Crusader Kings II Video Diary: Character Database


You guys all know how much I am looking forward to this game. Unless this is your first day reading NHS — you know this is dead center in my sweet spot for strategy games. This video shows in detail the stuff Todd and I were talking about from E3.

So I’m watching and found that I was tuning out the designer as I was just staring at the family trees expand in the background.

For a medieval history geek…this is meaty stuff.

Peter Molyneux Just Can't Be Quiet


In the new issue of Xbox World 360, Peter Molyneux waxes poetic about blockbuster videogame design and how, gosh darn it, it’s just too stale and boring for Peter’s taste.

“They’re essentially the same – one’s got a green palette, one’s got a grey palette; you’re shooting and ducking and diving and it just seems almost on the point of being a little bit like Hollywood where they have got into this rut with their action films. I’m not saying we’ve quite got that yet but we’re certainly getting towards that. I think mixing things up with emotional gameplay and mixing things up with the way you play and the feeling of connections and Kinect… it feels a bit more refreshing for me. But I’m obviously going to answer like that because I work in computer games.”

After playing a lot of Peter’s games over the years, culminating with one of the most boring games ever made in Fable 3, I continue to marvel at how he can continue to bang this drum. It’s not that he’s entirely wrong, but at what point does Molyneux do something about it and stop making Fable games where you can fart on people and play paddy-cake? And if he thinks Kinect is somehow the savior to innovation, well, it better hurry up and start showing it.

Lightsaber On, indeed.

Thanks CVG

Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity Patch Next Week


You think Civ V is receiving a lot of post release support? Well, technically it is, but how’s this for an unexpected update? Sins of a Solar Empire, one of the very best real time space strategy games ever made, for my money anyway, is about to get another kick in the pants as Ironclad is readying the release of the 1.3 patch. You can check out the developer diary notes on diplomacy and the tweaks to the mission system here and here . If you have never played Sins — I strongly suggest you fix that.

Thanks Blue.

First 20 Levels Free in World of Warcraft

No High Scores

Whenever I think about the fact that there are people out there who haven’t played World of Warcraft, I can hardly believe it. Then I remember that I’m one of those people and it becomes slightly more believable. Blizzard, not one to rest until every carbon based life form on the planet it enthralled to their MMO/crack habit has changed the free trial of World of Warcraft to be level based rather than time based. Back in the day, the day being yesterday, you could play World of Warcraft free of charge for 14 days before the pay gate slammed shut on you. Now you can get your character all the way up to level 20 before Commerce rears its ugly head. I have no idea if this is an improvement as I don’t know how long it takes to get to level 20, but 20 seems like a fairly large number. There are other restrictions such as not being able to use the Auction House (whatever that is), your wallet being capped at 10 gold (not sure if that’s a lot) and not being able to join guilds, invite people to your party or join a party if said party has characters higher than level 20. So basically you’re on your own until you decide to pay up. Don’t fret though, because once you do pay you get Burning Crusade free of charge, which is more than the people who have paid thousands of dollars to Blizzard over the years can say. They had to pay for Burning Crusade. Suckers!

The full list of restrictions can be found at Blizzard’s support site.

Dead Block Hits XBLA July 6; PSN July 20


Yep, more zombies. PR ahead:

Digital Reality and developer Candygun Games have announced that their upcoming zombie defense game, Dead Block, will shamble (release) on Xbox LIVE Arcade for the Xbox 360 videogame and entertainment system for Microsoft on July 6th, and onto PlayStation Network on July 20th. Dead Block is a engaging, campy and humor-filled title that mixes zombie killing with tactical defense strategies, letting players defend their territory by discovering new weapons to strategically rock ‘n trap the invading zombie horde!

Set in the U.S. during the idyllic 1950s, Dead Block takes players to a simpler time when a gallon of gas cost a few pennies, the “golden age” of cinema was in full swing, and that new (and apparently insanely evil) craze called rock ‘n roll swept the nation—and caused an apocalyptic musical plague to turn the deceased into the walking dead.

As one of three survivors of the shuffling zombie onslaught – Boy Scout Mike Bacon, construction worker Jack Foster, and no-nonsense meter maid Foxy Jones, each with their own unique “Smart Bomb” attack – players will fortify their area by boarding up windows and setting a variety of unique unlockable traps, collect items and power-ups, take on zombies one-on-many with a variety of upgradeable weapons, and even rock them to shreds with awesome guitar power.

“We’re a huge fan of zombies, but we’re even bigger fans of finding the most creative ways of disposing of the undead buggers,” said Balazs Horvath, Director of Publishing of Digital Reality. “Dead Block has been a dream project of ours, and we’re elated to finally unleash it upon the world.”

Team up with three of your buddies and drop-in/drop-out of play for the most addictive co-op zombie thrashing experience in Dead Block, launching for 800 Microsoft Points on Xbox LIVE Arcade on July 6, 2011, and $9.99 on PlayStation Network July 20, 2011. For more information, please visit the Dead Block website at www.deadblock.com

Civilization Gets Another Patch


No High Scores

There’s not an official post about it yet at the Civilization 5 forums, but the the latest in Civilization 5 Patch Technology is now available on Steam. I believe this is patch 1.0.1.332. Prominent portions of the fix list include a note that pacing “has received a large amount of work” to facilitate a more challenging end game as well as a host of updates to the UI, diplomacy, AI, gameplay, multiplayer, and balance tweaks, all of which are included in detail after the break. Looking over the list of balance tweaks, I think we’re now well beyond the point where they should be offering an updated manual (even if just electronic only). I’m not sure there’s anything with regards to modifying traits for units, buildings, wonders, etc. that operates exactly as it did when the game was first released…

[NOTES]
* Pacing has received a large amount of work. Expect to have more of a challenge managing your empire at higher difficulty levels than you did before. Consider dropping a difficulty level if you have problems.
* Existing saves will work correctly. However, the balance pass may make your existing happiness lower than expected when loading into your existing save post-patch.

[UI]
* Civilopedia now available in the Main Menu (under “Other”)
* Replay is now available at the end of the game, and through the main menu. You can choose Map, Graphs, and turn-by-turn. Only games played post-patch will apply.
* Great People progress UI addition (upper-left Info Corner UI).
* Combat preview for Aircraft UI addition.
* Fixed aircraft UI issue causing the aircraft selection UI to duplicate itself when rebasing aircraft.
* When loading save game files, you can now order the list by name, or last modified.
* Fix aircraft UI bug that was causing Nuclear Missiles and Atomic Bombers to leave behind container UI after it’s destroyed.
* Removed dead players from Demographics UI.

[DIPLOMACY]
* Made backstab routine more transparent (the dialog will clearly state that they are backstabbing you).
* AI now remembers when it has been nuked, for a permanent diplomatic penalty.
* AI now recognizes a player that captured their capital for a permanent diplomatic penalty.
* End declaration of friendship as soon as war is declared (so can’t later get a notification that it has expired).
* AI remembers if you satisfied one of their requests (positive modifier, decays over time, based on value of items granted).
* AI remembers if you fought against a common foe (positive modifier, decays over time, based on damage done to the common foe).
* Track trades between players and allow that to positively influence relationships (the better the deal for the AI, the stronger the modifier). Particularly useful for bribing a hostile AI.

[AI]
* Rebalanced AI flavors and strategies for unit training to improve AI army composition and build choices.
* Allow the AI to consider Pikeman units for offensive roles when they can’t build Swordsman or Longswordsman.
* Allow Alexander and Darius to consider Hoplites and Immortals for offensive roles in early game.
* AI players may now use a Great General in early rushes on higher difficulties.
* Modified flavor tags for Atomic Bomb and Nuclear Missile so AI builds them only when it decides it specifically wants Nukes.
* Block City States from building carriers, atomic weapons.
* Strategies for building mobile units now persist into Modern era to help AI decisions for when to build tanks and modern armor.
* Dampen early game Grand Strategies to give the AI time to expand (AI were sometimes stuck in a single city until late in the game).
* Victory adjustments to AI behaviors, including alternate victory paths as “back-ups” (for example, building the Apollo Program, even if they are not going for a Spaceship victory).
* Revise code calculating recommended army size (using smaller armies if the threat is low).
* Correct issue that was causing late-game continent-bound AI’s to over-build units intending to invade, and never properly execute the amphibious invasion.
* Scale recommended army sizes based on difficulty level.
* AI grand strategy and flavor weighting balance pass.
* AI policy choice weighting balance pass.
* AI tech choice weighting balance pass.

[GAMEPLAY]
* Player is now given the option to return a CS worker that they free from barbarians.
* Roads under captured cities no longer charge maintenance.
* Machu Picchu no longer destroyed when capturing a city containing Machu Picchu.
* Fixed Oligarchy bug that was causing the effect to expire when loading from a save.

[MULTIPLAYER]
* Multiplayer AI is now consistent with Single Player AI.
* Hot-Seat is now available through the multiplayer menu.
o You can have as many humans playing as available slots in the game.
o Password protection is built in.
o All maps, including purchased and user-created, are available to play in Hot-Seat.
o While play-by-email is not yet implemented, we did include an in-between turn saving option for those that want to play via email.

[BALANCE]

Mechanics
* Policy “Finishers” added to all 10 policy trees. Taking all policies in a tree will grant an additional bonus effect. See policy notes below for more information.
* Tweaked Policy cost formula (cheaper earlier, more expensive later).
* Reduced per-city Policy cost increase by 50%.
* Culture from City States tweaked (less early, more later).
* Killing a barbarian for a city state now gives 12 influence (was 5).
* Production cost adjustments for units/buildings/wonders (mostly a little cheaper, much cheaper late game).
* Unhappiness per city increased to 3 from 2.
* All great person tile improvements now connect all strategic resources.
* Reduced Culture from Goody Huts to 20 from 30.
* Defense penalty and city assault bonus promotions are now lost with upgrade.
* Research agreements now give a tech boost instead of a free tech. Tech boosts start at 50% of the median value of all techs you can research. Can be boosted to 100% if you both start Rationalism and build the Porcelain Tower.
Terrain, Resources, and Improvements
* New bonus resource: Stone (+1 production, improved with a Quarry). See the Stone Works building note below for additional details.
* Map generation improvements to integrate Stone into production-poor terrain, reducing the temporary usage of Cows. Additionally, will switch grass bonus resources from Cows to Stone when production is needed.
* Marsh and Fallout terrain penalty reduced from -33 to -15.
* Academy yield increases with Scientific Theory.
* Customs House yield increases with Economics.
* Manufactory yield increases with Chemistry.
* Marble wonder production mod reduced to 15%.
* Luxury resources now give 4 Happiness, down from 5.
* Remove penalty for improving Tundra, Snow and Desert.
* Railroad improvement now takes 3 turns, down from 7.
* Scrub Fallout now takes 2 turns, down from 5.
* Repair improvement now takes 2 turns, down from 3.
* Well improvements now remove jungle/forest/marsh.

Buildings
* New building: Stone Works: +1 Happiness and +1 production, and +1 production for each source of Marble and Stone worked. Requires Marble or Stone.
* Burial Tomb now correctly has an Artist slot.
* Mud Pyramid Mosque reduced 1 Culture.
* Circus moved to Trapping.
* Forge maintenance reduced 1 gold.
* Windmill production modifier reduced 5% to 10%.
* Monastery base Culture reduced from 3 to 2. Per resource Culture unchanged.
* Mint gold per resource reduced by 1 gold.
* Colosseum maintenance reduced by 1 gold, Happiness reduced by 1.
* Theatre maintenance reduced by 1 gold, Happiness reduced by 1.
* Stadium maintenance reduced by 1 gold, Happiness reduced by 1.
* Broadcast tower cultural modifier reduced to 33% but now gives 3 Culture.
* Armory maintenance reduced by 1 gold and moved to Machinery.
* Military academy maintenance reduced by 2 gold.
* Arsenal moved to rifling and now provides city defense instead of unit production.
* Walls now gives 4 Defense (was 5).
* Walls of Bablylon now give 6 Defense (was 7.5).
* Mughal Fort now gives 6 Defense (was 9).
* Castle now gives 4 Defense (was 7.5).
* University maintenance reduced by 1 gold and now gives a 33% boost to science instead of 50% (will increase to 50% after adopting Free Thought Policy).
* Military Academy now requires Armory instead of Barracks.
* Arsenal now requires Castle instead of Military Academy.
* Military Base now requires Arsenal.
* Wat now requires Library.
* Mud Pyramid Mosque now requires Monument.
* Harbor naval production reduced 10% but now increases sea resources yield by 1 hammer.
* Seaports no longer require a sea resource, they now require a Harbor. Production per sea resource reduced by 1 hammer.
* Factory production increased by 1 hammer but modifier decreased to 10%.
* Solar/Nuclear plant cost greatly reduced.
* Solar/Nuclear plant production increased by 1 hammer but modifier decreased to 15%.
* Public School science per population reduced by 50% and now provides a flat 3 science.
* Research Laboratory modifier reduced by 50% but now gives a flat 4 science.
* Workshop production modifier reduced by 5%.
* Barracks, Armory, Military Academy and Krepost now provide experience to all units trained.

Wonders
* National College moved to Philosophy and reduced by 2 science.
* Oxford University now gives 3 additional science.
* Great Lighthouse now also provides a free Lighthouse in the city where it was built.
* Great library now gives 3 additional science, and provides a free Library in the city where it was built.
* Porcelain tower now additionally increases the Science granted when completing Research Agreements by 50%.
* Hermitage moved to Acoustics and much cheaper to build. Now requires Opera Houses but gives only a 50% boost to Culture.
* Stonehenge Culture reduced to 6 from 8.
* Pyramids worker speed increase reduced to 25% from 50% but now give a free Worker when built
* Hanging Gardens now give 10 Food instead of 1 population per city and Happiness.
* Great Wall now obsoletes with Dynamite instead of metallurgy and gives 3 Culture. Additionally, a free Wall is provided in the city where it was built.
* Hagia Sophia great person modifier reduced to 25% from 34%, and gives a free Great Person of your choice.
* Eiffel Tower now give 5 Happiness plus 1 for every 2 Policies adopted.
* Chichen Itza now grants an additional 4 Happiness.
* Machu Picchu trade route gold increased by 5% and also gives a flat 5 gold.
* The Colossus now gives an additional 5 gold.
* Notre Dame now gives 10 Happiness, up from 5, and 3 Culture.
* Sistine Chapel Culture modifier reduced from 33% to 25%.
* Kremlin global city defense mod reduced to 25% from 50% but now gives 12 defense in the city where it’s built.
* Cristo Redentor Policy discount reduced from 25% to 10% but now gives 4 Culture.
* Pentagon upgrade cost reduced to 33% from 50% but now gives 3 Culture.
* Sydney Opera House moved to Mass Media and gives 50% Culture in the city where it’s built plus 4 Culture.
* Big Ben hurry modifier reduced to 15% from 25% but now gives a flat 4 gold.
* Himeji bonus reduced to 15% from 25%, and provides a free Castle in the city where it was built.
* Forbidden Palace now provides -10% unhappiness from Citizens in non-occupied Cities.

Civilization Unique Abilities
* Arabia: Bazaar now gives 2 gold on oil/oasis.
* America: Remove river start bias.
* America: Increase plot buy modifier to 50% from 25%.
* China: Great General trait reduced to 50% from 100%.
* Babylon: Great Scientist trait reduced to 50% from 100%.
* Germany: Now receives a 25% discount on land unit maintenance.
* Ottoman: Now receives a 67% discount on naval unit maintenance, and can upgrade Galley’s to Trireme’s.

Policies
* Liberty and Autocracy are no longer mutually exclusive.
* Freedom, Autocracy and Order are now mutually exclusive.
* Tradition
o Aristocracy now provides +15% Production when building Wonders down from 20%.
o Landed Elite now provides 1 Happiness at every 10 Citizens in each City.
o Tradition Finisher: +15% Growth and +2 Food in each city.
* Liberty
o Meritocracy: +1 Happiness for each city connected to your capital, and -5% Unhappiness from citizens in non-occupied cities.
o Republic now adds an additional 5% building production modifier.
o Liberty Finisher: Great Person of your choice.
* Honor
o Honor Opener now additionally provides Culture for each barbarian killed.
o Warrior Code now also gives 15% melee unit production.
o Military Caste now provides +1 Happiness and +2 Culture for each city with a garrison.
o Professional Army now reduces cost of upgrading units by 33% and provides +1 Happiness per defensive building (Walls, Castle, Arsenal, Military base).
o Honor Finisher: Grants gold for each enemy unit killed.
* Piety
o Piety Opener now provides a 15% production bonus on Culture buildings.
o Free Religion now provides only 1 free Policy but increases the Culture from Monuments, Temples and Monasteries by 1.
o Organized Religion now gives 1 Happiness per Monument, Temple and Monastery.
o Reformation now increases Culture in all cities with a Wonder by 33%, and starts a Golden Age.
o Theocracy now increase gold yield by 10% in cities with a Temple.
o Piety Finisher: -10% Culture cost of future Policies.
* Patronage
o Scholasticism reduced from 33% to 25%
o Patronage Finisher: Causes other players’ influence with City States to decrease 33% more per turn than usual.
* Commerce
o Naval Tradition policy now also gives +1 moves to embarked units.
o Commerce Finisher: +1 Gold per Specialist.
* Rationalism
o Rationalist Opener now increases the Science granted when completing Research Agreements by 50%. Stacks with Porcelain Tower.
o Free Thought now also increases University science yield by 17%
o Humanism now also affects Public Schools and Observatories.
o Rationalism Finisher: +1 Gold from Science buildings.
* Freedom
o Freedom Opener now provides 25% Great Person Points in all cities.
o Democracy now provides -50% Unhappiness per Specialist.
o Constitution now provides +2 Culture per Wonder.
o Free Speech now provides 8 maintenance free units.
o Freedom Finisher: +100% yield from Great Tile Improvements and increase length of Golden Ages by 50%.
* Autocracy
o Police State now provides 3 Happiness per Courthouse, and reduces the time it take to build Courthouses by 50%.
o Total War now provides +15% Production when building Military Units and +15 XP for new units.
o Autocracy Finisher: 30 turn attack bonus of +20%.
* Order
o Order Opener now provides +1 Happiness per City.
o Socialism and Planned Economy swapped places.
o Socialism buff to 15% reduction in building maintenance from 10%.
o Planned Economy now increases Science yield by 25% in cities with a Factory.
o Communism now provides 2 Production and 10% Production towards buildings in each city.
o Order Finisher: +1 Food/Production/Science/Gold/Culture per city.
* United Front – Militaristic City States now grant units twice as often when you are at war with a common foe.

Technology
* Reduced cost of Calendar, Civil Service, Iron Working, Gunpowder, Rifling and Dynamite.
* Scaled up costs of all sciences starting in the mid-renaissance era and on (larger increases later on).
* Metal Working requires Construction.
* Railroad now requires Dynamite.
* Radar now requires Combustion.
* Globalization requires Computers, and the cost is increased.
* Computers require Radar.
* Particle Physics no longer requires Globalization (Space victory now possible without overlapping Diplomatic victory).
* Future Tech requires Globalization.
* Tech Aesthetics: moved Dynamite and all future technologies around by 1 position for better alignment.

Units/Combat
* Destroyers no longer start with extra sight.
* Extra Sight promotions are now lost with upgrade (Caravel).
* Great General promotion spawning effectiveness reduced by 50%.
* Mohawk Jungle/Forest bonus reduced to 25% from 50%.
* Gunship anti-armor promotions now work correctly.
* Jaguar now gets Woodsman promotion.
* Minuteman now start with Drill I.
* Mohawk Warriors no longer require Iron.
* Carriers no longer require Oil.
* Destroyer moved to Combustion.
* Mechanized infantry moves reduced from 4 to 3.
* Galley now upgrades to Trireme.
* Ironclad now upgrades to Battleship.
* +1 moves for Tank, Panzer, Modern Armor, with no sight penalty.
* Increased combat strength of siege weapons to 50% of their ranged strength, increased intrinsic city attack promotions (10%/30% -> 20%/50%).
* Increased Incan slinger combat strength slightly.
* Increased Crossbowman and Chu-Ko-Nu combat and ranged strength.
* Decreased Longswordsman, Fighter, Bomber, Guided Missile, Jet Fighter and corresponding UUs strength.
* Removed Mandekalu Cavalry city attack bonus promotion (but still has no penalty).
* Reduced Tank, Panzer, Modern Armor to lower tier city attack penalty (-25%, instead of -33%).
* Aztec Culture from kills now stacks with new Honor Policy branch opener for double Culture killing barbarians.
* Boosted Chariot Archer to strength 4 and ranged 7 (Egypt War Chariot as well).
* Drop combat value of Berserker and Huscarl to match Longswordsman.

[MODDING]
* Fixed a bug in Lua where “Events..Remove” was not behaving correctly.
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.CityCanBuyAnyPlot(ownerID, cityID) (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.CityCanBuyPlot(ownerID, cityID, plotX, plotY) (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.CityCanCreate(ownerID, cityID, projectTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.CityCanMaintain(ownerID, cityID, processTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.CityCanPrepare(ownerID, cityID, specialistTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.CityCanTrain(ownerID, cityID, unitTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerAdoptPolicy(playerID, policyTypeID); (Hook)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerAdoptPolicyBranch(playerID, policyBranchTypeID); (Hook)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerCanAdoptPolicy(playerID, policyTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerCanAdoptPolicyBranch(playerID, policyBranchTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerCanConstruct(playerID, buildingTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerCanCreate(playerID, projectTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerCanEverReseearch(playerID, techtypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerCanMaintain(playerID, processTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerCanPrepare(playerID, specialistTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerCanResearch(playerID, techTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.PlayerCanTrain(playerID, unitTypeID); (TestAll)
* (Lua) Added GameEvents.TeamSetHasTech(teamID, techID); (Hook)
* It’s now possible to have the tech tree “dead end” where the final technology is not repeatable.
* New graph datasets used by the replay viewer can be added by mods.
* Action Icons now use the database in the same way as other icons instead of using ActionIcons.lua.

Save Bucky! Captain America table releases for Marvel Pinball

What’s that you say? “Where is Barnes to bang the pinball drum this week when there’s a new Captain America table out for Marvel Pinball?” Why, here I am, right on queue.

Releasing today on PSN and tomorrow on XBLA, the Captain America table is great. I think it’s better than the Mars and Fantastic Four tables because it combines the greater accessibility and simpler modes of those tables with some trickier shots and slightly steeper challenges. It’s well worth the $3 asking price. In fact, I think it might be my favorite of the Marvel suite barring Spider-Man.

I really like that they went with a classic World War II setting for the table, so you’ve got Cap duking it out (literally) with Red Skull and Baron Zemo as he attempts to contact the Howling Commandos and, of course, save Bucky. There are some really fun modes including one where you’ve got to put the kibosh on Zemo’s plans to use “Adhesive X” for whatever nefarious purposes he has in mind, storm Red Skull’s castle with resistance forces, and grab the Cosmic Cube. There’s one mini-playfield where you get to control a figure of Cap, attempting to block BBs with his shield. The whole thing is well-conceived, fun, and totally captures the spirit of the classic Captain America comics.

Which may turn out to be more than can be said of the upcoming feature film…

7 Days Without Games; Wait, That Would Never Happen

No High Scores

Seeing how Bill has chimed in with this vacation stories, stories that by all accounts can best be described as “harrowing”, I thought it was a good time for me to chime in with my own vacation stories. This year, Team Hyphen braved the wilds of South Carolina to stay at a rented house in beautiful Hilton Head. I learned a lot during this vacation, and I am now prepared to share what I’ve learned. As I am neither as eloquent nor as studious as Bill, I’m going to go the lazy, numbered list route.

Things I Learned On My Summer Vacation by Brandon Cackowski-Schnell…

1. Having your own pool is awesome. Seriously, it’s awesome. When we go on vacation, we tend to do three things: eat, go to the beach and go to the pool. The problem with staying at a hotel is that you’re sharing the pool with other people. I do not, as a rule, like other people. Other people are loud and obnoxious and they don’t discipline their children. Plus, space is always at a premium at hotel pools, particularly when it comes to where to put your stuff. With your own pool, there are no space issues, there are no people issues and there are no scheduling issues. My wife and I don’t like to plan much of anything when on vacation so having the pool always there was great because we never had to schedule in when we’d go to the pool. If in the morning the kids wanted to swim but we didn’t, they could and as long as we could see/hear them, everyone was happy.

2. I need WiFi. I do. I am not one of those people who need to be connected to other people during my vacation, but I look at internet connectivity on par with running water and air conditioning and you can be damn sure I will have both of those while on vacation. I do not camp. I am not a camper, happy or otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the fact that I didn’t have to answer any emails or communicate with people at all while I was gone, but having internet connectivity makes an unplanned vacation much easier to handle because it’s a lot easier to look stuff up when you decide that you want to do something other than go to the beach. Plus, Google Maps is key for navigating unknown places. And don’t give me the whole “In my day we used maps” speech because this is the cat who drove across country twice with nothing but paper maps and CB radios. Google Maps is much, much better.

3. The iPad is a perfect vacation device. Sure you can use your smartphone to accomplish a lot of what you can do on your iPad, but the iPad makes it easier and if you already have WiFi, then it’s a no-brainer. Plus, while my wife would have shot me if I dared bring a laptop, the iPad was considered perfectly acceptable, welcome even. During my entire trip, I turned on my 3DS every night to update my Pokewalker and download the 3D Pokedex entries and that’s it. The rest of the time I played games on my iPad. I was going to buy Ocarina 3D as a little vacation gift to myself, but didn’t need to because the iPad games I was playing were too much fun and far, far cheaper.

4. Parasailing is a hoot.

5. Trying to maintain your composure in front of your children while a pig tries to eat your hand, is not. Seriously, it took every bit of my willpower not to run screaming from the petting zoo. I’ve seen Deadwood, I know what those beasts can do.

6. Even if your children tell you repeatedly that they want to go on a 90 minute dolphin cruise, I can assure you that they do not. Thirty minutes into it they will be asking when it’s over and you will have to resist telling them to enjoy the freaking scenic splendor of the Lowcountry before you throw them off the goddamned boat. On the plus side, seeing dolphins frolic in their native habitat is pretty cool.

7. GameShark.com contributer and all around awesome Canadian Mitch Dyer writes in a lot of magazines. At E3 they gave away a ton of gaming magazines and I brought them all with me to read by the pool. Mitch Dyer wrote something in pretty much every one of them. At one point I expected to see his byline on the menu at the BBQ joint.

My vacation was easily one of the best vacations I’ve ever had and was exactly what I needed to get some rest and spend some quality time with the family. I can’t wait to find some new beach to go to next year, even if I’m not looking forward to how our ever increasing list of creature comforts will drive the price of the rental even higher. My vacation was everything I wanted it to be: relaxing, fun and filled with food and swimming. Best of all, at no point did I have to threaten a seven year old over a whistle.

Your Right to Play

Brandon did an awesome job summarizing yesterday’s landmark Supreme Court decision on videogames’ status as protected speech, but I’d like to weigh in as well. Mostly because I weighed in with a blog post at Boston.com yesterday, as part of ye olde day job.

It’s very rare that said day job intersects with the world of mainstream gaming. While it’s true that we’re getting into game development on some level, that’s more of a “Games for Change” sort of gig, and less of a “big breaking news” kind of deal. So when I get to flex some first Amendment muscle talking about games, I’m happy to jump at the chance.

It has to be said, however – it can be pretty weird talking to the opposite end of the audience. If you write about games for any length of time, you tend to get used to the idea that your audience knows that games are valid/fun/interesting/worthwhile, instead of mindless junk – or worse, poison for children’s minds.

Either way, what happened yesterday is very important – and not just for games, but for all new formats of speech and expression. From the post:

“Even if you don’t care much for video games one way or another, this represents an important victory for civil liberties in an age of ever-evolving technology. What we have here is essentially a new form of speech enabled by technology–and like many new formats, it expands upon some of our older definitions and challenges us to seek out new ways to protect our freedoms in a changing environment.”

Take that, haters!

Seriously – this is a big deal, though it may not necessarily feel like it at the moment. You can claim this is just another win for corporate speech, but the terms produced here are broad enough to actually help the proverbial “little guy” as well (in this case, an indie developer). And while everything is framed in terms of children and the sale of “violent” or “inappropriate” content to kids – the majority opinion rightly recognizes (and even spoofs) the paternalism inherent to that argument.

Maybe the best statement of all comes from the Amicus brief filed by the IGDA and AIAS intending to educate about what games really are. After explaining the serious side (educational games, newsgames, etc.), they address the bulk of what’s out there:

“At the other end of the spectrum are games written primarily to entertain–but often also having important expressive components. Indeed, as this Court wrote in Winters v. New York, ‘the line between the informing and the entertaining is too elusive’ to serve as a distinguishing factor in First Amendment analysis.”

10 Days Without Games; A Yellowstone Adventure


Well, that was interesting.

Everytime I go on vacation I try to learn something. This doesn’t have to be a history lesson, but I try to learn something either about myself or my surroundings. It can be something historically important like when I went to D.C. and went museum hopping or when we went to Gettysburg and I walked around Little Round Top and literally felt chills. Conversely it can be like when we went to Kellys Island, a tiny island off the coast of Lake Erie, where upon I discoverd how much I loved to camp on the shores of Lake Erie and do basically nothing but watch the water and play boardgames on a picnic table with my wife and daughter for a week.

The trip to “Yellowstone” also taught me quite a few things…

I say “Yellowstone” with air quotes because this vacation wasn’t quite what I expected as in we didn’t really stay near the park. Let me lay it out for you:

Our trip involved a truly sadistic amount of driving. We landed in Salt Lake, drove to Driggs, Idaho, spent the night there in a cabin hotel, and then took off for my sister in-law’s time share which was in Big Sky, Montana.

Yellowstone is not in Big Sky, Montana. It’s about 90 minutes NORTH of it. So every day we wanted to go to the park was a 2 hour drive because once you get to the park your driving adventure has just started. If you haven’t heard, it’s kinda big — and when bison want to cross the street — they’re going to cross the street. The animals own the place so you need to let them do their thing.

By the time the trip was over we had put 1,300 miles on the rental car…in 8 days.

I learned I didn’t like that.

How much car time was there? I read book two of the Song of Fire & Ice series (Clash of Kings). All 728 pages.

I learned I like that series. A lot.

I also learned that I don’t like staying in a small time share with another family, especially when that family has a rambunctious 7 year old and particularly when I have to spend countless hours in the car with said 7 year old. When her parents bought her a compass whistle at the Old Faithful gift shop I felt like it was a cruel joke being played on me by the hand of fate for giving Red Dead Redemption a lukewarm review.

Yellowstone itself is a magnificent place. The photo above is of the Yellowstone Canyon which is one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen in my life. We saw this on Thursday when I was suffering from major car fatigue and we sat and watched that waterfall for at least 30 minutes. It’s like the mountains and the canyon were dipped into an artist’s paint palette. Gold, vermilion, lemon, turquoise, emerald all split down the middle by the rushing Yellowstone river and the majestic waterfall…the canyon is hypnotic and for a guy who isn’t much into simple sight seeing, I’m genuinely glad I saw it.

As for activities, we did a horseback riding tour into the park (a 2 1/2 hour ride where upon Ashley jammed her hand on the saddle horn and almost was thrown from her horse when it crossed a stream, but she’s a tough cookie and kept going).

We saw Old Faithful which is terribly overrated. Unlike the canyon, this is hot water being spit into the air. Next.

We had a bison come within 3 feet of our car. I had no idea they were so big. I kept thinking how Native Americans took these down with arrows…and I reflected how much of a wuss I am.

Two highlights of the trip were, ironically, in Big Sky. On Tuesday, I had had enough driving and told Mary “I need a day off from this vacation” and I feared I was going to get the “suck it up” speech but thankfully she agreed — we needed a chill for a day. We ended up staying in Big Sky and doing a zip line tour which is basically where you zip around 60 feet in the air on a harness and scoot across a thick wire. It was awesome. Ashley even begged us to go back on Friday. So we zipped twice.

Wednesday was whitewater rafting in Big Sky which involved high water (snow had just melted) and the class 2 and 3 rapids were more like class 3 and 4. We all loved this and the 3 hour ride down the river was a definite vacation highlight. The guide said he won’t see another day like that all year. It was the perfect day for serious splashing and fast, fast water. After this experience I slept for 12 hours.

We also drove through the Grand Tetons which was another highlight. Driving through what I first thought was fog but then realized, “Nope, we’re driving through a cloud” was a tad surreal. But what a gorgeous, wild place.

Sadly, our balloon ride was canceled due to “wind” even though it was around 8 MPH from what I could tell but the guy was adamant “it’s too windy” and who am I to argue? I don’t want to go smashing into a mountain in a gondola. So we never got to do that.

Oh, I also learned that you can make anything out of Huckleberries because the gift shops are loaded with the stuff. I bought some Huckleberry coffee which is awesome and we also bought huckleberry barbecue sauce because that just sounds too weird not to try.

Our trip concluded with us arriving at the Salt Lake City airport after that lovely 5 hour drive from Driggs, Idaho. Upon arriving, the agent said “if you are flying to Columbus see this other agent.”

Uh oh. .

Our flight was delayed so long that we would miss the connecting flight. Then he tells me, “I have bad news and more bad news.”

Uh oh 2x.

There were no flights that day — OR the next day. I thought for sure we’d be stuck in Salt Lake for another two days. He somehow managed to get us on a flight on another airline which would fly into Atlanta, where the airline would put us up for the night in the Airport Hilton and then we’d catch a flight the next day home.

I got home around 3:30 Monday afternoon, never happier to see rural Ohio.

I’d like to go back to Yellowstone, as much as the trip was hit and miss. I want to see the park on my own terms and not be tied to another family. It really is an awesome place but when I’m doing it on a “schedule” it feels like work — and too touristy for me. I’m not a sight seer. I don’t like vacation schedules which is why I was struggling with this vacation at times. My sister in law and her family were ready to leave the canyon after 15 minutes, for example. It’s like they saw it, crossed it off the checklist, and wanted to move on. For me, that’s the anti-vacation.

So anyway, I’m home and ready to get back in the swing daily game talk. In the end I learned that taking a week off from games when you spend almost every other week immersed in them isn’t a bad thing.