I've been greatly negelecting the blog lately, for various reasons (bringing a lot of work home not being the least). One seems to be an inability to concentrate long enough to write (I've started about a half-dozen posts that are 50-75% complete, and most are now totally irrelevant); another reason is that I've been playing lots of video games, some online and some not (all free, though). I've been doing a ton of reading, as well.
So, with that in mind, I figure I might as well post about some of what's been distracting me from posting. Here's a listing by category, with commentary:
TEW 2005, by Adam Ryland, published through Grey Dog Software
A lot of my time has been taken up with this wrestling business simulation game, recently released as freeware to help entice people into buying the more recent products from GDS. I'll state from the beginning that this game isn't for everyone. It's almost entirely text-based, most people I've introduced to the game hate the interface, and there's a mountain of details to manage.
I love it.
It's got a dynamic universe that takes into account local economies, tastes, the overall health of the wrestling business, the personalities and relationships of workers, and all that is before you even get near actively managing the business. For example, I took over one of the smallest "federations" in the game, and grew it pretty rapidly; however, the owner's mandated lifetime contractual salary was rapidly sinking the business (it was six or seven times the monthly take of the average person on the roster). I jumped ship to a newly opened group after eight months, and basically got to build it from the ground up. My former employer folded after just a few more months, but I had both time and money to build something big in the other place -- until a better opportunity comes along.
TEW '05 is a time-consuming game that I greatly enjoy. I own another game by Ryland, Wrestling Spirit II, which is a strategy game letting you take the career of a wrestler, fighting matches as if they were real, and trying to make whatever advances you could. The demos of his other, more advanced games are awesome in their details, and I find them really engaging. The downside of all Ryland's products, in my opinion, is a horrific lack of documentation. I'm the kind of guy that wants an inch-thick game manual, maps, tech trees, and the phone number of the lead programmer for asking questions. You don't get that here; I understand leaving some things for the player to discover, but there's a lot of stuff going on that would be better spelled out step-by-step. This seems to be more pronounced in later games, because it almost seems assumed that you've played the earlier ones and know everything already.
There are some help files, though, and a very active fan community filled with FAQs and helpful people. Ryland himself also frequents the forums, answering questions on a regular basis. He's even helped me with a technical bug that was crashing my WreSpiII game, sending me a module to help him observe what was going on in the code during the error. You don't get that kind of support elsewhere. I still want a manual, though.
This is a fun little game, sort of like the "Vampire" Facebook and Myspace apps I see my wife playing. You have a little dude. He fights other little dudes, ocasionally getting new weapons, powers, or pets. You can do this a few times a day. A cute little time waster, overall.
Kongregate is one of the many online game portals out there, and is currently my portal of choice. They've got a pretty good selection, and it's fairly easy to navigate. They have featured games, a decent badge system, contests, some multiplayer options -- it's not a bad game site. Anytime you're in a game, a chatroom is available off to the side, either dedicated to the game, or a general room. You can swap rooms, though most people tend to have a "home" room that becomes like a small community. I'm generally found in "Sloth", which is fairly well-policed by mods, and overall a funny and civil group.
I spend a lot of time just reading online. The links over to the right cover a lot of the places that absorb my time. Lately, though, I've been singling out a few not listed.
Not Exactly Rocket Science
Ed Yong produces a science blog for the layperson -- he takes really cool hard science, and explains it in exciting and accessible ways. I've never read a boring article there, and always, always walk away with some cool knowledge I didn't have before.
Another science blog, focusing on weird animal stuff, it works under the assumption that funny is as important as informative. Always good for a laugh and some awesomeness.
I've linked to some stuff about erv before (in fact...yup, on the list over there). Abbie Smith is a grad student and HIV researcher, who mixes LOLspeak with hard science. If you think that's weird, you should see some of the other stuff she gets up to. All in all, Abbie and her trusty pit bull Arnie make for a hell of a fun read.
White Coat Underground
PalMD is a science-based physician, blogger, and father practicing all three somewhere up in the north-center of the USA (I knowwhere, but it doesn't really matter, and I don't feel like looking it up while typing this). I like him. He's level-headed, entertaining, and doesn't put up with a lot of crap. He's one of the more unsung voices in the science-based medicine movement, in my opinion, and that's a shame.
Hell's Angels, Hunter S. Thompson
Hell of a read. It's a roiling look into the outlaw pschye, as well as a window into Thompson's own "gonzo journalism" movement. Highly recommended to anyone interested in people.
World War Z, Max Brooks
I just finished this. I think it excels at what it tries to do, creating a "zombie plague" with realistic consequences for individuals, governments, and the environment. It was engaging from the beginning. I wonder how they're going to work out the screenplay, though. Re-creating the human element that makes the book so engaging, while still preserving the overarching narrative of a zombie war, seems like a daunting task. I have some idea of which side Hollywood is likely to shortchange, and that makes me unhappy.
Infinite Typewriters, Jon Rosenberg
A collection of the first truly epic storyline assembled in the "Goats" webcomic, this sucker is engaging and funny. Typewriters shows off the typical surrealist edge found throughout the "Goats" timeline, while showcasing Rosenberg's growing talent for long-term narrative. Being a regular reader of the comic as it is published, it only gets better from here.
Shadowrun, 4th edition
So, I'm jonesing for some RPG time. We've got an occasional D&D game with fresh characters, which has been an enjoyable change of pace from our normal style of D&D (Us: "SMASH", DM:"DAMMIT!"). I ran some Call of Cthulhu a while back, but the experienced, cynical gamers in our group quickly hewed to the "Cleanse it with Fire" school of CoC thought. A hypothetical situation would be:
Me: "You approach the large building, quiet except for the occasional odd shuffle and cry. It looks like it may have been a church sometime in the past."
Me, five minutes later: "As you hear the last dying screams of the orphans, a nun, still covered in flames, flings herself from an upper window in a desperate bid to save her own life."
Player: "It was probably an evil nun, anyway."
That particular scene ever happened, but that seems to have been the growing consensus with anything they confronted. Enter Shadowrun, the system that exemplifies the famous line from Army of Darkness, "Good. Bad. I'm the guy with the gun." It's a game with a more anarchic streak, where the characters are looking out for number one. You can be a mass-murderer or a goody-two-shoes, your choice. Generally, though, you're just trying to make rent. If that means breaking into a compound to steal some data and leave a false trail back to the Mafia, well, that's what it takes. I'm wanting very badly to scratch this gaming itch.