September will be kicking off with a bang with the fall release schedule of games. There is a lot of variety getting released to boot, from little indie’s to big-budget action; we have a lot to look forward to this month. Get your pocketbooks ready! It’s about to get crazy this holiday season!
Tale of Arise - Sept 10th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)
Tales of Arise is the latest installment of the long-running RPG “Tales of” series. The planet of Dahma has always been ruled by the planet in the sky, Rena. You play as residents of Dahma that are often used as slaves trying to find freedom. Experience the most stunning Tales game yet powered by Unreal Engine 4 with dynamic action RPG battles and classic Tales gameplay. Dive into this vibrant new world and rich story on September 10th.
DEATHLOOP - Sept 14th (PS5, PC)
The much-anticipated game from Arkane Studios is finally here. A true “next-gen” title coming to PC and PS5, you will be taking down your foes with glorious style and precision. Deathloop has you playing as two deadly assassins that have to relive a time loop to find the best possible way to reach their target and put an end to the time loop trapping everyone inside. An innovative take on first-person action, Deathloop will allow players to find a preferred playstyle, be it stealth or guns blazing. End the Loop of Death on September 14th.
You are an Aragami, a group of elite warriors afflicted with a supernatural condition that corrodes the body and mind. You also control Shadow Essence, a mystical power to control the shadows. Go it alone or work with two friends to free the village from invaders who are enslaving the Aragami. The shadows are your ally in this 3rd person fast-paced stealth action game, where you build your own shadow assassin to save and protect your people. Become a master ninja in Aragami 2 on September 16th.
Kena Bridge of Spirits - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5, PC)
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a story-driven action-adventure set in a charming world rich with exploration and fast-paced combat. Players find and grow a team of tiny spirit companions called the Rot, enhancing their abilities and creating new ways to manipulate the environment. Kena has been developed by Ember Labs, an animation and digital content studio, and is their first-ever game. There has been a lot of anticipation for this gorgeous Pixaresque looking adventure since it was revealed. Help Kena and befriend The Rot on September 21st.
Diablo 2 Resurrected is a fully remastered version of the original action RPG, which many believe to be the best. It will have the same classic gameplay as the remaster is built on top of the original game. It will feature cross-progression across all platforms with updated features and support for modern gaming needs. The entire game, including monsters, items, and spells, has been updated, including the original expansion, so you get the full Diablo 2 story in one package. Play with up to eight people and return to this classic adventure or play for the first time on September 23rd.
The complete list…
Big Rumble Boxing Creed Champions - Sept 3rd (PS4, Xbox, Switch)
KitAria Fables - Sept 3rd (PS4, Xbox, Switch)
The Medium - Sept 3rd (PS5)
Chernobylite - Sept 4th (PS4)
Sonic Colors Ultimate - Sept 7th (PS4, Xbox, Switch)
The Riftbreaker - Sept 30th (PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)
Xuan Yuan Sword 7 - Sept 30th (PS4, Xbox)
What game are you most looking forward to playing this September?
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Season 1 Wrap-up and Omega Theories
It's been a crazy summer of hot days and career changes for me, but Star Wars: The Bad Batch has been a consistent part of each weekend. Since my article kicking off the season, I've looked forward to this time to reflect on the series so far. Now that Season 1 has come to a close, and knowing we have a Season 2 ahead, let's take that plunge into the spoiler-rich Kaminoan depths!
First thing's first: this show is an epic visual and audio experience in every episode. The colors and lighting are stunning, reproducing masterfully crafted live-action cinematography in an animated format. The action itself is worthy of the Star Wars brand and on par with an action-packed Marvel film. Also, the sound design is a perfect match to the visual experience, including the use of the ear ringing effect after an explosion and simulating even the most subtle position changes of characters in the frame.
Completing the show is Kevin Kiner's engaging score, bringing the power and emotion we've come to expect in a Star Wars production. As he did in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, Kiner finds just the right melodies and impact for each moment in The Bad Batch. One musical moment that stands out for me is his blending the unique sound of Fennec Shand's theme into the action score during her confrontation with fellow bounty hunter Cad Bane.
The basis for this amazing experience is in its writing: the stories and characters were engaging, and I was invested in each of them from the start. Our main characters, the Bad Batch itself, evolve into more than the stereotypes I introduced in my previous article. Season 1 forced them to adapt to a new world where the Republic and the humanitarian values the clones fought for have been absorbed by a cold, oppressive Empire. Former enemies are now allies in the fight to remain free from tyranny, and former allies are now showing them the business ends of their blasters. Crosshair, Hunter, and Omega each evolved a great deal by the season finale.
That writing comes to life thanks to some great performances. I trusted that Dee Bradley Baker would be up to the enormous task he had in the recording booth, and my trust was rewarded. Dee has taken his work from The Clone Wars to the next level. Every character he voices has a wholly unique sound, personality, and emotional profile: the entire Batch, Captain Rex, Gregor, and every other clone trooper, plus a few additional characters. As I watched, I was constantly amazed at Dee's performances, and I'd love to see him get some awards for his work on Season 1. Check out this Entertainment Tonight interview with Dee talking about his work in The Bad Batch:
As a quick note for those going into the voice acting career field, make sure you put Dee's website on your personal list of resources to read and reference: iwanttobeavoiceactor.com.
Complementing Dee was Michelle Ang's performance as Omega, which highlights the character's wide range of experiences throughout the season. Every emotional state is distinct with lots of great nuance in Michelle's delivery. The writing for Season 1 doesn't leave Omega in the passenger seat as a perspective character; she's an active part of driving the story forward. And thanks to Michelle's performance, I feel like I'm fighting with the Batch right alongside Omega!
There's another dimension to my love for this show that I call the "Filoniverse factor." Dave Filoni created both The Clone Wars and Rebels, and he's been side-by-side with Jon Favreau on The Mandalorian, too. The Filoniverse refers to Filoni's original characters and storylines that gained popularity on their own and have cross-connected the shows he's been involved with. The Bad Batch, created by Jennifer Corbett and Brad Rau, is solidly anchored in the Filoniverse with cameos from characters like Cut and Suu from The Clone Wars, Hera Syndulla and Chopper from Rebels, and Captain Rex and Cham Syndulla who were in both of those series. As a big fan of the Filoniverse, I was excited to see every familiar character.
Early in the season, though, I was afraid that we would revisit so many other Filoniverse characters that it would take away from the Batch. I had a similar reaction when Ahsoka Tano became part of Rebels: for a few episodes, it felt like her presence put a dampener on the show's standalone story. But the writers eventually balanced Ahsoka's presence in the show without compromising the show's own characters and story. By the end, it felt like I was watching one larger story of the Star Wars universe, not a standalone series.
That's the same impression I have now with The Bad Batch. Rex, the Martez sisters, Hera, and more crossed over, but in a way that looks like we were just seeing some missing chapters in their lives. Everything is still tied to the story of the Batch, which is intrinsically linked to everything going on in the galaxy during this transitional time. I hope that balance remains moving forward to Season 2.
I'll have to do another article soon reflecting on how this show and others are developing and cross-connecting the broader Star Wars universe. There's a lot ahead with the Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano series, the continuation of The Mandalorian, and the new Boba Fett story. I am loving seeing all these brilliant creators working together to tell a single epic and engaging story. (And maybe us Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order fans will eventually get the Cal Kestis cameo we had hoped to see when the Bad Batch was on Bracca.)
Now, though, I want to go back to Omega and talk a bit about this ongoing mystery and popular theory about what makes her unique as a clone.
What we know: We've learned that Omega is an "unaltered" clone, so she doesn't have the rapid aging and soldier-related enhancements of her brothers. She's also female and doesn't display Jango Fett's physical features. It certainly makes sense that using Jango's X chromosome and not his Y chromosome would have affected gene expression. That said, The Clone Wars and Rebels aren't known for a lot of subtlety when it comes to hinting about character origins and abilities, so I suspect The Bad Batch is following that model. That leaves me asking:
Is Omega really a Jango Fett clone, or is her genetic donor someone else entirely?
The Force-sensitive clone theory: My question ties in with a popular theory that Omega is a Force-sensitive clone. But I have my doubts about Omega's Force sensitivity after watching through the season twice. Omega does have heightened perception, and she's got a sharper-than-average head for tactics. However, she hasn't displayed the more obvious Force traits like telekinesis. Even in the life-or-death situations, she was in during the season finale, she didn't unlock that ability. So if she is Force-sensitive, it manifests differently than the Jedi and Sith we know, or she's going to have to unlock it in a different way.
Putting the clues together: If we combine those clues with a creative consideration of Omega's character design, we could guess that she's a clone of then-Senator Palpatine as part of his long-term plan. But Omega's curiosity, optimism, and skills in mechanics (when fixing Gonky and Todo 360) may be some less-than-subtle references to young Anakin from Phantom Menace. I would certainly see the logic in her being a clone of either Palpatine or Anakin, or some combination of both, maybe with Jango's DNA mixed in.
In any case, Omega being a clone of a Force-sensitive person would be one explanation for why the Kaminoans hired bounty hunters to bring her back to Kamino. As to whether she'll manifest more noticeable Force powers, though, I'm happy to remain unspoiled and speculation-free as we anticipate Season 2. For now, it's enough for me that she's a clever and fun character to follow.
Wrapping up my overall impressions, I can relate to the perspective I've read from some viewers that Season 1 felt unfinished. As I reflect, I think it's just because I hoped that Crosshair would return to the Batch by the end of the season. But I think the writers were smart to acknowledge that even without an inhibitor chip, the clones are individuals who can choose different paths and be compelled by different values and purposes. That's a much stronger message overall. Plus, given its place in the Star Wars timeline, this isn't the kind of story they could wrap up with a nice neat bow.
Once they announced a Season 2, I knew we would see an ending that was more like being in the eye of the storm rather than in its aftermath. Fortunately, they're set up to tackle some new adventures in Season 2.
How are you feeling about The Bad Batch as we reflect on Season 1? And where do you stand on the theories about Omega's origins? Let's discuss in the comments!
Talking Zombies, Hobbits, and Mocap with Nicole Tompkins
Over the past few decades, gaming has evolved from readable text to 8-bit sprites to a cinematic experience. Video game titles now have the same or more depth than a Hollywood Blockbuster. Nicole Tompkins has taken part in the evolution of performance capture or the recording of an actor’s movement, voice, and facial expressions to bring an animated or virtual character to life. Her first role as Idril in Middle Earth: Shadow of War was just the starting point. She also has taken on the lead role of Jill Valentine in the Resident Evil 3 Remake. And currently as Daniela Dimetrescu and Elena in the new Resident Evil Village.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Nicole to talk about her career in performance capture, gaming, and maybe we played a game or two to pass the time!
Can you tell us about your acting journey from your beginnings in Middle Earth: Shadow of War to now?
I did a lot of film and TV and started to do voice-over work because my agent told me I am good at doing this. I like to be in the booth and be a silly actor. I submitted 4 lines for a role of a 16-year-old British girl for some sort of fantasy game for an audition. I got a callback afterward in the Warner Brothers lot and thought, “This is the coolest thing ever!” Little did I know it was Middle Earth: Shadow of War. This was my first time doing motion capture. It was a cool experience because I was surrounded by great people to work within the gaming world on the acting side. And I had a great introduction to how the gaming world can be.
I went back to more movie gigs and got the Jill Valentine role in the Resident Evil 3 Remake. I went through the casting process and found myself in Tokyo playing a lead in a Resident Evil game which was a very cool jump. I had so much fun and had the time of my life getting to do that working with Capcom.
The cinematics and motion capture director for Resident Evil Village, Steve Kniehibly, approached me to be in Village since I worked with him previously on the Resident Evil 3 Remake. And he also brought in all the actors who were previously in Resident Evil Biohazard, and Capcom agreed with bringing them in. We came in and worked hard to make something new. And here we are, at the Village, and it was this chaos of an amazingly huge cast of interesting characters, and I am grateful to be in the middle of it. That’s what’s happening in the game world and in my life right now.
Tell the Replayers about a career highlight that you’re proud of from day one to wrap.
I have so many! Definitely being part of the Resident Evil world at all is a massive career highlight. I get to work with such a great company and interact with such an incredible fanbase. I am surrounded by so many talented and inspiring people working in both Resident Evil 3 and Village. It’s always the people that you’re with that define your experience working on a project.
And everyone who works there wants to be there. That’s one of the favorite things I love about working in video games in general. The crew is a fan of the Resident Evil games, the video game industry, and love what they do. They are passionate about what they do, and there’s nothing like that!
What is an obstacle that you’ve come across in your acting career?
I say this all the time when people ask me for acting advice: You get so many No’s in the industry, and you learn to not take it personally. You will eventually get a yes if you’re meant to do this and you’re passionate about it. It’s never personal. They never are. And that’s interesting since any artist knows how personal their work is to them. And yet, the decisions behind the scenes are never personal. It takes a lot of persistence.
I think one of the challenges I have to overcome is to continue to show up authentically and with optimism, passion, and excitement, knowing there’s a chance you will, or you won’t get the job. Even when you do get the job, the project may even not see the light of day. Projects shut down for all sorts of reasons. So knowing there’s always a unique challenge, roadblock, or setback and just continuing to show up alive and not letting those obstacles bring you down or be cynical. Let it continue to fuel you and what it is you want to do and strengthen you.
Who is an inspiration or an influence in your acting career that you’ve worked with?
I feel like everyone I’ve ever worked with grows on me in some way, and I love that about acting in general. I can point to any person that I’ve worked with and know what I’ve learned from them or what excites me.
I have so much love and appreciation for Jeff Scheine, who played Carlos Olivera in the Resident Evil 3 Remake, and Chris Redfield in Resident Evil Village. He’s such a talented human. We have a lot of mutual respect for each other and enjoyed working together. We have similar values of approaching the craft and in life: showing up with as much humility as possible and always doing your absolute best. I respect him a lot, and there’s a lot of ways that he inspires me.
I am also super inspired by Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, and Ike Amade on Shadow of War. I was super young at the time, and they just took me under their wing and taught me how to fly. And I did! Troy also directed and acted in Shadow of War and a lot of that dynamic inspired me and that’s super cool! These people are incredibly talented.
You can’t look at someone like Laura Bailey with her career, personality, and the way she shows up and not be inspired by her. She is also one of the women in video games that made me realize that this is a career that can be rewarding. And more recently, Maggie Robertson, who plays Lady Dimetrescu in Village. I love her so much! There are so many people that inspire me. And that is just on the acting side!
There are producers, writers, producers, booth directors, and all the behind-the-scenes people. And it always takes a village behind any person that has any success or performance that you like. There are so many people that have contributed to who and where I am, and I am indebted forever to just look back and nod and be excited to watch everyone else’s success in all sorts of areas in life. That’s one of the best parts of doing this.
We took a little intermission and played a game of word association. I used words and characters that are associated with the Resident Evil franchise and here is what Nicole says the first thing that comes to mind:
Hands (with a giggle)
Having a good day!
Back to our regularly scheduled article!
How are we doing so far? How am I doing so far?
Dandy! We’re doing great! We’re chilling so far!
We dabbled into performance capture a little. What’s been that experience so far compared to traditional film, stage, and screen?
Performance capture is a beautiful marriage between film and theater in many ways. There’s physicality involved. You end up doing long takes or full scenes because we’re not waiting to move the camera or get a specific angle because any take could be your close-up. In so many ways it’s like theater. You’re doing a lot of pretending. You’re with objects that don’t look the way that they will. It takes a lot of imagination.
Simultaneously, there’s something incredibly cinematic and technical about performance capture. We’re wearing an incredible amount of technology on our actual persons. And there are specific marks and places you end up having to hit. Or ways to look or be there at this moment. So timing becomes a thing. Starting and stopping positions. Doing your T-Pose before and after a scene. Much like a film set, it can get really technical when it comes to how it operates
I have been very lucky to just be in a lot of sets that value the story enough to feel like we’re actually making a movie. Every performance is important and has this grounded naturalism. These games are turning into playable movies with incredible cinematics and emotionally driven stories and concepts. And I think it’s really cool because it gives us that much more material and depth to work with and dig into.
Check out the video below on how a performance capture session can turn into a cutscene in a video game-like in Resident Evil Village:
What are some memorable moments to share when you did performance capture?
I definitely have some fond memories of when we do our ROM (Range of Motion) in the morning. That is when I get my suit, connect the dots to our character, and track all the dots for the day on our person. We had some ROMs where we would end up doing a little dance to get the dots all lined up. There’s music on, and all of us do the motions at the same time. It’s a hilarious adventure of joy and silliness of us all in these wetsuits with velcro everywhere just jamming out to some intense song.
That and freaking mocap heels are a thing! There are always mocap shoes. But we had mocap heels because walking on heels changes how I physically walk. So for Daniela, Alcina, Cassandra, and Bela Dimetrescu, who are the witches in Village, we had to wear heels for the whole day. One because they’re very tall, and two, there is an in-dresses kind of movement. And that was kinda fun. My feet are done by the end of the day for sure! I would be like, “All right, cool. Kick ‘em off. I’m done! I’m out!”
Tell us about how you approached the role of Daniela as you do your performance capture during Village.
I felt like we were deciding on the day what these characters were going to sound like and how they walked. These ladies are very flirtatious and intentional on the part of the writers. For Daniela, it was pretty easy. She’s clearly kind of disconnected from reality, and like I said: She’s having a good day! She’s incredibly flirtatious and wants the player’s attention, not desperate for it.
There were days where I coordinated with Bekka Prewitt, who plays Bela, and Jeanette Moss, who played Cassandra. We wanted to show up as individuals but also as a cohesive thing because they look similar. A lot of people got them mixed up based on how they looked. But we knew our subtle character differences, and we had room to work with. Along with Maggie Robertson as Alcina, the head of the house, it came together as a cohesive unit. In the game itself, the team did a fantastic job of adding Easter eggs throughout the entire castle that teaches the player more and more about who they have been throughout time.
You’ve been part of legacy franchises like TheLord of the Rings and now Resident Evil, is there a wish list for future roles or a particular studio that you would like to work with?
Let’s be real: I would like to work with Naughty Dog! I played all of the Uncharted series and The Last of Us. They are just so groundbreaking in everything they do.They have fantastic talent, artists, and people. They find ways of evolving their games and create compelling stories and, specifically, interesting characters. Whether it’s a light, levity-filled character like Nathan Drake or super serious like Ellie, you can’t look at a character in a Naughty Dog game and not say, “That’s interesting.” The worlds they create are deep, layered, and emotional as well as entertaining. They’re a fantastic studio and I would love to hang out with some close people at some point.
I would also love to work with new, original IP’s. It’s fun how original IP’s start, and there’s something compelling about it like The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, and even Control. I love how a new world is created that is unique. I have had the pleasure of working on legendary IP’s. And there is something so satisfying about that because I came from an established world and fanbase. I throw my best at it and be like, “Hey, this is my version of this thing!” And, thankfully, I am warmly welcomed by everyone who enjoyed those games. But as far as being part of a new IP, that would be satisfying and cool for its own reasons. There’s something in my future and I don’t even know what it is yet!
Which franchise made you nerd out more: Lord of the Rings or Resident Evil?
Jill Valentine is the coolest role I’ve had the joy of playing, let's be honest. However, I will throw it to Shadow of War. There’s nothing like walking in your first video game role being a Triple-A Lord of the Rings game. I was like, “I’m sorry, what? That sounds amazing! Really?! Is that what we’re doing?! Okay, cool!” There’s something about it that made me so giddy inside.
Even with Resident Evil, I knew it was a big deal when I booked the role (for Jill). I was super excited to take it on and be part of it. But I didn’t have much context of how immersed I would end up with the Resident Evil community and the fans and how expansive that would be. Especially when Resident Evil 3 came out, we were heading straight into lockdown for COVID. So I ended up with all this time connected with all these humans online that were playing this game and enjoying it! The age range of fans is incredible, from nostalgia players who loved the games from the ‘90s to new players who are discovering it for the first time. It’s an incredible diversity of people, and I think that’s really special.
What have you been playing recently that you have enjoyed?
I’ve been playing a lot of stuff on Twitch.I love bringing the other cast members from Resident Evil Village and playing along with them on Twitch which is super fun! I play them because I want to see our performances and celebrate with the people that are involved. Also, people online suggest games I can play and make a list out of it. I also played the Tomb Raider trilogy on stream but out of order accidentally! Someone gifted me the third game (Shadow of the Tomb Raider) thinking that it’s the first in the series. It was the person’s favorite game of the trilogy. As I was playing it into Act One, I told my chat that I feel like I might be missing some context! Chat replied, “You’re playing the third game, Nik!” I was like, “Oh. Okay, cool.” So I played the third one, then the first one (Tomb Raider), and now I’m playing the second one (Rise of the Tomb Raider), and I’m enjoying the second one. I love the Japanese island of the first (game). But it felt claustrophobic and that was their intention.
What do you want to share with the Replayers what you’re currently doing and where can we find you on socials?
If you want to come hang out on a stream sometime, I have been streaming Resident Evil Village and bringing a lot of the cast members from that particular game lately. You can find me at www.Twitch.tv/nicoletompkins.
Or come say “Hey” on Twitter or Instagram: @nikileetompkins on either. That is where I get to post new projects and exciting things when I can do that. Until then, Love will be there and you’ll find out when the time is right!
During the interview, we added one more game to close out. Fellow contributor Daniel Morris and I wrote suggestions and put them in a hat. Nicole acts out the scenes based on those suggestions. It’s reminiscent of the segment on the TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” The suggestions are Resident Evil, entertainment, or pop culture related. Let’s see how she did:
Thanks again Nicole for interviewing! Also huge thanks to Daniel Morris who helped facilitate this interview.
Have you heard of Nicole Tompkins before this interview? What stands out from her growing career in gaming? Let’s hear them in the comments and talk about it!
Also here's your chance to win an 8"x10" Daniela Dimetrescu print signed by Nicole Tompkins (valued at $50)! Enter below.
Ink Spot: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Deepens Lily K's Connection to a Beloved Tattoo
I wholeheartedly believe that you are set for life when you have a good friend by your side. They're someone who will be there for you no matter what happens and, of course, you will do the same for them. Without that, life is a bit harder, a bit greyer.
All my life, I've been looking for the friendship that Andy and Red have in The Shawshank Redemption, or the one that builds between John Coffey and Paul Edgecomb in The Green Mile. I wrote my dissertation about how the camaraderie between soldiers in World War II meant a life-long friendship. Also, in my article back in January, I talked about the relationship of the Winchester brothers from Supernatural.
Even though I praised all of these friendships, I was never able to build one for myself. I do believe that women have a harder time finding and preserving friendships like men have with each other. I don't know what the main reason is, but there are definitely fewer examples of great friendships between women in my close proximity and in entertainment media as well.
Personally, I've always struggled with finding meaningful friendships, making many mistakes on the way, and regretting a ton of decisions. Even after the lift I got from Supernatural, life seemed to get darker again in 2010-11. The only thing that kept me going was the announcement of Captain America: The First Avenger movie, with Chris Evans being the lead.
Every girl has that one celebrity crush who lasts a lifetime. Well, for me, that's definitely Chris Evans. I've been watching his movies since I was 11 years old (rememberNot Another Teen Movie?), and I loved seeing how he became more and more successful, rightfully so. So I held on until Captain America: The First Avenger arrived in cinemas, and it was the greatest decision of my life.
This movie saved me from drowning during that low point, and it managed to give me another friendship I can look up to. I loved how Bucky Barnes looked after Steve Rogers at the beginning: it wasn't because he had to, but because he truly did care about him. Considering that Bucky only has about 10 minutes of screen time, it's amazing how well they established the friendship between Steve and Bucky.
That story actually worked so well that when it was carried over to Captain America: The Winter Soldier 3 years later, it was completely believable: from the moment Steve visits the Smithsonian Museum and sees Bucky again, to the point where he discovers that the Winter Soldier IS Bucky, right to the end where he refuses to fight his best friend. This was the movie that gave us this line, which meant so much to me:
"I'm with you till the end of the line."
That quote became one of the most permanent parts of my life, and it inspired me to mark that significant moment with a tattoo.
I wanted to show the world how much Steve and Bucky's friendship meant to me, how it helped me since the first movie came out. I am very picky with my tattoos (as you should be too!). I needed the right artist who does quality work regardless of the cost, and I needed it to MEAN something. Without that there's no point (says the girl who has a small star and a heart tattooed on her hand because her friend was bored).
It took me exactly three years to find an amazing Hungarian tattoo artist (Instagram: @dioszegitattoo) and to decide on the exact design. At first, I wanted Steve and Bucky facing away from each other. However, no matter how much I adore Chris and Sebastian, portrait tattoos were always a big no for me unless they are animal ones. Then my tattoo artist designed the perfect piece, fusing together Cap's shield with Bucky's red star along with that meaningful line from the MCU surrounding it. She did an amazing job and gave me my most precious tattoo out of all the ones I have.
Steve's gone. It hit both of Steve's dear friends really hard: Sam Wilson and Bucky. But they had to accept it, and it was time for me to accept it, too. Bucky's struggle, through the absolutely gorgeous performance of Sebastian Stan, showed so well what that loss meant for him and for us as well. His best friend was gone. As he says it himself when speaking to Sam before he reclaimed the shield:
"It's just that shield's the closest thing I've got left to a family, so when you retired it; it made me feel like I had nothing left."
I think The Falcon and the Winter Soldier did such an amazing job with so many things. In particular, Bucky was the mirror that reflected the fan's feelings about Cap's loss. I had a hard time accepting Chris' departure because I felt like I needed to see more of Steve's friendship with Bucky, of how it changed and evolved with time. I felt like their time was cut extremely short. I know they are just fictional characters, but they're characters whose story changed my own life on a pivotal level. So, for me, it was just as hard accepting that Steve's gone as it was for Bucky, and I connected to Bucky on a whole new level.
The show managed to change this Bucky's view on life so effortlessly that I've found a new friendship to look up to and treasure: Sam and Bucky. In losing Steve, Bucky gained a new—dare I say even more important—friendship through Sam. That realisation hit me when, at the end of their fight with John Walker in Episode 5, Bucky lifts the shield up, walks over to Sam, and drops it next to him, all while the reimagined version of "End of The Line" from composer Henry Jackman starts to play in the background. Why is it important you ask? Because in The Winter Soldier, when Bucky fights Steve on the helicarrier, that music is exactly the same, reaching its peak right when Cap drops his shield and tells Bucky:
"You're my friend."
It is also the scene where, at the end, Steve tells him the famous line that changed my life and inspired my tattoo. So, putting the same music in Episode 5 with the same symbolic drop of the shield meant a change in how these two men looked at each other. I saw how Bucky was able to let go of Steve, and, at the same time, I saw how I could do it, too.
Steve and Bucky's friendship will always be very important for me. It helped me through some of the toughest times when I struggled with accepting myself when I desperately searched for meaningful friendships only to fail miserably when I was suffocated by my own self-hate. The tattoo I have is my way of saying thank you and to show my biggest respect. I think it's time to upgrade it though: it will need the Falcon's wings around it.
And just a tiny story to the end. I met Sebastian Stan in 2019, but I was so overwhelmed that I was just happy to give him my Winter Soldier drawing and completely screwed my chance of telling him about how his and Chris' character helped me through so much. So maybe, by some miracle both Sebastian and Chris will see this. They saved me and they didn't even know it. So all I want to say is thank you from the bottom of my heart.
This article introduces a new series called "Ink Spot" featuring Replayers' stories behind their pop-culture-inspired tattoos. Got a special tattoo story you'd like to share? Email us email@example.com and we'll match you with one of our contributors to get your story.
A few years ago, I came across a YouTube channel that showed up on my suggested feed. It was three guys who made fun of poorly made game titles like Chaser, Ride to Hell: Retribution, and SiN Episodes: Emergence. They created memorable characters while playing The Sims and made entertaining Grand Theft Auto V videos with their subscriber community. That channel was Inside Gaming. The same crew who ran this YouTube channel moved on to Rooster Teeth, started Funhaus, and helped relaunch Inside Gaming at Rooster Teeth.
Bruce Greene is a founding member of both Inside Gaming and Funhaus, and he now streams full-time on Twitch with multiple side projects in the works. I had the privilege of speaking with Bruce recently about his early career creating content, his gaming background, and everything in between.
You had a background in radio, and then you delved into G4. What was the path that led you to be a content creator?
Honestly, it's been content creation since I bought a video camera off eBay when I was 15-16 years old and was running around with my friends shooting videos that were like Jackass, because we watched and we loved Jackass. We would go out and shoot those videos, and I would bring them home and edit them. And this was years before YouTube, so I would just edit them, show them to my friends, and didn't do anything else with them. I was just sort of like, "Well, that was fun."
Then I started being a radio DJ when I was 18. I created content on the radio for about five years. Then I moved to Los Angeles, got a job at G4, and was slowly creating content there in a lot of entry-level jobs. Eventually, I worked my way up to a producer role at G4, which took a few years. From there, I moved to Machinima and did the Inside Gaming stuff, then to Rooster Teeth with the Funhaus stuff. So I've been making content for 20 years. Long time.
Check out Bruce's video on playing around with a potato gun with his friends:
What was that career moment that made you say, “I want to just take the leap into content creation.”? Or was that something that you've done since you started editing videos on your old camcorder?
So there isn't really that moment, because, like I said, I've been doing it for a long time. And I bet I would be making my own YouTube videos even if I didn't work in a content creation career. So I bet I'd have my own little YouTube channel to screw around on even if I wasn't making YouTube videos and Twitch streams for a living.
But, back in 2004, I applied for a job at EA as a QA tester and for a job as a coordinator at G4. And they each called me on the same day, on my birthday, and said, “Hey, you got the job.” And I kind of knew that I had to make that decision then. I could either go into computer science and maybe into video game development, which is awesome and I would love to have done that. Or I could go into entertainment. I had done five years of radio at that point and enjoyed it, and I thought it seemed like the way to go, so I went with G4.
What would you say is your proudest career moment so far?
I worked very hard at G4 as a segment producer and as a coordinator, production assistant, and all sorts of entry-level jobs in addition to being a producer. And I always wanted to be on camera; I always wanted to create the content in addition to producing it. So when I left G4 to go to Machinima, that was my only thing. I was like, “Hey, I would love to come to Machinima. But I would like to be on camera. I'd like to be a producer and host.” And they said, “Done!”
And I'm proud that I was able to turn that into the job that I wanted because that was scary. Even in a tiny little network like G4, it wasn't easy to get on the air. Not just anybody could be a host; it took a long time. So when I went to Machinima, I thought, “Alright, well, if they give me the chance, I will convert it into something that looks, hopefully, a success.” And I did. So I'm proud of that.
Do you have any mentors or other creators that you look up to?
In terms of on-camera mentors, Kevin Pereira was awesome, and he's still a good friend of mine. I would watch him host his live show every day. And he was just so good at it. He's been doing it for years, and he's always a consummate professional. When I watched him, he never got frustrated or upset. He just did the job and did it well. And he's also just a great guy.
So he wasn't so much a mentor as somebody who I looked up to and I was like, “Man, that's really cool. I'd love to do something like that.” I wanted to eventually get to that place in my career.
Let's flip the script: What are some failures have you experienced, and what did you learn from them?
I don't have a memorable failure so much as I have a bunch of little things I realized I'll learn from. That's the nice thing about YouTube and Twitch content: you could try anything. It's not like you went and spent $3 million to make a movie and then it bombed. Instead, maybe you spent a couple hundred bucks on a Twitch setup, tried it, and nobody liked it. And you're like, “Well, okay, I'll move on.” So I've had a bunch of those things, and it's a constant refining process.
It was also like that when I was running Funhaus in terms of the channel on YouTube. I was always refining the video to see what the audience liked. So if I put a video up, and it did better than I expected, I'd be like, “Oh, we can make another one.” And if it did worse than I expected, I'd be like, “Okay, never mind, we won't make any more of those.”
So there's a bunch of little failures and, in my opinion, they're all just learning experiences. “Failure” is probably the wrong word. It's more just something that doesn't do as well as you wanted it to. And that happens all the time in content creation. I was constantly producing segments on Attack of the Show that didn't air. I would spend hours, even days on segments, and the producers would say, “Nope, didn't air.” Because that's the way a live television show would go. So you don't grow attached to it, you just think of it as no big deal and move on.
That's a part of content creation: you're constantly doing things that aren't going to be great, and that's okay. I honestly think that's part of being an artist: making things that maybe people don't like, maybe you don't like, and you get better at your craft that way.
You mentioned ideas that don't work. What factors would you say lead to content that didn't quite work for you, like the animated show Sex Swing?
Those are things that we just wanted to try and we had the chance to try. There isn't one particular thing that you can point to and say, "Oh well, it failed because of this." That doesn't happen. There's a bunch of different things that lead up to why it did or didn't "succeed" according to someone's measure of success. There may have been a few people out there that really loved Sex Swing and still watch it. Who knows? But it just didn't catch on and, again, it's not not really about whether or not it was a success or a failure, just more of like, “Well, did it get enough eyes on it to warrant the cost?”
That's what it always boils down to when it comes to productions: the money. And that's okay, that's not a big deal. I think this is something that I almost have a daily discussion about on Twitch, and it's the same with YouTube, and television, and movies, and everything else that you listen to or watch or consume. If I make something on Twitch and it either doesn't get a lot of subs or views (or both) or people or respond to it negatively, I have to take all of those into account and ask, “Do I want to do this again?”
And probably the answer is no. If two or three of those things aren't met, if people didn't like it or responded negatively in the chat, and a lot of people didn't sub, I can't do it again. And it's the same with a movie or a television show: Netflix puts out 10 television shows a day, and, if people don't watch it, Netflix doesn't make anymore. That's no big deal. That's just part of it.
Speaking of going to Twitch, when did you start streaming?
I started streaming in general back in 2017, so about four years, and exclusively on Twitch since 2018. I streamed for a long time when I was at Funhaus as a second job, doing it three or four nights a week in addition to working at Rooster Teeth. When I left in 2019, that's when I started doing it full-time.
What's a myth that you want to debunk about streaming?
It's the same myth that goes along with Funhaus: people asked, “Oh, you guys just sit down and make fun of games?” I thought, sarcastically, “Yes. That's all we do. Right.” And it's the same with Twitch: people ask, “Oh, you get on Twitch and you just play video games?” Oh, yeah. Sure. It's just that easy.
I mean the answer is, "If you think it's easy, go do it." That's always my thing: the coolest part about being like a YouTuber or Twitch content creator is that anyone can do it. So I challenge you to go and do it because, for me, that's how you can debunk that myth for yourself of whether you're "just sitting down with your friends making fun of video games for an hour" or "just playing a game for three or four hours on Twitch."
No, it's not that simple. There's a lot of pre-production that goes into the things that I'm going to pick and play on Twitch. I have to think about how I think the audience will respond, how I'm responding to chat, how I'm responding to all the support that's coming in, and what goals I want to hit in that stream or in that game. Or may I decide to do an entirely different stream, like a media share stream or a Pokemon card opening stream as a giveaway.
Those are all things that I have to plan out in my head, see how they play out, and then make sure I've got the resources for it during the stream. All the work that goes into the pre-production and production of Twitch streams takes a pretty long time. So each Twitch stream could involve 8, 9, or even 24 hours of work.
With YouTube, most of that work goes into the post-production. For YouTube content with Funhaus, we would sit down, write, and do maybe 8 hours of pre-production on something like picking a game to play. We'd probably have an idea of what section of the game we were going to play when we sat down and riffed on it. But then editing Funhaus videos took 5 days! So it was a lot of work on the post-production side for YouTube, and it's a lot of work on the pre-production and production side for Twitch.
Going back a little bit in your career, how did you manage to ride that wave from radio to TV to new digital content?
Moving from radio to television at G4 was just changing mediums. That wasn't me trying to stay ahead of anything, it was just more of like, "I'd like to work in television." So I applied to a bunch of radio stations in LA like KROQ where I worked, and I applied to television stations and movies. I just knew I wanted to do something in entertainment, and those industries have existed for almost 100 years at this point.
But the transition from G4 to Machinima was scary because I didn't know how people were making money on YouTube. I had no clue. I was watching Machinima videos in 2010 when I worked at G4 on television, and I knew that you could sell ads on a television show, and that's how a television show made money. But I had no clue that that's also how people made money on YouTube. Each time a person watches an ad, that content creator gets a penny. Then, if a bunch of people watch that video, it adds up. I was thinking that there's no way that these people playing Call of Duty could get enough views and ads sold on those videos for people to make money. I was totally wrong. They were millionaires in the making right then.
Like that's the craziest part of Twitch... people saying, "You know what, I like to watch this guy, I'll throw him five bucks."
I was really scared because I didn't know how the business model worked. So it took a lot of research and time on YouTube before I thought, “Oh, I think I understand how this makes money.” So riding that wave from television to the internet to YouTube was mainly just a feeling I had because I had a lot of friends that were doing it there, a lot of friends who were going to the YouTube space and going to Machinima specifically. I thought, "There's gotta be something over there. They're hiring people. Like, what is it?" And I learned about it, I figured it out.
It was a little different going from YouTube to Twitch because I had already been doing it for a few years. I knew how it worked. It blew my mind, and it still blows my mind today how people directly give you support. That's crazy to me. Like that's the craziest part of Twitch: being on Twitch and people saying, "You know what, I like to watch this guy, I'll throw him five bucks." That's fucking wild. YouTube didn't have that: with a YouTube ad, you have to go through a bunch of, you know, soulless corporations to get your cash. Whereas Twitch income comes almost directly from the viewer: it goes through Amazon, and they take their cut, but the rest goes straight to you.
Let's talk about gaming. What have you been playing on and off-stream? I know you recently did Pokemon Snap for 24 hours on Twitch. God bless you for doing that!
I beat the shit out of that game! I did. I literally beat it up and down. I beat the game and then I did all the Legendaries. I did all of it. So it's all done. I never have to touch it again.
But in terms of games that I've been playing, that I enjoy, I've been playing Apex Legends a lot. They just came out with the new season and it's awesome. I've also been playing Totally Accurate Battle Simulator, which sets up two AI armies controlled by a computer, and you tell it what army to fight against another army. Then, on Twitch, we have people bet on who's gonna win. And it's fucking awesome! So I've been playing that almost once a week. Plus, I've been playing a lot of Subnautica recently. Subnautica: Below Zero is an amazing single-player game that's really fun. A lot of people like to watch and play on Twitch, too. And I'm getting ready for Battlefield 6, which I'll hopefully be playing a ton of. I can't wait. Very excited!
How would you say that gaming has changed over the years you've been playing?
I think the most obvious way gaming has changed is that people watch it now. Before you would just sit at home and watch your friends play or you play with your friends. And, of course, I've been playing games online for 20 years now. I bought my first gaming PC in 2001, and that's had pretty obvious changes.
When I'm streaming a game, I'll see a lot of people in chat say, “Oh, I'm glad you're playing this. I wanted to see if I wanted it.” That's something that didn't exist 10 years ago, and now it totally does. Before, you only had reviews, and even then it's like, “Ah, maybe the review is just all opinion-based.” Now you could just go on Twitch to watch any game you want, or any portion of the game, however you want to see it played, and it's there.
Where do you see the future for gaming in, say, the next 5 years?
I'm kind of tunnel-vision on content creation for video games. But what I see in video games is something that's already happening now, and I've done it a couple times on my channel: the audience will interact with the video game as you're playing it. I control, but they interact. And it's great! Developers are gonna be building that into video games in the next 5 years. They already are in games like Borderlands 3, which had a Twitch extension and integration that was built directly by Gearbox. I think it's the coolest thing in the world when a bunch of people watching you can change the game that you're playing.
In Borderlands, you connect the game to a Twitch account. Then, if you found a red crate with loot, like a specific gun, then the gun would drop for you in the game. Then it would select a number of people that had linked their account to your Twitch in Borderlands who would get the same gun that you saw. The game also had mini bosses occasionally, and the Twitch chat could take control of one of those mini-bosses. The mini-boss would move around with the AI, but the chat could pick what abilities that character would use against you.
Vermintide (a Warhammer game) is another really good example. Vermintide has constant audience votes on buffs, debuffs, enemy spawns, and stuff like that. The Twitch chat just votes on each thing, and, once they vote, it drops that enemy or buff or whatever in your game.
Check out the video below on how Vermintide can change a game with chat:
I recall you did Super Mario 64 with Crowd Control, and there are clips upon clips of you flubbing on certain parts of Mario 64.
So hard. It's so hard. Crowd Control is different because people pay for it with bits. So the people pay to fuck with your game. And that's why I like that a lot, too. Not only is it good for content, but it's good for supporting the content creator.
My fellow Replayer Rohan Elliot wanted to ask what advice you have for streamers who are starting or who are on their journey and feel like they're either being drowned out or being over-saturated with their content.
My main piece of advice is always the same: be consistent. If you can only do it once a week, pick a day in that week, and then do it every single week. If you're doing it three times in, say, three weeks, and then the fourth time, you're like, "Ah, nobody's watching, I can't do it," don't do that. The reason is because Twitch and YouTube have algorithms, and if you are not feeding those algorithms with content, you're just gonna get bumped down further and further. The less consistent you are, the less those algorithms will help you, and the less people will help you because they won’t know how to rely on you.
So suppose everyone knows I stream on Sundays. Then after I stream on Sundays for six weeks in a row, I'm like, “Fuck it, I'm changing to Mondays.” Then after I do that for five weeks, I change to Wednesdays. At that point, no one knows what I'm doing, so it's bad for my audience, and it's bad for the algorithm. So be consistent.
"You gotta stay consistent."
There's another piece of advice that's counter-intuitive: if you really enjoy content creation, then there are going to be times that you're going to get on and you don't want to do it. But that's just part of it: if you want it to become your job, with aspirations of becoming a YouTuber or Twitch streamer, you have to power through that stuff. And you gotta do it when you don't want to.
And I'm not saying don't take a break. I'm not saying don't take a vacation. I'm just saying that if you're thinking, "You know what, I'm not feeling it today," you're gonna want to give into that feeling a lot. You gotta stay consistent. And that goes for everything in life. Imagine if you were doing a data entry job and decide, "You know what, fuck it. It's Thursday. I don't want to go, so I'm not going." Your boss would say, "We have work that we need done. Where are you?" and you're telling them, "I don't want to go." It don't work that way! The same goes for content creators that have aspirations of making it their job.
If you just want to do it for fun, though, then fucking do it for fun! Stream whenever you want! Who cares? Because you don't care, right? You don't care about making money, you don't care about turning it into your job. So just do whatever you want.
Check the video below for the latest clip show of Bruce’s streams:
Given your traditional backgrounds in producing, editing, and even camera and voiceover work, would you say that those help with someone who's looking into that digital media industry?
It's really up to you. That kind of stuff will help you, but you don't need it. Twitch and YouTube are so bare-bones that as long as you got a webcam and microphone, you're fine. And it's more about whether or not you're passionate about what you're doing, and you like the content you're creating, and if then the content is entertaining. So I don't think you really need to worry about, "Oh, did I do voiceover?" or "Can I operate a camera?" or "Do I feel like I'm an actor?" Just try it! That's, again, the best part of Twitch and YouTube: you can just try it. And if you don't like it, then that's okay, go try another form of content creation.
What would you like the Replayers to know about what you've been working on lately?
In terms of content that I'm pitching, we're kind of slowly coming out of the COVID haze, and Lawrence Sonntag and I have been pitching a couple of shows here and there just that we hope get green-lit. Slowly productions are coming back to person-to-person stuff—COVID really threw a wrench in all that big time. We had a bunch of grand plans, and I was pitching stuff, and then Bang! everything shut down.
I've also been pitching to Twitch and a couple other places. But it's funny, I don't even talk about this stuff because I don't like to talk about stuff that people will never see. One thing that I can talk about is Lawrence and I just started the Inside Games channel and we're doing gaming news. We love it, and that's just for fun, but I would love to make something bigger. Lawrence and I were just like, “You know what, screw it. Let's just start it.” And that's something new in addition to Twitch streaming and other stuff like that.
Thanks again to Bruce for the interview. Thanks also to Rohan Elliot for providing the supplemental questions and Dan Morris who helped facilitate the interview.
Are you a Bruce Greene fan? What parts of Bruce's career or advice resonate the most with you? Share your thoughts in the comments and let's discuss.
Could Hellblade 2 be Xbox’s God of War?
I have often heard when someone plays Hellblade for the first time, they say something along the lines of “Oh wow, this is like God of War.” That always seemed not only flattering but a little insulting as it should be the other way around (Hellblade came out before God of War 2018, no offense to Cory Barlog and the masterpiece that is God of War). The point of the matter is that Hellblade 2 has great DNA and the potential to be an amazing single-player, narrative-driven experience, with rich and deep gameplay systems and in my mind, is a front runner for game of the year or even one of the best games ever made, and here is why.
The forthcoming Xbox exclusive could potentially be one of the greatest single-player adventure games for the platform on tier with PlayStation’s God of War.
Announced as an Xbox and PC exclusive at the 2019 Game Awards, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is the next installment from developer Ninja Theory. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is the much-anticipated sequel to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which was released in 2017 to much fan acclamation. This news came just a few short months after the announcement that the studio had been acquired by Microsoft as part of their plan to build on their first-party roster of studios. Hellblade was developed in-house and published on Ninja Theory’s dime, and yet they made something truly special. That being said, the original game left things to be desired, but that is why I, for one, am excited that the studio gets to make a sequel and with Microsoft's full support. So let me tell you why I am very much anticipating the forthcoming adventures of Senua.
Hellblade is important as a video game for a couple of reasons: it directly deals with mental health and its stigmas. In recent years, it has been found that stigmas (a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance) around mental health and afflictions have a tendency to make the conditions worse than they were. Hellblade is one of few examples that looked to show people how it can feel to have a serious mental condition and what effect the behavior of others can have. Its success as a video game proves that creativity in the games industry is needed. Microsoft's acquisition of Ninja Theory not only recognizes the studio for the risks they took to develop Hellblade but also gives them the means to continue making smaller, more creative endeavors that push technology and gaming experiences in new ways.
If you are like me, you may have noticed that the majority of games that have been released by major publishers over the past two console generations are very “same-y”. There is a reason for that. Most studios and publishers saw what the other guys were doing that was making money and said “that, I want that”. It’s like how after Die Hard came out in 1988, every action film after was Die Hard but on a bus or Die Hard but on a plane. Do you see where this is going?
Hellblade did something called proof of concept or demonstrating that an idea is feasible and desired. Hellblade’s director Tameem Antoniades set out to make a game that delivered a AAA experience while doing so with a smaller staff (roughly 20 people), a smaller budget, and while taking creative risks. In this case, a game that directly focuses on mental health and a main character that is experiencing deep emotional and mental trauma. This, as far as we know, will continue to be the drive and focus in Hellblade 2 but on a much larger scale.
Hellblade was originally released on August 8th, 2017, on PlayStation Network and PC. Then, on Xbox in April 2018 and Switch in April 2019. It was sold for $29.99 USD, half the normal price of a standard game while trying to deliver as good of an experience as the standard $60 game. The release of Hellblade was purely digital as part of Ninja Theory’s Independent AAA structure that sought to cut out the middleman, in this case, the publisher. This allowed the game to be sold directly and provide a lower price point while still giving all profits from the game directly to Ninja Theory. Hellblade sold well beyond sales expectations as well as won three Game Awards and a stunning five BAFTA’s!
The Story of Senua
Disclaimer: For those who have not played Hellblade, the following section contains major plot points and spoilers.
Hellblade is a hack-and-slash adventure game that also blends elements of puzzle-solving and horror. The game tells the tale of a Pict warrior named Senua. Picts are a Celtic-speaking group of people that lived in northern Scotland during the early Middle Ages. Senua is on a journey to retrieve the soul of her dead lover Dillion from Helheim, who was sacrificed by Norse invaders to their gods in an execution ritual called the Blood Eagle. Google it, if you want to know how awful it is, or check out the (Blood Eagle) here.
Through her adventures, you learn that Senua has an affliction known to her people as the darkness, which corrupts her mind and spreads plague and evil wherever she goes. Her father, a Druid and religious leader believes he is the only one who can help Senua. In doing so, he secludes her from her village and even confines her to a dark hole for a long period of time. This would make anyone go mad!
Hellblade introduces elements of gameplay that directly correlate to Senua’s psychosis. She sees patterns in the world and various runes are strewn through the environments that she sees in order to open the path in front of her. She hears voices in her head that are helping her as much as hindering. They voice a lot of what many of us are thinking and feeling in our own internal monologues, hope, fear, doubt, anger, and despair.
Senua’s psychosis is perpetuated by her father and the stigma it creates with the other villagers. When the village is hit with illness and plague, her father convinces everyone that it is Senua’s darkness that has bought it. She leaves the village to live in the woods to spare people from her affliction.
Dillion, the man she loves, is the only one who doesn't see her as cursed or a monster. He tried to help her see past the stigma of her condition. When Senua returns, she finds Dillion murdered and her psychosis completely takes control. Throughout her travels, she sees Dillion’s spirit as a guide in the dark. She is also aided by the spirit of Druth, a man who lived amongst the Northmen as a slave until his death. Senua battles her demons manifested as shadowy versions of Northmen as well as various gods such as Surtr and Valraven. She ultimately must face Hela, the guardian of Helheim.
What makes it special
So why should you care about Hellblade, or Ninja Theory, or Xbox for that matter? Even if a game like Hellblade is not your “cup of tea” it is still important to all gamers and what the future holds. Ninja Theory took risks to make Hellblade on their own dollar and produced a phenomenal experience and thankfully they are getting recognized for what they achieved. Now, with Microsoft’s backing, they have the ability to further push the limits and technology used to make interactive experiences. For example, Project Mara and The Insight Project, both look to visualize and understand mental health and disorders in all-new ways. If you want to learn more about these projects you can visit https://ninjatheory.com/, https://theinsightproject.com/, or watch the video diary series The Dreadnaught Diaries on YouTube.
Ninja Theory is taking an approach to game development that many studios talk about doing but can’t. They are building smaller, more focused teams to work on each individual game while building new and experimental technologies to push art design to new lengths.
What the sequel could be and why
Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is still in development and little is known outside the teaser trailer and some information provided in Ninja Theory's Developer Diaries. What we do know is that the sequel will be set in Iceland and will have recreations of over 40 real world locations from Iceland. This already lends itself to some truly amazing level design and visual aesthetic for the game. The original game focuses heavily on exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat, and the average playthrough clocks in around 10-12 hours. Now that Ninja Theory has the support and ability to develop a deeper game than the first, it is entirely possible that the sequel could be more in line with God of War (PS4). If the next AAA game featuring Senua is fleshed out in a similar style to GOW, we could see Xbox finally have an answer to Sony’s monolithic franchise.
Ninja Theory has a great track record for deep combat (e.g. DmC: Devil May Cry and Heavenly Sword) as well as exploration via Enslaved. If that experience is applied to the next Hellblade, it could evolve to incredible heights and include some of the best systems within a game, all while telling a deep and personal story as the original did. As an independently developed game with such attention to detail, it comes as no surprise that the original game kept to its core concepts. It did not feature a lot of what most gamers are used to, such as upgradeable gear and weapons, open and explorable maps with hidden secrets, NPCs, and quest lines. This allows for so many opportunities for the sequel or even creating wholly new and unique gameplay elements.
Ninja Theory, as a game development studio, has delivered excellent games throughout most of its time. All while being under the thumb of a big publisher. When they decided that they had to go for broke with a project like Hellblade, they proved just how far they can go when the shadow of a controlling publisher is removed. Microsoft has recognized this talent and is now giving them license to continue doing what they do best but without fear of emptying their savings and closing their doors. This seems like a prime opportunity for Ninja Theory to rise to the ranks of Sony’s Santa Monica or Naughty Dog studios and with that make Hellblade 2 something truly great!
Have you played Hellblade? Are you looking forward to the sequel? Let us know in the comments below.
Watch the Trailer for Senua’s Saga Here
Michele Morrow Talks to us about Gaming, Healing, and Esports
After Michele Morrow visited Retro Replay, I had a wonderful chat with her about how our lives are impacted by gaming and whether esports is providing gamers with an equal playing field. She also shared her own story about how gaming helped her through a rough time. Check out the amazing stories and insights she shared with us!
In the spirit of retro games, since we're here at Retro Replay, let's go back to your own earliest memories with video games. What was the first game you remember playing, and what retro games still hold a special place in your heart?
The first game that I remember playing was called Tooth Invaders. It's a game where you fight off the evil cavities that are attacking your teeth. I must have been 4 or 5 years old, and I remember you get these big blocky teeth and you use a toothbrush to brush them off.
Retro gaming holds a very important place in my heart because that's how I grew up playing. I started on the Commodore 64 with games like Impossible Mission and Jumpman (not to be confused with Mario).
We also had an arcade pack that had Pac-Man, Moon Patrol, Galaga--games you would see more in the arcades. And going to the arcades was a big part of my growing up, too, either at a Chuck E. Cheese or at local malls.
I got a Nintendo NES on my 10th birthday, and all the kids would come over after school and play it. Probably my favorite retro game was Ghosts 'n Goblins. You die a thousand times in your underwear! And of course all the Marios and Zeldas!
I've heard you talk about how World of Warcraft has been a big part of your life, and your own personal story of how you got started playing is something I know a lot of Replayers can probably relate to: the healing someone can experience from gaming. For Replayers who may not be familiar with your story, tell us about what happened and how World of Warcraft helped get you through it all?
While an actor on an independent horror movie, I was asked to go on a behind-the-scenes day to film after we were done principal photography. There was a machine there called an air ram. It was optional, I just said that looked fun. It's like a trampoline on hydraulics: you step on it and it shoots you into the air.
And I did. And I landed on my head from 10-12 feet. And it hurt. Bad.
The injury resulted in a small neck fracture and removing my left cervical rib. It was called thoracic outlet syndrome. I had a neck brace on and couldn't really do a whole lot. It sucked.
I learned that gaming is really healing. It made me feel like I was accomplishing something.
I was depressed, gaining weight, and just feeling awful that I couldn't have my normal life. My boyfriend (now husband) and I, in finding things we can do together, started to play video games together a lot. He introduced me to God of War II, which I was obsessed with, and several other games that I got super into.
Then he introduced me to World of Warcraft.
It was great because it was a game that didn't end. I kinda had endless content. It felt like I was reading an interactive book! I'd never played it before 2007, coming in during the Burning Crusade. I was mesmerized at how much gaming had changed and how the storytelling had elevated to make you feel like you were in a choose-your-own-adventure.
In my first month, I was introduced to the character of Lady Sylvanas who lost her body and wanted to get it back. I totally resonated with that and wanted nothing more than the same for myself. So I got really into reading about her story: reading the books on it, novels, short stories that had been published online over the years. I loved it!
World of Warcraft really helped me through a tough time. I met so many people that were also going through injury or illness, and kids using it for an escape, who are in hospitals and can't see other people because their immune systems were so low. I'm still friends with a kid I met: he's in remission, he's doing great, and he's about to graduate from the University of Washington. We're still buddies.
I felt connected to other people in a time where I felt very isolated. I formed my guild around that time and it still exists, and some of those people I met in 2007 to 2009, are still playing with me to this day. It's kind of like a family.
I learned that gaming is really healing, or it can be. I played the new God of War a couple of years ago when I had a knee surgery, and that was the best thing I could do to get through that. It gave me something to do. It made me feel like I was accomplishing something. I didn't feel like I was just waiting around. I loved it.
Speaking of WoW, and you touched on it briefly already, I'm sure many of us who have virtually indulged in BlizzCon saw your coverage as an essential part of the overall BlizzCon experience. How did that connection first develop with Blizzard and the BlizzCon event?
My first relationship with Blizzard was being hired to voice Alleria Windrunner for Hearthstone in early 2014. I about fainted when I got that role because it's the long-lost sister of Lady Sylvanas and a very cherry role. It was the first time she had been seen in the lore for a long time, so that was exciting!
That same year, they were auditioning people to be the new co-host with Geoff Keighley for BlizzCon 2014. It was the year Overwatch was announced to the world, and it was cool because I went from going to BlizzCon as a fan to now being invited into headquarters and shown all of the goodies. It was like opening Christmas presents before Christmas morning: I got to see everything, but I couldn't talk about it.
I hosted BlizzCon six years, 2014 through 2019. I really loved my time on the show.
The massive XP boost from your career achievements definitely shines through in The Game Diaries podcast, currently on a break after an inspiring first season. In the first episode, you define the podcast as a platform for stories from all kinds of people involved in gaming, focusing on how video games have made an important impact on their life. We've already talked a little bit about that already. How do you think that the media missed this opportunity and left this gap?
I don't know. I wonder that all the time. I think just now creators and producers are starting to see the value and educational part of gaming. I've seen documentaries about the history of gaming, and they all kind of focus on a very similar arc. Only recently have I seen shows digging a little deeper and showing the human interest side.
We've had a lot of people in gaming talk about the human impact. Jane McGonigal did a really great TED Talk about the impact of gaming. But I don't think the mainstream understands that playing a game and being a gamer is a part of an identity. It's part of a community. As our world is getting more connected, these communities can connect, thrive, and define themselves.
I think that I got to see that with BlizzCon, specifically. Anybody who attended BlizzCon understands the convention is about this mutual love that people have for their games and meeting the people you play with in person.
Every gamer has a story about how gaming affected their lives, whether from a career level, or an emotional level, or a relationship level. My goal with The Game Diaries is to elevate those stories by taking some of the most important ones I'm aware of in my decade in gaming and bring those to the forefront. Most are stories that the mainstream just isn't aware of yet.
Since you're someone whose interviewing style I admire, I have to ask: How am I doing so far?
You're doing great!
It's clear that the positive impact of gaming has been something you've been passionate about for years now. In a post at Nerdist back in 2014 where you were covering an Extra Life event, you mentioned how gaming is the great equalizer: "It's participatory. It has no judgement. It sees no gender, no race, no age... and no disease." Do you see this equalizing effect coming through in esports? How are the different esports arenas doing with giving players an equal playing field?
Terribly. It's really disappointing because esports has so much potential to be just as inclusive as the rest of gaming. But it's an industry that requires outside funding, which brings non-endemic people to the table, and, at its core, it's highly competitive because that's what it's based on.
I have noticed there aren't as many female pros, as I'm sure you have, too. And the reason is because I don't think boys and girls are promoted to play together at young enough ages to get used to playing with anybody, any gender (it shouldn't matter).
And I think that esports is putting in just enough effort to make something work. Esports requires a lot of funding, and it doesn't always have a return on investment. So I think they're going for the low-hanging fruit: teams that are already formed, guys that have been playing together since they were teenagers.
Here's the thing that frustrated me the most. I would ask, "Where are all the women?" Even from a broadcast standpoint (and it's only recently been changing), you would see on a placard of talent announcement 5 guys, 1 girl, and she's always the sideline reporter. There's nothing wrong with that role, by the way, it's an important role. I've done it. But when you're the only girl up there, and you're the one just talking to the pros, it makes you feel like you're the eye candy or that they don't trust you to do more than setting other people up to talk.
Where are all the women? I was told multiple times that it needs to happen when they're younger, in college. That's where we're really going to see a change: when women are joining esports at the collegiate level.
Okay, well... that's not happening.
There was an AP report in March that did a study on esports scholarships, and they found that 90% of the scholarships and 90% of the roster positions are going to men. When the AP reached out to the colleges to ask why, a lot of them responded that the esports program is not actually affiliated with the university. Even though it's a "varsity program," they're not paying for coaches, events, or scholarships. It's a different-funded situation, and it allows them to bypass Title 9 [in the U.S.].
And I don't think it's malicious. I think that it's just a bunch of kids in a club at a college trying to get something going. They probably have a handful of people they know and don't have the experience or knowledge to understand how to meet women where they're at. Or they're only picking games that maybe only them and their friends know, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), which is going to have a lot less women playing than maybe Hearthstone. They haven't opened their minds up to what other games women could be playing.
This is also an issue in the Black community where there aren't very many Black pros outside of fighting games. And there's a reason for that from a socioeconomic standpoint: a monster PC is going to cost you maybe $5000-6000, but a PS5 is going to cost about $700 (if you're not getting it on eBay!). It's just more affordable for most American working families.
The fighting game community also meets people where they're at. It's very local, very community-based, promoting you coming to participate at an event at a convention center or small venue in your hometown. It also lacks the gatekeeping barriers that we see in a lot of first-person shooters or MOBAs: it promotes you as an amateur to come prove your skill, to get into the ring.
It promotes that excitement to be like, "Could I be the one? Could I be a contender?"
You can't just pop into a game or enter a tournament in other esports because you need a sponsor, you need these certain rankings, you need to play this amount, you need to have this certain computer... there are so many requirements!
Esports lacks a lot of accessibility for people who are disabled as well.
So there's just a lot of things that esports could be doing. It's a growing industry and there are a lot of good minds behind it that are helping it. But unlike sports where no one owns the concept of "baseball," someone absolutely owns Overwatch, CS:GO, or whatever. So you are dealing with a publisher who is usually using their marketing budgets to put on events instead of it being an actual sports league akin to what we're used to.
Based on what you've seen covering esports, how is the esports industry making a positive impact on gaming culture overall? Is there a specific arena that's making a positive impact or doing something specific to try to improve the culture.
I think individual people, pros, broadcasters, personalities, and content creators in the space are taking that mantle. You also have esports organizations like 100 Thieves and G2 that are being inclusive and creating a lifestyle that invites people to want to be a part of it. Most of the effort is coming from individuals who are trying to steer this giant ship so it doesn't hit an iceberg!
SW: It's like an industry that's still inventing itself, still experimenting.
And that's why it's exciting, right? It has so much potential, and there are so many amazing people involved in esports who are literally pioneers. I think djWHEAT is a really great example of that over at Twitch. He was one of the first esports broadcasters, if not the first. He's created a profession that didn't exist before.
You continue to take your career to the next level: accomplished on-screen actor, voice actor, producer, host, journalist, commentator, and podcaster! What kind of career opportunities attract you and inspire you?
I'm at a point where I'm trying to really focus on whatever makes me happy, that makes me excited about life, that's promoting something good in the world, and will bring happiness to my home.I'm really grateful and lucky to be in this position right now, to be able to pick and choose.
I used to take everything and anything that came my way, afraid of turning down work. But now I think it's much more about the quality of the position and elevating the content to add my own experience or artistic lens.
I'm in the process of developing a couple of shows that I believe in based on all the experience that I have in what I'm passionate about: highlighting people or events in the gaming industry, or educating the mainstream about them, whether it's in a scripted form or unscripted form. I want to bridge these two worlds and treat gaming culture as pop culture, because that's truly what it is.
Finally, after the "Retro E-Sport" segment on the show, what advice do you have for Nolan North if he aspires to be an eSports commentator?
I think Nolan has a future in esports commentating! I'm not sure he needs to have my advice because he is a ridiculous person who is also extremely talented and will do quite well in this field.
SW: So you're saying he's got what it takes?
I'm saying the kid's got talent!
Well, Nolan, it sounds like Michele will be a good reference for you!
Does Michele's story about how gaming impacts our lives resonate with you, too? Share your own story in the comments.
Talking with Desmond Chiam about Playing Games and Smashing Flags
Desmond Chiam is an actor from Melbourne, Australia, known for his roles in Reef Break and The Shannara Chronicles. More recently, you can see him as Dovich in Marvel's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS). Believe it or not, though, there was a time in his life where he thought that creatives (actors, directors, etc.) probably do this whole film business as a hobby next to their normal job. That may have been why he delayed starting his acting career until his mid-20s. But he is proving that with hard work and determination, anything is possible. I sat down with him to chat about games, movies and, of course, TFATWS!
Since we are talking for Retro Replay, I have to ask: Are you a gamer by any chance?
Yes. Firmly. I built my PC during this pandemic, put it together. I didn't do a Henry Cavill style video, unfortunately.
You should have. Come on!
I know, a fool am I! Huge into Xbox and PlayStation. I have on my Instagram profile "Xbox > PS," but I'm not trying to start fights. Get them all if you can afford it. I play cross-platform.
I'm a huge gamer, man, since I was youuung--er. Gaming is what I have done mostly during this pandemic. It helped me keep in touch with a lot of friends and do something instead of just Zoom meetings. Zoom is nice, and you can hang out and have drinks with people, I’ve been doing that, too. Doing something, though, is, I think, an integral part of what we’ve lost in 2020. I think if you are a gamer, you've got to retain that to some degree. I'm just up on Apex Legendswith my friends who I would have seen shooting shows and films. I’m playing It Takes Tworight now with my wife. It's an amazing co-op game. It's taking up so much of my time.
What is your favourite game then? Do you have one?
Pretty hard to say. There are a lot of really good ones. Obviously Final Fantasy VII, I think the remake did a pretty good job recently. There is another game I played really recently that is FANTASTIC and hasn't gotten a lot of notice called 13 sentinels: Aegis Rim (PlayStation 4 and 5). It's like a tactical-RPG-mixed visual marvel. It's got a really convoluted time-travelly-twisty-wisty story that it actually handles really well. I was surprised because there are so many threads and it's a non-linear narrative. So, out of 13 characters, you can play any of them at any time in order to go through the story, and it all comes together neatly in a bundle in the end. Thirteen different strands of story. It's a really cool exercise. So check that out if you haven't!
I didn’t even hear about it, so I am now very intrigued to play with this, too.
It's a bit fanservice-y at some points, too. The guys who made it are the same people who made Dragon's Crown. There's some solid stuff there.
Would you say that you are more into the RPG kind of games?
Yeah, but I’m a big shooter fan as well. I played a lot ofCOD (Call of Duty) growing up, and that was with all my actor mates, we all played it. Then we moved on to Halo, then went back to COD again, and then we went to play Fortnite for a second. Now, we are all on Apex, which is like hours out of our day. I also played some League of Legends. I won’t even pretend that the fanbase and community can not be incredibly toxic, and that’s what drove me away from League: the toxicity. When we were shooting TFATWS, I jumped back into a game of it with my stunt double because he plays League. Our first game out of the gate was so toxic, they were just… [he shook his head]
So I was like, "I remember why I left now." So I went to play Heroes of the Storm and that one is much less toxic. And it is easier, quicker and a little more casual.
If you would get the chance to be a voice in a video game, would you do that?
Absolutely. Yeah, wink, wink. I would, in a heartbeat. Voice acting is a whole other barrel of fish, but it's fun because you can do stuff that's outside yourself, you know. Like, I have a particular timbre in my voice, I know that, and it lends itself to certain things on screen. But sometimes, you just "want to be the wacky gnome" [spoken in a wacky gnome voice]. And we get those auditions sometimes through my VO people where I’m just like, "I'm gonna swing for the fences 'cause I don't get to do this any other time." Oh he’s an underwater imp who resurfaces once every six years as a troublemaker? Oh yeah, we can do some crazy voice for this. So much fun.
Any favorite voice actors out there?
Troy Baker was one of the entries into the world of VO, the idea of being able to do it. He is a dedicated VO artist. Him and Nolan North were the two VO artists whose careers I was like: "Oh look, check that out." Far Cry 4 and all that. Shout out to them, really!
Let's talk about your most recent high-profile acting role for a bit. How did you get the role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Did you know what you were auditioning for? You do such a fantastic job there.
Thank you, I appreciate that. Not gonna lie, it's not a big part, but it's important to do the work: there are no small scenes, there are only small actors. Marvel brings a certain quality, and that requires even the smaller parts to really do the work. Having led a series before, there's no less work that goes into this type of part than being number 2 or number 1 on the call sheet. You have to bring it every time.
I did know I was auditioning for Marvel, but we didn’t know what it was for. There were code names for the project and the roles. We had no idea what we were in for. There was a really real feeling to it all. I had an inkling of the sides being so real, and every day I'm thinking, "Surely, this must be the most human corner of the Marvel Universe, which is Cap's corner of the universe." Based on that feeling, I was very excited.
Jason Stamey and Sarah Finn were the casting directors. I worked with Jason through it, and he provided a very open, very lovely room. They let you do your work, they don't pressure you. I don't like working with casting directors who are cynical about actors and the whole process. Their job is to find the best performance from the best actor, and a lot of them justify what they’re doing with "Oh, we just need to see if they can perform under pressure." No, no. Those people are just cynical at that point and they're not trying to help. Jason is the opposite of that. He lets you do your work and it’s effortless. You’re feeling the nerves walking in, but you don’t feel them walking out.
So we did that, and then we just waited for a few weeks. It sort of fell out of my head, and then suddenly, I got a call at the gym, out of all places. I was there with my wife and I hadn’t told her that I was out for anything, let alone Marvel.
My manager was like, "Hey, we have an offer. It's for Marvel. And it's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."
I was like, "I KNOW WHAT THAT IS! YOU DON'T NEED TO TELL ME!"
And she’s like, "Ok, hang on, I have to talk to casting real quick but I'll be back with you in a sec."
We hung up and I was like, "Marvel called, Marvel called!"
I am sitting there, freaking out, and my wife asks, "What are you talking about? Marvel called? You have Marvel on speed dial? They're just gonna call you? Yeah, sure man, sure." So then she starts freaking out, too.
And I'm there in the gym, on the floor, almost dying. I remember this so distinctively: these three gym bros, 6-foot Hemsworth bodies, they come over and they are like, "Dude, are you ok? You need to sit up, you gotta get your blood going, you can't lie down! Make sure you're alright." They’re giving me water.
I tell them, "You guys are so lovely. I haven't injured myself, I'm good, I'm good.” It was a really nice moment with my wife being there and shoving it to toxic masculinity. Big gym bros can be lovely, lovely people, too.
That is so awesome! Can you share a favorite The Falcon and the Winter Soldier memory for the Replayers?
You know what? I will share an exciting one, and then I share a really fun one.
The exciting one was—and I don’t think that made it into the final cut—there’s a scene, in episode 2 with the trucks that we were fighting on. There's actually a scene before that where we steal them. It's me and Matias. We break into this place, we pull this chain link fence apart with just our bare hands, and then we get under the trucks and lift them. And they did that practically. They set everything up on hydraulics and stuff and had us do the lifting. These were massive semi trailers. That was a moment where it just felt powerful. I knew that it was hydraulics doing it, but if you are ever feeling down about your physical ability, just have Marvel rig you up a couple of special effects trucks. You'll be like, "Yeah, I'm really strong." You're gonna feel good about yourself for the rest of the day.
The other one was, honestly, hanging out with the Flag Smashers. We did film somewhere in Europe, and we just wandered the city for like a whole day. Just hanging out and having fun, chilling in the park. It was so nice to be with friends in a cool, fun place. I will treasure that. That's not something you get on every set.
Thanks so much for taking time with us, Desmond! Now grab that controller, Apex is waiting!
Desmond and I talked a little more after wrapping up the interview, and I can honestly say that he's a shining example of "if you work for your dream, there’s nothing that can stop you, no matter when you start or you get in the game." He is a true geek at heart who enjoys the process of film making just as much as sitting down and watching a good movie or TV show or playing some cool video games. He wants to play a Space Cowboy and has a serious obsession with Firefly, and I completely understand both. It was an absolute honour to chat with Desmond, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him. I am sure that he will do even more great things.
Follow @deschiam on Twitter and Instagram, and don't miss his performance in Reef Break, where he plays a lead role. The Shannara Chronicles is my personal favorite performance from him, and his character, Riga, was created for the series (he wasn’t in the books)! If you share the Replayer love for Con Man, go back and rewatch Desmond as one of the auditioners in Season 2, Episode 6 "Gum Drop." And, of course, definitely check him out in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier if you haven't already.
What are your favorite performances from Desmond Chiam, and what would you like to see him do next? Let's chat in the comments.
Alison Haislip: The Actress and Gamer On Why Sex Is Funny
Alison Haislip has done a bit of everything. She’s an actress, she’s hosted a ton of shows, she’s a gamer, she’s been to Space Camp, and she has a cat named Gandalf the White. How cool is that? After Alison’s appearance on Retro Replay where she and Nolan talked a little about her new project, ❤️ 👶 🍆 (Heart Baby Eggplant), I had the extreme honor of sitting down with her for a bit more in depth discussion about life, gaming and her new amazing show. Make sure you check out this hilarious show on Amazon Prime or YouTube. Seriously...go watch the show!
Brandy: So I watched your show (Heart Baby Eggplant) and I absolutely loved it and I know I’m not the only person that thought this show was fantastic. Do you know what the plans are for new episodes or a new season?
Alison: Well Rati (Gupta), Laura (Ortiz), and I have been talking about a second season. Our goal would be that someone would pay us to do a second season *laughs*. We got hit with bad timing because of the pandemic so we are considering doing another crowdfunding to get season two done because we have gotten really great responses to the show. It’s wonderful for people to come out and say, “I wasn’t expecting the show to be like this! It’s really shocking and wonderful and funny!” So yeah, we really want to make more so we are working on that.
Brandy: Sign me up! I will help crowdfund!
Alison: *laughs* Thank you!
Brandy: The Guild is actually one of my favorite web series and I happened to see a mention of Cheesy Beards in one of the end credit texts and I’m wondering if there is a connection there?
Alison: So, what’s really interesting is those end credit texts were one of the perks from our crowdfunding campaign for season one. At a certain perk level you got to choose a text that goes in during the end credits. So that actually came from one of the contributors and what’s really funny is, because we didn’t write that, when that episode came out there were a couple of people that commented and were like “OMG a Guild reference! A Guild reference!” and we were racking our brains wondering where in the episode did we have a guild reference? I’m friends with Sandeep and so I actually emailed him to ask him, “Hey weird favor, but can you watch this episode of this web series that I created and tell me where there is a Guild reference because me and my co-creators are losing our minds”. Then right after I sent it, I re-watched the episode and caught it in the text and I was like, “Oh my gosh of course, of course!” That’s what it was!
Brandy: I’m one of those people that’s hyper focused so I always pick up on weird little things. I saw that and got super excited.
Alison: And of course you would catch that! The three of us were so into the scripts Rati wrote that all the other stuff that came after that wasn’t drilled into our brains and, we were just like, what are they talking about? *laughs*
Brandy: That’s hilarious!
Brandy: Women talking so openly about sex has often been a taboo subject. Women are supposed to be “ladylike,” etc., so it was refreshing to see a female take on sexuality from three different perspectives. How important was it that the three of you were very open about sex and sexuality on the show?
Alison: Well, that was incredibly important because that was really the entire point of the show. We are three women in three very different types of relationships and the very grounded approach they took to them. Those relationships are very much based on our individual lives, so we weren’t just trying to do stuff for shock value. Either they are stories that actually happened to us or were inspired by stories that happened to us, which was definitely the crucial part of this show. You are right. These days we are seeing more women talking much more openly about their sexuality. For a while, you literally had “Sex in the City,” and that was it.
Brandy: That’s the thing; there was no shock value in it. It was just something that my girlfriends and I would talk about while out to dinner or drinks. It’s something we talk about but, it’s just not something openly discussed on TV and, it was so amazing to see that.
Alison: And that’s exactly how this show was created. The three of us were out to lunch, filling each other in on our lives. Laura was the one that said, “Wow, our lives are so different.” We were like, “this is a show” because there are groups of girlfriends just like us who sit around and have drinks with each other and talk about their relationships and their sex lives. It was like, why don’t we see more of that?
Brandy: Exactly! Most shows are so male-centric, and they talk about their sex and sexuality, and it’s okay. You rarely get to see that about women, and it was really refreshing. You already touched on my question about the beginnings of the show. Did you have an idea going into the show that there was something that every group of female friends could identify with?
Alison: That was definitely our hope. You always have that one friend that cannot stay in a relationship to save her life. Then finds herself in one and doesn’t know what to do, which was me. Then there was Laura, who was about to be a new mom and, like most first-time parents, have no idea what they are doing, stressed about everything, and trying not to lose grip on their own lives as well. Then, we have our friend who doesn’t want to be tied down and loves having multiple sexual partners. That dynamic was so important, and how we were all there to support each other, even if we might not understand what the other person is going through. I think it is just a very real female relationship.
Brandy: Oh absolutely!
Alison: And something we don’t shine a spotlight on in the series, but if you pay attention, the only three characters that have names are Alison, Rati, and Laura. Every other character is boyfriend, husband, and the unborn baby is “working title.” It’s not until the second to last episode when another character is given an actual name. Then it’s like, “Wait, this must be important because they just gave a character a name."
Brandy: As I was watching the show I seemed to identify a lot with the character Alison.
Alison: Oh great!
Brandy: I also started a relationship with a great guy, and I have been waiting for something to end the awesome guy illusion. How much are the three of you like your characters, or how much of the characters are like you?
Alison: Oh, they ARE us. The person that boyfriend is inspired by actually made me breakfast in bed one morning early on in our relationship, and I was like, what do I do? What does this mean? I was texting my friends, and they were like, “it’s just a nice gesture!” I’m like, ARE YOU SURE? This has NEVER happened to me before!
Brandy: I’m exactly the same way. So many moments in the show I can seriously and uncomfortably identify with. Are there other uncomfortable yet funny moments in relationships that you have shared with friends that may be coming up in an episode? Do the three of you brainstorm this and then let Rati run with it?
Alison: We have a Whats App chain between the three of us. Whenever something happens in our lives, we will send it to the chain like, “SEASON TWO,” so we have a bullet point list of stories like, oh, this is a new thing that can happen! We are definitely keeping track of actual life events to add to season two.
Brandy:I follow a lot of what Alan Tudyk does, so of course, I watched his seriously hilarious show, Con Man. Did working on Con Man with all of those amazingly funny actors influence you to want to do your own show? Did you get any ideas from it?
Alison: Well, it was definitely inspiring to see that Alan and Nathan (Fillion) had this idea, and they were like, screw it, let’s make it ourselves. And then they had one of the highest funded crowdfundings of all time or something to make the first season of that show. I mean, I didn’t think Heart Baby Eggplant could aspire quite that high. But if you have a fan base and you have a good product, even if the industry doesn’t quite get it, why not make it on your own? We now have that ability these days and if people are going to support it, let them support it.
Brandy: All of those actors from Con Man are absolutely amazing. How did you get involved with that show?
Alison: Oh, this is actually interesting. Alan and I had met at a Comic-Con a couple of years earlier and had exchanged phone numbers and had stayed in sporadic contact but nothing consistent. I had been in San Diego for a wedding, and I was driving back up at 11 a.m. on a Sunday, and my phone rings and Alan’s name pops up. I was like, there is no way Alan Tudyk is calling me at 11 in the morning on the weekend, so I’m like, this must be a butt dial, and I just let it go to voicemail. A voicemail pops up, and I listen to it, and he's like, “Hey Alison. I’ve got a role for you. Call me back.” I had no idea what this could possibly be about, so I called him back, and he was like, "We’re shooting this week and we’d love you to play this role. Are you available? We know it’s last minute." I was supposed to go to New York for an appearance, and I was like, “Maybe? Let me get back to you.” I called my manager and she said, “No, you stay in LA and take the job. You don’t go to New York for the appearance” So in 12 hours, I canceled my trip to New York and called Alan to tell him I was in and showed up on set two days later. That’s where I got to meet PJ (PJ Haarsma was Executive Producer of Con Man and Co-Creator of Retro Replay) and just had the greatest time. I didn’t even know what I was walking into at first and I was like, “Oh this is awesome.”
Brandy: I can just imagine working with Nolan (North) and PJ is amazing and Alan. Just wow. I’m envious.
Alison: Nolan and I didn’t actually work together at all on Con Man. We didn’t meet until we all started to do press together. That was actually the first time I met Nolan and he and I just got along like two peas in a pod so I was like this guy...we’re keeping this guy around.
Brandy: Is there anything in particular that happened that was funny on the Heart Baby Eggplant set? I know you guys shot that in a week but there has to be something crazy that happened.
Alison: We shot that in five days. It was such a last-minute, thrown together, "I can’t believe it happened," shoot. I won’t say this is funny, but the Universe was looking out for us. For this five-day shoot, we had wanted to ask this specific makeup artist, but she wasn’t available for the first day. We figured it would just be easier to hire someone that was available all five days, so we hired a different woman, and she was amazing. She did our first day on set. Laura, Rati, and I are all producers on the set, so not only are we actors having to make our call time, but we’re also having to deal with all the behind-the-scenes stuff. We woke up at around 5am for day two of shooting to a text message saying that our makeup artist had a death in the family, unfortunately, so she couldn’t make the rest of the shoot. Of course we understood, so we talked about bringing our own makeup and letting the other actors know that we might not have hair and makeup that day, so they would need to bring their own stuff. We were putting out all of these emergency texts to everyone, but I decided to hit up the original makeup artist we wanted. It was literally 5:30 in the morning. I thought that maybe if we could get her there by noon, she could cover half the day. I shot her a text, and I was like, “I'm so sorry this is such an early text but this has happened and I know yesterday you weren’t available, so are you possibly available the rest of the day?” She literally texted me back in 30 seconds and she’s like, “Yeah, girl, I’ll be there. What’s the address?” And here I am wondering why she was even awake? But okay, thank you! When you are doing an Indie project, you have to expect hurdles like this. The fact that it actually worked out was the Universe saying, “We got you.” We finished shooting, and Laura gave birth nine days later.
Brandy: We know from watching Retro Replay that you are an Uncharted fan. Do you typically play a lot of action adventure games? What are you currently playing?
Alison: Yeah, I like action-adventure puzzling games. The Portal games are some of my favorites, and these days, I am far more attracted to Indie games than to the Triple-A titles. They are just a little bit more specific and my Xbox Game Pass now starts recommending games. “We bet you would like this." You are very right! I just discovered the “Call of the Sea." You know, little Indie games that you can finish in 6 to 8 hours, so you aren’t dedicating a month and a half of your life to this. You have two evenings free, and you’re like, oh great, let me solve these fun puzzles with a great story. That’s really what appeals to me these days. I just played “A Night in the Woods,” which is not really a puzzling game, but it’s a storytelling game. I really like this trend of games in which you are less playing a game, but you are discovering clues along the way. Another good one is “The Return of Obra Dinn." That one is fantastic.
Brandy: Is there anything that you are looking forward to playing? Something that you have seen that you are excited to see come out?
Alison: You know what I haven’t played yet that I have been meaning to play is “The Witcher” series. That’s sitting on top of my console waiting to be played.
Brandy: You have been a gamer almost your entire life and you’ve been in the gaming industry for a long time. What are some of the craziest things you’ve seen involving gaming and gamers.
Alison: When I was on G4, we would always cover E3 and seeing how E3 changed over those four years that I was there was cool. In the time span that I was there and watching E3 develop, it always stuck out to me how Nintendo marched to the beat of their own drum. I very specifically remember the year that both Microsoft and Sony were like, “HD EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! HD! HD!” Nintendo was like, “We’ve got movement-based stuff,” because it was the year they came out with the Wii. The very next year, Microsoft and Sony were like, “ WE DO MOVEMENT TOO! Look, we have movement! KINECT!” Nintendo just does not care where everyone else is going. They just do their own thing, and everyone just looks at it like, well, we can do that too! I’ll also say what’s really heartening is when I started at G4 back in 2007, I had started there because I was seen as a rarity. It was like, “a woman who plays video games and you know what you are talking about?” It was shocking. I love it that here we are, however many years later, and it’s very common for women to be in the gaming industry and play video games. It’s no longer seen as this odd thing. It's been really heartening to see that growth in the industry in the last several years.
Brandy: Oh I remember my first World of Warcraft raid. It was a 40 person raid and I finally spoke, “I need heals please”. Everything stopped and I heard over vent, “there’s a GIRL here?” and now it’s just a normal thing.
Alison: I know thank God!
Brandy: I have a stream with one of my good friends and it’s called “Breast Friends”.
Alison: *laughs* That is awesome!
Brandy: You’ve done so many different things. You’ve hosted G4, Battle Bots, The Morning After, The Nerdist. You’ve starred in amazing shows like Con Man, Heart Baby Eggplant and even directed a short film. What is next for Alison?
Alison: I definitely want to get more into directing. What you are referring to was a silly little project me and my friends threw together years ago. I was like, “I can just tell people what to do” because I was the one with the camera! We hired our very good friend Adam Green to direct Heart Baby Eggplant, but because everything was so last minute, I was basically standing with Adam and explaining, "this is what we are intending for this scene'" and he was able to capture our vision the way we needed it. But from that experience, I was like, I think I can do this for real. I didn’t get into this industry with that intention, but the more I learn about directing, the more I think my brain is kind of wired for this. So that is something I think I absolutely want to focus on more moving forward.
Brandy: I’m definitely good at behind the scenes and telling people what to do. I’m not great at being on camera.
Alison: Well you are crushing it right now.
Brandy: Well thank you so much!
I honestly can’t say enough amazing things about Alison. She is one of the most down to earth and funny humans I have ever been privileged to chat with. Because to be honest, this interview was more of a chat than anything. It was so much fun to talk about NASA, swap ideas for new games to try, and to give Drew Lewis a bit of a hard time. I can’t wait to see what amazing ideas she comes up with next or new projects she may be involved with. Make sure you follow Heart Baby Eggplant, Alison, Rati Gupta, and Laura Ortiz on all socials to stay up to date on their upcoming plans for the show and watch for possible crowdfunding opportunities to make season two happen with some amazing perks added!
What are some of your favorite things that you have seen Alison in? Leave comments below!
The Tears Of War - 10 Most Emotional Moments In Gears
Over the past 15 years, Gears Of War has had over nine entries in the franchise. While the game is known for its large muscular soldiers, chainsaw guns, and blockbuster action sequences, the series also delivers a handful of moments that hit you right in the feels and tug on those heartstrings. So get those tissues ready as we dive into my picks for the top emotional moments in the Gears Of War franchise.
**WARNING! SPOILERS FOR THE SERIES FROM THIS POINT ON**
#10 Sinking Jacinto - Gears Of War 2 (Act 5 - Chapter 5)
In Gears of War 2, you discover that the Locust Horde has returned stronger than ever. They are sinking entire cities while pushing closer each day to humanity’s last stronghold, Jacinto. To ensure the city's safety, the COG launch Operation Hollow Storm, an all-out attack on the Locust. This takes the fight straight to their home beneath the surface. As the story draws closer to the end, you find out the Locust are planning to sink Jacinto. This will flood the hollow and wipe out not only the COG but also a new threat that has emerged, the Lambent. The COG decides the best course of action is to evacuate and sink Jacinto themselves, flooding the hollow first to put an end to both the Locust and the Lambent. It is a bit devastating to witness humanity destroy its last major city after spending so much time trying to protect it. They may have finally defeated the enemy (as far as they know) but it came at the price of now being stranded without a place to call home.
#9 Cole Returning To Hanover - Gears Of War 3 (Act 1 - Chapter 5)
Early into the Gears 3’s campaign, you play as Augustus Cole with his squad returning to Cole's hometown of Hanover in search of supplies. One of the areas you come across is Hanover stadium, which is home to the Cougars where Cole was a major Thrashball star (similar to football). It's here where you stumble into Cole's old locker room. As he approaches his abandoned locker and opens it, he starts to have flashbacks of the days where he is gearing up for a big game. His teammates and coaches hype him up as he’s walking out to a stadium of fans chanting his name. It's a powerful scene where we get to see the man behind the armor and the life he was forced to leave behind to fight for survival in a war nobody saw coming.
#8 Char - Gears Of War 3 (Act 4 - Chapter 1)
As Delta Squad barely makes it out of the town Mercy alive, their junker runs out of fuel just as they arrive in the nearby city of Char. They set out on foot in hopes of finding any stranded willing to trade. Advancing their way through the city, they discover the remains of citizens who were not able to escape the hammer strikes when humankind scorched ninety percent of the planet in hopes of slowing down the Locust invasion. Char was ground zero for one of the strikes and thus the city was filled with countless victims frozen in time, covered in ash, and trying to flee from an inescapable fate.
#7 Chairman Prescott’s Speech - Gears Of War 2 (Act 1 - Chapter 3)
Early into the Gears 2 campaign, the Leader of the COG, Chairman Prescott delivers a speech intended to rally his fellow Gears and citizens as Operation Hollow Storm begins. The scene sets the tone for the rest of the game as it shows how high the stakes truly are. The COG is backed into a corner and if they intend to protect their last beacon of hope, the city of Jacinto, they will have to take the fight directly to the Locust Horde. The scene succeeds in rallying the player to feel like they really are the last hope to save humanity. Between the excellent dialogue delivered in the speech and the outstanding musical performance by Steve Jablonsky, the scene will go down in video game history as one of the greats.
#6 Dom Finding Maria - Gears Of War 2 (Act 4 - Chapter 2)
War has not been kind to Dominic Santiago. When the Locust Horde first arrived on Emergence Day, Dom lost both of his children during the initial attack on the surface. His wife Maria was left in denial and she fell into a depression where she eventually went missing. Dom searched everywhere for his wife throughout the years with no luck in finding her. That is until he gets a lead about a group of stranded that were taken prisoner underground by the Locust and placed in pods. Marcus and Dom are able to locate the pod where Maria is being held. She is released only for Dom to find out that she had been left in a vegetative state due to being tortured and scarred beyond repair. With nothing they could do to save her, Dom had no other choice than to make the difficult decision to put an end to his wife's suffering and finally give her peace. He would carry this burden with him until the end of his days.
#5 Marcus Losing His Father - Gears Of War 3 (Act 5- Chapter 6)
After abandoning his post in the middle of a crucial battle during the Locust war to try and save his dad Adam Fenix, Marcus comes up short as his father is assumed dead from being crushed under falling debris. Six years pass and Marcus receives a message where he finds out that Adam is still alive and is currently being held prisoner by the Locust queen. Adam is being tasked to finish making a weapon that will destroy the Lambent parasite that is destroying the planet. By the end of the game, Marcus and the rest of the Delta Squad are able to reach the island Azura and fight to where Adam is being kept for which father and son are reconnected for the first time in years. This moment is cut short however as Delta Squad must hold off the incoming Locust and Lambent threat heading their way. Adam tells Marcus that the Imulsion countermeasure that kills the Imulsion cells inside any being (the weapon he has been working on) will not only wipe out the Lambent but will also take out the Locust as well due to overexposure to the substance. They are able to hold off the attack long enough for Adam to activate the device. Once the countermeasure has been started, Adam reveals that in order to test the machine, he had to inject himself with Imulsion, confirming that he too will perish. Marcus cries out in disbelief that he is not going to lose his father again. In his final words, Adam tells Marcus that he was glad to see him again and to go and live for him. The weapon goes off and Adam is instantly disintegrated, turned to ash leaving behind only his COG tags which fall into the hands of Marcus as he now is left to cope with losing his father for the second and final time.
#4 Jd Almost Losing Marcus - Gears Of War 4 (Act 3 - Chapter 6)
Gears of War 4 is set 25 years after finally defeating the Locust and finding peace on planet Sera. Our protagonist is Jd Fenix, the son of war hero Marcus Fenix and Anya Stroud. A few chapters into the game Jd seeks out Marcus in hopes he can help with a new threat. You can tell there is tension between the two and that they do not seem to agree on anything but he decides to join up with you after a short firefight occurs where the majority of his home gets destroyed. You travel together through Fort Reval, a ruined historical site to make it to an abandoned mine that is on the other side. Here you get ambushed by a group of Snatchers which are large creatures that strike Marcus with a quill then scoop him up and take him back to their hive where he is placed into a pod to transform into another creature referred to as a Juvie. Now it’s up to Jd, Kait, and Del to save Marcus. After traversing deep into the hive where Marcus was being held, they find his pod and cut it open only to discover that they may have arrived too late as the body of Marcus falls to the floor and lays motionless. It’s a difficult moment to watch as we see Jd in disbelief and as he starts to break down. He pounds his fist continuously on his father’s chest to try and save him until he finally comes to terms that his dad is gone. Fortunately for Jd (and us the player), Marcus comes to a few moments later gasping for air and coughing up all the liquid that was trapped with him while podded and he gets the chance to fight another day. This was such a relief as my poor heart couldn’t handle the thought of losing our grumpy, old, tomato-loving war hero.
#3 Doms Sacrifice - Gears Of War 3 (Act 3 - Chapter 5)
If you ask any Gears fan what moment in the series rocked them to their core the most, I'm sure ninety-nine percent will tell you it was Dominic Santiago's death. Delta Squad makes their way into the town Mercy to stock up on fuel for their journey to Azura. Mercy is the hometown of Dom's wife Maria Santiago who unfortunately met her demise in the previous installment. Shortly after arriving, they discover that most of the townsfolk had been overexposed by the Imulsion parasite in the area causing them to turn into Lambent humans known as Formers. As they venture further through Mercy, there is a touching scene where Dom visits his family's gravesite and leaves his COG tags and Maria's necklace behind. It's not too long after that where things start to go from bad to worse. Upon returning to the fuel pumping station after turning the fuel pumps on, Delta squad finds themselves surrounded and outnumbered by the Lambent and the Locust Horde. With not many options left, Dom jumps down into one of the trucks they brought along and takes off. Once he gets a good enough distance he makes a u-turn and starts speeding his way back. He radios his teammates to get out of there. The song “Mad World” by Gary Jules starts to play in his final moments as he drives the truck full speed into a tanker of Imulsion, causing an explosion big enough to finish off the rest of the enemy threat. It’s a heartbreaking scene where you realize not only has Dom already lost his wife and kids but that the only thing he has left is his best friend Marcus to look after. So he sacrifices himself so Marcus can live to fight another day and find a way to end the war once and for all.
#2 Marcus Reacts To Losing Jd/Del - Gears 5 (Act 4 - Chapter 2)
The final chapter in Gears 5 leaves the player with quite the ultimatum. The newly awakened queen of the swarm Reyna captures Kait’s companions, Jd and his best friend Del. You are forced to choose between the two on who to save while the other gets their neck snapped instantly. After you make this dreaded choice you manage to escape and regroup with Marcus where you sadly inform him on who did not make it. Two very gut-wrenching scenes play out depending on who you chose. If you chose to save Del, Marcus asks where Jd is. Kait takes out his COG tags and hands them to Marcus where you instantly can see how devastated he is. Throughout the series, Marcus has lost just about everybody he has ever cared for, and to see him lose his only son is so heartbreaking (it chokes me up every time I think about it). On the other side of the coin, if you chose to save Jd instead, the following scene takes place. After Kait informs Marcus that Del didn’t make it, we see Jd completely broken as tears run down his face. Marcus notices the pain in his son and can relate as he also unexpectedly lost his best friend over 25 years ago. They both share a hug with each other resulting in a sad but beautiful scene where father and son are brought closer together after being distant for so long.
#1 We’ve Finally Got A Tomorrow - Gears Of War 3 (Ending)
The ending of Gears of War 3 in my opinion, is truly the most emotional send-off to a series I have ever played. Moments after finally winning the war against the Locust Horde, our hero Marcus Fenix makes his way down to an empty beach. After 3 games in the series, he, at last, removes his doo-rag (which definitely needs a good washing) and sits upon a rock to reflect on everything that has happened. He lost his mother at a young age, he lost his best friend that was like a brother to him, and just a few moments prior he lost his father right before his eyes. Fellow Gear and love interest Anya Stroud approaches and tries to comfort him in which he asks the question “What’s left Anya? What have we got left now?”. “Tomorrow, Marcus, we’ve finally got a tomorrow!” she replies as she takes his hand. Marcus pulls her in close and we see the camera pan out showing the rest of Delta Squad watching from the distance as the sun sets on this astounding trilogy.
Do you have a game that plays with your emotions? What are the most emotional moments in the Gears series for you? Let me know in the comments down below and I’ll make sure to pass the tissues.