An extended rant about how I am too old to play video games

I have been wasting an inordinate amount of time playing X-Plane 11 on my Mac. I’m not very good at it. It’s a flight simulator and not an arcade game, so it’s much more about trying to flip every switch in a ten-page long takeoff checklist for a 737-800 and less about stick-and-rudder type antics. It’s honestly very boring and unrewarding. I still play it, though.

Probably the most boring thing I do is put a Cessna at the South Bend airport, then go through every air traffic step to take off, setting a flight plan to fly to Elkhart Municipal airport. This is an 18-mile drive if you’re in a car, and Google says it is a 31-minute trip on land, but if you speed and don’t run into an Elkhart County sheriff trying to make quota, it’s like twenty, twenty-five.

It takes like an hour to fly this at 120 knots. Part of that is that you have to taxi across the entire 9R/27L runway, a mile and a half, and then sit around while three other planes in front of you take off. Then, instead of flying eighteen miles straight east to the Elkhart airport, ATC will route you about five miles east of Elkhart and sixteen miles south, then you swing around the city in a big sixteen-mile box, waiting for everyone else to land. And I know for a fact that three planes have never landed in a row at KEKM since the airplane has been invented, but you still have to wait. When it’s clear, you can then do another big box to approach from the south and land on the north-south runway. (This runway doesn’t have ILS though, or maybe I keep missing it, so I always have landed manually, which sort of defeats the purpose of the ILS flight in the first place.) This all on autopilot, so all you’re doing is adjusting one knob every fifteen minutes and listening to the radio.

The real challenge with X-Plane is that even with the highest-end MacBook Pro currently available, it still looks like garbage. I see pictures from people with decked-out Windows machines, with thousand-dollar video cards and terabytes of photorealistic scenery, and it almost looks real. And then I start thinking, maybe I need to build another machine, a Windows machine with all gaming hardware, and then I realize I would waste hours and hours of time fucking with NVidia driver updates and blow three or four grand and still be flying from one regional airport to another. (And never mind that it’s currently impossible to buy a high-end GPU, because everyone is hoarding them to mine bitcoin. Seriously, a video card that cost $200 around Thanksgiving would probably fetch a grand on eBay, if you could even find one.)

I really want to play DCS World, which looks impressive in the trailers, but once again, it would require a PC I do not have and do not want to build. And keep in mind, I’m talking about spending thousands of dollars to build a machine that would prevent me from writing, so this is especially stupid.

Yesterday, I went on Steam because I heard about some new game that’s free to play where you fly planes, called War Thunder or War Kill or War Fucker or something, I forget what. It looked interesting, ran on the Mac, and it was free, so I clicked play, and it proceeded to download twenty gigs of installer to my machine. Twenty or forty minutes later, it started asking me to map 47 different buttons and axes on my joystick, which was overwhelming. Then it started me in a training thing, which was semi-impossible for me. Then it threw me into a battle.

I guess with this game, you can play as a plane or a tank, and there are these massive online battles where tanks mass at a border and shoot at each other, and then planes fly overhead, dogfighting. And I think tanks can shoot overhead, and planes can strafe ground objects. Because I was level 0, the game basically gave me a Wright Brothers biplane from 1903 with a pellet gun under the wing. I flew around slowly, in big turns, and there were tiny dots on the horizon, people barrel rolling and flying at almost the speed of sound in Mustangs and Messerschmitts. I fired my pellet gun at some microscopic things on the ground, and was immediately shot down.

I was then given opportunities to spam my Facebook friends to get coins or gold or bucks or something, which if I collected like a thousand and got some daily bonus, I could upgrade my pellet gun from .177 caliber to .22 caliber. I think if I did this seven days in a row, it moved up to a ten-pump BB gun. I would basically have to quit my job and play full time to get up to the worst US fighter from the beginning of the war with no guns, maybe by the end of 2018. And I’d have to buy some loot boxes or gold chests or whatever else.

After a minute, I got thrown into the game. I think my pellet gun hit a tank once, then I was immediately shot down. A fourteen-year-old popped open a chat window and offered several slurs related to my possible choice of a sexual partner, in which I would assume the role of the woman. I got back in long enough to run out of pellet gun ammunition and then crash into a tree. I was then returned to a hanger, which offered more opportunities to buy doubloons or upgrades or something, at which point I disconnected and deleted the game. My carpal tunnel wrist is still killing me, and I still have books to write. I’ll probably reinstall it next weekend.


Ode to a busted cell processor

God damn it. It is broken. Again.

My PS3 is in a shop somewhere in Missouri, getting the yellow light of death beaten out of it. It went south in November and got all of the solder stripped away, the whole mess ultrasonically cleaned, then reflowed. Or something. Now it is dead again.

I am at an deadlock with this new book. 100,000 words and I don’t even know what it is about, what order things should happen. I feel like that scene in the Naked Lunch movie where Ginsberg and Kerouac show up in Tangiers and Burroughs is strung out on junk, unaware that his apartment is filled with notes and routines that would later become his most popular book, but it’s this fucked mass of scribbles and jumbles.  I wish I had a Ginsberg that would show up and unfuck this book.  I keep at it though — it will eventually make sense.

This is the time where I would fire up Black Ops and walk away for a bit, let things ferment.  This is what’s staring at me when I want to do this: loose cables and a controller hooked up to nothing.

I would go out and buy a new PS3 slim, but that’s basically paying $300 to not write.  $300 when a PS4 is months away.  And it wouldn’t even play my old PS2 games.  I’d have to pay another $100 to get a PS2 also.

I have this sick attachment to this PS3, a heavy nostalgia, because back in 2007, when S worked 80 hours a week and I was jobless, I spent hours and hours writing this book I never finished, and working for a friend’s startup for free.  But then as day became night, I would fire up this PS3 and play it for hours.  I formed this stupid emotional bond for a piece of hardware that would someday become obsolete, someday die.  I sometimes fall in these deep nostalgic k-holes for the recent past and think about Denver a lot, and one of the top five things in those memories involve this black monolith of a video game system, which is why I struggle to keep it alive and UPS it to some dude in Missouri to get it re-repaired.

I have all of these dumb games for the iPad, but that’s just tapping on a screen.  The PlayStation creates these immersive worlds I get lost in for hours.  Back when Vice City came out, I would play it for hours, like it was my full-time job.  I’d come home from work on a Friday night, order a pizza, and fire up the machine, just to wander, to get a motorcycle and drive through neighborhoods and try to jump off of stuff, watch the people walking, find secret entrances or ways to climb on rooftops.  This was after I finished Rumored, when I was in a funk about dating and meeting people, when that postpartum depression after finishing a big book really kicked my ass.  I’d hole up in my Astoria apartment for entire weekends, at the DualShock controller.  It wasn’t healthy, and it wasn’t productive, but it was.

I can’t do that anymore, but I sometimes wish I could.  I should probably ignore this and get back to this goddamn book.


Life and death of the Game Boy

When the Game Boy first came out, I was infatuated with Tetris, still a new disease to me.  I could spend any amount of money playing Tetris in 1989 or 1990, until I had nightmares about falling blocks and that stupid song stuck in my head.  So when the Target stores started putting display units of Game Boys chained to a glass countertop in the electronics department, I’d spend hours mashing that little grey cross and the two red buttons to drop tetronimos on its pea-green LED display.  I lusted after the Game Boy, even though I didn’t even have a home computer at the time, and if I had the money for Nintendo’s portable game system, I would’ve had half the money for a cheap Amiga.

There’s something pervasive about handheld game systems.  All through the 80s, the systems grew in complexity, starting with those addictive football games that were nothing but a series of rows of LEDs, or the Simon-type games, things that just beeped and bleeped to get you to mash buttons and eat through nine-volt batteries, spending more of your time learning how to put the two terminals of a square battery on your tongue to gauge how much juice it still contained.  I had a few of these games, like this D&D game where you had to move through a maze and not get clobbered by these little LCD sprites, something I got for $20 and played the hell out of until it became boring.  I enjoyed the games, but the cost proposition was too high to fully embrace the format.

But there was always something intimate about the little pocket games, like a secret drug addiction you could slip into and avoid life.  The console systems, the pongs and 2600s and NESes, always seemed a more public affliction, something you’d set up in your living room and inflict on the entire family.  Maybe it’s because they involved a TV set, and this was a time when there were more American homes than TV sets.  But the pocket systems involved a personal closeness, something that was instantly on, always there, a tiny screen only you could see.

The mixed curse to these is they only played one game.  When you got the pocket Space Invaders game, it only played Space Invaders.  Sometimes, you could toggle a switch to get a different difficulty, or change your tennis game to play handball instead, but the units were almost entirely dedicated to that single pursuit.  A huge advantage to that is every game had its own controls, its own button layout and size and feel and placement and color.  When you played the aforementioned Space Invaders game, those buttons, along with the unique display elements, the custom LED or LCD panel, were your direct connection to that game; your pocket Pac Man or handheld Galaga had a completely different set of controls and look and feel, and was a different drug entirely.

(That’s my chief complaint about the Kindle.  I love it, and use it when I travel, but I don’t like that every book has essentially the same look and feel because I’m reading it on the same sized screen and holding the same exact weight in my hand and pressing the same exact buttons, regardless of author or title.  When I read a paper copy of a Philip K. Dick book, the binding and size and font and smell of the pages dictate a completely different experience than when I’m reading Freakanomics. But on the Kindle, there’s some latent similarity in the experience, which bothers me.)

Of course, the big advantage to a one-system-plays-all approach like the Game Boy is that you bought one system, then bought a bunch of cartridges and had a whole library of titles to play.  Unfortunately, it never worked that way for me.  I got the Game Boy Pocket in 1996, a gift from my girlfriend at the time, something I could use to whittle away the hours while sitting in airports on a long and tortuous holiday trip back to Indiana.  The Pocket is an often-forgotten model, an incremental redesign of the original, smaller, using fewer batteries, but otherwise the same unit.  They quickly came out with a color unit, and I felt deceived in that way that happens when your top-of-the-line electronics purchase is suddenly old hat.

My first game purchase was, of course, Tetris plus, a version of the original Russian plague with some additions, like if you cleared special bonus blocks, you could drop bombs and blow up pieces.  I played the living shit out of that cartridge.  The Pocket used dual AAA batteries, good for ten hours at a clip, and I went through many sets of Duracells for that machine. I spent late nights seized by writer’s block, sitting in bed in the darkness, a single halogen nightstand light trained on the not-backlit LED screen, trying to beat my high score on the little red plastic box.  I didn’t have a home video game system, and this was long before phones with games, so this was a unique addiction to me.

But I couldn’t really find any other games as prevailing as Tetris.  I think I bought one or two new cartridges, including a Star Wars platform game with horrible graphics; I got stalled trying to navigate through the Death Star and couldn’t go any further.  I also went to my favorite used record store in Seattle on University, and went through their stack of loose and book-less cartridges, trying to find anything interesting.   I found a Boggle game, which was completely useless with no keyboard, and a Mahjongg game which caused migraines because the tiles were so unreadable on the low-resolution screen.  For whatever reason, Tetris was not only the killer app for the system; it was the only app.  Everything else was either too graphics-intensive or needed more CPU or didn’t work well on a cartridge or begged for network connectivity or needed different controls.  Tetris was the One True App for the system.

Nintendo has gone through two major iterations (GBA, DS) and many minor upgrades of the system, and I never got onboard with any of them, although there were moments, usually during fire sales of obsolete systems or fits of extreme boredom stuck in airports, that I considered it.  But then the Palm came along, and now phones can play games almost as well as the handheld systems.  This is ultimately Nintendo’s doom, just like how the emergence of home computers killed dedicated video game systems in the 80s.  Why spend hundreds on an Atari 5200 and an Atari 800 when you can get an Atari 800 and play games plus “learn computers” and do educational stuff? Never mind that the 800’s games were a slight step behind the 5200’s, or that 99% of the people never did any educational shit on home computers, regardless of the huge revolution that was promised back then.

It’s the same way now.  Why buy a Nintendo 3DS for $200 and then buy a laptop or iPad for “educational” stuff, when you could just buy the tablet or PC, and play Angry Birds on that?  There are several minor holes to shoot in that argument – I think the MSRP on a 3DS got dropped for the holidays; the 3DS is a better “true” game machine and has better tactile buttons and 3D technology blah blah blah.  But parents don’t shop for toys based on vertex performance of the GPU; they go on groupthink, and that says that if you buy your kid an iPad, they will “learn computers” and become a genius, case closed.

But there’s something about that tactile relationship to the Game Boy or the older pocket games that Nintendo could exploit, and I don’t know how.  Maybe Nintendo will need to fail, maybe there’s a need for a huge video game crash like 1984 all over again, and another company will have to rise from the ashes to convince people that something other than Farmville is the future to gaming.  But what will that be?


Assault on the Aerie of the Asbergers

We went out yesterday for lunch at this Burmese place (which was thankfully not renamed a Myanmarian place which would completely screw up the GPS, which would probably tell us to drive 5,427 miles on I-90, take three left turns, then drive 5,426 miles in the other direction) and I can’t tell you much about the Burmese place except the food was decent, and they brought me this salad that had 16 ingredients checkerboarded on a huge plate that was then mixed together at the table, which is a great concept unless you’re the poor bastard that has to lay those 16 ingredients on the plate for minimum wage.

After lunch, we wandered around this neighborhood on Telegraph, looking at thrift shops, including this craft reuse place that had loads of trippy stuff, like giant boxes of photos you can buy by the pound.  The pictures were not like getty stock photos; they were just boxes of random family photos, vacation photos, and snapshots.  I seriously wanted to load up on these, scan them in, and use them as stock photos on this web site, so you’d come here to read my blog, and the featured photo to the left would be two dudes playing hackeysack on a beach in Yo La Tengo t-shirts.  And maybe I will do that, except that I absolutely hate scanning photos, and wouldn’t mind having a lot less stuff in the house, not more.

We wandered up Telegraph a bit more, and I saw this game store.  For some reason, board games and RPGs have had a huge resurgence lately, which I find fascinating and annoying.  The annoying part is that I was playing D&D back when it was a rung below pedophilia on the social acceptability scale.  And I blame the two-pronged attack of role-playing games and computers as the reason I never got my shit straight from a social standpoint back as a teen.  And I got out of the whole dragon-slaying thing well before college, but then a decade or so later, every damn hipster doofus in the world is reading Tolkein and talking about how cool their pewter half-orc figurine collection is.  And part of me wanted to get back into it, but I don’t have endless expanses of time like I did when I was 14.  But it’s always been something I was curious about, like how I’m vaguely interested in the world of model railroading, but I honestly have no deep affection for trains themselves, and do not have the time, space, or close-up vision to build a giant railroad setup in my house.  (But I still re-read Sam Posey’s Playing with Trains every other year.)

So we went in this game store, and it was wall-t0-wall stuff that would have made me have an aneurism when I was fourteen.  I mean, back then, in bumfuck Indiana where I grew up, you had essentially two choices for all of your TSR gear: the Kay-Bee toy store stocked some small amount of books, modules and dice, and Walden’s Books carried some of the hardcover books and Dragon magazines.  There weren’t any other places to get any of the non-TSR games, although I’m sure if I had a car to go to Chicago or Indianapolis, I could have found some of the more rare Avalon Hill crap and delved even deeper into the life of geekdom.  But this place – the Oakland place in 2011, I mean – they had tons of board games, books, modules, game systems, models, miniatures, and collectibles.  If I was still a gung-ho Dungeonmaster and borderline hoarder, this was the place to show up with a rented u-haul and a cashed out 401K.

And then just as I was thinking “maybe I should get on Facebook and find some people in my ZIP code who would be interested in playing some Axis and Allies”, I saw the store had a little game area in the back, with a bunch of tables where you could come in and battle it out, tournament style.  And there were a couple of people playing.  Do you remember this kid in the documentary Trekkies?  Okay, imagine three of him in a shouting match with each other that goes something like this:






And so on.  I wish I would have pulled out my phone and recorded it, because it was the funniest damn thing ever.  And it also reminded me why I’m probably not going to rush out and get the Red Box set and start re-learning how to play D&D again.

(Side note: the kid was named Gabriel Koerner, and he’s going on 30 and has done a ton of pro work as a CGI artist in stuff from Lost to Enterprise to Shutter Island, so it looks like things worked out fine for him.)

Okay, so here’s the other thing.  There were a ton of cool board games there, and I wouldn’t mind having people over to play board games every now and again.  But it also made me think it would be cool to design some whacked-out board games.  And I spent the whole day thinking “is there some print-on-demand thing where I can upload my own rules and text and artwork, and have it spit out really cool board games?”

Well, there is:  I don’t know how well it works, and the web site is not exactly web 2.0, and a lot of the games on there look cobbled together by 14-year-olds with very little photoshop experience.  But, if I had infinite time, I would sit around and churn out some kick-ass games, like “Abortion Clinic Tycoon,” “Zombieopoly,” and “Crips versus Bloods: the Board Game.”  And I’m almost certain this is how I will waste at least a few days of my time until I realize I can barely draw a stick figure.


Nuke ‘Em

Strategy games have been a real albatross around my neck, partly because they push the right buttons in my head that make me obsessively play them until I win, and when I win, it’s too boring and I have to play again at another difficulty level or play another game.  The latest incarnation of this is Catan HD on the iPad, which is a version of the insanely popular German board game Settlers of Catan.  I would love to play that game, but it involves getting together three or four people, so forget it.  (Unless you’re in the Bay Area and want to play.  I would even host games at my house, but nobody’s going to come to West Oakland to play a board game, even if I FedEx over kevlar vests and free gas cards.)  I have wasted a small amount of effort on Catan so far, and it kicks my ass every single time.  I am sure I will spend hours of my precious time trying to google out some strategies and beat the thing, and I am sure once I figure out the secret, I will get bored of it and consider it a waste of five dollars.

But a bigger obsession is trying to write one of these games.  And that all started when I was a freshman in college.  My friend and later roommate Kirk Sluder started a game called Nuke ‘Em on the VAX computers.  It was done entirely by email, and basically, you emailed in your changes, and then Kirk tabulated all of the stuff and emailed back updates.

From what I remember, the rules were something like this:

  1. A player started with X factories (I think it was 4 or 5)
  2. A factory could create a nuke, an ABM, or 25% of a new factory per turn.
  3. In a given turn, you could state your new production and/or decide to nuke another player.  You could also email in some pithy commentary about how you were going to kick everyone’s asses and it would go into the email that was sent out with the turn’s results.
  4. When you nuked someone, each ABM would cancel out one nuke.  I don’t remember if it took just one nuke or four to knock out a factory.  When all of the factories were gone, you were done.  (And now that I think about it, Kirk may have called them cities and not factories.)
  5. There may have been some rules about collusion or inter-country trading, but I don’t remember.

So that was the basic deal.  It was a very low-tech game, and I think we only played one of two rounds before the whole thing got sidetracked by the usual college concerns of getting laid, getting drunk, and occasionally going to classes.  There was also a much more popular and immersive game called Monster that a few people brought over to the VAX – it was sort of a precursor to what later became MUDs, and wasted a lot more time, but offered more immediate gratification.

(I don’t entirely remember how the Nuke ‘Em game went, except everyone else got immediately involved in these skirmishes, while I just stayed isolationist and stockpiled a shit-ton of ABMs.)

Anyway, I think Kirk piddled around for a bit trying to write a more mechanized version of the game in VAX BASIC.  And the next year, when I started learning Pascal, that was my first major goal: to write this entirely automated version of the game, where you logged in and made your changes in some form, and then maybe saw a map or some tally of what was going down.  This was long before the days of the web, like in the fall of 1990, so everything was VAX-based.  This was the first time I really started screwing with the Starlet libraries on the VAX, which were these awesome runtime libraries for doing all kinds of crazy stuff, like drawing menus on the screen.  There were header files (or whatever the hell Pascal used) for every VAX language, so you could use them in Fortran or COBOL or whatever you used.  So I clunked away on that for a long time, but didn’t get anywhere, and gave it up.

I think there have been at least four or five times I have tried to reinvent this game.  I have a bunch of C source code I was apparently working on in the summer of 99, along with some decent notes on the thing.  It was web-based, and had a bunch of CGI pages that were C binaries, which is about the least portable way of doing things. I should probably try to recompile this crap and see if it works, but ten-year-old source code written for linux has a way of not working because every other week, someone decides on making their own free curses library the standard or whatever the hell.  Looking at the code I have, it uses ndbm for its database, and a slightly more complicated system of different terrains on a map, and I wasted a lot of time writing my own libraries to do crap like parse URLs for arguments.  But I didn’t get much working, and gave it up quick.  (Given the timing of this, it was probably an attempt at making something I could use as a sample for finding a job, although at the time, Silicon Alley was giving HTML production jobs to anyone with a pulse.  Except me, of course.)

I also have notes from a 2004 attempt at the same thing, but no source code.  And in 1998, I did an end-run on the whole thing and spent a few all-nighters trying to write a framework for simulator/strategy type games where someone could use that and write a game like Nuke ‘Em in some convoluted scripting language.  The C++ code I have for this is absolutely horrid and does nothing.

And in 2008, when I was trying to learn Ruby on Rails, I started this new version of the game, although it was much more involved.  It was map-based, and the map had little squares with technology levels. Just for kicks, I’ll paste the rules at the end of this post.

Anyway, there is a part of me that really wants to fire up eclipse and start working on this again.  Or maybe learn how to use some iOS framework like GameSalad to make a game that way.  And if I had infinite time and patience, I would.  But given that the rails stuff I wrote in 2008 fantastically crashes when I try to run it because there have been like 19 major revisions to rails since then, it probably won’t happen soon.

Anyway, here’s my rules from 2008.  I think I got the game to the point where I needed to figure out how to implement the AI for robot players before I gave up.


Here’s the rundown on how the game works, but note: everything is
under construction. Everything can be changed. In fact, until things
solidify, entire games could drop off the face of the earth. I will do
everything I can to avoid that, but there’s no guarantee on the
stability of the data at this point.

Also, anything marked with TODO is either something that isn’t implemented,
or something where a decision hasn’t been made yet on how it will work.

Four basic entities are used in the game: Worlds, Cells, Nations, and Forces, as described below.


If Nuke ‘Em was a board game, a World would be the board. Each World contains basic meta-data defining
its structure and behavior, as given by its creator. There can be multiple worlds run by multiple admins, each
with a few or a lot of players. As far as those attributes, here’s a quick list:


The name of the world. It can be simple, stupid, or silly, depending on the admin.
This doesn’t affect play, except maybe that a really hardcore name will scare away the n00bs. And maybe worlds
with really cool names will attract more players.

Cells Across and Cells High

This defines how big the world will be. Worlds are rectangular
grids of squares (sorry, no cool hex graphs like those old-school Avalon Hill games), with each square being a
Cell, which we’ll get to in a second. Obviously, a 1000 x 1000 map is going to be able to host a bigger
game than a 100 x 100, but if you put four players in a 1000-square map, it could take them forever to find each

(There’s also an upward limit on the number of players in a world that can vary. Since players are randomly granted
a 3×3 plot of land, and those grants can’t overlap, you’ll eventually get to a point where a new player can’t find
a clear group of nine cells to start playing. And your mileage may vary when new players are added mid-game, since
current players may have carved up the map by then. TODO: two features that could be added to control this would be
a configurable hard cap on players, and a boolean that can be toggled to prohibit mid-game player addition.)

Turn Length

Nuke ‘Em is turn-based, meaning the world is updated and advanced each period, although players are welcome to mess
around with and adjust their entities as much as they want, to a limit. The length of a turn is measured in minutes.
You could set the turn length to 1440 and have things change each day over the course of months, or set it to 5
for a fairly interactive game that might be over in an evening.

The following are affected by turn updates:

  • Nations’ production is updated on a per-turn basis. Add up the civ of every cell you control and multiply by ten, and that
    revenue is generated each turn. High civ cells mean higher tech factories; more cells mean colony plantations bringing in cash.
  • TODO: Any Forces created by a Nation aren’t available until the next turn. (TODO: maybe this should vary – Rome wasn’t built in a day.)
  • Forces can only move a given distance in a turn.

Anything else happens in realtime, and happens simultaneously between all players.

TODO: At the end of each turn, each player gets an email with a verbose summary of their activities that turn,
and a public summary of everyone’s turn. Private events won’t be in that update (details of troop buildups, etc.)
but very big things will be (two countries nuke each other, Britney Spears shaves her head, etc.) There will also
be a facility for players to enter their own diatribes into the public news, so you can go Hugo Chavez on someone’s, ass.
And the public news is also viewable on the home page.


You’d think the use of nuclear weapons in a game called Nuke ‘Em would be a given, but you can set this to false
and make your world wars Greenpeace-compliant. This is sort of like the designated hitter rule in baseball, and people
will argue a more intimate game on a level playing field, versus giving people instant gratification with the
big guns. Either way, the feature can be toggled on and off by an admin.

World Defaults

A world defaults with a 100 across by 25 high map, a one-minute turn, and is nuclear-capable. Note that a one
minute turn is really damn short.


A Cell is a single unit of land. As for the basic properties, it has an x/y location (0,0 being the upper
left corner), and an ID of the world to which it belongs. It also has the following properties.


When a player moves their forces on an otherwise empty cell, they plant their flag into the ground and its theirs.
If you’re the second person crossing into that cell, if it has no military presence, it is theirs. If it does
have occupying forces, skip forward to the combat section to see how that works out. (TODO: There is no facility
for allied troops to let each other move through their respective lands.) (TODO: there is an issue with being
able to “look” at neighboring cells, and/or cells you once owned.)


Each cell has a type of terrain which, with one exception, is assigned when a World is created. Cell terrain can be
“plains”, “water”, “city”, “desert”, “mountain”, and “nuked”. To a limited extent, terrain dictates how Forces can move.
TODO: Currently terrain is completely random. In the future,
maybe the ability to either load in new maps or use a map constructor would be nice.


A cell’s civ is the level of civilization in that terrain. By default, that equals 1, which is probably the level
of an agrarian community. At the end of each turn, a cell produces resources based on its civ level. (TODO: what
is the rate?) A higher civ also means the forces built in that cell have a higher civ. (TODO: what happens to
civ when a cell changes hands?) (TODO: A nuked cell has a civ of 0.)

If you’re an occupant, you can spend resources to improve a cell’s civ, at the rate of one civ point per $10,000 spent.


A nation basically is a player, and consists of their controlled cells and their forces. It also contains the
gnarly name you chose as the moniker for your country, your email address (for those end-of-turn updates), the
world in which you belong, and any other personal preferences that might come up in the future. There’s one other
all-important property:


Resources are basically money. It’s hard for me to call them anything other than dollars, but you’ll see the $$$ sign
when this is discussed. Not only could it have had some hokey fake monetary unit (gold pieces, Euros, whatever), but
it also refers to the general production ability of your nation, and not just piles of metal or paper. Anyway, cells
make money every turn. And you can spend money to build forces or improve cells. (TODO: a feature to send money
to another nation to pay them off so they won’t nuke you. Or a way to steal money from a nation you destroyed.)


Forces refer to any type of army, navy, or other military unit. Actually, there are exactly three branches
to choose from: “army”, “navy”, or “air force”. (Sorry Marines, I had to stick to the basics.)

TODO: There are also two additional forces that can be created. When a cell is civ 50 or higher, it can create ABM forces.
And there are ICBM forces, which can be created by nuclear superpowers. (More on that in a bit.)


TODO: Not done yet. These are the basics.

When you move forces to a cell that contains another nation’s forces, a battle is automatically started. The basic version of this: your
forces and their forces cancel out. For example, you have an army of 100 with a civ of 10, and you march into a cell containing an army of 50 with a civ level of 10. You now occupy the cell, and your army now contains 50.

This is calculated by lining up each side’s forces, from lowest civ to highest, and when civ is the same, by smallest
to biggest.

Nuclear War

TODO: Nukes have not been implemented at all yet, so everything here is speculation.

My thought on how a nation can go nuclear is this: once a cell reaches a certain civ level, it can now create forces
that have nuclear capabilities. And/or you might have to pay a one-time fee for the first time you ever go nuclear.
So for example, if civ level 100 is nuke, you pay $1,000,000 in improvements on one cell, then you get a “go nuke” link
appears. When you pony up an additional $1,000,000 payment (i.e. the research costs of a nuclear program) that
one cell and any others with a civ level of 100 can now create nuke-capable forces.

This is the easy version of the rules: your nuke-capable cells can create ICBM forces. To make this easier, an ICBM force
has exactly one troop in it, and costs $100,000 to build. It also has infinite range, so it can hit any cell from
anywhere on the map. When you “launch”, you choose a destination cell and press the button. You’ll get a report
that will tell you if the cell you hit was occupied or empty. (And if it was empty, tough shit – you don’t get a refund.)

There is one defense to the ICBM, and that’s the ABM. If a cell is civ 50 or higher, you can build one. (You
don’t need to be nuclear-capable, these are conventional explosives.) It costs
$50,000 and is a similar one-troop setup like an ICBM. You can’t move an ABM; it just sits there until something
bad happens. But when a missile attacks a cell with an ABM in it, one ABM takes out one ICBM. If you build
50 ABMs in one cell, it will take 51 nuke strikes to take it out. TODO: how these fare when a cell is conventionally

If a cell is nuked, everything in it and in the 9×9 surrounding it is instantly killed, even ICBMs and ABMs. Not only that, but for the
rest of the game, the center cell is completely uninhabitable and impassable by anything (except airplanes?)

TODO: I am thinking of making a rule that when a cell falls to an enemy, they take possession of the ICBMs
and ABMs in a cell. They can’t build more, but they can use the ones there.


Wasting time with MAME

I’ve been wasting all of my free time lately reviewing CDs. I’m not sure why, because I don’t want to be in the business of having a bunch of crappy death metal bands emailing me their mp3s to review. But I have a lot of loose reviews around, and I wanted to write more long-form reviews and find a place to put them, and I’ve got it about figured out now. When I get more than about 7 reviews done, I’ll post a link. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been writing here much. It’s far easier to write 1500 words on an old Metallica album than it is to try to come up with 500 words when nothing is going on that I want to write about, except maybe the weather. So, there you go.

But, the other day, I was digging around and found a bunch of ROMS to various stand-up arcade games I had from my old laptop. So I downloaded a MAME emulator program for the Mac, and started digging around all of these old games. I don’t know about you, but I played a lot of arcade games back in the day, and I don’t just mean the really popular Pac-Man/Donkey Kong/Centipede era. I found a lot of these games and played them, and they totally reminded me of my days in a Bally’s, wasting a couple dollars while at the mall. And video game brand loyalty is a huge thing, and it made me think about all of the different brands and games and the whole caste system of consoles, and who played what.

For example, there were certain games that I absolutely loved to play. Like there was the Star Wars vector game, the original Tetris, this Tetris plus enhancements called Bloxxed, and Roadblasters. If an arcade had all of those, it was excellent. If it had one or two of them, it was good. If an arcade (like that shitty one in Pierre Moran Mall, or maybe one in an airport or something) didn’t have any of those games, it sucked, and either I’d play nothing and go off to the Walden Books, or maybe drop a quarter on a sub-par game, just to see if maybe it was really okay. There were a lot of games that either I didn’t like or didn’t see the point of, like most of the three-button-attack quarter-eater types that came out later, or the driving games that didn’t have a good catch to them. I mean, for a buck in gas, I could drive around the parking lot of the mall in my real car and have more fun than half of the sloppy-controller stand-up drivers out there in the early 90s.

But different people liked different games, which always made it weird when you went with other people, because people always had different allegiances to different games. It’s weird, because now, decades later, I can still remember what friends liked what games, way more than I could remember their favorite beer or band or movie. And that would be cool, but sometimes, based on the games there, it would cause problems. Like, sometimes I’d go to the Bally’s in College Mall in Bloomington with Bill, and I’d inevitably buy into some “a shitload of tokens for $20” deal before I’d remember that they had absolutely no machines I liked. I mean, the best game on the list was a Ms. Pac Man, and I could play that for about six months on $20 of change, given that I wouldn’t die of boredom. But there was some game there that he loved, and he’d play it all day, even though I was either no good at it or hated it. So you have that. Another example is that Spaceport had some pretty esoteric game machines, so if you stopped in there with someone who just wanted to play the core Atari games, they’d be screwed.

Oh, at the lowest end of the totem pole were the situations where you only had one or two games, and you had to pick one. A classic example is when you’re with your family at Pizza Hut, and there are two games, and it’s either Bust-a-Move or Robocop, and neither one are very good, but you need something to do until the breadsticks arrive or something. This also applies to dorms with a couple of stray machines, or little arcades in laundromats or whatever.

Another game I didn’t get were the sports games, like the football, hockey, and whatnot. None of my friends played these, because I think you had to like the sport in question, and none of my friends were huge soccer fans. The only sports game that was the exception to the rule was Summer Games. This – I think it came out around the time of the 84 Olympics, but wasn’t a sponsored game or anything – it was all of the track and field events, like throwing discus and running around a track and soforth. But the thing is, to run, you had to slap two buttons really fast to get your dude to run or throw or something. And for some reason, that made it different; it wasn’t about your ability to know about NFL football. It was about how fast you could slap two buttons, and dammit, you knew you could do it faster than the other guy. The sport part was secondary – it could have been monster trucks or shooting dragons or anything else, as long as it was competitive and measured your ability to pretty buttons at light-speed. I knew a lot of people who were really into that, and you could always tell when someone was playing, because it sounded like someone was bitch-slapping a keyboard. And now we wonder why so many people have RSI.

The competitive games, or more likely the collaborative ones, are the things that have so much memory to me. I’ve already written many times about how me and Ray used to play Smash TV for hours, feeding many quarters into it. I think the first game like this I remember is the original Gauntlet. When I play this now, it reminds me of Adam Pletcher, who I knew from school, and who is now more known for working on the video game Descent and a million others. We played the game a couple times at the Aladdin’s Castle in the Concord Mall, although at that point, the game was so damn popular, all four slots would be full, and the second someone ran out of change, someone else would jump in. Games like this were great, and it’s amazing how shitty some of them are when you look at them now. There’s a Simpsons game that came out in 90 or so that was the same console as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and X-Men game. Then, the graphics were mind-numbing, but now, I cannot stop laughing my ass off the images are so blocky and bad. But being able to get two or three people on a machine to all kick ass hid the poor graphics somewhat.

One of the games that I played but didn’t entirely like at first was Golden Axe. The student union had a room with maybe six or eight game machines, all of them duds, and one of them was Golden Axe. I reluctantly played the side-scroller for a while, and it really grew on me. The animations weren’t bad, but the sound effects were horrible. (When I was playing the other day, Sarah said that the dying people’s screams sounded like some kind of Crunk rap.) It’s also a collective game, although I played by myself a lot. I got the ROM and actually finished the game, which I guess is easier when you’re pressing a button instead of feeding in a coin, but it brought back so many memories of wasting time at the IMU.

Anyway, just some vague thoughts. I think if I had a lot of time and could remember more of this, I could write some kind of book or at least a good essay on greater taxonomy of video games. But, I’ve got these music reviews to write…



I’m in the middle of eating a huge burrito from the tortilla joint on 30th ave and failing miserably. Time to go get a fork…

This was a weekend of media consumption. I did get out on Saturday and do some shopping with some fairly decent weather on hand, about 40 degrees and clear. I made a mega-purchase at Best Buy, since I was still getting over the whole sick thing and wanted some stuff to do while planted on the couch. The big thing that I spent too much time on was Mercenaries for the PS2, which is a very strange little game that’s a mix of Grand Theft Auto with SOCOM, and then some. You play an “independent contractor” who is dropped in North Korea to go through a deck of cards that contains all of the evil generals and lieutenants serving under the big man dictator. Like GTA, if you see it, you can pretty much steal it, as far as all modes of transport are concerned. Pandemic (Star Wars: Battlefront) did the game for LucasArts, and it’s got all the little touches while still being immensely playable. I’ve finished almost the whole lower rung of lieutenants, although I still haven’t figured out how to take people alive, since I usually end up nuking everything from orbit and then identifying the corpses for my reward money. It’s a lot of fun, but I think it’s going to turn into a huge time-suck. And I finally got the first season of the Chapelle Show on DVD, and laughed my ass off at that for a few hours.

I’m waiting on an eBay auction for a new mountain bike frame for another endless project I think I’m starting. I have this idea to strip my old bike of components and build up a new one with a lighter frame that doesn’t have a rear suspension. The rear shock is a nifty looking toy and all, but it actually sucks when you’re really torquing down on an uphill and the whole frame is bouncing up and down on you. Also, the bigger problem is that I have two different racks I’ve tried to put on the back of that bike, and neither one works well because a bike with half of its frame moving doesn’t really have three stable points to mount a rack. I want to get a good, rideable bike by spring and maybe get out of the neighborhood a bit more. I’ve rode from my place to Flushing Meadow a couple of times, and although it’s slightly a pain in the ass to get there, you have miles and miles of strips of asphalt to ride up and down, and also a lot of dirt trails with fun hills and stuff.

There is no way I am going to finish this burrito. I need to put this thing down and get back on the Playstation or something…


GTA3 Procrastination

I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto 3 too damn much. The problem is I don’t want to write, or can’t write, and that game is the most perfect way to waste time since the invention of SimCity. I don’t even play the missions or attempt to advance through the strategy part of the game; most of my time is spent stealing cop cars and then destroying them in extravagant stunts that usually involve total destruction of the vehicle. I’ve been trying to make some of the crazier jumps with more and more stupid vehicles. There’s a jump over an elevated train platform that’s in all of the commercials, and last night, I made it with a stolen ambulance. I didn’t make it with a flatbed truck – it got stuck on the platform and I had to abandon it. I also got a tank to jump over the water between two piers by rotating the cannon backwards and firing shells to increase my acceleration. It’s a very addicting game, very realistic in some ways, and yet the over-the-top satire in the general theme makes it hilarious to me.

I have way too many things to do, but all of them are drudge-work, fixing stupid design stuff on web pages and finishing this giant trip report from last July in Vegas. I also need to figure out what to do do for this October trip. I wish I knew some people that lived in Vegas that I could hang out with, but I haven’t had much luck googling around on it.

Okay, I should get back to writing this thing…


Nintendo 64

Last night, I bought a Nintendo-64, a second controller, Diddy Kong Racing, and the South Park game. It’s a present for Marie, sort of like when Homer got Marge a bowling ball. No, really, she used to have one, and I thought it would be fun. I already told her about it, so I’m not outing myself by posting this. Of course, I set all of the stuff up last night, and stayed up way too late playing it.

First impressions: I’ve spent almost zero time with the Playstation or N64, so I was going into this as a complete novice. First, I like the way the console looks – it reminds me of a piece of Sun hardware, or maybe an SGI. It’s also very simple, with few switches, buttons, or jacks. I’m fortunate in that my video/audio setup at home is very generous in facilitating the video/audio setups. People with older TVs would probably have much more trouble dealing with the composite video out and stereo audio out. The controllers are a bit weird, and I still get screwed up on how to hold them and use the 90,000 assorted buttons. They are pretty comfortable after a while, though.

I first started with the South Park game. I expected more realism than other 8 and 16 bit games, but this totally blew me away. It has the whole introduction to the show, and the graphics look almost exactly like the TV show. Although you can tell the shapes are computer generated, it is not blocky or pixelated at all – it is very smooth and shadowed correctly, and looks truly amazing for something on a TV. The sound is even better – it’s stereo, and I ran it through my receiver, which added even more to the effect.

The South Park game is fun – you play one of the four kids, and then you meet up with the other 3 and do various things in the town, trying to finish each level. I haven’t played games that much, and I usually play very specific ones, so I was getting my ass kicked over and over. It is funny to hear Cartman die – all of the characters talk, and even swear (it is beeped out, mostly). But I wanted to see the whole game. So, I got on dejanews, did a search, and found a page of cheat codes. The codenames are funny, and let you enable different characters and other stuff. I think ASSMAN gives you invulterability. If you have the game and are trying to find the codes, email me and I will send them to you. I found a code that turned on everything, and started kicking ass. There’s one weapon which is a terrance and phillip doll, which is like a grenade of flatulence. You can throw a whole bunch of them and leave a path of deadly landmines which produce giant mushroom clouds of green gas. I also had a lot of fun with the cow launcher, and the chicken sniper weapon. At the start of each round, there is a little cartoon that tells you your mission, usually with Chef talking to the kids. It’s very cool – I need to get in there and start going through all of the levels.

I played Diddy Kong Racing a few times, although I spent so much time on South Park that I couldn’t do much more than run a few races. It’s very cool, the graphics look like a Disney cartoon and the sounds are very cute. If I had a kid, I would get them a N-64 just because so many of the games are like this. I couldn’t figure out the controls, but I will mess with it a bit more. Marie likes the game a lot, so we will play it more when she gets here.

Writing, of course, is at a dead stop. Maybe tonight I’ll get a few lines done, but now I need to clean the house and shop for Marie’s visit. I think my sleep schedule is about up to date now, so that’s cool. I also go to the dentist in a couple of hours, and find out how much heavy construction they’ll be doing over the next few months.

I found an odd page on the technology of Star Wars at