I Sing the Dinner Eclectic

We spend a lot of time pontificating on food on this site. So much so that often we are accused of being “foodies” or “food snobs”. I categorically deny this accusation. A more accurate representation of my position is that I am a “food hobbyist” or “food obsessed.” The main line of the “food snob” attack is to make the claim that I am picky about the food that I consume. Read On →

What Goes Around

A number of Astute Readers pointed out that Atlantis, which I reviewed on Friday, is actually a reimplementation of an earlier game, Popcap’s Zuma, and Mumbo Jumbo’s modified Zuma clone Luxor. I tried Luxor tonight, and I liked it. In the abstract, I liked it more than Atlantis, with the exception that the Mac version suffers from some slowdown when things get hairy. The experience of playing the two identical games got me to thinking about some of the structural stupidities of the so-called “casual game” market. Read On →

Deal with the Devil

My friend Dave used to say that the exponential increase in hard disk capacity over time was sure proof that not only was the storage industry in league with the darker forces, but also that every disk platter was clearly populated with the souls of the poor industry employees who had signed the contracts needed to rev the latest generation of the hardware. I have been shopping for a large screen television lately, and after becoming familiar with the prevailing technologies, I have to say that Dave is wrong. Read On →

Indie Game: Atlantis

I’ve never had much patience for Tetris. It’s not just Tetris, mind you, but pretty much any game that falls into the broad category of “usually brightly-colored, abstract pattern matching games.” (And Sherlock doesn’t count. That’s a logic game.) I don’t get an almost-sexual satisfaction in making blocks of similar colors merge and vanish. Lumines doesn’t call to me. It’s just something in my nature; I think I need a plot to really enjoy a game. Read On →

Chinese Food In Pittsburgh

When I started eating Chinese Food in Pittsburgh, I can remember two sorts of places. There were cheap takeout joints like Ghengis Cones, which had Peking Duck sandwiches and soft ice cream. There were also “red plastic covered chairs” places, like Jimmy Tsang’s, which fed many people at once, but whose food was not really identifiably Chinese. I also remember making the mistake of bringing my Northern Chinese mom to the old Szechaun House restaurant, and getting nothing but complaints about how the food was not fresh and vaguely stinky. Read On →

How To Upgrade Your Computer

There seems to be a lot of confusion among people who should know better about how to upgrade one’s computer. I am here to help. I’m pleased to present The Tea Leaves Guide to upgrading, which can help even the most ten-thumbed person improve their computing environment for the most reasonable cost, in just four easy steps. Step 1: Open your old computer (you will probably need a Phillips’ head screwdriver to do this), and remove any add-on cards, disk drives, RAM, and (if removable) CPUs that are currently in it. Read On →

It's Like They Didn't Even Play the Same Game

I wasn’t going say anything more about Half-life 2 on the Xbox. Lower resolution graphics aside, I think the game brings all of what is good about Half-Life 2 to the console. You can enjoy the game without spending stupid amounts of money on a PC. This is good. But then I spied a review of the game in this month’s Game Informer. As is often the case, when I read the text of the review I could only conclude that they must have played a different game. Read On →

He Tried So Hard

Richard Burns I’d like to take a moment today to mourn the passing of Richard Burns, 2001 WRC Rally Champion. Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2003, Burns passed away on Friday night. He was just 34 years old. A section for memorials has been started on his web site. His family asks that in lieu of flowers, they would prefer donations to Cancer Research.

You Can't Teach a New Wine Old Tricks

You’ve got to hand it to the French. They have managed to turn what is traditionally a completely unimportant thing – the shipping of the season’s first Beaujolais Nouveau – into an “event.” Beaujolais Nouveau is a cheap French wine that is meant to be drunk young. It is, along with straw-bottle Chianti, the definition of cheap wine. It’s a good wine to have around, because even if you’re not in the mood to drink Beaujolais Nouveau, you can usually put it to other uses, such as helping flush small items down your garbage disposal, or to bathe the cat in, or to degrease a bike chain. Read On →

Bjˆrky Had a Little Lamb

or, “Dear Whole Foods: Stop Pimping Iceland” Being a middle class, white, liberal, urban-dwelling type with enough disposable income that I don’t mind paying unreasonable prices for foods that are only moderately better than I can find elsewhere, I sometimes shop at Whole Foods. Lately, Whole Foods has been pimping for Iceland. What’s behind this? And more importantly, how can I get them to stop? I first noticed this at the cheese counter. Read On →

The Mis-Design of Everyday Things

We in the computer business tend to have a complex about ease of use. “Computers are so powerful and yet so arcane” is a constant refrain in our lives. Well, I am here to say that I don’t think that we should feel too bad. I have been investigating the world of HDTV because we are thinking about buying a big TV for Christmas. Compared to what you have to go through to get a decently usable TV, setting up a home wireless network is like falling off a log. Read On →

What the Internet is For

In the distant past, around ten years ago, there was a hallowed time when the Internet both defined and demonstrated its true purpose. Back then, there were vendors on the net, like Amazon.com, from whom you could order almost anything and have it delivered to your house just a day or two later for a small fee. The choices offered by these vendors was wide and deep, and the service that they provides was competent and timely. Read On →

Half-Life 2 and Other Matters

Half-Life 2 for the Xbox hits this week. So, two years after the fact, one of the original reasons I gave to myself for buying the Xbox has finally come to pass. This means that I managed to get the game without buying a PC. On the downside, I already bought the PC version of the game, though I didn’t play it all the way through (the only PC I had at the time was at work). Read On →

Dear Microsoft Games Employees

I know there are one or two employees of MS’s Xbox division who read (and hopefully enjoy) Tea Leaves, so allow me to take a moment to say: Please find one of your mar-com people and get them to loan me an Xbox 360 and some games (Kameo?) so I can review them. Thanks! PS: And as long as I’m asking, how about a pony, too?

How to Drink Beer

Of all the foods that are acquired tastes, beer may be the most maligned and misunderstood. There are few foods for which you will readily find people who will boast, proudly, “Oh, I never drink beer. That stuff tastes terrible.” The problem with this statement is that beer is perhaps one of the most complex drinks known to man. Not liking beer qua beer is sort of like saying you don’t like “vegetables.” So my assumption is that anyone who says they don’t like beer (as opposed to “I don’t like this particular beer”) just doesn’t know how to drink it. Read On →

Tricks are for Kids

Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the gaming industry. Here we have a medium that is in the beginning of its life, struggling to be taken seriously. It has slowly scratched its way to the big time as a source of commerce, and you can almost see the collective strain on the faces of game developers as they strive to turn games into art, whatever that means. I bring this up now because the main subject of our gaming discussions this week was Shadow of the Colossus, which has the distinction, along with its predecessor, Ico , of being among the few games that actually succeeds in achieving something like art. Read On →

Dancing About Architecture

Today’s subject is the game Shadow of the Colossus. In order to talk about it, I’m going to have to make some observations about how critics commonly review games. Imagine if art critics reviewed paintings the way game critics review games: Still Life with Plate of Cherries Paul Cezanne’s Still Life with Plate of Cherries is a clear evolution from his previous outing in the Still Life series, Apples, Peaches, Pears, and Grapes. Read On →

Shadow of the Colossus

There really isn’t much to say about Shadow of the Colossus that is all that different from what I said about Ico. The two games share many of the same strengths and weaknesses, and are clearly cut from the same stylistic cloth. If I were as disciplined as the game’s designer, I would just walk away now. But, I think there are some aspects of the game that current reviews have missed. Read On →

Metapost: Opinions about Ads in RSS Feeds

A quick poll for those of you who read Tea Leaves via a newsreader or bloglines. Please comment on advertisements in RSS feeds. Do you hate them? Are some types of ads OK and others not OK? Or do you not care at all? My personal feeling is that I can easily accept (and ignore) a text ad that is a couple of lines, but if you make me follow a link to read the full text of your article, I hate you. Read On →

Things You Need to Cook, Addendum

Earlier, I made a short list of everything that you really need to cook. At this time, I need to add one small item. In addition to the stuff I that I listed earlier, you should head over to the Costco and pick up a “half sheet” pan. These are shallow aluminium pans that measure about 13”x18” that you can use to bake, well, almost everything. Generally, I use them to roast things that I don’t really want to use a roasting pan for. Read On →

Yo Ho Ho

It was just this past January that I published an article called What To Drink (Booze Edition), purporting to advise readers as to what liquors they should keep stocked in their houses at all times. One of the things I said was that, unless you had a specific need for it, you could easily get by without a bottle of rum. I stand by that statement. But in the interests of better living through chemistry, allow me to share two recipes that will give you the specific need for a bottle of rum. Read On →

Colossus Knee

I have been working towards the end of Shadow of the Colossus the last few days. Strangely, at the beginning of last week, my knee became sore for no reason. I went to see the doctor, who gave me some pills, and the pills made it better. Until last night whe, suddenly, the knee flared up again. So here is the only thing I can trace it to: both flareups corresponded to particularly long bouts with a colossus. Read On →

One Word Tea Review

Upton Tea’s “Imperial Grade” Lapsang Souchong: Ugh.

Now I Remember Why I Don't Play PC Games Much Anymore

These past couple of days I’ve been playing a certain fairly new Windows-based PC game, in preparation for an in-depth review. I won’t mention the title right now. You’ll probably be able to guess it, once the review is finished. Within the space of two days I’ve gotten to experience: stupid copy protection schemes that try to interfere with my computer’s operation when not playing the game, random crashes, poor performance, a generally poor user interface, modal dialog boxes that prevent me from using the in-game help system, and a host of other annoyances. Read On →

Shine and Shine and Shine and

I picked up Lumines for the PSP and have been playing it between levels of Shadow of the Colossus. I don’t have that much to say about the game. Others have already provided much more verbiage about this title without, er, illuminating why the game is fun and interesting. I can’t possibly add many more words to that discussion. I have just noticed one interesting aspect of the gameplay: I do better when I don’t know what I am doing. Read On →

A Fistful of Static

Preamble Somewhere in a distant time and place, a letter is delivered by runner: From: Light of the World, Voice of Nur, High Priest Akh-na-Gog To: Honored Slave Tinker and Inventor Euripaelus Subject: Re: Industrial accidents. Hear now the words of Holiest of Holies Great Nur, Light of the World, Peace be Upon Him, through his High Priest Akh-na-Gog, who says unto you: can we build the next colossus without any hair? Read On →

Choices I Don't Need

Buying socks used to be easy. You’d go to the store, buy 6 pair of lightweight Smartwool hiking socks, and go home. Smartwool used to only make about three kinds of socks: thin, a bit thicker, and really thick. But, as with all successful companies, they have been cursed with the diversification disease, and we are all worse off for it. For example, I bought socks at the new REI store in Pittsburgh the other weekend. Read On →

Shadow of the Shadow of the Colossus

Some of you may be wondering why there haven’t been many gaming articles lately. I believe the reason is that both psu and I are playing Shadow of the Colossus, and are desperately looking for some angle from which we can claim that it does not contradict our long-held position that “Boss” battles are stupid. We can’t dodge the topic forever, though. Look for our comments on Shadow of the Colossus soon.

Available Light

In an earlier article, I advised that if you needed to use a flash, there were no good pictures to be taken anyway. I realize now that anyone who has spent time reading the wankier photo forums, especially those related to Leica cameras could have taken this the wrong way. To clarify, my statement was not meant as a dig against flash or an attempt to uphold the ideals of “available light photography”. Read On →

It'd Probably Work Better If It Were Run By Drunkards

Certain topics come up again and again in this space. In videogames, we constantly talk about why save points are stupid. In photo we talk about equipment obsessions and how technique is more important than the camera. And in the “food and drink” category, I always find some occasion to complain about the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (“PLCB”). This is because, like a dog who returns to his vomit, I keep trying to go into their liquor stores to do crazy, wild, unexpected things, like purchase liquor. Read On →

Sort of Poached Salmon

My friend Erik used to be a chef, and he also spent a lot of time in Alaska. Therefore, he has strong opinions about salmon. Chief among them is never to buy salmon in Pittsburgh. But, if you break this rule, for god’s sake don’t poach the fish. Poached salmon, to Erik, is like a boiled beef roast. You end up with a piece of fish that is certainly cooked, but is no longer really good for anything but carrying large spoonfuls of garlic mayonnaise from your plate to your mouth. Read On →

Wool Socks

I wanted to take a moment to put down some words about wool socks. It is often been my experience that wool socks are maligned things. “They’re itchy,” I am told. “They look goofy,” they say. The intimation is that wearing wool socks brings with it immediate and irrevocable membership in some nebulous club that cares about recycling, saves kitchen scraps for the compost pile and is likely vegan. Plus wears socks with sandals. Read On →

Tools of the Trade

If there is one inescapable fact of life in our dynamic technological society, it is that if enough people are interested in a given activity, the tools that enable that activity will change. I was thinking about this recently as I was presented with two press items about the film industry. One was a loving lament for and tribute to the last of the hand-drawn animation studios at Disney. The other was a review of the new Wallace and Gromit movie. Read On →

How To Eat Prunes

Tonight at the grocery store, I needed to pick up some prunes to make one of my favorite treats. It turns out you can’t buy prunes anymore – instead, the major cooperatives want to sell you “pitted dried plums.” Pitted dried plum, of course, is a longwinded way of saying “prune.” Why this not-so-subtle shift in marketing? For a long time now prunes have had a connotation, in the US, of being something that senior citizens eat to cure their constipation. Read On →

Adjustment Layers

Most of the background I have in producing my own pictures came in the black and white darkroom. As most people know, when you do black and white printing, there are a wide variety of manipulations that you can do in the darkroom. Among other things, you can manipulate overall and local print contrast (when using adjustable contrast printing papers) and you can also manipulate overall and local “lightness” and “darkness” using dodging and burning. Read On →

They're Heeeeeeeeerrrrreee

Northern spy! So get yourself over to Schramm’s this weekend and buy some. In addition to my favorite crunchy, tart, perfect apple, they have also unleashed the Stayman-Winesaps, which are a perfect apple for in-hand eating, and the Spygold, a hybrid that’s fairly good for apple pies. This weekend, I will be making apple pie. Oh yes.

Unfair Criticism

It is fashionable these days to gripe about the state of gaming journalism. The main complaint that is often lodged is that gaming “criticism” is limited to being a glorified buyer’s guide to recent releases. I think this is a valid role for the gaming press to fill. After all, there are major publications in the areas of music, movies, theater, books and recordings of musical performances that are at their core a vehicle for telling you whether or not you should buy the items that they write about. Read On →

Your Milk's Got a Little Machine

I’ve always really enjoyed Alton Brown’s Food Network TV show Good Eats. One of the things I enjoy the most about him is his raise-the-black-flag-and-start-slitting-throats attitude towards kitchen equipment. Specifically, if a device could only be used to make one thing, he hated it. Recently, I’ve been eating a lot of this froufrou Greek yogurt, “Total.” It’s very nice, but fairly expensive. So I’ve taken to using my overpriced cups of Total to culture my own yogurt, using Alton’s method for making yogurt without a yogurt maker. Read On →

Somebody Save Me

Chris over at Only a Game published an interesting perspective on save games. He wrote a hypothetical dialogue between a game producer and his engineering, art, and QA teams on what type of save game system they should include on their game. I think he raises some interesting points, but I think he misses the mark on some others. So I am responding with a dialogue of my own that I think more accurately captures what’s at stake. Read On →

A Far Cry from Great

I had been wanting to play a shooter recently, and since they are never going to release Half-Life 2 for the Xbox (OK, maybe they will eventually) I had been putting up with Tom Clancy squad shooters in the interim. But those are not any fun. So when Far Cry: Intincts finally shipped, I figured maybe it was my ticket for at least the next couple of weeks. I heard the game was fun, and on the long side. Read On →

The 2005 IFComp, Text Adventures, and You

The 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition has begun. Let’s talk about text adventure games. Interactive fiction (“IF”) games, to me, encapsulate all the potential of gaming. It is, almost, a hybrid medium, combining the best (and sometimes worst) features of games, short stories, poetry, and puzzles. What I find incomprehensible is that so few people play modern IF games. You can go to just about any gaming magazine or weblog and read people complaining about the cookie-cutter, corporate nature of most releases. Read On →

Schramm Farms

One of the odd things about Western Pennsylvania, as a region, is that there is an urban/rural divide that seems more stark than nearly anywhere else I’ve been. You can travel half an hour outside of town and find people that have lived in the area all their lives, but never been downtown. Likewise, you can find people who live in the city who never find occasion to leave. This is a shame, because there are things in both places that are eminently worth experiencing. Read On →

Putting the "A" in A.I.

I got to thinking about the A.I. in games while playing the first few levels of the new Xbox shooter, Far Cry: Instincts. By coincidence, I had also recently replayed a few levels of Halo 2 and my first impressions of Far Cry were that the A.I. was much worse than the A.I. in Halo. So, while I spent some time in the rain forest with the little Far Cry mercenaries, I also thought about why they were less effective as artificial opponents as the grunts and elites in Halo. Read On →

Playable Classics: A Selected Ultima

I have written in detail before about my obsession with the Ultima games. After much deliberation, Tea Leaves is designating one of the Ultima games as a Playable Classic. It joins the other classic games Fool’s Errand, Star Control II, and Escape Velocity as a shining exemplar of the best that videogaming has to offer. The Contestants First, a brief review of the idea of a Playable Classic. “Classic” is fairly obvious: a game that has stood the test of time, and that was innovative or genre-defining (or busting). Read On →

Chinese Braised Ribs

This is another one of my mom’s dishes. I grew up with this, but never really thought about how it was done. In college, I tried literally dozens of times to get this even close to right. Finally, with enough practice it just started happening. The keys are the ratio of soy to sugar and cooking the ribs for a long time. Start with one rack of spare ribs or baby back ribs. Read On →

I Apologize to the Consumer Society

Earlier in this forum, I dumped on the general state of the shiny useless portable gaming device market. Against my better judgement, I picked up a PSP and Madden 06 anyway, on the theory that I could return them if they did in fact meet expectations and sort of suck. I’m happy to report here that I must apologize to the consumer society, and that the PSP and Madden are generally better than I expected them to be. Read On →

Klatsch Warfare

One of the items in last Friday’s snarky list of one- liners was: ‘“Fair Trade” coffee means that I pay more for the coffee beans, but then to make up for it they taste like crap.’ This (partly) inspired fair-trade coffee fan Green LA Girl (there’s only one?) to write a couple of articles on fair trade vs. taste, including an interesting conversation with a company that buys a lot of fair trade coffee, but has not bothered to seek certification themselves. Read On →

Bagging It

Bags are a problem. The modern dork has a lot of crap to carry around and protect on a daily basis. You have your laptop, cell phone, big camera, small camera, maybe a lens, a flash, Gameboy, PSP, sunglasses, various papers, wallet and lots of small things that you don’t really want in your pockets, but which you don’t really want to leave at home either. The ideal bag does not exist. Read On →


They had tomatillos at the farmer’s market this weekend. Tomatillos means salsa. So here you go. Start with: 4-6 medium-sized tomatoes, cut up. It’s also fun to use 2 or 3 regular tomatoes and 2 or 3 roma. However many tomatoes you used, use the same number of tomatillos, or however many you like. 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded. 2 if you like it hotter,3 if you like it hotter than that salt handful of cilantro leaves (1⁄4 cup) juice of 1⁄2 to 1 lemon 4 scallions cut up, just the bottom half. Read On →

The Taleggio Problem

If only all my problems tasted this good. Taleggio I love Taleggio cheese, but here’s my problem. You want your Taleggio to be good and stinky, which means the paper on it should be soaked through and impossible to remove. But if the paper is impossible to remove, then you don’t get to eat the rind. And I like eating the rind. It’s a conundrum. Am I the only person with this problem? Read On →