Category Archives: Rant

Et tu, Facebook?

So I just logged into Facebook to see what’s going on (and to wince at the inevitable flood of political posts) and I got this message:

I guess “not posting anything for a week or two” is just too frequent for Facebook.

On the plus side, being restricted from using Facebook for a few days will help me stay sane during Election Day and its immediate aftermath.

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εν τούτῳ νίκα

Driving around town has been a little dispiriting lately. The reason sounds a little silly: it’s those signs. You know, the red yard signs that proclaim TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY IN NOVEMBER.

These signs are clearly linked to Republicans—they’re invariably planted next to signs for Romney/Ryan, Justin Amash, and other conservative candidates—although I’m not sure if they’re part of any specific candidate’s campaign. But I do know that they seem to be everywhere. I pass several of them every day in the last half-mile of my drive home from work, and every day it makes me feel just a little bit tired and sad.

I find the message behind these signs depressing. “Take back our country”? Do the people who plant these signs really think they’re living in a country occupied by some enemy force? Apparently, the president wasn’t elected by fellow Americans in the usual democratic process; he (and those who voted for him) “took over.” Obama and his supporters aren’t human beings to argue with or campaign against; they’re enemies to be purged.

Who is this sign even talking to? Certainly not to Obama voters—they aren’t to be reasoned with; they’re to be overthrown by the “real” Americans.

And then there’s the obvious, uncomfortable racist undercurrent of this message, especially when it’s planted proudly on lawns in a predominately white city.

It makes me depressed just driving by these things.

Every election cycle, Americans seem to agree on at least one thing: politics is too nasty, too divisive, too graceless, too mean-spirited. Well, here’s one very simple, concrete way you can tone down the vitriol of this election cycle: step outside. Walk out to your yard. It’s fine to leave that Romney/Ryan sign up, or the Justin Amash one, or the Pete Hoekstra one.

But take down the one that says I HATE YOU.

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The dungeon mapper’s lament

In the olden days, mapping a dungeon meant breaking out a stack of graph paper and painstakingly documenting each 10×10′ block. This was true both for paper-and-pencil Dungeons and Dragons games and for early computer RPGs—today most computer games provide in-game maps that track your exploration progress, but back in the First Age you had to play Bard’s Tale with a mapping pencil in hand.

Enter Legend of Grimrock, a throwback computer RPG released this year. Reproducing as it does the gameplay of early computer dungeon crawls, it gives you the option of an “old school” game mode, in which the automatic mapper is disabled and you’re forced to map out your progress on your own.

I couldn’t resist. I’m old-school, right? I’m hardcore. I broke out the graph paper. And I started mapping.

Now, as any old-timer knows, choosing where on the page to start your map is important and tricky. You don’t know which direction the dungeon’s going to extend. So, because my first glimpse of Dungeon Level 1 suggested that it seemed to be oriented in a northerly direction, I started my map in the bottom-center of my sheet of graph paper.

It went well for a few minutes. Then, what’s this? Dangit, the dungeon’s turned east and is headed straight toward the edge of the graph paper sheet.

The star in the large chamber is my starting location.

Sigh. OK, I can deal with this. I’m a seasoned veteran. If the dungeon’s headed east, I’ll skip over to the west side of the page and continue my map from there. It’s not like the dungeon is going to… going to turn back around and head west. NOOOOOOO!

Exactly five squares into this new map section, I got a bad feeling about it.

Now there’s only one place on the page to which I can move the map, since I’ve used the bottom third of the page for notes. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the worst dungeon map ever created?

At least this should get me out of party mapping duty in all future D&D games.

I’ve got to believe that level 2 is going to go better than this.

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Why Are Gary Gygax’s D&D Modules Still Unavailable?

The cover of "Keep on the Borderlands," perhaps the most famous and influential roleplaying adventure ever published.

Next month, Wizards of the Coast is reprinting the 1st edition AD&D core rulebooks, with some of the proceeds to benefit the Gygax Memorial Fund. (And if you missed it, yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Gygax’s death.)

I’m really glad they’re bringing back, even if just for a limited print run, some vintage D&D books. But as cool as that is, it also reminds me how crazy it is that almost all of Gary Gygax’s most famous and influential work is out of print. Long out of print.

In addition to the assorted early edition D&D rulebooks, Gygax authored some of the most influential, fondly-remembered, imaginative adventures and campaigns: The Keep on the Borderlands, Tomb of Horrors, The Temple of Elemental Evil, the “Against the Giants” trilogy, and oh, about a bazillion others.

All of those are gathering figurative dust in Wizards of the Coast’s basement someplace, instead of being available to gamers or civilians who want to delve into the history of the roleplaying hobby. From a gaming perspective, the craziness of keeping the hobby’s greatest hits out of circulation for decades is obvious. And from a non-gaming perspective, it’s odd that, given Gygax’s influence on pop culture and the attention his death received by mainstream news outlets, none of his defining works are available. As anyone who’s read or played those old modules will tell you, Gygax’s voice and writing style are incredibly unique; it was in these adventures and campaign modules that his quirks as a creator and visionary were truly apparent. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there’s real literary value in keeping his early D&D works available.

More Gygaxian awesomeness in "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth."

Low-quality scans of most of these works were available as (legally purchasable) PDFs for a while, but were yanked offline by Wizards of the Coast a few years back for reasons that, uh, I suppose made sense to somebody. And you can grab a lot of them used from the usual suspects online, but prices for some of them have skyrocketed. (And I have to imagine that most Gygax modules still out there for sale are tattered, bescribbled, Mountain Dew-stained relics you’d be afraid to actually open, lest they crumble into Cheeto-flecked dust.)

The limited reprint of the AD&D rulebooks is a promising sign, as are the promises that the upcoming 5th edition of D&D will somehow bridge gaps between the various editions of the game. And maybe if the AD&D reprints sell well, we’ll see an anthology of Gygax’s greatest adventure modules follow. With the rising popularity of ebooks and the maturation of print-on-demand technology, there are many ways a creative publisher (I’m assuming it’s Wizards of the Coast, but Gygax Games might or might not have some say in the matter) could make Gygax’s work available to modern readers without a massive financial commitment. Here’s hoping.

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That’s impossible! Oh, wait, never mind.

There must be a specialized term (hopefully a ten-syllable German one) to refer to this phenomenon of video gaming:

You spend hours trying in vain to get past a difficult spot in a video game, dying and reloading countless times, and finally quit in frustration—swearing by the Implementors that the game is simply impossible and the game’s creators are sadists.

Then, a few days or months later, you fire up the game again and get past the difficult spot on your first try.

This used to happen to me all the time with Infocom games back in The Day. It happened so frequently that, upon encountering an excruciatingly difficult spot in a game, I’d purposely take a week/month off, knowing that when I did return, the solution would seem trivially easy.

And it doesn’t just happen with insanely difficult Infocom games. Just this week, playing an action shooty game, I got stuck in a battle of such ludicrous difficulty that I actually wondered if it was mathematically possible for the player to survive. I died at least a dozen times before calling it quits. And the next day, I fired it up and breezed through it instantly, easily, on the first try.

I know it’s happened to you too.

So, what do we call it when that happens?

P.S. You want to know one gaming puzzle for which this did not happen? That abominable Royal Puzzle maze in Zork 3. Somebody’s going to burn in the afterlife for that one.

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Horribly overused apocalyptic-sounding words you should avoid putting in the name of your cheesy book, movie, or videogame

I know you want your edgy, violent media product to sound suitably grim and epic. But from now on, please consider these terms off-limits:

  • Redemption
  • Prophecy
  • Legacy
  • Salvation
  • Fate
  • Dead
  • Legend
  • Trinity
  • Dark
  • Age
  • Creed
  • Tale
  • Blood
  • Doom
  • Resurrection

If that scuttles your plan to release Blood Prophecy: Legacy of Dark Redemption, here are some woefully under-utilized, kinda-religious-sounding words you might try instead:

  • Transubstantiation
  • Monophysite
  • Dispensation
  • Cloister
  • Homo(i)oúsios
  • Diffused
  • Thummim
  • Pseudo-Dionysian
  • Semipelagian
  • Hermetic
  • Exegesis
  • Ordination
  • Exhortation

Any I’ve missed, in either list?

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You know who else liked instinct?

What a surprise—Michael Moorcock didn’t like Star Wars either when it came out:

This sort of implicit paternalism is seen in high relief in the currently popular Star Wars series which also presents a somewhat disturbing anti-rationalism in its quasi-religious ‘Force’ which unites the Jedi Knights (are we back to Wellsian ‘samurai’ again?) and upon whose power they can draw, like some holy brotherhood, some band of Knights Templar. Star Wars is a pure example of the genre (in that it is a compendium of other people’s ideas) in its implicit structure — quasi-children, fighting for a paternalistic authority, win through in the end and stand bashfully before the princess while medals are placed around their necks.

Star Wars carries the paternalistic messages of almost all generic adventure fiction (may the Force never arrive on your doorstep at three o’clock in the morning) and has all the right characters. it raises ‘instinct’ above reason (a fundamental to Nazi doctrine) and promotes a kind of sentimental romanticism attractive to the young and idealistic while protective of existing institutions.

Look, buddy, if you’re going to bag on Star Wars, you have to be doing it for the right reason.

Star Wars, alongside Lord of the Rings, makes two genre-defining things that Moorcock hates (that is, considers “crypto-Stalinist”) which are are orders of magnitude more popular than Moorcock’s own writing. Oh, also “C. S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and the rest.” I’m starting to detect a pattern.

Update: Moorcock (or the article transcriber) spells “Tolkien” incorrectly throughout his essay. So maybe he’s talking about a totally different Tolkien. Er, “Tolkein.”

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Darth Vader is Luke’s father (spoiler alert!)

I don’t go to many concerts, but oh, how many times I’ve wanted to write a variant of this brilliant letter upon leaving the movie theater. My particular curse is not the annoying music fan, but the Guy Who Narrates Everything That Happens in the Movie to his girlfriend/wife, a tragic woman who apparently is incapable of discerning for herself that yes, Batman is getting into the Batmobile, and yes, he is now driving through the streets of the city, which is of course Gotham City in case you’ve not paid any attention to anything Batman-related over the last few decades. And that guy wearing the scary scarecrow mask? That is in fact the Scarecrow, who you may recall was introduced to us several minutes ago in this very film.

Most recently I had the pleasure of sitting next to the Guy Who Loudly States Plot Spoilers Before They Happen, since it’s important that his wife/girlfriend (and the people sitting nearby) not be surprised by anything that happens in the movie. Fortunately the movie was Pirates of the Caribbean 3, the garbled narrative mess of which stripped spoilers of their usual movie-ruining power.

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By their reading list ye shall know them

I am sure that those of you who follow politics have heard about Mitt Romney’s incredibly significant and newsworthy gaffe. When asked to name his favorite book, he cited Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard.

Cue a whole lot of snickering and mocking overanalysis by every blogger and pundit in the universe–all of whom no doubt curl up each night in their favorite cozy chair to read from a dog-eared copy of Crime and Punishment. A presidential candidate who likes a book about (snicker) aliens? A candidate who appreciates a nice pulp sci-fi story? God forbid a candidate respond to that question with a title that falls outside our vaguely-remembered high school Intro to World Literature syllabus. Thank goodness the pretentiati is on hand to assure us that anyone who would read, let alone enjoy, such a novel is, obviously, unfit for any sort of serious position in government. Can’t have our betters and those Europeans snickering at a U.S. President, can we?

Fortunately, Romney was quick to recant, assuring a worried public that his favorite novel is really Huckleberry Finn. Clearly, that’s an answer straight from his heart, and isn’t just a book title deemed by his political consultants as the Book Most Likely to Evoke a Positive Response from the Most Potential American Voters. (Let me guess: other Romney favorites include apple pie, the Bible, the soulful poetry of Maya Angelou, and freedom; and his heroes include Jesus, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.) Good save, Romney, good save. For a minute there I was worried that I’d spotted a glimmer of an actual interesting personality beneath the soulless political mask, an honest-to-goodness quirk that hadn’t yet been sanded down into inoffensiveness by focus groups and asinine political cliches.

I exaggerate a little; Romney has not completely renounced his enjoyment of pulpy sci-fi. And a few brave defenders are standing up to the literary snobs. But this shocking scandal has got me on the defensive, as I enjoyed Battlefield Earth as a teenager and did not grow up to be Scientologist or an illiterate. Whether or not you think that presidential candidates should be reading B-grade sci-fi, mark my words: Romney’s Battlefield Earth answer was the most honest thing you’re going to hear from any candidate for the next 18 months; and it was us who, at the first sign of deviation from the predicable norm, mocked him into repenting (so we could then mock him for flip-flopping). Xenu help us–it’s going to be a long and stupid campaign season.

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