So, what with the beautiful weather and all, I decided to go out back and check on our Battleford apple tree, to see how it was doing. It had spent the winter buried in snow, so I figured it was alright, but I was rather surprised and dismayed to find this:
In the areas I’ve circled, you can see the damage the little bunny bastards have caused. I’d learned last year that the local rabbits like to chew the soft, tasty bits off of our trees, and so both trees had been fenced off. However, the fence in the back collapsed due to a combination of heavy snow and, shall we say, haphazard construction. The result is that, while the tree in the front yard escaped the carnage, the tree out back didn’t fare so well.
But it gets better! Lenore and I decided to take a trip to the local corner store (her on her bike, me on my feet, since some a**hole stole my bike from our front veranda), and look what we found:
Yeah, they basically massacred that tree. And they did the same to most of the other trees that populate the area behind our house. The sad thing is, I’m pretty sure those trees will die this year, as the Phloem, which is responsible for transporting nutrients from the leaves to the roots, is limited to the bark of the tree. And, unfortunately, such damage by rabbits is a common problem.
As if I didn’t have enough things to do, what with the ongoing writing project (the 1000 words/day project has languished after our last cold, but it’s still going… just not as quickly as I’d like), renewed cooking interests, the ever-recording PVR, books, etc, etc, but for some reason, in a fit of boredom while trying to figure out how to fill my hours at work, I made a huge mistake: I started playing Nethack.
For the uninitiated, Nethack is a 20-year-old game, still in active development, which traces it’s origins back to Rogue, a classic game for the Unix environment. It’s best described as a dungeon hack-and-slash, and has been cited as a direct influence for a number of modern games, including Diablo. The general idea is that you pick a class, race, gender, and possibly alignment, and then start fighting your way though the dungeon, in search of the fabled Amulet of Yendor, which exists somewhere beneath level 20. Once you get it, you must then make your way back up and out of the dungeon.
Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but it does have a few things going for it:
- Randomly generated maps
- ASCII graphics
- An incredible depth and breadth of play
- A good sense of humour
Like the original rogue, every game of Nethack is different. While there are various areas to be discovered (the Gnome Mines, the Sokoban levels, and so forth), the levels themselves are randomly generated every time. Thus, it’s impossible to “finish” Nethack, in a real sense, as you can always come back and try again with an entirely new dungeon to explore. This does mean there’s an element of luck to one’s success in the game, but I think that’s mitigated, to a great extent, but the richness of gameplay available.
Secondly, Nethack is played using plain ol’ ASCII graphics. The walls are dashes and pipes, the doors plus and minus signs, the various items are punctuation marks, and the enemies are letters. Of course, if you like a little flash with your hack-and-slash, you can make use of colours, or even IBM high-ASCII graphics characters! But the purists will tell you that straight-up, B&W ASCII is the only way to go (personally, I like the flash). But why is this a plus, you ask? Because I can ssh to frodo and play from work! cough
Then we have the sheer complexity of the game. Nethack sports an immense number of weapons, armour, items, scrolls, potions, rings, amulets, and random junk, such as pick axes, lanterns, whistles, blindfolds… the list goes on and on. If that weren’t enough, there are a vast number of actions a character can perform, including dipping, throwing, kicking, reading, sitting, praying, eating, casting spells, and many more besides. And what’s truly amazing is that the developers seem to have thought of every possible combination of actions and items, so you can dip your sword in potions, wield rings as weapons, and stick gems in your sling-shot. In addition, your character typically starts off with a pet, which can be tamed and trained, and you can also tame other animals in the game (I was observing one game on nethack.alt.org (a free, public Nethack server) in which the person had tamed a giant of some description). These animals will fight for you, steal for you, and are generally quite useful. Then, to that, add the myriad actions and effects that can happen to your character, and the number of scenarios possible becomes truly bewildering. Get bit by a wererat? Turn into one yourself, randomly transforming into a rat (at least you get a pet rat as a consolation prize). Eat the corpse of a floating eye? Gain… oh, well, I won’t spoil that.
So, yeah… the game is remarkably rich.
Lastly, the game is just plain funny in many ways. As an example, if you eat slime mold, the game will tell you how delicious that slime mold was! Mmmm… and then there’s the grave stones you come across with amusing epitaphs on them, and the odd bit of writing on the floors. Heck, you’ll even occasionally come across your own ghosts from previous deaths (you even get the chance to loot your old corpse).
Unfortunately, the game is also legendary in it’s difficulty. I have yet to make it past level 7 (or was that 6) of the dungeon, and I often die in rather annoying ways (such as getting paralyzed by a floating eye, and then bitten to death by wererats). Oh, and when you die, you’re dead. No save points, no lives. That’s for losers who can’t handle a challenge. Sure, you can save your progress and pick up your game later (some may back up the save files, but this practice, known as “savescumming”, is rather frowned upon), but if you die, that’s it, game over. And yet, despite this, I keep coming back… the damn game is just addictive, somehow.
Which would be why I regret breaking out the Nethack. I just can’t stop playing it. “Maybe next time I’ll make it to level 8,” I tell myself. “Maybe I’ll be an Archaeologist next time! Or a human instead of a gnome. Or maybe I’ll spend some time in the Gnome Mines before going down the main dungeon. Or.. or… or…” It’s like frickin’ crack. I just wonder if I’ll ever be able to get this monkey off my back (or, at least tame him so he’ll steal stuff from shops and fight my enemies for me).
It’s 12:53am on Saturday night. I just finished watching an episode of Stargate and decided to pop open the laptop to quickly check email. And I seriously considered playing another frickin’ game of Nethack…
Well, I didn’t get much writing done over the weekend (big surprise, there), but I did do a fair bit of cooking yesterday, oddly enough. As of late, Lenore and I have been, shall we say… incredibly lazy. Consequently, little food has been cooked in our domicile, but I made up for that, yesterday, with a fit of cookery which involved the creation of:
- A loaf of rather dense bread.
- Ridiculously delicious scalloped potatos.
- Home-made pumpkin pie (well, I used canned pumpkin, but still…)
- Very sore arms, as a result of all the kneeding, rolling, and so forth.
Anyway, the bread was inspired by my stumbling across The Fresh Loaf, which is a fantastic website on breadmaking. It has lessons, recipes, a forum… tons of information. Definitely worth a look if you’re into baking, at all. As for my bread, I think I screwed up a few things:
- Overworked the dough.
- Didn’t score the dough before the final rise.
- Didn’t wait long enough for the final rise to complete.
However, I did use a poolish, which resulted in some really nice flavour development. Hopefully future bread experiments will produce better results.
As for the potatos and pie, I signed up for a trial membership to Cooking Illustrated, which is a really fantastic cooking magazine and website that is affiliated with America’s Test Kitchen. Their approach is to choose interesting food items and then experiment with different recipes and techniques, documenting as they go, and scoring the various things they try out. The result is excellent recipes while imparting some wonderful information about the science behind cooking (as they tend to investigate why certain techniques work while others don’t).
Incidentally, the pie and potatos were both assisted by my finally relenting and buying a nice, 11-cup food processor, which means I didn’t have to manually slice potatos or cut butter into my pie dough. ‘course, now I have to justify it’s rather exhorbitant price by actually using the damn thing…
“… and he just, I dunno, disappeared,” he finished, taking a sip of his coffee, steam rising from the dark surface and condensing on his thick glasses.
“What do you mean, ‘disappeared’,” the man across the table asked, a puzzled frown creasing the dark skin of his forehead as he reached for his own up. “Where did he go? What happened to him? People don’t just disappear, you know.”
“Honestly,” the other man said, putting down his mug, “I don’t know. He just left. Took his coat and his keys, hopped in his car,” he reached over and grabbed the nearly empty sugar dispenser, pouring the remaining contents into his cup as he continued, white granules scattering on the dark surface of the table between them, like islands in a sea, “and left. Never said a word to his friends, his wife, his kids… no one.” The clink of spoon against porcelain punctuated the silence that followed, the dark liquid swirling and eddying in his cup.
“I just don’t understand,” his companion said, taking a sip of his coffee, “How could someone do that? Just up and leave like that? I could never do that,” I think, anyway, a voice in his mind said. The man in the glasses shrugged, himself unsure. “I mean, I talked to Mike, he seemed like such a nice guy. And then he does this? Seems like a dick move to me.”
“Who knows,” the other man said, “maybe he had his reasons. Really, I didn’t know him that well. Did you?” The man across the table shook his head, “See? Heck, no one seemed to. So who knows what happened. For all we know his wife beat him or cheated on him or something. But, whatever happened, he’s gone now, and I’m bettin’ he ain’t comin’ back.”
“Bizarre,” his companion said, his finger tapping against his cup, the rhythmic thumping setting off waves in his coffee. “People just don’t disappear like that!”
Over the years, I’ve read a reasonably wide range of stuff, running the gamut from comedy and drama to horror and science fiction, both classic and contemporary. But for some reason, whenever I get tired of finding new things to read, or just need to dig into something familiar and light hearted (yet still weighty and thoughtful, if I wish), I return to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. There’s something about Mr. Adams’ brilliant, canted, quirky take on humanity that I just can’t get enough of. Heck, the very title of this blog is an homage to his wonderful work.
Well, today, I came across a previously unpublished interview with the man (appeared on Slashdot, originally) from back in 1978, before HHGTG really took off, and I am once again reminded of why I enjoy his work so much, and why his loss was such a sad event. One of my favorite quotes is this:
If The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy makes money, I shall enjoy that. But what I'll enjoy most is having proved that you don't have to underestimate people. I don't like the notion that you set yourself up as saying "This is what people like, therefore this is what we'll do." That's patronizing.
So for any fans of Adams’ work, or HHGTG, check it out. It’s an interesting read about a man that is sorely missed (a phrase I rarely turn in reference to celebrities).