not zelda

Zelda. There’s a new one. I finished it.
Here is my surely unpopular opinion on the matter.
Breath of the Wild isn’t Zelda.
It’s Skyrim with much better weapons, movement, and navigation. It’s Horizon Zero Dawn minus badass enemies or a world dripping with history. It’s The Witcher with beautiful particle effects but god-awful voice acting and a terrible story.
In other words, it’s another open-world sandbox RPG. A lot of people wanted exactly that. I don’t begrudge that desire. It’s a perfectly fine game. But it’s not Zelda.
I have three reasons for saying this: music, themes, and dungeons.
Zelda is nothing without its music. This has been true for every worthy entry in the series. Breath of the Wild is silent. Barren. You roam across vast plains and climb tall mountains to the tune of absolutely nothing. You stroll through towns while a faint tune drifts in and out, devoid of any worthwhile melody. What little music does appear is yet another rehash of the same melodies from Ocarina of Time.
Then there is the total absence of any musical instrument as a usable item – a constant in nearly every Zelda ever made. In particular, for Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, music is itself a central mechanic in both games. You use the ocarina everywhere. To teleport. To trigger events and quests. To solve puzzles. It marks your progression through the game. By virtue of playing the tunes so frequently, you instinctively memorize them, searing them into your brain as an explicit part of the experience.
More importantly, music is just omnipresent in Zelda, constantly playing, setting the tone wherever you are. The melodies are strong, unique, and memorable. It is not part of the background or periphery, but front and center at all times. You walk into a shop and hear a cheery browsing tune. You step into Zora’s Domain and it just feels like you’re surrounded by water. The Song of Storms feels hypnotic and cyclical like the windmill you learn it in. Epona’s Song evokes the warmth and devotion of a loyal steed. These songs are iconic and unforgettable. Zelda completely relies on its music to build its themes.
Every Zelda has distinct themes. Complete, immersive concepts, either to the whole game, or in parts and pieces within the game. Windwaker is a flooded waterworld where you sail everywhere and use a conductor’s baton to control the wind. There’s the light and dark world of Link to the Past where every object in the game has a demented counterpart. Majora’s Mask is obsessed with time, and everything is in service to the manipulation of the days and understanding of schedules and routines. And of course, Ocarina of Time’s child/adult paradigm.
As an aside, my favorite interpretation of Ocarina of Time is that it’s actually a coming-of-age story where a young, naive child goes on an heartfelt adventure, only to wake up as an adult and realize the world is a terrifying and chaotic mess.
There are no discernable themes in Breath of the Wild. People keep describing it as post-apocalyptic, but this is simply not the case. It is a lush, bright world where once in a while you come across unexplained mossy rubble and the same damn model of broken-down machines over and over. The tiny populations of Hyrule are all quite happy in their lives and seem to be carrying on with relatively little worry or internal conflict. There are some drones and robot spiders with lasers but mostly it is goblins and lizards. Oh, and there are fugly animal gundams piloted by ghosts.
Which brings us to dungeons.
One of the strangest facts about Breath of the Wild is that there are no caves. Not a single one. Barely even a crevice inside of a mountain. Yet, the story goes that Shigeru Miyamoto’s inspiration for the first Zelda was his childhood exploration of forests and caves, diving deep into mysterious and unknown territory not knowing what he might find.
At its best, that is exactly what Zelda’s dungeons provide. This sense of delving further into a labyrinth, not knowing what lays around the next corner, the uncertainty of where to go next, forcing you to study the map to make sense of what you might have missed or which room holds the key you need to go further, the excitement of finding a brand new item that will change the way you traverse the environment around you and the world as a whole. All set within the theme of the dungeon, which itself is a piece of the world’s theme.
The shrines and divine beasts in Breath of the Wild evoke none of this. They are austere laboratories that rarely challenge the mind, that offer no sense of mystery or curiosity, rarely providing meaningful rewards. They are a shallow, hollow parody of Zelda’s oldest feature, lacking tension, joy, or personality.
It seems unfair to skewer Breath of the Wild for this, because I would hardly praise Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, or the Windwaker for the quality of their dungeons. They often relied on contrived mechanics and useless, even comically stupid single-purpose items. But at least they tried. They knew that this is what Zelda is about, that no other game has ever successfully replicated.
Breath of the Wild is not a bad game. It is a good game with many merits and many flaws. But it is not Zelda.

some cow’s pasture

I haven’t written about a game in quite a while, but I definitely felt inspired after spending my week with No Man’s Sky.

I don’t tend to get excited about upcoming games. That feels like a depressingly adult thing to say, but building up expectation when disappointment is so likely seems like a masochistic way of life.

No game taught me this lesson better than Fable. As a kid, I vividly remember reading a now-infamous interview with Peter Molyneux, where he was hyping up Fable. He talked about how the whole world responded to your actions. Knock an acorn to the ground and come back years later to see a fully grown oak tree. Become evil and knights in shining armor would try to hunt you down, or be righteous and fend off bounty hunters and crimelords. Build houses, get married, raise a family, rule the land.

Fable had none of those things. The spirit of the game that was described – an open-ended journey full of countless, unique possibilities – was not present in the slightest. It was a cramped museum of strict and compromised designs. It wasn’t a bad game at all, but it was nothing like what had been promised. It utterly failed to capture the spirit of its promise.

Right around this time was when I first encountered the word procedural, one of the buzzwords that has seen a resurgance alongside No Man’s Sky. In this context, it refers to a world that is generated by formulas and processes, rather than explicitly designed by a human. I heard of this when Will Wright delivered a brilliant GDC presentation on Spore. The game he laid out in that talk was genuinely incredible. He shows a thoughtfully populated universe at several distinct scales, continuously filled out with player creations, crafted by incremental choice, guided evolution. Where Peter Molyneux talked, Will Wright demonstrated in precise detail.

At that time, I was like 15 and had no way of knowing how outrageous the game’s many promises really were. By the time the game came out – a full 3 years later – it was clear it had become mired in development hell and irrevocably damaged by the production process. The game that was released was, like Fable, nothing akin to the vision that had been laid out.

I talk about these games because No Man’s Sky has similarly excessive ambitions. It has an awe-inspiring trailer that immediately generated huge amounts of interest. There’s been countless interviews with the lead developer where he clumsily evades questions while simultaneously stirring up visions of a grand universe with complex interactions and infinite possibilities. But unlike Fable and Spore, No Man’s Sky actually does some justice to this goal.

First, let’s get the negative stuff out of the way. Because for me, getting to the pearls in this game has meant swimming through oceans of hot garbage. Swim with me for a minute, if you will.

Far and away, the most common thing you will spend your time doing in this game is moving piles of exotic sand between inventories.  To worsen matters, the interface for managing your sand collection is just no good.

the antichrist of UIs
the antichrist of UIs

As someone who earns his salary designing and building interfaces, I cannot tell you how little this differs from getting punched in the nuts by each and every member of the 2016 American Olympic team (that’s 558 people, in case you were about to check).

The focus on collection and crafting with this space dust is oppressive. In a game whose soul is all about exploration, to find yourself wedded to the act of vacuuming up shit particles everywhere simply feels wrong. In any other game this might be considered a novel or satisfactory piece of gameplay, but this is No Man’s Sky. There are quintillions of planets begging for exploration, but there you are, unmoving, unthinking, as you squirt lasers on a pillar of galactic fartrock.

Lastly, it must be mentioned how hilariously insufficient – perhaps even inappropriate – the aliens are. Hundreds, if not thousands, of these off-brand Walmart humanoids populate every planet and solar system in the galaxy.

ugly as goddamn sin

They’re grotesque, poorly animated, and devoid of personality. Most of them are apparently chair-bound, born with an Ipad strapped to their right hand, which they idly peck at before delivering a completely arbitrary multiple choice question. It’s a feature of the game so breathtakingly vanilla, yet somehow so incomplete, that one can only wonder what the developer’s intentions might have been.

It forces you to think of the game as actually being empty, simply devoid of intelligent life. That’s a meaningful distinction, too. If there are no larger civilizaitons or structures waiting out there in the universe, what can this universe really show you? What is the drive for exploration?

The answer to that, for me, is the phenomenal variety of planets. Let me break this down a bit, because this has been a huge part of the sense of awe I get from this game.

Blasting around in a solar system feels great – they nailed the scale and speed of it all.  Planets feel huge and distant, but you still feel fast.  There’s a bit of magic in getting jumped by space pirates and dogfighting among asteroids with a whole planet as your backdrop.


It’s taken for granted that you can enter a planet’s atmosphere from any direction, but think of any game you’ve ever played – you’re always going through explicitly defined entry and exit points wherever you are. In No Man’s Sky, this experience, which would be a blank loading screen in any other game, is genuinely fun.  All the alarms go off, everything shakes, there’s a lovely halo of plasma, and the features below fade into view.  You can start to make out some of the features – gray soil, purple grass, green oceans. Garish, but still kinda badass.

You cruise around for a minute until you find a landmark that interests you.  It’s a little hard to see from your cockpit, so you spin your ship so that you’re flying sideways and can see the terrain a little better. You fly really fast compared to how you walk, so you have to slow down and start pulling tight circles until you think you’ve got it right. Your ship slowly lowers, and now you get a sense of the scale of the hills you saw from above, which now loom all around you.

This planet has giant mushrooms three times your size, there’s little crab-squid things galumphing around on the ground, and apparently it’s lightly raining acid. There’s a new type of tree you’ve never encountered before at the top of a big hill, so you decide to head that way to take a closer look. On the way you find a species of butt-faced dinosaurs that try to kill you but they can’t quite path around some tentacle flowers so you laugh at them and move on. As you crest the top of the hill, you see a sky filled by a neighboring planet and contrails left by alien spaceships. The view below is a canyon filled by a lake, filled to the brim with platypus-like squiddies and mushrooms with wavy tendrils. The sun starts to rise behind you, and the landscape changes from being heavily tinted green-blue, to a softer orange-red.

If this sounds awesome, that’s because it is. No, not every planet is that great. Many of them are shitty. Some of the patterns in generation become more obvious over time. The interest in exploration goes down once you don’t need to collect resources or upgrades any longer.

The fact remains that No Man’s Sky contains so many stunning compositions of colors and shapes, intermingled with all sorts of comedic and bizarre creatures. No designer sat down and created any one of them specifically, yet many of the environments in No Man’s Sky are far more beautiful than anything you can find in any modern game. I would go as far as to suggest that this is one of the most intrinsically beautiful games ever made.


There are moments in this game that genuinely made me feel like Darwin visiting the Galapagos. I could imagine his excitement at finding all these new and fascinating kinds of plants and animals, trying to piece together a narrative about why they have these sorts of claws or that sort of beak. That’s the heart of exploration, and No Man’s Sky captures that in a way that no other game has.

This kind of novelty is why procedural generation holds such promise. Games should create unique experiences that were hitherto inaccessible. They should be able to show us things we haven’t yet imagined. No Man’s Sky manages to keep itself together just well enough to do that.

video game feminism

I’m a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series. Although I highly recommend them to anyone with a serious interest in pop culture or video games, the series is quite long. Since this post involves many of its core ideas, I’ll provide my summary of Sarkeesian’s most important observations.

Video games and the industry surrounding them are extremely male-dominated. Games aren’t just being marketed exclusively towards men — games themselves are designed around the assumption that the players are male. They overwhelmingly cater to this group to such an extent that it is actively alienating the players that do not match this target demographic.

Continue reading video game feminism

Hand of Misuse

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Pro teams are picking up Hand of Midas a lot these days. First, just a brief look at usage over the last year. All stats pulled from datDota.

General Midas appearance and winrate by patch

Here’s the funny thing: Midas was nerfed in 6.79c. Most of the games counted in 6.79 came before that patch, but it was valued much less in 6.78 for no apparent reason. While drafting strategy could explain some of it, it would appear that Midas has become a thriving trend across nearly a full year of use.

Continue reading Hand of Misuse

North American Scrubs

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Swag Sorceror: Why are NA teams such ass all the time – do we just not promote as much? Who does one even talk to to figure out what would be helpful to make the community grow – get more people to watch and spend money on games?

The reason NA sucks at Dota and League is because of internet cafes. Net cafes have always been and still are way, way bigger in China, South Korea, SEA, and all over EU. Home desktop computers didn’t take off in other countries the way they did in the US, and that’s because of population density. Also, broadband adoption and good connection quality has only recently become ubiquitous here. South Korea had 100mbps connections well over 5 years ago.

Net cafes matter a fuckload because that’s where amateur teams form and competitions take place. Cafe owners have always been happy to host these things because that’s an enormous amount of business for them. Spectators and players and all of their friends come together and trigger the feedback loop that gets everyone amped up about the matches, the tournament, the game as a whole. There’s a reason kids in the Philippines stood outside in the fucking rain to watch TI3. It’s because it’s always better to watch together in one place than separately, alone.

Continue reading North American Scrubs

Mythological Creatures

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Bigfoot, Unicorns, and Non-Standard Drafting

Swag Sorceror: Cranberry Thunderfunk, I’d love your opinion on why non-standard (non just standard right click, basically) carries aren’t more common as a pocket strat in professional. Safelane pugna got thrown into the meta decently heavily during i think 6.80? and that was pretty cool, but not super long lived, but why don’t you see more safelane silencer, carry necro / lesh, or any number of other heroes that can probably carry in ways that I haven’t even thought of, either by forcing a game in the first 25 minutes or whatever.

This is the answer I think most pros would give.

The biggest problem is that they’re easy to gank and easy to focus in team fights. Pretty much all carries that ever get picked have one of these things:

  • a reliable escape mechanism
  • a respectable stun
  • high burst damage

Antimage, Weaver, Void, and Spectre have good escapes. Chaos Knight, Sven (though he hasn’t shown up in forever, for no apparent reason), WK, Tiny, and Slardar have good stuns. Luna and Gyro have good burst damage (also, high base movement speed). All of these make tp support and turn-arounds much more viable.

Continue reading Mythological Creatures

Ancient Chinese Medicine

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate.  It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2.  I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

The 1-5 System

A few years ago, the professional Chinese teams devised a simple way to designate hero roles, now known as the 1-5 system as it’s been adopted almost universally. I want to explain it because I think it’s a useful tool in figuring out stronger picks and lanes for each and every game, and that’s an area where I see a lot of room for improvement. Although I include some notes about more advanced strategies, I believe this is fairly accessible to anyone with a basic familiarity with DotA.

Continue reading Ancient Chinese Medicine

Zombie Arena Simulations

Scenario 1

You’re in line at an amusement park at peak visiting hours. A zombie outbreak occurs.

The challenge: Kill the original zombies before they can infect civilians and without harming uninfected civilians. Each original zombie is worth maximum points, but for each civilian a zombie infects, the original zombie’s value decreases. Infected civilians are worth much less than original zombies. Bonus points for protecting all of the Dippin’ Dots vendors.

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Sand Wraiths and Boar’s Blood

The Setting

Near-future techno-fantasy. Limited forms of magic exist, but are not possessed by humans. There is no mechanical flight and no space exploration, but a few major cities enjoy an extreme level of technological advancement and wealth – automated wireless everything, high speed magnetic rail, laser weapons, flexible and lightweight armor. Recycling is not just mandatory, but ultra-efficient; when old technology is replaced, all of the parts and pieces are broken down and the core materials recovered for future use. While this has made the cities extremely self-sufficient, it has left secondary populations in the dust. As a result, the few remaining rural towns – which are still agrarian and contain a vanishingly small portion of the world population – are a hodgepodge of pre-industrial technology with what little unrecycled gadgetry finds its way out of the cities. Some possess no technology whatsoever. The overwhelming majority of city dwellers know nothing about rural populations because of how few and irrelevant they are.

Continue reading Sand Wraiths and Boar’s Blood

The Internet versus Immersion

A Response To “WoW And The Evolution Of Games And Gamers”

It’s no secret that the MMOs we know today are quite directly built out of the tradition that Dungeons & Dragons laid down so long ago. Many of the core principles translate to the digital age quite nicely – namely its overt reliance on stat manipulation to create gameplay mechanics. What doesn’t translate is information inequality, specifically between the players and the dungeonmaster. In traditional D&D, encounters are planned exclusively by the DM. Unless the DM chooses to reveal information within the campaign, valuable strategic data about the environment, NPCs, and encounters are known only by the DM. As a result, a sizable portion of the game is spent in siphoning information out of the DM through skill checks and challenges. The medium of voice communication itself further limits how much can be shared, as all of this has to be described in words by the DM. Human error is also a factor; incorrectly recorded or misunderstood information gets passed occasionally between players, especially when there are simultaenous events to track. Players will debate each other at length simply to verify the accuracy of their knowledge. These sorts of challenges are appropriate for pen-and-paper, but they just aren’t relevant when the interface is a computer with internet access.

Think about the experience of a single-player game. Using a strategy guide to progress through a game is more or less considered cheating, and not simply for elitist reasons. A properly designed single-player game demands no guide because all the information the player needs will be found within the game itself. As in D&D, encounters are designed on the premise that the player possesses only the knowledge that the developers have deigned to reveal, which will be minimally sufficient to progress. It’s for this reason that the types of puzzles and encounters found in a single-player game don’t scale well into multiplayer. The first person to solve the riddle is also the last. That’s why most MMOs don’t bother making meaningful logic puzzles or riddles, outside of the handful you might find in the occasional quest chain. In a genre where time efficiency is highly valued, it’s hard for a mere riddle to compete against alt+tab -> google.

Continue reading The Internet versus Immersion

Discussion: Terraria & Minecraft

And Lo, the Bloglomerate did descend upon Terraria, consuming it with fervor in the fallout of the catastrophe known as Diablo the Third. Verily, Terraria did provide a unique and thrilling video game experience that the blogging conglomerate thoroughly enjoyed, and experimentation began with creating PvP arenas to siphon further joy from the game – but disagreement lurked on the horizon.

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In general, I think Facebook is a good thing. It provides a way for people to stay in touch at all distances, it allows people to share cool and important things, and it provides a snapshot of what your peers value and desire. It does not, however, guarantee any kind of parity to reality. People assume that Facebook is showing real people and real lives because it’s real names that are popping up on their screen. What they forget is that Facebook is one giant filter of intention.

What shows up on Facebook is what people want to show up. Go look through your friend’s albums: how many weddings do you see? How many vacations? Babies? Trips abroad? Graduations? Visits with family? Parties with friends? There’s something missing from this picture. Like, say, people getting fired. Funerals. Arrests. Divorces. Suffice to say that we aren’t rushing to Facebook to tell everyone about our imperfections and admit that we’re not as happy as our pictures would have others believe. For the experienced netizen, this is business as usual. It’s a different story for the average Facebook user, however, and I’ve long pondered over how to challenge the way people perceive Facebook. Recently, I found a way.

As a kid, the game of the internet was always to appear older so as to enhance credibility, and the best way to do that was not to give anyone an excuse to look down on me. The first line of attack is always the display name, and by the time I was 13 I’d mostly standardized my name across the various mediums of the internet: salandarin. It was unique, didn’t have numbers (super important!), was easy enough to type, hard to say wrong, and carried a flavor of fantasy without sounding elven or magical. It’s austere and inert.

The preteen me wanted that because it provided a shield against scrutiny. Passivity is a great strategy for avoiding criticism, but it also leaves any hope of quality interaction in the hands my neighbors. Salandarin provided no material for conversation. However, as I became more engaged in online communities at the end of high school, I had earned a few nicknames. I started adopting them because they were flavorful and personal. Since 2008, my display name evolved thusly:

  • salandarin
  • saladman
  • salad
  • sal
  • salmon
  • salmonesque

I jumped between all of these sprodically for the next few years, using them for alts or special accounts, picking whichever seemed more thematically appropriate for the given environment. I could only have so many, however, as I still needed to log in to the accounts without going through the “Forgot your username?” prompts every time. But then sites started separating account name and display name. In particular, Steam eliminated all restrictions on what display name you could use. Duplicates were fine. Special characters were fine. Really long, or really short. It was all good. So, when I switched from HoN to DotA 2 and found myself using Steam a whole lot more, I realized I had a golden opportunity.

For the unfamiliar – Steam is a platform for playing video games.  Your display name dictates what identifies you in the game.  So, if my display name is SALMONATOR, it’ll tell everyone in the game “SALMONATOR just got a double kill!“, and it’s the name that appears in front of all chat messages.   With that explained, here are just some of the names I’ve come up with over the last year. Yes, all of them were in caps, and I’m proud to say they’re all original.


Some of them are silly and lame. Some of them are alright. A few are hilarious. In general, though, a quirky and unique name goes a long way to breaking the ice in the garden of social butterflies that video gamers are known to be.  I can hear people trying not to laugh when they say “dumpturkey” or “butt alchemist” over voice chat, and it’s absolutely great.  Seeing “GONNA POOP ON YA is GODLIKE!” appear on the screen is just a delight. Anything that gets people to chill out and remember that it’s just a video game is a huge winner, and it makes the overall experience better for me (and hopefully others too).

Continue reading nomenclad

Common Ground: Morphling & Spectre

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

In a previous post, I lamented the design of Antimage. Although his lack of counters makes him difficult to deal with, I wouldn’t call him overpowered – just a fun-sucking vampire. In fact, there really aren’t many heroes that I feel truly earn the gold ‘imba’ star. Many heroes are situationally absurd, but for most of these heroes, your team will have the opportunity to prevent these situations from coming about through your choice of heroes, lane matchups, item pickups, and so on.

The role-based nature of the game is part of what helps preserve this delicate balance. On paper, Lion’s stun is strictly superior to Nyx Assassin’s stun – it lasts .3 seconds longer and travels 200 units farther. The difference is that Nyx Assassin is a highly mobile invis ganker that can use his stun whenever and wherever the fuck he wants. Meanwhile, Lion is forced to rely on his team to create an opening, so he can trundle in like a clown, use his disables, ult, and then promptly get his ass shoved into his face because that may as well be Lion’s fourth ability. The point is, the strength of abilities are contextual to that hero’s role. There’s a reason most carries don’t come equipped with hard CC.

Continue reading Common Ground: Morphling & Spectre


It’s one thing to piss on Bethesda; they’ve been remaking Morrowind for a decade. It’s hard to say they know any better. Blizzard, on the other hand, should damn well know better.

I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining Blizzard’s past achievements. Starcraft, Diablo 1 & 2, and Warcraft 2 & 3 were all stellar, each in their own way. Well-developed storylines that take place within lovingly crafted universes, memorable characters with great dialogue, fantastically deep and novel mechanics, and badass cutscenes to boot. WoW, too, was a grand achievement, if only because it so thoroughly excelled beyond every other MMO on the market. What the hell happened since then? Why do I hate everything they’ve done in the last 3 years?

Continue reading Blizzard


Realistically, this post should have come two months ago; most of the inspiration for this came while beating Skyrim until it was long past the dead horse stage. If you are unfamiliar with the Elder Scrolls franchise of RPGs, this may cause you to feel bored. I won’t be offended if you turn back now.

This game devoured my time in a fashion not unlike that of a blue whale consuming krill. I purchased it the night it came out, and having been stricken with viral bronchitis, it proceeded to consume a full 110 hours of my spare time over the next ten days. I will credit this ferocity primarily to the bronchitis, rather than the game. In any case, I left the game utterly beaten and broken. I completed every quest line, owned every property, blah blah blah. Point is, I utterly exhausted its content. It held no secrets from me.

The first few hours are delightful – Skyrim is filled to the brim with things that you wish were in more video games. It’s a high fantasy interpretation of Grand Theft Auto. This idea alone has caused dignified men and women to drool for socially unacceptable periods of time. It’s natural that everyone would want to love it, that it would receive rave reviews across the board. Yet, the better I got to know Skyrim, the less I loved it. I even began to resent it very deeply. I am no Scrooge. I do not dislike things simply because they are widely enjoyed. I do, however, feel agony at missed opportunities and misguided endeavors. The ES franchise, I have come to conclude, is one long story of these very things. Looking back, I realize that they’ve all failed to accept some very basic facts of life. Each of them have been an ocean wide and an inch deep.

Continue reading dilution


I wrote an email. Wouldn’t you like to read it? It’s about Minecraft.

Dear Notch,

I’m a long-time player of Minecraft – since 1.1.0 alpha. The single player mode consumed about 20 hours of my time, but I put it down when I realized that no one else would ever be able to enjoy the fortress I’d created. A few weeks later, I got together with a group of my friends and we started a server. It’s tough to say how much time I’ve put into the projects on that server (see here) – a thousand hours would be a low estimate. I mention this solely to support the statement that I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about where Minecraft has been, where it’s going, and what its potential is. Right now, that potential is being squandered. You created a wonderful game, the first viable entry into what could be a totally new genre of video games. However, I feel strongly that the direction you’ve taken the game is one of very, very limited potential.

Continue reading dreamy


In January, my friends and I embarked on a project that has become, for me, a serious creative outlet. We decided to start building a town on our Minecraft server. If you don’t know what Minecraft is, that’s okay – all you need to know is that it’s essentially multiplayer Legos. This post is an attempt at sharing some of the amazing creations and the process behind the town’s development.

We didn’t have any idea what would go on it and we didn’t set any rules for what could or couldn’t be made. We just started making stuff. The location we chose was nothing more than hills and trees. Sitting in the middle of nowhere, the first creation was a statue of a bug with a sword plunged through it, and some signs (note – these are all recent shots, unfortunately I don’t have any from the beginning days):

By Ben

Here’s what the signs said:

The Bug King as he was found in 1388, after having been slain by the Bug Slayer. The Bug King’s death marked the end of the Insectowars, and ushered in a century of peace and a new golden age.

Continue reading replay

more birthday manifesto

A big thanks to Ben Myers for the domain name suggestion. A few people said they would have liked more, but I figured it was time to embrace the name of the blog. Maybe we’ll see oftim make a return somewhere else, though.

Relationships, con’t

As unpredictable and tempestuous as my emotional state can be, I’ve never had cause to question the depth the connections I have with my family and friends. Even at my most self-absorbed, I could never bring myself to say that no one in the world cares about me or loves me. Perhaps my greatest mistake over the past years has been giving legitimacy to feelings of loneliness. Which leads me to conclude that the loneliness I’ve experienced has very little to do with a lack of companionship, but a discomfort with being alone. It would be easy to pass that discomfort off as me just being a social guy, but I think the existential crisis demands a more complete explanation.

Continue reading more birthday manifesto


Video games have been a defining force in my life as far back as my memory goes. The relationship is complex and varied, but it has remained, for me, totally unexplained. What have the 20,000 hours of my life spent immersed in virtual entertainment done for me? Why do my friends and I find such continued delight in them? Are they really just abstracted pleasure buttons, isolating us from the real world? Do video games actually have anything to offer society aside from escape?

Continue reading emulation


For some reason, I feel like posting this here. It’s an email that I doubt any of you will find meaningful.

date: Sep 23, 2007 10:26 PM
subject: Communication & Moderation


I have no real way of knowing how interested you are in the workings of the communities outside of If you aren’t at all, then I can safely say this email won’t interest you. If you are, I’d like to ensure another player-run forum doesn’t blow up in the face of the game.

I’m sure you know by now that has now sunk, being the replacement. While it is self-described as not being focused on SK, it does have a section devoted to SK. With that, it has the potential to enrich or degrade SK, just as SKLogs did. Communication goes a long ways towards ensuring that history doesn’t repeat itself. That might sound cliche, but there’s a lot we can learn from SKLogs.

The relationship between and SKLogs was abysmal, at best. Its origins were humble enough, but time saw a massive schism between the two, when really, they’re both working to try and make the game more fun for everybody. I don’t need to describe SKLogs’ devolution; we both know what the problems were and why they were so bad. But, I think it was a necessary problem for the community to face. SKLogs made mainstream what supamang and Chemhound did in the pseudo-underground. It forced the players and the staff to make a very conscious choice about how they played the game from an OOC perspective. Not visiting SKLogs meant sacrificing a huge wealth of information as well as a very large social connection to the other players. That wasn’t the case, before. Additionally, the wealth of information created an illusion of necessity – players seeking to maintain their status as knowledgeable and elite felt required to read and participate in order to stay on the “bleeding edge” of competition inside the game.

While it is easy to decry such an obviously weak attitude towards the game, most players don’t, even now, realize that they were so immersed in the cycle. History seems to indicate that there’s no way to change these trends – which is why a place without moderation became such a powder keg, self-destructing in a pile of chaos and flames. With this, we’re presented with the same situation, but with fresh experience and knowledge to learn from. A player-run site is a necessity for SK. As one forum passerby, Joebones notes: a strong player-run forum is a sign of good health in and outside of the game. There has to be a place where players can go to be moderated less strictly – otherwise they’ll get fed up, and something on the extreme will appear, like another SKLogs.

I am (for the time being) moderating the SK section of Java’s site. Her goal (as well as mine) is to eliminate the presence of information that detracts from the game – working out what kind of information that is, exactly, isn’t easy. That’s why I’m writing this. A successful player-run SK forum (or subsection of a forum, as they case may be) should be focused on complementing existing structures and material without fighting against the ideals of the game. I think I need your help to do that – if you’re willing to provide it.

From what I can tell, a major portion of SKLogs’ failure was derived from a lack of communication. What would you like to see in this player-run community? Where should it differ from How can I make sure the two aren’t working against each other? How comfortable are you with any of this?

Thanks for your time and consideration. I hope I’m not too long-winded, but I thought I should be thorough about all this.

Salandarin / Tim


A small glimpse into what I spent the last 1886 hours doing, since last July. I’m not expecting you to care or even to understand.

You say ‘My time is drawing to a close, regardless. I will not lead the nation to the Empress’ return. Another will have to.’

Uillean asks to you ‘Your time?’

Uillean clears his throat, beginning to speak Zhensh.

You say to Uillean ‘I will be stepping down, in the coming months.’

Uillean says ‘Oh, my friend..’

Uillean sighs.

The distant howl of a lonely creature echoes through the area.

You smile at him.

Uillean says ‘No one can take your place.’

You say to Uillean ‘But someone will have to.’

Uillean says ‘That much is True.’

It is noon.

Uillean says to you ‘I will have to build trust with a new commander all over again.’

Uillean chuckles sadly.

You say to Uillean ‘Zhenshi won’t be the same after I leave.’

It begins to rain.

You say ‘It molds itself to whoever commands.’

You say ‘The land…’

Corathir runs a hand across the dirty floor.

You say ‘It lives, in a strange way. I feel more of a connection to it, than with mortals, anymore.’

A light drizzle is falling here.

You say to Uillean ‘Let that not be a slight to you, friend. You are as loyal and trustworthy as any I’ve known.’

Uillean laughs.

Uillean says ‘By no means.’

Uillean says to you ‘I am no stranger to attaching myself to things eternal.’

You say ‘For god and country.’

Uillean lightly hits a fist to his chest and nods his head.

You tell Sirano ‘I’m feeling odd.’

You tell Sirano ‘You may be the last person I bring to life, Sirano.’

You tell Sirano ‘For in a month, I retire from my duties.’

Sirano replies ‘Ah, I do not wish to drain you that much.’

You stop resting, and sit up.

Sirano replies ‘My life is not worth another’s for no cause.’
You start to concentrate.

You utter the words, ‘candusgjfcandusqnn’.
You have resurrected a lurid male half-elf!

You rest your tired bones.

You smile at him.

You say ‘Life anew upon the wings of the Restless, Sirano.’

A lurid male half-elf tilts his head to the side, offering a smile towards the peaceful half-elf.

A lurid male half-elf says ‘My thanks to you sir, and your Lord. However I wish not to be the cause of your downfall.’

You chuckle.

You say to a lurid male half-elf ‘Not at all.’

A lurid male half-elf looks at you.

You say to a lurid male half-elf ‘You will come to a time, when your service is done.’

You say to a lurid male half-elf ‘I’m reaching it. That’s all.’

A lurid male half-elf gestures tot he floor next to the peaceful half-elf.

Corathir offers a warm smile.

A lurid male half-elf asks ‘May I sit?’

You say ‘Of course.’

A lurid male half-elf says ‘Ah, well perhaps I should be dressed first.’

You shrug in response to his question.

A lurid male half-elf says ‘I’ve never done this…’

A lurid male half-elf struggles with the magical words.

You say ‘Sixty-two years has led me to barely notice such things.’

A lurid male half-elf starts to concentrate.

A lurid male half-elf utters the words, ‘qarr abrazak’.

A lurid male half-elf starts to concentrate.

A lurid male half-elf utters the words, ‘qarr abrazak’.
A lurid male half-elf’s gear appears on him in a flash of holy light!

You hum softly.

A lurid male half-elf grins.

A lurid male half-elf lowers himself to a resting position next to the other half-elf.

A lurid male half-elf sits down and rests.

You stop resting, and sit up.

You start to concentrate.

You utter the words, ‘pzar’.

You rest your tired bones.

You say to a lurid male half-elf ‘Tell me about yourself, young knight.’

A lurid male half-elf says ‘Sirano, as you know.’

Corathir dips his head.

You say ‘Corathir Veltre, as you know.’

A lurid male half-elf greets everyone in the room.

You greet Sirano.

Sirano says ‘Of myself? Well sir, not much to tell to be honest with you. My travels have not taken me very far.’

Sirano asks to you ‘If I may ask sir, how long have you lived?’

You hum softly.

Sithara tells you ‘Where will I find you then?’

You say to Sirano ‘Not long, by the measure of most elf-men. Sixty-two years, forty-five of which have been in my Lord Zavijah’s service.’

Sirano nods his head slowly.

Sirano says ‘Is still quite long, from my point.’

You tell Sithara ‘My Lord’s temple in Nerina.’

Sirano asks to you ‘Where will you go?’

Sithara replies ‘By the libraries, yes?’

You tell Sithara ‘Indeed.’

You say to Sirano ‘I have not yet decided. I’ve a chance at staying to teach future Talons, but I may decide to retire entirely, and…live out life, as a normal man, with my wife.’

You say to Sirano ‘In essence…I would go home.’

Sirano says to you ‘A worthy ambition, no doubt well earned from your service.’

You say to Sirano ‘I pray such. I have done my Lord’s bidding, I think, as long as it took me to do it.’

You say to Sirano ‘You see, I was brash, in my youth.’

You say to Sirano ‘Mighty ambitions, but lacking in humbleness, and most certainly wisdom.’

Sirano says to you ‘From what I have seen, common for those of our kin while in their youth.’

Sirano says ‘There is no shame in our past, even if there be mistakes and tarnishes there.’

Corathir chuckles lightly, nodding several times.

Sirano says to you ‘We are indeed, a sum of our mistakes.’

You say to Sirano ‘Ah, I bear my past gladly. It is my successes that wear me down more quickly than my failures, however.’

You say to Sirano ‘Friendships made, and watching them dwindle away by the tide of the River. I have watched nearly all of my mortal companions die away, in my life. While it is has been suggested to me that I just…up and make new friends…’

You chuckle.

The sliding door opens.

A clear-eyed female elf darts in from the east.
A nightling soars in from the east.

A clear-eyed female elf closes the sliding door.

You smile at her.

Sirano looks at a clear-eyed female elf.

Sirano looks at a clear-eyed female elf.

You say to Sirano ‘It’s saying goodbye to friends that becomes the hardest task of all, you might find.’

Corathir glances to the clear-eyed elf with a wink.

A clear-eyed female elf bows her head towards the altar, then nods to the half-elves.

A clear-eyed female elf asks ‘Friends?’

A clear-eyed female elf looks at Sirano.

A clear-eyed female elf looks at you.

You say to a clear-eyed female elf ‘I’m reminiscing with the young knight. I feel old, today.’

You grin at her.

Sirano says to you ‘I would imagine so, however we never truly say goodbye, all we do is see you further down the road.’

Sirano stops resting, and clambers to his feet.

A clear-eyed female elf says to you ‘When I was your age…’

Sirano says to you ‘And with that good sir, I wish you a happy retirement, or a pleasant trevel to whereever you might go.’

A clear-eyed female elf chuckles and waves her words away.

Sirano says to you ‘I’ll see you further down the road, friend.’

You say to Sirano ‘Thank you, good sir. I pray you find your travels well, and I hope you find wisdom all along the way.’

Corathir dips his head to the lurid half-elf.

Sirano slowly bows before the half-elven man.

Sirano opens the sliding door.

Sirano walks east.
You hear foot steps nearby.

You close the sliding door.

A Large Altar Room
The velvet carpet ends at the simple, arched doorway into this spacious and imposing room. The gold-colored ceiling is arched, and adorned with an etched silver pattern along the edges, complementing silver walls with gold etchings at the top as well as the edges. At the far end of the room is a large, bronze altar stands atop a round, smooth slab of granite. The marble floor shines brightly from attentive care, adding to the rooms heavenly glow. A large tapestry hangs on the wall behind the altar and is the only decoration gracing the walls of this room. The room is otherwise unfurnished but exudes a sense of integrity and pride.
Obvious exits: sw

This is how your action description will appear while standing:
Corathir is on both knees before the altar.

Corathir bows his head, and closes his eyes.

pray I pray, my Lord Zavijah, that I have pleased you in my service. That I could walk in the light of your Wisdom is all I could ever ask for. You have blessed my life more greatly than I would dare to imagine, and I praise and thank you for this journey I have walked. May I continue to honor you, in all my days.
You pray to the gods for help.

Corathir lifts his head, and opens his eyes to look upon the altar with misty eyes.

Corathir nods to himself, once.

Corathir rises to his feet, and bows low before the altar.

You are already standing.

This is how your action description will appear while standing:
Corathir is here.

You walk southwest.

Budding Terrorists

From Slashdot:

“A student at the Houston-area Clements High School was arrested, sent to an “Alternative Education Center” and banned from graduation after school officials found he created a video game map of his school. School district police arrested the teen and searched his home where they confiscated a hammer as a ‘potential weapon’. ‘ “They decided he was a terroristic threat,” said one source close to the district’s investigation.’ With an upcoming May 12 school board election, this issue has quickly become political, with school board members involved in the appeal accusing each other of pandering to the Chinese community in an attempt to gain votes.”

One more, two more.

Some good comments:

I made a map of my school shortly after the Columbine thing, for Duke Nuken 3D.

I got extra credit from my Visual Arts teacher for being ‘creative’, and lemme tell you, I had a HELL of a lot more than a hammer for weapons at my house.”

(in response)

My Visual Arts teacher gave me an “Incomplete” for the course. I shouldn’t have made my map for Duke Nukem Forever.

Dude, you are way underestimating the seriousness of this issue. They found a hammer in this kid’s house…a fucking HAMMER. He could easily have knocked one, maybe even two people unconscious with that thing before anyone could do anything about it.

What does anyone need with a hammer in their house anyway? Forget about banning him from graduation, this little mini-Osama should get sent straight to Gitmo. There is absolutely no reason to have a hammer in your home unless you intend to commit a terrorist act.

Plus, if all that weren’t bad enough, this kid is ASIAN. Christ man, do you have any idea how crazy those Asians are? One of them killed a bunch of people at Virginia Tech just a short time ago. This categorically PROVES that all Asians are sociopaths just itching to shoot up a school. You can’t argue with this logic, it is completely impervious.

You have no idea what we’re up against here, man. This shit is SERIOUS. Don’t come crying to me when your kid comes home with a big nasty bump on his head because one of these little Asian al Qaeda wannabes smacked him over the head with a mallet. You were warned.”

(in response)

I spoke with Charles Hammerton about this, and you are neglecting many aspects.

He might have had the hammer for home defence. There is nothing wrong with some sport hammering from time to time. Of course, we believe that hammers should be licensed, and background checks done before a hammer can be purchased. Training is, of course, very important, and hammers should never be left where children could harm themselves with them. If appropriate, a hammer lock can be had at any high school that teaches wrestling.

Dont forget about the constitution, and the right to bear hammers.

Responsible hammer ownership is a right, and should not be infringed by a few nut cases.

As Charles said “you can have my hammer, when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers”.”

Dont forget about the constitution, and the right to bear hammers.

People are always misquoting that amendment. It’s the right to hammer bears. Which, as the supreme court affirmed in smokey v. ashcroft, means that you have the right to get a bear drunk if it’s more than 18 years old.”

(in response)

He could easily have knocked one, maybe even two people unconscious with that thing before anyone could do anything about it.

As a proud, lifetime member of the National Hammer Association, I must insist that we not go too far here. It’s part of our constitutional rights – the right to Arm and Hammer – to arm ourselves with hammers. This incident is merely one more reason that everyone ought to carry hamers everywhere they go – if others had been armed with hammers, this student would have had a serious disincentive to consider possibly carrying out the egregious act he was prevented from possibly committing.

Soon, crazy liberal will want to outlaw air hammers, jack hammers, Mike Hammers, pipe hammers – even Diesel hammers – you name it. Act now to preserve your hammer rights – join the NHA.”

(in response)

Hey! If we outlaw hammers, only outlaws will be able to put shelves up!

(in response)

Don’t underestimate the hammer. Remember the Blacksmith of Brandywine.

During the US revolutionary war, a blacksmith performed an errand for General Washington, only to return home and find that redcoats had murdered his family in his absence. The blacksmith took a heavy sledge from his workshop and walked onto the battlefield of Brandywine. There, before they finally brought him down, he slew 20 british soldiers. With a hammer.

No, I’m not being serious about a hammer being a viable weapon, not these days. (Although note that the Blacksmith story is true, from all references I can find.)

I just found it ironic, that the Blacksmith of Brandywine went on a murderous rampage in response to oppression from a ruthless government…and now, our government is so scared of our children that they’re even taking our hammers away.”

1. It is not illegal to create game maps for a first-person shooter game.
2. It is not illegal to show maps for a first-person shooter game to someone else.
3. It is not illegal to possess five swords.
4. The board had nothing to react to in the first place.
5. The student committed no crime for which the police could legally arrest him, at least pre-PATRIOT Act.

He, an honor student, was removed from his high school and forced to attend an alternative (read: for delinquents) education center, will not be allowed to receive his diploma with the rest of his class, and will probably have difficulty, if not being accepted to, at least getting financial aid for a good college. All because he went to a school staffed and parented by a group of reactionary morons.

How should the school have handled it? There’s nothing to handle. When/if parents complained, the appropriate authority figures should have repeated my response to #1: “It is not illegal to create game maps for a first-person shooter game.””

A terrorist under every rock, and a WMD in every child’s hand. When will this crap cease and common sense prevail?

Oh, that’s right: never.

I’d read the article, but it’s been Slashdotted.”

(in response)

Since I’m from the deep south (somewhere east of Texas and west of Mississippi) I feel qualified to say…

This is par for the course in this part of the United States. Ignorance, fear and xenophobia run rampant, white men run everything, and opportunism prevails at every turn. Police forces are treated as a paramilitary force, and zero tolerance is the rule in schools – even though it only means that more kids every year get fewer chances at straightening up and becoming successful.

Louisiana (and other population-losing red states) wonder why it’s best and brightest move away as soon as they finish college – crap like this is the reason why.”

An overreaction is when you lock up someone for life when they stole a loaf of bread. This doesn’t even accomplish their stated goal – to protect their school from an unbalanced and violent individual.

Let’s assume for a second that they are right. The guy is violent, mentally unstable and is using his home grown CS map to practice his planned killing spree (which was apparently to be carried out with a hammer). What do they do? They merely transfer him to a different school. In no way, shape or form do any of the school’s actions prevent him from entering the school again and carrying out his assumed plans. At best, they’ve moved the problem to a different place, and put others at risk that hadn’t been at risk before. At worst, it really pisses him off, and he escalates his planned violence (pipe bombs really aren’t hard to make). Any which way you look at it, the actions of the school and the police were completely irresponsible.

Factor in that the guy had none of these plans to begin with, and you’re looking at a massively incompetent school administration, board and police whose only goal is to cover their ass. They don’t care whether what they did solved any issues; all they wanted was to have something to point to if the student does go apeshit and the inevitable question of “who’s to blame?” rolls around.

The US is going down the shitter, and attitudes like these towards kids and education are the reason why. Way to ruin your future generation.”

I died a little on the inside when I read this. 🙁

(in response)

Don’t worry, you’ll respawn in Mrs. Crabapple’s classroom for round 2.