Latest Blog Posts

by Glenn McDonald

16 Aug 2008

Hello from GenCon, the largest annual gathering of hardcore gamers in the world today. Founded by Gary Gygax, the inventor of a little something called Dungeons & Dragons, GenCon has long been the mecca of so-called “hobby game enthusiasts”—popularly known as D&D geeks.

I’ve been attending GenCon for several years now, to keep a finger on the pulse of contemporary game design, which I find endlessly fascinating. This convention—held every August in Indianapolis, Indiana—truly is the event horizon of gaming. Not videogames, mind you—although that is part of it—but games in a more fundamental sense. Card games, dice games, role-playing games, board games, pretty much any game you can think of that doesn’t involve sports or gambling.

So: A few quick hits and photos, and hopefully I’ll be able to blog in again tomorrow. One of the areas I’m tracking this year is general-interest, family-friendly board and party games. The games that, their developers hope, will supplant the moldy old stand-bys of Monopoly, Life, and Trivial Pursuit.

Talking with some of the exhibitors in the main hall, I’m getting a better sense of how the industry works. For instance, it usually takes about five years for a new game to even get a chance at cracking the retail shelves of big-box outlets like Wal-Mart or Target, or even the expanded game sections of bookstores like Barnes & Noble. Typically, a game has to move hundreds of thousands of units on its own merits, via online sales and specialty hobby game stores.

One such success story is Wits and Wagers, from the small Washington D.C. outfit Northstar Games. I played a demo on the convention floor with some other passing gamers, and it’s very fun indeed—an ingenious mash-up of trivia and Vegas-style oddsmaking. Wits and Wagers just recently earned enough success to get some coveted retail shelf-space at Target, and it won Games Magazine’s Best Party Game award last year.

Publicity art from Grey Ranks

Publicity art from Grey Ranks

On the other end of the spectrum, I spoke with Jason Morningstar, creator of the literary role-playing game Grey Ranks. A radically indie game project, Morningstar’s game is only sold online and via mail order, and is shipped, literally, from Morningstar’s living room. No wizards or lasers in this game. Instead, a player assumes the role of a Polish teenager during the 1944 uprising against the Nazis in Warsaw. Dark in tone and aesthetically sophisticated, the game deals with themes of adolescence, love, war and death. Grey Ranks won this year’s prestigious Diana Jones Award—GenCon’s equivalent to the Indie Spirit awards. My prediction: The industry will one day look back at this game—and its recognition at this year’s convention –- as a watershed moment, a turning point in which the RPG as an artistic form began to fulfill its potential.

Then, of course, we have the real fun of GenCon – people dressing funny. I leave you with a handful of pics from the Convention Center, after the jump.

by Jason Gross

16 Aug 2008

Here’s what you’ll find at my Twitter site as my latest entry: “OK, so the secret here at Twitter, what makes it cool, is bite-sized news scoops plus mini-blogging for otherwise-lazy celebs (great, huh?).”  And that’s it- nice, clean, quick, all within their 140 character limit.  It’s much easier than blogging because there’s already the limit there that constricts you so you’re forced to make a short, snappy statement.  That’s what makes it so appealing.  And as I said, for celebs on there (I follow John Cleese and Henry Rollins among others), it’s an easy way to communicate with the outside world- you probably don’t care much if I nicked myself shaving but you might if you heard the same from Snoop Dogg who’s also on there, though it’s more likely that public figures would use it for promo purposes.

So why are some people frothing over Twitter in a good way and a bad way?  The boosters say that this might be the future of journalism, pointing out that some Twitter-ers (or ‘Twits’ if you like) were some of the first ones to post about the recent California earthquake.  Film Critic Richard Roeper supposed used his Twitter site to break the news that he was leaving the At the Movies TV show.  And Twitter fans do have a point here- if you wanna break news quickly, then typing it in there is a lot faster than writing up a full story.

As for the Twitter detractors (which included me at first), they do have some good points, though I don’t think this makes the service a demon that’s hastening the downfall of journalism (not to mention dumbing down reading and writing to its lowest level).  You’d be nuts to think that 140 characters (which is less than 140 words because that includes spaces and punctuation) could possibly replace reporting about a complex story, not to mention the fact that as of now, the only graphics you can add to Twitter are your own photo (no videos either).

Just as many writers ranted about blogs signaling the end of the journo profession, the same happens with this new wrinkle.  Like blogs, Twitter can help to supplement good journalism and not supplant it.  Because you can add links to your Twitter post also, it can be a mini-blog where you point to a good article or provide some (very) brief commentary about it.

And after all, is Twitter any crazier or less legit than the 10 Word Review or Four Word Review (both of which I love)?  Pauline Kael they ain’t but they’re still fun and also more insightful than you’d think.  Their lengthier colleagues might learn a think or two from them.

by tjmHolden

16 Aug 2008

Out on the road I read about the end of someone else’s road; life’s journey curtailed, existence expunged.

Journalist and My Cancer blogger Leroy Sievers died today. If you don’t know him, you can learn more about his latter stages of life in his blog here, and if you are curious about the bigger picture—about the entirety of his life—you can read about that in this obituary here. Reading about him, skimming some of the entries that chronicled the final two years of his life, and taking in the comments from his many adherents—the loyal following he amassed, the community that his vision spontaneously formed—who read his daily posts about his final months-turned-into-years, certainly is more than compelling; it gives one pause.

Pondering what life is about, what it is to be on life’s path, to embark on the journey, then come to the end of that road.

Ready or not, because all roads have an end.

by Terry Sawyer

15 Aug 2008

There’s something about the diminishing quiet of this song that draws me into the subterranean chase of its music box clatter.  The Bjork touchstone seems obvious, but its not forced or even earnestly parroted.  She doesn’t have the range and seems less interested in doing a floor routine with her vocals than in curling through curious and coy paces.  The sound parallels the work of Little Dragon (no relation) in that they both seem to be working with R&B out of its modes and moods, complicating the traditional subject matter and glacially arresting the genres movements with slipper beats and elongated ambience.  The VCR and the dated recording equipment add to the artifactual elements of the song, which, ironically, sounds like a perfectly shaped, delicate piece of pop architecture. The lush room fabrics and casual observers further deepen the song’s intimacy, making it seem like Josefine Jinder just shuffled her way up to a cozy coffeehouse open mic.  It’s a security blanket song and an easy ease into the weekend.

by Mehan Jayasuriya

15 Aug 2008

I used to think that only an act of God could keep me from a Radiohead show. Well, much to my surprise, this past spring, God decided to call my bluff on that one. So it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I approached Radiohead’s performance this past Tuesday in the Philadelphia suburb of Camden, New Jersey – a makeup date, of sorts, for the washout this past May. This time around, I took every precaution. I checked the weather forecast compulsively. I packed a GPS-equipped phone, just in case I got lost on the way. I double-checked to make sure my name was on the guest list. I left for the venue earlier than was probably advisable.

Despite all of these precautions, just about everything that could go wrong en route to the venue went wrong. I took a wrong turn and got lost in the suburbs of Camden. My GPS-equipped phone ran out of batteries. The car charger for the phone didn’t work. None of the gas station attendants seemed to know where the Susquehanna Bank Center was (not that I can blame them, what, with a catchy name like that). I eventually made my way to Camden, only to get lost yet again in that city’s vast, spooky underbelly. The setting sun completely obscured my view of the road. My girlfriend told me to settle down, repeatedly.

Eventually, I made my way into downtown Camden, where I asked a police officer for directions. He shot me a befuddled look before pointing directly across the street from where he stood.

As for the show, well, there’s not much left to say about the In Rainbows tour and even less left to say about Radiohead as a live act. As always, the five lads from Oxfordshire were on point, crafting a career-spanning set-list and attacking it with both passion and precision. And as you’ve surely heard countless times by now, the band’s LED light spectacle was, for lack of a better word, spectacular. Standing there in awe of the music and lights and amazed that I had made it to the show at all, I couldn’t help but identify with the band’s choice of a closing number. As Thom Yorke’s disembodied voice rang through a sampler, the LED spires scrolled in tandem: “EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE”.

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