Contents

Caty and Cara's Page

Our Computers

Snapshots with Text

Essays for Fun

Ken Burch's Tales

Ken's Neocron Tales

More Neocron Tales

Secret Wars

Tales of the Walker Clan

Our Cast

Why Kevin Doesn't Dance

Writing of Mine That Doesn't Totally Suck

Stuff dl Thinks Is Cool

The Old, Old Grandma Story

The Final Battle

James' Photos

James Meyer's Birds:

Introduction

Photos 1 through 25

Photos 26 through 50

Photos 51 through 75

Photos 76 through 100

Reading

` a book cover

Playing





alChandler's Halls



Serving dozens since 1999


Notes from the North

Normally at this stage of the visit I'd be bitching about the version of SynWrite I'm using. SynWrite is my html editor and the newer versions have stripped out options like spell check and quick view. It sounds counter intuitive but people who are really skilled at web design don't want the extraneous stuff, they want an editor that can easily automate things like Java and Python.

But I'm not good at that so today instead of bitching I installed an earlier version of SynWrite and now I'm happy.

***

I've watched about six episodes of Game of Thrones, Donna's catching up so she can start watching the new episodes. Yes, I liked it very much, just not enough to give HBO $15 a month. I was pleased to find out that I remembered enough from the books to get a sense of where the characters were at.

***

And finally Donna's semi-feral cart Tabby allowed me to bet her today. Tabby truly is the cat who walks by herself and I feel honored.

August 15, 2017


The Iron Throne

In Sparta everyone watches Game of Thrones. I've enjoyed the episodes I've seen here but I remember George Martin saying that his vision of the Iron Throne was a lot grander.

August 11, 2017


The Plot Revealed

I'm 8 hours into the replay of Pillars of Eternity and I've got a muh better idea of what's happening then in my first play through. My character, a dwarf named alChandler, was in a caravan heading for a city called Dyrwood. Drywood is cursed by the Hollowborn Plague. Children are being born without souls, ever since a guy showed up 15 years ago claiming to be the incarnation of Eothas the god of light. There was a battle in Drywood, the guy claiming to be Eothas was killed and the god's temple in Drywood was destroyed.

Meawhile alChandler has his own problems, on the way to Drywood he witnessed a ceremony and the somehow he got awakened, that his he can psychically touch people and get a glimpse of their past lives. He, or rather I was told to go to a Caed Nua and ask a fellow watcher (that's what folks like us are called) for help. The watcher's name was Maerwald and he was bug fuck crazy, driven mad by his ability. But before he attacked me he told me to seek out the leaden key in the city of Defiance, so that's my next stop.

To be honest I don't know if I'll finish the replay or not. I'd really like to hit the expansions though.

August 5, 2017


Pillars of Eternity

So then, tonight I'm going to fire up Tacoma but I don't expect to get more then 8 hours out of it, it's not a huge game. But I am in a gaming mood, hell last week played Divinity: Original Sin for more then 40 hours.

Last summer when I was recuperating from my back injury I played Pillars of Eternity. I finished the game and it helped me through a very bad time but I don't remember much about it save for the big reveal about the nature of the gods. It had a wonderful world with a lot of lore that I just blew off. In fairness I was in a lot of pain at the time.

Since then there's been two DLCs released for the game and Obsidian is working on a sequel. So I'm replaying Pillars of Eternity, then I'll buy the DLC and that will hold me for a bit. In September a stand alone game set in the world of Dishonored will be released and in November Vampyr arrives so I'm set for the rest of the year. By the way, years ago I played Vampire: The Masquerade. I started it three or four times before it hooked me so Vampyr should be interesting.

August 3, 2017


Behind the Scenes at alChandler's Halls

Very early on I came up with the idea to put a picture of whatever game I was playing at the moment on the right side of this page. It was simple, grab a picture of the game's box, resize it and slap it up. In 2004 Steam arrived and for Half Life 2 I had to use a shot of the console version's box art. But that was a fluke, physical copies of computer games weren't going anywhere.

But it's 2017 and most PC games get the bulk of their sales through digital distribution. A lot of them still sell boxed copies for folks who want them but some games, like Tacoma, are digital only. And right now, as far as I know, there's no console version of that game. So in order to get a picture for the page I had to edit a promotional shot.

I expect I'll be doing a lot more of that in the future seeing as how the market for hard copies is continuing to shrink. For games that are released for PC and console I can continue to post actual box art. While consoles have their own digital distribution set up a lot of console players prefer a disk that they can turn in for store credit after they're through with the game. But sometime in the future I expect PC distribution to be digital only and if a game doesn't have a console version I'll just have to improvise.

August 2, 2017


Post Game Show

So then, 46 hours into my fourth pass at Divinity: Original Sin I've thrown in the towel, but at least I have a handle on why I can't complete the damn thing.

Most RPGs, even open world ones, have a path that the devs want the player to take. You can ignore the path as long as you like but it will always be there. Furthermore, the game will try to prevent you from screwing up too badly. Sometimes an item in your inventory will be labeled Quest Item and you won't be able to vendor it or drop it. Other times it's just in the writing, Witcher 3 does a good job of unobtrusively letting you know when an NPC is important.

Divinity: Original Sin doesn't do this. You can easily get into a situation where you don't have the tools to complete a quest. I'm thinking of the end of the Hiberheim area. You've killed Boreas, entered his treasure chamber and there's a casket with carved faire runes that you can't open. You can just leave, and miss collecting one of the star stones that are the game's MacGuffins, or you can somehow figure out you need to go back to Cyseal, go to the mayor's library and buy a book on fairy runes that the librarian just happens to have for sale. Then you read the book, zip back to Hiberheim and open the casket and collect the stone.

I had made it to the game's third section and was so lost that I was using Google to explain the walkthroughs for me. One poster on the game's Steam board put it this way, "You kind of have to MacGyver your way through, it's not for everybody."

But at a time when I wanted something, anything, to play I got 46 hours of (mostly) fun. And today Tacoma unlocked so I can dive into something else. And if I really want to play an old school RPG, I may just replay Pillars of Eternity. That game got me through a lot of back pain last year and while I finished it, I never gave it the attention it deserved.

August 2, 2017


Pathfinding

Every now and then stuff like this happens in Divinity:

alChandler: Well guys, we're almost at the mines, all we have to do is follow the path and we'll be there by nightfall.

Jahan: You losers can take the long way around if you like, I'm going to take this sweet shortcut through the lava.

alChandler: No, wait...

Jahan: IIIEEEEEEE!

Pathfinding in the game leaves something to be desired and I have lost fights because of it.

August 1, 2017


Divinity Original Sin

I put this game back on Kosh on the 25th of July. It's now August 1st and I've wracked up 43 hours in the game so it looks like I was in the mood for something like this.

Most RPGs have real time combat these days but Divinity is strictly turn based. Today that's working for me but last night at five in the morning it was annoying the shit out of me. Of course last night I ended up playing until seven in the morning so I probably was a tad short tempered.

At any rate I'm going to have a late night supper and leave the game world until tomorrow.

August 1, 2017


The 928th Night

A few years ago I bought the Malcolm Lyons translation of A Thousand Nights and a Night AKA The Arabian Nights or Alf Layla Wa Layla in Arabic. It comes in three volumes (sold separately) and I've been going through them, on and off, for about four years. For the last few weeks I've been pushing through volume 3 and I've just stalled at night 928 so it's time to take a break.

The collection was first translated into French by Antoine Galland in 1704 and it was a sensation. The first English translation was by Jonathan Scott in 1811 but the one everybody remembers is Richard Francis Burton's translation in 1885. Here's the difference between Burton in the 19th century and Lyons in the 21st:

"Behold, there stood before him an honourable woman in a mantilla of Mosul [footnote] silk, broidered with gold and bordered with brocade; her walking shoes were also purfled with gold and her hair floated in long plaits. She raised her face veil and, showing two black eyes fringed with jetty lashes, whose glances were soft and languishing and whose perfect beauty was ever blandishing, she accosted the Porter and said in the suavest tones and choicest language, 'Take up thy crate and follow me.'"

"A woman came up to him wrapped in a silken Mosuli shawl with a floating ribbon and wearing embroidered shoes fringed with gold thread. When she raised her veil, beneath it could be seen dark eyes, which, with their eyelashes and eyelids, shot soft glances, perfect in their quality. She turned to the porter and said in a sweet, clear voice: 'Take your basket and follow me.'"

But the Burton translation has one advantage, it's free and you can download it and place it on the ereader of your choice.

I've only 72 more nights to go so after a break to get my second wind I'll go back and finish it. But first, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate.

July 29, 2017


More Divinity

If you notice such things, there's now box art for Divinity: Original Sin in the menu to the left. According to Steam I've played it for 13.6 hours over the last two days so it looks like I'm all in. And who knows, I just might finish it this time, after all I despaired of ever finishing Prey at a certain point.

A fellow on Steam's forum for the game brought up an interesting point, the pacing is unusual. Take Baldur's Gate a classic RPG if ever there was one, it starts off at at a fortress called Candlekeep, pretty far off in the wilderness. You don't actually reach Baldur's Gate until much later in the game. But Divinity: Original Sin starts out in Cyseal, a fairly big city and once you've done what you need to there, you then go off into the wilderness. I've been pottering around in Cyseal for over 13 hours and I'm not even close to leaving. So you go from a city with lots of things to see and do to the wilderness and things seem to slow down.

At any rate I'm about ready for my first boss fight. I've beaten him twice before so it shouldn't be a problem for me. By the way, Baldur's Gate turns 20 next year. Damn.

July 26, 2017


Divinity: Original Sin

This is my fourth pass at the game and today I learned a new thing about this weird enemy, it's like a walking bomb and while it's easily killed it blows up in death doing tremendous damage to any bystanders. And it's fast, it will start a fight out of range and by the next turn it will be in the middle of my guys.

Today I was in a fight at a haunted lighthouse and one of the bomb dudes ran next to my two mages. One of them, Jahan, had an ice spell and he cast it on the little fucker and his fuse went out. Then he cast a spark spell and killed it. So that was pretty cool.

July 26, 2017


Paint Lives

CNBC is reporting that the fall Creators Update for Windows 10 will not remove Paint from the OS. There's probably something wrong with me for being so happy over that.

July 25, 2017


alChandler Between Games

Actually, I'm between games a lot, but sometimes I want to play a game and just can't find anything that peaks my interest. When that happens I go through my Steam list, I'll look at a game, reinstall it wondering why I never finished it and then I'll hit Deathstroke, the early boss that kicked my ass the last time I played Batman: Arkham Origins (and the time before that too).

I've played Divinity: Original Sin twice and both times I got bored with it halfway through. But I'm really bored and even though Tacoma comes out next week I want something to play right fucking now. And that's why I've spent six hours today in Cyseal, trying to find out who killed Councilor Jake. And who knows, maybe the rush I got finishing Prey will carry me through this time.

July 25, 2017


MS Paint

The Guardian is reporting that Microsoft is planning to kill off Paint. Microsoft introduced a new 3D/2D program called Paint 3D and I presume that Microsoft expects people to migrate to that.

I use Paint a lot. Whenever I post a screen shot here, it's been resized with Paint; I also use it for simple cropping jobs. Paint 3D is useless (at least to me) for that sort of thing. A lot of people on Metafilter and Slashdot recommended Paint.NET, a program that's more robust then MS Paint but far easier to use then Photoshop and Gimp. In my case, problem solved.

But there are a lot of people who use Paint at work and when MS does pull the plug on Paint they'll be in trouble. You just can't install Paint.NET on your work computer and IT departments are fairly slow when it comes to reacting to changes.

A poster on Metafilter wrote:

Crop, resize, save as... all functions I use extremely regularly. Not many people I know use paint to actually eh paint anymore

Which nicely sums up what I use it for. I've a feeling that Microsoft doesn't have a handle on what people actually do with their software, hence stuff like Paint 3D gets released.

July 24, 2017


Other Games

Gone Home
Firewatch
The Stanley Parable
The Beginner's Guide
What Remains of Edith Finch
Awkward Dimensions Redux
Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

All those game have this in common, they're meant more as experiences rather then as something you play to win or, potentially, lose. Gone Home was the story of a young woman making a surprise trip home to see here parents only to discover an ominous note from her sister on the door of her parent's new house and nobody at home. You pieced together what happened from notes, diary entries and other clues. There's no conflict or struggle, just a woman discovering unexpected truths about her family.

Indeed, these types of games are referred to as walking simulators and there's a certain amount of truth in that. They're not for everyone, they're not even for me all of the time. Sometimes you just want to pick up a gun and blow zombies away. But just as I like role playing games, stealth games and first person shooters, I like games like What Remains of Edith Finch.

I'm bringing this up because I just finished the first four episodes of Kentucky Route Zero. In that game you start out as Conway, an older man who works as a delivery driver for an antique store. You've got one last delivery to make to 5 Dogwood Drive but you can't find the place. The game has the trappings of a point and click adventure game but there aren't really any puzzles. Instead you encounter surrealistic situations and sad, disappointed people trying to get on with life as best they can. In fact, it's a very sad game but it still made me feel good. Normally I run from art that looks like it will depress me but Kentucky Route Zero left me feeling uplifted.

And this is not a pitch to get you to download The Beginners Guide. By now you know what you like and you've seen me write about some of these games before. but I do want to share my happiness that games are evolving and have the capacity to tell nuanced, subtle stories. And I'm happy that a game like Prey which is not a subtle game, has some moral choices you can make that alter the game's outcome.

Kentucky Route Zero has five acts and so far Cardboard Computers have released the first four, so we're waiting for Act five and resolution. Meanwhile, Fullbright, the folks behind Gone Home will release Tacoma next month. And maybe I'll put Batman: Arkham Origins back on Kosh and kick the shit out of people while I'm waiting.

July 22, 2017


Third Floor: Bears

The third floor of the Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces is where they keep the bears. That knowledge, and the screenshot, is probably all you'll need to figure out if you'll enjoy Kentucky Route Zero.

July 22, 2017


Computer News

You know, I used to talk about computers a lot more here. But the changes in the industry are no longer revolutionary, they're incremental. It's the same for phones. I'm sure the Galaxy S8 is a better phone then my S7 but there's no particular reason to upgrade. Next year my phone will be two years old, I'll breath on it too harshly and it will stop working. Then I'll deal with upgrading.

I think I'm a bit jaded because I do upgrade so frequently. Every few years I'll upgrade my video board or phone and the changes aren't that spectacular. But I kept my last car for 13 years and when I did buy a new one it seemed incredible. If I had been playing Half Life 2 for the least 13 years and then got a new system and booted up Prey I'd be gob smacked.

Ages ago I was talking to Rolf about Myst. I said that if I could play a first person shooter with graphics as good as Myst's I'd be happy. We passed that milestone a long time ago.

July 21, 2017


XP, Vista and Blizzard

In the unlikely circumstance that you play one of Blizzard's games and are still running Windows XP or Vista I'm the barer of bad news. After this October your games will stop working. Blizzard intends to start rolling out patches that will prevent them from working under those operating systems.

I can't really blame them, Vista is 10 years old and XP is 15, Microsoft is no longer updating them and at this point they're security risks (all Blizzard games have an online component). I'm wondering how long it's going to be before other companies follow suit.

July 21, 2017


Kentucky Route Zero

Whenever I finish a game like Prey, one that I invested a lot of time on and in, there's always a cool down period afterwards. I'll cast about for another game, a different type of game, one that will help me release some of the tension.

I listen to the Gamers with Jobs podcast and every so often they'd mention Kentucky Route Zero a surrealistic adventure game set in Kentucky. It's been released episodically since 2013, four episodes so far and fans of the game are waiting for Act V, the last episode in the game. Steam was selling the four episodes as a bundle for $24.99 but the bundle was half price during the Steam sale so I picked it up and yesterday I started messing about with it.

It's an adventure game but there really aren't any puzzles, just dialogue between Conway, a truck driver trying to make a delivery to 5 Dogwood Drive, Shannon, who is trying to help him, and assorted other characters. It's strange and oddly soothing and it's just what I need after Prey.

July 16, 2017


TFW

You boot up Diablo 3 after half a year to chill, look at your character and think, "Oh yeah, I have a pet cow."

July 15, 2017


Post Game Show

In the Prey universe humanity came into contact with extraterrestrial life forms in 1958. By the time of the game, 2032, the TranStar Corporation has figured out who to use genetic material from the aliens, called Typhons, to augment human abilities. The mental architecture that makes a great piano player great can be scanned and transferred to another person via TranStar's neuromods. The recipient can now play the piano. There is a price though, if for any reason the neuromod procedure is reversed, the brain reverts back to its original state. So if the piano playing neuromod is removed after two years, you've lost two years of your life.

If it sounds a lot like something Phillip K. Dick would have written, you're right, Dick would have loved this game. As Morgan Yu you're trapped on the Talos I space station, the Typhons have broken containment and are rewriting the crew's DNA and you're clueless because your neuromods have been removed. You've no memories of what led to this clusterfuck. And that's enough to go on I think.

I've bitched about the difficulty of the game but I've played games like this before. Coming off of Mass Effect Andromeda left me ill prepared for Prey. If Prey has a lot of Dick's DNA, it also borrows from System Shock and Bioshock.

The game also has a moral core. Something you may blow off early in the game may come back to haunt you later. In that, Prey reminds me of Witcher 3.

The game isn't perfect, you'll be getting a chunk of important exposition from one character when your phone will ring and another character will just start blurting out her message. I'm not sure how that made its way into the final build but it did. And sometimes the pacing would be a little off but you know what? While I don't do alChandler's Game of the Year Awards, if I did Prey would probably be my game of the year for 2017.

Arcane is working on DLC for Prey so I'm not removing the game from Kosh just yet. Oh, one last thing, a lot of people were complaining about how terrifying these things were:

They'd disguise themselves as a coffee cup or a trash can then do a jump scare and attack you. People got terrified of these little bastards. I'm petrified during horror games but after the first couple of times encountering a mimic it was, "Christ, not these assholes again," and I'd batter it to death with my wrench.

July 15, 2017


Finished Prey

Two restarts and 95 hours later I finished Prey on my third try. I got what might be supposed to be the good ending and stayed through the credits to watch the after the credits scene that sets up a potential sequel. And if there is a sequel I hope it's several years away because I'm not ready for an experience like this anytime soon.

I picked up two games from the Steam sale but I'm going to take a little break and chill for a bit, I deserve it.

July 15, 2017


A Bit of Decompression

I'm at the home stretch in Prey. I could probably finish tonight but I'd be up until six in the morning and I don't think I could take that right now. But I'll be done in the next day or two.

And as far as I'm concerned, after spending two months on Talos I the System Shock remake can go duck itself.

July 15, 2017


Strutting

The proud walk of a man who has defeated every military bot in the place and has nothing more to fear.

July 15, 2017


More Blocks

It may not look it but that bot dispenser is blocked. It was my inability to stop the dispensers from creating military bots that led to my rage quit last month. I'd kill one and it would be instantly replaced.

And now all three dispensers in the shuttle bay are blocked. There are still a couple of military bots floating around in the shuttle bay but when I destroy them they won't be replaced, I'll be able to move freely. Life is good, I may finish this fucking game yet.

July 15, 2017


Movie Night

I'm using a larger version of this as wallpaper. For some reason I love that the crew of the ISS watched Gravity.

July 14, 2017


Prey

At this point in Prey my parents have sent a guy named Dahl to shut down Talos I, and to dispose of my character and my brother Alex. The Wu family doesn't play around. I've incapacitated Dahl but I still have to find Dahl's computer guy and that means entering the shuttle he came into the station on. The trouble is all the robot dispensers are now turning out military bots with orders to kill me. However if the dispenser is blocked it won't fabricate a bot. So by shoving that huge tape drive in front of the dispenser I've prevented the bots from respawning, at least in this part of the shuttle bay.

By the way, I'm now in the area of the game that caused me to quit last month.

July 14, 2017