25 March 2008

The Strange Dungeons of My Mind

Recently, for some obscure reason, I've been feeling a yearning for old fashioned Dungeons & Dragons. Although I ran my share of D&D back in the 90's (mostly with the 2nd edition AD&D rules which were the norm back then), the game's I've focused on for years now are very different from the oldschool D&D style.

There's a million reasons to choose other games instead. The milieu and themes are rather restrictive. Gameplay can be cumbersome, with most of the focus on tactical combat. D&D by definition lacks much of the artistic freedom I usually feel I need.

But D&D is simply D&D. There's something magical about it. Part of it is sheer nostalgia, part the simple fun of bashing monsters and hunting for treasure in the way that only old fashioned Swords & Sorcery can provide.

The biggest dilemma, for me, is that to get the most out of a D&D campaign it should last a long while. You want to see characters gain levels, gain power, build that fortress, get followers, become kings... And this is where the restrictiveness of the game setting kicks in. D&D is a game built around fantasy cliches, and while those cliches might be fun for a game or two, I'm not sure I could do it for years. I have a need, deep inside, to be constantly doing something new. Even if you added twists to the game world and made an effort to create interesting stories rather than just dungeon after dungeon, it would still, in some way, be the same old D&D.

So logic tells me that I'm not likely to, nor should I, start a new D&D campaign. But I can't help feeling this yearning inside me, and I don't know what to do about it. I need to start running a game soon. It's way overdue, once again. And I'm just not sure what direction to take.

22 March 2008

The Beauty of Trackers

I'd forgotten how much I love trackers and tracker music. I've just been spending some time playing old tunes by Skaven and trying to re-learn the ropes of tracking.

There have been and still are countless different trackers, of course. Two, though, rise high above all others: Impulse Tracker and FastTracker. Most traditional trackers of today follow in the footsteps of one or the other. IT was the one I used when I first got into trackers in the late 90s, and it still makes me feel very nostalgic. (Schism Tracker is probably the best choice on modern platforms for that perfect IT experience.)

The tracker I'm using at the moment is called MilkyTracker. Unlike most trackers I've used over the years, it is based on FastTracker 2 rather than Impulse Tracker. Which means having to re-learn the interface and shortcuts and stuff. But, frankly, I've been absent from tracking for so long that it'd take a while to get back into the swing of it whatever tracker I used. So far I'm quite happy with it, although I'm yet to do any actual composing.

The Mac isn't necessarily the ideal platform for tracking. There isn't a plethora of software available, and the ports that exist often have issues because of the differences between Mac and PC keyboards (particularly OS X's use of function keys can be a pain). I once tried a port of Schism Tracker (my first choice of trackers for some time), and couldn't get essentials like file loading and saving to work because of the function keys. But so far I have not encountered issues in MilkyTracker that couldn't be fixed with little changes in OS X's keyboard settings.

Although I've dabbled with trackers featuring more modern technology, such as software synthesizers, it is oldschool trackers (like MilkyTracker) that make me happiest, even if the sound they produce is often somewhat crude and old-fashioned. Just looking at the interface makes me all warm inside.

20 March 2008

Games That Could Have Been

This isn't actually news, but I haven't advertised it a whole lot.

As you may or may not know, I've been interested in electronic music created with tracker software for quite some time. My interest lies mainly in music inspired by old video games and also demoscene music (although I've never been a scener myself). Some of my own tracker creations have been available under the Elcalen's Homepage section for years.

Sometime last year, however, I registered as an artist at Last.fm and uploaded a selection of MP3 versions of my early tracker tunes there, creating an album titled Games That Could Have Been. The tracks can be listened to online or freely downloaded. (If you're a tracker enthusiast, the original mods can be found on my website.)

My artist profile at Last.fm can be found here.

You can listen to the tracks in question here.

There is also more information about the background of these tracks here.

Now, these tracks are likely to appeal to a fairly limited audience, primarily those interested in old video games or old tracker music. But go ahead and give them a go. It'll cost nothing. In theory I should be able to get royalties for tracks streamed over Last.fm (but not from MP3 downloads). However, the amounts are likely to be so small that I think these tunes will never see enough plays to make a single cent, let alone the amount needed to actually collect money.

19 March 2008

A Touch of Vertigo

Note to self. Gotta get these when I have more money.

I just read that Vertigo, a division of DC Comics, is reissuing their Vertigo tarot deck. The deck is illustrated by Dave McKean, a brilliant artist probably best known for his collaboration with Neil Gaiman. Like a lot of McKean's work, these cards look fairly abstract. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it allows you to bring your own experience to the reading rather than relying on some other person's interpretation. It's a matter of taste, of course. Some people like cards with pictures that immediately relate their meaning. All I know is these cards are beautiful and I need to own them, whether I found them to work well for reading or not.

I have a passion for tarot, as you might have deduced, even though I don't get around to reading them nearly as much as I'd like, and (for that very same reason) I'm not a terribly experienced reader. And no, I don't believe in 'fortune telling'. The tarot can only tell you what is already in your mind. It helps you focus your thoughts and view an issue from different viewpoints, and maybe even get in touch subconscious feelings about it.

For the record, my current favoured deck is the Tarot of the Old Path.

17 March 2008

What Friends Are For Pt 3

Second morning. There's not a whole lot of change actually. Muscles still ache. It's mostly my upper arms that I notice at the moment, but my legs ache as well when I move around. It's no worse than yesterday, so I expect it'll start getting better before too long.

Someone had the bright idea of mixing most of the bacon in a risotto (what a waste), and in the end I only had enough for one butty, and not quite as much for that as I'd have liked. I usually make a very simple bacon butty. Just two slices of toast with margarine, a couple of slices of tomato, and several slices of fried bacon. I'm not used to using mayo or other sauces in sandwiches, as we've never really used them in my family. (I think they are used less in Finnish cuisine in general than they are in Britain, for example.) We rarely even buy salad dressings. That being said, I have a hard time accepting a hamburger without mayo.

As for updates, I've been doing little tweaks here and there. Probably nothing you'd even notice, but some sections should be cleaner and more up to date.

16 March 2008

What Friends Are For Pt 2

The following morning. Not a great deal of change, actually. Still stiff all over, and perhaps a little more aching. I think my legs ache the most. Climbing stairs is a real treat. And my back, never my strongest point, is aching too. And, actually, now that I think of it, my arms do ache a little as well when I move them.

And I plan to have a bacon butty today.

What Friends Are For

I've just spent most of the day helping friends move. It's nearing 1am as I write this. I've been home for a couple of hours. Mostly just sitting in my chair, as I didn't quite feel like sleeping yet.

Current situation: I feel utterly exhausted. My limbs don't hurt at this point, but they feel very heavy and stiff, to the point that drinking a cup of tea feels barely manageable. I've got two or three bruises on the thigh of my right leg. (Surprisingly no more than that, and in no other region that I can see so far.)

And was it worth it? Of course. I mean, what are friends for? Yes, physical torture, apparently. But seriously, I've enjoyed the hospitality of these dear people countless times, giving very little back, apart from my company of course. Today's assistance was the least I could do to repay them. Not something I'd like to repeat very soon, though.

Now I will sleep. And tomorrow I'll write about how my condition develops.

15 March 2008

Not Issueless But

I spent a good amount of time this past week setting up the new blog system and tweaking the code. It's looking pretty good, I think, but there are still issues, some which may be obvious to visitors and some not.

The most obvious visual bug is the fact that on very short pages the blog sidebar doesn't fit inside the page borders. The cause for this may be something quite obvious, but with my limited html skills I'm having trouble figuring it out. The code for both the main column and sidebar is contained within the div tags that define the border. Maybe it has to do with the float settings? I dunno.

Another issue that most visitors are unlikely to even be aware of is actually even more annoying to me. I ran the page through the W3 html validator, and wasn't really surprised to see it fail. I've been trying to clean up the code, but some errors still remain. Most of them have to do with just a couple of lines of code. However, I'm suspecting that most of the code causing errors is generated by Blogger.com, so I'm not quite sure what I can do about it.

I've taken a couple of days off from working on the website and focused on more important things. Like playing Star Ocean. Life must go on. But I hope I can get these things fixed at some point in the future.

11 March 2008

New Blogs For Old

I decided to take the plunge and switch to blogger.com for the purpose of managing the blog section of my website. What this means in practice is that there's now an automated archiving and labeling system, as well as the possibility for readers to add comments to posts.

I've spent much of the day customizing the template so that it is in line with the rest of my site. I'll probably still keep on tweaking the look of the blog part of the page for some time. The code for the page is likely to be quite messy still, as what I did was basically just take a sample template and replace bits of css and html with code from my website. Lots of cleaning up would be in order, but as long as it works, I'll be happy. Luckily I hadn't accumulated a whole lot of posts yet, so I was able to move the old posts into the new system without much trouble.

Other than that, not much happening. I'm totally hooked on Sweeney Todd, and have been listening to the soundtrack a lot since I saw the movie last week. Oh, and playing Star Ocean: The Second Story.

5 March 2008

In Memoriam

Gary Gygax, author and co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, has died, age 69. I find it difficult to put into words what exactly D&D has meant to me and to the whole world. D&D was the first ever roleplaying game. It was more than a game. It created a phenomenon which evolved into a whole new form of entertainment, even an art form, a way for anyone to enjoy their creativity in the company of good friends.

Sure, roleplaying games have come a long way since the days of the original D&D. Games today, at least for me and most of my friends, are primarily about stories and characters, while the original D&D was a fairly straightforward tactical fighting game. Yet, without that first step we would never have had this wonderful medium to use for our stories.

D&D wasn't the first RPG I had. The first rules set I bought was MERP, me being (possibly) an even bigger Tolkien nut back in my early teens than I am now. However, I never played MERP a whole lot. One of the first longer campaigns I ran was a Dragonlance game run with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. I have no interest in the current incarnation of D&D, though. Other rules are better suited to the games I run now. When I return to D&D these days, it's for the nostalgic feel of good old-fashioned dungeon crawling, not for piles of expensive books filled with details and cumbersome rules I don't need.

I've been wanting to try running a game with the original 70's D&D rules, but I haven't gotten around to it so far. Maybe this loss will inspire me to explore the roots of one of my dearest hobbies.