Book Review: The Throne of Fire

I’ve written before about my wonder at how in the heck Rich Riordan can write and publish so many books. And I have worried that the pace of publishing might diminish his appeal. Well, not quite yet. I just finished up the second of the Kane Chronicles series — The Throne of Fire — as a read-aloud with my son, and we both enjoyed it quite a bit. This series is not on the same scale as The Lightning Thief series, but perhaps that is because I am used to Riordan as  a writer now.

This book follows brother and sister Sadie and Carter Kane as they try to save the world from Chaos. Steeped in rich and odd Egyptian mythology, the book follows the Kanes as they try to re-awaken the Sun God, Ra, from his self-imposed slumber in order to find balance in the world as the evil spirits of Chaos begin to rise. They somewhat succeed, but at some terrible costs that set the stage for more books in the series.

As we were reading the book, I kept imagining that in Riordan’s mind, there will be a slow convergence of the stories unfolding here in the Kane Chronicles and in his new Lightning Thief spin-off — The Lost Hero, which I liked immensely, and which I see will have a sequel on the stands in October (see!) — in which the protagonists of both storylines slowly come together. I kept imagining characters here as having shadow stories in the other book, and in The Lost Hero, there are characters — including Percy Jackson — who have gone missing. Maybe they are stuck inside another cultural mythology? If it comes true, remember that I wrote it here first.

Peace (in the book),

Bringing in the Gaming Experts

I am never going to claim to being a hard-core gamer. I’m not. But I want the students in our Game Design program to have some sense of what it might mean to work in the gaming industry, from the inside. So, I emailed a bunch of local game companies (it turns out there are quite a few in Western Massachusetts), and while a few turned me down because they had too much work going on right now (that’s a good sign, right? and they were kind enough to respond), I did manage to invite two teams of visitors.

First, my friend Bryant Paul Johnson will come in. While he is now mostly a graphic novelist, webcomic creator and illustrator for novels, he began his career working on video games. Bryant has visited our webcomic camp the last two years and really brought some interesting perspectives to the table. He is going to talk about how a game gets developed and the process that takes place from idea to production.
Bryant Paul Johnson Art

Second, a local company called HitPoint Studios is sending in small group of folks from their company. I’ve asked them to talk about the various jobs and roles that people play in a game design organization. I’m pretty excited that they agreed to come in and chat and answer questions from the kids, who may or may not have desire to consider gaming for a profession. (See local newspaper article on the company)
Here’s a video promo of what they do:

I’m grateful that there are people who can pull back the curtains and show the students a bit about what it takes to create a game. This an emerging field — given the influx of mobile device apps and Facebook collaborative games — and the more we can expose young people to what it is like, the more likely they might say “I have this great idea and I think I know how to develop it.”

Peace (in the game industry),

Rediscovering an Old Scratch Project

I was tinkering around with Scratch the other day and realized that I had a project that I made FOUR YEARS AGO still sitting there. I can’t even remember how I made it but my young son had fun this morning playing with it.
Scratch Project
Peace (in the animation),

Graphic Novel Review: Level Up

The Secret Origins of Level Up

(click on this image to go to the comic explaining the genesis of the story, shared with Wired Magazine.)

I know it seems odd to be reading a review of a graphic novel when all I have been talking about is gaming for the last week, but Level Up takes the idea of gaming and puts it at the heart of a intriguing story. Created by writer Gene Luen Yang  and illustrator Thien Pham (Yang also did the fantastic American Born Chinese), Level Up tells the story of young man — Dennis Ouyang — whose parents dream of a future that he doesn’t want. At least, at first. What he wants to be doing is gaming. All day. All the time. What his parents want him to be doing is learning to become a doctor. All day. All the time. The conflict is there in those set of dueling expectations and lost moments of connections between parents and son, and this story has some slightly odd twists that could only be pulled off in a graphic novel, including a quartet of strange sprites who appoint themselves his guardian angels.

The conflicts of obsession and family in Level Up calls attention to both the addictive aspects of gaming as well as the notions that outsiders have about gaming that it is “a waste of time.” If we watch someone spend hours playing games, is it a productive activity? One thing that I struggle with as a parent is that when my sons play video games,  I feel as if I want to lean into their heads and hear what is going on, just to validate my saying “yes” to their request to play games. This is a similar struggle that I have as a teacher thinking through the possibilities of my classroom. How do I know there is learning going on? So much of gaming is internalized, and to be honest, we don’t quite understand the processes of the mind when kids are immersed in gaming worlds. Or at least, I don’t. Even though I see the value of gaming, my first instinct to my sons is always “no, go outside and play.”

And yet … gaming brings something to the table. Something creative, and something inventive, and something different, too. That’s the exploration I am doing — trying to figure that out.


A similar struggle emerges in Level Up on a larger and more complex scale that also deals with the immigrant experience and Asian family dynamics. In the end, Dennis is able to use his fine-motor skills honed by years of gaming to make his own entry into the medical world, fulfilling both his parents’ dream for him and finding his own satisfaction. If only every gamer found that kind of calling in the world of adults ….

Peace (in the games),