Winter Hours starting first week in November

On November 6th, the food bank will operating on our winter schedule, closing a half hour earlier on Tuesday evenings. Daytime hours will remain 10 am to 1 pm, and evening hours are 6 pm to our new closing time of 7:30 pm. 

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Why I’m not allowed to decorate the house

I’d choose prints like this, and my wife would threaten to leave me.

I found the above site from a link in the Gamers With Jobs Dwarf Fortress thread. Someone was pointing to a story Tim Denee drew about one of his Dwarf Fortress games, and I found the link to his store at the bottom of the story. Great illustrations, and great marketing for his prints. I love seeing people take their hobby, marry it to their skills, and put it up for sale for other hobbyists who’d never be able to find prints like that in a stupid mall store.

That still doesn’t mean my wife is going to let me put it up in the living room, though.

I really like the Bronzemurder story print too. Maybe I’ll have to buy it for my office 🙂

Hope everyone’s doing well – I haven’t posted in a while, because I’ve largely been out of the MMO scene, and I usually find myself most motivated to blog when I’m playing an MMO, opposed to playing single-player games. A quick recap would find me mostly playing through Fallout 3, replaying Dragon Age:Origins, playing Mass Effect 1, or playing Team Fortress 2 or League of Legends for my multiplayer fixes.

I’m still subscribed to LoTRO and playing on occasion, slowly working my way through Moria. I should emerge from the mines shortly after the game goes free to play, and maybe I’ll be back to update then. I’d like to be back – we’ll see how it goes.

I’ve finished my last course for my Masters degree. All I need to graduate is to finish my qualifying paper and have it approved, and I’m officially finished. Then I have to figure out what I want to do next! Doctoral degree? Top-secret gaming/university project? Write a book? I think it’s going to be one of those three, although there’s an outside chance I’ll work on a teaching certificate as well. Plenty to do, not enough time to game!

Gameloft giving away free iPhone games

I don’t have an iPhoneTouchPad, but someone on The Well mentioned Gameloft is giving away free games in celebration of their tenth anniversary. If you’ve got an iTouchPadPhone, follow ’em on Twitter and pick up some free stuff.

I’m trying to get an iPad through work, but it’s an incredibly political item to requisition, apparently. I work with software that has an iPad application, and I think I have a great reason for testing it and seeing what else we can develop for it, but it’s turned into “He’s getting one? I want one too! In fact, I want HIS!”, with much foot-stamping and other grown-up behavior going on. *sigh*. We’re asked to innovate, and then questioned when we ask for tools to investigate innovation. Yay for corporations. Meanwhile, much, much more money is being spent on other items.

Didn’t mean to rant – I meant to just point out the free games. So, go! Game for free 🙂

Guild Wars (player) fail

I bought Guild Wars through Steam the other night. NCSoft does a security bit at login where you have to type in the name of one of your characters. I suppose this prevents scammers from hijacking accounts, and I’m in favor of it.

However, I screwed myself. I made a new character, made up a name I’ve never used in an MMO before, played through the tutorial until I got sleepy, and went to bed. I tried to log in again last night, and was greeted with the “Type in the name of a character on this account” box at login. Doh. I have no idea!

Clearly, I’m not the only person to do this; the NCSoft support site has instructions how to request the character name. My ticket is in their queue, and I’m stuck waiting to play until they hook me up.

I’m definitely ticking that “remember my answer” box under the login info once I get the character name back.

I thought this was an Onion story, but no…

Game teaches sex through the eyes of a superhero

From the article: ‘Players can either be a man wearing a condom on his head named Captain Condom; a virgin named Wonder Vag; a boy named Willy the Kid who believes size doesn’t matter or Power Pap, a sexually active gal.”

Wonder Vag? Really? Please, tell me, what’s her special power? And if Willy has only one eye, I can die a happy gamer.

The argument that video games can be educational just took a punch in the face.

Games and Social Innovation

Tyler Barber, of Rebel FM podcast infamy, tweeted last week about a TED talk given by Jane McGonigal called “Gaming Can Make a Better World.”

Damn, that’s a lot of links in the first sentence. This ain’t no flat blog post. It’s relational.

Anyway, I’m glad I caught Tyler’s tweet because Jane McGonigal has some kick-ass ideas. I remember hearing about her earlier games “World Without Oil” and “Superstruct” from someone on The Well (probably Jamais Cascio?). I didn’t get pulled into either game, but hearing Jane’s talk gave me a broader appreciation of what she’s trying to do with gaming and social innovation.

I won’t go over the TED talk in detail in this post, but the summary at the link above says

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.

Her talk is well worth the twenty minutes of your life if you’re a gamer and think that gamers have skills that bleed over into “real life”. She’s connecting a lot of dots for me, dots that developed over my sixteen year gaming and Internet history.

Her current project is called Evoke. The “About” page for the game says:

EVOKE is a ten-week crash course in changing the world. It is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The goal of the social network game is to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems.

I wouldn’t call Evoke a game, exactly. It’s more like social networking, at least in the beginning missions I’ve been working on. It’s a thinking exercise too, and it requires some introspection. It’s not an escape from reality at all – but that’s not where gaming skills come into play, at least for me.

Over the past sixteen years (I count the beginning of my real computer life as the year I first sat down in front of Mosaic at work), everything I’ve learned from gaming has migrated into skills in my career. Games weren’t just something to play. I wrote about them, lived on message boards, tried to learn how to make games, learned how to make web sites, learned about IRC and instant messaging, learned about tearing down computers and building them back up, and learned about networking all because of games.

I learned how to quickly search the internet for information. I learned how to store and retrieve that information, and I learned how to produce more information. I also learned how to connect with other people and share thoughts and ideas about games.

I think those are the skills that Evoke draws from. No one is going to log into Modern Warfare to end hunger in Africa, but the skills people develop to play and learn more about Modern Warfare and participate online in the MW community are the same skills that can be applied to Evoke.

I’ve always been a bit of a dirty hippie (see: Well membership referenced above), a vegetarian, interested in organic and sustainable farming, interested in history and other cultures – maybe I’m a specific type of gamer already interested in the topics Evoke, well, evokes. I see people posting articles about farming, sustainable energy, power shifts, and lots of other ideas about how we can change the world.

I don’t expect any one idea, or any one person, to really change the world by playing Evoke, or any other video game out right now. I do think that McGonigal is tapping into a really powerful idea, though, a combination of games, information sharing, and social networking that does have the potential for powerful impact in the world.

McGonigal’s first two games passed me by without striking a chord, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people reading here don’t click the links or get involved. This time. Maybe though, in the future, some designers in the audience at TED will think “you know, there IS a way to make a game that’s fun to play that also accomplishes some of the things Jane was talking about.” Or maybe a gamer will say “Hey, I remember hearing about her – and this time, I do want to get involved.” Bit by bit, piece by piece, I think there’s a chance of gaming ourselves into a greater awareness of and greater service to the world around us.

What I played – 2009

I can’t do a top 10 list for 2009 that’s anything other than completely subjective. I don’t have time to play a huge variety of games, so I can’t compare what I do play to recent releases. I rarely pay full price for games any more, so I’m off the new-release train, and that prevents me from making any sort of objective game-quality comparisons.

With that disclaimer, I’ll mention some of the games that got a lot of play time, or were memorable for one reason or another.

First, my Gametap subscription is worthwhile for the Codemasters racing games alone. Colin McRae Rally, Dirt, and Grid are all great fun. They’re not ultra-realistic, so I can play them sans driving wheel and I don’t have to spend a lot of time tweaking the cars to have fun driving them. I’ve heard Dirt 2 get a lot of praise this year, and I’m not surprised. Codemasters makes racing fun.

Second, I haven’t heard any mention Team Fortress 2 in their yearly wrap-up, but Valve hasn’t rested on the laurels of their original release. The class updates and new maps are a lot of fun, and I’m still spending a lot of time enjoying TF2. It’s probably my most-played game of the past six months.

I did buy myself Dragon Age for Christmas, although I did so with a bit of hesitation. Baldur’s Gate, BG2, and Icewind Dale are all games I played but never finished, and I was concerned I would have similar issues with Dragon Age. Thankfully, DA has more in common with Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, both of which I loved, and I’m really enjoying Dragon Age so far. In fact, I was having so much fun playing Dragon Age, I stayed up too late and forgot to buy Mass Effect for $4.95 when it was offered on the Steam holiday sale.

I played quite a bit of S.T.A.L.K.E.R through Gametap earlier in the year, so that was a definite buy on Steam for $1.99. When it’s time for a break from Dragon Age, I’m looking forward to jumping back in to Stalker, especially with the STALKER Complete high-definition graphics mod that really updates the look of the game.

I loved the Torchlight demo and bought it during the Steam sale for $9.99, only to see it drop to $4.99 shortly thereafter. I’m not concerned; in fact, I’m happy to give Runic a few extra bucks for another game I’m looking forward to playing after exhausting Dragon Age.

The Hunter, which was going to be my Overlooked Game of the Year, wasn’t completely overlooked, getting mentioned on the Gamers With Jobs 2009 review podcast. I bought a three-month license for The Hunter back in May, and it was a great value and very cool gaming experience. Even if you don’t hunt (I don’t hunt, I’m a vegetarian, for chrissakes), the game totally delivers an exciting simulation of finding, tracking, and shooting game. The Gamers With Jobs thread about the game has some tips if you’re curious about playing.

The Hunter can feel slow at first, but once you figure out your PDA (which pinpoints the direction of your calls and helps you track game) and you get on the trail of a target, and then spot the target, and then try to creep closer or, better, call the animal in to you for a clear shot, it’s an adrenaline rush of the highest gaming order.

You can play the game for free, with limited weapons and hunting only mule deer, but it’s totally worth paying $15 for a three-month license to also hunt whitetail deer, elk, turkey, and coyote.

Dwarf Fortress also got a lot of play this year. Graphically simple but otherwise wonderfully complex. It’s not a new game (the last release was in 2008), but it was new to me, and it got a lot of play this year. GWJ has two threads about it that are worth reading if you’re curious.

Those were the games I played the most (other than LoTRO and Eve Online, in which my interest faded away this year). And, like every year, Civilization always gets a good amount of play, so I’ve got to give it an honorable mention. Civ is consistently one of the best games of every year.

I missed a lot of quality new titles, but I don’t mind too much. I have lots of good gaming to look forward to in 2010 as more games drop in price and start to hit my “Buy” threshhold. 2010 looks like it’s going to be a great year for gaming.