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Member since: 2008-10-07 14:52:00
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    After putting it off long enough for Bioware to officially call Mass Effect 3 and it's parade of DLC finished I'm finally doing my complete, long awaited, final all inclusive playthrough of the series. Now, I've made it through the series before, with three separate characters even, but this was my first crack at it with the inclusion of ME3's DLC content. As I made my way through the Omega DLC I became aware of something potentially notable that I'd like to share with you all. Saren Arterius, the antagonist from the first Mass Effect, was actually transgendered. 

    Okay, I'll give that thought a moment to be heard and immediately dismissed. I get it, it sounds way too far-fetched to even be worth a second glance. You're already moving to hit the back button and find some other more deserving blog to read, but hear me out. Haven't you ever noticed that Saren looks a bit, different? Not in an “oh my god what the hell” aspect, although the cybernetic implants he's sporting by the endgame certainly push that bar. More in a “different than every other turian we encounter throughout the entire rest of the series,” sort of way. Ever wonder why?

    Well I did, but I never really found a conclusive canon answer. From a design standpoint it makes sense, make the villain visibly distinct so that the player can easily identify them. I get that, but it's a bit immersion breaking if that's the only reason. Turians are basically defined by their avian-like appearance, most notably by their large metallic carapaces and fringe. Not only is Saren's carapace much smaller than those of the other turians we encounter, he is the only turian who's most prominent fringe extends from the side of his face, rather than the top of his head.

    Now we've reached the “so what?” portion of my observation. Okay, you'll acknowledge that Saren looks a bit different for no readily explained in-game reason, but what does that have to do with the price of eezo on Illium? For the longest time I had no answer to that question, then while playing through the Omega DLC I met a new turian named Nyreen Kandros. 

    Nyreen was touted as the first female turian you encounter in the Mass Effect universe. I'll spare you my thoughts on that little nugget of trivia for now, but as soon as Nyreen removed her hood and I was finally able to get a good look at her, something suddenly clicked. She had prominent side fringe.

    I had to do some internet matlockery, but it seems like she also sports a much smaller carapace than her male subordinates. This is only really noticeable when she's wearing her non-armored outfit, but worth mentioning because the only other turian to have such a clearly defined neck and shoulder line is Saren.

    Science time! To be fair, we don't exactly have a huge sampling of female turians at our disposal to draw a particularly unbiased conclusion. It's entirely possible that Saren's facial differences are based on some genetic predisposition found in a minority of turians. That's long been the speculated belief among fans of the series at any rate. It's possible that rather than being a female trait this fringe variation is based on some lesser known abnormality. Hard to say without a proper sampling of the females of the species, but while we are lacking in data there there is certainly no shortage of male turians for comparison.

    Male turians are everywhere in Citadel space and while their colors and markings may vary, none display the biological variations present in both Saren and Nyreen. We might not be able to say that the differences are a female quality, but we can speculate that they are, at the very least, not a prominent male feature.

    Speaking of differences that aren't prevalent in turians, Saren and Nyreen are also the only turians present in the series who are able to use biotics. Now, it is mentioned in the codex that biotics amongst turians are rare. Turian biotics are viewed with distrust and shipped off to special Cabals for their training, so this point probably has little to do with gender and more to do with Saren and Nyreen both being members of a marginalized group within their species.

    So, assuming that what I observed about female turians, based on a sampling of one, is accurate than it's possible to assume that Saren was either born with a female identity or at the very least had female characteristics. Things get a bit muddled for me here because, honestly, I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on trans* issues. I'll try to highlight a few thoughts as best I can about the implications of Saren being a trans* character, but I may get things wrong or inadvertently come off as insensitive towards trans* issues. I apologize in advance if that is the case.

    If Saren Arterius is in fact transgendered, why was no mention made of it in the codex? Well, why would it have been? Saren clearly identified as male and had done so for many years. Aside from cases of blatant speciesism, most of the council races seemed to have evolved past the need to concern themselves with differences and instead focus on cooperation for galactic good. By ME3 we learn that even humans have given up on stigmatizing LGBT issues, given how openly Cortez speaks about the loss of his husband. If humans can evolve beyond petty gender issues than surely the more highly evolved council races wouldn't have a problem with a trans* Spectre.  

    Saren was a villain in Mass Effect, does that mean Bioware was attempting to demonize trans* people? Do we hate them now? No, not at all. As I mentioned right off the bat I think Saren's gender identity was never an intentional focus for Bioware. He was supposedly the first turian they designed, Garrus came later, so at the time his physical differences from other turians weren't as apparent. It wasn't until every other turian NPC was based on Garrus's design, for the sake of simplicity, that Saren really stood out.

    Furthermore, Saren may have been the game's antagonist, but while he had a reputation for being ruthless in his methods, he honestly believed he was working with the reapers in order to prove the value of organics and save the races of the galaxy from extinction. Shepard and Saren could have easily had their places in the story reversed. Some might argue that the synthesis ending does just that, but that's a topic for another time.

    At this point, regardless of if you accept my hypothesis or not, you're probably asking yourself what this knowledge of Saren would change in the Mass Effect universe. The truth? Not much. It's an interesting idea, but even I admit it's at best a flawed argument. At this point it would be so easy for someone from Bioware or the trans* community to dismiss it with hardly a thought. I get that it's far-fetched and that the story is already written and done. Regardless of Saren's gender identity, the series remains unchanged. 

    So, why bring it up at all? Good question and one I struggled with when deciding  if I wanted to actually write this blog. I was worried that I was only making these connections because there have been so many LGBT issues brought up in the gaming industry lately that it was more on my mind than usual. That may very well be the case. I also worried that by pointing out what I had observed I was, in a sense, participating in some sort of trans* shaming practice. Never my intention and truthfully I'd just assume stay out of the whole miasma of equality issues in the games industry. It's a sore topic that seems to only bring hurt whenever it's brought up.

    I guess in the end I decided that my fear about taking a position, about speaking about LGBT issues which I don't feel qualified to lead discussions on, was secondary to the need for such discussions to happen. Maybe Bioware did unintentionally make Saren Arterius transgendered, the only thing that makes this noteworthy is that it had no bearing on his character. He wasn't a stereotype, or foil for Shepard's cisgendered character to overcome and dominate. He made mistakes for noble reasons and paid the ultimate price for it. He was a well rounded character with motivations that didn't stem from his gender identity. In short, he was exactly the sort of LGBT character that more games could benefit from. For me, that validates the need for this blog and the reason I think Saren should be recognized as a trans* gaming character in the industry.
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    Welcome to another edition of Custom Corner where I make plushie arts of random things for people's amusement. This time I've got another custom order to share and a super special and rare thing I made just for myself.

    First up let's talk Mega Man X. This was a custom order for dtoider Grimstar who was kind enough to send me some pictures along with his request.

    This one followed the same route I went when making Gordon Freeman in that I laid out the front and back separately constructing the armor as I went. I was lucky enough to find the right shades of blue which really helped the whole process along. No matter how clever you are if you have the wrong colors the plush is always going to look kinda off.

    Here's the finished product, though I must admit I'm not thrilled with the final pictures. Too dark and from entirely the wrong angle to show off the effort that actually went into him. Still I don't claim to be a photographer so I hope you guys won't hold it against me too much.

    He came gigantic, one of my tallest creations to date, probably about 16 inches tall. This made boxing him up for transport somewhat exciting. Like usual he's made of soft fleece with felt and some butter suede for the flesh colored bits. No pattern for this one, just built him as I went.

    Next up is a personal pet project of mine. As several of you are aware I recently got on the Mass Effect bandwagon in a big way. Tremendous thanks to GamesAreArt for gifting it to me on Steam.

    After seeing a really amazing Garrus plushie over on Deviant Art (Google it, it's worth your time) I decided not to touch perfection and instead try my hand at another character that hadn't received a definitive plush treatment yet. Based on some enthusiastic twitter suggestions from SchildConstruct and Aurain I decided on a Wrex plushie.

    This was truly a labor of love, not only because Krogan faces are hard as hell to figure out, but also because it was one of the only plushies I've made for myself. Hey I can have nice things too, right?

    I've had some helpful suggestions over in the Mass Affection Thread in the forums regarding his lack of teeth and neck. All problems I'm aware of, but was powerless to fix given the assembly method I selected. He's mostly done up like Mega Man bodywise, but with a separate head that was added on last to try to get it to stick out more from his body.

    I used way more fabric glue on Wrex than I usually do, mostly since it's just for me so I don't have to worry about the parts coming off, but also because it gives it a cleaner finish and allows for more wiggle room in regards to adding things like the small red dots and thin slash marks.

    I wish I would've had time to go into higher detail on his back since Krogan armor is pretty interesting in shape, but alas when I'm working for myself I have to stick to a strict timeline. I did think the tail was a nice touch though. Also no pattern on this one so Wrex is completely one of a kind.

    If you'd like to order your own custom plush feel free to hit me up here or at contact@storybuildertoys.com. I also just started a Deviant Art account so you can check me out there if you feel so inclined and would like to see some of my other works.

    Many thanks for reading! Let me know what you think in the comments, constructive criticism is always welcome.
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    Greetings kids, it's been awhile, but don't for one second think that means I've been resting on my laurels, whatever those are. Instead I've been super busy pushing out custom orders and that means I have a few goodies to share with you today.

    After the debatable success of Nihil's Grin Reaper plush I had several other people decide that they needed plushies of their respective avatars. Take a look and see how I did.

    First up, the legendary Zombie Platypus! ZP is well known for having some of the most amazing avatar variations ever so finding source material was a piece of cake.

    After a very quick sketch I got to work and came up with this.

    I scored extra points for the exposed vertebrae and chomped tail.

    Unlike most of my plushies, this one was done in cotton and corduroy since I couldn't find the appropriate colors in fleece. It was a bit of a challenge working with stiffer material, but in the end it came out great and I was rather pleased with the results.

    Next up was a special commission from my buddy JohnnyViral for his good friend Analoge. Sidenote, I love doing gifts for people anyway, but this was even more fun because right after JV asked me to make it I got a message from Analoge asking for the exact same thing. Needless to say I had to lie my way out of that saying I was really behind and would get back with him later about it. He was crushed, but once he got his surprise package in the mail all was forgiven, as far as I know anyway ;)

    This plush is actually two individual pieces, so the frog can be removed from the car and paraded around. I made the frog out of the same cotton material that made up the platypus body (hooray for having the right material on hand) and made the car out of my standard fleece. The car is actually based on my son's Cars slipper which I used for reference. He later tried to wear it before I got it packed up, it didn't work out for him.

    To make this plush really special I hand stitched Analoge's name onto the license plate since he had once asked about getting monogrammed plushtoids. Sadly I didn't have the time or dexterity to hand stitch all of those, but for a surprise gift like this I wanted to go all out.

    Last up today, my good buddy Mix, AKA the guy who came up with the idea for Plushtoids wanted a plush of his avatar. I'm proud to say this was my most unique request to date, a stuffed toaster complete with toast.

    Being the awesome guy he is Mix had actually done the sketch for me complete with measurements and color ideas. This made an otherwise super difficult custom more manageable as I know only had to focus on actually making a toaster out of fleece.

    Not gonna lie, I was a little worried about this one because in addition to the overall shape of the toaster I had to factor in two staggered slots for the toast (which were different sizes) to rest in. With nothing except good intentions and a basic idea of what I was going to do I got to work and came up with this.

    Yeah, I'm kinda proud with how well it turned out. Of course the real test would be how it looked with the toast inside since that's what the avatar has going on.

    This collection was a lot of fun to make and with each order I feel like I'm getting closer to being as good at making these as everyone seems to think I already am. Can't wait to see what I'll be doing next.

    To inquire about your very own custom plush hit me up via the PM system here or you can also reach me at my proper email contact@storybuildertoys.com anytime.

    Thanks for reading!
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    Welcome friends once again to my little corner of the cblogs where I create custom plushies for members of the community. Today's very special custom is brought to you by the forum's personal rape genie Nihil.

    Today, not only am I going to share cool pictures of my latest creation, I'm also going to walk you through the process of how I go about making a custom plush for someone. Ready? Let's do this thing.

    Usually it starts with an inquiry, people send me a photo and ask "hey can you make this?" My answer usually depends on how complex the shapes are and if I think the material I use would hold the form well enough. Contrary to popular belief, I can't make everything and I have a certain way I go about doing the stuff I can make so if you're hoping for a L4D Boomer Plush that looks just like the one Valve sells, well you're gonna be disappointed.

    Nihil wanted a plush of his old avatar the Grin Reaper, and cool guy that he is he even provided the reference photos without me having to ask.

    From that I made a sketch up of what my version might look like with little notes about size and construction/materials so that I can remember what I thought I was doing later. Be forewarned, I'm not a super artist, go easy on me.

    This was my first idea, incorporating the clock as an accessory the reaper would hold and giving him a wide enough base to stand on his own. I sent this to for approval and got shot down (hold your pitchforks folks, it happens). We discussed the changes and I went back to the drawing board for round two, changing the construction and design to better suit his ideas.

    The new version would have the clock as a stand alone piece with some Velcro to hold the reaper on top of it. This meant the reaper would have to be thin enough to bend at the waist to allow him to sit. I was worried he wouldn't hold the bend very well so I added pipe cleaners inside his body to give him some form to hold.

    As soon as the sketch got approved, and I had the time to work on it, I started cutting and shaping the fabric. Like usual I was working with fleece and felt. In retrospect the clock might have been a little bigger, but the overall look seems to work.

    Sadly the pipe cleaners aren't super at holding him in a bent shape so he has to be really propped up against a wall to adequately sit on the clock. If I could do it over I would have made him in a sitting pose from the get go instead of trying to make him able to stand on his own. It would have been more difficult, but I think the end result would have worked better.

    To order your own special custom plush contact me via the message system here, in the forums or on my site Story Builder Toys. Thanks for reading!
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    It's time for my yearly sappy blog where I tell you all how much I love this community and how thankful I am to Niero for making a place where I could feel like I fit in, or am at least just as much of a misfit as everyone else. If that isn't your bag, well there's the door cuz I'm gonna do it anyway.

    First to my dear boss Niero I wish the happiest of happy birthdays!

    I got to actually meet Niero at PAX last year and I can honestly say he's the most genuine person I've ever met. Like when you hang out with him you just feel like the world is an awesome place and that you're an awesome person just by being part of it.

    Niero, I got to tell you in person, in my rambling stream of conscience swear filled way, just how much this place means to me when we met. Thanks for letting me do that, it was the equivalent of telling your hero how much you look up to them and it was amazing getting to meet you. I hope this year brings you everything great cuz buddy, you deserve the best.

    Next to my forum kids.

    Thanks for letting me be your mom, even when you don't clean up your room and you leave hookers lying around for me to clean up, I still love you. I just had my one year Moderversary this year and getting to be your admin is one of my very favorite things about this site. Don't ever change, except you Hatman, you need to shape up.

    Now for the community at large, I love you guys!

    Meeting so many of you at PAX was amazing. Interacting on the forums and Cblogs with so many cool people everyday saves me from a life of drudgery. Staying home with a toddler is exciting, but having other like-minded individuals and fascinating personalities to chat with on a daily basis keeps me sane. Thank you all for being my online water cooler where I can catch up on the day's events and gossip about which game character has let themselves go in the sequels. Good times.

    Thanks to all my friends!

    If there was a list, it would be too long to type up, but anyone who I've ever talked to or about? Yeah you're awesome. If you ever need a couch moved you call me and I'll send someone right over to help you out.

    I can hardly believe this place has only been around for 5 years because I can't even imagine my life without it. Much love dtoid, now and always!

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    This is a very special edition of Custom Corner. Usually I tell you about my latest project and how I went about making it, which I'm still going to do, but this time I'm also going to tell you about how you can help people just by buying a plushie.

    Most of my custom orders operate under the principle of "one and done" whereby I make one, without a pattern and then call it a day. Sometimes if the piece is a bit more complex or I think I might make more I'll take the time to draw out a pattern. Beedog was special in that I've been trying to make him for over a year now.

    Rewind back to about June or so of 2010 when I sent Rockmelon Soda founder Topher Cantler an email asking for some front and back shots of Beedog so I could make a stuffed animal of him. Topher graciously agreed and I planned how to go about holding up my end of the bargain. Well it took some time, but I did make an original Beedog from those plans, but I wasn't too thrilled with it. Keep in mind this was back when I had first started making things so I was very limited in how I could put stuff together.

    Here for the first time is a picture of Beedog Prime, which my son adores and called "Beegog".

    Not bad for a first attempt, though the wings were an absolute nightmare to work out. I planned to make another and pretend that this one had never happened, but then things came up and I got busy. Apparently starting a business really eats into your free time. For the longest time "Beegog" sat lonely and forgotten, until something magical happened, Plushtoid.

    Seeing the great feedback I got by doing custom work for a website I loved really got me motivated to do some more "fan art" plushies. I dove into my Beedog work with the power of JOURNALISM and pancakes behind me.

    The newer version lost the wings and antennae, but gained a removable mustache which I think was way cooler anyway.

    I posted a picture over at Rockmelon Soda for Topher to find, originally I just wanted to make good on my year old promise of making one for him. The response was great and thanks to the community over there Topher and I worked out a deal to do a short run of Beedogs and split the profit so that both of our businesses would benefit.

    I went back to the drawing board. Remember that "one and done" principle I mentioned? Yeah I hadn't made a pattern for Beedog since I'd only planned on doing one. I made a few more changes to make him easier to mass produce (4 at a time, 1 hour and 20 mins each) and made a dozen of them to cover the preorders I'd taken on the Rockmelon forums.

    Then the earthquake in Japan happened, followed by the Tsunami's and as reports of the damage escalated I knew I had to do something. Luckily I had a fleet of Beedogs all ready to go and almost all of them already spoken for, meaning I was pretty much guaranteed some money coming in.

    I talked to my husband, who'd been following the news as well and we decided we'd donate $5 from every Beedog sold to Global Giving to help with their earthquake/tsunami relief fund.

    When I mentioned this on the forum, just to let those who'd already placed orders know they would be doing something good, Topher stepped in and announced that he wanted his entire share of the profits included in the donation. This is amazing as it put our total donation for each Beedog sold to $12 which will really add up.

    Since it's for a good cause I figured if more people wanted to buy a Beedog than the original dozen orders I'd taken then clearly I should step up and make some more. So I'm here today to tell you guys about them and how you can help a worthy cause just by buying a stuffed animal of your favorite purveyor of fine journalism.

    I should note, that if you don't really want a Beedog, but still want to help out, then by all means just donate to any of the great charities (Global Giving) collecting money to aid relief efforts. As I mentioned earlier I choose the Beedogs because they were practically already sold, and while I'd love to sell more I'd rather they go to people who would have bought one anyway so that I'm not just profiting off of the disaster in Japan.

    If you'd like to purchase a Beedog you can find them at Story Builder Toys for a limited time (basically until I run out and quit making more). This is a great opportunity to create good from geekery, will you put on your journalism mustache and answer the call?
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