Kevin C. Wong

Spot Reviews 03/31/23

Book - Buffy the Vampire Slayer Panel to Panel (2015) [/] This is an art book showing off I think all comic book covers including variants for BtVS Season 8 and 9 plus some of the offshoots published by Dark Horse Comics. Jo Chen cover art is gorgeous and Steve Morris also did great covers (I like the more photo-realistic art). This is a good coffee table book.

HiroNori Craft Ramen, Santa Clara [/] I had Tonkotsu Ramen with thick noodles ($17). It was really good and the soup was delicious. One of the better ramens I've had (though still not particularly a fan of ramen).

Apple Arcade - Mind Symphony (2019) [/] A music rhythm game with two modes. In the first enemy ships are attacking from the left and right and you need to tap as they hit your shields. In the second, which is not a rhythm game mode, enemy ships roam the screen and you move your ship which automatically fires at them. Has some nice indie music tracks.

Disney Series - Obi-Wan Kenobi s1 (2022) [/]

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a 6-episode drama set after Episode 3. We start with Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) hiding out on Tatooine being a nondescript humble worker whilst keeping a distant eye on young Luke Skywalker.

A team of Inquisitors arrive hunting for a rogue Jedi (but not Kenobi). But whilst there one of the Inquisitor's, Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram), feels Kenobi's presence and she is in particular thirsty to have her revenge on Kenobi (for reasons revealed later in the series). But Kenobi remains unfound.

Meanwhile on Alderaan we see a young Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) being a headstrong kid and bit exasperating to her parents. Leia is kidnapped by some mercenaries and taken off-world. A desperate Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) calls Kenobi asking for help. Kenobi really doesn't want to because Luke is Kenobi's priority and maybe, after a decade, Kenobi is no longer all that much of a Jedi.

Still, eventually Kenobi agrees to look for Leia and travels off-world in search of her. All part Reva's plan to trap Kenobi...

This is a nice series to fill a bit of gap between Episodes 3 and 4. Later in the series we see an early Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) face off against Kenobi. We also see perhaps the beginning of the Rebellion forming.

It's a nice series and maybe only this one season.

Apple Arcade - Inmost (2019) [/]

Inmost is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer where you play three characters:

The man - this is your main character exploring the world and unlocking secrets.
The girl - some cut scenes involve a girl playing games in her family's house and also discovering secrets.
The knight - action cut scenes where you are the sword wielding, grappling hook using knight killing shadows.

There is a woman narrating (with text so you can always read what's being said) which is a nice touch.

The puzzles are mostly wandering around hitting spots where you can't continue but it tells you what item you need. When you find that item you can backtrack to the revealed spots. For the most part you can keep going forward as most revealed spots lead to pain shards and notes you can collect. Each note is a kid's picture with some meaning to the story.

The pain shards (up to 80 and I found 65 sometimes using a walkthrough) let you talk to a storyteller who gives a story about a witch and visitors and why the castle came to be. The castle is a significant part of the map and you slowly climb up along the side until you can break into it but turns out there's not like anything vital inside just the path to the next part of the map.

There are shadow creatures to avoid or kill. Many are killed by manipulating the environment or baiting them to jump off the edge (the man has no weapons ever and the girl never encounters any shadows). Other than areas you can't get to without an item and the shadows there aren't any other hindrances. Sometimes there are small puzzles: some shadows are tricky to kill or some object has to be manipulated just right. It's not a hard-puzzles game.

It took me about 15 hours to finish. I used a controller and things played fine. Touch might be harder as there are some action scenes. I did use a walkthrough for a few parts where I couldn't figure out how to progress (usually I gave it 10 or so minutes of wandering around before I gave up). Overall it's a mostly fun game though I guess not exceptional.

Spot Reviews 03/24/23

Apple Arcade - Stela (2019) [/] Apocalyptic side-scrolling puzzle/runner. The first level you're running from a horde of bug things and in each small section figure out the action you need to do to delay them like jumping just right or dragging a door closed. You die a lot and repeat the last section so gets a bit frustrating. From the preview looks like more timing puzzles so I don't think I want to do that for several hours. Also the background music and atmosphere is a bit scary.

Whole Foods Chocolate Truffle Tart [/] Haven't gotten a Whole Foods tart in a while and this one was a mistake on my part. I like the inside to be custard but this one is chocolate. Tasty but could be better. The crust is excellent as usual: dense and almost like a lightly-sugary cookie. On the positive side I don't have a craving to eat this other than with my first couple cups of coffee.

Netflix Movie - The Violence Action (2022) [-] Live action movie based on a manga. Kei (Kanna Hashimoto) is a high-school student who works as an assassin working out of a ramen shop (though not just assassinating people: the intro job is rescuing a girl from drug dealers, while also killing all said drug dealers). Her life is complicated when nerdy classmate Terano (Yôsuke Sugino) discovers her secret. I wanted to like this movie but the action scenes are quite bad and really this movie is spoiled by way too many jump cuts even walking from one place to another.

Apple TV+ - Major League Soccer (2023) [/]

The first month of Major League Soccer (USA's tier 1 soccer league) just finished. I managed to watch two full games on Apple TV+ and highlights of other games while they were free. Rest of the season requires a season pass.


No game replays. When a game is over you can watch a 7-minute highlights video. If you start watching a game late you can start from the beginning and finish watching even after pausing.

Same as for Friday Night Baseball the preview images include the final score which I find very annoying.

The games themselves are generally good quality. Not as sharp as Friday Night Baseball but I think better than standard definition.

Overall this brief view of soccer hasn't made me really want to keep watching. I guess that's a bit up to the commentary. What made me love other sports is good commentators that explain the game and the strategies and tactics. From the two full games I've watched the commentators haven't really done that.

I'm hoping that if Apple TV+ continues to have a free game or two per week those games will have the A-team commentators.

Nitro Stream Racing (2023) [/]

Nitro Stream Racing is a Mario Kart-like racing game for streamers to play with their viewers and Captain TV also makes Stream Raiders. Streamer sets up a race. Players join by typing "!play" in chat or from the Stream Racing web site. Race mostly runs by itself though each racer has three messages they can "honk" and if they pick up a mega -- an attack that hopefully slows down the top racers -- they can activate it.

Like Stream Raiders you collect coins and experience which you use to customize your racer and driver and even power them up a bit. Also like Stream Raiders there is a race pass you can buy with real money to collect more rewards and there are streamer-specific items you can buy, such as a racing flag or car skins.

Currently I'm not particularly impressed. I think it's a bit too random. With all the megas and vehicles will crash and fall of the track by themselves (no deaths, after a few seconds you resume where you died) there is no sense of "someone is winning, there is a good chance they'll win the race". Also because of all the crash-ups the racers get pretty spread out so when streamer shows the race it's just the a few racer at a time. Mega is also a bit gimmicky as it gives you something to do but not something useful.

And if you think all the above Marbles on Stream doesn't have then you're right. I prefer Marbles as chill racing game that is also interesting to watch. Stream Racing is not necessarily intended as a direct competitor but it kind of is and as such kind of fails in my opinion.

Spot Reviews 03/17/23

Apple Arcade - ShockRods (2019) [-] Twin-stick vehicular combat in an arena. Drive around, pick up weapons, shoot the other cars. Doesn't seem to have much gameplay depth.

Sous Vide Sliced Grass-Fed Beef Sirloin [/] Cuisine Solutions sells Sous vide products (seal it then boil it to cook it). The one I received had two packs each with a one pound hunk of beef pre-sliced. You're supposed to open, heat in pan for 1 minute (it's cooked medium-rare so you want to warm it up but not cook it more) and serve. Tastes fine. $11.50 per pound (I'm guessing mom bought it at Costco) which compares well with Trader Joe's which has something equivalent that is about $17 per pound.

Movie - Christmas With You (2022) [-] Aging pop star Angelina (Aimee Garcia) ends up rehabilitating with one of her biggest fans, Cristina (Deja Monique Cruz) and her high school music teacher father Miguel (Freddie Prinze Jr). I assume romance develops but after half an hour I couldn't make myself continue.

Movie - Call Me Chihiro (2023) [+]

Call Me Chihiro is a slow-paced character drama set in Japan. Bento-shop cashier Chihiro (Kasumi Arimura) is a former sex worker (without ever specifying what she did; sex worker is a very broad field) with a patient and sunny outlook. In the sleepy coast town she lives in Chihiro meets various people -- a homeless man, a latch-key kid, a couple of middle-school girl outcasts, an old woman going blind -- and makes positive changes in their lives.

It's a movie with barely any plot. The characters are distinct and all going through their issues and their contact with Chihiro changes their course and helps them. One of the themes is that every person is like an alien from a different planet and meeting someone from your planet is a rare occurrence. So I guess you should expect that each person is quit different from you so just accept them as they are.

Chihiro herself is also someone apart who wraps herself in loneliness. Even when she asks her former sex worker boss why he never made any moves on her it's like a detached question without any feelings. Similarly Chihiro relates how her mother died -- in the movie her estranged brother calls and gives her the news -- but she doesn't actually feel anything about it. And yet usually when interacting with others she has a happy outward personality.

But in the end the new friends Chihiro has made are not enough to keep her there. She moves on and starts a new life as a farm hand, once again working her magic on people she meets...

It's a very slow movie. And yet it was interesting. Very much a show but not tell so there are parts with little dialog while you watch and figure out what's going on. It's a quiet character drama and I guess in the mood to watch it and enjoy it.

D&D Adventure - B1 In Search of the Unknown (1979) [/]

In Search of the Unknown is the first D&D Basic Set B-series modules. The version you buy from DriveThruRPG is from 1979 and it must be for Holmes Basic Set because their advice section talks about Lawful/Chaotic Good, Neutral, Lawful/Chaotic Evil alignments, the henchmen section demihumans (elf, dwarf, halfling) have the same professions as humans, and there are references to Greyhawk which became an AD&D world while B/X and BECMI D&D went with the Known World of Mystara. It is a scan of that version and only has a couple of marks on the upper level map.

This module presents a dungeon with a history: two great heroes built this as their base but they disappeared three decades ago on an expedition against the barbarians. The dungeon itself has a built upper level of almost 40 rooms and a caverns lower level of about 15 rooms.

Each room has a description and then a blank space to enter the monster and treasure. There is a monster list of 25 entries and a treasure list of 34 entries. A GM is supposed to pick 16-20 monsters and 15-25 treasures and sprinkle them into the dungeon, hopefully in a way that makes sense though I guess not necessary.

This does mean it's an easily replay-able module. The upper level is a bit confusing with lots of maze-like areas and hidden rooms (our two heroes were not into usability: storerooms that are a couple hundred feet away from any other room were just fine to them). So a second run through the players will have a better idea of the layout but the random monster and treasure placement will keep it interesting (and each treasure is supposed to be hidden/protected though that's suggested without giving any guidance.

As the first D&D module it also has some advice sections. There are notes on creating a dungeon, preparing the module, time, experience, and how to GM. I like the section on generating random henchmen/hirelings: roll for class, roll for each of four personality traits, and for each class roll for arms/armor/spells each with their own tables.

This is an example of an old-school dungeon. The dungeon itself has lots of tricky corridors and secret areas so the PCs are expected to be good at mapping. Monsters are randomly strewn about and there is no story or plot that ties the monsters together. As such B2 is a much better introductory module and I'll take a look at it next week.

Overall I think this is just fine as an intro module for the time but even updated for BECMI Basic Set a couple of years later I doubt it aged well.

Spot Reviews 03/10/23

Pedro's Restaurant & Cantina [/] A Mexican restaurant near Santa Clara Marriott. Went to dinner here with Dave S. Had Enchiladas las Hadas (enchiladas with crab meat and shrimp topped with a white sauce). Food and atmosphere ok.

Apple Arcade - Decoherence (2019) [/] Strategy arcade battle game. In each level you build robots (weapon top, movement body, and optional powerup) then place them and start the combat. Your robots battle by themselves or you can move your character (who carries his own small gun) and drive one of your robots. For me there's a bit too much going on once the fighting starts.

Movie - Christmas with a Prince (2018) [/] Pediatrician Dr Tasha Miller (Kaitlyn Leeb) is reunited with college friend Prince Alexander (Nick Hounslow) when he has to be secretly treated for an injury, except she never really liked him. Turns out he's matured and has more depth than she thought so maybe romance? Except the various royal princesses who have their eye on Alexander and see Tasha as competition... It's just fine as an average Christmas romance movie.

Movie - Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) [/]

Glass Onion is a sequel to Knives Out though it's a self-contained story. Tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites his influencer friends to his private island for a mystery party weekend. Unexpectedly private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) shows up apparently having gotten an invitation. Blanc comes to believe that one of the guests has it in for Bron but when guests start dying who is the killer?

Like Knives Out this is a movie with a set of unique characters doing their own subplots, you're shown a lot of things happening, and somewhere there you're shown enough to deduce what really happened. Knives Out though showed the reveal midway through then you get sort of behind-the-curtain stuff until the second reveal. Glass Onion the reveal seems more towards the end and then it's bang bang done so now you have to catch the clues over 100 minutes instead of over 45 minutes. Knives Out was more accessible and I liked it more which then makes Glass Onion a bit disappointing.

Board Game - CoraQuest (2022) [+]

CoraQuest is a children's fantasy dungeon-delving board game with lots of colorful pieces.

There are a good number of characters and you take three or four of them into the dungeon (if fewer players you double-up characters). Each character has hit points, movement and a special ability and they can carry weapons and items (weapons show what die they roll to attack and their range as a graphic). It's a basic move+action or action+move system and in combat you roll their special combat dice to get hits (one thing to make it easier: if you miss then you turn the character card over into their angry state where they get more dice to attack with until they score at least one hit).

A scenario starts with a mission card. Then you venture into the dungeon and explore it. Dungeon tiles are chosen randomly and then you can orient so as to make sure it connects. Most tiles reveal a monster or three which you should attack as they'll go after characters are done with their turn. Killing monsters you can get treasure which can also be magic items.

I only played half a scenario with Csr and Cjr, though they've played it several times. Seems like a typical dungeon-delving board game with fun graphics and a bit simpler rules though still enough for parents to be entertained.

Spot Reviews 03/03/23

Dim Sum - Hong Kong Islander, Sacramento [/] Dim sum was tasty, carts came around fast, staff was responsive. Not a big place so will queue if you get there an hour after opening.

Novel - Raising Steam (2013) [/] The second to last Discworld novel (I respect that Pratchett's daughter decided there would be no more Discworld novels, though other products will be made). A young inventor creates the first steam-powered train and Moist von Lipwig is tasked with promoting it and getting train lines to neighboring kingdoms. Meanwhile an extremist Dwarven faction wants to stop it at all costs... It has the usual Pratchett humor though the plot is not challenging and our heroes are never in danger cause the bad Dwarves are rather inept.

Movie - Christmas Catch (2018) [-] Mack (Emily Alatalo) is a local police detective who is unlucky in love. She meets Carson (Franco Lo Presti) who into her but turns out he's being investigated by the FBI so she has to go undercover in order to retrieve valuable jewelry stolen last year. With Andrew Bushell as Mack's police partner and Lauren Holly as the police captain and Mack's mom. It's a harmless if a bit boring made-for-tv Christmas movie and Alatalo is not bad as the focus of the story.

Netflix Movie - Oxygen (2021) [+]

Oxygen is a French film starring Mélanie Laurent in an almost one-role movie. Liz (Laurent) wakes up in an automated medical pod with no memories. Unfortunately the pod is running out of oxygen and the AI, Milo (Mathieu Amalric), refuses to open the pod because she doesn't have admin codes. On the bright side she manages to place a call to the police but they seem not quite as helpful as she hoped...

I like it because even though it's a very limited set (Liz only gets out right at the very end) there's lots to do: figuring out the auto-med and fending off it's attempts to sedate her; recovering her memories and why she's in the pod; and then the larger mystery of what's outside the pod because that was quite a surprise. It manages to be a pretty interesting movie.