Welcome to Pages of Fun!

This is the personal Web site of Robert Wm. Gomez. I am an artist, musician and nerd living in Chicago, Illinois who has been maintaining this site (in one form or another) since 1996. Enjoy your visit!

Skald: Against the Black Priory on PC (8/10)

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Skald was one of handful of Kickstarter projects that I have backed. It is a throwback tribute to 80s role playing games like Ultima or Phantasie with a heavy emphasis on pen-and-paper dice mechanics. Watching the game’s development has been pretty interesting. Early builds of the game look very much like the PC version of Ultima V. As the months (and years) went by that art style became much more detailed and modern stuff like weather and lighting effects were added. The final product is an incredibly detailed pixelized world to explore.

So much care has gone into every single map tile. There is an overwhelmingly brown and gray tone to the art. I think this is trying to be reminiscent of the Commodore 64 palette but at times, especially during nighttime battles, it became difficult to discern friend from foe from foliage. The art style extends into several lovely “cutscene” graphics and various dialogue screens. There are even fanciful medieval drop-cap letters in the text display.

All of this is in service of a Lovecraftian tale of dark fantasy in which various old creatures are emerging back into the world and corrupting the minds of men. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t much emergent gameplay. The story is pretty linear despite the initial open-world feel of the map. I am playing this just coming off of re-playing the first two Fallout games and perhaps I expect a bit more player choice in the narrative. But, to be fair, the Ultima games were basically adventure games with role-playing mechanics thrown on top.

The role-playing here is mostly about building the skills you can use in combat and navigating the world map. Many tasks in the game will require a stats checks and Skald literally shows dice rolling as it checks for success. As experience is gained and characters level up, the player can assign points to stats trees that differ based on class. Spells are gained, new attacks are learned, and various combat skills become unlocked.

Skald is at its best during combat. It recreates the turn-based strategy of the early Ultimas in which you control the actions of every character in order of initiative. It isn’t quite as tactical as the Wasteland sequels but there is a fair amount of positioning, spellcasting, ability management. Keeping everyone alive is a challenge and those battles that end with just a couple of party members still standing are exhilarating.

Skald falls short of greatness in that it does not quite live up to the potential of a next-gen 2-D RPG. Hopefully the engine will continue to be developed to add more environmental interactivity, a better dialogue system, and a more expansive and explorable over-world. During the Kickstarter there was walk of releasing development tools. I’d love to see what the modding community can come up with using this system.

Strip for Violence by Ed Lacy (7/10)

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The title and cover art have absolutely nothing to do with the story within the pages of the pulp detective novel. Strip for Violence is about a diminutive detective with judo skills whose small-time case involving a mysterious stone devolves into murder and mayhem. There are lots of distinct characters like Bobo the ex-boxer sidekick, Johnson the overweight postman, and Louise the tennis enthusiast. This is not exactly Shakespeare, but its a solid pulp thriller that was a light and entertaining read.

The Book of Elsewhere by Keanu Reeves and China Miéville (3/10)

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I got this book as an advance copy and was really wanting to like it so I could say that, “I was totally in to this before anyone else.” Unfortunately, this book is terrible. The prose is dense and unnecessarily incomprehensible, the characters are flat and undeveloped, and the main plot goes nowhere. Just when I thought I had a handle on what was going on, the next chapter would shift into flashback or a side story told in a different voice. The main idea here is that there’s an warrior who can’t be killed and who has roamed the Earth for 80,000 years. There’s also an immortal pig. Most of the story takes place in a laboratory or something. I don’t know. This book was so boring. Even Zardoz or Highlander 2: The Quickening tackled the topic of immortality in a more interesting and thoughtful manner.

Fallout 2 on PC (9/10)

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I couldn’t resist the pull of Fallout after a recent playthrough of Fallout 1. This is the second time I have played Fallout 2 but I have little to no memory of the game other than the opening temple and the Reno levels.

The game may not look much different than its predecessor, but there are massive improvements. The world is much more vast and there’s more variety in the overworld encounters and towns. Your followers now have a combat settings in which you can granularly control their actions. You can even tell them not to burst fire you to death! Inventory management is slightly better. They’ve added a “Take All” button to the interface. There’s a car that you can use for fast travel. Also the tile sprites are more detailed and you can tell characters to move if they are blocking a doorway. In other words, if you’re wanting to try out a vintage Fallout game, this is the one to play.

My biggest negative about the game is that the main quest line is nowhere near as good as the first game. It makes up for it in the sheer number of side missions and character dialogs to distract the player from the ho-hum threat of The Enclave. And at least there is no water-chip timer ticking to push you along.

My final thought is that much of what we think of when we think of Fallout really comes from the 3-D sequels. The retro-fifties aesthetic mostly exists in the manuals and marketing of these old Interplay games. That actual feel of the 2-D world is way more Mad Max than Leave it to Beaver.

The Dead Zone (8/10)

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Christopher Walken’s evolution into a parody of Christopher Walken makes this a little hard to take seriously. In the end, it’s a very well crafted thriller despite the goofy premise and completely unhinged depiction of a corrupt politician.

After watching, my wife was asking about the actress who plays the female lead (Brooke Adams). I said that I think she’s the lady from Invasion of the Body Snatchers who vibrates her eyes and that’s about all I know. She then looked her up and asked, “Hey, do you know who she’s married to?” I guessed what I thought was the most random actor I could think of, Tony Shalhoub. Turns out I totally dead zone’d the correct answer. I swear I had no idea. I even went back to see if any of the suggested films on the streaming service were Monk or Wings or whatever. Nothing. This proves it. I’m psychic.

Animal House (6/10)

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Baby Boomers love this movie and you’ll often seen it ranked as one of the best comedies of all time. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t hold up. I swear the first twenty minutes of the film are completely joke-free. Belushi is billed as the star but his part boils down to being a pervy Buster Keaton and occasionally mugging his puppy dog eyes at the camera. I found it hard to sympathize with the Deltas who were, in reality, a bunch of stupid drunks. The movie’s idea of a joke is to yell, “Food fight!” then have people throw food. Hilarious. I guess the general form here is gross-out comedy, but so many films did it better later on. Even Revenge of the Nerds, which basically steals every plot beat here, had more likable characters and bigger laughs. The last 15 minutes of mayhem is the only time when I felt the movie come to life.

Glass (3/10)

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Unbreakable was great. Split was pretty good too. Glass, however, is a piece of unmitigated garbage. The premise is goofy and there is way too much self-aware dialogue about superheroes and comic books. It ends with what is supposed to be this epic comic book battle, and it just looks dumb and home made. Sarah Paulson teetering-on-crying delivery is so annoying and bad. The grown-up child actor playing Willis son, M. Night’s cameo, nothing here works. A cringe inducing failure.

Fallout on PC (9/10)

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I just finished watching the pretty good T.V. adaptation of the game and was inspired to start up a new game of the original. Fallout was the first thing I ever bought on eBay back in ’98. The box smelled like cigar smoke, but the game didn’t stink at all.

In retrospect, it’s not quite as good as I remembered. There are just a few to many fiddly “puzzles” where you are supposed to try using random objects on the environment to get past obstacles. There are no clues. You just have to know to “use radio on computer” or whatever.

Otherwise, everything else is great. I love the turn-based combat, the skills, and character interactions. The game is relatively short, especially when compared with the 3-D open-world sequels. We need more digestible length games these days.

I played a modded version of the game using a patch called Fallout Fixt. Most of the enhancements were not noticeable to me, but there were a couple things that I later realized weren’t in the original game. Most importantly you can tell your followers to move out of the way if they are blocking a doorway. This doesn’t work on recruited help from the Brotherhood and can end up making the game unwinnable. This is because the mod allows the Brotherhood knights to join you inside the mutant military base, which wasn’t designed for companions to fit alongside you.

I ended up playing all the way through the game and got all the good endings except for killing the Khans off. I’m tempted to fire up Fallout 2 now, but I should probably hold off. Skald comes out in a month.

Transferring a Design to a Wood Engraving Block

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Wood engraving is a very unforgiving process. There’s no (easy) way to erase mistakes. We don’t have an undo function like you digital nerds with your iPads. Planning and preparatory drawings are the key to fixing mistakes before they are permanently cut into your block.

Good. You’ve done the work and have that perfectly composed drawing that’s going to put you in all the art history books. Mr. Picasso, the Louvre-er-rah is on live four. The problem now becomes: how do you get that drawing on to your end-grain engraving block?

The simplest method is to trace your design to the block placing some transfer paper between the drawing and the block. The biggest drawback to this is that it is repetitive and time-consuming. Welcome to the world of printmaking! I also find that the transferred lines will eventually rub off if you don’t spray them with fixatif. This problem doubles if you are using any sort of slippery plastic engraving material like resingrave or corian. Transfer paper is usually best if you want to get a general layout of your design without too much detail, allowing the detail to emerge through the engraving process.

If you want a very accurate transfer of your drawing I have found that the best method is to use heat to transfer a LASER printed scan of your drawing.

Let’s take a moment to ruminate on fact that LASER is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” What this has to do with the such-named printers and this post in general is beyond my understanding. All I know is that I, like the grammar pro that I am, am going to all-caps LASER whenever I use it.

Many sources on the ‘net will advise you to use acetone to transfer toner-based images. This sorta works, but in my experience it has a 70% failure rate. The key to getting a good toner transfer is heat. The source of that heat is a Wall Lenk L16TT Transfer Tool. It’s like a soldering iron with a disc attached to the end.

Print out your drawing (or photocopy it) and attach it, face-down, to your block. You want to be able to peek at the surface as you work, but it should be secure enough that it doesn’t shift around as you work. Heat up your transfer tool and then meticulously apply heat to the back of the printout. I drew a grid on the back of mine so that I could keep track of the areas I had worked on. You can lift the paper and peek at the results as you move across the block. It will take time and a lot more heat than you think. I was always hesitant to use this method on resingrave because I feared melting the epoxy.

Once you’ve covered the entire surface with burnished heat, you can start peeling back the paper. It will adhere more than you want and this is where acetone comes in handy. Don’t just rip the paper off, dab some acetone on the trouble spots and slowly work the paper off. If you are too hasty, paper scraps will be glued to your block. You will find that large areas of black adhere the most. For that reason, you should probably edit out large black areas on your image scan before attempting to transfer.

If all has gone well, your drawing will now appear in reverse on your block. Note that the toner will have a slight, raised texture. You can wash off the excess before printing with an acetone dampened swab if you want. Don’t let too much liquid get on the wood. You don’t want to raise the grain.

So here’s a quick video I made documenting the process:

Remember, the best wood engravings aren’t just mechanical reproductions of drawings. Let your tools and cutting guide the final appearance of your print. Get hip kids! Formschneider (cutting around a completed line drawing) is for losers and 16th century renaissance masters only!

If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will try to answer the best I can.