The BiblioFiles Presents: Christina Diaz Gonzalez

christina diaz gonzalezJust posted! A webcast with author Christina Diaz Gonzalez, author of Moving Target and its recent sequel, Return Fire.

When we first meet Cassandra Arroyo, she is living in Rome, Italy, with her father, a nomadic art history professor. Cassie’s biggest problems are raising her grade in World History and not-quite-daring to skip class. However, her world is turned upside down when her normally placid father drags her to the car, and, during the ensuing high speed chase through the city, confesses that Cassie is the target of a secret organization called the Hastati. Her father is wounded before he can explain any more, and Cassie must continue on her own.

She soon discovers that she is connected to the Spear of Destiny, an ancient object that can shape destiny when wielded by a marked descendant such as herself. What’s more, very powerful and ruthless people want to make sure she never finds it. Cassie and her friends are quickly caught in a relentless, high stakes game of hide and seek as they try to unravel riddles and clues – some of which are hidden in ancient books and paintings – to find the spear and save Cassie’s father.

Moving Target and Return Fire are fast-paced, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you eagerly turning pages. Diaz Gonzalez keeps the action so realistic, it’s like you’re on the run with Cassie and her friends, narrowly making escapes and wondering whom you can really trust. They’re also a whirlwind trip through the art, architecture, and culture of Italy – from the beautiful mountains to hushed underground chapels.

In addition to the Moving Target books, Diaz Gonzalez has written A Thunderous Whisper, a book set in Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and WWII, and The Red Umbrella, a story of a family being torn apart during the Cuban Communist regime. The latter was named an American Library Association’s Best Book for Young Adults.

Follow this link to the BiblioFiles interview

Magicus Extremos

wand works spell simulation game by jose m rico, background by jeremy goncalvesAre you ready to see something stunning, amazing, and totally, wickedly, cool?

Above are screen shots from the custom Harry Potter game that was featured at our library’s Wand Works event. Set in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, the Spell Simulator allows kids to test 6 spells with their wands. I’ll share the game with you first, and then introduce you to its creator, Princeton University junior José M Rico (who is, incidentally, majoring in Computer Science and co-founder of the gaming company Kapricorn Media).

For starters, we wanted the game to play on a really big screen, have good sound, and have the highest resolution possible. Instead of cobbling something together with our library’s equipment, I did one of the smartest things of my outreach career. I hired NJ Backyard Movies. They brought a huge inflatable screen, big sound speakers, and a terrific projector. Best of all, a tech guy set everything up and stayed during the event to make sure it ran smoothly.

casting a spell 1One by one, kids approached the screen, where 6 spells were displayed on a menu – Bombarda, Glacius, Incendio, Lumos Maxima, Priori Incantatem, and Protego. Once chosen, the screen would briefly display the title of the spell, its use, and its linguistic roots. Then the caster would find themselves in the Great Hall. A sparkling circle would appear. With a flick of the wand and a shout, kids would cast the spell.

Discretely to the side of the spell-casting area, and controlling the game with keystrokes, was José. He wouldn’t activate the spell unless the kids spoke the spell and flicked their wands. And he wouldn’t stop the spell until they raised or lowered their wands. This made the game appear to react to the kids’ movements.

casting a spell 2This photo also caught Téa Wimer, our Curator of Muggle Artifacts, taking a break from her exhibit to check out the game. OK. Ready to see the spells? I highly recommend dimming the lights, cranking up the sound, and viewing these full screen.

 

 

 

 

 


AMAZING, right? I must admit, I was moved to tears when José first showed me his game. The amount of time, care, and talent he put into it is truly touching. At the event, there were huge smiles, gasps of wonder, delighted laughter, and long, slow drawn out exclamations of “Whoaaaaaa….”

José has very generously modified the game so YOU can play it. Yup. Download a Windows or Mac version of the game, for free, right here.


GAME DESIGNER JOSÉ M RICO

jose m rico

Tell us a little about Kapricorn Media…

Kapricorn Media is a two-man game development team. It consists of Luciano Obregon, the artist and designer and my friend since childhood, and me, the programmer. It was officially named and established by us in May of 2016, though it had inadvertently started in spirit years earlier. Luciano and I have always been searching for something in this world. This has led us on a path of creation, discovery, and uncertainty that involved our early immersions into many LEGO worlds, our wooden sword fights, our hand-drawn mini games, our video game mods, and ultimately our own game development team. Kapricorn Media is our next and most mature step in this constant search.

How would you describe your relationship with the Harry Potter books?

The Harry Potter books opened up a rich universe of magic and adventure. Even though I doubt I was even capable of reading at the time the first book was published, I quickly joined the Harry Potter craze as the movies and the later books started to come out. I spent several days trying to look for the perfectly shaped stick to use as a wand, and then casting spells at my friends and imaginary enemies. I remember Luciano and I made our own Marauder’s Map at some point. I also remember having a framed photo of Luciano and me, only I had cut out a picture of Hermione Granger and pasted it on top of Luciano’s face. I had a huge crush on Hermione.

How did you decide which spells to include in the game?

I started out with a huge list of spells, and a limited amount of time to implement them. Some of them, like Wingardium Leviosa or Accio, would have required me to develop more interactive controls. Some of them weren’t as visually interesting, like Alohomora or Expelliarmus by itself. Ultimately, I chose the ones that I thought were most visually striking and made the caster feel most powerful. I also decided to add Protego and Priori Incantatem to vary the mechanics of the game by introducing an opponent.

Describe the process of building one of the spells…

Each spell had three main components: visual effects, the physical effect of the spell, and sound. I usually implemented them in that order. All visual effects involved some sort of particle system, one or more light sources to integrate the particles with the game scene, and a conduit for the spell, usually a missile or beam. The physical effect of the spell was trickiest for Bombarda, since the explosion triggers an expanding shockwave that knocks back all props in the scene. Finally, the sound design consisted of me shifting through free online sound databases. The explosion sound for Glacius, for example, contains modified audio clips of people dumping out lots of ice cubes.

How long did it take to develop the entire game?

The game probably took me a grand total of 70 to 80 hours to develop.

Which spell is your favorite?

My favorite spell is, by far, Priori Incantatem (which is not technically a spell, but more of an “event”). However, the spell with my favorite sound effects is Glacius.

What was the most creative aspect of this game for you?

The most creative aspect was choosing the appropriate way of presenting and controlling the game environment at the actual event. Even though I experimented with several options, including motion capture through webcams and Nintendo Wii remotes, I ultimately decided to do something extremely simple, yet effective. I was the one controlling the pace of the game behind the scenes. The players would point their wands and cast spells, but it would be me actually pressing the buttons and running the show. As such, the result was more of a visual effects slideshow than an actual interactive game, but I believe it was the best choice for this situation.

What was the most difficult thing to develop?

Even though I developed this game under the name of Kapricorn Media, I was mostly on my own, since Luciano was busy working on his own projects and plans at the moment. Therefore, I had to take over the visual design of the game. I had the good fortune of finding an amazing 3D rendition of the Hogwarts Great Hall by French artist Jeremy Goncalves. This scene grounded the aesthetic of the game and allowed me to take concrete decisions about the scene’s lighting and special effects.

How did event attendees react to your game?

The attendees, both children and parents, were impressed by the power of each spell cast! As the button-presser behind the scenes, I got to watch every single player flick their wand and react at the result. I saw plenty of smiles and surprised faces! There was the occasional skeptic who just shrugged and said “oh, it’s just a screen.” Most players tried one or two spells, though some of them got in line over and over again to try them all. The more attentive and talkative ones approached me and quickly realized that I was, in fact, the one controlling the flow of the game.


Many thanks to artist Jeremy Goncalves for allowing us to use his stunning 3D rendition of the Great Hall.

The Wizard Behind the Wands

gray magic woodworking wand 161Does the wizard choose the wand? Or does the wand choose the wizard?

If there is one person who knows the answer to this intriguing question, it is Lane O’Neil, the master wandmaker behind Gray Magic Woodworking. Lane brought his wands, tools, and expertise to our library’s Harry Potter Wand Works event, and we couldn’t have been more delighted.

Even though Lane has been woodworking for 25 years, he didn’t take up the wand making lathe until fairly recently. Four years ago, during a hike, he picked up an oak branch. He carved the branch into his first wand – a gift for his young daughter. 291 hand-crafted wands later, Lane is still busy carving and shipping his unique pieces around the world.

gray magic woodworking wand 155Fantastically, Lane donated 3 of his wands to our Accio Wand blog contest! Readers of all ages were invited to submit an original Harry Potter spell, be it silly or serious. The winning entries are posted here.


How did you first get interested in wandmaking?

I got interested in wandmaking slowly over time. I enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, and being an artist, I was instantly drawn to the concept of each witch or wizard having a unique wand. They were made from different woods, had different cores, and were made by different wandmakers. The idea that the wand was linked to the person was wonderful. Sometimes the style fit the personality like Hermione, Sirius, or Narcissus. And sometimes it didn’t, like Ginny, Harry, or Mad-Eye. Sometimes the wand only reflected the holders shallow exterior, like Delores Umbridge, or what beauty was hidden beneath the surface, like Luna.

I had vision upon vision in my head of new pieces to create. And I got to work. I wanted each piece to be unique. I love the idea of the wand being paired to one person. It’s less of a part time job now, more of a labor of love.

gray magic woodworking wand 232What sorts of woods do you use?

When I first started, I used what was readily available, Oak, Poplar, Ash, Maple. But as I discovered, there are hundreds of species of trees. I now use Paduak, Gaboon Ebony, Birch, Purpleheart, Cherry, Bubinga, Cocobolo, Koa, Osage Orange, Mahogany, Lacewood, you name it. The more exotic and far traveled it is the better. I love the different textures, grains, colors, and figures.

gray magic woodworking wand 050Where do you acquire the wood for your wands?

I get wood wherever I can. Found pieces, traded pieces among my woodworking group, but primarily I use exotic hardwood suppliers. I got requests to craft from Holly, Elder, and Larch. And since I just couldn’t run down to Home Depot and pick up some Bolivian Rosewood, I needed to branch out and discover new suppliers.

wood piecesMy favorite place is called Hearn, they are located in Oxford, PA.  It’s like a candy store for people who craft wood. They have everything from domestic scraps to 16′ slabs of exotic wood shipped from the hearts of far away continents.

Describe the process of carving a wand from start to finish.

I start with a dried, seasoned “blank.” It’s usually about 1″X1″x16″. I drill a small shallow hole into each end to secure it in the lathe. I remove the Morris Taper spur from the lathe, tap it onto the wood blank, insert the spur/wood onto the lathe, and lock in the tail stock. I make sure I have my safety goggles and breathing respirator on, and my sleeves rolled up.

I position the guide, turn on the lathe, and use a “roughing gouge” to take the edges off until I have a smooth, long cylinder. I can then draw lines, if needed, for length or detail locations. Then I use various skews and chisels to shape the wand.

chiselWhen it’s just about fully shaped, I use sandpaper to smooth it – working to smaller grits until I’m happy with the texture. I can also stain or paint the wand while it’s spinning. I usually use a carnauba wax/ tung oil blend to finish fully.

latheWhen I’m just about done, I “part” the wand from the lathe by cutting the material away by the tip or pommel until the wand falls off. I move the piece to the work bench, saw the remaining scrap block off, sand the two rough ends, and finish with carving, wood burning, or other decorations. I tag it, give it a name, and a number.

gray magic woodworking wandsHow long does it take to make a wand?

The time it takes to make a wand depends on the intricacy. The first wand I ever turned took an hour and half…and it was kind of rough. I spent about 80% of the time carving and shaping, and 20% sanding and finishing. Now it’s more like 40% of the time carving and shaping, and 60% finishing. I under-valued the worth of the finish when I got started, but my skill improved.

I made 22 wands for my daughter’s class for Valentine’s – real simple and basic. Those took 4 minutes each. I also made one covered in carved vines that took 8 hours. But the average time would be 45-60 minutes.

gray magic woodworking wand 234What locations have your wands shipped to?

I’ve shipped as far North as Fairbanks Alaska, as Far East as Taipei Taiwan, as far South as Singapore, and as far West as Anchorage, Alaska. All over Europe and Saudi Arabia too.

gray magic woodworking wand 251What’s the most unusual or significant wand you’ve ever made?

The most unusual wand I ever made was a hand carved series of twisted “vines.” It appears to be woven, but is actually sculpted out of a block of wood.

gray magic woodworking wand 256The most significant wand I’ve ever made is a tie. I made a Beech wand that was chosen by a young girl from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. There wasn’t anything too special about it other than the leather wrapped handle, but she chose it.

gray magic woodworking wand 055The other one was purchased by a mother in London, England. She bought a Japanese Maple for her son Harry for his 10th birthday…that was pretty cool. His mother sent me a photo.

harry and his gray magic woodworking wand


Photos courtesy of Gray Magic Woodworking.