Wednesday, February 20, 2019

My Favorite Songs from The Umbrella Academy

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If you have Netflix or the internet, you would probably have heard someone talking about the new show, The Umbrella Academy by now. What you might not have heard is that the show is the brainchild of ex-My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way. Not only did he write the comics, but he was also instrumental (see what I did there?) in putting together the tv show and its soundtrack.

Gerard Way as we know him best.

And what an awesome soundtrack it is. Possibly the best part of the few episodes I have watched. This prompted me to find a Spotify playlist and give the list of tracks a listen while I work. I have picked out my favourites for you to enjoy too.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) - They Might Be Giants

This is one of those songs that I feel I should apologise in advance for because you will have it stuck in your head for the next few days.

Kill of the Night - Gin Wigmore

I have never heard of Gin Wigmore before, although her music has featured in a few TV series. I like the lounge music vibe and a sound that reminds me a little of Amy Winehouse.

Hazy Shade of Winter - Gerard Way, Ray Toro

This is a fantastic, rocked-up cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic. Essential for those of you missing My Chemical Romance and Gerard Way's distinctive voice.

Phantom of the Opera Medley - Lindsey Sterling

Wondered why the violin medley Vanya plays at the beginning of episode one is so familiar? That's because it's really Lindsey Stirling. I love this so much as she adds her own flair to covers she does.

And, lastly, there is one scene where the cast dances along to I Think We're Alone Now by Tiffany. I can't in good conscience add that song to the list (because it's just not my bag, baby), but I can include an amazing cover that I think fits the darkness of the series. This by Hidden Citizens, who did a series of covers along this vein, giving songs a movie trailer level of epicness. I would love to see their music included in future episodes of The Umbrella Academy.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Review: Apex Legends

Apex Legends is a free-to-play Battle Royale game that, in the short time since its release, has seen its player base grow to over 25 million.

Developed by Respawn Entertainment, it is available to anyone with an Origin account so there is really no reason why you shouldn't at least try it out for few games.

The basic concept is that you, along with 2 friends (or random people on the internet, I don't judge), team up to form a squad to compete in the Apex Games against 19 other teams for the glory of being the last team standing. Think Hunger Games, only you aren't killing teenagers and being a slave to the Capitol.

Each player gets to chose a character from the roster who has a unique set of abilities which will benefit the team either in terms of offence, defence, healing or exploration. You are then launched into the arena with no resources at your disposal. Where your Squad Leader chooses to land has a huge impact on the sort of advantage you gain in the first few minutes of gameplay as you scrounge for guns, armour and ammo.

From, there, it's simple. Stay alive and outlast the other players as the size of the playable area incrementally decreases.

The Good

  • It is damn fun to play and relatively simple to learn, as long as you are familiar with gaming mechanics.
  • There is a built-in communication system so if you don't have a mic, you can still relay important information to the rest of the squad through your character.
  • The players are on a level playing field aside from knowledge of game mechanics and the map. You are not going to face characters who have stronger abilities because they have done the grind.
  • Any additional content you can purchase via microtransactions is purely cosmetic. You don't need to spend money but that doesn't mean you won't want to.
  • There is no commitment or cooldown period if, for some reason, you cannot complete a match.

The Not Good
  • It's still early days, so sometimes the game struggles to connect to servers and there are juddering moments where your character freezes up while this stabilises. 
  • I struggle to see other players as they are presented as kind of faded and grey if they are not in your squad. This makes it hard to be both offensive and defensive and to actually get kills.
  • Playing solo is just not as fun as playing with people you know, especially as you might find yourself with a language barrier with the strangers in your squad. This is not a fault of the game, of course. But Apex Legends is definitely best played with friends. Although, the limit to three people can also pose problems if you have three friends online at that time with you.

The Consensus

Basically, this is something you can install and jump right into. Because it's free to play, it won't be hard to convince friends to join you and squad up for a few games. The game mechanics are clever and intuitive and even those not used to Battle Royale style gameplay should pick this up very quickly and enjoy it, even if you don't get kills right away.

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One

System Requirements:
OS:     64-bit Windows 7
CPU:   Intel Core i3-6300 3.8GHz / AMD FX-4350 4.2 GHz Quad-Core Processor
GPU:   NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 / Radeon HD 7730
GPU    RAM: 1 GB
Minimum 22 GB of free space

Friday, February 8, 2019

Giveaway: King of Scars

Due to reasons, I find myself with a spare copy of King of Scars, the new, anticipated novel from YA Superstar, Leigh Bardugo.

This is the first in a new duology set in the Grishaverse and it is highly recommended you read the first two series first.

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army. 
Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

If you are a fan or want to start your collection, I am giving away my spare copy of King of Scars.

The rules are simple:

  • You must be a resident of South Africa.
  • You must follow me @urbanisedgeek on Instagram.
  • Find the corresponding Instagram post and comment tagging 2 friends.
  • Winner announced on Friday the 16th Feb 2019 on Instagram.

May the odds be ever in your favour!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Review: KeyForge - Call of the Archons

Hey everyone. I know it's been a while since I posted something, so I decided to get the New Year off to a good start with a review of the new card game, KeyForge.

From the creator of Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield, KeyForge offers something a little different in the sense that it is not a traditional trading card game. You do not get booster packs nor can you customize your decks like you can in MTG.

Each deck consists of 37 cards and is completely unique and given the name of an Archon, a character in the game that you represent by playing that deck. You do not know which deck you get until you open your box, which adds to the fun of KeyForge. Each deck represents 3 of the 7 "houses" in the game and contains any combination of the cards currently in print. Fantasy Flight Games, the producers of the game, claim that 104 billion unique decks are possible.

The game revolves around the idea that you, as Archon, have a goal to unlock these secret vaults of knowledge to gain power. In order to do this, you must race your opponent by creating three keys. The player who manages to make three keys first wins the game.

I am not going to detail the rules of play here, but you can refer to the Fantasy Flight Games website for the rules of the game.

One obvious advantage of KeyForge is that, once you have bought a deck which costs a reasonable R215, you are set to play and be competitive. There is also a starter kit you can get which has all the necessary tokens and contains 2 decks and 2 intro decks, but this is not really required and can also prove to be hard to find due to the games unexpected popularity. You can use dice, poker chips, and other goodies just as effectively.

The caveat is that, until you open and play with your deck, you can't be sure if it is actually good, as decks do seem to have varying power levels. You cannot customize decks, as they are all printed with the name of the Archon they represent and cannot be mixed up at all.

KeyForge is also relatively simple to grasp, though I do curse the lack of inclusion of basic rules with the decks. I also believe the starter kit doesn't have a rulebook included with it either. But, that's ok. Everything is on the website and you can also watch some YouTube videos of people explaining the game's mechanics. Alternatively, pop into your local gaming store and chat with the staff there for some assistance.

I find KeyForge to be a refreshing, fun change to MTG. It also is easier to learn and can be played by friends and families around the dinner table as an addition to board games. The art and design of the cards are colourful and fun with some amusing names and subtle humor mixed in.

I attended my first KeyForge event and really enjoyed playing with other people as the community is new and everyone is there to learn their decks and the game. In fact, this is why it's a great time to pick this game up if you have been thinking about trying it out as you will definitely be able to learn and grow with your local community. Tournament software is still, sadly, in development. I do see on the app where you can register your decks that you will be able to track your wins and losses with each deck, which will be great once a formalized structure is in place for competitions.

But I am a Magic player and come with a different set of expectations for gaming events, so take that as inconsequential if you are just wanting something fun to play with friends.

All in all, KeyForge has exceeded my expectations and I am very excited to see what developments they have to offer in future. I do believe that Call of the Archons is just the first set available as well and there will surely be new cards out in future sets, adding to the variety of decks you can get or play against.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Review: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Last month, Netflix launched the first season of the She-Ra reboot, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

My memories of the original 1985 Filmation series are hazy at best, as I was too young to really follow and appreciate it. So, this is not going to be a comparison between the old and the new. I think enough people have done that already. I also want to put it out there upfront that I am well over the target age for this show.

When Netflix let the world know that is would be hosting the She-Ra reboot, helmed by one of my favorite artists Noelle Stevenson (Nimona, Lumberjanes) I was there like a bear. I had been following Noelle for a whole on social media and enjoyed her perspective on the world. I also knew that, like her other work, she would be sure to bring across a strong diversity message with She-Ra.

When they released the first stills from the show, there was an immediate backlash that, frankly, pissed me off. People, mainly men, where complaining that She-Ra was androgynous. That she didn't have curves. That the animation was shitty and simplistic. Noelle Stevenson had people rage-tweeting her for ruining their childhood.

This sort of reaction is exactly the level of stupid one can expect from social media these days and I can say, now that I have seem a fair chunk of season one, that the show does not deserve it.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power  is a well-scripted show with lovable characters and an engaging plot. Adora, our main character, is 3-dimensional and, while filled with doubt at times, takes on the various challenged presented to her head-on. The relationship between Adora and the main antagonist, Catra, is deep and complex and seems to form the foundation for much of the arcing storyline.

The animation is engrossing and we are even treated to the classic-style cutscene whenever Adora transforms into She-Ra, a nod to the original series.

The outstanding aspect of this series, however, is the representation and diversity presented. We get characters of different ethnicities, body types and sexual orientations. There are strong females everywhere and only one prominent (and very likely queer) male  in the main cast. This is a much-needed thing where we are usually dominated by strong male characters and females in need of rescuing.

Season One clearly sets the stage for the rest of the series, getting the audience familiar with the characters, setting and background.

I cannot fault the show in any way and highly recommend to give it a watch. This in spite of being 20 years above the age of the target audience.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Opinion: Girl Gamers and Toxic Community Perceptions

As many of you know by now, I am an active member in the local Magic: the Gathering community, running regular events and a recently qualified L1 judge. I have been playing Magic consistently for 5 years or so and it is a large part of my current personal identity.

I have also started playing online multiplayer games (Counter Strike: Global Offensive, mainly) in the hopes of leveling up my skills and situational awareness to better my single-player gameplay.

This past weekend, I attended my first Judges Conference, where the topic of gender balance in the Magic community was brought up. To put this into a very real perspective, of the attendees at this event, I was the only female Judge present. There were two other girls who were there with the aim of becoming Judges. So, this was already indicative of the lack of gender balance in Magic, a game where males and females should be on level footing as competitors.

This got me thinking, as there is a strong correlation between how women are treated in Magic and how they are treated in an online game, such as CS:GO. Before you keyboard warriors get upset with me, remember the points I am raising now are based on my first-hand experience. I do not need you to mansplain matters to me as this is literally the reality of what I and other women and non-binary members of many gaming communities face.

Julia "juliano" Kiran of Sweden and Team Secret.

Firstly, the perception that women are lesser players needs to be shot in the head. Kill it. Dead. If a woman does well at her chosen game, it is not because of luck but rather skill and hours of practice. Look, I am still trash at CS;GO, but it takes hours and hours of practice to top the scoreboards, even in casual play. That doesn't matter. I am on the same footing as any other noob would be. Some guys have this archaic idea that women are simply not as good as they are or that losing to a woman comes down to luck.

Secondly, women are not gaming to pick up men. We are not in the channel or room to be your tits and ass. If finding a woman is a goal for you, join Tinder. Don't assume we are single / straight / interested just because we are friendly in in-game chat. This happens at least once a session to me. Sadly, it's the 1% of players that can make girls feel uncomfortable. The same applies to female cosplayers, who don't get treated with respect.

Women aren't always playing because of their boyfriends. Sometimes, women want to play because they enjoy the competition and winning. Making this assumption is not only sexist, it puts women on the back-foot, further adding to the nonsense they have to deal with while trying to enjoy their chosen hobby.

Making crude / rude comments is not going to make me leave or cry. This comes from the male entitlement complex that the game is theirs and theirs only to enjoy and should not be ruined by the presence of a real female. Yeah, this is a dig at those guys who like having big boobs on their avatars. I am not easily put off by this sort of nonsense fortunately and find it, most of the time, amusing. There are also others around who will shoot the guy down without me having to step in. Although, I usually will anyway because I fear nothing. Also, all I usually have to do is rank higher than them and they will rage-quit the server.

In the past week alone, I have had salty male players make reference body parts of not just myself but the other ladies in-game. One special person also called two of us fat, hoping to upset us.

My response?

The intimidation factor of being in the 5% or less minority is real. 2 years ago, I qualified and played in the Nationals for Magic. I was one of only 2 girls who competed in a field of 150 players. It is scary and intimidating and immediately puts one on the defensive. This is a feeling I can guarantee no male player has ever felt. Ever. The same can be said for being the only girl in-game on CS:GO, though there are a few more girls than I was expecting who play.

My advice if you are a girl wanting to play? Put on your emotional kevlar and do it. Don't care what others think as their comments probably stem from their own insecurities. Keep at it. Get good. Get better. Kick ass.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Hype / Tripe: Are Popular Books Worthy?

I have decided to do a regular feature where I will read and give an honest review of a very popular book. This might not be a recent book, however, it will be something that a lot of other bloggers and Booktubers have spoken about a lot.

I just want to confirm a theory I have that not all books that are hyped are necessarily good and that a lot of the attention surrounding these books comes from a big and clever marketing campaign.

I am not going into the books I select expecting to hate them and really prefer it if I don't have to do a ranty review. But if a book pisses me off, you can expect full honesty about it.

The first book I will be reviewing for Hype / Tripe is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I have a strong suspicion that this is a book that was popular because of the representation it offers, rather than the strength of the story. But I would love to be proven wrong and will be reading and reviewing it in the coming week.

If you have any books you would like to see me write about for this feature, please leave your recommendations in the comments. I already have a pretty good list of titles I plan to read for this, but it will be interesting to get an idea of what books you feel are overhyped.