Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

October 22, 2013

TMoRP Day 6 – Just Cause 2

I play more video games than I should and far fewer than I would like to.

(In another life I would very much like to test the neo-Calvinist adage contending that “Nobody ever looks back on their lives and says ‘I wish I’d played more video games’.” Because, honestly, that’s bullshit. I absolutely wish I played more video games, and in a futuristic post-scarcity utopia that has dispensed with the necessities of food, shelter and providing for loved ones, I would jack myself into the X-Station 2600 Virtual Arcade before you could say “smelly otaku”.)

There are any number of things that will suck me into a game and keep me playing it, but number one on the list is a large world to explore. Open-world sandboxes are my crack cocaine, especially since I gave up crack for video games [1]. You give me a halfway decent map, some kind of firearm to see off roaming predators and enough hours in the day and I promise I won’t come up for breath for hours.

Which brings me to Just Cause 2.

JC2 is a first-person shooter by Avalanche Studios, in which you play Rico Rodriguez, a CIA operative infiltrating the vaguely-defined south-east Asian island nation of Panau in order to overthrow dictator Pandak ‘Baby’ Panay (whose towering statues hilariously adorn virtually every corner of the country). There are secret CIA plants, criminal factions and international enemy agents, not to mention an infinite supply of heavily-armed police and soldiers between you and the insane climactic showdown.

That’s the plot, but it’s breathtakingly irrelevant next to three things:

1) You can roam the entire vast map, consisting of one large and dozens of smaller islands, going anywhere you please and using any number of cars, motorbikes, planes, helicopters and boats to get there. If you have the patience, you can swim along any of the hundreds of rivers, bays and straits or climb every rambling snow-capped mountain. If you can see something on the map, you can make your way there somehow. And it might take you forever to uncover every town, village and roadside market – some of them are just not marked on the map. For intrepid explorers nursing mildly obsessive completists tendencies like myself, it’s a free-roaming paradise.

2) Related to Point 1, Rico spends a lot of time getting about with his personal transport gear, an improbably versatile parachute and a wrist-mounted grappling hook. Between them they elevate Just Cause 2 to a crazy thrill-seeker’s paradise. The parachute can be deployed and discarded at will, allowing for all sorts of ridiculous freefall stunts and lazy, sooth paragliding exploration. The grapple allows Rico to scale cliffs, yank unsuspecting enemies off roofs, hijack everything from motorbikes to helicopters to jet fighters, attach bad guys to moving cars (hilariously fatal!) and – almost best of all – safely arrest a terminal velocity skydive. The timing is tricky on that last one, but totally worth experimenting.

3) Nearly everything is susceptible to destruction by firearms, explosives or missiles, and ‘Baby’ Panay’s grip on his people can be broken if you just disrupt enough of his national infrastructure. Which means that Rico can cheerfully wander about the island blowing up everything from police cars to electrical transformers, from wind farms to oil refineries, from SAM installations to nuclear missile silos. Everything you destroy attracts the attention of Panau’s heavily-armed police force, though, so blowing up a power generator invariably leads to a crazily-escalating firefight.

I don’t know if I can adequately convey the sheer, manic glee of stumbling across some hidden Panauan army base, setting off a bunch of triggered explosives and then getting into a running firefight with a battalion of pissed-off soldiers and the helicopter gunships they call in for support. First-person shooters aren’t for everyone – and this one is both pretty violent and has some very questionable politics, not to mention its hilariously bad voice acting – but if you like to combine your touristy impulse to go everywhere and collect everything with your uncontrollable urge to commit acts of destructive mayhem, Just Cause 2 has you covered, quite possibly for the rest of your life. Just Cause 2 is the only shooter I’ve ever played that has tempted me to go back and try it on a harder setting (even though I am basically terrible at first person shooters and I have about half a dozen other games queued up on my system, unplayed).

Besides, it has a pointless and needlessly inaccessible reference to Lost, which just endeared it to me all the more.

JC2 is cheap in the Steam store. Get it, play it, and never leave the Island.

 

[1] Mum: I did not really give up crack. Not in my heart.

April 20, 2011

Back to the Island 1.12 – All the Best Cowboys have Daddy Issues

Filed under: back to the island,friends,geekery,now playing: anything — lexifab @ 1:56 am

Try to contain your surprise, if you can: I have missed another deadline. My shame is absolute.

Actually I had every intention of going to bed and forgetting all about posting another Lost review, but there are a few things I wanted to record before I let them slide (like a deadline!). In this I will resort rather cravenly to dot points:

  • Friends Ted and Sumie have just announced the arrival of the third little Pokemon, Hiro Rafael. Nominative determinism would seem to dictate that he will fight crime in a racy airport thriller in about twenty years. Much love to the proud parents and the elder Pokemons.
  • JeffR (whose last name I regret not backing up to my current PC, along with the contents of the The Sounds of Lightning lexicon game) has just announced the start of a new lexicon game, The Feast of Harmon’s Fall, which he has made open to anyone that asks. I’m not going to join because I *really* don’t have time at the moment, but I know several folks as might stumble across this entry have enjoyed lexicon games in the past. This would be your chance to play one without having to organise it. He’s using one of the variants that limits the explosion of phantom entries. The number of turns will be limited too, so the usual attritional burnout that usually kills these games is less likely to be a factor here. It’s a cool premise too – one for the food fetishists amongst us. Ahem. Go check it out.
  • Portal 2 has been released. If you’ve finished the previous game, the first hour of the sequel is hilarious. I presume it continues thus, because Jimbo keeps guffawing loudly, which can’t solely be down to the Harry Dresden audiobooks he’s been listening to. But consider both Portals to come with my highest recommendation. Portal’s a short, brain-teasery physics-puzzle solving platform game with a sarcastic and deranged narrator. It’s genius.  Oh, and the Minecraft update is out as well. As if I had time for more computer gaming.
  • I need to get to bed. I’m supposed to be looking like a professional and conducting three interviews tomorrow (asking the questions, not answering them, thank goodness).

Here’s that Lost review I owe you myself. I think this is a pretty good one.

(more…)

November 2, 2010

A touch more progress

Filed under: Games,now playing: anything,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:42 pm

Just finished another session of FreeMarket, in which our heroes the Terrorfactory MRCZ [1] – “Opening the minds of Freemers [2] to the art of terror and the terror of art” – designed and built a replicator that would turn itself into something else and ended up with a device that’s detached from reality, and were contracted by the Bowie-descended father/designer of two of them to help him devise a way to scare kids away from his performances. It’s a somewhat surreal game, but it provides some very entertaining gameplay. I highly recommend it (and if you follow that link you’ll get a slightly better sense of what the game’s about  than I have so far conveyed), especially for groups that hate prep and love improvising mad strangeness.

That will be my last roleplaying session for the forseeable future. The Wombat arrives in a few days, after which the house will go into what we shall euphemistically call “a brief transitional phase”.

Speaking of the Wombat, I have been reminded that there was a prior claim to her Lexifab handle. Which is to say that my brother Jimbo has been campaigning for us to call the baby Zod for some time now. In upholding his sound claim, I hereby note for the record that the Wombat may also be referred to herein as Zod, Zod the Wombat or the Zodbat. The Joey will remain the Joey, however. He’s no Zod.

To keep the writing tally going, I got about 400 words of text and a page or so of notes done on the *other* triffid story, so it’s creeping closer to completion. I want to get the first one done before Friday, though, so it will be my priority tomorrow. I think that I can finish it tomorrow and then do a rewrite on Thursday that will knock into finished shape (since I have no intention of selling a story with someone else’s IP in it, I’ll probably put it up here or at least link to it from here).

1 – A Multi-regional Cultural Zone (MRCZ) or “Mercy” is basically a group on FreeMarket set up to achieve a particular goal. In the case of Terrorfactory the specifics of their intent are a little unformed at this stage.

2 – Residents of FreeMarkets, in case that’s not obvious.

http://projectdonut.com/freemarket/

October 30, 2010

Less than a week to go

So, with my resolve to resume daily blogging in its usual post-resolution tatters, I will pick up the commentary with a slapdash collection of links, half-baked anecdotes and the usual apologia for a lack of updates.

All done working

Fi and I both finished working yesterday, in anticipation of the Wombat’s [1] arrival next Friday (Remember, remember, the fifth of November [2]). Oddly, my job became quite interesting and stimulating in the last couple of weeks, to the extent that I’m actually a bit annoyed to have to leave it dangling for the next ten weeks or so. The last few months have been frustrating in that I had a lot to do and not enough time to do it properly, while all around me the rest of the team was shrinking to about one-third its original size (with little corresponding decline in responsibilities, naturally). When I get back to it at the end of January, the team numbers should be somewhat restored and much of the work that has been annoying me in the latter part of this year will have passed.

Fi, on the hand, was very much ready to chuck it all in and walk away for the better part of a year. I can’t blame her. She’s *very* pregnant! On top of that, there are dramas at her work that she’s better off well away from.

Live music!

Simon and I went to see a live performance of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms album last night. The first half of the show was a straight performance of the whole album, and then after the intermission was a collection of greatest hits. I really enjoyed the show (hopefully Si did as well, since it was his slightly-delayed birthday present), but then again that was practically pre-ordained. BiA is *the* album for me – the formative one from my youth that basically set the course of my musical tastes. Such as they are. The highest praise I can give the performers is that they made ‘Calling Elvis’ – a song I can’t stand – one of the standout numbers of the show. And their extended encore arrangement of ‘Sultans of Swing”, with three leads playing the ridiculously guitar-wanky solo together, was exhuberating and kind of hilarious.

After last night I’ve decided that I really want to watch more live music. However, the next concert that I have tickets for is The Wiggles at the AIS Arena. Hrn…

These are links to things that I think people should look at

Scenes from a Multiverse – This is a terrific daily webcomic. Each episode is set in a different universe. Sometimes it has cute bunnies, because the artist lets people vote on where the comic will be set once a week, and they keep voting for bunnies.

Tour de Holmes – If like me you haven’t read the Sherlock Holmes stories since you were about ten or twelve, you may get a lot out of this accessible series of analyses of the whole Holmes canon. Eddy Fate (now the line developer for the White Wolf games, unless I’m misdescribing his job) clearly loves the great detective, and does a pretty good job of debunking some of the more egregious Holmes myths (like the one that Watson’s a complete bumbling prat instead of the hardarse war veteran portrayed in the recent Guy Ritchie/Jude Law and Stephen Moffat/Martin Freeman interpretations)

I’ve been playing some new games lately:

  • FreeMarket (also known as Project Donut) – the newish roleplaying game with some distinctive pedigree – it’s by Luke (Burning Wheel, Burning Empires, Mouse Guard) Crane and Jared (Lacuna[3], inSpectres) Sorensen. It’s a neat game about life and society on a data relay station orbiting one of Saturn’s moons, where basic human needs are met and everyone is an immortal with nothing that they particularly need to do. The game is essentially about building social capital and finding a functional place in a deeply strange society (so, you know, actual science fiction). It’s also diceless, using a clever card (-counting) mechanic to resolve conflicts. We played a short session earlier in the week that points to a game which encourages wild and imaginative play with some surprising depths.
  • Dogfighter – I generally dislike flight simulators and flying games in general. But I make a major exception for games that replicate the slow-turning, climb-and-stall aerobatics of WWI-era planes. Your Sopwith Camels and Red Baron Fokkers and suchlike. Dogfighter is such a game, but it has online multiplayer, achievements and powerups like rockets, cluster bombs and invisibility. What’s not to love?
  • Assassin’s Creed II – This is a game about running around the rooftops of Medici-era Florence, doing crazy parkour jumps, falls and rolls, and bloodily stabbing the bastards in league with the Borgias. On top of that there’s a centuries-spanning Templar conspiracy, the hitherto-unrecorded supertech of Leonardo and some weird genetic pseudo-time travel shit going on. Hell yeah, I’m down with that too.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum- Like AC2, this is a year or two old. I’m pretty slow at getting down with the new gear. In this you get to be Batman, and you get to kick arse, Batman style. There should be no question as to why this would be a good thing.

Of course I know that in a couple of days I am not going to have any time to sit down and play games any more. Oh well. Luckily the cricket tours are about to start, so I should have somehing to watch all day while I am circling the room trying to soothe a distressed Wombat.

Writing taking a back seat to writing about writing

I now have about five incomplete short stories on the trot, two of which involve triffids thanks to last Friday night’s viewing of the most recent remake. One of these days I will knuckle down and actually finish something, but don’t hold your breath. On the other hand, I do have several pretty good half-stories under my belt! [4]

[1] Thanks Pol. That name’s working out just fine.

[2] Wombat is lucky in that her dad is such an anglophile history nerd that her birthday should not ever be forgot [sic].

[3] Or rather, to use its full name, Lacuna Part 1: The Creation of the Mystery and the Girl from Blue City. I like that.

[4] Does anyone know of a good drug that makes you just sit down and finish shit? Because if it’s alcohol, I can see why so many writers hit the sauce for years at a time.

August 13, 2010

The Emperor (deceased) is at rest

Filed under: geekery,now playing: anything — lexifab @ 1:07 am

And there it is, all over. The Emperor Must Die, the Burning Wheel campaign that we first conceived more than 18 months ago and started playing around Easter 2009, ended tonight with a sudden and unexpected flourish. The three kingslayers turned emperors – Constable Aetius, the grand general; Prelate Hesperia, the priestess chosen of the gods, and Kaeso, the (charcoal-cloaked) dark sorceror – completed their journey into power.

The campaign was originally conceived as a political drama concerning the chief lieutenants of an Alexander-like general who had just completed a campaign of conquest to subjugate the warring city states of a large peninsula. The three characters discovered that their leader was consorting with barbarian witches and conspiring to acts of heresy, based on forbidden knowledge he learned in ruins on a mysterious island. When they confronted him, his arrogance and irreverence towards their gods angered the three, and the would-be Emperor was slain on the eve of his coronation. Over the next year, they struggled to maintain the fragile imperial state, first uncovering a hive of sedition and spirit-sorcery in the northern city of Spinosa, which borders a mountain range crawling with hostile barbarians obsessed with bringing about the apocalypse. Kaeso learned that his mysterious alien teacher is actually a demonic entity that feeds on dying gods. Surviving a seditious uprising centred around a charismatic Spinosan agent, the three joined forced with the Pontifex (a holy figure) to encircle the city with wards that prevented all barbarian spirits from entering it. That broke the heart of the rebellion and brought the fractious state of Spinosa fully into the empire.

A year passed, and the three characters, having gained the temporary leave of the leaders of the imperial city-states to lead under the title of the Triumvirate, called a Ducal Conclave to consolidate their power. The city in which they met, Palinorum, became the scene of a number of religious miracles and demonic appearances. They learned that the gods of their pantheon were occasionally replaced by ascendant mortals, and that the gods and saints so displaced were consumed by the demonic entities of the Empty Houses between the stars. The Duke of the city was slaughtered by zombies under the control of a necromancer in the service of Kaeso’s father, the Duke of Aprillia (who knew nothing of his servant’s misdeeds). To preserve the integrity of the Conclave, Aetius locked the city down and had the necromancer assassinated, discovering in the process that another Duke was conspiring to rebel by smuggling weapons into the city. Confronting the rebel at the Conclave, the Triumvirate killed him and his demon allies as the Pontifex ascended to heaven.

Along the way bastard imperial heirs were born, clumsy love letters were composed, tattooed children were adopted, splendid horses were obtained, mad bombers were arrested, tsunamis attacked, eels were consumed, between two and three unnecessary wars were declared, prospective saints were stricken with blindness, any number of people were blasted with sorcerous lightning and burned with sorcerous fire, saints and gods made regular cryptic appearances, traitors were hunted, apocalypses were averted, the blasphemous island was wiped from the face of the earth and all sorts of other wackiness ensued.

This was one of the most satisfying campaigns I’ve ever participated in, let alone run. The game kept itself fresh and interesting by turning in all sorts of new directions on critical dice rolls. While there were not too many instances where we needed to call upon Burning Wheel’s Fight! mechanics, the Duel of Wits system got a regular workout, and quite often the storyline took a very unexpected turn as a result of a failed argument. The death of the emperor, which happened in about the third session, completely changed the course of events and turned the game from being about three ambitious followers squabbling and jockeying for the favour of their lord and master to three masters suddenly charged with the responsibility for holding together what they had helped to build or losing it all through negligence or inaction.

By the end of the game they had transformed from formidable characters with significant weakness to all-round powerhouses – they all had at least one supernaturally potent ability, and towards the conclusion of the game it was basically impossible to challenge them with physical threats, even from horrific monstrosities like Burning Wheel’s demons (Triumvir Hesperia burned two of them where they stood in the final session, before anyone else could even blink). Though we certainly did not wrap up every plotline and loose thread that had been established over the 25-session campaign, over the span of more than a year, we finished with the three rulers establishing a new order that would likely hold together. We all agreed that that felt like the right place to end it. It’s an open enough ending that we could come back to it at some later point and do more in the world (although probably not with those particular characters).

I’d like to thank Steve, Peta and John for the game. They made three very cool characters and took them to very interesting places (and lived to talk about it, which was not always a probability) and I had a great time coming up with the characters and situations that got in their way. Burning Wheel is a game that rewards long term play, and we’re already talking about the game with which we will replace EMD.

August 6, 2010

Our Man in Tokyo is not actually in Tokyo

Filed under: family,friends,now playing: anything,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 12:05 am

Our friend Rob, who normally resides in Tokyo, arrived in town yesterday. Apart from occasional grainy , badly-lit webcam conversations over Skype, I haven’t actually seen Rob since my wedding, which was nearly eight years ago. He’s making a rare visit to Australia to catch up with the relatives and as an added bonus has now taken up residence on the couch for a few days. It’s been over a decade since we all cohabited at the house on the hill in Townsville, but it’s remarkable how easy it is to just carry on as if no time has passed at all. It’s good to recall that living back in the Ol’ Sweatbox did have its good points (though I maintain that the only thing I really miss about Townsville is the people I used to hang around with there. Well, that and all the swimming pools).

Hopefully over the weekend we will actually get Rob along to a session of roleplaying. The poor lad’s been somewhat starved of dice-rolling entertainment since he moved to a city where coordinating to meet three to four friends for several hours is a massive logistical challenge. One of my Burning Wheel playing compadres has received his advanced copy of the BW Adventure Burner, so if all goes to plan we are going to test drive one of the introductory scenarios  (no experience necessary!)  in the back of that on Saturday night. Should be some good times. Hopefully he will enjoy it as much as we do. BW really is the game I wish that we had back in the 90’s when we were trying to bend games like Shadowrun and Earthdawn and Torg into character-driven narrative adventures, and for the most part falling short (even though it was still obviously a lot of fun).

A mysterious package addressed to me showed up during the week. It turned out to be what looks like the first issue of a four-part subscription to Aurealis, the now-venerable magazine of Australian Fantasy and Science Fiction. I have absolutely no idea what mysterious benefactor got it for me. At first I theorised that it was some sort of resumption of the old subscription that I used to have, but since it’s been about fifteen years and since I’ve moved probably six times in the meantime, that theory stretched credibility somewhat. In the absence of a better hypothesis, I have to assume that somebody gave it to me as a birthday present. I might also cautiously venture the conjecture that perhaps whoever it was has actually provided some sort of hint as to their identity and intentions, but if so I appear to have been completely oblivious at the time. So I will take this opportunity to thank you, mysterious benefactor and purveyor of quality short stories about weird outback happenings and doomed astronauts, and say that so far I am quite enjoying it. Cheers!

The writing is continuing. Today Lexifab is brought to you courtesy of a long, busy day, an evening of beery chatting with Rob, making an ill-advised expedition to the kitchen to try my luck at glucose-based honeycomb (recipe provided by the good people at MasterChef, the failures all my own) and the sudden realisation with less than an hour to go before the end of the day that if I don’t write my 750 Words then I will ruin my run. I think this is the 28th or so consecutive day of writing at least 750 words, and if I can keep it going to 100 days i will earn another achievement badge.

More practically, I am using many of those days to throw together a scrappy-but-written-at-least short story set in the Sawl (aka New Salisbury). I will probably publish it here, but I think that I will finish it first and then actually run an editing pen over it. If it keeps going as it has it should turn out well, though I have not yet necessarily overcome the peculiarities of the constraints I’ve set for myself – each day’s (750+ words’ worth of) writing must deliver a complete scene, and the next day’s writing must move onto a new scene. Some scenes have not exactly had their chance to breathe properly, and a couple of others are excessive, but hopefully an editing pass will fix that. At least, if editing achieves what I imagine that it’s supposed to. Editing is not what I would call a personal strength, so it will be interesting to see whether I have the fortitude to get stuck in with the red pen and do the (very necessary) rewrites.

I just realised that I allowed my brother Gazza’s birthday to pass unremarked in the corner of the internet. What a terrible oversight. Ian, if you’re reading this, hope that your birthday continued well after we spoke, and don’t worry about me reminding everyone that you turn forty next year. I know when to keep my mouth shut.

July 23, 2010

A sense of incalculable loss

Filed under: now playing: anything,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:20 pm

I’ve managed to misplace the iPod Shuffle I’ve been using since Fiona won it as a lucky door prize at an Xmas function last December. But that’s just an annoying side note, it’s not what this post’s all about.

Four years ago, I orchestrated a Lexicon game – which, you will recall, is a wiki-based game in which, turn by alphabetical turn, the participants write a brief entry relating to some fictitious subject and linked to several other such entries, upon completion of which an encyclopedic summary of the hitherto completely nonexistent subject has been created – called (thank you Simon) The Sounds of Lightning: The History of Punk, Emo and Hardcore Bands in the New Salisbury Region 1975-2000. TSoL, as it was occasionally abbreviated, was set in – and greatly expanded – my fictional inland Australian city of New Salisbury (also known as the Sawl), a place I created originally for an Unknown Armies game and then kept adding to with various bits of (mostly unshared) fiction.

Since starting the 750 Words thing (yes, that again – get used to me bringing it up…), I’ve recently been digging through my old files trying to recover stuff I’d written about the Sawl. Last week I tried to access the Schtuff.com wiki site to haul the old TSoL entries out of deep internet storage, only to discover that Schtuff has been taken over by another company, and the old accounts had been suspended. Even worse, a couple of emails to the administrators of the new site owners confirmed that they had only migrated data from the original wiki infrastructure to their new site for a relatively brief period, after which all the unmigrated wikis were declared abandoned and (I presume) deleted – it is no longer possible to recover materials from Schtuff.com, according to the admins of the descendant site.

I was gutted by this news. Although I hadn’t revisited it in the intervening period, I have always been quite proud of the wealth of material generated during that game, by quite a few people whose imagination and creative flair i respect enormously (I have vague recollections of who the dozen or so initial contributors were – including that guy Jeff who just dropped in from the wilds of the internet when I linked from Lexifab to the site where Lexicon games were originally devised and discussed – though it’s likely I’ve forgotten several someones).

Of course it fell apart halfway through, shedding players round after round as busy lives and the relentless tedium of generating new ideas within highly restrictive writing constraints overwhelmed the sheer creative fun of it. If I recall correctly it died around the letter ‘O’. I have no way to check, though, since the computer on which wrote all my entries, my old orange clamshell iBook, no longer exists, but that would not be atypical. By comparison a more recent Lexicon game hosted by MizEmma, Eternity-8, on the subject of a future changed by the discovery of an age-suspending serum, stuttered to a halt halfway through ‘S’, so at least our collective endurance is improving, if fractionally.

I’m sad that The Sounds of Lightning seems gone forever. There was some real gold in them thar hills (some of which I had hoped to refer to in one of my current writing projects, hence my sudden and tragically belated salvage efforts) and it seems a shame that no traces remain of what was a massive collective writing endeavour. If nothing else, I am taking it as a salutory reminder to back up, duplicate offsite, encloud or in some other way preserve the stuff I’ve written. All of it, even the rubbish, because some day I might suddenly have a use for it.

(Additional plea: if you happened to be one  of the TSoL participants and if you happen to have kept any text files with your old entries in them, please get in touch and send them to me. I’d love to see what can be discerned from the arrow heads and shards of broken pottery that remain of it).

July 21, 2010

Alien Swarm

Filed under: fitter/happier,now playing: anything — lexifab @ 1:24 pm

Today I am still feeling under the weather and I’ve stayed at home, ostensibly to avoid the possibility of infecting anyone but mainly because I just can’t be arsed going to work. Everyone there is a bit under-motivated at the moment what with the director leaving and the staffing down to ridiculously inadequate levels.

So here I am at home, slightly dizzy and needing to go out, but not really keen to do so on account of the likely effect of the dizziness on the driving skills. On the other hand I also don’t really want to walk, so I am in a bind. Well, I’m not really in a bind, I’m just not going out yet. It only has to be a fairly short trip to the shops, but I’m really dubious about how good an idea that will be in my current state. Nothing like tempting fate to make you wish that you hadn’t. On the other hand, the cool air and daylight might actually contribute something positive to my condition, so I have not discounted the possibility of going out altogether. I’m just working my way up to it.

There are plenty of things keeping me indoors, after all. There’s the newly released Alien Swarm, for one. It’s a new game from Valve Software (makers of Half-Life 2, Portal, Left 4 Dead, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2 and the now-ubiquitous Steam Software). I’ve been playing the shit out of their stuff for the past few months – especially Team Fortress 2, which has single-handedly reversed my qualms about playing online shooting games – so the fact that they have a new cooperative alien-slaughtering game out is a no-brainer for me. I downloaded it last night and have had a couple of games this morning. The interface for finding an active game is a little impenetrable – I kept ending up in games that seemed to be full until I realised that I was sitting in the queue of a game in progress and that as soon as they finished a level or everyone died, I would be able to join.

So far I have not distinguished myself all that commendably – I played a medic, as is my preferred stance in any new online environment (because I want people to love and validate me, and everyone loves the medic right? Well right up until the moment he fails to deploy healing correctly and you die, so no, not everyone loves the medic…) – but healing is a tricky prospect in this game and it will take some practise to learn when and where to do it.

But what is Alien Swarm? It’s an overhead point of view cooperative shooter, in which four hardy marines stumble about a base/colony/ship overrun by sort-of-insectoid aliens, and blow them to bits with heavy weaponry. Of course, they can also blow each other to bits, especially when they are all running around like batshit four year olds blasting everything in sight. It is in fact rather a tricky tactical exercise, made doubly difficult for me since I forgot to order a sound card when I had this computer built and therefore I am unable to participate in voice chat. Makes it a bit hard to join in the fun of bellowing (via Hudson) “They’re in the walls, man!” and spraying automatic gunfire everywhere if you’re the only one who can hear you screaming.

There’s a bit of a tactical challenge involved at the start of each round, as well, in loading out your character with equipment and secondary weapons. There are essential tools like healing kits, extra ammo crates, body armour, and welding torches (for the all-important job of sealing off that hatch so the critters can’t follow you, or cutting open a previously-sealed door to get through to the mission objectives). You only get three slots – a primary weapon and two extra equipment slots, one of which can be a secondary weapon – so making the choice from the tonnes of kickarse guns and useful-sounding gadgets can be hard.

There’s also a limited range of classes – a leader type (whose virtues are not entirely apparent to me), a special weapons trooper (who gets a better array of guns to choose from), a medic (who can heal their teammates, obviously) and a tech, whose job it is to hack terminals, weld doors and probably do some other tricksy things that I haven’t seen yet in the hour or so that I’ve played. The tech is actually quite a challenging job – hacking terminals and locked doors involved a number of basic solo mini-games that are not really all that difficult, except that everyone else is being overrun by aliens and screaming at you to “Hurry up with the door, man!”. And of course you can’t defend yourself while you’re hacking, so if your teammates are not on the ball, something else will probably be hacking you at the same time (or at least your lovely torso).

There are the usual array of achievements, as well. No Valve game is complete without a tasty selection of essential-and-yet-meaningless Pavlovian motivators. So far I’ve managed to pick ones up for healing the whole party, surviving a mission without losing the technician (apparently the techs are made of paper, or else people just let them get murdered a lot) and, remarkably, for completing a mission without a friendly fire incident. I say remarkable because in most games I’ve played, your squadmates tend to walk straight through your lines of fire pretty much constantly, whether you happen to be emptying a magazine at the time or not…

Anyway, that’s a quick and dirty summary. Alien Swarm is available for free, so there’s no reason not to pick it up (well, you do have to have the Steam client installed as well, so if you object to that – and I can understand that you might, what with its relentlessly tantalising homepage advertising – then there is *one* good reason not to pick it up). if you do, though, send me a “friend” request (Lexifab is the handle, of course) and I’ll come do some bughunting with you.

January 18, 2009

Days go by

Well crap, that blogless week and a half disappeared flew by pretty quickly. Wish I could report that I have something to show for it, apart from the increasingly irresponsible tan caused by taking the bub for a couple of walks a day during the height of an overachieving summer. Well, actually the same regular walks also appear to be consuming all the flesh off my hips – none of my shorts seem to fit very well any more – but alas there is little corresponding progress towards the disappearance of my moderately pudgy gut. Either way I should probably start packing some sunscreen in the back compartment of the baby’s pram, huh?

Strange weight issues aside, um, hot, isn’t it? Actually, I have no idea what it’s like where you are – parts of the Old Country Up North appear to have been underwater for the past week or so – but it sure is too frickin’ hot here. Right now we’re going through a more acceptable phase, where it at least it gets cool at night, but last week was just deeply unpleasant. The baby was not amused, as you might imagine.

There were some good points though – Mum’s visit was a good couple of weeks, shared between the Nerdfarm and my brother Gazza’s place on the other side of town. She and Dad are hoping to sell their place and move soon (this year, we hope) and they intend to find somewhere a bit closer to Canberra to live, so with any luck this will be the last time that Mum has to make the long haul just to get a look at the grandkids. Dad prefers not to fly due to his health, so we rarely get to see him at all. Now that Mum’s home, we really should see about getting some regular videoskype calls – but somehow I doubt that their computer is up to it, so there may be some intermediate steps to address.

Another sort of big event was the conclusion of the nine-month Burning Empires game I had been playing. Sadly, it drew to its inevitable climax as the alien brainworms slaughtered or converted all the player characters and overthrew the planet we had een so desperate to defend. Actually, no, I think it fell because we kind of sucked at staying focused on the main goal and because we dropped the ball a lot, but nevertheless we had a very cool time getting there. If you care at all, the details of the campaign are recorded with meticulous and only occasionally overdetailed care at our local gaming collective’s website. My character threw himself and a guy he was trying to recruit off a cliff about four sessions before the end of the campaign. It was awesome (even if I did have to limp across the finish line using a backup character).

Next up for gaming is a somewhat ambitious Burning Wheel campaign about the aftermath of a successful war of imperial conquest, in which the player characters are the lieutenants and trusted advisors of an increasingly erratic and possibly insane emperor. Should be fun, although potentially no less apocalyptic than the Burning Empires game.

Other projects? Well, the front patio beams are nearly all sanded, though that little job has been on hiatus for a week or so while other stuff (including cricket! Yay!) took priority. That really needs to get done so that as soon as the weather outside starts to become bearable again we can actually turn it into a usable living space. Fi and her landscape designer brother have come up with an elaborate and expensive idea for sealing the cement verandah part off so that small boys can’t accidentally tumble off the edge face first into the driveway. Unfortunately implementing this plan seems like it will involve a fair amount of hard work for me, but this is nothing terribly new.

The other primary occupation has been property stuff. We *still* don’t actually own anything other than (half of) our own place, though unless something unforeseen happens we will exchange contracts on the flats in Tamworth tomorrow or the next day. Huzzah! We will officially be proto-magnates! (And no, Clam, we still haven’t been up to see them, or we would have come and visited Casa del Yourplace). After that we are negotiating offers on two separate deals in Adelaide, which look like they will probably go ahead. It sounds sudden, but really there has been a terrific amount of too-ing and fro-ing (and steep-learning-curve traversal) involved over the past four weeks or so. I have personally been developing my ability to pretend to listen attentively to real estate agents through a wall of high-pitched caterwauling that could shatter glass. It’s not been easy, but luckily I have had plenty of practise.

Okay, I need more of something cold, and I fear that beer may well be the only viable option at this stage. I’ll let you know how that goes.

October 31, 2008

A necessary reconsideration

Filed under: now playing: anything,property magnatism,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 8:49 am

I am reminded that I have a few things on my plate:

  • Work – Still eight hours a day for another week.
  • Gaming – one weekly D&D game (Tuesdays), one fortnightly D&D game (Saturdays), the fortnightly Burning Empires game (Wednesdays, though currently on hiatus until the end of the property workshops), the Burning Wheel game in preparation (Wednesdays, to replace the BE game), plus a couple of other things being mooted.
  • Computer gaming – one weekly Lord of the Rings Online game (Thursdays)
  • Property stuff – the workshop on wednesdays (albeit only for one more week), plus time devoted to making sure our household finances are up to date, plus time for background regional research and property reviews, and (when we actually buy something) some amount of time for dealing with property managers, problems etc
  • Baby – Needs cuddles, feeding and changing. And sooner or later needs The Hobbit or The Iliad read to him (just as soon as he stops attempting the destroy any paper object within arm’s reach).

I probably don’t really have time for NaNoWriMo, do I? And for that matter, one or two other things on that lists are going to have to go on the back burner as well, at least for a little while.

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