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On October 28, 2014 Ubisoft® announced that the Assassin’s Creed® Unity Phantom Blade, a wearable life-size collectible, is now available in stores and online for $59.99. Just in time for Halloween, the Phantom Blade comes equipped with a functional hidden blade, retractable crossbow and firing dart. The Phantom Blade is meticulously crafted from a design by McFarlane Toys and includes adjustable straps to fit most sizes. It is constructed out of thermoplastic and safety tested for actual use, age 17+. A replica of Arno’s signature weapon in Assassin’s Creed Unity, this is a must-have for Assassin’s Creed fans.

Lawrence Tabak: Author of "In Real Life"

Lawrence Tabak is the author of the soon to be released Young Adult book "In Real Life". He was born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa and has since lived on both coasts before settling down not far from his roots in Madison, Wisconsin. He attended Northwestern University for two years before transferring to the University of Iowa to focus on writing. Lawrence graduated with degrees in English and General Science and while hanging around Iowa City picked up an MA in English.

After reading "In Real Life" I was very excited to have read such a well written and just amazing book. The story and the characters were just superb. I'm not really into Young Adult fiction, but this a book that I would highly recommend because it doesn't talk down to the reader, it is relatable on many levels, and is a great ride from start to finish. I had the pleasure of being able to interview the author, Lawrence Tabak, and was able to gain some insight into what went into the making of this story.

  • Was writing something you've always dreamed of doing or was it something you fell into?

While always an avid reader I don’t remember spending any time at all as a child dreaming of becoming a writer. I had wonderful teachers who were encouraging, starting in high school and then in college, when I started writing more seriously. I began writing and selling nonfiction while still in college and even though I had sold a couple of short stories, stayed with that focus for many years. Over the years I've published hundreds of magazine features and essays, including stories in the in-flight magazines for American and United, Fast Company, Salon.com and The Atlantic Monthly. Only when my own kids were teenagers did I return to writing fiction.

  • What is your background as far as gaming goes?

What did the sort of kids who are attracted to computer gaming do before computers? We played board games. We were particularly enamored with the strategy games from Avalon Hill, like D-Day, which had many of the same elements of today’s computer strategy games. Since my kids were fascinated by computer games as soon as they became available, I joined their experience, playing games like Lemmings and Simant with them. As they graduated into the more complex modern games, I became more of a spectator than participant.

  • Was the majority of the pro gaming experience mainly from what your sons went through or did you seek out other sources as well?

With serious gamers right in my house I didn't have to go far to get a sense of the scene. However, my background in nonfiction and feature writing made it a natural to do as much research as possible. As part of this process I had some extensive interviews with some older, more advanced gamers.

  • At what ages did your sons go pro?

My older son Josh is the one with professional gaming experience. He really ramped up his gaming in his senior year of college. He was only one course short of graduation in his second semester and found time to rise to top of the Heroes of Newerth competitive scene. That resulted in an invitation to join the SKgaming HON team.

  • What were some of the challenges/obstacles you had as a parent of pro gamers?

While it wasn't so much the pro side of the gaming that was an issue, I think seeking balance is an issue for many kids with obsessive interests or pursuits, whether it be gymnastics or chess or anime. As a writer I was very much concerned that my two boys find time to learn to enjoy the deep pleasures of reading. My wife and I are also very active physically and wanted the boys to have a similar outlet. Both were competitive tennis players who played high school varsity.

  • Did you travel a lot with your sons or were they like Seth mainly on their own?

Both of my sons were very much involved in Magic the Gathering and we've taken them to tournaments all over the country. At the time Magic had a national junior championship with a highly competitive qualifying structure. We ended up traveling to the national championships in Orlando, San Diego and Kansas City. Since then we've arranged at least one family reunion around a Magic Pro Tour event, where both of my sons participated. So we've been supportive of their interests and pursuits.

  • How much traveling outside the U.S. have you done? Where?

I’m not much of a world traveler although I’ve done a tour of Israel and have made a more visit to London and Paris.

  • Did you face similar language barrier issues as Seth did?

As someone with a low threshold for embarrassment, my sputtering French was a constant source of chagrin in the time we spend in Paris. People kept saying that the French appreciated the effort, but I’m not sure appreciate is the right word.

  • Did your childhood resemble Seth's in any way?

Not in the specifics, but in the universal struggle between the powerful urge to fit in and equally powerful need to believe in our own exceptionalism.

  • How did you come up with Hannah's character?

It’s commonplace to note that girls typically mature faster than boys physically. It’s also my experience that they often do so emotionally and intellectually as well. Hannah is way ahead of Seth in many ways, yet they are clearly kindred spirits.

  • The romance between Seth and Hannah felt more like memory than a work of fiction. Did you have similar romances yourself?

Not in specifics, but certainly in spirit.

  • Any plans for another book or a continuation of this book?

I've been actively writing other books before and since the completion of In Real Life, although there is nothing currently in the publishing queue. No current plans to continue this story, although it is conceivable.

  • If you had the option of turning this book into a TV series or a movie which would you prefer?

Do you have any contacts in Hollywood? I’m all for either.

"In Real Life" by Lawrence Tabak Book Review

“In Real Life” by Lawrence Tabak

Tuttle Publishing
Release date: 11/11/2014
Soft Cover: 287 pgs

“In Real Life” by Lawrence Tabak it is a Young Adult fiction story about a young Kansas kid named Seth Gordon who has been gaming his whole life and hopes to make a career out of it and go pro. Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old math prodigy Seth Gordon knows exactly what he wants to do with his life—play video games. Every spare minute is devoted to honing his skills at Starfare, the world's most popular computer game. His goal: South Korea, where the top pros are rich and famous. But the best players train all day, while Seth has school and a job and divorced parents who agree on only one thing: "Get off that damn computer." Plus there's a new distraction named Hannah, an aspiring photographer who actually seems to understand his obsession. 

This is not the typical story where said kid works hard throughout the book, and eventually discovers love, friendship, all while achieving his dream. As the story takes place, Seth Gordon is already ranked #5 in the United States and has realistic shot of going pro. He trains/plays ritualistically to the point of cutting classes to get in as much time gaming as possible. He’s not the typical social high school outcast; he has his best friend Donald aka DTerra (DT) who also plays Starfare and is just as good but not top ranked good. However DT lives in another state. Because of his rank he does make some acquaintances with other gamers and of course attracts the attention of a rival, Stompz, who just will not give him a break when it comes to playing this game. Starfare is like StarCraft, it’s a real time strategy game that pits player(s) against player(s). The participants’ position and maneuver units and structures under their control to secure areas of the map and/or destroy their opponents' assets. The way Seth talks about playing Starfare is almost surreal. The walls melt away, whatever noise was there fades away, and he’s in another world of 3D textured terrains, flashing lights, shouting commands as if it were real life. And when he’s done it’s like he was pulled out of that world, dripping sweat and breathing heavy as if he was in a real life battle. It just makes you want to pick up a controller and do a marathon of your favorite game. The visuals for describe Seth’s gaming experience and the game itself are enough to sell on you what a gamer is or even sell you a game itself.   

For Seth school was and was not an issue mainly because he is such an incredibly gifted student in math that they had him not only take AP classes, but college courses as well. But it’s the fact that he’s skipping classes and slacking in grades to play Starfare is what really becomes an issue with his folks. Like most parents dealing with a teenager always requires negotiations to be the great motivator. While things with his folks are not perfect, his older brother Garrett is his one constant in his life. Whenever he needs advice Garrett is always the one he can count on to help him out, even though Garrett is away in college. The relationship with both parents differs, as each parent’s personality is completely different from each other. Mom is more laid back and into trying new things but stern, while dad is more like your hard-ass boss at work with the occasional soft spot. The difference in personalities of the parents really makes them unique. The parents tend to play really pivotal roles in the book, especially when major changes are happening in Seth’s life. 

While socially awkward in the beginning; the author really lets Seth shine through. Throughout the book you start to see Seth grow; especially when he meets Hannah, a NJ transplant. It’s not an immediate change from shy to confident. But you see that once he starts to click with someone he becomes more open with them, and with Hannah you see this become more apparent. While Hannah doesn't get or is interested in the pro gaming scene, the fact that she and Seth are so passionate about their hobbies that it’s what draws them together. Hannah is an aspiring artist/photographer and just has this encyclopedic knowledge of artists that it rivals Seth’s knowledge of gaming. The more and more you ready about Hannah and Seth together, the more it feels like a happy memory. From the should of, would of, could of; to the playfulness of relationship itself it’s like remembering the best memories of your life and Tabak really has you rooting hard for them. 

The curve balls in Seth’s life aren't these small insignificant trips to the supermarket. These are constant life changing events that really move the story along. It’s almost like you’re part of a documentary crew following this kid around as he tries to make it pro. From an opportunity to play in a televised championship tournament, to a chance to play with the best team in the world it’s like a roller coaster that you glad isn't stopping anytime soon. Tabak never misses an opportunity to really showcase how incredibly gifted Seth is at math. When Seth first boots up his computer for Hannah a screen pops about with a weird message, Seth explains that it has to a with trying to find the prime number and that he took part in this global study and if his computer finds the number it’s an achievement. He does this with the main cast of characters in Kansas, really let each person in Seth’s life be their own personality in the book. 

Tabak mainly wrote this book as a way to get his kids more interested in reading. He has 2 sons that are pro gamers themselves, and as you read the book you definitely feel like he fully understands the gaming scene and makes it relatable for everyone to comprehend. A book that uses gaming as its backdrop is very unique, because there aren't many books that do use it as well as he did. I barely found any boring parts or pauses. He really has a great sense of flow in the book that keeps you interested, intrigued, and invested. They way he describes the various settings in the book, whether it’s the strip mall in Kansas or the random club in Korea he gives just enough detail that reader can picture it themselves without being hit over the head. 

I really found this book to be entertaining and delightful. As I said before the author really gets you to care about what happens to these characters and rooting for Seth along the way. I would rate this book 5 stars, because it is one of those Young Adult books that doesn't just cater to younger audience that may not have gone through similar situations in life and treats it's audience as intelligent readers. "In Real Life" will be available to readers in time for Christmas nationwide on November 11, 2014. 

Review: University Games

At this years Toy Fair I had the pleasure of meeting representatives from University Games and they introduced to a slew of games that they were putting out. Out of the games I was able to get a quick demo on, there were three that caught my attention: "Man Bites Dog", "Dirty Words", and "Dumb Ass". These three caught my attention because they were geared towards more young adult audiences; these were games that adults could enjoy as well. I was lucky enough to get my hands on all 3 games and have some fun with them along with a few friends.