Reverse Hibernation

Oh, hi. Are you still here? Man, I would have given up on me ages ago.

We’ll play catch-up in a bit. There’s some community stuff I need to blurt:

Obviously, I’m not doing the Hubrisween roundtable this year. Chad Plambeck at Microbrewed Reviews and The Fiasco Brothers still are. You’re in good hands. Links can be found at the Hubrisween Central supersoaker page.

So. I’ve been off doing this self-care thing I’ve been hearing so much about. Turns out it’s actually pretty nice, but then that old itch starts at the back of my brain, like a rat trying to dig its way out, and suddenly here I am again, staring at a blank page. I’ve been blogging off and on since the 90s, and my God, do I respect the people who manage to turn out stuff on a regular basis for years. There are points in my (admittedly spotty) career when I just have to walk away for a while. Sometimes for years. Do other stuff.

So today we will be talking – probably to a tiresome degree – about “other stuff”. Probably no movies this time around, because I just haven’t watched that many. That’s how complete a break I made from my usual (increasingly and annoyingly regimented) routine. I point you again to the links above if you require ponderings about crap cinema. I have more if you need them.

This is how we used to have to do it. You kids have no idea.

But through all this I am still aggressively me, so we’re going to address How I Spent My Summer Vacation in a sideways manner. First, in my usual oh-look-let’s-try-this-new-thing-that’s-been-around-for-years habit, I finally made use of that Spotify account I’ve had since the dang thing was in beta. I didn’t find the UI as confusing as I did in my younger days, and after some poking around I found myself in lurv. People talk about falling into YouTube rabbit holes – that’s been me with Spotify. My musical tastes tend to the omnivorous, and there are plenty of musical rabbit holes for me to fall down. Discovered many new artists, revisited some old favorites of my youth to see if they still held up. Often they do.

Which brings me to a new version of an old pursuit: The Mixtape lives, we just now call it a Spotify Playlist.

I’m sure I’m not using the Playlist function correctly. I have every bit of 2 followers – one is an old college housemate – and I think the follow function on these are so you can keep up with new additions to the lists. I have one huge playlist – we will get to that shortly – that is constantly being added and subtracted. But the ones I work hardest on I don’t make public until I am satisfied with the flow of song to song. Like I said, mixtapes. Hitting Shuffle Play on those undoes my hard (snerk) work.

Yeah, this is me in my 20s. Recognize me now?

Once again my gloriously misspent youth trespasses on my elder years. In my 20s I played around with LSD quite a bit, and I generally ran the music for such things, solo or in groups. In my amazingly sober teenage years my friends were amazed I didn’t even smoke pot because I listened to music only potheads did, but I just really liked prog rock, and was such a science-fiction nerd that I found the gestating electronic music scene intoxicating. The closest I came was reading Carlos Casteneda, which certainly primed me for my college days, and the addition of physical intoxication in all its forms.

So I started making mixtapes for acid trips. I had a fairly impressive music library in those days, but it was nothing compared to what is available on Spotify. And I found myself engaged in that old pursuit, in my self-care time. Honestly, since I have a fairly nice sound system on my work computer, I can do research while working – just one more reason my job does not suck. If something is good enough to draw my attention from what I’m doing, it gets plugged into a temporary playlist for later appraisal.

The structure for the playlists is fairly simple – at least I think so, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried to actually write it down. I may look at the result, think it the rambling of a madman worthy of becoming President and delete the whole damn thing.

First of all, the playlist is limited to an arbitrary three hours. That is too short for an actual acid trip, which in my experience runs at least 6-10 hours followed by another 6-8 hours of what I called “thinking at right angles”. The Coming Down period is hopefully accompanied by plentiful orange juice and the music of the Grateful Dead and Free, which I found perfect for that time. Traffic is also good, but “John Barleycorn Must Die” still freaks me out.

Three hours just seems like the limit for a casual, non-altered state listen. I also check the flow at night in bed, through headphones plugged into my Chromebook. I have to go to sleep sometime. My first attempt at an acid Spotify list was the aforementioned 6 hours, and that was just ungainly. Psychedelic voyagers could, I guess, just go from playlist to playlist until the sun comes up and you start getting reacquainted with the real world, if need be. Maybe after I get three of these up and running I’ll attempt an integrated version for all your wasted needs.

Alex Gray provides us with an image for #4.

My playlist structure is as follows:

  1. Let’s have fun, and get in a happy, jolly mood. We’re going on an adventure!
  2. Increasingly psychedelic-tinged music as the tide of the drug begins to flow in. One of my great loves, late 60s-early 70s music is perfect for this.
  3. Oh, hey. Something is happening. Ride with it.
  5. Wow oh wow oh wow that was amazi-HERE WE GO AGAIN HAND ME THAT KALEIDOSCOPE (repeat as necessary)
  6. Calm down those over-stimulated nerves with some slower, mellower, and dare I say it – beautiful music.

Obviously, I can go no further without posting the links, should you care to know what it sounds like in my head. Here they are, under the fairly innocuous title, “Headphones Strongly Recommended”:

After a certain point in my 20s, I had gotten everything I felt I could get from the psychedelic experience, and went my separate way. I’ve been asked if it was something I’d consider revisiting in the present day, and my response is: no, probably not. The most remarkable thing about acid, in my experience, was it gave you the ability to see everything as if you were seeing it for the first time, without preconceptions. That includes yourself, and that can turn into something remarkably ugly if you’re carrying any emotional baggage or trauma. I now have about 40 years of such baggage stored up, which I’ve no desire to face in a state where my coping mechanisms are diminished.

Now, as to why I got so into Spotify and created a huge frickin’ playlist that HAS to be put on Shuffle: City of Heroes is back. Goodbye, free time.

Painful as it is, I have to consider that normal people have no idea what I’m talking about, so here goes: City of Heroes was a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (henceforward MMO) that went live in 2004, in a period where there seemed to be a new one released every month, all chasing the dollars being earned by the most successful MMO of all time, World of Warcraft (equally henceforward WoW). This one, though, wasn’t about orcs and other Tolkein lifts, it was about superheroes. At the time, it was the only one about superheroes. My pal David Harlan turned me on to it, and thus began a monstrous time sink for me.

I’m not a big fan of MMOs, but City did an exceptional job of functioning without what I found to be drawbacks in other games. There was no waiting around for hours for a special hoohah to spawn for lotsa elite lootz, or even to be able to continue in the game. It was impossible to kill other player characters (people, being jerks, still found ways, and steps were taken to counter them). Every mission (or “quest” if you prefer) was in an instanced space, not the overworld map, so it ran pretty smoothly on most rigs. Combat was a fairly simple matter, and could be controlled by almost any device: keyboard and mouse, joystick, programmable gamepad. All that mattered was which of your superpowers you fired off when.

And I love flying. Flying is fun.

And you get to hang out with giant octopodes. How cool is that?

A companion game was spawned, City of Villains, where, of course, you played an up-and-coming super-villain. The two games were quite popular, though never reaching the player population of World of Warcraft. And in 2012, that all came to an end when the game closed down. I’ve heard varying stories about the whys and wherefores of that shutdown, but while it made me sad, it didn’t affect me all that much at the time. My core group had gradually drifted away to other pastimes, and though it’s possible to play solo, it’s just not as much fun. Playing with strangers did not appeal to me. So I had taken my 15 bucks a month elsewhere long before sunset came to Paragon City.

There was quite a bit of nostalgia over the years. People who loved that game really loved it, and they missed it. I confess the occasional pang or sorrow that I could not simply log on and throw fireballs at demon-worshipping street gangs in the name of justice.

Then I started hearing rumors about a rogue server that was still running City. Membership was closed, and there was a possibility of regaining your old characters from Live! Getting into it was a problematic and lengthy process, until it was revealed that the source code had been released into the wild and there were suddenly several servers openly running the game, so secrecy was no longer an option. A friend who had been working to get the old crew admitted to the closed server was finally successful, and goddammit I was in Paragon City again, and falling madly in love once more.

The reclaiming of old characters wasn’t possible anymore, but I didn’t care. It was a gas playing with the guys again. Now everything is open to all players – Heroes and Villains had separate power sets and archetypes, and now those – and all the costume pieces and other stuff formerly locked behind a paywall – are available to everyone. You don’t have to hit level 50 – once the highest possible level – to unlock the Super Special Ultimate Nitro Platinum Character Types anymore. It’s also free to play, so win-win, as we say in the trade.

I had attempted to start Discord once to participate in a No Budget Nightmares event and it mystified me (occasionally life likes to rub my nose in my increasing decrepitude). I had to demystify it so we could have a (once-again free! Yay!) alternative to our old standard, TeamSpeak. Voice communication is an absolute boon to slow typists like myself, so it became essential. In an attempt to bring the top part of this post into sync with this lower part, I should point out that in the halcyon days of the latter half of the aughts, when we were all heavily into the game, Dave and I ran a station on Live365 that purported to be a Paragon City radio station, so we could all listen to the same ass-kicking music at the same time. Dave produced some fun commercials, too. I finally ran out of money to fund that, but again, here we are, ten years later, with better tools. A truly enormous playlist on Spotify (currently 1814 songs, over 115 hours worth, quite a bit carried over from the Live365 days), and a bot to run that playlist on our Discord server. So even though the game is free, I’ve still found a way to pay 15 bucks a month just to play City of Heroes.

Look, in 1980, when I was a stoned student reading Heavy Metal and listening to Hawkwind over my headphones – had you told me then that 40 years later, I would be guiding a flying laser squid through twisting blue and purple caverns, all the while zapping evil magic users while still listening to Hawkwind over headphones… well, I’d ask you what you were on, why you weren’t sharing and where could I buy some.

Squad Goals

I’ve mentioned before that one of the few things that kept me sane during these last three years of garbage government shenanigans was Marvel movies (and thank God DC finally started making entertaining ones). Being able to briefly inhabit a world where good could overcome evil in a matter of a couple of hours – hopefully as violently as possible – got me through the darkest times. I had forgotten, though, how much physical tension could be drawn away through my guidance of an online avatar to do the same thing in a shorter time frame. There are at least two enemy factions in-game that are obvious Nazi analogs (we refer to them as “Illinois Nazis”), and it’s remarkable how easy it is to gravitate toward the missions that involve taking them down. Hard.

There. I think I’ve bored you enough. Just talking about it makes me want to go online and freeze Illinois Nazis in crushing time distortion fields. Maybe we can talk about movies next time. I did watch a few.

FUTURE FREEX BURSTS IN THE DOOR. It was revealed to me this morning that the megalomaniacs downtown have scheduled not one, but two extra City meetings next week, stealing away three evenings of what remains of my life. Y’all will be waiting for a while on that next installment, I’m afraid.


Distractable Me

The word “distraction” has been getting a workout in the last year or so, generally applied to actions of a *harrumph* certain administration. And I’m all like, dude, distractions is how I’ve been surviving that administration. Even when I’m properly medicated, I need something to keep my mind off the impending Second Civil War, in which I am probably going to die, because I’m on the side that hasn’t been stockpiling guns and ammo for the last umpty years in the hopes of someday shootin’ me some fellow Americans.

After the last few weeks, I found myself oversaturated with movies, so my usual distraction, watching movies while acting as a pillow for the Monkey Dog, was a non-starter. Don’t get me started on MoviePass, either. Oh, look, I just got myself started on it.

Good times, good times.

I admit, it got me into a movie theater more than any other year; I saw some movies on the very big screen that normally would have waited for home video. But corporate’s sudden decision that it could only be used once on any given movie went into effect just after Infinity War opened, and that was one I actually wanted to see again. Don’t @ me that I could have just paid for the extra ticket, I’m on a limited income, which is why MoviePass was ideal for me.

Apparently there’s a price increase coming in addition to blacking out movies for the first two weeks of release, so I’m pondering if I can manage five bucks over the new MoviePass charge for AMC’s subscription plan, which doesn’t have all the petty limitations of MoviePass. Maybe if I ditch that impulse-buy Shudder subscription. Though I’m really enjoying that…

In any case, Infinity War has hit digital, which means I finally have a shot at seeing it again. By Friday I may be over my movie malaise enough for the death of half a universe. That might cheer me up.


So, absent movies, what’s for distraction in my tiny life? Podcasts are, sadly, of limited use to me, though I enjoy them. Can’t listen to them while I work, my job involves sight and sound. My commute is not lengthy enough to justify booting one up. No, I generally listen to them at bedtime, which means I have to rewind the next day to see what I missed. In the current play (or as I said, replay) list: 80s All Over, The Projection Booth, No Budget Nightmares, LRC presents All The President’s Lawyers, Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man, Apocrypals, Uplifting Trance Sessions.

There’s my old friend, reading. Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, which was a fast, fun read. Picked up James S. A. Conroy’s Leviathan Wakes, the first book in The Expanse series, which is good, but is illuminating to me mainly to see how well the TV series opened up the stories and added a ton of depth to the characters. Maybe those things are harvested from later books – guess I’ll find out. Eventually.

The best thing about the Kindle Fire is having a book you can read in the dark. Yes, I use the Blue Shade setting.

Which I guess leaves games.


I been reflecting what a difference a decade and more (almost two) makes. At the beginning of the century I was heavily involved in developing several video games, and I was playing the damned things near constantly just to keep up with trends and possibilities. Okay, truthfully, I’d been playing them since the Atari 5200, but that was the first time I’d been paid for that knowledge and experience (though my abilities as a storyteller helped, too).

I’ve left consoles far behind me – too expensive. My tastes have aged along with me, too, or perhaps they just got fossilized in those early days. My favorite flavor is still JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games). The RPG is going to be a given for me – my first insane gaming obsession was Dungeons and Dragons back in the mid-70s, when they were still just three cardstock-bound booklets. My next obsession was on the first Nintendo Entertainment System, Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. Although, I’m not a big fan of button mashing combat in the long run; I prefer turn-based combat, where everything stops while you issue commands. This means that slowly but surely the Final Fantasy series left me behind as they moved toward a more action-based combat system. This also explains why I absolutely freaking loved Battle Chasers: Nightwar last year. Characters I loved, turn-based combat.

Ah, so dear to my superdeformed heart.

There are a lot of JRPGs out there, most made with the RPG Maker software, and some of them are really good, and best of all, cheap. Almost all of them have the failing of a final Boss battle that is beyond ridiculous in difficulty. That’s a failing in professionally-developed games, too – I’ve abandoned more than a few when I hit a wall, and checked online reviews to find out that yes, Boss battles throughout the entire game were way overpowered. I don’t mind a challenge, but artificially lengthening your game time through opponents with a hundred thousand hit points and one-hit kill attacks is not something I’m looking for in my entertainment.

This desire for turn-based combat also means that my nemesis among game genres is real-time strategy games, where you have to manage a variety of systems at the same time while the game is actively trying to kill you. I can’t even do that shit well in real life, I’m not going to pay money to do it for supposed entertainment. The antsy little sidekick to that nemesis is platformers – I’m too easily frustrated by them.

Poking my head back into gaming after leaving that hornet’s nest alone for so many years has been a fun voyage of discovery. There’s been new terminology to learn. “Rogue-like” is pleasantly vague and seemingly applied to almost everything. “Bullet Hell” and “Metroidvania” are charmingly self- explanatory.


The downside to abandoning consoles and relying on my PC is twofold – one, keeping a PC up to spec to play games with gosh-wow technology. Not too big a problem, given my prejudices listed above. The other is when the faithful PC fails completely and I have to revert to a dumpster-dive model that can’t even accommodate my old mid-level graphics card. At least I can use my work laptop, which is also devoid of graphic muscle, so I’m limited to older, less-demanding games. No giving myself over to the occasional hack-and-slash adventure game.

Which leaves, hm… solitaire games. I wrote about those before, during my last period of having-no-movies-to-blather-about, almost exactly a year ago. So… puzzle games? I do enjoy a good puzzle.

So let me end this interminable ramble with my current distraction, a bizarre little, yet totally endearing, Czech puzzle game that’s as much interactive cartoon as game.

As you can tell from the above, Chuchel is some sort of hairy dust bunny creature with the top of an acorn for a hat, who is going to spend the game trying to get a nice cherry to eat. He has some sort of purple cat/dog/otter thing (who I am told is named Kekel), who either aids or hinders him in this quest. And if all other obstacles fail, there is always the Hand of God to come down and snatch the cherry, depositing it in the middle of another puzzle.

Chuchel has an astounding variety of alarm devices, and an endless supply of crap to throw at them.

It’s all non-verbal, in the great tradition of animated shorts from (just off the top of my head) the Croatian outfit Zagreb Film, utterly beguiling, and, as I am into approximately the twelfth puzzle, starting to get challenging. Still fun and hilarious, but challenging.

And just in case you didn’t know what I was talking about viz Zagreb Film, here’s a sampling – the last short even has a sort of proto-Chuchel:

There. We finally managed to make it back to movies after all.


Midnight Confessions

Oh. Hi there. Christ, what a month, huh?

Yessiree. Quite a month.

As usual after a movie marathon like Hubrisween, I find myself glutted on film and unwilling to head back to the trough. (Due diligence: I still watched a few movies, but with the blissful intent of not writing a word about them) Last year at this time I went back to my first love, reading. This year, I returned to my second love, gaming.

You tell kids that these days, and they won’t believe you.

If you were to extrapolate my college days’ obsession with Dungeons and Dragons (when it was only three booklets bound in card stock covers) you’d find what brings me joy: dungeon crawls with turn-based combat. It’s what drew me to the Final Fantasy games, until the combat systems grew too action-oriented (and I could no longer afford new consoles, but that’s a complaint for another time).

So imagine my elation when I discovered that there was a Battle Chasers dungeon crawl with turn-based combat, Nightwar. I really liked the comic book – even when it could only manage to come out every six months or so – and the game has really good presentation on the rich characters. For the uninitiated, those would be Warrior With A Cursed Sword, Little Girl With Gauntlets of Ineffable Power, Protective Sentient War Golem, Alcoholic Wizard and Voluptuous Bounty Hunter. Best of all, with a little tweaking, it would run well on my ancient, wheezing computer. That it’s got a decent crafting system is gravy.

As is usually the case with such games, I hit a point where the challenge ramped up considerably and it was time to engage in what is known as Grinding: playing the game not to advance the storyline, but to get stronger, to buy better stuff, to beat tougher enemies. And it was at that point that Steam sent me a message that a game I had shown some interest in was on sale. At less than ten bucks, I took a gamble on Sakura Dungeon – and that is where things get complicated.

“Sakura” is Japanese for “cherry blossom”; it is also a continuing franchise of hentai games from the Winged Cloud studio. Most of these fall into the “visual novel” category, with Dungeon being the only RPG in its catalog. As it is, it’s a fairly stripped-down affair (pun not intended, though as a hentai game, unavoidable). Move in first person through a dungeon labyrinth, encounter monsters, get treasure, get to the Boss at the end, save the world. That really all I need, and all I wanted. However, I got more, and in that more is the source of my headscratching and chinwagging this month.

There are two main characters in Sakura Dungeon: Yomi, an ancient fox spirit and former dungeon lord, and Ceri, an adventurer and dungeon raider. Yomi has been asleep for several centuries, imprisoned in a crypt by whoever took over her dungeon, and is awakened and freed by Ceri, looking for treasure and glory. The vastly more powerful Yomi easily brushes aside Ceri’s attacks, and enchants her to become Yomi’s servant, her right hand in a crusade to regain her dungeon.

It’s an interesting storyline; the inhabitants of the village just outside the dungeon are glad to see Yomi return (they’re all monsters, too, though they look human – and more on that in a second). Ceri will be forced to reconsider her opinion of monsters as something to be despised and immediately killed, and under Yomi’s tutelage will become an extremely powerful warrior. The major twist to the combat is the possibility of capturing any defeated monsters and placing them under the same enchantment as Ceri; they can be added to your party and fight on your side. You’re allowed six party members at a time, though only three are playable. The other three step in if any of the primary three fall in combat. That’s an intriguing system, but it also means that a lot of the captured monsters will wind up in the dustbin without ever being played. That seems a lot of design work for nothing, but that’s also a common thread through all these party-based games.

Now, you’re thinking, didn’t you say this was a hentai game? Yes, we’re getting to that. All the monsters are cute anime girls, even the ones who are just supposed to be wild forest animals (Ceri has a thing for the Panda girls. “So cute!” “I’m not cute! I’m fierce!” “Aw, that’s adorable!”). As anime characters, all are pretty scantily clad. We are told that this is magic cloth, though, so it affords the same protection as a full suit of armor. That’s kind of dumb, but it’s still a better explanation than any fanboy has ever given me for Red Sonja’s bikini armor. So, naturally, a critical hit in combat shreds their clothing. And if you employ the readily-available-with-a-little-effort adult patch, a second critical hit renders them completely nude.

Without the adult patch the game provides a little cheesecake. With it, holy crap do things get explicit. A common chase item in these games are CGs, which I guess stands for Character Graphics – artwork of the characters you unlock and collect. With the adult patch these increase and become the smut that fanboys love and fill internet boards and tumblrs. Monsters are a lot more sexual than you’d think, and Yomi is quite the libertine – one of her goals is getting Ceri to loosen up. With an astounding variety of revealing costumes.

The closest thing to a man you’ll find in Sakura Dungeon.

What keeps this from becoming ugly is there are absolutely no male characters. None. Zilch. Dildos aplenty, but it’s all girl/girl action. It’s intriguing to me how much, in my eyes, this seems to elevate the relationships here. Though the game itself still leads to worrying about myself.

Like I said, what a month. We’re in the midst of a long-overdue housecleaning and discussion about the darker side of sexual politics in this country. I received my card for Team Burn It All Down some time ago, and now it’s starting to look like I should have gone for the Platinum level membership. I’m male and I’m horrified and flabbergasted and wondering about my own level of complicity.

So sitting in my office whiling away the hours looking at cartoon girls, in a game engineered to reward the Male Gaze. Am I part of the problem? Probably. Almost certainly. I can take some small comfort in knowing that I am horrified and flabbergasted and wondering about myself, and that I seem to lack whatever fucking chromosome that causes other men to think whipping out their penis automatically leads to immediate sex. I literally cannot comprehend that mindset, and I am thankful for that.

And then I encounter an early access game called Mirror.

Mirror is a gem-matching game like Bejeweled, with a tactical bent. The different color of jewels provide physical attacks, magical attacks, healing and (in this case) something called Rage, which ups your attacks and healing percentages. Link more than three jewels, you get bigger effects. If you’ve played Puzzle Quest, you’re familiar with this; my last encounter was something called Hell Girls where, with a choice of three of the title characters with different abilities, you played Destructo-Bejeweled to rid the map of monsters, find their bathing suits, and unlock their hentai CGs. Pretty straightforward, and entertaining enough in small doses.

Mirror has more of a involved story mode. At this stage of development it involves three girls: a dark elf, a demon hunter, and a hopping vampire/zombie festooned with prayer talismans. Each has a different method of attack via the jewels, like the zombie setting various jewels on fire, and each flaming jewel causing you damage until you eliminate them.

Beating them in three rounds advances their story and allows you to play the end scene, which is where things get truly ugly. The mechanics of each of these scenes is going to be familiar to you if you’ve ever played porn games. Let’s just say that options for your mouse cursor include hands, tongues, candles and in one instance, tentacles (of course). Each is meant to be as humiliating as possible to the girl; winning four matches unlocks “Free Discipline Mode”, which should tell you everything you need to know about this game. You shouldn’t turn your back on it, and this is coming from a man with his own kinky twists.

Oh, there’s even worse – if you unlock Free Discipline Mode, you also unlock an extra story mode which allows you to heap even more degradation upon your hapless opponents. The story modes posit the player as being exclusively male, which is probably the most canny/cynical design choice ever, and is the source of the strange angst running roughshod over my soul at the moment. Sakura Dungeon seems so carefree and positive in its female-centric antics, while Mirror, exclusively male in its outlook, is ugly, dark and brutal.

I wish I was clever enough to derive some sort of metaphor or lesson from this, other than the obvious and apparent Good God, but men suck; but the fact that I am confused even by my own actions would render anything I had to say suspect at best. It’s an odd confluence that occurred in my month off from movies, made more profoundly affecting by events in the real world, and the best I can can hope for is to simply report on it, continue to ponder the questions presented to me, and hope that enables me to be better for it.



Solitaire’s a Game for One

“So, if you’re not currently watching movies almost nightly, what are you doing with your evenings?”

I’m glad you asked, mysterious sock puppet. I’m reading, of course – Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and being driven mad by the faux photocopied documents, almost impossible to read on my Kindle. But by and large, I am indulging that infrequently employed category on this blog, Old Men Playing Videogames.

“DANG you, PwnzNoobz666!”

This is where the “Old Man” part becomes a bit more than ironic posturing. I haven’t owned a gaming console in more than a decade, maybe two – that is now the province of my son. You get right down to it, I was never very good at most of them, anyway. My methodology in fighting games was “Flail away in all directions”. The other gaming trend that took over the market for a couple of years was side-scrolling shooters, and I did alright at those, but I found them more frustrating than entertaining. Don’t even talk to me about platformers. My interests were more with the Role Playing Games; the first videogame I ever finished was Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. I remain one of the only people I know who finished Final Fantasy VII.

So most of my experience with the newer, shinier videogames has been watching my son play or when I visit Dave and he forces me to play whatever Mario is current so he can laugh at my clumsiness. No, I still play what are known as JRPGs, still finding them entertaining until almost inevitably I hit the ridiculously overpowered End Boss and I walk away. Past that, I have largely aged into what is sneeringly referred to as a Casual Gamer.

My game is Solitaire.

“Memmmmmories… light the corners of my miiiiiind…”

It was almost impossible to escape the classic game of Klondike in the early days of home computing – it, like Minesweeper, was there to get people accustomed to using the mouse. There were many games marketed over the years with fancier, even customizable cards, more variations on the game. One of the first shareware games I actually bought – outside DOOM – was Solsuite, which has resided on every hard drive I ever owned. It includes what seems to be every variation of the game ever, and beating German Patience was my quest for several months.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m an RPG fan, so I wanted something a little deeper. And game designers stepped up. We’ll take these in (sort of) order played. I’m not going to mention the ones I hated – and there are several. All of these are available on Steam, if you are so interested. All of them employ the basics rules of the Solitaire variation known as Golf, where cards are played one rank higher or lower than than the base card, with no regards to suit. The order loops, so Kings may be played on Aces, and vice versa.

I suppose my modern era of solitaire obsession began with Rainbow Games’ Chronicles of Emerland, which I originally played on an iPad, and was delighted to find on Steam.

Emerland eases the RPG fanatic into it’s world via a tutorial administered by an ancient wizard. In a format with which we will become very familiar, each level consists of ten hands, with an option to immediately replay any hand with less than a happy outcome, and you are going to want to get as much gold as possible from each hand to buy power-ups in the game store – more undo’s per hand, more cards to your deck. Wild cards occasionally show up, and you can hold up to five for when they are needed. Longer strings of cards removed from the board give you bigger bonuses. Between each level is a brief hidden object game to break things up.

When you finish your tutorial level, the Wizard’s old disciple, Seth, shows up and announces he’s going to take over the world, as one does. His plan is to waltz though the four kingdoms, destroy the Amulet each uses for magic protection, and then raise a Lava Golem to dominate them. You – and your cards – have to get through all the obstacles Seth throws in your way, repair the broken Amulets, and defeat the Golem. Along the way you pick up a companion from each of the Kingdoms – a Knight, Elf, Dwarf and Merman. Each has special attacks that prove very helpful in cleaning up the hands where you have an annoying card or two left over.

The artwork is very pretty in Emerland; the characters have some limited animation, and are fully (and pretty well) voiced. I enjoy that the card layouts actually change in form through the various kingdoms. I literally have no idea how many times I’ve played this through.

That obsession was kicked into high gear by Grey Alien Games’ Regency Solitaire, which I had read about on Boing Boing. It’s basically the Masterpiece Theater of solitaire games, as we meet young Bella, whose family fortunes have been squandered away by her foolish brother Edward. He’s been snookered by that awful Mr. Bleakley, the scheming neighbor who hopes, now that her family is practically penniless, that Bella will be forced to marry him. The game will take you though a pretty entertaining story, as Edward gets in deeper and Bella meets Lord Henry Worthington, who is as handsome and decent as Bleakley is odious and treacherous.

No hidden object games here, though each level has three increasingly difficult objectives that must be met or you have to play the level over again. Between each level you can purchase power-ups in the form of decor for Bella’s initially barren ballroom, two of which do stray card cleanup. Regency also allows you to hold up to ten wildcards, and those will be essential for some of the tougher objectives. I haven’t played it as many times as Emerland, but it’s close.

Subsoap’s Faerie Solitaire is the one I’ve currently played the least, but that’s not a comment on its quality – for some reason, on my desktop, the game refuses to be centered in fullscreen mode. It plays just fine on my laptop though. You’re a young man who seems to have a talent for freeing captured faeries (through playing solitaire, of course). Exactly why these poor creatures are being captured has not yet been revealed. The main character has voiceover narration, and my producer’s heart mutters “Couldn’t this just as easily been a girl? Save the cost of the voice work and make it gender neutral?”

The design seems geared toward younger players, with whimsical, simple card designs. The default sounds seem rather loud, clangs and crashes calculated to create youthful laughter (or maybe I’m just old). Though the game claims its version of wildcards are “Rare” I’m finding them pretty frequently. There is no option for immediately replaying less-than-perfect hands, that is apparently in another game mode that has to be (pretty easily) unlocked. Perfect hands allow you to gather eggs for fantasy animals that evolve through other magic items gathered and experience as you play. And who can resist hatching dragons? It’s been fun, though not terribly challenging.

Anawiki Games’ Avalon Legends Solitaire 2 was my sole reason for existing for several days. It begins with a war between King Arthur and an army of goblins, which I guess was the plot for the first game (spoiler: it was not). While Arthur and his knights are off to Goblinland, it’s up to you, a druid with a deck of magic cards, to rebuild war-ravaged Camelot. Clearing cards uncovers gold, food and material, all things you need to create buildings, and depending on which you build, they will create more.

Avalon places each hand as a separate location of a pretty large map. It had been a while since I’d played a game with a manufacturing chain, and I soon realized I was cheating myself by wailing on the replay button immediately after a bad hand. By returning to the main map each time, I collected more material for rebuilding. Playing the hand again doesn’t replace the food or materials, but it allows you to score more gold, and as we all know, gold can solve a lot of problems.

I took the responsibility of rebuilding Camelot very seriously. and spent most every waking hour doing so – it was that much fun. I seem to have completed that about three-quarters of the way through the map, which means now I can afford some of the pricier power-ups in Merlin’s Tower. Wild cards really are rare in this game – you generally have to buy them – but it seems you can replay ANY hand whenever you want.

Let’s wrap up with something completely different, Raging Hammer Games’ Solitairica. Once more you’re up against some megalomaniacal villain – this time it’s Emperor Stuck – using only the power of Golf. Well, not only, as there are some intriguing overlays. You’re still clearing cards largely with no consideration of suits, but this time the suits do matter, because they charge up one of four attributes – Attack, Defense, Agility and Willpower. These power spells that allow you to clear cards faster, make better decisions or, as it says, defend.

This is what I was playing when Avalon Legends 2 sucked me in. The hands each represent a different enemy, and they are not defeated until you clear all the cards from the field. Each enemy is different in both attacks and defense, requiring you to constantly reassess your play style. The first field is eighteen enemies deep, and I don’t know how the game is arranged after that, because I haven’t gotten any farther than that. Challenging game, but highly entertaining. When a defeated enemy calls me a “Hornswoggler!” I know I’m in for a good time.

There’s more I haven’t even started to play yet – including a Day of the Dead-themed one – buuuuuut I’m also pretty sure you stopped reading a couple of games ago. Fine. I’m going to see if I can finally defeat the Sturdy Coin Swarm Expanding Bureaucrat.

Also Available on Amazon:

Chronicles of Emerland

Regency Solitaire

Faerie Solitaire

Avalon Legends 2


How We Hurted Ourselves III

After a day of attempting to recover from Friday’s debauchery – a day which included a show of my own and the realization that I wasn’t really hungry until 4PM – We casually drifted together again at Dave’s. The rest of the sausages and pork tenderloin were cooked, as Dave remembered something he had realized Friday night: Rick had never seen Mortal Kombat.

Well, now I guess you don’t need to see the movie. Rick’s screams were remarkably similar to those produced during GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

I think Paul W.S. Anderson get s a raw deal, personally. If I made lists, I wouldn’t be putting his movies in the Top Ten, but they always entertain me, and frankly, that’s all I ask of a movie: enlightenment or edification would be nice, certainly, but I’m largely there to forget my cares for a while. And Mortal Kombat is a not-so-guilty pleasure; Anderson was asked to make a movie out of a video game that is pretty much different flavors of punching and kicking and pulling out spines, and little else. Mortal Kombat is pretty much what would happen if a bunch of kids got together and decided to play Mortal Kombat even though they didn’t have any consoles. You know, play-acting, like I did with my friends when we played WWII decades before Castle Wolfenstein was invented. Rules for the tournament that comprise the movie are improvised on the spot, as required by the plot – which is also improvised on the spot.

So Mortal Kombat is essentially a spiritual companion to GI Joe: a big-budget, loud, but essentially empty visualization of an adolescent/childish pursuit. Prime material for this sort of gathering.

In retaliation Rick insisted on more Pink Lady & Jeff. Did I mention Paul finally made it tot he fest? Paul finally made it to the fest. He was in time for me to hit my 20 minute limit on Jeff Altman, and for Dave to start his next shot across our bows. He admitted that he had never seen it, then hit play, fading back to relish what he hoped would be our cries of dismay and agony.

Oh yeah, the only time Nancy and Ronnie actually made a movie together. Unlike what you may have been told, Hellcats of the Navy isn’t a bad movie. It’s not a particularly good one, but it’s no Dondi. Ronnie plays a WWII sub commander who makes a tough call and leaves a man behind during a mission. As luck would have it, the luckless sap was dating Ronnie’s ex-girlfriend (Nancy) which makes his demise suspicious, to say the least. So he spends the rest of the movie trying to regain the respect of his second, Arthur Franz (as usual, playing a non-commissioned dick), disobeying orders to win the war, blah blah blah. Paul and I were actually enjoying it, but it does get very talky and long-winded in the second act, and Dave actually asked for the return of Pink Lady & Jeff. Yes, he regretted that.

Our actor contingent finally made the scene after their Sunday matinée, and lucky, lucky them, they were there for the return of Mie and Kei and (shudder) Jeff. I had been asked to put on the episode guest-starring Jerry Lewis (double shudder), but I screwed up under the tender ministrations of Dr. Vodka and instead put on the un-aired sixth episode, which featured Sid Caesar, Red Buttons (both on their second eps) and for music, Bobby Vinton and Roy Orbison. Oh, and Byron Allen. This was C-list heaven.

There was a hypnotic awfulness about the show that held people spellbound, and we actually got through the entire episode. Paul had started out lobbying for a “70s TV Night”, which he quickly reneged upon, especially after the Bobby Vinton Medley of His Hits. The casual racist humor which runs through the series absolutely blossoms during a sketch in which Sid Caesar plays Pink Lady’s father, complete with gibberish Japanese. One wonders what the girls thought of this, though they handle it like pros. Frankly, after only a week of this crap, they were probably just trying to make it through their six eps and get back to their sold-out stadiums.

This was really bewildering to those of us – well, only Dave and I, perhaps – who liked Caesar and knew he was funny:

The other amazing thing is, that, I believe alone of all the featured hot musical guests, Roy Orbison is actually onstage with Pink Lady. Most of the others – Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Blondie – will give you a blank stare if you ask them about the time they appeared on Pink Lady & Jeff. It usually came down to Mie and Kei struggling through “An naow – Cheepu Trikka!” aaaaaand we cut to a video. Which wasn’t too bad, except that you usually saw the same thing on The Midnight Special a week or two earlier.

After watching this episode, many bitter tears and recriminations – and Rick whining “But what about the Jerry Lewis episode?”, it was decided to spend the rest of the night playing Beatles Rock Band, moving eventually to Rock Band 2 and Dave’s neighbors asking him to turn that crap down. I eventually get talked into picking up the bass guitar for a few songs (though only on the Beatles and only on easy – the playlist on Rock Band 2 is a litany of “who?”s from me)(weirdly, I think i would have done better on DJ Hero, but I’m probably fooling myself), and that’s how the evening wound down. Alan actually outlasted me for stick-around-itude when I leave around 1:30.

I’m going to be shooting at the Houston Hot Sauce Festival tomorrow, so I took Monday off, allowing myself a bit of a sleep-in. Next time, of course, we won’t be pretending that we’re younger and able to pull off such feats as this; Mrs. Dave will be back, with a concurrent return to reason, I presume. I am also going to enjoy pointing out for some time that there was a marked lack of R-rated naughty flicks during this golden opportunity. Ronnie Reagan indeed!

And there’s still that Jerry Lewis episode of Pink Lady & Jeff, just waiting out there in the dark, like Jason at Camp Crystal Lake.

Yet I’m Not Mad.

Oh, Tumblr, you minx. I thought you were over that little flu.

Set up my queue this morning, with no problem. First poster fired off as scheduled. Come to work, finally pin down an interview, check my Twitter feed… oops. Should have been at least two more auto-posts in that time.  Attempts to force a publish meet with the dreaded “Maintenance” page. Finally, get through, and now we’ll see what happens.

I don’t want it to look like I’m complaining; hell, Tumblr costs me nothing, and it’s something I enjoy doing. I’m sure I’m not going to see much of that attitude when I eventually journey over tot he message boards of City of Heroes, which is, after all, a paid service. The game, not the forums.

A long-awaited expansion, Going Rogue, went live officially yesterday.  Yeah, there was much bemusement when Palin’s book of the same title came out, a year or so into the game’s development. The big draw here is to take your hero or villain through a falling/redemptive arc and have them fight on the other side, or even enter a gray moral ground. That’s something that has been asked for as long as I’ve been playing the game – at this point, over five years – so, as you might imagine, the floodgates opened.

I had pre-purchased the expansion some time ago, as it allowed early access to a couple of the new character types in the existing game. The temptation to make a whirling dervish double-pistol wielding Chow Yun Fat hero was too tempting… even if he did wind up looking like Black Dynamite. SO I (and others like me) got an extra day to frolic in the new city zones, an alternate dimension dystopia called Nova Praetoria.

Well, last night… the evening of the first official day… I tried to log on to find some emergency maintenance going on. When I did get one, the mapserving was frequent as the server farms groaned under the load. I eventually logged off earlier than I had anticipated, but this is old news for me. The same thing happened during other hotly anticipated expansions, and I see no real reason it to change. The system of tubes is gonna get clogged, you know?

But I’m sure there will be many dire threats to ragequit on the forums, blah blah blah. That is also the nature of the System of Tubes, and since I can’t change it, I might as well enjoy it.

Motion Control Sickness

Yeah, I’m about a week late embedding this, but I find it hilarious, and it distills perfectly my feeling about the newly announced motion controls for game consoles: motion control is nice and natural for some games, but for the most part publishers are shoehorning motion control onto games that don’t reward it, like the current fad for 3-D in movies that were not intended for same. Like nailing a homemade wooden spoiler onto a car thinking a) it looks badass, and b) you will get better gas mileage, when neither is true.

Please note: not my car.

I should just shut up and let Yahtzee speak breathlessly:

Or at least I would if I could get WordPress to embed a video from that site, so go go gadget Tumblr blog!

Maaaaaaaaagic Colors

“I guess I really overdid it today, huh?”

“Ooh, what a surprise!”

Life with the convalescent who refuse to be convalescent. Heavy sigh.

Anyway, though I’m not as heavily into the videogame scene as I once was (found one game I really like, and just stayed there), I was excited to see Boing-Boing’s story this morning on a new game coming from the developers of Rez, Q?.  It’s called Child of Eden, and it seems to have the same sort of tunnel-vision game play Rez had, only much, much prettier.

I appreciate well-done tunnel-vision games. Rez was certainly one – the clip below reminds me why I wish these guys had done the cyberspace segments in Johnny Mnemonic (that’s the way cyberhacking should look), and the Playstation N2O was a nice try:

but you were better off spending that money on Crystal Method CDs.

The pimp daddy of them all is Tempest, and the modernizations Tempest 2000 and Tempest X3 were fantastic.

That’s all I got. Being pulled in too many directions at once today to be as pedantic as usual.

Was there a point?

That last post got very scattered, yes, I know. There was a point I had intended to make in there when I started writing, and it all got buried. That point was – while I was talking about the quality of the speakers in the Nintendo DS – I was struck by one instance in particular.

I’m still playing Etrian Odyssey II – Heroes of Lagaard. As you know, I’ve typified it as an old school dungeon crawl (which I lurvs), where the lower screen is used to map the dungeon as you travel through it. In this particular labyrinth, you start at the bottom and work your way up, and it has become so overgrown that it is a forest into and of itself – no stone walls or caverns. Seasons seem to change with every five levels or so, and when I got to the third stratum, where it is perpetual winter, there it was, captured with perfect fidelity, one of my favorite sounds in the world: the sound of boots crunching in snow.

Yeah, yeah, I know, you folks in the more Northern climes, like my pal Ken Begg in Chicago, are doubtless sick to freakin’ death of the sound, but as a lifelong Texan, it remains quite exotic to me. I seem to make it to Chicago every two years or so to visit snow (and Ken and B-Fest), and on the rare occasion that snow does not coat the ground… man, I miss that sound.

And since we are speaking of Etrian Odyssey II and my time-wasting activities: I finally got past the twin bosses that were giving me so much grief and continued to advance into the game. At this point, I am starting to mess with the makeup of my party, so here comes some gaming geek stuff. If you’re not interested, well, there’s some links over to the right. See ya later.

Lagaard allows a party of up to five characters, and by and large I’ve been pretty traditional in the makeup. There’s a jack-of-all trades warrior (called a “Landsknecht” here), a tank – high hit points, high defense, decent damage (called a Protector), a “War Magus”, so-so damage but some great healing and buffing magic, a dedicated healer called a Medic (fancy that) and a Gunner. Yes, a character with a gun in a fantasy game. It happens all the time. And once you start leveling a Gunner’s attacks, that character starts kicking ass without bothering to take names.

I’ve been using the War Magus as a backup healer, but that’s really only utilizing half his potential, as many of his special attacks do extra damage to targets that another character has placed a status effect upon – a monster that has been stunned, or had Sleep or Fear cast upon it.

What this means is I should be leveling up a Hexer… a character whose sole function is to cast Curses upon opponents. Yet, so far, I am not. (Though if the Hexers attacked with canes, and were called Curmudgeons, nothing would stop me from fielding a party of five of them)

Minor digression: Lagaard has some attacks, both on the player and opponent side, that “bind” various portions of the target’s body. A Bind on the head lessens accuracy and damage. A bind on the arms prevents the fancier, higher-damage-dealing attacks and magic. Bind the legs, there is no escaping (and that’s card I’ve had to play several times).

Minor digression 2: After a certain number of battles, each character is able to perform a Force Skill. If you’ve played Final Fantasy, you’ll recognize it as a Limit Break. A devastating attack that costs no points to perform. For the Gunner, it’s a Riot Gun, for the Landsknecht it’s All Out, which deals heavy damage to every target onscreen.

Now that you have that information, I can try to tell you about what is distracting me from that Hexer I seem to think I need. Cuz I’m leveling a Dark Hunter.

From the website:

“The Dark Hunters of High Lagaard are similar to those found in Etria; they can still work with either whip or sword to focus on bindings or status ailments, respectively. The key difference comes in their ability to set potentially deadly traps: in High Legaard, Dark Hunters can react to either physical or magical attacks, no matter what weapon they use.”

But wait, there’s more.

Force Skill: Bondage
Using every binding technique at its disposal, the Dark Hunter will bind an enemy’s head, arms and legs, rendering it completely incapable of acting in battle.”

Attacks that bind the opponents legs, arm and head, individually? They are called Shackles, Cuffs, and Gag. Higher attacks in the tier are named Climax and Ecstasy.

I’m leveling up a dominatrix.

The game supplies four possible portraits for each character, but I think this one says it all.

Did I mention this game is rated E – 10+ ?

I guess this may be the “Suggestive themes” alluded to in the ratings box….

God, I love Atlus Games!

EDIT: Now that I’ve gotten a chance to use it, the Dark Hunter’s Force Skill in-game is called “Dominate”, not “Bondage”, as it says on the site. I’m not sure if that’s more or less explicit…

Now playing: Haggard – Larghetto / Epilogo Adagio
via FoxyTunes

Bodies Electric

As everybody knows, I remain perpetually behind the curve. For instance, perhaps by this time next year, I will have finally seen The Dark Knight.

Which is why I am here to proclaim my love for the Nintendo DS.

Before I bought a used one a little over a month ago, I’d had very little time with one, but I distinctly recall reading the pre-release stuff and thinking, “Two screens. Huh.” And also recalling any number of NES peripherals that went unsupported and wound up on the Toys’R’Us clearance aisle. The Powerglove still looked cool, though. And dig that proto-Wii gameplay:

Time has, of course, proven me wrong, especially if the number of DS Lites I saw being pulled out while people were waiting in line at Disneyworld. Lots of kids, sure, but several adults, too.

The most remarkable thing to me – besides the actual utility of two screens – is the quality of the speakers on this dang thing. Little, tiny thin things, and they sound fabulous. At least one writer called them “surround sound”, and I scoffed… but the dimensionality of the sound coming from these things is awesome.

I picked up an affordable used copy of Final Fantasy III (the one that had gone untranslated for many years, for those keeping score). Uematsu’s music sounds very rich, even coming off a tiny chip. There are some things about modern times I wholeheartedly endorse.

Etrian Odyssey has gone by the wayside for the moment. There was sort of a story in there, but only released in small, puzzling droplets. SquarEnix excels at sort of thing, so I’ve been engrossed in FFIII’s story quite happily.

Also: when Etrian would eventually serve up a boss that ate my lunch, I would go out and grind levels until I was strong enough to take it on. In Etrian, I would think in terms of 10 levels or so. Final Fantasy, generally one is sufficient.

Viewing wise: Watched the first disc of The Wild, Wild West, Season One, and you can’t go home again. Love the steampunk spy gadgets, adore Michael Dunn as Dr. Loveless… but twice in two episodes we’ve seen Jim West turn women from the dark side by simply being Jim West and having smoldering good looks, thereby saving the day. I find I didn’t buy it with James Bond and Pussy Galore, either.

Hadn’t seen The Battle of the Bulge in many years, either, so thank you, Netflix. I liked it, but it still doesn’t beat Tora! Tora! Tora!, in my book. Though TTT seems equally crowded, it had a marvelous, semi-documentary feel. Bulge has a lot of extraneous material that could have been cut with no detriment to the story, and I really have my doubts about that final battle at the fuel depot. Still, good stuff, and it is wonderful to see the Cinerama moments, comparable to the roller coaster sequence in This is Cinerama, which did not translate at all during my first viewing on network TV, in pan-and scan. Blech.

Lastly, saw the first disc of the new version of The Andromeda Strain, which was one of my favorite movies because the science fiction is so darn hard. I had my doubts about this, as the travails of the scientists working inside the underground bunker of Project Wildfire has taken a back seat to thoroughly modern tropes like competing agendas of various government agencies (including the Office of Homeland Security, an unthinkable concept when Crichton first wrote Strain), a cocaine-addicted investigative reporter, and ground-level views of the unfolding effects of Andromeda. Taking the story largely out of the bunker has limited the pressure-cooker race against time feeling the original movie possessed, but darned if it ain’t still compelling viewing.