Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some Quick Updates

Hi everyone! I realize that I've been somewhat quiet lately, so here are a few brief updates.

* My replacement video card has arrived and is working beautifully. I no longer experience blue screens at startup, which is awesome.

* My birthday was a blast! Thanks to my lovely wife and my awesome friends who came by, and for everyone who couldn't make it but sent along birthday wishes. The day before my birthday, some friends came over and we played card games and had cake and ice cream. Then on the day of my birthday, my wife and I watched The Two Towers and I got to play a lot of video games.

* At work on Tuesday, the company will be having a mandatory picnic-type event where everyone will be going to a nearby historical farm. I don't know what to expect. It's a good thing so many of my friends work at the company. In fact, just about all of my friends in California do. Up the beloved company!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Thoth ended up with Lovecraft's heart

Thoth's thinking to himself, "Seriously, you guys, who stole my freaking heart?"

Many of you know that I recently got a new computer, which I named Thoth. I bought the pieces separately, and with the help of my friends, I put it together for half the cost that it would have cost to buy a comparable computer from Dell or HP or something. This computer had with a lovely, super powerful video card, a Radeon HD 5850.

This video card ran all the modern games I own (aka the ones Steam had on sale) at high settings. But there was a problem: whenever I booted up my computer, it would get to the Windows logo, which would swirl in, pause, then half of it would disappear and a few moments later I would get a blue screen of death and a reboot. The computer would reboot okay, I would tell it to start normally, and everything would be fine. The only problem was, this would happen every time I turned on my computer.

After trying every possible software fix, I finally had to face the facts: it was a hardware problem, probably related to my memory. The error logs indicated that the crash happened when my computer tried to load the video driver. Unfortunately, trying different video drivers didn't help. The problem was with my video card.

So I sent it back for a replacement, and in the meantime, I'm using the video card I pulled out of my old computer, Lovecraft, a Radeon X600.

This was a fine card, back in its day. Sadly, its day was about five years ago. That means it can run TF2 okay, but more modern games are asking a bit much of it.

An artist's rendition of several Radeon X600 video cards around a Radeon HD 5850

I bought my card from Newegg, but the 30-day return window had passed by the time I'd narrowed down the problem, so I was forced to use the warranty provided by the card's manufacturer. It turns out that Sapphire's RMA policy requires me to send them my card (at my own expense) and wait 1-2 weeks while they process it before they'll send me a replacement.

As an added twist, my amazing wife bought me a copy of Starcraft II that arrived the day before I was going to ship back my card. I did not even install the game yet, because I knew that it would be too heartbreaking to have to give it up a day after installing it. It would be easier to wait the 1-2 weeks without having a clear idea of what I was missing.

The other downside is that, while I'm down to one video card, I can't play video games with my wife. Normally, I can play TF2 on Lovecraft, which runs it okay, while my wife plays it on Thoth. But with Thoth's video card in the mail and Lovecraft's video card in Thoth, now we only have one working PC.

It's a good thing I have China MiƩville's brilliant novel Perdido Street Station to keep me distracted in the meantime. I'll definitely be posting a review when I finish!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thinking Way Too Hard About: Adventurers

As you may have noticed, my friends and I are experiencing something of a Dungeons & Dragons Renaissance. All this gaming has got me thinking about the characters we play. I have been going on dungeon crawls since grade school, thanks to board games like Hero Quest, arcade games like Gauntlet II and Shadow Over Mystara, and computer games like Might and Magic II. I take for granted that a Warrior, a Thief, a Magician, and a Priest (and/or Dwarf and Elf) will tromp over to the dungeon outside of town to kill some goblins and skeletons. When I stop to think about it, there is a lot more going on here. Adventuring is not just something you do; an adventurer is something you are, and some common threads unite all such men and women.

There are many reasons to go adventuring: a lust for gold ranks highly among these, but there are also many who are trying to protect their people, to serve their lord or god, or to seek out hidden knowledge. These motivations are not enough to make a person an adventurer, however. A strong man can earn gold as a soldier or a thug, a priest can serve his god safe in a temple, and a scholar can learn much in libraries and laboratories. There are some whose blood calls out for more, men and women who are not content with an average, safe life. They know of the danger waiting for them outside civilization's walls, but they are willing to face the challenge. More risk, more reward.

Adventurers are brave.

Adventurers feel a draw to the uncivilized world where danger and reward wait, but there is a corresponding force pushing them away from the commonplace world of cities and civilization. Adventurers are a restless crowd, unable to sit still and accept a normal life. They have trouble relating to the blacksmith, the street sweeper, the carpenter or the farmer. Some adventurers were born to normal lives but could not accept the daily grind. Others never had the option of living a normal life. A large number of adventurers are exotic travelers from foreign kingdoms, elves and dwarves and more exotic races. Many are half-breeds who have trouble fitting in with either of their parents' races.

Adventurers are misfits.

Whether they started adventuring as the exiled vampire half-drow prince or as a gnome with a tambourine, all adventurers must fight constantly with the forces of evil. It's unavoidable: even if an adventurer is a paragon of good, that adventurer will see terrible things in the course of her adventures. No matter how strong her faith is, she must at some point grapple with that age-old question of why such evil can be allowed to exist.

Adventurers are troubled.

The victories an adventurer experiences are temporary. There is always a larger menace; when the orc raiding party has been dispatched, the main orc force must be dealt with. When one villian lies slain, there are many others hidden, scheming. Adventurers move on to the next fight because the righteous battle is never won, or because the adventurer wants to test himself against a stronger adversary, or because the next dragon has an even larger hoard. Inevitably, the battles that follow will be increasingly harder. The party that emerged battered and victorious from their fight with a giant will move on to face a larger, stronger giant the next day. This means that most adventurers eventually reach their limit, and therefore their doom. The ones who survive have to be able to rise to the challenge. As the monsters get stronger, the adventurers have to become stronger still.

Adventurers thrive on danger.

Above all, adventurers defy description. Every rule I can come up with has exceptions: there are adventurers who are cowards, or rooted in the community, or innocent, or who fear challenges. Perhaps the one thing that all adventurers must share in common is that they have answered the call to adventure, time and again.

Because they cannot hear about the grimoir hidden in the lost tomb without wanting to be the first mortal in a thousand years to learn its secrets.

Because they cannot allow the evil cult to spread without bringing upon them the judgment of the true gods.

Because no matter how much wealth they have acquired, the gem in someone else's stash gleams brighter.

Because somebody must slay the dragon. Where is my sword?

Fetch me my sword.

Friday, August 6, 2010

He Fought the Darkness. The Darkness Won.

Narrator: No one was left who could remember how it had happened,
how the world had fallen under darkness.
At least no one who would do anything.
No one who would oppose the robots.
No one who would challenge their power,
or so Dr. Wily believed...

Thus begins The Protomen, the self-titled debut of a band whose epic rock opera takes the Megaman story and turns it into a dystopian fable of hubris, compassion, vengeance, love, redemption, and hope. The songs rock hard and are full of Meat Loaf-esque emotion: everything is over the top, dramatic, and wonderful.

Somehow, the band takes a story about scientist who creates a robot boy to fight evil robots and turns it into a sprawling saga of a man trying to redeem himself by creating a robot who can stop the megalomaniac he inadvertently helped into power.

The story is complicated, though, because Megaman is the second robotic "son" Dr. Light creates. The first was Protoman, a tragic hero who fought to protect the people of the city but fell when the people of the city refused to help him in his fight.

Whereas Protoman was created as a warrior who could take down the evil Dr. Wily, Megaman was made to be a son and companion to Dr. Light in his misery and helplessness. Nevertheless, when Megaman learns of his brother's stand and noble death, he resolves to complete his brother's quest and rid the city of Wily's evil robots. Megaman rushes out while Dr. Light frantically pleads with him to reconsider and stay safe, saying, "You need to know! You are not him! His fight's not yours! You cannot win!"

Megaman goes into the city and sees how hopeless the people are. Loudspeakers constantly blare out reassuring and oppressive slogans, while the people shuffle around, dead to the world. Megaman is the one with hope. Despite what he sees, he still idealistically believes that he can fight the evil that grips the city. He stumbles across Protoman's grave and sees that someone has scrawled a message over the tombstone: "HOPE RIDES ALONE." Megaman takes it as his personal slogan, though he doesn't realize that Dr. Light himself wrote those words.

The heroic robot swears,
"And as I live
There is no evil that will stand
I will finish
What was started: the fight of Protoman!"

Megaman launches himself into the enemy robots, crowing,

"Send me the best you've got. Send me your strongest machines.
The fight my brother fought, here, now, will end with me."

As he progresses, littering the ground with the wreckage of robots, he sees the leader of the enemies up ahead. Though Megaman cannot see him clearly, there is something strangely familiar about his opponent's shape.

What happens next is tragic and epic and rocks very, very hard. I won't spoil it, (though you've probably already guessed part of it), but I should add that if you listen to the album, you're only getting half the story: you should read the Protomen lyrics and liner notes as you listen to the album to know who's talking and what they're doing.

I highly recommend giving The Protomen a listen. The music rocks, the story is epic, and you don't even have to be a fan of Megaman or SF to enjoy it (though it certainly doesn't hurt).

There is a second album that tells the story of how the city fell under Dr. Wily's control. All Protomen fans should check it out if they want to know the full arc. It also has some of the best songs on either album, so there's that, too!