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Last night, I played Alhambra for the first time. Seriously, I had never actually played it. I won.

(Of course, I had played Stimmt So! before.)
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The Phillies certainly felt welcome on a very cold night, blasting the Nats for a 12-0 lead behind Jamie Moyer, after which Clay Condrey was told to pitch the last three, giving up just two runs (fairly impressive for him). All the people I was with were wimps and left at various points from the bottom of the 6th to the top of the 8th, so I spent the last few minutes of the game wandering around the park. I can't say I was impressed.

My very first impression of the place was that it felt unwelcoming: huge expanses of white/gray concrete punctuated by bland silver metal fixtures. Yes, the seats were blue, but especially as many were folded up empty they didn't really break up the monotony. The super spiffy scoreboards seemed like a good idea at first glance - the mammoth main board and a good sized out of town board are both huge LCD screens. But it soon developed that while they are shinier than the older electric looking displays in Philadelphia, and combine all the data you could want in one really easy to find spot, they are also a lot easier to flip to ads every half inning, which was pretty irritating.

Next complaint (oh the list goes on): The basic layout of the seating is annoying. The park in Philadelphia is known mostly for being small, almost to the point of silliness. But partially because of that and partially by separate design it's also cozy. The seating goes straight up, which is noticeable, but you really notice it in the main concourse, with the field very close and the ceiling very high. DC is very much the opposite, with a vast bowl on the 100 level. It's almost laid out like Shea, except that the upper levels don't have the same elegant lines, rather being made up of several small levels stacked on each other, many consisting of boxes. The main concourse is very wide and low, which feels unwelcoming and really emphasizes the concrete material used in the place. And behind home plate, they have a massive structure holding luxury boxes on every level, which blocks views of the field from all concourses and is very fan unfriendly.

Citizens Bank Park is not well known for its creativity. In fact many people pan it for its lack of creativity and boring red brick and green metal look. They have a point, but I think the park is comfy and some things, like Ashburn Alley and the stacked bullpens, as least show flashes of inspiration. Nationals Park is not just uncreative but also cold, uninviting, and totally uninspired. Although it does have a Five Guys in it.

And the Presidents' Race is great. I think the Nationals are trying, as a ballclub, to be fan friendly and creative. They have to be to build their fan base. But I think fans are going to be gagging on the ballpark for a very long time. (This is, of course, a first impression.) On the other hand, it's not RFK (I kind of liked RFK, honestly - must go to a DC United game there), and maybe it will be good enough for fans who know nothing better.

In happier news, I leave you with this:
Me: The Lionhead kitten looks like it belongs in an anime.
Marie: I think it looks like an alien.
Me: These aren't mutually exclusive.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, the wave of the future: Adorable Anime Bunnies FROM SPACE!

(Yes Mark, we know.)
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The earliest the Flyers can be eliminated is now May 18th.

National Police Week: No shenanigans today, but as I walked along in an orange and black t-shirt, a white van passed in front of me, turning onto 3rd St. It contained a half dozen police officers in full dress uniform (they looked more like high ranking Air Force officials), roaring 'Go Flyers' in my general direction. Awesome.

Then I sat at Chipotle reading Air & Space (check out these "teapots") before going to Game Night. Guillotine, Quo Vadis?, and way too much Apple to Apples, now with even more filthiness. Met some new people, and came home to catch the end of the game. Nice evening, overall.
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For several months now, [livejournal.com profile] jennisis and [livejournal.com profile] sirgarrett have been doing a weekly podcast, The Elf and Dwarf. It used to be a WoW podcast, but they have now branched out into all things sci-fi, fantasy, and geek. In their words the podcast is about "things that a geek couple finds interesting."

I cannot, cannot, CANNOT recommend the program too highly. I've just listened to the last two episodes, and they covered topics that include online RPGs, tabletop RPGs, the evolution of both, current sci-fi/fantasy TV shows, books, movies, conventions, vampires, legal issues surrounding entertainment...the list goes on. I'm having a hard time thinking of anyone on my friends list who wouldn't appreciate something in the show, and their banter is excellent. They're also really good about responding to comments, both on and off the podcast. Click on the link above and give them a listen!

Also, yay, Google Maps now has Street View for Philadelphia! This gives me something to do when homesick!

Finally, yay, my copy of Quo Vadis? arrived!
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Not homework it seems.

Anyway, just back from the first playing of my new copy of The Bridges of Shangri-La, which was excellent. Basically, there are 13 interconnected villages, each with 7 spaces for "masters." On your turn you can either place a new master on a blank space in a village you have a presence in, place two students on any two of your masters, or send all the students in a village (all players) across a bridge to a new village. (Any two villages have only one bridge between them.) That bridge is destroyed and the students from the old village become the masters in the new village, unless a given student's dedicated tile is occupied and the new village had a greater total population than the old village. When all bridges to a village are destroyed, no one may play into it in any way. The winner is the one with the most masters total. The only tiebreaker is who has a presence in the largest number of villages. A screen shot of the board might be helpful.

I ended up winning 24-21-21-17, but it was closer than that because on the third to last turn I had 20 masters in closed villages and 1 outside, and it was vulnerable, and the player to my left could have killed it and eliminated me from further play, but he did not and I turned that 1 into 4. Interestingly, the guy with only 17 had tiles in way more villages than anyone else, which leads me to theorize that he spread himself out and often gained a little and lost a little when someone sent the students from a village he was in. But he would have owned the tiebreaker if he had been able to force it.

In general the game is fantastic. No luck, no secret information. Just laying down tiles strategically and trying to control the flow of the game. There are a few strategies we figured out as we played, but I'm sure many more are out there. For example, strategically suiciding a single student to remove a bridge before a huge force can come the other way. Sending a student to a village where you already control its discipline (it then remains a student) in order to either be positioned to suicide or to have greater numbers and thus a stronger village. Placing students rather than masters when possible, because you get two instead of one on your turn, but placing masters in villages that could close before you could send students there. Etc. Oh, and we learned that it's easy to run out of tiles of a given type, since you only get six of each.

At any rate, it's a huge keeper, and as we get better at it I think it will achieve what the box claims, which is that it is a 1 hour long 3-4 player game. BoardGameGeek claims to have a 2 player variant, which I must look into.

Also, it has great flavor-text. Why do the bridges collapse? Well, the reason the game exists is that the spirits of Shangri-la have died off, and we're trying to send new spiritual leaders from outside to make our cultures dominate the region. As Aaron (Aaron R. He, Jan, Richard, and I were playing. Since the four of us and Adam are starting a gaming club here, these names will probably recur) put it, it is a game of spiritual warfare. But! One of the old spirits survived. It is known, in the rules, as the Invisible Bridge Blaster. I shit you not. As a further illustration, one of the master/student disciples in the Yeti-Whisperer. It has a t-shirt, and for good reason.
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I'm just back from a [livejournal.com profile] dcgamenight meeting in Clarendon. It was fun - the group is more into party games than strategy games, but it was great to hang out with *my kind of people.* (I identified a lost looking couple when one of them said "braaaains.") We played Apples to Apples and Lunch/Beer Money before I left after only about two hours. They were still going strong with about a dozen people at that point.

Relatedly, my name is apparently "Guard Dog." Who knows?

I should also mention that I am starting to feel like I live on the platform at Metro Center. Of course, my transfer wait times today were four minutes going and two coming back, so I have nothing to complain about. <3 Metro!

In unrelated news, Law School is hard, and I appear to be broke. Whee!
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Nothing else to say.

Other than thanks to Jay Bibby.
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I often drive my mother's 1992 Ford Taurus (180,000 miles), and one of the problems with it is that the seals on the doors are going. So they leak, and they also let in a lot of road noise. Normally it's an annoyance, but driving home tonight on the Northeast Extension it was more of a blessing. The road is very straight, and I drove down it at about 70 with only a few cars visible in the distance. Flying down the dark road the steady roar seemed to become an integral part of the driving experience, speaking to me in an inescapable voice of passing miles and passing time.

I had been up at Emma's new place for the Philadelphia Area Gamers' monthly gathering. It was, of course, lovely. Many thanks to her for hosting it. Lately I am bored with long posts about board games, so I will only say that Oasis with five is indeed a good game, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first game of Keythedral. Also, Christian brought his Wii, and I can only say that my first Wiiperience was awesome. The system is all that it was supposed to me, although some of the sensors in the Wiimote are infuriating.

Finally, of course, there was madness. As directed by Chris W., who gave me the directive "Internet! Stat!" I present a few photographs of the Master Squisher, Mark. )
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Yes my friends, it finally happened. I was dealt P-A-I-T-E-R-S, and when my turn came around I dumped them around an N, playing all seven tiles for the first time ever! Not a very impressive 8 letter word, I know, and I ended up third of four in that game, but I am very, very pleased.
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My favorite WoW podcast mentioned Munchkin, so I wrote in about it, and this caused them to spend time in a later episode (the current one) talking about Illuminati.
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PC Gamer shows a total of seventeen Protoss units, not including probes. This is consistent with Blizzard's desire to keep the game small, but represents a significant increase over the number of units in StarCraft. It ought to please both camps. It also is not necessarily the last word, by any means.


May. 28th, 2007 02:09 am
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What a day! What a fantastic day. Thinking back over the period between 4:05 PM and 1:30 AM, at pretty much every moment of it I was immersed in pure happiness.

Thank you to each and every one of you who were part of it.

(This is the sort of thing that makes lj a force for good. Also, classic rock makes me really, really happy. Not as happy as everyone else does, but really happy. Cruising home listening to the radio and thinking about the day was pure bliss.)

(Also, I finally played Twilight Struggle. Underwood made me play as the USSR, because it's easier. I won on turn 8 by headlining The Reformer and then dominating Europe immediately afterward. It was a long game, and both sides made mistakes and pulled off brilliant moves, but that was how it ended.)

(Lastly, The young Roger Daltrey is adorable. Or, if I've already posted this, the young Roger Daltrey is still adorable. So is Keith Moon. The video is mimed, but that does not make it any less adorable.)
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I don't think there should actually be a reprise, because it's been done. But dammit, we still Can't Wait Any Longer!

(And it hasn't even been a week yet! Damn you, Blizzard!)

The Zerg Canadians were always my favorite subset. Canuckalisks for ever!
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Who else remembers How the West Was One Plus TwoThree Times Three Four?

Josh and I used to play it for hours.
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StarCraft again. This post assumes you are conversant with StarCraft and have read about the StarCraft II presentation over the weekend. If you are interested in strategy games and whatnot but not familiar with StarCraft itself, ask questions and I can describe units and whatnot.

The internet is surprised and alarmed because Blizzard has announced that they intend for each race in StarCraft II to have "roughly the same" number of units as in StarCraft. People are seeing the same races, same style of graphics, same interface, and now same number of units, and they're asking if this is actually progress?

It is, because Blizzard has stated that their intent is to design a game in which every unit is used in every game. Or nearly. I'm not going to claim that Defilers or Arbiters or Ghosts are never used (also Ultralisks, Firebats, Scouts, Goliaths, Infested Terrans - Banelings are a great idea, assuming the mutation costs enough gas, and Archons), because they have their places, but they are used too rarely. Because the game design and balance doesn't require them: they don't bring unique abilities to the table that are commensurate with the amount of tech and micro that is necessary to bring them to bear. Or they just suck. Blizzard wants to avoid this with StarCraft II.

What does all this tell us? That StarCraft II isn't really designed for casual gamers. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it will be tons of fun for casual gamers, but once you've played the campaigns and tried each race in multiplayer and tinkered with UMS games, you'll have seen it. At that point you won't deepen your experience of the game by spending an hour trying a new type of mission or tinkering with a new unit. People who thought that Total Annihilation was the greatest thing ever because of the ability to add new units hated StarCraft, and they'll hate StarCraft II as well. (They're also idiots, but that's beside the point. The canonical example is that a missle turret that floats on water and a missle turret that floats in air are the same damn unit for all gameplay purposes.)

Gameplay is the key word. Over the weekend Blizzard singled out Supreme Commander's zoom-out function as something that is a gimmick that appeals to casual gamers because it's cool but adds nothing to the core game experience. And they're right. In StarCraft II, as in StarCraft, you will deepen your experience by perfecting your build order, by learning to flit around the map just a little faster, and by correctly timing your attacks. Etc. Within that realm, Blizzard intends to make StarCraft II the greatest game yet, and it's likely that they will. And that's the only sort of game that has the depth and diversity of skill to merit holding tournaments with tens of thousands of dollars to be won for years to come.

One more comment. Concern has been expressed that StarCraft II may move into too much of a rock-paper-scissors type game. First, I want to point out that StarCraft is not really a rock-paper-scissors game. Sure, there are units that are better at killing other units (M&M > Zealots > Metal) but nearly any unit can get the job done. And meanwhile you can switch to the counter-unit, out produce and mass the non-counter, raid expansions, or bring in some other specialized unit to make trouble. The game is about countering what your opponent does, not about countering units with specific units. Contrast this to, say, Age of Empires II, where cavalry just mows down ranged attackers, period. That's a rock-paper-scissors type game.

A fair amount of the concern has been caused by the Reapers > Immortals > Tanks sequence in the demo shown over the weekend. Remembering of course that that was a demo, and that it was scripted with unrealistic troop deployments, I still don't really see the reason for concern. The Immortals' shield will stop various other attacks in addition to tanks, and when fighting smaller units they still have (in current form) roughly twice as many hitpoints as Stalkers. The Reapers, of course, are consummate base raiders and mobile light support that just happen to be able to swarm unsupported Immortals.

And really that's the philosophy behind the game. Let every unit be multi-purpose and let every unit have unique attributes that keep it useful as the game moves on, but let no unit be so multi-purpose that it can be massed irrespective of the other player's strategy. Then you have a game that is highly competitive, that is exciting, and that has a minimum of fat. (And, yes, a game in which light infantry can shoot down capital ships.) A game that focuses on its core gameplay, and its core market.

Because StarCraft's core market is hardcore. The rest of us will have fun, and merely aspire to be hardcore.

Holy shit

May. 22nd, 2007 09:31 am
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What happens when National Geo does StarCraft? Serious-sounding but ridiculous British narration!

Dear Ra

May. 21st, 2007 11:34 pm
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You and I are FINISHED!
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Those are bad words. Bad, bad words.

In other news, I can hear the radio crackling, and the guy on the street says that while the concrete is stiffening up, it's still OK. John tells me that if it sets in the piping, we might have an explosion! (35 minutes after I wrote this, the first truck is backing away to make room for the second. No trouble so far.)

Yes, livejournal, it's concrete pouring day here on the 6th floor! The open window is about 25 feet down the hall from our office, and there are a lot of people standing in the hall.

In other news, I have some thoughts about education, and StarCraft. Education first.

It occurs to me that I can't recall ever having something that I would call a "job fair" in high school. Nor did we have a series of 30 minute talks by parents about what they did. All of which are things that I have a vague sense of as being part of the normal high school experience. Are they? Did other people have things like that in high school? Even if the people who came in were all doctors and lawyers, it would still count. In the absence of that, in retrospect I sort of feel as if we were implicitly being told that we were going to go to college for a career. Or as a career. I'd be interested in comments on this, if anyone has any.

Moving on, in my previous post, and a few other places online, some people are saying "StarCraftStarCraftStarCraft" and some people are saying "zomg remakes are lame and I hate micro." Sort of.

I want to make a distinction between micro and speed. WarCraft III brilliantly (and tragically) demonstrated that they are distinct mechanics by creating a game in which you want to micromanage the hell out of your heroes, and micromanage your troops to trap other heroes, at appropriate points in the game. Like, say, after six to ten minutes. (In this post I discussed broad strategic goals. Just ignore the whining about lore.) Meanwhile, battles are slow. There are a lot of buttons to push, and they decide the battle, but it's somehwat rare for it to be so close that failing to hit a command quickly enough will lose the battle. It might let a hero get away, or not, and in the long term that might impact or even decide things, but the effect from moment to moment is somewhat subtle.

Not so in StarCraft. Micro has a place in StarCraft, certainly (and especially if you can make a shuttle fire scarabs, *cough* Zileas), but there's much more emphasis on macro and straight rushing. (Was it T-Mac or Heartcutter who never finished a game with fewer than ten barracks? I can't remember.) While you fumble for the attack button your entire army might die. If you face great micro you'll need great something to win, but you won't necessarily need great micro. If StarCraft II is true to this vision, which is how it has been presented at this point, we have nothing to worry about, and nothing to whine about. WarCraft III is still going strong, rumors suggest that Diablo III will be announced later in the summer, and those of us who are StarCraft players who hate WarCraft III because it has a different emphasis than StarCraft, we finally have something to look forward to.

As for not being "new" enough, that's fine. We don't want new. We want the classic gameplay I've described above, attractive graphics that will run on a variety of systems, interesting and unique units, perfect balance, and an interesting storyline. I have no problem with waiting ten years (OK, it's only been nine so far, so maybe eleven or twelve) and shelling out sixty bucks for that. For the people who say that they see no reason for this when they could just play StarCraft, fine. Play StarCraft. I'm going to play StarCraft II. (Well, unless it sucks.)

But I cannot understand why people feel the need to complain about this.
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Basically it's StarCraft with a 3D engine. And that's FINE. The graphics are bright and cartoony and easy to see (and easy to see on television, *cough cough*), and each race retains its feel. Instead of new races they've gone the path of making the three races more complicated and diverse and unique. So far they've announced mostly Protoss units (<3 'Toss!), and they are moderately badass. Things like upgrading gateways to allow their unit warp-in point (as distinct from rally point) to be anywhere within the psionic matrix. Things like actually being able to build the ships with those giant world-smashing beams of light (though only one at a time). They seem to have sought a balance between WCIII's intense unit management and SC1 by giving many more units a variety of activated special abilities, although there has been no mention of hero units as of this time.

They've also stuck with the SC tradition of pouring cash into cutscenes, as can be seen over at Starcraft2.com.

Oh, and we know that they got rid of the damn unit selection limit. Thank goodness.

Some people are bitching about the lack of creativity and whatnot, but to me this is the *perfect* game for Blizzard to make next. The first rule of StarCraft is that StarCraft is awesome, and you do *not* fuck with StarCraft.

Early as it is, I confidently predict that this game will smash all non-MMO PC sales records except for the Sims. Also, it occurs to me that it will likely be the first RTS designed with professional gaming as the first priority, which should be interesting.

Edit: Also, I predict that SC returns to the top ten selling games list for next week, if not for next month.
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The greatest game, redux? Who knows. But they will DIE DIE DIE if StarCraft 2 is not good enough to deserve the name.
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