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Jeff's Gameblog
Sunday, 27 June 2004

Topic: Video Games
My daughter Elizabeth's cartoon jones was abated sufficiently this afternoon to allow me to give my new joystick games a try. Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, and Galaxian were as solid as ever. Elizabeth tried playing Pac-Man but she doesn't quite understand how joysticks work yet. The other two games, Bosconian and Rally-something-or-other, are both quite good, too. I'm sured I've seen the Rally game before. As a young man I undoubtedly dismissed it as a racecar game, but in fact from a gamemechanic point of view its a great Pac-Man variant. Although I have played plenty of car games over the years (Notable faves being Spy Hunter and Up'N'Down) but I always tended to shy away from outright racing games and other sports simulation titles. My loss. Just cause I'm not inclined to go play baseball doesn't mean I won't like a decent baseballish video game. Back when I was a kid I was too dumb to realize this. A game had to be wrapped up in a fantasy or sci-fi package for me to give it a ringing endorsement.

Speaking of sci-fi, Bosconian is a great deep space shoot-em-up. (The title of this game seems to be an homage to the classic Lensman series of novels in which the evil space menace originates from the planet Boskone.) The game has great terrain in the form of staionary asteroids and spacemines. The goal of the game is to blast the crap out of these large green hexagonal space stations, several of which pepper each level. Your spacecraft stays in the middle of the screen as it moves around multi-screen levels. All in all, it seems like a great little game.

I only got to try three of the SpongeBob games before Elizabeth reasserted her control of the TV. (Yes I do spoil my daughter, thank you very much.) The first game, called Bubble Burster or somesuch, is essentially a nifty redo of the classic game Breakout. The second game involves hook trying to reel in Patrick, Sandy, and Squidward. SpongeBob throws krabby patties at the hooks to keep them at bay. Although simpler in many ways than Defender, I am somewhat reminded of that arcade classic in that both have the goal of "protect the innocents from the Other". The third game involves playing Sandy as she rides her surfboard and throws acorns to dispatch foes. I only got to play this one for a minute or two, but I was immediately reminded of an old Atari 2600 cartridge. I believe it was called UFO. The basics of gameplay of the two games are essentially the same. The screen constantly scrolls slowly right-to-left but the UFO/Sandy may move anywhere around the screen. Foes moving slightly faster (or much faster) than the scroll rate appear on the right of the screen. Most of them simply fly in a straight line, creating an air hazard/points opportunity. I seem to recall that my sister and I enjoyed the Atari game greatly. What was neat about the old UFO game was that for once you played the invader. The targets were airplanes, balloons, helicopters, etc.

Posted by jrients at 4:16 PM CDT

Topic: Chess Variants
Hey! My article on Knight Chase is up over at the Chess Variant Pages! Very nice. (Except for the grammatical error in my text that I just now noticed. Grumble, grumble.) I feel a tad bit more motivated to finish up my large variant project. The rules as they exist in my head are pretty much finalized. I just need to write up the damn thing.

Posted by jrients at 8:24 AM CDT

My sister and I didn't have time yesterday to play Carcassonne, seeing as how we were both engaged in full-press kid-wrangling for most of the get-together. I did get some nifty gaming-related stuff as belated b-day and father's day gifts. My sister got me the 2nd and 3rd books of the Cyborg Commando trilogy, Chase Into Space and The Ultimate Prize. I plan on reading them after I finished Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life. (I finished Bernard Lewis's What Went Wrong? this morning. Good read. Lewis mentions in passing an Islamic reform movement called Babism, which I'm curious to learn more about, sorta like my reaction to the brief mention of the Mahdi in my earlier reading of Queen Victoria's Little Wars. What can I say? Heresy is intriguing to me, whatever orthodoxy it springs from/reacts to/rebels against.)

Anyhoo, my folks got me a couple of those neat new joysticks that contain hardwired videogames. The graphic above is for the nifty new SpongeBob SquarePants joystick game. His nose is the stick! Too cute. You just pop some AA batteries into the base and plug it into some AV ports on your TV and you should be gaming in no time flat. The second joystick is a throwback to the good olds days. It is programmed with five old Namco coin-op games, most notably Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Galaxian. A nice touch of this one is that the stick is designed with the old red ball top found on the classic cabinets of yore. I'd really, really love to get one of these babies that was programmed to play Space Invaders, but I've heard that the holders of the Invaders IP are pretty touchy these days.

Unfortunately, I've been so busy that I haven't had a chance to play with either joystick. At my sister's urging I tried to get the Namco jobby to work on her TV, but we couldn't figure out how to get her set to flip from TV to "Video 1" mode. Her original remote is MIA, her universal replacement has an appropriate button that was non-functional, and the set itself had nothin'. Since getting home my daughter has managed to monopolize our TV, which isn't the end of the world since we've mostly been watching SpongeBob SquarePants. Still, I'm hoping to finally get a chance to play with these buggers later tonight.

Posted by jrients at 8:08 AM CDT
Saturday, 26 June 2004

Going over to my sister's place today. Our mom, my wife, my nephew and I all have out birthdays within a week of Father's Day, so we're are getting together for the joint birthday/father's day extravaganza that we do every year. It should be a busy day, but I'm taking along my copy of Carcassonne just in case.

Posted by jrients at 8:58 AM CDT
Friday, 25 June 2004
Brief Wraeththu Update
Topic: RPGs
In my Wraeththu overview and re-evalution I commented that the proposed rules for Wraeththu don't fit the source material but might make for a playable game. While scouring the official Wraeththu site for more info on the 'Storm' system, I came across this short thread in the official message board for the game. I can't be exactly certain, since Gabby2600 is being so damn circumspect, but it looks to me like the Storm system is derived from Gabby's vintage '92 rules. I don't think that bodes well for the success of the game as a simulation-of-setting endeavor. If the combat and magic rules are well implemented, the game might still be a relative success, assuming the audience for queer future fantasy is big enough to support an rpg. I doubt the audience is really as big as the Wraeththu team hope, but that's the way it always goes when people new to the rpg business try to make a breakout product. I'd like to get onto the board and ask some more question about the system, but when that happened on rpg.net Gabby was even less forthcoming than in the link above. Still, RPG.net forums are down today, so I have some online time to burn.

Posted by jrients at 12:17 PM CDT

Topic: Collecting Games
More struggles with overcoming my urges to bid on too many games over at eBay. I followed a link on a non-rpg related page that led to a fellows auctions and he had some Different Worlds issues going for cheap. And he was listing them in the general magazines section instead of the games/rpgs department. I had those DW issues on my watch list for about a day before deleting it. Harder was the bloke selling a copy of SenZar. Minimum bid was more than I had hoped and he was in Britain, so I eventually decided that if I wanted the game that bad I should just buy it at retail from the one store I can find that has a copy. I don't really want to pay retail for SenZar though, especially now that I have World of Synnibarr for my over-the-top rpg needs. I'd prefer to find a much cheaper than retail copy on the eBay, so I dumped this one from my watch list but kept the email search open. I backslid a bit by adding another email search to my list, but its one of those long-term searches that may go a year or more without returning any hits. The new automated search is looking for a particular pre-TSR Erol Otus product.

Posted by jrients at 10:08 AM CDT
Thursday, 24 June 2004

Topic: RPGs
Today I got another piece of fanmail for the Erol Otus Shrine, with a nice list of Otus illustrations appearing in non-D&D products! I think my bud Don has some of the products in question, so perhaps I can add those illos to the shrine at some point.

I've been thinking about adapting my ideas for the Six Islands campaign into a starting environ for World of Synnibarr play. The Six Islands setting is small enough I ought to be able to slide it onto the Synnibarr maps with ease and I should be able to retain the fundamental elf/human conflicts that form the political dynamic of the setting. I'd just convert the elves to Psielves, among other changes. I've also got some ideas for placing my Keep on the Borderlands homage on one of the Islands.

Posted by jrients at 9:19 PM CDT
Wednesday, 23 June 2004
Conversions of the Damned
Topic: RPGs
So I was thinking about doing a Synnibarr conversion of the classic dungeon crawl B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. Problem is, unlike most fantasy heartbreakers, the World of Synnibarr monsters have suprising little correlation to stock D&D critters. No trolls or orcs or minotaurs in WoS. The undead are under-represented as well. WoS has a race called gnolls that have very little to do with the D&D critter of that name. Looks like if I go ahead with this insane project I'll actually have to build an homage to Keep on the Borderlands pretty much from scratch. I'll need some sort of crude backstory to explain why a half-dozen fearsome humanoid races are taking up diggs in the same smallish cave complex.

Maybe I should go back to my earlier idea of doing a Savage Worlds conversions. The folks at Dragonsfoot seem plenty willing to help.

Posted by jrients at 4:56 PM CDT
Quote of the Day
Topic: Books
From What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response by Bernard Lewis
Westerners have become accustomed to think of good and bad government in terms of tyranny versus liberty. In Middle-Eastern usage, liberty or freedom was a legal not a political term. It meant one who was not a slave, and unlike the West, Muslims did not use slavery and freedom as political metaphors. For traditional Muslims, the converse of tyranny was not liberty but justice. Justice in this context meant essentially two things, that the ruler was there by right and not by usurpation, and that he governed according to God's law, or at least according to recognizable moral and legal principles.

Posted by jrients at 2:12 PM CDT
Tuesday, 22 June 2004
Happy Birfday on Me!
Topic: RPGs
I got my B-Day present from my wife this morning: a set of 2nd edition Gamma World rulebooks and module GW3 The Cleansing War of Garik Blackhand. Supercool! And I'm getting chocolate cake tonight!

My wife and daughter and I were watching some SpongeBob SquarePants on the TV this weekend. SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick are discussing the fact that Patrick never does anything. Patrick announces that he wanted to defeat the giant monkey men and save the ninth dimension. SpongeBob convinces him to set his goals a little lower, so they never visit the 9th dimension. I mentioned to my wife that I ought to write an adventure that involves going to the 9th dimension and fighting giant monkeymen. She pauses for a moment in deep thought and looks at me and says "It's like your an artist or something. You don't care if your ideas are popular or not, you just do what you want." She finally gets it! Yay! I'm not sure if I could go as far as to call myself an artist, since I'm basically a hack GM, but at least she understands what I am trying to do in my little hobby: my own thing. I'm not trying to convert anyone to my one true way or make a zillion dollars by writing the Next Big Thing (though if someone wants to give me money, I stand by ready to sell out), I just want to putter around with the games I like doing the things I think are cool.

Posted by jrients at 12:16 PM CDT

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