A Futile and Stupid Gesture.

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Hold on to yer bootstraps, kids. We’re gonna slip off the sheer cliff of Reason and Sanity into the deep goodniss of comedy gold. I know that allusion is in bad taste concerning the subject’s death, for obvious reasons that are obvious. See how I hold the fly alive between my chopsticks, Grasshopper…

In a past post about Harold Ramis, I mentioned that for me personally, the Golden Age of Comedy began around the time of my birth, in the early 1970s. From that era, I think a great deal of what has essentially evolved into the more biting, “edgy” and political commentary seen in media and certainly here on the interwebs had its beginnings. And one of it’s greatest proponents was the co-founder of National Lampoon magazine and eventual co-scripter of both comedy classics Animal House and Caddyshack, the pride of Chagrin Falls, Ohio — Douglas Kenney.

Even more than Ramis, Kenney was one of the modern era of comedy’s founding fathers. With the Lampoon and beyond, he gleefully played with social, political and sexual taboos as the typical seven-year-old would a set of Legos: build them up to ridiculous heights, only to see them crash in often unexpected but always hilarious ways. Unfortunately, this model was also paralleled in his personal life, which often ended not so hilariously. After accumulating a great deal of money for his successes, he also was saddled with a massive cocaine addiction, which only magnified his bouts with severe depression. Doug Kenney left this world on August 27, 1980, at the age of 33, having either fallen or leapt (according to Ramis, he “fell looking for a good spot to jump”) from a cliff in Kauai, Hawaii.

Personal tragedies aside, I grew up with Kenney as one of my heroes. His subversive, intelligent and often surreal sense of humor appealed to me from the first time I saw it in print, with Bored of the Rings, a parody of Tolkien co-written with Henry Beard (who would go on to found National Lampoon with Kenney). I have re-read the slim novella many times since, and it never fails to delight with its casual sardonicism. Although I was too young to read his work in the magazine at the time it was published, I’ve managed to find old back issues and reprints of his articles over the years, with time well spent.

Nearly a decade ago a couple of books came out related to Kenney, his career and personal turmoil. I have read neither one, so honestly can’t tell you much other than both were successful and well-reviewed — but we’re digressing, here. One of them was A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever, by Josh Karp, a writer presumably occupied with sports (not to fetter the man, I simply know little about him), including golf, which might explain his connection with Kenney. Do want to read both in the future (the other book, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great, is written and illustrated by former NatLamp staffer (and all-over excellent artist) Rick Meyerowitz, who also did the below illustration for our (sort of) given subject:

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Another thing different about either take on Kenney, his tenure at the Lampoon and beyond is how they were developed for television. While Meyerowitz’s book got the documentary treatment, but Karp’s was almost immediately turned into a Netflix feature. Directed by The State member David Wain (and also stars fellow Staters Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kinney), who mostly recently is known for the Wet Hot American Summer series, also on Netflix.

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The production seems to have spent the majority of its budget on the massive cast, which includes both Will Forte and Martin Mull playing Kenney (as the lead of the story and an alternate who never died but lived to narrate the tale, respectively), since otherwise the feature has a severe “TV movie” feel to it. The approach seems to be treating Kenney’s life as if he himself had written it, but while one might expect the stylish detachment and timing of a John Landis, Ivan Reitman, or the late aforementioned Harold Ramis, there instead is a more glossy and heavy-handed treatment. Not really a criticism, since I did enjoy the film but the above was always apparent to me. I may be something of a film snob, but really it’s the Kenney fan talking. A proper take on the story should’ve gotten a bigger budget, maybe Adam McKay or David Gordon Green behind the helm, with Chris Pratt as Kenney. I would’ve loved for John Landis in particular to be involved, as he really set the tone with Animal House that was followed closely by latter films like The Blues Brothers, Caddyshack and the Ghostbusters films. My opinion, subjected because that’s what I do here.

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Doug Kenney was a clearly troubled guy whose success only magnified those troubles. But he helped lay the groundwork for an era when comedy broke new ground and openly challenged culture, society and political affairs. I’ve gone on about this before, but Kenney was a crucial piece of the mechanism. With Henry Beard, Chris Miller, Harold Ramis and P.J. O’Rourke, Kenney successfully transplanted Lampoon‘s skewed world-view from print to film, and changed humor forever. Not bad for a kid from Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

HALF-LIFE: ALYX.

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I’ve never really covered my thoughts on Half-Life and its sequels on this blog, but to sum it up I was late to the party, but ended up as drunk as everyone else. I was still more than occupied with the Quake games at the time, and any other series had no immediate appeal. I eventually came around, and was onboard with the leak in 2003 and eventual release of the second game in 2004. Never in my life was I so happy to be pummeled with a toilet — in HL2 Deathmatch of course, which provided a ready gravity gun for instant fun. After the game’s initial release, Valve continued their goodwill towards modders by providing the Source SDK, along with a number of tools for level design, modeling and animation.

As you may well know, two episodic sequels followed HL2, and ended on a bit of a cliffhanger (no spoilers here, even 15 years later). While Valve did release other titles afterward, even these dropped down from little to no output at all. Worst of all, no more Half-Life. Needless to say, their fervent fans (including myself) went from eager anticipation to morbid cynicism.

Flash forward a bit further, and the bomb drops. Valve is releasing a new Half-Life title in the spring of 2020. The shot heard around the interwebs sets eyes aglaze as they fix on the outflow of tweets, forum posts and videos — beginning with this one:

The obvious gasp as the detail slips — this is a VR game. While assumed by most to be the next viable jump in digital interaction, a.k.a. gamey-fun, virtual reality is still in its early stages of development. While the tech itself has made leaps forward, with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive being the clear frontrunners — the latter being the obvious choice in this case, as it already runs on the Steam platform — most are still intimidated (including myself, again) by it.

That’s the crux of the biscuit, as Zappa might say — Valve is wagering the reputation of the Half-Life series in a bid for their new technology. Of course, I need to mention at this point that I’m typing up this blog with the assistance of one of the “Steam machines”, console PCs made to access Steam accounts with the hardware to play any title. These were Valve’s earlier answer to the popularity of consoles, a bid to a number of hardware developers to meet their requirements. Mine in particular is a ASUS ROG G8, the hefty little rig I bragged about in my last post. So I suppose Valve interest in technology isn’t completely wasted ;D

If anything, the trailer is a demo of Valve’s ongoing development of the Source engine. True to their past history, the enhancements visible in the trailer aren’t ground-breaking by any means, but subtle improvements in lighting, materials and animation. It appealed to me personally, and made me hope that another SDK is hopefully in the works.

Who’s to say, really — Half-Life: Alyx could well be the breakthrough hit Valve is obviously hoping for. It could change not only the face of gaming (as they have done many times before), but our general view of gaming technology as well.

 

 

 

IN MEDIAS RES (AGAIN).

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Shanti, Shanti, Shanti!

Did that work? Oh, well. It’s me again, Margaret. Hopefully more attendant here on out, with a new rig able to run things on my Steam account — including the 2016 DOOM.

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Yeah, I know. It runs like butter, too. Plus, I’ve been working on illustrations for the Andlachen city setting, some of the personalities and overall setting. Not to mention the header image, which is indicative of my ongoing Quake obsession. But while I’m working with new software (Krita and GIMP for art stuff, and the mighty TrenchBroom  — ramshackled, it is not — for Quake mappage), and reacquainting with an old friend, the DOOM 3 editor, there’s a brand new smorgasbord on my plate at the moment. So give me a minute to adjust my napkin, and I’ll be right back with you.

Neither Force Nor Farce…

This weekend is the 2019 Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, where yesterday the long-awaited trailer for Episode IX dropped. While I admit it made me more trepidated than excited, especially given Disney’s past entries in the Star Wars canon, I’m not bitter since I’ll always have these guys to keep me company…

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Quake Update.

Psst. It’s me again. The usual sort of yen has come along, and I realize time has passed, and I haven’t had anything to blog about, but at the same time hate that, since you’d think that if I bothered with a blog I’d be all sorts of interesting. While I’d like to think I am, it just seems as if it takes me all kinds of time to produce any evidence to support my case. Anyways, as mentioned before, I have been hard at work on a new custom map for Quake, and have a couple of screenshots of it below:

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The map features some of the many custom textures I’ve been working on for the game, mostly derived from existing elements of the original art, since I wanted them to be easily incorporated into any map without any glaring inconsistencies:

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Needless to say, both of these pursuits take a great deal of time — especially if you’re a nitpicking perfectionist like myself — but I felt that I had at least a drop in the bucket to post about, with the promise of more to come.

The Alders of Andlachen.

Yeah, it’s me again — the Delphi Oracle of bloggers. Not that anything I have to say is particularly wise or anything. I’m going to forgo the usual apologies and excuses, it’s gotten tired by now I’m sure. But what I have been typing madly about instead of any sort of insights with you, Patient Reader, is what I’ve recently been referring to as the Talamor Campaign (presumably for 5th Edition D&D), and more precisely, the setting itself. Besides a novel based on the work that has amassed about the place, titled Gomlaragravir, I’ve been delving into the cosmology and early history of the world (named Era by the eldest of current races, the Hyleni or Wood-elves), as well as a good deal of game-related resources, including one that details the central point of the campaign, the city-state of Andlachen.

From the description: “Originally a fisherman’s thorp by the (River) Andlang supported by the Crook & Horn Tavern, Andlachen took full advantage of its position amid the rise of kingdoms of Harwald and Udan. The Hyleni of the Cor Arbirros, regardless of their opinions otherwise, saw the burgeoning Mannish nations as invaluable partners for trade. Being in the midst of the trade routes put Andlachen as a partner in the inevitable negotiations. As merchant caravans and their respective coin became more frequent, the village quickly grew into a town proper, and when threats came to it from the north and east, the participating nations sent forces to aid, as well several bands of daring adventurers, who sought gold from the kingdoms’ coffers in return for their services. Eventually the city of Andlachen saw the influence of distant kingdoms as Brunheath, Khadath, and Lendalar, as vendors and artisans from those as well as other realms saw fit to settle within the confines of the city and take advantage of its rapid growth. Even the rarely seen sea-elves of Hesperia have traveled beneath Andlachen’s mighty gates, some out of curiosity and others eager to extend their hands in commerce. Today the city-state is seen as an independent neutral entity, where any and all can freely engage in trade and discourse.”

The government of the city is overseen by the twelve Alders, formerly known as Aldermen — that is, until a number of female members were elected in recent times. Again, from the description: “Positions are typically hereditary, given their family’s influence at the time of the juncture, or are replaced by those who have gained reputable status at the time. Such judgments are put to a vote by the remaining members.” Needless to say, they are influential people, and their presence is felt throughout the city. They are (currently) detailed as follows:

AEDOLANN IONAITH: The proprietor of the River Run Brewery, taking up the business founded by her grandfather, Ionaith has never been troubled with a lack of drive or vision. Educated in Udan, her interest with the barley malts of Kedanic tradition fell short of expectations, and her studies eventually found her among the vale-elves of Khadath, living with the Estani monks to learn the secrets behind their many variants with subtle ales, heavy stouts and clean lagers. She brought this knowledge back to her family’s business thereafter, and due to her innovations the brewery’s products have become Andlachen’s leading export. A want for proper sewage disposal and local fresh water was also addressed by Ionaith, and along with a team of elvish architects and dwarven engineers, she brought aqueducts and sewers to the city. Needless to say, due to these actions she is revered among city folk and her fellow Aldermen. The now-elderly Ionaith nonetheless remains modest and devoted to the city of her birth, and a paradigm for women’s issues and technological advance.

CANTHBAEL DAVENLEN: Former bard, adventurer, and host at the Crook & Horn Tavern, Davenlen is a more than familiar presence in Andlachen and beloved by its citizens. The current Lord High Mayor, he has a genuine love for the city of his birth, and concern for its place amid the constantly changing landscape of outlying kingdoms and realms of peril. His relationship and ties with Lalianthia Arbadam (see below) have put him under much suspicion, but his clear judgment and care for the needs of Andlachen have made him the longest elected Mayor in its history. An affable and charming man, Davenlen is nonetheless inscrutable and calculated when it comes to critical decisions.

CORMIL GIL-ETHRAN: Known as the “Lion of Malacath” after the city of his birth, Gil-Ethran made his name early as a crusader against the tribes of giant-kind that inhabited the Hinder Peaks and Knollands, to find that the two-pronged march against Udan had been orchestrated by the Yithian cult located in the Bleak Hills. This lead to an alliance with the people of Harwald, who were dealing with a similar infestation of cultist activity in the Harrowmoors. His eventual fame lent him high regard among Baalist clergy that he spurned in favor of a temple post in Andlachen as its Patriarch of Baal, having frequented the city throughout his early career and of which he is most fond. His closest allies with the Council are Jabar Dillis, the Commander of the City Watch, and the sage and historian Svari Olafryst, his former mentor and longtime friend.

EGAN IONAITH: Son of Aedolann Ionaith, the city’s brewer, and proprietor of the Link Boy Inn in the city’s River Quarter, Ionaith has been cited by many as riding his mother’s coattails in search of personal acclaim and repute. He had positioned himself for the role of Lord High Mayor three times in the past, but was looked over in favor of Canthbael Davenlen. As a result, Ionaith has become a decided opponent to Davenlen in most affairs.

FERGUS RANGVALD: The city’s Guildmaster of Merchants, Rangvald is a somewhat nervous and chatty man, but nonetheless stalwartly keeps concerns of his fellow guild members as well as the many craftspeople of the city in focus when major decisions are broached. He holds an uneasy alliance with Lalianthia Arbadam and her associates of the Fain Melath, knowing full well of their influence within the city, but always stresses the keeping up of appearances when it comes to Andlachen’s relations with outside companies. His closest ally within the council is Gorman Muadnath, the city’s Reeve, who shares his devotion for keeping the city’s status quo. The descendant of Cressland horsemen, Rangvald was supposedly inept with the animals, but showed a sharp eye for trade speculation, and quickly used his talents to rid himself of Harwald and begin anew in Andlachen.

GORMAN MUADNATH: Current Reeve of the city, and right-hand man of the Lord High Mayor Canthbael Davenlen, Muadnath is a native of the city, and an advocate for the Three Sisters School in the River Quarter, established in fashion of the hedge schools he frequented as a youth. Known otherwise to be a short-tempered and ireful man with a dire wit and little patience with whom he deems to be ignorant, Muadnath sees himself as a humble servant to the city and its residents. Although often at odds with each other, Muadnath remains loyal to the Lord High Mayor Canthbael Davenlen, as it is clear to both that they ultimately are genuinely concerned with the welfare of the city and its people.

HORMA LIADANN: Matriarch of Cairnaya, called the “Midwife of Andlachen“ for her concerns with the lower class people, and their children in particular. She is behind the founding of the Sanctuary of Cairnaya in the city, which not only allows worship of the patron goddess but provides lodging for the abandoned, elderly, sick or infirm, as well as the Three Sisters‘ School. Among her supporters within the Council are Lalianthia Arbadam and Gorman Muadnath, the city Reeve.

JABAR DILLIS: The city’s Commander of the Watch, and former adventurer hailing from the city of Magdal-Ayin in Udan. Friend and ally of Cormil Gil-Ethan, Dillis is also a veteran of campaigns into the Hinder Peaks and Knollands, and is an advocate of additional militia assigned to the north. Educated in Udan, he has a strong grasp of tactics and strategy, and is always the voice of reason when the city is threatened. He is a stern and sobering presence, whose blunt honesty and forthrightness is as valued as it is daunting.

KAITALA ILMALLIA: The Guildmistress of Magic in Andlachen, Ilmallia is often held as flighty or distracted, but as the city’s only true archmage keeps a sharp wit and keen insight on otherwise obscure matters. She is typically noncommittal in most council matters unless her opinion is sought, but has often been invaluable for her ability for abstract thinking and recognizing otherwise elusive factors. An alvara (female valley-elf) of Khadath, “Kite”, as she is known to friends, came to Andlachen in pursuit of knowledge, and found it to be the perfect blend of influences outside the burgeoning bureaucracies of the more extenuated governments. Her closest allies are fellow elf-maid Lalianthia Arbadam and Aedolann Ionaith, with whom she shares a higher mind.

LALIANTHIA ARBADAM: The current acknowledged leader of the Fain Melath, or Thieves’ Guild, who finds no conflict between what she feels is best for her guild members and Andlachen. A former adventurer rumored to be a thief by most citizens, she is nonetheless respected for her concerns with female-folk, children and their care within the confines of the city. A hylena (female wood-elf) and exiled member of Cor Arbirros’ royal bloodline (the grand-niece of its current liege, King Bathastus), she is publicly known to be assistant to the town’s sage and historian, Svari Olafryst. She is also behind the majority of smuggling operations in Andlachen, and maintains a network between it and the outlying cities of Udan and Harwald. Her relationship with the Lord High Mayor is often a subject of gossip, due to its sometimes tenuous nature.

RANAL GAIN: While Gain’s position among the Council is seen as mostly as rote, since as the city’s Registrar he records the actions and decisions made by his fellow Alders in session, he has proven to be invaluable in close calls and sometimes inspired under pressure. Many find his incessant need of questioning annoying, but his pursuit of detail often comes in handy when facts must be weighed. Gain’s peculiar manner and incessant pipe-smoking is tiresome for some, but his recollection is admired and relied upon. Gain’s closest allies are Jabar Dillis, who has actually enlisted his aid in criminal cases that have eluded his watchmen, and Kaitalla Ilmallia, who finds his probing mind fascinating — although he is usually at a loss for words before the alvara wizardress.

SVARI OLAFRYST: Venerable at the late age of 250, Olafryst is one of the oldest living of his kind, but remains active in the city community. As one of the more reputable historians and sages, his counsel is often sought out by many of his contemporaries, who include Andarast the Half-Elven of the White Wizards of Udan. His background is obscure, but he is rumored to have blood ties to the throne of Dwarven kingdom of Brunheath, if not the rightly named king himself. But Olafryst eschews all such repute, and focuses his attention to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom for all. He has close associations with fellow Alders Cormil Gil-Ethran, who he often sent on personal quests in the paladin’s youth, Canthbael Davenlen, who like he is a devotee to lore and lay, and Lalianthia Arbadam, his devoted friend and associate. Svari is fully aware of her dealings with the Fain Melath, but in his wisdom sees their function as a necessary evil against tyranny and oppression.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed creating these characters, and am genuinely excited about their potential in the spinning of plots and involvements for prospective players. I’ve still got a ton of detailing to go before Andlachen is a fully detailed milleu (to coin a word from the Great Gygax himself), but while it’s not exactly been a free-flowing experience overall, I’ve had a great deal of fun hammering the details out. More to come — eventually ;D

Decoding the Voynich Script, Continued.

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As I mentioned recently, a curious update to a post I made four years ago, here, had come to my attention. Since 1912, the mysterious 15th-century writing had been the ball of yarn knocked about by linguists, historians and cryptographers alike. But as of last year, writer and researcher Nicholas Gibbs attempted to wrest meaning from the script and make sense of what had until then been beyond common comprehension. As detailed in this Ars Technica article, Gibbs came to realize that the mysterious “code” was medieval Latin abbreviated, in the fashion of medical texts of the day. In fact, he asserts that a great deal of the Voynich writings were copied from older texts, as was common at that time when authors were more concerned with the preservation of knowledge than copyrights and exclusive credits. As the text seemed chiefly concerned with women’s health, diet, and hygiene, Gibbs surmised that it was a personal guide, taking information from past knowledge and applying parts of it for a specific use.

Reaction to Gibbs’ analysis was quickly disputed in this article from The Atlantic, citing that only two lines of the script appear to be actually decoded and that Gibbs had used the illustrations of the book to encourage the majority of his assumptions. Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America, notes that the lines Gibbs appears to deciphered do not make grammatical sense. His assertions also seem to rest on the fact that the abbreviations found should correspond to an existing index — one that is not included in the given text.

An attempt by the University of Alberta earlier this year using a wild combination of AI, algorithms, and Google to decipher the manuscript concluded that it was written in encrypted Hebrew, according to this from The Times of Israel. But for the most part, their findings have been received as speculative at best, seeing as how the researchers themselves were unfamiliar with the Hebraic language, historically or otherwise.

Recently I was contacted by a prospective Voynich enthusiast who has been working independently on the script and come to his own conclusions as to its contents. He tentatively asserts that the script is “a kind of encyclopedia of ancient knowledge or a Book of Life of our ancestors. Perhaps this knowledge would be relevant today.” (As an aside Nicholai, if you are reading this I hope you could reacquaint me with your email, as I in my brilliance seem to have lost it. Apologies for my bungling.)

This sort of thing fascinates the hell out of me, being at the cusp of discovery from an ancient font long thought beyond discernment. I’ll be sure to detail more developments as I get them, via personal channels or otherwise.