I Thought Maybe My Lego was Lousy But It’s SNOT

I was a little disappointed when my “SNOT Rocket” didn’t get a whole lot of traction on Flickr. I thought it was a pretty neat idea, and one I hadn’t seen before.

Looking back at the images, though, I realized they weren’t very good, didn’t really illustrate what was going on (especially at small sizes), and weren’t named that well, so this past weekend I took some better photos and uploaded them with a better description (“Upside-Down Classic Space Cruiser 826 77″).

And lo, my hard work paid off! I got blogged on The Brothers Brick yesterday!

I really feel like I’m starting to get my Lego mojo back!

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Shoot and Loot on the MOOOOOOOOOON!

Why yes, I have been playing a lot of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (see, it comes between Borderlands and Borderlands 2). In fact, last night I was so much playing it that I forgot to stop and watch Sleepy Hollow!

This game takes place on Elpis, the moon of Pandora. Elpis has no atmosphere and low gravity, so you have to have an oxygen supply but also you get to do all kinds of great jumps! And they have platforms that will jump you even higher! If you’re a fan of jumping — and I’ve made it clear I am — then this is the game for you!

I’m playing as Nisha, the Lawbringer. My take on her is that she has no interested in two-handed weapons, so I’m only using pistols and SMGs (and, okay, I’m carrying around a rocket launcher because sometimes that’s what you need.) I’ve also been playing some with the new laser guns, but I haven’t found one I like enough yet to dump my pistols for. Nisha’s special ability is the Showdown, which gives you a little sting of “western” music and then turns you into an amazing gun machine for a few seconds. The skill tree I’m working on has me getting bonuses on shooting from the hip (not aiming) so that’s a fun change of pace as well.

I’ve joked in the past that Pandora, the planet the other games are set on, has a harsh climate, insane and vicious wildlife, and a population of criminals and savages. In other words, Australia. Well, Borderlands TPS was done by the legitimately Australian division of 2K, so that joke of mine is now being repaid in full. The citizens of Elpis all have Australian accents (except the few ported in from previous games and Nurse Nina) and speak in Australian slang (or at least the Australian slang they use for things like Outback steakhouse.) I’m not that far in yet, despite hours of play, so I haven’t met too many major characters yet.

Someone commented to me that it looked like “just more Borderlands” which is not entirely wrong. There are some new ideas here. The oxygen thing requires oxygen tanks, a new type of gear that doesn’t just store O2 (or “Oz”) but also allows venting some to boost or change jumps in the low gravity. You can even suddenly slam down from being airborne for an area attack. Laser guns are also new. The character classes seem to not be retreads of previous ones. There’s a new machine that can turn junk equipment into less junky equipment, a la a Horadric Cube. But a lot of it is very much more of the same. If you’re me, though, that’s exactly what you want and therefore not a problem. (I will say that the lack of variety in landscapes throws back a little too much to the original Borderlands, which some folks might not like.)

Oh, but the biggest difference? So far you’re working with a hero named Handsome Jack.

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I’m Finally Getting Around to Trying That Gum You Like

It changed the shape of dramatic (and non-dramatic) television, its influence reverberates through pop culture to this day, and people still make references to it. Yet, I’ve never actually seen Twin Peaks.

When it was in its heyday, I wasn’t really watching TV. I was at LSU, the only TV I had was a little black-and-white thing, and I wasn’t really following much about television at the time. I knew of it, sure, but I didn’t pay much attention. By the time my situation had changed, it had ended, some folks were disappointed, and it ended up just passing me by.

The recent announcement of a return to Twin Peaks got people talking, and I realized that I’d seen so many things that were influenced by it but not actually seen the show itself. And it’s on Netflix, so why not?

Thus, Saturday night, Agent Dale Cooper and I entered the town of Twin Peaks, population 51,201.

Of course, I know how the whole thing goes, more or less. I know a lot of the plot points, I know about BOB, I know that it fizzles more than ends, and I know that the movie doesn’t really help anything. I know what I’m getting into, story-wise. Even so, I wasn’t really prepared for just how weird the show is. We’ve only watched three episodes and already it’s fat-packed with characters and intrigue and high strangeness. I also didn’t realize how laugh-out-loud funny it is, especially Kyle MacLachlan, who is one of my favorite people in the world. His bizarre enthusiasm for everything is a great take, as he’s supposed to be the “outsider” who we view all this oddness through, but he’s just as weird.

I can’t wait to watch more of it. It’s amazing it got on network TV, and we have it to thank for changing the entire landscape.

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I Had That! #35: Merlin and Split Second

My room was where batteries went to die. Nearly everything I owned required tons of them, and since my Dad’s favorite place to get them was Radio Shack, I needed a constant supply. When Merlin came along and required 6 AAs all by itself, I’m sure my parents regretted this Christmas present.

Merlin was innovative in that it played six different games! Since most of these devices were single-purpose, it was a boon except that the games it played weren’t that great. Tic-Tac-Toe is going to get crossed off the list pretty quickly, and the Magic Square game got “solved” before too long as well. Still, it could make music and looked really cool.

But then my eye wandered, and in the display case at the drug store I saw this:

Split Second was a sleeker, sexier version of Merlin, with more LEDs and better games. What’s more, the games were timed, so you could keep trying to beat your own score at them. I had to have this, but of course my folks were not as keen on it. I eventually got it, and I’m pretty sure this was a case of me saving up or spending birthday money or something. Once I got Split Second, Merlin was a distant memory. especially since Split Second ALSO wanted 6 AA batteries.

When did I get it? Merlin came out in 1978. Maybe I got it that Christmas? Split Second is from 1980, but I have no idea when I got it.

Do I still have it? Neither one. I went through a phase where I was “interested in electronics” which consisted of taking apart my electronic toys and then not learning how they worked.

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I Had That! Now Has a Table of Contents!

You can click on the image above to see all the entries to the I Had That! feature, in case you don’t have a 1981 Sears Wishbook handy.

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Sleepy Hollow Needs to Get Back on Point

Season two of Sleepy Hollow started off almost exactly the way I wanted it to: going full-tilt crazy. What I love about the show was how much of it is forward momentum and how little time it spends dithering around. The season premier gave almost no damns about anyone who hadn’t watched before, and even big fans like us were all, “wait, did we somehow miss an episode?” because of how fast and crazy the proceedings were going. Whereas some shows would take the elements in the previous season’s cliffhanger and keep drawing them out, we had pretty much all those plot points wrapped up by the end of the first new episode. And then, to address one of the remaining ones, we built Ben Franklinstein’s Monster.

But in the last couple of episodes things have slowed down and, in my opinion, some missteps have been made. Sure, even at the first season’s breakneck pace there were some clunky, filler-ish episodes, but those at least served the purpose of establishing that Weird Stuff was going on. That’s been well established by now. To have John Noble’s Horseman of War sitting back and doing dumb Mister Mxyzptlk or Ethan Rayne stuff when he has an Apocalypse to usher in is just a waste of talent. And while Spook of the Month isn’t a bad side trip to make, why import in a German one when there’s a lot of old American folklore you can explore?

But the most disconcerting trend is the appearance of two new characters, Leena Reyes and Nick Hawley.


Reyes is the new Sheriff, taking over for Irving, who is still incarcerated. One of the things I liked about Irving’s character was that, although he was The Angry Police Captain, the show didn’t lollygag around in getting him on board with the situation. He saw weird junk, saw that Mills and Crane were handling it, and he was down with it. But now he’s in the clink, and has been replaced by an even Angrier Police Captain, who doesn’t want Crane working with Abbie and doesn’t want Jenny around either. Separating the main characters (Katrina is also away, but not due to Reyes actions) doesn’t do anything except slow the pace way down, which I would argue is the worst mistake this show could make. In addition, so far Reyes doesn’t make up for this in any way. The added complications to the plot haven’t been offset by any kind of new angle or contribution by the character; so far she is simply a speed bump. To have lost Irving (who wasn’t even in the season premier) in favor of Reyes hasn’t paid off at all, even if Irving’s family side junk was the weakest point of the first season.

Then there’s Nick Hawley, a/k/a “Indiana BROnes”. He’s some kind of freelance mystical geegaw finder who’s a bit of a roguish mercenary and also a bit of an obnoxious pain in the ass. He’s only been in two episodes so far and I already hate it when he’s on-screen. Again, we already had a better character who does what he does — Jenny — who has been pushed aside in favor of this dude who adds nothing but “tension” to the proceedings. Here’s the thing: this is the story of a small group of people trying to avert the Apocalypse; I think your tension needs have been taken care of already.

Sleepy Hollow’s first season was a short one, and they had no idea if they’d get renewed or not. This probably contributed to the refreshing feeling of momentum on the show. Having won a following and more time (a second season and a longer one at that) I don’t want to see them plop down into an easy chair and settle in for a long ride. I understand they’re not eager to get to the end any time soon, but I really think the show will lose what makes it fun and special if they drop the pace they established last season. I’ve already seen too many scenes of Katrina overhearing plans and feeling threatened. I want to see her and the others do things. Don’t leave Franklinstein waiting out there too long.

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Kickstarted to the Curb

On Friday I backed Eminent Domain: Microcosm on Kickstarter. I’m not a fan of Eminent Domain, but this isn’t an expansion, it’s a separate game set in the same “universe”. A copy is only $10, and it looked like it could be cool, so why not?

This morning I un-backed it, canceling my commitment.

What changed? Well, this weekend I played two games that I also backed on KS which arrived on Saturday. There really isn’t much of a need to go into exactly what they were; it’s enough to know that neither was particularly good. Along with the eternal Kickstarter issue of poorly-written and vague rulebooks, the games themselves were just nothing special. In neither case did I see this as something I’d play over and over again, or even think about much.

Several months ago I decided to go ahead and back a few tabletop games on Kickstarter, just to see what the fuss was all about. I picked games that were inexpensive, had interesting themes, and looked pretty good. I admit I didn’t do a lot of due diligence such as pre-reading rules when I backed them, but that’s mostly because I seldom can get a feel for a game from reading rules. These games I pre-ordered have started coming in and I now have all but two of them in my hands. And out of the six I have so far, one (Marrying Mr. Darcy, which is not a great game, but it’s a lot of fun) I like a bunch and a second (Coin Age) is kind of neat. The rest aren’t terrible, but aren’t anything special. Certainly I haven’t felt like I would have missed out on anything if I’d let them pass by.

Normally, all that would tell me is that I need to choose projects I back better, but I’ve also recently played things backed by friends of mine and again, there’s been absolutely nothing special there. It’s almost always overproduced and half-baked games that won’t be remembered three months from now.

It’s true that there have been some huge Kickstarter success stories. I own Battle Merchants, Flash Point, Triumvirate, Dead Man’s Draw, Eight-Minute Empire: Legends, and a few more. I recently got Ground Floor and Battle For Souls, which both started as Kickstarters and I liked on my first plays. With all of those, however, I purchased through regular game-acquiring means instead of backing on KS. I was in no need to get them quickly, pay more for them, or feel like I was helping make the magic happen. And I certainly didn’t need a bunch of sparkly gee-gaws added in as an afterthought because there’s no better way to use money above and beyond production costs than to supply backers with solid brass start player tokens the size of a hubcap. With maybe the exception of Battle Merchants, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything by getting them through normal channels instead of backing on Kickstarter.

What I’m finding is, when I filter Kickstarter by “Tabletop games > I’m interested in > That are well-done > At that cost > I need as soon as possible”, well, that’s an extremely small number of projects. Take only a couple steps back and you’ll be hard pressed to tell that the needle is above zero at all. So I’m good for now. I can let Kickstarter do its thing and when it produces a decent game I’ll find out in time without too much trouble. And in the meantime I won’t have to waste time on the large amount of chaff.

Kickstarter lets people avoid the traditional gatekeepers of the industry. I guess I’m okay with having those gatekeepers.

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