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March 13, 2000

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We got most of the way into spring, only to get absolutely buried on Sunday, so now it's a winter wonderland again. Which back in December would have thrilled me, but now I'm beginning to jones for green trees and grass again. That's me, fickle.

It's been busy, as you can gather, but things are evening out. We've moved on to Spring Break here at the Academy -- three weeks off for the kids and faculty, and three weeks without ties for the rest of us. It's a quiet, relaxed time of year. Which is good.

I promised a few words about leisure time activities last time, so I should bring up my current obsessions:

  1. The Sims: The advantage to having a Wintel in my life (and man it sucks. I mean, it's not just prejudice to say it. Every other system I've used recently -- Mac, Linux or other -- is all over that thing. It's the least stable machine by far, despite being the least used and the machine with the least "other programs" on it. Wintel users -- you deserve better. Much much much better) is I can get PC games for the first time. I got a couple back at Christmas I enjoyed (Alpha Centauri was heaps of fun, and Starfleet Command is amazing. A perfect real time version of Star Fleet Battles, with all the fun of being able to pound Hell out of your enemies with starships that you could ever want. This isn't the wussy Kirk, Spock and Picard universe. This is the kick ass and take names "the entire Galaxy is at war" universe.

    Well. All that being said... The Sims is the first computer game I've had in years that borders on the obsessive. It's not that expensive, but it's absolutely enthralling. I don't know why it is, but it is. Building up career paths. Building up webs of complex relationships. And just plain intelligent design make this a game you can cheerfully play for thirty straight hours. That's right, you can sacrifice all semblance of your own life in the name of playing the lives of your Sims out.

    One of my favorite activities is to watch my Sim play a computer game on his computer to relieve stress and up his comfort and fun. You got that? Let me make it plainer -- this is a computer game which lets you simulate a geeky person as he plays a computer game. I like to think he's playing The Sims, which has the possibility of infinite levels. It also makes it possible that we're just Sims being played ourselves. (Mm. Must up hunger bar, then watch television to up Fun bar. Social bar is okay right now....)

    The weirdest thing about The Sims is that it's not an original idea. No offense to the good people at Maxis, but Berkeley Software beat you to it with their Totally Twisted Afterdark collection. They had something called "Mike's So Called Life" (I think it was Mike, anyway), which was a screensaver of a geek in his apartment. You could watch him! Watch him watch television! Watch him play with his computer! Thrill to his bathing! Thrill to him not making it to the phone on time! If you were really lucky you got to see him microwave food, and if he didn't empty his trash then it collected flies.

    Now, there's a game that lets you... do all of the above. And it's about the same experience as watching Mike do it. Except of course that Mike didn't have three wives and a hot tub.

    Trust me. Every player of The Sims has at least one family with three wives and a hot tub.

  2. Soulcaliber: The Dreamcast is astounding. When you watch it being played, it's like watching a CGI cartoon, not a video game. The frames are incredibly smooth, the figures are totally realistic, there's no pixelation at all. An amazing piece of engineering.

    I'm not here to talk about that.

    I'm here to talk about Soulcaliber.

    A few years ago, I was in Ithaca with Frank. We were wandering around a pool hall one day, when we came across a console arcade game. Soul Edge it was called. It was a two person fighter, like so many. And Frank and I weren't much into two person fighters. But it looked kinda funky so we thought "why not."

    I think we dumped $20 each into that machine that day. We settled into Rock and Sophitia, who could have pretty good matches.

    Following that, Frank and I would go back when we could until I left, and subsequent visits included Frank and I finding a copy of Soul Edge to play.

    Well, Namco (the company that produced the game in the first place) then released Soul Fire for the Playstation. This was Soul Edge, but with some "missions" as well and other funky stuff. And Sophitia wore less. So Frank picked it up and we started playing that when we were there. And it rocked, though Frank got amazingly better at it than I was. Ultimately, I picked it up too, on the cheap. Whooooa.

    Soulcaliber is a console game as well as the flagship Dreamcast game. Wow. Its graphics are unparalleled. I don't just mean the figures moving around hitting each other. I mean its backgrounds. And literally hundreds of sketches, drawings and fan art you can unlock with missions (along with exhibitions the characters put on, extra costumes and the like). It is, without a doubt, the Anti-Sims. It's utterly unrealistic, the figures are easy to see, it's ultraviolent, and while you don't need a brain you do need reflexes. Also, it's kind to new players, letting them do impressive moves easily, while it rewards experience players with really cool stuff.

    And no blood. Look, if Kilik leaps into the air, his quarterstaff snapping around himself all ways but Sunday, tagging his enemy five times in five different places while he screams, you don't need the Mortal Kombat spray of blood to make it "exciting." When's the last time you saw gallons of blood in a Jackie Chan movie?

  3. DeLorme Earthmate GPS: This is just plain cool. The Earthmate is a GPS receiver I can plug into my Powerbook and take with me on the road. I use the Street Atlas software to plot a route, then drive along it. While I'm driving, I can turn and look at the Powerbook screen, and see not only the route I'm on, but the route I'm supposed to be on and my exact position relative to both. A stats bar next to it tells me the distance and estimated time of arrival at my current speed to my next significant turn.

    This is about the coolest thing ever. It really is. When I go to Lunacon at the end of the month, Van and Mason will swap off being "GPS operators," ensuring we stay on course at any given time. When we're at Lunacon, I'll be able to plot out any side trips we may choose to make at any given time. Including into New York City, the home of rats the size of my keyboard.

  4. Writing: The perennial, right? Well, besides working on revision to the Alaemon writeup for Superiors 4 (which was very well received in Playtest, I might add. Oh, there were comments, but most comments on "quality of work" to me have been very high. Including from writers I respect very highly) I've been plugging away at other stuff. Mostly it's been therapeutic during the troubled times. I know it hasn't been this journal often enough. What it often has been has been work on a hard science fiction romantic comedy of manners. In other words, something that's likely totally unsalable, but by God it's fun to write.

Otherwise, life is, you know? Mason's mother and Aunts are in town and they're wonderful people. And I've been... cooking. It's frightening to admit, but it's true. I've even browned hamburger and combined it with other things.

Damn it, stop laughing at me. Laugh with me instead.

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