Not another War game: Valiant Hearts

Ryan and I just finished a beautiful game. Frankly, I was shocked at how well it turned out. At first glance Valiant Hearts looks like an interesting point and click game that might make you a bit sad, but with a cute art style and a dog, I figured it was lighthearted war puzzle game. Well, in some ways it is, but it also delivered so much more.

August 2nd marks the date of the first military skirmish in World War 1, exactly 100 year ago. Often called The Great War, it’s horrors and traumas introduced the world to modern warfare, and in the introduction, more than 9 million combatants were killed. This year, 2014, some cities are honoring the casualties, the human sacrifice, in beautiful and moving ways. The Tower of London, for instance, overflows with red ceramic poppies, one for each military fatality. In Amersham, a field of six foot crosses will be unveiled. Perhaps in that same spirit of remembrance, UbiSoft created a moving and beautiful game that not only delights its participants with its great art direction and play style, but reminds us of the humanity behind the war.

While the premise is anything but uplifting, the actual game play is fun, engaging, and at times even silly. Instead of taking the more usual approach to war gaming and handing the characters guns, Valiant Hearts highlights a different side. Plenty of action happens throughout the game, and even the cartoon style can’t mask the horror, but much of it takes place around you, as you figure out how to help people escape predicaments, deal with gas attacks, or break out of POW camp. The highlights? For us, experiencing high speed car chases timed perfectly to music was particularly enjoyable, I was laughing pretty hard. The puzzles are fun, but not usually too challenging. We played on Veteran Mode after hearing others say that the default mode hints and prompts make the game incredibly easy. But that is something I liked about the game as well. It’s accessible to all level of game players.

While a few reviewers (linking to the IGN one) found the footnotes and extra information about the War heavy handed and unnecessary, both Ryan and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Each chapter brought with it more information about how soldiers and civilians dealt with the chaos around them, and while there were some facts I already knew, it brought to light others I did not. There are also hidden items throughout the game with small stories or facts attached to them, which once again brings reality and humanity back into an industry that thrives on warfare – games.  Perhaps if the only agenda of the game was to have fun, then yes, the approach is heavy handed, but especially considering this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the war, I found the game moving, informative, and a tribute to a generation of people we shouldn’t forget.

 

Image Credit: A great interview about the game and the cool picture I lifted from it can be found in the link.

Who’s afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Bigby

Do you like murder mysteries? Do you enjoy the real, gritty versions of fairy tales? Can you admit to secretly wishing that fairy tale creatures really lived among us, like maybe in New York? Your dreams, wishes, and aspirations have just been fulfilled. A new episodic video game by the makers of The Walking Dead  recently finished its first season. Based on the comic series Fables, by Bill Willingham, this Telltale Games series really grabbed my attention from the very first episode.

Before I introduce it any farther, I feel compelled to confess a few things. I don’t like The Walking Dead. Before anyone accuses me of raining on the zombie parade, please remember that I like end-of-the-world, zombie apocalypses just as much as the next girl, or boy. Feel free to read my review of The Last of Us (I loved it). However, The Walking Dead just doesn’t do it for me. I somehow can’t get involved in the art style, and the story line simply doesn’t grab my imagination. The narrative seems slow – I feel like nothing really happens with only a meandering plot and no direction – and I can never figure out if it is supposed to be an action game or not (not that I feel compelled to put things in boxes, but this one just really didn’t make sense). Of course, I haven’t watched my brother play the second season, which most people claim is superior, so perhaps that would change my mind. I’m not convinced.

Now that I have pretty much offended everyone everywhere, I will say that The Wolf Among Us fixed everything that I didn’t like about The Walking Dead, and made a beautiful, compelling, and interesting game. If you are like most of the population and love The Walking Dead, don’t fear, you will also love The Wolf Among Us. Your choices make an impact on the game (maybe even more so than previously), the controls will feel familiar, and the entire set up will probably make you squeal. I squealed a few times. I would actually like to have another play through to see how a new story flows. The action is gritty, the plot clear and always progressing, and the characters are well developed with great dialogue. Think Noir meets fairytales meets a 1980’s neon light extravaganza featuring Kurt Russell. Basically it’s badassery, beautiful cuts, awesome music, and great suspense all around. It also has the most hilarious glitch/mod/bug ever. EVAR.

Though we were able to figure out ‘whodunit’ relatively early on in the series, the how’s and why’s were quite fun to finally see, and the end let us know that we shouldn’t be so sure of ourselves as all that. Let’s just say they set it up nicely for a season 2, and I’m excited!!!!

 

Image credit: http://www.twinfinite.net/2013/10/11/the-wolf-among-us-ep-1-faith-review-grandma-bloodied-fangs/

Confessions of a Hatchaholic

I did something horrible to myself about a month ago. I got myself a virtual pet. And I’m addicted, yes ADDICTED!!!!! It was 29 days ago, to be exact, my pet log keeps track for me. It all started when my mom sent me a link with this tagline “the cutest app ever made.” Well? How could I not investigate? What I saw was utter adorableness and I had to support. I bought the app, Hatch, that afternoon and I’ve been playing with my pet non-stop ever since.

It opened with an fantastically cute video about the origins of Fugus (the name of this spherical, cuddly goodness of an animal). Then an equally squeezable young boy started talking to me about pets, asked me my favorite color, and then introduced me to an egg. Yes, this behavioral cross of a cat, dog, and small human hatches out of an egg. I’ve heard rumor on the Facebook page that I only got to choose my color because I was an early adopter, but I’m not too sure. Anyway, out came the yellow goodness of a pet I wish was real.

At first, though completely lovable, and so fun to watch evolve, my Fugu, Ten-ten (yes I named him Ten-ten), didn’t do much. He responded to pokes, belly rubs, and squeezes, but mostly just looked too cute for words and ate and pooped a lot. A LOT. However, using the two currencies of the game, acorns and star fruit (which turn to star coins) I was able to buy cute rugs for Ten-ten to sit on. It appealed to my inner consumer so I was happy.

Quickly though, the team at Hatch has been evolving their product, and it has been a joy to participate in. Now, my Fugu plays peek-a-boo, fetch, and I can decorate the environment. There is also an in-game camera that lets Ten-ten photo bomb anything I want to take a picture of. I LOVE it. I can’t wait to see what other new things my pet is going to learn in the future.

I never had a tamagotchi pet when I was young – though I saw a few of my friends with them – so maybe that is part of the problem. I didn’t get it out of my system when I should have, at about 10 years old. Now, at 27, it seems somehow inappropriate to interrupt class in order to feed my pet, but what the hell, I’m in a rebellious stage it seems.

It’s more than that though. My heart squeezes when I get a text saying my Ten-ten has gone on an adventure in the woods and brought me back a present. I think it’s adorable, even though I know it’s mean, when I finally unplug my phone in the morning and he cries from hunger (Ten-ten conveniently falls asleep when the phone is plugged in). When I’m on BART (the train for my commute to school), I love feeding and petting him. Even while reading, the commute has never seemed so short.

I’m not normally an advocate for addictive behaviors, but this one is something more people should indulge in. Having a hard day at work? Pull out your Fugu and squeeze his cheeks. Annoying family problems? Pull out your phone, feed your pet, and maybe play fetch. Line at the Post office? No problem! Your Fugu wants to play peek-a-boo anyway. It’s not that your escaping from reality, it just makes reality a little more rose colored.

Just in case you aren’t convinced yet, I am putting some photos below. If you aren’t impressed by his cuteness, I just don’t know what to say.

The Walking Devs.

Day of the Devs. Yup. I went. And it was fun!!!! We arrived around 5:00 and got right to business. The business of checking out new games that is. The two story venue was packed, PACKED!!! but there were plenty of things to see and have fun with. First up, we went to check out the new Supergiant game, Transistor, of course! I mean, come on, Rucks (aka Logan Cunningham) wakes me up every morning when my boyfriend’s alarm goes off. And when we saw Darren Korb we all had a bit of a fangasm. The game looks great <3 We didn’t get a chance to try it out, but even just watching was super fun.

Next we noticed a really cute looking game that I at first mistakenly thought was multiplayer. NOPE!!!! Instead, the player gets to manipulate time, and so you end up playing with little ghosts of yourself. It’s a really interesting concept and one I’d like to see in action a bit more. As it was, I had to stand on tiptoe to even get a glimpse, and I’m no shorty. It’s called Super Time Force, and I think it’s definitely worthy to be on your radar.

Eventually we did spot a real multiplayer game, called Mercenary Kings. It’s even split screen. A 2D game with awesome jungle animation, it looked like bunches of fun. Currently available on Steam for early access, we may or may not get it soon. I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m easily overwhelmed and as much as most people like split screen, I’ll have to get used to it. But perhaps that would solve my “Where am I?!?!?!?!?” conundrum I find myself so frequently in.

At this point we were well “in our cups.” Translation? We were tipsy and having a great time. This is when we stumbled upon Hohokum. A sheer delight. It’s a bit different than most games, as you can’t really fuck up and you can’t die, but that doesn’t make it any less of a challenge. It’s a puzzle game, sort of, a world exploration, sort of, and mostly just all around fun. Also, beautiful. Definitely on my wish list of games I want to watch and maybe even play. I mean, come on, who doesn’t like controlling a one-eyed snake on a search for honey.

Then to get in the mood for the last portion of the night, we got to watch a demonstration of Fantasia: Music Evolved, by Harmonix. Once again, it was awesome. The environment of the game was beautiful, the gesturing of the player with XBox One using the Kinect Camera seemed very intuitive and made sense. The clincher? When the demonstration song was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. I’m not going to lie, we sang our hearts out, and maybe even did some slight head banging. Enjoyable. Too bad we probably won’t be getting the XBox One. Pout!

All in all, the games were fun to see, the people were great, and we definitely were little fan boys and girls. Lilly’s voice actress in Walking Dead? Check! Tim Schafer? Check! Naomi Kyle? Check! It was fun.

Perhaps the highlight of the night for me was Phil Fish DJing. When he started overlaying Cold as Ice with his beats, he had me. I spent the entire rest of the evening getting my grove on – which was AMAZING!!!!! I love dancing. Confession? Yes. And I’m totally willing to have a dance off any day of the week, and no, I promise not to take it seriously.

Wiki Nerds, or in other news, Rayman Legends

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I was introduced to the Rayman series with Rayman Raving Rabbids. It was epic. I mean, honestly, who doesn’t like slapping small, singing rabbits when they’re out of tune? Next stop for the household was Rayman Origins. Because I had enjoyed Raving Rabbids so much, I was looking forward to Origins immensely. It was totally different than what I was expecting, and equally awesome. In fact, there was an ocean level where our household would swear an oath that the little voices are singing, “you and other Wiki Nerds.” For some reason it stuck. Now, this faction of the Rayman series will forever be called Wiki Nerds to me. In fact, if my boyfriend mentions Rayman, half the time I look at him with a totally blank expression until he sighs in exasperation, says, “Wiki Nerds?” and watches me freak out in excitement. Which is exactly what happened when he told me he bought Rayman Legends.

Not only is it a great multi-player game, it expertly utilizes the new Wii U Game Pad, has great music, cool new characters, and TONS of content. In a word: AMAZING!!!!!! Seriously. Both my boyfriend, Ryan, and his younger brother are top-notch video gamers. Me? Not so much. However, Legends makes it totally okay for all of us to play together. Part of this is because they make up for, and don’t mind, my terrible playing, but another part is just the great game play mechanics. It’s not a big deal if I fuck up, because I can move my little burst bubble over to other, more expert players, and get revived with no penalties.

If I’m really having a hard time, I can take over the little froggy, fairy creature on the Wii U pad. This lets me help the boys by getting them more points and otherwise making myself useful. I still feel totally involved, but have my own role to play. In certain levels, where the fairy frog is mandatory, their lives are in my hands – literally. Somehow, maybe because I’m so clumsy but generally have fun, or maybe because they gain masochistic pleasure out of letting me play God, the boys think this is the best.

There are a shit ton of levels to enjoy, and at the end of each gallery (the levels are adorable picture frames of beautifulness) there is an entire level that plays to a song. I mean it. Your actions are in time to the song playing. The first time we got to one of these levels we were like kids in a candy shop, dazzle-eyed and drooling – AMAZABALLS!!!!!

Where I really can’t get too involved (my low level skill is too frustrating), but still love watching what happens, is the daily and weekly challenges. This is a truly fun addition to the game where players battle each other virtually to gain points and get trophies! I mean ‘battle’ loosely, in that you are competing by time only, and just see other players’ little ghosts running the course. It’s really fun.

Really, Rayman Legends is currently my favorite platform game. While I am excited to see the next Mario game, for now, this ranks as #1. I highly recommend this game, and honestly, playing the Wii U is fun. It gives an added dimension (both by being able to create an entire new play style and giving an extra screen), and it looks great! By having a lot of menu options on the Wii U pad instead of on the screen, it makes the gameplay more smooth and concise. All and all a great family, college pad, or ruckus loving person’s multi-player game.

Girl: on girl action.

so pretty <3
so pretty <3

We finally finished Tomb Raider! It took awhile because of interruptions by Dragon’s Crown and Cowboy Bebop, but last Friday night we played to the end. I say ‘we’ because even though I’m not the one holding the controller, I watch the entire game, including all game play, help with the puzzles, solve mysteries, and sometimes give alert when danger approaches. You know, like a backseat driver. So, I’m an honorary player or something.

Anyway, here’s my take on the game. Most of it was great, and some of it was “Meh.” Seriously, to date, I think it is the only game that has made me let out an audible scream. Now, granted, my audible scream is more like a tiny “ah!” than a full-blown horror squeal, but still, that’s saying something. It got my adrenaline going. Part of that is just the game storyline itself (it’s kind of scary!), but another big part is the actual game presentation. They made the screen naked of all information, so it almost always looks like you’re in a cutscene. This is where the game really shines in my opinion. It looks great. Also, you can’t relax, because sometimes in cutscenes you have to react and push a button or start playing again. In this way, it’s very seamless and enjoyable.

I also feel that perhaps I got a bit more into it because the main character is a girl, and in case you’re wondering, so am I. On one level, this made the game, and the situations, almost scarier for me. I really felt it. However, on another level I think that they took the fact that she is a girl too seriously. For example, she will be super strong, killing guys right and left, and then suddenly break down and cry. Now, while this is a completely natural reaction to being in such a horrible situation, I felt that the transitions weren’t that great, so it was a bit awkward on the viewers’ end. It’s like, seriously? You’re making her cry just because she’s a girl, right? I mean, maybe if they played up the psychology just a bit more – how awesome would it have been to have a PTSD dream sequence for example, where you have to play out a nightmare or something – then it would have made sense.

Now that’s a pretty harsh and unfair criticism on my end I feel. In reality, the storyline and the characters were flushed out and interesting. I just happen to really love watching video games, and I want them to be all that they can be. Like some type of twisted Olympic coach.

However, I will levy one real criticism about the game. WHY DIDN’T SHE HAVE A COAT?!?!?! Seriously! There were sequences where the wind and the snow and everything else were just too much for her spaghetti straps. If it’s about no longer seeing her boobs/lovely toned body, all I have to say is this – the coat boob is a highly underrated, sexy phenomenon. She could have rocked it. I mean, how many guys did she kill? She totally could have jacked a coat, done some quick alterations, and voila! Perfect coat boob.

Hmmm… anything else I can say without giving away too much? No. So I will say this instead – play it. If you like action games, and want something a bit different from the normal male lead, give this a shot. It’s beautiful, interesting, adrenaline inducing, and though she’s a survivor, she has a sensitive side. Also, the bow and arrow is epic.

Dragon’s Crown x 4.

4 people in my household, me included, have been playing Dragon’s Crown for the last, hmmm, let’s say month. It’s been super fun. We go on adventures, get cool armor, listen to the fun storyline/great music, look at the rather sexy pictures, and just generally enjoy ourselves. With a relatively easy play style (but still challenging enough to make it interesting) and great art direction, I would usually rate this game highly. However, I really think it has a fatal flaw – it doesn’t keep track of multiple characters during story development.

What I mean is this – even though we used the same 4 characters throughout the game (btw, I was the Elf), only player number 1 actually unlocked the end game play when we finished. Yes, you read that right, we now each have to go back and do it all over in order to progress to the next stage of the game. All 4 of us. That’s right…all 4 of us have to beat the game separately. Even though we did all quests together. Now we do it together 4 times. Sorry I’m over emphasizing this; I’m just having a hard time actually believing this. I mean, it is a multiplayer game after all.

Other than this rather minor flaw (sarcasm intended), it was a very enjoyable game. The story line was super fun, and the twisted references to Disney classics made me laugh. Also, if you truly unleash the pervert inside and touch/click on all the things (wink, wink) you get some additional interesting commentary. The start is a bit rough, waiting for everyone to level up their skills and learn their character types can be a little monotonous, but just grab a beer or cocktail and be patient. Once you get past the point where you level really quickly, it evens out and game play overtakes wait time.

The 4 characters we played? The Knight, the Dwarf, the Amazon, and the Elf. Smexy, smexy. I’ve included some pictures below so you can get a feel for the art style, because when all is said and done, I’d still recommend Dragon’s Crown. I can’t wait to see what the Elf looks like when I beat the game for the 4th time.

When tomb raiding isn’t an option.

Arial view of what is thought to be Queen Himiko's tomb.
Arial view of what is thought to be Queen Himiko’s tomb.

Queen Himiko. Until recently I’d never given her much thought, but now, I’m very interested. Reining in the third century over the Yamatai kingdom in Japan, Himiko has a surprising amount of drama and intrigue surrounding her. For instance, she supposedly had 1,000 women in attendance and only one man (some sources say two), and never really went into public places. She ascended to the throne because previously the men had been making a mess of things, and there had been confusion and warfare for the last 80 or so years. When she died, over a hundred men and women attendants were sacrificed and put into her grave (is it just me or are you also wondering where these male attendants came from if she supposedly only had one or two). She is often thought of as a shaman queen, and in the Records of Three Kingdoms, a third century Chinese classic text, she is said to have “occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people.” Cool.

It seems that in 2009 artifacts from a key-hole shaped burial mound, about 280 meters across, called Hashihaka, were dated from between 240-260 C.E. As Himiko is said to have died about 250 C.E., this would fit perfectly. Also, it is larger than other tombs before or during that time period, indicating its importance and further lining it up with Queen Himiko’s high status. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that it is Himiko’s tomb, others still think it is in the southwestern region of Kyushu, and only excavation can really prove it conclusively.

Alright then, let’s open her up and take a look! Well, not so fast peeps. It turns out that the Japanese Imperial Household Agency guards it’s tombs rather jealously – to the point of stopping all excavation. Why? Well, it’s an imperial tomb of course! But then, even this is debated. Japanese history during this early time period is better documented by ancient Chinese historians than by Japanese historians, and one of the reasons is that Japanese tombs are so tightly closed off. Perhaps there are more detailed records in there, but we won’t know it. Also, the Imperial Household Agency supposedly still maintains that the current imperial line has been unbroken and is directly descended from Queen Himiko (Himiko is made up of ancient Japanese characters which, by the way, mean “sun child” or “sun daughter”) and the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, and learning otherwise is not an option. Of course, sometimes it is hard to decipher what is really going on, and what is internet hearsay. Especially because I can’t read Japanese.

Is she the all powerful queen that some people ascribe her to be? Or was she more of a puppet priestess figure held hostage by the “male attendant” who relayed her “orders” to the public? Did she really occupy herself with “magic and sorcery?” Did she bring peace to Yamatai? Did she have large feet? I WANT TO KNOW!!!!!!!!

So I went to the library. My local public library? Nothing. San Francisco public library? Well, all the titles that had anything to do with Himiko were in Japanese. :( So for now, this search is on hold.

Finally, I did find one last bit of information that was pretty cool. Even though they weren’t allowed to take any samples, or do any excavation, in February of this year news said that researchers were allowed to make an on-site survey of the burial mound at Hashihaka. Perhaps this could lead to more conclusive evidence about Queen Himiko and Japanese ancient history, but so far it’s silent on that front too.

For those of you who would like to see the articles I read and used as reference during researching Queen Himiko, they are listed below. And for those who were wondering how I got interested in this subject, yes, my boyfriend is playing the latest Tomb Raider.

C., Chiara. “Archeologists Discover Tomb of Legendary Japanese Queen Himiko.” The Royal Forums: 15. June. 2009. <http://www.theroyalforums.com/8300-archeologists-discover-tomb-of-legendary-japanese-queen-himiko/>

“Could the Hashihaka burial mound in Sakurai, Nara be Queen Himiko’s?” Heritage of Japan: 28. May. 2009. <http://heritageofjapan.wordpress.com/yayoi-era-yields-up-rice/the-advent-of-agriculture-and-the-rice-revolution/who-was-queen-himiko/the-yamatai-puzzle-where-was-himikos-headquarters/could-the-hashihaka-burial-mound-in-sakurai-nara-be-queen-himikos/>

D., John. “The Mystery of Himiko.” Green Shinto: 12. Aug. 2011. <http://www.greenshinto.com/wp/2011/08/12/the-mystery-of-himiko/>

“Himiko” Kongming’s Archives. <http://kongming.net/encyclopedia/Queen-Himiko>

“Himiko.” Encyclopedia Britannica. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266115/Himiko>

“Japan Times: Dig in Nara, not Kyushu, yields palatial ruins possibly of Himiko.” Japan Times: 12. Nov. 2009. <http://heritageofjapan.wordpress.com/yayoi-era-yields-up-rice/the-advent-of-agriculture-and-the-rice-revolution/who-was-queen-himiko/the-yamatai-puzzle-where-was-himikos-headquarters/japan-times-dig-in-nara-not-kyushu-yields-palatial-ruins-possibly-of-himiko/>

“Queen Himiko and the mystery of Yamatai-koku.” The Heritage of Japan. <http://heritageofjapan.wordpress.com/yayoi-era-yields-up-rice/the-advent-of-agriculture-and-the-rice-revolution/who-was-queen-himiko/>

Ryall, Julian. “Tomb of legendary Japanese Queen Himiko found.” The Telegraph: 1. June. 2009. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/5419986/Tomb-of-legendary-Japanese-Queen-Himiko-found.html>

“Researchers Investigate Hashihaka Ancient Tomb.” Heritage of Japan: 25. Feb. 2012. <http://heritageofjapan.wordpress.com/tag/hashihaka-kofun/>

Torres, Ida. “Researchers allowed first on-site survey of ancient tomb in Nara.” Japan Daily Press: 21. Feb. 2013. <http://japandailypress.com/researchers-allowed-first-on-site-survey-of-ancient-tomb-in-nara-2123788/>

Yamatosaxon. “The shaman queen of Yamatai.” The Daily Beagle: 6. March. 2013. <http://thedailybeagle.net/2013/03/06/the-shaman-queen-of-yamatai/>

Also, pictured borrowed from here: http://www.ablogabouthistory.com/tag/queen-himiko/

Dear Mom: Pubstomp Extraordinaire.

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Sunday afternoon/evening I had the immense pleasure of attending the DOTA 2 international pubstomp at the bar Dear Mom. Now usually I’m not so much of a DOTA 2 fan: no real story line, no pretty characters, and somewhat annoying noises. Ryan (my boyfriend) plays it, as does his younger brother, but it just isn’t my favorite video game to watch. However, as a professional e-sport, it’s pretty epic.

With significant cash prizes for those placing 1-8 (the winners get 1.5 million dollars), and 16 teams competing, it’s a huge event. In fact, at one point in the night, one of our newly minted DOTA 2 fan friends looked and saw that about 20 million streams were viewing the final matches live. 20 million! Remember, some streams, like the one we were watching, were public events with well over 50 viewers, so I have no idea the total count everyone watching. Our pubstomp at Dear Mom was very crowded, rowdy, and a bunch of fun. It was a pretty diverse crowd, mostly male, but a variety of ages, looks, and styles. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was friendly. If I didn’t understand what was happening, anyone in the room was willing to explain it to me. In fact, even though it was so male dominated, I still felt completely comfortable and totally relaxed (something I can’t claim at other sporting events for example).

The final set of games (best of 5 wins) was Alliance versus Na’Vi. It was amazing. Alliance quickly won the first game, with Na’Vi taking the next two. At this point, things were heating up. Alliance had gone through the entire International competition only losing 1 game before this final, so the fact that Na’Vi now won two in a row was a big event. The crowd was about half and half Na’Vi fans versus Alliance fans. However, the interesting thing about DOTA 2 fans is that more than teams, they follow play style. For instance, even if they wanted Alliance to win, but one of the Na’Vi characters, let’s say Dendi, made a particularly badass kill, everyone would be on their feet screaming. Skill and interesting game play is paramount.

After two more long and extremely close games, Alliance ended up winning the tournament. I unfortunately had to leave about 5 minutes before the very gripping finish (let’s just say I had to be a responsible adult and come take care of the adorable dog we have at home), but even as I was leaving, both teams were making incredible plays. The text I received to tell me who won: “Alliance. Glorious.” That about sums it up.

Fungal Invasion: The real zombie apocalypse.

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Like many of those in the video game world, I anxiously awaited the release of The Last of Us. After all, watching my boyfriend play the Uncharted series has still been one of the highlights of my video game viewing career (by the way, I liked Uncharted 2: Among Theives the best), and so when I heard Naughty Dog was producing a new game, I was stoked. However, zombies aren’t really my thing. In fact, I’ve never been part of the undead crowd – it just somehow doesn’t seem plausible.

Enter Ophiocordyceps, my nemesis.

I don’t remember when I first heard of this mind-controlling fungus, but it has seriously been the stuff of nightmares for me for years. I have read enough about outbreaks and super viruses to make the leap of faith to thinking about the plausibility of this fungus infecting humans. What is Ophiocordyceps, some might ask. Well, let me enlighten you.

Ophiocordyceps is a fungus, active in mostly Brazil and Thailand, that attacks insects, mainly ants, and turns them into zombies. It lodges into their brain, makes them walk to a cool, shady place, conducive for fungal growth and spread, and then kills them. In a particularly gruesome gesture, right before they die, the fungus makes the insect bite down hard on whatever surface they are standing on – making the body secure. The fungus then slowly eats the nutrients inside the body, a process that takes a few days, and then explodes out the head of the insect, releasing spores that will then spread to new hosts.

The Last of Us really capitalized on this fear, making for me, the first plausible zombie apocalypse scenario (I might be saying “plausible,” but don’t fret children, it is not very likely that Ophiocordyceps will make the jump to humanity). It utilized many of the more macabre behaviors of the fungus: the takeover of the brain resulting in uncontrollable, convulsion-like behavior, the slow consumption of the body by fungal growths, and the ultimate explosion of the fungus out of the body to spread the spores. Terrifying. In fact, I still slightly startle when hearing a specific bird outside my window that makes a repetitive clicking noise. They’ve turned!!!!! It’s a Clicker!!! Add to this a great story line, beautiful graphics, and a cute kid, and you have yourself a winner. My only criticism is that I love the beauty of the game so much, I would get sad when we got to dark places – but then how could you have all the scary zombie fights in the light?

Back to Ophiocordyceps. What is stopping this fungus from creating the situation in The Last of Us; the turning of an entire population of a species? Well, it has a related, castrating enemy fungus of course! So far, this super castrating fungus has yet to be named. Let’s call it The Cousin. So The Cousin, in effect, sees the fungus-ridden, dead ants, and thinks, yum, let’s eat. This takes care of a lot of the spores that would otherwise spread to new hosts. In addition, The Cousin also seems to make it incapable for Ophiocordyceps to spread – it is shooting blanks. Fungal castration.

This is not an angle that The Last of Us took advantage of, maybe for the very valid reason that fungal castration must be a pretty hard concept to show visually; it happens on a micro scale after all. Or maybe, because The Cousin wasn’t really found until after work started on the game. Who knows? But for those of us hoping for a sequel, perhaps The Cousin can somehow factor in. I don’t know, it’s kind of meta.

For those of you who are interested in this subject and want to read more about this crazy fungus, here are some resources:

Bhanoo, Sindya N. “Zombie-Ant Fungus Has Its Own Killer Fungus.” The New York Times: 7. May. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/08/science/zombie-ant-fungus-has-its-own-killer-fungus.html?_r=0>

Bryner, Jeanna. “Ant Zombie Tale: Mind-Controlling Fungus Loses to Lethal Foe.” LiveScience: 4. May. 2012. <http://www.livescience.com/20099-ant-zombie-mind-controlling-fungus.html>

Costandi, Mo. “Zombie-ant parasitic fungus castrated by hyperparasitic fungus.” The Guardian: 3. May. 2012. <http://www.theguardian.com/science/neurophilosophy/2012/may/03/zombie-ant-parasitic-fungus>

Dell’Amore, Christine. “‘Zombie Ant’ Fungus Under Attack—By Another Fungus.” National Geographic News: 4. May. 2012. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/05/120504-zombie-ant-fungus-science-environment-rainforest/> (The amazing photo of the ant is from this site!)

Harmon, Katherine. “Fungus that controls zombie-ants has own fungal stalker.” Nature|Scientific America: 9. November. 2012. <http://www.nature.com/news/fungus-that-controls-zombie-ants-has-own-fungal-stalker-1.11787>

Kaplan, Matt. “Zombie Fungus Rears Its Ugly Head.” National Geographic Daily News: 3. March. 2011. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/pictures/110303-zombie-ants-fungus-new-species-fungi-bugs-science-brazil>

McGuinness, Ross. “Could parasite fungus that causes ‘zombie ants’ lead to real-life The Last of Us?” Metro: 12. June. 2013. <http://metro.co.uk/2013/06/12/zombie-ants-fungus-the-last-of-us-playstation-3-3836808/>

I found the cool Clicker art from The Last of Us here: <http://thomaswievegg.deviantart.com/art/the-Last-of-Us-Clicker-355277629>