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    No Man’s Sky moves from Dream to Reality


    2016 - 07.27

    One year ago today I put up a post about a forthcoming game that I am very excited about called No Man’s Sky.  One year after that posting, the release of the game is now imminent on August 9th.  There’s been a lot of attention on this game and a lot of hype about the boundaries it promises to break, so before it drops and we all find out what surprises it truly holds I want to wax philosophical one last time.

    One of the comments I heard that made me pause the longest was a person saying they hadn’t been this excited for a videogame release since Super Mario Brothers 2.  Just let that sink in for a second. Super Mario Brothers 2 came out for the NES in 1988.  Almost 30 years ago.  Which also says something maybe about the age-group of people who are really fired up for this game, and why.

    If tomorrow there was a Call of Duty game released which attained perfect review scores and was praised for design of the highest caliber with exquisite attention to detail and peerless action, I doubt I’d play it.  Why?  It’s not because I’d doubt the reviews, it’s just because… I’ve “done that.”  Not only have I done it, I have done it so many times, that it’s been done, completely.  Done into dust.  I’m simply finished with doing that.  Over.  Finito.  This can happen with any genre within an art form.  Like heavy metal music.  There was a time in my life when I was totally into it and now the page has turned and I just can’t stomach any more.  Maybe it’s because you become so familiar with the common devices and the tropes of the genre that even what’s new doesn’t feel new anymore?  A new Metallica album?  I just can’t.  It might be new, but it sounds so familiar.  What’s new is no longer new.

    This kind of fatigue has set in for me, and a lot of other players my age when it comes to games.  On top of that, as we grow older life expands to fill your free time.  Obligations, other hobbies, working, or broadly speaking other parts of life that you want to do—they all fill in the gaps and free time spent playing games gets put onto a smaller and smaller portion of the backburner.  And yet we still never forget this medium because we experienced the magic that it can contain.  We have seen, and felt that alchemy.

    There was an excellent, far-reaching piece at Kotaku (which feels strange to say, given their recent track record) discussing why No Man’s Sky is the most necessary game of 2016—a great read even for the mildly interested.  While that author focuses on world events and social norms my own reasons are simpler.  Personally the last game I felt this excited for was Red Dead Redemption.  One, because it was a very underserved segment of the gaming market (westerns) and maybe two, because I was moving to Texas right as the game was coming out.  Red Dead promised to do something new: put you “there” in the wild west.  And when I played the game, that’s exactly the aspect which made it so great.  In Red Dead it’s all about the little moments between the action.  When you walk up to the edge of a cliff to take in the scenery and a hawk flies over your head with a searing call.  When you camp out in the wilderness and see a bold sunrise above the rocks in the distance.  When you pause your horse to get your bearings and some faint trumpets remind you that you’re in Mexican territory.

    Little moments of color like those are what made Red Dead.  Before its release skeptics were panning it as GTA with horses.  And sure, there were plenty of action scenes where that’s pretty much what it was, but it also had its own tone going on, much different than GTA’s.  I never wrote about Red Dead on here, mostly because it was so loved and so praised by the gaming community that to heap a bunch more words onto that bandwagon didn’t seem necessary.  But action isn’t what made Red Dead—in fact it could have had far less action with worse mechanics and still been practically just as good, because the main strength of the game stood on atmosphere.

    That’s the connection between Red Dead and No Man’s Sky: Atmosphere.  Moods.  For me personally, that’s the biggest unknown question about what it can provide.  With No Man’s Sky, the creators have deliberately withheld a ton of information about the game, even this close to launch.  Nowhere is this more glaringly obvious than the most recent trailers put out by Sony.  The whole premise of the “Fight” trailer is to showcase combat, yet we’re presented with 1 second quick-cuts showing just teasers.  Really?  Even with less than 20 days remaining until release we’re keeping things this close to the chest?  And the creators keep conflating the words galaxy and universe, in what I can only assume is either a running joke or more likely, a deliberate obfuscation of these terms to avoid any hint of what the “journey to the center” actually means.  This is in stark contrast to the information-rich, National Geographic documentary-style trailers that preceded the launch of RDR, which were some of the best gaming trailers I think I’ve ever seen.  This kind of secrecy right up to the 11th hour is maybe a red flag, but I’m going out on a limb and trust that Hello Games knows what they’re doing and just want to keep it fresh for individual players to discover.

    Putting all those questions aside, the thing I’m most excited for in this game are the vistas.  The dramatic scenery and strange discoveries.  And that is the very beating heart of the game, the core of what it promises to deliver.  I gotta say I’m knocked out by the fantastic aesthetics of the buildings and the spaceships in this game and I will definitely spend a long time hunting neat looking stuff for screenshots.  Procedural generation will also lend a strange sense of responsibility to actually “experience” your experience since everything you see will likely be yours and yours alone.  It’s guaranteed that new designs will always keep coming and something really rad will be truly rare to the point that a sweet looking spaceship might literally never be seen again, by you or anyone else!  Let alone something even harder to find like a neat cave or a cool nocturnal creature.  Given the sheer vastness of the NMS universe, even the most beautiful, enchanting planet you find will probably never be explored again.

    Which brings us back to the idea of “new.”  With that stupefying number of eighteen quintillion planets available to explore in this universe (Wait, galaxy? Universe?  Galaxy?), how many hours can we pour into No Man’s Sky before what’s new no longer feels new anymore?  How much exploring will it take before the feeling of predictability sets in, and I begin to think to myself okay, here’s another new Starfighter design that I’ve never seen… but I’ve pretty much seen that design before in a slightly different paintjob or with different wings.  Answering that question is perhaps the main journey of No Man’s Sky and getting there, almost with zero doubt, will be a fascinating, entertaining time whether it resides at the center of the 1st galaxy or my 5th.

    But backing up a step further, that journey isn’t the only factor in the longevity of NMS.  Obviously games don’t live or die by freshness, as the latest incarnation of Call of Duty 17 can attest.  Like in Red Dead, it’ll be the thousand little moments along the way.  The quiet moments between the action where you pause to look around, finding yourself transfixed by some calm scenery.  The sound of the wind as you stand atop a small hill on a planet of blue colored grasses.  The eerie stillness of a cratered moon, devoid of life.  The distant calls of three-headed dinosaur-like beasts moving in a herd on the horizon.  The feeling of relief as you find a cave to flee nocturnal predators on a planet where you explored until nightfall caught you off-guard, far away from your ship.  And the feeling of safety as you finally return to your ship, your spacefaring horse of steel, chock full of goodies you snagged on a dangerous planet, ready to escape to the nearest space station and cash in.  These moments are my hopes for the game.  We’ll see if I can find them among—without hyperbole—the largest explorable universe the medium of video gaming has ever produced.

    Pre-Release Hype: No Man’s Sky


    2015 - 07.27

    I just want to go on official record as having raised my alert status to super-mega-stoked for this PC/PS4 game which might get released later this year called “No Man’s Sky.” For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, the game is a sandbox/exploration game where you begin on a generic planet and start hunting for resources. Eventually you find a weapon and a ship, which frees you up to either explore more of the planet… or leave and go find another planet to explore. It is an incredibly open concept just at this level, but here’s the kicker: everything in the game is procedurally generated. That loosely means that your computer is “inventing” everything on-screen as you go. It has a broad set of rules regarding what types of air/plants/animals/stuff should appear on a given planet which is situated a given distance from its star, but that’s it. No one has “designed” these worlds–they are the output of a complex mathematical system.

    The information (and the names of all the things you encounter) are cataloged on a central database that all the other players are feeding into, so effectively a whole universe (yes, with multiple galaxies) is being created/populated by the players of this game as they explore it. Hooooo. I mean, there’s an idea that’s never been done before in gaming, at least not on this level. It’s a heady concept and I’m captivated by the idea.  And the scale of it all is preposterous: the creators estimate the universe contains 18 quintillion planets.  That’s 18,000,000,000,000,000,000… and no that’s not a typo.

    At this stage there’s still a lot which is unknown about how the gameplay will flow, but it seems heavily influenced by the game Journey… a sparsely populated but strikingly beautiful landscape that appeals to explorers and open-world fans. That’s me! I eagerly await this one. There’s a lot of great videos including long gameplay ones if you search on youtube but I really like this one for the pure excitement value:

     

     

    You Might Be Cool. But You’ll Never Be ‘Personal Disco Component’-Equipped Cool.


    2013 - 07.02

    So recently I was looking to possibly purchase a boombox and, like I always do, I had to go research this matter and determine what is the coolest possible boombox as a point from which to work backwards in determining my final choice.  And I totally found the coolest boombox.  Ever.  In world history.  It’s this:

    image

    Texas 2-Step Sessions Pt.Deux …in one pic


    2013 - 06.22

    Recently had a music making electronic power session with two buddies which was a combination of fun, educating, inspiring, and amusing.  We worked with Propellerheads Reason 6.5 and two keyboard midi controllers, it was a nice setup for electronic composing.  Below is a picture of the trio in action, overlaid with a thor synthesizer and the pattern from the tapestry on the wall (visible in the mirror); both of those were other photos I took that night.  I want to get some finished audio together and post that up too.  More on that later…

    These were killing me Friday night


    2012 - 11.05

    … and on a related note, this is the kind of thing I sit laughing about on my Friday nights.  In my defense, it was a low-key weekend.

    So perhaps my masochistic history of obtaining a math minor despite being only minor-ly good at math has primed me for the punchlines herein, but I was laughing so. hard. at these:

    And one more, just for kicks:

    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.

    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!

    Let’s Overanalyze: The Hubbell & Hudson Lobster Club Sandwich


    2012 - 06.19

    It’s no secret that I’m a fiend for an esoteric sandwich.  I’ve been a regular sandwich-devotee my whole life and eventually you just get to a point where something out of the ordinary seems appealing.  Some of the more atypical combinations I’ve enjoyed would include a turkey-gorgonzola-pear, a chicken-apples-honey-mustard, and a turkey-brie-blackberry-jam.  That’s right.  I gets down on those funky combinations.

    There’s a great grocery store/bistro north of Houston called Hubbell & Hudson where we’ve been frequenting the weekend brunch for quite some time now.  Their menu runs the gamut between ‘items and pricing that might be appealing to any schmoe who walks in the door’ and totally goes out into the netherworld of ‘items and pricing that you’d need to be ultrasnooty and/or ultrarich to do anything but laugh at’.  Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum lies the entree in question here, one “lobster club” sandwich for $18.

    You may be thinking, jeez, eighteen bucks for a sandwich, that’s kind of a lot.  Yes.  Yes it is.  You’d totally be right to think that.  I’ve been eyeing this thing up for the better part of a year now, wondering what it might be like.  The sandwich pedant in me was thoroughly intrigued.  Yet every Saturday that finds us in a booth listening to the horn sections of the Rat Pack, I can never resist breakfast: french toast with bananas & blueberries in a sweet rum sauce, or the traditional eggs/bacon/potatoes done-up food-geek style.  It’s a masterfully crafted breakfast that comes in at around $30 for two people, which is next-to-impossible to pass up.

    However last weekend my girl and I went out to a Saturday morning matinee showing of the Beatles Yellow Submarine movie, which as an aside was super-duper-badass to see in a movie theater.  They had the sound thumping and the quality was great-to-excellent.  Seeing the newly-remastered version in high-def on a theater screen was worth about 5 to 10 times the $5 matinee ticket price.  I think this may be a blu-ray purchase in the future–but I digress back to the sandwiches–we thusly arrived at Hubbell & Hudson having been awake for a few hours already, as opposed to my usual wake-up, roll-over, drive to breakfast routine.  “This is it, it’s today or never,” I said.

     

    The sandwich arrived panini-style pressed, built out of bacon, avocado, arugula, and maine lobster meat.  Spread onto opposing halves of the bakery bread there was both “plugra butter” whatever that is, and also chipotle aioli.  Those two sauces blended together as a pleasing duet.  As accoutrements, there was a stack of what I’d call “seasoned potatoe wedges”, but the menu opaquely listed as “frites”.  From the waiter I requested either mayo or ranch for frite dippin duty and happily received both.  In the presence of both choices I typically go for ranch, but their mayo was mighty tasty.  In typical H&H fashion, I think it was not plain-old-mayo but probably like “dijon-scallion-reduction-mayonaise” or something.  They can never just leave well enough alone, and that’s part of why we like them.

    I’m not sure I can even recall the last time I had lobster, so that in itself was something of a treat.  I ate the sandwich slow, savoring this outlandish, impractical creation.  It only took a few bites to reach an assessment: this is what a full $18 tastes like.  H&H does bacon correct; crisp and smokey, just crunchy but not burnt.  The avocado, a fruit notoriously fickle and often bland, had flavor.  The arugula broke the boring mold of lettuce–that sandwich equivalent of celery (flavorless, pointless stuff that makes noise when you eat it).  And the lobster itself was quite excellent.  Still cold too, in spite of the hot panini imprint on the loaf surrounding it.  Two long toothpicks thankfully held this whole affair together as I methodically devoured.

    image

    So it was an expensive sandwich, sure, but not an overpriced one–there was genuinely $18 worth of ingredients and flavor present and accounted for here.  That’s unlike what that you get from say, Murphy’s Deli or Schlotzkis or any of those so-called “premium” shops, where you end up paying like $9-12 for lunch and yeah the sandwich is good, but be real; there’s no way it’s $12 of goodness.  That, and it really wouldn’t be tough at all to hit up the grocery store and craft a sandwich at home that could blow the doors off those, probably for much less money if you calculated the cost of ingredients-per-sandwich.

    The lobster club, on the other hand, sits in a different category.  If you tried to reproduce this configuration at home, it’s doubtful you could do it for an equivalent price OR even with equivalent quality, which is the true measure of its worth.  Would I get it again?  Possibly in a few months if I could resist the allure of H&H breakfast.  Would I recommend it?  Unequivocally.  While ostensibly intended for aristocracy, it’s not out of reach for the working man who’s craving something special, and having thusly invested his funds, none shall be disappointed in the craftsmanship and component quality behind this superb meal.

    Verdict: 9/10

    Playing the Mario banner


    2012 - 04.09

    So as some of you may have noticed, there’s a new banner which randomly appears on the desktop version of this site with a mario theme. I built it using the level editor in Super Mario X, and oh man, it’s actually really hard. Have a look at the below video of me dying once, then trying again and beating it. What you don’t see are the 10 takes before this one where I screwed up and died repeatedly. SHEESH!