Friday, January 11, 2008

Collecting the Super Nintendo

I love video games and my system of choice is the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES.) The SNES is considered a retro system since it dates back to the early 90's, which would seem to peg me as a retro gamer. This is true I suppose, in practice, but in theory I'm somewhere between the retro and modern gaming camps. A little on each of these groups:

Retro gamers will probably tell you that the peak of gaming arrived sometime in the mid to early 90's with the NES, SNES, Genesis, and the like. The quality and variety of games especially on the SNES is unparalleled. To some this era really seems the golden age of video games. They would say that modern games are simply pushing graphics and sound to more realism and not actually producing better overall gaming experiences.

Modern gamers will point to weak and simple graphics and sound of the older systems and ask how games with such obviously inferior audio and video could possibly compare to the realism of modern games. They'll point to the awesome computing power of modern consoles and the complexity they allow modern games to utilize fully rendered 3-d environments. The Metal Gear Solid, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, and Grand Turismo series and many many more showcase all the new mechanics and game design that set these new systems apart from the retro consoles.

I fall somewhere between these two camps. Although I don't own any systems newer than the N64 (and I don't even play that one), this is more a function of economics than a value judgement about retro vs. modern gaming. To always have the latest several hundred dollar systems and to buy the new games is an immense financial commitment, one far more economically draining than I (or my wife) would allow. In contrast, the SNES can be bought online for $40, many games can be found for $5 and the vast majority of great games can be found for somewhere between $5 and $20. (Some few rare and immensely popular games such as Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Mega Man X3, Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, and the like can hit $60, but these are only a select few.) While there are no new SNES games being published today, there is a huge catalog of games in existence with many great titles in every genre. A fabulous collection of the system and say 20 or 30 highly playable games could be had for several hundred dollars. This amount will probably buy you a next gen system and nothing else. Although I wont go so far as to say the SNES titles are better than the new games, I certainly believe they are equals, only different stylistically.

So, on to my collection, which is comprised of a solid core of games although it has a very long way to go before I'll be satisfied with its contents. The core of my collection, those classics and excellent games with high replay value, is as follows:

My Core SNES Games:

Super Mario World, SMW2: Yoshi's Island, Super Mario Kart, Earthbound, Super Castlevania IV, Super Punch Out, Uniracers, Rock and Roll Racing, Super Bomberman 1 & 2, Donkey Kong Country 3, Zelda III, Street Fighter 2, Kirby's Avalanche, UN Squadron, Gradius III, Super R-Type, Super Ghouls & Ghosts

I also have a bunch of games that I either don't care for very much or I simply haven't had time to play very much as of yet:

Generic &/or Mediocre Games:

Jack Nicklaus Golf, Monopoly, Congo's Caper, Nickelodeon Guts, Barbie Super Model (Don't ask), Clayfighter, Drakken, Harley's Humongous Adventure, Batman Forever, Pink Goes to Hollywood, Mario's Time Machine, Super Off-Road, Mrs. Pac-man, Pac-man 2, X-men Mutant Apocalypse, NHL Stanley Cup, Mario Paint, Wheel of Fortune, Illusion of Gaia, Buster Busts Loose (Tiny Toons), Super Adventure Island, Ken Griffey Jr. presents MLB

I needed to order an extra RF switch for the SNES to complete a second system I own (that I'll be selling on Ebay) and a couple of other items like a SNES cleaning kit, and I tagged on a couple of dirt cheap classics to add to my collection: F-Zero and Star Fox. Some other games I'd like to add to my collection rather soon:

Games Needed To Round Out My Collection:

Super Metroid, Super Contra III, Final Fantasy 2 & 3, Chrono Trigger, Mega Man X (or its sequels), NHL '94, NBA Jam, NBA Live '96, Super Mario RPG, Harvest Moon, Donkey Kong Country 1 & 2, another fighting game like Mortal Combat or Killer Instinct, Kirby Super Star, Super Mario All-Stars, EVO: Search for Eden, Breath of Fire 1 & 2, Secret of Mana, Lufia II, Ogre Battle, a good football game.

I'm sure there are many more that I'd like, but those are the ones coming to mind this moment. If you are interested in video games but can't afford the major expense of keeping up with the new systems, or if you simply have a soft spot for the old SNES games, you should get out there and start collecting! You'll be glad you did.

My only other SNES content on Splitting Eights so far is this review of perhaps my favorite video game of all time and almost certainly the best 4 player game ever: Super Bomberman.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mistress of Mistresses: A Classic of High Fantasy

Some years ago in an attempt to familiarize myself with the high fantasy landscape before Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, I tracked down a copy of E.R. Eddison's Mistress of Mistresses. Although his The Worm Ouroborous is better known and more highly regarded, when one engages in a dungeon crawl of second hand book stores, one can't be overly selective.

Reading Mistress was quite a rewarding experience, yet was also the most difficult reading I've done in many years. Eddison's language has a convoluted medieval feel and at times is excruciating to digest. This is not light fantasy. Most of the book takes a great deal of concentration and patience to navigate, and even giving the text my undivided attention there was much of the story that I still do not understand having finished the novel. Part of this is the complex structure of Eddison's sentences and chapters, part the vocabulary which was at many times over my head, part that the particulars of many scenes are not fully explained in the text so that even a close reading leaves some ambiguities. At times while reading Mistress I felt I should be reading it for a college course in which I could attend a regularly scheduled lecture that would illuminate for me some of the denser passages.

My next reading of Mistress of Mistresses will involve the use of a dictionary to better come to grips with the vocabulary in the novel. Although there will almost certainly remain some confusing elements to the story, I'm sure a more thorough understanding of the vocab in the text will deepen my grasp on the book as a whole. Certainly there were many words I simply passed by on my first reading since I didn't want to put an immense amount of effort into reading a novel that may, in the end, simply not be worth it. Having finished Mistress I am convinced it is certainly worth a little extra effort to deepen my appreciation of its mysteries.

I have a feeling that there are very few readers that will run out after reading this write-up and commit to Mistress of Mistresses as their next "must read" book. As tough as I've made it out to be, there are numerous rewarding aspects here that make it quite worthwhile. The characters are interesting, especially the noble Lord Lessingham. The story, though it is bogged down at times by Eddison's language and patches of somewhat dry philosophic content, is a good one with lots of intrigue, betrayal, love, murder, and any number of other elements found in any good adventure (or in The Princess Bride for that matter...fensing, fighting, murder, true love...) Very interesting to me is Lord Lessingham, a man of strict principles who must attempt to make the peace in a land of sometimes less than morally upright men. He is the man of unwavering idealism attempting to mold the murky and conflicting reality of the world to his standards.

Most immediately pleasurable in Mistress of Mistresses is Eddison's descriptive style. I'll quote a few passages:

"Their landing was near about the south-east point of that isle, in a little natural harbour, half-moon shaped and with a beach of fine white sand. The sun had gone down, and dusk gathered on the lake; eastward, pale blue smoke hung here and there over Zayana and the citadel; the walls and the roofs and towers were grown shadowy and dim; their lamps came out like stars. In the north, the great peaks still held some light. A wide glade went up into the isle from that harbour in gently sloping lawns, shut in on all but the water side by groves of cypress-trees: pillar-like boles and dense spires so tangled, drenched, and impregnate with thick darkness that not mid-day itself might pierce nor black night deepen their elemental gloom. In the midst of that glade, on a level lawn where in their thousands daisies and little yellow cinquefoils were but now newly folded up and gone to sleep, tables were set for the feast."


"The beetle, winding his faint horn to Zenianthe as he travelled the paths of opening night beside that window, saw her as some titanic figure darkly fair against a background of fire. The firelight saw her as its own, spirit of its spirit, dream of its dream, that which itself would become, might it but be clothed upon with the divinity of flesh: a presence secure, protective, glad, warm, fancy-tree; and so it made sure of her, touching with trembling sudden fingers now her breathing bosom, now a ringlet of brown hair that rested curled on her shoulder, now a ruby warm against her throat."

During these moments Mistress was pure pleasure to read, and so many of them are nestled within the novel that my next, more thorough reading, though at times bound to be slow going, is still highly anticipated. If you enjoy Tolkien and high fantasy and don't mind being challenged by a book, you should give Mistress of Mistresses a try.

More Reviews

  • Try William Thompson's review for a great introduction to this work and much more insight into Eddison's unique writing style. I would say this is the definitive review of the work, Thompson's writing is informative and thorough and I envy his knowledge of the genre.
  • This brief and positive review is part of a large collection of book reviews on the old geocities. The author asserts that of the often compared Eddison and J.R.R. Tolkien, the former was the superior writer, especially when it comes to descriptive quality.
  • Mimsy's review practically glows with praise of Mistress of Mistresses. The author compares this book with The Worm Ouroboros, asserting (as did the previous review) that Mistress is the better book. As I have yet to read Worm, I can't weigh in on this issue, although my previous impression was that Worm was Eddison's best.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Books I'll Read!

I've always enjoyed reading but for whatever reason I've let this activity go largely unpracticed for several years. Perhaps because so much has happened in my personal and professional life I've felt that I really didn't have time to enjoy books like I once did. In recent months, however, I've experienced a renewal of my passion for reading, and somewhat suddenly come to the realization that my life is much more fulfilling when it involves good books. Certainly it behooves me to carve out a portion of my day dedicated to this hobby.

I'd like to post some notes here on the books I read, probably not really reviews, but rather some thoughts on the books and my general impressions. Perhaps I'll get around to highlighting the novels I've read over the last few weeks including The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card, Mistress of Mistresses by E.R. Eddison, and The Other Wind by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Although I enjoy a variety of genres, as you can see by the four volumes mentioned above I particularly enjoy Sci Fi and Fantasy, especially High Fantasy, including The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin. I enjoy fantasy enough that even the formulaic stuff often released in recent years can be an enjoyable read. Recently, however, I've placed a focus on finding more rewarding books that are better written and more original, and I've begun to explore some of the other classics of the genre that may have been largely ignored by the mainstream in recent years. That goal is what brought me to E.R. Eddison. His Mistress of Mistresses was a fascinating book that I will absolutely have to write up here shortly.

Despite my interest in more fully exploring the great novels of Sci Fi and Fantasy I also have many books on my list to read from other genres. Most of the books I intend to read next I have chosen simply because I already own them. As other books are recommended to me or otherwise come to my attention, perhaps I will find opportunity to add them to my library and to my reading list. Some titles I intend to read soon: General Literature -- The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, A Dresser of Sycamore Trees by Garret Keizer. Sci Fi/Fantasy -- Brothers of Earth by C.J. Cherryh, The Wind's Twelve Quarters by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and Star Gate by Andre Norton. Non-Fiction -- Baseball Between the Numbers by Baseball Prospectus (in progress), From Dawn to Decadence, 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Jacques Barzun, and What If?, The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been by various authors.

Friday, January 4, 2008

2008 Goals Checklist

After giving my goals a little more thought, I've realized that the way I've listed them (in themed categories) is the best way to brainstorm goals, but perhaps not the best way to stay on target following them on a day to day basis. The answer here is to reorganize each bullet point by desired frequency, resulting in a list of goals and activities sorted by time frame into items to be achieved daily, every other day, weekly, monthly, etc:

Daily Goals

  • Spend one on one time with each of the Mrs., my son, and my daughter.
  • Consciously work to be more patient with my kids.
  • Write in my food journal.
  • Read NYT online.
  • Read one chapter of a book for pleasure.

Every Other Day Goals

  • Spend significant together time with the Mrs. to connect.
  • Perform a physical aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes.
  • Call someone important to me, either family or close friend.
  • Read one chapter or article about politics, history, or any topic that will make me better informed.

Weekly Goals

  • Play at least one board game with friends.
  • Plan weekly food menu and evening activity schedule with the Mrs.
  • Publish an entry in Splitting Eights.
  • Read a chapter or article on religion or spirituality.
  • Listen to The Dice Tower, read gaming blogs.
  • Update finances through Microsoft Money.
  • Write a letter to the Mrs.

Biweekly Goals

  • Get out of the house for one fun family activity.
  • Get out of the house for one fun personal activity.

Monthly Goals

  • Go on a real date with the Mrs. (with no kids!!)

By July 1 2008

  • Plant my garden, hedge trees, and maybe apple trees.
  • Reach $10,000 in emergency fund.
  • Reach $13,000 in retirement fund.
  • Reach $1500 in taxable mutual fund.
  • Propose new test recipes at work.

By January 1 2009

  • Achieve $0 overall net worth.
  • Go on a romantic vacation with the Mrs. to New York City, Ottawa etc.
  • See a Red Sox game live.

Hopefully this list will be the tool I need to start to improve myself and my life in 2008. I'll keep you updated!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Goals Revisited for 1st Quarter 2008

As I expected my Fall Goals were a little too aggressive. I think I made some headway on a few of the issues I mentioned and certainly learned much about what is and isn't doable. The basic content of my goals is still on target, it just needs a little fine tuning to really work for me. Here's my updated list:

Family [Most of my bullet points here are about right. I may have fallen a little short of achieving them fully, but my aim is still correct.]

  • One on one time with each of my kids: every day.
  • Work on being more patient with my kids.
  • A few minutes of one on one time with the Mrs. every day to connect, together time every other day for an extended time, massage, cuddling, talking, etc., full fledged date without the kids once per month.
  • One family activity outside the house, every week.
  • Closer contact with Mom, Dad, my brothers, and my cousins.

Social [Still need a lot of work in this category.]

  • Meet new people in the area and cultivate relationships already started: monthly.
  • Closer contact with several friends: Tim, John, Ethan, Abe, Pat, etc.

Gaming [Ties in closely with social category.]

  • Develop friendships through boardgames.
  • Begin more regular board game sessions, eventually having some sort of a weekly gaming group.
  • Read more gaming blogs, listen to the dice tower.

Professional [Easy to let this category fall through the cracks, I need to work much harder on this. I did implore management at my job to allow for more creativity on my part, now I just need to follow through on my end of that deal.]

  • Start a food journal, write in it several times a week, flavors, combinations, recipes, ideas, etc. This is extremely important!!
  • Propose new test recipes for use at work.
  • Find a couple of food blogs to read and look for as many idea sources on food as possible, read the wine bible, drink more wine and take notes!
  • Do research on the possibility of opening my own bakery, restaurant--where, what, food, & financials.

Financial [I opened an account to systematically purchase a balanced mutual fund every month, made it to $10,000 (or thereabouts) in my retirement fund, but fell a little short on emergency savings.]

  • Reach $10,000 in emergency fund savings by June.
  • Reach $13,000 in retirement account by June.
  • Achieve $0 net worth by end of 2008.
  • Begin furnishing our house and doing necessary maintenance work while still achieving the above three goals.

Intellectual [I've done lots of reading lately, not sure if that is intellectual or not but it has been very positive, I'd like to keep that up. Other than that I've failed at much of this category thus far.]

  • Read NYT online every day.
  • Publish in my blog at least once every week.
  • Read lots of good books.

Physical [This is one category where I feel I was far too aggressive in my last attempt at goals. By aiming too high in fitness goals it is far too easy to get discouraged and do nothing at all. This has been the case with me.]

  • Engage in an aerobic physical activity at least 3 times per week, walking to work, going to the gym, playing tennis, etc.

Spiritual [I made basically no attempt to figure out my spiritual side over the last few months.]

  • Read something each week to help me learn about spirituality and/or religion to determine if there is anything important for me to know on this topic. I have the feeling that there must be, I simply need to put in the effort to find it.

So, there you have it. Certainly a little less aggressive that my last set of goals, but perhaps still too aggressive. Only time will tell. I'll check in with this list on a weekly basis, then revise my goals again in the spring. If you have comments, your feedback is appreciated!