Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Squirtle has died of Dysentery

I've been thinking all too much about Pokémon Go, and why I don't understand (at least the Pokémon part of) its appeal.
(I respect it, I think it's fine if you like it. I'm not here to criticize you. See? I'm even using the accent mark and everything!)

And I think I figured it out, in a way.
There's an article that refers to people around my age, born in the mid-to-late 70s, as the Oregon Trail Generation, and that's very fitting to the story.

I received a Gameboy in 1989, when I was 13, as a Bar Mitzvah gift from my Hebrew School class. It was the most amazing thing for a kid.. A Nintendo, merely the size of a brick, that you could carry around and play games on (in adequate lighting). Like an even-more-scaled-down Super Mario. And everyone's favorite, Tetris. Amazing!

"Pokémon Red and Blue", the first pair of games in the series to be released in the US, came out in September of 1998, a "mere" 9 years later.
But you know where I was in September 1998? I was a fresh college graduate. I was working.
And I had long stopped playing with my Gameboy. It was a kids' toy. There wasn't a concept of "playing mobile games" for adults. We had our Palm Pilots running Solitaire games but that wasn't quite the same. We didn't have time for any Nintendo Link Cable to really attempt to grok what Pokémon was all about, and it looked kinda stale and boring and repetitive as a single-player game, some sort of Final Fantasy clone with even less story.
And our computer-game time was spent on more "computery" games. The Dooms. The Quakes. The Warcrafts. And our good friend, Civilization.

But those little kids just a couple of years behind me in school? The early "millennials"?
They got handed this "social mobile game" at the most social time of their lives: high school and college.
They bonded over it. They related to it. They knew their Pikachu from their Magikarp, traded their Mews for Mewtwos, and discussed how to find the elusive Missingno. They were really the first kids to "play mobile games" like it was a thing in itself.

Nevermind those kids a few years behind them. Those kids just took for granted that Pokémon was part of the world.

And those "little kids"? They're now in their early-to-mid 30s. They're full-grown adults who don't think it's strange to play Pokémon, and even feel "nostalgia" for something that was completely after my time.

Of course there are exceptions. There are 40 year olds who go to the Pokestops and the Pokegyms and play with their Pokeballs (ok, sorry, got a little disrespectful for a minute.. ahem). But tell me that you don't relate to this even a little bit.

What about the older folks?
People older than those of us from the Oregon Trail, well.. they just weren't in their late teens/early 20s at the right time to completely dismiss Pokémon out-of-hand. So they can irrationally dislike something else from pop culture; take your pick.

It's just us, whose formative mobile-gaming years weren't really allowed to blossom until we had missed the Pokémon train, who are destined to never feel like we "gotta catch 'em all".
And we like it that way! Get off our collective lawns!

Am I completely off-base here?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Adventures with Mice and Mystics


So, several months ago, I bought the game Mice and Mystics to play with my family and maybe as a subversive introduction to RPGs for my 7-year-old son.

We made a few attempts at "Chapter 1" of the campaign, most of which failed, but most of those failures also included misunderstandings of the rules.
After setting aside the game in a "saved state" from September and picking it back up with my son over Christmas break, we finally finished Chapter 1!
We attempted Chapter 2 once and failed, but haven't tried again.

Last night, because I'm really curious about finishing the story, I decided to take the game off the shelf, write down a 'Save file' sheet of where we'd left off, and start my own parallel solo campaign going.

I played for nearly 2 hours.
Early in the game, I rolled incredibly well, on both Search and Attack/Defense rolls, and things were looking great.

I made a few tactical errors -- one of which was due to me being used to looking at the board upside-down so I went the wrong way -- but still, the game continued going pretty well.
I was doing well enough that I decided to try the "side mission" which rewards you with an extra token that will come up later in the story (the "Miz Maggie Ally Token"; I still don't know what it does).  But completing this side mission actually causes the hourglass marker to move closer to the endgame, giving you less time to complete the chapter. (or so I thought!)

I finally made it to the final tile. I killed off the nasty centipede and 2 spiders (one who appeared as the result of a Surge). The field was clear. All I needed to do was get all my mice to the tree.

3 of my mice were at the tree.
Nez, the slowest mouse of the group, was the last in initiative order.
The Hourglass marker was on "Page 5", where "Page 6" was endgame  (or so I thought!)
The Cheese Wheel was at 5 Cheese; one more cheese and (or so I thought...) it would have caused a surge and game over.
And due to the rules, if an initiative round ends with no bad guys on the board, a cheese automatically gets added.
And Nez rolled poorly for movement. Very poorly. He didn't make it!
I thought this caused a technical loss of the game, and by decree of fudge-factor, I declared it a win.
And I bared my soul on boardgamegeek, asking for sympathy and reassurance that I should have gotten the moral victory.

But then the BGG community came in and saved the day, in 2 very big ways.

First: I forgot that you could take a second move action if you did nothing else. So Nez made it to the tree either way and they lived happily ever after (until Chapter 2).

But they also pointed out another rule that my whole family had been getting backwards all along, and caused a bit of frustration on its own.
Completing the side-mission (and fulfilling certain other minor "reward" tasks which I had been actively avoiding) doesn't give you *less* time. It gives you *MORE* time!! The hourglass doesn't move forward. The chapter-end marker moves forward!

So not only did I technically win. I won with time to spare.
And this was one of the mechanics, I think, that irked my wife and son and certainly at least indirectly contributed to many of our losses or decisions.
Maybe now that I know another rule we'd been getting wrong, they'll give it another chance!

Either way, I succeeded, and my solo campaign is off to Chapter 2!
Onward to victory!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Mayday wants to sleeve my whole game collection?

I already have most of my games nicely sleeved -- some with Mayday sleeves, some with FFG, some with UltraPro, etc -- but it intrigued me that Mayday is having a contest to give you enough sleeves to cover every game in your collection. That could save me some cash for sure.
I'll bite.

The contest is here in case you also want to enter as well.

(And yes, disclaimer: blogging about the contest gives you entries into the contest)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Arrowverse theory, still

So we're all caught up to the present now. And I still wonder if my theory holds water...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Arrowverse theory

CAVEAT: I am neither up-to-date with Arrow/Flash (up to Episode ~15 in season 3/1), nor have I ever watched Gotham, Supergirl, or any other recent-ish DC Live Action TV show.
Please don't spoil me, but there are some minor spoilers here...

I have a theory (and it's not bunnies or midgets).
This might not even be an original theory, since we aren't all caught up, but this is my blog :P

Ever since we started watching Arrow, the comparisons to Batman could not be missed, with even just the basic premise: a rich socialite experiences traumatic events in his life and becomes a masked vigilante.
But specific elements of the greater Batman story do appear throughout the show as well:
The Suicide Squad.
Harley Quinn locked up in an Argus facility.
Constant references to Blüdhaven, home of Nightwing.
Ra's al Ghul and the League of Assassins.
In Flash, there's even a headline in the "future newspaper" related to Wayne Tech.

Even these few details point strongly to Batman's existence in the same universe.

But where is he?
Why aren't Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne old party buddies or business partners?
Why not even the faintest mention of Gotham City?

Now, you could say "because DC/WB lawyers, movies, contracts, yada yada".

But I don't (want to) think so.

At the same time, there is this show Gotham. (again, I haven't watched it)
A young Bruce Wayne loses his parents and sits idly watching the criminal goings-on in Gotham City. He isn't Batman yet, and might never become the Dark Knight in the continuity of this show.

But what if...

What if...

What if Oliver Queen *does* show up in Gotham City some time in the future?
What if Oliver Queen meets young Bruce Wayne, much like he found Roy, and decides to train him?
What if The Arrow and STAR Labs help to create the Batman?
(What if Cisco names him?)

What if this is all an elaborate secret buildup to a new Batman show "done right"?

Alright, I've gotten that off my chest.
Go ahead and tell me that something I'll see in the future leads to a contradiction of my idea.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Dark Tower

tl;dr skip to the end if you want to see my crazy spoilery theory about "the ending" of the series...

Back in high school, I have a hazy memory that I actually ... read... books.
One of the authors I couldn't get enough of was Stephen King. Christine, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Tommyknockers.. I read a whole ton of his work.

And then I came across the Dark Tower trilogy. It was a different sort of story than his usual stuff. A fantasy adventure in a strange world. A twisted Wizard of Oz with "cowboys" and magic doors.
I loved it!

Indirectly, my love of the Dark Tower "trilogy" was forever preserved in my high school yearbook caption, as I (the foolish young nerd) wrote an obscure reference to an RPG character (NERD!) that I had named after Roland (NERRRRRRRDDDDDDDD!)

If you're not familiar with the series, I'm not going to explain it to you very well. I couldn't do it justice. But it's basically the story of the journey of Roland, the Gunslinger, toward.. uh.. The Dark Tower.. which is as mysterious as it sounds. Along the way he is joined by a group (a ka-tet) of traveling companions, mostly from "our world". The story is very metaphysical and self-referential, sometimes weird with strange monsters, magic, and science.. and so hard to explain without giving away some spoilers about the nature of the Tower and ka.

But the ending of the third book.. is so... infuriatingly dangling. Acknowledged by King himself, it was just the place he decided to stop.
Those of you who have not yet read the books (and you should!) do not have to wait the excruciating 5-7 years to resolve the cliffhanger at the end of The Waste Lands. Like binge-watching an old series on Netflix, consider yourself lucky in this regard.

That being said, when the fourth book -- Wizard and Glass -- came out in my college years, I tried to read it. I really did. But... I just couldn't. I dunno why. It starts with a semi-satisfying resolution to the cliffhanger, but is mostly told as a flashback with character background that I didn't appreciate at the time. I wanted to know what happened next, after all this time waiting; not hear about what makes Roland tick!

So I went more than 15 years without picking it back up again. During that time, the 7-book series was concluded (mostly) and I have even spent my fair share of time logged in to a server named after a mystical word that's a central part of the last book. ;)

Just recently, in my wise old years, I decided to start listening to audiobooks to encourage more exercise.
And "just to see how things go", I decided to start this ordeal by listening to the whole Dark Tower series, from the beginning. The first 3-and-change books would be familiar enough that I could sort out the technical details while not having to pay 100% attention to the narrative.

The first book was actually significantly revised when the 5th/6th/7th came out on the scene, to put it more in line with some of the later ideas (but I have a theory about that too. See the spoilery part below). So there were parts where I said "huh. I specifically don't remember this part that I would have remembered." as I listened.
But I made it through the first 3 books again.. and the 4th book which was much easier to tolerate and appreciate this time around. (Still slightly dissatisfying that most of the book was such a tangent to the "current action", but at least I hadn't waited 5 years between books this time, and didn't have to wait another 7 for the conclusion).

And then I heard all-new-to-me parts of the story .. from book 5 onward it definitely gets... weird .... in lots of ways, some which would require a spoiler just to use a single word on how weird it gets. But it's amazing.
And the way the story ends.. I am satisfied with it.

There's apparently a new book that takes place between books 4 and 5, a couple of short stories, and a series of comics, and I might even check these all out.
Also, due to the.. multiversal .. nature of the story, there are lots of other works by King that tie into The Dark Tower, subtlely or not. I don't know if I'd count those in a completionist sense, but it's cool to know those references are there.

I definitely recommend this series, and I kind of regret not keeping up with it as it was being released.
On a general arbitrary review scale, I rate this series a GRRRRR!

Blogger's "spoiler tag CSS" didn't work properly -- sorry if you saw it already. But I've just moved my spoilery comments to a Google Doc. If you're interested in some minor spoiler-ridden commentary, go take a look here: Spoily thoughts!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Xbox Watch TV!

So I wasn't sure I was even going to try this, but I was impressed by the Kinect so far and I had some extra time last night to fiddle around:
I plugged my cable box into the HDMI port on the Xbox One, and went through the full setup process.

I am ... undecided on whether to keep it this way, and I'll be looking for feedback from my wife (and to a lesser extent, my son) on how it makes things easier or harder.

The Pros:

  • Even more video stuff that can be done without changing the TV or Receiver input. (Not quite 100% there yet, but mostly because the Chromecast is so convenient for pushing youtube to the big screen).
  • The Kinect indeed does its magic to pass (a limited number of*) IR codes to the cable box without an IR blaster.
  • Voice commands (when they work*) are pretty living-in-the-future neat. It recognizes pretty much any channel by name.*
  • While watching On Demand video* (or, probably, if you have DVR functionality and are watching live tv, but we don't), the "playback control" commands (pause/play/etc) work too.
  • The OneGuide integration puts everything available to watch in one place. And there's even a "mini-guide" that can pop up during TV-watching.
  • There is no degradation to video or sound that I can see, even though it adds an extra "hop" in the chain for TV. I had read about some concerns about support for surround-sound, but the option was there (maybe it was a more-recent system update?) and I am satisfied there.
  • You can, of course, switch between watching TV and doing other Xbox stuff without necessarily even picking up a controller or remote.
  • If you need something that isn't covered by the Xbox interface, you are still able to control the cable box normally.
  • In theory, I could ditch the cable box entirely, use this functionality with a cheap Digital Converter Box just to get the basic channels, and use the FiOS App for the paid channels, and it's still somewhat integrated and saves us $10/month.
    • But then we lose On Demand functionality which we still kind of need for some channels' content because we don't have a DVR and would rather not do anything illegal.
      • But we could use the web and Chromecast, or Amazon Prime, for the "on-demand-esque" content that isn't accessible from some other app.
        • Don't you wish the IE browser on the Xbox supported Flash, or these streaming sites supported non-Flash? That would have been another solution
          • With all of this nesting back-and-forth, maybe I should move on to the Cons.
The Cons

  • Did I say "when they work" with the Voice Commands? Yeah. Xbox, I said "Watch BBC America", not "BET"!
  • The only cable-TV-related commands that are passed through the Xbox are channels by name; you can not specify a channel number, nor is there channel up/down functionality.
    • Lack of channel up/down kind of makes sense, since the Xbox is using IR and not CEC. It is completely blind to the current state of the cable box. But it would still be nice.
    • With a proper Universal Remote (like we do happen to have), you can still fake it with a physical remote and pass certain buttons through to the cable box. But you shouldn't have to do that! And in my specific case, I don't quite have enough Universal buttons left to do everything. Because....
  • ...You also don't have control over things like On Demand. You can use the actual cable remote (or the aforementioned Universal Remote) but this can get terribly confusing and almost defeats the purpose. Especially if you want to send the up/down arrow keys, or "Back", or "Menu", etc to the cable box to navigate menus, while sending the same keys to the Xbox is for entirely different functionality that you don't want to override.
    • And if you get things out of sync in an unexpected way (for example, accidentally leaving the cable box in a menu and then saying "Xbox Watch NBC"), the Xbox voice commands can end up putting your cable box in a funky state.
  • In order to do anything with the cable box, the Xbox needs to be fully 100% powered-on. This is not exactly happy for the electricity bill.
    • It would have been nice if the HDMI passthrough was actually a passthrough when the Xbox was off. But no.
  • Relatedly, if you really want the fully-integrated immersive experience without having to hit any special buttons, you really need to have your cable box turned 100% on while the Xbox is turned on all the time. Due to Kinect magic, you can pair their power-states (and this kind of thing works well so far in my experience) but you shouldn't have to.
  • This would all be much nicer and simpler if the Xbox could just use a damn CableCard! Or at least if the US could support DVB. Please?
I'm sure there's more, but that's a long enough rant to get us started.
Leave further questions in the comments, or come find me elsewhere!