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The Maelstrom02:14 PM -- Tue February 10, 2015

The past few years have been a whirlwind. I have really had no time to sit back and relax for at least 2 years. I mean, I've taken vacations (and maybe spent upwards of 8 hours in a row playing games at times...), and that kind of thing, but if you've ever been the person in charge of setting up a vacation yourself, you know that's far from relaxing, it's just more work! And every vacation I've been on, I spent time each day checking in on every aspect of my business, so I was never really free to just relax.

That's been half the reason why I never blog anything anymore - I'm just overwhelmed with things that need to get done. The other half is that I don't feel like I have anything much to say about what I'm doing. Well, and the third quarter on top of those halves is that I'm embarrassed to discuss some of the things, not to mention most of it has nothing to do with Hamumu. The Hamumu story is simple (another 1/17 of why there's not much to blog about): I make updates for Growtopia. It's all I do, day after day. And they're secret, so I can't tell people about them until they're out, and even then, we don't spoil things about the game, we leave them for players to find. So if you want to know what I've been doing work-wise, that's it: updating Growtopia for 2 years. I've created some amazing stuff including entirely new games inside the game, things that I'm proud of and didn't even think could've been done, but there's still not much I can say about it. Except one hint: another 'in-game game' is coming soon!

So, this maelstrom churns around faster and faster the closer you get to the center, and I think I'm right on the tipping point of being sucked down - hopefully to Atlantis and not into a giant squid. In the past month, craziness has built up to a speed I don't think most people ever see in their lives. We went shopping for houses this past weekend in Texas (not for the first time, this has been a year-long process), found one, and put in an offer. By the end of the weekend, our offer had been accepted and the closing date was set... for two weeks from now. So in the next two weeks, I will be cleaning out my house, packing up, most likely buying a new car, selling two cars, handling the specifics of selling our current house, making another update for Growtopia (gotta keep em coming every 2 weeks!), working with the guys doing the website redesign, and working with the guys working on NPC Quest 2. And a few other things. I'm a lazy, laid-back guy. This is all so much more than I have ever dealt with. This is more than I usually have to deal with in a year!

But the dream and the hope is that once this 2-week span is up, it's all smooth sailing. I'll be in my new house relaxing by the pool. Ahhhh. I don't think that's the reality, but it's certainly going to be a lot calmer than it is right now. So back to packing up our game room. I'm gonna be one of those Austin indies you always hear about!
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Cooperative Board Games of 201412:04 PM -- Wed January 7, 2015

So, in the year 2014, I played a lot of board games. And most of those were cooperative games! Cooperative games are truly a different experience from normal board games. As the name implies (or just plain says), in a cooperative game, the players work together to try to beat the game. You either all win or all lose. Mostly, you all lose. This creates a very different dynamic from a competitive game, which involves a lot of back and forth discussion. This is just us, and probably it would be better to play differently, but when my family and I play these games, it almost doesn't even matter which character you're playing. All that affects is who moves the pawn around the board physically. The actions that pawn is going to take are actually decided by committee through a thorough discussion. I think these games would be more fun if people kind of took their own actions a bit and kept the discussion more high-level strategy... they'd certainly be faster! But they are very fun this way as well. So let's dive in to all the cooperative board games I played in 2014:

Forbidden Island
This was the first cooperative game I played (started in 2013, actually). Maybe the first one I ever played. It also happens to be - spoiler alert - my favorite of the ones I played! Well, maybe. There's another contender to come. This is notably the easiest of the games I'll be listing, and that's its biggest selling point. You can fire it up and have some fun, rather than twisting your brain in knots trying to barely hang on to your life. The board is made of a set of tiles, which over the course of time end up getting flipped over to display that they are flooded, and if they get flipped again, they sink beneath the waves, never to be traversed again. So you have to balance your choice of actions on your turn between 'placing sandbags' (flipping tiles back upright), moving, picking up treasure if you have the right cards (collect all four and get them to the helicopter to win), and trading items with other players. Each player has unique abilities, and you will need to employ those to stay alive as the island gradually sinks around you.

Forbidden Desert
As the name suggests, this is closely related to Forbidden Island. In fact, it's almost the same game. What it is, is much much harder. This time, your board made of tiles is a sandy desert, and you flip the tiles over on purpose, in order to excavate what's underneath and find the things you need to win. Over time, sand is blown on top of the tiles (by placing cardboard pieces on the tiles), and once 2 sand pieces are on a tile, that tile is no longer usable until you remove the sand. So unlike Forbidden Island, no tile ever permanently goes away here, but when there are 5 or 6 sand on a tile, you pretty much consider it a lost cause, though there is a Dune Blaster item you can get to clear all the sand from a tile in one shot. So you balance your limited actions each turn between removing sand, flipping up tiles to find things, picking up artifacts (the goal is to get all four and bring them to the launch pad, just like Forbidden Island), moving, and trading items. What's so brutal about this game is the water. There's very limited water supply you gradually run out of and must replenish at two oases which can only be used once each. I've played this game more than any of the others, and it took us about 6 games before we ever won on the easiest difficulty. Once you get water management taken care of, you start dying by getting buried in sand (if you run out of sand tiles, the game is over), or if you're really good but not good enough to win, you die because the storm reaches epic proportions and instantly kills you. All the games I'm discussing offer difficulty options, where you add or remove cards or draw more cards each turn in order to ramp up the challenge, and I believe this is the only one of the games where I ever tried higher than the easiest difficulty, since we played it enough times. But we did not win at higher difficulty.

Pandemic
Just like the previous two games, this is the work of designer Matt Leacock. And it does bear similarities to those games, though this is the most different of the three. You can tell that as he made these games, he was working through his ideas on different cooperative gaming concepts, as each one plays on the ideas a little differently. In this case, you're team of scientists, trying to cure four different diseases which are ravaging the globe. Like before, you have to balance your limited actions per turn between moving from city to city, treating people (removing disease cubes from the board), working on an actual cure for the disease by spending cards, and building treatment centers which you can later use to get around the map more easily (for some reason they have teleporters built into them, I guess). This is a fun game, harder than Forbidden Island but easier than Forbidden Desert, and it really presents you with a lot of conundrums when you have to think about what disease cards you know are coming soon (because each time an epidemic card is drawn, the discard pile is shuffled and placed on TOP of the deck, so those same cities are going to get hit again right away), choose to prevent an outbreak by reducing the disease in a city, or let it go to actually work towards a cure. All three of these games also feature different characters you play as, each with a unique ability, and the combination of what abilities your team has in each game drastically changes how you play it. This game is the one I mentioned above that might also be my favorite of the list. Best of all, it has little plastic disease cubes, and everybody loves those.

Flashpoint
This is a game about rescuing people (and cats) from a burning building before it collapses. We've only played this game about 3 times. I would say it's on the easier side, though unlike the other games, instead of a series of difficulty levels, this one offers two completely different modes - the one we played is very simple, but the other one is pretty mind-boggling, with all kinds of complex fire-spreading rules and hazardous materials that can combust. Just like the previous games, this one has you taking a limited number of actions each turn, and having to balance that between moving, hacking holes in walls, extinguishing fires, and picking up people (sometimes to find they're just a ghost and you wasted a lot of time getting to them...). It has a fair amount of similarity to the concepts of the other games, but instead of a finite deck of dangers, this one just has you roll dice each turn to see where new fires spark up. That makes it very unpredictable. Sometimes things go great, other times half the building explodes as fires chain-react. It's not bad, but it just doesn't feel up to par with the previous 3 games.

Ghost Stories
Now we get to something really different! This is a Chinese-themed game where the players are a bunch of monks who are ghostbusting a village. You win by beating the evil Wu-Feng who lurks at the bottom of the deck of cards, you lose in several ways which amount to the village being overrun by ghosts. This plays nothing like the other games, although it does have a board made of tiles, which flip over as ghosts haunt them. This game is super confusing, in large part due to the terrible instructions which don't even take you through a turn in order. There are game elements that are thrown in as an aside halfway through, and others that aren't even mentioned, you just have to extrapolate them from the reference card. We only played one time, and it was a very slow process of checking the manual over and over again to gradually piece together what the actual rules are. By the end (when we lost, of course, but we did manage to reach Wu-Feng! Well, he was the card at the top of the deck when we lost...), we had it mostly figured out and it was pretty fun. I think it's actually a good game, it's just so confusing to learn, and I have trouble imagining how we're going to teach someone else to play with us (we played with 2 players only). A tip for other people who try two players: there are special rules for 2 players, and I suspect that it will work much better to just play a 4-player game with each player manning 2 monks. More ghosts get summoned that way, but you have a lot more power at hand to deal with them, plus the rules aren't as wonky. Still hard to decipher though!

So those are the cooperative games I played in 2014! Here's to lots of other games in 2015! And hoo boy, I've been playing some awesome PC games in the end of 2014... just quick: you should be playing Borderlands (any version, I just happened to get The Pre-Sequel finally, and the moon-jumping in that really adds a lot to it, though Borderlands 2 is surely a better all-around game), and Shadow of Mordor (it's Batman, only better! So amazing!).
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Belittling Horror Excessively: ...And The Rest!09:42 PM -- Fri October 31, 2014

SPOILER WARNING: THESE REVIEWS CONTAINS SPOILERS

13 Sins

This movie is the story of a guy who gets a mysterious phone call from somebody who's obviously watching him, offering him $1,000 to swat the fly in his car. From there, it escalates - 13 challenges ensue, with each one worth more money, and being more transgressive and illegal. He is allowed to quit at any time, but will lose all he's won if he does. It's a scary game show!

This is a fun movie. I was completely enthralled just because I always wanted to know what the next challenge would be. And of course, you knew it was going to get murdery, so I kept waiting for that. I was not disappointed, though it was surprisingly far into the challenges before they actually wanted anybody dead.

It's your typical global-conspiracy-with-magical-surveillance-abilities movie. Pretty fun. The main character is an American Martin Freeman, which instantly makes him more sympathetic, despite him gradually turning evil. There are a ton of twists crammed into the ending portion of the movie, and while most of them are pretty guessable, there's some fun stuff going on. My favorite is the absolute last scene in the movie (I don't recall, it might even have been after the credits started), which starts off seeming like your typical horror movie ending that sets up that the evil will never die... but then actually turns around and becomes the moral of the story. Our hero didn't need to get himself into so much trouble, he invited it with greed.

In the end, the body count is large but hard to track thanks to one memorable and horrible scene. It's around 14 people, 2 flies, and we can reasonably infer that a 3rd fly also died. This movie is a pretty fun 4 out of 5 Cups of Coffee.


Truth or Die

This is the story of a group of horrible college kids who abuse another kid (Felix). Long after, they're invited to Felix's birthday party, and they go, not because they like him, but because he's rich and they assume that means lots of free booze. They assume wrong, and Felix's brother kidnaps and tortures them to find out which of them sent the nasty postcard which caused Felix to hang himself. Revenge ensues.

This is in the 'torture-porn' realm of movies like Saw, but it's kind of unique in that it's more like how that would go in real life - the torturer has only one very simple Evil Torture Device, and he doesn't have any complex grand schemes or backup plans, he just struggles to keep control over things and pretty much fails.

This movie is mostly very frustrating. Though the killer is army-trained and has a gun, he still has pretty minimal control over these people. They know he intends to kill them, and yet despite a million opportunities - including the killer giving his gun to one of them - they never take the chance to stop him or escape. Well, they do eventually, but I feel like this was just poorly written. It wouldn't have been hard to make the scenario less escapable, like for instance if he actually tied up all of the victims instead of enlisting one to help him corral the others.

On the plus side, it all wraps up in a way that makes sense at the end and reveals some surprises, and ties into something that otherwise seemed like an excessively horrible personality trait for most of the movie. Turns out it was a plot point!

In the end, there's a body count of 7, and the movie passes by with 2 out of 5 Grenades. It's not really worth seeing, but it wasn't badly done for what it was. Oh yeah, and Felix's brother is harder to kill than Jason. There's really no proof he's even dead at the end of the movie, and I wouldn't count on it after all the things he shrugged off.


100 Bloody Acres

This is the story of 3 people who hitch a ride in a "bone and blood" fertilizer truck (well, there's nutrients in bone and blood...). You just know that's not going to go well. And yes, the fertilizer-making brothers decide to grind up the hitchhikers into fertilizer because apparently living people have a lot of potassium in them. Comedy? ensues.

This is a horror-comedy, but I realized about halfway through that I hadn't laughed once... it's just not a funny movie. It's light-hearted, unrealistic and sort of silly, but there aren't really any jokes. I guess you're just supposed to laugh at the situation, but I'm a tougher nut to crack than that!

I'll cut to the chase on this one, because I don't think it's worth my time. There's a body count of 6, and it earns just 2 out of 5 Diamond Rings. It's nothing terrible, but there's nothing about it to recommend. Try Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil if you want to have fun with people ending up in grinding machines!


Beneath

And our final movie of the month is the story of a coal miner's daughter (hey, they exist!), who insists on joining her father on his last day at the mine before retiring. Of course there's a cave-in and... hmm. Craziness, ghosts, zombies and murder ensue.

Once the cave-in occurs, the people have a lot to contend with. They don't even realize there are ghost zombies because they're too busy trying to ensure they have oxygen and don't get crushed by falling rocks. This lack of oxygen is very stressful for me. Her father ends up doing a whole lot of wheezing and saying "I can't breathe!" which I do not like!

Then when it comes to the whole ghost/zombie/madness thing, I'm honestly not sure what was going on. Some people definitely got killed by other people who had gone crazy, but other people seemingly couldn't have. The main character saw peoples' faces as zombie faces sometimes and freaked out, but it definitely wasn't as simple as people having hallucinations and protecting themselves from the 'monsters', because we saw people turning evil out of the blue, not just freaking out. I'm sure there's some explanation that covers the combination of things that happened, I'm just not sure what it is. Was it just methane poisoning their brains? Ghost possession? Doesn't feel like either of those covers everything that happened, but whatever.

That said, it was enjoyable and suspenseful. With a body count of 8ish, and a score of 4 out of 5 Oxygen Tanks, it's a pretty decent way to end the month.


So now, as I sit here with Spiders 3D playing in the background, I must bid adieu to my month of scary movies. This is I believe the fourth year of Halloween Horror reviewing, and feels like the most disappointing. Nothing worthy of 5 stars this month. A bunch of pretty decent movies, a bunch of mediocre and bad movies, and one awful movie (Absence!). But it's always fun to find out what lurks in the next movie, and I always end each October wanting to keep watching a movie a day. I just don't want to have to write reviews or draw pictures!

Yet here is one last picture, just a generic Halloweeny one! Is it bad that I'm glad I'm not forced into doing a drawing every day after this? And that I copped out by only having one drawing for the last four movies? It's just so hard...
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Belittling Horror Excessively: The Taking of Deborah Logan11:35 AM -- Fri October 31, 2014

SPOILER WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Hey, it's Halloween at last! By my count, I actually need to review 5 more movies to reach 31. I've watched 3 of those movies, so I have to watch two movies and write 5 reviews today. That seems like a lot, actually. So I better rip through it quick!

This is your classic possession movie, though it's not so classic because it's quite different. Deborah Logan is an old lady just beginning to suffer from Alzheimer's disease. A documentary crew has come to film her inevitable decline (not because she's anybody special, just to educate about Alzheimer's). Unfortunately, she's not just losing her wits, she's also being possessed. Teleportation ensues.

We're back in the realm of found footage! In a slight twist, this one contains some high-profile actors that I recognize, so it's not playing the "these are unknowns, so maybe it's real" game that is a wee bit played out. I'm good with that, because it's not like anybody was falling for it anyway, and famous actors usually got that way via talent, so it only helps the movie. Found-footage-wise, this is fine, nothing too believable, nothing too ridiculous, although there is no real good reason why a documentary crew would install security cameras all over the house. That is not typical documentary stuff. To be honest, I mostly forgot about the cameras, which I consider a win. I would rather be wrapped up in the actual story than arguments over whether somebody should stop filming or whatever.

Alzheimer's is very awful. It's one of my bigger fears. It's sort of like dying, only you get to be there as everybody grieves. Pretty horrendous. It also means that this woman is under medical supervision, which takes some weird possession stuff and puts it into medical hands, in an interesting twist. For example, she got a horrible rash, where her skin turned all red and monstrous, which of course was something demonic, but the doctors ran all kinds of tests and named a lot of things it could be (but wasn't).

Some other random tidbits:
  • This takes place in the town of Exuma... which is pronounced eczema. That kept bothering me the whole time! Why would you name a town that? Update: I googled, and there's a district of the Bahamas with that name. I bet they pronounce it ex-ooma.

  • It seems quite cost-inefficient for every hospital or asylum in every movie to have an abandoned wing or floor. Why not renovate that sucker and put some patients in there? I guess for the potential horror movie value.

  • The house in this movie has three attics and a basement. What?

  • The ending 'twist' is well-handled. It just hints at what has obviously occurred, rather than beating you over the head. Well, more than hints, I guess, but at least it doesn't come out and say it, or have the girl stab her parents or something like most movies.
So, in the end there is merely a body count of 2 (and several injured people who might not survive), and I think we can award this one 4 out of 5 Trowels because it really kept me interested throughout.

Here is a drawing of Deborah Logan herself. She's pretty creepy.
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Belittling Horror Excessively: Carrie (Remake)08:12 PM -- Thu October 30, 2014

SPOILER WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

This is a remake of the Stephen King story of a girl who discovers she has telekinetic powers in high school. That's the cool thing in her life. The bad stuff is that her mom is totally nuts, and the other kids treat her badly. Some much more than others. Accurate high school life ensues.

Well, this is definitely a remake. I haven't really seen the original Carrie in full, but I've seen many parts of it, and all those parts seemed to be here! I'm not sure why they do remakes like this. The only thing akin to an update to the story is that the kids have cell phones and make videos of things. Which doesn't change the course of events in any way. The main thing that makes it a remake is the extensive crazy CGI, explosions, and mayhem in the finale. I mean everything goes seriously Michael Bay for the last fifteen minutes.

I'm not sure what else to say about this movie. It works, it's a story. It's kind of weird in that most of the people in the high school actually treat Carrie just fine. There's mainly just one psycho girl who's out to get her (and that girl is quite an over-the-top caricature of evil, along with her equally nuts boyfriend). Most of the rest of the population is not only nice to her, but actively tries to help her and stop the psycho girl from bothering her. It's too bad that in the end she murders everyone anyway.

What's weird about the big finale (spoilers I guess, but who doesn't know what happens?) is how instead of losing control of her powers and lashing out indiscriminately, Carrie really just turns evil and specifically murders everyone in a very calculated way. That doesn't feel right at all, and kind of ruins any empathy you might have for her. It seems like a sour note, really, not the right way to play it.

So in the end, there's a body count of 1 pig, 4 people of note, and a whole mess o' promgoers. This movie deserves an acceptable 3 out of 5 Melted Deadbolts.

Because I didn't want to draw people, here's a bucket!
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