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American Chess Players #gettingafterit

This probably isn’t news to anyone following chess in the last few years, but I’ve just come to realize that it’s a great time to be following the elite international chess circuit if you’re an American. There are three(!) Americans in the top ten rated grandmasters right now. I’m not enough of a chess historian to know whether that’s ever happened before, but I strongly suspect this is the first time. Read more…

Pairing Boots with a (Leather) Kilt

The thing about acquiring a kilt–as I did on Sunday–is that along with it you get an entire set of new sartorial concerns. Kilts are normally worn with a sporran, special socks, garters, jacket, and ghillie brogues. Plus probably more than that, for all I know. Read more…

Chess!

Once upon a time I was a pretty decent chess player. You know, for a kid. After high school I even spent some time getting a little serious, going to some tournaments, reading books, etc. I didn’t set the world on fire or anything, but I did get to that point where I can beat pretty much anyone who hasn’t studied chess at least reasonably seriously pretty much every time. (Those that have studied, well, that’s a different story. . . .) Read more…

Scottish Festival and Games

I spent a huge portion of my weekend at the Utah Scottish Festival and Highland Games. My lady is on the board of directors of the Utah Scottish Association, which meant she was there all weekend. And that gave me good reason to be there too.

My brother and sisters and their families all made it for a while as well.

I was impressed at the Festival’s scale. They announced that ten thousand people attended over the weekend. That seems like a lot to me, not that I know about these things. According to Wikipedia, Utah is the second highest state by percentage Scottish Americans. Who knew? Read more…

Choosing the Next Video Game

With Mass Effect: Andromeda completed, and probably not earning another playthrough immediately, it’s time for the happy task of choosing the next game!

After some research, I’ve got it tentatively narrowed down to three. (I say tentatively narrowed, because there’s no guarantee I won’t get two or even all three, haha!) Read more…

An Affecting Death

My cousin died last week, at his own hands. I’m not especially close with any of my cousins. He was probably typical of that generality, though if I remember correctly his family might have lived with mine for a time when we were young, and I think we might have attended the same elementary school at some point. I certainly hadn’t spoken with him for many, many years. Read more…

Wonder Woman

What’s there to like?

I guess I’ll come right out and admit it. I just don’t get the hype. I feel like I’m going to come off as a serious crank here, but I don’t relate to the gushing acclaim I see from so many people. I mean, it’s not a terrible movie, just ordinary, and lacking in some key elements.

But this is the pros section. So: Yes, Gal Gadot performs some cool fight choreography, and she’s got a vaguely superman-esque commitment to goodness. The world-building is okay–the island of Themyscira is appealing, even if I’d love to see more of how that place operates and exists. (But all that is the obligatory, boringgggg part of superhero movies, isn’t it? They don’t get interesting until . . . well, I’ll get to that in the next section, I suppose.) Read more…

Training Check In: June 2017

It’s been a whole four weeks on the bodybuilding routine I started when my finger was in bad shape. I also added some carbs (up to about 100 grams a day) to my intermittent fasting eating program on workout days. That’s a good amount of time to evaluate and make adjustments. Read more…

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda rolled out a couple months ago, amid a flurry of tepid buzz and disappointed reviews. All I remember thinking before I got it was, gee, this sure sounds a lot different from the original trilogy, and maybe not that great. As a fan of recent BioWare games, there was no way I wasn’t going to play Andromeda, but my expectations were certainly tempered.

Maybe that was the key. In any case, for some reason, I enjoyed the crap outta Mass Effect: Andromeda. I don’t care what the buzz and the journalists say.

Andromeda retains one crucial element from the earlier Mass Effectgames: no game franchise makes me feel more like I’m captain of the Enterprise. And, quite frankly, there’s nothing I could want more from a video game. Ever. I assemble my crew and earn their trust. I make decisions that affect the destiny of the galaxy. I understand the importance of following my own chain of command while reserving the right to go against it should circumstances warrant. I get my hands dirty shooting aliens on away missions. I build relationships and choose who to bone. I’m Captain Kirk, Picard, or whatever Star Fleet captain or amalgam of multiple captains I choose. And that is such a thrill to get that in a video game I’ll keep playing any game this series releases.

While I’m singing praises, let me also say that the combat system feels great. I played on normal, and I died occasionally but not much. With more difficulty levels above that, I’m sure it gets plenty hard for those who like that. Me, as you know, I’m all about being a starship captain. And “normal” was a nice, manageable difficulty setting just for people like me. There’s plenty of room to choose to fight with any combination of biotic powers, tech gadgets, or a more conventional shooting weapons.

With such huge entries in the pluses column, any criticisms seem like picking at nits. But I do have some, largely where Andromeda falls slightly short compared to the earlier franchise entries.

For one thing, the choice of main character is lackluster. Shepherd in the original trio was fantastic–both the male and female versions–a special operations veteran and total badass. in Andromeda, you have the choice of playing as Scott or Sara Ryder. They’re twins, and whichever you choose has to step up to responsibilities they’re not quite ready for and strive to grow into the mantle of the job of human pathfinder. I played the opening mission twice, once as each, to see if either impressed me. They didn’t. I arbitrarily chose Scott. There is something about the feeling of being overwhelmed and not ready, but it’s nowhere near as fun as being the formidable Shepard. My fantasy is being the seasoned captain, not Wesley Crusher! (You can technically create your own character, but that doesn’t get me any closer to my badass avatar fantasy either.)

The other characters have their moments, too, but they didn’t win my devotion as much as my crewmates had in games past. (I think that’s a fair criticism, but I will cop to the idea I might be comparing the supporting cast to the extra characters in my other favorite BioWare franchise, Dragon Age, which always had characters even more compelling than Mass Effect‘s.)

Mass Effect has always had this paragon/renegade system, where your dialogue choices could earn you a reputation and unlock options as you leaned into one or the other. It was admittedly slightly gimmicky, but it was also a lot of fun. Andromeda used a four-horned system, where you can choose from among professional, casual, logical, and passionate responses and craft your reputation more organically. Except, I don’t recall any consequences to the reputation I honed. At all. I made sure to answer professionally 90%+ of the time I had the option, and . . . I honestly didn’t see how that affected anything.

I should also note the game does feel a little janky at times and in certain ways. Weird eye movements and faces, squad mates running all over the place, that sort of thing. The menus seem less intuitive than they should be too. None of this was a huge distraction for me, but it seems like most reviewers were awfully put off by it.

 

The last thing I’ll gripe about is that, as usual for video games these days, it was too long. Still, I was riveted for probably around 60 of the 70+ hours I spent, which is longer than it usually takes for me to get into slog mode. I just love that Captain Me element.

So is Andromeda perfect? No. Is it probably the fourth best Mass Effect game? Yeah, maybe. But does that also make it the fourth best game of all time at making me feel like I’m captain of the Starfleet flagship? Hell yes.

Loved it

Read more…

Protein Power

Just like Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories, this book by Michael R Eades and Mary Dan Eades, Protein Power, has a title that kept me from picking it up for far too long. It sounds like a meatheady, bro-sciencey guide to feeding yourself for maximum biceps growth. I don’t need a book like that. (At least not another!)

Turns out that, also like Taubes’s masterpiece, Protein Power is a book I very much wanted to read. Read more…