Category Archives: Entertainment

Miracle of Sound

So I’ve started listening to a new video game podcast, and it’s been pretty fun.  It’s entertaining, it’s crude, and I’m having fun with is so far.  But one of the hosts is a musician by the name of Gavin Dunne, who releases work under the name Miracle of Sound.   His songs span a wide variety of styles and genres, and are largely inspired by video games and other geek culture mainstays.

Oh, and did I mention he does all the writing and performing all by himself?

That’s what I find really impressive.  I’ve spent the past few days working my way through his back catalog (it’s available for streaming on Spotify and Youtube), and holy cow.  I can’t even wrap my head around how much time and effort it would take to write and perform one song, let alone the sheer number that he’s cranked out.  He’s like the Stephen King of prolific musicians (shut up, I happen to like Stephen King).

So if you’re looking for some new music to listen to, I can highly recommend Miracle of Sound.  Take some time, check it out, maybe put it on in the background while you’re doing other stuff.  It’s certainly made my past few work days more enjoyable.

Gaming Vicariously

It’s shaping up to be A Week.  People are in town from the home office, I started off the week with a sleep debt, and I’ve got a fair amount of sewing to do.  If this post seems a bit disjointed, that’s probably why.

I like video games.  But like many people, I don’t have as much time to play them as I’d like.  So rather than lament my lack of free time, I’ve been trying something different lately: I’ve been listening to people talk about video games!

That is to say, I’ve been listening to The Diecast, a podcast where people talk about video games and the games industry.  It’s been pretty fun.  And while it doesn’t scratch the itch the same way that actually playing games does, doing so has allowed me to engage with my hobby in a productive, safe-for-work manner.

I often try to put something on in the background while I’m drafting.  Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s podcasts.  Depending on what sort of work I’m doing, different things can help my productivity in various ways.  Podcasts are nice because they’re interesting and engaging, but not so much you need to be paying attention all the time.  This one is nice because it’s really just a conversation amongst friends, and while the discussions can sometimes get technical, they’re not too engrossing that it distracts me from my work.

Well, or so I hope.

And they really do have interesting things to say.  I’m slowly but surely working my way through the backlog, and the gaming news is becoming more and more current.  I will say it’s also contributed to my backlog problem, as I’ve picked up a few of the games mentioned throughout the various segments.  But it’s refreshing to hear from people that are both passionate about gaming and interested in its more philosophical and artistic aspects.

Because that’s something we don’t really get enough of, in my opinion.  I know it’s something I don’t do enough of.  But I think my recent attempts to reconcile my collecting habits with my playing habits has caused me to think more and more along these lines.  After all, most of my angst comes when I think of games as nothing more than throwaway entertainment.  But when you think of them as having more cultural cachet, of having something to say, it can go a long way towards not feeling guilty.  At least, that’s what it does for me.

And since I can’t spend as much time as I’d like gaming, the least I can do is think about games and encourage other people who do the same.


I guess part of the angst I feel from my video game collection comes from the fact that I’m something of a completionist. For whatever reason, I feel that not managing to finish something I’ve started is some sort of gross personal failure on my part.

It’s not just video games I feel this with. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that I was only mildly interested in that I’ve plowed through just to say I didn’t leave it half done. I mean, that’s pretty much what got me through the Wheel of Time series while I was in college. This drive is what got me through grad school, when they were actively trying to weed us out.

Seriously, though. Wheel of Time? Each book was longer, taking place over a smaller and smaller period of time. One even took place in the past.

But I digress. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, on some level, each unfinished game in my collection feels like a failure. Each one represents something I set out to do/play/experience that hasn’t happened yet.

Of course, my use of The Backloggery doesn’t help that mindset at all. My number of unplayed and unfinished games is right there at the top of the list, for all to see. And the language they use, while designed to encourage people to work through their backlog, can make me feel more guilty when I’m in a dark state of mind.

But I don’t always feel this way. I haven’t even come close to reading every book in my collection, especially now that I’ve picked up several ebook bundles. And yet I don’t feel nearly as guilty bout that as I do about my video game collection. And it’s not like my purchasing habits between the two are really that different; when I don’t get them from the library, I tend to buy used books, especially if the bookstore is having some sort of “3 for $4, 20 for $10” special.

Although that is a good point. I don’t tend to buy many books these days (aside from ebook bundles), but I am still actively buying video games. So there’s much more of a feeling of “sunk costwith video games. And given how I’m often frugal to a fault, a part of me likely resents any money I spend on “non-essentials.”

Thinking and writing about this has helped. If nothing else, it’s made me realize the ridiculousness of resenting one collection of entertainment media over one equally unengaged. Remembering that all the time is of course going to be a challenge, but at least I’m feeling better about it now.

Don’t Worry, I Still Have My Hat

The night is fast getting away from me. Mile Hi Con is this weekend, and my costume is not nearly complete enough. In fact, I’m probably going to miss both SCA practices this week to make sure I get everything done. And here I sit, at my computer, ostensibly performing “research,” when it’s suddenly much later than I anticipated. Such is life, I guess.

What is Mile Hi Con? Well, it is a science fiction and fantasy convention, where fans of nerdy things can congregate and share their love of popular culture and get a chance to see some of their favorite creators.

Being so close to Halloween, it’s also a great excuse to put on a costume with a group of friends.

You may have heard of the various Comic Cons; Mile Hi Con is much more laid back. The past few years (when work, school, or finances haven’t put the kibosh on it) my friends and I have made an effort to go and hang out, often with a group theme for our costumes. The past few years we’ve been pretty fascinated by Steampunk (think Victorian science fiction: Jules Vernian flights of fancy, magnificent efforts of steam engineering, airships, brass, and of course, goggles), so we’ve often gone with that as a general idea. I made myself a pretty sweet lab coat last year, complete with papercraft goggles with a working iris lens.

This year, the Steampunk craze continues, but with more focus. It turns out that some of the Guests of Honor for the con are going to be Phil and Kaja Foglio, the creative team behind the wonderful webcomic Girl Genius. So we’re going to be going as characters from the series: Jägermonsters!

Now, we’ve done specific characters from the series before (as one of our first group costume themes, acually), but decided that having a bit more flexibility to work within a theme would be more fun. And it has been! It’s really interesting to see everyone’s slightly different approach to the project, with some focusing on makeup and accessories, others on costuming and clothing. I personally have been leaning more towards the latter, making myself a nice military-esque uniform (complete with epaulettes and pants piping!). But I may yet experiment with some temporary hair color, and maybe even nail polish, which is certainly odd for me.

Anyway, I’ve put off work for long enough. Might as well get to the productivity-ing-ness.

Dorkness Rising

Every group has their rites of passage, those things that they all have in common, that forms a common bond and binds them together. These are the things that inside jokes spring from, that are integral to understanding the group dynamics. That must be foisted upon anyone new who seeks to be a part of the group. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Army of Darkness.

One of those things for me and my friends is The Gamers: Dorkness Rising.

Pretty much everyone in our usual Friday night “gaming” group has seen it, and if they haven’t we quickly remedy that. What is it? Well, as you would expect most of my friends already know. But for those of you who don’t, it’s a movie about tabletop roleplaying games, and the gamers who play them. And as these things must be when dealing with such a serious and heavy subject matter, it is a comedy.

If you’ve done any tabletop gaming, you will pretty much find this movie hilarious. It pokes fun at the insanity inherent in most player character actions, setting a GM with engrossing (to him) story ideas against his power-gaming compatriots.

But watching a bunch of people sitting around a table rolling dice and scratching notes on character sheets would get boring very quickly. Dorkness Rising gets around this by having the actors playing the PCs also play their characters, who wander around in full garb through the wilderness and various dungeons, seeking to defeat the evil necromancer. This is especially entertaining, as one of the players keeps forgetting that his Chaotic “Neutral” sorcerer is, in fact, female.

There is one caveat to this, however: I’m not sure how funny the movie if you’re not into RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. There’s something unique to how people react when sharing a communal experience around a table that doesn’t quite translate to other types of multiplayer gaming. That being said, Dorkness Rising does a great job portraying that spontaneity (read: barely-contained caffeine-fueled insanity). If you haven’t seen it, you totally should. And hey, it’s on sale at GOG for the next few hours. It is definitely worth the money.

The Buffet Conundrum

Do you ever find yourself wanting to do something, but also wanting to do something else? Do you ever find yourself torn between the two decisions? Does everything seem like a good idea, even though you know you can’t possibly do it all? Are you slightly annoyed by your inability to DO ALL THE THINGS? Well,, I do believe you’re familiar with what I’ve just dubbed the Buffet Conundrum.

Why do I call it this? Because I have this problem when I go to buffets: everything looks good, and I really want to get my money’s worth, but I know I’m not a big eater and there’s only so much space in my stomach. This often ends one of two ways: either I end up getting small samples of everything and leaving unfulfilled, or (more likely) I fill up plates with a bunch of stuff that looks good and then find myself too full to really enjoy myself. And I still can’t seem to get my money’s worth!

I’ve recently faced the Buffet Conundrum when it comes to gaming. I know, I know, I’ll be the first to admit that this is the pinnacle of First World Problems, but it’s an inevitable result of me getting a proper job like an almost-respectable adult and not having as much free time as I used to.

See, I have a lot of video games, most of which I haven’t even played. But for the most part, I picked them up because they sounded like something I wanted to play. So what if I haven’t gotten around to them yet? So what if I’ve bought games that my computer can’t run? I’ve got enough of a backlog to keep me occupied for years!

But I digress. Right now, I find myself wanting to play a game in my collection, but also wanting to finish the current game I’m playing. What do I do? Do I try to play both, thus impeding overall progress and dragging the stories along? Or do I suck it up and finish the game I’ve become less excited about but have sunk a lot of time into, before moving on to something new and exciting? Or do I play this little flash game that I just came across, pushing off both of the others?

In the past, I’ve found myself in this conundrum in regards to books. In those cases, I try to be reading only one book at a time, and line up my queue accordingly. But my free time is so limited now (seriously, I have one night to myself during the work week) that I don’t even have time to really read!

Part of this is the fact that I now have a job where I actually have to do work. I know that sounds bad, but when I worked in computer labs I had a lot of downtime where I could putter around on my laptop, and working early mornings at Costco left my afternoons wide open. I’ve also apparently become busy, with some activity or another filling up my evenings. Oh, and a girlfriend who wants to spend time with me for some reason.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this, just a gentle rant about having too many options and not enough time. Add to this the annoyingly-ingrained background thought that video games are a “waste of time,” and you can probably see where I’m coming from. Not to mention all the other interests, hobbies, and interpersonal relationships that vie for my attention. Oh well, I guess all that I can do is keep plugging away at things, and reminding myself that “time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”


I think I’ll take my time today to talk about another really cool podcast. I’ve got only a handful of podcasts I follow; the last thing I need is one more thing clamoring for my attention and free time. But podcasts are nice because they’re quite easy to put on in the background, to occupy the parts of your mind that get easily bored while other, more productive parts are, well, productive.

I’ve talked before about 99% Invisible and Welcome to Night Vale, the other two podcasts I follow, but I’ve caught up with both of those, and they only update a handful of times a month. This one I just started, Radiolab, will hopefully keep me going for quite a while.

I just started listening to this podcast, so Wikipedia would probably be a better source of information about it. But that’s (presumably) not why you’re here. So I will endeavor to do my best. Radiolab is a very interesting podcast. That is to say, it’s about interesting topics (like 99PI) rather than being bizarre and surreal (like Night Vale). The first few episodes I’ve listened to so far have been about topics as wide-ranging as memory and the sense of self to mortality (physical) and morality (philosophical).

The general setup seems to be an hour-long podcast, with several stories and interviews supporting the episodes. The production is very engaging, with sound effects and everything. The two hosts are clearly practiced and knowledgeable, and play well off each other.

Why did I start listening to this podcast? Well, normally when I’ve been drafting I put on headphones and listen to music. But then I have to decide what kind of music I want to listen to (I know, I know, First World Problems). So I was losing interest in that. And I’ve also been enjoying listening to an episode of the other podcasts I follow (when available) while commuting in the morning. Well, seeing as I’ve caught up with both of those, I decided to check out Radiolab; I had bookmarked one of their episodes that had sounded interesting, to the point of subscribing to the RSS feed so as to not forget about it, and decided this was as good a time as any to stop ignoring it.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that Radiolab’s episodes were about twice the length of the others I was used to, so it was still playing when I got to work. Oh well, I thought, I’ll just finish up this episode while I start my day. But the more I got into it, the more I realized just how pleasurable it was to have something intellectually stimulating on in the background while drafting (which let’s admit, can be quite dry and mind-numbing). So that was a pleasant surprise.

So yeah, I can heartily recommend the Radiolab podcast. It’s interesting, educational, and so much more than just two people talking back and forth for an hour.

Just Cause

Time flies when you’re having fun.  Take last weekend, for example.  When I wasn’t being a productive member of my household, I killed a lot of time.  And how did I do it?  The best way possible: destabilizing governments and knocking over drug cartels while driving around in a tank and listening to Manowar.  You know, as one does.

While the addition of heavy metal was my own doing, the rest of the mayhem was accomplished in the game Just Cause, an open-world sandbox game released a few years ago.  If you’ve played any of the Grand Theft Auto games, then this will be very similar.  Except you get a grappling hook and a parachute.

Yeah, it’s kind of turned up to 11.

The story, such as it is, has you playing as Rico, a special agent tasked with formenting revolution in the tropical island nation of San Esperito through various means.  There are a wide variety of vehicles, from cars and motorcycles to attack helicopters, boats, and yes, tanks.  Gameplay is your typical sandbox fare: wander around in the world, doing story missions to unlock progress, causing as much mayhem as you want along the way.

To be honest, the gameplay is only average at best.  You’ve got your standard suite of weapons and vehicles.  If you’ve played GTA, you’ve played Just Cause.  But what really attracted me was the scenery: it’s beautiful.  Rather than driving/flying around a gritty ersatz New York or Los Angeles, you get to spend your time in a lush tropical environment.  White sand beaches, vibrant green forests, and beautiful sunsets are frequent occurrences.  Plus, there’s just so much scenery.  According to Wikipedia, this virtual playground encompasses almost 400 square miles.  Sure, in an eight-year-old game this isn’t the most populous environment, but it’s still a beautiful sight to see.

Plus, did I mention I was able to invade and take over settlements with a tank?  Oh, and you can leap out onto the hood of your moving vehicle, hook on to a passing helicopter, reel yourself in, toss the pilot out, and proceed to rain death from the skies.

Seriously, this game is just outlandish fun.  It may not be anything super special to write home about (aside from the aforementioned action movie moments), and the story is so far mostly forgettable, but it’s definitely a fun diversion.  If you can pick it up on sale, I can definitely recommend it.  I hear the sequel is good too, improving on the original in many ways, I’m just not sure my laptop can run it as well as I’d like.

But really: tank.  Helicopter.  Grappling hook.  Parachute.  Up to 11.


The sun pulses in the turgid sky, as black helicopters fly low over the sand wastes. An otherworldly keening can be heard in the direction of Desert Bluffs, but they deserve whatever unspeakable horror is about to be birthed upon them.

Welcome, to Night Vale.

Man, I seem to be on a review kick lately. But rather than talking about video games, I want to take some time out of our current shared hallucination to talk about Welcome to Night Vale.

Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast. It is also a segment on community radio from the titular small desert town. It lies somewhere in the American desert, and it is a quaint, pleasant town.

Most of the time.

For you see, Night Vale is unusual, or maybe even hyper-usual. The town seems to inhabit a world where every conspiracy theory is true, where unspeakable horrors lurk just out of view, and strange hooded figures frequent the dog park, as well as the rest of town. The sheriff’s secret police maintain the rule of law, and the Town Council governs with an iron – well, I don’t know if they have fists anymore. But you get the idea.

In other words, it is a darkly humorous, surreal piece of fictional world-building narrated in excellent deadpan fashion. Each episode is about 25 minutes long, and at the time of this writing, there are about 50 or so episodes. I haven’t worked my way through it all yet, but I’ve definitely been enjoying myself. It reminds me a bit of The Atrocity Archives, where Lovecraftian horror intersects with the banality of existence. Except imagine a whole town of people raised in this not-quite-right environment.

I mentioned the world-building. I also find it neat that, even though it’s an audio-only podcast, you get the sense that Cecil (the presenter) is talking about a living, breathing (well, at least the latter) community, where things change ever so slightly over time, and people mentioned only by name become more fleshed out as characters than you thought possible.

Also, there’s a five-headed dragon named Hiram McDaniels.

So yeah. If you need a new fix for absurdity and dark humor, definitely check out Welcome to Night Vale; it’s delightfully weird. You won’t be sorry.



Because the events of recent days have me at risk of feeling like an actual, productive adult member of society, I decided that today I would counteract that by playing video games all day. And what did I play, you may ask? I played Spore!

Spore, for those of you who don’t know, is a game designed by Will Wright, the infernal mind behind timesinks like SimCity. But whereas SimCity puts you in charge of a single town, Spore puts you in charge of evolution itself.

The game starts at the cellular level. You swim around in the primordial ooze, eating bits of plant or meat (depending on whether you choose to start as a carnivore or herbivore). From there you creature evolves legs and moves on to land, where you progress through various stages of civilization, like tribes and city-states, until you take to the stars and begin exploring the galaxy.

Oh yeah, and pretty much all the content (creatures, vehicles, music, etc.) is customizable by you.

One of the big attractions is that you get to not only decide how your creatures will act, but what they look like. Using a selection of parts, you cant create pretty much anything from scratch in the in-game editors. It’s like virtual LEGO for biology. As you progress, you can also create (and share!) your own land, sea, and even space vehicles.

Each stage of the game plays slightly differently, too, like a series of minigames based on larger experiences. They can sometimes feel short, but they’re fun nonetheless. The Cell stage, for instance, plays a lot like Pac-Man or Snake, where you eat the pellets to grow bigger. Creature stage sees you piloting a member of your species around the land, making friends or driving rival creatures to extinction. Tribal stage dips into Real-Time Strategy stage, using a group of your now-sentient creatures to either charm or annihilate other intelligent tribes. Civilization, believe it or not, plays a lot like Civilization, with a dash of SimCity thrown in. Your creatures now mine the world for Spice, and as we all know, he who controls the spice controls the universe. Space stage has you roaming the galaxy, building your interstellar empire and terraforming and colonizing worlds. You can even make contact with other spacefaring races from your other save games!

I feel it’s important to mention that when this game first came out, there was a lot of controversy surrounding its DRM scheme. Originally, the DRM system (SecuROM) prevented you from installing the game more than three times, even on your own computer. This was a deal-breaker for me at the time, even though I was really excited about the game before it came out. Luckily, that seems to have been largely patched out since launch.

If any of this sounds intriguing to you (aside from the insulting DRM stuff), I can highly recommend Spore. It may not be the deepest of gaming experiences, but there’s something to being able to see your own creation march all the way from the sea to the stars.