Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Where was that stupid plant? I knew I needed it to synthesize the cure for the plague running through my veins. I had followed the notes the other researchers had left scattered across Eden, updating my map as I could. I knew I had to be close. Maybe if I stopped to get my bearings again, triangulate my position from the large stone statues that dotted this island paradise? I found a good vantage point and tried to find the monuments on my map. No, no, no! I couldn't find any of them on the map! So where was I?

And then I heard it. The steady thrum of a heartbeat growing louder with each moment. The beast was coming.

I dove for the nearest tall grass, kneeling down and holding my breath as the giant cat-like creature stalked into view. If only I could stay hidden. If only I could find familiar landmarks. If only I could find that plant! Then maybe I could discover the cure and save the world.

 Every now and then, I find an awesome indie game that's quite a lot of fun. Miasmata, by IonFx, is just such a game. The premise is very simple: a plague is ravaging humankind. You play as Robert Hughes, a researcher who is slowly dying from the plague as well. You've been sent to the tropical island of Eden, a veritable treasure trove of medicinal plants. There's supposed to be a whole team of researchers working on this problem and they've even figured out how to synthesize the cure. Unfortunately, they're all dead, apparently murdered by . . . well, someone. It's your job to explore the island, find the plants you need, and create the cure the world needs. But that won't be easy, because not only are you in a weakened state, thanks to the plague, but there's a creature stalking you, ready to destroy you.

So let's talk about the good parts of this game, and there are a lot of them. First of all, it's gorgeous. The graphics are well done and there are some fun ecosystems to explore.

The fact that your character is sick can be frustrating, but in a good way. Because he's infected with the plague, there's the constant danger of running a fever (which can prove lethal if left untreated). The character is also weakened from the plague, meaning that you can't run far or for long and swimming is pretty much a no go. You can temporarily boost your strength and endurance by mixing the right medicines together and even permanently boost your abilities by creating the right drugs.

Finding the different plants is a great puzzle. Most of the plants can be used in some way, the most plentiful being used for basic medicine. But half the fun was stumbling across the rarer plants that are scattered across the island. Part of the challenge, though, is bringing the plants you find back to the various labs that are set up throughout the island. Your weakened state can make that difficult, as can the creature that pops up from time to time.

Let's talk about the creature. The first time I spotted it, I nearly jumped out of my chair. It's a nasty beasty, one that can stalk you through the tall grass. There's really no way to defeat it. You just have to hide and hope that it eventually will get bored and leave you alone.

But here's something I didn't expect: cartography! When the game starts out, your map is mostly blank. And it's a big island and very easy to get lost in. The only way to keep track of where you are is to triangulate your position. You find two landmarks that you have on your map, and boom, you know where you are. And it works in reverse as well: if there's an unfamiliar landmark in the area, if you can pinpoint your position, you can figure out where the other one is too. I often got wrapped up in plotting the location of statues, ruins, and tents on my map, partially because it was fun, but it was also a way to make sure I didn't get lost again. One time, I was so caught up in plotting the nearby statues that the creature snuck up behind me and knocked me off a cliff. Not cool, man. Not cool.

For all the great points of this game, there are some drawbacks. For one thing, the creature doesn't show up quite nearly enough for my taste. Yes, it was worrisome when it did, but I could go for long stretches without even a hint of the beast.

Second, the game seems incomplete. The mystery of the murdered researchers is never really solved. They're all dead and obviously, someone killed them, but you never learn who or why or where the murderer went. I expected to at least learn that much but I never did. Also, there are references to making anti-hallucination agents, but I never was able to and, strangely, I never had to either. Maybe in a future patch?

And third, the game is kind of buggy. There's no real way to pause the game except by bringing up the control panel, but if you do that for too long, the game crashes. There were other times when the game would just crash on me for no apparent reason, mostly when I was starting out.

But here's the thing: this entire game was programmed by two guys. Two! That alone makes this game an impresive feat. You can get the game on Steam, and I really suggest you do. It's a great puzzle and a fun time. Just watch out for the creature!

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Throne of Bones

It took me a while to get through Vox Day's latest tome, A Throne of Bones, mostly because it's about three times as long as most of the books I read and, well, Christmas was in there too. Plus, it was on my Kindle, which seems to not be handling the current Minnesota winter all that well. But I finally made it through and I'm really glad I did.

Set in the ancient world of Selenoth, A Throne of Bones weaves an epic tale of political intrigue, war, and epic confrontations of good and evil. There are the intrigues in Amorr, where the Valerian family is trying to deal with their rivalry with the Severans. One Valerian, Corvus, finds himself thrust into the political spotlight while his son, Marcus, becomes the head of a legion in a dangerous time. Not only that, but Amorr is in chaos due to the death of the Sanctiff (an analogue of the pope in the world of Selenoth). But outside Amorr, things are no better. Wolf-men are invading the land of the reavers to the north, forcing them to seek help from their former victims, the people of Savondir. And through it all, an ancient evil is stirring, one that could completely destroy all the races.

So let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. This is the first book in Marcher Lord Press's Hinterlands imprint, one designed for more mature audiences. As the bookstore website puts it:

Hinterlands books may contain vulgarity, profanity, nudity, and/or sexual content, but never for gratuitous purposes.

So going into this, I knew what I was going to find: not your typical Christian fiction content. More mature stuff. Maybe some vulgar language, some sex stuff, and I was braced and ready. Quite the controversy has started over this new imprint. Now, having finished the book, I can give an honest opinion on the whole deal.


I honestly don't see what the big deal is. Is there some vulgar language? Yes, but not an overwhelming amount. Is there some sex in the book? Well, yeah, but between two married people and really, there wasn't much to it. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't see anything in this book to really get upset over.

So is it a good story? Yes, I think it was. It was epic in every manner of the word. Lots of characters, some rather big ideas, and big battle scenes. The characters were well crafted and interesting. Funny thing was, I kept getting the feeling that the "good guys" were all on the wrong side of the conflict. I don't know why, but that's just the feeling I got, especially with Corvus.

Now not everything is perfect with the story. While it is engaging an interesting, it didn't really seem to get out of first gear until about two-thirds of the way through. A lot of it seemed like an extensive prologue to help us understand the world and how it all was put together. It's not until Corvus starts to piece together who is doing what and why that the plot really starts to gel and pulled me along. I'm not saying that the plot elements before that were bad. Far from it. But it wasn't quite as engaging because we didn't know what the stakes were or who all the players were either.

My only other gripe relates to timeline. There were some odd chapter break choices, I thought. Without dropping any spoilers, I'd be reading . . . let's call it Storyline A. The chapter would end, Storyline B would take over and cover some time, and when we came back to Storyline A, it would pick up right where it left off. It was a little odd, but I got used to it.

So all in all, it's a good read but probably not for everyone. Personally, I'm looking forward to book #2.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


We sometimes think that joy is the same as happiness, something that we have to create in ourselves. But Christianity is really about what God gives us, and that includes joy.

Text: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Sunday, January 20, 2013

God's Gifts

How would you feel if you gave someone the perfect gift for them and all they did was whine about it or use it the wrong way?

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mass Effect 3: DLC Roundup!

FAIR WARNING: If you haven't played BioWare's Mass Effect 3, you might want to skip this one. It's not going to make a whole lot of sense.

Last night I finished another play-through of Mass Effect 3 (my third), and I realized that it had been a while since I mentioned something about the game here. That surprised me, seeing as they've released four DLC packs for the single player game, the most recent being released a few weeks ago. Well, more than four if you count the alternate appearance DLC and weapons. So let's talk about the four packs that somehow alter the single player campaign's story:

From Ashes - This was the first DLC to be released and boy howdy, did it cause a lot of frustration for players. A lot of people threw a fit because it was released the same day as the game itself. They didn't like the idea of having to pay money for something that's supposed to be on the game disc itself. Not only that, but everyone knew that this somehow involved the Protheans, the extinct race that's rested at the heart of the franchise for the previous two games. Given the fact that the Catalyst is supposedly a Prothean invention, the Prothean in this DLC obviously has something to do with this, right?

Well, no, actually. Javik, the last Prothean left, knows nothing of the Catalyst. As a matter of fact, Javik adds very little the game. Sure, he's a useful extra squad member, but that's about it. He's a surly, mean-spirited individual that I've wanted to kick on more than one occasion. About the only time I like having Javik in the game is during the Thessia mission. If you've played the game, you know why.

So basically, this DLC rates a lukewarm "meh" from me. Not worth the stink it caused, that's for sure.

Extended Cut DLC- Out of all the DLC, this one was the most necessary. The original ending of Mass Effect 3 was, in a word, awful. So much so that I actually took the time to share my feelings in a YouTube video. Yeah, I know. I'm a nerd. That's not news to me.

The stink over this one grew so large that the folks at BioWare acted and fixed this and they did a pretty good job. Originally, the game shoe-horned the player into one of three barely explained choices and then bang, the game just ended. There was no closure to . . . well, anything. Saved the krogan from the genophage? You won't know how that turned out. Picked the quarian over the geth? No clue what happened after that. All you were left with was a strange coda that was poorly voiced by Buzz Aldrin. Seriously.

So they went back in and they added in some extra dialogue to help us understand what was happening in the final moments. And they added a epilogue that helped give closure to the entire franchise, showing us through bits of video and pictures how everything turned out. I shared my favorite. What can I say, I'm a sucker for the krogan.

Overall, this one was a great addition to the game because it fixed a major defect in the game. In its original form, I didn't really want to replay Mass Effect 3. With the Extended Cut, I want to go back and see how my decisions change the ending. So this is definitely worth it.

Leviathan - There's something lurking in the darkness, a powerful force that once took out a Reaper. Commander Shepard and his team have to race against the Reaper forces to locate the Leviathan and convince it to join their war against the Reapers. But Leviathan does not want to be found. Not by Shepard, not by the Reapers, not by anyone. The darkness must not be breached.

I loved this one! While it didn't add any new enemies or any new squad mates, it added a lot to the Mass Effect mythos, further explaining the Reapers' goals and motivations. I wouldn't normally have thought that's a good thing (something that I explain in this post over at Speculative Faith), but in this case, it helped. I got chills when Shepard finally found Leviathan. It was a great addition to the game.

But I do have one gripe with it. The developers didn't do a good job of integrating the Leviathan missions with the rest of the game. Once the DLC missions become available, you can basically play through all of them in one long burst, which means that you can wind up facing Reaper forces you haven't encountered in the main game yet. For example, at one point, the Reapers unleash banshees after Shepard's squad, and one of the squadmates correctly identifies them. That's even though the player hasn't gone to the ardat-yakshi monastery yet. I would think it would have been easy to stagger the Leviathan missions so that you can't complete them until you've reached certain parts of the game (i.e. you can't play the mission with the banshees until after the ardat-yakshi monastery).

But that's a minor quibble and not that big of a deal. This one was great and helped make the game even more complete, so far as I'm concerned.

Omega - So in Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard visits a mining outpost called Omega, one run by a ruthless asari named Aria T'loak. Well, in the chaos of the Reaper invasion, the human terrorist organization called Cerberus has invaded Omega and taken it from Aria. Now Aria wants Shephard's help to reclaim it once and for all. Shepard leaves his team behind to join Aria in a desperate fight to retake Omega.

There's a lot going for this DLC pack. For starters, there's one of the squad mates you gain for these missions, namely Nyreen Kandros, a female turian (something heretofore unseen in the Mass Effect franchise). Nyreen is a noble individual, an interesting counterpoint to the very cynical and cruel Aria. And your Cerberus opponent, General Petrovsky, was a fascinating individual. Then there's the bonus powers that Shepard gains access to once the Omega missions are completed. I switched from warp ammo to Aria's flare power and never looked back. As a matter of fact, I have a feeling that flare is a bit overpowered; it allowed me to slice through enemy forces through the rest of the game with a little too much ease.

And yet . . . and yet there are problems. Once again, we have the same problems as in Leviathan. I was fighting Cerberus phantoms before encountering them in the main game. Not such a big deal this time around, I guess. But what did bother me is how underdeveloped the story on this one seemed. While Petrovsky was a cool opponent, the final showdown with him seemed anticlimactic. And the adjutants, while creepy, didn't seem to add much to the story either. So while this was an interesting addition to the game, once I finished it, I felt very underwhelmed.

THE VERDICT:  So how to sum all this up? The Extended Cut DLC was a must because the game is incomplete without it. Leviathan makes the game that much cooler. Omega is okay, I guess. And as far as I'm concerned, Javik can go crawl back into stasis.

Monday, January 07, 2013


I'm not much a non-fiction type of guy. I usually wind up skimming a non-fiction book, even if it's one that I really, really want to read. Give me fiction any day! But I had been seeing a lot of posts about Broken: 7 ''Christian'' Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk on Facebook from friends and colleagues lately, and so I thought I'd see what all the hub bub was about.

Basically, Pastor Fisk outlines seven "lies" that can infect modern Christianity and shows how, when left out of control, those lies can basically leave a person's faith broken. I won't do any spoilers here, but I will say that I've caught myself falling for some of these lies on more than one occasion.

In terms of substance, I can't fault Pastor Fisk for much. He and I are both pastors in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and while we may not agree on some matters of adiaphora, I found myself agreeing with almost all of what he had to say. I think this is a book that my non-Lutheran friends should take a look at, if for no other reason than to get an outsider's opinion on current trends in Evangelical Christianity. Fisk has some very potent criticisms for some trends that I think would help be a good balance to some excesses that are emerging.

My only complaint is that every now and then, Fisk really pours on the flowery rhetoric. He engages in some metaphorical storytelling that usually went over the top. It seemed to be too much of that.

But all in all, this is a thought-provoking book, one that has left me with a lot to mull over.