Thursday, October 30, 2008

Medieval 2: Total War.

Ever since Shogun: Total War came out in 2000, this series has been a hit. That game, along with the loose sequels Medieval: Total War and Rome: Total War, claimed the strategy game of the year award with no contest. Including expansions, the Total War series has racked up over 38 awards of critical acclaim. I never got to play Shogun--I just salivated over a friend's copy in high school. I did play Medieval, and loved it to no end. I never got on board with Rome due to my computer's limitations at the time. Two nights ago, to keep me company until Kerry comes home, I bought Medieval II.

I went to Best Buy with the intention of buying a good RTS time-killer, hoping that it would restore my faith in gaming after the childlike simplicity of Spore. I was toying with the idea of getting Sid Meyer's Civilizations IV: Colonization. But the Medieval II's shiny box made me nostalgic for a game I knew was good, and I had a bias in the back of my brain that stemmed from looking forward to the upcoming Empire: Total War. So it was really no contest where I decided to invest my cash.

When I got home, I had a brief scare when the game would not run because of some sort of dll error, but a quick update and restart fixed that. So I swiftly went to work trying to establish the English empire in Britannia and began launching campaigns against France and Denmark. Mmmm, what delicious scenario...England taking over Denmark in the Middle-Ages...

What I love about Medieval II is that it successfully combines two gaming aspects that I love. The first is very nice, detailed, and active strategic map. Taking over and controlling a province isn't a matter of moving your forces into a nondescript outlined space (or even a descript outlined space, for that matter). During the turn, you move your units in mini real-time sequences through your provinces, with terrain and road development having a noticable effect on a free range of movement. Each province has specifically placed resources, and you have the option of building forts and watchtowers anywhere you please. And while you have to control the settlement to keep the province, you can lose control if your city becomes besieged--isolating your control inside the walls. It is much like Heroes of Might and Magic, only executed so much better.

What really gives this game its flavor, though, is the real-time battles. When armies meet or when a city is besieged, you move to a real-time battlemap in which you control your regiments of astoundingly diverse units. The only other games I've seen that offer this kind of regimented tactical fighting are Caeaser II and a handful of second-rate historical battle simulators. I can't fathom why other developers don't take advantage of this relatively simple style, though, because is beautiful and delicious. Not only does Medieval II manage to pull it off--it sets the bar for any game of this type by pulling off the best way possible. The battlemaps are large, the terrain realistic, the possible strategies complex, and the graphical detail amazing. The personality of your commanding general (effectively played by you) matters just as much as the experience of your units, making it a truly immersive and rewarding battle experience.

I'm glad that titles like this still stand out (even though this isn't really a new game). The other strategic & RTS combo series that I originally loved self-destructed when it tried to combine the two into one--see the transition from Caesar II to Ceasar III. They ceased being strategic games and became city-building games with third-rate battle simulation. I also find the completely turn-based games like the Civilization and Heroes of Might and Magic series unrewarding, because they have no tactical component. It is all broad strategy, with battles taking care of themselves using the electronic equivalent of die-rolls when opposing forces meet.

The Total War series satisfies both the desires to build an empire and the hunger for a good fight in a way that makes gaming matter to me again. Thanks for restoring my faith, Sega.

Monday, October 27, 2008

That Weird Feeling.

Sometimes events transpire to leave you feeling weird. Not necessarily down or depressed, but weird.

A) Jenn, Lance, and Lizzie visited from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon, filling our home with bright, cheery company. We had lots of good food, fun conversation, and video games. When friends you don't get to see but once in a blue moon come over, there's always an empty feeling when they go.

B) Add to that the fact that Kerry left yesterday morning and I won't see her for a month. She has arrived safely in Lexington for her away rotation. For a month, I can leave the windows open, smoke my pipe inside, and enjoy the bed all to myself. But sans Kerry, life is different. She's all my college friends and my family rolled up into one--the person I see, talk to, an live with every single morning, evening, and weekend.

C) I was a bit of a bastard yesterday, and I feel bad about it. I called Kerry, expecting to have a nice conversation with her to keep her alert on her drive. Instead, I found her in the middle of a crisis. She stopped in one city for food and they didn't give her credit card back. She found this out when she stopped for gas. She was in the middle of taking care of this when I called, and I was a bit shocked. Rather than contributing to panic, I decided to try to take the edge off by calling it an adventure and wishing her good luck. It made sense to me at the time (like the time I thought telling one of my friends that I didn't care for his girlfriend was the right thing to do--trying to downplay my interest in her and all), but in retrospect it was a dumb thing to say and cut me off from her as a source of help in the situtation. Great way to begin a one-month absense from each other, eh? I'm sorry, Kerry.

D) Already feeling out of balance, I watched Fight Club.

E) It was odd to turn on the news this morning and hear that there was a shootout at my alma-mater last night. On ground that I used to walk on every day, kids have been shot. Kids have been killed. All everyone is posting about on the Honors forum is lockdowns, sirens, having police point guns at them on the quest to round-up the suspects. It is surreal knowing that the majority of the people I know are caught up in such a messed-up situation.

F) Today, I found out that I lost my first interview. I was interviewing for a young adult programming position at the Fletcher branch of our library system. I can understand why they would think I'm not the most qualified person for the job, but it is still a humbling experience. I have totally owned every interview I've ever been in up to this point--I've never been told no. I guess there is a first time for everything.

So yeah--I feel weird. I had to change my login password this morning, and forgot my new one directly after pressing the enter key. CNS had to reset my account. Weird.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Casting My Ballot.

Yesterday evening, Kerry and I early voted after work and before enjoying some fine rolls at Wasabe. Twas a bit of an ordeal, as they had me in the computer as registered to vote in Jackson county...again. I went through that during the primaries and got it all straightened out, but apparently the courthouse likes to misplace my files.

Nobody should have to scratch their heads for too long to guess who I voted for in the presidential, senatorial, or congressional elections. I'm an Obama fanboy, and Pryor and Snyder have been doing their jobs well for a good while now...I see no need change anything on that front. I'm not going to attempt to persuade anyone's mind on these matters, because I'm sure they're already made up. For me, the presidential election is over. I've done all I can do. I'll have a big party on the 4th and watch the results roll in amidst friends on both sides of the fence.

What I really want to try to persuade my readers, though, is to vote against proposed constitutional amendment no. 3 and proposed initiative act no. 1.

Concerning no. 3, whether you believe gambling is good or bad for the morals, economy, and tourism of our state--this is not a vote for or against gambling. This is a vote for or against a state-run enterprise. State lottery does not attract tourists. State lottery does not equal palatial gambling halls with bright lights and beautiful women. State lottery equals your tax dollars going to pay for massive amounts of peel-off cardboard toys at gas stations, cheap and annoying commercial ads, and incentives (prizes) that will only draw our poorest inhabitants to shell out what little money they have in hopes of winning a retirement.

I'm sure I don't have to be plugging this to my conservative friends, but I want my liberal friends to realize that it isn't "a step in the right direction" towards getting Arkansas to allow casinos on our side of the river. It is a totally unrelated and generally bad idea. Arkansas does not have unlimited pockets. We're becoming a wealthier state due to natural gas, but that doesn't mean we should squander that money. We need that money for schools, roads, and...libraries! Vote no! If we bring gambling into our state, let's do it the right way--through private enterprise.

And now I have to get my two cents in to my conservative friends regarding initiative no. 1. You are going to be tempted to vote to prohibit non-married couples from adopting because you think it will fortify traditional family values. And it may do that by a teeny tiny fractional degree. But think about the trade-off. Is it worth it to deny a significant portion of Arkansas' orphans the right of being adopted just to make the statement that you don't like it when people shack up? Voting for this bill will not strengthen any marriages. Voting for this bill will probably not persuade very many people to get married who weren't already. What voting for this bill will do is significantly reduce the number of households that are allowed to give parentless children good lives. For decency's sake, vote no.

And with that I'll end my shpeel. Good day to all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beer Bread

~3 cups of flour.
~3 teaspoons of baking powder.
~1 teaspoon of salt.
~1/4 of a cup of sugar.
~1 bottle of booze.

Bake for about 50 minutes at 375 degrees.

I really do love bread. Kerry loves it even more. Over the past few months, the above has become one of our favorite recipes. By itself, it makes a pretty decent loaf of bread...although I'd add half a stick of butter if you want it to taste normal.

If you want to experiment, though, the wonderful thing about this bread is that so far it has proven absolutely impossible to screw up. You just add the dry ingredients, pour in the beer, mix it up, and bake it right then and there. No yeast activating. No rising. No kneading. No sitting. Just bread. I've gone as far as to add 1/4 a cup of dairy (the aforementioned butter) and eggs. Does it destroy the recipe? No. You just get cake instead. :)

The number of experiments you can do with this basic structure is endless. I started with Guinness, making very malty, earthy tasting breads, sometimes adding cocoa powder for a predictable effect. I've made very spicy, hopsy breads out of Imperial Pale Ales and Russian Imperial Stouts. Not as many people like those, but I think they're awesome. One of my favorites over time has been to use J. W. Dundee's honey-brown lager and substitute the sugar in the recipe for honey. Such bread makes me feel like Winnie the Pooh.

And last night, I confirmed that ciders work just as well as beers. I used a Woodchuck Amber draft cider, added in some extra sugar, and sprinkled in some cinnamon. BAM! That's some good bread.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Dark Beyond the Stars

I finished this book by Frank M. Robinson recently, and I must take a moment to lavish it with praise. It is seldom I read a science fiction work that doesn't click neatly into one of the science fiction stereotypes. There are the rather pretentious novels of the old guard that introduce very interesting concepts without good human characterization. There are the ones that depict inter-personal plots very well while just barely remaining science fiction. And then there is the comedic science fiction that laughs at itself--sometimes intentinally a la Tanya Huff, and sometimes unintentionally and with very disastrous consequence: Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, for instance.

The Dark Beyond the Stars thought, was literally out of this world. The sheer audacity of the scifi concepts he introduces was just plain neat, but he still managed to relate it to believable human experience. His characters are as dynamic and interesting as any I have ever read. And it ends well.

Really good, well-developed science fiction is pretty hard to come by. Even the Dune novels by Frank Herbert, which I come close to worshipping, are not easily readable and the characters are rather two dimensional. It was refreshing to find a book that not only strikes a balance between the human and the beyond, but exemplifies both.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stranded

I locked my keys in my truck. Now I'm stuck at work until Kerry can come get me. Just so you know.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Edible Popcorn Kernels.

I inherited from my Mom a hankering for popcorn kernels. When all the popcorn is gone, or even before, I like to eat the roasty little buggers. I either have to break my teeth against them or just roll them around in my mouth until they disintegrate, but it is worth it. They are delicious.

So imagine my immense awe upon discovering soynuts. This past Saturday, Kerry, Lizzy, and I payed a visit to the Fresh Market out in West Little Rock. It had an aisle of bins that were full of dry goods, and amongst them I saw one labeled soynuts. I found myself curious and intrigued due to my previous and positive experiences with soymilk. I probably broke a store rule by opening the bin and picking out a nut for sampling. Behold! It tasted just like a popcorn kernel! But, unlike the popcorn kernel, the ease with which its crunchy shell gave way between my jaws was astounding.

They were also very cheap. $3.27 got me a small bucket full. And as filling as they are, that bucket will probably last me a good month. Yay woot soy nuts.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Behold! My biking route:

This morning marked my first attempt to bike to work. I left home at about 6:05 and arrived at work about 6:45. I was estimating that the ride would take me an hour, so I am pleased. Granted, getting home in rush hour traffic may be a bit more of a challenge.

Lessons learned:

1. Do not assume that the second street that runs in front of the library is the same second street that runs into the School of the Blind and Deaf. It is actually swallowed up by a scary gravel spit underneath the railroad tracks...just like the river trail...hmm...

2. Never bike by the Salvation Army in the dark. Brave biking against traffic in a one-way instead.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Here's An Idea!

What if, in order to put the American economy back on the right track, we didn't blame mortgage lenders and credit card companies? What if we didn't turn Wall Street into the sole scapegoat for our nation's exccesses? What if we pointed our collective fingers in a different direction...say...the people who took out the bad loans in the first place?

Granted, everyone dumped their fair share of crap into the pot that is now boiling over. Both the federal government and the megacorporations that control it have not acted responsibly. They've allowed an unforgivable amount of excessive and unwise policies to continue for too long.

But, they aren't the only ones. Jo Schmoe on Main Street holds just as much blame. You won't hear any of our representatives or candidates talk about that, because nobody likes being told that they got caught with the hand in the cookie jar, but I'll say it. The toxic paper that that caused our market to inflate beyond its means would not have existed if not for the people who said yes when presented with the opportunity to buy more things than they could afford. The people who took out subprime mortgages to pay for houses they had no business being in. The people who drove up thousands in credit card debt because they couldn't control their spending. The people who think that a good budget is being able to pay off the interest on their home loans, auto loans, and credit cards.

Since I can remember, everyone has prescribed the same solution to an economic slowdown: go out there and spend more money. That'll keep the credit markets from collapsing. That'll keep our insanely bloated service and retail sectors from contracting. That'll keep the DJI soaring thousands of points higher than it logically should. Well, it looks like the well might have finally ran dry. We need a different solution this time. Using taxpayer money to bail out companies by absorbing their debt and to bail out people by offering them cushy interest rates so that they can keep spending themselves and the rest of us into poverty doesn't cut it for me.

That is why I hope that the bailout bill fails miserably. I hope that our economy slows down to a balanced and sustainable level. I hope that a recession drives the federal government into slowing down its spending, forces companies to cut their bureaucratic and executive fat, and drives the people of Main Street back into the mindset that they can have what they can pay for, and they can pay for what they are willing to work for.

That way, this won't happen again when I am getting close to retirement.