Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cathy's Book / Longest Journey

Two fiction wrapups to discuss today, the first being Cathy's Book, which I found mostly forgettable. Unlike in his work with ilovebees, Sean Stewart didn't create characters that gripped you emotionally. Cathy's constant cutsie artwork made her annoying and her lack of fear when facing potentially dangerous situations wasn't credible. Her friend Emma had promise but didn't receive enough screen time to be realized. Victor remained a cypher for far too long.

The diary form as used here doesn't give us enough insight into anybody but Cathy. I think the book would have been much more successful on the characterization front if the diary had been shared, less diary more epistolary. There's a small section of the book that transcribes an IM conversation, and it works pretty well; more of that plus emails, blog entries, etc. from other characters would have given us the in that we needed into the other characters' emotional lives.

A fiction that doesn't fail to create great characters is The Longest Journey. which I finished replaying two days ago in preparation for playing Dreamfall. Great characters and dialog there. I'd forgotten about Burns Flipper, so I got to laugh out loud again. The plot isn't without its flaws but they aren't serious. Top voice talent added to the creation of characters that I'm excited to see again.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I tend to be iterative in my work. When I write, I edit as I go. Amanda's not at all like this. She writes a first draft in no time and it's nearly unintelligible. I spend hunks of time on it and get it pretty close to prime time.

I tend to code iteratively too. Normally, that's not a problem, but on days like the past few I have to stop and remind myself of an important lesson I learned long ago (so long I apparently forgot it): when each iteration takes a relatively long time, do everything you can to lower the number of iterations. Go "waterfall" for God's sake, and whatever you do don't fall into the "just after this one last change" trap.

Note to self: when you forget again in a few years, remember to come back and read this. You'll save yourself a lot of slow slogging frustration.

Friday, February 16, 2007

9/11 Family money

The payouts to family members of 9/11 victims popped up in conversation today, resurrecting a few questions that I've had for years.

Why were such large payouts made? According to the Toronto Star, the average was $1.8 million USD.

For that matter, why were any payouts from the federal government made at all? The victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, what was the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil prior to 9/11, received nothing.

Why didn't the Oklahoma bombing families receive anything? How much money did the 9/11 families get? And what were the catches involved?

It appears the answer to all of the above is the government wanted to stop the families of the victims from litigating against those responsible, particularly the airlines. Since Timothy McVeigh drove instead of flew, no money for those left behind in Oklahoma City.

Again from the Toronto Star's article, dated December 23, 2003, "To receive the federal money, recipients must sign a waiver giving up their right to sue anyone involved in the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history." And from USA Today, "The families are lining up for settlement checks that are averaging nearly $1.5 million, and are agreeing not to sue airlines, airports, security companies or other U.S. entities that might be faulted in the fatal hijackings." I'd very much like to see an a copy of the agreement to know exactly what entities were absolved from prosecution.

Free Streaming Movies! Audio Only ... What?

Tired of your thousands of songs and dozens of podcast subscriptions? If so, I recommend restful silence, but if that's out there's an alternative. You can now listen to movies and even television shows while you work thanks to Listen To a Movie.

If you're wondering how long it will take this site to get shutdown, check your watch and give it another fifteen minutes. Still, it might outlast K-Fed's career, so enjoy it while it lasts (if listening to a movie is enjoyable. Directors must hate this idea).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

We're Going To Attack Iran

The rumblings have been building for weeks, through assertions like Iran supplying sophisticated roadside bombs. Today The Telegraph reported that Austrian made armor-piercing sniper rifles that were sold to Iran last year have been found on insurgents in Iraq.

Combine this with the fact that Bush views himself like Truman, and Truman's failure to confront China during the Korean War.

Also, Bush and Cheney et al have been asking themselves how their occupation in Iraq could have gone so wrong, and they're not the types to blame their own arrogance and ineptitude. They'll grip the belief that Iran was to blame with all the strength of a vice.

Once the third carrier group reaches the Gulf I expect the ordinance to start flying.

If we kill Ahmadinejad he'll become another martyr, and if we don't his sagging popularity at home will soar as his nation rallies around him. Either way, our reputation in the region will sink even further.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"What Is Reality?!"

That question appears in perhaps the best written video game of all time, Grim Fandango, during the hilarious open mike night scene at the Blue Casket, in which the player gets to improv poetry in a mock spoken word/poetry slam. Removed from its comic context, though, it's a question that I found myself asking today in reaction to another interactive fiction, the media-spanning Cathy's Book, which I started reading last night.

Created by the folks over at 42 Entertainment, Cathy's Book spills outside the page by including phone numbers and website addresses, all of which tie in with the story. In fact, the books subtitle is "If Found Call 650-266-8233," and if you do you'll get "Cathy's" voicemail, the greeting to which contains ominous references to cell phone tracing, other characters from the book and a even the book itself.

I looked up the first URL I found, for a site called doubletalkwireless.com, clearly an "in-game" (to borrow a term from the alternate reality gaming realm) site. Then I looked up another, a reference to a place called the Musee Mechanique which the marginalia in the book said to google. I did, and found what looked like it at the top of the list, except that I wasn't sure if this was in-game or not. The creepy carnival music and penny arcade laughter lead me to believe it was, as did the fact that none of the press releases were recent, but even after dialing the contact number I wasn't sure. In fact, it wasn't until I found a piece by NPR about it that I knew it wasn't a direct tie-in with Cathy's Book.

So hat's off to 42 Entertainment for making me question reality after only reading seven pages. Having just finished Allan Moore's metaphysical meditation Promethea, maybe I should just accept that all creations of the imagination are as real as anything else.

Monday, February 12, 2007

363 Tons Of Cash

That's now much the U.S. airlifted to Iraq during the days of the Coalition Provisional Authority --- it counts out to $12 billion --- and none of it can be accounted for. No records were kept. Even Fox News had to report on this.

This all occurred during the watch of L. Paul Bremmer, the same guy who disbanded the Iraqi Army, one of the leading causes of the insurgency. Also the same guy that President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Two days ago I heard an interview with Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide and the author of Left To Tell. Both her parents and two of her three brothers were killed during the genocide, and she only survived by hiding inside a bathroom with seven other women for three months. At least half a million Rwandans, mostly ethnic Tutsis, died in the span of those three months. Here's my transcription of one question from the interview and Ms. Ilibagiza's response:

Laura Knoy When did you notice, Immaculee, that things were really getting bad? You know, beyond this sort of push by the government to make people very aware of their differences. When did you and your family start to notice that things were getting scary?

Immaculee Ilibagiza Things started to get scary about two years before the whole thing really started, when there was a radio which was ... after they called it "Hate radio," and on this radio the journalist was talk on radio used to make himself drunk. So he would come like, really drunk, and he couldn't talk well, and really we'd say that he was drunk, and then he would start to teach people how to kill Tutsis when the time comes. So, we were all laughing; they were making jokes, dirty jokes. So, everyone was listening to that radio...

So that radio from morning until night was just talking about how Tutsis were bad, how Tutsis were evil. They are snakes. They are cockaroaches.

A talk radio host who on the surface appears to be a mook --- a buffoon, a funny guy. Maybe he says he's got "talent on loan from God," or "I know these people like I know every square inch of my glorious naked body." Maybe he calls those he hates, "Red Diaper Doper Babies." Humor is disarming. It's hard to turn away in disgust when you're laughing.

But the laughter is a sugar-coating for the bad pill, a Trojan horse. The heartbeat of the show is the hatred of the "traitors." "What's good for al-Qaeda is good" for them. "To fight only the al-Qaida scum is to miss the terrorist network operating within our own borders." Now, nobody is saying, "Go out and kill them," but we all know the punishment for treason. Their sub-text remains barely under the surface.

So, do I think that genocide can happen here in the USA? Probably not. But if it ever does, I predict the survivors will say that things started getting scary when lots of people listened to Hate radio.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Great Year For Shooters?

I was going to write about the bumper crop of shooters expected this year: Half-Life 2 Episode 2, Crysis, Bioshock, Unreal Tournament 3, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, but that topic got me thinking about games of the past, and I recalled the first video game that every gripped me, the first to which I was ever addicted.

I played "Raiders Of the Lost Ark" years before I ever saw the movie. Not that the game resembled the movie that closely (The Indy sprite you controlled didn't look much like Harrison Ford since it didn't have a head, just a fedora floating above a body). Still, many of the elements from the film appeared: the whip, the revolver, the Map room. The Map room was what did it for me.

All of the video games I'd played to that point were arcade titles; you move a sprite around and shoot things or avoid getting shot/eaten yourself. That's what I expected Raiders to be. I had a gun, and I had a whip. I'd walk around and there would be bad guys. So I walked. At one point I walked by what appeared to be an empty room, but I saw something flicker. At first I thought it was just the CRT, but then I walked by again, and the flicker wasn't across the entire screen; it was only in that room. I walked back and stopped at the entrance, and there was revealed to me the Map room. Without knowing the film, I hadn't a clue that I was seeing, but the mystery of it was enough. It was a puzzle, and this time I wasn't just shooting or evading, I was investigating.

For a few days that game became all I could talk about. I found secret doors and mysterious artifacts. Soon I'd solved it, but I never figured out how to unlock the creator's initials, until now.

"Raiders Of the Lost Ark" was published in 1982, making it one of the first adventure games. For all that they lack in adrenaline-pumping action, titles of that genre dominate my gaming memories. I wonder how memorable this year's crop of shooters will remain in twenty-five years.