Monday, August 31, 2009

Roman Holiday

I think its fair to say that my wife and I come from wholly different backgrounds when it comes to 'Things You Do on a Bank Holiday'. I was always allowed to play out for ages, or sit and watch some back-to-back kids films or, if it was sunny, go to the beach. My wife comes from what I cynically dub 'the school of enforced family fun' - you must go somewhere and do something, regardless!

So, with this in mind, I found myself bombing along the A68 (9?) from Newcastle to Corbridge at 10.30 in the morning, on the way to the Roman Fort site for a Roman History Day. Now many of you may know that I quite like my history, but Roman stuff simply doesn't do it for me. Its all a bit too distant and abstract for my liking. So, I was less than thrilled at the prospect of 'yet more rocks in the ground', after all, if I wanted to see them I could just pop along to Wallsend. Actually that might well be the source of my lack of interest in things Roman? Growing up in Newcastle, you become fairly dulled to (a) Romans, (b) Medieval Castles and (c) Christian Saints by the time you reach your teenage years.

So when I got there and was herded into a field to park by some perky English Heritage types, I was sceptical. Then I saw a horse, in barding. Not a stone horse, but a real one?! Things were looking up! I baulked slightly at the £20 entry fee - I wonder sometimes whether it would be easier to surrender and just buy an English Heritage membership - and entered a world of bacon and burger smells. Great. Just what I need on my diet!

And then things took a turn for the decidedly good. There was a large re-enactment crew doing weapon displays. Awesome. One guy did some sharp weapons stuff and then they did 'fights from the movies and how they are crap' and then they did a full of set of Romans vs Britons melees and then some horse riding and fighting displays. It was a full hour of entertainment and well worth sitting and watching. After that we had a picnic of sorts and then wandered around the exhibits for a while, which was all very nice and arty. We then checked out 'Boudica's Revolt ... with vegetables' on the assurance from the kids that it was awesome. Turns out that the guy that does this 'historical theatre with vegetable actors' has been on Brainiac: History Abuse and is therefore a minor kiddy celeb. It was very funny and a great way to get the story over to kids. Emma pottered around the textiles place doing some weaving whilst Lara and I chilled out in the ruins and then we saw a supposedly funny guy teaching us about how little we knew about physics and Roman technology.

This was actually the bit that really spoiled it for me, as he was so cleverer-than-thou about the entire affair that it actually became off-putting. The swordsman at the start scotched a few myths about fighting for people (for example, a gladius is a slashing weapon, not a stabbing weapon and the massive overacted spear stabs are indeed, massive and overacted as the spear was a swiping and slashing weapon) but he did it in a funny way. The technology guy was just all 'you think you know stuff, but really you know nothing and I know exactly what is what, ha!'

His main points seemed to be (a) the Romans invented very little but imported a lot from other parts of their empire (implying that 'What Did the Romans Do For Us?' should actually more accurately be called 'What Ideas Did the Romans Steal and Import into This Country and Blag Off as Their Own' and (b) if children have computers you are bad parents because they should be doing water pressure experiments instead or the world will end. The science bit was good but really, I could have done without the preaching that went along with it!

After that, we were tiring and there was an hour to kill before the missile combat display, so we decided to cut and run, heading back to civilisation. It was, in retrospect, a really good day out and great value for money between the four of us - about £1 each for each 'show'. I probably wouldn't bother doing it again, but as a one-off it was very pleasant.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Calorific Deficit

No, its not a new way of saying 'recession'!

I went to see the dietician today and had a very pleasant chat about the eating side of my new weight loss lifestyle. The slip into said lifestyle has been staged, starting with attendence at the gym last week and now this. I am now officially 'undergoing lifestyle change'. Exciting!

We very quickly honed in on a couple of personality traits that were crucial to the entire exercise. For a start, I am much better at not doing things than doing things. For example, I stopped drinking beer overnight. No worries whatsoever. My pledge to keep the garden tackled this year has been less successful. I'm also a 'hungry' eater. When I get bored, I get hungry and I eat. Interesting.

So, did I get a diet? No - they don't do that nowadays. Especially not with people who already have a decent idea of whats 'good' and whats 'bad'. Also, I have quite an advantage (apparently) because my weight has been static for some time (around 167kg). No, you don't get a diet - you get a 'calorific deficit plan'

Now I knew that this woman understood me when she quoted the law of conservation of energy at me! If my weight is constant, then the exercise and eating I am doing NOW is in equilibrium. To lose weight, I have to alter that equilibrium. She used words like 'equilibrium' - love it!

So, for example, the gym exercise attacks the calorific deficit from one direction. I burn off calories. It doesn't really matter how many - the point is that I am doing it (and it won't be doing my blood pressure any harm either). If I have four slices of toast in the morning and cut down to two? BAM! 200 calories saved. Replace a chocolate bar with an apple? BAM! 200 calories saved.

My target is a 600 calorie deficit each day.

There was other stuff - reducing portion size, eating much more fruit and veg (especially veg, real veg, not potatoes!) and switching to low Glycemic Index carbs to help with my hunger pangs - but the entire thing revolves around that simple calorific deficit business. Eating the right foods, in sensible quantities and less of them than I usually do!

On the drugs side of things, it looks like my BP is *slightly* too high for the appetite suppressant - which I am not too keen on in the first place as it is a 'head drug' rather than a body drug. The anti-fat absorbant one looks more likely, but I am going to go 'naturale' from now on!

We shall see what we shall see. I'm determined to make it happen and well, as it is me NOT DOING things, rather than actively doing them, it might just work!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Last Ride of the Dungeoneers

Since Blizzard announced the new World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, there has been a resurgence of interest in the game from some of my friends who had previously dropped it. This precipitated a rather chucklesome event on Saturday night - the reforming, for one night only, of the Dungeoneers!

Now, lets remember that the Dungs shredded apart in quite some explosive nastiness and then lingered on for a while before they disappeared. Players had disappeared to all manner of servers so a reunion has never been on the cards. Take into consideration as well, that Silvermoon is a totally borked server now - its got something silly like a 95%-5% pro-Alliance balance. Orgrimmar is DEAD. The AH is DEAD. Its a ghost town on that side of the server and yet still a High pop server based on Alliance side only.

So we gathered - a truly motley crew. Kylea the Mage, the forgotten alt left on the server. Memnon the Rogue, another cast-aside character who was never worth the £15 transfer fee. Eek the Epic Hunter, the hero of our tale. We even had fleeting cameos from Hornihoof, loot-pilfering druid of old and of course (after chasing him from another server), Nathwest, erstwhile bankalt and ... guildmaster!

We all joined the guild again and proudly had 'The Dungeoneers' above our names. It was quite a cool moment, especially when someone passed by who recognised the name and literally stopped in his tracks to ask whether it was a reunion.

The original and still the best were back.

Well, the original anyway.

We had to suffer the embarassment of scrabbling together gold for training and skills.
We had to remember what the hell all of these buttons did and why we had things in strange places.
We had to remember that none of us were healers...

Still, we took the battle to Northrend and ploughed through Borean Tundra for a few hours. It was a lot of fun and we all nearly hit 71, which was nice. Of course, we probably won't do it again especially as Eek may well be transferring to another realm. It was however, sweet to just do the Dungeoneers thing one last time.

Line of the night

Eek: We have a guild bank!
Kylea: of course we have a guild bank. We stole it, remember?

Ah, memories

Monday, August 10, 2009

I've got a brand new combined harvester...

Ian mentioned on his blog, the current facebook craze of FarmVille. Well, being one of those people that likes to dabble, I have tried it out.

To be fair, I am quite positive towards browser games (and their iPhone app cousins). I play in The Wrestling Game, an online browser wrestling sim and have done for 18 months now and its a lot of fun. Its actually quite time consuming in theory, but the joys of tabbed browsing have meant that it runs in the background when I am on the PC and I press a button occassionally to have a bout. I also have EpicPetWars and EpicSoldierWars on my iPhone. I find these slightly more palatable versions of the classic networking games like Mafia Wars.

If you have never played them before, the games are quite simple. You have some life. You have some energy. You have some currency. You earn experience and currency by doing tasks which cost you energy. Energy regenerates. You can earn exp/currency by fighting other players. Health regenerates. You can buy equipment etc. You can level up. And then, when you get to a certain level, items begin to have an upkeep cost and you must buy 'investments' which give you a cashflow to meet those costs. You get better equipment, you beat bosses to allow you to do better tasks to level faster etc.

Hang on - did I say 'quite simple'? In theory they are. I was trying to work out the maths behind the cashflow curve in EPW last night and see whether there was an optimal strategy of being naked and only buying weapons when you needed to fight a boss. It seems so. Where EPW departs from things like Mafia Wars and other such games is that in MW, your posse (ie. your friends in the game) fight with you, adding to your might. In EPW they don't. It makes a helluva difference and certainly makes the game a lot more playable for me.

Regardless, they are increasingly difficult time wasters for playing on the Metro as far as I am concerned.

From what I can see of FarmVille, it is slightly different. There doesn't seem to be a competitive component apart from being better than your friends. You plough and plant stuff. It grows. If you are online for a time after it blossoms, you harvest it otherwise it wilts on the vine. You can visit your friends farm and help them and that gives you more resources. OK. This is fine, but the point is ...?

Well I can see three points. The first is the level grinding. Micro-achievements within progression and proper achievements that you can aim for. We all know what song and dance. There is also an almost artistic side to it. As you build your farm, and visit other peoples, you can see the people who are organised and those that are higgly-piggly! Indeed, one of the guys who I have visited is a real life farmer and his looks like a text book from a middle school environmental sciences lesson on crop rotation! There is a cute factor too, with the wee little chickens and rabbits.

It seems harmless enough. I will continue my experiment, so you don't have to!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Blast from the Past

Walked into Forbidden Planet yesterday and saw a poster for a new games club - The Heaton Roleplaying Club - at the Heaton Community Centre on Sundays between 4-9pm. TWENTY-FIVE years ago, I cut my roleplaying teeth at that self-same community centre, during the same times, at the same club before it folded.

I feel the need to go full-circle and visit it, at least a couple of times, to become the crusty old grognard in the corner.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Next Big Thing

As the latest playtesting stage of Beat to Quarters trundles along, my mind has wandered to what I will do after it is finished. Its certainly not a secret amongst my closest friends that I am pretty Napoleonic'd out - I feel almost physically sick at the thought of reading another book about the era! I'm still full steam ahead with BtQ but thats it! No more! Three years of working on one topic has taken its toll.

However, I am not someone who just sits there and does nothing. In fact even a few moments of inactivity makes me nervous and shifty. Its like a sort of perpetual intellectual motion addiction. I've been like this since I was a kid - which was horrific for an only child. My catchphrase when I was a bairn was 'I'm booooooored!'

Anyway, what comes next? Well, what it isn't going to be is another roleplaying game. Not writing it anyway. Its been an amazing experience but I am determined not to become a serial games designer. I am, however, considering some roleplaying venture. As Andrew keeps reminding me, the genre I love but I don't feel that I have conquered is Urban Fantasy and it acts as a tantalus for me. However, if I do it, its going to have to be done right, with a reasonably long campaign and my full weight behind not only the GMing, but also the production and peripherals around the game. More than just a game, I would want to deliver an experience. Its been some time since I actually ran a campaign (rather than one-shots and playtests) and I'm not getting any younger! As to what I would run, thats a wonderful question. If and when the Dresden Files RPG comes out, that would seem to be the obvious vehicle. However I'm not holding my breath for that. I'm about to come into possession of the old Underworld rpg which might give me a basis. I have considered even using Hot War as thats a system that I have enjoyed in the past.

I'm going to have to consider what I do with my education as well. If I do (finally) get settled in as a proper lecturer at the college, I will have to upgrade by PTLLS to a CTLLS or DTLLS sooner rather than later. I can't say it would be a hardship but in the end it wouldn't be too much fun either. I've also had the yearnings to do some formal learning, either in history or (bizarrely) french! I was stunned by how much I enjoyed my journeys in France this summer and I was disappointed that my lack of linguistic skills meant I missed some of the details of what was going on. It would be a tough sell for me to do something with an exam at the end, but it might be what I need to get over this silly aversion I have to them.

I also have my standing promise to myself that I will finally learn how to do the database+website thing, so that I can restart my web design interest. I'd have to learn to do the database thing first, of course, but thats a given.

Its strange - the world is my oyster but I'm at a bit of a short end as to what to do. I only really know that doing nothing is not an option!