My wife and I stopped smoking cigarettes about six years ago, after having smoked for 10+ years. We quit pretty much cold turkey, and never touched cigarettes since. I didn’t quit entirely though. I smoked the occasional cigar, (hence the name of this blog) and later pipe, as well as hookah. The last one eventually became my favorite, with its long burning time, and fruity flavor. I used to smoke a bowl of Double Apple at least once a month, but now I’m afraid the big jar of it we have in our fridge will remain un-smoked.
It all started a couple of days ago: I saw a man “smoking” a black device the size of a larger pen, or maybe mascara. He was blowing out large clouds of “smoke” in the middle of an indoor restaurant, (where smoking was banned) obviously quite enjoying himself. I was aware of e-cigs of course, but they were these cheesy fake plastic cigarettes sold at gas stations, not the sleek black metal devices like this man was holding. I had to investigate, and like a proper nerd, I had to learn everything there was to know about e-cigs right that evening.
And learn I did; about the difference between a 510, and an eGo connection, about mods, kicks, variable voltage vs. variable power, atomizers, drip tips, cartomizers, carto tanks, clearomizers, rebuildables, coil resistance, wicks, e-liquid, oh boy. This was my tribe, people geeking out about something, and it was such a huge contrast to the passive consumerism of smoking tobacco. So I ordered an e-cig as well. If you must know, it’s a variable voltage 1000 mAh eGo battery, with a bunch of dual-coil cartomizers; nothing fancy, but a solid beginner’s kit. And even though I vaped for the first time today, I can already tell it will replace tobacco in my life completely.
I guess now I have a fancy cedar box to put stuff in, and a new glass vase…but I don’t know what I’m gonna do with the pipes.
Update: Here’s a crappy cellphone pic of my “kit”.
Out of those three dual-coil cartos, I like the Smoktech Shorty (right) the most. The vapor it produces is nice and warm, and I like the flat plastic mouthpiece. The large Smoktech (middle) has a yucky soft rubber mouthpiece, and cold vapor, while the leftmost generic carto doesn’t have enough airflow. In terms of resistance, my cheap multimeter shows 1.8Ω for all three. I’m running the eGo Twist cranked all the way to 4.8V, which produces loads of vapor even when I’m just puffing on it. Two thumbs up.
One of my many obscure geeky interests is pinball; both real, (I happen to live near one of the few remaining arcades in Italy) and virtual (PC and iPad). I was therefore looking forward to the release of Pinball FX 2 on Steam, especially after the failed ProPinball revival Kickstarter, and all the trouble Pinball Arcade had with getting greenlit. It’s a free download, and it allows you to try out each table before you have to fork out any money for it, but most of the tables I’ve tried, I turned off even before the demo timer expired.
When it comes to pinball, I’m not a purist. I like simulations of real machines, virtual pinballs designed like real machines, but also completely fantastic pinball-style games, like Metroid Prime Pinball on the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately, Pinball FX 2 is neither. Its tables are mostly realistic, but they have certain fantastic elements that couldn’t work at all (e.g. lightsabers teleporting balls all over the place) or would not be reliable enough to be on a real table. For me, this is a complete dealbreaker.
What draws me to pinball is A) the tactile, mechanical aspect of it; the sensation of solenoids flinging around a 1″ steel ball inside a plywood box, and B) the frantic action, the seizure-inducing lights, cheesy sound effects, and me fighting my own reflexes amidst the chaos, trying not to instinctively shoot the ball, but to catch it, manage it, transfer it to the other flipper, and hit the target I want.
It’s impossible to simulate the tactile aspect of pinball without specialized hardware (a virtual pinball cabinet), but you can at least try to make the visual simulation realistic by designing a mechanically plausible table. If you decide to leave the (simulated) physical world, you should go all the way, and create a completely virtual pinball-like game, with multiple inter-connected and changing tables, complex modes, monsters, boss battles, maybe different ball types etc. Pinball FX 2 seems to go half way; it’s part realistic, part virtual, and all bad.
Apart from this major flaw, there are a couple of minor ones as well. The soundtrack, barring the Star Wars tables where it’s the usual John Williams stuff, is elevator muzak. Voice acting is especially horrible, with actors sounding like they’re bored out of their skulls. The themes of the non-licensed tables feel bland, and uninspired. There’s a token underwater table, a token car table, a token Mayan table, a token steampunk table, yawn. Physics is in the “kinda OK I guess” category, with the ball feeling a bit light.
The only really good thing about Pinball FX 2 is the graphics. Within the constraints of realtime rendering, the game looks great, at least once you turn off the cheesy ball trails, and score numbers popping out of targets like in an MMO. I’m still waiting for another game with pre-rendered graphics though, this time with full global illumination, like the ProPinball guys were showing off. Finally, I’m not aware of any cab support, or 90 degree rotated camera modes, but I wasn’t expecting to find any of those in a game of this “caliber”.
Overall, thubms down. If you can find enjoyment in this game, more power to you, but I’ll wait for the PC release of Pinball Arcade or a remastered version of TimeShock.
Here are the first seven pages of my comic; lettered, with final panel layouts, and roughly sketched content (using my version of stick figures).
I want to have all 27 pages done like this before I start drawing the final art, so that I can read and judge the comic as a whole. It’s taking me a lot longer than I thought, mostly because I’m a n00b, but also because I keep going back and changing things. I’m drawing everything in SAI at 600 DPI, and it’s performing amazingly well. The only thing it can’t do is lettering (and circles, apparently) so I’m doing that in Photoshop.
I haven’t decided where to self-publish yet, though I’m leaning towards Ka-Blam at the moment. I have no money-making ambitions, but I definitely want a bunch of copies for myself and my friends.
I succumbed to the hype surrounding Bioshock Infinite, and I ended up disappointed. At least now I know I can safely ignore whatever Adam Sessler says about videogames. The art was fantastic, but that was about it. It’s hard to say anything about the story without spoiling it, but let’s just say the writers had a bright idea™, didn’t realize its full ramifications until it was too late, then tried to rescue themselves by a bunch of handwaving. Any emotional connection with the companion character was utterly destroyed by the silly, yet extremely violent gameplay, and the tacked-on Bioshock leftovers in the form of vigors (no explanation) and ubiquitous trash can looting. Even though I happen to agree with the game’s message, that statism is a religion, and that racism, blind patriotism, exploitation, and class warfare are all bad, there was not even a shred of subtlety in how it was presented to me. I wonder when, if ever, we’ll see games targeted at reasonably educated adults, that don’t bash you over the head with whatever they’re trying to say.
Now Tomb Raider, that’s GOTY material. The game looks, and plays fantastic, with a story that actually makes some sense, barring the supernatural elements. We’re used to those in Tomb Raider games, so no surprise there, but I definitely didn’t expect to empathize so much with the leading character. Playing this game is like watching those YouTube videos where people fall off skateboards; I was wincing, and squirming in my chair as Lara got beat up, groped, scraped, impaled, had her foot trapped, and fell from dizzying heights, all sold to me by fantastic voice acting. Yes there were unrealistic, and exaggerated elements in the game, and yes, Lara got used to killing people by the dozens rather quickly, but it never crossed the line of ridiculousness like in Bioshock Infinite. For any Tomb Raider fan, this is a must play, and everyone else should at least check it out. Overall, a great reboot of this franchise.
This is what my wife and I did over the (very rainy) extended Easter weekend…with Red Dwarf playing in the background.
In other news, I’m re-writing my comic book script. I decided to follow the time-tested advice of never publishing the first thing you write. I’ve changed everything but the hook, and I think it will be much better than the first version. I’m about halfway done, then it’s on to layouts, and rough sketches.
*I know no one did, but you gotta agree, painting miniatures pretty much seals it.
I couldn’t help it; my tolerance for medieval fantasy is limited, and it just ran out. I couldn’t stand any more knights, wizards and swords, so I started playing Star Wars, har frikken har. Seriously though, it’s a pretty good single player game, and now that it’s free to play, you can actually enjoy the best parts without paying a dime. I still re-subbed though, to stop the constant nagging.
Thanks to a friend of mine, I also discovered the best way to play SWTOR: as a light-side Sith. The stuff I’m doing in the story portions is not completely reprehensible, I’m sort of expected to want to kill other Sith by default, and my hot, sassy Twi’lek
sex slave companion likes me more and more. But the best part by far is that when I meet one of the pretentious new-age bullshit mystical Jedi assholes, going around quoting lines from the Little Book of Calm like Bill Bailey in Black Books, I can make them gargle my huge glowing cock lightsaber. It’s a win-win-win scenario.
I have no plans for playing any of the MMO content, except maybe some 4-man instances. The space missions are fun, but combat still sucks, especially after playing GW2. Alas, there are no space ships in GW2, otherwise it would be the (almost) perfect game for me. I’m still hoping somebody makes a kick-ass cyberpunk MMO one day, preferably not based on Shadowrun. Until then, I’ll have to amuse myself with lesser options.
All the space game kickstarters left me longing for a good space combat sim, but of course there are none at the moment. There’s Strike Suit Zero, also a spawn of Kickstarter, but the reviews it received weren’t exactly glowing. I tried running X3, the finest of German space accounting simulators, but it crashed after ten seconds of gameplay. Then I thought about giving the fan-made FreeSpace 2 remake / upgrade a go again, but the prospect of spending untold hours trying to get the game to run, only to get a quick space combat fix, was not very appealing to me. Where does one turn in desperate times like these?
It’s a pretty good game, not super ancient, and still quite nice to look at. With Jason’s Freelancer Patch it supports widescreen resolutions, and it runs in Windows 7 x64 without crashing too often. There’s only one problem: It’s not really a space game. It seems to be taking place in a space-themed amusement park of sorts, with planets only a couple of kilometers in diameter, their docking rings floating mere meters above their surface. Objects in “space” are tens of kilometers apart, and they don’t seem to be moving at all (neither rotating, nor orbiting other objects). If you think it’s hyperbole, it’s not; you can see distances indicated in the game, and they are really that small. I don’t know why the game authors designed it this way, but it completely breaks my immersion. The space combat as it is presented in these games is already completely unrealistic, which is fine since it’s more fun that way, but this depiction of “space” is too much for my strained disbelief suspenders.
I guess beggars can’t be choosers, but now that I had my fill of dogfighting in space, I’ll wait for something with a touch more realism to it.
After a decade-long drought, there’s not one, but three space sim games in the making (four, if you count X: Rebirth): Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous, and now also Rogue System. I guess the last space sim I thoroughly enjoyed was FreeSpace 2, followed by an OK Freelancer and disappointing Darkstar One. I bought Independence War 2 very late after its release, and didn’t really get into it. I also own several installments of the X series, but those were never my cup of tea. Too much strategy, and not enough action and story.
I’m already eyeing an X52 Pro, since my last joystick had a gameport connector (way to date myself, eh?), and I hope I’ll have one or more reasons to buy it soon.
To say that I was highly interested in Chris Roberts’ upcoming space sim Star Citizen would be quite an understatement. I have almost soiled my underpants upon its announcement. I’ve been waiting for a highly-immersive, realistic space simulator for ages, and it looked like Chris was going to deliver. Then I’ve read this in the FAQ:
This future has evolved into a futuristic version of the Roman Empire. We thought it would be very interesting to have Citizenship be something that you don’t automatically receive. It’s something you have to earn through civic duty or military service.
Sweet jumping Jupiter on a lectica, not this again. Why do so many sci-fi authors look into the future technologically, yet into the past politically? There are spaceships, and interstellar travel, but also empires, princesses, and lords. I hate that bullshit so much. Not only has it been done to death in pretty much every form of media known to man, it is also completely implausible. Why? Two reasons.
First, a political system is emergent behavior, and not something you can just pick up, and transplant to a different era. It is formed out of the thoughts and emotions of individual people, at a particular time in history, with a particular culture, biases, prejudices, and social norms. Once a society completely rejects a political concept, it never comes back. Don’t believe me? Try proposing bringing back slavery, or taking away women’s rights next time you’re at a social gathering. Or try to imagine a politician making a speech about how the right to vote should be something you have to “earn”. Not that I’m a big fan of voting mind you, but you can see how that would be political suicide.
You could argue that there’s plenty of societies today, where primitive political concepts are alive and well, and you’d be completely right. For example, some people consider it a good idea to give exclusive control over all of the most powerful weapons to a small group of megalomaniacal psychopaths who call themselves “the government”. But that brings me to my other point: those who think the Roman Empire was ahead of its time, and that it perhaps deserves a second chance will never build starships, ever. Space travel, especially at the scale presented in these stories, is a Very Hard Problem™. It requires the peaceful cooperation of thousands, if not millions of people, efficient resource allocation, a solid industrial base, and top notch science and engineering. It’s not something you order slaves to do.
The FAQ continues thus:
It’s a way to create a class system, which creates the potential for conflict among the various groups and players. We wanted to put a lot of social ideas in the universe. Since the universe is dynamic, it will create some divisions and factions.
You want social ideas, divisions, and factions? Here are some I just made up in the last 15 minutes:
- There are aliens. Some people are xenophobic, and don’t trust them, some want free trade. The aliens have the same groups, with the behavior of their xenophobes giving credibility to the rhetoric of our xenophobes, and vice versa.
- Earth is impoverished, with 15 billion people fighting for the remaining natural resources. There are some who want to help, some who want to get people off Earth, and others who think it’s not such a great idea. The horrible living conditions produce some of the most aggressive people, who often join the ranks of outlaws and space pirates once they gain access to spaceships.
- Those who don’t become outlaws, often end up in isolated enclaves of ex-Earthlings, because they don’t feel very welcome in the spacer community. Earning the trust of people in such an enclave is very hard, unless you come from Earth yourself.
- Techno-transhumanists, who believe in becoming one with the machines, vs. biological purists, who believe the human body already is a perfectly good biological machine, and who seek to upgrade their DNA rather than resort to computer implants.
- The explorers, who believe in spreading culture to species that don’t have space travel yet, and those who are against such contacts, fearing that primitive cultures could gain access to space travel prematurely.
I get it; every story needs conflict. Everybody peacefully living in harmony would be a great world to live in, but it’s a terrible concept for a videogame. You don’t have to go fishing in humanity’s murky past for discarded political ideas though. All that’s required is a little bit of imagination. You’d think sci-fi authors would have that covered.
Just incredibly busy.