Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Choices and Illusions

Choices and Illusions: How Did I Get Where I Am, and How Do I Get Where I Want to Be?Choices and Illusions: How Did I Get Where I Am, and How Do I Get Where I Want to Be? by Eldon Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's not often that I pick up a non-fiction book. Why? Because I don't like to be told that I'm doing something wrong. Who does?

Still, the premise of this book intrigued me, and I decided to give it a try. It's not lightly that I say it's one of the best self-help books I've read.

With a caring voice, Eldon Taylor helps you recognize how you are programming your own mind, usually in the wrong way. By believing in negative thoughts, by setting limitations dictated by what culture calls "possible", you are likely not happy.

What would happen if you dared to change? If you started to really believe in yourself and reprogram your mind to break all those limitations? How much happier would you be? How much better would you treat the people around you?

That's what this book is about. I encourage you, if you need motivation to take that first step, read this book. Read Eldon Taylor's stories of the changes that have taken place in his own life, and in the lives of others, by letting go of the illusions that plague you.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: The Halfling's Gem (Contains spoilers)

The Halfling's Gem (Forgotten Realms: Icewind Dale, #3; Legend of Drizzt, #6)The Halfling's Gem by R.A. Salvatore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I usually try not to spoil anything in my reviews, I don't know if I can complain I mean, show my true feelings for this book without them. So here goes.

Now, this series hasn't become a classic because of its writing. Let's be honest, it's not fantastic. Salvatore has a lot of really weird names pop up in this series, such as The Sky Ponies, Icingdeath, Shimmergloom, Dagnabit, Pook, and (my personal 'favorite'), the mighty sword named "Twinkle". Even though I rolled my eyes a few times, I kept reminding myself that this is Forgotten Realms and it's allowed to be a little ridiculous every once in a while. Really, though, the quality of dialogue really isn't that great. I smirked a few times, but there wasn't anything too memorable.

Now let's talk about the characters for a moment. (view spoiler)[ This is book number six, so I should be used to it by now, but this group of friends is seriously lucky. "Oh, Catti-Brie got shot with a crossbow! Oh, it's only a flesh wound." I kind of stopped caring when they got injured, because it never really seemed to affect them in any way. Once, Drizzt is even able to carry Catti-Brie (who has to be at least a foot taller than him, by the way), over his shoulder, and still run and fight his way through a crowd of enemies. Sure, I get that they're supposed to be strong fighters, but there's only so much that the human (dwarf, elf, whatever) body can take, and I would have liked to see more consequence for their injuries. (hide spoiler)]

(view spoiler)[As for character development, I'm not really sure what to think. It was nice to see Catti-Brie more involved in this story, but the "romance" between her and Wulfgar seemed rather shallow. I still don't much care for Regis, though I feel bad for him because of all the crap he went through. Bruenor is as he always was. Drizzt goes through the same struggles as he has for the past while now, and it's getting kind of dull for me. Yes, he will always look the way he looks, and I kind of wish that he'd finally get some confidence and accept that. (hide spoiler)]

(view spoiler)[As an aside, was anyone else a little bothered by the hint of Catti-Brie being romantically attracted to Drizzt? I get that he's her friend and she admires him and all, but just... no. Stick with the close friend or father/daughter relationship, guys. (hide spoiler)]

Speaking of relationships, that was one thing that was actually pretty well done. The relationship between Bruenor and Catti-Brie, and the friendships between all the group, was probably the main reason why I kept reading.

Bottom line, this won't be one of my favorite books anytime soon, but it's a quick read and decent escapism. I'll pick up the next one just to see how the rest of the series will unfold.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Geek's Homeschool Curriculum

I'd like to have kids some day, and if I do, I'm pretty sure that I want to homeschool them.  Personally, I loved being homeschooled.  I think it gives a lot of room for creative curriculum ideas, such as these.  

Critical Thinking Skills - Chess

Chess is a classic game, and it can sharpen your mind.  Not only are the rules a bit complicated, but the strategy really takes some thinking ahead.  Why not make it a school activity?

Physics - Portal

I know I learned a lot about physics from playing Portal.  Sure, you might never have a portal gun in real life, but it teaches you a lot of the basic concepts.

Creative Thinking, Problem Solving - King's Quest VI

King's Quest VI is a tough game, but I still have fond memories of playing it when I was younger, even though I didn't actually finish it until I was fifteen.  Sure, by the time I have kids that are old enough to solve the puzzles in it, the graphics will be even more outdated, but there's some great concepts in there.

History - Doctor Who

Yeah, at its heart, Doctor Who is a sci-fi show, but The Doctor also travels to the past.  I'm not afraid to admit that a lot of my interest in historical figures came after I watched them in a Doctor Who episode.  A couple of these episodes just might be part of my homeschooling curriculum.  


Greek Mythology - Percy Jackson & The Olympians series

I knew very little of Greek mythology before I read these books.  Not only is it very interesting to learn about these mythological creatures and gods, but it's also cool to compare them to the one God.  On top of that, fanfiction is a *great start to honing your creative writing skills.    

*Yes, I know that some fanfiction is really bad, but as I said, it's a good start, meaning that eventually, you should probably move on to something else.

Simple Math - Pen & Paper Roleplaying Games

Dungeons and Dragons as well as many other P&P games have gotten a bad reputation, but really, all those dice rolls and modifiers and such are really useful for teaching you how to make quick calculations.  Besides that, it's fun.  

Alien Slaying Skills - Dead Space

Just kidding.  Mostly.

What creative methods would you use to teach important skills? 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Bucket List Update

July is upon us already, and I only managed to post twice during the whole of June.  I'll try to be better  this month, I promise!  I'm playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion right now, which I'd like to talk about sometime, and I'm sure other ideas will pop up.  To start, I'd like to take a look at how I'm doing on my summer bucket list.  

Date With Dad: This didn't work out quite as I had planned, but it was still a great time nonetheless.  We had dessert at White Box Pies first (because life is uncertain), then went to Red Robin for dinner.  They're one of the few burger places nearby that offers gluten-free buns.  Yum.

Read Outside: I did this the other day.  For some reason, I especially love reading Cathy Marie Hake's novels outdoors.  I don't know why, but it just fits somehow.  

Go Hiking: I went with my brother, sister-in-law and a friend to Centennial Trail, where we kind of made our own path.  We also saw a little crawdad in the river by the trail.  We named him Miguel.  

Iced Tea with a Friend: I had a nice cup of iced tea with my mom and a few of her friends.  This is definitely an item that will have to be completed more than once, though.  You know, just for good measure.  

Portal 2 Co-op: I finally finished the standard courses with my cousin.  I'll probably play it again with another friend, because it was just that fun.  

Bubble Tea: I had the Thai flavor this time.  I think every new flavor I try instantly becomes my favorite.

I Love Lucy Marathon: It's official: I have watched every single episode of I Love Lucy at least once.  No kidding, this was a life goal for me.  

White Box Pies: As I said above, I've been there once so far.

Flower Hair Clips: I'm not sure they'll become a common part of my wardrobe, but they are really cute.

Pedicure: I've had one so far, but I'm thinking another might be in order before the season is out.

Read a Jules Verne Novel: I read Journey to the Center of the Earth, which I loved.  I'll definitely be adding it to my collection and checking out more of his work.

Visit The Buggy Barn: This was a fun outing with my mom, but didn't quite interest me as much as I had hoped.  I'm sorry, but I'm just not crafty enough to work with fabric well.

Evening Walk:  Walked for a while near my house, watched the sunset, and listened to this lovely song.

Drive With the Windows Down: This is kinda fun, but I'll admit that I prefer air conditioning.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: Myst


Myst is an interesting game in that it kind of throws you into the middle of things without much fanfare or explanation.  There's a short intro video, then BAM!, you're in the game.  In some ways, this gives you a lot of freedom, as your player character could really be anybody.  You could be playing Batman, for all you know.  It also lets you discover things slowly instead of being hit over the head with the setting.  Did I like this interesting execution?  Let's find out.


As I said, there's not much of a story to Myst... when you start out.  You're transported to the Isle of Myst through a book and you have to try and discover its mysteries with little to no instruction.  "Why am I doing this?"  I thought quite a bit while playing this game.  The answer was always: "I don't really know, but it's kinda fun."  

Through your explorations of the isle, you come across two very interesting books.  In them are little screens that two brothers speak to you from.  The brother in the red book, Sirrus, says that he's been wrongfully imprisoned and begs you to find red pages in your journeys to set him free.  Achenar, the brother in the blue book, also claims that he doesn't deserve to be trapped and wants you to bring the blue pages to him.  It's an interesting mechanic that forces you to decide which one of these guys you're going to trust even though, at first, you know nothing about them.  

The end of the story?  I won't spoil it, but I have to complain that it was terribly anti-climactic.  Perhaps the next Myst game remedies this a bit, but on its own, the ending gave no closure.


Gameplay in Myst is a familiar thing if you've played any Nancy Drew adventure games.  First person, click to move, interact with the environment and all that good stuff.  Unlike Nancy Drew, however, there's no inventory at all in Myst, meaning that every puzzle is environment based.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I did kind of get tired seeing a blue/red page in the cursor for such a long period of time.  I was always afraid that I was going to lose it somehow.  

Now, a word about the puzzles.  Obviously, they're a huge part of the game, but for me, they were often too difficult.  A note to game developers: if you have to put in an in-game hint/solution system, like the one in Myst, it's a hint that the puzzles are too obscure.  Sure, there were some things that I figured out just fine on my own, but some were just ridiculous. You'll have to take lots of notes to solve these puzzles, as well as keeping an open ear.  A surprising amount of puzzles were sound-based, which was interesting, if not always well executed.  



Myst is considered one of the greatest adventuring games of all time, so obviously I had to give it a try. Was it an intriguing system?  Yes.  Were some of the puzzles well done?  Yes.  Was the setting beautiful?  Yes.  

Still, the frustrating puzzles outweigh the well-done ones, and between that and the ending, I don't think Myst will ever be a huge favorite of mine.  Unless someone's made a mod that lets you play Batman.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: 5 Days a Stranger (The Chzo Mythos)

What's that you say?  It's June 21st?  No way, June just started!  
What's that?  You mean I haven't posted at all this month?  Oops.  Let's fix that, shall we?


Today, I'll be doing something that I haven't done before: reviewing a whole game series.  Since they're short games, this should work out okay.  I hope.  

The game series in question starts with 5 Days a Stranger, an independently made point and click adventure.  That was enough information for my brother to recommend it as something that I might like.  Even though I knew basically nothing about it, I decided to give it a shot.  After all, it was free, so what did I have to lose?  

You play the character referred to as Trilby, who claims he doesn't really know his real name.  (I didn't realize before playing this that a trilby is a kind of fedora, but now I know. )  Trilby has made his career as a thief, but prides himself in being a gentleman about it.  Thus, he chooses DeFoe Manor, an empty estate, as his next target. 

Things quickly change once Trilby enters the building, however, and finds it not quite so empty as he originally thought.  Inside, four other people are trapped.  The doors refuse to open and the windows, even the one that Trilby just entered through, seem to be stuck closed.  Trilby and the other prisoners of the Manor must discover who or what is keeping them hostage before claustrophobia or strange "accidents" are the end of them. 



It's not long after beginning that you discover what genre 5 Days a Stranger is.  It is, in fact, a point and click adventure with a survival horror theme.  

Now, I'm not usually a big fan of horror.  I don't really watch horror movies and even the demo of Dead Space caused my heart to pound like a drum.  

But to my surprise, the more I played 5 Days a Stranger, the more I liked it.  The mystery of it all compelled me to keep playing until I had it figured out.  I found myself wondering if I was truly helping Trilby solve the mystery or if he had gone mad and I was just going through the motions. 

And yet in all of this, there manages to be a bit of the humor that point and click games just have to have.  At one point, a character asks: "Mr. Trilby, why did we just cut down the tree?"  to which Trilby replies:  "I don't know, but it sure felt good."   

Now of course, this is only a taste of the story of the first game, and this was supposed to be a review of all four games in the series.  In order to not spoil the overarching storyline, I'll just say that the story bit of each game is fundamentally connected, even though the settings are all different.  


In 5DAS, the gameplay interface starts out a little clunky.  You have a few icons at the bottom of the screen that you click on to examine, use, walk and so on.  I didn't much care for it, but I put up with it to finish the game.  The inventory system is about what I've come to expect in point and click adventures.  It wasn't particularly good, but not bad, either.  The puzzles aren't terribly difficult, but they did make me think a little.


In the second game in the series, 7 Days a Skeptic (are you seeing a theme here?), the controls are improved with a more accessible inventory and icons.  The logic puzzles get a little bit difficult at times, and I had points where I kind of wandered around trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next.

The third game, Trilby's Notes (don't worry, the naming theme comes back), the controls seem to take a downgrade when our point and click system is replaced by a text controlled adventure.  Instead of clicking on a door and clicking on the hand icon to open it, you have to walk up to the door and type "open door" into the command console.  It's an effort of the designer to make a nostalgic experience, which didn't work very well for me since I haven't played a whole lot of them.  It was, however, an interesting challenge, and it fit the setting of the game well. 
Having everything text-based made puzzles in Trilby's Notes difficult sometimes, forcing me to really think about some of them.  Conversation was probably the hardest bit in this game, as you had to type in who you wanted to talk to and then what you wanted to talk to them about.  I'm convinced that the designer named one of the other characters Siobhan purely because it's a name I had to try three times before spelling it right.  

6 Days a Sacrifice is the fourth and final game of the series, and it uses the same interface as the second game, with some improvements.  The fourth game doesn't have as many real "puzzles" in the traditional sense of the word, but it does have a few moments where you have to use your problem-solving abilities.  

In Conclusion

Now that this review is the size of a short story, let's get down to the bottom line: is The Chzo Mythos a worthwhile series?  For me, yes.  Even though it has its flaws, I thought it was an interesting story told in a unique and creative way, and that's what I enjoy.  

I wish I had something to compare it to so that you can know if it's your style or not, but as I said, it's rather unique.  Maybe if you took a Nancy Drew game, mixed it with the interface of King's Quest, gave it a sci-fi/ghost story setting, and added a good dose of blood, you'd get this series.  

Whoa, I just boggled my own mind trying to imagine that. 

Leaving that imperfect comparison as it is, I'll sign off for now.