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!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Nintendo Lounges Through SDCC 2015

Delivering on its promise to be "Fun and free for everyone," Nintendo's approach to their 2015 San Diego Gaming Lounge was radically different from that of the PlayStation 4 lounge. While PlayStation required fans to stand in line in order to gain entry to the limited space inside the PS4 lounge, Nintendo's lounge, located inside the Mariott hotel, offered plenty of room for avid gamers and exhausted con-goers alike. With seating, electrical outlets, playable demos, dozens of amiibo figurines on display and plenty of other events, the lounge was constantly full; the number of cosplayers was rivaled only by the number of people checking their street passes.
On the Pokémon Front
While there was no playable demo for the new Pokémon: Super Mystery DungeonPokémon fans had their own gaming and gathering area, as well as a pair of Pokémon tournaments, one 12 and under and one 13 and over. Fans could win Pokémon prizes, such as keychains, by participating in pop-up trivia, and Pikachu even made appearances in the lounge, much to the delight of his younger fans.

Pokemon  Pikasmall

The Zelda Cooperative
Would be heroes of Hyrule got to try their cooperative skills with demos of Legend of Zelda: TriForce Heroes. This game, due out later this year, requires three players to each assume a version of Link and cooperate in order to complete dungeons together. Watching complete strangers come together in order to overcome these puzzles was a real treat. The lounge also featured playable demos of other games, including Super Mario Maker, Yoshi's Wooly World and Little Battlers eXperience
Amiibos Galore

Yoshi2
Amiibo figures were also a highlight of the lounge. Displayed in glowing cases, fans could not only view a huge collection of existing amiibo figurines, but also got an up close glimpse of upcoming characters. These first looks included characters from Yoshi's Wooly World and Animal Crossing. While all adorable, the wooly Yoshis and Isabelle may have stolen this show. And if just looking wasn't enough, not to worry! Gamers could step up to the green screen and transform themselves into an Amiibo figurine!
amiibo
Getting Competitive
The lounge was constantly brimming with activity. In addition to Pokémon, Nintendo hosted Splatoon and Smash Brothers tournaments, with prizes including 3DS systems and amiibo figurines. Even the staff of the gaming lounge were impressed by the focus and skill shown int he tournaments. Watching Friday's Smash Brothers Amiibo Team Tournament was especially interesting, since the tournament winner was not necessarily the most skilled Smash Brothers player in the tournament, but had mastered using and switching his amiibo figurines. His victory was secured by confusing and overwhelming his opponents, swapping out characters at critical moments to take advantage of different skill sets.
More Than Just Lounging About

Victory!
Those who chose not to participate in the tournaments still had plenty to do. By trying out demo games, players could earn tickets, and had the opportunity to cash out those tickets for a limited edition Nintendo Tshirt. The Little Battlers eXperience demo pitted any interested players against each other in three vs three multiplayer battles, and the victors of those battles were eligible to win figurines throughout the day.

There were special guests, too. Pikachu wasn't the only mascot at the Nintendo Gaming Lounge. Mario and Luigi dropped by several times to meet and pose with their fans. They were noticeably silent, however. Perhaps that was because Charles Martinet, who serves as the voice of Mario, also visited the lounge, but at different times.

Yoshi's Wooly World Demo

Inside the Convention

Nintendo's presence was not limited to just the Lounge. Those with a Comic-Con badge were able to visit the Nintendo booth inside the convention hall, which heavily favored the playable demos of Super Mario Maker. Right next door to their booth, Skylanders promoted not only their own characters with costumed actors, amiibo displays and a land vehicle photo op, but amiibos of classic Nintendo characters, too. Gamers could step up to a playable demo and bring their favorite Nintendo character to life inside Skylanders SuperChargers Dark Edition. I found Dark Bowser to be especially exciting! In addition to summoning a Koopa Troopa army to fight for him, Bowser was able to enter a magma state in which he could breath fire upon his enemies. Very useful for maintaining one's status as King Koopa.

 

Summary
Between adorable amiibo figures, exciting demos and a roomy, welcoming and constantly full lounge, Nintendo certainly left a memorable impression on gamers this year. People of all ages filled the lounge, clearing their streetpasses, checking out new games and generally taking a much-needed break from the hustle, bustle and crazy rush of Comic-Con. The fact that, just around the corner, adults and fans 21 years and older could purchase a Game of Thrones themed beer certainly did nothing to hurt the appeal of the lounge! 

How about you, dear reader?

Did you visit the Nintendo Comic-Con booth or Gaming Lounge? Have you played a demo of any of the new Nintendo games? Are there any new amiibo figurines you are eager to pick up? Please tell me about it in the comments!

Want More?

Not to worry, Iv'e got more! Check out my Twitter and Instagram for more Comic-Con adventures!
 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Community: The Secret to Successful Games

Contrary to the image that some still cling to, painting gamers as basement-dwelling loners, study after study continues to show that gaming is a social activity. No small part of the excitement and obsession that draws players into the world of gaming is the social element. Be it competing against friends sitting beside you in Smash Brothers or Mario Kart, talking about the political climate of the world in Dragon Age or planning your next dominance push in Flight Rising, all games, be they massively multiplayer online (MMO), Role Playing Games (RPG), casual, or forum-based, benefit greatly from an active, engaged fandom. This is because the act of collaborating with and playing against other people creates a bond between these players, thus creating more meaningful, more memorable gaming experience.  


For some games, MMOs especially, the community aspects are obvious.  

World of Warcraft (WoW) has created communities, both large and small, within their massive player base. New players are required to pick a faction to fight for, Horde or Alliance; this decision creates an immediate "team" loyalty to their chosen faction. WoW additionally offers a guild system, which allows players to pool their resources, plan and organize group activities, and compete with other guilds. On an even smaller scale, players can team up in "parties," which are often a "one-time" thing, but with the right chemistry and schedules, can turn into long term partnerships, and can even lead to the formation of a guild. 

These community features have proven to be successful in building a dedicated, even obsessive player base, and are not unique to WoW. Many MMO games, such as Final Fantasy XIV, Ragnarok Online, and EverQuest offer their own twist on these kinds of social features. Some games even take the micro-community a step further, offering in-game marriage; a virtual union which may, or may not, be restricted to characters of the opposite sex. The features offered by in-game marriage varies from game to game, but often include allowing married characters to remain in constant communication, regardless of distance, and the ability to warp to the location of their partner. 

Many dedicated gamers go beyond in-game communication tools.  

Players  make use of external communication apps, such as TeamSpeak, in order to engage in real-time voice communications while playing. Many guilds even have private, members-only forums. This allows for communication between gamers who  may be in different time zones, and serves as an excellent way to keep guild business, such as finances and potential raids, away from prying eyes.  

MMOs are not the only games to have reaped the benefits of an active, engaged community. 

Pokémon is a prime example of a “pre-appstore," casual game with a large, serious payer base. Perhaps what makes it so unique is that while the storyline of Pokémon is single player, the game was always intended to be both collaborative and competitive. Because no version of the game contained all 150 of the original Pokémon, Pokémon players had to trade with other gamers in order to achieve the goal turned slogan of the series: "Gotta catch 'em all." Players were also able to engage in real-time, turn-based Pokémon battles in order to prove who was the better Pokémon trainer. 

When Pokémon was first released, social play required that two players be in the same physical space, that they have have a cable connecting their two gaming units, and also required no small bit of luck due to the unreliable technology of the 90's. And yet, people still sought each other out to battle and trade their Pokémon. With modern WiFi technology making connecting, battling, and trading as easy as clinking a button in order to connect with with anyone, anywhere, at any time, it is easy to see why the Pokémon fandom has grown into a global community.  
Many gaming communities have benefited from social sites such as Reddit and Tumblr. There are entire subreddit communities and Tumblr tags dedicated to helping gamers trade Pokémon, coordinate user-run competitions, and to distribute rare or location-dependent Pokémon across the globe. MMO players use these same resources to communicate with players on different servers, keep up with the latest gossip, drama, bugs and in-game news. 

How does mobile gaming fit into this conversation? 

There is no doubt that mobile games can be addictive and wildly successful without traditional social components; just look at the number of people playing Candy Crush, Temple Runner and even Flappy Bird. These games keep players coming back with simple, addictive game play and (with the obvious exception of Flappy Bird) new content and limited time levels, prizes or features. These features are successful at engaging gamers for a while, but is there something more they could offer in order to keep players meaningfully engaged for longer periods of time? 

One solution is to build a social community.  

Creating community and social features which go beyond bragging about achievements on social media or the impersonal 'click-to-beg-for-help' feature creates a more meaningful experience for gamers. Communication has always been an obstacle in mobile gaming, as more open communications often require apps to adopt a stronger content rating. This can often limit appstore access and prove detrimental to the success of a mobile game. At the same time, studies are already showing that games which offer in-app messaging experience a much higher rate of player retention
History says that, if given good reason to collaborate, gamers are unlikely to rely entirely on in-game communication methods. For incredibly popular titles, like Clash of Clans, a simple chat feature allows the basics of collaboration necessary for competition. As in MMOs, the truly dedicated gamers find their own ways to connect and more easily communicate, making use of forums, instant messengers and other social sites.

Finding methods to encourage meaningful social interaction within a game is the one of the largest challenges facing mobile games. Group collaboration, be it one team trying to out score another team, a party working together to defeat a boss or dungeon, or even a true player verses player battle, inspires a very human connection between those players. Successfully incorporating this bonding element into gaming apps is an essential step towards building the kind of passionate audience that MMOs have enjoyed for so long. 

The need for social in mobile games is not going unacknowledged.  

Palring, for example, recently purchased Tribe Studios in order to integrate easier and more natural mobile communications into their games. Communication is an important first step; finding new, dynamic methods of social play which are both unique and inherent to mobile play is also essential. New approaches are required, as Ragnarok Online has proved. Recently, Ragnarok Online attempted to port a scaled-down version of their once wildly popular MMO game to the mobile platform. However, due to the limitations of current mobile connectivity, the  version released was met with player frustration due to constant lagging, disconnects, and server errors.  

The casual player cannot be forgotten.  

All of this will have to be done in such a way so as to not exclude players who choose not participate in more in-depth social challenges. If collaborative play is required in order to achieve necessary game elements, casual players will find their game play hindered, and have no reason to open the app again. Offering addicting single-player activities will lure in new players, but finding the right combination of social collaboration or competition is necessary to keep them coming back for more. 

The future of community in mobile has yet to be written. 

This future relies both on the app developers commitment to creating social accessibility in their games, as well as on the passion and excitement of the gamers who play them. Social sites have enabled more people to quickly and easily find their place within gaming communities. This has has brought a large, unexpected new audience into the world of gaming, it has also helped to deepen the connection of this audience with their favorite games. Because social interaction between players makes their time spent with the game more meaningful, developers who strive to make the social components of their games both exciting and challenging will find themselves with a more active and dedicated fanbase than those who relegate social to a simple click-to-brag element.

Do you have a favorite memory which involves social gaming? What is your favorite game, do you play it with friends? Have you ever gotten into a new game because friends encouraged you to play with them? Please share in the comments below!

Special thanks to Daniel McLaren for consulting and editing.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Achievement Unlocked: Equality!

It was a great week for equality! 

While the Supreme Court ruling legalized gay marriage, Nintendo also scored points with fans who have been longing for more diversity and representation in games. Earlier this week, Nintendo confirmed that the newest title in their Fire Emblem series will allow for same-sex relationships. 


Official artwork for Fire Emblem Fates


While this announcement has made headlines, Fire Emblem will not be the first time that Nintendo has allowed players the option of a same-sex union.


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