November 2012 Archives

Misfits

Remember when Heroes first came on the air, and everyone was abuzz with the show's realistic take on superpowers?  Before the writers had a collective aneurysm and everything went to hell?

Misfits is the show Heroes hadn't the balls to be.

The British show revolves around a group of young people serving out community service for various antisocial behaviors.  A freak storm gives them-- along with various other people in town-- strange powers, and the show revolves around their attempts to deal with the consequences.  What's great about it is that none of these people are saints.  There is no Peter Petrelli, Claire Bennett, Matt Parkman, or Hiro Nakamura.  There's no global conspiracy.  No "save the cheerleader, save the world."  The show isn't concerned about the societal ramifications of superpowers entering the world.  It's squarely focused on these five characters, every one of whom is flawed.  Some deeply so. 

Alisha is a fabulously attractive girl who knows she's hot and derives much of her sense of self-worth from the resulting sense of superiority-- until the storm distorts that attraction by making any man who touches her instantly devolve into a sex-crazed wannabe rapist hungering for her flesh while reviling her verbally.  Simon is withdrawn and repressed, avoiding eye contact and uncomfortable with all social interaction, but with an intensity burning beneath the surface that seems barely contained-- the kind of fellow you expect to have a psychotic break at any moment.

The standout character, however, is Nathan-- a selfish, outspoken, foul-mouthed smart aleck with no shame or sense of propriety.  He feels completely new and unique on television, a modern anti-hero you find yourself rooting for and against at the same time.  He's the kind of guy about whom you'd say, "He's a dick, but he's our dick."  Robert Sheehan is clearly the breakout star of the show.  He gets all the best lines and steals every scene he's in.

The first series of the show was solid, establishing the characters, their powers, and the rules of the road.  The second series, however, was simply fantastic-- terrific stories, great writing, and fabulous performances as the cast really found the nuance in their characters.  The development in Iwon Rheon's Simon was particularly great to watch, as the biggest misfit of them all found a place to grow.

I understand Nathan's gone for series 3, as in fact all the original cast is by the end of that season, so I'm a little nervous about continuing past this point.  The first two series have been deeply satisfying, with the kind of rough edges and non-mainstream point of view usually sanded away by Hollywood (yay, Britain!).  I'm hoping the wheels don't fly off the cart in season 3.

If you haven't discovered Misfits yet, however, you've got some great stuff ahead of you.
Comments (108) | last by link indexer, Feb 11, 6:28 AM

The Big Con

In the past month I've attended two board game conventions-- Seattle-based Sasquatch and Dallas-based BGG.CON.  On the surface they might seem like two very similar offerings, since both were multi-day events at hotel ballrooms where attendees played board games from morning to night.  Both had special events-- a game show, a puzzle hunt, the Artemis starship simulator-- and both ran from Wednesday through Sunday.  At both events, I'm an invited guest and sing for my supper in the form of a game show event that I run on Saturday night.  But the cons are quite different, and the difference comes down to a matter of scale and priority.

BGG.CON had about 2000 attendees this year, a dramatic increase over last year's 1200.  Sasquatch had only about 80.  At Sasquatch, all the hot games from Essen make their first local appearance, and while older games are also available the focus is really on trying out the new goodies.  The hotness is also in evidence at BGG.CON where an entire room is devoted to nothing but the new, but a library of over 4000 games is also available for everyone to use.  The result is that as you walk around the ballroom, you see everything from newly punched sprues to dust-covered boxes.

At BGG.CON, I never manage to actually play very much.  This year, I got in 3 games of Suburbia (the only Essen game I'm certain to buy) and one each of CopyCat, Urbania, Tichu, Cheeky Monkey, Fleet, Tweeet, Unexpected Treasures, and City Tycoon.  That's over a span of about 4 days.  I suspect if you surveyed the 2,000 attendees, you'd find that my record is among the lowest of all-- even worse than some people who only showed up for a day.  How can I be there for so long and play so little?  Playing games really isn't why I'm at BGG.CON.  First and foremost, I'm there to host the game show.  That means some of my time is spent going over preparations, setting up the room, coordinating with the staff, and so forth-- not to mention running the show itself, which this year involved three back-to-back-to-back shows from 8 PM to almost 2 AM.  A bunch of my time was spent outside of the hotel on dining expeditions.  BBQ is a priority for me when I'm in Dallas, since you really can't get it in Seattle, and this year's discovery of the Pecan Lodge was a delight.  It was so good, I went there for lunch two days in a row (the brisket and pulled pork were fantastic, but the Hot Mess was why I'll go back again next year).  Most of these trips this year were made with friends, but often I go with people I barely even know, and that conviviality is one of the highlights of the experience for me.  There's something great about strangers in a strange town going out to dinner together.  The rest of my time is spent hanging out with friends I generally only see at this event.  If we manage to play some games at the same time, so much the better-- but I'm just as happy to kick back and flap our gums for a spell.  Some of my favorite times at BGG.CON have been the late-night chats with staffers like Jon and Lanie Theys, the kinds of chats that make you wish they all lived in Seattle instead of a few thousand miles away.

Sasquatch is a completely different story.  I know almost everyone at Sasquatch, so whatever game I wind up in, there's a foundation of familiarity and relaxed camaraderie.  I'm happy to play with just about anyone.  Finding a group isn't a problem.  Games are therefore the focus of the event.  The chance to hang out with someone doesn't compete with the chance to get in another game of New Greatness.  I'm there to play.  Meals and snacks are included as part of the event, which has a profound positive effect.  You don't need to figure out when and where to go for food-- it just comes to you, and you barely have to leave the game table to take advantage.  The smaller and more intimate setting ironically made it easier for me to get into a game, which meant I played more games at Sasquatch.

If I know you and you want to get in on the Sasquatch action, drop me a note-- the event is invitation only, but invitations are pretty freely extended.  In addition to the main event in late October, there are four free game days throughout the year.  The next one is 1/26, then there's another in May, and again in August.
Comments (72) | last by Quick Click Hosting, Feb 12, 5:54 PM

Get Ready to Jaunt!

Be still my adolescent heart-- the CW is remaking The Tomorrow People.

I adored this show as a child, when this British cult series was broadcast stateside via Nickelodeon.  It was a somewhat less angsty take on the X-Men, with the next step in human evolution beginning to emerge with teenagers manifesting mental powers-- notably telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation ("jaunting").  Somehow-- I don't think it was ever explained-- they were in contact with a Galactic Federation and acted as ambassadors of Earth (because more "evolved" teenagers are clearly better suited to the job than adult diplomats).  Oh, and something about their evolved nature rendered them incapable of violence.  The effects were horrible, even by 70's Doctor Who standards.  Some of the actors were very difficult to understand.  Characters were dropped between seasons with nary a goodbye.  But I couldn't get enough of it.

It was remade in the 90's with the original creator's involvement, but I've never seen those shows.  Since this will be on the CW, we can assume it will be filled with beautiful young people and bear virtually no resemblance to the essence of the original.  But Smallville had redeeming qualities, Arrow isn't completely horrible, and Supernatural has been mostly terrific.  So who knows, maybe they'll get it right...
Comments (73) | last by video projector, Feb 7, 7:53 PM

Graffiti For Sale

My name spoonerizes well, and someday my international import/export business will be operate under the Cedar Parrot imprint.  But I've always thought that there weren't any good anagrams of my name.  They're good letters, but there are too many copies of them.  With three Rs and three Ts, the tongue starts to twist pretty quickly.  I was never able to make much headway.

I never got around to asking the internet.

Anagram solvers have been around since the internet crawled out of the primordial digital ooze, and I've used them for other things, but for some reason I never fed them my name until today.  Turns out there's at least one anagram that isn't random gibberish.  How awesome would it be to make a career change and get the following business cards printed up:

PETER SARRETT: STREET ART REP

Banksy, call me.
Comments (618) | last by auto note buyers, Feb 11, 6:31 AM

Alphagames

A-Z of videogames.  How many can you name?

 
Comments (64) | last by browse around these guys, Feb 10, 6:40 AM

Tribal Madness

Last night's Survivor was amazing.  I've been rooting for Jonathan Penner from the start.  I just like the guy.  He's smart, and unlike so many people who get on the show, he's not playing for his ego-- he's playing to win.  He's there to take home the prize, not to make friends or get befuddled by new relationships.  I would love to see a season filled with nothing but people like him.  No models.  No ingenues.  Just strategic, calculating players.

Jonathan's back was up against the wall last night.  He needed a miracle to keep from going home, and he knew it.  The immunity challenge was a nail-biter from start to finish.  Only three people would qualify to move on from the initial stage, and Jeff and Pete made it in handily.  Jonathan got off to a mediocre start and always seemed to be lagging behind, but somehow he got his last bag free and literally dove over the line just ahead of Mike in a very dramatic finish.  In the final stage he once again had a poor start, looking completely lost amidst a sea of puzzle pieces while Pete and Jeff kept putting blocks into place.  It was thrilling to see Jonathan come from behind and nab his first individual immunity in three outings at the game, when he needed it most.

His win turned the game upside down.  With the convenient sacrificial lamb no longer on the table, everyone scrambled.  We had absolutely no idea who anyone was voting for going into tribal council.  And then things got crazier.  I'm loving Lisa Welchel in this game.  Everyone likes her, everyone views her as the innocent church lady.  But she's working it.  And she's doing it differently than I've ever seen it done before.  When she comes to tribal council, she lays everything on the table.  She spells out her entire strategy and line of thinking in front of everyone, just as sweetly as can be.  I think the only reason it hasn't backfired on her yet is because she's so weak at physical challenges, but I think after this tribal council nobody's thinking of her as naive anymore.

I understand why Malcolm revealed his idol.  The rumor mill was swirling, and he didn't know that he'd convinced Pete he didn't have it.  He felt that coming clean about it would save him for tonight, and maybe he could leverage the idol more effectively by revealing that he had it.  But there was no reason at all for Abby to show her idol.  As far as we know, nobody suspected she had it (other than her ally Pete).  Revealing it only put a target on her back.

I liked Jeff, but he only has himself to blame for going home.  He was fixated on getting the returning players out before him.  It was a completely irrational obsession.  He was Ahab to their Moby Dick.  Had he stayed with his original alliance he'd have been one of the top dogs, and he could have gotten rid of the competition later.  Other people wanted the returning players out-- they were meat shields for Jeff.  Instead he threw everything away to become the low man on the other totem pole, and they turned on him.  His last words only made me happy to see him go.

The aftermath from this tribal council should be fascinating to watch next week!
Comments (3) | last by Peter, Nov 9, 6:01 PM

Letterpress

I've been greatly enjoying Letterpress on the iPad lately.  It's a word game where the goal isn't just to make long words, but to make strategic words that capture territory.  Played asynchronously on a 5x5 letter grid, two players take turns making words and claiming the letters in that word, turning them into their color.  Using an opponent's claimed letter in your own word claims that letter for yourself instead, changing it from your opponent's color to your own-- unless that letter is locked.  A letter gets locked if it's completely surrounded by other letters of the same color, and unlocked if any of those surrounding letters gets stolen.  The first controlling the most letters when all of them have been claimed wins the game.



Wired published a story today discussing whether or not Letterpress has been solved.  Of course it hasn't, because the letters are random every game which completely changes the set of legal moves.  But a noted game designer has tweeted the "strategies" he's discovered that have turned him off the game:

"play territory not words.  Expand out.  Lock vowels, extenders (ER,ED,ES,LY).  Kill when few grays left & winning"

This is not rocket science.  These are, in fact, the same strategies I adopted independently.  They're obvious.  Using them doesn't make the game any less entertaining.  There are two bigger problems, however.

1. The board is truly random.  This means you can have a Q with no U, or a board with 4 Xs.  These make for less interesting games.  The former is a particular problem because it makes ending the game through anything but a forfeit almost impossible.  If I could ask for one improvement from the designer, it would be to enforce some heuristics about what makes for the best letter grids.

2. The looming specter of cheating.  It would be trivial, for instance, to use a program like TEA to generate a list of all possible words on a Letterpress grid.  The longest possible word isn't necessarily the best play, but having all possible moves at your disposal would create a significant advantage.  If you're playing against friends, this is easily solved by the implied social contract not to cheat.  But God help you if you accept random partners.

Letterpress is fast, tactical, aesthetically pleasing, and fun.  Recommended!

Comments (125) | last by search engine optimization expert, Feb 11, 6:34 AM

The Ethics of Cheating

Like many of history's great philosophers, I do some of my deepest thinking in various corners of my bathroom.  Today, as I massaged shampoo into what's remaining of my hair, I began thinking about cheating in games.

I think most people can agree that cheating to improve one's position in a game does not put you on the side of the angels.  I don't know how grievous a sin it is exactly, but it will probably shift you closer to the NAUGHTY column on Santa's ledger.

Does the same hold true if you cheat to lose?

Suppose we're counting up points in Dominion.  I'm last to report my score, and it's higher than my opponent's.  I've won.  Does my opponent need to know that?  Would it be the greater overall good to report a lower score and give my opponent the chance to savor the same moment of triumph I just experienced privately?  Does bestowing victory in this way do anybody any harm, or is it an act of selfless charity-- a mitzvah, if you will?

The knee-jerk reaction is that cheating is wrong, full stop.  By giving my opponent the illusion of victory, I'm robbing him of the chance to learn from mistakes, and lessening the value of future victories that are truly earned.  But if the lie goes undetected, to my opponent this is an earned victory, as sweet and delectable as any other.  I've already savored my victory internally.  By passing it to my opponent, am I not bringing more happiness into the world?

I realize the equation is different if the deception is discovered.  There are ancillary matters of trust, embarrassment, and other messy emotions.  But what if that wasn't an issue?  What if the lie would never be revealed?
Comments (7) | last by wholesale nike jerseys, Jan 7, 1:34 PM

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