Thursday, December 24, 2009

Print This Out and Put It Where A Loved One Might Find It

Dear Honey,

Hi, it's me, ________________. I know you're probably still searching for the perfect gift for me for Christmas. Time's running out, you know! However, my good friend Steve recommended a very good list of games that I think you should buy me. And everything's on sale on Steam until January 3! After all, that jewelry/sweater/other: ________________ you already bought is really ugly, and I was going to take it back to the store and use the money to buy Borderlands anyway.

Steve Strongly Recommends I Get These Games:

Braid - $2.49 - Steam - JiG review
Steve said that this was one of his favorite puzzle games that he played this year. The time-based puzzles are fun, and quite a challenge to wrap one's head around. Plus, the music and artwork are soothing and gorgeous (respectively), and the ending could change how you see life. Deep stuff.

World of Goo - $4.99 - Steam - JiG review
Steve said that we are basically unawesome until we've played this game. World of Goo was the winner of several indie gaming awards, and rightfully so, as its innovative gameplay and riotous sense of humor have made it a tremendous joy for Steve to play. Seriously, we're behind the ball on buying this one. I think that's why the neighbors have been letting their dog pee in our garden.

Audiosurf - $2.50 - Steam - WLWLOH review
I hate going to the company Christmas party because my coworkers all make fun of my ability to get down to the music. Audiosurf would be an excellent game for helping me find my inner groove while jamming out to the music I already love. Okay, this game might not help me learn to dance, but Steve said it's fun, a'ight?

Chains - $.99 - Steam - JiG review
Oh, come on, this one's only a buck! Steve said that Chains has a very interesting twist on the match-3 and samegame genres, and a variety of challenges to match. He also said that he had french toast for breakfast this morning. (Irrelevant, but I'm having a hard time coming up with any other quirky things to put at the end of these mini-reviews.)

The Wonderful End of the World/AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA! Combo - $11.24 - Steam - JiG review of TWEotW - A! review forthcoming
Steve said that the fine folks of Dejobaan Games have outdone their previous 75 years of video game design with these two astonishing games in one convenient, bite-sized package. We both said we liked those Katamari games on our son's PlayCenter thingy, and TWEotW captures all the fun we had with that and put into a computer-able game. And AaaaAA! is probably the closest we'll come to going skydiving considering our age. I wonder if there really are floating buildings up there?

Steve's Friends Who Are Also Very Knowledgable About Games Would Probably Recommend These Games As Well:
Machinarium - $9.99 - Steam - JiG review
Trine - $7.99 - Steam - WLWLOH demo impressions
Time Gentlemen, Please!/Ben There, Dan That! Combo - $2.49 - Steam - JiG reviews for BTDT, TGP
Crayon Physics Deluxe - $9.99 - Steam - JiG Review

Hope this gives you some ideas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Rule of Thumb Actually Involves Thumbs

And it's quite handy too. You're welcome.

Any game in which a glitch is formed where your thumbs become fused together inside a chain-link fence is generally not a good game.

Mirror's Edge, then. I downloaded it over Thanksgiving break because it was on sale, I'm probably going to give up on it over Christmas break. Why? Because it's just starting to irritate and bore me.

Okay, you have to admit, it's a sexy game. The developers have paid a lot of attention to visual details, and the result is clear. The world is drop-dead gorgeous, although very white, which really should be considered cheating since they can fall back on simple gradients rather than trying to create intricate artwork, but we'll forgive that. But beyond the eye-candy of all the intricate levels to explore, there's a sense of aggravation looming in the darkness.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mirror's Edge, a plotline summary in 50 words or less: Faith is a "Runner" who uses parkour to try to clear her sister's name. Oh dear, that was only 14 words...

First off, I understand that in a certain sense, Mirror's Edge is a puzzle platformer, although not in the same sense that Portal and Braid are puzzle platformers. You've got to get from Point A to Point B, lather, rinse, and repeat. Usually, your Point B becomes the new Point A, and you've got to work out where the next Point B is. This is all fine and dandy, except either certain levels are designed to obscure your target destination in whatever ways possible, or I'm generally too stupid to figure out the ways to get there. There's a "Runner's Eye" system where objects that you need to use turn red to catch your attention, but this does not occur in all instances, and sometimes finding the way to a red object is half the battle. I kid you not, there have been times where I've sat putzing around in a corridor trying to find a way up onto a higher platform for literally half an hour, only to find that the answer was in a one-inch ledge on a wall that I never really realized was there before. I mean, who could have missed! the one inch ledge on a wall above me. Naturally. Unrelatedly, this Faith girl clearly has the strongest fingertips known to mankind.

If it's not the puzzle aspect that seems a bit unintuitive to you, maybe it's the combat system that seems a bit off-kilter. Occasionally, you will encounter police officers (of varying levels of experience or expertise, apparently) that you must disarm and/or kill. Since your character is unarmed, you've got to use only fists and feet to get the job done, unless you manage to rip a gun away from someone trying to shoot you (although there exists a statistic for your save file that counts the number of people you've shot, which I want to believe is significant later in the game, so I've been trying to avoid that route). However, Super Smash Bros. this ain't, as all you can really do are kick, punch, flying kick, sliding kick, and that's pretty much the lot of it. Thus, my melee strategy is just to mash buttons whenever I meet someone in SWAT armor. (Oh wait, it IS Super Smash Bros.!)

However, the kiss of death in this game seems to be how long it is. Or rather, how long the chapters are. One key thing about gaming and me is that I can't stand long sessions of the same thing over and over again. Team Fortress 2 is incredibly tolerable, because the game is constantly changing, and if it's not, you can change your character as you see fit. Half Life 2 is painful, because the chapters are incredibly long, but at least you can save and walk away at any time during the level. (Still, I've been wandering around in Ravenholm for hours now, and I'm wondering if that level ever ends.) Mirror's Edge is particularly painful in that there are checkpoints to return to if you die, but you can't save in the middle of chapters. Some chapters are stupidly long to begin with, not to mention the fact that I'm clearly too thick to get certain puzzles, so they take twice as long for me, so having to quit in the middle of any level is tremendously aggravating. I can't stick around for long periods of time to finish a single level, and I can't be bothered to return any time soon when after an hour and a half in a level, you get a glitch like the one above.

I will concede that Mirror's Edge is visually stunning, and that it does turn a lot of conventional platformers on its ear with a versatile parkour-style navigation theme. There's just too many things that drive me batty about the game to make me want to continue, and that's a bad thing. Did this make sense at all? It's late, which is part of the reason why I'm not bothering with links this time. In a nutshell: Mirror's Edge, not worth it unless if you've got a higher tolerance for this sort of aggrevation than me.


Edit: I think it's only fair that I include this little addendum. The post above was written while incredibly tired, which I think I mentioned. However, in fairness, I should also mention that the only reason for writing the post was to vent rage about a glitch at an irritating moment in the game. In other words, you could call the post the equivalent of writing emails to your boss while drunk. In no way does it end well, except it's something your co-workers can laugh at the next day.

Now that that's out of the way, and now that I'm a little less tired, I can tell you in good conscience that the above negative review stands. I think I can justify it a little more coherently now.

I understand that there's a certain amount of skill to play any sort of game, and the skill required varies from game to game. In the case of Mirror's Edge, you could say it's about half coordination/skill/timing and half puzzle/problem solving, and the reason that I put them at a 50/50 split is because there are parts where both are required and parts where one definitely trumps the other.

On the puzzle/problem solving side of the coin, much of the challenges involve figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, as I mentioned above. The main problem that I have with this is that the solution for getting there isn't always clear, and at that, you might not even know where you're going to begin with. You can get a little help by tapping the Left Alt key, which automatically turns your head to look at where you need to go/what you need to do. (By the way, don't do this while moving, you might accidentally walk off a ledge because of the sudden turn of your motion.) The (other) problem with this is that the guiding system doesn't always respond to your cries for help (as if to say, "C'mon, the solution should be obvious, just go down this hallway"), or it tries to show you the solution too many steps in advance. This is often the case with trying to climb upward in narrow corridors, like mentioned above. Hitting Alt pretty much makes you look straight up, which doesn't help much when you need to figure out which wall to wallrun-jump off of to grab on to which pole to swing to which ledge and so forth. Similarly, there are instances (particularly outdoors) where hitting Alt points you to a building far away, where your goal is to get to a door on the other side of the building (but you don't really know that until you get there). To sum it up, when you need help the most, it's not likely you'll be able to get it.

Then there's the coordination/skill/timing side of things. Once you figure out what you need to do, doing it is a completely different matter. You occasionally have to make large jumps over certain-death heights, and these jumps always seem to require that you get enough speed and jump at the exact right moment, or else you plummet downwardly. Even when I've had to repeat certain jumps due to dying shortly thereafter, I still find myself missing the previous jumps due to the accuracy needed to complete them.

In the same category of skill/timing, I need to cite this example of another frustrating thing about this game. In a certain level, which I forget, you encounter a certain character, whom I forget, and have basically a mini-boss fight. To start the fight, the character delivers a surprise blow as you arrive at the top of a flight of stairs, grabs you, and throws you down to a lower roof on the building. The character then jumps down, charges you, and attempts to beat you with a pipe. If you fail to disarm the man just before he strikes you with the pipe, he hits you, then grabs you again, holds your helpless body up for a moment while he flashes another evil smile, and throws you to the street below where you die. An exciting scene, yes, but it becomes significantly less exciting when you realize that every time you die, the exact same sequence starts again. From stairs to concrete, it's about 40 seconds (estimate from memory, sorry if I'm off). To beat the boss, you're supposed to (1) realize that you need to disarm the man when he charges you, (2) find the exact moment to disarm him (which can be aided by using the R key, which slows time down for a bit), and (3) actually do the disarm. Prior to this stage, I had never disarmed a man in the game, nor had I used the R key, so it took me quite a while to even remember how to do either. The sad bit is, after at least 20 tries (and I'm not exaggerating that), I finally managed to disarm the man, and watched carefully for the next part of the fight... but disarming him also disoriented him, and he basically ran off the edge of the roof. Boss fight over, and I only had to click once at the right time. What the heck? After wasting way too much time figuring out what to do, it all came down to one well-timed click? Sloblock, that. It's instances like this that make this game frustrating, and you actually feel for a moment as though you've been wasting your time.

There are other instances of ire which I won't go into (as it's once again becoming late, and I'll just slip into my incoherent place once again), but just know that these moments of frustration and helplessness and illogic make Mirror's Edge an unpleasant experience for me. Maybe your mileage will go farther, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I don't know if I'll be returning to it anytime soon, but if you feel so inclined to give it a try, you might as well download it now on Steam, as it's now on sale... More on that later. I've got a cold, so sleep is a higher priority than last night. Stay tuned...

Friday, December 11, 2009

"In Case You Missed It...." Round-up 2

What happens when a quiet radio station gets swarmed by a crew of unruly staff members? About the same thing that happens on most other radio shows on WNTE. But in this episode (from last week), "In Case You Missed It..." opened the studio doors for a visitation day, and several other hosts came for the fun. And chaos ensued.

Check us out at, or listen to this week's clip to find out who is the reason why we can't have nice things.

Save a Horse, Ride Joe Thomas

Whenever I travel, I like to have a certain CD in the car with me. Well, two CD’s, actually. One is the Maria Rita CD that I seem to mention every time I do a longer entry on here. The other is a mix CD that I’ve labeled the “Feel Good Mix”. I tend to pop it in on the last leg of my journeys, and for whatever reason, “Jessica” by the Allman Brothers Band always seems to come on when I’m arriving in the town of my destination.

Music, in this sense, seems to be a vehicle of sorts, controlling the emotions we feel, taking us to certain highs and lows. There are moments of excitement during the drive, and moments of relaxed cruising. And while I acknowledge that this is a terrible way to set up the game I’m about to review, you could see how music is like a road to travel on.


Right then, Audiosurf. A couple of months ago, I bought Audiosurf on Steam (it was on sale… as are most of my game purchases anymore). Audiosurf is a game that takes your music and makes an interactive “road” to travel, challenging you to pick up blocks and make combos for points.

Each song that you put into Audiosurf goes through a quick analyzer that finds the song’s high points and low points, basic rhythm, swells in the music, and changes in volume. Through whatever mysterious process, these are all taken into account when making the “path” of that song. In slower, quieter parts, the path tends to go uphill, and in faster, louder parts, the path goes downhill. It’s like a musical roller coaster, if you would.

Except I now redact the roller coaster simile to return you to the “road” theory, as along the road are “cars” (ie, colored blocks) that correspond to the rhythms of the music. You play as a spaceship of sorts that collects (or avoids) the cars in order to make clusters of similarly-colored blocks in a grid beneath you, which makes the entire thing feel a lot like Guitar Hero mixed with a match-3 puzzle. Larger clusters score more points, but also, warmer colors (which pop up more often when the music is more “intense”) also get you higher scores. If you gather up too many blocks and overfill a row, your ship is temporarily paralyzed, and you have to wait a bit to be able to collect blocks again.

There are (if I remember right, I’m typing this up on a different computer) 14 different “characters” (spaceships) to play with, spanning three difficulty levels and six specialized skills. Playing a “Mono” character means you’re collecting any colored block while avoiding grays. Playing an “Eraser” character lets you remove blocks of a certain color from the grid, then throw them back up later to grab some extra points. Other characters let you randomly shuffle the grid, shift blocks before they land, and even let a second player join in for co-op play.

In a nutshell, that’s Audiosurf. This game literally lets you “ride your music” (catchphrase, that) with a pretty trippy neon roller coaster theme that’s engrossing and fun.

Unfortunately, you also realize how boring of a human being you are.

Way back when I used to geocache (man, I need to get back into that again), I was on a cache trip with a friend where we discussed his iPod, and my reluctance to get one. If I remember right, my primary arguments for not getting one were (1) cost, (2) I have the tendency to doom myself to be the last to catch on to most tech trends, (3) there was always something slightly unsettling about having a portrait of your personality (via the music you listened to) that could be seen by anyone who touched the thing. I still don’t have an iPod, but I’ve got iTunes, and taking a look at my list, I don’t have much to be ashamed of. It’s mostly jazz with a few scattered oldies, high of 69. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) There are a couple whole albums of classical music and liederwhatnots, mostly stuff I purchased when I was still a music major, but likely never listened to (except the Debussy album, that’s a good one). I suppose if there’s anything that would stick out as “abnormal”, it’d be the more ethnic bits, like some Portuguese jazz, zydeco, or a group known as “Slavic Soul Party!” (Really, they’re good. Look them up.) Since I really don’t host any social functions in the rooms where I keep my computer, my iTunes list stays pretty well under wraps, and if I need music, I throw some good stuff onto a CD (or use the ones mentioned at the top of this post). On the whole, you could say that my music is fairly easy listening, if not outright relaxing.

However, Audiosurf is a game that’s dependent on fast guitar riffs, heavy drum beats, and loud singing for a lively (and therefore higher-scoring) ride. You can play through your slower songs and still have fun, but after a while, you begin to feel the slowness of your music, which becomes apparent after a string of slow songs. On rides like these, you might average about 30k-40k points, which pales in comparison to the 700k scores you see topping the high score charts on “more exciting!” songs. Granted, if you’ve never heard of the song, you can’t blame yourself, but you wonder what it’s like on the heavier side of the game.

To counter this sense of boredom (and to create a sense of community), the developers of Audiosurf select a few songs every week or so that are available for download and playing within the game. They usually pick a good mix of songs, often all by one or two indie artists, and occasionally fitting a theme. There’s usually a longer techno/RPM piece, a guitar-heavy fast piece, maybe something slower but still active to change things up, and a few other treats thrown in for good measure. If you like what you hear, links are included to download or purchase the songs. So everyone has a chance to hands on some more active music, if you don’t mind the weekly shuffle.


That all said and done, I have one more complaint to file about this game. Songs that rely less on guitars and vocals and more on the percussion and bass tend to “jerk” along as you play the game. Since the drum beat is what registers as the more dominant sounds in the song, they will be what the program makes the faster portions of the song. When every quarter beat is just a smidge faster than every eighth and sixteenth beat in between, the road usually moves very slowly, but incessantly speeding up and slowing down. In certain modes where avoiding certain bricks is key, this is intensely annoying.

It’s also worth noting that you won’t gain tremendous amounts of musical ability by playing this game, so I wouldn’t recommend it for use in a music classroom, or at least not more than I would recommend Guitar Hero or other faux musical ability games. It’s basically DDR for your hands, except the rhythm of the song is taken only as a suggestion for the actual patterns of movements you make. It’s a shame though, because unlike so many other music games on the market, this one doesn’t jeer at you for doing a less-than-stellar job. Even if you suck something fierce at this game, it never insults you, and you’re always allowed to continue playing the song and finish racking up more points. The only exception to this is if you decide to play in “Ironmode”, where your abilities are more limited and overfilling a column automatically ends the song. (Frankly, I don’t see the point of using Ironmode. The game only suggests that Ironmode is done “for the bragging rights”.)

Other than a couple minor quibbles and the self-induced paranoia about your music collection, Audiosurf is a good game and worth every penny of its (low!) price. If you’re still trying to come up with some good gift ideas for Christmas, this might be something worth giving to the music fanatic in your life. It’s simple to get the hang of and family-friendly (well, pending the music you use, of course), and good for quick ten-minute breaks from working. Whether you’re a hardcore music nut or just someone who likes to sing along with the radio in the shower, Audiosurf is well worth a shot when you just want to have some fun with your music. The hard part is resisting the urge to throw your hands in the air when you go down a hill.

Official website
Steam website

Friday, November 20, 2009

"In Case You Missed It...." Round-up 1

I've been waiting for a good chance to mention this, and this is probably about as good of a time as ever. I have a radio show on the campus radio station in which I play music and talk about the news of the past week, usually with terrible jokes thrown in for good measure. This week happened to have a ton of great news stories, and I'd like to believe (oh dear, my head's swelling) that it was one of my better shows to date. I managed to record most of my segments, clipping only a few seconds off at a couple of places, and uploaded the result for you to enjoy. (You know, in case you missed "In Case You Missed It...")

If you're in the area (and I do mean really local, the signals can't travel far due to terrible terrain), you can tune in to the show Fridays at 1pm EST at 89.5 on the FM dial. Or, you can listen on the web at and join us for the fun.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why I Write Sketches and Not Draw Them (Part 1 of a Series)

...Except I really don't write that many sketches... I should get on that.

Anywho. This morning (which I suppose is yesterday morning by now), I turned in a ten-page research paper that sucked up a lot of my time over the past few weeks. I knew that as soon as I was done with it, I wanted to throw up another post of some sort. I've had two or three games I've wanted to review, and will likely submit one to the site for this weekend (if I get around to writing it). It's nice to be able to write freely again, or at least, until the next major project is due (early December).

Instead, for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, I pulled out a sketchbook, snapped a photo of myself (for lack of an easily accessible mirror), and drew a self-portrait.


In my defense, I'm using a rather terrible scanner, which has a hard time picking up very light lines (ie, it just drops them altogether). A lot of the shading I had in the original sketch disappeared in the transition to digital. I tried to pseudoPhotoShop a bit of the shading back in with some tweaks to the contrast and brightness, but there really wasn't much I could do. Also in my defense, I'm using a 5.5"x8.5" sketchbook, which isn't exactly an ideal height/width ratio. That at least partly explains why my head is so skinny.

Beyond that, I'll say that I have a history of hating any self-portrait I do, and my lack of love for shading (particularly things that aren't already black and white) trumps all. Trying to shade the (as you're looking at it) right cheek was a nightmare, as either it was too dark compared to the unnaturally light left/top of my head, or darkening the latter just made me look like my face was caked with mud. My hatred for shading runs deeply, and I wish there were some way I could get better at it. (Oh, I guess that I could also use the fact that I'm using a mechanical pencil in my defense.)

Anywho, I would like to start putting more random sketches up, and it'd be an awfully swell bonus to improve as I went along as well. If ever I find the time again to sketch something/someone, I'll keep you guys posted.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Anniversary Only Makes Sense If You Knew Me Five Years Ago

Hm, twenty-fifth post.

Happy Halloween, and Happy 25th Thing.

(Bonus: Pumpkin Two!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Celebrate Good Times, Come On! It's a CelebrOOWWWWW MY EARS

I'm sorry to inflict this sort of cruel punishment on you, but I have to celebrate right now. Back when I was a music major, we had this weekly performance hour on Thursdays (called Promenade). Depending on your specific major/concentration, you had to perform once or twice a year for credit. Somehow, I always ended up performing on the same week every year (first week in April). (If ever I decide to post it, there's an interesting little story that goes along with this. We'll see, maybe later.)

Anyway, this particular week that I was performing, I did a piece called Luke Havergal by... I forget. I'll look it up and keep you updated. But anywho, I was first on, and my performance was... meh. This was back when I was still a nervous performer who didn't particularly like his vocal professor and had nothing but negative thoughts about his own abilities. The truth of the matter is, the recording IS pretty terrible, that hasn't changed at all. I flub a few notes, I miss at least one entrance, the diction is pretty mushmouthy, I don't project well enough, there's just a lot wrong here altogether.

Following the performance, I took the master recording (one of the perks of working stage crew... although it would have been preferred if I didn't have to work stage crew on the day I was performing, thank you very much) and made a copy of the CD. But I didn't do this so I could hear my own performance, no no. David Wert, a good friend of mine, did a vibraphone duet with (insert second person's name here... I need to look this stuff up somewhere) that I really enjoyed. I made a copy of the disk, returned the original, and that was the end of that for a while.

There was a slight problem... I had forgotten what I had done with the disk. In fact, I had completely forgotten that I had even made the copy. At the time that this was all taking place, I was in the middle of swapping out one crappy Dell computer for another (I could go into long details about the fight that occurred, but suffice it to say that it all boils down to the biggest oxymoron around anymore: Customer Service). I managed to keep my old hard drive, and for whatever reason, made the copy using the software on it, rather than the new hard drive. However, while recalling these events, I had myself convinced that I simply ripped my piece and Dave's onto the old hard drive, and forgot to transfer it over with all of the other old files.

Since about that time, the old hard drive remained wrapped in a static-free cloth bag of sorts, with some extra padding around it inside a plastic bag. For months, I kept telling myself that I needed to find a way to transfer the song from the old hard drive to the new one, but never really got around to it. Also, I lacked the means to transfer much more than 4GB, because at the time, I was limited to either using re-recordable DVD's or a flash drive. I made several DVD transfers at the time my new computer arrived, but couldn't figure out why I never transferred the song.

This changed recently, when I bought myself a new 320GB hard drive, and I realized that the reason I was never able to transfer directly from one old hard drive to the other (sorry for the confusion with all of these hard drives) was that I had the power cable hooked up to both, but still only had one data cable. Upon a little beg/borrow/stealing from good friend Steven Gustafson, I had meself a new used data cable, and all that was left was finding the time to do the transfer.

That all happened tonight. Sensing a bit of free time on my hands, I grabbed the old old hard drive, popped open the side of my tower, and started to dig in. Much to my dismay, I couldn't find the file that (I thought) I had ripped from the disk. I spent about 50 minutes trying to run searches for "*.mp3" between 4/1/08 and 4/18/08, but nothing came up. It wasn't until late in the night when I tried to recall the events of when I first borrowed the master copy, and I realized that I might not have ripped the songs at all. Luckily, I found my spindle of used-but-unmarked CD's and DVD's, went through the CD's in the stack, and bingo, EPIC WIN.

So to celebrate me finding Dave's performance, which I have now listened to several times while writing this, I thought I'd upload something completely different. Yes, Luke Havergal. Aren't I swell?

Luke Havergal
Baritone(ish): Stephen Lewis
Piano: Kristina Moritz
Recorded April 3, 2008

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Yet It's No More Handicapped-Accessible Than It Was Before

From the makers of Campus Tower Defense, it's time for CampusTD2!


(I mean, CollegeHumor did such a good job with Minesweeper...)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Classes Start Tomorrow! Stop Having Fun!

Yeah, you heard me!

Rather than do my usual itemized game review thingy, I'm just going to rant on a bit about some games I've been playing lately. I've been back at school for the last week for band camp and classes finally start tomorrow, so I've got to get a bit of bloggery in edgewise before I'm required to have actual duties again.

Texas Cheat 'Em

Let's see what new icons I have on my desktop... First one that jumps out at me is Texas Cheat 'Em. For those of you who would never believe I'm a poker addict, you're actually quite right. I played a bunch of Triple Jack back when it was popular on the site, but I never really got into it as much as some. I've never gambled real money, nor do I intend to anytime this century. (And yes, the opportunity has been there.)

Texas Cheat 'Em, then. Unfortunately, with only the demo, there's only so much you can really do with the game, but what I saw was enough to convince me not to buy it. The main selling point of TC'E is that while you're playing, you can use cheat points to alter the community or hole cards, peek at someone else's cards, steal someone's chips, and all sorts of otherwise-illegal tactics, pending your success on a small skill mini-game. The problem is, especially when playing against a somewhat thick AI (and I had selected the hard difficulty, mind you), it becomes a bit too easy to skew the cards in your direction a little too often. I don't know if online multiplayer play changes this at all, but it just seems sorta flawed. The advert videos stress that "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how good you are at getting away with cheating" or something like that, but frankly, the cheating's rather unlimited if you do it right.

So it's a shady concept, but how about the execution? I appreciate the fact that you can play the game pretty much entirely with the left hand (on WASD keys), and I like the little twist on how you bid (all players put in a "maximum bid", and anyone below the max has to call to keep in), but stylistically, it rather sucks. There's really nothing that jumps out as amazing in the graphics or sounds, but the "annoyance factor" gets a tremendous boost because it takes literally ten seconds to begin a new round. Once the winner is revealed, there's a (not) flashy animation with a (not) flashy sound effect telling you that "You Won!" or "You Lost!". This is then followed by a recap of what cards you had in your hand, and if you lost, what the winner beat you with. This is then followed by a recap of everyone's hands and whether they won or lost money over the course of that hand. It's not until this screen has been up for at least two, maybe three seconds that you're finally given the ability to press on with the game. This entire process takes about ten to twelve seconds, and if you think I'm exaggerating, an on-screen timer confirmed it for me.


So with poker out, I guess I now have to justify some other game genre. Let's go to the adventure platformer Trine. There was only an hour-long, two-level demo that came along with this one, so I can't really critique too much of it, but from what I experienced, it was pretty fun. In a nutshell, a wizard, a knight, and a thief become kinda "bound" in the way that magical crystals of weirdness usually do, and you've got to get from point A to point B switching between their three forms, using their special abilities to get there. The levels are beautifully designed and have a lot of nice physics puzzles to wrap yourself around, although it can get tricky at times, and you might wish you had more checkpoints lying around.

As I only have the demo, I've only played a bit of the one-player campaign, although there is apparently a three-player co-op mode, which sounds like a lot of fun, each person controlling a different aspect of the team. Trine also gets definite bonus points for getting a reasonably good review from Zero Punctuation (note: if you're at all familiar with 0P, you'll know not to click that link until there are no kids in the room). And while I've probably given enough reason to like the game enough to buy it, the main thing keeping me from buying this game is the $30 price tag. I dunno, I guess I'm cheap. I usually try to pick out games that are either on ridiculous markdowns or are just inexpensive to begin with. I'm sure this game will probably come down in price eventually, hopefully down to $15 or less, then I'll pounce.


Speaking of things that were on sale, I grabbed Droplitz on sale this weekend for two bucks. In a nutshell, Droplitz is like most Pipe Dream-esque games that you know, in which you rotate the pipe segments to direct the flow to a certain goal. In this case however, the pipe tiles are hexagonally aligned, and the flow of droplets [sic] runs with gravity. Using splitting pipe segments, you can rack up a ton of points by making a bunch of top-to-bottom connections at once. On the whole, it's a very simple game to learn, and you'll end up losing a lot of time to this game.

The truth be told, as you progress through levels, you really don't notice the changes of background and graphics as you're playing. If anything, you'll notice the changes in the music tracks. The music seems to be on perpetual music loop, which, just off the top of my head, is a strange chord progression that runs something along the lines of vi-IV-I-V, but the music changes to match (somewhat) the themes that you pass through, from a coffeehouse theme to a valentine theme to an arctic theme to a warm jungle theme. And when you do rack up those huge combos, the music swells and a heavier drum beat kicks in, to let you know you're kicking butt and taking names. So aesthetically, it's a game that you can let yourself get lost in, and play for hours.

...Which is exactly why I'm not sure I should recommend this game. It's relaxing, and it's addicting, but I'm surprised to hear myself say that I'm not entirely sure that that's good. There is a point where a game might get to be a bit too addicting, and you don't realize until 45 minutes later that you've been playing the exact same game, repeating the exact same process hundreds of times over. And while replayability is definitely a good thing, I started to wonder why I was replaying it. It was simple enough that I could go on for hours, even though I shouldn't have. It was addicting enough that I found myself imagining ideal situations in my mind while not playing the game, trying to mentally rack up a ton of combos with the X blocks. But for some reason, it still doesn't feel "right" recommending this. I guess it's because I know some people will genuinely hate this game, but then again, that's the risk of recommending any game. So let's settle this once and for all: If you've got the ten bucks to shell out, this is probably worth a look. If you're still not sold, wait until the next sale rolls around. (Good luck.)

The Lightning Round

Bedtime's coming soon, so I'd better hit the rest of these icons on my desktop kinda quickly. 3Tones could have made for an interesting match-3 game, if it actually lived up to its promise of taking your music files and creating a unique gaming experience from them. That's bull, there's no correlation between the music and the game. Fail. Yumsters! 2 takes an interesting concept of threading like-colored objects while making sure your ropes don't cross, and kinda spoils it with the premise that you're helping a bunch of musical worms. Sorry, the plotline's just killing it. The demo for Plants vs. Zombies has been sitting on my desktop for months now, and I've not felt the urge to buy it yet. It is quite fun, and all the characters you get to play as are quite hilarious, but I guess I'm just not feeling the push to buy it. Coming down the pipeline, I pre-ordered AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, and if it's anything near as fun as Dejobaan's The Wonderful End of the World (which comes as a free bonus for pre-ordering AaaaaAA!), then I know I'm in for a good time.

So go play games! Before school starts! DO IT NAO!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Poetry 'n Ocean

Two thoughts I want to get off my chest today. First off, today was the first time the entire summer I went swimming. I find this terribly sad for several reasons. Number one, it's less than a week before I go back to school. I've had the entire summer, as well as a semester before then that I could have gone to the Y and jumped in the pool, but I never did.

Secondly, I really like swimming. Or if it's not that I like swimming, then I definitely missed swimming. It's safe to say that the last time I was in a pool prior to this was with a bunch of screaming day care kids, so "swimming" was limited to whatever you could do in a wading pool with a nice pipe system spewing water in a few different directions. Before that, the last time I was in a pool was in Slovenia during the choir trip last July. We had one night in that country, and the hotel we were staying at (absolutely gorgeous, by the way) had a pool. I went up there after a long day of sightseeing and generally being touristy and had so much fun jumping in a nice, relaxing pool. And with friends, too. Fun times to be had by all.

Though, if I could have the chance, I'd love to have a pool to myself for a day. Or if not a pool, then a nice stretch of beach. For some reason, I just like to be out there, swimming. I don't exactly have an aerodynamic body, but there's a really simple pleasure to be derived from pulling one's self through the water. You just float there, letting your own natural buoyancy keeping you afloat. Then you thrust both arms above your head and pull them back down to your waist in an arcing motion, and you're gliding along on your back. Add in an appropriately timed frog kick, and you've got the elementary backstroke. Lather, rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat, and you've got bliss in its simplest form. You glide over the water, and the water glides past you.

Way back when I was a Boy Scout (a chapter of my life I usually neglect to mention, for whatever reason), I would go to the summer camp each year. The merit badges probably didn't mean as much to me as the mile swim that'd take place every year. On Monday, those interested would swim a quarter mile inside the confines of the roped-in waterfront area. On Tuesday, it'd be a half mile. Wednesday was given as a day off, and anyone left who was still up for it (usually just me, in the years that I went) would do the full mile on Thursday. Rather than sticking to the designated waterfront area, the mile swim started by jumping off the dock and swimming outside the yellow rope perimeter, out into the Allegheny Reservoir, going from the green buoy to the red buoy (intended as markers for speedboats), back and forth several times before coming back in to the dock. There would always be a rowboat or two sticking close by for safety purposes, but aside from that, I was alone in my own little world. I would switch from breaststroke to side stroke (switching sides periodically) to elementary backstroke and back to breaststroke, relaxing the entire way. There was no rush to get done in a certain time, so you could conserve all your energy and mellow out in the water. Of course, traditionally, as soon as I would get back to the dock, I'd always get a foot cramp, but it'd be worth it. An hour of constant swimming, with nothing in your way... It was bliss. I think I did the mile swim at least three times (maybe four, possibly five, but I can't remember). And at a ceremony at the end of the week, they'd recognize you with the patch and card saying you did it, but who cares. It's an elementary joy fulfilled out in the middle of nature, where the only thing stopping you from enjoying yourself is the guy in the rowboat telling you you've veered a bit off-course. ...So? Let me be.

I don't think I could ever do competitive swimming. Soon after I earned my Shark patch from the YMCA, I received a letter asking me to join the swim team. Which sounded all fun and dandy, but I think I passed because of other time commitments. I can pleasantly say that I do not regret this decision. Swimming was always a fun thing for me, and I don't think I could enjoy adding a competitive edge to it. If it takes me a bit longer to swim the length of the pool compared to the guy next to me, so be it. I enjoyed the trip more than he did. Fine, so I'd never get my name up on the board of records mounted on the wall of the pool room at the Y, and fine, I won't end up like Michael Phelps, but that's a loss I'm okay with. I'll just get my gold medals whenever competitive blogging becomes an Olympic sport. (Look ma, I'm qualifying!)

During the summer, I'm a generally boring person. It's rare that I take a "vacation" of any sort, except for the ones that are required (choir trips, etc.), and they're really not true vacations at all. You could say that I'm a workaholic and don't want to leave my insignificant part-time jobs to spend away my hard-earned money, you could say that I'm just intolerant to traveling, falling asleep on hour-long car trips and waking up cranky. Whatever reason it is, I just don't get out and see the world as I probably should. So when a reviewer friend of mine, John Bardinelli, told me he was visiting some friends along the coast, I was genuinely jealous. On one day, he wrote to me and said that he was playing Dragonball Z against the ocean. "You know, where you stand your ground, let the waves pound you while you block and let it push you back in the sand. I withstood over 9,000 waves, and I am in pain. The good kind of pain!" Now, whether or not he actually stood in the ocean and faced incoming waves all day long while screaming for no apparent reason while his hair turned large and an aura of energy started to flare up around him, or if he just spent the day playing around in the water getting knocked back by the occasional large wave, I haven't the slightest idea, but in either case, there was nothing that I wanted more than to be right there at that moment. I missed water.

So this was probably the first time I've swam since last year. I had to leave the pool early due to other commitments, but I enjoyed every moment I was in there. I still got a bit of sunburn, despite putting on some lotion beforehand, but who cares. I was in my element for a while, and there was nothing that could stop me from enjoying it.

Pseudo-related: The I-fluid review finally went up today. I felt that I needed to include that, not just for plugging purposes, but also so there's a little more clearly-defined break between the first portion of the post and the upcoming second.

I can't say I really understand poetry. I know I ranted about my dislike of poetry before, but a new thought has crossed my mind regarding poetry, comma, what is. If I understand the basics of written language decently enough, then I think it's fair to say that the "opposite" (for lack of a better term) of "poetry" is "prose". Or, that which is not written in verse or meter or what-have-you is of the essay nature.

But what's really the difference between the two? The reason I ask this is because last night, I turned on the radio to A Prairie Home Companion while traveling to the Warren County Fair. Oops, sorry, I meant to give a few moments to acknowledge some fun times I had at the fair... And we're done. So I turned on to the radio to PHC, and I recalled in the adverts airing earlier in the week that said this was (I think) their annual poetry show, with much of their skits, songs, and guests dedicated to things poetic and bardly. I turned the radio on right as William Farley, the 2009 winner of Poetry Out Loud, was announced to read Langston Hughes's Theme for English B. It was an interesting poem, but the thing that caught my ear was how he read it. The poem didn't seem to have any rhyming scheme or set meter, so I wondered, if someone were to come in right when the poem started, having not heard the introduction and knowing that it was a poem, would they be able to tell it was a poem and not just prose?

Consider the following sentence: So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the chickens. It's an awkward sentence yes, and that's not even counting the punctuation I tried adding in. That poem, presented above in "prose" form, is presented again in its original "poetry" form:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

William Carlos Williams, everyone. Let's give 'em a hand. That was XXII, or The Red Wheelbarrow, depending on who you ask. I'm not going to try to elaborate on the meaning of that (cough) poem, I'll leave that to someone else's blog. Besides, I've already told you that I can glaze over poetry like any piece of prose, so I'm now left to ask, what's the difference?

Modern poetry (ie, just about anything that wasn't written on the title page of a Berenstein Bears book or by Shakespeare himself) seems to relish in the free-form poem, where rules of rhyming and meter go out the window, as well as proper grammar, capitalization, and spelling. This seems extremely unfair to me, as I have had numerous English teachers in the past who have asked me to write poetry, expecting proper meter and rhyming. I had one teacher who deducted a point or two for a "near-rhyme", something like trying to rhyme "elation" with "devotion", where the last syllable rhymes (or, it is the same), but not the preceding syllable. "Elation" and "decoration", perhaps, but "devotion" just wasn't going to cut it. Come freaking on, what did you really expect from us? I would have loved to have written a paragraph about my dog (which I never had), then broken it up into random phrase segments with punctuation peppered in like... well, like salt, and handed that in to the teacher. But no, everything's gotta be either AABB or ABAB. (There's an ABBA joke in here somewhere... Poetry is my Waterloo?)

The rules of what poetry were and weren't changed as we got older and started to experience more exotic writings. Things weren't as cut-and-dry as a Shakespearean sonnet anymore, and this is probably where my hatred for poetry started. There was no longer any defining line for what could be considered poetry, so long as, and I'd recommend reading this next part as though you were a high school drama teacher, it had emotion. So long as it was flowing from your heart to your paper, it was poetry. So now, when asked to write poems, we (or at least, I) had the impression that it had to be some lovey-dovey bag of sap in order to be poetry. I now know better, but when you're asked to "write from the heart" about something you don't really care about, it's really hard, and almost a bit painful.

I apologize for going a bit off-topic, what I really wanted to discuss was what the difference between poetry and prose was. My answer: There is no difference, it's just how drunk the guy running the printing press is. And in order to prove my point, I thought it would be totally neat to write this entire blog post up to this point in rhyming iambic pentameter, with ABAB rhyme scheme. It wouldn't be very pretty. In fact, most of the end-of-line rhymes would be mid-sentence or possibly even mid-word, but so long as every tenth syllable held some sort of rhyming power, who would care. Of course, to prove my point, I wouldn't reveal this until now, and then I'd include a portion written in proper iambic pentameter form, just to show you what I had done right underneath your nose without you realizing it. But I have nowhere near enough rhyming skill to be able to pull that off, so the idea was quickly dropped.

But coincidentally, while looking up the name of the poem and whatnot that had appeared on A Prairie Home Companion, I noticed that a listener had written in to Garrison Keillor, asking why rhyming wasn't a part of poetry anymore. GK's response, which I strongly encourage you to read, gave a fun-poking answer to the question, putting much of the blame on the listener's hometown of Berkeley, CA. However, it was done in rhyming couplets. There doesn't seem to be any meter, but every pair of lines rhyme. However, if you took out the spaces and extra capitalization and read it as a paragraph, you could get the exact same response, but without the jerky stop-and-go of a poem. I really wish I could quote the poem here, because he goes on to elaborate on the actual nature of poetry and what it's intended for, but strangely, I truly feel afraid to post something here for the first time because of legal reasons, knowing I'll somehow mis-cite it, and this is the first poem from someone still alive that I would've posted in this blog, so I know he can still sue me for it. I do strongly encourage you to go and read the letter with the title "No Time for Rhyme?" here, and if you're reading this some time later and the post has disappeared from the front page, find it in the July '09 archives, second one down.

The bottom line: Poetry confuses me in uncomfortable ways. If not by the deeper meanings of a lot of poems, then by how they're supposed to be written, read, and enjoyed. The rules of poetry have been bent more than an overused paper clip, and the line between poetry and prose is becoming so thin, it's practically non-existent. I'd like to think this is one of the reasons why I find it so hard to get an emotional rise out of poetry, and a lot of other songs and lyrical media. I don't know how to elaborate further on these thoughts, but just know that I would be more than willing to jump into your swimming pool this week if you have one available. (Nice dodge, that.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shame I Didn't Win the Raffle, It Would Have Been Fun Being Photographed With the Oversized Check

I got a letter in the mail today. I'm not sure about the legality of reprinting these sorts of documents without consent, but I don't think the sender would mind too much. (I do love how I'm so concerned about all sorts of legal concerns when it comes to this blog... I have to preface everything I do that I find slightly questionable, so that when I'm considered for a Supreme Court nomination down the road, I won't have to explain the comments I made years ago about how a wise Latina woman could make better decisions than myself.)

A bit of backstory first, I suppose. On the Fourth of July, I marched in the local parade with what was called the "Warren County Band", if I recall correctly. It consisted of "Students and alumni from Warren, Youngsville, and Sheffield High Schools." (Again, loosely quoting what was listed in the parade program, the newspaper, the Fourth of July website, and even read aloud at the Judges' Stand. This is significant later.) I neglected to count exact numbers, but between the three schools, there were probably 60 or so instrumentalists, and I don't even know how many color guard, maybe another 15-20. A good-sized parade entry, considering that many others weren't able to participate due to being in other organizations in the parade, having to work, or being out of town. (Again, this is significant later.)

So far as I know, participation in the group was completely voluntary, and word was spread solely by word of mouth (or at least, that's how I found out about it). On the first and the third, we met at Warren High School for two-hour-long rehearsals. The piece was an American trilogy of sorts, with "America the Beautiful", "Chester", and "America". I'd never heard of Chester before, is it safe to assume it's one of those Civil War-era songs that nobody really knows about anymore? But anyway. It was a nice arrangement, and I had it mostly memorized pretty quickly, and anything I didn't have memorized, I could make up fairly easily. (Hey, I play tuba, all I really do is arpeggiation on the bassline anyway.)

The parade went rather smoothly, and it was good fun too. We were fairly early in the parade line-up, so we had plenty of time to put our instruments back on the bus and go back to see much of the rest of the parade, which was nice. For a group that was thrown together in about four hours' time and had only one hour of practice with marching (although most were veterans from their own high school's/college's bands), you could really tell these kids all wanted to be there and were ready to put on a good show. What surprised me the most was the high level of professionalism of these kids (and I should mention that while I'm saying "kids", I'm really only three years older than the majority of them, so it's mostly my non-existent seniority talking when I say that). If anything, it was the adults in the band (teachers, no less) who were breaking form more often and shouting things to the crowd (but then again, it was Mr. Lyle. You have to love Mr. Lyle. He's allowed to.)

Letter arrived in the mail today. It was addressed to me, although my address was somehow apparently wrong on their file (they were 30 off of my actual street address, but it was fixed on the label on the envelope with a pen). No worries, it made it here anyway. I look to see who it's from... the School District. The Superintendent. What? Why would he be sending me a letter... Ah, let's just open it.


Dear Steve:

I would like to express my thanks for your efforts and participation in the Fourth of July Parade. Your dedication to your art is commendable and does not go unnoticed. That you were willing to take time from your busy life to express your community spirit and help to provide entertainment for others is very admirable. I, as well as all of the Warren County residents who were in attendance at the parade, appreciate your contribution to this important event in our area's history.


Robert E. Terrill


Huh... Wow... I uh... Huh. Very much not what I was expecting to get from them. Or anybody. Very much not what I was expecting. But I had to put the letter down rather quickly, because I knew that the more I looked at what he said, the more I'd pick it apart, and I'd be unhappy with it.

Like I'm about to do now.

It's no secret that I'm amazingly overanalytical. All eight fans of my blog know that I tend to overexpound on little things and rattle on for hours in mundane chapter-length essays. Almost instantly, my mind started to do that with this letter. This "dedication to [my] art" he speaks of, does he know I'm not in Music Ed anymore? I guess I've not been very open about it, particularly with a lot of teachers (whom I had done observations with, whoops). My dedication "does not go unnoticed"? What have I done that's showed dedication, and who's been noticing? "Willing to take time from my busy life"? No sir, it was a pleasure to not have to work those nights... Did everyone get a letter like this? All these thoughts flooded my mind faster than you could say something that takes precisely three seconds to say.

The biggest bit that bothers me is the last sentence. "I, as well as all of the Warren County residents who were in attendance at the parade, appreciate your contribution [...]."

I walked into the dojo on the Monday after the parade for my morning workout, and as I was signing into the attendance record, a lady (who I'm not even going to mention how I knew her, but suffice it to say that we see each other on a regular basis so we know each other decently well) promptly poked her head around the door. She asked me if I was in the band, and I said yes. She asked me who all was in the group, and I again quoted "students and alumni from" yada yada. She then mentioned that she didn't know that, because she didn't see that printed anywhere. I told her that it was directly printed in the parade line-up, in the newspaper and online, as well as quoted verbatim by the Judges' Stand.

She then said (quoting loosely, as usual): "Well why didn't Warren have its own band in the parade? I'm mad. I'm honestly mad that Mr. Lyle wouldn't make it a requirement for students to be in the parade. I'm mad that Warren doesn't have its own band in the parade."


This is a recurring theme, by the way. Annually, there is a complaint printed in the newspaper's editorial page by some concerned citizen saying how ashamed they are of Warren's high school marching band and how they weren't in the parade (one even directly reprimanded Mr. Lyle) and how they are going to refuse to support the band in the future. Eisenhower High School requires their students to be in the parade, why can't Warren? Usually, at least one person, sometimes a student, sometimes an adult, jumps to the defense of the band, and says that many students are unable to participate in the parade because of involvement with other organizations in the parade, having to work during the parade, or being out of town for the weekend... Sound familiar? Exactly the same reasons I mentioned above, and exactly the same reasons given almost every year in a response published in the editorial page. How come Eisenhower does it and we don't? I don't know. I'm not sure what rules their director (whose name I'm intentionally not putting here, because I know I'll misspell it) has in place for that to happen. Eisenhower invited other schools' band members to partake in an all-county band one year that was a terrible flop for several reasons, which helped to fuel my surprise in the fact that this year's mixed band worked so well. Eisenhower was the only band who didn't participate in our mixed band, and since they were ahead of us in the line-up, I can't even make a fair judgement about how well they played, but from what I heard, they were... but anyway.

I'm not entirely proud of this, but after she said this, I threw the pen I was holding on the ground. Partially out of genuine rage, but also more out of the need to do something humorous, because I knew that if I didn't control myself, the gloves were going to come off. (It could have been worse, I could have always thrown the pen at her. And hot dang, that blue dot would have had quite the lasting impression.) I then explained the above arguments to her, work, away, and other organizations, but somehow, she still was not satisfied. I'm not entirely sure how the argument ended, but we were both looking at a newspaper where she asked about the other bands in the parade that won awards (and oh look, the Warren County Band, consisting of students and alumni from Warren, Youngsville, and Sheffield High Schools even got an award. Ver-freaking-batim.).

I really wish I never got into that argument, partially because it's bad form no matter how you look at it, but also because I felt like I really didn't get my point across. I couldn't convince her otherwise, and that bothered me. And since she clearly had a problem with the Warren High School having it's own band in the parade, then invariably, others would as well, and another freaking letter would be put in the editorial page, but I wasn't going to take it anymore. Should another angry letter show up in the paper (there was none, by the way), I was going to send in the definitive response.

Something's very much not right, if in the spirit of such a holiday, one tiny and insignificant thing isn't just "so", and therefore, the entire day is ruined because of it. If the non-appearance of Warren's marching band in the parade upsets you to the point where the day is absolutely ruined, then you've got one perverted idea as to what Independence Day is about. Surely the parade is for the purposes of celebration and entertainment, but if one particular act doesn't show up and your spirit of celebration is ruined because of this, you're clearly not celebrating the same thing the rest of us are. I'm reminded of an incident at the restaurant I work at on Easter Sunday, in which a table of patrons (who were hideously rude in every way imaginable) got so upset by their waitress's service (she did nothing wrong) that the father angrily declared to the manager, "Our Easter has been ruined by you!" I'm sorry, but just because you didn't get your feet massaged by the busboy, doesn't mean Jesus didn't rise from the dead. If your entire Easter rests on the quality of one meal, you've clearly got the wrong idea as to what Easter's about.

It's not enough that these complaints about the lack of a Warren High band come annually, you then factor in the fact that completely legitimate and honest reasons are provided every time, but they continue to be ignored. The first time this concern was raised I-don't-know-how-many years ago, it was a matter of genuine curiosity and the desire to find out. Every subsequent time was pure ignorance. We've given you the exact reasons why, but you refuse to hear them. When you refuse to hear what we have to say, you are officially labeled as "ignorant", and since this holiday clearly isn't meeting up to your expectations, maybe you shouldn't "celebrate" with us. I'm sorry, but you're no longer wanted here. Go to Brazil for a day.

Okay, so maybe it's a bit harsh, but it's the truth. Despite our efforts to provide for the community in any way we can, it's clearly not enough for certain people. It saddens me that these people continue to rattle the newswire in the way that they do, but some people feel that they just have to be heard by everyone who glances at page A-4, willingly or not. (Me? No, I just blog.)

Thank you, Dr. Terrill, for your note of recognition. It was a very pleasant surprise and brightened my day. However, I feel that your words are a bit exaggerated. Not everyone appreciates our contributions, as much as we'd like to think so. There will always be people who just can't be satisfied. But you clearly saw something good in our efforts, and for that, we thank you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If I Were a Bad Demoman, I Wouldn't Be Sittin' Here Discussin' It With Ya, Now Would I?

I just realized that I have five icons for demos of games sitting on my desktop, all in a row. Let's discuss, shall we? Left to right, then...

Brainpipe - link
Synopsis (in 10 words): Guide the eyeball down the speedy tube and go insane...?
What I Think of It: The subtitle for this game is "A Plunge to Unhumanity". The website suggests that this game does some weird things to your brain (the terribly photoshopped tabloid-esque pictures are worth a look). Yet somehow, all this game is is a fly-through-the-tunnel-and-dodge-the-obstacles game. The visuals are gorgeous and the sounds go well with the experience, but the fact that they're trying to make this game seem like it's some sort of brain-altering experience just... I dunno. The effect they're trying to get really doesn't work by slapping on pseudo-psychological terms.
Will I Buy It? No. The demo only lets you start from the beginning of two levels, and I can't beat the third to see if anything interesting happens, but it's enough to show you that it's just another tunnel-flying game. It's pretty, but not worth the dough.

Yosumin! - link
Synopsis: Meet quotas by eliminating boxes of similar shapes by corners.
What I Think of It: Oh dear, you've got to love Japanese-based games and their ability to slap smiley faces on everything and suddenly make them seem 180% more appealing. Yosumin is definitely fun, although it's not the first time I've seen the game mechanic of finding quadrilaterals with corners of the same color in a grid. So it doesn't get the novel points, but it definitely gets the ear candy points for having one of my favorite music loop soundtracks I've heard in a game in a while.
Will I Buy It: Still trying to decide. The hour-long demo was quite enticing, although I'm not sure if it'll really be worth the money in the later stages. If nothing else though, be sure to check out JohnB's review on JiG for this game. There's even a link to an online version to try out (if you're willing to blindly click Japanese until things work).

Flock! - link
Synopsis: Aliens guide rubbery sheep to ship in beautiful patchwork land.
What I Think of It: This game and I got off on the wrong foot. Initially, the controls were terribly confusing and frustrating, as I thought you had to move the UFO around the level using the mouse, which was a pain, since it never went where you wanted it to go. On a later play, I realized the keyboard could be used to control it as well, but my attitudes toward this game were already tainted. Flock!'s patchworky-quilty style is very nice to look at, in an almost Wallace and Grommit sort of way. The demo was only three levels, so I'm not sure how much this game has to offer in the way of "physics puzzles" (so far it's just been move and push), so I'm sure it's got potential, but...
Will I Buy It? I'm leaning towards to no. Maybe this game is great, but my initial experience left a very foul taste in my mouth, and I'm not sure I want to shell out the money for this one either. It does have fantastic production values though, so you have to give them credit for that.

Cogs - link
Synopsis: Slide tiles around to make strange contraptions run. And again.
What I Think of It: Be warned, this game is for sliding puzzle enthusiasts. If you've never been able to solve those sliding-tile puzzles you picked up at the dentist's office as a kid, I'd recommend staying away from this one. I'll give you a moment to scroll down if you wish. Still here? Okay. Cogs is all about sliding tiles with gears and pipes and other fun stuff on them to power little machines of sorts. Surprisingly, you can really stretch the concept of sliding puzzles, by putting different requirements for time, number of moves, and even throw in wicked variations (two-sided sliding puzzles, pseudo-3D sliding puzzles, etc.). The sounds and graphics make you feel like you're playing inside Big Ben, which is pretty neat, but in the end, it really is a sliding puzzle, times I-don't-know-how-many.
Will I Buy It? Surprisingly, the jury's still out on this one. It's a cheaper title, and I do kinda enjoy sliding puzzles, but the ~10 level demo really wasn't enough for me to know whether I'd like it later on or not. This is a prime example of a pet peeve of mine. I hate it when demos only give you samples of initial, easy puzzles. I could whip through those pretty easily, but will it ever get harder later on? Could you maybe show us the X1 puzzles in demos, like levels 1, 11, 21, 31, etc.?

I-Fluid (or spelling variants) - link
Synopsis: Guide a drop of water, with heavy emphasis on physics.
What I Think of It: I'm going to spoil the ending right now and tell you that I'm working on writing up the review for this one. It's got very impressive visuals, accurate physics, and it's European. Hooray culture! I do make sure to outline several painful faults in the review, which are: 1. Awkward controls, 2. Crazy camera, 3. Hit detection problems, and 3.5 (since it primarily occurs on only one level), Questionable AI. But as much as I want to hate this game, it's got a lot of replay value, and the challenges get quite tricky later on.
Will I Buy It? Already did. (For those curious, the icon for the full version is two to the right and up one.) And for only $10.25 (I guess it depends on the Euro/Dollar exchange rate on the day you buy it, the list price was $9.99), it's really quite a well-produced game. It's pretty large though (the 3-level demo is 125MB), and you'll likely encounter some things to nit-pick over, but it's still worth a go.

Well, that's that, then. I should probably mention that I think (I think) that all of these games are acquirable on Steam, although I tried to find links to outside sources.

Potential future blog topics:
--The aftermath of a party game. Another flop, but one that justifies the creation of the post category, "delicious failures".
--A ridiculously long essay/tutorial on Picross strategy, variants, and resources.
--A video tutorial on a favorite internet meme prank.

Phone lines are now open! And remember, which one I do next will greatly depend on how much money you bribe me with.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Here's to Hoping I Don't Regret This Decision: Ped Xing, Now Online

One thing I've always been concerned about when it comes to the internet is privacy, and the fact that once something gets posted to the internet, it's basically available for anyone to see and use, forever and ever, amen. Sure, websites allow you to pull or edit things, but who's to say someone hasn't already downloaded what you've said or done and shared it with the other half of the world by now?

This is one of the main reasons why I've always been fearful over sharing what I would consider one of my "creative highlights" of my life, Ped Xing. Ped Xing is a project I did back in 2005 for one of my school district's "senior project" requirements. (That's a long story by itself, so I'm not even going to try explaining it.) Honestly, it was a project I had always wanted to do, but now that I had a legitimate reason for "having" to do it, I figured that now (then) was as good of a time as ever.

Since the final project was submitted, Ped Xing has stayed under my watchful eye for over four years now, residing only in a photo album that I show curious friends, and the occasional CD that I send out to people who I can't directly show the album to. (And maybe a random sample photo for some online friends or two.) I've always been afraid to go into other forms of publication with it, just because who knows who's going to steal it.

Recently, I sat down for lunch with Katie Sekelsky, a good friend and founder of the famed Taco Club. As a professional graphic designer and long-time webcomic writer (I suppose I should give a courtesy link to her newest upcoming project, Magpie Luck), she's had a bit of experience with copyright issues, and planted some seeds in my head. Seeds like, "You really need to put Ped Xing up on Flickr." Evil seeds.

But I'm afraid my work will be stolen or plagarized, he said tepidly, possibly misspelling that last word. "Don't worry, you can put it under a Creative Commons license," she said, or at least that's how we're paraphrasing it.

I don't know why it's taken me so long to do this, but I've finally decided to upload Ped Xing for all to see. For now, I'm being kinda stingy with my license, putting a "Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic" Label on it, which, I won't lie, I'm not entirely sure what it means, but it's at least a step in protecting my work. (I might peel back the No Derivative bit later, but for now, my idea = my idea, kthnxbye.) Hopefully in the future, I'll be able to bring this project back for a second go, and we'll have even more fun with cardboard men.

For now, click the picture below to see the album on Flickr. At some point in the future, I'll upload the photo captions/descriptions and other literary bits that went into this project. Enjoy!

Fair warning: I had long hair at the time of this project.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Nice Thing Is, All of My Failures Are Usually Delicious in Some Respect

The Annual 4th'o Taco Party is coming up, and I'm in a bit of a panic at the moment. I usually have a game or two or three up my sleeve to play, but at the moment, I'm having a bit of trouble coming up with new ideas for games. I've got one activity planned, but it'll literally take no more than ten or fifteen minutes to play. I could always resort back to the old classics, like 1000 Blank White Cards or Things, but I want to try something different, so I'm trying to think of Other Things to play.

I did have one idea come to mind, partially out of necessity, partially out of curiosity. In a previous party, I had a game where two teams raced to build a pyramid of cups (11 cups in the base, which was the killer, as one team thought they had won after only ten), but then in subsequent rounds, letting a member of their team fire at the other team's stack using homemade marshmallow guns. I still had the marshmallow guns (washed, of course) in storage, and found them recently when going through some old boxes of junk.

Also pertinent to this story is a gingerbread house kit, which I had bought back around Christmas, with the intention of getting together with some friends and making it, but we never got around to it. The kit sat around my room for some time, taking up space. When I found the marshmallow guns in the box in my room, my gaze shifted, if only for a split second, toward the gingerbread house kit.

The theory for the game was, each team has a gingerbread house (pre-made or made by the teams that day, I don't know), and a supply of marshmallow guns, or other sweet-flinging objects. In a sort of weird capture-the-flag variant, each team would set out to try to destroy the other team's house. Honestly, the entire game is just an excuse to do weird things with food. In reality, it wouldn't work for several reasons. One, cleaning up would be a pain, since I'd likely be peeling half-melted marshmallows off of just about every external surface of my house, two, people would likely have to be peeling it off of each other, three, if even one sweet wasn't picked up, we'd instantly become a haven for all sorts of insect problems. So in all practicality, this idea wouldn't fly.

But... Just... What If...

So summer's here, the weather is good, and a lot of my friends are home from school. I threw an open invite up to a group of them to work on "a project". Very vague on details, but I hinted that it involved food, which eliminated about 2% of all possibilities. On the day I had planned, only one was able to show up, Steve, my SSS brother. We got to work on the gingerbread house, and it was working pretty well for a while. (Gotta love the ominous addition of the words "for a while".)

Getting the house to stay erect while adding the decorations was hard, but we at least had the opportunity to blame it on the fact that hey, it's almost seven months old now. Unfortunately, while adding (ironically) a frowny face to the roof of the house, all four sides instantly decided to collapse inward, and that was basically the end of that house. There was no salvaging it anymore.

On the bright side, the gingerbread man, snowman, and tree were still standing (albeit leaning). With what would probably become the quote of the day, I blurted out (and let's see if this gets me on a terrorism watchlist), "We still have people, let's take them outside and shoot them!"

Not much more to say here, so let's cut to the moral of the story: Gingerbread house icing becomes cement if you give it enough time to dry. Amen.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


This post sets the record so far for shortest title for a post, yet leaves enough wiggle room for one or two to slip by there. Feel the suspense!

On Wednesday nights for the last, oh, I don't know, maybe ten years or so, I've been going to a youth activity night at our church, called "Recreation," or "Rec," as the cool kids call it. In a nutshell, it's an hour and a half of getting together, playing games, getting sweaty, and having fun. The faces running it have changed, and the games and people playing them have changed, but it's been a pleasure to participate for all this time.

Each night of Rec usually starts with a large mesh bag (or two) of balls. A few basketballs, about six or seven cheap dollar store nine-inch balls, maybe a soccer ball or kickball of sorts, a smaller wiffleball-type ball, and maybe a frisbee or two thrown in for good measure. The gym is (intentionally or otherwise) littered with the balls for the first fifteen minutes or so, and all of the kids run around throwing them into the basketball hoops a/o each other. After this, some sort of organized game starts to form. Dodgeball, kickball, ultimate frisbee, or some variant of one of those. (And trust me, we have a lot of variants.)

Part of the fun lies in those bizarre variants. Dodgeball is a fairly run-of-the-mill game. Dodgeball where you can only kick the ball is different. Dodgeball where you become a member of the other team when you get hit is strange (but ensures that everyone wins. Yay!). Dodgeball where everyone plays on a team by themselves is fairly common, but dodgeball where everyone plays on a team by themselves and as soon as the person who got you out gets out, you get back in, meaning that the only way to win the game is to effectively knock every single person out of the game at least once without getting nailed yourself, that's not as common.

There was one time when, I can't remember how, we got the center of a hubcap from someone's vehicle. It was basically a seven-inch round piece of aluminum with SUBARU printed across it. This became the centerpiece of a game of ultimate frisbee. It was nearly impossible to throw with any consistant accuracy, and it didn't help that there were probably only three people per team, but it was one of the most fun ways to risk getting tetanus that I've ever experienced.

Similarly, a game of frisbee outside in the former front yard of the elementary school went slightly haywire when someone threw the frisbee and hit the flagpole. Someone declared, "Well, that's two points for our team!" And pole frisbee was born. Goals are still worth only one point, but hitting the flagpole with the frisbee got you two points. Pole shots could only be taken if the pole was still "forward" along your team's offensive line, although you could pass back to a teammate behind the line, and they could hit it from there. Scores would often reach ridiculously high numbers (occasionally in the 40's or 50's), yet very few goals were ever scored.

As I got older, everyone else who came started getting younger. Or at least, it felt like that. Eventually, I was one of the few high schoolers who still attended, and one of the few college students who came back to help (ie, play). There were a few kids who also grew up with Rec, and it's still pretty neat to see them change from these young, annoying little kids, to these bizarrely mature high schoolers, then they disappear again until the summer.

The leadership's changed hands a couple of times at Rec, but it's not really ever lost its shine. The most recent "version" (for lack of a better word) has a prayer time in the middle, which is really neat, and is a cool way to minister to the neighborhood kids who come, but might not regularly attend a church. All in all, the same friendly spirit has been maintained for well over a decade now, and I felt somehow compelled to write about it in a blog post. (*shrug) What's it called when you're currently living through something you know you'll later recall as nostalgia?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Your Funny T-Shirt is No Longer Funny (Part 1 of a series, I'm sure.)

T-shirts that have the text "The Man" with an arrow pointing up at the head and the text "The Legend" with an arrow pointing down at the crotch: Funny.

Men who wear this t-shirt while walking down the street holding a little girl's hand: Not nearly as funny.

I'm just saying.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Now We Are Six(th Kyu)

I finally broke down and bought the Orange Box. I'm kinda excited because I can now play Team Fortress 2 with some fellow reviewers, and I can finally play Portal, which I've heard so many good things about (and the fact that it's a puzzle game is an amazing plus), but I'm bizarrely not excited about Half-Life 2. As is, it's a miracle in itself that I'm playing TF2, a kill-your-opponents game, because I've never really been into shmups (although yes, TF2 technically is more than just a shmup). Maybe someday I'll get around to playing HL2, or maybe someday I'll just pass it off to someone as a gift. Does anyone know if you can pass off games that you've purchased on Steam but not yet installed?

Anyway, while TF2's downloading, I thought I'd put in a little blog update. Not that I expect to be playing it anytime within the next six hours (wait, this is taking up how many gigs of space?), but with my connection slowed down a bit due to having something better to do, I figured I might as well put in some time doing something productive elsewhere. I felt bad about leaving my last post being something that really only mattered for a couple of days (although BFG had another game sale this past weekend with code SPRINGBREAK... whoops), so I wanted to get something up as quickly as possible just to freshen things up. I actually tried two separate posts late last Tuesday night, but they were both so amazingly incoherent that I couldn't bear to even finish them. (That, and the general fact that they went absolutely nowhere anyway.) Today though, I have a solid topic to talk about, so let's put the Maria Rita on loop and go for it.

The title for today's post was lovingly lifted from a book of poems by A. A. Milne that I got a while back (it was... oh yes, on my sixth birthday). Unfortunately, poetry didn't really interest me back then, nor does it really interest me much now. I usually read over a piece of poetry like any other bit of prose, rather flatly and emotionlessly. So far as I can remember, only one poem has ever really stood out to me in a "huh, that's interesting" sort of way. That was Walt Whitman's "When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer."

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

For whatever reason, the events I'll eventually get around to detailing in this post made me think back to this book of poetry, which I never even read, even in the almost fifteen years I've owned it. I dug out the book, and found that there really is no poem entitled "Now We Are Six," but instead the title comes from the last poem of the book (entitled "The End"), which is apropos for this post, so I might as well retype it here as well:

When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive..

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

Abrupt subject jump: Let's talk karate. For those of you wondering, the famed "5000 Katas" tally disappeared rather quickly. Why? Well, once I started getting into the dojo and practicing the katas more heavily, I realized a tremendous problem: I lost count almost immediately. All of a sudden, the need to actually think about the movements in the katas and to focus on my stances and strikes and blocks completely overshadowed a petty little tally. If I focused on the numbers, the katas wouldn't have been good, and the entire exercise would have been futile. So for the 5000 katas plan to actually work, I would need to rent a midget to do the counting for me, so I could focus on the katas. (Why a midget? Simply put, he needs to fit inside my gym bag.) So yeah, 5000 Katas is dead in practice, although not in spirit. I'm still chugging along, just without the tangible steps toward a goal.

Since I've not had much more important things to do during the day than write reviews, prepare for work in the evening, or do whatever oddjob needs done around the house, I've been finding myself at the dojo roughly six days a week to work out. There are a couple of us who try to get together roughly lunchtime-ish (according to their work schedules) to spar around a bit, and there are another cluster of us who have been meeting after school-ish (according to their school schedules) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to work on different things, and I still have the usual classes Tuesday and Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons for organized group practices. To say the least, I've been practicing a lot, and a lot of different things. I've since started work with on a lot of kenjutsu exercises, including working on the Toyamaryu katas and preparing for a possible trip to a chanbara tournament in P'burgh next month. I'm pretty sure that if I could spend full days practicing in the dojo with someone, I'd sign up in a heartbeat.

Last week though was sort of hellish though. Why? Testing. Need I say more? Those who know me know that I am bizarrely panicky when it comes to any sort of major test or examination. This past week was no different. I still went in town to the dojo everyday to practice as usual, but I could feel my nerves taking a hold of me. My mind was racing the entire week, and I had a hard time relaxing. (Okay, so not being able to relax is a running problem for me, but you get the point.) The night before the test, I had a hard time falling asleep, and I felt sick to the stomach for that entire day. I went into the test an absolutely jittery blob, and came out feeling like so much less. All of the katas that I had been working on for months were terrible, I blanked when it came time to recall terms and wazas, and honestly, I feel that it's by miracle alone that I passed that test.

Now I am sixth kyu. A blue belt. I was quite displeased that I had gotten to that level in the way that I did, because I felt that I had done a terrible job. I have no doubt in my mind that what I did was a terrible job. Nonetheless, I somehow passed, and found myself in the dojo the next day, wearing the hakama I wear for practicing kenjutsu, with a blue obi. I don't think I actually practiced that day. Instead, I sat on the floor of the dojo and meditated something fierce. I love the irony in how I phrased that, "meditated something fierce," but it's really the most accurate way of describing what I did then. I've never really been able to meditate before, but something actually worked this time around. For the last week, I had been completely unable to empty my mind and just relax, and the morning after, I finally accomplished thinking about nothing for probably the first time in my life. It's a nice feeling. I kinda miss it.

Anywho, I guess if there's one thing I "got" out of that time, it was that I came to accept my "fate," per se. I've come a long way since when I first started practicing karate back in what, June? Since then, I've picked up so much knowledge not just on karate but also kenjutsu and other fun forms, and it's weird to think that at one point in time in my life, I never thought I'd even make it this far. And yet, here I am. I have great potential, and I can't talk myself into thinking otherwise. After the test on Thursday, I managed to learn Heian Sandan in a matter of ten minutes on Friday and fifteen minutes on Saturday, with more fine-tuning today. When I first started, Heian Shodan took well over three days to get the hang of, but here I am now, understanding everything that's going on, and everything flowing so much more naturally.

I'm still by no means perfect in what I do, nor do I expect to be anytime soon. I'm still bitter about the test, but all I can do is just work out my kinks (and my tics) and just prepare myself for next time. I've come a long way, I can't deny myself that, and I have so much further to travel. Now I am sixth kyu, and I am clever as clever. But I can only hope that I will continue to grow for ever and ever.

Actually, in retrospect, that was kind of a dumb way to tie everything together.