Friday, March 4, 2011

More Squirrels Playing Cards

9 out of 10 squirrels prefer cribbage. It's just a fact.
You can keep your "Dogs Playing Poker" paintings. I have something much better: taxidermy squirrels playing cards. I posted one with the site update earlier today, but I thought I'd roll out the rest of them here.

I'm not sure where they all come from. In my journeys around the internet I just save any weird gaming photos I happen to stumble upon. Some of them (such as the one at the top) are the work of Walter Potter, Victorian taxidermy's mad genius. And some are just the work of people with too damn much time on their hands.

Interesting fact: every tableaux includes a smoking squirrel. And most of them also have at least one kibitzer. See if you can find the tableaux where it appears as though one squirrel has bet his own tail. That's just hardcore.

from the National Museum of Play

Peaceable Kingdom: Stoat (?), Fox, Rabbit, and Cat. (The fox is cheating.)

"You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em..."

Site Changes (Plus Squirrels)

I've been fiddling with the site for the past week or so, with a new header and some added boxes & such.

For those of you who find this kind of post boring, here's a picture of squirrels playing cards.

For the rest of you, here's the rundown:

  • Game Blog Feeds. This display the top posts from gaming blogs that I think are worth a regular visit, like Dice Hate Me or Purple Pawn. You'll find Seize Your Turn's weekly linkapalooza there, as well as other regular updates.
  • Other Links. I'm not planning to create an encyclopedic set of links to gaming resources, but these are places I think are worthwhile.
  • My Twitter Feed. I'm still not all that great with the Twitter thing, but I'm getting used to it. It's best just to Follow me on Twitter, but I've also included a feed update in the sidebar.
  • Gaming Twitter Feed. This one is for my gaming Twitter list, and includes Twits that I follow. If you'd like to be a Twit, send me a message.
  • Donation Button. Yes, I've become shameless enough to start requesting donations. It's all nice and secure via Paypal, and helps keep me from standing on the grassy median holding a cardboard sign that says "Will Game For Food." The recession has bit deep into our household, so anything helps.
  • Facebook Button. Do you like me? Do you really like me? Then hit the brand new Facebook button on the sidebar.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

iPad 2

You knew it was coming. Here's the news from today's Apple press event:

The iPad 2 will ship March 11 in the US.

It's lighter and 33% thinner.

It has a new dual-core processor that runs twice as fast as the old one, and a new graphics processor that's 9-times as fast.

It also finally has cameras front and back, a nifty flexible magnetic cover, and HDMI video output. They're calling it a complete redesign.

The prices will all remain the same: $500 to $850.

There will certainly be more information available as the day goes on.

Scrabble Ascendant

According to the New York Times, the proliferation of word games on Facebook and mobile platforms is driving a new renaissance for Scrabble-style gaming. The prime movers are Words With Friends (now owned by the demonstrably evil Zynga) and various adaptations of Scrabble itself.

More interesting is the information that digital sales are driving conventional sales, with 4 million Scrabble sets sold in 2010 alone. According to Hasbro, this represents a 100% increase over a five-year period. And, yes, it's because of apps.

h/t: Erik Arneson

A Closer Look: French Tarot: Trumps 7 & 8

Many people are familiar with the standard Tarot suits (the "Major Arcana") used for "divination" purposes, but they're less aware that Tarot cards were created for playing trick-taking games and have a rich and diverse design history. These images are part of an ongoing series highlighting the art of a single deck used in France, which contains scenes of rural and domestic life in the 19th century.

Click to enlarge

Trump No. 7 (Detail)

Click to enlarge

Trump No. 8 (Detail)

U.S. Representative Rush Holt (NJ) Defeats Watson

Apparently IBM's Jeopardy-playing computer can indeed be defeated, and by a congressman no less.

Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, former Assistant Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, was a Jeopardy winner 35 years ago when the show was in its initial run. Watson was pitted against several congressmen in promotional match in a Washington hotel, but Holt, who holds a PhD in Physics, was the only winner. The exhibition was a chance for IBM to promote potential government applications of their technology, and for politicians to promote the value of science education.

Holt was my Representative when I lived in his district. No, I didn't vote for him, but he always seemed like a decent guy, and we used to live in the same town. He's also the answer the Jeopardy question: "Who is the only Quaker currently serving in Congress?" (Quick: Which U.S. Presidents were Quakers?)

I promise this is my last Watson post. Until the next one.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Be a Mathlete: World Math(s) Day

March 1st is World Maths Day according to The International Committee for Proclaiming Days for Things.

Actually, this one is proclaimed and run by an Australian e-learning company, but it seems to have caught on and the competition raises money for schools (which is good) and UNICEF (meh). You can tell it's not American because they call it "maths" rather than "math."

(Why do the Brits say "maths"? Because  the word is a contraction of "mathematics," which is a plural. Thus, technically, the contraction should also be plural. That may appear to make perfect sense, but since we won the Battle of Yorktown and they didn't, we're right.)

Anyway, back to World Math Day. Over 5 million kids from 218 countries are taking part in a 60-second math challenge by logging in to and answering a series of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. That makes it the biggest multiplayer session of the day.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars (Toy Vault)

Toy Vault has released some more shots from their upcoming Godzilla game, designed by the great wargamer designer Richard Berg. (Not to be confused with Richard Borg, creator of Memoir '44, Battle Cry, and others). It should be out some time this spring.

Players pick a monster and defend against military attacks and other monsters while stomping buildings and terrain. It comes with 4 painted 2 3/8 inch plastic monster figures, 90 stackable plastic tiles for building skyscrapers, four individual monster playmats, 86 terrain and power tokens, and much more.

REVIEW: Dead Space 2

Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3
Price: $60
Rated: Mature

Content descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

ESRB Rating Summary: This is a third-person action game in which players assume the role of an engineer (Isaac Clarke) who must fight his way through hordes of aliens aboard a space station. Players use futuristic weapons (e.g., plasma guns, flamethrowers, electrified spikes) to kill a variety of mutated creatures—attacks generally result in cries of pain, dismemberment, and large spurts of blood. Some cutscenes depict close-up views of characters getting stabbed in the face by blades and needle instruments. Several environments depict mutilated bodies, as well as blood-splattered floors, walls, and ceilings. The words 'f**k' and 'sh*t' can be heard in the dialogue.

I've already smacked around EA for their childish "Your Mom Hates This" Dead Space 2 ad campaign. I guess they assumed there was some need to gin up a fake controversy to get this one on people's radar. Frankly, though, the first game was pretty popular, the sequel was generating good buzz, and there was already a lot of anticipation. 

And really, the game stands on its own merits, even if those merits are completely, undeniably, and inescapably gross. The core combat mechanic is based on dismembering mutants and killing them with their own limbs. Blood sprays, flesh flies, bones crunch, and icky-gooey sounds crowd the soundtrack. At some point, not too far into the game, the sheer excess of it all tips over into high camp, like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail spouting streams of blood from his severed arm sockets.

There is a point at which gore ceases to scare or even horrify and simply creates a kind of giddy-nervous reaction. Think of the fire hose of blood in Evil Dead 2. Dead Space 2 manages to work both sides of the line, mixing bursts of absurdly over-the-top-violence with some genuine scares, a bit of psychological terror, and sustained tension. It is not a mix that will appeal to everyone, and it is most certainly not for children or even teens, but it is a well-crafted horror/sci-fi romp.

The Return of Isaac Clarke
You play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer who finds himself on a disabled mining ship populated by “necromorphs.” The result of some kind of alien virus, these necromorphs are a kind mutant alien/human hybrid, and the mutations move at a rapid pace. Since their physical structure is stretched out of place, it’s hard to know just where to shoot them. In fact, conventional weapons don’t work all that well, since many of the mutants can function just fine without a head. If one part of a creature is damaged, it may just attack with another, or it may sprout a new limb, or simply dissolve into a swarm of smaller, nastier creatures.

Thus, the Dead Space games are based on the idea of “strategic dismemberment.” You have to take the necromorphs apart piece by piece, and different critters require different kinds of dismemberment strategies. Since Isaac is an engineer, his weapons are almost all some kind of practical tool, like a plasma cutter or a rotating saw. New weapons can be purchased along the way, and upgraded at various work benches. The result is a heavily-customized set of weapons/tools specially crafted for an individual gamer’s fighting style.

Isaac also has the ability to pull objects and then fling them back. This creates one of the signature attacks of the series: cutting off a creature’s limb, pulling it towards you, and then shooting it back. Successfully executed, it’s an oddly satisfying move.

The original Dead Space was a tense, claustrophobic third-person action game. Dead Space 2 ramps up just about everything, largely dispensing with the quieter moments and tension in favor of an all-out action assault. The first game centered on a strange alien artifact called “The Marker,” which is a sacred relic to a religious cult called the Church of Unitology. The Marker is connected to the alien hive mind that controls the necromorphs, and the first game ends with Clarke returning the Marker in an attempt to stop the attacks.

Dead Space 2 picks up three years after the events of the first game. Clarke awakens in a hospital on the Sprawl, a huge urban development on one of Saturn’s moons. He has spent the last 3 years in an induced coma, and wakes to find the Sprawl overrun by necromorphs. The fight begins all over again, but this time on a much grander scale. The more spacious location, persistent hints of the horrors that caused the present problems, various narrative threads, and the use of recordings and journals to fill in the story are all techniques reminiscent of Bioshock, although without the extra layer of intellectual depth.

There’s certainly more heft to Dead Space this time around. The character of Isaac Clarke—who was silent in the original game—is significantly fleshed out in the sequel. The game spends a good amount of time with Isaac struggling to retain his equilibrium in the face of betrayal, guilt, emotional scars, and terrifying hallucinations. The narrative itself manages a few interesting turns, but none of them is particularly surprising. Instead, we have a game that plays like a funhouse ride, with periods of mounting tension punctuation by incredible (and fairly challenging) acting sequences.

DS2 also expands the world with a bit of multiplayer, and although the offerings are slim they’re satisfying. First, the negative: you’ll need an account and online pass for multiplayer. The pass is free if you bought the game new, but the process is a bit annoying. If you’ve bought the game used or merely borrowed it, there’s a one-time, $15 fee for playing online. Let’s hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

The multiplayer comes with 5 maps for teams of 4 humans against 4 necromorphs. Maps are objective-oriented, with the humans tasked with running to various waypoints to accomplish specific tasks while necromorphs try to the prevent them. Humans play as a character similar to Isaac Clarke, which means the real treat is the addition of player-controlled necromorphs.

There are 4 different types of playable alien. The Pack is small and fast, the Puker has a flailing attack and vomits a substance that slows you down, the Lurker can walk on walls and fire projectiles, and the Spitter is your basic melee fighter. Their sole goal in multiplayer games it to slow humans down long enough so they can’t accomplish their objectives. Players trade off roles: one attacked (humans) and one defender (alien). It’s a nice mix similar to that found in a semi-obscure action game called The Singularity.

This is an adult game and is rated as such. Children not only shouldn't be playing it, they probably shouldn't even be within a 100 yards of anyone else who is playing it. It's pure survival-horror, and it works on a number of levels, delivering funhouse shocks, straight gore, intense action, moments of suspense, and even a touch of psychological horror. And blood. Oh yes indeed: plenty of blood.