Friday, September 30, 2011

Really Stupid Scripting

It has been pointed out to me today that there is a problem with my RSS feeds.  While I always knew that some of the graphics weren't coming through (I hotlink all my graphics because I'm lazy), but it seems a lot of the text is disappearing, too.

So, today, I'm changing the way my RSS feed works.  From now on, the RSS feed stops at the "jump."  Those of you who only see my blog through feeds or email subscription will now have to come to the site to read the complete blog.

Really, it's for the best.  The RSS feed has changed the intent and style of a lot of what I wrote.  Now you'll see my blog in its original form!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bridge Commander High Points

I always wanted to be in games, ever since I was a kid.  However, when I was a kid, there weren’t any jobs in games.  Games were made by one or two guys in their garage on their own time.  Even when you did get a job with a company, as my brother put it, your boss would frequently say “Great work on that game!  You’re fired.”  It was just that unstable.
This was one of the best games of that era.  Honest.
Undeterred, I started studying programming on my own.  Back then, programming had line numbers and GOTO statements that would jump the programs to specific lines.  Not understanding the logical organization of code, I wrote code like I wrote stories.  My programs looked like a tangled knot of yarn and ran about as well.
Alexander the Great had the right idea.
Undeterred, I took a programming class in high school, and still didn’t get it.  Undeterred, I took a programming class in college, and still didn’t get it.  Undeterred, I took classes at work, read more books, and tried on my own.  Finally, I was deterred.

Okay, I had some success with Flash and ActionScript 2.  Then Adobe redid everything with ActionScript 3 and I was deterred again.  Programming was not for me.

I dove into writing and designing games, which worked well with my English degree and technical writing background.  I had a few jobs as a game designer, which are stories for another day, but the longest I worked on a game was at Totally Games on Star Trek: Bridge Commander.
Or, as my brother called it: "Oh. Mah. God!  It's, like, Totally Games!"
Bridge Commander was groundbreaking for a number of reasons: the ships were incredibly detailed, the interactive bridge made you really feel like you were in command of a starship, and it sold like deep fried poo.  That last part was inevitable; most players didn’t understand a game where you sat back and watched your crew play for you.
"No, guys, you go ahead and fight that ship.  I'll just watch."
As a designer, I tried my darnedest to make the game more fun.  I fought for making the game more strategic, but was overruled; to make ship management more intricate, but saw it turned into something confusing; to add missions that were more than just combat, but saw them removed from the game.  It was a wholly frustrating experience and punishing to my mental and physical health.  It was still one of the best experiences in my career.


Because I was frigging writing for frigging Star Trek!  I got to do research on how photon torpedoes moved by watching the shows and movies.  I wrote dialogue for Picard and Data that were performed by Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner!
This was the day he said I was his favorite writer.  Honest.
The writing was some of my best work, but Activision didn’t agree.  They hired D.C. Fontana and Derek Chester to come in and help revise the story.  I was upset with their decision at first.  Then I realized something: I was working with Dorothy Fontana!  She worked on the original Star Trek.  She worked on Star Trek: the Next Generation.  She worked on Babylon 5.
These guys would be talking about how great a writer I was, too.  Um, if they weren't busy.
So, as bad as the experience was, I still cherish this picture.
Could I look any more uncomfortable?
This is a picture of the Bridge Commander writing team.  That’s me right next to the D. C. Fontana.  And, yes, that’s her hand on my butt.

I like to think she meant to put it there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Flight vs. Invisibility

I’ve wanted to be a superhero my whole life.  I’ve wanted it with that kind of creepy intensity you only see in guys who talk about killing the president to get Jodie Foster to notice them.

It turns out Hinckley and I have a lot in common.
Over many years I finally got the picture that I (a kid with incredibly poor eyesight, weak musculature, and no courage) was not the first person aliens were going to give magic powers to.  Gradually, I stopped looking for radioactive animals to bite me.  I stopped going to ancient druid burial mounds at midnight on the vernal equinox.  I started living a more realistic life.
Where I sat.  Honest.
Then along came John Hodgman.  You may know Hodgman as the priest in The Invention of Lying, the neurosurgeon on Battlestar Galactica, the problem solver on The Daily Show.  Although, you most likely know him as the embodiment of all that is a Microsoft PC in Apple Macintosh commercials.
As a big Hodgman fan, I instantly went out and bought a PC.
Long before his fame, Hodgman wrote pieces for This American Life.  He did a number of brilliant, hysterical pieces, but the one that got me thinking the most was his segment on flight vs. invisibility.

(Seriously.  Listen to it.  I'll wait.)

I went immediately with invisibility.  With flight, you can have fun, but what good could you do?  Save kittens from tree?  Snag the occasional woman from a burning building when the firefighters were late?  With invisibility, you could trip up robbers, free hostages, and find hidden corporate files.  Happy in my choice, I went on with my non-superhero existence.
Although flight gives you the power to make out with Gweneth Paltrow.
(Side Note: I wrote Hodgman an email about it and he responded nicely!)

Then came 9/11 and the flooding in Louisiana.  I watched people falling from the buildings, and standing on their houses waiting, hoping, to be rescued.  If someone could have just flown in and picked them up, everything would have been better, but it was too late.  I was an invisible man, sitting helplessly by the shore.
They wouldn't even be able to see me wave back.
“Invisibility sucks,” I thought.  “I should have picked flying.”

Then, a few years later, I realized that, even with a power like flight, there was only so much good I could have done.  Real heroes would have stopped these disasters from happening in the first place.  Real heroes would have made people in the West and the Middle East come to a solution that ended the conflict.  Real heroes would have made people maintain the levees and stop destroying the wetland buffers.
"You will stop being a dick to other people."
Real heroes have mind control.  Eat that Hodgman!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brutal Legend

In my continuing quest to bring you the latest news from three years ago, I am reviewing a game called Brutal Legend.  Brutal Legend is a Heavy Metal game where you play…

You know what?  I don’t need to describe the game.  Just look at this picture.
Get it?  No?
And this one.
Oh come on, do you get it now?  No?  Where did you go to school?!
Yeah, that’s pretty much all you need to know.

Brutal Legend is significant in a few ways.  First of all, I got it for free (thanks, Jon!).  Second, I hate music.

Perhaps I should explain that last statement.  I hate music.  Got it yet?  No?  All right, let me spell it out.  I don’t listen to music.  I don’t go to concerts.  I don’t want music on in the background when I’m working or talking to someone or even just hanging around.  I don’t want to sit and listen to music.  My favorite music show was Pop-Up Video because there was something to read while the music was playing.
Although, it didn't always help.
(Here’s a telling fact: I didn’t understand why the “bad” song at the beginning of Brutal Legend was “bad.”)

So, I didn’t think I’d like Brutal Legend and, at first, I really didn’t.  Sure, Tim Schafer wrote some funny dialogue, but the rest didn’t really do much for me.

Then my three year old started watching me play.  Then, one day, he sat down on the bed behind me and asked me to play one of the classic Heavy Metal songs in the game again.  I did as he asked, and it became a regular thing for us: me playing while queuing up songs for him.

Later, he started asking me to visit “the Pirate.”  It took me a while to figure out who that was.  The Pirate is Ozzy Osbourne.  See, when you want to buy things in the game, you have to visit these “motor forges” that look like big engines with skulls on them.  Underneath them is a character modeled after (and played by) Ozzy Osbourne who dresses in all black.
"Arrr!  Rock on, me harteys!"
My son, putting the black clothes and the skull together, just assumed he was a pirate.

Anyway, after a while I began to like the game.  Then, one day, I heard the bad song from the beginning of the game again.  And I hated it.  I had acquired a taste in music.

Have I become a headbanger?

So, I would like to give a big thumbs up on my review of Brutal Legend…  But I can’t.  A bird dies in it.

HA!  DBIM Surprise!

Title: Brutal Legend
Genre: Game
Severity: 1 (one death)
Date: 2009
Description: A bird flies by a giant set of speakers and explodes as they activate.
Mitigating Factors: None.
Aggravating Factors: None.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fun With Freecycle: Mailbox

[Note: Sometimes I get rid of old stuff on Freecycle.  I find it more fun to describe things colorfully than factually.]

Behold, my old mailbox.  It’s white with a gold lid and those little curly thingies underneath that paperboys used to use when they dropped off their papers.

Maybe I should explain what paperboys were.  They were kids who used to ride around on bikes and put newspapers in front of your house.  Oh, do I have to explain what a newspaper was?  It was this big roll of paper they printed information on and hand-delivered to your door.  Newspapers were written by…  Oh, never mind, just grab your iPad and look it up on Wikipedia.

The mailbox has a lock on it.  I don’t have the key and am a bit perplexed as to why you’d need it.  I mean, who wants to lock the mail carrier out?  Do you really hate getting mail that badly?  Keep in mind, if you take this mailbox then somebody might put mail in it.  Don’t freak out if letters appear in it every few days.  Come to think of it, this mailbox doesn’t seem to get letters.  It only gets advertising and bills.  If you want letters, you might need to go out and buy one.
Also, there is this little bronze emblem on the front.  I don’t know why it’s there.  I’ve tried using it as a trivet, a branding iron, and a charm to ward off the evil eye.  It doesn’t work well for any of those things.  If you figure out what it’s for, let me know.

Friday, September 23, 2011

House of Sand and OH CRAP!

This was supposed to be a quick posting.  I have cookies to make for an auction prize.  I have to pick up my son at preschool and my car at the shop.  My programmer is in town and, I have to be ready to save him from wild bears (or we’ll never ship the game!).  When I’m in a hurry, I got look at my giant list of dead birds in film and do a DBIMentry.  This time I chose House of Sand and Fog, because I could complain a little about Oprah and get a DBIM entry in.

So I started here:

Title: House of Sand and Fog
Genre: Movie
Severity: 1 (one death)
Date: 2003
Description: The main character, while standing at a doc, sees a dead seagull floating in the water.  It’s foreshadowing of bad things to come.
Mitigating Factors: None.
Aggravating Factors: None.

Then, partway through writing that entry, I realized I really should have done a Movie Doctor entry.  The Movie Doctor posts are for movies that I think I could have done a better job with (in pseudo-analysis format that I got from the New York Times Magazine) and I could easily fix this film:

Patient: The House of Sand and Fog
Here's the main character moping.
Symptoms: Unlikable main character.  The story is about a woman who has her house taken from her in a bureaucratic mistake, because she’s pining after her ex-boyfriend.  Then she mopes about how it is bought by a family who is trying to flip it.  Then she mopes while she hooks up with a married man.  Then she mopes while he tries to trick, threaten and cajole the family into giving the house back.  Then she mopes while things spiral out of control and lots of people die.
Here she is moping on the phone.
Diagnosis: Oprah’s Book Club Syndrome.
Aaand here she is moping in the tub.
Treatment: Make the mopey main character no longer the main character.  Make the movie about the two men who are causing all the conflict.  One man is a poor ex-general from Iran who is trying to save his family through hard work.  The other is a man who gives up his family and career for a woman he barely knows.  Those men are fascinating; that woman is not.
Imagine this poster with two guys instead...  Yeah, not as hot.
When I finished it, I realized I needed to go more in depth about Oprah Book Club Syndrome.  That would have been a Common Parlance entry, which is a segment I do about terms I use that nobody else gets:

Oprah’s Book Club Syndrome
Oprah has a lot to answer for.  She’s promoted quack remedies, attacked people for daring to suggest psychic powers weren’t real, and forced her followers to watch that terrible movie she made.  Worst of all, she created “Oprah’s Book Club.”

For those of you who weren’t alive in the 2000s, Oprah’s Book Club was her attempt to get people to buy “quality” literature.  I put “quality” in quotes, because Oprah’s idea of a good book is: sob story about a woman.

The House of Sand and Fog is focused on a mopey woman main character simply because they had to appeal to that (enormous) audience instead of, you know, interesting characters.

When I finished writing the Common Parlance part, I realized I had blown my entire morning.


Think I can skip one of those tasks?  I mean, my kid can walk home from school…

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Superhero Complex

When I was a child, superheroes were silly, and I hated them.  On television, Batman fought villains’ bizarre schemes for world domination.  Spider Man spent half of his weekly cartoon adventures swinging down the same streets, shooting the same webs, and (oddest of all) just staring into space.
"I love swinging down this street!"
Superheroes didn’t live in our world; they were absurd heroes with absurd powers fighting absurd bad guys.

Then along came Frank Miller (the comic book guy, not Junie B. Jones’s dad from the popular children’s books) and The Dark Knight Returns.  The Dark Knight Returns was dark, scary, and incredibly good.  Those four graphic novels changed the way comics were made.  Suddenly, they became brutal, and they began to mean something.  Bad guys became terrifyingly logical.  Good guys were forced with tortuous moral decisions.  I started buying comics and storing them in boxes that still plague my wife.
Oooh, I could add SHELVES!
Then, something went wrong.  The villains in the comics became so popular, they got their own comics where they murdered as a form of justice.
Because murder is the same thing as justice.
The stories became about real-world problems: racism, government abuse, terrorism.  In onestory The Thing finds out a bad guy is tunneling under Paris to destroy it and a tear comes to his eye; it’s just so uncomplicated.
Actually, the French heroes seem a bit... Complicated.
And there are the movies.  When Sam Raimi started the Spider Man movies, he gave Peter Parker web shooters that didn’t come from devices he had invented, but from out of his arms.  That’s right, he caressed his palms and sticky white stuff shot out.  Ew. 

When asked why, Raimi said he thought it lacked realism for a kid to invent something 3M couldn’t have invented.  Really?  You’re trying to make Spider Man realistic?  He couldn’t invent web shooters but he could see bullets flying at him from behind his head? You’re saying he couldn’t invent web shooters, but he could sew together a costume that took your wardrobe designers months of work to create?
On second thought, I could whip that up in my spare time.

And don’t even get me started on the new Batman.
"Why, hello Miss Moneypenny."
Okay, just one comment: he’s not Batman in the movies.  He’s James Bond with a funny helmet.

The latest example of this over-realism in superheroes is D.C. comic’s attempt to make all the mental illnesses displayed in their books reflect real-life mental illnesses.  Now, I have all the respect in the world for trying to make people have a better understanding of the mentally ill (I personally inspired the first third of the DSM).  But, come on.  The Joker?  How are you going to make The Joker make any sense at all?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pippi’s New Burger

On Monday, I read about the incredible effort Pippi Longstocking’s Restaurants were putting into reworking their burgers.  They had been falling behind in the fast food competition and needed something to help them compete with Creepy Clown Farmer’s Restaurants.

Pippi’s put hundreds of thousands of dollars into researching this burger.  They did dozens of test tastings with hundreds of consumers to decide if they should go with red or white onions, if they should crinkle cut their pickles, how many bug parts to include, and so on.  Pippi’s changed a lot about their hamburgers.  They made all their stores buy tens of thousands of dollars in new toasters to heat their buns, and made all their “chefs” get retrained to cook the new patties differently.

Less money has been spent on presidential races.
I think Hillary on a bill would kick ass.
Since this blog is dedicated to bringing you the latest in news, weather, and entertainment information…

Oh, no, wait, that’s CNN.

Since this blog is dedicated to bringing you the latest in whatever it is I can think to write about (every friggin’ weekday), I realized it was my duty to try out this new hamburger.  Can greatness be achieved by committee?  Let’s find out!
Ahhh.  You can almost smell the congealed fat!
I wanted to drive to my closest Pippi Longstocking’s Restaurant to try it.  Turns out there aren’t many Pippi’s in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Finally, after hours of banging my cell phone against the ground, my GPS started working, and I drove over to one.

The late founder with his partner... Whatshisname.
Inside, I found that the new burgers are called “Rick Moranis’s Hot and Juicy,” after the late comedian from Second City who founded the Pippi Longstocking chain.
I hid a camera in my phone so nobody would know I was taking pictures.
I got the basic meal and brought it to a table with good lighting.  It was too hot to eat comfortably with the sun glaring on my back, but the pictures were fabulous.
I sacrificed to bring this to YOU.
Before eating, I examined the handiwork of hundreds of chefs marketing executives working as one.
Looks prettier on the ads.
Okay, time for the first taste.
The famous crinkle cut pickles and red onions.
Aaaaand…  Well, it tastes like a hamburger.  Sorry.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s nice.  The bun with the buttering and special toasting is good.  The extra cheese on the burger works well.  However, at the end of the day, it’s still just a fast food hamburger.
On the plus side, you can use the wrapper to play miniatures war games afterwards!
Moving on to the fries, I was shocked to see they still have skin on them.  After all, both Creepy Clown Farmer and Dictator For Life Burger use mashed potatoes that are then poured into molds to make exactly four different shapes.  I found the lack of processing on the fries to be refreshing… Until I ate them.
Oh, wait, there's still the four basic shapes.  What's up with that?
Kinda cold.  Kinda squishy.  Maybe they’d been sitting out too long, or maybe I just like my preprocessed foods a bit too much.

Afterwards, I brought one back for John, my painter.
John stares at his Rick Moranis in awe.
His verdict: “Neutral.  It’s pretty much like everything else out there.  No fireworks.”

Thanks John.  Now get back to work.  I don’t pay you to review fast food.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'm Sorry

I live only a few miles from Moffett Field.  Moffett is a military base where NASA does a lot of work.  It also acts as a community center, with a museum, a university campus, and (once a month) model rocket launches.
Pretty cool, eh?
Moffett Field has a special place in my mind too, as one of my favorite video games I played in college involved saving it from terrorist attack.  I’d play that mission over and over again, racing my F-18 after a cruise missile, trying to shoot it down before it blew up.  Most games, I’d just make it in time.  Every now and then, grey circles of smoke would rise from the explosion, a puffy cloud of failure.  I would sigh and restart the game, happy that it wasn’t real.
So realistic!  Man, the graphics were amazing back then.
Except, that it was real today.  You may not have noticed it amid the other news of the assassination of an Afghan ex-president (during a peace negotiation), the assaults on our bases worldwide, the mass desertions from our military, and numerous terrorist attacks that the mainstream media won’t cover.  Moffett Field was attacked today.  The few civilians living there managed to fend off the terrorists, but six people were killed.

The scene of the attack.  They still haven't released all the details.

I’m scared; that was only a few miles from my house!  I’m worried; who will protect my children?  I’m sorry; I helped make this happen.

Yeah, that’s right.  It was me.  Maybe I didn’t do all of it, but I did enough.  I voted for Obama.  I wrote snarky posts.  I argued with my friends.
I mean, everyone was posting these signs.  I should have known.
I was wrong.  I was for allowing gays to serve openly in the military.  I was all for repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

I was deaf.  I was deaf to the fact that closeted homosexuals make better soldiers.  I was deaf to the reality of how much better our armed services are with bigots serving.  I was deaf to the pleas of my religious friends who warned me about how God’s wrath would obliterate our (mostly Christian) nation for the crime (barely mentioned in the Bible) of treating homosexuals like human beings.
Oh, these signs, too!  I should have read them.
To those people who tried to tell me the truth, let me say I’m truly sorry I wasn’t as closed minded like you.  I only hope our nation will survive long enough to re-intern the Japanese, put African-Americans back into slavery, and execute all the homosexuals.  Our country can be just as white and Christian and ideologically pure as we like to think it used to be.
Our new leader.
Won’t that be wonderful?