[Updated! Now with recommendations from Becky Chambers, Stark Holborn, Adam Kranz, Jesse Bullington, Anne and Jared]
[Updated again! More recs from Jesse!]
[And again! New recs from Kirsty Logan!]
Tis the holiday season! But giving stuff can be hard. Not because you're a bad person (you're great!), but because people are really difficult, and, odds are, they've got all the obvious stuff already.
To help you spend your hard-earned money on the people you love, we've asked our contributors, guests and online-passers-by for some gifting suggestions.
We've all followed a simple 'If/Then' formula - helping you find the right gift for that very specific oddball in your life. (Or, yourself. We don't judge.) We'll keep updating with more recommendations over the next few weeks, so check back for even more assistance with your last-minute panic-buying!
I'm fascinated by instances where the creators of video games, RPGs, or comics change their worlds. The joy of fantasy is that everything is completely malleable. The history, the politics, the very physics of the universe - all can be changed at the creators' whim.
But what happens to the readers and players who are committed to that world? How do they deal with the upheaval?
I adore stealth games, and the Dishonored series is right at the top of my list. Aside from satisfying my need for sneaky stabs (or stabby sneaks, take your pick), both games are a treasure trove of background art. I often hear the setting described as steampunk, but that misses the mark. This, my friends, is straight-up whalepunk.
Staged in a magic-tinged analog of late-1800s London, Dishonored exists in a world of gilt and grime. Mechanical marvels clank past packs of plague rats. Street gangs clash with oppressive clergy. The excitement of scientific discovery shines alongside the shadow of grisly occultism. Everywhere you turn, there’s beautiful paintings, filthy beggars, brass gadgets, sticky-looking pubs, and tins of jellied eels. This is a place where everything is possible and nothing will ever be okay.
The Hall of Video Game Art, Exhibit 714: Yes, This Post Is About Breasts But It's Not What You Think
Ah, environmental storytelling. It is, without question, one of the things I love best. I’m delighted whenever I encounter it, be it in film, in illustration, in theme parks — and yes, indeed, in video games. In this series, I’ll be taking a deep dive into some of my favorite examples within that modern medium. See, I come from a theater background, and I’m often struck by the parallels between plays and games. Both are creative composites, constructed from elements that can be appreciated on their own — writing, music, vocal performance, costumes, and so forth — but come together into something greater than the sum of their parts. And just as every play exists on borrowed time, so, too, does a game. A theatrical production eventually closes; a game eventually becomes unplayable as computers progress. C'est la vie.
That limited lifespan is what makes me want to celebrate the small details that bring virtual worlds to life. Many objects I’ll describe in the months ahead cannot be interacted with. None are addressed by dialogue, nor are they required by quests. These are things you could easily walk past or miss altogether. The brilliant background is what I’m tackling, the sublime details that transform a mere scaffold of pixels into a soulful work of art.
Which is why I’ll begin with Bethany Hawke’s tits.
Recently, I found the archives of the Avalon Hill General, easily one of the most important publications when it came to the formation of modern wargaming.
Published by Avalon Hill, and devoted to their military games, it helped to link the many, many tiny cells of wargamers around the country.
As well as rules discussion, hints, tips and challenges, the General contained regional editors (fan volunteers), an index of local players and 'want ads' for play by mail games. From a pure marketing standpoint, it was brilliant: a collection of user-generated content that turned isolated players into a community of (Avalon-Hill-Buying) regulars.
It is also a really interesting look into the demographics - and the culture - of early wargamers. There are, as you might expect, a lot of high school boys, ex- or currently serving military men, and a few middle aged men. The list of active players in the newsletters is all male (although some women may be hiding behind initials), and virtually all with Western European surnames. Basically: white guys.
There are a lot of 'Best of 2016' lists coming out now, but they're all flawed and wrong because they don't include the things we wanted them to include. More importantly, they weren't written by us.
As our gift to the internet - and therefore the world - we've put together the Absolute and Definite Guide to the Best of Everything. It is conclusive and final, and should be used as a reference to settle all arguments.
A review of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons from Ares: The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy Simulation. The core rulebooks of AD&D were published between 1977 and 1979, and this review was published July 1980.
The timeline is important here, as Ares was founded and published by Simulations Publications, Inc. - which was also a producer of tactical and strategic boardgames... and role playing games like Dragonquest, coincidentally published later in 1980 (and obliquely mentioned in the final paragraph). Teaser ads for the core rulebooks of Dragonquest appear, coincidentally, in this very issue of Ares. The review of AD&D is certainly not unfair, but the context should also be taken into account.
Published by SelfMadeHero in October, Tetris: The Games People Play, is Box Brown's follow-up to his biography of wrestling and Hollywood legend, Andre the Giant. In his new graphic novel, Brown marries a philosophical view of humanity’s relationship to games with the true story of the rise in popularity and subsequent legal wrangling of the '80s sensation Tetris. Although artistically snappy and warm, the creator only pulls off this marriage with debatable success. Regardless, the story of Tetris is full of humour, warmth and surprise, even if it falls slightly short of the book's loftier aims.
I confess, I’m not much of a gamer; I’ve never spent hours curing patients in Theme Hospital or worked my thumbs to the bone for that perfect combo on Street Fighter, heck, I’ve never even had a phone with Snake on it. So when I heard about a graphic novel about the creation of Tetris, I wasn’t particularly excited. Tetris? That annoying game from the 80s with the stupid blocks that never go where they’re supposed to? Why would I want to read about that?
There’s something about the idea of walking somewhere that no one else ever has which connects to why I fell in love with sci-fi as a kid. The idea of walking alien soil, taking in bizarre vegetation and unknown, inexplicable wildlife appealed to me far more than the epic space battles or the jetpack and robot futurescapes. That moment of arrival; that sense of what have you got for me today, universe? Exploration for its own sake is at the heart of my sci-fi.
So No Man’s Sky is at the heart of my sci-fi.