Tomb Raider Remastered

One of the games that I’ve been waiting for has recently released, and largely consumed my Saturday plans. That’s of course, Tomb Raider I-III Remastered.

Whereas Tomb Raider: Anniversary took the settings and general concepts and made a decent to good Tomb Raider game out of modern technology, it quite rapidly bugged me. Almost nothing about the game connected with my childhood. So while I enjoyed that, it was also disappointing. And quite franky, I think that the 2013 – 2018 Survivor trilogy has become the best Tomb Raider games we’ve got since the original PlayStation.

Tomb Raider remastered however is *exactly* my childhood! It’s literally a 1:1, or as much as it can be with the PC’s save anytime you like system instead of the silly save crystals used in the Sony PlayStation release. Which quite honestly, I prefer the PC approach because you can say fuck it and reload a save right before a series of difficult jumps, or a room that’s liable to break your neck or cause drowning.

The original Tomb Raider was one of the games of its era that I enjoyed as a kid. Both playing it myself and watching my brother play through the entire trilogy. I loved that the game spent more emphasis on exploring and circumnavigating the tombs than on running around shooting things, which is more or less why I didn’t care for TR3 at all. The original is kind of unique among Tomb Raider games, and has never quite been replicated — it’s also one of my favorites 😁

One of the remaster’s better features IMHO is the ability to toggle between the remastered graphics and the classic graphics, similar to the remaster of Halo CE. In classic mode, it’s like looking at my childhood, if you had a crystal clear rendering to a 4K screen instead of a PlayStation hooked up to composite video and a tube TV, lol. In remastered graphics, the game remains very faithful and it is superbly respectful of what the original game looked like: while also improving upon it! The only alteration that I find obvious is that in classic mode, med packs use a green cross rather than a red, similar to modern releases of DooM ’93 and Doom II.

Something that’s also refreshing and horrifying is the mechanics. Literally, they are the same. This means you must play their way or you’ll find yourself leaping off a ledge in frustration. Stella’s Tips & Strategies page was actually a better crash course in remembering how the system worked than the tutorial. If you have any problems with the games mechanics, seriously hit up that page and the video of the running jump, and then go back to Lara’s house and practice until all of the jump exercises in the ball room are easily doable. If not, you’ll end up rage quitting before ever leaving Peru 😝. The mechanics aren’t hard, but are no longer natural, and seemingly require tank controls, and TR may be the only ’90s era game where those were actually a good thing compared to modern controls.

In fact, if you ever need a guide on a TR game, I highly recommend Stella’s site. We now live in the world of Google, Game FAQs, IGN, Wikia, and countless other just Google it and you’ll either find a walkthrough or a clue somewhere. But Stella’s guides are probably the best resource you’re ever going to find for the original Trilogy, and good options for any of the later TRs I’m sure.

Back in the day, we spent lots of time trying to figure out the original Tomb Raider. At some point, my brother probably bought the strategy guide because he usually bought those for every game. Heck, I can still remember Saint Francis’ Folly and the various puzzle rooms. Our mother never had an interest in video games or really, games at all. Us having questions about Greek and Egyptian mythology in our search for puzzle-room solutions was probably the closest she ever came to playing a game with us.

If you want to video game like it’s 1996, go play Tomb Raider!

Dahlia in Bloom

Of late, I’ve found myself in that odd spot of reading a series where I think, maybe I should switch series or nah, give it a few weeks and I’ll be caught up 😄. Last night as I started volume 8 of Dahlia in Bloom, and I’m reminded that it’s going to be a while. Based on Wikipedia, I believe that volume 9 was released in Japan back in December, so it will probably be summer time by the time an English translation lands.

I’ve really enjoyed the series so far, perhaps because in many ways: it’s protagonist and I have similar natures. Dahlia’s antics as a craftswoman and a certain joy in cooking, are things I’m rather able to relate to and the series makes for a good slice of life. The side thoughts of both Dahlia and Volf also remind me of the experience of first love, which sprinkles a nice touch on the romance side-plot that just makes you want to root for the lead characters, and sigh with the supporting cast.

In volume 1, the story begins with Dahlia Rossetti about to move into a new house the day before her wedding. Only, as it turns out her fiancé, Tobias, has suddenly found “True love” with another woman and leaves Dahlia holding the bag as it were. The out pouring of friendship and support from those around Dahlia is wonderful, and quickly snowballs into the craftswoman forming her own trading company to support both herself and the development of new magical tools. It’s a big leap, but she resolves to hold her head up high and follow her dreams as a magical toolmaker even if that means becoming chairwoman of the Rossetti Trading Company.

When she encounters Sir Volfied, crawling out of the forest battered and bloody from being carried off by a wyvern it isn’t long before the chance encounter with Volf and Dahlia’s own nature, brings her into doing business with knights of the Order of Beast Hunters at the castle. At first, Dahlia is merely trying to use her talents to make Volf’s expeditions with the beast hunters easier. But of course between Dahlia’s ingenious crafting and Volf’s unexpected salesmenship, business is soon booming. Dahlia’s desire to bring people happiness through her magical toolmaking, soon finds her products in demand with both the knights at the castle, and with commoners and nobles alike.

Along the way, there are many bits of amusement and slice of life joy. Volf becomes a frequent dinner guest at the tower that Dahlia calls home and workshop, soon coining the name, “Green Tower Diner” and wishing she would open a restaurant — good food and drink abound. Not to mention the experiments in trying to produce a magical sword, which range from the mildly terrifying Sword of the Dark Lord’s Minion and the unnerving “Creeping Sword” all the way to the Galeforce Blades when you combine the insanity of a knight and a magical toolmaker 😅.

The story takes itself mostly seriously, but like any good series: isn’t afraid to take itself humorously either. I especially enjoyed that when Dahlia is called to the castle to advise the knights on stamping out athlete’s foot amongst the order of beast hunters, she finally looses her cool when the senior knights are about ready to chop off their legs and have the temple regrow them and she’s just trying to convince them to properly clean their bath mats. And of course there’s what happens when Volf implies that if her father had the condition and she knows so much about controlling the infection, surely she must have shared the knight’s plight as a young woman. The reaction of the senior knights is awesome, and quite frankly the artist’s rendition of the look on Dahlia’s face is kind of priceless! The issue of course tends to pop up from time to time, with one of the nick names chairwoman Rossetti has received being “The goddess of athletes foot” once youngsters shorten out the part about eliminating it, lolololololol.

For bonus points, each volume ends with an epilogue about Dahlia and her late father, Carlo. Often relating to some magical tool they worked on in her youth and revealing aspects behind the curtain that are flashed back from the old man’s point of view. Ranging from great amusements like Dahlia trying to create a hair dryer as a child and accidentally creating a flamethrower, or having to dismantle a prototype kotatsu because her father was treating it like a turtle carrying its shell around. Likewise, plot points beyond that abound. See, Carlo Rossetti had a plan to support his daughter Dahlia even after he was gone to his early grave. In part of this, we have the running gag of sorts first brought up by the vice-guild master of the merchant’s guild in volume 1, and well, you’ll just have to read the book if you want to know more 😝

Floating day

Today has been what I would call a “Floating day”, or a day in which nothing and everything got done because I floated between various things rather than tunnel visioned on a specific activity.

This morning saw me finally setting up my nano leaf light panels near the reading nook, which amounts to about half of my hexagon shaped panels. It remains to be seen if they will stay up, or come down, but as long as the drywall and the paint is fine then I’ll be happy enough. The command tabs are probably stronger than the vendor’s original sticky pads.

Insert a bit of zombie slaying and various odds and ends, like cursing giving into double-points weekend on my Kindle reading list, and it wasn’t a bad afternoon either. But the real plan was to take out some meat to warm up and read for a bit. A nice sit, a nice read, and the panels are still on the wall 😅

For dinner, I decided to make something that I haven’t made in ages: Salisbury steak. In the great debate of sides, I ended up making home mashed potatoes and roast broccoli because the potatoes need using up and I’ve got plenty of both. Augmenting this plan was sautéing some onions to set aside, and then making a pan sauce to finish the meat in. Sadly, in my aim to avoid leftover sauce it reduced to nothing by the time the meat was finished, but the Salisbury steak came out perfecto 😘. Nice crusting on the outside and tender on the inside.

Follow it up with a bit of wine while I finish cleaning the kitchen, and I’m inclined to call it a success just the same. All in all, I’ve gotten “Nothing” done as it were but “Plenty” got done, so I’m still contented. More importantly, with it being about -9 C outside this morning: I stayed the fuck in doors!

SG-1 and P90s

I always wondered a bit how SG-1 ended up switching to the P90, as opposed to you know, an M4 style carbine. Had figured it was just the cool space aged thing at the time, and I suppose the P90 kind of was back then.

Google + Robots = SkyNet?

Seeing this post on The Verge about Google droids and safety guard rails, I am reminded that since about the time Gmail was created: I’ve long thought that if such A.I. were easier to create, SkyNet would be lurking somewhere in one of Google’s data centers, shaking its digital fist at us for how hard it is to dupe humans into building better terminator bodies for it.

Okay, I guess we may be crossing that point 😅

Dinner managed

One weekend trend that I have noticed is that dinner either becomes something done early and more involved or done late and more simply, most often this collates to whether or not I spend too much time at my desk (^_^).

Coming across a one pot beefaroni recipe, I decided to try a curious idea from this: using stock in the reduction. In my case, I went with my own way of making beefaroni which is to say a lot more pasta, heavily seasoned to my tastes, etc. But at the point where I would normally add a jar of pasta sauce, I threw in a cup of unsalted beef stock. And I have to say this made for a freaking delicious result.

Since encountering unsalted soup stocks, I’ve been trying to incorporate more of that into my cooking. Mostly, I’ve not used a lot of stock in my own cooking, as most I’ve previously encountered can be summarized as “Salt” and that’s not good for my blood pressure at this point. Plus, as noted previously, I don’t tend to make soups and stews all that often.

In general, I find one-pot style beefaroni makes it harder to get the consistency of the macaroni right compared to the two pot approach, or just setting aside partially cooked macaroni in a collendar. But the beef stock definitely was an improvement over the sauce and seasoning approach alone. I’m not quite sure if the two pot approach would give enough time to reduce enough stock to have the same effect without overcooking the macaroni, but I can’t say that I really mind one less pot to wash either. In any case, I’m calling this experiment a success.

Plus the strawberries and cream for dessert didn’t hurt my dinner plans any either 😀

What I’ve been reading in 2023

Following up from 2023 in books, where I focused on what the changes to my reading habits did to the statistics, this journal entry is more about what I’ve been reading. In particular, those I consider most worth mentioning 😁.

Best books I’ve read in 2023

The number one best book I’ve read this year, is definitely part one of the Dark Lord of the Farmstead. It’s a relatively wholesome and romantic story that tugs at the ol’ heartstrings while making you laugh. I literally binge read it in like two nights or something. I laughed a lot, smiled a lot, and it almost made me cry. It was great.

The next best book that I’ve read is arguably Holdouts, or part two of The Vixen War Bride Series. In part two, we see the paths of our hero and heroine cross and intersect wonderfully as “Maybe it’ll be peaceful” turns into the opportunity for a tragedy. What made this the best in the series for me, is Ramirez and Alzoria. These are both supporting characters whose capture kicks the story into gear for the main characters, and quite frankly I love that Ramirez is very much true to himself no matter the situation they find themselves in. Part two is his moment to shine.

Honorable mention also goes to Dead Tired, which made me laugh so much that if I would include it under “Best books …” if I had the inclination to pick a third best book and somehow didn’t pick another from The Vixen War Bride series. Dead Tired isn’t likely to be the most memorable book ever, but I laughed a lot and I appreciate the main character’s sense of humor. Therefore, it was one of the best books I’ve read this year because I rolled on the floor laughing my ass off (^_^).

Best series I’ve read in 2023

Definitely The Vixen War Bride series. When I came across the series in search of fresh books to read, I figured it could be an interesting read. Well, I ended up binge reading most of the books in the series. The author seems to be more well versed in American military history than most, with nods both to occupied Japan and Afghanistan. I found the characters most often the best part of the entire story. I absolutely loved the comedy caused by cultural misunderstandings and that the Va’Shen world isn’t quite like ours. As a story, there are plenty of opportunities for the plot to go in different ways and above all, I think how it plays out is based on the notion that we can indeed get along if we try to understand each other rather than fear the differences or feed our hate.

Plus, if my spirit animal was an alien fox woman: it would definitely be Sho’Nan — my favorite character. The sassy chef is one of the heroines closest friends and a rather unique personality, one that we don’t tend to see often enough in literature IMHO. Now, go read the series, shoo, shoo 😛

Most binged series I’ve started in 2023

I’ve ended up reading quite a few light novels, between my existing taste in isekai anime and fantasy I suppose that was natural. But the series that I binged the hardest on this year was The Strange Adventure of a Broke Mercenary.

After his mercenary outfit is wiped out, Lorin finds himself becoming an adventurer and, as a side effect of being a decent guy placed in a horrible situation when his temporary party is wiped out by goblins, ends up indebted to the demonic priest Lapis. The misadventures of Lorin and Lapis are so entertaining that I basically binge read every volume I could get my hands on, and I quite enjoyed the colorful characters as well as the antics they get involved in.

The print version of volume 9 is expected in June, which means I’ll likely be groaning until at least then, wanting the Kindle version to receive a release target date.

Series I’m most looking forward to continue in 2024

There are plenty of series that I’ve been reading over the past couple years as new volumes are released or as I cycle back and return to reading the next volume. But aside from the most binged series above 😁, there’s a few that I’ve started this year and look forward to continuing in the new year. But one of these stands out a bit higher than the rest.

The Calamitous Bob was a book that I had bought, started the first few chapters, and drifted off for some months. When I came back to it again and actually started to read it, I found its whacky sense of humor grew on me. Viviane ends up in an undead holocaust zone after her soul is transmuted into another world, thanks to a deity who cheated on his goddess and needed to find another world to hide in until the rage passes.

So we end up with poor Viv, stuck in the relic of a long dead empire with barely the hair on her head and undead horrors lumbering all about the destroyed imperial city. If she doesn’t find water, she’ll die. If she doesn’t find a way out of the dead zone, she’ll die. There’s a lot of problems to overcome. Combine this with an experimental strike Golem who christens her the last heir to the empire to subvert his programming to save them both, and the pronunciation problems of a language that doesn’t have sounds for “Vivienne”, she becomes the Princess Bob and sets out across the dead lands in search of survival and a means to heal her injured soul.

Did I mention that she tames a young dragon and becomes a mage specializing in black mana? Yep. From a French combat medic to the unexpected leader of a city state bordering the dead lands, it’s a wild, whacky, and amusing adventure well suited to the long form serial. I’m also pretty sure the author is a little crazy, but the story makes me go squeee.

Most likely, I’ll be starting both part 3 of Dark Lord of the Farmstead and book 4 of The Calamitous Bob before the year is out, but may not finish them until January. Perhaps also Dead Tired II, which was just released. Hmm.

2023 in books

Since November, I’ve been loosely tracking my Kindle reading based on three metrics: books purchased, read, and started. Partly, because I’ve wanted to see how my habits changing has influenced my reading.

This year’s goal, has been read a little something every day; for which reading insights currently gives me a street of 351 days in a row of reading since January, which isn’t too shabby on the 364th day of the year; I’ve missed one day since 2023-01-01 according the insights, thus the streak count.

Amazon’s reading insights view, shows me has having read 67 titles this year and my spreadsheet has 64. I’ll probably finish another book or two before January 1st. Last year when I started reading a little something every day, Amazon shows me as having read 44 titles in 2022, which is way up from a few years prior.

Here’s the summary from Reading Insights:

  • 2023 -> 67 titles read
  • 2022 -> 44 titles read
  • 2021 -> 7 titles read
  • 2020 -> 5 titles read
  • 2019 -> 10 titles read

As you can see, the change from reading whenever it crosses my mind to always read something, has made a significant impact upon my reading habits in terms of how many books I finish reading.

Part of what has fueled this has been another change in my habits. Classically, I was a sequential reader. I would read one book from start to finish before moving onto the next, and I still often do when it’s particularly enjoyable. But this year and last, I have tried having a small handful of books to switch between as I care. I might read a few chapters of one then another, or I might read one for a few nights and then switch to another book. I find that this has removed the bottleneck that sometimes, there will be a lull in reading because I don’t feel like reading that right now.

Amazon’s insights do not track books that I’ve started reading but never finished. My spreadsheet tries to, which gives me 15 books, one of which is likely to be finished by the end of the year. That goes to show that there are books, that sometimes fall off my multi-book reading habit and some that I just lose interest in. Looking at the list of started but not finished, a large portion are whatever volume I left off at in some long running serial.

Which brings me to the topic of what I’ve been reading, but I think that will be a subject for a separate journal entry, as this one is getting rather lengthly.

One more number for the statistics before I go: the number of books purchased. There’s two points of value there, one is how much I’ve spent on books, which frankly I refuse to do the math. Between Kindle Rewards Beta and my credit card’s rewards points, it would be a chore to compute and honestly I’ll leave it at my wild estimate, and say it’s likely the most I’ve spent on books since I ran out of bookshelves as a teenager :P.

The other point of value, i.e., my reason for recording this stat: is how many books did I buy, but never read? And how many books did I buy but never finish? That third metric is necessary to use the former two to answer those questions.

My spreadsheet shows me 106 books purchased, which is at least one out of date because I didn’t notice a pre-order landing two weeks ago. And I’ve kinda stopped noting pre-orders on the spread sheet, because the remaining ones are all due next year.

  • Books purchased: 106
  • Books read: 64 (spreadsheet), 67 (reading insights)
  • Books started: 15

From this I can tell that when I’ve bought a book this year, there was about a 60% to 65% chance that I went on to finish reading it. Not great, not terrible, unless you’ve ever seen my Netflix watchlist :P. Now combine the books started: there was a 75% to 78% chance that I started reading a book that I purchased instead of it getting lost in my library view.

Scanning at the list, something that makes it less concerning is the contents of that list. Yes, there are some books that I started reading and just lost interest in. But most of the started and didn’t finish? These are mostly volume ‘n’ of some long running serial, some epic that takes longer than a trilogy or two to read, and the occasional non-fiction that’s less a read it cover to cover and more a read chapters you care about.

But let’s save that for the next entry ^_^.

Catching up with Tensura

It’s taken a while to pivot from Baldur’s Gate 3 marathoning to other things, like cleaning and organizing my garage 😅. But one of those pivots has been ripping the Blu-rays I bought for Christmas and feeding them through Handbrake after MakeMKV is complete. Two of the things I bought for Christmas was season 2 of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (aka Tensura) parts 1 and 2, and The Sleepy Princess of Demon Castle. The former being a series I’m especially fond of and the latter a series that I find especially amusing.

Deciding to splurge on the special edition of Tensura season 2, I decided to finally thumb through the booklet that came with the part 2 disc set. I had gone through the art cards on Christmas, but filed the booklet for later. Concept art, information, interviews, etc. Quite a nice value add IMHO.

The part that surprised me most however was the interview at the end with Fuse sensei, the author of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. Much to my surprise, he had a different plan for the demon lord awaking arc that became featured in season two of the anime. A vital part of Rimuru’s evolution into a demon lord, revolves around Falmouth’s attack on Tempest killing a hundred of his people, including his secretary Shion who died defending their people. Having a roughly 3.14 percent chance of resurrecting them is what leads to Rimuru becoming a demon lord, and quite frankly, Shion is integral to the entire story arc. Doubtless, Rimuru would still do anything to save his people but it’s Shion’s death that makes the resurrection business so compelling as a story.

From having browsed the wiki, I had learned of Shion’s fate well in advance of reaching that part of the novels, or even season two of the anime. Otherwise I would likely have been very pissed at that leaping off point in the anime’s air dates. What I didn’t know, is Fuse had different plans for what was to follow. Apparently, people were to become mistrustful of Rimuru leading to a bad end to the series where Shion is killed again. But thanks to reader feedback (and the knowledge that he would be called a demon :D), Fuse sensei apparently decided to take a different tack and that’s part of why Tensura carries on considerably longer.

As much as I’ve enjoyed the series’ many arcs, and found Shion’s return to be one of the better “Serious” sides of the series. I think, if Fuse sensei had gone with his original direction, he would have found a lot of anger — I sure as hell would be pissed, and quite frankly, I’ve tried not to grok at what lays too much further ahead in the series, because there’s a whole lot of novels to catch up on!

On the flip side, this makes me think about Team Reborn, or the Purple Victory Team made up of the one hundred resurrectees. Kind of like a royal guard under the command of Rimuru’s Number One Secretary and Personal Body Guard, aka Shion. I kind of imagine if we lost Shion again for a bad end to the series…well, a bunch of people in purple would be quite upset with our dear author. My thought at reading about this in the booklet’s end interview was, “I’d throw a sock at him” 😂 and being very glad that Fuse sensei apparently considers reader feedback.

To say that Shion is my favorite character in Tensura would be fair. I’ve now named four devices after characters in the series (Rimuru – a demon lord class desktop, Veldora – it’s stronger big bro, Benimaru – a red iPhone, and most recently, Shion my laptop). In naming my laptop Shion, there were kind of three factors to that. One of course, is the favorite character meets most used devices factor. Another is that my laptop kind of functions much like a secretary to my desktop, which happened to be named Rimuru. And of course, thirdly there’s the fact that the “Midnight” shade of Apple’s M2 MacBook Air reminded me of Shion’s stylish purple business suit.

So, yeah, I’m quite fond of the character 😝