Grammar Crisis

I came across the following link, and now have a minor crisis because while the sentences in question are certainly meh, I don't understand how the diagrams prove in more explicit terms their mehness. This is a crisis because there are elements of those sentences which makes sense to me and I am afraid that this means I'm a terrible writer.


Cataclysm: Second Impressions

I've had more time with the expansion, a full week in fact, and some of my initial concerns have smoothed over significantly.

Since my previous entry on the subject I have come across a number of cases of simply good music which, though it wasn't always zone/area type specific, were memorable. While I feel a number of pieces remain below standards I'm much more willing to give them some grace as they constitute a lesser proportion of the game's music than I previously thought. It still stands that even though there is more good music than I supposed not all of it catches you in the moment the same way previous expansions have.

Archaeology as a profession is both mindless and addicting. My only frustrations with it so far have come from game glitches which have prevented me from pursuing it to my fullest abilities.

The greatest improvement and crowning achievement of the expansion, however, is that thus far the dungeon encounters have learned from all of the mistakes made in Wrath of the Lich King and offered an experience which is difficult in a way which rewards more than bigger numbers and optimizing spreadsheets.

The subtle difference in Cataclysm is that the challenges often require you to spend most of your time trying to squeeze your primary role in between other important actions. There are also a few straightforward numbers checks, but those are fine when they aren't the majority of encounters. Having to think on your feet, make decisions on priorities, and trust your own skills is extremely refreshing after two years of largely brainless play where failure means you should just come back later with different equipment.

We'll see if this bears out in the larger scale raids, but I'm very hopeful and optimistic.

Raging in a Civilized Fashion

So one of my favorite games, League of Legends, was patched today and the community is reacting. That doesn't bother me; people will always have an immediate, visceral impression when encountering new information or changes to old information. What does bother me is:

"If it kills jungling its 100% terrible patch the game seems incomplete without jungle serving a real purpose. + All the warding and map awareness crisis control etc that a jungler brings."

I'm not sure this can be called language. Even if I inform you that "jungling" is a style of play within the game deciphering those two(?) sentences is mind bending.

Communicating an idea is easier when it doesn't require your audience to have repeated cranial encounters with a hard surface.


Cataclysm: Launch and Initial Impressions

Cataclysm launched yesterday, an event I stayed home for. Both of the previous expansions drew me out of my hermetic cocoon to local video game emporiums in the dead of night. This latest installment offered a digital presale, allowing one to download the expansion ahead of time and be ready to play the moment it was all enabled at 12:01 PST on the 7th.

Well, in theory anyway. In actuality digital download combined with Blizzard's plan to delay the activation of Cataclysm content on all servers until 12:01 PST meant that rather than hourly waves of players shuffling in as their ability to race home from stores in their respective time zones allowed, the entire playerbase attempted to log on simultaneously.

The end result invites a host of titular puns relating to Blizzard's beleaguered login servers.

My first impression of Cataclysm is that the leveling experience is less immersive than was the case in Wrath of the Lich King. This impression is deeply colored as my first 24 hours of Cataclysm play all came in the first 24 hours of Cataclysm, whereas it took nearly a month for me to put a similar amount of time into its predecessor. Still, I can't shake the feeling that the Wrath of the Lich King leveling experience was more polished.

Oddly, I think geography is a major culprit. In previous expansions the high level zones were segregated from the old zones on a new continent. This empty slate made it easy to learn the new geography and feel a sense of progress as one essentially explored the uncharted land from end to end. It's an effortless process that happens naturally for everyone except those truly gifted at getting lost.

Cataclysm's content is completely different, scattered around the old world seemingly at random. At the same time, the expansion revamped old areas and essentially redrew the geographic map. The effect is essentially akin to dramatically altering the system of roads around your house and at the same time moving all the notable landmarks around, all overnight. It's a cartographic nightmare that creates the constant, inescapable feeling of being lost despite knowing exactly where you are.

That and trying to compete with a thousand other players for quest objectives makes it significantly harder to immerse oneself into a game.

As a final note, and pun, I'm less impressed with Cataclysm's music thus far compared to the previous expansions. The music in both Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King set tones and themes for each zone very effectively, with signature sounds for each. You could often tell simply by the music what zone you were in. Cataclysm has sadly been far more hit and miss, with the majority of music being at best nondescript.

Just so you don't get the wrong impression, it's been definitively enjoyable thus far. These are just the matters which stood out most in my mind initially.


Cataclysm Comes

Less than 24 hours until the next soul-sucking release from Blizzard.


Grey Matter

Megamind is worth seeing. It's not particularly revolutionary, but it's funny, mildly inspiring, and well done. If your kids are very young there are definitely a number of scary moments.

That's my "yes I'm still alive, really" moment of the month.



A few things that have caught my attention lately:

1. I'm not really all that excited about new game releases. There's been a new Mario Galaxy, a new Dead Rising, and more in recent months, but the only games that have excited me are expansions on games I'm already playing. I suspect this is because I have a large back catalog of single player games I haven't finished, and it's tough for me to justify buying anything new when I have all these excellent games yet to play.

2. On that same note, I need to bring my Wii with me the next time I am out of town on business. I have yet to find a hotel that doesn't have chronic internet problems. Bonus points for only having wireless connections available, for said wireless connections to crap out every five minutes for forty seconds. For the love of Zelda just either provide internet that is reliable or just don't bother, you'd save me the heartbreak of constantly trying to get it to work and I could just go to sleep or drive in circles or something more productive than wrangling with a network as stable as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

3. I really don't mind losing games to mistakes I make, or even to mistakes other make. Yeah, it's not ideal and some would say it sucks, but that's how competitive games go, and how challenging single player/cooperative games should be. I really, utterly, and completely despise losing games to lag or other technical failures. It feels analogous to someone flipping a board game in your face, only you don't have an actual person to lecture on sportsmanship or blame for it. There's just this powerless feeling of futility to comfort you as you inwardly rage and boil.


Communication Fail

How hard is X > Y > Z to understand? Someone tell me, because I used that exact format to try to communicate a concept on a forum, almost exactly as you see it there. Somehow I keep getting responses akin to:

"So basically X is the largest, then Y, then Z? What about if we're doing subtraction instead of addition?"

"Okay, so if I want to subtract one of these numbers from another of these numbers and get a negative number, which numbers do I subtract from each other?"

"Which is bigger, X or Z?"

Those are just the posts which seem to have bothered to read my maxim. I am going to cry myself to sleep tonight if I see one more person post who doesn't understand the concept of the "greater than" symbol.


Better than Christmas Presents

Blizzcon in two weeks. My head shall asplode.



Here's a surprise!

Original Source: Time Killer

It can be a little hard to see what's going on since my blog is all black, but use arrow keys and space for fun and humor.


Behind the Times

One of the odd things about living alone is that I no longer feel terribly inclined to play single player video games. When I'm playing, I want to be playing with people because I have plenty of time to be alone later.

The consequences of this are a giant backlog of games I haven't finished, and a strange indifference to new releases. Dead Rising 2 and another Front Mission game launch today, and the only reason I know is because someone posted a picture of a giant stuffed bear with an automatic weapon duct taped to it.


James Brown

I've started exercising every morning 6:30-7:00 PDT, followed by a shower. I've gone nine consecutive days so far. The real test, however, will be whether I am able to keep this pattern going during travel/sickness etc.

In the meantime, I feel good.


Still Alive

Duke Nukem Forever is actually being released. My mind has exploded.

I'm having random flashbacks to my childhood education. I think I can trace my obsession with logic to losing an argument over whether something costing a quarter in a penny store is expensive back in first grade.

Blizzcon in a little over a month. Bliss.



If you haven't read this short story, I suggest you do. It's a really good philosophical story with any number of potential angles to discuss it from.


StarCraft II: Launch

Briefly, my experience so far has been awesome. That said, I need to point out something hilarious:

There's basically a war going on at Amazon.com over whether StarCraft II should be rated 1 or 5 stars. People are posting reviews essentially to counter the other group, and both groups are uprating their own reviews while downrating their mortal foes'.

Personally, if a repulsive man makes a beautiful work of art in a blameless way, I can still dislike the man without such feelings affecting the appraisal of the art itself.


Movies: Knight and Day

The Bourne Trilogy of spy thrillers rank among my favorite films. It is probably their influence which makes Knight and Day, a romantic comedy/spy thriller hybrid, so amazing.

Knight and Day has all of the elements of an excellent spy thriller. There's the dashing secret agent, resourceful and clever, fighting against larger forces by himself. There are car chases, massive gun fights, intrigue, betrayals, and double crosses. Then, just to totally mess with the formula, instead of throwing in a femme fatale they inject a fairly normal woman who is totally unprepared for anything that is about to happen to her in the movie.

The twist on the formula not only works, it's simultaneously hilarious and engaging. While almost everything in the film can be mapped to various cliches from both genres, the combination of the two reminds me of such films as To Catch a Thief or How to Steal a Million. Knight and Day catches that classic up to the present day beautifully and seamlessly.

I highly recommend this film. It's only PG-13, it's over the top, and it's absolutely enjoyable.


Some time go Roger Ebert, the acclaimed movie reviewer, wrote a piece stating his opinion that video games were not, and could not be, art. As one might expect, video game enthusiasts came out in droves to dispute this assertion.

More recently, Ebert wrote a follow up in which he had the incredible grace to concede two very important points, and essentially the entire debate. Having not played any video game his opinion, by his own admission, was effectively irrelevant. Moreover, because he had not and was not interested or willing to play video games, he could not make an informed argument against them being, or eventually becoming, art. In our modern age of stubbornly holding to opinions as though they were immutable and informed absolutes, this public declaration of ignorance stands as a beacon of refreshing honesty.

The honesty of this article comes in many forms and facets. It's not a matter of the article being forthright or factually correct, but the manner in which Ebert engages the discussion and, by extension, himself. He takes an honest look at the counter arguments, he takes an honest look at his own mistakes, and with honesty and humility admits the irrelevancy of his own opinion yet also acknowledges that it is still his honest opinion. This response is faultless, and a shining example of how to gracefully engage a debate.

Sadly, in today's world this careful, thoughtful and introspective approach is misunderstood. Many comments on this follow up from gamers indicate the exact type of predetermined observational bias which they decried as Ebert's error. Rather than reading and attempting to understand, they have read and attempted to directly translate.

It's an odd comparison, but I think it apt. Translators, at their best, are not concerned so much with wording as they are with communicating the meaning of one language and culture into another. That requires, above all else, understanding of both one and the other. A direct translation, however, is only concerned with running the words or text through a set of preexisting rules. The result of this second process is warped and alien, bent to the preconceptions or ignorance inherent in the rules themselves.

I find it odd that these comments even bother to declare that Ebert is a jerk, or that he's still a stuck up old fart or any other silly insults. The man admitted, as we had wanted him to from the moment the debate started, that he is not an authority on video games, that he can't declare them to not be art, and that he can not know whether they are or will become art. What more do we want? Is he to prostrate himself before the gates of E3, kiss the feet of Nolan Bushnell 7 times, and swear to never defile the sacred wakka wakka wakka ever again?

Gamers have in this article a great victory. Don't ruin it by being exactly the type of person we complained Ebert was.


In Disguise

Transformice may be the single most amazing Flash game to ever be created. Why you ask? Watch:


Philanthropy Kills Kittens

At least, that's what you'd assume if you read the comments about this amazing article. Seriously, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are pledging to give at least half their respective net worths to charity over their lifetimes, and are encouraging others to do the same. Somehow this warrants comments like (comment quoted verbatim):

"This is typical of billionaires with absolutely no vision for the future. This is the easy way out, they don't have to work they set up these organizations and write checks and reap the tax benefits. WHy don't these so called brilliant people set up an organization with billions to provide funds for entrepreneurs and small businessman to start companies, or grow their companies to hire people, create jobs and new product so we won't need charities and end this entitlement mentality. They can set up charities for those who really need it.

Yes, obviously Bill Gates and his wife shouldn't be lazy and just throw money at charities. They should set up their own organization that will provide new jobs. I have an idea, they can call it the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They should get right on that.

More poignantly, I understand that there's an entitlement mentality in the United States that many people find abhorrent (I do too!). I don't understand why this goes hand in hand with being oblivious to the many, many circumstances in which people simply need financial or meaningful support to lift them out of crushing poverty and other terrible situations. If everything was as easy as standing up on our own two feet, we wouldn't need parents past age 3.


Game Design: Choice, Options

Choice is an important concept in game design. I would go so far to say that choice is the essential difference between movies and games; choice puts the audience in control.

There is a lot I could say philosophically about choice, its impact on gameplay, and how developers both use and abuse it. However, today I'm going to zero my focus on a very specific and limited aspect of choice, options.

Options are generally overlooked as an aspect of game design. Who cares about the player's ability to tweak graphical, audio, and controller settings when there's a game to be made? Yet, options define the player's experience almost as much as any other aspect of the game.

For example, a bad mapping of actions to the buttons/analog sticks on a controller can make a game unplayable. Despite this, with surprising frequency many games only implement the bare minimum for controller settings. In such cases you might find one or two preset button layouts with a single toggle for inverted look on the analog sticks. If a player does not find these preset layouts comfortable, intuitive, or enjoyable the game is ruined.

It is therefore critical to allow players to customize these types of user interface issues to their specifications. Just as a movie must be in focus, and a book must be printed legibly, a game needs to have a user interface that does not separate the audience from the medium. Options go a long way in attending to the huge diversity that exists in personal preferences.

So, let's examine a few examples of options whose presence or lack thereof added to or detracted from a game.

Case 1: Tetris

An interesting aspect of Tetris is the options it had available. At the time very few games had options, and those that did were fairly limited. Tetris, however, had options for changing music, adding a handicap, and even starting at a more difficult level. All of these helped the replayability of the game immensely. As spiffy as the music was, being able to turn it off helped preserve sanity after several hours of play. Once you got very good, being able to up the ante early on erased the slow, early part of the game. Tetris, and a few other pioneering games, redefined what it meant to have options.

Case 2: Smash Brothers

Smash Brothers is a game renowned for its customizability, with one exception. While all other items and settings have always been ridiculously thorough and deep to the point of insanity, each game in the series has overlooked adding an option to select which Pokemon will come out of the pokeballs.

This is a very, very small detail, and detracts only a little from the series, but has nonetheless remained a very obvious opportunity that remains overlooked. Two of the games even feature challenge modes where the developers restrict Pokemon themselves, tormenting players who with to have that power.

Case 3: Battle.net 2.0

Battle.net 2.0, and specifically RealID, is the catalyst for this entry. RealID is the ability to "friend" other players on a first-name (rather than anonymized codename) basis, allowing you to see them as online no matter what game they are playing. The ability to track good friends and relatives in this manner while you're playing games is a neat feature.

The problem with RealID is in its options. RealID is an all or nothing feature-set. You can't friend someone through RealID and not have them appear in your list of friends with their full name followed by their account name. You can't choose not to have your list of RealID friends visible to all your RealID friends. You either add friends through RealID and subject yourself to all the features you like and all the features you don't like, or you opt out entirely.

This failure to break RealID down into separate, optional features has been a major sticking point for many players. In fact, it has been such a problem during testing that the developers had to intentionally break other options in order to force players to test the RealID system. RealID simply wasn't something the testers wanted to use because they couldn't turn off the features they didn't like.

The thread which joins these cases together is a simple principle: options should allow a player to do something they want. Tetris players will often want to get to the exciting fast-paced portion of the game, and so giving them an option to skip to that portion makes sense. Battle.net 2.0 users may not want to identify their friends by their full names, or for their friends list to be readily visible, and so failing to provide an option to disable these features is a critical oversight. Players that can mold the game to their needs will always be happier than players who are forced into specific implementations.

So when deciding on options, be very careful when making assumptions about player needs. Considering everything individually, and whether it makes sense for certain things to be immutable or joined together. If a deadline is your reason to avoid implementing an option, so be it, but make certain that you have at least that as a reason rather than nothing at all.


Facts About Me: Sleep

Here are some interesting facts about me and sleep.

  • When my sleep schedule is consistent, I tend to wake up approximately 45 minutes before my alarm.
  • No matter how much sleep I get 2PM feels like a great time to take a nap.
  • Traveling completely messes up my sleep schedule. The first few days in a hotel are usually fitful, and I become unreliable with alarms.
  • I get my second wind around 11 PM, a third wind around 12:30 AM, and past 2 AM I generally won't feel tired again until 4-6 AM.
  • The more sleep I get, the more likely I am to break into random song.


Life is Real

These days the right side of politics tends to get a bad rap, and given their unofficial spokespeople it's not hard to see why. It is, however, dangerous to write off ideas from the right simply because certain polarizing figures regularly appear on national TV to again prove their ridiculous insensitivity and/or warped perception of the country. There are crucial ideas from the right which, independent from any hypocrisy, are important to the continued prosperity of the country.

One idea in particular that tends to get a bad rap is "unoffendability". In short, the idea is that left wing politics is far, far too sensitive to the possibility of offending people. It is unfortunate, but often this idea is characterized as thinly veiled racism/misogyny/etc., and more unfortunate still that in some cases it truly is.

However, in a great many cases it is not, and these situations should not be lumped into the same vile category. These are cases such as when schools in Massachusetts ban playing cops and robbers, or when kids are suspended for making a gun shape in their hands, or when a soccer league in Ottawa, Canada implements a rule where winning too well causes you to lose. The only factor at play in these circumstances is the possibility of an overprotective parent making a fuss.

This isn't about political correctness, but about denying children the opportunity to learn, to stretch their imagination, and to encounter the hard truth that life doesn't always cater to them. The wise see value in exposing their children to the hard truth that Grandpa isn't coming back, or that Fluffy isn't going to be okay. The sage understand that children must fall down in order to learn to pick themselves up, that injury often goes hand in hand with knowledge and wisdom. Throwing children in a bubble completely separated from failure, pain, and the reality of responsibility is the greatest possible disservice to them.

What the voice from the right decries isn't the idea of protecting children from unnecessary harm or emotional trauma, but the act of insulating them utterly. It's a basic notion that while some sheltering has a purpose, the extent to which it is being taken today is extreme to the point of stunting the ability of children to mature and develop the basic life skills they need to survive outside the safety of the home. As the father in Calvin and Hobbes often noted, minor hardships "build character".

When I raise my kids, I fully plan on being wrought with worry and concern as I allow my kids the freedom to get messy and potentially scrape knees, burn fingers, cry, and learn.


Recursion Mk. II

Recursion Mk. II

Crossing the Streams

I am tempted to set up a live video stream of my StarCraft II games. It seems to be the "in" thing to do these days.

The concept creates a tempest of confused half-thoughts suddenly ceasing as--livestreaming, would I really--my skill is barely--would that affect my computer--maybe I should play Zerg.


First Episodes: Shangri-La

It seems as though I'm bound to make more of these. Thankfully, they don't come up only when a series fails to impress.

Today's exploration of anime introductions features Shangri-La. A few of my personal preferences will exert their bias in this analysis. Overall, this episode was enjoyable and served its purpose effectively.

Excellent: The opening scene. It is raining, and we begin the story in a prison. A young female prisoner is being released, and as she is escorted from her cell toward the exit her fellow prisoners cheer her on. They fall quiet as she stops. The prisoner boldly announces, "Today is the day that I, Kuniko Hojo, am released!" and her peers cheer with gusto as the guards look nervously on the confident girl. Cue intro sequence.

One of the most important tasks that must be completed in the first episode of any television show is the introduction and fleshing out of the main character. This usually must happen immediately, and very quickly, as we rely upon this character as our window into the plot, the world, and the other characters. For many stories, the main character is the vital anchor who keeps the audience grounded and engaged.

This opening scene completes the lion's share of this task without any exposition and with great economy of time. The beaming, confident girl is contrasted against the rain and the dank prison. She commands the respect of the other prisoners, and even the begrudging respect of the guards. The question, "How did such a girl end up in prison anyway?" draws in the audience. It does its job, and ends the moment it's done.

Bad: There is a particular character design that I generally tend to despise and hate in anime. The only exception was an isolated case where it was explicitly used to point out how its stupidity. This is the "very overweight girl who nevertheless asserts they aren't and try to dress and act in a perversely extreme cute way in order to make up for the fact that they don't meet cultural standards of beauty" character.

That's a fairly loaded archetype that the majority of my readers will not be familiar with. For their benefit, here is a picture for reference purposes:

The problem with this character type isn't that they're unattractive or outright ugly, it's that they don't have much, if any, inner beauty to speak of. Their only purpose in almost all cases is to deny reality whenever anyone points out that they don't meet current cultural standards of beauty. There is nothing else to their existence except to deny the truth about themselves, cry about it, and perpetuate a rather vicious stereotype.

There is one of these characters in this series. Thankfully they don't appear but for a minute in this episode, but I know any further episodes I may watch will ultimately be tainted by the dread of encountering this atrocious mockery of an archetype.

Good: World building. Shangri-La follows the important principle of building a world through emergence rather than exposition. A narrator doesn't explain to us that melting icecaps flooded the world, we learn this slowly as the characters discuss the state of their barely-above-water home. We aren't subject to endless droning regarding the complex carbon cap-and-trade tax system that's was implemented globally decades ago when the crisis happened, we experience it through a shady backroom deal between a desperate government and a hacker/loan-shark.

This style of world building is effective not just because people generally prefer action over exposition, but also because it allows for simultaneous character development. We learn more about a world by watching the people in it as opposed to being lectured about it. As a result we can move more quickly toward the introduction of the plot, the intrigue, and the meat of a story.

Meh: Shangri-La still, however, may have tried to introduce too much at once. Several characters and their surrounding organizations could have had their introductions delayed until later episodes, even if elements in the first episode alluded to them. As an ironic counterpoint to the Book of Bantorra's failure to explain enough, Shangri-La may have tried to show too much.

Uncertain: The end of the episode throws two big mysteries at the audience, one which demands immediate resolution and the other which obviously is a thread for the greater plot. This type of double hook could work well, or it could only make the next episode confusing.

All in all it was far better than the Book of Bantorra, but due my personal grudge against that secondary character's archetype my personal enjoyment was diminished. If it wasn't for that character, I'd probably not hesitate to watch further. If the series was otherwise flawless, I possibly could overcome the issue and continue forward. At the moment, I'm content to let it sit idly as I move on to something else, like finishing Turn A Gundam or Vandread.

Great Expectations

Enterprising professional gamers are going to be running a StarCraft 2 Training Camp in June. However, they are obviously hacks. They put "sleep" on the proposed schedule.


First Episodes: Book of Bantorra

Deciding when to give up on an anime series is a process which varies greatly from person to person. Everyone has their own rule or internal metric by which they judge. When discussing this you'll hear people talk about their "two episode rule" or that "it jumps the shark when this happens enough times". My personal rule is "when it starts sucking".

I recently tested the waters of a series called "The Book of Bantorra", and didn't make it past the first episode. The episode wasn't awful, there were ups and downs, but overall it failed the "sucking" test. What follows is a series of points, in what is mostly a chronological sorting, as to what was good, bad, or neither about the episode.

Good: The opening scene. The episode begins with your classic scary white room, where a helpless and defeated subject responds to a disembodied voice. This trope is fairly common, and has been used in many different genres of cinema and television for years. The subject in the room is like a lab rat, essentially meaningless to the disembodied, detached voice that observes them. Control is clearly entirely in the hands of the one and not the other, a fact emphasized by the defeated and disheveled appearance and demeanor of the subject. It's a clear, effective way to communicate the relationship between two characters or groups.

This episode uses this setup to good effect. The subject eerily discusses the philosophy of love and humanity with a voice coming from a vintage record player. This broken shell of a person states clearly that humans are to be loved, humans in pain are to be comforted, and outcast humans are to be rescued. The incongruity between this stated philosophy and their passive, defeated state builds until the subject announces, when prodded by their invisible overseer, that they are not human. As is standard, the voice asks "What are you?", and the subject replies "I am a bomb". This is all classic stuff and well executed.

Bad: The scene doesn't end there. Normally this type of scene would end after the revelation of the full brokenness of the subject. They no longer believe themselves to be human, but have instead been twisted and corrupted into something both sorrowful and terrifying. Tension is usually generated or heightened by cutting away following the subject's disturbing statement that they are a weapon, not a person. This may be fairly cliche, but it's still effective when done correctly.

Instead of following the standard route, however, the conversation continues. The voice asks the subject for their purpose, and the subject responds that it's to kill some unpronounceable two word proper noun which seems to indicate some specific person, group or category. This statement is repeated several times as the scene fades to white and finally ends.

This extension, unfortunately, muddies the scene. Rather than leaving the audience with the tension created by the depravity of the situation, the effect is lost as instead the audience is now wondering what/who this "Hamyuts Whatsamigger" is, and why someone would create a human bomb to destroy it/them.

Moreover, it diminishes the effectiveness of the disembodied voice. The moment the subject answered "I am a bomb" control was clearly established. The voice, if anything, would have responded "Yes, you are a bomb" followed maybe by some statement indicating the subject is a good, obedient boy/girl and will be rewarded somehow, or some other equally twisted perversion of typical authority/subject roles. Instead, the voice essentially tries to reassure itself that the subject is fully under its control, continuing to ask questions which establish this. In doing so, the voice loses some of its certainly and security, and thereby its authority.

Overall the scene was still effective, but it lost much by being extended.

Bad: The story unfolds with villains discussing matter over dinner. This is another fairly classic method of introducing characters and their relationships. Several villains discuss their villainy, their deviant philosophies, and their plans over a lavish meal on a luxurious cruise ship, indicating their excess wealth and power. This is not, in and of itself, a bad choice. The tool being used here is both solid and standard, and is not by any means to be shunned.

However, in this case the tool is misused. Introducing villains is a tricky art with many traps, and many of them come into play here. The end result is a set of three flat and uninteresting villains who barely even register as evil.

The first trap is context, or the complete lack thereof. Villains need the context of the world within which they exist to stand out as villainous. You can try to build part of that world using villains, but laying foundations in this way is an extremely difficult proposition. If it wasn't for archetypes and character design, it would have been difficult to tell these were even villains.

The second is flow. We just left a scene in which a mystery voice exerted dominance over a hapless test subject in a nondescript room. It isn't uncommon to follow this up with a villain or villains gloating over their success or passively recording their observations and moving on to the next in a long series of meaningless victims, if you transition to the villain responsible at all. Transitioning to a completely unrelated dinner discussion of even more abstract philosophical matters which doesn't include clear villainy simply dulls the whole thing. Are these people villains or the most wealthy philosophers of the Ayn Rand school in the world?

Finally, the topic of discussion is largely that of "True Man", a term that means nothing to the audience before and after the conversation (much like that Hamyuts Whatchamawhosits from the first scene). When the conversation ends, the audience is left wondering what the deal is, and doesn't get any answers before the good guys attack.

Good: Casma dies. The good guys, including this Casma fellow, interrupt by attacking the luxurious cruise ship from a patrol boat. Casma fits the standard "lazy, irresponsible but ultimate true and faithful ally" archetype very clearly, as the attack opens with him complaining about how much he hates actually putting his obvious specialty to use. When a man falls overboard off the cruise ship after the opening salvo, Casma selflessly dives into the water to save him. Then the man explodes, presumably taking Casma with him. I assume Casma is dead because he was A) at point blank range and B) we don't see him for the rest of the episode.

I call this good because it's extremely surprising. Killing off a clear archetypal character before they've have 30 seconds of screen time is bold and interesting. The moment Casma lay hands down on the patrol boat panting and complaining about work it was clear that he'd be around as a semi-comic relief character, shirking duty and work until. The moment someone's life would be in danger, however, he'd show his true colors and prove truer than anyone else. That they killed him almost immediately, having spent time and resources to design his character as a clear primary cast member, made all the other heroes look more vulnerable.

Bad: No one cares about Casma. The full extent of mourning for Casma consists of one, and only one, character calling out his name, followed by a brief expression of anger and frustration. This is a surprising complaint coming from me, as I tend to dislike long, overwrought and extended sequences of mourning for dead characters. Some of my favorite anime moments involve characters dying suddenly in the heat of battle without a moment to grieve, as there isn't any time for that on a battle field. The reaction to Casma's death is simply lacking.

It essentially makes the rest of the heroes look inhuman. Nobody jumps in the water to try and rescue Casma, or what's left of him. Nobody clenches a fist, fights back tears, or makes plain their sorrow. We have one character and one character alone who even comments, making the other half dozen on board heartless monsters.

This might have been excusable, except no mention is made of it later in the episode either. Not when they complete the mission, not when they return to base to discuss the success/failure of the mission, not when they get their next assignments. Casma drops off the face of the episode, presumably resting in pieces, and no one bats an eye. It's a shame, as he's the only character who had a name which you could actually be expected to remember.

Bad: World building failure. The Book of Bantorra, like many anime, has its own world with somewhat different rules than the universe as we know it. When you die, for example, your soul crystallizes into a book (which looks like a stone tablet). This premise is the cornerstone for all the other interesting differences between real boring life and this story world. Discovering how these differences and the reasons behind them is one of the fun aspects of this type of story.

Guiding the audience through the process of discovery is not an easy task. Throw too much at the audience and they're overwhelmed by the infodump, too little and they're left in a murky fog which obscures any other redeeming qualities. In this case, the guiding hand behind this series managed to do both.

It starts with the Hamyuts Whosacallums and True Man proper noun drops I've mentioned before. It's not uncommon for anime to drop terms in this manner and for the audience to remain in the dark as to what exactly they mean. As part of the discovery process the audience comes to understand and accept them. In Book of Bantorra you end up with a half dozen of these in the very first episode alone, none of which are fully explained.

A good example is the term "Meats". The term is used pejoratively to describe people who have lost all will to live and don't even consider themselves to be human. We don't know why they've lost the will to live, why the cruise ship has a small village's worth on board, what the True Man/Mock Man people want with them, why even some of the supposed good guys consider them to be subhuman, or what purpose they even serve. They just are, and we're supposed to accept that the existence of such things is normal. That "Meats" are literally everywhere in the story and remain poorly explained is detrimental.

When the story finally started explaining who the good guys are, it all seems out of place. The "Director" in charge of the operation callously doesn't care about the fate of the many, many "Meats" and/or Casma, all of whom died in the operation. At the same time we're being told this organization of "Armed Librarians" is extremely beloved of the people, shown to us by people asking one of them for autographs. The incongruity cracks the foundation the world's author is trying to build upon.

By presenting the "Director" before our impression of the "Armed Librarians" organization has been set, the audience is still free to ask without hesitation "is this organization good?" The ability to ask that question freely kills any tension or interesting dynamics which could have occurred between the two. Instead of trying to understand how to two could possibly work together, much of the audience is lost to the same cynicism they display toward corporations.

This is a fairly common theme throughout the episode. Before our impressions of something can be set, the story is already moving on to the next thing we need to know without pause, pacing, or concern that some of their heroes we're supposed to like are acting like pathological monsters. Vague terms and barely described concepts are thrown at us constantly, and in the end we experience a simultaneous infodump and information void. The result of this failed world building is shaky and shallow.

Bad: There's no main character. The character we can most identify with is a supporting cast member who, by virtue of being the only character with a heart larger than the Grinch's, spends a fair amount of time expressing his belief that "Meats" are still human, that they should be saved, and expressing anger, regret and sorrow when they all end up drowning. He's also the only character that even notices Casma got blown to pieces.

We're supposed to regard the "Director" as a Major Kusanagi type main character, ala Ghost in the Shell. However, of all the characters in the story we see the least of her (outside of the ill-fated Casma) and she happens to be the most monstrously uncaring of any of the characters we meet. When directly confronted by the only caring person in the show about the deaths of all the "Meats" and the general failure of the mission, she just shrugs it off.

Then there's the subject from the opening scene. He happens to be a Meat, and somehow ends up with a piece of some witch's soul that he encountered while drowning in the ocean. This witch, for reference, poisoned entire regions and made a killing off selling the cure, but still comes off as more human and caring than 95% of the rest of the cast because she at least expresses her love of this lifeless outcast. Of course, we have no idea why a fragment of the soul of a centuries dead witch would love a random drowning stranger.

So we're not supposed to consider the only person suitable to be the main character to be important, and the people who are supposed to be main characters are either extremely confusion or for all intents and purposes inhuman. This does the story no justice.

Bad: The episode ends in a mining town. This isn't inherently bad, except the miners are mining books, peoples' souls. Why the books are in the mine in the first place and not with the "Armed Librarians" isn't clear, nor is it clear why there's a well established mining town for this reason when the only book anyone seems interested in is the soul of the previously mentioned witch.

In conclusion, the first episode of Book of Bantorra feels like someone threw a bunch of archetypes, plot elements, and tropes into a hat and just pulled them out at random. The series as a whole may well be much better, but after the first episode I have little or no reason to care about watching the rest.



Fun Fact: Googling for "recursion" will give you a message asking "Did you mean recursion?"

I had a fairly surreal experience today. I was watched a trailer advertising an upcoming video game. While watching it, an advertisement popped up on the bottom edge of the video (one of those banner ads you click the X to close).

Ladies and gentlemen, advertising has now gotten to the point where they put advertisements in your advertisements so you can see advertisements while watching advertisements.



To put it simply, I like being talked to like I'm an intelligent human being, generally because I regard myself as such. Thus, when Republicans, Democrats, and blue furry creatures from Alpha Centauri go on the news spouting emotion grabbing nonsense I am insulted and tune out.

Thus, I like Republicans like Ken Blackwell who are well-spoken, willing to engage facts, and able to have an actual discussion/debate on the issues. I may not agree with them, but I feel much better about the prospect of such people having a role in government when they aren't obsessed with blatant fiction (or completely unable to disperse one, what the heck Democrats?).



I am good at video games, a fact known by anyone familiar with me. This fact is responsible for two traits of my character I am very knowledgeable about, and one I had little or no idea existed until very recently.

The first two are straightforward, though I won't go into deep explanation. To summarize, my stubborn, never-say-die challenges against players better than me is one trait, and the second is my inability to focus on any one pursuit/choice within a given game. I have known for a while the madness which spawned these characteristics, and they have long since ceased to surprise me.

Recently, however, my joining the StarCraft II Beta confronted me with an aspect of my character I had never seen before.

Despite my general quick acclimation to new games, good reflexes, past experience and stubbornness, I found myself fearful of actually testing my abilities against other people. I could not understand what was wrong with me. Why would I have any reason to be afraid to find out where I stood? If I was better than everyone, no big deal. If I was a terrible player, even better. I had no reason I knew of to be in a catatonic state of terror.

Eventually, after forcing myself through the obstacle, I understood. What I feared was the unknown, a genre I hadn't touched seriously in a decade. The fact that my brother proved head and shoulders better than me in both the original and StarCraft II didn't bother me directly, but it opened the door to doubts. I doubted whether I would be any good, whether I would learn and improve, and most critically whether I would live up to my name and history.

I was unknowingly wrapped up in the mythos of Me, the Undeniably Awesome Gamer. StarCraft II represented a grave threat to my understanding of me as a good gamer. I have failed utterly at other games and genres, but I never was particularly serious about them so they didn't matter (I'm on to you and your tricky oceans, Ace Combat). StarCraft II, however, whispered to me sweet, sickening invitations to prove myself a sham.

Afraid I would turn out to be normal, I shied away, forgetting that everyone starts a new or forgotten genre a complete nub and goes from there. As it turns out, everyone includes me.

Having gotten over myself, we'll see if I can't turn up the learning machine and become a kick butt player. In the mean time, I'll sit in the Bronze loser's league and nub it up.


Artificial Incompetence

The StarCraft II beta is very much designed to be played against people. There is Artificial Intelligence you can choose to play against. However, Blizzard has perfectly simulated how a Ritalin driven child would play while being sedated and restricted to the use of only one finger.

They label this difficulty "Very Easy" and there are currently no others. I can think of very few friends of mine who, without ever having played StarCraft before, wouldn't be able to defeat one of these on their first try while blindfolded and forced to recite the Gettysburg address backwards. That's fine, it's labeled exactly what it is, but if you're an anti-social hermit the beta will not be for you.


Purchasing Power

Thanks to Gamestop's current promotion by which one may obtain a StarCraft II beta key via a preorder, I am now in possession of the StarCraft II beta.



Nerd Cred

My glasses broke at the left hinge just now. As as result, my computational index just increased by five units of nerd, due to my taping the glasses back together.


It Came from the Blog

So recently there was a fairly unimportant topic regarding WoW that came up.

Lots of people talked about it, but you really don't care about any of them.

I read a lot of blog posts on the subject, partly because I found them interesting and partly because I didn't have time to sit down and read a book.

While I was reading these blogs, I began to notice something odd. It was present in most of the blogs and obvious almost from the moment I began reading, though I shrugged it off the first few times.

I noticed this, almost every sentence was separated out by two carriage returns.

Really, it looked exactly like this. Nearly a dozen blog posts where the sin of joining two sentences together was only brooked when one was sufficiently short.

I'm a person who's fairly big on writing and the theory behind doing so; these kinds of minutiae tickle my cerebrum in happy ways.

I can only describe this style of textual organization with one word, disjointed.

Reproducing the effect is difficult for me because I simply do not write in that style, but down to the very core of the text each sentence felt like a separate, lonely thought loosely connected to what came before and awaited after, drifting in a sea of confusion.

Some blog entries had the good grace to figure out halfway through that people were now in it for the long haul and one might be allowed to write complex sentences or even paragraphs -- sweet relief!

Not many did. This caused me great sadness.

Usually the last sentence was very short, as though the author petered out.


I can no longer maintain that facade, as doing so is causing my sanity preservation systems to suffer intolerable stress. Do the people of the internet truly think in minuscule, disconnected chunks? The nature of the byte is such, but surely not humanity. To continue would be to lessen myself as a sentient being, or at least deny my nature until I am forever broken.

Perhaps it is the modern education, or modern media, that has effected this madness.
We live in a culture of sound bites and flashy, brief declarative statements made without useful context or connection. The use of such constructs like paragraphs or even letters fades in the face of ever briefer bursts of communication. In concordance with our shorter attention spans, we are inclined to process data in smaller chunks.

Woe to us, however, if this permeates our psyches to the point where even our very thoughts become microscopic. There is beauty in the connections between ideas, events and memories, in the smooth flow of a whispering, fluid stream of mentality. Blending each instant of consciousness into the next is our assurance -- alas, the dreamless night that robs us of our security -- of our connection to our past and future selves. When thought itself becomes a series of brief flashes of notion, separated by clean breaks without context or binding ties, we lose the breadth and width of creation for a tiny, shallow world where nothing exists outside of the moment.

Perhaps I go too far in my waxing of philosophy, but even that askewed or even abusive misuse of the idiom warms me with ties to memories of my father chiding me for my malapropisms and many other connections which, in being stirred together in one motion, creates something both fearful and joyous. If I go too far, I at least have the confidence that my error only leads to dreams and abstract notions that encompass more and more of creation.

Still, I wonder if I am a time-lost relic, for as often as I am similar to my peers I am again so dissimilar as to wonder if I wasn't left on the doorstep of my generation by fourth dimension-traversing gypsies.


Saturday Morning Routine

11:30 AM: Wake up.
11:33 AM: Realize that there are only 27 more minutes in which to have a morning routine.

This is a Haiku.

Kiite kudasai.



So, Portal 2 is on its way this Christmas. At the same time, a sequel to Tron is on its way this Christmas. Oddly enough, the former prospect excites me while the latter prospect frightens me.

I think this is largely because the worst case scenario for Portal 2 is that it tries to be Portal. In such a scenario, you'll have the charm of the mind-bending puzzles, though perhaps you won't experience a plot that's quite as original, creepy, and involving. I can live with Portal 2's worst case scenario, and the potential jubilation the best case scenario represents is off the scale.

Tron Legacy is very different. The worst case scenario is an absolute disaster. The movie is clearly trying to be two things at once, a call back to arcade nostalgia and a flashy special effects film. Those are two very different beasts, and yoking them together will take a great feat of directorial and editorial strength. I suppose the best case scenario is that Tron 2 becomes the Starcraft of 3D special effects films, perfecting the formula and setting standards for decades to come. I'd definitely enjoy that, but I don't harbor a shred of hope that's what will happen.


Buckle Up!

When I returned to my desk after standing up to grab a snack, I attempted to buckle my seat belt. It took me slightly longer than a half second to realize there was no seat belt on my desk chair.


Signs from God

People often imagine that signs from God are giant, epic visions of Charleton Heston on the mountain. They are more usually mundane.

A good example, seeing a dime in your freshly washed laundry and thinking, "Heh, I may not have listened to my mother and checked all my pockets, but it's not like I've ever accidentally washed anything important." and shortly thereafter seeing that you just washed your key cards that grant you access to your gated community and underground garage. Better yet, they still somehow work.

Why do I bring this up? No reason, no reason at all.


Gaming Theory

Pet Project Idea: Social Study through gaming.

The concept is to create a fairly decent game along standard archetypes. The better quality of the game, the better. The game should be designed, coded, tested, refined, and completed as would be standard for any game of its kind.

The twist is this: there will be a clearly labeled "WIN THE GAME" button on the screen at all times during play. Before the game starts, there will be a clear statement of intentions. Clicking the "WIN THE GAME" button will win the game instantly. It will also record the time spent playing before the button was pressed. This information will be gathered on a website for public display.

I think this would be a very interesting social experiment, particularly in gathering information about the habits and mentality of gamers.