Saturday, January 12, 2008

Back in the Bird

I'm really happy to be writing this in room 512 of the Iron Blossom lodge, in Snowbird, Utah. My family has had this time share up here in Salt Lake since before I was born, and my whole life it's been a yearly tradition to come up here for a week, go skiing, hang out in the pool at night, goof off in the rec room on the second floor, have lunch on the same bench of the middle floor of the Snowbird center...I could go on but I won't. Suffice to say it's a tradition that's very rich in experience and memory for me. Ok...one last thing...some of the walls here in the lodge are concrete poured in to a mold that left penny-sized indentations, and over the years I've been sticking pennies on to the holes. They're still there!

The big deal, for me, is that because of the UCSB school schedule, I haven't been able to come for the past 5 years. Coming back, today, has been...well, not overwhelming, but it's one of those great memory recall situations where just about every sense is triggering memories that are 5 years old. The sight of the lobby area and fireplace on the bottom floor of the lodge, the smell of the building and of the snow, the sound of the X-men arcade game in the rec room that's been there for at least...15 years. Being my first time on a pair of skis in 5 years, hopefully I won't hit any trees. One thing I'm excited about in particular is a tunnel that's apparently been built in to the side of the mountain connecting it to the basin on the backside. Sweet.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Begenning Anew in the Tradition of the Old

Mike and I have a personal tradition of ours to play through the classic System Shock 2 together in co-operative mode around once a year. We employ all sorts of great mods that the community has put together, and yes, there is a very strong community behind SS2, it's awesome. Some of the mods enhance the game's dated visuals and models, and other mods enhance or modify gameplay mechanics to provide either a more challenging experience, or simply a different experience. After our 3 or 4 times through, I think Mike and I have played all the roles available to us, being the hacker, the psychic, the heavy-weapons wielder, the hi-tech weapons wielder, etc. We're thinking of trying to bring on a third player this time, because although the co-operative mode of the game does not provide more resources, it does provide equal "cyber modules," which are the games version of experience points, allowing you to essentially level up and develop your skill tree. Given that, when people choose their roles in a co-operative manner, you end up using the game's existing resources in a more complete manner. For example, a heavy weapons guy and a psychic would make a good pair, as their competing for neither the game's ammo nor the game's psi-hypos (which provide energy for your psychic abilities). We're pretty sure there's no way the game could support 4 players, but we're eager to try it with 3.

However, in the mean time, we're taking our first stab at a co-operative run through of a Black Isle classic, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, complete with the expansion, Throne of Bhaal. Our first night at it had me falling asleep at 3 AM after we had spent far too long installing all the different gameplay mods and bug fixes that we wanted to employ, but I'm excited that with all of that being finished, we're ready to get started. I'm using this extra time before then to decide on what kind of character I want to play through as, last time having played a Paladin, who is obviously lawful good (duh!).

Shadows of Amn and Throne of Bhaal represent one of my fondest memories of video game role playing. The story-telling, the voice acting, the choices Black Isle made concerning classic 2nd edition advanced D&D rules, it all came together for a great experience. Like System Shock 2, Baldur's Gate II has a similarly strong community online devoted to creating the various mods that make replaying the game a pleasure.

In my new place, we're using a couple of TV trays and my bed to help set up our co-op experience in the same room, as opposed to over a network. Mike is reserved about appearing on the interwebs, so the picture to the side, his appearance has been slightly modified.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Arts and Crafts!

I was in the market for a pocket watch because I could no longer explain me not owning something so cool. I really wanted to get one with lots of exposed gears and clockwork, "skeleton" style as it's called, but from what I saw anything that was of that style also featured mechanical movement, which, don't get me wrong, totally appealed the steam-punk in me, but the practical side in me knew that I would eventually get tired of the pain in the ass of having to wind the watch daily. I once had an imitation Penari kinetic mechanical movement watch, a mechanical watch with a pendulum that winds itself automatically from everyday movement, and I couldn't even keep that going. I suppose I'm just too..sedentary...and I didn't like wearing the thing to the gym, which is too bad because from all the crazy movement I'm throwing down when I'm at the gym, it would have been clockwork, positively clockwork.

So I ended up choosing a cool quartz movement watch, the Wenger standard issue stainless steel pocket watch, which sounds boring I'll admit, but it's actually a pretty nice-looking watch. What I really like about it is the cool leather case it comes with, and a sort of matching leather plait chain. However, in an incident very un-becoming of Wenger, the plat chain broke under normal every day use within a week. Rats.

So I made a new one!*



* "made a new one" involved buying leather straps and practicing how to make a leather plait, with no luck, and so I ended up seeking out the expert opinion of my best friend's dad, who was raised on a ranch and was also an eagle scout, so, he was very helpful.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

HTPC (pronounced "aych tee pee see")

One of the things I always said I wanted to do after I graduated was to put together a Home Theater PC, or as the FLA goes, an "HTPC." It's fundamentally no different from a regular PC, though it does differ in form and in function. For my HTPC, I knew that the primary purpose would be a music player for my library of digital music, a video player for my library of digital video, and most important, a sort of hub of all things emulated. So far the menu consists of NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, GBA, N64, MAME (coin-op arcade games, essentially), a DOS emulator, and ScummVM, which very specifically plays a collection of old Lucas Arts adventure and a handful of others.

Turns out, what's also been loads of fun is firing up the ol' 'fox and browsing Youtube with friends. Here's a screen shot of the desktop, wherein I'm using a cool utility called Avedesk, which lets you deck out the desktop with over-sized icons that pulsate with various effects when hovered over with the mouse pointer.


In it's form, an HTPC is usually meant to be different insofar as it should look good when placed on your media riser next to your other toys, be they an xbox, a dvd player, a receiver and stereo, etc. I ended up choosing Lian-Li's PC-35B because it's the smallest PC case available, and a slight smidgen of sexy thrown in. The downside was that it is, in fact, so small, that I have no room to add any expansion cards to the motherboard, and so when choosing said board I had to find one that would have on-board video and sound that would be good enough. On-board sound these days is actually quite good, and since this was never meant to be an HTPC powerhouse capable of playing modern-day games, the on-board video does the job well enough.


I've got lots of USB controllers too, so come over to my house and we'll play through Secret of Mana 3-player style, or maybe run through the classic X-men arcade game :-D