Increments (Part Three)

Nothing can stay the same forever. Eventually, things have to change. Games are no different, although nowadays the changes are as minor as they are high-profile. Take Scrabble. A few years ago the world was in an uproar over the fact that “Scrabble will allow proper nouns”. What wasn’t included in the outrage was the fact that it applied only to a specific variant of Scrabble. Meanwhile, Hasbro had been mucking around with games for years: Risk, Clue, and Monopoly had all received minor revamps, often for the better (the so-called “Black Ops” rules for Risk make the game much, much faster and more enjoyable). It’s not even anything new: the copy of The Game of Life that my parents first bought in the late 80’s was nothing like the version that was in stores just a year or so later, and even the current version bears little resemblance.

The games we play today will not be the same games we play tomorrow. Few modern games have the sheer staying power to remain unchanging and unchallenged for more than about a decade, and those wind up mostly being card games. Uno is still the same game that it was twenty-five years ago, and poker has enough established variants to stay more or less evergreen. But if you contrast that to something like Magic: The Gathering– which is defined by its ever-evolving ruleset and constantly-shifting balance– you can see that change is inevitable.

Still, changing the game is good. It prompts innovation and forces people to use new strategies– often as quickly as they can devise them. There’s no thrill quite like being able to turn the tables on an opponent who’s stuck in the “old ways” of thinking about the game. Likewise, a game that changes itself can often find new players, or bring lapsed ones back into the fold. My hiatus from Magic has served to help me sharpen my focus and figure out just exactly what I want out of the game; I have a newfound respect for Standard-format, seeing it less as a money treadmill and more as a way to keep the game fresh and competitive. Likewise, Pez has come back to Magic with the intent of resuming his previous M.O.– conquering foes with combinations so out there that they can barely be predicted; he just has new cards and new ways to accomplish this.

It’s not really fair to say that gaming is a stagnant activity, because quite frankly it never sits still long enough to stagnate.

Increments (Part Two)

Part of why I’m looking forward to showing off the Wintermourne 516th is because of the end of the latest chapter in the Warhammer 40,000 timeline. The game’s sixth edition rules are expected to be released in the middle of summer (probably on or after Games Day, July 28th), and because of it there’s a lot of upheaval expected in the game. (Warhammer Fantasy got its eighth edition rules in late 2010, prompting me to start looking at the Bretonnians– which is its own blog post for a later time, such as whenever Games Workshop gets around to issuing a new army book for them.) But one thing is known for sure: everything is going to change, and it may not be for the better for every army– or even the game itself.

This uncertainty is compounded with the veil of secrecy that’s surrounded Games Workshop in the last few months. Most of the speculation is that the rumormongering was put to an abrupt halt with the upcoming release of the tie-in game for The Hobbit, while others say that it’s a protectionst move based on the jump to the resin Finecast miniatures enacted last year (which prompted a lot of grumbling). In any event, whereas this time last year there was a clear schedule, there is not one now, and it’s starting to alienate some players who have been waiting for updates to their armies. (I’ve railed on that topic before, so no need to get into it again now.)

The thing is, this is very much an unprecedented move for Games Workshop and 40K in general. If the most reliable and recurring batch of rumors is to be believed, Sixth Edition will be a revolutionary change for how the game is played, as opposed to the evolutionary changes that have been the norm in the past. When Fifth Edition was released in 2008, the changes from Fourth were very minor: you still basically knew how to play, but some rules were simplified and the basic structure remained the same. Sixth Edition seems to offer a radical change to how almost everything in the game works; even the very composition of armies is on the chopping block. GW is taking the tactic that nothing is sacred, apparently.

And that’s perfectly fine with me. To be frank, even discounting the fact that I’m playing “outdated” armies (Orks and Tau both use 4th Edition codexes, while the Imperial Guard were one of the first 5th Edition books), 40K as it stands now is horribly broken. In some ways I’m looking to how Fantasy evolved, eliminating the “you can’t touch me” aspect that bugs me most about 40K; in Fifth Edition, a Guardsman with a lasgun cannot possibly scratch a Dark Eldar Talos Pain Engine, and will have a damnable time even getting the chance to score a wound against lesser foes; the advantage of having a hailstorm of fire is effectively negated if it’s impossible to damage a target with it. I think there should be a chance for a lucky shot to get through now and again, with the countervaling defense being armour saves and invulnerable saves. The rumors are that in Sixth, there will be that chance for all armies (and not just my poor mooks with their flashlights and t-shirts).

Increments (Part One)

In about six weeks, I’ll be attending a small tournament at Legions called the “Farewell To Fifth”. It’s a three-round Warhammer 40,000 tournament, and will be the reintroduction of the Wintermourne 516th Garrison of the Imperial Guard. I say “reintroduction” because it’ll be the first event the army takes part in whilst fully painted. Snake Eyes Gaming— a club I’m seriously considering joining, as soon as I start playing more often– has always put on some great events, and I expect this one to be no different.

In some ways, what’s been going on with my 40K habits has been at least in part their fault. I mean that, of course, in the best way possible, but it’s still the truth. The guys at Snake Eyes introduced me to the game back at the end of 2009 with the beginner’s tournament, then kept me going throughout 2010 with the Defense of Nekar Quintus Planetstrike campaign (which, sadly, I had to bow out of early due to the move). But what was really fascinating about all of it was that throughout every event and casual game I played with them, I never felt like I wasn’t good enough to be playing against them. The Snake Eyes crew has encouraged me to learn more and work harder towards increasing the enjoyment I get out of 40K, and with any luck that’s only going to get better.

The painting project is an excellent example of this. I finished up my Tau collection around the end of 2011, and was able to deploy a fully-painted battleforce box (plus a couple extras) without having to worry about it not looking good enough. The Snake Eyes guys gave me some gentle criticism in the hopes of improving my work, and for that I was greatly appreciative. But the biggest thing that it got me to do was believe that I could actually do up the massive amounts of Imperial Guard that I’d put together, primed, and then felt overwhelmed by. So, at the beginning of the year, I set myself a goal, and now I’m about to hit it– much earlier than I anticipated.

For Tomorrow We Diet (Part Two)

As nostalgic as it would be to bust out the Moleskine and page-a-day, I knew on Wednesday that there had to be a better and easier way. I looked at how I was handling the day-to-day tracking of my weight plan and found that I could very easily upgrade how I managed things, especially considering that I had a much more sophisticated piece of equipment on me at all times– my smartphone. As always, I’m very iOS-centric, so Android users may need to adapt to different tools. Your mileage may vary. Also, as you should no doubt be aware, this is merely what worked for me: if you want to start a diet, do your homework first and/or see a doctor.

The first thing I did was digitize my “burndown” chart. This is the table of values that I set up in 2006 to track my daily weigh-ins and current status towards my goal. It started off as a fairly simple chart: just my weight for the day, with a little bit of math to determine my change over the last 24 hours and the cumulative loss. Turning it into a spreadsheet using Numbers was a great idea. I now have a very simple entry form where I can enter my weight and time spent exercising, and see an instant readout of the daily and cumulative changes. However, things get interesting with the “Math” form. With the press of a button I can add the day’s numbers to a rolling set of larger statistics, augmenting a charts page which visually shows me how I’m doing. I’ve also added a measure of how well my metabolism is working, in the hopes that it’ll prove my suspicion that it got easier to lose weight as I stayed on the wagon.

Next, I needed a tool to count my intake points. This would be the culmination of a search I’ve had ongoing for a few years now– a basic counter app would work just fine. I found the rather spartan Counter+, which does what it does very well. There’s a few issues with its interface, but by and large it doesn’t need to be anything terribly flashy. In order to augment this, though, I needed a calorie counting program. I’m still looking for a better replacement for my old Moleskine and its list, but right now the MyFitnessPal app seems to be a strong contender. The big priorities here are being able to handle a lot of different fast food places as well as keeping that information relatively up-to-date. If I’m cooking at home, I’ll probably stick to the calorie book I bought back in ’06: rice doesn’t get reformulated much.

Finally, in order to spur on some of the metabolism boosts I’m looking for, I decided to pull the trigger on a gym membership again. I last had a membership in ’08 and kept up with that for, you guessed it, about four months. I didn’t go for the full contract-year this time, instead taking a weekly membership to make sure I can actually stick with it. Plus, this is a nicer facility with much better hours (as in I’m going to be going in the morning in order to make sure I actually do it) and closer to home. With a little bit of effort I can make this work.

That’s the plan, boys and girls. Let’s see how far we get.

For Tomorrow We Diet (Part One)

It’s hardly a secret to say that I like food. In point of fact, I like food a little too much for my general level of activity. This is something that I’ve felt I need to fix for a very long time, and back in Cleveland (at what I would later realize was the lowest point of my depression) I made an attempt towards doing so. This was a rather difficult thing to do, because of the aforementioned lifestyle: coders tend towards very fat or very skinny, either because they’re constantly eating at their desks or completely forgetting to eat.

So, in the first third of 2006, I made a resolution: I was going to lose some weight. I had set myself to a goal of losing 50 pounds, and I was honestly making great strides to it. While I didn’t make my goal before I lost motivation (which was due to a combination of a pig-out session at Tekkoshocon and an uneven meal schedule during E3), I still pulled 40 pounds off of my frame and dropped a couple of inches from my waistline. This was an incredible accomplishment for me, and because of it I was able to make the first steps towards getting out of my funk.

Whenever I tell the story, people ask me how I did it. The answer is depressingly simple: I counted calories religiously and forced myself to exercise. Because of the way my job was structured, I had the later shift, but I still was waking up rather early. This meant that I had an hour or so before I showered to take a long walk. I started with just about a half-mile, but as time went on I moved up to a mile, then two. This was greatly helped by the fact that I had a route which was flat, and long enough to be visually diverse no matter how I extended it; there’s only so many times you can lap around the same building before it gets old. I did that walk every day.

As for the calories, I changed how things were handled. Anything that was less than 10 calories “didn’t count” unless I was eating enough of them to push over that threshold. Meals, then, were based on a “points” structure: ten calories were one point, and at least some of them had to come from a “healthy” source. I transcribed calorie counts from a thick paperback into a smaller Moleskine notebook, and kept track of my daily counts on a page-a-day calendar. As long as I was under my target goal for the day– which was 150 points– I was good.

Believe it or not, this worked wonderfully while I kept it up. I don’t have the notes from those three months anymore (I started in late January and was off the wagon by May), but I do know that by the time I was in full swing, I was losing half a pound a day, and feeling much better. More to the point, it allowed for one “cheat day” a week: on Saturdays I would go into Macedonia and play DDR for about an hour or so, then get a big meal at Long Yun’s Mongolian BBQ and watch a movie or two in the theater. Not being on the clock the entire time made it rather bearable.

Over the last week, I’ve started to think that I need to restart the plan. It’s made much easier now that I’m less restricted in terms of what I can eat, so now I can focus on controlling how much. And that started yesterday.

Link Wednesday: Equestria Daily

Important Service Note: The links in this week’s Link Wednesday are not referrals.

Before I begin: I don’t want to hear any giggling in the cheap seats over the fact that I’m linking to a site about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Really, if you’re even still reading this, you should know by now my proclivities and fondness for all things cute, and while in the past MLP has fallen into the glurge-tastic side of things, the most recent series– which wrapped up a rather epic second season last month– has both earned and deserved every bit of praise that’s been heaped upon it.

So yeah. Ponies are cool. Deal with it.

Equestria Daily takes more or less the same tactic towards being a fan of the series. Unashamed, unafraid, and at times completely unhinged in its enthusiasm, the site’s coverage of all things pony has been nothing short of unbelievable. In what is probably a testament to how the fandom sees itself and wants to be portrayed, the bloggers running it have almost never run a negative story in the history of the site, and what criticism they do have is often gentle but firm. Even the commenters– oftentimes the worst part of any site offering open-mic-style feedback– are generally pleasant and supportive.

This is mostly helped by two things particular to the show itself. The first, and probably most important, is that the show really is that damn good. Very seldom does animation on either side of the Pacific really “get it right” when developing a kid’s show that adults can, if not enjoy, then at least tolerate. But MLP manages it with this run simply because what’s aimed at the adults is still accessible to the kids (well, except maybe the Big Lebowski reference) and what’s aimed at the kids is genuinely funny and clever without being smarmy or condescending. Yeah, a grown-up can get more than a little self-conscious watching it all by their lonesome, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing– you just have to overcome that.

The second is that, because the show is so good (a factor of its lineage; the creator, Lauren Faust, has worked on breakout shows before) it’s attracted a considerable fanbase which– against all expectations– has taken the core message of the show to heart. You could be forgiven for believing that the message was to sell toys (which, admittedly, it is a little), but the ideals of friendship and adventure that are in every episode are woven into the slapstick, parody, and drama so well that you don’t realize until much later on that it’s trying to teach people to be nicer and to work together. And every fan-based work promoted on EQD just proves that a good message wrapped in a great story can lead a lot of people to do some extraordinary things for each other.

To wit: a charity drive started by fans looking to raise $10,000 for a clinic in Uganda hit its goal within three days.

That’s why I like the show so much, and the fanbase just as well. If it’s hard for a show to get popular with viewers of all ages, doing so while promoting a positive message is just about as rare as a griffon’s feather. I make no secret that I believe the meaning of life to be to make life easier for everyone else, so it might just be me that finds My Little Pony to be a show worth celebrating and promoting.

But then again, looking at the tremendous amount of people who put their effort into making each other and the people around them smile just a little bit… maybe it’s not just me.


Some technical difficulties have cropped up, the end result being that the posts for yesterday and today were eaten. They were rushed and not very good anyway. I’ve got an appointment after work so I’ll be able to get them back up and a few more in the pipeline as well, but I still consider this streak unbroken. Stay tuned.


I hate to be short today, folks, but yesterday was a long day at work, and I’ve had comparatively little time over the last few weeks to devote to building up the May backlog. I’m looking to fix that tonight, of course, but for the moment you’ll get this brief little discussion of how depression can really hit you like a ton of bricks sometimes.

Saturday I waas feeling really good when I woke up, and I got more than a little overambitious. I sat myself down for my usual internetless painting session, with only the XM for technological companionship. I was going to finish off 24 grunt troops that morning, taking them from mostly-started to completely-finished. That way, I could be ready to spray up the four tanks on Sunday morning and be more or less in the home stretch for my June deadline.

I got through painting the armor on twelve of them before I got bored and depressed. That’s just one color on them out of about four, and in all honesty it was still in the “sloppy” phase where I didn’t have to be too terribly careful. I’ll be the first to admit that my failure to commit to the task probably had a lot to do with how I was arranging the work: I was moving ‘completed’ troops back to the waiting table, and filling in my to-do queue with what I had to do next. This created the illusion that I wasn’t actually getting anywhere.

Of course, Sunday came and I was almost too depressed to really get anywhere, but the thought of getting to see a few people at the theater helped snap me out of the mood I was in. Until I got there and found that nobody really wanted to see the movie (myself included– we’re starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for theatrical anime that we could run). And then I had to go to work on Monday.

All it takes is a handful of setbacks to wreck what should have been a productive weekend.