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Chasing Down Orcs in a Bugatti Veyron*

Not really, but the moment someone creates a game where I can do just that, I’ll buy it.

Around the occasional burst of writing and/or voice-over work lately,2 I’ve been playing Gran Turismo 5, which I picked up a couple months ago. I’d been playing Sid Meier’s Pirates on Xbox (which I still think is one of the best swashbuckling video games around) and happened to catch one of the Fast and Furious movies on TV one evening after shutting down the console. I soon felt a need for speed (but not that franchise—I don’t like having to dodge police cars while racing around town: they always catch me. And with Hot Pursuit, when I play the police, the bad guys are always getting away). So, having been a fan of the original, I broke down and picked up a copy of GT5.

I’ve been having fun with the game. True, I’m really bad at racing games and my style of video driving is to set traction as high as it will go and use whatever monster car I can get away with using for the race. Oh, and brakes? What are those? That car, the wall over there, the grass, all do wonders for slowing the car down as it takes corners. Of course, that means I wind up spending money to rebuild the vehicle, but at least with GT5 I can keep racing long after the car would realistically be headed for the scrap heap.3 Of course, after a session of ripping past other cars on the track, slamming head-first into the barrier on the London track (or any of half a dozen others with sharp turns), doing so repeatedly because I just don’t take the corners slow enough (but the monster car allowing me to pull first place anyway) when I go out to run a few errands, the kids often complain, “Dad, this is a van, not a race car!”

Insert evil cackle here.

One of the things I enjoy about GT5 is playing the game while I’m cooking dinner (or picking the kids up from school) since the game allows the player to race (A-Spec) or to run a set of drivers who race for you (B-Spec). It is particularly amusing since I picked up the Red Bull X2011 Prototype (the fastest, most agile, monster of a car in the game) and have had my lowest level drivers racing against opponents driving Honda Civics or maybe a Lotus Elise (or similar) and winning by several minutes. Yes, that goes against the grain of struggling for the win, achieving victory despite having the slowest car in the bunch, and so on, but when I want to play but have something else that I need to be doing at the same time, it helps to put the drivers in a car that allows them to win without any coaching.

The kids often watch while I play. My son has tried driving but dislikes the PS controller. My daughter just likes watching the cars go fast. But one thing I have noticed is they both tend to pay attention to cars on the road and during the first episode of the current season of Top Gear USA (which both my kids love) they saw the cars that Rutledge, Tanner, and Adam were driving and said, “Lamborghini, the really fast car that looks like a Lamborghini, and and the American snake car, whatever it’s called.”

Proud papa moment, and no, I’m not a car person in any way, shape, or form. I just like the video games.

At the same time I purchased GT5, I had also picked up Lord of the Rings: War in the North and, while I like the game, it doesn’t have the same pull for me that GT does. Now my son, on the other hand, loves War in the North because he likes the Middle Earth setting and it’s a two-player game, allowing him to play the game with me.4 I, of course, am running the dwarf while my son is running the ranger. We’ve had fun despite a glitch (or two) where the AI-run elf wizard hangs a couple of areas back and we realize she isn’t with us and have to backtrack, only to have her stay where she is while we press on and cross our fingers that she shows up at the portal for the next area.5 I’ve had a suspension of disbelief problem with the bomb goblins, whatever they’re called. I don’t recall reading anything about TNT-toting goblins in The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, which seem more a Warhammer than a Tolkien motif.6

Anyway, we’re slowly pushing our way through the game while my daughter sits to the side pointing out things we’ve missed (tracks for the ranger to follow, weak areas in the rock for the dwarf to break through, that orc jumping from the behind the rock).7 She seldom wants to play video games (aside from a few on the Nintendo DS), but she is always our best lookout. Maybe we’ll finish it. Maybe not, but we’re having fun with both games.


*OK, maybe in a long straight-away. Any turns in there and the orc would likely dodge the Bugatti, which steers like a “bucket of rocks” as I’ve seen posted on various GT5-related forums.

2Yeah, sure, around is a word, through is another, and even though instead of are two words, they more accurately describe my time spent in front of the console.

3There had been another racing game I’d tried a few years back (may have been the Need for Speed franchise) where, after every race, all the money I’d earned—and then some—was going toward rebuilding my car. Yeah, I know, learn to control the car better. But I drive sensibly in real life. I don’t want to be forced to do so in a video game. In a video game I just want to drive fast.

4I have the gratuitous violence turned off so no geysers of blood when orcs and goblins are cut down though some areas don’t even require the blood to be rather intense.

5So far we’ve been lucky and she has shown up by that time.

6But I could be mistaken since the lotr.wikia indicates there is mention of the goblins possessing dark technology and being fond of explosives in The Hobbit. I’d need to reread the book to verify this.

7When I had Warhammer 40K: Space Marine (which I never I finished), my daughter was the one who got me through most of the areas I completed because she spotted things long before I ever did. Good eyes and good ears.


Stupid Pawn Tricks

I’d emailed Nathan over at Speaking Out on Life* last week and received a reply that he was glad I’d contacted him because he’d had a hard drive crash awhile back and lost all his contact info. I booted the computer Monday morning before taking the kids to school and when I returned, sat down to check e-mail.


Not as in no mail, but no response when I clicked the mouse, keyboard, or anything.

Great. Check batteries. They’re fine. Perform a hard shut down, wait a few minutes, boot the computer again.

And get the Blue Screen of Death.

What is this, a copy of Win95 that somehow was slipped onto my computer when I wasn’t looking?

Reboot and get the same thing.

Stare at the computer and grumble that I have better things to do than spend time getting the computer back up and running, like, oh, writing and voice-over stuff.

So I reboot again and see if the computer will pull itself into Safe Mode. Then I try System Restore (the computer was working fine Sunday).

And get the same BSD.

This is just wonderful.

So I reboot into Safe Mode and spend the next couple of days transferring everything off the hard drive that I’ve downloaded, written, or voiced over the past couple of months. And yes, it did take a couple of days simply because A) I’d dumped more on the hard drive during that time than I’d thought, B) transferring anything off the drive in Safe Mode is an agonizingly slow process, and C) I decided since it looked like the techno-deities had decided to shoot my week away I might as well hop back on the console and play Dragon’s Dogma again.**

Awhile back I’d pointed out some of the problems with the lack of control over pawns in the game. As soulless beings in the world of Gransys (the setting for Dragon’s Dogma) they operate on the level of dogs or other pet-like animals, following the Arisen (your character), running ahead if that’s part of their “character” or if ordered to with the Go! command, which of course, I think of as Fetch! Or coming back to my side with the Come! command. “Come here, Fido! Good boy.”

Unfortunately, they can’t receive direct commands, such as, “Cast the maelstrom spell on that group of bandits approaching us,” or “Pound the chimera with bolide” (a meteor-storm spell), but instead confront the more heavily armed and armored types in one-on-one combat. Even if the pawns in question are spellcasters and should be hanging back as far as possible from guys waving around large instruments of death or giant, multi-headed monsters that want to eat them.

Oh, well.

This week I discovered that another irritating tendency of theirs—jumping over fallen logs, treasure chests, rocks, and so on—can lead to their direct demise, especially when said chest sits at the edge of a steep drop.

My party was wandering through SoulflayerCanyon when I approached a chest sitting at the tip of a narrow ledge. I opened the chest and two of the pawns jump over the chest going, “Look at me! Look at me!” When I turn back around, I have only three pawns following me. The other had disappeared entirely. No hovering at death’s door and could I make it down fast enough to revive the stupid jumper. Just gone.

Fortunately, my son came to the rescue again and asked when I’d last saved (only a fighter or two previously), so I was able to exit without saving, reload, and recover the pawn. I did so, re-fought the encounters, saved again (once determining that a pawn hadn’t taken another nose-dive off a nearby cliff), and approached the chest again, which I opened then backed away as quickly as possible. This time the pawns didn’t jump around.

The next ledge up, though, both my main pawn and a secondary pawn did their leaping act and wound up far below, crying out, “I can’t take this much longer” as their life bars hovered at death’s door.

Stupid pawns.

Oh, my computer is now recovered. Seems there was a conflict between an updated AV program and the firewall. Once I uninstalled both, reinstalled one and replaced the other, things are running as normal. Still slow, but running.

The dino-computer still lumbers on.


*Nathan split his original blog, Speaking Out (in Class), apart a few weeks back. He now runs Speaking Out on Life (linked above) and Speaking Out on Sex, the latter containing all the mature-themed posts that had been lumped together with everything else in the original blog.

**Any excuse to play video games is a good one, in my opinion.


Ever had one of those days (weeks? months? years?) where everything you write seems like nothing but last week’s garbage? Where everything you do just seems to fall flat? Where everything you touch just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to? (Yeah, I’m looking at you, computer, and you, too, printer.*)

That’s kind of how my whole month has felt.

Way Back in the Saddle, I’d just returned from vacation and, despite dealing with the hassle of airports and driving around a gridlocked east-coast city, felt reasonably relaxed and ready to get back into writing regularly again.

Ha! Silly me, thinking things would work out that way.

I allowed the remainder of the summer to pass, spending time with my kids before they had to go back to school and figured that once they did, my days would be devoted to nothing but writing and voiceover projects. I’d get back to my semi-regular schedule of posting the odd comment on Tuesdays and Menagerie on Thursdays with occasional posts throughout the week.

The kids went back to school a little over two weeks ago and aside from a couple of hitches, the space opera has run steadily on both my site and Nathan’s over at Speaking Out. The Tuesday posts, though, haven’t made it past their offscreen beginnings. I have three or four posts (maybe five, I’d have to check the files but don’t want to right now) that I’d begun, written between 300 – 500 words, looked them over and thought, well, “Bleh.” And “Gotta get the Pepto.” Ditto the feelings toward every other piece of writing I’ve done, whether novel, short story, game rules during that same period.**

I know, I know. As a writer, one who strives for professionalism in everything I do, I should sit back down and keep writing anyway.

But Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning or Batman: Arkham City  or Dungeon Siege III*** calls to me. Or a book (one of many I have half-finished sitting around the house) wants to be read. Or I just have to track down a recipe that makes use of a handful of ingredients that I have in the fridge and/or freezer. Or some show on TV looks too interesting to pass up.**** Or some blog I stumble across has caught my attention and—where’d the time go?

Menagerie has been clicking fairly well, but even the last few weeks have been a strain to put together for some reason. I find myself staring at the screen on Thursday afternoon, forcing droplets of blood from my temples, trying to get Liishi and company into/out of their next predicament. Having a co-writer on the project helps. Nathan dumps something on them, I figure out how to get them out and vice-versa. If neither of us has an idea, introduce a new character (expect more of that anyway over the next few weeks—I feel the need for more players in the game).

But even my gaming has been rather bleh lately.

I’ve run a few one-shot games over the last handful of months, including a playtest of D&DNext, Icons (a superhero RPG), SUPERS! (another superhero RPG), and I’ve downloaded and/or purchased several other role-playing rules all with the idea of finding something to run semi-regularly. While I found SUPERS! to be a very good, easy-to-run superhero system, nothing has really grabbed my attention to run every week (or every other week, as the case may be). I’d actually planned to run a playtest of the second packet of rules for D&DNext this last weekend then decided against it and opted for board/card games. No one showed up anyway. Ah, well. My son and I wound up playing video games instead while my daughter sat by and pointed out where the bad guys were at the edge of the screen. We had fun for a few hours that evening before they headed off to bed.

Maybe bleh isn’t so bad.


*The computer for awhile now (since about two updates back) on both Firefox and Opera browsers has had significant memory problems. Run the browser for more than two minutes, it’s likely to suck up so much memory that everything grinds to a halt while FreeRAM tries to release enough memory for the computer to run again. And lately, I’ve had the odd day where the computer freezes for no apparent reason and requires a forced shutdown by turning off the power. All my antivirus programs tell me things are OK. Checkdisk tells me the hard drive is fine. Ehh, the motherboard might be a culprit—the computer is almost twelve years old (see Dino-Computer Smash!)—thus I’ve been trying to pull everything important off the hard drive, well, looking at it and deciding if it’s important enough to save or just go ahead and delete it. But I keep adding to the stack to go through by surfing the ‘net, finding rules for print-and-play games that look really cool, and downloading them. Sheesh, give myself more work, why don’t I?

Then, over the weekend my printer started acting up. Won’t print black. I replace the ink. It prints fine for two jobs, then starts streaking, acting like it’s running low on ink. The blasted thing is only a year old and already acting at least thrice its age.

I hate technology.

**Well, the only exception (aside from Menagerie) is a quasi-Nordic-inspired piece of poetry I wrote for a game company a month ago.

***Kingdom of Amalur I’ve enjoyed for about six months now and logged some ninety hours on. I’ve had Dungeon Siege III for a year and love the game. It’s been awhile since I played it, but my son wanted to tackle it two-player the other night and it’s a heck of a lot more fun with a second person controlling the other character in the party. I just recently purchased Batman: Arkham City but think it’ll be another amusing game.

****Too many shows, really. The USA network is my enemy during summer. Most of their shows I’ve become addicted to.

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