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In-Depth Sense8 Review – Diverse, Captivating, and Unique

The Wachowskis are often known for their willingness to pursue creativity over trying to mimic mainstream success. Their boldness has produced a wide range of results, from the industry changing Matrix to the recent (perhaps underrated) flop of Jupiter Ascending. But while not every project can hit muster wide appeal, we can’t accuse them of being boring. Every time they put their minds to a new idea, they bring something fresh to entertainment.

This is brilliantly exemplified by the most recent gem that is Sense8.

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This mystical sci-fi drama follows the lives of eight individuals across the world who become inexplicably linked mentally and emotionally – or what are known as sensates. As the group faces  challenges in their very different lives, they begin to borrow from each other’s skills and experiences to get by. Though each character has their own tale to tell, another overarching story unfolds – what exactly is going on? Naturally, the group finds themselves the target of a unknown but far-reaching entity lead by a turncoat sensate known as Whispers. Who are they and what do they want? These are the questions the audience and the protagonists face with each episode.

While the series is still under the radar in terms of what we consider a mainstream hit, where it has really found a strong and adoring audience is with often-ignored demographics of minority groups worldwide.

Dedication to Diversity 

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I suppose they’re all beautiful, though

Sense8 wears its diversity with unapologetic pride, boasting a central cast who range in race, gender, orientation, and culture. Adding to the in-universe representation, the production team pulled in actors who are actually well known in their native countries and were dedicated to filming on location. This often involved painstakingly weaving two separate scenes from characters across the world into a single, shared moment.

Furthermore, each character’s identity and culture is central to his or her arc, from their challenges to the way their story is given to us to the mood and lighting in their scenes.

Overdramatic flare follows Lito, the devilishly handsome but closeted Mexican actor whose life plays out like a telenovela. Warm tones and a vibrant Bollywood number paint Kala’s life as a privileged pharmacist in Mumbai. Meanwhile Riley’s scenes often mimic her drifting into her own world, with the background fading away and the mood being cool and detached.

The foreign actors speak in English using grammatical structure that more closely resembles their native language than ours – as much as it can be for us to understand – adding to the concept that they are actually speaking, say, German or Korean, but somehow understanding each other.

At times it’s not hard to imagine that every note, every word, every color was carefully selected as a filter into each character’s unique point of view. It’s more than just telling us, but showing us in every detail who these people are, how their cultures affect them, and how different to each other they really are.

And yet somehow none of this feels invasive or forced. Despite the unfamiliar worlds of each of these people, the natural and comfortable way in which the actors perform almost makes it feel like home, perhaps the same way they begin to see each other’s worlds as another home.

The Only Drawbacks – Pacing, Complexity, and Inconsistent Character Focus

Warning – minor spoilers ahead in this section

Sense8 is absolutely the type of series that benefits greatly from the Netflix model. I admittedly struggled with the combination of a complex story with extremely slow pacing, at least for the first half of the series. This is not a background-noise type of series. You can and will miss important details so it’s best to give Sense8 your full attention to enjoy it.

I believe this largely has to do with the attempt to tell many individual journeys alongside one major plot. In order to achieve this, some characterization sacrifices had to be made.

Nomi, for instance, is a trans character played by a trans actress who I severely want to find more interesting than she is. Likewise, Will Gorski, while charmingly precious and sweet, isn’t particularly engaging, either. Coincidentally, both of their arcs are central to the main plotline where the sensates are being hunted. Nomi’s hospitalization and Will’s traumatic childhood flashbacks are directly related to the sensate mystery. Meanwhile most of the others get their own unique and culturally driven story that makes them more complex, interesting, and colorful.

Still utterly loveable even if she's a bit boring

Still utterly loveable even if she’s a bit boring

In full circle, in all the time it takes to dance around Kala’s marriage indecisiveness, Sun’s horrible family, and Capheus being far too sweet for the country he lives in, the main plot and action doesn’t get going until well into the second half of the series where it picks up dramatically.

But once it does really get going, it’s a fantastic ride.

Also, the long-ass opening sequence is annoying.

End spoilers

Conclusion – If you love character-driven entertainment and enjoy or don’t mind soft sci-fi, watch this series – now.

Despite pacing and minor characterization flaws, Sense8 delivers a wonderful character-centric global story that celebrates the diversity of humanity. You can’t ignore the powerful message – our fate as humans is directly tied to everyone in the world. We are stronger together and our differences turn into strengths when shared. It’s an appreciable evolution from an long history of egotistical sci-fi that seems to forget the world doesn’t revolve around America and Europe. But the series does so by paying a great deal of respect and homage to cultures without reducing them to one-dimensional stereotypes.

It’s a fantastic and captivating journey that will absolutely leave you craving season 2.


Watch the conceptual trailer. It’s awesome.

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Remembering Guild Wars – Happy 10 Year Anniversary

The original Guild Wars was and probably forever will be my favorite game ever. As much as I enjoy Guild Wars 2 these days, it still doesn’t hold a candle to what GW1 meant to me.

I was a high school senior when Guild Wars was announced – myself and a handful of friends played in the first open beta weekend event, exploding Gwens and all. It was the first game I ever reviewed (for my school newspaper) and the first online game I discovered on my own. I’ve made lasting friendships from my time there – it inspired me to start blogging (back then on some horrid platform like greatest journal? Dark times), and kicked off my decade+ love affair with MMORPG’s.

I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and list out my top five moments from Guild Wars.

1) Pink Day in LA 2010

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I’d say that 2010 was the peak of my involvement with the Guild Wars community. The hype-train for GW2 was at maximum. Guild Wars had a surge in activity as players returned to fill their halls. I had launched Talk Tyria and it was doing pretty great.

That year I met a lot of other community project people, including GW-EN (AKA Gamers Giving Back) who invited me to help with their Pink Day in LA charity event – a multi-game virtual fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. It was the first time I had done anything like it – months of planning and unprecedented involvement from ArenaNet (Pink dye!) and players alike made it an amazingly successful event.

The original goal was $1337 dollars but the final tally hit $11,000. It was one of my proudest moments as a member of the Guild Wars community and would not have been possible without the outpouring of support from players and developers alike. We were all pleasantly shocked at the turn-out – and the Canadian Cancer Society was grateful for our efforts. I will never forget that weekend.

2) Zaishen Elite Marathon

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Continue reading

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ArenaNet Delivers on Heart of Thorns Hype at PaxEast

Guild-Wars-2-Heart-Of-Thorns-Pax-East-2015-17It’s been awhile since ArenaNet has pulled this much punch at PaxEast – and what a comeback! I was absolutely delighted to have taken even a small part in the celebration of Guild Wars 2’s first expansion, Heart of Thorns, which was announced recently at this winter’s PaxSouth. Arenanet delivered on promises to have pieces of the expansion available to play in the expo hall (in grand fashion, I might add) as well as sign-ups for the upcoming closed beta.

Since I was only able to attend Pax for one day this year, I unfortunately was not able to get a chance to play or really spend much time watching – I had a lot of ground to cover in a short time. However, I DID get to attend ArenaNet’s charming fan-party Friday night at the Hard Rock cafe which was chock-full of good food, great company, and even greater prizes (none of which I managed to get my hands on…boo). 

It was a total blast greeting familiar faces, some of which I had not seen in years! I also had an opportunity to spend time with some twitter folk and fellow guildies who I’d not met in person (NSP, REPRESENT!)

ArenaNet’s Heart of Thorns booth took center stage in the expo-hall and was impossible to miss. Their impressive set-up was made to give the feel of walking through an exotic jungle, with a rich green atmosphere and enough plants to offset the thousands of breathing fans.

It was gorgeous, as were the smiling faces of the dev team and fans alike.

The hype is real here, and I can’t wait for my first shot at playing, even if that means waiting ‘til release day.

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Gone Girl Movie Review – October’s creepiest movie for all the best unexpected reasons

It’s the kick-off for Oscar season, and what better way to start the spookiest month of the year than with a terrifyingly creepy film?

Although not without its casual (and minor) gore, Gone Girl’s scare-factor isn’t about flying heads and slashing knives but rather something that’s much more frightening – that of the human condition (Yikes!).

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The movie is based on a 2012 novel of the same name and follows the mystery of Nick and Amy Dunne – a couple whose outwardly fairy-tale relationship is disrupted when Amy suddenly vanishes on their 5th wedding anniversary. Over the course the investigation into her  disappearance, a deeply hidden Pandora’s box of marital problems leads the formally sympathetic public and authorities to suspect Nick as the central suspect in her unknown fate.

As the story unfolds, we are given (often conflicting) narration from both parties – Amy’s in the form of a written diary read to us through her voice, and visually following Nick as he struggles to handle the stress of his missing wife and media bombardment.

gone-girl-movie-review-03The film is exceptionally put together and paced – it manages to turn on its heels from a mystery to almost a thriller as an abrupt plot shift mid-way through drags us from our original journey to a completely new one. It’s never boring despite being almost 2 1/2 hours long. Gone Girl forces us to choose a side, and it’s unclear right up until the end who’s worth rooting for, if anyone. In fact, it’s unclear who is telling the truth at all. Unreliable protagonists be damned, someone (everyone?) is sketchy here.

The cast was wonderful – Ben Affleck (Nick) is really in his element as a begrudging husband while Rosamund Pike (Amy) is downright haunting in her role. The supporting cast were all a pleasure to watch, although the secondary characters didn’t demand much (with the exception perhaps of Neil Patrick Harris and Kim Dickens), but the film is very much about Amy and Nick’s relationship more than anything.

Without spoiling the heart of the film, I will say this much – Gone Girl had me and many of the watchers on edge at several points. It brings to light a lot of issues that are downright spooky to human beings – raising a privileged child in the limelight, how often we fake who we are to get what we think we need, whether or not you truly know the people you love, and the pressure to be perfect for the world regardless of what goes on behind closed doors. Also, sociopaths are frightening people.

I would definitely recommend this film, but despite being good it’s not easy to watch. It makes you uncomfortable from very early on, as a result of its realness, and it leaves you feeling almost defeated. But it fits right in with the point of the story, however dramatic the plot may be- the question it’s asking is directed at us.

Diversity Thoughts – The movie’s only notable person of color holds a powerful position, but he’s one in an otherwise largely white cast, so it completely fails in diversity. Female rep is solid, though – head detective is a woman, and the other key supporting actresses play complex and diverse roles. They talk to each other in regards to the case.

 

Hamster Wheel or PC? You decide.

PAX East 2014 Photo Gallery & Videos

Better late than never!

Here’s a compilation of my favorite photos, moments, and videos from PAX East 2014.

I had a blast, and had a great time hanging out with friends.

Can’t wait for next year!

Warning – VERY Media Heavy Continue reading

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League of Legends URF review and why it SHOULD NOT be a permanent mode

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Let’s face it – Ultra Rapid Fire was probably one of the most amazing things to come out of Riot recently. This is in no way  discrediting their other, wonderful products and features – but for an April Fool’s Joke, URF just had something magical that the community perhaps didn’t know they wanted.

I had a blast (literally, Karma RQ fo days) these past few weeks playing this game mode and was happy to see that it would be extended through PAX East, which I attended. But it also made me really appreciate the delicate process of champion balance. And now that the mode has been disabled, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a bittersweet farewell that I felt came just at the right time. URF needs to be put to rest for now, otherwise some severe and long-term damage to League could be inevitable.

Surely, URF will be terribly missed, but there is something extremely dangerous (and broken) about a mode like this staying permanent. A lot of it has to do with the community and player mentality, and a lot of it boils right down to mechanics and being realistic about Riot’s grand plan for League.

Some mechanical reasons are completely obvious, judging by the slowly expanding list of champions who had to be straight up banned from the mode – URF favors a very specific subset of play style while axing a specfic need for control and elegance to game play. This mode severely punished certain champions who general scale better with time and patience – they often got obliterated by those in which cooldowns and energy costs were an extremely necessary restriction to curb their power.

AP champs, for example, start out fairly strong and scale extremely well with items almost immediately. Traditionally, cooldowns and mana restrictions keep them from being able to faceroll at level 2, but not so in here.

If you didn’t know your champion intimately enough to execute their cocaine-infused kits well, you were probably in for a hard time. Tanking and defense become almost completely useless and it boiled down to a race for which team can out damage the other faster, with little to no weight put on other tactics that make League whole. And of course, players started to just take it too damn seriously.

Already there are complaints about the switch back to normalcy – everything feels slow, and in some extreme cases completely less enjoyable. This is the result of prolonged exposure to handicaps in a game. Lots of players, especially ranked, are opting to take a break either completely or to settle with normals for a while until they can re-train their fingers and brains to normal play.

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Outside of the technical, there’s also the issue of popularity. Obviously, queues for ranked, normals, and arams dropped considerably during URFs reign, and there was a big risk that URF would just be more favorable in the long-run to any other mode. And why not? It’s fast, powerful, and chaotic enough to be the perfect storm for addiction, and I feel that would take away from the other very delicately created worlds Riot has set up for their community.

This obviously isn’t doomsday it won’t take long for fans to get back into the swing of things, surely, but I think URF’s was a drug that’ll be harder to shake for a lot of players.  I’ll be glad to see it come back in the future, but for now I am relieved to see it take a breather and to get back down to normal

To The Readers How did you like URF? Love it? Hate it? Miss it? Do you want it to be permanent? Why or why not?

 

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League of Legends PAXEast Skin Giveaway!

ENTRIES ARE NOW CLOSED. 

varusThe guys over at Riot treated us fans to some great skins as usual this PAX! I snagged a few extra to give out for free to my fellow players.

I have a few copies of Arcade Hecarim – Riot Blitzcrank – Arctic Varus – Riot Ward Skin

I’ve done this before, though, so to avoid scammers, instead of just posting codes online, I have a quick and easy entry method below.

In the comment section, please leave your summoner name / region with an in-game screenshot showing your profile which skin you want,  And, of course, a method to contact you (email or twitter).

Winners will be selected by the end of the week. Feel free to follow me @izziebot if you have any questions, concerns, and the like!

Sample entry:

Summoner Name: izari
Region: NA
Twitter/Email: @izziebot
Screenshot:

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Good luck!

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PaxEast 2014 Report – Pre-Pax Shenanigans Pt.2

Thursday is always the unofficially official “Day 1″ for any expo – most attendees have landed and checked in and are looking for ways to connect and have a little fun before the actual convention starts.

There were a slew of options for anybody who wanted to have a good time yesterday! I partook in Curse’s happy hour at the Harpoon Brewery and, of  course, the chaos that is the annual Pokemon Pub Crawl!

The Curse happy hour was pretty fun – a big divergence from their usually big affair, but I appreciated the cozy intimicy of the event.

The food was spectacular and we got to try a bunch of Harpoon’s beers on tap (their coriander cider is freaking phenomenal!)

The swag was humble – a few bottle openers, cute bag, and beer cozy. Continue reading

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PaxEast Report 2014 – Pre-Pax Shenanigans Part. 1

One of the biggest pros to being a local in a host city (or earlybird) for PAX is the ability to partake in all the great pre-expo events put on by the community – and boy do they know how to kick things off right!

There’s a plethora of pre-PAX events to go to, more than an attendee can reasonably partake in, that gives the opportunity for old friends to reunite or newcomers to meet new people.

Down side to being a local is justifying taking the entire week off – but many events are still post work hours and can be enjoyed regardless.

pre-paxeast-2014-01I kicked off my expo week Tuesday night at the annual Pre-PAX gaming night at JJ Foley’s. The meet-up is also a monthly venture for local PAXers to keep up with each other, but the one before a convention is always a pleasure – far more active and populated!

This year the crowd was a bit smaller than previous, but it was still a good time. I got to play two awesome new games – Tsuro and Buffalo – and an old favorite in Qwirkle.

 

The festivities continued Weds night with the annual Pig Roast at Citizen Public House. While expensive, the roast is an AWESOME experience to share with friends – more food than you can even imagine and a good time with out-of-towners stopping by to catch up.

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Tonight is a big one, as Thursday is a popular travel day for attendees to come in and get settled and adventure out. Some companies will be having some pre-PAX parties and tonight is also the ever-popular Pokemon Pub-Crawl, in which decorated and drunk geeks effectively take over and terrorize locals for a few hours. I’ll be hitting up the Curse Party as well as the Crawl tonight! Look forward to some crazy photos!

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Game of Thrones – Arya and Sansa – Why love one but hate the other?

GOT Show spoiler warning. Relatively book-safe, minus some excluded scenes.

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Two sides of the same coin.

I’ll start by saying that I love both Arya and Sansa as characters – both are refreshingly complex and multidimensional young women who are deeply explored and beautifully acted in this epic series. I believe very strongly in Ned’s words that his daughters are two sides of the same coin – both have been thrown into an impossible situation, and have to use their at times wildly different personalities to adapt and survive.

The big issue, however, that I see within the GoT fandom, book and show alike, is the raging hard-on for Arya’s rebellious tomboyism pitted against Sansa’s feminine stoicism. I have a MAJOR problem with that, because both girls are flawed, both girls have moments of weakness, both girls are whiny and clueless at times, both girls have a level of self-absorbtion, and yet Arya is forgiven for this while Sansa is largely disliked for having similar issues. I can’t help but wonder if it’s her very girlishness that’s the cause. Is the universal love of Arya because she likes swords over songs? Is that even fair?

The Flaws of the Stark Girls

Sansa from day one is ridiculed for her girlish “naivety” – her desire to be a wife and mother, and live as an eventual queen. Meanwhile Arya is loved from day one for being cheeky, boyish, and wild. It’s interesting because within their universe Arya is the naive one – Sansa’s dreams are very realistic with what’s expected of women in Westeros, and that’s something that our modern minds absolutely hate, apparently. Continue reading