Friday Feature: Summer Spectacular Vol. 1

We Prometheans have been a tad busier this summer than we thought we would be, and that’s made it hard to keep up with our regular posts. We love bringing you a new article every week, but there comes a time when we just have to take a break. We’re coming up on our one-year anniversary, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished. With the exception of last December, we’ve been going strong for nearly a full year!

With that in mind, we’ve decided that we have earned a little bit of a rest, but we’ll be back in September with our trademark brand of geekiness that folk have come to expect. In the mean time, I am going to be doing a Friday Feature here and there, just to keep the dust from settling.

Welcome to the Promethean Playground Summer Spectacular, where we recommend our favorite beach reads, shows to binge-watch after the sun goes down, and games to play when it’s just too hot. And maybe we’ll throw in a cocktail recipe here and there to keep it fresh.

Beach Reads

I’ve always thought it was a little bit unfair to the beach that the only books we ever bring out there are harlequin romances and bottom-shelf fantasy. I get that we want something that’s relatively easily digestible when we’re relaxing in the warm, salty coastal breezes, but there’s something to be said for taking that time to really delve into a book you’ve been meaning to read for years!

Last year my summer book was Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, the year before that I brought Tolkien’s The Hobbit to the beach – both books I had started long ago and never finished until I carved the time out of my summer vacation to get going with them again!

I’m going to recommend classic sci-fi for you all as this week’s beach read: Dune by Frank Herbert. I read this one something like 5 years ago between shifts bar-tending at a lakeside resort in Texas. I’ve written about this story before on the Playground, so long-time readers will be familiar with some of my thoughts, but there’s a lot about Dune that appeals to me. It’s a different kind of sci-fi than I’m used to. Interstellar travel is available in Dune‘s universe, but it is costly. There’s a mystical/spiritual/religious element to the story of Arrakis (the desert planet on which Dune primarily takes place), which I really enjoy. And Dune sets up a complicated political landscape that makes for good dramatic storytelling.

Binge-Watch Shows

I always think winter is a better time to pack on new shows to binge-watch, because that seasonal affectiveness disorder makes you not want to leave the couch anyway, but never-the-less we all have to come in from the pool at some point in the summer, right? So if you’re not caught up on your favorites, why not then?

This week I’m going to tell you that, if you haven’t by now, it’s time to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. The follow-up show to AvatarLegend of Korra, just began it’s third season and it served to remind me how absolutely amazing Avatar: The Last Airbender really was. (NOTE: We are talking about the Nickelodeon cartoon, not the pathetic attempt to make the cartoon into a movie.)

This show was and still is, broadly speaking, my favorite show ever. Sure I enjoy other things here and there, but Avatar has it all: humor, action, drama, characterization, a complex and compelling setting, and feelings (I weep like a child in season 3 when [spoiler redacted] reunites with [spoiler redacted], and there’s nothing anyone can do about it).

Fun fact about Avatar: The Last Airbender – each of the trademark “bending” styles is based primarily on a real-world martial art style. Airbending is based on a style called Ba Gua, which is reflected in Aang’s quick, circular movements. Waterbending is based on Tai Chi, which emphasizes slow, flowing movements that are more interested in healing than aggression. Earthbending is based on a style called Hung Gar, which uses strongly-rooted stances and powerful strikes. Finally, Firebending is based on Northern Shaolin kung fu, which is an aggressive, fierce, and powerful martial art, much like the benders from the show.

Summer Games

In the video game world, the summer slump is the time right before big publishers begin gearing up for their Fall and Christmas releases, where they expect to make their real money for the year. In spite of that (or maybe because of it) Steam has a now-infamous Sale every summer where games are marked down by very enticing amounts. I feel like I was pretty responsible this year, with the Steam Sale, and I still ended up buying about 8 new games. Summer gaming slump, my butt, now my backlog is even more embarrassing!

In any case, I think summer is the best time to plop down on the couch and play games with a pal, so I’m going to tell you to check out a game called Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine. As you might guess from the little subtitle there, Monaco is a heist-themed game. Players can choose from a handful of characters with different skills (knocking out guards, picking locks, digging tunnels, etc.) and play their way through increasingly difficult scenarios with up to 3 friends at a time. It’s a great same-couch game because it actually requires a lot of communication, especially as the difficulty escalates, and you just can’t beat physical presence for communication, no matter how awesome your mic is.

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Friday Feature Valentine’s Special: Games to Play with Your Sweetie

Way back in the “early days” of home video games, a multiplayer game meant squeezing onto a couch or laying on the floor with three of your closest friends and playing Mario Kart, Goldeneye, or Super Smash Brothers (sorry Sony, you sucked at multiplayer back then). Trash talk, Cheeto-fingers, and red-eyed sleep-overs were the landscape in which these games found their own.

But these days, multiplayer is primarily an online affair, playing with people you’ve never met over unfathomable distances in a, generally speaking, much more hostile environment. The trash talk is still there, and there might be red-eyes, but don’t you dare get your Cheeto-fingers on my Xbox controller. Or my keyboard. I mean it! Wash those hands…

In any case, co-operative gaming doesn’t always work as well over the internet, so co-op has mostly gone out of style. But every now and then a quality same-couch co-op game hits the shelves. These games are worth highlighting anytime of year, but why not think of good games for geeks to play with their significant others on this most heart-shaped of holidays. (And if you’re celebrating Galentine’s Day, or even Palentine’s Day, these will be great games to play while sharing a single-person’s smirk over such a ridiculous greeting-card-joke of a holiday. Much love to my single friends and rivals.)

Portal 2

Portal 2 co-op gameplay.

Portal 2’s co-op mode is an awesome exercise in team-building and puzzle-solving. The puzzle’s aren’t so difficult as to make you fight with your partner, but they’re challenging enough to give you the satisfaction of solving something together.

Super Mario 3D World

Finishing a level with friends!

Like many of the recent console Mario games, Super Mario 3D World has some great built-in co-operative play. All of the charm that keeps Mario a mainstay in the gaming landscape, now with friends! (Also the kitty-cat suit.)

Rayman Origins and Legends 

Rayman: Legends’ beautiful game art only makes a smooth platformer even better!

The past two Rayman games have been just awesome. It’s a 2D side-scrolling platformer like classic Mario, Sonic, and Rayman games, but better than all of those. Rayman has consistent, easy-to-learn controls and intuitive level design that makes it a much better game than almost any other in the genre. It’s co-op is just icing on the cake, but the game is way more fun with a friend.

Left 4 Dead Series

It’s teamwork through the bitter end in the Left 4 Dead series.

If your sweetheart has a zombie-apocalypse survival plan, this is the game for the pair of you. The Left 4 Dead series is primarily designed to be played online, and it’s same-screen functionality limits the game to only two players. But two is the number to beat on Valentine’s, right? Each mission is split up into roughly four sequential chapters, usually with an epic finale that is as crazy as it is fun. Zombies are instanced differently for each playthrough, so it’s got great replayability, too!

Halo Series

The Halo series co-op is great for couples that like shooters!

The original same-couch co-op shooter! Sure, it doesn’t make any sense in Halo, Halo 2, or Halo 4 for there to be 2 Master Chiefs running around side-by-side, but THAT’S SO NOT THE POINT. The Halo series has a lot of staying power in the industry because it has a quality story, sure, but it’s actually just a fun game. The first Halo game revolutionized the way we play console shooters, and the industry has never looked back.  Being able to play it with a partner just made it better.

Diablo 3 for Consoles

4-players on this screen, but play with 1-3 lovers at any given time.

The Diablo series made it’s home on computers before it (only recently) made a foray into the living room, but when it did make the trip, it brought with it the fun and excitement of a same-couch RPG game (an ultra-rare item, for those keeping track). Much of Diablo is about finding the best loot, so be sure to share!

Borderlands Series

Borderlands 2 lets you bring you co-op partner online to meet up with two other players!

Borderlands is like the spiritual child of the Diablo series and the Serious Sam series. It’s a loot-grindy, gratiutiously violent, hilarious game. Bonus points for being same-couch co-op and not taking itself too seriously.

Friday Feature: Outerlands

I don’t think we’ve ever featured a Kickstarter before here on the Playground; but this one is pretty special.

 

 

Outerlands is a proposed six episode documentary series on the culture of video games by Area 5 Productions. To oversimplify; they want to make something akin to the “This American Life,” of video game culture. These guys are storytellers, and fantastic ones at that. They have a love and passion for the topic matter and have a unique visual style that sets them apart from other documentarians.

 

 

What makes their pitch different from many others is that they don’t just want to talk about games. They want to talk about everything around them as well; the people involved, the niches that have arisen, and the unexplored corners that many of us don’t even know exist. On the Kickstarter page, they’ve already discussed talking about things like speed runners, the “gamification” of things outside of games, sexuality in the game-space, e-sports, and many other topics. They want to highlight and critically look at every aspect of a passion that many of us enjoy.

 

This is probably my favorite 1Up show episode. It covers the PS3 launch, and boy were times different then…

 

For those of us who have been around a while; Area 5 isn’t an unknown name. These guys are the ones who helped create the 1Up Show back in the day, CO-OP after that, and have been making some of the best documentaries on gaming since then. Their two most recent were the well received I Am Street Fighter, for Street Fighter’s 50th anniversary, and Grounded, a “making of” for The Last of Us. Suffice it to say, Outerlands is their passion project.

 

 

This is a great chance for something we all enjoy to be seen in a different light. to see stories that might not otherwise be told. Outerlands is a great project and I hope that you all will give it a look. These guys deserve the chance to make this.

 

You can support them on Kickstarter HERE