Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Links!

A little light on Thanksgiving week, as always, but there are some long reads if you're stuck at work (but not doing any).

Leading off, and this is a tremendous read: Why Him? Why Me?

From C. Lee, and this is a fascinating read: WarGames for real: How one 1983 exercise nearly triggered WWIII. Next, and this is entirely appalling: The Serial Swatter.

Not as dry as you'd think (okay, maybe it is): The Accounting Rules That Bankrupt Cities.

Saying goodbye to a real badass:
Farewell, Cynthia Robinson: Mother of All Hype Men and Heart of the Family Stone.

From Steven Davis, and this is a lengthy and interesting read: How Demographics Rule the Global Economy. Also, and this is entirely spectacular: Robert de Visée Prélude et Allemande, Jonas Nordberg, theorbo. Next, and this is an important read: Forensic Pseudoscience: The Unheralded Crisis of Criminal Justice. One more, and it's alarming: Teens can't tell the difference between Google ads and search results.

From Evil Timmy, and phew, this is gross: Sneezes spray 'sheets, bags and strings' of fluid.

From John, and these are amazing juggling videos:
The hypnotizing art of juggling has never looked so cool
These kids are so good at juggling they must be sorcerers

Back to normal next week!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thea: The Awakening (Impressions, part three)

This post brought to you courtesy of WhichWich, where I'm working until Eli 14.3 starts his hockey practice. Please excuse typos.

What makes games of this type work well is that there are a ton of decisions that are a tug of war between competing interests. As an example, let's consider the initial strategy setup in Thea.

You first choose a god to align with, which gives you a particular, special bonus. Of note: the more experience points you accrue using this god, the more bonuses you unlock.

Right now, I'm using a sun god that helps me gain experience points more rapidly. So, in theory, my people will level up more quickly.

I can choose a focus for my village (craftsmen/gatherers/warriors), and this time, I choose gatherers. More valuable materials require more skill to harvest, and it can stretch over multiple turns. Camping somewhere gathering resources is dead time otherwise (although at least you can heal), so I want advanced gatherers that can gather a resource in one turn.

Why am I trying to be so efficient? Because the game gets progressively harder after certain turn thresholds are passed. So time is of the essence, as they say.

"I must explore at pace!" says the man who no one else talks like anymore. Or ever.

Choosing gatherers as a focus means I have some solidly skilled gatherers in my starting village and expedition. The problem, though, is that my craftsmen are weak, as are my warriors. So I have to survive long enough with a weak battle expedition to be able to gather the resources that my craftsmen need, and it will take the craftsmen longer to make the items that will gain research points to help me progress along the tech tree.

Every decision pulls on something else, and that's good.

What my expedition needs to do is explore the map, gathering items and resources, but not getting destroyed in battle. Which can be tough when you're starting out, because your initial armor and weapons is generally crap.

If you do lose your party in a battle, they don't die right away. Many of them will survive their wounds if they camp for a few days and rest/heal.

Some will die, though, and that's brutal in this game, because units are absolutely not disposable. They have their individual skills and personalities, and while you might have a stray join your party occasionally, your village growth comes almost completely from children maturing into adults, which is a slow process.

Plus, the children might not even make it. A plague wiped out all the children in my village (and a few of the adults) in one playthrough, and it was devastating. That's also a reason to always have a competent medic in your village, because if you don't, look out.

While you're out on expedition, your home village can still be attacked, which can be quite nerve wracking. There's a real sense of a genuine struggle for survival in Thea, where individual lives matter very much, and mistakes are punitive.

Which is awesome.

There is so much to manage, and so much interesting complexity, that I find myself sitting down for 20 minutes and playing for several hours without even realizing it.

I'm always sorry when I have to stop. I can't give a game a higher recommendation than that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thea: The Awakening (Impressions, part two)

Well, crap. Didn't mean to post these images without text, but incompetence is always challenging.

Okay, Let's look at the tech tree. You can research crafting materials, items, and buildings. Research points are how you gain the ability to research something new, and you gain them through battles--and, most interestingly, by crafting items.

As you can see, the tech tree is sizable, and it's interesting. There's always the tension between swords versus shields and what you feel is most important to research.

Plus, craftsman have their own skill. Having a village with high-level gathers and awful craftsman will fail, because it will take them too long to build anything.

Here's a look at the actual crafting interface:

It's very detailed and quite thorough. Multiple materials can be used at each step (and if you think the initial step involves one of four materials, it's better than that. It's one of four material types, with multiple materials inside each type. And different materials affect both quality and weight of the finished items, as well as other properties like poison or magic.

It's a deep, deep system, and I find myself obsessively trawling through my inventory, trying to figure out what to build. Plus, like I said, building items, particularly advanced items, helps you accrue research points very quickly.

Okay, here's an image of an event:

Your response options are limited, depending on the skills of your party. If you have a party that's skilled in different ways, you'll have more options.

These events are very pleasant, reasonably well-written (clunky in places, but the general flavor is good), and quite entertaining. They're a nice change of pace, and they can also be very important in terms of story progression.

Tomorrow I'll discuss how all these ingredients combine into a hugely entertaining package.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thea: The Awakening (Impressions 25+ hours)

On rare occasions, I play a game that presses all my buttons (in a good way).

Often, it's hard to explain why. I know it when I play it, though. It's a game that I want to be playing constantly. I'm thinking about strategies when I'm not playing. I want to stay up very late and play.

Space Rangers 2 was one of those games--vast, deep, and quite odd in its own way. It took a hold on me that I don't think has been duplicated since then (2006).

Until now.

I can't stop playing this game. It's vast, deep, and odd, just like Space Rangers 2, with crafting, a big tech tree, unique combat, a huge number of items, and even some text-based encounters.

Let's look at a few of the details, and I took all these screenshots from the game's Steam page, because I'm lazy.

First off, the world view, and as you can see, it's quite an attractive game.

At different day/night/season phases, heavy mist moves in, obscuring your view. Snow dapples the ground. It's very, very pleasing.

Here's the combat screen:

In one sense, it's conventional turn-based card combat. What makes it interesting, though, is that combat can take many forms: fighting, hunting, tactics, social, or sickness. And every character in your party has strengths and weaknesses in the various forms of combat. Putting all these variables together into a strong party is both fascinating and complex.

Different types of combat have serious advantages, too. If you attack another party, one of the possible combat forms (if your characters have enough skill) is hunting, and in hunting, your party members lose no health points whether they win or lose.

You might also try a social resolution, which is one of my favorites. If you fail, though, you'll have to defend yourself in a conventional battle.

All of these choices give you a ton of combat options, as long as you're the attacker. If you're attacked, though, you usually have to fight, which means that no matter your artful conversational skills, you better still be able to swing a sword.

If you get tired of combat, there's an auto-resolution button, too.

Tomorrow we'll look at the tech tree and the crafting options, with the weapons/armor/items and the text encounters on Thursday. I think.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Here's your Jack White--Haruki Murakami Connection

I hope you've been looking for one--for years--because your ship has finally come in.

His favorite guitar has long been a red 1964 Montgomery Ward Airline model Res-O-Glas guitar, an instrument made in Chicago by the Valco company and — prior to White’s use of this one — better known for carrying the National brand name. Yep, it’s essentially made out of plastic, and despite looking like humbuckers those pickups are actually rather noisy, microphonic single coils … but they rock with a righteously raw, textured tone, make no mistake. White has also often used a cheap Kay arcthop acoustic-electric for slide guitar, and on the first three White Stripes albums he mainly rammed these through a mid ’60s Silvertone 1485 tube head (another catalog beauty, this time courtesy of Sears & Roebuck) and a 6x10" Silvertone speaker cab. 
--7 Unlikely Rigs That Rocked the World

I think there's more creativity when there's less opportunity.
A lot of of the White Stripes is about constriction and keeping ourselves boxed in.
It's better to explore creativity with limited means. You get more out of it.
--The White Stripes - Charly Rose Interview pt. 1

I can't find the exact passage today, but I've seen a clip where Jack White talks about how long it takes to tune his lousy Montgomery Ward guitar. It's a laborious process--over an hour at times--but he says it forces the best out of him to play such a limited, unruly guitar.

Haruki Murakami (from Wind/Pinball: Two novels): an experiment, I decided to write the opening of my novel in ability in English composition didn't amount to much. My vocabulary was severely limited, as was my command of English syntax. I could only write in simple, short sentences. Which meant that, however complex and numerous the thoughts running around my head, I couldn't even attempt to set them down as they came to me. The language had to be simple, my ideas expressed in an easy-to-understand way, the descriptions stripped of all extraneous fat, the form made compact, everything arranged to fit a container of limited size. The result was a rough, uncultivated kind of prose. As I struggled to express myself in that fashion, however, step by step, a distinctive rhythm began to take shape.

Since I was born and raised in Japan, the vocabulary and patterns of the Japanese language had filled the system that was me to the bursting, like a barn crammed with livestock. When I sought to put my thoughts and feelings into words, those animals began to mill about, and the system crashed. Writing in a foreign language, with all the limitations that entailed, removed this obstacle...

Then I sat down and "translated" the chapter or so that I had written in English into Japanese. Well, "transplanted" might be more accurate, since it wasn't a direct verbatim translation. In the process, inevitably, a new style of Japanese emerged. The style that would be mine. A style I myself had discovered. Now I get it, I thought. This is how I should be doing it. It was a moment of true clarity, when the scales fell from my eyes.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off, from Wallace (who makes more appearances later), and this is the must-read link of the week: It's Going To Be Okay.

This is just so outstanding: The Doomsday Scam: For decades, aspiring bomb makers — including ISIS — have desperately tried to get their hands on a lethal substance called red mercury. There’s a reason that they never have.

From Marc Klein, and the section about sleep and reaction times is going to be shown to Eli 14.3 shortly: Lights Out Football.

From Simon Jones, and I can't even look at this without getting nauseated: Hydraulic Rig Turns GTA V Into a Wild Theme Park Ride.

From Steven Davis, and this is an amazing story: MOVE OVER RIN TIN TIN, MAKE ROOM FOR SERGEANT STUBBY, A REAL ROOTIN TOOTIN HERO. Also, and this is quite interesting, it's The Doomsday Invention: Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction? It's pretty remarkable that skiers have airbags now: Skier Miraculously Survives 1,600 Foot Fall.

This is a fascinating article: The Samoan Pipeline: How does a tiny island, 5,000 miles from the U.S. mainland, produce so many professional football players?

From Wallace, and this is delightful: A Frenchman writes on English Food, in 1698. Also, and this is getting increasingly grim, it's How much you’d need to earn in wages to work your way through college in each state, mapped. This is a good time-waster for this week in particular, when we all could use something to lighten the mood: Puppy with balloon.

From C. Lee, and I had no idea: Wine Corks: Saving Endangered Birds.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and I heartily concur: Uranus might be full of surprises. Also, and this is equally highbrow, it's Cats VS Cucumbers.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Not a Popular Size

Eli 14.3 went shopping for jeans because he doesn't have any. He's a shorts/warm-up pants kid.

"Hey, did you buy any jeans?" I asked as he walked into my study.

"Nope," he said.

Gloria came in, laughing. "It seems there's not much demand for 28x34 jeans," she said.

I wear 33" (waist) x 34" (length). I'm 3" taller than Eli. His legs are already as long as mine. Oh, and he's a strapping 128 lbs. now.


This is entirely fascinating: Virtual Planes, Virtual Airports And Absolutely No Rogering: Inside The Fascinating World Of VATSIM.

What is this, you ask, your eyes wide open with interest? Here's a description from the RPS article:
VATSIM is short for Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network. It’s a system which populates a flight sim by connecting enthusiasts who each take on piloting or air traffic controller roles.

That's incredibly ambitious, and even more incredible, it's tremendously successful. So, for instance, you might fly from Chicago to New York, but instead of silence, you'd be hearing air traffic chatter for the duration of your flight.

It's all quite remarkable, and I'd never  even heard of it today. Hit the article link and enjoy.

The Dirtbag (part two)

I hadn't even noticed that Fredrik's game Card Dungeon is on the "sale" list as well. Arghh.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Dirtbag

A few months ago, I received this e-mail:
jose manuel carmona campello
Aug 29

hello,my name is Jose, I have a YouTube channel and I would like to promote your game gridiron solitaire ,  help increase their purchases, I have 64,000 followers , my channel is

could have  key steam to play it ?

Well, that's nice. I checked his YouTube page and he did indeed have 64,000+ followers. So I sent him three Steam keys, thanked him for his interest in the game, and told him I'd be happy to answer any questions he had.

Radio silence.

Last week, I received another e-mail. This time, it was from someone explaining that The KamikazeYT was collecting Steam keys from developers to resell them, and he sent me to this page as proof:

Over 350 games for sale, and almost every one developed by a small, independent developer.

Man, that's sad.

Gridiron Solitaire was there, offered for $5. I sent him an e-mail and said he was a sorry individual, and he removed GS from his list this week, but there are still hundreds of other indie developers getting screwed.

These guys are like cockroaches. As soon as the lights go off, they'll scurry out again. So even though he might have to change his selling page or do other things that will at least be minor inconveniences, there's no real way to stop him.

My reaction to this was much different than it would have been when I was in my twenties. My outrage button is reserved for other, more important things. This is not consequential except for the fact that there are hundreds of unwitting developers involved.

Quite a few of you guys are developers, too, so just remember, if you hear from this guy, drop a 40-kiloton e-mail blast on him for both us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fallout 4 and the Richochet to Thea: The Awakening

I was hoping to have Fallout 4 impressions by now. I started playing the game on launch day last week.

I haven't played it much, though. Instead, I bounced off it like a brick wall.

I'm not sure why. Maybe reading about how much combat is needed leaves me cold, because I was hoping that ammunition would be more precious after the apocalypse. It also might be the interface, which seems to be a bit of a mess. More likely, the play mechanics work against me, because I feel like I need to compulsively collect every piece of scrap I see.

Instead of moving the plot forward, I've become the world's biggest junk collector.

Increasingly in games of this sort, I want to role-play with some degree of seriousness. I want to be able to be a distinct character. But I can't seem to be the character I want this time.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, really. The mod scene for Fallout 4 will be active for years, and within six months, most of the annoyances will be patched or modded. So I have time.

Even better, bouncing off Fallout 4 led me to another game which has been strangely intriguing.

The game is called Thea: The Awakening.

It's an odd duck, certainly.

It's turn-based, and in some ways, it's a bog-standard game--gather resources, craft and build things, etc.

That's not why I'm playing it, though.

The oddities are what's interesting.

The game is based on Slavic folklore. Your population is very low, so individual characters are very important. There are events in the game that remind me of a less sophisticated version of King of Dragon Pass. The combat is card-based, and even better, it's not always weapon-based (there are social encounters as well, along with a few others).

Here's the game blurb from the Steam page:
Thea: The Awakening is a turned-based strategic survival game inspired by the Slavic mythology and set in a procedural dark fantasy world infused with non-linear story and unique combat system.

I find it all extremely compelling, and very, very enjoyable to play.

The game is in Early Access right now, but they're testing advanced release candidates, so it's very close to release status. Even now, it's more polished than quite a few released games I've played in the last year.

I've played for 5+ hours, and that number is going to rise as soon as I publish this post.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Magical Holiday Combination

We decided to turn our favorite Halloween decoration into a Christmas decoration. I strongly approve of this initiative.

There Must Be A Key To The Strawberries

It's driving me crazy.

I have desktop speakers that are just amazing: Audioengine A5+ Powered Book Shelf Speakers.

Overkill for the desktop? Yes, but I love listening to music when I write, plus games sound utterly ridiculous. Couldn't be happier.

Until a few months ago, anyway. That's when I started getting interference from a CB radio or HAM radio operator.

The first time it happened, the speakers weren't playing anything at the time. Suddenly, I heard a good ol' boy talking through the speakers. Slightly distorted, but I could make out some of what he was saying.

Easy fix, right? Not so fast. Long web searches revealed only one technical fix--adding ferrite cores in the right places. They don't always work, though, and they didn't work for me, unfortunately.

This is apparently not an entirely uncommon problem. And I tried to drive around the neighborhood and find a giant antenna or something, but no luck.

This fellow doesn't talk all the time. When it starts, though, it's so jarring, and so frustrating, and he can go on for a good while. Being hijacked does not feel good.

Today he was talking to one of his buddies and thanked him for the strawberries.

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