Update

Alright…

Finally getting my head screwed back on straight.  I’m sure recent events are all part and parcel to marriage, parenthood, and growing up in general.  My frustration did reach a maddening crescendo, but a little break from everything should help me establish a somewhat even keel.

You’ll notice there are a few new categories.  I’m going to try and put up much more older writing, and I’m also going to try my best to make updates of some variety several times a week.  Who knows when the next series of tasks that will require my attention will come down the pipeline, but for the moment I am finally getting back into doing these daily exercises.

For whatever reason, I can’t get back into Patterns of Misconduct right now.  I just can’t get back into that mindset (read:  I’m out of weed).  I took some great notes the last time I was… in the mood, so I am optimistic that there is enough quality content to produce a standalone collection of vignettes to follow what is sure to be the monumentally successful Failure to Adapt.

However, there’s always something that can be written.  In addition to trying to post new letters several times a week, I’d like to get back into my comic blog, write my first music post, and also dig up a few of the things I did over the summer and put them back up.

Here’s a quick preview:

BLOG – Why I don’t do NaNoWriMo

MUSIC – The Fat Boys and “Yo, Twist!”

A few haikus throwing shade

COMICS – Arkham Asylum:  A Serious House on Serious Earth
                  and I will also be reviewing Thor:  Ragnarok

Another Sh*t I like entry

That’s why I intend to do, anyways.

We’re in transition right now.  Next week is my wife’s last day at her job, and we are currently getting some major renovations done.  It is in my best interest to stay out of everyone’s way (see the recent letters for more info on that clusterbang), so while I’m not catching up with movies, perhaps I can forge ahead on some of the things I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

I hope you’ve been enjoying the increase in content.

Dusting off the Keyboard

Sometimes I feel like writing is a horse, and it keeps throwing me off its back.  I’ve been working on certain projects for over a decade now, and I just figured at some point the work portion would stop and I’d be able to sell something.  It’s not for lack of trying, but I had an insider track and things still didn’t pan out.  One publisher made it apparent that they were broke, and the director of another was outed in some bizarre sexual misconduct case.  Following that, I got another half-dozen no-replies from agents and publishers alike, and honestly I finally said SCREW IT and took a break.

I went outside.  I did some gardening.  I built a fish pond.  I gathered up all the bricks and rocks and statues in our yard that had obviously seen better days, and I tried to make something nice.  I spent two weeks outside doing things I had never tried before, and it was actually quite therapeutic.

But then it rained relentlessly for ten days, and not only did it impede my progress, but also in some areas erased it.  Then the pond began having issues with its filter.  Worms appeared all over my new plants, and a few of them were so beaten by the rain that they looked like they might not make it at all.  Once again, everything I had done was messed up by circumstances outside of my control.  Once again, it seemed like something I created was rendered pointless.

It was all too reminiscent of the past two years.  Between losing a good bit of money in the stock market, failing to get a tutoring service started, and even going out for a job interview only to have nobody show up, it felt like all I was capable of doing was failing.  It was hard to get up and do anything, because it all seemed pretty damn pointless.

Yesterday I came out to feed my fish, and both filters that I had recently rebuilt were overflowing once again.  In fact, the clay bowl had spilled out half of its water all over the patio.  What was supposed to be two minutes of me being outside feeding the fish and going back inside to ponder whether or not I want to start Final Fantasy IX again nearly turned into me freaking out and having a nervous breakdown.  I was fed up with nothing working.

But for whatever reason, I just sat down on the concrete and thought about everything.  While not an expensive project, I had certainly invested enough money in it.  Furthermore, I had invested a ton of time.  It would be a shitty thing to let it all go to the wayside.  And what was I gonna do, just let the thing fall apart?  Was I gonna just let all my fish die as some kind of middle finger to this wave of bad luck?  Grimly, I went inside to fetch my toolbox (yes, I have a toolbox now… I’m sure it looks as weird to you as it does to me reading that), and I got to work.

The filters are fixed now.  The water is crystal clear, and the mollies are happily swimming in and out of the bubbles.  I refused to let the fish and plants that I sunk all this money into suffer because I was being a whiny piece of crap.  Persistence is something I used to have.  I persisted for three years at a school that tried to get rid of me on my first day.  Whatever happened to THAT guy?  Maybe it’s time I rediscovered that stubborn persistence.

I’m not gonna lie.  There’s a ton of shit I’m still mad over.  This year has been a lot worse than I would have anticipated.  I thought for sure I would reach my limit break and start kicking ass at something.  I’m still seething over my trip to America, too.  So many people let me down.  I can’t believe how little progress some of you have made in life.

Alright, that’s enough shade…

And don’t get me started on immigration.  For the love of all that is holy.  I need to just go ahead and buy one of those lifetime passes.  I get so sick of that ridiculous clusterbang.  I have a hard time listening to people’s complaints when they’ve never had to do anything as perpetually frustrating and humiliating as petitioning to continue living somewhere every three months.  Nevermind my first year when I literally had to take a dangerous van ride to Cambodia once a month.  That shit will make you question every decision you’ve ever made, especially when you realize how vulnerable you are for those 18 hours.

Enough about that, though.  I think too hard about that and I will get pissed off all over again.

So here we are.  It’s late 2019, and I need to pull myself together.  A little reflection has reminded me that there are a few things I’m doing right.  I read a ton this year and last.  It has been a great year for that.  History, religion, documentaries, and even my old guilty pleasures like the Dragonlance saga and comics.  Also, my diet is going unusually well.  I’m slimmer than I have been in years (seriously… I look amazing).  Furthermore, in spite of everything seemingly going awry with my outdoor projects, I tried something new.  I’m impressed overall that I was able to do what I did with no experience or instruction.  Nothing actually died.  I’ve just experienced a bit of the highs and lows that come with creating a nice yard.

Finally, I have done what I think most people should do when they are in a slump:  I sat and thought very carefully about everything.  I would devote entire days to having no background noise as I sat and reflected on where I was and what I was doing.  I didn’t take to social media for advice or somebody to stroke my ego, I simply sat in silence and peeled through every tiny facet of my life.  I know we all need advice from time to time, but quiet, pensive reflection while avoiding the temptation to pander for input or positive reinforcement is something that I think is missing from most people’s day-to-day reality.

There are things in the works.  Wifey is just about to quit her job so we can focus on our new business ventures.  We’ve started round two of tutoring with significantly more success already, and her sister’s takeover of her aunt’s warehouse has yielded some rather unforeseen results.  She might actually be able to hire both my wife and I, which would be great because I NEVER WANT TO TEACH IN THIS COUNTRY AGAIN.  I’ll do it if I have to, as we have a child on the way and I’m not about to drop the responsibility ball, but it looks like I might be off the hook.  I’m going out there next week to learn how to build and pack crates.  Honestly, I don’t need anybody to pay me right now.  Just find me a spot.  I’m on the mend, so I can do a few things that my injuries prevented me from doing for a long time.

It’s ironic, really.  My first job after high school was in a warehouse.  Now after getting my M.A., it’s all I want to do.  Pisses me off that I ended up taking out all those loans, only to learn that Academia SUCKS and that I was better off in a warehouse.  Oh, well.  It’s all about the journey, right?

It’s getting rather late in the afternoon, and therefore it is time for this intrepid protagonist to get off his ass and accomplish something.  I was going to start another round of inquiries to different publishers, but seeing how it is almost 2 pm and I have yet to get out of my PJs, I think that will have to wait.  Iron Paul doesn’t roll on Shabbos (not joking there… I really don’t), so I guess I’ll put my sorry ass on the elliptical, then run out the clock with a bit of yard work.  I need to burn off some of my macros so I can have a decent dinner.

I’m temporarily back on social media, so I’ll be dropping a few lines here and there.  Congrats to my old friend Bryan Lewis for making rank, and congrats as well to Bryan Pearson who will officially be a Chaplain in the US army at the end of this year.  You guys inspire me to keep grinding.

Also, congrats to Jessica Hatch, who is or will soon be wed.  She has been an amazing editor, and I hope to bring it home for the Reedsy squad, who have been nothing but cool to me in spite of what a diva, prima donna, and overall pain in the ass I can be.

Here’s to a comeback year.  2020 is gonna be my jam.  I’m gonna make turning 40 look GOOD, and not something to be feared or dreaded.

Thanks for reading, darlings.

I remain yours truly,
Peter McCollum (Iron Paul)

Sh*t I like #1 – PC Games

I was a PC gamer long before I got into video games.  It always felt like video games were never really designed for me, as my hand-eye coordination was always quite bad.  I remember watching my friends play Super Mario Brothers and saying to myself “Well, that’s nice,” and basically resigning to be a viewer rather than a player after a few failed attempts.

However, I met Mitch Ladson in first grade and discovered computer games, and that was very much a turning point for me.  These games gave you time to think.  These games relied more on logic and thinking and deduction, all rather than a quick decision.  Sure, there were games out there like Airborne Ranger that were arcade-style and not my speed, but for the most part I found that computer games were far superior.

I still find that to be the case today, although in recent days I have become more of a video gamer.  My loyalties will always be with the PC, however, and I wish like hell it didn’t become so accessible to everyone.  I enjoyed being one of the elite few who enjoyed that secret world.

Anyways, if you’re still here after that not-so-subtle cheap shot, these are the games that have impacted me the most, in no particular order:

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

I had to open with this classic, because it is my first love.  By this point, I can play it by memory, too, as I have gone through the game hundreds of times and know most of the material by heart.  While I am also a huge fan of Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?, this game was the one that made me fall in love with computer gaming (and solidified my love of random facts as well).

The game was unique in many ways.  It was a detective game cleverly masked as a series of history and geography lessons, as well as a tutorial for how to use an encyclopedia.  It even came with a funny little dossier of the criminals you were hunting.  I kinda had a thing for Dazzle Annie…

You basically travel the world looking for criminals who have stolen ridiculous things (if memory serves, one criminal was able to hijack the sphinx from Egypt).  Question different informants to find where the criminal is headed, and also gather information of the suspect’s physical description to get a warrant from HQ.  A fun, compact game that can be played in small segments.

And, BOY, how the world has changed since this game’s first release!  I guess you wouldn’t know what I mean if you haven’t played it recently.

Sword of the Samurai

If you’re not familiar with the previous entry, you’re definitely not gonna know this one.  A simple, 8-bit style game with very simple gameplay, Sword of the Samurai revolves around one man trying to become shogun in feudal Japan.  You form up your army, you practice your swordsmanship, and you go to neighboring territories and try to provoke your rivals by telling them that they are a coward whose ancestors hauled dung.

Oh, and you look for a wife, of course… who always seems to be captured by waterfall bandits.

For all its simplicity, Sword of the Samurai is still a well-concealed history lesson.  It shows how a peasant could rise up in society, and it also demonstrated how you had to play politics with the people around you (even if they get a little froggy and try to raid your territory).

Sometimes, it is best to use restraint instead of seeking revenge.  Sometimes, it is best to let your neighbors get attacked.  While this game seems simple, your decisions actually very directly affect the outcome of your scenario.  The game is quite complex for how little there is to it.

The game difficulty can be altered greatly based on the territory you choose.  There is never a guarantee that you can make it to the end, either.  Sometimes your rivals are just too aggro and they won’t stop invading you or trying to kidnap people from your home.  Sometimes it is not about a decision you made, you just get a bad roll.  On those times, go out there and talk smack about everybody’s ancestors and kidnap a few people just to show them who’s boss.  It is unusually satisfying.

Simple controls, a bit of a strategic element, and a system that revolves largely around luck, Sword of the Samurai hearkens a simpler time in PC gaming.

Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Ahoy, mateys!  This game is ridiculously fun, and I still play it regularly.  When I was a teenager, I played the updated, i.e. VGA version, and not the incredibly dull-colored CGA version, and that will always be the superior rendition to me.  Yes, I played the X-Box version as well.  It didn’t stink nearly as much as I thought it would (I own the Steam port of it, too).

For this game, there is quite a bit of variety in what you can do.  You can join a legendary pirate crew, or you can start from one of the historical eras of privateering.  Try to accumulate as much treasure and prestige as possible among the colonies, or simply sink every ship you find and keep paying bribes to the governor to keep yourself out of trouble.

If you want the full experience, start a crew and align yourself with either the English or the French (or both).  Hack and slash and burn and pillage the Spanish settlements in an attempt to make your home country the dominant presence in the Spanish main.  You also have a series of side quests to find your kidnapped family (and I mean your ENTIRE family), and a successful recovery can lead you to an even bigger pile of gold awaiting you in a fabled lost city.

I used to cheat and keep reloading the game until it gave me a portion of the map I recognized, then rolled out to that area and grabbed the gold.  The computer would then reset the quest.  Sometimes you could get away with it two or three times.

This is another game that solidified to me that PC gaming is superior, as there is a significant amount of strategy involved if you want to play it right.  I prefer to start a game at the very beginning of the timeline as a Dutch privateer for maximum challenge.

Sim Farm

One year, I asked my parents for Sim Earth, as I had read about it in a magazine.  The guy at Babbages apparently informed my parents that I might have been a little too young for it, so he suggested Sim City instead.  I liked the game just fine, I suppose, though I did not at all comprehend what I was doing.  I simply started a new game, used the money cheat, and let the computer spit out all the consequential natural disasters before I started building.

A few years later, however, my little brother purchased Sim Farm, and I was almost immediately hooked.

The premise is simple:  you take out a bank loan and try to create a successful farm.  There’s not much to this game, really.  You can raise livestock and grow crops.  That’s pretty much it.  Make sure your animals don’t starve and try to keep the quality of your crops up by warding them off against bugs and disease.  The neighboring town seems to grow as your homestead grows, so you basically play until it becomes a pain to manage and you start over.

Strawberries, people.  Take out the biggest loan you can, plant strawberries in February, buy a bunch of horses, and reap the reward.
King’s Quest 6

What a franchise, people.  God bless the good people at Sierra for cranking out so many wonderful games.

While you can’t help but wonder why evil wizards keep picking on this one family, King’s Quest 6 took the newly-introduced elements of voice-acting and not having to type in commands from the previous game, and made what is arguably the best game in the series.  Yes, I know that typing commands is what made the game challenging in the first place, but you would have to be a member of MENSA to beat that first game.  I’m not even kidding.

Big thanks, by the way, to ADG Interactive, the passion project that remade the first three.  That was a lifetime achievement for me, beating the first King’s Quest.

Prince Alexander finds himself whisked away to a small cluster of islands, and, like all of the games from that era, has to solve a series of puzzles involving logic, puns, and the manipulation of common items found on the ground.  Light-hearted and a great deal of fun, this game also has two paths that you can take:  the so-so ending and the ending that brings you to tears.

Witty characters, tons of punny solutions, and the ability to complete the game in a couple of different ways makes this game incredibly special.

Girl in the toooooowerrrrr…   *sniff*

Quest for Glory 1, a.k.a Hero’s Quest

The first release of Quest for Glory was very much like King’s Quest, in that it involved the typing of commands.  However, a combat element was added to make it a little different from its predecessors.  Just like the previous entry, I’ve never played any of the originals where you type in commands, but I have beaten this game with every character, the first time coming up only a few points shy of a perfect score.

The land of Spielberg has a bandit problem.  Actually, it has a bandit / witch / monster problem, and they are hiring a hero to set things right.  Following a lot of the same pun-laden humor common to Sierra games, you manipulate items to solve certain puzzles, travel around a small map to try and find the sources of Spielberg’s woes, and encounter the fierce and capricious Antwerp.  However, there’s an added RPG element, as you character is able to gain levels and even cross-train certain skills.  You will need to have your stats higher by the end of the game, as the enemies get tougher as you progress deeper into the story.

The combat system is a bit janky and predictable, but it is easy to master.  Furthermore, if you want to head out into the spooky forest with more strength and stamina, just climb the tree outside of the city.

Another interesting aspect of this game is that it allows you upon completion to import your character to future games.  Unfortunately Quest for Glory 2 was a bit of a mess.  I’ve attempted it several times, and the mapping system kills me.  I’ve read that the next ones in the series were better.  In fact, ADG Interactive has done a remake of the third.

Choose between a fighter, a wizard, or a thief, and set out for adventure.  With a few unique elements to each story line, the replay value is incredibly high.

Dungeon Hack

It is what it says it is, friends.  Think Wolfenstein meets Dungeons and Dragons, and that’s pretty much it.  Nothing flashy here.

While you have the option to play as many different classes, this is a simple first person dungeon crawl.  Why I love this game so much defies logic, as there is very little depth or variety.  It’s just a randomly generated dungeon with foes that meet you head-on.  There are a few puzzles here and there, and you can make the game harder by implementing added obstacles.

Other than that, there isn’t much to it.  I know that I haven’t sold this one very well, but I happen to like the game a lot.  This was what was available at Richard Pape’s house when I hung out there after school, so I am wildly biased.

Just play as the Cleric / Mage, and fire up those Spiritual Hammer spells.

Warcraft 2

What can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said?  This game is among the most influential games of the modern era, and would soon lead to that unfortunate breakthrough where PC games became accessible to the same assholes who used to pick on me for playing PC games.

I’m not bitter.

Anyways, to where the first installment introduced something new, fresh, and amazing (if you didn’t have the attention span for Sid Meier’s Civilization), the second installment absolutely nailed it.

With a solid storyline behind it, Warcraft 2 endeared itself with so many people for its use of expansions and mods to keep the game interesting.  It may not have been the first, but it was certainly the best.
Baldur’s Gate 2

If you haven’t played this one… GOOD.  Leave it be!  This is OUR GAME.  I don’t care if you liked Skyrim.  Screw that game.  That’s not how the franchise was supposed to turn out!

Sorry.  I’m better now.  My snobbery kicks in with this one as well, because everybody enjoyed the later games on the Playstation and X-Box, and they have no idea where the games come from.  Some of us have paid our dues!  I’m talkin’ ’bout Pool of Radiance, Hillsfar, and Menzoberranzan.  What-choo know about THAT???

To where the first game was buggy and a little unclear at times, Baldur’s Gate 2 had so many extras to it that it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve gone through it.  And just like the previous entry, people are still making mods.  I just started a new game yesterday with a hundred tiny mods added on, and my gameplay experience is already drastically different (and a lot more exciting).

You pick up where the previous game left off, a demigod who is searching for answers of their origins and why they are being hunted.  With dozens of sidequests to help your character buff up and get some incredible gear, you can also recruit a myriad of different personalities to help you on your quest.  While it doesn’t exactly pay to be evil in this game, it certainly has its own rewards.

In a future post, I will discuss the latest addition to this franchise, Siege of Dragonspear.  This game really did a lot to bridge the first and second chapters.  Also, if the rumors are correct, we may see a third installment very soon…

Fun sidequests, witty banter that often leads to banging, and a big enough variety of spells, weapons, and classes to always keep it interesting, Baldur’s Gate 2 is a modern classic, one that will probably never be outdone.

*****

Next time, I will be discussing the video games that have endeared themselves with me over time.  After that, who knows?  If you have suggestions, drop me a line at therealironpaul@gmail.com