Monday, November 12, 2012

8 Video Games For People Who Hate Video Games

My very first post on this blog was about how spectacularly horrendous I am at playing scary video games. Or video games with tricky controls. Or video games with doors. (It's like threading a needle to get a Big Daddy through a Rapture door, I swear.)

That said, I really do like video games, so long as they're not too hard, not too scary, not too violent, and have a compelling storyline. 

Which is almost none of them.


Thanks to the fact that I have a gamer husband who is determined to both get and keep me hooked on them, I've tried lots and lots of games. Kids games, puzzle games, indie games you can only get by downloading them, you name it. And while most are busts, I have managed to find some truly stellar examples that I not only love, but managed to play all the way through to the end - which is HUGE.

So if you're like me and can't handle first-person-shooters, scary stuff, or games that just get too hard (I'm looking at you, Psychonauts), but you love puzzles, treasure hunts, good stories, and fun, compelling game play, then these are the games for you:

  (links lead to Amazon)

This action/adventure game debuted in 2009, and it's available on all the different game platforms. It's adorable, beautiful, engaging, and just challenging enough to keep things interesting without getting too frustrating. There's also plenty of complexity to the game, and even our local GameStop guys loved it, so don't think this is just a "kids' game."

My favorite part is that you don't kill your enemies; you just turn them back into the woodland creatures they used to be. Then you can use a spell to become those animals yourself, which - have I mentioned? - is adorable. There's also plenty to find and collect in the game, and there are so many different ways to fight your enemies that it stays fresh and fun. I seriously cannot recommend this game enough, as it's one of the very few I'd actually like to play again sometime.


ICO is an older PS2 game from way back in 2001, but a remastered version was released along with the sequel, Shadow of the Colossus, for the PS3 in 2011.

I haven't played the sequel yet, but I can tell you that ICO is a beautifully haunting puzzle game. You have to escape a vast fortress, leading a young girl through all kinds of obstacles and battling off ghostly shadow creatures. It's refreshingly different and challenging in a quieter, more subdued way than your average adventure game.

Much like ICO, Limbo is a visually stunning puzzle game. It came out in 2010 as a downloadable game through Xbox Live, and then in a retail 3 pack in 2011. It's relatively short, and you die a LOT - but that's part of the appeal. The death scenes are so creative and morbidly amusing that sometimes you want to die just to see what happens. :)

In fact, here's a quick video review to show you more:

The Ghostbusters video game (available on all the game platforms) made a huge splash when it came out in 2009, and rightly so. Dan Aykroyd went so far as to call it "the third movie," as it contains a completely new story set two years after GB2, and has all of the original actors back doing voice work. (Yes, even Bill Murray!) 

I really enjoyed the gameplay and story on this, and working the proton packs was surprisingly fun. My only issue, as some of you might recall, was that a few of the scenes were so scary I had to get John to stay in the room with me while I played. (DON'T JUDGE.) That's probably more of a feature for most of you, though, so definitely play this if you're a ghosthead.

Several months back I'd given up on yet another game (Rayman: Origins) because it'd gotten too frustrating, and was despairing of ever finding another game I'd enjoy playing. That's when John bought me a copy of LEGO Indiana Jones. Though technically a kids' game, I've since talked with several fellow adult geeks who adore the whole LEGO video game lineup, so now I don't feel so bad about staying up 'til dawn playing that first night.

These games give you lots of goals: things to search for, things to build, things to buy, and plenty of goofy fighting, funny cut scenes, and challenging levels. Plus there's just something so gosh-darn therapeutic about smashing everything in sight into tiny bits.

Oh, and the two-player option is also ridiculously fun, so I'm looking forward to playing the Harry Potter one with John soon.

(This is a downloadable game available on PS3, Xbox, PC, or Mac. Go here for pricing and to download.)

I discovered DeathSpank last year while visiting my older brother, who had it on his PS3. I then stole his PS3 so I could continue playing it after we left. :D  It's a comedy action/adventure game that debuted in 2010, and it is ridiculously - RIDICULOUSLY - fun. And funny. The dialogue will have you cackling, the fighting is easy and entertaining, and you collect things like Unicorn poop.

After you finish DeathSpank you'll need to continue on to Act 2, Thongs of Virtue. And thanks to my research I just learned there's a third installment, The Baconing, which I am so getting.

(You knew I had to include this one, right?)

Portal is another puzzle game with stunning gameplay and a hysterical storyline. (Assuming you call non-stop insults from the computer running your "tests" a storyline, of course.) The first game came out in 2007, and the sequel debuted on all the different game platforms in 2011. There's a reason it's become a worldwide sensation, guys; this game rocks.

I'm listing Portal 2 here because I enjoyed it a lot more than the first game, and you don't technically have to have played the original to enjoy the second. In Portal I had to get John's help to move forward a few times - there were some incredibly frustrating timed challenges - but I didn't have any of those problems with Portal 2, which was awesome. Plus the writing and storyline is so much richer and funnier in Portal 2; I was cackling non-stop. So by all means start with Portal if you'd like to experience both, but if it gets too hard for you (as it did for me) then consider skipping on to Portal 2.

Arkham Asylum came out in 2009 on all the game platforms, and it's the game I'm currently hooked on. I'm about 75% through so far, and with only a single rescue from John! (And even that wasn't because it was too hard; I just didn't like Croc jumping out at me all the time - made me too edgy.) 

While it's certainly the grittiest and most "adult" of my selections here, Arkham Asylum is surprisingly clean. There's no language, no gore, and Batman never actually kills anyone; he just knocks them out. I was also delighted to discover a whole treasure hunt aspect to the game, along with a huge cache of Riddler riddles that you get to solve along the way. Combine that with a bunch of nifty Batarang gadgets and fighting combos, and this is one super fun ride. (Plus John just told me there's a sequel: Arkham City. Woohoo!)

So there you have it, guys: my favorite, most-recommended games for geeks who don't like video games! I hope this inspires some of you self-professed non-gamers out there to pick up the controller, because once you find the right ones, gaming can be an unbelievably fun way to waste all of your productive hours away. ;)

And now it's your turn: what games am I missing? Know any you think I'd like? Then, please, share in the comments!

UPDATE: Two excellent older games I've been reminded of in the comments: Syberia and Kingdom Hearts! I played both sequels, as well, and have to say the original Kingdom Hearts was best, and one I'd definitely play again. Syberia's gameplay doesn't hold up as well to modern games - it's a bit slow and clunky - but it's a really beautiful steampunk story.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

DIY Steampunk Resin & Leather Cuff

Here's another resin experiment I've been meaning to show you guys, since it's the one I actually wear the most so far of all my experiments. I whipped it up last month, I think, and it immediately become one of my top three favorite cuff bracelets. (I am a huge fan of leather cuffs; they're perfect with jeans, and they don't snag or pinch the way most of my chain bracelets do!)

The centerpiece of the cuff is a vintage ray gun charm from a box of Cracker Jacks. You might remember I initially considered using it for my steampunk medal:

After this was taken I removed the loop, painted the gun silver (it was initially gold) and aged it with a little brown paint.

Next I dropped it into my resin mold along with several tiny watch gears:

Once the resin was cured, I tried two or three different metallic papers for backers:

 I loved the silver foil, but was afraid it'd look a little too Buck Rogers. Plus the gold foil has some nifty ridges in it that get magnified and warped by the resin's shape, which I think looks cool.

From here I grabbed an old leather belt, cut off a section, and began laying out my cuff design:

 Happily I didn't have to buy anything for this project; I already had all the pieces I needed in my jewelry craft stash.

I rounded the edges of my leather strip, added a snap, and then marked where I wanted the chain to attach with a piece of wet chalk:

As with my previous cuff, I sealed the cut edges of the leather with clear glue before painting them with black acrylic paint.

Next I drilled tiny holes in the leather with my Dremel, and attached my chain with large O rings:

 (I later swapped this chain for a more delicate gold one.)

After a few failed attempts I realized no adhesive would hold my resin cabochon onto the curved leather - the strain was too great, so the edges just kept pulling away.

My solution was to sew the cabochon on like a button. Kind of.

With the resin piece in place on the leather, I drilled two tiny holes on each side, making sure the drill bit went all the way through the leather as well. Then I used thin brass wire to "sew" each side of the resin piece down:

My drill holes were large enough that I could loop the wire through four times one each side, which makes the piece incredibly strong and secure. No more lifting edges!

Next I bent two filigree pieces to fit the side curves of the cuff:
 (I also snipped off the rings on the ends.)

...and used brass brads to attach them, plus a touch of E-600 to make sure they wouldn't twist:

 I like that nothing on this cuff is attached with glue alone. Ever since I lost a piece off my favorite cuff (which mercifully John found again a few day later) I've been paranoid about bits knocking off my bracelets!

Here's the finished cuff with the smaller brass chain:

And one more shot in the daylight, after I added a second loop on the front chain:

The first time I wore this out John and I visited an Indie craft fair, and I had several of the artists compliment it and ask me where I got it. (!!) Talk about a head-sweller!

And speaking of head-swelling, my oh-so mild sickness decided to blossom into a full blown head cold yesterday, and today I gave it to John, so we've got this awesome sniffling-in-stereo thing going on. :) We've also decided that "snot" is a verb, as in, "Did you just snot on my neck?"  -  which is a thing John actually said to me a few minutes ago. (And for the record, no, I did not.)

The hardest part for me is that I can't take any kind of decongestants on account of my anxiety. (Even the mildest stimulant - like the stuff in Sudafed - can trigger episodes.) I don't miss the medicine head feeling, but toughing through a cold with just pain meds and comfort food gets to be a real drag. Plus - and yes, I KNOW I'm whining but I'm sick and it's my blog and I'm GONNA, dang it - tea and OJ and spicy stuff all give me the most raging awful acid reflux. Seriously. I had two cups of herbal tea last week for my sore throat and had to sleep sitting up two nights in a row. And I took Prevacid and antacids and everything! URG.

So I guess you could say my body is just being a poopy-headed jerky jerk at the moment.

This concludes my whining, because I just remembered we bought Epic Micky 2 today, and wheee video games!

Hope you have a great weekend, guys!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Epbot Exemplars

Here's something I've wanted to start for ages, and this week I finally decided to buckle down and just DO IT already.

Nearly every day I get these amazing stories in my inbox about young geek girls being PROUD young geek girls, and it makes me so gosh-darned happy I could pop. I've shared a few with you guys before - Katie being the most notable - and each time I do I hear how vastly encouraging it is for other girls to see their peers loving the same stuff they love, unashamedly.

So in that spirit, I'm starting new series of posts called the Epbot Exemplars. (I know it's a mouthful, but it just sounds so GRAND, don't you think?) 

I'll be featuring mostly young geek girls - although I won't rule out featuring boys or adults now and then - with a little snippet about what geeky things they love and how they express it. It could be just a picture and quote, or it could be a whole story. I might feature a few at a time, or just one every few weeks, or abandon the idea entirely if you guys hate it. (Can you tell I'll be making this up as I go along? Ha!)

So without further ado, let's meet our first official Exemplars:

This is five-year-old Hayden:

As you can see, Hayden LOVES Star Wars. Her mom, Brandi, wrote to tell me what happened when Hayden picked out that Star Wars lunch box and thermos for her first day of Kindergarten:

"Being the concerned parent," Brandi said, "I told her that some people may tease her for having a 'boy's' lunchbox and if that happens, what will she do? 

"Without hesitation, she looked me dead in the eye and said, 'I'll tell them I love Star Wars, it's awesome, and I can use a light saber!'"

(If you heard something just then, that was just me cry-cheering over here. Don't mind me.)

This is eleven-year-old Zahava:

Zahava wrote to me herself, saying, "I really liked all the steampunk costumes on epbot, so I thought I would try to make my own steampunk fairy costume for Halloween."

(Yep, you read that right; she put this costume together herself!)

"The goggles were a pair of plastic giant glasses. I used a headband for the strap, and used a paper towel roll covered in brown fabric and cut to make the back of the goggles, with the padding from headphones on the end."

"The wings I painted with some bronze on the edges and straps, added a buckle, and used painted  boxes with buttons hot glued to them for the box on the back and the one attached with curled wire. the rest of the costume was either thrift store finds or borrowed. Thanks for reading my letter!"

What's this? A budding crafter/cosplayer?? BE STILL MY HEART. 

And finally, this is ten-year-old Hannah:

Hannah's mom Nicole describes her as a "voracious reader, enthusiastic geek, and avid Whovian." Hannah made herself a TARDIS backpack, and excitedly chose glasses in "TARDIS blue." For Halloween she dressed as "Doctor Jenny" (hat tip!), and "pored over each episode looking for all the silly tools used, and put together a hip-pouch of fun stuff: psychic paper, tardis key, metal-quote necklace of 'time is a...big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff', 3-D glasses, water pistol, slingshot, and more."

None of Hannah's friends know Doctor Who, and no one recognized her on Halloween. But don't go feeling sorry for her, because Hannah was having a timey-wimey blast. Nicole writes,  

"One of the beauties of the internet is the ability to connect those who wouldn't ever cross paths in real life. Sure, Hannah doesn't have friends who share her geekish interests...but, they find other connections. She can enjoy the episodes knowing that others, around the world, also enjoy it. "
Young geeks reveling in the things they love, taking comfort in knowing they have a world-wide community just a computer away? Now that's Exemplary. 

Plus, Hannah already has her costume planned out for next year:  Han(nah) Solo.  (HIGH FIVE!!)


I hope you guys enjoyed the new feature, guys, and I hope you'll read these with your own little geeklings, should you have any!

Oh, and for more geeky greatness, be sure to check out Superheroes are for girls, too!  - a Tumblr blog Chrissy G. sent it. But trust me, YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE CUTE.

PS - If you'd like to nominate an Exemplar, please at least try to keep your e-mails brief [smirk], remember to include a photo or two, and also tell me your children's names and ages. Odds are you won't get a reply - I'm swimming in e-mail already! -  but please know that I *am* reading and enjoying everything you send in!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mail Bag Beauties!

I've been mildly sick for almost a week now, but it's the kind of sick you can't really complain about, because you're mostly fine, but there's just enough queasiness and head drippiness to make you tired and whiny and watch too many 30 Rock repeats. (Liz Lemon just GETS me, you know?)

Anyway, it's weeks like these that I really really appreciate all the fun surprises you guys send me in the mail. I tend to get a few things a month, varying from smashed pennies (yessss, my precioussss) to sticker-covered letters to baggies of broken jewelry bits for my craft endeavors. Every single package makes me feel like it's my birthday, and I have a special soft spot for handwritten letters from young geeklings with mad Perler Bead skills:

I actually got this from Elsie K. several months ago (and shared it on FB, I believe) but it's too awesome not to share here on the blog, too. Look at her little drawing of Sir Squibner! (I later made the bead 'bot into a magnet, so I can see it every day.)

Speaking of drawings, last week Victoria G. sent me a gorgeous glossy print of her amazing Lady Vadore art:

My first Lady Vadore fan art! Woot! I can't wait to frame it.

Also last week, Kelli sent me her custom-made Epbot Vinylmation:

She even gave him a fun steampunk twist! I'm diggin' the "flower" gears & little chain on his pocket watch.

And here's another cutie 'bot that came in a few months back, by artist/sculptor Dyani:

Complete with mini-me & mini-John!

As you can see, I now have a whole collection of mini-Epbots:
 Three counts as a collection, right? :)

This glass arrived a few weeks ago without a card, so I'm not sure which of you lovelies made it for me, but it totally made my day:


And did I ever show you guys the shopping tote Pernilla in Sweden made me?
Sewn from scratch and embroidered!

(Can I just say how surreal it is to get things from around the globe? I got a postcard from Belgium this week. BELGIUM. And two days ago someone e-mailed me from Hungary using Google Translator. I'm not trying to brag; I'm just saying the Internet really has made it a small world, after all - and I freaking LOVE THAT.)

(And yes, I DO know I just stuck Small World in your head. MWUAH. HA. HAA.)

And finally, when John brought in Theresa B.'s crafty creation yesterday I thought she'd purchased it from some high-end boutique. Then I looked closer, and realized it's all handcrafted! Theresa started with a blank mini lunchbox purse, and turned it into this:


She covered it in those steamy papers, and then added gems, decals, gears, and even a raygun smashed penny! Inside it's fully lined with a thick felt.

Here's the back:

I think I need to add a long chain so I can use this a purse the next time I step out as a Steampunk!

Thanks for letting me geek out about my new goodies, guys, and extra squealy thanks and hugs to all of you who keep reminding me - with your comments, e-mails, and surprises - that I have the best "job" in the world. Even when I'm feeling whiny and queasy and snotty-in-a-literal-sense.

Btw, I always feel awkward mentioning gifts here on the blog, both because I never want to be an obnoxious braggart, and because I never want to look like I'm trolling for free stuff. (I also don't want sellers to think that just because they send me something I'm going to blog about it.) So, with all that said, and only because it's a FAQ: if you'd like my mailing address, just e-mail me and I'll send it to you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Procrastination Station 11/5/12

Here's how I'm wasting my time online this week:

Leigh W. recommended The Abominable Charles Christopher, and now I'm hooked on this adorable web comic:
 Hit the link up there to start at the beginning. I'm still not too far along, but I'm loving the sweet-natured characters and the layers of mystery and (possible?) meaning behind it all.

I can't tell you how many times I've listened to Jonathan Coulton's new recording of his song Code Monkey, because I've lost count. Usually the song's a bit more rockin', but I like this slightly softer take on it. If you've never heard any of Coulton's music before, definitely give it a listen:

If you like it you can do what I did and go buy it for a dollar at Coulton's site. (I like to set it on repeat on iTunes and drive John crazy. Hee!)

Next, prepare for some fantasy/design eye candy of the highest order, because BoingBoing just turned me on to the Hidden Bookcase Doors Tumblr:

Secret passages and hidden doors, oh my!! And when you're done drooling over that blog, go check out for more jaw-dropping trickery like this:

Perfecting for fantasizing about your own secret lab/hidden library/epic game room. (I've been eying all the exterior walls in our house, trying to figure out where we can add on a room just so I can make the doorway a secret bookshelf door. Then I'd make the latch a book that you have to pull on. Awww YEEEEAAAAH.)

And finally, I know I've mentioned this blog before, but I recently re-discovered Fashion It So thanks to SuperPunch, and spent a LOL-filled few nights catching up on the archives:

Technically it's about the fashion choices of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but really it's a blow-by-blow account of each episode with hysterical screen caps and commentary. It's NSFW due to language, but definitely go check it out if you're a fellow Trekker. Or just like laughing.

K, I think that's enough to keep you well and truly occupied for now, so....go forth and procrastinate, my friends!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday Steam 11/3/12

"Whiskey Nick" Triton - the same steampunk artist who made two of the steampunk Jack-O-Lanterns I featured a few weeks ago - makes some of the most amazing steampunk accouterments. Check out this hat he's dubbed "The Divinci."

Or how about these "Nautical Goggles with Seahorses?"


Triton's work reminds me why I fell in love with steampunk in the first place. I love the character he gives each piece, and his finishing is just spectacular. Definitely go check out the rest of his creations for more inspirational beauties like these!

Next up, Emma sent in a different kind of Steampunk Insect:

These "Litter bugs" are made from vintage book bindings, clock parts, and miscellaneous hardware. So clever! See the whole collection here on Flickr.

And for your steampunk parlor, check out this awesome "Candle-By-The-Hour" Melissa sent over:

How cool is this?? I've seen a vertical version before, but never one on a rotating drum. I think I need one for our back room, which is slowly being assimilated by my steampunk dining room. (Resistance is futile...)  It's about $35 at the Cabela's website.

And here's the vertical version, in case you've never seen one:

There's a new Kickstarter out for a Twilight Zone-style steampunk series, and it sounds pretty darn cool. Watch this:
This has the potential to be seriously awesome. I can't wait to see!

Maranda B.'s husband Matt was a steampunk Ghostbuster for Halloween, and I am loving all the details on his proton pack:

See more (plus pics of Maranda as an adorable Harley Quinn) at their Flickr account.

And while we're talking steampunk costumes, I've seen a lot of great ones this Halloween, but Jennifer P. may have found the greatest:

This is Emily Green, who styled herself as a steampunk assassin - and she made everything herself, from the jewelry to the leather pieces to the dress! Go here for a few more pics and a detailed description of everything she did.

And finally, you've probably seen me rave about Datamancer and his steampunk keyboard and laptop mods before, but those are well and truly out of most of our price ranges AND skill levels. That's why I'm so gosh-darned impressed with this PC makeover by blogger AJL, who claims it only took him about a week to do and roughly $50 in materials:

Fifty bucks? THAT'S IT?!

He doesn't give any details, so I've been staring hard at his photos trying to figure out how he did it all. The wood trim pieces I've seen at Home Depot, and upon closer inspection I've decided he must have used a wood patterned contact paper to cover the faces of everything. It looks great, though, and really the only give-away is the slightest bubbling on the inside edge of the keyboard:

The keys you can see he painted silver and then glued on metal nuts, with printed key tops decoupaged over...screw heads? Maybe? I can't imagine the rounded keys are comfortable to type on, though - there's a reason keyboards and typewriters always have a concave surface - so I'd be tempted to fill the nut interiors with epoxy clay smoothed in a bit in the middle.

The PC case is mostly a mystery to me - although I do spy some nixie tubes - so I'm guessing those are mostly found objects decorating it.

The scrolled sides of the keyboard are more wooden trim pieces with dowels running the length of the front and back. Really, the whole design is genius, and AJL's setup looks like a million bucks.
Go see the rest of his photos here, and then tell me you're not tempted to head to the hardware store. (Although I don't think John would take too kindly to my covering my Mac with contact paper. Hee!)

Seen something steamy this week? DO TELL. Share your links in the comments or over on the Epbot FB page!