We wrap up 2017 by discussing just about everything. The best things from the year and our plans for the next. The Chief’s ninja skills come into question, and we only complain about The Last Jedi a little bit…
We wrap up 2017 by discussing just about everything. The best things from the year and our plans for the next. The Chief’s ninja skills come into question, and we only complain about The Last Jedi a little bit…
Happy New Year! The Tales of the Con crew go hard on Star Wars The Last Jedi. We breakdown the movie and give our spoiler-filled review. Where does it rank with the rest of the films? Is it all bad? What did the movie get right?
Our Patreon subscribers already got to hear this episode… Visit http://patreon.com/talesofthecon for details.
On our Youtube channel Tales of the Con’s own Alex the Human posts a breakdown and review of a graphic novel or comic book series.
When Tales of the Con was still just an idea being diagrammed on a whiteboard in the Chief’s living room, I remember my name being jokingly scribbled next to the phrase “18+ panels.” The joke, however, was based on a story that came from my first 18+ panel during my very first convention the year before. I wrote extensively about that experience in my When Nerdy Gets Dirty article. Scribbling names next to phrases like this was our informal way of assigning topic areas for the team to cover at every convention. Everyone’s name was scribbled somewhere on that whiteboard and our roles in the company were roughly set out for the future. For the most part, those early scribblings have maintained their integrity throughout our progression as a media platform. When we started, we were just a ragtag group of directionless nerds with a vague idea for a company who stood around smoking cigarettes, drinking beers, and brainstorming in front of a whiteboard. Today, we have become a well-functioning team that, while still smoking and drinking beers, professionally produces weekly podcasts, YouTube series, photo albums, written content, and regularly attends conventions. All the while, staying true to that original whiteboard.
As we’ve grown as a company and we’ve all grown into our roles, I have come to enjoy my topic area quite thoroughly. Not in a perverted way. Definitely not in a “I might see nerdy boobies” kind of way. But instead, in a truly appreciative way towards what I see as value in the after-dark 18+ panel. The value, in my opinion, is in giving people the opportunity to be themselves. To be open. To be vulnerable. To be accepted. 18+ panels give people the safety and the confidence to venture outside of their comfort zone to be the most authentic versions of themselves. The folks who find themselves particularly drawn to certain 18+ panels, like last year’s after-dark 18+ “Intermediate Rope bondage” panel, leave feeling fulfilled in ways they wouldn’t normally feel fulfilled outside of the convention setting. It’s one thing to enjoy bondage in the privacy of your own home but it’s an entirely different thing to experience and discuss the joy of bondage with a room full of people who enjoy it just as much as you do. It gives you the unique opportunity to honestly open yourself up to other people. It empowers you. And when you leave you feel euphoric and you chatter with everyone else as you file out of the room. You may even create friendships with people through those shared interests.
Now, I am absolutely not saying that Comic Conventions need to be the place or the platform to explore one’s kinks or sexuality or even a place to allow vulgarity or anything sordid. But, what I
am saying is that, after attending many conventions and other nerdy events, I’ve noticed that the comics and kinks often overlap. And sometimes in a very big way and, in my opinion, the
inclusion of these types of panels is important for both the success of a Con and the satisfaction of many Con-Goers. With that said, I’d like to talk about this year’s AwesomeCon.
To be frank, this article is a little overdue. This should have been written about three weeks ago… Better late than never though, right? (editors note: Due to an email snafu the article is now months late!.. oops.) On June 17, 2017, I attended AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C. as a representative of TalesoftheCon.com. The lateness of this article is a direct result of my dissatisfaction and lack of enthusiasm towards this year’s AwesomeCon panels. As noted above, I cover 18+ panels. In this respect, AwesomeCon was a major let down. Besides the endless number of Sci-fi Speed Dating sessions and games of Cards Against Humanity, this year’s AwesomeCon offered an overwhelmingly disappointing number of 18+ panels. If you want to get technical, there were exactly three others. The first, entitled Super Art Fight Unleashed, was on Friday, June 16. The other two, Creating Powerful Females in Fantasy Worlds and Comics Made Me Gay, were both on Saturday, June 17. Now, to be fair, I did not attend any of these panels because they sounded wildly unappealing and far from what I have come to expect from the after-dark 18+ panels. And again, to be fair, for all I know these three panels could have been thoroughly impressive and could have made for outstanding topics to report on. But, I didn’t go. I think Comics Made Me Gay would have been particularly interesting and I did fully intend on going but, for reasons beyond my control, I couldn’t make it to the 8:30pm timeslot.
At Cons I’ve attended in the past, the variety of 18+ panels one might choose attend over the course of the weekend was overwhelming. This year it was simply disappointing… there were literally three. Thankfully though, the saving grace for AwesomeCon 2017 was the outstanding incorporation of FutureCon.
FutureCon was like a Con within a Con and it was exceptional. FutureCon took science fiction and turned it into science fact and turned fantasy into reality. I explored several FutureCon booths and was extremely impressed by the level of effort and involvement that was put forth by organizations like NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Obviously, these are all national heavy weights in the realm of real world hard science. To see them seamlessly draw the connection between comics, sci-fi, and real world science was, for me, what made AwesomeCon 2017 a success.
Though I attended many panels throughout the day on June 17, spent way too much money on the exhibition floor, and took a tremendous number of photos; what I am most interested in talking about here is FutureCon and two panels in particular. The first being “Alien Climates on Planets Near and Far” and the second “Frozen Fossils: Dinosaurs of the Antarctic.”
The first was both thoroughly informative and equal parts fantasy and reality. This panel was comprised of four NASA scientists (Giada Arney, Hannah Wakeford, Ravi Kopparapu, Conor
Nixon) who went into great detail about the habitability of planets from an actual science perspective. Among other things, they gave very well informed presentation on the “habitable zone” and
what it would take to reasonably support life on other planets. Much of this conversation, though it was a bit over my head at times, was incredibly interesting to listen to. From there they launched into a discussion of some of their favorite sci-fi planets, whether or not those planets were scientifically plausible, and the viability of each planet as a habitable planet. During this discussion Pandora from Avatar and Tatooine from the Star Wars were hot topics. And, as confirmed by NASA scientists, Tatooine is apparently a decently thought through sci-fi planet that could work in reality. It was interesting to learn that, like Tatooine, planets with binary suns are fairly common in the universe and a handful of the planets we’ve discovered orbiting binary suns are within the “habitable zone.” This roughly means that those planets have enough atmospheric pressure and orbit their suns at an appropriate enough distance to support liquid water on the surface of the planet. Pandora, on the other hand, is based on very sketchy science and in a lot of ways just throws science fact out the window entirely. Apparently, giant floating islands are not scientifically possible. Who would have guessed?
The second panel, Frozen Fossils: Dinosaurs of the Antarctic, was a mostly science fact based conversation. The panel was comprised of National Science Foundation researchers, Nate (Nathan) Smith, David Clark, Tom Skwerski, who, as you may have guessed, work to unearth fossils in antarctica. What was interesting about this panel though was the way in which they took the audience through the journey of bringing fossils back to life (kinda). They weren’t talking about Jurassic Park. Instead they discussed the process of unearthing fossils and then bringing them to “life” in museums and computer generated models. The life that is brought to fossils in museums is something we have all probably seen and can appreciate on a basic level. We can all go to a museum of natural history and see the T-Rex skeleton towering over us and appreciate the ferocity of such a beast. What we don’t normally do or appreciate is the science that goes into figuring out the locomotion of that beast, or the texture of its skin, or the sound of its roar. When I think about dinosaurs my mind immediately jumps to fairly basic thoughts of earthy toned, giant, scaly, lizard-type creatures and I think most other people think the same. But what I was thrilled to learn during this panel was that the evolutionary advent of feathers took place in dinosaurs an incredibly long time ago and many of our favorite childhood dinosaur toys may be better representations of reality if they had a few feathery tufts. But, in terms of science fiction versus fact, the world of dinosaurs as depicted in most of the movies we’ve seen is fairly close to science fact. When devising science fiction built around dinosaurs, the creatives lean a lot more heavily on the true science community for guidance than do the creatives building sci-fi settings in space. Apparently, it’s a lot easier to take creative liberties when we imaginatively explore the vast unknowns of space than it is to bluff the science behind dinosaurs.
At the end of the day, I did truly enjoy every minute of my time at AwesomeCon 2017. While the lack of 18+ panels was a touch disappointing on a personal level, I completely understand the difficulty in arranging events of this size. Accommodating the masses with content viewable by the most people possible obviously takes precedent over carving out a space for nerds to talk about hentai, Bronyism, nerdlesque, bondage, or which superhero would be best in bed. When I return for AwesomeCon 2018, I would be overjoyed to see more after-dark 18+ panels on the schedule. But, if I don’t, I would be just as thrilled to see an expansion of FutureCon.
-David in Legal
Evil’s Unlikely Assassin By Jenn Windrow
Review by Red
When I first heard of Evil’s Unlikely Assassin, the synopsis sounded interesting. I have always had a soft spot for dark urban fantasy novels with tough, dramatic humanity back. She is contracted by an angel for fifty years to go out and kill other “things that go heroines. I tend to think of them as guilty pleasures. And while many in this genre are plagued with predictable tropes, I thought it sounded fun enough to give it a read-through.
The story of Evil’s Unlikely Assassin is that of a vampire, named Alexis, who wants to get her humanity back. She is offered a contract where she has to hunt things that “bump in the night” for 50 years. This must be done every night or she dies. She agrees to the contract, begrudgingly, but doesn’t know that with the contract also comes a human sidekick, who cannot stand anything that has fangs, and the spirit of another vampire inhabiting her head who occasionally is able to take control of her body.
Two years into her contract, vampires in Chicago (which is the setting of the story) are starting to become a major problem. They are mass feeding, not cleaning up the dead bodies, and obviously thinking they are the superior race and humans should take a back seat. Until this point, the vampire population has been kept on a tight leash with feedings and cleanup to not incur the wrath of humans or have the newly developed VAU, or Vampire Apprehension Unit, sent after them. To solve the new vampire horde dilemma Alexis, our unlikely heroine, must get to the root of the problem, kill all the evil she can, and not lose herself in the process.
I was a little disappointed in the book that Alexis didn’t seem to develop beyond the badass, overly sarcastic, hunter. Many of the other characters had interesting personal developments. The only development that seemed to happen to Alexis was very early on in the story and didn’t really add much depth to her character. And while there are great characters and action-packed parts, it was slightly on the predictable side with many characters not wanting to be supernatural beings or even just the bad guy not being who you thought. With that said, supernatural beings hiding or running from who they truly are seems to be a favorite of the author, as it becomes a recurring theme in the story.
There are so many parts to the story that I found refreshing. A rather imaginative setup was the vampire hierarchy. Similar enough to other versions of Vampire mythos, but different enough to catch my attention. Many other vampire stories have either a coven who make the rules or a royal family to which everyone answers. This version uses a combination of the two. It sticks with Vlad the Impaler being the start of the vampire line and royalty, which I actually prefer to having it be a virus or mutation. The Vampires have a royal line, but then there is a governing council who decide how to manage the race as a whole. Much like the British royal family and the Parliament. Another favorite part and a highlight was finding out who the spirit in Alexis’s head actually is. The knowledge was dropped so suddenly it made me pause before nodding at the choice. I would not have guessed the person, but it’s a perfect counterpart to the heroine. Then there is another character named Nathan. Oh Nathan, my favorite of the whole story. Without giving spoilers, I’m hoping he’ll get his own book. Nathan has the most unpredictable story arc in the whole book. For such a small self sacrificing start to his role in the book, he had the biggest impact and the most memorable personality.
I would like to add this is probably not a book to read if you can get easily embarrassed. There is a very descriptive sex scene in the second half that I was not expecting. Not entirely out of place for the characters or situation, but far more detailed than I would have expected.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for the straightforward dark urban fantasy that it is. I’m looking forward to a sequel, but I hope it can avoid some of the more predictable (and overused) tropes of the genre.
Visit the author’s website and grab a copy! http://www.jennwindrow.com/
Drawing the Dragon By April Adams
Review by Red
This was possibly one of the most interesting and complex books I’ve read in a long time. Without using any spoilers, it is difficult to summarize the book in detail. Best said, it is the start of a war, the start of characters questioning all they’ve known, heartache on so many levels, and the start of a bond deeper than space and time. And with it all in this amazing sci-fi/futuristic/fantasy setting, none of that really makes a lot of sense until you read the book.
The main storyline of this book revolves around a set of three pilots. Their official rank is Jordan, or dragon pilot. This gives them a highly specialized rank in the military, and grants the ability to give themselves new names. Our Jordans named Blue, Scarlett, and Jade go through an interesting set of challenges and dilemmas throughout the entirety of the book. Scarlett, who has worked extra hard to become a Jordan, projects a tough exterior with a chip on her shoulder when others seem to do well. Blue is trying to escape her family’s history of helping to start the Chimerian War. Jade searches for his purpose, though it doesn’t turn out to be what he expected. The story also involves the Chimera, who are constructs, or androids, and are starting a war against the galactic counsel.
There are multiple secondary storylines. One of the secondary storylines helps to tell the history of how this universe came to be the way it is. Another secondary storyline talks through the Jordan training program. All of the secondary storylines end up merging into the main one helping to create a wonderfully well-rounded universe and setting for the books.
My initial reaction after hearing about the book was excitement. I loved the idea of the story. I’ve always been a dragon fan and merging them into cyber organic starships, adding a Sci-Fi flare to everything really peaked my interest. I was only further intrigued by the adding in of the android/construct aspect of the Chimera. The book reads as a definite Sci-Fi book more than fantasy. There are fantasy parts but they are not the main genre. It works very well and blends seamlessly.
As I began to read Drawing the Dragon, I initially was concerned because it is a very “hard start”. It drops you into what seems to be the middle of the story. The story starts to clear and, looking back on it, the “hard start” is a fitting beginning. Though, I did have a hard time keeping track of the different story lines at first. The point of view tends to change quite a bit and until you get a little more familiar with the characters it’s hard to keep track of things as they’re progressing. And there is a large cast of characters. You have the Jordans, their support personnel, the characters from the secondary storylines, and of course the dragons. But then you end up becoming so involved with what’s going on with all these characters that it becomes very easy to tell who is in what storyline and that’s easier to keep straight. About one-third to halfway through the book everything started to make total sense and was easy to follow along with.
I did like how the story lines all ended up merging together into the main storyline and completing the story, finishing thoughts and answering questions that I had had while I was reading. I was also really really intrigued by how some of the characters interacted with each other almost like siblings but not liking each other at all. The character development and stories that happen are well done. A few took turns I was NOT expecting. Another part I enjoyed was the concept for the book being so spectacularly original. I’ve never heard of anybody else having an idea for this style of universe or even just taking elves and dragons and putting them with humans in a futuristic setting making it sci-fi heavily influenced by fantasy depictions.
To give you an idea of how well this book works I’m going to give you a summarization of part of the book that really made me love the storyline. It sticks out because while it is at a climactic part of story, it is a very introspective look at the relationships of the Jordans. You have Scarlett in her Dragon, Fledge, with her friend Calyph, who is an engineer on the main dragon. They are looking for Blue and Jade. Calyph asks Scarlett “How will you find them?” “I can feel them,” Scarlett tells him. “I guess I always could. I just never realized it, like how I never think of my toes unless my boots are too tight. Then I am painfully aware of them. Does that make any sense?” Calyph says, “A little.” Then he asks, “And you never noticed this before?” Scarlett shakes her head and replies, “How much do you notice the bone in your ankle? Even though it sticks out from the bottom of your leg, you probably don’t notice it until something goes wrong.”
There is one point in the book that, while not wanting to give things away, I feel does need to get brought up. It is a war situation in the book so things are not always friendly. There is a slight amount of described torture. I feel this needs to be brought up because it was described very well. It was something that I cringed at while reading. It didn’t detract from the story, it did make me pause for a moment and let it sink in.
As this is only book one of an eight-part series, the book does leave a lot of open-ended questions. The author has already written five of the books so I’m sure there will be answers to come and more questions to be answered. But the author seems to want people to think about their existence, their choices, and their intentions, and this does get brought up in various places within the book itself.
Overall I am delighted I read this book, I have every intention of finishing the series. I will be reviewing the other books soon — and quite happily.
Be sure to visit the Author’s website and grab yourself a copy! http://apriladams.me/
Out of all of the things that I find particularly enjoyable about going to any con is the fact that when it comes down to it, no amount of preparation can really get you completely ready for one.
As an example: It’s pretty much impossible to be 100% familiar with all of the guests booked for an event like this. No matter how much you know or research the industry there’s always someone who slips by. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if every convention went off perfectly without a hitch and we knew exactly who every creator was and what they’ve been involved with.
Modesto Con was a great deal smaller than Phoenix Comicon (no shit) but there was still people we didn’t know.
9 LIVES, a comic by Preston Tucker & Cassidy Morgan was introduced to me in one of my favorite little moments of Modesto Con. We’d barely slept the night before the convention and rolled out early. At some point the colorful art being held up by wire boxes at the 9 LIVES booth drew out my inner zombie and I shambled over. I like to imagine in this instance that I was all saliva and claws and teeth.
I hear someone tell me that I have “really good – awesome hair!”
I’m like “yo what? Uhh.” I look around and realize that the artist on the book is complimenting me. Before we even talk about the comic, we both discuss hair tips which is basically one way of catching my interest immediately because I am vain.
That may not give the best impression towards how I work on the floor, but believe it or not bizarre convention conversations can kill a lot of anxiety exchanged over a booth pretty quick, and just looking at the art the two had on display I was pretty keen about hearing about the comic they made.
I like to think that both of them knew I am exceptionally weak willed when meeting likable creators and that alone is generally enough for me to want to buy whatever comic it is that they’re selling. I walked away from that booth with a copy of the first issue of 9 LIVES signed and packed away in my bag.
9 LIVES #1 is a Superhero comic. That is the most basic description I can use to let someone who’s never read it before know what kind of storytelling is held between the front and back cover. An origin story through and through, a good chunk of the book is dedicated to setting up the world it takes place in.
When I say that it’s about superheroes though I feel like 9 LIVES just from first impressions has loftier goals than being another indie cape comic book. There’s a sense in the first pages that the creators behind this book have put at least more than cursory thoughts into what kind of effects the people who fly would have on the world beyond simply stopping crime or dealing with supervillains.
We open to the most popular hero in the world being interviewed about his feelings towards having superpowers. The likely lantern-jawed Captain Fantastic lambastes over the airwaves that there’s no room in the world of crime-stopping for those without powers.
Our protagonist is a sort of unassuming and schlubby nerd who’s introduced being broken up with while he clutches a broken action figure. We’re meant to distinctly feel he’s a have-not being left someone that’s more of a have. This is a not a guy who has what it takes to ever be any more than exactly what he looks like at first glance.
Cassidy’s art brings a goofiness and expressiveness to him that other characters lack, though. That’s not a mark against the art – It works because the animated way he uses the protagonist to over emote in comparison to the other characters you get introduced to likely means you’ll take an immediate liking to him.
Yes he’s a loser, a slacker – a 100% grade a stereotypical dork but he’s also our surrogate into the world here and it works in a way that using a level-headed every-man probably wouldn’t.
Rounding out the supporting cast is a street samurai, pastel-lolita fashion girl and finally a business-suit wearing, eight foot tall anthropomorphic cat named Mr. Bixby. Sliding slowly into more fantastical elements like that works here because of our anchor to the world being such a dork.
It’s in that way that I’m reminded more reading this of Manga than it does something patterned more off of western superhero comics. A normal dude in the mix with such colorful supporting cast members is a pretty standard element in a lot of Manga and the way the opening narrative arc builds into all-out fantasy is more BLEACH than it is Spider-Man.
That’s not to say that the story arc at work here isn’t predictable. Being predictable isn’t always necessarily a reason all it’s own to dismiss a creative work. You can make up for it sometimes by just being fun to read. Some of the best superhero stories of all time are predictable, but they’re memorable and important because of how they have their own voice even in the midst of that, and I feel like I could say the same thing about 9 LIVES.
Kitschyness isn’t for everybody, and if you’re not the kind of person into a book with characters that are cyber ninjas or bald-headed super villains named Dr. Brain then it’s probably not going to grab you immediately like it would someone who’s waist deep in Squirrel-Girl.
9 LIVES still gets the Tales of the Con recommendation though, not just because I got asked about my hair, but because so many superhero comics these days attempt to be fun and few of them rarely are. Being a delight to read and having a little self-awareness can really go a long way.
Being as it was my first ever Comicon to attend, I wasn’t quite sure what exactly I was going to be walking into. I’d figured that I was going to feel like a lost little kid in the middle of Time Square the entirety of the first day, and I wasn’t wrong. Preparing for this convention was quite overwhelming mentally, but I felt like it would be an even better first experience to get some coverage while I could. Aside from the hundreds of photos I took of cosplayers & the convention itself, I went ahead and took a stroll down ‘Food Truck Alley’ to try and cover the food trucks that leapt out at me. Out of all the amazing food I got to eat, there were three in particular that caught my attention as being especially stand out.
The first truck that caught my eye was called Mustache Pretzels. Owned by Greg Golden, his truck originally roamed the streets of Philly before coming to Arizona a while back. Now based out of Scottsdale, his truck has attended Phoenix Comicon three years in a row. I got to speak with Greg and he seemed pretty excited about the prospect of attending for a fourth year. Greg also let me know that his truck was popular enough to have opened a physical location inside the actual Phoenix Convention center itself.
The selection of Pretzels was pretty limited, but what the menu actually offered sounded fantastic by despite the lack of variety. I don’t know if it was the price of the convention center food or just the desert heat – but it also seemed pretty reasonable for what was being offered.
I ordered the Original with Queso Cheese, which is a simple pretzel topped with sea salt. Of course with a name like Mustache Pretzel, you can figure that the pretzel was shaped into a mustache. Y’know, hence the name, but I still thought it was creative.
When I took the first bite, it was like I had melted to the consistency of my queso cheese. It was great! Lots of love was definitely put into the making of this pretzel. The dough itself has a definite flavor and consistency of being homemade. The subtle flavor of the dough with the sea salt, mixing together with each bite washes over you while the dough comes apart in your mouth. Bottom line – If you don’t have the appetite of The Incredible Hulk and just need something to hold you over through the lines and panels in the afternoon, Mustache Pretzel is one of the best choices.
Cheese, Love and Hapiness
Moving on to the next truck on my list: This truck was called Cheese, Love and Happiness. They’re based out of Scottsdale just like Mustache Pretzels, but unfortunately the owner “Sparrow” wasn’t around for me to meet him. From what I hear from his employees and the quality of the food they make, he’s a super groovy dude.
I have to say that the only thing I didn’t like was the line, but going into something like this you can generally consider that if the line is large that the food is worth it. When I finally made it up to the front after my long queue, I find out that they’re out of their famous mac-n-cheese pulled pork sandwich! After coming all that way it’s not like an empty stomach is willing to give up, so I soldiered on and ordered the Flower Power. The sandwich had tomatoes, basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. That’s obviously a classic ingredient combination; you really can’t go wrong with that, just by putting them together.
Of course it was a little bit more than the pretzel truck, but the size of the sandwich was well worth it. The first bite was just as good as the last and had me wanting more the entire time. Even though I wasn’t able to get what I originally wanted, I was highly impressed with the entire experience.
The third and final food truck I would like to recommend is named Queso-Good. I had heard that this truck was owned by the same guy as Cheese, Love and Happiness, but after doing some mild research, the truck is a division of Ralph’s Snack Bar Mobile Food Trucks. I couldn’t find the other truck under a list of vendors on their website, so after a little quick footed investigating I managed to find out who was actually behind this truck. Getting back, I approached the truck and a smile quickly formed on my face when I saw that there was a great selection of Mexican Food.
Chicken Fajitas jumped out at me immediately over anything else, so I was putting money on the counter and yelling my order over the noise of the crowd in the tightly packed alley. The price was good and the size of the plate was enough to fill. If I had to say a time estimation, by the time my plate hit the table I’d already scarfed the Fajitas down like nothing. Listen: I’ve never eaten Fajita’s as fast as the ones I got at Comicon. I’m a big Mexican food guy so maybe it was just seeing something immediately recognizable among all of the food trucks that made Queso Good my favorite, but out of all three I can definitely say they had the most solid offering.
Leaving Food Truck Alley was difficult because I wish I could enjoy all of them daily. I was also impressed with how much cash I left with. Conventions can be quite pricey, especially with food. But to whoever is reading and plans on attending Comicon next year , don’t stress too hard about where you’re going to eat and how much money you’re going to have to part with. Food Truck Alley is where it’s at, nerds! We’ll have more reviews next con.
-Scuba Steve out! Bloop Bloop.
Like a double album or a back to back movie, Tales of the Con brings you the A-side and B-side on the Stardew Valley. Two different players, two different perspectives.
Stardew Valley Has Harvested My Fucking Soul
By: Grim Glamfire
When I was doing my regular round-tour of places I read the other week, one of the articles that stood out the most to me was one of the writers I read often’s thoughts about Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery, and how some games are impossible to duplicate.
Their reason was that Superbrothers is more about conveying a particular mood than any genre contrivances. While being inspired by dozens of other games and works, it’s only superficially like them because the developers had specific things they wanted to represent with their creation.
Lofty claims like that are generally frequently used by journalists, especially when considering any titles that critics and the gaming public deemed noteworthy. Yes that writer might have thought it was specifically attributable to Superbrothers than any other game, but I can only say for myself that I don’t think it’s the specific example.
Stardew Valley epitomizes the kind of game that manages to still adhere to other formats of genre contrivance within one of its key inspirations, Harvest Moon while still being something completely distinct.
Where the appeal is in this game has a lot to do with the mood it cultivates. Stardew Valley is the kind of the thing that can grip the deepest, most manic parts of our brains that are addicted to improvement and forward momentum. Every day in Stardew Valley is another day where a goal is ticked off of your list.
Really, there’s a startling lack of vocabulary for the people that enjoy these sorts of games. Most of them really are just about creating a compulsion in the player to maximize the output of whatever plot of land or space station or company they’ve been given. Even Harvest Moon itself with its marriage and age aspects never really, really takes the ideas it presents anywhere further.
Out of all of the harvesting that goes on in Stardew Valley, I come away from each session feeling like the only thing really getting harvested is my fucking soul. Yeah it never takes its core ideas to some super smart place like I want it to – but it also gives me the freedom to farm for eight hours, or to never even break earth with a plow if I don’t want to.
Sure, Stardew Valley hits some kind of deep primal itch for creating and managing something that is uniquely ours that all of these farming and crafting games do, but what really sets apart Stardew Valley is I don’t have to do any work if I don’t want to.
Want to go spelunking through a cave and ignore all of your responsibilities like some kind of gross dirt covered, well, spelunker? Yeah sure, you’re enabled to not work on your farm and there are more than enough outlets for you otherwise.
We bill games like this as simulations, but is there any place for storytelling in a simulation – or does that directly contradict the nature of real life? I can cut down trees or raise the money to build a barn – but doing any of this is just a way to veil that no matter how impressive my farm gets all I’m really working towards is giving more people gifts so I can finish their storyarcs.
Does this make Stardew Valley any less playable? Not at all – because even though that is reducing the game to its simplest terms, it still presents a compelling argument in favor of if. What is the purpose of producing anything, if not for the benefit of the community, anyway?
Maybe I’m getting ahead a little bit, and that seems to describe something that not a lot of people would play. Considering contemporaries, or even the games that inspired it; most of them involved building a farm with the end goal of the player getting married and passing it along.
If you turn the examination of Stardew Valley being about giving back to the community more inward – you can see that it’s built into the fabric of the way the game tells its story. The best possible situation involves repairing what parts of the community have fallen apart and driving off any forces capable of hemorrhaging the work you’ve done.
The story being built while you play is of course more important than the one the game hands you, and by letting you decide what to do with your time Stardew Valley shows you that it prioritizes how you want to live. Maybe I want to live running through a forest and managing my stamina, hoping to have just enough energy by the end of the day to tie up the last of my chores. Maybe I want to live my life pretending to be a pansexual robot farmer, attempting to fuck their way through a small town while fighting the evils of corporate capitalism.
Stardew Valley hands you a story about the ever encroaching realities of big business being able to loom over the small community you find yourself in. Just a few weeks spent in the Valley and your efforts go towards staving off the fingers of capitalism working their way beneath the fertile soil and poisoning it.
There’s certainly no scene in any of the Harvest Moon games that deal with the struggle of rural homelessness and poverty (which actually seem to be, at least rural poverty, one of the dominant themes of the game)
Whimsy is a word I would still use to describe not only the world, but the players role in it. As the aforementioned farming sex robot I’ve crawled dungeons and romanced people, but I’ve also investigated magical sprites and hunted dense forests in the middle of the night for the right plants to unlock rewards given out by them.
You can step away from the farm for a day or forever, but you will never stop exploring every nook and cranny of the game that presents itself. Sometimes I don’t water my plants just to see if they die, and the game enables that too. Maybe you do make life better for someone, or everyone, in town. Maybe you fuck up your farm catastrophically and forage in the wilderness after pillaging the lowest levels of the sewers struggling to fight hazardous waste monsters. Stardew Valley presents a world and expects you to try and live in it, even though it will never truly be simulating anything real.
Stardew Valley: Harvest Moon beyond
I grew up playing Harvest Moon. Played it from the GameBoy, up through the N64 (arguably the best) on through Magical Melody. I would get done with work or school, come home and instantly start playing. For some reason the simplicity of it drew me in, while giving you goals and things to achieve that made it worthwhile. It probably didn’t hurt that I grew up on a farm. I’ve tried Terraria and Minecraft. Both games scratched an “itch” to play Harvest Moon. And both are good, but nothing like Harvest Moon. The most common story line of the series involves the player taking over a farm that no longer has an owner tending to it, growing crops, raising livestock, making friends with the town’s people, and creating a family while running a successful farm. Each game provides objects to collect or goals to complete, whether it is befriending villagers, collecting musical notes, finding sprites, making rainbows, or ringing bells. Money is obtained by growing crops, raising livestock, fishing, mining, and foraging. With a limited time and limited energy, the player has to find a balance between the two in order to accomplish their work for the day.
I was always personally drawn to Harvest Moon games not only for the simplicity of the play, but how deceptively deep it could be in the different parts. Anyone can just grow crops, but figuring the best growing pattern, the best crops to sell, which were best for recipes, or making other products took time. And that was just the basic. Other aspects include: fishing, with its patience and mini-games; mining, which was sometimes seasonal; different animals, with different needs and wants. Adding to that was the variety of towns, towns people, events, and possible travel areas. It all added up to make it something that keeps me coming back. But then I saw a few teasers about StarDew Valley, and I honestly couldn’t wait to try it ….
Now I will give Eric Barone (aka ConcernedApe) credit: for one man building this massive game from the ground up, he did it well and in a relatively short amount of time. And there was a LOT of anticipation for this game from the community. It was given a Greenlight status on Steam. Though apparently that doesn’t mean as much as it first did. It’s sadly a broken system, but the thought behind it was that the game idea was well received by Valve employees and the Steam community members.
Right off the bat, my first impression of the game; “Holy Shit, the options!”. It’s not just “Are you male or female? What do you call the farm?” No no. It’s hair, skin, eyes, accessories, style of clothes, and even choosing your favorite activity. Once you have settled on an avatar, you’re then treated to a cinematic very reminiscent of Harvest Moon games of the past where you see that you hate your city life, and have been given a rundown family farm that you have to now fix up. You also find out that much of the nearby town broken down and need fixing also. Most of that fixing will come from helping the “elves” of this realm. They have goals set up in an old abandoned building, that you can look at by way of plaques on the floor in different rooms. Once you start these collections, you can work on them as quickly or as slowly as you’d like.
The inspiration for ConcernedApe’s elements is obvious. The farm and town setup from Harvest Moon, the mining from Terraria, the customization and crafting of MineCraft. So far the only thing I’ve come against that I haven’t liked is the fishing aspect. The mini-game for collecting fish isn’t explained well, nor is it easy to accomplish once you figure it out. You have a window pop up that shows a fishing pole, a fish with a bar behind it and a completion meter to show how close you are to actually catching the fish. The fish will start moving up and down in it’s section and it’s your job to keep the bar behind it. You click the mouse button to raise the bar and you let go of the mouse to drop the bar. But the second you left go of the button, the bar drops immediately. It’s the same for raising the bar. It’s almost counter-intuitive the way the bar moves. As you lose contact of the bar and fish, the completion meter drops. Once it is gone, you lose the fish. I’ve rarely succeeded in catching fish because the “catch” bar is either full fledge flying up or dropping senselessly to the bottom. But I have recently found out there are sanctioned mods and a mod manager; one of the mods can ease the fishing or get rid of the mini-game entirely.
Learning the ins and outs of the game has been the best part. Figuring out the crafting, the combat, and the overall farming aspect has made me very happy. The combat is actually fun. It is a very basic PvE. You swing a weapon and smack them. It does give you an arc as you swing so there can be a broad hit area, but hits are directional. So you must face and click on the side of your body you want the swing. Each weapon has a set of damage range points per swing, each mob has a set amount of health, simple math to defeat them. And they start easy with simple hopping blobs, then grow in difficulty as you get further into the mines. You’ll just have to discover those for yourself. My favorite part of any mining area is getting far down into the mine, as there is usually better items and a greater amount. ConcernedApe also added a reward system of sorts. There is a treasure chest every 10 levels. I have yet to hit the bottom, but I can’t wait to see what I can find there. There is a much larger scale of plants to grow and I can’t wait to see how the greenhouse will change the amounts of crops I grow. I have yet to get into the animal husbandry. I did figure out that you do need a silo to hold the feed, and already have mine full. While there has been a learning curve as far as foraging and general gameplay, the steam community forums have an infinite source of knowledge that has been handy.
I was excited to see this game announced, more excited to continue playing it, and can’t wait to see what stories are to come. And there’s no end to it either, at least not an official ending. And this game will have multiplayer possibilities in the future, which makes it even better. It’s everything I have been wanting in a Harvest Moon style game, and even addressed things I hadn’t thought of. I think Eric Barone has done a wonderful job and look forward to all that he has in store for a game that he has so thoughtfully created.