Dual Review: Thief  / The Art of Thief by Eidos / Titan Books
Review by Prof. Jenn
It has taken me a long time, readers, to finally sit down and compose this review, and I’ll tell you why: it’s because I don’t feel like I’ve played through enough of Thief 4 (aka Thief) to give an expert’s opinion fairly. Even when I’m sent a book to review that I can’t stand, I make it a point to read it in its entirety before writing the review for Nerds in Babeland. I feel it’s only fair to the artists involved for me to do so.
It has been so long though, readers, that I want to tell you my thoughts about the game and also the art book that Titan Books were good enough to send me to look at as an accompaniment, and I want to tell you also why I’ve decided to do so with the game unplayed completely. Let’s start with the book, The Art of Thief:
This is not the first time I have encountered a gorgeous coffee table style art book from the folks at Titan, and they really do a good job at it (even of franchises I have no interest in–remember the visual companion to Dark Shadows?). This art book, showing the many facets of the art for Thief 4 (not for any of the earlier games in the series unfortunately), is actually what’s making me want to persevere and continue the game after I have lost interest. It includes character design and development, concept sketches of character, loot, settings and weaponry and often shows said art from beginning brainstorm through to 3D rendering. Another very cool perk included in this book is the many storyboards laid out for various scenes from the game. It’s making me want to pick the game up again, just so I can continue to play to see those cool steampunky prostitutes and Garrett’s fence, Basso. He looks so cool! Which brings me to:
Now I am a huge fan of the Thief games. Huge. The first two, beyond being revolutionary as far as gameplay (the Thief franchise is widely touted as the originator of the sub-genre of the FPS called Stealth. Many call Deus Ex the original FPStealth, but it’s really Thief. But I digress), but offers an incredibly rich world, with an interactive story so well written it actually kind of pisses me off. So I know very well how Garrett lost his eye (a visceral cutscene I’ll never forget), what it was replaced with and what that does to make his vision special. The warring factions of Hammerites (later scarier maniacal Mechanists) and their opposites the Pagans (who can forget the creepy giggle as one navigated through Constantine’s mansion), and of course the enigmatic and ultimately political Keepers. I know the world well, and love it, especially our POV protagonist, Garrett. I’ve even written fan fiction for this world. Wow, I just admitted that online…
Having said that, I am not one to immediately go all Star-Wars-Fan-on-Episode-One when I learn the franchise I love is getting a reboot. I mean, it can work very well–witness the new Star Trek movies. Even with a different studio–I mean, Thief 3 wasn’t quite the rich stellar game its predecessors were, but it was a solid Thief game, firmly rooted in that universe, Garrett was himself and there exists in Thief 3 probably the most terrifying horror level of any game ever. Yes, I include Limbo. I mean EVER. (Read about the Cradle level here.) At the end of Thief 3 we notice our intrepid protagonist acquiring a young (we assume) apprentice. So when I saw that in Thief 4 it begins with Garrett and his now young adult aged apprentice bickering, I thought “huzzah.”
But this reboot is a pale, watery thing compared to the scotch that was the other Thief games. Where Garrett was cynical and world-weary, here he is petulant. Where he reluctantly found his heart of gold, here he’s just uncharacteristically a softie. Where before we had knowing banter with real parental strife between him and the Keepers, now his apprentice Erin whines and bitches and isn’t actually well trained enough to be his apprentice in the first place. And speaking of Keepers:
There are no Keepers in this new rebooted world. No Hammerites, no Pagans. The City is a lovely-dingy steampunk place to live, similar to how it was, but the old fantasy world this is not. This more like post-apocalyptic Detroit than the rich world Thief comes from. Real-world swear words have replaced the “taffer” of the old dialect, and Garrett dresses less like a member of a Lieber-esque thieves’ guild than an emo early aughts Goth.
The retrofitting of his special eye and thereby powers of special sight is a weak version of the mechanical eye he used to wear, designed by megalomaniac Karras. Why was the eye story changed?
And without the warring factions, the religious zealotry, the Keepers, the burricks even (we get a nod to them in the name of a tavern), we are left with a bitter protagonist with no reason for his bitterness. We get whiny teenaged goths we don’t care about enough to quest for, let alone take on their persona through the story. My point is: the reboot of the world has diminished the world irreparably.
As far as gameplay goes, the designers have made a mistake in not taking a lesson from those games that have surpassed Thief on the console. The controls are not intuitive, Garrett doesn’t have all the skills he would have as a thief of his caliber (why didn’t Eidos take a hint from the Assassin’s Creed folks?) and the simplest quests are difficult to follow based on the way the game is set up as far as objectives go. This game needs to be either a) a very open ended sandbox like an AC IV or heck even a Skyrim, or b) much more streamlined and story-driven than it is. Right now it doesn’t know which it wants to be, and, that coupled with all the richness stripped out of the world, I’d just as soon be a pirate with Assassin’s Creed than a thief with my beloved Thief game. And that makes me sad.
Now remember: I have admitted I haven’t played Thief  very far. The reason is because of the above reasons, mainly: Garrett is no longer a likable POV character, the world isn’t as rich and interesting, and the controls are annoying. Maybe it gets brilliant later on. Maybe I’ll find out.
Maybe I won’t.
Bottom Line: if you’re a Thief fan or a steampunk enthusiast, the art book is for you. If you’re not, check out the otherworldly beauty of it anyway–you’ll probably want it on your coffee table, regardless. If only the game had more than just surface prettiness. Skip the game and play Bioshock Infinite.
Before I get into my review of the second part of this three-part story, let me give a quick recap of the first chapter (because I know I sure as hell needed it).
The first chapter of Equinox found Sage floating through space in an escape pod and eventually picked up by Imogen Cray (who is the antagonist’s daughter from Mars Gambit). Imogen has taken over Friendly Corp since her father’s death and is in the midst of a battle with the last remaining humans. We left off with Imogen revealing her plan to kill the human president and attempting to get Sage to along side her.
Our story continues with the ongoing war (and some pretty cool fight sequences, if you ask me). Obviously Sage wants nothing to do with this, and is dragged back to Imogen’s ship once she realizes Sage will be no help to her. One of Sage’s former teammates makes contact with her and says a rescue attempt has been planned. Will the rescue be successful? And will Imogen succeed in her mission to kill the President? You’ll get these answers plus the surprise return of a character from Mars Gambit in the current issue of Equinox, which dropped July 1st and is currently available for your viewing pleasure.
For this latest collection of the Kill Shakespeare adventure, I’ll make you a list, dear readers. Because lists are cool.
What I liked:
–Piratey adventure. Arr. No, but seriously: all the swashbuckling you’d want but the characters have high stakes and intense, real relationships withal.
–Strong female characters. Hurrah!
–For anyone well versed in Shakespeare, there’s plenty of quotes, references, and Easter Eggs to find throughout, beyond the character names, of course.
What I didn’t like so much:
–This really isn’t the fault of the book, but vol. 4 plunges us directly into the climax and conclusion of a complex weaving of plots worthy of a few Shakespeare plays at once, and rushes us through to the action packed end (albeit an open-ended one, ready for more to come). This is only a problem for those readers like me who are not familiar/caught up with the franchise so far. It was a lot to decipher and I think I still wasn’t clear on some points, even though there’s a nice little character descriptor/list and plot summary in the beginning which does help.
–The art is a bit blocky, and though dynamic in some places, in many areas the art is muddy enough that it’s difficult to see what is happening from panel to panel, esp. in fight scenes or other action-centered sequences.
Bottom Line: if you’re a follower of this series, this collection is essential. If you’re new to Kill Shakespeare, I’d start from the beginning, not from here.
(Image from comicbookroundup.com)
With E3 2015 wrapping up a couple days ago, we’ve been seeing some pretty cool announcements coming from the electronic world over the past week. Some fantastic-looking new games, new systems, new gadgets. Nerdy fun to be had by all.
Just before E3, however, I got to have a bit of that fun for myself. Recently, Overkill Software had an event they called the Hype Train for their game, PayDay 2. This happened back in February/March, but you can still see some of the info from it here. This event effectively solidified Overkill/Starbreeze as my favorite gaming company around today. While studios like Electronic Arts are nickel-and-diming us gamers with in-game purchases, and a studio like Gearbox is suspected of plagiarism, it’s getting hard to tell who the good guys are in gaming. Overkill made that a little easier with the Hype Train. Here are the basics: Overkill set a list of goals to reach with corresponding PayDay-themed prizes. These goals were met by fans purchasing the game, DLCs, characters packs, etc. Anything at all PayDay-related that was purchased from their official outlets in this time period went toward the Hype Train. As prizes were unlocked, anyone with the game got access to these prizes. So even if you just had the base game, but didn’t or couldn’t buy anything during that time, you still got the Car Shop Heist and the Hoxton Revenge Heist. The way they went about this event was very cool in that it was obviously for the fans. Instead of just being out to make a quick buck, they promoted the game and the additions in a way that engaged the community, and rewarded fans. I’ve seen a few cynical groups of fans criticize the gaming company for involving money in the event at all, but that criticism seems extremely short-sighted. Of course a business has to make money in order to continue releasing their brand of awesome. At least in Overkill’s case, they did it in a way that really gave back to their fans and their community – and not just the factions that could pay for it at that particular time.
One of the prizes released during the Hype Train affected me, directly. There was a possibility that a prize would be unlocked where Overkill would fly 10 heisters to L.A. for a Pre-E3 event. I’ll be honest – the details were incredibly vague at the time, and whether it would even happen or not had not even been announced yet by the time you had to enter to win this prize. However, to enter, all you had to do was send Overkill a tweet during a certain time frame. What does one tweet cost you? Nothing. Nothing at all. I sent my tweet back in March, went about my life, and actually forgot about it.
That is until early June when I started getting messages from Overkill on twitter. When they first started trying to get my attention, they hadn’t yet told me I won the trip. I was mid-sentence in a conversation with my husband, and checked a notification on my phone. I trailed off in conversation, and my eyes got very big. My husband asked what was going on, and I responded with “SOMETHING IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.” A few minutes later, Almir Listo, producer of the PayDay franchise, let me know I had won, and asked if I’d be available to fly to L.A. in exactly one week. Naturally, I freaked out, put everything in life on hold, and went. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ve been a big fan of the PayDay games for a while at this point, but even bigger, I have grown to respect and love Overkill as a gaming company. PC Gaming is one of my biggest hobbies in life these days, and these guys were doing it right. I absolutely jumped at the chance to fly across the country and meet with them in person.
The following week was a blur of sustained excitement, and early on the Saturday morning following the announcement, I was on a plane. I arrived at the same time as several other heisters, and we instantly bonded. Everyone invited along, and everyone who met up with us from the studio were amazingly friendly and welcoming. We were all extremely excited.
We got to the hotel Overkill had us staying in – the Grafton on Sunset BLVD in West Hollywood. A beautiful hotel that was rock-themed, newly renovated, and in a great location. I walked with some of the other heisters to a nearby burger place, and had lunch. Afterwards, we were all in need of a nap – each of us had been traveling since early that morning, and were in for a long night ahead of us.
A few hours later, we were picked up in a limo, and given a tour of Hollywood before being dropped off at the event.
The party was at the Hollywood House of Blues. Technically, it was only half a block from our hotel, and we easily could have walked, but the limo ride was fun either way. There were 3 floors of drinks, food, music, fun people, games, and announcements. It was crazy. Immediately upon walking into the gate, I met Damion Poitier – the voice of Chains in the PayDay games. He was incredibly nice, and all for hanging with the fans. He also made the absolute best faces in all the pictures that were taken of him that night (see his twitter feed for more of these amazing faces). We also chatted with Eric Etebari, the voice of Dallas, throughout the night as well. In fact, every time we turned around, there was either Damion or Eric. I’m pretty sure they wanted to be BFFs, but were too shy to say so (right? RIGHT??).
We were also greeted by shambling zombies everywhere. Since this event was the launch party for Overkill’s The Walking Dead, they made a point to really put you in the mindset of hanging with zombies. Now – I organized a large-scale Zombie Walk for years. We had some incredible zombies over the years, but none with the constitution of these Walkers. Never once did I see a single zombie break character, even for a second. One in particular made a point to sneak up behind various party people, waiting just inches from the back of their heads to notice him. The reactions were priceless.
Overkill’s The Walking Dead was obviously a huge one. There are a couple other TWD games out right now, but they’re both completely story-driven, not shooters. Since the Left 4 Dead franchise, I think we here in the gaming community have been itching for an awesome, new zombie-themed shooter. We saw a bit of the gameplay and graphics from the new TWD game, and it’s looking pretty badass. And it looks like there will also be a little crossover from the PayDay franchise. The game doesn’t come out until next year, but I’m already psyched for it. You can watch the trailer for it, and find out more details here.
Next was the announcement of PayDay 2 coming to consoles. In fact, they had several machines set up with PayDay 2 loaded up to try it out. I’m not a big console person, myself, so I asked some of the other folks in my group how it held up in terms of a console shooter. Since they were all fans of the PayDay franchise on PC previously, they were able to definitely say that the translation from PC to console was very well done. The controls are intuitive, and the game played just as well on console. So if you’ve been wanting to play PayDay 2, but just aren’t into keyboards and mice, look forward to that release.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, we were surprised with the announcement of the StarVR system. This entire thing looks amazing. The StarVR system is Starbreeze’s answer to the recent Virtual Reality craze. It’s a headset that’s lighter than the Oculus, and instead of smaller circles to look through that are straight-ahead, the StarVR system has a wide screen that allows for peripheral vision. This may sound like a small difference in systems, but in reality, the way the StarVR is laid out allows you to really, and truly immerse yourself into the game much more than most other VR systems that are announced right now. Granted – the StarVR is still in process, as are many other virtual reality systems, and some changes and competitors may still arise. At the moment, though, it looks like Starbreeze is on the right path with this one. Here’s a Hands-on view from the E3 conference:
Overall, there were a ton of unexpected, and fantastic surprises at the Pre-E3 party. Friendships were forged, and a ridiculous amount of fun was had.
The next day, we had dinner plans with the Overkill gang, but were free until then. Some heisters explored Hollywood, some hung out at the hotel and gamed a bit. I had some friends in town, so I joined them for a killer waffle brunch. Then we were all given an address to meet up at.
The address led us to the historic Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and the shopping center behind it. It was a little bit confusing to know where we were going at first, but once we saw that there was a Dave & Busters, we all thought ‘of course they’re going to take a bunch of video game nerds to the gaming place.’ We were right – and thrilled to be.
We were joined by Almir Listo, Simon Viklund (who composes all of the music in the PayDay games), and Karl Lakner (art director for Overkill). A relaxing dinner with great conversation was followed by a lot of selfies and group pics. We all got the chance to really talk with these accomplished fellows one-on-one, and ask any burning, heisting questions we may have had.
However, at the end of it, not all of us were ready to call it quits. Almir had to leave us, but Simon and Karl were dead-set on seeing a movie. We walked over the Chinese Theater, and all grabbed tickets for Jurassic World, but still had a couple hours to kill, so we went back to D&B’s to play some games. I got to shoot ridiculous amounts of aliens and terminator-bots with Karl, and then even more dinosaurs with Simon. A few of the other Overkill guys joined us for the movie – and were more than happy to talk about the weapons, explosions, and landscapes they designed for the PayDay games, and what went into them. The gentlemen we got to meet from Overkill were easily some of the nicest, friendliest, and most welcoming people I’ve met in a long time.
The next morning, I flew the 7 hours back to my usual side of the country.
It was a crazy, jam-packed, exciting, whirlwind of a weekend that I never expected to happen.
I cannot thank the guys at Overkill, and especially Almir and Karl (who were both incredibly friendly and accommodating) enough for the experience. You guys made 10 little heisters’ lives incredibly bright for that weekend.
Book Review: the Very Best of Kate Elliott
Review by: Prof. Jenn
I’ll admit to you, readers, that I was disappointed by this book for one reason, and one reason only: I tried to speed-read through it because my review queue was so long, and was unable to do so. The stories in this collection are so myriad in setting and tone, so compelling, that I had to stop and read through at a slower pace, enjoying and absorbing each tale.
This collection spans multiple worlds of Elliott’s (plus some non-fiction which is equally fascinating): some stories are stand-alone, some take place in already-created sci fi or fantasy worlds already in the Elliott canon. All feature women as central (or at least essentially pivotal) characters, without every story being about feminist preaching, which is important in itself. The focus in all of them is on the story, driven by well-drawn characters. All these characters are rich, flawed, engaging, and in every single story the reader wants to know what happens next (hence my inability to speed-read). It’s no easy feat to accomplish rich world-building in such a short form as the short story, but Elliott nails it in each and every one. And one doesn’t have to be familiar with her work to enjoy this collection, though I daresay I’m going to go out to my nearest bookstore and find more by her after having read this.
There is no orbiting outside this collection: it’s an absorbing read, for anyone who enjoys sci fi, fantasy, blending of the two, excellent characters, Elliot’s previous work, or dang good storytelling. Or all of the above.
Bottom Line: I highly recommend this Best of collection.
There is a huge difference between a good graphic novel and a great one. Good graphic novels are prevalent–they’re beautiful, well-written, and an all-around underestimated genre. Still, a great graphic novel is rare and elusive, and will possess some quality that can’t be found in any other book, a unique visual element that the novel cannot subsist without. My favorite graphic novel is Asterios Polyp, which exhibits this quality effortlessly. The Sculptor, Scott McCloud’s book that came out in early February, also contains visual elements that make it settle above the crowded alleys of its neighboring competitors.
The story is as follows: David Smith is one of many David Smiths. He’s not even the only David Smith in the art world. But one day he’s offered a deal by Death himself–a tremendous gift that would allow him to leave his artistic mark on the world, at the price of his remaining life, which would be cut down to 200 days. David accepts the deal and is given the ability to mold any material with his bare hands, but shortly after meets a girl and falls in love.
At nearly 500 pages, this formidable graphic novel is gorgeously illustrated in blue monochrome. Though this is not McCloud’s first foray into books–he has written a few others about comics–it is his first graphic novel. Despite this, it reads like a self-actualized veteran’s accomplishment.
The main character, David, is a frustratingly tortured artist struggling to make his mark on the world. He continues his downward spiral even after he receives his thorny but incredible gift from Death. Then he meets Meg–who appears to him as an Angel during a street performance–and immediately falls in love. Meg is the embodiment of the manic pixie dream girl, instantly loved by all who meet her, constantly helping others at her own expense. As the story progresses, Meg’s character grows beyond the stereotype. McCloud has addressed the manic pixie trope in interviews. Meg is actually based on his own wife. “I married the trope — what am I gonna do?” he says.
Though The Sculptor does not necessarily tread any new ground, it explores its themes of death, memory, and artistic fulfillment, well. David’s artwork, which he takes to the streets, eventually manipulating the entire city to fit his vision, is the needed element in The Sculptor that elevates this novel from good to great. It’s a sad tale, but it gives the gift of hope to the reader and the graphic novel enthusiast who wants this art form to succeed.
In case you need a refresher, since it’s been awhile, I’m going to take a brief look at what happened in the last series of Sage Escape comics before we jump into the brand new issue that just came out.
Previously: Sage survived the destruction of her village by Friendly Corp and seeks revenge. She travels to Mars and learns the person responsible for the media cover up was Elvis Cray. She assassinates him and is hunted down for it. We last left her trapped in an emergency escape pod, falling endlessly through space.
We pick up in the midst of a final conflict between the salesman assassin empire and the human resistance. Two ships on opposite sides of the conflict will discover the escape pod which holds our hero, Sage. Who will get to Sage first? And what will she do when she finds herself caught in the middle of the war? The first chapter in the “Equinox” storyline sets up what promises to be another grand adventure with Sage. This issue came out April 15th, so use your tax money and join us, won’t you? It looks like we’re going to be in for a treat. I’d hate for anyone to miss all the excitement.
This review doesn’t come with a trigger warning, that just happens to be the name of Neil Gaiman’s newest short story collection, which was released in early February. As usual, Gaiman delivers a unique cavalcade of stories marching in a variety of different formats. Stories in the first and third person, stories told as one half of an interview transcript, and stories that may read traditionally, but always don a twist. There is truly a wide variety of fiction here, for which Gaiman apologizes in his own introduction.
“I firmly believe that short story collections should be the same sort of thing all the way through. They should not, hodgepodge and willy-nilly, assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same covers… This collection fails that test. For this failure, as for so much, I request your indulgence and forgiveness…”
Trigger Warning amasses a collection of stories that were not meant to live in the same world, some of which were already given worlds of their own. “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” and “The Sleeper and the Spindle” already have their own bona-fide illustrated versions. “A Calendar of Tales” assembles all of the material that Gaiman wrote with the help of Twitter and BlackBerry. “Feminine Endings” has been around for ages, and any Gaiman fan has probably been aware of it since Neil first hooked up with Amanda Palmer back in 2009.
Still, there is a character to Gaiman’s writing that remains consistent. An oddness, a strange frankness about the world, that ties these disparate stories together. They are all so very Gaiman-y, which means, in some strange way, that they are all very much ours.
The stories twist and turn and surprise you, in their own way. Some of them are surprisingly funny, like “Orange,” the story of a girl answering questions about her sister turning into a god. [This happens to be one of my personal favorites from the collection]. There are the takes on classic horror (“Click-Clack the Rattlebag”), a Doctor Who story (featuring the 11th Doctor and Amy, so what’s not to love?), a Sherlock story, and a tale following the American Gods hero, Shadow. Then there are the heart-breaking new characters, making their first and only appearance in this book.
It is a worthwhile collection that possesses the ability to turn any short-story naysayer around.
Comic Review: A Tale of Sand by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl–illustrations by Ramon K. Perez
Review by Prof. Jenn
A Tale of Sand is a screenplay written by the late great Jim Henson, which never saw the light of movie day. It was written back in 1974, the heyday of Henson’s immense creative output, and one can very much experience said creativity by reading A Tale of Sand. To have this surreal screenplay illustrated sketchbook style by an artist such as Perez only enhances the experience–I opine that this is better as a sketchbook-cum-comic than it would have been as a 1970s film.
The story follows Everyman Mac, who is on a quest for he knows not what (except that he really wants to light that last cigarette). He meets strange people and places as he crosses the desert, some of which are attempting to hinder him, not the least of which are the sinister Patch and mysterious Blonde. When Mac finally reaches the end of his journey, it’s not at all what he (or the reader) imagines.
The illustrations are pleasingly sketchbook-like, some unfinished and some inked to perfection. It adheres well to the odd dreamlike quality of the adventure. There is plenty of backstory about the project in the forms of introductions and afterwords (though in the Afterword, we read about how the lettering was created and handled, and we see colorized, more finished versions of some of the pages–did I miss something in my Press version of the book?), which again gives us another window into the fertile mind that was Henson’s oeuvre, including and beyond the brilliant Muppets.
Bottom Line: bar my confusion as to whether I’ve been given a different version, I still highly recommend A Tale of Sand.
In case you haven’t heard the news, Harmonix announced today (at about 5:30 in the morning..) that they’re ready for their encore! The Rock Bands games 1-3 were once a staple in friendly-get-together fun for gamers for years. It seemed the project was all but abandoned after the market was a little too saturated with at-home music games a few years ago, but we’re very happy to hear it’s been revived!
The new game will be released for current gen consoles (PS4 and Xbox ONE), however the good news is that if you have an older gen console of the same type, your DLCs and previous game codes should work for the new game and new console. This will not work for changing platforms (ie: going from PS3 to the Xbox ONE), but that’s pretty understandable. Harmonix is also working with Mad Catz to get older instruments working with the new systems/game, but no promises have been made there yet.
They will be introducing new instruments for the new consoles. Details have not been formally announced yet, with the exception of a Penny Arcade-themed guitar. This special guitar will be available for pre-order if you visit the Harmonix booth at PAX East this weekend in person, and reserve it there. Info on the PAX East pre-order as well as general info on the RB4 announcement is available here:
If you’re not able to make it out to PAX East, but still want to be able to pre-order the game or get updates on release details, they have a handy sign up here (note: pricing has not been announced):
And lastly, they have released a FAQ on the new game here:
I don’t know about you guys, but I hope this means that Rock Band competitions will start popping up again. I will OWN that with Somebody to Love. And I think this accurate describes our excitement over the announcement: