RPGs are Giants in the World of Video Games – We Analyze the Power Players

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Tableau is incredibly robust and my experience at TC17 in Las Vegas showed me just how much so. My visualizations has always focused on designing for the interactive experience, and with the #data17 knowledge I acquired, I was able to merge many ideas into a more fully realized data-driven experience with my work.

There’s a data set that I picked up in the spring and worked on but then abandoned because I didn’t feel like the story I was building did justice to the subject I was passionate about: role-playing video games.

Role-playing games (RPGs) stand as giants in the world of video games. The level of immersion when playing these games is remarkable and your connection to the characters and story is much more palpable because in a sense the player controls his or her own destiny in the game.

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In my Tableau work, I wanted to convey some of the impact and meaning behind these creations and help people more fully appreciate and explore video games as vehicles for art.

I was inspired by the amazing viz work of Jonni Walker to attempt this approach. He arguably sets the bar for beautiful data stories in Tableau and stretches the limits of the software’s capabilities.

There were some tradeoffs I had to make so that the dashboard retained its interactivity and the images could still play a key role in pulling the audience through the story. This was a remarkable experience building on my background in photography and writing in order to create a data-driven story.

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Here are some quick tips I learned:

  • Photo selection: Fortunately I could use the data set itself to leverage striking images of the game art. I picked images that lent an editorial message to the elements or integrated into the design of the dashboard. (I had a good conversation with Michael Mixon and we commiserated on how long it takes to find the perfect image!) Also, this viz is a type of commentary and the artwork falls under fair use.
  • Photo editing: Learn Photoshop or a similar program that offers image masking. Tableau doesn’t offer transparent backgrounds for its charts, so I had to make design decisions that ensured optimal use of interactivity and images. This was a big pain point in Tableau and took probably 3x longer than building out the charts.
  • Calculated Fields (including LODs): This is an acknowledgement that your work will go much faster and you’ll be able to approach these type of data-driven stories if you learn how to present your data using calculated fields.
  • 3000 pixels tall!: Everything floated and it was beautiful. Just keep track of all your assets on the dashboard. I did this visually since the Item Hierarchy pane still isn’t that intuitive to me.
  • Pay it forward: I was tempted, right up until this writing, not to share the downloadable file. But I have learned so much from the Tableau Public community and would not be where I am without its members and their generosity (there are so many, I can’t name them all!). I think there’s a social contract of sorts, not necessarily in always making your work available, but in making a real effort to share knowledge and elevate the whole community.

I hope you enjoy. Happy vizzing!

 

 

Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy finishes unevenly but with some of the best action the galaxy has to offer

There was much to like about the idea of seeing where the Star Wars saga would go in this new line of official books picking up shortly after the destruction of the second Death Star. Chuck Wendig’s trilogy touches on issues throughout the larger galaxy as it adjusts to the crumbling Empire and the opportunities and challenges that result.

The trilogy succeeds in giving us some satisfying developments in the birth of a New Republic and what that might look like. There are great interludes to show different parts of the galaxy, my favorite of which is the fight against slave trafficking on Tatooine with some Wild West action involving Sandpeople for the win!

The conclusion to the trilogy, though strong with some of Star Wars’ best action and fun new characters, turns out to be the weakest link in the story. It often feels like a slog, with little or no movement in the narrative as we approach the climax. We’re teased with a big buildup to the Empire’s so-called contingency plan that Emperor Palpatine himself supposedly orchestrated before his death as a failsafe should the unthinkable happen at Endor. There are even creepy robots with Palpatine’s face on them that are supposed to evoke the long end-game the emperor had thought up.

But it serves more as a quick bookend to a story that doesn’t really know how it wants to end.

Wendig is strongest when he’s placing the ensemble cast in the middle of the fight and focusing on the core cast. “Look after mom Bones!” was her son Temmin’s last command to his trusty hacked battle droid when Nora made a daring gambit to plummet toward the Empire’s last stronghold in an escape pod right before her son’s ship takes off into hyperspace. I actually get a lump in my throat thinking of this family’s courage to run headfirst into the fray at the cost of losing the last people in the galaxy they care about.

Spoiler-light observations:

Later, I love when Nora Wexley zooms toward the enemy line in a stolen Empire command ship in the final battle with Bones by her side. There’s an irony to the scene because Temmin is piloting an X-wing and tries to take down the “enemy” ship. He almost shoots his mom down, but Mr. Bones comes to the rescue again. (There’s so much to say about Bones, from his self-repair magic trick to his final scene in an AT-ST.)

Jaz doesn’t disappoint either with her painful escape from some fellow bounty hunters and her confrontation with an old friend that shows what a complex character she is. Loved it.

Other characters that stand out are a republic ship captain taking on the super star destroyer and showing some amazing military strategy. This scene not only checks the block in giving us a memorable space fight, there’s also real emotional weight that shows the cost of war. And no Star Wars book would be complete without a Hutt. Nema is a mean and crafty snakelike Hutt, nearly unkillable and has an entourage of scary knife-wielding servants. I’d love to see her on the silver screen.

Ultimately the story suffers from trying to tie up too many loose ends. It feels saddle bagged by the weight of having to bridge the story to the Force Awakens and in doing so scenes rush by blindingly fast, doing a great disservice to this story in an attempt to service the next one, which we’ve already seen. All the major build-up between Sloan, Nora, and Rax literally fizzles out. It’s a strange truncated ending.

We rush to  get obligatory status updates on every character (minor and major) and I end up forgetting who is doing what at the end. But by and large, I enjoyed this journey, and we are left with a sense that there are many brave men and women who will continue to fight for what is right and just in this galaxy far, far away.

3 of 5 stars

Worlds Collide – Cage Match 2017 Finals

UPDATE: Ragnar was unstoppable at the end. All those that challenged him were laid bloody and broken at his feet. His prowess in the cage secured him the crown but it was at the cost of his fellow fictional brothers and sisters. May his crown of destruction weigh heavy on his brow…

The Story So Far.

Tom Bombadil buried his Rd1 opponent (IT) without looking back and enjoyed the top spot among all cage match fighters for almost 10 days straight. But he fell steeply in the contest, only narrowly defeating the old god Mr. Wednesday with 50.11% of the votes in Rd3, the closest of any fight. He trailed Devi in Rd4 until the very end when he pulled off an upset .

Ragnar has clawed his way through the competition, never ranking higher than #4 until his ascent in Rd3 to edge out Kell Maresh and then trounce Georgia Mason in Rd4 to head to the finals as the #1 seed.

Our Prediction: Tom B. to take it all. Middle Earth rises again!

Click image to interact!

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The Many Faces of the Major

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Click to explore different artists’ visions of the Major in all her incarnations.

Ghost in the Shell is one of the most profound pieces of fiction from any genre or culture. Period. The storytelling is intricate and powerful. The philosophical questions it poses make one consider the meaning of life and reconsider just how far technology should go. And the bad guys, well, they could be anyone or no one. There is no way to tell in this world what is real and what is not. Blink, and you might get your eyes cyber hacked.

The numerous layers of meaning in the Ghost in the Shell saga make it an unparalleled experience, whether in print or on the screen.

In five days, the live-action Ghost in the Shell movie comes to American cinemas. Certain quarters of the web have taken issue with the casting of the Major (Scarlett Johansson), but I am hopeful that the film will be faithful to the themes of the Japanese manga and anime and introduce new audiences to the acclaimed world the Major inhabits.

The West has its pop culture icons – Luke Skywalker, Batman, the Avengers, etc., etc. Major Kusanagi is one of East Asia’s.

Welcome to your newest sci-fi/cyberpunk/dystopian fix. This one has staying power.

SFF Cage Match 2017

Some of the most recognizable characters in contemporary science fiction and fantasy literature are going toe-to-toe. Unbound World’s Cage Match 2017 competition is giving authors a shot at writing how a fight, say between the queen of Dragons and a modern god, might go down.

It provides some entertaining scenarios from authors who are obviously having fun with the battle royales. Our pick to take it all home, The Martian’s Mark Watney – and who the contributing author predicted would win his round – got beat by some adolescent magician wannabe, and one that’s not even from Hogwarts.

Check out the rankings as they stand in round 2. We’ll have updates throughout the cage match. Go Daenerys!

CLICK TO INTERACT

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We Come at Last to the End (EP. 76) | THE DARK TOWER (DARK TOWER #7) BY STEPHEN KING

How we imagine Roland at the end.

We are finally here. We have crossed the lands of Mordor, braved the winter wastelands of Westeros, and survived Arrakis’s unforgiving and unending desert in a struggle to master fate itself and steer the course of the universe. WE NOW STAND BEFORE THE DARK TOWER.

These other fictional worlds lie parallel in their own universes to Stephen King’s Dark Tower, in a metaphorical sense. They all in their own fashion represent the journey to the tower: to reach for the meaning of life, to attain one’s highest achievement, or to finally atone for one’s sins. The trek to the tower defied literally every expectation we had of this journey, and delved into some truly profound territory.

Roland Deschain ended his journey as it began, alone, and using his own wit and will to defy superior powers and reach the nexus of all worlds. Wow, if that sounded spoilery, don’t worry, it’s only a vague description to keep this epic monologue going. It won’t help you fully understand or comprehend what King ultimately has our protagonist find.

We’re still scratching our heads, not because of the complexity of the end, but of the implications it has for humanity. It’s not a conventional ending by a long shot, nor would we expect one from this tale. Our man Roland and his quest to save himself and all of creation will stick with us for a long time and demands attention for it’s literary elegance and execution in the questions it asks of us individually, including who do we want to be in this lifetime.

If you want to hear our full discussion on the end of this amazing journey, check out the podcast. Spoilers ahead. Enjoy.

Battle of the Book Genres 2016 – The Definitive List of the Year’s Top Reads

EVERYONE has a list of the best reads of the year. That makes it fun – but daunting – to go through a slew of recommendations.

How are you supposed to trust your Booktube buddy’s taste even if you do both like the same genres? Easy. Just crowdsource the best books.

That’s right, instead of pouring over YouTube or Goodreads for hours on end to learn about new books, we just crunched the data and looked at what was most popular across book types. We took all 3 million votes from the Goodreads Choice Awards and found out which books and genres ended up on top in 2016. (But we still watched some YouTube videos with great book recommendations!)

Take a look at this interactive collection of the top books as voted on by the social web. Your next TBR may be only a click away! You can check out a quick tutorial here.

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Click to interact