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December 30, 2006

Resolutions for 2007

Okay, utterly blowing past the obligatory Christmas post which I didn't write anyway, it's resolution time! Before we start on 2007's resolutions, let's just take a look back at the ones I set for 2006, shall we? Nope, didn't learn to cook. PERL and server maintenance? Excuse me while I overcome a fit of hysterical laughter. Finding and/or making more Cairns gamers I actually managed to pull off, although most of the ones I met last year had just moved into town. Xbox Live, yeah, but didn't use it that much and let the subscription die in favour of buying Christmas presents for, you know, other people. In fact, any spending money on game-related product didn't go anywhere near as planned; none of the games listed in that post I actually bought. System Link Xbox games? Nup.

Well, as my main New Year's Resolution is to clear as much credit card debt as I can, I have the feeling I won't be buying any new gaming product (outside of Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, which will come out of the Christmas money from Dad that doesn't go on four new tyres). But I do still have some gaming-specific resolutions:

  • Run some Dogs in the Vineyard for my wife. I managed to get Vickie involved in the hobby a little while after we met, but she admits she usually goes with the flow when I try and involve her in a given game - except Dogs, which is pretty much the only game she's actually asked me to run. I'm not about to let an opportunity to run a game my wife is actually keen on pass me by, so with any luck I'll be able to run a game in a couple of weeks using a town I cooked up.
  • Run a solid, engaging campaign until its natural end. The last time I achieved this was (I think) 1997; a game of Macross II: The RPG using the adventures from Dream Pod 9's Deck Plans books. The last time I tried this (the first time since that Macross II campaign, I'm pretty sure) was a couple of years ago, a faltering Heavy Gear campaign that collapsed in late 2004 after six or seven sessions. This time around, I'm keen on using a set of rules that gives the whole campaign some kind of structure, like Burning Empires or Primetime Adventures. I'm more than open to an ongoing Dogs in the Vineyard game, though.
  • Get some regular time on the other side of the GM screen. I think it's fair to say that most of my gaming time has been spent as a game master, the reason mostly being because I liked the control over the game-universe (possibly also because I thought, with all the stuff the GM gets to do, being a player would be comparatively boring). Nowadays I'm relaxing my gaming attitude, and I'm more keen to find out what I've been missing. The good news is, a couple of people I know are keen on running some high-level AD&D soon, so with any luck I'll be able to get into a regular game sooner rather than later!
  • Establish a monthly get-together for Cairns gamers. I've definitely become a subscriber to the idea that better games arise when peole have a chance to get to know each other away from the gaming table. Last October I managed to organise a successful get-together, and I've got one in the works for the second Saturday in January. I intend to raise the subject of making it a regular deal then.

Oh, yeah, and play/GM some of the stuff that's been lurking, read but un-used, on my gaming shelves, games like Sorcerer, Nine Worlds, The Shadow of Yesterday (especially keen on that one), Lacuna Pt. I (second attempt) and, maybe, Eberron. Then there are the games I'd like to re-use, like InSpectres, octaNe and Paranoia XP.

I have the feeling that, with this set of resolutions, I have a good chance of getting a green on the dashboard for 2007 (sorry, corporate-speak there). Anyway, Vickie and I will be seeing the New Year in at a friend's place at Clifton Beach, just south of Port Douglas. Enjoy your fireworks, peons!

December 23, 2006

Weapons of Choice

(The Christmas post will have to wait until tomorrow. This is cross-posted from Robinson's Place.)

A couple of Sundays ago, around midday, I splurged twenty dollars on a nigh-on seven-hundred-page book. By the evening of the next day, I'd made it to the back cover. Although I could put it down, I had a very hard time doing so; I devoured chapters during morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea at work. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to read it through again, much more slowly this time, something I don't think I've ever done with any book before.

Although I din't know it when I bought the book, it was written by an Australian. John Birmingham previously (well, twelve years ago) made a literary splash with his novel, He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, about sharing a house in Brisbane, which was made into a movie locally. He followed it up with Leviathan: An Unauthorised History of Sydney. He's also a regular columnist for the current affairs magazine, The Bulletin.

The novel I read was a marked change of pace to say the least. It's called Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1. It opens fifteen years from now, as a fleet of ships from the US, UK, Australia, Japan, France and Indonesia gathers off East Timor under the supercarrier USS Hillary Clinton, preparing to take Indonesia back from the radical Muslim sect that overthrew its government. Tagging along with them is a reserach vessel at work on a new form of weapon system. When the head researcher decides to try to break the speed of light instead, Something Goes Wrong - and the multinational force suddenly finds itself halfway across the world and eighty years in its own past, materialising in the midst of Admiral Ray Spruance's task force en route to what ought to be the Battle of Midway.

To say the novel opens with a bang is an understatement. Upon being confronted with the high-tech Japanese destroyer Siranui, Spruance orders his task force to attack the mysterious ships - and while their crews are incapacitated, the networked Combat Intelligences of the multinational task force respond with hypersonic munitions and cruise missiles. Although the future ships take damage, Spruance's Task Force 17 is almost decimated before the warriors of the future realise that the impossible has happened and order their ships to stand down. On top of that, the Japanese fleet bound for Midway has itself suddenly broken off its date with destiny, coming about and steaming for home.

I've read a few reviews that not only lump this book in with "airport thrillers" by Robert Ludlum (The Bourne Identity is apparently the book most commonly bought at airport bookstores) and Dan Brown, but also criticise it for not following such books' established tropes. Quite frankly, such criticism is unfair; this book's pedigree puts it alongside works by Harry Turtledove, who's made his name as the maestro of alternate history fiction (Birmingham even inserts a presidential advisor named "Turteltaub" into the fiction and twice makes reference to "space lizards", the antagonists of Turtledove's Worldwar series).

So what do I like about this book? Well, it's action-packed without descending into straight-up, adolescent male power fantasy ("Let's team up and kick some Nazi ass!" "Sure thing, Joe Future!"). In fact, I felt as though the chapters where the ships of 2021 demolish Task Force 17 and the seamen of the USS Astoria, attempting to board the strange vessel (the USS Leyte Gulf) that has fused with their own ship, are shredded by ceramic bullets that go from pellet to porcupine inside a human body had dealt me a sucker-punch. Not because the text wallowed in gore - it didn't - but because these were the good guys locked in mortal combat with each other thanks to a horrid, unforeseeable mistake.

It hits the expected anachornistic notes. The obvious statements about racism and gender issues are presented when the troops, commanders and civilians of the Allied nations are confronted with the mixed-race and -gender complements of the future battleships. Liberated twenty-first century women affront old ladies born in the nineteenth with swearing and open discussions about sex, and the crews of the future, reared on the Internet and handheld computers, start to guess what being thrust back in time to the era of telegraphs and Movietone newsreels will mean for them and the technology aboard their vessels.

Most interestingly, it uses its contrast of cultures to shine a light on the potential consequences of an ongoing War on Terror for ourselves and our children. Say what you will about the predominantly white and entirely male troops and commanders of the Allies; they fought in what's broadly considered the last (possibly only) just war of the Western world. Are they entirely wrong to be horrified at ships that will engage with lethal force without their crew, with a people so used to war that they treat its horrors with blase professionalism, with a female reporter who's seen as much combat as a frontline soldier and can handle an MP5 with equal proficiency?

Let it not be said that then Birmingham writes SF, he writes it dead straight, gritty and serious; after all, the head of the contingent of SAS aboard an Australian submarine is none less than Captain Harry Windsor, third in line for the British throne (who, as it turns out, has earned his rank and station among the UK's hardest).

Weapons of Choice is the first in the Axis of Time trilogy, and Vickie's bought me books 2 and 3 for Christmas, so you can guess what I'll probably be doing over the Christmas break - in between eating and gardening, that is.

Bring on Independence Day, 2007...

I'm going to be writing a longer, Christmas-related post later on today, but in the meantime I hope you'll forgive my nerdish enthusiasm as I point you toward the new teaser trailer for the TransFormers movie.

Yeah, I wanna see this film. Probably gonna have about as much plot as Independence Day (interesting choice of release dates, there), but considering I saw that film at the cinema four times I doubt I'll care.

December 18, 2006

Cairns Youth Mentoring Scheme

After rabbiting on about RPGs and PCs for a while, it’s time I posted about something else.

Firstly and most importantly, I’d like to give Vickie some public love; it’s two weeks and two days since her last cigarette and she’s been going great guns so far!

Secondly, Vickie’s most recent post on her website discusses our plans for next Christmas. One of her bullet points mentioned that the both of us are getting involved in a youth mentoring programme, and I’d like to write a little more about that.

The programme in question is the Cairns Youth Mentoring Scheme. On the first of October, Vickie and I attended a charity event organised at the Reef Hotel Casino on their behalf. Several mentors and mentees discussed the programme, what’s involved and how it helps… I dunno, I keep trying and failing to come up with a term that’s not as detached and potentially condescending as “young people”, so I’ll trust you get the idea. By the end of it, Vickie and I had both decided to sign up (the good casino tucker probably helped get us into an amenable mood).

As I understand it, once we’re each assigned a youngster, we meet with them every other weekend for a couple of hours. It’s a little scary; some of those mentors took their kids out fishing and did all sorts of outdoors-y stuff I’m not particularly good at. It took Vickie to remind me of the things I am good at that I could share with a mentee (there has to be a better word than that as well; it sounds like a mint or some such), like writing.

Back in October, the next full-weekend training session was October 14th-15th, which we couldn’t attend as I’d already organised the gamers’ get-together for the Saturday. The next one after that is the first weekend in February, but we have an initial interview is tomorrow night in Manunda.

December 17, 2006

They Keep On Moving Up...

In the last week or so, I've had two people get in touch with me via e-mail after having moved, or moved back, to Cairns. Guess what? They're looking for a game. They found my web log, read a few posts and decided to get in touch!

This is bloody great! Putting "Cairns" and various phrasings of "roleplaying game" in my website's meta tags has really paid off. Last night, I sent out an e-mail to my gaming contacts about organising another gamers' get-together on Saturday, January the 13th, and I'm hoping both of the gamers who got in touch can make it!

December 14, 2006

Live Again

Well, the good news is Internet connectivity was retored mid-afternoon. Unfortunately, my dicking around with the router and my IP address caused said connectivity to be extremely slow. I managed to get everything fixed up around an hour ago.

Telstra, We've Had A Problem...

Something screwy is going on in our ADSL modem. Before I left for work yesterday morning, it was working fine; by the time Vickie got up and went to her PC, though, its "always-on" connection had switched off and powring the modem off and on again didn't get it back. It seemed like general network trouble, and the automated phone message Vickie received when she first called BigPond's tech support line mentioend there were problems, but we still couldn't connect after those were resolved.

I spent some time on the phone last night with Telstra BigPond's technical support to no avail; they've kicked the issue up to Level 2 tech support who'll get back to us in the next two business days. In the meantime, the only Internet access either of us has is my work access, which I must be careful with.

So if you don't see either of us on Skype, ICQ, Yahoo! or MSN over the next few days, or your e-mails go unanswered for a bit, we're not ignoring you.

You could, of course, give us a ring if you have our number...

December 09, 2006

Sorry, Chief; We're Hanging with Link Now

Here's something I never thought I'd write: Vickie wants a game console.

Yes, folks, read it again: My wife, Vickie, has actually expressed interest in owning a video game console: specifically, the Nintendo Wii. She mentioned it today, after stumbling across a video on NineMSN showing people playing various games using the Wii Remote. Vickie reckoned it looked like heaps of fun, and frankly, I can't really disagree with her. Much as I'd like to play Halo 3, it's the only reason I'm interested in an Xbox 360 (except, maybe, Halo Wars and Gears of War).

Plus, I really like the idea of playing something with Vickie; the only co-op gaming we've ever done has been Neverwinter Nights, which I've not bothered re-installing since the rebuild, and although she has on the rare occasion asked why I don't involve her with playing the Xbox, suggestions of co-op Halo have rarely been met with enthusiasm from Vickie - due in equal parts to the complexity of a first-person shooter and her fully-paid membership in the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Grunts.

The only problem is that we really can't afford one. We have some serious credit card debt to pay off over the coming year and rising costs across the board has seen our personal weekly allowances drop from $40 each to $20 each. So if we each socked $5 away a week, we'd still be looking at forty weeks before we could buy a Wii (and then there's the need for an extra controller). Our savings are already depleted and haven't been replenished for a month now (especially with Christmas fast approaching) and we've got plenty of other hefty things - electricity, rates, new tires for the car - we have to save for.

Before you ask, no, I don't want to trade the Xbox in unless it's for an Xbox 360 - I'm playing through Halo again (on Heroic, warming up to Legendary) and loving it (die, you rotten, little, genocidal, squeaky-voiced bastards)!

I suddenly find myself wondering how much my Heavy Gear RPG collection will fetch on eBay...

December 05, 2006


I think I might be making some headway in getting the Battlefield 2142 demo to work. After discovering a couple of threads that mentioned disabling your router’s firewall (not likely, chum), I decided to have a look at my router’s settings this morning in the hope of finding an alternative solution. When I saw the “port forwarding” settings, a lightbulb went on over my head. I ran a search for “’Battlefield 2142’ port forwarding” and this little gem of a website came up. I’ve followed its instructions, but didn’t have a chance to try BF2142 before I dashed off to work. I’ll give it a quick whirl this evening, though.

I’m also wondering whether there are any settings that will allow me to Direct Host a game of Dawn of War. Question answered: It does. And I just realised I set up all the port forwards for BF2142 wrong as well - the IP address has to be the static-IP address for my PC, not the router! Duh! Better get that fixed tonight...

Dogs in the Workplace

A couple of days ago, Vickie happened upon a printout I'd made of a post on the Burning Wheel Forum about the Vaylen, the alien enemies in the Burning Empires RPG. She read it, and found herself being repulsed by the description of the Vaylen's conquest of humanity, so much so that she wouldn't be interested in playing in a BE campaign. She compared it to the life cycle of the Alien in the Alien movies which I've long-known she has a negative interest in seeing (it put her off another chance to see her favourite aliens in action in Alien Vs. Predator).

So, I decided to put the book back on the shelf for the moment and instead start re-reading Dogs in the Vineyard, probably the only RPG that Vickie’s expressed serious interest in playing on multiple occasions. I still want to run Burning Empires with a passion bordering on mania, even if just one six-session phase, but Vickie actually being keen on one of my myriad RPG purchases (as opposed to just going with the flow) is a rare thing that needs to be nurtured. Besides, I think I can now do better than that first, awkward time I ran it for Simon and Cristel.

Anyway, I took Dogs into work with me yesterday, and was on my way back to the office after reading it in the library at lunch when Suzanne, one of my co-workers (who was outside having a smoke), enquired about it. I told her that it was a game I want to play with a few people sometime, and explained it thusly: “Have you ever had a regular get-together with friends for your favourite TV show where you all watch the episode and then talk about it? Well, this is like that, except you and your friends make the episode up as you go!” I mentioned rules and dice, and Suze sounded very interested, so I’ll have to see whether I can organise something in the New Year. There's another bloke at work who used to play RPGs (although he's more into the CRPG/MMORPG field nowadays) and I'm hoping I might be able to get him into a game also (probably Burning Empires).

December 03, 2006

Rebuild (Mostly) Complete

Well, folks, I bit the bullet and got stuck into rebuilding my PC. I started work on it late Friday night by backing up my documents and other critical files. I also burned a separate disc of "Rebuild Essentials", all those small apps that we use. I swapped "Spybot Search & Destroy" for Spyware Doctor; we had to pay a subscription fee, but it does a better job than Spybot, so we're happy.

Also helpful was the newly-accelerated ADSL plan we've upgraded to (at no extra charge); we're now back with the same speed we had when on cable at Normanhurst. Downloading all the post-Service Pack 2 patches and updates for Windows XP was a snap. Also, Vickie is definitely much less grumpy, although she's still awaiting my rebuild of her PC with baited breath.

Problems fixed:

  • Whatever it was that caused my DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive to close itself after I opened it is gone. I am happy.
  • I how have heaps more room on my hard drive. Dunno how long that'll last - I have Guild Wars, Dawn of War and the Battlefield 1942 demo installed so far, and I'm not sure which other games, if any, I'll also reinstall. Might have to see if StarCraft's problems have been fixed yet...

Problems yet to be fixed:

  • I can't see Vickie's PC. This isn't a huge problem right now, but I will eventaully want to use her printer and share files with her.
  • Xfire doesn't work properly. No, I don't know why. It installs fine and starts fine, but freezes as soon as the main window appears.
  • In my "Oh, who needs game saves?" zeal, I forgot about my paint scemes and logos for my Dawn of War armies. It's not so bad with the 63rd - I still have their banner and the logo is drop dead easy to re-do, but I've lost the logo and banner files for the Kara-Thenn, which I'll have to do up from scratch again.
  • I still keep ketting kicked out of Battlefield 2142 Demo games because "Your connection to the EA master server has been lost." No idea why, but it's not an uncommon problem, apparently.

UPDATE 5:23PM - Per the comments, Xfire is now working, as is the long-errant StarCraft (it was doing crazy things with the sound card prior to the rebuild).