Zen Cardboard

With GenCon coming up this week I’ve been thinking a bit about why I play both board games and computer games. The obvious difference is of course with board games you’re sitting across the table from people you’re playing with, but that’s been changing in recent years. Solitaire gaming has been popular for a while and is starting to become more accepted. Some games include solo variants in the box, like the re-release of Merchants of Venus, but there are also lots of games with good player made variants on BoardGameGeek. The rise in popularity of cooperative board games has helped a lot with this as well.

So why play a board game by yourself? Why not just sit down at the computer? For one it means instead of gaming in my office, I’m sitting at the kitchen table. More importantly board gaming is a zen experience for me. Putting decks of cards together and getting things shuffled well. Setting up the board. Not just thinking about strategy during the game but keeping track of rules, trying to make sure I don’t make any mistakes. The experience tends to be quite a bit like reading as part of my brain usually starts making up a story about what’s happening in the game. I do that a bit in MMOs as well but I tend to get more vivid pictures from board games because there’s no other visual or auditory input.

Board games don’t have to be something you only get into if you have the time to dedicate to getting together with friends once or twice a month to play.

Day 10 of Blaugust

Serendipity in the Internet Age

I love the Internet!

Okay, maybe that’s too obvious coming from a blogger and MMO gamer. It’s even more obvious if you know that I’m a web developer professionally (programming not design as you can tell by this blog). But this week ended with a really nice happy accident.

I follow Wil Wheaton on Twitter, who happens to be a big fan of Soul Coughing as am I, and I see him mention on Twitter several months back that Mike Doughty (the singer and songwriter for Soul Coughing) is crowdfunding a re-imagining of Soul Coughing songs on PledgeMusic. That album turned out great and I loved that he did a series of short videos documenting the recording process.

More recently, Mike sends out an update that he’s crowdfunding a new album, and like the first one he’s doing short videos of the recording process. In one of the recent ones he has some interesting guys that come in and play saxophones for some tracks. These guys are a band named Moon Hooch and the video was interesting enough that I checked out their bandcamp site and fell in love with their music. This was cool enough but I sent Mike a thank you for introducing me to a new band and got an email that he favorited it, which made my Friday.

Getting that email Friday reminded me how much of a catalyst the Internet is for connecting people based on similar interests regardless of geography.

Day 9 of Blaugust

Scattered Thoughts

Babylon 5b?

There’s an article on  Ars Technica today about Babylon 5 likely getting a reboot as a “big-budget film.” Apparently J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) is going to work on a script soon and then start production in 2016. I love the TV series. Like most science fiction series it took a few seasons to real get comfortable with itself but once it got rolling it was really great. Interesting story lines, amazing characters, and cool special effects (for the early 90′s, I haven’t watched any recently but I don’t think it has aged well).

I’m trying to decide how I feel about this news. Babylon 5 getting a reboot is cool. Having JMS handling the reboot is very cool and gives me confidence that it will be done well. But a movie? I don’t see it translating as well. Even focusing on just the primary arc of the show I think would make a better trilogy than a single movie.

Delta Rising

I was surprised to see a news post from Cryptic today since the big announce post was just released yesterday. After reading it though it’s not a dev blog like I initially assumed, but instead a message from the Executive Producer Stephen D’Angelo talking about the new Tier 6 ships. More specifically it’s about what happens to Tier 5 ships in the expansion, which makes me wonder if there’s more drama on the forums than usual (I don’t get paid enough to wade in and find out) or they’ve seen a plunge in C-store purchases while people wait and see what the plans are.

Unfortunately I don’t see it helping since the post just reiterates the information already circulating. Which Cryptic does’t want, or intend, for players to have to ditch their Tier 5 ships if they don’t want to, and they do have a plan but they’re not ready to share it yet. All of which the community knows already and apparently isn’t satisfied with. I’m so glad I’m a corporate software developer and not a game developer.

Broken Age, Part One

I backed Broken Age on Kickstarter half because I wanted to play a new adventure game and half because I loved 2 Player Productions documentary on Minecraft and wanted to see more. It only took me about four hours to play start to finish, but it was a wonderful four hours. Even if Part Two wasn’t coming out, I’d still be totally happy with the money I kicked in. Actually I’d have been happy even if a game hadn’t come out as the documentary episodes have been excellent.

The art in the game is amazing, it’s like playing in a painting. The story is just as excellent, the dialogue, the voice acting, and the humor are all pitch perfect to me. I’ve heard some complaints that the puzzles were to easy, but for me they were about right. I think having Part One skew toward the beginner end of the puzzle spectrum is good, hopefully it has brought some new fans to an old genre.

I got nothing. Day 8 of Blaugust

Delta Quadrant Bound

05311098887bcda9712b9209e89c445d1407361503Cryptic and Perfect World formally announced the second expansion for Star Trek Online today, Delta Rising. I say formally because the initial announcement was made at the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas last weekend, a video of which is linked in the announcement.

Voyager is not my favorite series, I found several of the characters either bland or annoying. That said, I was very impressed with Tim Russ’ reprising Tuvok for the Season 9 update so I was pleased that Garrett Wang is being brought on to voice Ensign Kim. Except he’s finally been promoted to Captain. Even cooler is Garrett only the first Voyager cast member to be announced, there’ll be  more in the coming weeks. I’m really hope that Robert Picardo is figuratively waiting in the wings.

Game-wise the biggest feature, in my opinion, is the level cap increase from 50 to 60. I don’t think I’ve played any MMO that’s gone four years without a level cap bump. A new level cap means new story content which is sorely needed.

Cryptic is also adding a new post 50 infinite progression system as well as a new tier of starships. I’m skeptical about how infinite this new progression system will be. I imagine that either means it will be a massive grind to achieve anything or it will offer diminishing returns on improvement. The new tier of starships sound interesting as there’ll be something new with bridge officers among other hinted at features. Unfortunately with so little real information yet the forum warriors have already begun beating their war drums over concern that their current min/maxed Tier 5 ships suddenly won’t be as godlike as they are now.

Personally, I’m looking forward to more content regardless of any other changes. In the absence of a regular TV show, this is the Star Trek franchise for me.

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations Day 7 of Blaugust

Gen Con is coming.

I realized today that GenCon is a week away (roughly if you count the early stuff that starts Wednesday night). I’m excited to go, yet I’m a little nervous as well. Last year was the first time that I bought a four day pass and scheduled some events and actually played some games. I had a lot of fun, although by Sunday I was pretty wiped out. Given all that, I wasn’t sure why I was feeling nervous until I realized that I hadn’t scheduled any events this year which I did intentionally because last year I ended up feeling like I’d scheduled too much and couldn’t just do what I wanted. My nervousness (and is) was coming from not knowing exactly what I’m going to be doing.

Some people are able to just take off for somewhere without knowing where they’re going to be sleeping that night. I’m not one of those people. I don’t need to have every minute of the day planned, but I like to know roughly what I’m doing and definitely where I’m sleeping.

Now if only know why I was nervous made it stop, and while I’m wishing I’d like to get rid of this cold. I’d rather not be patient zero for the con crud this year.

Sort of unrelated, definitely random though: when I was a kid I always thought of board games as bored games because my parents only got them out on rainy weekends when my sister and I where driving them nuts.

Shop smart, shop S-mart. Day 6 of Blaugust

Stuff and things.

I’m still thinking about Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie has really gotten stuck in my head, which is fitting since it’s the love child of Firefly and Farscape.

Lists

It looks like January was the last time I posted a real update on my Lists Resolution. Fortunately even though I haven’t been writing about it I have still been working them. My comics list has shrunk by about half after finally finishing Transmetropolitan and catching up on Saga, Captain Marvel, Infinity Gauntlet, and a dozen other short run titles like Revelations. My movie list hasn’t changed much, I did watch Amazing Spider-Man a few weeks ago but somehow when I sit down at night either I’m in the mood to look at a screen and play a game or I want a break from electronics and I pick up a book or comic. My big list is of course books and I’ve been doing, well let’s call it okay. My practical goal for the year is 50 books, and I’m about 8 books behind schedule. I didn’t read anything in March or April. But I’m still sure that I can catch up. Even when I hit 50 books for the year, it’s going to be hard to feel a lot of satisfaction when I’m looking at a list 156 books lone. Especially when it tends to grow by another book or two every other week.

Minecraft

Gaming-wise I’ve gotten sucked into playing the custom Minecraft maps Agrarian Skies and Crash Landing. They both rely on a mod called Hardcore Questing Mode (HQM) which adds quests and rewards to the game.

Agrarian Skies is a skyblock map, meaning there’s no ground. You start out on a small island floating in the void and go through a series of challenges to basically build a world. There’ve been skyblock maps before, but I really like how HQM allows map makers to add some structure to the game.

Crash Landing is similar although it’s set in a flat world map not a skyblock. The challenges are different there as well. In Agrarian Skies the challenge is to build up resources without starving. Crash Landing is set in a desert world and adds dehydration that that as well as a defensive aspect since the mod AI/aggression has been enhanced a bit.

They’re both very fun, although I’ve gotten to the point in Agrarian Skies where the goal is to amass ludicrous amounts of certain items, for instance 100,000 purple wool, and as a result I’ve been playing a bit more Crash Landing. Which I think is the reason why Minecraft has such longevity. You have the basic survival mode for that initial challenge, and creative mode for when you just want to build. When that gets old, mods allow for adding hundreds or new systems to the game from magic wands to nuclear reactors, and when that gets old then there are custom challenge maps.

It’s a moral imperative! Day 5 of Blaugust

Solitude

For most of my adult life, I’ve had a hangup about going to restaurants and movie theaters by myself. I used to travel for work and I would always either order room service or hit a drive through for meals, neither of which was all that healthy, but meh 20′s. Two years ago I ended up going to see the Avengers by myself, and it was amazing. I mean both the movie and the watching experience.

Having a wife and two young kids means I’m never really alone anymore. Of course, I have time to write and play games late at night, but it’s not quite the same when I know there’s a two year old sleeping five feet away as part of my brain is apparently always listening for noises from either kids’ room. So going to a theater completely alone and not having to worry about anyone else for a few hours, is a great guilt-free break from family life.

Sidestory: Sitting in the theater Friday night for the 10:15 pm show and I can’t help but overhear the two kids (high school? no idea, they all look like baby’s to me now) talking about how they can’t believe they’re at the movies so early. I guess they didn’t have to get up at 7:30 am to give their dog thyroid and heart medications or take their kids to swimming lessons a 9 am.

GROOT! Day 4 of Blaugust

Guardians of the Galaxy

GOTG_Payoff_1-Sht_v4b_LgA talking racoon? That’s going to suck! What are they thinking?!

That may not be word for word what I said when I heard about Marvel’s plans for a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, but it’s close. I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan than a DC one. Spider-Man has been my favorite superhero for as long as I can remember. Batman is my second, but he’s the only DC Hero I’ve really loved. Whereas Marvel’s X-men, Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain America are all titles I’ve followed at one time or another. So I’ve been ecstatic about how well Marvel Studios has been doing since the release of Iron Man 1.

It wasn’t until I saw the first teasers that my expectations changed from “this will be a train wreck” to “it might be good.” The more videos that came out, the more interested I got. At some point “it might be good” turned into “it will be good” the turned into “excited, can’t wait to see it.”

So how was it? I saw it twice this weekend. My expectations going into the show were exceeded. When I walked out, I checked the time because if there had been any more showings that night I would have bought another ticket right then. Unfortunately it was 12:30 and there weren’t any more showings so I had to wait for Saturday evening.

What do I love about this movie so much? It’s funny, it’s got smart dialog, and great characters. I loved that I walked out of the theater and couldn’t pick which Guardian was my favorite. Even Drax, whom I expected to be my least favorite, had several of the funniest lines in the movie. The casting, writing, directing, and acting all came together perfectly. It’s really amazing to me that James Gunn was able to introduce five characters all one movie, compared to Marvel using four separate movies to prepare for the Joss’s Avengers movie.

Woot! Day 3 of Blaugust

Nirvana

Raising two sons, aged  five and two, is not easy. Well at least not given how my mine are, something which amuses my parents immensely I’m sure. Karma at work.

It does make the good moments that happen extra sweet though and I got one of those on Friday. I was picking up my boys from daycare to take them for haircuts and as we got onto the road my oldest asked to listen to music.

“What do you want to hear?”

“The hot song.”

“The what?”

“The rock song, the one we listened to last time.”

I got a huge grin then because the last thing I’d played for them had been Smells Like Teen Spirit from Nirvana’s Nevermind. An album that I literally listen to non-stop during my senior year in high school. Back in the days of tape players I had one that would automatically reverse when it hit the end of a tape and play the opposite side. So I could put Nevermind in, hit play and just listen for hours. Nirvana accompanied me through a lot of long van rides to swim meets.

Starting Nirvana playing through my phone in the truck and watching two little heads start bobbing up and down in my rearview mirror made my week.

Woot! Day 2 of Blaugust

It’s Blaugust!

blaugust_450Today marks the beginning of a little experiment. Belghast has put together a community drive to get people blogging every day this month, and in a moment of insanity I decided to join in.

It’s the first time I’ve tried for a post every day schedule. Back in 2011 I tried out a weekdays posting schedule, but I stopped after a few months. I had proven to myself that I could do it but I didn’t want to make blogging feel like work. This time isn’t so much about proving anything to myself so much as it is a good community pressured way to get back in the blogging habit. After all my schedule the last two years probably shouldn’t even be described as sporadic. Maybe sparse? Besides getting back in the habit, this is also going to be an opportunity for me to finally push myself to edit less. I have a bad habit of writing posts and leaving them sit as drafts for weeks until whatever topic they deal with isn’t worth discussing and then deleting them.

This is actually a good month to do an everyday schedule. GenCon is coming up so that’ll be four days where I’ll easily have things to post about. I’m also likely to be straying from gaming more than usual. This month is a big one for me as a parent, since my oldest son starts Kindergarten on Monday. If I get especially brave or desperate for writing ideas, I’m going to write and post some fiction. Some rough, draft zero, scene and dialog snippets that occasionally pop into my head.

Post Script: Bel has some writing prompts up today and this one caught my eye:

What is your favorite grouping experience?  Even the most staunch solo artist eventually groups up, what is the best thing that has happened while grouped with other players?

My favorite grouping experience is still one of my first ones. Back in the ancient pre-WoW days I played a Troll Shaman in Dark Age of Camelot. I ended up in a random group with some people out in the PVE frontier areas and we ended up playing together for a couple of hours and having a lot of fun. So much that they invited me to their guild, Hammer and Anvil, which I think was the first MMO guild I ever joined. I still have fond memories of logging in every evening to a chorus of greetings.