28 November 2013

Can It All Be So Simple

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated you to the state of my iOS game playing. Important stuff, I know. Since a few months ago, I’ve been burning through games. Some quickie reviews and recommends.

I was lauding Neuroshima Hex before but have now played it for many hours. It’s still great and a new expansion pack just tossed in more armies. Yeah it’s a little confusing to start but after you get the hang of it it’s really great. My only lament is that I can’t find any friends to play with me. Ahem. Also there don’t seem to be very many players online sadly.

The other two games that have seriously sucked up my time have been Ascension and Agricola. Ascension is a port of a physical collectible card game and it’s got an interesting spin on deck building. I got into it and then got REALLY into it once I realized there was a whole new level of playing that involved combos and infinite card runs. It reminded me of some of my finer Magic decks and I was hooked. Luckily I tore myself away from Ascension long enough to get super excited about Blizzard’s upcoming Hearthstone, which is basically their take on Magic. It’s gonna annihilate all the other collectible card games out on iOS probably, and I’m ready for that armageddon.

As for Agricola, I finally unearthed some of its mysteries and strategies. Since then I’ve spent more time than I’m willing to admit battling fellow farmers human and computer alike. I’ve learned which occupations work best for me, when to grab the wood over making an major improvement, and still I’m not that good in the big scheme of things. What I need is more friends to play with… sense a theme here? Basically Agricola is a worker placement game in the style of Settlers, sort of, but with no random chance. Anyway, let me just show off a screenshot from my finest game of Agricola yet, and revel in all those sheep, pigs, and cattle. It's not quite as fun as herding sheep on Playstation, but it's close.

Samurai Siege is a Clash of Clans clone that I was loathe to get into but it’s done so well and I actually kind of like the little samurai people. I’m giving it two weeks before I delete it, because I already did my time with Clash. Same principle applies to Tiny Death Star actually. I loved Tiny Tower and reskinning it with Star Wars is great, but only amusing for a bit. Two weeks and I’m out. Having little pixelated Stormtroopers running around in your building is kind of great though. As is the midi Star Wars music. Pocket Trains isn’t a reskin but it’s too similar to Pocket Planes to be fun. It just feels like playing the same thing again. No mas. Actually, speaking of Nimblebit, their Nimble Quest was a really great take on Snake but I didn’t play it that much after a few runs.

Stuff I tried but couldn’t get into: Summoner Wars, Ravenmark Mercenaries, War of Nations, Superbrothers, Pocket Heroes, any of the Arcane Empires / Kings of Camelot / Game of War freeminum stuff. The interfaces were a bit too clunky on those latter few and it was all the same game over and over. Ugh. Also, the awful Marvel War of Heroes game was such a disappointment. I wanted to get into something card collect-y but this wasn’t the answer. I guess I could try out Avengers Alliance to get my Marvel fix.

On the casual side of things, I still have Heads Up!, which I briefly mentioned here, and it’s always fun for a few minutes of party time. I recommend the category where you have to charades everything out. Makes for better videos.

My current casual obsession is Quiz Up, which is a super clean and well designed head-to-head trivia challenge game. (Sidenote: If someone can manage to make Quiz World for iOS, I’m done, I would never stop challenging people to mass games of trivia.) On my third game of Quiz Up, I took out the top ranked Philippines player in the Pop Songs category. I felt bad because well, you know, Philippines right now, but I secretly was wild with glory. Little did I know that would be my high mark. Apparently I know very little about dinosaurs, economics, myth & folklore, medical, and absolutely nothing about food. It's really time for me to start studying more. Come play Quiz Up with me. Trivia forever.

Also, somehow I've decided it's time to play Candy Crush. I fear its addictive qualities but am also curious why everyone is so into it. When JMZ started posting Instagrams of mysterious shit like this and being super excited about it, my interest was piqued. I'd read about the powers of Candy Crush's core loop but haven't experienced it first hand. Now I'm going to take the plunge. Wish me luck.

And these two are basically the same game but it was worth downloading Juice Cubes and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: Foodimal Frenzy just to see the anthropomorphic fruits. Playability lasted for about fifteen minutes though.

Back in September, my favorite iOS games site Pocket Tactics spun out a sister site focusing on PC games, Red Door Blue Key. I don’t even own a PC anymore and I still read this thing. Basically it just makes me think about what games I would play if I had a PC around. Similar to my "if I had an iPad I would totally play the hell out of Eclipse and XCOM" fantasies. In related dreams, someone get me an iPad mini for Christmas, thanks.

20 November 2013


Listening to: Iggy Azalea, “Beat Down.” Yeah it’s really only featuring Iggy and the artist is officially Steve Aoki and Angger Dimas but really, this song is about Iggy. I’m not sure how I missed her on her first turn around, but I’m in on her now though. I have a soft spot for these white female foul mouthed rappers. It’s horrible, I know.

I’m starting to think I should have a work diary. I know I already track way too much stuff, but it seems like a diary for ideas or writing or something would be useful. There’s a few bits from this talk by Maciej Ceglowski, “Thoreau 2.0,” from XOXO that I liked. Sidenote: What is XOXO, is this the new TED?
"The best piece of advice Thoreau ever got was from Emerson, who told him to keep a journal. And Thoreau did, for decades, using it as a personal diary, a record of his botanical and scientific observations, and a kind of staging ground for his serious writing. He would go back and mine it years later for passages to use in his work. I don't think everyone needs to keep a literary journal, but I think it's vital to keep a work diary, for three reasons…”
Anyway, I’m a big proponent of having a work document/diary for jobs, where you can follow along to what the previous person did, but I’ve never applied that to a creative enterprise. Could be time to start. Heck, this blog could be it, right here. All my million dollar ideas for free!

The few times I’ve had a real job before, I’ve always wondered why the people before me weren’t required to do a diary of some sort, to document processes, daily/weekly stumbling blocks, little things they picked up along the way. I always did it for myself, in the hopes of having it for later. It seems natural that you'd want your new employees to have this sort of history. Instead a lot of jobs just throw you in and basically the learning curve is the learning curve. So yeah, work diaries, let’s get on it. And for next year I'm gonna try to do a writing/creative diary. Making 2014 goals already, I'm so ahead of the curve.

A few months ago, a friend put me onto this Tumblr, Who Pays Writers, It’s an awesome resource and aside from learning exactly how paltry the pay for freelancing can be, it’s cool to have actual numbers for what publications pay. Now the people behind Who Pays Writers are putting out an e-magazine: Scratch. I love it already and am gonna subscribe because they do really cool things like being totally transparent, showing us their subscription trend line, and just overall being an amazing resource.
It’s NaNoWriMo time, well, nearing the end. I did it two years ago and I think I finished. Oh wait, yes I did, I was a winner. Woohoo. I should revisit that stuff to see what kind of crap I unloaded into Scrivener. Anyway, I recently read this 2003 interview with NaNoWriMo's head honch or whatnot. I’d been wondering how NaNoWriMo made money and now I know. Short answer: donations and T-shirts. I met an ex-producer of Pawn Stars once and he said that they made most of their money off selling show T-shirts. That's right, branded T-shirts run the world.
"This year we're looking at $35,885 in non-recoupable expenses, and another $24,900 in recoupable costs (like t-shirts). The financing of NaNo has gotten a little more tricky as the costs of the event have grown. Since I don't want to charge an entry fee and I'm dead set against taking ads, we depend on participant contributions (about 70% of the budget) and t-shirt sales (about 30% of the budget) to make ends meet. We have a $10 suggested donation for all participants, and make about $3 in profit per t-shirt (which goes right back into the organization)."
-NaNoWriMo Madness: An Interview with Chris Baty, The Man Behind the Curtain (2003)-
Something I don't get: Why is there no Goodreads for movies? I mean, seriously. (Netflix sort of used to do it before they killed off their social features.) Heck there should be a Goodreads for everything you consume. Is this so difficult? I’ve done some research into Goodreads for books and there's just no good options. If Amazon was willing to drop a couple hundred million for Goodreads, surely there’s at few startup bucks for Goodreads: Movie Edition right? Like I said, free million dollar ideas just pouring out of me. Maybe if Lilly and I can get our act together for fiftyfifty.me, we can take it to NaNoWriMo levels. Dare to dream people. Actually this month is NanoReadMo for me, as I'm so far behind on this year’s allotment of fifty books... My goal the rest of November is to clean up a book a day. Read hard.

Last thing, some book club friends recently told me about American Reader, which I've been sleeping on apparently. It also seems like Brooklyn Quarterly is somewhere up that alley. Try this excellent interview with Wayne Koestenbaum on for size. Where are the RSS readers for these things? I can't read something without RSS. It's a failing of mine. Oh and if you're into Hyperbole and a Half, here's an interesting conversation with Allie Brosh, "Writing, Depression and Learning How to Handle Attention: A Conversation."

10 November 2013

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Aug-Oct

Here we go with the late summer and fall edition of things I’ve seen/read. I’m already at seventy five movies watched, which is well on its way to a personal best. The books though, ahem. I’m only at sixteen. There’s a few half read books I need to go back to clean up, but it seems like I’m going to finish short of the fifty books mark. Wait, no! It’s only November, I can still make a big dent in the final tally and try to cram everything in. I don’t know what number Lilly is at but I anticipate another rushed last week of December with my nose buried in books and her throwing down movies by the handful.

The good news is that all the books I’ve managed to finish so far are gems. Fresh Off the Boat I’ve already gushed about. And I did the same for September Girls. While I was out in San Francisco, I was with Mary digging through Dog Eared Books and stumbled upon Justin Chin’s Mongrel. It’s a book of memoir-ish essays and the back cover says, “Mongrel is an exploration and distillation of the experiences and imagination of a gay Asian-American whose sensibilities were formed by the maelstrom of ‘80s American pop culture.” That description about covers it, and I was happy to discover Chin's work.
“Writing essays and opinion pieces are a strange thing for me…. I was always taught not to seek attention, not to argue, and not to challenge authority openly. So this collection of writings is a bit of a challenge for me…. If anything, this work, for me, is also a political stand. As Asians, and as Asians in America, we are so often not encouraged to claim authority, to claim an opinion…. With this book, I wanted to be able to do just that, cliam authority even knowing full well that I may be wrong. It never seemed to stop anyone else, so why not me?"
-Justin Chin, Mongrel-
And for book club, we read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. We had a meeting earlier this summer but it was postponed. It’s the story of an international romance, set between Nigeria, the United States, and England. Seeing as Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” was one of the best (and most viewed) TED talks around, it was a revelation to read her book and to see her work in action. Americanah was full of interesting, and hilarious, observations about race and blackness and I need more Adichie in my life right now.

As for the movie side of things. My three month MoviePass wrapped up, and that’s going to dramatically slow down my movies in theaters. It’s back to careful planning of which films to watch and lots of theater hopping. The three movies I’d definitely recommend without hesitation are Drinking Buddies, Enough Said, and 12 Years a Slave. Let’s go in reverse since I just saw 12 Years a Slave. I know some people aren’t down with watching depressing movies but 12 Years a Slave is near a must watch. Not just because everyone will be talking about it, or that it’s important, but also because it’s damn good. After you watch it, make sure to read Wesley Morris' incredible review, "The Song of Solomon The cultural crater of 12 Years a Slave."

I hadn’t seen any of Steve McQueen’s work until Shame but I think he seems to specialize in plumbing uncomfortable spaces. Hunger was about the 1981 IRA hunger strike. Shame was about sexual addiction. And now 12 Years a Slave. McQueen was a visual artist before and it shows through his movies. They are well composed and sparse, and they are definitely an experience. (I did see Shame a few weeks ago actually, but more on that later.) McQueen’s best move is probably to always have Michael Fassbender star in his films. In that, he only rivals Derek Cianfrance hitching his wagon to Ryan Gosling and Nicole Holofcener ride and dying with Catherine Keener in all of her films.

Speaking of, I’ve seen most of Holofcener’s movies and they are all fantastically great. As Slate Cultural Gabfest put it, they’re hoping the mainstream audience starts to view Holofcener like the female Woody Allen, and just line up for each new film she drops. Similar to (classic) Woody, Holofcener plumbs the same depths time and time again, each time emerging with another treasure. Enough Said is laugh out loud hilarious, as opposed to her usual work that is more a consistent series of chuckles. Starring the late James Gandolfini and an underrated Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I’ve been telling people to watch Enough Said as a Holofcener gateway.

And then there’s Drinking Buddies. I got wrapped up in the mumblecore thing when it was big and am excited whenever one of those directors puts something out. Drinking Buddies is Joe Swanberg’s most accessible movie by far and it’s really good. The theme is exploring the grey areas in a friendship/relationship, and it has likeable stars, a casual pace, and was the movie that’s motivating me to write again. I need to give it a rewatch to determine if it moves up to a personal favorite, to see if it holds up, but post first viewing I thought it was right up my alley.

Watching Prisoners took me down a nostalgic drive down to rewatch Se7en and Zodiac, and it’s filled with the perfect amount of tension. It doesn’t measure up to classic Fincher but it’s quite gripping. And man, I really wanted Spectacular Now to be amazing but it fell too short, without enough emotional density or affect. Too bad though, because the movie had a shot at greatness but ended up at settling in at slightly above average.

And whatever Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to do, I’ll support it. His Don Jon, a film he wrote/directed/starred in, is all sorts of fun. Co-star Scarlett Johansson makes a perfect Jersey Shore copycat. Gordon-Levitt's character is addicted to online porn; she’s enthralled by romantic comedies. And Tony Danza steals the show in his role as Jon’s dad. Movie pairing Don Jon with Shame a few days after was interesting too. Tackling similar topics but from very different perspectives and aesthetics. On first brush, I liked Don Jon better, but now that I’m super in on Steve McQueen, I want to review Shame again. Michael Fassbender is the best. Always. If they could somehow cram Brad Pitt and JGL into X-Men: Days of Future Past, that would be my Mt. Rushmore of actors all in one movie. Oh you saw the eye popping Days of Future Past trailer didn’t you?

Disappointments: I’m sorry, Fruitvale Station was laughably melodramatic. There’s nothing funny about Oscar Grant’s story, or what happened at Fruitvale Station, but the movie was all sorts of overrated. Don’t even get me started on Gravity, which was nice but not worthy of all the acclaim it’s getting. Also, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I walked out of The Grandmaster. Wong Kar Wei doing a kung fu movie should have been amazing but I was so over it an hour and a half in. I’m sorry Mr. Wong, I still love you but The Grandmaster was booooooring.

Alright winter, let’s get ready to read some books. My goal is to get to ten books this month. Anything else would be uncivilized.