Monday, December 31, 2018

Top Five 2018

I bounced off quite a few games this year, but I have a solid five that were terrifically fun to play. The prices I list are the regular price, not the sale price (they're all on sale on Steam right now).

5. Moonlighter (Steam page) $20
A little shopkeeper dungeon romp where you tend your shop by day and go into the dungeons at night. Incredibly charming and lasts long enough (36 hours, for me) to soak in that charm. A Switch version is now available, and it should be a perfect fit.

4. Battle Brothers (Steam page) $30
I've played this for 146 hours, which is astonishing, because I was hate-playing it for at least 40 of those hours. Also wins the Most Uninstalled/Reinstalled Game award for 2018.

Basically, it's super crunchy in terms of depth. You manage a band of mercenaries, and there are missions and a terrific map and did I mention it can be damned hard? Unfairly hard, sometimes, in terms of starting locations in battle, where you are sometimes at a massive height disadvantage, which isn't visible from the overland map.

And yet, it's so good. Incredibly satisfying combat, lots of complexities in character builds and strategies, very good writing. It's just really, really terrific when it's not sucking.

If you want something with plenty of depth, difficulty, and sometimes frustration, play this.

3. Lone Sails (Steam page) $15
If I could have you buy just one game out of this top five, it would be Lone Sails. It's beautiful and joyous and melancholy, and it's one of the most meditative games I've ever played. You're a girl, trying to get a land ship (with sail) to go from the left of the screen to the right of the screen. That's it, really, but that's all it needs, because it's designed absolutely brilliantly. Play it in the dark, with headphones, and you will be in an incredibly focused state within the first fifteen minutes. So beautiful and carefully done. It takes about five hours to play, and they are wonderfully spent.

2. Slay the Spire (Steam page) $16
After all the years I've been on Steam (since Half Life 2 launched), I have only one game--one--that I've played for more than 200 hours.

This game. 212 hours.

It's a deck builder and a roguelike, and it's damn near perfect. You think you understand it after a few hours, then you're sure you understand it after 20, then by god you damn sure totally understand it after 50, then at some point you realize you're still playing and it doesn't matter what you understand.

Build a deck. Fight monsters. Fight the biggest monster. Doesn't leap off the page, but the gameplay is just incredibly strong, and it manages to feel different a remarkable amount of the time, even when you've played it for 200+ hours.

This is technically an Early Access title, but ignore that designation. It's incredibly polished and has a ton of content.

A few weeks ago, I beat the final boss (who was just recently added) with The Defect character and it was one of the most satisfying things I've done in gaming in a long time.

1. The Banner Saga Trilogy (Steam page)
Right now, one of the most moving RPGs I've ever played is on sale at Steam for $23. That's the entire trilogy, with a combined 50+ hours of gameplay.

I wrote about this game earlier in the year, but it is successful in every conceivable way: story, interface, mechanics, graphics, animations, sound. It's just superior. It's so beautifully crafted, with characters you become genuinely attached to (and may lose), and a compelling, brilliantly written story.

I'm trying to think of an RPG where I felt more involved as the story was reaching its conclusion, and I can't think of one. That covers hundreds of RPG's over about 40 years of gaming, and includes every major RPG series that has ever been released.

Go play.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Friday Links!

Here are some terrific links from, which is one of my favorite websites. First, a coal fire? What? The Story of the Titanic Keeps Getting Weirder.

This is utterly fascinating: Ultra-Precise Ice Core Sampling and the Explosive Cause of the Dark Ages.

Here's an almost endlessly deep rabbit hole, just in case you're trying to work today:’s Best of 2018, Parts 1 and 2.

This is such a nicely written story about being a boy and getting the gift you most wanted: Merry Christmas to all.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and it's a stunning visualization of data: Population Mountains.

From Steven Davis, and these are amazing: Jesse Rieser Captures American Christmas in All of Its Kitschy Splendor. This is one of my favorite story titles ever: Inside the Eccentric World of Ethical Taxidermy Art.

From C. Lee, and this is a wonderful short film: The Chaos of the Universe, Contained in a Watch. This is also absolutely terrific: Backgammon Taught Me Everything Akiko Yazawa. This is very much worth reading: The Gifts of Humility.

From Phil, and this is a stunning story (I read many feature stories from this writer when he was with Sports Illustrated, and they were uniformly terrific): I Used to Write for Sports Illustrated. Now I Deliver Packages for Amazon.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Have An Authentic DQ Holiday Experience

Just look at this picture and play the song and drift away for a few minutes. An actual thing I did last week, standing on the deck of the library and looking out over the lake, which was particularly beautiful on this day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Holiday Pictures!

That is a lovely holiday, um, something:

"Ride 9D virtual 5 times..." it says at the bottom, and if my math is correct, I think that means riding 3D 15 times. That's a lot of D's!

Truly, the era of innovation is dead, and this product, unquestionably, is what killed it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Gracie And The Dawning of Consciousness

"Oh my god," Eli 17.5 said. "Did you see that?"

"I don't believe it," Gloria said.

"Wait, what just happened?" I asked.

"Gracie just dipped her paw into the glass to get the milk at the bottom, and she's licking it off her paw," Eli said.

"That is not possible," I said. "Gracie is a moron."

"Look!" he said. "She's doing it again!" I looked, and it was indeed happening. This would have been an appropriate time to use the Groucho Marx line 'Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?', but I missed the chance.

Later that night, we were watching a show and I saw Gracie on the kitchen table, fiddling with a gift. Ribbon was involved. "Oh, no," I said, and ran over to the table, just in time to carefully pull a length of ribbon out of her mouth (she was trying to eat it, and had mostly succeeded).

"What did she do?" Gloria asked.

"She untied the bow on the gift and started eating the ribbon," I said. "She must have had at least a foot down her throat before I started pulling it out."

"Unbelievable," Gloria said.

"Face it, you guys," I said. "Gracie is sentient."

Eli started laughing. "No way. That can't happen."

"I know," I said, "but those are two separate incidents where she was smarter than she's ever been in her whole life."

"Still not possible," he said.

"This must be a 'Flowers For Algernon' situation, but with cats," I said. "In two more days, she'll be just as stupid as she normally was, and she won't remember the heady thirty minutes when she could think."

And so it came to pass. No longer sentient:

Monday, December 24, 2018

That Seems Unlikely

UNION TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan State Police say a Muskegon County man was killed in a four-vehicle crash three counties away.

This Is The Apocalypse Speaking

My Little Pony Holiday Hotline:

Friday, December 21, 2018

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Dan, and it's wonderful in every conceivable way: Ex-NASA Engineer’s Fart-Laced ‘Glitter Bomb’ Stuns Package Thieves.

Boy, out of nowhere, the holiday links edition is just huge, and there are plenty of great stories.

This is an absolutely tremendous read: It Was Japan’s Most Daring Car. Then the Economy Imploded.

From Steven Davis, and this is remarkable: The Voder: 1939, the worlds first electronic voice synthesizer. And more: Victor Talking Machines - Antiques with Gary Stover. This is both amazing and somehow creepy: Utterance robot finally got the same voice as humans, This is a nightmare: Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret.

From C. Lee, and it's excellent: The Oldest Surviving Form of Theater. This is fascinating: Smart ships using the wind and air bubbles to save fuel. Also fascinating: Uncovering the hidden colour of history. Thought provoking: Economics: The Discipline That Refuses to Change.

From Wally, and it's an amazing war story: Triple-Axis Ace.

From Bryan G., and it's an excellent read: The Yoda of Silicon Valley: Donald Knuth, master of algorithms, reflects on 50 years of his opus-in-progress, “The Art of Computer Programming.”

From Chris Meadowcraft, and this is fascinating: These Dinosaurs' Noses Made Breathing Complicated for a Very Good Reason.

Every bit as much of a jackass as expected: The Great Heavy Metal Hoax: How a down-on-his-luck headbanger fabricated a persona, faked a tour, and promoted himself as a hard-rock savior.

From Meg McReynolds, and it's comprehensive: A ranking of 100 — yes, 100 — Christmas songs.

From Paul Meyer, and it's an incredible story: Lund professor freed student from Islamic State war zone.

From Steve Nygard, and I heartily agree: The Devil's Hair Dryer: Hell is other people, with leaf blowers. This is excellent: Why It's Almost Impossible to Jump Higher Than 50 Inches | WIRED. I'm on board with this: The Cube Rule of Food Identification.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

There Will Be Consequences

There was a commercial about quitting smoking. It was puzzling (we had the sound off), and featured actor Ray Liotta.

"From what I can tell, the biggest benefit of quitting smoking is that it gives you time to play with your dog," I said.

"Oh, thank god," Gloria said. "I thought it was a Viagra commercial."

"That's a dark place," I said. "Don't go there."

"I was waiting for a goat to show up," she said.

"Don't do it," I said. "Not even once."

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


I was sitting on the couch when Eli 17.4 walked in.

"I have a question," I said.

"Okay, go ahead."

"Wendy's is selling a 2019 Jr. Frosty tag for $2," I said.

"So a free Jr. Frosty with any purchase," he said.

"Right," I said. "Also, Wendy's is selling any size fries for $1."

"You could get large fries and a small Frosty for $1 every time you went," he said.

"Exactly," I said. "So how long do you think a man could survive just eating french fries and ice cream?"

He paused to think. "I don't know," he said. "A month?"

"Hmm," I said.

"Stop making that sound," he said. "You're making me nervous."

Holiday George

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


The hard thing about living up here, for me, is not that it's cold.

It's parts.

Parts of me are hot. Parts of me are cold. Parts of me are sweating--those parts might be cold or hot, no matter.

Parts and cold and hot and more parts and there's just no way for my body to warm up evenly. I'm like a microwave oven with hot spots and dead zones.

Only four and a half months until winter is over.

Raiders of the Lost Cheese

"America’s cheese hoard continues to balloon to unprecedented levels..."

Monday, December 17, 2018

Go Fund Me, For Sure

"Some days you go to the grocery store for ice cream and come home with five bags of Chex Mix instead," I said, walking into the house.

"How did that happen?" Gloria asked.

"I was just walking through the store and saw a display that said 'Buy Two Get Three Free'," I said. "I'm just one one man. I can't make a stand against those kinds of discounts."

"So we have five bags of Chex Mix," she said.

"To eternity and beyond," I said. "Also, I've figured out the name for my business."

"You did?" she asked.

"I was standing in the grocery store, and there's one particular spot that's right under a big heating vent," I said. "It's fifteen degrees warmer than anywhere else in the store. And there are always two or three people standing right there, like fish next to the outlet vents at a power plant.

"Which made me wonder why there's no place to be warm here. All the restaurants are 65 degrees in winter, I swear. All the stores are cold. My car is the warmest place in this city for five months of the year.

"So here's the idea. It's called 'Warm as Hell', and it's like a car wash where you car gets on the tracks and rides through, except at Warm as Hell, you get on the tracks, lower your windows, and it's 85 degrees for the entire time you're going through. You ride through, heat up, and then drive off. Merchandise and gift certificates available."

Gloria packs a little clothing bag with various things in it before Eli's practices. "Oh, and I packed a couple of those hard bars in case you get hungry," she said. "There aren't any fresh ones left, so I had to use the ones that we've packed before and didn't use."

"'Hard bars'," I said. "That sounds like something they'd sell at a CrossFit Gym."

"Hard Bar with 120 grams of protein," Eli 17.4 said.

"I've got it!" I said. "We'll sell Hard Bars nutritional products at Warm as Hell."

Maybe the Warm as Hell Temperature Emporium. Haven't decided yet. That definitely deserves a logo, at least.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday Links Supplemental

This could be a big deal: First Dutch bananas could help tackle worldwide fungal threat.

And if you're interested, this is a magnificent and fascinating book:
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.

Friday Links!

From Geoff Engelstein, and this is beyond my comprehension: The Strange Phenomenon of L.O.L. Surprise Dolls.

This is a great version, to be sure: Toto on a koto: Africa performed with traditional Japanese instrument.

From Wally, and these are amazing: The Winners Of The 2018 National Geographic Photo Contest Will Take Your Breath Away. I had no idea: The tasty tradition of Taiwan's midnight meals. This is very cool: Neat science trick that I'd love to have the soap formula to.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is outstanding: Subject: I'm glad I have cats.

From Griffin Cheng, and it's quite wonderful: How deaf researchers are reinventing science communication.

From C. Lee, and they're all excellent, as usual:
The Lost Lingo of New York City’s Soda Jerks
How to Teach the Civil War in the Deep South
What our science fiction says about us
The Woman Whose Invention Helped Win a War — and Still Baffles Weathermen
52 of the World’s Most Out-There Myths About Food

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Nemesis System

Also, A Text I Sent From The Mall

Oh my god I just saw young you
Do they just make a you
every decade or so?

That Would Seem To Check Out

I went to the mall for a smoothie today. Blueberry banana, in case you're wondering.

When I got to the register, I saw a homemade sign: 
Banana Banana Smoothie
$1 OFF

"I don't think I've ever heard of a banana banana smoothie," I said. 

The girl at the register said, without a hint of irony, "It's basically just bananas."

Wednesday, December 12, 2018



Which means they won't have a decision until mid-March. Better than being rejected, not as good as being accepted. Purgatory.

Surely, the First Sign of the Apocalypse

Sure, Fetty Wapp created "Trap Queen," which is an outstanding track. And honey jalapeno is an intriguing flavor. Kudos, Mr. Wap.

But let me ask you this, sir: did NWA, after recording their classic track "F--- The Police," get together and say, "Boys, I think we should get into beef jerky?"

They did not. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Return

I gathered the family in the living room and unfolded a piece of paper.

"I have a short statement," I said. "Around a year ago at this time, Evan the Inappropriate Elf was murdered by a member of this family who need not be named--GLORIA. Tonight, though, a year later, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Evan the Inappropriate Elf reclaims his place with the family he cherishes. I think I speak for all of us when I say 'Welcome home, Evan.'"

Then I unveiled this:

Eli 17.4 laid down on the rug and started pounding it with his fists when I got to "like a Phoenix rising", crying with laughter. When he could finally speak again, he said, "A statement. You wrote a statement," then seized up again. "And you undersold it," he said. "No hints. Nothing." Then he started laughing again. Gloria and I were laughing so hard we couldn't even talk.

Genuinely one of my favorite holiday moments ever.

Nervous Times

Eli 17.4 finds out if he got accepted into Princeton at 7 PM EST tomorrow.

I was feeling pretty good about his chances, and then one of his friends didn't get into Stanford. That doesn't sound like anything, but this kid had a 1590 SAT, perfect grades, and five 5's on AP tests. And didn't get in! I think Eli is a very strong applicant, but man, it's a numbers game. Some kids like him are definitely going to get in, but that doesn't mean he's going to be one of them.

Anyway, it's going to be a long day tomorrow.

I appreciate the suggestions everyone sent in about his fatigue. His blood work checked out within range, and there's no operative theory now except a virus (a long one). I think it's also possible that his daily schedule (which is unbelievably packed) may just have worn him down once hockey started. He starts holiday break next Friday, and hopefully a couple of weeks of sleeping in will take care of it.

He's also experimenting with his warmup, trying to raise his body temperature and pulse rate a bit higher than he was previously. No data on whether that's helping yet.

Monday, December 10, 2018


I brought home doughnuts.

"I present to you, a holiday miracle," I said to Eli 17.4. He loves doughnuts with icing--no filling, just icing, which Krispy Kreme hasn't had in over a year.

I opened the box. Inside were "plaid" doughnuts--plain doughnuts with icing.

"Let's go!" he said. "I can't believe you found them!" A hero's welcome. Felt good.

"I got you a cinnamon with cream cheese frosting," I told Gloria.

"Oh," she said.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing," she said.

"You gave me the face," I said.

"They didn't have pumpkin or sour cream?" she asked.

"Did you just doughnut shame me?" I asked.

"How do you like my haircut?" Eli asked, laughing. The haircut is a legendary family story. Eli went for a haircut last year, got it cut differently, and came home. He asked his mom if she liked it, and she said "Uh, sure," and gave him the face.

I went back to my study (Slay the Spire, last boss, damn it), and Gloria came in a few minutes later. "You know, I try to be positive and upbeat all the time, and then I slip about a haircut--"

"But fuck ONE goat," I said.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a sad passing: The great Ricky Jay was the magician’s magician.

This is a fascinating read: The human and financial cost to summit Mount Everest is staggering. And so is this: An American Surfer Goes Rogue To Claim The Baltic Sea's "Last Wave". And one more (this is just riveting): The Watcher A family bought their dream house. But according to the creepy letters they started to get, they weren’t the only ones interested in it.

From C. Lee, and it's terrifying: Failure to share data results in surgeries using defective devices. This is quite interesting: See a Collection of Sickening Objects at Portland’s Outbreak Museum. These are absolutely amazing: 24 Amazing, Homemade Dungeons & Dragons Maps. Brilliant: Togolese innovators turn the world's junk into robots. A sad story of decay: The Twilight of the Taj. This is thought-provoking: What ads in the New Yorker magazine tell us about the American oligarchy.

From Wally, and somehow, this is mesmerizing: Christmas tree trimming. This is intriguing: New Metal-Air Transistor Replaces Semiconductors.

Cute alert: Photographer Captures Extremely Rare White Baby Reindeer While Hiking In Norway.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Just Cause 4: Just Don't

Square Enix released a statement today. In part, it said this:
Due to the complexity of Just Cause 4’s vast open world and advanced physics systems we understand that a number of you are experiencing various technical issues.

Wait, let me fix that for you:
Due to us releasing an alpha we understand that every single one of you is experiencing technical issues. Plus, it just looks shitty, am I right?

There you go. Happy to help.

It's been a long time since a major developer has released a game that's in such terrible shape, both technically and visually. The game can't be using final textures, because if they were, it would barely be PS3-level graphics. The much-touted new physics system is absolute crap--things feel incredibly floaty and insubstantial. The physics in Just Cause 3 were fine, and there was no need to replace them. They had to have something to put on the marketing checklist, though, and this is what they got: disaster.

Like I said on Tuesday, I actually refunded the game after about 40 minutes. It was clearly an alpha, and it was clearly an effort by Square Enix to do something shitty and get away with it. No sale.

This is an absolutely beloved series, and right now, only 33% of the 1,500 reviews on Steam are positive (and I bet 100+ of the positive reviews are from shill accounts).

I'm not sure how they come back from this. It would take at least two months, at an absolute minimum, to make this game playable, and four to six months is a much more reasonable estimate. It's a huge embarrassment for Square Enix, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if people get fired over this.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

For The Love of God, Don't Do It

I needed to Google "waitress names" today (for something I'm working on).

In Google Search results, that led me to this:
Get the meaning of the name Waitress. When naming your baby Waitress, it's important to consider the gender of the name itself.

Thoughts While Watching Rudolph

Yukon Cornelius was in the snow cave with the reindeer.

"Man, Yukon Cornelius is a large individual," I said.

"He's frickin' HUGE," Eli 17.4 said.

"Seriously, that is not normal," I said. "Wait, hold on." I paused the DVR with Yukon Cornelius standing right next to the reindeer. "I think we can figure this out."

Eli started laughing. "It seems like we need to," he said.

"We're treating Rudolph like the Zappruder film," I said. "Now, how tall is a reindeer? Googling." Eli laughed again. "Okay, they're from three to five feet tall, not including antlers. Standing next to Cornelius, and maybe subtracting a little for slope, that's seven feet, at least."

"Eight," Eli said.

"Between seven and eight feet tall," I said. "And surprisingly agile for his size. NBA ready."

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Be Warned: Just Cause 4

[Update: I actually refunded this, the first time I've ever asked for a refund on Steam.]

The PC version of Just Cause 4 appears to be a very poor port from the console versions and is janky to boot. I don't recommend it in this state.

Seems Headed In the Wrong Direction

In Arby's, I just heard a guy order a beef and cheddar with no bun, no sauce, and no cheddar. A meat pile.

So many questions.


[Just a note. Everything I'm writing now is time-shifted, for various reasons that will eventually be revealed. So this blizzard (to me) happened last week.]

A winter storm dumped about six inches of snow on us overnight.

When we first got here, that was magical. Now, it's logistical.

Get out and snowshoe for forty-five minutes. Nothing's plowed yet, so just walk through the neighborhood. Snowshoeing is very Zen, to me, and it's relaxing even as it's demanding.

Come back. Start all three cars to start windshields defrosting. Clear the snow off all of them. Almost fall half a dozen times, because you can't turn in showshoes without thinking first (I don't). Do some cursory shoveling, then surrender.

When the cars are clear, go run a few errands, then drop by the grocery store for essential, emergency supplies:
Dr. Pepper 10
Ginger beer
Shoestring potatoes

Of course, by the time I walk out of the grocery store, the snow's stopped. Show's over. Now it melts and everything will be slippery as hell until it's gone.

Still kinda magical, though.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Ryder, Secret Ryder

Eli 17.3 and I went to a golf simulator on Sunday. There's a nice one in Grand Rapids, and while it's not like playing outdoors, it can be fun in its own way. Plus, if you hit the ball within six feet of the hole, the simulator concedes the next putt. That's the kind of leniency I can get behind.

"All right, here's what's going on today," I said, as we warmed up on the virtual driving range. "Match play for five dollars. I'm going to beat you with only a driver, a 56 degree wedge, and a putter."

Eli burst out laughing. "I could use five dollars, anyway," he said. "Deal."

After four holes, he was three-up. He got a lesson a few weeks ago, revamped his swing a bit, and he is really, really good now.

We pay for an hour, so we never even make it through the front nine.

"All right," I said. "Three down, probably three holes to play. Three holes from glory. I'm walking out with a draw."

Eli just looked at me. "You've been watching, right?"

"Just getting the driver dialed in at all distances," I said. "Here it comes."

Eli teed up his ball, took a swing--and hit it forty yards into the rough. "Oh my god, you're in my head," he said, laughing.

"Feels good in there," I said, and he laughed harder.

In crunch time, I made a sidehill, eight-foot putt to win the hole.

"Two down," I said.

Won the next hole, too, easily.

"One down," I said.

"And we're out of time," Eli said, and he was right. The hour was up.

"All right, I see what's going on," I said. "You played those last two holes so poorly, and it took so long, that there's no time left."

"Strategy," he said. "Next level."

"You can slink away with your victory of shame," I said. "Go ahead, start slinking."

"Shame? Pure triumph," he said, raising his arms.

At this point, the attendant, who has been watching us and laughing (on one else was in the building at 10 a.m.), walked up and said, "You guys go ahead and play one more hole."

"What?" Eli started laughing.

"Well, that sounded like justice," I said.

It was a par three, and I was forty yards off the green after my tee shot. Eli hadn't hit a good one, either, so I still  had a chance.

"I'm calling it," I said. "From the rough, over the trees, to within six feet."

Eli burst out laughing, and the I hit the shot. "Oh, that looks--no, no--oh my god, you did it."

Four feet. "CONCEDED", said the screen.

Eli had an eight-foot putt for the tie, but it had a nasty break. "I'm making this," he said.

"Don't feel bad," I said. "You're going to salvage a tie with a two-putt."

He missed. Amateur side of the hole.

"Now people are rushing onto the green to celebrate my Ryder Cup victory," I said. "Teammates mobbing me, people crying. It feels good."

"What win?" he asked. "We tied."

"My team was up a point going into the last match," I said. "A tie was all I needed."

"Hey!" he said. "If you're so desperate for a win that you have to make something up, it's not a victory."

"Tell that to my trophy," I said.

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