What’s New — March 2018

This past month was so much fun, guys.

For one thing, I am a huge Olympics nerd, so being able to watch the Winter Games in February was awesome. The highlight was probably the USA women’s hockey team winning the gold after 20 years of defeats to Canada. But I also had a blast watching skiing and snowboarding, both freestyle and half-pipe, and of course I loved the figure skating.

For another thing, it was my fiancé’s birthday, and to celebrate his mom came to visit and we went to Disneyland. I grew up going to Disneyland almost every year, since my family is from southern California — so going back there is like going home in a lot of ways, even though the park is definitely keeping up with the times! They are doing some sort of construction right now, but I was able to introduce my fiancé to the Matterhorn ride and go on some favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean. The highlight was staying for the water and lights show, where projections of Disney movies play against shooting water, characters dance around on boats and rafts, Mickey makes many appearances, and a huge dragon breathes real fire onto the lake. It’s crazy. I highly recommend seeing it if it’s playing while you’re there!

Probably my favorite part of the trip to SoCal, though, was visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! The last time I was at Universal Studios was, I believe, about two months before they opened it. So sad. This time, even though we only had a few hours to spend there, I shopped for a wand at Ollivanders, went on a little rollercoaster by Hagrid’s hut, bought a huge witch hat cupcake at Honeydukes, tried (frozen) butterbeer… It was magical. Obviously. As a big Harry Potter fan, this place made me feel like I was transported into the books. Everything looks incredible, taking design from the movies and playing the scores so you never forget where you are for a second. Just be warned that the place is mostly gift shops, even if they are Honeydukes and Ollivanders and places you recognize like that — so be prepared to do a lot of shopping (or at least window-shopping).

Here are some pictures from Harry Potter World!

I have also made progress with wedding planning. It’s really fun for me, as I love organizing things, imagining and designing things… but as the time approaches, it definitely feels a little overwhelming sometimes. Keeping track of everything and making sure everything is booked and vendors know what’s going on is a lot. But I’m enjoying it, since you’re only engaged once. =)

Despite how fun February was, I am also really glad that March is here. It will not be March madness for me, because things are finally quieting down so I have time to work out consistently again, read lots, write lots, and play those video games.

I’m still playing Assassin’s Creed: Origins. I didn’t get much of a chance to play this month, with company in town and travel, but I’m loving it so much. I can’t get over how much I admire the protagonist, Bayek, or how gorgeous and detailed the ancient Egyptian setting is. The game even came out with a tour mode so you can just go in there, no combat involved, and explore Egypt. It’s such a cool feature, and great idea for educators and ancient Egypt nerds. I would have loved it when I was a kid.

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My Monster Hunter characters…

I also just started playing Monster Hunter: World, which I’ll be posting about soon. Stay tuned…

As for reading, I just finished Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, since the movie based on it has just come out. It reads not so much like a typical science fiction book, but more like a mystery horror with a lot of character development. And that’s what I loved. The book is strange, and so is the protagonist, a woman whose name you don’t learn, who I related to incredibly well. She’s a biologist who craves solitude, who feels more connected to places than things, and who dives into the mystery of an area of land that messes with visitors’ minds not only because she likes to solve such puzzles, but to learn what happened to her husband who went there before her and came back so changed. It’s a really short book — only six hours as an audiobook — and I recommend it if you appreciate sci-fi that is just flat-out weird. I don’t know how else to describe it. I’m seeing the movie next week, and am curious how it compares to the novel as I hear it is quite different.

What are you reading, playing, and watching this month? I’d love to hear what everybody is up to in March. =)

— Ashley

The Price of Flesh in “Altered Carbon”

What will happen in the future, when we can disconnect our minds from our bodies?

t-Altered-Carbon-Netflix.jpgThe science fiction novel by Richard K. Morgan and its Netflix adaptation, Altered Carbon, takes a unique approach to this question. It presents us with a bleak vision of what life would be like if we could achieve immortality by discarding our current bodies in favor of new ones, over and over again. In this fictional future, a person’s consciousness is stored in their “stack,” the hardware that they can then “sleeve” in a new body.

Of course, this is a business, and a new body is a luxury not everyone can afford. But the wealthiest are able to transfer their stacks into clones specially grown for them. Being able to pick and choose what you’ll look is more than a fashion statement, as looking a certain way can also help you get ahead in life.

The protagonist Takeshi Kovacs is re-sleeved in a new body after spending over 200 years in cryosleep. He’s then tasked with solving the murder of a “meth” — a Methuselah, named after the character in the Bible who lived 1,000 years. This meth, Laurens Bancroft, has been re-sleeved in a new clone of himself, but he has no memory of the murder of his former body — he must have been killed just before his stack was backed up.

I’ve already reviewed the book here, and I won’t be reviewing it or the Netflix television series here. What I’m more interested in is looking at how the story explores our connection with the human body.

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5 of the Funniest Video Games I’ve Played So Far

Since playing Night in the Woods lately, I’ve been nostalgic about some of funnier video games I’ve played. I always enjoy when a game includes some humor — usually from a side character who cracks jokes, or something along those lines. But there are some games out there that are just about 100% funny. Even if you’re living through a story, getting to know characters in a deep way, shooting bad guys, or solving puzzles, the humor is an ever-present force that makes the game way more fun than it would otherwise be.

Here are the games that have had me laughing out loud the most.

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Why “Batman” Might Be Telltale’s Best Series Yet

This past week I finished the first episode of Telltale Games’ second season of Batman, and I’d argue it’s their best series yet.

While I’m personally a big fan of the humor of their Tales from the Borderlands series, Batman has an unforgettable combination of epic action, a twisting storyline, and familiar characters framed in new lights. I love their take on people like Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle, and the Joker — they remain true to these characters’ personalities on the whole, yet present them in fresh contexts that make them feel new too. I also love the balance between investigating crime scenes and punching bad guys as Batman — then going home to the Batcave to research Gotham’s major players with Alfred. The series is just incredibly well-tuned.

These are just a few of the reasons Batman is such a stellar series from Telltale. (No major spoilers!)

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Tracking in Open World Games: An Investigation

As open world video games take off, exploration is becoming a huge part of gameplay. The trouble is that it can be hard to pinpoint where the action is happening when there’s such a vast world in front of you. It’s interesting to see how different games handle this via the use of tracking — whether that’s scanning the environment (Mass Effect Andromeda), using special senses to follow a trail (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt), or utilizing technology that reveals more about what’s around you (Horizon Zero Dawn).

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