Thursday, August 31, 2006

Video Blogging - A Test

I've wanted to try dinking around with embedded video in my blog, so this is my first attempt. This is a six-minute segement from Keith Olbermann's Countdown on MSNBC, and possibly one of the most reasoned and rational responses to the Bush administration's emotional jingoism I've ever heard. Even conservatives should listen to the whole thing, because Olbermann makes some excellent points about the references the administration has been making lately to the appeasement of Hitler (argumentum ad Hitlerium, anyone?) and their overall charge of "fighting fascism." Enjoy.

Via the SA forums.

From the God Helps Those Who Help Themselves Department

A priest in Africa drowned after trying to walk on water.

    Evangelist preacher Franck Kabele, 35, told his congregation he could repeat the biblical miracle.

    One eyewitness said: "He told churchgoers he'd had a revelation that if he had enough faith, he could walk on water like Jesus.

    "He took his congregation to the beach saying he would walk across the Komo estuary, which takes 20 minutes by boat.

    "He walked into the water, which soon passed over his head and he never came back."
And the religious right wonders why anyone with an IQ greater than an eggplant thinks they are dumb.

Via the SA forums.

Dead Rising Revisited

Looks like Clive Thompson at Wired News agrees with my conclusions about Dead Rising and its save system. Money quote:

    "Save mechanisms are key to the emotional stakes in a game. Personally, I tend to prefer titles like Half-Life, where you can save anywhere you want, instantly -- and save as many different copies of your life as you want. (A sentence of utterly Philip K. Dickian weirdness, if you think about it.)

    For me, constant saving makes me feel more free: I can take more chances, go down risky alleyways, and explore the game more boldly -- because death holds no sting. I get whacked? No problem; I just restore to a moment a few seconds before my death...

    In contrast, a rare-saving game like Dead Rising forces me to be ultra cautious. I don't dillydally, explore needlessly, or take any big chances. When I creep across the mall's open lawn at midnight, when the zombies are more aggressive, my heart is in my throat -- not just because the scenario is inherently scary, but because if I die I'm gonna lose another half hour of the most nonrenewable resource in existence: my time...

    Yet here's the thing: One could just as easily argue that infrequent saving is a much more intense and authentic experience. It forces you to put some skin in the game. That's why people seek out life-threatening sports like sheer-face mountain climbing and skydiving. In situations of genuine danger, your senses snap open and you experience things more fully -- or, as any extreme athlete would boast, you live more fully.

    It's certainly true that in Dead Rising I was focused with cheetah's intensity on my enemies. I pretty quickly learned to give a wide berth to even a seemingly slow-moving, harmless zombie -- because if one grabs you, it'll hold you still long enough for the others to stagger over and pile on. I can't say I ever studied the enemies so closely in an easy-saving game like Doom III."
He articulated that point far better than I did in my short(er) review of the game. In fact, the "no save" system that I grew up with on the NES forced the same kind of emotional response, even on games like The Legend of Zelda, where you could only save when you died. I remember trying to tell my parents why I couldn't come to dinner right now, on the count of three because I had to actually get to a point where my pixelly little in-game avatar met his demise. In retrospect, it seems pretty absurd, but it certainly heightened the overall emotional investment in the game and Zelda still stands as one of my favorite console experiences because of it.

Of course, you could save any time you wanted on (most) PC games - Bard's Tale being a notable exception - and aside from doing dunder-headed things on games where part of the design was a Skinnerbox-like trial-and-error system - Sierra's graphic adventures, for example - it was never an issue. You expected to die, and die a lot. You could always restore to the last screen. But Mario wasn't like that. You had exactly three chances (plus any green mushrooms you might find) to take a lava bath before you started over at the very beginning.

I'm unconvinced it was more satisfying overall in that context, but I will argue that it is in Dead Rising. But it certainly heighened the emotional involvement in the game. It was more of an investment, in emotion and time.

Wired article via Joystiq.

Adventure Game Studio

I was very excited about today's release of XNA, the (free) utility that lets little garagehacks write games that can be played immediately on a PC and eventually on the Xbox 360. Of course, the game I want to write is an homage to the games I grew up with - the old Sierra and LucasArts games like King's Quest and Monkey Island. Someone on the XNA forums instead recommended Adventure Game Studio, an equally-free (but not Xbox 360 compatible) utility that will allow me to create my own adventure game. It also doesn't require knowledge of C# (which XNA does), and handles everything from scripting. Considering I aced PASCAL and C in high school, I should be able to figure out the scripts.

I'm going to give it a spin shortly after I publish this post.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mash-Up: Simpsons and Shakespeare

Does a one-man stage act where the actor does Macbeth in voices of 50 Simpsons characters sound good to you? Then you might want to catch a show of Machomer!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Warning: Emo Post

Why do people have to be mean?

I mean, intentionally and calculatingly mean. What's the deal? Does it really serve a purpose? Does it make us stronger if it doesn't kill us? Or is it just a way to keep things interetsing?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: mean people suck.

Work and More Work

When you've had a crummy day at work, what's the best solution?

Come home and do more work!

The good news is: more fiction writing came my way on Friday. It's small, but significant. It's not really paying, but it's a credit. It's fucking fun and I get to insert surreptitious references to my friends and family. And thus is the life of a writer.

Full disclosure: I had to look up the spelling of surreptitious. I won't forget it.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Sandy Surprise

Working downtown, I see some pretty crazy shit. Most of it involves people with political agendas (cough LaRouche supporters cough) or trying to save me from hell, or homless folk coming up with interesting ways to seperate me from my money. Yesterday, on the way to the bus, I came across this awesome scene in Westlake Center:

There were crews - artists, really - converting vast amounts of sand into sand castles (and sculptures.) This one reminded me of City of Lost Children, some kind of crazed, unnecessarily complex network of enormous pipes that eventually became a building.

Pretty damn cool!

Monday, August 21, 2006

What Did You Do This Weekend?

I climbed a mountain. That's right, a goddamned mountain. Mt Sunshine is along the Johnson Ridge Trail, about 55 miles from our house along Route 2 towards Leavenworth. We camped by the Skyhomish river, and drove up to the trail early Saturday morning. By ten o'clock, we were climbing. By noon, we were standing on the peak, looking at a panoramic view of the Cascades. The hike included an 800-foot change in elevation (and my legs feel it!) and was about 5 miles round trip.

I slept great Saturday night, and last night, and now I'm back at work. Frankly, I'd rather be going up another mountain.

Game: Dead Rising

So you like zombie games, kid?

Actually, I don't typically like zombie games. The genre isn't exactly bursting at the seams, though - we've got Resident Evil, the big old franchise that coined the term "survival horror" and features zombies as an afterthought. There was a zombie marketing tie-in first-person shooter that released with Land of the Dead. And the old SNES game Zombies Ate My Neighbors. But as far as a game that accurately mimics the feel of a zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead. Negative. That was, until Dead Rising.

Dead Rising is as much a love letter to Romero's zombie movies as it is an incredible stand-alone game. You play Frank West, a photojournalist on a hot scoop: something's going down in the Colorado town of Willamette. Frank gets dropped on the roof of the mall, and has 72 hours to uncover what's going on - and survive the hordes of zombies that have taken over!

Gameplay is open-ended. There are two types of missions: Cases (which advance the plot) and Scoops (which don't, but will level you up quickly and basically act as "extra credit.") You can do as much or a little of either as you want - but if you stop doing the Cases, you lose your chance to solve the mystery for that playthrough. But fear not - when you restart the game, you keep your experience and skills from the last game (basically, your XP and character level.) You can pick up pretty much any item, whether it's the rack of toys at the toy store, the wine bottle in the restaurant, all kinds of guns and knives, or trash cans and cardboard boxes. You can play dress-up with all kinds of outfits, hair dyes, and so forth. And you can kick a lot of zombie ass, or not kill a single one (although I imagine that might be a very difficult proposition.)

As with any good zombie story, the really dangerous parts aren't the zombies themselves but the other humans. The "bosses" are various types of psychopaths - escaped convicts, Vietnam vets who snapped, killer clowns with chainsaws, and "normal" people whose reaction to the apocalyse has become so extreme that they're a danger to others and themselves.

The save system takes a little getting used to; you can only save in certain locations (on couches and in bathrooms.) Because of the time limit and the vast numbers of zombies, this means you have to very carefully plan your saves, just as you carefully plan how long to ration out your ammo and food so you can replenish your supplies of those as well. At first, I found it annoying, but now I can't imagine the game without it - it adds greatly to the "survival" flavor. Just wandering around and screwing off is very likely to get you killed, not unlike a real apocalyptic scenario. Careful planning and strategic use of resources is the #1 key to survival.

Zombie fans, start your chainsaws. Dead Rising is our game.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Welcome to Insomnialand, Population: Me

My old pal insomnia is back for a stay.

I've gotten probably five hours of sleep in the last two nights. Today, I cut out all coffee except a small soy latte this morning because I thought I was actually going to fall asleep at my desk if I didn't have one.

The funny thing is, I'm tired now, but I fear that come tonight I'll be sitting there thinking and moving and absolutely unable to go to sleep once again.

I can't even be productive when I'm like this, and I'm going to be a ragged mess by this weekend.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Free Software!

Now here's a way to land a job: program a quick Flash game that transforms Google Earth into a flight sim.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

In a Minute I'll Be Just Another Zombie!

Dead Rising came out on Wednesday and it's everything I hoped it would be. The game is tense, and you never feel safe, even in the so-called "safe" areas. I must look pretty goofy playing it, since I tend to violently shake the controller around when I'm trying to get out of a zombie's grasp. It might not help, but it sure makes me feel better. Now that's immersive!

I took time from killing zombies to do some long-needed cleanup this morning, and took time off this week for a little personal R&R (which was really me working on the Fallout d20 stuff and playing Dead Rising.)

And that's my exciting life update.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Yeah, But I Didn't Like Lieberman Before it Was Cool Not To Like Him

The news that Senator Joe Lieberman lost the Connecticut primary tonight warms me right down to my little cockles. Let's be clear here: I'm a Democrat, and I feel very strongly that political extremism is what's gotten us into this mess, and that moderates displaying reason and reaching out to the other side will be what ultimately delivers us from it. But Joe Lieberman and I have a history.

Way back when I was in middle school, Joe Lieberman led a crusade in the Senate against violent video games. Ol' Joe has used this issue on and off ever since, and seems to have turned fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton on to the possibilities of exploiting it for political ends. In fact, it was Lieberman's support of banning violent video games that led to my support of Ralph Nader in 2000.

So, Joe, sorry to see you go. Don't the door hit your censorship-supporting ass on its way out, and if you've still got a piece of the First Amendment stuck in there from using the Bill of Rights to wipe yourself, please return it to the people of America at your earliest convenience. Thanks

Monday, August 07, 2006

Defend Dicistan!

Seth turned me on to Dice Wars, a really awesome (and simple) Flash strategy game. Give it a go, it's surprisingly addictive.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

So It's Not a Quote or a Movie or a Video Game

Life's been interesting lately. Work has moved from super-busy to boring back to busy, and my work on Fallout d20 has certainly rekindled a bit of the creative juices, but my lack of time prevents me from taking too much advantage of it. I'm at a strange point in my life; I feel like something's missing, and it's something I need to find myself. One of my coworkers recently quit to travel to South America for nine months; I envy him. I don't want to leave, I just want to do something more personally significant and meaningful. It's a hard thing to describe, and it's something I'm not sure is possible given my current position.

Nor do I think there is a decent answer. My overall feeling is one of satisfaction; I've got a great house, a good group of friends I can spend time with, and a lot of things I should be thankful for (kind of in the Protestant sense, I suppose.) But I just don't really feel like anything I'm doing is of any lasting significance. If there were 48 hours in a day (and I still only had to work 8 and commute 2), I would have to time to do what I want to do. I suppose that this is some kind of karmic balance; in high school and college, I would put off anything "important" and "for school" until the last possible minute, choosing to goof off the rest of the time, whether it was through video games, writing, working on something, or just hanging out with my friends. Perhaps this is life's way of saying I didn't apprecaite what I had when I had it? But I don't believe that, because the very reasons I acted the way I did was to take advantage of the time and the opportunities afforded me.

I don't want to turn this into some kind of emo, poor-me whinefest, because that's not how I feel. I guess I'm stream of consciousnessing things I'll be able to come back later and read myself (and until that time, will stand as an Internet-permanent testimony to me working through what's eating me.) And hell, I use a (lot) (of) (parenthesis!)

Quote of the Day

"Now Tom said 'Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me.'"

- Bruce Springsteen, The Ghost of Tom Joad

Friday, August 04, 2006

Movie: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

"And I've seen The Exorcist one hundred and sixty-seven times, and it keeps getting funnier every time I see it! Now, do you think I'm qualified?"

Then, on The Exorcism of Emily Rose:

"Meh." Skip it.

Snakes on the Phone!

Here's an awesome marketing technique: use the Internet to call your friends with Samuel L. Jackson advertising Snakes on a Plane.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

- Philippians 2:12

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Movie: Clerks 2

I'm a sucker for Kevin Smith.

I've always thought his movies, for the most part, are little more than overhyped stoner humor. Until recently, he was not a very good editor (more on this in a minute.) His movies had long, painful-to-watch segements with little humor and horrible pacing. His first, Clerks, is the worst example of this and, believe it or not, the much-maligned Mallrats is probably the best movie (before C2) in this regard, mostly because the studio made him cut so much out.

His jokes are of the gross-out variety, or the repetitive variety, or both. And he (over)used the incredibly unfunny Will Farrell in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in one of those really long, jokeless scenes that should have hit the cutting room floor. The best, and only, joke in that scene was one made by a cameo character (and it wasn't John Stewert using the term "C.L.I.T." repeatedly. That wasn't funny.) In fact, the best parts of some of his movies are listening to the ensemble commentaries on the DVDs.

But somehow, in the face of all this rational dislike, I am a sucker for Kevin Smith. I laugh at his repeated jokes and his toilet humor. I think Chasing Amy is a great love story. There are many who will disagree with me on that count, but it hits me in my cold, dead heart in ways many other so-called romance movies don't.

So, to beat the heat and satisfy my need for guilty pleasures, I checked out Clerks 2.

The first thing that I noticed is that this is Smith's tightest film to date in terms of editing. There's no long, malingering scenes that wear out their welcome and start to stink. He's figured out how editing works, and that was one of his biggest problems. One of the problems facing most artists is knowing which bits to cut out, and when you don't have the benefit of a studio-appointed editor going "no, that sucks, take it out" (Mr. Lucas, I'm looking in your direction), it's a hard lesson to learn on your own, especially when you didn't start out with those kinds of artistic requirements or limitations.

Of course, there's a good helping of dick-and-fart jokes, bestiality, and offensive language. Par for the course. But the two main characters, now in their early 30s and working as a pair of slackers at a burger joint, seem like they don't belong there anymore - and Smith intentionally sets this up. For all its debauchery and simplistic surface meaning, Clerks 2 may be the most complex of Smith's films. He's showing that he's grown up with the audience, and of the people who laughed at Clerks, he's challenging them to grow up with this movie, too. Just as the audience is sitting there laughing at Dante and Randall for working in a burger joint, Smith in turn asks the audience why they're still sitting in a theater laughing at such stupid humor.

Reading online reviews, people in their mid-20s and older - those of us who were teens when Clerks came out - love this movie. The current crop of teens don't. The reason for that is clear: we're old enough to "get" what Smith is doing both for us and to us, and while we're laughing at it, we're also looking inside and trying to sort out our own lives. Are we really just flipping burgers and cracking the same jokes, even in a methaphorical sense? I suspect the answer to that from a large majority of my peers would be "yes."