No Bad Days

It’s the first week of July, which means the Tour De France has started again. The Tour, of late, has taken on a certain sameness. Lance starts, Lance stays out of trouble, Lance wins in the mountains, Lance takes more time in the time trials, Lance wins the race. While some would want you to believe that this makes the race boring (and they are, to a certain extent, correct) one should always keep in mind exactly what it takes to be the guy that does what Lance is doing. Read On →

Solitaire's Not The Only Game In Town

In my family, growing up, the men played Pinochle and the women played Mahjong. Later in life, this became a source of vexation to me, because the men so clearly got the short end of the stick. First of all, to play Pinochle you have to use a stupid Pinochle deck, which isn’t any use whatsoever when playing War or Go Fish or other card games that normal people play. Secondly, there was some sort of unwritten law that said that in order to play Pinochle, you have to have at least one guy smoking a really stinky cigar, which is gross. Read On →

Mysteries of Love

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, a long-time couple. How the hell did that happen?

Immersed in Hype

The last few months have been filled with a steady stream of hype, drool, drool-induced hype and general nonsense about the coming of the next generation consoles. The “next gen”, we are told, will bring us unprecendented processing power which will allow us to create fantastic gaming vistas full of particle effects, physics engines and environments that are normal-mapped and pixel-shaded out the ass. All of this, it is said, will provide an unprecedented level of “realism” and therefore “immersion” in future games. Read On →

Howl's Moving Castle

Bear with me for a few paragraphs, while I approach a review of the Disney release of Howl’s Moving Castle from a very oblique direction. I’m one of the people who prefers to watch movies that are dubbed instead of subtitled, all things being equal. This is, apparently, a controversial position. I don’t really understand how there can be any debate over this. If you have a movie with a superb dub, and a movie with great subtitles, the dub is the better movie. Read On →

NBA Basketball Returns

I have for the most part avoided watching pro basketball over the last few years. The main reason for this is the recent period of extended futility in which the Boston Celtics have found themselves trapped. But, I think there are deeper reasons for my distaste. It seems to me that the game has lost any sense of flow and grace. Instead, you watch a game and you see ten virtuoso athletes surrounded by their prodigious egos dribbling into an endless series of isolation plays and 2-on-2 pick and roll. Read On →

Playable Classics: Escape Velocity

People have been making “space opera” trading games for 25 years. Among these is Ambrosia Software’s Escape Velocity, first developed in 1992. It is the best game of its kind. The most recent version, Escape Velocity Nova, is available for both Windows and Macintosh, and provides varying levels of challenge for the novice and for the experienced player. It is a classic, and everyone with a soul will enjoy it. I don’t want to discuss the geneology of space opera games in detail here; I’ve already done that in my review of Star Sonata, and if you’re interested you can read that article instead. Read On →

Berry Alert

The first ripe wild black raspberries (_rubus occidentalis_) of the season have been spotted. And eaten.

The Carnival of Gamers

If you like the game-related articles you read on Tea Leaves, you should definitely visit the third installment of The Carnival of Gamers, a collection of some interesting gaming-related articles. Tea Leaves is honored to have been able to participate.

You are Not the Boss of Me

Video games, like all forms of entertaiment, have their own set of idiosyncratic formal conventions. All the Zelda games have a series of dungeons, broken up by exploration, where you collect items to defeat the final enemy. Horror games have a slow pace, shuffling zombies and stupid camera angles. Platform games have hateful jumping puzzles and take place in a strange world where whacking a box turns it into money. Conventions like this can be useful because they provide a formal framework in which the game designers can work. Read On →

Reaping the Whirlwind

So it’s come down to this. Eleven years after Ayrton Senna’s tragic death cast a pall over Formula 1 and made everyone rethink safety, Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley have put up a tent and made everyone rethink clown cars. This weekend’s US Grand Prix was the ninth race of the season, the first season of the millennium to not be so boring as to serve as a prescription insomnia cure. Read On →

One Gear Higher

I’ve actually done enough riding this year to progress past the “start gasping for air every time you come off the downhill” stage of fitness. More books than I can list here have been written about training for cycling. Certainly, the success of the more systematic methods used by Lance Armstrong and such to win the Tour De France over and over again have gotten a lot of attenion if for no other reason than they use cool toys. Read On →

Wrath Unleashed

It is well understood that there is nothing new under the sun in video games. I recently borrowed Wrath Unleashed from the local library, not knowing what it was. Archon What it was is a remake of Archon. Archon, for those of you who have never heard of it, is on every old computer game player’s list of The Greatest Games Ever Made. The basic idea is: it’s chess. But when your pieces occupy the same square as your opponent’s piece, you move to an “arena” and the two players fight it out in arcade-like combat. Read On →

Going to the Movies

The office had a trip to see the new Batman movie. The movie itself, while flawed in some ways, was for the most part enjoyable. However, the whole movie-going experience itself has become tedious in many ways. First, there was lunch. The theater is actually only close to a bunch of boring box restaurants, and one of the people in our group required gluten free food. So we ended up at P.F. Read On →

Cocoa Rouge

My chocolatier, Amy, said “I’ve got something special for you.” OK, so she’s not just my chocolatier. She owns the store where I get most of my chocolate. For a while now, I’ve been getting most of my cocoa powder from Mon Aimee Chocolat in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. As it happens, I drink a lot of cocoa. So when it comes to this particular commodity, I’m what is known as a “value” shopper (or, as psu would call me, a “cheapskate”). Read On →

Black and White Blues

Back when I shot film, I had evolved to shooting almost 100% black and white. There were various reasons for this, but ultimately it was just because I liked the look and I liked printing. One place I especially liked shooting black and white was Paris. I have hundreds of pictures in my files from there that I will hopefully get back to printing later in my life. With the switch to digital, I hardly make any black and white pictures. Read On →

I Saw the Best Critics of My Generation

Stephanie Zacharek of Salon doesn’t like the new Hayao Miyazaki film, Howl’s Moving Castle. I felt ambiguous at the prospect of seeing this film: Miyazaki’s Princess Mo nonoke was epic, luminous, and put me to sleep, wheras the pacing of Spirited Away was just right. But Zacharek thought that Howl, based on the book by Diana Wynn Jones, was somewhat boring. Zacharek, helpfully, is always completely wrong about everything, so I’m taking that as a sign that Howl is probably pretty good, although not as good as it would have been had she thought it was a pile of unwatchable tripe.

Outage

Our Internet provider suffered a significant outage today, just in time for our Carnival of Gamers entry. Sorry for any inconvenience.

The Dreamhold

I’ll start off with a disclaimer. I know Andrew Plotkin, the author of The Dreamhold. We’ve worked closely together. We run into each other at the library on occasion. I consider him a friend. So as I discuss the game, I’ll wear my bias on my sleeve: I think Andrew’s games are great. Despite (or because of?) that, I think I have some interesting things to say about it. I like to think that I inspired The Dreamhold. Read On →

Sagacious Jade Golem Stupid Boss

After a short detour through the land of zombies and the land of slam dunks, I’m back into Jade Empire. Overall, I have found the experience satisfying in that KOTOR but with Kung Fu way. But I must complain about the recent boss fight. Here we have a triple wammy of bad game design. 1. The Boss is much much harder to kill than the entire sequence of enemies you just dispatched all at the same time. Read On →

Antidecisionmentarianism

I don’t know a lot about coffee. This surprises people who know how much coffee I drink (a lot) and who know how obsessive-compulsive I can get about other things I drink, such as tea or wine. With those drinks, I’m always branching out to try new styles, while simultaneously deeply exploring the styles I know I like, trying to discern and describe small differences in taste. With coffee, though, I more or less just walk into a good coffee shop and drink whatever they hand me. Read On →

Better in Paris

For several years of my life, I have had a tag line attached to me that goes “Oh, those are better in Paris.” While I believe that this tag is somewhat unfair, there are definitely a few things routinely available in France that seem to have no counterpart of comparable quality back here at home. Cheese Every single time we are in Paris we visit the cheese shop. Two particular varieties of cheese stand out here. Read On →

Fallout

Apparently, controversy still rages about my article The Best Review Money Can Buy, which was included in the recent Carnival of Gamers. In particular, Matt at cgonline.com was quite upset. He feels that I’m painting mainstream game reviewers with too broad a brush, and that my description of them as lacking credibility was not fair. I stand by my article, hyperbole and all. Clearly, though, I’m going to have to start adding little smiley faces whenever I talk about how ultra-credible I am: some folks didn’t get the joke. Read On →

NBA Street V3

One of my more beloved games on the Xbox was NBA Street V2. But, pulling off the advanced tricks with the Xbox controller was always too hard because the Xbox controller only allowed you three “turbos”. Still, when you got in the right rythm, your little avatars could dance around, pass the ball off someone’s head and then through the air to a thunderous dunk. This made for more fun in 3-on-3 than my other Xbox basketball experience. Read On →

Service with a Smile

Our last night in Paris, we found ourselves at Brasserie Balzar for dinner. This place is something of a landmark (even with its recent aquisition by a large corporation) in the center of the St. Germain area. The place is pretty popular, so it was with a certain lack of wisdom that we arrived sans reservations, much to the annoyance of the manager. We explained in our broken Junior High French that yes, we should have made reservations, but that we would be happy to take any table, perhaps the small one there on the terrace? Read On →

Blueberries Spotted

The pints of blueberries have arrived. I am happy, until late September.

The Perfect Storm

If you ever find yourself sitting in the F terminal of the FilthyPhiladephia International Aiport waiting for a U.S. Airways Express plane to take you back home to Pittsburgh, you know you have had a bad day. Every single person at the gate had the same story to tell. There was the woman who had been four hours late getting out of Seattle and re-rounted half way around the world and back to the F terminal. Read On →

Whine and Spirits

Every so often, I think that I’ve reached some sort of plateau in terms of how much I hate the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Then I make some stupid mistake, like shopping at a Pennsylvania liquor store again, and I discover new vistas of animosity and contempt. I drove up to Cranberry tonight to get a bottle of Amaro Montenegro, because the PLCB’s web site indicated it was one of the only stores west of the Susquehanna that had any. Read On →

...Or Anything By Tom Waits

In 1988, LSD was popular among some people at Carnegie Mellon. So much so that when a number of people had “bad trips,” the administration released a public service announcement warning people: “The acid with the picture of the sunshine on it is bad, and has been causing bad trips. Stay away from the ‘bad acid’”. Then, of course, for the rest of the academic year, absolutely everyone on campus used “Whoah, bad acid!” as a catchphrase. Read On →

Ask the Audience

Today I saw the first hour and 40 minutes of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Instead of sharing my incomplete opinion of the part of the movie I saw, let me ask you: is it worth going back to see the end, or should I just wait for it to come out on DVD? Due to unforeseen circumstances, I left shortly after Anakin formally became Darth Vader. So how about it? Read On →

More Forza Thoughts

I’m still not ready to give my full review, because I’m still evaluating the game. That being said, I have spent the past 2 hours saying “well, just one more race,” and my heart is pumping in a way that it hasn’t been since the San Francisco tracks of the original Project Gotham Racing. So I would be remiss if the last thing I left you with for the weekend was my cryptic “Hmmmmmmm” from yesterday. Read On →

Forza First Impressions

Well, it’s better than Gran Turismo 4, but… Hmmmmmmmmmm. I’m not feeling terribly optimistic today. I’ll play it for a few more days before going in to more detail.

Harry Up, Already

Yes, I’m desperate for the sixth book in the Harry Potter series to be published, already. I realize that in some circles this marks me as a rube, a sucker, someone sucking at the mass-market teat. The type of person who, if he wanted Chinese food, might go eat at P.F. Chang’s. I don’t care. If Roger Ebert gets to like monster movies, I get to like Harry Potter. I actually do agree with A.S. Read On →

Books in a Blender

Tonight, we began playing with book titles, rewritten to include references to food. Or videogames. Or both. We very quickly settled in to a groove. Here are the results. 93. The God of Small Things That Taste Like Chicken. [peterb] 92. The God of Stupid Console Savepoint Systems [psu] 91. Love in the Time of Super-sizing [peterb] 90. One Hundred Years of Solitaire [peterb] 89. The Moor’s Large Fry [agroce] 88. Read On →

Raise a Glass

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated antediluvian and protectionist state laws that prevent direct sale and shipment of wine by out-of-state vendors to consumers, at least in states which allow direct shipment by in-state wineries. The case, Granholm v. Heald, can be obtained online. It remains to be seen whether this will have any practical impact in Pennsylvania, since I’m uncertain if PA allows direct shipment of wine by in-state wineries to consumers. Read On →

The Best Review Money Can Buy

Jane at GameGirlAdvance writes an apologia for game review puffery, as a result of Gamespy getting busted perverting the central message of one of their writer’s reviews. The executive summary of her article is “editing game reviews is so very hard!” Huh? No, it isn’t. Why are some authors and editors so intent on pretending that it is? Anyone who tells you that this is a difficult, thorny problem is telling you a bunch of apologist, industry-shill claptrap. Read On →

The Consumer Rule

Buying shoes used to be easy. You’d go to the store, try on two or three pair in your size and pick the one with the closest fit. You could also count on being able to go to the same store a year or so later and get another pair of the same sort without too much trouble. In our modern economy, this has all changed in the name of maximizing choice. Read On →

Amari Tasting (Part 2)

The drinks are poured The first part of this article can be found here. As the drinks were poured, Lidia entertained us by talking about how they are made. Generally, amari are built on a base of strong alcohol that has been infused with herbs, roots, and sometimes fruits. They occupy a strange space because of their dual role as both pleasurable and medicinal drinks. Italians are big on this. Pick up any bottle of mineral water in Italy, and somewhere on the label will be a little testimonial by a chemist from the University of Bologna (or wherever) stating that drinking L’Acqua di Cavilfiore is good for the digestion and urinary health. Read On →

¬°Taqueria Mi Mexico! Redux

Since we live there part time now, I thought it would be fitting to provide a bit more commentary on the new Mexican place in Squirrel Hill. The Big Picture Go there, now. Some Extra Details In our previous episode, Pete recommended the chorizo, barbacoa (goat), tripas (tripe) and lengua (tounge) tacos. I can vouch for these recommendations and add that the longaniza (spicy sausage), carnitas (roast pork), and cabesa (cow’s head) tacos are also yummy. Read On →

Take This .sit and Stuff It

Dear Mac Developers: I know very well that software developers are creatures of habit. Given a tool that does roughly 80% of the job we need to do (such as Emacs, or the X Windowing System), we are inclined to grab on to it with both hands and refuse to let go until we are forced to. Today I would like to try to force Mac developers to stop using Stuffit. Read On →

Scopes Redux

I don’t normally just link to other weblogs without a connecting article, but I think that Red State Rabble’s continuing coverage of the kangaroo court trying to re-introduce creationism in Kansas is self-explanatory, and import enough to warrant a bare link. Remember: if this sort of skullduggery succeeds in Kansas, it’s likely that Pennsylvania is next.

Pan and Oven

Back when I first got my Tivo, I recorded too many episodes of a Discovery Channel series called “Great Chefs”. What they did was to send a film crew into a restaurant kitchen and tape the chef making a dish or two or three off of the menu. Being something of a food geek, it was occasionally interesting to watch someone really brilliant making something really excellent. In retrospect though, the show was pretty annoying. Read On →

Playable Classics: Star Control II

I first encountered Star Control on the Sega Genesis. At the time, there wasn’t anything to indicate that it would eventually lead to one of the best computer games I’d ever play. “I must destroy you…for the children!” The first game in the series was fun. Not Earth-shaking, not life-changing, but fun. It was, at heart, a dressed up version of the classic Spacewar game: meant for two players, each player controls a ship and tries to blow the other one out of the skies. Read On →

Mechanical Narrative

Two things have stuck in my brain about games lately. The first is a long thread at The Grumpy Gamer that starts out being about cut scenes in modern games, and quickly meanders off through long and interesting discussions about the nature of narrative and games. A lot of people in thread lament the fact that many modern games are really just linear slogs from cut scene to cut scene. The second is a snippet from one of the “Making of Halo 2” documentaries that came with the special edition of the game. Read On →

¬°Taqueria Mi Mexico!

In what is, I hope, another sign of Pittsburgh developing a thriving and growing Latin-American community, a new, authentic taqueria has opened in Squirrel Hill, on Murray Avenue near Hobart: Taqueria Mi Mexico. Today was the first day they were open the general public, so a group of us descended on it for lunch. The summary: I will be eating lunch there every day for the rest of my life. OK, I exaggerate. Read On →

Tiger Launch Party

So, it turns out that there are people who are really, really enthusiastic about Mac OS X, as I discovered at the Tiger launch party in Shadyside last night. And now, I have photos to prove it. Tiger Launch, With Actual Tigers (click to enlarge) Walking Feature List (click to enlarge) Thanks to Jenny Ladd for the photos!

Welcome, Ineffable Tiger Wu

Now that Mac OS X 10.4 (“Tiger”) has been unleashed, it is only right and proper that I make available The Inscrutable Denominator of Heaven’s Dashboard, ready for your Dashboard-using pleasure. It requires, of course, Mac OS X 10.4. Download, unzip, and double-click to install and run. On the one hand, it’s still the same garbage code, and the random number generator doesn’t quite work right. On the other hand, I ported it in to Dashboard in just about 10 minutes, and most of that was spent dorking around with the background image. Read On →

DISH

In the South Side of Pittsburgh, on 17th about a block and a half south of Carson Street is a small house with a green awning. Under the awning is a door and a sign that reads: DISH Osteria and Bar. From the outside, the door is just another door in another blue collar Pittsburgh neighborhood. It’s a skinny street with a beat up sidewalk lined with cheap looking row houses as far as the eye can see. Read On →

GT4: Final Notes

GT4 Photo Mode Now that I have finally obtained a USB jump drive, I have been able to try out “photo mode,” which means I have now tried everything Gran Turismo 4 has to offer. My review remains the same: “meh.”

Nonexistent Games, Reappearing

Last October I wrote about a Star Trek game for the Apple II that I remembered playing in the early 1980s. It had the somewhat disconcerting habit of spewing out page-long quotes from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. It was so incongruous that I wasn’t sure if the game actually existed, or if I was just remembering some sort of odd dream. The other week, to my surprise, someone wrote me saying: “Hey. Read On →