IllogiConIV science fiction convention January 9-11

I’ll be at IllogiConIV this weekend at the Embassy Suites Raleigh-Durham / Research Triangle. This is a smaller, fan-coordinated convention dedicated to any and all forms of science fiction in all media.

I’m on two panels:

  • Smutty Fan Fiction – 10pm Friday in the Cameron Room.
  • Newly Professional Older Writers – 9pm Saturday in the Cameron Room

And I’ll be selling my steampunk, sci-fi and fantasy jewelry in the artists alley Friday 3pm-8pm, Saturday 10am-7pm, and Sunday 10am until close.

Hope to see you there!

~ J.L. Hilton

Read about past IllogiCons.

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The Halloween Adventure

Upon Samhain time, so the Druids told,
When doors opened wide to the Otherworld,
The fey folk, sprites, elves, banshees and trolls,
The dear departed and the wandering souls,
Sightless spirits, ghouls, imps and wights,
Entered the mortal realm for just one night.
Though few will remember, and fewer believe,
And we now call this time of the year Halloween,
There’s still ancient magic upon the air
And a mystery awaits you, if you dare!

~ J.L. Hilton

I love anything like a treasure hunt, whether it’s easter eggs, trick-or-treating, or Goonies. One of my first paid writing gigs came courtesy of Lost Treasure magazine, where I interviewed people who found old buttons and coins with metal detectors. I even wrote a Firefly fanfic script that involved a search for hidden treasure.

The promise of gold or rare relics is not the only lure, but the seeking, puzzle solving and adventure. I’ve been wanting to do a treasure hunt with my kids ages 10 and 14, something along the lines of the 1980 movie Midnight Madness, so I began gathering materials and ideas about a year ago. The Quest recently inspired me to follow through with my plans and I spent the month of September putting everything together.

Our own quest began this morning with a jeweled scroll case (spray-painted candy tin covered with plastic jewels) containing one scroll with the poem at the top of this blog, two ball-chain necklaces, and a coded message. I suggested they go to the imps to break the code.

Click here for my Fairy Code

The “imps” were a memory game where each card featured either a fairy letter or an alphabet letter drawn in the corner. Matching the pictures paired them up for deciphering the note, which read:

Pooka,
I have taken the human child to Avalon. If we can keep it hidden away until sunset then it will be trapped with us forever!
Sylph

For completing the task, they were rewarded with two tiny “imp” skull charms. Then they looked up Avalon on the computer and discovered that “Avalon” means “apple land” so they decided to search around the apple tree in our front yard.

They found Sylph in the tree, but not the child. Instead, they discovered an Irish tin whistle and a small container with two sparkling star charms, which they added to their necklaces, and three slips of paper. The slips showed finger hole positions and music notes, but they had to figure out what order to play the three pieces of music.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for the Irish tin whistle

When they played the tune correctly, the air spirit agreed to answer one question. My oldest daughter asked, “Where’s the baby?” Sylph told them that the baby had been given to the Banshee.

They went to the “Banshee,” a motion activated Halloween decoration in the house, and found her puzzle. To discover the words to the puzzle, they had to find 13 black tears — which were faceted black glass teardrop beads from Michael’s craft store.

For every tear, they were given a word to find in the word search, and after finding all 13 tears and all 13 words, the remaining letters spelled out: FIND THE GOLD SKULLS. They were rewarded with two tears for their necklaces.

The golden skulls were little plastic skulls with the bottoms removed and spray painted with gold paint. Three were filled with small candies, but the fourth contained two tiny brass charms, each attached to slips of paper with braille messages.

They looked up the braille alphabet online and deciphered the messages: “The blind giant has the baby” and “His eyes glow in the dark.”

My 14-year-old said, “The darkest place in the house is the bathroom. That’s where we always test things that glow in the dark.” It’s also where we sometimes play with sparking Wint-o-green Lifesavers.

They found the eyes and had to return them to the “giant” by tossing or bouncing the balls through the eye holes of a large face drawn on cardboard. He rewarded them with eye charms.

The giant told the girls that a gnome had taken the baby.  There are several gnomes in our home, but when they went to the yard gnome in our front garden, they found the Gnome’s Puzzle.

After solving that and earning charms, the gnome told them that Pooka himself had come for the child and taken her away, but had left behind a clue: A folding toy with pictures of Pooka’s various shapeshifting forms: a black horse, black bird and black spider. I’d created this by modding the puzzle found at this link.

They went to the fireplace, over which hung a large black spider and upon the mantle sat a black bird. From the spider’s leg hung a small cage containing a tiny baby made by Lori Hehn.

To unlock the cage, they had to solve the fairy logic puzzle* and figure out which of four silver skulls contained the keys.

But that wasn’t the end! Oh, no! After rescuing the baby, Pooka told them that a changeling had been left in the human world, and they would have to find her or she’d be trapped forever in the human realm.

They followed a series of clues and discovered the changeling, made by Dinky Darlings, then returned the baby to its cradle and the changeling to its cage.

Baby back in her cradle, safe and sound.

The naught fairy changeling back in her cage

Many of the goodies, props and puzzles used during the story.

The completed charm necklace at the end of the treasure hunt.

* Fairy Logic Puzzle (pdf) Note: This is not filled in. You would need to write “key, gem, candy, coin, sprite, pixie, brownie and gnome” down the left side, and “amethyst, aquamarine, ruby diamond, sprite, pixie, brownie and gnome” across the top, to do it exactly the way I did. But I left it blank in case you wanted to fill it in with your own variations. Just substitute the words in the clues accordingly.

Other resources:

Halloween Memory Game (printable)
Monster Matching Game (printable)
Skull flipper foldable puzzle (printable)
Make your own word search
Logic puzzle generator

~ J.L. Hilton

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Game review: Dishonored DLC shines like a rune in the void

DISHONORED DLC: THE KNIFE OF DUNWALL
& THE BRIGMORE WITCHES

Rating: M for Mature
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

* * * MINOR SPOILERS * * *

I played Dishonored last month and enjoyed it enough to purchase The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches downloadable content (aka DLC). These add a total of six more chapters to the Dishonored storyline.

Read my Dishonored review here.

The DLCs are not sequels or prequels but parallel the events in Dishonored. Players take on the role of professional assassin Daud rather than Corvo Attano, the royal protector turned vigilante and hero of the original game.

Kudos to the developers for designing two add-ons that could be played alone or together for a larger, more intricate story that supplements Corvo’s journey — or Corvo’s story supplements Daud’s, depending on how you want to look at it. With new enemies, new characters, new locations and some familiar locations revisited, new powers added and others removed, the DLC felt like a perfect extension of Dishonored, with the same freedom to roam, variety of options and excellent game mechanics, but with enough difference to make it interesting.

By the Outsider’s eyes, I enjoyed the hell out of this DLC. I liked Dishonored but I loved The Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches. I’ve never teared up at the end of a video game before. Immediately following the final cutscene, you could have easily talked me into getting the Outsider’s mark tattooed on the back of my hand. I sincerely hope this is the beginning of a franchise.

From the butchers to the bitches, I want to cosplay just about every character in this badass game.

Corvo had the basic quest one might expect of mainstream entertainment: Rescue a girl and/or avenge a woman, possibly preserving an empire in the process. Or, in even more simplistic terms: Save the world, because women.

Daud took a more personal — and unusual — journey of redemption and revelation, via a whale slaughterhouse beset with workers threatening to unionize, a gang turf war in the garment district, harassment from religious zealots, and some Wiccans gone wild.

This would make another great cosplay.

I’m curious if the DLC content was originally intended to be the Dishonored storyline, but somebody somewhere in Bethesda said, “We can’t sell a game about an assassin who is friends with the devil, uses black magic and electrocutes whales. Come up with something else.” So they invented the slightly more noble and less weird Corvo, but ran out of money to pay a writer and a voice actor.

My biggest complaint with Dishonored had been that I never heard Corvo’s voice and felt like I didn’t know much about him. My own fault, maybe, for not reading all of the documents or for not making certain decisions in the game. But as a result, I didn’t really care all that much what happened to the Royal Protector Who Failed.

I loved being able to hear Daud talking to the other characters or commenting on the situations in which he found himself. I felt like I understood who he was and what he was doing, even without reading every glowing book or convenient note. I know it’s just a game, but I think that’s the difference between a good game and a great game — or a good book and a great book, or a good movie and a great movie. If you care about the characters, it means more.

A lot has been said, lately, about women in video games, and I’m going to say a little bit about that, too. Based on the Dishonored DLC and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I’d say Bethesda is doing a pretty good job. In both games, women are not damsels in distress or pretty princesses on a pedestal to reward the hero at the end of his trials. In The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, women are gritty, flawed, complex leaders, villains, secret agents and equal partners in crime.

And they look fabulous. I want to dress like this IRL.

Have you played Dishonored, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches? What did you think? Which one did you enjoy the most? Who do you like better, Corvo or Daud?

~ J.L. Hilton

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Guilty!

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Game review: Dishonored aka What Thief Should Have Been

DISHONORED
Rating: M for Mature
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

Read parts one and two of my Thief review

* * * MINOR SPOILERS * * *

I recently finished Dishonored (in high chaos) and let me start by saying it was everything Thief should have been.

I played Thief first, despite being released about a year and a half after Dishonored. As similar as the two games are, considering that Dishonored makes no secret of being inspired by the Thief franchise, I couldn’t help making comparisons while I played.

The worlds of Dishonored and Thief exist in vaguely-Victorian, plague-ridden dystopias. Thief had the mysterious, magical old Queen of Beggars, evil bald Baron Northcrest, brothel madame Xiao Xiao, genius inventor Ector, and underworld connection Basso. Dishonored had mysterious, magical old Granny Rags, the evil bald Lord Regent, brothel madame Prudence, genius inventor Piero, and underworld connection Slackjaw.

Both games antagonize the player with a hostile City Watch. Both feature brothel levels, but considering how much writing, voice acting, motion capture and programming must have gone into Thief‘s House of Blossoms, compared to… er, the REST of the game… somebody at Eidos Montreal is a dirty little perv. Dishonored‘s bath house, the Golden Cat, seemed tame and insignificant by comparison.

Thief had an asylum level, while Dishonored dropped the idea of a mental institution during development. Which is fine with me. In spite of all the rats, without an asylum Dishonored gave me significantly fewer heebie-jeebies than Thief (or Bioshock). And that’s saying a lot, because I hate rats.

Dishonored never felt boring or repetitive. Well, ok, maybe a wee bit, after the 20th time the guards talked about having “whiskey and cigars tonight.” But it was still 800 times less often than I had to hear about “rolling Polly Adler” while playing Thief. At least I didn’t feel like I spent half the game watching a pair of hands pry open windows, pick locks and grope picture frames.

In Dishonored, the mix of conversation and ambient noises sounded natural. The layout of the city and the various missions didn’t feel restrictive nor confusing. I never once threw the PS3 controller across the room out of frustration with awkward game mechanics. The large-handed, tiny-headed characters were a bit odd, but overall the graphics were lovely. The sun did frequently shine upon Dunwall. Not that I ever had a problem with Thief‘s color palette of gray, dark gray, light gray, slate, ash, charcoal, taupe and olive for it’s cramped city of… The City.

Dishonored was fun. It felt comfortable to play. Though constrained by the parameters of each level, I didn’t feel as restricted as I did playing Thief (or even Hitman, which I never finished). The world of Dishonored felt so rich and fully interactive, I rarely bumped up against the edges or broke immersion. I enjoyed seeing how my choices would affect the progression of the game, how characters reacted to me, and how the final scenes played out. I liked having a range of weapons, intriguing supernatural powers, and useful gadgets. The tools really opened up the game, allowing new and unusual ways to solve problems and experience the missions. Unlike Thief, where I felt as if I struggled to succeed in spite of the tools at Garrett’s disposal and my actions had little real impact on the course of the adventure.

My biggest complaint about Dishonored is that I didn’t care enough about the main character, Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress. Yes, it’s a first-person game, so all we see of him are his hands and the inside of his mask. But Thief was a first-person game, too, and we still saw Garrett in cutscenes, and heard his voice in his thoughts. I felt closer to the clockwork heart in Corvo’s hand, who whispered her plaintive secrets in his ear.

I liked Garrett right from the start, and I’ll be honest: He’s sexy. I really didn’t “get” Corvo until late in the game, when certain key pieces of information were revealed (or implied). Perhaps it’s my own fault for not paying attention nor reading every book and note, but I wished I’d known more about Corvo, Emily and the Empress much earlier. It would have changed some of my decisions, but more than that I might have felt more invested in the outcome and engaged by the story.

I plan to play Dishonored again, with the DLC. I can’t say the same for Thief. Have you played both games ? What did you think?

~ J.L. Hilton

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Dear Marvel, please let me choose your Doctor Strange

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Automatons & Armorers at ConTemporal 2014

Last weekend, I joined the Temporal Engineering Alliance (TEA) as Port Raleigh’s aide-de-aether, otherwise known as social media assistant for ConTemporal.

In this industrious capacity, I met distinguished inventors, steamstresses, storytellers, troll hunters, melodians, haberdashers, automatons, armorers, leatherworkers, ladies and gentlemen at the third annual convergence of time streams and intersecting realities in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Some illustrative tintypes for your perusal:


Photos by J.L. Hilton

Color images and additional pictures here and here

Links:
The Blonde Swan
Bone Shaker Boxes
Brett King Steampunk
Brute Force Studios
GearHearts Magazine
The Gin Rebellion
Hatton Cross Steampunk
Koala Bags
Lady Heathers Fashions
Sleepy Hollow
Stephen Lee Chapman
The Victorian Magpie

Cogs & Captains at ConTemporal 2013
Characters & Curiosities at ConTemporal 2012

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Skyrim spouses: The good, the bad and the ugly

I love romance and I love video games, so today I’m going to take a look at both with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The Divines have blessed a total of thirty female marriage candidates and thirty-seven male marriage candidates in the vanilla game and official expansions. You can marry any of them regardless of your Dragonborn’s race or gender, as long as you’ve fulfilled whatever requirements make them your friend, usually by completing a quest or conducting a financial transaction.

There’s only one Altmer (female) and one Redguard (also female) who can be married — or two Redguard women if you install the Hearthfire DLC. There are no Bosmer (wood elves) or Khajiit (cat people) to marry, at all, male or female.

After the wedding, your spouse will make you a daily homecooked meal (yes, the men of Skyrim will cook), live in your home if asked or you can move in with them wherever they live, and they will run a home-based business (or continue their current business) garnering 100 septims profit a day.

For more about marriage in Skyrim, see this Elder Scrolls wiki page or this Unofficial Elder Scrolls wiki page.

Let’s take a look at our choices…

COMPANIONS

The Companions are a warrior guild in Whiterun and for many players the first faction of friends and potential marriage candidates you’ll meet. Several are both trainers and followers, which allows you to buy skill and then access their inventory and take back your gold.

All live in Jorrvaskr, where you can live anyway if you join the guild, so you won’t gain additional housing through marriage. Several players have also reported glitches in which steward or married Companions return to Jorrvaskr instead of living in the Dragonborn’s home.

Aela is Supreme Werewolf Queen of Side-Boob, which makes her almost as popular a wife choice as easy Lydia. Aela and Njada are both Nords and trainers, in archery and blocking respectively. Ria is an Imperial. All three are skilled warrior women and possible followers, but Aela’s level cap is 50, while the others max out at 25. 

Between Vilkas’ tear-streaked emo eyeliner and Farkas’ dumb-yet-endearing-jockishness, the Brothers Werewolf are both popular husbands. Vilkas is a two-handed trainer, follower, spouse and steward. Farkas is a heavy armor trainer, follower and spouse. Both are level capped at 50. Torvar is a potential follower and spouse who is a surly drunk and possibly the only Companion who will do illegal things with you. He’s capped at 25. All three are Nords.

There’s also a Dark Elf in the Companions who can be married, but I’ve listed him with the Dunmer, below.

HOUSECARLS

All housecarls are Nords, except Rayya. Valdimar is uniquely a spellsword, while the rest are warriors. They live in houses that belong to you — some will temporarily live with the Jarl of the area, while others won’t appear at all until you buy the corresponding house within which they are carling. But you won’t get a free bonus house through marriage.

All are possible spouses, stewards and followers who will defend you in battle unto death. They are all level capped at 50, so should be able to stick with you through most of the game, assuming you continue to improve their weapons, armor and other gear.

Lydia (Breezehome in Whiterun), Iona (Honeyside in Riften) and Jordis (Proudspire Manor in Solitude). Rayya (Lakeview Manor) is added by the Hearthfire expansion and gives us another Redguard women to marry (in addition to Anwen, see below).

The basic game gives us Argis the Bulwark (Vlindrel Hall in Markarth) and Calder the groovy sideburns (Hjerim in Windhelm). But Hearthfire evens up the score with two more male housecarls — Valdimar (Windstad Manor) and Gregor (Heljarchen Hall).

DUNMER

There are several gray-skinned Dunmer to marry, perhaps because of the popularity of Morrowind? The dark elf chicks seem to possess a little more quality than the dark elf dudes, but they are roughly equivalent, I guess.

Avrusa Sarethi is an alchemist with her own farm. Brelyna Maryon is an apprentice mage at the College of Winterhold (where you can live anyway, once you join) and she can also be a follower, level cap 30. Dravynea the Stoneweaver is an Expert Alteration trainer who works in the Steamscorch Mine and lives in Braidwood Inn in Kynesgrove. Jenassa is a mercenary living in the Drunken Huntsman, level cap 40.

Revyn Sadri is a merchant in Windhelm and a speech skill trainer, but will only marry or train the Dragonborn if you do a quest in his favor. Romlyn Dreth is a bootlegger with a small home under the city of Riften. Sondas Drenim is a food vendor at Darkwater Crossing, a mining camp. Athis is a member of the Companions who can be a follower or spouse, as well as one-handed skill trainer, level capped at 25.

HOTTIES

Anwen (Redguard), Orla (Nord) and Senna (Breton). All of these lovely ladies live in the Temple of Dibella, goddess of love, beauty and sex. Of course.

While not devotees of a love goddess, these three seem to be popular hunky husband choices for their looks, personality and skills. Marcurio the sassy Imperial mage mercenary can be hired at his residence, the Bee and Barb in Riften, and is level capped at 40. Onmund is a sweet apprentice at the College of Winterhold who is a potential mage follower (level cap 30) and steward, with a sob story about his Nord family not supporting his interest in magic. Vorstag is a warrior mercenary who can be hired from his residence, the Silverblood Inn in Markarth. He also seems to have a sweet disposition while also being a badass fighter, and possesses one of the softer Nord voices in the game.

AND MORE HOTTIES

Camilla is sister to the proprietor of Riverwood Trader and the Imperial creamy center of a love Oreo between Faendal the Bosmer archer and Sven the Nord lumberjack bard. If you marry her, her “friends” will continue to visit her at your home, wherever you live. She may also take over the family business if her brother dies. Muiri is a Breton alchemy assistant who inherits the Hag’s Cure in Markarth if her employer is killed (and who also has an interesting love life, too, which you will hear about while doing the Dark Brotherhood questline). Ysolda is an enterprising Nord drug dealer with her own tiny house in Whiterun, who takes over the Bannered Mare if Hulda the innkeeper is killed. Sylgja manages to retain her youthful beauty in spite of being a hard-working Nord miner, and her big bust apparently doesn’t get in the way of swinging a pickaxe all day at Redbelly Mine in Shor’s Stone.

Sorex is an Imperial whose father owns the Winking Skeever in Solitude, involved in his own love Oreo with Vivienne Onis and Roggvir until the latter was beheaded. After marriage, he may continue flirting with ladies who enter the inn and he hates every home except Proudspire Manor. Quintus is an Imperial alchemist who takes over the White Phial shop in Windhelm when his employer dies. I don’t know if he qualifies as a hottie (maybe if he lost that hat), but he’s young and sweet and roughly the male equivalent of Muiri. Wilhelm owns the Vilemyr Inn in Ivarstead. While the Nord cannot be a follower, he possesses pickpocket skill and is marked “essential” so he can never be killed. Roggi Knot-Beard is a Nord miner in Kynesgrove, drunk and in debt, who can be a potential spouse, steward and follower, though his skills are minimal and his level is capped at 20.

MATURE SPOUSES

If you prefer your spouse to be a little older and wiser, we have…

Aeri, Nord owner of Anga’s Mill and her own house. Gilfre, Imperial owner of Mixwater Mill and her own house. Temba, Nord mill owner in Ivarstead. And Uthgerd the Unbroken, Nord mercenary, level cap 30, for hire in the Bannered Mare and owner of a decent house in Whiterun, which you can use for free after beating her ass in a brawl, though it’s unknown if the containers are safe for storage or will respawn.

Ainethach is a prominent Breton who runs the Sanuarach Mine and owns a farmhouse in Karthwasten. Balimund is a blacksmith and smithing skill trainer with a house and forge in Riften, which he shares with his adopted son Asbjorn Fire-Tamer. Filnjar is a Nord blacksmith with a house in Shor’s Stone. Stenvar is a Nord warrior mercenary with a decent sense of humor who may be hired from his home, Candlehearth Hall in Windhelm. My own personal choice for husband, he makes an excellent follower but is capped at level 40 and I had to retire him to Proudspire Manor with our kids sometime between level 45-50.

ORCS & ARGONIANS

If you like the kind of spouse who has green skin and tusks, we have the orcs or “Orsimer” of Skyrim.

Female orcs: Borgakh the Steel Heart is the daughter of the Chief Larak of the Orc stronghold of Mor Khazgur and a potential follower, level cap 30. Ghorza is a blacksmith and smithing trainer in Markarth, who lives with her brother in Understone Keep.

Male orcs: Gat Gro-Shargakh is a miner who lives in Kolskeggr Mine, east of Markarth. Moth gro-Bagol is Ghorza’s brother and also a blacksmith, working and living in Understone Keep in Markarth. Ghorbash the Iron Hand is an Orsimer living in Dushnikh Yal and is the brother of Chief Burguk. He is a potential follower (capped at level 30), spouse and steward.

Or if that isn’t exotic enough for you, the Argonian spouses…

One lizard lady, Shahvee, and two lizard gentleman, Derkeethus and Scouts-Many-Marshes. Twice as much scaly dude skin, yay. Scouts-Many-Marshes is a light armor trainer but not a potential follower, so you probably can’t retrieve your gold from his inventory after training. He and Shahvee live in the Argonian Assemblage bunkhouse in Windhelm, if you marry and move in with one of them. If rescued from Darkwater Pass, Derkeethus can be a follower (ranger class, level cap 30 and the only Argonian follower in the game) and potential marriage candidate. After being rescued, he will move back to the small mining camp of Darkwater Crossing and might get killed by Falmer who spawn there.

DRAGONBORN DLC SPOUSES

One male and two female marriage candidates are added by the Dragonborn expansion. All are Nords. From what I’ve read, these are the only spouses who can live with you in Severin Manor, but I’m not sure if they are limited to Solstheim or can move to Skyrim, too. I imagine they can, since they have to have the wedding in Riften?

Halbarn Iron-Fur and Hilund are residents of Bujold’s Retreat/Thirsk Mead Hall and Morwen has her own home in the Skaal Village (Dragonborn DLC). Halbarn and Hilund are level capped at 60, though the wikis don’t list them as potential followers.

SPECIAL SPOUSES

So far, so good. But here’s where things start to get a little uneven in the marriage market of Skyrim. These are the final three eligible females, but there’s much more to discuss on the male side. I’ll follow up with that in a sec.

Mjoll the Lioness is a Nord who despises the Thieves Guild and lives with Aerin in Riften. She is a skilled fighter who can be a follower, and while capped at 40, what makes her special is that she cannot ever be killed. Even after her quest is finished, she will not die. Another added bonus (or PITA depending on how you look at it) is that wherever she goes, Aerin will follow. This has led to many jealous Dragonborn husbands secretly killing her little buddy when she’s not around. Taarie lives in the Radiant Raiment shop in Solitude, which is pretty special if you decide to move in with her, but what makes her really special is that she is the only Altmer (High Elf) marriage candidate in the game. Finally, there’s Viola, who is special because she appears to be the only old female marriage candidate, as well as an Imperial living in Windhelm (Ulfric Stormcloak’s city) with a very large home near Hjerim.

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Because we can never have enough sweaty, dirty, impoverished laborers to marry, amiright? Omluag is a Breton who lives in the Warrens (basically the homeless shelter) of Markarth. Odfel is a Nord who shares a small house with an orc and whose claim to fame is a unique pickaxe called Rocksplinter. Perth is a Breton miner in Soljund’s Sinkhole who looks like he should be following Dorothy and Toto to see the Wizard. He shares a house with Tuthul (who is kind of hot looking and has a cool mohawk, but isn’t a marriage candidate – why?). Pavo Attius seems to be the best catch of the bunch, since the Imperial owns the Kolskeggr Mine and a house outside Markarth, but he will remain in miner’s clothes unless you have a PC mod. Forsworn might also invade from time to time and can kill him when you’re not around.

Angrenor Once-Honored is a homeless Nord war veteran who lives on the streets of Windhelm. Belrand is an old spellsword for hire in the Winking Skeever. While he’s not much to look at, I’ve heard that he’s a sweet husband (probably shares the same voice actor and dialog as many other spouses). Benor is a Nord thug who lives in Morthal and has been denied a job with the city guards but still lives in the guardhouse anyway. Beat him up to win his heart. Cosnach is a drunk whose heart can also be won by a brawl. In my experience, he’s a decent follower with some funny dialog about “aiming for the one in the middle” (since he’s drunk, get it?). He lives in the Warrens of Markarth. Octieve is a retired old Breton veteran who offers some two-handed training. He gambles, drinks, and lives with his grown daughter Evette in Solitude.

I WISH I COULD HAVE MARRIED

Blazing badass Teldryn Sero fills all top ten of my list. My heart is forever broken that the Dunmer spellsword can neither marry nor become a steward so we could have at least lived together. Or it might have been nice to be able to marry Faendal, the sweet Bosmer archer of Riverwood. Or black leather clad bad boy Brynjolf of the Thieves Guild.

Really, just about any of the Thieves Guild members would have been acceptable partners imo. Partners for what, exactly? Yeah, I guess they’re not really the marrying type. But what about those conservative, right-wing, patriotic, family-values, Talos-worshipping Stormcloaks? I wouldn’t kick any of the named Nords out of bed for eating crackers.

Ralof, my braided buddy from Helgen. Arrald Frozen-Heart, who slaughtered the Miraak cultists while also helping my assassin Silvara defeat a legendary dragon in Morthal, then called it all a “training exercise.” Or, y’know, Ulfric Stormcloak, the smoking hot, power hungry bastard (oh, the hate sex). But, alas, they are all unavailable, unless you’re rocking a mod on PC. I’ve been playing on PS3.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Game review part 2: THIEF leaves me feeling unsatisfied

THIEF
Rating: M for Mature
Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Violence

Read part 1: THIEF makes me feel oh so very naughty

********* SPOILERS *********

A few weeks ago I rented THIEF from Redbox and wrote a review based on a few hours of PS3 gameplay. At the time, I thought I was about halfway through, since the main storyline was divided into eight chapters and I’d played up to chapter four.

I rented it again to finish the game and, surprise, there’s also a bunch of side missions. With those and the main story, I ended up spending $12 in total rental fees at $2 a day, though I could have wrapped it up for $6 without the distractions of work, kids, and a cold. I also suffered a setback from the mysterious April Fool’s Day Bug that caused me to lose some of my saved progress.

Through the second half of THIEF, I continued to like Garrett, the snarky anti-hero with a dancer’s body and BDSM suit, and I enjoyed the new missions full of much creepy shit and stealthy snatching. After fiddling with game settings, some of the audio remained a bit weird, but better than before.

I still wasted way too much time bumping into things. Some doors had knobs, many did not. Some windows could be pried open, many could not. Some ledges could be climbed, others not so much. By the time I became familiar with my “focus” ability, the guards’ behavior and the City layout — with its convenient spills of white paint occasionally indicating where to go — the game was almost over.

This is what passes for a map in THIEF. No streets labeled. No indication of where there are passable doors or windows instead of walls. In fact, I sometimes ran into walls where there were no walls drawn. Yay!

“At times, I caught glimpses of the good game that might have been,” said Kirk Hamilton, in his spot-on Kotaku review of THIEF’s disappointments. I hear ya, Kirk. I really, really wanted to love THIEF. I wanted to be all over this game, like cute on a kitten. It’s so many things I love — steampunk, stealth, supernatural, somber scenery, and a sleek, sexy, cynical protagonist.

THIEF felt like it wanted to be so much bigger. I wanted it to be bigger. (That’s what she said.) More characters, more missions, more parkour, more treasures, more puzzles, more chase sequences, more bearded burlesque ladies to rescue, more freedom to roam. I wanted the guards along Glimmer Lane to talk about more than rolling Polly Adler about 800 times.

And more explanations, please!

  • How did Garrett stay alive, if he was passed out for a year and couldn’t eat?
  • If the basic premise of the master thief’s personality and conflict with Erin is that he doesn’t like killing people, how come it seemed to be required to get through every mission with a few well-placed headshots and explosive arrows? (Or maybe that’s just me — I like arrows.)
  • How did the Queen of Beggars know all about the Primal stone fragments?
  • What was the deal with the obelisks (and the buttons inside of them)?
  • Was the Baron going to continue running The City or what?
  • What was Hector going to do with his automaton in Blackmoor?
  • Why did Hector have one of those Keep-shaped keys in a case in his workshop? Did I miss something to do with that?
  • Did Vittori’s carnival ever get to leave port?
  • What about those creepy-ass patients still roaming the asylum?
  • Was the Gloom gone? (And is Polly Adler spreading around something even worse?)
  • What about all the Freaks on the loose, and were they still Freaks after… whatever happened to Erin at the end?
  • Did Garrett actually love Erin at all?
  • Would Erin ever stop being a whiny PITA?
  • How did he reassemble the Primal stone if he still had a piece of it in his eye?
  • Did Basso ever get another bird?

ARRRGH! So many unanswered questions in what had the makings of an excellent story. Perhaps the answers were all there, I just didn’t find them. That I care so much certainly indicates that something in the story hooked me. I believe I could have loved this game the way I love Skyrim, but just didn’t quite get there. So heartbreaking.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Game review: THIEF makes me feel oh so very naughty

THIEF
Rating: M for Mature
Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Violence

I prefer rogues. In Skyrim, my Nightingale Dragonborn sneaks and snipes her way through dungeons. My vampire assassin creeps and cut-throats her way across bandit camps. So, when I saw the new Thief reboot, a video game that relies on stealth rather than brute force, I couldn’t wait to try it out.

Some reviews have been positive, but many have criticized the boring and repetitive gameplay, restrictive map layout, technical issues, gray upon gray graphics, and weak, supernatural-driven story.

I rented a copy from Redbox for my PS3. Within a few hours, I’d reached chapter four out of eight chapters. Granted, I didn’t explore to quite the extent that I might if I owned the game, but it certainly didn’t promise the 800+ hours I’ve devoted to Skyrim. For $2.00, though, I received my money’s worth.

I happen to love the color gray. I thought the muted color palette evoked the appropriate mood and environment for a protagonist who lives in the shadows. Not much different from Bioshock, or the grim Mystery Case Files hidden object games I enjoy.

The story seemed no more or less interesting than most. You’re a thief in a psuedo-Victorian city creatively named “the City,” where Industrial Era and supernatural forces collide à la Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes. Decent dialog featured one of the funniest conversations I’ve ever overheard in a video game. (Click here to listen. NSFW.)

A man in leather who's good with his hands? Yes, please.

I liked Garrett, the thief of Thief. Having never played the previous games in the franchise, I had no preconceived ideas about his voice acting or anything else. With his arsenal of tricky arrows, he reminded me a bit of Oliver Queen. I even liked most of the secondary characters — Basso, the Queen of Beggars, the Thief-Taker General and Orion.

Erin, however, got on my last nerve. Unreasonable “I can take care of myself” woman-child who then promptly causes problems, gets in trouble and needs rescuing. Dressed like she just came from Hot Topic, with black nail polish and black lipstick, she wears a big dangling necklace that would have been noisy and impractical for a thief. SPOILER: Apparently she grew up in a brothel, so yay, another “rape as backstory for an edgy female character” trope.

Hi, I'm the annoying hot chick who reminds you of all the girls who ever friendzoned you in high school.

As for the game being repetitive, no more or less than most. Yes, it’s a lot of lockpicking, pickpocketing and sneaking. But is that any different from the repetitive dungeon crawling, jumping puzzles or “shoot the shit out of everything” in other games? I enjoy sneaking, stealing and lockpicking, so Thief worked for me, in that aspect. I’ve no complaints there. I just wished I could have carried more arrows.

So here’s where I agree that I despised the restrictive maps. If inFAMOUS can have a fully-interactive city, where every wall, drainpipe, awning and window can be climbed, why can’t Thief? I spent way too much time bumping against things and pushing L2, trying to figure out where I could and couldn’t go.

Even worse, the audio. People outside of a building sounded like they were right next to me. I might walk through an open doorway (no loading screen) and go from noise to silence very abruptly, or vice versa. Conversations often overlapped so that I couldn’t understand anything. Ambient sounds were inconsistent.

The brothel mission was a voyeur’s dream, and entirely unsuitable for underage players. And that’s coming from me, who lets my teen play Skyrim and watch The Daily Show. So, no, not a game you can play around the kiddies. Unless you want to explain BDSM to your kiddies.

In spite of it’s issues, the game kind of haunts me. It creeped me out and left me feeling a bit icky. The frustrating gameplay and sound editing pissed me off. But Thief has intrigued me enough that I can’t stop thinking about it. I may just have to rent it again and finish the second half.

Have you played? What did you think?

~ J.L. Hilton

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