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  • Archive for July, 2012

    Taking Track Inventory

    2012 - 07.28

    Out of the many boxes filled with parts to unpack for my new model railroad, the one labeled “switches and track” was of particular importance. After unwrapping the goods from their protective newspaper bundling, I laid them all out on the fresh plywood where staging tracks are soon to be. It’s sort of strange to see my last layout condensed down into purely the specialized sections of track.

    Taking an inventory of what’s here (in descending order of exotic-ness)
    -one three-way turnout
    -one #6 curved left hand turnout
    -one #4 wye
    -one short section of custom bridge track
    -one #5 right hand turnout (peco)
    -two #5 left hand turnouts (peco)
    -three #6 left hand turnouts
    -nine #6 right hand turnouts
    -two rerailers (both in use)

    Time to figure out how to put it all to use! :D

    Three’s Company: Neighbors on the MILW West Coast Extension

    2012 - 07.25

    (Pt.3 on my model train odyssey. Click here for Pt.1 and Pt.2)

    I started researching what other railroads ran through the same territory as the Milwaukee. The candidates for intermingling would be the Union Pacific (“UP”), the Great Northern (“GN”), and the Northern Pacific (“NP”). I’d like to have a second road around for the sake of operational complexity and visual variety. More colors are good. The UP would introduce yellow, GN would introduce more orange and dark green, NP would give any number of shades of green.

    Despite the fact that the UP would make the most logical companion to my MILW (they shared depots), I really just … don’t like the UP! This is owing to the fact that a passenger-sharing agreement with the UP drove the Milwakee to repaint their orange and maroon livery into the standard UP yellow scheme, thusly ending my favorite schemes. To me, the UP Yellow is like a boring beige. It’s the Toyota Camry of railroad paint schemes: sensible and cheap. But overpoweringly bland. Uninspiring. Ubiquitious to the point of forgettable. I’m looking for something more unique than UP. That leaves me with the GN and the NP. Fortunately, there are some interesting possibilities for modeling these lines…

    The GN and the NP both had flagship passenger trains that were pretty neat; The Empire Builder & The North Coast Limited, respectively. Since the Empire Builder is mostly orange, for the sake of variety I’m more interested in the North Coast Limited. Depending on the year I want to call it, there are TWO distinct and arresting paint schemes for the NCL: 1. the so-called “Pine Tree” scheme, which is a two-tone dark green with a thin yellow stripe for ‘pop’ and 2. the “Raymond Loewy” scheme, created by the same famous industrial designer who drafted the design for the MILW Erie-built diesels as noted in the last post. The Loewy scheme, pictured above, uses a thin white stripe separating a sea-foam green from a forest green. Both of these are attractive possibilities, along with the option of using either streamlined or heavyweight coaches for the Pine Tree scheme, again depending on the year. No matter what way you slice it, that North Coast Limited is a neat passenger train. And I like the name.

    Sealing the deal, the NP and the MILW had a good amount of trackage that ran parallel to one another through Washington State, and also in Montana. So it would be realistic to have those main lines running together, or even on opposite sides of a stream, which could make some neat scenery. The North Coast Limited also traveled those tracks, so I could model ‘meets’ (aka two trains passing one another) between the North Coast Limited and my Milwaukee Olympian Hiawatha. SOLD!

    The only downside to this arrangement is that the NP and the MILW never shared depots.

    Thusly my trackage will be occupied by NP and MILW, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t squeeze in some Great Northern too. They had a short-length commuter train called the Cascadian, which would be simple/cheap to model and provide some further variety. It would not be terribly unrealistic to model the Cascadian taking the occasional detour over the NP mainline, a practice that would happen in real life as the result of track washouts or wrecks.

    I think that wraps up my passenger operations–heaps of MILW, a healthy sprinkling of NP, and just a tiny pinch of GN.

    A little blacktron sequel

    2012 - 07.22

    In the previous post about LEGO, I mentioned this set.  Here it is im CG, nicely rendered.  It’s like an imperial walker, only like secret-ops style, all black.


    The Summer Blockbuster of 2012

    2012 - 07.20

    It’s the 43rd anniversary of the moon landing today, so I gotsta post this:

    It’s coming. August 5th, 2012 at 11:30pm. The Seven Minutes of Terror:


    I dig how the official NASA video builds it up like a movie trailer. Because really, this stuff is honestly more badass than any movie. This is the exploration of other worlds, happing in real life and we get to watch it! Unless the sky crane doesn’t work and it crashes. Which is possible… keep your fingers crossed everyone. It’s gonna be an edge-of-your-seat ride, coming soon to a planet near you!

    A nice reminder

    2012 - 07.19

    This pic of the Orion Nebula is so fresh.

    2012 - 07.17

    No one can argue otherwise:


    a New LEGO MMO

    2012 - 07.15

    I’ve got a Level 7 Battle Axe to grind when it comes to Orcs, Paladins, or Wizards, and it don’t have no +5 to lameness tolerance.

    For whatever reason, I just can’t get into fantasy. I mean, I think dragons are sort of cool, but that’s about as far as I can get. Anytime people start talking about trolls or mages I just start to yawn. I thought Lord of the Rings was totally like 50,000% overrated. And while everyone else raved about Skyrim and World of Warcraft, I stuck to GTA and Red Dead. I don’t know what it is. I look at those worlds and say, wow, it’s amazing how rich and detailed they are, how much effort people have put into meticulously crafting them. And then I think, yeah, but this is all somehow still… BORING.

    And for whatever reason, it seems like all the major MMO games are fantasy games. I’m intrigued by the idea of MMOs; persistent worlds filled with other humans to interact with. So I was pretty stoked a few years back when an MMO was announced that was barking way up my particular nerd tree: LEGO Universe.

    As good fortune would have it, I was lucky enough to get a beta invite to test out the game before major release. The developers had a nice forum setup too where people could voice their thoughts on the progress. I definitely rocked the beta whenever I was home and the servers were online; and it was pretty fun. In my eyes though, it sadly fell pret-tay, pret-tay short of the hypothetical game it could have been. There were myriad reasons why, but really it came down to one thing: all content was created by the game developers and not the players.

    There’s something about LEGO that has captured the imaginations of minds for decades. Obviously a big part of that is the simple fact that you can take things apart and rebuild them however you see fit. So then, if you’re making a game that’s built primarily around LEGO, the logical thing to do would be let people build things. LEGO Universe did have that, but it was more of an if-you-want-to, off-to-the-side kinda thing. In my mind, the developers should have been spending their time doing two tasks: making the graphics engine look nice, and then releasing a huge variety of different bricks. If there’s one thing that Minecraft has conclusively proven about humanity, it’s that there are many, many folks out there with 1. copious amounts of free-time, and 2. the willpower to build incredibly intricate and detailed worlds for nothing more than their own amusement. Any LEGO MMO worth its salt should take advantage of that as its central philosophy.

    I think LEGO Universe could have been the most incredible game ever, if all it did was turn people loose with huge numbers of LEGO bricks and then let other players explore those worlds. You could easily sprinkle quests, events, enemies, and unique items over those worlds which were well made. I mean, Valve does a lot of the same type of thing with community-made maps in TF2. Take advantage of your passionate, inspired user base. That should be, like, enshrined into game-making law.

    So I’m raising a skeptical eyebrow at the announcement of a NEW LEGO MMO this month. It’s very thin on details. Like essentially all we know is that it exists. I would really hope that any new attempt at this concept would learn lessons from the failure of the previous one. A big shortcoming of LEGO Universe was simply the lack of content. It didn’t take long to finish it. And what content they did have really didn’t draw at all from LEGO lore. I wanted to see the Pirate sets I played with as a kid. Or city. Or Space sets like Blacktron and Ice Planet. A passionate userbase that is allowed to create their own content would solve all those problems.

    As an aside, I recently saw that there is apparently a LEGO Star Wars TV show now. It’s quite cheezy and laden with slapstick, but hey it’s meant for kids. The computer generated graphics in it are incredible though… its definitely LEGO come to life like you’ve never seen it. Watching that made me wish for the super-cool LEGO MMO that never was.

    So I’ll be watching that one, in hopes that it lets people build things as a main attraction. Because if you can’t build, is it truly LEGO? Not in my book!

    Primo Vino Art: Rockus Bockus

    2012 - 07.09

    I totally love this frigging artwork. Bombz.

    Also, I blended 2 images together so you can see the whole label in one picture. This has the awesome side effect of looking like you’re seeing double, which you might be from this Rockus Bockus!

    Games I Like: Mass Effect

    2012 - 07.05

    So a non-insignificant contributor to the lack of posting on here recently has been the fact that I got my hands on a copy of Mass Effect 3. This superbly made space opera, spanning the Milky Way galaxy, has eaten up a 30-some hour chunk of free time. Since this is a major release title, I’m not going to do an in-depth breakdown of what makes the game cool. Instead I’m just going to lay out a few observations and thoughts upon my playthrough.

    #1: Our Galaxy is Awesome.

    As I was chatting with my ladyfriend in the kitchen and the map of the galaxy was up on the screen she commented, “it’d be really cool if someone made a game where the objective was simply to explore the galaxy.” She was implying the *actual* Milky Way, based upon what we factually know about it. And yes, I would play the shiz out of that game, if someone made it. I said to her, well, out of the games I’ve played, this is probably the closest to that.

    There’s many star systems you can travel to in Mass Effect and each one of them has at least a few planets to check out, all with individual descriptions of the histories, inhabitants, and resources that make them noteworthy. Although fictional, it’s still very cool to browse through an imaginary atlas of the galaxy and search for random points of interest. And when you travel between the stars, you fly across 3D depictions of badass nebulae, like the horsehead. I really dig the music they play as you cruise among the stars; they used it in ME2 as well, and it sets the tone quite nicely.

    But yeah, it’s just rad seeing a slew of odd terrestrial planets with cratered surfaces, ringed gas giants being mined for their helium-3, random space stations, asteroid belts, and the occasional red giant with only shards of rocky debris in orbit. Indeed, the final showdown begins in such a system, where a small space station is easily concealed among the massive firery outbursts of a giant red star. These places are all imaginary, but it’s sweet to play a game that throws you into them. Of course our real galaxy is littered with fascinating star systems of all exotic types. Humankind won’t get to truly explore them for many epochs… but it is fascinating to submerge yourself in a fiction that conjures up all this imagery of what it must be like.

    #2: This Gun is Awesome.

    It’s called the M-13 Raptor and it’s described in the game as “a turian weapon developed for conflict on the low-gravity world Amar. Fighting at longer ranges than expected, the turians optimized a low-recoil, semi-automatic rifle with a scope, and issued it to their infantry, creating a hybrid weapon that was half assault-rifle and half sniper weapon.” Effectively, it’s a medium range weapon. I found it early in the game and combined it with a modification that slows down time by 15% when you look through the scope, which happens to be only 2 or 3x. I’ve played a whole lot of first person shooters in my time, and this gun fills a niche that is almost always left unoccupied: the medium range weapon, where a sniper scope is too powerful to track a fast-moving enemy, but that enemy isn’t yet close enough to make effective use of machine gun or shotgun. I wish every FPS had a gun like the Raptor in it. Fun.

    #3: Martin Sheen is Awesome.

    His voice, for the long-running character of “the Illusive Man” really lends a captivating touch. His character takes a page from the G-Man from Half-Life, or the Smoking Man from X-Files. It’s a device that just doesn’t get old: some powerful dude is behind the scenes pulling strings. He knows an untold number of secrets and he’s always one step ahead. He himself is a weakling, but his knowledge makes him immensely powerful. I’m a sucker for that character. Martin Sheen’s voice is perfect for the role. Also, I wish my computer desk looked like his: