Planetary Mnemonic Update

Since they’re changing the rules on me, I need a new mnemonic to remember the names of the planets. This one is mine and mine alone. “My Very Earnest Mother, Camille, Just Served Us Nine Pickles (Cornichons, eXactly).” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Charon, Xena)

For the Record, RIP

I found out today that my favorite record store of all time closed last month. For the Record in Amerhst MA was everything a local record store should be. It had good prices (always cheaper than retail), a wide selection in all areas of music, not just the usual mindless micro-genres of pop music that most places have. You could walk in on any given day and find something unusual and wonderful no matter where your interests might lie. Read On →

Age of New Super Mario Empires Master Chief

It is mid-August, which means one thing. I’m killing time waiting for the next Madden. I’ve been doing this with a mix of old and new and new-old games. Madden 2006 I still pick this up and play it once in a while, especially on the PSP. The game appeals to me because running is too easy and the human-controlled defense is too good. This means I spend most of my time winning. Read On →

i digestivi funzionano bene

Some time ago, you may recall that we reviewed Italian amari, liqueurs that are believed to help aid the digestion. Our panel reviewed these beverages solely from the perspective of taste. Tonight, I had a somewhat overwhelming dinner, and I can report that, in fact, amari do work wonderfully as digestivi. So three cheers for the ragazzi buoni who make Amaro Montenegro.

Short Food Questions

I find myself confronted by the same food questions over and over again. Here are a few that have been bothering me lately. 1. I was in a rest stop on the turnpike yesterday. I bought a coke out of a vending machine. The coke was warm. This is not an uncommon occurrence these days. What kind of cruel world do we live in where cokes you buy out of a cooler or vending machine are warm? Read On →

Worms: Open Warfare DS picoreview

It took me exactly 3 minutes to decide that I hated this game and never wanted to play it again.

Cointreau vs. Grand Marnier Knife Fight

In preparation for an article on making a decent Margarita, I picked up a bottle of Cointreau (pronounced [kwan’-tro]). Since I can talk about booze for hours on end, let’s divert from the Margarita discussion to talk about orange flavored liqueurs. I had actually never tasted Cointreau “bare” before, whereas Grand Marnier is an old favorite of mine. It was interesting. For drinking neat, the Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge wins hands down: it’s silkier, and has more body, and the cognac base gives it a more complex flavor. Read On →

Fried Rice

Fried rice, to me, is the Chinese American Macaroni and Cheese. When I think of the quick and lazy food of my childhood, it’s always fried rice. Egg fried rice, fried rice with the little Chinese sausages, fried rice with sliced up hot dogs (really!). The sad thing is, I was never very good at making it, and restaurant fried rice usually is not the same. Lately though, through no concious effort on my part, my fried rice has gotten better. Read On →

PTD #10

Issue number 10 of played.todeath is out. I have a few articles in this month’s issue: Retrograde: Nethack, my favorite rogue-like game, on page 19. Indiescene: Styrateg, a nice little Fire Emblem clone. Page 23. What might be the worst game of the year so far, NFL Head Coach, page 83. …and there are, of course, hundreds of other articles by people who are almost as good looking as me. Download the magazine here (PDF, 20 Mb).

The Cars Make the Man

What we drive speaks volumes about us. But sometimes, the message that we think we’re giving off isn’t the message everyone hears. The Car | The Owner Thinks | Everyone Else Thinks —|—|— Any minivan | “I am a responsible mother, dedicated to the safety of my children.” | “These annoying breeders are everywhere.” Any SUV | “I am not driving a minivan. See this car? Not a minivan. It cost twice as much, because it is definitely not a minivan.” | “Great. Read On →

I Tried

I tried. I gave it my best shot. I believe I have given the game a fair shake, a reasonable evaluation window, a nice long looking over. Intelligent people who generally seem right about these things told me it was a good game, and I desparately wanted to agree with them. But I can’t. The plain, hard, awful truth is, no matter how hard I try, I can’t like NCAA 2007 on the 360. Read On →

No Lawyer Nibs

For this afternoon, a short meditation on one of modern life’s stupidities. I write this rant in my head every time I have to take the wheel off my bike. Here is why. All modern bicycles use a quick-release mechanism to attach the wheel to the bike. By modern, I mean all bikes made after 1930 or so when a small company called Campagnolo in Italy invented it. The quick-release works using a spring-loaded lever. Read On →

Exchange Addiction

I have a problem. I’ve gotten into the habit of killing time in Squirrel Hill by visiting The Exchange, a local store mentioned before. Harmless, right? On its own it would be, except that every time I enter the store I find something that I just have to have. In my last 4 visits to the Exchange I have not once walked away empty handed. A few recent acquisitions: 1) A blue PS2 controller. Read On →

Developer Interview: Auto Assault MMO

In May, I reviewed the Auto Assault Trading Card Game for Played To Death. As part of the prep for that, I interviewed Scott Martins at Worlds Apart. Questons are in italics. Auto Assault shares a lot of visual similarities with Star Chamber. My presumption is that there’s some degree of code-sharing going on, but often in development code-sharing is easier to talk about than to actually do. How abstracted is the engine underlying both games? Read On →

Beyond Alton Brown

A while ago I posted my recipe for making yogurt, in which I slavishly imitated Alton Brown’s stern admonition to not heat the milk past 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Last week I made a bonehead mistake while making my regular batch of yogurt; I turned off the alarm on the probe thermometer, but forgot to turn off the heat on the milk. As a result, I ended up boiling my milk and cream mixture for about 15 minutes. Read On →

Flop Shot

A few years ago I flew from New York to San Diego. I was travelling a lot for work at the time, and had amassed a Croesian number of frequent flyer miles, so I turned them in for an upgrade to first class. This resulted in my sitting next to a doctor, a surgeon. True to the stereotype, this surgeon loved golf. How do I know that this surgeon loved golf? Read On →

Small Details

Today I am happy because I can again use a utility that I had been deprived of for the last few months. Liteswitch X has always been a fixture on my Macs. Originally, it provided features in a keyboard app switcher that the Dock did not. Later, I kept using it just because I was used to it. But I stopped using it when I got an Intel Mac because there was no Universal version of the Preferences panel, so I had to wean myself off of the tool. Read On →

Going Solo

Yesterday Floyd Landis was cooked. 10K from the top of the last climb, he looked up the road completely helpless as the group he was riding in rode away from him. You could see in his face and his body that he had no way to follow, no energy left in his legs. The bike practically stood still. He lost 10 minutes in those last 10K, and, it seemed, the Tour. Read On →

Secrets of Da Vinci

Most games are mediocre. This isn’t, I think, a huge surprise to anyone, but it does at least offer one great hope: that you’ll start playing a game and find that it’s better than you expected it to be. This happened to me recently with Secrets of Da Vinci: The Forbidden Manuscript. Not to be confused with the book, movie, and game The Da Vinci Code. As I believe I’ve let slip before, I’m a sucker for the Myst series of games. Read On →

A Few Old Games

For the last couple of weeks, my attention deficit disorder led me to play some games which I had collected but not yet finished. When this happens, I typically pick up Zelda: Wind Waker, spend half an hour scanning a walkthrough to figure out where I left off, and then spend another hour re-learning all the game’s little control quirks. At this point, I sail around a bit, make some progress in the game, sail around some more, and then eventually get stuck in a dungeon. Read On →

Wheels On Fire

Tonight I helped a friend change a tire on his car. I was calm, efficient, and helpful, and we got the tire changed in under 10 minutes. The funny part about this is that I know that if it had been my car, I would have anxiously dithered around for a half hour before working up the will to fix the problem. Car repair is a talent, and I don’t have it. Read On →

Distinguished Peters

Recently we have become aware that some readers of the blog have difficulty telling the two Petes, peterb and psu, apart. Here’s a handy reference guide for when you have trouble. peterb: Wannabe Italian poseur. psu: Wannabe French poseur. peterb: Pokes fun at himself. psu: Pokes fun at peterb. psu: Buys too many videogames and then doesn’t play them. peterb: Buys too many videogames, installs them, and then doesn’t play them. Read On →

Another Day, Another Bad Game

I picked up Condemned: Criminal Origins a while back, and gave it another try tonight. This game was written up rather favorably when the 360 launched. Yet more evidence that the gaming press has their head up their collective ass. Let’s list the number of things that this game gets wrong. 1. So dark I have to run with the flashlight 100% of the time. OOOooooo, such creepy atmosphere. 2. Number of different enemy types in the first two hours of gameplay: 1. Read On →

The Sick-In-Bed Reading List

I’ve been laid up with a bug for the past few days. This, coupled with my recent vacation, has allowed me to catch up on my reading list. Here’s what I’ve been reading recently. Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town. Yeah, yeah, I know. Doctorow is a sanctimonious prick on his weblog, but this was actually pretty good. It would have been better if he had just eliminated all the chapters on wireless internet, though. Read On →

Advanced Stage Hobbyist Consumption Syndrome

I’ve been buying games I probably won’t play lately. I should be clear. It’s not that I might play them. I won’t. To you, this might seem irrational, even insane. But I recognize that it’s the natural progression of my psyche through the stages of my latest hobby of consumption. Stage 1: Denial Things always start slow. I tell myself I’m not really interested and don’t have the time. For example, I tell myself that a point and shoot is a fine camera, and I don’t need the complexity of a real camera. Read On →

Whole Stupid

For tonight, a rumination on some old news. You may recall that a few weeks ago, Whole Foods announced that it would no longer carry any live lobster and crabs at its fish counters. The reason given for this new policy was that Whole Foods had painstakingly studied every aspect of the live shellfish supply chain, and they decided that it was inhumane. This is exactly the sort of pudding-brained ethics that makes me glad that there is a Trader Joe’s coming to town. Read On →

The Design of Everyday Games

I’ve been playing a lot of Advance Wars lately. It is a perfect little gem of a game, and I’d like to use it to make some points about good game design. Good game design increases richness, but eliminates complexity. Good game design emphasizes content over form. And, all things being equal, good game design favors mainstream technology over the cutting edge. I actually travelled back in a time a bit, and played the very first of the series, Famicom Wars for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Read On →

On Earth As It Is At Dinner But Not South of Hadrian's Wall

or: why the best restaurants in London are all ethnic food. You’ve been learning to actually cook food, with recipes that don’t start with “remove foil wrapper from cup”. Phrases like “gently braise” suddenly and inexplicably combine with a shocking lack of calls to Domino’s Pizza. Yet half your cooking seems to come out like some demented cardboard pudding. I’m here today to explain the problem. The problem is the British empire. Read On →

Little Games in Pretty Boxes

As those of you who care may have surmised, I, along with psu, picked up a Nintendo DS Lite the other week. The original DS was, unfortunately, not actually worth owning. It had some clever games and nice ideas, but was wrapped up in a package about as appealing as a Radio Shack employee’s cash register. It was clunky, and too big, and the screen was too dim. The DS Lite looks like something that was made by Apple. Read On →

DS Lite

I had pretty much decided to get a DS when the Lite hit earlier this summer. One of my co-workers had imported one a few months ago, and the new form of the device is pretty irresistible. Of course, I also had to keep up with Pete. Where the original DS was fat, clunky, and full of sharp edges, the new DS is like an iPod that plays games. Soft lines, a shiny white exterior, and a new screen which is wonderfully bright indoors (although useless outdoors) round out the brilliant industrial design. Read On →

The Witch In Love

I took a few books with me on vacation. One of them was an Italian novel called La strega innamorata, (“The witch in love”). It’s funny, and quirky, and easy to read, even for someone whose language skills are as rusty as mine. And every time I picked up the book, it did me the favor of reminding me that I should pour myself a glass of what might be my favorite digestivo, Liquore Strega. Read On →

Ice Cream Sandwich

One curious constant in the American food tradition dating back at least as far back as I can remember is the neighborhood ice cream truck. These small white vans are similar in shape to a mail truck, but much more festive. They play a happy song as they move down the street, and the colorful pictures on their bodies promise an irresistable selection of sweet confection. As far as I can tell, these trucks are the same everywhere. Read On →

Advance Wars DS Picoreview

Can’t write – too busy playing Advance Wars DS.

A Hill of Beans

Recently, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback, both privately and on the site about the state of the local coffee scene. I am always happy to get this kind of information, since it never hurts to have new places to try. But, one aspect of these messages has been puzzling. Over and over again, the advocate of the new place will say “you have to go to Café XYZ, they use these special Moon Beans from the Outer Rings of Venus, which Rule.” With all due respect, this is nonsense. Read On →

The Soul of A New Machine

I read The Soul of a New Machine for the first time when I was in high school. It is the best book I have ever read about computers. It is one reason I ended up working in software engineering. If you have not read this book, you should go and buy it now, and read it, and then come back here. Ready? OK. Since you have now read the book, I don’t have to tell you that it chronicles the development of a mini-computer by a company called Data General at the end of the 1970s. Read On →

Chris Crawford's Games Sucked

Every so often I mean to write an article about how Chris Crawford doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s pretty impressive, in some ways: his book on game design, for example, is practically a manual on how to write a sucky game. And Crawford keeps inspiring me to write this article because every time he opens his mouth (or uncaps his pen) he says stupid things. Lots of people have weighed in on the meat of Crawford’s latest musings on how the game industry is moribund and uncreative, and I’m not particularly interested in tackling them. Read On →

A Real Conversation

Both psu and I obtained Nintendo DS Lites this week, along with Animal Crossing. We actually had this conversation on iChat yesterday: me: MY NOOK LOAN IS PAID OFF. But i feel empty inside. psu: Me too. OK. We can sell the game now. me: I keep going back to Nook’s shop, but I can’t find any weapons to kill the townsfolk. If that Chow talks to me one more time I’m going to stuff him and donate him to the museum. Read On →

Torment and Friends

I’ve spent the last month dabbling with Planescape from time to time on the laptop. I’m not quite all the way through, but I think I’ve played enough to say a bit more. My overall opinion of the game has not changed since writing my first impressions. I think it’s clearly the best of the classic “western” RPGs that I’ve played from the 1990s. I’ve toyed around with these games ever since I finished KOTOR. Read On →

Commandos Battle Pack

I am an impatient soul. This expresses itself in inconvenient ways when I am playing games that reward patience and timing. In grand strategy games, for example, I’ll carefully marshall my resources, start moving troops into position, and then perhaps six or seven turns too early I’ll get bored and say to myself “Well, maybe if I just send all my tanks rushing in I’ll win.” And, of course, I never do. Read On →

The Burr Under My Saddle

This week I’m on vacation. While preparing for the trip, I had an interesting Shopping Moment that I’d like to share. The moment involves coffee, as so many of them do. [Still Life With Coffee I’m at the supermarket, and I’m going through my shopping list, and I get to the coffee aisle and realize that I’m going to need some. So I’m staring at my options – they even had a fair trade blend, which I ended up getting and may complain about later – and I grab a package of coffee. Read On →

I Shot Bambi

Nature photography can be frustrating. It’s typically very hard to get close to wild animals. Hardcore nature photographers thus often use tripods, blinds, and very long lenses. This combination lets them create images that seem impossibly close up from hundreds of feet away. I’m too cheap to buy any of these lenses. They usually cost thousands of dollars and are too heavy to lug around casually. So the only animals I can usually get closeups of are either dead, domesticated, or exceedingly stupid. Read On →

Three For The Road

Volume 2, Issue 9 of played.todeath has been released, and within its labyrinthine PDF you will find not one but three of my articles. Read them, love them, and then send hate mail. They include: Indie Scene: Auto Assault Trading Card Game (page 8), a review of World’s Apart’s followon to Star Chamber and cross-marketing effort with NCSoft. The Elder Scrolls I: Arena (page 15). For those of you who just can’t get enough of Oblivion, you can find out exactly what made me give up and buy the Xbox 360. Read On →

The Bad Seed

On my block, I’m the Bad Neighbor. Oh, I’m not terrible or anything. I’m nice to people, and polite, and I don’t have my car on blocks in the front yard. Nor do I blast music at 3 in the morning, or hang out on the porch getting drunk and whistling at neighborhood girls. But I’m the Bad Neighbor for one very simple reason: my lawn is terrible, and I don’t care. Read On →

Picoreview Haiku

It’s been a busy time so our collective brain hasn’t had a lot of room to generate content for the site. But, we have been playing a few new games recently, so, here are some short impressions, in the by now very cliched Haiku style. Final Fantasy X Big hair, bigger sword Walk from cut scene to cut scene They never shut up Call of Duty 2 Soldiers scream and shoot Head throbs, eyes do not see the head shot from nowhere. Read On →

The Beautiful People

Today during lunch we were talking about style, and one of the gang opined that if only he was incredibly rich, he’d have more style. I disagreed: you don’t need money to have style. Having money doesn’t give you style. We all know someone that can’t rub two cents together and yet somehow manages to always be the hippest person in the room. A similarly compelling proof that money can’t buy you class can be found by looking at the in-crowd at last weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix. Read On →

All-Clad Sale

For all of you out there who enjoy blowing that college fund on shiny pans that you don’t need, here is a reminder that the twice-a-year All- Clad sale is going on this weekend, starting Friday. You can typically get the same pans that you see in the mall at Williams- Sonoma for about half the price. The sale happens because the company is based in Canonsburg, and so twice a year they collect up all the factory seconds and put them in a big room in the South Hills. Read On →

Bitter Is Better

It’s gotta be 90 degrees here in Pittsburgh today. So here’s a simple drink to beat the heat: Campari. Campari It’s an odd drink, with a Shirly Templish bright red color and a citrusy, grapefruit sort of taste. Really, that taste is that of the chinotto, or bitter orange. But if it helps with your hipster friends, you can call it the Fresca of aperitifs. You can mix it with soda, if you like. Read On →


Six years ago, Karen and I heard rumors about a place in Bellevue that was serving up fancy food. For a long time, we regarded these rumors with some skepticism. Bellevue, after all, is a working class town that is pretty far out of the city. It seemed like an unlikely home for a wonderful high-end food experience. When we eventually hauled ourselves out there we found to our surprise that the rumors were true. Read On →

The Alchemy of Meat

“I want a hamburger. A really good hamburger.” This is me, talking to psu. “Go to Tessaro’s. They have the best burgers in town.” That’s psu, talking to me. But Tessaro’s doesn’t have the best burgers in town. In the abstract, yes, a Tessaro’s burger is almost the platonic ideal of a great hamburger. The meat is cooked perfectly, over a wood fire. It’s big and juicy. It’s perfect. Except… Except they don’t have french fries. Read On →

Confusion and Disappointment

I took Madden ‘06 for the 360 to Pete’s house the other day so he could get a look at the Zombie Peyton Manning. On a whim, I tossed in my controller, figuring that some head to head football goodness would be fun. After all, the controllers are wireless, they should just hook right up and go, right? Wrong. One of the few good moments you have when opening and setting up an Xbox 360 is pushing the big button on the controller and watching the console light up from across the room. Read On →