Unserious post is unserious

November 23, 2009 · Posted in Games, Reviews, Tech and coding · Comment 

There’s too much Serious Business on my front page! Something must be done.

You should buy Machinarium; it is an awesome indie point-and-click adventure game about robots. It has really pretty art, and versions for Windows, Mac and Linux. (It’s written in flash, and the standalone flash player for Linux is really grotty, but everything worked for me after I followed some helpful instructions on the forum. Run the executable with G_SLICE=always-malloc … to prevent random segfaults, and turn off full screen mode straight away or mouse control will go wonky.) You can play a demo at the site to see if you like it. The full version is a 350MB download. It’s only $20 for at least a day’s worth of playing (if you’re the kind of person who will stay up until 4AM obsessively trying to finish it), and comes with absolutely no DRM — which I think is worth supporting.

Better late than never

October 9, 2009 · Posted in Games, Meta, Reviews, Sewing, Tech and coding · 1 Comment 

I’m about to upload my photos of our Dragonfire LARP, which happened only two months ago. This is still less laggy than Hodgestar’s birthday party. In order to upload the photos I am upgrading digikam, so that I can use a non-faily flickr upload plugin. In order to upgrade digikam I need to upgrade the rest of KDE from the kubuntu-backports PPA — this is currently chugging away in the background.

I have embarked on an epic sewing project — making myself and Hodgestar medieval Japanese outfits for Here Be Dragons, the annual SCA away weekend event which is about a month away. I’m making this (except with a maroon hakama because the shop had no red linen) and this kind of thing (except black, because that’s the colour of the hakama Hodgestar already has).

The nice thing about Japanese clothing is that it’s mostly a whole lot of rectangles. The only tricky part of the kimono-type garment is the collar. I think I’ve been having problems because my seams are tiny and all the instructions on the interwebs assume that you’re going to leave enormous seam allowances — so my collars are too wide and too high up on the body and need to be re-sewn. I need to test this theory out on the two very nearly finished kosode I’ve just made. The reason I’m writing a rambly blog post and not sewing right now is that V:TES players have taken over the lounge table.

After a very long wait, my kalahari.net book order arrived, and here is my loot:

  • The Never Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack — it’s a DS9 tie-in novel; don’t judge me. I first read Una McCormack’s fanfiction during one of my previous love affairs with Deep Space Nine, and her pro fiction is just as good. This is a stand-alone story about a minor canon character.
  • Worlds of Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Cardassia and Andor (purchased for the Cardassia half, also by Una McCormack; I’m leaving the other half for later) — also good, but (obviously) shorter.
  • Kimono: Fashioning Culture by Lisa Dalby — a well-regarded reference book about the history of kimono.
  • Seed to Harvest by Octavia E. Butler — a collected edition of the entire Patternist series, except for one instalment Butler really didn’t like. Haven’t read it yet.
  • Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany — currently reading. It’s slow going, because of the unusual language, but I’m enjoying it.
  • Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks — a fun, short zombie comic. Not much to the plot, but I really like Hicks’ art. (If she sounds familiar, it’s because she did Demonology 101.)

Recently discovered webcomics:

The upgrade has become unexpectedly exciting — I’ve hit some kind of packaging bug. I guess the photos will have to wait a bit longer. :/

To Boldly Go Where Someone Has Kind Of Gone Before

May 11, 2009 · Posted in Reviews · 4 Comments 

When I first heard about the new Star Trek movie, I was highly sceptical. I was concerned that after the lack of enthusiasm over Voyager and the horrible failure of Enterprise (itself a reboot attempt) most of the original franchise would be considered an unprofitable dead end. I feared that a “re-imagining” would throw most of it away, dilute the high-tech space opera elements until they were barely visible, and produce a mainstream-friendly near-future BSG-alike barely recognisable as Star Trek. But I didn’t have that much emotional investment in the original series (Picard and Sisko are my captains!), and the first reviews I heard were positive, so I was cautiously optimistic when I went to see the movie tonight.

It was wonderful — I loved every moment of it. Even the time travel managed not to be obnoxious. I don’t know what a non-Trekkie would make of it, but I don’t think fans of Star Trek will be disappointed. The remake stays close to the spirit of the original — it strips away the sixties cheese, and leaves behind the best parts. The special effects are updated, but the technology is the same. The characters are recognisably the same characters. The dialogue is good. There’s something interesting happening in every scene and there is no dead weight, but the movie does not feel rushed or badly cut. There are lots of cute little references for Trek fans to pick up on, but there’s no excessive reliance on familiarity with the canon. The main plot neatly sets the stage for a remake which can go in completely unexpected directions not limited by the original canon history: it’s the same universe, but a different timeline.

On the way back in the car Hodgestar and I discussed how a remake TV series could be sustained successfully, and do interesting new things in the Star Trek universe without straying too far away to remain Star Trek. I think the answer lies in revisiting old concepts and redoing them in ways which were previously impossible because of inadequate special effects. We can now do aliens and alien worlds properly — a remake would have the opportunity to explore alien-heavy storylines and do the visuals justice. No more bumpy-foreheaded dudes in pastel pyjamas on interchangeable dusty desert lots.

I would love a new TV series, but I’ll settle for a few more movies like this.

LARPage and other news

March 27, 2009 · Posted in Games, General, Reviews · 1 Comment 

We ran Grove of Fallen Leaves again — outside among actual trees again for the first time since the playtest. It really makes a huge difference to the atmosphere. Thanks to Akika for providing the garden and NPCing the dryad. :) We recruited four new LARPers, who were all very good, and ended up with a strong cast. All in all, it was a pretty good running, although it got a bit cold by the end and I completely forgot to take photos (I am told that other people took photos, however).

Toothpastedealer is down here from the US, and he brought me the Black Dossier (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen vol. 2.5). It is very cool. I also have a crapload of books (without pictures); I am currently reading Hunter’s Run (which was written by Daniel Abraham, Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin — two of my favourite writers and my favourite SF editor — and therefore cannot possibly not be awesome).

Hodgestar and I are in the middle of Season 2 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I love this show.

I think I said I would write some kind of LARP for Dragonfire. I still don’t know what it is. I am suddenly inspired to write a serious political LARP set in the D&D fantasy universe — with the assumption that alignment doesn’t exist, and that the craziest evil antics attributed to societies like the Drow and the Yuan-ti are dirty human and elven propaganda. The D&D universe is fundamentally very silly, and this is completely not what I was planning to write a LARP about earlier this year, and it is thus completely unsurprising that it’s a million times more appealing right now than my carefully planned gritty SF idea. I blame Goblins.

November media review

November 10, 2008 · Posted in Reviews · Comment 

Movies:

  • Pathfinder — terrible; don’t bother. The premise is kind of cool, but the characters are cardboard and the plot is utterly predictable and spliced together from a hundred better movies. For some reason* I thought there would be an alien in this. There wasn’t.
  • Sunshine — pretty awesome. I didn’t realise how much I love things-going-horribly-wrong-on-an-isolated-near-future-spaceship movies until an hour in. Marred by one moment of inexplicable character stupidity.

Comics:

  • Bone — as good as it’s hyped up to be. Stupid, stupid rat creatures!
  • Stickleback — I dunno, it disn’t grab me as much as Edginton and D’Israeli’s other stuff. Maybe it’ll grow on me.
  • The Complete Nemesis the Warlock volumes 2 and 3 — cheesy eighties goodness. So, so cheesy.
  • Historie manga — slightly gory historical manga set in ancient Greece. Once it got going, I couldn’t stop reading.
  • Twin Spica manga — a young girl goes to a space academy. Slow, but entertaining.
  • Planetes manga — more near-future SF. A bit difficult to get into, but that’s what I thought about Vinland Saga too, so I’ll give it more time.

* Because I was thinking of Outlander! D’oh!

The Clone Wars: A Brief Review

September 27, 2008 · Posted in Reviews · Comment 

We went to see it on a whim, and it was surprisingly good. The voice acting is a bit dodgy in patches, but it’s not unbearable. In general, both the plot and the character interactions were better done and more interesting than in the steaming pile of crap that was the entire prequel trilogy. I actually sort of liked Anakin: he had a lot more personality than his live-action counterpart.

Amidala gets to have an adventure all by herself, and pwn bad guys with her mad senatorial skillz. There’s a new female hero and a new(ish) female villain (and they only fight each other for a couple of seconds). There are amusing (and short-lived) droid grunts. If they made a plush Baby Hutt, I’d totally get one.

If you’ve been depressed about the current state of the franchise, this should cheer you up at least a little bit.

Schrödinger’s minister

September 24, 2008 · Posted in Rants, Reviews, Tech and coding · 1 Comment 

So Trevor Manuel has simultaneously resigned and not resigned. We’ll finally know his state when someone peeks into his office and collapses the wave function. I made this joke purely for the sake of generating an interesting title for my post, and I apologise.

Hellboy 2 was awesome; it’s really nice to be able to say that about a cinema movie for a change. Abe’s makeup was better than in the first movie. I liked the story. I’ve heard of some people saying it’s not very “Hellboy” — but the tragic decline of the pre-human magical races (and their continual attempts to get Hellboy on their side) is a major theme in the comics (“lovecraftian horrors from space try to eat the world” is the other one).

Abe has his own comic spin-off! I have ordered the first trade, but publication appears to have been delayed. I’m also getting the Lobster Johnson trade — I may as well collect the lot.

I am reading the InuYasha manga. Scanlations are funny. It’s very rare for fan translators to have a flawless grasp of English grammar — and they have a tendency to be obsessively faithful to the original text, so if they encounter something difficult to translate they prefer to provide a half-page explanatory footnote than to pick an equivalent but not identical English phrase. Also, since this is generally a youth-friendly manga, I’m pretty sure that InuYasha doesn’t keep saying “fuck” and “bitch” in the official English translation.

I have installed Privoxy at home, and cleaned up some of my previous hacky ad- and cookie-blocking measures (huge blacklist in my browser, mostly pointless since I was not accepting cookies by default and thus only using the whitelist; huge wodge of domains in my hosts file, etc.). The first advantage that Privoxy has over all this crap is that it understands wildcards. Thanks to this, I will not have to allow cookies from every single LJ/Blogger domain individually. And for my next trick, I hope to be able to tell Privoxy to extend the life of LiveJournal’s cookies beyond the session — I’m not a prolific poster, but unless I am logged in (with openid), I keep running into the infuriating new adult content filters[1].

[1] This is what self-policing enforced by vague threats and imprecise rules looks like. Anyone who thinks they might occasionally mention sex in a post (i.e. is a normal person) sticks these on their entire journal, just in case. And of course the anonymous reader is assumed by LiveJournal to be a minor, and subjected to the most extreme filtering by default. I’m an adult. Why do I have to wrestle with childproof caps on my interwebs?

The great backlog post of 2008

June 12, 2008 · Posted in Reviews · 2 Comments 

Cool stuff I have recently read or seen:

Books:
Glasshouse by Charles Stross — sf novel set in a world where human identities can easily be backed up and restored, psychosurgery can alter memories and identities, and the world is recovering from a war over identity-editing — the precise circumstances of which are unknown, because they have been edited out of the consciousness of the survivors.
A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham (through Tor’s free e-book offer) — fantasy novel; pseudo-oriental setting; very cool worldbuilding, characterisation and magic system. The cities of a coastal empire are kept in power by their andat — ideas made flesh which are created and enslaved by Poets. Each andat has a power tied to the concept that it represents, and since andat disappear when their Poets die and it is very difficult to re-bind them, all the obvious ideas have been used up, and the existing andat have rather specific abilities. The book opens with a young man receiving a somewhat cliched harsh monastic education which is supposed to lead to Poethood after the appropriate trials by fire. In a pleasant break from the way this story usually goes, he rapidly rejects this as a cruel and misguided way of life, and runs away to find his fortune elsewhere. And then interesting things happen. There is an ensemble cast of interconnected protagonists, one of whom is an old lady. The best Tor e-book so far, I think.

Manga:
Naoki Urasawa! He is awesome! I have now read all of his manga that I have been able to get my hands on:

Monster — psychological horror mystery set in 90s Germany. A young surgeon saves the life of a little boy who has been shot in the head under mysterious circumstances. Many years later, he discovers that the boy is a psychopathic serial killer — and is framed for some of his murders. He sets out to track him down.
20th Century Boys (last chapter here) — sci-fi mystery set in Japan and other Asian countries during the 60s, the modern day and the future. In the modern day, a mysterious cult is gaining political power, and seems to be behind a number of sinister events. A young man realises that Friend, the mysterious leader of the cult, must have been in his close-knit group of friends in the 60s. But who is it?
Pluto — sci-fi murder mystery with robots, based on an Astroboy story. Very reminiscent of Asimov. Ongoing.

Later I found some other manga which are almost as good:

Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura — it’s about Vikings! A young Danish boy has joined the mercenary band of the ruthless, cunning man who killed his father — and performs dangerous missions for his nemesis in exchange for opportunities to duel him to the death. This all happens against the backdrop of various historical Viking invasions of Britain. Ongoing.
Ressentiment by Kengo Hanazawa — it’s about an unattractive loser who gives up on real women and immerses himself in a virtual dating sim. Then weird things start to happen. This doesn’t sound very good, but it actually is — it’s played completely straight, and for every scene which could be construed as cute girl fanservice, there’s a hairy, flabby man showing way too much skin as a counterbalance. There’s a crunchy cyberpunk-y plot, which has so far not made me want to stab myself with a fork, and I normally dislike cyberpunk. Ongoing.

Movies:
Children of Men — dystopia done very well.
Survive Style 5+ — this movie is bizarre and awesome, and has a really good soundtrack.

Series:
The Lost Room — a miniseries which has frequently been described to me as “very Unknown Armies”. It’s quite good, although major things are left unresolved at the end, probably in anticipation of a TV series extension. I thought the second episode had a few really creepy moments (subtle Lovecraftian horror; the kind with unnatural geometry, not the kind with tentacles).
ETA: Rome (season 1) — Backstabbing! Togas! Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo! Colourful expletives! Equal-opportunity nudity! Ciarán Hinds is hawt; it’s a pity that Caesar’s demise at the end of the season is historically inevitable. Best semi-historical series evar!

MozPong, how I have missed you!

April 19, 2008 · Posted in Reviews, Tech and coding · 2 Comments 

Now that I have a computer which still has all of its teeth and is good for something other than yelling “You damn kids! Get off my lawn!”*, I have set up Basilisk II, the 68k Mac emulator (when I upgrade to Hardy I will also try SheepShaver, the PowerPC emulator). It’s running MacOS 8.0, the highest version of the operating system that Basilisk will support, and is using a Quadra ROM.

MacOS 8 is prehistoric, and the emulator keeps hanging — I’m hoping that with a bit more research I’ll be able to optimise the settings and make it stop doing that . Why did I bother doing this at all? Mostly so that I could once again play the finest Breakout clone in the history of human civilisation: Akira Nagamatsu and Shizue Mouri’s MozPong.

MozPong

Instead of a paddle, you have a small boy with a big head. Instead of a ball, you have “Butasan”, which seems to be a tiny flying pig (I only solved this mystery ten minutes ago, with the awesome power of Google. I always thought it was some kind of clay bottle!). Instead of bricks, you have eggs — when you break them, chickens fall out and you have to catch them for points. Some eggs contain extra Butasan, and there are also bombs (which explode). Every now and then, a dinosaur called Josephine walks onto the screen and tries to hug you, thereby preventing you from getting to your Butasan (or chickens). You get rid of her by hitting her with the Butasan and running over her while she’s down. Catching lots of chickens gives you random bonuses — most of them just give you more points, but some have interesting special effects.

This game is made of win. It makes the whole emulator setup worth it. There is apparently also a Windows port, which you may find more convenient if you’re already running the OS of Evil.

Other favourites I am looking forward to playing are Maniac (a cross between Pacman and hangman), Blobbo Lite (a puzzle game) and Bill the Demon (a gruesome little platform game) — which I will review properly at a later stage.

* Its RAM is an order of magnitude larger than that of my old computer. This means that I can now actually run things that normal people run — even all at the same time.

Alive!

March 4, 2008 · Posted in Photos, Reviews · Comment 

Photography

Here are some photos from the trip to Vogelgat. I don’t have a telescopic lens; all those close-ups of small animals are the result of a lot of determined sneaking.

Here’s a photo of new! improved! paper mache Cthulhu. I revamped him for orientation week, and boy, was I sick of paper mache by the end.

Moving Pictures

Farscape is awesome, and you should watch it. The first season, while kind of cool, is not really representative of what the series later becomes. It really comes into its own when the longer story arcs start. The first and second seasons have a couple of really awful filler episodes; I think the third and fourth seasons are the best. John Crichton becomes remarkably less annoying — I remember spending the whole of the first season wanting to stab him — although his epic wormhole subplot drags on a bit and ends up dominating the entire series. Had the series not been cancelled, it would perhaps have moved onto the Nebari after the conclusion of the Peacekeeper-Scarran war. This will probably never happen (apparently some short webisodes are due to be released this year, but they’re likely to be far-future sequels). It makes me sad in my pants.

The Peacekeeper Wars, the two-part miniseries made to wrap up the final season’s loose ends, is rather depressing to watch. It’s clear that a season’s worth of plot has been compressed into a much smaller space, and this is not a good thing. The plot is very rushed, some parts of it are not convincing because so little time is spent developing them, and some characters just walk on screen, wave and disappear (or hang around in the background with no dialogue). I believe that there was a two year gap before PKW was filmed, and this also shows — some of the acting is a bit off. It’s worth watching for completeness, and there are little moments of coolness — but don’t expect much, and be aware that it might drive you to drink if you recently watched season four and loved it.

Something entirely different, which is also awesome and should be watched by you, is Samurai Fiction, Nakano Hiroyuki’s samurai comedy.

Interactive Entertainments

If you’re a member of CLAWs, and you wrote a module or LARP that one time (or multiple times), please contribute to the latest attempt at an online catalogue/library, which I describe here. I have added By The Rivers Dark, my and Hodgestar’s most recent Dragonfire module, which you are welcome to download and play. I hope to add our two LARPs and several older modules soon (or later, in the case of modules which have to be extracted from the jaws of an obscure proprietary file format).

Next Page »