Rediscovering a lost love

thrashI am not what you would call a sports or exercise enthusiast. I’m not lazy, exactly, but there’s very little in that realm that interests me. I do like swimming, but making that happen takes money and too much time. Walking is nice, but hardly thrilling. And kayaking, while awesome, is a once-a-year thing at most for me.

However, I have found an excellent source of both exercise and transportation: my trusty Schwinn bike. I bought it several years ago (in the pre-child era, so we’re talking six or seven years at least) with the good intention of riding that everywhere. I think that lasted a couple of hot summer days, after which I’d only pull it out once in a while.

A few weeks ago a strange compulsion came over me and I got the bike out of the shed, brought it to a bike shop for a tune-up, and started taking it out for a spin every day. You know how awesome it is to rediscover something you used to love doing, stopped doing, and long forgot about it? That’s me and biking.

There’s something exhilerating about biking that makes me not mind the actual exercise portion. I think it’s the sense of speed and freedom. I’m able to head out of my house and go on much longer and farther excursions that I could walking, and recently I’ve taken up biking to work on the days I don’t have to shuttle the kids around. It’s just 15 minutes or so each way, but to me it feels like an adventure. Plus, it’s turning into a great time to just listen to all of this music I’ve collected and hardly ever have time to enjoy.

Cycling is also a good way to really notice the world — or at least see it in a different way. I don’t really notice much while driving other than the road and other cars, and while my perception is up while walking, I don’t cover as much territory. Plus, with sidewalks, parking lots, paths, and roads all legitimate avenues, I get to explore different routes. The other day I found a nature preserve two streets away that I never knew existed and rode alongside a hopping bunny for a while.

My wife, who is currently pregnant with our fourth child, has been absolutely awesome in giving me the go-ahead to leave the house to get a half-hour or so of biking in each night. It’s part of the marital give-and-take, and I think she knows that I’ve been needing a bit of solitude in the midst of the chaos of work and home.

A part of me has wide-eyed dreams that this will re-kickstart my weight loss too, which would be fantastic after a couple of years staying at my current plateau. Even if not, it’s great to have a hobby that gets me out of the house and doing something physical. Here’s hoping it lasts. And don’t even remind me that… winter is coming. Eventually. Exercise bikes aren’t quite the same.

Envying the monogomous MMOer

ottersSea otters hold hands while napping so that they don’t drift away. Yes, that’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard, and I live with three small people who make it their hobby to try to top each other in cuteness. There’s something about sticking together that tugs on our hearstrings — and speaks to our deep fear of being alone.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of getting into my topic for today, which is how I sometimes envy folks who have that “one” game that they’re sticking with for a good long time. Back in my pre-children era, when most MMOs were subscription, it was a lot easier to be this monogomous-type gamer. I had City of Heroes, or World of Warcraft, or Warhammer Online, or Lord of the Rings Online — and that was pretty much it. There was no deciding every night what I was going to play, just whether I was going to play or not.

My envy comes mostly from knowing that those gamers can really deeply invest themselves into a game. They can get through all of the content. They can be a big part of their guilds. They can do dungeons and other challenging bits. They always know what’s going on with their specific game community and have a greater wealth of knowledge on this one MMO. Sometimes I feel that they are the ones that “belong” and I am merely a transient, visiting but not living there. An outsider.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to that style of play. It might make more sense for a time-strapped gamer dad to do so, sure, but I enjoy bouncing around too much to settle down. I like having variety on any given night. I am glad that sampling multiple games gives me a wider perspective on MMOs. With most MMOs offering a bulk of the content to the solo gamer, I don’t feel that left out. And I know that sticking with one game only — for me — is a recipe for eventual burnout and crashing. A more diverse portfolio means that any time I near the burnout zone, I can easily switch my attention elsewhere and not have to encounter that danger.

Still… once in a while I look across the aisle and I have that wistful twinge. I wouldn’t mind belonging like they do, but I’m not going to trade what I have to get it.

5 tips to help with blogging output

output

One of the nuts that the blogging community tries to crack with the Newbie Blogger Initiative each year is, “How do you get into the groove of writing regular posts for extended periods of time?” While nobody is telling you how much you have to write, blogs that are very infrequently updated have a much more difficult time finding traction with readers. If you’re going to blog, I would suggest that you at least try to get something out two or three times a week at minimum.

Here at Bio Break I’ve settled down into a routine during which I’ll take the weekends off, then post about twice daily (sometimes more, sometimes just once, but at least something during the week days). What’s helped me do this, other than the cadre of slave monkeys that I have chained to various keyboards? Here are five tips that work — at least for me:

1. When you have a good idea, write something down then and there. Don’t wait until later, because you’ll probably forget. If I have a notion for a post, I’ll at least create a blank post with a descriptive header. If I have a little more time, I’ll write down a few bullet points. My drafts folder is full of these, all waiting for rainy days when I have writer’s block.

2. Screenshot your games incessantly. You never know when you’ll need a certain type of screenshot for a post, and sometimes a screenshot can actually be the catalyst for a good article.

3. Find a time to write every day and stick to that. When I get up in the morning, I’ll often have about 45 minutes to write, which I split between Massively OP and Bio Break. If I get that day’s post(s) done the night before, then great, but if not then I always know when I’ll be writing them.

4. Have a list of quick-and-dirty post ideas for when you’re short on time or drawing a blank. Again, I feel that getting something out is always preferrable to nothing, even if it’s just a day where I unload my screenshot folder with commentary or put up a poll. You’d be surprised how many times a post created in under three minutes blows up into a sleeper hit.

5. Play games with purpose. What I play on a given night is more often than not dictated by what I haven’t talked about lately or what I want to cover. Even if I’m just picking an MMO at random, as I play it I constantly look for a fun experience to share or an idea to spark a rambling commentary. Very often I find myself tabbing out to whip up a post based on something that just happened, schedule it, and then have my next day’s post done.

Why can’t MMO studios coordinate major update releases?

We need to have a game studio UN, where they each send representitives to meet once a month and coordinate the dates of their big releases so we don’t end up with weeks like this, where too many MMOs are dropping content bombs left and right.

Right now I’m contending with a big update in almost every one of my current stable:

  • LOTRO released Update 16 today (yay LI imbuement, new dungeons)
  • SWTOR released 3.2 last week with additional content coming today
  • Marvel Heroes is running a big Avengers cross-promotional event (of course, that game is always running events)
  • The Secret World is pumping out Issue 11 in two days
  • Shroud of the Avatar just updated to Release 17

I mean… good problem to have, right? But time! No time! Need time! Gimme time! STOP PUTTING ALL OF THIS TOGETHER IN BIG UPDATE CLUMPS!

A Kerbal space diary

kerbalDiary of a Kerbal astronaut in training

Oh hey! Kerbal Space Program finally released and it’s on sale! I should totally pick this up — it sounds great and my friends have raved about it.

Aw those Kerbals are so cute. Gonna be fun killing them upon reentry.

Hey, launching a rocket ship is pretty easy! Hit spacebar to jettison boosters. Nice. So cool.

I’m in SPAAAAACE!

[hours and 12 attempts to get through the third stage through the tutorial later]

WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THAT THIS GAME REQUIRES ADVANCED CALCULUS TO PLAY? WHY AM I SUCH A BAD ASTRONAUT? WHY CAN’T I STOP CRASHING MY SHIP INTO THE LARGE PLANET?

 

The Great Disney Experiment

smallworldIf things seemed a little off… perhaps too quiet this past week, that’s because I wasn’t really here. Our family went off on our first big non-relative-destination trip ever: Walt Disney World.

We’d been planning this trip for years, waiting until the kids were old enough to (a) enjoy, (b) comprehend, and (c) remember going there. A WDW trip two years ago had to be put on hold because of my youngest’s birth, but we figured that the older two at 5 and 6 would be in a good position to have fun and tall enough to get on many of the rides. It turns out that even our 2-year-old could go on a lot of Disney rides, which is probably not true of most amusement parks.

Seventeen hours (split among two days) of driving later, and we had gone from the late winter of Michigan to the 90-degree summer of Florida. While I’d been to Disney several times in my life, this was the first time that I had ever stayed on the property. We got a suite at the Art of Animation Resort, which turned out to be perfect for us — the room had three beds, a fridge, a great pool, and bus access to the parks.

It was also my first time ever taking kids to Disney (in the past I’d either been with just my wife or was the kid myself), which is a totally different experience. On one hand, kids slow you down, limit the number of rides you can do, require constant herding, and get fatigued quickly. On the other hand, you’re not really there for you — you’re there to see their faces after they get off of their first roller-coaster as they shout “That was AMAZING, Dad!”

epcotI’m not really into the Disney culture, apart from liking the Pixar films, but it’s hard to resist the sheer polished experience that WDW provides and to get into the spirit of it. For me, I’ve always loved the dark rides and the attention to detail that the Imagineers put into these. As with in MMOs, I’m deeply affected by environment, particularly well-crafted ones that are designed to evoke a certain mood. Some of the Disney queues were almost as involving as the rides themselves (and I appreciate the work that WDW has been doing to add interactive queue elements for the kids during these sometimes-long waits).

We did one day at Epcot, one at Animal Kingdom, and two at the Magic Kingdom. I got to go on my favorite ride, the Haunted Mansion, three times, and we hit about everything else except for a couple rides that required a few more inches on the kids (such as Space Mountain), were closed for repair (Jungle Cruise), or had way too long of a wait (Splash Mountain).

Another first for me was experiencing the park with the new FastPass system and mobile app. Nowadays you can sign up for three rides per day at a park to go through a faster line. I did my research ahead of time and discovered which rides typically have the longest lines. Between the FastPasses, a lower seasonal attendance, and using the mobile app to see what the wait times were on rides at any given moment, we really didn’t end up waiting that long for anything. I think the longest wait we had was about 20 minutes for Soarin’ at Epcot.

We had several great non-ride experiences, too. The kids loved the Turtle Talk with Crush experience as well as the Enchanted Tales with Belle interactive play. Ohana had a wonderful character breakfast where the kids got to meet Lilo, Stitch, Pluto, and Mickey. My son had his sixth birthday that day, and Lilo was jumping up and down, signing that she was six too. I got a daddy-daughter date at Cinderella’s Royal Table, which was all sorts of amusing to see what questions she had for the princesses.

I more or less completely unplugged for the week and was happy to note that I wasn’t suffering any sort of game-deprivation jitters. Instead of gaming in what little quiet time I had, I caught up on some reading and chewed through four books.

The week was over far too soon and we headed back to reality (with a side trip to the Chattanooga aquarium, which is totally worth the effort to see). I’m still catching up on work and getting back into my routine — and kind of wishing that we had one more day to go around the parks. Oh well, in another year or two, I suppose.

Pillars of Eternity: Whisper skulls

whisper“Don’t… buy… Dragon Age: Inquisition!”

Dungeon crawling is pleasantly engaging in Pillars of Eternity. I usually keep my party in perpetual sneak mode to look for traps and secrets, which means that snails fequently lap us. Still, that’s preferable to feeling like a dingus when I trigger a trap and see my party choke, bleed, and curse my name.

Only being allowed to rest four times (since you’re arbitrarily limited to four campfire supplies at any one time) adds an interesting level of strategy, I feel. I’m not ending every encounter by resting up my health to full, but am instead pushing my party to their very limits before I use up one of my rests. Sure, I can hoof it out of the dungeon and re-stock up (as the dungeons aren’t reset), but nobody wants to do that.

Caution is always advised, as running recklessly ahead is a good way to hit every trap and end up pulling far too many mobs. In fact, some of the tougher fights I’ve faced have been beaten by carefully inching forward and only pulling a couple of bad guys instead of the whole bunch.

I am less thrilled with the yellow-named people infesting the game. As PoE is a Kickstarter project, apparently one of the rewards was to get an NPC that would exist somewhere solely to spit out a short bit of fanfic at the main player. It doesn’t really fit into the world or help the plot along; they’re just taking up space and tricking me into clicking on them. Really wish I could patch them out of existence.