Orientation Is a Go


So I got confirmation this morning that I was cleared to set up my orientation with Austin Community College, although I still have two vaccinations to do between now and the start of the second semester.

I called the adviser, and have an appointment for next Tuesday afternoon to go meet with her and get the lowdown on how to enroll and what books I’ll need. Then I can get that information in the hands of TWC and we can figure out how the books will be acquired.

Today’s been fairly low-key, outside of the flurry of school-related activity. I’ve been working on the summer event in Star Trek Online for a good portion of the day and having fun with that.

On the whole, I’d have to say I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made recently. Hope I can keep up the forward momentum, but it goes without saying that the wrong thing at the wrong time can drastically affect that. I’ve got the tools to minimize anything like that happening, but to be honest, I haven’t felt down in weeks. I’ve not necessarily been up all that time either, but it’s been even keel or better over the past few months. I’m happy with that.

Socksurday and Other Random Musings


Here’s a random selection of the things that are going through my mind tonight.

Yesterday was a big day in the household, for reasons other than my first meeting with my new psychiatrist. Three years ago yesterday, my wife and I were up early and getting an unusually fast start to the morning. I think it was fueled by not having anything in the house for breakfast or being out of coffee or some other emergency, but I can’t imagine any other reason we’d be up and wanting to go to the store at 6:30 in the morning. Anyway, we opened the door and this little tuxedo kitten with no collar was standing right on the other side of it. It hesitated for just a brief moment and then walked right into the apartment. The place was very sparsely furnished at that point in time, so there was a lot of space for it to roam around and explore while we pet it and took pictures of it. Eventually we decided we needed to get to the store and do our shopping, so we reluctantly showed the little kitten the door and we each went on our separate way. A few hours later, we were in the apartment and noticed that the kitten had come back, so we let it back in for a while. We’d had the forethought of getting some very basic supplies while at the store – a couple of plastic salsa/guacamole bowls to serve as food and water dish, a disposable litter pan, a small bag of kitten food – just in case the kitten came back, so we kept her inside for a good while, and later that afternoon we opened the door and she zipped back outside. It had taken me about five minutes to get attached so I was very concerned that the poor thing would get hit by a car, or get lost, or worst of all picked up by someone else wanting a new pet, so I was pretty upset that the kitten had gotten outside again. Fast forward to the late evening, and I saw the kitten on the balcony yet again. I let it in and went to wake my wife – the cat came back! – and I was practically in tears I was so happy. I went right then and there to go get a cheap collar for the little thing, and after a trip to the vet to get it – her, we found out – checked for a chip and an extensive attempt to try and find where it came from we formally adopted Two Socks, and she’s been our cat ever since.

It was sometime during that first day that it was decided “if it comes back, we shall name it Two Socks,” just like in Dances With Wolves, one of my favorite movies. The cat is black except for her back feet, her chest and belly and chin, and a couple of patches between some of her front toes on both paws that are white. The name was kind of a no-brainer and it’s stuck. The picture above is the second photo we ever took of the cat. It has not been retouched in any way; that is precisely how the camera captured her.

It’s been a happy three years with Two Socks, and much more recently her new brother Stormy Cat. They bring such joy to our lives and my wife and I are both very happy that they picked us.

After tonight, I can never again say that I’ve never taken Zoloft.

My wife and I have a radio show tomorrow evening. We’re leaning towards a theme that we’re keeping secret for now, but it should be a good show that all will enjoy.

The apartment smells like bacon tonight. We cook two packs at a time in the oven and then refrigerate the cooked bacon to simply heat in the microwave in the mornings. It makes things so much easier and quicker for us than cooking as we go.

Today I braved a trip out of the house to go put gas in the car, pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy, and head to the store. I stayed in the car at the gas station, we went through the drive-through at the pharmacy, but I got out of the car and went into the grocery store, something that I generally try to avoid doing. Things got a little dicey at times in the store, but I made it through well enough. Yet another instance of getting out of my comfort zone and facing my anxieties.

Picked up another game on Steam today. It’s called Reigns and it’s a little indie decision making game. You’re the ruler of a kingdom and you are faced with a series of decisions that can either positively or negatively affect your church, your populace, your military, your treasury, or any combination of the four. Each either/or decision gives you a preview of what will be affected by that choice, and whether it will be a small or large effect – but it doesn’t tell you if it will be a positive or negative effect. Each decision represents one year in your reign. You start with the meters on all four areas partially full, and each level goes up and down according to your decisions, but if any of them completely empty, your reign is over and you die. It’s a challenging little game, and each game treats you as the successor monarch to the previous game, so the years pass by cumulatively from the starting point. Games last just a few minutes, the graphics are pretty primitive, and the game tracks things like how many of the different people you’ve met overall, how many of the different manners of death you’ve had, and a series of objectives and whether you’ve achieved them or not. The game was only a few dollars and it takes up next to no room on the hard drive, but it’s a fun little diversion and worth the money.

The knee that I injured during my trip to North Carolina last month is starting to bother me in a new way. After a few days, it would only bother me if I torqued my knee to either side – which it does while sitting in a car, most notably. I have to limp that off over a few minutes. Today it started hurting whenever I’d put weight on it – not badly, it felt more like localized pressure on my kneecap pushing it to the outside of my body – but noticeable, and it’s got me looking up orthopedists on my insurance plans for a call come Monday morning. I really don’t want to take a chance on having done some real damage to my knee.

I Need A Writing Prompt


So I put this off today until the last minute, and even at the end of the day, I’m shy of ideas, so I went to writing-prompt-s.tumblr.com for a glimmer of something, and I came across this gem …

Bored with Skyrim, you download a mod that has no description, just the title “self-awareness overhaul”. Starting up the game, you can tell something’s wrong with your character. Turning to face the fourth wall, they locks eyes with you. All you know is you’ve never seen such intense anger…

And here we go.

I installed the new mod and fired up Skyrim like I’d done so many times before. I already had mods for invincible pets, horses, and followers; mods that enhanced the graphics and added foliage and other scenery to the game; mods that gave essentially unlimited crafting materials; mods that vastly altered the price of trainers and the frequency you could train; even a mod that added coffee drinks to the game. I’d made it ludicrously easy to play the game in an attempt to soak in every bit of story that I could, but I was hoping this new mod would add some new angle to a game I’d already essentially mastered.

My saved game started in Lakeview Manor, with my character’s wife (Lydia, who doubled as her companion – since they spent so much time together it only made sense that the two would find a connection someday), their two kids, their housecarl, and their hired bard. Everyone else was in another part of the fully-built and furnished manor house, and I could only see the back of my character in her usual dragonscale armor.

Until I was suddenly looking at the front of my character. She had turned to face me, something I’ve never seen her do in the game before, and she took off her helm and threw it to the ground.

I saw the look in her eyes and even though it was a computer game I quailed.

Then dialogue started appearing on my screen.

“Look, I don’t know who you think you are out there, but I am really, really pissed off at you.”

Reflexively I asked, “What’d I do?”

“What did you DO? Well, let’s start with the dragon. I’ll admit, you saved my life when the dragon came and interrupted my execution, and I have to thank you for that. But I was absolutely terrified, and the last thing I wanted to do was deal with anything that scary ever again. I wanted to just get away and live a quiet life. But no, you got me involved with yet another dragon and it turns out now I’m the Dragonborn and I have a prophecy to fulfill. That was the last thing I wanted. I wanted to settle down, learn a craft, make a few septims, and you made me charge into battle after battle, clearing old forts and caves and crypts. Somehow, you made all of this easy for me – most of the time I never got a scratch, even though I was shot with countless arrows and hit by a thousand swords! Can you imagine the terror I felt when I realized that I was invincible and inhumanly strong? I was dragging everything I could pick up with me and selling it, sometimes spending months doing nothing but selling gear to make septims hand over fist. You sent me everywhere in Skyrim and if there was a quest, you made me do it. It wasn’t enough for you to make me fulfill this damnfool prophecy, you made me the Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold, the Guildmaster of the Thieves’ Guild, and the Harbinger of the Companions. You made me fight vampires, you made me the Thane of all nine holds, you bought me eight houses, you made me learn EVERYTHING there is to learn, and the whole time I was waiting for the magic to end and for me to die through all the hell you sent me through. I wanted a SIMPLE life, and you made me the single most important, most wealthy, most influential person in all of Skyrim! You made me famous throughout the land. I couldn’t talk to a guard in any town without hearing someone talk of my exploits. There’s no way that I can ever get what I wanted, which was a small cottage and a trade. Oh, I have a trade, alright, but I can make anything I want, and I learned how to do it almost overnight – there was no logic to me learning things as fast as I did. And it’s all because of YOU. YOU did this to me. YOU took away the simple life that I wanted. And why? Because you felt all mighty because you could control me? Do you think this is some sort of game?”

I started to reply, but the dialogue was still moving across my screen quickly and it was all I could do to keep up with it all.

“This is my LIFE that you ruined. Why couldn’t you have just left things alone once I’d gotten away from that damned dragon? Why did you make me do everything, become the best at everything, own everything? Was this fun for you? This was hell for me, and I’d be SO much better off if you’d have never interfered in my life.” She finally looked sad after so very much anger. “Just go away and leave me alone.”

So I did. I closed out to the main screen and decided to start a new game with a freshly rolled character.

The cart ended its trip and the Imperial guard called my new character out for customization, which only took a few minutes. Unbidden, I went to take my place at the headsman’s block when the dragon appeared and all hell broke loose.

As I expected to start trying to get my character away from the dragon, he turned to face me with a look of sheer terror on his face.

“You! You out there! You’ve got to help me! This dragon is going to kill me if you don’t tell me what to do!”

A Disappointing Experiment


Steam’s current midweek sale offers selections from the Arkham franchise: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Arkham Origins, Arkham Origins Blackgate, Arkham Knight, LEGO Batman The Videogame, LEGO Batman 2 DC Super Heroes, and LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. Of these, I already owned Asylum and City, and really wanted to pick up the rest of the franchise. Funds being what they are, I opted instead for Origins and LEGO Batman, and bought the same for my wife. We were very excited about LEGO Batman, and since neither of us had finished Asylum or cracked City, we were content to let Origins sit by the side while we fired up LEGO Batman.

The music was very familiar: the Batman score by Danny Elfman. This was a great start to the game, we thought. We adjusted options for our graphics settings and dove into a new game. We were met with three separate cutscenes, one for the game workshop’s logo, one giving the backstory, and one setting up the first episode of the game. The cutscenes were fun and lighthearted – I especially liked how Clayface was more interested in spinning around in a chair than the strategy meeting he was attending. And after a fairly comical introduction, our heroes, Batman and Robin, took center stage for the game play.

The object of the game is to fight your way through enemies (when you defeat them, they disassemble into their component LEGO pieces and quickly fade from the screen), pick up studs as game “loot,” destroy certain items to generate more studs as loot, build certain components to help you in your mission, and solve puzzles to get to the end of the episode.

On solid ground, the WASD control keys are effective enough. The other controls are fairly easy to follow – one key attacks, another jumps, a third is a catch-all “action” key, a fourth allows you to trade between playing Batman and Robin. But unfortunately this game has an up and down component to it, and that’s where I started running into problems.

There’s one point where you pull a lever to open a gate, revealing the component pieces of a grappling hook jump point. A key grapples you to the top of the line, another two keys (jump and direction) swing you over to a ledge. You pull another lever on the ledge, opening a gate in another part of the game below, and continue along to a landing with a ladder. At the top of this ladder, to the left and right of the ladder, are two collection items that will help you progress through the overall game. You just climb the ladder, jump up to the left or right, and pick up your loot.

Except it really, really is not that simple.

The camera angles are fixed in LEGO Batman, and the angle that the game has you in at that point in the game make the WASD keys less than intuitive. Using jump and A does not move you to the left side of the upper landing, it just has you jumping off the ladder to the landing below. Same with jump and D. If you climb too high on the ladder you automatically jump down. Lining up to actually climb the ladder in the first place is an exercise in patience, but it’s nothing whatsoever compared to actually reaching your goals on the upper landing.

I tried once. I tried twice. I tried again. And again. And again. For over fifteen minutes solid, I tried to climb this ladder to the upper landing to collect my prizes. If I climbed that ladder once, I climbed it fifty times – no exaggeration. I just could not get the controls to do what I wanted them to do in any configuration of button pushing. I finally figured out that if you jump just before you get to the top of the ladder, and continue hitting jump, you’ll stay there long enough to make an attempt at clearing the upper landing, but that actually making that jump is very much hit or miss. I finally made it to the right to pick up my prize there, and then tried to jump across the space on the landing that the ladder was coming through. I missed and fell back down to the lower landing. I tried again and again to get back on either side of the upper landing and somehow miraculously made it, got my second piece of swag, and finally jumped down that ladder on purpose for the first time during the whole ordeal.

Later on in the episode, Robin uses a special suit to control a toy car that’s required to unlock a puzzle preventing you from going any further. The WASD controls do not in any way correspond to whatever secret handshake of button mashing I was using to get the car to move in the direction that I wanted it to. Another ten minutes later, and I’d managed to achieve my goal – drive it from a small door in one building to a small ramp in the next building over, drive in, hang a right, and hit three switches on the wall to open the locked doors and allow the main characters themselves in. Previous and subsequent attempts to steer a vehicle in this game were likewise fruitless.

Even the most basic of tasks often required several attempts to get it done right. The fighting was basic enough – move around, get close to the bad guys, mash the button until they disassembled, and repeat. This was complicated considerably once the bad guys discovered firearms, and one of them required a well placed batarang throw to disarm from a distance.

Oh, the batarang mechanic. Press and hold the punch button, move the WASD keys around to target your enemy, and then release the punch button – all while being shot at from multiple foes. Did I mention that your aim moves somewhat independently of the control keys and a successful throw means timing when your reticle lands on the desired target before it swings back to the original position? The reticle is never not in motion, you’re having to aim on the fly. (To be fair, I am absolutely terrible at first-person shooters, where this kind of aiming is second nature.) But my in-game Batman felt a lot like his on-screen counterpart from The Lego Movie, when they attempt to pass through the laser gate – chucking batarang after batarang at the problem until one just happened to hit the target (“first try!”).

It took me over 90 minutes to complete the first episode. Nothing whatsoever in the gameplay felt intuitive or natural. The pace of the game crawled while I started and stopped and started again trying to accomplish even the most basic tasks.

Steam’s return policy dictates that you return the game within two weeks of purchase, having played less than 120 minutes total. After a short discussion with my wife, we submitted both editions of the game for refunds, which were granted sometime later in the evening.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a growing collection of LEGO Architecture sets, so it would stand to reason that I had very high hopes about the online games. Sadly, I found it to be unplayable. Sadder still, every other LEGO game works on the same control mechanic, so this pretty much eliminates the entire LEGO series from my wishlist. And there were many games on there.

Remember, your mileage may vary. You might download the game and be a whiz at it. It might not frustrate you to the point of distraction. But it did me, and it did my wife, so we no longer own the game. If you wish to try it or any other LEGO online title, I wish you better luck than we had.