Holidays vs. gaming

One thing to dislike about December: the lack of opportunity to roleplay. It’s hard enough to get grownups from three or four separate households together for several hours at the best of times. Add in travel, cocktail parties, shopping, wrapping, the post office, and office parties and it gets nigh-impossible. We’re smack dab in the middle of a fun game of the Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries–not something we wanted to take a long break from, but it’s the way the chips fell. I’m also running an occasional Trail of Cthulhu game for friends in Jericho. It’s going well, though more slowly than I would have thought. I even have folks specifically asking me to run a game of All Flesh Must Be Eaten, so I need to work with them to figure out how far along the zombie apocalypse has gotten when our game begins.

All this cornucopia of specific games I’m trying to fit in is occupying the portion of my brain that’s usually taken up by dreams of games I might never run. That’s not a bad thing, but it feels odd. I usually have at least two games that I’m absolutely DYING to play, but that for one reason or another may never come off. On some level I know that I want to try Blowback, Day After Ragnarok, and The Kerberos Club. Unusually, I’m NOT writing up sample characters and adventures while I watch TV at night. And oh yeah, there’s all those games I already play in or have run before! Uncreated, cliffhangers, Harn, steampunk, Transhuman Space, even the abortive Blue Rose campaign of a few years back. I guess having a specific outlet for things this immediate enough is so unusual that I’m not quite sure how to handle it.

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Modern Warfare 2: Black Ops

This week I finished the single-player campaign for Call of Duty: Black Ops. The Call of Duty games have been my favorite first-person shooters for some years now. Some elements of the game are completely unrealistic arcade-like concessions–in particular, you can take an astounding number of bullets and be fine in mere seconds as long as you get to cover and avoid taking damage for a bit. But other aspects of the game emphasize realism. The graphics are beautiful and textured even when showing the ugliness of war, different weapons behave in different ways in your hands, the characters are well-voiced and believable. I was fully prepared to not enjoy the game at all. Treyarch was the studio in charge of this edition and they’ve made some dull, sub-par games in the past. This one completely redeems it.

First, there’s the plots. Black Ops is set between the World War 2 shooters and the Modern Warfare series, following a CIA wetwork agent on covert missions in the 1960s. Havana during the Bay of Pigs, a Soviet prison, an American army base under attack in south Vietnam, a cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppes, the jungles and tunnels of Vietnam, and more–the landscapes lend great atmosphere to the different missions.

Then there’s the gameplay. Unlike Treyarch’s World At War, I rarely felt funneled into one preset path to get to a location. When I did, usually in vehicle chases, I was given a brief driving game to concentrate on, or a cool new weapon to try. While the AI is not as polished as it could be, it does a better job than many shooters. I really felt like those electrons were out to get me.

If you’ve been wondering whether to get the game, maybe because of disappointment with the CoD games not produced by Infinity Ward, give it a try. Black Ops should be at the top of every FPS fan’s Christmas list.

Pretty good!

So my playset took second place in the contest! I won, and I quote, “30 geekgold worth of tax-free wampum from the RPG Geek casino for his excellent playset. No comment from Ward Churchill as yet.” I know it was a small contest for a particular niche of a shrinking hobby, but it’s still a rewarding accomplishment. See earlier blog entries if you have questions about the Fiasco RPG, or if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Space to move

I’m a fairly big guy. 6 feet tall, and I haven’t seen the south side of 200 lbs. since I was a young undergrad. That size combined with my laxness in housework had an insidious psychological effect on me for years: I found it difficult to move freely in my own home. A box of books here, a laundry basket there, an old milk crate full of software CDs shoved aside for a second–it slowly got to the point where I was stepping carefully, turning sideways, and feeling pinched and constrained when moving around. Our place is relatively small now, but many of our possessions are in storage or in the basement. I cleaned the study last weekend, making me realize that it was getting to that bad point again. I feel happier and more relaxed if I can walk around at night without worrying about a stubbed toe or broken jewel case, so it’s time to be more conscientious about this again.

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Christmas music time!

Having my music on one hurkin’ big hard drive makes the sonic transition to the holiday season easy. I use a great program called MediaMonkey to organize my music library. All the Christmas music is kept in one “Holiday” folder, and for most of the year it sits there, biding its time. Now I open the program, add a single directory to the file monitor, and presto! It sounds like Christmas up in here.

My tastes in Christmas music have changed some over the years. As a child I used to hate hate HATE the big pop vocal Christmas chestnuts–Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole. Now they make me think of our little brick house in Marrero, new bicycles and Hoth stormtroopers and Shogun Warriors under an artificial tree, and a beige album cover with those singers on the back. (The cover was made to look like a needlework sampler; anyone happen to know the name of that compilation?) There’s plenty of other stuff too–brass ensembles, Chanticleer, Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band, English choirs, and modern pop songs. As strongly as I resist the commercial push to start the Christmas season earlier every year, I’m always really happy when it arrives.

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What net neutrality means, real-world version

I heard this objection raised just last week–“We don’t need to legislate net neutrality in the United States because it’s trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Online traffic works just fine.” Cue this story. Comcast, one of the nation’s biggest cable providers, essentially demanded that Level3 hand over some money. See, Level3 has a contract to help provide network backbone for streaming Netflix movies. So Comcast, along with all the other ISPs, is suddenly seeing a rise in people streaming movies at home. Our digital infrastructure hasn’t kept up with increasing bandwidth demand, so Comcast wants to shakedown anyone who actually uses the blazing fast speeds they love to advertise. If you don’t want to pay some “streaming movie tax” and “YouTube usage fee” on your cable bill a few years down the road, read up on net neutrality and call your congresscritter.