In My Hands

Actually, it’s a little too big to actually be in my hands, but yesterday I picked up a new Xbox One console and brought it home the only way that seemed fit:

Nice and safe in the front seat.

Nice and safe in the front seat.

Readers of the site will know that I recently picked up a Surface Pro 4. Not for gaming, per se, but gaming was going to (and has) happen with it. I’ve been extremely happy with the Surface Pro 4 for non-gaming tasks (it has worked nicely as a laptop, which I was worried about initially) but now I’m even more happy — the purchase of the surface has facilitated even more gaming in a very round-about way.

Recently, Microsoft announced a whale of a deal where you could get a Surface Pro 4 and pick up an Xbox One for a cool zero dollars.

So being with in the window of the return policy, I asked if I could return my Surface Pro 4 and take part in the deal, and the great folks at my local Microsoft Store were more than happy to help me walk out with a new Xbox One, an extra controller, a copy of Watch_Dogs and a cool 50 bucks to spend at the Microsoft Store in the future. (There’s a better than zero chance that it will go towards an Elite controller)

I had sort of decided that I was going to sit this console generation out, content with a screaming PC and the Wii-U. But this opportunity was too good to pass up, so I’m a next generation gamer I guess. Sure, I’m two and a half years late to the party, but that just means I have a nice big backlog to dig in to.

Any recommendations for what I should check out? I imagine Halo 5 will be my first foray into the Xbox One Universe.

Read In 2015

(Oops this was supposed to be done before the end of the year. Better late than never, right?)

LordOfTheFliesBookCover2015 wasn’t a great year of reading for me. I had plenty of time to read (I spent six weeks in Boston, during the biggest snowfall in decades, and didn’t read as much as I should have). But I did get to check off a couple of the books I have on my ever-growing To Read list. Here’s what I read in 2015:

Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky (145)
Roadside Picnic had been sitting on my night stand for years. I bought a copy after I watched the Russian film Stalker, based loosely on RP. I wish all books could be like Roadside Picnic — it was complex, had interesting characters and moved along at a brisk pace. The movie set the stage for how an alien visitation site would have looked and felt but the book really drove the weird, almost post-apocalyptic isolation, home.

Very enjoyable, not heavy on the Sci-Fi but recommended if you like science fiction. Not recommended if you like your stories tied up in nice pretty bows at the end, though.

The Chronicles of Amber: Volume I (The Chronicles of Amber #1-2) by Roger Zelazny (338)
This was the second book I’ve ready by Zelazny. (Technically second and third, but who’s counting?) Lords of Light was difficult to follow but a great read. The Chronicles of Amber: Volume I (Nine Princes in Amber and The Guns of Avalon) made me nervous that it would be equally difficult to follow with the cast of characters (nine princes and four more sisters) and an opening to the book of the main character suffering from amnesia, but it picked up steam quickly and wasn’t that hard to follow at all.

The main character Corey (Corwin) wakes up in a hospital heavily drugged, with no memory of how he got there or who he is. Turns out he is one of nine Princes of Amber, a fantastical world in which our Earth is one of many “Shadow Worlds” of Amber, and these Princes have the ability to walk in shadows, to travel freely between our world and theirs. The first book details Corwin’s first attempt to get back to Amber and take the throne from his brother Eric, with the help of the siblings still loyal to him.

That first attempt doesn’t go too well, which leads to the second book, wherein Corwin attempts to bring gunpowder into the world of Amber (which previously was that to be impossible) and make a second attempt at the throne. The second attempt is a little more successful but still results in things going south for Corwin and Amber.

There are more stories to go in the world of Amber, and I hope to get to them soon.

The Martian by Andy Weir (369)
This book delivered one of the best reading experiences I’ve enjoyed in a while.

It might be called “hard science fiction” but “hard” like college physics or chemistry classes. It’s not obtuse or dense but still feels like what is happening could actually be how things would happen on Mars. The science is solid and thorough. Maybe a little too easy to follow, but is that a bad thing?

The book had a couple of those “moments” I love, where you’re left hanging on a cliff, anxious for the next chapter or section. Highly recommended. (The movie wasn’t too shabby, either)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding (208)
Another in the list of “Classics Tony Needs to Read” has been crossed off. This time, it’s Lord of the Flies and it’s considered a classic for a reason. I was in love with the writing of this book. At times it is elegantly descriptive and beautiful (the imagery of fists being pistons, pounding someone in the face, was a personal favorite) and plain and yet still evocative (“His head opened and stuff came out and turned red,” was particularly jarring).

I won’t pretend to understand all the symbolism and the commentary on society and its morals, but I recognize them and the story is a scathing representation of the breakdown of civilization when there is no rule of law and the way power corrupts and all that comes with that. I just enjoyed the story and I’ll let other people figure out “what it all means”.

That’s the short reading list of 2015. A total of four books and 1,060 pages. What did you read this week?

Books (and pages) read in 2013: Five books (1,546 pages)
Books (and pages) read in 2014: Six books (1,724 pages)

The MOBA effect

Recently, I’ve only been playing MOBAs. I haven’t had the desire to branch out very much, especially into a time intensive genre like MMOs.

I honestly think it’s because of the game progression… or the lack thereof. By ‘progression’ I mean that you aren’t leveling up a character like in an MMO, which would take a lot of time to get that character to the maximum level. That kind of progression definitely has its merits and satisfactions but in my current state of life it hasn’t been as enjoyable with the limited playing time I do have.

I’ve had discussions about this with a good friend from high school (I’m 31 now) and he tends to feel the same. Granted we are both in a similar position – we are both married and have little one(s) that we happily give up time for – but it just doesn’t feel like we have the time or the drive to devote to an MMO. Oh how we’ve tried! From going back to the nostalgic (Everquest) to trying a few of the new kids on the block such as Rift, Neverwinter Online, Guild Wars 2 (debatable). None of them are able to keep me coming back.

MOBAs, however, operate on a different kind of progression. One that, contrary to MMOs, does compel me to log in night after night.

Dota 2 has been my MOBA of choice for a while, a decent run with Smite, a little stint with League of Legends, and a few smatterings of Infinite Crisis but, Dota 2 is my choice. steamworkshop_webupload_previewfile_181979094_preview

Smite has kept me playing the second longest out of the bunch. Whether this was because my friend played it pretty much non-stop and my desire to play with a friend kept me going or the change in pace it provided with its different game modes (which could end in a 15 minute match), Smite had me for a while.

League of Legends was along the lines of a standard MOBA but, it felt slower than Dota, the champions didn’t seem to move as fast to me. The movement speed may have been a factor but, the time it took to unlock a champion that seemed interesting was demoralizing. Don’t get me wrong though, my brother and I saved up for characters who were also brothers, which cost a ton to get, and we wrecked face! It was glorious… still, it wasn’t enough.

Infinite Crisis was an interesting occurrence for me. I was able to get into the beta for this game with a friend. Needless to say the game is totally different from what it was back then (for the better). One thing I’m thankful for was that it helped me determine that I don’t want to play games while they are in beta. In this instance the UI was horrid, the game felt buggy, and it was not enjoyable until you were actually in the game and even then it wasn’t the smoothest. HOWEVER, playing as the Flash or Green Lantern was definitely worth it. They recently had a huge patch/improvements and I have been meaning to check it out one more time.

Some of the things that drew me in to MOBAs were the semi-short game length which can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or more in rare cases, no need to grind anything if you don’t want to, and you can still get the sense of accomplishment from getting items or even more so from improving your play.

Dota 2 had all that I needed. My friends were playing it, the fun was there, the amount of hero choices was staggering (and continues to grow), it looked great (see League of Legends or Infinite Crisis), and it was Valves baby (I dumped a lot of time into Team Fortress 2 so, I enjoyed the Steam network/Valve’s quality of work).

With a MOBA I feel like I am working on me, on my skill as a player, on my ability to fulfill a role on a team, and it was rewarding. I always thought that I would need progression that didn’t go away for a character in order to enjoy a game (i.e. leveling an MMO character) but, that isn’t the case. I’m don’t feel like I’m falling behind anyone if I can’t devote time to the game like I felt when I played MMOs and my friends would spend more time in-game than me. In essence the effect of a MOBA engages the player more as an individual than the MMO genre which mostly requires your time.

Dota 2 is definitely something that will force you to honestly look at yourself and your capabilities. I have the perfect example!

Let me share a story with you… ready?

I was in a match playing Visage this is a hero which requires the player to control up to three other summoned units in addition to himself, other active skills, as well as any items with active abilities. The additional units Visage controls also have active abilities in order for them to do damage or stun. This juggling act required that I had to be on my A-game, and I knew it. Controlling your hero’s position, timing your attacks with your teammates, using items at the appropriate time, while watching the mini map to make sure you’re not about to get ganked, etc is hard enough. But playing Visage under these circumstances can be a hectic experience. I even thought my history of playing RTS games would help with that some but, not so much.

It was a non-stop match for me, if I wasn’t busy trying to control my units I was trying not to die/kill the other team. There were a few times that I was mixed up and thought, “Why isn’t my guy moving?” or “Oh crap, they are attacking my hero and I’m controlling my units not my hero!” but, overall I was successful and my team was victorious.

After that match I knew I could handle the hero but I wouldn’t want to do it again. Having the ability to do something doesn’t necessarily make it fun. I’m more inclined to play a hero that doesn’t rely on other units to be effective or make a contribution to the team. This made clear that as a player I don’t really appreciate having more units to control/the game is complex enough that I don’t need to ramp up the difficulty for not much in return. After realizing that about myself I steered clear of Visage and stayed with the heroes that were more my style.

My main hero is Sven – he’s a beast that can do a LOT of damage and is a pretty straight forward hero. “Get in there and smash people’s faces”, is the name of his game.Sven!! I’ve also got to the point where I want to experiment with different builds (skill order and item use). Sven is a strength hero that is normally played one way – MOAR DAMAGE!! Looking at some really old Reddit posts has lead to me to the realization that Sven used to be played as a support hero and not a tank. I’ve attempted to try a support Sven once and it didn’t work out to well. I have to admit that my decision was on the fly and I didn’t give the proper preparation or forethought before the match began. I’d like to try it out again but, I’ll probably try it against some bots instead of impairing my team.

Even though the hero is played one way by everyone doesn’t mean he can’t be played a different way and still be viable and effective. It is fun to try and tinker a hero (PUNNY!) to see what they can do and what items can change the way they play. Matching these variables up with a five man team doing the same thing yields a very, very complex interaction.
This complexity can get someone so obsessed with all of the different options, builds, timings, etc. that it can take over their “free thought” time. I felt like this a little bit during the height of my playing. I was playing every night with friends, multiple games in a row, and I would think about it throughout the day while looking towards that night’s game.

Then again, there are people who love to play the game to play the game – they just don’t worry about any of the details and enjoy a fun time with their friends. Personally, I don’t take loses to heart at all – I say, “Oh well” and try to determine where things went wrong or what I did/didn’t do to help my team and learn from it for next time.

The two best ways I improved my play in Dota 2 are – replays and spectating. Replays of your matches allow you to relive what just happened in your game and pause it at any point or even repeat a battle over and over again. This really allows you to pick apart an engagement or determine why a Laguna blade from Lina at Faceless Void just might not be the best idea.

Spectating was key for developing a foundation for any hero I wanted to play. I was able to watch a player who had experience play that hero and watch how they used their abilities, the timing of their attacks, or even, “So, that’s how I missed that gank”. The signs and little queues are what can make the difference in a game where one mistake or taking the advantage of one can turn the tide of a battle.

Coming back to the game has also changed my perspective. Instead of working on the basic mechanics of the game I am giving more thought to parts of the game at the higher level. I would tell you more but, that will have to wait for another post – this one has already become a little long in the tooth.

Hit me up if you’re interested in playing!

(My Dotabuff profile for anyone who may be interested: Semaji Thunder)

Read in 2014

I am blatantly stealing this idea from Zack. I love reading his post every year and use it to add books to my ever-growing list of “To Read” on goodreads.com. While my list of books read in 2014 wasn’t very long, hopefully it’s still interesting:

The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution: The Slow Motion Exercise That Will Change Your Body in 30 Minutes a Week by Fredrick Hahn, Michael R. Eades, Mary Dan Eades (181)

2014 was the year to get back to good health and get back in shape. I had heard about this Slow Fitness Revolution listening to a podcast and thought I’d give it a looksee. To be completely honest, this book wasn’t that helpful. This book could have been 50 pages shorter if they had just got right to the point of the advantages of this work-out mindset. A lot of time was spent needlessly using examples where one or two would have had the same effect. I have some doubts that 30+ minutes a week will be sufficient to get in better shape, but I am willing to give this a try.

Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life by Chris Kresser (416)

The other half of the getting healthy was changing my diet. I did the Atkins Low Carb diet years ago (to great success) but it wasn’t something I could maintain long term. After reading about the Paleo Diet for years, I figured I’d see if I could make it work. Chris Kresser’s approach to the strict Paleo way of life is one of adaption and experimentation. It starts with a 30-day reset where you eliminate all the process foods, sugars, grain, dairy and other harmful food. Once you’ve gone through this cleanse, you slow add back foods like diary and starch back into your diet to see how your body reacts to them. A lot of people’s health problems stem for allergic reactions to things the body can do without (gluten, lactose). Eliminating them and then figuring out how your body reacts are keep components to this “lifestyle”. He calls it you personal code because everyone’s body is different and requires a personalized approach to nutrition.

In addition to the nurtritional side, Kresser also examines and teaches the improtance of things like eliminating stress, having meaningful activity and “play time” (he even advocates a small amount of video gaming, recognizing the benefit such as hand-to-eye coordination) and getting a good night’s rest. It’s all about taking care of your body, and frankly, we don’t do a very good job of it.

As a testament to how much this book effected me, I lost over 30 pounds over the period of a few months and have been able to keep almost all of it off for almost a year now. I fell off the wagon for a bit during the holidays, but I’ve adjusted my diet and I can already feel the difference.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer (216)

Not quite sci-fi, definitely not fantasy but there is some quasi-religious and metaphysical musings going on here. And maybe a touch of fictional history. The story follows Sir Richard Francis Burton (a real historic figure, a very interesting one at that) as he dies and is “reborn” in a strange location referred to as “The Riverworld”. This isn’t the afterlife (or is it?) nor is it purgatory (or is it?) but there are millions (billions) of other humans being resurrected all around him. The story follows Burton and a group of people from different times (including an alien responsible for the destruction of humanity and a neanderthal) as he tries to figure out what’s going on.

Riverworld is actually a series of books, but TYSBG is an enjoyable stand-alone novel.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (195)

Annihilation came out in 2014 (it’s not very often I actually read something contemporary like this) and received critical praise and popularity. It was described as a sort of Lovecraftian-mystery, with hints of “weird” science fiction.

I didn’t love it. The story follows four nameless women (only known by their professions — surveyor, anthropologist etc) as they enter “Area X”, an area that has been shrouded in mystery and has effected every expedition that ventured into it in different ways. This is the twelfth expedition (or is it?) and the story is narrated by the Anthropologist. Is she reliable? Is everything she sees real? The book started out promising, but I found myself losing steam as I made my way through it.

Annihilation is a trilogy, but unlike To Your Scattered Bodies Go, it doesn’t stand on as its own as a complete novel. I’m not sure I’ll make it through the trilogy.

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (301)

An interesting take on a lot of different popular topics — gender roles, humanity, politics. An enjoyable and pretty quick read. I’m not comfortable with the man/machine relationship when it comes to love and this book handles it a bit clumsily. But the Steampunk and Sci-Fi setting mixed with some fantasy is an enjoyable setting.

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins (415)

I finished the first two books a while ago, but after letdown reading the second book, I wasn’t motivated to read the 3rd until I knew the movie would be coming out. I enjoyed the third installment of The Hunger Games much more than I did the second. I know a lot of people complained of how quickly things came to a conclusion in the second (and some say of the third) but I thought the pacing and action of the third was well balanced and very enjoyable.

And without spoiling anything, it ended how I hoped it would.

So that was my reading list for 2014. A total of 1,724 pages.

What did you read last year?

Books (and pages) read in 2013: Five books (1,546 pages)

Buttonmashing Deals

I recently took over a Google Plus page for video game deals from fellow Buttonmasher James, rebranded it “Buttonmashing Deals” and have been trying to feed a steady stream of video game deals that may or may not be of interest to you. If you’re still using Google Plus (yes, people do still use it, and yes, it’s better than Facebook), you can follow the page here: Buttonmashing Deals and have the most recent deals show up in your G+ feed.

Since Google Plus allows for embedding, I also plan to embed the occasional deal here at the main Buttonmashing site. I’ll try to keep it at a minimum, but when there’s good stuff to be had, I want to get it to the widest audience I can. Especially with Black Friday/Cyber Monday coming up, there should be a plethora of opportunities to save money on games.

Like on this bundle for Shadow of Mordor and the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Blu-rays:

Read In 2013

(This has been sitting in my draft folder for over a month. Better late than never, I always say.) I am blatantly stealing this idea from Zack. I love reading his post every year and use it to add books to my ever-growing list of “To Read” on goodreads.com. While my list of books read in 2013 isn’t as long as Zack’s (I just don’t have time to read as much as I’d like), hopefully it’s still interesting:

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (228)

This is the third book in the Discworld series and just like The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites didn’t live up to the fun I had reading The Color of Magic. There were a couple moments that elicited more than a chuckle from me, but not many. I just wasn’t into these characters. The premise (mistaken gender identity) had promise (sorry) but it fell flat for me.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (296)

Indian and Eastern Gods duke it out in a battle on some far off planet where men discovered the secrets of technology not available to everyone and became more powerful than other. I had no idea what was going half the time but I still tore through this book. I had to go to Wikipedia after I finished just to make sure I understood everything I had read (I’m not too familiar with the Hindu/Buddhist pantheon of deities) and kept every character straight.

Mort by Terry Pratchett (243)

As the last kid standing on the day everyone gets chosen as an apprentice, Mortimer gets picked by a skinny guy in a black hood, riding a pale horse, wielding a scythe. Death, you might say. Get it? Mort — Death? Clever, that Pratchett guy. Mort zigged where I thought it was going to zag. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

After being a little letdown by Equal Rites and The Light Fantastic, Mort was a nice return to the humor I had enjoyed in Color of Magic.

Genesis by Bernard Beckett (150)

I picked this one up strictly on Nat’s suggestion and loved it. It is a quick read (which really doesn’t mean anything with the time I actually set aside for reading. It took me over a month to read this, my wife read it in less than a week). It would betray any charm to say anything substantial about Genesis so I’ll just say I thought I had it figured out about halfway through.

I did not have it figured out.

Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (629)

(Technically, I finished this in 2014, but I read 90% of it in 2013 so I’m counting in last year’s list)

Lucifer’s Hammer is the story of what happens when a meteor heading for earth actually splinters and ends up hitting in more than one place, causing destruction on a global level, wiping out millions of people and plunging the world back into the dark ages. It’s a grim apocolytpic future humanity has in front of it. Faced with the base need simply to survive, it’s pretty shocking what people will become.

I found it interesting that while reading this book and the clashes between the survivors, I couldn’t help think about the popularity of the recent rash of survival games like Rust and Day Z and the awful things people are willing to do (even in a digital escapist sort of way). Let’s just hope civilization never reaches that point.

I also started but didn’t finish a couple books. Like a video game, you usually know when you’ve started a book whether it’s going to hold you attention or not. This doesn’t mean these books aren’t good. They just won’t for me.

Stopped reading in 2013:

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs

Jacobs has a reputation of doing “experimental books” where he tackles a subject and changes his life to fit some regiment of a lifestyle. He becomes focused (read: obsessed) on something and for a year, dedicates his life to this topic. The problem is with a topic like healthy living, there is so much to cover, that there’s just no way to hit everything in 400+ pages. You end up with a shallow book that doesn’t cover any particular subject with sufficient detail. I got a few chapters in and shelved Drop Dead Healthy.

A Brilliant Darkness: The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, the Troubled Genius of the Nuclear Age by Joao Magueijo

I picked up A Brilliant Darkness on a recommendation from Bill Harris. It should be everything I like in a non-fiction book — science (specifically quantum mechanics), Europe and a little mystery. Unfortunately, the story started out slow and the explanations of the science were a little muddled. I wasn’t looking for graduate level science discussion, but those scientific sections didn’t hold my attention. It was time to shelve this one as well.

So that was my reading list for 2013. A total of 1,546 pages. I continue to make my way through the “classics”. It’s fun to see what holds up and what doesn’t.

What did you read last year?

Study proves what we sorta knew (and hoped all along)

I’d like to write more about this after I get a chance to read the report, but I feel like this is really important: Game Play Has No Negative Impact on Kids, UK Study Finds

A massive study of some 11,000 youngsters in Britain has found that playing video games, even as early as five years old, does not lead to later behavior problems.

When worlds collide

It’s no secret that: A) I love video games and B) I love Ohio State Football. These two loves usually don’t collide outside the yearly release of NCAA Football.

Well, this past Saturday at half-time of the Ohio State vs. Nebraska football game, the Ohio State Marching band (AKA TBDBITL) put on this show:

There are so many things in this video that I love that I can’t single any one of them out as a favorite.

The Best Damn Band In The Land, indeed.

Go Right, Young Man

(via Keith Shaw at ITWorld)

Presented Without Comment

Context-Free Patent Art (via my buddy Jason)