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What I’ve Been Doing 26 Sept 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Sep 26th, 2011 by Dan

Moneyball Movie Poster

Doesn't get much better than being portrayed by Brad Pitt in a movie. (Photo courtesy nsusco)

It’s fitting that I watched a movie about baseball considering how much baseball I also watched this weekend. Had to watch to support the Rays. They’ve got three games to make up a one game deficit. You can do it, Tampa Bay!

Movies

Moneyball – Not too bad at all. We’re not talking “the best baseball movie ever” or anything, but it was enjoyable. It’s always nice to see a good baseball movie. I didn’t love the stylized baseball shots with the all black backdrops (looked kind of cheap), but it was still lots of fun. Seeing Chris Pratt (Andy from Parks and Recreation) play a more serious dramatic role (but still kind of comedic) was really neat. I liked it, but I’m glad I saw it with Ryan. Tiffany would have hated it.

TV

Up All Night – This show is actually pretty neat. Will Arnett and Christina Applegate make a good pairing for a show about an unplanned baby that they do genuinely love, even if they haven’t figured out how to integrate it into their lives yet. I’ve got another episode waiting on the DVR to get around to sometime this week. It’s not nailing it yet, but it’s good enough that I’ll give it a few more episodes.

Top Gear – Saw both last week and this week’s eps and the guys turned cars into trains to pull cars down the tracks. It was pretty hilarious. The demolitions competition at the end of this week’s was pretty cool too.

Talking Funny – I kind of wish they had a woman on the panel too. I mean, what’s that say when you’re advertising your special as a look at comedy from the who’s who of the biz, but you don’t have any women on the panel? Ricky Gervais was the most “intellectual” of the bunch (almost to pretension) and Seinfeld was the purest, most “elemental”. I wish Chris Rock said more and I thought Louie C.K. was among the funnier of the four.

How I Met Your Mother – The worst part of any episode remains any time Ted is on screen. I don’t know if the writers get that his pretentiousness is super off-putting, but it’s kind of terrible. There were definitely some funny moments in the first disc (I’m catching up on Season 5), but, while I like the show, I don’t love it. ESPECIALLY when Ted is on screen

2 Broke Girls – This was decent. I mean, it’s a totally safe sitcom being mostly carried by Kat Dennings, but I like Kat Dennings, so I’ll give it two or three more episodes. Wait, did I say safe? Definitely a decent amount of jokes about semen, orgasms, and exchanges like “You’re getting me wet.” “That’s the point.” It seems kind of edgy for 2130 on CBS, I guess, but definitely not that edgy compared to other stuff I watch. I like the gimmick with the money raised counter at the end. Reminds me of a reverse Battlestar Galactica.

Weeds – They totally had a Vonnegut reference in there (“So it goes.”), but there’s so much going on and unresolved with only one episode left that I’m at a loss to see how they end it effectively. It’s been a good season with the budding rivalry between her and Silas growing, but I worry about how it can have a satisfactory ending with only 30 mins to go.

Music

Extra Hot Great – One of my favorite podcasts, Extra Hot Great did a Fall TV preview this week that was funny and cool, per usual. Their mixing things up for Game Time for the next few episodes since Joe clinched the crown. This is definitely a great podcast to listen to if you’re into pop culture stuff (specifically TV and movies).

Books

Reamde – Neal Stephenson’s latest hit shelves this past week. So far so good. It’s got a lot of Stepehnson elements (obsession with guns/weapons), but hasn’t had any of his stereotypical nerdiness yet. Mentions of twitter/facebook/wikipedia kind of date the book, but, at the same time, I think that’s kind of what he’s going for.

(AHOY, THAR BE COMICS AHEAD!)

SI: Cloak and Dagger – Just gorgeous art and fantastic writing. Comic books like this remind me why it’s worth spending my money on them. Just beautiful.

Daredevil – Not as good as the first three, but still quite good. The cliffhanger panel is killer awesome.

The Red Wing – A very interesting premise with the traveling across dimensions too. The way the pilots explode across time when they’re destroyed remains the most striking image in this book.

SI: Spider-Woman – Didn’t really do it for me. Not that interesting.

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye – Good, but not great. I still feel like Hawkeye as a character is almost non-existent

Wonder Woman – So popular this week that I had to buy it digitally (sold out in all other formats). It was a good book with neat art (I love how Chiang draws Diana as full-figured/muscular) and I hope they continue with the Greek mythology bit because that will lead to great horror comics. Greek gods and their mythology are among the most interesting, graphic, and crazy sources for stories out there.

Video Games

SO MUCH GEARS OF WAR 3 – Tons of it. Still so much fun. I can’t wait for Min to be done with his schoolwork.

Left 4 Dead 2 – Dave and I finally finished all of the main story campaigns in this. We might go back and do some other extras, but for now I think we’re done. Lots of fun.

Resident Evil 5 – Back playing this. I miss actually having to buy and upgrade weapons, but it’s still tons of fun. Glad I’m playing this again. It’s insane and super fun.

Civilization V Review [Game Overview]
Oct 29th, 2010 by Dan

This piece was conceived of as yet another Mesa Brothers Experiment (TM) through which we might examine the differing views and approaches we have/take on the same subject. See his take here.

Is it just me getting old and grumpy or does everything seem to be getting dumbed down lately? Apple is trying to tell the world they can’t handle the software on their own devices, subtlety is all but gone in television and movies, and the most popular books in America are coming out of the Young Adult genre. There’s a whole political movement proudly proclaiming anti-intellectualism and pro-ignorance while the other side does its best to maintain power by stooping to the same lows because all of a sudden smart became the new evil in this country.

The most common target audience for a video game sequels nowadays seems to be people who don’t already play your video games because they find them to be too complicated. Wii, Kinect, and Move are all initiatives launched to dumb down video games and capture audiences not within core demographics. PC gaming is “dying” in the face of the simplified console market.

So, too, has Firaxis done its best to appeal to the non-PC, mainstream audience. Before there was a Civ V there was Civilization Revolutions, a highly simplified, quasi-arcade Civilization game. Before the announcement of Civ V there was the Facebook game Civilization Network, the as-of-this-writing unreleased game intended to tap into the obscenely large casual/social network games market. With Civ V they hoped to appease those who are already enslaved to the brand while simultaneously revamping its mechanics to lure in new consumers. What we’re left with is this feeling of innovation for the sake of market share, but not any real progress.

Take the grid system. Every previous Civilization game has taken place on a square grid. Each of these tiles has eight entry points. One for each side and one for each point. Now we have hexes, which allow only six entry points to a tile, a clear attempt to lure Settlers of Catan (and other board game) players into the series. Why? Simple: the hexes discretely remove complexity while appearing to increase it and simultaneously attract more customers. You see, a six-sided object is noticeably more complex than a four-sided object. It’s got two more sides, for Christ’s sake! That’s 150% more sides!

Worse still are the fates of the victory conditions. Some streamlining actually improves the game. Mopping up every teeny city that Gandhi has managed to hide throughout the planet was a pain in the ass before, so requiring players to only capture Delhi for a Domination victory is an admirable change, but to go ahead and completely neuter the Diplomatic victory condition makes me wonder why they even left it in the game. To summarize, in the past the United Nations was a multi-faceted wonder. When constructed it allowed the player and world AIs to make decisions that shaped the world rules. These decisions ranged from rendering slavery illegal to banning the production of nuclear weapons, both huge decisions and policies that can shape global politics and play styles. Additionally, each Civilization has representation proportional to the world population under his/her control.

Civilization V oversimplifies this system. All Civilizations and city-states (another new feature that miraculously feels both oversimplified and interesting (perhaps because it’s a missed opportunity?)) have precisely one vote for the UN Secretary General. Every surviving civilization will naturally vote for his or herself with this one vote, because not doing so is tantamount to forfeiting. The only way to win the diplomatic victory is to liberate a conquered civilization or city-state from another player (thus rendering them REQUIRED to vote for you) or to become allied with surviving city-states, hoping that there are enough surviving states to vote you in as leader.

Worse still, the AI is a jumbled mess. I find myself either frustrated with how stupid it is on the difficulty level that confers an even playing field to both player and AI (not to mention how stupid it is when I’m buffed and the AI is handicapped ) or frustrated with how ineptly played AI civilizations are when difficulty is turned up. You see, AI doesn’t really ramp up in difficulty, it just gets more bonuses. This is par for the course for Civilization, but I feel like the team at Firaxis has been deeply damaged by the departure of famed AI-programmer Soren Johnson. I lost many games of Civ IV on an even playing field with the AI. It’s inconceivable for me to lose to the same level in V.

It doesn’t seem that bad, in principle, but when playing it I can’t help but feel like I’m moving backwards in terms of interesting game mechanics. I find myself torn between the fact that I truly love the game and can’t stop playing once I start and that niggling feeling in the back of my head that this could have been so much more.

Which brings me back to my original point. I don’t think I’m the player that Firaxis is designing for. They know they’ve got me, so why bother doing what I think is best for the series? If they can impress me by throwing me a bone here and there with tiny flourishes like the fact that each civilization speaks in their native language when contacted, why bother trying to actually improve upon systems that seem complicated to the outside player?

I still love this game. It is addictive in ways that I don’t quite understand, considering how frustrated with it I get sometimes. The conceit of the series has been, is, and always will be both irresistible and addictive to me, regardless of how it continues to morph to entice and entertain the many people who are not me.

Amicitia sans oris [Mr. Digital]
Jan 7th, 2010 by Dan

Last month I found myself worrying about a friend of mine who was going through a tough time. Kim had just lost a friend and was headed to Louisiana for the funeral, so I wouldn’t be hearing from her for a week. I told her I was sorry and that I was there for her and then she left. Funny thing is, I’ve never met Kim. I only know her because I love to play Left 4 Dead. I’ve never even seen a picture of what she looks like and I’m only 98% sure that Kim is even her name. With all those layers of abstraction, you’d think it would be difficult for me to call her a friend, but I’ve come to realize that there can be value in the tenuous, ephemeral online friendship, so long as it doesn’t replace the ones you have in your physical life.

The first friend I ever had who I never met was back when I was about twelve. My family had moved back to Florida a year prior and I had finally overcome the intense social barriers of being the new kid and starting a new level of school at the same time. The circle of friends I had developed was, oddly enough, composed almost entirely of people who used to torment me at every turn the year prior. One of those friends, Josh, had an elementary school friend who had moved away to Connecticut right before middle school started. I don’t remember the circumstances behind it, but I somehow because friends with Abbe (that was her name) through an e-mail chain and eventually started chatting with her on a regular basis.

It wasn’t the great friendship that defined my life and I don’t think I’ve talked with her since I was 14, but for someone who I’d never actually met in the flesh, we had a pretty decent friendship. She and a friend called my house and we talked on the phone once or twice (she told me once my voice was sexy (for a 13-year-old)), but beyond that most of our conversations took place over AOL Instant Messenger. I don’t remember much about what we talked about, aside from a particularly strange health teacher she had, but I do know that she was an interesting friend in my life who I’m surprised I’ve never forgotten, considering I have no idea what she looks like anymore (I saw a picture once).

I don’t think I made any strictly online friends again until I was 20 during my junior year at Cornell. At the encouragement of my friend Chris, I started playing World of Warcraft again (I had quit the year before the first time Ashley broke up with me) on his server with the intention of hanging out with him and his roommate in-game. My character, Torvalds (named after the Master of Penguins himself), was able to power level up to level 60 during my fall semester and start attempting to join guilds not long after. I eventually managed to make my way into my guild of choice, Revelation (which, sadly, no longer exists on Cenarion Circle), and started working working on the last bit of endgame content before the expansion pack, slowly building up a group of friends on the way.

After winter break, the expansion pack came out and, as one of the junior warlocks in the guild, I was assigned to the B team, which also happened to be the West Coast team. Thanks to my luck, this meant that I was raiding Karazhan twice a week starting at 2300 and going to 0300 the next morning on days when I had an 0800 class. Needless to say, I missed a lot of class that semester (and my grades suffered from it), but the crummy conditions and B-Team status combined to form a strong sense of camaraderie. We used to get yelled at for not completing the dungeon fast enough, but that’s probably because most of our nights were filled with laughter and jokes instead of serious boss planning as we cleared our way up to our weekly boss wall.

Whenever I think about going back to WoW, it’s because of these guys: Moonsbreath, a school nurse from California by day and a Tauren Resto Shaman by night, Samuwen, our Orc Hunter team leader and a copy store employee by day, and Emil, our Undead Warrior tank whose profession I did not know, but whose infant child often made nightly cameos during our raids. On nights when we were mixed in with the entire guild, you could bet that we’d still be joking around with each other either over Ventrilo (we were easily the most talkative bunch outside of the guild leader) or through the in-game whisper system. The night that our guild leader, Athen, disbanded the guild to leave WoW was a devastating blow to everyone. We all tried to hold it together for a few nights, but the loss of direction caused our merry band to disperse to the winds. More than one of us quit the game, myself included, which spelled the end for our friendships since none of us knew each other in real life.

When thinking about these virtual friendships, it becomes clear that the worst part about them are their delicate, ephemeral nature. Their very existence often relies on the medium within which they are created. Just like that, our guild disbanded and I lost three cool in-game friends. When I returned to WoW for a month or two last year, some of these guys were still around, but the construct which formed our relationship was gone and it just wasn’t the same.

When I met Kim I thought it was actually going to be kind of different. My roommate, Darek, and I liked to play Left 4 Dead online with an old friend of his from university named Eric. One day Eric invited Darek and I to join a game that Kim was in. Her general friendliness with Eric and Darek, both of whom seemed to know Kim, made me assume that she was also a former classmate. Since she was associated with real people I knew, that made her a more “real” friend than the other ones I had made online. I later found out (nearly a year later) that Kim randomly met Eric playing a different zombie video game and that they’d been playing together since.

I wouldn’t say that Kim and I were best friends or anything, but we’ve got enough of a rapport that people who play with us for the first time assume that we actually know each other in real life. We both know what the other does for a living, but beyond that, I’d say that the only two things we know about each other are our personalities and how good we are at Left 4 Dead.

Thanks to the more robust communication tools available through Steam, I don’t worry so much about losing touch with Kim if I were to stop playing Left 4 Dead, but it does worry me that, should she decide to quit games forever, I’d probably never talk to Kim again. That’s where the other boundary with online friends rears its ugly head again. I don’t even know her name, so I couldn’t just friend her on Facebook. If I were to visit Texas (where she lives) would it be normal to hang out with her?

It’s clear that the world of online, anonymous communication can be socially interesting and rewarding, but it’s also full of strange perils and confusing social conventions that seem like they could be just as paralyzingly complex to the socially inept. The lack of real life contact is perhaps the most pressing issue with online friendships. Sure, I can hear the voices of all my friends thanks to fast, cheap VoIP, but with no real way of contacting each other, we could, I dunno, die, and no one would be the wiser. We’d just assume that the other person left our online space for greener pastures.

That’s no way to have real, lasting relationships, in my book, but as the relationships with my former classmates become increasingly digital due to distance, it’s becoming clear to me that many of my relationships are facilitated primarily through 1’s and 0’s, not any kind of human contact. It’s mostly thanks to her job that I find myself seeing Kai so often, but 75% of our interaction comes from blogs, tumblr, and twitter. Some of my other friends, like Lee, Yin, and Duffy, I see far less often and talk to only through gchat. I’m kind of losing my way here with respect to any point I might have, but suffice it to say that I’m infinitely glad that technology has allowed me to make and keep all of these friendships.

E3 Extravaganza [Game Overview]
Jun 5th, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

E3 is a magical time for video games. So much news happened in this past week that this is gonna be an epic post filled with tons of trailers and news. In no particular order, here it goes:

Look! A three-headed monkey!

First off we have the Monkey Island news again. Tales of Monkey Island will be debuting next month (!) on 7 July from Telltale Games. Yes, it’s super exciting…yes, Telltale has proven that they can have moderate success and timely release with episodic adventure games…but I don’t feel the humor of Ron Gilbert in the trailer.

I just hope the game is quality and we get to see a lot more MI.

Legendary

Speaking of former Lucasarts comedic geniuses, Tim Schafer’s Brütal Legend (mind the umlaut) has had production suspended in what can only be known as a dick move by Activision. The litigious Activision dropped Brütal Legend not long ago when they merged with Vivendi and they claim it was because they never met milestones. Supposeedly they still retain the rights to release the game and will suffer “irreparable damages” for this.

My favorite part of the story, Tim Schafer’s response:

“Hey, if Activision liked it, then they should have put a ring on it,” Schafer said. “Oh great, now Beyoncé is going to sue me too.”

Seriously Activision? You guys look like major tools. I already don’t play much anything by Activision and I just might consider this a permanent decision. It’s unbelievable.

Back in Black (and Red)

Nintendo will be selling the Wii in black starting this summer in Japan and the DSi in red at the same time. Not a bad idea, considering that sales of Nintendo systems have started to lag behind some of the Sony stuff. It’s just the kind of Nintendo thing to do in this situation.

NEW SMB

New Super Mario Bros. Wii is on the way! It will not feature online play =[

Left 8 Dead?

Left 4 Dead 2 is coming! A bit sooner than most expected, that’s for sure, but I think even Valve deserves to make some money every so often.

Melee weapons, incendiary ammo, new special infected, new AI Director sadism, new/updated weapons, and new survivors.

What’s more, you won’t be able to just camp for alarm moments, some won’t turn off unless you advance and complete tasks.

Nick reminds me of GOB. That makes me happy.

Metal Gear?!

New MGS games announced. Rising will be on the PS3 and Xbox 360 and Peace Walker will be on the PSP. I’m kind of bummed about PW being a PSP game, since it focuses on Big Boss, but maybe I’ll end up asking for a PSP for Christmas or something.

NEVER

Funny tidbit from the Nintendo conference

Jedis go Boom

It’s just the cinematic that opens the game, but it sure gets me excited for the release.

Walrus?

Some more The Beatles: Rock Band info.

XIII

Also: Final Fantasy XIV?

Uncharted!!!! OMGOMGOMGOMG

Random Games

OBJECTION!

Tangled up in BlazBlue:

More Samus, No T or A

New Metroid game being made by Team Ninja?! Nintendo will probably keep the ridiculously large, bouncy boobs and thongs to a minimum, so calm down.

Galaxy 2?

New Mario Galaxy game. 90% new levels, some old ones remixed.

As a corollary, no new Zelda or Pikmin games announced today. Maybe next time.

Fallout 3 DLC


Alan Wake…FINALLY

Seriously, this game has been in development FOREVER.


Heavy Lluvia

Still looks good.

Sunny Gold

Coming to the DS is Golden Sun! The RPG is BACK! I hope this iteration is more interesting.

Misc News

Social networking was the big theme of the conferences. From Facebook on DSi and Xbox 360 to Twitter making an appearance on the latter too, it seems like the next big thing.

Microsoft is also offering full games on demand on Live for real, non-MS point money.

All in all, a great conference. I know I missed some big news, but, hey, you’ve got the internet too, so quit being so damn lazy. Now if only we could rush to the fall and make these games come out already!

Wednesday Morning Quarterback: Bowling, Mechanical Bulls, Standings and Predictions
May 7th, 2008 by Dan

You’ve probably heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20 on Monday morning, so just imagine how well I can call ‘em two days later on Wednesday. That’s right, it’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

Free bowling last night at the lanes in Helen Newman. I’ll be the first guy to say that I’m not a great bowler at all. I oftentimes don’t even break 100 in my score and last night was no different. It took me a while to find my bowling groove as I threw countless gutter balls in my 81 point first game, but once I figured out the best way for me to throw the ball (cannon it down the lane to give it less time to veer), I started doing a little better, finishing off the night with 96. The highlight of the night had to be Steph’s tenth frame turkey. She’s a little better than I am…

Another little quickie, the crew at Noyes brought some Moe’s food and a mechanical bull to the outdoor basketball courts this past Monday. My sore thighs will tell you that I got on that sucker three times, with a top time of 32 seconds before being bucked off. The highlight was, without a doubt, Nolan’s bull ride where he almost fell off and held on to the bull for at least ten seconds at about a 90 degree angle to the saddle. If you want to see some great pics of the bull, check out Facebook, there are a bunch up of us.

Almost as if to keep me from looking bad in this column this week, the Marlins have regained the first place position they lost during their series against the L.A. Dodgers. Their 3-0 win against the Brew-Crew pushed them into a two-way tie for first with the Phillies who lost last night to the phenomenally good Arizona Diamondbacks. Any time that NL East guys go to play the D-Backs I cheer for the inevitable losses they will suffer, but I know that these losses will probably hit the Marlins at some point soon, which almost makes them not count. Let’s not bother with that for now though, I’m just happy to keep seeing the Marlins near the top.

The American League exploded a week ago, with an unprecedented three-way tie between the Orioles, Rays, and Red Sox. Far from being the uncompetitive, under 0.500 team they have been since their beginnings in 1998, the Tampa Bay Rays are a game up on the Yankees and 3.5 back on the Red Sox in second place in the AL East.

AL Central has a surprising first place team in the Minnesota Twins, topping both the White Sox and Indians. The good ‘ol Tigers are still 3.5 games back, but are actually approaching the 0.500 no thanks to their abysmal April. AL West has the Angels on top with the Athletics right behind, light years ahead of the Rangers and Mariners who are both a pathetic 7.5 games back.

The National League is looking a bit more like what you’d expect it to look like (aside from the Fish tied for first in NL East) with the Diamondbacks a whole three games up on the Dodgers in NL West and the Cardinals 2.5 above the Cubbies in NL Central.

My standings predictions based on my limited baseball knowledge:

– The Cards and Cubs will keep competing for top in NL Central with only moderate competition from the Brewers
– The NL East will stay in a state of flux, at least until the All-Star break. If the Marlins are still holding strong even halfway through the season (Anibal Sanchez will be back!), it could stay tight until the Fall
– AL East will proceed in a more predictable fashion. Even under different management, the Yankees won’t be content in third for too much longer and the Red Sox will remain as dominant as they typically are. Tampa Bay and Baltimore will have to work their butts off to fight for second, unless the Red Sox and Yankees knock each other down the standings. Of course, this is what happened to the O’s and Rays when they were tied for first. The Rays are very hot though, I’d put my money on them over the Orioles at least until the All-Star break.
– AL Central has the potential to be the most exciting division of them all. The Tigers have finally found their game, the White Sox will put up a good fight, Cleveland will continue to be a strong team this year, and the Royals are under new, stronger management. The worst standings in the division (Tigers) are only 3.5 games back. This will make for an interesting year for AL Central fans unless one of the teams awakens into a dominant force and starts to control the division.
– AL West has all but been decided. The Angels and A’s will battle it out, but the A’s haven’t been a post-season team in God knows how long. No matter how well their season finishes, they just always collapse in October. Still, it’s definitely an impressive team. Hope that the Mariners and Rangers put something together, for Christ’s sake, or this will be the most boring division in baseball…
– The Diamondbacks will continue to be the best team in baseball for the foreseeable future. NL West is theirs to rule over as they see fit. San Francisco’s team is garbage with a weak offense and bad pitching :cough: Barry Zito :cough:, San Diego’s not gonna put up a fight, and the Rockies were a flash in the pan last post-season. The Dodgers are the only competition for the D-Backs, making this truly a one-sided division.

EDIT: I just wanted to add in that Micah Owning’s (a Diamondback and starting pitcher against the Phillies tonight) pinch hit home run last Wednesday was pretty sweet. Before you say “big deal,” remember one thing: Micah Owning is a PITCHER. There are even rumblings of including him in this year’s Home Run Derby

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