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6:52 PM on 04.05.2008

Not my Turning Point gaming rig

Here it is, my sweet machine, which is not my Turning Point gaming rig. I bought this Gateway laptop about four years ago because I was going to study in England and the programme recommended I bring a laptop. It's been good to me and it fits my nomadic lifestyle, but upgrading is out of the question.

I've attempted to increase it's usefulness by taking full advantage of its four USB ports. Here is my shrine to modularity. Pictured are my keyboard, mouse, and external DVD burner. Not pictured is my 500 gig Seagate external drive. Also I have a sub on the floor that goes with the two Monsoon speakers. Finally you can see that it rests upon my headless Linux server. I use SSH and VNC to give it orders and it frees up my laptop for other work, not to mention keeping it at a comfortable eye level.

This laptop has served me well, but it's not gonna run Crysis.


5:45 PM on 02.11.2008

Good Idea, Bad Idea: Mandatory Pacifism

Good Idea, Bad Idea: Mandatory Pacifism

In my last Good Idea, Bad Idea I talked about random maps. This got me thinking about the mechanics of board games. Today Iím going to talk about two board games: Settlers of Catan and Risk. Both are classics and yet they are so different. Risk gives us a simplified world map, one Iíve memorized far better than the real globe, while Settlers is board is composed of randomly distributed hexagons. Risk is all about destroying your enemies while Catan only allows you to harm others indirectly through trading and passive aggressive building.

I know these are board games, but they have digital versions, and theyíre great so you should be playing them anyway. Also it may be a bit unfair to compare them as Risk is decades older than Settlers. Still I love them both and they offer good contrasting examples of how conflict can be mediated through war or pure economics.

When I was freshman in college the guys in my dorm used to love to play Risk. I know some people donít look for competition in games but I love it. Our games were always ruthless and brutal with plenty of name calling and yelling. Hoarding cards was always a dangerous proposition as it gave the other players more incentive to wipe you out and take them. I loved it and never thought that board games should be about anything else besides building armies and smashing them into each other. Then one day someone brought in Settlers of Catan and rocked my world.

If youíve never played it Settlers is part of the new wave of European board games that have been taking America by storm in the last decade. Much like the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Europe has something of superlative quality and we in America must have it. Euroboard games emphasize several mechanics: keeping all players invested until the game ends, several ways to score points rather than just one, and a level of difficulty between casual games and serious war games.

Anyway, one of things that itís impressed me about Settlers is how cutthroat games can be. In Settlers you expand out from an initial position, building roads and settlements in an effort gain access to more resources. But prime spots are limited and intense competition for them drives the game. Once someone builds next to that field or quarry that spot is closed off forever. Thatís right, forever.

By not allowing other players to directly attack each other it makes the game incredibly intense. Think about Risk for a second. Itís important not to lose battles and keep your continent borders intact so youíll get extra men on the next turn. But often people still manage to break through North Africa, or Central America, or Indonesia. Still this is to be expected and as long as sufficient troops are available to counter-attack or press the battle elsewhere the game continues. This ebb and flow goes on until massive armies exist and great swaths of the board change hands every turn.

Not so in Settlers of Catan. Instead, once something is built it endures to the completion of the game. You have no recourse but to get there first. Whether it means making an unfavorable trade with another player, stealing resources with a development card, or taking the poor exchange rate that the banks offers, players are forced to do whatever it takes to get the job done. And itís great.

Settlers seems to bring out the latent businessman or woman in us all. Thereís wheeling and dealing, begging, threating, throwing of cards and dice angrily, and yelling, always yelling. I love it. No one can serenely sit back, they are either directly involved in the struggle to build or hoping to profit off it. It always seems wrong to ask for three cards in exchange for that one that little Billy really needs to build a road, and yet it is so right.

Settlers of Catan teaches us that gathering wealth can be even more cruel than war itself.

P.S. Itís so Urgent   read

2:22 PM on 02.11.2008

Quick Thoughts on Religion and Gaming

Wow, Destructoid is in rare form today. Ever since that Gamefaqs kid burned down the church we've had a firestorm of controversy. Here is the time line as best I understand it.

1. Jim Sterling's post about the Gamefaqs kid. The comments section immediately became filled with all sorts of endearing posts about the quality of religion. Others responded and things continued to devolve.

Some highlights:

"Also, Matlox, get off the internet. If you think church is more important than games, go to a church forum and talk about how you sucked off Jesus in a revelation you once had.Ē

"one less church. one less lie."

Ritalin Twitch gets my vote for funniest and most insightful comment.

"This is why I'm a Buddhist. We set our own shit on fire.

I've also found that in my tenure on this planet, evangelical atheists are just as obnoxious as their god loving counterparts."

2. DryvBy lashed out against Jim Sterling in his blog.

We could have done without this post. This attack on Mr. Sterling wasn't particularly useful. I saw where he was coming from, Jim's negative view of religion seems obvious, but still not a good post.

I was bit surprised that some of the people who attacked DryvBy didn't go back and look at the original article. None of them claimed to find Jim laughing about things in the article but this exchange is obvious after only a cursory glance through the comments.

Cunt says:
02/09/2008 09:35
Maybe he thought burning things was cool after he read the bible.

Jim Sterling says:
02/09/2008 09:48

I laughed.

3. Others like unstoppablejuggernaut respond in their blogs.

4. And it must be our lucky week because now we have an article about the Bible and games covered by Mr. Sterling.

This post just seems like a delicious bit of flamebait. While I suppose it remotely qualifies as gaming news I could have done without an attack on the moral character of the Bible. Perhaps it was just that a few paragraphs weren't sufficient to sum up the topic?

To take a quick cue from the Cooper Lawrence scandal, I wonder if Jim Sterling has ever actually read the book he's critiquing? Somehow quoting what another person found with a web search doesn't seem like an appropriate amount of research to properly condemn the sacred text of a major religion and one of history's most important documents.

Incidentally one of the commenters rightly pointed out that the push to pass legislation against games is hardly limited to conservative right-wing groups. Joseph Lieberman and Hilary Clinton have been at it for a long time.

To help prevent future outbreaks I've compiled this list of tips for writing better posts about games and religion.

Simple yet often forgotten insights.

1. This is the Internet, it's filled with people who disagree with you. That's globalization for you. Unless you have something insightful to say you should move along.

2. Bashing religion is old and trite. Maybe it was hip when Voltaire was doing it but those days have passed. We know that people have reasons to hate and mock it. It's not news nor particularly creative.

3. There's a time and a place for everything. When I was in college I studied philosophy and history. I always enjoyed when our professor would invite someone from another faith or of no faith to come in and debate. The discussions could become heated but they were always respectful. One of the best insights my teachers imparted to me was that you could disagree without being disagreeable.

If you're really interested in these things there must be a million forums, and I use this word in a broader context than just the Internet, more suited than Destructoid. Or just spend some time in a library studying and clarifying your own thoughts. But when I roll into Destructoid eager to learn about the latest exploits of Mega man, see some photoshopped kittens, or laugh at the latest silly Internet memes, I can do without a dose of evangelical atheism.

Write some interesting articles about the intersection of religion, politics, culture, and games and I'm happy to read them. Posting inflammatory comments from the safety of your computer doesn't incline me to take you seriously. At least the kids on the playground are willing to say it to someone's face.

4. Extremism always alienates those who hold moderate opinions. I am a Christian. I am a gamer. I have been both for my entire life and I don't foresee giving up either piece of my identity. I don't believe I am alone in this. One of my friends is a youth pastor and playing video games is a common activity at his youth group. I've heard reports that at even at incredibly conservative colleges in the Bible belt Halo is a staple in the dorms.

I do understand that you atheists hate Jack Thompson, I find him a bit misguided myself. I get that you aren't pleased about congressmen passing anti-game laws, I myself think that it's a cheap ploy for votes and that there are more pressing matters. I know you want media that's appropriate for mature adults and think parents are ultimately responsible for raising for their kids, I mostly agree with you.

But when you start dumping on religion I am immediately disinclined to hear anything you have to say. Which really is a shame because I like hearing people talk about games, regardless of their religious or political stance. Trying to explain that games aren't debased to older generations is hard enough without people actively representing that games and atheism are one and the same.

So don't link religion or anti-religion too closely to games please. Itís not helpful. I have plenty of friends who are atheists and I like that we can get together and do things like play Age of Kings. They haven't figured out that I always crush their armies because of divine right, but that's a post for another day.

Now that's out of the way let Falco make everything better.   read

10:58 PM on 02.07.2008

Good Idea, Bad Idea: Age of Empires and the Random Map Revolution

Last week I was at Goodwill and I spotted a copy of Starcraft. The disc was clean and the price tag said ď95 cents.Ē I figured at that price any game was worth picking up, especially one of the most acclaimed RTS games of all time. So I take it home, install it, start playing and suddenly remember why I never got into this game when it came out Ė it doesnít have any random maps.

Before you eat up this delicious flame bait or stop reading let me make my case.

Ten years ago I discovered Age of Empires. I had been a huge fan of Warcraft I and II and so Age of Empires was a logical progression for me. Iíve also been interested in ancient history for a long time and having the chance to build an army of hoplites and attack Persian elephants was a dream come true. I greedily rushed through the campaigns and then began venturing online.

As someone whose only RTS experience was Warcraft, I was amazed by the random maps. Instead of relying on my memory I was forced to explore each map anew. Eagerly I sent my villagers out looking for berries, elephants, and the valuable shore fish. Rather than plodding toward the same points on a map every time I felt a rush as I discovered a choke point, an extra set of animals, or the perfect place for a storage pit.

These unpredictable maps fundamentally changed the way I started my game. No longer was learning and executing the optimal build order enough to be competitive. I was forced to think on my own about what to build and when. To think on my own!

I remember reading the frustration of newbies on forums when older players wouldnít tell them exactly what were the best build orders. They just werenít willing to grasp that there is no perfect build order or strategy for random maps, only principles that an intelligent player must consider and choices to be made when an opportunity presents itself.

One example of opportunity was the appearance of shore fish. Food is the critical resource at the beginning of any AoE game and shore fish are the fastest way to gather it. I remember exploring the black nothingness at the edge of my map and finding prime fishing spots somewhat far from my initial base. Even though I had chosen a race not ideally suited to rushing and intended to play a defensive game I felt that the extra food made a rush the strongest tactic. So I sent my workers away from my base, harvested the aquatic vertebrates, and then began building my barracks and archery range closer to the enemy base with those same workers. My gambit succeeded and victory was mine, even though it occurred nothing like I planned. Thatís the sublime beauty of it.

For me this is where Age of Empires made a quantum leap over Starcraft (the year before SC was even released I might add.) Forcing players to make hard decisions in real time rather than allowing them to rely on memorization of maps and build orders to be competitive was a wonderful innovation. Iím not saying that memorization is sufficient to be a great Starcraft player, but itís necessary in a way that it isnít in Age of Empires.

When Warcraft III came out I was immediately disappointed by the lack of random maps. Iíd already been playing Age of Kings, with its random maps, for three years. That Blizzardís new RTS didnít implement a feature Iíd gotten used to five years before in the original Age of Empires just didnít seem right.

Iím sure that some of you are thinking that youíd rather take a static starting spot selected for fairness (say that five times fast) over a fresh but potentially unbalanced map. But you shouldnít.

Think about poker for a moment. On any given hand itís unlikely that two players have the same hand, instead there will be a disparity in the value of starting hands. Players are forced to make due with what theyíre given and play the best game possible. But over a large enough period of time all players will be dealt the same number of good and bad hands. Thatís just the way our statistical world seems to work. Poor players will constantly gripe about bad luck but this is just an excuse, invariably the skilled players just overcome them. Thereís a reason you see the same names on the payout lists at tournaments.

Iíll admit that AoE games exist where one player does have a clear advantage over the other. But I donít remember having too many starting spots that were just impossible and I think we can all remember games where a superior player still overcomes a starting disadvantage and seizes victory. Iím arguing that dealing with a few crap spots is worth having a perpetually new and exciting game.

If one is worried that this makes a game with random maps less appropriate for competitive matches due to unfairness there is a simple solution Ė play multiple games. Even in chess, a game that couldnít be much more static in initial conditions, important matches are decided over the course of several games. This gives each player sufficient opportunity to demonstrate his skill and overcome the slight disadvantage of being black, (somehow writing ďnot being whiteĒ doesnít seem any better.)

Iím not saying that Starcraft isnít a good game. The storyline is compelling, the characters interesting, and most importantly the gameplay is fun. But for me itíll never be as fresh as a game of Age of Empires. Once the Starcraft campaigns are done Iíll probably uninstall it. I have no intention of logging onto Battlenet and competing with people, who for a decade, have been playing the same maps.   read

9:28 AM on 12.25.2007

Velocity Contest: Backup Plan Edition

And I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for those meddling kids!

This contest was great fun. I had a feeling that I'd not overcome Thornnn but I had fun trying. I hope I entered the Destructoid community with a splash. Also, my digital Christmas cards were amazing this year. Congrats to Thornnn and all the other runner ups. I can't wait to see the mystery prizes.

Looks like it's back the drawing board for the next contest. You guys haven't heard the last of me.

Thankfully, I had a contingency gaming plan in case my giant snow phalli did not appease the Destructoid overlords.

Sure, you may not be able to build towers of exploding barrels but you can name a ship the "Stout Trout" and ravage the Spanish Main. There's never been a better time to give your retro games some love. They don't get older, just more venerable.

Let the proud tradition of building snow penises continue next year.

Ride the lightning man!

P.S. Maine holds the world record for the largest snowman ever. Maybe it's time to start thinking really big.   read

11:09 AM on 12.24.2007

Velocity Micro Giveaway Contest

Greetings Destructoid community. I thought the original post said this contest ended the day before Christmas, but the main page says 10/23. Either way, I've come too far not to post this. I'm hoping this will "up" the ante, but if not, let it be my Christmas card to you Destructoid.

I present - Bonehenge.

Bonehenge, or a Destructoid Christmas


It was the night before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a mouse.

But out in the yard,
Was a different story,
There labored one mighty Viking,
His beard frozen and hoary.

I'll erect a fitting monument,
He proudly said,
I'll build it of snow.
And it'll have five giant heads.

No it's not a hydra,
Not a mythical beast,
Itís like Odysseus' Cyclops,
A one-eyed monster,
Blind fury unleashed.

It'll reach up to heaven,
He said in his might,
And moreover exclaimed,
Its girth exceeds its height!

He puffed and he strained,
And he raised up his towers,
Like a ribald college freshman,
He asserted his power.

No matter how long it takes, I'll get it up,
I've worked since the cock crowed,
To craft these pylons, Iíll not stop,
Damn the cold wind as it spits and blows.

His first shaft stood tall,
But a bit lopsided,
Oh such pain when it shattered,
Our mighty hero broke and cried!

The neighbors they mocked him,
And gathered and stared,
ďWhat a waste of an afternoon,
Who on the intertubes will care?

Our hero undaunted,
Bit back a riposte,
With what grim fury he soldiered,
He would not abandon his posts.


What consummate joy!
The work was complete,
Yet his shrine still lacked something,
A figure to make it replete.

Zounds! He ejaculated,
To whom I must give honor,
I have shamefully omitted,
In rectification there be an altar.

Here stands my patron,
That great green robot I adore,
His vigilant gaze, unblinking,
Shall watch over this evermore.

The colors of the season,
Are bright red and green,
Thus, led by the light of reason,
I colored my mascotís head,
With their cheery sheen.

Since the dawn of time,
And Homo erectus appeared,
Men have raised pillars,
To those they revere.

The Egyptians with pyramids,
The Colossus at Rhodes,
Now I, I like a druid,
Raise a Stonehenge, albeit it crude.


Nullum gratuitum prandium,
ďThere's no free lunch,Ē it's said,
But maybe my hard work will be rewarded,
I have been using my head.
(And five heads are better than one.)

But deep in his heart,
He felt black despair,
Other men boned fat chicks,
All covered in hair.

Will my efforts be enough,
To shower me in glory?
Do fate and the gods ordain a cruel end,
for my story?

This clever reference,
I've beaten to death,
This vein of comedy,
I've mined out its breadth.

So I'll end my narrative,
On a high point you see,
Know the one who grasped at a dream,
So achingly beautiful, my tale to thee.

Homer told of a war,
That spanned ten years,
Dante took us to hell,
And showed us our fears.

Milton showed us Satan,
And Coleridge the sea,
This epic is more humble,
But give that computer to me!

Merry Christmas everyone!

P.S. Also cocks.   read

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