Anzac Biscuits!

Hey, everyone! It’s Anzac Day! That means it’s a time to celebrate our culture and our Anzacs, which we do with games of 2-up in pubs, singing three songs, and deep repression of our thoughts about how the impact of our complicity and promotion of white supremacy leads to the radicalisation of our own citizens and the disenfranchisement of our marginalised people pushes them towards criminality that we then use as pretense to further disenfranchise them in ways that result to our perception of ‘the other’ and the deeper entanglement in international imperialism that sends our soldiers to places that have nothing to do with us in order to die, and of course, making Anzac Biscuits!

I got this recipe off the Australian War Memorial website, and only made some small alterations. It’s really good, you’ll like ’em!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup each of rolled oats, sugar and coconut
  • 1 tablespoon syrup
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water)

Method

  • Melt the butter, as a symbol of the way we viewed our culture as a melting pot where a variety of different cultures could come together and form a very yellow homogenous whole, much like the Simpsons where we try to keep a minimal number of brown people who we routinely mock and divorce from proper job opportunities that respect them and their cultural backgrounds.
  • Add syrup to dissolved soda and water. Combine with melted butter. This will form the wet ingredients into one larger body that should smooth out and homogenise in the same way that we treat all our population as acceptable if we already have them and they don’t do anything to stand our or remind us that they are not, in fact, lily-white.
  • Mix dry ingredients and stir in liquid, with forceful, strong motions like running a death camp on another country’s territory that both that country and the UN have decreed an illegal human rights violation. The ingredients will present some resistance, just like how the people in those camps do things like hunger strikes, appeals to the press, explicit references to sexual abuse by guards and overseers, and at least one man setting himself on fire, but just as we can dismiss those actions as ‘wanting attention’ you can ignore the resistance of the ingredients. Just smooth them out and ignore the way you feel.
  • Place small balls on to buttered tray and bake in moderate oven. It doesn’t matter how they’re composed, if they’re a decent mix, or their size, or really anything at all, because making a bad Anzac biscuit is pretty hard if you get the mix right, because they’re made out of components designed to be durable and last long over the transport from Australia to Gallipolli, a war we were entangled in because an Empire wanted to spend our blood to earn themselves a minor convenience, and we lined up to ensure that we wouldn’t let it happen again, again, again, again again again.
  • Lift out carefully with a knife as they are soft till cold. Don’t bite them too early or they’ll break!

I hope you enjoy this Anzac Biscuit recipe. They’re really good!

Game Pile: Planescape:Torment

Odds are good, unless you’ve known me for a while, you don’t really know or can’t chart the history of the Game Pile. Originally, the focus of Game Pile was a review series that’s designed to be entertainingly useful in promoting the sales of games I like and the discouragement of games I don’t, with the notion that seeing me do that would get the attention of gaming editors, and maybe get paid for this work. Then I moved on to trying out a new model of how reviews should be, with my view of a standardised release schedule and form, which sought to tell you reasons you might want to play a game, rather than whether or not a game was, itself, fundamentally good or bad.

Then, in the most recent iteration, Game Pile has taken on a shape I really appreciate, which is to use the game as an avenue to discuss what the game made me think about or care about. It is the treatment of games as art objects. Sure, I try to give you an idea of what the game is like, but I do that by trying to only focus on games I like, and the games I like I tend to like because they make me feel and think something. It’s a nice occlusion.

With that in mind, then, I don’t want to tell you you should buy Planescape Torment. It’s a good game, I like it. If you like slow, talky-ready RPGs, it’s really good. Telling you that is almost the definition of old news and you can probably find someone to wax more rhapsodic about it with a cursory glance around.

Instead, I want to tell you about four stories from this game, and what they mean to me.

Spoilers ahead for, y’know, Planescape: Torment. Continue reading

Beast Mastery Masterminds

So back in City of Heroes there was this type of character you could make called a Mastermind.

Masterminds were a pet class – you could get three tiers of pets, which were constant; you didn’t have to manage their upkeep, and you could buff them like they’re players. They also had some mechanics about directing damage around passively, so you didn’t play like an RTS, but you instead were a superhero villain ordering your goons to beat people up. It was a great archetype, and everyone I knew with one was proud of what they could do with it.

Right at the end of City’s life, we got a brand new power set for the Mastermind: The Beast Mastery Mastermind. Instead of soldiers or ninjas or robots, you got to command a horde of animals, like you were something people misunderstood about Kraven. Point is, you got to be cool and have a big pile of animals around you.

The thing with the engine in City of Heroes is that it was a little bit, kinda mediocre about some things. The only way to stop the existence of a game entity was to give it a kill order – so pets you summoned, little robot pets, would die when they timed out, and they’d explode. When the Mastermind was originally conceived, on City of Villains, if you ran into a door, your pets would run in the same door. But if you disappeared, they’d get a kill order. No big deal, that’s part of why the City of Villains, the big transport network which used the ‘disappear’ command instead of ‘go into a door, then disappear’ command, was a ferry, so you’d run into the ferry, and your crew would all collapse dead inside it and fall through boxes and stuff.

But when you went to Paragon (as you could by this stage) and ran around with a Mastermind, any time you used a train, your pets would get that kill command. You’d hop on a train and move on and all blissfully unaware, as you arrived, that the pets you had now were newly summoned for your new region of map. No big deal, right?

Thing is, if you weren’t the mastermind player, what do you see?

You can guess, right?

And making it worse, the release of a new set provoked a huge influx of new people trying out this new Mastermind set, and often whole teams of them. So you could walk into a train station and see dozens upon dozens of dead animals.

Cities And Towns

Let’s talk about a game idea, and what I want to be sure I’m saying with it.

This game idea is known tenatively as cities and towns. It actually started as a colour matching/multiplier game, a math game for my nephews but I liked the metaphor of it being about things rather than stuff, and so it slowly took its shape as a town builder.

The notional mechanic is that there’s a common pool of cards, the city, that determine the value of the cards in each player’s personal pool, their town. At the start of the game, you deal each player a starting card that’s not worth anything, but gives you a place to start from, and put three cards into the city, to give people a standard view of how things are valued. This means that putting cards into the city can represent an explosion of value for you, but it’s something other players can piggyback on – if you have two of type A, and there are two more A in the city, you get four points, but any player who builds an A gets two, too.

I like this mechanic for representing things like trade dependencies and culture growth. A university on its own isn’t worth as much as a university surrounded by other smaller towns with universities, and a market thrives when there are other, connected markets. Players are simultaneously building the scoring mechanism for the game as they are building their own little spaces in the game.

Then came the time to make the game pieces, and I hit an interesting conundrum. See, one thing I could do is go with a pastoral, adventure-game vibe, you know, the not-necessarily-fantasy, but-probably of kingdoms with farms and quarries and woodcutters, as you see in games like Settlers or whatever.

The next option, however, is to build assets using something like these Kenney assets, isometric city representation.

Now this choice opens up an interesting question. I think that a modern urban city and smaller town thing presents an interesting set of different mechanics – after all, you have faster communication, and maybe there are some buildings that can’t go anywhere but in the city, and some things that can’t go anywhere but the town, because of infrastructural needs. Is there a need for variety the same way in buildings when they look modern, when they could show similar buildings on different blocks with ‘zoning’ rules?

But then we hit an additional question: What about redlining? What about the history of deprivation? If these are buildings that look like cities, but outside of cities and minus the skyscrapers, am I just building suburbs? And if I am, do I really want to present a scenario to players where they want to build more schools in the city, because it makes their schools out in the suburbs more desireable?

Now, I’ve made my decision – the game’s underway. But these are decisions you gotta be prepared to consider and confront. When you make a game, you are responsible for the things you choose to put into it, and the assumptions you make about what the game should have in it.

Story Pile: Altered Carbon

When you get down to it, Altered Carbon is a series that doesn’t so much need recommendations as much as it needs content warnings. Up front, the series features gender, race, and general body dysphoria (being in a body that’s ‘very wrong’), graphic torture, death, murder for pleasure, torture for pleasure, sex workers, sex worker abuse, sex worker marginalisation, realistic and sympathetic AI death, sensory overload, sensory deprivation, descriptions of nightmares, depictions of trauma, hetero bonking, consent-comprimised hetero bonking, nudity, violent nudity, cutting and –

Good grief, what isn’t in this series.

I feel a bit bad about this because the avalanche of things to warn people about in this show are all reasonable things. It paints the picture of this series as gaudily, grindingly nasty and full of vile indulgence. It’s not like that, I promise – it’s more that the series has such a breadth of nasty things it deals with that to have one leap out of you in the story as a surprise is like finding a razor blade in your ice cream. It’s not only unexpected it’s also extremely bad if you weren’t expecting it. The emotional punch is all there, I just don’t want people going into this series blind, especially since, for all of its content warnings, I really liked Altered Carbon.

I’m not going to talk about the greater universe of the story, though, I’m not going to run down the plot or its themes or its meanings. The story is a neon noir cyberpunk dystopia that uses income inequality as its most intense theme, its central character is a jerk, and it weaves together his history and his present. That’s all good and I might talk about them another time, but instead, we’re going to talk about one thing.

We’re going to talk about Poe.

Don’t worry, we’re also not going to spoil the plot!

Continue reading

Ned Kelly’s Head

The story of Ned Kelly is a pretty interesting and contentious one but the briefest summary of it is that a poor immigrant family got treated badly by the system for just long enough that one of its members renowned for being a badass got sick of it, acted out in an extremely severe way and culminated in his fighting his way through waves of cops wearing an actual literal suit of armour. Caught by the police he hated, he was tried for crimes he very much committed, said goodbye to his family, and was executed, and it’s generally held by the people who don’t like him that that was an entirely reasonable end considering all the bank-hurting and cop-killing he did.

There’s some contention about the character of a dude who broke into banks, held people hostage, then burned all the credit records after taking cash because he hated banks and debt, with a bunch of people pointing out all the wrongful arrests and power abuses in his life making him violent, versus the people, often families of cops, wanting to know why there’s no sympathy for the cops who did things like grab Ned’s dick in public.

It’s a weird story.

Anyway, I’m not here to talk to you about the dude who I think is kind of awesome even if I don’t actually personally think I’m cut out for a life of shooting cops in the face. I wanna talk about what happened after he died. More specifically, I want to tell you about Ned Kelly’s head.

Ned Kelly’s head was separated from his body after his execution. He wasn’t beheaded – no, he was hanged by the neck (until dead), and the removal was for medical research purposes. They wanted to phrenology his skull, to see if there was some sort of proof of criminality in the bumps of his bean. This study was, you might imagine, inconclusive, but not for the reason you’re thinking.

The study of Ned Kelly’s skull was inconclusive because it never got properly studied. And it never got properly studied, because the cops were busy playing with it.

I said playing with it.

I said, the cops took his head off and played catch and table football with it.

The head went through a whole arc of history and we’ve only just now recently – 2015 – interred Kelly’s bones in the place they were supposed to be interred, by his family’s wishes. But that body was interred without a head, and the thing that makes this even more weird is the detective work we had to do to prove whether or not the head was the right head. That meant tracking down a descendant of’s mother through matrilineal progent- you know what, there’s a full article here about it. Your tl;dr, though? The most famous bush ranger of a generation’s head went missing because cops were mucking around with it.

Now, one of the angles in the anti-Kelly story is that hey, Kelly wasn’t justified in hating cops, cops were just doing their jobs.

But if you were just doing your job, would you pull the head off a dead man and play catch with it?

Why?

MTG: Pet Cards IV, Ravnica Block

Ravnica is an incredible block because it’s full of casual deckbuilding staples, and it’s the time I was actively writing for Starcity Games. When I look back on Ravnica, there’s a ton of stuff I think of as ‘great cards,’ even though they’re niche enough to need the whole deck built around them.

With that in mind, I will say the Ravnica bouncelands and signets are all-purpose good cards that casual decks can run and should always bear in mind for building. Whatever colour combination you’re in, you can make use of those ten cards, or can at least consider why not to use them. There’s also a bunch of robust utility effects at common and uncommon, with cards like Mortify, Putrefy, Watchwolf, Faith’s Fetters, Pure//Simple – just a whole lot of handy things that you can slot into decks. Not the kind of ‘pet’ cards I find myself making excuses for. So like, that kind of stuff? They’re not going on the list.

This list was hard to cut down and that’s after I set aside this special clause.

Continue reading

Shirt Highlight: House Logos!

Ever have a day where you had some things you needed to get done, but you were so sick with anxiety and rage you couldn’t, so instead you threw yourself into something in the hopes of making one person maybe crack a smile?

No?

Hey, good, good for you, I am so glad you’ve never had to be here.

Anyway, today I fancied up these shirt designs I’d sketched out:

If you want to get these shirts representing your favourite Houses for the School Cup based on whether you feel you’re Basic, Extra, Boring or Evil, you can check them out on my Redbubble. There’s even one shirt that holds all four designs to show people all at once!

If, by the way, you like these designs but don’t want to buy a shirt, don’t forget you can always get stickers of what I make, and stickers are often very cheap, especially if you buy in lots of 10 or more!

Game Pile: Baldur’s Gate 2 Mods

There is however, one truth to all these Baldur’s Gate 2 memories. The truth is, I haven’t played Baldur’s Gate 2 as she is coded, for much more than one or two years. What kept me coming back, what kept me playing this game over and over again was the modding community – which saw the vast scale of the game, and still looked at places where it was incomplete, where the sheer scope of the project had failed, and looked into adding to the game what had been begun and not finished, what had been tried and not done, and what was needed but never realised.

Baldur’s Gate 2 is a pretty decent game. But to make it a great game took people who loved it. Continue reading