24 September 2012

A Mystery Fan Schools Us All

Apologies if this is old news to all of you, but this is absolutely new to me: JD Corley's insightful post on the story-games.com forum.

A quick bit to whet your whistle, and then I'm out:

"...a lot of people make posts like "well, Sherlock Holmes could never be a good gaming character, he's right about everything, good at everything, and anyhow nobody could make the deductive leaps he could".

I proved everyone wrong by playing Sherlock Holmes online for a good 4 years.

The difference?

It was a superhero game.

Pick up any game system you like, so long as it has a power called 'Clarivoyance' in it. You now have a game that can handle Sherlock Holmes, no problem.

This leads me to my first mystery subgenre discussion. "

It's borderline brilliant, and I have no idea why I've never heard of this before. A great read for a rainy day.

The Pillage is Against You

I got my hands on a pretty good campaign supplement about being a Viking Warlord (called, appropriately enough, AEGIR'S FIRE), and it's got the gears a-turnin'.

As you know, I'm working on a cards based action-themed roleplaying game.  No, it's not in hiatus, and yes, I've got a lot on my plate (between the Heroquest retroclone, or the ONI PUNCHING fun stuff, or a number of modules I've got brewing in the back of my skull), but I think this could work.

I'm going to create a skeletal copy of my game, probably in a one-page PDF version again, and then see if I can't manage to playtest it somehow. It won't be easy, since there aren't a lot of games that support somebody flopping cards around somewhat aimlessly, which means I might have to (ugh) try and find some local gamers to impress with my machinations.

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm not really very social about this sort of thing. I haven't had a regular gaming group in a long while. But this could be worth it. It could be a lot of fun.

The basic gist: You're a Viking village leader who is starting to raid coastlines. Your village has managed to create a longship, and now you need to successfully raid to get more money, more experienced warriors, and to continue the entire process. The system itself is completely system neutral, and it's brilliant as hell.

Obviously, The Odds Are Against You comes first. After that, I'm going to work on a nice leadership module, so to speak, that lets you apply my card game-based resolution system to a large scale conflict instead of a personal one. Since the scale is so different, it's going to take a bit of doing- but I have no doubt whatsoever that it'll be fun. I've even got a few ideas brewing in my head for it.

Watch this space. It's gonna be fun.

21 September 2012


Last night I played Dustforce until my fingers started to ache. My wife had gone to bed, and I'd have stayed up playing if I could manage to flex my fingers fast enough to get to the next level.

I couldn't help it. I was in the game's grasp. I was in the zone. I was running upside down over walls, zooming through bizarre enemies and over spikes. My character, a blue-clad janitor with a corn broom, was engaged in a midair ballet that I was the sole conductor of.

Let me explain. Dustforce is a fast-paced speedrunning platform games from Hitbox Studios, released sometime earlier this year. And it's glorious.

It goes like this: You're in charge of cleaning up around here. The mansion is full of dusty gargoyles and filthy servants who wallow in their own muck, the forest is unruly with leaves, and there's an alarming layer of slime on everything in the laboratory. You've got to jump, dash, double jump, walljump, and cling onto the ceiling like spider man in order to reach that dust. In order to get the very best Completion score (rated from D to S, in typical video game fashion), you've got to get every bit of dust. Yes, even the stuff on the ceiling covered in spikes and only reachable by a split second double jump dash. That's the point. If it was easy, they wouldn't need the Dustforce after all; they could do it themselves.

But it's not just about being thorough. You have to be both thorough and fast- and here's where the brilliance comes in. You have a limited amount of time to keep your "combo" going. Each bit of dust you sweep up gives you a point, and each strike you land against your dust-animated foes gives you a single point. Take too long getting the next point, or get smacked by an enemy, and your combo goes down the drain. In order to get the highest Finesse rating, you're going to need to complete the entire level without missing a bit of dust, in a nearly continuous path, without getting hit or landing on spikes or falling down any bottomless pits.

Obviously enough, the game isn't designed to be easy. Completing any levels beyond the first few takes multiple tries, especially when you're getting to grips with the controls. You will take a dozen tries to get your first double S rating, and you will start getting mad at the game. But the calm, tasteful electronic background music helps. So does the gorgeous, clean visual style. So does the fact that you're well aware the level is completable, if only you'd have done better. And that's the real fun of the game.

Dustforce is a game that knows you can beat it. You've got all the tools, and you can watch other people beat the same level you've spent the last half an hour trying to get right. So you do, and you pick up a trick or two. Then before you know it, you've mastered half a dozen levels, it's midnight, and your fingers ache like the dickens.

The only problems I've spotted so far is a tendency to get a bit slow on some levels, without any real indication of why. Sometimes turning off graphics options helps, and sometimes it doesn't seem to do much of anything. Some levels do lag, even with the graphics options all off, but not all the time. It's probably a problem with my aging computer, I'll admit, which is why it's hard to bring up. But it's there, and if you experience it like me, there's not much you can do about it except suck it up and bear it.

In addition, there's not a single hint of storyline. I can presume that the Dustforce is a team of janitors, because that's what they look like and they are doing a suspicious lot of cleaning. But it's not readily apparent why the dust animates gargoyles, or why slime animates televisions, or why it's important to clean up the leaves in a forest. I mean, you'd think you could just leave those there- it is a forest, after all. But where some people may be frustrated by a lack of purpose, personally, I'm happy there are no cutscenes, or poorly written dialogs. The only characters in the game will state a sentence when you walk past them, and nothing else. There are no quests, no items. No important NPCs. No questgivers. Dustforce has a laser focus on what it does. And luckily for it, what it does, it does very well.

No question about it: Dustforce is one of the best games I've played this year. Pick it up. You won't regret it.


GET IT IF: You like platforming games, speedrunning, or challenging gameplay
PASS IF: You're looking for plot, don't like platforming, or are easily frustrated

19 September 2012

The Power is Out in Half Of My House

I may or may not have alluded to it in any of my other posts, but I am not completely devoid of maintenance experience. When an outlet doesn't work, I can fix it (though I rarely do, as I live in apartments). When a breaker trips, I go to reset it. When we buy stuff from IKEA or Walmart, I assemble it (while grumping that I could have built a better one myself.)

So when we got a new dryer, devoid of hookups or installation help, it was no big deal. The vent is an easy thing to put in, obviously, and the plug just requires you to screw the leads into the back panel, and then you plug it in. But somehow, somewhere, something went wrong. I plugged in the dryer. It arced with a stunning blue flash. Power is now out in half of my house. Me and my wife did a quick survey of our domain- the lights are out in the master bedroom, the master bathroom, the guest bathroom, and one of the living room lights are out. The light by the "shed" is out, as well. Uncomfortably, the air conditioning is off, too- I say uncomfortably because even in September it can be humid and miserable here in Virginia.

Luckily, our brand new dryer works just fine, so I test it. My wife, still upstairs, shouts down that the lights are back on! I turn off the dryer- and the lights turn back off. Now that, certainly, is unusual. I had to concede my ignorance and call in the maintenance guy. He was nice enough, but I think, used to people who don't know what they're talking about. I explained what was going on, and he patiently pretended to listen, reset the breakers, and called it good. I gave him the benefit of the doubt- I'm a nice guy, really, and I like to think that people are basically trustworthy and intend on doing a complete and thorough job.

I should know better, of course. Where I just moved from, it took the maintenance guys almost half a year to replace our broken dishwasher, the burnt out lightbulbs, and the leaking air conditioning. Half a year. Half a year we stared at a completely useless dish washer while doing the dishes by hand. I don't mind doing dishes, but the fact is that there is no reason it takes half a year to cart a new dish washer to our house. And when it came to the air conditioning, the man took thirty seconds to look at it, adjusted something, and left. The problem came back later the same day, so we asked once again for him to fix it. Same deal- quick fix, left in a flash. Had to call him again, where he took a little time and did it the right way, the way it should have been done the first time. Like I said, I know a little about maintenance. I may not have the tools, and may not want to mess with shit that I don't own and am not supposed to be messing with, but I do know a little bit.

But I digress. The power to half my house only works when the air conditioning is running, which is both stupid and confusing since it only blows lukewarm air. All I want is to have my house running the way it was before I plugged a completely mundane appliance into them. I wasn't aware that was such a tall order!

BREAKING NEWS: While writing this, I heard a knock on the door. In the time it took for me to get downstairs, I saw a white truck with a toolbox driving off. Did I miss the repair guy? He must have a lot of work to be unable to spare me more than thirty seconds of his time.

IMPORTANT EDIT (12:30am): The maintenance guy came over and brought a friend- the two of them spent nearly an hour but did succeed in getting my air conditioning working. The lights are still out in the master bedroom (that nobody really occupies), the master bathroom (ditto), and the guest bathroom (hello, candlelight showers). They did some thorough work, which is nice of them, and the most important parts of my house are working now. But I would very much like to have working ceiling fan in my bathroom, for pedestrian and obvious reasons.

17 September 2012

Mary, the Cat

Reading the insightful WayofCats blog makes me want to wax loquacious about my own kitty companions. I'll start with my beautiful big cat, Mary. 

Before we got the furniture into our new house, Mary couldn't find anywhere comfortable.
Until she got on top of the fridge, that is.
This is where she stayed, day and night, for the better part of a month.

We picked up Mary from a Furkids-sponsored PetSmart one lazy Sunday afternoon. Where we lived at in downtown Atlanta, there was a strip mall no more than maybe five or ten minutes away. On nice days, we liked to go walking and check out the Staples, the organic food mart, the Home Depot. But especially, we liked to go hang out with the kitties. 

Every sunday, they would let the kittens and the cats out of the cages that they had been temporarily sequestered in, partially to let the cats socialize with each other and get some of their boundless energy out, and partially to entice potential owners over with their cute shenanigans and scratchy mewling. There was always a volunteer there, of course, but we were welcomed pretty effusively into, essentially, a big wire bin full of cats and cat toys. The wife simply adored it, and we would visit the animal shelter repeatedly, sometimes twice or more a week. On the weeks we missed the free-roaming bit, we'd just check out the cats in their cages. They were generally happy to see us, if they weren't sleeping, and even though you're not supposed to poke your fingers through the cages, we would anyways. Only a single cat ever bit at our fingers (it bit me, the crazy thing), and I just learned my lesson. 

Besides, I'd had a cat pretty much my entire life; my wonderful (now deceased) Mittens was the guidepost for my cat interactions- through him, I'd gotten used to a cat that waited at the door for me; a cat that licked marshmallows; a great big cat who would beg for your attention and yet run from strangers. He was a great grey blur when he decided to try and relocate his massive body (which was only ever when new people came to the house) and he was one of my best friends. The day he died, it left a great fat hole in my life. He taught me how to read cats' body language, how to understand their thoughts through subtle head motions, tail quirking, and slight dilating of the pupils. With him as my spiritual cat guide (so to speak,) cats were easy to understand.

Which is why it hurt me so badly to see poor Mary. Where other cats had been more than happy to come out and say hello, or meow for attention, or just sleep and ignore us, I could see how badly the skinny black cat wanted our attention. She peeked at me from the back of the cage with her great green eyes, but made no motion whatsoever to come up to the cage. She was pushing herself as far back from the bars of the cage as she could get, and yet her eyes weren't wide and afraid- they were cautious, and searching. 

After our car was totalled in an accident, Animal Control picked  Mary up.
She had to stay there while we stayed in a hotel nearby.
When we got her back, she'd lost weight and was really afraid.
This picture is of me coaxing her out of her carrier, which I draped a blanket over.

I'd seen this look before. It was the look my poor, scared Mittens gave me when we had company over. It was the look that said, "Please, I'm so lonely and afraid, please help me." My heart melted when I put my fingers up to the cage and stood there. Mary edged closer, before she finally rubbed her head against my fingers. And she started purring!

I'd been telling my wife that I wasn't sure if we should get a cat. Money was tight, extremely tight, and cats can get expensive. Besides the adoption fees and potential medical bills, the cat would need food, dishes, cat litter, a cat box, all things that weren't going to be easy to come by on the skeletal income we were subsiding off of. Furthermore, I knew my wife (girlfriend at the time). She had, and still has, an extremely soft heart, and a tendency towards impulsiveness. If I said, "We can have a cat, yes," then we'd have one the very next day, probably the same day. 

So, it was surprising to her when I turned to her and said, "We are getting this cat."

And we got that cat. 

When we brought her home, she was terrified. It was an ordeal getting her into the temporary carrier the  shelter gave us. When cornered, she hissed until she realized it wasn't doing any good and then cried piteously. When we got her out of her cage, she scrambled into the first open cage she spotted (much to the consternation of the cat sleeping inside of it), sprinted out again, and kept trying cages until she found an empty one. The volunteer there insisted that she'd be ok, and offered to show us how to trim her claws. Mary wanted nothing to do with it, and managed to deal a couple of pretty deep gashes into the legs of the oblivious woman with her back legs. Who in their right mind tries to grab an obviously terrified cat and trim their claws? I was just ready to get her home.

When she was home, she wasn't much better. I opened the cage and she slowly peeked out, then sprinted into the closed, dove into the corner on some of my clothes (damn it, cat) and set up shop. I didn't see her move for weeks. But I knew she was eating when I woke up to her using the litterbox the next night, and to the sound of her eating out of the bowl I set just outside the closet. 

I'll spare the rest of the details, but soon she moved under the futon, a spot that remains her favorite in the house. She outgrew most of her shyness, although she remains a very, very timid cat. But she has a big personality behind the seeming shyness. When she wants food, she will come out from her sleeping spot and stare at you. If you ignore her, a couple quiet mews. If you keep up, she'll try a nice yowl or two, and maybe she'll come over and poke at you with her paws. When she wants to cuddle, she will walk over to you and ask, politely, with a mauu and a stare. When she wants you awake, she'll poke her head over the side of the bed, and quietly mew until you wake up. 

For a period of nearly two years, she was our only cat- first in Atlanta, and then when we moved out of the city to accommodate my loving mother after her divorce. Mary never much liked moving, of course, but the futon was always there, I was always there, and my wife was always there. And Mary was happy. Until, that is, the arrival of Pat aka Patricia aka Dammitpat. But that's a story for another time; I've already spent way too long talking about my damn cat. 

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...