“Unavowed”

Unavowed would probably be rated “R” for the language alone…not to mention the gore, disturbing subject matter, low-resolution nudity, and the off-screen sexual encounter (involving the “main character”!).

But…er…we liked it. It’s 100% a game for ADULTS…but if you’re looking for a roller coaster of emotions (that streaks from creepy yuck to aww lol), deep moral dilemmas, and a twisty, turny story full of amazing characters and gut-punches – then you might be the audience for Unavowed."Unavowed" — Kimia Wood

One year ago, a demon possessed you; forcing you to tear a trail of bloodshed through New York City. Your salvation finally comes in the form of the Unavowed – an ancient society dedicated to stopping evil.

You are free, but your world is in tatters. You have no home, no friends, and are wanted by the police. Your old life is gone, but perhaps you can start a new one. Join the ranks of the Unavowed, and fight against the oncoming darkness.

Continue reading

Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover

Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover — Kimia Wood

Image credit: InfinityPublishing

Today’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is “The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover” (submitted by Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse).

Fortunately, I’ve been recording the books I read for the last couple of years…so here are the books I loved recently and recommend to everyone!

1—The Benedict Option

Rod Dreher

Everyone should read this book. Right now.

It’s about living as a Christian in a world that’s hostile to Christ, and the very fact that the author’s background is different than mine (Catholic-inspired Orthodox) challenged my preconceived notions and made me think more deeply about how I can live intentionally for Christ in my everyday life.

Yeah, read it!

AmazonKoboIndieBound

2—Good News for a Change

Matt MikalatosLast Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover — Kimia Wood

If you only read one book on evangelism – ever – read this one! I’ve read it twice now, and the down-to-earth advice and practical perspective both challenge me and comfort me that it doesn’t have to be this hard.

Everybody likes good news, right? And Jesus is the best news of all! Just…translating that for other people can be a bit difficult.

Amazon — Barnes & Noble — the Book Depository — KoboIndieBound

3—Ice Station Zebra

Alistair MacLean

This book starts out kinda slow…but it sure picks up!

If you aren’t yet afraid of the North Pole, this book will fix that…and also make you afraid of submarines and all the different ways both of these things can kill you.

An unreliable narrator, a conspiracy mystery, and a glorious climax all join in to make this a fantastic story!

AmazonKoboIndieBound

4—The Guns of Navarone

Alistair MacLean

When I finally read this, I said, “Why have I been putting this off?!”

Alistair MacLean delivers action, tension, and fun every single time…and this gripping story of a specialist team on a high-stakes secret mission in World War II is no exception! (It’s also a little gut-wrenching!)

AmazonKobo

5—Vessels of Honor

Virginia MyersLast Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover — Kimia Wood

Writing spiritual themes into fiction is so very hard.

It’s easier if the entire story is centered around “what does it mean to live the Christian life?”

Vessels of Honor is the best example I’ve ever seen of Christians living in a fallen world and struggling through as best they can. The members of this church are broken, sinful, hurting…adulterers, idol worshippers, liars. And yet that’s all of us…and God calls us to extend His grace to all of them, whether or not they will accept it.

AmazonBarnes & NobleAbeBooksKobo

6—A Sidekick’s Tale

Elisabeth Grace FoleyLast Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover — Kimia Wood

Moving to the lighter side, this short story is for anyone even remotely interested in Westerns, great sidekicks, family feuds, slapstick, lightweight romance, and wry humor.

Amazon — Barnes & Noble — Kobo — the Book Depository

7—The Screwtape Letters

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis’ classic about the elder devil coaching his tempter-in-training nephew is so much more meaningful once you’ve experienced the other side – the Christian walk – first-hand…the struggling, the painful growth, the periods of bland coasting, etc.

Lewis’ portrayal of blind, self-consuming evil is also spot on…which is why That Hideous Strength is still my favorite novel of all time.

8—Ivanhoe

Sir Walter ScottLast Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover — Kimia Wood

This is a classic. Therefore slow and boring, right?

Only the beginning! Once the stage is properly set, we launch right into the pithy dialogue between the different fascinating characters…and explore through their actions the classist, racist, superstitious, and foreign mindsets of these 12th century Brits.

Plus there are fight scenes and lots of derring-do! Try it out.

9—The Hand of Oberon (Chronicles of Amber)

Roger ZelaznyLast Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover — Kimia Wood

This is part of the Chronicles of Amber (which everyone should read BTW) and I gobbled it up because it’s part murder mystery. (Also features a royal family of like 14 princes and princesses, all split into factions and maybe possibly going to kill each other!)

10—The Book of Were-Wolves

Sabin Baring-Gould

This was a fascinating examination of around-the-world myths surrounding the were-wolf, and their historical context (and basis).

It’s also a horrifying exploration of human evil.

Project Gutenberg (free ebooks—check copyright laws in your own country) — Amazon (free ebook) — Amazon (paperback) — Barnes&Noble (paperback) — Kobo — Book Depository

Honorable Mention: Nomad of the Emirates

E.B. Dawson
Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover — Kimia Wood

Finally: an alien story written from a third-culture kid’s perspective.

I kept mentioning this story to my dad, since he’s a missionary kid with a home that no longer exists…and it’s so hard to get Americans to understand the world from a broader frame of reference.

If you want to experience some of that broader frame of reference, try this book.

AmazonBarnes&NobleKobo — the Book Depository — IndieBound

Honorable Mention: The Body in the Library

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is dependable for a good mystery “buzz.” This is one where I was so sure I had solved it…and then the twist hit me and I said, “That’s so clever how did I not see that!”

AmazonKoboIndieBound


Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover — Kimia WoodKimia Wood lives somewhere in the American Midwest with her family…including the brother people mistake for her boyfriend.

She’s currently bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Solider! You’ll also receive occasional updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

RWBY (Seasons 1-5)

"RWBY" (Seasons 1-5) — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Haruhichan.com

Color is associated with emotion.

Which is super appropriate for RWBY.

This is yet another web series that my brother raved about…and then also mourned when later seasons “went loopy.”

It’s an anime-inspired adventure of four girls training to become hero-protectors of their world, fighting the monstrous Grimm from without and human divisions from within. The title comes from the first names of the four leads, which match their associated colors (and I was so proud I figured that out on my own, without having to read the Wiki page).

TL;DR— If you like stories that make you feel, this is for you!

The Colorful Cast

Each member of Team RWBY has a dominate color that dictates their character design…and to a certain degree their personality.

Yang is bright, loud, gung-ho, and quick-tempered.

Weiss is up-tight, cold, yet rigidly determined and precise…and so earnest.

Blake is…well, worried about her inner demons.

And Ruby has a heart – as big as the moon, as warm as bathwater.

All the characters have a “gimmick.” Even if it’s not a huge deal, there’s something to make them stand out…to give us a “hook” to hold on to and remember them by.

"RWBY" (Seasons 1-5) — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Youtube

I hesitate to call them “larger than life”…but there’s definitely an emotional flair that makes these characters (all of them, even the side characters) latch onto you and not let go.

Combat…in Color

This individualism is carried over into the battles. Every single person has a personal weapon and fighting style…and a personal super-power called a “semblance” that usually informs their combat preferences.

Ruby has a scythe that’s bigger than she is, doubles as a sniper rifle, and folds up to the size of a notebook.

Weis’s style is all about precision and proper form…using her semblance of magic glyphs. Yang has wrist-mounted, punch-activated shotguns.

Everything is about jumping, flip-flopping, spinning, and using everything as a gun. It’s something you have to see for yourself.

The art style combines anime influences with a simplified feel, distinctive colors, and a feeling of momentum and energy that mixes with the magic system– you just have to see it for yourself!

The Grimm

Red-eyed creatures of darkness, the Grimm are spawned by negative emotions and attracted to panic, fear, and distrust.

They actually make sense of that old stand-by, the “don’t tell the populace what’s going on or they’ll panic” cliché. The cliché is still kinda tired, but at least there’s a viable reason for the policy when popular unease can literally attract sharp-toothed monsters to your door!

While we see bigger and scarier Grimm as the series progresses, it’s also very clear that their power comes from people…the bad guys who prefer widespread terror and bloodshed if it gives them power.

You can kill Grimm…but they just evaporate into smoke when they die. The deeper problem lies in the hearts of men.

Can a plucky little girl with a massive scythe do anything against that?

Soundtrack

RWBY features many official songs, both as episode intros and for the end-credits.

Why are they so…catchy?

The lyrics are fine…clever and effective, but the rhyme schemes can be sloppy at times. The tunes are pretty, but hard to sing until you listen to them a couple times. (And lean toward the one-note, syncopated style of modern praise music at times.)

The style is like cinematic orchestral smashed with rock with a smattering of ballad, which is apparently my groove. And the performers are first class.

Yet…what elevates these to “play constantly on repeat”-worthy is—

The emotion.

Red Like Roses

We get a hint of this, Ruby’s theme song, in the first teaser short. The full version is a back-and-forth between Ruby and her dead mother…and it’s HEART-RENDING.

I Burn

I think this is a credits song…I only found it through the soundtrack lists on Youtube.

It’s Miss Punchy Powerhouse on a power trip! The only downside is one of the verses has (ahem) words I can’t play in front of my parents… (Ooo — found a cleaned-up version!)

When It Falls

This villain song has been in my head for a solid month.

Maybe it’s the innocents lying in pools of their own blood, or the “victory for hate incarnate.”

I have issues.

Professor Ozpin

This is my brother’s favorite character because he sips coffee while launching students off the cliff.

The first few volumes take place in the magic school, and suffer from some of those clichés of “the students have to fix everything.”

And yet…Professor Ozpin is always in the back-ground, watching with wise eyes. In my brother’s words, he’s the “grown-up among grown-ups,” who knows way more than he lets on…and is patient enough to let the students grow at the pace they need – to become the protectors the world needs.

Along with Ruby’s uncle and the other teachers, he maintains the feeling that, yes, the grown-ups actually do know what’s going on…and when bad things go down, they have their eye on the long game.

This is one of the things that breaks in Volume 6, apparently.

It’s all very well to have twelve-year-old superheroes…but when stuff gets real, they need to have older, experienced warriors at their back.

But I stopped watching at the Volume 5 climax…which is everything you could wish for, bringing all players (junior and senior) together on each side of the battlefield for an epic show-down.

(By the way, Blake’s parents are AWESOME.)

Themes

Family

Part of Yang’s personal quest is finding her mother, who abandoned the family when Yang was little.

By the time she finally meets her mother, though, she’s had time to develop her attitudes based on the unconditional support and encouragement she’s gotten from both her dad and uncle. (And her team.)

Weis comes from rich gentry…meaning her identity is wrapped up in her family name. Blake is a racial minority, and quarreled with her parents about how to respond to that.

And Ruby… Well, Ruby accepts everyone, whatever their race, appearance, or mechanical make-up.

And as the Volume 1 title song says, “Victory is in a simple soul.” It’s Ruby’s open-hearted optimism that has a chance to defeat this grim world (ha ha).

Racism

Two races exist in RWBY: Humans, and Faunus…basically humans with animal attachments (ears, tails, horns, etc.). While we get hints that the Faunus have been treated as second class citizens – excluded from restaurants and paid unfair wages – what we actually see is the activism group that’s started using terrorism to get their point across.

The show does a good job showing the problems that arise when activism becomes a goal in and of itself…when righteous indignation becomes hatred and selfishness.

Emotions again: even the characters on the “wrong” side have their motivations and feelings honestly explored. Their actions are unjustified, but we see how the feelings of oppression and revenge led them to this place.

What isn’t done so well is showing the original oppression that they’re reacting against. (Although a character short for Volume 5 does a pretty good job.)

Teamwork and Friendship

When the students arrive at “hero” school, they’re paired up and combined into teams in seemingly random fashion.

But the teachers apparently have a method to their madness. (See Ozpin above!)

Ruby and Weis, while initially polar opposites, are forced to work through their differences to become best friends.

Two other students – a try-hard who got in on forged transcripts, and a universally respected prodigy – are teamed as partners…and develop a beautiful relationship that spurs character development and EMOTION. They are still my most favorite couple although they are also the most TRAGIC one!

Heroes and Fairytales

Just as RWBY draws on classic fairytales for its art direction and character design, it also weaves into the themes and subtext questions like:

“Are fairytales just real stories we’ve forgotten?”

“Are heroes real?”

“The mighty warriors of the past all died…usually while fighting the darkness. Is it still worth doing what they did? Did they still accomplish something?”

People sometimes think of a “fairytale” as something full of improbable things with an unrealistically happy ending. But fairytales also have dark, scary, and depressing things in them.

This tense balance of tone also flows through RWBY.

They’re just little girls, learning how to be warriors. Their moves look really cool and colorful…until you see a glimpse of the real horrors out there.

The horrors that have killed real, grown-up warriors.

The series gets progressively darker, and we seem to ask the question:

“Can Ruby’s idealism really conquer Grimm?”

“Won’t her eagerness to befriend everyone bite her back one day?”

“Can this team of misfits really stick together and accomplish anything?”

“The villainess out there is so huge and horrible…so much worse than what these mere kids have faced so far. If the grown-ups couldn’t stop the darkness, how can we have a hope?”

As for the last question, the Volume 5 finale seems to say: “Together!”

The Never-ending Story?

My brother DNFed Volume 6, so I haven’t watched it (or the seventh volume currently streaming).

But the Volume 5 finale is a pretty perfect place to end things. Sure, there are lots of plot threads still in motion…but the character arcs have peaked, the teams have merged into cathartic awesomeness, epic battles have been pitched, and mini-bosses have soundly had their butts handed to them.

It is, in short, an ending of EMOTIONAL RESONANCE.

So…

If you want to giggle, laugh, say, “Oh, that’s so cool,” and (ahem) sob like a little baby (like when Ruby is chit-chatting and telling all the school news to her mother…’s grave?)…try RWBY.

You can even watch it with your parents and younger siblings, because – while there’s scary, creepy, suspenseful stuff – there’s nothing you have to cover their eyes for. (Or their ears, unlike RoosterTeeth’s other show…Also, careful searching for fan art online!)


While it’s not necessary to start with them, these four character shorts will introduce Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang (er…hopefully hers will go over your kid sister’s head)…and then you can watch the actual episodes for FREE on Youtube.

Or get them directly from the creators at RoosterTeeth!

Why Genos is Adorable

I…I’m in love.

I don’t even know how it happened. It all started when my brother bought the first season of One Punch Man…and then –

Why Genos is Adorable — Kimia Wood

Then this gorgeous creature entered my life.

His name is Genos. He makes me swoon.

Me! Who can’t stand romance except in microscopic doses! Me, who hates the fourteen-year-olds-in-grown-women’s-bodies who squee about their book boyfriends like a bunch of @$#%?@ —

Why has this emotion taken over my life, and why does that hunk of metal and blond hair make my heart flutter EVERY – SINGLE – TIME?

Well, I’m here to over-analyze just that and try to arrive at a logical answer. Welcome along for the ride.

He shoots fire out of his hands.

Need I say more?

He’s a blond cyborg.

Need I say more?!

He asks to be the main character’s disciple.

Saitama is technically the main character, but in a lot of ways he’s less interesting than Genos (to me).

Genos can’t obliterate enemies with “one punch” – and he knows it. He admires Saitama’s strength, and tags after him in the desperate hope that he will himself become stronger.

But their dynamic has so much more to it than that, and as the season progresses and they learn about each other Genos’ unshakable faith in Saitama (when the entire rest of the world thinks he’s a wanna-be fraud) is part of what keeps Saitama going (when he’s really kind of bored with the whole thing and really just wants something to punch that doesn’t immediately disintegrate).

He’s nineteen.

And he acts nineteen! He’s super serious, and focused, and aspirational. He’s idealistic, and wants to get constantly stronger so that he can be an even better hero!

He’s inexperienced, and he knows it. Everything about him screams green, eager, and determined.

His memories of his tragic backstory are fresh in his mind, and he’s dedicated to preventing that from happening again.

He respects his elders.

Obviously he respects Saitama, but this goes for everyone else more experienced, too.

Whether it’s a tough old grandpa/mentor type who wants these new up-starts to succeed, or a self-important veteran who just wants the newbies to stay out of his way…Genos knows he doesn’t know it all. And he’s all about letting those who know teach him.

He plays well with others, and isn’t selfish.

Genos isn’t about being a one-cyborg-show. He knows the value of working with and learning from those who have walked the path before.

When a hero out-classes him, he readily submits to their superior skill. When a “hero” pathetically fails, he moves in to fill the gap.

None of what he does is about making Genos look good. It’s 100% about service (and also about becoming a better servant).

He gets blown up. A lot.

He’s a cyborg, of course, so he just needs to get rebuild.

But Genos getting his butt kicked is TOTALLY ADORABLE for some reason. (And his battle music is pretty cool, too.)

He has a tragic backstory.

Genos’ whole family (and most of his town) was blown up by an evil cyborg. But now he’s been rebuilt to be a good cyborg and hunt down the evil cyborg. (Sympathy points!)

He’s super grateful to the scientist who saved his life, and later to Saitama (who saves his life repeatedly).

His tragedy hasn’t given him baggage…just a(n adorable) drive to do the right thing, and to protect those who can’t protect themselves. (And also get strong enough to protect them against even bigger threats.)

His chemistry with Saitama pushes Saitama to be better.

Why Genos Is Adorable — Kimia Wood

Genos wins noodle-eating contest. Image credit: OnePunchMan.fandom.com

I think.

At the very least it’s hilarious the way Genos hangs on Saitama’s every word – while Saitama doesn’t really know why he’s so strong or how to help anyone else improve.

But Genos’ earnest, sincere devotion force Saitama to dig deeper, involve himself in more heroics, and embrace his mentor role (or at least make up something that sounds profound).

He’s naïve.

Genos believes everything Saitama says…even if he just made it up to sound good.

Saitama has no idea what makes him so strong, and no actual martial arts technique…but Genos doesn’t care. He knows what Saitama can do, and respects him profoundly for it.

But his naïvety also makes us laugh from time to time. Aww…

He never gives up.

Did I mention he gets his butt kicked?

Even though he can vaporize an eight-story building with one blast, he still gets “turned into bad modern art” almost every episode. (Has he ever even won a fight? I’m trying to remember…)

But not only does he look ABSOLUTELY KICK-BUTT while he’s getting trashed, it never stops him from giving it his all. Whether he’s shooting his fiery lasers at a meteor or punching an enormous monster, he pours everything he’s got into his task.

Although sometimes he over-analyzes.

He is a cyborg, after all, so data is very important to him. He’s memorized all the stats on every hero, and he tries to out-strategize his opponents whenever possible.

When he gets it wrong, that just means he’s still learning and growing and IT’S ADORABLE!

(He’s basically what Eric Kedzierski would be if Eric were a little more erudite.)

He’s smart, detail-oriented, and has a great memory.

Genos has read all the pamphlets. Contrast Saitama, who doesn’t even know what his job description involves.

Good thing he has Genos to keep track of all the details for him, tell him what’s going on, who’s who, etc.

Genos is the kid in college who actually read the textbook and aced all the tests.

Like me 🙂 except some of my tests weren’t 100%.

Can you say over-achiever perfectionist ADORABLE?

He saves little kids from certain death.

Even if it means having his back, lower body, limbs, and most of his torso melted off by acid.

I love this guy!

He’s honest.

When he asks Saitama to accept him as a disciple, he inadvertently spills his whole life story. He’s also very upfront about why he wants to be around Saitama.

In fact, he’s open and straightforward with everyone he meets. It’s hard to imagine him attempting a subterfuge…or succeeding if he did.

He’s humble and heroic.

With all the snotty, high-powered heroes running around showing off their muscles and looking down on the “lower class” heroes, you’d think Genos would mention vaporizing that multi-story building. At least once.

But no.

He’s there to save innocent people, learn from those stronger and better than he, and support his master Saitama.

In fact, when he knows about a sufficiently enormous threat, he automatically invites Saitama to come with…even though Saitama isn’t technically in the “high-tier” group.

Genos never elevates himself. He never grandstands on a kill or tries to get media attention.

His first instinct is always the protection of civilians. His next focus is always Saitama – learning from him, appreciating his victory, or defending him from the critics.

Combine that with Saitama’s willingness to take a publicity fall for the benefit of heroes as a whole, and you get a duo-dynamic that is TRULY AWESOME.

Did I mention he’s a blond cyborg?

He also has sexy yellow eyes, tracking robot vision, and lifeform-detection technology (when he uses it).

This might explain why I’m still single.

I’ve put the bar just so, so high…

But come one. A cute, honest, driven, smart, humble, conscientious, sincere, kick-butt, building-vaporizing cyborg? With blond hair?

How is this too much to ask?


Note: One Punch Man is a fun, raucous show, but does contain a handful of scattered swear-words, heavy gore, and borderline male nudity. Parental guidance recommended. (It’s also Japanese, so make sure you get a version that will work in your area before you commit. Also dubbing is nice.)


Why Genos is Adorable — Kimia WoodKimia Wood is still single and has no idea why.

She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures!

“Avatar: The Last Airbender”

A"Avatar: The Last Airbender" — Kimia Wood kids’ animated series has not previously been in my box of tricks, so this was a fresh, new experience for me and my viewing partner.

Avatar: The Last Airbender has cool characters, awesome moments, great fights scenes, and interesting world-building…mixed in with immaturity and Buddhist mumbo-jumbo. But, hey, it’s all about the #siblingtime, right? Continue reading

“Caesar III”

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator This civilization simulator has been one of my favorite games since childhood. The only trouble with playing it is that it will be an automatic three-hour sink every time I open the program.

The Mechanics of an Empire

Caesar III puts you in the role of a governor building a town from scratch. Your manager on behalf of the Emperor rates your performance based on population, crime rate, revenue, cultural attainments, etc.

As is typical for a city-simulation game, you are the Supreme Tyrant of your town. You must provide food and housing for your citizens, make sure they can get to the buildings that need employees, balance your building needs with tax income, and more.

Bread for the Masses

The food system is especially complex, requiring much concentration and study to perfect. Farms (which require labor) will produce food, which is delivered to granaries (which require labor). From there, it is distributed to markets (which require labor), which send “market ladies” out to distribute food directly to people’s homes. In especially complex cities, a market lady might take a wrong turn, leaving people down the dead end to starve until she figures it out.

And there is no way to control the way the people walk. They travel the roads of your city, randomly deciding which branch to take at each crossroad, and returning to their starting building once they “run out of food” or get tired.

All this careful finagling is perfect for sucking in hours of the player’s time. After all, figuring out how the system works and what you need to tweak to get it to function is all part of the fun!

If you happen to have a “warehouse” near your farms (designed to hold other things like pottery and furniture – oh, yes, you have to provide those, too) the warehouse might accidentally collect the food intended for the granary (in case you want to sell food to traders, you see) and this means the market workers can’t access it from the granary!

(Did I mention farms can only be built on land that’s arable?)

Imperial Combat

This is not a fighting game, although it includes limited mechanics for warfare. Some of the areas you will be assigned to are threatened by “savages” who will attack your town! (It’s even possible to face Carthaginians on elephants!)

If your town is in a dangerous area, you will have the ability to build military structures. These include walls and gatehouses, plus barracks for housing legions of soldiers (spearmen, legionaries, or horsemen).

I preferred playing maps that were “moderately” dangerous, so I could build gates to contain my populace (building a gatehouse across the road keeps people from wandering down its full length) and hosting soldiers to help put down potential riots (if you keep your citizens stuffed and entertained, they’ll pay their taxes and behave. Ignore their demands, and they’ll get vocal and torch-wielding about it).

Variation of Terrain

Caesar III adds variety by offering you assignments in different parts of the empire. For instance, you might take a post in the wilds of Britannia, where the grass is lush and green, and the groundwater easy to tap. (You must build fountains to give your people water, supplied by the famous Roman aqueducts.)

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorBut perhaps you will be sent to North Africa, where the pale sand is dotted with shrubs and bushes, and water is harder to provide. You’ll also have to use your farmland very wisely, as farms can only be built where crops will grow. Of course, working out the geometry for maximum farm-age is part of the fun!

In some areas, you are provided with lots of coastline, and expected to feed your people with fishing wharves. Sometimes there are even “primitive” natives, who must be pacified with a missionary post (teaching Latin and civilizing through education, of course!).

Other Obstacles

Oh, yeah, your buildings can collapse or burn down if they’re not maintained."Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator

Your people are really demanding, and no sooner do you give them pottery and oil than they want furniture and wine! (Just click on the houses, or on the crowds walking the streets, and they’ll tell you exactly what they think!)

Also, sometimes wild animals will run around the map and stand right where you want to put a building!

Your Imperial Boss

You may have the ultimate authority and responsibility over the people and buildings in your city…but Rome has ultimate authority over you!

Caesar gives you money to get you started, and might send you loans to get you out of trouble should you need it… But he also has demands to make.

It’s not unheard of for him to demand 20 units of oil, or pottery, or another commodity. Then you have to order your warehouses to stockpile this item, and hope you gather enough before the deadline.

Don’t keep the Emperor waiting.

The “God” Mechanic

There are even more things to worry about as you try to build your city! Five Roman gods (Mars, Venus, Ceres, Mercury, and Neptune) will want temples and festivals in their honor. Your citizens are also happy to be able to pay their respects, and will want access to several different nearby temples so they can cover all their bases.

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorHosting festivals entertains your people, and flatters the gods. In return, the deities might bless your crops, or send a protecting spirit to kill your attacking enemies.

But if you should ignore them for too long…or – heaven forbid – give some other god more temples than they have…! Oh, they will make their wrath known!

Fortunately, you can turn “gods’ effects” off on the difficulty screen. I usually played with this “off” unless I had all the gods fat and happy.

Educational Content

So, Caesar III is a great way to burn the extra hours in your life. It’s even fun to tweak the systems in your city and gradually afford bigger and better buildings (I have yet to have a city that could support a hippodrome, but I’ve dreamt of it). Building your first colosseum, of course, always sparks a cut scene celebrating your promotion from “village” to “city”!

But educational content?

Back in my younger days playing this, I discovered a little question mark box in the corner of whatever dialogue screen you were in. Clicking this button opened a whole new world.

If you were interacting with a house, the ?-button would give you information about the Roman homes and the differences between simple terra cotta “casas” and the multi-story “insulae” (which are more like apartment complexes).

If you were interacting with the colosseum or theater, you could learn about entertainment in ancient Rome. The warehouse might tell you about ancient trade routes. The granary, food supply.

Believe it or not, at the age of twelve I spent a lot of my play time reading these little informational items, digging through to learn how each element of the game connected with the real Rome.

Educational games don’t have to be bright and colorful, or feature singing animals. All you need is a curious kid, and something that connects the game world with real life.

Rule the Empire!

To be perfectly and completely honest, I haven’t played this game out to the bitter end. Part of the reason is that it’s addictive (I’ll just build one more clinic…just wait until a few more people immigrate…ooh, a little more money and I can build this thing right over here…) Like a jigsaw or cross-word puzzle, each missing piece (say, a neighborhood that wants pottery) connects with several other pieces (like clay pits that need workers to run them) and each right answer is dependent on several others (like figuring out how you’ll feed the neighborhood that’s tucked in the corner by the clay pits to supply workers to the clay pits).

It might be more fun for those who enjoy attention-to-detail and obsess over the connection of many moving parts…while those who need a faster pace or more instantaneous affirmation might get bored.

But if you’re up for a challenge, have plenty of free time (like, HOURS of free time), and wouldn’t mind learning about the ancient Roman Empire…then I highly recommend Caesar III!


Caesar III is available for Windows from GoG.com, optimized for modern computers.

used Crossover to play this version on my Mac, and it works fine.

Also available on Steam for Windows (be aware Steam DRM-locks their software).

Find on Amazon as a digital download (for Windows), or in disk form.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for updates!

“The Blackwell Epiphany”

"The Blackwell Epiphany" — Kimia Wood

The Blackwell games are point-and-click puzzle adventures in the paranormal detective genre.

The premise: Rosangela Blackwell (and her aunt Lauren Blackwell) are “mediums” who seek out troubled spirits, help them realize their death, and send them to “the light” of the next world. Joey Mallone is their snarky “spirit guide” who bridges the gap between spirit world and living world.

The first four games blended humor and creepy with some excellent writing, then ended on a little bit of a cliffhanger (especially if you knew there was a sequel).

Blackwell Epiphany is that sequel. While it’s not all I might wish it to be, it ends the series on a high note of emotional story-telling and professional game design. Continue reading

“Myst IV: Revelation”

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood I fell in love with the Myst games a long time ago. The photo-realistic worlds and the tantalizing hints of deeper things always left me wanting more.

Until now. Myst IV: Revelation has…finished Myst for me. It is concluded…I am satisfied. And for once, I don’t need to weep at the parting. (Well, maybe just a little.)

The World

The central premise of Myst is that a civilization called the D’ni could create worlds by writing books, and then visit those worlds physically by linking through the books. (A person must bring a return Linking Book with him when he goes exploring, and any book you link through doesn’t come with you – it stays in the first world.)

From a first-person perspective, we point and click our way through these “Ages” to unlock doors, uncover passwords, power machines, and solve puzzles. And, of course, soak in breath-taking landscapes, vistas, and architecture."Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

Whatever else I can say, the world is still incredible. Hydraulic locks, levers and buttons, rotating bridges and elevators…it’s like an engineer’s playground. These real-world mechanics mix, of course, with magic crystals, strange animals, bizarre cultures, and the Age-writing Art of the D’ni.

The Progress of Technology

Myst was released in the dark ages of computing, when graphics cards were limited, the in-game animations were tiny and limited, and the curser was a 2D hand (that changed shape for different interactions).

Revelation seeks to take full advantage of the progress of computer technology, and offers a 360º, 3D-rendered environment to explore.

This means that the world around you doesn’t always look as photo-realistic as it did in Myst, or Riven. The camera also has a tendency to focus in on the foreground, or the background, depending on where your cursor is. I think this is to mimic the variable focus of the human eye, but it’s distracting.

As for the cursor, it’s a 3D, CGI hand. It waves vaguely wherever you point it; extends the fingers to indicate a direction you can move; whips out a magnifying glass if something can be examined more closely; and stretches the fingers subtly if you can unroll a map, pull a lever, or other similar action. This final characteristic can be easy to miss, and if it’s not obvious something is there to manipulate, you can easily miss some interactions.

Atrus’s Family

If you haven’t yet played Myst or Riven, SPOILER ALERT! (Also, go do that.)

Way back in Myst, we met two characters trapped in books that they had thought were Ages: Sirrus and Achenar. Their dad is Atrus, and he is a descendent of the fallen D’ni civilization and a writer of Ages.

If you played through Myst, explored the Ages that link from it, solved Atrus’ pretty un-secure password manager, and uncovered the truth about what happened…you’ll know that Sirrus and Achenar trapped their father without a Linking Book home, distracted their mother, burned most of Atrus’ library of Books, and used the special Books he had warned them never to touch.

Blam! The books trapped them. And once you free Atrus, he burns those books to keep them from ever escaping.

Until now.

Revelation!

Fast forward twenty years. Atrus invites you (his nameless, faceless, gender-less “friend”) to his new home, where he is attempting to spy on the Prison Ages and decide if his sons have repented of murdering the inhabitants of the Ages and are ready to be released.

Yes…we can see this ending well, eh?

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

Turns out, he and his wife have already written visiting capsules into the Prison Ages. That way, they can link into the capsule, have a visit through bars, and link away – leaving the Linking Book for their own home out of the reach of the prisoners.

The prisoners can’t possibly escape! Why would you worry about that? Atrus only built complex machinery and houses and scientific equipment by hand in his various Ages…what makes you think his sons could do the same thing from scratch?

Yeesha

Did I mention? Atrus also has a ten-year-old daughter now.

Maybe it’s her dialogue, or maybe it’s the delivery of the actress, but Yeesha is clearly supposed to capture our sympathies and feel like a dear friend (even though we’ve actually only just met). Y’know, one of those annoyingly perfect child-characters.

Especially as the “mysterious circumstances” start piling up, you really start to feel that Atrus is a clueless dupe who should have stuck to books, and not attempted children.

Puzzles

I should say something about the puzzles.

We have our classic Myst fare here, with locked doors; passwords in journals; machines that need power; etc.

It made me wonder if Atrus has a constellation-based color-combination lock on the bathroom…and then I realized that his house has no bathroom.

Also contains one or two pixel-hunts, although that might be due to the mechanics of the cursor-hand (see above).

Messin’ with Memory

Added to those familiar hurdles is a new mechanic. Yeesha has a magic necklace that shows memories."Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

This, along with the journals that every member of Atrus’ family conveniently keeps, lets you piece together the motives of the various actors, solve some of the puzzles, and generally be the worst thing to happen to Sirrus and Achenar!

M’whahaha! If you wanted to forge an evil plot, you shouldn’t have invited the Stranger-from-the-Starry-Void!

Seriously, though, this mechanic gives you hints for solving the puzzles, plus valuable information at unraveling the sinister plot being woven.

Who is plotting what? Who is evil? And who should I trust?

Being able to view people’s secret memories is very handy for that…

A note on story tension

My family mocked me for this, but I’ll bring it up anyway.

Whenever you linked to new Age in Myst, you had to solve the Age’s puzzles and get things working again to unlock the Linking Book and return to Myst.

In Riven and Exile, you plunged into an unknown world without a ticket out, and had to solve your way forward to find any way to escape. (And in Riven especially, Atrus’ wife’s fate hangs on your success.)

In Revelation…your first task is to “oh, get the power back on, will you?” Your second task is, “Feel free to check out my Linking Books if you like…oh, and make sure Yeesha does her homework.” Ha ha.

Beyond that, though, every single place you visit has a Linking Book back to Atrus’ home right there at the beginning. You don’t need to venture into predator-infested jungles, or brave bottomless shafts in wind-swept fortresses…you can say, “Forget this,” and hop back home.

Obviously, I bought this game in order to play through the puzzles, and feel smart, and uncover the story through journals and clues. And my family helpfully pointed out that this gives the game a less linear structure. You can solve this Age, or that Age, or stay and futz around the first Age…or jump to this new Age…

Solve puzzles in whatever order you want. Travel when and where you want. Stop and go back to a place you especially liked if you really want.

True, this gives the player much more freedom in how they play and the order they play puzzles in (and the sequence in which they unravel the story).

However, it also saps some of the urgency from the story. You are not trapped, and hunting for an escape. Later on, you’re kind of searching for Yeesha, and trying to uncover what happened…but it’s not like there’s a rush. There’s plenty of time to ransack the Ages for anything marked PRIVATE DIARY. And, well, there’s not the same level of narrative tension.

(Perhaps if I hadn’t thought Yeesha was an annoying Mary Sue who was also try to kill me via collapsing bridge, I would have felt more invested in the rescue mission. But again, when I could back out at any time and return to Atrus’ house… “Hey, I’ll make some tea or whatever your culture drinks…Hope it all works out, Atrus! Maybe you should spend more time supervising your children than leaving them in the care of your ‘friend’ and dashing off for machine parts.”)

Serenia…or, the 1960s New Age-y Age

Revelation gives you four Ages to explore. The final one is Serenia.

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

As if the rest of it wasn’t weird enough…

The outside of Serenia is beautiful — full of twisty, hard-to-map paths; flowing, conjoining streams of water; butterflies that look like organza pixies; and trees that release dandelion-poofs on the wind.

The inhabitants’ culture is based around giant mushrooms that store people’s memories when they die, so their loved ones can travel to a mental space called “Dream” and “visit” the dead ancestors again.

(As one of the female tenders of the mushroom says: if you don’t heal the “Memory Chamber”, “we may never be able to visit our loved ones again!” I bleed for you says the gal from a world where people stay dead…and we don’t have memory spheres to help hallucinate a spirit visit.)

Back to the culture, the “Protectors” have somehow seen your arrival prophesied (y’know, you – the protagonist) and help you find a spirit guide (from the air, fire, or water spirits that play in the forest) so you can travel to Dream and find out who kidnapped Yeesha.

They also wear a stripe of face-paint down their noses (and have creepy, African-esque masks). And the puzzle in Dream is like musical color-matching on evil steroids!

Atrus was always an apologetic, kinda nerdy guy…but lately he seems to just assume you’ll help dig him out of whatever hole he’s gotten himself in. And these all-knowing chicks in Serenia are even more pompous and touchy-feely.

Even if I hadn’t heard such dismal things about Myst V: End of Ages…this “New Age” spiritualism is enough of a departure from the original heart of Myst (nuts and bolts, analog passwords, and the science-based “magic” of the D’ni Art) to make Revelation my last Myst game.

Climax Catharsis

Yet I said I was satisfied. Why am I satisfied?

Well, without laying bare the resolution…the climax of Revelation hinges on you choosing to believe one of Atrus’ children over another. This choice is based on what you have learned by reading their journals, listening to their memories, and piecing together the Evil Plot (and who is probably responsible for it).

Got the right answer the first time. (Thank you, thank you, no need to clap.) And the conclusion that is spun from that –logically, inexorably – brings the plot-line to a perfect and reasonable end.

While the writers did a bit of ret-conning to bring Sirrus and Achenar back into the story, the way they handled the two of them (and Yeesha) was believable, appropriate, and entirely conclusive.

In a way, they un-did the ending of Myst…and yet, in another way, they built onto it so naturally and understandably that Revelation is really a good end for Myst – the game and the series.

My Last Myst Game

When I played through Myst again several years ago (in the updated and expanded RealMyst version), I loved the Ages and the visuals as much as I always had…and left hungry to play Riven.

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

A secret journal? Must read!

I re-played through Riven: The Sequel to Myst, and I loved it even more than Myst (not only is it longer and more complex, but it feels like less of the history is buried or off-screen). It also left me longing to play Myst III: Exile.

I have not yet played through Exile a second time, but I know it left me eager to try Revelation.

And now…

Part of it is the bad reviews my brother tells me about from Myst V, and part of it is…the story is complete.

I have scratched my first-person point-and-click itch. Myst created a game type never before seen…and now Revelation has brought the story and the world full-circle.

The ending is bittersweet, poignant, and appropriate. It is also, I think, The End.

(Though I already bought Obduction, which is by the same developers/writers, but set in a different universe. We’ll see how that one pans out…)

As always, I highly recommend the Universal Hints System to give you just the help you need…and no more.

In Myst IV: Revelation, the next chapter in the greatest adventure saga of all time, you’ll travel through environments pulsing with life to unearth a treacherous scheme involving two of Myst’s most sinister villains.

Find the game on GoG.com (DRM-free!), Steam (which includes DRM in their software), and on Amazon if you really need a disk (though paying over three times the price for digital download sounds ridiculous).

Wish-list it on GoG to be emailed when it goes on sale!

“Red vs. Blue” (Seasons 6 thru 13)

"Red vs. Blue" (Seasons 6 thru 13) — Kimia Wood The internet is a dark, mysterious place…full of dangerous things like web series. If you aren’t careful, you might find yourself…watching Red vs. Blue.

And if you have a little brother, you might find yourself compelled by those big brown eyes to watch it, despite your better judgement. #askhowIknow

In all honesty, though, is RvB really that bad? Well…it has some content “not for mothers-in-law“, but it also has a lot of powerful, heart-moving themes.

You gotta decide if you’re up to getting there.

Premise

This might sound weird, but RvB is a Halo-based Machinima where two teams of soldiers camp on opposite sides of a valley in color-coordinated teams (yes…Red and Blue). It streams free on YouTube (in five-minute episodes organized into seasons), but is also available in DVD format.

I gather that early on, it was basically an excuse for cheap skits and foul-mouthed jokes while these pathetic losers tried unsuccessfully to kill each other.

But I wasn’t brought in until Season 6…when they actually start telling a cohesive story. Continue reading

“Incredibles 2”

 The Incredibles was practically perfect. Gorgeous animation blended with a deft plot; escalating tension melded with heart-warming family dynamics; an adorable yet realistically high-stakes romance between a husband and wife strode alongside the every-man struggle of a middle-aged father to find his place in life again; and weaving through it all was a truly diabolical yet savory villain.

Well, perfect is understandably hard to top…even for a writer and director of Brad Bird’s impressive story skills.

So……did the sequel pull it off?

That’s a question each viewer must answer for themselves—but here is my take. Continue reading