In case you wondered what became of the Dwarves who survived the Battle of the Five Armies, wonder no more. And the chap isn't just messing around, the fates come from old Professor T himself.
March 3, 2015
The Battle for Haven
A lot of books and movies have an obligatory part where the hero is brought low. In Fellowship of the Ring it's when Frodo is wounded on Weathertop. In Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan it's when Khan heavily damages the Enterprise in a sneak attack. This is Dragon Age's moment. Our heroes are residing in Haven when they're attacked by the Red Templars, Templars who have gone over to the enemy. We've damaged their army with a trebuchet but we need a second shot to trigger an avalanche and bury the invaders. Unfortunately the Templars have taken it. Being alChandler I won't let that stand:
That's right, they've called in air support. At this point our heroes hit a low point and I cut away.
March 2, 2015
I'm a Rift Closing Motherfucker
The world of Dragon Age: Inquisition is dominated by the conflict between Mages and Templars. In Ferelden mages have to join a circle. In the circle they're cred for and watched over by the Templars. Mages that refuse to join a circle are hunted down and stripped of their powers, think prefrontal lobotomy and you've got the result. My character, alChandler was a circle mage and he was cool with it.
But the Templars began to treat the mages more like prisoners then wards. A conflict broke out at the end of Dragon Age 2. At the beginning if this game the church summoned mages and Templars to a conference. There was an attack that killed everybody except me. Naturally Cassandra the Templar wanted to kill me until she saw evidence that I wasn't involved. That and the fact that I could close the fade rifts. Rifts are opening that allow demons into Ferelden. I'm traveling the land closing them with the mark on my left hand. Nobody knows how I got this power but it's effective and it's cool looking in action.
Cassandra and I have formed the unfortunately named Inquisition. It's an organization open to everyone, mages included. In fact I've recruited most of the rebel mages to my side, something that has pissed the remaining Templars off no end.
So I'm leveling a bit, closing some rifts and finishing some quests. I'm level 10 and I'd like to be 12 before I tackle the main rift that's causing all the others. Plus, once I hit 11 I can use a nifty new fire staff I modded. Because, much as I hate crafting, you can make yourself some cool shit. So life is pretty good about now.
March 1, 2015
Famous Last Words
This is the first movie of Ken, Jack and me playing Left for Dead 2. There are one or two more to follow.
February 28, 2015
The first game to offer true first person perspective was Ultima Underworld back in 1992. It was create by a studio called Blue Sky Productions. You might not have heard of them under that name but the studio changed their name to Looking Glass and you might have heard of those guys, they did System Shock and the first first person stealth gameThief: The Dark Project
A bunch of ex Looking Glass guys kickstarted a sequel to Ultima Underworld called Underworld Ascendant. They got the $600,000 they wanted and I threw in $20 of that. I'm not big on Kickstarting projects but some of my happiest gaming experiences came from Looking Glass.
It's strange but I just realized that the first generation of game designers, the people who created for the Apple 2, the Atari 800 and the Commodore 64 are my age or older. Very strange.
At any rate, I'm posting their video here, not to drum up donations, they're fully funded, but to show you what they're all about.
February 27, 2015
I'm coming off a seven hour jag of Dragon Age: Inquisition. In that time I liberated Redcliffe from the northern mages who took it over. It was kind of strange. The leader of the occupation, Alexius offers to parley with you. So I confer with my advisers and we pull a double cross. he, in turn double crosses me. Summoning a rift to destroy me. But another mage, Dorian, counteracts the spell and instead of killing me Alexius' spell sends Dorian and me one year into the future. The land is overrun with demons, Alexius is mad and the rest of my party are sorta undead.
Long story short is that the other semiundead party members sacrifice themselves so that I can return to my own time and prevent this future from happening. I worked and now the southern mages are on my side and Alexius is in prison.
It was actually a classic Bioware dungeon crawl and Bioware dungeon crawls are a lot of fun. When I logged off I was in a swamp called the Fallow Mire. I wanted to go up a level or two before I tackled the next major set piece. Along the way Dorian got the impression that I'm attracted to him. So that's going to be a little strange for me.
I'm still adjusting to how big this world is. The Hinterlands, where I've been questing, is bigger then all of Dragon Age 2. It's big enough so that if I'm a little underpowered for a fight, or just don't have the skills, I can go up a couple of levels elsewhere and come back. That's standard for the Elder Scrolls series but a new thing for Bioware. I didn't think they could pull it off but they did a splendid job.
In short, I'm having a good time and that's what this is all about, isn't it?
February 27, 2015
Neill Blomkamp and Arthur C. Clarke
In Sir Arthur's book 2001: A Space Odyssey HAL and company are heading of to Saturn, not Jupiter. That was the original destination until Kubrick realized how difficult and expensive it would be to do rings. So the destination was changed.
Then Clarke wrote the sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two. In the book the Discovery did indeed go to Jupiter. And the novel ends with an epilogue set in 20,001. That as contradicted by the events in 3001: The Final Odyssey. Clarke never wasted time trying to explain the contradictions. Instead each book takes place in its own universe. And that is probably how you should look at Blomkamp's Alien.
Now, like a lot of people I've little use for Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. And Prometheus seemed to contradict some of the "ahem" lore from the four Alien films.
After Prometheus I washed my hands of the franchise but I've seen District 9 and it was a damn good movie. So I'm going to assume that the events of Alien 3, Alien Resurrection and Prometheus all took place in their own separate universes. And in another universe Ripley and Jonesy were picked up and she got a big cash settlement from
the Weyland-Yutani people and now she and the cat live in a lovely brownstone in Brooklyn. I say that because whatever Blomkamp has in store for Ripley can't be good and I like to think that she had a happy ending in at least one timeline.
Jonsey, age 13.
February 26, 2015
The two characters are Funky himself and his best friend Les. They're both in their 50s. Tom Batiuk, the strip's creator is 67. I posted the strip because I've never heard those things called smart pads before. I've heard them called tablets mostly and occasionally pads but not smart pads. A quick search for the term leads to Auto-geek where they're selling smart pads to help polish your car.
To be fair, the search did result in some pictures of tablets labeled smart pads but I'm curious, is the term smart pad widely used?
February 25, 2015
My Son Is Missing
In Dragon Age Inquisition there are a lot of missing persons quests. You know the drill, the land is troubled, factions are fighting and there are a lot of refugees. So as the Herald of Andraste, the guy who can close the rifts that allow demons into our world, I get a lot of requests to find this one or that one. Inevitably whoever the missing party is, they're dead. At this point I don't know why I even bother. I should take the quest, go to the pub for a couple of hours, come back and report that your son/wife/brother is dead. It would save me a lot of time.
I'm getting a bit better in combat. Since I'm a mage enemy fighters will try to take me out first, as well they should. So I've become good at hitting the Y key. That tells my party to attack my target. Unlike Gandalf, I'm not allowed to wield a sword, a hold over from AD&D rules. I never got that. I mean a mage isn't going to be good with a sword but the basic idea, grab the blunt end and go stab staby stab with the pointy end is fairly obvious. But alChandler can't do that so when the two Templars go after him he yells for help. I'm actually pleased that the AI considers me enough of a threat to send two fighters after me.
February 22, 2015
Paul Schweitzer the Typewriter Repair Guy
He repairs typewriters, he's been doing it since 1959. What surprised me is that a lot of his business comes from movies and television. You need a bunch of working typewriters for Marvel's Agent Carter? Paul Schweitzer will hook you up.
February 22, 2015
The Nvidia Lawsuit
Recently I bought a Nvidia GTX 970 card. It comes with 4GB of video RAM. Now here's the crux of the biscuit, the last 512MB of memory is accessed at a slower speed then the other 3.5GB. The GTX 980 also has 4GB of RAM. It can access all 4GB at the same speed. But the difference is the 970 cost $350 and the 980 costs $600.
When I bought the card I knew about the 3.5GB thing. I bought it anyway and I'm satisfied with my purchase. A lot of people aren't and they're suing Nvidia. Slashdot has the usual nuanced discussion on the matter.
Now, Nvidia admits that it it initially posted the wrong specs for the 970. So does that warrant a lawsuit? Obviously at least one law firm thinks so. Me, I knew I what I was getting. I just played several hours of Dragon Age Inquisition with the visuals cranked up and nary a stutter. Now, I'm not going to complain if two years from now I get a $50 Steam credit courtesy of Nvidia, but I can honestly say I've no complaints.
By the way, to establish a camp in the east I had to take on thre parties of bandits. It took me five tries to defeat the first bunch but once I did that the next two groups went down easily. Kind of wish I got footage of that last fight.
February 21, 2015
Half Life 2 Update
Although it's an old game, Valve is still updating Half Life 2. In the latest patch the headcrabs get an AI boost.
February 21, 2015
Fifteen Hours In
Origin tells me I've been playing Dragon Age Inquisition for 15 hours. I figure that about four of those hours go back last year when I got the game and put it aside for Alien Isolation.
Here's the thing, I'm glad I played Alien Isolation but I didn't enjoy it if that makes any sense. I sometimes dreaded playing. So when I started playing Dragon Age Inquisition I was carrying a little of that dread with me. It has since been dispelled.
I'm currently in the Hinterlands, the first area you reach after finishing the tutorial area, Haven. And I'm having fun. I really haven't been able to call playing a game fun since the end of summer. Fun is good.
By the way, I have to commend EA for one thing. When the game launches, you see the EA logo and then you go to the start menu. It's a refreshing change from games that force me to see the logo of every damn company associated with the thing. In the case of Alien Isolation there were so many intro movies I ended uo deleting them. So I'll give EA credit here.
February 21, 2015
It's Been Awhile Since I Had a Party
I had been trying to get into this cabin for some time but it was locked. I kept searching for a key but couldn't find one. Then it hit me, Varric is in my party. He's a rogue. He can open shit. So Varric opend the door and we looted the cabin. Take a bow Varric.
February 20, 2015
Many of you know Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo, the barbarian warlord who deeply loved Daenerys Targaryen. He'll be the new Aquaman in the Batman verses Superman movie. Aquaman has sort of been a second string character so I'm glad they're casting a badass to play him. Hell, Momoa looks like he has more then Superman for breakfast.
February 20, 2015
alChandler the Wizard
In which I start looting before my party has finished combat. Because fuck those guys.
February 19, 2015
Every year I feel a little guilty for not having read enough books. So this year I decided to keep a record of what I've read. Six weeks into 2015 and here's what I've got so far:
"The Black Dahlia" James Elroy
"Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero" James Romm
"The Worm Ouroboros" E. R. Eddison
"Mistress of Mistresses" E. R. Eddison
"A Fish Dinner in Memison" E. R. Eddison
"The Mezentian Gate" E. R. Eddison
"Trigger Warning" Neal Gaiman
"These are the Voyages, TOS Season 1" Mark Cushman
"The Cipher" Kathe Koja
"The Birth of Classical Europe" Simon Price and Peter Thonemann
So, two histories, six novels, a book of short stories and a book about the first season of Star Trek. Ten books so far. Either I'm having a good year or my vague feeling of inadequacy was unjustified. And while reading those books I still found time to put about 30 hours into Alien Isolation. Senescence may indeed arrive in the next ten years or so but it hasn't arrived yet. This has been a rather comforting exercise and one that I will continue.
February 16, 2015
The Grinding Wheels of Change
There's a story behind that picture. My bedroom is the coldest room in the place. Normally I don't notice it because during the day I leave the door open and it kind of stores up heat from the rest of the condo. But Newton has a thing for wires and the wires for the laptop are there as well as the Kindle's charging cord, so I leave the door shut. But it's freezing and so I unplugged the Kindle's charger and put it on the shelf. Then I realized I could just keep the laptop in its carrier. And there it is, all the way to the left.
At one time I used Little Kosh every day. That started changing when I bought my iPhone. Now I only use the laptop when I see Mrs. Silverman. And even then, most of what I use it for there could be done on a tablet. Not all, but most. The only time I turn it on here is when I'm getting ready for a trip. Then I update Windows and transfer my Quicken information over from Kosh.
With Little Kosh packed away it's reasonably safe to leave the bedroom door open. He's been a fixture on that table for about five years.
And yet when the laptop dies I'd probably get another one. Maybe. I don't know. I suspect a tablet is somewhere in my future as well. I do know the only thing save from potential obsolescence is Kosh. In one form or another I've had a desktop computer type of box for 32 years. Kosh is permanent. All other tech at the Halls is provisional.
February 15, 2015
Newton's been with me for 10 months now. He still has a thing for chewing wires but he no longer claws paint off the walls. And yesterday for about 20 minutes he did that meatloaf thing that adult cats like doing. It's the first time he ever did the meatloaf thing.
And he is, after all, an adult cat, nearly a year and a half old. So they'll be less crazy shit and more quiet contemplation. It looks like I've survived kittenhood. And that's a very good thing, but I'm going to miss it just a little. What I won't miss is buying new headphones every two months.
February 14, 2015
We were talking about Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens the other day and something came to me. The last three movies were so wretched that the bar has been set very low for J.J. Abrams. His movie doesn't have to be great or even good. If it's just average it will be so much better then the saga of young Anikan that it will seem a work of genius.
For me the movie to see this year will be Avengers: Age of Ultron but I'm starting to get interested in the next Star Wars movie, at least enough to keep an open mind.
February 13, 2015
I like Neil Gaiman's books. He wrote a comic about Alan Moore. Alan Moore, among other things is a writer and a practitioner of ceremonial magic. With that in mind, I'm going to quote from Gaiman's comic, True Things. Alan Moore is walking down the street when a little child asks him to tell his fortune:
I love an optimist.
February 12, 2015
Star Trek used to be an obsession with me. I saw the original series when it aired on NBC and when it moved to Friday nights at 10:00 in 1968 my parents allowed me to stay up until 11:00 to watch it. For that matter I still remember my excitement when I learned that there was going to be a new Star Trek series premiering in 1987.
These are the Voyages is a detailed account of the first season of the original series. It's bringing back a lot of fond memories. Hell, I should read a goddamn Star trek novel or something.
February 12, 2015
alChandler the Mage
I've got to confess that I don't have a good record with Bioware's RPGs. I finished Baldur's Gate and Dragon Age II by the skin of my teeth, I wasn't able to beat the final boss in Dragon Age: Originswithout cheating and I never got very far in Baldur's Gate II. I did, however, do reasonably well in the Mass Effect series and I finished Jade Empire.
The point is that I expected to finish Alien Isolation and didn't. I have no expectations of finishing Dragon Age: Inquisition. I'd like to and I'm hoping the Knight Enchanter is still overpowered but who knows? What I do know is that as a RPG player I can't miss a game as huge and as well received as Dragon Age: Inquisition. Unlike, say, Baldur's Gate if I feel underpowered there's a shitload of things to do to level up so that's good.
I've done the prologue and I'm about to leave Haven, the starting area. One thing, tomorrow I'm going to have to learn how to use tactical view in combat. That will be tomorrow's goal.
February 10, 2015
Dragon Age: Inquisition
I normally don't play mages but I'm told that in Dragon Age: Inquisition A mage can become a Knight Enchanter at a certain point and become grotesquely overpowered. After Alien Isolation overpowered is what I want. I want to be able to walk up to Sauron and one shot the bastard. So I'm trying out a mage. His name is alChandler unsurprisingly.
February 9, 2015
Goodbye Radio Shack
February 9, 2015
The Next Game
I think the next game will be Dragon Age: Inquisition. And here's the story on that. I played the first two Dragon Age games and liked them. Time passed and last Summer I played a rpg called Divinity: Original Sin. People were raving about the game. I abandoned it at the halfway point, not out of frustration, like Alien Isolation, I just found it really, really boring. To each their own and all that.
The Dragon Age franchise is now part of EA and their online store, Origin, had a sale towards the end of last year I bought it half price but didn't want to launch into a massive rpg after Divinity: Original Sin. Instead I detoured into Alien Isolation.
So now it's five months since I finished DOS and I think I'm ready for a rpg again. Dragon Age: Inquisition has gotten rave reviews, I've boned up a bit on the events of the first two games and so that's where I'm going next. If nothing else, it will be nice to play a game longer then 15 minutes at a time.
February 8, 2015
An Alien Isolation Retrospective
Nope, I didn't complete the game, I bailed in the middle of the second to the last mission. When you find yourself dreading the experience of playing, it's time to leave.
Alien Isolation is a survival horror game. The only other game in the genre I played was Amnesia the Dark Descent. I got it during a Steam sale, played it for about an hour and gave up on it, too stressful. I wouldn't have gotten Alien Isolation except for a Steam sale. The game kind of sucked me in, gradually ramping up the horror elements. Sort of like the frog in the pot of water that's slowly heating up.
I'll say this, Alien Isolation is the best Alien game ever made. I mean that as praise but let's face it, most games in the Alien franchise have sucked. I'll also say that up until the last third of the game I was having a good time. Then the pacing seemed to go wrong. The Alien was consistently on my ass, there were too few save points and I just decided I no longer gave a shit about Amanda Ripely and her problems. And I'm not alone, only 17.8% of the folks on Steam completed the game. By mission 17 I had lowered the difficulty to novice and was simply watching walkthroughs and trying to copy what I saw.
Rather than throw a new gameplay twist at you, Isolation, like so many games before it, simply spends hours making you run a fun-less gauntlet and contend with everything it's thrown at you so far simultaneously, including human, android, and extraterrestrial foes. Fright dissolved into frustration as I got killed from behind for the umpteenth time - even as I was crouched motionless and out of sight in an air duct. The survival-horror joy found in the campaign's early hours is completely and permanently erased. Even when you finally - finally! - reach the end, it's an underwhelming conclusion that doesn't adequately pay off the 15-20 hours you just survived.
And that's that. I'm glad I played it and I had fun for about two thirds of the game. I'm tempted to swear off survival horror but I did have a good time for a large chunk of the game. I genuinely think that The Creative Assembly made some poor decisions about pacing towards the end of the game. It happens. And you have to factor in alChandler's impatience. Still, I've been checking the stats for other games on Steam. a 17.8% completion rate is pretty low.
Anyway, time for alChandler to rest for a bit before his next adventure. And as for my enemy, well now that I'm not playing with him...
February 8, 2015
In 2011 World of Warcraft finally got flying mounts. I did a little video using Movie Maker and added a soundtrack from Pearl Jam. The video is really primitive but I decided to post the thing anyway, at a small size. You can click through if you like but it really looks shitty. I could have posted it back then, YouTube existed but I never did. And seeing how bad the quality was, I think this is the one and only early gaming video I'm going to upload.
February 8, 2015
I Really Hate This Fucker
Right now Fraps is set at 30 frames per second. I can go as high as 60 fps but I don't think that's necessary. Something I may have to look into is the darkness. My settings tend to be dark and, I'm told, YouTube tends to darken thing a bit more. It's probably a bit annoying but Alien Isolation is supposed to be a little dark.
One more thing, sometimes the Alien shows up at random. Not in this video, when you enter the next room the Alien will always charge in the same way. That's why I was actually able to get a little combat footage, the set piece took place after I saved. You didn't get to see the first battle where the Molotov missed and the Alien killed me.
Update: I mentioned above that the Alien's appearance is a scripted event. In lots of games a scripted sequence involves a movie. It's a mark of quality when a scripted event happens in game using the game's engine. In this case the Alien's arrival is in game. I may hate this game, but I know class when I see it.
February 8, 2015
I'm in the last stage, checking walkthroughs about every five minutes. The only way I would play another game by any of these bastards is if it came with USB lips that gave blowjobs...and maybe not even then.
February 7, 2015
Google Voice was available on my old phone and Rolf swore by it; I always found it inaccurate. But on my current phone it's gotten pretty good. It may be that the software has gotten better or it may be that the iPhone 5S' processing power makes a difference. Either way I'm using it more and more.
On Star Trek they had a pretty sophisticated computer system but in some ways we've lapped the 23rd century. There was an episode called The Ultimate Computer in which the Enterprise's duotronic computer was swapped out for a more sophisticated multitronic computer, the M-5. M-5 would do stuff like turn off power and life support on decks that weren't being used. In the 21st century we've had smart buildings for some time now.
At any rate, the M-5 turned out to be a homicidal maniac and was turned off. Not to worry, the M-5 went to a farm with the HAL 9000 and Colossus. Captain got his boring old duotronic computer back. Now, a lot of things we'd use a computer for seemed to be controlled by the crew. The ship's computer was mostly used as a kind of combination of Google, Wikipedia and Wolfram|Alpha. Kirk would spitball ideas off of it and the interface was vocal. Kirk talked to it the same way he's talk to a crew member, he'd just be slightly more abrupt.
Unlike Kirk's computer, you can't really converse with Google. And I still find myself going into a bland telephone operator voice when I talk to it. But what I'm starting to notice is that Google is using context. I'll give you an example. Today I wanted to review a bit of dialog from Person of Interest. It was a brief conversation that the character Root had with the show's resident AI the Machine. So I said to Google; root Morse code machine.
Google heard every word correctly but let's assume it heard Morse as more. In that case Google's AI would then hear code and machine and comparing root, code and machine against more would conclude that Morse made more sense. It doesn't sound like much of a feat, we do that kind of thing all the time. But AI people have discovered that things that are easy for us are very difficult for computers. So the fact that Google can figure out things from context is a big step forward, and it's very, very cool.
One final note, in the 60s and 70s computers were often cast as the villain in movies, books and television shows. That came to an end when people actually got their hands on computers and discovered their limitations.
Today Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are both warning that artificial intelligence could doom humanity. Maybe, but while Musk and Hawking are a lot smarter the I am, neither one works developing AI. And on that note I should have another beer and fire up Alien Isolation.
Peggy Moon and alChandler!
I finally got the vocal problems down. So here is three minutes of alChandler and Moon playing World of Warcraft. Thrills! Chills! Those with weak hearts will not be allowed within the exhibition.
February 7, 2015
A Smartphone Story
I have two radio stations that I listen to in the car when I'm in the mood to listen to new music, WLFR out of Stockton State and WRTI for classical music and jazz. Today I was listening to WLFR and I heard something strange. Well, strange to me, it was Neil Young singing about the blues and Chicago. An intern came on and read the names of the last few songs that were played. Neil Young wasn't on the list.
But I have a phone! When I pulled into the parking lot of the Absecon Shoprite I told Google: Neil Young blues Chicago. The song in question was Say Hello to Chicago from his album Storytone. So when I got home I bought the song and that made me happy.
My life is rather uncomplicated and most of the time I don't need instant information. But I like having access to instant information, for that matter I like Neil Young.
February 6, 2015
Summing Up Alien Isolation
According to Steam, I've been playing Alien Isolation for 35 hours. It's been intense, it's been frightening, what it hasn't been is fun.
Fun is a very subjective experience. For me, being utterly helpless and on the run from merciless foes who are immeasurably more powerful then I am is not fun. For a lot of people that's the very definition of fun, hence the popularity of games like Amnesia and Silent Hill. But I'm helpless enough in real life, I don't need to pay $60 to intensify that feeling.
I am glad I played, and I'll make every effort to finish. But I'll never willingly play another game of this type again.
February 5, 2015
An Origin Story
I just realized I never explained the history behind my wall of neat stuff in my office. This must change.
In 1977 when the world was younger and miracles were as common as fruit pies I knew three people, Mike, Steve and Joel. They went to Glassboro State College (I know it's Rowan University now, it was Glassboro State College then) and they lived in an apartment in the town.
Steve got it into his head to make a small collage in the living room. Eventually the entire living room was covered in pictures. In its way it was epic and I always wanted to do something similar. But I didn't really live in a nice place until 1986, when I moved into an apartment in Somers Point. That's when I started putting pictures on the wall next to my computer.
Steve's collage centered on music, he lived with two music majors after all, mine centered on computer games. Today I just download games via services like Steam and Origin. But in those days you actually had to go to a store and buy them. The games generally came with a manual and some came with maps. Whenever I completed a game I'd put a souvenir on the wall, a map or perhaps a picture from the manual.
In 1990 I moved into my condo. The second bedroom became my office and the pictures started spreading. And that's the story behind the Wall of Neat Stuff. I haven't put anything up in a couple of years. It's not a function of age, it's just that with digital distribution you don't get maps and game manuals anymore. The world moves on.
February 5, 2015
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Logo courtesy of Mrs. Silverman.