Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NaNoWriMo II - The Noveling

In two days it will be National Novel Writing Month again and I encourage readers to participate if possible.

Last year was my first year in NaNoWriMo and I crossed the finish line with a couple of days to spare. Problem was that after 50,000 words, the novel I was working on wasn't close to finished. I had resolved to finish before moving on to other things, but the truth is I wrote myself into a corner and I can't figure out how to get the characters out. It is said that Tolkien took years of time away from writing Lord of the Rings while thinking of ways to get the Fellowship out of Moria, but in the time in between he invented like half a dozen languages. I don't think battling pixellated zombies is quite on the same level.

This year I have a new plan. I came up with a new idea for a children's/young adult type novel that shouldn't end up being nearly as long as last year's project. Although I was satisfied to finish NaNoWriMo last year, I must admit to serious disappointment in not finishing the novel. This time 50k words should put me a lot closer to finishing a full first draft of the entire book, what with the scope being much smaller.

This year I've got a couple more writing buddies as well, including my mom. Writing buddies are great because you end up pushing each other to actually reach the goal of 50k words as you see each other's word counts increasing. As World of Warcraft and other games have taught us, there is no greater motivation than an incrementally increasing progress bar.

This will be extremely fun because my mom and I actually worked together writing a children's story when I was much younger. It was called Frankie the Fabulous Fighting Ferret. My mom had the idea for this tale after watching ferrets wrestling in a pet store, and imagined a professional wrestling league consisting entirely of ferrets. The tale followed sort of a Rocky arc, with Frankie being an unknown and fighting his way up through the ranks. I'm not sure I contributed much more than "technical" names for various pro wrestling maneuvers (yes, I was actually really into pro wrestling when I was a kid), but it was a lot of fun.

There's still a couple of days for stragglers to sign up and I encourage you to do so. Even if you get in a couple of days late, you can still catch up with one solid weekend of writing. It's going to be tougher this year with wedding planning, an extended visit from Julie's mom, and of course the ever present Thanksgiving travel, but that's sort of the point of NaNoWriMo... it's always busy and the trouble with writing is people (myself included) always talk about doing it at some distant point in the future "when we have time."

If anybody does decide to sign up and needs writing buddies, feel free to buddy up with me at robustyoungsoul.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cool Games You May Not Have Heard Of

In between furniture shopping and wedding planning I've been playing a pair of games that I heard about on various blogs I read. These two games aren't topping any best selling games charts, but I'm having as much fun with them as I've had with any games this year (certainly more consistent fun than Resident Evil 4).

First up is a game for strategy gaming types. Before you ask, yes, there is a Mac version. This should pretty much go without saying since I own a Mac (the exception to this rule is the incomparable Dwarf Fortress, which remains the sole reason I still have an XP partition). I first saw the game on the excellent blog Dubious Quality.

The game is Armageddon Empires, and it reminds me of some delicious hybrid of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Risk, and Magic the Gathering. The game is made by small outfit Cryptic Comic and they offer a free demo as well.

One word of advice if you give it a spin: READ THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL. This is not a game you can just pick up and expect immediately to know what to do. It doesn't come with an in-game tutorial, so reading the manual is absolutely essential. Dubious Quality also has a Six Part Play Guide which is extremely helpful as well.

Another word of advice: once you get the hang of this game, prepare for some late nights. The level of detail and the various options available to you are insane: with 4 different factions, 75+ unique faction heroes, and 200+ unique units, there are a TON of permutations for replayability.

The second game I've really been having a blast with is MLB Power Pros. This is, hands down, the most fun I've had playing a baseball game since Hardball 3 on the old PC. MLB Power Pros is a port of a venerable Japanese game series called Jikkyō Powerful Pro Yakyū, which has been around since 1994. This is the first time the series has appeared in US.

And what a shame that is, because this game is an absolute dream come true for baseball fans. It has several different modes of play to appeal to any type of baseball gamer you may be. If you like to get in there and play the games, you've got Exhibition and League mode. If you like to handle GM style duties (player management, trades, salaries, etc.) you've got Season mode. If you like to do both, Season mode can be tweaked so that you play the games or interrupt them in the middle if your team is losing and you want to take control. If you want to create an expansion team, you can do that in Season mode complete with expansion draft.

That's only the tip of the iceberg. There is "Success" mode, in which you control a college player through his 3 year college baseball career. You're not just playing baseball though, you have to balance studying, dating, earning money at a part-time job, practicing, upgrading equipment... it's absolutely mind blowing. If you can get your created player through to the majors, he becomes available in other modes if you want. You can put him on the free agent list in Season mode or make him available in the next draft. OR you can create a whole team of players that you've taken through Success mode and make them into an expansion team. OR you can create an entire league of made up characters.

Get the point here? The game has absolutely everything you can think of if you are a video game baseball fan. I have a bad feeling though that the US audience is going to be put off by the weird, childish graphics of the players. The players are very cartoony, but they exhibit all the mannerisms of the MLB players they represent. The cartoony Ryan Howard points his bat at the pitcher before squatting into his stance. Cartoony Dice-K has his funky delivery. Cartoony Gary Sheffield jerks his bat around wildly and flings accusations of cartoony racism.

Seriously, if you have even a passing interest in baseball you have to get this game.

Both of these games I've mentioned are available for $30. That's a darn sight cheaper than the average game. Armageddon Empires is available for PC or Mac, while MLB Power Pros is available for your trusty old PS2 or your shiny new Wii (Wii version $40).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Falcon Faulty Pick: Week 6

I've been a member of a head-to-head pick 'em league for the NFL for several years running now. The way it works is you and your opponent pick every game and whoever gets more right wins. The scheduling is easy because there are as many players as there are teams in the league, and everybody represents a team. I happen to be the Falcon.

Pretty simple stuff except for the fact that I stink at NFL prognostication. So a few years back I started writing a semi-regular column for the league called the "Falcon's Faulty Pick of the Week". The way it works is I pick one game that seems like it should be a lock, and then watch with dismay as somehow the pick goes sour. My inaccuracy has been almost uncanny in the past.


Going into the start of the season, LaDainian Tomlinson ranked #1 on every single fantasy football player's cheatsheet. There was an excellent reason for this: he put up 1800+ yards rushing, 500+ yards receiving, and scored an absolutely absurd 31 touchdowns.... make that 33 actually, because he passed for 2 touchdowns also.

That Chargers team was so ridiculous that it won 14 football games last year. That's a winning percentage of .875. To put that in perspective, let's see what an .875 winning percentage would approximate to in other leagues:

MLB: 142-20
NBA: 72-10
NHL: Nobody cares

Despite this, the Chargers decided to fire their coach. The reason given was that they needed to take the "next step" in the playoffs. What the Chargers seem to have forgotten is that in order to actually WIN in the playoffs, you need to qualify for them in the first place.

I think there's more to it then just the "next step" however. You see, I think the Chargers understand what the NFL is all about: PARITY. This often requires IDIOCY. I believe I will henceforth call these types of dubious football decisions PARIDIOCY, and by hiring Norv Turner the Chargers demonstrated this necessary NFL trait in spades.

This week the Chargers anticipate some relief against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders currently sit atop their division at a robust 2-2. This is a result of them playing one fewer game than everybody else in their division, who all chime in with 2-3 records, making them the most PARIDIOTIC division in the league.

Despite the Chargers' woes, they should have no trouble handling the Oakland Raiders. We're talking about a team that was silly enough to not only hire Norv Turner, but to replace him with Art Shell. This is a team that splashed record breaking money for a rookie quarterback only to hand the reigns over to everybody's favorite bumbling QB, Daunte Culpepper. This is a team that no matter what can call their season a success because they already matched their entire win total last year. They are a team that has won 17 football games in the last five years. They don't even qualify as a team that demonstrates paridiocy, because they are just bad.

So bad, that the struggling Chargers are currently favored to win the game by 9 1/2 points.


Last week I actually got the pick right by taking the Patriots. The Patriots will almost certainly proceed to make me look foolish by going undefeated this year... although now that I have said that, they will probably lose this week to Dallas. Such is the metaphysical nature of the Falcon Faulty Pick. You plumb these depths at the risk of your very sanity.

Why Are You Here?

Since I finally got around to setting up Google Analytics to track the visitor stats on the blog, the narcissist in me has had a grand ol' time looking at what folks are reading here and how they're getting here in the first place.

It comes as no great surprise that the old Warcraft addiction post is how most people find the blog. There is something pretty humbling in the fact that the most popular piece of writing on your own blog isn't even written by you, but it's cool that people still read it. That post alone gets about 50+ views a day, and the two related posts rank 2 and 3 in views.

After that though things get kind of interesting, with the old Pac Man Online post on gaming theory coming in next. I can only assume that this is because the stats say some people land on the blog doing searches for "pac man online". I suppose the title is slightly misleading.

Which transitions nicely to how people are getting here, which is where the real fun is. First, check out the top 5 Google searches that land people here:

1) wow addiction
2) trade mcnabb
3) addicted to world of warcraft
4) world of warcraft suicide
5) pac man online

The first one comes as no surprise... but how in the world does my year and a half old post entitled Trade McNabb warrant the top spot on the results page of that Google search? Seems sort of silly.

But when you dig really deep, things get hilarious. Check out some of these awesome and... unique... searches that lead people to the blog:

- old man body
- transformers shower curtain
- beaten with a shoe
- being a large bodybuilder, i was shocked when i found out his penis was larger than mine
- daunte culpepper desktop wallpapers
- hitler's fecal love
- if i'm clean and taste cocaine will it come up in any drug test?
- using modafinil to go clubbing

I mean, I get in a roundabout way how "transfomers shower curtain" could lead you here, but I must admit being completely perplexed regarding "beaten with a shoe".

Any ideas?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Falcon Faulty Pick of the Week

I've been a member of a head-to-head pick 'em league for the NFL for several years running now. The way it works is you and your opponent pick every game and whoever gets more right wins. The scheduling is easy because there are as many players as there are teams in the league, and everybody represents a team. I happen to be the Falcon.

Pretty simple stuff except for the fact that I stink at NFL prognostication. So a few years back I started writing a semi-regular column for the league called the "Falcon's Faulty Pick of the Week". The way it works is I pick one game that seems like it should be a lock, and then watch with dismay as somehow the pick goes sour. My inaccuracy has been almost uncanny in the past.

Here's this week's column, the first of the season for me. The reason I haven't written the previous 4 weeks is I didn't get to make any picks due to the fact I lost a wager regarding the Colts in the Super Bowl, the penalty being that the loser had to let the winner make their picks for them for the first four weeks.

Yeah, I picked against the Colts. Like I said, I am very bad at this.


For all of the criticism that baseball receives for being imbalanced between the "haves" and the "have-nots", people seem to forget that when it comes down to crowning a champion, the NFL has not been the bastion of parity that it makes itself out to be.

The consensus has pretty much been that the AFC is far and away better than the NFC and has been for the past 6 years or so. If you were forced to pick the 2 best teams in football the past few years, the Colts and the Patriots would be the obvious choice.

Take a look at the list of the last 6 Super Bowl Winners starting with the most recent:

Dungy's Colts - Steelers - Patriots - Patriots - Dungy's Stolen Bucs - Patriots

That's 4 out of 6 for the teams everybody agrees every year are the best in the NFL... 4.5 if you give just half the credit for the Bucs to Dungy, who built that team in the first place.

How exactly is this the model of parity? Everybody points at the Yankees and Red Sox and says they make the game unbalanced, but take a look at the list of the last 6 World Series Champions starting with the most recent:

Cardinals - White Sox - Red Sox - Marlins - Angels - Diamondbacks

That would be 1 out of 6, including a win for the Marlins who had a payroll of about $14.83 that year.

I don't point this out to trash the NFL. I point this out to explain that after the top tier of teams in the NFL, it is just one big mess which provides the ILLUSION of parity the league so desperately wants to sell. I tell you this so that you won't be fooled when you think about picking AGAINST the Colts or the Patriots on any given week.

So, now that I've said all that, my first FALCON FAULTY PICK OF THE WEEK:


Last I checked the Patriots were favored by about 52.5 points, and with good reason. Most agree this team could go undefeated. I don't know about that, but I know that Randy Moss has been a stud because he is on the fantasy football team I share with my Wednesday night drinking buddies. And since fantasy football is an absolutely accurate barometer of how good someone is (Ronnie Brown is obviously the best player in football right now, the stats say so), there will be no stopping the Pats.

And usually it is bold, uninformed claims like that which put me in all kinds of trouble.

So, in case you have forgotten how this works:


After all, the Browns have Braylon Edwards who is almost as good as Moss according to some fantasy football depth charts.**

This year I will not be using a computer to make my picks after how badly that went last year. Instead I will be taking the cheap route and picking the favorites every week (sorry Texans). Fellow nerds will be pleased to know, however, that I used a computer algorithm with last year's stats to produce my fantasy depth charts and draft orders in my triumphant return to the fantasy football arena. I also promise this will be the last time I mention fantasy football.***


*You probably shouldn't pick the Browns.
**Edwards probably not as good.
***Probably won't be the last time.