Author Archive for Brian Visser



Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier

by Brian Visser on November 16th, 2017
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier Cover Image

On October 17, 2017, Electronic Arts, the largest video game publisher in the industry, announced that it was canceling a highly anticipated Star Wars game and shutting down the developer that had been making it, Visceral Games.  This caused waves with fans, including me, because the brief, early footage of the game had been tantalizing.  Everyone wanted to know what happened.  Why was such a sure thing called off?  Luckily, a couple weeks later, Jason Schreier, a journalist for Kotaku, published The Collapse Of Visceral’s Ambitious Star Wars Game.  Schreier spent time with the former employees of Visceral Games, and they described a game doomed from the beginning.  It was a fascinating article that gave a glimpse into the making of video games that I hadn’t really considered.  At the end of the article, I wanted more, and Schreier mentioned that he had written an entire book about the topic.  So, I went and immediately checked out Blood, Sweat, and Pixels.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels details the development of nine popular video games and one game that was never released.  The commonality is that the games are made by people who are passionate about their jobs, but who have to sacrifice their health and personal lives to work hours upon hours of brutal overtime to finish products.  Also, that games are never really finished, just released.  Honestly, after reading this book, I’m surprised that video games get made at all, let alone that some of them are incredibly entertaining.  Scherier’s writing is straightforward–you can tell that he’s a journalist–and very readable.  The background that he gives on games that I have played, like Destiny, gave new texture to the experience, and it’s a testament to Scherier’s writing that I was engaged during chapters about games that I’ve never played, like Uncharted 4.   I now want to play several of the games featured in this book, but, alas, my time for playing games is limited.  Overall, the book is an eye-opening, behind-the-scenes look at an industry that doesn’t get serious attention paid to it.  I highly recommend it to gamers and to people interested in making games themselves.

Iowa City Haunted Houses and Attractions

by Brian Visser on October 13th, 2017

I don’t like scary movies or books or anything.  Honestly, I’m a big wimp.  So, do you think I’d go 2324747282_a752896fde_zanywhere near a haunted house?  No, normally not, but I’ve got two scare-crazy kiddos.  Yes, my seven and four year old children are braver than I am.  They begged me to go through one when we were at Bloomsbury Farm (Scream Acres).  We went through “Carnival Chaos,” which was rife with killer clowns and other jump scares.  I desperately held onto to my four year old as he joyfully went from one nightmare filled room to the next.  The kids loved it, and want to go to even more.  Me?  I’m done, but maybe you can take them for me.  Here are some of the haunted houses and other attractions in and around the Iowa City area:


Field of Screams–Haunted corn maze put on by the Johnson County Jaycees.

Dates & Times: October 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 & 28. Open at 7:30 PM. Last visitor in line at 10:30 PM. Closes at 11:00 PM.

Location: 2991 Black Diamond Rd SW, Iowa City, IA 52240

Admission: $10 per person ($1 off admission, if you bring a canned food item).


Creepy Campus Crawl–Family friendly fun at the Old Capitol Museum and Museum of Natural History

Date & Time: October 27, 2017 from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Location: 17 North Clinton Street, Iowa City, IA 52240

Admission: Free


CAB Haunted House–The Iowa Memorial Union is turned into a free haunted house.

Date & Time: Friday, October 20 from 7:00 PM until 1:00 AM

Location: 125 N Madison St, Iowa City, IA 52245

Admission: Free


Circle of Ash–Intense attraction at the Linn County Fairgrounds

Dates & Times: Friday, October 13th, 8 PM to 12 AM (last tickets at 11:30 PM)
Saturday, October 14th, 8 PM to 12 AM (last tickets at 11:30 PM)
Friday, October 20th, 8 PM to 12 AM (last tickets at 11:30 PM)
Saturday, October 21st, 8 PM to 12 AM (last tickets at 11:30 PM)
Sunday, October 22nd, 8 PM  to 10 PM (last tickets at 9:30 PM)
Thursday, October 26th, 8 PM to 10 PM (last tickets at 9:30 PM)
Friday, October 27th, 8 PM to 12 AM (last tickets at 11:30 PM)
Saturday, October 28th, 8 PM to 12 AM (last tickets at 11:30 PM)
Sunday, October 29th, 8 PM to 10 PM (last tickets at 9:30 PM)

Location: 201 Central City Rd, Central City, IA 52214

Admission: $20


Scream Acres–Multiple attractions at one location including “Carnival Chaos” *shivers*

Dates & Times:  October 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 & 28 from 7 PM to 10 PM.

Location: 3260 69th St, Atkins, IA 52206

Admission: $20 for two attractions.  $30 for four attractions.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

by Brian Visser on October 5th, 2017
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman Cover Image

You probably don’t need any encouragement to read a Neil Gaiman book.  They are treats to be savored, and, honestly, Gaiman writing about Norse mythology is a bit of a no-brainer.  Like peanut butter and chocolate together.  If you’re on the fence at all, though, let me tell you this: I liked it even MORE than I was expecting to.

Norse Mythology has Neil Gaiman retelling the tales of Odin, Thor and Loki that he fell in love with in his youth.  Gaiman was introduced to the characters the same way that I was–from reading the Thor Marvel Comics.  I was astonished by how different the characters were from their comic book counterparts.  These are self-absorbed, competitive, and temperamental gods, but strangely likable.  It was always amusing to hear that Loki was Thor’s first suspect when any mischief occurred.  Actually, I was surprised by how humorous the stories were in general.  I found myself laughing out loud at the god’s shenanigans and Gaiman’s witty writing.

We get 15 separate stories that, when you read them all, feel like an adventure or journey with old friends.  The stories are told roughly in chronological order and flow into each other well.  He begins with the creation myth which was my least favorite.  I need characters and relationships.  Once those were introduced, there wasn’t a single tale that was a miss.  The stories culminate in Ragnarok: The end of all things, but there’s beauty in the destruction.  There’s rebirth and hope and the promise of new tales.  I listened to half of the book as a Book on Disc.  Gaiman reads it himself, and his voice adds magic.  One of my favorite reads of the year.

 

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

by Brian Visser on September 2nd, 2017
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi Cover Image

Sometimes I feel the inescapable need for some Science Fiction with star ships, other planets–the whole bit.  Luckily, The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi scratched that particular itch, though it presented me with a different problem: It ended way too soon.  The Collapsing Empire is the beginning of a smart, new series and an introduction to a massive new universe.

In the future, humanity has spread out among the stars with Earth long forgotten.  We’ve achieved faster than light travel through The Flow, a field that can transport ships through space to different parts of the universe.  What holds humanity together is the Interdependency, an empire built around trade and, well, interdependence.  The book follows three point of view characters– a scientist who studies The Flow, a merchant on a starship and the new Empress of the Interdependency.  Each of them becomes aware of changes with The Flow, and they each know that these changes are trouble and threaten the Interdependency and life itself.

To me, The Collapsing Empire felt like a modern Dune with it’s sprawling universe and political machinations.  It also reminded me of Game of Thrones because of its multiple point of view characters.  The author, John Scalzi, is very…I don’t know, SCALZI-ish?  He’s definitely an author where you’re either going to like him and his style or you’re going to go somewhere else for your spaceship fix.  I loved the book and am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

New Star Wars Books: Rogue One and More!

by Brian Visser on December 14th, 2016

Want the read some new Star Wars books after watching Rogue One?  The Library has you covered!

ultimate-visual-guide

Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide by Pablo Hidalgo is the essential, comprehensive guide to Rogue One.  This detailed title features in-depth character profiles, plus five new, fully annotated cross-sections of vehicles and mapped-out locations.  This book is packed with information and stills from the movie.

Star Wars Galactic Maps: An Illustrated Atlas of the Star Wars Universe readers learn about all of the various planets of the Star Wars universe with detailed maps showing the different worlds and characters.  This looks like the perfect book for any avid Star Wars fan. There’s also a spread introducing the planet and characters featured in Rogue One.

And for something really different, we have Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the GalaxyPropaganda art has been synonymous with life in the galaxy far, far away. Whether it’s a poster of a Star Destroyer hpropagandaovering over a planet in a display of Imperial domination; a symbol painted on a wall to deliver a message of hope on behalf of the Rebellion; or a mural depicting a line of stormtroopers to promote unity within the First Order, this type of art, as an instrument of persuasive fear mongering and impassioned idealism, captures the ever-changing tides of politics and public sentiment across the galaxy. Star Wars Propaganda is an in-world history that threads together the stories behind these images–why they were created, how they were indicative of the times, who were the artists behind them–and delivers a glimpse into the anger, passion, and corruption that fuel the galaxy’s greatest wars.

I’m excited to look through all of these titles, and there are many more available here at ICPL!

Raise a Glass to Freedom…Voting Resources!

by Brian Visser on October 25th, 2016

LinThe 58th U.S. presidential election will take place on Tuesday, November 8, but you know that already, right?  I mean, how could you not?  History has its eyes on us, but maybe you haven’t decided who you’re going to vote for or maybe you’re not registered.  You can register online here.  If you’re not sure whether you’re registered to vote in Iowa, you can check that here.  You can also register in person at any of the early voting locations, which can be found here.  Just be sure to bring along one of these:

  • Iowa driver’s license
  • Iowa non-operator’s ID card
  • Out-of-state driver’s license or non-operator’s ID card
  • US passport
  • US military ID card
  • ID card issued by an employer
  • Student ID card issued by an Iowa high school or an Iowa college

The League of Women Voters put together a website so that you can make an informed decision on who to vote for–Vote411.  You can enter your address to bring up the races applicable to you and easily compare candidates.  The Gazette has an election center as well.  If you click on the “Election Guide” and put in your address, it will show you your ballot.  The Johnson County Auditor’s website has links to all of the candidates websites here.  This is not a moment; it’s the movement.  Vote.  Don’t throw away your shot–Lin-Manuel won’t stand for it 😉

Tales of a Budding Bicyclist Part 3

by Brian Visser on July 22nd, 2016

maxresdefaultI’ve blogged about biking in the past.  I thought that doing a third post might be too much, but I realized it has almost been a year since my last cycling-related entry (the days are long, but the years are short).  I think that RAGBRAI gets me in the mood to write about one of my favorite pastimes.  My escalation in bike riding could not have been foreseen.  Seriously, though, I went from not riding a bike to thinking that going for a 36 mile ride is a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon!  I feel like it’s time to invest in a new, better bike, and ICPL has a great resource to help figure out what’s best for me.

Last year during RAGBRAI, I got serious bike envy.  Let me explain–four years ago, I had decided that riding a bike to work would be a good way to exercise.  I walked into a local bike shop and told the friendly employee that I needed a bike to make my short-ish commute downtown.  They got me set-up with a no-frills bicycle for that very purpose.  I was (and still am) very happy with it (I would like to mention that I named my bike Road Warrior).  Thing is, I feel like I’m working harder than I need to on longer rides.  My bike is heavy with wide tires.  Hence the RAGBRAI bike envy.  Everyone had really nice bikes, and I was riding the bike I use to get to work everyday.

I have an idea of what I want to get, but I definitely needed to do research.  The Library has access to the Consumer Reports database (currently only available within the Library, but we’re working on it).  Consumer Reports is known for its unbiased information and reviews on numerous products.  They have a Bike Buying Guide.  I should mention that it’s a section that they’re no longer actively updating, but the info that is provided is very helpful.  They have a great “Getting Started” section that gets you thinking about BBGhow you want to ride, how much you want to spend and where you should get your bike from.  They recommend going to a bike shop.  We’re lucky to have so many options in Iowa City including World of BikesGeoff’s30th Century Bicycle and Broken Spoke.  Going for a test ride is important to make sure you’re comfortable with the bike.

They go through the different types of bikes, which was actually quite helpful for me.  I always assumed that my current bike was a road bike, but the description is more in line with a fitness bike.  Which makes sense, because it says that fitness bikes are good for commuting.  A performance road bike seems like the kind of bike that I’m interested in now.  After that, there’s a section about several brands of bikes.  I also appreciated this section due to the fact that I was only aware of a handful of popular manufactures.  Consumer Reports also has a guide for purchasing a helmet and great articles like “Gear Up for a Safe Ride.”  They recommend getting a mirror for your bike.  I do too!  I’ve found my mirror to be invaluable.

I’ll probably be getting that new bike relatively soon.  It takes me forever to make a decision like this.  I want to be happy with it, because I plan on riding it for years and years to come.

10 Cloverfield Lane

by Brian Visser on June 22nd, 2016
10 Cloverfield Lane Cover Image

I hated Cloverfield.  Hated.  It.  The 2008 film followed a group of 20-somethings in New York the evening of an attack by a Godzilla-like monster.  All of the characters were terrible, annoying, self-absorbed people.  By the end of it, I was rooting for the monster.  I really wanted them all to be eaten.  Spoilers: They get eaten.  So, when 10 Cloverfield Lane, a sort-of sequel, was announced, I wasn’t interested at all.  But, my curiosity got the best of me, and I watched the first trailer.  I was very intrigued by what I saw.  Besides, it didn’t appear to have anything to do with its namesake.  I watched the movie this weekend, and I am very happy that I didn’t dismiss it out of hand.

Cloverfield was a found footage monster movie, while 10 Cloverfield Lane is a traditionally shot, claustrophobic thriller.  It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle–a woman who wakes up after a car accident to find herself in a bomb shelter.  She’s shocked when she realizes that her leg is shackled to a pipe, and there’s an IV in her arm.  Howard–played by John Goodman–informs her that he saved her after the accident and brought her to his bunker.  He claims that there has been some sort of chemical attack and that it’s not safe to leave.  Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a man who helped Howard build the shelter, is the other occupant.  All three actors do an amazing job, and the movie plays with the audience about whether Howard is telling the truth or is maybe just plain crazy.  I would’ve preferred if they hadn’t connected this to Cloverfield at all, because I think the ending would’ve been a bigger shock.  I highly recommend this to anyone who likes tight, tense movies.

Grayson Vol. 1: Agents Of Spyral by Tom King and Tim Seeley

by Brian Visser on June 2nd, 2016
Grayson Vol. 1: Agents Of Spyral by Tom King and Tim Seeley Cover Image

DC Comic’s The New 52 publishing initiative has come to an end.  Grayson by Tom King and Tim Seeley was easily the best thing to come out of it.  It follows the former Robin, Dick Grayson, after he was outed as Nightwing, killed (he got better) and recruited to become a spy for the organization Spyral.  Comics!  I’d describe Grayson as a crazy sci-fi, spy-thriller.  King and Seeley took a lot of Grant Morrizon’s bizarre ideas from his tenure on Batman and ran with them.  Dick is working as a double-agent for Batman in Spyral.  Spyral has been keeping tabs on the superhero community and slowly figuring out everyone’s secret identities.  Batman wants to know what Spyral knows and wants the once Boy Wonder to undermine their operations.  This puts Dick–now known as Agent 37–in morally compromising situations.  The book also has a sense of humor:  I think of Dick Grayson as the Spider-man of the DC Universe–he’s a quipper.  He knows everyone, and he’s fun.  Even though The New 52 is done, Rebirth isn’t steamrolling everything that came before.  Grayson is still relevant to the DC Universe going forward.  Plus, it’s a great story with great art.  I don’t know how newbie friendly it is.  Batman Incorporated would be a good place to start if you want the background of Grant Morrison’s influence.  Otherwise, you can start with The New 52 Nightwing then Forever Evil.

Summer (Reading) is Coming

by Brian Visser on May 17th, 2016

SiCThe Iowa City Public Library’s Summer Reading Program begins on Tuesday, May 31, but it’s not the only Summer Reading Program in the area.  Your friendly, neighborhood Teacher Librarians put together an amazing website that has info about all of the summer reading opportunities!  They also created lists of great reads broken down by grade levels.  Check them out and find your next favorite book.  Feel free to sign up for all the programs and read all the things!  Fight the Summer Slide (which is a bad thing, and completely different from the Electric Slide)!