Sunday, January 20, 2008

Case Study: Dead Rising

I finally got a 360 a couple of weeks ago, and one of the first games I got for it was Dead Rising, a title I had been looking forward to playing as a guilty pleasure since before it came out. I can't say I am completely disappointed as I have completed it and plan to play through it again at least once more, but there are a few key areas where it fell quite short of my expectations.

Small text on standard def TVs

This is a big deal, and really my main complaint with the title. The text is so small, and notoriously so, as to be illegible on standard def TVs. The excuse for this is that Dead Rising is intended to be one of the first true “next gen” games and so doesn't need to waste its time on pathetic fools like myself who don't have a television set priced in the four digit range. But there is no voice acting outside of cutscenes either, so don't expect aural clues to help you out if you find the text too small to read. I guess “next gen” isn't as concerned with sound quality….

To make matters even worse, most of the guidance in the game comes in the form of textual phone calls that you will receive, likely while fending off dozens of zombies. These phone calls do not pause the game, so while you are squinting trying to read the tiny text at the bottom of the screen to figure out where to go next you better keep your avatar moving away from the horde. And you better squint-read fast; the phone dialog advances automatically, with no extra time padding for standard def setups.

Identity Crisis

There are two main types of horror games, each appealing to different types of players and providing a different experience. The first type is the survival sub-genre, pretty self-explanatory: think Resident Evil before RE4, or the Silent Hill series. In these games, the horror element really stands out as nearly every encounter is a challenge and constantly trying to avoid an easy death gives the player an appreciation for life that makes every victory in combat (including running away) feel significant. Naturally, enemies are sparse in these types of games to keep tension up.

The second type of horror game is the action sub-genre; think Doom or Quake, or even RE4, which went in a different direction from previous Resident Evil titles in terms of controls and enemy density. Action horror games are all about empowering the player; scaring them with hideous humanoids and demons, sure, but giving them powerful weapons and Olympic-caliber running speed so they can take on dozens of foes with ease. Action horror games induce adrenaline in the player, but for different reasons. Survival horror games are flight, action horror games are fight.

The problem with Dead Rising is that it tries in too many ways to be both. Instead of elegantly straddling the fence like Resident Evil 4, it just ends up feeling fragmented. The basic premise of the game, being trapped in a mall with tens of thousands of zombies and being able to use almost anything in the environment as a weapon, lends itself perfectly well to the action horror genre. However, the player starts the game with only four health, and it isn't terribly rare to get grabbed by a group of zombies as you run by them and lose one (or more) health. Replenishing health and saving slow the pace of the game down (you can't just save anywhere), and each boss fight feels overly difficult considering how early in the game you can run into said bosses, long before becoming comfortable with the controls.

*spoiler, but frankly: mild*
And don't get me started on the cultists, groups of enemies that wield knives and can dash at you or even blow themselves up. No, I will get myself started. These enemies appear early in the game in a time-release manner (from what I can tell). And when you trigger the cutscene that causes them to appear—a cutscene which is triggered by returning to a part of the mall that you have to run through many times to get back to your security room “base”, ensuring that you will trigger it— you will suddenly see cultists all over the mall until you find their base and kill their leader. They will respawn when you leave and return to the area, just like regular zombies. On top of their knives and suicide bombing technique, cultists also have a gas attack. If you get hit by this, it is not an instant game over—but at low levels, it just as well be. You will wake up in the cultists' hideout, stripped of your clothes and weapons, and have to fight through just as many cultists with no equipment. This will happen regardless of how much health you have when hit by the gas, from what I could tell. Fun times to be had.

Normally I would be ecstatic about this sort of alternative to a game over, which I think is a healthy direction for game designers to keep exploring. However, the proper theory behind game over alternatives is to provide the player with a second chance at a problem by challenging another set of skills that they may be better at—stealth would be a good example here. Unfortunately, the cultist gimmick merely challenges the player in the same dimension—the dimension of combat—and even removes their weapons, making it even harder. It tries to be a neat gimmick, but with how often the cultists use this attack it really only takes one or two occurrences before it gets old.
*end mild spoiler*


Some people laud the difficulty, saying that it makes you appreciate the effort of planning and staying alive. Yet how much finesse can you expect your player to work with in a game with so many enemies you can mow them down like blades of grass? Most of the justification that I can find for this game's difficulty comes from people explaining how easy it is once you know how to get this weapon, or where these healing items are. Unfortunately for new players, they don't know the mall like the back of their hands, and the bosses and tougher enemies are not going to wait for them to learn it. And what few clues the player is given come in the form of illegible text that the player must read during said difficult combat.

Dead Rising sets itself up to be an adrenaline ride, an empowering killathon. Unfortunately, overly difficult enemies and a strict save system tend to cause initial playthroughs to feel sluggish, nearly ruining the promised experience. With all of that said, I still enjoyed the game enough to beat it (the 72 hour mode at least, which is far less than 72 real time hours), and look forward to going back and trying to complete more case files as well as the overtime and infinity play modes. I get and respect what Capcom was going for with the strange and strict save system (only one save at a time, save points somewhat scarce), I just don't think this was the game to plug that into.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pick Your Poison

So I got a tetanus shot yesterday. "Why not?" I figured; it was offered to me while I was doing a physical and talking with my doctor about finding a specialist for my severe mitral valve prolapse (my God, I'm falling apart...). So I got this shot because it was offered to me, I hadn't had it in a while, and "lockjaw" is perhaps as irrationally terrifying and controlling an argument as "9-11" when faced with such a decision.

So I don't feel good today, and looking online confirms that my symptoms are resemblant of a mild reaction to the tetanus vaccination. Nothing terribly serious compared with some of the examples I've seen online (fully swollen arm?? Crying nonstop for three hours???), but I am not yet sure I feel like going to work. With all the long symptom lists I have to sit through watching medicine commercials, I wonder why doctors aren't legally responsible for explaining the more common symptoms of something like a vaccination when they ask if you want to take it. In fact, that no symptoms were explicitly mentioned to me (I did ask if I would be okay to type at work afterward, and the doctor said I should be fine -- and was right) was a fairly large factor in my decision to get the shot in the first place.

Had I known how I would feel the next day, would I have taken the shot? I don't know, maybe. Or maybe I would wait until a weekend so it wouldn't affect me at work, or wait until I injure myself on a piece of metal (I honestly have never heard of anyone contracting tetanus without such an associated injury, though I'm sure it happens). The point isn't really whether my decision would have been affected, but that I was put in a position to make a decision without sufficient information when sufficient information should be easily provided. I suppose I should have asked what the odds and severity of such a vaccination were, and I certainly will from now on.

It would be unfair of me to criticize this occurrence if the odds of negative symptoms are one in a million and I just got unlucky. However, it seems that negative symptoms to such a vaccination are not uncommon. Okay, so I experienced soreness at the injection site (1 in 4); big deal. But I am also experiencing a mild fever (1 in 4), tiredness or loss of appetite (1 in 10 for either, but I feel both, and somewhat nauseated), and I guess I'm feeling fussiness (1 in 3) since I'm complaining on a blog.

Seriously, fussiness?? Is that even really a "symptom"?

Okay, so it's a moderate deal, I'm going to be late for work today if I even feel like going in at all, but it's worth it because lockjaw is such a big deal with a 10 percent fatality rate even if treated properly. Except that, supposedly, there are less than 100 cases of tetanus and only 5 deaths per year in the United States. And I bet most of those cases involve people who work with sharp tools and machinery day in and day out, farming etc. Now, I'm not a large proponent of internet statistics, and I am certain there are many inaccuracies in the sources I have linked to, or in my own interpretation of them. However, I am not trying to proclaim that tetanus vaccinations should never be given; I am simply claiming that maybe patients should not have to opt in to find out the risks of a vaccination they are about to receive and that such information should be offered up front when there is no immediate threat of such a disease (once again, I had not injured myself on any dirty objects) so the patient can decide whether or not they want something injected into their bloodstream in a more educated manner.

I was going to tie this information-hiding into game design, but I don't feel like typing anymore. Gonna leave that ellipsis as three periods and that dash as two hyphens, and I think you can read the quotes even though I am using the incorrect and ambiguous ascii version. Might fix these things later.

Time to ~_~zzz

Friday, January 4, 2008

2008, Step Up to the Plate

It's hard not to say that 2007 was one of the best years for video games, art and industry. Every direction I looked—hardcore, casual, and indie—I started to feel a certain emotion for the art that I thought I would never feel again. It's a light, pleasant burning in my chest, I believe it's called pride but it's been a while so forgive me if I am wrong. Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the reasons I enjoyed 2007 as a gamer and why I look forward with unusual (yet hopefully not unwarranted) optimism to the art form's evolution as a game designer.


A year or two ago, I was watching X-Play with my friend when a preview video of a game came on. It was from a first person perspective, and obviously FMV. Some guy was chasing after a little girl with a wrench for some reason, not sure why, and then this bigger guy in a diving suit with a drill for a hand came and kicked his ass. I yawned, thinking about how typical it is that they would show an FMV instead of gameplay footage, completely unimpressed.

Flash Forward to fall of 2007, and everyone's talking about this awesome new game called “Bioshock.” My interest is caught, but come on; it's just another first person shooter, right? I mean, I've gunned down ignorant humanoids in narrow corridors in Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, UT, GoldenEye, Halo, F.E.A.R—how impressed can I possibly be with yet another entry into the fray? Boy did I call that one wrong.

It isn't the high level storytelling that Irrational has gifted us with—games have a looong way to go in the interactive narrative department, regarding breadth, depth, and quality, if we still think the only dramatic dichotomy worth pursuing is that of choosing to be ‘good’ or ‘evil’. But pay attention to the narrative undertone, the story that emerges (Crawford, forgive me) from the gameplay mechanics as you explore Rapture. It's wonderful. Your flame plasmid sets the doctor on fire, but he just runs into the nearest flooded room to put it out? Not a problem, just shoot him with an electric buck and watch him twitch helplessly to the tune of irony. Tired of fighting altogether? Hack security bots, confuse big daddies, or send a swarm of hornets to do the job for you. Okay, so it's all combat- and resource-oriented, which is a sorta taboo topic among those wishing to elevate video games/electronic entertainment/interactive entertainment into a more diverse narrative sphere, but what did you expect? It's just another first person shooter.

And what another first person shooter. Game Industry, would you kindly take notes?


I couldn't praise Bioshock and not find room to equally laud Portal. I probably put a good 30–40 hours into Bioshock the first time through. Portal took only three hours to beat, and was just as fulfilling. I could talk about the novel puzzles allowed by the mechanics of this “shooter” or the fantastic dialog of GlaDOS and the magnificent voice acting of Ellen McLain, an opera singer who exhibits more talent than she has any right to. But what I feel is most important to learn from this gem is the fact that it proves that non-casual games can still be successful in small bites. 80 hours of gameplay for another Japanese RPG? No, my friend, it may take you 80 hours to complete said RPG, but I can guarantee Portal has more real ‘gameplay’.

I actually called this one somewhat correctly. I was anticipating Portal up until its release, and that faith was well-placed—in fact, the quirky story told in a non-intrusive style that Valve still holds the golden key to pushed the quality of this game above my already high expectations. Portal is so incredibly important to the art of game design because it reminds us that, like with any art, game design is just as much subtractive as it is additive.

Super Mario Galaxy

I called this one wrong too, and not because of Sunshine. No, Sunshine did not impress me much, but what was even more disappointing for me was Mario 64, which left me with luke-warm feelings toward any future 3D Mario. I know, I know, I'll let that sink in, even restate it here for clarity: Mario 64 was incredibly overrated and disappointing. I am obliged to say that I enjoyed the game thoroughly, even took the time to get all 120 stars, but it just wasn't as enjoyable as the 2D Marios. I always felt that it was a bit rushed, just the victim of a small era in video games when companies were first making the transition from 2D to 3D and did not quite get it. It's hard for me to really knock M64, as it did most things pretty well, but it certainly lacked the tightness and polish of its 2D predecessors. The controls were, understandably and yet still disappointingly, more difficult to utilize in 3D, and I found many jumps artificially hard as depth perception can falter when watching an avatar from a distance try to navigate oddly shaped terrain. Likewise, the pacing was not quite up to what I would expect from the series; 2D Marios streamline enemies, items, jumps, and excitement at you, while in 64 I found myself having to look for said excursions. I will never cease believing that the 3D in Mario 64 was more of a marketing necessity than a necessary addition to the Mario formula, one which Nintendo failed at the time to convince me they had gotten right. And yes, I do get a knot in my stomach every time I am reminded of its general popularity. I attribute this popularity to the probability that most fans and reviewers that elevated it to this level are too young to fully grasp the quality of the unquestionably superior SNES Marios which don't even appear on such charts; after all, it certainly can't be my opinion that's wrong ;).

Regardless, considering Mario 64 left a less-than-stellar impression on me and I had to put up with years of fans hailing it as one of the best games of all time (Hello—SMW? Yoshi's Island??), it is easy to understand why I had no excitement held in me for Galaxy. But where Mario 64 felt like a premature release of the “Mario enters 3D” concept, a C-section perhaps spurred on by the craze over 3D gameplay at the time, Mario Galaxy feels like a sculpture whose artist poured his heart and soul into it, adding here and removing there until only an ideal realization remained. If you have not yet played it, there is really very little I can say to make you appreciate how good Galaxy turned out. I will say that it did away with most of the problems I had with 64; the planetoid level design makes this the only 3D platformer that I have ever seen to successfully capture the streamlined adrenaline of 2D platformers without losing the exploratory freedom one can enjoy in a 3D realm*. Game designers, aspiring and veteran, I implore you to ponder this with the sincerity and wonderment of a group of chemists reviewing a recent discovery that water and salt can be mixed to create oil.

The game did have its flaws. With many different avatar control schemes, from riding on the back of a sting ray to floating around trapped in a bubble, there were times when I found myself facing an artificial difficulty in mobility. The worst offender of this is swimming: Why does my analog stick behave differently when I am on land than when I am under water? Even worse, why does it behave differently when I am swimming under water than when I am swimming at the surface?? But it's hard to fault the game too much for a few questionable control decisions and the occasional iffy camera placement when it presents 120 of the most innovative and well polished levels in video game history in a non-linear manner. Don't like swimming? You can beat the game without ever getting your feet wet**. Super Mario Galaxy is possibly the most important game that was released this year, for it shows that a cash cow sequel can still be a fantastic and innovative title by its own merits if the developer truly wishes it. Though their comfort zone coincides a bit too much with the space of established franchises, Nintendo shows us time and time again that they get this—so let's start showing that we as an industry get this too, okay?

Nights: Journey of Dreams

I have a small set of games that are so good, yet so incomparably different from each other, that they are tied for first place as my favorite games of all time. Nights: Into Dreams is one of them. I always wanted a sequel to this game, not because I was naive enough to think that every good game would benefit from a sequel but because the first, wonderful as it was, was so short as to leave me with an appetite yet. I hear that if you stop eating a meal before you are full, your stomach will eventually stop sending hunger signals to your brain as it realizes that no more food is coming. In the same vein, I eventually moved on and stopped longing for a sequel to this magical title. When I heard about JoD in March, I was swallowing my excitement and prepared to slap someone (an innocent bystander or coworker at the least) if it turned out to be an April Fool's joke.

It wasn't, I avoided having to attend a seminar on workplace assault, and Journey of Dreams was released in December of 2007. It was not a disappointment, but nor was it a soul-entrancer like the original—essentially, it was what I expected, and I was very pleased. Sub-par platforming levels and too few dreams (as many dreams as the original, though each dream has a lot more content) prevent this game from being particularly respectable. But JoD is a spectacular tribute to its predecessor, and if you played the original and did not smile and chill up with nostalgic goosebumps while playing the Bellbridge dream in JoD, you may in fact be an android.

I generally like my sequels to be large enough steps forward to warrant hiding behind the safety of its predecessor's fame. JoD did not really manage this, though I don't think it was released in a manner to take advantage of the original's cult success (11 years is an awfully long time for hype to wear thin). JoD managed to improve graphically (so you can see more than 10 feet in front of you before polygons start bailing) and was a little longer with a little more gameplay variety. Unfortunately, not all of the variety was as enjoyable as the pure flight-based formula that Nights was built on. The music was just as fantastic as the original, and even the non-remix tracks overflowed with nostalgia. Nights can talk now, for better or worse—the voice acting is well-done even if the script is a little laughable at times, but where did my silent avatar go? My conclusion is that if you enjoyed the original or are looking for a fun, quirky title and own a Wii, you can't go wrong with this game. I wouldn't say it has done much for the artform or the industry, but it did a lot for me—which is also what this list is about.

Picross DS

Okay, I'm going to wager that I took most of you by surprise with this one. As I just said, this list is also about games that gave me something, and for a simple logical puzzle game it is impressive that I found the time in my busy schedule of personal projects and industry crunch to put dozens of hours into it. I absolutely loved Mario's Picross on the Game Boy, and had no idea this game was released until I spotted it on a store shelf. It's rare to get two decade-late sequels to games that you really enjoy in a single year; but such is the magic of 2007.

Picross is a clever and addictive game based on the concept of nonogram puzzles, which in my opinion are lightyears more enjoyable than sudoku puzzles, assuming enjoyment can be measured in astrological units of distance. Here is a description of these types of puzzles, and here is an online example of such puzzles. Perfect as a DS game, no? I think it's fantastic that we are starting to see a valid place in the commercial spotlight for games like this***.

California Overtime Reform

No, this is not a video game title. There has been some reform in California that enforces overtime pay for certain positions in the game industry (and the software industry in general). I think this is important for the game industry because video games are, believe it or not, made by human beings and not machines. Human beings need variety in their life to be fulfilled, and doing something 80, 90, 100 hours a week is not healthy even if it's something you enjoy in smaller doses. Perhaps people outside of the industry don't see this as a problem, thinking that video game development is ‘easy’, ‘fun’, or gosh ‘not even real work’. I don't know where they get these ideas, but video game development is a real job with real challenges and real stress.

There are things I don't like about California (as there are things that I don't like about any state that I have lived in), but I do admire this initiative. Good games are made when talented people are treated like people and allowed to let their hearts guide their minds to create something wonderful and unique. Not-so-good games are made when talented people are worked like slaves and forced to shovel out a movie game in an unreasonable time frame because they didn't get the license until August and the movie is showing in May. Admittedly, I don't know many details of California labor laws, or any labor laws for that matter, and I will study them in the near future as it seems a topic worth my time to become educated on. But we as an industry need to realize that we are not a group of peons whose only purpose in life is to shovel out market-driven games, unnecessary sequels, and poorly planned movie titles to fill the pockets of filthy rich stock holders who haven't played any game more complex than Windows Solitaire and who get a majority of the profits and bonuses while putting in a fraction of the work to produce a given title. It's really a damn shame that this sentiment is not ethical common sense in our industry, and it is probably due as much to us escalating to promise the stars then finding that we can only deliver the moon as it is to unadulterated greed. But if the law must step in from time to time to try and shift us in the right direction, then I am glad that it is doing so, and I hope that we can capture this momentum instead of backsliding. Maybe someday we will mature to do the right thing without the law holding our hands.

I entered the industry

This last entry will not make much of an impression on any of you—yet ;)—but on February 20th, 2007, I finally accomplished a dream that I have had since I was five years old and drawing Mario levels on the back of my year book instead of getting it signed by classmates; I entered the video game industry. It has been a hard road, much harder than I imagined, and near the end I started to realize that this is not the first step nor the last step—it is just a step, one of oh-so-many along the road of fulfilling my true dream of becoming an accomplished designer of interactive entertainment and advancing the artform at an unprecedented rate.

2007, you falsified my jaded pessimism twice and tickled my nostalgia bone twice, unexpectedly. Well played. And 2008—it's a tough act to follow, I know, but what do you have? I can't wait to see.

* Sonic Adventure came damn close, but failed for having overly twitchy controls.
** I think—point is, you have a lot of variety in which levels you choose to get the 60 necessary stars, ala Mario 64.
*** Despite being a solid title, the original Mario's Picross was not much of a commercial success, probably because it did not present 150 of something to collect and trade with school yard buddies.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Rant: Where's My Vacation?

I promised myself I would go easy on the rants in this blog, and I never intended for my second post to become one. But man did this holiday season just reek of overcast for me.

I took time off of work from the 23rd of December through the 1st of January. I was not looking forward to the flight home. I have never been afraid of airplanes, but I despise the demeaning atmosphere that surrounds putting up with security. It did not help matters when I bumped against the metal detector after ‘passing’ the test (woot, I haven't contracted Muslim!) and had to walk back through to silence the insessent whining of the alarm which seemed to say, “freedom ain't dead buddy, it just never was.” I don't speak in black and white, so I won't say that the terrorists have won — but they have undeniably succeeded at injecting something tangible, long term, and quite negative into the veins of this country. Gosh, if you call this something ‘terror’, then you might be tempted to say that they accomplished what they set out to do, which when converted to the parlance of games might read something like “The terrorists have won.” But I won't say that, it's getting trite.

The week I spent at home with my friends and family was actually quite enjoyable, less stressful than I feared. This essentially negates the power of the title of this post, but I'm keeping it because it sounds nifty-keen in my mind's ears. Christmas is just a commercialized bastardization of a religious celebration that I do not adhere to anyway (a duplet of negatives which seem to cancel each other out, leaving arithmetic apathy in my heart for the whole ordeal), but if this is the time of the year when I can most easily be with the people I love, I am going to try my hardest to make it back east.

The real problem began when I flew back home (my current home, not my hometown). My car would not start, and with scarcely any groceries in my apartment I can assure you this did not help me look forward to the two days I would have before work to start my real vacation, a period of R&R by myself, for myself. For starters, I was charged $75 to get a professional jump start. A professional jump start is just like a regular jump start except the pro arrives in an important looking pickup truck, does it a little bit faster and probably a lot safer, and then charges $75 for it. I asked the guy if it would be okay for me to pay with a check as I did not pocket a lot of cash in preparation for this and could not make it to the ATM atm. He noticed my foreign area code like a secret agent trained to spot things like that and inquired about the Boiling Springs address on my check book, I explained that I had just moved out here not too long ago and he said he'd take my check (with my driver's license number and expiration, phone number, and mother's favorite color for good measure written on the front).

My car was dead again the next day. I did not want to shell out another seventy-five thin pieces of paper approximating my value as a human being, so I went to the leasing office to see if they had any jumper cables. Besides, it was time to fork over the $1,435+ that I have to pay for my one bedroom apartment with no washer or dryer, which is $400 more than the two bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer that I split with my roommate in Atlanta (California here I am, ready for another sham). The leasing office was closed as it was New Year's Day, so I turned around to go back to my apartment. I needed a key to get back in the gate, and as it was a gate that I rarely use (I usually have my car and use the car entrance), I found myself embarrassingly running through every key that I had to try and get in. Finding no luck from any of them, I had to slide in behind a guy leaving the apartment complex. I knew that I lived there and was not looking to muck up trouble, but I also knew that he didn't know that and I appreciate him showing the kindness to not only let me in but vocally ask if I needed in and hold the gate open for me. I thanked him and entered quickly, keeping my head down sheepishly as if I had just done something wrong: “The name's Jeff, I smuggle bombs onto planes, practice check fraud with highway repairmen, and sneak into housing developments that I have no right to be in. Happy New Years!”

I ordered pizza for delivery ($25, yeesh) and waited until the next morning when the leasing office would be open to get my car straightened out. I arrived bright and early. Let me tell you, they had no problem accepting that rental check, but when I asked if I could get a jump start the lady behind the desk gave me this odd look (like she started to break out of that fake smile that people in that position wear everyday to emote sympathy but could no longer find the subroutine to do so in her mind) and said, “I'm sorry, we can't do that. It's against our policy.” If ever in my life my jaw opened far enough to sweep the floor upon which I stood like out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, it was at that very moment. I even asked her, in all seriousness, “You're kidding, right?”, waiting for her to laugh and go get maintenance. I find myself accurately cynical about public service positions and the quality of said services, but this level of bone-headery went completely under my anticipatory radar. She did not laugh, did nothing of the sort. My dad confirmed what I presumed to be the reason for this god-awful policy: that they don't want to be held liable in the event that my car is damaged during the jump start. After having been a cashier at Winn Dixie for two years, I have become aware firsthand that peons like her have a sort of “I'm too low-level to help/care” immunity that prevents any further debate to blossom into something productive, so I just left as politely as I could. After asking one person leaving my apartment when I did if they had jumper cables (they did not), I bit a familiar bullet and called the tow-guy to give me another jump. “Didn't take it and get the battery looked at yesterday, I see?” “No sir, I tried my hardest to carry her there but either she has gained some weight since our union or I've lost some muscle.” Another seventy-five dollar check, DL# PN# and DNA sample, and I was running again.

I went straight to the nearest Sears, already late for my first day back to work, and wanted to bite the air so hard as to hurt it when I saw that it was merely an appliance outlet and not one of their auto repair places. I went inside anyway and asked the guy behind the counter if he could point me in the right direction. I could not have dreamt a friendlier response; after a good fifteen minutes of trying to find the closest Sears auto outlet, fighting a failing inter/intra net connection, he advised me to see a non-Sears expert rumored to be of high quality. I thanked him and left, half expecting my car to fail me in the parking lot. It turned on thankfully, and I decided I better go to work.

At lunch, a co-worker agreed to help give me a ride when I finally dropped my car off at a real auto repair place. I was told it would take an hour and a half to fix by another man exhibiting a level of amiability toward strangers that I thought was extinct in our digital, distrust-or-face-regret society. A few hours later, I received a phone call saying it wouldn't be finished until tomorrow — needs a new battery, some new transmission fluid (specially suited for my car, naturally), and something called a “dog bone mount” is cracked in my engine, and that I can expect to part with another $300. I took the light rail home tonight, at least as close as I could, and walked the remaining fiteen minutes. I actually enjoyed the walk, I don't do that as much as I should, but I did not enjoy the sinking feeling I got in my gut as I approached my apartment and realized I did not have the gate remote to get into my apartment (left it in my car) and did not know which key on my possession, if any, would open the walk-in gate. I thought I heard a car pulling out of my apartment complex, and sped up to try and walk in through the gate behind it. It was parking; no such luck. I slowed down when I saw a couple out walking their dog, about to exit through the walk-in gate that I was going to try and enter. Unfortunately, they slowed down when they saw me, and simply stood back a few feet as if teasing me, asking me to prove that I lived there.


Knowing exactly how it was going to turn out, I pulled out my keys and started jabbing them into the lock (they give you a lot of keys here, maybe that accounts for the ass-fuck pricing). Nope, nope, ah it went in! — but won't turn. And putting on this show for the young couple before me did not help to alleviate my stress. “It's cool, I'm not trying to break into your west-coast suburban utopia and threaten your kids or pets, I'm just riding this downward spiral to the bitter end.”

Somehow I made it into my apartment tonight, and I don't think I did anything wrong despite having distrust breathed in my face several times over the holidays (smells like garlic and pickles, if you were wondering). It is interesting to me that, despite having my car break down and having to face a fear of being stranded and unable to obtain nourishment if need be, the worst (and best) parts of this ordeal could be traced back to the people I had to interact with. Whether it is the friendly guy behind the counter who's “been there before” and willing to help solely because, somehow, trusting people still comes naturally to him, or the soccer mom whose finger is already on the mace because there is the slightest chance that you will pose a threat to her offspring and you just don't seem to belong in her habitat, we tend to have an amazing dependence on and responsiveness to the attitudes and opinions of those around us. I'm still not certain which is sadder: the number of people who naturally distrust others, or the fact that we live in a world where such distrust is honestly warranted. Here's hoping that someday we can overcome human nature to become something more than just human; something called humane.

Oh, and don't wait until the last minute to get shit fixed in your car.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Introducing the Introduction

About me

My car battery died again, the auto repair places seem to be closed for new year's, I've completed most games that I am interested in playing right now, and I need a break from doing design work and prototyping for massive projects that will probably take another decade to be presentable. Time to blog.

I suppose I should explain why I am so late to the table that is ‘Web Part 2: Son of the Web’, or whatever Big Business feels it needs to be called to add to their vocabulary of buzzwords. This is the first ‘blog’ that I have ever written, unless you would count, a site that I wrote content for along with a friend. lns was started in 2003, a time when ‘blogging’ was not mainstream enough for me to hear my parents use the term, and we certainly never set out to make our site into a ‘blog’ site. For one thing, the content was created by two people, and it was just as much a review/humor site as it was a site about keeping people up-to-date with our lives. It was good enough for me, as a means of converting the tomfoolery going on in my mind into a digital, publicized form. Ren (the other mind behind lns who wrote 95% of the content) and I shared similar tastes in entertainment and humor, but there naturally seems to be something stifling about sharing a url with another person. As I do not enjoy web-fu as much as my partner-in-crime, I found my interests in lns dwindling over time. The more effort he put into it, the more I realized I would never ‘catch up’ and the more disinterested I became in the whole affair. It started with just having a few weeks of deadlines (video games that I wanted to beat) keeping me from having the time to produce content, and the next thing I knew I was caught in a vicious cycle of procrastination — ‘I can post this later’, or ‘If I make a post tomorrow people will expect me to post the next day and the next’, or ‘I'd better hold off on that thought until I can formulate it more eloquently’.

Toward the end of last year, lns went down, taking Ren and I by surprise as we thought we had at least another half year of web-mucking before having to renew our site. This happened when I was in crunch time on a video game (crunch-time in the games industry, your infamy is apt and well-deserved), and when Ren had just started a new job in a new place. We let go of the site; he has his blog for bitching about Ruby and poor web-compliance with certain browsers or whatever it is that web designers blog about nowadays, and now I have mine for discussing goings on in the games industry and the related(?) art of game design, as well as how smart I think I am. Hopefully, the personal aspect of this blog will keep me updating it more often than lns.

About this blog

Under normal circumstances, I don't pride myself on being a master of the English language. To make matters worse, I am using a new keyboard, and it tends to miss letters at times when the same letter is repeated separated by another letter (for example, ‘were’ or ‘mono’). I hope that this will cease as I ‘break in’ my keys, and I will try to correct any such occurrences that I catch as I type. I will take it upon myself to, unannounced, correct spelling or grammatical errors in old posts, but I will try to remark on situations where I make a logical correction or change the meaning of a sentence or passage. I also don't remember those forty letter character combinations for presenting certain symbols, so likely you won't see the proper quote marks or dashes or the correct one of one hundred whitespace symbols for this particular situation. I will try to improve in these areas with time, but not to the point where I stop enjoying the writing of this blog.

I welcome and encourage replies to all of my articles. I particularly encourage posts that disagree with what I say as long as they are written in a constructive manner. I will not delete or alter any post that feels like a legitimate response to an article, even if it is trolling (though I won't necessarily dignify such posts with a response). I will, time permitting, delete posts that are spam, duplicates, or completely off-topic (and hence probably spam). I am quite ego-centric, I think I get that from being human, and I will probably check back every day for replies even if I do not add a new post myself.

I am thinking about changing the look and title of my blog. Using my pseudonym as the title seems pretentious; I have a better one in mind, assuming blogger will let me change it at this point (oh surely…). I am creating this blog with a light text on dark background style. I personally feel this is a more pleasant style. After all, light adds up to white, therefore less white means less light hitting the eyes which means less eye strain as I theorize. I feel that the web's love for black text on white background is based more on the legacy of physical print than any objective benefit, and briefly skimming through some forum posts and research results shows arguments for both sides. I may change in the near future to use the standard dark text on light background style if enough visitors feel this would be better. I was even going to do that for this first post, giving up what I felt to be a better style in the name of conformity (not always a Bad Thing), but I decided that choosing this style explains a key characteristic of myself that I want everyone to be aware of: that I am willing to — no, unable not to — take the road less traveled if I feel it is a more sufficient journey.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog, and I hope it gets you thinking about at least a few things in ways you haven't thought before. Please let me know if there are things you don't like about the style or layout and I will look into changing them. I am not married to the current design, it is kind of just there because it is a blogger default and something needs to be there for me to transmit these words to you.