Flixel is a free Actionscript library for easier development of Flash video games. The page also has links to documentation and, this is important, to free tools for authoring Flash files so you don't have to pay Adobe $700. It's basically everything you need to get started making Flash games in one place.
I love how the technological barrier to making your own games keeps getting lower and lower. It's super awesome! Like, Googleshng, who has tons and tons of game design ideas but isn't a programmer, finally has the ability to implement playable games. Huzzah!
I have turned my background green to express my support for the Iranian protesters and their Green Movement.
Shit is real over there right now. They always said the revolution would not be televised. Well, now a revolution is happening, and it's not being televised. The American cable TV news is barely touching it. The revolution is being captured with cell phone cameras and uploaded to YouTube where it is linked and blogged and re-blogged and analyzed. The protesters are organizing themselves through Twitter and text messages. This is the future.
After all the talk over the last few years about whether we would have to invade Iran to stop them from building nuclear weapons, it's sometimes hard to remember this lesson: The world doesn't revolve around us. People in other countries are not helpless victims waiting for America to come rescue them. They're the protagonists of their own story.
Are we going to look back on Ashura 2009 like we look back on the fall of the Berlin wall? Will this be the undoing of the 1979 Islamic revolution? Or will the protests be brutally put down and the regime tighten its grip even further? I hope with all my heart the Green Movement prevails. If I was a religious man I'd be praying for them.
Some of my coworkers (the few who aren't on vacation) were gushing about Avatar: The One Without The Airbender today.
Meh. Judging by the trailer and reviews, I think I've already seen this movie, and it was called "Fern Gully". Except I doubt it will have Tim Curry as a demonic singing oil slick, so it's not going to be as good.
Whether the native culture is tiny fairies or CGI Na'vis, the basic plot is still "White Liberal Guilt: The Movie". It's like, "Hey, obvious Native American analogues! Your culture is all wiiiise and myyyystical and totally grooovy! It sucks that the evil colonialists / white guys are taking your land with their superior technology! Wouldn't it be great if there was a heroic white guy who joined your side thanks to (magical shrinking / dubious telepresence technology)? He could spend a few montage sequences learning the ways of your culture and then somehow be way better than you at all your own traditional warrior skills that you spent a lifetime practicing! Then he could save you all cuz you're too incompetent to do it yourselves! Whoops, totally didn't mean to imply that he's better than you since he's from the colonizing race. Um, anyway, in summary, we love your culture or at least our close-to-nature stereotype of it and we totally feel bad about kicking you off your land so please don't hate us. Bye."
I've seen that movie (see also: Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves) more than enough times already, thanks.
It also annoys me that people keep raving about the special effects technology being some kind of revolution in filmmaking. What revolution? We've had green screen since the 40s, 3D since the 50s, and shallow, flashy special-effects-driven blockbusters since the 80s. A revolution in filmmaking would be a science fiction movie that put more effort into the plot than the visuals. Wake me up when Hollywood does one of those.
P.S. "Unobtanium"? Seriously? You literally called it "Unobtanium"? Why not set your movie on Planet McGuffin and have a secret weapon called Chekov's Gun while you're at it?
The cover on the new edition of I, Robot makes me sad.
Not even that it was a bad movie, but that it was an almost completely unrelated movie. I surmise it was one of those dealies where the only reason the movie was called "I, Robot" and used the Three Laws was because the studio noticed a similarity between their original script and an unrelated novel, and decided to buy the rights and slap them on, rather than risk any kind of lawsuit. I heard Starship Troopers happened the same way.
I saw a bumper sticker the other night. It said "COUNTRY OF SHEEP / GOVERNMENT OF WOLVES". It was obviously hand-drawn and pasted on recently.
Is this a reaction to the health care reform bill passing the filibuster barrier in the Senate? Or what?
Look, I usually try to see political issues from both sides. And I can totally understand people not liking the approach that the Senate has been taking, thinking that the increased regulation will be ineffective or will make things worse. But a democratically elected liberal president and democratically elected liberal congressional majority campaigned on a promise to pass legislation regulating the health-insurance industry and now they're passing it. How the hell does that make us a "COUNTRY OF SHEEP / GOVERNMENT OF WOLVES" ? Trying to understand that point of view just makes my brain hurt.
Eh, maybe the bumper sticker was about something else. Or maybe the guy was just crazy.
That last one sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But so many gamers have trouble with it. Bankeui explains it pretty well, but I thought I'd offer my own take on it...
Here's how I see it. Most role-players think they've agreed to a set of rules, when they really haven't. Maybe they've agreed to play D&D, but that really only means they've agreed to the game-mechanical part of the rules. That's not enough.
Compare D&D where every player controls one character to D&D where every player controls a small army of hirelings and men-at-arms (yes, this was a common type of old-school play. The charisma and morale rules are there for a reason.) Completely different games. Compare D&D where all PCs are assumed to get along with each other, and backstabbing another PC is effectively against the rules, vs. D&D where PCs work for opposing political factions and are expected to plot against each other. Completely different games. Compare megadungeon-crawling, get-as-much-treasure-as-you-can D&D against backstory-heavy, team-of-heroes-on-a-quest-to-save-the-world D&D. Completely different games.
You've agreed to game mechanical rules (and hopefully a setting too), but you're missing a whole level of rules, something that could be called procedures - basically, how do we play this game? What do our characters DO in this game? How do we decide what type of characters are appropriate, what goals they are trying to accomplish, where the opposition comes from, how the characters are related to each other, whether they get along or not, what types of actions are appropriate for the game or out of bounds... I could go on and on.
These procedural rules are not in the book, but they're just as important to agree on as the game-mechanical rules, and should be considered just as binding. If you don't want players backstabbing each other in your game, make that against the procedural rules! If someone goes all "I stab (other PC) and take his stuff", the answer is "No, that's against the rules", just as if a fighter had tried to cast Magic Missile. As long as you have a game group that is able to talk openly about what the procedural rules, you have a way to fix whatever problems arise.
The biggest problem in role-playing is that so many players are unable to talk openly about procedural rules. They lack the vocabulary to talk about procedures, or even talk about the fact that procedures are missing from their game and must be filled in. Instead, they've got a whole mess of assumptions about "how you're supposed to role-play", based on previous game experiences, that they unthinkingly use to fill the gaps. Thinking that D&D is a single game, they join a group assuming they know how to play... and then wonder why everyone else is playing wrong!
Bankuei puts it all much more succinctly than I can:
"OH GOD POWERGAMERS." Wait. That’s like going, "OH GOD GO FISH" at a Poker table. It’s a discussion that shouldn’t even have to happen- someone wants a different game – why are they playing this game with you?
If role-players were on the whole were more socially functional people, they'd be able to deal with games that are missing procedural elements. They'd just go "Hey, I don't think the way I want to play is compatible with the way you want to play. Let's play something else, or play with different people."
But geeks have trouble with that. Have I ever linked to the Five Geek Social Fallacies from this blog? I should link to it more often - every geek totally needs to read this article.
Because geeks think that friends must do everything together (this is Fallacy # 5), they are constantly trying to get people to play in the same game with each other despite the fact that they obviously have very different, and incompatible, gaming preferences. Put this together with the inability to talk about procedural elements of the game and you have a recipe for huge trouble. Add in the way that traditional gamers treat a campaign like a freakin' marriage, as an indefinite commitment... horrors!
This has a lot to do with what I talked about in a previous post: traditional gamers think what they want is a way to get everyone to play together despite the fact that the players all want to play different games. When you tell them that no, in fact, the answer is to pick one game and play that (via Creative Agenda), they run it through a filter of Geek Social Fallacies and interpret it as an attack on their friendships.
Last weekend I was shopping at a game-and-comics store in Cupertino with a bunch of friends from work.
Jinghua recently moved here from China and is not familiar with American nerd culture, but she's very curious about it. She kept asking me to explain games she saw. What's Magic: the Gathering? How do you play it? How do you win?
At one point she picked up a random D&D 4th ed sourcebook and flipped through it. "Jono, what is this? How is this a game? It's nothing but tables of numbers!"
How is it a game, indeed. How do you explain role-playing to someone who's never seen it or done it? No, it's not World of Warcraft. No, we don't do this on the computer. No, there are no decks of cards involved. We just... use our imaginations!
And once you've explained that, how do you explain why anyone believes they need to buy multiple hardcover books full of tables of numbers from Wizards of the Coast in order to do it?
Raph Koster, the head honcho behind Metaplace and also author of the book A Theory of Fun for Game Design, wrote about the closure on his blog. He doesn't go into the reasons, but I assume it's the same reasons most startups fail: they run out of investor money and haven't started making enough to cover their costs yet.
They only went into public beta in May, IIRC, so it's only been, what, seven months that they've been in operation? That seems really short.
Aleksa is very, very sad about this. She was really into exploring Metaplace, building her world, and hanging out there with me. Now she's grieving the loss of all the plans she had that won't get to be.
I find myself sadder about the closure than I would have expected. It's not like I ever did all that much with the service, and I was pretty critical of their interface and some of their priorities. But I can't deny it makes me sad, just because I think it had so much potential that will never get realized. There's also something amazingly sad in thinking about a virtual universe that now has less than one week to live before it shuts down for good.
I guess I'll go in to Aleksa's world one last time to preserve as much of it as I can in screenshot form. And I'll probably sign on for the Jan 1 farewell party.
This means I'm shopping for a new online activity of some kind that I can do with Aleksa. Something child-appropriate, that lets us chat but also gives us things to do beside chat, and that isn't going to turn into a huge time-suck (i.e. NOT World of Warcraft!). Any suggestions?
I set up Subversion repositories on my server to hold all the code for:
the Yuki comic
the music thing
and "Beneath an Alien Sky"
Version control is something that has been sorely lacking in all my for-fun coding projects. If you want to be serious about writing code, you need version control! About time I did something about that.
A drawback: some random older links may have been broken in all the file rearrangement. Please email me if you find any broken links; thanks.
A bonus: I can now easily give people access to check out copies of my code. If you want to get the code, email me for instructions.
So after I finished Assassin's Apprentice I was real excited to read the 2nd book in the series, Royal Assassin.
But it's disappointing so far. All the narrative momentum that the series had built up in the ending of the first book has been wadded up into a ball and thrown down a bottomless pit. And the name of that pit is "Teen angst". The first several chapters are all "Waa, waa, I'm a teenager now, my life sucks". I'm 50 pages in and the plot has gone basically nowhere. Not promising.
So, she's providing the subject matter expertise, and I'm providing what I know of game design. We worked on it a whole bunch during the train ride.
The biggest design challenge so far has been how to approach the rules for actual kung-fu battles. I don't want them to be super crunchy and mechanical like the rules in, say, Exalted or something. I don't like systems like that because they replace creativity with numerical optimization and plus they make fights take forever.
But I also don't want these rules to be as generic and hand-wavy as kung-fu fights would be in, say, Prime Time Adventures, where it would be like, "You won the card flip! Narrate how you beat him." I want the system to emphasize the details of martial arts dueling: not just who wins, but how, and why.
In the source material, fight scenes are not the opposite of character development scenes: the characterization is done through the fight scenes. How you fight shows who you are! I want this game to capture that. So it means I want the fighting scenes to be very role-playing heavy, strongly rewarding good narration.
During our long train ride, Sushu and I brainstormed up a system to the point where it should be playtestable. To my great surprise, the system so far is completely diceless! It relies mainly on freeform narration backed up by blind bidding of points. It also requires a referee player to judge the effectiveness of each narrated exchange of blows. (If it's a fight between a PC and a GM character, then a third non-GM player must act as referee.)
Thus it needs at least three people to play, so we haven't been able to test it out at all yet. But we're going to playtest it with Alexis during this visit. I'm excited!
Working title for the game is "Jiang Hu" (江湖). Jiang Hu literally means "Rivers and lakes". But in wu xia (武侠) novels, "jiang hu" refers to a kind of martial-arts underworld, a loosely affiliated network of fighting schools, gangs, bandits, and shadowy organizations spread throughout China. A semi-criminal brotherhood with its own rules of honor. Sounds like a pretty cool RPG setting, doesn't it? Gritty and with lots of potential for conflicting loyalties. Character creation will involve deciding how your character is tied into the jiang hu, what kind of reputation he has there, who wants revenge against him, etc.
I bet there's rich folks eatin on a fancy dinin car they're probly drinkin coffe and smokin fat cigars well I knew I had it comin I know I cain't be free but that train keeps a rollin and that's what tortures me
— Johnny Cash
Me and Sushu took the Amtrak from San Jose to Seattle to visit Alexis and Isaac. We just got to Alexis's house and now we're catching up on internet stuff. The train left San Jose about 8:30 last night, got to Portland at 3:30 this afternoon, and to Seattle just before 8. So we were on the train for almost 24 hours.
We had a very tiny sleeper car, and we got meals on the dining car. It was all very old-fashioned and classy. In the dining car they sat us across a table from other random couples.
I had an interesting conversation with one old dude who was actually in the U.S. army occupying Japan in 1946-48. He wasn't involved in any fighting, only reconstruction work. Dude. Talking to a part of history right there. Him and his wife also had cool stories about participating in democracy in Vermont, where most things are run at the town level, and most things are decided by votes at town hall meetings. The governor of the state was moderator for the meetings of his town of 8,000, and called on people by first name. Now that's democracy! He said the town voted to impeach Bush and the governor at the time, being a Republican, wasn't too happy about that but let the vote go through (not that it means anything, as only congress can impeach presidents...)
The porter in our car was a chatty and very odd man who kept asking us about what we were drawing, talking about selling Amtrak souvenirs on eBay, and randomly saying "Ooga booga!". Also telling us about his other job, which is legally growing medical marijuana for sale to the California government.
There was some very pretty snow-covered Cascadian scenery visible from out the windows of the train; I'd post a picture but I don't have my camera dongle with me.
When we finally got off the train tonight, it felt strange standing on solid, non-moving ground. Kind of like being on dry land after being at sea long enough to get your sea legs; I still felt like the ground was swaying.
I was heavily involved in the playtesting, so I'm far from unbiased, but I do believe it's a good game. It's a quickly paced, 2-player card-driven wargame that is dripping with theme, is well-balanced despite having two sides with completely different play styles, has a good amount of tactical depth, and shockingly high production values for a self-published game. (You just have to ignore the ugly yellow box.)
Thanks to Googleshng for these next two links. First, the Indonesian Mimic octopus, a real-life shapeshifter that changes shape, color, and behavior to mimic all kinds of other sea animals.
Then there's Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, a Latin name which literally means "Vampire Squid from Hell". Not technically an octopus, but a close relative. Tell me you're not a little freaked out when it opens up its photophores.
A fantastic interview with the creators of the original Super Mario Brothers: Shigeru Miyamoto, Satoru Iwata, Takashi Tezuka, and Toshihiko Nagako.
They talk about the early history of the NES, the origin of Mario's character design, the creation of Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., and Super Mario Bros., and the newest Mario game for Wii (where they finally got to implement ideas, like multiplayer, that they've been trying and failing to do for twenty years. Holy moly.)
It's long, but worth reading from beginning to end. You'll find out why Mario has a moustache, why Koopa Troopas come out of their shells, why there are pipes everywhere, and the many tricks they used to squeeze things into the limited NES memory. (The clouds and the grass were the same image, just with the colors swapped!)
It's clear that the greatness of the Mario games was no accident. These guys are really, really smart. They show a deep and nuanced understanding of all kinds of subtle social and psychological factors that affect how players will approach games. This is most obvious when they discuss the design of the first part of level 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. It's the first thing the player sees, but it was designed last, and they kept tweaking it right up until the game was released in order to make it the perfect in-game tutorial.
Like, the first pipe is there to make the mushroom from the first block turn around and come back towards you. And since there's a roof over your head, it's hard to jump over. So you'll end up getting the mushroom even if you try to avoid it (which some players do, thinking it's another bad guy). They wanted everyone to get the mushroom and discover that it's a good thing. There's bricks over you at that point so that as soon as the mushroom has made you big, you'll probably break one by accident with your next jump, and discover what you can do. It's a very clever arrangement to make the basic game mechanics easily discoverable by trial and error. Like I said, these guys are smart. Their talent for designing easy-to-use software is just as impressive as anybody at Apple or wherever.
It's also fun to read because these guys are obviously great friends with each other, and love their jobs. I've noticed this pattern: if you look behind the scenes on any really good art/entertainment/creative projects, you always find a group of smart, driven, creative people, who respect and enjoy working with each other. If you look behind the scenes of something mediocre or crappy you find people bitching about management and money and pinning blame on each other, or else they sound like they've given up on life, or they treat the whole thing as a joke. There's a qualitative difference there. Good stuff doesn't happen by accident.
Finally got to see Red Cliff, a John Woo movie based on a (fictionalized version of a) famous battle from the warring states period of Chinese history (circa 200 AD). It kicks a lot of ass. Sushu blogged about it here.
The Red Cliff battle is just one chunk of a much longer epic called the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. So this movie is like if they made a film of just the Helm's Deep battle from Lord of the Rings and nothing else. Even so, it was still five hours long... in the Chinese edition. They cut out about half of it to make a two-and-a-half hour American version. If you care about stuff like that you might want to seek out the DVD version. The stuff that they cut out includes a lot of scenes of the Han emperor feeding birds, Kongming helping to birth foals, etc.: parts that humanize the characters and establish that they have a life and an identity outside of their role as warriors. Without those humanization scenes, and not being real familiar with the original story, it's sometimes hard to keep track of who's who. Especially when the characters have their armor and helmets on, which makes them hard to tell apart. (Sushu's tip: focus on the facial hair!)
I talked to some Chinese people who didn't like the movie because they thought it wasn't very faithful to the original story.
But if you're not so concerned with accuracy and you just want to see martial arts butt-kicking, woven together with grand battle strategies and counterstrategies and dirty tricks by brilliant generals trying to predict each other's moves, then Red Cliff is hard to beat. It is a beautifully choreographed ballet of glorious violence. It's the kind of gleefully unrealistic movie where one named character is the equal of hundreds of nameless mooks.
Even the whole elaborate wheel formation comes off a lot more plausible in the movie than I guessed from the preview. The strategists even acknowledge that it's "an outdated formation", but "still quite effective in the right circumstances". They even hide it behind a dust cloud so the enemies don't know what they're getting into.
There's this bit where Zhou Yu leaps in front of an arrow meant for his lord. He rips it out of his shoulder, looking really pissed, and spots the mounted archer who shot it charging towards him. He runs straight at the mounted archer, jumps up in the air over the blade that's swinging towards him, and stabs the guy with his own arrow in the back of his neck, killing him. The whole audience burst into applause at that point. It's just that kind of movie.
Just finished Assassin's Apprentice, which is the first book in the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. I had heard this series mentioned in the same sentence with George R. R. Martin's stuff as "non-crappy fantasy" so when I randomly saw the paperbacks for sale cheap at a bookstore, I grabbed them.
The first book had me losing sleep last week to stay up late reading it. It's been a while since a book has done that to me.
No "motley team of elves and dwarves is chosen by the Prophecy of the Plot to journey to the other end of the map inside the front cover to do arbitrary actions with magical jewelry" plotlines here. Much like Westeros in the Song of Ice and Fire series, the Farseer trilogy's setting is a realistic medieval world with just the slightest touch of magic - mostly telepathy. But the story is mostly about the narrator, a royal bastard who doesn't even have a name for the first half of the book (everyone just calls him 'boy'), and the web of court intrigue that he is inevitably pulled into as he grows from a boy into a man.
The fantasy politics angle is well-done. Like the setting, it reminds me of Song of Ice and Fire, except somewhat more sedate (as Robin Hobb doesn't seem to have the same need as Martin does to turn the whole kingdom upside-down every other chapter.) It's on a more personal level, as much of the focus is on the evolving relationships between the main character and a large cast of royalty, townsfolk, and teachers. The king thinks the best use for the kid is to make him into a weapon for 'the dark side of diplomacy', an assassin who can be used with plausible deniability by the kingdom. He doesn't have much choice in the matter so he spends most of the first book being trained in the various skills that he'll need. It actually reminded me a little bit of Harry Potter just because the personalities of his teachers, both good and bad, loom so large in this first volume.
He also goes on his first couple of missions, and discovers the nature of dark threats against the kingdom. In less talented hands this setup could have degenerated into a very silly story of medieval James Bond stuff, but it doesn't. One reason why is that the narrator, despite being called an assassin, cares a whole lot about people and their lives. He spends much time torn between duty to his superiors and his distaste for killing. In fact he goes to great lengths to avoid killing anybody and to come up with alternate solutions to some pretty knotted dilemmas. When I was reading this, Sushu kept asking me: "Has he assassinated anybody yet?" and I kept answering "Not yet. Maybe he's not gonna." and she kept saying "Worst Assassin Ever!". (Finally she went and read spoilers on Wikipedia.)
One of the things that made it a fun read is how the main character's point of view colors everything he describes. He's not an unreliable narrator, but he'll often describe something while completely missing the implications. Sometimes it's obvious to the reader that he's getting played, but he has no idea. The boy is really perceptive in some ways but has a lack of common sense that's realistic for someone his age.
Also, he's got a certain amount of untrained telepathic talent (this is not a spoiler as it is given away in the blurb on the back of the book) but at first he doesn't realize that he has anything unusual. He'll walk into, like, a stable, and as part of describing it he'll mention what all the horses are thinking and what the dogs are smelling, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to know that. It only slowly dawns on him that other people can't sense these things.
This is the kind of fantasy I like: Relatable, believable human conflicts, moral ambiguity and psychological richness, with an extra layer of resonance and wonder added by a few well-chosen fantastic elements. I hope the second and third books live up to the promise laid out in the first one!
My cousin Samantha, who is going to school in New York City, has been in a couple of videos lately. She's in a Microsoft X-Box commercial, and she's also in the music video for a song called 'hot mess' by some trashy disco band I'd never heard of called "Cobra Starship". (She's only in it for a couple seconds and you can't really see her face.)
It's kind of a horrible song. It's about, like, taking advantage of drunk women. Not cool.
But hey, with the economy the way it is I'm happy when anybody in my family finds any kind of paying work they can do. So, Go Samantha!