Sunday, August 30, 2015

Story of Seasons: The Good, the Bad and the possible Future

As should be fairly obvious by my earlier article, my love for the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons games is no secret. It is that very love which makes my frustration with the recent incarnations of this series so frustrating and so profound. I intended to write a review of the newest game, Story of Seasons, but after 1,000 abandoned words and having had no desire to open the game for several months, I found I had something other than a review to write.

While I am certain I played earlier versions of the game, the one I vividly remember obsessing over was Friends of Mineral Town. As the series progressed, some of my favorite aspects were dropped from it, such as the in-depth mining system, and the farming system increasingly became more difficult, much more of a chore. By the time I had seduced Sanjay in A New Beginning, I swore that I would not play the next game if they added any more complexity to the crop raising system.


And then I rejoiced, because with the announcement of Story of Seasons came the promise of a simplified crop system. I was elated. The game promised so much that I wanted: The chance to run my own store, character customization and wifi gameplay. Bring it on!

Unfortunately, once I had the game in my hands, I found that Story of Seasons had fallen far behind similar games in its addictive and entertaining qualities. The tutorial itself was painfully slow, lasting one full in-game week, and sadly, seemed to set the pace for the entire game. Not only was I unable to skip or even speed up this tutorial, it failed to provide some very important information, such as having to press a button while looking at the calendar in order to see when traveling merchants were scheduled to come to town.

While simplifying the crop system was very much needed, it seems that the developers decided to remove the chance to get ahead along with crop complexity. There was no longer any reason to try and discover how to best utilize every second of every day, because you could not unlock anything, such as those precious silky chicken eggs, any sooner. New items, crops and animals were all time locked, encouraging you to blow through the days as fast as you can to get to that magical unlock point, rather than carefully managing your time in order to see just how quickly you could accomplish a goal.

Image courtesy of videochums
Speaking of removing features, this game also lacks the ability to have someone else tend your crops. In the past, the Harvest Sprites took on this job, but they offer no such services this time. Even if you become king or queen of the region and have farming rights to every public field, you have to do all the watering, fertilizing and harvesting yourself. While it is possible, thanks to tool upgrades being somewhat easily achieved, I still would have found it a real treat to be able to pay one of my rival farmers to tend my crops for me. If Elise can do it, why can't I?

And then there was the social component. While Story of Seasons does support both an online connectivity feature and a local Streetpass option, they are both so minimal and uninspiring that you may as well be playing Farmville. One upon a time, the ability to enter into someone else's game with a 'magic wand' to offer some invisible boost to the happiness/value of an animal or crop was mind blowing. It would have been cutting edge technology. Those days passed, and we're not on Facebook. Gamers who use the 3DS system expect far more at this point in time.

Image courtesy of gameinformer

While games like Animal Crossing, Fantasy Life and Monster Hunter 4 allow up to three players to enter a host's game and play mini games, chat and trade items in real time, the online gameplay in Story of Seasons allows for no text chat, and does nothing to encourage social bonding. Instead, players get a magic wand and sprint across the farm, 'blessing' everything they can as quickly as they can, so that they can rush off to do the same for the next host, all with the hope the host will reward their time with a useful item. Hosts are not even allowed to offer some of the most useful or exciting items, as things such as silky eggs are not allowed to be gifted.

The social component in the Story of Seasons games needs a drastic and immediate update if the franchise hopes to remain relevant. This does present some rather difficult challenges, the biggest of which has to be the time factor. Time ticks away quickly within the world of Story of Seasons, and time is far more important to game play than in Fantasy Life or Animal Crossing. Having other players over could mess up your gameplay and could potentially require some pretty intense planning. So what is the solution?

One simple solution is a mulit-player co-op.


Instead of bringing others to their own farms, players could band together at a communal farm, where those who have exchanged 3DS codes can farm together. Combining their resources, co-op members could contribute animals, seeds and other resources. Everyone involved in the co-op could receive a portion of the harvest, either equally distributed or based upon the amount of care given. Players could also exchange their goods with other members of the co-op. In order to ensure everyone is still active and involved, those who do not visit the co-op for a certain amount of time could be removed, with the option to be invited later.

Image courtesy of gameskinny
Another great way to encourage social play and to help drive an economy would be to allow players to set up shop in the games of other players. This system could be similar to the GTS system in Pokemon, and Story of Season has already implemented an easy way for random players to set up shop in your town, thanks to the recently introduced foreign traders! Imagine waking up each in-game day to find a fresh set of shops, stocked by real players, filled with produce, resources and other goods, both in and out of season, for sale.

Imagine, also, being one of those dedicated players who has carefully budgeted time and resources and has unlocked silky eggs or five star crops shortly after the games release. Being able to sell those items at a premium to other players could easily fund your farm upgrades. On the other end of the spectrum, offering up such desirable items at a low price could be a blessing for a new player, giving them an extra cash boost in that lean first year on the farm. Pokemon players know the joy of getting a rare or powerful Pokemon via Wondertrade, imagine the same kind of item coming from a generous farmer in Story of Seasons. It is this kind of human connection, even if virtual and anonymous, that helps bond players to a game.

So far as graphics are concerned, well, I have another complaint there. It's hard not to compare Story of Seasons with Animal Crossing, as the two games  have so much in common. While Animal Crossing has kept its graphics cartoony and bright, Story of Seasons moved to an odd mishmash that is overly simple in some cases and overly textured in others. Its color pallets have also suffered. While winter in game is lovely, the ground covered with twinkling snow, I find autumn to be downright depressing. Instead of painting the game with vibrant, inspirational colors, everything turns brown and drab, leaving me yearning for a blanket of snow to just make it stop. Also, while spring is nice, it is visually dull compared to spring in Animal Crossing:

Image courtesy of vgoutpost
Image courtesy of gamesradar
And then there's this strange, shifting expanse of what seems to be swamp water which appears in random places in the game:



Despite all my complaints, Story of Seasons did offer some improvements to the overall series. While it was slow going, there were certainly well developed characters who made it worth the slog. As mentioned earlier, the simplified crop system makes growing crops more enjoyable and less of a chore. Then there is the ability to (finally!) customize your character was also a real treat. While Story of Seasons did not allow for same-sex relationships, the customization allows for all characters to wear all apparel and hair styles, so you could effectively cheat the system by selecting a male and dressing it as a female, or vice versa. It's not the same as an actual same-sex relationship, but at least it's one step closer.

Image courtesy of Cruchyroll
I have high hopes for Return To PopoloCrois, an upcoming game which is being advertised as a Story of Seasons Fairytale. While Rune Factory, a similar game series advertised as a fantasy Story of Seasons, faces many of the same hurdles of the main Story of Seasons games, its action-RPG nature helps better break up farming and gives players plenty of monsters to slay. The RPG elements of PopoloCrois holds a great deal of promise, and I cannot wait to dive into the game when it releases in December.

Until then, all I can do is hope that the next major title in the Story of Seasons franchise will find a way to, once again, offer the charm, addition and entertainment of its earlier installments.

How about you?

Have you played Story of Seasons, or any of the Harvest Moon or Rune Factory series? Do you have a favorite game from this franchise? Was there a particular aspect of Story of Seasons which excited, frustrated or disappointed you? Please tell me about it in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Nintendo Generations

While Atari may have defined a generation of gamers, Nintendo has both ushered in and held the hearts of several generations with their unique combination of affordable consoles and memorable characters. Mario may have been born a supporting character in Donkey Kong, but he has climbed the ladder, or perhaps slid up the pipe, to become not only Nintendo’s mascot, but one of the most recognizable characters across the globe.

Nintendo by arystar
Nintendo by aryastar


Sunday, August 9, 2015

My Top Five Fishing Games

There is something magical, relaxing and captivating about virtual fishing. Fishing in real life never quite panned out for me; tangled lines, biting insects, frigid hours before sunrise and a parental unit who simply did not have the patience for any of these things resulted in my younger self experiencing only a handful of largely unsuccessful fishing trips. Fruitless and uncomfortable fishing expeditions are now a thing of the past, thanks to the countless video games which now incorporate fishing as part of their game play! Here are a handful of my favorite virtual fishing retreats.

Fantasy Life

With so much to do in Fantasy life, it's easy to overlook the addicting mini-game that is fishing. By approaching a fish shadow, the player can cast their rod, and press the A button at just the right moment in order to hook the fish. The battle to reel in the fish begins and requires players to either pull with the A button, launch a charged pull with the X button, while simultaneously countering the resistance of the fish by turning the circle pad in the direction indicated. Failure to pull in the correct direction results in the line snapping and the fish escaping. Do it correctly and the fish's stamina slowly wears down, allowing you to reel it in. Be warned: If your fishing level or gear is too low, no amount of pulling and charged attacks will wear your catch down.

Ultimate Angler

One of the new games added to the Streetpass Plaza of the 3DS turned out to be a dedicated fishing game, and it is a real charmer. The player received a piece of bait from each person they streetpass, then heads out to try and land a legendary, giant fish. Fishing involves casting and waiting, pressing the A button at just the right time to hook the fish. Once hooked, players must use the circle pad to reel in the fish, timing their pulls so as to not stress or snap the line while the fish is pulling. If you're really lucky, you'll trigger a feeding frenzy which can net you as many as 50 fish! Captured fish can be displayed as trophies in semi-customizeable tanks, and passing players from a different country or region allows you to unlock different fishing spots with even more kinds of fish to snag. This one will keep you busy, and for only $5!

Legend of Zelda

 

My rabid love for my third favorite fishing game probably comes from nostalgia. I was first introduced to the grand tradition of the fishing minigame by The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. I distinctly remember how expensive an endeavor fishing was early on in the game, but I was determined to catch everything in that lake! For ten rupees, Link could cast once, and had the chance of snagging a small fish worth 5 rupees, a large fish worth 20 rupees, or the big fish, which would earn him 20 rupees plus a piece of heart! The tradition of Link fishing has continued in several installments of the Legend of Zelda, and the graphics have received an upgrade, too!

Animal Crossing

 
Like most everything else in the game, the fishing mechanics in Animal Crossing are surprisingly simple yet charming and addicting. You walk the beaches and wear away the grass along the edges of rivers looking for fish shadows. Once you find a promising shadow, fishing is as simple as casting and waiting for a bite. Hitting the A button at the correct time, and not falling for the tempting nibbles, will land the fish immediately. With each fish comes victory music, a victory pose showing off your catch and a delightful, and often punny description of your catch. With no real battle to pull the fish in, it feels like this experience should be lacking, but it isn't... and there is little like reeling in a whale shark which is larger than your avatar!

Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons

Much like Animal Crossing, the fishing mechanics in Harvest Moon and its newest incarnation, Story of Seasons, are incredibly simple. Instead of searching for a fish shadow, you simply walk up to a fishing point, cast, wait for a nibble, and pull. Pulling at the right time reels in the fish without a mini game. Fishing in the Boku games does have higher steaks than in Animal Crossing, because time, one of your most precious commodities which requires no small amount of budgeting in order to be successful in Story of Seasons, ticks slowly away as you wait for a bite. Despite Story of Seasons having some real pressure around fishing, Animal Crossing gets the higher ranking from me, due to the delightful puns that come with successfully reeling in a catch.

And more...

There are countless games which incorporate fishing, but these are simply my personal favorites and go-to games for this particular activity. If you're looking for fishing on the go, I would suggest Seabeard, an adorable and robust mobile game which has a great fishing system where you physically wind the reel to pull the fish in. Happy Street also features an incredibly simple, timing-based fishing system, and the entire game is incredibly addictive. I'm also very much looking forward to Regalia - Of Men and Monarchs, a very promising Kickstarter-funded tactical RPG which will include a fishing mini game thanks to successful stretch goals.


How About You?

Do you have a favorite fishing game? Do you find them relaxing, or simply tedious? Is there another kind of mini-game that you find addicting or relaxing? Please share in the comments!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Adventures in Creating a Butterbeer Recipe

As the seventh month dies, fans the world over celebrate the birth of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter with witchy wands, house sigils and, of course, Butterbeer! Harry Potter is a sensation which has helped define a generation and amassed hundreds of thousands of fans... and I happen to not be one of them. My knowledge of Harry Potter is apparently hilariously limited and skewed, but I couldn't resist when asked to bar tend for a Potter Party.

This is the story about how I came up with this recipe, but you can also jump right to the recipe!

Butterbeer

The Butterbeer research began.

The guest list for this party necessitated both an alcoholic and a non-alcoholic versions of Butterbeer be available. Many recipes I found called for a concoction similar to hot buttered rum, a drink which is hated as often as it is loved. Friends who had previously tried hot buttered rum-inspired Butterbeer recipes shared stories about butter residue sticking to glasses and digestive tracts being greased, turning the party into one long line for the bathroom.

For obvious reasons, I did not want to serve that kind of drink.

Universal Style Butterbeer

Once I learned that Universal serves Butterbeer in its theme parks, and that most everyone loves Universal's Butterbeer, I began hunting for the recipe. Once @Maddizzlee mentioned that Butterbeer was supposed to taste of butterscotch, the research became much easier. I learned that butterscotch soda exists, and that you can even buy Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer! With a better understanding of just what I was supposed to be making, I set to work developing the flavor profile.

Butterbeer and wizard wands
Photo provided by @bittygirla

Ingredients and Options

Because I was unable to find butterscotch soda at a reasonable price, I decided to use cream soda as the basis for my Butterbeer. While many recipes called for adding Butterscotch Schnapps to make the drink, this presented two problems: First, we needed to ensure we had non-alcoholic options, and second, I am a firm believer that Schnapps is a thing of the devil. So, it was time to get creative.

The simple solution to making cream soda taste of butterscotch seemed to be adding Butterscotch Extract to the mix. Unfortunately, despite being able to find all kinds of extracts, I could not locate a store which sold butterscotch extract. It is readily available online, but the short notice about the party meant that I would not have been able to order and receive it in time for Mr. Potter's birthday. So I got creative with the myriad of other extracts that were available.

The Extracts aisle ad Ralphs/Kroger
Photo provided by @Maddizzlee
Butter extract turned out to be the key, and it can be found in most every grocery store! I know, it sounds terrifying, but it gives you the creamy, rich flavor without leaving butter scum clinging to the sides of your glass. Adding bourbon extract adds depth to the mix, but rum extract works just as well! Vanilla butternut extract rounds this off perfectly, but if you're unable to find it, regular vanilla extract will do the trick.

The frothy, foamy topping was much easier to figure out, and starts with whipped cream. You can either buy whipping cream and add powdered sugar to sweeten, or buy it pre-whipped. Mix in some rum extract, a little vanilla nutbutter extract, or regular vanilla extract, and a dash of salt and you have yourself a delicious, non-alcoholic version of Butterbeer.

Butterbeer goblets

Then it was time to decide what kind of kick to add to the Butterbeer. While I expected whiskey to be the ideal mixer, Butterbeer is supposed to taste like butterscotch, after all, Kraken Rum turned out to be the ideal boozy addition to Butterbeer. Whiskey had too much of a flavor, where as Kraken blended nicely, adding a bit of depth and spice without distracting from the butterscotch goodness. With all that decided, the only thing left to do was to compose the recipe and serve the drinks!

Butterbeer Recipes:

damphy's Butterbeer Recipe
The Butterbeer:
2 liter bottle of cream soda (we used A&W)
2 teaspoons Butter Extract
1 teaspoons Bourbon Extract, substitute Rum Extract if bourbon is not available
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla NutButter Extract, substitute Vanilla Extract if nutbutter is not available
Optional:
4 shots of Kraken Rum, substitute dark rum if Kraken is unavailable

The Topping:
16 oz/two containers of whipped topping (such as Cool Whip)
OR 2 pints heavy whipping cream & 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 teaspoon Vanilla NutButter Extract, substitute Vanilla Extract if nutbutter is not available
Harry Potter and a Goblet of Butterbeer
@Danlev makes a great Harry Potter!
2 teaspoons salt
Optional:
1/2 shot Kraken Rum, substitute dark rum if Kraken is unavailable

Preparation:
Fill a pitcher with ice, pour in cream soda, extracts and rum, if using. Mix and leave to chill.

In a large bowl, combine the whipped cream with extracts, salt and rum, if using, and blend. If you are not using pre-whipped cream, beat the whipping cream with powdered sugar, extracts and rum, if using, until stiff peaks form.

Add a little ice to each glass, frozen mugs or goblets are best! Fill with soda mixture and top with whipped topping. Enjoy! It's creamy, it's frothy and it is Harry Potter Cosplayer approved! 

Happy Birthday, Mr Potter! I hope you enjoy Butterbeer as much as we did!

Harry Potter Partygoers
Photo courtesy of @seoulchild_https://instagram.com/seoulchild_/

Have you ever made Butterbeer?
Did you like it? What recipe did you use? Have you ever made any other Harry Potter related drinks or snacks? How did you celebrate Harry Potter's birthday? Please share in the comments below!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Many Deaths of a Red Shirt

The dust has settled on San Diego Comic-Con 2015, there is no one in line for Hall H, and it is time for con-goers to reflect on their adventures. I embarked upon my journey to SDCC with one goal in mind: To suffer as many gruesome deaths as possible. While this may sound like a strange goal, I feel it is only acceptable for one attending the convention as a Star Trek red shirt.

Redshirt1

A Brief History


I understand that not everyone has an intimate knowledge of the original Star Trek series, or the lore surrounding it, so allow me a moment to explain. In the early days of Star Trek, the crew would have to beam down into some hostile situation on a random planet or moon on fairly regular basis. The main cast would line up to go do battle… along with a collection of random crewmen wearing red Star Fleet uniforms.

These characters, dubbed “red shirts,” were completely expendable.


These random crewmen existed only to die in that episode’s conflict, in order to show the audience just how dangerous the situation that our heroes from the Star Ship Enterprise were facing. It became a running theme that anyone wearing a red shirt in the background of a Star Trek episode was going to die. Now that we’re all on the same page, on to the fun!

The Wound

Upon planning my costume, I felt it necessary to include some kind of indication that my days as a Red Shirt were numbered. A knife in the back just didn’t seem to fit the canon, so instead I went with a rather gory looking phaser wound… complete with green blood, since I was wearing my Vulcan ears. One person I passed on the street actually cried out in horror, much to the delight of his wife, who I am sure will never let him live it down.

Wound


Tribbles

They’re cute, they’re fluffy, and they’re officially licensed Star Trek merchandise! If you know your Star Trek canon, you know not to be fooled by these cooing little beasts, these Tribbles mean I’m in real trouble!
Tribbles

Blaster

Ah, Storm Troopers, the red shirts of the Star Wars universe. Their aim is usually pretty bad, but no such luck this time. Maybe I shouldn’t have called him short?

Blaster

The Force

The rivalry between Trek and Was was strong this SDCC, and apparently the very presence of a red shirt was enough to enrage the Lord of the Sith. Death by Darth Vader is not a good way to go, trust me.

Vader

Sisters of Battle

Apparently a red shirt can’t catch a break in the Warhammer universe, either. The Adepta Sororitas can found something corrupt and heretical among the ranks of the red shirts and felt it necessary to do away with me.

Warhammer

Only One Night at Freddy’s

Someone wearing a red shirt really should know better than to take a shady job guarding a creepy warehouse filled with animatronics after dark. It seems that I ran out of power before I could get the door closed, and Chica is here for a little visit. Halp?

FNaF


Joining the Evil Dead

It must have been the neck wound… it had to be the neck wound, right? Ash wouldn’t just chainsaw an innocent little red shirt for no reason, right? I had to be joining the ranks of the Evil Dead.

Ash1


Boomstick

Ok, I guess we can’t blame Ash. If he already used the chainsaw and he’s had to move on to the Boomstick, there must have been something fishy going on.

Ash2 (2)


The Literal Walking Dead

Maybe that wound isn’t green because of Vulcan blood, but something a little more sinister? The Walking Dead cure sure seem to think so.I’m not as off bad as the guy in the corner—maybe I could have made it?
WakingDead

Death by Dothraki

Apparently the red uniforms are offensive to the Dothraki sensibilities… or maybe they can just smell weakness and impending death? Let’s be honest, though, a red shirt stands no chance in the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire universe. My executioner caught on to the joke just after we took the photo and started lamenting, genuinely upset, that he had killed a red shirt. It makes this one stand out as one of my favorite pictures.
Dothraki


The Merc with the Mouth

Let’s face it, Comic-Con just wouldn’t be complete without a dozen or so Deadpools creating a little mischief. It’s not quite an ex-girlfirend’s wedding, but apparently he felt the need to whip out a shiny katana just for for me. To be fair, he only wanted to kill me a little bit. The victory dance and teabagging that followed… that was a little unnecessary.

Deadpool

Not all Bad News

It seems that, despite all the dying, I lucked out! Thanks to this 1Up Mushroom, I will live to die another day! I always knew that the Mario mushrooms in the games were big, but I never imagined that they had actually been drawn to scale.

1Up

Thank you SDCC!

Thank you to San Diego Comic-Con and all of the cosplayers who participated in this project! See you next convention for even more red shirt shenanigans. Live long… and try not to die.

RedShirt

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mr Holmes Q&A with Ian McKellen and Laura Linney

There was not an empty seat in the house for Friday’s screening of Mr. Holmes at the Arclight theater in Hollywood. Mr. Holmes tells the touching story of an aging Sherlock Holmes as he attempts to unravel the mystery of his final case, the details of which he has lost, due to his failing memory. 

Based upon the book A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullen, this movie is bittersweet, touchingly funny and delightful. Ian McKellen strikes the perfect balance between the role of hilariously grumpy old codger and the blunt but charming grandpa who slowly warms up to the friendship a younger man.

Laura Linney shines as Mrs. Munro, a single mother who is struggling to build  life for herself and her son. While her character starts out as bitter and unlikable, the viewer cannot help but feel for her as her story unfolds. Milo Parker plays Rodger, her curious, eager and terribly bored son who finds himself fascinated with the story Mr. Holmes is attempting to write, bee keeping and, basically, everything to do with Sherlock Holmes. 

The entire movie is rich with humor, and nods to the various other modern incarnations of Sherlock Holmes.


For example, Mr. Holmes goes to see a film adaption of one of John Watson's books, where the movie version of Mr. Holmes is being played by Nicholas Rowe. Rowe had previously taken on the role of Sherlock Holmes in the movie Young Sherlock Holmes. Fans of the BBC's Sherlock let out a collective sound of delight when Philip Davis, the cab driver from A Study in Pink, stepped onto the screen in the role of Inspector Gilbert.

The film takes a interesting look at fiction and the power of words.

Like Sir Author Conan Doyle himself, Mr. Holmes has love for the Sherlock Holmes stories. Mr. Holmes, who by his own confession has no use for fiction, makes a clear distinction between Sherlock Holmes the person and Sherlock Holmes the fictional character, about whom John Watson writes. During conversation, Mr. Holmes admits that he gave up something he greatly enjoyed in order to avoid being mistaken for, or worse yet, becoming that fictional character. 

We also see glimpses of the wisdom and discretion that old age has granted Mr. Holmes. While he is still painfully blunt at times, rather callously telling Rodger's mother that "Exceptional children are often the result of unremarkable parents," he has clearly learned the importance of the meaning behind words. Later in the film, Mr. Holmes scolds Rodger for being cruel, for "using words intended to hurt," and admits with stunning intensity that he regrets his own use of words.

The screening was followed by a Q&A with Ian Mckellen and Laura Linney, who were greeted wtih with a standing ovation. While I came to this event armed with my ‘good’ camera, by a stroke of genius, I left my memory card at home. Please excuse the poor quality of photos and video.

McKellen and Linney have a clear fondness for each other, remarking on each others stories and asking additional questions of one and other. McKellen recounted a story about performing with Judi Dench, "...who is now my second favorite actress." He remarked as he reached across the space to take Linney's hand. While most of the questions were intended for McKellen, he was eager to share the stage with Linney, redirecting several questions to her and inviting her to answer as well. 


Linney was not the only cast member McKellen developed an affection for. "Children, animals and, I find, balloons; I don't work with them on the whole," McKellen explained when asked about Milo Parker, his young costar of the film. "But I would work with Milo Parker, if he would let me, any time." Parker certainly earned the praise, delivering a wonderful performance in Mr. Holmes, as the bright young boy that an aging Sherlock Holmes takes under his wing. "He flirted with the makeup ladies between takes," McKellen added.

As the screening took place in Hollywood, it is unsurprising that many of the questions from the audience involved acting as a career. Fans wanted information as to how McKellen and Linney chose scripts to work on, how they got into character and if they read books which the screenplays were based off of. 

McKellen explained that, while he reads the source material to try and find underlying emotions and motivations, he does not think it is the place of an actor to use this material to question the screenplay. He also tells how he carried a copy of Lord of the Rings at all times while playing Gandalf, and how in certain scenes, you can clearly see the outline of the book under Gandalf's robe.


My favorite stories of the evening came from the question: Have you ever had a moment of doubt in your career, and how did you overcome it? McKellen was momentarily stumped and gladly handed the floor over to Linney, who was eager to share her troubles while in acting school. 


McKellen prefaced his story with the fact that many stage actors suffer from stage fright. He went on to share his story of his one encounter with crippling stage fright, and how he was saved by Judi Dench. When he froze on stage, Dench delivered her lines, delivered his lines and basically dragged him to the end of the scene.  


There were many more questions and stories, though I did not record all of them. You can find more recordings of this event at this playlist. One of my favorite quotes of the evening was when McKellen explained that he likes Gandalf they Grey more than he likes Ganndalf the White, but the third version of Gandalf, Gandalf the Gay, that was the one he really liked! 

After the final question, McKellen took a moment to thank the audience for coming to see the film, and added, “My Facebook page is filled with people saying they can’t see the film because it’s not showing near them.” He explained that Mr. Holmes has a limited release, and that its success over the weekend would determine how many theaters it would be shown in. 

“If you enjoyed the film, tell someone,” McKellen requested. 


So, dear reader, Sir Ian and I both request that you see Mr. Holmes this evening, if you have the opportunity and the means to do so. Your seeing the movie could mean that more fans will have the opportunity to see Mr Holmes on the big screen. This movie is bittersweet, heartwarming and entirely entertaining. It is a movie with a soul, something entirely too rare in this era of movies being created simply to be greenlit.


The session ended, as one would expect, with fans rushing around McKellen and Linney for autographs. While the organizers tried to rush McKellen out, he seemed to be in no real hurry, signing everything thrust at him for as long as the staff would allow. Linney even lingered to take a selfie with one enthusiastic fan before ducking out the side door. Thank you to Ian McKellen, Laura Linney and Arclight Theaters for the delightful evening!

Have you seen Mr. Holmes? Do you have a favorite role that Ian McKellen or Laura Linney have taken on? Do you have a favorite version of Sherlock Holmes? Please share in the comments below!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Clash of the Retail Titans: Amazon vs Walmart

Celebrating 20 years of online retailing, Amazon has been hoping to whip customers into a buying frenzy with the announcement of their Prime Day sale. Billed as having "more deals than Black Friday," Amazon is offering incredible one-day-only sales on Wednesday, July 15th, to customers who participate in their Prime program. 

Walmart thinks this is bullshit.


"The idea of asking customers to pay extra in order to save money just doesn't add up for us," said Walmart.com CEO, Fernando Madeira, in reference to the $99 yearly subscription to Amazon Prime. This fee gives Prime subscribers access to a set of benefits, including free two day shipping, a Kindle lending library, photo storage and access to streaming movies, TV and music. Amazon had clearly been hoping to boost its Prime membership numbers through this promotion, and was ready to trade blows.

"The idea of charging your in-store customers more than your online customers doesn't add up for us," retorted Greg Greeley, vice president of Amazon Prime, adding "...it's a good reminder that you're usually better off shopping online." While Walmart has been the dominant retailer in America for decades, they have never been unable to match Amazon's success when it comes to web sales. Walmart is clearly not afraid to try enemy tactics, as they recently trial launched a new service to provide free online shipping to a select group of Walmart.com customers for a yearly fee of $50. 

"We're standing up for our customers and everyone else who sees no rhyme or reason for paying a premium to save," Walmart boasts. Apparently, Walmart not only believes it is wrong to charge customers to gain access to a sale, they do not want to rush their customers, either. While Amazon will be slashing prices for 24 hours only, Walmart.com's sale will extend through the weekend.

The Customer may be the Real Winner


Amazon offers a free 30 day trial of their Prime membership, so customers who sign up now, and remember to cancel their membership before the end of the trial, will be able to gain access to Prime Day sales without paying much frowned up on $99 fee.

While Walmart cannot match Amazon Prime's free two day shipping, they are offering free shipping on all orders of $35 or more, a temporary reduction from their usual minimum order of $50.

Customers may not even have to wait for shipping at all! 
There are many stores which price match with both Amazon.com and Walmart.com. It is unclear if these stores, such as Target and Best Buy, will honor their price matching policies through this sale, or if they will find a loophole to avoid drastic price cuts. It may be worth swinging by customer service to see if you can walk out of the store that day with a shiny new item while only paying the online sale price. 

How about you, reader?


Do you have a loyalty to one of these companies over the other, or are you in the camp that dislikes both? Is there one particular item you're hoping to find on sale? Do you plan to try your luck at price-matching? Please tell me about it in the comments!
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