Friday, December 23, 2005

GROW Ornament

The guys at eyezmaze have made a special holiday version of their awesome line of GROW games.

If you haven't played the GROW games, you're in for a real treat; these deceptively simple games are beautifully animated in Flash with surprisingly compelling gameplay. Be sure to check out the other GROW games while you're there.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dancemat-enabled version of Santa vs. the Snow Monsters

Gameplay screenshot from Santa vs. the Snow Monsters
Due to popular request, I've put up a dancemat-enabled version of Santa vs. the Snow Monsters game we did for this year's office holiday party. It's only been tested under Safari for Mac OS X, using a RedOctane USB dance mat, and there are no configuration options whatsoever (being a one-off we slapped together in a few days), so I hope it works for you. If not, well, I probably won't get a chance to hack on it until after the holidays, but send any issue descriptions to me anyway.

Happy holidays!

Pirates Water Test v2.0

Screenshot of Pirate Ship
I've updated the cartoon-style 3D water test that I put up a few days ago to a new version that includes a quick pirate ship that I threw together. This one isn't interactive, but it does show off some more cool stuff like how the wake of a ship might look, and how actual 3D geometry with cartoony textures might look in play.

Guitar Hero

Well, it's official. I'll never be a rock star. I know this because I start to choke even on the easy level of Guitar Hero, the new gimmick-controller game for the PS2. But this is irrelevant, because the game is a blast, and is up there with Shadow of the Colossus in sheer genius of game design. The controller (your "axe") is really well suited to the gameplay, and combined with the music score and play mechanics, really makes you feel like you're playing the music of some of the rock legends. All this is wrapped up in a polished and fun rock-themed interface and graphic style that makes you feel like you're clubbing it in your own living room.

The music ranges from Pantera to Boston, and the guitar hero avatars you can select range from angry teen girls (think Avril Levine) to aging rocksters (think John Lennon), so there should be something for everyone who likes rock music here. Best of all, each avatar has his or her own signature style for firing up the audience, which can be triggered by filling up a gauge by playing well, and then doing a rock pose with your guitar to activate it (serious!).

It really is a great game. Steep at $70 (or $140 for two!), but worth it - the tactile pleasure of holding a guitar in your hand and feeling like you are actually playing Symphony of Destruction or You Got Another Thing Comin' for a crowd of adoring fans is an experience you just don't get with the normal controllers. I give it two thumbs up...or rather, two fingers up: the index finger and the pinky.

Rock on, dudes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pirates water test

Today, I've been working on creating some water effects for the pirate-themed educational game we're building. Because we're going with a cartoony feel, and because we're modeling ocean water and not, say, a pool, I didn't think a full-blown simulation with refraction and reflection was appropriate (and would probably be too expensive processor-wise anyway), so I experimented with a particle-like system that draws cartoony waves and ripples across the surface of the water. The result, I think, looks pretty good and is fairly flexible and extensible for particular effects. It could, of course, get even more sophisticated with animated waves, splashes, and other effects, but for now, I think we have a proof of concept for how water can work in the game, which was one of the areas that I was most concerned about.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Judge cuts through the ID BS

Some good news for a change. A judge in Dover Pensylvania has ruled that "Intelligent Design" cannot be taught in public schools there. Score one for reason. It's refreshing to see the judge come out with a clear, unequivocal statement that ID is not science, but is merely an unethical wink-and-a-nudge attempt to "dress up" supernatural creationism in the mantle of science so that it can be taught in the public schools. He said:
We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom...It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.
Cue: outraged right-wingers decrying "activist judges."

Xyle Scope

Xyle Scope Icon
Just stumbled upon a great little Mac app for web developers called Xyle Scope. It's a web browser (that uses the Safari engine) that allows you to interactively view all the style sheet and XHTML information of the page or any element you click on in the page. You can interactively experiment with the CSS (and save the changes if the files are local), see at a glance what rules in which files are being applied to elements (including the cascading precedence), see padding and margins, browse the hierarchical structure of the XHTML, and even browse the DTD. Well worth checking out if you use a Mac to do your web development.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Shameful acts

According to CNN, Bush is attacking people who want judicial oversight over citizen surveillance by saying:
My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy.
It is in no way shameful. The New York Times sat on the story for an entire year waiting for the President to either come clean or get judicial oversight back into the process, but he just kept doing it.

The shameful act was instituting covert citizen surveillance when it has explicitly been outlawed by Congress. The shameful act was not respecting the basic principle of judicial oversight over the ability of law enforcement to pry into our lives. The shameful act was to try to smear people looking to stop some of our most fundamental freedoms from being bartered away in the name of a neverending war on terror.

Think about it. Ten years ago, what country would you think someone would be describing if they told you their leader instituted illegal secret surveillance of its citizens, held people offshore indefinitely in a network of secret prisons without access to counsel, and violated the Geneva Convention by using torture to extract information from prisoners? Would you even remotely have thought about America? These are the sorts of things that enemies of freedom, not defenders of freedom, engage in. The war on terror is no justification for waging a secret war on our civil liberties. Like Benjamin Franklin said:
They who can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Santa versus the Snow Monsters

Well, I've finally gotten around to releasing the web version of Santa versus the Snow Monsters.
Santa Screenshot
It's a fun little diversion, but it's also a proof-of-concept for how we're planning on doing our environments and graphics for the pirates-themed educational game we're working on, and I think it turned out rather well, so if you like this look, you're liable to see more of it later.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Good News and the Bad News

The good news is that today, I got carded. The bad news is that it was for trying to buy Nyquil.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Santa vs. the Snow Monsters a success!

Well, Matt and I got the Santa vs. the Snow Monsters game done with only moments to spare before its unveiling at our training-slash-white-elephant-gift-meeting today over the lunch hour. Literally, in the last minutes before showtime, we were slapping in the last Santa sounds and snow monster belchy noises, which I didn't even test before throwing the game on a thumb drive and heading upstairs to the room.

But it seems like the game was a big hit. It didn't crash (yay!), and we had some stellar performances on the dance mat as people battled the snow monsters with their feet. The high score went to Gerritt, who dominated the other scores by a whole degree of magnitude, with a final score of 114. People seemed to like watching the game as well as playing, because there were lots of oohs, ahhs, clapping and cheering going on, so I think we had a real winner. I even had people asking for copies of the game for themselves or their kids.

More importantly, though, was the fact that Matt and I got to bust out some game-design-fu on a simple, short deadline. With the help of his graphics, we managed to work together to create something that really worked and looked great in short order - a complete 3D game that looks like we spent a lot more than a few days on it. And Matt and I seem to have a similar philosophy and sense for game design. As we bounced ideas off of each other, we quickly hit on a final idea that just seemed to click well, and Matt's sense of presentation added a whole level of style to the game. With him doing the graphics, I can concentrate on developing the gameplay. It's a clean, streamlined way to go about making the game.

This makes me much more optimistic about the Pirates project - with this test under our belts, we now know what it takes to produce good, fun Shockwave3D content, and the look is such a winner that I think we now know what our game is going to look like. Matt's charming graphics, applied to an entire game, is going to bring our educational games to a whole new level. I can't wait to get started!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Santa Claus vs. the Snow Monsters

For giggles, Matt and I have been working on a fun little game for this year's Christmas party here at Ag Comm.
Santa Claus Screenshot
It's called Santa Claus vs. the Snow Monsters, and the premise is that Santa has crash-landed in the snow on Christmas Eve, and has to fend off an army of snow monsters bent on finding out if that belly actually tastes like a bowl full of jelly.

The game is controlled with a dance mat (like in Dance Dance Revolution), and you control Santa inside his hastily-constructed snow fort. He can rotate left and right to face the oncoming snow monsters in different directions, he can duck their belched-out snowballs, and throw snowballs back at them. I'm doing the programming and Matt is doing the artwork. (That's not Santa in the snow fort there, obviously - that's a pirate from our pirate game that I'm using as a placeholder graphic for Santa.)

The soaring dream of flight

It's official! Virgin Galactic has put pen to paper to help develop the New Mexico Spaceport, right in our own back yard. The goal is to have the Spaceport functional with commercial spaceflights operational three years or so from now. Three years!

Many times, I've wondered whether moving away from Charlottesville, ranked one of the best places to raise a child in the nation, to Las Cruces, in one of the worst-educated states in the nation, will start my son's life off with a disadvantage he may never recover from. But this news brings with it some real optimism for the future for me. The influx of high-tech corporations will bring high-end jobs, and by extension, good educational opportunities. The tax and tourism revenues will give New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the nation, a much-needed shot in the arm to develop its infrastructure, educational and otherwise. And my son is going to grow up in a community that actively embraces mathematics, engineering, astronomy, and all the other disciplines that go into space flight. All of these things could drastically improve his educational experience as he grows up here.

But more importantly, he will grow up in a community that celebrates the courageous vision of space flight and the steadfast diligence of science. He's going to grow up watching spacecraft shrug off the shackles of gravity and crawl their way up into the bright New Mexico sky on plumes of fire. And he might even one day ride one of those craft into the weightless mantle of space, look down on the shining face of Earth, and experience that magnificent moment of awe that so far only a handful of brave men and women have experienced.

I believe there's value being close to the space program, even for a child. Especially for a child. We have so few things in this world that represent the fundamental dreams of humanity, that transcend the nasty politics and gruesome wars we wage on the surface of this rock, and which open onto such expansive and pristine vistas of exploration. Having the core of space flight so close may give my son the one thing more valuable than an education: something meaningful to apply it to.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ups and Downs

After arrogantly posting that my PS2 started working again, I have been slapped back by the hand of fate. My PS2 is festering again.

It's a bummer, too, because I wanted to go back into that Splashdown game I mentioned before and take a look at how they did their level design some more. I don't think we're going to be doing racing games in the pirate game we're building, but I still want to figure out some of the "design patterns" that lend themselves to fun environments like the ones in that game.

The good news is that the USB dance mats came in today. Tomorrow, I'm going to try to hook them up to the Mac and see if I can get Director to talk to them via the Enhancer Xtra. If I can, then we can start developing games that use the dance mat controller. Since we're trying to develop educational games and health and nutrition, games that get kids moving are ideal for this topic.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild

First, a bit of news: my PS2 miraculously started working again. Go figure.

Anyway, I picked up Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild quite a while ago so that I would have some 2-player games when nephews and other people come over, but I hadn't really had much of a chance to get into it. I broke it out tonight and played it, and it's actually a pretty fun racing game. It's also relevant right now, since it combines good racing dynamics to look at while I tinker on my own racing game, and it has a whole pirates-themed course to look at while we are (still!) desiging the pirates-themed educational game at work.

Of course, the best part of Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild is the fact that they drew upon Disney theme rides as inspiration for the course settings, which is a real blast. My favorite course, by extension, is the one that is a lot like the Disney Haunted Mansion: Blackwater Castle.
Splashdown screenshot
I looked for the official web site for this game, but interestingly, the THQ web site doesn't even mention the game, and they're the ones who made it. Luckily, Gamespot comes to the rescue with a whole raft of images and Developer Q&A, which is always interesting to read. The developer sums up why I like the Blackwater Castle course so much:
For instance, on our Blackwater Castle course, you release a flood of ghosts from a haunted castle in lap one. During lap two, the ghosts attack a sleepy village, zombies pop out of the cemetery, and the villagers get riled up and march up to the castle (pitchforks, torches, and all). In lap three, they burn the castle down--while you're racing through it.
Yeah, can't go wrong with that. And the level of detail is pretty amazing; for instance, there's a great but easy-to-miss sight gag where you see a zombie burying the gravedigger in the graveyard. That's just good stuff. I hope we can fit some of that fun and creativity into the pirates game or my racing game.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Single Parent Day

So, it was me and my son together all day today while my wife was in California at a meeting for our "games on mobile devices" grant. We had a lot of fun together today. We colored and played and ran around and napped, just the two of us.

He was being such a little joy that I took him to Chuck E. Cheese's for dinner, and it wasn't as bad an experience as I thought it would be. I figured I'd hate it but he would love it, but in reality, it wasn't so bad for me, either. Sure, there's the constant noise, but what place where kids have a lot of fun isn't noisy? The place was clean, the wait staff was very polite and helpful, the food was passable considering it wasn't really the point of the place, and the whole operation was well-organized and clear. In fact, the only problem we had was that the photo booth ran out of photo paper while we were in it. The rest of the time, my son was gawking around at a myriad of age-appropriate things to look at, which basically let me relax and eat a few slices of pizza because I didn't have to constantly entertain him.

After Chuck E. Cheeses, we drove out to Doña Ana to check out Daniel's Xmas light display. It's every bit as fun and cool as his photos imply, only moreso. I snapped a few photos that I'll put up later. Although there were many people in that subdivision decorating, Daniel's is the most elaborate, with the most custom-built creative stuff. Looks like Kris Kringle exploded all over his front yard. My son liked it so much he cried when I stuck him back in the car for the ride home. (Thankfully, he quickly got over it as I drove around the subdivision looking at the other light displays.)

And as I was putting him to bed, he struggled up out of his drowsiness to give me a kiss on the cheek. I like to think that's his way of saying thanks for a fun day. And my wife came home just as I was getting him to bed, so she got a chance to rock him a bit before he went down for the night. It was a lot of work, and I'm dogged, but all in all, a pretty great day for him, and a pretty great day for me.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Game Developer's Refuge taken down by a pedophile

Last night, a post appeared at the Game Developer's Refuge, a web site dedicated to independent game development, requesting art assistance for a massively multiplayer game in which the players take on the role of pedophiles trying to sexually assault children. A few board members showed their gutter-stripes, saying that the game sounded cool, and offered assistance.

At first, the claim was that the game would be satire, which I would like to believe is the reason some suckers were willing to help at the beginning. But as critics started showing up and taking the guy to task, the idiot's defense of his game idea shifted to "education" about pedophiles, to "it's better to have pedophiles acting out their fantasies virtually than on real kids", and finally to some crazy-ass rant about how he is a worshipper of chaos or something. Clearly, the guy is a nutjob with pedophilic tendencies himself.

When the site owner for the Game Developer's Refuge came on, he was so disgusted, he took the entire web site down and is no longer going to host it. He is a new parent, and is now disillusioned with his clientele and his site, apparently to the point where he wants to wash his hands of the whole thing. I personally wish he would have left the board up rather than let this psycho ruin things for everyone, but I understand why he did it. When you have a child, it would be hard enough to stomach even satire about pedophilia, let alone a game that allows people of that inclination to act it out. To think that your site and your servers was aiding in that, and that the people whom you host on your servers thought it was a good idea and wanted to actively help...well, I understand why he did it. Legal issues aside, the emotional taint of that would be very hard to bear every night he looks into his child's eyes.

Of course, the creep who's trying to make this game is just going to go elsewhere until he finds someone willing to help him make his game. What an odious waste of carbon.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

OMG Cup: N0x35C49E

The entries for the OMG Cup are up and ready for download. The OMG Cup is a game programming competition for Mac that typically sports some interesting gameplay by hobbyist developers. If you run Mac and would like some free gaming goodness, head on over and download the games that sound interesting.

N0x35C49E avatarSo far, my personal favorite is N0x35C49E, a shmup in the classic tradition, complete with a big crab-shaped boss battle at the end. But what makes this one cool is that it eschews the typical eye candy and goes for well-formed ASCII art for its graphics, making me nostalgic for the days when we made similar game art back in high school on the VT100's. (But the gameplay stands up on it's own, even without the gimmick graphics.) Be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Half elfToday, on the Order of the Stick, Rich Burlew pulled a gag that almost made me snark milk out my nose. And I wasn't even drinking milk. He's introduced a new character, and has a genius way of marking the physical characteristics of a half-elf. What a great strip.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Harry Potter cameo in Order of the Stick

Rich Burlew did a send-up of the Harry Potter franchise today in the always-funny strip Order of the Stick. Be sure to check it out.

One interesting thing that this strip pointed out which I had (somehow) never noticed before is that the name of Harry Potter's school, Hogwarts, is really just a transposition of the syllables in Warthogs. Could it be that there is a fifth house that has yet to be introduced? We already have Griffins, Ravens, Snakes, and Badgers as mascots for Houses - could the reference to warthogs be a clue to something coming in the last book? (Or is it an homage to Welcome Back, Kotter, a series that featured some students - called "warthogs" - who were equally precocious, troublesome, and likable? Is Dumbledore Mr. Kotter?)

It's official

Well, the shoe dropped today. The department I work for at NMSU has officially been taken out of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics and added to University Communications.

On paper, it's just a reporting line change. In real life, it's hard to say what effect it's going to have. The people we're merging with tend to work the marketing/promotion and crisis management angles, whereas we tend to be education and outreach. There are going to have to be some culture changes on both sides to make this work, I suspect.

And as with all major change, people are reacting with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Any major shift in bureaucracy dregdes up peoples' fear of instability. Hopefully, this move won't be one of those cases when that fear is justified (and we're not out of the woods yet - the Devil's in the details, and there are lots of details left to iron out).

But I'm setting aside my skepticism, hoping that in the end, this will be a good thing. With this move, we will have the opportunity to work on educational outreach materials from all the colleges, so maybe I'll have a chance to work on mathematics or media literacy education for the people of New Mexico. And I'll finally be able to officially develop services and systems that serve the entire university, instead of only our college, something I've been doing on an informal basis anyway.

One exciting tidbit is that the President is hoping to improve the offerings of our local public television station and NPR station. There's some excitement around the office about perhaps being able to develop and produce some excellent southwest-area children's programming, which I think would be a blast. Maybe this move will put us in a position where we can do that. In discussions with my coworkers, we've had many good ideas that would make excellent children's programming, and I don't think it would be that hard to produce if we do it right - certainly, it would be worth the effort.

This is a really stressful time, and I'm as scared as the next guy about the ways this could go wrong for us, as a group or for particular individuals. But now that it's official, the best approach is to hit it full-bore and do the best job we can. If we do that, we might be given the leeway to work on dream projects that weren't possible when we were limited to the scope of the Ag College. I guess we'll see what the future brings.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Braggin' on my kid

Okay, I think I've done a pretty good job of not being a typical dad on my blog and bragging on how awesome my son is, but I just have to say that I have the best kid ever. Every day, he surprises us with a new learned word, a new behavior, or a new thing that sets him a-giggling. He finally has waving people bye-bye down, and he's learned a small vocabulary of baby sign language so that he now says "Please" and "Thank you" for the things you give him. And he's learned how to roll the ball back and forth with Daddy, which is pretty fun. It's good to see the world through the young, eager eyes of a child again.

Things have been pretty stressful at work lately, due to some uncertainties and changes that are coming down the pipe. But it's amazing how fast he can make you forget all that by doing his impression of a lizard. What a cool kid.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Playstation Zero

Tonight, I went to watch one of my Netflix that had come in, Scary Movie 3, to take my mind off of some stressful things going on at work. I pop it into the DVD player, and it tells me there's "no disc". I pop it out, put it back in. Still "no disc." Not really in the mood to deal with that, and not particularly in a movie-watching mood anyway, I decide to go into the office and play some Disgaea: Hour of Darkness on my PS2.

So I pop in Disgaea, and I start getting disc errors on that, too! I take out Disgaea and put in Dark Cloud 2, and it works. So I think it's the disc - I clean it off a bit and pop Disgaea back in, and I still get the disc error. After much fiddling, I put Dark Cloud 2 back in, and then it doesn't work either. I pop in Disney Golf and have no luck with that either.

My PS2 has officially died. The drive won't recognize discs any more. I guess I know what I'm asking for on my Xmas list this year...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dungeon Crawl

Dungeoncrawl SplashA long time ago, I made a fun little Roguelike game called Dungeon Crawl. I never got around to releasing it because, well, I hoped to make some shareware profits off of it, and I never got it playtested and debugged enough to the point where I felt I could charge for it.

I recently dragged it out of cold storage and decided to just to make it freely available to play on my web site. Crawl through the dungeon, slay monsters, grab gold, ponder whether those magic items will help you or splatter your brains all over the cold stone walls. What could be more fun?


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dueling Snowmen

Snowmen duelSantapaws has posted some video of his animated "dueling snowmen" display. Custom home-built animated light displays are so much cooler than store-bought ones.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Papercraft Crypt and Tangram Handouts from Carnival of Souls 2005

Those of us who put on the Carnival of Souls decided that for Halloween this year, we wouldn't only give out candy. Instead, we decided that some of the giveaways should be things that have a more lasting value. As a result, we designed two single-sheet activity pages which we had printed up on card stock and handed out on Halloween.
I've put the handouts up on the web for you to download and enjoy yourself. There is a papercraft crypt that you can cut out and assemble to create your own replica of our Crypt of the Phantasm attraction, and a Twisted Tangrams activity to cut out and solve.

If you construct the papercraft crypt, please send me a photo - I'd love to see how yours turns out!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

How fast they grow up

I was playing Apples to Apples tonight with some family members. The green card was "easy" and the only card I had in my hand that was even remotely applicable was "Choir Boys." Thus the dilemma: the person judging was my eleven-year-old nephew. Cringing, I played it anyway, thinking that, well, at least it would get a good "ewwww" out of the rest of the players.

He collected the cards, turned to me, and said, "You know, I was a choir boy last year." And then judged it as the best of the entries.

He got it. He got it. Excuse me, but I have to go burn my deck of Apples to Apples cards now.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Low-poly modeling

I'm having a hard time finding good resources online for low-polygon modeling techniques. Back when I first looked into this topic ages ago, I remember a few web sites that went into some tricks that I wish I could find now.

In particular, I'm looking for resources that have a good discussion of how to architect your models so that when bones deform them, you don't get nasty creases. I seem to recall that a major factor in having a good model that deforms gracefully is to have the geometry model the anatomical musculature of the entity being modeled. But I want examples.

I also need some good pointers on setting up a bones structure. How many bones do I need, and what are the guidelines for placing them in the figure? And why do some sites mention adding a tiny little bone at the end of every skeletal structure?

I'm plugging along on these issues, and I'm making progress, but I'm getting somewhat frustrated by the lack of good materials to help me online - there are plenty of modeling tutorials aimed at the modeling neophyte, but precious few on rigging. Maybe I'm just not finding them. If I ever master this stuff, or even get good enough at it to achieve decent results, I may have to write some tutorials of my own.

More Jedi Outcast footage

Today, my nephew showed off some more of the footage for the Star Wars fan film he's working on called The Jedi Outcast. Now that I've seen some of the raw footage he's working with, I'm even more impressed. There are scenes where he obviously has to rotoscope things in on a frame-by-frame basis, and where he has to splice together the, shall we say, rather uneven acting job done by his little brother and friends (they tend to crack up a lot while doing the shoots - heh). He's doing this movie on a shoestring. And not a "indie film shoestring" like $15,000. We're talking, like $200-$300 I think. He's having to be very creative with his shots and sequences to get this to work.

I'd love to get my nephew into a place where he has access to good tools, good resources, and good actors. I think he'd own the Creative Media Institute path at NMSU, but I don't get the impression he's interested in that, but maybe. Mostly, I wish After Effects wasn't so expensive, because with a license for that, he could do some even more amazing work.

His affinity for making movies seems to be rubbing off, too, as his sisters are already talking about making another movie with him, a dark superhero fable which sounds pretty fun. One sister is busy knocking out the first draft of the script, and the other is in the process of writing a novel.

I hope they keep up with this creative work - one thing that the Carnival of Souls experience has taught me is how fulfilling a creative outlet that entertains people can be. Even if you don't make a dime on it, it's a valuable thing to have in your life, and I'd love for them to have that. It's too easy to just shuffle through life as a consumer of corporate entertainment offerings - even if you can't match their production values, being a producer of content yourself is so much better, because you bring personal passion to it, and other people pick up on and respond to that. In the end, personal work can be better as a result. I have no doubt I will enjoy Jedi Outcast more than the last Star Wars movie, and it will be because my nephew is pouring himself into it. It shows in every frame of animation and every rotoscoped shot.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Informational Graphic Design using Flash

I've always been a fan of clever informational graphic design,
and it has always seemed to me that the prevalence of Flash on the web would provide a means to bring animation and interactivity to bear on helping people understand complex political issues, but unfortunately, examples are few and far between.

However, I found a good one today - an animated, somewhat interactive work of political journalism that focuses on the issue of presidential approval ratings in a manner that makes the intricacies understandable even to political neophytes. Well worth a look.

More Haley Translation

More Haley translation. First, Issue 248:
It means my speech is all funny-sounding.
Come again?
Can somebody please get weepy transsexual off me?
...and then Issue 249:
Maybe you're right.
Apparently, Haley uses a different cipher each strip, which, as Belkar points out, is good for people who enjoy cryptograms...

Monkey Heads

The UV mapping system in Lightwave was something I was dreading getting into, but it turns out that it is really intuitive and easy to use. I was able to very quickly create a texture map for the monkey head:
Monkey Head Textured
The UV mapping functionality of LightWave is really powerful, enabling you to quickly unwrap your model onto a map and then export it for detailing in Photoshop. My texture map is really rudimentary - I just wanted to get the basic look down - but with all the texture channels you could apply, you could really make a model look great with comparatively little trouble.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Monkey boned

Wow, things are moving quickly. I'm learning a lot, and I'm surprised the results I am able to get already. I now have the monkey head pretty much modeled, and I've started experimenting with skelegons and bones. Below you can see the final model and two sample expressions for the monkey:
Monkey head poses
The next step is texturing so that the monkey doesn't look like it's made out of plastic.

More work on the monkey head

I think I'm really starting to get the hang of this:
Second version of model
I rather quickly added the ear, detailed it, tweaked the nose, added the eyes, and filled in the mouth.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Haley's Translation

Just in case you don't feel like translating Haley's unintelligible ranting in today's Order of the Stick episode, here it is:
Gone! All of it, gone! I can't believe it's all gone!
I got eaten by a dragon for that freakin' treasure!
i got vomited up! By a disgusting acid-breathing dragon!
And now it's gone!
Not the loot, my loot, mine!
Wait, why do i sound funny? Hello? Hello?
What? No! Don't you dare!
Sneak attack boot to the face!
Darn straight.

First decent attempt at modeling

Render 1Well, tonight I did some of my first character modeling after having watched the video I referred to earlier, and the results were pretty good, considering my near-zero amount of experience with this. I'm still nowhere near done with the model, but what I have so far is a lot better than what I thought I'd have at the end of the evening.

Best of all, I managed to start building my geometry-creation skills - now I understand better what the workflow for generating geometry looks like (although I'm pretty sure I'm still missing some things), and I was able to modify the geometry to get it to look pretty close to the way I wanted, which is something that has entirely eluded me in the past. In fact, it seemed pretty simple compared to what I had been attempting before, which I guess means it's finally "snapping" for me.

Hopefully, my skills will continue to improve so that I can start putting them to use building character models for use in Shockwave3D...

Speed Modeling Tutorial by Kaos_3d

Demon HeadI spent some time digging around on the 'net looking for information on 3D Character modeling and stumbled across this enthralling gem that shows Kaos_3d modeling a fairly detailed demon head from start to finish in less than an hour. I learned a lot by watching this QuickTime movie.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Ginormous Tree lives!

Ginormous treeAfter yesterday, it looked like the Ginormous Tree was going to be down for a while, but even I underestimated the bounce-backness of Daniel's drive to have the biggest damn Xmas tree on the block. Check it.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Ginormous difficulties for the Ginormous Tree

Attaching the Ginormous StarWe had some Ginormous Problems with adding a Ginormous Star to the top of the Ginormous Tree at Daniel's place this morning.

Apparently, the Ginormous Star was a little too Ginormous. After we attached it to the pole, we engaged in a series of wacky antics trying to get the pole back upright and secured. I'm sure we looked like the Three Stooges or the Keystone Cops to my wife, who was no doubt smirking to herself from her vantage point a safe distance away.

In the end, we got the Ginormous Tree up and relatively secured, but the pole was bent in multiple places, and we realized the thing would not stay up until January, and it had to come down. Despite our best efforts to put it down gently, it came crashing down about 180 degrees away from where we intended, and the Ginormous Star broke.

I'm sure Daniel is feeling a little discouraged at this point, but the thing is, this is just a temporary setback. It's not even Thanksgiving yet - he has plenty of time to get this thing figured out. He's an eminently capable guy, and he has the drive and vision to not just give up. He'll refactor it and it will be even better than it would have been.

And when you think about it, all this setback really means is that he's really thinking big. He's got ideas that tickle the edge of what the physical universe will support. That's the kind of creative drive and vision that I really appreciate about Daniel. He was the only one who was certain that we could do the Blackwood Mausoleum for Halloween this year, and it was his drive and skill, even moreso than mine, that made it a reality. You think a pole with some lights on it is going to stop Daniel? Think again!

See the saga of this morning's Ginormous Tree raising and falling starting with this photo in my flickr photostream.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Gi-normous tree

Daniel's 2004 DisplayI'm heading over to my buddy Daniel's place tomorrow to help him with his Christmas decorations. He's chronocling on his blog his efforts to build what he has dubbed the "GT", the "Gi-normous Tree", for his Christmas yard display. He's trying to top last year's effort (shown at right) by erecting an eighteen foot tall tree made out of Xmas lights in his front yard.

A worthy cause! As you probably know from my Halloween efforts, I am a strong believer that if you're going to try to entertain people, you might as well think big. Scale impresses people. Vision impresses people. Detail impresses people. If you bring these things to the table, even your critics will take notice and be entertained.

Daniel is a kindred spirit who thinks big, has a fertile imagination, has an insatiable creative drive, and wants to reach out to the community with projects he hopes they enjoy. I can't wait to stand at the base of the Gi-normous Tree tomorrow and see it. I know it's going to be really cool.

The 11th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition

The results from the 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition are in.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Islands Generator

Islands Screenshot
Since we're going to start working on a 3D-based educational game, I started brushing up my Shockwave 3D chops again, after having let them lapse for a while. After hearing a bit about a technique called "texture splatting," I decided to try it out on an Islands Generator I wrote this evening. It randomly generates an island's topography and then "splats" textures down onto the island based on the altitude of the island at that point. Although there's obviously a lot of room for improvement, considering that it's only a few hours of work, it seems to work pretty well.

Dark Works 2005

Darkworks shotThe hauntmeisters over at Terror Syndicate have put up their web page with a photo tour of their Dark Works haunt for 2005. As is usual for the guys who came up with Monster Mud, their haunt has a uniquely interesting look and a crazy level of attention to detail. These guys make a haunt that looks better than most pro haunts.

If you're interested in reproducing some of their effects, they have a long line of haunt products that they make themselves and sell. They sell foam skulls and other nasty props, and also have a line of books that have detailed instructions on prop building. While the production values on the books are pretty low (photocopied pages bound with plastic rings), and the price is a little steep, the books are high on content, and better than the published books you can find at Amazon. These guys know what they're doing, and have some of the best-looking corpses in the industry.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fear on the Pier

Laff in the Dark just posted a new article on the haunt attractions at Casino Pier at Seaside Heights in New Jersey called Fear on the Pier.
Photo of dark ride vehicles
Despite all the cool photos of gags, stunts, and scares, my favorite part, strangely, was the photos of the spectacular ride vehicles (one of which is shown above - visit the site for more). I've always been a fan of dark rides, and seeing these spectacular cars just made my day - they're so strange and vibrant and garishly fun that you just want to climb into them and take a spin! You could ride around in a circle in an empty room and have fun with these babies.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Shadow of the Colossus

Now that Halloween is over, I've had a chance to pick up a few games I've been wanting to try out. The first on my list was Shadow of the Colossus, which I can honestly say is the most enjoyable game I've ever played.
The game that convinced me to buy a PlayStation One was Tomb Raider. Sure, that game was fun, but the best moment was when that T-Rex emerges out of the jungle gloom, looks right at you, and bellows. The first time you see that, your heart skips a beat and you don't think "How am I going to beat that?" but instead, "How am I going to survive that?" The sheer scale of the thing, combined with the raw coolness factor, is what hooked me, and I went and bought a PlayStation soon after that.

Shadow of the Colossus brings back that sort of feeling to an admittedly jaded game player like me, and it doesn't do it only once, like Tomb Raider did, but instead brings it every time you face a new Colossus, and there are sixteen in the game. I've taken down fourteen of the sixteen, and it's been a ride.

Many things work in concert to make this game so fantastic. First off, there's the naturalistic, pensive tone of the game that rivals a Hayao Miyazaki movie - in both theme and visual design, the game feels like a playable version of Princess Mononoke. The environment design is spectacular but not overdone, so that it seems very realistic. The Colossi are modeled after real animals, birds, etc., and are covered with fur and ancient stonework, giving them a distinctly ancient and even totemic feel that really connects them with the environment.

Another great aspect of the game is its stunning level of organic detail - lots of artistic effort and polygons were budgeted for grass, trees, weeds, branches, water, etc. And it's all animated - when a Colossus stamps its foot down, the ground buckles, throwing dirt and debris into the air through a cloud of dust. When you swim through the water, bubbles stream out behind you and beams of light filter down through the surface of the water. In particular, the animation and characterization on the horse you ride throughout your adventures was impressive.

The gameplay is refreshingly innovative. At heart, it's a puzzle game, but since the puzzles are alive and trying to kill you, it also becomes a challenging action game. And the puzzles themselves are very tightly designed, requiring you to utilize the characteristics of your avatar, your horse, the colossus, and the environment in tandem to bring down your foe. And each one is brought down in a different way, so the puzzle is fresh each time.

The action gameplay, too, is spectacular. The sense of urgency and danger generated by these colossi surprised me, and the manner in which you tangle with these beasts is different for each one. Whether you're pounding across the sands on your horse with a colossus breathing down your neck, or dodging a herculean swing from a weapon as long as a city block, or hanging on for dear life as the colossus you're clinging to tries to shake you off or the flying colossus you managed to leap onto does a corkscrew in the air, there's an original rush of excitement available for each challenge you face. Just riding on top of a colossus and seeing how very high up you are is a great moment unto itself.

But the real power of the game comes through the moral ambiguity of what you are doing. These colossi are, for the most part, docile, coming to life only when their domain is threatened - some of them have obviously been lying dormant for decades. They're portrayed as being closer to animals than monsters, comfortable in their habitats and not threatening anything outside of them. When you finally kill one, the music is sad, not victorious. As you watch the slow-motion cutscene of the giant coming crashing to earth and finally lying still, you can't help but feel a pang of guilt. And that's the amazing thing - it's just a game after all, but seldom do you find a game that can elicit an emotional response like this. Not many games out there transcend their gameplay like that.

This all isn't to say that the game doesn't have its flaws. There are a few places where the controls are frustrating, and the Playstation 2 technology isn't up to snuff for the vision of the creators (you often see the terrain "popping" as it switches level of detail as you approach the models), but the game is so immersive and powerful that these minor issues just fade into the background compared to the overall experience.

Shadow of the Colossus is, in my book, one of only two games I'd classify as must-haves. If you haven't seen it, go out and get a copy - you won't be disappointed.

Plans for 2006

Some of the principals of Carnival of Souls got together tonight to discuss plans for next year's event. Over some green chile enchiladas, we started concocting the nasty surprises we'll have in store for visitors next year. We've got some good starting notions, which I think we can develop into some great attraction magic next October.

Bob Diven said that he was struck by the fact that practically all our visitors walked around with a sense of wonder on their face at our event, something you very seldom get in a few people, let alone an entire crowd. That's awesome, because that's exactly what we are shooting for: something better than just the average Halloween decorations and pop-out-at-you scares. We're looking to create an experience that is magical and original, and I really think that with this team, we are going to be able to succeed at that year over year.

The down side, of course, is that we only have one night a year to do Carnival of Souls. It's a lot of work and money to sink into three hours out of the year.

However, a few other ideas came to light, and it looks like our group is interested in participating in two other local events: the Fourth of July light parade and the Renaissance Fair. The idea is to bring the same artistic and creative flair that we bring to Carnival of Souls to these events. This will give us something fun to work on during the "off season." We're going to get together in January to make new tombstones for the graveyard and discuss plans for Fourth of July. 2006 is going to be a fun year!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Adios, Sony

Well, it turns out that the Sony rootkit malware on purchased CD's also corrupts Macs.

You know, during the big Napster days, I was one of the "good" people from the music exec's standpoint. I didn't rip or download a single track I hadn't paid for, which wasn't offered free by its owners, or which I didn't create myself. And I did not offer any of my music for others to download using Napster or other P2P applications.

In short, I've been a good consumer and customer.

Apparently, that's irrelevant, though. It's not enough that the RIAA brands me as a criminal. It's not enough that they bought legislators to criminalize me even having the capability to engage in "fair use" use of music, let alone engage in criticism, commentary, or satire with the song.

Now they're actively trying to infect my machine with malware even though I have done nothing wrong, and they have no reason to believe that I may start.

Being cast in such gross strokes as a criminal really pisses me off, so I'm no longer going to purchase any music from Sony Music. Yes, there are lists out there showing which CD's are infected with the malware, but I'm not going to accept that burden being put on me. I'm going to assume that every Sony Music CD is likely to have malware, whether it's the already-detected rootkit or something that hasn't been detected yet.

Their behavior is outrageous, it's unethical, and it needs to be unpopular so that Sony Music takes a hit on sales from this move. I've always been skeptical of the argument that file sharing hurt their profits. I think they're counting each song downloaded as a loss of revenue, when the reality is that you'll download for free a lot of songs that you would never consider paying for, so that's hardly loss of revenue.

But now they have concrete evidence of something that does hurt their profits. Infecting my machine has caused them to lose me as a paying customer. Adios, Sony.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

See the entire Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour show!

Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour
I've just uploaded the web page for 2005's Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour black light puppet show.

The page contains a description of the show, the script, and some information on how we did it (more coming later), but most importantly, you can watch the show in its entirety. If you missed it this year, be sure to check it out - it was great fun!

Therapeutic value of MMORPG's?

I happened to meet up with one of my friends from College yesterday. He's a police officer now, which suits him well because I've always admired both his facility with people and his cool head in an emergency. He's smart, empathetic, and level-headed, all things that you want in a dedicated public defender.

Anyway, he was telling me that his brother, who is also a policeman, was an early responder to a pretty grisly scene in which some of his friends had been ambushed and killed.

My friend said that he couldn't get away to visit his brother, who was understandably troubled and shaken by the experience, but that he did manage to spend some time with him virtually using World of Warcraft as an intermediary. No phone bills, instant contact, and best of all, a removal of the context of the visitation - they could focus on something else when it became too much to talk about. Stepping out of the real world, assuming a totally different persona, and laying the smack down on a couple of ogres apparently provided a much-needed escape from the immediacy and mundane morbidity of what they were talking about.

My stomach sinks thinking about what his brother must have gone through, and I'm glad to see confirmed something that I've always suspected about RPG's, especially MMORPG's - having access to an alternate world can be therapeutic as well as entertaining, because the real world can have crushing levels of boredom, drudgery, loneliness, and pain, and having a temporary but engrossing escape from that can help people deal with those realities by giving them some relief from thinking about whatever is troubling them. Yes, some people can take it too far and assume the virtual world as their real world, but that is a miniscule minority compared to the people that gain real personal value from it. Brother connecting with brother to comfort and heal is a testament to that.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Blackwood Mausoleum page ready

Blackwood Mausoleum exteriorWe've been working on getting the photos and video from 2005 up on the web for people to view. I just completed a page for the Blackwood Mausoleum, the new attraction for 2005.

It's got some great video footage of Bob Diven doing the exterior spiel, and of Daniel and his posse finally experiencing the fruits of their labor inside. It's funny to note that even though Daniel's kids were there throughout the construction and raising of the mausoleum, they're still a little afraid of it when it's nighttime and all decked out with cobwebs and corpses. Heh.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Ren Faire and Robert the Ratcatcher

Went to the Las Cruces Renaissance and Craft Fair today. Wow, has it grown over the years! To investigate all the craftsmen, information booths, and food vendors would certainly take all day. Combined with the various events, it's a long day that makes it easy to come back for both days that the fair spans.

I thought my son would enjoy the processionals and other costumed pageantry, but he was largely uninterested. And when I thought about it, of course it wasn't anything special - he's not old enough to know that those clothes are anything out of the ordinary. Mostly, he liked the water fountain in the lake and the playground - both things we could come to the park on any other weekend to do for much cheaper. Heh.

But it was fun for my wife and I. I always enjoy seeing the spectrum of costumes people wear to the Renaissance Fair. Obviously, you have the visitors wearing everyday clothes on one end, and on the other, you have the people wearing extravagantly detailed, period-accurate costumes that must have cost a good couple of hundred to make.

But the costumes that I enjoy the most are the ones in between the two extremes. I like seeing the knight walking along with a sword, a shield, and sneakers on his feet. Or the goth girls that wear black renaissance gear, but with glittery black bat wings or vynil high heeled boots. Or the wizard walking along wearing mirrored sunglasses and a baseball cap. That's just fun stuff.

However, by far the best thing at the fair is Bob Diven doing his "Robert the Ratcatcher" show. Most people who dress up at the Renaissance Fair dress up as nobles or knights, which of course was a tiny fraction of the populace during the Middle Ages. Bob dresses as the lowest of the low - the guy charged with catching the disease-infested, food-stealing rodents. But it's a great show, because he uses his "ratapult," a replica trebuchet that flings fake burlap rats into a crowd of excited kids, and flings pumpkins at a dumpster 50 yards away. Fun stuff.

I've always been impressed by Bob. I first met him when my wife was doing stand-up comedy. I saw many of his performances, which consisted of clever folk songs he'd play on his guitar, and unlike all the other comics, he absolutely never bombed - he was always engaging and always entertaining. (He has a CD out called Play with Yourself, Live in Concert, by the way - pick it up if you like folk music with a smart, funny edge.) We commissioned him to write some songs for some educational software we did back in the early 90's, and we're still getting letters from kids saying how much they like the songs he wrote. Since then, he's worked on the Renaissance Faire (I believe he built the dragon in the lake as well as the trebuchet), starred in local community theater productions, and produced a lot of impressive artwork.

That's why we asked him to be the barker for our new "Blackwood Mausoleum" Halloween attraction this year. He did a fantastic job adding the mystery and backstory to the attraction, entertaining people while they waited in line, and setting their minds at unease before they went inside to face the Blackwood kin. We gave him the overall idea, and he transformed that into an almost poetic spiel that really complemented the magical, spooky nature of our haunt.

I have video of his intro spiel - I'll be posting the video on a web page soon, so you'll be able to see it for yourself soon if you missed it this Halloween.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Carnival of Souls photo booth photos up

Posing GorillasWell, we finally managed to get our photo album containing Carnival of Souls photo booth photos up on Shutterfly. We chose shutterfly because they can store the photos at a high printable resolution, and they provide printing services. They're running a special now where the first 15 photo prints are free, so our visitors should be able to get their photos for free.


Skully and BoneheadPoor Skully and Bonehead. Two pirates who ended their days with their heads impaled on spears, these ghosts now spend their days animating the skulls they inhabited in life, passing the time telling terrible pirate jokes.

These animatronic pirate skulls were the first attraction people stumbled upon for our Carnival of Souls event. If you dare, you can read the pirate script, but ye be fairly warned: there be really bad jokes ahead. (Get it? A "head?" Yo ho ho!)

The Haunted Midway

Midway photoOkay, it's not much, but I managed to get the start of a page up on the web site that shows some of the footage and photos we have of Carnival of Souls 2005. This particular page covers the Haunted Midway.

I still need to add some shots of the Magic Mirror and the Crypt of the Phantasm, but I figure those are things already available elsewhere on the site, so they can wait a while.

I'll be adding more photos and other content to this page, and creating more pages, later.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

SpookyDad's Pirate Haunt

SpookyDad's haunt frontageI just got an email from SpookyDad, who says that he used our Jolly Roger digital puppet for his absolutely awesome-looking pirate-themed yard haunt. Going above and beyond the normal call, SpookyDad built a pirate ship, complete with a firing cannon, into his yard haunt, and projected the Jolly Roger digital puppet onto the pirate ship's sail! How awesome is that?

Be sure to check out all the pictures, especially the nighttime ones - his lighting style is very evocative and professional-looking. (This ought to be of particular interest to Daniel, who keeps talking about building a pirate ship for next year...)

Video captured!

Hoo! After some techie twiddling, I managed to get some of Daniel's Hi-8 footage transferred over to DV for creating some web movies. As I type this, I'm compressing some video of our Mausoleum barker's fantastic performance for web delivery. Tomorrow, I'll try to get it into some sort of presentable format on the ImaginEERIEing site, assuming I can get some time to work on it.

Included in the video I digitized is an entire performance of Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour, our black light puppet show attraction. Now in its second year, it was a big hit, and now you'll finally be able to see it.

I should mention that the only reason you'll see video from 2005 is because of Daniel - our DV camera pooped out after we all failed to charge the battery. Yet again, it's Daniel to the rescue!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Still working on getting photos and footage up

Still working on getting everything put away from Carnival of Souls 2005, and still working on getting photos and video up for people to see.

In the mean time, here's a neat little tidbit. A coworker of mine tells me that her daughter heard some other kids telling their friends about how much fun our yard haunt was this year. That makes me feel great - it's one thing to hear a compliment on the day of, when you're standing right there. It's another thing to hear that it had enough of an impact to cause people to talk excitedly about it when you're not around. We must be doing something right.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Carnival of Souls 2005 a success!

Just a quick note to let my readers know that Carnival of Souls 2005 was a big success. Despite the fact that our visitor count doubled again, to 700-800 visitors, a good time seems to have been had by all.

The "Blackwood Mausoleum" attraction was a huge success, working even better than I thought it would. The "Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour" improved upon last year's show to rave reviews. The Magic Mirror and the midway games provided their usual staple attraction for the kids, and we had many more people getting their photos taken at the photo booth.

The only thing that went wrong was the new animatronic pirate skull show which shut down halfway through the evening. But that was a minor thing - if anything would have had to go down, that was the one we wanted to go down!

I couldn't have done it without the tireless, selfless efforts of our 25 or so volunteers. Their creativity, skill, stamina, and willingness to help me achieve this event for the kids has been amazing and gratifying to watch over the last few months. If even one of them hadn't helped, at least one of our attractions would have had to close - every single one really contributed to the fundamental success of the event, and a great time was had by all our visitors as a result.

I'll be posting more photos and more detailed descriptions of the night in follow-up posts.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Holy crap, the mausoleum looks awesome!

MausoleumWith only hours to go before the big night, we began erecting the mausoleum. We added a lot of the final touches as we worked, cutting foam to its final size, touching up paint, etc., and by the time it started getting dark, we had the mausoleum constructed. It can only be described as awesome. This mausoleum will be dark inside, which is a trick considering we have a bright street lamp right in front of our house. With a flickering flame light going, the interior of that mausoleum is creepy and dim.

There are corpses in the crypts now, along with individual LED-based lighting for each crypt. Some glow with a reddish hue, others green, others yellow. All are awesomely creepy when you open those doors. It is going to be a simple matter to scare people with this setup, because this thing is creepy in daylight.

We also got our black light puppet show stage built and the action blocked out. The new story is notably better than last year's, it's shorter, and has some great looking special effects that really add a lot to the show. This year, we get to witness an actual magical battle between Sarita and Marius, and the spell effects, simple as they are, just look great. And the two new characters are super-creepy.

Pumpkin glowFinally, we had our second annual Pumpkin Glow tonight, where we invite all the neighbors to bring their Jack-O-Lanterns and have local retirees judge them in various categories for prize giveaways. We had double the number of pumpkins this year, and we had some stunning work to enjoy. But the competition was secondary to the simple fact that these events seem to really get the neighbors to connect with each other. Everyone was laughing and talking - the neighbors all came out and seemed to have a really good time. It's really great to see the effect our work is having on bringing people together.

Speaking of people, I want to say again what a great set of volunteers we have this year. I couldn't ask for a more talented, dedicated, and generous crowd. About twenty people came out here and worked until they were exhausted, and then turned around and worked more. One has even volunteered to sleep in the mausoleum tonight to guard against vandals. What a great, great bunch.

I've uploaded a lot of photos of the mausoleum, mausoleum construction, and all the pumpkin glow entries to my Halloween flickr set.

Two days before Halloween

Brett and Scott at NukestockJust got home from some more Nukestock action. I missed the finale of the Road Rally, which was, to hear some people tell it, amusing, but I did manage to catch the annual trivia game. Our team came in second, I think - a distant second (but considering the game, it's a dubious prestige to be first). I also got a reprise of my friend Mike's impression of Christopher Walken doing an impression of my friend Scott, and a very funny (in retrospect) tale of when my friend Vic got struck by lightning. People have great stories to tell sometimes.

Costumes were pretty good tonight, too, although there were fewer to enjoy. There was an amazing witch costume walking around a werewolf on a chain, some good skull-face makeup, and an impressively faithful rendition of "Darkess," the demon that Tim Curry played in the movie Legend.

On the home front, we got a lot done today. The mausoleum doors are now complete, and we have some cool decorative skull statues that glower down over them from above. I ended up having to cut back the door plaques so that they fit on the door rather than over the door, but it was a good change that will be workable in the long run. Now all the crypts have name plates on them. The front facade is nearing completion, and the whole thing is ready to move out, I think.

Black light puppet show stage constructionThe puppet show is looking to be really good this year. Last year, we had planned to have the show on our back porch, but the Halloween-day winds completely blew our completed set apart only two hours before the first show would begin. During that final two hours, we tore down the broken set, moved it into the garage, and reconstructed it. We pulled it off, but it was rushed, and the fact that the visitors could see all our garage crap lying around somewhat diluted the illusion of this being a "spirit parlour."

Well, this year, we planned from the beginning to have the show in the garage. We're going to be able to accommodate more people, and the set will be better. We picked up some "scene setters," which are long lengths of printed plastic wall decorations, and ran them around the perimeter of the garage, and the effect was striking - much better than I thought it would be. Our garage now looks like a creepy, wood-paneled parlor.

And Dana has built our two new puppets this year - Jehosaphat and Bob - and they look awesome. These lightweight puppets are skull heads on PVC pipe with some Salvation Army cloth draped around them into a tattered hood and cloak. Cotton batting and coat hanger wire provides the form and bulk for the bodies, and some fluorescent paint gives their faces and fabric an eerie glow. Truly, they will be the creepiest things at the Carnival of Souls this year when they start flying around, gibbering after one of our heroines.

Can't wait.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Nukestock 2005

Rich and Mike play Rush songs at Nukestock 2005Managed to get some time to head out to Nukestock tonight. Saw a lot of friends I hadn't seen in a while, mostly friends from my days at college. Some I know really well (such as one of my college roommates), others I know only in passing, but they're all fun to talk to, and when we all do manage to get together, it sure doesn't seem like it's been as long as it has been since we talked last. Good friends and good people are like that, I guess.

The theme this year was Cthulhu, and more generally, things of an oceanic / aquatic nature. Unable to come up with an appropriate costume due to all the prep work for Carnival of Souls, I just appropriated a fish from my son's toy chest and wore that. Lame, yes, but better than showing up with nothing.

But other people were more creative. Probably the most impressive display were the six people who came in custom-made jellyfish costumes. They looked pretty awesome under the black light. Kurt's Cthulhu costume was pretty good, as was the aquatic-themed decor of his entire house (including the bathroom!). Other costumes avoided the sea life theme, such as Byron's excellent wizard costume, Joe's spot-on recreation of Paul Schaefer, and Scott's "Horse with no name" costume which Dana helped him build using her typical skill at instant crafting. There was even a stunningly hip and well-executed Flying Spaghetti Monster costume.

Overall, a fun party. I hope to get out there for the third night of partying tomorrow. (Nukestock spans several days of parties, and includes several distinct events such as road rallies, beer tastings, barbeques, brunches, etc.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

We made BoingBoing and Make

Wow, I officially have some geek cred now. My Crypt of the Phantasm made both BoingBoing and MAKE today. I feel so hip!

(Of course, if they think that's cool, wait 'til they see the mausoleum!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

2005 Show Script

Byron and I, and a few other people, have been working on the script for this year's Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour black light puppet show. After a fair amount of going back and forth, tonight we finally produced a final draft candidate of the show which we will be recording tomorrow so that Matt can get started animating and programming the show controller software.

Just to save time and sanity, it's pretty close to last year's show, but it's definitely a sequel. We re-tell the unpleasant story of Marius Blackwood and Sarah Beaumont, this time a little shorter and a little better, and then we get in some actual witch-on-warlock bust-a-magic-missile action, something we had hoped for last year, but didn't get around to doing.

The other thing we did tonight was block out the action and decide on how we're going to build the stage this year. We're going for a bigger and better stage with more decor, and the special effects we've got planned are going to require a bit of black light magic to pull off, but we didn't come up with anything that isn't eminently do-able. Especially since my wife has given me permission to put holes in the ceiling of the garage to hang stuff from, instead of the flimsy PVC frame we had last year. Of particular importance for this is the fact that there will be themeing around the visitors 360 degrees - the entire stage and seating area are going to be decorated with either the detailed stage contents from last year, the black plastic for the black light stage, or some scene setters to go around the rest of the area. It's going to look awesome.

We also painted more of the mausoleum facade tonight - mainly the crypt doors and some more interior painting.

Halloween is only a few days away, and there's a lot to do, but I'm starting to get excited about seeing it all come together.

Yet another problem with Windows and IE

Over on LeaLea, they've posted what appears to be yet another stupid problem with Windows IE. Apparently, if you have a widescreen monitor, and you set your monitor to a high resolution, IE decides that you didn't really want your text and images in the web browser to get small under that much screen real estate, and overrides all the design decisions and bumps up the size of everything. The only problem, though, is that it causes funny wrapping and crunchy, malformed images when it does it. The only way around this behavior is...get this...registry hacking.

More photos of mausoleum construction uploaded

Marius Blackwood's Crypt DoorI've added some more photos of the mausoleum construction to our Halloween 2005 flickr set.

These photos show how I made the crypt door facades out of foam and a Dremel-like tool with a router attachment. It also contains photos of the crypt shelves and some other fun Halloweenie bits.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Another fantastic Magic Mirror Implementation

Photo of Magic Mirror in castle facadeI just got an email from someone who has done another awesome implementation of our Magic Mirror effect.

The lighting design on the mirror facade is spectacular, and the facade itself is beautifully done to look like the front of a castle, complete with turrets.

He used the Magic Mirror last year and said that it was a huge hit with his visitors. That's great to hear - I'm loving the fact that the Magic Mirror is helping people all over the country provide fantastic, spooky experiences for their local trick-or-treater's. It's a really gratifying experience.

More web site feedback

How come the most entertaining feedback on our web site design is always the negative stuff? All the praise we're getting is rather boring compared to the criticism (if you can call it that):
your new website sucks. Its amaturish and simple, it screams, you don't know professional...

everyone at NMSU and the public hate UNIVERSITY of communications....

i don't know why you say you 'accept feed back' when everyone in your department is lame..
Maybe we should add a link to the NMSU English department off the main page for guys like this.

Attack of the Zombie Copy

Just in time for Halloween, A List Apart comes out with an article called Attack of the Zombie Copy, which describes how to hack to bloody gibs bad writing and restore uninfected human status to your copy. This article's a no-brainer.

Monday, October 24, 2005

You are 20% owned by corporations

According to a recent study, large corporations have patented about one-fifth of your genetic structure. That human DNA can be patented at all is ludicrous bordering on the offensive. If ever there was prior art...

What concerns me about this is that a DNA sequence is not an invention. It is not a creation or a process. It is merely the way things work in the human body. Apparently, whoever figures it out in sufficient detail first is granted a patent on the use of that knowledge from then on. Just because large corporations stand to make a lot of money by preventing competitors from using that knowledge to produce competing drugs or diagnostics, that doesn't lend the idea of allowing them to patent your DNA sequences merit. (Quite the opposite, in fact.)

What this patenting means is that even if you know exactly what your own personal entire genetic sequence was, and you knew exactly which genes were relevant to, say, determining your susceptibility to a certain cancer, you wouldn't be able to combine that information to determine your personal susceptibility to that cancer, because a corporation has claimed the right to examine your DNA sequence for that purpose. From now on. For you to access and understand your own genetic material, you will have to pay someone else for the right to do so, not because they own the technology to examine it, but because they own the DNA sequence itself.

Combine this trend with the increasingly draconian copyright lockdown and the alarming criminalization of fair use, and you can see there's an emergent trend in America towards granting corporate entities ownership and control over every bit of information that we use in society. Knowledge is becoming the closely-guarded and thinly-doled-out property of businesses, and they're increasingly building barriers to widespread and flexible use of information, in order to protect the profits for the CEO and shareholder of the moment. As that information ownership moves into our own bodies, the very genetic description of who each of us is as an individual, what are we becoming? How long until we are simply agents who own nothing of our own, renting, licensing, and subscribing our way through life, even through our own thoughts?

(Via BoingBoing.)

We got flamed!

Oh, yeah! I was starting to worry that we wouldn't get anyone hating the new web design, but Laura Walsh from the local student newspaper comes to the rescue:
Web Review, sorry no HTML to link to
Woo hoo! She rips on us pretty good, so we've gotten that visceral reaction we were hoping for. If everyone went "whatever," then we would have failed, I think. We must have done something right.

Still, I would have preferred a more informed critique with suggestions that we could actually take advantage of to make the site better. She apparently doesn't grok a few things about the NMSU site:
  • Yes, the main site has a lot of links, but we actually decreased the number of links from the old NMSU site. NMSU is a large, complex, and multifaceted organization. There's a practical and political limit to how much we can reduce the number of navigational links while still preserving some semblance of direct navigation and current information linkage on the main site so it doesn't appear static.
  • NMSU's role as a land grant institution is apparently lost to her. The NMSU site is not just about student recruitment - we have to represent the research and outreach aspects of NMSU as well as the academic aspects. Yes, the news story is not specifically aimed at incoming freshmen - it is designed to highlight the role that NMSU plays for all citizens of New Mexico. But who wants to go to school at an ivory tower that has no connection to the real world? She does, apparently, but I imagine there are many students who would like to go to a university which is strong in research and outreach, because it means opportunities for real-world learning from teachers with current, real-world experience.
  • Putting the news story on the main page is directly in line with President Martin's call to communicate the value and impact of NMSU as a world-class institution - we could either say that we're world class, or show that we're world class through examples of current research and outreach.
  • If she would prefer news stories relevant to incoming students on the main NMSU page, she's in a superb position to rectify the situation: she works at a student newspaper. She could write some news stories and submit them to University Communications for syndication on the main web site. If they're good enough, and compelling enough, her stories would be up there instead of pictures of "old men staring at pine trees."
  • There are more than five asian students going to NMSU. In fact, NMSU is distinguished by being an uncommonly racially and socially diverse university, with many different ethnic groups represented and a stronger-than-average participation by "nontraditional" students. We are even designated as a Hispanic-serving land grant institution. It's unfortunate that she's upset by there being non-white people in the photos, but diversity in those ambiance photos is not just about "political correctness." NMSU actually is a diverse university. Those are actual NMSU students and instructors in those photos.
  • Finally, despite the criticisms, I would have liked to see a bit of balanced reporting that highlights some of the improvements of the site, such as the inclusion of print style sheets and the fact that the new site is much more accessible to users using assistive devices like screen readers, and supports web standards for wider availability and future flexibility. If she knows about web design, surely she would have picked up on these important, but less "sexy," features, but for some reason chose not to mention them in her review.
Since Laura Walsh is such a great web designer, I thought I'd go over to the Round Up web site to pick up some web design tips...oh wait, there isn't a Round Up web site. The only thing remotely like a Round Up web site is this collegepublisher site which not only does the web design for them, but appears to have been abandoned since the news is more than six months out of date. Oh, well!

Still more construction

Tonight, we had a whole passel of people working on Carnival of Souls 2005: eleven people came over and helped in various capacities tonight.

We got the holes cut in the back wall foam to accommodate the crypt doors, and Matt's team did a good job working on the front facade - they're adding a lot of interesting little touches that are going to look great when it's done. Meanwhile, Byron and Holly worked on the lighting for the crypts in the mausoleum - we're going with small battery-operated ultrabright LED's of various colors to illuminate the crypts.

I'm constantly amazed at the level of dedication of our team of volunteers - there's no way we could have pulled this year's event off without the generous gift of time and effort being given from many people this year, both veterans of the Carnival of Souls and new recruits. This year's show is going to be amazing.

But it's getting down to the wire, and I'm a little apprehensive about the whole thing. There's a lot to do, and we're expecting record numbers of visitors - there's talk of multiple families in neighborhoods 30 minutes away planning on driving to our place for Halloween! Yikes! But the biggest thing I'm worried about is the kids having fun. Part of me knows they'll love it, but the other part of me is worried about the myriad things that can go wrong, from crowd control to thunderstorms. With less than a week until Halloween, I'm freaking out a little bit - I don't want to disappoint anyone after all the build-up. I guess I just need to put my fate in the hands of the Great Pumpkin and hope for the best.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

"Never pick up a duck in a dungeon..."

A buddy of mine runs a weekly gaming session, and the players all have pretty different and fluctuating schedules, which makes it pretty difficult to get everyone together at the same time.

Instead of waiting for a time when we can all get together, we often go ahead and play without one of the players. This, of course, raises the problem of what to do with the missing characters in-game. Rather than trying to contrive some reason why the druid keeps vanishing at certain points in the game, we simply adopted the humorous explanation that party members just randomly turn into kumquats, and be done with the charade of trying to justify the missing characters in-game. It adds a little bit of fun as we decide who will be carrying the "Kumquat of Druid Summoning."

The other problem playing without the whole party is that the absent player(s) will not know what happened since the last adventure, so you end up spending valuable game time rehashing what has already happened. (Or worse, you leave out some important detail that is critical later on, which is easy to do when it's been one or two weeks since you played last.) To solve this problem the DM just set up a blog called "Never pick up a duck in a dungeon..." which simply chronicles each night's adventures with all relevant details. Missing players can just read up on what happened before the next game session to get caught up, and it will serve as a fun adventure log to read later.

The blog only has one night's worth of play so far, so it's probably not a great read now, but the idea is something that I think would be a worthwhile addition to many game groups.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mausoleum painting

Last night, I finished getting all the mausoleum plaques routed out and a first layer of black paint on them.

Today, Byron and Holly came over to help me with painting the mausoleum pieces. We painted, and painted, and painted, and painted some more, and now all the faux stone foam flats are detailed, except for the front facade ones which Matt is going to be taking over. We also got the insides of the crypts, the crypt doors, one of the front facade support walls, and the mausoleum base painted. Lots of black and gray latex flowed today, and the stonework is finally starting to look good.

Unfortunately, I sat down this afternoon to type out all the things we have left to do. Just typing it all out took me about half an hour. Yikes. We've really got our work cut out for us for the next ten days.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

One of our news stories gets picked up by BoingBoing

When I checked my blog feeds this morning, I was surprised to see that one of our news stories made BoingBoing! The reporter who wrote the story works just down the hall from me, and the story sits on one of our servers.

Although I doubt it's as burdensome as being "slashdotted," I've always wondered how much server traffic you get from being "boingboinged". I guess I'll find out when we have a chance to check out our server logs...

Crypt plaques for the Mausoleum

Tonight, I worked on the crypt plaques for the Mausoleum. There are going to be nine in total, and they measure 20"x12" for the center column of crypts, and 19"x12" for the outer columns.

I discovered today that I don't have to transfer a design to the foam in order to rout it out - I had considerable success just printing the design out from my printer, taping it to the foam, and routing out the lines through the paper. The routing attachment for the Dremel tool is fantastic for detailing foam like this.

Part of the fun of this particular job was coming up with names for all the sinister Blackwood clan - an entire posse of villains! I already had Marius Blackwood, the evil ringmaster who features in Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour, but I needed eight more family members. Since these other family members may make appearances in future years, I wanted to get it right now, so I trolled through a lot of baby name sites and goth sites to find good names for the bad guys.

The other consideration, of course, was to try to find names that are unlikely to be the names of our younger visitors, just so they don't walk in and see their name on a crypt. Can't be sure we'll avoid that, but with only a few exceptions, I picked pretty esoteric and gothic names that are unlikely to be the names of visitors.

So here are the family members who are enshrounded in this spooky mausoleum:
  • Marius Blackwood - 1850-1888
  • Lucretia Blackwood - 1852-1911
  • Harmagin Blackwood - 1822-1873
  • Malachai Blackwood - 1847-1934
  • Rowan Blackwood - 1860-1915
  • Abigail Blackwood - 1873-1894
  • Gabriel Blackwood - 1847-1867
  • Mina Blackwood - 1881-1889
  • Damien Blackwood - 1890-1933
Tonight, I finished the crypt plaques for Marius, Rowan, and Mina. They look pretty good - I can't wait to see them detailed and attached to the crypt wall.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hot Jack-O-Lantern designs

Chile-decorated Jack-o-lanternJack-O-Lantern judging contests this year may be measured in scovilles. Our very own NMSU Chile Pepper Institute has a firey suggestion for your Halloween decorations this year: instead of carving your pumpkins, why not decorate them with chile? The huge variety of shapes and colors of chile makes them ideal for decorating your front porch pumpkin patch.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Starchaser Engine Failure

Starchaser engine failureLast Monday, I blogged about the X Prize Cup that we went to last weekend. What I didn't mention in the blog entry was the fact that a friend of my niece's caught the StarChaser rocket engine failure (basically, an explosion followed by a huge plume of black smoke) on video. (No one was hurt in the explosion, thankfully, as it was a demonstration of an unmanned rocket. This is why we do tests - to get it perfect before we try launching for real.) He's uploaded the MPG video of the explosion from where the public was viewing the demonstration for public download, and he has more photos on the X Prize Cup gathering on his X Prize Cup page.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Mausoleum test assembly

Interior Mausoleum ShotToday, we went over to Daniel's place to load the last of the mausoleum frame into his truck to bring it to my place. Once the final pieces made it to our house, we did a test assembly of the mausoleum to do a dry fitting of the foam, see how dark it's going to be inside, and get a feel for what we're going to be able to do.

This mausoleum is going to be awesome. Every time I look at it, I'm impressed at how big this thing is. It's the size of a large storage shed, only taller. Once we got the foam walls and foam ceiling onto the frame, it really started to have some character, even though the foam hasn't been detailed with gray paint yet, and we didn't even put foam on the back wall. Daniel, Byron, Jen, and managed to get the mausoleum up in under two hours.

The ceiling completely blocks light from the nearby streetlamp, leaving only a faint yellowish glow on the interior. A faux flame gives just the right amount of dim, flickering light to see by, but not enough to really pull out details of the surrounding walls, which is perfect. The front facade looks like it will be perfectly suited to the two skull sconces we're building to hold two more faux flame cauldrons.

A ten-year-old boy was with us today, and he watched all the setup and construction. He saw that it was all just wooden pieces and pink foam walls. Even though it is still far from its finished state, once it was up, he would not set foot in it. Until the three-year-old girl who was also there bravely waltzed right in and tried to climb into one of the crypts. Heh. I think we've got a good creep factor already.

The crypts in the back wall are going to work really well. We did a test run, and figured out a good way to hide things in the rear area. While I was back there, I made one of our corpsified bluckies shake when a fellow worker was opening a crypt door, and about four people jumped. I think the fact that people have to purposefully open a door, and peek in expecting the worst, intrinsically adds to the suspense, because this system really seems to work well already, even in its unfinished state. It's going to be a simple matter to creep people out and cause the older kids to jump.

We're also going to rig a giant spider in one of the far corners from the crypt wall to run up the wall when some people enter the crypt as an extra scare.

While we were doing all this, Matt was finalizing the design for the front facade, fabricating some foam columns to be added to either side of the entrance, helped out by Jenny and Kathryn. Byron, Jen, and Matt discussed the script for this year's black light puppet show. Some of my family came to help out, too, and by the time the evening was through, we had more than ten people helping out. I really have an awesome team of volunteers - I don't think I could pull this off without their unfailing dedication, their hard work, and their creativity. Every one of them is focused on providing a magical, memorable experience for the trick or treater's this Halloween that is beyond anything else available in this area, and I'm constantly impressed at their willingness to put so much personal time and thoughtful consideration into how to accomplish it. The local kids are in for a real treat this year.

I've uploaded photos from tonight's crypt-raising to my Halloween 2005 Flickr set, should you care to see more. (The photos really don't do the mausoleum justice - it looks so small and weakly lit in the photos - but any home haunter who has tried to take photos of his haunt can probably extrapolate in their mind's eye.)