30 December 2011

I Heart Ramona, aka Presents

There's stuff that tends to get written about this time of year. There's the recapping of the year's highlights, the looking forward to what the future has in store, etc. I did all that stuff in a previous blog post. There's the complaining about the weather. I think I actually touched upon that as well in that previous post.

Then there's the traditional 'bragging about cool Christmas presents' thing. Which is just another excuse to write crap about stuff I like.

So, this year the present that stands out most for me is undoubtedly the complete set (volumes one through six) of Scott Pilgrim.

Have I written about Scott Pilgrim in my blog? I don't remember doing so. I saw the movie for the first time last summer. I enjoyed it. There was something about the combination of cute romance, martial arts action, video game references, indie rock and crazy humour that rather appealed to me. Hell, it was almost like the whole thing was engineered to specifically appeal to my particular tastes. Even down to the lazy underachiever gamer musician protagonist. Talk about relating, ahem... (Except all that 'getting the girl' stuff, maybe. I guess that's a protagonist thing. And I'm just not protagonist material. I could be an antagonist, maybe, except I'm too lazy to go around kidnapping girls. :-p)

A little later I read the comic. And liked it also. More even than the movie, since it obviously goes more in depth into the characters' backgrounds, etc. I decided it would be cool to own my own copy of it, and ended up requesting it for Christmas. So now I can read it whenever I like, yay. :-)

Oh, and Ramona Flowers is, like, totally hot, and stuff. And I hope I won't have to fight anyone to the death 'cause I said that. ('Cause I'd lose. And I hate losing. Especially in a fight to the death.)

EDIT: Apparently putting a '<' in my original post title messed it up, so it got posted without a title, and Blogger didn't even bother to notify me about this... Well, whatever. I fixed the title, although the permalink (seriously? the spellchecker in my browser recognises 'permalink', but not 'blogger'?) is words from the start of the post rather than the title. Of course this should not matter in the least, but the perfectionist nitpicker in me made me write this note...

23 December 2011

Who Is This Elcalen Guy Anyway?

For years now, I've used the nickname 'elcalen' on many online services. I don't think I've ever really discussed its origin, though.

It goes all the way back to the mid 90's. And it was originally made up as a name for some RPG character. Probably for MERP, or possibly AD&D, or possibly both. And I'm pretty sure the character or characters were never used for anything. This was before we started spending all our waking hours online, and people (well, kids anyway) actually had time to waste doing something like character creation just for the fun of it. It was also a time when I was very interested in RPG's, but didn't get as many chances to play them as I would've liked.

I mentioned MERP, which of course stands for Iron Crown Enterprises' Middle-earth Role Playing system. This was the first RPG I ever bought, I think, probably not in the least because I was a huge Tolkien fan as a kid (and I guess I still am, even if I don't get around to reading the books very often these days). Since this was a Middle-earth character, I made up the name by picking words from the Elvish vocabulary provided as an appendix to The Silmarillion. 'El' stands for star, and 'calen' I think is a word for 'green'. So together they're supposed to mean something like 'green star'. I don't know if it's grammatically correct or anything, and I've never cared about that. (Anyway, these days I don't really even think about the meaning much, it's just a word that stands for, well, me.)

And later, when the Internet and online chats and forums became a 'thing', I recalled this name from my memory. And it kinda stuck.

The end.

EDIT: And I realise this post has very little to do with who 'elcalen' actually is. But whatever, it was a good title.

EDIT 2: And as for pronunciation, I don't say it 'elCAYlen'.

21 December 2011

2011 Wrap Up Post

It's been a not uninteresting year. So a traditional highlights post is in order, I suppose, and a little look toward what's cooking next year. Sure, the year's not quite over yet, but there's no time (for procrastination) like the present...

The most noteworthy event is sure to be starting my own webcomic, Escape from Lowresia. It was a very spontaneous creation, really. For whatever reason, I ended up contemplating these old sprites I had from abandoned game projects, and thought, what the heck, why not try actually making something out of them. Which has thus far resulted in about four months worth of twice weekly comic strips, and is likely to continue on a regular schedule at least for the foreseeable future. Although, while the response from friends has been very positive, the fan base hasn't been growing very fast, what with me being really bad at marketing myself and stuff... (If fans of the comic happen to have great ideas about how to promote it, I'd certainly be interested in hearing them.)

Other than that, my life has mostly been defined by the usual geeky activities; gaming, music etc.

The RPG front has again been fairly active. My ongoing campaign Tales from the Teya'o Iva has provided much fun. Another noteworthy event is discovering Pathfinder and getting back to some oldschool-ish fantasy gaming after a long break. These games are likely to continue next year as well, and there are some other, crazy ideas also in the works...

With video games I've again been rather lazier than I'd like, I'm afraid. Skyrim is probably the most notable event for me this year. Finally getting round to playing Portal is probably worth mentioning (though I still haven't managed to buy Portal 2). And I've played a bunch of interesting small indie games, too, so at least there has been variety, if not great quantity. Games produced in the west seem to have dominated my gaming this year, which is somewhat new. Though I did also finally play through FFX-2 (and found it unexpectedly entertaining). I don't really have many games lined up next year that I'm particularly looking forward to. FFXIII-2 will of course be a must play.

Some of my favourite music from this year includes new offerings from Nightwish, Within Temptation, Tom Waits, etc. If anything, I think my listening habits this year have been more varied than ever. Metal still comprises a large part of it (with genres ranging from symphonic to power to black), but as usual, there's a lot of classic rock, soundtracks etc. thrown into the mix. I've also been exploring new genres, like post-rock. (You can check out my profile at last.fm, if you wish.) Next year I'm looking forward to at least new material from Garbage and Epica. And yes, new material made by myself will be along sooner or later...

And yeah, I guess I must also admit to succumbing to a certain degree of bronyhood.

It looks likely to be a 'black' Christmas here in Helsinki. I think it may be a first for me, having spent most of my Christmases further up north. And I'm loving it. After the last couple winters we've had, I'm just bloody sick of snow. Let it be dark and dank!

EDIT: I realised I'd neglected to mention charity video game marathons. These have provided some great entertainment for a bunch of weekends this year. I think I first discovered the phenomenon last year, probably through someone's retweet about Mario Marathon 3. I watched a fair amount of Mario Marathon 4 this year (my blog post about it), and a few others, like g33kWatch's Mass Effect Marathon 2, and Metroid and Zelda marathons by TheSpeedGamers. This is a trend that will surely continue next year.

11 December 2011

A Brief Story with a Bear in It

One of the funniest things I've seen recently happened when I was walking up this fairly steep mountain road. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a large bear reared up in front of me. Well, I didn't have much choice but to kill it. After it fell, I looked down, with a mind to skin it, but the carcass had mysteriously vanished.

So I turned and looked behind me, and there it was. Sprawled on the ground, nose pointed downhill, sliding down the mountain path.

I laughed my arse off.

Oh, and this all happened in the land known as Skyrim, of course.

8 December 2011

Do I Have a Hobby?

Just something I've been thinking about a little lately.

I'm a geek, that's been well established. I play video games and roleplaying games. I watch sci-fi and fantasy movies and read comics.

I'm also keen on music. I listen to it, I write it, I play it.

These things fill my life. But are they 'hobbies'? According to dictionary.com a hobby is 'an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation'. Sure, they're not exactly my 'main occupation' (at least in the sense that I get no income from them). But still they seem to go beyond what people generally think of as hobbies. They're more like a way of life to me. I couldn't imagine my life without any of them.

But if I don't define these things as hobbies, does that mean I have no hobbies? Doesn't that make me sound like a dull person?

Well, there may of course be more specific subsets of the whole that work better with the 'hobby' definition. Currently my webcomic might be one such. While strongly influenced by my other interests, it, in itself, isn't (at least yet) a defining factor of myself, or a compulsory part of my core being. It's something I choose to do, because it's fun (and gets me complements from friends)...

I guess all this also ties into what I was writing about a 'post-geek' lifestyle earlier this autumn, the way that geekdom has gone beyond being a 'hobby' so that what remains is simply... me. Hard to quantify or categorise, just being myself, the way I am, and spending my time the way I wish to spend it.

Did I have a real point to all this rambling? I guess not...

1 December 2011

Imaginaerum: A Review of Sorts

So Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish's long awaited new album was finally released, and I've listened through it a handful of times, now.

Reactions to the band's new material since the split with Tarja have of course been mixed. As for myself, the previous album, Dark Passion Play, is by no means my favourite Nightwish album, but I do enjoy listening to it. And I have no antipathy towards Anette, either. Her voice and singing style may be different from Tarja's, but she's by no means a bad singer. And in any case, the music of Nightwish is about Tuomas's compositions. The vocals are merely one element in the mix.

So, anyway, I had pretty much no expectations for the new album, Imaginaerum. Or at least I tried very hard not to have, lest I be disappointed. As it turns out, I'm not disappointed. More like addicted, actually, though it's hard to put one's finger exactly on the reasons why. The album feels fresher, I think, than Dark Passion Play, yet firmly rooted in classic Nightwish sounds.

The sound is definitely more whimsical and playful. There is some intriguing experimentation with different, less traditional influences. There are bits influenced by celtic folk (which isn't really new, of course). The chorus of the first single, Storytime, has an almost ABBA-ish quality that makes it perfect earworm material. The slow, jazzy number Slow, Love, Slow puts me in mind of Twin Peaks. There's a surreal circus show, an Arabian interlude, and even a whistling nod to Ennio Morricone in one song...

All this is of course wrapped up in bombastic orchestral and choral arrangements, done once again by Pip Williams. All in all I like the instrumental arrangements quite a bit. Some of the vocal parts maybe took a little bit longer to get used to, but I'm growing to like them as well.

The lyrics deal largely with the same yearning for childlike wonder and innocence that has been present throughout Nightwish's career. It has been announced quite some time ago, of course, that a film is being made, which should intertwine the songs into a narrative of sorts. While I'm probably not expecting a masterpiece, I guess after hearing the album I am quite looking forward to it.

Time will tell how this album will fare in relation to Nightwish's earlier works, but right now I'm quite enjoying it, and I think it's already one of my favourite new releases from this year. Which, strangely enough, I find myself slightly surprised by.

15 November 2011

Skyrim: Almost but Not Quite First Impression

So, a few days have passed since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released, and I've had a chance to play it some more. In a nutshell: I'm not disappointed.

(For the uninitiated: The Elder Scrolls is a series of action RPG video games. They are known for their large, open worlds, which you can explore pretty freely. Each game is set in a different region of the games' fantasy world, a continent called Tamriel.)

Like I've said in earlier blog posts, I'm a latecomer to the series, having only played a little of Oblivion earlier this year. So the whole style of the game is still pretty fresh to me. (Knowledge of the prior games isn't really vital. While there are many references, of course, to other regions and earlier events, the stories of the games aren't really connected.) Veterans may of course react differently to various aspects of the game.

Many aspects are, of course, instantly familiar from playing Oblivion. The basic elements of the game are intact, from talking to NPC's and taking on quests to exploring the world and discovering dungeons to loot. Some gameplay mechanics have been streamlined and simplified, which I think is good. For instance, the persuasion system from Oblivion has been removed. (That feature, in my opinion, was only an annoyance. There's plenty enough depth in these games to not have to waste time on pointless minigames.) The removal of classes is also good, allowing more free development of any skills you use.

But the main question in these games is of course that of the setting. Oblivion, though a very entertaining game in many ways, suffered a little in my mind from being rather generic medieval fantasy. Skyrim obviously strives for a setting with a little more personality. Being set in the most northern part of Tamriel, the influences are primarily drawn from ancient Scandinavia. And yeah, it's pretty cool. I haven't explored a lot of the locations yet, but I do think the world feels a little more natural and fresh. Although there are downsides too, like the pseudo-Scandinavian accents of many characters, for instance, which can be a little... silly at times.

The scenery is quite pretty, the views from high places (and in this mountainous region there are some pretty high places) awesome. There's changing weather, snow storms, wildlife, and... the dragons.

Yup. The dragons are of course an important part of the main story. I love the way they can appear out of the blue, and attack a village etc. As an example, I was just visiting a little village when an attack happened. The dragon crouched on rooftops breathing fire while I hurled spells at it. And after it was defeated, I noticed all the NPC's in the village had gathered nearby to see it, then slowly started getting back to their daily routines. Pretty darn cool.

So, I think Skyrim is definitely the video game event of the year for me, and may well be the most significant new release since maybe MGS4. Epic fantasy adventuring in beautiful scenery, what more could you ask for?

12 November 2011

A Hotchpotch Gaming Post

OK, lots of little bits I could talk about, so...

November 11 was Skyrim's release day. And on that very day, the postman dropped it in my mailbox. It's been ages since I've actually gotten a game on the release day. If I ever have, even, I can't remember for sure now. I remember pre-ordering MGS3, but due to some mix-up I got it several days late (gasp!). I might have gotten Silent Hill 4 on the day, or very soon after. But, yeah, mostly I have no problem waiting, as there are relatively few games I'm that passionate about based on hype alone.

It got off to a rocky start. The game crashed a couple times during the tutorial part. For a console game this is pretty unforgivable. But after a new start (and, just to be safe, a fresh install) it has been working without problems, for the first few hours, at least. And, although I've barely scratched the surface of the game, it is pretty cool. Many things seem instantly familiar from Oblivion, but I do think the UI and gameplay have improved some, and the setting might just seem a little fresher. The snow is pretty etc.

During the previous weeks, while waiting for Skyrim, I played Grandia for a while. This was a very different experience, of course, being a traditional Japanese RPG. And it was quite fun to play. I enjoyed the battle system, and the experience system was interesting, too. The story... well, despite there being plenty of dialogue, it didn't really progress all that much during the 20 odd hours I played. The characters were fun, though (albeit some a bit... young), and there's plenty of humour. Maybe I'll get back to it someday, when I feel like a change again. Or maybe I won't. I'm afraid I have a tendency to get sidetracked playing these long RPG's, never to return...

Onwards to the tabletop gaming part.

I don't usually re-run many RPG scenarios, even though I run games for a couple different groups. Mostly 'cause I'm committed to running campaigns, of very different styles, which doesn't really lend itself to reusing material. I think the only example thus far was my horror scenario Beyond the Bridge. Last weekend, however, me and a handful of friends got together intending to play some Halloween-themed RPG's. So I decided to run one scenario from my campaign from a few years ago, Kin of Cerberos. The scenario was titled The Day After the Living Dead, and I guess you can guess what the theme was (yes, it starts with a 'z'). Instead of the professional demon hunters of the campaign, this one-shot featured 'regular' people, who were rather more out of their depth. But it was fun.

My Pathfinder campaign is progressing. It still feels like we're learning the game, really, but I guess session by session it's getting smoother. And I still like the system, it's very different from the other games I've been running lately, and steeped in tradition, etc.

And lastly, I kept running into the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic in the strangest places, so I finally had to find out what all the fuss was about. And it turned out to be surprisingly addictive. (Seriously, though, a show created by someone called Faust can hardly be bad. Evil, maybe, but not bad.) And, being the gamer geek that I am, I started thinking the show's setting and style could make for a pretty fun, light RPG adventure. So I started designing a simple system based on Fudge for it, and making a draft of a cute character sheet (and that's probably the first time I've described a sheet design of mine as cute). I haven't had a chance to try these out yet, but, judging from the reaction of at least one of my (female) friends, that is probably only a matter of time...

4 November 2011

A Little Blog Post About Hype

It's one week to the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I finally managed to get around to ordering the game this week. And I must admit, I'm a little excited.

It feels as if Skyrim is easily the most hyped game in years. Of course having 'liked' the Elder Scrolls page on Facebook, I'm probably getting more saturated with news items than I might have otherwise, but I do keep running into it in other sources as well.

I rarely get very excited about new game releases. Of course there are a few particular series I'm a fan of. Releases of Metal Gear Solid titles in the past, for instance, have been not insignificant events. And Final Fantasy games, of course, although recent titles haven't really been all that special, and I've hardly had great expectations for them. But I don't think there has really been any particular game I would have been really looking forward to since maybe MGS4. There may be titles I eye with mild interest, but I'm usually quite willing to wait till I run into them for a bargain price, often years later, if I ever get them at all.

What's strange about the Skyrim thing, is that it's not really the type of game I used to get excited about, either. For a long time I played pretty much exclusively Japanese games. It's only quite recently that I've begun to open up more to certain western titles. I've also usually not been all that into the whole 'sandbox' thing, preferring games with a strong storyline and characters, which is really hard to do in an open world.

I'm also coming in very late on the whole Elder Scrolls thing. I got Oblivion second hand last winter and played some of it, and quite enjoyed it, but, as often happens with long games, I got sidetracked by something, and time went by, and then with Skyrim drawing ever closer it didn't really seem to make sense to get back into it, my attention span being what it is and me not wanting to spoil the experience by playing too much of a similar thing. (Wow, what a sentence...) So I never got around to even beating the main story in the game. But the seeds of interest were sown, and there were elements of the game I quite liked.

And what I've seen of Skyrim... well, it does look impressive. Improved visuals (which, frankly, were by no means shabby in Oblivion), streamlined gameplay, better voice acting, a new, big world to explore... Even if it doesn't quite live up to all the hype, ruling out some really bad technical flaws or something, I'm not seeing any way I cannot get a fair share of enjoyment out of the game. I hope I'm right.

27 October 2011

Going Wiki

The people this mostly concerns will likely have already heard about this via Wave or Facebook, but I'll write a blog post too, since it's a not an un-trivial update to my website.

For well over a year now I've been running a fantasy RPG set in a world I made up, called Va'ita. The world itself was in development for several months before the game begun, and I wrote a fair amount of background material which I put up on my website.

The thing is, except for a small content update not too long ago (I blogged about it), I haven't really expanded this background material at all. 'Cause, you know, I'm lazy, and stuff.

On the other hand, we've got some creative people in the gaming group who have in the past contributed many cool ideas concerning both their characters and the world itself.

So I started thinking, what if I'd turn the world's website into a wiki? This would have the benefit of allowing other potentially interested people to contribute material, and also make it easier and faster for me to edit and add material. Now, of course I'm not expecting a flood of cool material, but at least it has the potential of becoming a useful tool in the continued development of my world.

I installed MediaWiki on my host server this afternoon. This is probably the most widely used wiki software out there, best known from Wikipedia. Installation was pretty painless, and I have now more or less completed copying the material from the original website. This material is of course in dire need of editing and reorganising to make the most out of the wiki format. And then there are the many topics that should be written about. So many red links...

And the wiki itself can be found here.

26 October 2011

Another Post with Free Music In

Like instrumental post-rock? Like free music? Then read on...

Um, er, what is post-rock, you ask? I think I've mentioned listening to that sort of stuff earlier in my blog. Wikipedia says:
'Post-rock is a subgenre of rock music characterized by the influence and use of instruments commonly associated with rock, but using rhythms and "guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures" not traditionally found in rock. Post-rock musicians typically produce instrumental music.'
And later:
'Post-rock compositions often make use of repetition of musical motifs and subtle changes with an extremely wide range of dynamics. In some respects, this is similar to the music of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Brian Eno, pioneers of minimalism. Typically, post-rock pieces are lengthy and instrumental, containing repetitive build-ups of timbre, dynamics and texture.'

So, I've also mentioned the webcomic Questionable Content earlier. Well, guess what, its author, Jeph Jacques, is also a pretty good musician, and has released a bunch of tracks under the name Deathmøle, which actually originates from the comic, being a band made up of some of its protagonists. While he's released this material for free, finding it all seems to require a bit of detective work, since he's originally released them one track at a time. This post, however, contains links to zips of some of the albums.

Another band I discovered not too long ago is called Shadowcast Sun. I found it through a website called freemetalalbums.com, a site which may well contain many hidden gems. Their albums can be downloaded from their website.

Both these artists lean towards the heavier side of post-rock, and could probably be classed as post-metal. They have a nice, atmospheric sound, though, and I like to listen to them late at night, with lights dimmed.

17 October 2011

MaSu Concert Video - For Free

Want to see a not un-neat metal gig, totally free?

I've mentioned the band Machinae Supremacy before in my blog, for a couple of reasons. One is their video game influences and use of SID chip sounds in their music. The other is the fact that, in addition to several regular, commercial albums, they have several albums worth of material available for free download on their website. While of course the quality of such material might be a little more of a mixed bag than their commercial albums, it is still something I respect greatly.

This summer they played at Assembly (an event I also blogged about). Assembly TV wasn't able to broadcast the gig live at the time, but now, after some quality post production, MaSu has released the concert video for free, via Pirate Bay.

This is a high quality video, 80 minutes long. As they say in the release notes, 'sharing is caring'. I'm sure there are other bands that could learn something from this.

14 October 2011

The Passing of Two Computer Greats

Last week we heard of the passing of Steve Jobs.

Now, while the entire Internet was going crazy in praise of him, I must confess I had difficulty at first in relating to all that. You see, when I think of Apple, I think mostly of (overly) expensive hardware, restrictive and dysfunctional operating systems that make a mockery of their Unix roots, and DRM galore...

But of course it is not fair to judge Jobs by the Apple we know now. Jobs and Apple early on did have a profound impact on the modern state of home computing, and perhaps particularly on user interfaces.

With this in mind, I (as did probably almost every other webcomic author) did a little tribute strip for Escape from Lowresia.

Then, yesterday, I read of the passing of Dennis Ritchie.

This was not a name I would have instantly recognised, although I've probably run into it before (I've never been good at remembering names). But once I read the articles, I was more than a little impressed. This was the man credited with the creation of the programming language C, and one of the main original developers of the Unix operating system.

While I've never actually used C myself, it's impact on all modern coding and software is simply immense. You could perhaps go as far as calling it a sort of lingua franca of the programming world, since it has been, and still is, one of the most used languages around.

While the majority of the software I (and you) use is likely coded in C, Unix has perhaps had an even more direct impact for me personally. As some of you will know, for years already I've used variants of GNU/Linux, which is, of course, very much based on Unix, as my main operating system (with a brief interlude using Mac OS X, also a Unix-based system, albeit crippled by Apple). I couldn't imagine using another OS in the foreseeable future.

13 October 2011

There Are Zombies Outside, Dear Liza


It's less than a month till Halloween, so here's a little Halloween filk for you:

There are zombies outside, dear Liza, dear Liza
There are zombies outside, dear Liza, zombies

Well shoot them, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
Well shoot them, dear Henry, dear Henry, just shoot them

With what shall I shoot them, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I shoot them, dear Liza, with what?

With a shotgun, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
With a shotgun, dear Henry, dear Henry, with a shotgun

The shotgun is empty, dear Liza, dear Liza
The shotgun is empty, dear Liza, empty

Well load it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
Well load it, dear Henry, dear Henry, just load it

With what shall I load it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I load it, dear Liza, with what?

With shells, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
With shells, dear Henry, dear Henry, with shells.

Where are the shells, dear Liza, dear Liza?
Where are the shells, dear Liza, oh where?

In a box, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
In a box, dear Henry, dear Henry, in a box

Where is the box, dear Liza, dear Liza?
Where is the box, dear Liza, oh where?

In the shed, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
In the shed, dear Henry, dear Henry, in the shed

Where is the shed, dear Liza, dear Liza?
Where is the shed, dear Liza, oh where?

Outside, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
Outside, dear Henry, dear Henry, outside

There are zombies outside, dear Liza, dear Liza
There are zombies outside, dear Liza, zombies...

4 October 2011

Trine (and Bundles, Again)

Right on the heels of Braid, I played another cool indie platformer, Trine. Like the previous game, I got this as part of a Humble Indie Bundle. The latest bundle is still available as I write this, and if you pay enough (currently more than $4.66), you'll get Trine and other games as well as a bonus.

Although I was slightly wary of playing another platformer right after Braid, Trine proved to be lots of fun, and quite addictive. And a very different type of game altogether. I've once again written a brief review for my website.

This game alone would have been worth the few measly bucks I paid for the bundle, and there's still several others I haven't tried. Of course I would've gladly paid more if my financial situation was any better. It's for charity, after all. But this is how it should be, of course. Good games ought to be within anybody's reach, not just for the wealthy.

30 September 2011

Braid and Bundles

Last year I got the second Humble Indie Bundle as a gift (and, as it turned out, the first bundle was included as a bonus, too). I'm only now getting around to looking into the games included, since my computer back then wasn't very co-operative when it came to gaming.

So, over the last couple days I beat Braid, the acclaimed platformer/puzzle hybrid. It was a pretty unique and interesting game, although a couple of the puzzles drove me to the brink of frustration (and relate social network venting). Puzzle games aren't really my thing, as I've probably said before. Anyways, I've written up a brief review. (It's a strange coincidence that the previous game I wrote of in the review section was Portal, another unique puzzle game.)

This happened to take place just when the latest Humble Bundle offering (the Frozen Synapse Bundle) was released. So, go buy some games, if you feel like it. It's for a good cause. Or several, in fact.

26 September 2011

Linux and the MMO - A Couple First Impressions

While I've written earlier about briefly trying out some MMORPG's, I've never really gotten into them. Partly this has been because there are few cool games that would run on my system, partly 'cause I guess they don't really seem like my kind of games in the end, what with quests often being somewhat repetitive and me not really being that interested in the whole social gaming thing.

Recently, though, I decided to try out a couple more, just for the heck of it. This is part of my search for interesting games that are a) free, b) run natively in GNU/Linux, and C) actually run without problems on my notebook (for example, I recently wrote about the FPS game Cube 2: Sauerbraten). I really haven't delved deeply into either of these games, having basically just played a few tutorial quests, so they really are just first impressions.

First of all, we've got Ryzom. This game made headlines last year when they released their source code, along with graphics assets, as open source. The game maps, quests etc. weren't included, however, so the official servers are still the only ones you can really use. And it's still a pay-to-pay game, I'm afraid, with monthly subscription fees. However, they've now got a fairly extensive 'free trial', with no time limits, but with a cap on skill levels (kinda like WoW is these days, I guess).

The installation's pretty hefty, over 6 gigs. But I was rather surprised to see the game start pretty much 'out-of-the-box', without problems. Well, that's how it seemed, until I got inside the game, and discovered it to be rather laggy. I can't say whether this is due to high ping (which appeared to jump about in the 200-1000 range each time I've tried the game), or whether my machine is a factor (although I believe it should meet the requirements). The game's been more or less playable for now, but it is still annoying.

The world of the game can probably be best described as fantasy, but it attempts to be somewhat more original than the majority of western RPG titles, in terms of scenery, species etc. The interface and game mechanics appear to be fairly conventional MMORPG fare, though, at least from the perspective of a noob like me.

The second game is a rather less known title called Eternal Lands. This game has been around since 2003, and is free to play. There is a store for items, additional races etc., but these are nothing vital to the game. In comparison to the heavy Ryzom, the full installation of this game is a mere 232 mb. Which does of course show in the amount of graphical detail. But it, as well, ran 'out-of-the-box', and more smoothly than Ryzom.

One of the first words that springs to mind when describing this game is 'quaint'. Not sure if this is good or bad, really. As I indicated, the graphics are by no means state of the art, but that's not necessarily very important to me in a game. The interface isn't perhaps quite as modern and intuitive as Ryzom's. It is very mouse oriented, and kinda puts me in mind of old point & click adventures. You walk by clicking on the ground (or a destination on the map, which is quite handy, actually), and even need to cycle through walk/use/look modes (which I find rather less handy).

The gameplay itself places a lot of emphasis on harvesting and manufacturing, but there's some combat as well. One feature I don't like is the necessity to eat regularly. (You won't die of hunger, but a negative food gauge will have negative effects on some aspects of the game. This all seems like needless complication to me.) The style is much more conventional fantasy than Ryzom's, and I haven't yet run into any particularly interesting story hooks.

So, to sum up, points in favour of Ryzom are its more original setting, and its relatively modern looks and interface. However, I still have concerns about its performance, and I cannot yet say how restrictive the level limits of free accounts really are. Eternal Lands, on the other hand, is free, fairly light, and doesn't require a state of the art machine to run. My main concern with it is whether it holds enough interest in the long run. I don't really expect to be playing a lot of either game, although you can never know what the future brings, of course...

21 September 2011

Feeds and Pages, or, Not Quite Viral Yet

This is largely a test post, since I've been having troubles with my blog's feed and Twitter/Facebook updates lately. (I use Twitterfeed for these updates, for both the blog and my webcomic, Escape from Lowresia, and for the most part it has served me well.) But since I'm here, I'll try to think of something to talk about...

So, Escape from Lowresia, eh? After the first month it's still alive and new strips are posted regularly. Like clockwork, in fact, since the publishing process is now pretty well automated. We've finally met some new characters, and things can only get more exciting in the future. Feedback from my friends has been quite positive.

However, thus far I'm not aware of any readers outside my circle of friends. I'm not really surprised by that, since I've mostly only promoted the comic on my personal Facebook account (and Twitter, but I don't really have that many followers there). But I don't know what more I could do at this stage, really. This sort of thing probably mostly travels by (digital) word of mouth. So, how about it, my friends? Let's get chatty! If you genuinely like my comic and want to show your support, the best thing you can do for it at this point is probably spreading it around.

The first arbitrary goal could be to get 25 'likes' on the Facebook page, since this is apparently required in order to get a 'username' for the page (i.e. a shorter url). There should be some kind of carrot, I guess. At the very least there'll be a bonus strip if we reach this goal. I'll try to think of other ways to celebrate this and future milestones as well, though currently I have no idea what this could be...

Meanwhile, managing pages on Facebook proved surprisingly convenient. Registering them was pretty simple (the hardest part was probably deciding on an appropriate category, particularly in the case of EfL, since there just didn't seem to be a really appropriate choice). A 'Pages' segment then appeared in the sidebar on the left, from which I can get to my pages with one click. When I write something on my page's wall, it automatically writes as the page, likewise when I comment on a post by the page, even when I'm in my personal news feed. Handy.

20 September 2011

Sauerbraten (Not Quite a Game Review)

The free FPS world seems to be largely focused on multiplayer deathmatch games, in the tradition of Quake 3: Arena. For example, a while back I wrote about a game called OpenArena (an open content replacement for Q3).

Recently, maybe more for procrastination than anything else, I've been giving Cube 2: Sauerbraten a spin. Unlike OpenArena, but like many other free games, it's not true Free Software, since, while the engine is Open Source, the actual game content is not. It is still free to download, though, for several platforms, and also available in Debian's repositories.

It's basically a fast paced, futuristic deathmatch game in a rather similar vein as Quake 3. The emphasis is very much on multiplayer, and there's plenty of modes available, from traditional deathmatch to various capture the flag variations. But it does have some entertainment to offer for a loner like me, as well. (Online multiplayer games really aren't my thing. For one thing, I suck at them. And I don't have the kind of dedication you'd need to really get into them.)

In addition to bots in regular multiplayer modes, there's a 'DMSP' mode, where you basically just have to wipe out a bunch of monsters in DM maps. Then there's a regular, progress oriented single player mode. There's hardly a lot of depth, just tons of monsters, and the occasional door or switch you activate simply by going near it. There's only a handful of single player maps, I'm afraid, from various contributors, and mostly without any real plot. The quality is pretty varied, some just kill-everything-that-moves sort of things, while a few might feature more thoughtful level design and attempts at more involving scripting. All in all, there's enough for at least a few light play sessions in them. Of course long, involved campaigns aren't necessarily always called for. I wonder how many times I've played just the first few levels of Doom, just for the fun of it...

One interesting feature is the 'slow motion' mode. In this you don't die, but the game slows down considerably when you're low on health, while you slowly regenerate. This is simultaneously helpful and an annoyance. It's quite fun, actually.

Technically it's not exactly state of the art, of course, but looks fairly good for a freeware game, and there are some pretty nice water and explosion effects, etc. And it runs mostly fine on my current notebook (a fairly new, but reasonably cheap model).

So, for me, as a quick, light Doom replacement (because that's the game I obviously compare all light FPS games to), Sauerbraten is not too bad.

18 September 2011

Fans

So, recently I was playing a few songs to a small group of friends, and we were joking about my not having a Facebook fan page that they could 'like'. Apparently just being my friend is not good enough...

So, I went ahead and created not one, but two pages on Facebook.

The first is, well, just for me. At least for starters it'll be mostly about my music projects. You can find (and 'like' it here. At this stage it is of course more of an inside thing than a 'proper' fan page. I'm still not really satisfied with the quality of my recordings, and I can't say my music has really reached very wide audiences. My fan base may be loyal and even enthusiastic on occasion, but it is still rather small, and pretty much all of them that are on Facebook are probably already my friends...

The second is of course for Escape from Lowresia. I surmise that this one might have more potential to be genuinely useful in the near future, even though I'm not currently aware of any readers outside my circle of friends. You can find it here. (And as hard as I look, I can't find a page category for comics, let alone webcomics. Seriously, Facebook?)

13 September 2011

Speaking Out with My Geek Out

Apparently this week is Speak Out With Your Geek Out week. The idea is to speak positively about geeky hobbies etc., trying to break stereotypes and so forth.

So, knowing my audience, this is pretty much preaching to the choir, but I'll try to write something anyway...

I'm not going to speak about specific hobbies, because that's not really the point, as I see it. Geekdom to me is... life. Plain and simple. So much so that I recently in a couple of blog posts (1, 2) discussed the potential use of the term 'post-geek' to better describe my attitude towards geeky things and how it affects my life.

It's all about stories in the end. I enjoy experiencing them. I enjoy creating them. We've been blessed with this uncanny, unfathomable, ineffable gift called the Imagination, and it would be a crime not to use it to all its potential.

Geekiness is simply the way in which this Imagination manifests itself in my day-to-day existence. My love for the Imagination affects what I watch on TV, what books I read, what music I listen to, what I do with my friends, etc. It leaks, in some way or another, into almost every aspect of my life. It's not that I choose a particular hobby, which happens to be geeky. Geekiness is hard-wired into my very existence. What made me this way is hard to say, but it's not a bad way to be. There is too much fun to be had in the world of Imagination to wish for anything else.

But the important thing is, I'm just me, just another person. My geekiness doesn't place me apart from the rest of the world in some way. Quite the contrary, geekdom in today's online world is about keeping connected, about discovering new people, new ideas, new Imaginations, and sharing these experiences with others.

I hang out with friends. I go to bars for a pint or two (well, rarely these days, but I do). I go to the shops. I watch the news on telly in the evening. I like the occasional hamburger, or a chicken salad, or sushi. And in between all this so-called 'normality', I play video games. I read comics. I listen to metal, or soundtracks. I devise plans to entertain friends in fictional worlds. And somewhere in all this the whole that is 'me' comes into being. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Idea to MP3: An Amateur Musician's Process


I'm sure a lot of people are wondering how exactly an idea turns into an amateurific home recording on an MP3 website. So, I'll take a moment out of my busy (ahem) schedule to discuss the process.

It all begins with the Idea, or sometimes not even the Idea but just the Desire. For reasons that no one can probably explain, I just have to write a song. The songs I've written thus far usually start with the lyrics. When I've got them jotted down in a notebook, I start strumming on a guitar, trying out various chord progression, while humming bits of the lyrics. It's hard to explain what exactly happens, but somehow the melody slowly begins to take shape. This process from Idea to relatively finished song usually doesn't take all that long for me. Each song is unique, of course, but most have been finished during the space of one afternoon (of course my songs tend to be structurally and melodically fairly simple). Over the next few days I'll play the song lots of times, fine tuning bits of it, and simultaneously committing to memory.

The recording process for me usually starts with creating the percussion parts. On my last couple releases I've used a software drum machine called Hydrogen for this. I tend to keep the percussion tracks fairly simple, mostly because I don't have the patience (or skills) to tinker with them all that much. Little tricks like changing the pitch of certain drum samples can make the drum loops sound more interesting.

For the actual recording part I've usually used Ardour, software of the type known as a 'digital audio workstation' (or 'DAW'). Ardour is probably one of the most advanced pieces of such software available in the Free Software world. First of all I'll import the finished percussion tracks, which form the basis for future work.

There's no particular order I record the rest of the instruments in. I like to record several guitar and keyboard parts in order to give the song a strong 'body'. The Game Master was a fairly guitar heavy work, so I started with recording the guitar parts. (I may have started with keyboard parts on Sleeping Birds Lie, but I don't recall for certain any more...) In any case, I'll start with a fairly simple part, laying out the basic chord progressions so that other parts will be easier to play. Solos and other gimmicky bits will generally be one of the last things, alongside vocals. I'll be working on all the songs in a project simultaneously, recording, for example, guitars for each song before moving on to other instruments.

This is the most time consuming part of the process, of course, and can frequently be frustrating. Recording is very different from playing live to a small group of friends. The stuff I do live just doesn't seem to translate well into recordings. Finding out what does, in fact, work, is mostly a process of trial and error. (I know some of my friends would like to hear versions of the songs more like my acoustic performances, but I honestly think recording such would be even more difficult than producing a multi-instrument rock track...)

Once I've got the various parts of a song recorded to the best of my ability, or, more likely, the best of what my limited patience will allow, mixing follows. This is about getting the balance between the various instruments right, and ensuring the total volume is as high as possible without being high enough to cause 'clipping'.

The final phase is mastering. This is mainly about getting the overall volume level suitable for release. On The Game Master I did this by routing the sound from Ardour to a mastering application called JAMin, in which I could adjust volume levels, while it applies effects like compression in order to keep the sound from clipping. The final version is then exported into a lossless wave file, which in turn is encoded into an MP3, uploaded, and voilà.

12 September 2011

The Game Master, Being the Story of Three New Songs

Late last Friday, or technically the early hours of Saturday, I finished the final touches on my latest attempt at recording music. The result is a three song 'maxi-single' titled The Game Master.

The songs were all written this summer, in a fit of geek-minded writing, which started when I decided to write a theme song for an RPG campaign run by two of my friends. (Yes, two game masters. Somehow they make it work.) Since I knew both of them have appreciated my earlier songwriting efforts, I thought this would be a nice way to repay the countless memorable afternoons we've spent in their imaginations. This became the song called 'In Time'.

So, I knew I'd have to record this song eventually, but I wouldn't have liked to release it all by itself. I've never been a fan of singles, I like to put on a record and enjoy it for a while. So I had the idea of writing a selection of songs all related to RPG's. I originally thought of even making it a full album, covering various games I've run or played in over the years, but I soon came to my senses. I've got projects with higher priority, so three songs was plenty for the time being.

The title track, 'The Game Master', is a humorous piece about, well, game mastering. Shouldn't require much explanation to anyone with experience of role-playing.

'In Time', as I said, is based on my friends' campaign, Ajoissa (usually referred to in English as 'In Time'). The lyrics are full of insider references, and I'm not going to expound on them. Just enjoy the weirdness.

'DeSired', on the other hand, is inspired by my own campaign Kin of Cerberos, which I ran a few years back, but is probably more readily understandable by outsiders, since it's a more narrative type of song. It's told from the point of view of one of the game's antagonists. I rather like the bittersweet balance of solemnity and humour in it. I see no reason why the two could not go together. (Hint: the title's a pun. Think fangs.)

I'm still learning how to make the best of my limited equipment and skill. Each of my releases has been a step forward, I feel, but I'm still not really happy with the overall quality (and perhaps particularly my vocals). This time around I had the advantage of having a new computer, and sound input (in GNU/Linux) functioned somewhat better than on my old MacBook. The major difference, however, was in the heavier use of software, in the form of effect plugins and mastering tools. You will hear the extensive use of reverberation, for instance (an intentional choice, which may in part have been influenced by the post-rock etc. I've been listening to lately). I also used compression for the first time, which, particularly in the case of vocals, I think definitely improved the overall quality and evenness of the sound.

The songs can be listened to at SoundCloud (also available at Last.fm, if that's more your thing). MP3's, lyrics etc. can be found on my music website.

4 September 2011

Post-Geek 2: We Need to Go Deeper

This carries on from last night's blog post.

So I've been still thinking about how I might define 'post-geek' and what such an idea might mean to me. And I repeat, this is all probably meaningless nonsense. After all, I'm rather too close to the subject to have objective views, even if I was of a theoretical mindset, which I'm not.

How would I define my idea of 'post-geek' (which, again, is not necessarily identical to other people's definitions for such a term) in a nutshell? Perhaps something on these lines: 'having a strong interest in genre fiction and/or related phenomena, while going beyond a need for restricting genre distinction and embracing this interest as a part of life rather than something distinct from everyday existence.'

At the root of this all is of course an idea of individualism. I may be defined in part by my interests, but they are merely facets, the 'gestalt' is something quite different. And interests change over time, even the persistent ones wax and wane. I am not in any way obligated by them, or by other people that might be associated with them.

But individualism is bloody hard. Like I said in the previous post, we seem to have an inherent need to identify with something, to define ourselves in terms of (sub)cultures. Just being one's self is really difficult. Even this attempt to somehow define and narrow down a new(ish) term could be seen as an expression of this need to belong and define myself. In real individualism such labels would be pretty much redundant.

I'm not sure this concept of 'post-geek' I'm imagining can really be called a 'culture'. It is, by definition, very broad and unspecific. (A sort of 'holistic geekness', if you will. Geeky allusion somewhat intended.) But has that ever stopped anyone? Like I said, we have a need to define ourselves, and if doing so with restrictive labels goes contrary to our ideas of individualism, perhaps we really do need to make up silly, philosophical labels that don't really mean anything much at all, and define ourselves in terms of those.

So, the question is, is it identity crisis time? Somehow I feel this topic isn't quite exhausted yet...

3 September 2011

Post-Geek?

First of all, the compulsory reminder that my geeky webcomic Escape from Lowresia is in fact in existence, and new strips are added twice weekly, most recently today. (Of course you'll want to start from the beginning if you're just discovering it...)

So, I'm currently sitting in the dark, listening to God Is an Astronaut. Over the last few days I've been listening to music labelled as things like 'post-rock' or 'post-metal'. (Questionable Content with its indie music themes might be partially to blame for this...) Well, just for the heck of it, I decided to look up if such a concept as 'post-geek' exists, geekdom being one of the few subcultures I actually identify with.

As far as I can tell from just looking at the first page of a Google search, it doesn't look like any particularly well defined culture by that name exists, but the term has been occasionally used. (Of course I'm usually not that well in the loop with things like this, so who knows, maybe it's really a huge thing...) At the top of the Google results were some articles like this and this. The cultures they describe aren't necessarily quite identical, but they're not completely contradictory either. In a nutshell, they describe a kind of fusion of geek/indie/mainstream cultures, and, at least in the case of the first link, emphasise the role of the modern borderless Internet society.

Indeed, we live in a world where genre distinctions are, arguably, becoming more and more meaningless. New genres and subgenres are popping up all the time. They spread easily through the global community, sometimes persisting, sometimes soon forgotten. Meanwhile, traditional 'geek' stuff permeates the world. Video games and sci-fi movies are more a fact of life for many young people than a specialised hobby.

So I was wondering how I might define a 'post-geek' culture, if I were coining such term (which, of course, I'm not, as evidenced by the links above). Perhaps it could describe the way that geekness can now easily be an integral part of our everyday existence, not distinct from it. Not so much an interest or even lifestyle, but simply life. And simultaneously it might describe the growing fuzziness of genre borders, even beyond what might traditionally be regarded as 'geeky' (which is kinda obvious, really, if geekness is intermingled with other aspects of our lives).

Of course I was also thinking about this in the more specific context of music. The term 'geek rock' isn't, to my knowledge, in particularly common usage, although I've run into it on occasion. In particular, I was thinking about how to describe my own musical style. I write a lot of songs with geeky themes. But then again, I've also written a lot of songs that aren't really geeky. There's no particular difference between the two musically speaking. It would also seem foolish to limit my creativity to one or the other, nor is one or the other somehow better or more important, both are equally a part of my life.

(Of course if one used the term 'post-geek' in the context of music, some people might think of 'post-rock' due to the similarity of the terms. That genre description, however, is more about sound than subject matter, whereas 'post-geek' would of course be more about the latter. Of course the limited resources I have at my disposal recording-wise might bring elements of minimalism/rawness to my music that might be reminiscent of some forms of indie music, but I'm not sure that is my actual aim as such...)

People seem to have an inherent need to identify with various cultures. But when you realise that we are all, in fact, individuals (geeky allusion not intended), that what other people think doesn't really matter at all... it's easy to become lost. Who am I? What am I? I describe myself as a 'geek', but that definition leaves something to desire. Why is it so damned important that I identify with something? There's no easy answer to this, I guess. In a way, I guess all these 'post-' genres, starting with postmodernism, are at least a little bit about this, things to identify with while simultaneously realising, at least in name, the pointlessness of culture and genre distinctions...

Or I might just be talking complete gibberish, which is quite possible, since I have really no idea what I'm talking about. I'm no academic. Such theoretical ideas are hardly my forte.

31 August 2011

WEBCOMICS! (and Random Mushy Bits)

First of all, after over a week (omg!) Escape from Lowresia is still alive! I originally thought I would be putting up one strip a week for now, since I didn't want to commit overly to something like this, but I started to feel the pace like that would be infuriatingly slow, and I seemed to have a fair number of strips ready, so, guess what, twice weekly it is then, at least for the time being! (Wow, that was a long sentence.) If you've somehow missed this, EfL is a silly little webcomic about the antics of forgotten retro video game characters who find a new life inside their creator's computer. Geekiness abounds!

I'm tentatively thinking of Wednesday and Saturday for new strips. (Saturday because it was pointed out to me that the weekend is something of a gaping hole as far as web content is concerned. And there are plenty of Monday-Thursday strips, some Monday-Wednesday-Friday strips etc., but none that I follow release on weekends...)

And onwards, but not untouching upon the same topic...

If I discovered new webcomics every week I'd be... dead. I kinda have this habit of being pretty intense in reading through the back archives of a new discovery. It happened with Girl Genius, and Looking for Group, and now Questionable Content. (Honestly, even if I did survive the first few days of every new comic, I don't think I'd want to be following all that many more than I do at the present. A lot to keep track of as it is.)

Questionable Content is fun, although it maybe, partly, appeals to a slightly different part of me than comics like Girl Genius or LFG. Of course it does have some sci-fi elements and tons of geeky references, but it's mainly about people and relationships. I don't usually consider myself a romantic, in that sense (quite the contrary really, a cynical cold self-centred bastard in many ways). So it's a mystery to me why sometimes, just sometimes, a particular relationship story affects me in a weird way. Even defining that 'weird way' is rather hard. Like a mix of nostalgia, longing, amusement, an 'awww-factor', etc. The fact that I am, indeed, single, must be a factor of course. Perhaps there's even a slight masochistic streak, the part of me that enjoys melancholy and nostalgia... (Oh gods, I'm not going emo, am I?!)

And... this can't really be of interest to anyone really, so I guess I ought to spare you and leave it at that.

(Oh, and Hannelore is, like, totally hot. What? I have a thing for strange girls, so what?)

22 August 2011

There Is Solitude in the Rain

there is solitude in the rain
a silent vacuum inside these walls
while outside the rain
is physical
is tactile
and a part of me
calls out to be touched
if only by the rain
screams out
without a sound
but comfort prevails
and here I remain
in solitude
in the rain

Introducing: Escape from Lowresia

Sometime in the late nineties I discovered Japanese console RPG's. Since I had always been interested in computer programming, I thought it would be cool to make something similar. I was working with very primitive technology at the time (QuickBasic was my primary programming language), which, combined with my lack of skills with graphics, meant the game would have been rather primitive, reminiscent of early 90's console games perhaps. But it was hardly surprising that the project never really took off.

However, I did create a handful of character sprites and stuff. Which for years have been lying around on old backup discs. So recently I had this idea: perhaps I could use those graphics to do something more simple and less time consuming than programming a game. Something like a... comic maybe? Obviously there are way too few amateurish web comics in this world, right? Um, yeah...

So yeah, it doesn't look fancy, it's put together from a limited selection of very lo-res graphics, and I don't know how long I'll have the motivation to keep up with it. But the first few pages are online now, and I'll keep adding pages weekly for at least a while. It's about characters created for abandoned games, who find themselves stuck inside the strange world of their creator's computer.

Here's the website.

15 August 2011

Living Worlds

So last weekend I game mastered not once but twice, for different groups. The first time I already blogged about. The other game was my ongoing campaign Tales from the Teya'o Iva.

Big things have been happening in that game. There's been a war. And now it looks like the war may have come to an end. With a bang. One major city has been left devastated. An emperor has disappeared. Under mysterious circumstances, of course.

These events are large enough to warrant updates to the world's website. Of course there is a lot of material there that could (and should) be tweaked and expanded, but thus far it has more or less been true. Now with the succession of a ruler and a major change to the nature of one significant location, this was no longer the case. Think of it as a content update patch to a game.

It was always my hope when designing Va'ita that it would become a lasting world, not just a momentary phase (like so many of my abandoned creative projects have turned out to be), that it would take on a life of its own. It is safe to say now that in the year and a half or so that the world has existed it has developed and been used more than any other fantasy world I've created over the years.

I also set out to create a world. Not just a single RPG campaign. It would be interesting to see it used in other contexts as well. But just now there don't really appear to be many opportunities for such things.

13 August 2011

The Strange Dungeons of My Mind, Vol. 3

A follower of my blog (if such a mythical creature exists) might have noticed me going on about D&D and Pathfinder RPG earlier this year.

Well, today I finally started my new Pathfinder campaign. I've been writing for years about wanting to run something D&D-ish again. Of course I always, until this year, imagined it would be with an earlier incarnation of the rules. But I do like Pathfinder. With all the options available, it does perhaps take a little more learning, but I think it's worth it. Probably. I hope so.

Nothing much happened, really. There were a couple fight scenes, some sneaking about a ruined tower. But I didn't expect much more. Time was reasonably limited, and we still had to put some finishing touches on the characters (created for the most part earlier this summer). This was more about learning the game than playing it. It'll require some more playing still before it runs really smoothly. But I, at least, enjoyed the session.

I have no idea as of now what direction the campaign will go in. The characters aren't perhaps the most... conventional possible. Words like 'Evil' and 'Chaotic' are found on several character sheets. This could be a recipe for disaster, game mastering-wise. Or we might just forget about such things, as often seems to happen, and keep on happily looting dungeons. Or there might be some mind-bogglingly huge plot involving the fate of the whole multiverse to get tangled in. If we don't get bored with the game in just a few sessions, that is. Only time will tell.

I'll not be writing plot summaries publicly for this game, as I have done for many previous campaigns. Partly this is because I may be using ready adventures at times (and the setting is proprietary, anyway), so writing much about them wouldn't really seem appropriate.

I indirectly have the web comic Looking For Group to blame for this campaign, although it turned out very different from what I was imagining at that time (see blog post from last spring). I hope Paizo Publishing appreciates the money LFG made me spend on their products.

7 August 2011

The Compulsory Assembly 2011 Post

It's Assembly weekend again! Or was, it's over now, I guess. If you don't know what Assembly is, or the demoscene, my post from last year tries to explain it a little, so I wan't go into much detail here.

I didn't go, of course, mainly for the same reasons outlined in that post. Maybe I will one of these years. We'll see. But I spent a lot of time watching AssemblyTV again, and it was fun.

So, like last year, I'll just share some videos of a few of my favourite works. For starters, I'll just copy-paste from last year the description of what a demo in this context is (copied from the Assembly website):
Demos and intros are not pre-rendered animations but rather non-interactive programs made for a chosen computing platform (Windows, Mac, game consoles for few examples). These programs are made to show off one's skills and to entertain the general audience. Since the user cannot interact with the program flow the demos are kept short, packed with stunning visuals and often synched with a catchy soundtrack.
Once again the deserved winner of the demo compo was ASD, with their new cool and unique demo, Spin (albeit I found it perhaps a little more monotonous than their entry last year). One other demo that particularly stood out for me was Luna : Reactivation by Vovoid. There might've been potential for more in it, but I quite liked the aesthetics and attempt to bring in a little narrative.

The 64k intro category was cancelled this year, due to lack of entries. However, one entry intended for that category was included in the demo compo, and made it all the way to second place. This was Uncovering Static by Fairlight and Alcatraz. I imagine that the fact that people knew it was a 64k may have helped it on a bit, but it is a nice looking creation in its own right. And darn impressive for something packed into just 64kb.

4k intro... well, there were a lot of good looking effects, but the problem was, the entries were mostly about that one effect and nothing else. I'd like to see a little more variety and structure, even at the expense of maybe not having the best effects possible. Here's the winner, though, as a sample: Anglerfish by Cubicle, a fairly impressive feat for 4kb. A special mention should go to Coder Porn! by Archee for an absolutely brilliant cloth effect, but, alas, it's rather too short, imho, to consider it a particularly great demo.

Last, but not least, oldskool demo. Again there were fairly few entries, but the quality was not too bad, mostly. Once again the winner was Dekadence with another Amiga demo, Chaotic. Dark, atmospheric stuff again, rather similar to last year's, but with some new effects.

Then there were the music compos, of course. The quality this year was OK, I guess, but little really stood out for me. The extreme music compo had a few reasonably good chip tunes, such as this one, or this one, which won the compo. If I should pick one track from the main music compo, well... I'm actually kinda divided between Fast-Forwarding Thru Hell by King Thrill/Tekotuotanto and the winner, Tiananmen Ghost by Aikapallo.

(All the entries can of course be viewed in the archives at Assembly's website.)

3 August 2011

The Secret of the Secret Blog, or, The Mystic Me

Is there anything as fun, and cruel, as telling people you're doing something that's secret? When I casually mentioned writing a secret blog in a Facebook status, my friends were obviously intrigued, if not outraged.

I've been debating if and when I should write about this, because I don't know what end it would serve, really. Is it merely attention-seeking exhibitionism? On the other hand, this 'secret' blog doesn't even have that much content, and it's impossible to say whether it'll have any longevity, or just get chucked into the large pile of my abandoned projects. And what there is, is unlikely to be of much interest to most people, if they even understand it in the first place. But since I was already in something of a soul-baring mode with my previous post, I'm thinking what the Hell... I'd end up talking about it sooner or later, anyway. 'Cause that's the kind of guy I am.

It's not that the topic is new, or that I would ever have tried to somehow cover up this interest of mine. I've touched upon it in this blog on several occasions (albeit not so much recently). But it is somewhat personal, and there are probably people out there who would think it at least odd, if not downright wrong. Which is strange, since basically it's just about the stuff that goes on in all our heads, about getting to grips with how the world works, and what one can do about it.

So, yeah, I'm talking about the Occult. The Big 'O'. Magick with a 'k'. The Black(ish) Arts.

This isn't really a 'coming out of the wand cupboard' post, since I've talked openly about my interest in magick before in this blog. But I might not have gone into the details much. And I'm not about to, not in this post or this blog, which is mostly meant as an outlet of my geek side. To call myself a magician would be something of a leap. I really can't brag about actually doing much. I'm about as adept at it as Rincewind (I probably mostly have laziness to blame for that). But I do like to think about it, toy around with various theories, etc. And when you think of things enough, you eventually need to write them down.

At one point I tried to start a section on spirituality under the existing website structure. But it never really caught momentum, and with the way my brain works (I always seem to have a need for new things, not being satisfied with a particular tradition or system), the articles there were very outdated before too long. Offline, personal writings tended to suffer a similar fate. I figured a new start was in order, a new format, more dynamic, flexible and spontaneous. So I decided to create a blog. This coincided with a certain shift in my own views, an attempt to approach the matter in a more free form, dynamic way than before, while also trying to remember the silly side of things. (These days I consider myself a proponent of the school of thought[sic] known as Chaos Magick.)

Reflecting all this, I named the blog Grimorium Vivum, the 'living grimoire'.

And there's little more to say about it. The usual sort of warnings, like, if you read the Grimoire, you'll probably go mad, etc. Oh, and there's the link.

Hail Discordia!

2 August 2011

On Solitude

A somewhat more serious post for a change.

I recently read this article by Matt Skala (former author of Bonobo Conspiracy) called 'What (not) to say to someone who is alone', and it proved quite thought provoking. I momentarily considered just sharing the article on Facebook, but quickly decided this would serve no purpose, other than to highlight my own solitude, since my situation isn't really quite the same (as the lives of any two people won't be, of course). So perhaps the matter calls for a little more pondering upon, to clarify my own take on it.

The article is about the hurt of being alone, and about the hurtfulness of unthoughtful remarks and 'advice' offered by others.

So, yes, I am single. I have not always been single (somewhat to my surprise, and possibly others'), but I've been single for a long, long time. However, it is not a topic that usually comes up in conversation. I don't actually remember anyone ever offering me advice in that area (and I'm pretty sure that's nothing but a good thing). I don't know whether this is just because in my circle of friends and our activities it's not an issue of any real interest, or if it's a cultural thing (we Finns are, after all, famously silent and unemotional).

The thing is, much of the time I don't actually mind being alone. Often I think I even prefer it. I am a lazy, self-centred bastard, after all. Or an individualistic, artistic person, to put it more nicely. The thought of having to plan each and every day's activities while constantly having to take some other person's wishes (or mere existence) into account gives me the shivers. Heck, I wouldn't even take a pet, I couldn't cope with the responsibility. (And I can categorically state right now that I will never want children of my own.) I am a person who needs his own time and space. And many, if not most, of my interests (video games, music etc.) really just aren't social, either, and they are not something I would ever want to give up.

If all this makes me a bad person, or 'emotionally crippled' or whatever, then so be it. I've never claimed to be a perfect individual, quite the contrary in fact.

But of course there are those times when the longing for another person is quite real, and on occasion almost overbearing. And I'm not (just) talking about sex here, mind you, yet something more than mere friendship. Such simple things as a touch or an embrace can be incredibly powerful sometimes.

One could spend an endless amount of time analysing why it is that I am alone then, that I haven't even been on a single date during my adult[sic] life, but of course it all boils down to the old cliché of 'not meeting the right person'. And there is little one can do about that. You could talk to me about 'meeting more people', but frankly, I'm pretty happy with the circle of friends I currently have, and I have no interest in seeking new friends just for the sake of it. And as for meeting people solely for the sake of potential coupling... sorry, but my brain just won't work like that. For reasons I've already touched upon, I'm not that interested in dating to try to force it in any way. Bottom line: if it doesn't happen naturally, then it most likely won't happen.

I can't really say that I've met many people in my life that I would truly have been interested in (call me picky, if you will, but it's not like I can choose what I like). And of course if such a person miraculously stumbled into my life (and I'm reasonably convinced they won't), the chances that they would also be interested in me are of course next to nil, so why bother? Call it cynicism, if you will, I call it realism.

This is about the point in the discussion where such concepts as 'self-esteem' start being thrown around. Perhaps mine isn't the highest possible, but I'm not naive enough to think that that is without reason. I am no one's daydream, or what some might call 'boyfriend material', that is blatantly obvious. And it's not merely my appearance, poor articulation skills etc., the stuff that makes up people's first impression of me, but my emotional shortcomings as well which would not be insignificant in the long run, like the reservations about relationships outlined above, as well as the utter non-achievement which has ruled my adult life (and, more than a little, the resulting financial situation, living conditions etc).

And there you have it. A pretty meaningless post, in the end, I think. It'll change nothing. I guess I'm just something of an emotional exhibitionist, who gets kicks out of baring his soul every now and then.

(Lastly, just to clarify, in case someone had doubts: yes, I'm straight.)

If I Were a Rock Star...

...sooner or later I might want to do a cover album. It'd be a weird one, 'cause, if you know me, you'll know that I like some very different types of music. It'd have to represent all my very varied interests and influences, and the arrangements wouldn't necessarily be what you'd expect.

OK, so this will almost certainly never happen, of course, but just for the fun of it, I'll try to think of a selection of tracks that might be featured on such an album. With YouTube links, to boot.

  1. 'All Along the Watchtower' from Bob Dylan. However, the arrangement would definitely have to take influence from the version of the song featured in Battlestar Galactica.
  2. 'Nymphetamine' from Cradle of Filth. The twist: it'd be an acoustic cover.
  3. 'Small Two of Pieces' from the video game Xenogears.
  4. 'The Needle and the Damage Done' from Neil Young. Just one of many possible choices from Neil.
  5. 'Sleeping Sun' from Nightwish. I don't think there are many Nightwish songs I'd feel confident performing, but this one is simple enough for even me to learn.
  6. 'Walls' from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Again, one of many possible choices.
  7. 'Cup of Coffee' from Garbage.
  8. 'Ice Frontier' from Skaven. OK, this is a bit of a weird choice, but it could be fun (and challenging) to do a personalised arrangement of it. Or even add lyrics...
  9. 'Your Rain' from Silent Hill 4. Not my favourite game of the series, but the soundtrack has some decent songs.
  10. 'Daylight Again' from Crosby, Stills & Nash.
And I think we have an album there, every track quite different, yet definitely 'me'. Or, that never becoming reality, a not uninteresting cross section of my taste in music, at the very least.

31 July 2011

Hello Internet, Did You Miss Me?

I've just spent a few weeks out in the country, at my grandparent's old place. This is something I've done every summer, since... well, since I've existed, pretty much. The weather was pretty decent, the hammock comfy, the strawberries... not plentiful (the plants are old, and will soon be replaced), but at least that meant less back-aching time spent picking them.

One defining factor of my time there this year was a very restricted Internet access, since the relatives currently living there had discontinued their broadband service in favour of mobile Internet. When compared to the couple previous stays, complete with laptop and WLAN, some interesting observations can be made, to wit:

1. The amount of time spent reading increased considerably. This included my traditional annual ritual reading of Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, as well as more than one (short) novel. (I should mention that I've never been a particularly fast reader, so this for me was a pretty good pace.)

2. Productivity, perhaps a little surprisingly, did not increase, at all. Although I did have my laptop with me, and plans to work on certain, much neglected projects, finding a suitable opportunity, and a routine for getting actual work done, proved next to impossible. I did write a couple songs, hone ideas for the future of my RPG campaign, etc., so we're not talking of a complete waste, but still... It does appear that my persistent non-achievement can't be entirely blamed on the Internet.

I did also decide to lug along my PS2, seeing as the place lacks a DVD player. And, somehow, I was inspired to play through the second half of Final Fantasy X-2 (which I had begun a year or two ago, but got sidetracked). I must say I didn't have huge expectations for this game, but in the end it turned out quite entertaining. I liked the more traditional gameplay, and the characters. And while the story starts out rather slow, and is never as engaging as the likes of FFVII, it does have its moments, I guess.

And yes, I guess it is possible I might have been more productive if I had been gaming less, but... come on! A guy's gotta game, and that as well is something I have neglected too much in recent years.

3 July 2011

From Chaos to Eternity

So I've finally had a chance to listen through Rhapsody of Fire's new album, From Chaos to Eternity, a couple times. (I got it nearly a week ago already, but a certain marathon got in the way.) I'll still have to listen to it more, of course, but in a nutshell: yeah, think I like it.

First of all: the box! I got the 'exclusive edition' from Nuclear Blast's web shop. This 500 copy limited edition came in a larger than normal box, containing a large sized booklet (c. 17 by 17cm), special versions of the CD (one without vocals, and one without lead guitar), and a poster map of the fantasy world the story is set in! All in all, pretty cool, although I can't fathom why anyone would want to listen to the album without lead guitar... It is, quite likely, one of the coolest albums I own, packaging-wise. Of course there is the problem of where to store it, since it won't fit in a regular CD shelf. And it makes my other Rhapsody albums kinda pale in comparison (most of them are regular jewel case versions).

Musically there are some fairly neat moments, and it still seems surprisingly fresh, even considering that they've released three CD's in little more than a year. Like with Frozen Tears of Angels, the focus is more on rock, with less orchestral elements. Which is fine by me. Luca Turilli's neo-classical solos are again a major component of the sound.

But one of the main questions, of course, is the story. It was announced well in advance that this would be the final chapter of the ongoing fantasy saga. Which meant they would have to cram in a lot of story, and this, indeed, they've done. Almost too much, one could say. There's quests all over the world, an entire war covered in a couple minutes, and of course the climactic final confrontation... It's not that it's bad, per se, but I feel they could've done it more justice. Frankly, there'd have been enough material there to be dealt with over a couple albums at least, in more detail. Also, the gist of the story is covered in the long final track (and notes in the booklet), and I have some trouble placing many of the other songs within the story.

So yeah, of course there'd be room for improvement, but I'm by no means disappointed.

30 June 2011

Sleep (and Sanity) Are in Another Castle

It's a little late to blog about this now, but last weekend was the fourth annual Mario Marathon. (My friends will have seen many a tweet and Facebook status about it during the show, of course, and even before. Which probably reached more people than this blog post will, so this is more of a round up than a plug.)

I watched some of it a year ago for the first time (I think I stumbled upon it through a tweet by Felicia Day, or something like that), and was quite impressed. This is a bunch of friends from Indiana playing through the main Super Mario games, non stop, streaming it live on the Internet. Add humorous chatting, zany performance numbers etc. for a surprisingly entertaining and addictive package.

Oh yeah, and it's all for charity, of course. They raise money (and awareness) for Child's Play.

So, this year I caught the show from almost the beginning, and watched a fair share of it. Not nearly all, of course. Not even half, I'm sure, what with pesky sleep and other activities getting in the way. But the number of hours was certainly well into double digits.

And it just kept going on and on. By Tuesday the end was finally in sight, and I felt I really needed to see how it all turned out, having watched so much already. Well, as it turned out, it was 8:30am (Finnish time) on Wednesday morning when the stream was finally turned off, and I had stayed up through the whole night. I don't regret it, it was a blast, and I had no special plans for the day, so I could still catch a few hours of sleep.

By that time the marathon had gone on for something like 110 hours, and raised over 110,000 dollars for Child's Play. And yes, I was inspired to donate as well. You can't watch these guys for hours on end and not appreciate what they're doing.

I really hope we'll see Mario Marathon 5 next year! Thank you for a great weekend, guys!

Of Lies and Cake

Even though I have a certain fondness for Doom, first person shooters haven't really ever been 'my thing'.

Despite this, I finally decided that I should maybe buy The Orange Box, particularly since you can get it pretty cheap these days. (For the non-savvy, this is a collection of several games by Valve, namely those in the Half-Life series, plus Portal.) And yeah, it's the PlayStation 3 version. I've read that the port (by EA) is very bad, but I'm afraid that's still really the only viable platform for me to play newer games on.

Puzzle games have always been even less 'my thing' than FPS's. So a game like Portal, which combines FPS elements with puzzle solving, didn't, for a long time, really strike me as something that would much interest me. But I kept hearing so much praise for it, I decided to finally give it a shot. I started playing last night, and finished it this afternoon. No, it's not a very long game, and I'm not sure whether it has much replay value either, once you've figured out the levels, but it did last a little longer than I expected at first, though, and had adequate incentive to keep on playing till the end.

And yeah, it is a pretty cool game, I guess. The gameplay mechanic was interesting and original, and the game short enough that it didn't get too repetitive. I liked the eerie atmosphere, too, as well as the twisted humour. I've written a brief review, but it doesn't really say much more than what I've already said. 'Simple and short, but original and not uninteresting,' pretty much covers it. I guess I might get the sequel some day, but not until it is much cheaper.

Next up: I don't really know yet, got several new, and old, games waiting. I might give Half-Life 2 a shot, or possibly Infamous, which I downloaded as part of the PSN welcome back package. I really have been neglecting gaming too much lately. I need to somehow get back in the habit.

It feels strange that most of the newer games I've been purchasing recently are of western origin. I guess I'm getting a little less prejudiced these days. But what happened to the Japanese video game industry, anyway? Seems to be precious little there these days that really interests me...

22 June 2011

One Solstice Night, Pt 2

Last year on the night of the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, I decided to stay up till dawn, blogging about my thoughts and doings. No reason to not do it all over again, then. I've got some booze again (the leftovers of a bottle of 'Salmari', a drink about as Finnish as they come, and I have no idea how much is actually left in the bottle, might be just a couple shots, or I might be getting legless, we'll just have to see), and some Pringles for snacking...

22:51 - The sun should have just set according to Wolfram|Alpha. And I still have no clue as to how I'm going to be spending the night. The actual astronomical moment of the solstice has already been, at around 20:22 local time. About five hours to go till sunrise. It's a bit on the cloudy side, so the night isn't likely to be as light as it could at best.

23:06 - 'Once you pop, you can't stop...' And I've got way too much of these. There should be a law against special offers on snack foods...

23:26 - Took a moment to 'like' John Kovalic on Facebook. He used to have a regular profile and accepted everyone as friends, but now he's changed it into one of those 'likeable' celebrity pages. Which I think is for the best, since I for one don't fancy 'friending' people I don't actually know. I still have no plans for the rest of the night. Current plan seems to be: get rid of the booze, then worry about the rest of the night.

23:55 - So, the booze in the end made for about five shots, although I think this glass is a little smaller than the standard 4cl. Enough for some slight tipsiness, but no serious drunkenness. And I'm only an hour into the night, so I'll have to think of other ways to entertain myself now.

0:05 - A word of two about alcohol in order? I might sound a little cavalier about my attitudes towards it, but I really don't drink very often, nor very large quantities at a time. However, I won't deny that I enjoy the occasional stiff drink, or even the sensation of getting a little tipsy. Heck, it's been a part of human culture pretty much since there was human culture. Even animals are known to get high on fermented fruit. Everyone has their vices. Thus far this vice, for me, has been well under control. But obviously it is not for everyone, and I have nothing but respect for those who choose not to drink (and sadness for those who can't control it). I'm sure they have vices of their own, though. Life would be pretty boring without them...

0:46 - For entertainment, I decided to go with Nightwish's End of an Era DVD. I've probably seen this concert film more often than any other (even counting such masterpieces as Tom Waits's Big Time), but I don't seem to get tired of it. Once again some angry feedback for the DVD's producers, though. 4:3 letterbox format? WTF? What is this, the 90's?! (Strangely enough, I recently dreamt I met Emppu on a bus...)

1:14 - Brief break to brew some tea. Starting with the booze may not have been the best of ideas, I think it's making me feel drowsier than I would otherwise be. Also, a whole tube of Pringles has already vanished. I rather hope I'll have the willpower not to pop another one tonight...

1:30 - Forgot about the tea... Well, should be well brewed by now. Oh, and BTW, \m/!

2:30 - DVD finished. Still well over an hour to go... Must admit I'm feeling a tad tired (and I'm pretty sure it's no longer just the booze affecting me). But I'm not about to give up after coming this far. It's not like staying up this late is even particularly rare for me.

2:45 - Just devoured a nectarine, probably my last snack for the night, while trying to think of something intriguing enough to keep me awake for the last hour. And even though it's still pretty gloomy outside, it is noticeably lighter already than an hour or two ago.

3:35 - Didn't come up with anything worthwhile to do, in the end. Just idle thoughts and web browsing. Except there appears to be sporadic problems with Internet connections. The universe just doesn't seem to be on my side this solstice night...

3:55 - Dawn! And about bloody time, too. It never ceases to amaze, though, just how fast the light grows before dawn this time of year. But now I'm really off to bed.