Thursday, May 27, 2010

Seriously—Everyone Need To Play Portal

Back when I was High School a little game came out: Wolfenstein 3D

This little game changed the face of Electronic Gaming. It wasn't the first first-person-shooter, but every first person shooter since has pretty much been the same (Except for some six degrees of freedom games: Descent, Forsaken). The next big one after that was Doom, and I haven't really played a First-person-shooter (FPS) since then. I played Halo and Halo 2 a few times, but frankly they seemed about the same to me.

When I first started playing Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, it gave me headaches, but the play style was so new I just played through it and eventually got used to it and didn't have the problem any more. Then I stopped playing because every new FPS game was just more of the same, and now if I play FPS games the headaches and nausea manifest themselves almost immediately.

Some time ago, a game called Half Life came out. I don't know much about Half Life. What I understand, is that it introduced some puzzle elements to the FPS. Then Half Life 2 Came out, and my understanding is that it had really great modification tools available, and people were building completely new games based on Half Life 2. In fact, I think I knew people that bought it so they could play the Modified versions rather than the actual published game.

Then this thing called The Orange Box came out. It was a compilation of games all based on the same engine. (Half Life 2: Episode One and Two, Team Fortress 2 and Portal) I think that Most People Bought it for the Cartoony Team Fortress 2, and were surprised at the awesomeness of the new puzzle game Portal.

I don't play as many video games as I would like to, but I try to keep up with the news. Portal was all over the place for a while. Since it was first person I read about it (Since I knew I would most likely never play it, and I wanted to understand the jokes).

In the game you wake up in a cell and shortly thereafter a portal opens to let you out, then you are challenged with a puzzle to exit the area. For the most part there is nothing that directly threatens your life and you are just challenged with passing obstacles and opening doors to get to the next challenge. During your travels from level to level, a computer voice speaks to you and you feel as though you are being watched by some Big Brother Entity. Frankly, I felt like a rat in a maze—there are frosted glass areas that are high up and give you the impression that you are being watched.

The Puzzles all involve the use of portals that are linked (Walking through the Orange Portal, you exit at the location of the Blue portal and vice versa). For the first couple levels, the portals open and shut for you. Then you are able to obtain a portal generator that generates the blue portal, while the Orange portal is stable and cannot be manipulated. Then later your Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device is upgraded to allow you to create both the Blue and Orange Portals, this is where the game gets interesting.

As the computer continued to announce things, I started to get the impression that this was an experiment gone horribly horribly wrong. The computer voice would short/cut out right as it was about to give vital information. It started lying about its monitoring of the tests, and eventually was offering me cake to just give up.

This game was a short, but brilliant ride. It consists of nineteen levels. Eighteen of them, I would consider to be tutorials that teach you all the concepts that you need to know in order to get through the last level.

It's a good story. I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot because I get the impression that it takes place in the Half Life Universe, which I know nothing about. Still, I think it stands on its own quite well.

What prompted me to actually play this game?

I certainly wasn't going to buy it, given my history of physical illness when playing first person games. There is a service called Steam from which you can purchase and download full retail versions of games. May 12–24 they had Portal as a FREE download. (Apologies, I meant to get this written before the deal was over—now it's $20, which is a fair deal if you ask me.)

My daughter loves playing this. She makes no attempt to do what the game asks you to, but she gets a kick out of putting a portal in the floor and the ceiling and falling infinitely; she also likes making portals in corners so she can see herself.

I'm excited that there is a sequel planned, and I'm planning to get it.
In fact, I've wanted to play new content enough that I've downloaded some fan built levels, but they aren't as fun as the real deal, if anyone knows of any pro quality MODs for portal, let me know.

I know I'm late to the party on this one—the game came out in 2007—but for anyone that missed this, you really need to try it out.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dicecreator's Dice

Anyone that follows my ramblings should know I have a wee obsession with Dice.

Which leads me to looking for unique dice once in a while. A while ago, I stumbled across someone that manufactures unique and custom dice—and sells them on e-Bay, through his store: Unconventional Dice.

Shortly thereafter, I learned about his blog: Dicecreator's Blog, and I've been following it ever since. I have planned to purchase some of his carbon fiber and unusually numbered dice when I get the chance.

Then there was a contest in which I participated—and won. So here we are. I won the opportunity to review some of the dice created by the Dicecreator. FULL DISCLOSURE: I was sent a pair of dice free, for review purposes. 

Let's start with a picture of the dice.

We have here a Halo Die and a Steam-punk Die.

The Symbols are inlaid brass, and they look very nice. I thought I read somewhere care instructions for the dice so that the patina they develop is nice and even, but I can't seem to locate that. With brass in there you would wonder about the fairness. I know that is a real concern of the Dicecreator and he has made a commitment to never sell an unfair dice.

I'm no statistician, but they do seem to roll just like every other d6 I own—they roll all over the place: high, low, and medium. They roll low when I want them to roll high and high when I want them to roll low.

Now here's the funny thing, I just described the way they roll as fair, just like all the other dice I own—and now I'm going to describe the way they roll as just like the loaded dice that I own. What could I possibly mean by that? It's because of the brass. The added weight makes them skittle across the table low, i.e. they don't bounce as high as standard dice, but they do roll as far.

It was kind of weird to see at first, and I couldn't quite figure it out until I watched it a few times.

Let's talk quality. These dice have been in my pocket since I received them. Here is a picture of the contents of said pocket.

You may not think a pocket is a rough place to travel, but look at the phone and the pen. All that damage happened in my pocket. The dice are durable enough to take the abuse. In fact, I found myself rather clumsy the week I received them and dropped them from about four feet on multiple occasions.

I must say, I really enjoy these dice. They look great, they're easy to read, they're fun to use at the game table, they're durable, high quality.

I give them A+, 4 Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and every other Appropriate Superlative Available.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Someone At The Library Loves Me

My Wife asked me to pick some things up for her at the Library recently. It had probably been over a year since I was last in that building—I love reading, but I just have been involved in so many other things, that I hadn't taken the time to go to the Library; and my Wife usually goes with the kids when I'm at work.

So I perused the DVDs briefly. It's hard to get a quick look at all the DVDs because of the way they have them shelved. I only saw a fraction of what was available, and I didn't see anything that jumped out at me as a must watch now title. So I decided to check out the Instructional Art books, see if there was anything worth taking a look into, or something that might Jog my creativity.

I found that they had completely rearranged the library and what was once a Non-fiction, Dewey Decimal section, was now young adult fiction. I couldn't remember the number of the section the art books were in, which means a trip to the computer. While looking that up at the computer system, I got curious as to whether they had any Role Playing Game books in the system. I made a note of the section they were in and headed over to find them.

This is when I discovered that someone at the Library loves me. I spotted 3 full shelves—top to bottom—of Graphic Novels & Comic Books. Last time I had gotten comic books at the library, there was only about half of a single shelf; and most of that was newspaper stuff (Garfield, The Far Side, Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Dilbert, Garfield...Garfield). One full shelve and a third of the second shelve was Manga, which I'm not really in to. The rest however, was Superhero and Independent stuff—Titles that I've wanted to read for years. Things I haven't read because I lack the funds to justify purchasing such things.

I don't know who is doing the purchasing for the library, but they seem to know their stuff. There was a small, independently published, obscure, title on the shelf that I've wanted to read ever since I heard about it—Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer. Think about's a Brilliant idea, and well executed, I only had one complaint about it, and that was the use of the slang "Cool" it felt out of place.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Short Game This Week

I moved the Deadlands: Reloaded game to Friday this week, people had fewer conflicts—all week I've been working hard at getting my Resume and Portfolio in order, and I hadn't really had a chance to prepare for the game properly.

Friday before the game I was trying to read through the material for the game and my 1.5 year old came to sit on the couch next to me, and threw up. So, I cleaned that up. Just as I finished taking care of that, my four year old wet her pants.

When people showed up, I still had not finished prepping the game. The couple that came have a child who has problems with seizures, so we warned them about the state of heath in our home (their child was with them) and they made a quick trip to the grandparents. The other person that had planned on coming sent a message that she wasn't feeling well. I felt like calling the game, but everyone wanted to play.

So we started late and I was under prepared.

When we got to the end of the only encounter I had planned, I let the small group know that we had reached the end of what I prepared, and called the game an hour earlier than I generally plan.

I generally like to run games completely analog. Part of what I like about Role Playing Games, is that they are low tech. I often use the computer to prepare the game, but I like the table to be free of Electronics. (The Exception being that I do want to get an e-reader) Since I wasn't completely ready for the game, I used a laptop as GM Screen, and Books.

Running a game out of PDF versions of the books seems a little slow. I had managed to get all the stat blocks for the evening copied into Word, I found that to be very convenient.

Halfway into the encounter my wife was mocking me for closing the notebook computer's screen every time I wanted to look at the battle mat—suggesting that I use the webcam. Frankly that was brilliant!!!

You can see from this screenshot (click for full size) that I had Deadlands, and The Flood open in PDF as well as a word file for my Encounters. If you look close you'll see that all the figures we were using were Zombies—I need to get some more appropriate figures for this game. I have the Deadlands board game; the figures in that are appropriate for the player characters, but I need to look at all my little toys and see what I have for the Monsters. The Encounter from last nights game was our player characters versus tunnel critters—mostly represented by Zombies on the map.

We didn't get a lot of story covered, so I would have awarded 1 XP. However, I was impressed that nobody took the "bait" and acted impulsively versus some of the things leading up to the final encounter of the evening or attacked inappropriately—so 2 XP for the night.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Let the Job Search Begin

So, officially my last day was a week ago though I left Thursday and did not return. I've spent the week updating my resume and pulling together all the graphic design I did in the past two years to update my portfolio.

I'm tempted to post my resume here, but I try to Keep information about where I live vague on this site. Though I think that that may not have been the case when I first started the blog, so It might be a moot point, I haven't gone back and looked.

Monday they told us to apply for unemployment now, and by now they meant before June first. Today I tried twice to do so and the website crashed on me. The second time I decided to call as instructed, because I had gotten much further into the process and didn't want to type all that stuff in again.

I forgot that it was Friday, and our local government doesn't do Fridays. Perhaps I'll try again later today...or wait until Monday.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Ummm—Tell Me Again Why We're Going In the Dark Creepy Hole?

I am not happy with the way last night's session of Deadlands went. It was my fault. I felt as direction-less as my players were probably feeling. I had decided that they would probably end up going back to Denver. Brandon decided to Retcon the Head Chopping action from the last game, and I was perfectly happy to allow that. What I wanted to do was feel out what the players wanted to do when they got to Denver. I had 3–4 things that I could take the players through after feeling out what they wanted to do in Denver—and most likely ended up headed to Mexico.

Things were very direction-less however, so I had to make a decision. I felt like I was forcing things, and I messed up part of the description that I'm going to have to fix.

I felt a little flustered every time Brandon would "loot" the scene. It was pulling me out of the narrative, but it wasn't out of character for him to be doing that. I also think I need to read up on how spell-casting works; I trust Brandon, but I would feel more comfortable if I understood the mechanics of it better.

We started the Flood last night, and I found it a little tricky to get the characters to go where they needed to go. I guess if they had decided to not go down into the scary hole, they would have met some sharply dressed businessmen back in Denver.

I had also planned to run an interlude session on the Train, but I forgot to print out the interludes document. I wanted to run the interlude, because part of the issues I have as Marshall (Game Master) seem to be rooted in the fact that the posse doesn't feel compelled to be together. So they decided to role play it out sans interlude card drawing. I think that went ok, but I feel it cemented the fact that there's not a lot of cohesion in the group.

I guess I just didn't feel connected to the game last night. I was pretty upset about it, it was stressing me and I even snapped at Justin when he questioned part of the narrative.

The only part that seemed to go okay was the combat. I threw a lot more villains at them than the scenario called for, and it seemed to work out okay, I was rolling lousy—but I was using Fate chips, so was everyone else, so that went well—but there wasn't a lot of description (another failure on my part) so it was the ROLL play portion of the evening.

I feel that overall I did a lousy job last night. I hope I can run a better game in two weeks.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010

The trick is to take your family along with you. Limit 10 per person—so I took 4 persons (Including Myself). There weren't even 40 comics that I wanted. I think we ended up with three copies of the Toy Story Comic, which is good; one for each kid and an extra when one inevitably gets destroyed.

They didn't seem to be handing these out to everyone—but I got one. A War Machine Hero Clix. Probably because Iron Man 2 released yesterday.

Yes, that's a picture of me in a Batman T-Shirt With Guy Gardner. COME ON!! I was at free comic book day—you have to be nerdy and pose with Guy Gardner!! At least I wasn't dressed up like Rorschach (Yes there was a customer there dressed as Rorschach). Funny thing—Green Lantern has always been my favorite, but back when I was actually collecting comics they weren't doing much with Green Lantern. Now it's Green Lantern this and Green Lantern that and I just peripherally experience it because I don't have disposable income to spend on comics these days.

Then there were these, I was pretty Excited to see them. I know, you're saying to yourself—but you already have a set of those! Well, these are the Mini Versions. See...

Emily was making fun of me for being so excited—then she spotted the mini version of her Toxic Orange Set and insisted that I pick them up before they were all gone.

I also got a standard size set of Pink/Purple Sparkly Dice for my four year old Daughter.

It was a good Free Comic Book Day. Now it's time to prepare for my Deadland's Game Tonight.