Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Emergent RPGs

Hey, Chris here. I've been writing a lot about role-playing games recently, and while I'm by no means an expert, I thought I'd note down here my vision for RPGs in the future, just in case it actually happens. With so many open-world and sandbox games these days, I think the next step in RPGs is games with procedurally generated NPCs, quests, towns, and worlds. When each player has their own unique world and story, I think there will be much more room for attachment and emotion, knowing that you're the only one experiencing your particular world. There would be emergent stories as NPCs with assorted personality traits lived and struggled. You would help a particular individual or kingdom because you wanted to, rather than being assigned to do so by a quest.

The game in my head draws from many existing games, and more-- the procedurally generated landscape of Minecraft, the individually unique and surprisingly engaging characters of Crusader Kings II, the randomly generated boss names of Torchlight, and many others. I don't know how exactly a game like this would be made, but I do think it would be possible. Replay value would be huge, of course. Just see how many times people play Spelunky.

My guess is that within ten years, this post will either seem hilariously misguided or strangely uncanny. In the former case, leave a comment with what is actually happening in gaming. In the latter case, I'll probably be reposting this all over the social media in joyous glee. For the meantime, I'll just sit back and see what happens.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Science Facts: High-speed Poaching

In 2012, a cheetah completed a 100-meter dash in 5.95 seconds, beating the human record (9.58 seconds) by 3.63 seconds, the record time for loading 8 rounds into a shotgun and firing the first shot. The exact implications of this are unclear, but I'll let you put two and two together.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Number 45

It's been a bit more than a month since I started blogging, and I've certainly enjoyed it so far. For the past few weeks, I've been able to post just about every day, but I'm anticipating a busy semester coming up, resulting in a new plan-- I'll still write and post daily, but some entries will be shorter than others. That way, I reason, and can keep a good flow of information while still having some quality pieces, rather than spreading myself thin with a requirement to make every post at least two paragraphs. I'm still experimenting here, so feel free to give me any more advice for this blog, and thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Screenshot of the day: Runescape

Infiltrating the palace of Al Kharid *mission impossible theme*.
Runescape is an MMORPG that is more massive than many. I probably shouldn't count how many hours I spent in Runescape in my junior year of highschool. This week, though, I wrote an article on Runescape's player-player economy, specifically related to virtual fishing and cooking. I decided that I needed to spend at least some time in game to do so. I started a new account today, and power-leveled my character,
'Fisherman_Ed' to level 50 fishing and cooking. Runescape is great fun, but it is, when you get down to it, a huge mountain of busy-work surrounding the gems that are achievements and high-level content. The system works, though, and it's a very satisfying accomplishment to have a high-level character.

After spending a few hours clicking on fishing spots and reading while I wait for something to happen, and then another hour cooking all the fish I caught, the reasons I stopped playing Runescape are coming back to me. It's an incredibly engaging game with a lot of appeal, but in the end, I personally don't get any benefit from it. I don't have any friends that play Runescape, so it's just a game of making numbers go higher. While that's great for a day, it's not worth the ultimate investment of time for me.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Unstable Internet

Hey, Benjamin here. The internet is a bit unstable where I'm at right now, so I don't have much time to write this. 2013 has been a great year for me, and I've learned a lot of new things, and changed in some interesting ways. I've been thinking a lot lately, and I think it's time to tell the world that

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Screenshot of the Day: Crayon Physics

A triangle works as well, actually.
Crayon Physics is a physics puzzle game in which the player draws objects to get the red ball to the yellow star. It's a pretty simple concept, and much of the joy in Crayon Physics is in its simplicity, but the puzzles, especially the more advanced ones, are both fun to play and make you feel smart upon solving them.
The art is very nice, keeping with a simple theme. Interestingly, I've found that this is a great game to play with other people. It's incredibly easy to learn, but engaging enough to keep the attention of onlookers, who will no doubt be shouting advice and grabbing the mouse from you as the levels get more difficult. Crayon Physics is a game for simple fun and simple learning.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Mirror's Eye

There was upon a time a man who saw
That while a man was he but not to draw
For mirror saw him in the eye a flaw
As saw he mirror straight ahead once more

"Sing for he the mirror by did stare his self within the eye"

Stood forth, that man, who while he 'jacent stood
To burnished glass and less than burnished wood
Now gazed a pupil bearing this well good:
Look not for but to stand and say once more

"Sing for he the mirror by did stare his self within the eye"

But why for he the hurricane did pass
And not pick up the man below; alas
Did shriek above as man regarded fast
His self within the mirror's glass once more

"Sing for he the mirror by did stare his self within the eye"

Monday, December 23, 2013

Screenshot of the Day: Neverwinter

Apparently halflings can have sideburns, but not beards.
Neverwinter is an MMORPG, not to be confused with Neverwinter Nights, a great RPG set in the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms. Neverwinter is also set in the Forgotten Realms (The Sword Coast of Faerun, to be exact), but includes MMO elements and days. 'Neverwinter' is also the name of Neverwinter's main city, a trend carried over from Baldur's Gate.

Anyways, I've launched into the massively multiplayer online world of Neverwinter playing as a lawful good halfling cleric. Almost all of Neverwinter's systems are based on D&D, so combat centers around basic attacks, medium powers you use once or twice in an encounter, and 'daily' powers-- big guns that you only bring out when things are most dire.

So far, I've enjoyed wandering around the world of Neverwinter. There's so much to do in the starting city (Neverwinter)  that I actually haven't left Neverwinter at all since I started playing Neverwinter. Questing can be less than satisfying, but the loot and new powers make it all worth it. 'Professions' allow you to build up a commercial empire, aided by an auction house and various guilds. I still have much to learn and much to see, and while it's impossible to 'finish' an MMO, I'm trying my best to experience all the Neverwinter has to offer.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Attending a Museum

Hi, Benjamin here. In this very conclusive time of year, I have another retrospective blog post topic: my job as museum gallery attendant. It's a work-study position that I'm very happy to have gotten, and for the first few weeks of work at the beginning of the semester, I thought it was pretty intellectual to have a job as a 'gallery attendant.' Over time, though, and as I got tired of always being around the same old sculptures and artifacts, I realized that I was actually just a museum guard.

I wondered briefly if the displays would come to life in the night, but I soon became engaged with the 'game' that all of us museum guards played. The thing is, when nobody is in the gallery that an attendant is in, the attendant is allowed to sit down. Whenever there is a guest in the room, though, the attendant has to be standing up.

I found myself learning to stand up and adopt a blank, yet slightly intimidating gaze in about two seconds, and to tell by the volume of footsteps on the stairs how soon visitors will be entering the gallery. I would adopt a strategic position that allowed me to rest against a wall while not getting in the way of any visitors or blocking the view of any display. The sitting down periods mostly involved reading while making sure there were no visitors about to walk in on me.

There were three general sorts of day at the museum-- days with visitors all day, with hardly any visitors at all, and days with visitors on and off. The alternating on-and-off was probably the most stressful, with constant changes is stance. Days with no visitors were the best, basically getting paid to sit and read, but it was actually days with visitors all the time that I think were the most interesting. Standing in one place for an hour, then moving to a slightly different spot for another hour because some inquisitive patron wanted to see who contributed money to the exhibit. I would enter a sort of higher state of daydreaming, thinking about all that was going on in my life and planning out the rest of the day. I would lose track of time until some Art History student would start taking pictures of the maps of Rome and I would have to go over and say, "Excuse, me, no photos in this gallery, please."

I feel like I've learned a lot from my work at the museum. It's an interesting job about only about once every other day, but there's something to be said for learning to stand motionless for long periods of time.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Grocery Shopping

Having moved off-campus, I've had to set foot in a grocery store for the first time in months. I am spending Christmas with my family, which means we buy whole wheat bread instead of white bread, but I enjoy wandering around with a shopping cart even if it isn't half-full of boxes of Poptarts. I've compiled here both Chris's and Benjamin's ways of shopping.

First of all, when pushing a cart, it's all about maneuverability. It's a beautiful thing to make a sharp turn between two coolers of frozen dinners without scraping either one. I like to look for deals while keeping meals in mind. Pre-cooked lasagna on sale? Go for it. The time in-between meager serving sizes can easily be filled with snacks, so a jar of peanut butter and something to spread it on is also in order. Potato chips are finished far too quickly to make them worth the purchase. Lastly, I take a look at that one stand of gift cards near the checkout-- not that I ever buy gift cards, but there's something I really like about looking at a piece of plastic that can be used to buy a meal for four at Applebee's. Now that we're on the subject, money is pretty subjective, isn't it?

Is cheese on the list? No? Might as well go by the dairy isle anyways. Just looking at all the different types of fancy cheese available makes me feel more cultured. Maybe someday I'll buy a block of brie. And some saltines. When I get down to the actual purchasing, scratch ingredients are where it's at. I could buy a medium-sized pizza for five dollars, but if I get a bag of flour and some tomato sauce, I can make my own pizza for so much less. Potatoes, onions, and pasta... so many ounces of nourishment for so few dollar bills. Snacks? How about some oats, or a can of Spam? On the way out, I pass by the deli, just to remind myself that there is fancy food out there. There will come a day when I buy a sandwich at a grocery store, but it is not this day.

Friday, December 20, 2013

More Skyrim Screenshots

Hey, Chris here. I haven't had much time for gaming in the past few days, but the game I'll be getting back to as soon as more time opens up is Skyrim. As I mentioned before, I've just barely gotten started in this huge open-world RPG, but I have been increasingly amazed by the beautiful environments Skyrim realizes, thanks in part to its great graphics. I especially enjoy the woodcutting.

Such firewood. Much cut. Wow.

It's hard to fight and take screenshots at the same time.

And... home sweet home.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Smooth Operator

Hey, Benjamin here. It was about a thirty-minute walk to the bus station this morning, through cold weather, but with my brother's good company. I was happy to get out of the cold when the shuttle arrived, and found my seat amidst a handful of other people commuting to Emory.

Just as we started out of the station, the black bus driver introduced himself over the intercom-- "Good morning, everyone. Today you're riding with the Smooth Operator. That's me." (Read these lines in the voice of Morgan Freeman to experience the full effect.) "This is the last, I repeat, the last Wednesday this bus will be running this year. Next Wednesday is what? Christmas. After that is what? New Years. You're on the last bus on a Wednesday until twenty-fourteen. Isn't that something?" My paraphrase breaks down here, but the Smooth Operator went on to talk about how much he liked his bus route, wishing everyone happy holidays. "Make sure your Christmas is merry, not scary."

When I finished work and took the shuttle back home, it was still the Smooth Operator driving. He actually remembered me from the morning trip and greeted me. The trip back from Emory was much the same as the trip to, and the Smooth Operator had the whole bus laughing and smiling. My commute wasn't a big part of my day, but it was very special. That bus driver probably has no idea that someone's writing a blog about him, but I'd like to thank him for making everyone's day just a little bit better.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top 5 Games of Fall 2013

Hey, Chris here. Benjamin reflected yesterday on things he's learned this semester, and in the same vein, I'd like to list the five video games I've spent the most time playing this past few months. These aren't necessarily the best games I've played, but there has to be some correlation, right? Right? I got the statistics from my Steam account, so they're precise, if not accurate (woo hoo for statistics).

5. Half-Life 2 (16 hours)
In some ways, I've been trying to catch up on video game history this semester. I had often seen Half-Life 2 as one of the best, if not the best, shooter ever made. From what I can tell, it certainly earns that title. I enjoyed an engaging story in a dystopian world with some of the scariest horror and most fast-paced action I've ever experienced in a video game.

4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (20 hours)
Skyrim came out in 2011, but it still tops selling charts on steam whenever it goes on sale. It's not just a sandbox RPG, it's the sandbox RPG, providing the player with a world full of possibility and adventure. I actually only purchased Skyrim in late November, and while it's already one of my most-played games on Steam for this semester, I've barely scratched the surface of this great open world.

3. Team Fortress 2 (31 hours)
Half-Life 2 had great action, but to get that exciting shooty experience all the time, I've gotten into Valve's online multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2. With nine classes that present nine different ways to play, Team Fortress 2 somehow manages to hold everything together to produce an experience that's over-the-top cartoon action and team-based strategy at the same time. Playing with people from all over the world just adds another level of interest and hilarity.

2. Crusader Kings 2 (41 hours)
Power, conflict, and intrigue-- Crusader Kings 2 is a game that lets you rule in medieval Europe in whichever way you see fit. While gameplay is largely based on different menus and statistics covering a map of the Western World, I began to care about individual members of my ruling dynasty, and it wasn't long before I was submerged in the major and minor struggles of individuals in a world full of danger and opportunity.

1. Dragon Age Origins (97 hours)
Well isn't that something. I enjoy, to some extent at least, most of the games I play. Dragon Age Origins is one of the few games I've not only enjoyed, but gotten into to an almost unhealthy extent. The main game took me approximately sixty hours to complete with my noble warrior character. When I got to the conclusion, I decided I didn't like the way the ending turned out in relation to my character. There was only one thing to do-- I played another sixty hours or so with a mage and made different choices (Steam didn't record some of my session times). In some ways, I regret having spent so many hours in one game, but the dark atmosphere, epic story, and difficult choices of Dragon Age Origins made my experience one I'll always remember, if not repeat. I often say that Dungeon Siege is my RPG, but Dragon Age Origins is what has really shaped my recent experience of role-playing.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The End of a Semester

Hi, Benjamin here. I suppose I'm officially finished with my first semester at Emory-- my last exam is finished and my dorm room has been cleaned  up. I'll have more reflections later, but for now, I look back at a semester full of new experiences and learning, both in and out of the classroom. It's been a good few months.

For now, though, I'll just list one thing I've learned from each class:

Latin-- Language reflects elements of culture. Or is it the other way around?
Biology-- When it comes to some parts of life, scientists have no idea what's going on.
Chemistry-- Structure determines function.
Great Cities of the Middle East-- Geography is the framework from which a city adapts.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Screenshot of the Day: Bit.Trip Runner

I have obtained the 8-bit sparkles.
Bit.Trip Runner can be described as a rhythm platformer-- you run constantly forwards, jumping, sliding, and swinging to avoid obstacles. What makes this running game special is that, in my opinion, it integrates music into gameplay better than almost any other game I can think of. Games like Audiosurf and Rockband also have music as a central mechanic, but whereas the soundtrack in these games determines your experience, in Bit.Trip Runner, it is your experience that shapes and change the music. Obstacles require you to jump in time with the beat, and collecting bars of gold as you run adds new notes to the tune. The only purpose for powerups (besides improving total score) is to kick the background music up to the next level. As bad as I am at running and jumping games, I'll play levels of Bit.Trip Runner over and over just for the music. Bit.Trip Runner is exceedingly simple, but what it does, it does well.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Day of Writing

Hi, Benjamin here. I've just finished a day of writing, so what you're seeing here is the last few blobs of today's toothpaste tube of creativity. Comparing creativity to toothpaste actually just took so much out of me that I have to write in cold, mechanical language for the rest of this post.
alarm[0] = 1100;
awake = 0;
if time = 1427
awake = 1;
energy = 100;
if awake = 1 and energy > 10
energy -= 1;
energy += 1;
That's about it. I did manage to finish all eight pages of the paper, and after that Chris spent an hour or so writing the next installment in RPG Weekly (you're welcome, Chris). All in all, it's been a surprisingly productive day.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Screenshot of the Day: Fallout

They won't let me back in.
Fallout is a post-apocalyptic turn-based RPG. This might seem like a strange combination, but I'm surprised by how fast it grew on me. Fallout is also a classic, in that I barely made it out of the first map alive and died in the second. It's surprising, though, how immersive a world can be with aged graphics and turn-based combat where a grown man with a gun can easily be taken down by a few rats. Admittedly, it took me several minutes to figure out how to actually shoot, but once I found my trigger finger, I was impressed by the ability to choose whether you want to shoot the nearest rat in the head, or aim for the back left leg. I should probably admit now that I haven't yet gotten past fighting rats. Besides brushing up on my RPG history, the main reason I acquired Fallout (and Fallout 2) was that they were temporarily both free on good old games (.com). If you're reading this in the eight hours after posting time, they'll still be free: http://www.gog.com/game/fallout. From what I've seen of Fallout so far, I recommend it, adding my meager stamp of approval to all the stamps that have come before.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More Niche Jokes With Benjamin

One exam down, three more to go. Here are some of the it-was-funny-at-the-time products of my past few days of studying:

Why didn't the lysosome function when it saw the net equation of photosynthesis?
It was too basic.

Why was the Latin verb telling everyone what to do?
It was in a bad mood.

What's the difference between a rotating metronome placed on a stack of worksheets and a stressed student?
The metronome always turns in assignments on time.

That last one is slightly depressing, so I think I'll get back to studying now. Things are going well, but I'll be glad when these exams are finished.

UPDATE: Have to add this gem from someoldjokes.tumblr.com:

From Cambridge Jests: Or, Witty Alarums for Melancholy Spirits by a Lover of Ha, Ha, He, 1721

That book title, though.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Job Applications

Hey, Chris here. Over the past couple months, I've probably applied for about twenty freelance video game journalism jobs, and I'm beginning to pick up some patterns in the wording of job posts. Here are a few of my favorites and what they mean:

"We are a rapidly growing website" = "We just started up and hardly have any visitors"
"You will gain valuable experience" = "Don't expect to get paid"
"We have a friendly environment" = "You'll probably have to edit your own articles"
"As the site grows, opportunities for payment will arise" = "Don't get your hopes up"
"We are dedicated to high-quality writing" = "We actually have an editor"
"Review copies will be available" = "We sometimes get indie games for free"

To be fair, I've only been working with sites like this for two months, and it is possible that bundles of money start rolling in around the third month. Overall, I've greatly enjoyed doing freelance writing, though there was that one time an editor added a grammar mistake to my article.

As an aside, my character in Skyrim has just enrolled in the College of Winterhold (CoW?). Here's a picture of his dorm room:

I have to say it's a bit larger than my room in reality. Much more grim, though-- that's a human skull on the bedside table.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Walking on Autopilot

Hi, Benjamin here. As I took a walk this afternoon, having finished my last class, I realized that I've acquired the ability to go from my dorm room to CVS and back almost on autopilot. It would be too extreme to say that I was surprised when I found myself walking back to campus with a bagful of peanut butter crackers, but I was definitely operating on two different levels.

In some ways, this is a good example of how much I've settled in here at Emory. I've cemented in my mind pathways between classes that I can walk while barely conscious, which comes in handy when I wake up ten minutes before Latin. I've grown accustomed to the campus through these past few months, and in the same way, I think I've developed into a college student. I definitely don't fit all of the stereotypes, but after completing about one eighth of my university experience, I think I'm hitting my stride. There's a lot more to come. For now, I'll just share a riddle:

"I met a man carrying two packages of peanut butter crackers on the way to CVS. Each package contained six smaller packages, and each smaller package contained four crackers. Each cracker was made of two biscuits, and each biscuit had about one milliliter of peanut butter spread on it. How many milliliters of peanut butter did I meet on the way to St Ives?"

None-- I was going to my local CVS, not St Ives.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Onion Soup

It's gotten cold enough here in Atlanta that I've begun to have to wear a coat in addition to the sweaters that have sustained me through the past couple months. To add to the mood, a cold drizzle was falling all day today. I'm hoping for more cheerful weather for tomorrow, my last day of classes this semester, but for now, I'll just share this recipe for onion soup.

4 T oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 onions, sliced
1 tsp salt
4 C broth

Fry onions in garlic and oil. Add broth and salt and boil until onions are soft.

As I look around my room now, though, I realize that I would have to implement some substitutions if I wanted to make onion soup right now:

1 packet salad dressing
1 handful potato chips, crushed
1 C oats
4 C canned lemonade

Fry oats in salad dressing. Add lemonade and potato chips and boil until oats are soft.

Lemonade is at least a bit like broth, isn't it? Same concept, at least. Maybe my standards in food have been lowered this semester.

Monday, December 9, 2013

RPG Column

Hi, Chris here. In the past few months, I've been sending out dozens of applications to write for various gaming websites. Most times I don't even hear back from the potential employers, but last week, I got a very interesting job at corruptedcartridge.com. Rather than the usual business of scouring social media for gaming news each day or playing through obscure indie games and writing reviews, I'll be writing a weekly column on RPG games, how they work, and why they're fun. Ever since my first game of DnD, role-playing games have been an exciting topic for me, and now I get to expose thousands of people to my opinions.  Just so I don't get too excited, though, this particular job doesn't involve monetary compensation.
The link to my column can be found on the Variant Minds sidebar, but I'll  give it here as well: http://corruptedcartridge.com/category/features/rpg-weekly/. There will be a new installment every weekend. Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Studying for Exams

Hey, Benjamin here. Exams are coming up this week, so while Chris is faffing about writing game reviews, I'm studying. In high school, I thought about studying the way I thought about vaccinations-- a short procedure to defend against worst-case scenarios. I've had to make a few adjustments for college in order to avoid the 'Other Freshman Fifteen'-- a fifteen percent decrease in your average test grade.

First of all, I've learned to talk to professors. In the small high school I went to, it wasn't hard to develop friendly relationships with teachers, but in classes containing scores of people, it's important to make sure your professor knows you, not so they can unfairly increase your grade, but so they can give you advice on how to approach the material they're teaching and study for the exam they're writing.

I've also tried to make it a habit to study for each class on a weekly basis, not just when there's an exam coming up. I also make sure I study until I understand everything, or at least almost everything. This can be a lot of work, so I prioritize study. Biology and Chemistry are coming first this semester, and, at the other end of the spectrum, it's a rare week that I study for Health.

Finally, I'm studying with other people. It makes learning a lot more interesting, and for me at least, keeps things more focused. Combined mind power can also solve questions quicker, and the one who understood a concept better can explain to the others. These aren't perfect steps, but they've kept me afloat in this semester of new things. I would write more, but I have to study.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Video Game Music

Hi, Chris here. Today, in honor of replacing my slightly broken earbuds, I thought I'd go over some of my favorite video game music. Music is, for the most part, a background thing in games, but it contributes to the atmosphere and emotion of an experience in so many ways. I'll put a YouTube link for each song so you can experience the aural beauty of these pieces for yourself.

Dragon Age Origins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWFEVbfCcOY
Epic music, but with a dark lilt that characterizes the world of Dragon Age beautifully. Fortunately for me, my computer was slow enough that the initial loading screen lasted approximately three minutes, allowing me to hear the theme in full each time I booted the game up.

SimCity 3000: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ctc_gXbkBO4
This piece thrums along with industry, making me want to build a grid of roads or install plumbing and electricity systems. I have so many memories of SimCity, and this theme song captures so much of what made it great.

The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3EOibiVzq4
This theme speaks of majesty and a suit of dented armor. Forests and mountains, Oblivion contained a world as beautiful as it was expansive.

Plants vs Zombies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rJ8AqRiNcU
It must be difficult to have music be simultaneously cheerful and eerie, but Plants vs Zombies pulls it off well. The idea of sinister subject matter portrayed in a playful light is woven throughout both the game and its music.

Dungeon Siege: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7aYfjE8h48
Those who know me well will know that Dungeon Siege is the game I enjoy beyond rational reason, and the music is no exception. Nothing tells me that an adventure is about to start like the dynamic theme music that first plays as you leave your burning farm. Incidentally, for this reason, I often loop the Dungeon Siege Theme over and over when getting into something new. Like college.

These themes listed here are only a few of the pieces I've enjoyed throughout the years, and that's only video game music. If this goes well, I'll probably burden you all with my favorite classical or film music. So much to listen to, so little time.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Trivia Night

Hey, Benjamin here. I've just noticed that Chris has posted two 'Screenshot of the Day' segments back to back, so I thought I'd put up something else for those of you not interested in video games (also to convince my parents that I do things besides stare at my computer). Yesterday evening, I went out with some friends for a night of pub trivia (I drank water, parents). It was a healthy experience for showing me how much I didn't know, but I'll go ahead and paraphrase the questions I had a confident answer for.

What lead role does actor Nathan Fillion play in a current TV show?

In the North American edition of Clue, he's called Mr. Body. His name in the original version was Dr. ____

In the Hunger Games, what District 11 tribute uses a sling?

The Roman name for this goddess was Victoria. What was her Greek name?

Richard Castle. (Thanks, Luke.)

Black. I suggested Dr. 'Black' in passing, but I agreed with my team that that was a preposterous suggestion, so we decided on answering Dr. 'X'. The answer ended up being 'Black', and in retrospect, it makes sense.

Rue-- the only other District 11 tribute was Thresh, and I can't see him using a sling. Not that I've read The Hunger Games. I've actually never picked up the book and don't know anything about them at all.

Nike. All the major Greek goddesses had Roman names that weren't Victoria. Given that Nike was the goddess of victory, there was a pretty logical connection.

All in all, a pretty good night. I also learned that sand dollars are called 'snapper biscuits' in New Zealand.

Screenshot of the Day: Half-Life 2 Episode 1

I did that.
Half-Life 2 Episode 1-- an FPS probably more accurately titled 'Half-Life 2: A Series of Unfortunate Events'. In the picture here, I'm holding the standard pistol, seeing as I used up all my other ammunition in a zombie horror sequence underground. Long story short, my flashlight ran out of batteries just as the undead closed in around me. It's been a thrilling ride, and I've found I can't handle more than half an hour or so at a time. I'm often asked myself why I keep coming back for more, and I think the answer is that the Half-Life series engages me as few other games can, flowing smoothly while still exposing me to new situations, telling a captivating story while never taking control away in a cutscene. It's a solid, immersive experience that's not likely to be replicated any time soon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Midnight Snacks

I'd like to share some more recipes, but given that my dorm's occasionally-less-than-fully-stocked kitchen is three floors below me, I haven't been taking up the old saucepan 'n spicerack very often. In lieu of anything wholesome or elegant, here are a few midnight snacks I've frequented through the past couple years.

1. Handful of Edibles
Here's a dilemna: you're in your room late at night, approximately twelve seconds away from the kitchen. You're slightly hungry, but there's no guarantee that there will be snackable food available at the end of your expedition. Is it worth journeying across the cold floors of dark rooms just to check for food? Many factors are involved in this question, such as hunger level, availability of light sources, and time elapsed since last scary movie viewing. For those few, those brave who make it to the kitchen, here are the instructions:

-Find container of edible objects
-Remove objects from container and consume

2. Bread and Hot Dog Fry
A relatively simple recipe developed by myself at the height of my midnight snackery, taking more time to prepare, but totally worth it in the end:

-Melt 2 tablespoons of margarine in a small frying pan
-Place a slice of white bread in the pan, flipping it to let the margarine soak into both sides
-Cut a hot dog in half lengthwise and fry it alongside the bread
-Remove bread from pan and spread ketchup or hp sauce on it
-Place hot dog halves on bread and consume

3. Bowl of Oats
I have yet to find the perfect midnight snack for my college self, but for the meantime, I've purchased a large quantity of discount oats:

-Put dry oats in bowl
-Consider making something nice, like oatmeal with sugar, or oat granola
-Decide that you have so many other things to do with your time
-Eat the oats

I'm hoping for a time when I can cook and eat quality food on a regular basis, but looking back at this list, I see that that time is probably far in the future. Now excuse me while I find some more edible objects.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Screenshot of the Day: Skyrim

This is with the graphics on 'low'.
I know I'm incredibly late to the Skyrim bandwagon, but after years of waiting, I took advantage of the Steam Autumn sale in order to get what is lauded as one of the best sandbox RPGs of all time. I haven't gotten very far through the game, seeing as I have exams coming up, but so far I'm just astounded at the beauty of the world of Skyrim. Simple, intuitive controls and solid combat are a plus, but I'd almost be happy just running around these hills picking flowers and catching butterflies (which is incredibly hard when you're playing with a touchpad, I should add). I'll probably come back with another Skyrim screenshot a few months from now when I've finished the main quest, or at least gotten a bit further along, but for now I simply invite you to gaze upon this scene of mountainous beauty. If you squint a little, it looks like real life, but that's a dangerous path to go down.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thoughts by Benjamin

Hey, Benjamin here, and I apologize in advance for this post. It's almost 2 in the morning, but I think that if I start making exceptions to posting once a day, I'll never get back to it (shoutout to Thud! by Terry Pratchett). I'll just leave you with a few thoughts from my temporarily sleep-deprived mind:

-Photos are like really good paintings done by a machine.
-Would it be cheaper to coat a floor with nickels or dollar bills?
-The public transportation in Atlanta might be better if MARTA had a loop route as well as a big plus sign.
-The more I try to think of something to say, the less things to say I think of.
-My computer can beat me at chess, but I can beat it in a physical fight.

That's it, save for one more thing: after reading the title of this post, I feel that 'Thoughts' should be trademarked and made into a line of overpriced headphones.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mesopotamia Meets Skyrim

Hi, Chris here. After Benjamin's spiel about history yesterday, I thought I should repair some of his high-minded damage and show that ancient Mesopotamia is interesting even if you don't like all the archaeological things he was talking about. So therefore, having just bought The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in the Autumn Steam Sale, I will attempt to transcribe here my Dovakhiin's exploits in epic Sumerian fashion.

Of Cadoc I will say two things;
Of the son of Odo I will say three.
His arm is like a strong wall;
His flank like the wall of a mighty fortress;
His eyes are like those of the eagle.
Who surpasses him in strength?
Who surpasses Cadoc in strength of arms?

The men of Cyrodiil captured him;
The soldiers of Cyrodiil bound him fast.
He opened his mouth and said "Who is it that captures me?"
"Who is it that binds my hands with many ropes?"
"Who is it that takes me to the place of execution?"
Verily they placed his head upon the block;
Verily the soldiers of Cyrodiil placed his neck upon the cutting place.
Cadoc bared his neck for the axe, for who will not call him brave?
Who will say to him "I am your better?"
Cadoc extended his neck, and made peace with his gods.

I've just realized that it's taken me two stanzas to get partway through a simplified version of the first five-minute cutscene. I'll stop here, but I have to say that everything does seem to sound more epic when repeated two or three times. Or is that just me?

Humanity in Ancient Ur

Hi, Benjamin here. Thanks to my Middle Eastern History class,  I've been reading through archaeological accounts of Ur, a great city in ancient Mesopotamia. I expected a dull read, but was surprised by the accessibility of what I found. I've paraphrased the most interesting bit:
When kings or queens died in ancient Ur, they would be buried along with a couple dozen of their court, attendants to help them in the next life. Whether this was a voluntary act is a bit unclear, but the sacrifice of the courtiers was most likely not violent, in any case. In one tomb, almost all the female attendants had gold or silver ribbons in their hair, but one was found with a coil of silver ribbon still in the folds of her decayed robes. It seems that this particular woman was late to the death ceremony, possibly hurrying off in the morning without taking the time to put the ribbon in her hair. She ended up never getting around to it.
History can often be boring or distant, but it's things like these that keep me engaged. Not the macabre human sacrifice, but the realization that people in ancient Mesopotamia were also human. They made mistakes and had feelings just like us.
I'm not going to convince everyone to enjoy history lessons, but I hope that we can begin to consider the past not as a list of dates and names, but as a series of people with pride, hatred, curiosity, greed, and everything else that comes with being human.
As an aside, my history courses have seared on my mind the ultimate evil of quoting or even mentioning a source without having a bibliography, so here you go:
Woolley, Leonard. Ur of the Chaldees. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1952.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Screenshot of the Day: Garry's Mod

Yes, that is Dr. Kliener balancing in a bathtub, holding balloons and a car while surrounded by zombies.
If there's one thing I know about this 'game', it's that I'm not using it to it's full potential. Garry's mod is a sandbox of Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, and Counter-strike assets that can be used for making mods, videos, or pretty much anything you want. My favorite activity is seeing how many helium balloons it takes to lift an airboat full of subdued antlions, but I guess that shows how cultured I am.

Airplane Drinks

Hey, Benjamin here. I'm slightly dazed from a day of travel, but Chris can't think of anything useful right now, which leaves the daily post to me. Let's just get straight down to it. Here's why I always drink tomato juice when I'm on an airplane:
Water is too plain. Sure, you can ask for a cup of water and a cup of something else, but getting just water by itself is like going to a fancy restaurant and only eating the little crackers that come with the soup.
Orange juice can be too sour and rough on the throat. This varies from airline to airline, but is it really worth risking your laryngeal, pharyngeal, glottal, and tracheal comfort for a breakfast drink? (Confession time, I just googled 'throat adjective') That little cart of refreshment isn't going to come by again for another half hour at least.
Apple juice is a safe bet, but if you're taking an overnight flight and go to sleep after imbibing the juices of the apple, you may wake up with a sour or bitter taste in your mouth. I do, at least.
Coca-cola used to be my fall-back option on planes, as it was one drink they were sure to have, but it is in the same class as apple juice- prepare to wake up with gritty teeth.
I don't get alcohol because I'm underage, in some places at least. More importantly, I wouldn't know what to ask for. This terrifying conversation has played out in my mind too many times:
Me: I would like some wine.
Flight Attendant: What kind of wine?
Me: Uh... wine. I would like some wine.
Flight Attendant: I'm sorry, I didn't catch that.
Me: Wine?
Flight Attendant: You don't have any sense of culture, do you? Here, here's some milk in a sippy cup. I'll bring a coloring book if you're extra good.
Because of all this and more, I ask for tomato juice. It's definitely not something I get every day, so it makes flying more special. Sometimes you get salt and pepper or hot sauce in your juice, and you can feel classy stirring your drink and staring out the window. And slightly less classy as you start to eat the ice cubes, one by one. Or is that just me?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Screenshot of the Day: Cave Story

Four wasps and one insignificant sprite with a pea-shooter.
Today I went on a brief foray into difficult-2D-platformer-land and was reminded why I don't play these games. Cave story isn't exactly unforgiving, but it's no Mahatma Gandhi either. Great precision and timing is required to jump from platform to platform while shooting at enemies, and while this may be perfect for some, it isn't exactly my cup of tea. The music is quite good, though, so after a while I just gave up and sat at the menu screen with the volume turned up.

Exit Part 4

Exit sighed and picked up his bucket as Captain Loophole scrambled back up the ladder to the steering platform. Captain Loophole’s ship, Knotleaguer, was not the biggest or best, but it did have almost nothing special about it. It had been built in the year 2201 using the most modern of techniques, and was made not of wood, but of a synthetic compound that looked, smelled, and felt exactly like wood, and had the exact same structure down to the atomic level. Captain Loophole had paid extra for creak. The sails were likewise on the cutting edge of technology, one of many products produced after the invention of cotton cloth, a monumental discovery that had taken place in the midst of a series of strange disappearances and murders of museum curators. Captain Loophole was always one to try things that had never been tried before, so it was with pride that he sailed Knotleaguer in what once were the seven seas, but became the nine seas for indistinct cartographical reasons. Every day wasn’t filled with adventure, but there were some that weren’t.
            Tim and Exit scrubbed the deck as they did every day. It was a monotonous task made more interesting by the oddities of the wood. Exit was fascinated by the swirls and spots painstakingly formed on the synthetic planks. He called over to Tim. “There’s a splotch here that looks like South America.”
            Tim set his bucket down and sidled over to examine the mark. “It looks a bit like a splotch on a bit of wood.”
            Exit hadn’t considered that before. “Yeah… a lot like it…”
            “Spitting image, almost.”
            “Excepting that wood doesn’t spit.”
            “Doesn’t have to, the image is doing that already.”
            “Hold on a moment, that is a splotch on a bit of wood. Something can’t just look like itself!”
            “How’s that?”
            “You’ve seen the catalogs, Tim. You even bought that pair of trousers.”
            “Now when you put it like that…” Tim broke off, gazing out across the water. “What’s that in the distance?”
            “Looks like… um…”
            Tim’s eyes lit up. “Looks like a splotch on a bit of wood.”
            Exit nodded. “There you go. Hit it on the spot.”

            “That’s South America, fellows!” yelled Captain Loophole. “We’re landing in Buenos Aires before sundown!” The ship creaked and rocked as he fiddled with the wheel. “LAND HOOOO!” Tim upended his bucket on his head out of excitement. Buenos Aires was known best for one thing: being the capital of Argentina.

Monday, November 25, 2013

New Background

Hey, Chris here. I just finished putting together a new background and color scheme for the blog. I'm still new to how these things work, so let me know with a comment if the background is all one color or messed up in some way on your computer or browser. Just to make this post more worth reading, I'll add a joke.

What do DotA players call the wall around a retirement home? The fence of the ancients.

That was a pune, or play on words.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Commuter Shuttle of Contemplation

Hey, Benjamin here. As I ate my supper of cereal and pizza today, I began on a journey of thought that took me far, but ultimately nowhere. It went a little bit like this:

Hmn, here at college we have ID numbers just like people in concentration camps.
Actually, names are just like ID numbers using letters instead of numbers.
My cereal is getting soggy, but at the same time my pizza is getting cold. What do I eat first?
Names have meanings, though. Wait, it’s like that gestalt thing we learned in Psychology, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Also, if I alternate between eating a few bites of pizza and a few spoons of cereal, I’ll get the best of both worlds.
Alright, when someone calls my name, there is the energy of sound, but the call is more than mere noise. There’s a unit of meaning.
In fact, I can hold a cereal spoon in one hand and a piece of pizza in the other hand, thus eliminating the time gap produced by sustenance substitution.
Meaning can be both created and destroyed, so it can’t be either matter or energy. Maybe when a tree falls and there’s no one to hear it, there is sound, but not the sound of a tree falling, because there’s nobody to give the sound that meaning.

That’s right. Conundrum solved. I’m still not sure about that thing about trees falling in a forest, though…

Screenshot of the Day: Plants vs Zombies

All I can say is that I placed my squash too soon.
Plants vs Zombies is a sort of tower defense game. Most of the game involves cultivating a garden aggressive enough to defeat waves of assorted zombies. It's casual enough to play while carrying on a conversation, and if you have ten minutes to kill, it's better than waiting for Torchlight to boot up. Completing the Plants vs Zombies adventure mode is almost worth it just to see the music video at the credits. Or you can watch it here. It's worth a gander.

Edit: After watching the music video again, I take back everything I said about it being worth a gander.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Exit Part 3

"Wake up, Exit! This ship won't clean itself!"
            Exit groaned and rolled out of his bunk and peered around for the source of the wakeup call. Tim, who slept on the bunk above, was already dressed and standing by the door to the four-man cabin they shared with two other ship cleaners. Exit rubbed his eyes. "I just had a dream that I was in a coma."
            "That's just called sleeping, isn't it?"
            "Well, there was swing dancing involved... I think." Exit stood up and walked over to the dresser.
            "Now when you put it like that..." said Tim.
            "Something about a fish," mumble Exit as he pulled on his shirt.
            A few moments later, Tim and Exit emerged on deck, blinking in the sunlight. Captain Loophole was striding heavily to and fro across the creaking wooden steering platform, sails snapping in the wind above him. It was a while before he noticed Tim and Exit standing next to the mast, looking up at him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
            “Waiting to receive cleaning materials, sir,” said Exit, who considered saluting, but didn’t.
            Captain Loophole took off his tricorn hat and ran his fingers through his hair. “Ah yes! Where did I put those… ah yes.” He climbed down from the steering platform and seized two buckets. “Now watch carefully.” Captain Loophole took a few steps forward, holding up the buckets. “The buckets have now covered half the distance in their journey towards you.” He took another step forward. “They have now covered half the remaining distance.” Another, smaller step. “Half of the remaining half distance.” A small shuffle. “Another half.”
            Tim looked apprehensive. Captain Loophole was almost touching noses with him at this point, buckets still held high above his head. Captain Loophole turned to face Exit, then looked back at Tim again. “If I keep covering a half distance each time, what does this mean?”
            Exit had never studied Calculus, and neither had Tim, so there was an awkward silence before Tim mumbled “we never get the buckets and we don’t have to clean?”

            Captain Loophole shrieked with laughter as he flung the buckets down at their feet, sloshing water onto the deck. “No! It means one! Either that or you don’t exist! Now get to work! Hoo hoo!”

Simple Chili

I've just come to the end of a perspective-questioning day, thanks to my Biology class, and here comes the inevitable chili recipe (for what is the essential difference between man and chili?) I discovered that neither Benjamin nor Chris like cooking, so I'll be doing this post myself. To make a simple chili:
Combine in Saucepan:
- 1 can beans
- 1 cup ground beef
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium tomato
- What makes an onion medium except the size of its peers? Does this mean that the Chemistry test I took on Thursday should be curved?
Set the saucepan to cook over 'medium' heat.
Add spices. My 14-year-old self recommended:
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 spoons taco seasoning
- 2 spoons curry powder
- 1 spoon ketchup
- 1 spoon mustard
- 1 spoon salt
- Oregano, basil, cinnamon, and parsley to taste
- The culinary decisions of 14-year-self.
- That 14-year-old self did not specify whether to use teaspoons or tablespoons.
Stir ingredients and cook until 'done'. During this time, realize key differences between humanity and chili (eg. sentience, ability to love and be loved). Remove chili from heat and consume. Consider that curving test grades can lead to unhealthy competition between students. There's nothing like a simple chili to bring you back to reality.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Niche Jokes With Benjamin

Only take out a crossword puzzle if it would be socially acceptable to be using your phone in the same situation.

What did the ribosome say to the intron? tl;dr

My "unlimited" meal plan.

Screenshot of the Day: Team Fortress 2

My engineer's creations in Team Fortress 2. The ice statue is also me.
TF2 is an online FPS revolving around class-based combat. Of the nine classes, I've spent more than eight hours as a sniper and around one hour as each of the others. Recently, however, my mouse's right button stopped working, and not being able to use the right-click activated scope severely impeded my effectiveness. Finding another class to play after this has been an interesting experience- after skulking in shadows and for hours as a sniper, playing a soldier and bounding straight into combat felt very liberating.
Lately, I've been an engineer, supporting my team with dispensers, teleporters, and turrets. An engineer has to hang back and protect his buildings from enemy spies, so rather than the sniper perspective, always looking for a clear shot, or the soldier's experience, running around in the thick of things, I watch my teammates sprint by me into battle as I upgrade my turret. I hear explosions around the corner as my teammates sprint back just as quickly, often on fire. Every friend I heal, extinguish, or teleport has places to go and people to decapitate, but for a brief moment, there's a human connection. Either that, or I'm staying up too late. So long for now,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Exit Part 2

"We'll need you to sign here, Mrs. Exit's Mother."
            "I won't sign to pull the plug on my son's life support!"
            "I'm sorry, but there's no other option. You're bankrupt."
            "What about health insurance? We've been paying health insurance for ages!"
            "I'm sorry, Exit's insurance is voided by cause of him being injured." Exit opened his eyes as light flooded his vision again.
            "He's awake!" screeched his mother.
            "He's awake!" squealed the nurse.
            An old man on crutches poked his head in the door of Exit's hospital room. "He's awake!"
            "What happened?" asked Exit groggily.
            The old man spoke up. "Well, I used to go swing dancing when I was younger..."
            Exit's mother interuppted. "Not to you, to him, Frank! You were taking Melanie out on a date..."
            "Well, there's this one dance venue, lovely little place," the old man continued.
            "And you went to supper and had asparagus for the first time," said Exit's mother, glancing at the old man.
            "'The Fabulous', I think it was called."
            "It turns out you're allergic."
            "Either to swing dancing or to asparagus, but I was always nimble on my feet, you see..."
            "And when you were driving Melanie home..."
            "Who's Melanie? Anyways, nimble, but I had a nasty fall, you see."
            "And there was an accident."
            "I'll say."
            "You were in a coma. You're lucky to be alive."
            "So am I."

            Exit was still confused. "What happened to Melanie?" Exit's mother looked uncomfortable as she took a matchbox off the bedside table and placed it in Exit's hands. As he began to open the box, the room began to shake and the world dissolved again.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Exit Part 1

Exit was not actually always not an extraordinary boy. He had been not extraordinary Exit in the future, but was ordinarily not extraordinary Exit now. He was lying on his bedroll when an horn sounded. It was a while before Exit realized what it meant, that is to say, an. He was in the past, but that was impossible, so he was in the present in the past.
            With this realization, Exit sat up in his bed, which was a roll. He was lying, but actually now sitting in a field. Exit suddenly realized what a great opportunity he had. "Two plus two is fo-, I mean three," he said. Now he was lying while sitting in a field. Exit lay down again. "Two plus two is three." He was lying while lying, and... he looked around but there were no soap-making materials, so he sat up again.
            Exit was wondering what to do next when two men with pikes jogged up to him. "What are you doing here?" one asked.
            "I was doing maths..."
            "Don't you realize that Gustav and the Swedes are invading?"
            Exit had not realized it. "So you're here to defend Germany, than? I mean, then?"
            The second man sighed. "No, it's halfway through the thirty year's war and we've lost our taste for battle." He rested his pike on his shoulder as the first man spoke up again.
            "Yeah, we're just trying to sell these fish. Fresh caught, only three marks." He held out his pike for Exit to inspect.
            "There's not much meat on these," said Exit.
            "Course not, what're you supposed to eat on Fridays?"
            "People'd have our hides if we sold fish with meat."
            "Nine out of eight doctors recommend..." Suddenly, the world filled with light and went dark again. Exit began to hear new voices.

Introductions with Benjamin

Hello, my name is Benjamin and I'm a college student in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm studying biology, and I hope to be a teacher one day. I spend most of my time doing homework or working on projects, but I always enjoy a good book or movie when I have the time. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, especially if bacon is involved. I like to take walks, usually by myself, and think of the deeper things in life. I enjoy thinking about things in ways many people wouldn't consider. Recently, I've been working on the story of a boy called Exit, and I'll be posting parts of it from time to time. Hope you enjoy,

Meet and Greet with Chris

Hi, I'm Chris, a college student in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm probably going to major in biology, but in my free time, I'm a video game enthusiast and journalist. I stay up late and wake up late, and it's been weeks since I've had a real breakfast, actually. My room is pretty messy, but I don't mind as long as I can find my shoes. I like to relax, maybe kick back and drink coke while I watch YouTube videos. I spend a lot of time on the computer, but I'm always ready to go out and spend some time with my friends. I'll be posting screenshots and links to reviews of games I've been playing. Hope you enjoy,

Let's Get Started

Hi, I'm Micah Dettweiler, a college student in Atlanta, Georgia with a lot to think about. I'll be writing here what I'm thinking in the now, sometimes things I may look back on in the future and shake my head in shame. Because of this, I'll be placing all responsibility on two brave personalities: Benjamin and Chris. Spoiler alert: they're both me. I've probably let on too much already. Let it never be said, though, that Micah posted anything more controversial than a chile con carne recipe.