Saturday, February 23, 2013

Have at you!

I accidentally started playing Dragon Age: Origins shortly after the new year, and now I'm a Level 13 Rogue with a demon on my back. I've been playing most nights before bed for a couple of weeks, and the lack of sleep is beginning to show. So far I've managed to resist questing before breakfast on workdays.

"I am Tater of the Grey Wardens, and I have come to save your land."  I try to give my characters silly names whenever possible. It pays off in the dialog throughout the game.
Third person role-playing games like DAO have fallen out of favor in the last few years, and virtually all big studio releases (including this game's sequel) now feature some variation of the first-person shooter style originally popularized with DOOM.* There is a bit of a learning curve, and it took a while to really get into this one. I had forgotten how much I liked these games, so my first few of weeks playing an hour every few days lulled me into a false sense of self control.

Battles involve carefully telling each character in my little group what to do next, letting the action run for a few frames, pausing the game, drinking a few potions, and doing it all again. It's a bit like stop motion animation. The world in this game is vast, and I'm probably less than halfway through. Biscuit lost interest in playing RPG's that are not Fallout some time ago, but she does seem to enjoy watching. And she's a good strategist, so her help is most welcome.

Fighting evil is messy business, isn't it boy?
The chemical rush one receives from beheading a darkspawn or setting an evil mage on fire is apparently chemically indistinguishable from the one delivered by being punched in the face, though considerably less intense. This particular adrenaline cocktail is known to be "habit-forming" as they used to say, but the game version has the distinct advantage of being pain-free. And we know that game-based training increases retention. So, while it may look like I'm wasting endless hours repeating the same silly actions, I am actually staying in fighting trim. Not physically of course, but if I am ever attacked by a legion of fire demons I will have my head on straight. Or I'm indulging an addiction. You say tomato...

Whatever the neurochemical truth, it is refreshing to trade the stresses and constraints of the real world for the stresses and constraints of a fantasy adventure for a few hours. I will be through it in a couple more weeks, and then I can spend a few months drying out and getting the bloodstains out of my armor. But right now you must excuse me. There is a considerable amount of rescuing and slaying that needs doing.

*This is not an improvement. It is an example of the "mcdonaldization" of the game business, resulting in all major games being essentially the same. The biggest differences are the scenery and the costumes.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Pounding

My mother once told me of an old Ozark tradition that was apparently the hillbilly equivalent of a bridal shower in the first half of the last century. The ladies in the area would give the young young bride* what was known as a "pounding."**  In order to help stock the new couple's larder, each guest would bring a pound of flour, or corn meal, or beans, coffee ... you get the idea. Each item was well appreciated, and you can bet the person that brought the coffee was one of the more well-to-do ladies of the group. I think of that every time I see a couple registered for a flat screen television or a $500 cookware set.

This post is not at all about that. It's about football. Sort of. The Large Southern University where I work is expanding their stadium. Apparently there are over 100,000 people that will pay ridiculous money to sit on bleachers in the heat/cold/rain/etc. to watch the local sports team play, so we're going to need more bleachers. As with all construction, it starts with the dirt work and foundation.

Since we don't have anything that resembles bedrock down here, big structures are built on great numbers of concrete pilings that have been driven 25, or 50, or 150 feet into the ground. If you're not familiar with the concept, take a bowl of pudding, stick 30 or 40 toothpicks about halfway in, and then set a graham cracker on top. Go on, I'll wait. (I would recommend chocolate.)

As you can imagine, the process of driving foot-square concrete poles into the ground is a noisy affair. And it's been going on right outside of our building since just after Thanksgiving. Every day. All day. From before I get to work until the time I leave.

Put this on a loop and let it run for a couple of days. You will start to get the idea.

It's not quite constant. Constant might be better. They pound for what seems like forever and then it stops. About the time sanity returns it starts again. And the loudness varies. Yesterday they were on the other side of the stadium. Sometimes they are about fifty feet from the window of my lab. On those days it's hard to carry on a conversation.

I have no idea how much longer this will go on. I thought they were almost finished, as the stack of pilings was diminishing quickly. Then last week I was almost run over by a truck delivering more.

It could be a long Spring.

* And we are talking young. My grandmother was married at fourteen.

** I know, right. I don't even know which direction to go with that.