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February 2016

Final Fantasy XIV – The MMO You Should Be Playing!

I’m a huge JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) nerd, a love that stemmed from dipping my toes into the Final Fantasy franchise at age 11 with the tenth installment in the main series – Final Fantasy X. It’s also the series that taught me how to use Roman numerals, if you can believe that. I fell deeply in love with the characters, the story, the way I could build and develop my party, oh, and the music. That music was the soundtrack of my teenage years, (along with Linkin Park, Muse and Evanescence… we all make poor choices okay?) and followed me to my adult years, as I picked up more Final Fantasy titles. In order, I played IX, X-2, VIII, VII, III, VI and XIII, the latter being my least favourite.

I stayed away from the first FF MMORPG (that’s a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game for anyone not familiar with the daft term) which was XI, because it didn’t appeal to me. Plus, I had somehow managed to dodge the online gaming bug that seemingly started with World of Warcraft. I had to pay monthly to play a game with strangers who were probably going to be mean to me? You’re talking to someone who gets worn out from talking to friends in real life, let alone online! I played a WoW trial for an hour a few years ago and didn’t enjoy it. When I first heard about the next MMO in the series – Final Fantasy XIV – I was intrigued. I’d heard that it was going to be available on PS3 as well as the PC, which appealed massively to me, as my PC at the time was basically an advanced typewriter.

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But… well, when FFXIV first came out, it wasn’t received very well. In fact, ‘disaster’ wasn’t even a strong enough word for it. Bugs galore, shoddy interface, lacklustre content – there was still a loyal, if frustrated, fan base for the game, and despite attempts to fix the unseemingly unfinished launch product, the game was pulled offline altogether and completely rebuilt from the ground up. Released under the title Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn with a new team in control (ALL HAIL YOSHI-P!), they literally dropped a meteor on the old story and world, bringing in a fresh start for old players and new.

So, where do I come in? Well, a friend of mine called James (check his Twitter, he’s a huge comic book nerd!) introduced it to me as he played with someone we knew. They showed me the massive in-game world, along with their characters and classes, and then told me to give it a go. I saw there was a trial available for me to play, so I installed and found myself immersed in the story from the beginning. I was a Warrior of Light, destined for something amazing as time would go on. I created my character, a human Gladiator named Kezia Walker, and started my journey in the vast world of Eorzea.

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This game would have won me over had it been a standalone game, as it ticks all the boxes that I expect from a FF title – the surroundings are absolutely gorgeous, the characters are engaging, and the story… easily the best in a long time, probably since X. And I probably don’t need to comment on the music, the composer Nobuo Uematsu is a genius, I couldn’t love him more if I tried.

I was amazed at just how much content I could do without having to build a party, or even communicate with other players. The effort was made on my behalf, matching me with other players to do the first dungeon in the story as well as other content which required four players. My role as a Gladiator put me in position of being a Tank for the party, meaning I would take the enemy’s attention away from the other members, while the DPS (damage dealers) pummeled their way through, leaving the Healer safe from harm. It was a role I didn’t quite understand, and when I found myself in a Free Company (FFXIV’s guild system) and played with more experienced players, I realised that taking charge and being a sponge for damage wasn’t quite for me.

The brilliant thing about FFXIV in my opinion, is the Job system. You start off with a class – so in my case, I was a Gladiator – which would then lead me to picking up a Job as I levelled up. This requires some experience in another class, which is an option in FFXIV. I know people who play WoW who have multiple accounts to play different roles, as that’s the only way you can, but not in FFXIV!

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The Job available to me beyond my class was Paladin – which required getting to level 30 on my Gladiator, and level 15 in the healing class Conjurer. So, I played at healing as a Conjurer, and found that I enjoyed healing way more than I ever did tanking. And although I eventually unlocked the Paladin Job, I continued to level Conjurer, before levelling up the Arcanist class to 15 so I could become a White Mage. It sounds complicated on paper, but couldn’t be easier to pick up in-game.

I also ditched my human appearance and became an adorable purple-haired Lalafell – a race that can only be described as what an anthropomorphised potato would look like – took up the stave and became a determined, if easily irritated healer. I have now been playing FFXIV for well over a year, I have made some amazing friends within my Free Company, I’ve shared some amazing experiences and have been lucky enough to see this game go from strength to strength. The original incarnation of FFXIV was known as version 1.0, A Realm Reborn was 2.0 and with the launch of the first expansion for the game called Heavensward, we are now in the era of 3.0. And with yet another free patch rolling in on February 23rd, it only gets better.

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As for the tale of plucky Lalafell White Mage Kezia Walker? Well, she’s conquered gods, downed beasts and has saved the world from oblivion more times that anyone has counted. Along with every other Warrior of Light she has encountered during her time. And you know what? She’s had a lot of fun along the way. If only her FC mates would stop slapping her…

Final Fantasy XIV Online is available on PC, PS3, PS4 and Steam. Heavensward available separately. 14 day free trial also available – and highly recommended!

Are you already playing? If you’re on the Cerberus server, look me up and we’ll do some fun things together!


ClaireClaire is a foul-mouthed British twenty-something who spends most of her time pretending to be an adult. Her nerd status started from an early age with her dad’s love of sci-fi and developed through a love of gaming, reading and horror. As well as volunteering for a charity, Claire writes about her life with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and mental health over at her blog, as well as tweeting nonsense over as @MouthAndSpoons. The dream is to either make it as a successful writer, or go into mental health research. She lives at home with her equally nerdy husband, their dog Lady, cat Pip and a lot of fish.

25 Why Kylo Ren Turned to the Dark Side, pt 1 – Some Nerd Girl Original Webcomic

Is pencil holder Darth just a troll, or could there be any truth to any of this??

Check out all the SNGCs here and join us every Monday for a new original SNG Webcomic!


AlexAlex is our resident Webcomic creator. He grew up in Puerto Rico, but didn’t reach true Nerdom until he came state side when he was in middle school. He’s been drawing since he was five, but has only started posting Webcomics in the past year. You can check out his amazing and original work at tapastic.com/gomezalexj.

The Astrobiologist’s Guide to Life, the Solar System and Everything

As I’ve mentioned previously, my career is based around looking for alien life in the universe. Naturally, this brings up the very pertinent question of “Where exactly does one look for aliens?”

The answer, surprisingly, is “pretty much all over the place.” And with good reason – here on Earth, living organisms have been found in some of the most seemingly inhospitable places, which suggests that life is, above all, tenacious in the extreme.

Where to begin, then? Why not in our own backyard? As it turns out, there are more than a few places in our own Solar System that might harbor life. So, without further adieu, let’s take a guided tour of the Solar System’s hottest real estate, moving from the inner planets outwards.

Venus

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Venus may seem like a surprising candidate – the surface is hot enough to melt lead, the atmospheric pressure is crushing, and it rains sulfuric acid. But Venus was not always so grim. It is thought that it may have had oceans for the first two billion years of its history, before the growing intensity of the young sun triggered a runaway greenhouse effect that boiled them off. Life may have been able to get a toehold in these early seas, as it did on Earth.

But where could such life have fled to under the onslaught of rising temperatures? Curiously, it turns out that while the surface may be utterly inhabitable, at ~50km above the ground, the atmosphere of Venus is remarkably Earth-like in temperature and pressure. It’s still fairly acidic, there’s no oxygen, and it’s still on the warm side, but there are organisms on Earth that will quite happily live in similar conditions. UV radiation would be a problem – however, interestingly enough, cylcooctasulfate – a sulfur compound that absorbs UV rays and re-emits them as visible light, and that’s used by terrestrial microbes as “sun screen” – is found in the Venusian atmosphere at an altitude of 50km.

Earth

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No, I’m not suggesting Earth’s been invaded – I’m instead referring to the idea of the shadow biosphere. The basic premise of the shadow biosphere is that we assume that all life on Earth is biochemically similar to us (e.g., it uses the same types of proteins and DNA, same chemical reactions, and so forth), and therefore we would fail to detect microbes that used radically different biochemistry. The microbes wouldn’t be “aliens”, per se, as it’s assumed that they would’ve evolved here on Earth – but such a finding would still be incredibly significant, as it would suggest that life may developed independently on Earth, multiple times.

Supporters of the shadow biosphere hypothesis point to the fact that the vast majority of microbes can’t actually be cultured in a laboratory, and as a result, we know very little about them. There have been searches for “weird life”, including, most notoriously, GFAJ-1. GFAJ-1 was initially reported to use arsenic in the construction of its DNA (as opposed to phosphorus, which is what all known life uses instead). However, after its discovery was announced, further experimentation couldn’t detect the presence of arsenic in its DNA, and biochemical modeling suggested that DNA using arsenic wouldn’t actually be chemically stable. The search goes on.

Mars

Mars

This list obviously wouldn’t be complete without everyone’s favorite red planet, Mars. Mars has long held a fascination, in part due to early observations of channels or canals on the surface (these were later revealed to be the result of an optical illusion). As it turns out, such a reputation might be warranted – Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our Solar System, and shows evidence of being a much warmer, wetter planet in its past (most notably, the presence of dry river networks and lake beds). In the present day, there also appears to be seasonal flows of liquid brine or extremely salty water, most likely the result of salts absorbing water vapor from the atmosphere.

As I mentioned in my previous essay, methane has also been detected in the Martian atmosphere. Since methane isn’t chemically stable under Martian conditions, something must actively producing it. Stranger yet, the production appears to be sporadic, suggesting that this is the result of an active process. While there are purely geological processes that can produce methane, here on Earth, the vast majority of methane is produced by microbes, which obviously raises suspicions.

It’s unlikely the Martian microbes – if they exist – are living on the surface, due to the high flux of radiation. Instead, they’ll most likely be found in deep subsurface habitats or aquifers, or potentially underneath the polar ice caps. Future missions to Mars (notably the ESA’s ExoMars and NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover) will hopefully give us better answers to the age old question of life on Mars.

Europa

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Moving into the outer Solar System, Europa is one of the four major moons of Jupiter, and is covered entirely by a thick layer of ice. It’s been a target of great interest to astrobiologists since the data from the Voyager missions suggested the presence of a vast ocean underneath the ice layer. The thickness of the ice shell and the depth of the ocean is subject to debate, but it’s thought that it could be as much as 100 miles deep, and encompass a volume of water twice the size of all of Earth’s oceans. Given the importance of liquid water to life as we know it, this obviously makes it a potential candidate for habitability.

Due to the complete absence of sunlight underneath the ice shell, if there’s life on Europa, it’s probably clustered around hydrothermal vents, much like the vent ecosystems seen on ocean floors here on Earth. These vents are driven by volcanic heating driven by the intense tidal forces of Jupiter, which also keeps the ocean from freezing, and is also most likely responsible for the alleged plumes of water erupting from the surface.

Several missions are planned to study Europa – ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer and NASA’s Europa Multi-Flyby Mission, which will hopefully be able to measure the thickness of the ice shell, gather more data on the chemical composition of the surface, and sample the surface plumes (if they exist). Proposals have been circulating to actually drill down and explore the ocean, but such a mission is a while off.

Enceladus

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Similar to Europa, Enceladus is an ice covered moon orbiting Saturn. It features extensive plumes of water erupting from its southern hemisphere, thought to originate in a subsurface ocean. The exact mechanisms driving the plumes hasn’t been determined, but there’s likely hydrothermal activity in play. Since the plumes are so extensive, the Cassini mission in orbit around Saturn has been able to conveniently sample some of the erupted material, and discovered that it has a high salt content (suggesting hydrothermal activity) and traces of simple organic compounds. Given the presence of organics, liquid water, and a likely energy source, Enceladus has become a hot topic amongst astrobiologists, and will hopefully be the target of future exploration

Titan

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Another moon of Saturn, Titan is the second largest moon in the Solar System, and the only one with a dense atmosphere. The atmosphere is made up of a mixture of nitrogen, methane, and a mixture of organic compounds. Titan is a chilly -355 degrees Fahrenheit, so cold that methane is liquid at the surface. In fact, the most interesting thing about Titan is that liquid methane takes the place of water – there are rivers and lakes of the stuff.

Consequently, unlike the other worlds we’ve looked at, if there’s life on Titan, it’s very different from the water-based life we’re familiar with. Potential biochemical pathways have been identified for the Titanian atmosphere, and, interestingly enough, some of the features in Titan’s atmospheric composition would be consistent with presence of metabolizing organisms. Nonetheless, life on Titan remains a much more speculative topic, and will require further exploration of this mysterious, haze shrouded moon.

Conclusion

While Earth may be the most habitable world in our Solar System, it isn’t the only place life might have evolved. No alien life has been conclusively detected, but the hunt is on. The most exciting aspect of this search is that if life evolved independently, multiple times within the same solar system, it suggests that the emergence of life is a common event.

In other words, if we discover that our Solar System is teeming with life, it’s likely that so is the rest of the galaxy.


Tess

Tessa is a 28 year old PhD student, and perhaps the world’s only queer trans astrobiologist. A nerd going way back, her interests include science fiction, space exploration, sustainability, science communication, and feminism and gender. Her hobbies also include horseback riding, playing the flute, social dancing, knitting, and occasional attempts at writing fiction. She currently resides in Tempe, AZ with her even nerdier fiancee and a mastiff mix who thinks he’s a lapdog. She tweets occasionally @spacermase.

Get Excited for Steampunk!

So I’m a bit of a Steampunk nerd. I love the style: the Victorian dress with funky gadgets made of brass and way too many cogs and gears, adventure and intrigue, the science…the whole 20,000 leagues! Get it? Anyway…

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction with a massive following. The term “steampunk” was coined in the 80’s, but the genre started back in the Victorian era with writers like Jules Verne and HG Wells. Back then, it was used as a glimpse into the future. A possibility. Now, Steampunk is a look into an alternate history.

Still, despite its interesting culture and growing favor, the genre has a small film base. The list includes films like Hugo, Wild Wild West, and the Golden Compass, as well as a number of European films like The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Wikepedia lists only 30 films total, and of that list I’ve personally only seen three! I’d never even heard of most of these and the some of the ones I have seen, such as Van Helsing, did not strike me as being part of the Steampunk genre. But I digress…

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Gears! Robots! What more could you ask for?

The point is that the genre itself has a lot of potential! And StudioCanal in France as well as a few Disney animation veterans seem to see this as well.

This year come spring time, StudioCanal is releasing an animated film called April and the Extraordinary World in French. It’s a 2D animation with an art style that feels reminiscent of Hayao Myazaki (at least that’s what I gather from the images I’ve seen). The film has already previewed last year at the Annecy Film Festival at which it received an award for Best feature film. From what I’ve gathered, the film does not appear to be releasing in the US, but rather Canada. It’s not very clear. But don’t sweat it just yet, as there’s always the DVD release. Or Netflix.

Also on it’s way is another 2D animation film called Hullabaloo! Imagined by Veteran Disney animators who believe that 2D art as an animation medium is on the decline, Hullabaloo is expected to give us all the fun and adventure of a Disney movie: Strong female characters, great orchestral music, and an enchanting story. Sadly, the film has no release date yet. Even more sad, the project is being funded through Indiegogo. But that is where the sadness ends. The group working on the project started the crowdfunding campaign to fund a short film to pitch to a studio that would then (hopefully) fund a full length feature film. Currently they’ve raised enough to make that short film, and three others! I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to think there might be a desire out there to see more steampunk on the big screen! One can only hope.

Personally, I find what the animators from Disney are doing to be admiral. Fingers crossed that when Hullabaloo does get released (and I’m sure it will one way or another) that people remember the beauty behind 2D animation. It’s an art form I think we would miss down the line. Plus it’s totally fitting, Steampunk is a revival of the aesthetic of the Victorian era. Hullabaloo wants to start a revival of 2D animation.

In the meantime, I think I’m going to hunt down some of these films I’ve never heard of!

If you want to know more about the films, you can check out Hullabaloo’s Indiegogo page and this article on Alice and the Extraordinary World. The world of Steampunk awaits you!


 

Rose

Rose is a casual nerd who has been writing since she was able to form words. She loves anime and anything cute and fuzzy. She’s a casual gamer who plays all her games on the easiest possible setting and still gets terribly stuck. She’s a fan of Disney movies, theatre, superheroes, Star Wars and Star Trek, and making things from other things because making things from scratch is too hard.

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