All posts by Dusty

Buffy: Season Eight

You’re daft, man. Buffy ended after seven seasons.

The television show ended after seven seasons but the Buffy: Season Eight comic picked up where it left off. We are left with a whole slew of empowered slayers and evil is on the ropes. I’ll only include very minor spoilers so if you don’t want to read anything about the ongoing adventures of the Scooby gang, then maybe skip this post.

Joss apparently had more Buffy story to tell, and is still actively telling it. The comics, at this point, are currently up to season ten. Joss wastes no time getting into a Buffy story that could never be told on television from a scale perspective alone. The comic opens with Buffy and a squad of slayers looking more Initiative Assault Team than anything we witnessed in season seven.

They seem to be very well funded, heavily militarized, and Xander slips into a leadership role as a would be Nick Fury, deploying squads of slayers all over the globe. If we learned anything from Buffy though it is that power unearned is dangerous. It isn’t long before the scales tip and the world seemingly goes mad. Vampires are now the endangered species and the slayers are looked upon as terrorists. It’s almost X-Men-esque in that humanity is fearful of these new powerful women. To complicate matters, some of these slayers have their own ideas of what to do with the power.

Much of season eight revolves around a new big bad named Twilight. In the balancing of good and evil, it seems as those Twilight is made the equal to Buffy who finds herself growing stronger too.

The story continues to grow in scope and scale until it’s almost ridiculous. It never overstays its welcome though, at least it didn’t to this Buffy fan. I do wonder if maybe Joss thought that the comic was going to get struck down early so it became a literal race to bring every character that we saw in the show into the pages of the comics. It was nice to be reaquainted with some of them and one particular return in particular had me thinking… “What? Seriously? You’re kidding. Why?” That particular person though faces a particularly disgusting end when season eight wraps with a HUGE conclusion that changes much of what we thought we knew about the Buffy-verse.

If I have one gripe, it’s only because continuing the show means that decisions needs to continue to be made about which characters live, leave or die. This season has a major death that is surprisingly mostly glossed over. It’s mentioned from time to time, as of season nine, but it doesn’t have the major impact that you would expect. I’m still only about 1/3 of the way through season nine, but maybe this changes. As of right now though, the death feels unnecessary and without purpose.

That complaint aside, if you ever found yourself longing for more adventures in Sunnydale, or maybe some other non-Hellmouth locale with a certain slayer and her buddies, then look no further.

I picked up the hardcover library editions from Amazon and man are they ever pretty and well put together.

Welcome 2017!

I guess this is my obligatory new year, new me post. There are a lot of things that I’d like to have happen this next year, but I’m not going to get into that much here. I will say that one thing I want to do is write more. I’ve got a book already written that just needs a really good edit, or maybe it was just a test to see if I could really go long. The kids like it, but let’s be honest here. I’m their dad. I could probably write a turd of a book and they’d think it was the coolest thing ever. Until puberty. Then it’ll be the lamest!

So yeah.. getting into the swing of things again. Let’s see…

This Christmas, the girls got gift cards for Target (at their request) and instead of buying toys, they decided they wanted bedroom decor. I guess my girls are growing up. That’s sweet and all, but I liked them being little too. Those shelves were ordered at the same time, but for reasons only known to the postal service they showed up on two different days. I got the first set up yesterday and the last set up today. I think they look pretty good.

Everyone here is a little under the weather so Cynthia gave the kids medicine and we posed for a humorous Happy New Years picture. Cynthia is the only one who was knocked out though. The kids are all in their rooms either playing Xbox or drawing in their journals. I guess there is only so much YouTube that a person can do in a day.

Finally, I decided to give 51st State a solo run through and that was ultimately a failure. It really seems as if the solo mode was tacked on because I’m following the instructions to the letter, because I’m unfamiliar with the game, and it never tells me when the virtual player builds a building, yet I’m told I can raze the virtual player’s buildings and using their open production spots. Am I to assume that any card that they draw is just automatically built?

I watched Rodney Smith’s tutorial over at Watch It Played and while he does a great job as usual, his instructions are for the multi-player game. He only alludes to the solo rules and tells us to find them out on our own. I saw a couple of YouTube videos on the 51st State solo mode. I’ll be checking those out in the morning.

My completely uneducated first impression is that the virtual player seems to gain victory points at an alarmingly fast rate. Almost guaranteed 2 VP a turn, at least, since he’ll buy up a connection card, if any are available, and at this point, I don’t see how there wouldn’t be at least 1. So 2 VP a turn. When it’s a race to 25, that seems like a pretty nice benefit to have. If you, as first player, don’t take a connection yourself, you’re essentially giving the virtual player 4 VP a turn. At least, if I understand the rules right. I’ll post an update.

That said, I really like the look of this game. It’s pretty. It has a really nice gritty, post apocalyptic style that permeates all facets of the game. It’s themed beautifully. I am really looking forward to learning the rules and getting a few solo games under my belt.

So that’s my new years post. I’m hoping that it isn’t the last post you see from me in 2017. Wishing you all a happy, safe, healthy, and prosperous new year!

Mint Works PnP Alt Text

Mint Works: I know what I’m doing this weekend.

I know what I’ll be doing this weekend. I have my PnP copy of Mint Works and I’ll be playtesting some solo variant rules. The first stab at the rules looks interesting. How to compete against an opponent with infinite resources should be interesting. First to 7 points still applies. I’m eager to give this a shot.

Justin at Five24 Labs is doing a great job with the Kickstarter. Great communication. Great interaction with the backers. Very open to suggestions. The backers are actually informing some of the decisions by way of voting and polls. I do have one concern about one of the existing polls.

One of the stretch goals is for upgraded components (compon-mints? eh? eh? no?) .. okay, sorry. 🙂 So one of the stretch goals is for wooden or plastic “mint” tokens. Last I checked wood was winning the day. I get the appeal of wood, especially coming from a guy who spent hours in his dad’s woodshop growing up. But there are potential problems with the material.

I backed a project where you build trees for little tree spirit dudes to live in. I don’t want to mention the name because the company did a great job with the Kickstarter and it’s an alright little game. One of the component upgrades on that game was wooden disk tokens, which would be very similar to the size of the mints in Mint Works. These wooden disks had a pretty high rate of defect. Notches out of the wood. Shaved flat edges. General unevenness. Some reported getting tokens already broken in half. Quality control wasn’t there.

In the game I mentioned, these wooden tokens were just scoring tokens. Tokens that you were supposed to apply a sticker to. As you can imagine, uneven surfaces mean that the stickers don’t stay on for long. In any case, Mint Works wouldn’t require stickers but it would involve a much greater amount of handling. To that end, I believe plastic to be the much better solution.

Time will tell whether or not plastic or wood wins the vote, but Justin may find himself in the unenviable position of having to take a decision back from the backers and taking matters into his own hands for the good of his game.

What has this got to do with playtesting? Absolutely nothing. Does it dampen my enthusiasm at all? Not even a little. Everything I’ve seen leads me to think that Mint Works stands to be a great little introductory worker placement game that plays in no time at all. It is perfectly priced and I am very eager to see the end result of this campaign.

New 3DS

Yes, CNET, Mario can protect Nintendo from mobile

New 3DSA January 15th CNET blog post by Nick Statt asks the question: How many people really need a specialized handheld game system in the age of ubiquitous smartphones?

My answer? Any mobile gamer that isn’t solely a casual gamer.

Smartphones are great. They make it easier than ever to stay connected to whatever it is you love. Sports scores on the run? Check. Face time with the family when you’re away on business? Check. Phone call with your friend to hear the latest misadventures of the unintentional innuendo guy at work. Check.

See? Great stuff.

Ask anyone who has a smartphone, and uses it as such, how they feel about their battery life. I’m a pretty regular to moderately light user of my phone and by the end of the day my phone battery is in the single digits.

Take note of your smartphone battery and then play Subway Surfers or something for twenty minutes. Did you see a double-digit drop in battery life? Games require a lot of screen-on time and a lot of touch interface. Those things come at a cost to the battery. If your phone keep tabs on the battery, and what’s using it, you may find screen time to be right up there in terms of what’s using that battery life up. This is probably truer the larger your phone screen is too.

It may be no big deal for your Nintendo 3DS to die before the end of the night, but I’d wager you’d be significantly more put out if your phone / messaging / gaming device / camera / GPS / touch-to-pay wallet died.

So yeah. Your smartphone is perfect for an occasionally game of Bubble Witch Saga or Trivia Crack. How is it going to respond to a longer session of Final Fantasy VI? That game was developed for the Super Nintendo. It’s a RPG, which are well known for requiring lots of time and lots of level grinding. This isn’t a casual, ‘pick up and play’ game. It’s a ‘hunker down’ game. It’s a ‘let’s dedicate some time’ game. Your smartphone isn’t the ideal platform for that type of game, and battery life is probably one of the most significant reasons why.

Your casual gamers are probably going to be fine on their smartphones, but were casual gamers ever picking up Nintendo handhelds for the express purpose of playing a game for 5 minutes and putting it away? Maybe. Maybe I just don’t know that type. It’s possible.

I’d argue though that those of us who want lengthier play times, more substantial games and to still be able to receive a call or text message are going to want to hang on to our Nintendo DS’s.

Image of PS Vita, Smartphone & Nintendo 3DS

Link to CNET’s article: http://www.cnet.com/news/nintendo-3ds-midlife-crisis-can-mario-protect-it-from-mobile/

Review: The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is a book that I have very mixed feelings about.
Let us start by imagining a world where our cell phones anticipate what we need before we need it. We begin to wonder what our grandparent’s birthday is and it springs to life with the information we need. All it required was a thought. That word on the tip of our tongue appears on the screen just before we need it so you can complete your thought without missing a beat. If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the power and obvious desirability of the technology in this book.
The Word Exchange is an online marketplace where words are bought and sold. Did you forget the definition of a word? Have the definition instantly available for mere change. A quick micro-transaction and viola, the word you intended. But we get pretty familiar with the words we use, don’t we? What if we became so dependent on technology that our brains no longer stored memories as efficiently since we have these nifty devices reading our thoughts and providing the data we seek?

The Word Exchange pulls a very clever trick here. The characters in our book write definitions for the NADEL, a dictionary. Their vocabulary is spectacular. I had to use the ‘word lookup’ feature of my Kindle Paperwhite frequently, especially during the first quarter of the book. It provided an incredibly unsettling feeling that maybe this dependence on technology is already happening to us. Maybe we are already forgetting these words that were once a part of our language.

This trick, in my opinion, was only clever because I was able to very quickly grab a definition. If I was reading a paper copy, I don’t think I would have spent the time looking up words. Although perhaps it would have been sufficient to drive a different point home. That point being that if we’re not using this language, we lose it. If it isn’t saved somewhere, it could be gone forever.

On this premise the book succeeds.
Then comes the Word Flu. The Word Flu is an illness that strikes and presents much the way the flu does that we’re familiar with. High fever, nausea, vomiting, etc. However, the Word Flu also presents in such a way that words in your vocabulary are replaced with others. Often times nonsense.

Since a condition of my early readers copy is that I not share any text, I will prepare my own example.
“Why is everyone oxbowing at me,” she wondered. “I did remember to kaneek my pants, right?”
And this example also serves to make one of the points of The Word Exchange. Words are powerful. They are functional. Is everyone looking at her? Is everyone shoving her? Did she remember to wear her pants? Or zip her pants? Words disappearing is problematic for society.

It’s also problematic for the reader. At least for this reader. I read to disappear into a story. I was never able to comfortably settle into The Word Exchange. These breaks would snap me back to reality while I considered what was actually trying to be said.
This is one of those instances where I think the author was making a point but that it also worked against them. The mechanic is beautiful and works. Unfortunately it works to a fault. I found myself hating to read this book.

The books pacing seemed glacial until about the halfway point. From there it seemed to accelerate to a snail’s pace. I think the author or editor must have known that because they occasionally dropped hints that certain parts of the story would pay off later. An example might be something like, “And I’d learn soon that it wasn’t so cut and dry.” They had to keep dangling a carrot. I considered walking away repeatedly and only the obligation to the review kept me hanging around. But I was miserable finishing.

The characters were good enough, I guess. Our character lead Anana was likable enough but also capable enough that I never really feared for her all that much. I guess that makes sense though since much of the danger was presented toward people she cared about, and not necessarily directed at her. Also, despite her being in near constant motion it seems like she’s more a victim of circumstance rather than actually moving the story forward. Honestly it feels like most of the book is just happening to her, she’s not manipulating her circumstances at all.

As for the other characters, Anana seems to care about them but I never saw enough to share in her feelings. I really found myself even struggling to care about anyone beyond her. Even when they set the stage for a romance, I couldn’t care less.

So I guess that’s probably enough. The things that work in the book work tremendously. I get the idea that in the future the Word Flu could really disrupt us due to our growing dependence on technology. I get the idea that words are powerful and losing even some of them could be disastrous. The story itself though, the meat and potatoes of The Word Exchange were just meh.

This one was a hard one for me, folks. And it kills me to dislike a book that executes its premise so well. But here we are.

Good alnox, my friends. Gritbaugh.

View all my reviews

Kindle Paperwhite 2013–My thoughts

pw_tnSo my wife told me to order the new Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday. I figured they would fix the issues with the screen and I could sell mine for a good price since, lets be honest, this latest version isn’t much of an upgrade. I went to read the reviews and the first one-star review I read gave me pause. He is experiencing the same screen issues I saw with the first-gen Paperwhite. The same issue that had me send my Paperwhite back several times. But it was only one guy, the other one-star complaints were bordering on ridiculous.

But then I scratched my head and I asked myself… what hardware differences exist between this model and last years? … Supposedly a faster processor – this wouldn’t matter to readers as we don’t have apps on this thing.. so whether or not this is true? Doesn’t really matter.

Secondly, they changed the case. There is now a large Amazon logo on the back. Some folks complained but Amazon explained that the name Amazon is more familiar worldwide than Kindle – which adorned the back of the first-gen Paperwhite. I’m not really one to care about stuff that is going to be hidden in a case anyway. I’ll call this a wash.

Finally, they redesigned the light guides so there are less uneven spots like what last years model had. This is the hardware aspect that interests me the most. I was promised even lighting in the first-gen model, and it took me a lot of returns to get one that most closely delivered on that promise.

So what changes will matter most to readers? Software. There are some new features, such as the device remembering when you look up a word. It tosses the word into a deck of on-screen cards so you can expand your vocabulary. This could be of some use to me since I tend to use the same twenty-six words over and over again. It’s true. This article was written with only twenty-six words. Count them.  .. okay, don’t. I lied about that. But it could come in handy. Who doesn’t like appearing well edju-ma-cated?

Then there is upcoming Goodreads integration. If anyone is patient enough to write a book review on the Kindle, they are a better person than I. The integration though seems to have more to do with what your friends are reading and recommending. Similar to what we saw with Barnes & Noble’s NOOKfriends software.

Another new feature is Page Flip. An option that lets you bounce between different areas of the book, like those maps in Game of Thrones without leaving the page you’re on. Improved footnote handling is also advertised. Now the callouts are handled on the current screen, without bouncing you to another part of the book.

There are a couple of other little things both hardware and software wise that seem less notable. But the biggest changes are software.. and it sort of irritates me that existing owners aren’t given the opportunity to purchase a software upgrade. I see nothing in that new software feature set that requires a faster processor.

I’m sure at least a few of you would consider a $20-$30 upgrade to the new software if you were interested in the new features. Especially considering $20-$30 is more than Amazon is making on the hardware they are selling. We hear all the time that Kindle’s are a loss leader; it’s the books and apps that they make money on. Why not make a chunk of change on the OS too?

I guess the whole point of this was to think my decision to buy out loud. I really like my Kindle Paperwhite 2012 but it does have just the tiniest bit of uneven lighting. It’s very minor. But I am very interested in some of the software features, particularly the upcoming Goodreads integration. And Page Flip will come in handy when reading Game of Thrones, so will X-Ray for that matter – but that’s not a new feature.

So yes, I think the Paperwhite 2013 is worth a shot. But you can bet that I’ll be getting a perfect model this time. No compromise. The Paperwhite 2012 is almost perfect, the new software isn’t compelling enough to accept ‘almost perfect’ again.

Wish me luck. This could be the last eInk eReader I buy for a very long time.

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