Monday, June 13, 2016

Video Game Review of Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance

Today is a treat. I have the opportunity to review a video game for young kids. What a different experience from my usual - books and movies. I had to call in reinforcements to help with this one though - my generation ... and my personality ... have me lacking some basic "gaming" skills.
So you get two reviews for the price of one today. Mine and my teenagers. (I colour coded the two so you could keep track of who thought what.)

The Aetherlight is an action adventure game that is constructed as a Biblical allegory. Much like the way the Narnia Chronicles have inspired and engaged readers for generations, New Zealand Scarlet City Studios, partnered with American Bible Society, is hoping to invite a generation of gamers to interact directly with the Bible and its powerful story.

Tim Cleary, an Australian Youth Pastor set out to design a game to bring the scriptures to where the kids were at. Online. Its a new generation our kids are living in and as parents we need to offer them as many opportunities as we can to touch, hear and feel the Living Breathing Word of God. I'm all for that! 

As a parent, that sounds like a great way to use up some of my kids "screen time". My kids are almost all grown up with only one left still at home in high school and two on to college. However, I always felt better when my kids spent time on electronic devices that had more to them than just "playing".

So, why not let your kids "engage with the Resistance as they begin their immense task of restarting the Great Engines to drive back the fog and find the Great Engineer. This adventure will take (them) throughout the entire land of Aethasia, from No Man’s Landing, through the Snowmoors and Giant Seed Forest, right to the Ends of the Earth Falls!" (Quote taken from the Scarlet City Studio website.)

From my perspective, the game was complex and confusing to start with. It took me quite some time to figure out how to move and make anything happen on screen. Thankfully, it took my kids all of a split second to recognize it was a point and click game. (If you don't know what that means, ask your kids.)

However, the creators of the game wanted the kids to be interacting with the content and other users more than that so they blended the point/click experience with an RPG format. This basically means that your child becomes one of the characters in the game and can choose how they interact with the on-screen activities.

The basic concept seemed to be an adventure set up where your character is given challenges to accomplish. This involves finding items, building useful tools and contraptions, and fighting off the Automatons, the bad-guys army.

Overall, I was frustrated by the experience of the game, constantly thrown in battles while I wanted to be focused on the discovery of missing items. However, once my son took over the keyboard, I realized there was so much more to the adventure. Due to his already competent gaming skills, he knew where to move and how to engage deeper aspects than the obvious. The game came alive. He discovered for me that you could invite others playing the online game into your battles to help you. You could join theirs. You could chat with other players asking for info or help. You could also change your clothing and personalize your player.

Wow, who knew?

Basically my kids thought the game was fun and interactive. It had a few quirks that slowed down the progress of the players, such as the flee button and the slow transition from world to world. However they didn't feel it would stop them from playing.

The game is targeted to pre-teen aged kids. This is due to the vocabulary and the violence I imagine. The violence was not extreme for a video game. It had bothered me a bit at first, seeming so unnecessary. My son assured it was tame and fit the story well. As a parent I would just say that it is very cartoonish violence. Your player in involved in a battle with a robot. You swing and thump it with a pipe or shoot it with a gun until it breaks. However, you take turns at hits, allowing the robot then to fire at you or thump you with a weapon. My player took several canon balls to the stomach. That is what I meant by unnecessary.  Even a woman in a wheelchair gets thumped by a metal pipe several times. This perhaps was my biggest concern.

There is a lot of reading involved. The characters give orders through bubble chats. If you have a reluctant or slow reader, a parent might need to sit with them to get the full meaning of the game. However my son, very proficient with games managed to play quite well without reading any of the bubbled information. (Not sure that is a positive??) The reading component is how your child engages with the scriptures. Perhaps if you progress through the game farther than we did you will find other ways to bring the Biblical content in.

Overall, I would allow my kids to play this game as young kids. It was engaging and entertaining. The content is clean and the chats are protected. There is a parent dashboard allowing the parent to control certain aspects of the playing experience for the child, such as password resets, disabling the chat options and blocking access to the game itself. This is good to know.

I give Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance a thumbs up! So do my teens. 

Please note that Tyndale has a companion bible available in store and online, the Aetherlight Bible for teens.

Go check it our for yourself!  

I received a copy of the game free of charge from BuzzPlant in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to only give positive feedback.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Movie Review of Risen by Affirm Films

Get a digital copy today or pre-order in DVD and Blu-ray!

Risen is one of the latest faith-based movie that hit theaters in 2016. It is a Sony/Affirm production and did a fantastic $11.8 million in opening weekend ticket sales.

Image result for risen movie on dvd
 “The best film about the life of Jesus since THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.”
~ Patrick Novecosky, Editor-In-Chief / Legatus magazine 
“An UPLIFTING Masterpiece!” ~ Dave Morales, FOX TV/HOUSTON
“Epic” ~ Mike Androsky/ Entertainers
This is not just the story of Christ's death and resurrection, like motion pictures such as The Passion of the Christ. It is the story of an unbelieving Roman Soldier tasked with finding the missing body of the Nazarene after his tomb is found empty. This Roman tribune must find the body and prove the resurrection gossip is a hoax. 

Instead of a huge cover-up and scandal this Roman soldier finds the Savior.Ge

First, as my husband commented, it is basically an episode of CSI: Jerusalem. The story begins as Christ is dying on the cross. Clavius, the Roman soldier arrives on scene to verify, much like a detective or coroner arrives on a crime scene. Then he follows protocol (in excess) to avoid any "chance of a body snatch" by the crazy Christ followers. In a couple days when word gets out that stone has been moved from the tomb, the body missing and the Pharisees panicking, Clavius engages in a man-hunt, digging up corpses, interviewing suspects and witnesses and studying the crime scene to find all the answers.

I really enjoyed the integrity of Clavius, played by Joseph Fiennes. He is portrayed as a valued soldier, high in rank. He is shown to be brutal in his work, but also to have a conscience enough not to enjoy his tasks. He has ambition to move up the ranks of the Roman Army but also states he dreams of "a day with no death".

He seems to find the task of hunting done a dead body to be silly. Yet he carries out his duties with loyalty and purpose. As the pressure to find a body - any body - builds, the viewers can see the dilemma building in Clavius. He sees all the questions unanswered yet pointing to the impossible truth of a man rising from the dead. When he is re-assigned, he asks for a few more days to complete his investigation. He needs to follow the loose ends a little longer. When he finally discovers Jesus and his disciples hiding out he is forced to choose. The real truth, as unbelievable as it appears or the safest "truth" to protect the Empire.

He abandons his post citing that he has seen two conflicting truths that he cannot reconcile. A dead body he verified with his own eyes and a risen body he has seen with his own eyes. At this he decides to follow Jesus' followers. He witnesses the passion of the disciples, a healing done by the hands of Christ and the ability Jesus has to appear and disappear from any spot. Eventually Clavius speaks directly with the Savior and hangs around long enough to see the Ascension.

The movie is compelling in its purpose and scope. The scenery is awe-inspiring and the characters are real to life. This is definitely a movie I would have in my DVD collection.

As of today, the movie Risen is available in digital format. Blu-ray and DVD become available on May 24th, 2016.

Bonus content includes three featurettes:
  • “The Mystery of The Resurrection: Making Risen,” director Kevin Reynolds, his cast and crew detail the making of the compelling film.
  • “A.D. Jerusalem,” fans learn how the production brought the ancient settings to life.
  • “Script to Screen,” producers discuss the making of RISEN
  • Also ... Blu-ray and digital exclusive content includes deleted scenes and “The Battle of the Zealots Deconstructed,” a featurette that goes behind the scenes to see how one of the film’s most epic sequences was shot. 
  • A commentary is included on the Blu-ray and DVD formats.
As well, on May 24th, a 4K Ultra HD option will be available. This" format features four times the resolution of high definition, high dynamic range (HDR)--which produces brilliant highlights, vibrant colors and greater contrast on compatible displays--and Dolby Atmos audio, remixed specifically for the home theater environment, delivering captivating sound that places and moves audio anywhere in the room, including overhead."
(Information taken from press release by Lovell/Fairchild Communications.)

Get your copy today!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Book Review of A Fool & His Monet by Sandra Orchard

A Fool & His Monet is my first book by Sandra Orchard and my first mystery to review.

It was a fun story with quirky characters following a trail of missing art and leading to so much more!

Serena Jones has a passion for uncovering lost and stolen art—one that’s only surpassed by her zeal to uncover the truth about the art thief who murdered her grandfather. She’s joined the FBI Art Crime Team with the secret hope that one of her cases will lead to his killer. Now, despite her mother’s pleas to do something safer—like get married and give her grandkids—Serena’s learning how to go undercover to catch thieves and black market traders.
When a local museum discovers an irreplaceable Monet missing, Jones goes into action. The clues point in different directions and her boss orders her to cease investigating her most promising suspect. But determined to solve the case, and perhaps discover another clue in her grandfather’s case, she pushes ahead, regardless of the danger.
With spunk, humor, and plenty of heart-stopping moments, Sandra Orchard gives readers an exciting string of cases to crack, and a character they’ll love to watch solve them.

Sandra Orchard tells her lovely tale in first person POV. That is a personal preference and some people don't like it. I do. I like reading it and I like writing it. However I had some troubles with that in this book. I enjoyed the perspective of Serena - getting in her head - for a while. Unfortunately, as the story progressed I wished I had someone else's perspective of Serena to counter balance my confusion.

The personality of this plucky FBI agent, sometimes felt over the top. I had a hard time believing she was a legitimate FBI agent. She's a rookie, that much is for sure, but knowing her thoughts and seeing her actions I questioned a lot about her abilities. That made it hard for me to invest in her as the main character.

Even still, the story was fun and fresh. I loved the title and book cover. Book #2 Another Day, Another Dali coming out in October looks equally exciting with its bright red cover.

Overall, I liked the concept of the the story and characters better than I enjoyed reading the book. I found myself putting it down after a chapter and leaving it for some time. This made the "chase" of it drag down to a crawl. However, this won't stop me from reading book 2 and giving this author another go.

One of the enticing aspects of the story is the romance. The author has written Serena to be a beautiful woman who seems to have men falling down around her feet. However, Serena seems dull to the fact. There are two would-be suitors that occupy the pages with her. Number one, Nate, is the Super of her apartment building with a love for tea, movies and a very loose definition of "her" apartment. Bachelor #2 is her hard working, by the book, field training agent, Tanner. Both have fantastic qualities and both are competing to be one whose advances she recognizes first.

Along with the fun of chasing criminals and dodging advances Serena has to keep up with her family. What a fun and odd bunch. If you've read any other reviews of this book I'm sure you've heard mention of Aunt Martha. A lively character that for me, kept the plot moving more than the art crime suspects. Delightful bunch! Worth reading just for the antics they bring to the page.

In recap, I would still recommend this book to others, especially if they like mysteries. I plan to read book 2 and see if Serena can win my heart more, as well as find out if #TeamNate or #TeamTanner will win.  BTW, the author has set up a reader/fan page to vote for your favorite guy to win Serena's heart.

Check out Baker Publishing for an excerpt to read as well as a reader's group guide.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment about this book or any other Sandra Orchard or mystery author you'd like to share.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."