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|Thursday, December 8th, 2016|
|Android Games Reviews: The Second KEMCO Humble Bundle #6 - Alphadia 2
Two centuries after Energi mostly disappeared (in the ending of the first Alphadia
), the mechanical revolution has taken place. Reunited childhood friends Leon and Milfy are working for the Guild, doing odd jobs and protecting the locals from monsters.( Collapse )
Overall: If you enjoyed the first Alphadia
, this is more of the same to a ridiculous degree. Honestly, though, it’s not great, and KEMCO has much stronger offerings.
|Tuesday, December 6th, 2016|
The Anti-Anxiety Toolkit by Melissa Tiers
- A very straightforward collection of exercises to help deal with the “brainweasels” sort of anxiety, when it either doesn’t have a clear cause or it has a cause you can’t do anything about. I feel like it’s in the same vein as cognitive-behavioral therapy, though this is in bite-sized “tricks” rather than an overall plan of attack. I suspect you need to actually pick a few and practice them when you AREN’T having severe anxiety before they’ll do much, though. Many of them rely on a willingness to let the anxiety go, and like depression, when you’re in the throes of it, you don’t want
to let the anxiety go.The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane
- Setting: Camp for emotionally-disturbed teenagers. Characters: Assorted damaged teenagers, standard Breakfast Club
references included. Observation 1: Grover is an asshole
. Granted, he’s the sort of snarky, boundary-pushing asshole that we as a society have decided should be the male lead in teen romantic comedies, but he’s still an asshole and the fact he’s never called on it irritates me. Observation 2: Cassie is a justifiable, abused asshole; but it shouldn’t be Zander’s responsibility to “save” her. Observation 3: This book loves the classic YA “adults are useless” narrative, though I suppose a softened reading of that would be “adults are broken people too.” Observation 4: Nobody gets “fixed” so much as they go into remission, which is refreshingly realistic. Theory: The author was once a kid like this and at least some of the characters are based on real people. Conclusion: I don’t think I actually like “put a bunch of broken people together with incompetent supervision and they’ll fix each other” stories. It fits a certain anti-intellectual theme that pervades our society, writing off professionals and systemic help in favor of bootstrapping. This wasn’t a bad book, but left a bad taste in my mouth in retrospect.Good Intentions by Elliott Kay
- I lost track of where I heard about this, but it’s the story of a man who accidentally gets an angel and a succubus both bound to him. The thing is, it’s clearly a wish-fulfillment fantasy (as the number of sex scenes would indicate) and it goes on FAR too long with too little interpersonal conflict and too few jokes. As the wit was lacking and the story dragged, I only made it a third of the way through before giving up.Dear Cthulhu Vol. 1: Have a Dark Day and Dear Cthulhu Vol. 2: Good Advice for Bad People by Patrick Thomas
- Heavily influenced by the classic Dear Abby and Ann Landers columns, including bits about mailing her $4.95 for a pamphlet of advice. The second book actually gets stronger as it goes on, as he stops leaning on the Cthulhu responses as the entire joke and makes the people writing in progressively more terrible. This was sold to me as “bathroom reading”, and that’s accurate—reading a couple of columns at a time is amusing, but marathoning the books gets repetitive…just like reading the archives of ANY advice column.Hidden Youth ed. Mikki Kendall & Chesya Burke
- Definitely has the “anthology problem” of the stories being wildly uneven—a few are genuinely clever, but many are ho-hum paranormal stories (and historical fiction paranormal stories, at that) that happen to have minority/marginalized characters. I bought this (via Kickstarter) because ecmyers
had a story in it, and his Chinese steampunk mech story didn’t disappoint. I was also amused by K.T. Katzmann’s golem story, “The Bread-Thing in the Basket” and Alec Austin’s “The Paper Sword.” Overall, though, I was unenthused.
And as a bonus graphic novel, Unmasked Seeking Same
was one I picked up at Philcon, about superheroes attempting to have love lives. Amusing concept that I’d see elsewhere, very sitcom-esque, credit for diversity, enjoyable but forgettable.
|Android Games Reviews: Amazon Underground “Actually Free” Games #5 - Ducktales Remastered
In 1989, one of the best games for the NES was, surprisingly, a media tie-in game called Ducktales
, in which Scrooge McDuck used his cane to pogo-jump on enemies and retrieve treasures. 25 years later, an updated remake of that game was released.( Collapse )
Overall: This is a very fun bit of nostalgia and still a particularly strong platformer game. But play a console version, not the Android one—your thumbs will thank you.
|Monday, December 5th, 2016|
|Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (Netflix)
Nine years after the series ended, we pick up the story of Rory, Lorelei and Emily Gilmore and their ongoing family drama, and finally get some resolution on a number of things. The more things (and people change), the more things stay the same.Warning: SPOILERS( Collapse )
Overall: This was the six-hour resolution movie to a series that didn’t otherwise get a proper ending. I’d go so far to call it required watching to fans of the series even if (as I did) you skipped large chunks of the latter seasons. It doesn’t stand alone in the slightest and there are plenty of problems with it, but I enjoyed it.
|Monday, November 21st, 2016|
This con was a bit more for Jethrien than for me, but that’s okay. Philcon tends towards being a “literary” con; there’s relatively little emphasis on comics or anime and they don’t get big media guests. But that worked out fine, and this isn’t our first rodeo, so we knew what we were getting into.
ARR spent the first few hours with his great-aunt (which included bonus visits by his great-grandmother, great-great-aunt, and second cousin), while Jethrien and I both attended panels. I think my personal favorite was the “Made of Balonium” panel, talking about technobabble and made-up science. One panelist brought up the possibility of running an FTL ship off a “kitten drive,” which requires the smallest, cutest child on board to bring a kitten to engineering for sacrifice. The more heart-wrenching the scene, the faster the ship goes. I also ordered a copy of X-Machina
based on that panel, as the publisher was on the panel and pimped it.
After Jethrien picked up ARR, I took him to the games room, as he’s been big into trying out new board games lately. Games ARR tried out included (but were not limited to) Get Bit!
, Quick Cups
, Sushi Go!
, Roll For It!
, and Spot It Junior Animals
. (We also made a brief attempt at Dungeon Roll
, but decided it was too complicated.) He also spent 45 minutes with a wooden hub-and-spoke construction set, building a giant starship engine with a little girl around his age. I don’t feel a desperate need to buy any of these games—none seemed to stand out as a massive success—but they were all amusing.
Then we joined Ivy03 and D for sushi dinner. I played a few more games with ARR, then he watched a few videos and went to bed. I had considered staying up and reading after ARR was asleep, but it turned out an 8pm bedtime was what I needed, too. Jethrien was out late, so the next morning we let her go back to sleep as I took ARR for breakfast and then to play with transformers and dinosaurs in the hotel’s “conversation pit” in the lobby. The games room re-opened at 10am and we returned there for an hour, and Jethrien took over game-playing so I could properly check out the dealer’s room. I bought the four-book set of “Dear Cthulhu” advice columns and a trade paperback about superheroes attempting speed-dating.
We then met my friend and fellow Koleinu alum Rivka for lunch at a glatt kosher pan-Asian place, which worked out very nicely. ARR was very well behaved and very happily tried everything, as this was “a restaurant with no cow milk.” We stopped in to visit Jethrien’s other grandmother on the way home, where ARR was fascinated with a wooden marble-powered machine that apparently had fascinated the previous two generations as well.
And then we went home and fell over, because we were all exhausted.
|Stranger Things (Netflix, Series 1)
A geeky boy goes missing and a girl with superpowers shows up; moms freak out and the sheriff kicks ass; government conspiracies and aliens monsters, oh my!
My commentary is very spoiler-heavy.( Collapse )
Overall: When the show opens with a D&D game, do you really think I wouldn’t like it? That was a really fun bit of TV, even if the “children in danger” and child disappearance / death plot points freak me out a little. I’m looking forward to season 2.
|Thursday, November 17th, 2016|
A random thought: Last night, I successfully herded ARR in the direction I wanted him to go because he was playing “Super-A” and was looking for clues (that all seemed to be leading away from our house), and I “spotted a villain sneaking around” in the direction I wanted him to charge. This kind of herding is a skillset I’ve been honing over 20 years of running tabletop rpgs.
Then it occurred to me that the, “Yes, and…” style of theatrical improv is the best advice I could ever give for imaginative play with small children: Just run with, and build on, everything they come up with. I’ve always been pretty good at improv, but then, it’s a very similar skillset, again, to running tabletop rpgs.
And I was always into imaginative play as a small child. We even have many hours of video evidence of it. I got into D&D in the first place because it seemed like a more structured and grown-up way to play pretend.
Am I good at playing pretend with my son because I did theater and play rpgs, or am I good at theater and rpgs because I played pretend as a child? Or is it all collectively one activity that I’ve probably hit the 10,000 hour mark on?
|Wednesday, November 16th, 2016|
|Android Games Reviews: Dangerous Dungeons
I randomly happened upon a game called Tiny Dangerous Dungeons
in the Play Store. It’s a Metroidvania game, done in Game Boy-style green-tinted graphics that remind me very strongly of the game Kid Dracula
*. Relatively short, very straightforward (there isn’t much ability to deviate from the path, and only a handful of non-essential secrets to find) but fun. My biggest complaint is that the throwing knife and stomp boots come relatively late in the game, so you spend about half of it unable to kill anything. But the challenge level is appropriate, and there are plenty of save/restore points and virtually no cheap instant death.
Turns out, there’s a game using many of the same assets called Super Dangerous Dungeons
, as well. This one uses SNES-style graphics and the same control scheme…but it’s a level-segmented puzzle platformer, not a Metroidvania. Which was greatly disappointing, because the stereotypical setpieces that work just fine when integrated in a larger dungeon just feel overdone when they’re the entire stage. So I was much less enthused with this game.
Credit to them in both cases that I never minded the onscreen buttons, which is a rarity for tablet games.* There’s a wonderful Let’s Play of Kid Dracula if you aren’t familiar with it.
|Tuesday, November 15th, 2016|
|You Know What Else is Dangerous? BundleStars – Part Seventeen: Indie Jam Bundle - Action Mix
Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic
- A weird sort of cross between a casual rpg and a roguelike. You form a party and set forth into generic fantasy set-piece battles; each character has two equipable items and two skills, and you can have one of them act each turn, while the party of three enemies has the same restrictions. You take turns smashing each other’s faces in as you wait for skills to recharge. I found it too strategic for a casual rpg but far too straightforward for a roguelike. (If you don't set up your party as Healer, DPS, Tank, you'll likely die. If you do, battles take a while but aren't so bad.) And the plot is basically ignorable.SoulCraft
- A top-view beat-em-up with rpg elements, vaguely reminiscent of the later Gauntlet
games. You play as an angel who has come from the Soul World to fight demons on earth. There are multiple currencies and you get extra gold for liking them on Facebook and for each day you play...but they don't seem available to buy for real money, so I'm not entirely sure what the end-goal there is.Deadly 30
- Side-scrolling zombie survival game. After you survive the first night, you can go out during the day to gather ammo and scrap metal. Then you need to build defenses and spend the night defending your base from the hordes. Meh?Arson and Plunder: Unleashed
- Side-scrolling beat-em-up where you can switch between a fire mage and an orc barbarian. The gameplay is NES-level, just with a few extra buttons dedicated to your special attacks (which are severely limited), and the later levels play just like the earlier ones, only with larger swarms of enemies. The story is an excuse plot with some cute dialogue, though it's overall very short (six areas, five levels each).Devils & Demons
- 1,000 years ago, a band of heroes sealed the portal that allowed demons to attack our realm. Now, they're back. (The demons, that is. No word on the heroes.) A hex-map tactical rpg with a mouse-driven interface and relatively few combat options, and a tendency to move the story/spawn enemies in such a way that they get free attacks on you. There's plenty of game here, but it's too slow-moving for my tastes and clearly likes to drag out combats.Skilltree Saga
- Amusing as an exercise in making numbers go up. The princess has been kidnapped by goblins, blah blah blah--you're an elemental knight who must fight sequences of monsters with the skills you earn via leveling up your skilltree. It's casual-game achievement-earning and amusement grinding at its purest.Trapped Dead: Lockdown
- A zombie beat-em-up (3/4 view, rpg elements, clear Diablo
influences) that I found shockingly playable. (Especially on Easy mode.) You choose one of five characters, each with different skills and a different reason for being in the town that zombies are terrorizing. Each character has different weapons and skills they’re proficient in, and there’s a variety of options in each weapon tree. Amusingly, rather than gain experience, your fear decreases with every fight, and bottoming out means you gain a level.TRISTOY
- Evil attacks the realm, prince and princess are captured, blah blah blag. This is a short, co-op platform/combat game with a few boss fights and a fairly complex web of dialogue options. This game requires
two players, and that you work in tandem to maneuver a dungeon escape. The fact that I don't have another platformer player handy and I wasn't wild about the mechanics to begin with means I'm not going to seek one out.Shiny The Firefly
- Shiny has lost his babies and needs to recover them. I was vaguely looking forward to this as a puzzle platformer...but it's a mouse-driven puzzle platformer. You click to move Shiny around and double-click to make him dash to dodge things and move objects. That's not actually so fun. I tried again and was able to actually play it with a controller on my second go, which improves the experience, except that the controller instructions for throwing seeds didn't work, so I had to use a mouse for that. Again, irritating. And honestly, even with workable controls, there isn't much to the puzzles and it's not particularly fun. Oh, well.
The shooter Solar Shifter EX
was also in this bundle, but I wasn’t interested.
Overall: This was a clear case where everything had potential, but nothing really panned out for me. I still definitely got my $2 worth from the bundle.
|Glitch (Netflix, Series 1)
In the small town of Yoorana, six people claw their way out of their graves, suddenly alive and apparently in perfect health. They don’t know how they got there—they didn’t even know they’d been dead—but now the local sheriff and urgent care doctor have to figure out what to do with them.( Collapse )
Overall: I thought this was well-done, though I’ll admit that I was hoping for a full story and I got “chapter one” of something clearly intended to be much longer. I suppose we’ll see how the second season goes.
|Monday, November 14th, 2016|
|Other Things I’ve Watched: Movies and Theater
Garfunkel and Oats
- I found this short TV series reminiscent of The Monkees
, with loosely-connected goofy slice-of-life plots and musical breaks interspersed. They got an impressive collection of guest stars crammed into the eight episodes. It’s fun, but I’m not surprised it didn’t find an audience—their style is really better suited to Youtube shorts than a full 22-minute episode.Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
- The Flash deals with a totally broken timeline in which Aquaman and Wonder Woman are poised to destroy the world. If you haven’t read the original comics and have a good enough knowledge of DC characters to recognize everybody, you’re going to be seriously confused.Star Trek Beyond
- This was a lot of fun, and better than Into Darkness
mostly in that it didn't have many of the problems, not that it was a notably better movie on its merits. There wasn't much we hadn't seen before, there were some nice plotholes (though not nearly as huge as the previous two movies); but the dialogue and character interactions were snappy and the whole ensemble cast got to show off. Arguably the best of the three new Trek movies.Sunday in the Park with George
- On one hand, this was a very well-presented show with an excellent score and very talented performers. On the other hand, the material is so much “artistic” wanking it’s not even funny. Look at all the amazing references to art history I’ve made here! Share my ANGST about ART! (Also, I didn’t realize that a song from tick, tick…BOOM!
was a direct parody of a song from this show.)tick, tick…BOOM!
- I realized shortly after she walked on stage that Hawkgirl was playing Susan. What I didn’t realize until reading the Playbill was that I’d also probably seen her as the leading player in the recent revival of Pippin
(the one with Terrence Mann as Charles). Which makes it a super-shame that there’s basically no dancing in this show, because she was amazing in that. I was underwhelmed by Johnny because he either sang with an insanely nasal voice (which grated on me) or a Ben Folds-esque rock voice (which would have worked as a stylistic choice if he’d actually been consistent with it). Michael didn’t match my personal vision of the character, but the actor did a nice job anyway. And despite its resonance with me dying down after I turned 30, finished my MBA, bought a house, and had a kid, I still do really like this show.Pentatonix – 2016 World Tour
- Much more of a classic arena “rock concert” than pretty much every other concert we’ve been to recently, which was a nice change of place, though I’ll admit the more “intime” venues are more my style. They got a bunch of audience members up on stage for one song, which made this the Best Birthday Ever for one 14-year-old fan. Also, we got $7 ice creams, because the Prudential Center wants to grow up to be Madison Square Garden.
|Wednesday, November 9th, 2016|
Go home, 2016. You're drunk.
|Monday, November 7th, 2016|
|Random Jersey City Food Notes
The Kungfu Jianbing
food truck is actually very tasty—it’s apparently a popular Chinese street food, and while I’d never heard of it before, I like it. Basically it’s meat, veggies and hoisin sauce in a buckwheat crepe. Also, they gave me a free milk tea with my jianbing, and they make very nice—if, as is typical, problematically strong—milk tea.
I’ve been consistently less impressed by Incrediballs
, which is best described as “bro food.” Lots of Sriracha and jalapenos, less actual flavor.
We went back to Miso Ramen
and made an interesting discovery: While I was underwhelmed by their miso ramen at our past visit, their shoyu ramen is very nice. Perhaps they misnamed the restaurant.
Of note, in the past few months Porto
and Tommy Two-Scoops
have closed, and I’m not sure of the state of Union Republic
|Thursday, November 3rd, 2016|
|Fuller House (Netflix, Season 1)
Twenty years after Full House
ended, the family reunites at their old home to celebrate going their separate ways. Until it becomes clear that the challenges of single parenting (following her husband’s death) are too much for DJ, and Stephanie and Kimmie agree to move in to the old house to help her raise her three boys. It’s déjà vu all over again.( Collapse )
Overall: If you don’t have the nostalgia factor for the original show, there are far better sitcoms to watch. This doesn’t really stand up without that. But given that I totally have the nostalgia factor and am squarely in the demographic this is aimed at…yeah, I dig it. Don’t judge me.
|Tuesday, November 1st, 2016|
|An Assortment of RPGMaker Games
Dragon Quest: Legacy of the Lost
- This is a love song to Dragon Quest 7
, done in the style of the GBA remakes of the first three games in the series. The plot is roughly the same as DQ7, as you’re on a small island that appears to be the only land in the world, and there’s a shrine that you can use to time travel via collected shards of maps. Each area you travel back to has a new town, a new dungeon or two, and a problem you need to solve. Classic DQ equipment, spells and monsters feature heavily; the combat system is fairly smooth and fast; and there are TinyMedals to collect and secrets to find. The creator did an excellent job of recreating the feel of a true era-appropriate DQ game. The problem is, DQ7 was my least favorite of the games (it’s too long with too much grinding and too little plot) and the GBA games were my least favorite style of DQ game. I think when I next feel the urge for some DQ grinding goodness, I’ll just buy myself a copy of the new 3DS remake of DQ7 and get the full experience.Final Fantasy: Blackmoon Prophecy Plus
- Speaking of love letters, this one is to the SNES-era Final Fantasy
games, particularly FF4, which was the source of both the tileset and much of the music. The plot flows like one of those games, with a constantly-shifting party made up of the classic classes; issues with the elemental crystals; increasing monster problems; etc. The game balance is a little wonky, especially when you only have one character in your party. The plot is the sort of highly derivative thing you’d expect from the premise, which on one hand is totally cool and on the other is all things I’ve seen before.Final Fantasy: Legend of Balance
- A FF6-style game that heavily references the online entries of the Final Fantasy
series (along with some of the author’s inside jokes from his online gaming circle). This is not “for” me, as I have described things in the past. The online FF games are the only ones I haven’t played, but that’s enough that the references are lost on me, and the game isn’t strong enough to carry without them.
Overall: I don’t think any of these are bad games, and I applaud them for achieving their stated goals of recreating a certain gaming experience. I’m just not interested in more than a couple of hours of any of those gaming experiences.
|Android Games Reviews: Amazon Underground “Actually Free” Games #4 - Dead Dragons
Dragons once ruled the world, but humans defeated them 100 years ago. Now, there’s a rumor one has been seen again. When Will hunts down that dragon, he’s scarred with a cursed dragonmark that will give him awesome powers but then kill him. But were the dragons really evil, and was their slaughter really justified?( Collapse )
Overall: I couldn’t get into it, which was surprising and disappointing after Soul Historica
. I suspect I should wait a bit before I try the next KEMCO game, just to go into it fresh.
|Monday, October 31st, 2016|
Before You Leap by Keith Houghton
- A Kindle First book obviously intended to appeal to fans of Fight Club
, featuring a main character so up his own ass that he could brush his teeth from back there. As this is told from the first-person viewpoint of that character (and the prose is almost Lovecraftian in its purpleness), it’s hard to believe that the author isn’t just as much up his own ass, prone to sweeping pronouncements about the nature of all men or all women, and why despite his crippling deficiencies (the character is prone to stress-induced blackouts) he’s a cut above them. The ending, by the way, decides to skip the obvious buildup and claim it was a double-twist, which makes significantly less sense than Kyle being Tyler Durden. Eve, on the other hand, is exactly what you’d expect. Meh.Rewinder by Brett Battles
- A cute little YA time-travel adventure, so long as a) you don’t think about it too hard and b) you don’t mind a little America, Fuck Yeah! Denny is a low-caste citizen of the North America British Empire in 2015, until he’s recruited into the time-traveling Upjohn Institute and accidentally screws up all of history. He then proceeds to bounce around our world’s present until he decides which world deserves saving. (No guesses which he eventually picks.) I don’t think I’ll hunt down the sequel, but I was entertained.Why Me? by Sarah Burleton
- A memoir by a child abuse survivor best described as misery porn. It made me sick to my stomach and made me want to just hug ARR for hours. I have no idea why I thought reading this would be a good idea.The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
- Creepy yet adorable, a trademark Gaiman blend of terrifying things and childlike innocence. I suspect that if I read this to ARR in a couple of years, he wouldn’t find it particularly frightening at all—it isn’t presented as frightening, for the most part it’s presented with childlike wonder. But the same story in a different tone, or to an adult who understands all of what’s going on? The stuff of nightmares. Like most things Gaiman has written, this is highly recommended.
|DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (TV series, Season 1)
After Vandal Savage kills his wife and son, Rip Hunter goes AWOL from the Time Masters and recruits an assortment of supporting cast members from The Flash
to travel through time and kill Savage before his rise to power. Surprisingly, recruiting a ragtag group of misfits doesn’t actually go that well, as infighting, incompetence and a complete inability to plan ahead cause them to screw up history even worse than when they started.( Collapse )
Overall: Okay, honestly, there’s a lot of stupid in this show; it’s arguably the weakest of the four Arrowverse shows. That said, it’s still fun comic-book action if you’re willing to turn your brain off for it. Word has it so far that season 2 gets better, dropping some of the weaker characters and having more fun with the time-travel premise.
|Thursday, October 27th, 2016|
|Android Games Reviews: Amazon Underground “Actually Free” Games #3 - Soul Historica
In a world where humanity’s extinction by soul-stealing monsters has only been held off by the prophetic abilities of the mysterious Nemesis and the Soul Cages that he introduced, York discovers that Nemesis’ intentions may not be as pure as he’s always been taught. When his home town is burned and his girlfriend is killed in a deliberate sacrifice by Nemesis, he leaves the order of knights. When he discovers that his wife is still alive and has been held captive by the order, he vows to discover the truth behind Nemesis’ actions.( Collapse )
Overall: This is short and decent from a gameplay perspective, but I think it actually manages to have one of the best plots of any KEMCO game—lots of things happen with relatively little filler (besides replaying the multiple paths, and those are both fast and worth it for the plot), and it doesn’t all wrap up neatly. Nice!
|Wednesday, October 26th, 2016|
|The Foods of Chicago
Jethrien and I celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Chicago (while my parents very generously hosted their grandson for a long weekend). We did the architectural society’s boat tour, which was awesome; and the Big Bus tour, which was kinda lame. But mostly, we ate.( Collapse )