When Gameplay Had to Compensate for Lack of Graphics

Truly, the 1990s were the golden age of strategy gaming. Over the years I have dabbled in various strategy games as they came out, but nothing has ever "done it" for me the way classic games like the original Master of Orion, Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space, or the original Lords of the Realm. Newer strategy games all have much better graphics, to be sure, but they always seem to fall a bit short.

To be fair, I have found a few good ones over the years, and I burned many hours playing Galactic Civilizations II which provided a pretty close approximation of the magic of Master of Orion. But on the whole, I think that the reason those old games were so great was because they could not rely on graphics to save a less-than-excellent game. Nowadays I think that visuals can too easily become a crutch.

The good thing is, all those classic games are old enough that they're available for free, and I am now reliving my gaming glory days with my oldest son. I recently downloaded Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space and we've been playing a few turns every other day. It's available here: http://www.raceintospace.org/

If you are interested in the Soviet-US race into space this is a great game. Every launch has us on the edge of our seats wondering if it will blow up, or go according to plan. My son is learning a lot about the history of the space race too. He's just turning 8 next week but is able to grasp the game with some help from me. Great stuff.


'Salem's Lot (Book Review)

Title: 'Salem's Lot
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday
My Rating: 3 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: A very serviceable vampire tale set in rural New England where the vampires are evil animated corpses not emo romanticized creatures of sympathy, and the characters who battle them well-developed and human

There is a lot of garbage vampire-themed fiction out there, in fact, almost all of it is garbage, so full credit goes to Stephen King for penning a good one that is full of suspense, horror, good characters, and above all vampires that actually are evil and vampiric. I give it three stars as a definite page turner but I can't give it higher than three stars because it wasn't really more than that. It brushed with greatness but left important plot points unresolved and lacked any higher philosophical point. It seemed more like a high quality slasher work.

The novel takes place in the town of Jerusalem's Lot A.K.A. "'Salem's Lot", Maine (population approx. 1000) circa 1975. The main protagonist, Ben Mears returns to his home town to write a novel. At the same time the mysterious Kurt Barlow and his associate Richard Straker arrive. Deaths ensue and Ben quickly comes to realize that vampirism is the cause. He joins forces with an interesting cast of characters. The characters are definitely a strong point of the work -- even minor characters who exists only briefly to fall prey to the vampires are well done and very human. I have to complain that I thought the characters were, by and large, a bit too dramatically immoral peaking the work somewhat of a cross between Peyton Place and Dracula.  To King's credit, he does not feel the need to graphically describe the various character indiscretions and tactically cut scenes, but it all felt a bit much. Although I suppose it underscored the theme of how 1970s American society was disintegrating. I tend to think that people are generally not that bad.

My biggest problems were how Catholicism was portrayed. I do believe Mr. King attempted to show it in a positive light, and it was of interest that Catholic items seemed to be all that was capable of stopping vampires but it was also portrayed as if Catholic holy items are mere talismans that can be given to anyone just so they can fight vampires. The vampire hunters all confess their sins to the priest, but absent any actual conversion of even professed faith in God. There are some truly grievous errors concerning Catholicism that minimal research would have avoided such as having an old Mexican priest break the seal of confession in the prologue. Such superficial treatment, besides being wrong an offensive, weakened the story because it leaves one wondering why these Catholic items "work".

The plot moved at a good pace and offered a good mix of character development, scene setting, and suspense. There was really very little action as such, but Mr. King does an excellent job of creating terror and suspense. As suggested above, the vampires were appropriately evil although their powers felt ill-defined and it was unclear why some physical attacks worked on them and others didn't.

It must be noted that I actually listened to the audio book, purchased from Audible.com. The version I listened it was narrated by Ron McLarty who did an excellent job and really helped to bring the characters to life.


Extreme-Early Draft: "The Vampire Hunter" (bad working title)

As I have frequently complained, titles are always a big problem for me. Consider this one a vague placeholder. I actually came up with a whole pile of backstory/worldbuilding for this yesterday (in lieu of writing) and if this first story goes well I want to flesh it out and write a novel in this setting.
This first bit is what I wrote on Monday. It will NOT be a part of the final story I don't think, but I include it for your interest so you can see where I started and how I'm developing it.


This operation was going to be no normal scoot and shoot. Half an hour before drop, word came from command that they were to be accompanied by a First Estate asset. It wasn't unknown to bring such along — sometimes on missions like this they'd face things that photon guns and flame throwers couldn't handle. But to be told after briefing, while conducting final drop prep … Schäfer didn't like it. There was obviously more to this mission than they'd been told, and who was the asset that warranted all the cloak-dagger-stuff? And apparently a retinue as well.

Schäfer counted off his men as they piled into the drop ship. All were clad in rugged, heavy armour, their faces hidden behind omnishield helmets. Large packs carried the tools of the sort of war they waged: in addition of ammunition for their photon rifles, holy water, salt, psalm books, as well as rations and clothing. He counted twenty four — twenty five once he took his position at the rear — he'd been told to reserve third squad aboard the Lux et Origo. To make room for the attachments, he now understood, and those were making their way between the crates and vehicles that clogged the main hangar deck. Whereas usually a member of the First Estate would consist of one darkly clad man and two or three attendants, here came a whole squad's worth. There were a half dozen acolytes. One carried a processional cross and another swinging a censer from which fragrant smoke wafted. This piqued Schäfer's curiosity further. His jaw tightened when he noticed three of the company were clad similarly to his men and heavily armed. His men were more than enough. In the middle of all this strode a tall man, clad all in black, his face hid below a wide-brimmed hat.


And here's a little more, also more than likely destined for the circular file, but has been helpful in getting the creative juices flowing:

"The universe is slowly unravelling — or perhaps not so slowly," the Cardinal said. "Being torn apart at the seams. The end of days, perhaps. But that has been said before. Yet still, with Earth destroyed, the Empire broken, and the demonic invading the mortal realm in numbers not seen in millennia, I think it may be."

Lt. Schäfer carefully, slowly shifted his position and readjusted his grip on his photon rifle. He peered over the edge of the crater they huddled in, scanned the ice field studded with rocks and craters around them. The surface of Charon was dark and still, no sign of their enemies, save the twisted bodies of their dead comrades scattered haphazardly. He exhaled slowly and lowered himself again. He looked to the sky, sought out the sun, Sol. From here, in orbit around Pluto, it was but one star among many, albeit an extraordinarily bright one, still painful to look on for long. It lit their hole well enough that he could see what was left: two troopers, Kapoor and Fulgencio, one of the acolytes (possibly dead), and the Cardinal.

Cardinal Plasden was the only one of them not wearing pressurized combat armour. Incongruously with the desolate and airless landscape, he wore a black coat and wide-brimmed hat, the shimmer of air just visible around him, held inside an Elysium Window. Scarlet gloves contrasted sharply with the dark garb, gripping a silver rod. A pectoral cross hung around his neck.

"A rift in our universe has been opened here. You and your men were only to secure the landing site, not accompany me into the temple." The Cardinal said. "But as my own entourage has fallen, you must steele yourselves for what is to come. I am sorry."

"With respect, Your Eminence," Schäfer said. "Why weren't we briefed about this? We were unprepared — my men —"

"Obviously I was ill prepared, too. My men are equally dead." The Cardinal's voice wavered as he took a hand from his rod and gently brushed the acolyte's helmet. "I thought a quick, surprise attack would work. There was not time to brief anyone. Upon boarding the Lux et Origo I had to perform the Rites. Those are the reason any of us are alive. Flesh and blood is not our main foe here. I think you've been fighting vampires and revenants so long that you — and I — forgot this."

Schäfer looked to each of his remaining men in turn. Their faces were hidden behind their omnishield helmets. Kapoor was no doubt dying to tail his carefully maintained handlebar moustache. Olive-skinned Fulgencio's eyes were likely bulging as he held himself back from shouting, demanding "what the f— is going on?" Schäfer checked the readout on his left arm. They'd dropped only half an hour ago.

"Alright, Your Eminence, what do we do now?"



This is just too good not to share, even though it's off topic. A continuation of my personal war against "the beautiful game".

If people reacted in every day life to how soccer players (especially World Cup) react to incidental contact during games ...

In fairness, it should be noted that my good friend, Stephen Heiner, who is the scoundrel guilty of running a soccer show on A.M.D.G. radio -- and obsessed with soccer -- is the one who forwarded this video to me.


Vampire Research

I'll be posting a little teaser this Friday featuring an extreme-early draft scene of what I'm currently working on -- just to prove I am working on something. After writing it, I realized I was in dire need of research to make it come closer to working. As you will see, it's another one of my genre-bending concepts bringing together vampire-horror and funky science fiction with a gothic Warhammer 40,000 sort of flavour (no idea what you'd call that). So I had a listen to the Audiobook of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot. It wasn't bad, and I'm working on a review for this Saturday.

I'm currently working on Fr. Montague Summers' The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. Fr. Summers was a fascinating man and this is a fascinating book. For the uninitiated, Fr. Summers was an English Catholic priest who died in 1948, I believe, and who had a special (some might say outdated, medieval) interest in the occult. One of his first literary works was a translation of the Malleus Malefecarum.

I've only covered the first chapter so far, wherein Fr. Summers -- who believed vampires to be a very real thing -- makes the case that the believe in vampirism (or at the very least something very close) is almost universal in various human cultures and he gives examples from every continent and divers folklore.



Very unusual for southern Ontario, we've had several cloudless, low humidity days in a row that have yielded exceptionally clear nights for stargazing. Fortunately I live far enough out of town that when my neighbours cooperate and have all their lights off (which they have -- another rare thing), so I've had some great stargazing this weekend!

I just puttered around Friday looking at random things and trying to figure out for myself what they are. Yesterday I "took the plunge" and invested in an iPhone app to assist and decided on "Pocket Universe". I definitely can't complain about my first use.

Last night, while testing out our new tent in the back yard, I was awakened by my two oldest at 12:30 a.m. asking if it was finally dark enough to use the telescope. I'd been unconscious since about 8:30 but they were too excited to sleep. So, I hauled out our telescope and activate Pocket Universe and we had a gander. Found Saturn and I was stunned to be able to clearly see Saturn with its rings! It was stunning. It was all pure white through my telescope so I couldn't make out any other detail, but being able to see saturn's rings around it was sure something.

Below is not my picture, but is pretty close to what it looked like through my 6.3 mm eyepiece (perhaps a little blurrier). Using the 20 mm lense I was able to get a small, sharper, and brighter image. Very cool stuff. Maybe I'll get into stellar photography next. Anything other than actual writing apparently!

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