Sneakin’ Around: King of the Road

Ahh, life on the road.

I knew this is what life would be like when I started down this path, but the reality of it smacks you in the face sometimes.  I crawled all over Westfall, uncovering the entire map, and managed to only find maybe four or five quests I could complete.  Redridge Mountains proved to be better with nearly a dozen quests.  And then it’s off to Darkshore, where there were a few quests to do and then the majority of the zone is locked behind kill tasks.

The daily quests help, of course, being able to earn 2k exp every day keeps my spirits up.  And then there is the Valentine’s Day event… which unfortunately includes killing, so I can’t participate fully. *sigh*  Time to head back to dwarf-land and goat-town, I suppose.

However, my decision not to kill for cash leaves me plenty of time to study the markets, buying goods from people who just want quick cash and reselling them to people willing to pay more.  I can sell copper bars for 7 gold a stack, but people will put them up for anywhere from 3 to 5 gold.  When you add in the market manipulation with my own mining and herbing, it totals out to over a hundred gold in my pocket – and that’s after I bought myself one of those engineered tackle boxes and a couple other nice bags.

I also managed to fish up one of those books that taught me how to find schools of fish, so that will be a lot easier from here on out.  Level 16 and moving…

Center of the Universe

3439686345_40d26c8193Captain Thomas Markham checked the readout on his wrist again. He’d been nervously checking it every few minutes since they had taken their helmets off. The atmosphere was still sufficiently Earth-like, and he was still breathing normally.  The air had a musty smell, but it didn’t offend the senses.

He glanced over his shoulder to the rest of his team following behind.  Lieutenant Sarah Gavin, Sergeant Gerard Wilcox, and Privates Claire Daud, Louis Michaels and Neriah Skildum walked in a spread pattern, no one walking directly behind or in front of anyone else.  Each had a rifle in hand, a pack on their back, and their helmet slung on the belt at their hip.  With their helmets off, they’d all put on tactical visors giving them better vision in the dark and data readouts.  Markham’s rifle was in the hand of Ship’s cook Jalah, who looked entirely out of place in his orange space suit surrounded by the rest of the crew in their military grays.  The light from random spots of glowing lichen on the walls was low, but he could still see his team.   Markham’s visor was hanging down around his own neck as he’d opted to hold his pistol and a flashlight as they’d pressed onward.

From the deserted surface of this tiny planet they’d enter the caves and wound down and around for days.  The deeper they got, the warmer it became, but Lieutenant Gavin had assured him this planet didn’t have a molten core.  “Solid all the way through,” she’d said.  “Stake my life on it,” she’d continued.

He turned to her now.  “Gavin, what’s our depth?”

Gavin put her rifle over her shoulder, flicked the power buttons on the wrists of her gloves and began waving through the virtual readouts her visor was showing.  “Hard to say.  But we are getting close.  I’m getting some interference, but we are almost directly below the ship and I estimate nearing halfway through our external readings of the planet’s diameter.”

“All right.”  Markham turned to Wilcox.  “Sergeant, find us a spot to set up camp.”

“Yes, sir.”  Wilcox signaled to the Privates who followed him in a diamond formation off into the dark.

Jalah came in close to Markham, sidestepping around Gavin who continue to wave her hands in the empty air.  “Sir.”

“Yeah, Jalah.”

“We’ve only got a few days more of supplies with us.  We are going to need to turn around pretty soon.”  Jalah’s eyes were darting around, never staying still.  He hadn’t wanted to come down with the team, but Markham didn’t want to leave him alone on the ship.

Markham holstered his pistol and placed his hand on Jalah’s shoulder.  “Tomorrow.”

“Captain!”  The word echoed through the chamber.  Markham snapped off his flashlight, dropped it into a pocket on the leg of his suit and put his visor on.

The darkness of the world retreated, replaced with hues of green peppered with bits of text and data.  He was facing a wall, the text told him it was fifteen meters away and comprised mostly of granite.  The floor beneath his feet was also granite but covered with scattered dirt.  Off to his right there were blue flashes of movement and he could see the outline of the four men.  “With me,” he said just loud enough for Gavin and Jalah to hear.  The three of them moved toward the others.

As they approached, Markham realized his gun was in his hands even though he didn’t remember pulling it.  He even held it out front, with both hands, aimed downward as he was trained to do.  Wilcox and the Privates stood together by a wall.  The Privates faced outward in different directions, but Wilcox faced a door sized hole.  Beside the hole was a small rectangular sign.  As Markham got close he could see there were words written on it.

He put away his gun again, pulled off his visor and retrieved his flashlight from its pocket.  When he snapped it on he stared, then shook his head and stared again.  The sign was clear, a small arrow pointing downward at an angle into the door sized tunnel and the words Center of the Universe.

“I guess we’re here.”  Gavin’s voice drifted softly from behind him.  Markham faced her, her visor was off as well, her flashlight out.  In the light, he could see her face was flush.  The right corner of her mouth turned slightly upward.  Next to her, Jalah’s face was slack-jawed and bloodless.

“Sir,” Wilcox said, “should we proceed or make camp?”

Gavin’s eyes sparkled.  Years and years of calculations and every leg of the journey probably dancing through her head.  The wormholes and slingshots around stars, all leading here.

“I don’t see why we should wait.”

Jalah blinked.  “I don’t see why we should rush.”  He licked his lips and swallowed.  “I mean, after all it took to get here, it seems so odd that there would be a sign.  And in a language we can read, no less.”

Everyone turned and looked at the sign.  Gavin and Markham were both shining their lights on it, everyone had removed their visors.

“Very astute, Jalah.  Maybe we should wait.”  The words were barely out of his mouth before Gavin has pushed past and vanished down the tunnel.  “I suppose that settles it.”  Markham stepped forward into the tunnel.  “Come on then, we probably don’t want to miss this.”

Just a few feet into the tunnel it angled downward and the smooth floor gave way to steps.  It also turned to the right spiraling clockwise downward.  He couldn’t see any glow from ahead, Gavin had clearly moved quickly, but Markham kept a steady pace so as not to lose his team.  His own flashlight illuminated the tunnel as he went, the walls were smooth and the ceiling was arched, and at intervals along the way there were paintings, like the cave painting of earliest man, depicting tortoises.

He heard laughter ahead, then saw light.  Gavin came into view.  She was examining one of the tortoises and laughing.


She smiled at him, “Turtles.”

Markham gave her a puzzled look.  He didn’t understand what she meant.

“Nevermind,” she said.  She winked at him and then continued down the stairs.  Markham wanted to make her stop so he could take the lead, but it was too narrow for him to pass her anyway, so he simply followed.

Behind him he heard Wilcox urging Jalah onward, and Jalah was breathing heavy.  He hadn’t liked the other much larger caves, so this tunnel was likely much worse.

Finally the tunnel and the tortoises came to an end, opening up to a large room.  Light seemed to come from the walls, and in the center was a round stone table.  Next to that was a comfortable looking chair, and in the chair was an old man.  The whiskers on his chin and lip moved as he snored.  In the center of the table, hovering just above the surface was a large black globe.

Markham stared at the globe, it seemed to draw him in, the blackness looked endless, but occasionally there would be a tiny fleck of light.

The snoring stopped.

“Ah! You’re here!”  The old man’s eyes were wide and he leaped to his feet.  He rushed forward with an outstretched hand.  Wilcox snapped his rifle up, but the old man didn’t stop.  He came immediately to Gavin and shook her hand.  She was smiling.  Then the old man shook Gavin’s hand.  Then Jalah’s and through the Privates, but not Wilcox because he wouldn’t put his rifle down.

Gavin stammered, “Where exactly are we?”

“Center of the Universe.”  The old man was almost hopping with excitement.

“THE center?”

“Well, almost.”  The old man indicated the table.  “The actual center is over there.”

“The globe?”

“The center of it.  The center of the center of the center and so one.”

Gavin laughed.  “Turtles all the way down.”

The old man slapped his leg and his face lit up.  “Indeed!”

The two of them laughed for a while and everyone else just stared.  Markham walked toward the table, mesmerized by the black globe with the occasional flickers of light.

When the laughter stopped, Markham felt someone standing beside him.  “What is this?”

Gavin answered his question with one of her own, “What do you see?”

“Nothing, mostly.”

“And if we were on the deck of our ship, looking out the window, what would you see?”

“Planets, moons, stars.”

“But mostly?”

“Mostly?  Space.  Nothing, I guess.”

“Exactly.”  Markham broke his gaze into the globe and looked right into Gavin’s green eyes.  “Looking out is looking in,” she said.  “Somewhere out there,” she waved her left arm in a sweeping arc away from the table, “far away from here, farther than anyone could possibly go is the edge of a large black sphere.  And outside that sphere is a room at the center of the universe, of someone else’s universe.”  She looked toward the globe and so did he.  “And in there,” she continued, “way down at the center is a room at the center of the universe, of another someone else’s universe.  It’s recursive.  Infinitely.”

“But,” he began, then stopped.  She waited for him to put his thoughts together.  “But what do we do?”

“About what?”

“About this?  All of this.”

“Nothing.  We go home.”  She turned away and wandered back over to the old man.

Markham’s mind was swirling.  “Wait.  Just wait.”  Gavin and the old man, and everyone else looked at him.  “Who is this guy?  Is he God?”

“Me?”  The old man looked shocked.  “No, I’m not God.  Well, not your God anyway.”

“Who’s God are you?”

The old man nodded toward the table and the globe.  “Them I suppose.  I mean, I’m the keeper of the sphere but it’s not like I created it or anything.  Can’t even do anything with it.  I just watch.”


The old man shrugged.  “And nothing.”

Markham felt hot.  He was trained for flying space ships and following orders and making military decisions.  This jaunt to find the center of the universe had been Gavin’s proposal and they’d been given a mission to try.  She’d been working the math for a long time, but in the last year they’d been jumping wormholes and skimming gravity wells, spiraling around all of creation to find this room.  This sudden revelation of universes inside universes with universes outside them infinitely was beyond him.  He was trying very hard to piece it all together and make it fit in his view but there was just too much.  Everyone was just staring at him, which exasperated him even more.  “What does it mean?”

Gavin smiled at him.  A few strands of her auburn hair cascaded across her face.  She walked over slowly and put her hands on his upper arms.  She squeezed gently, but hard enough so he felt it through the suit.  Then she leaned in and kissed him.  It was at first a solid, firm kiss on the lips, then she tilted her head slightly and he followed suit.  Her lips parted just a little and her hands slid around his back.  His lips parted also, and his arms roamed upward finding her hips and then sliding up her back.  They kissed for a good long while.

Wilcox cleared his throat.

Gavin pulled back and resumed smiling.  She let go of Markham, walked back over to the old man, shook his hand, gave him a hug and then headed toward the stairway.

She paused at the opening, looked back over her shoulder at Markham.  “Are you coming?”  And then she clicked on her flashlight and began ascending the stairs.

The old man strode over to Markham.  “You want to know what it means?”  Markham nodded while still staring at the stairway.  “It means she came here to find the center of the universe, and she did.  She also found the center of her universe along the way.  It means that the center of the universe might be over there on the table, but the center of your universe may have just left the room.”

The old man patted him on the arm and then walked back to his chair.  Wilcox, Daud, Michaels, Skildum, and Jalah filed up the stairs.  Captain Markham smiled.

Photo by / CC BY-NC 2.0

Movie Round-Up: November 12th, 2009


Let’s face it, I’m a Roland Emmerich fan.  His movies are usually slightly (highly) absurd but they all end pretty much the same way: the triumph of the human spirit.  Plus, the special effects in this film look pretty damn awesome.  Some people will complain that its just “CGI vomit” but seriously, how else would you show the destruction of the world?  Do it for real?  Anyway, I’ll be making a trek to the theater to see this on the big screen, because that really is how these sorts of films should be seen.

Pirate Radio:

This movie is fictitious tale about the pirate radio stations broadcasting rock ‘n roll to the UK in the late 1960s.  None of it is actually true, but it is based on real elements (like pirate stations running from boats off-shore and the Marine Offenses Act).  Don’t go here looking for facts.  But for some good music and fun about a group of guys blasting rock music for the people of the UK in defiance of the government, this movie is where it’s at.  Well written, well acted, and well filmed, this movie is fun and funny through and through.  The box office for this film is going to suffer opening opposite 2012, but perhaps after you’ve seen the awesome FX laden destruction-fest you might consider seeing this one for a good laugh.

Get to da Choppa!

I know I promised zombies, but I lied… you get this instead…

I signed up for and am participating in an online game design class.  On our first day of “class” (which I actually read a couple days later), part of the reading was an example to show you that making a game is not a Herculean effort.  Simple games are exactly that: simple.  What follows is the game I designed in less than 15 minutes.

Get to da Choppa!

Welcome to the jungle!  You are in the thick of it, and something is after you.  But if you can be the first to the helicopter, you can survive.

26 Game Tiles – 1 “Start” tile, 1 “Choppa!” tile, 14 blank “Jungle” tiles, 2 “Tunnel Entrance” tiles, 4 “Lose a Turn” tiles (tangled in vines, stuck in mud, broke through bridge, and lost my way), 2 “Advance 1 Space” tiles, and 2 “Retreat 1 Space” tiles.
12 Opportunity Cards – 3 “Cover Fire” card (Advance another player 2 spaces), 3 “Decoy” cards (Advance yourself 3 spaces), 3 “Rest Up” cards (Do nothing this turn, next turn move 5 spaces instead of rolling), and 3 “Frag” cards (Cause another player to lose a turn).
1 Six-sided die.
12 player pieces (green plastic army men if you have them).

Game designed for 2 to 12 players.

The Rules:
The 26 tiles are placed in a pile, face up, on the table.  The 12 Opportunity cards are placed, face down, on the table.  Each player chooses a playing piece and roles the die to determine play order.  Highest first, roll again to break ties.  The “Start” tile is placed on the table and all playing piece are placed on it.  Starting with the highest rolling player, each person in turn will take a game tile from the tile pile and place it on the table so that it connects to the previous tile.  The game path can turn left and right, however when a tile is placed it must only connect to one other tile.  When tile placing is complete, and the last player placed the “Choppa!” tile, you should have a board that takes 25 forward movements to complete.

Beginning with the next player in the rotation, each player draws an Opportunity card from the face down pile.  Do not show your card to other players until you play it.

After each player has drawn a card, the game moves into the Movement rounds.  If the player is on the “Start” tile, they must roll the die.  A roll of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 allows the player to move their playing piece forward that many spaces.  If they land on a tile with an action on it, they must adhere to it (Advancing 1 space, retreating 1 space, losing their next turn, or moving to the other end of the tunnel).  Tile actions “stack” in that if you land on an “Advance 1 Space” tile and doing so lands you on a “Lose a Turn” tile, you lose your next turn.  If a player rolls a 6, the player believes they have been spotted and hides, not moving that turn.

After the player has moved off the “Start” tile, on their turn they may choose to use their Opportunity card instead of rolling the die.  Any player moved by an Opportunity card onto a tile with an action must adhere to that action.

The game ends when a player “Gets to da Choppa!” and leaves the rest of the players in the jungle.


My first prototype of the game was as basic as possible.  Sticky notes for the game tiles, more sticky notes (folded in half to hide the sticky part) for the cards, a die and some army men.  If I am inspired, I may make a “better” prototype and post some pictures.

If, my dear reader(s), you are so inclined, feel free to make your own copy of this game and try it out.  I’d love feedback on how it plays.  I feel it might need more special tiles, or some other game element to spice it up.  If you do play it, please come back and let me know how it went…


Last night, despite still being ill (more on that later), I went to a screening of the new movie Beowulf.

The story of Beowulf has been done so many times that I figure everyone knows it by now, so I’m not going to review that part. It is what it is, and its still pretty good.

This movie version is a computer animated tale. It uses the same motion capture system that brought us The Polar Express three years ago. I had the same problem with this film that I have had with every single computer animated movie in the past as they’ve approached realism: eyes and mouth. Two things that computer animation hasn’t gotten quite right yet, that eyes are not steady (people tend to flick their eyes around even if they don’t realize they are doing it) and that mouth movement actually affects the entire face (when a person yells, the jaw opens and it pulls the skin of the entire face, affecting the nose and eyes as well).

Now here comes the compliment… Beowulf is the first computer animated movie to make me forget that the eyes and mouth are wrong. Going in to the film, I did not know it was a digital 3D movie. The animation by itself would have been amazing, but rendered in 3D and popping off the screen it was breathtakingly phenomenal. Astounding.

Because of this, I highly recommend going to see this movie at the theater. The big screen and the digital 3D absolutely makes this film be exactly what Beowulf should be.


This is the best TV show you’ve probably never seen. Quick run down: Jaye is a 24 year old college grad who doesn’t know what exactly to do with her life, so she works a retail job (at a Niagra Falls gift shop called Wonderfalls) and lives in a trailer park despite having a rich family, and all is going fine in her uneventful world until a smushed face wax lion starts talking to her. As the show goes on, more things talk to her, and when she does what they say it always starts a wildly out of control chain of events that ultimately ends up with her helping someone, normally against her own judgement. Are the voices God? Are they just her suppressed “inner voice” bubbling to the surface? No one knows, and we never will.

Of this show, only 13 episodes were made. A typical half season order. However, only 4 episodes ever aired. It got pre-emted a few times, then they out and out cancelled it. It just wasn’t doing well (in its shitty timeslot on friday nights), and there was already another show on where a girl talking to something that might be God (Joan of Arcadia, also good, ran 2 seasons before they dropped it). The good news is they released all 13 episodes of Wonderfalls on DVD. Better yet, 6 episodes have commentary, and they included a great behind-the-scenes/making-of documentary. Like watching ‘Firefly’ on DVD, the show is so good it almost makes you cry that it won’t be on ever again (well, Firefly has a movie coming out, but I still rather would have seen it stay on TV for a decade instead).

One of the many good things about Wonderfalls is the theme song. Normally when I watch TV shows I’ve taped or gotten on DVD, I’ll skip the opening because lots of TV themes blow or leave you with that ‘eh’ feeling when you can’t decide if you care enough to bother rating its complete lack of grabbing your interest on either end of the spectrum. But Wonderfalls sports an original tune by Andy Partridge (the front man for the band XTC), “I Wonder Why the Wonder Falls”, a happy little jaunty tune that brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

Anyway, while the show was rumored to be cancelled and through to the day they announced the DVD planned release, Save Wonderfalls was the home base of the effort to get the show put back on the air, and failing that get it put out on DVD. They report that over 25,000 copies of the DVD had sold by February. On their extras page, they have a link to a copy of the Video done for the song. Needless to say, it never made the charts nor any of the music channels here in the USA, and I have no idea if it did elsewhere.

If you like quirky dramatic comedy type shows, I highly recommend Wonderfalls. Its worth the $30 for the complete series.

Shadows of Luclin or Shit outta Luck?

Verant is at it again.

And I mean that in both the good and bad sense of the phrase.

The Good: They released Shadows of Luclin, an expansion for EverQuest – the game that keeps on kicking. New lands, a new race, a new class, new items featuring never before thought of properties, a new expanded skill system, and more. The world opens up again and for a while we can all explore something new and different. You won’t hear much bitching about this part of the game because people don’t complain when they are happy.


The Bad: As usual, they introduced a large amount of bugs with the game release. Bards are, for lack of a better term, useless. They can’t sing anything that isn’t self only. Druids got a new line of group skin buffs to make them for desireable in groups, but group buffs, like group songs, don’t work (this may be fixed now, they patched twice already and the game has only been live 2 days). And while many of the armor textures look good, the character models… let’s just say they leave something to be desired.

Change is good, and change is bad.

The people wanted more in game content, and Verant provided. The new world and items, spells, class, race, all of it, a good idea and exactly what the customer wanted.

The new skill system is mostly good, except for the fact they made it level based again. I don’t think anyone would have complained if you had to be level 51 to get the new skills, but Verant decided that you get some skills made available to you at 51, some at 55, and some at 59. Basically, they made it so that no matter how hard you worked for these extra skill points (don’t through experience points just like levelling) you can’t get all the skills unless you are level 59. Here, in this one factor of the system, they missed the mark of what the average player wants. Most people would like to someday be level 60 and on top of the world, however, most realize that its a dream. Some people are in small guilds that don’t do gigantic raids, or don’t play often. These people might make level 55 and realize that 55 is all the level they need to do what they want in game. But now, in order to get the cool skills that would make them better, they have to level to 59. Lots of these skills have levels within them, 3 or 5. If Verant was determined to keep a level based system, they should have done 2 things: 1) make the skill tree more of a tree with prerequisites and order, and 2) take a skill with 3 “levels” and make the first attainable at 51, the second at 55 and the third at 59 so that you can have the skill at 51, but you can’t master it until 59.

Lastly, people like eye candy. And for the most part, the armor textures of Luclin are good. Plate armor LOOKS like plate armor instead of a solid steel t-shirt. But the character models themselves, especially the faces, have left most people dumbstruck. Some of the races look good, and for the most part all the females are decent although a bit heavy in the boobage department, but they destroyed faces. Every race/sex gets 8 faces, this has always been true. But where before Luclin the 8 faces were unique, the 8 new faces are very very very similar. If two humans pick the same hair and beard style and color, unless one of them picks the face with the eyepatch, get more than 10 feet away and you can’t tell them apart anymore. If you were one of the people who picked the “asian” human face, you are completely out of luck, it no longer exists. Verant made a leap here that they should not have. They redesigned the look of the player. Not just his armor, but his face. Rather than take the existing faces and modify them to fit the new models, they chose to make new faces altogether.

The end result of all this is.. once they get the bugs fixed, they have released an expansion that is 95% good. But that 5% bad is the worst possible 5% because its something that makes many players unhappy and they have to stare at that 5% every time they get into the game.

23 November 1999

… sometimes its just hard to keep the smile on your face.
I’ve missed a number of days for updates, and there is a long long story behind it. The short of it is: my younger brother was in the hospital, he underwent heart surgery, twice, and now he still will have to go to a clinic far away for a third, failing that he goes for open heart surgery, and failing that he gets a pacemaker.
He’s 21 years old, he has a good life, he does not need a pacemaker. It’s these kinds of things that make me realize why I don’t believe in God.
I mean, I’m a slacker. I don’t go after what I want, I don’t pursue my dreams. I don’t live up to my full potential, I rarely even try. I was the one born with heart trouble and not breathing. But he’s the one who has a bad ticker.
Fuck all trying to understand any of it. He’s got confidence, gets good grades, has a wonderful girlfriend, smart, funny… pretty much everything I’d love to have in myself, but I’m a schmuck.
You know what?
I give up. I am no longer going to try to understand the universe. It takes too much time, and you never learn the important stuff until after the moment has past you by.