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September 28, 2003

Poker in the UK

Evening all! Today, I put a deposit down on two airline tickets to the UK. Flight Centre gave us a good deal with Emirates. We'll be popping over for the first two weeks in November to catch up with family. Although we arrive back on the nineteenth, I think we'll be so jet-lagged that we're not likely to be available for anything until the weekend anyway!

Marcus and I are still ironing out some issues with Movable Type and the hosting on his server. I've been bombarding the poor bloke with e-mails, to which he's responded as best he can. I have the feeling he didn't quite realise what he was taking on with me! :-D Anyway, I have a new rant ready, but I'm going to hold until the new site is up before I post it.

You may also have noticed that the last news-post, dated last Monday, didn't go up until Wednesday. That was because, for some God-unknown reason, Telstra wasn't letting me into my own webspace via FTP. No, I have no idea why. The great part is that the only way I can get in is by using an FTP application; Telstra doesn't offer any kind of site-building or uploading tool on their website. So if WS_FTP can't get in, I'm stuffed.

This is yet another of the reasons why I'm so looking forward to getting Movable Type up and running on Marcus's system; once it's up, all I need is a web browser and a good link and I can put news posts, articles, reviews and the like up very quickly (provided Marcus' system isn't having nay problems; at the very least, though, Marcus is much more accessible than Telstra).

There are a few things I'm going to have to look at with this new site implementation. I don't know how to get the Activity Monitor working under Movable Type; while it does allow me to get in and fiddle with the HTML directly, I'm trying to avoid direct HTML editing wherever possible with the new site. I want to save having to monkey around with HTML until the next site overhaul, by which time I should be more familiar with the tag-set that Movable Type uses. I also have the feeling that the Links list is going to have to drop drastically; rather than being a page unto itself, it's going to get tucked into a sidebar, as on the majority of Movable Type-enabled pages. Still, it'll cut out the greater volume of links that I simply don't visit any longer.

A post by das Wilmeister over on Wil Wheaton Dot Net had me scurrying to various Web-based sources of information on that wonderful game called poker. I've never actually played the game, and I have vague, vague memories of some fellow school kid trying to explain the rules to me one day on a bus ride. All of a sudden, Wheaton's throwing around these mysterious, glamorous terms like "no-limit freeze-out", "flop", "Fifth Street", "turn card", "River card", and while I'm utterly lost, I'm definitely intrigued.

Turns out Wilbur and his young charge (I don't know why Wilhelm's so hot on playing poker with the youth of today; if he's as big a geek as he claims, why isn't he sticking with nice, simple, old-fashioned D&D?) were playing a poker variant called "Hold-'Em", where each player is dealt two cards and has to make the best poker hand possible out of them and a gradually-dealt public pile of five. You don't pick up the public cards, though; they're simultaneously available to anyone (which sort of had me thrown at first). In between all of this, you squeeze four rounds of betting. Very intriguing stuff.

It's worthwhile knowing this, as Dan's been talking about getting together for a poker evening occasionally. It sounded fun at first, you know, yeah, the Great American Male Pastime and all that (and you all know what an Americanaphile I am) but after actually doing something thinking about our mutual friend the Danimal lately, and come to some realisations (which Vickie, being both the better judge of character and more worldly wise of our marriage, had long since deduced). I get the feeling that Our Man Dan is a poker player. "Well, duh," you undoubtedly respond, "you just said he was trying to get a game going." Maybe I didn't insinuate the nuance properly - I don't think Dan is just someone who plays poker, I think he's a poker player. That's his thing, it's what he does. You disagree? Well, me old chum, just examine that politely reserved demeanour, those icy-blue eyes of his next time you see him, and tell me he's not learning your tells. As soon as you or I sit down at a table with him and a deck of cards, we'll have handed him my chips/matchsticks/whatever, it just won't actually happen until later in the evening. I know there's nothing personal; it's just like a force of nature. ("It's only poker," sayeth the spider to the fly.) and after having Gav kick my arse in Crimson Skies, my ego is a little too bruised to sustain the sort of battering that I have no doubt Dan can deal out with a mere fifty-two slips of laminated, inked card.

That wonderful lingo still makes the idea of the odd game tempting, though. Even if I'd be a minnow trying to stare down a shark.

September 22, 2003

The Illuminated Name of the Rose is TRON 2.0

Evening! Been a good couple of weeks since the last newspost - you know, this is beginning to sound like "It has been two weeks since my last confession." I think I ought to just step up the pace or shut up. I've also noticed that there's been a fair bit of whinging in my news posts lately. I think there's a rant in there somewhere; it just needs some teasing out.

Anyway. One of the reasons, or excuses, why there haven't been any news posts for the last couple of weeks is the visit of Melissa Resch, a talented artist and poet whom Vickie met up with on the about.com poetry boards. I think I mentioned in the last news post that Melissa is a U.S. native (currently based out of Provincetown, in Massachusets) who was in Perth for four months to expand her palate. She wanted to see Sydney before she went back to the States, so Vickie offered to put her up here for the week. I didn't really know Melissa before she arrived; we only spoken once or twice a couple of weeks before she was due to leave Perth.

So after only a week of shared time, I can safely say Melissa is one of those quality people whom we feel lucky to be able to call friends. She's a very pleasant, easy-going, cheery person, and frankly we wouldn't have minded having her around for the one week of her time that we did have. With any luck, she may be back in Australia on a more permanent basis. I won't say any more for fear of hexing things for her, though.

Speaking of overseas travel, we're going to see if we can get to the UK in November. I'd been planning it for August of next year, but without going into detail, let's just say current circumstances have us thinking that the sooner we paid a visit to my family over there, the better. Vickie reminded me that I have some money in a savings account over there that could cover the air-fares. Dad's in the UK for a couple of weeks right now, and is helping me to get my hands on the money. In the meantime, we're thinking of dragging Mum out of the house at some point to go see a movie; you know, help keep her occupied while Dad's away.

Well, after all my bitching about the money situation, things are still a little tight at the mo - at least in part because I splurged on the long-awaited Tron 2.0. By God, it's fun. It's pretty much everything I've been waiting for; it really pulls out all the stops to look, sound and feel like the Electronic World presented in Tron, with 20 years of advancement on top of it. If there are any deficiencies in my opinion, it's that the story could have been meatier (I would have liked more from the ending instead of the almost pilot-episode-style "there are problems still yet to solve" wind-up that was presented). With any luck, though, there'll be more on its way; Richard Taylor, the head of visual effects on Tron, has been deeply involved with the computer game, and has been recorded as saying that Disney are watching Tron 2.0's sales very closely, with an eye toward green-lighting a new Tron feature if it does well enough. My fingers, I assure you, are crossed - and although it meant laying out $90 on a piece of software, I feel a little glad that I've somehow "done my part" in making a new Tron movie happen. (Heh! "Doing my part" to get a movie made - I am starting to sound like a fan. I've had enough of that sort of fanaticism from the Battlestar Galactica boards; I'd better not start at it myself.)

Hmm? Oh, yes, very much. Well worth the $90. Please buy it yourself; I need to hook up for some Internet-based Disc Arena with someone whose ping is less than 200.

On the general gaming front, we had a nice gaming evening on Saturday night. Dan, Mandi and Gav came over. Dan brought the Steve Jackson Games card game Illuminati over, and we spent at least three hours learning and playing a single game. Dan won, but (to me, at least) it didn't feel like an easy victory. He won at right around the time we needed to wind up and call it a night anyway, but I still had an intense, solid game.

Maybe next time, though, we need to play something requiring less tactical and strategic planning. I'm thinking along the lines of a "beer-n-pretzels" game that doesn't force players to concentrate on rules and a winning strategy in order to get the most out of it. The sort of game where you can just sit around, relax and be social in between - and during - turns, but still feel that you've had "a good game" (actually, games plural - we only had one long game of Illuminati, and some more variety would have been nice).

On reflection, I notice that you don't get that sort of gameplay out of RPGs, or a lot of the other games that gamers like (i.e. Illuminati, Hacker and Chez Geek), don't really allow. There's another rant in there, I think, so I'll make a note in the Rant File and leave this topic here for the moment. It ain't news. But still, let's be fair: I was all for Illuminati when Dan suggested it, and had played it once or twice before, so it's not like I had no idea what I was getting into.

General gaming again: Gav and Mandi stayed overnight (no sniggering from the back, thank you) and after Mandi's mum picked her up and I dropped Vickie in at work (she had a twelve-hour shift yesterday), Gav and I played two games of Crimson Skies. He's bought himself the Broadway Bombers squadron, and in both games he did a very good job of making mincemeat out of me. It was a good return from the last two matches, where I managed to down his Red Skull Legion quite respectably. I think I need to do some homework on his planes; find out what their strengths ands weaknesses are. In the meantime, we also bounced some ideas around for a Star Wars campaign; he's thinking of something along the lines of the Jedi Academy computer game he's playing right now.

In a similar vein, I'm asking some friends to help me dig myself out of this ideas-funk I've dug myself into over the Heavy Gear campaign. With any luck, I'll be able to consistently bounce ideas off this "brains trust" and put some quality adventures together.

Marcus has set me up some web space on his hosting servers for me. I've uploaded Movable Type, but there are still a few things Marcus and I need to sort out before it works properly.

Something fun happened last Sunday - my PC's power supply unit went Boom. No, Hayama, it wasn't like the last time; I didn't flip the little red switch on the back to the lower voltage. Anyway, I took it into EYO Technologies after we dropped Melissa at the airport on Monday; as it was under warranty, I received a credit that I used on a more powerful unit. I also bought a stick of RAM for Mum and Dad's PC (the installation fee from which covered the cost of upgrading the PSU).

Vickie's Bead Business is taking off; she's bought some good stock though eBay and the bead store in Chatswood, which she's used to make some very funky designs. Now we have to organise the means of selling them. We've still got loan of Gav's camera and the experimentation I'm doing with Marcus' web space will go toward putting a site together that Vickie can post the photos on.

I've discovered a classic piece of eighties Cyberpunk: Max Headroom. I've known of Max for ages, but had never actually seen the show; the Video Ezy down the road had the first two episodes on tape, so I rented them out. Funny stuff, and perhaps like Tron, a little ahead of its time (the show only did twelve episodes before being canned). All you Cyberpunk 2020 RPGers out there should get it, if you can; it's a pretty good template for a Media-based campaign. Unfortunately, despite being re-run on the TechTV cable channel in the states recently, there appear to be no plans to re-release Max on VHS or DVD.

And finally, tonight: Vickie managed to snag a VHS of The Name of the Rose from eBay. It's very good stuff! Great acting from everyone involved, especially the leads (Sean Connery, Christian Slater and F. Murray Abraham) and a very intense story. If Boots hasn't seen it, I think we'll have to sit him down to watch it: it's the sort of gorgeously-shot, densely-plotted film he'll enjoy.

September 06, 2003

Crimson Skies and the Heavy Gear Funk

(Editor's Note 10 Oct 03: "Crimson Skies and the Heavy Gear Funk" - sounds like a glam soul band!)

Afternoon everyone! A late morning for us both today; apparently I was so wired after playing Crimson Skies with Gav last night that I was keeping Vickie awake. I even got out of bed twice and looked out of the bedroom window. I don't even remember any of it, except for the (allegedly) second time I looked out the window. Vickie asked me what I was doing, and I said something about wanting to know where we were. I think I was having some sort of weird dream, and was half-expecting to look out the window of our bedroom and see something other than brick wall.

Yes, odd, very. I can't explain it either.

Anyway (ahem) - yes, Crimson Skies. I've been playing a bit more of it lately, on Wednesday night with the Slack Bugger (aka Boots) and, as previously implied, last night with Gav. It's been an interesting experience all around; we're still trying to get used to the rules and how they ought to be interpreted, checking the official Crimson Skies FAQ and message boards. Unfortunately, if there's one shortcoming to the CS rules as printed, it's that they're not always clearly written, which is a shame, as they only really take up about three pages. I think WizKids is going to have to release a revised rules set which resolves the ambiguities, includes the omissions (there are some, especially regarding Campaign play) and clarifies the things that (I think) the writers didn't think needed clarifying. (As the rules pack is only $16 Australian, frankly I wouldn't complain about buying another one.) It's stuff that we probably wouldn't have noticed if we didn't have a three-player game Friday week ago - and while it could be argued that Crimson Skies is meant to be a two-player game, the way the rules are written alternates between a for-two-players style and a three-plus-players style. (Terms like "the player to the winner's left" that wouldn't be necessary in a two-players-only game.) It's also annoying when an element of play - specifically, players alternating shots during combat - isn't clear in the main rules, but gets clarified in the quick-start leaflet. That's a big whoopsie.

Back to last night's games. Gav and I managed to squeeze two in. For the first time in at least a couple of years, one of my miniatures gaming boards (two 3' by 4' thin wood boards, painted green on one side and gray on the other) got use. Both of the battles felt like close things; even when one side had the advantage, you still had the sensation that the battle could go either way. WizKids deserve credit for that; I think it's a tricky balance to achieve, and it says a lot for the quality of the game when you're kept involved as a player and competitor throughout each entire match. I managed to win both games; Gav conceded the first when, although we both still had three battered planes on the board, two of his were Shaken (meaning they couldn't shoot); the second was tougher, but I managed to win with two planes (both near-crippled) remaining on the board. If there was one thing that characterised both matches, it was that I had a tendency to cause collisions, so much so, in fact, that Gav started calling me Captain Collision (editor's note 10 Oct 03: You think that's bad? You should hear what Boots was calling our three-way collisions...), which, being the slight Americanophile I am, changed to the catchier Cap'n Crunch. They weren't intentional; it was just that the manoeuvre I needed to make to get my plane pointed at his took my plane right into his. As he had a tendency to fail Pilot rolls, I managed to rack up a fair few clicks of damage that way.

Gav went away saying that he had a fair bit to learn about the game, but I'd disagree; I think they were both good fights, and there were several points where I felt like I was going to lose; it was just a few unlucky rolls that cost him. If there's one thing I'd suggest he do, it's do his homework. I spent my lunchtime and a slow spot in the afternoon yesterday on the Crimson Skies web page, where WizKids have put the complete information on every plane's dials, and put together a summary of his squadron, with pertinent info on weapons and special abilities and how hard (or easy) it would be to rob him of them through damage. By comparing that information with that on my own squadron, I was able to come up with a few tactical approaches that I was able to use during the game. I have a crib sheet for both his and Boots' squadron, so the next match-up with the Bootsmeister should be interesting.

I had a thought earlier on - when I originally mentioned my gaming boards to Gav and Boots, it was in the context of being able to put them together for a four-sided match, but I just thought of something this morning - why not just keep them separate and have two simultaneous games? It'd mean we'd need another table to put them on, but I could always drag the garden table in form outside, like I usually do for an evening of Heavy Gear. Getting four CS players here at once is suddenly much more do-able (although Vickie would probably kill me).

I've made mention of the Crimson Skies Tournament being held at this year's NecronomiCon. I think I've also previously mentioned that Newtown is getting to be a bit too far to go for a convention nowadays, but I was thinking that, as this would just be a single tournament and not me playing in or running a while slew of games, it mightn't be so bad. Still, I'm equally un fond of either leaving Vickie behind while I go gaming or dragging her along to a convention where she'll not be interested in what's on, so I asked her whether she'd mind if I entered.

Vickie immediately reminded me that it's her birthday that weekend. The same day as Prizegiving, in fact. "I knew you'd forget," she said laughingly. She just assured me she wouldn't mind, as long as she had something to do (she even suggested taking along a book to read), but as far as I'm concerned, Vickie sitting around reading a book or wandering Newtown by herself looking for something of interest is not fucking good enough for her birthday.

So here's hoping they have another tournament at MacquarieCon!

We asked Gav to bring his new digital camera over last night, although we forgot to tell him that we wanted to take some photos of Vickie's jewellery, so he forgot the manual and USB cable (which we'd need to download photos to our PC). The idea also occurred to me yesterday that we could take photos of the match, but you really need a third person for that: both to take photos of both players in one shot and also to say, "Stop! That looks good, let me get a photo", as Gav and I completely forgot about the camera during the games.

I must confess, I've been avoiding work on the next Heavy Gear session. It's one of those things where I'm not quite sure what to present to the players, and am not really fond of the ideas I've had so far. There's also the thought that I want to get some more minis before the next Gear battle, simulated or real (and there's going to have to be one soon) - but I'm also thinking that maybe I don't need miniatures after all. Movement of opponents always gets me during combat; because RPG combats are so busy, I usually forget that enemies can and will move around, especially the faster units like hovertanks. It's what got me during the last session, when the players staged an implausible and unexpected breakout from captivity which logically should have got some, if not all of them killed, and I was too caught off guard and trying to keep their characters alive to run things properly. Still, every game's a learning experience, and I think I have enough notes on the opposition and how they ought to move to run combats, especially mechanised ones, better and without need for miniatures or hex-maps. The problem is that I've already convinced my players to fork out for miniatures of their players' Gears, so I think I should either follow through on my end or pay them back for the miniatures they already bought (which, God knows, might just be cheaper).

Some Blue Booking has started between Dan and I; his first e-mail has been sitting in my in box for about a week, and I've yet to respond to it.

There's still the problem of what to do in the next session. Although it's logical and a good way to get my players comfortable with their characters, the system and each other, it just... feels dull. Even the "opposition" characters - other trainees, base staff, etcetera - seem to be missing something, and I don't know what or whether it's worth trying to find it and give it to them. I'm not sure whether I can put it into words, but it feels like there's no real "point" to the whole thing, that all the really exciting stuff is going to happen after they complete their training. From the GM's perspective, this phase of the campaign just feels stodgy, gluey and unpleasant.

I don't know, maybe this is all just pissing and moaning to cover the fact that I'm shirking actually having to sit down and do some hard thinking about the situation and how to resolve it. The excuse I've been using to avoid doing Heavy Gear - development on Vickie's website - hasn't really panned out either. My attempts to re-install the Perl-enabled version of Apache that I downloaded from perl.apache.org keep failing. It's galling that the program, unlike the "straight" version of Apache, doesn't come with any clean un install tools. I'm thinking of talking to Marcus about setting some trial web space up so I can test Movable Type out and try to get Vickie's website working and looking the way we want it to.

Okay. Moving on. The eBay stuff has all been sold, but I'm still a little strapped right now. I've paid a couple of bills, and I'm waiting for eBay to deduct its fees from my account, so I have just enough to cover the next rent payment on Friday. I get paid on Monday week. Ergo, it's probably good that TRON 2.0 isn't out yet. It's odd, though - the only date that EB has for the game is the US release date, which is August the 26th. I've sent an e-mail off to David Arnspiger of Buena Vista Interactive, who usually frequents the tron-sector.com message boards; he was good enough to reply and let me know he was checking up for me. This was a very nice and unexpected gesture; usually, if you send something off to a company with a question, you get an automated "Thank you for your e-mail" reply (if you're lucky). It's very rare someone actually comes back to you with a personal "we're looking into it and will let you know as soon as we have more info" response.

On Monday, we're receiving a guest from the US - well, from Perth, actually; she's been staying there for the past while on her West Coast leg of a visit to Australia. Her name's Melissa, and she's a friend of Vickie and fellow poet. She's also a talented painter. We're picking her up from the airport on Monday night. I'll have Tuesday Off, so I won't have to worry about dragging my carcass into work the next day if Melissa's plane is delayed. Vickie's taking the week off, and the two will probably be off around town, taking in the sights and the art galleries. We're also planning on taking Melissa to Castle Hill Markets on Saturday. She heads off on Monday week.

So this weekend is going to be a Big Clean and Tidy Weekend, in preparation for Melissa's visit. I'll be mowing the lawn tomorrow morning, and we'll be evicting the several families of dust bunnies that have no doubt flourished since the last time we seriously went over the place with a broom.

And tomorrow afternoon, I'll be off to Mum and Dad's for Dad's Day, which will take some more time out of the cleanup.

Finally in the news this afternoon, I downloaded a demo of the upcoming Homeworld2. It looks positively gorgeous, but I'm not really sure whether that's enough to sell me on it. I don't think there's enough "newness" between it and the original Homeworld to get me to spend $80-90 on it.