BOO! Halloween Stories 2016

My first published comics piece is available for purchase! BOO! Halloween Stories 2016 is available from Comixology (it’s digital only). 65 pages for two bucks, and I wrote four of those pages! The esteemed Joe Hunter did the artwork and lettering on it and the results are great! The other pages contain a wealth of great stories and talent. Pick it up and let me know what you think!

Here’s the first page of my and Joe’s story!

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The Takahashi Job

THE TAKAHASHI JOB (2015)
Comic written by me, with art by Dave Hotstream.
This was for an anthology of heist-themed comics that ended up not happening, but I like it too much for people not to see it.

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I Think We’re Done Here

I’m sorry, folks. I tried, I really did. I was really trying to fire up the old blog machine again, but it’s not taking. I made a list of things to write about and I just can’t get myself interested in doing so. So I’m going to stop pretending. You’ve seen this coming for some time anyway.

Maybe I’ll get the bug again at some point, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Thanks for sticking around all these years. I really do appreciate it.

In the meantime, I’m still regularly cutting up on Twitter.

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The Cool New Music Chronicles: Les Pommes Sont Rouges et Je Suis Désolé

LES POMMES SONT ROUGES ET JE SUIS DÉSOLÉ (September, 2015)

 

The older you get, the less things change. It had been three years since my previous mix CD, and my life was more or less exactly as it was at that point. I don’t really have much I can add here.


  1. The Mother We Share — CHVRCHES
  2. Comeback Kid — Sleigh Bells
  3. Ageless Beauty — Stars
  4. Picture Perfect — Strawberry Whiplash
  5. Pompeii — Bastille
  6. Cholla — The Joy Formidable
  7. No Fool Boletus — Anaxaton6
  8. Sail — AWOLNATION
  9. I Wanna Get Better — Bleachers
  10. Red Eyes — The War on Drugs
  11. Do You Have Romantic Courage? — Hallelujah the Hills
  12. Fight Song — Eddie Japan
  13. Philomena — The Decemberists
  14. Wicked — Jennie Vee
  15. Girls — Deep Sea Arcade
  16. Feel it All Around — Washed Out
  17. Myth — Beach House
  18. Ammonia Tree — Shriekback
  19. Great Equator — Zammuto
  20. Little Fang — Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks
  21. Stardust — Lena
  22. Dance Apocalyptic — Janelle Monáe

Once more I stayed within the range of a single CD in order to focus things down, and I think it’s stronger for it. When I was first pulling together songs for this it seemed like there was a danger of it being entirely dream-pop. Hey, I like some dream pop! I got in some other stuff and mixed it up a little, but there’s still a haziness to the whole thing.

  • The Mother We Share — CHVRCHES

Each time I make one of these there’s one song that stands out as the main excuse for putting the whole thing together. This is that song on this one. I fell in love with this band, which I checked out after hearing about it on Twitter, from the first song I heard. This whole album is great, as is the follow-up.

  • Comeback Kid — Sleigh Bells
  • Pompeii — Bastille

At one point, in an effort to find some new music, I simply asked people for suggestions. In one of these attempts I was told about Sleigh Bells, a band which for some reason I thought was completely different. In another, Bastille was suggested to me. Both were good finds.

  • Ageless Beauty — Stars

This one was on a mix a Twitter pal of mine made, along with another one we’ll get to. It’s a return for Stars, which was on Meeple Deployment back in 2006.

  • Picture Perfect — Strawberry Whiplash
  • Wicked — Jennie Vee

Pal Andrew and I have a large intersection of musical taste, and he guided me to these nice nuggets of shoegaze. Jennie Vee also has a nice cover of “Lips Like Sugar” on her Bandcamp page.

  • Cholla — The Joy Formidable
  • Philomena — The Decemberists

Two of the very few returning acts. Joy Formidable’s second album was a powerful follow-up to the first. I have to admit I’m a little Decemberistsed out, but I thought this one was fun enough to include. The rest of that album just fell off of my ears, though.

  • No Fool Boletus — Anaxaton6
  • Ammonia Tree — Shriekback

There’s always room for some Shriekback. 2015’s ‘Without Real String or Fish’ was another solid album from a band that has not disappointed me much these past 30 years or so, and there were a couple of contenders for inclusion. Anaxaton6 was a Barry Andrews side project and a lot of weirdo fun. This is, I believe, the first time I even sneakily doubled up one a band/singer since 1989’s It Never Ends!, which had both Morrissey and The Smiths.

  • Sail — AWOLNATION

This song is incredibly stupid and I love it.

  • I Wanna Get Better — Bleachers
  • Red Eyes — The War on Drugs
  • Little Fang — Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks

I am fairly sure that all three of these came from the same “what songs are you really digging at the moment?” article.

  • Do You Have Romantic Courage? — Hallelujah the Hills

Another returning band, the song “Hallelujah the Hills” was on the previous mix and I really liked it but hadn’t heard any more about them. I asked on Twitter if anyone would suggest an album to get, and got retweeted by one of the band members. Someone replied “DO YOU HAVE ROMANTIC COURAGE?” and I said I didn’t really know how to answer that. Turns out that’s a song off of ‘Have You Ever Done Something Evil?’ which I ended up buying and really liking.

  • Fight Song — Eddie Japan

This is my friend David’s band and they’re really good. You should check them out!

  • Girls — Deep Sea Arcade

I have no idea where I first heard this song but man, did it grab me. It’s kind of dream pop.

  • Feel it All Around — Washed Out

This is, of course, the theme song to the show “Portlandia”, which we enjoy. And it’s also…what’s the word I’m looking for? Dream pop.

  • Myth — Beach House

YES IT’S MORE DREAM POP. This is another one off that friend’s mix and I cannot tell you how much it blew me away. And then I heard “Wishes” and knew I had to own this album. Folks, it’s SO GOOD.

  • Great Equator — Zammuto

The Books, a favorite since 2007, broke up, but member Nick Zammuto formed a new band and has consistently put out great music. This is from their second album, ‘Anchor’, and the entire album is great and pushes the Books’ sound into all kinds of new areas.

  • Stardust — Lena

This mix started to get put together way back after we made a trip to London and Paris. On the last night of our time in Paris we were riding up the hotel elevator to the bar on the roof to get some wine and a view of the Eiffel Tower. This song was playing in the elevator and for some reason it stuck with me. It’s one of the few holdovers from that attempt to put this together.

  • Dance Apocalyptic — Janelle Monáe

I had heard bits of Monáe’s music before, most notably “Tightrope”. When her album ‘The Electric Lady’ dropped, I bought it and listened to it thoroughly. It is incredible, and what had been a casual appreciation turned into full-on fandom. There’s not a stutter on the whole thing, and she skips effortlessly between styles and moods. You can’t not smile during this song.

As I mentioned, I first started thinking about this mix following a trip to London and Paris. I had been trying to improve my French and was able to say, “Les pommes sont rouges et je suis désolé,” which means “The apples are red, and I’m sorry.” The mix would get delayed, but the name stuck. The front cover is “Still Life of Apples and Biscuits, 1880-82” by Paul Cézanne. The back cover is a sidewalk. At the time that I made this, I had taken up running and was listening to a lot of these songs on headphones as I jogged the sidewalks of my neighborhood. This image isn’t a photo of anywhere nearby, but it may as well be.

Click on the player below to listen to this mix!


(xspf player courtesy Lacy Morrow and Fabricio Zuardi.)

Posted in Music | Tagged ,

I Played That! #40: Commander Keen (PC)

Around 1990, an interesting thing happened in the videogame world. While large companies battled endlessly against software pirates, a new distribution model appeared that embraced the idea of people copying and downloading their work. It was called “shareware”, and the idea was that they’d give away part of a game for free, encourage its propagation, and then you could buy the rest of it from the company. It seemed to catch on somewhat, at least for a while, and a few small game companies popped up that used it exclusively.

One was Apogee, a name that I would eagerly scan download sections for, as I was a rabid consumer of all their games. Their particular specialty were platform games, and I enjoyed them all. There were two real standouts, however.

The first was Commander Keen. Commander Keen, based on the “Spaceman Spiff” character from “Calvin & Hobbes”, was a young boy tasked with saving the galaxy from various alien threats. This involved him jumping around, pogo sticking aliens in the head, collecting lollipops and soda cans. Keen was great fun and a big hit for them, and there were several games released, with increasing graphic sophistication. Apogee only distributed the first couple of Commander Keen games; the rest were done by a spin-off company, id Software, which you may have heard of. (Keen was created by John Romero and John Carmack.)

The other series that proved popular for Apogee was Duke Nukem. Before he was a politically incorrect rip-off of Bruce Campbell, he was just another little dude jumping around platforms and shooting things. He would eventually go on to bigger, though not particularly better, things.

I never had a Nintendo, but for these games and others like them I bought a Gravis gamepad. I think I still have it somewhere.

A major shareware competitor to Apogee was Epic Megagames, which produced similar output, and who I also followed closely (though they had a lot more non-platform games).

If I had to guess, I’d say that two things caused these companies to change their ways. First, although I played every portion of these games, I’m pretty sure I never bought any of them. The exact same technology that could distribute the free chapters one also easily distributed the paid for chapters two and three. Shareware was a good way to get word out for indie developers, but it still fell prey to pirates.

In addition, it’s not like the companies went away. Apogee became 3D Realms, which gave us Duke Nukem 3D. id Software did Doom and Quake. Epic Megagames gave us Unreal. All three of them went on to compete in the sole arena of first-person shooters, abandoning poor Commander Keen in the process. Commander Keen, you were too innocent for the bloodthirsty mid-90s.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged

Pandemic: Legacy: A Boardgame With Spoilers (No Spoilers Here)

Tonight we’ll try to save the world again, but it’s getting tougher and tougher. Matt, Satoko, Becky, and I will once again race against time to prevent the spread of four deadly diseases, as the world crumbles around us. Specifically, we’re playing another session of Pandemic: Legacy, the board game that has raced to the very top of the BoardGameGeek rankings in a very short time. Let me tell you a little about it.

What is Pandemic? Pandemic is a game from 2008 which is regarded by many as spearheading a wave of cooperative games. In a cooperative game the players don’t compete against each other, but work together to achieve a win against the game itself. In Pandemic, you are CDC agents, traveling the globe (the board is a map of the world) to fight four diseases. The goal is to cure all four before time runs out or disaster strikes. There’s a deck of city cards that gets flipped each turn, and disease cubes get placed on the cities that come up. If too many cubes go on a city, there’s an outbreak, and the disease spreads to all the neighboring cities. You have to prevent such outbreaks by treating cities while also trying to collect data to be turned in to cure the diseases. There are periodic epidemics which not only add a new city into the mix and increase the number of cubes that come out, but also put the cities back on top of the deck, meaning the same cities can get hit over and over. If you don’t clean them up, you are courting disaster. Too many outbreaks or running out of disease cubes can lose you the game, as well as running out of cards in the player draw deck. It’s a tight, tough game, and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve taught it to non-gamers several times and they’ve always picked it up pretty well and enjoyed it. It was my Game of the Year in 2008.

Okay, so what is a Legacy game? A “legacy” game is so named because the first one of its type was Risk: Legacy. This game was a variant of mass-market classic Risk, except with a major difference: the game changed permanently as you played it. In a Legacy game, things that happen in a particular session can affect future sessions. Cards used one time are removed, areas on the board can change, rules can even be added. This is noted through permanently changing the physical game itself. Cards are destroyed. Stickers are placed on the board. You write on the board to name cities or add features. At some point, a certain action in the game will have you open a sealed box that contains new pieces and rules for how to use them. Instead of playing a single game, you end up playing several connected games with a common storyline, where decisions will continue to ripple through the next games. Risk: Legacy was like nothing anyone had ever seen before and it had, itself, a permanent effect on games to come.

You got your Legacy in my Pandemic! Well, you got your Pandemic in my Legacy!

Pandemic: Legacy is, as the name says, the “legacy” mechanism applied to Pandemic. The basics are there: map of the world, CDC agents, trying to cure diseases, and so forth. But in this game, the disasters that happen stick around. For example (this is not really a spoiler, as you know it as soon as you begin) whenever an outbreak happens in a city, the panic level of that city goes up. If it gets too high, getting into that city to help it out becomes more difficult. Also, if one of the players is in a city when this happens, they get a scar, a permanent disadvantage on their character card. If they get too many scars, they’re dead. Permanently out of the game. There are other permanent effects as well, including (as you can imagine) the diseases getting more and more resistant to treatment. There are good changes, though. Winning a game gives you options for stickers you can put on the board or characters that help out.

I don’t want to talk too much about the changes, because this is a game with spoilers. You don’t know everything that’s going to happen when you start. There are sealed packages and boxes that you’ll open at certain times which add to the experience. Things are going to change, and change dramatically. But you’ll also get new tools to deal with them.

The game is played over a “year”. Starting in January, you play a session for that “month”. If you win, you move on to the next month. If you lose, you play another game in that same month. After two losses in the same month you’ll get socially promoted to the next one. So you’re looking at between 12 sessions (if you do fantastic) and 24 (if you’re utterly hopeless). So far we lost January twice, won Feb, March, and April, and then lost May twice. Tonight we start June. The first disease we named was “BOOGERS!!!” and we’ve also eradicated (temporarily at least) “Red Scare” and “Bugs in the Tummy”. Also, Europe is, like, a disaster area and the Eastern US isn’t looking so hot either.

As I said, Pandemic: Legacy has shot up the charts over at BoardGameGeek, but it’s not without its detractors. The biggest complaint seems to be the “permanent” aspect of it. Nerds have a really hard time not attaching themselves to stuff, and the idea of physically altering the game gives many the heebiest of all possible jeebies. There are supposedly tons of tips on how to play without “destroying” the game. That’s nuts, in my opinion. The permanent changes are the point, and are part of the fun. Getting 12-24 plays out of a game is a fine value, and these same people pay the same or more for other transitory entertainments, such as going out to a movie or eating a fine meal. No one buys concert tickets and is then disappointed that they can’t then watch that band perform forever, but I guess it’s a different problem when you’re talking about something that sits on your shelf. What do you do when it’s over? I don’t know; maybe you can play the final game state over and over, or maybe you can keep it on that shelf with the other memories of good times you don’t play anymore, or maybe you can recycle it and still cherish the fun times and experience.

A more valid complaint is that the storyline and drama is, to some extent, on rails. The events that happen are (so far, at least) less a result of player decisions and more a result of reaching a certain point in the game. For me, this is a non-issue because it still results in a unique and fun gaming experience. A novel or movie is no less entertaining for my lack of agency within it. Still, I can understand the complaint, especially since I believe this was less the case in Risk Legacy (but I never played that so I don’t know for sure).

Pandemic: Legacy was designed by Matt Leacock, who designed Pandemic, and Rob Daviau, who co-designed Risk Legacy, so you have two able hands here. They’ve created a game that shows that the legacy mechanism was not a fluke and can work in other environments. I can’t think of two games as dissimilar as Risk and Pandemic, yet both utilize this device well. I highly, highly recommend Pandemic: Legacy, one of the best games I played in 2015. Is it the best game of all time? Well, no, but it’s an experience unlike any other.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged , ,

mega-Mega-MEGA CIV ((…iv…iv…iv…))

On Saturday I participated in a gaming…event, one could say. A game of Mega-Civilization (MC). We had nine players and were there for 14 hours (though only 12 was actual gameplay time.) This could have been a nightmare for me, but instead I had a great time.

I’ve never played Civilization or Advanced Civilization (AC), which is a long game in its own right. Briefly, the way the games work are, the players start in a location and gradually spread out to claim territory. Eventually your population can support cities, which generate trade goods. Sets of goods can be cashed in to purchase advancements. There’s a trade round when you bark out what you need and swap goods with other players to build sets, but you can also trade calamities. If you’re stuck with a calamity when trading is over, it wrecks your stuff. The goal of the game is to get to a certain level of progress (number of advancements and number of cities) and then you calculate points from your cities, advancements, and how far along you are on the progress track. Most points wins. If you’ve played Advanced Civ, Mega-Civ offers, well, more of everything. Plays up to 18, more advancements, more goods, more calamities. In other words, it’s Civilization, but Mega so.

On paper I like civilization games, though often I don’t. I like games about technological advancement and building cities and stuff, but too many civ games end up being, as I’ve often complained, the history of armed warfare, plus grain. Many civ games will happily give you a single tech that functions as a “market” yet thirty-seven types of archers. Even one of the civ games I like offers “Mathematics” which does nothing except upgrade artillery units. So I always approach civ games with some trepidation, wondering if I’m actually looking at civilizations or just playing Risk, But Also Wonders. I was glad to find out that MC does not focus on combat. In fact, combat is expensive and constantly harassing your neighbors won’t help you much.

Okay, so our game convened at 10 AM. By quarter to noon we started play. The nine empires were: Eric (Iberia), Brian (Celts), Ray (Rome), Chris (Hellas), Tim (Hatti), Drew (Assyria), Jay (Egypt), Me (Minoa), and Ron (Carthage). Minoa, my faction, seems to be regarded as the lamest, which was backed up by me getting it because I was last to pick and Eric, whose game it was and who played before, offering to swap with me. But I stuck it out because I figured if I got crushed, I could blame that! Always thinking ahead, that’s me.

The first few rounds are pretty uninteresting, as it’s mostly just people spreading out and not bumping in to anyone. Soon, though Minoa was prospering. Minoa’s thing is, it’s surrounded by water, so you gotta get ships going pretty soon, but once you do you have a lot of choice locations to work with. Here I am establishing some cities (round tokens). You can see that I’m starting to rub up against Hellas (yellow) and Hatti (pink). We were getting along, though.

By about an hour and a half in, here’s how the board looked.

Green, in the upper left, are the Celts, who came right out the gate harassing Rome (hot pink). This kept both of them somewhat occupied, which was just fine by everyone else.

The importance of ships to Minoa meant my first advancement was going to be pretty obvious.

Now, I say how much I don’t like combat heavy civ games, but I monged a little war myself. I jumped into Turkey and swiped some land from Hatti. I considered this fair, though, since Hatti controlled Knossos now (due to a calamity they traded me.)

The game rolled on. Despite nine players, the rounds actually didn’t drag. A lot of stuff happens simultaneously, and even that which doesn’t, such as board movement, often happens so that at least two players can go at the same time. For example, if the Celts and Egypt are moving next, they can go at the same time, since they’re not going to be affecting each other.

The game has a lot of ebb and flow to it. At one point Egypt felt he was out of the game, but got back on his feet quickly. Calamities savagely beat at Assyria and Hellas, and both recovered. There are also some subtle balancing issues built in. If you have more cities than anyone else, you’ll get higher-quality trade goods, but since others aren’t getting them and you want to complete sets, you can’t trade them with anyone. In addition, those higher-level stacks have worse calamities in them, some of which can’t be traded. A lot of the calamities will benefit players not doing as well, so there are some catch-up things in place too. They’re a little clunky, but they keep the game from being one where you’re essentially shut out with 9 hours of play to go.

Eventually we were nearing the end. In our game, the final goal was three 200+ advancements (the cost of the card) and five cities. There were a number of close contenders. It looked like Iberia was going to get there first, as well as Hatti. I was close, but not close enough.

Carthage was also quietly sneaking in there. Ultimately Carthage got there first, after Iberia and Hatti both got hit with calamities that crippled them. I took shrapnel in one of Hatti’s calamities, which took out two of my cities. (If I’d had one more token on the board, I would only have lost one city, and also made it to the last stage.) That was the end of the game. When the points were calculated, Carthage won, and I came in sixth. Here’s the final board.

We finished almost exactly 12 hours later, at a quarter to midnight.

I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect from this. I’m not a big fan of huge, long games, and was mostly agreeing to play because Eric, whose copy it was, is a good guy who’s always up for playing whatever dumb thing I want to play, so I was being a pal. I mean, I didn’t think I’d hate it, just wasn’t sure if it would be my thing and if I’d be able to really focus and compete the full time. But I really enjoyed it. I’m totally up for another game of it sometime.

I liked the nine-player board. I liked that there was juuuust enough room, and that there were civs I never encountered on the board (though I could trade with.) Playing with a lot more I think would add more novelty than fun, and the full 18 would be strictly to say you’d done so. (Here is a report of a group that did so.)

Mega-Civilization was not an inexpensive game, so I know Eric wants to get more plays out of it. I’m totally up for being included in those.

Anyone want my bone wax?

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged , ,

Jumping Too. There Needs to Be Jumping


every person who lives here wants me dead

Last weekend I finished Fallout 4. I’ll have more to say on that soon, but it left me trying to figure out what I wanted to play next, other than just restarting Fallout 4. The remastered version of Grim Fandango was free, and I grabbed it because of how many people went on about how good it was, but it turns out none of them really liked it, because it’s one of those adventure games with inscrutable puzzles. I got Metro/Last Light Redux for Christmas, but that’s pretty much the same as replaying Fallout 4. Sony had a sale recently and people recommended Assassin’s Creed IV. I bought it, even though I haven’t played any of the Assassin’s Creed games (I was told that, story-wise, this would not be a problem.)

I started it up and was doing okay, but soon got overwhelmed. They threw me into Havana, where everyone wanted to kill me always. I couldn’t take five steps without 40 guards tackling me. It didn’t help that my character can’t keep his mouth shut and is an asshole. Frustrated, I turned it off.

For some time I’ve “joked” that I only seem to like a handful of videogames. It’s frustrating to me and to anyone who’s tried to help me figure out what I want to play. I’ve had to take a “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” attitude that doesn’t really help me find things I might like. Finally, Pal Andrew suggested Destiny as a sort of palate cleanser until I figured out what I wanted to do next, and that seemed like a good idea.

Subsequently, I played Destiny last night for the first time in months (it got thrown aside for Fallout 4). Now, Destiny isn’t my favorite game. There’s a lot of blandness and by-the-numbers to it. But it helped me focus my thoughts on it versus, say ,Assassin’s Creed IV.

Destiny is super easy to learn. Everything you need to know to mechanically play Destiny you can learn in, like, five minutes. There are only so many guns, and their differences are fairly obvious. You have only a handful of attacks: shoot, melee, grenade. You run, jump, and crouch. That’s pretty much it. Now, there’s a lot more to the game beyond that, but it all has to do with reacting to your environment and the different enemies (which could stand to be a little more different, but that’s another story.) It doesn’t make me learn a million different things to do, all of which can be employed in new and exciting combos to finesse into devastating attacks and counters and whatever. It is, and I also find myself using this term with regards to boardgames lately, very straightforward. Streamlined. That’s what I want, that’s what I like.

Look, I’m old, and I could drop dead at any moment. I don’t have time for three different buttons for swimming. Regular swim, fast swim, stealth swim…really? Within the first few minutes of Assassin’s Creed 4 I have three different swims to know. I have all this different junk to do when fighting: I can hold, I can throw, I can block, I can counter, I can parry — look, I just want to put this other guy down and get on with my life. I’m not here to learn how to dance, I’m here to drop this poor bastard and rescue that merchant. Ain’t no one giving me points for style. I realize there are people who enjoy chaining attacks and timing moves and all that stuff and they are okay because they have plenty of games to play. When I play for three hours, I want three hours of game, not three hours of this one boss fight. Remember, I’m married; I could be having sex instead.

As with boardgames, there seems to be this “more is more” attitude that you need to throw as much stuff into a game as it will fit. Can you craft? You need to craft! Can you sex up NPCs? Yes to sexing up NPCs! Can we have a sword, even though we have sniper rifles and shotguns? Get that goddamn sword in there with great speed!

I’m not saying everything has to be Pac-Man. And I realize that I’m unfairly picking on AC4 because it’s the fourth — or maybe ninth, I don’t know the series — game and they assume they’re just reminding you of all this stuff and not throwing it at you all at once. And I’m not saying every game needs to cater to me. I’m just getting more of a handle on what sorts of things I like and what sorts of things I don’t and why.

Also: I don’t like games where my guy is an asshole. That really bugs me.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged