Mouse Smash

JC Lau's blog about geekery, gender and other rants


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Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

To be clear, Mouse Smash is not intended to be a science or computing blog. However, it is a blog about (among other things) video gaming and gender, and for that reason Ada Lovelace Day deserves a mention. It’s especially timely given the ongoing debacle about women in the gaming industry. Well, guess who is attributed as being the first person to write a computer program? A WOMAN!

For those of you who live under a rock, Ada Lovelace was the daughter Lord Byron (yes, that poet guy) and Annabella Milibanke. It was Milibanke and her love of mathematics who ensured rigorous studies in science, maths and logic for young Ada. Kate Beaton describes their relationship pretty well with this illustration:

Today's comic in Hark, a vagrant! by Kate Beaton. See her full post {link url=http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=298}here{/link}

Today’s comic in Hark, a vagrant! by Kate Beaton. Copyright 2014.

But her parentage aside, Lovelace has reasons to be famous in her own right. In 1833, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, who was working on the Analytical Engine at the time. Lovelace is credited with developing an algorithm for Babbage’s engine that would calculate a sequence of rational numbers. But, not only that, at the time Babbage believed that the engine would be useful only for crunching numbers, but Lovelace was the first person to suggest that computers (or Analytical Engines, as it were) could be able to do other, more creative things, like compose music and play it as well.

Although video gaming was probably outside the scope of her predictions, it seems pretty clear that we wouldn’t be where we are today AT ALL without her contributions.

Want to read more about this awesome lady? Slate has a pretty rad article about her life here.


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Play Indie Games in Firefox with the new Humble Mozilla Bundle

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Mozilla announced today that they are teaming up with Humble Bundle to bring some Indie game favorites–Including Subset Games’ FTL: Faster Than Light–directly to Firefox without the need for downloading or installing the games or any plugins on your computer.

As per standard Humble Bundle practice, the first five games (Super Hexagon, AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome, Osmos, Zen Bound 2, and Dustforce DX) can cost you whatever you want. The next two (Voxatron and FTL: Faster Than Light) can be had if you beat the average price ($4.31 at the time of writing this) for the bundle. You can pay $8 or more to receive all of the above, plus the last game, Democracy 3.

Previously, all of these indie games were available only on PC or mobile. Now they all work in browsers on Windows, Mac, and Linux without having to install any plugins. Mozilla states that they “all make use of Mozilla-pioneered asm.js and the other powerful technologies that make plugin-free gaming possible on the Web, allowing users to jump right into the action from just clicking a link”. There’s also cloud syncing so you can save your game and continue playing from any computer.

One great thing about Humble Bundle is their business model: By packaging them in bundles and having users pay whatever amount they think it is worth, games are much more accessible to users. Users can also specify how much of that payment goes to the game developer or to a nonprofit organization. The Humble Mozilla Bundle supports the Mozilla Foundation, CodeNow, and the Maker Education Initiative. So far, Humble Bundle and its users have contributed more than $47 million to more than 30 different charities and nonprofit organizations.

What’s even cooler is that Mozilla worked with Lexaloffe Games to make the default Firefox home page a playable version of Voxatron, so you can try before you buy:

As with most Humble Bundle offers, they won’t last long. This one will be around for two weeks, or until October 28 (at 11:00 a.m. Pacific). Click here to get it before it’s gone.


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The Wolf Among Us gets its own DC Digital Download

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Cover art for DC/Vertigo’s The Wolf Among Us comic

A video game based on a comic is going to be made into… well, a comic.

At New York Comic Con today, DC announced that they were producing The Wolf Among Us as their first Vertigo digital title. Vertigo’s official information on the release is as follows:

The first-ever Digital First Vertigo title will be FABLES: THE WOLF AMONG US, based on the critically-acclaimed episodic game series from Telltale Games licensed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The story will be written by Matthew Sturges and Dave Justus with art by Steve Sadowski, Travis Moore, and Shawn McManus. The cover artist for the series is Chrissie Zullo. FABLES: THE WOLF AMONG US will be a weekly Digital First series and is set to debut in December 2014 with print collections to follow in 2015.

Although it is based in the Fables world, the events in Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us take place before those in the book, so it won’t be exactly a rehash of the existing comic series. It’ll be interesting to see how the choices that the player makes in the game translates into a comic (unless, of course, it was in Choose your own Adventure format).


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Officially Licensed Dancing Baby Groot will be Available for Christmas

Screencap from Mashable.

Screencap from Mashable.

It’s about time this happened.

One of the most memorable scenes in Guardians of the Galaxy is the coda, where an adorable baby version of Groot dances along to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”.

It didn’t take long for people to start selling homemade versions of Baby Groot (or provide instructions for how to make your own), but Marvel Entertainment and KIDdesigns have announced that an officially licensed version will be available later this year, just in time to sprout under your Christmas tree.

Mashable reports that the Baby Groot will set you back $14.99 and also has a built-in speaker to play (of course) “I Want You Back”.

There’s also a Funko bobblehead version of Groot, so you can stick him on your dashboard and he can dance along to your Awesome Mix Vol. 1.


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Social Justice Class Pins available this weekend at GeekGirlCon

Social justice pins

One thing I still don’t understand about the whole Gamergate/gaming and gender debacle is why “Social Justice Warrior” was seen to be an offensive term. I mean, surely valuing diversity, promoting human rights and equality, and working to eliminate oppression and discrimination are good things, right? (Outside the context of the gaming community–for example, if we were working to eliminate racism or promote education for women–that seems to be a no-brainer.)

But, as The Mary Sue suggests, the problem isn’t that it’s offensive because it’s about social justice. It’s offensive because not all of us play warriors! It’s unfair and inappropriate to tar everyone with the same brush, as it were. But have no fear, Sarah “Chip” Nixon, aka @Chiparoo, has a solution for that. Look at that amazing set of buttons!

The buttons will be available for $2 each, or $10 for the whole set, at Seattle’s GeekGirlCon this weekend.

And if that wasn’t awesome enough, all proceeds from the sales will go to Planned Parenthood, so you can get your social justice on while also supporting an organization that promotes women’s rights and autonomy.

Can’t make it to GeekGirlCon? Nixon’s working to make these available for purchase online. However, she notes that she’s not planning to profit from them, so Kickstarter won’t be suitable.

Update: here are some of the ACTUAL BUTTONS that will be at GGC!

Via @Chiparoo

Update (Saturday): as of 2:14pm Nixon had sold out of sets of buttons. Apparently the most popular class was social justice wizard! However, never fear, she will be back tomorrow with more.

chiparoo

Nixon with what’s left of her buttons on Saturday


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There’s bloodsucking and then there’s just… sucking: Review of Dracula Untold (2014)

Director: Gary Shore

Cast: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon

Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy

Now with more bats than Batman

Now with more bats than Batman

Dracula Untold is a tale that should have stayed, well, untold.

The film, based on the life of the real Vlad the Impaler, is set in the 1460s, where Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) returns home from his impaling days to his wife and children, only to be ordered to provide 1,000 Transylvanian boys to serve in the Ottoman Army. Alas, Vlad doesn’t have an army to defend his kingdom. What to do? The obvious choice is, apparently, to wager with a creepy cave-dwelling vampire (who turns out to be Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones) to gain his powers.

Unfortunately, Dracula Untold is confused about what kind of film it wants to be. On one level, it’s an awkward love story about Vlad as a family man. It’s also a war movie, although some of the imagery and cheap jump scares suggest that it might be attempting to be a horror film too. It’s also a tragic biopic : we know that despite Vlad’s best intentions, things aren’t going to work well for him. Oh, and there’s also a helpful etymology lesson on the origins of the word “Dracula” thrown in for good measure.

As a result, the film’s writing is laughably hokey, especially on the frequent occasions when it takes itself too seriously. Vlad’s not portrayed as a monster, but anything else with pointy canines is a threat that must be destroyed right away. Vampire clichés abound: they hiss at crucifixes, get flayed by the sun, and die on stakes (well, he is the Impaler), although are no cloves of garlic to be seen. The special effect with a swarm of CG bats is considerably impressive, but film logic means that those bats easily take out a full army in platemail without so much as anyone getting hantavirus.

Not surprisingly—and despite its attempts to depict Vlad’s family—the film is also extremely testosterone-driven: there’s only one instance in the entire 92-minute cheesefest of two women talking to each other, and even then it barely scrapes by on some variants of the Bechdel test (they’re talking about Vlad’s son). Still, the film limps along, cobbled together in Frankensteinish fashion, when it really should just be laid to rest.

Dracula Untold opens on October 10 in US cinemas.