Hugh Likes Video Games: Fallout Shelter

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Fallout Shelter
Bethesda Games
Played on Android Mobile
The Post-Apocalypse has been in the zeitgeist lately, in all it’s myriad forms of the end of the world.  From the cinematic wasteland of “Mad Max: Fury Road” to the small-screen shambling of “The Walking Dead.”  But perhaps the most iconic doomsday scenario is still Nuclear War.  And lately, nobody has taken more advantage of the irradiated wasteland than Bethesda Games’ “Fallout” games.  With Fallout 4 burning up the charts, Today seems like a good day to examine their free promotional game, Fallout Shelter for IOS and Android.
While the series is all about exploration, Fallout Shelter sticks closer to home, putting you in the chair of a Vault-Tec overseer.  Starting with some survivors, a few caps, and a hole in the ground, you have to keep your vault running, and your dwellers happy, safe, and healthy.  Imagine a simplified version of The Sims, but with more guns and radioactive scorpions.
The game is presented as a 2D grid, with rooms taking up 1 to 3 spaces on the grid.  As time goes by, and the vault population increases, players can dig deeper and deeper into the earth to expand.  While it requires a bit more horsepower than you might expect, the visuals are cute and engaging, based on the cartoonish Vault-Boy style of Fallout’s mascot.  It ran very smoothly on my Samsung Galaxy S5.  My iPhone 4S didn’t do well, though.
Each dweller has their own simplified stats and inventory based on Fallout’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute system, and most of the game involves choosing where to assign dwellers to get the best use out of their stats, which you can improve with equipment or training rooms.  Being more productive is also key to keeping dwellers happy.
One of the other main parts of the game is increasing your vault population, and unfortunately, this one wasn’t implemented quite as well.  There is only one really effective way to increase your population, and that’s the old-fashioned way.  Later in the game overseers can build radio rooms to call survivors out of the wasteland, but for the most part, your dwellers will have to get busy.  This is accomplished by putting two dwellers of opposite sex in sleeping quarters together and waiting for nature to take its course.  The result is that both dwellers get a big boost of happiness, and the woman is immediately super pregnant.  Then, both dwellers can return to their prospective tasks until the child is born.
The problem is that the game has a system for hookups, but not relationships.  Although it keeps track of parentage to prevent incest, which can accidentally happen when you have a 100+ dwellers, this information is hidden from the player.  By removing any lasting relationships, in spite of the romantic dialog they spout, the mechanic comes off as less of a wooing and more of a breeding program.  This is exacerbated by the fact that only male/female couples can hook up.  It’s not a deal breaker, but it has a lingering authoritarian (and homophobic) vibe to it.  This may have been Bethesda’s intention, as Vault-tec is usually presented as short-sightedly patriarchal in keeping with Fallout’s 1950’s-inspired vision of America, but if so, they didn’t fully commit to the message.  This is especially true considering that breeding dwellers is key to unlocking plans for new rooms.  If you want to build the best spaces for your vault, your dwellers had better get busy.
If you can get past this one glaring flaw, Fallout Shelter is a diverting and open-ended management sim with just enough style and charm to keep you going.  Fallout Shelter is free (with in-app purchases, naturally,) for IOS or Android.
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Hugh Likes Podcasts: Writing Excuses

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Writing Excuses
Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells
Writing Excuses is a master class creative writing course broken up into bite sized chunks.  Hosted by three best-selling novel writers and one of the internet’s most successful cartoonists, each episode goes surprisingly deep on a topic of craft in a very short amount of time.  Their tag line, “Fifteen minutes long because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart,” is falsely modest.  Each one is packed with useful tidbits from leading spec-fic authors.
Essentially secrets of the pros for those struggling to make it, Writing Excuses is on its tenth season and has a huge back catalog covering a wide variety of writing related subjects.  The current season has been examining the process of creating a book from outline all the way to revision.
In addition to being useful, this podcast is also surprisingly entertaining.  The four hosts have an excellent rapport with one another, and they also have a great stage presence.  They also have frequent guest authors for more perspective.
In addition to the topic, each episode ends with a writing exercise or homework assignment to further illustrate the lesson.
Writing Excuses is like the greatest creative writing course you never took, taught by a quartet of engaging experts.  If you are looking for an informative writing podcast, this one should be at the top of your list.

The Gamer’s Guide To Writing: Final Fantasy VII and 3 Act Structure Part I

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Three act structure is a form of plot found very commonly in film, but which can be used in just about every kind of story. As the name suggests, it consists of three parts: The Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution.
Final Fantasy VII was released by Square Soft for Sony Playstation in 1997. A breakout hit for the system, the game had a very cinematic style, and its clear narrative makes it a great example of a game with a classical three act structure. This might be at least partially due to the technological limitations of the system. FF7 originally came on three CD-Rom discs. We can look at each disc roughly equating to one ‘act’ of the three-act structure. Today let’s take a look at the first disc and how it introduces the story and characters. From here on in, we’re cutting right to spoiler territory


Disc one is the the Setup. We are introduced to ex-SOLDIER Cloud Stryfe, mercenary and former guard for the ruthless and world-controlling Shinra Electric Power Company, and Avalanche, the small band of eco-terrorists fighting against them. We meet them in Midgar, Shinra’s grimy, dystopian capital city, built in such a way that the poor are denied even sunlight.
The first act contains the Inciting Incident, the event in the story which changes the direction of the characters. In Final Fantasy VII, this is the murder of President Shinra. As the head of Shinra corporation, he serves as the main antagonist for Cloud and the others. They break into Shinra headquarters to confront him, only to discover he has already been killed by Sephiroth, a powerful SOLDIER thought to be dead. Sephiroth’s appearance as antagonist, and Shinra’s death, the trajectory of the story changes. Cloud and party escape the confines of the City of Midgar and follow Sephiroth’s trail across the expanse of the world, while they are pursued by the Turks, Shinra’s elite unit of special forces.
The first act ends with a plot point that again changes the direction of the story and propels the action into plot two. In Final Fantasy VII, this is of course another confrontation with Sephiroth and another murder. This is the infamous death of Aeris, a healer with an ancient lineage who may hold the key to stopping Sephiroth. Depending on the player, she is also probably Cloud’s primary love interest at this point. Aeris’s murder serves a dual purpose in the story. It is a setback which removes a potential solution to Sephiroth’s mysterious goals. It also raises the stakes by killing a party member and Cloud’s love interest, assuming the player chose her through his actions. This elevates the journey to find Sephiroth from a search for answers to one of revenge.
Next time, we’ll look at disc two, and discuss Rising Action as Sephiroth’s plan is put into motion, and Cloud comes face to face with who he really is.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Dragon Quest

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Dragon Quest I for Android
Created by Yuji Horii
Published by Square Enix
Square Enix is not a company that is shy about porting its classic games to new platforms.  WIth three of the most beloved Japanese Role Playing Game brands in their stable, it’s easy to see why.  And with the ubiquity of mobile gaming, it is only good business for them to move into the tablet and phone market.  But while many of these ports have been based on early updates such as the DS or PSP ports of early Final Fantasy games, the mobile port of Dragon Quest seems to be developed for the phone.
Dragon Quest, which was called “Dragon Warrior” when it was released in North America, was a full-on phenomenon in Japan but never quite took off in the United States.  The U.S. never even saw the two Super Famicom itterations of the series until they were released for the Nintendo DS in 2009 and 2011.
The mobile version of Dragon Quest is a bit to get used to but retains all the charm of the original.  The first surprise is that it runs in portrait rather than landscape orientation.  I was put off at first, but it actually works with the game’s graphical style quite well.  DQ is arguably the first true Japanese Role Playing Game, and a lot of the tropes of the subgenre start here.  Like the original, battles take place in windows that pop up on the map rather than transitioning to their own screen.  This actually works really well in portrait mode once you get used to it.  The sprites seem to come from one of the 16-bit versions of the game, and look great, but remain simple.  The soundtrack is a gorgeous, high fidelity version that sounds great, even out of the rear speaker on my Galaxy S5.  The english translation is based on Dragon Warrior’s psuedo-Shakespearian script, which is fine, but reads oddly printed in an arial font.  Windows have the original black bubble quality, but commands are on phone buttons that look a little off.  These all felt a little distracting, but don’t get in the way of the experience.
The gameplay itself, aside from a few shortcuts from the menu, remains unchanged.  This is great, but as the origin of the JRPG, it still has some rough edges.  Be ready to spend a lot of time leveling up, and accept that sometimes the game will kill you and there will have been nothing you could have done to prevent it.  Also be prepared to wander a bit.  It’s still a fun and entertaining experience, but this game doesn’t hold your hand.
If you’re looking for a bit of a gaming history lesson, or if you’re an older gamer looking for a nostalgic refresher, Dragon Quest I for mobile platforms is a bit to get used to, but does an excellent job delivering a classic game.  You can download it from your preferred app store.
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Hugh Likes Podcasts: Supervillian Corner

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Supervillain Corner
Written, Produced, and Hosted by Christopher Morse

How do you bring a super-villain to life?  For actor and podcaster Christopher Morse, it seems like it’s as easy as opening his mouth.  The creator of Supervillain Corner, Chris steps into the roles of a huge cast of powered villains and heroes, from the brilliant Professor Brainfever to the ever-vigilant Nocturnal Knight.  Every wanted to how heroes find time to fall in love, or what to do when your diabolical plan is foiled?  This podcast has the answers.
Each episode is hosted by a different character as they reveal a little bit of their world and give advice to would-be rulers of the world or saviors.  And when Chris isn’t behind the mic, he gets a little help from stellar podcasting talents like Christiana Ellis, Dave Robison, and Veronica Giguere.
Obviously it can’t be as easy as all that, though, because the effort that goes in to each episode really shows.  From the sharp-witted and gloriously nerdy scripts to the impeccable voice-work and sound design, this is an outstanding and enjoyable program worth more than any doomsday device.  I especially enjoy the in-world promos that Chris includes in every episode.  From Superhero tailors and costume designers to Henchperson H R services and Supervillain dating websites, they’re hilarious and spot on.
Supervillain Corner has been on hiatus for far too long, but has just launched its third season, “Supervillain World.”  Chris has always peppered in an ongoing plot with his villainous hijinks and advice, and this is a great place for new listeners to jump onboard.

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Going beyond National Novel Writing Month

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Today is November first, and for the first time in ten years, I’m not starting a novel for National Novel Writing Month.  I’ve taken part in the 50,000-word writing challenge every year since I’ve heard about it in 2005.  I haven’t always won, and a few years I bailed on the project early when other things in my life overwhelmed me, but I always went for it.  But I haven’t done much of anything with the manuscripts, even the ones I thought had real potential.
I’m not sure where my fear of editing came from, but what kind of writer doesn’t finish what he started?  So rather than start yet another new project, I’ve decided to dedicate this year to editing.  If I can write that much in a month, I should be able to edit a good chunk of it.  My goal is to have a beta-ready draft of my 2014 NaNo project, “Fabulous Powers” to hand off to beta readers by the end of the month.  This might be a bit ambitious, but I want to try.
National Novel Writing Month has always been about quantity over quality, but I’ve taken the ethos a bit too much to heart, I think.  I’ve produced a lot of words, and never shown them off or polished them.  So I’ve put my formal announcement here.  Gentle reader, please hold me to account.  Notice the widget on the side of the page, charting my progress to 80,000 words.
And if you are an aspiring writer, let me urge you to take the plunge in my stead this year.  It still isn’t too late to sign up.  National Novel Writing Month is a challenge, and it isn’t an easy one, but it was the push that inspired me to write in the first place.  It gave me the opportunity to meet an incredible group of writers in my area, who gave me encouragement, inspiration, and companionship on my writer’s journey.  NaNoWriMo was the starting gate for my journey as a writer, and while I’m not as far as I would like to be, I’d have never gotten there without it.  See you at the end of November.
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Hugh Likes Comics: New Avengers

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New Avengers # 1
Written by Al Ewing
Drawn by Gerrardo Sandoval
Published by Marvel Comics
With almost an entire line of new comics coming out, Marvel probably has most of my immediate attention.  Particularly after the variety of neat stories that came out of Battleworld.  There are a lot of new ideas and re-imaginings to come, but one of the books I’m most excited about is New Avengers.
The interesting thing about the book is that by most marketing standards, it shouldn’t work.  It’s a superhero team made entirely of legacy heroes, supporting characters, and C-listers.  And that is why I really hope it succeeds.
Organized by mutant billionaire Roberto Da Costa (A. K. A. Sunspot,) the team consists of former Master of Evil/Thunderbolt Songbird, the newest White Tiger, Power Man Victor Alvarez (not Luke Cage,) Wiccan and Hulkling from the Young Avengers, and Squirrel Girl.  Hawkeye is also presented as a potential recruit.  Da Costa tells him he was ‘hoping for the other one.’  Squirrel Girl’s sidekick Tippy-toe is also a member.  Together they represent Avengers Idea Mechanics, a global problem-solving team.
The thing that really works about this team is that writer Al Ewing really understands the voices of these characters and gives them all a chance to interact naturally with each other.  The writing for everyone is very on-point, with Squirrel Girl attempting to reason with the bad guys and Wiccan and Hulkling showing characteristic empathy and concern.  The whole concept of Sunspot trying to solve crises by throwing misfit teen superheroes at them from his Pacific Island Fortress is ludicrous yet so entirely in keeping with the character that I’m completely sold.
The art is solid, but not without its nitpicks.  Sandoval’s designs have a delightfully energetic Saturday morning cartoon feel, with exaggerated features and not-quite proportional limbs.  Stylistic choices aside, a few of the characters feel a bit off model, and occasionally drawn from unusual angles.  Squirrel girl seems to be missing her tail, for instance.  He feels a bit uncomfortable with the characters, but his style is charming enough that I hope he either relaxes or makes the designs more his own as the series goes on.
New Avengers is a delightful new comic that brings back some of my favorite characters without relying too heavily on an encyclopedic backstory to enjoy the book.  It’s a great introduction, and I can’t wait to see where their adventures take them next.  New Avengers is available from Comixology, the Marvel app, or your local comics shop.

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