Boston

rosebud and daffodilsLiving in Boston is like a mini-New York. While New York is the city where you can get whatever you want, whenever you want it, Boston is the city that’s mostly closed on Sundays.

Boston’s subways are also a mini-version of Manhattan’s. There are fewer lines, covering a smaller area, not running all night, but on the plus side, it’s almost impossible to get on a train going the wrong direction. Fine, Boston, I guess you can use a consistent naming system. It’s not how we do it New York, but I guess it’s ok.

Also, people in Boston know how to let passengers off the train before getting on the train. Are they more polite? Is this an expression of human kindness, out of the shared human misery of commuting the the sunless cold six months a year? Or does Boston just have fewer visitors on the T in January (see previous re: cold), gumming up the works for regular commuters? My theory on the letting-people-off issue is that it’s exclusively tourists who don’t understand how to let others off before getting on. It’s visitors who are new to New York, or subways, or the whole public transit thing, who don’t realize exiting passengers need to go first.

Oh, another difference from New York is that when you see someone in Manhattan with the Statue of Liberty on their t-shirt or an I ♥ NY bag, they’re probably a visitor or an ironic Brooklynite. In Boston, the guy wearing head-to-toe Red Sox gear is a native. And he’s probably just going to work on a regular day…

A lot of my college friends have settled around Boston, so I can meet up with friends at their regular pub. (That would be the pub where the staff knows Eric by name and order.) It’s been so awesome to see old friends for regular coffee or lunch dates, instead of cramming everything we could possibly say to each other into a visit every couple of years.

Monday was Patriot’s Day, which is a special Massachusetts-only holiday, like Bunker Hill Day, where the bay state takes a day off to remind everyone else of our glorious revolutionary history. Monday was also the Boston marathon, and it was one of the first warm spring days, when everyone gets naked and lies on the town common remembering what sunshine feels like. All the bars and coffeeshops had their fronts open, with tables on the sidewalk, and everyone was sitting in the sunshine. The whole neighborhood was one massive party, celebrating a chance to wear a t-shirt out of the house.

Well, for me it was the chance to wear just one sweater, because Carrboro and Yangzhou, my last two homes, were pretty hot. It may take a little adjustment to New England.

Adulthood Is The Worst

I didn’t get a W-2 from one of my employers. I tried calling them to track it down, and finally called the IRS who assured me that employer did report my income, and the IRS does have my W-2, but they couldn’t give me the info over the phone (for reasons that make sense to someone, I guess), and could only mail it to me in 5-10 business days. I got the letter from the IRS today, but somehow it was a request for my 2016 W-2s, which, you know, hasn’t happened yet, so it’s a terribly official form letter saying I have no earned income in 2016.

So today I got a weirdly depressing message from the future saying I’m not going to make any money at all this year, and I still can’t submit my last year’s taxes. Adulthood is the worst.

Dungeons of the Endless

New review of roguelike  Dungeons of the Endless up on iOs Strategy Games:

Each room contains random, pixelated art of alien blossoms, glowing slime, broken crystals, or other space debris, and a random chance of having a reward, like extra resource points, helpful items, or even enemies. One of those found items was a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—a nice nod for fans of other ridiculous sci-fi adventures. Send your heroes to loot everything worthwhile, while avoiding the bad… just kidding. A word of caution: There is no avoiding the bad. This is a roguelike.

I always love seeing space opera themes, pixel art, and careful resource management in games, so DotE was an easy sell for me. And yesterday, I got so caught up in defeating waves of hostile aliens on my crashed ‘pod that I missed my stop on the train. I can’t give a mobile game any higher praise than that!

Via Dungeons of the Endless

Accessing Blocked Facebook

You guys. There are so many things I liked about my travels in the Middle Kingdom, but the Great Firewall was not one of them. Most social networking sites, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, are blocked in China. I didn’t even want to do anything particularly exciting or anything dangerous — I just wanted to see my friends’ social media updates and keep in touch while I was away. And, ok, fine, I wanted to share my own travel photos on Instagram while I was abroad. I had to set up a VPN on my phone and netbook so I could look at my friends’ baby pictures on Facebook when I was on the other side of the planet.  Technology is great!

dns proxy logoAnother option is Smart DNS Proxy, with a Facebook login proxy, in case Facebook is blocked where you are. Since I’ve written so much about my travels and my difficulties getting onto my social networks abroad, Smart DNS Proxy asked me to share their service here, for other expats having similar troubles getting onto Facebook. 

The Smart DNS Proxy service is described as a secure proxy connection to unblock sites, including social networking sites, video sites and music streaming. This would let expats get onto Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix, just to name a few that made Yangzhou more like home for me. (Sometime I’ll write here comparing my downtime was in Yantai 2006, borrowing books from other expats or buying DVDs on the street, and compare it to my downtime in Yangzhou, where I had the whole Chapel Hill Public Library and my Netflix account on my iPad.)  Smart DNS Proxy will allow connections to blocked sites from PCs, Macs, PlayStations, Xboxes, iPads, iPhones or Android phones. To use this service, users will change their IP address to a Smart DNS Proxy IP address, and connect to sites that way.

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They also promise access to other media and social sites, not just the ones that I happened to like, and there’s a distinct possibility that one could use this to get around a work network’s blocks, too. If you’re interested in that. (But obviously, if any potential employers are reading this, I would never do that because I’m a 100% perfect employee, and you should totally hire me right now. Definitely.)

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This post is shared with you in partnership with Smart DNS Proxy. 

Book Review: Eligible

eligibleYou guys. I read another Pride and Prejudice reinvention. I like these, a little too much maybe, and they’re either wonderful or delightfully awful.  

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible is one of the wonderful ones. This novel tells the story of the Cincinnati Bennett family when handsome, and very single, Dr. Chip Bingley comes to town.  Chip’s just finished a season on “Eligible”, a familiar-sounding reality dating show based around girls competing for one, uh, bachelor.  

Jane Bennet is thirty-nine-and-a-half and beginning fertility treatments with donor sperm, which is a perfect update for her character, and provides urgency for her storyline. One of the flaws of any modernized Pride and Prejudice is that we just don’t have the pressure to marry or spend adulthood as a sad spinster in some relative’s spare bedroom, and without that pressure, a lot of the story’s drama is forced. (The final section of the novel takes place on a special season of “Eligible” which makes the whole double wedding stuff make sense, and allows all kinds of hijinks. )

The other characters are updated well, too. Lydia and Kitty are really into Crossfit and nail art, while Mary sits in her room taking online classes. Mrs Bennet is a hoarder, with some problems around shopping, spending money, and actually having money to spend.

Even in the original text, Bingley’s main qualities are good manners, good breeding, and wealth, but here we see him struggling. Bingley’s a perfectly adequate doctor, especially for Mrs Bennet, who sees the trifecta of handsome, wealthy, and a doctor. But he isn’t fully happy in this role, or as a contestant on “Eligible” and has his own path to find.

Eligible would work as a standalone novel, even though Austenites will love the nods to the original text. There’s complexity and warmth in the family relationships, especially when the grown Bennet daughters come home to help out during their dad’s health scare, and the sisterly bond between Lizzie and Kitty, who do care for each other, but have nothing in common and definitely don’t see the world the same way.

Also, Mr. Darcy is hot. The end.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld will be published by Random House on April 19, 2016

Oh, are you new here? I have a lot of feelings about Pride and Prejudice spinoffs:

 

Star Trek: Wrath of Gems

wrath of gems logoStar Trek: Wrath of Gems is a mobile match-three from Genera Games. Wrath of Games uses a match-three games to advance the storyline, a lot like the system in Doctor Who: Legacy. Each completed puzzle unlocks the next scene, although completionists can go back to redo puzzles for extra rewards and higher ratings. There’s an Original Series storyline and a Next Generation storyline, so I picked the TNG story, because obviously. The game’s plot moves along with short scenes of dialogue between puzzles. (The TNG dialogue is great, when you read them, you’ll hear Riker’s voice or Worf’s voice in your head.)

It’s hard to add much to a match-three game, since there are already so many games around this mechanic, and so many common twists. The main twist in Star Trek: Wrath of Gems is that in most puzzles, the player and their enemy alternate turns on the same match-three board. So there’s not really the chance to set up long chains or save special gems for epic attacks, since the enemy AI (or opposing player) can steal your moves. But then again, you can access any special gems that your opponent’s moves create. It’s a more reactive, less strategic match-three.  

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I liked the diplomatic missions best. These match-three puzzles ask players to match specific colors, while making sure they don’t accidentally match the wrong colors. I found this one the most interesting because I had to pay attention and be careful not to make too many awesome chains that would accidentally use the wrong colors.

IMG_2143Different characters have different color-based powerups, just like in Doctor Who: Legacy, and a lot of the game’s fun comes from assembling a Starfleet crew for each mission, even though the possible characters aren’t as wide as the crew members in Star Trek: Timelines.  The developers gave me pretty much unlimited virtual currency to play with, which I mostly spent buying mystery packs of Next Generation character cards until I got a Dr. Crusher (No surprise to anyone who knows me.).  Players can then spend credits and dilithium crystals on on leveling up and improving their characters. It’s possible to build an all-lady team, like I did in Walking Dead: No Man’s Land, and make a very successful all-lady crew by upgrading characters and choosing coordinating powers. 

 

 

I absolutely jumped at the chance to write this review for Genera Games, and I’m so happy to be assigned a review of a Star Trek mobile game! This is a sponsored review, containing my honest opinions and reactions to Star Trek: Wrath of Gems.

 

North Carolina Strikes Down LGBT Protections Statewide 

North Carolina lawmakers voted overwhelmingly today to strike down all existing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in the state, during a special legislative session called in response to Charlotte passing a trans-inclusive ordinance.

The state’s Republican-led House of Representatives passed House Bill 2 by a vote of 83-24 today, according to the anti-LGBT North Carolina Family Policy Council, which supports the legislation that it calls the “Charlotte bathroom bill.” The bill now moves to the state Senate, where it will be heard at 4 p.m. local time.

The special session was called in response to Charlotte’s public accommodations ordinance, passed by the local city council in February, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s antidiscrimination law.

Source: North Carolina House Strikes Down LGBT Protections Statewide | Advocate.com 

Being back in Massachusetts has made North Carolina feel more like my problematic fave than an extra-slow circle of hell, but here’s one of the many reasons why NC is so hard to like.

Fanfiction & Strategy in “Star Trek: Timelines”

warp speedStar Trek: Timelines from Disruptor Beam is a mobile strategy game with fan fiction elements.  Since the overall game premise is a time paradox, all different characters from all different Trek series appear, and they’re almost all able to join your crew. I considered building an all-female crew, like I did in The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land and tried to do in AstroNest,  but I kept Riker and Data and Worf, and then I got a Shirtless Swordfighting Sulu variant, and anyway, it turned into all people I like in Star Trek on one crew. Annoying characters, like Seska, Dukat, and Seven of Nine can be dismissed from your crew. The time paradox conceit makes sense of all the random drops and multiple instances. You can send your B’elanna to fight evil B’elanna, because time anomaly!  You can have Dr Crusher and Commando Crusher on an away mission together, because time anomaly! You can merge two instances of the same character into a more powerful version, because time anomaly!

Then, you can send teams of crewmembers on assignments: space battles, away missions, and faction missions.  Space battles are a little bit underwhelming, since you’re mostly just looking at cool ships and pretty galaxy art and waiting for your crewmembers’ powers to recharge to tap and reactivate them.

In faction missions, your ship receives a distress call from a Trek universe faction, and a group of your crewmembers goes to help them. This is the time-delay part of the game, a mechanic that’s pretty much required in all freemium games now, since your crewmen can’t participate in away missions while on a faction mission, which take up to three hours. (They can still participate in ship-to-ship space battles, though. I guess Starfleet crew can colocate to the bridge while dealing with a faction dilemma, but leave on  not a second away mission.) 

For away missions, players choose three crew members with the right skills, like command, diplomacy, or science, to succeed in the challenge. Crew members with special characters qualifiers like doctor, jury-rigger, or Klingon, can get extra bonuses as well. The away team must make their way through a network of challenges to gain items and XP, and advance the plot. The descriptions of what’s happened at each node are great, you’re basically writing Trek fanfiction episodes with each mission.

No Sisko! Don't do it!In between space battles and away missions, Star Trek characters will talk to you about the overall plot, and you’ll choose dialogue options that will help or harm relationships with various factions.

You can also turn on the sound if you want to hear Trek actors and show sound effects but I barely care about game sound even if it’s Star Trek. (Sorry, Nate! Don’t hate me!)  

Characters stop earning XP every ten levels, and need four character items equipped to “advance” to the next ten levels.  The drop rate for these character items is either Entropia low or just bugged.  At first, I thought this was the IAP squeeze, that if a player didn’t want to battle this Maquis Raider twenty times in hopes that the desired item would drop, they’d be encouraged to just purchase the right type of phaser with real cash. But, even with dilithium crystals, there seems to be no way to purchase needed items, making grinding replaying of completed battles the only way to proceed. I’ve gotten a couple messages from Disruptor Beam in game, saying a new bug has been found and fixed, so I’m hoping this will be sorted out soon. Until then, there’s a lot of re-re-replaying those away missions, until all the fanfictiony fun is gone.

Star Trek: Timelines is freemium, with IAP of dilithium crystals to be turned into chronitons (these are the action points / energy that keep play sessions short), or on better random lots of characters, ship schematics, and gear, at the Time Portal. The “monthly pass” option offers a sign-in bonus of dilithium crystals every day for thirty days, which seems like a good model for other freemium games to try. I checked on the App Store, and this isn’t their most popular IAP, which surprised me. Extra premium currency every day for a month seems like the best bargain to me, and $3.99 is a pretty modest pricepoint. I’m surprised more freemium apps don’t offer this, it seems to capture the habit-forming value of a daily sign-in bonus and encourage small, repeated IAP.

Anyway, this is a super fun game, even if I feel a little bit like I’m cheating on Star Trek: Rivals when I play. I like it so much I actually turned on push notifications  to see when my crewmembers get back from their faction missions.

 

 

Some Sympathy For Seneca Crane

fine leather jacketsThere are two major conversations happening around games and creativity. One is an amazingly positive conversation around the value of representation and allowing players of all different identities to find themselves in creative media. This is such an exciting conversation, leading so many awesome experimental games, new game narratives, new genders and gender expressions for player characters, and just increased diversity of expression in indie games. There are also new lenses for critiquing and evaluating games by noticing the presence (or absence) of diverse storylines and PCs.

The other conversation is more of a constant refrain than a conversation. Whenever someone notices that the default in games is white, straight and male, someone else comes along to say well if you don’t like it, then go make your own games! Because, obviously, the next step after noticing that there are no queer storylines or playable PoC in a beloved game is to spend several million dollars, start a AAA studio, and hire a development team to make your own game. (And not a Twine game, either, those don’t count. Heh.) While I find this response ridiculous, this attitude does remind me of the power of game makers to shape expectations and attitudes.

But in my actual work writing for games, my biggest successful pushes for diversity and inclusivity have been very small. “What if we gave girl’s names and pronouns to half of these cartoon birds? Ok, about how almost-half?” or “What if we kept this mission exactly the same, but the quest-giving scientist was a woman instead?”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah”

I got this from Cambridge library because I recognized the author’s name from the NPR story on We Should All Be Feminists, and also because I love expat and travel stories. I couldn’t recommend it more, both as an excellent, sympathetic expat account and as a look at complex relations between whites, Africans and African-Americans. I reviewed it over on (The) Absolute:

Americanah tells the story of a Nigerian woman’s years in the US, and her eventual return to Nigeria. I was attracted to this novel because I usually enjoy expat stories and cross-cultural adventures, and I thought it would be an interesting way to learn more about Nigeria. Adichie handles the theme well, blending moments of cultural discovery that will be familiar to any expat, with moments that were uniquely Nigerian (and uniquely Ifemelu). I found Ifemelu’s mixture of reverse culture shock and comfort on her return to Nigeria particularly moving.

It took a little while for me to adjust to Adichie’s use of detailed description or general outlines. For example, Adichie didn’t get into much detail about Ifemelu’s college courses, but she did have a lot to say about Ifemelu’s chats with taxi drivers or her difficulties getting her hair braided. I found myself reading more slowly in order to pick up on the details, and since the info given wasn’t what I expected, I had to ask why hair relaxer and different braiding styles kept coming up. As the American social expectations around natural African hair became clear to Ifemelu, the reason for all the details became clear to me as a reader, too.

Via Nigerian and American Expectations Collide in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Novel “Americanah” | (The) Absolute

Things Forgotten

crocusesI forgot how excited everyone in Massachusetts gets over a mild spring day. All it takes is a tiny bit of sunshine, and everyone is grinning and striking up conversations. Actually, first I forgot how bitterly cold New England is, and how terribly cold that tiny space between my glove and my sleeve can get, and how dispiriting the 4 PM sunsets are.

But on the sunny day, I walked over to a diner near my house, for coffee and writing, and I was amazed at how smiley everyone was. It turned out to be a breakfast-only diner, full of workers eating pancakes and telling each other to enjoy the weather  I definitely never forgot about diners, but I worked in a breakfast-only local diner in college, and the smell of this one affected me on a cellular level.

Later on, I walked over to meet my friend, and it was so sunny and great. That’s another thing I forgot about Massachusetts –seeing my college friends on a regular basis and not trying to rush and exchange every single thing that’s happened since our last visit.  Everyone we passed was just so cheerful and smiley, and I knew they weren’t all reunited with their friends, so it must be the weather.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m going to go outside and smile and strike up chats with strangers, because I guess that’s the way Boston does early spring.

Walking Dead: No Man’s Land

New post over on iOs Strategy Games:

In The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land from Next Games Oy, high production values and solid combat mechanics help this stand out from the crowded field of freemium zombie battles. The zombie apocalypse setting will be familiar for fans of the show and comic, players will send survivors on dangerous missions to gather materials, XP, weapons and more. Meanwhile, players use a familiar system of resource gathering and upgrades to improve base camp. Camp improvements include a weapons workshop, a training camp for survivors, farm plots and so forth, to give your survivors the best chance of defeating the zombie hordes.

Source: Walking Dead: No Man’s Land

Destination: Kepler

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Destination Kepler is a cute space exploration browser game on CrazyGames.

Players assign crewmembers to different activities, like mining for resources, researching new technologies, going on bizarre planetary missions, and working in sickbay to heal crewmates who’ve returned from bizarre missions. The missions have hilarious auto-generated descriptions, explaining how crewmembers battled flirty plants or incompetent musicians. After the Mad Libs text, you’ll earn money to upgrade your ship and hire more crew to continue exploring the galaxy.

Mysterious Alien message

At the beginning, there are not a lot of choices. You MUST hire 15 crewmembers, not less or more, and then they must all begin researching, there are no other options. You’ll need to upgrade in the correct order, at least through the moon missions. At least the cuteness of the lab-coated little people distracts from the lack of player choice at the beginning, and pretty soon, you’re able to choose the upgrades you want.

It takes a long time to fly out to the various interplanetary destinations, so Destination Kepler is much more the kind of game you have running in another window, while working. You can click asteroids to mine them while your ship is flying, but I didn’t find that mechanic all that interesting, and fortunately, you can upgrade your ship with autominers pretty early on, making this cute little space game a perfect light upgrades game to have open in a second window.

Destination Kepleris currently available on CrazyGames, along with plenty of other Flash games like puzzle game 2048, and evil twin 2584, secret vampire makeouts in Twilight Kissing, and cute buttonmashing adventure Mighty Knight.

[Here comes the game]

(From)

 

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