Star Sonata

There is nothing new under the sun. Nearly every videogame (or, for that matter, board game) one plays borrows mechanisms from one or more previous games. Innovation is rare. When we describe a game as being “novel” what we’re often referring to is a novel way of combining elements of previous games. I often complain about corporate games that blow their budget entirely on graphics and sound, but part of me understands why: it’s easier to innovate visually (or, to a lesser extent, in telling a story) than it is to develop a brand new type of gameplay that is still fun. Read On →

Ninjaneer

Welcome to this week’s first article focusing on independently developed games. The funny thing about being a ninja is how really, it’s all about the basics. Sure, sure, you can learn advanced jutsu to channel your chakra into a deadly weapon, or distill a lethal poison for slipping into the drink of the man you’ve been hired to assassinate. There’s the parties with other ninja, the endless fashion parade of simple black clothes and ever more expensive accessories (“Oh, didn’t I show you my new shuriken? Read On →

Indie Game Week

Next week will be Independent Game Week here at Tea Leaves. Ron at Grumpy Gamer is having his own micro-protest wherein he is not playing the blockbusters. In solidarity, all next week I will be highlighting and showcasing Windows and Macintosh games produced by small teams for not a lot of money. Games will be featured because I think they’re fun; I’ll be focusing on games that are comparatively new (however much I might want to evangelize System’s Twilight to you, the goal here is to showcase games that were developed recently, not “old classics”.) If you have a game you think is worthy of consideration, feel free to drop a line to blog @ tleaves.com.

Cooking Rice

Occasionally, people ask me about cooking rice. I always say: “First you get out your rice cooker.” At this point, they might ask, “Well, what if I don’t have a rice cooker?” In that case, my answer starts: “Well, first you go buy a rice cooker.” I will state without proof that if you ask most people of East Asian heritage how to cook rice, the first thing they’ll tell you is to get a rice cooker. Read On →

Magician's Choice

Branches That Don’t. I’ve been playing a bit more Icewind Dale II recently, and I have gotten a bit further in to the game. The game is so soulless and uninteresting that it takes my breath away. Only a committee could have taken such a simple concept and turned out something so completely lacking in fun. As I plow through the same Forgotten Realms setting as the Baldur’s Gate games, using the familiar D20 rules that I enjoyed in other games, I am overcome with ennui and want to lay down and take a nap (or, more accurately, play BGII or bg1tutu instead.) Why? Read On →

More Software Engineering Terms

From time to time, I share certain terms that I find useful in my space-age- au-go-go career as a software developer. This is one of those times. Idimpotent - An operation is “idempotent” if it can be safely attempted multiple times. An operation is “idimpotent” if it should be idempotent, but instead it brings your system to a crashing halt if you try it twice. (Variation: idemimpotent). Implementation detail - This term is usually used to describe the requirements of any given project. Read On →

Magic Missile

I recently started re-playing the Baldur’s Gate games – the originals, for the PC – as well as the somewhat newer Icewind Dale II. What motivated this was a little bit of hackery over at the Pocket Plane Group called bg1tutu. Put simply, this is a project which takes the Baldur’s Gate data files and converts them so they can be played with the Baldur’s Gate II engine. It’s a neat hack. Read On →

Picoreview: ESPN Basketball 2k4

This is last year’s ESPN Basketball game, and you can pick it up for about $7, or less, from any number of game stores. It’s essentially the exact same superb game Sega was making for the Dreamcast 5 years ago, except now I can play it on Xbox Live and have my 76’ers humiliate psu’s mispronounced Celtics, 60-36.

Generational Digital Stupidity

Dear NPR, Your recent series of radio stories entitled “Digital Generations” is clearly the most ignorant, juvenile, cliched and simply lazy reporting that you have done all year, and that includes the coverage of the election. Where to start. Let’s start with the profile of the “digital child” and his “digitally challenged” parents. This piece presents us with the wide brush generalization that “kids these days” have some sort of subconcious connection with technology that their parents simply do not understand. Read On →

Chasing the Dragon

It was just last week that my friend told me he was going to build his own computer. I asked him to understand in advance that in the weeks to come, after he put it together and it either didn’t work or suffered from a string of ongoing stability issues, I would mock him cruelly. But I would be doing so out of love. Last night he IM’d me: “OK, you can start laughing now.” I really do feel his pain, because the same thing happened to me. Read On →

Console Shopping

As I outlined before, a large part of my life is spent shopping. This is not to say that I buy a lot of stuff. Mostly I just make mental lists of what I would like to buy, in an ideal world, depending on what my current obsession is. Since my most recent obsession is game consoles, naturally I have been shopping for them latey. This, of course, makes no sense at all, since the Xbox that I have is perfectly adequate. Read On →

Holiday Gamer's Gift Guide

It’s hard to know how to shop for a videogamer. How do you find something that’s appropriate for their age, fun, and not too expensive if you don’t play games yourself? The answer is: you bend to my will and let me choose your gifts for you. My goal here is to recommend games beyond the “big names” – the fact is, most gamers are more than happy to go out and buy the big marquee titles themselves; if there’s a gamer in your family with an Xbox, for example, she or he probably already has Halo 2. Read On →

Tiny Epiphany

If you just eat turkey and salad, and green vegetables, and skip the mashed potatoes, stuffing, candied yams, and so on, Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t actually make you feel so full that you might die. I say that L-Tryptophan is just a convenient excuse to deny that gluttony makes you sleepy.

Relish Not

I listen to NPR, as required by my “urbane liberal” membership. If you listen to NPR also, you know that the passage of the seasons can be marked not only by the weather, but by the reappearance of certain set pieces, regular as clockwork, like old friends. Or, in the case of Susan Stamberg’s cranberry relish recipe, mortal enemies. Stamberg recites this little bit of culinary performance art – originally inflicted upon the world by food writer Craig Claiborne – every Thanksgiving, without fail. Read On →

Can WRC Rally Be Saved?

Around Thanksgiving, in my house, the pheromones that men emit while bonding flow thickly and freely. In the haze of their L-tryptophan enhanced post- prandial stupors, men move slowly, so as not to alarm their pack-mates. Belts are loosened. Talk of politics is avoided. Attention focuses, inevitably, on whatever sport is on TV. Often, this ends up being football, naturally, but every so often I’ll walk into the room only to find all eyes focused in rapt attention on a golf match. Read On →

Metal Gear Stupid

I found out today that the title of this piece is sadly not original. In fact, much of what I have to say is even told more concisely here. But I figured, why let lack of originality stop a good rant. So here we go. The new Metal Gear Solid game is out, and I noticed that aside from the exception above, all the game review sites seem afraid to tell their readers the truth, which is that if this game is anything like the other two in the franchise, then it completely blows. Read On →

Halo 2: My View

Just finished the single player in Halo 2, so I feel like I can talk about the game in more detail. Good: The single player campaign improves on the first game in almost every way. For example, in the first Halo, there was a load screen for every large chapter of the game, but then none within each level until you got to the end. In Halo 2, there is a load screen when you start the game but then there isn’t another one until you quit. Read On →

Realism

I have a friend who won’t play The Sims. She won’t even try it. This is someone who likes whimsical videogames, who enjoys nonviolent, nontraditional games. So it seemed to me that even if this wasn’t her cup of tea, it would at least be worth trying. I asked her why she was so sure it wasn’t for her. “It’s like this,” she said. “In Kindergarten, we used to play ‘house.’ Playing ‘house’ is fun, and you and your friends take on different roles and do different things. Read On →

Bonaguil source release

Work has been super-busy, so I haven’t had any time to hack on Bonaguil. Therefore, I’m releasing the source code for people to look at and/or play with. All right are reserved at this point; consider this free (as in beer) for personal use, but not in the public domain or GPLable. If you produce a derivative work based on Bonaguil, please give credit accordingly and include the URL of this weblog. Read On →

The Latent Object

There was a discussion on our local chat system a while back about the genesis of the frenzy over Halo 2. Pete suggested that the pre-release hype for a game such as Halo has its origins in the hard-wired obsessive addiction that hard- core gamers have for the next big hit, having been searching for the next big hit since their first exposure to games as young men. This, of course, does not apply to me. Read On →

Ikon Angst

Time at which I deployed the new, custom designed category icons for Tea Leaves yesterday: 7:38 pm. Time at which the first reader complained that I took away their favorite icon: 7:49 pm. I love the little fruit-lover as much as the rest of you, but he’s not mine. I always felt a little guilty about my icons; they’re grabbed from all sorts of random places. I wanted something that would give the site a little more consistent feel. Read On →

Non Sequitur

I have no point here, I just like saying “343 Guilty Spark”.

Participation

If you’re able to borrow someone’s child for a few hours, you should visit the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. Although their web site is vile, the installations at the museum are nothing short of superb. Nearly everything in the museum is interactive, interesting, and playful in visual, aural, or tactile ways. Click to enlarge There’s a studio space where you, can make paper, silkscreen prints, paintings, or pottery. There are interesting interactive visual exhibits like the one pictured to the left. Read On →

At Arm's Length

Dear Robert: Here’s a question for you. It’s inspired by the knowledge that the demo for Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox release Forza Motorsport is circulating amongst the gaming press, but is not yet in wide enough circulation for any of the game bloggers I know to have played it yet. The question is “Why aren’t demos like this going to the blogosphere first? One of my primary interests is game blogging. I write intelligent, straightforward, in-depth, and (I think) fair commentary on video games, their design, and implementation. Read On →

Halo 2: Variants

Tonight I discovered that Halo 2 lets you define custom variants and name them. So, as a test, tonight I’ll be rolling out Glock 19, a very simple variant: Players start with a pistol. There are no weapons to be found anywhere on the map, and no vehicles. And you have no shields. It’s about as close to Counterstrike as I could make Halo be. You also have the option of making players sit out for up to 2 minutes when they die, but I figure I’ll see how the rest of the group takes it before adding that little rule. Read On →

Halo 2: The Good

My praise of Halo 2 on this site has been pretty lukewarm so far. This is unfair, because it really is a great game. I think the issue is that some of the improvements from the first game are so subtle that they’re hard to notice, and then once you notice them they’re hard to describe to someone that hasn’t played both games. Because of this, Halo 2 is perhaps missing some of the “wow factor” that some of us expected. Read On →

Halo 2: Day One

Apparently, I’m not that good at it. And not just the online version, either. I started the single-player campaign of “Heroic,” which is one notch above normal, and am now ruing it. I’m considering restarting on “normal,” or perhaps even looking to see if there is some easier setting, perhaps named “creampuff Casper Milquetoast”. But it sure is pretty. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Halo, a lot. It’s pretty much a rock solid implementation of “the 3d multiplayer deathmatch shooter.” It’s Quake 3 with a pace that isn’t stupidly painful, and with much, much better designed maps. Read On →

Halo 2 Tragedy

Today, I bought the Collector’s Edition of Halo 2. In a cruel twist of fate, the box I got had only one disk in it – the “making of” DVD – and no game disk. So I had to trudge back to Huge Corporate Chain tonight to exchange it for a box which actually, y’know, had the game I paid for. So, expect the first look review tomorrow, instead of today. Read On →

Great Moments in Geography

It was just this past summer, and I was in my favorite French bistro in Toronto: La Palette. It is small, comfortably crowded, and quirky. It was a wonderful day. Kensington Market was closed to auto traffic in a “take back the streets” sort of moment. Live music blared from three different bands. And a summer shower forced us all inside – wet, but happy. I was looking forward to a simple plate of steak frittes. Read On →

Pot Stickers

Chinese dumplings, or the fried variation called Pot Stickers (more literally, the stuff that tears up because it is stuck to the bottom of the frying pan) were a fixture of my youth. My mom brought them from China to the U.S. and I remember huge get togethers where a dozen friends and family would crank out hundreds of these things for all of us to gorge on. Although I was never much help making them as a child, one of the missions of my adult life was to figure out how they are made, and at least be able to create a reasonable facsimile of the dish in my own home. Read On →

iTunes OCD

You’d think that having an iPod would be an endless parade of musical bliss. And, mostly, it is. But the one worm in the apple is that now that you have 5,000 songs in the library, and you have to rate them. “Oh, come now,” you say. “You don’t have to rate those songs.” And maybe you’d be right in a sort of narrowminded, positivist, literal way. But when you’re talking about me, you’re talking about someone who eats all of the green M&M’s first, and is convinced that they actually taste better. Read On →

Prince Of Persia

Last week I found I was in my local GameStop and happened to browse past Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time. Since Pete was pretty hard on this game and I tend to believe Pete, I had avoided it until now. But I figured (1) it was cheap and (2) I could return it in a week if I hated it, since it was used. Prince of Persia is not the type of game I usually get into. Read On →

Preemptive Strike

I promise, I promise, the political articles will stop, soon. In anticipation of the continuing disaster that is our electorate’s (apparent) choice, I present, for your delight and consumption, the I Blame Ohio line of fine clothing products. Coffee mugs, T-shirts (for you or your budding little politicians), mouse pads – if you’re bitter, have we got the products for you. Just stop by and visit the store. If you haven’t tried blaming Ohio yet, start today! Read On →

The Id Parade

Today’s the day. Place your bets, make your choice, and vote. Four years ago, the cant among the hipper-than-thou was that it didn’t matter whether Bush or Gore was elected, because they were both corporate drones with indistinguishable policies. Today, it is clear to everyone: it matters whether Bush or Kerry wins this election. It matters a lot.

Northern's Pie

[](http://www.tleaves.com/weblog/images/articles/DCP_1207.JPG)As American as apple pie Not a lot of sugar, an amazingly fantastic whole wheat crust, and a ton of Northern Spy apples. It was yummy. Still, I maintain my position that sour apples are perfectly fine to eat out of hand. When I was a kid, we had a sour cherry tree in our backyard. Every summer, we were overwhelmed with baskets, buckets, crates of sour, tangy cherries that would make you pucker like a persimmon. Read On →

Fear Itself

Here’s a photo of a 1949 political billboard from Pittsburgh. The photo, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Courier Archives, is by Charles “Teeny” Harris, who took over 80,000 pictures depicting black life in Pittsburgh. The billboard is by the Republican party, which I guess hasn’t changed much in fifty years. I originally saw this on Orcinus, who credits d. eaton with pointing it out to him. I think this image serves as a cogent and simple reminder that the political appeals to fear – by either party – are not some sort of new technique. Read On →

Brief Outage

Due to a power outage at our ISP, followed by a hard drive crash, Tea Leaves was unavailable for most of the day. But, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the folks at Telerama Internet, we’re back online without even having lost any data (other than perhaps a few comments.) Here’s a big plusplus going out to the team at Telerama. Thanks, guys!

Red Sox Win

My first Red Sox World Series experience was in 1975 against the Reds. My dad didn’t let me stay up for game 6 and Carlton Fisk’s home run. Of course, they lost game 7. In 1986, I was in school and didn’t even realize the Sox were in the series until we tuned in on game 6. For game 7 I was at a Billy Joel concert. He’s a Mets fan. Read On →

Strange and Norrell

Strange and Norrell I’m currently reading Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I’d characterize as Jane Austen meets Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Most reviewers have compared the book to the Harry Potter series, undoubtedly because the book is “about” magic, and takes place in England. This isn’t any more accurate than comparing Catch-22 to A Farewell to Arms simply because both are “about” war and take place in Italy. Read On →

Northern Spy

One of the best features of the Xbox home console system is that you can rip music from music CDs to the hard disk. Some games then allow you to play that music back in-game. The classic street racer Project Gotham Racing is one such game. One of the first things I did upon acquiring an Xbox was to rip a whole bunch of surf music on to the hard drive. Read On →

Stop Hurting America

This morning on the way in to work I made the mistake of tuning in to NPR. Steve Inskeep was interviewing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) about partisanship. In so doing, Frist made the point that the Democrats have blocked 10 Federal Circuit Court nominees from consideration and that, and I quote, “the blocking of 10 justices, has never been done in the history of this country.” My mouth dropped open, because this is a lie. Read On →

Red Sox Win

The Red Sox are in the World Series. That’s pretty cool.

10 Things I Hate About Tcl

I really, really, really don’t like Tcl. Here are some of the reasons why. 1. The syntax for basic language elements is broken and inconsistent. Look, go ahead and put dollar signs in front of variables. Or don’t put dollar signs in front of variables. I don’t really care. But make up your mind; don’t make me have to figure out which syntax I need to use from context. 2. No syntax checking until the program actually executes a given line of code. Read On →

Calamari Misterdarcy

What are all the cool kids playing on their consoles today? Katamari Damacy! It’s the sort of game that only comes along once every few years, where the controls, theme, and tone all coalesce perfectly to create a kind of Platonic gaming mood. Katamari Damacy is a Namco release for the Sony Playstation 2. Katamari Damacy The plot is a tissue thin excuse to justify the madness. Your father, the Lord of All Creation, got drunk and accidentally destroyed all of the stars in the sky. Read On →

Hedging My Bets

My mom is convinced that John Kerry is going to win the election. I think she couldn’t be more wrong. I’d like for John Kerry to win. I’d like for George Bush to lose. But I don’t see it happening. I do have to say that her logic is pretty compelling: she says that I’m a guaranteed jinx when it comes to politics, and since I’m so certain that Bush is going to win, he won’t. Read On →

Turning of the Tide

If, like me, you’re not in the habit of watching CNN, you probably missed the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart lay a righteous smackdown on Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. I did. Sure, you can read the transcript, but that doesn’t really do it justice. For the full-on effect, if you have a fast internet connection, you’ll want to watch the video Jon Stewart, I salute you. On the one hand, it’s depressing that it takes a comedy show host to raise this issue and not, say, a journalist. Read On →

Looking in to the Eyes of God

…that’s how I feel tonight, because my fabulous employers gave me, as a gift, a 19” flatscreen monitor. It’s a ViewSonic VX910. It’s pretty. Oh yes, it is pretty. The big problem, though, is that now I am having the feeling that I need to upgrade my computer so that I have a game playing box worthy of the monitor. The other problem is that I’m running Win2k, so I don’t get any ClearType antialiasing love. Read On →

Slow Food

Who would have thought that a pizza with fresh mozzarella and roasted potatoes would be a great thing? Anyway. To go back to the beginning. There is an organization in Pittsburgh called Slow Food Pittsburgh which is a local chapter of an international group of the same name. They are dedicated to the proposition that we need to defend traditionally prepared regional foods against the onslaught of large scale generic mechanized “fast food”. Read On →

Hot Dog Rules

I have an almost irrational fondness for sausage that extends even more irrationally to hot dogs. A good hot dog can be a thing of beauty and a stupendous culinary experience besides. A bad hot dog is at best sad and at worst something that will make you vomit in a dark alley somewhere far away from home. After some years of obtaining hot dogs in various locales on this planet, here are some guidelines for their proper construction. Read On →

Something Rotten

The bad part about buying books in Canada is that they are often from Great Britain. This sounds wrong, intuitively. For me, at least, mentioning “books” and “England” in the same sentence conjures up an image of a sober, thoughtful old gent, reading a thick, leatherbound volume with a sewn-in silk bookmark while comfortably – but not indulgently – ensconced in a leather chair. The smell of pipe smoke is in the air. Read On →