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 →

The Package

Firms spend millions upon millions of dollars conceiving, developing, building, marketing, and advertising their wares. They beg us to buy them. Their very existence depends on our whim and desire. And then, when victory is at hand, and when the cash has been transferred, they show their appreciation for us by making it impossible to actually open the god forsaken package in which the item is stored. For this, someone must suffer. Read On →

Classical Music: Not Dead Yet

We went to a PSO concert last weekend. This is the first show we have been to in about a year. In the past, I used my PSO experiences to show why the cultural position of Classical Music in our modern world is somewhat shaky. However, this is not the whole story. The program last weekend did not appear to me anything special. A short string piece by Elgar, the Beethoven Second, and a concerto by Brahms for violin and cello which I had not heard before. Read On →

Games Lovers Play

Let’s talk about Valentine’s Day. I’m going to take the long way around to get there. We’re going to travel dangerously close to the confessional, but I promise we will eventually return to the subject of love, lust, and desire. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Have a piece of chocolate. As some of you may be aware, I had a catastrophic hard drive failure on my gaming PC about a month ago. Read On →

Curry Powder

The other day at the local food emporium, I had chance to witness a terrible crime. There, on the shelf just below eye level, sat a prim little tin of kosher salt, labeled with an honest-looking brown sticker in a respectable handwriting font. This little two and some ounce jar cost four dollars, pushing the price per pound up near thirty. At my feet: a big cardboard box of kosher salt, three pounds, two bucks. Read On →


I’ve been in a long gaming lull for the last few months. I think this is to be expected. After all, I finished a Half-Life title. The last time I finished a _Half-Life _ title was in 1999 and I didn’t play another game until, what, 2003. Those were the good old days. It’s also the case that this Christmas Season was pretty soft for games. Gone were the blockbuster franchise releases of last year. Read On →


I received a review copy of Geniu$: The Tech Tycoon Game some time ago. I should clarify: the publisher didn’t give me the game. Rather, the publisher gave a review copy of the game to another reviewer, who decided it wasn’t his thing, because it wasn’t an adventure game. So he gave it to me. In the hierarchy of game reviewers, I occupy a very special ecological niche. Like a crustacean or some other bottom-dwelling scavenger, I only get review copies of the games that other, better reviewers aren’t interested in. Read On →

Stupor Bowl

First things first. Steelers win! Woohoo!! Yeeeaaaahhhh!!!. Now that that’s out of the way, I think we all have to admit that this was, on balance, a sub-par performance by everyone involved. Let’s catalog our collection of complaints. The Refs While the refs did not blow it on the scale of the NE-Denver or PGH-Indy games, overall it was a pretty sad showing. A lot of boring ticky-tack bullshit. I don’t think there was enough there to turn the outcome, and if you are going to win a championship, you have to win despite bad calls. Read On →

Soy Milk

Next up is an item about ideological videogames, but before that, I just have to share my favorite comic strip’s take on the “milk vs. soy milk” issue. It’s funny because it’s true.


When I was growing up, every once in a while my mom would make this weird food. When it came out of the pan, it always looked like a big pile of steaming gray matter. It looked nasty. Later, I found out that this was stir fried eggplant. Still later I figured out that it was actually pretty good to eat, so I asked my mom how to make it. Sure enough, when done well you can get to the same gray and goopy consistency, although these days it’s gray and purple, since the purple asian eggplant are pretty easy to find. Read On →

The Down Side of Guitar Hero

Now my hands hurt.

Guitar Hero

When we discuss the weblog with our friends, psu and I have a running joke. It’s something along the lines of “Hey, man. We can gripe for 500 words about anything.” I haven’t been griping much lately, because I’ve been too busy playing Guitar Hero. Let me just get this out of the way: yes, Guitar Hero really is that good. If you own a Playstation 2, and you haven’t yet picked up this game, you should put down the computer, drive to your local game store, and buy it. Read On →


Broadcast HD television is a complex and confusing landscape. There are multiple delivery systems (satellite, cable, over the air) with multiple evil vendors (Comcast, DirecTV, DISH) and multiple levels of availability and service. I was ready to put off the question for a long time. But then the Steelers got deep into the playoffs. On a lark I bought a cheap indoor antenna that a friend recommended and I told the TV to see what it could find. Read On →


I used to like buying books. Now I like giving them away. Once upon a time – the story began – I had an empty shelf and very few books. Ah, the innocence of youth: I enjoyed buying books. I enjoyed reading them, and putting them on my shelf for all the world, or at least the part of the world that visited my apartment, to see. How clever, how sophisticated, how worldly! Read On →

Eating Some (Fair-Trade) Humble Pie

Lord knows that in my time I’ve said some mean things about fair-trade coffee. I’ve tried to like it, but every time I go buying it on my own I end up with something that tastes bad. Since my super power is the ability to generalize a single instance of disappointment into a scathing indictment of an entire industry, this led to some enjoyable ranting where I prove, using logic, that all fair trade coffee everywhere, by the immutable laws of the universe, must taste horrible. Read On →

Plane Reading

I took a trip out and back to California last week and spent more time than usual reading words off paper as opposed to in their more pixelated form. Smartbomb This is a book about the history of the game industry. The book covers a lot of standard ground from Spacewar to Atari to DOOM to the Xbox with a strange detour through the U.S. military. Along the way there are profiles of game designers and other industry characters. Read On →


Recently, I’ve been on a bit of a “casual games” kick. The casual games market is on fire right now, and from the perspective of game design is kicking the tail of the “big box” hardcore PC games. It’s like watching a bunch of nimble mammals dance around the legs of slow, lumbering dinosaurs. I’m not speaking in terms of financial success here. I’m not a game publisher, so I don’t know exactly how much money either of these groups are making. Read On →

A Happy Return

I have always had a personal rule about Chinese Food places. If they have pictures of the food, they should be avoided. This goes along with some other rules, like Chinese Restaurants in shopping plazas tend to be marginal. These two rules kept me from trying Tasty in Shadyside for the first several years of its existence. This was my loss, because for the next several years, Tasty was the staple Chinese place near CMU in Pittsburgh. Read On →

Happy Birthday, Scoble

Just a quick note to say happy birthday to Robert Scoble who is 41 today, and whom I met tonight at the Pittsburgh Blogfest. A splendid time was had by all. Drinks were drunk, cake was eaten, and Cindy from My Brilliant Mistakes and I have an evil plan for holding a panel tasting of bourbon. Stay tuned.

What Am I, Chopped Liver?

Here’s an easy one for parties: liver paté to top crostini. Liver is misunderstood and maligned. It can have a strong taste, but doesn’t have to be completely overwhelming. Part of the problem is that it’s served often just fried up in a pan, which is totally uninteresting. Instead, do just a little easy work and you can have a great appetizer in no time at all. Pour about 1⁄4 cup of olive oil into a cast iron skillet. Read On →

Green Morning

As I mentioned last week, I was out of town. Specifically, I was in San Francisco. Every day and night, I ate at fabulous trendy restaurants. I walked around a vibrant, young, exciting city. I gained five pounds. And when it was all over, I took the red-eye back to Pittsburgh on a cold, dark, wet Saturday, landing at 6 in the morning. This felt pretty depressing. I would have felt this way even if it wasn’t raining. Read On →

DVD Heaven

Soon after picking up my shiny new television, my old Sony DVD player finally started to give up the ghost. I bought this player along with my first DVD, a copy of The Matrix. That movie probably sold more first DVD players than any other title from that time period. The 480i component signal from this player looked great, but the transport was getting too picky, and would not play some disks that I needed to play. Read On →

Slow Updates

I am in San Francisco this week, so Tea Leaves may be updated less frequently than usual. We will return to our regularly scheduled kvetching on Monday.

Change is Bad

Earlier this week, I tried the Beta of the new tool from Adobe called Lightroom. The lesson I learned was: never try new tools. On the surface, the beta appeared to work pretty well. Import was reasonably fast, and the application seemed to support my workflow well. It takes a bit more time to bring your photos in, but it keeps a preview image around in its library so that the library will stay usable as a meta-database even if the pictures themselves go offline. Read On →

The Gay Blade

There are two types of men in the world: those who buy electric razors, and those who actually need to shave. Here’s what happens to me when I use an electric razor. I plug it in, and turn it on. I hold it up to my beard and move it around. Nothing happens. I move it around some more, and apply a little pressure. I can hear the tips of some of my hairs being trimmed, but nothing else happens. Read On →

The Year in Games

Now that everyone else has already done their own roundup of the year in games, it’s my turn to jump in, late as usual. At this point, there is not that much to be gained from just telling you that Resident Evil 4 was completely 733t or that Half-Life 2 pwns! So instead, I will declare 2005 the year that I became a crack-addled gaming zombie, and I completely blame peterb and tilt for doing this to me. Read On →

No, Really

It is just completely wrong that Shadow Hearts: Covenant has a “T for Teen” rating. Surely, Mr. Sommelier alone is worth at least 2 months of therapy, all by himself. Click to see the picture, if you dare, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Kind of Blue Meanie

Today, psu discovered that he had an extra copy of Miles Davis’ seminal jazz recording Kind of Blue. So, he gave it to me. My last copy of this was a cassette tape that I lost some years ago, and I never got around to repurchasing it. But I’m one of those people who always look a gift horse in the mouth. What I should have done was just say “Thank you.” But I couldn’t help it. Read On →

WWDDOCD (World Wide Distributed Dork OCD)

Regular readers will recall that I have recently forked over a large amount of cash on a piece of A/V equipment. I gave up a small piece of my soul for a Sony television larger than my entire living room. Well, it’s really only as large as one wall of the living room, but you know what I mean. I believe that this was a good purchase, and DVDs have never looked so nice. Read On →

Because it is bitter, and because it is my heart

Every time I’ve tried fair trade coffee, I’ve had bad luck. But Green LA Girl has good things to say about it, and I like the way she writes, so I will keep trying it until I find a good one. Today the Starbucks downstairs from my office was selling CafÈ Estima, their fair trade blend, fresh. So I had to get a cup to try it out. My initial impression was nice: it has a light body, and seemed to avoid the overburnt taste that many Starbucks blends have. Read On →

Epileptic Fit Hot Chocolate

My typical recipe for drinking chocolate involves cocoa powder, whole milk, a pinch of salt, and some vanilla. No sugar. Chocolate is supposed to be bitter. A pinch of cayenne pepper will serve, too. But sometimes, once in a blue moon, on a particularly bad day, you have to do something different. Here’s one way to do it. This recipe sprang from a fundamental misunderstanding about hot chocolate in Madrid. You only ever eat churros and chocolate at 4 in the morning after being out drinking all night. Read On →

The Real Thing

The search for the true and authentic culinary experience occupies the mind of all of the food obsessed people of the world. Real Chinese. Real cheese. Real barbecue. Real sushi. The list goes on and on. Entire magazines and cookbooks dedicated to the objectively correct or best way to cook this or that. There is even a world-wide semi-political movement whose solitary goal is to preserve the traditional food culture of Europe and beyond against the attack of the faceless corporations. Read On →

Next Gen Meh

I just found out that like the PSP, the Nintendo DS has a delicious instant sleep feature. Chances that either of the new next-gen home consoles have the same feature implemented in the OS and not in the stupid game: practically zero. Chances that any of the next-gen games are really any better than Mario and Luigi: also practically zero. My personal interest in buying a 360 to play anything but Madden 360: waning.

The Name of the Game

I, like a number of people, have a few days of unexpected leisure at my disposal in the days leading up to New Years. So instead of me helping you, here’s your chance to help me: pick a relatively new “casual” game that you think it fun, and talk about it in the comments. Give me something new to play. Bonus points if it runs on both PC and Mac. I’ll start the bidding by telling you that you that if you like words, you should surely go download Bonnie’s Bookstore. Read On →

Talents I Don't Have

Wrapping presents. I just wrapped a Christmas present, lumpily. I couldn’t find any scotch tape, so I used surgical tape. It looks exactly as bad as you might imagine.

Cookie Discoveries

I made two cookie discoveries in the Target today. This is a bit odd. You don’t expect to go to the Target to find out stuff about cookies. My first discovery is that Target is the last local outlet around here that gets the good Carr’s crackers. I like the thick wheat crackers, especially with blue cheese (mmmm, Stilton). For some reason every local purveyor of overpriced yuppie food in town has stopped carrying them. Read On →

"What Were They Thinking?"

To make any consumer product, thousands of decisions must be made. Inevitably, no one can get all of those decisions right. Even the best-designed gadget or toy will still have some mistakes in design or execution. Despite this, there are certain moves some companies make that go beyond bad, into the realm of the bewildering. If I was feeling snarky – and let’s face it, when am I not? – I might use this space to take some cheap shots. Read On →

The PC is Dead, Long Live the PC

Pete, as usual, has generated a lot of comment traffic with his recent rantings about whether or not it is the fault of the developer when a game on a PC is a crashy piece of crap. For the most part, the battle lines are drawn along the question of whether the PC as a platform is just too complicated and intractable to make an enjoyable and reliable vehicle for interactive entertainment. Read On →

Status Report

Current obsession: Travian, a browser-based MMOG. I am still in the honeymoon period, which means the game proper hasn’t actually started, since I have a couple of more days before the pillaging hordes can destroy my village. I’ll write a proper review then. Travian looks like Settlers of Catan, but it isn’t. Speaking of which, if you want to play Settlers of Catan, you should try AsoBrain’s Xplorers. Online Catan. They also have a fairly nice clones of several other games, as well.


Why, you might ask, am I going to write about movies that have been out on DVD for two years? Well, new TV in hand, we sat down to watch some big movies. The biggest movies that we have are the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy. When these were released on DVD, I originally picked up the extended versions, not so much for the extra film material, but more for the commentaries and documentaries. Read On →

Dollars to Donuts

It’s hard for me to remember the first game I played on a personal computer. Arguably, “Dancing Demon” by Leo Christopherson, for the TRS-80 Model I might qualify; that would have been in 1979. I don’t recall there being a lot of actual gameplay there, but I remember thinking it was very, very cool. On the heels of that would have been various text adventure games – Zork, certainly, among others – that I played while camped out at the local Radio Shack. Read On →

Lentil Stew

Here is a quick recipe to pass the time. We found a version in a cookbook or magazine that starts with a nice set of ingredients. So we decided to make it one night. You start with around a pound, or 2 cups, of French green lentils. Clean them as you need to. You also collect the following: 1. 2 or 3 stalks of celery, cut up. The recipe said to “roughly chop” the celery. Read On →

One Shining Moment

Since I finished Half-Life 2 I have not been playing with the consoles much. I think this has to do with something in my subconcious that loses interest in games every time I finish a Half-Life title. But, this weekend I fired up Halo 2 and tried out the “Rumble Armory” playlist, which I had not seen before. Immediately, I ended up in a sniper game with jch. For me, a sniper game means that I run around and try to sneak up behind someone and beat them down before I get shot. Read On →

Sell Out

In addition to the writing I do for this weblog, and my day job, I occasionally get the opportunity to work on other projects. One of them has bourne fruit, and I am now a paid and published game reviewer. My review of Civliization IV appears in the latest issue of Please feel free to give it a read (PDF format). Hopefully, you’ll read it in time to take Civilization IV off of your holiday gift lists. Read On →

Games I Don't Get

Lego Star Wars. OK, so it’s a postmodern fusion of the Star Wars movies with LEGO design sensibilities. Alright. I can accept that. Oh, Lego Liam Neeson. How you entice me. I can be a Hello-Kitty-style-Lego-Liam-Neeson, wandering around a ship waving a lightsaber. A Lego lightsaber. I’m down with that. Fun, lighthearted gameplay. Check. Generous savepoints and light-to- nonexistent penalties for death. Right up my alley. But there’s one game mechanic that is very, very odd, in terms of narrative. Read On →