RPG Maker MV: Mists of Tongass I

Back in college, I became infatuated with a computer program called RPG Maker, which allows you to design and play your own desktop roll playing games. I used to create my own RPGs on paper as a kid, so the ability to do so on the computer, and at Super Nintendo-level graphics, was really cool. I recently purchased the latest version, RPG Maker MV, to see what it had to offer. All the basics were still there, but the graphics are better and it allows you to do so much more.

I decided to play around with it and come up with a simple RPG. Every game needs a name, so we’ll call it “Mists of Tongass,” after the ancient forest in Alaska. Right off the bat, you see the interface is deceptively simple and intuitive. Just wait.

Now we need a hero. RPG maker comes with lots of default settings, including an initial team of four “actors” of different classes. We’ll just start with one; a simple man living in a simple, forest town, with a mysterious destiny. We’ll call him Lucius York. That has a nice ring to it. His initial equipment is set to default, but later I’ll change that to remove any weapons and armor. The character will have to find those later.

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Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion

Spirits lurk among the faded monuments and deserted battlefields of Virginia, from the fabled streets of Fredericksburg to the shipyards of Hampton Roads. From beyond the grave, they beg us to remember. In Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, their stories are told. Twelve spine-tingling tales take you to where this world meets the next. History has never felt so unreal.

Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion is a collection of short ghost stories from the Civil War battlefields of Virginia. It was originally published in print by Quixote Press in 2011, but not available digitally until now.

Some stories are campy and fun, some are classic Gothic romance, and others are modern horror. In one tale, the ghost of a Union prisoner of war helps a boy named Humpy Andrews get revenge on his teasing cousins. In another, a grieving widow returns from the grave to reach out to her reincarnated love.

In some sense, this book was years in the making. It had its origins in a family vacation to Virginia when I was thirteen years old. Already a Civil War buff and amateur historian, I could not wait to explore all the towns and battlefields I read so much about.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I was more familiar with the geography of northern Virginia than I was with my own hometown, Des Plaines, Illinois. From the heights overlooking Fredericksburg to the old diner in Richmond where the waitress took our order on a pink ticket right out of the 1960s, being in Virginia felt like I was living in history. It was an enthralling experience.

Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion is now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.

The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History

In The Great Cat Massacre: and other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984), historian Robert Darton attempted to reconstruct and understand the mental world of early modern French peasants through their folktales. He began with the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” as told around firesides in peasant cottages during long winter evenings in eighteenth-century France. It’s a little different than the version you may have been told. The story went as follows:

A young girl was instructed to bring some milk and bread to her grandmother’s house. While walking down a path through the woods, a wolf stopped her and asked her where she was going. She told him, and the wolf took off down a second path. The wolf, “arrived first at the house. He killed grandmother, poured her blood into a bottle, and sliced her flesh onto a platter. Then he got into her nightclothes and waited in bed…”

When the young girl arrived, the wolf (disguised as her grandmother) offered her meat and wine from the pantry. “So the little girl ate what she was offered; and as she did, a little cat said, ‘Slut! To eat the flesh and drink the blood of your grandmother!’ Then the wolf said, ‘Undress and get into bed with me.’”

After a prolonged scene in which the young girl is instructed to undress and toss her clothes into the fire, the conclusion proceeds in the now familiar manner until, at the very end, the wolf eats the girl. No hunter comes to her rescue in the original version.

The version as we know it today, according to Darton, was taken by the Grimm brothers from Charles Perrault, a popular writer at the turn of the seventeenth century, who changed the stories to suit the tastes of the Paris elites. The ending we are familiar with, in which the hunter rescues Little Red and kills the wolf, was added by Jeannette Hassenpflug, the Grimm’s neighbor, from a popular German story “The Wolf and the Kids.”

Through an examination of folktales like “Little Red Riding Hood”, Darton hoped to unlock the mentalité of the French peasant during that time period. “Folktales are historical documents,” he argued. “They have evolved over many centuries and have taken different turns in different cultural traditions… they suggest that mentalités themselves have changed. We can appreciate the distance between our mental world and that of our ancestors if we imagine lulling a child of our own to sleep with the primitive peasant version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’”

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Civil War Ballads: Carry the Colours

David Matthews wrote and recorded this song for his 1994 album Shades of Blue & Gray: Songs From The Civil War, released by Delta, and re-released on various alternatively-titled albums over the years. The song beautifully captures the devotion Civil War soldiers had for their regimental colours. Regiments used colours, standards, or guidons to mark their position on the battlefield and serve as a rallying point.

At the head of the army, in front of the boys
On a long pole of hickory she flies
Yes I speak for my colors and I give her my love
Just to hold her so many have died
Just to hold her so many have died

And if you think you’re worthy and your heart is so pure
If your love and devotion do shine
Then death will pay tribute to the soldier and guidon
Just to carry the colors in line
Just to carry the colors in line

It’s a rare lad of courage, few chosen, few live
It’s a curse and a blessing, you see
It’s the brave and courageous who reach out their hand
To carry the colors for you and for me
To carry the colors for you and for me

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Second Battle of Sackets Harbor

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, the United States had only one warship in Lake Ontario, so it had to repurpose civilian vessels for military use. Sackets Harbor, New York became a principal port and shipbuilding yard for the upper St. Lawrence River Valley and Lake Ontario. The U.S. built several forts to protect the harbor, including forts Tompkins, Pike, Volunteer, Kentucky, Virginia, and Chauncey. In the First Battle of Sackets Harbor, July 19, 1812, American cannons on shore chased away five British ships pursuing a merchant vessel, severely damaging the British flagship Royal George.

In late May 1813, the American fleet was preoccupied at Fort George, near the mouth of the Niagara River. The British took advantage of its absence and attempted to seize and destroy the shipyard and supplies at Sackets Harbor. Captain James Lucas Yeo took six ships (with a total of 700 crew and 98 cannon) and approximately 870 men, consisting of a grenadier company from the 100th Regiment, two companies of the 8th Regiment of Foot, four companies of the 104th Regiment, one company of the Glengarry Light Infantry, two companies of the Canadian Voltigeurs, and a detachment of Royal Artillery with two 6-pounder guns, and sailed south. Approximately 37-40 American Indian warriors accompanied them.

On May 28, the British intercepted 12 small boats carrying reinforcements from the 9th and 21st U.S. Regiments from Oswego to Sackets Harbor in Henderson Bay. They landed at a rocky outcropping called Stoney Point and fled into the wilderness, only to be overtaken by hostile American Indians. The 9th and 21st were virtually destroyed, losing 35 men. The remaining 115 surrendered. Only seven men escaped and made it back to Sackets Harbor.

By that time, Lieutenant Colonel Electus Backus of the 1st Regiment of Light Dragoons assembled 400 regulars, 250 Albany Volunteers, and 550 local militia, led by Brigadier General Jacob Brown, to oppose the British invasion.

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Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site

Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site is located in northwestern New York on Black Harbor Bay, Lake Ontario, in the town of Sackets Harbor. It was the scene of two battles in the War of 1812. You can tour the battlefield, or check out a restored 1850s Navy Yard and Commandant’s House. The park is open to the public year-round, but the museum and gift shop operate seasonally, from May 21 until Labor Day (Sept 5). Their website says there’s a small admission fee ($3), but I’ve never seen anyone collecting money.

The buildings at the historic site were not present at the time of the battles in 1813. The site offices, exhibits, and gift shop are located in the Lieutenant’s House, which was built in 1847-48. Directly behind it are the Stable and Ice House, also built in the mid-1800s. The stable contains interesting and informative exhibits on early 19th century American naval history.

There was a functioning naval base at Sackets Harbor until 1955, though the original forts and structures were long since leveled. Today, an empty field is all that remains of Fort Tompkins, the principal fort during the 1813 battle. This gives the historic site a park-like atmosphere. You can enjoy a sunset stroll along a bluff overlooking Lake Ontario, or sit on park benches and take in the view.

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The Circle: Style Over Substance

The Circle (2017) stars Emma Watson as Mae Holland, a young woman who lands a dream job at a tech company called The Circle. Skeptical at first, she comes to embrace The Circle’s vision of total openness and transparency, until ultimately uncovering the company’s nefarious agenda. It is based on a novel of the same name by Dave Eggers. The Circle is visually impressive, blending current and speculative technology to bring to life a world where the digital and physical overlap. If Apple made a movie, it would look like this. Clean, simple, elegant. Unfortunately, its message is lost in a plot thinner than an iPhone 7.

The Circle was founded by Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) and Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and designed by Ty Lafitte (John Boyega). Since growing into a Google-esque tech giant, Ty Lafitte has faded into the background, becoming an Emmanuel Goldstein-like figure who quietly opposes its agenda. The Circle integrates everything about your life into one system, seeking to acquire an ever-increasing amount of personal data, including placing cameras all over the world to monitor and analyze all human activity.

The Circle is a progressive and hip company that provides everything for its employees on its massive campus. Parallels to Apple and Steve Jobs are obvious (Eamon Bailey even holds casual talks where he announces products to his employees). Employees are peer pressured into conformity and relying on The Circle for social acceptance, entertainment, and even health. While employees are continually encouraged to “become more transparent,” Stenton and Bailey operate in secrecy, hiding their future plans and true motivations. Their agenda is so secret, not even the film’s audience ever finds out what they’re up to.

Is privacy important? Is transparency always good? Those are the questions I thought this film set out to explore. Don’t expect any clear answers. Mae Holland is converted to The Circle’s philosophy after she steals a kayak and would have drowned in San Francisco Bay if not for the cameras secretly recording her activity. She decides to go “fully transparent,” broadcasting her every experience through cameras. Later, however, she is pressured into using this technology to find her ex-boyfriend, Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), who flees the cameras and drives off the San Francisco Bridge. Though depressed, she determines to “fix” the system. “When a plane crashes, you make planes safer, you don’t stop flying,” she tells her parents.

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