you mixed Mega Man & Bass with Mega Man II for Game Boy and never bothered to translate it into English. Despite its flaws, I was hooked; I finished the whole game in a single sitting.

Where I Am Now:

I'm gradually making progress through The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, having recently returned to the main quest after heading off in random directions to explore more of the world map. It's a huge game that's discouraging me from starting anything else remotely as lengthy or deep, but the truth is that I'm cutting all sorts of corners and barely scratching the surface of the story in order to keep things moving. While I like the game, there is simply too much to do if I ever want to play any other games this year. I find that skipping entire obvious sidequests helps to keep my completionist tendencies in check.

Everything else I'm playing is with my wife, when she feels up to it--Space Quest II (VGA) and Half-Life are the two she's watching me play, which are both a little too gross or creepy in parts than we might like (though still great fun); we've got Episode 6 of Sam & Max: Season One to start up; and we're cleaning up the last 7% or so of LEGO Batman.

Where I'm Going Next:

Well, that's really up to you. Here's what I'm considering as my next personal gaming project:

- Mega Man Soccer: If I don't attempt to play it now, while the curiosity's still a little warm, I might never work up the motivation to come back to it.

- Mega Man Network Transmission: The interquel between Mega Man Battle Network and MMBN2 would continue to expose me to an entire branch of the Mega Man family I've never bothered with, simultaneously giving me the platforming fix I perpetually crave.

- Nightshade: Another gift from the friend who gave me Sparkster, which I know absolutely nothing about other than what's on the box. I've been trying to get to this one for a while, and I'd love for this to be the game that breaks the trend I discussed.

- The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: I've been in a Zelda mindset ever since starting work on an upcoming Zelda-themed post for GameCola, and the fact that I've been tempted to start playing in spite of already having an involving RPG going in the form of Morrowind should be some sort of sign.

- Scurge: Hive: Because I'm still anxiously waiting for my wife to beat the original Metroid on her own so that I can show her the rest of the series, and this is the closest new thing to Metroid I've got.

So there you have it. Five games I've never played for five different systems. Any recommendations?

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Today's post comes from Joseph, author of the blog Paragoomba Shift, and creator of amusing voiceover videos.

Most everyone who is interested in gaming will be able to tell you what their first home system was. For those from the start of household gaming, they may tell you that they first owned an Atari 2600, an NES, an SNES, a Genisis, or maybe even an N64. Now there’s a new generation who are growing up playing on the Xbox, Playstation 3, and the Wii and subsequent Wii U.

Me? I had a GameCube.

The Nintendo GameCube, or GCN (NGC in Japan, they got the order of the letters right) was the 4th home console Nintendo developed and part of what is considered The Sixth Generation. The GameCube uses discs instead of cartridges and uses memory cards that can store mega blocks of information and can be interchanged to give you even more memory. But that’s not why I got the GameCube. I got the GameCube because it was and had been the current Nintendo system for a while. The Nintendo GameCube was released in 2001, about 2 or 3 years before I was exposed to the amazing world of video games.

Although, I didn’t actually buy it. You see there’s this thing where most 8-year-olds don’t get to buy expensive stuff. Crazy right?

But anyways, I had a GameCube now, so what would I get to play? The GameCube had been around for a while, so there would be a great amount of great games to start with. Super Mario Sunshine? Super Smash Bros.? Super Luigi’s Mansion? Nope. I got Pac-Man.

Okay so not actual arcade, “put a quarter in to play,” Pac-Man; Pac-Man World 2, the sequel to a game I had never played.

My reasons for buying this game were, well not really plural. I saw my 2nd cousin playing it, so when we were going to get a GameCube, I asked for that game. Turned out to be a pretty fun game, though the concept of saving seemed to be beyond me or something, because I swear I played those first levels at least 30 times. The game was fun, though. Get from point A to point B, eat dots and ghosts, find all the fruit, and all that good stuff. There were some good platforming sections as well as some cool powerups that led to pretty good puzzles even in the early levels.

Also, Pac-Man can apparently Spin Dash like Sonic the Hedgehog--where was THAT ability in the arcade? So many quarters would still be with us today…

So that was Pac-Man. All in all, above average, but still not nearly the quality the GameCube library had to offer. Now that I had experience with this box of might, I should probably have gotten something better, more mainstream, maybe even 1st-party-developed!

Three words: Monkeys In Balls.

I have no idea what possessed me to say, “I want that one,” but whatever it was, I’m grateful. Super Monkey Ball was one of the most fun games I have ever played, second only to Yoshi’s Island. It’s got a simple concept, there is a monkey in a ball, now get him to the goal in under a minute. There were 3 difficulties, beginning, advanced, and expert, with 10, 30, and 50 unique stages, respectively. That’s a total of 90 different levels, some of which to this day I still haven’t even seen. But I did play enough to be able to beat beginner with no deaths and speed-running tactics.

There were also minigames. The first three, in my opinion the best, are unlocked from the very start, while the other 3 require you to earn points by beating levels in the main game. These minigames were great for me and my family to play. And I enjoyed even playing them just by myself. And the main game was a great experience to play over and over again.

But the minigames were just as much a part of the fun as the main game. Target Test was by far the favorite among my brother, my dad, and myself. You could play with powerups, with pure skill, with bombs, with random effects, and with a wide selection of turn amounts. We played that minigame so much we found all sorts of silly tricks, like if you have the sticky-glue powerup you can land on the overhanging bars on the ramp and still get 5 points, and if you go out far enough and have a lot of luck, you may just be able to land 500 points by hitting a tiny little target.

Next was Race. Get around the track as fast as you can before the others do. Hit speed strips to go faster. Don’t fall off. Simple and fun, except that purple space stage. That one was hard…

Last and, well, least was Fight. I seemed to be the only one who liked this game, but maybe that was just because I OWN ALL NOOBZ AT MONKEY BALL FIGHTING! BWAHAHAHA!


But to supplement my lack of fist-attached-to-a-ball fodder, you could always play with computer players. The powerups in Fight were also cool too, like making the giant fist even more giant, making the spring attaching your fist to the ball go further, or being able to have the fist swing around and around you like a tornado. The best part was that these powerups could be added upon themselves and each other. I always figured it was infinite, because the time would eventually stop you from having a colossal fist that was attached to a 40-ft. spring that swirled around you. But it would be interesting to know.

Then there will be minigames that you unlock. Several times, for me. I guess the idea of “saving” was still lost to me. It might have helped if I had a memory card. In fact, the reason I got so good at the beginner stages in the main game was because I would play them repeatedly to get the points to unlock a minigame I wanted to play. I don’t know what I was excited about though, because Monkey Golf, Monkey Billiards, –coughpoolcough- and Monkey Bowling might have just as well been called Generic Golf, Pool, and Bowling. Beyond a few creative golf holes there’s not much to look forward to.

Okay, now back to the GameCube itself. No more game reviews within a discussion of a system. Enough monkeying around.

Anypun, the GameCube itself seems to be like the commercials between your favorite shows, you rarely talk about them and if you do it’s not often positive. I’m not sure that makes sense to you all but it does in my head and that’s good enough for me! I generally only hear about it when people call the Wii the “GameCube 1.5” when referring to the Wii’s graphics. And if 50% better is an insult, then that means that these people think very highly of the GameCubes capabilities.

So the GameCube is seldom spoken of, why? Is it a bad system? No, at least as far as I can tell.

The graphics, while definitely not up to today’s standards, can still produce some pretty impressive and cool-looking stuff, especially towards the end of the system’s run. The controls work fine, and the controller is a nice restyling of an N64 controller, and is in fact generally preferred among those who play Virtual Console games on the Wii.

Is it because it isn’t innovative? Well, it seems that its main quality is being a cube, but it does have much more to offer than that. It uses memory cards, allowing potential for unlimited memory that could be saved separate from your hard copy of the game, meaning if you rented the game again you could start right where you left off.

It's nice and compact, easy to move around, as we often took it on long road trips.

Does it have a bad library? Not in my opinion. Monkey Ball, Mario Sunshine, Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Baseball, Pokémon Laughing Face (XD), LEGO Star Wars, and even some cool collections of Zelda and Mega Man, to name a few.

Does it not have cool accessories? No dice, the Mic is one of the best additions the Mario Party franchise could have had, and being able to connect your Game Boy to the GameCube had to be pretty cool too.

Is there something wrong with the hardware? Well, it does have this problem where if you leave it on for 24-hour periods. after only turning off the TV when you were playing baseball and football video games all night, and your kids don’t check to turn it off before school, and so they come home and find the thing still running. Then the GameCube breaks.

Or so I’m told.

I did get a GameCube with a Pokémon on it as a result, though, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss. More like 90%.

But why do I like the GameCube so much? Well, it has to do mainly with nostalgia. Nostalgia plays a large part in what many of us like and dislike. I liked the GameCube in childhood, I like it now. I loved Yoshi’s Island as a child, too, and it remains to be my favorite game. If you need an example other than myself, Nathaniel’s favorite Mega Man game was the first one he played, and I bet Alex read some of The Goon series early on in his comic reading days as well. The GameCube also represents the best that Nintendo could do with the standard home console design at the time.

After, wii got a We. I mean, we got a Wii. I insisted that we should keep the GameCube. Sure, the Wii can play GameCube games, but it is much more fragile and complicated to move around. However, the GameCube did fade into obscurity for a while as we grew more fond of the Wii.

Nowadays the GameCube sits in my room. It gets a little more love now that I have a TV to play it on, and also has a few old classics like Mario Baseball and the Mega Man Anniversary Collection to have fun with. And I always have a satisfying feeling that I’m using an excellent piece of hardware when I turn it on and hear that title theme.

Doo-doo-di-doo-doo-di-doo-doo-doo-dooloodoo-doo-doo-di-doo-doo-di-doo-doo-doo Whuhm.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 4, Issue 4

I'm coming off a pretty cool Tuesday, I have to say, so writing this week's Waiting for has taken a bit of a back seat. Not to worry, though, because yesterday's Awesome is, well, it's pretty awesome.

However, just because I enjoy being cryptic, all I will say about Tuesday is this--I got to interview my favorite wrestler of all time. Now, I can't say who it is, or what we talked about just yet, but you can bet that I will post the link to the story here as soon as it goes live!

I found out that I would be doing the interview when I walked in the door yesterday morning, and I was told that the interview was scheduled for 2:00. I was elated. Super-excited, even.

And for people who know me, those are two things that I never am.

Not to fear, though, as that old familiar feeling crept in a little later on in the day when I started to get nervous. Once I warded off that particular bout of crippling anxiety, though, it was time...for lunch.

So I ate lunch with a buddy and got back to the desk with plenty of time to wallow in my nervousness.

But then something funny happened. I got in the room and I wasn't nervous. I got through the interview without making a complete jerk of myself (or, as they call it in the wrestling business, without being a total "mark"), and I even made the interviewee laugh, thus reinforcing my existence on this planet.

When I post up the link (once the article goes through edit), I'll get into it more, but this wrestler was/is my all-time favorite performer and I grew up watching him. Getting an opportunity to talk to him at a show or an autograph signing would have been a big deal, but being able to talk to him in a professional capacity today was a real thrill for me.

So, yeah. Good times.

Anyway, more on that later. Right now, let's get into the comics, as that's kind of the point of this feature. I have a few single issues on the list for today, but the book I'm most looking forward to picking up is the hardcover collection of Mark Waid's and Paolo Rivera's and Marcos Martin's excellent Daredevil relaunch from Marvel.
This is, in my opinion, the best superhero comic book on the stands today. Personally, I don't think there's anything in the past year that does the job better than Waid and Rivera's new-old take on Daredevil.

I use that confusing description not because I'm a bad writer (that's only part of it), but because Waid's story introduces us to a lighter DD than we've seen in...well, in forever.

Since Frank Miller dragged ol' Matt Murdock through the ringer in the 1980s, all previous writers have done essentially the same. Since that seminal Miller run on the book--which I still hold up as some of the very best comic book storytelling of all time--Daredevil has found himself in desperate situation after desperate situation.

And while that's made for some seriously good stories over the years, it just got to a point where all that darkness was too much to take. So Waid and Rivera and Martin dragged the 'Devil out of the dark and into this new series, where we actually see Matt Murdock *GASP* smile!

He also fights crime and acknowledges past tragedies and keeps in complete accord with decades of continuity. As such, these first six issues are some of the very best comics of the past decade.

Here's the description from Marvel for today's trade:

THE DEVIL IS REBORN. RENEWED. RESURRECTED. With new enemies, new friends ... and that same old "grinnin' in the face of hell" attitude, the Man Without Fear is back in action and leading with his face!

Mark Waid (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, IRREDEEMABLE, RUSE) joins neo-legendary artists Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin for a new spin on Daredevil that will leave you gasping for air. Having turned his world upside over the past several years, Matt Murdock realizes that justice may not be blind to his past and villains may not be the only ones looking for answers. Bring it on. if Matt Murdock could see what he was doing ... he'd be terrified.


Now, am I prone to exaggeration? Absolutely. But in this case, lots of other people agree with me (IGN called it 2011's best new series, so there). If you're new to the character, pick this book up. If you've drifted away from the character in recent years due to the excessively depressing situations Matty found himself in, pick this book up.

If you like comics, pick this book up. Just...trust me.

Good comics are worthy of wide audiences, and in a year that has seen some big-time negative reaction from a fan base tired of events and cross-overs, this new Daredevil series is a welcome relief, and one that proves that even "corporate" comics can have a soul.

With that, I'm back on the job. But before I head out--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Exfanding Review: Chip

Sometimes you need to step out of the box a bit and read something completely different. So last night I decided to pop open my pocket-size compendium edition of Richard Moore’s excellent Antarctic Press series, Chip.

Richard Moore is the writer/artist of Boneyard, one of my favorite comics series of all time. With Chip, Moore brings to the table his trademark irreverent humor and wonderful cartooning sensibilities.

Chip tells the story of the world’s tiniest gargoyle, who lives on a farm in upstate New York where gargoyles are hand-chiseled by the farm's owner. Also, all the gargoyles can walk and talk.

(That's important.)

The compendium edition available on Amazon combines Moore's two Chip mini-series and follows the diminutive gargoyle as he quests to become the most terrifying gargoyle who ever lived.

The image of Chip--standing in at just under 4 inches tall--next to the other gargoyles on the farm is funny enough, but throw in the protagonist's penchant for bold words and--we'll say--overestimation of his own abilities, and you've got a winning tale.

What's more, though, this comic book is actually and truly targeted at an all-ages audience. This is a Big Deal in comics today because, let's face it, most all-ages books are simply not good.

Either they don't work as a kid's book, or they prove to be unreadable for adults.

But in Chip, Moore straddles that line brilliantly and has produced something that can entertain on a number of levels.

On that note, over the past couple of years, Moore has very quietly put out some of the best books that the comics market has to offer.

His new series, Gobs, is another whimsical (though not as all-ages-friendly as Chip) tale featuring all manner of mythical creatures.

Both books present wonderful--and much needed--escapes from the superhero tropes that so flood the market.

So check out Chip--it officially has the Exfanding Seal of Approval.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Exfanding New Horizons

When I wrote my first few posts for Exfanding Your Horizons back in late 2008, I had grand plans of introducing at least one new fandom per week. Over time, those grand plans mellowed into a goal of one new fandom per month--given the time and effort required to write a satisfactorily thorough introduction, and in the interest of not prematurely running out of fandoms to discuss, this seemed more reasonable. Once my all-time favorite fandoms were introduced, however, I found myself struggling to come up with new ways to exfand your horizons--most of the other fandoms I could talk about were ones I myself was still exploring, and I'm too much of a completionist to introduce just 60% of the Stargate TV and movie franchise.
Looking back at 2011, there's a huge gap between my introduction to Dragon Warrior and my last formal introduction before it, a post about Nabisco toasted chips (which, despite the subtitle, "A Legitimate Snack," barely feels like a legitimate introduction to me). I'd talked about other new fandoms in the interim, such as Axe Cop, but not in enough depth to feel like I was upholding one of the founding principles of this blog. I've been excited about expanding people's fandom horizons since Day One, and I've been feeling like a slacker the past two years or so.

However, it occurred to me last night that I haven't been thinking broadly enough. I recently wrote a guide to becoming a minor Internet celebrity; before that was an episode guide for Star Trek: The Original and Animated Series. Alex and I joined forces for another round of Gifts for Geeks, and back toward the beginning of the year, Alex produced a great guide to commissioning an artist. I've been too fixated on introductions to realize that guides and how-to's are just as much a way of expanding one's horizons about a fandom.

That being said, I'm now looking forward to a year of doing one of the things I do best: doling out copious amounts of unsolicited advice. There's a guide to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Mega Man tips and tricks in the works, but there's always room for more--what would you like to see this year?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Bark Side

With the Super Bowl fast approaching, advertisers everywhere are working overtime to prep those wonderful, wonderful commercials.

And because everything is over-the-top crazy these days, some companies have taken to releasing previews for their upcoming Super Bowl spots.

That's right--like movie trailers, only for commercials.

Insane? Sure. But at least we get things like this, from Volkswagen. It's called "The Bark Side" and, well, I'm posting it today just because.

Enjoy, and Happy Sunday.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Exfanding Review: Fullmetal Alchemist

A fair warning: Here be spoilers.

A few times this month I've referenced Fullmetal Alchemist, the anime series about two young boys in search of the Philosopher's Stone, the fabled red rock that will allow an alchemist to ignore the law of equivalent exchange: that you can only get as much as you put in. Ed and Al (whose names together form a clever anagram for "lead," the substance historical alchemists sought to transform into gold) aren't even tall enough to ride Space Mountain at Disney World when their mother dies, and with their father long gone, they do what any grade-school kids would do: use the sophisticated and forbidden alchemy practice of human transmutation to resurrect their dead mother.

There's only one catch: equivalent exchange. What's a fair trade for a human life? Ed finds out the hard way that it costs an arm and a leg, quite literally. Al loses his entire body, but is saved from total annihilation when, in desperation, his brother's alchemy anchors Al's soul to a nearby suit of armor. What do their sacrifices gain them? A horrific imitation of their mother that dies shortly after its creation.

Fast forward several years. The boys have realized their mistake; now they just want their real bodies back. Al remains a huge walking suit of armor. Ed now has mechanical replacement limbs, and still isn't tall enough to ride Space Mountain. So they set off on a quest for the mythical stone that can undo the damage without requiring two more limbs and another body to do it.

Along the way, they encounter others who have experimented with human transmutation, and others in search of the Philosopher's Stone. The interplay of motives and actions between characters makes for an intriguing series with plenty of plot twists, the characters are intriguing and memorable, and there's enough humor to keep the heavy subject matter from becoming too overwhelming. Still, with less than ten episodes to go until the end of the series, my enthusiasm for the show is gradually giving way to a sort of mild depression that I'm ready to shake off.

Characters continually go to disturbing lengths to achieve their goals, and unhappy events (and flashbacks to unhappy events) are commonplace--yet these aren't responsible for the gloom that's been setting in. I can appreciate that these characters and these situations make the story as engaging as it is; we could still have a good story without anyone ever blending their dog with their innocent daughter to create a new creature, but the psychological impact that anyone would ever do such a thing gives an incredible amount of depth to the story and the characters.

I think that's just it: I can handle the plot, but what's weighing on me most is what the plot is saying about the characters.

Look at any character who's after the Philosopher's Stone. Look at any character who's tried to bring back the dead. Though there are still a number of motives to be uncovered in these last few episodes, there's a recurring theme: these people cannot let go of the past.

I will be the first to admit that I live happily in the past--I play retro video games, I hold off on new technology until it's old, and I wax nostalgic about the joy and simplicity of days gone by. Yet I embrace the present, look forward to the future, and am not so firmly rooted in the past that I let it consume my every thought and action. The characters in Fullmetal Alchemist are driven to reclaim what was lost or what should have been, reliving the past until things turn out right.

The boy seeking the restoration of his lost limbs, despite being told repeatedly how beneficial his mechanical ones are...

The man who has devoted his life to avenging his dead brother and fallen people...

The husband who creates living puppets to remind him of his late wife...

The military officer whose ambition to move up in the ranks is fueled by his fear of being ordered to repeat his mistakes...

Even here, the principle of equivalent exchange applies: instead of building a future, these characters are using the present to fix the past. They're giving up one to focus on the other. It's sad to see the tragedy that has befallen these characters; it's depressing to see them dragging themselves backward when the only way for their wounds to truly heal is by moving forward.

I dig that I'm invested enough in these characters and their world for this to be making an impact on me. But it's time to move on. For as much as I enjoy the animation style, the action sequences, the characters, and the thought-provoking and humorous dialogue, it's time for someone to get what they want. No matter the resolution--happy, sad, or none at all--I'll take it. There's a handful of episodes left and plenty more anime out there I want to experience; gotta move out from under this cloud if I'm going to see it all.

Friday, January 20, 2012

SOPA Revisited

In a follow up to this week's Waiting for and the issue of the proposed SOPA legislation, I wanted to bring everyone's attention to an independent comics publisher that has joined in the Internet Protest.

Head on over to Timeless Journey Comics, where they are offering two of their top titles, FOR FREE, all week long. Not only that, but the publisher has some very sensible words about what the legislation might mean for all of us.

Exfanding definitely falls under the web of this legislation (Mega Man YouTube videos, anyone? Or how about that one time we linked to the official Sirius Radio clip of The Gaslight Anthem?), so we're following how this whole thing is shaking down pretty closely.

Speaking of, it looks like the first hurdle to stopping the legislation has been cleared as the bill's main proponent has said today that he "will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution." Good for you. Check out the full article, here, at the LA Times.

As with the rest of the Internet, we'll keep watching, but in the meantime, go get issue one of both Mack Turner: Slayer of the Dead and The Argonauts for FREE, and join in the fight!

I've read both books, and I can vouch for how good they are. Go check them out!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mega Man vs Ghosts 'n Goblins

It's been, what, five days since the last time I mentioned Mega Man? Let's fix that. Here's a video I made for GCDotNet, the official YouTube channel of videogame humor website GameCola.net

It's exactly what it sounds like:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 4, Issue 3

Instead of getting into the nitty gritty that is Waiting for Wednesday, a reminder to all you lazy researchers out there.

Today, Wikipedia goes dark for 24 hours.

In a concentrated effort to protest against proposed legislation (the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act, or PIPA, in the U.S. Senate) that will certainly hurt Wiki--and the Internet in general--if passed, that bastion of free and easy information has decided to take a stand.

And, while this is clearly a very serious issue with potentially widespread repercussions down the road, we here at Exfanding would rather treat it like we treat everything else--hilariously. (Well, for the next paragraph, anyway.)

So, yeah, if you have a paper due today or tomorrow that you've put off for as long as humanly possible and you just planned to wing it based on other people's (somewhat reliable) research? Maybe you should think about heading out to the library.

Okay. Hilarity over. Serious Alex, coming through.

Obviously, this proposed legislation is a serious issue and one that I personally feel shows just how huge the cultural gap is between people of my generation and the folks in Washington.

Now, clearly, since I'm (barely hanging on to) my twenties, politicians have, for the entirety of my life, always been much older than me. And there's always been that sense that old people just don't understand the world the way younger people do. (And vice versa, for sure.)

But this whole censoring the Internet thing?

It displays a complete--and, frankly, terrifying--lack of understanding when it comes to advancing technology. Now, I completely understand the desire to stop online piracy. But guess what? Much like the war on drugs, the fight to stop online piracy will be going on forever.

But there are ways to attack the pirates directly--cut off their funding, and they will cease to exist. A blanket censorship proposal? Um, no.

That's like draining Loch Ness to find the monster.

And, in my opinion at least, taking away rights is NEVER the way to go about making a change. Lots of sites, including Google, are participating in protests today, and I think that adds another layer to this whole debate.

The Internet is not a fad, or a niche, or something "that the kids do." The Internet and its multi-billion dollar corporations that call it home are serious players in today's economy.

The voice of the opposition on this is going to be loud, and massive, and it's not going to go away.

-- -- -- --

Oh. Also. New comics come out today. My list is pretty short (See? I can cut down on books!), but there's still some high quality stuff out there. Like the latest issues of Batman and Wonder Woman from DC, Hellblazer from Vertigo, Chew from Image, and Daredevil (which is EXCELLENT!!) from Marvel.

Go. Buy.

But before you do--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Onward to the Next Adventure

With all the creative input I've been receiving the past few weeks, I've been starting to formulate my next Dungeons & Dragons adventure in my head.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has begun to break my mind out of the rut of "hobbits in huts" with surprising locations such as a city comprised of organic shell-looking buildings, rocky stretches of land plagued by blinding red dust storms, and a sort of quarantined area blocked off by towering walls of ghostly energy.

I've been getting ideas for villains from the likes of Fullmetal Alchemist and Bunraku--villains who are formidable in their own right, but downright devastating when working as a team. Tangled reminded me of how much I enjoy creating memorable side characters and injecting a measure of humor into my adventures.

Nearly everything I've been watching, playing, or reading recently has triggered some thought or another about what to throw at my adventurers the next time I run a campaign. Now I just need to figure out where to start.

Literally, where to start.

My first campaign world was the one I inherited from my first Dungeon Master, who decided he'd like to take a break from running the world to play in it instead. I took on the mantle of DM and carried on the quest from where he left off, making his world my own. This world was the setting of every quest I ran in college, its history deepening and its borders expanding on a weekly basis. I made it a point to keep detailed maps and thorough records of world lore for the sake of preserving continuity, but I found that I had written myself into more than a few corners. There were ways out of these corners, to be sure, but I already had enough inspiration for a brand-new campaign setting to be able to let my first world rest comfortably after graduation.

Unlike the old world, the new world was to be planned out farther in advance than a full course schedule would allow, with the players' actions significantly shaping the direction of the world. Virtually every encounter was to be a first contact scenario--the quests were to be set early enough in the world's history that most races had never heard of one another. Magic and other planes had yet to be discovered. Everything the characters did would have an impact somewhere down the line, and there would be forces at work from the very beginning that wouldn't reveal themselves until someone reached Epic-level status and could take them on.

I got sloppy with the record-keeping. I rushed a few adventures out the door and completely blew the opportunity to set things up as I wanted. My world map was a mess. I was so focused on the big picture that I overlooked so many of the smaller details that framed the big picture.

Now I'm here, thinking about where to hold this new quest I've got in mind.

There's the first world, well-established and rich in history. There's the second world, still young enough to be reshaped to better fit my original purpose for it. Any quest I could come up with would easily have a home in one of these worlds, yet the more I mull it over, the more I want to take a crack at a third world.

If this were anything other than a tabletop roleplaying game, I'd be getting annoyed at myself right now for threatening to reboot my franchise again. Yet this isn't a matter of profit, creative poverty, or desire to breathe new life into a dying series. I want to take the lessons I've learned from both worlds and apply them in the creation of something that draws on the best elements of each: a malleable game world with a bit of history behind it, a bit of subtle hinting toward future quests, and plenty to explore in the here and now.

Besides, I never really abandoned the first world, even after creating the second one. The two were always linked, though you didn't hear that from me. How they were linked was a secret I planned to reveal to my players toward the end of their adventures in the second world, and nothing says there's not room for yet another world to be linked somehow. A fresh start doesn't have to mean I'm giving up on the past; all it means is that I've got new stories to tell.

I think it's time to start putting some ideas down on paper.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Panel to Panel

Because I'm in a cliche-y kind of mood this morning, I'd like to start this post out with the following, staggeringly insightful statement: Life is funny sometimes.

Told you it'd be cliche-y.

But tired old cliches are both tired and old precisely because they're usually quite true. And, despite the validity and/or ridiculousness of that previous sentence, I do have a point I'd like to make today. Only, as with most things when it comes to my writing, it's taking me a little while to get there.

I just find it funny--not "haha funny," mind you--that just a couple weeks ago, I was stressed out to the max, worrying about every possible future event that might have been on my horizon. As I've talked about, just before Christmas, I left a job that I had spent the past two years doing, working with truly wonderful, smart people.

I'd carved out a nice little thing for myself, and I was content with it.

But, as life tends to do, an opportunity arose that I couldn't ignore. And then, when I wished that there might be some kind of sign to help me make a decision about what to do--take a new gig or stick with the one I had--a sign literally fell on my head and all but made the decision for me.

Still, I was hesitant and more than a little angry and sad at the way things went down.

But in the end I knew that I had to make a move. And now, two weeks into the new job, I'm glad I did. Don't get me wrong--I am by no means an optimist, and I fully understand that every job has its ups and downs and sometimes the downs can be crushing. And I still miss the people I used to work with, but I'm very fortunate that I've been able to stay in touch with a good number of them.

But the way things are now, I get to spend the majority of my day writing.

Like, for a living.

After being an editor for seven years and working on everything from high school textbooks to how-to guides on laying tile, from interviews with pet psychics (Note to Self: Must write a post about that, one day) to a book on built-in furniture, I've always had a...let's say, love/hate relationship with writers.

And I've always wanted to write my own stuff, obviously, but as an editor, that can be poison. So I all but knocked that thought out of my head.

Sure, Nathaniel and I write on this blog every day and quite a few people read what we lay down on the keys. But for me, at least, Exfanding has always been my only venue to get my work out there. Nathaniel, on the other hand, writes for GameCola and produces an insane number of YouTube videos--both of which garner an impressive number of readers and watchers.

Now, though, I have a new creative outlet (that's WWE.com, kiddies) and, like I said, I spend my days writing.

And that's just fine with me.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Creative Input Overdrive

Over the course of the last few months, I have effectively doubled the number of ongoing entertainment projects I have. Normally I keep the numbers in check--two books, two hour-long TV shows, a handful of half-hour TV shows, two or three video games, and the occasional movie or trade paperback. I've got some free time again, so it's possible to juggle everything and not forget where I left off.

I've mentioned before some of the shows and games my wife and I have been working through--Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Fullmetal Alchemist, and LEGO Batman, along with The Simpsons, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Sam & Max Save the World, to name a few.

At the same time, I've been playing through Sparkster, Kirby & the Amazing Mirror, and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on my own. I've also been keeping up with four different books (which I haven't done such a practice was required for school!), including my first James Bond novel, The Facts of Death.
Between Netflix, Christmas, the honeymoon, and the Great Comic Book Adventure we never talked about, there's plenty of new material in the house to keep me busy for a while. On top of all that, there's been a Space Quest renaissance thanks to the release of three long-awaited fangames over the course of a few weeks, two of which caught me totally by surprise.

Imagine that one of your favorite game series has been officially dead for about as long as Duke Nukem Forever was in development, and that the fan community has been more or less dormant for about a decade (aside from rumors that a few fans might eventually finish a remake of the first sequel)...and then suddenly there's not one but three new games to play. Of course we can wait a little longer to unpack the boxes in the guest bedroom.

It's refreshing and energizing to have such variety, and to have the freedom to marathon one thing or bounce back and forth between a number of other things whenever the mood suits us. I'm excited to return to my side projects that have been on hold--all this creative input is giving me some great ideas, and I'm relaxed enough to dedicate however much time is needed without getting too anxious about anything else that's on my plate.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

So You Want to Be a Minor Internet Celebrity?

I receive a good many requests on my YouTube channel for suggestions on how to produce quality content, increase viewer traffic, and generally be better at playing Mega Man. Over the years, I've been happy to oblige—I may not necessarily be the foremost expert in any of the aforementioned matters, but I've enjoyed enough success to have at least a few insights, and I love sharing my interests, knowledge, and advice with others.

What follows is a collection of pointers and recommendations for aspiring YouTube stars, especially those focusing on video game playthroughs. I'll cover Mega Man tips and tricks in a separate post, as there's more than enough ground to cover as it is with creating and promoting videos. I make no promises about the effectiveness of my suggestions, but I hope you will find them helpful, and I welcome your feedback!

How do I become popular on YouTube?

Before we even begin to address that question, make sure you're sure of what you're asking. I make a key distinction here: If people visit your channel, that's attention; if people keep coming back for more, that's popularity. I've got plenty of ideas about how to attract attention to your videos, but it's ultimately your content that determines your popularity. Content is king. Content is the difference between a screaming baby and a screaming baby made of solid gold.

It's safe to make three assumptions about your content, whatever it may be:

1.) Someone's already done it
2.) Someone's already done it better
3.) Someone's going to do it even better in the future

These assumptions are humbling, but not crippling. Until you are being hailed by the entire Internet as "the next Star Wars Kid," let these assumptions serve as constant reminders that you are not the next Star Wars Kid. It's not the number of views that matters so much as whether your video is worth watching in the first place. Take Hollywood as an example: Avatar may have way outgrossed Serenity at the box office, but there's enough room in the universe (and in fans' hearts) for both Pandora and Miranda. Regardless of the number of fans, each of these movies brings enough content to the table that viewers find to be worthwhile.

That's really all there is to it: figure out what it is that makes your videos worth watching. For my Mega Man videos, it's the unique blend of clean humor, informative and thoughtful commentary, skillful and experienced playing, creative special weapon use, goofing around, and showing off. Other people specialize in damage-free runs or rely on gimmicks to set themselves apart. Even if you're a strictly average player with no particular experience with making commentary, enthusiasm (or outright hatred) for a game goes a long way.

Once you've determined the appeal of your videos, be careful not to ruin it with any of the following:

- Overlong introductions. Unless you're the Star Wars Kid, assume that no one knows who you are, and that no one cares. Say hello and get on with it. If you haven't told a funny joke, started playing, or done something to grab people's attention within the first 10-20 seconds of the video, you've effectively lost your audience.

- Dull or repetitive video footage. It's okay if you're not very good at Metroid, so long as you edit out the worst parts that aren't hilariously bad. Unless you've got awesome commentary, your video is going to drag if you show yourself dying in the same spot in the same way for five minutes straight. The same goes for taking your hands off the controller to talk about something—a momentary pause is fine, but any more than 5-10 seconds becomes interminable if your character isn't preparing to take a nap on the floor and mutter about pasta in his sleep.

- Excessively awkward, repetitive, or long-winded commentary. Plan out what you want to say in advance, and practice it. Pay attention to the words or phrases you use frequently (like, um, you know, etc.), and guess how many times you can get away with saying them before your audience wants to rip their ears off. And, if you're truly uncomfortable recording audio commentary, stick with text commentary.

- Unsettlingly loud noises. Please, warn people if you are going to scream at the game.

- Terrible video/audio quality. You don't need to have state-of-the-art equipment, but a Handycam recording your TV over your shoulder probably won't cut it anymore.

How do I promote my YouTube videos?

Once you've got some good content lined up, the next step is to make it accessible to the people who might like to see it. The best videos promote themselves; word of mouth is powerful indeed, but there are plenty of ways you can nudge your videos into the spotlight:

- Keep your channel organized. If viewers like your work, it shouldn't be a challenge for them to find and watch everything you've produced. Playlists are invaluable, not only for video series but for individual, unrelated videos that would get lost in the archives without a "Random Videos" playlist to hang out in. And, for the love of Xenon, choose a visual theme for your channel that doesn't leave people squinting to read the text.

- Provide descriptive, unique titles for your videos. "Let's Play [Name of Game]" is right out, unless you've got an eye-catching subtitle. Imagine how your video will appear in a list of search results—would you pay any attention to your title?

- Along those same lines, select interesting, readily identifiable video thumbnails that show up well at a small resolution. If the name doesn't attract someone's attention, maybe the picture will.

- Don't be lazy: write video and playlist descriptions. This will help you in search results, and this also provides your viewers with something to read if they start to grow weary of your video—which will buy you at least a few more seconds for your video to get to a more interesting part.

- Provide meaningful search tags. If you were to misplace your video, what terms would you use to find it? Use quotation marks if certain words are likely to be searched for together, like "Phoenix Wright" or "bologna sandwich." List everything you see in-game: trees, bottomless pits, monkeys, bazookas, etc. List everything about the game: system, release year/decade, genre, publisher, difficulty, etc. Use lots of adjectives, and don't forget to reference what you talk about in your commentary.

- Respond to comments. All of them. Creating videos is more rewarding when you're connecting with the people who enjoy them; people remember you better if they've had a conversation with you; and you can build a community of fans by simply taking a few moments to chat.

- Leave comments on other people's channels and videos. If you've got interesting things to say, or if you've at least got a cool username, people may follow you back to your channel.

- Promote your videos outside of YouTube. E-mail your family when a new video comes out, put a link to your channel in your forum signatures, embed your videos in posts on your blog, rent a zeppelin with your channel name printed on it, etc.

- Refrain from harassing your viewers. If they like you, they'll subscribe. If you're on Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever, it's fine to make those links available—just don't beat people over the head with them.

What now?

Time to put some of this advice into practice, I'd say. Let me know how things work out, and whether you've got any suggestions of your own!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Toy Stories

Let's talk toys.

A strange (fragmented) sentence, coming from my keyboard? Perhaps. But just yesterday it dawned on me that, at my new job, I was actually encouraged to bring in toys--sorry, action figures--to make my desk look more "presentable."

It didn't sink in at the time how...awesome...that is.

See, working at a place where action figures are not only acceptable, but encouraged? Yeah, I never figured I'd get to a place like that.

But here I am, and I can honestly say it's pretty cool.

To every job I've held (which, at this point, that's several), I've brought a few constants--a copy of Shakespeare's Tragedies that i picked up at a library book sale, The Harvard Classics edition of Marlowe-Shakespeare and a beaten up copy of Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym--both from that same library sale.

There's also the two books on Abe Lincoln quotations and a cool little paperweight shaped like a pencil with the words, "Make Your Mark" engraved in it.

Those things come with me, always.

But the toys? Not so much. So now I'm gonna throw this out to all you Exfanders. I have a couple of toys displayed--wrestling figures from years ago, a new CM Punk figure that came out last month, and a mini-bust of Wolverine (oh, yeah, and many of my co-workers are way into comics, so that stuff is cool, too).

But I need more stuff. Any suggestions on what toys are cool, or what toys will look good?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Background Check

Yesterday, this is what my computer's desktop background looked like:

Today, after leaving my wife alone with Microsoft Paint for a while, this is what my computer's desktop background looks like:

Click to enlarge. Can you spot the difference?