Game Night: Outbreak!

Game Night Badge courtesy of FreshBadge.comIt seemed like any other Game Night: Chris was running us through another session of his homebrew campaign (based heavily on the world of Amber, created by Roger Zelazny), we were spending about as much time on conversational tangents as actual roleplaying, and there was cake.

A Tuesday night like many before it, until the deep, concussive sound of an explosion rattled the windows of the International House of Johnson.

“What the—?”

“Holy—!”

“Was that—?”

Dave, Chris and I ran for the front door. Laura turned on the television and tuned to the local news on Channel 5. Rachel sent a message to Twitter from her cell phone; 140 characters announcing to the Internet that something nearby had exploded.

We scanned the treeline and saw it: a large mushroom cloud—too small to be nuclear; besides which we’d already be dead if it was—to the northeast, somewhere near the junction of Route 2 and SOM Center Road. No sooner had we registered the cloud than we heard the screaming. People all through the cul-de-sac had come out of their homes and the sounds of agony surrounded us. We watched in horror as across the street Rick fell to his knees, his face a mass of hideous, black blisters that burst and sprayed a tar-like substance over the pristine concrete pad of his driveway. Something in the house next door exploded, a soft whump followed by the shattering of windows…then flames licking toward the early evening sky from inside.

The idea that I should attempt to extinguish the fire was pushed to the back of my mind by more screaming, this time from right behind me. I turned to find Dave in the grip of some unseen agony. Unseen, that is, until his shirt split at the seams and I caught a glimpse of green scales. I took a step back and nearly tripped over whatever it was that now occupied Chris’ t-shirt and khaki shorts. The thing—gelatinous and translucent, seemed to melt, oozing out of—no…no absorbing—the clothes and coalescing into an amorphous blob that slid down the gentle slope of my lawn toward the street, leaving a wide scar of burned grass in its wake.

Dave was on the ground now, writhing and twisting as his body expanded well beyond the capacity of his clothes. I took another look…and ran. Ran away from the horrors that used to be my friends and back toward the house.

There was no question about what had just happened: somehow, somewhere nearby the wild card virus had been released in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. Rick—and most of my other neighbors, it seemed—had drawn the Black Queen: a mutation that meant death, usually a very, very painful death. The same appeared to be true of Chris, while Dave had probably drawn a Joker as the virus invaded his body. A Joker meant that Dave would live, though whether that made him better off than those who didn’t might be a matter of perspective; the virus didn’t kill him, but it was mutating him into something that probably wouldn’t resemble a human being for much longer.

I dreaded what I would find inside. There was no screaming from, but that could mean that Laura had drawn the Black Queen, too. No, there she was, very much alive and looking very much like Laura. She was  kneeling over a prone figure on the floor.

Rachel, like Dave, had drawn a Joker. A spiral horn had erupted from her forehead, and I couldn’t help but think of unicorns…and faeries—a pair of gossamer wings spread from between her shoulderblades. Her hair was longer, too, at least waist-length and a rich red in hue.

Laura saw me then, and we quickly reassured one another that we were fine, though Laura said she felt “weird”. (I chalked it up to the fact that something had blown up near our neighborhood and our friends were mutating into bizarre conglomerations from J.R.R. Tolkien’s nightmares.)

“We have to get Rachel to a hospital,” Laura said.

My mind raced in a hundred different directions at once, but I couldn’t focus on a clear course of action. I nodded, glad to have the decision made for me. I half-lifted, half-dragged the unconscious Rachel to the front door.

“Where’s Chris?” Laura asked. “His van is blocking the driveway, we’ll have to take it to the hospital.”

“I…I think Chris is dead,” I said. “He…he melted.”

“Take…my…Humvee.”

I whirled toward the source of the pained, gutteral words. Dave was on all fours, doubled over in pain. Scaly protrusions outlined the ridge of his spine and a thick, green tail jutted from just below the small of his back.

Dave’s gas-guzzling, military-inspired monstrosity was parked on the curb. The keys were in the shredded remains of his pants and Laura, when she recovered from seeing the ex-Navy SEAL transformed into a human-lizard hybrid, retrieved them with trembling fingers.

I shouldered Rachel into the back seat, then went back to help Dave. He was impossibly heavy; there was no way I’d be able to even drag him across the lawn, much less lift him into the vehicle. He fought through the pain, staggering to his feet and stumbling toward the Humvee.

“Drive!” he muttered, climbing into the back seat next to Rachel. The Humvee listed as Dave managed to somehow cram himself—tail and all—into the back seat. Laura climbed into the front passenger seat as I pulled the driver’s door closed.

I hadn’t driven a standard transmission in at least ten years, but necessity trumped nerves and seconds later the Humvee was swinging around the cul-de-sac and roaring toward Euclid Avenue.

I uttered a curse—probably several—and slammed on the brakes. Euclid was a snarled mess of cars and trucks, some trying to maneuver toward East 305th Street, others stalled or crashed and now blocking traffic, their drivers either dead at the wheel or having abandoned the vehicle in the street. As bad as it had been in the cul-de-sac, it was a thousand times worse on the most traveled surface street in Lake County. Horns honked, people shouted (or screamed, as the Black Queen took her sweet time finishing a few of the unlucky ones off) and a logjam of steel and fiberglass stretched out in both directions.

It took me a moment to free myself from my usual minivan mindset and realize that I was driving a Humvee. I shifted into four-wheel drive and pushed the big truck into the fray. Metal shrieked, glass broke and rubber stuttered on concrete as I pushed cars out of my way, not caring whether their occupants were alive or not. Ploughing toward the opposite side of Euclid Avenue, I finally encountered an obstacle that the seemingly-irresistable Humvee would not move: a large black SUV.

I uttered another curse and felt the Humvee rock on its suspension as Dave hauled his bulk out of the back door. Slack-jawed, I watched as Dave—at least eight feet tall now—gripped the rear bumper of the Escalade and lifted. The SUV rocked and I recovered my wits enough to let my foot off the Humvee’s brake. With Dave’s help, I pushed the Escalade onto its side and we were able to squeeze past it.

We ploughed along, parallel to Euclid Avenue, cutting through the parking lots of a lawn tractor dealership, a bar and grill, a convenient store. Dave added his power to that of the Humvee when our forward progress was arrested and we rolled through—and in one case, over—the dozens of parked cars between us and East 305th Street.

It took us an hour to reach Route 2, the freeway I hoped would whisk us to downtown Cleveland and The Cleveland Clinic, but the sight we found when we finally crossed the railroad tracks made my heart sink: a virtual lake of vehicles, none of them moving, many of them sporting familiar red-and-blue flashing lights. Route 2, and by extension The Cleveland Clinic, was simply out of reach; we were going nowhere.


With apologies to Chris Miller. We didn’t mean to kill you, really.
Wild Cards CakeThe Game: Wild Cards, a Mutants & Masterminds sourcebook from Green Ronin Publishing. Written by John Joseph Miller and designed by Steve Kenson.

Wild Cards is based on the series of novels by the same name, edited by George R.R. Martin and featuring stories by Melinda Snodgrass, Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, John Joseph Miller and many more.

On September 15, 1946, the alien xenovirus known as Takis-A was released over an unsuspecting New York City. The virus killed most it infected instantly, while a lucky few were granted superhuman abilities and others were horribly mutated.

On August 26, 2008, a new outbreak of Takis-A occurred in the east suburbs of Cleveland. How the virus was released is not yet known, but northeast Ohio will never be the same…

GM: Gus “I don’t exist in this reality” Gosselin
Players: Dave “Scales” Berg, Kris “I Feel Fine” Johnson, Laura “I Feel Funny” Johnson and Rachel “@TheInternet OMG, Something Just Exploded!” Ross.

Up Next: Aces! (Session 1, Part 2)

Non Sequitur: More Wrong Numbers

Just OldWay back in the rough and tumble days of early 2007, I told you about some of the folks who have called my work cell phone looking for someone who is clearly not me. I don’t know what it is, but the phone attracts wrong numbers. Usually I just politely inform the caller that they’ve got the wrong number and carry on with my day.

Usually.

The following is a rough transcript of a call I received yesterday.

Me: Hello.
Caller (female): [something about “retard” and possibly “Bob”]
Me: I’m sorry, you’ve g-
Caller: The child is drinking the liquor you left on the counter, retard!
Me: You’ve got the wrong number.
Caller: Yeah, right. Listen, retard, the child is drinking the liquor you left here!
Me: I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t know who you are.
Caller: Yeah you do! The child is drinking the…

This “dialog” continued for a few more seconds, with me insisting that the caller had a wrong number and her calling me a retard and a liar until I just hung up. I expected her to call back right away, but my phone was mercifully silent.

The Secret Lair: Expansion

Things are a bit turbulent over at The Secret Lair these days. Chris Miller, my co-overlord, has packed up his belongings and moved to California, where he will take command of The Secret Lair West, our new facility located somewhere near Los Angeles. During one of his pre-move trips to L.A., Chris managed to accidentally shakes things up a bit and our own Secretary of Artistic Propaganda, Natalie Metzger, immortalized the event as an episode of The Secret Lair Webcomic.

The Secret Lair Webcomic - Episode 008

Meanwhile, closer to home, I’ve had to deal with not only the ramifications of Chris’ departure, but the day-to-day administrative duties of running an illegal, covert facility near what passes for a major metropolitan area in northeast Ohio.

As a result of the hubbub, we anticipate that our podcast release schedule will be even more sporadic than normal, though we did recently release our final face-to-face episode for the foreseeable future, recorded during Game Night at the International House of Johnson and including a number of very special guests.

Once the dust has settled (and we’ve determined that it’s not radioactive), we’ll fire up Skype and get back to what we do best. And if anyone out there knows exactly what that is, please let us know.

EDIT: Like the sands through the hourglass, so have fallen links to The Secret Lair.

Podiobooks to Print: Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty

Another podcast novelist makes the leap (over a tall building) to print on Monday, 25 August as Mur Lafferty‘s superhero novel, Playing for Keeps, debuts from Swarm Press.

I read Playing for Keeps about a year ago, when a pre-overlord Chris Miller and I were asked to assist with some of the “Stories of the Third Wave” supporting material for the podcast release of the novel. Unfortunately, I had to drop out of the production after only one episode due to some conflicting obligations, but the story of super-powered people whose abilities aren’t quite good enough to make them full-fledged superheroes is right up my alley and I’ve often speculated that my own “Third Wave” power could be anything from killing hard drives to sipping coffee just before it has cooled down to the point where it won’t burn my tongue.

Here’s the official press release from the publisher:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 25 Release Date for Mur Lafferty’s Playing for Keeps

Swarm Press is pleased to announce the upcoming release of breakthrough podcaster and author Mur Lafferty’s newest novel of superheroic action Playing for Keeps. Originally a self-released “podiobook,” this new printed version of Lafferty’s novel is due to hit shelves on August 25, 2008.

Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty.

Welcome to Seventh City, the birthplace of super powers. The First Wave heroes are jerks, but they have the best gifts: flight, super strength, telepathy, genius, fire. The Third Wavers, like bar-owner Keepsie Branson and her friends, are stuck with the leftovers: the ability to instantly make someone sober, the power to smell the past, absolute control… over elevators. They just aren’t powerful enough to make a difference… at least that’s what they’ve always been told. But when the villain Doodad slips Keepsie a mysterious metal sphere, the Third Wavers become caught in the middle of a battle between egotistical heroes and manipulative villains.

Playing for Keeps grabbed me and kept me reading straight through when I should have been plotting a new fantasy series for Tor Books. Mur, thank you. Tor, however, does not thank you.” – David Drake, author, Hammer’s Slammers.

Mur Lafferty is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated with a degree in English. Her nonfiction work has appeared at www.SuicideGirls.com, as well as in the magazines Knights of the Dinner Table, PC Gamer, Computer Games, Scrye, and SciFi Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in Hub, Escape Pod, and Scrybe. She was, until July, 2007, the host and co-editor of Pseudopod, and is currently the host and creator of the podcasts Geek Fu Action Grip and I Should be Writing. Visit Mur online at www.murverse.com

Playing for Keeps is still available as a free audio production at Podiobooks.com.

Cleveland Webloggers Meetup – August 2008

Blog Badge, courtesy of FreshBadge.comDespite the fact that I don’t live in or blog about Cleveland, last night I attended the Cleveland Webloggers August meetup organized by George Nemeth. No one seemed to mind that I live in Willoughby, or that my blog doesn’t typically wander into the realms of Cleveland politics, ((Or any politics, for that matter.)) society, art or industry. ((Let’s be honest here: I rarely even go to Cleveland. Prior to last night’s meetup, the last time I was anywhere near downtown and not just driving through was a Refresh Cleveland meetup back in May, and I was really just tagging along with now-expatriate Chris Miller. It’s not that I don’t like the city, I’m just not close enough to it that I feel compelled to visit on a regular basis. Plus, I used to have some real issues getting out of Cleveland once I got in, (I’m much better now, thank you.) and I suspect I have some emotional scarring as a result.)) And since I wasn’t shunned or ostracized, I thought I’d write a quick blurb about the meetup.

Venue

Americano, a new restaurant at One Bratenahl Place. Fairly simple to find, despite the fact that I saw literally no signage. I believe the lack of signage has more to do with Bratenahl Place than Americano, but I suppose I could be wrong. The restaurant doesn’t currently have a web site, but chef Vytauras “Chef V” Sasnauskas does have a blog on Blogspot.

Attendees

Topics of Discussion

After a round of introductions, George suggested that we play “Thinkers and Drinkers”. Everyone wrote a question on a piece of paper and tossed it into a hat. As our hostess came by at various times to check up on us, George asked her to fish a new question out of the hat. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but these are the questions as I remember them (not necessarily in order of discussion):

  • What do you think will change in 2009 (as compared to 2008)?
    The immediate answer was that we in the United States will have a new Commander in Chief. No one at the table seemed especially saddened by this fact. There was some speculation as to whether the national economy will rebound after the election and if, in fact, the economy has yet reached the lowest point of its current slump. ((Are we still calling it a “slump” or have we begrudgingly accepted that it’s a recession?))
  • Do bloggers have a responsibility to be honest in their blogging and do we need to have a “hard shell”?
    Readers of this blog will know that honesty is something with which I have only a passing acquaintance; if I see honesty walking toward me, I will cross the street or duck into an alley to avoid it. My shell isn’t particularly hard (or my skin especially thick), but it’s something I’m working to improve. When we put our thoughts out there for all the world to see, it’s important to realize that not everyone will agree with or even appreciate those thoughts, and being able to take criticism (or outright attack) is essential to not being labeled an asshat.
    This discussion also led down the road of the consequences of blogging, specifically the potential ramifications to a blogger’s continued employment. I try to keep this blog completely separate from my professional life. ((I have to stifle a giggle when I use the word “professional” when referring to myself.)) While it isn’t terribly difficult to determine which company I work for, you’ll never see me discussing that company or the details of my job here, except in abstract. The opinions expressed here are, obviously, my own and not those of my employer. I do not present myself as an authorized representative of said employer.
  • If you learned you were going to die in a short time, how would you live your life differently?
    This question arose because we had just received word that Cleveland-born Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones had died of a cerebral aneurysm. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately, depending on the circumstances) people don’t always get a lot of warning with aneurysm, so I don’t know whether Tubbs-Jones was living her life with the expectation that death could be just around the corner. I cursed George for making me consider my own mortality, but ultimately I think Kyle would get sick of me if I knew I was going to die in a week.
  • What is your pet approach to solving the problem of global climate change (née warming)?
    There was a lot of talk about sustainability, eating local foods, cutting back on automobile usage and recycling. One interesting tidbit: ((I heard it from a guy who posts stuff on the Internet, so it must be true.)) if we were to eat only foods that had been shipped less than 200 miles to reach us, the main staple of our diet we would have to give up would be bread, as there is no wheat grown in the state of Ohio. We also wandered onto the topic of litter in general, and I expressed a desired to do various unpleasant things to people who flick their cigarette butts out of car windows. ((If you’re reading this and are such a person, you suck. There is simply no excuse for your behavior. If you’re reading this and you’re the person who dropped their cigarette butt in my front flower bed, you suck even more; I don’t know who you are, but if you’re ever in my house again, you owe me an apology for being a disrespectful guest and a littering asshat.))

Food

I saw a very nice-looking steak at the other end of the table, as well as some calamari and a grilled chicken dish of some sort (I should have grabbed a menu). I ordered the Americano burger ((With fries, naturally. I should have asked if they make their own ketchup, as it seemed a little sweeter than what I’m used to. Not a bad thing, just different.)) and it was quite tasty. Later, when George, Barney and I adjourned to the bar, I had a bite of the sweet corn ravioli, which was excellent.

Beverages

I started the evening with an Americano. There was orange juice in it. And liquor, but I can’t remember what. It had a nice little kick to it. After that, I switched to lattés and water. The lattés were good, but I managed to burn my tongue on the second one. Given that some of the earlier discussion centered on how litigious our society is, I briefly considered bringing a lawsuit against the bistro for not preventing me from being a dumbass but then I remembered that, while I may be a dumbass, I try not to be an asshat.

Final Impressions

It was an interesting group of people to hang out with for a few hours, and George selected a good venue for the meetup. (I believe Americano will host the group again next month.) The conversation tended toward a little more depth than I’m used to (not one mention of Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! or Spider-Man), but it’s good to be pulled out of your comfort zone now and again. I plan to attend the September meetup, provided I don’t have any unexpected scheduling conflicts.

Cleveland Skyline
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The New Spam: Don’t Waste Your Time or Mine

Blog Badge, courtesy of FreshBadge.comIf you are part of the blogosphere, whether you are a blogebrity or (like me) toil away in blogscurity, you are probably aware of the First Universal Truth of Blogging: Comment spam is a royal pain in the blogterior. ((I don’t know that this is actually the First Universal Truth of Blogging, but writing about the Second (or worse, Thirty-Fifth) Universal Truth of Blogging isn’t quite as relevant or topical, so I’ll take a certain amount of artistic license.))

Fortunately, plugins like Akismet have proven (at least in the case of this particular blog) to be very effective at dulling the pain to a large degree. Akismet has caught more than 155,000 spam comments and trackbacks since I installed it, ((I know this because of the friendly message on my comment administration page that says, “Akismet has caught x spam for you since you installed it.” Where x is currently 155,632 but will almost certainly be over 160,000 by the end of the month. And that’s on a tiny little blog with almost negligible traffic. I can only imagine that the aforementioned blogebrities are seeing 160,000 or more spam comments every single month.)) and that means 155,000+ comments about bizarre (and often illegal) sex practices, bizarre (and often illegal) sources for prescription drugs, and bizarre (and often illegal) quotes for car insurance that you never see. Akismet isn’t perfect; it occasionally captures a legitimate comment, which means I have to monitor my spam queue just to make sure there’s not a comment from Dave in there. ((No, the other Dave.)) Akismet also lets a handful of spam comments through to my moderation queue every week, but on the whole I’d say it’s got a better than 90% accuracy rate at catching obvious spam.

The obvious spam that Akismet misses are easily spotted and dealt with accordingly; they usually contain dozens of links to sites of dubious nature. It’s the clever spam, the stuff that makes at least a minimal effort to be relevant to the original post, that sometimes throws me for a loop. Here’s a sample that I moderated today, posted on my review of the movie Transformers:

From: Ford Lover [Okay, there’s the first tip that this isn’t entirely legit, but maybe it’s just a guy who really likes Fords. I’ve known a few of those in my thirty-five years.]
Comment: I wasn’t as thrilled about this movie. I would like to see a Ford transform and beat some Chevy’s! [Hmm, that’s actually kind of germane to the discussion. There are no links to obnoxious websites in the comment, which is good. And, hey, there’s a punctuation error! How human! Maybe I should let this one through…]

Except that Ford Lover’s website (which his/her name would link to, should the comment be approved) isn’t a blog, personal page or even a MySpace/Facebook profile, it’s a car dealership ((Sorry, Ford Lover, I’m not going to say which one.)) with a streaming video ad that automatically plays when the page is loaded.

I’ve seen this type of comment creeping in for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve been on the fence as to whether or not to allow them simply because, at first glance, they do appear to be relevant to what passes for the conversation around here. I’ve even been tempted to strip out the annoying link and approve the comment, but that would open the door to a barrage of spam from the same individual/IP address. ((In theory, once I’ve approved a comment from an e-mail or IP address, future comments from the same address won’t be held for moderation or marked as spam. Which doesn’t explain why Dave’s comments are consistently flagged by Akismet, but…well, it’s Dave; he’s gotta be difficult.))

Plus, there’s nothing in the actual content of the comments of this nature that really compels me to respond to them. I suppose I could start a big GM-versus-Ford back and forth with “Ford Lover”, but for the most part I just don’t see the comment adding much, despite its initial apparent relevance.

So, here’s the deal: If you’re trying to sell something, go away. If you link to a site that isn’t your blog or other personal page (MySpace, Facebook, Friendster ((Just kidding.)) or the like.) or a page that isn’t immediately relevant to the content of your comment (e.g., citing a source, linking to a Wikipedia entry or an article on SciFi.com or a page on IMDb) I’m going to dump your comment into my spam queue and you won’t have an opportunity to establish a dialog with me and the readers of this site. Do you work for or own a car dealership? Too bad. Don’t link to it. I work for an insurance company, but you will never see a link to a site trying to sell you insurance here. Not going to happen.

Sadly, the spammers aren’t going to abide by this rule; I’ll keep seeing the same type of garbage day after day, ((Bring it home, baby, make it soon.)) but now I won’t hesitate for even a second before I dump it into my spam queue. I’ve established a rule, and that feels good.

EDIT: This comment from “Seamus Burns” appeared in my spam queue only a few hours after I wrote the post. I didn’t immediately notice that the commentor’s website is a rate-comparison site for hotels in Singapore until after I had read through the comment twice trying to parse it:

It was cool to compare the comment and start to just hang out. Ford Lover was the First Universal Truth. Anyway, as I write this at links next morning, I still have no links in my pack – we weren’t able to dry it overnight.

EDIT: (21 August 2008) Dammit, here’s another one, this time commenting on my post-Christmas 2007 entry:

Christmas was great… my son actually jumped with glee a few times. And, you know its a good year when someone tells you that hearing from you was the best present of the day. I think I actually felt my grinch exterior sloughing off… I may even hang a wreath or something next year

Just found your blog and etsy shop – and I’m a fellow etsian. I agree – the word of mouth and how things move around are very interesting and it’s great to hook up with other’s to spread the word. Your markers are great – different and not the everyday that you find out there

Ooooo, if only I need new something like same … I’ll check yours out some time again. thank you.

First off, I don’t have an “etsy shop”. I’m not against Etsy, ((Frequent commentor Nycteris has an Etsy shop where she sells handmade jewelry and some seriously awesome clay sculptures of little dragons and other beasties. I don’t feel at all hypocritical linking to it in a post railing against using my blog as a place to shill your own wares. Why? Because Nycteris contributes to the conversation; she’s not just here for marketing purposes. In fact, she’s never linked to her Etsy shop through the comment form.)) but this commentor and I aren’t fellow anything. Second, it’s August. Christmas 2008 is four months away. Yet this commentor talks about putting up a wreath “next year”. That bugs me for some reason.

Camping with the Incognitos

Thursday morning ((Okay, in an ideal world, this would have happened Thursday morning. In reality, we didn’t leave the International House of Johnson until well after 2:00pm.)) we packed up the MVoD and headed out to the Maumee Bay State Park for a long weekend of camping.

I took a great many photographs of our camping trip and would like little more than to share them with the world. Unfortunately, the family with whom we were camping is in the Federal Witness Protection Program and we had to go to some lengths to ensure that none of them were captured on the digital equivalent of “film”.

Matt
image-1152
For example, here is the father of this very private and (understandably) secretive group. Though his true name and even his assumed name must be kept confidential, I shall henceforth refer to him as “Matt”. That the pseudonym I have chosen for him happens to be the name of one of my oldest friends, whom I have known since I was a child, is mere coincidence. ((“Matt’s” wife, “Sheila”, is by far the most paranoid of the family, and so I was unable to take any photographs of her at all. Reviewing shots in which I was certain she would appear, I found that she had somehow managed to quickly disguise herself as a camping chair, propane grill, or—on one occasion—a lens flare.))

I will not divulge the reason for the family’s exile into a life of relentless secrecy, but I will reveal that “Matt” once worked in Washington, D.C., and in doing so it is entirely possible that I have already said too much.

image-1153
Here is “Marja”. Like her father, the lass’ features must remain concealed; unlike her father, “Marja” has chosen a stylish set of sunglasses instead of a large straw hat behind which to obscure her identity. “Marja” is a traditional Finnish name that means either “beloved”, “a berry” or “a member of my family witnessed a horrible crime and I must now live in constant fear of discovery”. Finnish is a complicated language.

I should point out that the barrier surrounding “Marja” is not intended to confine her, but rather to keep any would-be attackers from reaching her should the family’s true identity be revealed.

image-1154
Young “Drew” (seen here hiding in Kyle’s tent) takes after his mother, proving all but impossible to photograph. He has adjusted very well to the family’s lifestyle; so much so that his nickname ought to be “Mint Jelly.” ((‘Cause he’s on the lam.)) “Drew” and Kyle got along very well for the most part and they spent most of the trip hiding from the adults. While I’m quite certain that we found Kyle and took him home with us, I cannot be sure that “Drew’s” parents found him when it was time to leave, so there is a very real possibility that the lad is still hiding somewhere around sites 221 and 222 at the Maumee Bay State Park campgrounds.

By the end of our trip, Kyle had picked up some tips from “Drew” and his family. My attempts to photograph him on the playground were largely unsuccessful due to his uncanny ability to interpose objects between himself and the camera. I have since had a long discussion with him, explaining that we aren’t in the Federal Witness Protection Program because his daddy knows to keep his mouth shut and not go blabbing to the authorities every time he sees a prominent politician get whacked by an overzealous lobbyist.

image-1155

Video Game Roundup – Summer 2008 Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about video games, largely because I was going through a bit of a dry spell in that arena. That all changed about a month ago when, after about three years of nagging from a friend, I reinstalled City of Heroes. ((This is not an exaggeration. I had characters that were inactive for well over 1200 days.)) Well, technically, I installed City of Villains, but the fine folks at NCSoft bundle the subscriptions to both, so “upgrading” to City of Villains got me 30 days of free play on both games.

Now that I’ve got my game on again, I’ve taken a belly flop into the pool of pixelated entertainment. Here are the games I’ve been playing over the past couple of weeks:

  • City of Heroes (PC)City of Heroes/Villains (PC) I’ve only played three Massively Multiplayer Online Games, ((The other two: Earth & Beyond and the original iteration of Star Wars Galaxies.)) but City of Heroes is by far my favorite. A friend at work has been trying to get me to join the cult of World of Warcraft for several months, but elves and orcs don’t appeal to me as much as capes and cowls. I meant to create a few villains during my 30-day “trial” period, but was having so much fun with my cadre of heroes that I never bothered.
  • Destroy All Humans 2 (Xbox)Destroy All Humans 2: Make War Not Love (Xbox). Long-time readers of this blog will undoubtedly know that I’m not especially good at completing video games. I once lost a bet because I couldn’t finish two games in a year. Every once in a while, though, a game grabs hold of me much in the same way a crocodile siezes a wildebeest, its jaws clamping down on the unwary ungulate’s throat until the final twitch is twutch. Destroy All Humans 2 had all the elements necessary to be that game, plus I began playing just when Laura and Kyle fled to Florida for a week, leaving me free to play and play and play some more with no one wanting to watch The Wonder Pets! or (worse)The Closer. ((Seriously, Kyra Sedgwick’s accent drives me up the wall. I’d much rather hear Ming Ming duckling say “this is sewious” than listen to Mrs. Kevin Bacon drawl her way through another interrogation. That’s why she’s so good at what she does: five minutes in a room with her is enough to make even the most hardened criminal confess to anything as long as she will just shut up, fer crissakes!)) The story takes place in 1969 and follows Cryptosporidium-138, an alien invader who (in the first game) managed to infiltrate the White House. Now, however, the Russians have destroyed his mothership and he’s out for revenge, uncovering a vast conspiracy (and meeting a dangerously enchanting female KGB agent) along the way. The dialog is amusing (rife with innuendo and not at all appropriate for young kids), the missions are challenging but almost never frustrating, and the variety of weapons that Crypto acquires for himself and his flying saucer as the game progresses make destroying humanity fun for the whole family. Except the kids. And probably wife.
  • Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC)Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC). I own this roleplaying game for both the PC and the Xbox, ((But not the Game of the Year edition that includes both the Tribunal and Bloodmoon expansions. No, that would be too convenient.)) but I’ve never really taken a character beyond Seyda Neen (the village in which the hero begins the game). Once upon a yesterday I named Morrowind as my “Island Game”, the single title I’d take with me if I were stranded alone on an island and somehow miraculously had both a computer and the electricity necessary to play games all day (instead of building a raft or a signal fire, I guess, which seems very typical of me). I’ve heard so many good things about this game (and even better things about Oblivion, its successor) that I’m determined to play it through, come hell or high water.
  • LEGO Indiana Jones (PC)LEGO Indiana Jones (PC). Having enjoyed both LEGO Star Wars games immensely on the Xbox, I was disappointed to learn that LEGO Indiana Jones would only be available for “next generation” consoles. ((Please, for the love of Adam Sessler’s anime-inspired hair, stop calling the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii “next generation consoles”! They’re here, for cryin’ out loud! They’re current generation! Just…knock it off…really.)) So, when I was wandering through Best Buy and found myself reading the system requirements for the PC version, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my aging desktop computer met those requirements. Alas, the recommended system specs were considerably higher than the minimum specs, so the game ran rather poorly, at least until I upgraded my PC. Even so, the keyboard-based control scheme in the PC version is sadly inferior to the Xbox controller setup; so much so that I may put this game aside until I can buy an Xbox 360 controller. ((For those who may not know, wired Xbox 360 controllers are USB devices and compatible with Windows.))
  • Homeworld (PC)Homeworld (PC). I blame Sam Chupp for this one. He casually mentioned that he couldn’t stop playing Homeworld and I suddenly developed a nervous tic that wouldn’t go away until I dug out the install CDs for not only Homeworld, but Homeworld: Cataclysm and Homeworld 2. This 3-D realtime space simulator has everything: beautiful graphics, compelling story, intuitive interface, engaging gameplay, and some of the best sound effects and music I’ve ever heard in a video game. Very few games have been able to pull me so completely into their universe, but Homeworld is definitely one of them.
  • Command & Conquer Generals (PC)Command & Conquer Generals (PC). Ah, the alphabet. Because I have my games arranged alphabetically, I stumbled across the Command & Conquer Generals discs in my hunt for Homeworld and then next thing I knew I was installing the game. Generals never really ran well on my PC, but it’s beautiful now that I’ve upgraded. I have never finished an RTS (though I came close with StarCraft and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos), but there’s a first time for everything, or so I’ve heard.
  • Freedom Force (PC)Freedom Force (PC). Now here’s a game I have finished. In fact, I finished the sequel (Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich) in about a week, which was (at the time) entirely unprecedented. I need to scratch my superhero gaming itch, and this is definitely the game that’ll do so. The first time I played through I was only concerned with completing the story, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Destroy All Humans 2 it’s that completing one hundred percent of the game—leaving no stone unturned, no objective unaccomplished and no shiny ungrabbed—is immensely satisfying. My goal with Freedom Force is to complete every secondary objective of every mission; no mean feat, as usually the secondary objectives are only revealed after the mission is complete.

SciFi Schlockfest: Round 1

SciFi Channel LogoI didn’t get nearly as many movies watched as I intended to while Kyle and Laura were in the Orange Juice and Metamucil State, but here’s the first batch from the SciFi Schlockfest (with a couple of bonus movies thrown in for good measure):

  1. Anaconda 3 (2008). David Hasselhoff can’t need work this badly, can he? I mean, the guy’s got Baywatch money! And don’t get me started on how John Rhys-Davies continues to parlay the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy into movies like Chupacabra: Dark Seas and…this. Why is it that any time scientists are seeking cures for Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer they inadvertently create monsters of unimaginable horror? In this case, it’s a pair of 60-foot-long snakes with machetes for tails. Now instead of just squeezing and biting, the snakes impale! They also live on a steady diet consisting almost entirely of human heads, which makes their two-hour growth spurt to 100 feet long all the more amazing. In fact, the only thing more amazing than machete-tailed snakes that nearly double in size eating only noggins is Hasselhoff’s mustache. (2/10)
  2. Aztec Rex (2007)
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    Aztec Rex (2007). SciFi.com lied to me. The official page for Aztec Rex (AKA Tyrannosaurus Azteca) says “The Aztecs summoned a Tyrannosaurus Rex to keep Cortés and his army out of Mexico. Now they need the Conquistadors’ help to stop the T-Rex from killing them all.” Except that the T-Rex in question has been roaming the valley for thousands of years and the Aztecs have been feeding it human sacrifices every month. The Conquistadors show up and accidentally annoy the beastie, then all hell breaks loose. The computer-generated T. Rex is terrible, Cortés is from New Jersey (he’s got blue eyes for cryin’ out loud!) and…well, Ayacoatl (Dichen Lachman) isn’t hard to look at, and at least the hero (Rios, played by Mario Sanchez) is actually Hispanic.  But really, Jurassic Park was made fifteen years ago, I would think that even the SciFi Channel could afford CGi dinosaurs that don’t stick out like puffy stickers on a Trapper Keeper. (3/10)
  3. Rise: Blood Hunter (2007)
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    Rise: Blood Hunter (2007). Sadie Blake (Lucy Liu) is a reporter who has a run-in with the undead and wakes up a vampire. Instead of dressing in black and listening to The Cure, Sadie decides she’s going to kill every vampire she can find until she finds the one who turned her. This is literally a vampire movie without fangs, as the vampires simply don’t have ’em; when the blood suckers want to dine, they use fancy little knives to open the nearest artery. Not a bad flick, but Robert Forster is absolutely wasted as a businessman who almost solicits a prostitute in the first two minutes of the movie and then is never seen again. (5/10)
  4. The Descent (2005) wasn’t technically on the Schlockfest list, but it was on the DVR. A group of spelunking women encounter carnivorous mutants while exploring an uncharted cave. It’s kind of like Deliverance in the dark without the banjoes. As flashlight horror goes, The Descent was really quite good. (7/10)
  5. Croc (2007) is another movie that wasn’t on the list, but I stumbled across it on The SciFi Channel yesterday and, given my well-known love for giant crocodile movies, had to watch. The cast is entirely composed of no-name (and even less talent) actors, with the exception of Michael Madsen as Croc Hawkins, that rarest of beasties: the hunter who’s out for revenge but isn’t so obsessed with the critter that he’s lost his perspective; in other words, he ain’t crazy. All the other tropes are present, though, including the mayor who doesn’t want to shut down the beaches because it’ll hurt the tourist trade. (3/10)
  6. A Sound of Thunder (2005)
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    A Sound of Thunder (2005), yet another movie that wasn’t on the list, was adapted from a Ray Bradbury tale. I heard an old radio production of the story a couple of months ago and the movie adaptation (starring Ben Kingsley and Edward Burns) piqued my curiosity. The story concerns a group of time travelers who muck things up while hunting dinosaurs in the past, thus thoroughly discombobulating evolution. Most of the movie is filler, introducing new and more dangerous beasties in our heroes’ futuristic “present” (which apparently attended the same “How Things Will Look in the Future (Really)” school as Total Recall) with each “time wave”. Edward Burns must fight and dodge the beasties during his desperate search for who mucked up what in the Cretaceous Period. Interesting, but mostly just cheesy filler. (5/10)

For those keeping track at home, here are the remaining movies on the SciFi Schlockfest list:

  • Alien Lockdown
  • Beyond/Beneath Loch Ness
  • BloodMonkey
  • Ghouls
  • Heatstroke
  • Living Hell
  • Odysseus: Voyage to the Underworld

Thankfully, SciFi showed Dragon Wars this past Saturday, and I’ve already rendered my opinion of that gem in an episode of The Secret Lair, so the list hasn’t gotten any longer. A few human heads should rectify that.