My Favorite Games: Half-Life 2

The video game that fundamentally changed how I think about video games

To manage expectations: I don’t have any new epiphanies about Half-Life 2 or anything, but I’ve been seeing lists of people’s favorite or most influential video games going around, and it occurred to me that I forgot to add Half-Life 2 to my own running list. The problem is that I forget about Half-Life 2 simply because it had such an impact on me; it seems as trivial to say that I like it as it would be to say that I like chocolate or puppies.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this game changed how I think about video games, and what I think they’re capable of.

Until I played it, I’d been perfectly happy with the hard divisions between games that had become calcified over the years, to the point where I believed that different aspects were inherently mutually exclusive. You can have a well-written cinematic story… but at the expense of action. You can have puzzles… at the expense of pacing. You can have systems-based game mechanics… at the expense of direction and “authorship.” Half-Life 2 just said, “Nah, we want all of it.”

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Literacy 2023: Book 9: The Skeleton Key

Erin Kelly’s mystery/thriller novel inspired by real-life puzzle books and the treasure hunters obsessed with decoding them

The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly

The Golden Bones was a hugely popular art book filled with paintings giving clues to the locations of tiny, jeweled bones buried all across England. The book brought fame and wealth to the artist, but a lifetime of paranoia to his daughter Nell, who’s been stalked, threatened, and attacked by the hunt’s obsessive fans. Now, on the book’s 50th anniversary, there’s a plan to create a modern version of the treasure hunt, launched with a publicity stunt revealing the final bone that had never been found. When the launch goes awry, it ties the family to an actual murder and puts Nell and her family in jeopardy once again.


  • Brilliant concept, building off the real-world existence of Masquerade and, as the author describes it, “the human impulse to uncover secrets”
  • Once it gets moving, it’s extremely compelling. I was up until 3 AM reading it last night, and couldn’t wait until bedtime tonight and had to finish it this morning.
  • Juggles enough complications and revelations and escalations to make it feel as if everything is just on the edge of collapse, but without feeling too overwhelming.
  • Does a good job capturing the style and tone of treasure-hunt and ARG message boards — everyone referring to each other by online handle, and the mix of people fully invested in the subject along those who are perpetually angry at the artists
  • Pitch-perfect depiction of an egomaniacal asshole who is incessantly making cutting remarks, undermining everyone around him and passing it off as affection.
  • One of the major revelations is astonishingly well done. You immediately have to turn back and read an earlier chapter, to see that all the clues were there all along.


  • The depiction of an egomaniacal asshole was vivid enough to reawaken low-grade anxiety about people like that I’ve met in real life.
  • Kind of a stumbling start to the book, as there’s a ton of necessary context that needs to be established, and it all gets thrown together in a bewildering mess of names and events.
  • I just plain don’t like the main character; she’s self-righteous and a hypocrite. People kept pointing out she was being insufferable, and they were right, and she ignored them. There I said it.
  • Not really a “con,” so much as mismanaged expectations on my part: the book is only barely interested in the puzzle-hunt nature of the premise, and is much more of a “Tiny Secret Whispers”-style family drama.

This wasn’t the book that I wanted or expected it to be, but it was surprisingly good at being what it is. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a “can’t put it down” thriller, and this one definitely qualifies. It’s gripping even though there’s very little action or suspense; it’s all plot developments moving everything constantly forward.

The Worst Jedi

Being tragically bad at video games means getting stories with bad pacing

One thing to know about me is that I’m extremely bad at video games. Whoever was making my character neglected to put any points into dexterity, so I’m pretty hopeless at anything that requires quick reflexes or precise hand-eye coordination.

(You might think it’s weird to spend most of your career working in video games if you’re bad at them, but I’d counter that most of the games I’ve worked on have been more modest, story- and puzzle-driven adventure games. You might then go on to assume that I must be better at adventure games, then, but I have to say that I’m bad at those, too).

I’ve been reminded of how bad I am at games, brutally and repeatedly, because I’ve gotten the chance to put some more time into Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order over the past few days.

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Being Reminded of Sarah Marshall

Nostalgia for a nostalgic TV series from the early 2000s is making me nostalgic for a rewind to the early 2000s.

Last week I was forced out of retirement to re-explain the end of How I Met Your Mother to people on YouTube who just didn’t get it, man. That re-awakened my long-dormant fandom for the series, which has had the side effect of waking up every morning the past few days with “Let’s Go To The Mall” going through my head1In the running with “the cake is a lie” as one of those brilliant pop culture ideas that got ruined by excessive repetition.

I honestly can’t tell if it’s ironic or completely predictable that a series all about nostalgia has triggered a fierce nostalgia in me for the early 2000s. And I’d never made the connection before, but that period — from around 2003 to around 2008 — was the time before Twitter really took off.

To be honest, I probably overestimate the impact Twitter had on pop culture, and we were all headed towards being cynical, pedantic, self-righteous, and bitter anyway. But I still get super-strong feelings of “They couldn’t make a show like that nowadays!” when I think about the early seasons of How I Met Your Mother.

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    In the running with “the cake is a lie” as one of those brilliant pop culture ideas that got ruined by excessive repetition

Where Did We Go Wrong?

Ongoing experiments in social media

When I first heard about Twitter, I — along with a lot of other luddites — thought it sounded like the stupidest thing imaginable. But I decided to give it a shot, follow a bunch of people from different areas of interest, and started to get a real sense of community. Within a few months, I’d gotten to depend on it, not just as a social outlet and as my primary source of news, from global to hyper-local.

And then, after using it for a while longer, I realized that I’d been right the first time. There’s something rotten about Twitter, and it was there long before Musk bought it, and long before the “alt-right” discovered it as the perfect harassment platform.

When the tech media started discovering Mastodon, I heard a lot of people say that there’s no way it would become a Twitter replacement. I think it was meant to be a slam, but I’d say now that I agree, and that it’s a good thing.

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How I Chose a Weird Hill to Die On

I was surprised by my own defensiveness about How I Met Your Mother, which has become my favorite sitcom. Includes my list of “essential” episodes, from my bad memory.

So What Happened Was

Because I’ve been watching a lot of the Barbie promotional material — which is a little like a drowning man saying “I’ve been drinking a lot of water” — YouTube decided that I must be a huge fan of Greta Gerwig1In fact, I’m unfamiliar with her work, but based on her list of influences it sounds like we have similar taste in movies!. It offered me a video about How I Met Your Dad, the first attempt at a How I Met Your Mother spin-off, which starred Gerwig but never went past the pilot.

That led to a bunch of suggested videos about How I Met Your Mother, most of which seemed designed to irritate me. They had titles like “Why the series finale was such a huge disappointment” or “How this one scene would have saved the finale of HIMYM” or “HIMYM’s disappointing ending explained.”

For some bizarre reason, I’ve appointed myself defender of the How I Met Your Mother finale, and it pains me to see people continuing to criticize it years later. Not only was the finale not a disappointment, It fits perfectly with the style and tone of the rest of the series, and it turns the entire thing — including all the tangents and filler mandated by the networks and real-world production concerns — into a single work about changing perspective, nostalgia, and unreliable narrators.

Also, I still love how you can go back and re-watch the episodes from the beginning, and it becomes clear that the finale we got was the only ending that could’ve made any sense. It feels like a batter pointing into the stands before the pitch, the ball spends the better part of a decade doing loop-de-loops around the stadium, getting more and more weighed down as the years go on, and then, somehow, it still lands exactly where they pointed. I’m not even putting a spoiler warning on any of this, both because the finale became public knowledge years ago, and because it’s even better going back after you know how it ends.

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    In fact, I’m unfamiliar with her work, but based on her list of influences it sounds like we have similar taste in movies!

Literacy 2023: Book 8: Eerie Tales from the School of Screams

This new graphic novel is an anthology of five comic horror stories, ostensibly for kids but actually for me

Eerie Tales from the School of Screams by Graham Annable

Children in a classroom are called on by their teacher to deliver an EERIE story to the rest of the class, and we get to see five of them play out.

I worked with Graham at LucasArts and Telltale, but I would think his stuff is brilliant anyway.


  • More of the creepy-funny feel of the Grickle animated short films he’s been making for years, but on paper.
  • Suitable for kids — Or maybe more accurate to say that it’s aimed at kids but suitable for adults? I don’t care! — but there’s little sense of anything being watered down. This feels like the creepy stories real kids would tell each other.
  • Graham is a master of expressions and poses; even after years of being a fan, I’m impressed by how he can get across a full-on mood and complete state of mind for a character by changing the position of a line by a fraction of a millimeter.
  • The anthology format is great; it calls back to kids’ horror shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark? as well as adult horror anthologies, but also carries through the entire framing story.
  • “The Face in the Forest” is my favorite of the stories, and it manages to be horrific and heartwarming at the same time.
  • I love how it feels old-fashioned and modern at the same time; it feels like it’s not trying to be anything else.


  • I read it too fast, so I’m only an hour from getting it in the mail and I already want the sequel.
  • I’d been hoping for Principal Skeleton.

I loved it. I wish I’d had comics like this when I was younger, “younger” including “in my forties.” If you’re a fan of Graham’s creepy-funny animated horror shorts, then this is a no-brainer. If you’re not a fan of them, then what is wrong with you?

Peaceful EV Feeling

I’ve been a bad evangelist for electric vehicles, but mostly because owning and driving one is almost never a problem.

If I remember correctly, the reason I started an EV Diary was to give other people the kind of resource I wasn’t seeing anywhere else online: a realistic, practical idea of what day-to-day life is like using an electric car. Everything I’d been seeing was from reviewers who’d only tried the car for a week at most; evangelists who’d ignore any glaring issues for the sake of promoting electric vehicles; or nerds who were not just willing but happy to devote a significant chunk of their life towards achieving maximum efficiency.

I haven’t updated in almost a year, but simply because there’s not much to report. I’d say at this point, the honeymoon is over between me and the ID.4 — it’s still the best car I’ve ever owned, but I’m more acutely aware of the little nuisances that I used to overlook. Regardless, I’ve decided to buy the car when its lease is up next year.

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Literacy 2023: Book 7: Moriarty

Anthony Horowitz’s mystery adventure set immediately after Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis fell to their deaths at Reichenbach Falls

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

A Pinkerton detective arrives in Europe shortly after the climax of the story “The Final Problem,” in which Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty had fallen to their deaths at Reichenbach Falls. There, he meets a Detective Inspector from Scotland Yard who appears to be as brilliant a detective as Holmes himself. The two return to England to track down the mysterious American who’d replaced Moriarty as the mastermind of all crime in London.

Every bit as engaging readable as everything else I’ve read from Horowitz. Much like his entries in the new James Bond series, you get the sense that Horowitz either loves these classic characters and the worlds of their adventures, or else he’s astonishingly good at faking it. He doesn’t try to ape Arthur Conan Doyle’s style (at least for long), but instead captures the tone and mood of the original stories while giving them a more modern and action-oriented plot.

Difficult to say anything about it without spoiling one aspect of it or another. The famous moments of deduction here don’t land as well as they did in the original stories. The central mystery — or at least, what I’m assuming is the central mystery — isn’t particularly satisfying, since there aren’t enough suspects to make it that interesting.

Anthony Horowitz continues to be one of the most dependable authors of interesting and engaging logic puzzle mysteries, frequently with some meta-aspect that makes them especially fascinating. Moriarty was a fun read, but I have to admit that it might be the least satisfying mystery novel that I’ve read by Horowitz. But then, I’ve never been that much of a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, either.

Raiders of the Lost AARP

A few random thoughts about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and the series as a whole

I liked Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. It kept up the formula of the series — which is proudly and iconically a celebration of formulaic moviemaking — without feeling like a retread. And it did a good job of completing the arc1No pun intended for its main character, bringing his story to a conclusion in a way that felt meaningful, but without getting in the way of the fact that these are action movies first and foremost.

But that’s after a day of thinking about it and watching videos about it. As I was watching it, I didn’t get it at all.

Usually when I’m critical of a movie’s plotting, it’s because I feel like I understand what the movie’s writers are trying to do, or where they’re trying to get to, but it doesn’t make sense for the characters in the moment. With Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, it was the complete opposite: at pretty much every step of the way, I understood the characters’ motivations, but I was left baffled as to why the movie was making the choices it did.

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    No pun intended

Here Come the Sobs

My overly emotional experience seeing The Beatles LOVE show by Cirque du Soleil

Before last week, I’d never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, and didn’t know much about it except that it’s got acrobats and dancers in a ton of make-up, and that middle-aged white people absolutely lose their shit over it.

Now that I’ve seen their show LOVE at The Mirage in Las Vegas, I can assert that both of those things are true. I spent an hour and a half surrounded by beautiful people doing the most amazing feats of physicality I’ve ever seen in person, and as a middle-aged white person myself, I was completely wrecked by the end of it.

Actually, that’s underselling it; I was devastated by the whole thing. The show has an intentionally chaotic opening as the performers move across the stage, giving everyone in the audience something different to look at — there’s a penny farthing! A VW Beetle! Hey look, mods! — and the music is ostensibly a remix/medley of “Get Back” and “Glass Onion” that reminds you just how much amazing music the Beatles put out. As I was turning my head to look at trapeze artists overhead, I felt something wet. I reached up to touch my face — like a doomed character in a TV series realizing their nose is bleeding — and I found that I’d already started involuntarily crying.

This was like maybe five minutes into a 90 minute show. I seriously needed to pace myself.

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I Had No Idea What Was In Store

My visit to Omega Mart in Las Vegas was a welcome surprise

Last weekend we took a post-birthday trip to Las Vegas, and it turned out to be fantastic. I’m not a particularly big fan of Vegas, and I hadn’t visited in at least fifteen years, so we had a few specific things on the agenda: I wanted to see the Neon Museum, the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show1Watch this blog for updates!, and Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart.

Since I’m possibly the last person among my friends, coworkers, and general peer group to see Omega Mart, I’d seen quite a bit about it beforehand. The premise seemed like something I’d be into — a weird supermarket hiding tons of secrets behind its shelves. This is a location-based entertainment/art installation. I know this!

As it turns out, I had no idea. I’ve been hearing for years how neat Omega Mart is, and I still went away thinking that all of that praise was actually under-selling it.

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    Watch this blog for updates!