Friday, April 30, 2010

Hopeful Pilots

The networks will be announcing their fall season schedules the week of May 17. In addition to learning which existing shows will be getting the ax and which will live to see another season, they will announce what new shows they will be picking up. I browsed the lists of the TV pilots each network has cooking that will be vying for pickups in a few weeks. Here are the geeky hopefuls that caught my eye.

"No Ordinary Family" is an ABC drama that is described as a live-action version of The Incredibles. Michael Chiklis is starring. Superhero family with Michael Chiklis? Yes, please!

There is also an untitled crime drama in the works for ABC which stars Katee Sackhoff as a detective working with a disgraced ex-cop to solve both the mystery that disgraced him as well as, of course, crimes. It seems it will be filmed in Boston. The plot doesn't sound that original, but I'm happy to see Katee Sackhoff popping up in a prominent role again.

CBS is trying out a "Hawaii Five-O" remake starring Daniel Dae Kim (fresh off of "Lost") and Alex O'Loughlin (Moonlight). Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman ("Fringe", "Alias", etc.) are producing. Sounds like a good team to me, and I'm happy to have a new show shooting on the island. I like keeping an eye out for places that I recognize (silly L.A. people get spoiled--it's exciting!).

Ben Stiller's production company is making a comedy for FOX called "The Station" about a CIA operative and his team in a South America banana republic trying to install a new dictator. Sounds like a fresh idea for a comedy, so I'm intrigued.

At NBC, there's a pilot written by J.J. Abrams and Josh Reims called "Undercovers" about retired CIA agents, now husband and wife, who are reactivated and have to work together for the first time. I'm always game to see what J.J. Abrams has planned, and it sounds like it may have a lighter tone than "Fringe".

On the CW, there's a show brewing called "Betwixt", based on the teen novel of the same name about three teenagers who as supernatural "changelings" are tasked with saving humans from evil. It may turn out too CW-y (teen-ish?) for me, but I always did have a soft spot for shows about people with superpowers.

Last but not least (hopefully) is "Nikita", also on the CW, an update of the 1990 movie La Femme Nikita about a convicted felon who is trained to be a top secret spy and assassin. The plot will revolve around both the original Nikita, who has now gone rogue, and a new "Nikita" being trained to replace her (and, I presume, hunt her down). Maggie Q is cast as Nikita, and if the show is picked up, she will be the first Asian female to have a lead role in a network show (Really? Apparently.). She's actually half-Asian (that's my hapa girl!), but it's close enough.

So there's not too much new stuff that I picked out, but once we see what shows actually get picked up in a few weeks, I'm sure I'll have more to report and discuss.

Source: links from this LA Times Show Tracker blog page

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kokua Festival 2010

This past weekend was the annual Kokua Festival, a music festival founded in 2004 by Jack Johnson and his wife to raise money for the Kokua Hawaii Foundation which supports environmental education in Hawaii's schools. I went with the Housemate and also two first cousins of mine (great girls, age 15 and 18) who were visiting from the mainland.

The concert was at the Waikiki Shell, a big outdoor stage in Waikiki. Outside the audience area there were lots of tents, some with various eco-businesses or eco-non-profits giving out information or freebies (though the festival wasn't cheap, so it's not like the handouts were really free) and some with vendors selling nature-related merchandise. Plus there was the standard festival merchandise and expensive food. I had a good time with my cousins (the Housemate came late) checking out the displays and activities that some of the tents had, and I also walked by the Kashi tent a few times to get a small stash of chewy granola bars.

Of course, the concert was the highlight of the afternoon/evening (music went from 4:30 to 10). The lineup this year was (in order of performance)

Anuhea (an acoustic soul/R&B/reggae/jazz female artist from Maui, who I'd heard once before on the night of my "first date" with the Housemate)
Jake Shimabukuro (amazing ukulele player whom I adore... He came up in one of my Intro to Hawaii posts last August)
Taj Mahal
Ziggy Marley
Jack Johnson

They were all really great. I particularly liked that Jack Johnson, who went last, did duets with all the other artists. My favorite was his "Breakdown" duet with Jake Shimabukuro. I've never been a screaming fangirl for any particular artist or movie star, but I have to say I was squealing enough during that performance for the Housemate to be a little jealous.

We were sitting at almost the very back of the lawn seating, which was too bad, though at least they had a screen set up so we could see a bit of detail on stage. Still, the performers were all pretty distant. Fortunately, when my cousins and I had first arrived, we unknowingly walked into a pre-concert "keiki show" (kid show--which of course isn't closed to adults) on a small stage where Jack Johnson was performing songs mostly from the Curious George soundtrack. We had nice close-up seats for that! Some pictures (taken by my cousin):

Jack Johnson playing a song with a cute little kid on the ukulele

Me and Jack

The weather was clear (we did see a rainbow up in the valley for a while) and not too hot. It was perfect. I think it was an especially nice concert because all the performers seemed very happy to be there. Sometimes you go to concerts where it's just another gig, another paycheck to the performer. But the artists seemed to care about the cause they were supporting, and half of them were from Hawaii and were happy to be performing for a home crowd. A very nice day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

This weekend's movies

If I weren't a busy grad student bogged down by end-of-semester classwork, I would definitely be going to the movie theater this weekend. I saw How to Train Your Dragon a few weeks ago and wrote a post highly recommending it, but at the time, that was the only movie in the theater that I was interested in seeing. Now there are several that I would happily go to--if only I had the time.

First there's Kick-Ass, a superhero movie that won infamy through its crude redband trailers. The plot centers around a high schooler with no powers or special abilities who decides to dress in a silly disguise and go out and beat up criminals. The character who has aroused the most controversy in the movie is Hit-Girl, an 11-year-old girl trained from an early age by her father to beat the crap out of bad guys. But it's not her killing people that I've seen the most complaints about, but rather her foul mouth--particularly her use of the "c" word (I definitely didn't know that word at age 11...or even, um, years later). Anyway, I read a pretty positive review of the movie (Owen Gleiberman at EW gave it a B+), and it sounds like the kind of movie I'd enjoy (I like superheroes and wannabe superheroes, and I don't mind violence or crude language). It's not a movie for everyone, but it's high on my list.

I'm also interested in seeing The Losers, a new movie opening this week based on a comic book about a team of bad-ass people shooting guns and blowing stuff up in order to who cares. It's been getting mostly pretty bad reviews, with one notable exception being Roger Ebert's 3.5 stars, but with that kind of movie, I don't think the reviews matter so much. I like Zoe Saldana, I like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and I like Chris Evans... OK, so I think my main interest in this movie is because of a scene in the trailer in which Chris Evans' character Jensen faces off a bunch of guys who have guns pointed at him by holding out his hands in the shape of guns and claiming that the government did experiments on him which gave him telekinetic powers so he can kill them with his mind. He then goes "Pow!...Pow!" and two of the guys drop dead in succession...thanks to his sniper friend on the next building. Anyway, seeing as his made-up story is actually the truth for the character he played in Push (except that technically it was his father who was experimented on, and his character just inherited the telekinetic ability), I was highly amused at the unexpected inside joke. Since I have a soft spot for Push, this automatically made me look at The Losers favorably. I am intrigued.

Then there's Date Night, a comedy of mistaken identity starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell as a married couple. I guess my theater-going history shows that I usually see action/sci-fi/comic book/fantasy movies on the big screen, in order to appreciate the spectacle, and wait for romantic comedies and the like to come out on DVD. But I've heard good things about this film, and I like its stars. In a world with so many stupid comedies, or comedies about irresponsibly stupid people, I feel like an adult comedy about adults deserves a little support at the box office. Maybe it will encourage studios to make more smart comedies.

Last but not least, I want to see Oceans, the new Disneynature documentary about, as you may have guessed from the title, Earth's oceans. Well, at least the oceans' charismatic megafauna (doubtful that there are any stories about diatoms, dinoflagellates, coccolithophores, or radiolarians). We oceanographers are supposed to turn our noses up at the public's interest in the relatively insignificant charismatic megafauna, but really--there's nothing wrong with them! Who doesn't love a cute baby turtle, or a scary shark, or a color-changing octopus? I saw Earth, Disney's Earth Day release from last year, and thought it was great, and since then I've been waiting for this documentary all about the environment that I'm planning to study for my career. As a bonus, for each ticket sold opening week, Disneynature will donate money to some save-the-coral-reef fund. The movie has beautiful footage that should look great on the big screen, so I definitely plan to check this one out in theaters.

When I find the time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Commander Shepard is the very model...

So I finally bit the bullet and paid for the extra Kasumi Goto expansion for Mass Effect 2. Painful admission: what finally convinced me to do it was the fact that Shepard gets some new formal wear. Yes, Shepard gets to wear a little black dress!

It was surprisingly tough to get a good screen shot in the outfit, but here's what I have...

In the dress (and heels!) with Kasumi (who is in the midst of cloaking herself)

Another shot

Closer view of the neckline

Honestly, I was a little disappointed. I thought the dress could have been cuter, and Shepard's regular walking/running animation looked a little weird in high heels. Still, I was happy to have a new outfit.

If you've played Mass Effect 2 or read my Mass Effect 2 notes post, you'll know that one of the party members, Mordin, sings a parody of the "Major-General's Song" from Pirates of Penzance: "I am the very model of a scientist salarian." It is brilliant, hilarious, and possibly my favorite moment of the whole game. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Gilbert and Sullivan, take a moment to educate yourselves.

Can you spot Kevin Kline?

Now Mordin's version ("salarian" is his species)

In that spirit, I was inspired to write some verses of my own, considering that, after all, Commander Shepard is the very model of a Council Spectre (that is, an elite agent who reports directly to the head of the inter-species government). I struggled a bit filling out the syllables for the first, key line, resulting in a few versions of the song. It all makes more sense if you've played the game, of course.

First, the general Mass Effect 2 plot version...

I am the very model of a Spectre of the Citadel
My crew includes a krogan, geth, asari, quarian, and drell
I died but Cerberus revived me just to save the human race
And so we chase Collectors through strange relays into unknown space
I've brought down Reapers, slavers, mercs, dance floors and thresher maws as well
I am the very model of a Spectre of the Citadel

Bothered by the fact that no one in ME2 would actually say "Spectre of the Citadel" (it really would be "Spectre of the Citadel Council" or something like that), I came up with the following two verses, which allude to the fact that throughout the game, the player chooses between actions and dialogue options categorized as either "paragon" or "renegade".

I am the very model of a Council Spectre paragon
While life can sometimes make it hard to separate the right from wrong
I try to keep from killing people, drawing deals up with my charm
And make sure in my battles any innocents don't come to harm
I'll even stall my mission just to buy our cook some tarragon
I am the very model of a Council Spectre paragon

I am the very model of a Council Spectre renegade
When asked to save the galaxy I certainly will offer aid
But I'll use any tactics I deem necessary to succeed
So if you get in my way I'll not hesitate to make you bleed
I'll help you out but trust me you will want to make sure I get paid
I am the very model of a Council Spectre renegade

Don't tell me I have too much time on my hands. It was fun, that's all. Could be better...I'm still tweaking some of the lines. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mass Effect 2, comparison and discussion

I’ve been meaning to do a little discussion about Mass Effect 2 vs. the original Mass Effect. Mass Effect 2 was full of improvements over the original game, but of course people can have different opinions on what improvements are. I guess I should start with how I, as a gamer raised on BioWare’s RPGs (Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), saw the original Mass Effect. The original Mass Effect was like many previous BioWare RPGs but with some elements of a third-person shooter. Compared to those other games, there were relatively few skills, and while there were many weapons, there were not any unique ones that were dropped only by a certain boss, or found in a certain quest. The game's main difference from the other RPGs was the combat—if you wanted to hit someone, you actually had to aim at them and click to fire, unlike in previous BioWare RPGs where you could click on someone, select an action from the menu, and then sit and watch the game take care of the attack for you. Combat was more active and fluid, allowing pause during combat but requiring the player to actively hold down the pause key.

Mass Effect 2 was also an RPG/third-person shooter hybrid, but it was closer to the shooter end of the spectrum than ME1 was. The item system was very simple, with very little loot, no weapon mods, and no choices for party members’ armor. There wasn’t even an inventory screen (very hard to break the habit of hitting “I”). There were even fewer skills--only three per NPC and six for the PC--with fewer ranks. The shooter combat was more refined, with the ability to shoot particular body parts (headshots to do extra damage, leg hits to make them crawl). There were a number of other significant changes as well; some of the changes in ME2 suited me, and some didn't.

The combat in ME2 took some getting used to. In ME1, my party always had enough skills (lift, throw, singularity, overload) to keep enemies disabled, so I could just run up to them with my shotgun and take them out. This technique did not work in ME2, where hiding behind cover was essential for survival. Still, I adapted and very much enjoyed the combat, especially once I got a feel for using my Vanguard’s charge ability--it was great rushing in and going toe-to-toe with a Geth Prime (albeit briefly; if I took more than four seconds to take him down, he didn't need more than five to take me down). And enemy reaction was definitely more fun in ME2. First there was the screaming when you threw enemies off their feet and the panic when you set them on fire. Then there was blowing off parts of mechs, making them crawl not so menacingly towards you. Good times.

At first I thought I would mind there being fewer skills in ME2. Especially coming hot off of my mage in Dragon Age, where basically all I used to attack were skills (I made frequent use of over a dozen spells), I worried about getting bored with attacking mainly with gunshots. But though I am an RPG girl at heart, I am not so limited by genre that I don’t enjoy a bit of shooting--especially when the enemies catch fire and dance around trying to put out the flames (don’t they know “Stop, drop, and roll”?). And while I missed Lifting people high into the air when outside, I got the hang of Pull and appreciated how Shockwave could go through obstacles (though appreciated it less when fighting the Scions that used Shockwave to tear up my own party).

I had mixed feelings about ME2’s new item system. It’s true that I could spend a good half hour or more at the lockers in ME1 shifting around weapons and mods. It was tedious, but also very satisfying when I put together a sweet combination. I guess ME2’s system was overall a nice time saver, but I would have appreciated a little more customization. There must be some happy medium they could find.

ME2 was greatly streamlined compared to ME1, and side quests were definitely one of the parts that got trimmed. Most of the game was mission oriented, with relatively few side-quest "assignments". While some may find the side quests tedious or even cheesy (you're saving the galaxy--why would you bother helping that person?*), side quests help me feel the busy, buzzing virtual life of a game--they help immerse me in the game world. I could do without the hunting around for X number of medallions or lost writings or samples of some useless material, but I don't mind going on errands to check out lost ships or strange labs or mysterious signals. And I really missed the Mako (my love for which I have previously shown on this blog). The Hammerhead in ME2's downloaded content was fun, but it was inessential and I didn't love it as much as I loved the Mako.

The party members in ME2 were unique, fun, dark, and complicated. But I wished they talked more. I don’t know how the numbers of NPC conversations in ME2 compared to ME1, but it felt like there were fewer. If I’m wrong in this estimation, all I can say is that the characters must have been so intriguing that I felt like they didn’t have enough conversations. But one thing there was barely any of in ME2 was conversations between party members, which I really missed. They made a cute joke at the expense of the "elevator" conversations the party members had in ME1, but although the elevators were annoying, I missed those interactions. My party members are my friends, and friends are more fun--and real--when they talk to each other, rather than just to you. The ME2 party members were such great characters, I really would have liked to hear them talk with each other.

While ME2 toned down some characteristics I associate with RPGs, the core role-playing was intact. There were a number of romances to choose from for both genders. Dialogue options were improved with new "interrupts", where if you got tired of someone's rambling you could sometimes cut them off with a gunshot or the like. The player was left with some difficult choices that really felt like they had weight. There was even the chance to really mess up your mission, so your choices really could affect the success of the mission.

Lastly, there was the impeccable writing in ME2. The game was full of amazing dialogue and powerful scenes. Funny, witty, surprising, sweet, quirky, touching--it had it all. Even little conversations your character might overhear--or might miss entirely--could be clever treats. There was a little more swearing than I'm used to, but it always made sense given the speaker and the context**. And the voice actors all did a great job delivering their lines and shaping their characters. The quality was just so good, I never had any complaints. It helped the game to be a perfectly diverting experience.

So there were some things that I missed in ME2: party member-to-party member conversations, customizable weapons, the Mako. And I really, really wish the skip-through-dialogue key (space bar) didn't also select conversation responses. And the load times could have been shorter. But overall, ME2 made some remarkable improvements from ME1. The story was intriguing and harrowing, the writing was nearly flawless, and the gameplay was fun and exciting. It is the dark second installment of the planned trilogy, a la Empire Strikes Back. A flattering and fitting comparison. I hope they can keep it up in ME3. I'll be waiting.

This was a somewhat long and dense game review... Tomorrow I'll have one more shorter, lighter ME2-themed post.

* They take a humorous stab at random side quests in ME2, in an overheard conversation between a man and a woman debating which medications to get the woman's young son. The man says something to the effect of "I don't know--why don't you ask some random person on the street what we should do?!" It's funny because in ME1, your character comes across this very pair arguing about medical treatment for the son (the man is the uncle/brother-in-law), and you can indeed offer them advice. Who knows why they take it from someone with no medical training.

** One of my favorite lines: Jack ending a conversation with "You know, no one's ever asked me this sh*t before. So f*ck you--and thanks for asking." Kind of sweet, in a Jack sort of a way.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

I guess the big 3D film at the moment is Clash of the Titans, which came in first at the domestic box office last weekend for the second week, bringing its domestic total to $110 million. But it wasn't the movie that made me trek out to the theater and don the goofy glasses. Last weekend, I saw DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon in 3D. And I loved it.

I feel like the movie maybe isn't getting as much business as it deserves. $133 million in the U.S. in three weeks may seem pretty good, and it would be for most movies, but I guess it isn't too impressive when compared to other computer animated kid movies. I don't know why, really. I haven't seen that much advertising for it (though granted, I watch my TV online, so I'm missing out on most commercials, and Hawaii doesn't do billboards). And maybe it doesn't have big enough names (I mean, it has some people we all know, but it's still not like Shrek's cast). And it's not a sequel, so it doesn't have franchise power...

Anyway, How to Train Your Dragon is a really fun movie. I was initially skeptical about a movie that names its hero Hiccup (I still can't figure out why someone--either in the story world or the real world--thought that was a good idea), but in the theater I quickly got past that, finding myself fully engrossed in Hiccup's world. The world is one based on the Vikings, but the Vikings in this village are plagued by continual attacks from a variety of different types of dragons, each with unique behaviors and traits. The well-known rule is that dragons always go for the kill, so a Viking always kills a dragon when given the chance. Except for Hiccup, the skinny, wimpy, teenage grunt of a Viking who happens to be the chief's son. When he has the chance to kill a dragon, he can't do it, and (surprise) the dragon returns the favor. The resulting friendship between him and the silent dragon brings a series of revelations about dragons that will change the way both species live.

The dragon that Hiccup befriends, whom Hiccup names Toothless, is my favorite thing about the movie. Toothless is a "Night Fury", a mysterious, elusive, and deadly variety that no one--until Hiccup--had ever seen. Dark as night, they fly at lightning speed and spit balls of purple flame even faster. Plus, they are absolutely adorable. Designed by the same artist who designed Stitch (of Lilo and Stitch), they have a similar aesthetic: huge eyes, wide mouth, rounded features, clunky front legs... I don't blame Hiccup for being unable to kill him. Since the dragons in this movie can't speak, as Hiccup and Toothless get to know each other Hiccup is the only one talking. He is not, however, the only one communicating, as Toothless is very silently expressive. It's delightful, and his friendship with Hiccup is very touching.

Now, about the 3D. The problem with Clash of the Titans, I understand, is that it was not originally meant to be 3D (the director was told they'd be releasing in 3D after he was done with all the shooting), so the 3D just isn't used very well. How to Train Your Dragon was planned as a 3D movie, so each shot makes the great use of the medium. Of course, Avatar set a new standard for 3D that is tough to surpass, but I have to say at least for the flying scenes, How to Train Your Dragon has it beat. In Avatar, the characters spend a good amount of time flying on their banshee creatures, and the banshees are graceful and the scenery is gorgeous, but in How to Train Your Dragon, when Hiccup is flying on Toothless, you can really feel the thrill of flying. It's like you're there with him. So I definitely recommend seeing it in 3D while you can.

The cast has a number of names you may recognize. Jay Baruchel as Hiccup has by far the largest part, but Gerard Butler has some good bits as his Viking chief father. Craig Ferguson plays a very funny mentor role, and playing Hiccup's peers are America Ferrera (the tough romantic interest), Jonah Hill (a bully type), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (spouting dragon stats), and Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller (as scraggly twins).

The movie is funny, exciting, cute, moving, and great eye candy. It's based on a novel of the same name by Cressida Cowell which already has a number of sequels, so if this one does well enough there's definitely a franchise waiting to happen. It's better than most of the kids movie franchises out there now. So check it out. And if when you come out of the theater your first words are "I want a Night Fury!!!"--join the club.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Joss Whedon to direct the Avengers movie


Variety has just reported that Marvel Studios is finalizing a deal that will make Joss Whedon the director of the Avengers movie planned for May 4, 2012. The only big screen picture Whedon has directed before is Serenity, but he has a history with creating and writing comics, and he is awesome. Oops, did I suddenly stop being objective there? Well, Marvel is making a deal that is sure to have the geek world psyched.

Whedon will be doing rewrites on the script that Zak Penn (who worked on the X2, X3, and The Incredible Hulk screenplays) penned. The cast will include Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, and possibly Edward Norton returning as the Hulk. Iron Man 2 is due out this May 7, and Thor and The First Avenger: Captain America are due out May 6 and July 22, 2011, respectively.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Captain America, Star Wars comedy, and gaming videos

First I wanted to mention a couple news items--not particularly new news at this point, just things I've been sitting on for a week or two.

Chris Evans has been cast as Captain America for the upcoming movie The First Avenger: Captain America (Variety). I like Chris Evans (Push has a special place in my heart). There are some understandable concerns that he's too young for the part (currently 28), and I'm concerned about the fact that he recently (three years ago) played another Marvel superhero, Human Torch, in the Fantastic 4 movies. I guess that incarnation of the franchise is dead enough that they aren't worrying about the double-role coming back to haunt them. Anyway, the casting is a big deal because it probably isn't just going to be the one movie, but also at least the planned Avenger movie (he'll seem so young alongside Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark). We'll see how it all develops.

>Update: I just noticed that I failed to mention that the article I linked to says that Hugo Weaving will be playing villain Red Skull. That's pretty cool.

Lucasfilm animation is currently working on a Star Wars cartoon comedy TV series (Variety). With the memory of Jar Jar still strong, I question the place of comedy in the Star Wars franchise... But I understand that the Clone Wars TV show has been pretty good, so maybe they can do something good with this comedy show. Maybe. I'll have to see it to believe it.

Second, I came across a few video game-related videos on that had me laughing that I thought I'd share:

Obama and video game health care bill
1-ups for everyone!

The video game Bosses' lament
You all attack one at a time? What are you thinking?

The Legend of Link's Distractions
I'll save the world...after I catch some more fish. (Though I always wondered why people counting on you to save their lives charged you so much for armor and weapons. Seriously.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reflecting on the BioWare Bazaar

I am without a doubt a huge BioWare fan. Nearly all of my favorite games are BioWare games, and I have played 11 of BioWare's 17 currently released titles. I have to say, though, this BioWare Bazaar was definitely my least favorite BioWare game thus far. It was a good idea, but seeing as they'd never done anything like it before, there were a lot of things that could have been changed or streamlined. Let me take you through my two-week experience participating in the BioWare Bazaar. If you don't want the details, then skip to the graphic and the conclusion at the end.

Sunday, March 28
I am told by my brother that there is a huge countdown on the BioWare websites, counting down to Monday morning. What does it mean? Announcement of a new game? What could it be?!
I am very excited.

Monday, March 29
We find out that the countdown was all for the BioWare Bazaar, a mock auction for BioWare merchandise (e.g. t-shirts, posters) and, for a lucky few, special things like computers customized with Mass Effect 2 or Dragon Age: Origins designs. The auction would be from Tuesday, April 6 to Saturday, April 10, and there are a number of ways to earn the "tokens" that will be used as the auction's currency: join the BioWare social website, register games or answer questionnaires related to those games, upload a DAO character from the character creator program, win challenge questions by replying to @biofeed on Twitter, and get people to click your unique URL for the event. Having the countdown be for an auction rather than some new game announcement was a letdown--especially for anyone not in the 50 U.S. states (minus NY and Florida) and D.C., who were not eligible for the Bazaar. But I decided to go for it, and the competitive spirit got me into it. I got all the easy tokens (all but the last two). Then, despite my unspoken vow never to give into the Twitter craze, I set up a Twitter account so I could answer Challenge questions.
I am mildly interested.

Tuesday, March 30
I begin answering the Twitter challenges. Some of the questions are simple--"Who is your favorite character in Dragon Age: Origins?"--while others are quirky--"What does Commander Shepard eat for breakfast?" We can reply multiple times, but we can only win once per challenge question. There are up to 100 winners for each challenge question, but there are a lot of participants. I also start getting a few clicks on my URL, but I don't try too hard; my goal at this point is to get 50 clicks over the course of the week, since the rules say it's 10 points per computer click per day until you reach 500 points, then it's just 1 point per click.
I am having a little fun.

Wednesday, March 31
I win my first challenge, for the question "What did you name your dog in Dragon Age?" I wrote a few answers for the question, but I know which one won:
Boo. He always seemed to know more than he let on, though he did go for the throat more than the eyes.
Ah, BioWare jokes (the very ones that resurfaced in Mass Effect 2, really).
I am very pleased with myself.

Thursday, April 1
I continue getting a few clicks and answering challenges. Nothing particularly interesting happens.

Friday, April 2
No challenge questions for the long weekend. The Bazaar is at the back of my mind.

Saturday, April 3

Sunday, April 4
I finally break 500 tokens earned through clicks...and am still earning 10 tokens per click. I realize that the 500 token threshold is per day--so with 50 clicks a day I could be earning 500 tokens a day! This suddenly makes the clicks the most important deciding factor in the Bazaar--it's now like a popularity contest: who has the best networking to get the most unique clicks? I realize that other people have a ton more points than I do. Here I was all pleased with my challenge win, but all someone needed was 50 clicks in one day to match that. And there had been 7 days already.
I am bitter about my misunderstanding and concerned that I may win nothing.

Monday, April 5
Not giving up hope, I step up my drive for URL clicks. I repost the link in my Facebook status, and I start making posts in various forums and message boards. It's still not the kind of thing I could email all my friends and relatives about--it's not important enough to warrant spamming--but I need points.
I'm still concerned, but not without hope.

Tuesday, April 6
It gets worse. Through the forums, I learn that the challenge judges aren't even reading all of the responses. Seeing as I had been coming up with as many as nine thoughtful answers per question (but usually only two or three), I'm pretty annoyed. Turns out they only take the last answer each user submitted, and then read a random subset of those. Some of my favorite answers were not even considered! Furthermore, the auctions start (one every 15 minutes--all day, all night), and I am more than 1000 points lower than the lowest winning bids.
I am pretty pissed.

Wednesday, April 7
Here's an idea: I'll open another Twitter account. That way, I'll double my chances of winning challenges! And it pays off. I win my second challenge, for the question "Make up your own Mass Effect alien. What is its name, and what does it look like?" My winning answer (with my new Twitter account):
The Vr are a cat-sized, sentient species evolved from viruses who hunt their hosts with thermal sensing.
Unrealistic, maybe, but pretty sweet. Thanks to the Housemate for the help (he studies viruses).
With this challenge win and a bunch more clicks, I am now within reach of winning an auction. I am pretty happy. A nasty gram from a Facebook friend complaining about my status link reposts brings my spirits down somewhat (I always feel bad about spamming people, but seeing as it's my status update rather than a sent message, it's not entirely my fault that he was checking facebook so often). But things are definitely looking up.

Thursday, April 8
With even more clicks to my link (I earned over 500 on both Wed and Thurs), I am now seeing auctions go by that I could have won--the less desirable prizes, such as posters and books. But I hold out all day hoping to get enough tokens for some Mass Effect lithographs. It isn't until later at night that I decide that I probably won't be able to get enough tokens for a lithograph (even though I'm earning more points, so is everyone else, so the minimum winning bids are increasing), and anyway, I probably have better things to decorate my room with and the coolest lithograph--the Citadel--isn't even one of the prizes. There is a prize that, judging by today's auctions (it turns up in the auction every 4 hours or so), I could "afford" that I want--it is a prize "pack" with several things I'd like to have. I decide to go for it. Half the night, I wake up every half hour to check the current auction (they don't announce a prize schedule or anything). When the prize I want goes by just out of my token range, I figure I can sleep for the next 3 hours.
I'm kind of losing sanity--willing to spend my night with half-hour catnaps--but I'm hopeful.

Friday, April 9
I wake up to discover that there had been another auction for my desired prize at 5 am--only two hours after the one I had been awake to see--which I could have won! I am so angry with myself, and with the fact that if I had been living anywhere else in the country, I would have been awake for that auction (8 am in California, 11 am on East Coast). Furthermore, as the day progresses, there are no winning bids less than 10000 tokens. It seems that as the auction is coming to a close, people who had been hoping for better prizes are dumping their tokens on anything they can get. My 9500 suddenly looks like it might be useless. I start to panic. I open a third Twitter account, which again pays off, as I win my third challenge with it, for the question "What is your favorite BioWare game and why?" I thought of all my answers, the one that won was the lamest (disheartening me about the challenge judging a bit), but I guess it did suck up to BioWare:
Newer BioWare games come close, but no game quite matches its lovable characters or its deep, engaging story.
Whatever. I hit up the computer lab at school, which puts me over 10000 tokens, but the bids are high enough that it looks like I still can't win. I am especially furious with myself for not winning the 5 am auction and for not bidding yesterday, when I'd been holding out for the lithographs that now I don't even want. I make my boyfriend drive me back to school to hit all the computers in the computer lab again after the clicks reset at 9 pm Hawaii time. I stay awake until 3 am, after which I begin my night of half-hour catnaps. But I am not hopeful.
I am distraught to think that maybe all of my effort in earning clicks and answering challenges and hounding my friends (especially my poor boyfriend) will be for nothing. Worse, I don't want to have this depressing memory associated with my beloved BioWare. If I get nothing, will I always think briefly of this bad experience whenever I play Mass Effect 2? I couldn't stand the thought.

Saturday, April 10
Around 6 am, I bid in an auction. It's not my top desired prize, but one of the items in it is the most important part of my top choice prize pack. I don't know how the rest of the day will go, and if I can win this auction, I will be happy. I enter a somewhat random bid about 160 below my token total. Just to get my foot in the door mentally, I guess. Someone outbids me by about 100. Someone else, let's call him LoserUser, outbids that guy by 10 points (the minimum required to outbid). Someone else outbids LoserUser by about 20 points. LoserUser outbids that guy by 10 points. I'm not so dumb. 7 seconds before the auction closes, I bid all of my tokens. I don't know if LoserUser had more points than I did, but I wasn't about to give him time to think about it.
They call it "sniping." Swooping in out of the night, I was victorious!

If you
made it through this long narrative, I am impressed. It's late, and I know I blabbed on a bit too much. Here is the companion summary graphic:

My experience in the BioWare Bazaar

After all that drama, the insanity, the ups and downs of the last two weeks, I am now the proud winner of the "Mass Effect prequel pack" which includes a copy of Mass Effect (which I already have...), the Mass Effect novels (I may find time to read them at some point) and the Mass Effect art book--the item that I really wanted. It didn't turn out as I had originally hoped, but I didn't walk away empty handed. Thanks to everyone who clicked on my link--I needed every single point I had to win. I am happy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

TMI Thursday: Indonesian Cuisine

During my time in the blogosphere, I've seen many other bloggers follow Lilu's lead in sharing too much information on Thursdays, but I've never done such a post myself. So here it is, my first TMI Thursday post, done in the style of some of Seb's TMI Thursday photos. I'm a bit of a lightweight, so if you want something more hardcore, check out Lilu's blog.

Note: This may or may not be based on my real-life experiences.

Edit: Apparently today was the last TMI Thursday, as Lilu is ending the event. Well, I'm glad I got in while I could!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The other islands: Kauai

The fourth of the major tourist islands in Hawaii, Kauai is known for its gorgeous beaches. Unlike on Maui, I actually got a few decent photos (sorry about that yesterday). I visited Waimea Canyon with its breathtaking views, and we even got to see the spectacular Na Pali coastline from a ship. I've never gone hiking there, but I hear the trails are lovely.

People looking out over Waimea Canyon

A waterfall over the canyon. It's probably really cool if you get a closer look.

A different view of the canyon

Na Pali coast and sparkling sea from atop Na Pali (which means "the cliffs")

And now Na Pali from the ocean side...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The other islands: Maui

I have a few Maui photos to share, but unfortunately on my more recent trip to Maui, we didn't go to nearly as nice places as on my first trip to Maui (when I was 12 and didn't have a camera). Most tragically, I did not go up Haleakala this time. The volcano is about 10,000 feet (3000 m) high, and from the top you can see all around the island to the sea. Furthermore, there is a plant unique to Haleakala called silversword that decorates the dry, high landscape. *Sigh* One of these days I will go back there and take pictures to share.

What I did do on my last trip to Maui was drive on the long, narrow, windy road to Hana, a town somewhat unremarkable except that it is reachable only by a long, narrow, windy road. A road with many beautiful places--waterfalls and tranquil pools, black sand beaches, groves of painted-bark eucalyptus trees--to stop along the way. What's great is that some crazy rich tourists make their stretch limos drive down this narrow windy road. That takes talent.

Eucalyptus grove

Looking out along the coast towards Hana

On a black-sand beach

A small waterfall

A thousand apologies to the island of Maui for my taking such crappy pictures. I promise to do better next time. It really is a gorgeous place.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The other islands: Hawaii, the Big Island

With one exception, all of my Hawaii photos on this blog are from the island of Oahu. (The one exception was not even labeled with a location, but it's the "I hate thresher maws" photo, taken on the Big Island.) This makes sense, since I live on Oahu, and my grandparents live here so it's the island that I visited the most even before moving here. But I have been to three of the other islands, twice each: Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai. Unfortunately, the first time that I went to each island I was considerably younger and did not have a camera. My more recent visits to the islands were on a cruise with extended family three years ago (same people I went with to Alaska--my grandparents totally spoiled us, back when they were fit enough to travel), where we'd have at most two days at each island. The visits were brief, and I was hanging out with family so photos weren't always the first thing on my mind, but I'll share what I have.

First up, the Big Island.

The Hawaiian islands are formed from volcanoes caused by a hot spot in the Earth's mantle. As the Pacific plate has moved over many millennia, the location of the hot spot under the tectonic plate has changed, causing new islands to form. The island of Hawaii, known by locals as "the Big Island" (it is the largest Hawaiian island), is the youngest of the islands and the one with the hot spot still underneath it. That means its volcanoes are still active.

I've been to Kona (known for its coffee) and Hilo and Akaka Falls, but the only photos I have are of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I hear there's some spectacular diving off of the Big Island, so maybe some day I'll have more photos.

Misty Kilauea caldera

Halemaumau Crater

Closer view of part of the crater--I almost had enough to stitch together a panorama, but not quite.

It totally smelled like sulfur there.

On the national park's "Devastation Trail". I like this one.

Another look down into possible thresher maw territory, with the Halemaumau crater in the distance.

Here's one photo not from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A turtle takes a break on a black sand beach. Having seen the rocks and soil in the previous pictures, you can imagine why the sand is this color.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mass Effect 2 notes

I have an older brother who likes to play the same computer games that I do. At present, he is unemployed (by choice...but that's a whole other story), which means that he had finished Mass Effect 2 not long after it had come out. He waited anxiously for a month and a half for me to finish it so he could talk about it with me. As I played my way through the game, I came across awesome things (there are so many of them in Mass Effect 2) that I knew I wanted to talk about with my brother. Since I was likely to forget them all by the time I talked to him, I kept a list.

Note: I didn't start the list until after Horizon. There should only be mild spoilers, since I keep details to a minimum where they might spoil things for people who haven't played ME2.

Illium bar - bachelor's party, turian flirting with quarian, bartender
The bar in Illium was hilarious. My favorite part was the bachelor's party--a human, salarian, and turian sit at a table watching the asari dancer perched on it, discussing how strange the human tradition of a bachelor's party is, and how each of them thinks asari look like their own species. But there was also the turian trying to flirt with an oblivious quarian, and a krogan-asari matriarch bartender (asari matriarchs are supposed to offer wisdom and advice...why not be a bartender?). Brilliant.

Charr and poems
Krogan love poems to an asari. Enough said. Oh, except for this:
"Let our three hearts beat as two."

Elevator discussion
Roaming the Citadel with Garrus and Tali (the party carryovers from the original Mass Effect) brings up a discussion between them of the conversations the characters would have while on elevators in the first game.
Garrus: Tell us about your immune system.
Tali: I have a shotgun.
Good times.

Elevator music
Speaking of the ME1 elevators, on an elevator during Miranda's loyalty quest, you can hear the old elevator music playing in the background. That darn, catchy song. Still get it stuck in my head.

Morrigan and Loghain
Two voice actors who did major characters in Dragon Age: Origins also both did voices of two of the three quarian Admiralty Board judges. Hearing the two of them in the same place was what made it more disconcerting than hearing other recognized voices (like it would have been really weird if EDI had talked to Captain Bailey). Might have been funnier if it had been Morrigan and Alistair arguing, but it was still pretty good.

Elcor Hamlet
Fearful wonder: Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Morose rumination: To be or not to be, that is the question.

Blasto the Jellyfish
The first hanar Spectre. He's got a lover in every port and a gun in every tentacle.
This one has forgotten whether its heat sink is over capacity. It wonders whether the criminal scum considers itself fortunate.
This one doesn't have time for your solid waste excretions.
Enkindle this!

Krogan requests for mating...
After taking down the thresher maw on foot, there are several krogan mating requests for Grunt (a krogan)...and one for Shepard (not a krogan).

Mordin. Gilbert and Sullivan.
"I'm sorry, I know that was important, but you sang Gilbert and Sullivan?"
I am the very model of a scientist salarian
I've studies species turian, asari, and batarian
I'm quite good at genetics as a subset of biology
Because I am an expert which I know is a tautology
My xeno-science studies range from urban to agrarian
I am the very model of a scientist salarian

I get this song stuck in my head, too.

Mordin and the Talk
If your character has a romance in ME2, Mordin, the ship's genius scientist/doctor, will have a talk with you. It will be painfully squirm-inducing...but hilarious.

Shepard VI
Very funny in conversation, but ultimately a disappointment. You can get this guy who has been selling a Virtual Intelligence modeled after your character to give you a copy...but it doesn't turn up anywhere you can see it. Given all the other stuff that ends up in your captain's quarters, it was kind of a let down.

Conrad Verner
Conrad is Shepard's biggest fan, encountered three times in the original game (my favorite bit, which I think is funnier if you're playing a female Shepard than a male one, was his comment after taking a picture of you posing with your gun: "My wife's going to love it!"). Now he's in Illium, still being stupid and making trouble. More funny lines and situations ensue ("My wife was really supportive of me doing this--she even payed for my ticket off-world!").

Galactic news reference to Bring Down the Sky
If you play ME2 without playing ME1, you miss out on TONS of references (and even some encounters) related to your choices in the first game. Even the downloadable content is included--if you let a certain person die in BDTS, you hear a news story about a candlelight vigil being held by her father. Made me feel so guilty. I wonder if you do save her (and in so doing let the bad guy escape) whether they still make you feel guilty with a news story about the bad guy doing more bad things.

Legion dances
He dances like a robot. And sings, if it can be called singing. Too funny.

Some other assorted quotes I was inspired to jot down:

EDI: That is a joke.

Joker: (regarding Mordin) ...Like he's got tenure at FU.

Grunt: Hah! See, now we're having fun! Me remembering good deaths, with your...funny...human thing you do.

Legion: You succeeded where others did not. Your code is superior.

Legion: (in a nightclub) We do not comprehend the organic fascination with self-poisoning, auditory damage, and sexually transmitted disease.

EDI: Detonation in 10, 9, 8--
Joker: Yeah, I get the gist of it, EDI. Hold on!

And now some screenshots! What's a mission to save the galaxy without some photos?

Me looking badass

Me looking not so badass. I'm a good dancer!

Samara makes a dramatic entrance

Thane makes a killer entrance

Not a fight you want to get in the middle of...

Looking very dramatic and heroic

The team plots its next move

Major pesticide

Hold on!