Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Giant Robots and Elder Things

Yesterday I was made aware of not one, but two Kickstarters that are entirely relevant to my interests. They're already both funded, but since stretch goals are a thing and in one case a stretch goal is the thing I really want, I'm sharing them with you. Do with this information as you will.

Do you want to drive an Atlas?

First up is BattleTech. The guys who made Shadowrun Returns want to make a turn-based BattleTech game for the PC. Do I really need to say more? BattleTech is the granddaddy of tabletop giant mech warfare, and it's an IP that's been missing from video games for years. We get some Mechwarrior stuff sometimes, but BattleTech is about the mechs, not the pilots. This one's a little weird as the base goal is just to create a skirmish game. A single-player storyline is unlocked as a stretch goal at $1,000,000 and PvP is the $2,500,000 stretch goal. The Kickstarter is only about $20,000 short of that first goal as I write this, so I think it's safe to assume it'll be reached. As for PvP, meh, I don't need it to be happy. $25 gets you super awesome mech combat from a team who have shown that they can do amazing things with classic gaming IPs.

Do you want to lose your mind?

Second, we have Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game. If you already know Call of Cthulhu there's a good chance that you know what Delta Green is, but for those not in the know Delta Green is a tabletop RPG that basically lets you do Majestic 12 for the Mythos. Where Call of Cthulhu investigators tend to be a rag tag bunch working on their own a Delta Green group will consist of federal agents, government backed scientists and the like. We're not just talking FBI, CIA and the like either. My first (and favorite) Delta Green character was a US Fish and Wildlife agent who encountered some really weird wildlife.

Delta Green originated as a Call of Cthulhu setting; this Kickstarter is to publish a stand alone Delta Green rulebook. $20 gets you an electronic version; $50 gets you the hardcover. I feel pretty safe kicking in to this one since it's the original creators of Delta Green running it, and they have plenty of experience with crowdfunding.

These are the sorts of Kickstarters that make me happiest; proven teams resurrecting games and gaming systems from years past. Now I just need Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford to get on that Star Control Kickstarter I've been desperately hoping for. That would be amazing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Final Thoughts on Tron 2.0

The most recent episode of Aggrochat was our discussion of Tron 2.0, which I had picked as our Game Club game for September. As it turned out, only Kodra and I finished the game, but everybody at least played far enough to form reasoned opinions and we had a good discussion about the game and about the evolution of the FPS genre over the past decade.

Overall I feel like my memories of Tron 2.0 weren't terribly inaccurate. There was a definitely a bit of nostalgia coloring them, but the annoyances I ran into were mostly things that I remembered from playing it when it was new. I do feel like playing Tron 2.0 and Wolfenstein: The New Order back to back highlighted a number of the changes that have taken place over the years in the genre.

Programs can get bored and fidgety too.

There were little things like using the scroll wheel for weapon zoom instead of the right mouse button, but also things that were still common in FPSs a decade ago that no longer are, such as jumping puzzles. There really weren't that many of them, but it's telling that jumping puzzles where what ended up making a couple of the others call it quits. Jumping accurately when you can't see your feet isn't easy. There's a reason you don't see it come up as much in modern games (Portal being the main exception that comes to mind).

I still think the mechanic of memory for your subroutines (weapons, armor, and general power ups) which changes when you enter a new system is pretty clever, especially combined with the ability to upgrade subroutines to both make them more powerful and make them take up less memory space. It's a little disappointing though that you don't get access to some subroutines until it's too late to reasonably upgrade them and use them properly.

Overall, I feel like Tron 2.0 remains a game worth playing both because it's fun and has an entertaining story, and for a look back at the kinds of experimentation that were being done in the FPS genre 12 years ago. I only wish it had a gotten a sequel that could have really polished the systems and made them all fit together just right.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mystara Monday: Module B5 - Horror on the Hill

This week we're taking a look at Dungeons & Dragons adventure module B5: Horror on the Hill, written by Douglas Niles and published in 1983.

Douglas Niles is probably best known as a novelist who has written quite a number of books set in the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms campaign worlds. Early in his career with TSR he also wrote a few adventure modules for the Basic ruleset, one of which we have here. Horror on the Hill seems transitional in a number of ways. Most obviously it's the first of the B modules that uses the updated trade dress that I grew up with. It's a minor thing, but this is the design that immediately screams 'Basic D&D' to me.

This is also a module that attempts to be more logical in it's progression and throws a twist in midway that the players might not expect. We're still looking at a situation where the party's reason for going on the adventure is mostly 'there's loot in there', but the DM could easily have a minor lord or the like send the party to investigate rumors of a massing hobgoblin army and deal with the problem.

The adventure claims to be for 5-10 characters of level 1-3. In all honesty, I wouldn't run this adventure for level 1 characters. Entirely apart from the logistics of having 10 players at the table, an encounter that challenges 5 level 3 characters might be defeatable by 10 at level 1, but some of them will almost certainly die. One encounter fairly early in the adventure is with a pair of ogres. Ogres! It'll likely take a party a couple of rounds minimum to take them down, and one hit from an ogre can kill any level 1 character with a good roll. I may speak from experience on this point.

The adventure has the party hiking up 'The Hill' to find the ruins of an abandoned monastery which has been taken over by a band of humanoids led by a hogoblin king. After defeating the king, the party is intended to fall victim to a trap door which drops them a few hundred feet (via a chute, so no falling damage) into caverns beneath the monastery where they have to find their way out. The only escape ultimately leads through a red dragon's lair.

The Hill is an overgrown wilderness with a few caves inhabited by various creatures (giant bats, ogres, Neanderthals) and some outdoor encounters with killer bees, giant ants and the like. There are also a pair of old women living in a little shack that is much larger on the inside than outside.

We're just innocent old grandmothers, dearies.

The players might expect evil witches, and the women are in fact level 6 spellcasters, but they're only interested in making bargains. If you have players who like to rob or kill non-hostiles, this may be the end of the party right here, these old women don't mess around. Trying to cheat them after a deal is made will also have them chasing the party wherever they go to get what's owed them. As long as the party deals square though, they can be a good source of intelligence and resources.

The monastery is a good adventuring location with an aboveground area and a dungeon below where the hobgoblin king resides. There are enough goblin, bugbear, and hobgoblin forces throughout that clever play or multiple sorties will probably be needed for the party to make their way through. Once the party starts to make their way out, they fall through a trap triggered by the king's empty throne. Or at least they're meant to; this seems like the sort of thing that requires a DM caveat to make everybody fall victim, and could result in cranky players since they didn't have a chance to avoid the trap.

The caves below the monastery are a fairly typical cave type dungeon, with the more random sorts of monsters that those tend to have. The adventure does make note of the fact that creatures here are mostly ones that have become trapped there over time and that they are all in a state of crazed hunger, having survived mostly on rats. No options for diplomacy here.

At the end, the party has to make their way through the lair of a young red dragon to escape. This encounter would absolutely murder a level 1 party; I just don't see any way around it. Even a higher level party would have trouble. There's no option as written to avoid combat either. The dragon is willing to talk for a while, but will attack if the party tries to leave or when he gets bored with them. If the players remember the dragon subdual rules though, and manage to do so they'll have a dragon to take with them. And those old ladies they met would sure love to have their own pet dragon...

On the whole, Horror on the Hill is a pretty good module as long as the DM is either okay with some character death or can tweak things a bit to be a little more fair. It's a step in the evolution towards more logical adventures where things fit together in a sensible way. We still haven't reached the truly story-driven adventures of later years, but we're getting there.

Next week we'll be having a look at a truly different adventure module, B6: The Veiled Society. Not only is this the first city adventure we've seen, it's a city adventure set entirely in Specularum, capital of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. Political intrigue and secret societies await!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Thalen Reads The Dreamstone

They will not be wise, who set foot in Ealdwood. - Arafel
This week we take a look at a fantasy story with roots in Celtic mythology. The Dreamstone, by C. J. Cherryh, centers around the last remnant of Faery upon the earth, and it's guardian, Arafel, the last of the Daoine Sidhe.

This is actually the first of Cherryh's books I've read. She's been on my list of authors to try for a while, and I do still intend to get to some of her more famous works in the future. Based on what I've read here, I expect them to be a good read.

The Dreamstone is another of those works which combines multiple previously release works into a full novel. In this case we have two parts which are connected primarily by location and the presence of Arafel. The course of the novel spans some decades and most of the mortal characters from the first section of the book are years dead when the second section begins.

In an unnamed kingdom somewhere in the British Isles (most likely somewhere in modern England near the borders of Wales) a rebellion against the rightful king has recently succeeded and the former lord Niall, who remained loyal, flees his enemies. Taking shelter in the Ealdwood, he draws the attention of Arafel, last of the Daoine Sidhe, who refuses any direct aid but guides him to a protected valley where those who are lost can find refuge.

Years pass, until events lead Niall's villainous cousin Evald to invade the Ealdwood and come into conflict with Arafel. When word of Evald's death comes to Niall, he leaves the valley to retake the lands his cousin had usurped from him. He marries Evald's widow and accepts her son as his own heir.

Decades later, Niall has died and his heir rules in Caer Wiell. The old king's heir has come of age and has launched a campaign to retake his throne. After a great battle is won, a messenger is sent to warn Caer Wiell of enemy forces come to try to take it in an attempt to hold it against the king. His path takes him into the Ealdwood, where he meets Arafel and ultimately brings her to the aid of Caer Wiell, though not without cost to himself.

The Dreamstone is a book that focuses on one small area while great conflicts occur in the background. The old king is already dead by the time the book starts, and we barely meet his heir many chapters later. The kingdom and its fate isn't what matters here; this is really the story of Arafel and her somewhat unwilling part in the human conflicts near her home. Elves in this book are very much in the classic Fair Folk vein; mischievous and given to stealing people away to Faery (though not, in Arafel's defense, from any real malevolence.)

The Dreamstone is also a quiet book, mostly concerned with character interaction and the intrinsic conflict between man and elf. There is a battle near the end of the book, but it's secondary to the conflict within the messenger who convinced Arafel to aid them, and the conflict within Arafel herself regarding mortals and her place in a world where Faery has nearly withdrawn entirely. To anyone with an interest in Celtic mythology I can recommend this as an interesting take on the concepts.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Romani Ite Domum

I feel like I just keep talking about Fallout, but that's what I've been up to so what are you going to do? I decided to advance the main story a little bit last night, so it was time to head into Legion territory and have a chat with Caesar.

From encounters with his men, you might assume he's an asshole.
But when you meet him, you realize he's a GIANT asshole.

On the bright side, he caught Benny for me so I was finally able to put a bullet in that two-timing rat fink's skull. Even so, I absolutely intend to come back later and kill every member of the Legion I can find at Fortification Hill, up to and including Caesar. I'll probably bring Boone with me for that, I imagine he'll enjoy it.

I was a little disappointed that the game didn't give me the option of tearing apart Caesar's philosophical arguments. I've got a 9 Intellect, you'd think that would be sufficient to tell him that no, I fully understand the concepts of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, and also he's a self-aggrandizing fascist hypocrite. Yes Caesar, please explain to me how the NCR is falling apart because it was a cult of personality centered around President Tandi, and how what you're creating is ENTIRELY DIFFERENT NO REALLY. I'm all ears.

What's that, game? You want me to shoot every Legionary in the head?
Well, it'll be tough, but I guess somebody's got to do it.

Apart from the Legion being entirely awful though, I'm liking how it's not entirely clear who's best to ally with for the main storyline. The NCR are solid guys, but they're expanding far too fast. Backing Mr. House means an independent New Vegas which seems like a good option, but he's got that whole smarmy Andrew Ryan vibe going. Or I could try to replace House and take over Vegas myself; tempting but I worry that outside forces might think that House's death means they could try and take the city.  No matter what though, Caesar's gonna die.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Nostalgia is a Hell of a Drug

Fallout: New Vegas continues to dominate my gaming time as I continue my adventures in the Mojave. At this point I've hit level 24 and the main storyline has me going to meet Caesar (not to self: bringing Boone to this meeting is probably a BAD IDEA). Mostly though, I'm running around doing side missions, and in doing so I found someone whose presence in the game made me incredibly happy.

They even got Michael Dorn to voice him again.

Marcus was one of my favorite companions in Fallout 2, and seeing him again, even just as a regular NPC with one quest to offer, was awesome. All of the references to the first two games that show up in New Vegas are like that to some degree; it's enough to give me the urge to break out the original Fallout once I'm done with New Vegas. Even though I know that going back and playing them might be a bit rough given their age.

Playing Tron 2.0 again has had a little bit of that. I still enjoy it, but I know a lot of that is because I love the original movie, warts and all. There are a lot of aspects of modern FPS games that simply didn't exist yet in 2003, and it can feel weird and a little clunky not having them. Control standards have changed over time too so I had to relearn, for instance, that the mouse wheel zooms in, not the left mouse button.

I'm hoping there'll be some good discussion about how things have changed over the years when we talk about Tron 2.0 for this week's podcast. I have to admit I'm a little terrified that nobody will have played beyond the first couple levels and everyone will have hated it. I just can't divorce my view of the game from Tron as a whole, so I worry that folks without that attachment just won't get into it. I guess we'll find out this weekend.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mystara Monday: Module B4 - The Lost City

This week we'll be taking a look at Dungeons & Dragons adventure module B4: The Lost City. Written by Tom Moldvay (also responsible for first revision of the D&D Basic rules) and published in 1982, B4 is a bit more ambitious than the previous B modules. The pyramid is a multi-level dungeon much like those previously seen but this adventure also presents a fairly detailed backstory for the pyramid and the underground city below it, NPC factions for players to ally with (or come into conflict with), ideas for further adventures using the setting, and an evil false god to serve as a challenging final fight.

The adventure takes place inside an ancient step pyramid found when the player characters become lost in a forbidding desert. The module doesn't concern itself much with how the characters come to the desert, simply stating in the background that they had joined a desert caravan that became lost in a sandstorm. Lost and desperate, the characters enter the pyramid in the hope of finding a means of survival.

The pyramid is all that remains intact of the city of Cynidicea, once the capital of a desert kingdom. While building the pyramid, workers uncovered the lair of a hideous monster, Zargon. Unable to kill the monster, the rulers of the city began sending criminals into the pyramid to appease it. Over time a cult arose around the monster, supplanting worship of the city's three traditional gods. The civilization decayed and eventually, when barbarians overran the city, fled underground below the pyramid. There the descendants of those Cynidiceans still live, now adapted to underground life and spending most of their days in a hallucinatory state.

It's possible for an adventurer to be transformed into a three foot tall
mini-Zargon. Yay cursed magic items.

Possible antics of the Cynidiceans the adventurers encounter can include trying to warn the adventurers of the invisible snakes on the floor and showing them where to walk to avoid them, 'recognizing' an adventurer as the lost ruler of Cynidicea and smothering him or her with attention, or following the adventurers around carrying boards until something is killed and then building a coffin for it and demanding payment for the service.

Some relatively normal Cynidiceans make up three factions each dedicated to one of the old gods of the city. Each faction is devoted to trying to restore the worship of their patron god and to save their society from its decay. None of the three trusts the others however, so they fight much more than they cooperate, even in the face of Zargon's evil. The adventurers can ally with these factions and try to assist them in their goals.

The adventure as written is a 10 tier dungeon, though only the first 5 tiers are fully detailed. Quite a lot of the encounters in this part of the pyramid are with undead or vermin as you might expect. From tier 6 on the rooms are less detailed and the encounters are more difficult, honestly rising above what's reasonable for even a level 3 party. It's clearly intended that the party have reached the Expert levels (4 and up) and by the last few levels they're encountering creatures such as vampires, a chimera, and a 9 hit die blue dragon. These levels also seem less planned with monsters seemingly chosen at random to populate the various rooms, each with their own individual treasure hoard.

This dwarf is way too excited about being
stuck in an ancient pyramid.
The Lost City continues the shift we saw begin in Palace of the Silver Princess towards adventures that are more than just a dungeon full of monsters and treasure for the adventurers to kill and loot respectively. Where the story was mostly just on the surface in Silver Princess, here it's worked more directly into the adventure, with ways for the players to learn more about the past of Cynidicea and become involved in long term efforts to halt its decline and even attempt to restore it. Adventure ideas are even provided for after the pyramid is fully explored and Zargon is defeated dealing with such matters as cure the Cynidiceans permanent hallucinatory state, wiping out Zargon's cult followers and ensuring he doesn't rise again, and attempting to restore the royal line. This one module could easily be made the basis for an entire campaign set in and below the pyramid.

Next week we'll keep on going with a look at adventure module B5: Horror on the Hill. Find out just what's so horrific, and why bargaining with kindly old grandmothers can be perilous indeed.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Thalen Reads A World Out of Time

I thought I was ready for anything, but this-- - Peter Corbell
In the year 1990, give or take a few, a man dying of cancer had himself frozen in desperate hope that he might be revived and cured in the future. 200 years later he awakes to find himself in an entirely new body, with no rights or property, force to work off a debt to the world-wide totalitarian state that revived him. So begins Larry Niven's 1976 novel A World Out of Time.

I've read a fair bit of Niven's other works, particularly the ones set in Known Space such as Ringworld and short stories collected in Neutron Star. This book is recognizably Niven, but noticeably different from those other works. Most noticeably there are no aliens involved at all. All the characters are humans, though there is the 'man out of time' element to make things seem alien to our protagonist.

Speaking of the protagonist, Peter Corbell is unlike your typical space hero. We never learn all that much about his past; he was married and had children, was an architect, and enjoyed to travel. That's pretty much everything we find out. His new body is even more of an enigma, a man who committed some crime against the State and had his personality wiped because of it. We do learn that Corbell is the fourth personality to have been placed in this body, the others didn't work out. Corbell is never portrayed as particularly impressive physically or mentally, he mostly makes it through the story by being more useful alive than dead.

For that matter, we learn little of the State that rules Earth in the year 2190. We know it's world-spanning and has begun looking towards planetary colonization to secure humanity's future. We learn that it holds a monopoly on the generation of energy on Earth, and thus all of its citizens are wholly dependent upon the State for their needs. It's heavily implied that the human population has skyrocketed over 200 years and that privacy is a thing of the past.

The state of Earth in 2190 is really only important as the springboard that propels Corbell into the real story. The job assigned to him is that of 'rammer', he will pilot a Bussard ramjet in a centuries long mission to seed a number of planets with algae in hopes of converting their reducing atmospheres into oxygen atmospheres suitable for human life. Once on his way, however, Corbell changes course and heads for the Galactic Center in hopes of using the time dilation aspects of relativistic speed to return millennia later when either the State has fallen or colonies might exist and have broken away. Ultimately a desperate attempt to return before the ship breaks down (it wasn't meant to maintain the speed Corbell needs for such long periods of time) results in a slingshot around the galaxy's central black hole, returning him to Earth 3 million years later.

In 3 million years the solar system has changed quite a lot. The Sun has expanded and is hotter (more than it should be), Earth now orbits Jupiter which is itself generating more heat than it ought, and the majority of Earth is parched and uninhabitably hot. Corbell arrives on this massively changed planet to find that civilization rose to technological heights, then fell leaving only the Antarctic continent inhabited by immortal prepubescent boys and a small population of men and women who are left to age normally for breeding purposes.

The gender politics of this story get kind of weird; Niven portrays a world where a form of immortality was discovered that only works prior to puberty and arrests one's aging at that point. Without sex to hold them together, the genders split into Girls and Boys with the Girls holding control over the sky, and thus space travel and weather while the Boys held the majority of the land. At some point the two sides went to war, resulting in the annihilation of the Girls and the Boys controlling what remains of Earth. Corbell's main goal after coming to this changed Earth becomes a search for a legendary form of immortality that worked for adults but was limited to only the elite.

A World Out of Time was an enjoyable enough book, but I wouldn't call it one of Niven's best. For a new reader I'd recommend his short stories or Ringworld as a better place to start. The coincidences necessary to move the story ahead (though somewhat explained eventually) strained my suspension of disbelief and, more importantly, none of the characters were particularly likable. If the book had ended with Earth's destruction I wouldn't have been particularly sad that any of the characters had died, and it might actually have been a more satisfying conclusion than what we actually get. There's plenty of interesting stuff throughout the book, but it just doesn't all come together quite right to make a satisfying whole.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Predictions for Heavensward 3.1 and Beyond

So this weekend we will be getting some sort of update regarding the next content patch for Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward. Most people are expecting to get a release date, and we will presumably find out more about the new raid and so forth. In the spirit of my previous prediction, I'm going to spin some wild theories about where things are going to go from here.

So first let's take a look at my previous prediction. I theorized that we would be facing the Scions in tempered form and collecting dark crystals after defeating them. Well, we've rescued one of the missing Scions now and, while definitely changed by the process, Y'shtola was not tempered and we didn't have to fight her. Also, rather than collecting new crystals the initial story had us restoring our connection to the existing crystals over the course of our adventure.

Getting lost in the Aether gives you a kicky new hairstyle. Who knew?

That said, we still haven't found out what Urianger and Elidibus were talking about and we still don't have any clue to the fate of the remaining four Scions. Also, the Warrior of Dark appears to be entering the fray at Elidibus' urging. So where might things go from here?

At first when faced with a new female Ascian (Igeyorhm) in the Heavensward story, I thought the body she had possessed might be Minfilia. Especially when our old friend Lahabrea showed back up at her side, consdering he was using Thancred as his body last time around. In the end though, we killed one of them and Thordan took out the other and neither body remained afterwards. I can't imagine we just unknowingly killed Minfilia and Thancred without realizing it afterwards, so I have to assume the Ascians were using some poor nameless saps who don't matter enough to leave corpses when killed.

At this point I'm expecting us to track down one more Scion per content patch. I would expect Minfilia to be the last of those given her leadership status. I'm guessing Thancred will be rescued in 3.1. First, Y'shtola's cast Flow in an attempt to rescue Thancred so now that we have Y'shtola back that gives us a link to follow to try and find Thancred. Second, Y'shtola and Thancred seemed to get less development in the Realm Reborn story, so bringing them back first and second gives us opportunity to work them more one on one without the others around to steal the limelight. Finally, an FFXIV event went live last night in Record Keeper featuring two of the Scions as recruitable characters. Those two Scions? Y'shtola and Thancred. Using Thancred there makes me believe they'll bringing him back into the game fairly soon.

He's back baby.

I still expect Dark crystals to come into the story in some way. At this point I'm guessing the Warrior of Darkness has a similar connection to Dark crystals of Zodiark as we do to the Light crystals of Hydaelyn. It's worth noting that the concept of the Warriors of Darkness originates in Final Fantasy III and you didn't fight them, you sought their aid against the Cloud of Darkness. We still don't quite know what Elidibus' deal is; he hasn't been as belligerent as the other Ascians. It's entirely possible that there's some greater awful out there that will need our combined effort to defeat. If that's the case I would expect that to be the final big fight of the expansion.

Finally, we still don't know what sort of deal Urianger and Elidibus have made. I still suspect that Moenbryda's death is going to have repercussions. It has occurred to me that Elidibus may be trying to offer Urianger a similar deal to what was offered to Tiamat. I just don't see Urianger falling for it. Perhaps he'll do something ill-advised thinking he can outsmart the Ascians? While considering Primals we haven't yet seen in FFXIV I did think of Brynhildr from FFXIII. I suppose it's possible Urianger could end up creating her in an attempt to bring back Moenbryda. Primals usually retain the name of the being they mimic though, so I don't know. If they did use Brynhildr I'm sure they'd heavily redesign her to better fit the FFXIV aesthetic.

I would expect less Transformer, more valkyrie.
Finally, I fully expect us to end up going to the moon. Possibly that will be a later 24-man raid after the one going in this patch that takes place on the Void Ark. The Void Ark seems like a reasonable method of transport to the moon. 24-man content is usually fairly divorced from the story content though, and with the moon seeming to be linked to the Ascian threat and the Warrior of Darkness I would expect it to be part of the main storyline. Maybe Cid's next fabulous invention will be the Lunar Whale. That would be pretty fantastic.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Power Outage

I've gotten in the habit of putting together a blog post in my head / as bits and pieces in the morning and then cleaning it up and posting it at lunch. Mostly that's worked pretty well, but then comes a day like yesterday where I'm in meetings all day with barely time to grab lunch between. Combined with not feeling like I have any one thing to say a lot about I ended up skipping the day. Hey, I never promised daily updates after August after all.

Currently I'm mostly keeping to a 6 day a week schedule with Sunday as a day off. I've missed a day this week and last, but that still leaves 5 days of posts, which I feel pretty good about it. I've considered moving my book reviews to Fridays and just doing weekdays, but the more I think about it shooting for 6 days a week and accepting 5 when life interferes with a day is something I can probably maintain.

You know what also interferes with a post? A frickin' power outage. I went home for lunch and intended to finish up this post with a few screenshots. Not five minutes after I walked in the door, I heard a bang in the distance and the power went out. It's still out now, so I guess I'll use images from the Internet for now and consider replacing them with my own this evening. Assuming I have power then.

Fallout: New Vegas continues to monopolize my gaming time. It's interesting how Obsidian retuned things to make the game more difficult. Fallout 3, once you understood the game, really wasn't a difficult game at all. Encounters at higher levels mostly were just big bags of hit points that took forever to wear down while Dogmeat tanked for me. Part of this was due to how quickly you would find high quality weapons and armor. I'm level 12 in New Vegas and I've only recently gotten hold of some reinforced leather armor; by this point in Fallout 3 I had a unique set of combat armor.

New Vegas also has made perks more valuable by reducing how often you get them. In Fallout 3 you get one every level so you can get all the really important ones and still have room to pick up a bunch of extras. New Vegas gives you one every other level, so you have to pick and choose. The very best perks were also rebalanced to not be so overpowering (looking at you Grim Reaper's Sprint). In Fallout 3 I would have picked up Intense Training multiple times by level 12; in New Vegas I just chose it for the first time to bump my Luck to 6.

I've still yet to run into any Brotherhood of Steel, but I did meet my first representative of the Followers of the Apocalypse last night when I took on the job of getting an old solar power plant up and running. It's good to see the Followers still around and holding to their ideals of restoring knowledge and technology for the good of all. It means there's at least one faction I can wholeheartedly support.

I chose not to use the plant to power a space based laser cannon.
Maybe next playthrough.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Travels in New Vegas

I've been a fan of the Fallout series pretty much from the beginning. I defeated the Master back in the day, took down President Richardson and the Enclave, and restored water to the Capital Wasteland. Despite my initial reservations about the change from isometric to first-person gameplay, Fallout 3 became one of my evergreen games that I tend to go back to over and over. So it's kind of strange that I've not played Fallout: New Vegas until now.

Part of the reason, I think, is my tendency to want to do things in order. It's the same thing that kept me from ever playing Oblivion because I hadn't played the previous two Elder Scrolls games. In this case there were still things in Fallout 3 I hadn't done, particularly in the north part of the Capital Wasteland, and DLC that I haven't touched at all. Despite that I decided that, especially with Fallout 4 on the way, it was time to head back west and see what the Vegas area is like.

Fallout: Now with giant dinosaurs.

In a lot of ways the changes from Fallout 3 to New Vegas remind me of the move from Fallout to Fallout 2. For example New Vegas uses a combination karma and reputation system much like Fallout 2 did. Now I have to consider my relationship with multiple settlements and factions in addition to my overall good or evil level. So far I've met the Powder Gangers (they hate me so much now), NCR (we're pals), and the Legion (oh my god these guys are awful). I know the Brotherhood of Steel is active in the area as well, and it doesn't sound like they and the NCR get on too well. It also sounds like they're the old school insular jackasses I remember from the old days rather than the happy shiny DC Brotherhood.

I am trusting this robot less and less as the game proceeds.

Increased complexity seems to be a recurring thing in New Vegas. Multiple types of ammo for each weapon instead of just one each, masses of crafting recipes for food, equipment and more instead of just a few weapon schematics. It was a little overwhelming at first. I still haven't really made use of any special ammunition, though I imagine it'll be pretty useful against stronger and heavily armored foes.

I'm also definitely beginning to get the feeling that this is the true sequel to the previous Fallout games. I've begun encountering nightkin super mutants, and have heard references to the Master from the original game. I'm pretty sure I've met the daughter of one of my companions from Fallout 2 as well. She certainly drinks like him.

Overall, about ten or so hours in I'm greatly enjoying New Vegas. Now if you'll excuse me there are some ghouls who want my help flying to the moon. I just want them to not be here, so I am on board with this plan.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Mystara Monday: Module B3 - Palace of the Silver Princess

This week we continue our look at the B series of adventure modules with the infamous module B3: Palace of the Silver Princess, published in 1981. There are actually two versions of this module although very few physical copies of the original version, which can be recognized by its orange cover, exist. A few years back though, Wizards of the Coast decided to make that original version freely available in digital form on their website. Wizards no longer hosts a copy but plenty of other locations on the internet do.

What I have here, however, is the second version, which credits both Tom Moldvay and Jean Wells as writers. Stories differ as to why the original edition was immediately recalled, but blame is usually placed on both the quality of the adventure itself, disturbing elements regarding a couple of the new monsters presented in the adventure, and 'questionable art'. One of those disturbing monsters is the decapus, shown above on the cover of the adventure. In the second version of the adventure it's simply a sort of forest dwelling tree-octopus. In the original version, however, it's capable of producing an illusion of itself as a beautiful woman being taunted by nine ugly men.

Whatever the reason for the recall, Tom Moldvay heavily rewrote the module to create the version that was eventually released. Where the original was a typical for the time delve into a castle simply to hunt treasure, the new version had the adventurers summoned shortly after the castle has fallen victim to some sort of curse so that they can try to break the curse and rescue the eponymous Silver Princess.

According to the backstory a giant ruby was recently found by dwarves while mining, and they presented it to the princess as a gift. Shortly thereafter, the entire palace was imprisioned within a ruby glow, and the valley over which the princess ruled was struck with disease and decay. The players are tasked with entering the palace and finding a way to save the kingdom. The ruby, it turns out, is linked to an evil extradimensional being called Arik and is being used by him to forge a passage between dimensions. Arik's power has driven some of the palace's residents insane, attracted many monsters, and imprisoned the princess within the ruby.

The adventure itself is presented in three parts. The first is a 'programmed adventure' intended to introduce new dungeon masters and players to the game. It's basically a choose your own adventure covering the first few rooms of the palace. Past that, the module shifts to a more typical room by room breakdown of a two level dungeon. Like a lot of early dungeon crawls, the monsters and rooms seem kind of random, with little connecting one room to the next. White apes in the jail cells? Three foot long cobra in the linen closet? Why? Who knows? Don't question it, just kill them and take the treasure they're guarding.

Also, there's a guy named Travis. He's a real jerk.
That said, there are some memorable rooms and encounters like a bathroom with magic gems to fill the bathtub, a garden overgrown with carnivorous plants, and a pair of thieves who got caught in the palace when the curse befell it and just want to steal what they can and get out. The backstory of the module also alludes to a heroic order of dragon riding knights that could be used in further adventures or as a group the party might attempt to ally with or join in the future.

Palace of the Silver Princess is a step forward in the evolution of the D&D adventure module; it provides a reason beyond pure greed for the player characters to be adventuring and presents a goal beyond simply killing all the monsters and taking their loot. We've still got a ways to go before we see modules that truly tell a story though. That said, at the age of 10 I thought it was pretty great. It was probably my second favorite of the B modules, behind Rahasia.

Next week we continue with a look at module B4: The Lost City. Join me for drug addled mask wearing pyramid dwellers, an evil cthulhoid monstrosity, and invisible snakes.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Thalen Reads The Shepherd's Crown

Mind how you go. - Terry Pratchett
This was a really hard book to read. Not because it was bad, or because I didn't want to read it. It was hard because for over twenty years I've been either reading a new Discworld novel or looking forward to the next one. And now that's over. Today's book is Terry Pratchett's 41st and last novel of Discworld, The Shepherd's Crown.

I've been a huge fan of the Discworld for the majority of my life, ever since a friend handed me a copy of Guards! Guards! and told me I should read it. Terry Pratchett was on the very short list of authors whose books I always bought on the day of release, sight unseen. I have long been of the opinion that the worst of Pratchett's works is still well above the average and entirely worth the reading.

The Shepherd's Crown is not Pratchett at his height. How could it be, when he was no longer capable of writing and had to rely on an assistant to put his words to paper? Some transitions are a bit rough, some scenes don't quite seem to fit. But the overall story is strong and moving, and the scenes that really matter are deftly written. I was in tears almost immediately on starting the second chapter and by the end I was sobbing. I can't recommend The Shepherd's Crown to new readers, it's both not Pratchett's best and very reliant on what's come before, but for those already invested it's a good and appropriate ending to one of the longest running fantasy series in history.


Although it was the third Discworld novel, an argument can be made that Equal Rites was where Discworld truly began. It's where Pratchett shifted from parody to satire, and it's where he really found the tone and feel that he would retain for the remainder of the series. Equal Rites was a story about a girl who wanted to be a wizard; and it was the first book to feature possibly Pratchett's greatest character, Granny Weatherwax. Fitting then, that The Shepherd's Crown introduces a boy who wants to be a witch, and has us say goodbye to Granny.

In the second chapter, Granny Weatherwax dies.

It's something I've been half expecting for a while now; the obvious final challenge in Tiffany Aching's career, the loss of her mentor. Chapter two is probably the best (and simultaneously most heart-breaking) chapter of the entire book as we follow Granny making all the preparations for her passing (witches and wizards get to know when they're going to die a little early so they can be ready).

Granny's death is what sets the rest of the book in motion, with Tiffany having to deal with suddenly being Granny's chosen successor (witches don't go in for leaders, but Granny was the witch they looked too to not lead them.) Also, with Granny gone, the elves (nasty pieces of work indeed) see the opportunity to make another attempt to break through from their parasite dimension and have free reign on the Disc.

Mostly this is a book about things changing. Steam engines and locomotives have come to the Disc, and technology continues to advance. The elves are remnants of the old times, and they no longer have any place there. It's telling that the ultimate fight against the elves is very one-sided; they never stand a chance. Their time is done. New ideas are embraced and Tiffany realizes that she can never be Granny Weatherwax, but she shouldn't try. She has to be Tiffany Aching.

Like Granny Weatherwax, the Discworld is dead. We'll never see another book, and we'll never know where Pratchett might have taken it next. But also like Granny, the Discworld isn't gone. It's memory stays with us through our fandom, through the books and through the adaptations to screen and stage. Terry Pratchett is dead, but he remains with us through his writing and the lessons he's taught us over the years. Farewell once more, Sir Pterry. Mind how you go. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Gotta Catch 'Em All

By now I'm sure most of you are aware of Pokémon Go, the recently announced ARG being developed by Niantic. If you've previously heard of Niantic it's probably due to their current game / tech experiment Ingress. Where Pokémon Go will have you traveling to various locations to catch Pokémon, Ingress has you travel to locations to capture portals and establish territorial control fields by connecting them.

I played Ingress for a while, starting last year when I first got a smartphone (yes I'm a late adopter). It's a fascinating and compelling game, but in the long term there wasn't all that much there. Part of the problem is that where I live is not at all a pedestrian friendly city, so playing required driving around to get to various portals. The other problem, which ultimately was why I decided to stop playing, is that Ingress is an entirely PvP game. Players are all on either a blue or a green team and compete to control territory. In practice, one team seems to dominate in most areas with the other scrabbling for resources. A PvP game that requires traveling to real life locations also opens up the possibility of stalking and actual conflict; a combination of serious players being serious and stories of real life altercations between players was part of what led me to stop playing.

Having a portal by my house sounds like an utter nightmare.

I'm hoping that Pokémon Go will be more of a fully cooperative game. Obviously there will have to be some sort of duel mechanic, but if Niantic avoids players having to compete over resources I think it will be for the best. I'm actually curious if there will be resource requirements to catch Pokémon. Will it be necessary to find / purchase Pokéballs, potions, and so forth? It seems like a logical part of the game; we'll see if an how its implemented.

The thing I really liked about Ingress was how it led me to discover interesting places that I never knew existed in my own hometown. Pokémon Go has the opportunity to do the same for a wider fanbase. In Ingress portals are supposed to be associated with unique points of interest. New portals get submitted by players, and there's some gaming of the system that goes on. I know of a 'memorial wall' portal nearby that's really just a wall near enough to where a number of serious players work that they can guard and collect resources from the portal throughout the day. In Pokémon Go I would assume that Pokémon will simply be placed by Niantic; hopefully a lot of them will be in places that are interesting in and of themselves. Not having the territory control aspect would also remove a major limit on placement; there's no real downside to having a lot of similar Pokémon all near each other.

One of the fascinating things about Ingress is how popular something that is ultimately an ongoing experiment in gamifying Google Maps has become. The fact that it's free obviously doesn't hurt, but there are massive community meetups and events, and many players travel hundreds or thousands of miles to capture out of the way portals. Imagine now combining that with a proven IP with tens of millions of existing fans. If done well, this has the potential to be the new biggest MMO ever.

I'm hoping that Niantic has learned the proper lessons from Ingress and that, combined with the greater resources associated with a true commercial game using a proven and massively popular IP, they'll put together something truly impressive. For now I'm cautiously optimistic, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on the project. Maybe a year from now I'll be out catching Pokémon.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bullet Hell

Back when we played Astebreed for the Aggrochat Game Club, Ashgar also recommended the game Jigoku Kisetsukan as a more traditional example of the bullet hell genre that was free on Steam. Last night, staring at Steam and not wanting to start up anything requiring serious thought or time commitment, I decided to try it out.

I'm not entirely new to bullet hell shooters, though I'm nowhere near the aficionado that Ash is. There are quite a few examples of the genre on Kongregate, and I've played a number of them over the years, though never with any real focus. The gameplay is generally pretty similar throughout; you have a primary shot (often upgradable), a special attack that clears out all the bullets on the screen, and a button to slow your movement for maneuvering through tight spaces. That last one is crucial as the real challenge of a bullet hell shooter is dodging the insane storm of projectiles that get thrown at you. Most of the time in a boss fight my focus is squarely on my character to the point of having only the vaguest idea of where on the screen the boss is.

This is the second boss. On easy. It gets much, much harder.

The available characters in Jigoku Kisetsukan each have different attack styles that necessitate playing them somewhat differently. For instance the catgirl has a wide but short range shot that forces you to play further up the screen to keep enemies in range. The alien girl has a constant laser that narrows and powers up when in focus mode, so you have to pay more attention to where enemies are to keep damage on them. The starting character, some sort of minor forest deity or something, has a good middle of the road shot (wider than the laser and able to hit from the length of the screen) and gains homing shots when powered up. Those homing shots are especially useful since they let you focus entirely on dodging bullets and still be able to do at least some damage.

The story has something to do with trying to stop some sort of incipient darkness. I didn't really catch it. Mostly the motivation of the characters other than the primary one seem to be 'wander around and get into fights with other beings that look remarkably like teenage girls due to misunderstandings'. The story's not the point anyway; the point is to try and advance further through a combination of quick reflexes and pattern memorization. Much like a rhythm game now that I think about it; just themed as a shoot-em-up rather than a musical game.

Here we see an immortal diety and a centuries old extraterrestrial being.

Overall, it's a fun game with decent, if somewhat lo-fi graphics, (when you can actually look at them) and a catchy chiptune soundtrack. I would consider it worth the cost for a couple bucks, so for free I definitely recommend it if you have any interest in bullet hell shooters at all. And really, how many other games let you fly around blasting robots with a cat on your head? Actually, knowing Japan, probably quite a few.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


I hope everyone had a good weekend. I had grand plans of a four day weekend to get some things done and relax; instead I spent most of that time sick. Frustrating, but what can you do? It meant I got some reading done, and once I felt semi-decent I was able to do some gaming.

Firstly, I joined the Shadowrun game that Tamrielo has been running for a while now. It had been mentioned to me that the party was perhaps lacking in information gathering capability, so I put together a character loosely based on the Occult Investigator example in the book. I focused primarily on spellcasting and conjuring with a specialization in detection spells. I feel like I can still be useful in combat though, tossing fireballs and summoning spirits. My first run with the team went pretty well; we'll see if the rest of the long night goes as smoothly.

Second, I played through Wolfenstein: The New Order. Twice. Okay, not two full playthroughs. I picked up where I had left off when I started playing a couple months ago and got distracted; I had made it up to the train depot and was getting murdered by SuperSoldaten. Pro tip: once you can ignore the two SuperSoldaten that jump out of crates near the end of the level and just run to the train and GTFO.

In any case, I finished up that first playthrough and decided that I wanted to see the other timeline and pick up the collectibles I missed the first time through. It is amazing how much of a difference having most of the perks makes in that game. The first time through there were a few places that gave me a lot of trouble, particularly near the end. Second time through, I pretty much breezed on by. Having all the secondary fire options and laser upgrades was hugely helpful too. Once I realized using the scope made the laser fire a massive shot that could take down nearly anything my life got a lot easier.

These jerks were much less of an issue the second time around.

I was a little disappointed that the two timelines were mostly identical. I had hoped that the game might branch at some point or have some alternate levels for certain chapters, but apart from some shortcuts that are only available in one timeline or the other it's pretty much the same. Even the ending is entirely identical either way. The difference is pretty much entirely in the cutscenes in the middle of the game and which of two resistance members is present. On the whole, I think I preferred the Wyatt timeline; Fergus' snark started to wear on me after a while and I preferred J to Tekla. I definitely thought his final stand against the Nazis was cooler.

Gosh, I can't imagine what 'J' could be short for.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Mystara Monday: Module B2 - The Keep on the Borderlands

Here it is, arguably the most well-known adventure module in D&D history. Today we're taking a look at Dungeons & Dragons adventure module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

The Keep on the Borderlands was written by Gary Gygax as a new introductory module to go with the D&D Basic Rules. It replaced In Search of the Unknown in the original Basic Rules set and was included with the Moldvay edition of the Basic Rules throughout its publication run. The Mentzer revision of the Basic Rules did away with module B2 in favor of the castle adventure included in the Dungeon Masters Rulebook. If I had to guess, I'd bet that it was decided that a simpler adventure should be included due to the younger audience that edition was aimed at.

Being an introductory module, the first few pages consist of much the same information that was provided at the beginning of module B1; advice for the dungeon master, information on tracking time, how to divide treasure and compute experience, and so forth. Of particular note, it's stated that the module is designed for 6 to 9 players, and is intended to require multiple sessions to complete. B2 has a reputation as a challenging adventure and I'd bet that more than a few under-manned parties found themselves in way over their heads. The adventure adamantly states that smaller parties must have the services of several men-at-arms made available to them and should be advised to keep to the lower caves.

The eponymous Keep is presented as a base of operations for the players situated near the border of 'The Realm' where the forces of Chaos are forever trying to invade. Shops, temples and so on are detailed with NPCs to interact with (although not a single one is given an actual name, titles only here). The intention is clearly that the players can use the keep as a staging point to first clear out the nearby Caves of Chaos and then go further afield to whatever dungeons the DM comes up with next. In practice, I suspect a lot of parties began murdering their way through the keep for all the nifty magical loot within.

The actual adventure area is made up of nearly a dozen caves scattered in a sort of box canyon area not far from the keep. Most of the caves are populated with humanoid tribes of various types who have ongoing alliances and enmities with each other that the players can take advantage of if they're particularly clever. It's easy for the players to get in over their heads here since a lot of the tribes will call others to their aid if given a chance; in particular the goblin tribe has an agreement with a nearby ogre who is entirely capable of making some level 1 characters exceptionally dead. There's also one cave populated by an owlbear and three grey oozes.

You'd be cranky too if you looked like that.
We're still very much in the old school of D&D here; the players are sent out to kill monsters and take their stuff without any real plot beyond 'they're monsters, they have cool stuff'. B2 is a step up from B1 though in that it sets up opportunities for some memorable encounters (the aforementioned mercenary ogre, an evil priest with a veritable army of undead, an imprisoned medusa, and so on).

We're still quite a few years away from Mystara coming into existence at this point, but it's worth noting that the Keep was given an official location in the Mystara campaign world. Like most low level adventures it's placed in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, in this case in the mountainous region in the far north of the Duchy.

Unlike module B1, I've run Keep on the Borderlands a few times. Not many, as I tend to prefer to either use more plot-driven modules or write my own for early play, but I've definitely made use of the Caves of Chaos. Curiously enough, the parties I ran it for were actually pretty competent so I don't have any stories of utter PC failure in the face of overwhelming odds. Knowing when to retreat is, I think, the most important lesson this module teaches; there's no way an adventuring party will clear the entire cave complex in a single attempt and some encounters really require the players to be prepared ahead of time to realistically handle them.

Next week we'll continue our trek through the B-series modules with a rather infamous one. Join me for a look at Adventure Module B3 - Palace of the Silver Princess and learn why the terrifying decapus is a whole lot creepier than you might have thought.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Thalen Reads The Martian

Hell yeah I'm a botanist! Fear my botany powers! - Mark Watney
When a massive sandstorm endangers the third manned mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is tragically killed during the evacuation and his crewmates are forced to leave his body behind.

There's just one thing.

Mark's still alive.

The Martian, by Andy Weir, opens shortly after Mark wakes up alone on Mars and follows him as he deals with the difficulties of being stranded, not just on a deserted island or in the harsh wilderness, but on another planet. When the crew evacuated they left everything apart from the MAV (Mars ascent vehicle). So Mark has a pressurized habitat with working oxygen and water reclamation equipment as well as enough food to last him about 400 days. Too bad the next Mars mission isn't scheduled to land for four years, and nobody on Earth has any idea they need to rescue him in any case. The primary communication equipment was destroyed by the storm, and the backups were in the MAV.

On the up side, Mark's areas of expertise are botany and engineering. He'll need both as he tries to find a way to supplement his food supplies, come up with a way to alert someone that he's still alive, and figure out how he would rendezvous with a rescue mission even if one did arrive. For a book with no antagonist apart from the environment, this was an often tense page turner. Not everything goes to plan, and Mark has to think fast on more than one occasion.

Considering that we're pretty much following Mark as he fights alone against a hostile environment, it's a good thing that he's a very likable character. He's clever and willing to take calculated risks without being unbelievably hyper-competent. He's also a smartass and deals with stress by cracking jokes, so what could have been a relatively straightforward (and dry) survival tale is in fact often very funny. The majority of the book is presented as log entries over the course of his time on Mars written in a very conversational tone.

Weir made a special effort while writing The Martian to ensure that everything in it was scientifically accurate. No bug-eyed aliens or future technology here; everything is within the reach of modern science. The book actually started as a thought experiment by Weir to plan out a manned Mars mission and consider the ways things could go wrong and the contingency plans that would need to be in place.

I tore through this book in just a couple of days; it was that good. I absolutely and unreservedly recommend The Martian to any science fiction or outdoor survival fan. If you've seen the trailer for the upcoming movie version, everything in there is remarkably accurate to the book. Believe me, it's worth your time.

Next week's book is going to be a rough one. Not because it's terribly long or because I expect to dislike it. It's a book I've been anticipating for most of two years. It's also the last book by one of my all-time favorite authors. Next up, I'm reading the last novel of Discworld, The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett. Tune in next Saturday to see if I can make it through the whole thing without crying (Spoiler: I can't).

Friday, September 4, 2015

I've Got the Funk

I appear to be in a bit of a gaming funk lately. I'm not burned out on games necessarily, but nothing really seems appealing enough to be worth the effort to actually start up and play. Last night I logged into Magic Duels long enough to finish up a couple of daily quests, but after that I quit out and just stared at my Steam library for awhile. I considered trying out Diablo 3 since that's where everyone else seems to be right now, but it sounds like I need the expansion to access a lot of the new features and that thing's still $40. I can't really justify that for something I'll probably play for a couple weeks and then let lay fallow.

No, not that Funk. But thank you Old Gregg.

If nothing else I need to play more Tron 2.0 since, you know, it was my choice for the month. I have played a decent way in at this point and it matches up reasonably well with my memories. The fact that the default crouch key ('C) appears to also be set up to take Steam screenshots is driving me slowly mad though. Steam's settings don't show it as being mapped to that, and remapping the crouch key in game just made the space bar start taking screenshots. I don't even know at this point. I may just have to use the external launcher that the unofficial patch includes. But I want to be able to take screenshots, and I'm pretty sure there's no built-in screenshot function in Tron 2.0. Gah. (Edit: I have been informed in the comments that 'F8' will take screenshots in .bmp format. Problem solved!)

Fabulous hopping action!

Mostly I've been reading. I've been reading through old D&D supplements for my Monday feature, and I finished reading The Martian, which I'm looking forward to telling you all about tomorrow. I suppose there are worse ways to be spending my time. In any case, if this nominally gaming blog seems light on game related posts lately, now you know why. I'm sure it'll pass in its own time.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Value of Pessimism

I'm an optimist by nature. In the words of Miles, I like to like things. You're unlikely to see me being negative about things very often on this blog simply because I'd much rather spend my time finding things to be positive about. This isn't to say that I love everything uncritically, I just tend to keep criticism to myself.

With notable exceptions

Sometimes though, you have to be the pessimist. I'm running into this at my day job currently; a project is having some rough patches and I'm finding myself needing to be a critical voice in the face of an optimism that I fear might have us go live with something that doesn't do the job. It may be my fears are unfounded (I certainly hope so), but you have to take the worst case into account along with the best.

I don't enjoy being a downer, but sometimes everyone else is chasing rainbows and I'm the only one left to say 'but what if?' What's the backup plan? How do we recover if this fails? It's something I've had to learn myself over the years after having to scramble when something blew up in my face. Maybe I'm developing wisdom as I age.

Pfft, yeah right.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Convention Time

While half of the Aggrochat crew were off at PAX this past weekend, I also attended a convention right near home. Saturday was the annual River City Comic Expo, and this year a friend and I decided to check it out. I hadn't been to a con since MidSouthCon in 2007 and just like then it was the guests that convinced me to go.

It was a relatively small convention; one big combination dealer's room / gaming area and a couple smaller rooms for panels. Plenty of dealers to check out, and I ended up spending about $15 on singles from one guy's quarter boxes. I picked up quite a few older New Mutants issues, issues 2-7 of Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby's Destroyer Duck, and most of the initial color run of Zot!, along with various and sundry other things. I was especially happy to find so many Zot! issues since the only collection of the color issues is long out of print, and Scott McCloud doesn't seem to have any desire to reprint them again.

Those first 10 issues were amazing pulpy fun

There were lots of cosplayers in attendance which in part drove home just how out of touch with modern anime I am. People dressed as comic book characters I could identify no problem, even the ones using TV or video game versions of costumes. There were plenty of people whose costumes clearly came from anime, though, and I think I recognized maybe a quarter of them. I am no longer in touch with the kids today. Woe is me.

The real draw, though, was the guests. The first I found and talked to was Bob McLeod who is probably best known for creating the New Mutants with Chris Claremont. He's also done art for any number of books for Marvel and DC both. I ended up getting a signed print from him of a lovely piece of the original New Mutants fighting Sentinels as well as a booklet of con sketches that he was selling.

Just beautiful

The other guest that I could not wait to meet was Gail Simone. She and her husband were both there, and were absolutely wonderful to chat with. I took the opportunity to let her know how much I enjoyed her work and that she's one of the creators whose presence in superhero comics keeps me optimistic about the medium. Her work on Birds of Prey and Secret Six is just stellar. From her I got an autographed hardcover copy of the Conan / Red Sonja miniseries she wrote for Dark Horse.

In all, an enjoyable few hours spent among my people. I'm looking forward to seeing who next year's guests will be; maybe I'll end up making this a regular thing.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Blaugust No More

The day has come, the month has ended, Blaugust has run its course. This was my second year participating, and on the whole I think it went very well. Last year I often found myself desperately trying to come up with a blog post at the very end of the day; this year I only posted in the late evening once, and most days I had my post written the previous night and scheduled to go live in the morning for prime 'I should be working but I'm looking at blogs' viewing.

Of course, it could always be worse

Coming up with a couple of ongoing weekly features has been a huge help this time around. Knowing that my topics for Saturday and Monday are already set and being able to work on them ahead of time (not that I'm very good at doing that) makes an incredible amount of difference. Not only that, it means I've got a regular set of content that I need to add to and which may serve as interesting back-reading for any new readers I pick up.

Readership was definitely up over the month (though given my lack of posts in previous months that's not necessarily saying much). Having folks comment on posts here and there made an amazing difference too; it's always nice knowing your writing is being read. As much as I'm ultimately writing for myself, I wouldn't do it in a public manner if I didn't want to share.

Ultimately, where last year at this time I was feeling burned out on blogging, this year I'm feeling energized about the whole process. I've still got ideas coming, and I've got cool books and D&D adventures to write about for years. I might end up backing down to a lighter schedule, but for right now I'm sticking with every day. Here's to another month of blogging!