Monday, 7 August 2017

Planescape: Torment - an old RPG lives again!

I struggled with bronchitis for the first time in my life in June and July, and let me tell you, it's awful! Co-workers treat you like a pariah no matter how many times you sputter "The doctor said I'm not contagious!” Embarrassment creeps in as you run to the washroom frequently from stress incontinence or to noisily dispatch a ball of mucous. A brisk walk becomes impossible. Small tasks take forever. Fortunately it's over now, but I can definitely think of better ways to spend two months of my life.

So it was very timely when I noticed that one of my favourite games from the past popped up on Google Play. Beamdog has been porting classic Black Isle games like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale for mobile play over the past few years and I couldn't be happier! I never get to sit down at my desk anymore. Their latest release is Planescape: Torment, a cult classic RPG. Despite critical acclaim, Planescape did not have great sales when first released. I found my PC copy while rummaging around in a department store bargain bin :-D. It's not hard to see why - the box art isn't exactly attractive. The dude on the box is the immortal main character, The Nameless One, who wakes up in a mortuary and has to piece together his past lives through a lot of detective work. Every time he died he lost his memories, until this point, where he retains them.

It's also a difficult game to play for many reasons. Not only does one has to let go of the idea of a role-playing game as combat based, but there are smaller reasons like a shortage of recruitable companions, an abundance of challenging baddies and few places to rest. On my first play through years ago, a guide mentioned that the game stressed intelligence and wisdom, so all my points went into to those attributes, leaving my Nameless One weak in strength and dexterity. True, he is immortal, but his companions are not. It’s exhausting to constantly resurrect your party or hope you can make it to a resting spot without being taken down by a rat. The other learning curve comes from trying to figure out the Planescape multiverse which wouldn't be familiar to casual sword and sorcery fans - no dragons, elves or trolls here.

Two other things made Planescape unique - your Nameless One’s alignment is set to True Neutral but shaped by dialogue and choices made within the game. Then there is the sheer amount of text and dialogue in the game as you hunt down past connections, which is why intelligence is so important. If your Nameless One is too dumb, he won’t be able to unlock a lot of dialogue options, memories or clues. Playing the game was like reading a really good book. If hacking and slashing is your bag, you probably won't be a fan of this game.

I honestly thought I would never get to play Planescape again. I have no idea where the FIVE discs it came on went. This second time around, I found a better online guide and it was surprising by how much I missed during my first play through. It’s possible to miss a lot of the nuance in this detailed world and there were lots of little things that didn't occur to me. For example, once you gain the Stories Bones Tell Ability, you can revisit the Mortuary and talk to the zombies for more clues.

There's no shortage of complaints about the effect of video games on young people, but I played Planescape when I was a young adult and it had a positive effect on me. During this time, an older relative of mine wasn’t doing very well and went into hospice. I don’t know why the grungy, bleak landscape of Sigil was a place I wanted to be night after night. Something in the thoughtful narrative and the concept of having multiple lives made me less afraid of my relative dying - it was immensely comforting. My relative passed away the day after I finished the game and my grief was assuaged by the game's storytelling. Maybe it’s a very 21st century thing to say that a video game helped you with grief and loss?

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Tea for Tuesday

It's funny how you never really move out of your parents' house. For years and years (14 in my case) boxes and bits flow and trickle into your house. So it was when Mom found one of my four childhood tea sets. I had three plastic ones - avocado green, white and ornate, blue and modern - and the real china one I am writing about today.

I think Mom secretly liked this one best because it is the only one I still have. It lived in her china cabinet, which is probably why it survived with the box and all the pieces. I don't know what happened to the plastic ones - perhaps like so many toys they went "missing" while at school.

Holding the pieces of this set makes me feel five years old again. Mom would sometimes fill the teapot with real tea but most of the time I used juice or water on my own. My parents were really not playful parents, so teatime was a solo endeavour for me plus or minus some stuffed animals.

Mom was curious to know if the tea set was worth anything, but a quick Google revealed, no. These sets by Summco are quite common and probably worth as much as what they sold for in 1981!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Escape from 2016

2016 is finally over! How has your first week of the new year been? Just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean you can toss 2016 aside, however! Actually, it’s a good idea every year to escape the old year. Let me explain in three ways that don’t involve losing weight, quitting smoking or hitting the gym.

1. Update your resume

Even if you are happy with your job, update your resume! It's easy to forget all the new skills or projects tackled in the previous year and each year your memory will get fuzzier and fuzzier. Trust me on this :D This is also important for artists and writers who may have exhibited or published. Not only will you have a handy reference, you’ll always be prepared. After six years I haven’t forgotten trying to scramble everything when my group was laid off. Writing a new resume is painful and can be a chore - it’s much easier to keep an old one up to date.

2. Clean up your phone

Rather than buying a newer phone or more storage for it, check your downloaded files folder for PDFs, Word docs and other things you may have downloaded over the year (or years). Chuck those blurry selfies too :-D A little organization will go a long way. I always like to dump the previous year photos in a yearly folder on our home backup system after selecting the ones I want to keep.

3. Back up your files

If you still have some Christmas money from Grandma left, it might be wise to invest it in a backup solution if you don't already have one. It's not glamorous, but it's the gift that will keep on giving, especially when data disaster strikes. Remember this rule of thumb - have an original, a backup and a backup backup. As hubs likes to remind me, it’s not only important to have backups, but to be able to restore from backups. If you do have a backup system already, make sure it is still accessible. And don't forget to backup #1 and #2 :-)

Have a great year friends!

Monday, 26 December 2016

I Can't Read!

The Internet has no shortage of embarrassing confessionals and I’ll throw another one on the pile - in the past two years I have been only able to finish reading two books. Two! At first I was going to make this blog post a year ago, but then I decided to wait and report on how promising 2016 was. The promise never materialized. I wasn’t able to come back and say “Well, 2015 sucked for reading, but I made up for it in 2016!” 2016 was just a “don’t” kind of year in so many ways!

My trusty Kobo confirmed that I had given 2016 a pretty good shot, but the number of unfinished books kept piling up. I used to be proud of sticking through to a book until the end, even if I didn't like it. But hey, what if a book I didn't like was keeping me from a book that I do like? Hmmm! Anyway, here are five books that I gave up on last year:

The Perfect Order of Things, David Gilmour
Canadians often find themselves with a conundrum - consuming the media of too many other countries and not supporting homegrown talent. I bought this book because it appeared on a list of award winning Canadian authors, but I just couldn’t get into the talky style of the narrator.

Maddadam, Margaret Atwood
After breathlessly reading the first two books and much patient waiting for the Maddadam, I bailed right in the middle. I can pinpoint the exact phrase that made me hit the home button: At first Zeb thought Chuck was gay and was about to start some trouser nuzzling, but it wasn’t that.

Trouser nuzzling? Zeb is one of the most interesting characters in the series and his back story fell terribly flat and felt out of of sync with the book up to that point. I may go back and skip over this part so I can find out how the story ends.

The Princess Bride, William Goldman
I watched the movie years ago but didn't understand why it was so popular. Maybe the book would change my mind - but again I just couldn't get into the talky style.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1), Stieg Larsson
I bought the eBook bundle on sale in 2014 but haven't watched the movies. The premise was interesting and totally up my alley - but I found it too clinical and couldn't go on after Chapter 5. Perhaps it was a problem with the English translation?

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louise Stevenson
Just to prove it's not a case of modern literature not floating my boat, I reluctantly add this classic to the list. Classic books are free from Project Gutenberg, so at least I didn't have to feel bad about spending money. That's the trouble with eBooks - you can't give 'em away, trade 'em away or sell 'em away! My first surprise was that this was a story by Robert Louis Stevenson and I was impressed with how much of the story I didn't know. I almost finished this one too - but bailed on the lengthy confession letter at the end. Readers and watchers are pretty sophisticated these days and don't need everything explained to them - but a hundred or so years ago I'm sure it kept readers on the edge of their seats!

Will 2017 be better? Dare I have hope? At least I can hope to have good intentions :-D

Saturday, 30 July 2016

70s Saturday Sci-Fi Scans

I just had to share this today - it's so weird. entertaining and retro! Thank goodness this vision of future fashion didn't come to pass, because I certainly don't have the body shape to rock this outfit. Imagine a potato instead of Raquel Welch and there you go. According to the helpful YouTube comments, this is from 1970. While some things haven't stood the test of time like space girl bikinis, you can still visit the park pictured in the background. It's Ruta de la Amistad or "Route of Friendship" built for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.

I know, I know, technically this is not a book, but 2016 has turned out to be a pitiful year for reading. I have started - and abandoned - so many books that I feel a lot of shame. I love reading. It's a huge part of my identity and I am completely confused about it!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Mother Nature is surely joking

I can't believe it's April 1st and there's no snow on the ground. I half expected Mother Nature to pull a cosmic joke and wake up to two feet of snow this morning. Such is the expectation when you live in Canadaland.

I can't believe it's April 1st and leaves are unfurling.

I can't believe it's April 1st and the furnace is turned off.

I can't believe it's April 1st and I have been wearing shoes for two months.

I can't believe it's April 1st and people are out there riding bikes and playing Frisbee in the park.

I can't believe it's April 1st and I never got to use this cartoon to complain about the weather!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Tea for Tuesday

Every tea lover loves a little something something with their tea and I was challenged last year as my daily croissant habit started to add up. Even a pack from the grocery store didn't put much of a dent in the cost and don't forget how deliciously calorific a croissant can be.

I discovered the solution by accident when I had to run out and get a garlic bulb for dinner. I didn't want to go all the way to a supermarket for just one thing. An Indian import store opened up near us and since it was within walking distance, now was the time to check it out!

All good import stores will carry a taste of home and my eye was drawn to the colourful packages near the till. So many cookies, cakes and confections! On a whim I grabbed a green bag of rusk cakes and I was instantly in love. They don't turn to instant mush like vanilla biscuits and there was just a hint of sweetness. They look about as flavourful as a rice cake, but trust me - there's a pleasant mellow flavour that isn't sweet or salty. Rusks hold the tea's flavour and melt in the mouth! Any tea will do - but chai and black tea do very well. Now when I go to the import store I get two bags at a time.

Now, the funny thing is that you would think all rusks would be alike. Nope! I tried a few different brands and kept going back to the green package, made by TWI Foods here in Canada. There are subtle differences in flavour from brand to brand, but at least the cakes are so inexpensive that it's not a huge loss to try a bunch! My wallet and my waistline loves them.

Tea rusks
Picture by moi! It took 18 shots to get the perfect one.