The new update can’t salvage the sinking ship that is Pokemon Go

Feature, Game reviews, Uncategorized

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Pokemon Go’s festive holiday title screen 


Despite its recent update, it is too little too late for Pokemon Go. There. I said it.

Yes the game now boasts new content, but month after month of pointless updates with no significant change/additions means Pokemon Go is simply no longer appealing to its core demographic.

Flashback to summer when generation 2 couldn’t possibly have come out soon enough. Fans were aching for Gold & Silver generation Pokemon at the peak of the game’s craze in July and August. September would’ve been ok even. But December? Your audience is too far gone Niantic. Catching the same Pokemon over and over has gotten incredibly stale in the months following the game’s release in July. Gotta Catch ‘Em All, but then what?

On December 7 Niantic released a new update with meaningful content. Only the update doesn’t give players generation 2, yet. Fans are instead treated to baby Pokemon—who really serve no purpose other than filling up a Pokedex and look cute—and for a limited time only, a novelty Santa hat-wearing Pikachu.

But what exactly are baby Pokemon? They are essentially devolved forms of existing creatures as introduced circa Pokemon Gold & Silver. For instance Elekid becomes Electabuzz and Pichu evolves into Pikachu. The update gifts us 7 of these baby Pokemon: Igglypuff, Magby, Elekid, Cleffa, Pichu, Smoochum and Togepi.

Here’s the catch: the new Pokemon need to be found as eggs at Pokestops and then hatched.

Although walking 5 or 10 km to hatch an egg in winter conditions doesn’t sound too appealing does it? Unless you live warm climate, of course.

 

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One of the biggest additions is the game’s tracking system which now had been updated to show players exactly where Pokemon are located.

Oh, and players can now transfer multiple Pokemon to Dr. Willow. Convenient, but it’s nothing to get excited about, at least not in December.

Generation 2 Pokemon will rolled out over the upcoming months, so says Niantic. The hype surrounding the game’s latest update had many believing we would get the next generation of pocket monsters. No word on those legendaries either.

Trading remains non-existent. Battling between two players is still not possible. This is a far cry from the game Niantic displayed in their advertisement, an echo of promises never materialized.

After the Halloween and Thanksgiving celebration events, fans can expect or rather are demanding a Christmas update with increased XP and bonuses. It’s still early and an announcement should be coming sooner than later. Events like these won’t necessarily have fans rushing back to the app but its better than nothing.

Admittedly, Niantic’s Pokemon journey was bound to have a short shelf-life from the start. As fun as Pokemon Go was initially—and in warm weather—the game was clearly not made to last. A novel concept, it was truly a flash in the pan. Now that Pokemon Sun and Moon are out, those who still hang onto Pokemon Go are few and far between.

It was the app of summer 2016 hands down, no contest. Kids were playing, your neighbour and your grandma were seeking rare and elusive creatures like Dragonite and Lapras. Pokemon Go has gone from being a worldwide phenomenon to “you still play that game?” almost overnight.

Even if Niantic somehow manages to come up with a massive update it will still be too late. Understandably, Niantic operates under a small crew but it’s becoming harder and harder to defend the game.

At this point, it’s hard to believe anything could salvage the rapidly sinking ship that is Pokemon Go.

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How Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ditches tradition and quenches a thirst for cultural diversity

Feature, Uncategorized

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Star Wars: A Rogue One Story official cast photo


Yes, it’s true. Star Wars was once a white world, one filled with albeit weird creatures, but still very white.

When Star Wars: A New Hope ushered a new era of science-fiction movies in 1977 it featured an all-white cast (James Earl Jones, despite being the voice of Darth Vader was never seen on-screen). It took until the first sequel, Empire Strikes Back (1980), to see a person of color in the franchise, the beloved Lando Calrissian (portrayed by Billy Dee Williams).

By contrast, Star Wars in 2016 features a different face, and a remarkably multicultural one at that. There was a time when Star Wars seemed almost out of reach if you weren’t white, it is no longer the case.

If race in cinema really wasn’t an issue, we wouldn’t be discussing it. Our current reality shows us differently. Hollywood is still this all too white territory where racial barriers continue to persist, unfortunately.

As proven by the #oscarssowhite movement (where many expressed their discontent at the apparent whiteness displayed by the Oscars), audiences everywhere are thirsty for cultural diversity. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is more than happy to quench that thirst.

Last year’s The Force Awakens featured John Bogeya in the role of Finn, a black man, as one of its lead characters. Many applauded Disney for this move. But featuring diverse ethnicities in movies isn’t bold or daring anymore, it’s a no brainer in this day and age. After all, shouldn’t art and entertainment be all-inclusive and therefore be reflective of our culture? And More importantly, does it matter? Yes, and again, yes.

A multicultural cast has mass appeal. As such it is able to reach a larger demographic and touch significantly more lives. It’s what art is supposed to do. Gone are the days where only white people played in Star Wars. Hey, it’s a start.

OK—white British actress Felicity Jones is technically the star of Rogue One, but with a cast that feature Mexican actor Diego Luna, Chinese actors Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed and African-American actor Forrest Whitaker— it’s culturally rich. Star Wars in the 2010s has evolved to reflect diversity and it’s beautiful. Rejoice.

I attended a conference with Dr. Reza Aslan earlier this year and he summed up race and diversity in popular-culture as follows:

“When shown diverse ethnicities in media like television and movies they become a part of popular-culture. People just see it over and over to the point where it becomes ordinary, it becomes a part of their everyday lives,” he explained.

Now I’m not suggesting the work is done by any means, and we have ways to go, but in this age of Trump a movie like Rogue One is refreshing. A movie the size of Star Wars could be an enormous boost when it comes to including more diverse ethnicities on the big screen.

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                                 Starwars.com

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story detaches itself from the mold of tradition in the movie’s first minute by ditching the iconic scrolling text that begun every entry in the franchise thus far. I hear you. Geeky cries of “How dare they?” and “Blasphemy!” are heard everywhere in a galaxy far, far away.

If there’s anything Star Wars fans expect, it’s tradition. Rogue One is anything but. Star Wars dishes another healthy dose of nostalgia, but isn’t content to simply thread on old ground. It takes a heroic war movie approach without abandoning its space opera roots. It certainly had its space in the continuum of the franchise. It’s a Star Wars movie, but it’s a clearly different Star Wars.

Here’s where it gets confusing: Rogue One is a sequel to the prequels (I-III), but a prequel to the sequels (IV-VI) —its events unfolding between episodes III and IV—it also ties in with The Force Awakens and answers some unanswered questions about the beloved sci-fi saga. Confused yet? It’s essentially a side Star Wars movie not meant to be a part of the current VII-IX trilogy, but rather to be taken in as a stand-alone film. It’s a new concept in the Star Wars universe and one that effectively display potential for the following stand-alone stories to come in the series.

The film holds the dubious distinction of being harder to follow than perhaps any other entry in the Star Wars cannon, largely due to its odd placement in the saga. The brand new characters also play a part in this equation. Seasoned fans will understand the events occurring in the movie, but the casual moviegoers following the hype will likely get lost in the story. In this regard, Rogue One is directed towards hardcore fans and less so the newer ones it amassed from The Force Awakens, Disney is not at the point where it cashes-in. At least not yet.

In case you’re wondering, there are plenty of Easter eggs to keep fans on the edge of their seats. Blink and you’ll miss a brief R2-D2 and C3PO appearance and that’s just to name one.

Is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story worth seeing? Absolutely. With a jaw-dropping appearance by Darth Vader that will no doubt send legions of fans into hysterics all across the galaxy, rich visuals, a compelling story and an array of Easter Eggs, it is definitely worth the price of admission.

The movie’s climatic ending is as satisfying as it is heart-wrenching and necessary. In spite of box office performance and overwhelmingly positive reception by critics and fans alike, I have a feeling Rogue One’s ultimate achievement and legacy will be what it did to promote cultural diversity in Hollywood.

Believe the hype.

 

“The force is with me, I am the force.”—Chirrut Îmwe

 

 

My interview with an artist from Marvel comics

Feature, Interviews, Uncategorized

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Covers by Geof Ishwerwood. Photos from author’s website.


He’s an illustrator, painter, sculptor and part-time teacher. Spider-Man, Thor, Conan the Barbarian, Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer are just a few of the titles on his extensive resume. With a portfolio that speaks for itself, Geoffrey Isherwood—who prefers to go by Geof—has lived his dream by making a living in the arts, a field many have found themselves discouraged to pursue.

The signs that he would pursue artistic ventures, specifically comic books, were visible even at an early age.

“When I was 12 [my parents] told me to stop buying comics,” says Isherwood. “I did anyway. I got a bachelor of fine arts from Concordia University and within a year of graduating I was working with Marvel.”

It wasn’t an overnight process, however, the materialization of his ambitions required a combination of talent, timing and a bit of luck.

“When I was 16-years old, my family took a trip to Manhattan and I snuck into Marvel studios with my drawings and met artists who encouraged me and pointed out things I should work on,” he begins. “I stayed there for 20 minutes and went home. You could walk right into marvel talk to the receptionist and they’d send you to see somebody.”

Would it be possible to do the same today? The longtime Marvel artist says it’s improbable.

“Not at all, not today. There’s a big corporate wall, it’s the like the CIA or something. It’s crazy. Disney all these places, it’s really tough to break in,” he admits. “Nowadays its really about online, a lot of editors look at digital comics and find artists that way or its networking and word of mouth.”

Isherwood’s career path was a self-inflicted and conscious decision that grew out of his love for comic book medium.

“Just as a lot of kids are, and this was the 60s, I was drawn to comic books. I really liked the storytelling aspect of it,” he says. ” I decided when I was ten-years old I wanted to draw comics.”

The illustrator digs deeper into his past as he expands on his childhood.

“I really loved drawing and I wanted to find out what possible career I could get into where I could keep drawing. That’s when I saw a picture of Charles Shultz at home in his studio and I thought that’s what I want to do,” he explains.”I don’t know how I got the crazy idea that I could just wake up, get my breakfast, sit down and draw.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Needless to say, it never left him.

But when he’s too busy with projects, “Geof” recommends up and coming artists for jobs he can’t take.

“Recently for instance, I was able to recommend a young artist to do a comic about Iron Maiden, the Heavy-Metal band, a pseudo-biopic [of mascot] Eddie the Head.”

 

photo credit: Tommy Morais

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Geoff Isherwood during a signing at Comic-Book Addiction, Whitby.

Where do superhero movies fit in the grand scheme of it all? Isherwood argues that movie producers have been effective in bringing the action-packed panels to life over the course of the last decade, something that had previously been lacking. He also points out how studios have benefited from the rich history of comics.

“When you look at what Hollywood has done, they’ve finally been able to bring out the visual aspect of comics that superhero movies had been lacking with special effects,” says the artist. “It took a while, but they’re now realizing the have a gold mine of stories with comics.”

As he points out, the relationship between the artist and the finished product can be a love-hate affair.

“It’s difficult for us artists,” says Isherwood. “If you work on a specific title you become very proprietary of the character, it becomes one of your children.”

The artist highlights the difference between the heroes featured on the big screen and those on the panels inside comic books.

“If you’re watching a movie it’s more passive, but the comic medium is more interactive,” he says. “You have to fill in the action between the panels.”

But what attracts us to comics in the first place? According to Isherwood, it has a lot to do with the characters and the medium itself.

“Its colourful. These characters are modern myths, they’re larger than life. It’s very theatrical and operatic with the grand gestures and the colours,” he says. “It was originally an escape from the war and people bought into that.”

He pauses.

“They still do.”

 

 

For more of Geof’s work and upcoming convention appearances you can visit goeffreyisherwood.ca

 

 

I interviewed a cab driver this is what he had to say

Feature, Interviews, Uncategorized

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image: globalnews.ca


The other night I took a cab ride home at a much later hour than I’d like to admit. My driver was a man with glasses and kind eyes who wearing mostly black. We hit it off as I asked him about his job out of curiosity. I told him about my journalistic projects and asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview. He gave me a card with a phone number and told me to give him a call in the next couple of days.

The driver works for a Canadian cab company in the town of Whitby, Ontario. Due to the nature of his occupation he wished to remain anonymous for obvious and professional reasons. There are currently two cab companies in Whitby, but according to the cabbie they are far from being each other’s biggest competition.

Uber has experienced a surge in popularity in the last few years, one that directly affects the cab business.

“Uber is killing us. It’s really eating at our business,” he says. “A lot of people would rather take a Uber than a cab now “.

But if we’re talking about money just how exactly is the money shared between the cab company and its employees?

“We split 50-50. The cab company gets half and we get half. It’s not too bad,” he admits.

When l asked him about his previous evening night shift his voice took a happier tone.

“A guy wanted a ride to Durham College on Simcoe [street]”, he begins. “He asked how much it [the fare] was. I told him $30 and asked me if l could do it for ten. I told him, ” Look, I’m a nice guy, but I can’t do that.”

This story has a bright ending, however.

“Someone outside the bar just gave him the extra twenty and said he owed him a couple of drinks if they ever saw each other again.”

He told me the highlight of his last shift came from a group that required him to make multiple stops.

“I drove girls from the club earlier. They all came as a group and l dropped each of them to their homes. I made $64 total so that’s not too bad.”

The cabbie admits the business is not as profitable as it once was and reveals he faces challenging prospects for the future.

“I’m making half the money l used to make 5-6 years ago doing this,” he said. “I only do this part-time on the weekends but it’s not what it used to be. My cab license expires in a few months and frankly l don’t know if I’ll still be driving a year from now.”

Next time you take a cab you might want to think about tipping the driver, especially if he or she is kind and friendly.