Friday, April 29, 2005

Übergeek Dungeons and Dragons Setup

Check out this übergeek gaming table using an LCD projector mounted overhead to display the current game map. He uses Photoshop with the eraser tool to hide and show the map, which is pretty ingenious, since you could interactively add pretty much anything you'd want to add with very little trouble. If you use an extended display instead of mirroring the displays, your mac could display the player's view on one screen, and all your DM notes on the laptop screen, which would be ideal.

"Next Blog" Slice of Humanity

So I was bored and unable to sleep, so I indulged my curiosity and started clicking through the "Next Blog" links off of my Blogger bar. Some of the things that I found were:
  • Dozens and dozens of soulless pages of advertisers spamming Blogger with their products, presumably to come up on search engines more. Not a human word among them.
  • Many "So, I guess I'm starting a blog" pages.
  • A handful of "real" blogs, but they were so bland and devoid of any feeling or passion that I couldn't stick with them. ("So I washed my car today...")
Then, I stumbled upon a site that was chilling, depressing, and frightening all at once. It was a blog by a white supremacist, who was treating it as a news source for other like-minded racists. In his posts, he was basically pouring out a lot of unpleasant vitriol against anyone who showed tolerance for non-whites. Now, I know this element exists in society, but I had never seen it without the attempt to look socially presentable, like the pundit that came on Fox News to explain how immigration is destroying America with a couple of jury-rigged anecdotes. This was pure, bald-faced, unapologetic hate, and it left me feeling tainted, queasy, and depressed.

Clicking away in disgust, I quickly came upon another blog that was also depressing, but for an entirely different reason. This one was by a young student, where she basically poured out a lot of personal frustration and despair, marvelling at the injustice of her life and the shackles of silence she was bearing, apparently wanting to tell someone out there about some undisclosed event, but feeling unable to. Worse, the most recent post said she probably wasn't going to be posting any more.

It was by far the most personal blog I'd seen. On the cusp of the white supremacist blog, it was heart-rending to read about this poor young woman suffering alone in sort-of silence, recording her thoughts for anyone in the world who would listen, but clearly assuming (fearing?) that no one would read it, or even care.

Her post sounded very much like the sort of thing that a lot of us felt during those bleak teenage years when you can't seem to connect with anyone or anything, especially your own life. I remember how it felt back then, how dismal the world seemed and how helpless you feel at that age to do anything about it, so I just dropped in an anonymous comment trying to assure her that it gets better.

Don't know if it will do any good, or even if she'll see it, since she was leaving the blogging scene. But after seeing such a torrent of hate from the racist's blog, I felt I had to balance the scales a bit. Hopefully, a little message of encouragement from a stranger will ease her pain a bit, and be a little drop of data that works to build someone up, rather than tear people down in this noise-heavy sea of digital communications.

Maybe it was pointless, maybe not. I'll never know. But to you, dear reader, I issue the challenge: make contact with the people putting their lives out there for you to read in their blogs. If they're in pain, ease it. If they're in need, encourage them. What's the point of having a tool to let the world read your diary, if the world remains silent to your every thought?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Who Sue Voodoo?

As you may know, we've been working on a cartoony pirates-themed educational game to teach about science processes and food safety. After a long day of little progress, one of the ideas that came up during the design process was a segment where the player experiments with a voodoo doll to learn about baselines and independent and dependent variables. It seemed to fit the bill for what we were looking for - it hit all the educational objectives, and was fun to boot. Poking the doll with the pin and seeing how high you could make the hapless pirate jump was ripe with humor potential.

Unfortunately, it came up that there would be some people that would get their panties in a bunch that "voodoo" got mentioned. After some research, we heard from teachers that said that they'd opt to not use our product at all if it mentioned voodoo, even in such a pop-culture and obviously fictional way, because there is a certain parent element that would make the teachers' life hell if they heard about anything having to do, even remotely, with voodoo.

Now, it's not like we're planning on having voodoo houngans doing bloody chicken sacrifices or anything. Just the doll. Everyone knows about voodoo dolls, and they're quite often used in cartoons, comedy sketches, etc. as a humor device, in a way that frankly has nothing to do with the actual voodoo tradition. It's a concept that has been secularized into a gag prop, like a hand buzzer or a whoopee cushion. So it seems to me that anyone that is offended by this is being unreasonable.

Personally, I'm tempted to put it in anyway, and risk a few parents flipping their lids. At some point, they need to keep their unreasonable standards to themselves. If they go to such an extreme that they won't allow their children to even hear about a fictional object that has a word in its title that implies the existence of a religion out there other than Christianity, then the onus is on them to review all the media beforehand and pull their kids out of activities they disapprove of. If they can't be troubled to do that, then they should stay quiet so the rest of us who can deal with such a concept can enjoy the game.

Massively Multipirate

Disney is working on a massively multiplayer online version of Pirates of the Caribbean. That ought to be fun. I'm currently working on an edutainment title that is pirate-themed, so either this will totally eclipse the work we're doing, or perhaps the general pirate buzz will help lift it. Who knows?

Videogame from Flatland

If you ever wonder what videogames the Flatlanders play, check out

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Ferry Halim does some fantastic Flash game work over at Orisinal. While most of the games are merely mouse-dexterity games (which makes them a bear to play with a trackpad on a laptop), the game mechanics he explores are pretty interesting. Also, the pace of the games have a zen-like placidity - even the ones that have time limits - and the Flash-based graphics just don't look like Flash - they look more like paintings. Well worth a visit.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sick as a Dog, Watching Star Wars Trailers

I was sick as a dog all weekend, having contracted whatever plague my son brought home from that giant petri dish we call "Day Care." I'm feeling better now, about 80%, but I'm still reeling.

I did manage to see the trailer for the new Star Wars movie. Sleep deprived and loopy on antihistamines, I thought it looked pretty good. But then, everyone in the preview was talking like Chewbacca, so there's a good chance I was embellishing it a bit in my mind. I guess I'll find out when I see it.

A Good Way to Spend a Weekend

I just got an email from a buddy of mine who lives up in Albuquerque. This last weekend, he volunteered to be a zombie in a movie called "Necroville". How cool is that? He seemed pretty jazzed by it, and from the web forum about the movie, the filmmakers are pretty happy with the zombie perfomances. I can't help but think that if you get volunteer zombies, that you'll have nothing but zombie movie fans who really know how zombies should walk and behave, right? Here's a blog by one of the people working on the film, complete with some production photos.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem ScreenshotThe game that's been sitting in my GBA for the last couple of days is Fire Emblem, a strategy and tactics game that reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy Tactics. This one doesn't have the cool isometric pixel art, but it makes up for it with the gorgeous battle graphics. The interface and battle system is detailed enough to be interesting, but not so complicated that it gets in the way, and there are enough interesting things thrown onto the battlefields besides the skirmishes (like the ability to parlay to bring people over onto your side, or being able to meet with the citizenry who are watching the events of the story unfold around their sleepy villages) that there's something new to try on practically every screen.

Hybrid CSS Dropdowns

There is a good article on Hybrid CSS Dropdowns at A List Apart. Until now, I've been skeptical that CSS-only dropdowns were possible. (Well, they're still not possible, but you only need a minimum of Javascript, and only to deal with Microsoft Internet Explorer suckage.)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Perry Bible Fellowship

Perry Bible Fellowship Comic FrameThe Perry Bible Fellowship is a comic series by Nicholas Gurewitch that has one of the strangest, keenest senses of humor I've seen in a long while. Dark humor with rainbows, cute animals, and smiley faced people.

While at the web site, be sure to check out his student films, too.

Adobe Trying to Acquire Flash?

More info on the Adobe / Macromedia merger. According to this article on InternetNews:
Purchasing Macromedia would help Adobe stake new ground for selling graphics software to mobile and enterprise segments, which Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen said on a conference call would help Adobe customers cope better with the explosion in digital information.

"Together, we will be able to offer customers full, integrated solutions for next-generation communication and interaction, especially on non-PC devices," Chizen said, noting that the high-tech sector is seeing evolving methods of accessing that information, including documents, images, Internet, television and new wireless and non-PC devices.
Sounds like the impetus for the acquisition is to acquire Flash-on-device tech which is starting to make inroads on palmtops and mobile phones. Not surprisingly, then, there's no mention of Director in the article.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Katamari Damacy Kicks

So, I'd heard some internet buzz about a PS2 game called Katamari Damacy, and I saw it at a local game store in the bargain bin for $19, so I picked it up.

Now I see what all the talk is about. Basically, you roll a little ball around that things stick to. That's all you do. You start out tiny, picking up buttons and thumbtacks, but by the end of the game, you are picking up skyscrapers and oil tankers.

The best part of the game occurs somewhere in the middle, though. Nothing is more satisfying than rolling into a school assembly and watching the kids and teachers fleeing in terror. Their screams of "What's happening?" as they get stuck to the rolling ball of debris are strangely satisfying.

Next semester, we're doing a game design class here at NMSU, and I think we're going to have to include an analysis of the gameplay of Katamari Damacy. It's fresh, simple, nonviolent, and fun, perfect for kids and adults, so it's bound to yield a lot of useful discussion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Interesting Pick for Pope

I think many of us were hoping that the new Pope would be someone with a more progressive viewpoint on the world. (Not to bash J.P. - he did, after all, finally pardon Galileo - but there's still a ways for Catholicism to go, IMHO.) Unfortunately, the initial signs don't look all that great, since the London Times is reporting that the new pope is a former Hitler Youth.

Now, granted, there could easily be extenuating circumstances, not the least of which the fact that by definition, you're not thinking maturely if you joined the Hitler Youth, because you were still just a kid. But I can't help but think that growing up in the militant Nazi fold would leave a taint on a person. My hope is that he remembers his experiences as horrors, and channels those memories into a personal determination to thwart injustice and hatred everywhere (on par with Elie Wiesel - certainly moreso than J.P. did).

But in the wake of fiascos like The Passion of the Christ and a resurgence of global anti-semitism, you'd think the Catholic Church would have better sense than to elect someone with such a loaded past. At best, it's starting the new Pope off with an aura of distrust. At worst, it could permanently sever the little goodwill that is left between Catholicism and Judaism.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Neph throws on some bling

Today, I moved this blog to the front page of my web site, replacing the old look. You can still get to all the old content using the links on the right. The content beneath the main page has not changed, but I'll try to get it updated to be CSS driven as time permits.

Update: The video, environments, and interactives sections have been updated with the new look. All that's left is the (rather large) ImaginEERIEing section.

Las Maninas Immersive Learning Environment

Las Meninas ScreenshotBack in 1998, when CAVE technology was still young, a CAVE program called Las Maninas was created. It was an immersive learning environment designed to allow the viewer to explore the world of the famous Spanish painter Diego Velásquez from within his paintings and through the eyes of those who were influenced by his work, like Picasso and Medvedev.

Although the 3D is primitive by today's standards, and the interaction appears to be primarily simple navigation through the 3D space, the power of compelling immersive content is obvious from the QuickTime movie showing what a visitor would experience (93MB).

What immersive learning environment would you build if you had access to a CAVE?

Flash Whitepaper

Scott Bilas of Oberon Media has authored a whitepaper on developing casual games called What About Flash? Can We Really Make Games With It? Although it includes an overview of considerations about the development of casual games, there's a lot of other details about Flash development that are of interest even to those not developing casual internet games (such as tips on performance optimization, source control, etc.).

Adobe to Acquire Macromedia

So Adobe's gonna gobble up Macromedia. It was only a matter of time, I guess.

I personally have mixed feelings about this. I have many years of Lingo programming under my belt, and it is probably the programming language I am most fluent in at this point (with PHP a close second). If the beancounters at Adobe decide to send Director the way of the Dodo, I'll lose a big hunk of my résumé.

On the other hand, Adobe might be visionary enough to realize that Shockwave 3D is uniquely positioned to allow Adobe to monopolize the web-based 3D market. Shockwave3D is dangerously close to doing this now; it just needs a little updating and development before it can really shine. With Adobe's resources and vision, they could polish it up and make something truly amazing. But that's only if they see the opportunity.

If they keep Director, bring it up to par with the other Adobe offerings, and don't axe the Mac version, then we'll see a fantastic programming environment. If they kill the Mac version, or Director altogether, I guess I'll be looking elsewhere for development options, probably Java.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Game Gardens

Game GardensGame Gardens is "a place to play online multiplayer games and a place for game developers to create their own multiplayer games and host them for others to come and play." While you can just go there to play the games, the real focus appears to be encouraging hobbyist game development, specifically with regard to experimentation in multiplayer gaming experiences. As such, you will find the downloadable source code to several games, and an online forum supporting the development of games.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Parenting Perq: Be Less Scared in Horror Movies

When The Exorcist came out, it was deemed one of the scariest movies ever made. Of course, the scene everyone remembers is the improbable head-spin that little Regan does. That part didn't scare me - it was too far over the top. No matter how strong a hold ol' Pazuzu had on the little girl, she still had a spinal column.

But a close second to that scene is the pea-soup vomit scene. It grossed people out. Now that I'm a parent myself, I have to think that the parents in the audience were thinking, "Yeah, yeah, you got nothing on little Timmy." I've seen my boy launch a laminar-flow stream of puke several feet in the air which lands just off the tile and onto the carpet. What Linda Blair did was just a little hiccup in comparison.

And consider The Blob. Compared to changing a sick baby a few hours after he's eaten some green bean, sweet potato, and chicken baby food, the Blob is like a cuddly stuffed animal.

So there's a perquisite for you parents out there. After spending time in the trenches, you can go to horror movies and laugh at what makes other people squeamish.

(The pudding scene in Dead Alive still grosses me out, though. I hope my boy never does anything to inure me to that!)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Is the President Above the Law?

I'm sure it was meant as another "aw, shucks" moment for the president. That's right, Bushie got himself an iPod. Or rather, his daughters had to get it for him, and he had to have his buddy Mark McKimmon and some White House staffers put the music on it. (Apparently, Bush ain't the brightest monkey in the banana patch.)

But the astonishing thing is that the "color piece" press release about the songs that are on the device admits that our president has illegal music on his iPod.

So, where's the army of RIAA lawyers? They're taking to court anyone they can track down through the complicated maze of P2P networks. But here's a guy issuing press releases about his activity - why is the law not being applied? There are millions of people who think Bush can do no evil (hey, God chose him to be president, remember), so there's a good chance that this will make a lot of people think what he did is legal.

IANAL, but it seems to me that if you can point to the president not only breaking the law you're on the hook for, but actually bragging about it in a press release without so much as a "cease and desist", then you have a pretty good case that the law is being unfairly and selectively applied.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Upcoming RPG compo

Plans are a-brewing for an upcoming humor-themed RPG compo in June at My game Sacraments was the winner of the previous compo, and I'm thinking of entering this one. If I can come up with a funny enough idea.


Delving further into the world of pointy-haired management, I've been participating in a search committee recently for a technical support position in our department. Not having a lot of experience with interviewing, I decided to go out onto the internet to look for some good interviewing tips.

One of the things I found was a site that gives examples of the sort of things they ask applicants at places like Microsoft. Among them were questions like "How would you improve this pen?" and "Why are manhole covers round?" Presumably, these are meant to test your creative and critical thinking skills, but it seems to me that they can also serve as a test to see if the applicant can refrain from smirking at your patently silly interviewing technique.

Correct answers for the "manholes" question are things like "Because if it were square or rectangular, it could accidentally fall down the hole diagonally" or "Because it is easier to move away from the hole because it will roll." I'd be tempted to say something like "Why are manhole covers round? Because the MANHOLE is round. Duh!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Using Flash images in 3D worlds

I've been experimenting with dropping Flash-based vector images into 3D worlds using Shockwave3D in Director. So far, the results have been pretty good. You can store large, full-frame textures (say, for frames to go around your 3D view) very cheaply using this technique; I had a 512x512 frame for 9K.

You can even stream animations into a texture by setting the posterframe property of the .swf member before taking its image.

QuickTime Streaming Tutorial has compiled a useful and straightforward resource on preparing digital video for streaming, and configuring the QuickTime Streaming Server for streaming that content.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

"Learning Games" Blog

I'm now a contributing author for the Learning Games blog, where we're collecting game design and game development related information in one place for the Learning Games Initiative at New Mexico State University.


My short story, Ride, won the DoomBuggies spooky story contest.