Posted by Jim on Nov 21st, 2013
Nov 21

I’ve been cellaring beer for five years this month, and all that time, I’ve used one wooden cabinet with particle board shelves and a door and many cardboard boxes to store my collection. This was not an ideal way to view my beers. I had to consult a spreadsheet to see what I had. With our current long-term finishing of our basement, we’ve taken apart the partially completed room which included the aforementioned cabinet. This gave me the opportunity to finally purchase some decent shelving for my beers. Today I ordered a 5ft steel wireframe shelving unit from Home Depot. It only has two moveable shelves, so I also ordered an extra shelf to maximize storage space based upon the heights required by beer bottles. This should give me plenty of space to store my bottles. Some of my verticals may take up a lot of space; I’m not sure if I’ll display them or leave them in cases. This included six years of Anchor Christmas Ale 6-packs and five years of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 12-packs (I’ll add a sixth year as soon as it comes out).

The shelves should arrive the first week of December. Once assembled and stocks, I’ll post some pictures. I’ll want to document it right away, for once my collection is sitting on the shelves, I’ll be more likely to drink it. How long will what I have now last? I wonder if this will be the beginning of a new chapter in my beer cellaring, or the beginning of its end? I’ll have to be good about adding new items to the collection as I drink my older bottles.

End of a Video Game Generation

Posted by Jim on Nov 19th, 2013
Nov 19

With the release of the next generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft, I’m feeling nostalgic about my Xbox 360. I bought my console back in 2006 and when it was stolen this past April, I felt incomplete without it, and purchased a replacement device within days. Although I also own a Wii, I never took to it the way I did to my 360, and only played a handful of games on it. And while I’ll never be considered a person who devotes too much time and energy to video games (except by Nissa, who can tell you stories of how I spent more time in post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. and aboard the Normandy than I did with her for months at a time), I do feel strongly about some of the games I’ve played on my 360. Many video game publications are posting “Best-of the Generation” lists, and I wanted to offer my opinions as well.

 5. Bioshock

    I’m actually in the middle of this game right now, but even partway through the story, I can tell this game is epic. Technically a first-person shooter, the game allows you to have genetic modifications that work the way magic does in any RPG. Fireballs and bolts of electricity are how you defend yourself against a dragon, not against a huge robot with a drill for a hand, but in Bioshock, it works. Health potions, weapon upgrades, and powerful tonics also allow for character customization you never saw in FPSes of old.

 4. Portal 2

    The first Portal game was an innovative puzzler that introduced one of the greatest villains in the medium (not to mention the cake and the song). The sequel expanded upon the first’s brilliance by giving you new tools, more challenging puzzles and providing a incredible back-story to GLaDOS. It also introduced a two-player option that allows you to tackle problems in a new way. It took a note from Bioshock and had some great retro-futuristic elements, but also straight ahead sci-fi sequences. Unsurprisingly for a Portal game, these two blended together beautifully. Lastly, Stephen Merchant provided what may be my favorite performance in a video game. He was perfectly cast.

 3. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

    The day I bought my Xbox 360, I left the store with one game, and didn’t even feel need to purchase another for months. Oblivion was the game, and it singlehandedly brought back my love RGs and video games in general. It’s open world nature and dozens of quests and side-quests allow you to truly feel free and immerse yourself in its world. The facial animations and scenery were top-notch, the character customizations bordered on overwhelming (I think I spent 30 minutes deciding what class to choose and how to allocate my initial ability points), and even the most mundane tasks were made interesting—roaming all over the world looking rare plants called Nirnroots was actually exciting. The game was so appealing that Nissa created her own Xbox account to play it. [One of my favorite Nissa moments was when I found a to do list she made on one of her days off. It included the regular mundane activities like sweep the kitchen, wash the laundry, but in the middle of the list was the classic entry “Play Oblivion.”]

 2. Fallout 3

    I don’t believe I’ve ever become more obsessed over a game that way I did over Fallout 3. I dreamt about it. I spent free time at work plotting my next move. I created complex spreadsheets to ensure I was leveling my character the best way possible. It introduced me to the world of video game specific wikia sites (which I’ve linked to all over this post). Before Falout 3, I would read some game guides, but now I approach each game with a strategy. Nissa thinks it’s silly how I now play video games with an open Macbook Air in my lap, but I can’t imagine going back. For me, Oblivion was about exploring, but with Fallout 3, I had specific goals to accomplish (beyond the quests in the game). I wanted to make the best character possible. And after many hours of gameplay, I was able to. That’s not to say I didn’t do my fair share of exploring the wastelands of Washington D.C. in 2277. The setting of this game, and the mutants, robots and evil survivors who inhabit it are very engaging. Despite all of the quests, I could still have fun simply wandering and only completing random encounters. Of all the game saves I lost when my original console was stolen, this may have been the hardest to lose, for I don’t know if I could recreate my character. Maybe someday I will try, but at this point, it’s too much of a time investment. As you will read below, I still have a lot of games to play through once before I can redo this one.

1. Mass Effect 2

    This is it. Never have I felt so involved in a game. Never have I felt such a connection to a character. Everything about Mass Effect 2 is appealing to me, probably because everything you do in the game (or so it seems) has a consequence down the road. The series introduced something that was entirely new to me: importing old saves to determine how the next entry in the series would play out. Not only will my Commander Shepard look the same and have the same backstory, but little choices in optional side quests will cause different events to take place. Speaking of side quests, there are so many in this game. Entire planets are available to explore. The amount of data packed into the game’s two discs may seem overly vast, but I went though it all and purchased the additional downloadable missions.

   All of these aspects of the game were improved over the original game. Mechanics were improved, yet were familiar enough so that this felt like a continuation of the game. Much like how each entry in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was visually superior, yet all felt like part of one long movie. The new supporting characters were more enjoyable, yet some favorites were retained (and other appeared in non-playable capacities). The ability to create a heroic or evil character was more pronounced and made each conversation seem like it could have serious ramifications.

   When my old console was stolen, I was so afraid that I would lose all my progress through series and have to play ME3 with the default choices (which were vastly different from my own), but fortunately Mass Effect has a well understood save file format that gamers have been able to hack. Using sites like Mass Effect 2 Saves, I was able to recreate my lost character and take her into Mass Effect 3 to finish her story.

   I still have a lot of games I’m looking forward to playing. I have the rest of Mass Effect 3 to complete, as well as the remainder of the Bioshock trilogy. I have yet to play an Assassin’s Creed game, or L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption and the Borderlands games. I’ve only played the first entry in the Batman: Arkham series and am looking forward to the rest of them. As the Xbox One gains popularity, the prices for the 360 games will only get lower, which is advantageous to a gamer like me who doesn’t need a game as soon as it’s released. Will I someday be jealous of the new games for the One my 360 cannot play? Sure. But I see a lot of life left in my now-outdated Xbox 360.  I think I’ll be using it for a long time to come.