Last summer I wrote that my experience with the COVID-19 pandemic at that time was "pretty pedestrian". At the time, I was optimistic that the pandemic would soon be well under control, despite the absolute ineptitude of our government's initial response. But here we are, a year and a half later, and community spread of COVID is still causing almost as many deaths on a weekly basis as it did at the height of the pandemic a year ago. This is despite the widespread availability of free, CDC and FDA-approved vaccines!

Vaccines are now available for children as young as 5.

My partner and I are vaccinated, as are most of our friends and relatives, but we have a 11-year old child attending public school, and a 2 1/2 month old infant. Neither child is vaccinated yet. The vaccines weren't approved for use in children under 12 until recently, and even then, they are only approved for children as young as 5. We had scheduled for our 11-year old to get the first vaccine shot in early November (the week after it was approved for children in her age group). But in a twisted bit of irony, COVID made it into our household before she could get that shot.

Close calls

We narrowly avoided contracting COVID earlier in October. I was asked by a neighbor to walk their children to school one morning because she and her husband had to go into work early. I was happy to oblige. It's the neighborly thing to do. What I didn't know was that the father is unvaccinated. Had I known, I likely would have refused. And I would have been vindicated in that refusal because their entire household came down with COVID that week. The father is a teacher and was required to do weekly testing. He tested on Monday, I walked the kids to school on Tuesday, the father received his positive result on Wednesday, and the kids and their mother began showing symptoms that weekend.

Lucky for us, none of us got sick. The kids either weren't contagious yet, or we just weren't close enough to contract it from them. And don't worry, our neighbors and their kids are all recovered now.

The next exposure, we weren't quite so lucky.

Our luck runs out

The week before our daughter was scheduled to get her first vaccine shot, my partner contracted COVID. The likely vector for the virus was another child of un-vaccinated parents who went trick-or-treating with our daughter on Halloween. The mother of one of our daughter's friends had been watching him on weekends because his deadbeat mom kept dumping him off on her. He had been feeling sick the week before, but didn't bother to tell us, nor did his mother bother to tell us. I think she just wanted to get him out of the house so that she could get some booty calls.

It's too bad the CDC couldn't have authorized the vaccine for younger children before Halloween.
I imagine we weren't the only ones to catch COVID while trick-or-treating.

We had 2 occasions in which we socialized with children of un-vaccinated parents, and in both cases, we were exposed to COVID. We had been rigorous about making sure that any adults we socialized with were vaccinated. But children couldn't be vaccinated, and we couldn't deny letting our daughter visit with friends. All of her friends' parents were vaccinated, so it never really occurred to us to make a policy of verifying the vaccination status of other childrens' parents. It seems obvious in hindsight, but we just never thought of it.

We avoided COVID for a year and a half,
but our luck ran out this November.

Anyway, he tested positive the day after Halloween, and our kid's friend's mom tested positive a couple days after that. A week after Halloween, my partner started sniffling and coughing while breast-feeding our son. I had her take a home COVID test, and sure enough, it was positive. We promptly put her into quarantine in our guest room (thankfully we have a house large enough to allow us to keep a guest room). And since we couldn't be certain that we had quarantined her before she spread it to myself or our 11-year-old, we were forced to all start wearing masks in the house whenever we were around each other, or whenever any of us was handling the baby.

It sucked. You think it's uncomfortable and inconvenient to wear a mask in public? Imagine having to do it all day in your own home!

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Imagine Earth - title

I've been seeing more and more games putting an emphasis on mechanics oriented around environmentalism and sustainability. Games in genres that typically encourage unchecked exploitation of resources are now becoming more and more about the sustainable use of resources. It makes sense. Climate change is becoming more and more of a visible problem that affects our lives in tangible ways. Milliennial game developers are also searching for ways to cope with the fact that our generation and the next will be stuck paying the consequences of the short-sightedness of our parents' and grandparents' generations. Many members of those earlier generations are still, unfortunately in positions of political and corporate power, and make up a large voting block, and are continuing to make selfish, short-sighted decisions that will only make matters worse for the younger generations. It makes sense that younger game developers would be baking those anxieties into the games that they make.

Ecologically-focused colony-building

Imagine Earth is the type of city-builder / strategy sim that has typically been about conspicuous consumption, but it now wants the player to consume more responsibly. Not only does this game expect the player to industrialize the surface of entire planets at the behest of a corporation, it also asks the player to do that with an eye towards limiting greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and other pollution. Developing a sustainable economy doesn't only mean cutting back on emissions from power plants, industrial activity, and so forth. It also requires restoring or expanding natural habitats by planting forests, growing corals, and so forth.

Imagine Earth prioritizes limiting greenhouse emissions and pollution.

Either the player has to plan the growth of your colonies in a sustainable fashion and prevent emissions and pollution from ever getting out of hand to begin with, or you have to spend the back half of each mission doing damage control.

Unfortunately, just like in real-life, any individual person or corporation or government's environmental efforts aren't necessarily sufficient to curtail the effects of climate change. There are often other corporations or settlements on these planets which don't have the same noble ecological goals, and who will happily ruin things for everybody else. They are there to make a quick buck by exploiting as much of the resources as possible, with no plans for sustained long term habitation -- the other people living on the planet be damned. But the corporation we work for in Imagine Earth does plan on prepping these planets for long-term colonization, so we have to pick up those other corporations' messes. Sometimes through violence, coercion, or sabotage, but usually through a hostile takeover of majority stake.

Not all corporations are concerned with long-term colonization that requires a stable environment.
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Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye - title

When I played it last year (after waiting over a year for its timed Epic Store exclusivity to end), Outer Wilds quickly became one of my favorite games ever due to its innovative sci-fi, exploratory gameplay in its dynamic sandbox solar system full of interesting places that are genuinely worth exploring. It was a compelling sci-fi game about the nature of science and the desire to find out place in the universe. It was also a compelling player-driven mystery game that doesn't hold the player's hand and which provides genuine "eureka!" moments.

I wasn't expecting an expansion because the game seemed so perfect and self-contained that I struggled to even think of what could be included in an expansion. Would they add more planets to the solar system? Would it be a stand-alone prequel with the player playing as one of the extinct Nomai?

But I sure as hell was not going to pass up an excuse to revisit Timber Hearth!

I wasn't going to pass up an excuse to revisit Timber Hearth!

River rafting around the world

One of my favorite things about Outer Wilds is its open-ended exploration of the hand-crafted solar system. Each world is a little puzzle box for the player to unlock, with the solutions to every puzzle involving some sci-fi physics concept that the player has to learn and apply.

The puzzles of Echoes of the Eye don't seem to have that same sci-fi quality to them. Most puzzles involve the use of light, and feel like they could be puzzles in any earthbound adventure or fantasy setting. I just point flashlights at things to trigger mechanisms, turn lights off or on to trigger secret passageways, or turn off my source of light to sneak past photo-sensitive sentries in the dark. I guess I should praise the puzzle design for never falling back on the tried-and-true (yet rote) method of reflecting light off mirrors or through prisms. The actual puzzles are a bit more clever than this, but I just don't find it to be a very engaging or interesting gimmick, especially compared to how novel and creative the core Outer Wilds puzzle box is.

The use of light as the instrument for most interactions with Echoes of the Eye seems to be the result of a concerted effort by the developers to use base game mechanics that are under-utilized in the base game, such as the flashlight and ability to nap at bonfires. The puzzles just lack that sense of awe and discovery that comes with progressing in the base game.

Echoes of the Eye starts off strong with solving a space-based mystery.

Some of the late puzzles do start to embrace Outer Wilds's sci-fi nature. They hide some very fun and interesting surprises that really mess with the player's perception of reality in a very video-game-meta sort of way. But they are so esoteric that the game almost has to literally tell the player what to do. It's like "summoning the tornado in Simon's Quest" levels of esoteric at times.

Honestly, I think the single best puzzle in the game is the one that the player has to solve just to get access to the DLC! It's also the most "Outer Wilds" feeling puzzle in the game. The developers managed to cleverly hide the DLC in plain sight, as if it had been there all along.

The opening for the DLC tasks the player with finding a remote satellite and solving a simple puzzle involving it. Then the expansion treats the player with the awe-inspiring discovery of a massive hidden world that makes up the expansion's primary setting. After that, however, everything feels like pretty typical adventure game stuff. Instead of planet-hopping in a tiny space capsule, I find myself white-water rafting and watching home movies on slide projectors. Later on, there's some horror-adjacent exploration of dark spaces with just a flashlight, and even a little bit of hide-and-seek. Again, it's nothing I haven't seen in a hundred other indie games.

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There are days in all of our lives in which our life irreversibly changes forever. A few weeks ago, I had such a day. My partner of 7 years and I welcomed into the world a new baby boy. Little Julian was born via C-section in early October at 7 pounds and 3 ounces, and is so far healthy and happy.

My partner and I welcomed our baby son, Julian into the world in early September.

Regular readers might know that I already have a child for all intents and purposes. When I met my partner, she already had a 3 year old daughter from a previous relationship. We've had full custody of that child, and so I've been raising as my own. Since I didn't even meet her until she was 3 years old, I missed out on all the baby stuff. In fact, she was just finishing up potty training when I met her, so I never had to deal with diapers. I had a daughter, but I never had a baby.

The only time I've ever had to deal with infants and diapers and bottles was years ago when a co-worker and friend friend had twin daughters through (I think) in vitro fertilization. She was raising the girls as a single mother and needed some extra help, and since she lived a few minutes from me, I offered to go over and help watch the babies from time to time so that she could take care of chores around the house. She taught me how to change diapers, feed babies, hold them, and calm them when they were crying. One of the twins was particularly responsive to me, and always seemed to calm down when I held her.

They were my little "practice babies", and I was sad when their mother decided to move out of state to the midwest to be with family. She had limited support here (even with friends and colleagues like me trying to help out whenever we could), so I can't blame or fault her for the decision.

But now I have a little baby of my own, and so that practice is finally paying off!

With my partner bed-ridden after the C-section, I was responsible for diaper changes in the first couple days.

In fact, I had to put that practice into effect almost immediately. Since my partner had to have a C-section, she was bed-ridden for the first couple days after the delivery. This meant that during those first couple days in the hospital, I was on full-time diaper duty. Newborn diapers weren't exactly what I was prepared for. The thick, black, sticky meconium was quite a bit different than what I remembered from the practice twins. Having a boy also meant I had the risk of being peed on during a diaper change, which isn't really a problem with baby girls (as far as I've been told). Though Julian has actually yet to pee on us directly. He did pee on his own face once though. I was holding is legs up to clean him after a dirty diaper, he started peeing while pointing right at his face. He was not a happy baby.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

It's really weird to feel good about a team that is 0-6 on the season, but that is kind of how I feel about this 2021 UNLV football team. Their latest loss is a 4th quarter collapse against Utah State by a score of 28-24. UNLV seemed in control throughout almost the entire game until the 4th quarter. The offense was moving the ball with Charles Williams putting up over 200 yards rushing, and backup QB Cameron Friel was looking good -- up until about midway through the third quarter, when Utah State's defense tightened up, started keying entirely on the run, and UNLV couldn't move the ball. In the meantime, Utah State pivoted their offense more towards the run, and even though UNLV's defense had been stout against the run earlier in the game, they suddenly started giving up big plays on the ground.

I thought for sure that a Utah State comeback would be through the air. UNLV's zone defense had huge gaps between the linebackers and safeties, and Utah State's receivers were finding those soft spots all throughout the first half. UNLV either needed to soften their zone coverages, and let Utah State have the underneath throws, or they needed to switch to more man coverage. But I didn't really get to see whether either of those adjustments would make a difference, since Utah State focused so heavily on the run in the second half.

Utah State rushing TD
Photo credit: Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun.
UNLV had stuffed the run the entire first half, but Utah State powered through to win in the 4th.

This is the fourth game this season that UNLV has lost by one score, and the fifth game in which they've covered the point spread. Two of those games were against ranked opponents. Despite not having won a single game yet this year, this UNLV team is not getting blown out in the way that they have in years' past. I'm used to seeing scores like 45-20, in which the game is over by the start of the 4th quarter. This year though, UNLV has had a chance to win the game right up to the final drive. Despite the winless record, this feels like an improvement.

This leaves me in the confusing and frustrating position of wondering whether this 0-6 UNLV team is actually "good" -- or at least better than their 0-6 record would indicate.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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