Friday, August 31, 2012

Month in Review: August 2012

With one blogger having all but completely disappeared, and the other one writing just enough to reassure our readers that the name of the blog hadn't changed to "Abandoning Your Horizons," there's not much to see from August, at least in terms of quantity. In terms of quality...well, that's always open to debate. Most of these posts fall into the "nice, but nonessential" category, but there's two in particular--a birthday celebration and a rare political discussion--that we feel should not be missed.

Here's what August 2012 looked like:

- Sunday Spotlight on geek musician Jonathan Coulton and a trio of Netflix recommendations

- A reassurance to our readers that we're still here

- The announcement of Exfanding's official YouTube channel, which is mostly just for video game music

- An open letter to the American public regarding the upcoming and contentious Presidential election

- A double dose of Dungeons & Dragons, with a dash of video games

- A celebration of Exfanding's fourth birthday, with a cameo by someone who we swear is actually Alex, Exfanding's MIA co-blogger, and not just Nathaniel pretending to be Alex

Thursday, August 30, 2012

GameCola Recap: August 2012

August was a month of collaboration for me on videogame humor website There's a lot of material this time around that's not only humorous, but insightful--the coveted double whammy of writing. Take a peek, why don'cha!

- [NSFW] GameCola's Most Essential/Influential Games of All Time (A-D)

- Q&AmeCola: Games That Kickstarter Should Resurrect

- GameCola's Most Essential/Influential Games of All Time (E-K)

- Q&AmeCola: Fighting Dream Team 


- GC Podcast #36 on YouTube: Boring Gaz Problems

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Exfanding Your Horizons Turns 4 Years Old!

It's official: Exfanding Your Horizons is four years old! Happy birthday to us!
Because it's now a tradition, we'll be following in the blogsteps of the last three years with a Q&A format guaranteed to please new readers and longtime Exfanders alike. (DISCLAIMER: That's just talk; we guarantee nothing.) Due to various circumstances, this year we've condensed the list from ten questions down to five. There's probably DLC already on the disc for the other five questions, though, so it's not like we're totally gypping you.

Our blog rules.

Hey...didn't there used to be two guys writing this blog?

NATHANIEL: Um...there did used to be two of us. It just occurred to me that perhaps I didn't back up the Alex Posts Stuff widget before I asked my HTML-savvy wife to do most of the work overhauling the blog, because I haven't seen him since.

ALEX: *Crawls out from under his rock, locks around, sees shadow, thinks about heading back under his rock.*

This past year, in an effort to minimize filler and still continue to write amidst everything else going on in your lives, you introduced a new weekly column and several revisions and reductions to the regular posting schedule. For the last six weeks, one of you has been blogging solo while the other has been completely occupied with other endeavors. How do you feel about all that?

ALEX: It certainly wasn’t the ideal for me to stop writing for the blog, but unfortunately, it was (and, sadly, still is) a necessary evil. I’ve pretty much stopped sleeping in an effort to extend the day, so sitting down to write up an Exfanding post should theoretically be something I can handle. And yet, apparently I cannot.

Handle writing an Exfanding post, that is.

I actually just got back from a week in LA for work, and this week has been nonstop crazy as I try to finish off everything that’s due. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though, and I honestly do hope to be back to the blog pretty soon.

NATHANIEL: Hey, you're here now, and that means a lot. Writing solo for a two-person blog is like performing without your co-star when the marquee clearly says "[pick one: Laurel and Hardy / Abbott and Costello / The Blues Brothers / Jay and Silent Bob / Penn and Teller / etc.]." You can make references to the other person, and carry on with the same kind of material as usual, but after a certain point it's almost disingenuous to work as a one-person duo.

It honestly feels like a different blog now than it did a month ago. Yes, the new look is part of it. But I think what was most jarring to me was spending a couple of years posting every single day virtually without exception, and then suddenly looking at the blog one day to see that it'd been just me posting two or three things per week. That all happened over the course of less than a month, and I don't think either of us expected things to be so drastic or last so long.

It'd be one thing if we'd just decided to pursue other projects, and I ended up starting up a blog of my own, but Exfanding has always been about collaboration. I find myself missing the joint posts and the theme weeks and the daily back-and-forth e-mail banter that we had before things got busy for us--and I miss having Alex's posts to read. Like I said two years ago, I'm a fan of Exfanding.

All that being said, there's still been a lot of good to come out of the changes we've made to accommodate both our crazy schedules. Sunday Spotlight has rejuvenated my focus on sharing new fandoms, which is ostensibly what this blog is all about. By relaxing our self-imposed posting deadlines, I've been able to take my time on writing the kinds of long, rambly posts I like best. Consequently, that occasional feeling of, "Aw, I need to write a blog post tonight," has all but disappeared, and the number of new "favorite posts" I've been able to write will make our Year in Review for 2012 even more of a challenge, assuming we get to our 2011 edition before then.

Whether it was Flashback Week, being on a Konami kick, the epic tale of the wedding saga, New York Comic-Con/Anime Festival, the ups and downs of self-publishing, or your latest D&D quest, you've told a lot of stories in the last twelve months. You've also been a bit more outspoken, reflective, ranty, and soapboxy than usual. Where do you see your writing going over the course of the next year?

ALEX: Hopefully on the blog.

No, really. I don’t care what I’m writing about; I just want to have the time to write for the blog again.

NATHANIEL: Well, if Alex will be writing again, then maybe I won't take over his Waiting for Wednesday column and talk every week about all the comics on my shelf that I picked up ages ago but haven't gotten around to reading yet.

Actually, that idea's not half bad...

::ahem::  I'm looking forward to taking a break from sprawling stories than span multiple posts. Writing them is fun, but it's also exhausting, especially when you get up to seven or eight parts. I've always been a short story and poetry kind of guy, and these things keep turning into novellas, so I'll be striving to find new ways to keep my storytelling concise. I'm hoping to maintain and expand the variety of topics I cover as well; I mean, off the top of my head, I can't even think of the last time I mentioned Mega Man.

Got any big, geeky plans we can look forward to hearing about in the near future?

NATHANIEL: Once The Avengers comes out on video in late September, you can bet I'll be hosting a 13-hour movie marathon of everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer so far.

Now that I've already brought up Mega Man once in this post, I can also mention that I'll be doing something for the Blue Bomber's 25th anniversary in December. If I can swing it, I'll do a streaming livecast marathon over the Internet, but I make no promises because I'm not even sure if "a streaming livecast over the Internet" is the proper terminology for what I'm thinking of, let alone something I've got the technology or know-how to properly pull off. I might have to get one or two of my tech-smart friends involved.

Alex, I know you've got something exciting planned.

ALEX: Yes! I have spent the past several days piled under printer files for my forthcoming children’s book, which is scheduled to be on sale the first week of October.

Aside from that, I’ve also started work on a comic book for which I’ve hired a really kicking artist. We plan on completing the entire first issue, then posting it (for free) on KickStarter in an effort to get people to pay for the rest of the series. It’ll be a four-issue mini, and it’s an idea I’ve toyed with for a while now.

Hmmm…what else? Oh! I’m going to the Baltimore Comic Con in an effort to drum up some interest in the children’s book, and in the comic series. I haven’t been to a convention since last year’s New York show, so I am really excited to make that trip.

Dare I ask about that blog book you keep threatening to release?

ALEX: I don’t even want to talk about books, or getting books printed. Seriously. Ask Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL: Oh, sure. Ask Nathaniel. I think it's been long enough now that we can file this one under "Things We'd Like To See, But Probably Won't," along with the full story of The Great Comic Book Adventure of 2011 and Part 2 of that Transformers 101 guest post.

Oh, jeez. Didn't we promise you a t-shirt, too?

ALEX: And Exfanding Hand Puppet Theater©.

NATHANIEL: Yeah. You can officially stop listening to everything we promise you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Double (Dungeons &) Dragon(s)

It's like I'm back in college again. I've got two D&D quests I'm currently writing--one is a new long-term campaign with a dedicated group of players and characters, which I haven't had since I graduated; the other is a D&D quest...based on a video game.

Toward the end of my time in school I held a one-shot quest where the players used (loose) D&D rules to create an anime or video game character of their choice, banding together as a ragtag bunch of heroes fighting their way through everything from a level of Mario Kart to Worms: Armageddon. It was utterly ridiculous, and an absolute hoot, and now I'm working on smashing tabletop roleplaying together with video games once more for a very unusual edition of The GameCola Podcast. I won't spoil the surprise of the game our quest will be based on, but it's safe to say it's one I've talked about before on this blog.

As for the long-term quest, I'm finally able to bust out an idea I've been sitting on for about five or six years, and that alone has me very excited. I'm taking my time to map this one out, though; I've got a few story arcs in mind, all wrapped within one main plot, and I want to make sure I do it right. No doubt there will be at least one gelatinous cube somewhere, a magical crystal, and an incomprehensible number of pillars and tapestries.

All I mean to say here is that there's some fun story potential on the horizon, and to not worry too much if you don't see me quite as often around here for the next few weeks--it just means that I'm writing D&D instead.

Or playing Morrowind. For inspiration.

Oh, man. Or blogging about playing Morrowind instead of blogging. I'm so doing that this week.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Open Letter to the American Public

Hey America,

We've got an election coming up, as you're surely aware. I mean, how could you not be aware? I barely follow politics, and I've become a veritable expert on the election just by skimming through what my friends are posting on Facebook. That's why I'm eminently qualified to share a little bit of sage advice with you: not because I know anything about politics, but because I see what you've been posting.

Let me give you a little background about myself first, though. I'm registered independent. I haven't been around long enough to have voted in too many Presidential elections, but so far I've voted for a candidate from a different party each time. The way I'm leaning right now, I see that trend continuing through this election, but I haven't done enough research yet to come to a final decision. Normally I try to abstain from politics until a day or two before the election, at which point I'll put aside an afternoon or evening to inform myself about who the various candidates are, what their stances are on "the issues," and the highlights and lowlights of the campaign trail. I typically look at a blend of moderate, liberal, conservative, and unbiased sources when doing my research, so as to get a broader and hopefully more objective picture of who's running.

I'll take some time to think over my ultimate decision, but even once I've decided who I'll vote for, I'll still listen to anybody who wants to persuade me otherwise. Once I was heading to the polls for a local election and was stopped by a campaigner for The Other Guy, who tried to change my mind at the last minute. I was pretty well set on my candidate, but instead of dismissing him outright, I let him pitch his candidate to me for a minute or two. After he concluded his spiel, I asked him, "So what is it about this guy that has you committed enough to stand outside in the cold, holding his sign for hours on end?" The man's reply, with a heartfelt grin: "He's my brother." Easy to forget that politicians are regular people with friends and families, and not the heroes and villains we so often make them out to be.

America, I've seen the way we talk about the candidates for this election. Of course we want to see our candidate win. Of course we like it when the opposition goofs up. We're a competitive nation with a news media that turns stuff like this into an entertainment spectacle; it's only natural for us to get swept away a little. Get excited; get defensive; get angry--you're betting the next four years on your horse, so you'd better be invested in this race. But when that investment turns into unbridled malice against anyone who doesn't agree with you or your candidate, you'd best step back and consider whether you've inadvertently bet your family and friendships, too. Shouting your opinions doesn't make you any more right; it makes you abrasive, and a poor recruiter for anyone who might otherwise listen to what you've got to say. We may be earnestly passionate at heart about the issues, but more and more we're coming across as irrational zealots who can't interact peaceably with people of varying viewpoints. We've broken politics down to a vicious "us versus them" mentality that completely overlooks the complexities of political issues and the humans who weigh in on them.

I can only speak for myself, but when I vote, I vote for the person who I believe is best for the country. What that means in this election might be completely different for the next one. I'm registered independent for the same reasons I don't always play a monk or a paladin in D&D: though they're fun classes that really click with my playing style, sometimes what the party really needs is a cleric or a ninja or a mystic theurge...and sometimes playing as a different class can give you a fresh perspective on the game.

We assume we have to pick either a Democrat or a Republican. We don't. We assume the country will fall apart if The Other Guy wins. Maybe it will. But we're not electing an all-powerful Dictator-for-Life who controls every aspect of our lives; we're voting to either replace or renew the biggest engine in our political machine, and the backup generator that goes with it. Whether the engine runs rough or smoothly, or breaks down altogether, there are so many other parts to this machine--and so many additional factors, both inside and outside the country--that nobody can guarantee how things are going to work. The best we can do is make an informed decision about the person we vote for, celebrate or commiserate once the results come in, and then stop complaining or rubbing it in people's faces.

You know what's more important than voting for the person who'll do the right thing for the country? You, yourself, doing the right thing for your country. So your candidate lost. Quit whining and use whatever skills and opportunities you have to still make their vision a reality. So your candidate won. Quit partying and use whatever skills and opportunities you have to ensure your candidate's vision is achievable and sustainable. So you've got no skills or opportunities to do much of anything. Be a decent human being; maybe you'll earn someone's respect and gain their ear when it's time to talk about the next Presidential election. And, failing that, you'll be a decent human being.

Politicians make great decisions and horrendous decisions. Sometimes we prosper because of them, and sometimes our lives are torn apart because of them. But that's really no different than the decisions we make for ourselves, and the decisions the people immediately around us make. No matter what happens during the rest of this election, and no matter what the next four years may bring, don't let the people get lost in the shuffle.

Stay cool, America.


-Nathaniel Hoover

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Exfanding Your Horizons on YouTube

It's taken almost four years, but this humble little blog finally has its own YouTube channel. Before you get all excited--no, we're not really posting any content. Right now, it's really just a place for me to assemble playlists of other people's video game music without cluttering up my GeminiLaser channel. However! We've at least reserved the channel name so that, should we ever decide to make videos, we won't risk having to settle on whatever goofy approximation of our name hasn't yet been claimed, like "Expanding."

Currently on the channel are two Mega Man Megaplaylists, forming literally half a day's worth of music from Mega Man 1-10, Mega Man I-V (Game Boy), Mega Man & Bass (technically Rockman & Forte, the Japanese SNES-equivalent with the same tunes but better audio), and Mega Man: The Wily Wars. Plans are in place to add playlists for Gradius, Metroid, and at least one or two other series before I remember that I'm neglecting a half-dozen other side projects I should probably be working on instead. On the plus side, all the content here has already been created; putting together a couple playlists shouldn't take too much time, right?
This particular project came about as a response to the relative disorganization of video game music on YouTube. Entire soundtracks are posted without being grouped into playlists; finding playlists on people's channels is a chore; titles, descriptions, and search tags are a mess; sound quality is all over the place...seriously, it's like YouTube lets people upload whatever the heck they want with no quality control whatsoever. Rather than continue to sift through ugly search results and bookmark playlists whose URLs keep changing for some reason, I finally decided to construct my own comprehensive playlists--ones that I could launch and leave alone for hours at a clip, and ones that other VG music aficionados might find useful.

I'm open to suggestions as always, but until such time as we start posting actual content, this is one side project that's truly just for my own entertainment. Still, I hope you get some enjoyment out of it all the same.

Here's the link once more:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Netflix Recommendations

With nothing particular in mind to spotlight this Sunday, I'd like to share a few quick recommendations of things my wife and I have recently watched on Netflix:

Mystic Pizza (1988)
This seemingly predictable story of three girls working at a Connecticut pizza joint ended up being a pleasantly unconventional, comedic, and heartwarming tale of love and friendship. And pizza. I realize that's about the most generic description of a movie anybody could possibly write (seriously, "heartwarming tale of love and friendship"?), but it's a cut above the average...whatever category of movie this is...because the characters are believably human. It took a little while for me to get invested in it, but we ended up giving it a 4/5, though I could have been persuaded to settle on a 3/5 instead.

What Women Want (2011)
This Chinese remake of the 2000 Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt film by the same name is an almost verbatim retelling of the original movie (as I remember it, anyhow), but there's more than enough unique flavor brought to the table by the cultural and casting differences to make this not only a worthy remake, but an enjoyable movie in its own right. There's a fun chemistry between the two leads, and the supporting characters are amusingly quirky, but triple-threat actor Andy Lau really sold me on the film--whether dancing, singing karaoke, or emoting dynamically, his sheer force of talent and personality got me to like him not just as his character, but as an actor--I'd easily watch another of his films simply because he's in it, and that's not something I can say about more than a dozen or so actors. We also gave this one a 4/5.

Cosi (1996)
Organizing the patients of a mental institution to put on an opera by Mozart sounds like something with equal potential to be touching, hilarious, or incredibly uncomfortable, depending on how it's handled. Fortunately, this Australian film does a good job of balancing the first two and somewhat minimizing the third, although it takes a while for the momentum to get going and the humor to fully develop. I was inclined to give this a 3/5, but everything builds up to a riotous conclusion, complete with what might be the most wonderful post-credits tag we've ever seen in a movie...which is what ultimately swayed us to also give this one a 4/5.

I picked this one out after seeing Colin Hay in concert and being curious about his film and television appearances, but it was an added bonus to see the actor who played Faramir in Lord of the Rings alongside him as a fellow patient of the mental institution (which, of course, we didn't realize until after the fact).

Friday, August 10, 2012

We're Still Here

We haven't forgotten about the blog, I promise. Despite all but completely abandoning our new posting model, and despite Alex's extended leave of absence, we're still here. I'm working on GameCola stuff, and Alex is working on literally every other thing on the face of the planet there is to do.

It's how I feel about Morrowind sometimes, with all the sidequests I pick up--"Hey, aren't you supposed to be out saving the world?" "Yeah, but first I've gotta solve this murder mystery and deliver this clay pot to somebody and follow a magical white guar into the hills." Writing for Exfanding is in our quest journals, but we're devoting more attention to other things at the moment.

Alex promises (and you can quote him on this) to return in a week or two or three; I promise (and you shouldn't quote me on this) that I'll at least continue with Sunday Spotlight and a minimum of one post somewhere else during the week in the meantime. That's our new new posting model. I.e.: subject to change whenever we feel like it.

It's refreshing, in a way, to not be constrained by a regular posting schedule. Conforming to a daily deadline for over three years was a great help in keeping us sharp, in practice, and dedicated to continuing this blog. Even if we go a few days at a time without posting nowadays, we've developed enough discipline to not let a few days turn into a week, a month, a year, and another abandoned blog. Would it be easy at this point to casually stop posting and let the blog fade out on its own? Sure. But we've got plenty more stories to tell, lots more fandoms to share, and a blog birthday coming up that we're definitely not going to miss.

And Alex still owes me his half of the Year in Review for 2011, so I'm not letting him go without that.

Even if you've been following us from the beginning, chances are good at least one post slipped by you at some point; we've got nearly four years of posts in the archives, and these frequent lulls between posts are a perfect opportunity to get caught up, and to marvel at how much we've changed over the years (for better, for worse, and for different). There's even one or two posts that I haven't read, because I'm holding off until I've read or watched whatever it is that Alex is spoiling in said posts. Who knows what you'll find?

Aside from the obvious, of course. You'll find almost four years of posts.

We're open to suggestions about posting topics, too, so feel free to toss some ideas our way. So, until next time...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Jonathan Coulton

If you recall my PAX East 2010 Recap, you know that, at least in one point in my life, geek musician Jonathan Coulton was a name to be spoken with disgust. Despite an agreeable musical style and clever lyrics about mad scientists and Swedish furniture stores, I found too many of his fun-loving songs to have undertones a little too dark or depressing for my tastes...but more importantly, his music had been completely ruined for me by venomous hecklers who, in my mind, were indicative of who Jonathan Coulton was and what kind of fans he attracted.

In other words, I wanted to have nothing to do with him or his music. Except "Mr. Fancy Pants." That song was awesome.

I owe much of my current tastes in music to what Pandora has introduced to me, and once again, I have Pandora to blame (or thank; I'm not sure yet) for reintroducing me to Coulton's music in a way that neither made me angry nor caused me to look down on him as a person because of the way I had been introduced. A few of his songs came up on my playlist here and there, and Pandora's vast knowledge of the kinds of songs I do and don't like were supremely helpful in picking out all the tunes in his repertoire that are up my alley. Not the zombie song; not anything that's fun on the surface but makes you feel bad about the human condition if you think about it too hard--all the songs that made me laugh, smile, and want to sing along the way Paul and Storm did at their part of the PAX East concert.

In other words, I gradually found myself liking Jonathan Coulton. Whoa. I still wouldn't call myself a fan, but I like enough of his songs now to not be an anti-fan. So there's that.

For your entertainment, here's a sampling of his music if you're unfamiliar with it (or just want to listen to it again):