Well, the holidays are upon us once again, dear readers. Why, it seems like only last year ago that we were meeting in this very same spot for this very same reason. We don’t know about you, but for many of us, the holiday season is fraught with frustration and doubt as you desperately try to find the perfect gift for your family and friends while simultaneously trying to figure out just what material possessions you need to finally make your life complete. Of course, in the true spirit of the season, I know the good-hearted readers of The Escapist are hoping mostly for things like World PeaceTM, but just in case Goodwill to Men is backordered at Amazon, we thought we’d offer up some alternate gift suggestions for those special people in your life.
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Doctor Who Fifth Season on Blu-Ray
There once was a time when I thought no-one could possibly top David Tennant as the new Dr. Who, yet Matt Smith has proven to be my favorite Time Lord yet. His hair is ridiculous, his bow tie is cool, his assistant is both sassy and Scottish. Not all of the episodes from this season of Dr. Who are winners – The Vampires of Venice is weak despite is gorgeous scenery, and Vincent and The Doctor is scattered at best – but the return of River Song, and those mysterious cracks in the universe more than make up for the season’s few missteps. Amy Pond is perhaps the best companion our dear Doctor has ever had, the feisty equal that Rose, Martha, and Donna could never quite be. Current sci fi on TV seems to be obsessed with grit and gloom; thank goodness we have the Doctor to remind us that sometimes it can be a good old-fashioned romp, complete with Fez.
Kneel Before Zod Poster
Last Exit to Nowhere recognizes that some folks would prefer to declare their nerdiness in more subtle ways than simply sporting a t-shirt festooned with a 1-Up mushroom. For them, there is this tasteful poster featuring the commanding, yet classy General Zod from Superman 2. It’s elegant, dramatic, and the perfect addition to any office, living room, or dorm – just be prepared for the inevitable arguments about whether or not Zod went out like a bitch. City bus and minions not included. (LEtN promises the design will be coming on a shirt soon.) Update: Looks like they’ve made good on their promise.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
If you look in Lara Croft’s high school yearbook, you’ll see she was voted “most likely to be stuck in an endless stream of crappy games,” a title she has worn with increasing sadness over the years. The original Tomb Raider games made her an icon, then subsequent titles made her such a joke that you’d be forgiven for assuming that the downloadable Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was more of the same.
Fortunately for our dear Ms. Croft, GoL takes everything that was great about the Tomb Raider games – the ancient ruins crammed with puzzles, the fanciful enemies and the sweet, sweet loot – and ditches everything else. The isometric viewpoint can make some of the platforming a bit awkward, but the deep customization, sprawling levels and sheer spectacle more than make up for it. It’s not every day you trigger ancient spike traps to take down a fire-breathing T-Rex that’s been resurrected by a malevlolent god, after all. Guardian of Light also has fantastic co-op (local or online), which makes it perfect for holiday get-togethers. It’s cheap, it’s brilliant, and you won’t even have to leave your house to get it.
Rock Band 3
The new Rock Band is just about all I’m playing these days and it’s all about the Pro Mode. The new drum and keyboard peripheral are nearly worn out from my nightly marathons, and it’s nearly time to move on to the challenge of Pro Guitar. (Pro tip: Item one on next year’s list would be the new Squier real guitar controller.) While it’s true that some gamers were expecting more revolution than evolution, the next installment has more than enough to keep me going. Between the new “play it for real” pro mode and the incredible roster of songs, not to mention the recent Bee Gees and The Doors DLC, I’m more than satisfied and will be slowly growing my band over the holiday break. I’d always made light of the abstraction and compromise required of these game peripherals, but Rock Band 3 finally makes you feel like you’re really playing these songs and living the Rock Star life.
Kevin Dallimore’s Painting and Modelling Guide Master Class
In my garage, I have a worktable piled high with dozens of unfinished soldiers, plastic airplanes and modeling tools. So rather than asking for a new airbrush, another unopened kit, or a spare few days to complete my latest project, I’d rather find a copy of Kevin Dallimore’s Painting and Modelling Guide Master Class under my tree. Filled with over 300 pages of practical advice from Kevin (and 25 other painters who apparently aren’t prestigious enough to bump his name from the cover), this guide covers the techniques that can shift you from promising nobody to polished pro. Having already added drybrushing, washes and blending to my toolbox, I’m interested to learn more about the more advanced techniques like adding textures, doing conversions and (dare I dream?) even creating complete dioramas. I’m not looking to become a professional miniature painter anytime soon, but this book should give me more control over the effects I’ve been trying to achieve. And if nothing else, the pictures in this book are simply stunning.
I’ve been on the fence about this whole e-reader thing for years now. I admit I was, at first, secretly terrified that I might be one of those luddites who weren’t willing to give new technology a fair chance. After all, I’ve been making my living off of “teh Internets” phenomenon since AOL bought Netscape, so the idea that would resist the expansion of media to new platforms was troubling. But the problem was that the added conveniences of e-readers in terms of portability and storage just weren’t enough to overcome the compromises the devices had to make when it came to actually reading. I’m now convinced this new generation of e-readers is able to offer an experience that’s comparable enough to reading printed books and magazines for me to give it a shot. After considering Amazon’s newest Kindle, I decided I’d rather try out the Nook. Not only is it less restrictive in terms of how you use and share content than Amazon’s model, but it also uses a full-color touch screen. Now if I could just find a used e-book store…
Dead Rising 2
Pop quiz: If you could use any object in the world to kill a zombie, what would it be? Would it be the old standard shotgun? Would it be something more visceral like a battleaxe or a chainsaw, or would it be something slightly more unusual, like bowie knives taped to boxing gloves or an electrified wheelchair? The good news is that in Capcom’s Dead Rising 2, you really don’t have to choose – why not use all of them? Sure, if you want to get technical the game is supposedly about former motocross champion Chuck Greene having to surve three days in a zombie outbreak while taking care of his terminally ill daughter and trying to clear his name, but let’s not mince words here. The real beauty of Dead Rising 2 is when you get dressed up in hip-hop gear and bludgeon zombies to re-death with a giant pink teddy bear.
Perfect for zombie enthusiasts and fashion lovers alike.
World of Warcraft Gryphon Hatchling & Wind Rider Cub Plushes
If the WoW player in your life doesn’t spend enough time in the real world, here’s a sneaky way to lure him or her out of Azeroth. Blizzard is selling these adorable plush recreations of two of the game’s iconic creatures – a little wind rider for the Horde, and a baby gryphon for the Alliance. The plushes are extremely high-quality, with soft and oh-so-huggable fur, squeezably cute expressions, and – okay, look, you just want to hug them, all right? They’re suitable for all ages, player races and character classes, come with a special in-game pet to keep your favorite gamer company while adventuring in the world of Warcraft, and are a wonderful reminder that sometimes you just can’t hug a pixel.
1/60 Perfect Grade Strike Freedom Gundam Model
Do you have someone in your life who enjoys giant robots, and watching the aforementioned giant robots blow things up? If said giant robot aficionado also enjoys building scale plastic models of his or her favorite giant robots, then this is the veritable giant-robot-plastic-model motherlode.
Bandai’s 1/60th-scale Perfect Grade replica of the grossly overpowered and extremely popular Strike Freedom Gundam from Gundam SEED Destiny is just as over-the-top as the real thing was in the show. It’s the largest Perfect Grade model kit yet, it’s fully posable with all manner of accessories and weapons, a LED light in the head makes the eyes actually glow and the entire inner frame is painted gold just in case you were starting to think that it wasn’t ridiculous enough.
Yes, at ¥25,000 (just under $300) it’s a bit pricey, but the sheer complexity and scale of this model kit will keep the recipient busy building it for weeks. For less-experienced builders (and less-bulging wallets), consider the 1/100 Master Grade 00 Qan[T] Gundam instead.
It just goes to show you: Even if a show isn’t very good, the model kits can still be incredible.
75 Years Of DC Comics
In what’s being called “the single most comprehensive book on DC Comics,” 75 Years of DC Comics details the history of the publishing giant, in a book sized to match. This sucker weighs just shy of sixteen pounds, and contains over 2,000 images. Far from being just a coffee table book for a very sturdy coffee table, this book is intended as a reference, containing essays on historical context, four-foot fold-out timelines, and detailed biographies. Author Paul Levitz has worked for DC for 38 years, and while this means the book is likely biased, I’m not expecting an exposé. I want the whole enchilada on my favorite publisher, and it sounds like 75 Years of DC Comics will deliver. Every review I’ve read indicated that this book is worth the price, and with a $200.00 list price, that’s really saying something. Hey, my birthday’s near Christmas – we can do a two-for-one, and this can be my only present, okay?
Epic Mickey Collector’s Edition
I know, I’m the Not Games Editor, I should leave the games to the gamers. I just can’t help myself here. In Epic Mickey, I get to play as Mickey, platform through levels inspired by classic Disney animation, and explore abandoned Disney creations. That would be sufficient, as they had me at “play as Mickey.” With the knowledge that my weapons of choice are paint and paint thinner, though, this game leaps from “I want this, please,” to “I’m pretty sure I can’t know true happiness without Epic Mickey.” The Collector’s Edition includes a Wii console skin and remote faceplate, which I couldn’t care less about, but also provides a 5″ vinyl Mickey figure, battle-ready and wielding a paintbrush. I’ve already cleared a space for him on my desk. I’m tempted to supplement my gameplay with the Paintbrush Nunchuk, but am worried about losing my tenuous grip on adulthood.
TARDIS Cookie Jar
ThinkGeek describes this as “a must for Doctor Who fans who like cookies,” and I figure that has to describe just about everyone, right? Who can resist the antics of everyone’s favorite time lord, or the tantalizing aroma of some freshly baked oatmeal chocolate chip? Even if this beautiful police call box replica didn’t have the capacity to hold baked goods, I might want one anyway. Far and away, though, the best features of this cookie jar are the “authentic TARDIS sound effects.” You might think that the time rattle of the TARDIS accompanying every reach for a cookie might become bothersome. I think it’ll prevent my husband from eating all the cookies before I get the chance to have one. It’s happened before. Save me, Doctor, and protect the cookies.
I’ve had a set of these snap-on thumbstick extenders attached to my Xbox 360 controller for about a year now, and I can’t say enough good things about them. Not only do they make the controller feel more comfortable, by raising the control surface of the thumbsticks, thereby alleviating thumb-cramping, but by elongating the thumbstick, they effectively add more precision to the control. Similar to how higher gears on a bicycle allow for faster speed with shorter strokes, the FPS Freek gives you more control with smaller thumb movements. It sounds crazy/obsessive until you try it. Anyone who wishes they could have mouse/keyboard level of precision in console-based FPS gaming needs a set of these.
Castle Ravenloft Board Game
Fans of old-school Dungeons and Dragons will recall the Castle Ravenloft adventure module as one of the most engaging – and difficult – adventures available for the game. The adventure took players deep into a haunted castle filled with all manner of undead creatures, including a zombie dragon, and culminating in a confrontation with the vampire ruling over them all.
Castle Ravenloft, the board game, brings the action to 4th Edition-style Dungeons and Dragons play in an adventure that quick to pick up, is engaging for gamers of all skill levels and lasts about an hour or so per adventure. Even people who have never played Dungeons & Dragons will find the game relatively easy to learn and fun to play.
The cards and miniatures are all very high quality. It’s a slick, well-produced set that’s as much show-piece as board game, and the short adventures make it easy to convince partygoers and dinners guests to give it a shot. Also, zombie dragons people. Come on!
Bear Grylls Survival Knife
Bear Grylls is a former British special forces commando, now host of the TV show Man vs. Wild, who jumps out of airplanes and helicopters in strange, far-off places in order to prove he can get himself home. Some of the situations may be staged, but there’s no denying the stunts he pulls require genuine ability and know-how, and his show is packed with enough actually useful-to-the-normal-person survival information that he’s not easily dismissed as the survival expert he claims to be.
Gerber is a company that’s been making quality knives and multi-tools for about 100 years. While “Leatherman” tools have long been the consumer favorite, Gerber’s brand of multi-tools are just as likely to be carried by professional craftsmen and technicians owing to their quality and reliability. I myself carried a Gerber through two decades of television, film and theater work.
Celebrity endorsements come and go, but seeing the Bear Grylls name and the Gerber brand on a survival knife should get your attention. The knife itself has a 4.75 inch serrated blade made of high carbon steel, has a pommel designed specifically to be used as a hammer and holes in the handle designed specifically to aid in lashing the knife to a pole for use as a spear. The sheath even comes with a built-in fire starter. Unlike the popular “survival” knives fashioned after the props used in the Rambo films, this is a knife designed to do what you need a knife to do: help you get home.
D&D Monster Vault
It’s no secret that I play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. Not only does it give me an excuse to hang out with some great people on a weeknight, rolling dice and killing orcs, but it allows me to exercise my creative fantasy muscles. I’ve been running two concurrent lunchtime campaigns here at The Escapist offices and the Monster Vault has given me so many beasties to throw at my groups that they’ve begun to groan every time I plop down an Ochre Jelly.
A vast improvement over the various Monster Manuals for D&D 4th Edition, the Monster Vault offers all kinds of background and information on many of the iconic monsters of the game. Want to know how Rust Monsters can decimate a settlement, devouring all metal implements and weapons? Or how a Drow transforms into a Drider (Think centaur but half Drow, half spider)? The Monster Vault has got you covered. Top that with the well-designed die-cut tokens for each monster and the Vault is a complete package.
USS Enterprise Pizza Cutter
What more can you say about the Star Trek Enterprise Pizza Cutter than ThinkGeek’s tagline? “Boldy cut pizza where no man has cut before.” This stainless steel pizza cutter is fashioned to look exactly like the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 from the original television series. With all of the fandom surrounding Star Trek, it’s a wonder that no one had devised a tool shaped like the U.S.S. Enterprise before now. But it’s a genius idea once you think about it. Pizza cutters are round. The saucer of the iconic vessel is round. Duh.
I also love the fact that the Star Trek Enterprise Pizza Cutter is an officially licensed piece of Star Trek memorabilia. That means someone at Paramount Pictures, the license holders, had to see the schematics for the Pizza Cutter and give ThinkGeek the greenlight on manufacturing it. I would have given anything to be there for that meeting. Do you think there was a prototype demonstration of the Cutter, complete with a pizza to be boldly cut? One can only hope.
Basketball is my one non-dorky obsession. I love to play as much as I can, but I don’t always get the time to make it to the gym for some pickup games. I compensate by trying to rip down as many rebounds as I can playing NBA 2K11. The care and attention to detail that 2K Sports spent in crafting one of the greatest sports games that I’ve played is just staggering. From the opening where Michael Jordan looks back at you before his first NBA Finals game in 1991, to the subtle differences between defenders and playstyles of all of the NBA’s players, this game nails what it feels like to play professional basketball.
But I think the real reason that I love NBA 2K11 is it’s appreciation for the history of the game. Perhaps I’m influenced by having read Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball, but I really enjoyed the representation of the historical games in Jordan’s career. Playing with the accurate rosters (for the most part) of the teams in contention, in addition to audio commentary appropriate for the game, giving color and background to the events, was really fun and even informative. I appreciated that a videogame was enriching my love of basketball. Now if only 2K would make a game focused on Larry Bird and not that showoff Jordan…