Monday, December 24, 2012

Recipe and food schtuff: Holiday edition 1

Oh the holidays,  I'm so glad I don't work retail anymore.  People always ask me, "Why are you such a Scrooge?"  I usually reply, "You ever work in a place where Christmas is a corporate shill nightmare and Christmas music is on repeat for eight hours a day and you go home and dream of Christmas merchandise and 'White Christmas' now sounds like a funeral dirge?"  And then the nice man in the white coat with a net comes and gives a ride back to Happydale.

The real upside to the holidays is food (and being with people you don't want to sell into white slavery).  Now we all know that I've been known to make a turkey or ham at random but for the holidays I've been known to do something different.  Last year I spent it with friends; they made goose and I did a pot roast (that cooked at about 275 for over four hours).  This year they're doing another goose and since it's going to be a bigger affair than the three of us gorging ourselves like ticks we decided to kick it up a notch.  Hence an eleven pound goose and an eleven pound standing rib roast.  Ooo, fancy pantsy you say?  Yeah, kind of better than turkey and ham but we shop smart and got hella good deals.

I've never made a goose.  Personally that's all Amazonbutterfly's domain and seems to require a level of elbow grease I'm not normally willing to put forth.  I'm doing the standing rib roast.  Kids, let me tell you a secret.  Ready?  It's one of the easiest things you will ever make.  Seriously, it's easier than turkey.  Sure you can do all kinds of fancy stuff and hibbity jibbity but this is one of those dishes where simplicity reigns.  350 @ 15 minutes per pound.  Whilst preheating the oven liberally apply (a.k.a. coat that sucker) fresh black pepper and kosher salt (why do you even own "table" salt?).  Put roast in sufficiently large pan.  Put pan containing roast in oven.  Set timer (easy math?  one hour = four pounds).  Timer goes off, take stuff out of oven, let rest fifteen minutes.  Tada, you just made a big ass fancy roast.

It's one of the things I grew up eating on Christmas and my father would sometimes add herbs to the rub and I might have except I was out of everything except dill.  I might have used #42 but I'm cooking for a mixed crowd so I didn't want to throw anyone off.  This is one of those dishes where the meat itself is the main attraction and should not require bells or whistles.

The tricky part for me is going to be making gravy because I never make gravy.  I know it's relatively easy, I just never do it.

I am also going to make Yorkshire pudding because, well, that's what one does with a proper roast.  It's pretty simple and cooks while the roast is setting.  It's basically egg, milk, flour, salt, pepper, and roast drippings mixed and baked.  I frigging love the stuff.  Last night I prepped all the dry ingredients (and added a few dashes of herbs de provence for fun) so I wouldn't have to monkey with them today.  Lookit me bein teh smrts.

So yeah, that's the long and short.  Hopefully everything turns out okay.  There will probably be some pictures.

Hope that all of are well and safe and relatively not miserable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oh look another EVE post. Mining and space trucking.

After a six month hiatus from the the harsh mistress that is EVE Online I shuffled back meekly.  I've noticed the emerging pattern of playing for a few months and then taking a few months off and coming back.  It's usually after an update to the game.  Retribution launched 12/04/12 with a wide range of tweaks to cruisers, frigates, and destroyers.  They also added the Venture, an ORE mining frigate.

Pretty friggin sweet for an entry level miner like myself.

I love the Venture for a number of reasons.  I never really gave mining a chance because I never wanted to input the effort to getting a strip miner or exhumer.  Plus big ass mining ships are about as manuverable as a turd with a sail.  The Venture is a peppy little bastard that mines about 5000m3 ore with current crappy skills in about ten minutes (levelling mining skills is pretty quick compared to some of the wait times I have for LV drones and ships).  With refining and yadda yadda I can make roughly ten million isk per hour.  Not that I particularly need the money right now but money is nice.  Mining ain't exactly a thrilling gig but it's a nice change of pace from regular carebearing.  

The call of nullsec is something I've ignored since my my third week of play (06/13/2011) but since I've been thinking about getting into interstellar shipping and smuggling for something fun and new to do (without mucking into pvp).  OK, fine I want the Millenium Falcon.  There, I said it.  The forums have some interesting info about how to take down Blockade Runners and I found a good article comparing builds.  Mabrick wrote an interesting article about the need for overhauling haulers

I've expanded my usual AO since stumbling across a small population system kind of off the beaten path.  It's a nice change of pace and allows for an expansion of resources without a risky commitment.  With a longer trade route I'm considering setting up permanent way stations and start preparing to get into nullsec or at least setting up a post near a high risk area.
Fly safe and remember to d-scan always.

1000th Post!

One thousand posts since 2007!  A lot has happened in the last five years.  Thanks for reading and putting up with my bullshit.  Here's to a thousand more!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

999.9: Settings and set pieces I love in video games

I was just reading some articles about level design theory and settings and some technical stuff and I started thinking about some of my favorite games and settings.  Figured I'd do a list of stuff I like.  Feel free to add anything I forgot:

  •  The Hitman series has some of the best - and most memorable - levels I can think of from the Meat King's Slaughterhouse to the Opera to a vast Russian airbase.  The motel sequence in Absolution was the best part of the entire game and really the key reason to playing it all.  
  • Libraries.  I love libraries in RL and in  games just as much, even if it isn't during an action sequence.  In any RPG I'll head towards libraries ASAP and check every shelf for books and loots.
  • Museums.  Fallout 3, GTA IV, Stranglehold, and Arkham City all had excellent museum levels.  Like libraries I'll scour the place for loot and hidden objects.
  • Cities and urban environments.  
  • Casinos - because blowing up slot machines and taking cover behind flipped over blackjack tables is fun (Rainbow 6: Vegas has the best Vegas levels...uh...hence...uh...)
  • Large scale bridge battles.  
  • Vaults in Fallout 3 and Vegas.  Like dungeons but with less stupid nature involved.
  • The final techno-dungeon in Final Fantasy VI.
  • The "San Francisco" level of War of the Monsters.
  • Cyberpunk.  All of it.
  • Though I've yet to encounter one: the hive cities of Warhammer 40K.  I've never understood why there wasn't a truly epic Necromunda RPG.  The possibilities of awesome are limitless.
  • For bombed out city sniper-y goodness Sniper Elite takes the cake.  Sure the game could hate you, especially if you ramp up the difficultly but man there was intense action involved.
  • The Dark World in Legend of Zelda for the SNES.
  • Vice City.  All of it.
  • The mansion at the end of Manhunt.
  • The first Metroid.
  • The castle in Ico.
  • LV-426.
  • London in The Getaway.  I actually dug out a street map of London to help me get around.  The game had some control and play issues and ended up with some shitty missions at the end but damn it was fun to drive around.
  • The office buildings in Shadowrun (SNES).  Man that was awesome fun.
  • Arkham Asylum was just brilliantly designed.
  • The Brooklyn level of Freedom Fighters.
  • Trench warfare
  • The Black Deep (?) in Skyrim was pretty frigging epic.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  Talk about claustrophobic and nightmarish.
  • Silent Hill 2 & 3.
  • The Secret World's level design is amazing, too bad the game sucked.  
  • Red Dead Redemption's Mexico.
  • The funhouse in Max Payne 2.
Now for where I don't need to go anymore:
  • Laboratories
  • The fucking jungle, except in Far Cry 2.
  • Warehouses
  • Mining sites
  • I'm getting tired of caverns and caverny dungeons.  Yes, I realize that in fantasy RPGs baddies would live in caverns, caves, etc but jeez do they have to be so drab?  And why are there torches and fires lit everywhere - even if the denizens would have no need for any light?  And where are the bioluminescents?  Yes, Skyrim had them but there were also plenty of bland Draugur sites too.
  • Brown and grey palettes are staples.  I know, I know destroyed areas are burned out and charred and dirty but do the levels need to look so flat and rote?  Ico and Shadow of Colossus both had limited palettes but there was a richness to them, a depth.
  • The sticks.  I'm looking at you GTA: SA.
  • Kashyyk
  • Raccoon City

Coming soon - "What do you mean I can't turn Auto Equip off?", "I just ran out of space in inventory.  Why the fuck can't I have a pack horse or a wagon?", "How hard is it for me to bring all my followers with me?  Just scale up the difficulty!"*

*This last whine has been a long standing complaint of mine since playing Final Fantasy VI.  In that game you broke your characters into teams and at many points in the game it worked brilliantly.  In the stunningly good Suikoden III you built a town out of followers (108!) found throughout the game and multiple story arcs but you could only sally forth with a few - most of the time (this game remains in my top five favorite RPGs of all time).  I'd love to see a game in which you amass individual followers and build an army and by the end of the game, facing the big bad and his legions of forces you command your own large force (with friendly NPC perma-death - Mass Effect did feature this and I think it's one of the strongest elements to the game).  How frigging epic would that be?  Lately I very rarely care about companions or what their story is, a large number of helper monkeys are just Smitty to me.  "Smitty carry this shit."  "Smitty be a bullet magnet."  "Jesus, Smitty get the fuck out of the way!  I'm sniping ova 'ere!  Dumb shit!"  "Smitty, if you don't get get this jeep and man the .50 I'm gonna run over your fingers and then beat you for not playin' 'Chopsticks'!"  "Damn it Smitty!  I shoulda mailed it to the Marx Brothers!"      

999.8 "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) dir Christopher Nolan

I like Batman, you like Batman, we all like Batman.  I really dug The Dark Knight despite the fact it spawned a new generation of Joker dorks (which I would have gone apeshit for if I was in high school, hell I might even have bought a purple velvet coat) rabbiting, "Why so serious?"  I didn't really jump on the hype-wagon for The Dark Knight Rises.  I knew I would see it eventually but didn't make an effort to see it in the theater. 

After watching it last night I am slightly non-plussed.  While I am a fan of the direction Nolan took the series (though I didn't particularly like Batman Begins) this latest installment came off as sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Not so say I didn't enjoy elements of it or I failed to get swept up in some of the action and imagery of the film but all in all, I doubt I'll be seeing it again unless it's on at someone's house.

I am under the impression that either I know too little about this chapter of Batman lore or I know just enough to get me into trouble.  I read the "Knightfall" arc and enjoyed it (what can I say?  I like it when superheroes get smashed into paste) but I don't recall Bane being part of the League of Shadows or his story besides being an insane bad-ass all jacked up on combat drugs.  Why was there no real explanation of Bane's mask?  Am I just stupid or did his story arc just seem kind of disjointed?  There were sections of the second half of the movie where I was pulled out of the movie with thoughts of, "Huh?  Meh, fuck it.  Bay-splosions!"  Why was this iconic moment so lacklustre in the movie?

Batman #497 by Doug Moench and Jim Aparo

Hell I think I would watch "Knightfall" and "Batman Learns to Walk Again" as a two-parter.  Could you imagine how people would have reacted if Rises had ended that way?  It would warp their fragile little minds.

Oh well, a lot of people liked it.  Just wasn't my cup of tea.  I'm gonna see if I still have some of the "Broken Bat" comics. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

999.7: Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft Montreal) 2012

I just finished Far Cry 3.  Now I'm really tempted to rip this game a new one but I'm also trying to separate my love of Far Cry 2 from the equation.  It's not bad game and it weren't a Far Cry game I think I'd be more inclined to like it, maybe.  Frankly I'm wishing I had a copy of Just Cause 2 for some jungle mayhem.

I reckon I'll break this down into a list of good and bad like I normally do.


  • Playing an FPS that has color in it.  Not the cartoon-y mayhem of the Borderlands series but lots of lush greens, beautiful island paradise vistas, etc etc instead of the standard Soviet-Bloc greys and browns most FPS have these days.
  • Combat is fast and furious.
  • A couple of missions were white-knuckle fun.
  • Hostile wildlife including: sharks, bears, tigers, cassowaries.  There's a big hunting component to the first half of the game (hunt and skin beasties then craft better gear).
  • The first half of the game was a lot of fun.
  • Vaas is an amazing villain, one of my favorites in a long time.  He's actually kind of frightening.
  • The game has a strong exploration component with solid rewards.
  • Liberating outposts is the high point of the game (actually land control is one of my favorite aspects of games).  
  • Weapon control is smooth and responsive.  
  • Stealth can be a deciding factor in combat.  Combined with proper recon and the right gear (gotta love remotely detonated C4 charges) you can turn a would be dire situation into a cake walk.
  • The melee system is really good and I hate melee combat.  
  • The fire mechanics are still awesome.  Peg an enemy with a molotov and watch highjinks ensue as runs around screaming whilst setting the scenery ablaze.
  • A .50 sniper rifle is a monster.  Absolutely devastating in the second half of the game.  Heavily armored opponent?  One shot.  
  • The story took some interesting turns and in the first half of the game is absolutely brilliant.
  • I really liked some of the npcs, particularly one you meet in the second half.
  • Despite some reviews griping about the graphics, I thought it looked nice for a game that was released at the end of a console's lifetime.
  • Skill upgrades represented graphically by an increasingly complex tattoo was an interesting design choice.
  • QTE (Quick Time Events).  I realize that this is my age showing but I loathe QTE in games, particularly when they are injected willy-nilly into cut-scenes.  I'm here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, not play Beat Beat Wankervision.  Designers, please, no more QTE.
  • The second half is a let down story wise.  The "big bad" is a compelling character but ultimately has nothing going for him (there is one scene that I went, "Woah, that's kind of  hardcore").  The climax is disappointing and while I see what the developers were going for it seemed heavy handed and trite.
  • Combat in the second half is a joke if you, like me, do all your hunting and crafting in the first half of the game.  Through exploration/collection/liberation of the starting northern island I had all the upgrades and a slew of top-shelf weapons before I set foot in the second part of game.
  • The three "unique" skill trees: Heron, Shark, and Spider are ultimately pointless considering I got all of them unlocked before the end of the game.  If you're going to incorporate individual skill trees then why allow me access to all of them?  Why would I use close combat/heavy weapon skills if I prefer stealth and sniper skills?  Personally I kind of love skill trees and the trend (Skyrim/Borderlands) of rewarding my own play style or allowing me to customize my abilities - even if I can't respec at higher level.
  • Once I managed to get some decent weapons I liked (silenced sniper rifle and C4 are my favorites), I never really felt in danger.  Sure I died and had some pretty intense firefights (one of the best sections of the game stripped me of all my gear and forced me to be a hella sneaky git) but it lacked tension.  
  • The recent trend of being able to buy loot location maps in game turns exploration and the reward of finding stuff into a fairly simple affair.  Yes, I know I don't have to buy the "cheat" maps but it's a temptation I find hard to resist (especially on a rental).  
  • Story missions were, for the most part, sadly linear.  Pretty set pieces but with minimal option for execution and play style preference.
  • While I love land grabbing and liberating outposts and extending my sphere of influence I quickly found that doing so allowed me free reign over areas.  Example: if the enemy holds an outpost then that region is patrolled heavily.  If you get into a firefight, reinforcements show up quickly and you'd better get your running shoes on.  Not so in this game, once you conquer an area you can skip down the road without fear of a jeep full of foes fucking up your day.
  • I basically stuck with the same four weapons the entire game: .50 sniper rifle, RPG, silenced SMG, and flare gun.  All of these I got in the first half of the game, the .50 and SMG were unlocked weapons which were just beasts.
  • I would have been more engaged in the protagonist's character evolution if I had more control over the story.  Choices whether or not to save this person or that, even if it was a detriment/bonus to the story (a la saving the Little Sisters in Bioshock).  Naturally I would have saved everyone but there was no risk/reward involved.  Saving NPCs meant nothing, then again if I had left them to die, meant nothing.  Here's a potential example of what could have been an awesome mission: You infiltrate or storm a holding facility where your friend is kept.  The friend is in no condition to travel and barely able to survive.  Do you do everything you can to save them and make mission completion staggeringly difficult or do you cut your losses, leave them there to die, and have an easier time of escaping?  If you save them you get something awesome and you're a hero to your friends.  If you leave them, you're a shit but the villain will later reward you because you're an evil fucker.  FC3 doesn't do that.      
Why Far Cry 2 was better:
  • Weapons would degrade based on quality and maintenance.  Some weapons were just shitty to start with and would jam after half a clip.  This led to some insane tension in firefights where a weapon would shit out at the worst possible moment, leaving you up the creek, fending off enemies with a spork and a single flare gun round.  
  • Destrucible environment was superior and made for some brilliant engagement planning.  FC3 has this as well but it was more dynamic and responsive in FC2.  A single well placed round in a propane tank could rain holy terror down on foes.  Fire was also much more of a component in FC2 and different environments would burn better than others.  Dense jungle in a rainstorm, fuckin useless.  Dry day on savannah?  Fuego!  FC3 fire burns pretty much about the same everywhere, more or less, in any weather condition.
  • There has to be a middle ground between FC2 and FC3 outpost system.  In 2 outposts would respawn often making every journey a risky gamble.  In 3, you're golden once you've wrested control away.  I am a big fan of the system used in Red Dead Redemption zombie DLC where you would be at risk of losing an area.  Personally I would use a system which required a certain amount of micromanagement as the player's influence grew, more befitting a leader weighed down with responsibility than some uber-mensch ass whoopin his way through an island paradise.  If memory serves, Saint's Row 2 used this system.  It's up to the player to defend his holdings and widen his sphere of influence and power.
  • I wish FC2 and the first half of FC3 stories had a baby.  Hell if the first half of FC3 had been a DLC I would have purged all bodily fluids at once.  The ending of FC2 might have been abrupt but it was fitting. 
FC3 isn't a "bad" game and if you're just looking for some run and gun it's worth renting at least.  I was pretty excited about it and if I had had the money I would have picked it up.  As it is, I'm glad I rented it because there's no way I am gonna play this again.  Frankly I think I might download FC2 for the PC and find out what kind of awesome mods are out there (even though I've played FC2 through three times).

Monday, December 03, 2012

Post 999.6: Sharp Objects (2006) Gillian Flynn

For some reason I never review books on this site, mainly because I don't read all that much any more that isn't about food or history or the history of food or essays.  I thought I had lost my taste for fiction (besides short stories and George R.R. Martin).  This semester I took a Horror Fiction class and it's been kind of a kick in the pants for me, I had read almost all of the assigned texts except for the final book, Gillian Flynn's first novel Sharp Objects.  I initially read a good chunk of it while sucking down beers and was thoroughly blown away.  Today I decided to restart the book from the beginning and not drink while reading it.  I needed a drink after finishing it.  Hell, I might need a shower after reading it.

Sharp Objects is a modern psycho-sexual thriller instead of a standard horror novel.  As a fan of gruesome procedural crime shows (Law & Order: SVU) I figured I had some of the plot pegged pretty early.  There are some familiar side characters and themes but many similarities to the genre are non-existent due to; Flynn's prose (which at times is frighteningly sharp), her protagonist Camille, and the general miasma of unease Flynn imparts.  Stephen King's blurb on the back jacket calls it, "An admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights."  I'm hard pressed to think of a better adjective than "nasty".  This book, in a number of ways, reminds me of some of my favorite American thrillers from the 1970s.  Bloody, cruel, almost unrelenting in their nastiness, completely willing to grab you by the scruff of the neck and rub your nose in how shitty human beings can be to one another but then at the end of it you want more.

I'll be honest, I don't read many female authors.  To be sure I love Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, Daphne DuMaurier, Anne Tyler, and there are one or two others whose names escape me but if you look at my collection it's mostly men.  I don't have anything against women authors but, frankly sexist of me, my experience with genre fiction leans me towards men, particularly when it comes to mysteries and thrillers.  I'm more of Jim Thompson kind of guy than Elizabeth Peters or those series where busybodies and their cat(s) solve crimes.  When it comes to movies, it's a different story but for books, yeah I go for gruff drunken noir with sultry vixens and broads with moxie.

Flynn knocked me on my ass from page one.  She has the terse, brick to the face style I adore.  And she kept me on the back foot, not plot wise (though the ending is vicious doozy), but because Camille is such a dynamic, foreign character to me.  With most of the male protagonists I can find something to connect to or engage in some hero worship (who doesn't want to be Phillip Marlowe?) but with Camille, there was minimal connection.  I felt deep empathy for her and was engaged by her character and at times felt painfully protective of her but as a male reader at times I felt at turns, uncomfortable (creeped out at one or two points by Camille and often by the book's other female characters), sheepish, and as if I was seeing an aspect of women I either willfully ignored or simply never had any reason to consider (some would call that part and parcel of being a white male privilege).  The sexuality of the book caught me off guard and I'm no prude or stranger to the works of Nin, etc, etc, but there's an edge to it I'm not familiar with.  It is not even a factor of "naked time" but a strong undercurrent of surreal, voyeuristic, jealous longing, constant comparison and appraisal throughout the entire novel.  Abstractly I comprehend, practically I just don't get it.  Limits of my gender consciousness and experience, more than likely.  

From a gender neutral thriller standpoint, Sharp Objects is fucking great.  I wasn't expecting the ending though when I read it again I'm sure it will be apparent (during reading I noticed a couple of clues but was swept up the prose so I just kept moving).  If done right, it would make one hell of a movie.  It moves fast, and at times I had to force myself to slowdown or take a break.  The tension starts early and keeps building, Flynn knows the trick of imparting menace, dread, and sans those a crushing weight of depression into each scene, even the most innocuous scenes.

This is one of those works I want to rant and talk to someone about but I can't because I don't want to give anything away.  Since we are now in the deep and dark December and with the holidays looming, if you're in the mood for something "nasty" about going home again definitely pick this up. I look forward to picking up Flynn's other works.  Well done, Flynn you've gotten me hooked on fiction again.      


Saturday, December 01, 2012

Post 999.5: Hitman Absolution (XBOX 360) Io Interactive

I'm still not done with the 1000th post draft but I wanted to do a review of Hitman Absolution.  

I've been a fan of the Hitman series since Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002).  Contracts (2004) was an amazing experience and Blood Money (2006) made me very happy (though not quite as happy as Contracts) made me.  Six years in development and now Absolution has been released and while I had some trepidation going into the latest installment I still had to play it.  I rented it over the Thanksgiving break and completed the main story.

Absolution is, on one hand, the weakest game in the series and on the other, has some really impressive moments.

  • It's a technically splendid experience with minor bugs 
    • in about twenty hours of play I had two freezes on one level and noticed some glitches in graphics (which are to be expected).
    • The amount of lens flare was absurd at times and unnecessary.  There should have been an option to turn it off.  
    • It's not hard not to be impressed with the crowds in Absolution particularly in the Chinatown segments.  Sure you'll see quite a few of the same character models repeated if you look but the overall effect is impressive as 47 navigates his way through the throngs.   
  • The story arc was well done but imposed a linear, unwelcome, feel to the game.
    • The story works for the Hitman mythos and in continuing the narrative from Contracts to Blood Money to Absolution it makes sense.  However the progression through gameplay feels disjointed, like not pausing a movie while you get up to go to the bathroom.  
    • I'm also not thrilled about the whacko element of the story.  Yeah, I know Hitman has a lot of whacko "villians" but this just felt a little over-wrought, veering into GTA territory.    
  • Level design was brilliant on some sections and annoying in others.
    • Chinatown in Absolution is great to look at and offers some interesting tactical options.
    • A hotel penthouse is one of the high points of the game that is reminiscent of previous games.  
    • The entire motel section is brilliant, the high point to the whole game, and the greatest example of what Absolution could have been. 
  • Difficulty was at times uneven and nonsensical and AI matched that.
    • At one time guards would derp before they herped another they would be, well acting the way professional security should act when they see a stranger skulking around.
    • While the cover system works well, yet I could roll from cover to cover in front of guards with nary a speck of interest.

If you're a long-standing fan of the series then I feel you're going to have a few problems with the game.  If you're new to Hitman then you should pick it up.  For me, I'm glad I didn't spend $60 on it.  I plan on going back to Blood Money for a couple of kills.


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