Guest Contributor: 39 Pontiac Dream on Traveller’s Tales

As an early Christmas gift, we have a contribution from regular reader and occasional contributor 39 Pontiac Dream.  Ponty typically contributes photographs (see here, here, and here), but he’s also quite an accomplished writer in his own right.  He contributes posts to the English blog The Conservative Woman, a favorite among my readers.

That said, TWC hasn’t always been eager to print Ponty’s video game-related writing.  Their high-brow editorial and submission standards are The Portly Politico‘s gain:  now we get to read Ponty’s writing on video games here!

I’m also excited to have more guest contributors.  We’ve heard from photog in the past, as well as newcomer Son of Sonnet (read his Gemini Sonnets here, here, here, and here).  Now we have good ol’ Ponty pitching in.

As the blog evolves and its audience grows, I am hoping to host more guest contributors.  The pace of daily blogging has been difficult the past few months with work and other commitments, so having some other writers share the load certainly helps.

And, of course, I’d love to be able to compensate these writers (though Ponty has told me several times that getting published is enough for him).  Your subscriptions to my SubscribeStar page have made some minimal patronage possible; please consider a subscription or donation to keep things going and growing!

Regardless, Ponty has written a very detailed mini-history-cum-review of British game developer Traveller’s Tales, which has published a number of LEGO games.  Ponty and his wife are avid gamers, and Ponty seems to have a soft spot for these games.

I have not made any major changes to Ponty’s submitted text, other than adding an apostrophe to “Traveller’s.”  I’ve even preserved the charming “u” in “favourite,” to make sure the piece preserves its distinctly British flavo(u)r.

But enough of my yakkin’.  Here’s Ponty:

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Game Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

Last week I took some time to play a few games, notably The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.  Once my niece and nephews arrived, though, I didn’t have time for much else (although we built some cool planes and helicopters with a big bin of LEGOs).  They love Uncle Portly’s “devices”—my Nintendo Switch Lite (the “big device”), Nintendo 3DS XL (the “medium-sized device”), and Nintendo DS Lite (the “small device”).  My older nephew will spend hours building levels in Mario Maker 2 if left to his own devices.  My niece usually ends up with the “medium-sized device,” leaving my littlest nephew to play whatever I happen to have that will run on the DS Lite.

In digging around for games a two-year old could grasp, I found my old copy of 2008’s Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution.  It’s an interesting, almost “abridged” version of the full Civilization experience—what would now be a cellphone app.  The game contains the major elements of a Civilization game from the Civilization IV era, and the game bears the stamp of many of that iteration’s innovations (as well as one of the major contributions from Civilization III, culture borders).

Naturally, my nephew wasn’t going to be playing that, but I popped it in one evening after the kids went to bed and found the game highly entertaining.

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Morrowednesday: Back to Vvardenfell

Finding myself with a good bit of unstructured time this week, I decided to revisit a game I haven’t played in nearly sixteen or seventeen years:  The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.  The game was released right at the end of my junior year of high school, in May 2002.  I was familiar with The Elder Scrolls from picking up a copy of the first game, Arena, in the used games bin at Electronic Boutique in the Aiken Mall sometime back in middle school.  Arena came out in 1994; it was probably around 1997 or 1998 when I picked up my copy—including a mousepad map of the Tamrielic Empire and two fat instruction booklets.

That was back when the Internet was not so readily available (I don’t think we had it at home until the year 2000 or 2001), so playing big, open-ended roleplaying games like those in The Elder Scrolls series required a great deal of study before and during play.  That also meant actually reading the information characters imparted, and learning by a great deal of trial and error.

When Morrowind released I’d preordered it based solely on how much I enjoyed Arena.  Arena is very clunky by today’s standards (it was made for MS-DOS, after all), but the breadth of the world, as well as the game’s roots in tabletop roleplaying games, really drew me in.  I figured that if Morrowind was built on the same dedication to pen-and-paper roleplaying, it would be a blast.

Well, I was right.  Morrowind is, perhaps, the best game I have ever played.  That doesn’t mean it is flawless; indeed, Elder Scrolls games are notoriously buggy.  Morrowind is no exception.  But bugginess, clunky combat, and a steep learning curve aside, Morrowind delivered on the promise of an open-ended roleplaying experience, while also delivering an incredibly dense story, and a world jam-packed with characters, locations, quests, and lots of random oddities.

Somehow, though, I haven’t touched the game for any significant length of time since probably 2006.  The release of two follow-ups, Oblivion (the only time I skipped a class in college—a University Band rehearsal—was the night this game was released) and Skyrim (which came out on 11 November 2011, the year I began teaching again) would continue the series, but see it lose much of its depth of mechanics to become a more streamlined action RPG.

To further indicate this blog’s slide into pop cultural irrelevancy, I’ve decided to chronicle my newest playthrough here on The Portly Politico, doing so on Wednesdays when there is not a sonnet scheduled and when I have played enough to write something of interest.  In other words, the second and fourth Wednesdays in the month, and the fifth Wednesday when one appears in a month.

I’m dubbing these posts Morrowednesdays.

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Minecraft Camp 2021 Begins!

Yesterday marked the first day of my school’s annual Minecraft Camp, which I host every June.  Minecraft Camp is a great deal of fun, and it’s probably the single most lucrative event for yours portly all year.

Last year I was very sick, so I had to hand Minecraft off to another colleague.  I hated to miss it, not only because of the nice little paycheck it brings, but because it’s so fun seeing what the kids come up with in-game.  I’ve been working Minecraft Camp since 2014, and have been running it since probably 2017, and I’m always impressed (and amused) by what the kids come up with.

As such, I’m thrilled to be back.  As best as I can tell, this year’s camp is the biggest attendance in the history of camp, with the possible exception of the inaugural 2014 camp (based on a photograph from that camp, I count fifteen campers, but I know of at least one student not pictured—he’s working as a counselor with me this year!).  We have sixteen kids signed up, and I have three young men working as counselors with me, two of whom were in Minecraft Camp when they were younger.  With yours portly tossed into the mix, that twenty very old desktop PCs up and running in the lab.

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Dorfromantik

Now that I’m enjoying the unending freedom of summer vacation, I’ve finally taken some time to play video games.  I splurged a bit last week and picked up a casual little indie game called Dorfromantik, from the four-man German development team Toukana Interactive.  I caught the game on a 20% off sale, but full freight is $10, so it’s an easy lift.  The game is still in early access, meaning that it’s technically not finished, but from my time playing it, it seems very solid, stable, and complete.

It’s also incredibly fun.

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Lazy Sunday CXI: Bric-a-Brac II

In the spirit of yesterday’s Subscribe Star postBric-a-Brac,” it seemed like a good time to do another miscellaneous edition of Lazy Sunday.  Blogging daily means there are a plethora of miscellaneous posts that don’t necessarily fit into any major category, but as I noted in yesterday’s post, miscellany is the spice of life.

  • SimEarth” – I’ve been jonesing lately for four or five uninterrupted hours to sit down and play video games.  I’m a grown man with many responsibilities, but every now and then I want to spend an afternoon playing Civilization VI, conquering the world via cultural influence as France.  Las summer while recovering from a mystery illness I had the time to do some gaming, and dove back into the classic planet simulation SimEarth.  This post details my pitiful attempts at playing God.
  • Fast Food Premium” – This post, which is about UBI and the perils it presents, uses the fast food industry to illustrate the point.  Blogger buddy jonolan at Reflections from a Murky Pond generously reblogged it, providing his own, more in-depth commentary to supplement my brief sketch of the idea.  I highly recommend you check out his post.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: Bric-a-Brac” (post on my SubscribeStar page) – The meat of this post is behind the paywall, so the preview just makes it sound like a self-indulgent essay on the toys on a windowsill in my kitchen.  My point is deeper, though:  little figurines, decorations, etc., aren’t merely pleasant trappings; they’re individual little touches that express our individuality, our creativity, and our liberty.  Little touches give life and warmth to our homes.

Well, that’s it!  Here’s hoping you enjoy this slightly-belated edition of Lazy Sunday.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

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***NOTEThis link is NOT a subscription to my SubscribeStar Page; it is for a one-time donation/tip via PayPal. To subscribe to my SubscribeStar page, use this URL:   https://subscribestar.com/the-portly-politico***

Lazy Sunday CIV: Time

Today we’re back onto Daylight Saving Time, so we’ve lost an hour of sleep and can enjoy a more hours of sunlight.  I tend to enjoy nighttime, but going off of Daylight Saving Time is horrible—there are days when, like an Alaskan in January, I don’t see the sun.

Whilst working the SAT yesterday morning, colleagues were discussing the time change, with all the usual remarks:  “we should stay on it forever!” or “we can’t control time.”  I fellow teacher said, “Time is a manmade concept,” to which I replied, “Yep—that’s why I only date twenty-one-year olds.”  That elicited some amused laughter, even though that joke is (for better or for worse) not true.

In thinking about time—our most valuable commodity, as we all run out of it and don’t know how much of it we have—I looked back at some posts loosely related to the concept.  In honor of our arbitrary shifting of the clock one hour into the future, allow me to present them to you this abbreviated Sunday:

  • Meetings are (Usually) a Waste of Time” – I don’t like meetings, which is funny, because I ran for a position that literally requires me to attend one once a month.  But I find most meetings are merely an opportunity for administrative grandstanding, and to prove that the bureaucracy serves a purpose.  Of course, they accomplish the exact opposite.  Good, thirty-minute meetings are useful for coordinating a team each week, but otherwise, let people get on with their day and get their work done.
  • Ocarina of Time Soundtrack Review” – This post about the legendary Ocarina of Time soundtrack doesn’t have much to do with time as a concept, but it music is all about the placement of beautiful notes—harmonies and melodies—against the canvas of time.  Pretty poetic, eh?
  • New Mustang is a Sign of the Times” (and “TBT: New Mustang is a Sign of the Times“) – No Mustang should ever be an electric vehicle.  That’s pretty much the gist of this piece, and the concept that everything is awesome is in decline.  I hope I’m wrong, but, c’mon—don’t make a Mustang into an electric car.
  • Five Dollar Friday: The Elites and a Giant Clock” – I’ll be honest, this was a post where I was really grasping for some content.  I’m intrigued by the gigantic, ten-thousand year clock Bezos is funding in the desert, though, and what it says about our elites.

Well, that’s it.  Take some time—giggity—to relax today.  Enjoy the sunshine!

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Tip The Portly Politico:  Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

***NOTEThis link is NOT a subscription to my SubscribeStar Page; it is for a one-time donation/tip via PayPal. To subscribe to my SubscribeStar page, use this URL:   https://subscribestar.com/the-portly-politico***

Lazy Sunday LXVI: Video Games

Happy Father’s Day!  A big thanks to my dad for all of his support (he occasionally posts comments on the blog, and generously and paternally subscribes to my SubscribeStar page).  I thought about doing some kind of Father’s Day theme for this edition of Lazy Sunday, but I opted to go the easier route.

Thanks to my dad’s hard work, his three sons grew up in middle class luxury playing video games.  Granted, back in the old days you pretty much had to pick one console—Nintendo or Sega (we were a Nintendo Family, as all good and decent people were in 1990—although we did love playing our cousins’ Sega Genesis) and you got maybe one or two games a year, so that meant lots of swapping and borrowing games.  It was always a treat to borrow Super Mario Brothers 3 from our other cousins.

So with that clumsy tie-in to Father’s Day, here are some posts about video games:

  • Fallout 76 Announcement Increases Tourism to West Virginia” – Fallout 76, a massively-multiplayer iteration of the traditionally single-player RPG series, ended up being a massive flop.  But it was pretty cool that the game takes place in West Virginia.  Recent Fallout installments took place in Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and (I think) Boston—all interesting settings, but exploring a post-apocalyptic rural area always seemed intriguing.  How would South Carolina hold up compared to San Francisco (better, I imagine).  Fallout 76 at least promised players the opportunity to explore that question, albeit in an extremely botched way.
  • Hustlin’: Minecraft Camp 2019” (and “TBT: Hustlin’: Minecraft Camp 2019“) – Due to my prolonged illness, I had to miss out on my beloved Minecraft Camp this year (and an estimated $1475 in gross earnings—a hard blow to yours portly, so feel free to ease the pain by subscribing to my SubscribeStar page).  Minecraft is a fun game—I liken it to LEGOs on a computer—that encourages open-ended exploration and creativity.  It has some boss battles, but there are no real objectives; you make your own.  Minecraft Camp is always fun for creating little projects and goals for the campers, and my counselors always hide little treasure chests and create “side quests” for the students.  It’s a game for young and old alike, and I highly recommend it.
  • SimEarth” – I started playing this a few weeks ago (around the time I got sick) using the DOS emulator DOS Box.  Like Minecraft, the objectives are pretty open-ended:  develop life, guide it to intelligence, then get that intelligence smart enough to vacate so another life-form has a chance to dominate.  I found I struggled to develop my planets (although I knew what I was doing as a thirteen-year old, I’ve apparently lost my world-building mojo in the intervening twenty-two years), and that just leaving the simulation to run on its own tended to lead to better results than any fiddling around I did.

That’s it for today.  Enjoy a good meal with your dad—and maybe play some games with him.

Happy Father’s Day!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

TBT: Hustlin’: Minecraft Camp 2019

It’s been a week to talk about video games (I even found a downloadable version of SimEarth that runs in DOSBox, which is one of the nerdier sentences ever written), and my annual Minecraft Camp is less than two weeks away, The Virus permitting.  As such, I thought I’d look back to last summer’s post about camp for this week’s TBT.

The post mostly goes into some of my side gigs, and talks about the weather (we had a blessedly pleasant spring this year, unlike 2019).  My private lessons have died down a bit due to The Virus, but I’m hoping to get those going again soon.

That’s about it by way of preamble.  I’m still recovering from the after effects of this little stomach bug.  The plumbing is fine, but I’m still a bit weak.  Hopefully I’ll be 100% by the time you read this post, and posts will get back to their usual quality soon enough.

With that, here is 2019’s “Hustlin’: Minecraft Camp 2019“:

The June slump has hit, as people are less interested in news and politics and going outside.  It’s been a gorgeous few days here in South Carolina.  I left the house Wednesday morning and it was cold.

For non-Southerners, allow me to explain:  here in the Deep South, our only true season is summer, which runs from late March through Thanksgiving.  I’ve seen people mow their lawns a week before Christmas.  If we’re lucky we get a mild summer.  After an oppressively muggy May, a morning in the low 60s is a blessed reprieve here in the Palmetto State.

But talking about the weather is probably why my numbers are down, so I’ll move on to another non-politics-related topic:  my penchant for hustlin’.  Readers know that I have a few gigs running at any time, including private music lessons, adjunct teaching, my History of Conservative Thought summer course, and playing shows.  I also paint classrooms and do sweaty manly maintenance work at my little school when I’m not molding minds.  And while it doesn’t pay anything yet, I’m hoping to get a few bucks for my writing.

But perhaps my favorite side gig is an annual tradition:  my school’s annual Minecraft Camp.  A former school administrator started the camp, and I’ve carried it on for some years now.

For the uninitiated, Minecraft is basically LEGOs in video game form.  The genius creation of programmer Markus Persson, the game places players in a massive sandbox world, with the objective being… anything!  There are no timers (other than a day and night cycle), no goals, and no ending.  Players generate a theoretically endless world from scratch, and proceed to build—craft—their way to civilization (or endless PVP battles).

Players can activate Creative Mode, which allows for endless flights of fancy, with access to every block and resource in the game, or they can play in Survival, which is exactly what it sounds like:  players hide from (or fight) monsters at night, hunt for or grow food, and have to keep their health up.

Minecraft has enjoyed ubiquity since its release in 2011—it’s the best-selling video game of all time—and when we started Minecraft Camp back in the day (I think it was summer 2013 or 2014, but I’m not sure), it was HUGE.  The game has inspired probably tens of thousands of mods, from simple additions like extra monsters or types of blocks, to total conversions that completely rebuild the game’s mechanics.

With the rise of Fortnite a year ago, the game seemed to wane in popularity, but it’s apparently enjoying a resurgence:  our camp was up to twelve Crafters from a low of about four or five last year.  It gets absolutely chaotic at times—like during our final camp PVP battle, and a hectic boss fight against a gigantic, camper-created Creeper named “Creeperzilla,” that saw kids shouting nearly at the top of their lungs with unabashed glee—but it’s also beautiful to see the creativity of young children.  I am constantly amazed to see what they create.

And, let’s face it, there are worse ways to make an extra buck than playing video games with a group of creative eight-to-thirteen-year olds.  It definitely beats raking up old pine straw and spraying Roundup on cracks in the parking lot.

You can check out our camp’s blog here:  https://tbcsminecraft.wordpress.com/