Saying Something Nice

I just came across this article from November that calls Superman Returns for the DS “a mediocre title that was unfairly pushed into the realm of atrocity based on simple association”. *sniff* That’s actually the nicest thing that had ever been said about it. It also links to this even earlier article that had some very nice things to say:

[The multiple versions of Superman are] kind of a neat touch, especially if you’re really into Superman.

The presentation is actually not too bad.

It’s kind of RTS-lite. It’s unique, to be certain.

In all honesty … it’s not that terrible.

[T]his isn’t the worst gameplay idea I’ve ever seen.

[I]t’s nowhere near the level of heinousness assumed by most critics and subsequently inherited by many gamers/consumers.

Hey, after the hell we went through on that title, I’ll take it! Everything that could have gone wrong on that project went wrong, but we still managed to do a couple neat things, I think. Play the GBA game, too. Gamespot can’t seem to decide if it is a puzzle game or a motorcycle racer, but I think either is pretty cool.

Sustained

AJ4A

I haven’t been doing any gaming at all besides picking up Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: And Justice for All again. I made the mistake after completing the first Phoenix Wright game last year to jump right into this one and I just burned out. The series is fantastic but very, very slow. While it would probably cut the length of the game in half, I wish they would let you read at your own pace instead of typing out the text to the screen. I spend most of the game tapping the screen in fruitless anticipation that it will make the text go faster. I got my girlfriend playing the first one now, so evenings are just spent hearing the tinny sounds of “Objection!” and “Take That!” over and over.

I’m trying really hard not to stay in bed all day.

Censorship

Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble has been pulled from Big Fish Games’ site due to including content that the publisher did not agree with. Now, I played the game and didn’t really like it. I found the mechanics a bit annoying. But I greatly approved of the theme and the writing. Apparently others did too as it was nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award along with the big money interests like Fallout 3.

The developer and designer have rolled over, which I assume is because indies need the eyeballs of portals like Big Fish to make any money at all and they don’t want to burn bridges. But what irks me so much is the claim that this isn’t censorship.

Big Fish Honcho Paul Thelan via the linked RPS article:

To clarify, we are not censoring content, it was a judgment call on what is appropriate or not for the BFG brand and it was a scene that was not spotted by our testers prior to release and not even in the gray area of acceptable.

Definition via the good crowds at wikipedia:

Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful or sensitive, as determined by a censor.

How is that not censorship? Clearly, Redrum is a much more family-friendly game, right?

But here’s the real kicker to me: If the “testers” at BFG can’t even get to the end of the main storyline before giving thumbs-up on a product, how can I trust them that the game is sufficiently bug or virus-free? How can I be sure anything I buy from them is what they say it is? If they can’t play through to the end of the game, how do I know they are choosing games for their portal that are of any quality at all?

Less would have been lost for BFG if they would have just offered up refunds to anyone who complained and left the game on the site. Now I simply don’t trust them since they admitted they don’t know what they are publishing. Unfortunate.

Come on guys, kiss and make up. Big Fish should put the game back up on the site with the same warning you see on the page for Redrum and should simply say “my bad” and “here’s how we are going to improve our quality control”. Knee-jerk reactions rarely help.

Books Read in 2008

I’ve had this post in my drafts folder for a while, mostly because I don’t think anyone particular cares but also because it is kind of long. But I’ve really not been feeling games recently, so now’s the time to bring it out. As you see, I keep a tally of what I’ve read in the year on my sidebar. Here’s what I read in 2008, with some short annotations so if you are interested in the genres or subjects that these titles cover, you can at least get a brief, honest opinion on them. If you aren’t interested in that, consider yourself given fair warning.

Remember, friends, the Book It! reading program a lot of schools did back when? You would get a sticker on a button for every book you read and when you had five stickers, you could go to Pizza Hut and get a free pepperoni (!) personal pan pizza. Awesome. I just did some searching and it still exists! I’d like to trade this list for six personal pan pizzas, please.

Non-Fiction
8 Titles, 2,122 Pages.

  • The Anatomy of Story – John Truby (464) – This is a book that was recommended to me about story structure and out of the dozen or so of these books I’ve read in the last decade, I found this one to be the most useful. While Truby addresses the subject from the vantage of a screenwriter, it still offers a lot of prescription for those in other media. I say ‘prescription’ because a lot of these books simply analyze stories after the fact and don’t help much with how to actually construct one. While I found it to be a little long-winded, it was definitely a positive read.
  • Brain Rules – John Medina (301) – I think I picked this one up off a mention on Garr Reynolds’ blog. Medina writes about how the brain works in very down-to-Earth even-a-business-school-student-could-understand tones. Surprisingly, and this is why I picked up the book, there are a lot of lessons for game designers in regards to how the brain directs attention and how it can handle simultaneous events.
  • Fail Safe Investing – Harry Browne (176) – Browne was my idol once I read his book that accompanied his 2000 presidential run. But he was also a gifted mind when it came to investing. Eschewing the precious metal speculating that made him his fortune, he instead creates a investing philosophy based on the almost Socratic idea that nothing is certain and that no “system” will make you rich. With the financial meltdown of the past year, I was prompted to pick up this work of his from days-gone-by. While I think it is a little too dogmatic at times, following his advice sure would have made us lose a lot less money in this recent downturn. Next to the Boglehead’s Guide to Investing, this probably the most important investment book to read.
  • How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy – Orson Scott Card (137) – I bought this on a whim browsing at a local Barnes & Noble. It is a short, entertaining read, but it honestly doesn’t offer much useful advice.
  • The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch (206) – Unless you were under Iraq for the past year, you’ve heard of Randy Pausch’s emotional final journey. I’m not one for “self-help” books, because I’ve always thought that “seizing the day” was pretty common knowledge. Throw that notion out the window and beg, borrow or steal Pausch’s book. My wallpaper on my phone is a brick wall so that I am always reminded of Randy’s stated purpose of brick walls. I’m not a particularly emotional person, but I cried at the end of this, and I don’t think that is just because I had the blessing of briefly knowing Randy when he was alive. This is in my Top 10 books of all time, and I hope I still have it to give to my kids some day when they get to the age to go out into the world.
  • Made to Stick – Chip & Dan Heath (304) – This sort of a Tipping Point lite whose main conceit is that ideas are “sticky” if they follow the acronym of SUCCESs: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. That I remembered the SUCCESs acronym is testament to the stickiness of that idea. This is the sort of book you would pick up in an airport bookstore to tide you over on a cross-country flight. It includes some great examples, but it isn’t something I’d use as a textbook.
  • Presentation Zen – Garr Reynolds (240) – This is The Book regarding making Powerpoint presentations. If you are frustrated having to read people’s talk notes on the screen in the ugly default template while they stammer along, this is the book for you. I followed Garr’s great blog after reading this book and am now a devoted follower. He’s a nice guy, too! Warning: his method is seen as blasphemous at many places like my former employer where they expect your slides to be a document that is read verbatim to the audience.
  • Slide:ology – Nancy Duarte (294) – I was kind of jazzed off of reading Presentation Zen and so I picked up this book by the lady that turned Al Gore’s science fiction story idea into an Oscar winning film presentation. This book seems to rely more on the visual presentation of information as opposed to the more philosophical approach of Presentation Zen. It was alright, but I recommend Presentation Zen a lot more.

Fiction
8 Titles, 3,221 Pages.

  • Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman (416) – This collection of short stories turned me off on Gaiman. Yes, yes, internet blasphemy, I know. There were a few real gems in here like the story of how a man spends his punishment in Hell (which could have been trite in lesser hands), but most of Gaiman’s stories follow the same beats with the same characters and the same isn’t-this-whimsical tone. That doesn’t make Gaiman a bad writer (clearly not as he is raking it in), it just makes me tired of his work.
  • McSweeney’s Quarterly #26 (228) – I’ve been a subscriber to McSweeney’s since college, but I’ve found the quality to be going downhill. As such, this is the last issue I’ve read and I don’t even remember the issue’s theme. I have issues #27-#30 sitting on my to-do shelf and I just don’t have the momentum to get into them. Perhaps the backlog gets back into stride, but I’ve found other sources (like F&SF magazine) to be sources of much more compelling content.
  • The New Weird (320) – After reading Perdido Street Station (see below), I was compelled to find more fantasy like it and came across this anthology of a new school of speculative fiction that dovetails with what Mieville was doing in his work. The anthology is hit or miss and I found the analytical pieces to be dreadful, but overall it gave me a short list of new authors to check out, Simon Ings and Paul DiFillipo in particular. Strangely, I found Mieville’s story to be lacking.
  • Perdido Street Station – China Mieville (640) – I was entranced by this novel. I don’t even know what to say without ruining any of it. It got me excited about speculative fiction again and spawned the reading of a lot of the items on this list. Much like my opinion in the video game field, I am so tired of the Tolkien notes in fantasy story writing that I had given up on the entire genre. Well here happens a new entry that trades rural, woodsy, magical charms for urban, gritty and sort-of-Enlightenment era science without losing that air of anything being possible that keeps fantasy interesting. Add to that the relevant social issues facing the world and the characters and you have a universe that is wholly original and interesting. It would be my fiction book of the year…
  • The Scar – China Mieville (578) – This is a sort of pseudo-sequel to Perdido Street Station in that it takes place in the same world with events that reference events in the first novel.  Not only does it recreate the wonder of the first novel, but it exceeds it due to a much tighter structure with reveal after reveal and twist after twist without any deus ex machina (literally) or less than believable characters as in the first. Not only is this my fiction book of the year, but it is my fiction book of all time dethroning House of Leaves. I plan on someday returning to this book just to write out the pacing and timing of the story so I can mimic it myself in the future.
  • Solaris Book of New Science Fiction (408) – I’m a fan of anthologies because you get a lot of different voices under one roof. This was a pretty good collection, but I honestly struggle to remember any particular stories, so it couldn’t have been that great.
  • Wild Seed – Octavia Butler (279) – I picked this up simply due to the glowing references to it in Card’s book about writing science fiction and fantasy. It is a superbly crafted story, but I felt it went on too long with too little payoff. The idea is brilliant, but I found the actual read pretty brutal.
  • World War Z – Max Brooks (352) – Zombies. I’m such a sucker. I get dragged in by anything with zombies that someone tells me is good. World War Z gets points on its use of format: a journalist’s series of interviews after the fact, but as far as originality, the stories themselves are pretty standard zombie tropes, with the exception of the story of decimation in the Russian army which actually correctly uses the term decimation. This is the “popcorn flick” of the list.

Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine
12 Titles, 2000 Pages

If you like short speculative fiction, here’s the magazine of choice. There’s only been one issue in the past thirty or so where I didn’t find at least two stories that I thought were fantastic. I wasn’t planning on putting magazines or other short-form things on this list, but since each issue is a 160 or 240 page anthology, these might as well be books.

I’m sort of upset that they are going to a double-issue bi-monthly format because one of the great perks of the magazine was that it could (just barely) fit in my jacket pocket when few other books could.

  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 1/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 2/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 3/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 4/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 5/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 6/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 7/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 8/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 9/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 10-11/08 (240)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 12/08 (160)
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction 1/09 (160)

Graphic Novels
3 Titles, 624 Pages

These are sort of cheating, so I am putting them at the end.

  • Flight – Volume 4 (352) – “Flight” is a fantastic anthology of mostly one-off graphic stories. They tend towards the cute and whimsical but some can contain startling power. The anthology always has a wide variety of art and narrative styles, so if you are looking for something not too challenging, this is probably it.
  • Girls – Volume 4 (168) – The Luna Brothers are great artists and have come up with an interesting premise that peters out by these final issues. At least I was disappointed.
  • The Great Outdoor Fight – Chris Onstad (104)Achewood is the best comic on the Internet and this is one of the best arcs in the history of the strip. I’m pretty sure that if you don’t already get Achewood (and it takes a while to get) that starting here won’t exactly be the best idea. Nonetheless, I recommend the whole strip and bought this anthology to support the creator.

Grand total:
31 Titles, 7,967 Pages, 21.77 Pages/Day (2008 was a leap year)

King Choco-Taco

How did you spend your Friday the 13th? I visited a charter school and had a phone interview. Then I made myself pizza rolls, had a nice phone call with my mom and did some biking. Then I came back and played Chocolatier: Decadence by Design for a few hours (which I will henceforth refer to as Chocolatier 3). Not a bad day at all.

In Chocolatier 3, you can now create your own recipes. Here is a list of my confectionary masterpieces so far:

  • The Purple Nurple, a chocolate bar that is pink and purple (because that’s how the randomizer spat it out)
  • The Limey Bastard, which is 2/3 lime, 1/3 cocoa, trace elements of whatever was left in the machine.
  • The Spicy Commie Jackrabbit, which has both Cayenne Peppers and Cuban Coffee and has been my most profitable new creation.
  • The Irish Godzilla, which is an infusion of whiskey, wasabi, cacao and black tea. The public has not yet understood the genius of this creation. They will.

There will be more. The economic downturn has us all hurting, so I hired Gary Busey in my Zurich factory. He’s really comforted me after the poor reception of the Irish Godzilla. He said, “Unless you know that the victory is something that is perceivable then your brain can open up the possible worlds in which that success has become a living, breathing piece of human history.” Thanks.

Don’t believe me?

Enhanced version:

A Small Handbook for Talking With The Recently Unemployed

Here’s a great article I found via Consumerist about how to talk to a friend who has been recently unemployed. I approve and would like to share the following quotes with suggestions:

1. Don’t ask “how’s the job hunt?”
Do you know how many times a day someone hears this if he is unemployed? Ten. And even if it’s not ten really, it’s ten in his head.

There’s a reason this is number one. Seriously, people ask me this in person or on Facebook or Twitter every time they contact me. Seeing that I have a blog and Facebook and Twitter, I am pretty open with my life, so you will probably know when the job hunt is going well. In the first few days after I was laid off, I had a lot of people ask: “So what are you going to do?” Uh, I dunno, look for another job?

It’s like when you know that a friend has a sick grandmother. You may think that asking about her shows you care, but it really just reminds your friend that grandma is sick. Ask about the weather, the Steelers, politics, anything but how the job hunt is going unless that is followed by:

5. Offer up one good contact.
You do not need to pretend that connecting in LinkedIn is going to help this person. I mean, they should have been building their network long before the layoff loomed. But you could offer up one person you know well who could talk with the person laid off.

The day I got laid off and was e-whining about it on Facebook, one of my ex-coworkers dropped me a ‘hello’ message and hooked me up with a contact that has led to one of my top prospects. Most people in the industry who I’ve talked to have the decency to say ‘I’d help you out, but we aren’t hiring.’ That’s fine too. It’s much more useful than ‘Sorry to hear it, man. Good luck.’

Just don’t tell me the same advice that everyone already knows. ‘Have you tried monster.com? Careerbuilder?’ Yes, I watched the Super Bowl too, guys. I love my parents dearly, but every time we have this conversation I want to blow my brains out:

Mom: Did you see that job on monster.com?
Me: What job?
Mom: Oh, your father found it. [Off phone] WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THAT JOB?
Mom: He says just go onto monster.com and type ‘designer’.
Me: Mom, there are a million different types of designers. Can Dad send me the link?
Mom: He says it is right at the top of the listings.
Me: That… doesn’t help.

7. Don’t be shy about gratitude
Tell a co-worker who’s been laid off that you miss him or her. And what you miss. It’s hard to keep up morale when you’re looking for a job. And so often we forget what we are talented at because rejection makes us feel totally un-talented.

It’s true. Yesterday I had an ex-coworker remark that he felt it ‘was a shame’ that I ‘never really got my chance’. And that absolutely made my day. When you send out your resume to fifty places and forty-eight ignore you while two say they aren’t interested, and you look at mouth-breathers still at your old employer who didn’t get fired, it’s easy to believe that the problem is fundamentally with you. It’s not. But sometimes one needs reminded.

I’d like to add my biggest idea to the list:

8. Don’t treat old coworkers like their unemployment is a conagious disease.

A week after I was laid off, I was allowed back to pack up my desk. The two guys who sat near me were there a typy-typing away on their project, but they never once turned around to say ‘It’s a bummer man, nice working with you. Stay in touch.’ They knew I was there. One of my former teammates made eye contact with me and then put his head down and walked away. Really, guys? Didn’t we just have lunch together a week prior? And I got along great with them. It really made me feel like shit.

Look, I know that you don’t know what to say to me. It’s uncomfortable for the both of us. But I’m still the same guy I was when I was pulling a paycheck from the corporate masters (a better person, even!), so if you sever ties with me or ignore me, I think that either: a) you only pretended to be friendly with me because we worked together and thus you are a big phony or b) you think that being pink-slipped is communicable or that your boss will be mad at you if they see you posting on my Facebook wall* and thus you are a big idiot. So phony or idiot, your choice.

I’m very glad (sorta) that there are so many comments on the linked article how COBRA is unaffordable for everyone. I thought it was just me.

*Unless you have a boss who watches your Facebook for any outpouring of support, ahem.

Drop7

I’ve been meaning to do a post on how area/code‘s Chain Factor iPhone port Drop7 is the best game on the iPhone right now, but haven’t.

area/code‘s Chain Factor iPhone port Drop7 is the best game on the iPhone right now.

It has the simplicity and addictive qualities of Tetris, but is played in turns and is therefore not a race against your own slow reflexes. Much like Tetris, there is little that can be said about the gameplay without actually getting your hands dirty and digging into the mechanics. Drop7 removes the special powers of the Flash version, but adds a Hardcore mode that allows the game to be played in much shorter bites and a Sequence mode that plays the exact same every time for those who get all hot-and-bothered about determinism.

Clever. Simple. Sublime. There’s not much else to say. Either play Chain Factor or break the bank and spend 99 cents (Hey, it’s only 1/800000000000 the cost of the stimulus bill!) and try Drop7 on the phone. Thank me later.

And Jeezy Creezy get it before they jack up the price to what it is worth!

In other news:

  • Square Enix is trying to buy Eidos for some reason? Should I make the joke about how they are going to turn Lara Croft into a 14-year old boy with blond spiky hair?
  • Dan Teasdale has reprinted an email thread on his blog about how Destroy All Humans came to be. There’s nothing remarkable about the ideas per se (although I never thought about comparing it to Desert Strike), but it is remarkable to see the blue sky process repeated verbatim. Isn’t the shuttered Pandemic studio owned by EA? I got cease-and-desists when I tried printing anonymous quotes from people at work about things that weren’t even related to what we were working on. /shrug I guess since he’s at Harmonix now and they are all rock stars that he doesn’t put his tail between his legs like I did.