Kevin C. Wong

April 2023

Spot Reviews 04/28/23

Books - Rebels & Yankees: The Civil War (2001) [/] This is a 3-volume set written by American Civil War historian William C Davis. Fighting Men of the Civil War (1989), Commanders of the Civil War (1990), Battlefields of the Civil War (1991). Fighting Men I found the subject boring. Commanders was better but it doesn't tell a coherent story and is more like a million anecdotes. Battlefields was the best with each chapter focusing on a specific battle. Lots of photographs and color drawings to go with the text. Ultimately though I have better ACW books so this set I'm getting rid of.

Movie - Unknown (2011) [/] Liam Neeson plays Professor Martin Harris visiting Germany with his wife for a bio-tech conference. Unfortunately he gets into a car accident and loses much of his memory and when he finds his wife (January Jones) again she has a different Martin (Aidan Quinn) as her husband. Harris' only ally is the cab driver (Diane Kruger) who was driving him when the car accident happened but she's an illegal immigrant with problems of her own... Kind of an interesting plot though easy to predict and Neeson is not playing a killing machine (maybe I watch too many Liam Neeson-playing-a-badass movies).

Kevin's Natural Foods - Lemongrass Chicken [-] This is a 2-package pack of sous-vide cooked chicken with a separate sauce. Open chicken pack, drain, microwave for 2 min, drain again, add sauce, microwave for 1 min. It's chicken breast strips and very tender. But the sauce is not that great so quite underwhelming dish.

Movie - Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979) [+]

A gigantic object is hurtling towards Earth and will arrive in days. The only starship available is the newly refitted USS Enterprise. Admiral James T Kirk (William Shatner) pulls strings to become captain of the ship demoting current captain Willard Decker (Stephen Collins) to XO. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) fails his Kohlinar training and returns because he hears the object calling to him. Dr Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is recalled from retirement for the mission. Meanwhile Montgomery Scott (James Dookan), Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) were already assigned to the ship. We also have new navigator Ilia (Persis Khambatta) and Decker's former flame...

I recently rewatched ST:TMP Director's Cut version and my fondness for this film grows. It's a slow moving story with not that much action making for not the greatest motion picture. But now I look at it as a classic science fiction novel brought to film. Character focused, cerebral, wrapped around a mystery that is slowly revealed layer by layer. And then you get the last mystery revealed at the climax and it's resolved and the film ends. Very well done, even the part where they spend several minutes panning around the new Enterprise showing off the new model details.

Apple Arcade Mini-Reviews

Apple Arcade - Monomals (2019) [/] Kids game with two components. In one you are a plug going through an underwater dungeon getting past opponents, solving puzzles, then fighting the level boss. In the second component those level bosses are sounds and you get to compose your own songs in a simple audio studio. It's a weird combination and the song studio is better using touch than controller.

Apple Arcade - Super Mega Mini Party (2019) [/] Play lots of retro-like mini-games versus friends, other people, or AI. These are two player games and seem to take a minute or two to play. Kind of fun in a IRL party but not in general since none of the games have any depth to them.

Apple Arcade - Star Fetched (2019) [/] A cartoony sci-fi themed side-view platformer. Shoot boxes and bad guys to collect parts which you can use to build weapons and devices. Not terribly complex as there is only one type of part plus gold to buy things from shops. A bit of exploration to find semi-hidden areas where there might be more loot. Plus there are mini-bosses. It's ok but not interesting enough to keep playing for long.

Spot Reviews 04/21/23

Apple Arcade - Hogwash (2019) [/] 3v1 kids game. Three people play pigs on a farm who need to roll around in mud then shake it off to dirty the farmer's prize items (three things -- billboard, tractor, something else -- or the house which has three levels). Meanwhile the farmer uses a hose to clean off the mud, clean off the pigs, and if he catches a pig he ties it up (and another pig has to untie it). All third-person POV which did not agree with my motion sickness.

Apple Arcade - Fallen Knight (2019) [/] This is a side-scrolling arcade game. You're a knight who can jump around (including double jumps), wields an energy sword and has power ups. Go through each level battling enemies and then a level boss. Sort of a typical game of the genre except it seems less polished.

Apple Arcade - Jumper Jon (2019) [/] A bit of a cartoony side-view platformer where you need to explore and flip switches and find items to progress. Typical gameplay except you have 30 seconds and then the game resets to your last save point, unless you tap a feather to set your save point and give you another 30 seconds.

TV Series - Walker: Independence s1 (2022) [/]

Walker: Independence is a drama on the CW network and a spin-off of Walker, though since it's set 100 years in the past and I haven't seen Walker I haven't noticed any connections other than the name of the main character.

Abby Walker (Katherine McNamara) and husband, traveling from the East Coast to the Old West town of Independence, are ambushed one night. Husband is killed and Abby left for dead. She is saved by a local American Indian, Calian (Justin Johnson Cortez) and, with a partial picture of the murderer in her mind, walks into town to report the crime.

But then runs into the new sheriff Tom Davidson (Greg Hovanessian) who she thinks is the murderer. Abby immediately thinks up of an alias (actually Abby Walker is her maiden name) and explains she's new in town and gets herself hired as the sheriff's assistant.

Determined to prove that sheriff Davidson is the murderer she befriends and recruits allies: rogue and sometimes train robber Hoyt Rawlins (Matt Barr), saloon dance girl show coordinator Kate Carver (Katie Findlay), Calian and his friend deputy sheriff Augustus Philemon Chambers), and I guess by the end of the season Chinese restauranter and laundry man Kai (Lawrence Kao)...

It's not an amazing show but kind of moves along. It's got twists along the way the main one being whether or not sheriff Davidson is the murderer cause he's a bit of bad guy but seems to genuinely want to protect Independence. Naturally the other characters have their own subplots which makes this a rather ensemble show and it's not all about Abby Walker.

Season one is thirteen episodes and by the end there are enough interesting subplots left hanging that I'm kind of looking forward to season two and hopefully also thirteen episodes to keep the main plot focused.

Apple Arcade - The Mosaic (2019) [/]

In The Mosaic you play a young adult who is beaten down by the drudgery of work. Each day you go to work and do a work mini-game. But as the next day unfolds things start to change a bit. You get to see more of the dreary world but you also get to experience a few bright moments before you get to work and do the mini-game, which also changes as your mood changes. Still, not a particularly interesting game.

I ended up spending several hours on the second mini-game, which is a phone game called BlipBlop and you can pretty much call it up whenever and play a bit. It's tap (blip) to get energy (blops) then when you have enough energy you can upgrade three items: how much energy each tap gives you, an auto-energy collector and how much capacity it has, speed up auto-energy collection.

When you get to level 100 you can collect Prestige which resets you back to level 1 and no upgrades but now you have a 20% blip bonus (which increases as you keep collecting Prestige). Meanwhile there is also a ten second 45% bonus when you level up and a frenzy bonus if you tap fast enough, something like +35% after 30 seconds and +70% after a minute which resets if you stop tapping quickly.

It's a pointless game and yet addictive as I can tap while watching Twitch or whatever. All of the 29 Game Center achievements are related to BlipBlop. The highest level is Prestige 10 times which seems doable in four days. But then there's collect 1T blops (luckily the counter never resets after collecting Prestige) which seems impossible as I've only gotten like 100M blops after a day. A really clever way to keep engagement for OCD users.

I'm writing this review so I can delete this game and not be tempted by BlipBlop, perhaps the most idealized simplified version of a constant dopamine-hit game.

Spot Reviews 04/14/23

Movie - Last Looks (2022) [/] Sort of a modern day noir-ish film. Disgraced former Los Angeles PD detective Charlie Waldo (Charlie Hunnam) returns to Hollywood to solve the murder of the wife of tv personality Alastair Pinch (Mel Gibson) and either absolve or incriminate him. Meanwhile there are a couple of other parties that don't want him investigating even though unrelated to the murder. With Lucy Fry as the possible Femme Fatale and Morena Baccarin in a cameo as Waldo's ex-flame... It's got a good setup and quirky characters but doesn't quite deliver.

Food - Trader Joe's Shakshuka Starter [/] A small stew of tomatoes and peppers. You can microwave it from frozen in less than 10 minutes including adding a couple of eggs for the last couple of minutes. Tastes ok and it's like $2.

Apple Arcade - Pac-Man Party Royale (2019) [-] Pac-Man like games. Adventure: mini-games with different game rules (e.g. you're a ghost, herd pac-man into the flag). Battle Arena: play vs 3 others in an arena eating dots and picking up weapons to kill the other pac-men. You can also play Battle Arena with friends. Taking a classic game and making it un-fun.

Apple TV+ - MLB Daily Recap #2.1/#2.2 [-]

Now that Major League Baseball is on again I watched a couple of MLB Daily Recap shows. In general they are daily 45-minute episodes covering all the games.

In each game they show highlights: every scoring at-bat and some miscellaneous great or notable plays. The video used is broadcast feeds I think because they have info graphics. There is no narration just the broadcast teams and it switches between the home and away teams I guess based on which had better narration though tending to be the home broadcast if the home team does well in the play or vice versa. About half the time you see the final out and the other half you see the last scoring play and then it moves on to the next game.

On the positive side 45 minutes of action is better than a few minutes in a Sports Center segment. But as I'm watching an episode its lack of cohesive narration makes for a disjointed experience. It's a lot of little clips without a story behind it (and yes the story is the game itself but watch Sports Center and see how they build up to dramatic moments and add emotion to your viewing experience).

I guess Apple is trying to make it more of a pure experience. Maybe it's that each game gets only 3 minutes or so. When I watch an NFL Highlights of a game it's 12 to 15 minutes and is a cohesive experience. Similarly the MLS 7-minute recaps are cohesive. Oh well, overall MLB Daily Recap doesn't work for me.

Pyramid v3 (2008-18) [+]

Pyramid v3 was the third incarnation of a table-top rpg magazine by Steve Jackson Games and it ran 122 issues. Volume 1 was 30 print issue in a regular magazine format that covered the whole hobby with articles for different rpgs. Volume 2 was a web-only portal with an article or two published each week -- I think the content got more and more SJG house games.

Volume 3 went back to a more magazine format but only PDFs published monthly. Each PDF is high 30's to mid-40 pages long. Although I think there were some articles for third party rpgs earlier on it soon became about half generic articles (though covering GURPS topics) and half GURPS articles.

As a GURPS resource this is excellent. Articles go from 8 to 20 pages, usually around 8-12 pages. They retain SJG's excellent attention to good editing, good page references, and accurate GURPS stats. For $6 to $9 an issue (less with yearly subscriptions and the occasional Warehouse 23 discount) it's a fairly decent good value.

The negative is the magazine format. Over the years it's a lot of scattered articles so hard to find that one article you remember reading a while ago or all Supers articles for example. Also this is the place for some fairly niche articles: you have a hardback for the main topic, then a PDF supplement for a subtopic related to the hardback, then a Pyramid article that drills down one of the PDF topics.

To me the most useful articles are adventures, campaign ideas (with various level of detail writeups), and worked out examples of topics not really developed well in a hardback (e.g. concrete write ups for some of the alternate magic systems since each only had like one example in GURPS Thaumatology or more martial arts styles).

Overall for a GURPS fan I'd concentrate more on the PDF supplements but Pyramid v3 (and v4) would be the next priority.

Spot Reviews 04/07/23

Apple Arcade - Manifold Garden (2019) [+] First person puzzle game in an Escher-world. Wander around and open doors using colored blocks placed on pedestals. You can go to any wall and rotate to make it the floor. When you get outside your building you can fall and it's infinite because it looks around so rotating and falling just right is a strategy. It's a pretty cool game but I do not have the spatial sense to be good at it. It also looks simplistically beautiful.

Apple Arcade - Yaga the Roleplaying Folktale (2019) [/] Angled view adventure game where you talk to people, do little quests, fight monsters and upgrade your items. That last part is whole complex system of getting materials and recipes then adding powers to your weapon and maybe shield and armor. Unfortunately I got stuck in the initial village trying to find one guy to progress the quest line and I'm not really interested in a complicated crafting system. The game does have good voice acting and is heavy on Slavic culture and mythology.

Apple Arcade - Things That Go Bump (2019) [-] Physics-based platform combat game. You're a spirit. Inhabit household objects to create your form (body, legs, weapon) then fight other spirits. Combat is not precise which makes for an uninteresting game.

TV Series - Arrow s7 and s8 (2018-19) [/]

Arrow season 7 (22 episodes) and season 8 (10 episodes) ends the series.

Season 7 starts with Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen (Stephen Amell) in prison after he turns himself in at the end of season 6. The first third is him dealing with the prison life since he's a former vigilante stuck in with criminals he's put away. One he's out the main subplot is Emiko Queen (Sea Shimooka), Oliver's unknown half sister, who shows up to revenge herself on the Queens because dad abandoned Emiko and her mother.

The latter half of season 7 also introduces the 2040 timeline, which may be the first time we do flash forwards in the series. We're introduced to the kids now adults: Mia Smoak-Queen (Katherine McNamara), born in season 6; William Clayton (Ben Lewis), Oliver's illegitimate son who appeared in a few episodes here and there; Connor Hawke (Jospeh David-Jones), sort of John Diggle's (David Ramsey) adopted son (I think first appearance); and Wild Dog's (Rick Gonzalez) daughter Zoe Ramirez (Andrea Sixtos).

The four are sort of formed into a team by an elder Black Canary (Juliana Harkavy) and Earth-2 Black Canary (Katie Cassidy). In order to stop John Diggle Jr (Charlie Barnett) aka the new Deathstroke and his gang from destroying Star City.

Season 8 is a short one. The first seven episodes have The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) sending Oliver to alternate Earths collecting items he needs to stop the Anti-Monitor. Episode 8 is the Crisis on Infinite Earths where Oliver dies as foretold possibly back in season 6. Episode 9 is set in 2040 after the Crisis so everything is a bit different but it's a backdoor pilot for a spin-off that didn't happen, Green Arrow and the Canaries. Episode 10 is back to the present to tie up a bunch of loose ends (and bringing back a lot of old characters) and have a proper funeral for Oliver. As a final scene, in 2040 The Monitor appears to take Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) to Oliver where they "live" in some sort of dream universe happily ever after...

Not my favorite series but still sort of entertaining. Even though I like Katherine McNamara the 2040 timeline was a bit too dystopian in season 7 and kind of too normal after Crisis. I'm glad I finally finished watching the rest of the series.

Apple Arcade - Ballistic Baseball (2019) [/]

Ballistic Baseball is an Apple Arcade baseball game combining action and strategy.

The main action is pitcher vs batter. As the pitcher you choose your pitch and location then when you're ready to go there's a slider that moves horizontally back and forth which you need to stop in the center for the best pitch (and as the pitcher gets tired both the slider moves faster and the sweet spot gets narrower).

As a batter it's a bit simpler: position yourself left and right then either bunt or swing as the ball enters your hit zone. Here the key is being able to tell where the ball ends up because it's fast and tricky and for me I can see why hitting the ball is hard.

Once the ball is hit everything is automatic. Fielders field and runners run the bases.

You can also ignore pitching selection/placement and batter stance. The computer will pick initial pitch and placement (the computer will throw balls and strikes until there is a must throw strike situation) and you can just concentrate on getting the pitch timing correct. Similarly you can bat fairly well just swinging at every pitch; don't worry if the ball is a strike or not and just concentrate on timing of your swing.

The cool thing is an experience system where you can upgrade your players. You have nine batters (one for each fielding position except pitcher and a designated hitter) and four pitchers. Batters have four attributes (power, contact, speed, fielding) and pitchers have four attributes (control, stamina, velocity, fielding) and they range from 0 to 5 stars and improvements are 1/2 star per point. You can set player positions (speed in the outfield, fielding in the infield), batting order and your starting pitcher.

In career mode your team starts out semi-pro and as you gain experience and wins you move up to better leagues. Each game is one inning and can end in ties. A win gives you 5 training points, 3 for a tie and 2 for a loss. There is no league standings -- you're just playing games and move up leagues automatically.

Arcade mode you choose your team, park and playing conditions and it's just one 3-inning game. Ballistic Bash is home run derby type play where you get points for home runs and if your home run hits virtual targets in the stands. Career and Arcade you can play online, Arcade adds vs a friend online, Ballistic Bash you and friends can take turns.

In the end the game is kind of fun but not especially. I want actually league play with standings and playoffs. The training stuff gives you a bit of team development but you can't replace players and don't manage contracts. That said a game like Out of the Park Baseball is way too complicated so don't want to take it that far. But Ballistic Baseball leaves me wanting for a little bit better game.