Friday, July 29, 2016

"Sirenswail" by Dave Mitchell

Here's the world's shortest review: it's good. Buy it. Dave Mitchell is doing exactly the kind of independent, thought-provoking work that ought to be supported by the old-school cognoscenti. Our group playtested this adventure and had a great time. Can't wait to go back and delve into it more deeply. It would fit in perfectly with the historical adventures from Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Six Demon Bag, Vol. 1

Here's two lo-fi instrumental/minimalist/cinematic/ambient tracks from Six Demon Bag. That's a new project Scott Chaffin and I (Electrophonic Foundation/Octopuss Men) are doing. We did a split 7" with our independent projects (Call Me Snake and True Love is Ugly) and were inspired to collaborate again after many years. It's not rock'n'roll, really, but it's where our heads are at right now. Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ancient Greek Games

I did a program for International Alpha chapter of Beta Sigma Phi on ancient Greek board games. I did simplify/streamline the rules a bit for a non-gamer audience, but they had a lot of fun. I think the boards looked pretty good. We used counting chips from US Toy as gaming pieces. Here's Petteia and Stadion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Thanks, Pope Francis

So this incredible illuminated manuscript of Virgil's Aeneid has been scanned and put online by the Vatican, believe it or not. If you don't know, The Aeneid is an epic poem written after the manner of Homer's Odyssey, mostly to flatter Augustus Caesar. I've actually read it, last year when I was plowing through all the ancient epic poetry I could handle (which means Homer, Virgil, and Ovid). This is a nice move from the Vatican, considering the pagan nature of the poem. Cool stuff. Thanks, Pope Francis!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Call Me Snake / True Love is Ugly (Split 7")

So here's a digital split 7" single from Call Me Snake (my ambient project) and True Love is Ugly (Scott Chaffin's ambient project). It's certainly a far cry from what you might know us for. I like it. Look for more, as well as some collaborations, coming soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pinball: Visit Lovely El Dorado!

Next up in our exploration of classic pinball tables is El Dorado, produced in 1975 by industry giants Gottlieb. Designed by Ed Krynksi, with art by the great Gordon Morison (who I've blogged about elsewhere) this table is by far one of my favorites in the Pinball Arcade lineup. About 2,880 machines were produced.

Being a 1975 game, it's all electro-mechanical (of course, I'm playing a digital replica). The old-school bells and clacking targets give it real charm compared to the barrage of synthesized digital noise we get from many post-mid-1980s games. The art must have been "retro" even for the 1970s, because it looks like nothing so much as the illustrations from 1950s and 60s Western comics like you can find here. Overall, the graphic design is very pleasing, with a great color scheme of mustard yellow, burnt orange, sandy tan, and saddle-leather brown. Sometimes that brown was tinged with purple, as in the illustration above.

The basic goal of the game is to hit the two sets of drop-down targets. This is very common in pre-1980s games, and it's a clear, unambiguous goal. Unlike most games, these targets don't re-set with every single ball, so you've got a fairly good chance of hitting them all if you're even remotely skilled (or, as is the case so often with pinball, lucky). There are also a few roll-over buttons to go for. Other than that, the gameplay is very simple. The theme is, of course, a simulated Western gunfight. One innovation that was pretty cool for the time (and still is): four flippers. There's a separate playfield in the upper left with two small flippers. If you start the ball just right, it will sail right into this area and you can keep the ball up there for quite a while - it's a great way to knock out a bunch of the upper drop-down targets at the beginning. But the upper flippers are so close to their targets that you've got to have lightning-quick reflexes to pull this off. The lower set of drop-down targets are set at an oblique angle to the lower flippers. It's much easier to hit these with the left flipper, so when the ball heads toward my right flipper, I try to hit it lightly and knock it over to the left flipper before going for these targets.

This was a very popular game in its day, and the playfield worked so well, Gottlieb exploited the crap out of it by re-branding the same game with new artwork over and over and over

You can play a faithful digital replica of this game in the free version of Pinball Arcade, but once you hit the high score it won't let you go any higher. I bought the game for $4.99 after a few plays, and it's been worth every penny. If you like your pinball games loud, flashy, with booming sounds, disembodied voices, toys, ramps, and multiple goals and missions, you might find El Dorado fairly tame. If you like a clean table with old-school graphic design and some "buzzers and bells" worthy of The Who, you might find this game a pleasing diversion.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pinball: Destroy Centaur!

I've been playing a LOT of Pinball Arcade on my Kindle Fire. Many modern for-phone-or-tablet pinball games are created for the platforms, so there's all kinds of effects you could never achieve with a classic, real-life pinball table. Pinball Arcade is cool because it provides digital replicas of actual classic machines. While playing, I've become interested in the history of pinball tables. Over the next few weeks I'll share some of my favorites. Let's start with Centaur.

This table was released in 1981 by Bally. About 3,700 were produced, and about 2,500 of those are accounted for today by collectors. Designer Jim Patla was inspired by the 1956 game Balls-a-Poppin, in terms of game play. Artist Jim Faris gave the Centaur table its distinctive look.

Centaur was ahead of its time in many ways. It was one of the earliest games to have speech effects - most notably the stern instruction at the beginning of the game, when a computerized voice says, with much gravity, "DESTROY CENTAUR!" The player is supposed to defeat Centaur, a human/motorcycle hybrid with a hot goth girlfriend. The game also features a constant background sound, which, again, is rare for the time period.

The coolest thing about it is the graphic design. Compared to other games from the late 1970s and early 1980s, this one is strikingly different. Most graphics are black and white, with a touch of red and some other colors when various targets light up. The art sets it apart from almost every other game of the period, and, frankly, feels very modern by comparison. The game was re-released several years later as Centaur II, but it was the exact same game with different back glass.

Play-wise, the biggest challenge is to hit various banks of drop targets. You also have a bit of control over the ball when it sinks into the out-lanes. A multi-ball effect is in play as well. A ball can be captured, but you can knock it free later. You can have up to 5 balls on the table this way, but I've never even come close to pulling that off. In fact, I've never been able to keep even two balls in play for very long, though that hasn't stopped me from achieving a few top 5 scores on the online leaderboards.

This game is not included in the free Pinball Arcade Underground. It is included in Pinball Arcade, and you can play free but only up to the first high score. Then you've got to pay $4.99 if you want to get past that score. I did and haven't regretted it. I've played hours and hours of it, and if you see "JP" on the leaderboards, that's little old me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Star Wars Portion Bread

I thought the self-cooking/inflating bread Rey eats in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was pretty cool. Turns out it's no science fiction, but something you can make yourself. Check it out.