Monday, July 21, 2014

The worst part is the waiting

This week is shaping up for a crazy mix of emotions for me.
On the one hand... fantastic news on the family front and we are a) relieved that nature hasn't thrown an insurmountable roadblock in front of us and b) anxiously waiting for the outcome of said nature's processing of our efforts. But even if it doesn't work out this time we are on the right track and there is a track to follow.
On the other hand... crunch time at work. It's that lovely time of year where everyone has the same deadline and I'm pulled a dozen directions simultaneously. So I can't spend too much time editing this post or I'll be pulled away again.
On the gripping hand... Another thread has been nailed to the ground. I now own a grill. And a grill cover. And a propane tank has been purchased. And this weekend we grilled on our deck. And it was delicious. And nothing feels weirder than that possessive feeling you get when you start planning out a major project like refinishing your deck. Long-term we want to alter it into half deck, half patio, but for now we just need to refinish the wood we have. I've ordered a sander and paper. We've scouted the stains and cleaners. The In-Laws have a powerwasher they've agreed to loan me once we're ready to proceed. It's kind of weird. I hope I like it. There are a lot of little projects I have churning in my head, but snapping out of a decade plus of apartment thinking is tricky.
The CD has finished. Taking a pause to keep the plates spinning.
I took a break from Drox Operative this weekend. I felt the need for something a little more hands-on and was actually debating finding my Sniper Elite installation again, but then I ran across Just Cause 2. Just Cause 2 is a fantastically fun game. You play as Scorpio, a physics defying acrobatic assassin demolitions expert one man army bullet sponge ragdoll science experiment, and are dropped on the island nation of Panau to destabilize the despotic leader before he can do... I honestly forget what he was going to do, but it is bad, I'm sure. The savegame I loaded was dated 2011, so it has been a few years since I played this for any real amount of time, but after a few stumbles and a lot of cursing I'm back in the groove. The cursing is because the game has some buttons mapped to unconventional keys. For instance... in 99.9% of driving games the hand-brake is mapped to the space-bar. So you're running from a literal herd of enforcers, or in a hard-contested race, or flying down a mountain pass way too fast and approaching a hairpin turn in front of a giant cliff.... the gamer instinct is to whip the steering into the turn and lock up the wheels with the handbrake to the power into the following straight. In this game, the space-bar activates your parachute. Think James-Bond Ejector seat. So now you are floating thirty feet above the ground while your vehicle barrels on and you slowly drift to the ground. It's fantastic if you meant to do it. Remember that cliff scenario? It makes for some fantastic escapes. But if you were actually trying to keep the vehicle, plane, helicopter, etc and accidentally hammer the space-bar it can elicit some acidic language. The helicopters and planes have a similar issue.... 99.9% of the flying games use the keys to the left and right of WASD for rudder control. In this game E exits the vehicle. Regardless of how high off the ground you are (physics defying, remember?). To alleviate the pain this causes the game does give you a hilariously fun button. If you press it Scorpio will jump out of the vehicle and balance on top. So now you're standing on top of a garbage truck being chased by police jeeps and motorcycles barreling towards a cliff... epic.
Panau is huge and the terrain is varied. From tropical beaches, to vast deserts, to jungle valleys, to swampy plains, snow-capped mountains... and lots of things to do. Find an airstrip and snag a little prop puddle jumper. Buzz some military bases and play chicken with their anti-aircraft defenses. Find a military airport and snag once of their fighter jets and do bombing runs on oilrigs out on the ocean. Grab an ATV and see how far you can make it through some of the jungle terrain. Find an elevated position and go base jumping with your instantly-replenishing parachute back-pack. And I haven't even mentioned your Spider-man grappling hook! Snag an armored APC, attach a Tuk-Tuk to the back with your unbreakable cable and go driving through a military checkpoint at high speed. It's fun.
As with most games I turn off the in-game music after a while and supply my own soundtrack. The Starbound music worked very well with the gorgeous scenery and an interesting counterpoint to the sometimes Michael Bayesque explosions and action sequences. Scorpio, powered up, can stand his ground against an armored attack chopper for much longer than you would think. (and then snag it with his grapple. Swing to the nose of the chopper. Take out the passenger gunner with his smg. Swing over to the pilot and fight him for control. Throwing the pilot out of the chopper and then fly it to the party blimp circling the islands.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Moving Parts

A little plastic tab broke. Less than a penny worth of plastic gave up structural integrity, and now this expensive device is no longer able to operate properly. The plastic tab is hinged and sandwiched between complicated...
 BREAK! Once again things got busy and I got distracted and the blog post withered and died on the vine.
The plastic tab has been a) replaced by a whole new device for official use and b) scavenged from another differently broken device to create one cobbled together working device for use in my ragtag collection of stuff I've managed to fix. Once the official use criteria has been met voiding the warranty by breaking the device into its component pieces isn't a concern anymore.

My writing project has been sidelined for the last few weeks. The mind is seeking distractions and luckily work and gaming and literature are more than happy to oblige.
Reading: I picked up the first several books in the Dresden files a while ago and finally dove in. The style feels a little ham-fisted at times but I'm having a good time. I'm on the third or fourth book and am looking forward to continuing reading during my lunch break.
Gaming: I've sunk quite a few hours into Drox Operative while listening to my vast and growing backlog of Podcasts. I recently added Welcome to Night Vale to my queue and am enjoying the strangeness of it all.
Drox Operative is a fantastic little rogue/diablo/civ mashup of a game. You play a persistent character that gains experience and equipment running through a series of sectors (dungeons) that are randomly generated. Each sector has the same available win/lose conditions, and once you win/lose you generate a new sector.
The sectors are populated with several race factions that you can align with or fight or do missions for or trade with etc etc, and to 'win' you must either build up your status with the last remaining faction to the point where you can be allied with them (military win), work to be allied with all remaining factions and have them be allied with each other (diplomatic win), generate enough tribute and mission rewards to reach a specific amount of currency (economic win), rampage through the system like the wrath of an angry god (fear win), be a general do-gooder and take on epic quests (legend win).
Each faction has different traits and the systems seem to employ an aggressive 'monster' system where enemy ships will spawn and if left unchecked will generate boss-level creatures or spawn maladies to harass the factions, sometimes wiping them out.
There are enough wheels turning so that even a bad game will have lots of ways for you to pull yourself out of the fire if you pay attention.
At the higher levels the sectors can have additional modifiers, making monsters more aggressive, or more plentiful, fiery asteroids zipping through the systems, anomalies and gravity wells all over the place... it's fun!

Last weekend we had a friend over for gaming and movies and the next day we went to the Durham Museum Train Days. But I'd better get moving again. More soon, I hope!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Functional Friday

Staring at the blinking cursor.
I have a lot that I could say, but the last post was long enough ago that I'm struggling to find a coherent diving-in point. I'm also self-consciously culling items that are on my mind but either deserve a more focused treatment or have no place on a public blog. Now I'm self-conscious about having started both sentences with "I." No turning back now, there's a paragraph in the little box. Onwards, typing fingers. Onwards!
Long pause. Too long.
Months ago I started creating a space-commerce-research-mining infrastructure in my head that I was hoping to populate with entities and stories that have been floating in my head for years. I have folders filled with drafts, planning documents, sketches. Nothing ever really materializes because I never took the time to compile or go past the surface before the brain starts getting bogged down in minutia. For instance... One of the things I want to put together is an inter-solar-system trading system based on standardized cargo containers. An interlocking system that can be customized and reconnected to suit multiple transportation methods individually or in groups. I landed on rounded, triangular wedges with tracks along the edges to slot them into various frameworks. My reasoning was that a modular approach could accommodate a simple progressions system. At first you're dealing with single wedges. A plucky startup sourcing materials or providing transport for single containers. As you expand and thrive and gain the resources you could upgrade your facilities to handle multiple containers, or even super-containers made up of many of the smaller containers. Basically working your way up the food-chain until you're operating a multi-solar orbital base routing cargo from dozens of plucky startups operating on the planets below you.
That's the stuff my brain gets hooked up on. Not characters. Not backstories. Not social dynamics... that stuff feels 'unimportant' compared to having the 'sandbox' be clearly defined. I want to build the framework, flesh it out, put it on a timeline, let it grow a bit, develop some conflicts and 'history' in broad strokes.... and then dive in at various points to let characters live in that world.
Coming of age stories. Redemption stories. Classic heroics and cowardice. Greed, anger, hate, love, indifference. But first I have to get the details right.
And then I happened to click into an e-mail telling me about a Kindle-book sale (Sorry Mom!). Now I'm reading a book that parallels a lot of the ideas I had for my universe and am getting more and more self-conscious about the various influences that I have absorbed and the very real possibility that my stories about humans (primary focus for other people) won't carry the effort I'm putting into the framework they'll exist in (my primary focus). Irrational worry is irrational.
So apparently that's the stuff on my mind at the moment.
One of the puzzles I'm trying to find a graceful solution for is the trope of secret knowledge. In a universe where you aren't the strongest, the smartest, the quickest, or the most popular... you need to have some sort of leverage to twist the world in your favor. A revelation, a skill, an earned piece of insight into the higher level workings of the world... something that makes that person the protagonist instead of the dozens of other people they interact with.
My thinking is that my first attempt will utilize luck. Right place, right time. It's easy, it explains why this is unique, and it gives me some leeway for developing that ancillary components of my universe: the necessity of embedded representatives of a central authority in any long-range excursion.
Uh oh. I'm starting to type out high-level thoughts for my universe... can't do that! Not here. Like I said this stuff has been swirling around for quite some time and I finally feel like maybe I can begin locking it into reality. Trapping the mists of invention with words and images and pinning them to a board. At least until I get bored. :)
Have a wonderful and safe 4th of July!