Shooter Shorts

I took a couple of days off from Oblivion to play the two shooters for the 360. The two major franchise shooters currently available are Ghost Recon and Call of Duty 2. Last night, I played the co-op missions in Ghost Recon with tilt. As others have already written, the rendering in the game is remarkable. There are thousands of little details that the artists must have toiled greatly over. Dust flies in the air, cars beep with alarms when you shoot them, the streetlights blink in a completely empty and zombified Mexico City. Read On →

360 Years of Solitude

Well, that didn’t last long. This weekend I gave in and bought an Xbox 360. Here’s what you need to know if you’ve been considering one. The Bad The industrial design on the Xbox 360 is beyond bad: it is a goddamned abortion. There are absolutely no redeeming features to how the console has been put together. It weighs a billion pounds, has an external power brick the size of Finland, a power connector that would look at home on a 220v refrigerator, it sounds like an Airbus A300 when the disc drive spins up, and it puts out as much heat as a pottery kiln. Read On →

Road Bikes

Recently Jeff at work asked me where to go to buy a bike. As I recall, he didn’t really ask what kind of bike he should buy, but being the self- absorbed dork asshole that I am, I could not help but provide my opinion. My short answer to Jeff was: just buy a road bike. The road bike is the perfect bicycle for almost all uses. The only use for which it really is not suited is riding around in the woods over ruts and logs and rocks. Read On →

Big Universes and Tiny Games

When it coms to computer game design, small is beautiful. Big is bad. I’ve mentioned my recent foray into casual game addiction before. Today, I’m going to talk about it again, with regards to a specific game: _Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space_. “Small is beautiful” is particularly true when it comes to user interface mechanics, where small things make huge differences. Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who just bought a $30,000 car, and the one thing he couldn’t stop talking about was how the automatic windows would allow him to close a window with a single button press, as well as open it. Read On →

West of House

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here. I am generally skeptical about the quality of narrative in video games. For the most part, the games we play don’t provide a literary experience that is much above that of the simplest children’s story. Hero wakes up. Hero kills a lot of shit. Hero saves the world. Read On →

The Left Hand of Creampuff Caspar Milquetoast

Updates have been slow lately because I played racquetball on Friday, forgetting that men in my family have about as much athletic ability as the average brine shrimp. While playing, immediately after thinking “Hey, I’m getting pretty good at this,” I took a dive and landed on my wrist and elbow. Hard. I didn’t break the wrist, although from my completely pathetic fainting fits you would have thought I did. I eventually did end up going to the ER, and they say it’s a very bad sprain. Read On →

Bonnie's Bookstore, Mac Version

Phil Steinmeyer has released the Mac port of his word-hunt game Bonnie’s Bookstore. Librarians: merely somewhat hot, or super- hot? I might be biased, since I was a beta tester, but I found the game to be both pleasant and challenging. The art style is cartoony and fun. The game’s graphic design has “marketed to chicks” written all over it, but don’t let that stop you from playing – type in the right cheat code and you get to see Bonnie naked (footnote 1). Read On →

If The Shoe Slips, Swear At It

It was just last year, in my mid-30s, that I learned how to tie my shoes. Yes, at a time when most other men are getting ready to buy a Porsche, get a stupid little French-style beret to cover their bald spot, and maybe start visiting a tanning salon, I finally learned how to tie my shoes properly. It’s not my fault, though: I blame society. You Are Knot Alone Apparently, I am not the only person this has happened to, because when I showed my newly-found power of shoe-tying to an associate, she realized that she didn’t know how to tie them properly, either. Read On →

Moka Pot

In the wide landscape of available devices for turning ground coffee into an arguably drinkable liquid, the Moka Pot does not get its due. This strange device has the advantage of relative simplicity, and a long history of faithful service. I like them because they brew the coffee sort of inside out. In the marketplace, the moka pot is trapped somewhere between the cheap plastic every day Mr. Coffee type machines and the high tech ultra-modern multi-hundred dollar espresso extractors that you can pick up at your local William and Sonoma store. Read On →

99 Side Quests On Rails

The inevitable backlash against Oblivion has started in earnest. With early reviews proclaiming that the game was something between the second coming and the invention of peanut butter on sliced bread, you can’t be surprised that a few people are deciding to stand up and call the whole thing nonsense. But, just as inevitable are freaks who go overboard. That review, and others like it, complain about the A.I. and various issues with “realism” and “immersion.” It’s true that the A.I. Read On →

Kiss That Frog

The little boy had been off by himself for a while while the rest of us were near the stream pretending to fish. When he came back had a net full of frogs. “Now, you be sure to put those back,” said his dad. “Well,” the little boy said, “I have to keep one, because he peed on me. So I have to keep that one in the net, as punishment.” Despite this, all six or seven frogs stayed in the net. Read On →

DaNGer! DaNGer!

I decided to try Adobe’s DNG converter for the same reason that I can’t help picking at scabs: I’m always curious about how a new workflow will feel. This, of course, is because I am a dedicated amateur and wanker. If I were a professional, the chances that I would risk my livelihood on a new workflow before it was tried and tested would approach zero. DNG, for those of you not aware of it, is Adobe’s new semi-open standard for “raw” digital photographs. Read On →

Living in Oblivion

I have not been posting because I’ve been running my Breton/Dark Elf Mage/Fighter/Thief guy around in the woods looking for all the different things to do. I think I finally have a good feel for this game, even though I really still haven’t scratched the surface. Therefore, it is time to complain. To be fair, there really isn’t that much to complain about. This is the most engaging “Western” style RPG that I’ve played since KOTOR. Read On →

Diving into Oblivion

As it turned out, one weekend after opining about the viability of the “current generation” consoles, the Xbox 360 finally appeared in reasonable numbers. Suddenly they were everywhere. Coincidentally, I was getting tired of low resolution Madden 06. Yes, my defenses are that thin. There isn’t much to say about the console itself. 1. It’s not really any smaller or better looking than an Xbox. 2. It is a LOT louder. Read On →

The Elderer Scrolls

Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Elder Scrolls. Not Oblivion, mind you: I’m far, far too cheap to have purchased an Xbox 360 yet. Instead, I’ve been playing the previous game in the series, Morrowind. My initial thought was that this would be an effective way of curbing my urge to buy an Oblivion-capable PC, or an Xbox 360. You know. Kind of like how smoking lots of opium makes you not want heroin so much. Read On →

Olives For the Perplexed

A lot of Americans don’t like olives. This is because the olives most of us are subjected to suck. I probably didn’t have a truly great olive until I was in my twenties. Now, they are almost a staple food in my diet. I’d like to share some of my opinions on the subject with you, and describe some types of olives that you might want to try, if you haven’t yet. Read On →

Some New Music

We heard some good new music at the PSO this weekend. I can see all of you out there rolling your eyes. “New” Classical Music is assumed to be some soulless abstract exercise in collecting clever compositional tricks and throwing them out at the bewildered audience, while very little of actual interest happens. Well, this piece is different. Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra is a five movement work that moves from sections for the whole band through solos in all of the major areas of the modern orchestra. Read On →

Ice Cream for Dinner

It finally appears that Spring has sprung. After some false warmth, followed by a pretty cool week, we came to a Friday afternoon with temperatures in the balmy 70s and pale blue skies. By tradition, my wife and I wait for this first day of real warmth, and walk from our offices at at CMU into Oakland for dinner. Our destination is Dave and Andy’s, because adults are allowed to have ice cream for dinner. Read On →

Give Me a D! Give Me an S!

Ok, I admit it, I’m woefully susceptible to hype. Rant and rave about how great a game is and I’ll be intrigued; get others to do the same and I’m convinced. So you can guess the effect a 10+ page thread extolling the virtues of Ouendan must have had on me. I was convinced I’d love the game even before I had it. But even if you weren’t so predisposed to fall in love, Osu! Read On →

The ONLY Question I Want Answered Today

Is: “How well does The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion run on an iMac (Intel) running Windows XP via BootCamp?” Mouseketeers, discover this information for me, and report in!

Next-Gen to Prev-Gen

Originally, I bought the PS2 for a few specific games that were not available on my “main platform”, the Xbox. At the time, I figured that me and my Xbox- live crew would naturally make the progression from Halo 2 on the Xbox to whatever was like Halo 2 on the Xbox 360. Between that, and the periodic Madden roster update sequel, I’d be all set. Things never go according to plan. Read On →

You Can Never Be Too Rich, Or Have Too Many Pants

It started, as it always does, with a random connection, a set of neurons in my brain that misfired in an amusing way. Someone was talking about how someone they knew was wearing hideous pants. The word “hideous” made me think of a book by the execrable C.S. Lewis (yes, the Narnia one) called That Hideous Strength. This book is about the Asskicking Jesus. Earth is under threat from space aliens, so the Asskicking Jesus flies to Mars to beat them up until they stop. Read On →

No Sense of Humor '06

Once again, Tea Leaves is proud to be one of the few sites on the web that doesn’t have a stupid and irritating April Fools’ joke. I say “Bah, humbug!” and I’m proud to do so.

Red Hot and Blue

For two years in graduate school, I lived in North Carolina. One of the things you learn about when you live in North Carlina is what good pulled pork tastes like. Good pulled pork is pork shoulder, or the whole pig, cooked over a low smokey fire for many many hours. In the part of North Carolina where we lived, the meat is also marinated in a vinegar and pepper sauce. Read On →

To Oblivion, And Beyond!

There are a few funny things about my craving to play Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. First, I won’t really like it. I had this problem with Morrowind, the previous Elder Scrolls game. I mean, I played it. It was “interesting.” Mostly, I think I was in awe of the sheer audacity of the game – the scope and size of it, the varied environments, and architecture, and clothing styles. The intricate magic system and the wonderful, wonderful books scattered all throughout the land. Read On →

Sloth, Ignorance and Denial

Over the weekend, the New York Times published this depressing profile of a growing service in the food industry where you pay someone to be your prep cook. Apparently, the way this works is that for a nominal fee, you are given use of an industrial kitchen space and told how to “assemble” your dishes from the vats of ingredients that are given to you. This article is just the latest indication when it comes to food, certain Americans suffer from three pathologies: sloth, ignorance and denial. Read On →

Retrograde

My new column, Retrograde, appears in the latest issue of Played To Death. Feel free to check it out (PDF, 42 Mb). This issue’s topic: everyone’s favorite Playable Classic, Ultima IV.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Ineptitude

I picked up the new Metal Gear Solid 3 special edition because the promise of playing the game with a real third person camera intrigued me. You have to give Kojima credit. If nothing else, he has a sense of style, and he does not take himself too seriosuly. Things happen in the latest Metal Gear game that you just can’t imagine happening in, say, Splinter Cell because the latter game puts up a pretense of being a serious take on the action/stealth genre. Read On →

Loving the Alien

It was, quite arguably, the best game of its era: X-Com: UFO Defense. It had everything. A gripping plot. An approachable, iconic art style. Furious, deadly combat. An easily-learned user interface. It spawned a number of official sequels, and a few imitators, but none of them had the impact of the original. And you can understand why: if you want to play X-Com, you can play X-Com. It’s a game that comes so close to perfection that it’s hard to argue that you even need a sequel. Read On →

When I Think About You, I Quote Myself

“With an iSight, some chlorine bleach, and two pairs of latex surgical gloves, nothing is impossible.” More context would just ruin it, I think.

From the New World

I’m 4 or 5 hours into the new Shadow Hearts. Currently, I am breaking Al Capone out of Alcatraz, only Alcatraz is in Chicago and I’m with Al Capone’s bodyguard, who is a gigantic talking white cat. Who knows Drunken Master Kung Fu. Did I mention the talking cat? I can’t really say any more without spoiling the more unique aspects of the plot.

Arsenic and Old Saves

Hi. Glad you could drop by so we could have this little chat. Have a seat. Yes, that one there, right next to the Playstation 2 console. Here, have a cup of coffee. It’s my special blend. Now, if you could pick it up – no, don’t put that in your mouth – and look at the front. Yes, the front. That’s the part with the buttons. Right. Good. Take a look at the lower left part of the console. Read On →

Eating Toronto

Why do we go to Toronto? Mostly to eat. Sure, there are other attractions and cultural activities. But we go there to eat. And we’ve been there enough to develop some favorites. Bonjour Brioche (psu and peterb) This is a French breakfast and pastry place which is a couple of miles to the east of downtown on Queen. The neighborhood is a bit iffy, but the croissant and baguette are not. Read On →

My Next Gen: A Long Ramble

Here we are, six months into the “next generation” of game consoles, and what should be a headlong charge into a future of gaming nirvana now seems more like a head first dive into a concrete wall. Without a helmet. The Xbox 360 came out of the gate almost stillborn. There were shortages. There were hardware problems. There were no games. Sony’s new machine is nowhere to be found, no doubt bogged down by Sony’s quest to exploit “convergence” in the living room. Read On →

Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Kernel

It was a game I had been looking forward to playing for quite some time. When my review copy arrived, I was thrilled, simply thrilled. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. That evening, I perused the manual as I installed the game on my PC, ready to be transported into an exciting new world. And then, as the install process finished, a window popped up informing me that the “StarForce” copy protection software/malware had been installed, and that I should reboot to complete the installation process. Read On →

Figure of Merit

If there are two things dorks like to do more than anything else in the world, it’s tell you why their favorite widget is the best one to ever grace human existence and why your thing is just barely better than the organisms breaking down the compost pile. They will back up their opinions with arguments that use repitition and vociferousness to make up for what they lack in facts. Usually, they all boil down to putting up a one or two aspects of a product’s performance over all others as the sole determiner of quality. Read On →

Game Shorts

We’re going to Toronto for a long weekend, so this is the perfect time to flush out the state of my game playing and mix it up with small nuggets of confusion. In other words, a “clip” article. MMO(SP?)RPG Recall that the “M” and the “M” in MMORPG stand for “Massively” and “Multiplayer.” With this context, consider the following complaint that I have read in multiple gaming forums and web sites: World of Warcraft sucks! Read On →

Coming Out of the Pantry

We all have them. Maybe you wore a denim jacket all through Junior High school. Maybe you think, when no one is looking, that Cyndi Lauper is actually pretty cool. Maybe you memorized the order in which Star Trek episodes first aired. Whatever your particular secret shames are, rest assured that everyone around you has their own as well. We spend a lot of time and effort on this weblog talking about food. Read On →

Reader Mail

Today two short notes based on reader feedback. First, in the area of crackers, I was finally at the Geagle and remembered to look for the special British crackers that Kim mentioned in a comment on cookies. McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits are, indeed, the real thing. They are slightly sweet, and wheaty without being grainy. They are also less crumbly than the Carr’s knock off. I love this kind of cracker for blue cheese and such. Read On →

Snip Snip Snip

…And, in an amusing bit of synchronicity, my copy of the abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo arrived in the mail today. It confirms my prejudices. Read the full version of the book, or don’t read it at all.

Curious George

I was going to rant and foam at the mouth tonight about the sorry state of the current battle in the consumer electronics industry over “convergence” of entertainment devices in the living room. Unfortunately, I’m just not interested enough in the problems to really build up to a good froth. So instead, I’m going to write about something light, friendly, and enjoyable. A couple of weeks ago, we went to see Curious George. Read On →

Late to the Party

Like everyone who suffered through high school English classes, I have always maintained a healthy disrespect for “the classics.” What I learned from English class is that, for the most part, literature is a form of punishment, where drab and joyless works are held up as exemplars to be studied, dissected, and ultimately emulated. In college, our freshman English classes were run by disaffected Marxist TA’s. They showed me that when examining a text – among grad students, even a cheeseburger is a “text” – worrying about the quality of the writing, as opposed to its political significance, was the sign of a stunted bourgeois mentality. Read On →

Well Equipped for Tea

You can spend a lot of money on stuff with which to make tea, if you want too. There are lots of kettles available in steel and copper. There are piles of teapots for purchase in all kinds and colors. There are all sorts of noodley, fiddly tea type things that invariably end up in the bottom drawer, unused and forgotten. I have a teapot, a nice little porcelain one, clean and white. Read On →

Two Winners

We went to Ohio to visit some old friends who we knew at CMU. While there, we made two interesting food discoveries. Mustard First, we went to Trader Joe’s. We in Pittsburgh are as as yet deprived of this “discount” froo-froo and prepared foods vendor, so we were happy to stop in to get some frozen foods for our friends and do some browsing. You will recall that I have complaints about the mustard available in this country. Read On →

The War Against Cliche

It started with one bitter observation, but ballooned, as it always does, into an entire night full of complaining and snarkiness. 50 items about the most common videogame cliches, attached below for your amusement. Some are funny, some are painful, and some are stupid, but each one is marked with its author, so you’ll know who to blame. Feel free to add on to the list in the comments. 51. Don’t forget The grand list of RPG cliches. Read On →

Peter's Famous Biscuits

These are not my famous biscuits. This is a recipe I found in Peter Christian’s cookbook, named for a tavern that we used to frequent when we lived in New Hampshire. Use them for sweet or savory dishes. But don’t eat too many. Here is what you do. 1. Put 2 1⁄2 cups of flour in a bowl. Add a bit of salt, a little sugar (for dessert biscuits) and 1 1⁄2 TBL of baking powder. Read On →

Resident Zombie Lull Killer

The lesson for today is: shooting zombies is always fun. There I was, lost and directionless, staring at all the games that I was not playing. So on a whim I fired up Resident Evil 4 and started fooling around with the Mercenaries mini-game. I had given up on this before, because it seemed hopeless. I just could not see how to shoot enough zombies fast enough to gather the points needed to advance in the game. Read On →

Star Chamber

It was perhaps a year ago that I tried the demo for an early version of Star Chamber. It was a promising game, a mixture of space strategy (a la Spaceward Ho!) and card play (a la Magic: The Gathering). It was clearly more of a proof-of-concept demo than a full-fledged game at the point at which I tried it, and more features were promised “soon.” I set the game aside and forgot about it for a while. Read On →

Dear Cooks Illustrated

I was interested to read the article titled Perfect Pot Stickers in your most recent issue. The beginning of the article, which described the pleasures of the perfect Chinese Dumpling put into words exactly why I have spent a large part of my adulthood trying to reproduce what I used to eat as a child. I was disappointed to find that the recipe that followed this glowing description included a chart outlining which pre-fab frozen skins were best. Read On →

Friday Night in Sicily

…and somewhere, someone is eating caponata di melanzana. Melanzana, of course, is the beautiful Italian name for the fruit that the French call “aubergine,” and which no one in America eats because it has the revolting name “eggplant.” Caponata is a relish, of sorts, that uses eggplant to carry the flavors of the other items in the mix. It’s easy to make (except for one annoying part), delicious, and my version is good enough that it can make complete strangers want to hold you and gently sob tears of happiness. Read On →