Game Review: Tropico 5

It may just be the way that the development cycles of video games lay out, but a given year always seems to alternate between feast and famine when it comes to new titles. Where the first half of the year was rather dry, the second half looks to be awash under a deluge of playables. I know, I know #nerdworldproblems. If anything, these additions make for a wonderfully robust List of Excellent Distractions to help temper the anticipation for Gen Con 2014.

After binge-playing Transistor and staggering about after the gut-punch that was the ending I was profoundly grateful for the sunshine-and-salsa music filled Tropico 5. Yes, yes there will be at least one recursion of Transistor but there needs to be some time for emotional recovery first. And what better way to recover than lording over a Caribbean island or two?

Photo by Kalypso Media.
Tropico 5 is ostensibly billed as the next installment in Kalypso Media’s beloved simulation franchise, promising a bigger, better dictatorial experience than either of its two recent predecessors. So, does it deliver on that promise? Eh, sort of. Don’t get me wrong, there’s enough new material here that makes the present incarnation seem worthwhile, but just how well said content functions will likely depend at least in part on your personal degree of familiarity with the series.


The overarching premise of Tropico 5 is the same as that of its older siblings: the player assumes the role of dictator who must manage the economy, population, and international relations of a tropical island. Your playing experience is both shaped and guided by several recurring characters who periodically appear with requests, demands, and the occasional helpful tidbit to provide structure to the simulation. Your secondary, Penultimo, also offers his distinct brand of ‘help’ as you respond to the various inquiries and build up the infrastructure of Tropico. All these interactions are shot through with a dark humor that’s surprisingly witty and devilishly fun.

Tropico 5 sought to add more structure to the actual gameplay by introducing the concept of eras. Instead of keeping the context of the game in the Cold War, as was the case with earlier incarnations of Tropico, Tropico 5 sets out during the Colonial Period with the player as the Crown-appointed Governor. As you complete various tasks and Tropico begins to stand on its own two feet, so to speak, the prospect of throwing off the colonial yoke and taking power into your own hands becomes a reality, but it’s reality that comes with its own set of consequences. You’ll continue to navigate increasingly complex circumstances as time progresses through the Depression and Cold War eras and on to modern day.

While the eras are an interesting premise, they’re uneven in terms of how well they impact the game. In the Colonial Era only a handful of buildings are available to you, severely limiting what you can build and thus how you can service your populace. For example, there is no way for you to get any sort of healthcare to the citizens of Tropico until the Clinic can be unlocked, which is more than one era into the campaign. This rigid palette of structures doesn’t, however, translate over to the expectations your constituents have of you. Using the earlier example, you’ll be told that people will demand healthcare and think poorly of you for not providing it even if there’s no way for you to address this. Conversely, this slow trickle of new features can be a boon to new players, giving them extra time to familiarize themselves with each part of the game.

On the plus side, the eras introduce a new degree of strategy. In previous Tropicos, players started each Mission on a new island and built up infrastructure almost entirely from scratch. With Tropico 5 players alternate missions between two islands and must carefully manage both space and resources on each in turn. In an era or two, the plantations that once provided valuable cash crops are now occupying prime territory in the middle of your capital city and roadways that were once efficient thoroughfares for livestock are now circuitous corrals for traffic. Being from Boston, I handily appreciated seeing the strange, borderline nonsensical shape that my cities took on after one architectural generation was hoisted atop another. This forces the player to plan for both the short and long term, which can often take a bit of getting used to.

A component of this new longitudinal managerial style is the construction of your dynasty. At least once an era Penultimo will appear with news of the results of your…ehm…extracurricular activities. You’re given the option of recognizing your offspring (and thus gaining them as a member of your family) or casting them away into the populace, since the threat of White Walkers is minimal in sunny Tropico. Those legitimate children also walk amongst your citizens and can be assigned to one of several different tasks, such as managing various facilities or leading your army. Each family member comes with a special trait, making them particularly well equipped to handle certain tasks.

Speaking of tasks, one of the most striking differences between Tropico 5 and its predecessors is the level of micromanagement required. Individual buildings require attention beyond standard maintenance. Some structures need very specific staff while others must be monitored regularly. Upgrades and modernization also require direct intercession, which can be time consuming if done individually or very expensive if completed en masse. These enhancements also aren’t truly optional either, beyond the fact that the game does not compel you to complete them. Players of any iteration of the Civilization series will quickly realize that upkeep on your military units is key to future survival but, since this is frequently completed piecemeal, there may come a point where you’ll be inadvertently fielding tanks alongside musketmen.

The tech tree will also unlock the ability to write a constitution
Part of avoiding that scenario is another new feature, the technology tree. Buildings with an educational or scientific bent generate research points which, in turn, can be used to unlock various perks and features. The premise is nice, but the practice is somewhat clunky. Progress along the tree is strictly limited to what breakthroughs are available in a given era. There is no Civ style rushing science production to force epoch progression and, beyond a few buildings and edicts, there’s not much in terms of active investment from the player. It seems a bit like there was supposed to be more to the tech tree, but that integration was pruned away in favor of having the player concentrate their efforts on, say, hiring the right manager for a lumber mill.

The GIR and I are both fans of the series and were very excited when Kalypso announced that Tropico 5 would feature a multiplayer option. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though said option was thoroughly tested, as every attempt to use the multiplayer resulted in freezes, crashes, and unrecoverable saves and this was on the few attempts where we were able to start a game at all. Hopefully this is amended in a forthcoming patch but, as it stands, this feature is a complete dud.

While the core aspect of the game will still appeal to fans of the series and simulation games in general, Tropico 5 kind of misses the mark as a whole. Various relationships, particularly that between you and your citizens, do not seem to follow any sort of discernable logic. The happiness rating could be sky-high and the economy booming, but the player may still find themselves voted out of a job in the next election cycle. Furthermore, your constituents are more mercurial than in previous Tropicos, capable of swinging 10 percentage points in a matter of months. Contingencies between raw materials, mid-level businesses, and industries are never made entirely clear and must be discovered only via trial and error. For example, livestock will only eat corn and will die off even if you have a surplus of food on the island if said surfeit contains no corn. Disasters strike frequently, even on the ‘occasional’ disaster setting, and wreck a disproportionate amount of havoc, particularly when compared to an equivalent experience in Tropico 4. Since each mission involves a significant time commitment, the fact that any of the above can completely derail your game may promote a certain level of frustration.

There’s still fun to be had with Tropico 5, but it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if many of these new features don’t make a return appearance in the eventual Tropico 6. A lot of discordant ideas ended up in the final product and it makes for some tricky gaming as a result. If you’re on the fence about picking up Tropico 5, maybe wait a few weeks for the Steam Summer Sale.


Final Grade: B-/C+

Available for PC, Xbox 360, and PS4
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Game Review: Transistor

Sorry for that bit of radio silence last week guys. Event registration for Gen Con, while awesome, can often be a bit stressful even if it goes smoothly. But registration is now complete, leaving the GIR and I to exercise patience every time we click by the master countdown clock. Fortunately, the interim between now and the Best Four Days in Gaming is chock-full of new titles for gaming of the electronic variety. First on this List of Excellent Distractions is a game that has been gracing the blog for over a year now: Transistor.


Oh come on Kel. You cosplayed as Red for crying out loud. How are you going to be even close to objective here?

Fair question. Basically the content of this, my formal review of the game, is rooted primarily in actually playing whereas the impetus to cosplay as the protagonist was derived largely from the overall premise and aesthetics of the title since the demo offered only the barest of glimpses into the playing experience. That being said, I won’t lie when I carried considerable expectations for this game. There was a period last year while I was working on the costume and Supergiant Games was silent about its development schedule that periodically spurred the mental monologue that so many of us have had once we get attached to a title without a firm release date. It was a lot of, “Man, those guys haven’t said anything in a while. There’s so much hype about Transistor. It was so fun to play the demo; I hope it actually gets made within the next few years...or ever.”

Supergiant didn’t disappoint and managed keep the release in the first half of this year, only a couple months behind the March 2014 date that had been touted back at PAX East 2013. For a studio of only 10 people, not only being remotely close to schedule but making the release a simultaneous one for multiple platforms (PC and PS4), is no small feat. However, sticking to a timeline would be a molehill compared to the mountain of pressure stemming from the expectations attached to the successor of one of the biggest indie hits of 2011/2012. Does Transistor live up to all that?

Yes, for the most part.

Is it perfect? No. Is it deeply satisfying on both a playable and overall experiential level? Definitely.

Fans of Bastion will immediately pick up on the many macro-level similarities: the silent protagonist, the isometric game layout, iterative combat, and the nonlinear central narrative all feature prominently. This doesn’t imply that Transistor is a reskinned version of its older brother, just that Supergiant keyed in on the elements which made Bastion work so beautifully and worked to enhance them for the successor title.


Transistor begins en media res with protagonist Red taking custody of the eponymous weapon, a large futuristic sword, as she desperately attempts to flee the faceless assassins that nearly succeeded in their attempt to slay her mere moments before. The sword speaks to Red with the voice of a dead man (Bastion narrator Logan Cunningham), the victim of the aforementioned attack, whose essence now lives on in the glowing blue-and-red blade. As Red continues to flee, she is beset by the Process, a semi-sentient cybernetic army apparently bent on her destruction.

The combat mechanics with which you dispatch these robotic adversaries is largely what sets Transistor apart from Bastion and most other ARPGs for that matter. The Transistor grants the player the ability to temporarily stop time and lay out a defined plan of attack, effectively making for a combination of real-time and turn-based strategy. You’re allowed a finite amount of moves/actions during the stopped-time planning phase, but you can manipulate your plan as much as you’d like before setting it into action. After you set Red on her blindingly quick course of personal defense she becomes vulnerable for few moments, markedly slower and unable to wield the powers of the Transistor. While this period is literally only a few seconds in length, it can easily make or break the course of combat. The player quickly learns that it’s invaluable to include an escape route or the use of cover into their planning.

Plan your moves carefully. At higher levels there's no room for error
While we’re on the subject of learning curves, Transistor assumes that the player is quick to pick up on just about everything. There is no guidance beyond what the Transistor actually relays to you, either via its monologue or your interaction with the ‘access point’ terminals. The latter allows for periodic upgrades, game saves, limiter application (which we’ll get to in a minute) and repairs. As you survive rounds of combat and make your way through the changing cityscape of Cloudbank you both gain experience and learn about the nefarious plot of the shadowy cabal known as the Camerata. Experience most commonly translates into new Functions, or abilities that you can imbue the Transistor with at the access point terminals. Each Function can assume an active, enhancing, or passive role, allowing the player to create a completely customizable experience each time they enter or exit combat. For example, the basic attack Function, Crash(), can be augmented by adding the Function Bounce() as an enhancer, which would then cause subsequent Crash() attack damage to chain to multiple targets. There are 16 unlockable Functions, each with their own Memory and Planning costs, and only 4 may be equipped as active skills at one time. VentureBeat put together this handy guide of all possible combinations of Functions. Creating novel combinations of Functions is easily one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game, allowing the player to range from straightforward assaults to gleefully satisfying overrides of the Process that cause your assailants to target one another.
 
Every fight is very literally what you make of it.
Making yourself familiar with each Function is definitely worthwhile, as you’ll often be forced to think on your feet during the course of each round of combat. Aside from the hard limit of your action bar in the planning phase, the game enacts a different sort of constraint should the fight not go your way. Instead of having Red die, the Transistor will lose one of the four primary Functions each time her health wanes to zero. The lost Functions can only be recovered after Red survives one or more additional combats without them.

Limiters exist alongside Functions as Transistor applique that you earn in the course of your playthrough. These add-ons are the inverse of their helpful counterparts, serving to strengthen the Process in each combat where they are used.

Wait, so Limiters make the game harder? Why would you do that?

Each Limiter comes with a distinct in-game effect and an associated experience bonus. For example, one Limiter might cause the Process to create more opportunities for enemies to regenerate, but would also award the player with 2% more XP. Also, the Limiters give the player an added degree of control over their actual playing experience, allowing you to tailor the difficulty as you see fit.

In addition to the various modular pieces of the Transistor, the cyberpunk city of Cloudbank reaches out with opportunities for the player to customize his or her gameplay. There are countless places for Red to explore, with the prolific network of the city itself interfacing with the Transistor to offer alternately amusing and useful tidbits about her surroundings. Players can choose whether or not to engage the burgeoning civil disorder that threatens to push Cloudbank from precariously controlled urban center to authoritarian dystopia (and beyond, but there will be no spoilers here). The visuals that make Cloudbank come to life are exquisite, a rich combination of animation styles that segregate real-time from a series of flashbacks. Furthermore, some of the aesthetic features testify to the nature of Cloudbank itself, at one point offering the player, as a citizen, the chance to vote on the color of the sky.

Add to this a soundtrack that fits this unique work of science fiction like a glove. Alternating between fevered and smooth, the various songs all exude a haunted quality, particularly after it becomes clear that most are the works of Red herself, now rendered voiceless. The entire array of tracks can be purchased either in a bundle with the game or separately via Steam, iTunes, or the Supergiant website.

Trying to play on release day proved a bit challenging at times; the game would lag and stutter frequently, resulting in some amusing animation glitches. Supergiant has already released one set of updates that aim to address the majority of these, and the overall experience will likely continue to stabilize over the next few weeks. While I appreciated not having every aspect of the game spoon fed to me, the lack of any explanation at all sometimes fostered frustration. For example, about an hour and a half into my game I gained access to the Speed Trials which, as you can guess, prompt the player to defeat all enemies within a specified time limit. The Trials come with pre-set skills in your Transistor, many of which I hadn’t encountered in the game yet, so it took a degree of trial and error to figure out what each did. None of the above detracted all that much from my overall enjoyment, but it's worth noting that there will be periods in which you may be stymied. Some players may be off put by the speed at which the game can be completed (I've seen posted finished times in the 5 to 6-hour range), but there is a high degree of replayability, including the game+ continuation option, and the actual playthrough time can easily be extended if you choose to explore the board extensively. If you're still miffed at the idea that the game could be over in 5 hours, just think of this: at $19.99 USD, the game is a bargain when compared to the per playable hour rate of Diablo III.

The actual pacing of the game may irk some players. After a slow start, Transistor snaps into a breathless sprint that doesn't relent until the very end. If your attention wanders elsewhere for even a few seconds, you may miss critical plot points and find yourself wondering what's going on further down the road. The third act, while still compelling, feels rushed and a bit rough when compared to the rest of the game. I agree with Rock, Paper, Shotgun's assessment that the game could have been much stronger with a few tweaks to this portion of the narrative.

Depite these shortcomings, Transistor is a stunningly beautiful and highly innovative experience that squashes any notion of Supergiant Games being a one-hit wonder and it should be considered a win for indie publishers as a whole.

Final Grade: A-/B+ 

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This Week in Geekdom

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there and a happy weekend to everyone. Between the oodles of daylight we're enjoying in the Northern Hemisphere and the fact that registration for Gen Con events is only a week away, it's really starting to feel like we're on the cusp of summer. All-around awesomeness right there. Let's get down to the Week in Geekdom.

Image from RiptApparel
Science/Technology
 
Brand new base pairs! Image: Synthorx
One of the single most exciting announcements of the week came to us from the Scripps Research Institute in California. Researchers at the Institute confirmed that they had not only inserted two new, artificially created nucleotides into the DNA of of a bacterium, but that they had bred that altered subject and the resulting offspring maintained the new bases in its genome.

The upcoming edition of the Astrophysical Journal will feature this work from the University of Texas at Austin which claims to have identified the first 'sibling' of Sol, our sun.

Speaking of star relatives, check out this incredible video of the latest simulation that seeks to illustrate how our universe came to be.

Later this month we'll be treated to a brand new set of meteor showers. These celestial fireworks come courtesy of the comet 209P/LINEAR and may generate up to 1,000 visible particles an hour. Click here for more details on what parts of the shower will be visible to you.

Back on March 29 the sun lashed out with a super powerful X-class flare. On Friday, NASA released this video of that monster solar eruption. 

Star Trek fans had another reason to grin (or gloat) this week after NASA released these images of the surface of Mars which apparently has an affinity for the Starfleet.

And if you haven't gotten enough gorgeous images of the realm beyond our atmosphere, you can stop by this page and check out a live HD stream from the ISS whenever you'd like.

Dean Kamen, best known for inventing the Segway, and his company garnered a major victory this week when the US Food and Drug Administration (a.k.a. the FDA) granted approval to his line of prosthetic arms. What's so special about these particular prostheses? Not only are Kamen's line of bionics capable of never-before-seen levels of precision, but they have the added feature of being controlled by the wearer's mind.

Will checkout lines soon be a thing of the past. The Global Institute believes that not only will this be the case, but the transition to a universal line-free shopping experience is likely closer than you may think.

We've talked a bit about the ongoing saga concerning net neutrality here in the U.S. While may news outlets may have pronounced the concept as already dead, there are plenty of forces working tirelessly to see that this distressing reality does not come to be.

In the lead up to the FCC's highly anticipated vote regarding net neutrality, there has been an increasing uproar directed at major ISPs who appear to be proactively curtailing service.

Fortran code has formed the foundation of complex modelling and Monte Carlo simulations since its invention in the 1950s. So why is it, more than six decades later, that no successor coding language has ever been drafted? Three challengers now hope to succeed this theoretical behemoth.

Ever wonder why you can't un-see a certain interpretation of an image once said analysis has popped into your mind? Turns out that this phenomenon is part of an emerging theory about how the human brain functions as a whole.

Have you ever staged a picture so there was a white, high-contrast background behind your subject? Well, after this week, doing so is a violation of Amazon.com's newly awarded copyright. <<Scowls at Candy Crush Saga>> This is all your fault.

On the docket of Not All Smartphone Apps are Evil is this entry from the University of Texas at Houston, which can screen for melanoma at a higher rate of accuracy than many trained medical professionals.

Games

The Oculus Rift continues to garner all sorts of attention as the future of gaming hardware, but the virtual reality helmet is also lending itself to functions very much rooted in pragmatism. The Norwegian military, for example, has expressed interest in deploying the helmets to their tank commanders as a way to mitigate risks associated with, you know, driving a big, expensive tank.

Nintendo found itself mired in controversy this week after it was discovered that their simulator game for the 3DS, Tomodachi Life, does not allow players to engage in same-sex relationships. While a social media campaign to allow for said interactions rages on, the publisher seems to be standing firm in their ruling.

As if its reputation for evil wasn't thoroughly entrenched, EA is now on the cusp of finalizing a partnership with Comcast that would theoretically allow you to purchase games through your TV. 'Theoretically' is the magic word there.

General Awesomeness/Feats of Nerdery


Japanese electronics maker Amadana is hoping to cater to Star Wars fans with this R2-D2 projected virtual keyboard.

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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Cosplay: Suit up!

We’re rapidly approaching the three months remaining mark in our countdown to Gen Con 2014, so, since we can’t obsess over the event catalog yet, it’s about time for a costume update. I mentioned a few posts ago that the cosplay lineup for Gen Con is pretty full, which I’m downright giddy about. There are three costumes that will (hopefully) be making their debut during the Best Four Days in Gaming and all three of them utilize the basics of what will be covered in this entry. What do all these outfits have in common? All three use some sort of form-fitting bodysuit as a foundation.

Single piece suits that fit snugly to the wearer’s body are extremely common in the iconography of various nerdy properties. You see them frequently in movies, in video games, all over anime, and just about everywhere in comics. While that ubiquity sometimes curries agitation, it’s not likely that the garment is going to disappear from our collective purview any time soon. So, when considering a cosplay of any number of characters, the question of how to go about making this particular piece of clothing springs to mind. Fear not though, for it’s actually a highly surmountable challenge.

Before we get down to the fabrics and the sewing, let’s go over the various members of the bodystocking family. You’ll often hear the terms bodysuit, bodystocking, catsuit, or unitard used interchangeably, but each of those terms actually refers to a specific garment. What’s the difference? The table below lists the distinguishing characteristics of each.

Bodystocking
Bodystockings cover the wearer’s torso and legs and may, but does not have to, conceal the arms. It differs from its siblings in that a bodystocking is usually made from sheer fabric and thus typically can’t be worn on its own.
Bodysuit
These look a lot like their cousins, leotards. The primary differential between the two is that bodysuits are essentially onesies for adults with snaps or hooks in the crotch to allow the wearer to pull the bodysuit over their head.
Catsuit
This is what usually comes to mind when people think of one-piece garments. Catsuits cover both the wearer’s torso and legs, but frequently encase the arms as well. What they tend not to cover are the wearer’s head, hands, or feet.
Unitard
A unitard functions almost identically to a catsuit in terms of what parts of the body are covered. However, a unitard will always have sleeves of some kind and will never feature a zipper (versus catsuits, which almost always need structural devices for closure).
Zentai
From the Japanese for ‘whole body’, this garment has characteristics of both catsuits and unitards, but goes a step further and, as the name suggests, encapsulates the entire body of the wearer (even the hands, feet, and face). Zentai occasionally go by other names including RootSuits, BodySocks, or MorphSuits.
  
This post focuses primarily on making a catsuit, but only a few modifications to the steps below are needed to make a bodysuit or a unitard instead. One of the biggest deterrents that sends would-be cosplayers skittering away from catsuits is having to work with stretchy, unforgiving fabric. While stretchy fabrics merit some special consideration and, potentially, some specific tools, they’re far from impossible to work with.

The first thing you’ll need to decide is which type of fabric you’ll need for your costume. All elastic cloth falls into one of two categories: 2-way stretch and 4-way stretch. As you can probably guess, these categories describe the axes along which the fabric will extend (e.g. 2-way will only stretch either on just the horizontal or just the vertical axis, while 4-way will stretch both ways). These two types of cloth are not direct substitutes; it’s rare that you can successfully use 2-way fabric on a project that calls for 4-way, but you can usually use 4-way in endeavors that recommend 2-way.  The pattern you’re using for your specific project should explicitly list which type is needed for your garment.

Aside from stretchability, you’ll want to choose a fabric that has the right weight for what you intend it to do. Lightweight stretchy fabrics are great in that they add almost no bulk to your finished piece, but they are notoriously difficult to feed into a sewing machine. Heavier fabrics are more cooperative, but lend a definite solidity to your garment (which may or may not be what you’re going for). If you do select a lighter weight cloth, you can tack tracing paper or parchment paper to the edges with straight pins to keep it from sliding around your work space.


A little while back I mentioned that one of the three costumes that will be making its way to Gen Con is Mera of DC and Atlantis/Dimension Aqua fame. While I'm still plugging away at making a scalemail version of her gorgeous green scaly body covering, I want to have a solid backup plan in case that design doesn't turn out as planned, runs behind schedule, and/or I run out of scales. The other portions of the Mera costume, namely her crown and trident, will be covered in another post.

Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, there is a diverse selection of fun fabrics and versatile patterns available for your costuming needs. The base of my catsuit is this holographic spandex in kelly green and I used Kwik-Sew #3052 as my primary template. Not gonna lie to you guys, the pattern is borderline vintage and can be tough to track down. Kwik-Sew does have some excellent patterns for this purpose though (2722 and 2108 are excellent) and, since it's the same company, all the pieces of their patterns can be interchanged so you can make them modular if there's no one pattern that meets your needs. If you're keen on making your own catsuits, this site offers a variety of patterns that you may find useful or even better than the Kwik-Sew. This site is also an excellent resource and offers free patterns (these can be easily adapted for both male and female wearers). 
My inner 12-year-old can't get enough of this fabric
 Ok, so we have fabric and a pattern. Other things you'll need for this costumey undertaking are: 2 tape measures, fabric scissors, pins, needles, a zipper that matches your fabric (if you're making a catsuit or a bodysuit), and matching thread. The vast majority of stretchy fabrics are made of synthetic materials, so it's a good idea to pair up like sources and use synthetic/polyester thread. I like to add excel to this list, since there's a bit of math on the immediate horizon and, as someone who does math for a living, I find it immensely helpful to have a reliable way to keep track of all my calculations. Hey, I never said there'd be no math. Also, if you use excel for the next step you won't have to re-do any of the attending arithmetic unless the proportions of your body change significantly.

Where are you going? Was it the threat of math? Ok, what if there was a tool that would do all that for you? Fortunately, Tim over at Stretchy.org has fashioned this java-based, unit agnostic interface that will spit out customized ratios, circumferences and other necessary data points for you. Most modern patterns will also provide guidance as to what measurements you need to take and how to scale them so your fabric will stretch to the desired shape at the end. The single best part about working with stretchy fabric is how forgiving it is. If your calculations aren't perfect or you can't get a full set of measurements it's ok. Obviously you don't want to omit whole measurements, but there's a considerable amount of wiggle room at your disposal.

Take your measurements, then, after doing the necessary conversions (or using Tim's site to help with that), alter your pattern as needed. Unfortunately, these conversions are dependent on the type of fabric and specific pattern you're using, so I can't offer specific guidance on the exact steps you need to take. If you're using the very same pattern and fabric that I've specified above, I started by taking all the measurements Tim recommended, then scaling them to be 85% of what they actually are. That 85% figure came about by laying my t-square on the floor, then taking a foot (30.48cm) of my scaly fabric and stretching it to various lengths. I found that I liked the way the fabric looked when stretched to 13.75 inches (34.93cm) in length, which is just about 15% longer than my starting length. 15% stretch translated into the pattern needing to be 85% of its original size. Special note: many newer patterns will do this for you; make sure you read all the instructions that come with your pattern before proceeding to the next step.

Once your pattern is set, tack it to the unpatterned side of your fabric with your straight pins and cut the fabric to match. Before assembling the cloth panels, check the manual of your sewing machine, as many manufacturers have recommendations for what settings to use on stretchy fabrics. You'll almost certainly want to use a zigzag stitch (which makes the seams even more forgiving) and spiked or textured feeder 'dogs' (the little feet that feed cloth into the needle of your sewing machine).
What I've got so far (please excuse the cat hair)
 Be patient with yourself and remember that you don't have to be perfect with this project. If you'd rather not deal with any of this sewing business and just get a catsuit, there are plenty of places to purchase one. Milanoo.com is an excellent resource for good quality catsuits, unitards, and zentai for very reasonable prices. The site also offers custom tailoring for a nominal fee on some of their suits. One thing to keep in mind with Milanoo though is your desired timeframe, as it sometimes takes more than a month for them to process and ship your order. If you wanted to go a little higher end, there are several Etsy sellers that specialize in custom suits. AliciaZenobia is a particularly reliable and all-around excellent seamstress who takes individual commissions.

Oh yay! The event catalog should be out any minute now. Time to indulge in another type of excel mayhem!

Post Con Breakdown: This was, by far and away, the most comfortable costume I've ever done. The suit stayed in place all day, the crown did an excellent job of taming my otherwise unruly hair and the trident was a big hit. I will definitely wear this again!


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This Week in Geekdom



May the Fourth be with you all! It may not be the exact confluence of Star Wars Day and Free Comic Book Day that we saw last year, but having both in the same weekend is still pretty awesome. Bonus: today marks exactly 100 days until doors open at Gen Con 2014! After all the Star Wars related bruhaha of the past week, the  GIR and I are celebrating by spending some quality time with Episodes IV and V and, hopefully, a few rounds of X-Wing. This B-Wing expansion pack looks like a promising addition to our diminutive fleet. Are you celebrating today? Let us know how on the social media pages!


But ok, pause from the festivities so we can get down to the Week in Geekdom.

Science/Technology

In an amusingly thought out counterargument to the claims of poor gender balance in Episode VII, Max Gladstone offers this theory: that the characters in all six movies are not humans, but rather, are humanoid bees.

While some science-minded Star Wars fans have focused on the biology of the SW universe, others have been wrangling with the technological offerings. The latest publication of the student journal Special Physics Topics describes this research out of the University of Leicester that seems to prove that deflector shields could be a real application.

We have a new periodic element! Friday's edition of the journal Physics Review Letters contains the details of the German experiments that successfully produced element 117, ununseptium. Unobtainium was unavailable for comment.

From the very latest in isotopic decay to nuclear degradation that's been 2 billion years in the making. Here is the story of the discovery and study of the world's older nuclear reactor.

So close, and yet, so far. This stunning shot from the Cassini spacecraft provides a glimpse of the planet Uranus from inside the rings of Saturn.

Speaking of the outer portions of our solar system, we've talked a bit about the notion of other planets having conditions that could support life. Now, after a new series of modeling studies, the researchers at JPL believe that Jupiter's moon, Ganymede, may have a more accommodating makeup than previously believed.

SpaceX has gotten quite a bit of attention in the past few weeks (and rightfully so). Consequently, it's easy to overlook the other up-and-coming players in the private space transit market. Example: Orbital Sciences.

Photovoltaic cells have long been touted as a source of clean, renewable energy, but we can now add 'aesthetically pleasing' to their list of attributes thanks to the work of engineers at the University of Michigan. Those researchers, with a little help from their colleagues in macromolecular science, have created these 'stained glass' versions of solar cells.

Google is inching closer to making its autonomous cars a fully functional reality. Currently on the docket of skills to master: city driving.

On the subject of autonomous technology, Steven Hawking feels that we, as a society, are not taking the concept of artificial intelligence seriously enough.

Games

This is why we can't have nice things in Minecraft. Less than a week after a 1:1 scale model of the country of Denmark was released into the game itself, the model was, for lack of better terms, raided and razed by unfriendly forces. <Insert facepalms and the Team America theme here>

Feats of Nerdery

Three Chinese researchers have formulated this: the ultimate strategy for winning a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Are you, or would you like to be, a crafter of fine home-brewed beers? The guys at Seattle startup Picobrew may have an appliance to help make your hoppy ambitions a reality.

There's wanting to preserve classic arcade games and then there's remodeling your parents house to become your own personal arcade. 

I leave you guys with this not very comprehensive, but still fun infographic comparing the titanic stature of various dragons. As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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