90% of the Internet right now is basically my hero.  Even if work is going to be boring as fuck tomorrow as a consequence.

That is all.

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Ugh. Or: the GOP celebrates MLK day.

You said it, Professor.

So as most of you who had off from work yesterday (read: not your dismal author) are aware, yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  What this basically translates into meaning, is the day conservatives trip over themselves trying to co-opt what King fought for as somehow consistent with their own views –often minimizing the civil rights leader’s agenda as one of strictly formal equality, with indifference to both concerns of equity and justice- while attempting to ignore or obscure their ideological forebears’ role not only in the systematic oppression that King gave his life fighting against, but in attempting to blame King and the civil rights movement for every possible societal ill, imagined and real alike, up to and including blaming King for his own assassination.  It’s important to read through that stuff, and realize that when I say “ideological forebears”, I’m not talking about about people all that far-removed from present-day politics.  Rather, things like this represent the infancy of movement conservatism, by and large.

The other thing that happened yesterday, was, well, you really should just see it for yourselves:

If you’re like me, and viewing that with the context of “Hey Martin Luther King, Jr. Day,” then you likely found that display absolutely revolting.  As in, to the point of literal physical symptoms.  Yes, it’s South Carolina, a state that has never stopped fighting the Civil War, and basically one giant hotbed right-wing racial resentment, and YES, it’s a GOP debate in  a year where Republicans have already been indordinately extreme, but… holy fuck.  The dogwhistles have long since dropped to such a low register that they’re just plain ol’ regular whistles, and even while they cease to even pretend to veil their attacks on minorities, they accuse Blah and brown people of being the REAL racists (or at least uncritical and ignorant) for realizing what this virulent crap actually means in terms of their own plives, and voting against these cretins.  And criticizing candidates for employing this this vulgar, overt bigotry is, as ever, considered “playing the race card” (see those wonderful youtube comments).

Also, you still have some lingering glimmer of faith in humanity, or perhaps even for American electoral politics circa 2012, let’s here it from Rick Perry, apologist for corpse-desecration:

 

USA!  USA!  USA!

Oh, also, the Golden Rule got boo’d, too, apparently, because Exceptionalism.

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Newt Gingrich: America’s greatest historian.

Basically.So apparently, while I was busy having geeky fun at MAGfest, there were not one, but two GOP debates.  And at least the latter one was every bit as train-wrecky as every other one prior.

Honestly, I continue to be amazed that the GOP keeps having the things.  It’s not like they realy make anyone in particular look good, or anything.  Rather, it just seems like it’s kinda fatigueing for everyone involved, frankly.

And, true to form, the “NBC-Facebook” (ugh, ::cringe::) debate on Sunday featured a panoply of terrible people saying terrible things.  But the greatest gem of all came from Newt Gingrich, who likes to pretend to be a historian and an “intellectual” in public life, and demonstrates this by making broad, condescending and deeply arrogant assertions that are fundamentally at odds with reality:

When asked to support his claim that the EPA is terrible and needs to be done away with, Newt Gingrich cited the fact that the EPA regulates particulate matter as evidence that the EPA is “out of touch”, and “imperious”.  After all, “historian” Gingrich argued, how in the world is dust, in Oklahoma and the Southwest, an “environmental” issue?

Again, just to recap: Dust.  Oklahoma.  Historian.

Why does anybody with a high school education give this person a public forum, again?

EDIT: Also this is slightly moot because Gingrich was apparently citing a non-existant rule, also too.  I leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide whether “flagrant, prolific liar, who gets away with it because the American right is a completely post-facts political movement,” or “abject moron who waves around his previous job in loosely-defined ‘academia’ like an Internet Troll claiming to have ‘two relevant degrees’” is a better of the reasonable options here, but I personall prefer to assume that Newt Gingrich is both a liar, and an idiot, simultaneously.

Continue reading

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MAGfest X

So, latest on my litany of excuses for not posting has been skipping town to attend MAGfest, DC-area con centered around video games and video game music.  This is right up my alley for obvious reasons, and also too, has become a bit of a social fixture among my friends in the past few years.  Last year, one of my closest friends arranged to propose to his fiance at MAGfest via a completely made-up scavenger hunt- a sizable production that a bunch of us all colluded together over, and something you can totally get away with if you’re a regular and well-known volunteer at a small-scale con, apparently.

Anyway, this year, the already-awfully-burgeoning-for-a-small-con levelled up considerably, with a larger budget and swankier accomodations, and is suddenly looking much more like a sizable regional con.  Or at least what I, late-blooming con-goer that I am, assume a sizable regional con might look like.  It also found itself sporting some pretty major “gets”, namely Ellen McLain, a voice actress best known for GLaDOS, the antagonist the Portal games, and The Earthbound Papas, Nobuo Uematsu’s newest band, headlining the Saturday night concerts.

Last time around, I was primarily much too involved in conspiracy to really see much of the panel, and since I wasn’t staying at the hotel, missed many of the later-night events as well.  Also, I spent way too much time in the game rooms.  This time, I was determined to attempt to correct this, and booked a hotel room, planned a schedule around the panels I wanted to go to (with assistance from by the excellent scheduling app MAGfest used, Guidebook) and packed a bag with energy drinks and all the geek shirts I owned, for this weekend.

The panels were pretty great.  The first one I got to attend was an OC Remix After Dark Panel; this being late Thursday night, rather than actually discussing anything related to OC Remix or music arrangements or editing in general, it quickly devolved into My Little Pony discussions/themed drinking, Treadmillasaurus Rex, and gratuitous shirtlessness by various panelists.  Overall, the entire panel closely toed the line between Best Panel Ever and Complete Trainwreck, and was about as auspicious a start to a con as one could ask.

The voice-acting ones, however, were obviously an enormous draw for the con-goers, and they actually managed to live up to these expectations admirably.  Joining McClain were her husband and fellow voice actor  John Patrick Lowrie (Sniper from Team Fortress 2), as well as Jon St. John (Duke Nukem from the eponymous series), Wes Johnson (best known for a whole bunch of Bethesda stuff- Lucien Lechance, Sheogorath, Fawkes the Super-Mutant and Mr. Burke from Fallout 3…), Mike Rosson (also a whole buncha Fallout 3 stuff, especially the ghouls), Shari Elliker (Star Paladin Cross from Fallout 3), Chris Niosi (a character in Pokemon?), and [???].  It actually made for a superb mix of backgrounds, walks of life, and perspectives which made for a fairly lively, engaging panel discussion.

Ellen McClaine came across as a bit of a sweetheart.  She was sedate, earnest, and, well, kinda grandmotherly, not unlike the stereotypical music teacher (and she does, indeed, still teach voice-as-in-singing on the side).  Coming from an opera background, she spent of lot fo time going into detail about voice techniques and translating singing techniques into spoken acting.  Also, she and her husband are LITERALLY the most adorable couple; they had a bit of a sing-along during one of the panels, with Lowrie accompanying his wife on the banjo.

The antipode to McClaine’s sedate, maternal, encouraging voice on the panel was Jon St. John.  Who has apparently been somewhat of a panel regular, and always a huge draw in his own right.  My friend Eliza (the victim/recipient of last year’s aforementioned conspiracy) described him, in her excellent two-part review of this year’s MAGfest, as charismatic, profane, boorish, and hilarious all at once.   Many of the questions thrown his way were mainly intended to bait him into quoting lines of Duke’s dialogue, but even when he wasn’t lapsing into character, it was easy to see why he so fell in love with the character.  He was clearly having a tremendous amount of fun, even as he was (or at least was pretending to be) badly hung over.

And then finally, there were the concerts.  Last year, I had only had the opportunity to attend a few minutes of couple of the earlier ones, and boy did I ever miss out.  Obviously this is a huge part of why MAGfest identifies as a “festival” rather than a standard convention, and I’ve always had a thing for music incorporating chiptunes, and arrangements of the more impressive video game music out there, and the concert series definitely delivered.  I don’t really have much more to say here than “OMG.  So.  Awesome.”  So I will basically leave it at that.

But all in all, an awesome, fun-filled, weekend, and even the ubiquitous My Little Pony fandom couldn’t really put a damper on it.

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Still a food blog: what I had for New Year’s dinner edition

So, it being New Years, I decided it would be a good idea to make a fancy steak dinner.  I didn’t know what my roommate’s plans were, so I decided to operate on the assumpion that she might show, and bought enough food for both.  She didn’t show, but the dinner I ended up making was kinda of amazing.  As in holy sex, one of the best meals of my life ever, amazing.

Here’s an awful, sketchy picture:

What we have:

  • Perfectly Medium-Rare Tenderloin Steak in a Mushroom Gorgonzola cream sauce (improvised)
  • Roasted Red Potatoes
  • Sauteed Asparagus spears

It managed to be relatively simple, and amazing.

The steak was seasoned in salt, pepper, and rosemary.  I have a rosemary plant for handy fresh rosemary, so that was a massive plus.  I then added some olive oil and let it sit while I prepared everything else.

Next, I quartered some medium red potatoes, tossed them in olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper again, and put them in an oven at 375 degrees, for maybe a half-hour (until the edges started to brown)

Then, the sauce.  I started with a roux (melt butter, stir in some flour, season with salt and pepper), then added some sliced mushrooms and sauteed for a bit, followed by cream, about a teaspoon or two each of Worchestershire sauce, and cayanne pepper hot sauce, and then slowly stirred in roughly 1/3-1/2 a cup of gorgonzola until it was fully blended into a thick, cheesy sauce.

Finally, the steak.  After searching around for some ideas on how to cook it properly, I found this flawless strategy.  Melt some a small amount of butter -enough to coat the pan.  We have a pretty lean cut of steak here, so we’ll need grease to pan-cook it: a small amount of butter, plus the olive oil from earlier, should be sufficient.  Furthermore, the flame you’d use to melt butter quickly without worrying about burning it is the perfect flame for medium rare steak.  Now, add the steak.  Once the first side starts to brown sufficiently, turn.  Total cook time is under 10 minutes.  Start testing at five minutes.  You test it by poking the steak, with your finger.  If it deforms and leaves a fingerprint, it is rare.  If it doesn’t, but still has some “give” to it, then it is medium rare.  If it’s firm, you overcooked it.  Simple!

For me, this was all a massive experiment in improvising with way-too-expensive ingredients, that resulted in one of the best meals I’ve had in my life.  So, the lesson here, if anything, is Take risks!  Try something new!  You never know what you might end up doing, and you might discover something amazing!

Hapy New Year, everyone!

(I’ll be adding a picture later when I get around to/feel like it)

 

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Ringing in the new year with laziness, heavy drinking, mmo addiction, and geeky things

…Maybe my decision not to make any resolutions wasn’t a great idea after all.

Anyway, that, plus it being an admittedly slow news week, my explanation for the current blog hiatus.  When I haven’t been out, drinking, Star Wars: The Old Republic (which I finally got around ot installing and subscribing to, on the insistence of a good friend) has been eating my life. 

FWIW, SW:TOR is remarkably good.  It has a handful of bugs that need to get ironed out, but nothing particularly fatal or critical (i.e, nothing nearly as bad as Skyrim), and MMOs tend to get patched pretty regularly, so that’s not worrisome.

Prior to this, my only real MMO experience came in the form of Guild Wars, which means that I have some passing familiarity with the language of the game and with some of the fundamental mechanics, but still a bit leery of one that featured the resource-grinding and crafting that most “standard” MMOG’s are somewhat notorious for.  Oh, and the subscription structure, too.  That thing terrifies me, as someone with a theoretical budget.

Gameplay is, in broad terms, extremely WoW-like, but with a number of elaborations that should be familiar to any fan of Bioware’s previous titles.  Returning features that Bioware fans might recognize the light side/dark side scale and companion affection systems -as well as the presence of the semi-autonomous companions themselves- as distinctively Bioware, if rather effectively adapted to an MMOG environment. 

Similarly drawn from their offline RPG tradition comes the prominence of conversation and the emphasis on storytelling necessarily engendered by extended dialogue and conversational decision-making: my experience in Guild Wars suggests that in many games, story is traditionally a background element of many MMOGs: certainly, players seem eager to skip dialogue and exposition whenever possible and jump back to the action.   In a sense, Bioware’s taken a bit of a gamble with their added focus on these elements: they’re essentially betting that these tweaks to the MMOG reward cycle -pushing resource-gathering to the background, and emphasizing dialoge and storytelling- won’t alienate their players-base.  This is probably well-founded, since Star Wars and the EU comprise a setting -perhaps even moreso even that Warcraft- with a fandom that’s actively engaged in the setting fiction.

Plus, you get to be a Jedi.  With, like a lightsaber and everything, and you get to fly around your spaceship on missions.  What’s not to love?

Anyway, more hiatus coming up: I’m going to be out of town at MagFest for most of the upcoming week, and so expect postings to be even more sporadic than they have been this past week.

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Year/Games in review

I’ve only been doing this a few weeks, so there’s hardly any in-review things to do here, so instead I’m going to do an in-review of the greatest hits of games I’ve tried out over the past year.  Most of them are relatively new, except for the tabletop RPGs:

Online

Calls of Duty, various

I’ve commented on combat simulators before, so I’m a little embarrassed to admit that they remain a guilty pleasure of mine.  They’re  relatively mindless and fast-paced  and test a combination of hand-eye coordination, reflexes, attention to detail, and theory-of-mind (“how will my opponent react/where will my opponent be paying attention to”) that make for some entertaining gameplay.  I generally hold the individual installments to be essentially identical in those regards, though: as in many other genres, Activision has a pretty great racket going, in that they can get people to buy the same game, over and over again, year after year.

Minecraft, and also Terraria

[http://www.minecraft.net/]; [http://www.terraria.org/]

As far as I’m concerned, one is just a 2 1/2-D version of the other.  But they are definitely fun, and somewhat addictive.  I haven’t played them too much, because avoiding monsters involves much more elaborate set-ups than I’m willing to devote time to, and thus, monsters keep wrecking my shit.  But, these games both manage to take a rather literal interpretation of “sandbox game” to some incredible depths: making games where there is no objective other than to build and play and actually interesting and exciting, and inspiring people to make some amazing projects that consume way too much time.  The Zero Punctuation review captures this more or less completely, so go watch that.

Offline

Bastion

[http://supergiantgames.com/?page_id=242]

This game is pretty amazing.  The gameplay itself is solid, if not particularly remarkable: it’s a relatively simple 3/4 view arcade-style adventure game with mild RPG trimmings.  But it’s also visually and musically breathtaking, and with a narrative arc to match.  Despite the simple gameplay, the game adds enough variablility and curveballs to avoid feeling repetitive.  It also has some decent replay value, in the form of a New Game+ and a mechanic evocative of the “skulls” from Halo.  Oh, and without spoiling too much, the New Game+ plus option actually ties back to the plot in a pretty incredible way.  Lastly, despite the fact that the relatively simple gameplay would suggest an abbreviated story and world, but this is far from the case.  The entire game is puntuated with hints and details that fill out a much larger world, and several elements, between the weapons, gods, and factions, represent ample material for mining for, say, a tabletop setting.

Skyrim

[http://www.elderscrolls.com/skyrim/]

I think I’ve talked enough about this game, as has everyone else on the planet.  So, leaving aside what I’ve already said, I’ll say that it is a pretty good game.  It lives up to Bethesda’s reputation of making extremely wide worlds with ample opportunities for screwing around.  It also lives up to Bethesda’s other reputation of making collossally buggy games -so buggy, in fact, as to rapidly become fatiguing and lead me looking to greener pastures for a reprieve.  DESPITE playing on PC and having access to the console.  I do enjoy most of the gameplay: the UI is relatively simple, and the levelling mechanics employ a “use it to level it” system that I tend to find gratifying in RPGs.  They also make the world fiction pretty accessible, for the fifth installment of a popular series: as a newcomer, I was able to catch onto the backstory pretty rapidly.  So, in the absence of an arbitrary rating system, I’ll say I guardedly recommend this, as long as you don’t frustrate easily.

Batman: Arkham City

[http://www.batmanarkhamcity.org/]

Obviously, this truly is the year of the open-world game.  The developers tried to downplay the open-world-ness of the sequal to Arkham Asylum, presumably to tamp down on any comparison to various somewhat-more-open games out there, but all the hallmarks are there.  The story’s easily as engaging as Asylum, complete with mindscrew elements and Surprising! Twists!, and the game takes advantage of Batman’s diverse rogue’s gallery to an even greater degree than the previous installment, and the Riddler Puzzle/exploration/treasure hunt element is not only expanded and granted some relevance, but also ends up being a natural complement to the new, city-sized setting of the game.

Audiosurf

[http://www.audio-surf.com/]

If someone managed to take a matching/puzzle game like Tetris or Bejewelled, a classic track racer, a rhythm game, and an iTunes visualizer, put them in a blender on high, and still have the end result be kinda awesome, you would get Audiosurf.  It’s an indie game that was included in one of the indie bundles that Steam has been releasing periodically, and is another nice, causual arcade-style.  It’s a pretty simple concept: you race down a track, collecting blocks of one type, while ignoring blocks of another type.  Some game modes give you multiple colors of blocks to collect and match, which would be where the puzzle element enters into things.  So far, it’s a pretty ordinary game.

The cool part is this: the tracks are generated randomly, based on songs you select from your hard drive.  This game was first brought to my attention thanks to the popularity of youtube videos featuring Audiousurf runs of songs from the video-game-themed webcomic Homestuck, which is just about as much recursive jackassery as the human body can physically tolerate.  But this is definitely a casual game worth checking out.  While you’re at it, also check out Homestuck, and its music.

Unplugged

Exalted

[http://www.white-wolf.com/exalted]

One major criticism/critique of how many people play various World of Darkness is that it that the personal horror/dramatic elements are frequently downplayed to the point of being informed elements, and instead prefer to play the games as “supers with fangs”.  Capturing this latter playstyle seemed to be the main objective of Exalted, and while it delivers on that promise, there are places where the limitations of the Storyteller system start to poke through.  I was definitely acquainted with Exalted’s reputation for over-the-top action well before I experienced it, and that part failed to disappoint, though I suspect that rolling buckets o’dice is a lot more viscerally entertaining in live play than when using a dicerolling program.

I’ve always found the various humanity/whatever scales to be an interesting roleplaying mechanic, and while I never got a chance to really see the Limit/Virtue track in action before our game went on hiatus/ragequitting because of schedule conflicts, but it seemed to get the “With great power comes great insanity” trope across remarkably well, as your characters destroy themselves with hubris and jerkassery even as they Do Incredible Things.

Lady Blackbird

[http://www.onesevendesign.com/ladyblackbird/]

I have to admit: while I’ve played a handful of story games, I’ve never been completely comfortable with them.  In the case of Lady Blackbird, though, it was pretty easy to ease into the gameplay and feel like.  It might be that I have a passing familiarity with the body of fiction it’s inspired by (most obviously Firefly, but with a setting that has major echoes from the anime Last Exile or Final Fantasy VI’s magi-steam-tech-punk), making it pretty easy to grok.  Combined with what is actually a pretty narrow base: pre-generated characters that comprise a five-man-band, and with tensions and dramatic conflict strongly suggested within their various motivations, this all mitigates the social risk someone like me might feel in participating, and provides a relatively low barrier to participation.  Again, I’ve only played one session thus far, but I definitely approve.  On the other hand, this does seem like a game whose strengths rely on its players having some familiarity with the tone and referants: if someone hasn’t seen or doesn’t like Firefly, I think a lot of the appeal of this particular game are likely lost.  For a like-minded group, though, its ease of start-up and low social barrier makes it good for a one-shot or impromptu session.

Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved

[http://www.montecook.com/cgi-bin/page.cgi?mpress_MCAE]

D&D was for me, as for many others, the first RPG I was exposed to, even though I was a late bloomer and didn’t play until 3.5.  I was also one of the last to get fed up/burned out on D&D and move on to greener pastures.  I even still have designs to one day revive an old story arc from my college days.  But, at the same time, the egregious system flaws did wear on me with time, and were especially clear and discussed about amid the turning of the editions and subsequent “3.5 but moreso” that is Pathfinder.

Anyway, all that’s a preface to saying that I’m not a huge fan of AE.  It’s basically one big reminder of my biggest gripes from 3.5 and Pathfinder.  Only worse, because it’s built up from 3e, which already had some pretty egregious flaws.   System that heavily favors spellcasters?  Of course, it was written by Monte Cook, and Monte loves spellcasters.  Hypergranular skills that make no sense?  Yeeeep.  Plenty of trap options seemingly intended to punish Timmy (to borrow MTG parlance) for being Timmy?  Of course.  In the time I played D&D, the overwhelming thrust of design efforts was to fix all of the above things, because they were problems for people playing the game.    Monte Cook, to say nothing of the folks over at Paizo, never seemed to figure that out. </edition-war>

Honorable Mention: Legend

[http://www.ruleofcool.com/]

Never played it, but it was pointed out to me by one of my co-AE players, who was similarly griping about 3.5.  It seems like an actual promising fix-up for D&D, and the designers were pretty unashamed about taking lessons from any and every other game out there, including 4e.  And best yet, it’s pay-what-you want, with proceeds going to Child’s Play, so that’s reason enough to check it out.  I may very well use this for my eventual game, though it will involve a fair bit of character re-writing.

Honorable Mention: Burning Wheel

[http://www.burningwheel.com/]

Haven’t played this one either yet, despite several attempts to do so.  It’s a neat system, and includes my previously-mentioned-favorite-thing for advancing abilities: use them to level them.  Also, the character and monster burners are pretty remarkable: it’s amazingly easy to see a character concept and history proceed naturally from some pretty simple starting points.  Desperately want to try this one out in action.

So, what about everyone else?  Try out any new or interesting games this year?  Any new games anyone’s looking forward to?  I’m genuinely interested here, guys, and totally not just fishing for comments.

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