My new old typewriter

I’m certainly not what you would call an antique collector, and even my garage sale visits have trailed off (I tend to be the driver who lets the family in and out of the car so that they can walk a block and then get picked up without having to double back). But the other weekend we were all walking a huge block sale and one particular item caught my eye.

It was a cute shiny typewriter sitting in a box on a table, and my kids were already jamming on its keys. When I went over to inspect it, I was really taken with how great of a condition it was in and how neat it looked. The family was happy to let it go for $5, and I figured that if nothing else, I had a great office decoration that befits a writer.

But what really astounded me was what I discovered when I went back home with it. What I had stumbled upon here was a Royal Deluxe Model O typewriter from 1937 — and in incredibly good shape. It’s got that eye-catching art deco design, and apparently such things are collector’s items worth up to a grand to the right buyer.

I wouldn’t think of selling it, though. It works perfectly, and the ribbon still had enough ink for some typing (I did buy a new one). It’s been a long, long time since I last used a manual typewriter — I trained on electric ones in high school typing class — and while it’s clumsy and awkward to use these raised keys with a good amount of space between them, I was pleased how quickly it came back to me. There’s a deep satisfaction to hearing that “clackity clack” of the typewriter strokes.

I showed this to my church secretary, who’s in her seventies, and she giggled over it like a schoolgirl. It was exactly the sort of machine she’d used back when she was younger, and you should’ve seen how quickly she pounded out a short letter with accuracy on it.

I figure that in the future, I’ll probably give it to my daughter who’s already a burgeoning writer in her own right, but for now, it’s great to look at — and to use for the occasional note!

The mighty quest to lose weight

I could blame it on a year of stress and COVID and all that, but 2020 wasn’t a great year for my own constant battle with weight loss. Even as some of my friends saw great success with this, my own scale started creeping upward, month after month. After the better part of a decade of plateauing at a weight that — while it wasn’t ideal — I was comfortable with, now it’s coming back on. The shirts are getting tighter, pictures of me are embarrassing, and it’s been affecting my mental state somewhat.

This past month I had my checkup and the doctor noted I had put on 11 pounds since the year previous. I don’t know if this sounds big or small to you, but for me it’s pretty significant. At my heaviest, I topped 252 pounds and lost 55 of that in the span of two years after my third child was born. I thought at the time it was the wonder of low-carb diets — maybe that was part of it — but subsequent attempts at a keto diet haven’t worked for me at all.

The doc said my blood report was good and showed signs that I was exercising even more than usual, but still, I was gaining weight. We talked options, but ultimately he said it was down to my nutrition and diet.

So I evaluated what has worked for me well in the past — things like keeping a log of what I eat, practicing intermittent fasting between 4pm and 8am, and cutting out a lot of processed foods. I don’t have a lot of money to blow on Weight Watchers or Noom, so I booted up the free LoseIt app and started to count calories and plan out better meals.

The real key for me is to cut out snacking later in the night, especially before bed when it’s been seven hours since my last meal. I got in a real bad habit of diving into the fridge at 11pm, so I’m not surprised where those pounds came from. After starting this diet, every night during this time has become a battle. I’ve been countering it with taking a 20-minute walk with the dog instead, a kind of physical reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Anyway, I know that this is a gaming blog, but it does help to share this openly — if only to encourage myself to keep going. I have had good results the first couple of weeks, although that’s usually the case on an initial weight loss program, and so the trick is to keep going, be consistent, and keep my eyes on the goal. My first objective is to lose 20 pounds by the end of summer, so I’m gunning hard for that, with a hopeful 30-35 pounds after that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Should we be beholden to our gaming backlogs?

It’s such a modern day phenomenon that we have so much entertainment at our disposal that there will never be enough time in our life to even make a dent in consuming it. And it’s one thing when stuff is out there to be accessed or purchased at a later date, but it’s another thing entirely if you’ve actually spent money to buy something you’ve yet to read, watch, or play.

Gaming backlogs have become so prominent because of all of the huge sales that digital platforms like GOG and Steam like to do. There’s a fleeting satisfaction of going on a cheap spending spree to pick up scads of titles, you know, to play later on. And then a backlog is born, growing from a half-dozen titles to a mountain of guilt bearing down on you.

But how do we get through our backlogs when we’re more comfortable playing familiar games and don’t have the time to do it anyway?

I’m right there with you, pal. I might not have the most ridiculously large backlog, but it’s in the hundreds. I snap up free Epic Store titles every week, used to splurge on GOG sales, and never quite seem to make enough time to sift through them.

Originally, this was going to be a strategy guide for getting through a backlog, but there are tons of those out there — and I don’t think I’m really the best person to ask for this anyway. It’d make me a bit of a hypocrite, I think. There are going to be games in my backlog that will go on being untouched on the day of my death, and I’m absolutely cool with that. I’m certainly not going to let this become a source of guilt and pressure.

Personally, what I’ve done is made a document that’s full of lists. I have a list of movies to watch, a list of purchased books to read, a list of purchased audiobooks to listen to, and all of the games on my backlog that I might be interested in at some point. If I get to a place where I’m read to watch a movie, read a book, or play a game, I’ll look down these lists for one that strikes my fancy or simply take the next one.

I do have a standing appointment on my calendar on Saturdays to try out a game from the backlog and blog about it, but it’s usually one of the first thing that gets ignored and bumped off when I’m doing stuff that day.

And I feel that I’m getting my money’s worth with GOG, at least, because I’ve played more than 60 titles to blog about them — some at great length — which is probably more than what a lot of people do.

So no, we should never let entertainment — including games — become some sort of created master or Italian grandmother crossing her arms and projecting guilt until you do what it says. I’m the master of my stuff, and it can just sit there quietly until or unless I’m interested in it.

Would I have wanted to play MMOs in the early 2000s?

It’s pretty human nature to look back at the past and wish that you had done some things different. My imagination sometimes thinks about what I would say to Past Me if I was given an opportunity — what advice I would say, encouragement, etc.

But if I was going to make recommendations to Past Me about gaming, I really don’t know whether or not I’d advise myself to get into MMORPGs earlier on. Back in college in the late 1990s, I didn’t have internet in my dorm room, so it wasn’t until 1999 that I started to have dial-up access wherever I lived. And that was, of course, dial-up. I didn’t use the internet to game; I was still engaging in console and single-player PC titles.

I was somewhat aware of MMOs back then, but only in the sense that a few of my friends played them and seemed weirdly and unhealthily obsessed with them. But every time I went to the store and picked up an EverQuest or Asheron’s Call box, I really wasn’t keen on the graphics or the idea of a monthly subscription. So it wasn’t until 2003/2004 that I got into games like Anarchy Online, City of Heroes, and World of Warcraft.

My personal irony is that from 1999-2003, I was living as a bachelor, so I had more time than I knew what to do with. It was only when I met my wife and started a family that my MMO interest ramped up even as available time decreased.

So would I advise Past Me to put some of that spare time into MMOs? It wouldn’t be because I deeply regret not playing those games now, that’s for sure. If I had to pick any title from the 2000 era, I’d say Asheron’s Call, but I wouldn’t be that enthusiastic about it.

But I might still prompt myself to check them out if only for the social scene. I was incredibly lonely back then, and knowing how much MMOs provide social interaction for me today, I think that would’ve actually helped my mental state somewhat.

It’s a moot point, of course; what happened, happened, and I’m happy where I am now. I’m just wondering, that’s all.

We so need to be done with MMORPG factions as they stand

One of the unfortunate effect of video games falling into lazy trope wells in development is that they start to carbon-copy and dilute interesting ideas into the realm of the bland. Take factions, for example.

Aligning yourself with a faction — or factions, plural — could be a really fascinating part of your game experience. You could start out without being aligned to any of them, and as you learn more about them, you could pledge allegiance to one or more and engage in overt and covert activities to support them.

Or you could just pick a “red” or “blue” side at launch from the two sides that the developers present, which means practically nothing more than the color of your character’s hair to you. You’re picking a side with no context or personal experience, just because the devs figured that PvP needs an “us vs. them” setup. If it’s a fancy MMO, it gets three sides, not two.

I’m seriously tired of this. I think a whole lot of players couldn’t care less about their factions. Every year at BlizzCon, cries of “For the alliance!” and “For the horde!” sound a whole lot weaker than the year previous. That’s because even die-hard fans know that it doesn’t really *mean* anything. Horde has been bad and then good and then bad again. Alliance has done the same. Both sides have been allies and then heated enemies and then allies depending on whatever nonsensical story beat is being played out.

I just don’t think that devs picking our sides for us in MMOs is effective, especially at character creation. Factions could be realized in exciting ways, especially in a developing game world. Imagine if one month while you’re playing a game and a new faction emerges after rumors have been spreading. People debate this faction’s intentions, and there’s a scramble to work for or against it — or even to investigate its workings and sell that knowledge to the highest bidder.

Players could be double-agents between factions. Players could be empowered to create factions that are a level higher than guilds. Factions could offer real stigma and consequences if you ally with one of them. Factions could even be destroyed, creating yet more memories of players recalling past regimes.

I don’t think we can water down factions any more, but studios certainly could seize upon the idea and build them up into something useful, engaging, and more complicated than an Orc shouting at a Human or a Klingon getting all testy with a Vulcan.

What your MMO character’s hair color says about you

When it comes time to create a new character, it’s inevitable that a choice of hair color is part of that experience. But what does your MMO hair color say about you? For the judgey among us, here is an easy-to-access chart:

  • Black: Obviously, you’re evil incarnate and your hair matches the tar-black soul you harbor. Also, black goes with everything.
  • Blonde: Do people pick blonde? I always thought this was a myth…
  • Light Brown: You’re spunky and adventurous, ready for good-looking kills with a chipper quip afterward.
  • Dark Brown: Your character is the fourth kid of seven, denied admittance to a good school and sent off “adventuring” to free up a spot at the family table.
  • White: You’re not old, oh no, just a very young and desirable hero who wants to make a strong impression of future potential.
  • Grey: OK, now you’re old and you’ve just broadcast that to the entire virtual world. But at least you can get into taverns for discounted dinners at 4:00 p.m.
  • Blue: You’re going through a phase. You’d rather not be asked about it.
  • Pink: You’re channeling the Spirit of the Girly-Girl, full of power and cheeky whimsy.
  • Red: You’re a guy making a girl character that you wish would meet you and fall in love with you in real life. Good luck with that.
  • Purple: You fell head-first into a grape press and decided to lean into that look.
  • Bald: You’re amazing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Where’s the next generation of retro classic consoles?

In my office, I have three classic consoles hooked up for my kids (or, occasionally, myself) to play: the NES classic, SNES classic, and Genesis mini. They’ve proven to be a great investment, especially the SNES one.

But have you noticed that despite amazing sales, especially in Nintendo’s quarter, everyone just stopped making these things? The NES Classic came out in 2016, the SNES Classic in 2017, the horrid PlayStation Classic in 2018, the NeoGeo Mini in 2018, the Genesis Mini in 2019, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini in 2020. It really seems like this promising well dried up really quick and not, I suspect, from consumer demand.

After all, there’s plenty of additional products that could be made along these lines. Not only are there tons of consoles that haven’t been touched yet — the N64, Dreamcast, Saturn, GameCube, Jaguar, whatever — but all of the ones mentioned in that second paragraph could very well usher in a second edition with different games. I’ve often lamented that the SNES Classic is missing some of its biggest titles, like Turtles in Time and Chrono Trigger, and those could be headlining games for a future installment.

Even more than that, I wish these retro consoles would join the modern era by allowing us to buy and download titles into them. We all know Nintendo could make a mint by continuing to sell games through an expandable SNES or NES Classic, but nah, they’d rather ignore that path and go this weird route with the Switch’s subscription service.

I tell you, this sort of ignorance and stubbornness is what drives gamers right into the arms of emulators, and I don’t blame them. When gamers are holding out wads of cash, willing to buy older games that they love, and a studio ignores them, then of course they’re going to look elsewhere. It’s a stupid loss for the studio.

12 games that deliver the feeling of hiking through a world

As I said earlier this week, I’ve been slightly obsessed with this notion of hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s always been one of those secret, quiet goals that I know I can’t do — at least not at this point in my life — but I love the idea of it. I like the thought of setting out to simply walk the land for a long way, seeing nature as it is, and achieving a very long-term goal.

So while books and YouTube videos on the subject help to sate this inner desire, I’ve also considered what games might fill that void. Most RPGs operate on hub-and-spoke questing systems where you’re never really that far away from “civilization,” nor do you go on massively long treks from point A to B through the wild. But are there games like this?

The very first that comes to mind is The Trail, a title that came out several years back that is simply a walking simulator that throws in some collection, questing, and crafting along the way. It’s got great music and a serene pace, although I’ve never been that much in love with how the fussy inventory works here.

Survival games are a good field from which to explore, although they don’t tend to emphasize a journey so much as just “roaming around until you get enough stuff not to die so you can go roam around in the next zone.” The Long Dark is probably the closest to an A to B journey through the wild that I’ve encountered. I did like it and would want to go back to it at some point for another shot.

Firewatch definitely gets a lot of the feel of being out in nature and being alone as you scuttle over and around the environment, although its journeys are almost always loops that lead right back to a starting place. But I loved the beginning when you hike into this remote outpost and then explore around it.

There’s a web-based Appalachian Trail game called Thru-Hiker’s Journey, but it’s more Oregon Trail than visuals and personal exploration and experience.

I posed this question to friends on Twitter and got a few additional responses, including Lord of the Rings Online, Valheim, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Oregon Trail, Eidolon, Outward, Eastshade, and A Short Hike. What would you say?

Deck builder roguelikes: Meteorfall and Slay the Spire

There’s been a rise of deck-building roguelikes in the gaming sphere over the past few years, a trend that gets my approval. I do like card battling games in general, although not so much the expensive and grindy collectable card versions, so playing these gives me a card fix without having to spend a lot of money on boosters.

So the idea of these types of games is that you go through a series of battles with a class and a deck of cards that offer abilities and attacks and whatnot. Since your health is a running concern (it isn’t normally reset between battles), it’s important to figure out ways to rest up while still engaging in fights.

As you progress in these games, you get more cards to add to your deck, ways to upgrade said cards to more powerful levels, and choices between beneficial or unknown bonuses. Ultimately, you face off against a huge boss and either make it or your don’t. And even if you do die, you retain some measure of class or currency progress so that you have unlocks to make future runs easier.

Two of these types of games that I’ve been playing lately are Meteorfall and Slay the Spire. Meteorfall is an excellent phone game with goofy cartoon art and a good sense of humor. It’s pretty challenging, and I do like to experiment with the different classes to see which one works for me best. For example, the Necromancer can activate summon skills that throw extra cards in the *enemy’s* deck that, if drawn, does them damage. That’s a pretty clever way to do minions without putting minions on a board.

I also picked up Slay the Spire for tablets (since that version was cheaper than the Steam one). This one offers multiple enemies and attack animations, but I’ve been kind of underwhelmed considering the extreme praise it’s gotten. Like, it’s decent, but it’s not as addictive as I was expecting.

Are MMO level boosts blasphemy or blessings?

With the recent news that Burning Crusade Classic is going to sell a one-per-account-only character level boost, the old argument of “pro vs. con boosting” has cracked open again. It’s actually kind of funny, because nobody is grousing about this on retail, but in the Classic community where the time and effort to level is much more pronounced, it’s a Big Deal. Camps on both sides are being established, blood has been drawn, and Blizzard is in crosshairs.

Of course, the studio is going to make bank with this compromise, so let’s not feel sorry for it.

Back in the day, I used to be fully, whole-heartedly against level boosting. I took a hard lined stance against it, saying that it invalidated the designed progression of the game and allowed people to, if not pay-to-win, then pay-to-progress. It felt wrong, it felt like it cheapened the time and effort that I put into working on my character if, by comparison, Joe Warrior over there shelled out $30 and got his instantly max-level character.

Now here’s the part where you expect me to say that I’ve come fully around on this topic and am completely fine with level boosting. The truth is — I’m not. I still don’t like it. I’ve used a few myself (most recently with LOTRO) and don’t really blast people for using them, but I don’t like that they exist at all. I don’t like that, from the player’s perspective, it’s a shortcut that jogs around the meat of a game’s experience and makes a false equivalence between characters that genuinely earned their status and the ones that had a bigger allowance.

I don’t like that boosts help to reinforce this notion that the endgame in MMORPGs is all that matters — and that the leveling journey is just a time gate of some sort. I don’t like that studios see an opening to make easy money by selling out in this way, nor do I like that the studios are, in a way, preying upon vulnerable players.

So I’m not going to be marching in any pro-boosting parades any time soon, no. I can acknowledge that they are useful to some people and in certain situations, that they’re usually not throwing people right to the level cap with a full set of raid gear, and that leveling is still relevant and enjoyable. I can’t see myself buying a boost for Burning Crusade Classic, but hey, if you do, I won’t give you sideeyes.