The Elder Thoughts

RPGs, miniatures, books and other rants

Book review: Building Big

Building Big book cover

Building Big by David Macaulay it's a 190 pages entertaining title about huge human constructions, from bridges, tunnels and dams, to domes and skyscrapers. Combining explicative illustrations with easily understandable descriptions, you will learn some building secrets, from why steel pillars are I-shaped to how many different methods of constructing a bridge exist.

The images are very well chosen to give you the proper context and/or represent critical diagrams, the text never gets too dense but also never feels short of important points, and I cannot really complain about anything.


I'm going back to finish videogames I started in the past but, for whatever the reason, didn't finished and feel should have. Some of them are classics, others more recent. In any case, I wanted to write today about Outcast, a 1999 PC videogame that I both had on CD-ROM and then grabbed digital (also to experience the nicely welcome 1.1 patch for modern PCs).

Outcast screenshot

Outcast was a technical marvel when came out. You surely needed a beefed up PC, but videogames were one of my main drives back then so that wasn't an issue. The combination of voxel-based terrain, polygons for entities and buildings, the smooth particles and the great effects (the water ripples and effects were amazing compared to the likes of Quake or Unreal) made for a really nice looking title. But what really stood out was the setting and the attention to detail.

Stargate is one of my favourite films, and Outcast is "similar, but not the same": Military people visiting an alien planet, "gates", a quest to find a way back home, oppressors and oppressed and you, the hero, in the middle... The cool thing about a videogame is that it can provide the (usually illusory) feeling of freedom; sure quests, lack of key items and other techniques will stop you from really doing whatever you like, but in this title you really can go to any of the 6 islands (regions) if you dare. You have probably hundreds of NPCs to talk about dozens of quests per region (plus a few cross-region ones), primary quests, secondary quests, optional quests (at first I wasn't sure, but at the end of the game you even get some % completion scores)...

But the way the world is built is simply awesome. Even today, when some parts of the game engine are clearly outdated and feel even buggy, watching the talan (alien race workers, the good guys) go work, get scared and run if you shoot, call you out and many other behaviours, make everything look really alive. Some NPCs stay put, others do rounds, and others have more complex paths, so you can for example ask for where to locate a certain talan, and they will reply you sentences like "I saw him by the water near the crops far to the northwest of here a while ago". Sure, the voice acting varies a lot, and sometimes is quite terrible, but still to see so much dialogue is great.

The controls are terrible, you can get stuck in the scenery at a few places (saving is your best ally) and sometimes it is not totally clear what you have to do (hint: when in doubt, search for items like "keys" in the floor of relevant areas), but still I had a blast playing and finishing the game. I even drew island maps to mark the daookas (gates) and where they went.

While Outcast it is not advertised as an RPG, it might not have player stats/levelling, but to me it felt way more akin to role-playing than many other titles that do so.

Status Update: March 2020

As I live in Spain, currently with the COVID-19 pandemic we're in strict house confinement and I don't have the gaming PC, so I'm taking advantage of it to change my usual habits of gaming to try indie titles, play older games and play more the Nintendo Switch (which I do have with me).

These past months I've mostly redeemed myself by finishing the original The Legend of Zelda, I must confess I had to check a walkthrough at some points because the hints are not so good, but I agree it is impressive considering that came out in 1986. I tried Zelda 2 but I can't bear it.

I also finished Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which I remember as having a great atmosphere, and it truly delivers. I just got a bit tired of so much shooting, but the sneaking, the running and overall the plot is great, such a good adaptation from Lovecraft main Innsmouth lore.

I'm burning out from playing Diablo 3 on the Switch, as the following screenshot can assert:

Diablo 3 character profile screenshot

I played one season character, I played the Darkening of Tristram event, and I'm soloing with my necromancer greater rifts near level 55, but it is increasingly hard to find better gear for her and I'm not willing to grind loot too much. I might switch to another character to try to obtain some of each class armour sets, but the only thing I want (all the pets/minions) is one of the harder and chance-based tasks, so not willing to complete the collection.

I also played Diablo 1 a bit more, as the Hellfire expansion was included in GOG's version and I could make it run under Linux, but playing in hard difficulty mode is slow even with my level 43 character, so I've stopped (you feel the lack of variety in the levels after some runs).

Finally, what I am currently playing now is quite a departure from the usual... the latest Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo Switch, New Horizons.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons screenshot

I played a lot 3DS' **New Leaf game, so I remember most of the basics, but you can feel the supreme expertise of Nintendo in polishing and always improving gameplay of it's AAA titles; everything feels smotth, simple to learn, varied, helpful, intuitive... The game looks like having content and things to do for potentially hundreds of hours, and even the multiplayer is fun (visiting other's islands and trading fruits and materials with them). At least to me, it is the perfect calm companion for this confinement.

Book review: A Reader's Guide to R. A. Salvatore's the Legend of Drizzt

A Reader's Guide to R. A. Salvatore's the Legend of Drizzt book cover

Another long due pending read, A Reader's Guide to R. A. Salvatore's the Legend of Drizzt is a 170 pages book written in 2008 that serves as a reference for all things related with The Legend of Drizzt book series by R. A. Salvatore.

It is a big book, full of beautiful illustrations, always accompanied by text explaining them. From maps of the Underdark and the drow cities, to every character (both main and secondary ones) in the first 12 books of the series, magical items and creatures, it serves as indeed a good reference. The descriptions are sometimes either too brief or too focused on a specific situation (e.g. how character XXX died, instead of what his/her role), but overall give you a good reminder if you've read the books. I have at least read the first 5 or 6 ones and I should read the rest...

The drawings are really good, specially those that come from the book covers, but as they come from varied artists, same as with comics sometimes the representation of the characters is... quite different. Drizzt might appear too big-headed, or too tiny, Bruenor sometimes appears to be a bulky human instead of a dwarf... But as I said is just how your mental images of the characters sometimes "clash" with how an artist portrayed them.

Drizzt early books alongside some of the Dragonlace novels kept me awake until late quite a few nights when I was young reading the adventures, so my nostalgia kicks in, and kicks very hard. It is difficult to not be subjective when Drizzt has always been one of my favourite fantasy characters, but still I highly recommend the book to any fan of the lore.

Book review: Pyramid - David Macaulay

Pyramid book cover

More old book readings available on the Internet Archive, the other day I finished Pyramid, which as you could guess by the title, explains how pyramids were built in ancient Egypt. Similarly to Castle, we're told a story of a fictional character (a Pharaoh) who requests a huge pyramid to be built before he dies, complete with a smaller one for his wife.

Again beautiful black & white hand-drawings and concise but clarifying diagrams and maps whenever needed help to narrate how the titanic structure was built. Very interesting and a quick reading (more than half of it's less than a hundred pages are full-page pictures).

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