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  • Archive for August, 2012

    Games I Like: 3D Dot Game Heroes

    2012 - 08.29

    For whatever reason, it seems like 2012 has been a drought when it comes to awesome new videogames. There just really hasn’t been much that’s caught my eye. Maybe there are newer titles coming out that I’d be into but I’m simply unaware of them. In any event, I’m using this stretch to go backwards in time and play some of the sweet titles that got glossed over. One of these gems worth experiencing is 3D Dot Game Heroes.

    Basically it’s Zelda in 3D, built using very retro 8-bit looking blocks called voxels. This blatent homage is a continual theme throughout the game and all the classic tropes are here; boomerang, bombs, bows & arrows, empty bottles & potions, temples with small keys & boss keys, maddening puzzles, harsh punishments for mid-dungeon screw-ups, and yes, chickens……  when my buddy Vincent saw the game he quipped “man, these guys don’t mess around when they rip off Zelda, do they?”  No they do not.

    This game came out in 2010 and despite the fact that I bought it immediately upon release, I never completed it, thanks to a series of other awesome games which came out right around the same time. That, and this game is, in every single sense, unabashedly old-school; like those retro Nintendo games, when you hit a wall, the game’s not going to hold your hand until you figure it out. You’re on your own to solve the puzzle, or retrace your steps through a massive dungeon in order to find that one key you just didn’t notice.  I originally got stuck somewhere in the aqua temple and as there were no walkthroughs at the time, I hit the wall, got frustrated, and said screw this, I’ve got twenty other awesome games to play right now. As much as I am harping on this thing for its occasional opacity, there is a lot to love here. Especially now that you can just look up the answer online if you get really stuck.

    Most obvious, the art style is super duper hip. There is a super cool effect anytime you defeat an enemy where they disintegrate into a bunch of little 3D pixels; that never gets old.  The game also uses simulated depth of field extensively and shamelessly, to great effect I think.  I would love to see more titles that used this same retro/8-bit graphical approach.  3D Dot Game Heroes is a fascinating manifestation of that style. It’s fun to simply traverse the map, fighting minor baddies and scooping up coins from the bushes.  Just like the Zeldas of yore, there’s a whole huge inventory to fill and many dungeons to conquer.  Some of them are no joke.  If you want to dig even deeper into it, there’s a fair amount of collectibles and side quests too. The game has a grueling 24 different swords in it. I think I might make an effort to gather up some of the oddities although going for 100% completion here is out of the question for me.

    One immediately noticeable thing about 3DDGH is that it features comically oversize swords, parodied to hilarious extent in their pre-release trailer for the game called natural sword enhancement.  Pfffff.  A unique game mechanic that goes along with this, is the fact that your sword is only huge (and only has it’s unique abilities) when you have 100% health.  That strongly encourages the player to aggressively seek health (apples) and try to use the shield a lot, even when fighting minor enemies.

    In brief, it’s like a trip down memory lane, only with some 3-dimensional twist to it that breathes in a new life to the retro mileu. It’s also sprinkled liberally with old school gaming references and intentional bad translations which add to the quirky humor of it all. Definitely an experience worth the investment of several evenings’ worth of free time, and one that probably got glossed over in a sea of AAA releases. If you’ve got fond memories of Zelda, pick this one up, you will not be disappointed!

    Neil Armstrong,1930-2012

    2012 - 08.26

    The first man to walk on the moon died yesterday.  That’s a guy whose name will be printed in history books as long as humankind ever has them.

    Will there come a time when all people who’ve walked on the face of another world are no longer alive?  That’s a sad thought.  I hope that we get some fresh boots back into deep space sooner than later.  Armstrong would certainly want it no other way…

    “The world is turning pages, while I am just sitting here”

    2012 - 08.19

    Been a while since the last post; got a few in the works, but you know, logjams.

    Anyway, check out this Tama Impala song from their next album due in October.  Their first album, Innerspeaker, was so damn good that I really had very low hopes their new album could live up to the same level.  This tune does give me hope though.  Even if the rest of the album is throwaway, this tune is a huge number.  With some great lyrics that are both whimsical and deep in the same breath…


    I’m a sucker for that long, drawn-out, epic ending.  Sort of like “Where the River Goes” by Stone Temple Pilots, off that landmark album, Core.

    Pacific Coast Extension model railroading update

    2012 - 08.12

    So as I mentioned in my first posting, when I built my railroad, I immediately started to wonder if I hadn’t set the layout height too low. After about a week of watching the trains I decided that yeah, I underestimated where a good eye-level height should be. After cutting up a good amount of 2x4s, the new layout height is 39.5” above the floor, which is 9.5” above where it used to be. That might not sound like a big difference, but in person it has much better visual impact than it did before. I also reconfigured the benchwork on the far left side so that I can cut out a large circular area for access to the staging areas. That was a lot of work. Like a complex switch engine maneuver though, sometimes you have to go backward before you can go forward.

    That’s a perfect example of the disadvantages of planning as you go: things you just didn’t think about pop up and force you to backtrack. The upswing though is that my concept of the layout design is strengthened greatly by being able to SEE how each area looks and feels in the room. I’ve decided to remove the reversing loop on the far right side entirely, in favor of a longer one that will be partially underground on the yet-to-be-built section that will run along the ledge over the living room (this layout’s on the 2nd floor). Once that section goes in, the loop will get ripped out. Removing that loop will add a lot of extra elbow room for the computer desk and make the room feel more spacious. That is a consideration as well: I like the room to feel “open”, and cramming in too much railroad will ruin that sense of space.

    Another recent improvement is the addition of a curved section right in the center. This was more inevitability than sweet revelation, but this new piece will facilitate a larger staging area and better track flow at the “throat” of the yard. Next up I need to improve the benchwork at the center and start laying down rubber sound deadening to make the tracks permanent.

    There have also been two really sweet requisitions in the last few weeks: one, a set of Northern Pacific passenger cars which I’m really stoked about! They’re going to need some custom decals added to make them into a legit North Coast Limited train. I also plan to add the supplied handgrabs (maybe not ALL of them, as it’s tedious work) and airbrush just the sides with high-gloss finish to make them look like they’re freshly washed. I might try lightly weathering the trucks and underbody as well. One thing I noticed about these new cars is that they roll super-duper freely. I thought my Hiawatha cars were good, but man these things will move if you blow at them! This gross discrepancy in the coefficient of model railroading static friction has led me to realize… that the Hiawatha cars are in dire need of a truck cleaning! :O I think 99% isopropyl and a reapplication of Labelle’s #108 oil ought to do it.

    And the second thing, which is so fricking cool that it’s going to get its own post later, is…… the acquisition of a new Milwakee Road electric Bi-polar locomotive!! #E-2 in the maroon stripe scheme. After this one, all I’m missing from the MTH plastic production run (in any sort of desirable paint scheme at least) is the E-3. I’m quite excited to be adding this guy to the engine roster. He’s going to see a lot of action on the pike. All the hell aboard baby!

    But having an awesome railroad isn’t all about just buying up all the right trains.  It’s much more about making things.  Like building really awesome (and sometimes also hard) models!  If I want to run the Milwaukee Road’s “XL Special” freight, I’m going to need some tri-level auto racks to make her authentic.  Accurail makes a kit to build these things yourself and I just completed my first one this weekend.  I think it came out pretty good, although it still needs a Milwaukee badge yet.  Here it is, hanging out in the totally-empty staging area:

    Judge it against a photo of the real thing:

    Mine could use the railing along the top, and some of those cross-braces too.  Pretty decent as-is though.  I’m feeling happy.

    And–AND–this weekend I got into it with my new dual action airbrush from the cheap-tool wonderland that is Harbor Freight…  The Viaduct at Mine Creek now has paint.  Lookout people.  More on that to come….

    The Plastic Fan Appreciation Society Strikes Back! – aka “In Which I Almost Win The 2012 Nobel Prize In Rhyming But Get Disqualified For Taiwanese Mispronunciation”

    2012 - 08.07

    So feast yo eyes on this, fellow fan enthusiasts: The Kuo Horng 12″ oscillating desk fan, in the most arresting color scheme of green & grey:

    Them Hardcore Metal Fan Loverz are gonna hate, but I think this fan is totally radish. Ahh. It’s like a metaphorical cool breeze for my eyes and then like an actual real-life cool breeze for my airhairs. Because actual real-life cool breezes sometimes don’t feel so good on your eyeballs so that’s why I had to clarify by saying it that way.

    I’m going to call her GG for green & grey, since I don’t actually know how to pronounce “Horng”. (woah, holy shit you guys, I think I might have just discovered a word that rhymes with “Orange”!! …Wait, no, that can’t be how you say it, false alarm.) I think this might be my new favorite fan, at least stylistically. Functionally, my Dayton 12″ at the office is the MVP. That guy has some serious responsibilties, keeping me cool throughout the 9-5 workday, particularly when there is a garage door nearby which is frequently left open to the searing Texas summer heat. It’s also astonishingly quiet too, which is great for a fan that you have to sit and listen to all day long. A loud fan can make you feel like you’re getting yelled at, my girlfriend tells me. Something the Dayton made me realize though, is that 12″ is really the ideal size for a desk fan.

    I’ve got a XL-sized 16″ Galaxy which works the night-shift in the bedroom, keeping me and my lady cool as we snooze. And man, that thing’s got some oomph–no joke! I think I can count the times over the last year that I’ve had it on medium speed on one hand. (And no, I will not be providing an explanation for why such excessive fan power was required on those occasions. Use your imagination. Or scratch that, maybe don’t.) A 16″ fan is really only necessary for someplace where you need airflow that would compete with a strong box fan, like in a garage or a workshop. Or maybe the Galaxy is just that much of a badass? In any event, I think I’ve solved the cosmic riddle, that 12″ is just the right balance between noise, size, and power.

    Through my previous post(s) about the dangers and/or the awesomeness of fan collecting, I was made aware of the svelte stylings of the Taiwan-based plastic fan manufacturer Kuo Horng. Their simple retro designs with hip’n’with-it looking speed controls caught my eye. Those monochrome lines in various colors have a retro-fetishizing sheen to them that appeals to me somehow. It’s like something from the 70s that never went out of style.

    And of course it goes without saying that any fan that uses piano keys for speed control is automatically super sweet. Or as the kids like to say, über diggity-dank. Every time I press them, either in the office or at home, I just enjoy the simple act of setting the motor to a different speed. The click of the mechanism as it responds to your finger, the snap of the adjacent key popping back up again, all subtly reminiscent of an old-school tape recorder from your childhood–it’s an intrinsically satisfying thing. Sometimes I reach back and change the speed of the fan just for the sake of pressing the keys. (Really!) Maybe it’s some odd type of nostalgia or the plain enjoyment of something mechanical in these days of capacitive touchscreens and digital everything.

    So GG is sort of taking over main fan duty in the computer/model train room. There’s a ceiling fan in there, which is pretty effective, but it’s also somewhat noisy, so I find myself opting for the oscillating fan instead, especially when I’m playing records. That, and I also find the oscillation refreshing, the way it hits you with a breeze which goes away for a moment and then returns, over and over. GG does make some quiet grinding and whirring when you first fire her up, but after maybe 5-10 minutes she gets into the groove and purrs along pretty much silently. I also have some downward angle going right now, which is probably partially accountable for the rougher startup. In my experience it seems like oscillating fans tend to prefer moving on a level axis, rather than aiming up or down where they start making more odd noises.

    In any event, this fan is a welcome addition to my arsenal (see how I avoided calling it a collection there?) and totally an enabler in my dedication to living the ‘cool’ lifestyle here in hot Texas. It’s not a household appliance people, it’s a way of life. (Troof.) I will admit that I do sort of wish the blade itself was a nice translucent green, the same way my Dayton and Galaxy have transparent blue blades. A nice “kelly” green too, not a lime or a forest green. So maybe my quest for the ruthlessly, absolutely perfect oscillating desk fan isn’t fully complete yet, but I will say the main chassis on GG is, for my twenty-eight buckaroos including shipping (take that you metal fiends) about as cool as it gets. I think if I were able to find a green blader and swap them out, we might have such a dense singularity of plastic fan stylishness that it might have, in the words of the G-Man, ‘unforseen consequnces’….

    Count it!

    And on the fans taaaaag, JB OUT!

    The Carl Sagan Most-Awesome-GIF-EVAR runner up

    2012 - 08.05

    He’s back, with another #1 summer jam! That’s right kids, it’s the Carl Sagan “deal with it” remix. Who could do it cooler, I ask? Obviously, no one.

    For obvs, guys. Obvs.