Pinback’s Top Ten Games of All-Time: #0
Jun 30th, 2008 by Pinback

#0: Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor (2008)

As I said before, this list is “genre based”, in that I tried to make sure that no basic gaming genre ended up with more than one entry. Whether this was a wise decision or one which ultimately renders the list pointless, I will let the pundits and historians argue over for time immemorial. Is it a travesty that I left off such definite top-10 material as Half-Life, Robotron: 2084, and Barbie Fashion Show? Of course. But I don’t care, because I am HOUSE.

However, I did have a tough time picking the 4X winner. As much admiration as I have for the Civ games, the fact is that there is one 4X game which I have played far more, and enjoyed far more, than any other, and it is Galactic Civilizations.

As much as I wanted to, though, I couldn’t, with any sense of integrity as a gaming expert, pick GC, because the fact is that when it was released in 2003, it was already way behind the times.

You could only play as one race (humans). Lots of other races in the game, but you could only play as that one. No multiplayer. No ship design — there were a handful of stock ships you could research, but that was all you got. The very thought of releasing a space 4X game with a straight face, in 2003, with these limitations, is almost inconceivable.

And yet, it was the most fun 4X game I’ve ever played. I loved it primarily for two reasons:

1. Even with the aforementioned limitations, it still had a perfect blend of style, panache, and charm that no other 4X game had ever matched. There was still a depth to it, multiple victory routes, a robust trading and diplomacy system, but it was all done so smoothly, with such great humor and obvious love, that it was even more impossible to put down than the most state-of-the-art 4X games. The game’s complexity was masked by a uniquely well-designed UI and a lighthearted (but not cartoonish) touch which made just one more turn way too compelling. And though it was clearly an independently developed game, the quality level was strikingly high. The graphics weren’t going to wow anybody, but too they weren’t a giveaway that it was an indie game. And it still has the best, most memorable orchestral soundtrack of any game I know.

2. I gained most of my GC experience while living in Boulder, CO, without a job, and recovering from getting my tits lopped off. Of course, now I’m so fat that they’ve grown back again, so the entire thing was a waste of time and money, but what was NOT a waste of time and money were the drugs that I was prescribed for the post-operative pain. These were Percoset and Ambien, to be taken together, and friends, to say that playing GC on Percoset and Ambien is the most fun thing ever is not an understatement. Of course, neither is it an understatement to say that anything you do while on Percoset and Ambien is the most fun thing ever, so this perhaps skewed my opinion somewhat.

No matter, it was definitely my favorite 4X game — my favorite computer game — ever.

Now, I put it away for a while, and waited patiently for Galactic Civilizations II to come out. Which it eventually did, in 2006. This was an important milestone, because GC2 finally brought the franchise into the 90s, adding such not-quite-obsolete-yet features as being able to play other races, being able to design ships, and introducing “3D” graphics, letting you rotate and zoom the map however you’d like.

This was all very exciting, and yet… something was wrong. For all of the new additions, something seemed to have been taken away. There was more to do, but doing it seemed clunkier. You could rotate and zoom the map, but it didn’t seem to add anything except slower framerates and difficulty finding a layout that made the map as easy to read as the old 2D map in the original game. The 3D ships looked clunky and added nothing. The humor and charm still seemed to be there, but even that part of the implementation seemed rough, unfinished. And you could play as any race, but all that seemed to change is what color the border around the screen was, and how your ships looked.

In short, it made me miss GalCiv. And that upset me so much that I just disavowed the franchise entirely.


On April 30, 2008, Stardock released Twilight of the Arnor, the second expansion pack for GC2. I hadn’t bought the first expansion, and certainly was not going to get this one. That’s when the reviews started showing up, claiming that this was no mere expansion pack. This was to be the last offering in the GC2 line, and the developers just went insane trying to put everything they could possibly manage into it, knowing it would have to hold off GC fans for at least a few years until GC3 came around.

I so much wanted to love this franchise again. I so much wanted to give it another chance. So finally, I caved.

So friends, here is the verdict:

Holy fucking shit.

To call this an expansion pack really does not tell the story. Much more accurate would be to call it Galactic Civilizations 2.5. You have to understand what they did here:

– All races now have their own tech tree and look/feel. That’s 12 different tech trees for 12 different races and 12 different themes. That is frigging huge. Now there is a reason to play other races, and feel like you’re not just playing the Red guy or the Green guy.

– The entire graphic engine was overhauled. The map all of a sudden seems to jump to life, and the ships have all been overhauled to look, there’s no other way to put it, bad ass.

– The UI has undergone countless changes and now runs smoother than a roll-on deodorant. Ship design is still available, but now the computer will design them for you if you don’t feel like having to micromanage that stuff.

– All of the wit and whimsy shines through more magnificently than ever.

– Ladies and gentlemen, the FUN is BACK.

And when the fun is back in the GC world, that can only mean one thing:

Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor is the 0th best game of all time.

(And the music is still fabulous.)

Beaver: A-K-Q
Jun 27th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Sorry, sorry, lots of articles in the hopper, none are done right now.

Allow me to link an MP3. I was in a band called Beaver when I was at Syracuse University. This was the first song all four of us played on and it was probably the best one we ever did, so there you go. I should probably just put it on Youtube, but for now, here is the MP3:

Tomb of the Hardcore Casual Gamer
Jun 26th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

we wantssssz our blood

In this, a new ongoing feature, we introduce the Forgotten Tomb of the Hardcore Casual Gamer. Seeing how last night I installed a high score kit into my Asteroids (hardcore!) and played some Team Fortress 2 on a server selected because of how terrible the other players were (casual!).


I get the feeling that they are made “to order,” as there was about a month’s delay in ordering them from Mike’s Arcade. I touched base with them halfway through and they responded promptly, letting me know that they hadn’t forgotten about me. I was quite pleased, and recommend everyone involved.

Taking the back off an arcade game makes it instantly the most interesting thing in Kitty World, and four of our five cats immediately descended down the stairs when they sensed that the back of Asteroids was coming off. (Frobozz was going to jump inside but got down when I asked him, Spock just meandered from front to back, Reggie poked his head in to see inside and began to chase Spock, and Boggit bolted inside and sat down to take a nap, leaving only when yelled at.)

Installing it was very easy – the PCB for Asteroids is between two rectangular pieces of wood, with a nice and pleasant groove cut for easy removal. Asteroids as a whole seems very easy to work on – lots of room, an easily-followed layout of the wiring, a nicely-separated monitor shelf.

I gently jiggled the 6502 chip loose with one of those small computer screwdrivers, and plugged it into the board of the Braze kit. The kit itself has sturdy gold (brass?) legs and dropped right into where the 6502 used to be.

The board that I bought came with a rapid-fire mod, and the two work together without it being necessary to do anything to the rapid-fire board. (I am interested in any documentation for the rapid-fire mod – I’d like to take off, I guess, but the one text file I found indicated that one needed to bend chip legs to install, and I really don’t trust myself bending things back.)

Anyway, everything came up great, and already my horrible Asteroids scores are being saved for all time. Big props to Braze and Mike’s Arcade.


Let’s… go… casual! OK, I used to be okay at first person shooters, but now I’m like a golfer in his sixties coming to grips with the fact that he can play nine holes if he’s having a particularly good day.

I immediately turn voice chat off – no offense to anyone else playing TF2, but you are all a bunch of goddamn contemptible nerds, and I can’t bear to listen to your easily-excitable nasal drones for a second. The fact that you are all sitting there with headgear for speakers and a microphone don’t help the mental picture of you animals.

Valve’s big thing in getting people to play has been:

1) The new videos, for the various characters. These are great. What a cockslap to everything id has ever made, too, by the way: Valve got more personality injected into the “characters” of a deathmatch shooter in a few months than id had managed in their entire history. Valve could make a TF2 adventure game at this point if they wished. They’ve done a great job massaging this IP and making it valuable.

2) Adding new shit to the classes nobody wants to play. The medic and the pyro are the first two, and Christ, every tweaking fucker on the Internet is playing a pyro now.

The achievements seem pretty easy to get (the two classes I play the most were the soldier and pyro, although they are not my favorite classes by any means, I just try to fill in what the teams have lacked) but that hasn’t stopped “achievement farm servers” from existing. Fucking amazing to me, we have had one gorgeous day after another out here in Colorado, and some people have time to farm in TF2. (A casual gamer gone too far??)

But playing in a deathmatch game where people have weapons you don’t have access to is retarded. I know Valve doesn’t care, because they are getting more people playing the game, but it’s a clear violation of the integrity of gaming. Which I understand doesn’t make any money, but still.

The kind of server I am looking for is one where there are terrible players, and I guess I define that by how long I manage to last on a given level. Last week I was playing on a team with Worm and I couldn’t fuck around for even a second, or I’d get a shot in the face. That contrasted nicely with a couple days ago, where I wandered into a room with a scout and two pyros, fucked up trying to reverse direction, ended up killing one pyro and the scout, and survived long enough to get healing. I need more servers like that. Because while it’s OK to feel like a casual gamer, feeling like a handicapped one is not.

Pinback’s Top Ten Games of All-Time: #1
Jun 25th, 2008 by Pinback

#1: Civilization IV (2005)

My history with the Civilization games is checkered at best. I remember when the original first came out. I was right there in line to buy it the day it was released. I bought it along with another game which I don’t remember. I brought them both home and started playing the other game. I hadn’t even opened Civilization when Doug “Finsternis” Linder came over, saw the box, said “I’ve heard this is really good, can I borrow it?” and I said sure.

He left with the box that night, and I never got it back. I didn’t much care, either. I’ve had a lifelong ego struggle with this man, and even back then I knew that if there was something he liked so much that I couldn’t get even a borrowed copy back from him, it certainly wasn’t anything I wanted anything to do with. So I missed it. That’s okay, I didn’t even know what a “4X” game was.

To the uninitiated: “4X” refers to “explore, expand, exploit, exterminate”, a type of strategy game in which you generally find yourself in the middle of a large, unknown map, then set about 1) exploring the area, 2) building cities or military units in order to expand the amount of territory and resources you control, 3) wash, rinse, repeat until you’ve blown up all the competing players or otherwise found a way to victory or defeat.

My very first experience with a 4X game would come later, ironically with a much older game. I had to work late one night, just to monitor some overnight job for hours on end, and that same Doug “Finsternis” Linder handed me a worn, dogeared floppy disk with a game called Empire on it, and suggest I use that to while away the long, boring hours. Well, it had been years since he’d played it, so I figured that was enough time for the “Doug germs” to die and fall off of the game’s packaging, so I loaded that sucker up.

I started a game of Empire, and before I was able to finish it, and before I knew it, it was 3 AM and the job was over and it was time to go. I never went back to Empire because of the obsolete graphics and unwieldy user interface, and also because I could still smell some Doug on it, but one thing I learned that night was that the 4X genre was the finest, most addictive, most compelling genre of computer game that I would ever come across.

As an aside, I’d like to give you a sense of how terribly addictive this type of game can be. There is another venerable 4X franchise, set in space, called “Galactic Civilizations”. I was a huge fan of the first game and played it for countless hours while I was taking my year-and-a-half “finding myself” tour of the country. At the end of a game, if your score was high enough, you could have it automatically posted to the GalCiv website for all to see.

All I remember was that there was one guy, named “Technician”, who would play the game every single day, once a day, with the game set to the exact same settings every day — highest difficulty level, small galaxy, same number and type of enemies. He owned the first page or two of the all-time high score list. He had obviously mastered the game, at least with these (extremely difficult) settings, as he would win every single day. Not a loss on his record.

I looked back through the history, and he had been doing this for months. More than a handful of months, at that. Once a day. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Eventually I asked the guy, you’ve obviously mastered the game, you’re obviously never going to lose, why on Earth would you do this day after day, month after month?

He said, simply, he enjoyed it.

That’s how addictive it is.

Shortly after that first encounter with Empire, Empire Deluxe was released, and that remains to this day the only computer game I’ve ever faked an illness so I could stay home and play it the day after I got it.

I told Doug about my affinity for these games, and he suggested I go back and try Civilization, since it was, in his words, like “super-Empire”. I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful, but still my repugnance for this man’s tastes and suggestions was stronger than my desire for a super-Empire game, so still I steered clear.

I would have to wait for Civilization II to truly get my first taste of the game that I bought and never played, lo those many years ago.

It was, truly, super-Empire. Turns and hours just melted away for weeks on end. It was, and still is, hard to believe that a game could have that strong a hold on a player for that much time. It truly is one of those games which just never gives you a reason to stop playing, all the way up until the game ends, which in Civ II’s case could have been 10-20 hours in the future. And then there’s not that much reason to not fire it right back up again.

Since those days, 4X games have come and gone, even another Civ game had come and gone. People didn’t like Civ III but at that time in my life I wasn’t playing games much, so I’m not sure why.

Then Civ IV came out and it was like that night with Empire all over again. I was under the spell again. The perfect gaming genre had won me over again. But this was different. You could fire up the worst 4X game in the world and it’ll still draw you in for a few hours before you realize how much it sucks. As my hours with Civ IV went on, though, it began to occur to me that this might not just be the best genre, but the perfect entry into it.

The graphics were, for the first time, not merely functional, but very beautiful. The lush landscapes seem to come alive on your screen in a way no 4X game has managed. In one of the more impressive special effects I’ve seen in any game of any kind, you may seamlessly zoom in to a single city square, and hear all of the bustle and music within the city, and then zoom back out again so far that you are floating in the solar system, seeing and rotating the entire globe, hearing nothing but wind and emptiness. Sure, you can’t hear wind in space, that’s not the point. Does it affect the strategy or game design? No. Does it finally raise the 4X genre to the level of art?

Absolutely, and with poetic flourish.

The rest of the game is similarly polished and wonderful. World Wonders, when accomplished, bring back the little movies from Civ II, but this time fully computer-generated and magnificent. Leonard Nimoy’s voice resonates with the perfect balance of studiousness and whimsy. The icons are all clear. Everything you need to know about the game is no more than two mouse clicks away. Everything is spelled correctly. Search the game from nook to cranny, and everything is just right.

On the gameplay front, 4X has never been deeper. It is not just about territory. Layers upon layers of shifting power overlay the landscape, offering countless ways to “expand and exploit”, from religion, to cultural influence, to economic power, to resource monopolization. It is like several games in one, all being played at the same time, and all brutally effective at sucking away your time and brainpower.

And they even managed to make the gameplay smoother than all of the predecessors. Games are mercifully shorter now, without losing any of the punch.

This is the desert island game, the last and only game you will ever need. You will never be done with it, and the only way to lose is to stop playing. Everything else is endlessly joyous, endlessly fun, and essentially flawless.

Civilization IV is the greatest game of all time.

Actors in Text Games, Part One
Jun 24th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

When I made A Crimson Spring, I was learning a new IF programming language, drawing comic book-style art after a lengthy layoff, getting music integrated, and displaying graphics. I didn’t have nearly enough time to get all that stuff presented professionally before the 2000 Competition deadline.

So when it was time to make the next game, I decided to use actors and eliminate music. I had learned how to use Photoshop a few years earlier when I was working as a printer driver tester at Xerox. I was just basically hitting a print icon over and over, so there was, ah, a lot of downtime.  I knew I wanted the graphics to reflect the distorted reality of the protagonist (Delarion Yar, in the game Fallacy of Dawn) and the effects that Photoshop came with were pretty good for this goal.

I did not have a digital camera in 2000. I bought a scanner for A Crimson Spring and that was the extent of how futuristic I felt like getting, so for FoD, I just used a regular 35mm camera for photos. It was about December of 2000 when I started taking pictures, and it was snowing, so that is why Fallacy of Dawn is set in the winter. (The game’s design doc says that it takes place on December 26th, 2014, a Friday. I think I picked that day and then forgot about it while developing, since nobody asks anyone else what they got for Christmas. Presumably because nobody cares enough to give presents? An unintended side effect of a dystopian future!)

But I also needed someone to play Delarion, someone who I saw all the time and who would put up with the enormous hassle of being told things like, “wear this shirt and sometimes hold a fake, orange gun up to the camera.” This person became my brother Michael, since I was living with him at the time in Fort Collins.

It actually annoyed the hell out of him, too. But he was also very, very patient with me, and very forgiving. The shirt I used was a Cafe Press-printed, long-sleeved shirt with an “Old Man Murray” logo on the front. The cut of the thing is just crazy, quite billowy, and it really does seem more like pajamas than anything else. To this day I am not 100% certain that my brother knows what the game was about. But with someone you are very familiar with, it’s pretty easy to set up scenes and go on location and get the shots you need.

I also enlisted the help of several friends that dropped by our townhouse. It has been my experience that people are glad to help you the first time you ask them to act in a video game, the trick is to just not make it take multiple sessions, where you are dragging them back and making the process tedious. This is somewhat problematic due to how I put together the plot for my games – I essentially have an outline of the various scenes, and the bare minimum of what needs to be said or communicated to advance the plot. I leave myself a lot of room for how the scene develops, because I can’t stand looking at a batch of strict requirements and then having to creatively write to it. So with IF, I just jot stuff down like, “at the end, the player must have a piece of paper that says THIS IS A CLUE.” I try to develop a couple ways (at least for my current work-in-progress) for the player to arrive there. Of course, I find that 90% choose the same way when there are options, but what the heck.

Anyway, this does sort of leave game photos and the state of the plot at odds. It’s difficult to tell a potential actor that you want them to investigate a dead body in a very specific way, weep openly at someone very close to the PC dying, and to then eat some Ice Cream Cones cereal… when the programmer only has “FRIEND DIES, FUNERAL IS ONE WHERE YOU EAT AT” written down in his design document. Oh, and the friend hasn’t been cast yet.

So I try to take lots of shots of locations – those are easy to get, easy to manipulate, and you do not have to worry about someone looking fat when it’s just a brick wall with a mud splatter on it.  There is also a fine tradition of first person shooters giving you a first-person perspective of the action.

I have many more friends that live outside of Colorado than within, so this also has me writing text files for potential actors and actresses, with the best approximation of scene descriptions at a given time. The longer I wait to send those out, the more in-step the pictures are with the game, but when I close out a given room, I like to have the pictures completely taken care of. I find that my memory gets poor the longer I am away from a room or scene, so I am somewhat reluctant to go back and integrate a late batch of pics. It’s a juggling act, I guess.

I did finally get a digital camera. Well, Dayna has one, so I just borrow hers. It’s nice, it shoots up to something like 2,000 pixels by 2,000 pixels. While I eventually bring the graphics down to a 600 pixel-wide rectangle, I need a lot of source material to get the effects right. But while in Vegas last year I had a chance to take some photos with Jason Scott’s freaking uber-camera, while shooting Jon Blask for the next game. That was an absolutely amazing piece of modern technology. The difference between our Canon A60 and that was much more dramatic than I had thought. Which is a bit unfortunate, as I really, truly do not need to add photography to the list of hobbies and interests I have going. I totally can’t EVEN afford to, and I am sure I will convince myself that it’s “just one camera, that’s just one thing!!” before I tackle the next graphical adventure, because I have unbelievably poor impulse control and a crippling case of the gimmie-gimmies.

OK, for part two I will try to link some specifics between what I scribbled down in a game’s design doc, and the actual photo taken.  

Thoughts on D&D, 4th Edition
Jun 23rd, 2008 by bruce

I’m still in the PHB, but:

The new alignment system (LG,G,E,CE,”unaligned”) sucks. Really. The new cosmography also sucks, but, hey, I *liked* the Great Wheel. The new races…well, I miss half-orcs. Gnomes can suck it. Dragonborn? HELLO MUNCHKINVILLE. Eladrin? WTF? Like Regular Elves weren’t cool enough? Tielflings, well, again HELLO MUNCHKINVILLE but they were Planescapeish, so they’re slightly forgiven.

This might be fun, but it isn’t D&D, case study 1: No “Fireball”–gratuitously renamed to “Fire Burst”.

This might be fun, but it isn’t D&D, case study 2: No “Wish.” Seriously. WTF? No “Wish”, or “Miracle”, or indeed, “Resurrection” or “Reincarnate.” “Raise Dead” is apparently it, and it doesn’t actually cost a level, but it penalizes you a bit.

Ritual Magic: it’s about time. I’m not sure I agree with all the spells that are rituals now, but the basic idea is sound.

I’m not sure about the rationalization of “Level”–there’s no “Fireball” (uh, “Fire Burst”) is a 3d level spell anymore. Instead it’s a Level 7 Encounter Spell–so you can get it at 7th Level (which is about right, since 30th is the new 20th (which was the new 18th)). I think in this case, though, the new-and-streamlined-mechanic probably does make sense and I’m just being a grumpy curmudgeon.

I think Actions probably make a lot more sense. I *never* understood how Attacks of Opportunity, or indeed Grapples, were supposed to work. The new stuff looks easier.

Platinum pieces are now worth 100 gp, and “Astral Diamonds” are 100pp. Yay! We finally have some reasonable way to carry around the wealth required to buy high-level goodies.

The Four Roles (Leader, Defender, Striker, Controller) make a certain amount of sense, although the Wizard is the only Controller, which is a problem. The names are weird. Clerics and Warlords (new class) are Leaders, but Leaders basically buff the party (see, I’m doing it now too). Fighters are “Defenders”, and Rogues and Warlocks (sorta like Sauciers, only not really) are Strikers. So are Rangers–who suck less than in 3E. The ranger is what you now play for either Rapidfire Arrow Guy or WHIRLING DUAL-WIELDED BLADES OF DEATH. What exactly this has to do with tracking goblins through the woods is unclear, but whatever.

The new art looks cool, but everything is designed so that it LOOKS COOL rather than having, you know, some FUNCTION for its FORM. Like GINORMOUS SWORDS A LA FINAL FANTASY that no one could possibly wield, or these shields in Cool Spiky Complicated Shapes that, because they look like cookies with bites out of them WOULD NOT ACTUALLY COVER YOU if you were interposing them between you and a weapon.

“Vorpal” has now lost its roots. It just means “Does a hell of a lot of damage.” Lewis Carroll cries! So do I. Decapitation is cool.

Actually, that last one sort of sums up everything that’s wrong with 4E. It’s completely lost all sense of its history. It’s clear that this edition was designed by people (whippersnappers, I’m sure) who play a lot of World of Warcraft, and played 3E, but never actually played any of the earlier D&D or AD&D editions. So they know that “vorpal weapons” are top-of-the-line magical, but not *why* that seems to have something to do with decapitation, and they felt free to throw away that special feature. Nor have they read any of the ur-texts: no hint that Jack Vance still has anything to do with the system (Ioun has become the goddess of magic. Really). They know Conan and Middle-Earth through the movies, not the books. In fact, fundamentally, D&D has become much less textual and that makes me very sad. I am reminded of

As far as the actual game: sure, I’ll give it a go. But, well, this is the first edition that is not, in fact, recognizable as a lineal descendent of _Chainmail_. For all that Hasbro showed some class by getting the dedication to the memory of E. Gary Gygax printed in the books (which, as last-minute changes to a giant print run go, is a good one to have made), this is not the same game. And you know what? I *liked* that game, deeply flawed as it was. Not so sure about this one.

Pinback’s Top Ten Games of All-Time: #2
Jun 19th, 2008 by Pinback

#2: Rollercoaster Tycoon (1999)

Before there was Mall Tycoon, and Zoo Tycoon, and Crackhouse Tycoon, and Auschwitz Tycoon, there was Rollercoaster Tycoon. Let me start the review with the end of the review, which is that there still has never been a better “building” game, and RCT does what it does with such perfection, freedom, and joy, that it shakes free from the bonds of its own genre to become one of the greatest games in history (some would say, the second best.)

But besides all that, it’s important to point out that RCT is one of two games, along with Microsoft Flight Simulator, which actually changed my life in a non-trivial way.

The background is that I’d loved coasters as a child, and spent significant chunks of time “designing” and drawing coasters wherever I could, on blackboards, in the margins on papers, on book covers, etc. Something about the mixture of the elegant curves of the structure, along with the promise of fun and excitement, just spoke to me. The family’s yearly trip to Kings Dominion was the highlight of my young life. I wanted to be a roller coaster when I grew up.

Then, something happened, I grew up, I left home, and coasters just disappeared from my life.

In 1999, my coworker Justin and I saw a downloadable demo and (on company time and equipment), installed it and fired it up. We both sat there transfixed, fiddling with the controls, realizing that, holy crap, this would actually let you build the coasters you had rolling around in your head all these years. Seems he was in the same boat, and something about this game was rekindling flames which once burned brightly in our youths but were sadly extinguished. We vowed that day to go out and buy the game the day it was released. And we did.

Many, many hours were spent with the game that weekend. That’s the point where we realized that Six Flags Great Adventure was just down the road, and after not having had the joy of clickety-clacking up a lift hill for far too many years, we got our ride on in a big way.

And, man, that was it. We were both gleefully, immaturely hooked all over again. This newly re-found obsession culminated in a two week trip spanning most of the northeast quadrant of the country, and the enjoyment of over 120 different coasters all over the US in about a two-year span. Coasters were my life, all over again, and it was a time which I will always remember fondly, and which was just too much fun to begin to describe.

And all of that can be traced directly back to this game, which reminded me of one of the great loves of my life.

None of that is enough to qualify it for being the second best game of all time, though. What IS enough, is that it is about a hundred games in one, and manages to do them all superbly, and tie them together into a magnificent whole, with unlimited replay, and unlimited capacity for creative expression and, damn it all to hell, fun.

The coaster building part was revolutionary. The economic model was perfect. The animations and individual tracking of thousands of park visitors was astounding. The pathway design, park decoration, theme building, landscaping, and advertising parts, all perfectly able to occupy hours of time on their own, were nothing but beautiful, in terms of UI design, pacing, variety, graphics, sound, all of it. The game world is a huge canvas, full of unlimited potential, onto which your only job was to paint a good time.

And that’s the last thing which makes RCT special. It is one of the few games that have been purely about fun, and in which nothing bad could ever happen. Look at the other games in this list. In one way or another, they are all about killing something, or not getting killed, or avoiding disaster, or blowing something up, or struggling through obstacles, etc, etc. This is the case for 99% of all games ever, as far as I can tell. RCT had none of that. The worst that could happen was, other than a little nausea, people would be sad that you didn’t have rides they wanted to ride on. Nobody to kill, nobody to be killed, no treasures to protect. The purpose of the game was to generate as much fun and joy as you could. If you didn’t do well, you only generated a little joy. If you excelled, you created much joy. The currency of the game was fun and excitement. Even the granddaddy, SimCity (which could have very well been on this list itself), forced you to deal with things like crime, and fire, and natural disasters, and pollution.

RCT’s world, and its gameplay, were a perfect respite for all of life’s struggles and ills. You had fun creating fun. There was really no way to lose. The ultimate tool for putting a smile on your face.

The fact that it did everything so goddamn great was just a bonus.

2008 U.S. Open Playoff Round Analysis
Jun 18th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

(OK, this is ICJ taking over at this point, as I think what happened made Pinback’s heart go out.)

My first job was as a clerk at a driving range. You did a little of everything there: cashier, dude-who-runs-the-tractor-that-picks-up-the-balls, BALL WASHER LOL, etc. So as a result I hate golfers.

Oh no, don’t get me wrong, they’re fine people, they’re good Americans. But they’re content to sit back, maybe watch a little Mork n’ Mindy on channel fifty-seven, maybe kick back a cool, Coors 16 ouncer. They’re good, fine people, but they don’t know that I wish them all dead.

Kidding! Not kidding. There were a handful of good guys (who, since it’s been over 15 years, have probably died off in great numbers, now that I think about it). But the majority were pricks. Also, the average golfer can not hit a tractor moving at 2 MPH, by the way, though if you ask them, they are all crack shots.

So for that reason I never got into watching or playing golf. All I can say, after experiencing the playoff today in the limited way I experienced it (getting updates from Pinback through Google Chat) is that it really was the finest sporting event of the year, so far, which is a huge compliment considering how the Super Bowl ended.

It’s also likely to be one of the most amazing perfomances of golf of all-time. Wow. WOW.

I had one of my knees reconstructed and I still feel the surgery once, ehhh, say once a week. Just a little, “hi!” to remind you that you had surgery. I can’t remember if Tiger got his meniscus cleaned up, or replaced or what, but JESUS CHRIST, people should not be doing what he did mere weeks after knee surgery. They just shouldn’t. Groceries. That’s what you should be able to do – get two armfuls of groceries, and move them from your car to your kitchen table, where it then becomes women’s work. You are not supposed to win golf tournaments.

And you have to give it up for Rocco Mediate. 45 years old and finally — I assume? — peaking as a golfer. It gives hope to us all, frankly. He went 18 holes with Tiger Woods, the Most Dominant Athlete of Our Lives Except For Wayne Gretzky, and came out even. Even!!! Another frigging trip through every hole wasn’t enough.

You can’t even say “he played his ass off” – he did, of course, but he did something far greater. So few of us will ever get a chance to go up against someone who is the best in the world at something. So few of us are qualified, so few of us have the skill ourselves, so few of us internalize the things we are good at into non-competitive talents, like being a good father, or a good worker down at the dock, or good at figuring out the plot twists of CSI:NY.

But Rocco Mediate got to go up against the best in the world and I’ll guarantee you he learned more about himself in six hours today than his previous 45 years. Here’s the scorecard. The most important part of the match was when he birdied three straight holes to end the 15th. He put the pressure on Tiger Woods. Tiger had to birdie the goddamn 18th hole to simply survive. He did it, of course,, because Tiger Woods is the man you cannot compute, control, or comprehend. He’s a robot of golf, out there doing shit nobody thought possible. But Rocco Mediate, with 9 professional wins to his name, went up against Golfing Killbot 9000 and forced him to birdie the last hole. Amazing.

You can’t have those two guys out there forever, so sudden death ensued, on a hole that Tiger had birdied earlier that day (and Rocco not), so really Tiger’s “win” was kind of cheap when you think about it. No, no, just kidding. I pretend to dismiss golf because so many golfers shrink like little babies when Tiger’s a-coming, but what happened today was incredible and exactly the opposite.

Tiger’s opponent, Rocco Mediate, did not shrink away. He did not back down. He did not give up. He did not get caught up in the aura or anything like that. He went down like a man and gave the Legend a fight. Rocco just ran out of holes.

It was amazing. I wish I had taken off work to see it, instead of just catching it over the Internet. Good on ya, golf. Good on ya.

Bruce Everiss Would Appear to be a Cunt
Jun 17th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Whoa, lookee here!

Stuart Campbell is, of course, one of the few gaming journalists that has actually furthered the goddamn art, so if he’s getting blamed for something – anything – I assume the other party is in the wrong. But stealing from somebody’s website? That’s just filthy.

Acceptance – Phantoms (2005) review
Jun 17th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I bought this CD off THE BAY, as it was only $3 and I have been listening to a rip of it virtually every day for the last two years. Before you project me as a monster, please note that the band broke up soon after this CD was released, as the lead singer no longer wanted to be in a rock band and went to work for his family’s business. So I didn’t even get the chance to screw them out of money. I’ll never understand why a band will practice and do gigs for years (they started in 1998) before releasing a very listenable CD and then break up, but it happens all the time.

Reviewing music is pretty pointless, because you can’t change people’s feelings when it comes to what appeals to them. Pinner could write a few paragraphs and make me not dislike the movie Magnolia. Worm can write a few instant messages and make me understand why I shouldn’t play The Witcher. But that doesn’t apply to music, so I won’t bother to say what I think of the disc, other than it successfully captures the feeling of being in an alternate reality game, one that involves traveling to the part of the USA that is equally distant from Denver and Kansas City on a Sunday night in the summer, as you wait for a phone call on a payphone and wonder if you’re going to get back to work on time, but then not caring if you do. This CD, to me, makes me feel like I am outside the hamster’s wheel of work and mortgage and traffic and getting hassled, and I have recently started every coding session that I have done for pleasure by playing it.

This was the first actual CD I have played around with in quite some time. When I put it into my computer, it wants to install some shit, and I declined the EULA. I went to find the audio tracks, but couldn’t. The back of the disc says it’s OK to rip it, so I fired it up into CDex… and whattayaknow. It identified the disc, and I was able to export the tracks I couldn’t find to .wav files. That’s how I am listening to it right now, in a lossless format. What the fuck. Thanks I guess? The weird part is that I can’t detect any difference between the 20MB wav files and the 192KB MP3 files I had been listening to. gg, ears (mine).

The songs on the disc are in a different format than what “Advance” MP3 I had grabbed. And I think I prefer the order they are in for the Advance, but there’s little I can do about that. I’d love to know why it was changed, but there’s just not a lot of prose written on this band. This post will probably shoot right up the search results chart.

At any rate, I like the disc so much because the songs blend into each other so well. There’s one song that stands out, the last one, which is called Glory/Us, and I think it best exemplifies the feeling of being alone in the middle of nowhere. It’s also the only song I have ever heard in my entire life that speaks to an absolutely positive and uplifting reaction to having your life destroyed by the deceit of another. It being the only one is amazing to me. Maybe it’s just the kind of music I normally listen to, which is fair, but I prefer to attribute it to the fact that this band really was talented, and it’s a shame that they won’t make a second CD.

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