TABLETOP GAME REVIEW: Meme the Game Disney Edition

written by David Steffen

Meme the Game Disney Edition is, as you might expect, a card-based game game about making memes from Disney snapshots. Although I haven’t played the original Meme: The Game game, it seems to be the identical idea but made friendly for kids with kid-friendly phrases and pictures from Disney movies. Similar to Apples to Apples or a kid-friendly Cards Against Humanity, but with pictures.

The premise of the game is that one player is the judge and the other players have to pick the best picture and word combinations from their hand that they think is the funniest. That’s really all there is to it (see the cover of the game. That’s pretty much it, rinse and repeat!

Suitable for all ages that are old enough to read on their own (at least if they want to play their own hands). If they are pretty young, even if they can read, they might not get some of the jokes.

Mostly based on chance and on having some guess about the judge’s sense of humor.

Session Time
Could play as many rounds as you want.

As with other of this type of game, a lot of the novelty can wear off pretty quickly, it may be quite fun for a short while.

Not particularly, it is a spinoff of another game which in itself is apparently inspired by several iterations of other games, though this one does have Disney movie nostalgia going for it.

We got it for pretty cheap, $5. The novelty wore off quite quickly, though it was fun for a game or two.

ESSAY: Tadashi Hamada’s Legacy

written by David Steffen

This is an essay contemplating the Marvel/Disney movie Big Hero 6 (reviewed here), an excellent animated superhero mystery comedy with one of my favorite characters of all time: Baymax, the inflatable healthcare companion android who gets (improbably) recruited to be part of a superhero team by teenage genius Hiro Hamada. I have posted previous essays about Big Hero 6: Is Baymax Really Compassionate? and The Betrayal of Hiro Hamada. This will include spoilers for the movie, do go see it if you get the chance!

Baymax, one of the main characters of Big Hero 6, is a robot built by Tadashi Hamada, designed to be a healthcare companion. From Baymax’s tone of voice, health scanners, medical database, to his easily sanitized soft and non-threatening exterior and gentle way of moving, everything about Baymax’s design is meant to make him good at this one purpose. Baymax is a prototype that Tadashi intends to change the world by making it easier to provide general healthcare services–a robot like this could compress in the corner of an apartment building or a school and provide health services on demand, or be a long-term and compassionate caretaker for people who would otherwise not be able to live on their own due to age or disability.

Tadashi is still young at the beginning of the movie (maybe 18 or 20 years old?), and enrolled at what his brother Hiro calls “nerd school” for advanced students which seems to be focused on practical applications of cutting edge technology. Tadashi is so surrounded by advanced students with big ideas that even with the invention of Baymax, Tadashi doesn’t stand above his classmates.

Tadashi dies a young and tragic death, apparently before he took his plans for Baymax to the next level to try doing beta testing and eventually find a way to finance broader production, and with the destruction of the school where it was produced it seems unlikely that anyone else has the information to produce any more. Except Hiro. After Tadashi’s death, Hiro discovers the Baymax prototype, and much of the rest of the movie revolves around the connection between the two–Baymax tries to help Hiro recover from the death of his brother, and when suspicious details start to arise Hiro uses Baymax’s compassion and willingness to help to start a technology-powered superhero team with him as the inventor and strategic leader. He reinvents Baymax from the slow and gentle balloon animal he is, to a powerhouse with (removable) armor.

I can understand why Hiro feels a connection with Baymax. Baymax is amazing, and compassionate, and funny. I want him to be my friend, too. And it certainly makes a great movie. But… I can’t help thinking about how Tadashi left behind everything that Hiro would’ve needed to finish the incredible humanitarian legacy that Tadashi had started, that was part of Tadashi’s original design, and all part of why Baymax is so amazing (his empathy and compassion are part of his medical programming, even though they also make him a great friend). Hiro never even seems to consider this possibility, focusing only on himself and on his own needs, and selfishly keeping Baymax to himself, and even reinventing him as a combat robot when starting from scratch with a new robot would honestly make more sense–the inflatable body alone is a major combat liability.

He could have helped finish his brother’s vision of a world where healthcare could be available to everyone (not that there wouldn’t be downsides to it as well, mostly involving job losses in the healthcare industry, as happens in any industry when robot labor becomes a possibility), but something like this could make healthcare available to everyone universally–and not just in developed countries, Baymaxes could go to famine-stricken countries and could perhaps help develop solutions to famine and other major issues that cause health problems. I don’t know how much a Baymax costs to build but I’m guessing the R&D involved to make the first one far outstrips the cost of making one based on existing blueprints.

Instead Baymax is an individual, making a difference where he can in his home city. And I love Baymax, but it makes me sad to think that he has not been able to fulfill the purpose he was designed for. And I think it would make Baymax sad too, he wants nothing more than to help, and he could help so many more people that way.


written by David Steffen

Eye Found It! is a competitive hidden picture card game aimed at children. The version of the game I’m familiar with is the Disney version, though it looks like there are other variations. Each player is dealt a hand of cards with scenes from Disney TV shows or movies, such as Winnie the Pooh or Phineas and Ferb, or Monsters Inc. Another card is then flipped over for everyone to see which has a picture of an object, and the goal is to be the first to find that object. The object might be a teapot, or a hat, or the number 8, or a barrel. Any given object is in many of the pictures (though not necessarily all), so it’s a race to be the first to find it, then you flip your card over to get the new object to find, and the goal is to get rid of all of your cards.

One nice thing about the game is that it doesn’t depend on being able to read, so you can play it with children who are too young to read–you can read the object out loud or they can look at the picture of the object (though if they are too young it might take a little work for them to understand that i.e. a “hat” is not this particular kind of hat, it is any kind of hat). And kids can probably do it about as well as adults as long as they’re attentive enough, so it shouldn’t be a game they feel too discouraged about. I’ve found it useful when there’s a chunk of time that I need to keep one or more kids occupied, we used the game for the first time while waiting for fireworks on the 4th of July.

All ages, though probably aimed mostly at children or adults playing with children. The children don’t need to be old enough to read.

Most of the challenge of the game is just in attentiveness and trying to very quickly scan pictures. There is some element of chance in that some scenes have a lot more objects than others–if you get a Little Mermaid scene there’s a whole category of items you’re not likely to find, for instance. The game levels out some as faster players lose cards because they have less cards to find images in.

Session Time
Each round typically takes less than a minute, you could play as many or few as you want.

Definitely replayable, as you’ll get different scenes and try to find different objects in them, and especially if you’re playing with kids who enjoy the hidden picture. If you played it enough you could learn where objects are in each image I suppose to get an unfair advantage.

I’ve never seen a competitive hidden picture game, I appreciate the novelty especially because it fills a niche that I otherwise hadn’t seen many games in, as far as being good for kids who are just about ready to read but who might be too old for very basic games like Hi Ho Cherry-O.

I definitely recommend this if you currently have or expect to have kids in the 3-6 age group, because it’s a good challenge level for them, and because it’s all based on something kids can do very well you don’t have to pretend to be bad at for the kids to be competitive. Clever idea well executed.

MOVIE REVIEW: Kim Possible

written by David Steffen

Kim Possible is a 2019 live action Disney Channel original movie about a pair of high school crimefighters Kim Possible (Sadie Stanley) and Ron Stoppable (Sean Giambrone), based on the 2002-2007 cartoon series of the same name.

By day the two of them are just regular high school kids dealing with regular high school problems. By night they save the day from supervillains with Kim’s excellent physical skills and Ron’s… Ronliness.

Dr. Drakken (Todd Stashwick) and Shego (Taylor Ortega) are hatching their new villainous plans as Kim and Ron start high school. Kim, despite being super-skilled and basically a superhero, is very nervous about high school and it doesn’t help that everything seems to go wrong in the first week, trouble getting to class on time and her sophomore enemy going out of her way to make trouble for her.

But things take a turn for the better when she makes friends with Athena (Ciara Riley Wilson) who seems destined to be Kim’s best friends, with many of the same interests and who has idolized Kim for a long time.

This movie was a fun callback to the cartoon series, and I particularly liked Todd Stashwick as Dr. Drakken who did a great imitation of the cartoon villain’s voice while making it his own. The plot was okay for a cartoon-based kid show, but will fall apart under the slightest examination. For instance, Kim Possible is well-known and visible on news stories using her real name as a crimefighter, but she is also supposed to be just a regular girl at high school, despite everyone knowing about her crimefighting. And the security issues with having a supervillain-fighting crimefighter going to a regular high school without apparently any extra security precautions. That lack of security apparent in that she carries a grappling hook on the school bus (and can afford a lab full of equipment like a collection of grappling hooks but still takes the school bus).

I wouldn’t say the movie’s outstanding, but it is fun, especially if you’re familiar with the cartoon series it is based on.

THEATER REVIEW: Disney’s Aladdin

written by David Steffen

Aladdin is a  play based on a 1992 Disney cartoon movie of the same name.  The play premiered in Seattle in 2011, and went to Broadway in 2014.

The story takes place in the fictional Arabic city of Agrabah.  The title character Aladdin is a young man, an orphan who has to steal to survive.  One day in the marketplace he meets a young woman and he falls for her, but then they are caught by the city guards and the woman reveals herself to be the princess of Agrabah as Aladdin is hauled away to the dungeons.  Aladdin is pulled from the dungeons by Jafar, the sultan’s advisor, because a prophecy stated that Aladdin was the “diamond in the rough” the only one that could retrieve the wish-granting genie’s lamp from the Cave of Wonders.  Aladdin goes and succeeds in finding the lamp, and is trapped in the cave but becomes the master of the Genie.

The play is based quite closely on the original movie, so if you like the original you’ll probably like this one as well–many familiar songs, plus a few songs that were written for the original but cut before final production of the movie (you might have heard them if you have an Aladdin DVD or Blu Ray with special features on it), and a few new ones as well.

There are some changes from the movie, most often for difficulty of production.  There is no Abu, there is no Rajah, presumably because it would be hard to produce them in a compelling way in live theater.  There is a Carpet, but it’s just a vehicle, not a character.  There is an Iago, but he’s a human, not a parrot.  Aladdin has a trio of friends he lives with on the streets–those friends presented some of the best new material, especially the song “High Adventure” which was a lot of fun (though that song and the play as a whole could use some swordfight choreography work.

If you like the movie, you’ll probably like the familiarity and new things about the show.  If you haven’t seen the movie, but you like fun and fast-paced musicals, give it a try!


written by David Steffen

Moana is a 2016 animated comedy/action film from Disney.

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is the chieftan’s daughter on the island of a Polynesian island of Motunui.  The tribe has lived there happily as long as they remember, living off the bounties of the island the lagoon around.  The ocean has been forbidden to them for generations, since the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti, the goddess who gave life to all the islands before himself being seperated from his magical fishhook that served as both a weapon and as the aid to his magical transformative power to turn into animals of the air and sea.

Since she was a baby, Moana has always felt drawn to the ocean, despite her father’s attempts to keep her away.  One day she finds that the ocean has an affinity for her as well, seeming to beckon her out into it–she finds the secret of her people’s past, that they had been nomads of the ocean.  She follows the call of the sea to seek out Maui and the heart of Te Fiti to raise the curse of the seas.

This movie was a lot of fun, and the songs were great–no wonder it had so many Oscar nominations.  My particular favorite song was “Shiny”, sung by Jemaine Clement in his role as the villain Tamatoa, and with music written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Solid sense of humor, great interactions between the two main characters of Maui and Moana, heartfelt moments, lots of riproaring action sequences.  So much here to love, fun for kids and adults, I recommend it.

Interview: Jonathan Maberry

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Ghost-Road-Blues-by-Jonathan-Maberry-300-dpi1-621x1024EDITJONATHAN MABERRY is one of the most versatile and prolific writers in the speculative fiction.  His specialty is horror, but he also writes fantasy and science fiction, as well as mystery, thriller, western, and humor.  He has 5 wins and many nominations for the Bram Stoker Award, wins/nominations for other genres and encyclopedic nonfiction, and recognition from writer and librarian associations.  His first novel was in competition with one of Stephen King’s novels for the Bram Stoker Award.  Several of his projects are in development with Hollywood.  He has worked with Marvel and other major comic book companies.  He has consulted/hosted for Disney, ABC, and The History Channel.  He has written several series, most notably the Joe Ledger international thriller sci fi series and the Rot & Ruin young adult horror series.  His has edited several anthologies, most notably an X-Files series.  He has participated in a multitude of writer conferences and workshops, most notably Write Your Novel in Nine Months, Act Like a Writer, and Revise & Sell.  He writes/speaks as an expert on the cannonal background and cultural phenomenon of the horror genre.  He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, Horror Writers Association, International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers Association, International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators .  He is a contributing editor of the ITW’s The Big Chill newsletter.  He is a cofounder of The Liars Club writer network.  His novelization of the Wolfman film  –  starring Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt, and Benicio del Toro  –  reached #35 on the New York Times bestseller list.  Not surprisingly, Publishers Weekly featured him on the cover.

Jonathan Maberry’s full bio.  Jonathan Maberry on Amazon.  Jonathan Maberry on Good Reads.  Jonathan Maberry’s website.  Liars Club writer advice page.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I’m fortunate to have several of my projects in development for film and television. My Joe Ledger thrillers are being developed by Lone Tree Entertainment and Vintage Picture Company as a possible series of movies, likely beginning with Extinction Machine, the 5th in the series. And my vampire apocalypse series, V-Wars, is headed to TV, with a brilliant script by former Dexter head writer, Tim Schlattmann. Several other properties, including Rot & Ruin, The Pine Deep Trilogy, and others, are being discussed.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Like most writers I’ve coasted the edges of the Hollywood experience for years. There are some frustrations, of course, but that’s part of the game. For example, back on 2007 I co-created a show for ABC-Disney called On the Slab, which was a horror-sci fi-fantasy news program. Disney paid us to develop it and write a series bible and sample script; and then there was a change of management in the department that purchased it. Suddenly the project was orphaned and therefore dead in the water. Another time producer Michael DeLuca (Blade, Magnolia) optioned the first Joe Ledger novel, Patient Zero, on behalf of Sony, who in turn took it to ABC, who hired Emmy Award-winning TV writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Lost) to write a pilot. Then after we’d gone a long way toward seeing it launch they decided instead to focus on the reboot of Charlie’s Angels, which flubbed badly. That’s Hollywood. I don’t take this stuff personally, though. And I never lost my optimism.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  It’s important to focus on presenting a positive brand and to turn out quality products. Being a prima donna doesn’t help you get in through the door. Being someone people can and want to work with is a big plus. Patience is also very, very important.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  For most Hollywood projects the author has little input. I have a lot of friends who have had books optioned and developed, like Charlaine Harris (True Blood), Isaac Marion (Warm Bodies), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and others. And although they dig what’s been done with their work –at least for the most part—they are often observing from a distance. That said, I own half of the V-Wars property, sharing ownership with IDW Publishing, so I will probably have a little more input there. And I’ve become friends with the producers who optioned Joe Ledger, and as a result they’ve invited me to participate in creative discussions.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  My dream casting for my characters changes on a daily basis.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  With Marvel my creative involvement varies. On projects like Marvel Zombies Return, the world was already created and I was asked to join a writing team along with Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Fred Van Lente (Cowboys and Aliens) and David Wellington (Monster Island). We each had one issue to write and could pitch our own story, but that story had to fit into the overall five-issue arc.

With Black Panther, I was asked by Marvel’s editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, to come in and take over the book from Reggie Hudlin (producer of Django Unchained) who was leaving. I had to finish a few of Reggie’s storylines and then tie them into my own story arc, which I further developed into the DoomWar limited series.

Everything else I did for Marvel was entirely based on original pitches, including Captain America: Hail Hydra, Klaws of the Panther, Punisher: Naked Kills, and my series, Marvel Universe vs The Punisher, vs Wolverine and vs The Avengers.

I moved on from Marvel because I wanted to write horror comics and focus entirely on my original characters.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Dark Horse and IDW are blowing up. If Marvel and DC are the top tier, then Dark Horse, IDW, and Image are the next level. They also deal with a lot of licensed products. Dark Horse has Aliens and others. IDW has Transformers, X-Files, GI Joe and many more. And, of course, Image has The Walking Dead.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I had a lot of fun working with Dark Horse, but I only really pitched that one idea to them.

My relationship with IDW is much bigger and covers several product and formats. I did the Rot & Ruin: Warrior Smart graphic novel, which was a one-off; but my deepest involvement is with V-Wars and The X-Files. The V-Wars project began as a series of shared-world prose anthologies. I’d write a large framing story and then invite other writers in to do individual stories. The third volume, V-Wars: Night Terrors, just debuted. I also did a run of comics which have been collected into graphic novels as V-Wars: Crimson Queen and V-Wars: All of Us Monsters. The V-Wars TV series is in development and on Feb 15 we launch a board game, V-Wars: A Game of Blood and Betrayal, with insane rules written by legendary award-winning game designer Rob Daviau.

I did Bad Blood for Dark Horse, with brilliant art by Tyler Crook, and two books so far for IDW –both of which are based on my novels, Rot & Ruin and V-Wars. However these are not straight adaptations of my novels but instead new stories set in those worlds.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I’m editing a series of X-Files anthologies. The first, The X-Files: Trust No One sold out its initial print run in record time. The second, The X-Files: The Truth is Out There, debuts February 16, and The X-Files: Conspiracy Theories is in development. The idea was cooked up by Ted Adams, CEO of IDW Publishing, and he asked me to come aboard as editor. Initially it was planned as a single anthology, but I talked him –and FOX, who holds the license—to let me do at least three. This was something we started working on before Chris Carter announced that he was doing a new series of the show.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Joe is actually based on several real-life Special Ops guys I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. They are a remarkable breed, and they need to be capable of extraordinary things in order to do what they do. They aren’t like other people. They have high intelligence, good language skills, amazing coordination, and they are deeply trained in a variety of skills. There’s nothing Joe Ledger does that these elite special operators can’t –or don’t—do.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  If Joe has a weakness, it’s the same thing as his strength: he is not motivated by politics but is instead a humanist. That means he gets hurt a lot, but it also means that he is damned hard to stop when he is doing what he feels is right.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  The team dynamic is what makes the Ledger series work. Although Joe Ledger is often alone for large sections of each book, his team always matters in getting the job done. That team includes the administrative genius of Mr. Church and Aunt Sallie, the tech skills of Bug and Dr. Hu, and the men and women of Joe’s field teams, notably Top and Bunny –his right and left hands. Without them, Joe would have died a long time ago; and with them he is a far more interesting character to write and, I’m told, to read.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I have no plans to stop the Ledger series anytime soon. In fact I just sat down today to begin writing the 9th Ledger book, Dogs of War, and we have two cool projects coming up that support the series. The first is The Joe Ledger Companion, which is a nonfiction book that takes readers behind the scenes of Ledger and his world. It’s being written by Mari Adkins and Preston Halcomb, and I’ll be contributing to it as well. And then there’s Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, an anthology of all-original short stories about Ledger being written by wonderful A-list writers including Scott Sigler, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Steve Alten, Weston Ochse, Mira Grant, Jon McGoran, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Joe McKinney, Jeremy Robinson, Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, Dana Fredsti, James A. Moore, James Ray Tuck, Larry Correia and others. That will be out in 2017.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  People will always love monsters, but zombies and vampires have a very special appeal to writers and readers. Zombies are a blank canvas; they represent a massive shared catastrophe which impacts the lives of every character in equal measures. The characters have their lives, their hopes and dreams, their protections and resources, all stripped away and must struggle for survival while at the same time trying to discover who they truly are. One introduced, the zombies become immediately less important that their effect on the lives of the human characters, and therefore the true focus on these stories is about people in crisis. That is an endlessly renewable creative canvas.

Vampires, on the other hand, represent a variety of other metaphorical problems: rape, abuse in all its forms, jealousy, fears of sickness, dreams of immortality, forbidden love, and so on. The vampire stories were once straight horror but now they’ve either become romances or they are a kind of super hero tale, much like the myths and legends of gods and demigods. Again, there are a lot of stories you can tell with that model.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Horror is a genre of fiction that has dozens and dozens of variations, including Gothic, body horror, suspense, psychological horror, ghost stories, religious horror, existential horror, monster stories, zombies, vampires, folkloric horror, extreme horror, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, science fiction horror, and so on.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Groups like the Horror Writers Association has awarded its coveted Bram Stoker Award to books as diverse as Thomas Harris’ crime thriller Silence of the Lambs to Stephen King’s subtle Lisey’s Story to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to Joe McKinney’s brutal zombie thriller Flesh Eaters.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Most of what I write tends to be hug on the scaffolding of the thriller, which is a model applicable to virtually any genre. I love the race against time to prevent something dreadful from happening. But I’ve also written in a variety of sub-genres in both long and short fiction and often go cross-genre.

Among the categories in which I’ve written we have vampires/American Gothic (Ghost Road Blues and its sequels), ghost stories (the short story “Property Condemned”), paranormal mystery (“Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Greenbrier Ghost”), psychological horror (“Doctor Nine”), serial killer (“Saint John”), horror movie adaptations (The Wolfman), zombie apocalypse (Dead of Night andFall of Night), urban fantasy (“Mystic”), paranormal mystery (“Like Part of the Family”), dark fantasy (“We All Make Sacrifices”), weird western (“Son of the Devil”), historical ghost story (“Red Tears”), epic fantasy (“The Damned One Hundred”), Lovecraftian horror (“Dream a Little Dream of Me”), science fiction horror (Patient Zero andAssassin’s Code), weird science thriller (The Dragon Factory, Code Zero), post-apocalyptic existential horror (“The Wind Through the Fence”), Alt-History Steampunk horror (Ghostwalkers: A Deadlands Novel), post-apocalyptic zombie horror for teens (Rot &Ruin), folkloric horror (“Cooked”), historical horror comedy (“Pegleg and Paddy Save the World”), and so on.

Do I have a favorite? No, not really. I’m most in love with whatever genre or sub-genre I’m writing at the moment.



JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve been fortunate to win five Bram Stoker Awards. I won Best First Novel for Ghost Road Blues, then shared a win for nonfiction with David Kramer for a book on the paranormal we wrote called The Cryptopedia; after that I won two back-to-back Stokers for Young Adult novels for books two and three of the Rot & Ruin series (Dust & Decay and Flesh & Bone); and more recently picked up on for Graphic Novel for Bad Blood.  As for how many times I’ve been nominated…I’m not really sure. Maybe ten or twelve times.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Every year there is such amazing horror writing being published, and often by close friends. It’s odd –but also fun—to be nominated alongside people you like and whose work you respect. That way, no matter who wins…it’s a party.

My first time out, however, I was up against Stephen King. Ghost Road Blues had been nominated for both Best First Novel and Novel of the Year. I won the Best First but King took Novel of the Year for his wonderful book, Lisey’s Story. If you have to lose…there is zero shame in losing to Stephen King.



JONATHAN MABERRY: I was trained as a journalist and that doesn’t encourage one to be a slowpoke. Some of my professors were very aggressive and had us cranking out a couple of thousand words in the space of a few hours. After college I was a magazine feature writer part time, but even though I was working day jobs (variously –bodyguard, bouncer, jujutsu instructor, college teacher, graphic artist), I wrote over twelve hundred articles and at least three thousand reviews and columns. And I wrote more than a dozen textbooks and nonfiction books on subjects ranging from a history of competitive sparring to the folklore of supernatural predators.

When I switched to fiction a little over ten years ago I brought that same work ethic with me. I like the fast lane. Not everyone does. I have friends who prefer to write a book every couple of years. That’s not for me. I put it in high gear and keep my foot on the gas. And I write my best stuff under tight deadlines.

The last two years I’ve written four to six books per year, plus comics and a slew of short stories. I just signed an agreement last week to add a fourth book to this year’s slate, and there’s a possibility I’ll do a fifth.

Nowadays writing is my full time job. I write, on average, eight hours a day, and usually log about four thousand words. Between novels, comics, short stories and novellas I write about a million and a quarter words for publication per year.

That wasn’t how fast I started, of course. My first novel took years to write and revise. I got faster as I studied my own process and worked to improve my habits and deepen my understanding of the writing craft. It’s fun, though. And writing so many projects means that I’m always exploring new creative areas. I write for adults and teens, and I write in a variety of genre including thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, horror, Steampunk, alt-history, weird science, action, westerns, mysteries and more. I am never bored.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I always advise new writers to attend writers conferences. The classes are useful and the networking is golden. The only writing book I ever recommend, however, is Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. It’s brilliant and incredibly useful, either for helping you feel your way through the plot or revising a draft.



JONATHAN MABERRY: There are several important things to know about becoming successful as a writer. Things I wish I’d known earlier in my career.

First –be very good at what you do. Having a natural gift for storytelling is great, but you need to learn the elements of craft. That includes figurative and descriptive language, pace, voice, tense, plot and structure, good dialogue, and many other skills. Good writers are always learning, always improving.

Second –learn the difference between ‘writing’ and ‘publishing’. Writing is an art, it’s a conversation between the writer and the reader. Publishing is a business whose sole concern is to sell copies of art. Publishing looks for those books that are likely to sell well. There is absolutely no obligation for anyone in publishing to buy and publish a book totally on the basis of it being well written. It has to be something they can sell. A smart writer learns how to take their best writing and find the best way to present it to the publishing world, and then to support it via social media once it’s out.

Third –you are more important than what you write. A writer is a ‘brand’. That brand will, ideally, generate many works –books, short stories, etc. Each work should be written with as much passion, skill, love, and intelligence as possible, but when it’s done, the writer moves on to the next project. And the next.

Fourth –finish everything you start. Most writers fail because they don’t finish things.  Be different.

Fifth –don’t try to be perfect. First drafts, in particular, are often terrible. Clunky, badly-written, awkward, filled with plot holes and wooden dialogue. Who cares? All a first draft needs to have in order to be perfect is completeness. It is revision that makes it better, and makes it good enough to sell. So, don’t beat up on yourself if your early drafts are bad. Everyone’s early drafts are bad. Everyone.



Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.



“The Original Blue Fairy is a Cruel Monster” or “My Review of The Adventures of Pinocchio”

written by David Steffen

We all know how the story of Pinocchio goes. Like most people, I watched Disney’s version of Pinocchio when I was a kid, and when I later learned that it was based on an older story (as most of Disney’s movies, especially their older ones, are) I assumed that Disney made some adaptations to make it into a modern children’s film–modernizing the language, trimming meandering plotlines. I knew that Disney had made drastic changes to the endings of the stories based on Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales because otherwise there’s just no way you could market them to a modern kid’s audience. But I had never heard anyone talk about how faithful their adaptation of C. Collodi’s Adventures of Pinocchio was.

I was working on a story loosely inspired by Pinocchio, and so to understand my source material as completely as possible, I wanted to read the original for a basis of comparison. I was quite surprised by what I found there. In particular, the character that Disney based their Blue Fairy character on.

I’ll give some general thoughts about the story first, and then will talk about the fairy in the section titled “The Original Blue Fairy is a Cruel Monster”. I’m not going to bother avoiding spoilers because the movie most people are familiar with is 73 years old, and the original book is 130 years old.

The Adventures of Pinocchio

There are a lot of details that might surprise someone who guesses that the Disney version is a faithful adaptation, including:

1. The Fairy does not make Pinocchio alive
He just is alive for no reason, speaking even before he has been fully carved from a block of wood.

2. The Talking Cricket (the inspiration for Jiminy Cricket) is killed by Pinocchio in the very scene in which he appears:

“Let me tell you, for your own good, Pinocchio,” said the Talking Cricket in his calm voice, “that those who follow that trade always end up in the hospital or in prison.”

“Careful, ugly Cricket! If you make me angry, you’ll be sorry!”

“Poor Pinocchio, I am sorry for you.”


“Because you are a Marionette and, what is much worse, you have a wooden head.”

At these last words, Pinocchio jumped up in a fury, took a hammer from the bench, and threw it with all his strength at the Talking Cricket.

Perhaps he did not think he would strike it. But, sad to relate, my dear children, he did hit the Cricket, straight on its head.

With a last weak “cri-cri-cri” the poor Cricket fell from the wall, dead!

I found this darkly hilarious, more so for the complete unexpectedness of it.

3. In the absence of the Talking Cricket, many other random bystanders serve the role of being Pinocchio’s moral compass.
This includes the Fairy herself, a Blackbird, the Ghost of the Talking Cricket, a Parrot, a Pigeon, a Donkey, and somehow the Talking Cricket again (having reappeared alive). It’s clearly a story to teach morals and really bludgeons you over the head with the format at every opportunity.

4. Geppetto has quite a temper (at the beginning of the story)
I normally think of Geppetto as a kind, sweet, old man, perhaps out of his area of expertise in parenting but an entirely benevolent character. In the original, though, he has a vicious temper and threatens to thrash Pinocchio at the slightest provocation at times.

5. Pinocchio is a mean-spirited beast(at the beginning of the story)
In the Disney movie Pinocchio is naive and easily tempted, but is generally a good person who is just misguided. The Pinocchio in the book is a mean-spirited creature who does mean things out of spite and for entertainment only

6. The escape from the belly of the Shark is super easy
Instead of Monstro the whale, the original story has a giant Shark that swallows Geppetto. When Pinocchio gets swallowed too, he finds his father where he’s been eating raw fish for two years in the belly, living in candlelight from candles salvaged from a swallowed shipwreck. Yes, TWO YEARS of eating raw fish. When Pinocchio gets there, they decide to find a way out. Apparently the giant Shark has asthma and so must breathe with its mouth open while it sleeps. Pinocchio and Geppetto literally just walk out of its open mouth and meet no resistance from the sleeping monster–there is no fire to make it sneeze as in the movie. Which really leads one to wonder–why didn’t Geppetto just walk out on his own sometime in the last two years?

7. The Fairy is very different (see the next section)

The Original Blue Fairy is a Cruel Monster

Now on to the really fun part–the reveal of what a psychotic, manipulative, pathological liar the Blue Fairy’s original incarnation was.

In the Disney movie, the Blue Fairy is about as benevolent of a character as you’re likely to find. She is basically an incarnation of kindness and love. She is the one that makes both the launching of the plot and the final climax possible. At the beginning, the lonely carpenter Geppetto wishes upon a star that his newly made marionette could become a real boy. While he sleeps the Blue Fairy visits the workshop and grants this wish, after a fashion. He has the spark of life, can act and think for himself, but he is still a wooden marionette as well. She tells him that if he can be a good boy and can listen to his conscience, then she will really make him a real boy. She sees him again later after he’s done some things wrong and gotten himself trapped in a seemingly hopeless situation, and she lets him go free with a warning that she won’t bail him out again. At the end of the movie, after Pinocchio has sacrificed himself selflessly to save his father’s life on several occasions and has learned virtue and truth and all that jazz, the Blue Fairy shows up again and makes good on her promise and makes him into a real boy. Hooray! The End.

In the book, the fairy is known as the Girl with Azure Hair, or the Maiden with Azure Hair, or in a couple scenes the Goat with Azure Hair, or sometimes just the Fairy. At the best of times, the most positive thing I can say about her is that she can occasionally act without malevolence. At the worst of times, she is a cruel, spiteful, monster who has all of the faults that she blames Pinocchio for having and others besides.

Pinocchio first meets her when he is running away from two con-men in the guise of Assassins who want to take the gold coins that Pinocchio has in his posession. Fleeing from the Assassins in the woods he comes across a cottage. He bangs on the door until the Girl with Azure Hair (at this point quite a young girl) answers at the window and this exchange occurs:

“No one lives in this house. Everyone is dead.”

“Won’t you, at least, open the door for me?” cried Pinocchio in a beseeching voice.

“I also am dead.”

“Dead? What are you doing at the window, then?”

“I am waiting for the coffin to take me away.”

And then she shuts the window on him. Because she won’t let him in the house, the Assassins catch him, beat him, try to stab him, and hang him by the neck because Pinocchio is holding the gold coins under his tongue and they can’t pry his mouth open. They get bored waiting for him to suffocate several hours later and promise to come back the next day to collect the coins from his dead body. The Fairy eventual wanders out of the house, has him cut down from the rope, and he is eternally grateful to her for saving his life even though she was the one who refused to help him when he was in trouble in the first place. He never questions why she claimed she was dead, and she never offers an explanation. I’m really not sure where Collodi was going with that brief conversation–is she supposed to be suicidal? Is it just supposed to be some amusing nonsense in place for no reason and he assumed children would laugh and not try to figure out the meaning? Is there some kind of meaning that is just eluding me because of the difference in time period and culture from where I’m reading it? I really don’t know. But this is not where it ends.

They decide after this exchange that they shall be brother and sister, and so they play childhood games with each other and have fun for a time. This is about the most positive Pinocchio’s relationship with the Fairy gets. The Fairy sends for Geppetto to come live with her and Pinocchio in the Fairy’s house, but Pinocchio is so overjoyed at this happiness that he asks to run to his hometown to find his father and tell him the good news himself. The Fairy agrees, with a warning that he has to behave. And of course, Pinocchio doesn’t behave, gets distracted, ends up having all of his gold coins stolen by the con-men who had earlier tried to murder him and in the backwards Town of the Simple Simons ends up getting thrown in jail for several months, more adventures ensue, and eventually he makes his way back to the Fairy’s house after much times has passed.

The little house was no longer there. In its place lay a small marble slab, which bore this sad inscription:


So, as far as we know at this point, the Fairy is well and truly dead, and so Pinocchio is very, very sad about the death of his sister and guilty about his role in her death. I would’ve thought that his grief would be dampened at least a little bit by the fact that she was so spiteful as to have apparently commissioned a stonecutter to craft such a spiteful accusatory epitaph for her tombstone.

But then, after her second claim of death (don’t forget the first one made on their first meeting) Pinocchio happens across her again in his ramblings. Pinocchio is at a place with very hard workers and is begging for food from them, but refuses to work for the food. Finally a woman comes along and she gives him water freely and offers him food if he will carry her water jugs. He does agree for the promise of a feast, and then he realizes its the Fairy all grown up (I think this may be because he is an unaging marionette and she is just growing up at a normal pace, though I had at first thought that this is just another piece of dream logic). Since she’s older than him now, she takes the role of mother figure to him (which adds a bit of a weird psychological component in a single character sister-turned-mother). This exchange occurs:

“Tell me, little Mother, it isn’t true that you are dead, is it?”

“It doesn’t seem so,” answered the Fairy, smiling.

“If you only knew how I suffered and how I wept when I read ‘Here lies,'”

“I know it, and for that I have forgiven you. The depth of your sorrow made me see that you have a kind heart. There is always hope for boys with hearts such as yours, though they may often be very mischievous. This is the reason why I have come so far to look for you. From now on, I’ll be your own little mother.”

“Oh! How lovely!” cried Pinocchio, jumping with joy.

“You will obey me always and do as I wish?”

“Gladly, very gladly, more than gladly!”

She merely seems amused when he points out that she’s still alive after that accusatory epitaph. She deigns to forgive him, but makes no mention of needing forgiveness herself for inflicting such grief upon the puppet-boy, and in such a spiteful way. She not only moved out of the house she’d been living in, after all, but had it torn to the ground, laid a marble tombstone (which couldn’t have been cheap) and paid to have a spiteful accusatory epitaph carved into it. When she decides to teach a lesson she goes all out!

She claims to have searched for him but as far as I could tell he just happened to find her, not the other way around.

And his promise to obey here and do as she wishes was just chilling to me considering what she’s shown herself capable of. She promises that he will become a real boy if he proves he deserves it (note that she doesn’t say she will do it for him, only that it will happen).

She even picks a day for it to happen, but the day before that Pinocchio gets tempted off to the Land of Toys, where he gets turned into a donkey because he is such a lazy layabout. He gets sold off to a circus where he is forced to perform tricks for crowds, and he sees the Fairy in the audience, with a medallion with a picture of himself carved into it. But she leaves him to his captivity.

Some time later, after he has returned to marionette form, and ends up out in the ocean, he spots a Goat with Azure Hair on an island. She beckons for him, but the terrible giant Shark (the origin of Monstro the whale) surfaces. She beckons him yet more, and even reaches out to him and just misses him before the Shark swallows him up. If it were anyone but this Fairy I might believe the “almost” of the helping him was an honest try and fail, but I don’t trust her at this point. And, granted, Geppetto is in the belly of the Shark and Pinocchio is able to rescue him there, but instead of just sending Pinocchio in after she could’ve just helped Geppetto herself. She does have magic, after all. The Fairy can shapeshift, and what animal does she turn into to save Pinocchio from a shark attack? A goat. A freaking goat. Seriously.

So Pinocchio rescues Geppetto from the belly of the Shark, and eventually they make their way home. Pinocchio earns the value of hard work and works to make some money which he plans to spend on a nice suit so that his father can see how nice he looks. On his way he runs into someone who had previously worked for the Fairy and they talk:

“My dear Pinocchio, the Fairy is lying ill in a hospital.”

“In a hospital?”

“Yes, indeed. She has been stricken with trouble and illness, and she hasn’t a penny left with which to buy a bite of bread.”

He sends the money he’d saved with her servant to help her out. He returns home and:

After that he went to bed and fell asleep. As he slept, he dreamed of his Fairy, beautiful, smiling, and happy, who kissed him and said to him, “Bravo, Pinocchio! In reward for your kind heart, I forgive you for all your old mischief. Boys who love and take good care of their parents when they are old and sick, deserve praise even though they may not be held up as models of obedience and good behavior. Keep on doing so well, and you will be happy.”

At that very moment, Pinocchio awoke and opened wide his eyes.

What was his surprise and his joy when, on looking himself over, he saw that he was no longer a Marionette, but that he had become a real live boy! He looked all about him and instead of the usual walls of straw, he found himself in a beautifully furnished little room, the prettiest he had ever seen. In a twinkling, he jumped down from his bed to look on the chair standing near. There, he found a new suit, a new hat, and a pair of shoes.

As soon as he was dressed, he put his hands in his pockets and pulled out a little leather purse on which were written the following words:

     The Fairy with Azure Hair returns
     fifty pennies to her dear Pinocchio
     with many thanks for his kind heart.

The Marionette opened the purse to find the money, and behold,there were fifty gold coins!

Pinocchio ran to the mirror. He hardly recognized himself. The bright face of a tall boy looked at him with wide-awake blue eyes, dark brown hair and happy, smiling lips.

He never hears news of the Fairy’s but if she really was sick and had not even enough money to buy herself bread, I think that the implication is that she has claimed to have died. But of course, this is the third time that she’s claimed death in the story, and the other two proved to be complete fabrications (including the elaborate fabrication involving the marble tombstone) so I’m sure she’s still living out there somewhere and will return at some point to plague Pinocchio.

And although there might be some implication that she is the one that makes him into a boy, I am skeptical of that too. It seemed like she just had knowledge about what it took to become a real boy and she shared that knowledge but did not actually cause anything.


Tron 2.0 (Bygone Game Review)

written by David Steffen

And now for a Bygone Game Review, a new label I made up to avoid getting complaints about the age of the review material. Yes, I know this isn’t a new game, but it has aged well, and is still well worth playing.

In 2003, twenty-one years after the release of the Tron movie, Buena Vista Entertainment released a sequel. It’s not a movie–it’s a game, a first person shooter (FPS) to be exact). The game somehow seems to have slipped under many gamers’ radars. I hadn’t come across it until five years after its release. Fans of the original movie will enjoy the digital world setting, reminiscent of the original in many ways yet also new and shiny, like 20 years of system upgrades in one fell swoop, and there are plenty of nods to the original for the dedicated fan to catch. But playing the game does not require familiarity with the original movie, so it could draw in new fans of the Tron universe, just in time for the long-awaited of the Tron movie sequel due out next month: Tron Legacy.


In the game setting, just like in real life, twenty-one years have passed since the events of the Tron movie. ENCOM has since been taken over by Future Control Industries (fCon). Alan Bradley (still voiced by Bruce Boxleitner) still works for the company. After the events of the original story, he married his then-girlfriend Lora, and together they had a son named Jet. Lora has died by the time of this game, and Alan has talked Jet into hiring on to fCon as a video game developer. Even though Lora is dead, actress Cindy Morgan still has a voice acting part, lending her voice to the program Ma3a.

The game starts off when Jet gets digitized by the same invention that had digitized Flynn in the movie. Really, guys, don’t you think it’s time to create some safety features for that thing? But then, I suppose, we wouldn’t have any more Tron stories, and that would be sad, so never mind. At this point in the game, Jet is unaware of the laser or any of the events of the movie, so this is all new to him. He is greeted by the program Ma3a , Alan’s computer system’s AI, who has chosen to digitize him to fight the corruption caused by Thorne, a virus that is running rampant in the company network. She refers to Jet as Alan 2, not understanding the difference between program versions and human generations, which is a cute touch.

Meanwhile, the Kernel, the leader of the ICP security programs, detects Jet’s intrusion into the system and incorrectly determines him to be the source of the corruption. So Jet is opposed by not only the virus-corrupted programs he comes across, but also by the ICP’s as he tries to make his way across the virtual world to stop the corruption. As he goes, a larger and more sinister plot reveals itself which I will leave for you to discover. It’s a good story to accompany a great game, well worth the time.

The Visuals

Wow is this game pretty! They perfected a really neat glowing light effect for this game so all the lighting has a bit of aura to give it a very neon look. The upgraded ICPs look awesome. The settings are very simplistically designed and are often just black with neon highlights, but the effect is very neat looking and otherworldly. At one point in the game you venture out into the Internet, and that was the coolest of all, it looks like a digital Las Vegas it was so lit up!


The controls are pretty much standard FPS controls, or can at least be configured that way. My preferred control system has mouse look on and uses the left and right arrows on the keyboard to strafe. This is how I play most any FPS, as it allows you to easily look in any direction, a necessary attribute in multi-elevation levels or with flying enemies.

You have two main attributes: health and energy. If your health runs out, you die. Your energy is an expendable and replenishable resource used for a variety of functions, including weapon ammunition, and downloading of new subroutines (I’ll explain that more later).

The weapon you start the game with, the base weapon, is the Disc Primitive, the Frisbee-like blue disc from the movie. It is the only weapon that takes zero energy to use, but it has a relatively slow rate of fire because you have to wait for the disc to return to you before you can throw it again. It’s surprisingly useful because it is fairly powerful, and the ICP’s armor does not protect very well against it. Not only that, but it doubles as a defense that is very effective against the ICP’s similar disc weapons. You can hold the disc in front of you to deflect an ICP-thrown disc. This will leave the ICP defenseless for a few moments while their disc bounces around, before they can retrieve it, so you can use the opportunity to get a couple blows in with your own disc. It’s not very useful, though, if faced with a crowd of enemies, because you can’t block everyone’s attacks, and the blocking only works against disc attacks, not the ball-based attacks of the viruses.

Most of the other weapons in the game behave in similar fashion to real-life weapons, so they should already be pretty familiar to FPS players. The Rod Primitive is like a stun prod. The Ball Primitive is like a grenade. Upgrades can be acquired for each of the primitives as well, such as the Suffuser, which makes the Rod behave like a shotgun, the LOL which makes the Rod behave like a sniper rifle, and the Ball Launcher, which makes the Ball behave like a rocket launcher.

Besides this, Jet has certain attributes that can be upgraded by increasing his version number, which he does by collecting a certain number of build points. The attributes you can enhance are things like your maximum health and maximum energy, which both start at 100, as well as your weapon efficiency for energy use. Build points can be acquired in two ways. First, you get build points automatically as you complete mission objectives, such as gaining access to a new area. Second, there are a limited number of collectible build points scattered here and there throughout each level, so it is worth your time to search thoroughly to find them all.

Instead of collecting keys to unlock doors, like you might do in a real world setting, you collect permission bits, each filling in one of 8 positions on your permission ring. Permissions are required for a variety of things, the most obvious being the opening of doors. Also, with certain permissions, you can deactivate security rezzing stations, which are alarm buttons that ICPs can press to call in reinforcements.

Okay, so that’s all pretty straightforward stuff, sort of cookie cutter FPS elements. Now this is where it gets really interesting, especially with archive bins and subroutines.

Archive bins appear as clear cubes in the world, with moving lights inside them, and if you can access one, you can download its contents. Its contents may include emails among people in the company, which help give background to the story, or other things like subroutines (which I will get into later). Once you have the permissions, you can see what is inside the archive bin at no cost, but downloading costs energy, the same energy that powers your weapons so you have to careful about what you download unless you have a handy energy source, or you could be backing yourself into a corner with no ammunition. The download costs varies from object to object, and is generally higher the more useful the object. Emails are usually a cheap 5 energy units, because they are really only for backstory, not helpful to the gameplay itself. Subroutines are generally more expensive, some significantly more expensive. Which brings us to subroutines.

Subroutines are the most unique part of Tron 2.0 gameplay. Each of them performs a particular function. For instance, the Fuzzy Signature subroutine makes your footsteps make less noise, which is important for sneaking up on guards. Any weapons besides the primitives (such as the Suffuser and the Ball Launcher) are subroutines. There are subroutines for a wide variety of uses, like protection from virus corruption, armor upgrades, and adding corrosive damage to your weapons. You gather subroutines as the game goes on by downloading from archive bins or from enemy core dumps (the remains after they die, er, de-rez). Once you collect a subroutine, then you can always equip it, but you can’t equip everything at once. As the game goes on, you travel from one computer to another, to a PDA, to the internet, and so on. Each system has different subroutine space configurations–some have ample memory so that you can trick yourself out with a bunch of subroutines, and others have only small amounts, so you have to be very careful what you choose. Is it more important to have that body armor, or the shotgun-like Suffuser weapon? You have to make that choice.

Here and there you will find an optimizer that you can use to upgrade just one of your subroutines. You’ll acquire most subroutines in an Alpha version, and they can be upgraded to Beta, then to Gold. The more upgraded a version, the less space it will take up in the system memory, and the more effective it will be. An Alpha routine requires three adjacent slots, while a Gold routine only requires one, and the gold version is also much better in some way or another (for instance, weapons will cause more damage, or virus protection will be more effective).

This may sound complicated, but it’s really not. The in-game tutorials are very well done, helping you learn how to play AS you play. Some of the subroutines are much more useful than others, and some are more useful against certain enemies than others. You can pause and swap in different subroutines at any time, so you can always try to pick the best ones for the current situation.

The Difficulty

I’m playing through the game again now, to get in the mood for the upcoming movie, and I’m having more trouble with it than I remember having the first time. Maybe I played the first time on Easy difficulty, this time I’m on Medium. Most of the time I can progress fine, and I try not to overuse the QuickSave function, but there are a few times when I was having difficulty and then QuickSaved in a bad place, where I was backed into a corner with low energy, surrounded by ICPs and no recent saves to fall back on. I saved in a momentarily safe place, but it was in a dead end surrounded by ICPs and I had to try to go through it a dozen times before I powered my way through using the disk weapon as efficiently as I could and zigzagging all over to make myself a hard target, and I just barely limped to the next energy source with only 3% health. After that point I tried to more meticulously make save files in a rotating fashion rather than relying on QuickSave as the primary restore method–since each QuickSave overwrites the previous QuickSave. I’m less than halfway through the game now, so we shall see how well I do when I run up against the big bad boss characters later in the game.

Light Cycles

And the light cycles are back from the first game, upgraded just like everything else. In case you’re not familiar with them, they look like motorcycles, but they are incapable of stopping and they leave a solid wall wherever they pass. The objective is to be the last one standing, and you do so by outmaneuvering your opponents, placing a wall in front of them and forcing them to run into it. This upgraded version adds powerups to the mix, such as a speed boost, and a one-shot missile which can destroy enemy bikes, or punch holes through a bike-wall to allow you to pass safely through, giving it both defensive and offensive uses.

The main FPS game has some light cycle segment as part of the progression, but there’s also a light cycle tournament accessible through the main menu, with escalating difficulty levels, novelty arenas, making that a worthwhile game in itself. I hear you can also play this online, though the game is so fast-paced that the slightest lag will doom you, so it would probably be better served over a LAN.


I highly recommend this game for everyone who likes FPS, whether they are fans of Tron or not. And if you are a fan, find the game and play it to get in the mood for the upcoming movie!

Niche Game: Kingdom Hearts

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing mecause they’re something different, something special.

Kingdom Hearts is a parallel world story, with a twist. The game is a joint venture between Squaresoft and Disney, released in 2002 for the PS2. The main character, Sora, travels from world to world, and each of them will be very familiar, because each is the setting of a Disney movie, from the pride lands of The Lion King, Wonderland, and Neverland. Besides the worlds, there are also many cameos from Disney characters, and characters from Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy series.

The protagonist of the game is Sora, a fourteen year old boy. His friends Riku and Kairi also play important roles. At the beginning of the game they are all living on Destiny Islands, and they want to leave the islands to explore the world outside. One night, shadowy creatures appear, the Heartless. He discovers the magical Keyblade, which is his weapon throughout the game, a giant key that he wields like a sword. He’s separated from his friends as the Heartless destroy Destiny Islands.

Meanwhile, in another world, King Mickey (yes, the mouse), heads off to deal with the Heartless and sends his knight Goofy and his mage Donald to go find the key to stopping the Heartless. They seek out Sora, and join forces with him. You always control Sora directly, never his companions, but you can equip them, and set their behavior during battle. Donald’s attributes are based around magic, as he learns various spells as he levels up. Goofy’s primary weapon is a shield–yeah I know it’s weird. Though Sora technically carries the same Keyblade throughout the game, he can add different charms to it that will change it’s attributes drastically, changing the length, the appearance, the power, and even adding extra attributes like extra mana for abilities.

In each world, the Heartless take on new and varied forms which match their surroundings. So, in the pride lands they take the forms based loosely on African animals, in Neverland they often appear as pirates. I like this variation, all tied together by the “Heartless” logo they wear as a badge. Besides the minor Heartless enemies, each world generally has a big boss, also going along with the theme of that world. The objective of travelling through each world is to use the Keyblade to seal the keyhole, the heart of each world that the Heartless seek to destroy.

Different from most Squaresoft games, the fights in the game are real-time, though there is a menu item for performing actions like casting spells and using items. There are also hot-buttons to help speed up these side actions. You never control your two companions, all you can do is set their equipment and attributes. When visiting other worlds, sometimes a hero from that world will travel with you, and can temporarily replace either Goofy or Donald as your fighting companion. In addition, some characters are available as summon magic, where you call them up (Goofy and Donald temporarily disappear while this happens) to bestow some powerful effect and then disappearing. I liked the real-time aspect of the fighting system. It kept the game much more exciting from moment to moment, and much of the challenge is figuring out ways to defeat each unique type of enemy and dodging their attacks.

The one element of the game I wasn’t really impressed by was the Gummi ship. It’s your method of transportation between worlds. The transit ways are filled with enemies that attack you as you fly through Gummi space. You build your Gummi ship from scratch out of spare parts you find or buy along the way, including armor, weapons, radar, etc… It wasn’t that it was a bad element, but it just didn’t really seem to relate to the rest of the game that much and was just a diversion from the important parts–all the different worlds.

There’s quite a cast of voice actors for this game, including Haley Joel Osment, Hayden Panattiere, Billy Zane, and Lance Bass. They all did a really good job at their parts, making the characters seem real and helping to bring the game alive. Many of the Disney characters are voiced by the “official” Disney voice actors for each part.

The theme song, Simple and Clean, was composed and performed specifically for this game release by Hikaru Utada. I love the original version of the song, and the graphics of the sequence (though unfortunately with a remix instead of the original) at the beginning of the game just make it even more awesome to watch. When I first played the game I sometimes just watched them over and over to hear the song and see the sequence.

The plot is a reasonably good, though the main character is a bit corny at times. I loved to see the Disney villains working together across movies, Captain Hook and Maleficent, among others. Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty) is one of my favorite villains of all time; I love her voice, her look, her power, everything about her. These villains were worked into the plot and blended seamlessly with the Squaresoft characters and the Heartless, despite their different animation styles.

Kingdom Hearts II was released in 2006 in the US, and used many of the same concepts, revisiting some of the same worlds as the first game, while expanding the ground covered. Despite their efforts to add fresh worlds and plot elements, it just came off as more of the same, so I give it a “meh,” despite the addition of Christopher Lee’s excellent voice acting abilities. It’s not a terrible game, and it was fun to see some of the new worlds they covered–such as Tron–but overall it just came off as more of the same to me.

Finding a copy of Kingdom Hearts shouldn’t be difficult at all, probably 10 bucks or less on eBay. It’s totally worth it. Enjoy!