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Hugh Likes Podcasts: Cerebro

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Cerebro
Hosted by Connor Goldsmith
https://www.connorgoldsmith.com/cerebro

The Skinny: What we talk about when we talk about X-Men characters.

If there are two topics I am continually drawn to in my podcast listening, they are Writing and Queer-friendly X-Men content. And while the later is a bit more niche than the former, Cerebro, a new podcast from Literary Agent and X-Men fan Connor Goldsmith is the rare center point in that particular Venn diagram.
Each episode, Connor sits down with a fellow fan and discusses a specific X-Men character from the comics, doing a deep dive on their history, continuity, and retcons. So far he’s covered Psylocke, Nightcrawler, and Emma Frost.
This could be just your run-of-the-mill fancast, but Connor’s impeccable choice of guests elevates the discourse by including writers, editors, and culture critics. The first episode’s guest is Tini Howard, who is currently writing Excalibur. Thus, not only is the podcast a celebration of a character and their publication history, but an examination of the guest’s interpretation of that character and their own work. It was eye-opening to hear a creator’s thoughts on a character she is currently writing in so open and informal a setting.
Cerebro is available from all the usual podcast sources, on Twitter, or from Connor’s Website. I heartily recommend it.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Merchant of the Skies

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Merchant of the Skies
Published by AbsoDev
Deveolped by Coldwild Games

Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: Come take a trip on this airship!

Merchant of the Skies is a resource trading and management game that puts you in the captain’s seat of a trading vessel plying the skies between floating islands. The Campaign mode sets you up as the scion of a trading family, just starting out with their own boat. You buy low, sell high, do a few favors for your Uncle who is trying to set up a postal system, and gradually discover the secrets and history of the area. As you gain income, you can buy bigger ships, purchase island, and eventually set up caravan routes for complex manufacturing and delivery. There’s no combat, and the only lose condition is running out of money. Once you complete the campaign, the game opens up a sandbox mode that lets you set the goal, or just lets you tool around in your majestic airship
The game’s pixel graphics steampunk fantasy worlds are beautiful and nostalgic. The region is presented as a filled with floating island and other sights, and you travel from one to the other Indiana Jones-style. When you visit an island, it switches to a side-on perspective with pixel sprite buildings and wee figures dashing about. This mode mostly uses menus to navigate, so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of your captain as they visit the trading posts.
The game does get a little laggy towards the endgame, when you have resource gathering and processing happening all over the map. The game auto-aves each time you leave an island, so as the game goes on, be prepared to spend a bit too long waiting towards the end of the game. Also, most of the endgame content requires resources rather than money, so eventually you’ll be raking in cash with nothing to spend it on.
Merchant of the Skies is an engrossing, low-stress management game with charming visuals and strategic thinking. It’s the perfect game for anyone looking for something on the Switch to chill out with.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Harrow the Ninth

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Harrow the Ninth
Written by Tamsyn Muir
Audiobook ready by Moira Quirk
Published by Recorded Books

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The Skinny: The sequel to Muir’s impressive debut novel delivers more mystery, gothic weirdness, and dad jokes. (Spoilers for Gideon the Ninth)

Any novel can make you think the main character is mad. It takes a very special book to make you wonder about the author. Harrow the Ninth, manages to do both, with style and grace. And it does it leaving my desperately looking forward to the last volume of the trilogy, due out sometime next year.
And how does Muir follow up the massive success of her debut Gideon the Ninth? In second-person, and with the conspicuous absence of any mention of the first book’s beloved title character. Harrowhark the Ninth has done what she set out to do, and became a Lychtor at Canaan House. But instead of waking up a mighty immortal in the full flush of her powers, she’s sick, dying, and probably going mad. There’s something wrong with her, and she cannot understand what. Also, she is dreaming of her time at Canaan House, and those memories don’t match the events of the first book at all.
Things only get worse when she’s brought to the Emperor’s haunted Space Station for training. The other Lychtors are as likely to kill her as teach her, and the Emperor Himself is far from the living god she imagined. Her only remaining friend is Ianthe, her fellow newbie necromancer, who has plans of her own. Oh, and a monstrous undead Death Star is on its way to kill them all, so no rush getting all that sorted out.
Muir has struck gold once again with this space opera that is equal parts Gothic and Arch. The mysteries are tantalizing, the characters are that same signature mix of badass and horrible people, and her writing just sets the page on fire. The second-person perspective and jumbled nature of the first sections of the novel might be a bit of work to get through, but the payoff is definitely worth it, and it’s a brilliant use of literary device.
Moira Quirk also returns to read the audiobook version, and her narration and voice work are spot-on.
Harrow the Ninth is exactly what I wanted out of this sequel, full of gothic space crypts, planet-sized undead, and witty dialog from decadent lesbian space necromancers. It’s not a good place to start the series, but if you enjoyed the Gideon don’t miss it!

Hugh Likes Video Games: Fall Guys

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Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Developed by Mediatronic
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on PS4

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The Skinny: A casual but challenging and light-hearted battle royale obstacle course.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a very simple idea on paper but masterfully executed. Inspired by game shows like Takeshi’s Castle and video games like Super Monkey Ball, the game combines obstacle course gameplay with Battle Royale trappings.
Players compete in a series of obstacle courses and other mini-games until the field is winnowed down to one winner. Each frantic round lasts only a few minutes, and sees up to 60 players run, jump, and stumble their way through sets of spinning platforms, racing through sets of real and fake doors, and even playing versions of tag and soccer with Rocket League-sized balls. Depending on how long players last, they are rewarded with in-game currency and unlockable outfits and emotes.
The eponymous Fall Guy avatars are brightly-colored cartoon sausages with little arms and legs, and can be dressed in a variety of whimsical outfits. They feel just the right amount of awkward to control. While it’s not always easy to get around, especial in tight quarters, it always feels fun.
The simple, cartoony graphics look great, and are deceptively detailed. The environments have just the right gym mat texture for a good hit of nostalgia, and the bright colors shine. The PS4 version doesn’t have any visual accessibility settings or the ability to remap buttons, which is disappointing, but I haven’t had trouble finding matches, a problem that has cropped up for some players using the PC version.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is an easy-to-learn blast of silly, candy-colored fun. Plus, it’s FREE this month for PS Plus members. So if you’re looking for a Battle Royale game that’s a bit different from the typical shooter, check it out on PS4 or PC.

Hugh Likes Video Games: A Short Hike

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A Short Hike
Developed and Published by Adamgryu
Placed on PC via Itch.IO

The Skinny: Breath of the Mild

A Short Hike is a quiet game about personal stakes. You play as adolescent bird girl Claire, who is expecting an important phone call while on vacation at Hawk Peak Provincial Park. The only way to find reception is to hike, climb, fly and glide your way to the top of the mountain, with plenty of other activities and sidequests along the way.
Fans of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will find the gliding and climbing mechanics familiar, although the stamina meter has been replaced with collectible golden feathers. There’s nothing to fight in the game, and instead you’ll find yourself chatting with the locals, running errands, catching fish, and even solving the odd treasure map on your way up the mountain.
As the name implies, this isn’t a long game. You can climb to the top of the peak in just an hour or two if you really want to. But the park is so full of people to meet, treasure to find, fish to catch, and secrets to discover, that it rewards a second look after you reached the top.
A Short Hike is a little digital vacation, and it has been a welcome refuge in a summer when Covid-19 has derailed so many plans. The low-fi 3D art style is charming, but put my MacBook Air through its paces.
I originally purchased this game as a part of the Itch.IO bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, and it is also available through the Steam and Epic launchers. I heartily recommend it for a quiet evening when you need something to unwind with.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Minit

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minit-switch-hero

Minit
A Game by Kitty Calis, Jan Willem Nijman, Jukio Kallio, and Zerstoerer
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on Nintendo Switch
The Skinny: Linked in 60 Seconds

Minit is a quirky little adventure game that has been on my radar for a while. A super-indie adventure game made by a team of just four people, The game is a Zelda-like with a unique twist. Your character dies every sixty seconds. This ticking clock adds a bit of adrenaline to the gameplay as you race to complete your objective, or at least find a clue, before the time runs out and you find yourself back at home. It can be frustrating to get very close to a goal and then die just before completing it. But it adds a disruptive spark into the adventure genre, essentially turning the game itself into one giant puzzle.
The game has a minimalistic black-and-white aesthetic and a surrealist vibe that puts me in mind of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening in all the best ways. The puzzles are clever, the tiny world is chock full of secrets, and you literally never know what you’re going to be doing from moment to moment.
As the title and gameplay suggest, this game isn’t very long. I completed my first run through in a little over an hour. But it is a charming little indie game, and it is widely available for a budget price.
As of this posting, Minit is also a part of theItch.Io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, meaning you can get this game and over 1,700 other titles for as little as five dollars, in addition to supporting a very worthy cause.

Hugh Likes Comics: The Ludocrats

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The Ludocrats #1
Written by Keiron Gillen and Jim Rossignol
Drawn by Jeff Stokely
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by Clayton Cowles

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The Skinny: Weird for weirdness’s sake.

The Ludocrats #1 was delayed for nearly two months due to Diamond Distrobution’s shutdown over Covid-19, and I still wasn’t ready for it. The book reimagines the madness commonly found in aristocracy not as the unfortunate products of inbreeding and a system of hereditary wealth and power coupled with the intrigues that go with such, but as a purposeful system of government. And it goes all in with the concept.
The book opens with an epigraph: “We tried to imagine a better world. We failed. Instead, we did this.” Followed by one of the two main characters, Baron Otto Von Subertan, that he isn’t technically naked if he’s covered in blood. The other, Professor Hades Zero-K, remarks that by showing up to another important function sky-clad, he’s becoming predictable. And the book goes on from there without letting up its pace or frantic energy.
The book is helped enormously by Jeff Stokely’s art, colored by Tamra Bonvillain. The pages are crammed full of silly, wonderful, blink-and-you-miss them gags, such as a wedding attended by such diverse guests as a robot reading a newspaper and a sack of wheat, which the backmater assures the reader is both sentient and ‘the most emotionally intellegent being in the known universe.’
The pages reward careful study, but don’t detract from the manic pace of Gillen and Rossignol’s delightful script. This is a deeply weird comic, but it presents itself exactly as it is, without a hint of irony or self-consciousness. Deadpool wishes it could be this over-the-top.
The Ludocrats #1 is a strange and wonderful gem, and I’m not precisely sure what’s happening, but I can’t wait for the next issue. You can find it at your local comics shop. Call and see what their safe pickup options are. Or, enjoy digitally via Comixology!

Hugh Likes Video Games: Inbento

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Inbento
Published by 7Level
Developed by Afterburn Studios
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: An adorable puzzle game with a fiendish difficulty curve.

Originally released for IOS and android devices, Inbento is a simple but clever puzzle game with a cute story. Players are presented with the image of a completed bento box and arranging the ingredients to match the picture. This starts out simple, but quickly introduces mechanics such as transforming blocks and cut and paste tiles that ramp up the difficulty and require keen instincts and careful planning.
There are fourteen levels of nine puzzles each, and completing each one awards the player with a new part of the game’s story, spread out in static images. The story is a textless, picture-book style story about a mother cat learning to cook to feed her kitten, who eventually grows up and becomes a chef with a kitten of their own. It’s very charming, and a nice respite for the sometimes frustrating challenge of some of the later puzzles.
The presentation is barebones, with navigation selected from a flat menu styled like a cookbook. The game allows for both touchscreen and button controls, and both are well-suited to the gameplay. The music and sound design. is simple but relaxing and satisfying.
Inbento is a clever and relaxing little puzzle game that will pull on your heartstrings as much as your braincells. And at $4.99 US in the Nintendo eshop and $2.99 in the Apple iTunes and Android Play stores, it’s a bargain. Give this one a shot.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Animal Crossing

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Animal Crossing New Horizons
Developed and Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: How Tom Nook saved civilization

It’s difficult to give a review of Animal Crossing: New Horizons this early. Meant to be played on a scale of months rather than hours, it has a very unique play experience. It is essentially a Skinner Box game in which you create and help manage a town on a deserted island. As the days go by, and you harvest the island’s resources, more and more characters come to live on the island, and new services like a museum and clothing shop are unlocked. But unlike scummier versions of this model on mobile devices or Facebook, there is no invitation to pay real-world currency to speed the process along. You just have to wait the until the next day, or until you’ve amassed enough resources.
This creates a gameplay loop that is both relaxing and frustrating. Life on your island proceeds at its own pace. And once you’ve gathered the day’s supplies, visited the shop, and have done the day’s errands to develop the island, there isn’t that much left to do. You can always do more fishing and bug hunting, visit the residents and design your own clothing and decorations, but the game trains the player fairly quickly to not try and push the game. There’s only so much useful things you can do in a play session.
One neat feature is the ability to visit other islands, both locally and through the internet. It’s fun to see how other players set up their islands, trade your stuff, and generally just run around.
Animal Crossing New Horizons is a chill game about friendship and building community. Its release at the end of March has been a balm during the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has provided a novel way to visit with friend and to be social while social distancing. The one problem I have with the game are the loading times. Whenever you open the game, it takes a bit of time to load, and the online features all involve a rather long wait as well. This would be an ideal game to play on a break at work, if the loads didn’t take up so much time.
Animal Crossing New Horizons has been a chill, calming distraction in stressful times. Its miniature deserted island world is filled with relaxing mini-games and surprising discoveries. But you have to play it at its pace. The game is available for the Nintendo Switch as a cartridge or downloadable from the Nintendo Eshop. If you need a quiet distraction, why not make a town and fill it with animal friends?

By the way, if you want to visit my town, my Friend Code is SW-3842-8900-0319. See you on The Island

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Hugh Likes Comics: Far Sector

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Far Sector #1-5
Written by N. K. Jemsin
Drawn and Colored by Jamal Campbell
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC’s Young Animal

HLC Far Sector

The Skinny: A Green Lantern story unlike anything you’ve read before.

Far Sector is a comic likely unlike anything you’ve read before. Triple Hugo award-winning author N. K. Jemsin has teamed up with phenomenal artist Jamal Campbell to tell the story of Sojourner “Jo” Mullein. The newest member of the Green Lantern Corps, Jo protects The City Enduring, a Dyson Swarm with a population of over 20 billion. Home to three previously waring civilizations, the city has preserved the peace for the last 500 years by forgoing their emotions. But when she investigates the first murder in centuries, she finds tensions ready to snap.
This comic is unlike anything I’ve read from a DC in a very long time. The City Eternal is a very different setting than the rest of the universe, far removed from epic struggles of the Justice League or even the tropes commonly found in the other Green Lantern books. It’s a story about a queer black woman cop (admittedly with superpowers) on her own and in over her head. The setting is constantly surprising, but Jo is the star of the show, and Jemsin sculpts her with more humanity than we get from Hal Jordan or Bruce Wayne.
The comic is further elevated by Jamal Campbell’s stunning artwork. Intricate, richly colored, and imaginative, it’s everything you could want in a space comic. Campbell makes Jemsin’s characters breathe in ways that are far removed from DC’s house style. No easy task when you’re drawing sentient, holographic AI and carnivorous plant people. Also, issue five has the best design for a Guardian of OA that I have ever seen.
Weird, wonderful and completely engrossing, Far Sector is the Space Opera Detective Comic you’ve been waiting for. Issues 1-5 are currently out, so if you can get to your local comics shop, or they can deliver, see if you can order them. And of course you can check them out on Comixology.
Stay safe, and be good to each other!

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