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Friday, September 28, 2018

HUEFest 2018 Recap


Xaimi checking in from the first annual Harrisburg University Esports Festival (HUEfest). Collegiate Varsity teams representing at least twenty universities from all over the country filed into the campus main building just after 8am on Sept. 21st to check in for the Overwatch and League of Legends pool play. Security was tight in light of the recent tragedies in Jacksonville, but there were no complaints. One thorough bag check and a wand pass later, and I was free to move about one of the most high tech campuses I have ever laid a foot.


Players, coaches, and spectators roamed between floors eleven and fourteen for orientation, team huddles, and hushed whispers as to what was happening. There was an air of mystery, excitement and confusion. Some students did not know why there were at least forty people in jerseys they could not recognize. Others marveled over team composition diversity; gamers are used to hearing that there should be increased representation for women and players requiring special accommodations. I was proud to see that both demographics were reflected here today. Gamers have come a long way from the 30-year-old in a basement stereotype.





By 9am, there was some concern as to why the games were not underway. A few teams killed time with practice bouts in one of the designated rooms. Before the main pools room filled, I took a moment to savor the gorgeous rigs from Hewlett Packard’s OMEN line. The clear cases and neon lights are the prestige at the end of the trick.


Look at how majestic it is.

The tech troubles were causing games to pause mid-play and although this frustrated everyone present no one displaced the annoyances on their comrades. I was surprised by the composure and professionalism of the invited teams given that varsity esports are still in their infancy and some of these bright-eyed individuals had only been a team for a few weeks; it is a testament to how essential this event’s success is to the community as a whole. Once the games were afoot, everyone present could view the evolving pool bracket results on monitors in hallways, in “the Pit,” and online via Challonge (
Overwatch/League of Legends).




The Pit, one of the main rooms for pool play, swarmed with vendor representatives, sponsors, and newscasters while the players shook some of their rust off. Even the mayor stopped in to spectate and meet players around 1pm.


Archon Clothing had a table set up with school spirit and brand merch. The aforementioned produced both the baseball and compression t-shirt jerseys for the home team, HU Storm. I resisted the impulse buy urges as best I could, but interested parties could also purchase the jerseys online with custom embroidery-- gamertags anyone?


Pools went well into midnight, with both teams and the corresponding crews burning both ends of the candle. With quarter finals starting at 9am Saturday morning, some teams are going to experience a 24 to 36-hour play marathon. Forget skill sets, the next day will be a test of mental fortitude and endurance.





Day 2:


Even a casual gamer knows what it feels like to burn the midnight oil, so it was no surprise walking into a quieter HU this morning. Yours truly was already on her first coffee, cough drop, cold symptoms, and no breakfast by 6:45 am. Players strolling, power-walking, and running into the Pit and 11th floor rooms around 7:45 am were in about the same position, minus the cold. As teams settled at the glowing rigs from before, thoughtful team managers ran to local eateries nearby to grab needed nourishment for their players. HU staff ensured rooms were equipped with several packages of bottled water to keep our would-be stars hydrated. Players needed to focus on the battlefield at hand, as day 2 was serious business:





These were the quarterfinal bouts and, with the exception of technical difficulties, the bouts would start at 8 am on the money. Yup, you read that right. Right before closing my eyes at 3 am the night before, I discovered my timing error. Schools that were not at their computers and ready to play by that time were subject to disqualification and I witnessed one team almost suffer that plight. Verily, the Game Gods smiled kindly upon them and they clicked into battle, mice at the ready.


Anyone claiming gamers are sedentary creatures did not see myself and other media personnel bobbing back and forth between floors to catch different games. I snagged a seat in one of the 11th floor rooms to catch Harrisburg U’s last quarter-final League of Legends game.  For the curious, I was recently introduced to OWL, but I played LoL up until 2014. Thus, I am more familiar with the game mechanics and strategy while my OW could use extensive polish. This was also perfect timing to discuss the game with fellow gamer girls-- one that never played League before, but loved Kingdom Hearts. We managed to use KH mechanics to explain League, so this can go on my list of achievements.
League of Legends Coach Geoffrey "Central" Wang for HU Storm


Storm secured quarter-final wins for both IPs, which meant guaranteed spots in the semi-finals. Would the home team take it to the Grand Stage in Sunoco Theater? We would find out...as soon as I located rations to get me to 10pm.


Day 2.5 A.M. (after meal):


A speed run to the Restaurant-Formerly-Known-As-Dunkin Donuts (I’m not kidding about this. Seriously. Check it out), yielded a run-in with one of the sponsor representatives for HUEFest itself. We discussed gamer woes and joys, such as adjusting to new equipment, changing corporations’ perception of eSports, and our genuine ecstasy to be part of this event. We were briefly separated after acquiring our meals, but we reunited at the gates to the semi-finals throwdown-- aka the Whitaker Center for Science and Arts.



Holy hell. The architect for this building created magic. I had barely fifteen minutes to get to the Digital Science theater for the Overwatch semi-finals, and yet, here I stood gawking on the stairway like a child that found a secret passageway in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The Whitaker Center is now home to the training room for the HU Storm. The multi-floored building combines science and art in a form rarely captured in balance. It was not until roughly 2012 that video games-- software creations requiring ample rendering engines and artistic backgrounds-- were officially acknowledged as artistic expression. What better home for a collegiate gaming team?


Harrisburg and Bellevue fought for dominance, but the home team took the OW win. There were “pop off” moments for both teams. One that stuck with me was from Bellevue’s team. At one point, I swear I saw Noru peg shot after shot as Hanzo as if he were helping Lil’ Jon lay background vocals.


 

For those lucky spectators, OMEN by HP had a table of freebies post match. I swung by to say “hi,” then booked it back over to campus for the LoL semis which were due to start at noon. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the last Overwatch final, with Maryville at an advantage, was still underway! Maryville advanced to finals for a fated meeting with Harrisburg later that night.


The next few hours were a blur as the Storm put on a powerful display during the LoL semi-finals. This had Harrisburg facing Columbia University in the finals! Seeing their home team in both finals had local fans in a contagious frenzy. Overwatch was slated to start at 4pm, with League of Legends beginning almost immediately afterward-- both in the Sunoco Theater. Fan reaction would have led you to believe that this was the OWL grand finals, because Sunoco Theater sold out by 200 seats. The center had to open up another theater area so that attendees could watch the bout via live feed. Viewers unable to attend in the flesh could monitor the excitement through Harrisburg University’s official Twitch stream.







Never thought I would include a college and Twitch in the same sentence in my lifetime…


Damn it feels good to be a gamer in 2018.


Akinola Verissimo, our MC for the evening introduced the players of the hour and our shoutcasters Mitch Leslie (Ubershouts) and Robert “Hexagrams” Kirkbride prepared themselves for their first official collegiate OW commentary. The finals were best of two of three sets, with each set consisting of five games. Bloody hell was it close. Harrisburg took the first bout, but Maryville came back with the quickness to tie it up. Almost every game in the sets came down to Overtime or tiebreakers, but Maryville came through with the final score: 2-1. Maryville University was your first annual HUEFest Overwatch Grand Champions. Not only did they win sweet OMEN gear, but the team earned the $25,000 grand prize to split.





League finals began with a great video recap of the previous day’s excitement and a personal word from the Director of Harrisburg University eSports Department himself, Chad Smeltz. Verissimo asked the director how he knew this is what he wanted to do and you could see Smeltz smile from ear-to-ear; he was exhausted as all hell, but seeing this event go from a fledgling idea to a full, organized festival was his defining moment. Thereafter, the last final of the night began with Stephen Johnson and Clayton Raines giving some of the fastest play-by-play commentary I have ever heard. They could have given auctioneers a run for their money.


 

Speaking of how things were running, the Columbia University Cougars had Storm running under pressure from the first match. The “early game,” i.e. the first five minutes in LoL, can make or break a team and spell inevitable doom if nothing is done to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, despite a strong mid-game comeback in match one, nothing could be done to recoup the field. Game one went to Columbia in a strong showing. After a brief intermission, game two picked up where game one left off; Harrisburg fought hard, but Columbia dominated the playing field to become our second set of Grand Champions for the night!




Epilogue


I left the Whitaker Center that night sick, sleepy, and hungry for more games to watch! Locals and fellow Philadelphia Fusion fans were bummed about the losses, but all I could roll around in my head was how unprecedented HUEFest was...shit...is! Just like Overwatch League season one set a historical milestone, HUEFest etched its own initials in history. Anyone in professional and amateur gaming will tell you that we are still getting used to the recognition. Evolution Fighting Championships (EVO) used to be a crowd of people sardined into a claustrophobia-inducing room with little air conditioning to balance the heatwave a a few CRT screens to huddle around. Now it takes over the Mandalay Bay every year. The closest shooters and MOBAs had to open competitive play in the States were money matches at a friend’s house.

Look how damn far we have come? An entire city opened its arms to the masses and welcomed them into the world of gaming, and people walked right the hell in! Every player, manager, custodian, writer, videographer (wink wink), and fan helped make HUEFest bigger than all of us.


Here’s to next year loves.


Until Later Guys,




Monday, August 6, 2018

In Hamsterdam, Cute is Deadly



Game: Hamsterdam
Developer: Muse Games
Platform: iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch
Team: Muse Games
Genre: Real-Time Rhythm Brawler
Release Date: TBD

Summer 2018 has been kind to the Animal Kingdom’s smaller creatures. Blizzard blew Overwatch players’ minds when they released Hammond, the trigger-happy hamster mech pilot as champion 28.


Well Hammond, make some room for Pimm, the cute, tail-kicking protagonist in Muse Games’ new IP Hamsterdam.
Yours truly attended the Evolution Fighting Championships this past weekend, the largest fight game community eSports event--dare I say it-- in the World. However, EVO is more than the big name tournaments and sweet reverse sweeps. The showroom floor welcomes indie developers too in the Mix Developer’s Showcase. Cameron Bajus and Wendy Fritscher welcomed me to this particular neck of the woods to test out their feisty “pocket brawler.”


Hamsterdam’s cute hero won me over right away with his throwback, blue track jacket and no b.s. grimace. His adorableness could K.O. me for sure, but I wanted to know what makes Pimm so badass?



“His Grandfather taught him Hamster Kung Fu,” Cameron begins to explain, “...[but] Pimm does not care about training or practicing until Marlo [shows up]...”. Marlo is a dastardly chinchilla that storms into the city of Hamsterdam to pillage the seeds and take Grandpa’s secret hamster kung fu for himself. A fire is lit under the fluffy protagonist to save his kidnapped grandpa and molly-whomp rodent tail of all kinds.


If this sparks a remote memory of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, Cameron and I actually discussed the similar adventure catalyst and he has played Klonoa, although the coincidences are purely accidental.


Gameplay



We jump into a stage in the first world of the game. The vibrant art style grabs your attention. Pimm is indeed a master of the arts, but we do not want to show Marlo’s possum and rat grunts our full hand yet. So, we unleash a few quick taps on a bottle-wielding possum. You can screen-tap mash, but if you do not pay attention to enemy placement, you will eat a mighty blow. I eat quite a few and Cameron, giddy with excitement, points out the flashing red, almost Tekken Rage Drive-like aura enemies reflect.


“Swipe the screen! Swipe when they are red and you can counter!”


I refuse to let my coach down, so I swipe the screen once for a rat in the background, then another time for his back up in the foreground.


Jesus.


The hurt this hamster puts on these two is almost painful to watch. He grabs one by the arm and throws him down. The other he counters in a similar fashion, but follows up with a few rapid curb stomps.


Screw Harvey Dent; Pimm is the hero we deserve.

That felt good. That felt just as satisfying as a well-timed Dead or Alive counter or a 3rd Strike parry. Certainly I had this down to a science, but hey, this is a real-time rhythm brawler. The secret to building up your Seed Combo counter are “Perfect” hits.


Somewhere a fellow DDR/PIU player’s ears just twitched and a DJMax scratcher almost had a “break.”


Pimm glows with a white halo aura for a few brief milliseconds with each attack. If you attack at the exact moment he glows, you earn a perfect hit.


Seems like a cakewalk, but your enemies are not going to take it easy on you while you attempt to adapt. Battle long enough and players pay witness to quick-time inputs that, when executed properly, deal heavy damage to the Rodent Gang. A second visit to the Hamsterdam booth introduced later stages with increasing difficulty and new charge attacks. The charged One-Hit KO that would have downed a Rat in World 1 will barely scathe him as we delve further into the city.  I failed a harder level, but the fun and challenge was still present I could not help but get a slight, joyous Guacamelee feeling as combos landed or during fight cinematics.



Pimm’s Origins


The Muse Games team dabbled with the then-untitled hamster beat-em-up while working on Guns of Icarus and Guns of Icarus Alliance. “It was a way to keep the artistic juices flowing,” Cameron recalls. The team programmed the game for iOS and Android, but then Nintendo announced the Nintendo Switch. Suddenly, the team had a pocket console for their “pocket brawler.”


Instead of abandoning the mobile port, Hamsterdam will have two editions. The mobile version will have a smaller file size and thus will be a little cheaper. The Switch edition will boast more content, additional motion controls, and more robust graphics and art.


Both games will include unlockable skins you purchase using in-game currency. The skins create different buff effects for Pimm that compliment various playing styles.


Final Thoughts



The Nintendo Switch and mobile ports do not have a finalized release date yet. The team wants to make full use of the Switch engine to bring out the graphics and artwork of this critter world. Thus, Muse Games has a Kickstarter Fund in the works to raise money for the staff needed to deliver a product they can be proud of. This is their baby, their passion, and I could feel the polish they put into the game. Wendy and Cameron want their “son’s” first steps into the spotlight to resonate confidence.


Pimm is well on his way to continue the season’s trend of proving stereotypes wrong.
Cute can be deadly.


Until Later Guys,


^_^


Follow @musegames and @hamsterdamgame on Twitter and Instagram for Kickstarter updates and game developments!


Join the official mailing list here if you want to stay in the know


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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

MIYAVI Rocks Philly: Day 2 World Tour 2018


Seven years is a long time.

In the time since MIYAVI’s last world tour in my backyard, the U.S. had two presidential terms, my high school class celebrated their ten-year reunion (but I missed it), Snoop reverted his species nomenclature to Canis, l lived in the Southwestern United States for two months, VAMPS performed at the Fillmore in Maryland, and the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.

You and I last spoke about the Samurai Guitarist himself after his WHAT'S MY NAME tour stop in Washington, D.C. November 2011. That review-- if we can even call that small trinket a review-- was my first true piece here on Nerdy Girl Blurbs (formerly Twilight Yellow Horizon).

Time to come full circle!

The gods must have known my concert withdrawal symptoms were spiking because MIYAVI announced a North American leg for his Day 2 World Tour March of this year. D.C. did not make the cut, so this left either Philadelphia or New York.

It was not a question of if I would go, but rather where? I mean, could you tell this face no?


I hail from South Jersey and most of my family is from Philadelphia. Besides, with my sister’s baby shower scheduled the same weekend, Philly was the obvious choice. Gave me an excuse to visit my second home and leave the D.C. area for 24 hours; my travel bug stays chomping at the bit.



New Year, New MIYAVI

Those of you familiar with our slap-style boy knows that he loves changing up his fashion and sound. His last full-length, mostly English, self-titled album was more him and the ever-infamous Bobo rocking out. He followed up that album with a role in the biopic Unbroken and a new single, “Real,” that was produced by the legendary Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson’s former music producers in the late 80’s and early 90’s). He also received an honor dear to his heart and was appointed as the first Japanese Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR.

Fall 2017 into 2018 saw MIYAVI embark on a fusion of rock, pop, and dubstep. New songs like “the Others” and “Afraid to Be Cool” meant I had some catching up to do if I wanted to rock out with my...locks out. MIYAVI updates his Instagram with regular frequency, so that is how I happened upon news of his single “So On It,” featuring Seann Bowe on vocals. Seann’s vocals on this track are powerful and blunt, so I fell for it hard. It is a digital only download and stayed on replay for more than 24 hours.

Yeah, I might have a problem, but who does not?

The song played for so long that I knew half the lyrics in twelve hours, but I knew pride would not allow me to continue singing in ignorance. So, I reached out to Seann for the rest.

...I never expected a response, but not only did he respond to my question, he provided the lyrics too! Several talented musicians joined the Day 2 World Tour starting from the Germany leg. I will do my best to recount their names, but know that if one of them is not noted in this piece, it attests to my lack of memory and not to their importance to the tour or the concerts themselves.


Day 28 of Day 2

Theater of the Living Arts, a live music venue nestled along Philly’s eclectic South Street,   served as host and stage for Day 28 of the tour. Doors were at 8pm, but the line extended some ways down the street.


Early doors for Co-MYVs-- MIYAVI’s VIP fan club-- were at 7pm, but the line progressed with ease after they were ushered in. This was my first time attending a show at the ToLA, but I must say I was impressed with the staff and venue. Let this serve as a personal shout out to the security personnel that allowed me to bring my cheesesteak inside the venue. My bus ride back to Maryland would have been fraught with hunger-induced rage were it not for you.

The concert hall is small and intimate, just the way us fans like it. Enthusiastic folks clamored for space near the barricade, while others paid a little extra for balcony seats. Yours truly chose to stand in the dead center of the floor. ProTip: The best sound and view is usually near the venue’s soundboard engineer. I chose to trade potential sound quality for decent photograph opportunities. You could see Bobo’s drum set up near stage right with Miya-kun’s guitars center-stage. Stage left was home to standing mics and the DJ’s set up. We had an hour between doors and showtime, so the stage was dark. The occasional flashlight flicker from the tour’s stage crew elicited the crowd’s giddy whoops, hollers, and “yeahs.”  
Early crowd view after doors opened
Band merch addicts like myself had pullover hoodies, t-shirts, and a few other collectible options. I was expecting a little more variety due to the prior concert experience in 2011; back then, terry cloth wristbands, posters, and I think cds were available for purchase too. I settled for two t-shirts and made my way back to the floor.

At 8:58 pm, the lights dimmed and blue lights washed the stage. Miyavi, Bobo, Seann, Heather, and Co. ran across to exaltations and praise. The magic began.

“Be Strong!”

Ever been to a mega church? This must be what spiritual ascension and “finding the Holy Ghost” feels like. MIYAVI, Bobo, Jonny Litten, Seann Bowe, and Heather Ogilvy poured energy throughout the venue. It seeped from their voices, beats, the way each musician played off of each other. If you need to find the Holy Spirit, look no further than watching our front-man serenade, court, and then, with flourish, screw the hell out of that guitar until it cries chords and screams for sweet release..

Allow me to briefly re-work a known Bruce Lee scene so we can understand how effortless MYV makes this look:

Adoring Fans: “Your skills have transcended the physical plane. We have questions about your guitar playing. What is the highest riff technique you hope to achieve?”

MIYAVI: “To have no technique.”

AFs: “What are your thoughts when playing before a foreign crowd or large audience?”

M: “There is no foreign audience, because ‘...we are all one through music…’”

AFs: “Go on, tell us more.”

M: “A powerful performance with the crowd is like a passionate exchange, but at a dangerous and sexy pace. When you guys are excited, I give you even more energy. When you’re ready to swoon and sway, I dial back to a mellow luring strum. And when my guitar is ready to sing, I do not prod her… *looks at his hands with a smile* they explore all by themselves.”

To quote my friend and fellow guitarist: “He is fucking that guitar.”



Yes. Yes he was, but MIYAVI was not the only one sharing his talents on that stage. Like I said before, I did not know who Seann and Heather were until late April of this year, but boy do I know them now. As they made their way through “So On It,” “In Crowd,” “Real?” and “Dancing with my Fingers,” I could feel my senses clear and my favorite tattoo tingle. Their vocal styles compliment MIYAVI’s riffs, Bobo’s syncopated, punctuated playing, and Jonny’s slick beats, yet stand out on the own. Heather has a sassy, sultry tone as she sings. Think Jessica Rabbit or Little Red from the old Big Bad Wolf cartoons.

All of us were so caught up in the rapture of this performance, that you could feel the energy shift when the crew walked off stage at 9:55pm. We were being teased and we wanted more of this euphoric performance! The encore was well worth the wait. MIYAVI mixed in classic and modern tunes. I was taken aback when I heard the gentle acoustic strums of “Kimi Ni Negai (W)o.” I felt tears well as the orchestral version of this song holds my heart. A brief, blurry-eyed scan of the audience told me I was not the only one affected.

Captured by NoWayfarer Guitarist

Lyrical Power

“Words have power.” We have heard this before. “Pen is mightier than the sword.” I know all of you know that one in some shape or form. I decided to live by another mantra or principle: “The pen and the sword are synonymous.” It implies that we treat words and weapons as separate entities when in reality, words are powerful weapons that can devastate or uplift for millenia.

MIYAVI uses his songs to promote the latter. Look out for the “Youth of the Nation,” “the Others,” and share your “Futuristic Love” (the latter was not played, but you get the point). Our world--this country--is so screwed up, but the Samurai Guitarist stands at the forefront to remind us that we have a duty to be positive effectors. He lives his principles through his lyrics, infectious playing, and his actions.

There is really nothing else I can say about this man that has not been mentioned in his 20 year career, but boy am I trying. By the time you read this, the Day 2 tour would have finished its last stop in South America and the team will be back at their respective homes. Seann has new music he shared on Twitter, and MIYAVI is back on the grind with other projects.

I hope you had the chance to witness the frenzy during one of his tour stops this year, but if not do not worry. He never sits still for long.

Until Later Guys,

Xaimi ^_^

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