Something in the Water, Part 4

 By Shamus Oct 15, 2014 102 comments

And here’s the end of the story, which you probably guessed.


The thing about apartment hunting is that it’s all failure, because if you succeed you stop doing it. All the places are losers until you find the winner.

We finally found a winner. We met the landlord, toured the place, and signed the lease in the space of a couple of days. We were ready to accept any hovel, no matter how ugly or sketchy, just so I could escape the cats. But when we did find a place it turned out to be more than we could have hoped for. It was actually nicer than any of the other places we looked at.

“This place feels like it’s too good for us,” my wife says.

I nod. My oldest daughter said the same thing earlier, and I’ve been thinking it to myself all day.

We had a list of stuff we needed. (Three bedrooms, no pets, good wiring, in our price range, available NOW.) We had a list of stuff we wanted. (FOUR bedrooms, two bathrooms, a place for my office, nice neighborhood.) We had a list of stuff that we would wish for if we found a genie. (Laundry appliances. Four bedrooms. Nice view. Good sound insulation. Whole-unit air conditioning. New appliances. A spot for a bit of a garden.)

I love the view here. I mean, it's not glorious or anything, but we're up on a hill so we can see the sky when we look out a window, and not the side of a crappy building.

This place has everything except the dedicated office space. Aside from needing to steal half the living room for my office, this is better than we could possibly have hoped for.

Everything came together quickly. We saw the place, signed the lease, transferred the utilities, and moved the bulk of our stuff in the space of four days. This is the most panicked, ad-hoc move we’ve ever done.

I was in really bad shape by the end, walking around glassy-eyed and open-mouthed, pumped full of inhaler that did just enough to keep me out of the hospital. I wasn’t in physical danger yet, but I had pretty much stopped being a functioning adult. I didn’t really grasp how bad I was until a couple of days after we moved in. My lungs cleared up, my head cleared up, and I got some blissfully peaceful sleep.

Now that I’m alive again, I’m anxious to get back to work. But we’re on day two of a five-day internet blackout. So no work. (Except for writing this.) So I’m running a massive decontamination operation here at the new place. Everything has to be cleaned as it enters the house, or we’ll end up dragging the poison into the fresh clean new place. All the clothes need to be laundered. All the furniture needs to be wiped down. Instead of packing the empty cardboard boxes away (like we did after out last move) we throw them away. (Boxes are magical dust magnets. Dust can even stick to the sides!)

The vigorous cleaning is a lot of work on top of the move itself. It might be overkill, but we’re better safe than sorry. I don’t fully understand the mechanics of how dander works. I doubt anyone really does. It’s not like there’s an animal dander equivalent of the Geiger counter that I can just point at some blankets and know how sick they’ll make me or how much they will contaminate the air around me. The only testing apparatus we have are my lungs, and exposing yourself to possible hazards to see if they’re hazardous so you can later avoid them is probably the stupidest possible approach to safety. So, we’re just assuming that all fabric from the old place is poisonous until washed.

There are many bad things about this move, but the most vexing is the load it has put on Heather. In an ideal world, we would have had friends and family lined up to help with the move, but we couldn’t get help on such short notice. (There was actually a long-planned family event going on the day of the move. There were other family members we might have asked, but all the healthy young people are busy.) I don’t dare go back to the old pace, which means she and my oldest daughter (16) did most of the literal heavy lifting. So Heather has been working full-time, then coming home and moving all of our furniture herself.

All moved in.

As if to drive the point home, the neighborhood around the old place has gotten suddenly creepier. Some idiot drove by the apartment building across the street from the old place and fired a shotgun through one of the windows. (At the old place, my son could look out his bedroom window and see in the window where the attack happened. Thankfully, this was a couple of days after the move.) While my wife and youngest daughter were loading the car, a sketchy guy walked up to her, grabbed heather firmly by the arm, and started telling her how sexy she is and how big his dick was. The water company is back for some reason, and even swiped my wife’s parking spot in front of our old place, forcing her to lug furniture half a block. The thoughtless jerk could easily have moved anywhere he liked, since he was just sitting behind the wheel, but instead the guy from Pennsylvania American Water just sat in his truck and watched my wife and kid schlep stuff down the street while he sat in our parking spot at the bottom of our steps.

Basically, the old neighborhood is like this twilight zone where people are always thoughtless, mean, and dangerous. We had a good first year at the place, but I don’t think I’ll be nostalgic for it anytime soon. While I wish we could have moved under less panicked circumstances, I’m really glad to be out of there.


Image unrelated. Sort of. It's not worth explaining. The point is: Here are some pretty plants.

We’re doing good now. The worst of the move is over, and the family was able to help clean the old place up. I’m healthy again, Heather has recovered, and it looks like we’ll end up better off in the end. The house is nice, the neighborhood is nice, the water isn’t cloudy with bits of plastic, and I’m not suffocating.

I’ve run the numbers. Because we couldn’t properly plan the move ahead of time, we’re going to have a full month of overlap where we’re paying for both places. Rent for the old place, then (modestly higher) rent for the new. Plus the security deposit. Plus utilities at both places. Plus the cost of missing out on an Escapist column. Plus the cost of the stuff that got broken in the move. (My main monitor, and some random bits of furniture.) Plus the incidental costs of moving, which actually aren’t all that incidental. The final cost of this move will be thousands.

Here’s the thing: The only reason we were able to do this was because of my Patreon money. It probably sounds like hyperbole to say that the campaign saved my life, but I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten out of that jam without the support. You folks really did make a huge difference and saved our family from all kinds of heartache, uncertainty, and (much worse) financial loss.

So thanks. To all of you. Thanks for giving, thanks for reading, and thanks for taking interest in our little adventures.

- Shamus Young

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Experienced Points: All My Hard Work and I Get THIS Ending?

 By Shamus Oct 14, 2014 114 comments

My column this week is actually a Diecast mailbag question that I ninja’d from the rest of the cast. Wide and Nerdy sent in this one:

Dear Diecast,

I don’t understand this argument fans make about “after all this work we put in” in reference to playing a video game and the payoff that comes at the end. I’ve seen people defend this point.

It seems to me that if a game is work, you should be playing a different game, not hanging in there and then getting upset when the bit at the end fails to justify 20 to 30 hours of what is apparently considered “work.” Am I missing something?

It seemed interesting enough that I stole the question and used it for my column. Although, I might have drifted away from the question he posed. I dunno.

Hopefully I managed to answer his question somewhere in the column.

And yes, I avoided Mass Effect 3 on purpose. If you bring up ME3, then ME3 will overshadow the topic, and I really did want to discuss game endings in general. I’d be thread-jacking my own column.

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Diecast #76: Titan, Alien: Isolation, Steam Curation

 By Shamus Oct 13, 2014 82 comments

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Josh, Shamus, Rutskarn, Chris, and Arvind.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Something in the Water, Part 3

 By Shamus Oct 13, 2014 112 comments

The story of Why I Moved continues…

Early August

Halfway down our staircase is a single step that’s twice as long as the others. We’ve lived here a year and a half and I STILL trip on it.

The music roars from downstairs. I was just sitting at my desk, enjoying a hot cup of PVC herbal tea when someone downstairs decided to pump up the volume. Downstairs, Wilma has brought her sisterI assume. Betty to live with them, who likes to crank up the music until we can feel the furniture vibrate.

On the upside, she does this during reasonable daytime hours. On the other hand, my wife sometimes works nights and needs to sleep during the day. I try not to get upset about this. It’s entirely possible that we’re worse offenders when it comes to noise. We’re on the top floor and we’ve got three teens. That can’t be quiet. Moreover, they’re probably blasting music to cover up the the furious tunneling of the water company. Judging by the sounds I’m hearing, I figure that they have uncovered a balrog, which they are now fighting.

I kept hoping the problems with my asthma would blow over. I really don’t want to move. Apartment hunting is ruinously time consuming, tedious, and stressful. Moving is expensive. I have multiple projects going right now and I can’t bear to have everything interrupted with that hassle. So I’ve been foolishly hoping that the cat wouldn’t be a problem. Or that it would be a nuisance instead of a danger. I’ve been telling myself that my recent allergy problems were just seasonal pollen, and that the apartments should be isolated well enough to keep me safe. I’ve been ignoring the signs, huffing on the inhaler, and hoping for the best. In the meantime, the dander has been building up.

Continue reading »

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So Much Content, So Little Content

 By Shamus Oct 12, 2014 30 comments

I have a ton of content in the queue, but it’s all sort of stuck at 80% complete. I have some programming posts in response to Jon Blow’s language proposal. I’ve got this massive 8-part series that I’m simultaneously ashamed and proud of. I’ve got the end of my “Something in the Water” series. I keep getting yanked from one project to the next without finishing things up, which isn’t usually one of my vices.

The move is still keeping me busy and distracted, but at some point I’ll get back into my groove and the content will flow again. Right now I’m going slightly crazy. I have this thing where I get really antsy if the front page of the site has content that’s more than two weeks old. I realize this probably only matters to me. Most of you use RSS and the rest just hit the back button when there’s nothing new. But the desire to push Old Stuff off the front page is one of the drives that keeps me going.

In the meantime, here is some more of my alleged music:

The title doesn’t mean anything. I’ve just always found the phrase “shotgun wedding” inherently funny, like “chainsaw birthday party” or “gatling gun bat mitzvah”.

I just realized recently that I’m getting pretty close to have an “album” of music content. That’s really strange.

One final note is that if you’re looking for good electronic music, check out Corporate Lifestyle Simulator. It’s cheap, it’s modestly fun, and it’s the best soundtrack since Hotline Miami.

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Something in the Water, Part 2

 By Shamus Oct 10, 2014 94 comments

The story of Why I Moved continues…


The T-shaped scar in the street is the handiwork of the Dwarves from the water company. It’s hard to believe they spent the better part of the summer on that.

The water company is still at it. I’m up on the second floor, so I have a really good view of the spectacle from here. As before, they’ve blocked off one of the major intersections and they’re turning perfectly good asphalt into rubble as fast as they can to get at the rottenOne assumes. water pipes underneath. They’ll tear up the whole street, blocking off traffic and making noise and confusion for days. A one-way-street passes right in front of the elementary school, then in front of our house, and then into the waiting arms of the water company’s obstructionist demolition team. This – coupled with the triangular street pattern in this corner of town – creates a really bad case of “you can’t get there from here”. Especially when the school buses show up. It’s madness.

I go downstairs to check the mail. I have to walk down the precarious wooden steps and all the way around the house to do this, which makes up 90% of the exercise I’ll get today. If the postal service ever went on strike I’d probably gain 50 pounds.

Continue reading »

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Here’s 52 Minutes of Receiver

 By Shamus Oct 9, 2014 59 comments

Drinking game: Take a drink whenever Josh accidentally throws a desired item on the floor. (It’s been nice knowing you.) Receiver is the QWOP of firearm usage.

Link (YouTube)

I reviewed this game last year. It’s a complete gigglefest for sure.

I really like the complex gun mechanics. I’d love to have another game with a similar system, only perhaps:

  1. Not quite so user-unfriendly. I think a lot of the myriad inputs could be condensed. Maybe use the same button to insert or eject a mag, for example. And I think things like “un-equip your gun so you can load the mag” could be implicit. We should focus on simulating the complexities of the firearm, not the complexities of hands. (Especially in a game where you can’t see your hands.)

  2. Maybe not so murderously unforgiving. There’s nothing wrong with roguelike games in principle, but as a matter of taste I’d rather learn something new and difficult in a system of positive feedback than one based on negative feedback.

Still, it’s phenomenal what the developer accomplished with limited time and resources.

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Something in the Water, Part 1

 By Shamus Oct 8, 2014 80 comments

So we moved. You know this already, because I complained about it a thousand years ago, before my five-day internet blackout. Why did we move after only living in that place for a year and a half? Telling this story requires a bit of bellyaching on my part. Sorry about that. Also there are a lot of barely-justified digressions. I’m less sorry about those.

To sort things out properly, we have to go back to…


Not taken in March. I mean, OBVIOUSLY.

It’s been a brutally cold winter, but the world is starting to thaw. I allow myself to indulge in the daydream that I might actually see the sun again.

It’s been a year since we moved into this apartment after that whole unfortunate business over the last twelve years. Things are quiet. This isn’t the best place I’ve ever lived, but it’s not the worst either and we’re finally living within our means.

This house must have been glorious when it was built, which was probably sometime during the Taft administration. It was no doubt a proud house in its day. It’s got fancy roof work and a lot of space. Now it’s a sagging thing of rotting wood and shabby windows. The front porch steps are gone and the paint is peeling off the outside like it’s too ashamed to cling to the structure anymore. It’s been split into an upstairs and a downstairs unit. Even though we only have half the house, we still have three bedrooms, plus a living room and an office. Those house-builders of 1930 sure didn’t mess around when it came to living space.

Continue reading »

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Waiting for the Internet

 By Shamus Oct 7, 2014 55 comments

I’m back. Well, that was a stupid waste of five days.

Somehow, the designers of the Minecraft mod Technic PackThese days I’m playing a ton of the Technic “MoonQuest” mod collection. made it so that if you launch the game in offline mode, then it has no sound. I have no idea why, but I’ll be sure to ask them right after I hunt them down and right before I kill them.

I couldn’t play vanilla Minecraft, either. Once I was off the net and I discovered Technic wasn’t working, I remembered that my Minecraft launcher was set to run in Oculus Rift mode. I tried to turn that off, which meant changing profilesNot change users, just profiles. It’s complicated., which forced me to log in, which I couldn’t do. I’d hunt down the person responsible for this stupidity but I’m not sure who to blame in this case. I always saw the Minecraft launcher as a convenience thing, but after fighting with it for an hour or so I’ll say it feels very DRM-ish. It doesn’t stop any pirates but it did prevent this customer from using the software when he really, really needed it. That sounds like DRM to me.

So my #1 time-killing game was unavailable. Instead, I composed a song. I spent my time waiting for the internet writing a song about waiting for the internet entitled, “Waiting for the Internet”:

You say it’s repetitive? Yes, yes it is. I was trying to capture the tedium and frustration in musical form. The upbeat stuff at the end can be interpreted as the return of the internet, or the sweet release of insanity. The line between half-assed and avant-garde sometimes gets pretty blurry, but I know which side this song is on. And it’s not the side with the fancy French words.

We will resume our regular posting schedule shortly. Right after I play some Minecraft. And catch up on my webcomics. And some YouTube videos. And blogs. And gaming news. And Steam sales. And email. And comments. And Facebook. And…

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Moving Day II: The Movening

 By Shamus Oct 2, 2014 132 comments

Note that the photos in this post are unrelated. They’re just pictures I took while wandering around the neighborhood. Also because I think the Pepsi-door looks kind of strange and cool.

We are moving. Aside from the normal hassle of cramming things into boxes, hauling them somewhere else, and taking them out of the boxes again, I also have to make the phone calls to the utility providers:

The apartment building nearby. They have a really bad case of dish overgrowth.

Continue reading »

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Pleasant and helpful error messages

 By Shamus Oct 1, 2014 126 comments

This was originally a commentary on the talk by Jon Blow about creating a programming language designed specifically for games. At one point he mentions “Pleasant and helpful error messages” and I got caught up thinking about what that would really entail. So let’s talk about compiler errors.

Compilers are very bad at giving us useful error messages. I’ve been doing this for decades and I still get errors that baffle me. You could make the case that “better error messaging” could be a whole project in itself. You could keep yourself pretty busy by just ditching the whole “new language” idea and just attempting to give the C++ compiler more useful output. (Although that’s probably a bad idea, for reasons I’ll talk about below.)

There are errors that don’t make sense and point to things that aren’t the source of the problem. They also lean really heavy on the jargon. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I mean, this article exists because I have this compulsion to help other people understand difficult things.

Lots of people point to templates and classes as a source of baffling messages. But rather than dive into the deep parts of the language or pick on some goofy obscure edge-case, let’s look at a really simple error:

Continue reading »

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Experienced Points: Can Virtual Reality Actually Hurt You?

 By Shamus Sep 30, 2014 134 comments

My column this week is a little more anecdotal-ish than usual. It’s a bit about VR sickness in general, along with some of my personal experiences with it.

Just a bit of personal curiosity here, but have any games ever made you sick? Which ones? It’s been SAID that Descent made some people queasy, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say the game made them personally sick. It’s always “some [other] people”.

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