A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

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Manly Guys and ADORABLE velociraptors

Lowell Kempf
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After years of seeing commented on, I finally looked at and binged the web comic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. The title had turned me off but I found out that most of its humor comes from deconstructing toxic masculinity.

It’s about a temp agency whose job is to reintegrate ludicrously macho men back into society. And by ludicrously macho men, we mean characters from video games, movies and comic books. And, yes, I have to look up a lot of stuff to get some of the jokes.

When I do get the jokes, the comic is funny. And Commander Badass is actually an interesting reconstruction of the macho man. (He can be a loving father and sensitive partner AND perform brutal acts of violence.) BUT what won me over were the velociraptors.

Picture fat, fluffy chickens with teeth.

THEY ARE SO ADORABLE!!!

The velociraptors don’t show up often but a little goes a long ways. They are so ridiculously cute that I _refuse_ to look for plush ones on Etsy because I know they must be there and I don’t know if I could resist them.

If I was asked to show one comic strip that explain why I binged this web comic, it would be the one where the velociraptors needed hugs on the Fourth of July because fireworks are scary.

Manly Guys Doing Manly Things has been on hiatus since 2018 so it’s probably not coming back. But it gave us the most cuddly velociraptors ever so it did what ir needed to do.
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Sat May 14, 2022 12:52 am
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The Old Man and the Iceberg

Lowell Kempf
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I promised myself that I would try to read more stuff this year that was challenging and actually made me think. I also have to balance that with time management so I’m gravitating to shorter works. Which is why I reread Hemmingway’s The Old Man and The Sea.

Yup, another book that is a staple for high school book reports.

Is it possible to spoil The Old Man and The Sea? Well, just in case:

Spoilers

Spoilers

Spoilers

The book is about an old fisherman’s last great struggle bringing in a giant marlin, only to have sharks eat it before he can bring it back to shore. It’s one of the classic examples of Man versus Environment, unless you choose to interpret it as Man versus Himself.

As I read it, I couldn’t decide the book was holding up Santiago for his struggles against adversity and loss or if it was condemning those choices that led to him probably dying as the book ends. Which pretty much sums up Hemingway pretty well.

Reading about the book after I read it, I found that Hemingway himself had coined the Iceberg Theory of writing. That almost everything, particularly the things that the author knows, should be hidden, left out. The meaning of a work should be left for the reader to figure out.

Which is why Hemingway Scholarship is its own industry. When everything is up for interpretation, every interpretation can be pursued.

That said, I don’t belong to the school of thought that Hemingway was a lazy author or a bad author. Relentlessly shaving a work down to a theoretical minimum and still have it be engaging is an impressive feat. And frankly, it’s not as minimalist as people who don’t read Hemingway say it is. The Old Man and The Sea may be about an old guy, a boat and a fish and not much else but Santiago has a rich inner dialogue.

Reading about the publication of the book, I read that The Old Man and The Sea was the last major work that Hemmingway published before his death. It’s also apparently the book that revived and sealed his literary reputation. And, boy, it’s tempting to read the book as a metaphor for that point in his career. Which is definitely an option but the open nature of the work makes that only one of many interpretations.

Which just goes back to the Iceberg Theory. The more I look at the book, the more I come back to the idea that there cannot be any one right answer. Rereading The Old Man and The Sea made me think more about Hemmingway than the book.


Post Script:

While reading about Hemmingway, I found out he really was a champion fisherman. And that he kept a tommy gun on his boat to shoot any sharks that got near his catches. That might actually be an idea that is viable but damn.
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Wed May 11, 2022 11:53 pm
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Mario Maker 2 is an art studio

Lowell Kempf
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Our son likes to create his own goals and personal narratives in video games.

Enter Mario Maker 2.

Mario Maker is a virtual construction set that lets you build your very own platformer levels for Nintendo’s mascot to go through. More than that, it has a variety of different art settings so you can live as Mario through the ages.

Man but this thing was made with our child in mind.

One of my earliest computer game experiences was Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set. And, to be honest, I suspect that is a game/tool box/experience that would still hold up today. And the Mario Maker series is exactly like it for Super Mario games.

There is a story-mode that also serves as a tutorial for the frankly ridiculous number of tools that you have at your disposal. As opposed to Mario having to rescue Princess Peach for the upteenth time, he is earning money to rebuild her castle after it accidentally gets destroyed. Which I think is an adorable concept.

But our son isn’t interested in the campaign mode. He’s interested in creating what are more like art instillations than more functional levels. Which is absolutely wonderful. It turns Mario into a pure act of creativity. Whenever we get a new video game, there’s always the question if it will be good for us, Mario Maker 2 has quickly proven to be good for us.

I already consider video games to be an art form but Mario Maker 2 is an art studio.

(And yes, you can share designs via the internet but we’re not having our son share stuff with strangers on the internet. Says the guy whose positing this to strangers on the internet lol)
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Tue May 10, 2022 2:20 am
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Love Letter as a classroom game

Lowell Kempf
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There are a couple of classes that I sometimes sub for where board games can be used for learning purposes. And, I honestly have more than enough material to last until the end of the school year, I still keep thinking about even more stuff.

And if part of the lesson is having the kids figure things out for themselves, having components that help teach the rules is something to look for.

One game that I have already been discussing using is Cunning Folk, the game that got me interested in Button Shy (and that’s an interest that has been very good for me. Button Shy is awesome for the casual PnPer) yYou can’t learn the game just by looking at the cards but you can learn a lot.

But another game that fits my needs (relatively short playing time, informative components, easy to learn) is Love Letter. That’s a game that you can practically learn just from the cards.

The individual decisions the kids would get to make are very simple. Two cards per turn and every card tells you just what it does. But every decision affects the game and you have to pay attention to what everyone else is doing. There’s a very small jump between learning the rules and making critical decisions.

I am reminded why Love Letter was a watershed event. It channels interaction and decisions is tiny, focused format. I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to use it in the class room but I am confident it would work there.
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Fri May 6, 2022 8:08 pm
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A grab bag of media comments

Lowell Kempf
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While I like to write about what I’m reading or watching, this is going to be a catch all of stuff that I didn’t feel like writing a full individual blog entry of.

The God Engines by John Scalzi

This novella is about an galactic empire whose spaceships are powered by literally torturing gods. Man, you cannot escape War Hammer 40,000, no matter how hard you try.

I’m honestly not sure what my final opinion about the story is but I have to say that Scalzi never backs off from his premise and relentlessly escalates.

Lady Knight by Tamara Pierce

Protector of the Small is the first series I’ve read by Tamara Pierce. And, of course I started in the middle of her Tortall books. Well, it convinced me to read more Tamara Pierce. Maybe even go back to the beginning lol

Amusingly enough, I didn’t realize how much the series kept building on Kel being a defender of the weak and down trodden until she was openly referred to as the Protector of the Small when she was rescuing a refugee camp’s worth of kids.

The theme and arc of the entire series is in the name

Soft & Cuddly by Jarett Kobek

I keep Boss Battle books on my devices so I have ‘safe’ reading material when I’m at work and around kids. Not so much with this one. Soft & Cuddly only spends one chapter on the title game and the rest is a bitter, angry history of England’s early micro computer industry. Clearly biased, very informative and pretty interesting.

Moon Knight - episode 5

Man, this is the episode that we were waiting for, when Moon Knight finally hit its stride. I am fully expecting a cliff hanger ending and the promise of another a season at the end of the season.

I realized for the first time that, as someone who first read Moon Knight in 1981, I went in with certain basic assumptions. Until this episode, it never occurred to me that there could be a question of who the original personality was.

Dragonbreath Book 11: The Frozen Menace

The last book in the series. Our son wanted to stop three chapters from the end. I wonder if he just doesn’t want Dragonbreath to end. I wanted to find out what happened so I finished it by myself.

While the series ends on an open note for more books, The Frozen Menace feels like an ending point. Danny achieves some character development that has been in the works since book one and the last paragraph is about how good going home is.

This was a good series for our family.
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Thu May 5, 2022 9:50 pm
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My April Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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April ended up being a busier month for gaming than I expected. It was still a busy month for life but some gaming fit in.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, I had a chance to run a class of fifth graders through 13 Sheep. We’ve since then discussed trying out Pandemic: Hot Zone and Cunning Folk in the classroom as well.

It’s certainly a different way of using gaming than I’m used to.

I also spent some time with the third playtest version of Palm Laboratory. I don’t want to write about the game until it’s actually published but it is definitely more than a reskin of Palm Island.

And I learned a couple Roll and Writes.

Dice BBQ is from the 11th Roll ans Write contest and is themed around Argentinian barbecues. The game uses one of the most basic formats of R&W. Roll dice and write numbers in boxes. You get to change a die once. Cook steaks, pour wine, make salads, lose points with smoke.

Dice BBQ made me happy. I wasn’t sure I’d be trying any new games in April. Dice BBQ was something I could print out one page and learn in a few minutes. It is very simple and doesn’t do anything new but the pieces do come together nicely. The artwork looking like it’s from a High Lights magazine really helps. I don’t think it has much replay value but I had fun.

Daddy Issues… Interesting game and I hate the name. We live in a world where you can’t count on anyone getting or appreciating comedic irony.

You play the dad who went out one day for cigarettes and never came back. It turns out you got lost and ended up fighting rabid dogs, zombies and werewolves.

The game is actually a set of tables that you roll on to draw a map and generate encounters. It very much feels like a Fighting Fantasy adventure since you have to teach health and inventory.

I am fascinated by Daddy Issues. I like the theme, even if I don’t like the name. It’s amusing and quirky. And I have enjoyed game book experiences.

BUT I rolled up a store where I could buy cigarettes almost immediately in my first two games. The random factors, both for long a game might last as well as how difficult it can be, are definitely issues.

I want to play Daddy Issues some more so I can fully experience the game, give it a proper review. I have to see how the good parts of the game weigh out against the bad parts.

Looking back, April worked out pretty well for gaming.
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Mon May 2, 2022 8:19 pm
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My April PnP

Lowell Kempf
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Happy May Day to all the Morris Dancers out there and everyone else too.

April ended up having more crafting than I expected. This is what I made:

Grove
13 Sheep
Coin Age (Oz map)
Palm Laboratory (playtest v.03)
Pandemic Hot Zone: US version

I honestly just planned on making Grove in April because work has kept me so busy.

Then, discussions with teachers led to the decision to make a copy of Pandemic: Hotzone for classroom use. (Which also made me find a convenient place to make color prints)

If we are lucky, we will get to use it once before summer break. But that just having a chance made it worth making.

I don’t know if May will have another decision like that but I’m glad for this one.
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Sun May 1, 2022 7:56 pm
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Yoshi’s world is beautiful

Lowell Kempf
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After my wife finished Kirby and the Forgotten Land, we needed more cute video games in our lives. So she found the older title of Yoshi’s Crafted World.

Sweet Zelda, Yoshi’s Crafted World makes Kirby seem like Call of Duty!

I have a weird opinion of Yoshi, Mario’s dinosaur buddy. I think he’s a great character and an adorable design. But ever since I found out he exists, he has always felt like his own thing who just happens to be in Mario games.

Mario doesn’t seem to show up in the crafted world so that just reinforces my view

Plot: Baby Bowser broke the magical Sundream Stone and the Yoshi’s have to go through platformer levels to put it back together. No, it’s not Shakespeare.

But, as someone who’s just watching the game, what is incredibly striking is the setting. Yoshi is traveling through a wonder land of kindergarten crafts. If the kindergartners were very talented and had access to infinite recyclables.

The folks behind Yoshi’s Crafted World went all in on their design aesthetic. I understand an earlier game was a yarn world so this is clearly part of the Yoshi brand. The crafted elements are so fully realized that I have to assume they made real models in order to code them. And you can replay levels from the other direction so each element had to be fully rendered from both sides.

I may not end up playing Yoshi’s Crafted World but I am really enjoying seeing it. I can understand why some folks make money playing video games for other people to watch. This way, you can appreciate the artwork that went into creating the game. The lighthearted whimsy of Yoshi makes Animal Crossing look like Silent Hill.
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Fri Apr 29, 2022 7:24 pm
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So that’s why the kids like Demon Slayer

Lowell Kempf
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After I kept seeing multiple students reading Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (and I’m going to call it just Demon Slayer from here on out), I finally asked one what was so special about the manga. I was told that they really liked the character development.

So I got the first few volumes out of the public library so I could read it for myself. (As someone who is old enough to remember when the United States was given Mazinger Z as Tranzor Z and when Robotech was actually a good thing, I think we live in an age of wonder as far as manga and anime is concerned)

Here’s the one sentence pitch: After a demon ravages a boy’s family, the boy devotes himself to slaying demons and restoring his demonic sister’s humanity.

So, the actual plot isn’t that unusual. Tanjiro and his true companions fight the monster of the week. New powers show up as necessary. If you’ve read any Shonen stuff, it’s familiar.

However, I found the character of Tanjiro to be unlike what I was used to in Shonen heroes. To be fair, I’m a dabbler and far from up to date on developments. But I’m used to hot-blooded idiots or cynical anti-heroes.

Tanjiro, on the other hand, is very sensitive and empathetic. I’m fact, his sensitivity helps fuel his fantastical sword fighting. He mourns for demons’ intrinsic tragedies. (He still slays them on any day ending in Y, of course)

It is very easy for me to see why some students would really take to Tanjiro. He is a character that they can relate to and has traits they probably aspire to.

(All that said, the fact that Nezuko, the most significant female character, has been reduced to a child mentally and has to wear a bamboo gag feels problematic for me, no matter the story justification)
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Wed Apr 27, 2022 6:00 pm
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Why I try to stay up to date on design contests

Lowell Kempf
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One thing that has changed in my experiences with design contests as that I have to make sure I download any files I want to look at before the contest is over.

That’s because more and more often, files get taken done so the designer can pursue monetizing their game one way or another. And, while I’m out for all the free files I can get my grubby little hands on., I can’t complain

It is their intellectual property after all. And getting published has to be the dream of most game designers. And, while I might have to pay Kris attention to contest dates, I think the overall quality of the games is going up, which makes paying attention worth it.

Looking back, the first design contest I seriously looked at was the 2015 18-Card Contest. A format that I don’t even think exists any more. And I’d say there has been noticeable shifts in the overall PnP culture since then.

I think straight up digitally selling PnP files has become a stronger business model. And in particular, Roll and Write PnPs have gotten bigger market share. Don’t get me wrong, PnP is still a niche but it has grown as a niche.

When I first looked at PnP at all (which was longer ago than 2015), my vague memories were that that a lot of what was for sale was war games and 18XX kits. Either one of those is a big crafting production.

Compared to that, a lot of Roll and Writes are print out a sheet and add dice. I could be entirely wrong but I feel PnP has attracted a more casual audience.

And since I’m more of a casual audience member, that works for me.
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Mon Apr 25, 2022 5:59 pm
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