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/

SimEarth

Yesterday I wrote about SimRefinery, the oil refinery software lost to time (I’m praying it’s sitting on a long-forgotten floppy disk somewhere).  What I didn’t tell you was that I had succumbed to a mild but annoying stomach virus, so I was essentially useless for the rest of the day.

Of course, what better way to spend one’s time when sick than with video games?  After writing about SimEarth and doing some nostalgic reading about the world-building simulator, I tracked down a playable DOS version.  A helpful commenter also linked to the game’s 200-plus-page manual, which is necessary for accessing the game.  Anyone familiar with 1990s-era computer technology will recall that, in order to prevent piracy, games would often ask users to look up some piece of information buried in the manual, the theory being that if you owned the game legally, you’d have the manual.

During this sickly walk down memory lane, I realized how much I had forgotten about SimEarth.  The game is more complicated than I remember.  It’s not that deep, but what makes it difficult is balancing all the different inputs to your planet—the amount of sunlight, how much of that sunlight is reflected by the clouds and the surface, how much cloud cover to have, how quickly animals mutate and reproduce, how frequently meteors strike the surface, etc., etc.

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SimEverything

Summer Break is approaching, which means unstructured time, our most precious resource.  I plan on using that time to work on some long-delayed eBooks—including one on Christmas carols—and to teach my History of Conservative Thought course.  I’m also hoping to rebuild my music lesson empire after The Virus sacked the imperial capital.  There will also be lot of family time built in.

In addition to all of those wholesome and productive activities, there is also the siren song of video games.  Video games can become a major time sink (I’m learning that with Stellaris), but they’re a good way to unwind, and require a bit more focus and decision-making than passively consuming television.

One of the major video games meta-series of my youth were the various Sim games from Maxis—SimCitySimEarthSimAnt, etc. (I had a particular fondness for the scope and breadth of SimEarth, which I obtained on a bootlegged 3.5″ floppy disk from my buddy Arun in high school, back before I knew about or respected intellectual property rights).  The sandbox style in play, which encouraged experimentation and open-ended decision-making, really made those Maxis games fun (not unlike Minecraft, which also encourages exploration and free play).

So it was with great interest—and a heavy dose of nostalgia—that I read “When SimCity got serious:  the story of Maxis Business Simulations and SimRefinery” on The Obscuritory, a website dedicated to exploring games lost, forgotten, and never played.

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Nintendo Labo Piano

Apologies for the late post today.  I spent the day with my niece and nephews (all under five) playing—and working on this piano:

My family was and is a Nintendo Family.  Kids today don’t appreciate the Console Wars, but in the late 80s/early 90s, you pretty much had to pick a side—Nintendo or Sega.  You had to make the choice because, outside of some rare exceptions, your family couldn’t afford both.  Even if you could, it wasn’t cost-effective:  a Nintendo cartridge alone would run maybe $40 or $50 in 1990.

So we fell on the Nintendo side (our cool next door neighbors, from Wisconsin, were Team Nintendo, too).  Our nerdier-but-still-cool-to-us neighbors across the street were a Sega family.  Crossing Ridgemont Drive was like visiting another country that was sort of like your own, but different enough to be noticeable, and to stir up fond feelings for your own tribe—like visiting Canada.

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Thalassocracy

The Internet is a funny thing.  Anyone that’s ever gone down a Wikipedia hole realizes that, pretty soon, that one thing you needed to look up can turn into a two-hour deep dive into barely-related topics.

It’s also weird.  There’s so much content—so much that we can’t really quantify it—you’re bound to stumble upon something interesting.  It is, perhaps, a sad commentary of the human condition that, given unlimited access to information and knowledge, we use the Internet primarily for mundane purposes, and frequent the same dozen websites everyday.

Of course, that’s also the problem of abundance.  People can’t handle that many choices, and there are only so many spare hours to cram in unorganized knowledge.

That’s how I came to stumble upon the topic of today’s post, thalassocracy, or “rule by the sea.”  I recently purchased a very nerdy space exploration strategy game called Stellaris (itself a recommendation from a member of Milo’s Telegram chat).  Stellaris has a steep learning curve, so it’s a game that basically requires the player to do homework to figure out what they’re doing (my race of peaceful, space-faring platypus people has surely suffered from my ignorance).

That homework assignment (no, seriously, it’s a fun game!) sent me down a rabbit hole on the game’s wiki, and one of the in-game events involves a group called the Bemat Thalassocracy.  I’d never heard the term before, and searched out its meaning.  That brought me to a website called Friesian, which is apparently a site promoting the philosophy of Jakob Friederich Fries, an eighteenth-century philosopher opposed to that ponderous windbag Hegel.  The website dates back to 1996, when it began as a community college website.

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Cybertruck

Last week, troubled electric automaker Tesla announced Elon Musk’s latest brainchild, the Cybertruck.  The Cybertruck—the name of which I am sure is meant to evoke the dystopian sci-fi genre cyperpunk—features a rolled steel and titanium exoskeleton that looks like a Nintendo 64 polygonal rendering of an automobile.

It’s unorthodox design aside, I honestly can’t make up my mind on whether or not I like this vehicle.  Last week I lamented the new electric Mustang, not because it is electric, but because it’s a hatchback.  The title of that piece was “New Mustang is a Sign of the Times,” and my point was that everything awesome seems to be deteriorating.

Does the Tesla Cybertruck fit that trend?  Is it a horrible monstrosity?  Or is it a daringly original vehicle?

I’m not sure.

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Gig Day III: Spooktacular

It’s been a pretty wild week; by “wild,” I mean that I’ve spent most of my time during the day working, only to stay up too late playing Heroes of Hammerwatch ($11.99 on Steam), a grinding rogue-like, with my brother and friends.  Talk about burning the candles at both ends.  I also just finished grading a massive stack of quizzes—just in time for a massive stack of tests to rise in their place.

Grading papers is a bit like the mythical hydra in that regard—lop off a few heads, and dozens take their places.  It is easily my least favorite part of the teaching profession.

Regardless, the wild week is going to end on a spooktacular note:  tonight I’m dusting off the keyboard and, for the first time in a few months, playing one of my legendary (and legendarily poorly-attended) coffee shop concerts.

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Happy Labor Day 2019!

It’s Labor Day here in the United States, a day to celebrate the hardworking men and women that make our country great.  Yes, I’m sure a holiday engineered by labor unions (like the radical nineteenth-century union the Knights of Labor) has some seedy progressive origins, but I think we can all appreciate a Monday off.

It’s been a pleasant weekend here at the Casa de Portly.  All the ambitious plans to grade and catch up on work predictably flew out the window, and I’ve gotten loads of much-needed rest.  My hacking cough is virtually gone, and I’m feeling rested and relaxed—a rare sensation for yours portly.

I also rediscovered a fun little turn-based strategy game that has devoured some of my time this weekend:  Delve Deeper, from Lunar Giant.  You manage a team of five dwarfs as they “delve deeper” (get it?) into critter-infested mines, all while competing against other, AI-controlled teams to mine and loot the most treasure.  It’s simple and not exceptionally deep, but it’s quite fun.

I’ve also played some Left 4 Dead 2 with the boys, and watched the heartbreaking finale of the USC-UNC game.  Knocking off top-seeded Alabama in a couple of weeks is looking less and less likely.  Ugh…—but Go Cocks!

That’s it for today.  We’ll be back to history, politics, and the culture wars tomorrow.  For now, enjoy some downtime with your family, and try not to think about the collapse of Western civilization for at least one three-day weekend.

Your portly,

TPP