Friday, October 23, 2009

Borderlands trick.

When you continue a game but not after a respawn all the assorted lootable containers are restocked. Pretty neat.

Another tip: When you run out of health you have a chance at a "second wind" if you kill something before the timer runs out.

Other things I like about "Borderlands" and other FPS/RPGs

One thing I really dig about the FPS/RPG crossover is the lack of JRPG random attack screens and thumb numbing menus. Being able to whup a target then and there, loot, and move on makes grinding easier.

I also like being able to avoid enemies that aren't worth the time fighting, in the case of "Borderlands" you can simply crush them under the wheels of your vehicle (once they are unlocked). The vehicle control is a little wonky at first but pretty smooth once you get used to it. They are more tank controls than traditional press A to go.

I'm about to enter the second section of the map, completed all missions in the first part and it took me longer to complete that part than all of Brutal Legend. Hopefully I'll be playing this for awhile. Even better is there are three other characters to play with.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Borderlands (2009) First Impressions

If only there was a post-apocalyptic, dystopian sci-fi, off-world Deadwood/Last Man Standing styled, with an excellent soundtrack, and inspired by kick-ass Heavy Metal artwork game...


Oh wait, Borderlands fits the bill perfectly. Developed by Gearbox Software out in Plano, TX (the same folks who did the Half Life series and several of the Brothers in Arms games) this game has some serious love put into it. What could have been a knock off of Fallout 3 is most certainly not. There's a different sensibility to Borderlands. Where Fallout 3 is just kind of a miserable, radiation soaked hell hole Borderlands is more of a "no guts, no glory, winner take all and the loser takes a dirt nap" experience. I like it. Don't get me wrong, Fallout 3 will always have a special place in my heart but for now I'm rolling with Borderlands.

From the get-go you can tell that Borderlands is not a place for panty-waists. The game takes place on the planet Pandora, home unknown xenos-technology and vast power and wealth for those with the testicular fortitude to get it. It's a fairly dusty enviro (so far) with arroyos and cutbacks. I like the terrain because you're actually rewarded (tactically not XP or loot) by taking your time to recon pays off. In the early stages of the game, without a silenced weapon, I get one shot before every hostile in the area comes screaming after me.

As far as hostiles go, there's a lot of them. Granted I haven't seen anything big and pants-soiling yet. From what I've seen in the trailer that's bound to happen sometime. There's a solid challenge level that matches character development. Bandits that were barely armed in the beginning are starting to sport rifles and power shields.

Another kind of kick-ass feature that I am not used is level restricted weapons. I like it, though it seems like there might be a bit of inventory juggling in the future. Apparently the game is very proud of the firepower it provides and each weapon has a slew of stats to compare and look at.

One thing I kind of was the lack of character customization but honestly that's because I'm spoiled by Bethesda games. There are four solid characters to choose from at the onset of the game, Soldier, Tank, Sniper, Stealth Melee(?). I went with sniper (plus he has a bitchin' "Bloodhawk") each character has several specific skills that can be developed. Mine has sniping, bloodhawk/treasure hunter, and gunslinger. As you level up you're awarded skill points which you distribute towards whatever you want (I'm treasure hunter klepto man in RPGs so you can guess what I went for). The nice thing is, at save points if you so desire you can redistribute your skill points. I imagine a sneaky trick would be to switch your skill points to tailor your character to certain missions (not that I would ever do such a thing). Granted resetting skill points costs you money and I don't know how prohibitive the cost is.

Thanks to Gearbox's experience with FPS the controls are smooth and intuitive. Like I've said before, this is important to me. If controls are counter-intuitive or if I need to be a freaking octopus to play (Section 8) then I'm very likely to stop playing after an hour. It's a good thing the controls are smooth because combat is fast. You don't have the VATS crutch in Borderlands and enemies tend to swarm if they have the chance. There are also nasty airborne critters on Pandora which make me thankful I have Bloodhawk around.

So yeah, so far so good. I haven't had the opportunity to play multiplayer co-op (up to three other players) so if some of you XBOXers need a new game to play we can mob up or we can go toe-to-toe in the Arena. DOOM DOOM DOOM! Sorry, I just had to throw that in there. Now, do I really have to go to school today? I feel a cold coming on...*cough*.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brutal Legend (2009) Campaign complete review

Well I wrapped up Brutal Legend and had a good time playing it. I laughed (a lot), I cried (a little), I banged my head (and got woozy).

When all is said and done the game is well worth playing; but not worth buying. I polished off the campaign in a little more than thirteen hours. I haven't gotten 100% complete and frankly there's not much incentive for me to do so (I'm at about 91%). There's not much replay value to speak of. The multiplayer modes aren't really my cup of tea anyway. The game just doesn't have legs.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Update on the 2009 Holiday Spice Mix.

Over the last few years I have doled out a fair amount of homemade spice mix. I have run through several names for this mix. Today I came up with a name:

"That Which Shall Not Be Named"

I don't mean to give it a rather diabolical or Voldemort-y title. Actually, in fact in my readings what I've created might be a good thing for kicking shadows, spirtes, ghouls and assorted peripatetic revenants in the ass.

I am going to work on a layered heat based around a foundation of spices. I might be adding a new spice to the mix depending on my reaction to it. What I hoping for is three or four layers:
  1. Flavor of the foundation, a grounding/primary taste
  2. Sharp notes of the first layer of heat
  3. Blast off
  4. Lingering afterburn, with any luck there will another pop of heat

Ultimately I want to have a result that's a bit hotter and meaner than my last efforts but still edible. Any input/questions/suggestions/issues will be more than welcome, as always.

More news to follow.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bhut Jolokia, the "ghost chile", the Dorset Naga, the world's hottest chile, many names one bite.

As I posted 03/02/07 "I gotta get me some of those" and after two years of not really searching at all I found out the fabled "ghost chile" is available for purchase in the United States for a fairly reasonable price (less than ten dollars an ounce). I bought mine from World Spice Merchants.

I have to admit I was worried about consuming the ghost chile. I had seen videos of people wolfing them down and looking like they were going to turn inside out, unless you are Anandita Dutta Tamuly. Yes I was having second thoughts, the dried chiles have the color and vague appearance of sun dried tomatoes. Indeed, they smelled like dried wickedness. I threw one pepper in the grinder and tried to avoid breathing the dust. I poured a saucer of olive oil and added about a gram of the ghost chile powder to it. Then I dunked a chunk of bread in and sampled.
In such a small amount the heat was certainly apparent but was certainly manageable. I noticed a tomato-esque flavor and another hint of something unidentifiable. The heat managed to fill my head, this may sound insane but I could feel the heat radiating through my head like a fever. However the gustatory rhinorrhea did not seriously kick in so I think I need to step up the amount I consume. I added some to my eggs this morning and got a good little kick.
My plan this weekend is to take several ghost chiles and add them to a chile mix I have sitting around (like everyone does right?). I believe that the ghost chile will bring an edge that I've been looking for. More news to follow.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Tale of Hephaistos (Fiction)

The Tale of Hephaistos
Hephaistos, lord of the forge, molder of earth, master of metal was not always thus. He was an immortal bastard, born from Hera’s bitter jealousy of Pallas Athena. Hephaistos at an early age showed a gift for shaping metal and stone into beauteous works. He made delightful trinkets and gifts for his fellow Olympians and his craft pleased them. Hera loved her son, who, even in his youth had a visage and form that seemed to be carved from the roots of Olympus. Zeus, however, resented the boy; his distrustful mind leading him to think that Hera, his wife, had taken a lover. On one occasion, while Olympus was still freshly hewn, during the time almighty Zeus, Lord of Olympians, was beginning his conflict with his own father Kronos, Zeus railed against Hera and questioned the origins of her son. When Hera’s acerbic tongue vexed Zeus mightily and he prepared to smite her. Hephaistos stood before her in defiance of Zeus’s wrath. For his impertinence Zeus turned his fury on Hephaistos, striking him down, and raining upon him many fearsome blows. Zeus caught the boy as he attempted to crawl away and cast Hephaistos from Mount Olympus, banishing him from the home of the gods.
Hephaistos’s fall was great, for Olympus towers far above the clouds, glancing against Ouranos’s realm. For three days Hephaistos fell through the firmament. None came to the aid of Hephaistos, for none wished to interfere with the path the Furies had set the youth upon. Hephaistos became a comet. Zeus’s ire had made him a javelin, and Hephaistos struck Gaea’s mantle with such force his immortal form was shattered and twisted.
Hephaistos’ broken body came to rest at the bottom of a volcano. He had landed far to the east of Olympus on the Isle of Lemnos. In the heat and smoke of the caldera his mind drifted far from his corporeal wreckage, soaring from Euxine to Axine, from Hyperborea to Cimmeria until a maternal voice, deep and rich with the ages, drew him back to Lemnos. It was the voice of Gaea and she nursed the youth back to health. With her molten blood she salved his pain, and reforged his body. But flesh and bone, even that of an immortal, does not mend like earth and he was left crooked. She brought her daughter, Rhea, Zeus’s mother (who fed Kronos the swaddled stone to save her son) to tend to him. Rhea in turn called to Lemnos; Thetis (daughter of Nereus, long before she was mother of Achilles by Peleus the mortal) and Eurynome, daughter of Oceanus, Mother of the Graces. These goddesses were to keep Hephaistos safe from harm.
Hera frantically sought Hephaistos during his recovery. Her servants across the lands spoke of a streak of light passing in the direction of Helios’s abode, visible even by day. It was the whim of the Fates that she came to rest on the Isle of Lemnos one sultry dusk. She took the form of a crone and entered a small village there. A mortal was tending to his cattle with delicate care and this pleased Hera, for the cow is one of her sacred beasts. She spoke to the man and complimented his herd. The mortal was courteous, in those times when Olympians walked among the mortals it was wiser to be kind to a stranger than not. He told Hera his cattle had been much disturbed by the eruption of a nearby volcano. They had gone off their feed and this rightfully troubled him. Hera’s curiosity was piqued by news of the eruption and thanked the herder, telling him his devotion to his stock pleased the Gods. She promised they would be strong and bring him much mortal praise. She then took her leave.
Hera approached the smoking volcano, feeling the earth tremble beneath her feet as if it withdrew from her tread. When she mounted the precipice and looked far below, she saw a form slumbering at the heart of the crater. Her immortal heart sang, only her son could slumber in such a place. As she made her way to him her visage darkened. The form was warped, the right side shifted higher than the left. Shoulders and spine had become a jagged ridge, as mountains form. Surely this creature could not be the son of dread Hera but she recognized Hephaistos’s face scarred and battered it may be. Indignation built within her, her frustration building to rage. Just when she was about to act, Rhea stepped from the billowing smoke to defend Hephaistos. Rhea admonished Hera, for how could any mother seek to strike down her own child? Hera found wisdom in Rhea’s words and calmed the storm within her. Bitterly Hera turned away from Hephaistos and told Rhea to care for the youth if she so desired for Hera would have nothing more to do him. Such an ugly, crippled creature had no place among the Olympians or as her son were Hera’s parting sentiments. While Hephaistos’s healing slumber continued Rhea set near him all the tools fitting the blacksmith of the gods. She had heard some whispers of the youth’s skills with stone and metal and hoped her gifts would bring him some consolation.
Another being was drawn to Lemnos, the Cyclops Ktistis. He was only guided by his curiosity, “What had caused Gaea to tremble so? What new foolishness had Titans and Olympians engaged in?” Ktistis travelled chthonic byways known only to him and emerged from the fiery depths of the volcano. The Cyclops spied a smith, alone at his forge, working with vigor. Ktistis saw that the craftsman, though misshapen of body, swung his hammer with grace. He also noted that the youth used more natural talent than skill in his labors. Ktistis told the youth as much. The Cyclops settled his massive bulk next to the forge as if it were a simple campfire. Hephaistos was taken aback by these remarks, for not even Zeus had insulted his works. Ktistis laughed, a sound like a rockslide, “Young Olympian, you know nothing; nothing of rock or stone, ore or gem. You create baubles, trinkets, simple amusements. To truly become master you must be able to breathe life itself into your works.” With these words Ktistis took a great block of stone in his hands and dipped them into the depths of the forge. He pulled forth the stone, pressed it between his palms, and breathed upon them. He unfurled his great calloused fingers and Hephaistos beheld the shape of a towering man. Ktistis set the stone man down and the statue, grinding at first, slowly stretched like Hermes before a race. The golem lumbered towards the forge and began to stoke the furnace. Hephaistos humbly said, “Will you teach me your art?”
Thus began a long friendship between the fallen immortal and the solitary Cyclops. Both felt a bond of kinship neither had known before. Together they began work on the Aethaleia, a forge the likes of which no creature had ever seen before. Under Ktistis’s tutelage he slowly learned to form living stone in the shape of men. These creatures kept the Aethaleia alive, mined the depths of Lemnos, and performed innumerous tasks tirelessly, under the direction of Hephaistos and Ktistis. Rhea, Thetis, and Eurynome kept watch over them and on rare occasions visited. For the most part Hephaistos and Ktistis worked together alone for many years, uncaring of any happenings beyond the workshop.
Hephaistos was as happy with his lot as he could be but sometimes his mind would turn nostalgic for the airy majesty of Olympus, for Helios’s luminescence, and the glamour of the Olympians themselves. He began to wonder if metal could be brought to life. Ktistis reasoned that it could but he knew not the delicacy such work would require. Hephaistos joked with his friend that perhaps his own skill creating baubles and trinkets would provide the delicacy needed.
Long did Hephaistos tinker and ponder. He created delicate metalwork that impressed even Ktistis. Hephaistos’s love of his craft went into each piece and his clever mind brought these pieces together. The elaborate puzzle pieces began to build a statue. It was that of a gold and bronze woman. Its beauty rivaled that of an Olympian goddess. Ktistis jibed, “Even the golem will be distracted by the gifts the Graces have bestowed upon your daughter.” Finally Hephaistos finished his task and with great tenderness turned the final screw into place. For some moments nothing happened and Ktistis looked at Hephaistos sadly, ready to offer condolences. Then both detected a subtle thrum in the air as the clockwork maiden awoke. She turned her gilded head towards Hephaistos and with a sweetly chiming voice said, “Good morning Father.” Hephaistos felt a deep swell of love and pride within himself and replied, “Good morning Iota.”
So it was that Hephaistos’s first daughter was born, bringing joy and light to the bottom of the inferno. Iota became Hephaistos’s right hand at the smithy. Ktistis himself loved Iota and taught her what craft he could. She could not breathe life into stone or metal for she herself did not possess anima. He would become her protector in the years to come, when the Titanomachy would reach its pinnacle, and even the peace of the calderic workshop would be shattered. But such a tale is for another time.

Bulfinch, Thomas. The Age of Fable. New York: Review of Reviews, 1913;, 2000. (September 11, 2009)
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. Ill. Steele Savage. Penguin Books USA Inc. 1969.
Hesiod. Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days, Shield. Trans. Athanassakis, Apostolos N. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore and London. 1983 pp. 27 line 571
Stewart, Michael. "Hephaistos", Greek Mythology: From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant. (November 14, 2005)

Trick 'r Treat (2008) Dir. Michael Dougherty

Halloween is fast approaching and October is the month where I have an excuse to watch nothing but horror movies-not that I ever really needed and excuse in the past or other times of the year. The problem with consuming a diet rich in horror is I quickly run out of good or even halfway decent movies. Since most of what is available is worse than what airs on the Sci-Fi channel, it is refreshing and happy inducing to find a worthwhile horror flick.

Trick r' Treat was directed by the guy who wrote Superman Returns not the lead singer of Soul Coughing. It's in the same vein of Creepshow, Tales From the Crypt, or any of the "several stories interwoven" horror gems from our past and it works. Trick 'r Treat was damned enjoyable. If I see it for sale I will purchase it. This is one of those movies that received no press, no backing and appeared on XBOX360 to download. It has an excellent cast from Dylan Baker to Brian Cox, Anna Paquin is Anna Paquin, and I was pleased to see Leslie Bibb looking all sexy (again).

I really enjoyed Trick 'r Treat through and through but here are some potential problems for you folks (especially if you are not fans of the Creepshow format). The movie is not a fright fest or an Asian horror knock off or splatter movie - there is gore but nothing I would cry about. There is an element of creepy cheese that might not be appreciated by some audiences. Trick 'r Treat is one of the better Halloween-themed movies I have seen in a looooong time. Definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday dinner: Casserole that you'll actually want to eat.

All right this is pretty simple, though it takes a little bit of time.

  • Three large chicken bone in breasts (they were on sale)
  • A couple of chunks of salt pork (or thick cut bacon)
  • One white onion chopped
  • A teaspoon of thyme
  • A punch of black pepper (fresh)
  • A punch of sea salt (or kosher)
  • Two cups of chicken stock
  • teaspoon of chile powder (cayanne will be fine)

Chop the onion and salt pork and brown in a cast iron or oven safe sautee pan. Add thyme, salt, pepper. Preheat oven to 400. Add chicken breast up, on the bone. Cook for about half an hour.

  • small can of V8
  • can of corn
  • a cup of water
  • a cup of sauce the chicken and everything cooked in
  • a half dozen leftover small corn muffins
  • one more chopped onion
  • a chopped tomato
  • a minced Serrano

Shred the chicken, peel off the skin. Put the shredded chicken in a casserole or oven safe pan. Mix in everything wet. When that's done crumble up the corn muffins and put on the top of the goop. Put everything in the oven again.

p.s. if you have cheese you can add that too.

A great tip for slow cooking on a Sunday: Time your cooking around doing the laundry. Kill two birds with one stone, right? Each cycle of the washer is about 20-30 minutes and the dryer is 45-60 minutes. Tada!

House of the Devil (2009) Dir. Ti West

House of the Devil (2009) is an excellent retro-style horror movie. Set in the 1980s, House of the Devil is a classic babysitter in peril movie. That's the long and short. I honestly feel that saying much about the movie takes away from the experience.

It's a perfect Halloween month movie. House of the Devil is creepy as hell, well shot, solidly acted, and satifyingly bloody without being a splatter flick. It's available for download on XBOX360 but still hasn't come out on netflix.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Abstract: A Brief Examination of Chillies in Pre-Columbian Societies

I intend to explore the cultural history of capsicum before 1492. Much of my preliminary research has involved secondary sources from a wide range of disciplines. Most of these sources deal with the dissemination of capsicum after 1492. Certainly this makes for a fascinating story but ignores thousands of years of pre-Columbian history and culture. Pre-Columbian societies used capsicum not only as victual or condiment but also as; a medicine with a wide range of curative properties, a monetary unit, a punishment for children, an integral part of religious ceremonies, and in some cases part of their creation myths. My primary focus will be centered upon pre-Columbian uses of capsicum not only in mythos and religious practices but the plant’s influence on customs and superstitions as well. Like maize, capsicum played a major role in many aspects of pre-Columbian life, from fertility practices to ritualized cannibalism.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Upcoming reviews and assorted good stuff!

After some downtime I have a bucket of reviews and goodness coming up this week including:

  • Brutal Legend demo
  • Wolfhound
  • Section 8
  • some books
  • chiles
  • something else


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Brutal Legend (2009)

In a dark realm, far from our own, an evil power reigns. That power has turned away from the sacred ways of heavy metal, perverting and twisting the land and enslaving hard rocking men and women. An awesome hero has emerged to combat this evil and free the land from suck. That hero is Eddie Riggs, a "roadie", and he will teach this realm to rock again.

I wasn't excited about Brutal Legend very much. A 360 game coming out in two weeks, based around Jack Black as roadie for a faux-metal band who gets transported into a metal world and has to save the blah blah blah...

I saw the demo popup for download on the 360 and was like, meh, whatever. Then I read the sidenotes...wait, what? It's a Tim Schafer game? Nanidesuka? Fucking sign me up!

I purchased and played a couple of hours last night. Brutal Legend is, for lack of a better phrase, totally fucking awesome. The sheer insanity of driving a hot rod through forests of chromed trees and across fields dotted with ancient symbols of heavy metal (one of my favorites so far are the enormous stone swords buried in the ground) is a blast. The dialogue is funny (Jack Black's style works really well in the game) and what little I've played of the story rocks. Brutal Legend is fun too - in that Tim Schafer "I can't believe this is going on" way.

The heavy metal soundtrack is insanely huge. Most of the bands I've never heard of. Many of the classics are represented: Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Manowar, etc. I also really dig the score, which shifts in tone depending on what region you are travelling through.

More input to follow once I have played more.

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